The Tijdvelt Twist
I, the narrator, do solemnly attest, based on a preponderance of magical evidence, that in the early hours of May 2, 1998, Mr. Harry James Potter saved the wizarding world. I am not referring to the universally celebrated circumstances in which Mr. Potter was known to have confronted and eliminated the threat posed by one Thomas Marvolo Riddle, but rather to a distinct and comparably insidious peril, the details of which are almost completely obscured to history.
In rendering my opinion to this esteemed commission, I lend my voice to those other eminent authorities who have now testified concordantly. While material proof is likely lost now to the ravages of time, our convictions are based on compelling and unmistakable patterns.
Due to temporal nonlinearities, it is difficult to state unambiguously when and where this story began and ended. It is clear from the patterns, however, that the circumstances are inextricably linked to King's Cross Station.
King's Cross Station is a place of patterns: some obvious; others subtle. Muggles tend to perceive the unusual visual aesthetics: designs in stone, glass and metal that span a range from sublime to mundane; harmony to discord. Mystics within our own magical community will tell us, however, that the most interesting patterns here are not the ones we see, but rather the peculiar oscillations and twists in fate, fortune and experience.
Nearly every witch or wizard in Britain will at some point spend time in King's Cross Station. Whether we visit as students catching the Hogwarts Express, or as parents escorting students, most of us will complain that we spend too much time waiting. Many cultures regard the British as masters of the patient and orderly queue. Perhaps we have learned through hard experience to make the best of the experience, perhaps by socializing or reading while we wait. Some, like the famous mystic Nebula Scamander, have actually resorted to thinking. Many decades ago, when only a fifth year student at Hogwarts, Scamander spent several unscheduled hours on Platform 9 ¾ after her parents suffered an unexpectedly debilitating bout of wrackspurts. Wandering the quiet platform in calm solitary contemplation, Scamander came to perceive the existence of important numinous forces at work in the station. She would later formally propose that never is the time spent here by anyone truly wasted. Whenever a magical lifeline intersects with the station, the intersection adds to some grand karmic scheme. Scamander emphasized that some lines may render only a simple balance (e.g., one person arrives while another departs), but other patterns can serve more elaborate purposes that can have a transformative effect on our society.
Scamander and her long-time academic rival, noted arithmancy researcher Aestimo Eventus, actually achieved a rare convergence of opinion in their interpretation of the magical influences in King's Cross. In particular, a recent publication by Eventus seems to validate Scamander's empirical conjectures within a basis of concrete magical theory. In the paper entitled, 'Strange Symmetries: What King's Cross Station Tells us About the Impact of Ley Centres on Lifeline Trajectories', Eventus applied a combination of astronomical, numerological and statistical inference in order to convincingly demonstrate that powerful witches and wizards are disproportionately likely to experience major watershed moments at times when they are physically present at or near this geographic locus. Eventus further concluded that these moments often occur under rather poignant or ironic circumstances that are cultivated by the unique magical atmosphere of the place. He wrote that this tendency "is likely true for all major ley centres, but the coincidental placement of a major transportation hub so close to the key magical pivot point at King's Cross has produced a data set of unprecedented size and detail, thus availing an exceptional opportunity for careful control studies and model cross-validation."
The other day, your narrator chanced to meet Professor Eventus at a state function in the magical room at The Parcel Yard. After striking up a conversation, I asked the esteemed academic if he could explain the term "strange symmetries" to me. He assured me that he would be delighted to, and he proceeded to embark upon a definition as follows:
"Imagine if we represent a person, place, thing or event as a polygon of finite extent plotted in two dimensions with a total of N sides, where each adjacent pair of sides is adjoined by a relative angle. Each side of the polygon represents a fundamental characteristic of the person, place, thing or event. The relative diagrammatic proximity among polygon sides represents spatial, temporal or logical proximity among characteristics, and the relative angle between adjacent sides represents continuity or complementarity among characteristics, such that an angle of zero degrees indicates complete intercharacteristic abrogation, while an angle of 180 degrees conveys perfect intercharacteristic continuity..."
Insertion of ellipses in the above statement reflects the point at which your narrator found it necessary to retreat to the bar for another firewhiskey. Your humble narrator may have failed NEWT level arithmancy, but he did not fail NEWT level firewhiskey.
At the bar, I found myself shoulder to shoulder with a retired public servant, the eminent Mr. Albus Potter. Mr. Potter, ever courteous and felicitous, confided that he had overheard my question. He volunteered that a useful analogy for 'strange symmetry' might be to imagine myself polyjuicing into him: half way through the transformation there would come a point, which he called an inflection point, where I would look as much like him as like me. If someone was to freeze me at that point, I would be said to manifest the strange symmetry between him and me, because somebody seeing me in that state for the first time would not be able to tell if I was him transforming into me, or me turning into him.
I paused to digest that concept. As he sipped his drink, I could feel him watching me carefully, looking for some telltale spark of comprehension in my eyes. After a while, he pointed behind the bar toward a lovely painting of Platform 9 ¾, showing three children cavorting on a bench with the steaming Hogwarts Express in the background. Using the painting as a visual prop, Mr. Potter proceeded to relate an anecdote which he thought might help illustrate his point, weaving together the very different stories of two visitors to King's Cross: a young boy and an old man:
"In 1991, a timid child of destiny approached the barrier to this platform. The boy had been raised by those who shunned courage or initiative, but he nonetheless stepped tentatively yet intrepidly forward... and entered into a distinguished lifetime of magic. Ninety years later, a venerable man who had lived a life of enlightened valor settled onto that bench to catch his breath before departing the same station. The boy had rushed here alone and unloved, hoping someday to be accepted, whereas the old man breathed the weary but contented sigh of one who has spent an hour receiving dozens of young devotees. For many years, the young boy would studiously seek to avoid attention, but over the decades, the old man came gradually to accept that, for public good, he must countenance adoration. In his first visit to the station, the unloved child had been baffled by the unexpected adulation of a pretty little redheaded girl who somehow seemed to know his name. In his last visit to King's Cross, the old hero gazed one final time into the devoted but concerned brown eyes of the beautiful woman with whom he celebrated everlasting love."
Your narrator stifled a sob of recognition as the anecdote came to a close. Albus Potter had omitted the punch line of the story, but it was unnecessary: his allusions were brilliantly obvious to anyone with a passable grasp of modern wizarding history. Long regarded as one of the sharpest wits in the Ministry, he had simultaneously answered my question, rendered a stirring impromptu eulogy, and vividly reminded me precisely why so many of the wizarding world's most prominent figures were all gathered in this room today for a state reception.
With misty eyes, I solemnly raised my drink. "To Harry James Potter," I said, "from child to old man: a valorous and benevolent paragon of strange symmetry!"
Albus Potter nodded. "To my dear father Harry Potter," he responded, raising his own glass. "May he rest with all the exquisite comfort and peace he has earned."
Lying in bed that night, reflecting back on the poignant exchange, it occurred to me that for the dearly departed Harry Potter, the path to achieve 'exquisite comfort and peace' must also have entailed some evocative example of strange symmetry.
Harry Potter, the timid child and venerated hero, blinked. He opened his eyes to a soft filtered glow from the skylight and evaluated his surroundings. Ginny was gone. Everything was silent; there were no children milling about him; no little hands reaching to touch his sleeve; no little voices asking him sweet or amusing questions. There were no parents nodding respectfully to him as they receded toward the exits. After a moment, his confusion was replaced by epiphany.
This is it, isn't it?
Whether gift or challenge, or perhaps even both, Harry realized that he had been granted a bit more time at this site of so many treasured memories; this place that defined the essence of his legacy.
And what legacy was that?
One could tell by his gentle smile that Harry wasn't thinking about a terrible night nearly a lifetime ago when he had come here to die. That, he had long since decided, was old news. Harry much preferred to believe that a lifetime of dedicated service had eclipsed the drama of a precocious, star-crossed teenager. But to be honest he wasn't reflecting on his later service either — he didn't give a hang about the dozens of station transits he'd made during auror operations. If he only had a little time left, why bother to waste it on any of that tedious front page Daily Prophet stuff. Harry was determined to daydream about what was meaningful; this was the perfect final chance to step back from the frenzied pace of the living and ponder some joys from his many yesteryears.
In complete solitude, he browsed the platform, letting his feet carry him about aimlessly. He did not have to travel far to pass the places where he had greeted Ginny. How could he possibly have been blessed within anyone so beautiful of mind, body and spirit?! He relived their soft embraces of reacquaintance, kisses of rekindled passion, resonant declarations of undying love. A blissful little tear sparkled in the corner of his eye as he ambled along.
Then with a chuckle, he found himself suddenly standing in front of a very familiar pillar... half expecting his godson to ambush him. As a student, Teddy Lupin liked to lurk behind this column each September first, preparing to leap out and shock classmates with his latest outrageous hair. Poor Andromeda — she'd nearly collapsed at the sight of indigo cornrows on her brash twelve-year-old grandson. And not far down the platform to the left was the open space beneath the clock where, sixty five years ago, James had dutifully tolerated the requisite parental hugs before excitedly racing off to cultivate all of those new friendships that would last him a lifetime. And there! Wasn't this the bench where Al had consoled that poor little Ravenclaw girl? He had shared with her his own 99 Flake after she had dropped hers; who would have guessed that she would turn out to be so mind-bendingly gorgeous fourteen years later... wrapped in all that white satin and lace, leading Al away toward Sirius's old Triumph! And then there was Lily. Harry would certainly never forget her graceful pirouettes... and, ouch! Those bone crushing hugs! At no point in her school years (no matter whether Lily had been a sixty eight pound waif or a bruising teen quidditch captain) had she ever been too busy, too old or too cool for hugs: she always squeezed her Mum and Dad breathless before leaving them behind for another year.
Harry could spend days reminiscing about his children. He knew that he and Ginny had done a good job with them: if you end up learning more from your children than they learned from you, something had to have gone right! Harry had learned all about Machiavellian diplomacy from James and sophisticated technology from Al. From Lily, Harry had learned a lot about trajectories: quaffle trajectories, business trajectories... and lifeline trajectories.
Strictly speaking, the latter instruction had not come directly from Lily, but because of her associations. At Hogwarts, she had formed a close (at times inseparable) friendship with Nebula Scamander. Of course Harry and Ginny knew Scamander's parents well and were acquainted with the mystic even as a young child, but the special relationship really blossomed when Lily convinced all parties involved that Scamander should be allowed to spend a summer with the Potters, rather than accompany her cryptozoologist parents to the less-than-heavenly monsoon-season jungles of Guinea-Bissau. Later, as Scamander began to forge her academic career, she frequently bounced ideas off Harry. During her seminal research on King's Cross lifelines, she became convinced that he had an exceptionally powerful relationship with the station and even convinced him to read through some of Eventus's work, thus exposing him to the concepts of ley lines and ley centres. But arithmancy had never been to Harry's liking, so his discussions with Scamander ended up gravitating toward simpler concepts like inflection points. Scamander showed Harry how all of his favorite stories invariably seemed to have an inflection point. A surprisingly good teacher, she had described these to Harry as magical moments where some fundamental balance in your lifeline trajectory shifts, leaving you irrevocably changed.
Harry recognized some of his King's Cross inflection points. He now thought of one which had occurred shortly after the Express had departed for Lily's final year at Hogwarts. Since Lily was the youngest of Harry and Ginny's children, her Hogwarts matriculation might have marked the end of an era. As conscientious parents, Harry and Ginny had always both made it to the station together to see their children off to school. After this, when the next September first rolled around, Harry and Ginny would be free to do something else. That was fine with Harry: he was overjoyed to see his children growing into fine young adults, and he knew selfishly that he would actually see more of them once they finished school and weren't hidden away in Scotland ten months of the year. He had also never quite embraced the festive King's Cross sendoff. The crowds still made him a little edgy. Over the years he had grown accustomed to the sidelong glances and whispers he always elicited from strangers, but that didn't mean he had ever learned to like it.
Harry had decided that a change was important symbolically. Just as Molly and Arthur had eventually stopped coming to King's Cross for the annual sendoff. Harry felt that it was nearly time to pass the baton to a new generation: cede the platform to people like Teddy and Victoire, whose first brave offshoots were almost ready to stand alone as saplings in their own right.
But on that fine morning fifty seven years ago, everything quietly changed. He walked to the place it had happened and gazed around, imagining the scene as vividly as if it had been yesterday. There was Ginny handing Lily her purse. Lily was turning for one last smile as she stepped onto the train. He, Harry, was tentatively inhaling again to check for broken ribs... and then he had felt a gentler arm slide over his shoulders. It was Teddy. Unexpectedly, Harry's godson had taken a morning off work and brought along his two daughters, Angela and Andora, to join the Potters in seeing Lily off.
Ginny and Andora had raced off down the track, laughing as they made a final few waves to Lily, leaving Harry, Teddy and Angela (the three orphans, as they sometimes called themselves) standing with bemused smiles: Teddy still had one arm around Harry; the other was holding the hand of his adopted daughter, a willowy ten-year-old (already nearly as tall as the rather stocky Teddy) whose parents (close friends of Teddy) had met a tragic end seven years ago. Teddy and Victoire had shown Angela the same unconditional love that Harry and Ginny had shown Teddy; the same devotion that Sirius had wished he could truly have given Harry: the powerful emotional nurturing that can heal the most grievous of wounds.
Harry had smiled at his dear fellow orphans, but let his thoughts drift to those who were absent this morning. "Is Rémy feeling better?" he had asked. "And how is Victoire?"
"Rémy still has a bit of a fever," Teddy had responded, "and 'Toire missed a few hours sleep last night taking care of him, so this morning we let them sleep in. Hopefully everyone will be back to normal by tonight."
"I hope so too," Harry had said. "Please give them our best when you get back! Oh, and listen Teddy, it was so very thoughtful of you to come this morning. Lily was delighted that you and the girls would drop by just for her. We were all really touched to be honest!"
"Our pleasure, Harry!" Teddy had responded. "Just consider it to be my little bit of payback to you and Ginny." He paused in thought for a moment. "Hey, do you realize that it's been seventeen years?"
The question was lost in a flurry of happy confusion. Ginny and Andora, still full of girlish giggles, had rejoined them, grasping loose hands to form a merry five person circle. Harry had taken a moment to squeeze his wife's hand and give Andora a wink, before summoning himself back to the conversation. "Sorry, what was that you were saying Teddy?"
"You and Ginny came to see me off for my first year. That was 2009." Teddy recalled. "You showed up every year for me and as soon as I finished, James was ready to start. You've come to see kids off from Platform 9 ¾ each of the last seventeen years without fail. Surely this won't be the end of a great run, will it?" Teddy had asked with a mischievous twinkle in his grey eyes.
"Seventeen years! Have we really been coming here that long, Gin'?" Harry had mused, before leaning over to whisper conspiratorially to Teddy, "You'd better check your numbers, Lupin, she's far too pretty to be an old lady!"
Teddy and Ginny had both laughed. Andora, however, had frowned, and grabbed Harry's hand, giving it a firm 'come here a moment' wrench. "You mind yourself, Papa Harry!" she had instructed him sternly. "Daddy and I checked the numbers twice already. And Mama Ginny is not an old lady any more than you are an old man!"
Harry had laughed and leaned in to hug the girl. "You were ever the bright one, Andy! Yes, Mama Ginny is still just as sweet and beautiful as she was when I first fell in love with her. And if you can find it in your heart to say I'm not an old man, it's probably because people like you and Ginny keep me young. Yes, that's my secret to perpetual youth — I surround myself with lively people who make me feel alive: Ginny, you, Angie, your Daddy, your Mummy, Lily, Al..."
"And Mr. James?" Andora had asked.
Harry's face had formed a little smirk as he tried to formulate an appropriate response. "Umm..."
"Papa Harry loves Mr. James very much, sweetie," Ginny had broken in with her own smirk, "but he holds him personally responsible for every one of these little grey hairs." she had explained as she ruffled her husband above his ears.
"Mr. James was a handful!" Andora had proclaimed, shaking her head in practiced exasperation. The adults had laughed.
"The youthful but greying Papa Harry hasn't answered my question." Teddy had interjected. "Might we see you here next year when Angie goes off to start at Hogwarts?"
Angela had shuffled in embarrassment at the implied attention, but Andora, suddenly recognizing the stakes, had jumped into the fray head first. "Papa Harry! Mama Ginny! You must! You have to be here for Angie! And for me in three years! And for everyone else! All of my friends want the Potters here to see them off! Please, please, please?"
"'S'true, Harry!" Teddy had nodded. "You and Ginny have been coming for so long that it would be a terrible disappointment to next year's kids if you didn't show."
Harry had looked to Ginny. She had shrugged in return.
Just then, Andora had given Harry's hand another, much gentler tug, and recaptured his attention. For suddenly she had adopted a smile of prodigious sweetness, and her hair had turned the most vibrant shade of red Harry had ever seen since... well, since a moment ago when he had last looked at Ginny. Andora had even cultivated a sprinkling of pretty freckles for the occasion.
"Uh oh!" Harry had laughed, shaking his head in disbelief at the extraordinary talents of this part-veela / part-metamorphagus / part-Weasley child. "I do believe Miss Andora is going to be handful too! In a few years I think we may need to start counting Teddy's grey hairs."
Before Andora had fully extended her bottom lip, Harry had caught her in another hug and planted a kiss on her forehead. "Princess Andy, of course I'll come see Angie off next year. And when your time comes, I'll be here for you too. I wouldn't miss it for the world!"
"Don't forget the year in between, too!" Andora had then specified firmly.
Harry nodded, smiling.
"And the year after!"
Harry's eyebrows had suddenly leaped up to his hairline.
Ginny had laughed. "I guess Harry has dates lined up for each of the next four September firsts! Anybody mind if I tag along too?"
Andora had answered her with a hug that would have rivaled Lily's.
Every year thereafter, it became more and more difficult to say no. Over time, some thoughtful station employee would learn to bring out velvet ropes for the occasion so that the children could queue up in an orderly fashion. Some years, Uncle George would make a surprise appearance with a basket of intricate toys or gadgets for the budding little wizards and witches to bring onto the train. And so, when it came time for the Minister of Magic, Rt. Hon. Andora Lupin Shacklebolt, to speak at Harry Potter's funeral many decades later, she would succumb to a sniffle, and note with a tearful smile that Harry and Ginny had never again missed the September first sendoff from Platform 9 ¾. Seventy two consecutive annual appearances!
Now here he was once again. Harry knew that this visit to King's Cross Station would be different from any other. He let his pleasant recollections drift to a close and began to focus his mind on preparing for what might come next. He didn't know precisely what to expect, but he assumed that he must be here for a meeting. As far as what was on the agenda, he could only wait and find out.
He walked to the edge of the platform and after a little while he heard a low, distant howl. Feeling cool air whisk his hair, he strained his eyes for a moment to see a distant light in the dark tunnel begin to grow. And grow. And then the train was upon him in a blur of glass, chrome and painted panels. It was purple... a purple train?? It screeched to a halt, the doors banged open and Harry's heart lurched to see a roguish grin that had not graced his presence in more than eighty years.
"Fred?!" Harry gasped.
"Brother Harry!" came the familiar voice, sounding every bit that of the twenty year old he had last seen at Hogwarts. "I never figured you of all people would keep us waiting so long!" Fred scratched his head thoughtfully.
"I got lucky." Harry responded with a sheepish grin.
Fred gaped at him for a moment, then burst into howling laughter. "Beautiful double entendre, Harry!" he said, wiping tears from his eyes.
"Huh?" Harry stammered.
Fred chortled for another while as he disembarked, then his vocalizations ceased. He blinked, but the platform lights continued to sparkle in his eyes. "Sorry, was that an inside joke?" he asked. "Do you mean that nobody ever actually told you that you were voted, '1994-1995 Hogwarts student least likely to survive until his first snogging'?"
Harry responded with a blank, uncomprehending stare.
"I don't think they ever voted anyone to the honour in any other year," Fred elaborated, "so you can pride yourself on a very unique distinction!"
"Hey, that's not fair, I..." Harry protested.
Fred chuckled. "Tut, tut. Any actuary would surely have agreed, Harry. Everyone knew you weren't the ideal candidate for a life insurance policy, but you truly clinched the award when you decided to pull Ron and some preteen girl out of the lake in the Triwizard thing. All the savvy gamblers figured you weren't even trying!" Fred, grinning from ear to ear, extended his hand to Harry. "In any case dear friend — sincerest congratulations on fooling everyone!"
"Er, thanks... I think. So, are you suggesting that Hogwarts students wagered on my life?" Harry asked incredulously.
"Oh sure!" Fred grinned. "MacLaggan used to circulate the 'wager of the week' to all of the common room bulletin boards each Monday morning. Didn't you ever notice? I can't imagine you having anything more important to worry about." He chuckled to himself for a moment. "In any case, you were featured on nearly a third of them. George and I abstained when you on the ballot of course!"
"Of course." Harry said with a smirk.
"Okay, I mean, we certainly abstained when you were listed in a distasteful light. Er, well, I suppose that depends on how you define 'distasteful'. Honestly Harry, I just can't seem to fib at all anymore in my present capacity," Fred exclaimed in a tone reflecting an ever-so-slight tinge of exasperation. "Umm... in full disclosure, Remus and I did have a little wager on when you and Ginny would tie the knot. Rooked him for twenty blessings on that one!"
"It so warms my heart," Harry told him with a genial grin, "to know that even in the afterlife you remain at least somewhat incorrigible."
"Sincere thanks for the compliment!" Fred said as he wrapped an arm around Harry's shoulders and led him to a bench. The train stood motionless. All went perfectly silent.
"So, what am I doing here in King's Cross?" Harry asked with a bit of trepidation. "The last time I was here for a meeting like this, I was supposed to make a very important decision about the fate of the wizarding world. What am I supposed to talk about this time?"
Fred thought for a moment about how to respond. "Uh, well, I didn't get much of a briefing, but I'm sure we'll figure it out as we go along. I assume you're here to put some affairs in order. Don't worry, your tickets have already been validated." he said, pulling a pair of stubs from his pocket and handing them to Harry. "Hold onto these. The train will arrive when you're ready."
Harry examined them; each ticket was identically adorned only with a single Greek character. "Two tickets?"
"Ah yes," Fred explained. "Second one is for Ginny. You being a hopeless romantic and all, we assumed that you might want to wait for her. I assume she'll want a bit of time to settle your estate and help people say goodbye, then I'm sure she'll wander by to join you."
"Thank you!" Harry enthused. He was relieved to know that he would be permitted to wait for her; he would wait without complaint for however long it might take. After all, if there was going to be an afterlife, there is no way he could even remotely imagine it without Ginny. As he tucked the tickets securely into an inner pocket of his sports coat, another question occurred to him. "Is that a lower case alpha on the ticket?" he asked. "Or is it the infinity sign?"
"Alpha," Fred clarified, "for Aether. My ticket, as you see..." he pulled out a similar stub, with the small Greek gamma and alpha characters on it, "means Aether to Gaia return trip. I doubt you'd ever get the chance, but do not under any circumstances take the tau train. You wouldn't like the company."
"Exactly! Nasty lot they are; many fine acquaintances of yours." Fred grinned sarcastically... then, without obvious cause, his face twitched momentarily. He wore a frown of mild confusion.
"Fred, are you okay?" Harry asked.
Fred tapped his head distractedly. "Sorry, I'm fine. Uh, Harry, I'd like to apologize in advance if at times my conversation seems to proceed a little irrationally."
Harry chuckled. "I'm speaking to Fred Weasley! Why shouldn't I expect irrationality?"
Fred grinned. "Too true! What I meant to say was that even from the perspective of bizarre Fred Weasley behavior, there might be some eccentricities."
"Should I ask why?"
"Yes, I suppose. It's a bit difficult to explain, but when one of us spirits get called out for an iota, they..."
"Iota?" Harry asked. He knew he shouldn't interrupt, but they apparently had time for casual discussions, and curiosity was getting the better of him.
"Iota is our term for 'intermediation'. You know, when a spirit goes out to speak to someone who's in the process of transitioning." Fred explained. "Surely you didn't assume that the auror's office had the monopoly on ridiculous code phrases, did you?"
"Anyway, the term naturally produces some obligatory puns. The most obvious has to do with how much useful intelligence we get going into these things? Not one iota! Hah! I won't even bother to ask if you got that one."
Harry laughed again. When he was on a roll, Fred's humor could tame a neurotic rabbit on a mocha overdose.
"So, going into one of these iotas, even spirits such as myself with superior intellect... please don't snicker, Harry... even we superior beings are usually flying blind until we step off the train."
Harry nodded as he wiped a smirk off his face.
"Fortunately," Fred continued, "as the conversation begins to take shape, we are occasionally offered bits of insight. It's like somebody whispering useful information in our ears. The old pros just learn to just roll with it, but greenhorns like me still lurch a little every time we suddenly realize something out of the blue that we'd never suspected before."
"Ah!" Harry exclaimed. "So I assume that when you flinched a minute ago, you suddenly came into some useful information?"
"Yes, sort of useful anyway." Fred shrugged. "I now know that I'm here to help you to 'get ready for the trip'. This is a euphemism for helping you discard unnecessary baggage."
"Baggage?" Harry asked quizzically.
An uncharacteristically soft and sympathetic look crossed Fred's face. "After all these decades, after the full and wonderful life you've lived, and all of your great selfless deeds, Harry, you still have pockets of unresolved angst. Maybe even suppressed grief. That won't do at all! We're throwing a monstrously big welcoming party for you and Ginny; when you get there, we want you to be completely carefree, relaxed and happy."
"A party?" Harry stammered. "What sort of party? Who will be there?"
"Just a regular party: music, jokes, chatter, enjoyable stuff that simulates food and drink. Anyway, you can expect all of the usual suspects, some people you've been waiting a long long time to see again, even some people you'd always wished that you could have met."
"Wow," Harry mused as he began to process the concept. "That sounds wonderful! But, sorry, I keep getting sidetracked. You implied that I was still sad or anxious?" he prompted.
"I guess maybe I am. Deep down."
"I wonder why. All those demons should have been put to rest decades ago." Harry murmured speculatively.
"Were they?" Fred asked.
"I thought so."
"Brother, you were always a master stoic. Perhaps after a while you got to be so good at hiding feelings from everyone else that you managed to hide things even from yourself."
Harry sat with a worried frown. "So even I probably don't know what the problem is? I need to get over some grief that I haven't even told myself about?"
"Yes, that's what I've been led to believe."
"Do you have any idea what I can do to crack through this thick skull of mine and figure out what the problem is?"
"Not offhand, no." Fred answered. "Maybe we just talk. Brainstorm. We might get some ideas."
Harry leaned into a classic Rodin pose, scouring his mind for some loose thread that he could start tugging at.
Fred sat silently for an indeterminate time. Finally he spoke. "As I warned you, I don't really know much more than you do, but I'm sure I've been sent out here for some reason more profound than telling you about the prestigious Hogwarts Snogless award. So let's start with the basic premise that I was given: deep down you have unresolved sorrow and you don't know why. So let's start thinking about times in your life when you recognized that you were depressed, but you couldn't really explain the emotion."
Harry nodded. "Okay, well obviously May, 1998 — perhaps the worst month of my life. Most people naively assumed it should have been the best, because I'd just accomplished what many still consider to have been the crowning achievement of my generation. But every moment of every day that month seemed to be a struggle. Years after, my friends would privately confide that they could sense underlying despondency in just about everything I did that month."
Harry took a deep breath, seeking to suppress emotion and sustain analytical discourse.
"The aftermath of the battle seemed surreal," he resumed. "For most people, the shock of all the tragedies wore off more readily than it did for me. Arthur, Molly,... well most of your family, were able to rationalize your death fairly quickly, and apart from the funeral, they shed very few public tears after the first few days. But George and I both needed longer. Of course George had every reason to take it hard, but people were puzzled by my response. I heard people whispering things like, 'Why is that bloke sad? He's Harry Potter, the rich hero icon; he has the world by the tail...' In truth, my sorrow was streaming out for everyone who suffered from Riddle's malice: Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore, Dobby, all of those faceless people persecuted during the Thicknesse regime, everyone who perished in the Battle of Hogwarts. But for some reason the one image in my mind of you lying dead in the rubble was like the crystallized essence of all my grief and helplessness. I can't explain it. Even the thought of Remus and Tonks leaving Teddy orphaned was somehow easier to deal with..."
"With Remus and Tonks you felt you had to pull yourself together right away for Teddy's sake," Fred suggested. "Besides, they both lived life on the edge, so maybe you'd unconsciously steeled yourself for their demise. But for me, I probably didn't fit the part. I was the prankster, huckster, businessman brother who wasn't particularly valued by the Order. True, I had put my life on the line before, but on a scale from hero to clown I was always three parts bozo." Fred shrugged. "Or maybe it was because you were right there; you actually saw me in my moment of death. I don't know what you were thinking, but you kept telling people for weeks that you felt you should have prevented it." he added emotionlessly.
"Should I? Could I?" Harry asked helplessly, reopening a wound that had taken so long to heal.
"Don't be daft, Harry — a bloody wall fell on me! Who did you think you were, Ministry of Magic building code enforcement?"
Harry nodded. "That's what everybody kept trying to explain to me. Well, not in quite those words..."
"Hermione kept suggesting that maybe you had PTSD."
"Er, what's PTSD, Harry?"
Harry shrugged. "Post-traumatic stress disorder. It's a muggle psychiatric term that we would later adopt in Department of Magical Law Enforcement to describe people who become unstable because of a psychologically harrowing event. Common symptoms are irrationality, nightmares, mood swings and panic attacks."
"Did you have PTSD, or did you seriously have a legitimate reason for believing you could have saved more people?" Fred asked.
Harry shrugged weakly. "I doubt I had PTSD, but there was something not quite right. I seriously believed what I was saying, but whenever anybody challenged me to explain just what I could have done to save people I kept going around in circles. I kept saying that maybe I should have found the horcruxes sooner, but when I'd say that, someone like Hermione would just say that if I found them sooner, Riddle would just have attacked Hogwarts sooner and for all we knew that stupid wall would still have fallen on you."
"Sounds plausible to me." Fred responded. "And yes, as far as walls go, that one was rather unenlightened."
The attempted humor was wasted on Harry, who continued heedlessly, "I honestly believed I could have done something, though. I somehow still do, and I still can't explain it."
"What do you remember about my death, Harry?"
"Well, the Ravenclaw diadem had just crumbled to dust in front of me, so we were finally coming onto the home stretch as far as those damned horcruxes. I was talking to Ron and Hermione, trying to hone in on the last step, when we heard spellfire coming from just around the corner. We ran to help, just in time to see you and Percy immobilize two death eaters. You had a big grin on your face, cracking a joke, when suddenly something outside the castle exploded, blasting the side of the building into a huge cloud of rubble and dust. Two large slabs had come down on either side of me, shielding me from the worst of the wreckage, but something must still have hit me on the head, because blood was pouring down the side of my face. I was holding my wand tightly in my right hand, so I used my left hand to pull myself to a standing position. I swayed a little and reached out blindly for support and placed my hand on... something... something that wasn't rubble."
"What was it?"
"I don't know." Harry responded with a distant look in his eyes. "It was metal and glass... and this strange idea swept through me, telling me that... well, that this thing might be very useful."
"Go on, what happened next?"
"I heard Percy cry out in anguish. I looked over to see him, Ron and George pulling a big block off your chest." Harry's breath hitched. "You were dead."
"And what did you do then?" Fred asked with analytical dispassion.
No, well I... I... for some reason this crazy thought went through my head that... I thought that the thing I had just picked up was going to somehow... oh, I don't know."
Fred gazed silently at Harry with gentle compassion. "Why did you think that you had just picked up something that could bring me back to life?"
Harry shook his head. "Hallucination? Momentary confusion? I'd just been hit on the head after all, so who knows? Anyway, I looked down at my left hand, and it was empty. I looked around on the ground to see if I'd dropped it... whatever it was... but I only saw rubble and dust. Then I tried to think rationally and logically about the situation, and it occurred to me that, well... maybe I just had my thoughts a little scrambled. It occurred to me that I actually did have the resurrection stone in my pocket, and maybe in my momentary haze I had thought about the stone and came up with the delusion of bringing you back."
"A stone isn't metal and glass... but whatever. Did you try to use it on me?"
"No, I'd never have tried to use it to try to recreate a corporeal existence. I already knew that the resurrection stone's magic was an empty illusion. It would have created a hollow abomination." Harry said miserably.
Fred reached out and pressed his hands to the sides of Harry's face, guiding him to face a very mischievous Weasley grin. "I'm flattered that you thought it wrong to bring me back as a hollow abomination. Most people would never have noticed the difference."
It took a moment, but Harry found himself capable of a weak smile. Then he looked away again, staring down toward his feet.
"So you had other things to do at the time," Fred summarized. "You knuckled down, did what you needed to do: died, came back to life, bumped off Mr. Ugly. And later, when the dust settled, everyone needed Harry Potter, everyone needed to hold his hand and hear his words of solace because Harry Potter was the universal symbol of strength and renewal. You must have come face to face with every dead body and every bereft survivor in the castle. You probably saw my sorry old mug again a dozen times. It's a wonder you didn't go stark staring bonkers! But eventually you somehow soldiered on and got over it?"
"I honestly believed so, yes." Harry answered.
"How were you able to move on?"
"Mostly by coming together with other people and borrowing their strength. Ginny helped an amazing amount. She was so strong, Fred, I can't imagine what I would have done without her! And of course Molly and Arthur and all your brothers helped. Kingsley and McGonagall sheltered me from as much idiocy as they could."
"And then of course you had time." Fred stated.
"Yes, the healing hands of time." Harry nodded. "And being so busy. There was so much to do. After a while it became possible... no, it basically became imperative... to live, love and laugh again."
"Very good. All very healthy. Well," Fred frowned thoughtfully. "I haven't been much help to you, have I Harry? I suppose I could pat you on the back and say, 'there there, wee bairn, it's not yer fault', but I somehow assume that wouldn't help us get to the root of whatever it is that has been chewing at you all these years."
Harry smiled ruefully. "Yeah, lots of people have tried that line. It's failed every time. It's hard for me to judge what would give me closure at this point, considering I still don't even know what I'm trying to close. But I assume that, yes, maybe if I could somehow clearly pin down what exactly it was that I never forgave myself for, I might somehow be able to confront and defeat it."
"Okay then. Let's say I resume my role as ruthless inquisitor? That way, either we'll somehow get to the bottom of things, or else you'll get so annoyed that you completely forget that you had ever regretted my death."
Harry rolled his eyes, but smiled faintly. "Go ahead, Fred. Just don't make me late for the party."
"Ah, that's the spirit — let's get cracking then! Ummm... so, next question... Let's try this: at any time in the next eighty three years did you ever get that helpless feeling of grief again?"
Harry shook his head firmly. Then he paused, closed his eyes, and fell silent for a long while. Fred watched as Harry sat motionless, as his brow slowly began to furrow, as his eyelids gradually parted to reveal puzzled eyes. "Tijdvelt Laboratories," he said finally.
"Tijdvelt Laboratories. It was an auror case that I muffed," Harry explained. "It wasn't exactly grief that I felt, but I can't deny feeling a distinct helplessness about it."
"What do you mean by 'muffed'?" Fred asked. "The Daily Prophet headline was 'Potter Single-Handedly Cracks Tijdvelt Heist'. Subheading was 'Suspect Apprehended; Mysterious Weapon Destroyed!'" Fred stood and pulled Harry to his feet, leading him down toward the west end of the platform.
"Is that what they wrote?" Harry asked incredulously as they walked. "Idiots," he muttered under his breath.
"How dare you disparage the Dilated Prophylactic?!" Fred deadpanned.
Harry ignored him. "Listen," he said forcefully, "Everybody said I nailed the case because I apprehended a lab tech just after he accidentally smashed a weapons prototype. Everybody proclaimed, 'no more suspect, no more weapon, case solved!' but I don't care what the records state. There wasn't just one prototype weapon stolen from Tijdvelt, there were two. Both of the prototypes had been tested in the lab and were operational. And there wasn't just one suspect, there were two: a lab tech out to make some fast galleons and a known Voldemort crony who had fought at the Battle of Hogwarts. Who would you think was more dangerous?!"
Fred reached the scene of the dramatic capture and came to a halt. Harry looked around and nodded. "Yes, it was right here. I was off duty that morning because Hermione always gave me September first off. I'd been sweating the case for weeks by that time and I was edgy because the we had just missed the suspects only the day before. By 'just missed', I mean that I'd been going down a hallway at Tijdvelt with a couple of operatives; we'd just turned a corner and spotted them. We'd been about to level our wands on them when they disapparated. Merlin, I'd cursed like a sailor — we'd just blown our own bloody cover. When they saw us, they had to realize how close we were getting. They got away and I figured I'd never see either of them again."
"You, personally, ran into them? What were you doing on an actual crime scene, Mr. Head Auror Potter?" Fred asked.
"Gosh, to be honest that was probably the first real action I saw that whole year, wasn't it? And truthfully, it was nearly the last real hands-on excitement in my career too. Anyway, part of the reason I was on site was that I was taking a very active interest in the case, but the official reason was that the Belgian office of International Wizarding Law Enforcement had agreed to let our tech people test and demonstrate some new spell detection technology. Another great Wizarding Wheezes product." Harry nodded pointedly to Fred pointedly to underscore his gratitude to the Weasley brothers' company. "Anyway, we'd deployed it onsite in Antwerp. Our detection specialist had gotten interesting initial readings with George's detection charms the first time through, but for some reason we couldn't reproduce them later. I always wondered whether, once the suspects had figured out that we were about to nail some really concrete evidence, they somehow managed to get back in there undetected and clean up the scene?"
"The suspects," Harry repeated. "The lab tech was a squirrely little man named Bloemgarten. He was being coerced by Millicent Bulstrode, whom I presume you remember from Hogwarts?"
"Sweet mademoiselle Troll-face?"
"Yes, that's the one. Anyway, she'd been on the run for ages; she disappeared after serving with the death eaters at Hogwarts and never turned herself in despite offers of leniency. Her name would pop up every once in a while in auror cases, but she always seemed a lot cagier than I ever would have given her credit for as a student. Anyway, I swore up and down that Bloemgarten wasn't working alone; the theft was probably the crowning achievement of Bulstrode's criminal career." Harry scowled at the memory.
"So one day after you startle the pair in Antwerp, you were off duty in London and just happen to run into them again? On a nearly-empty platform in King's Cross? A little peculiar, don't you think?" Fred asked.
"What were you and Ginny doing there so early?" Fred continued.
Harry shrugged perplexedly. "Obviously just having a typical Harry Potter day: I was determined to completely escape work for a little while and enjoy a peaceful morning with my beautiful, patient wife... so of course I end up apprehending one of the most wanted fugitives in Europe." He laughed sardonically. "At least it started off well. We'd finished a wonderful breakfast in St. John's Wood, ambled our way through Regents Park, and still managed to find ourselves on Platform 9 ¾ more than an hour early. We planned to meet the Lupins; Angie and Andy were both going to Hogwarts that year. But we didn't expect them for another half hour or more, so we figured we'd just make ourselves comfortable. I was on my way up the platform to pick up a newspaper when the Express pulls in. I don't know why I stopped to look at it, because the train is always empty when it first arrives, but I did..."
"Go on!" Fred urged eagerly.
"Out of the corner of my eye, I see them!"
"Bloemgarten and Bulstrode??"
Harry nodded. "I shouted down the platform to Ginny. All I had time to yell was, 'Call switchboard!' because I was running at the train. Auror instincts took over — I grabbed the door before the train stopped moving, forced it open and fired a stunner."
"Bloemgarten collapsed and dropped the weapon. It shattered irreparably. But Bulstrode... well, she just... kind of vanished. I assume she must have had the second prototype on her."
"Kind of vanished? How does one kind of vanish?" Fred asked with an intrigued look on his face.
"Well, it was like she turned sparkly... glittery... and then she just wasn't there any more. It can't have been disapparation or portkey. I still don't know how she got away."
"What happened next?"
"Well, Terry and Dennis showed up within minutes. Ginny brought them to me and ran to notify station security that there was an auror emergency on the platform. Dennis went about trying to collect all of the fragments from the weapon, while Terry and I renervated Bloemgarten and tried to interrogate him. That was bloody useless — the poor sod had been obliviated... badly. He spent the rest of his miserable life in a vegetative state."
"Prior incantatem showed that the obliviate came from Bloemgarten's own wand just as the train arrived." Harry said, frowning and shaking his head. "Official explanation is that he somehow obliviated himself. That's complete rubbish."
"What's your theory?" Fred asked.
"I think the whole thing was an elaborate coverup: everything was choreographed to throw us off the trail. Bulstrode had discovered the day before that we were getting hot, and everyone knew that Harry Potter would be on Platform 9 ¾ that morning, off-duty with no operatives around. It was a perfect opportunity for her to throw Bloemgarten to the dogs and make a clean break! I'm convinced she somehow duped Bloemgarten into stowing away on the Express with her, then she obliviated him. The slickest plan would probably have been for her to disillusion herself and boot Bloemgarten off the train right into my hands, just as soon as she spotted me. What she doubtlessly hadn't considered was that I'd already be on the platform so early, and would be walking west to get some reading material at the precise moment the train came in. Anyway, I saw her face-to-face for the second time in two days, but nobody else believed me that she was ever really there. And Bulstrode didn't exactly cooperate either — after she vanished that day she was never seen nor heard from again."
"Makes a great story, Harry. But why do all the Tijdvelt records say that there was only ever one prototype built? And all the case files say there was only ever one suspect?"
"Tampering!" Harry nearly shouted. Echoes came drifting back from within the cavernous empty platform. "Either all the documents were tampered with or I went insane somewhere along the way. Take your pick."
"The mission team and analysts all said that there was only ever one suspect."
"I know, I know — I can't explain it!" Harry grumbled. "It must have been expert tampering, but I saw Bulstrode with my own eyes twice and I'm absolutely certain that the original criminal report filed by Tijdvelt said that two identical devices had been stolen. That would be fully consistent with their standard lab protocol: they always created at least two copies of any experimental product for validation purposes. And finally, there's no way Bloemgarten could have obliviated himself so completely. In order to complete a spell like that you need to maintain deliberate intent until the bitter end, and it's impossible for Bloemgarten to have had enough brain function left to focus on anything even half way through a hatchet job obliviate like that!"
"I believe you, Harry." Fred reassured him.
"Thanks — I wish Hermione had! I kept trying to tell her that we weren't out of the woods — there was still a very dangerous criminal on the loose with a perilous weapon! I felt so impotent knowing a really important and appalling truth, but not having anyone else believe a word of it. Maybe everyone was infected with wishful thinking: it was an ugly, frightening case, so maybe capturing Bloemgarten and sweeping up the shards of a weapon gave everyone a reason to wistfully convince themselves that it was over. Everyone desperately wanted to believe that there was nothing more to worry about."
"So Hermione told you," Fred finished, with a sympathetic smile, "that you had put in way too many nights and weekends that summer. She put you on three weeks paid administrative leave and gave you a two person voucher for resort accommodations in Kos."
Harry nodded resignedly.
"Er, did you enjoy the trip?" Fred asked.
Harry laughed. "You know, I actually did! It could have been a complete disaster, and I'm certain that the night before our departure Ginny was ready to axe the whole thing, but it all worked out great thanks to..."
"Thanks to George." Harry finished, with a sudden expression of bafflement on his face.
"Do tell? Doesn't sound like Georgie to be a comforting voice of reason." Fred mused.
Harry shook his head. "That might have been the most surreal thing in the whole ridiculous episode," Harry recalled. "We were at the Burrow for a little going-away party, and things were going badly. I had just had my twenty fifth argument with Hermione about the case. Ron and Angelina had taken her into the kitchen cool down, while George and Ginny worked on me. Ginny was saying that she believed me, or at least she believed that I had really experienced what I claimed to, but suggested that some sort of peculiar magic must have twisted the circumstances around for everyone else. It was clear that she was trying to split the difference: assume that I was not delirious, but simultaneously try to rationalize the overwhelming evidence. It was typical smart, logical, sympathetic Ginny, but even she wasn't quite able to get through to me. It was all so stupid: Hermione thought that I just couldn't stand to admit I was wrong but that wasn't it at all. I was petrified that Tijdvelt was part of a bigger plot, and that Bulstrode was about to use that weapon. I had this horrible dread that something terrible was going to happen here in Britain the moment we set foot outside the country."
Harry took a deep breath. "Anyway, the conversation peetered out: Ginny and I both stopped talking and turned to look at George who had gone uncharacteristically silent. He had a distant look in his eyes; he turned to Ginny, and said, 'Gin-Gin, give me ten minutes alone with this bloke. I'm going to take him for a walk in the moonlight... and I'm going to bring you your husband back.'"
Fred suddenly went quite rigid. He was frowning and listening to Harry with rapt attention.
"So George and I walked in silence up to the orchard and we stood there for a moment," Harry continued. "Then he turned to me. The moonlight was glinting in his eyes, and the way his hair reflected the pale light made him look strangely wraith-like. He was completely expressionless. All he said was this:
'Harry, there was a terrible problem that could have doomed us all. But you fixed it. You fixed it so well that we might never again prove the problem ever even existed... It's over, Harry. The threat is past. Everyone is safe.'"
Harry stared up toward the darkening skylight for a while. "I still think back and wonder what in Merlin's name he was talking about! I mean, he didn't have the faintest clue about the case apart from what Hermione and I had been ranting incoherently about. But for some reason, he spoke to me with this wild, preternaturally quiet intensity, with such conviction... and I completely accepted every single ludicrous word he said. It was like, okay here we just had the most surreal auror case of the decade — why not throw our hands in the air, claim it's solved, give it the most irrational irrationalization possible and walk away happy? That's precisely what we did. I just nodded, agreed with him that things were okay, and we walked together back to the Burrow. I went straight over to Hermione, apologized, and told her that there were things out there that neither one of us will ever understand. I gave my incredible wife a big kiss and then, inexplicably, she and George and I all started singing a Greek island folk song, and cracked open a bottle of retsina. Angelina, Hermione, Ron and the kids all just kind of stared at us, stared at each other, shrugged and laughed. We had a great bash, then Ginny and I spent a wonderful vacation unwinding together in the islands."
As Harry wound down the reminiscence, a smile began to spread across his face. Fred, however, was sombre and contemplative. After a while, he turned to Harry, and said in a nearly sepulchral tone, "Twins sometimes sense things they have no logical basis for knowing."
Startled back to the matter at hand, Harry stared at Fred. "What? Do you think George somehow truly knew something very important that the rest of us didn't? Just because he was a twin?"
"Sounds peculiar to me too, Harry," Fred said thoughtfully, "but that's exactly what I think."
"How? Why? Because he was your twin? But you didn't have any part of the case — you'd been dead for years."
"Maybe the Tijdvelt case was actually somehow about me, Harry."
Harry gawked at him. "What are you suggesting? Do you know what it was that George somehow seemed to understand that night?"
"Not yet." Fred said solemnly. "But I might be about to find out."
Harry stared inquisitively at his friend.
"I think all I need is to ask one question, Harry." Fred said in a tense tone.
"Okay, go ahead." Harry said, with a tinge of anxiety creeping into his voice.
"What was the mystery weapon?"
Harry breathed a little sigh at the seemingly innocuous query. "Well, to be honest," he began, "it wasn't actually a weapon per se. We always referred to it as 'the weapon' in our public statements for a number of reasons. It was secret technology, so we were forbidden from saying precisely what it was, and DMLE decided for security reasons that we would carefully craft our public statements to obfuscate the true nature of the device. And when it comes down to it, the device really would have been unequivocally dangerous in the wrong hands. So, to answer your question, it wasn't really a weapon at all, but rather a very sophisticated and powerful time-tur..."
Fred's hand had darted out to interrupt Harry's final word. He stared at Harry, pinning him with an intense, pained expression. Harry stared back at Fred, baffled by the change in demeanor. Fred was pale; haunted; he stood quietly for an indeterminate period then finally, in a low voice, barely more than a whisper, he said, "Thank you, Harry."
Harry blinked and stared blankly at Fred, so bewildered by the exchange that he couldn't muster even so much as a question.
Fred took a while to carefully sort through his thoughts and emotions. Eventually he reached a point where he was able to begin articulating. "Blimey, Harry!" he rasped. "It was a brilliant, horrible masterpiece of a scheme. Bulstrode went all the way back to the Battle of Hogwarts, and planted a time-turner on you at a moment of grave weakness."
"I had a time-turner? In Hogwarts? When the wall collapsed??" Harry felt shock and devastation sweep through his veins.
"Yes Harry, I'm seeing it all. I'm seeing not only what really happened, but also whole other futures that could have been." Fred's eyes widened in shock as he continued to sort through complex scenarios and implications.
"Bloody hell!" Harry swore, "No wonder I've never forgiven myself after all these decades! Fred, I could have saved you! There were dozens of things that I could have done with a time-turner to help the battle and save lives. The Tijdvelt turner was extraordinarily powerful: I could have gone back to save my parents, or Sirius; I could have prevented Voldemort's return; I could have saved you, or Remus and Tonks..."
"No!" Fred shouted, shuddering with frightful intensity. "No no no no no no no! It was a trap Harry! It was the most exquisite temptation, but it was a terrible, insidious trap!"
Harry stared at Fred, uncomprehendingly. "But..."
"Time-turners almost always backfire in ways you don't expect, Harry," Fred told him as he struggled to regain his composure. "Remember when Dumbledore got you and Hermione to use a primitive turner when you were students?"
Harry nodded. "Yes, back in 1994."
"Did you ever stop to consider what the penalty was for even that simple bit of temporal meddling?"
Harry shook his head perplexedly.
"On the positive side of the equation, your temporal excursion might have bailed your earlier self out of a tough spot, and you clearly saved the life of an innocent hippogriff. You prolonged your godfather's existence for a couple years... fine..." Fred equivocated. "The problem was that those little time-turner shenanigans made it possible for Voldemort to regain his body nearly five years sooner than he otherwise would have."
Harry collapsed onto the bench in stunned, aghast silence.
"Think about it! Pettigrew didn't want anything to do with Voldemort, but by saving Sirius you propelled ratty straight into Voldemort's hands, and then look what happened! If you consider the damage you and Granger did with that little tinker toy, imagine what havoc you might have wreaked with a powerful Tijdvelt turner? From what I can see, just about everything you would have done with the device Bulstrode planted on you would have had horrible consequences that you couldn't have even remotely suspected. The best case — the absolute best case scenario — was that it would have delayed you from completing what history has recorded as your most important achievement. Even in that case, more people would have died."
Harry shook his head dumbly as he tried to fathom, with great incredulity, that any tangible outcome from the use of such an amazing tool might have proven disastrous, and that he would still have have been powerless to prevent any of the myriad of Voldemort-induced tragedies.
"Harry, Bulstrode saw it all brilliantly. She knew that all she had to do was divert the teenaged Harry Potter from his path, appeal to his overwhelming sense of decency, empathy and justice, and she could save Voldemort! She was so convinced she was right that she took the huge risk of sacrificing her only way of ever returning from 1998 to 2028 — the second turner. She messed with the case files to make it look like there was only one weapon and one suspect, she betrayed Bloemgarten and let one weapon shatter in order to get auror-Harry of her trail. Then she went straight to 1998 Hogwarts to trick teen-Harry into saving Voldemort."
Harry shook his head and blind denial. "No, it can't be! I wouldn't have needed to deviate from that path barely at all. I mean, surely I could have gone back ten minutes and added a trivial strengthening spell to that wall. So simple, and think of the pain it could..." Harry's speech devolved into mumbles as he burst up and paced agitatedly about the platform.
Fred watched him with a pained expression. From within an ongoing struggle to grapple with something terrifying, he fought to sustain his composure. "You're making this very difficult for me, Harry. This is not just your story. I didn't know anything about this until a little while ago, and I wish I've never learned, but this is my story too!"
Harry paused and turned to face Fred.
"Harry, are you really going to force me to tell you what would have happened if you had saved my life?"
Harry didn't respond.
"Arggh!! Do you want to know what tragic accident would have unfolded later to completely destroy everything that we worked so hard for?" Fred's equanimity was fraying badly. "Should I tell you what could have nullified all those other sacrifices that you and so many other people made to bring down Voldemort?" Fred's voice rose to near hysteria. "Do you want to know what horrific shame I would have carried for all eternity if I had managed to stagger alive down to the Great Hall shortly before sunrise that morning?!"
Harry peered deeply into Fred's haunted eyes, felt the torment of his soul, and then looked away. "No." he said quietly.
"Good," Fred said, mustering a weak smile and taking three slow, deep breaths. "Listen Harry, from everything I can see, fate was all lined up for you to succeed... but only if you focused every ounce of strength and courage you had on the one viable, brutally pyrrhic path that was still open to you. And you did it! You somehow managed to destroy the turner and thwart the most deadly plot of the twenty first century... er... twentieth? Whatever — you thwarted the plot! George was right! Hah — even the Deathly Privet was right, eh?"
"Really?" Harry asked incredulously. "You mean that the teenaged me destroyed the Tijdvelt turner in 1998? How could he.. I mean I...have known to destroy it rather than use it? And why don't I remember anything about it other than the vague feeling that I might have... picked it up?"
"Good questions! And how did auror-Harry know that there were two suspects and two weapons, even after Bulstrode used to turner to rewrite case history?" Fred asked with a twinkle in his eye.
"That had better be a rhetorical question, because I don't have the faintest bleeding clue."
"The answer to everything is right here all around us."
Harry stared at Fred in bewilderment. "Huh?"
"King's Cross Station!" Fred exclaimed. "For all Millicent seemed to have crafted a brilliant plan, it was a pretty bloody dopey idea to mess with Harry Potter on Platform 9 ¾."
Harry looked at him quizzically. "What does King's Cross have to do with it?"
Fred shrugged. "I don't know, but you and this place just seem to have this intimate connection with each other. Something about crossing lifelines, strange symmetry, hell probably Merlin and Boadicea for all I know. Sorry mate — I'm in way over my head on this one — I'd better shut up before I get too confused and accidentally invent some new religion."
Harry made a sour face. "A new religion?? That's the last thing I need to get tangled in." He laughed. "Okay, I'm so thoroughly confused, that I simply give up! All I can do is pray that celestial butterbeer is worth the wait!"
"It is, Harry! It is!" Fred smiled. "Anyway, I'm muddled too, but please allow me to recite the wisdom of some strange bloke I once met at a train station. This fellow said, 'There are things out there that neither one of us will ever understand.'"
Fred grinned broadly, but then tapped at his watch which was starting to glow a pale celestial blue. "Ginny's on her way — please give her my love and tell her I'll be awaiting you both at the next stop. I must rush back to check on the fireworks!"
With a smile, Harry watched his brother-in-law board the train. "Thanks Fred!" Harry called.
"No, Harry." Fred answered. "It is I who must once again thank you!"
"What for?" Harry wondered.
"Thank you for saving my death!" Fred shouted over the engine noise. He saluted playfully as the doors clattered shut and the purple train pulled away.
A hush fell over the Wizengamot assembly as Mr. Albus Potter strode through the door and made his way to the witness podium. Although retired, he remained a striking figure: vigorous, confident, and sporting his trademark piercing green eyes and shock of untamed white hair. Several elderly witches sighed audibly.
"All rise for the Chief Warlock, the Rt. Hon. Cameron MacMillan."
All of the assembled geriatric witches and wizards made a passable if unenthusiastic attempt to stand for the Chief Warlock as he entered the room and took his seat. The next five minutes passed with a number of procedural formalities before the Chief was permitted to address the sole item of business for the morning. "Would Mr. Geoffrey Thomas, co-chair of the 1998-2028 Temporal Anomaly commission please introduce our witness please."
Your humble narrator stood accordingly. "Yes your honor. In view of the fact that the commission has already completed its scheduled enquiries, I apologize for the breach of Wizengamot protocol. However, I seek your indulgence in very briefly reopening the enquiry for one extenuating circumstance. Courtesy of a recent discovery by this morning's witness, Mr. Albus Severus Potter, Order of Merlin Second Class, we can for the first time complement our pattern-based assertions with real material evidence."
A buzz swept the room.
Chief Warlock MacMillan nodded in interest. "Mr. Potter, can you please display the evidence and relate to us the prospective significance thereof?"
Potter withdrew from his cloak a small, elongated chest and placed it on the podium. He drew his wand and opened the chest nonverbally. Inside it, one could see a wand and a curved shard of glass. He lifted the box and solemnly raised it in an arc around himself to enable everyone in the room to view the contents, before speaking. "I located this chest in my childhood home, my brother's current residence: 12 Grimmauld Place in Islington," he began. "My siblings and I were sorting through the personal effects of our recently deceased parents and this piece was the only object that none of us were able to identify. Indeed we still have not determined exactly how it came to be in the house, but fortunately we have at least now characterized its contents. A fairly sophisticated charm had been placed on the box to prevent its opening, however in consultation with Gringotts curse breakers, we ascertained a spell by which the box could be opened by any blood relative of my father, Mr. Harry James Potter."
Another buzz swept the room, which was silenced by the Chief Warlock's gavel.
"Having learned some details of the 1998-2028 Temporal Anomaly commission mandate from co-chair Thomas," Mr. Potter nodded politely toward your narrator, then continued, "I believe that the contents may be of significant interest."
"Can you please describe them for us?" Chief MacMillan asked.
Mr. Potter nodded. He retrieved from the chest the wand. "This wand is quite old and has not been properly cared for, and thus its magic has been degrading. Nonetheless, auror forensics specialists have determined the ownership and, via prior incantatem, the location time and nature of the last two spells for which it was used." He paused for effect. "The owner of this wand was a notorious criminal from the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries by the name of Ms. Millicent Bulstrode. The last two spells were both cast by her. The next-to-last spell cast ever from this wand was a successful imperius curse effected by the owner onto one Lucien Bloemgarten, on September first, 2028."
The Chief Warlock was once again forced to gavel down a frenzy of gasps and exclamations.
"The very last spell ever attempted from this wand was a failed cruciatus curse directed at my father within Hogwarts Castle. We will all likely recognize the date of casting: May 2, 1998."
The entire Wizengamot sat in stunned silence. The Chief Warlock leaned forward slowly, with wide eyes. "I wish to confirm for the Wizengamot transcript that the witness has stated that the last spell ever cast by this wand occurred more than thirty years before the penultimate spell."
"That is correct," Mr. Potter confirmed impassively.
The Chief Warlock shook his head for a moment. "Thirty years — amazing! And what is the piece of glass?"
Mr. Potter placed the wand down and gingerly picked up the shard. "This is leaded crystal imbued with the residue of some very complex magic, the nature of which auror forensics were unable to characterize. It has been broken from a larger object and thus is obviously incomplete, however a portion of original engraving remains. The main figure visible is an ornate Greek tau character, above the truncated phase, "Tijdvelt Labora..."