It was just past four fifteen in the morning, and all but one Horcrux was destroyed. There was one final step, and he knew that the risk here was different from the risk before. Before, the basilisk might have killed them, and then their work would have been for naught. Eventually Riddle would have managed to break back into the Chamber, and all of the Horcruxes would have been there waiting for him.
Now, the risk was much simpler. In some ways, Harry thought that if this failed to work, it would make things easier. If he died and the protections failed, then he knew Kreacher could finish the task Regulus had set. If he succeeded, then the unexpected Horcrux would be no more, and Harry could finish Voldemort off once and for all.
“Kreacher, my friend,” Harry said, “there is one more step. I have told you what we did, and why we did it. But there is one piece of the Dark Lord’s soul left. Sadly, no one but me knows of it, and the price to get rid of it may be very high – for me, at least.”
Harry sat down on his bed and motioned Kreacher to sit in the chair. The elf was still clutching the trunk, obvious happiness replaced by immediate fear. “Master Harry?”
“If what we do next fails, Kreacher,” Harry said softly, “I need you to promise me you will finish the Dark Lord. He is currently living on the back of Professor Quirrell’s head at Hogwarts. If you kill Quirrell, and then kill the spirit that will try to flee, the Dark Lord will be no more, and Regulus’ job will be complete. Do you understand? And will you promise me to see this through?”
Kreacher nodded, and it was clear to Harry that he could sense the solemnity of it. “Yes, Master Harry, Kreacher promises.”
“Do you remember the sign that each Horcrux gave when it was destroyed? The green smoke, the faint cry? Good. Now I need to ask you a question, Kreacher. I must do something to remove the last bit of Voldemort’s soul, which unfortunately is stuck inside me. It’s going to be very painful, and possibly very deadly, for me to remove it. You will be safe no matter what. However, there is one compound that will save me. Will you be able to watch me suffer and not give me the healing agent until after you have seen the Horcrux be destroyed? Even if it means I die?”
Kreacher shook his head back and forth slowly. “No, Master Harry. You can’t be evil.”
“Then let me explain this. You see, when the Dark Lord tried to kill me, he made me an unintentional Horcrux for himself.” Harry paused to point to his scar. “This is that Horcrux. The only way to extract it is for someone to destroy it, just like all the others.” Kreacher started crying, so Harry stepped over to him and wrapped his arms around the little elf. “No, listen, Kreacher. The reason the curse failed was because my mother sacrificed herself for me, so that I might live. His Killing Curse rebounded, but made me a Horcrux. Do you understand?”
Kreacher shook his head, moaning back and forth. “Kreacher, it is like a Horcrux, but not, do you understand? I am not possessed by Voldemort’s soul, but this evil wart must be removed all the same.”
Kreacher nodded slowly, his tears subsiding. “Master Harry is immortal?”
Harry laughed shortly. “Hardly, Kreacher, hardly. Here is what we must do. You must let me destroy this Horcrux with the basilisk venom. I will give you a vial of phoenix tears I purchased in Diagon Alley’s Apothecary. You must wait until you see the signs that the Horcrux is destroyed, and you mustn’t act too soon. Once it is finished, pour the vial of tears on my scar. If I am destined to survive, they will heal me, and it will be over. Either way, you will help me to destroy the final Horcrux inside me. Hopefully, I will survive.”
Kreacher looked scared, and Harry could hardly blame him. He thought his logic was correct, but he had no certainty of it. He was, in a way, about to put his beliefs to the ultimate test. “Kreacher needs it to be an order, Master Harry. Kreacher can’t do it otherwise.”
Harry nodded and gave Kreacher one last hug. “Kreacher, if something goes wrong, explain everything we did tonight to Sirius and tell him all about Quirrell. Show him the remains of the Horcruxes. He doesn’t like you, Kreacher, because he doesn’t understand. If I’m not here, let him help you deal with Quirrell and give him a chance to see you for the great elf you are, all right?”
Kreacher smiled weakly and then sobbed against Harry for a moment. “Master Harry mustn’t go! Master Harry is the first good Master that Kreacher has had since Master Regulus. Please don’t go, Master Harry!”
Harry squeezed the elf in a fierce hug. “Don’t worry, Kreacher. I honestly believe we’ll be okay, and if this works, I can promise you at least two more house elves will join us. We’ll have a good time together, Kreacher.”
Harry gently pushed back from Kreacher and patted his shoulder lightly. Turning back to his trunk, he once again opened it to the third compartment. This time, he extracted two small steel boxes. From the first he extracted a protected vial, which bore the faint mark of a bird in flight embossed on the top, and handed it to Kreacher. From the second, he extracted the thick glass jar, removed the lid, and donned the gloves. “Now, Kreacher, I command you, wait until the Horcrux is destroyed before you use those phoenix tears upon me.”
Kreacher had tears in his eyes, but he nodded. Harry smiled weakly at his new yet old friend and took a large dollop of the basilisk venom mixed with the Muggle compound DMSO. Standing in front of the mirror, he liberally smeared it onto his scar before he took the gloves off and dropped them into the rubbish bin.
Within a few breaths, he felt the pain begin. After he thought that perhaps a half minute had passed, Harry’s eyes were streaming tears from the throbbing and aching. He sat down hard as his legs suddenly stopped supporting him, and the world became slightly darker in that early morn hour. He tried hard not to think about what had happened in the Chamber the last time, with Fawkes saving him at the last moment. Surely the vial of tears were not putrescible and would work all these months later. He needed them to work, for he still had so many more things to do.
As he continued to draw breaths, which became painful in their own right, the limit that his mind could take was finally reached, and everything became black.
oOo oOo oOo
“Harry Potter,” the voice came from the mist, and this time it was not the voice of Albus Dumbledore.
Harry looked around, and he saw a face he had seen once before. “Hello, Regulus. Was I right?”
Regulus smiled faintly. “You were. Your parents wish to have a long conversation with you, but that will wait until you’re ready to join them. The choice is yours.”
Harry nodded and waved.
“Tell Kreacher that I said he has done his job admirably, Harry Potter.”
“I will, Regulus. I’ll see if I can’t turn Sirius around, too.”
The mists faded, and Harry woke up screaming.
oOo oOo oOo
“No, it’s okay, Kreacher, it’s okay,” Harry said for the thousandth time. “Regulus told me to tell you that.”
He had the same old scar, though it now had a very faint crazy swirl pattern on top of it. When he had woken up, his forehead had felt for just a few moments like a hot brand had been pushed onto it, and he had all but clawed his skin off. Kreacher had been frantic getting more of the phoenix tears on the wound, and they had worked their magic in short order. Harry assured his friend that the job was well done and told him Regulus’ message and of the vision he had. Kreacher had sobbed in relief and happiness and was still clinging to Harry as they sat on the floor of his room.
“Will Master Harry deal with the Dark Lord now?”
Harry shook his head and then immediately regretted the act as his head throbbed further. “No, Kreacher. That would be very dangerous. I need to ambush him, for he’s still very powerful.” Harry looked at his watch and saw that it was now close to five in the morning. “I’ve got to get some sleep, Kreacher, since Sirius will be up here soon. You should sleep, too, all right?”
Kreacher nodded and then saw to Harry’s bed and even tucked him in. “Good night, Master Harry.”
oOo oOo oOo
Back at the castle, the holidays long since over, Sirius had continued corresponding with Harry, full of stories of the past and how surprised he was at Harry’s ability to ‘work magic’ on Kreacher. At Harry’s urging, they had also picked up two house-elves, Dobby and Winky. Kreacher had company, and they had two hard-working but happy additions to the family. Sirius had let it be known that the Ministry was planning to formally transfer both the Malfoy and Lestrange estates to him, given their crimes against both Sirius and Harry, as well as the fact that all members of both families had been sentenced to life in Azkaban, all automatically subject to the Kiss if they ever escaped. The Ministry had been more than happy to transfer Dobby to Sirius’ estate, and with Barty Crouch, Sr., in prison and his son Kissed, picking up the disgraced Winky had been easy.
Harry had been informed that he was due to go from moderately well-off to significantly wealthy in the near future. He thought he might try to take the new Galleons and distribute them to the others suffering from Voldemort’s actions, including the Bones, Weasley, and Longbottom families at a minimum. He also planned to offer loans or free tuition, if it would be accepted, to those purebloods who could no longer afford the Hogwarts fees, given their radical change in status. In the worst-case scenario, he could just dump it into the school bursary fund to support needy students that Dumbledore had told him about in the future now gone.
Harry had enjoyed his holidays, as he enjoyed being back at Hogwarts with his friends. Visiting the Weasley family had been wild and fun over break, and he had experienced both sorrow and joy during his time there. On the one hand, Mrs Weasley did not see him as one of her own, so her hugs were a bit less potent. On the other hand, he had laid a solid foundation for a strong friendship with Ginny while helping her and Ron prank the twins soundly. Of course, having Sirius on their team helped immensely, but they had managed to keep that little fact secret from Fred and George.
No matter what Harry tried, however, now that he was back in the castle he could not find a clear opportunity to ambush Quirrell and to take down Voldemort. He even considered trying it in the middle of class, just because it was the only time he could find the man when he was not in his private quarters, but he discarded it as too likely to get other students killed. There was also the minor problem of explaining what the hell he was doing randomly killing innocent professors with a speech impediment. It was rather a stretch to think there would be a chunk of spirit laying on the floor, dead and ready for examination. All that would be left was a dead body and too many witnesses. He needed a sudden ambush or else superior numbers – very, very superior numbers.
It was nearing the end of February when the plan struck him. Not only would there be superior numbers, but the odds of Voldemort escaping were infinitesimal. Best of all, should the plan fail, there would also be no evidence pointing to Harry Potter, leaving him free to try another strategy later. It became agony to wait for the upcoming Quidditch game that Snape had arranged to referee, but so it went.
oOo oOo oOo
After the match, Harry held back and waited for Snape to storm out of the castle and into the woods, knowing the man would be going to meet Quirrell-Voldemort. As he saw the Potions Master leave, Harry carefully Glamoured himself to look exactly like Quirrell and sped off into the forest on his broom. He was careful to sweep past the place where he knew Quirrell and Snape would meet, and then he headed straight for one of the most dangerous parts of the forest.
As he arrived, he slowed down on the broom and hovered near the ground. He knew his Glamour would make his voice match Quirrell’s as well, and he was counting on it. “Ah, here we are. The right place to gather some nice potions ingredients.”
He heard a rapid rustling and faint clicking from the valley below him. He could hear a few more rustlings from his left. “A beautiful day to be out and about, I should say,” he called in a rather loud voice. When the first Acromantula appeared, Harry grinned wickedly. “Ah, Acromantula eyes! A rare ingredient indeed!” Harry calmly killed that spider and waited as three more appeared. Rapidly, he killed those as well before he heard the weird clicking-screeching they used to communicate.
These were the spiders that had helped tear apart Hogwarts, and Harry had no pity for them. Backing away on his broom just ahead of the spiders, he kept randomly killing them as he flew straight for the spot where Quirrell was supposed to be, leading a merry chase for a horde of hateful spiders, taking care to keep their rage fully stoked.
When he knew he was close and could faintly hear the professors’ voices, he shot ahead at the same time as he cast a Disillusionment Charm on himself. Sweeping around to the far side of the small clearing where Quirrell and Snape were meeting, he hovered amongst the branches to hear their conversation.
“B-b-but S-s-severus, I d-d-don’t w-w-want–” Quirrell was shuddering and moaning.
“Shh! Quiet, fool!” Snape whispered urgently. Harry could hear and see the bushes shaking. “Flee!” Snape cried, but he was stopped immediately by a large Acromantula that dropped into the middle of the small clearing. Quirrell and Snape both moved in different directions, but Harry moved to follow Quirrell – from a safe distance. Quirrell was good, but, as he was on foot, the outcome was almost certain. He heard a sharp cry that cut off from behind him and surmised that Snape would no longer torment him.
When Quirrell stumbled, two Acromantulas dived on his body, and moments later, a shade drifted out and screeched hideously. Harry wasted no time and focused on all the hate he felt for Voldemort, enough hate to come back and kill the Dark Lord all over again. “Avada Kedavra!” he shouted, the green flash of light striking the ghostly form as it hovered in the open. A bright white light filled the air above Quirrell’s body, and then it was over.
Voldemort was dead.
Harry shot back to the castle as fast as he could, leaving the Acromantulas and their food far behind.
oOo oOo oOo
Harry sat in the Owlery, composing his last communiqué to Kingsley, identifying Rita Skeeter as an unregistered Animagus. He further speculated that that was how the woman was getting her inside information, details far beyond what Harry had given her from which to work out stories. He had expected her to use her form; it was what she did, but he also wanted her acid pen to stop writing lies. The magical world was safe and in the process of a very painful reform, and they needed honest and fair reporting now – not the bile-spewing work that Rita Skeeter offered. By the time she would be out of prison, her lesson would have been learned, and the political landscape would be vastly different. They might even have proper libel laws by then.
As the owl winged off into the afternoon, Harry got to his feet. He had one last appointment to keep, and then he needed to spend a lot of time with a mirror and the Obliviate spell.
As Harry reached the gargoyle guarding the headmaster’s office, he realised he had no idea what the password was. “Err, look, I need to talk to the Sorting Hat. It told me to come and see it when I did something, and it’s time. Can you let me up? Or maybe ask the Hat about it?”
The gargoyle looked at Harry with an air of exasperation before the eyes rolled back into the head, and it looked like the creature was squinting hard. Moments later, the eyes rolled back and opened. The stone guardian leapt aside, and then the staircase was ready. “Thanks,” he said quietly, patting the creature on the back.
“Hello, Harry,” Dumbledore said as Harry walked in without knocking. “The Hat was just telling me to let you in and that you need a few moments to talk with each other.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, no longer happy or enthusiastic. He was feeling faintly sick for what he had done over the past months, but it was far better than how sick he had felt before he came back to do it all over again. “We do.”
“You seem rather unhappy, Harry. Is there anything I can do to help you?” Dumbledore was openly concerned, and it touched Harry that the man cared so much, even before they had much interaction. It was painful, but Harry decided then and there that no matter the man’s faults in the past or the future, he was forgiven. And that gave him another idea.
“Actually, there is, sir. Not today, but soon, could we meet regularly? I found out that you knew my parents rather well, and even lived in the same village, and I thought… well, I thought you could tell me what you know.” Harry was unsure what reception the request would garner, but he had hopes that this time around, he could learn from and of the headmaster when it was far from a life-or-death situation. Perhaps they could have years to talk to each other, and Harry could learn so much of the magic he never had a chance to the first time around.
Dumbledore smiled broadly. “I think I would like that, Harry. Now, why don’t you talk to the Sorting Hat and see if it can’t help you with your problem?”
Harry smiled weakly and picked up the Hat. For a moment, he wished Fawkes was there, as the phoenix had always been a source of personal strength. With a deep breath, he dropped it on top of his head.
And so here we are again, Mr Potter. One moment, please. Harry could feel the Hat flipping through all the memories of what he had done since the Sorting at incredible speed. And so you have done as you planned, more or less. Do you think this will unite the Houses? Reform the magical society of England? Even the world? Or are you just deceiving yourself? Was the price worth it, Mr Potter?
I think so. Will everything get better? Not today, not right away. Will it over time? I think it can now, which is better than it was before I did this. No matter the cost, I believe coming back was worth it.
And you must do one more thing, is that correct?
Yes. Will you explain it to him when I’m done?
I will, Mr Potter.
Harry did not bother opening his eyes or saying anything verbally. Instead, he cast a silent and wandless Stunner at the headmaster and was rewarded with a thud as the man slumped in his chair. Harry got to his feet and extracted the Elder Wand from the man’s sleeve. One decisive break over his knee, and it was the Elder Wand no more. Harry left his second wand, the unregistered one, on the desk by the broken Elder. Dumbledore would need a wand to use, after all, and this saved him the effort to get one. Then he pulled out the bag full of former Horcruxes and deposited it on the desk as well.
You were planning to Obliviate yourself, Mr Potter?
Yeah. I didn’t see any other way to do it.
It won’t work. You’ll wind up in St Mungo’s Long-Term Care Ward, you know. You can’t just remove memories like that, it’s all too tied together. You’ll remove everything in the process if you try.
Great. So now what? I can’t go around like this, and I certainly can’t try to keep the friendships and hopes for the future with my old future memories. I’m a walking mental disaster. Maybe St Mungo’s is the right place for me to be.
There is a way, Mr Potter. It will be most painful, but I can erase – not remove, but erase – those things you should no longer know.
Oh. Can you leave some bits?
What I know of magic. That was hard to learn. I don’t mind forgetting how to do it until we cover it in class, I suppose, but I’d like to have the abilities, you know? And Ginny. I can’t be in love with her anymore, but can you leave my attraction to her? And the desire to keep my friends together? And the bits about Kreacher, so I’ll know how to treat him? Oh, err, also–
Enough, Mr Potter. I have seen your memories, and I know what to leave and what to keep. Are you ready?
Uh. Not really.
Too bad, Mr Potter. This is not allowed!
oOo oOo oOo
This will be a very short fic – just five chapters. Almost there.
DMSO, or dimethyl sulfoxide if you’re unaware, is a most interesting compound. It’s a by-product of the printing industry, and can be both beneficial and quite deadly. In and of itself, one remarkable property is that it’s a very powerful solvent, and only some things can contain it. Also, as far as I know it is unique in that it will carry many compounds from the surface of the skin directly into the body – i.e., the bloodstream – and not damage the cell membranes it travels through, carrying the drug with it. Imagine, topical application of every drug you might ever need – no shots, no hassles. The FDA does not approve it for human medical use, for several very good reasons, outside of one or two small corner cases. That said, it is used by Veterinary clinics. Some people do use it personally for a variety of ailments, but you can read more about it with Google or maybe Wikipedia if you’re interested. I had a long personal experience with it back in the mid-80’s for a job I had, and it’s not something I’ll forget. The unique property cuts both ways, rather horrifically at times. As one example, migrant farm workers use DMSO to bring comfort to their sore joints and muscles, which it is quite useful for. Sadly, they don’t always wash thoroughly before applying it to their skin, so the pesticides and other compounds they use during the day are carried straight to their bloodstream. As I understand it, many people have died or had permanent neurological damage from such innocent mistakes.
Thanks, as always, to the betas. Chreechree, cwarbeck, Reg, Lathac, Sherylyn, and Sovran all lent their usual thoughts and commentary, warranted or otherwise.