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He stalks across the battlefield. His cloak flutters behind him like a wraith and despite the number of flashing lights passing by none seem to hit him. There is a moment when he turns that she sees him beneath the shadows of the hood. He’s barely recognisable. Like a copy of a painting, done well but it’s just not…

Not quite right.

The moment hangs in the air. People lie dying around her. There are screams that ring silent in her ears. He meets her gaze and it lasts forever, that second, and then he’s turning away, stalking over to where the bodies lie scattered like puppets with their strings cut. There’s a knife in his hand and runes in the air and the magic is so vibrant she can almost see it, gold against the night.

Necromancy shouldn’t be gold, she thinks, but it is, his magic has been gold for a long time and she remembers the polyjuice turning liquid gold and maybe gold has always been about Death, she thinks, watching the gold spin in the eve.

It would be almost beautiful, if not for the screaming.

*

Something is different about Harry Potter.

It’s kind of expected, really, given everything that’s happened, given all those that have been lost in the Battle of Hogwarts. Hermione supposes they’re all different but--

He’s fine one minute. He’s smiling with Ginny, laughing at something she’s said and then-- the next second the smile is gone and he’s so quiet he’s barely there. Conversation jumps and he launches into manic, frantic energy and then stills once more with a soft smile and reassurances. Ginny laughs but it’s hollow and fake which can only hint at how long that is going on.

He’s restless, there’s something itching under his skin, adrenaline, guilt, Hermione doesn’t know. She knows he’s going to do something, it’s only a question of how long it’s going to take.

The answer to that is one year. She graduates and Harry’s there to clap and cheer. Ron scoops her up into a kiss and she peers around him at Harry, “You’re not wearing your Auror robes,” she comments.

“He quit,” Ron says, “Too good for us measly Aurors, wants to branch out,” his words have that of one who has heard that excuse a lot but doesn’t understand it.

Harry shrugs, a smile lingering on his face, “Wasn’t for me,” he says, lightly. The smile doesn’t reach his eyes and when Hermione turns away she can see it drop off like it was never there and Harry busies himself by boredly examining the scene with such a disjointed atmosphere that for a moment she doesn’t even recognise him.

She swallows down her worries and turns to congratulate Ginny and Luna. She’s not surprised when Ginny and Harry exchange polite nods and nothing more. “I told him to wait,” Ginny tells Hermione in a low voice, “We needed time. To recover. He needed it.”

It’s been a year, Hermione thinks, does he still need that time? Everyone’s moved on and Harry just--

He looks the same as he does the night of the Battle. Like he’s still waiting for the fight, for the green light around the corner, for something she can’t fathom.

But whatever it is, he’s still waiting.

She visits him later. He’s living at Grimmauld Place, and it looks like he puts about as much effort into cleaning as the Black Ancestors before him. He makes her tea and they make polite conversation about nothing until she finally gets close to what she wants to say.

“I heard you dropped out of the DMLE.”

He hums, “I tried it. I thought - I thought it would be similar to what we’d be doing but it… it’s not. Not really. Too many rules and regulations and bureaucracy and politics influencing what we can and can’t do and you know how I hate that, Hermione.”

“You could change it, though, you know,” she stresses, “If you were an auror you could have a say in laws and law enforcement, manage how the departments work and--” she’s losing him, she can see that, “I’m going into the Ministry,” is what she says instead.

His attention snaps to her, and she feels a little bit like a mouse under the eyes of a snake.

A stupid analogy, she thinks, shaking herself, “I’m starting in the DMLE offices and planning to move up the ranks. I want to make changes. To the Ministry, to our world, and I think this is the best way to do it.”

“Do you?” he asks, “The Ministry has always been corrupt, Hermione, do you think one person with good intentions is going to change it?”

“What would you do, then? You walked away!”

“Tear it down,” he shrugs, leaning back and sipping at his tea, “Tear it all down, build it anew-_”

“You’re starting to sound like Voldemort.” The words leave her mouth before she can take them back. Thankfully Harry just looks mildly amused.

“Sometimes,” he muses, slowly, “Sometimes I think that Voldemort had the right idea.” Her intake of breath is loud in the quietness of the old house and he doesn’t look at her, just keeps talking, “Not with the blood bigotry,” he adds, finally glancing up, but his gaze still slides past her, “But the war, the government - the only time I’ve seen anything done in the Wizarding World is when someone stood up and made a change.”

“You mean when Dark Lords murdered their ways into positions of power?” she corrects, staring at Harry. What is he saying?

“Let’s be honest,” Harry says, “If Voldemort hadn’t returned when he did, the Ministry would have strung us out like empty-headed pigs for the slaughter. Umbridge would be headteacher, I’d be an ostracised liar and Fudge would be warming his Minister seat for another four years content to believe all was well, the innocent are innocent, the guilty are guilty-- the wizarding world stagnates, Hermione, surely you can see that?”

There is a passion in his eyes that Hermione hasn’t seen since he lost his temper arguing about the Hallows, shouting about Umbridge in fifth year, confronting his godfather third year--

“Politics is slow,” she says, slowly, carefully, “But it will get there. Things will get better. It will just take time.”

“Will it?” he asks, despondently, “I suppose,” he hums. He considers her, “You’re starting soon then?”

“A few weeks.”

He deposits his empty cup on the saucer, as if coming to a decision, “Then I’ll give you ten years and see how changing it from the inside works. Bon fortuna.”

In hindsight Hermione never considered just how literally he’d take that deadline, and it takes closer to fifteen years for her to realise the date of the first massacre coincides with the same day she started working at the Ministry, ten years on.

*

He could use all of the Unforgivables successfully by the end of the war - what kind of hero was he really?

*

Golden necromantic magic spins through the air. Hermione pulls herself to her feet and chokes on the cloying scent of death hanging in the air. Hogsmeade burns around her, and there are blurred shapes as school children flee past her. Her bones ache, her hip hurts and she fumbles in holding her wand.

She feels her age, all fifty years. She doesn’t know how McGonagall and Hagrid keep going, seemingly immortal, has no idea how she’ll feel when she reaches their age--

And then there’s him .

He still looks seventeen.

He’s crouched over the bodies splayed on the cobblestones. Snow whirls through the smoke and flames and gold magic weaves through the air. There is a crack of static as one of the bodies sits up abruptly.

The boy looks like a third year on his first Hogsmeade trip. Young, blood matting his blonde hair to his forehead and his eyes blank with death. He stands awkwardly, limbs gangly and uncoordinated but playing to some unseen tune as it begins movements, lurching into action as it follows unsaid instructions.

The other children murdered already stay dead as the Necromancer grabs the knife, digging it through flesh and bone. Hermione can hear the noise is makes.

She wants to be sick.

“Harry!” she calls out. “Harry Potter!”

A passing adult stares at her like she’s gone mad. And maybe she has, after all.

Harry Potter hasn’t been seen in Britain for over twenty years.

(That’s a lie, like most things about Harry Potter).

*

“Potter,” Minerva says, taking in the form of the man standing by the entrance to her office, “Merlin, you look well for thirty. Looks like you haven’t aged a day.”

Harry smiles at her, following her up the winding staircase. He is still too thin and if it wasn’t for the stubble he’d look like a teenager, seventeen and standing over a fallen Dark Lord, “You look as young as ever,” he returns with a charming, easy grin.

“Away with you,” she scolds, “You remind me of James more and more. Now,” she straightens her robes as she sits, gesturing, “Take a seat. I must admit I was more than surprised to receive your owl. Miss Granger - oh dear, I wonder if she’s going to be Mrs Weasley now?”

“I think she’s going for Granger-Weasley,” Harry says.

Minerva chuckles, “She admits to not having heard from you in years. She said you went travelling."

"I was abroad," Harry says, “Fell out of touch,” he adds with an easy shrug as he goes about untangling his cloak. There’s a shimmering of magic over his face, but the glamour remains unnoticed. “I needed to get away from Britain,” he says, “After all that happened. There was… too much… so I travelled, visited foreign magical communities, learnt what I could from them. It was good for me. Informative.”

“Ginger Newt?” Minerva looks interested. He declines with a polite, thin-lipped smile. It’s slightly strained and she notes the way his eyes flicker up to where Dumbledore and Snape’s portraits sit and then away again like they’re not there, the latter pretending to sleep and the former just listening with a quiet, patient, grandfatherly air. “That sounds fascinating,” Minerva says, “And I’d love to hear more, but I’m sure you didn’t request a meeting just to tell me about your travels.”

Harry sighs, shoulders slumping slightly as he appears to consider something before lifting his gaze to meet hers, “I was wondering,” he says, “I know the curse will have broken with his death, but it was always my strongest subject - you did so struggle to find competent Defence teachers, and I was wondering if the position was liable to be open anytime soon?”

For a moment Minerva sees the young man at fifteen declaring he might want to be an auror. She remembers that foul woman shooting him down and she remembers herself declaring she’d do anything to get him there.

He’d been there, she is aware of that, she had to put up with a week worth of newspaper articles about Potter’s decision to step down from the auror training. He’s been all but out of the public eye since, but she still remembers that same boy who wanted to protect people.

There’s an odd smile on his lips almost like he already knows the answer, and once again his gaze flickers to Dumbledore’s portrait, some silent challenge she doesn’t understand. “I’m sorry,” she says, slowly and with regret stirring in her heart. She feels like she’s standing on a precipice, but she has no choice other than to step over it even though she knows not where it leads, “Had you  come to me three years ago, I would no doubt have jumped at the chance, considering your qualifications. But as it is, I have had an extremely competent teacher for the past two years, in good health and looking forward to their third year. The students love her."

"Ah," is all Harry says, frowning, "I had hoped--" the expression vanishes quickly, "It was just a whim," he admits, waving a hand around loosely, chuckling slightly, “It seemed right to… at least ask.”

There is the sound of Dumbledore clearing his throat behind her and she wants to turn to look, ask what he’s thinking but at that moment the door bursts open.

“Minerva,” Poppy looks alarmed, “Come quick, it’s his grave. It’s been vandalised.”

“His grave --?”

“Dumbledore’s,” Poppy is gasping for breath, “Robbed.”

“The body--?”

“His wand--

“Harry,” Minerva turns to her guest, “Do excuse me, but I must see to this immediately, perhaps we can arrange another time--”

He’s already standing, “That isn’t necessary, I don’t want to waste more of your time. Thank you for humouring my request.”

She feels the rush to turn away and sort this out but pauses, looking at her former student, “You’ll be able to find something at the ministry,” she says, “I will write a recommendation for you, no doubt Kingsley will love to have you in whatever position you desire.”

Harry smiles, shaking his head, “That’s wonderful, but I think I’ll be okay. I’ve got another opportunity in the works. A post that is nigh in need of filling.” There’s something different in his eyes that she can’t identify.

“Then I wish you the best of luck,” she says.

Later she sits in her office, pondering over the whole encounter. It was, she will learn later, the first anybody in Britain has seen of Harry Potter since he left over ten years ago.

There was nothing to do about the grave. No magical traces, no signs to follow - the grave had been robbed, Dumbledore’s wand gone. Nothing could be done other than to seal it up and keep an eye out for intruders.

“I hear my wand is missing,” Dumbledore’s portrait says from behind her, “Just as Harry visited, what a coincidence.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Albus,” she snaps, twisting to look at the half-moon spectacles, even as he voices her own thoughts, “Arlene’s trying to track something now but I doubt she’ll get anywhere.”

“He’s not the first to fail to acquire the Defence position,” is all Dumbledore says, and he looks remarkably grave for the situation at hand, “You should have given it to him.”

“Nonsense,” Minerva says, “The position is simply not open - Mr Potter understood that.”

“True,” Dumbledore notes, “But at least you could have kept an eye on him.” And as his words sink in Minerva wonders over whether she just made the wrong decision.

*

“Harry! You’re back, oh, tell me all about your travels! Ron says you saw Charlie in Romania, and you were in the catacombs of--”

“Woah, woah, calm down, Hermione!” he says, laughingly.

“You’ve been back for months and I didn’t even know!” she punches his shoulder with good nature and he winces, “I had to hear from Professor McGonagall!”

“Minerva, her name is Minerva, she hasn’t been our teacher for years, Hermione,” Harry says, divesting himself of his cloak and turning to her with a slight smile. She startles a little, looking at him.

“What happened to your face?” she asks, taking in the fading glamour.

“Ah,” he says, because in the candlelight the claw marks across his face are all too visible. They run through his old scar so that it’s barely visible anymore, missing the eye socket by millimetres and cutting through the cheek and top lip, twisting Harry’s face. He grins, and it’s all teeth and sharp lines that just accentuate the new scar, “I ran into a werewolf running wild on the full moon. Came out of the encounter a little worse for wear, but still alive and mercifully still human. I usually have a glamour - stops everyone freaking out about my resemblance to Alastor Moody.”

Hermione somehow manages a weak-lipped smile. “Well, I’m glad you survived,” she says, “Now sit, have some tea, tell me the real reason you made it back, and it better not just be because of my wedding.”

“Of course not,” he laughs, “I was due back anyway, I hear they’re on the hunt for new Dark Wizards. My forte.”

“Oh don’t even mention the serial killings, it’s been a nightmare. We’ve barely gotten over the latest goblin revolt, the governmental restructuring and rehaul had just gotten into order to allow independent views and authorities--”

“Sounds slow and boring,” he demurrs, an odd smile on his lips, “About the same as when I left.”

“It’s like nothing’s changed,” she says with a grin, welcoming him back, and Harry just smiles softly and leans back as her children and Ron make an appearance with a cry of greeting and the conversation is over.

*

“Harry Potter!”

He turns upon hearing her shout through the snow and the fire in the ruins of Hogsmeade’s main street. He stands, straightening and twisting so he’s looking over his shoulder at her. In his hand there is a heart, still leaking blood from where the aorta hangs off, crudely cut with runes already burnt into it.

Harry-- ” her voice drops.

He clicks his tongue, “Hermione,” he says, pleasantly, like he’s bumped into her at a bookstore and not in the middle of a massacre, “You know full well I don’t go by that name anymore.”

It’s not that he doesn’t go by that name, she wants to argue, it’s that nobody knows his real one. His last proper interaction with them as friends had been at Teddy’s graduation and even then he’d been a shade, skulking in for less than fifteen minutes, glamoured up to hide the claw mark scar across his face.

That had been 13 years ago. Since then he’s been nothing more than a ghost in their lives, occasionally talked about, even less occasionally bumped into and even then it’s nothing good.

Half of the younger graduates fresh in the Ministry think Harry Potter is a story the older generation made up to explain how Voldemort was defeated. Looking at him now Hermione thinks they may be right.

His hair is dark ichor, still messy and scattered every which way. There's no lightning bolt scar, only because there's a larger one he's got to replace it, deforming his face; three jagged claw marks becoming the centre of attention. Hermione wonders if the werewolf he met was on accident or on purpose. She doesn't wonder what happened to the wolf afterwards, only because she thinks she already knows the answer.

His eyes aren't green.

Maybe that's the main clue. Or maybe it's just easier to see without those familiar round frames.

His eyes are currently gold. Gold Gold Gold the colour of death, gold and green and maybe he’d been marked for this, she thinks, maybe they would always have come to this. His eyes are a feral gold wolf’s eyes, the same colour as the magic from the hallows he’s claimed. Beneath that the green is long gone and she knows there is only a muddy brown that’s closer to red than the green they once were.

He doesn't stand like Harry. Doesn't move like Harry, except he does if you've ever seen Harry on a broom. Like he belongs there, like the world is his oyster. He walks like he flies, a predator, on top of the world, confidence in every step.

He doesn't age. Hermione feels her full years, but Harry looks ageless. A young man, forever some undetermined age between seventeen and twenty.

He takes a slow measured step towards her, letting the heart fall carelessly to the snow covered ground. It lies there, blood on white.

“What are you doing?” she can’t help but whisper.

“Oh, this?” he tilts his head to the chaos around him, “Good question. Several things - for the boy, soul and spirit tethers - can I reunite his ghost with his body or am I missing a third component? All my calculations say it should work but magic dictates differently. The ritual circle is a new summoning I haven’t had a chance to try out. The heart’s for a potion. What’s the matter, Hermione? Why do you look so disgusted - I thought you loved learning.”

“This isn’t learning. This is slaughter.”

“For the greater good,” he insists, and then his seriousness cracks into a slightly crazed laughter, “That was the excuse, right? The greater good?”

“Expelliarmus !” someone shouts, the spell firing towards where Harry stands. It hits a shield that springs up, and almost lazily Harry flicks his fingers at the person like he’s flicking away a fly.

The boy - and oh god, he’s still a child - the inferi Harry resurrected turns with a snap of bones and sightless eyes. No longer controlled the dead child snarls. The spellcaster lets out an alarmed cry as the child leaps for him.

Hermione lunges between, bluebell flames springing up. Her specialty, Harry should have remembered, or maybe he doesn’t care, watching dispassionately as she protects the stupid prefect brave enough to face him.

“Go!” she snaps, as the inferi falls back in fright of the flames, “Go, run, back to the castle, tell the teachers, someone get an owl to the Ministry--”

He’s already running and she turns back to Harry.

It’s just him, as well. That’s what is the most terrifying thing. Harry stands a lone wolf in his war. He would have during the last one had he been allowed. Now there is nobody to stop him or restrain him, but there is also nobody to back him up.

Not that it matters. He has already outlasted Grindelwald and Voldemort alike.

*

“You look upset, Hermione? Bad day at the Ministry? Rosie get into trouble with Molly again?”

Hermione stops and stares at Harry. It’s been four years since he arrived back in Britain but she still barely sees him, barely talks to him. She spends most of her time running around the Ministry trying to hassle them into some semblance of a functioning government. Ron looks after Rose and Hugo and it’s only a year or two before Rose starts at Hogwarts anyway--

And Harry--

He’s got a job. She thinks. He still spends a great deal of time travelling and he’s clearly well financed to manage comfortably enough. But he’s still been--

--off.

“The Necromancer raised a graveyard worth of people,” she says, “Plus all the dead animals and birds in the area. Twenty-seven muggles were killed in the nearby village before we had it under control.”

“No--that’s horrible . Merlin, how busy is the auror department, trying to catch the guy? If you need me to babysit Hugo and Rose while Ron’s in, then let me know, I can give Molly a break…”

She just stares because she knows she didn’t miss the single moment of satisfaction gleaming in the no-longer-green eyes.

“Hermione? I can look into it if you want, but I… I’ve avoided the papers and would rather like to keep out of it, but I know what kind of statement my support could make--”

They’re brown, she thinks, except no, her own eyes are brown. His eyes are green with flecks in them.

“Hermione? What’s the matter?”

The flecks are red, she thinks, the red-rimmed eyes of a Dark Lord.

“Hermione?”

“Where were you?” she asks, “Last night?” She stands then, leaving her cup of tea abandoned on the table. He puts his own down but stays sitting, watching as she paces to his mantlepiece and back.

She can’t say when the suspicion first appeared. Certainly nobody else suspects. Just last week they’d had a family gathering and Harry had been there like always, quieter, sullener, face twisted with scars he still tends to hide so he doesn't scare the kids. She thinks only Ron and her have seen them properly, know what his face looks like now with it’s new defining feature. He’s more reclusive but he’s still Harry except--

He’s not.

“I was here, doing some research--”

“Alone.” Her voice is curt, “Where were you May 18th? How about March 3rd? Or Christmas - you said you couldn’t come to the Burrow, but you never did say where you were or who you were with--”

“Hermione?” he leans forwards, “What--” he stops when her wand comes out, the vine wood resting at his throat. “Hermione?” His whole body stiffens, eyes widening with suspicion and concern.

She forces the words out. They stick like rocks in her throat, “There was a muggle. A kid. Hiding in the church. He gave us our first eye-witness account of the Necromancer since the murders and disappearances started two years ago. Two years we’ve been trying to catch this bastard, and he’s always one step ahead. Brookes thinks several murders from a few years earlier can actually be attributed to him too. Now we’ve finally got a description of him after two years though.”

She sees his eyes widen slightly, subtly. He hadn’t known. If he did Hermione has no doubt the kid would be dead too.

“The boy described a young man with scars across his face.” He doesn’t say anything, just watches her standing there, wand pointed unerringly at him. “So please,” she begs, “Give me an alibi. Give me someone who can tell me you weren’t there raising dead things. Give me someone, anyone for any of the murders because I’ve looked and I know that I can’t verify any of them.”

He doesn’t say anything. It’s almost as damning.

She chokes. “Why?” she asks, “Harry--” her wand wavers and it’s just a moment but suddenly it’s ripped out of her hands and she’s forced into sitting and pinned in her chair. She can feel the magic holding her down and Harry hadn’t even moved . He stands, and just like that their positions are reversed. Harry sighs dramatically, looking at her.

“You weren’t meant to find out,” he says, regretfully, “Not for a while at least, not until I could--” he waves a hand, “Deal with this,” he glances at her, “Surely you’ve noticed?”

“Noticed what? That you’ve taken it upon yourself to become the next Tom Riddle?”

He sighs again, “Well we were always too alike for our own good, no Hermione. This ,” he gestures at his face, “The scars make it hard, but I’m pretty sure the Weasleys and you have noticed I’m not exactly aging .”

Her jaw clenches because she had noticed. It’s hard to tell though, because wizards and witches age slower anyway, and they’re only 32, it’s only just starting to look odd that Harry still looks twenty.

“The Hallows,” she realises, because that’s the only thing it could be. Because she knew the moment she heard the description of the Necromancer and put the facts together, because he already owns Death’s toys, what’s the small step between playing with his toys and Death itself really? “So this was your solution? Become a Dark Lord? Why didn’t you come to us, we could have helped! The DoM has Unspeakables researching this kind of magic, I would have looked into it--”

“I looked into it,” he says, “I spent years travelling and looking into it. I knew ever since I united the Hallows something was different. Except, no, it wasn’t the Hallows, really, it was the loss of the Horcrux I guess I noticed. Haven’t been able to speak to snakes since, you know?” he gives a self-deprecating smile.

“The Horcrux--” she whispers, because is that the reason for this, is that--

“Stop trying to find excuses, Hermione, there aren’t any.” He pulls out his wand then, and it’s not his Holly one, she recognises the knobbled elder wood he holds. “Don’t worry,” he says, with a grin, “I’m not quite at Voldemort level of inanity yet, I’m not going to spill every little detail to you. Just stay out of my way. It will all work out for the best, I promise you. Didn’t I say Britain needed a Dark Lord to get things done?”

“I didn’t mean for you to start killing ! And resurrecting the dead , whatever for, Harry? It’s monstrous. Unnatural! Please, stop it, I won’t say anything, I’ll--”

“Cover it up? Oh so long as I stop? I can’t, it isn’t… it doesn’t work that way.” His head tilts, and his eyes are red, she sees, or turning that way, and she wonders when she lost him. He seems to debate something for a moment before stepping back towards her. “I’m missing part of my soul,” he confesses.

“That wasn’t your soul,” she whispers, tears forming in her eyes, “You should have been fine, you should have been--”

“Nobody really knew that. Oh, you all thought I was fine, but fine--- Fine is relative, and I’d died, you aren’t meant to come back from that. But I did. I wasn’t any measure of fine and then the world just… just kept turning like nothing had changed. But everything had changed and I didn’t… I guess I lost the part of me that cared that night.”

"It wasn't your soul," Hermione says again, “You survived, Harry, that’s all that mattered.”

“Did I?” he asks, chuckle, “It doesn’t matter,” he leans back, a mad mad gleam in his eyes as he steps towards the doorway, “There was something gone either way.”

He pauses only a moment longer.

“If you have to tell the Weasley’s… at least tell them I’m sorry I’m putting them through this.”

“They’ll find out. Everyone will.”

“Well, that’s up to you, isn’t it?”

Then he’s gone.

The spell pinning Hermione releases. She wonders what excuse she’ll have to come up with for why Harry no longer joins family functions, and finds herself giggling at the thought of telling them he’s busy murdering his way through innocents to try and bargain with Death, and the giggles turn into hysterical laughter and that turns into sobbing until she’s curled up in a ball on the floor, shaking and breathless and so, so alone.

*

“I know who the Necromancer is,” she says.

Their gazes are all expectant, awaiting her knowledge, her input and she can solve this all now, she can--

Except it’s not going to make any difference. He’s already lost.

“Well?” someone prompts, “What’s the bastard’s name?”

She can, she thinks, at least save Harry this, if only for the memory of her friend if not for the man he has fallen to. “Peverell,” she says, the name springing to her lips, “Hadrian Peverell, he’s an offshoot of the family - turns out they didn’t die off--”

And the lie is spun and Harry Potter dies.

She feels like she’s killed him, just a little bit, but knows he killed himself a long, long time ago.

*

She wonders if this will go down in history like the duel between Gellert Grindelwald and Albus Dumbledore. The last fight between Tom Riddle and Harry Potter.

Hadrian Peverell and Hermione Granger-Weasley.

She knows already it’s not going to happen. She knows the wand in his hand, can see the ring on his finger - she’s already lost. In all aspects of magic Harry had always beaten her with an ease that was almost like breathing when it came to fighting. Her wave of water gets sent back in shards of ice that tear her shield to shreds. Her fire gains a life of it’s own and stalks in the shape of a Grim towards her. The earth cracks beneath her feet and oh Merlin why is there so much blood--

He's barely recognisable. Hermione's not sure if it's the Hallows or the Dark Magic and rituals he plays around with like the blood he leaves scattered in his wake. Soul magic and death magic and he plays with the borders between life and death like it's nothing. This is what they raised him to, Hermione thinks, the boy who lived but not really. The boy who died twice, and went on dying and nobody noticed. The boy who never really lived at all.

She stumbles and she should fall in that moment. Historians will write about the moment the Necromancer kills the youngest-elected Minister for Magic during her second run, aged 50--

Stupefy! ” Neville appears at her side. “ Diffindo ! Laertus !”

They’re all blocked with ease - but Neville isn’t alone and she spots Fawley and Harper with him. They’re not dressed for battle, they’re dressed for a Hogsmeade weekend. They’re not fighters. They teach Herbology, Charms and Runes respectively.

They get thrown back with laughable ease.

She can see familiar scarlet red auror robes. The black, more subtle robes of the elite squad are there as well and standing amidst the fiery snarling hound she sees Peverell’s lip quirk. Amused.

He thinks this is funny.

The circle of bodies behind him glows a killing curse green and the earth screams . Peverell glances at it, and whatever it means it’s nothing good. Nothing he’s pleased with. She can almost taste his fury in his magic as his Fiendfyre Grim charges towards the aurors.

Hermione is tired. And drained. But she knows what she has to do, her fingers clawing into Neville’s robes as the teachers try to protect the students. “We need to do it now.”

*

Rose Granger-Weasley is thirteen. She’s turning fourteen this year, or she’s meant to but she doesn’t think she’s going to survive that long. She sobs, but it’s half-hiccup half desperate gasp for breath as she crawls along the cold hard floor of the Ministry. It should have been fine, she thinks, she was just meeting her Mum, she has been here plenty of times before both with Mum and Dad and her many Aunts and Uncles and--

Never before has she seen the Ministry burn. Never before has she seen a dead body. Rose Granger-Weasley is not a war child. She was born afterwards, when the war was nothing but a distant memory.

She knows there is a serial killer out there. She’s seen the articles about the Necromancer. There is more than one person she knows who is terrified of him, thinks the man is the monster hiding under their bed. Their boggarts in Defence turn into wraith and shadows of a man with a face that all they can make out are ragged claw marks, a missing eye, a body made of nothing but bones and rotting flesh-- the rumours are almost more terrifying than the man himself, she thinks, as she casts a desperate look at the man stalking across the atrium. The doors are sealed, the floo is cut off, this isn’t some dark rituals and a dead body or two, scattered across the past few years, this is an open declaration of something.

Rose has inherited her mother’s brains but she didn’t need them to tell you that this was an open declaration of war. There are runes of all kind burnt into the floor, the blood spills and twists into abstract patterns that are not random and there’s significance in every aspect of this bloody scene except for one.

She’s still breathing.

She scrambles further away, but there’s nowhere to run. She doesn’t dare look up, focussing instead on the booted shoes of the Necromancer as he approaches; sturdy, slightly frayed leather and dragon hide and caked with mud and and--

Is that blood ?

Rose lets out a terrified sob, curling her knees to her chest and huddled up. She presses herself to the wall, knowing that despite the corner she’s found herself he knows she’s there. She’s going to die. She’s never going to live to be fourteen, she’s going to die, she’s going to--

The Necromancer stands over her and--

He just stops. Head tilts and she looks at him, fumbles for a wand she dropped ten minutes ago in the panic of the atrium. She fumbles for some rubble to throw at him because she’s a Gryffindor, she’s brave and courageous and--

Her attack is pathetic. The rock goes flying to the side and a cold hand encloses her wrist. “Let me go!” she screams, “Let me go or kill me you coward, you murdering Dark-twisted--”

It takes her longer than it should to realise he’s laughing. At her. She flushes indignantly. He’s young, she thinks, looking at him, he can’t be this young, he’s been murdering his way across the country for the past five years at the very least. He’s young with features twisted by a clawed scar across his face; eyes alight with a strange feral gold and teeth bared in a smile.

“Stop laughing!” she snaps, “Stop--”

“You’ve got fire, little lion,” he says, and lets go of her then, so abruptly she falls back down. She waits for the curse, the sickly green--

He turns away.

“You’re not going to kill me?” she asks, regretting her words as she says them.

He pauses. Blood drips in his wake and he doesn’t even turn, doesn’t even look at her. “You look just like your mother,” he says, and Rose stares because what the hell is that meant to mean-- “Except you have your father’s hair.” He turns then, outlined like a black shroud against the golden ruins of the statue behind him, “You’re not an option,” he says, and the way the statue shattered reflects the light draws Rose’s attention to a funny mark beneath his hair but--

Then he twists away, wards falling as he disapparates away leaving her alone sobbing surrounded by blood and bodies and rubble.

*

"ROSE! ROSE!" Hermione is sobbing with relief by the time the wards drop and the aurors and strike squad can break through into the ruins of the atrium. It’s devastation. It reeks of magic and even in her worry Hermione knows better than to disturb the scene. It’s perfect in it’s absolution, and her eyes flitter over, taking it in.

It’s so many things, layer on layer and oh god, she’s going to be sick. It’s a warning, a declaration, a ritual and a summoning and and and--

“Rose!” Ron’s decked in red but there’s no way he’s doing his job right now. There are just so many dead, there’s no way she’s alive, despair is rising like bile in the back of her throat, everywhere she turns there is another body, “ROSE!”

“MUM! DAD!”

Hermione’s despair flails and is brutally squashed by the sudden fierce relief as she sees the ragged form of her daughter. Ron’s across the atrium in seconds, Rose in his arms and holding on tight. Hermione is only a second slower, "Rosie, you're safe, you're alive--"

Her daughter is sobbing, "Mum, Mum… they're dead, he killed them all, he killed--"

"Shhh, shhhh--" she cards a hand through Rose’s red hair, closing her eyes because of the cold creeping realisation that comes without looking that tells her that her daughter is the only living being left in the devastation.

“Why?” Auror Grey asks in confusion, “Why kill them all and leave one girl?”

“She’s the Minister’s daughter,” Parkes snaps back, and maybe that’s it, maybe that’s the reason but--

“He said,” Rose is sobbing and crying and, “He said I wasn’t an option. He knew you, Mum--”

“See--” Grey says to his buddy--

“And Dad,” Rose continues, “He said I looked like you with Dad’s hair and--” she hiccups, catching her breath and Hermione is aware Kingsley is there, several of the old crowd who had been called in to deal with this crisis but even they won’t know, won’t realise the significance that sits in her own heart and blooms in Ron’s eyes at her words, “He knew you ,” Rose says, but even that won’t give it away, “He let me go because he knew you ,” and her daughter has always been too smart for her own good.

“Is that true, Minister?” Auror Grey asks, “Do you know who Peverell is? I mean, we all know ‘the Necromancer’ isn’t his real name and there are no records of anyone in the Peverell line after they marry out--”

The guilt claws at her stomach, because of course there isn’t, the records linking Iolanthe Potter to Iolanthe Peverell have been removed by Hermione herself. “No,” she says, meeting Ron’s gaze, “I don’t know him.”

Maybe once. But no more. 'Harry Potter was a friend of ours' she tells her children, they vaguely remember their Uncle Harry from when he was still around, he stayed until Teddy graduated and then just stopped answering their calls, 'our best friend, Teddy's godfather but after the war he left to go travelling and got lost.'

'Harry Potter never came back to Britain.'

*

He wears the cloak and the ring, and the wand rests at ease in his hand. His eyes are a feral gold that only serves to make him look even more like a stranger.

He is a stranger. He hasn't been Harry Potter for years , thrown the name and the stigma and the fame off like a cloak and left it in the dust. Harry Potter is a myth, a legend, and Hermione has already heard tales that he never actually existed in the first place, that people made him up.

The truth is far worse, but nobody will hear it. Not now and not from here. Tom Riddle shed his name to become Lord Voldemort, the Dark Lord, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Names, You-Know-Who.

Harry Potter leaves his name behind to claim titles that belong to him. Necromancer. Master Of Death. Peverell.

She wonders what he calls himself. If he's still Harry in his head or if he's fashioned himself a new name from anagrams and family, she doesn't know.

"HARRY!" she screams, across the burning Hogsmeade. Students still there stare at her, and even the older adults look confused as to why their famous Minister is screaming for a boy nobody knows. After all, Ron and her never told anyone. How could they? Harry had been their friend and their friend was dead. “HARRY!” she calls again, “COME FACE ME!”

She doesn’t think he will, for a moment, thinks he will stay over the bodies he’s busy eviscerating, but then his head lifts up. He straightens, and those not dead already are choking on blood and their own tracheas that lie outside their body. “Hermione,” he says, voice low but it travels easily across the distance. He’s grinning, teeth wolfishly curling into a smirk that cuts across his face, “Hi.”

“Minister, you can’t--” Fawley says, the Charms teacher still defending a group of injured students.

“You’re back in office?” Harry stalks forwards, “I thought you’d given up on the Ministry, ‘Mi?”

“Someone had to do something,” she says, lifting her chin up, “Something that didn’t involve becoming the next Dark Lord.”

He pouts, “It worked, didn’t it?” he gestures around, and she’s not sure what she’s meant to be looking at.

“Harry,” she says, “Please, stop this.” She wonders if the crowd will realise. She can already see a few recognising the she at least knows the Dark Lord. She wonders if she’d have been voted back in had that been public knowledge like it will be after this.

“For old time’s sake?” his wand wavers and she thinks for one astounding moment that he’s just going to change his mind like that -- his head tilts and gold eyes narrows, “How about ‘no’?”

His wand flicks up and for the second time that night they’re duelling.

*

There is a gnawing, empty hole in his chest.

For the longest of times he had thought he was missing the horcrux. It had disgusted him, sickened him, and he had kept away from anyone because he’s missing a part of Voldemort while they are grieving friends and loved ones.

Remus is dead. Fred is dead. So so many and all Harry can muster is a sick empty hollow void of emotion. He’s sad, he thinks, in theory. He’s shed tears so it must be true, but he’s forgetting how it feels to be truly sad.

He used to sit alone in Grimmauld and try to recall how he felt when Sirius died. That clawing anger and burning fiery passionate sense of loss that had once driven Voldemort out of his head--

There’s nothing left. The fire has long burnt out and he’s cold and empty and hollow and--

Missing the horcrux, he thinks, but that’s not it, because it’s not like the locket. He trails his fingers along the invisibility cloak and for the first time he finds the symbol, almost invisible - hah - woven into the corner. The Cloak feels warm in his grip.

Harry feels so so cold.

He dreams about the station. He dreams about the green light, he dreams about dying and dying and dying and--

He never dreams about Riddle, about that pathetic soul torn creature under the bench and it’s that, more than anything, that really convinces him that he’s not missing the horcrux.

He’s missing something else.

There is a dog. It is black and fiersome and a bit like Sirius except this one has eyes that are milky white all over, the moon made incarnate, and teeth that are studded like pieces of broken oyster shell into gums that bleed black and red. There is a grim and it lies in his chest and it gnaws at bits of him he didn’t know existed and he aches. His fingers twitch for something anything --

There is soothing magic in the Black’s Ancestral home and it eases it, just a little. He still walks like a ghost among the living, watching as everyone picks their lives back up and just--

Go back to what they were doing. Like there wasn’t a war. Like people didn’t die for a better future. Like their mistakes of the past mean nothing.

He thinks he sees what Tom Riddle means, now, just a little.

He leaves. He stays a year before he can’t bear it, can’t take one step anywhere without being reminded how stagnant and decaying the world around him is. He tells Hermione but knows she can’t see it. She still believes in goodness. She still believes in the system. He’ll leave it for now, give her time. She will see it fail eventually.

The wolf-dog -grim in his chest is starved and so Harry leaves, looking for an answer to a question he’s not quite sure of, trying to find something to fix it.

*

Insanity is hard to notice day by day. It’s only when he looks back at his years travelling that he sees it creeping in. Sees it under his skin, buried deep and struggling free. Sees the vital missing piece is bigger than he realised (so why did nobody else see it?).

His name still holds too much meaning. He starts going by Peverell just to avoid the staring, decides to go with the less common Hadrian instead of Harry, avoids interactions, hides his scar--

It works until he doesn’t. A rowdy werewolf in a pub in Russia follows him. It’s the full moon. Harry avoids a bite by a hair’s breadth, fangs snapping for his face and claws tearing into his skin as it tries to dig down those last few inches to rip out his throat--

He only has time for one curse. It’s a Reducto at point-blank range. It’s a bomb in the wolf’s chest and he can only hope he didn’t get any blood in his mouth. That the blood isn’t infectious too. He’s a bleeding bloody mess.

The wolf stirs.

Baleful yellow eyes open and it snarls. It’s one leg is mostly gone and it’s chest is ribbons but it’s a werewolf, it’s got magic in its veins, of course it’s going to heal, to keep coming--

Another Reducto won’t do it. A Bombarda might but--

There’s a spell that definitely will and Harry didn’t even hesitate as he lifts up his dark holly wood wand.

“Avada kedavra ,” and the green light flashes.

No remorse. No regret. There is a whimper and it’s gone, cut off and dead.

Good riddance, Harry thinks, and goes about trying to clean all the blood off his face.

*

She’s spent a lot of energy tracking down his rituals. Half are experimental, a lot are based on rituals to summon the dead, death and various incarnates. Some work. Others don’t. He’s made a new breed of inferi. He’s managed to find a new way to make vampires and zombies. He’s managed to freeze someone’s body for varying periods of time to stop aging, but as soon as it wears off they start aging rapidly. It’s a complete mix and seemingly random but Hermione can spot the pattern.

Death and Souls. It all ties back to Death and Souls. Freezing a soul. Bringing souls back to life. Reversing death, preventing death--

She can only hazard a guess at what he searches for. When he’s not terrorising the world with obscure rituals and magic that usually require copious amounts of bloody sacrifices he’s making demands of the Ministry. Hermione had refused to jump to heel, even after he spared Rose. People still wonder to this day why he never held that over her like a bargain, and only Ron and Hermione know the real reason (it’s the same reason they tell nobody his birth name). Sadly her replacement was less inclined to stand against the terrorism. It was inevitable, really, she thinks, he’d be right, the Ministry is still corrupt.

Nothing had changed.

Her opinion also remains unchanged. Violence and death is not the answer.

So she found her own ritual.

“You should get out more,” Harry- Peverell says, gold eyes taunting her as he sidesteps her spells with ease. If anything the dark magic in the air has increased the power of his magic and Hermione has just grown more tired. She can still be impressive with the spells she uses, can still make him dodge and dance across the field. They’re making each other work but she still gets the impression that some of his spells miss or fizzle out on purpose.

He’s playing with her.

“You read too many books, ‘Mi, learning the theory is all well and good--”

" Avada Kedavra! " Hermione cries out.

Harry bats the light aside like it's nothing, "You think that's going to work?" he laughs, his scars turning it into a sneer, “You really think I didn’t try that one?”

She's crying, she realises, her eyes are full of tears and Harry's staring at her with unreadable emotions. He’s distracted when some aurors move in on his one side but not for long, spikes of rock sending them backwards. He conjures up something that looks akin to a black hole, eating up rubble and dust as he flings it towards those attempting to interfere. She withholds from casting as he turns to her.

“Come on, Hermione, you’re clever. The brightest witch of her age - you remember the prophecy, right? And either must die at the hands of the other for neither can live while the other survives .”

The words ring in her head and she takes a step back, staring across at the Dark Lord before her. She shakes her head, “That prophecy is done. It’s over.”

She wonders what she would do if a prophecy appeared describing the downfall of the Necromancer. Harry’s not stupid though - he’d never listen to it, never obey it.

Harry shrugs. “It doesn’t change the fact that you can’t kill me because I can’t die.”

She knows this, to some degree, because several people have tried and some even claim success. A knife to the heart. A blasting curse at point-blank range. Even another killing curse.

Yet Harry keeps breathing and the Necromancer still stalks the earth.

“I know that,” she says, “The Hallows, right? Or did you turn one of your many murders into a Horcrux?”

"A Horcrux ?" Harry looks disgusted, "I'm already missing a bit of my soul, do you think I want to tear off another? The Hallows, maybe, they fit in where the one piece used to be, not perfectly maybe and it's a bit--" Harry's head ducks down, hand spinning, "Bit up and down up here," he laughs. It's crazed. High on power and destruction and dark magic.

"It wasn't your soul," Hermione says, "It was Voldemort's, it was Tom's-- "

"IT'S STILL GONE!" Harry's mood whiplashes around, violently and he stalks forwards towards her, "Where's this conversation going, Hermione, I've got things to do--" he sounds bored now. Arrogant and tired and not in the least bit intimidated as he picks his way across in small semi-circles towards her.

"It's not really going anywhere," Hermione admits, "It was just a distraction until you walked into the ritual circle," and then as his eyes widen in shock, she slams her bleeding hand down onto the floor.

The floor around Harry lights up. People fall back and Harry stiffens, spinning around and taking in the symbols, "Hermione--" he says, and for a moment she thinks she sees fear but then it's gone in the wave of fury there, "HERMIONE!" he steps forwards but the circle burns, warding him in and his face twists in fury and a wordless snarl.

"NOW!" Hermione shouts to the others.

"YOU THINK THIS WILL WORK?" Harry's furious. He's caged and furious and trapped and he's at his most dangerous now, he's a wild animal snarling to get out, he's-- "You think there won't be another?" he laughs, catching her gaze as she steps to one of the points of the pentagram, "Grindelwald, Riddle, me-- you think someone won't rise from this conflict in tiny little glass shards ready to cut and bleed?"

“I’m sorry,” she says, but she doesn’t think he hears her as she catches the gaze of Ginny, Luna, Neville and George and they all cast the spell at the same time, chants overlapping but meaning still clear.

The ritual circle burns gold and Harry vanishes in the centre of the gleaming burning light.

*

Ron dies by accident. It’s almost more tragic that way, because it’s still by Harry’s hand, even if it wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t cruel, it wasn’t an act in Harry’s war against the magical and muggle world, it wasn’t an attempt to make a point, to tear down another piece of their rotten government.

Harry had been fighting his way out from a crowd of aurors. Elder Wand in hand, a blade in the other and he doesn’t seem the least bit hassled as he tears through the aurors like they’re cardboard cutouts in a training room. There’s a fluidity and grace to his movements that Hermione barely recognises. Something feral clings to him and nobody recognises him. He’d given up with disguises a while ago.

Harry Potter should, after all, be forty five this year. Not seventeen.

Peverell comes across a bit older. The scar twists his face and his hair is an inch or two longer, just enough to look less like the bird’s nest it used to. His eyes glow gold with the power of the hallows, that is, of course, when they’re not a murky brown-red.

The Necromancer has faced Minerva McGonagall before and the old teacher didn’t even recognise him. He’s gaunter, like looking in a shattered mirror and if Hermione didn’t already know she’d never have guessed. What features haven’t already warped in the passing of time, Dark Magic has erased any remaining familiarity.

Ron ducks through the aurors, a portkey in hand. They can’t kill him, can’t hurt him, even if they could bring themselves to do that to their once-friend. They can only contain him, try to persuade him to see reason, to find another solution--

Hermione moves in to back up Ron but she’s wasted a precious few seconds making sure some old Order and DA members are okay, and it’s a few seconds too many. She’s too far away to do anything, her wand trained on the dead inferi in her way and not on Ron’s back, not on Peverell and so she’s too late before it even happens.

Ron actually succeeds in getting the portkey metal bracelet on Harry. It’s pure instinct that has Harry twisting against it and lashing out, and it’s pure bad luck that he hits Ron with the hand holding the blade.

“NO!” Hermione screams and then they’re gone, portkey kicking in taking both Harry and Ron with it. “RON!”

She twists out of the way of the battle remnants, racing for the floo, the only exit still available to her with th anti-apparition wards up. Still too late, she thinks, always too late, as she skids out of the fire and down the stairs to their basement. There are two shapes there as she slams the door open, stilling as she sees the pair.

Ron’s too still and Harry’s face is carved from stone. He grasps the knife and pulls it out. The blade is red. “No,” Hermione feels something precious in her die, feels herself going numb and her heart skipping beats--

For a moment Harry’s eyes are green and horrified and “Foolish,” he says, and they’re not, they’re gold, and he rears up to his feet in a single movement. Hermione stumbles forwards to her husband and her friend--

No, she thinks, falling to her knees and looking up at the Dark Lord looming over her, this hasn’t been her friend in a long time.

The bracelet that had been a portkey gets thrown carelessly to the floor. “Don’t try something like that again,” he says, “This was regrettable, but future attempts? Will be a lot worse.” He steps around her like she’s something disgusting. Something to be avoided. The door is open, his escape clear. She should have at least closed it, at least made Ron’s death mean something--

But she’s still too late and the Necromancer is already gone, vanishing out of the door.

*

Hermione blinks black spots from her vision and her heart stills. The light fades slowly, clinging to the circle. The runes burn charred patterns into the soil and there are still sparking embers. She steps forwards, looking for--

She’s not sure what. A body, maybe? The ritual was one of death and destruction and--

He’s not dead. She can see the kneeling figure, hear him--

He’s laughing.

Harry is on his hands and knees, slightly slumped and laughing and it didn't work, she thinks, it didn't work.

Then she notices the missing cloak. The blood and burnt skin on Harry's right hand where he had been holding his wand and where the ring has melted across his finger joints.

The Hallows are gone.

He’s laughing. Kneeling and laughing and chains spring up from the ground to contain him and he doesn’t even fight. He’s wandless and hallow-less but he’s been known to use wandless magic and he’s been seen to command the dead without too. She takes no chances and the manacles creep up, snapping around his neck. His eyes flutter open, meeting her gaze. “For I have become death,” he whispers, and it carries on the breeze.

“Destroyer of worlds,” she finishes.

The gold is gone from his eyes. The hallows are ashes and his eyes are the wine-red of a Dark Lord.

“Hadrian Peverell,” she says, stopping just outside the circle, aware of the other members of the DA she assembled hovering behind her. “Harry Potter,” she says, hearing the gasps, feeling the gazes trying to pick their friend out of the immortal in front of her, “You’re under arrest.”

He just starts laughing again.

*

The hallows had been easy to collect. The cloak he owns already. The ring in the forest on a trail of death he walks in his dreams every night. The wand from the tomb when he returns in a mockery of Tom Riddle’s request for a job.

A job would have been nice, he thinks, something to focus on, a chance to explore Hogwart’s library, a chance to try and find peace in life and learning and not in death and destruction.

But he’s turned away - expected - and there’s really only one road for him now. Riddle would be proud, he thinks, as he he sits inside a glass cage. It’s a cylinder and there are vents for air and no other apparent exit or entrance. It’s raised by about a metre off the ground like some sort of plinth to the surrounding courtroom. He had woken here, chained and bound. There are dementors nearby, he can feel them, but dementors haven’t scared him for many years now. There are aurors visible and he can see Hermione and the few members of the DA and Order that still live.

He lifts his head up, resting it against the glass and eyeing the hall with eyes half-lidded. His wounds are untreated and they heal, but slower now the hallows have been destroyed. He remembers the feeling of the ritual magic tear them away from him, can feel the gaping edges in his fractured psyche where they had sat. It grates and gnaws and it’s a disappointing loss but an acceptable one.

The hallows had been useful, but they were only a temporary potential solution.

Maybe he should look back into soul magic, he thinks.

The whispers fall and rise like waves across the hall. He wonders what the papers make of it. Hadrian Peverell is Harry Potter. Necromancer. Savior. The Master of Death. The Boy Who Lived. He sits in a metre diameter glass cage and feels the amount of magic they have poured into this thing to keep him contained.

It’s absolutely adorable .

“Awake?”

His lip quirks, “Morning, Kingsley,” he drawls. The former-Minister’s gaze is heavy and cold when Harry meets his gaze. “Lovely day, isn’t it?”

“We thought you were dead,” Shacklebolt says. He’s an old man. They’re all so old , Harry thinks, and he’s almost jealous stuck forever at almost-eighteen. A permanent teenager, he thinks, an absolute nightmare . “It would have been better if you were,” Shacklebolt adds, and he sounds disappointed . Harry scoffs.

“Didn’t you hear?” he asks, pleasantly, “I died. Several times.” The cheer drops and his smirk slides off his face, “Nobody noticed.”

“We thought something had happened on your travels, or your job. Ron and Hermione just stopped talking about you and we gave them space, never asked, I never thought they stopped talking about you because--” He looks horrified. Betrayed. Harry stopped caring a long time ago.

“Surprise,” he says, voice flat. His magic thrums and he reaches out to the wards. They’re complicated, but he’ll get through them eventually. He’s in no rush. He’s got plenty of time.

“You murdered Ron.”

He stiffens, because he’s beginning to feel like a zoo exhibition here. Ginny steps forwards to just behind Kingsley. He can see Luna, Neville and George in the first row behind them. He sees a few familiar faces; some Professors, Hermione is busy arguing with someone about something or other, he spots McGonagall surprised she’s still alive--

“Harry. Look at me .”

His attention drifts back to Ginny. “It was an accident,” he says, because it was. And it’s true, he did murder Ron. But not on purpose, never on purpose, and he’s long made his peace with that with what little morals and emotions he can scrounge up from the pits of his mind.

“An accident? An accident ? How do you think Hermione felt having to tell Rosie and Hugo that it was an accident , that their father was murdered by a Dark Lord--” Ginny’s voice cracks, “That you of all people--”

He straightens. At least five people scream when he moves and Ginny flinches from the glass as he stands. The cage is cramped when sitting, and it’s easier standing. He feels dried blood clinging to him along with dust and burnt skin crusting his arm and shoulder. He spins towards Ginny, “That me of all people, what?” he demands. “Harry Potter died at one year old. Harry Potter never existed,” his tone is cruel and the courtroom around him falls silent to listen, “He was a weapon that Dumbledore forged in petty trials and murder mysteries. He was a dead child walking--”

“You were our savior,” Kingsley interrupts his tirade.

“I was your martyr,” he laughs, "I was your sacrificial lamb. What's the matter? Don't like it when the wolf takes off his coat?"

Kingsley is silent. Ginny has her eyes clenched against tears. Harry’s breath fogs the glass in front of him and he steps back a little bit, watching as Hermione finally steps forwards.

“We should commence with the trial,” she says, words quiet but everyone hears them, “Of Harry James Potter, also known as Hadrian Peverell. You stand accused of Necromancy, Dark Arts practice, multiple accounts of murder--” she stumbles through her words, because she’s spent so many years in denial, so many years pretending she didn’t know the person behind the crimes and now--

Now Harry sits in front of her caged and beaten and she chokes on the sentence.

“Do go on,” Harry says, cruelly, “I would love to know exactly what the Ministry actually managed to find out.”

“Are you admitting your guilt, then?” some idiot actually asks.

He says nothing. The silence is enough. There’s not much he can do to protest innocence when he’s meant to be 49 and he looks seventeen and he’s still got blood drying on his clothes and hands.

“This isn’t really a trial,” Hermione says, voice shaky, “Everyone knows you’re guilty. It’s more of a sentencing, really.”

“Death, then?” his grin is all teeth, because good , he’s been looking forward to this. Let’s watch someone else try to solve his fifty year old problem for him. “My favourite.”

Hermione’s finding this hard to deal with right now. McGonagall steps forwards and lays a reassuring hand on the Minister’s shoulder. The look she casts Harry is one of pity of all things. “I’m ashamed to have taught you,” she whispers to him, “To have you in my house, a Gryffindor , to have once been proud of all you had achieved--”

“I bet Albus Dumbledore thought the same thing about Tom Riddle,” he drawls. He had always been a Gryffindor with a healthy dose of Slytherin. Too reckless, too stupid, ran headfirst into darkness, barely considered the consequences and he began to manipulate the borders of life and death. Harry wonders if history will change again now, if Gryffindor will become the evil house now. The last of the Peverell line was in that house y'know? The Necromancer. Murdered scores of souls to bargain with death and life and blood magic.

“You could have been great.”

His eyes flash vivid vivid crimson.

"Oh, but I was. I am . Great and terrible, I think is how they term it." The stares are equally horrified and condemning, “‘ You knew what I was when you picked me up’ .” He quotes, shrugging, rocking back so he’s leaning on the glass.

"We’re going to bring in a dementor," Hermione tells him, stepping past the old Order members, “And if that doesn’t work it’s going to be the Veil.”

“And if that doesn’t work?” he asks, curious despite himself, because they both know Nurmengard won’t hold him forever.

She steps forwards, standing in front of him with her composure regained. This is the Hermione he remembers, not the quailing Minister with too many ghosts, but the ruthless woman with too many books read. “It will work,” she says, “Not even you can survive the Death Chamber, Necromancer or not, Master of Death or not.”

Too well read and not enough practical experience, “Hermione, I’m missing half my soul,” he says, plainly, and the words only have real meaning to about five people in the room, “The Dementors don’t want me, you really think you’ll think of something I haven’t already tried ?”

Her face grows into one he recognises as her political Minister face, “Don’t be ridiculous,” she says, “So the horcrux is gone, you’re still here, aren’t you? You walked away from that battle alive which is more than a lot of people, it’s not an excuse, not a justification, you’re alive --”

“I DIED !” he snaps suddenly, temper exploding and he lunges forwards. Half the chamber jump back in shock - he’d honestly forgotten they existed - and the rest draw wands. Hermione to her credit doesn’t flinch. His hands claws uselessly at the glass and he snarls wordlessly, “I faced down two AKs - you honestly think I came out of that intact? You think all of me survived that?”

Her face cracks. No, he gets his answer, clearly she had thought that he was fine, whole and unbroken, just insane, just evil (what a joke).

"It’s this giant aching gap where things should be that just aren’t . Nothing fills it, not even that hallows. Dementors don’t care. Knife wounds heal. Killing curses bounce off, don’t you get it, I’m already dead , Hermione.” His laugh is a splintering sound. He whirls and paces as much as he can within the confined space. His fingers try once more to claw at the glass but there’s no use.

He curls his lips, teeth snarling and there’s a Grim in his chest, clawing to get free and he wonders where that one he met once in some dark forest in Nottingham got to, the one that had skulked his footsteps for days on end. He reigns back his anger, taking a step backwards and letting his arms drop down from the glass.

Hermione is shaking her head in silent horror. A few young aurors and Unspeakables that were clearly Ravenclaws look fascinated by him, but he doesn’t pay attention to them, looking only to Hermione. She looks at him, “You still murdered,” her voice is steel, “ So many. Your kill count is higher that Voldemort's ever was, you're reaching Grindelwald level of warfare here, Harry, don't you see it's not going to get you anything but more pain and more blood?"

"Come on , Hermione," Harry says, lips kicking up in a smirk, "I gave you ten years at the Ministry before I started cleaning off the dregs; and what did that accomplish? After everything we did, after all this time - has anything really changed?"

“Is that how you felt when you murdered werewolves to near extinction?”

Once upon the time he had started with the best of intentions. Fix things, make it better-- he sort of managed that, but like all of them insanity destroys even the best of intentions.

He’s so, so tired.

He presses forwards, eyes alight, “And then they passed the Werewolf Curse Eradication Act. Free wolfsbane for all, safe places on the full moon, I hear there are five werewolves left in Britain--”

“Because you murdered them all!”

“Because I got shit done ,” he sneers, “What laws did you get passed, Hermione? The Pureblood Redefinition Act? Congratulations, you’re now a First Generation, not a muggleborn. Introduction to Magic and the Wizarding World Class? Well at least those poor eleven year olds don’t have to read any books, now there’s an hour wasted teaching them.”

She flinches.

“This is what this world raised me to,” Harry gets in the final blows, “To raise children to war and expect them to make peace when it’s all through. Peace doesn’t exist, life isn’t permanent. Only Death is absolute and I? I can’t die.

*

He stands there smugly in his glass prison. They’d kill him with a knife or an AK except nobody wants to stain their soul by doing the deed. They’d give him to the Dementors except the Dementors… don’t look twice at him. Oh, sure, they hover around the courtroom because they’re told to, but when directed towards Peverell--

His red eyes gleam as he watches them. He’s not scared of them, not anymore. They drift past him like he’s not even there. One persistent ministry man practically leads the Dementor to the cage and it hovers there, less than a metre from where Harry leans against the glass, arms crossed and watching the proceedings with clear amusement. He was right. The Dementors don’t want him.

“Clearly they don’t want your filthy soul,” the dementor handler spits at Peverell, turning and upon seeing Harry’s red-eyed gaze just quails and scuttles away.

“There’s not enough for them, is there?” Hermione says, voice hollow, working it out, “Because otherwise a Dementor’s Kiss would be a method of horcrux destruction, but there isn’t enough soul for them. Of course they used to like you, you were whole soul plus extra but now--”

“That and I imagine they can smell the lethifold cloak,” Kingsley says, “Even destroyed, the death of a kin creature would be something to be wary about.”

Hermione thinks it’s more likely the former. Harry offers no input. Ron is dead. The knowledge of the horcruxes will die with them, she hopes, for they told no other of it. Nobody else needed to know, let alone be told it was possible.

“It’s going to be the Veil then,” she declares, and he still just looks amused. He’s already expecting it not to work. She hopes it does. It has to, it’s the Veil of Death. If it doesn’t work then there are no more options.

A cell in Nurmengard won’t hold him for a year, let alone forever.

“So be it,” he says, red eyes meeting brown. Less bloody, less battleworn and he’d almost look like a child .

Forever young, forever powerful, forever cursed--

Forever insane, forever missing some vital broken part of him that he's spent years and hundreds of bodies searching for.

Hermione doesn't think he's found it.

He’s still looking at her when they put wandpoint to his back and he strides straight through the tattered curtain whispering an executioner’s song.

*

The Veil is cold, reaching hands and whispering voices and his bones ache. He steps through and it’s like emerging into a cold morning, or diving into a cold bath, or--

There is ice creeping up his fingers. Frost in his hair and his breath steams in front of him. He steps forwards and looks around him at something he can’t see, shadows lurking out of view, a train station too clean, a broken soul fragment beneath the bench--

His surroundings are all or nothing, everything and yet blank and void and--

She stands before him, so, so young, but older than he will ever be. The word slips from his mouth before he can bite it back.

“Mum?”

Lily Potter smiles at him, her eyes his eyes. She’s beautiful, she’s twenty-one and far too young to be dead. “Harry,” she says, and a sob chokes in his throat. He reaches out, to take her hand, to hug her, he’s not sure because he stops half-way there.

There’s something about her smile, maybe, that tells him. Or the tilt of her head, or something that echoes within him that he can’t explain. He draws his hand back as if burnt.

“You can’t come this way,” not-Lily says, “You know that, Harry.”

“I know,” he says, taking in the details of the thing that is not his mother. He knows what it is. The entity, the being, the nameless, vast thing that is less of a deity and more of an inevitable fact. “But I don’t know why . It can’t be the soul thing. Riddle died in all eight parts readily enough. So did all my experiments. Masters of the Hallows have fallen before, those who united all three and those who didn’t. Nothing works. The killing curse is as effective as it’s always been.”

The smile he gets is almost sad, and for a single moment he wishes this was his real mother, not the being with her face. “You faced death once and you turned away. The train left without you, shall we say? Well now it’s gone. You’ve missed your train, you’re stuck at the station. And I’m sorry… but there isn’t going to be another train.”

His breath leaves him in a rush. He searches Lily’s face for answers that are not there, “So that was it? No more chances?”

“You’re already dead,” not-his-mother whispers, reaching out, her fingers resting just above his shoulder, “Dead things can’t die twice.”

And then she pushes him. It’s gentle, the press of fingers against his shoulder sending him ever so slightly off balance and then his world tilts and he steps forwards, sinking to his knees with the sudden return of unforgiving gravity. The stone is hard beneath him and he presses his eyes closed to stop the tears festering from falling.

There are cries of alarm from around him. Shock and bewilderment as he opens his eyes, searching for Hermione’s face in the crowd. She’s gone slack-jawed with shock, pupils wide and he thinks even she had expected something to happen.

The Veil didn’t work.

(Dead things can’t die twice).