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“I am about to die,” Sighs Harry into the snitch, when all the whirring golden pieces folding together in his head--mirrored in his palm-- and everything latches seamlessly into place.

As expected, the ring drops into his sweaty, grimy palm, sapphire stone turned up to display the Peverell coat of arms in stark white.

It’s all he has time to notice.

As soon as cool metal touches his skin, time shudders to a stop. All the air is punched out of him. The cloak shakes, like a leaf in invisible wind, around him, counterpoint to the absolute stillness of the forest.

In his other hand, the grip of his childhood wand is replaced by one much older.

Warmth goes up his wand arm and up the other, too; settles everywhere death’s gossamer fabric touches.

In his forehead, a malignant soul piece collapses in on itself, shattering quietly as glass into glitter.

His breath hitches but he’s oddly calm; he doesn’t even jump when someone appears in the clearing before him. It’s not sudden; more, that the figure has always been there, a natural part of the world, and it’s Harry’s eyes that have refocused to make them clear.

“My child.” They say, stepping fluidly, pulling back the hood of soft, blue-gray robes. Harry’s first thought is that he’s used the ring by complete accident, but just as immediately he dismisses the notion.

He’s never known someone so obviously magical. They have long hair, like spun starlight, disappearing into the robe; silver eyes; bone white skin glowing like a unicorn’s, faint and ethereal.

“You cut it very close.” They say, hand poised in the air as though about to cup his cheek, hovering just short.

“I was going to die.” He chokes. “I was on my way.”

Death looks at him.

“You’re ours.” They affirm, fierce. “Our warrior, our chosen.”

They lean their forehead to his and at the moment of contact, white explodes his vision.

Later, he won’t be able to remember everything he sees in Magic’s embrace. The things he learn stay with him, pressed without argument into his soul, but he can’t remember much of anything beyond flashes of comfort and mesmerizing color, impossible things and a goddess deigning to explain herself once.

Only once.

He stumbles back into his earthly skin feeling overwhelmed, but more confident than he’s been since his name came out of a magic goblet, tying him to a prophecy that wouldn’t let him rest.

(Amazing how young that fourteen-year-old had been, the stark difference between ‘before Halloween’ and ‘after’—and isn’t it always Halloween, with him? Amazing how young he’d been as a hapless spectator, grateful for a year of normalcy; amazing how fluid the transformation, bitter and jaded, once he realized there was no such thing. Harry’s naivety burned with the parchment the goblet spat out.)

“Listen to my wife, Harry James Potter.” Death says, seeing no need to raise their voice—they’re standing right beside him in the frozen clearing.

“I will do as Magic asks of me.” He forces out, through lungs that scream and clammy sweat. Each heartbeat reminds him that he’s alive—and that he doesn’t have to be.

Death steps closer, facing him once more, but before he can do more than tense, they smile.

“One chance.” They announce, ominous, and then step through him, vanishing.

It’s ten thousand times worse than a ghost—he gasps, involuntary, ice pressing down on him—and when he finishes shaking, he’s alone in the clearing.

He turns from his destination, from Tom Riddle, and makes his way back to the castle.

Ron and Hermione meet him at the door, expressions furious—and terrified. He can’t help stepping closer, knowing what he knows, and she crashes into him.

Immediately, he moves to catch her, and immediately, her clever hands are tearing off the cloak as she cries, “Harry!” with anguish in her voice, beating fists against his shoulders.

He pulls her close, presses lips to her hair as she cries. He is acutely aware of what he almost gave up—what he almost lost.

Ron looks gutted across them and Harry remembers the locket’s taunting vision—wonders how he could have possibly been so blind. He opens his other arm in initiation and his oldest friend doesn’t hesitate, exhaling raggedly at Harry’s temple.

“We won’t let him have you,” Hermione gasps, low and intent. “He’ll have to kill us all.”

Her fingers clutch hard into his shirt.

“It’s not… it’s not a win if he gets you, Harry.” Ron swallows heavy. The loss of a brother weighs harsh in his face. “I can’t let you die.”

Like Neville, first year: though bravery and fear harsh his voice, the former wins out. Long arms pin them both, like he can keep them safe if only he doesn’t let go.

Harry gently extricates himself.

“I won’t,” He promises. And then, because it’s these two: “I can’t. I’m the Master of Death.”

Hermione has questions; Ron, wizard-reared, has numb horror, framed by disbelief. He leads them both into the castle to escape explanation, promising time.

They let him; they follow, walking two by two in the hall as though prepared to stop him should he turn around and make for the forest once more.

Harry Potter steps into the Great Hall in muggle jeans and a tee-shirt, torn and dirty. Corpses are lined up, more or less neatly. Grief is loud throughout the room, tears and talking, sobs and grateful, guilty reunions.

One or two heads turn as he enters and then, realizing his presence: a wave of them.

He would be ashamed to interrupt the mourning—Tonks’ body, and Remus’, catch his eye, close his throat—but. Well.

Fred Weasley lies with his family. Harry’s family. It makes him feel momentarily small, the scrutiny; the naked hope and expectation.

He swallows it down, brushes it off.

For once, he’s going to more than meet the legend, the slew of responsibilities heaped on him as a half-mythical figurehead.

In a moment, as he walks through the hall, all is quiet. All eyes are on him. He ascends the steps to the teacher’s table, the destroyed remnants of Dumbledore’s podium.

He looks out at a sea of desperation, of faces begging him to fix this tragedy, end this war.

But he is not a miracle worker.

Until today.

“It is not the will of Lady Magic that so many die today,” He says in a scratchy voice. It builds. “This is a stupid battle in a stupid war. Muggleborns are Magic’s gift to our struggling society. We’ve shut ourselves in against the rest of the world and we’re killing ourselves.”

Harry,” Hermione hisses.

“Hush, love, I’ve got a script,” He pets her hair.

He raises his voice.

“Wizarding society is dying. Less magical people are born every year. We have spent centuries rejecting, in one way or another, all of Magic’s attempts to heal us—with new blood, with new magical lines, with fresh change to replace the old and failing.”

Muttering erupts, some disagreements. Confusion, fear, and anger.

Harry speaks over them.

“MAGIC is dying.”

A hush falls over the hall.

“And Death is furious.”

He looks at every face, taking his time. Grief looks back in all five stages, but deeper than that: a bone-deep weariness. War has chipped away at an already-insular community for nearly three decades, and twenty-odd years of Grindlewald before that. Unlike in muggle communities, it touched every one of them personally. The population is too small; it was impossible to escape its touch.

Harry can’t promise to do away with war forever, but he can end this one. And he has been tasked by their gods to fix society in such a way that such stupid, selfish, mutually-damning conflicts amongst themselves stop, once and for all. Before they immolate and take all that’s good in the world with them.

Magic has given him a mission; Death, an ultimatum. He is to be the wizarding world’s “get along” shirt.

He’s been given the power to do it.

Fate set him up to bear the burden, and by his own hand he agreed to the job. The cloak is silky on his shoulders, normal fabric until he wills otherwise. The ring glints on his finger.

Harry raises the Elder wand.

“By the will of Lady Magic,” He traces the wand in the slow curve of infinity, voice trebling as though a whole room of wizards is speaking.

“Death has commanded us to do better. We have this one chance.”

Fire burns in the path he draws, runes springing up around both curves. They pulse in time to his heart until he finishes the symbol, arcane hand guiding his, and thus compelled he shoves with all the borrowed power, jabbing the tip of his wand through the center.

It explodes outward in a powerful rush, light and fire hitting the walls and expanding outward with a cry of phoenix song—

-- and every body in the room sits up gasping.

Shouts of surprise ripple through the hall as aftershocks.

For a loud exodus, everyone is too busy hugging their dead to react to Harry.

Ron, though.

Ron throws his arms around Harry’s shoulders, then pulls back to hold his face like he’s precious, like he’s the best thing.

Big hands hold his jaw and Ron kisses him soundly.

It puts him in mind of Hermione’s dramatic kiss in the Chamber. Thankfully, Ron hadn’t leapt into his arms; he’d have probably fallen over.

When he opens his eyes, it’s to gold lights dancing around them. Ron’s eyelashes reflect fire, blue eyes burning amber until it fades. The breath between them tastes like ashes and victory, hope kindled.

Hermione is still more-or-less tucked into his shoulder and she leans more heavily into him, turns her cheek into his shirt. He runs cheekbone over her wild curls, laughs a breath when she huffs.

Ron steps over to Harry’s front and drops one hand to cup her jaw, holding both of them just the same.

Harry draws fingers through her hair, air shaky in his throat when little flecks of light spring up around his hand.

“Now it’s just us,” He murmurs, pulling his hand forward until he can stroke the heal of his thumb down her cheekbone softly.

Her eyes are damp when she looks up at him.

He figures he’ll have to earn it, or at least set things up—he rose the dead to get a kiss from Ron, and Ron had to evacuate an army of house elves to win one from her.

So he’s understandably surprised when he’s suddenly got an armful—a proper armful—of bookish witch as Hermione flings herself at him and buries her face in his neck. She takes shuddery little breaths and trembles faintly. And then Ron’s against her back as naturally as anything, arms around her waist and chin over her shoulder. Magic glitters in the air from all the skin-on-skin.

Harry laughs as he catches her, both hands sliding up to reassure her—touch her face, pet her hair.

“How dare you look at me like that, Harry James?” She demands, voice thick. He soothes her but she won’t have it, hands clenching in his collar. She maneuvers back sharply, wedging herself just enough room to pull him down to her level.

He goes without a fight. Joy breaks reckless, fierce in his chest. Her hard little mouth gives no quarter. They’re still tense, still in the lull between battles in this drawn-out war, but like in the Chamber it’s now or never.

Unlike in the Chamber, there’s the fireflies of magic acting up.

“I don’t suppose you know what’s going on with the lightshow?” He murmured into her lips.

Hermione sighed against his mouth, so sweet it hurt.

She hummed, then pulled back.

“No idea,” She admitted, expression still soft.

She scowled.

“You don’t have to earn kisses,” She promised, color rushing to her cheeks at the words. She pushed through, Gryffindor to the heart of her. “You’re enough.”

He buried his face in her hair, briefly overcome.

When he lifts his head, Ron is there, so of course they catch each other’s eye and Ron grins with his whole self and Hermione gives a startled “Oof” because Ron presses her tight to his front in his move to take Harry’s mouth in another kiss, this time tasting like laughter.

Ron’s hands fit snug onto Harry’s hips and he has to swallow against that swell of emotions that rise in him.

Hermione absolutely snug between them is its own level of perfect.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Ron asks in a surprisingly normal voice, only slightly breathless. Somehow Harry’s holding onto Hermione’s shoulders, now.

(She’s got her chin tilted back to watch them kiss and that’s. Well.)

Harry shivers.

“It’s because we’re soulmates.”

Both he and Hermione reorientate to stare at Ron, who looks too elated to be uncomfortable under the incredulous scrutiny. The moment before they can question him, a hand appears at his elbow. It’s Ginny who comes along to drag Ron away, though--happy tears chasing the tracks of sorrow through her freckles--and they can’t get in the way of that; don’t even try, really, moving by unspoken agreement in the same direction with perfect eagerness.

George and Percy are literally sobbing on their brother, refusing to let go or even move away an inch.

Harry looks on at the crowd of Weasleys, basically impenetrable, and veers right without thought. Hermione’s hand in his, his feet carry him to where Remus and Tonks by turn blink at and embrace each other, over and over again, clearly stunned and not fully processing what happened.

The staring happens again after every heart-wrenching hug, as though they can’t believe what they’re seeing, and that prompts another hug, and—

“I’m so pissed that you both died,” He hisses, not fool enough to step between them but, well. The godson he’s never met was an orphan the day he was born and only a feat of unspeakably powerful magic had reversed that reality.

He could kill Tom Riddle a dozen times over and still not be satisfied, at this point.

Somewhere in the distance the Creevey brothers howl with relieved sobs and every lifeless body he walked past had been another knife in his gut, twisting.

Hermione presses half-against his back as the auror and werewolf turn to them, lost for words.

Remus doesn’t see it at first, but Tonks’ eyes are drawn to their clasped hands and she laughs, shocking even herself.

War isn’t the time for romance, except for how it absolutely is.

“When we touch Ron, we glow like constellations.” He admits quietly to one of the only adults in his life with any claim to paternal feelings.

Remus smiles, though he looks tired beyond belief from the night’s—day’s—events.

“I won’t pretend to know what you did,” the retired professor begins. “But I’m so, very proud of you, Harry. I know you’ll win this. I know you, of all people, deserve to be happy when it’s over.”

When it’s over—even an hour ago, that was a foreign concept. He’d had only a bleary vision of how to end the war, Snape’s hand tight in his and hollow desperation laden in his gut like so much lead.

Now the path is clear.

“I’m going to cut the head off the damn snake and run Godric’s sword through Tom Riddle’s miserable heart,” He vows, heart aching at the swelling sound of the families around him—the resurrections, the indescribable relief.

Love aches through his breastbone, fury fast behind.

He will rise to match Tom Riddle’s cowardly army with one of his own, the dead walking alive among them, and watch the traitor’s horrified face as magic breaks before it touches their ranks.

Everyone here had died for each other, after all. The castle, the children, the future of magic.

Death Eater spells would flicker and fail against them, because hadn’t Fred died for his siblings?

 Hadn’t Remus died for the children in the castle, the students scattered throughout Britain?

Hadn’t Tonks died for the helpless citizens waiting in their homes, for her brothers and sisters in arms, both here and at the Ministry?

Hadn’t they all gone into this fight knowing they might lose their lives, but willing to fight anyway, if it meant the end—once and for all?

Tom Riddle’s voice had offered them surrender or death, and all of them had chosen to stay—defying the will of a so-called dark lord, reproducing an ancient magic Lily Potter had once used: they stood between the dark and the rest of the world, here in this battle; they stood between the Death Eaters and their comrades, and if they fell, it was with the knowledge that they shielded the rest of them from death.

And that love swelled in the halls of Hogwarts, spilled out from skin and bones into the stone bricks themselves, rising like a shield between evil and the painfully human hearts who stood against it.

Harry could feel it, thrumming beneath his ribs; but then, Harry had felt something like it all his life, before he ever had a name for Lily Potter or what she had done.

Let their time run out, and Tom Riddle approach the gates of Hogwarts.

Harry would be ready.