Voldemort uses an ancient artifact that sends Harry careening through time without being able to stop, while reality rapidly changes around him... can he ever return home without destroying everyth...
Harry Potter and the Time Spiral
Time branches, repeats, and twists on itself.
In one life, the Dark Lord Voldemort seeks great power and the ultimate weapon to defeat a prophesied foe: The Elder Wand. The old stories and legends point him in an inevitable and inexorable direction towards his eventual destruction.
But in another life, Tom Marvolo Riddle hears of a different, equally obscure tale of a different horrible weapon. Desperate for immortality by any means necessary, he seeks the ancient artifact to ensure Harry Potter's defeat. He begins his search for the mysterious "Kronian Shard", ill-defined and mysterious even in the fragments he has found. It remains to be seen how his future and fortunes will change...
Tom Riddle moved silently as he flew slowly through the air, carefully surveying the island below him. His months of searching had led him back to where he started; the Dodecanese islands in the Aegean Sea. But now, the Dark Lord knew exactly what he was looking for. Now he could be patient.
Soon enough the object of his search came into view; a small uninhabited island inaccessible by Muggles.
Riddle descended slowly, his eyes on the ruins of an ancient temple almost hidden by the hillside. Almost. If he hadn't known to look, the temple would have been practically invisible from the air. But no matter.
Darkness covered the island's surface, with only the distant lights of civilization bleeding into the visible spectrum. The night was still on the island, with no native wildlife of any sort. No crickets chirped, no owls hooted. But Riddle hardly feared the eerie silence. If anything, it should be the other way around.
Riddle carefully approached the hidden temple, trickery evident in its appearance. Foolishness. A simple charm would grant him the ability to see easily in the darkness. His calculating gaze took in every element of his surroundings. All alone...
So much the better.
Rubble blocked the temple entrance, far too heavy and dense for a normal Muggle, but even the simplest of near-Squibs could handle such a meaningless obstruction. A casual wave of the wand, and the debris was banished across the island. Easy enough.
The interior of the temple was seemingly empty. The walls were crumbling and bare, with no signs of any hidden secrets or valuables. Riddle smirked. Baseless juvenile gamesmanship.
"Apokypsi Siopi." Reveal your secrets, temple.
Riddle's eyes flickered to a nearly completely hidden bas-relief on the far wall. The centaur held a spear which pointer the way... to the heavy column nearby. Hidden in plain sight. Riddle moved swiftly towards his marble quarry.
"Stasi!" A shout rang out.
A cloaked figured stalked forward from the darkness, glowing with an unearthly emerald aura. Its face, if indeed it had one, was obscured beneath an elaborate scarf that wrapped over its heard. Foolishness. Voldemort would not be cowed by meaningless threats or automaton.
Casual, almost friendly curse of slashing and dismembering. Severus was good for some things, after all.
Instantly the guard dropped to the floor. After a heartbeat, it leapt up, suddenly brandishing a spear and shield conjured into existence.
It was an odd, gravely voice. It carried with it feelings of a drowning man and images of a downed hawk. Still, Riddle was prepared, easily raising a minor shield. To his shock, the spear pierced the enchanted barriers and struck him in the shoulder. He ripped out the weapon with an angry curse, barely feeling any discomfort. Riddle had experienced far worse.
The figure paused and froze.
"I Mi-Thanatos!" The figure screamed in its odd fashion.
Riddle chuckled at this response. Naturally, it finally figured things out. Oddly perceptive of a guardian spirit, but it was probably Greek after all. Certainly it predated the Latin terminology. So it must have been one of the legendary "Lonches ton Keenou", promising instant death to any pierced by its blade. Too bad then that Riddle could not die.
But this hapless misbegotten armor certainly could.
Lightning burst from Riddle's wand, striking the guardian in its metallic chest.
The guardian flung the shield at Riddle, who easily deflected it. In the next instant the guardian held an enormous long sword in its hands. Riddle waved his wand, sending forth a cloud of black ash to hide his actions, then quickly moved aside and sent bursts of magical fire into the ash.
Suddenly the guardian appeared inside Riddle's guard and struck him with a tremendous blow, throwing Voldemort crashing into the wall. It hurt far more than it should... it ripped away at his very essence. Voldemort felt something sever itself from his magic. His eyes widened in horror. It couldn't be! He quickly raised a shield of protective energies.
Before Riddle could get to his feet, the guardian had run forward with its sword and slashed in single blindingly quick motion. The guardian's hands could not pierce the barrier, but the sword tip slightly came through the shield, cutting a tiny line in Riddle's hand.
Riddle roared angrily through the same horrific pain, tossing the guardian back against a column with a tremendous blast of mental power. The column cracked but held solid. The guardian leapt to its feet in an instant and flung itself back at Riddle.
No more playing around.
The spell hit the guardian dead on, and the single gemstone on its armored helmet shattered. But the guardian rolled to the side and struck at Riddle three more times, another agonizing shattering of pain and loss.
But Riddle pushed through his agony.
"Avada Kedavra! Avada Kedavra!" The first spell missed its mark, but the second struck the guardian, which staggered.
Riddle smirked in triumph and cast the Killing Curse again. But as the death curse flew the air, the guardian threw its terrible sword forward. The curse and the sword both hit their marks. The guardian crumbled to the ground, its protective magics spent and exhausted.
Riddle screamed in hatred. The sword pierced him through the chest. For a lesser man, he would already have been dead. Riddle knew he could not touch the horrid thing. He focused his mind, forcing himself to ignore the agonizing pain and fair likelihood that his Horcruxes were gone and shattered by the thrice-accursed weapon.
With a careful gesture of his wand, the sword slowly slid out of his chest. His wounds began to heal in an instant, but the potential loss of his Horcruxes was a far graver concern. Six times the guardian had struck him. What precisely it meant remained to be determined later.
For now, time was of the essence, and the Shard was a necessity before he faced Potter.
With the guardian destroyed, Riddle continued his search. The centaur had pointed at a column... Riddle examined the marble carefully. Ah! An arrow was hidden in the center of the marble. It would have appeared as just decoration if Riddle hadn't looked carefully. The tip pointed at a nondescript area of the wall.
Cautious but confident, Riddle waved his wand at the wall. Bricks crumbled into dust, and slowly a hidden compartment was revealed. A few booby traps were obvious, but the old magic was no match for recent innovations. Centuries of tomb raiding and curse breaking by wizards and goblins had far surpassed the relatively primitive Greek protections. And the Greeks were merely copying the worst of the Egyptian protections, most of which could be defeated easily by modern spells.
The Greeks were master artificers and enchanters. Their magical weapons could defeat even current shields, and their magical guardians clearly had great power. But in subtle spellwork and warding, they never matched modern times or their peers in Egypt or Persia. Riddle thus easily disabled the various traps.
A single box awaited him. The Shard. Wrapped in a protective cloth. Clearly one was not meant to handle the Shard without it. Riddle was careful in his examination of the artifact. It did not seem inherently magical, but something about was clearly odd. The material was unknown to Riddle, and it was completely unbreakable. A test of Fiendfyre revealed it to be impervious to even the most deadly of magical fires. That settled it.
As Riddle flew away from the island, he casually set it ablaze with unchecked Fiendfyre. The fires would char the island into blackened rock. Then nothing would be left of the mysterious temple or its guardian. It was time to finish things.
Harry Potter made his way through the Forbidden Forest, the sounds of the battle at Hogwarts beginning to fade into the background. It took only a few minutes to reach Voldemort's camp. But something wasn't right. It was oddly quiet, and there was no one there, not a single Death Eater. Not even...
"I see you found time to meet, Potter. Excellent."
Harry Potter whirled. The Dark Lord Voldemort stood among the trees, looking almost thoughtful as he gazed back at Harry.
Voldemort smiled slightly. "Oh are we starting already?" He waved his wand at Harry, who instantly responded with a shield. But it failed to prevent Riddle's spell.
Harry felt his body freeze. He could no longer move or control his limbs. Only his eyes still blinked, and he still breathed thankfully.
"Forgive the rudeness, Potter, but I didn't want you to interrupt me at my moment of triumph. I merely wanted to explain how I will win, now that it's all over. Have you ever heard of the ancient artifact known as the Kronian Shard?"
Harry groaned and strained, trying to move his wand, but still carefully listening to the monologue.
"Obviously not. It is the stuff of legends and mystery. I wasn't even sure it existed for many years. But it exists. That I can assure you, Potter. As old as the stars, they say, and a piece of the ancient Needle of Time. Have you heard of this Needle, Potter? The Needle that stitches together Time itself. Or at least it once did. But it broke and was shattered, with only the shard of the Needle remaining. The Needle of the Time god Khronios. Sound familiar, does it?"
Voldemort paced a bit and looked up at the night sky. "The Needle that sewed time was inextricably tied to the dawn of creation. It has no true substance, nothing a man could hold in his hands, but it was cut by the scythe of the Titan Cronos, the Usurper of the True Name. Thus it gained ultimate sharpness. Those impaled, the legends say, were ejected from history into nothingness. Soon they were forgotten by Ananke, Fate, and history and destiny no longer applied. Thus they experience the Curse of Ananke - forgotten by time itself." Voldemort paused and glanced back at the Harry.
"It alone could capture the coils of prophecy. Sounds like it could be useful to either one of us, eh Potter?"
The sounds of the forest and the distant battle suddenly quieted until an eerie and smoky silence covered the clearing.
Harry felt sweat on his face and tried to move. His limbs twitched and convulsed, but only slightly. Harry could still scarcely move.
Voldemort waved his wand and a sliver of what looked like wood began to rise from the grass. "But now the question becomes simple: Who will be free of Destiny's curses first?"
Harry strained and wrenched himself forward, finally breaking the body bind. The effort left him gravely out of breath and strength.
Voldemort shook his head in mock sadness. "I win, Potter." In an instant, he gestured, banishing the wood at Harry. At the same moment, Harry Potter lurched forward with his arms outstretched, almost tripping on his own feet.
Harry Potter felt a pinch and he glanced down. The wooden shard was impaled in his right shoulder, and yet, he felt no pain. It was almost as though the shard wasn't there at all. Though an odd, almost phantom sensation was clearly present; Harry could feel the Shard somehow.
He grabbed the protruding wood, aiming to extract the splintered wood from his flesh. Instantly a wave of agony lanced through his body and head erupted in ghastly pain. Harry collapsed to the forest floor, a frozen look of horror on his face.
As all of reality crystallized around him.
Harry came to his senses in a abrupt rush of motion, gasping for breath. The air around him seemed to press against like molasses, firm but slightly yielding. Harry managed to wrench his eyes up from the ground, but nothing was moving. Riddle stood in a frozen position, exactly as he had been when Harry had passed out. It was then Harry realized that all time had stopped around him. The feeling was something he couldn't explain, he just knew time was not moving for anyone else.
But the shard remained jabbed into his shoulder.
Harry carefully and slowly moved his hand toward the shard, remembering the pain of the last attempt. He gripped the shard firmly and attempted to move it away from his shoulder. The shard remained stuck in its place. Then, to his horror, Harry felt the shard begin to slide further into his chest. Although he still felt no pain, he could tell the shard was slowly but surely moving towards his heart.
Harry didn't think it would be such a good idea if that happened.
As the shard slipped from his hand, the world changed around him.
It was a sensation like water dripping over Harry's eyes, as images of his recent history flashed and mutated before him. The shard slowed and stopped its movement, and reality slowly stabilized around him.
Harry found himself back in the shack, holding Snape's memories in his hand. Harry's breath caught in his throat. If he had somehow leapt backwards that much in time, then perhaps something could change. Although Harry had idea what he could possibly do. So many friends already died for the cause. At the very least, Harry would have wanted to save Lupin, Tonks, Fred, anyone from the last few hellacious months. Snape, even now, was still at the bottom of his list. Harry didn't think he could forgive the Potions master quite yet.
Harry frowned as he considered the horrific wooden shard. He couldn't pull it out. But perhaps with magic, more was possible? Harry raised his wand and attempted to Banish the shard out of his chest with as little energy as possible. The shard shuddered and Harry swore it slightly moved away. Success?
As if in response to the positive thoughts, the shard suddenly reversed direction and buried itself slightly further. Time once again rippled around Harry.
It was another familiar place. Another familiar surroundings. Malfoy Manor.
A horrid familiar cackle.
Dobby! Harry wasn't about to forget this horrible ordeal.
Harry sprang forward, hoping to shield his faithful house-elf friend from Bellatrix's deadly curse. The surprised witch's curse was deflected, but she recovered quickly, throwing some unknown spell at the floor. Dobby squealed in alarm and held up his hands in protest, throwing Bellatrix smashing against the wall. After a moment, the rug erupted in flames as Bellatrix's spell suddenly went off.
Eyes tearing up, Dobby magically shoved Harry aside, but the fires quickly engulfed him.
"No!" Harry screamed. Not again. Harry didn't know if he could handle seeing his friend die again. He grabbed angrily at the shard, realizing his mistake too late. The shard, almost in response, twitched and buried itself slightly deeper. The world melted once again.
Harry's eyes felt wet and he wiped his nose.
"Are you okay mate?"
Harry looked in up in startled alarm. He was surrounded by himself... multiple times. Still at Privet Drive. Fred would still be there. And Hagrid. And... so many more still alive. Harry gritted his teeth angrily, fed up with the machinations of fate.
"To hell with the rules," he spat and apparated away from the accursed house, much to the shock of his Polyjuiced friends. A nearby park was good enough.
Once safely away from the house, Harry took a moment to breathe in deeply and considered the shard. He realized with a start that his muscles had automatically tensed up, preventing the shard from sliding any further. If he let himself relax... but perhaps if he timed things just right. Banish the shard at the same moment as he relaxed his will. Perhaps then he might move forward in time, return to where he left.
After all, he had already changed history somewhat. The escape would now hopefully not cost any lives. But only the future could tell for certain. Then the future must be awaited for Harry Potter.
But first, Harry focused his mind. He couldn't screw up this timing. He didn't want to live any of the horror over again. If he could just change a few things, so many lives could be saved. The escape, the wedding, the Horcruxes. Harry scarcely knew where to start, but he knew he had to start immediately.
He leaned back against a nearby tree and sighed. Harry slowly lowered himself to the ground and stretched with a yawn. Perhaps it wouldn't be so bad to just... take a quick break.
Harry closed his eyes and let his mind wander. As he began to drift into a light slumber, his muscles twitched. Something wasn't right.
Harry sat up straight with a start. The shard had nearly moved when he relaxed his guard. It seemed that sleep was out of the question. Fantastic. Harry wondered where he could get access to Pepper-Up potions and checked his travel pack. A few of the potions were still there, luckily unbroken. Annoyed at the waste, Harry quickly drank one down. Instantly the expected wave of energy cascaded through him, and Harry was ready to try the next step.
Careful now... Harry readied himself. Relax the muscles, then instantly Banish the shard as much as possible. Well, perhaps not that much. A significant amount of power, in any event. Harry counted down from ten in his head. Three... two... relax... Banish!
Harry screamed and fell to the ground. He felt the shard start to slip and immediately tensed, rolling into a ball to lessen some of the agony. So perhaps that was too much power then. A bit less next time. Harry breathed in and out a few times, then stood, ready to try again. Just a touch of power behind the Banishing this time.
Ready... count down for it...
Only slightly this time. Harry saw the world change around him once again.
Harry looked around surreptitiously. Where was he? Ah, of course! Bill and Fleur's wedding. Harry cheered internally. Clearly the trick had worked to move himself forward in time. Unfortunately, it remained difficult to predict how much he could move at any one time.
Not much seemed different, if anything at all in fact. Harry wondered if he had truly changed anything at all. The Weasleys were all still alive at this point, after all. The Delcaours, Remus, Hermione, Tonks, Moody... Wait!
Harry's heart leapt in his chest when he saw the crusty old Auror. Moody had survived the escape?
Perhaps Hedwig had also lived?
So that settled things. Harry could clearly change time, hopefully for the better. But if he could change things, save people after the escape, why not try earlier? Harry would have to be carefully, naturally, but if he was right, so much could be changed. Dumbledore and Sirius alive, maybe even defeating Voldemort after the Goblet of Fire tournament. With all his knowledge of future events, so many lives could be saved.
Harry just had to let the shard slip just a bit more. Get an idea for how far back he could go, perhaps. Just not too far, hopefully. Harry was still quite aware that the shard moved towards his heart. But as long as he remained focused, Harry knew he would be fine.
Harry relaxed his will and let himself fall into the past. Images flashed before him... Privet Drive, Hogwarts!
Harry tensed up suddenly, he couldn't go back too far!
Stumbling and disorientated, Harry burst out of the time movement somewhere in Hogwarts. Harry felt like he was being watched, was it Voldemort? His skin prickled and he began to hyperventilate.
"What are you doing?" An angry shout startled Harry.
He whirled with his wand drawn. "Sectumsempra! Sectumsempra!" Harry paused, slowly getting back his senses. Oh no.
Snape lay on the corridor floor, his throat severed. "No!" Harry yelled and ran over to his oft-hated friend and foe. "Damn it, Professor, don't die." Snape's eyes were vacant.
Harry yelled out incoherently in anger and frustration. "Bloody hell," he cursed. "No, this is... I didn't intend to do anything. Oh, Dumbledore would be so disappointed."
Harry gritted his teeth and stood up. He needed to see the future again. He needed to see if anything had changed for the better. He hoped and prayed it had, somehow.
This time, it was easier for Harry to time things, and he Banished the shard, barreling forward once again in time. He found himself outside on the Hogwarts grounds. But whichever future time he had arrived to was horrible. Hogwarts was in flames, and countless corpses littered the grounds.
Harry raced from body to body, hoping he wouldn't recognize anyone. Most were burned beyond recognition. Harry felt sick but kept pushing himself to keep running. Someone must have survived. Someone.
Harry tripped over a body suddenly and tumbled to the ground. He slowly looked up and saw the burnt face of his girlfriend Ginny Weasley. Harry threw every cooling and water charm he could think of at her, hoping it wasn't too late.
Harry knelt down and felt Ginny's neck. Nothing. Her eyes were vacant like Snape. Snape whom Harry had murdered in a fit of blind confusion.
No. No. This was all wrong. Harry knew he could fix this. He KNEW it. He just need to go back further still. Before Snape. Before Dumbledore died. Harry realized suddenly that knowledge could save the deceased Headmaster.
Slughorn and the Horcruxes. Harry knew about them all. He could tell Dumbledore, and prevent him from drinking the horrid poison. Perhaps if he was early enough, he could even stop Dumbledore from mangling his hand.
Harry stood slowly, his eyes wet with tears, but a smile slowly showed itself on his face. Harry knew quite well he could do it. Harry Potter could fix everything.
Harry relaxed his will.
Harry looked around, now a bit used to the sudden disorientation of travelling through time. Ah, the tent. It seemed he was back on the Horcrux Hunt again. So not nearly far enough then.
Harry breathed out and relaxed, letting the events flicker past him rapidly. He thought he saw something important and tensed up. Hogwarts again. Everyone seemed younger than Harry was expecting.
"What's wrong, Harry?" Ron poked Harry in the shoulder. Apparently he had been there the entire time. Harry's eyes widened. Ron looked so young...
"Ron, I lost track of something for a second. Um, where are we going?"
"Potions, of course. Are you feeling okay?" Ron frowned and looked a bit concerned.
"Potions, right." Harry considered this for a second. But which year was it? "And Defense? When is that?"
"We don't have Defense until tomorrow, Harry. Not that anyone's looking forward to it. Are you sure you're okay? Maybe you should go see Pomfrey." Ron motioned with his hands down the hall.
Hermione came running down the hall. "What's wrong with you two? We'll be late for Potions! You know Professor Snape will take off points given any excuse."
Harry smiled at the predictability of his friends. "Hermione, let me ask you something. What do you think of our Defense Professor?"
Hermione blinked in surprise. "Harry, you know very well Umbridge isn't fit to teach slugs to crawl! Why do you think I've been trying to start... that club we discussed?"
Umbridge. Then it was still fifth year. Harry had gone back a bit too far, then. He had missed the opportunity he needed in the future. But before he vanished, a bit of long overdue business.
"Hermione, I think it's a fabulous idea. We just need to have everyone swear to some sort of Unbreakable Vow to keep people from snitching."
Hermione looked a bit uncertain. "Well, I'm glad you've come to your senses, Harry. But a Vow... don't you think that's a bit harsh?"
"Not at all," Harry replied, shaking his head. "And besides, I can't wait to show you my lesson plans." That should do the trick.
Sure enough, Hermione smiled brilliantly. "Oh, that's fantastic Harry! I can't wait to review them!"
Ron chuckled. "Right, you and me both."
Hermione smacked Ron with a book. "Just because Harry is finally showing some long overdue initiative is no reason to make fun."
Ron held up his hands in surrender. "Sorry, sorry, mum."
Harry winced. That was all kinds of wrong.
Hermione smacked Ron again, but she had a small grin. "You're hopeless. Now let's hurry to class. We're already two minutes late!"
The future this time ought to be more interesting.
Harry breathed in and counted down in his head.
The world flitted before Harry's eyes and he saw something wrong. Harry tensed up immediately.
Cliffside. Dumbledore stood beside Harry as they overlooked the ocean, the wind a bit strong. Their robes rippled in the hearty breeze. Dumbledore looked thoughtfully over the fairly calm waters.
"Dumbledore!" Harry prayed he wasn't too late.
Albus turned to Harry with an unreadable expression on his face. "Yes, Harry? Is there something the matter?"
"We shouldn't be here, sir. We shouldn't be here!"
The Headmaster raised an eyebrow. "Is that so, Harry? And why is that, may I ask?"
Harry sighed and sat down suddenly on the ground, feeling too weak to stand. "Professor, have you ever heard of something called the Croomian Shard?" Was that what Riddle had called the horrid thing?
Dumbledore looked almost amused. "Do you mean the Kronian Shard, perhaps?"
"Yes, that was it! The Kronian Shard!" Harry looked back expectantly. "So you have heard of it, then?"
"I have indeed, Harry. I suppose you wish now to know the history of it?"
Harry felt a wave of dizziness pass over him and was glad he was seated. "Yes, of course. Please tell me everything you can!"
Dumbledore smiled slightly. "Quite the choice of words, Harry. Very well, I shall endeavor to do my best." He waved his wand and conjured two sets of comfortable chairs. "Have a seat, my young friend. Unless you would prefer the ground?"
Harry snickered softly and clambered into the chair. Sure there were still outside, but seated, it was more like a pleasant ocean breeze. Far more comforting than thinking about the deadly cave nearby.
"Harry this is not a simple topic of discussion by any means. There is a great deal of odd and incomplete information out there, but I will do my best to synthesize the mass of data into some semblance of coherence." Dumbledore paused. "Have you heard of the ancient Greek gods and their associated myths?"
"I've read about them in school and the like when I was very young," Harry answered with a shrug. "They were interesting and all that but I was hardly an expert. Plus then the real magical world became far more nuts than any ancient myth. Well, I thought so anyway."
"A fair assessment," Dumbledore nodded. "You, then, have heard of the Greek myths of creation and the Protogenoi?"
"Uh, not quite." Harry pondered this for a second. "I mean, didn't the Greeks think that the Earth and the Sky gave birth to the Titans, and then they gave birth to the Greek gods? You know, Zeus and all that?"
"Correct, Harry. Gaia, or the Earth, and Chaos, the Sky or Void were two of what is called the Protogenoi, or primordial beings of the universe. According to the ancient Greeks, they came into existence with the birth of the universe. But you see, there were other Protogenoi - chief among them Ananke and Khronos. Ananke was called Necessity or Inevitability. Her children were Fate and Destiny, but her mate was Khronos, or Time."
Harry sat up straight. "Wait, so the Kronian shard is related to Khronos then? Well, that makes sense. I mean with the time business and all."
"Well, it is not quite so simple, Harry, as I mentioned earlier. Such mutations occur when history is told and retold. Ananke and Khronos, the mated pair, were said to have brought about the ordered universe as we know it, and before was but chaos and confusion. You see Ananke was said to hold a great spindle, or wooden needle, which are historically used to spin fibers into thread. Ananke's spindle, however, was used by her daughters, called the Fates, to spin the lifelines of mortals." Dumbledore sighed.
"Here you see where things begin to get jumbled. The spindle was called the Atraktos of Ananke, which essentially translates as a spindle in any case. This is where the stories no longer match each other quite as well. Many scholars believe that the later Titan named Cronus was an attempt to combine several ancient Greek traditions from many tribes into one. The Titan Cronus is where we get the name and image of Father Time from. But that is the end of the commonly accepted understandings of the ancient myths."
"So where does the shard tie in?" Harry asked a bit impatiently. It was all well and good to listen to interesting tales of mythology and magic, but Harry didn't think he had altogether that much time left to change things before it was too late.
"I believe it comes from an old festival that was held more frequently a few hundred years ago but eventually ended as other traditions absorbed its members. They worshipped the ancient Greek god of Time, Khronos, but not the Titan Cronus. In their literature, they claimed the Titan was an 'usurper' of sorts of the name and powers of Khronos. It is unclear precisely what that means, however."
"Riddle mentioned something about usurping," Harry mused in remembrance. "I think he also mentioned Ananke and time - but he called it the Needle of Time, I'm sure of that."
"You are quite correct, Harry, in that he was mistaken."
Harry blinked in confusion.
"Let me clarify, Harry. The story the shard comes from a set of very obscure stories that were affiliated with the festival I mentioned. They claimed that Khronos created the spindle out of himself, there being nothing else he could use, and gave it as a gift to his mate, Ananke, so she could shape the future. She in turn allowed her daughters, the Fates, to use the spindle to create destinies for any other beings. Perhaps even the other gods themselves, as they were still bound to the laws of time."
"What about the scythe?" Harry asked. "Riddle said that the shard was created when the Titan guy sliced the needle into bits with his supremely sharp scythe."
"I am not sure how Tom obtained his information or translated it, but there are several mistakes there. All the myths, even the obscure ones, had Cronus use a sickle, not a scythe. There is quite a difference in size between the weapons, although I suppose it matters very little in terms of effectiveness as a weapon for a god. The needle is more properly translated as a spindle, as it was traditionally called. And naturally, the name of the shard came from later mispronunciations."
Dumbledore paused. "But that is where the name comes from, I believe. The obscure tales accuse the Titan Cronus of attempting to take control of time by seizing the spindle of time. When he fails, because it has no true substance, he instead attacks it with his sickle and breaks off shards from it. The shards were said to fall throughout time and across the universe. Whether or not any of that is close to truth is debatable, but at least one Kronian Shard has been documented in some older books."
"So were the Greek gods real? Were they all super powerful wizards or something?" Harry had always wondered if there was some connection.
"I sincerely doubt it," Dumbledore replied with a chuckle. "But regardless of the myths, the Greeks certainly had great magical power at their disposal, if perhaps unsubtle methods of utilizing it. I would hazard a guess that the Shard is man-made or the output of some grave magical accident than an actual piece of a primordial Greek god's magic spindle. But what is actually documented is far more troubling, Harry. It is indicated that anyone pierced by the Shard would be erased from time."
"Damn," Harry cursed. He looked back at the Professor. "Well, it sure seems like you know a lot about the Shard, in any event."
Dumbledore shrugged and smiled sadly. "Hardly. I have only been researching the artifact for several months, after all."
"But why did you start researching it a few months ago? That seems an odd coincidence."
"Not at all, Harry. That is when you asked me to research them."
"What?" Harry leapt up from his conjured chair. "That never happened! I'm quite certain I'd remember something like that. How much do you know about all this? Why are we even still here then? I thought maybe you'd find about the Horcruxes and all... so why are we still by the cave with the fake Horcrux?"
"Calm yourself, Harry. The explanation is quite simple, really. You yourself told me, several months ago, that you had been travelling in time due to Tom attacking you with some mysterious artifact." Dumbledore looked troubled. "You did not have a clear idea of the conversation, so you permitted me to view the memories of a future yet to come in my Pensieve. Thus I heard the entire conversation you two shared."
"Oh." Harry sat down, feeling drained. "I guess I wasn't expecting myself to do anything differently. You know, than the first time."
Dumbledore nodded. "Time travel is a tricky business, Harry. I had not even heard of the Kronian Shard at that point, so I spent the next several months researching it and preparing myself for when your normal consciousness would emerge from the timeline. I had the idea of intentionally using this cliff side as something that would strike you as odd, and you agreed. Clearly you remember none of those conversations, although you told me many tales of the future, and shared many memories with me."
"How bizarre," Harry mused. Suddenly a thought occurred to him. "But wait, if I told you about the future, is your hand...?"
The Professor held up his now uninjured hand with a beaming smile. "Yes, your warning was most appreciated. It was bizarre for me as well, especially to see myself discuss matters I had no real understanding of. Still, although dealing with Tom's Horcruxes was important, I thought that perhaps assisting you to extract the Shard would perhaps be of greater priority. If you pardon the pun, time would be more the essence in that matter."
Harry nodded in agreement. "Yeah, definitely. Did you see any of the memories of my time travel? I mean, that I showed you that I don't remember showing you?"
"You don't need to clarify all your statements, Harry." Dumbledore chided. "Based on our discussions and my research, it is clear your mind is only present when the Shard is present. In the intermediate months, the Shard was not present, but I assume it is there now?"
"Well, of course!"
"Intriguing," Dumbledore murmured. "There is still so much left to learn about the Shard, and so little time to perform the research."
Harry's face fell. "I just wanted to fix things, Professor. Save people's lives, including yours. I didn't want to be erased from history either."
"Naturally, Harry. And I certainly appreciate your efforts; do not misapprehend my words. My plans may have been slightly derailed, but hopefully for the better. I believe we can still optimize our situation, with careful consideration and planning."
"But how?" Harry pleaded. "Who knows what will happen the next time I jump through time? I can't even properly predict anything, much less how far I'll travel each go. What if I accidentally screw everything up again and everyone's dead?"
Dumbledore sighed. "There was one idea; it was actually yours, Harry. I hesitate to bring it up, although you yourself asked to be reminded when you reappeared, as it were."
"This isn't the time for half-efforts, Professor." Harry insisted. "At least tell me my own idea."
"You had the notion to take any research I had managed in the interim and bring it back in time to show my past self. I would then have significantly more time and resources to hopefully solve your problem. I investigated the idea, and there is indeed a way to encode my own memories in yours so a past version of myself can retrieve them."
"Well, hell, let's do it then!" Harry pumped his fist in excitement. "This sounds like a real lead. A way I can let this time travel nonsense work in my favor for once."
"I am concerned about it though, Harry. There is always the possibility of temporal paradoxes or unforeseen problems with the Shard. The truth is I know very little about its magical properties, as I have never actually been in its presence until now."
"But I've already travelled all over the place," Harry insisted. "Certainly I caused changes with all the jumps I've already done, and there aren't any paradoxes from that, are there?"
"I honestly do not know, Harry." Dumbledore replied. "The problem with the Shard is that no recognized authorities have ever performed any proper analyses on how it functions. Unlike the Time-Turners, which utilize certain known magical laws and enchantments, the information on the Shard from a functional perspective is spotty at best."
"Hmm," Harry stroked his chin in thought. "So how do Time-Turners work?"
Dumbledore actually laughed at the question. "Forgive me, Harry, but that question would require several months of study to even understand the terminology you would need to grasp the underlying principles. Suffice it to say that there are ways to utilize natural magical forces and extremely high levels of magical power to bend time and space. Time-Turners specifically use a loophole of sorts due to its limited capability."
"Fine, whatever," Harry said dismissively. "I suppose we haven't got time to discuss other highly complicated areas in any event. I think I'm ready for this new idea I apparently had. I'll go back in time, a while I suppose, then tell you about the Shard. Then I'll come back here. You said the cliffside was an abnormal image that I would immediately recognize, so we'll meet back at this point in time. Hopefully."
"It seems a fair plan, Harry. How far back do you plan to travel, if you can indeed control it? You had mentioned at one point during the passive period that you had difficulty controlling the time travelling. That is why we used the cliffside image in the first place."
Harry considered. "That's a good question. Let's assume I can hit some point in a specific year. What would be a good year do you think? You know, without causing even more problems in the future?"
"I worry about some of the possible changes," Dumbledore admitted. "The farther back you go, the more potential catastrophic effects are possible. But a few months is not nearly enough time, especially considering everything else we have to handle. This is your sixth year now, as you know. You informed me of the Shard several months ago in your fifth year. I think if you make it to your fourth or third year, that would be a reasonable time to attempt contacting me. Further back than that seems too dangerous."
"So what if I accidentally go back too far?"
"Try not to affect anything," Dumbledore advised. "And move forward carefully. Let me provide you with a catchall password for my office. I suppose there's no real reason you shouldn't know it already, and perhaps another key fact that would indicate you had travelled in time."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, that'd be great Professor. It's not like I haven't been to see you nearly every year."
"Indeed," Dumbledore said with a smile. "The catchall password is 'Ablative Puncturing Sculpture'. That will also trigger a magical alert to me if I am not in the office. I only change it once every five years or so, so it should cover your school years. And when you see me, assuming I don't already know why you're there, there's something you should tell me to prove you've travelled in time."
"Right, what is it?" Harry had no idea what the secret could be that would be so significant.
"Tell me that in the future you've been trapped by a temporal artifact, and to prove it, tell my past self that the answer to the ontological paradox is that metaphysics is subjective. Can you remember that?"
"The answer to the ontological paradox is that metaphysics is subjective," Harry repeated. "What does that even mean?"
"It doesn't matter, really. The paradox is a philosophical problem I had for many decades that I only recently solved. Considering you are the only one who knows I was concerned with this issue, it should suffice as proof."
Harry breathed deeply in and out and repeated the philosophical sentence several times until he was certain it stayed in his mind. "Okay, Professor, I think I'm ready. Hopefully I'll be seeing you soon."
"Good luck, Harry." Dumbledore replied solemnly. "Now stay still, so I can encode my research in a manner that my past self will understand." He raised his wand and looked into Harry's eyes. "Legilimens."
Harry felt an odd sensation and his head prickled, although he felt no pain or real discomfort.
"It is done, Harry."
"That was fast." Harry chuckled. "I thought you had months of research."
"I do, but the memory encoding process is actually quite easy when it is for myself. You should not even had any mental awareness of the additional data, but I will easily be to see it in the past."
Harry nodded. "In that case, sir. I think I'll be off."
"See you in the past then," Dumbledore said with a sad smile.
The process seemed easier this time around as Harry relaxed his will and let time reverse around him. The Shard moved ever closer to his heart and the landscape shifted rapidly around him. Hogwarts. Hogwarts again. Privet Drive. Hogwarts. Suddenly the Shard twitched and the travel began to increase in speed.
Panicked, Harry focused carefully and halted his travel. The world around seemed off and confused. Remembering his disorientation from Snape's murder, Harry took a moment to breathe in and out several times with his eyes closed. Slowly his heart stopped racing and he began to calm down.
He took a risk and opened his eyes.
Air rushed by him quickly, and Harry suddenly realized that he was moving. Oh hell, he was on a broom. And right about to crash into the Quidditch stands.
The Quidditch stands loomed before Harry, and he yanked up on his broom as hard as he could possibly manage. But however things had gone the first go, this time he had reacted far too late, and Harry crashed into the stands, splintering the wood until he fell through to the other side.
Harry tried to take stock in midair. His injuries seemed unbelievable and impossible; Harry could swear he could see his arm bent at an angle. The wind swiftly rushed by him as he fell to the ground. Suddenly, a magical force stopped his descent and he felt him being slowly lowered to the ground. The pain was terrible, but Harry felt himself distancing from it. The Shard still protruded from his shoulder, not even twitching. Thank Merlin.
As Harry dropped to the grass, he could see several people surrounding him, although his glasses had fallen off at some point. Everything was just a blur. He tried to speak.
"I'm..." He choked as blood caught in this throat. Oh, hell. Someone was using magic on him and talking. It was muffled, but understandable.
"We need to take him to the Hospital wing immediately! He must be in agony. I'd better put him under."
"Nnrgl," Harry tried to decline, and frantically attempting to sit up, but his legs didn't seem to want to cooperate.
A wave of energy swept over him and he felt consciousness begin to slip away. Simultaneously, the Shard began to shudder and move closer to his heart.
Harry's vision swam as a sudden rush of horrible images appeared before him, mocking Death Eaters, dead and bleeding friends, Voldemort laughing, pointing, laughing In His Face. Pointing his damned brother wand in Harry's face.
Harry gritted his teeth and concentrated with all his might. He would show them. He would take them all down! He tensed his muscles and forced the Shard to halt its seemingly inexorable progress.
The visions collapsed and coalesced into a bizarre place that was familiar and horrifying. Walls stretching ridiculously high all around him.
An enormous red-faced giant was bellowing at Harry, an enormous physical and intimidating presence above him. The words were jumbled and nonsensical, and Harry felt a horrible threatening aura about to encompass him completely.
Harry felt his blood catch fire and his rage grew and grew. His eyes flashed and he growled incoherently. He could feel his magic react to the immediate threat, building rapidly like a ball of rapidly expanding intense fire in a place near his gut.
Something jumped out of the mad giant's muddle of words.
Harry screeched incoherently and his anger burst out of him in a flood of destruction. The giant was hurled backwards in a wave of white-hot fire, and flames burst out instantly all around him. The walls crumbled and collapsed, and a wave of red fury smashed through the house like a sphere.
Harry fell to the ground, feeling horribly drained. He blinked suddenly, feeling clear minded again. As he slowly looked around him, he began to realize where and when he was with gradual horror.
"No," Harry shook his head and stumbled trying to get up. His injuries were gone but Harry had long forgotten them. "No, no, no." The house where Harry had grown up was in ashes around him, and the devastating inferno had spread to nearby houses.
Harry's breath caught in his throat. What had he done?
"No, I wasn't... I didn't mean." Tears began to fall from his eyes, exacerbated by the smoke and ash in the air.
A screeching tearing sound echoed in the distance. Harry clutched his ears in sudden pain. The sound physically hurt him. The air vibrated around him and the ground began to shake. Something wasn't right at all. The horrible shrieking sound grew worse and worse, like someone was trying to tear the world in two.
Without really thinking, Harry apparated to the same park he had recently been to in the future. He ran up a nearby hill and looked back over the neighborhood with his new vantage point. Harry's eyes widened in shock.
For long stretches in every direction, the air shimmered as if on fire, and everything seemed to be vibrating and fading at the same time. Harry felt his blood run cold. Had he caused some sort of deadly paradox that would rip the world apart? He didn't know what to do.
Harry looked down and sobbed. He was only six years old. He had no idea how he had even managed to apparate so far.
Trying to go further back in the past seemed horribly risky; he could easily fall back too far and erase himself entirely. And the future... What if he tried moving forward in time and everything was vanished and gone from existence? Hardly the ideal scenario.
But Harry was rapidly running out of options. Sticking around didn't seem quite so viable either.
Harry took a deep breath in and prepared himself. He hoped the future would still be there. With a now somewhat familiar motion, Harry relaxed and then immediately banished the Shard, sending himself careening forward in time.
Images of fire and whiteness flashed before Harry's eyes and he wondered when it would stop.
Harry's movement through time stopped suddenly and he felt himself restrained, floating in midair. He appeared to be in Hogwarts, although when was anyone's guess. He tried to move, but none of his limbs were responding. A ringing alarm suddenly sounded and Harry would have winced if he could move his limbs.
Some man Harry didn't recognize ran over to where Harry was floating and gasped. He conjured a Patronus and sent it somewhere, presumably to pass along a message. After a moment, Dumbledore appeared before them, looking visibly relieved.
"Mr. Potter, I assume you can probably hear me," the Headmaster said. "Please do not try to move. We need to stabilize you immediately before we can release the stasis field. Dr. Lu should be along any moment."
Harry had a thousand questions, but of course he still could not move in what Dumbledore had called a stasis field. The Headmaster seemed a bit off, almost more distant or less emotional than Harry would have expected. It was odd to see.
Dumbledore smiled. "Ah, here comes Dr. Lu now."
At the corner of his vision, Harry could see a short Asian man dressed in beige wizard's robes rushing over to them. He had a wand out and was looking a bit stressed. Dr. Lu slowly approached Harry and looked over him carefully, waving his wand and mumbling something. He turned to Dumbledore and nodded.
"All right," Dumbledore began. "So what does Harry need to do?"
"He must be careful and not move when I release the field," Dr. Lu answered in a slight but understandable accent. "I will then stabilize the Shard and hopefully it will work as we planned."
"Harry, I hope you have got all that."
Harry tried to communicate his understanding nonverbally, and the Headmaster seemed to understand. He nodded at Dr. Lu.
Dr. Lu waved his wand and Harry felt the restraining energy slowly disappear as he began to slowly drop to the ground. Harry kept still and tried not move at all.
The Asian wizard mumbled something else and a wave of prickling energy swept over Harry, who tried not to flinch at the sudden sensations. Dr. Lu pointed his wand at Harry.
"Now, I want you to trace your finger as closely around the Shard as you can without touching it. Can you do that Potter?"
Harry nodded and slowly and carefully traced his finger around the Shard. As he moved his finger, a glowing line of light followed where he had traced a path.
Dr. Lu waved his wand and Harry felt the muscles he had just traced contract and tense.
"What did you do?" Harry asked.
Dumbledore turned to face Harry. "Try to relax - carefully! And then see if the Shard moves."
Harry blinked at this and felt a bit worried. "Are you sure about this? I don't want to fall back in time again."
"It ought to work," Dr. Lu said. "Please try so we can be sure."
Harry let himself relax, slowly at first, but then gradually allowing himself to completely relax. The Shard stayed in place. A magnificent feeling of joy and relief spread over Harry, and he laughed a bit uncontrollably with happiness. Just being able to fully relax was such a wonder.
"Thank Merlin," Dumbledore sighed. "We thank you for your assistance, Dr. Lu. I will show Harry to the others and explain the current situation. We'll let you know if we need anything further."
Dr. Lu shrugged. "Well, it was not like I had much of a choice. I will see you all later." He turned and walked down the hall quickly away from them.
"Professor, what was all that about? How did you know when I would show up?"
Dumbledore blinked and gestured down the hallway. "Walk with me, Mr. Potter."
A bit taken aback, Harry nevertheless walked over to the Headmaster, who immediately began to walk away briskly. Harry had to run a bit but managed to keep up.
"We are aware of your latest misadventures in time," Dumbledore said gravely. "You caused a temporal infarction when you were approximately six years old before travelling forward once again. However, you are probably aware of all that. It is currently what would have been your first year at Hogwarts."
"Wait, wait a minute. What would have been? What do you mean?"
Dumbledore looked troubled. "Probably best that I show you what I mean. Come with up to the Astronomy Tower."
Harry nodded. "All right, of course. But how did you know I'd show up at this exact year?"
"We didn't, of course. We utilized the talents of some technical experts in the relevant fields to set up a stasis field that would 'catch' you for lack of a better term. The field has been active for several years now."
The two reached the tower and began to walk up the stairs.
"So you lot have the encoded memories then? The ones you sent from the future from yourself?"
Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, a bit odd to see naturally, but I managed to utilize them effectively. We were in an awful position at the time, so the memories of a future me who had already researched some of the associated problems was extremely helpful. It certainly helped to explain what had happened."
"So what happened then?" Harry asked worriedly. "I was worried about paradoxes and all that. We both were, actually."
"It is unclear precisely what the exact details of the infarction were," Dumbledore said. "But whatever the specifics, the disruption caused reality to unfold at a rapid pace. We barely managed to react in time."
They had finally reached the top of the tower, and Harry looked out at the surrounding area in shock. Everything around Hogwarts was simply gone. It was if the entire world had been erased; left in its stead was a fuzzy odd gray color that encompassed the vista in all directions. Harry looked in a circle frantically. Hogwarts seemed to be all there. He looked up in sudden realization, but above him was the same grayness. The sky itself was missing.
"I don't understand!" Harry sputtered frantically. "Where is everything?"
"It is gone." Dumbledore intoned gravelly. "Everything around us is wiped from existence. Nothing remains."
"Is... is Hogwarts all that's left?"
Dumbledore shook his head. "No, not quite. Come, let us proceed to the Great Hall. I need to introduce you to the others here. I will explain more on the way."
Harry felt a horrible emptiness within him, as though his inner self had been erased like the rest of the world. He tried not to think of all his friends and loved ones, and tried to keep his mind focused on the next step. Whatever that may be.
"Hogwarts is one of a few places left stable on Earth. The Ministry had some protections against this sort of thing, and there are three other places that either had their own protections or we managed to protect ourselves. There is a special mountain in the Australian continent that exists slightly out of phase with the rest of time, and as such, it was not affected by the infarction. A hidden magical temple in China was also separated from time through magical means, although not via natural methods. And finally, there is a Muggle research facility in Switzerland that is quite involved with time travel that we managed to protect."
"A Muggle time travel place? But that's it, then? Nothing else? In the entire world." Harry was aghast. Everything else gone?
"Luckily we managed to pool our resources in time to create some safe havens, although relatively few people could be saved in time."
Harry swallowed nervously. "How many?"
"Perhaps several thousand," Dumbledore replied with a sad look. "Most in Australia, as they had the most physical area available. It is quite difficult to travel between these safe zones, considering the protections on them. Only a few of us can even manage the feat, and I am not one of them."
"Is there anything that can be done? You know, to reverse the effects?"
"That is what we have researching the past five years, Mr. Potter. Unfortunately, our resources have grown increasingly limited as the rest of the world faded away. Not all relevant artifacts or texts could be found before it was too late to retrieve them. Still, we have a few experts working on the problem from various angles, including right here in Hogwarts."
Harry fell silent. He wasn't sure what he could possibly even say.
"Ah, here were are."
Harry looked around the Great Hall. Two dozen or so individuals were scattered in groups around the long tables. Harry wasn't sure if he recognized anyone, although a few seemed oddly familiar.
Dumbledore cleared his throat and all eyes looked in his direction. "If the primary research team can join me here at the Head Table, I would like Harry in his current temporal incarnation to meet all of you." He turned to Harry. "Mr. Potter, please have a seat with me at the table."
"All right then." Harry pulled up a chair next to the Headmaster and waited as several men came up to the table and sat on each side.
"Let me introduce you to each person here," Dumbledore said. "To my left are two men you probably are familiar with."
The two men he had indicated had at least several decades difference between them, with one seeming a relatively good-looking man about McGonagall's age and other was far older, looking older than Dumbledore.
"Mr. Potter, first, please realize that the situation demanded difficult decisions. Sometimes we cannot always choose our allies. With that said, that older gentleman is Gellert Gridelwald."
Harry started at that with a bug-eyed expression. "I thought you killed Grindelwald!"
"No, Mr. Potter, I defeated him in combat, yes, but he has been imprisoned in a prison for many decades. As I said, we cannot discard potential assistance in such dire circumstances. Gellert is actually an old friend of mine and a brilliant wizard, albeit one with differing beliefs than myself. But such things are unimportant in the face of the disintegration of reality."
Grindelwald nodded at that. "It is un unfortunate problem ve haff here," he said in a raspy voice. "Craziness dat it is."
"And of course, you may recognize this other man, Mr. Potter."
The other man lifted an eyebrow and looked a bit constipated.
Harry looked at the man. He did look familiar. Wait. It couldn't be.
"Professor, you can't seriously expect me to believe you've brought Voldemort here!"
"Mr. Potter, please. At this point, please call him Mr. Riddle."
Riddle winced at that.
Harry's eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Oh, so Tommy doesn't mind using his Muggle name then? I find that hard to believe."
Riddle jumped to his in sudden anger. "Shut your mouth boy! You're the one who got us into this mess in the first place with your nonsensical messing about with things you ought to stay clear of!"
"Oh, what, and let you just kill me?" Harry retorted. "And I'm pretty sure it was you, or a future you, that found the Shard in the first place. And why do you look so normal anyway? Snake body not available?"
"For your information, Potter, the collapsing of reality caused my Horcruxes to be undone from time, and that included the one that kept me in a spiritual form. We may have had cause to try to kill each other, but I hardly equate that with ending the world!"
"Enough!" Dumbledore barked with a hint of fury in his eyes. "We do not have the time for such squabbles. Every ally is precious, and you are both to blame for our current troubles. So have a seat, both of you."
Riddle sat down in a huff.
"Wait a minute," Harry said slowly. "If all the Horcruxes are gone, why is Riddle even alive then? I would think that change would cause him to be gone instead of restored."
"Indeed," Grindelwald said with a laugh. "But he lost his Horcruxes in de future apparently es vell. Ze paradox could haff destroyed him or restored him. Luckily for him, it vas the latter."
"Quite," Dumbledore said serenely. "Mr. Riddle's knowledge has been invaluable. And let me introduce you to the other two members of our group here. We have a few missing members; Dr. Lu is back at the Ministry with the other Unspeakables, and we have a few at the other locations."
Harry sighed. "Okay."
"To your right is an Unspeakable, Mortimer Perry." A solemn dark-skinned man nodded his head once.
"And to you left is a foreign expert in temporal matters, Frederic Madrigal." A slim white-haired man scowled but nodded in turn.
"Fine, nice to meet you lot," Harry said. "But is there something we can do about, you know, everything?"
Perry sighed heavily. "It is a difficult quandary, Mr. Potter. We have scarcely had five years to investigate, and much is still quite unclear. You and Professor Dumbledore's memories have only filled in some of the blanks. Most of our potential ideas are no more than mere guesswork."
"Isn't there anything we can do? Or I can do?" Harry pleaded. "I guess it's not a good idea to move around in time anymore, but I'm willing to try anything."
Riddle snorted. "I sincerely doubt that."
"Shut your bloody snake mouth Tom!" Harry yelled. "You don't a bloody first thing about sacrifice!"
"Odd zat you mention zat, Mr. Potter," Madrigal suddenly said in a undecipherable accent. "There iz vun possible idea that may perhaps vurk. If you can stomach it."
"Tell me," Harry demanded.
Dumbledore held up his hand. "Please everyone. I had hoped to postpone such talk until later. Perhaps with Harry here, we can investigate a bit more. The Shard is with us currently, after all."
"Ridiculous!" Riddle spat. "We have nothing further that we can possibly decipher, even if the brat and the Shard are finally in the same place. Even if our time wasn't already limited enough."
"I won't accept that!" Perry retorted. "I say at least put our cards on the table with Potter now, then see if additional research is possible."
"I'm fine with that," Harry assured. "If we're running out of time for whatever reason, at least let me everyone out."
Dumbledore sighed. "It is an odd thing, Mr. Potter, to see you speak as though you were older than your current appearance. Perhaps that is where some of our reticence originates. If you will allow me to attempt it, I will try to explain the possible solution."
Harry nodded, not quite sure enough of himself to say anything.
"Everything we have discovered about the Shard is that it is impossible to fully understand what may have occurred in the past in similar circumstances. The general consensus we have reached over the past few years is that the closer the Shard moves to your heart, the farther back in time you move."
"Right," Harry agreed. "That sounds about right."
"Thus the logical progression is that once your heart is pierced, it must be at the very moment your life begins. There are no known occurrences like this one, where someone has utilized the Shard to manipulate the timeline. Still, certain aspects of time travel have been comprehended, and the precise situation we are currently in has been anticipated."
"Paradoxes are known about," Perry cut in. "And in the past, people have dealt with the aftereffects of paradoxes and their ilk. We know how to protect facilities against this sort of thing, although it is not an easy thing. Each of the current safe zones already had some level of inherent protection, even the Muggle one. Otherwise, we'd already been sunk by this point."
The Unspeakable leaned back and looked troubled. "Normally the only solution we can think is to either remove the disruptive influence or cut it off at the source. In this case that would mean either trying to extract the Shard or allowing it to erase you from existence."
"What?" Harry burst out. "Surely you can't seriously be considering that. Just remove the Shard instead!"
Perry leaned forward and looked directly in Harry's eyes. "There are two significant problems that impede that possibility, I'm afraid. The effects of the temporal infarction would not simply vanish just because you and the Shard were separated, as they already have impacted the timeline. And secondly, perhaps equally as problematic, it is impossible for anyone else to even perceive the Shard. It has become connected to you in a way that would certainly kill you if you tried to remove it."
"But dere is a solution, is dere not, Albus?" Grindelwald asked.
"Yes, there is one possible solution. As I believe you already knew, Tom had created several Horcruxes."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, some of which were destroyed, at least in the original timeline. I guess this time we haven't gotten to the diary yet."
Riddle grumbled incoherently and folded his arms in an impetuous fashion.
"Correct, Mr. Potter," Dumbledore put in. "But what you may not know, in fact, what I had only suspected but confirmed over the last few years, is that you had a Horcrux with you the entire time."
"That can't be right," Harry insisted. "Unless... You don't mean my scar, do you?"
"Not completely," Dumbledore clarified. "It was an unintentional creation of Riddle's when he tried to kill you as an infant. But where that originally kept Riddle and you connected, now things have changed. The Horcruxes have been erased from time, as though they never existed. That includes the one with you."
Harry blinked in surprise.
"But in the original timeline, a Horcrux is still generated when Tom tries to kill you. Thus there is a paradox because there is a Horcrux and there is not one simultaneously. Your interaction with the Shard has thus far shielded you from the paradox affecting you. But if we can resolve that paradox, we may be able to collapse the temporal infarction."
"Collapse it? What would that do?"
Perry sighed heavily at the question. "We are not completely sure, to be honest with you Harry. It may have no effect at all, and reality will still be in danger of erasure. It may restore the original timeline, but without the Shard. Or time may be restored with the Shard again, which would cause all this to happen over again. Or the final possibility is that all the Horcruxes will be erased from existence along with the Shard. That seems to be the likeliest outcome."
"What's wrong with that?" Harry asked. "That sounds like the best solution. If all the Horcruxes are gone, then everyone is saved. Well, except for Riddle, but I don't honestly care about him."
Dumbledore stood suddenly. "Harry, will you take a walk with me? There is one last area of concern we must discuss. Privately."
"Um, of course sir."
Harry got to his feet and nodded to each person at the table, save Riddle, whom he explicitly ignored. Voldemort sneered in response.
Harry and Dumbledore walked for a few minutes in silence.
After an interminable wait, the Headmaster turned to face Harry.
"Mr. Potter, in the initial timeline you were walking to what you thought would be your death, were you not?"
"Yes." It seemed so long ago. "I thought that it had to happen, that it was the only way to defeat Voldemort, based on everything you had told me. I was willing to make the sacrifice. I'm willing to do it again if it saves reality." Harry said the last bit in a rush, trying to convince himself as well as the Headmaster.
"It is possible that this course of action will not require your death."
"But it probably will, right?"
Dumbledore nodded sadly. "I am afraid so, Harry. The Horcruxes and the Shard would vanish from existence when the paradox collapsed, but so would everything tied with them. The objects involved, the ring and cup, for example."
"And me, as well, is that it?" Harry asked, realizing that he kind of expected it.
"Yes, although Riddle himself would also be gone as well."
Harry laughed a bit bitterly. "I can't imagine he's happy with that."
Albus shrugged. "He has very little choice in the matter. Either he has the slim possibility of survival or none at all. If merely killing you would restore the timeline, I am sure he would far happier about it."
"But that might not even work, right?"
"Indeed. It is a difficult thing to ask of you, Harry. I cannot demand it, or even acknowledge it as the sole option. In truth, even considering my own memories of the future, I barely know you."
"Is that why you've been acting so distant?" Harry asked a bit sadly. "I should have considered that we wouldn't know each other."
"In the interim years, we have talked a great deal," Dumbledore insisted. "But it is hard to reconcile all thoughts and memories together into one whole."
Harry looked down and sighed deeply. "Professor, how would I collapse the paradox?"
"We would set things up to allow you to carefully move back in time to the moment after Riddle tries to kill you. There is a way to tie the Horcrux aspect to the Shard, which we will first perform here. You will then need to move carefully back in time. When Riddle casts the Killing Curse at you, the creation of a Horcrux that should already exist but does not will cause the paradox to collapse at the epicenter. As the Shard will be tied to the Horcrux, it will also vanish."
"And then I might be gone or restored? And everything might be fine or gone worse?"
Dumbledore nodded silently.
"And we have no other viable options?"
Dumbledore shook his head.
Harry breathed in deeply, steadying his nerves. "All right then, let's do this."
The preparations took close two hours, while Harry tried very hard to sit still without fidgeting much. Various people were involved, including Riddle and Grindelwald, but Dumbledore had assured Harry he was keeping a close eye on the proceedings. Most of it involved various magical spells and miscellaneous artifacts that Harry barely even perceived completely. At several points, he had just let his mind wander for ages; it seemed easier.
At last, only Dumbledore and the Asian wizard Dr. Lu were left waiting with Harry.
"Harry, in a moment Dr. Lu will release the muscle spell that kept the Shard in place. At that point, don't worry about tensing or keeping still. Just relax and the various spells should allow you move forward at a pace that will slow as you approach the key moment. And then it is all up to you."
Harry nodded, his eyes a bit wet but with a internal fire. "I'm ready then."
"Are absolutely sure, Harry?" Dumbledore asked. "This is the final decision point. There is no turning back from here. I would not think any less of you if you wanted to try to battle things out with us in the end of existence here."
"No," Harry insisted a bit loudly. He swallowed a sudden lump in his throat. "I am quite ready. Let's get this going."
Dumbledore nodded, a sad look in his eyes, and gestured to Dr. Lu. The Asian wizard muttered something under his breath and Harry felt his muscles twitch and then relax. The Shard began to move closer, further in.
"Here we go," Harry mumbled to himself.
And he fell back in time.
At first everything flashed incredibly quickly, months in seconds, years in minutes. But as Harry grew younger and younger, the passage began to slow. Unnoticeably at first, then quite obviously.
By the time Harry had reached about two years of each, each minute moving backwards was only about a second or so. Harry grew quite bored at this until he realized the day of infamy arrived in reverse.
He saw himself left on the stoop of the Dursleys, then Hagrid flying with him backwards towards Godric's Hollow. Time grew even slower, and Harry realized that each minute in reverse was experienced in a minute of his time. And as they reached the wreckage of the Potter's house, time grew even slower. Each second backwards in time was perceived as several seconds.
Harry watched in fascination as the house rebuilt itself around him. A room that seemed so unknown but familiar coalesced into a complete presence. Harry's eyes widened and he tensed suddenly. Time had stopped suddenly as he tensed. The Shard was not moving at all. But Harry was not moving forward in time either.
Voldemort was there in the room, apparently about to get hit with the rebounded Killing Curse. And Harry's Mum... his mother... Lily Potter was lying on the floor in front of him. Even frozen in time and space, Harry could see her limp form. But she was There. Right There. Harry drunk in the sight of her, feeling a lightness, like a pain he never knew he had was suddenly alleviated.
Harry wondered if he could stay like this forever, stuck in this moment in time. Where he last saw his mother. Maybe he could reverse the Shard somehow even as an infant, try to change things again. After all, this entire endeavor might not even work. Could he even manage to somehow skip past the Killing Curse and save his parents? It was such a tempting thought, even if Harry wasn't sure if he could even pull it off.
When he had said to Dumbledore that he was willing to die for a good cause, Harry had truly meant it. But now, seeing his mother dead on the floor, Harry hesitated. Why did he have to be the one to maybe lose everything?
On the other hand, what if instead of oblivion the destruction of the Horcruxes would mean Harry would be able to live with his parents alive? It was a real possibility. Harry had never felt so unsure.
"I would not think any less of you." Dumbledore had said.
Was that really true?
Harry came to a decision. And Harry Potter just... let go.