"Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win"
― Sun Tzu
27. The Long Goodbye
The two curses rushed headlong to meet each other and the impact was like a bad automobile collision. As the curses struck, a sound like the clap of thunder rolled and echoed through the mountains. The two spells locked horns and sizzled, hissed, and spat as one did it's best to eliminate the other. Buckets of consumed energy splashed on the ground like glowing plasma. Little red and green lighting bolts, spikes of electromotive energy, splintered off the curses to find the ground. They were like fingers pawing and digging in the earth for traction. Harry glanced at the Hellhound. He was trying to flank the shield charm, and Harry adjusted the wand. He stood there, arms outstretched, countering an attack from both sides. The flow had to be equally channeled between the two wands. They to had to be balanced like a fine set of scales. If you tried to strengthen one side, the other side would likely fizzle and die. Beollan had tried to drum this into his head with preaching and practice. So far the plan was working, but with his energy divided, the red wave of his Expelliarmus was not as strong. He was losing the fight, and the red wave was falling back. He could safely wait until the green jet of the killing curse was three fourths of the distance his way and then deflect it harmlessly upwards. But if he waited any later, he would lose that tactical ploy and have to live or die with the consequences. He glanced to the left and re-adjusted his aim with the Hellhound. The two Calygreyhounds were digging and pawing at the earth trying to pull free of the magical leashes and enter the fray. The tracking hounds were howling and baying in a throaty song that rolled through the hills and valleys. If he could only get the Calygreyhounds into the fight. The green jet was now flickering just a few yards from his face. It was too close to deflect. The effects of the killing curse would be permanent this time. He wouldn't wake up in Kings Cross Station and have a refreshing conversation with Dumbledore. If he fell, then hopefully Ron and Lance would be able to scamper up over the ledge in time to take Razvan. This was his only hope. They had to take Razvan.
In moments like this time begins to slow, and sweet memories begin to flow through your consciousness to ease the pain. He remembered what Ginny whispered in his ear that Saturday night before leaving for school – something about finding her wand. Oh how he wished for a night like that. The cool evening breeze, the sweet smell of perfume, and a girl in your arms. And Sandy. The lazy day of flying at the World Cup Quidditch pitch warmed his soul. And the evening after, on the terrace. It almost brought a smile to his face. He could never forget the look on her face as she discovered him at her door when he returned from New York. She rushed into his arms and he could feel she was as tight as a knot, then feel her tensions slowly easing away and when they were gone, sweetness. But something was nagging at the beautiful dream he was experiencing. Something rude and nasty. The energy from the killing curse was heating the little cross he wore. It began to feel hot, and he remembered Sandy's warning about taking chances. He awoke from the dream.
"RON... RON HURRY," he yelled and the killing curse was a few feet away. Harry looked toward the ledge and could see a head of ginger hair popping over the edge of the abyss. Harry concentrated with everything he had to hold on for a few moments more.
"RON FREE THE HOUNDS."
"RELASHIO!" The jet from Ron's wand immediately cut the lead and freed the two Calygreyhounds as Ron kicked a free leg over the ledge. The two hounds bolted madly for the Hellhound. Without looking back Harry dropped the shield charm and threw all the force he could muster forward toward Razvan with the Expelliarmus. As if frightened itself, the red wave almost doubled in size. Tenebris, the stronger of the two Calygreys went straight for the Hellhound. The inky black Hellhound stood his ground almost as tall as the Calygrey. His ivory incisors clearly bared and visible in the dim light.
Tenebris, caught by the gaze of the fiery eyes of the Hellhound, began to stagger and then fall, rolling end over end. The Hellhound, holding the deadly gaze as long as possible on Tenebris, did not see Chloros sweeping around the side. Chloros was kicking up bits of earth and rock as he turned on a lighting fast flank attack. At full speed he was almost a blur. The viciousness of his attack was unlike anything ever seen. His long incisors caught the neck of the Hellhound like scissors and dug in deep. As the momentum of Chloros carried him up and over the neck of the Hellhound on a somersault, his jaws stayed fastened on the neck of the beast. Twisting and then landing on his feet like a cat, Chloros held firmly on the neck of the hound, and the leathery hide of the Hellhound's neck was ripped open like a tin of beans. Blood spurted and the bones snapped with a grisly breaking sound. The fiery eyes of the Hellhound turned a dull charcoal grey.
The swollen and fiery red Expelliarmus had quickly regained the ground it had lost. It had surged back to a position just a few meters in front of Razvan. Razvan was conjuring all the energy he had into the staff, but it wasn't enough. The eyes of the dark wizard, which first showed concern, now showed panic. With the Hellhound dead and Ron backing Harry with another wand, Razvan had no chance to win this fight. It was his turn to make a decision. Would he hold, or would he deflect the curse and try to escape? At once, he raised and tilted the staff to deflect the curses. The two spells shot heavenward and then fell down harmlessly. The dark wizard collected himself to apparate away.
The black wand was connected to Harry in a way he didn't fully understand. And now that Harry's heart was hollow and dark and filled with hate, the connection was much stronger. It's previous owner had been much like this. With years of unrequited love, loss, and disappointment, the two souls were now much akin. From somewhere inside the darkness, the urge was given but never spoken. It didn't matter, the wand felt the loss, and knew the pain, and acted alone. The black wand raised up to point at Razvan. Without warning the green jet of a killing curse erupted from the tip of the black wand. Razvan was immediately struck in the chest, and crumpled into a pile.
Harry and Ron walked the short distance to Razvan with wands extended. The once steely grey eyes now had a dull opaque look to them. The mouth was still gaping open in shock. Harry kicked the staff from his grip and picked it up.
"What happened Harry?" Ron asked.
"He's dead," Harry said flatly.
"I know, but I mean what happened?" Ron asked, clearly wanting more.
"The bastard's dead Ron," Harry said glaring at Ron, "Let's go."
"Do we need to take him back?" Ron asked.
"Are you kidding? Let the dogs get a good smell, and the recovery team can come back for him."
Ron shrugged and turned away.
"Where's Lance?" Harry asked.
"He's was looking for his wand when I left him."
"Well that's great," Harry said with disgust. "And I think we lost a hound."
"No we didn't, he's right there!" And much to their relief, Tenebris was fully recovered and standing beside Chloros.
"When Razvan died it must have released the curse of the Hellhound." Harry said.
"Yeah, I think Razvan and the Hellhound were one in the same," Ron said as they both went to the ledge to assist Lance.
"Well, either way, they're both gone now."
It was great to be back home. Even Kreacher never looked so happy and had a big breakfast prepared this morning. It would be the first day back to work after returning from Romania. Everyone was elated and planned a little do for the weekend. But first, there would be many reports to write and questions to answer. Eating light meals in camp over the past week had shrunk his stomach, and Harry couldn't finish all the breakfast.
The Ministry was bustling with activity this morning and everyone appeared to be in high spirits. Entering the hall leading to the Auror office, he couldn't help but notice the light from Hermione's office. He couldn't resist sticking his head in the door.
"You missed all the fun," he told her playfully.
"Bloody hell," she said snapping around. "What I heard didn't sound like fun," she said with a large smile.
"So you've talked to Ron."
"Yeah, first night back," she said and Harry nodded.
"He did good, your Ron."
Hermione dipped her head and paused for moment before lifting.
"I'm glad you brought him back. Alive I mean," she said smiling, "Thank you Harry."
"So what did I miss around here while I was gone?"
"Loads. The Americans found tons of records that tie Razvan to the racketeering of magical artifacts. That's the good news," she said smartly.
"So what's the bad?" he asked.
"Well, unfortunately Malfoy was not in as deep as we thought."
"Really. So how is he involved?"
"From what we know now, it appears the trust funds he set up were used for money laundering. He claims Razvan approached him with the plan when Voldemort was still in power. Razvan told him there was another 'way' if Voldemort failed. And when Voldemort died, Razvan threatened him and his family."
"Sounds like a good story," Harry said shaking his head.
"Yes, doesn't it."
"So what do think will happen?"
"He'll do a little time for this. Of course it wasn't what we were hoping for."
"We'll have to take what we can get I suppose," he said.
"Oh by the way, we've got a get together and celebration for this weekend. Is that okay?" she asked.
"Sure, that'll be fine."
"It's at the Leaky Cauldron. Will that be alright?"
"Sure. I'll stick to butterbeer – I promise."
The green bankers lamp was illuminating a little cloud of pipe smoke as Kingsley thumbed through Harry's report of the mission.
"This was good work. I'm very proud of the whole team. It would have been perfect if we'd brought him back alive, since we know so little of his network. But now that he's dead, our prisoners may feel more freedom to talk."
"Yes sir, I hope they will. Can we rely on what Malfoy is saying?"
"It sounds believable. Of course the court will have to decide. But it's the kind of action families like the Malfoys have always taken. You see, often times – people with great wealth are never too far on one side or the other and often straddle difficult issues. The most precious thing for them is protecting their wealth and large estates, so they never want to be caught clearly on the losing side."
"Yeah, I guess I never thought of it that way. Still... sorry I couldn't bring Razvan back alive. Not sure what happened really," Harry said.
"Well, I knew it would be no simple matter to bring him back," Kingsley said tossing the report on the table. "And you've gained some very valuable experience Harry."
"I still don't know what happened for sure – the killing curse – it just shot out of the black wand. I really don't know if it was the wand or me," Harry said shaking his head, and Kingsley reflected on this a moment.
"That's something you should work on Harry. And you may have to look deep inside yourself to find the answer."
"Do you feel better about things now – about Sandy I mean?"
"No. Of course not."
"No I guess you wouldn't," Kingsley said smiling. "Hopefully, you'll find a way to sort it all out."
"I'm sure things will improve with time."
"I'm sure they will Harry. So... does this wrap matters up?"
"No, there's one more loose end sir."
There was one nasty bit of business left, and Harry was headed to the Leaky Cauldron straight away. As usual now, he entered through the front door. Hannah was a little surprised to see him, but quickly came to his table.
"Haven't seen you in a while Harry," she said with mock surprise.
"No, it's been a while Hannah. I'll have the soup and sandwich special – and a butterbeer I guess."
"Sure Harry... glad you're back," she said and whisked away. The evening crowd was beginning to drift in, as it always did this time of day. Doris Crockford was dragging in and looking particularly frazzled today. It wouldn't be long, he thought. And he was right.
"Well, I'm a little surprised to see you here," said the familiar voice to Harry's left.
"Are you? Did you come to buy me a drink?"
"If you want one. From what I hear you deserve a drink."
"What have you heard Dedalus? I'd like to know."
"Just the normal gossip... same as everyone else, I guess."
"Really... I thought you might know a bit more."
"Now what would ever give you that notion?"
"I stopped by the Dursley's before leaving the country. Talked to them a little while you know. They still had the weekend marked on their calendar when they moved back in."
The little smirk Dedalus normally carried quickly disappeared.
"Yeah, so what's the point Harry?"
"The point is, you told me you were helping the Dursleys the weekend the Carpathia was in Tilbury. But the Dursleys didn't move that weekend. It was two weeks earlier. You weren't with the Dursley's. We tried to find you that weekend but we couldn't. You were with that Carpathia lot all weekend – weren't you?"
"Ah, it's just a mistake Harry. You probably read it wrong. You weren't drinking were you?" he said with eyes darting nervously.
"You've been involved in this all along. When I had the run-in with the blokes in Knockturn Alley, you didn't follow me to return the letter. You were going there – to meet with those men."
"That's your imagination Harry," he said raising a hand in protest.
"All the break-ins required the knowledge of an insider. Between the Cauldron here and the Three Broomsticks, you knew everybody's business in town."
"A lot of people could have known that – not just me Harry."
"The portal – you turned the opening to Diagon Alley into the portal. You were standing right over there," Harry said motioning to the corner with his head. "When I looked back again, you were gone. A few minutes later I got the letter, saying Sandy was in Knockturn Alley."
"Harry, you're mental. Why don't you have a drink and go home."
"Yeah... you liked buying me drinks didn't you. At first I wondered why you didn't try and kill me again. It would have been a lot easier the second time – but then I realized I was as good as dead anyway."
Dedalus stood there, stone faced and not moving. Harry was leaning his head on his right hand and his left hand was just inches from the inside of the lapel pocket. It was a very strong defensive position and it was unlikely Dedalus knew of the extra wand he carried. The one that was now inches from his left hand.
"So where's this going Harry?" he asked as he stiffened up a bit. "He would have killed you that day in Knockturn Alley. I stopped him you know."
"I knew you'd finally have to bring that up!" he said, smiling now.
"We're even then – let's just call it quits."
"No. No way in hell. Someone died because of that little trick with the portal. How did it ever come to this Dedalus? You were someone we trusted."
"I never thought things would go this far. Yeah, it's true, I was someone to trust, but I got tired of being a funny little man in a worn out suit and dirty top hat. The odds of me ever getting anywhere were nil."
"Yeah – well what do you think your odds are now?"
"I'm tired of your bullying Harry. Do what you've come here to do or go to hell," he said and clinched his lips.
"You first Dedalus," he said and jumped up sending the chair reeling backwards to the floor. Dedalus had been hiding his wand under his right sleeve and it dropped into his hand immediately. Harry's wand came out of the lapel pocket just as fast. Several in the dining area screamed with the knowledge of what was about to happen. Dedalus let fly the stunning spell he was famous for. Harry's shield charm was barely strong enough to hold it back. Before Dedalus could disengage from the first attack, Harry's Holly wand was out and aimed. There was a wide-eyed look of surprise on Dedalus' face.
Dedalus was hit in the chest and flew backwards crashing into the wall and sliding down. He was laying on the floor still groggy and struggling to refocus his vision. Harry put away the black wand, and grabbed the mug of butterbeer. He kicked the right hand of Dedalus and sent his wand sliding across the room.
"I think I owe you a drink Dedalus," Harry said and poured the cold beer in Dedalus' face. "I want you awake for this," he said, leveling his wand at Dedalus' head. Dedalus shook his head and blew the beer out of his eyes. There was a wide-eyed look of terror at the wand pointed in his face.
Harry bent over from the waist to align his shoulder and arm with the wand pointed down between the two bloodshot eyes, full of anger and fear.
"Ahv..." The killing curse stuck on his lips. Dedalus had resisted arrest and he had the legal right to use it. While leaning forward, he felt the little gold cross as it broke away from clammy skin just above his heart.
"Go ahead and kill me. If it'll bring her back – go ahead – kill me."
Like a quick afternoon storm, the clouds of anger quickly blew away. Harry relaxed the grip on his wand, and the little cross fell back to his chest, feeling cool to the touch. He looked down to see the expression on Dedalus' face, one of defeat and surrender. The hollow place inside Harry's chest was just as dark and just as full of hate as it had been before killing Razvan. And the thought hit him. Nothing had changed. If he succumbed to hatred, it would likely go on forever. All the wonderful thoughts and beautiful things that he wished for the night he fought Razvan, might never come his way again. It didn't him take long to reconsider.
"Incarcerous," he said the binding spell calmly, and walked away as the vines of the spell were still wrapping.
The numbers were still very low, but spirits at the Ministry were as high as anyone could remember. It was if a veil or fog had been lifted. It was like everyone had become so accustomed to a dark overhanging cloud they had forgot it was there. The celebration do was to occur at the Leaky Cauldron and Harry had arrived early through the front door. Hopefully he would shake a few hands, and chat a while, and get out equally early. Steven, Jerry, and Quixwood whose hair was particularly lively tonight, were sitting at a table and discussing the beauty of the Romanian mountains. Hermione and Ron drifted in to join Harry at table of their own. A little later Lance joined them. The new Lance was a much humbled version of the original. Since his failure in Romania, he had become a little more quiet and reserved. The conversation was pleasant but diffident. One of the more outgoing office workers stopped by with an offer to buy all at the table a Firewhiskey. Lance accepted the drink while Harry firmly shook his head. The girl looked at Hermione coaxingly.
"Surely you'll take one?" she asked Hermione with an expression of disbelief.
"No, I'm good," Hermione said smiling and holding tightly onto Ron's arm.
Feeling a bit like a fish on the outside of the bowl, Harry said good evening and left early for Grimmauld Place. Hermione gave him a worried look, but he just smiled back and explained he had a big day tomorrow. And he did.
On the next morning Harry had Kreacher prepare an early breakfast. Hurrying through the toast and bangers, there was hardly enough time to read the front page of the morning's paper. He gathered up the wizard's staff he had taken from Razvan, and struggled with it to the Ministry garage. He would take the Ministry car again to Godric's Hollow and pay a visit to Ms. Tilliedaff. He was madly curious to know more about the watch and how Razvan reacquired the staff. Alfred, the driver, took the long staff and managed to fit it into the boot. Taking the Ministry car was something Harry always enjoyed doing. There was so much countryside he somehow missed seeing when he was younger. They rolled through the autumn countryside and entered the town square on their way to Ms. Tilliedaff's address. It was a quiet day, and many of the orange or brown leaves were blowing in a small breeze as they approached the front of Ms. Tilliedaff's property. The car came to a full stop and Harry noticed something rather shocking. He quickly jumped out to get a closer look. The windows and front door were all boarded up. The house was vacant. Looking for any note or clue on the front porch turned up nothing of significance, and there was no sign anywhere of Ms. Tilliedaff. She was a complete enigma, he thought. Shaking his head, Harry returned to the driver side of the car.
"Looks like it was a wasted trip huh?" Alfred said.
"It's a disappointment, but not a waste. You take the staff back to the Ministry. I've got a few things here to do."
"Yes sir," Alfred replied with a curious look.
Walking the short distance to the Godric's Hollow cemetery in the cool weather, the air was rich with the smells of fall. It was a clear day and it would likely turn cooler as the sun dropped lower in the sky. He walked directly to his parents headstones. He stared at the headstones for some time and explained to them that he had faced another dark wizard, and this one had taken something precious from him as well. He also explained there was another grave to visit.
Weeks after her death and fully recovered from his binge of drinking, he came to his senses and fought to have her moved to Godric's Hollow and not far from his parents. This would be his first visit and each footstep was difficult. He found her stone under a Bay Laurel tree that was still adorned with beautiful green leaves. He had an inscription carved in the stone under her name.
'What is strongest but most fragile'
When he read it he could hear her voice clearly. He began to tremble and shake in the cool air. His eyes began to swell and cloud uncontrollably. He stood there for a long time, not knowing what to say or what to feel.
As the shadows in the cemetery began to grow long and daylight faded, Harry turned toward the entrance gate where a beautiful red sun was setting in the west. He walked steadily toward the sunlight after saying the long goodbye.
There would be a time in the future when a small heart would regrow and fill the hollow blackness in Harry's chest. Perhaps it was seeded from the little gold cross or the sweet memories of the months they had together. He would never know, but he would think of her many times in the years to come.
AN: Well, this is it – the end. Maybe an epilogue will be written at some time – not sure. If so, it will be brief and not slam the door on any future possibilities. Another story in this genre may be written as kind of a series – but not sure. Always thought Harry had more adventures (magical, female, and otherwise) in his post-Hogwarts days. And last but not least – thank you for reading.
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