Without the Headmasters insistence, Harry saw no reason to plan to return to Hogwarts. He had learned all he could there; the library no longer held secrets for him.
The summer before what should have been his seventh term he instead planned the death of a Dark Lord. Every remaining piece of him, in any case.
Hermione sent her parents away. She did not tell him how, or where. She only sent him an owl requesting to stay with him wherever he went. Harry did not have to consider an answer. He only stopped to pick up Theo first, and with both his shadows at his side they went about acquiring a goblin.
He could have done it with magic, with ritual or spell or potion. Such a thing was possible, but a bad choice.
Harry had no desire to war with the goblins, for they held his gold.
Instead, he gathered what goblins desired most of anything, gold and bronze and silver, precious stones and metals, nearly the entirety of his trust vault, but only a mere fraction of the Potter fortune.
And he gave it to an aspiring young goblin by the name of Sickletooth, who in exchange gladly placed his palm upon a certain vault in the depths of Gringotts and made it open.
Hermione warned the Lestrange Vault would be cursed. Theo was the one who recognized what curses there was, and gave them their choices.
They could spend time dispelling the two curses, and risk being discovered before they could steal the cup.
They could dispel one curse or the other to save time, and bear with the other with difficulty. As one curse was to viciously burn at a touch and the other to duplicate anything touched, this option seemed particularly bad.
Or they could simply destroy the entire Vault.
Sickletooth looked very sad at this option, but Harry decided it was a good one.
With one cast Fiendfyre directed at Hufflepuff's Cup, Harry let the goblin close the door, and listened to the wail of a dying spirit through the thick metal.
The rest of the summer was spent outside of Britain, keeping abreast of the news by the Daily Prophet before it was taken over by a rotten Ministry, and then by word of mouth of the refugees who fled across the Channel to Calais.
Harry wondered what other governments were doing about the upstart Dark Lord taking over the British Ministry. He wondered if they all were guessing who would be next.
French Aurors roamed the streets of every wizarding place they went in France. Hermione knew enough of the language to get them by due to her parents frequent vacations there. Theo wanted them to relocate to Spain, farther away from the reach of the Death Eaters and to an area where he, instead, knew the native tongue.
Harry instead made the choice to return to Britain, and his shadows followed him.
The snake would always be on Voldemort’s person. Voldemort himself needed to die as well. This could not be done an ocean away.
It could, however, be accomplished by less direct, if also less satisfying, ways.
Hermione was the one to mention the idea, when they realized what sort of numbers they would face.
If one could not have greater strength in numbers, then one needed a greater weapon. And muggles excelled in such an arena.
Theo was both fascinated and appalled by the tales Hermione spun of guns and bombs and poison gas. Harry only laid out their choices, of which there were many, and made the best ones he could with his limited time and knowledge.
The sooner the wizard was dead, the better.
Harry and Hermione went into the muggle world and found where such things could be bought, or found people who knew instead. For the right amount of money, nothing was secret or forbidden to them.
His muggle cousin was shocked to see him.
Dudley paled; his muscled bulk shivered.
When Harry spoke, the man trembled and nodded and then the color returned to his skin as he began to understand.
And greed came into his eyes.
The choice was easy; it takes a muggle to understand muggles, and a muggle criminal to find illegal weapons. Dudley was no longer small time; he was a young shark in a big ocean full of bigger, older sharks.
Having magic on his side might even the score. The expense of a few weapons was an easy price to pay.
His shadows each had their purpose and their own burdens, always reaching out from him in different directions.
Always at his back, always side by side.
Harry saw the longing in Theo’s eyes as the boy, a man now in truth, looked at Hermione. Theo had had no lovers among the girls at Hogwarts that Harry had noticed, not since Greengrass had announced her own choice of another wizard. At times Harry had wondered if Theo had been thinking more towards his own kind, if the man’s preferences ran in more than a single avenue.
Harry was selfish in his heart. He did not share. He found that the feeling also ran to this shadow, that he enjoyed being the only friend Theo had, the only male companion needed. He did not like the distraction Greengrass had been, and had not sought to turn Theo’s eyes elsewhere when they again turned to Hermione.
Let his shadows gaze at one another. They would always be looking around himself from where he stood in front of them.
It was true freedom to apparate. The three had learned the summer before, but not until now really utilized the ability. With the trace fallen and gone from their wands, they hopped across the country, staying ahead of Voldemort’s hunters, and playing the hunter in turn.
Peice by peice, head by head, his shadows began their slaughter.
And Harry began his war on terror.
One could run before the dogs, or one could run and turn, run and turn, slicing the throat of the lead dog until none remained but the hunter behind them.
He did not choose to number the ones they killed. There was little point to it, and putting a number and a name would only make the memory more vivid.
Harry also choose not to remember, and knew his shadows made the choice with him.
It was a simple thing to kill a man. There was an art to it, and yet an artless way to perform it. There was the simplicity of speed, or the complication of time. Harry choose simple, because Hermione did not want to see torture.
But Theo sometimes left on his own, and his was the more complicated form of giving death. Harry sometimes followed, and watched.
Sometimes, Harry was a little complicated himself.
The Daily Prophet offered a substantial reward for the heads of the group responsible for the independent slaughter of several dozen of the Ministry’s aurors.
Harry thought the choice of words quite amusing, and considered the different point of views.
He supposed, now that the Ministry was Voldemort’s, he and his shadows were the true Death Eaters. They were the ones hunting in the night and spreading fear.
But Harry enjoyed bringing fear to fearless men and cowards alike.
Before a month passed, wizards and witches did not put on their Death Eater robes for fear of retribution from something much more scary than the terror they could see coming. Before two months had passed and Christmas came around, Voldemort tried making his own examples.
The Dark Lord used Hogwarts.
Theo brought the news from several students he found in the Forest of Dean. They had fled the slaughter there.
Harry considered the consequences of his good choice, and wondered if that made it a bad one. He choose not to believe it was so.
Hermione was not the girl whose lips he had first touched with his own. The blood was on her now, the copper scent in her wild brown hair.
Harry thought she was all the lovelier for it, and knew Theo agreed with him.
He saw the guilt creep into Hermione’s eyes even as bravery warred with it, saw the boldness grow in Theo as Harry remained silent.
He chose to believe they were both a part of him. His eyes, his hands, his skin, apart and different but his all the same.
Why would he care if his hands touched each other, if his mouth touched his mouth? It was all one and the same.
Harry could have chosen to care. He could have chosen a different kind of selfishness, a different sort of possessive rage.
It would have been a bad choice.
A week later, he came back earlier than he expected from a scouting trip, and eyed his two shadows as they wrapped around each other, eyes closed and mouths speaking without words.
Harry simply sat and began reading his latest tome on wandless theory.
When he was noticed, the silence that fell was no longer blissful.
Hermione tried to speak to him about it. She used words like forgiveness, and confused, and uncertainty.
Please just talk to me, Harry. Tell me what you want. Talk to me!
Harry really didn’t see the point. Couldn’t she tell that if he hadn’t approved, Theo would be dead already?
Eventually, Theo himself made that point as he leaned against the wooden tent support, hands folded across his naked chest.
“Lay off him, Hermione. Does he even look surprised at your sudden confession?”
Hermione’s brown eyes flickered between the two of them, then lingered on his shadow. Theo continued with a pleased smirk.
“Plus, I wouldn’t be here if he minded any. I don’t doubt Harry knew what was going on before I even thought of it.”
Probably true. Harry did not miss much when it came to his shadows. Hermione turned back to him, and her face was pale now.
He realized she had only just contemplated the bloodshed her choice might have caused had it been a bad one.
Harry stood with a bored yawn. Such interactions were tedious, even when he was only forced to listen as misunderstandings and explanations were solved and given.
Harry paused at the exit to the magically expanded tent and looked back. Theo stood beside Hermione now, and their shadows against the ground were one and the same. He liked that.
“Just tell me its okay.”
What word was there to say that could incompass his thoughts? What sentence could contain the idea of something like he felt accurately? He did not like to speak, did not like to put labels on ideas and feelings, caging them in boxes that could never be remade.
Once said, it was set in stone, and only with more boxed words be reforged into something new.
He thought of the Deathly Hallows, and the story Hermione had read to them. Three objects to make one the Master of Death, three objects whose symbols became one when placed together. Each a part of a whole, and yet independently whole themselves.
It was a fallacy, an inconsistency. Much of the world would agree. Three people can not be one being, though perhaps two can try.
The moment stretched out in front of him, Hermione's eyes pleading with him, Theo’s dark and blank, his cold face set in sharp lines. Both of them beautiful, both of them his in different ways.
Harry finally spoke, and found his words inadequate, but a good enough choice.
“You both belong to me. Why should I care if you also belong to each other?”
When Harry chose to come for Voldemort the Dark Lord was in Hogwarts castle.
His forces were depleted; his Ministry falling into ruin as terror struck from all sides. His populace had either fled or hid from his gaze.
Only those with nothing to lose still lurked at his feet. Or those with no where else to go.
The giants had stomped through the forest a month prior, angry with promises never fulfilled. The werewolves soon followed, for the alpha of their pack was no longer Fenrir but another, wiser wolf, who disliked a one-sided battle. The dementors lurked at the edge of the forest and fed off the fear and gloom and terror, bloated monsters now, sated on souls good and bad, evil and innocent.
Harry took them first, those black robed figures, with the good choice of Expecto Patronum.
Then he walked to the main gate and it opened before him, pale faced figures in dark robes staring out in astonishment as the Boy-Who-Lived, the Man-Of-Terror, the Night Fiend, walked so boldly into their stronghold.
“You owe me this, Harry.” Hermione had told him the week before, brown looking into green, skin pressed against skin as she whispered. “I want Hogwarts. I want it cleansed.”
Harry hadn’t agreed or disagreed, for she was right. He owed her something for her loyalty, her love, her soft touch and sweet skin. He had left his shadows curled together in the tent they shared, brown hair mixed with black, bare skin on bare skin. He had made the choice to come alone; but he had left his shadows their own responsibility to share in the choice.
The Death Eaters did not touch him. Perhaps they thought him some apparition; perhaps they thought him a god.
But they did lead him to Voldemort, who sat upon the Headmaster’s chair in the Great Hall, robed in his dark velvet, Dumbledore’s wand in his hand.
Harry looked at that wand, and the pieces fell together for him, the fragments Hermione had mentioned, and he knew Dumbledore had had a plan all along that might have saved him after all. Perhaps the old fool had hoped in the legend of the Deathly Hallows, had hoped it was true what was said of them.
But Harry was only master of two, and Death would still find him, if it wished.
And unless Voldemort had killed Malfoy, the Dark Lord was not even master of one.
Voldemort laughed, the snake-horcrux curled about his shoulders, green and thin and long, a pattern of diamonds upon its back.
“So you've come. Did it disturb you, that I destroyed this precious school? That I took its students and made them mine, in death or life? That I shredded its portraits, that I painted its walls in magic and blood?”
Harry listened to the speech, let the words flow over him, never touching his mind or memory.
He would forget this man, if he chose. He would forget his words.
This wizard was only a red-eyed nightmare, a sibilant voice in his dreams, an insane man-child who was no longer completely human.
But he was human enough to die, and Death had walked inside Hogwarts beside him.
Harry heard the explosions from outside. He knew his shadows were even now doing their own work, blind and trusting and loyal. He wondered if they knew he was inside. He wondered if they had made the choice to comply with his instructions knowing that fact.
He chose to believe they had not.
The screams began. Voldemort came to his feet, mouth twisted, wand lifted.
“What have you done, boy?! What have you done!”
The door to the Hall opened behind them, a Death Eater staggered through, his hands upon his throat, gagging. The gas came with him, a fog upon the floor. Beside him, robed figures sprang back, yelled and cursed.
None apparated away. The wards of Hogwarts had been repaired before its broken walls.
Voldemort turned to flee. Harry’s curse took the head from the serpents slithering body as it hissed, and he was pleased to see that a living horcrux did not need Fiendfyre to perish.
He hated the thought of burning himself, after all. It would have been a hard choice to make.
Voldemort whirled back, and he was shouting, sibilant words Harry could not understand and didn’t need to. The other Death Eaters had fallen into confusion around them, and far off Harry heard the sound of gunfire.
Those who escaped the gas would not live to reach the edge of the wards. Theo had proved to be a better shot than either Hermione or Harry.
Harry dodged the spells the Dark Lord cast, those that came from the Elder Wand and those that did not, that bloomed from the air made from intent and raw magical strength.
Voldemort was only an eighth part of himself, only an eighth of his sanity left, his mind and memory and will fractured, an eighth of his magical strength.
The horcruxes were indeed a bad choice, for Death comes to all men, and this death was not grand.
Harry felt the gas take them both, felt his lungs seize, saw Voldemort stagger.
He felt blood rise into his mouth, felt liquid deafen his ears.
Harry’s curse took Voldemort in the chest in a halo of green light, and his red-hazed eyes saw the wizard fall, lifeless. He fell to his knees beside the fallen figure and cast again, lifting the wizards head from his shoulders.
Another of his rules; Anything worth doing is worth doing well.
Harry closed eyes now blind, raised his face to the ceiling he knew in his mind showed a wide constellation of stars in a cloudless sky, a crescent moon rising among them.
Then he lifted his wand to his scar, and made a final choice.