Baby, I've been here before.
I know this room, I've walked this floor.
I used to live alone before I knew you.
Yeah I've seen your flag on the marble arch,
But listen, love is not some kind of victory march,
No it's a cold and it's a very broken Hallelujah.


-Leonard Cohen, Hallelujah





Chapter Twenty-Three

Paradox

A hand reached out in the darkness for a brass doorknob. The aged fingers creaked as each individual digit wrapped around the knob tightly. It was cool upon the wrinkled palm, so much that a chill shot up unexpectedly through the arm and caused the body to shudder.

The owner of the hand was not stymied by the charge. There was very little left in this world that could properly stimulate his senses, and the familiarity of the scene was not on the list. He tightened his grip, turned the knob properly, and pushed the door open. The door moaned as he expected, but no one else was conscious in the house to even care.

The door was fully open and the man stood still in the door frame. Moonlight shone steadily through the window and fell upon the man’s face. He flinched, as if the light itself burned his skin. Perhaps in a way, it did. After all, his kind of people enjoyed the darkness and performed their deeds in the shadows, away from the judgmental eyes of the self-righteous.

He moved a step to the left and the night enveloped him once more. He reveled here, in the secrets, in the silence. The darkness was his mistress now more than anyone else and he was meeting her in a clandestine tryst. He might as well just accept this because after this evening, she would be his only company. Darkness. Shadows. His salvation.

The bed was several feet before him, also hidden in the blackness. Since his eyes were adjusted to the lack of light, he could easily make out the small form already beneath the covers. Red locks of hair peaked out near the pillows. If he listened closely, he’d be able to hear the delicate creature breathing softly.

A sick grin spread across his face as he reached deep inside his black cloak. His worn fingers wrapped around his wand, making sure the tool was still intact, ready to be used. It warmed as his skin came in contact with the piece of holly, seemingly knowing that its master needed it for another important task. He pulled the sword from its sheath, admiring the weapon.

It had already proved its worth a year ago when Hermione and Neville had gotten in the way of his happiness. The decision to take action would have been difficult many years ago, he might have even felt regret, but it was much too simple. Neville was the easier of the two because he dared to touch Ginny. How foolish was his Gryffindor friend to think he deserved such a woman? He found him at Hogwarts late in the greenhouses. How effortless was it to approach the unknowing Herbology professor in the middle of the night?

He would have preferred Hermione’s life to be spared, but she would have only caused problems with his vision of a happier place. He had entered the room just as he was doing now and willingly took her life away from her. His eyes burned with intensity, almost as if he was oblivious to his transgressions, but that was incorrect. He was fully aware of his actions, and although he didn’t fully approve of ending Hermione’s life, he felt enough satisfaction in what he was doing to not hate what he had become.

He was convinced that he was doing what was necessary, what was morally right, in order to bring peace to his life. He watched for months, knowing that his younger-self was benefiting from his accomplishments. Harry was happy and surely he was grateful for what happened, no matter the cost. The months went by and nothing had changed for the man. His life had not improved. His own personal hell was still burning hot.

The man breathed the darkness that surrounded him in and took a step towards the redheaded witch’s side of the bed. Another surge of familiarity sent a shudder through his extremities again. A sense of deja vu invigorated and tingled his body. As he closed the final steps between him and the bed, he grinned callously.

Had the man who guided him walk this same path towards an unsuspecting Ginny Weasley? How many more predecessors ended up in this same place, this exact same position, this exact same state of mind? He didn’t know, but he was sure of one thing: the murderer of his family was Harry Potter. He finally understood it. It finally clicked into place.

It wasn’t a choice. He was merely one man in a perpetual chain of events that kept repeating in similar, yet different kinds of ways. He was replacing his guide, and after tonight, Harry Potter would replace himself as the new Cronus. No, it wasn’t a choice. It was destiny.

It was the right thing to do.

The man reached out the aged hand again and gripped the top of the cover. He slowly pulled it down, watching the concealment melting away, revealing the woman’s long, slender neck, her bare shoulders, and her naked back. He grunted, admiring her creamy skin in the moonlight.

“You were always beautiful when you slept,” the man whispered into the night, delicately brushing his fingertips against her shoulder. “It’s been so long since I’ve watched. I had almost forgotten.”

Ginny murmured something and moved. She sighed but did not wake.

“You used to have nightmares all the time,” the man went on. “Do you remember, Ginny? You would wake up scared out of your mind, and I would hold you.” He cackled softly. “Other nights, you would watch the kids because you said it helped soothe your nerves, remember? You said they were innocent and you wanted them to remain that way as long as possible.

“Some nights,” the man continued, “I was already awake watching you for the same reason. Just the sight of your peaceful face would end my own nightmares.”

His hand moved to her hair, stroking it gently. “You can’t save me from this nightmare, can you?” he croaked. “No, you can’t.” He bent closer, kissing her shoulder gently. “But I know you’ll understand. I know you’d do the same if you were in my position.”

The man wrapped his fingers tighter around his wand, bringing it to eye level. “This is the only way, isn’t it?” he whispered, slowly extending the holly and phoenix feather wand towards the slumbering woman.

He paused. The woman was stirring. As she yawned, she turned over in the bed, blinking several times as she looked at him with her perfect brown eyes. As she stared in horror and confusion, the man backed up several inches, subjecting himself to the moonlight.

“Who are-?” Ginny started, frowning, but staring at him in a familiar gaze. She locked eyes with him, finding a pair of emerald gems watching her. “Harry?”

The man froze, feeling the name pierce his ears and reach into the soul he didn’t know still existed. No one had called him such a title for years, not even he used this name anymore. For a moment, a very brief amount of time, his humanity was aroused, but then, just as fast as it had appeared, it was gone. Tonight was not about redemption, no, tonight was about embracing the appetite for destruction.

“No,” the man said, shaking his head. He stepped closer and was swallowed up by the darkness. “My name is William Emmett Cronus.”





When Harry regained consciousness, he was in the exact same position he was in when he fell. The rough fabric of the carpet pressed against his face. His limbs were tingling as his heart tried to replenish his arms and legs with fresh blood. His head burned with pain in the spot Cronus had pressed the wand and stunned him. He reached up to ease the pain and felt the zigzagging scar upon his forehead. It reminded him too much of battles fought long ago.

Cronus had not bothered to bind him nor harm him any further. His goals were not to stay upon the bottom floor, but to ascend the stairwell and take the thing that meant most to Harry. And that, Harry swore, was going to be the intruder’s biggest mistake.

Harry sat up and looked around. Silence gripped the house. He expected many things when he awoke, but a total lack of sound was not one of them. A sinister feeling rose up inside him. The house emulated the macabre mood of a tomb.

At that thought, Cronus’s departing words flashed into the forefront of his mind. Ginny’s physical condition was all that mattered right now. The fear for her well-being gripped him. He couldn’t lose her, not again, not after finally finding his way back to her. But it was silent in Grimmauld Place, and that terrified him.

He began to desperately search his surroundings, looking for his wand. The smart thing for Cronus to do would have been to take his wand, but he couldn’t predict the insane man’s behavior. “Wand, wand, wand,” Harry muttered. “Lumos!” To his right, his wand ignited and he lunged for it.

With weapon in hand, Harry stood up and wiped the sweat from his brow. It was time to discover what happened in this house while he was blacked out. If Ginny was dead, he was sure he couldn’t be held responsible for his actions.

“CRONUS!” Harry bellowed. “SHOW YOURSELF!”

Nothing but silence greeted him. Was Cronus already gone? Had he already accomplished his evil deed and had run for it, only to allow Harry to discover the scene for himself?

Harry tore out of the sitting room, turning over a chair and knocking over a vase in the process. The object shattered against the ground and the pieces scattered onto the floor. Harry stepped through the breakage, crunching the porcelain beneath his feet. “CRONUS!” Harry shouted again, not caring about any damage to his worldly possessions.

“Harry Potter.”

Harry came to a stop in the dining room. He could have sworn he heard whispering. He paused to listen, straining his ears to hear better. With baited breath, he waited.

Harry Potter.”

He swung around quickly, noticing a form that was standing directly behind him. In Auror-like reflexes, he threw a stunning spell towards the form. Instead of the man falling, he shattered. It was then that Harry realized it was a mirror and he was shooting at his own reflection. The cracked image of himself stared back at him.

More whispers, all around him, yet no one could be seen. “Be quiet, why don’t you, Harry Potter?” he said. “You’re loud enough to wake the dead.”

Cronus barely finished the last word before cackling uncontrollably.

“SHOW YOURSELF!”

Harry clenched his jaw and his hand tightened around his wand. His temper was rising fast as the volume of the cackling increased as well. The beating of his heart pounded away in his chest. He stepped quickly away from the shattered mirror and into the hallway. Shadows enveloped him, but he noticed the distinct shape of a human being standing at the end of the hallway.

Expelliarmus!” Harry shouted at the exact moment Cronus did the same.

The opposing red jets of light sliced through the air of the hallway, lighting up the walls and the floor in a crimson tint. They met in mid-air. As if absorbing into each other, they vanished. No ricochet, just a complete disappearance.

Harry stared curiously at the spot in which their spells had disintegrated. He thought he noticed something floating there. He glanced up at Cronus, who also looked perplexed at the small black speck.

Harry felt his hair begin to rustle and guessed a breeze was blowing from behind. Despite his moving follicles, he failed to actually feel the coolness of the wind. At the same moment, Cronus’ straggly hair was moving as well, pointing in Harry’s direction. Cronus wheezed as his eyes darted around him.

He heard a sound upon the floor and looked down. The tiny shards of glass that belonged to the mirror he had broken were dragging slowly towards Cronus. Another sound caught his attention, this time on the wall. He looked just in time to see a picture of Ginny and himself fall to the floor and smash.

“What the bloody hell?” Cronus cried.

Harry held up his wand and stared at it, realizing the reason for what has happening. “Same wand,” Harry said, looking towards Cronus’s wand. As he did, he noticed the black speck again, but it was larger, about the size of his fist. The specks of glass paused beneath it momentarily, then proceeded to levitate towards it.

Harry approached the spot to investigate at a closer proximity. He frowned, realizing that it wasn’t really a black color. It was almost as if there was an absence of color. Harry could see through it, but not to the other side. It looked as if there was a hole in the air. And it was slowly growing.

Several more pictures on the wall rattled and then fell from their hanging. As it lay in shattered glass, the small shards began to slide towards the strange feature. Following the glass, the heavier wooden frames and pictures within began to move.

“Bah!” Cronus shouted. “Enough!” He cackled loudly as he raised his wand. “Avada Kadavra!” The green jet of light exploded from his wand towards Harry. The spell was on a steady course, but it literally curved in mid-flight and was absorbed by the hole in the air.

Harry, who had been holding his breath, was relieved. “What do you say, Cronus, shall we finish this the Muggle way?” he suggested, as he could feel his clothing being ever so lightly tugged.

Cronus didn’t respond. Out of his cloak flew a flask. Cronus screamed and scrambled to catch it, but the newborn power of the hole was growing stronger. His fingers gripped the lid before it popped off. Liquid burst from the container, flowing through the air like a miniature river. Harry recognized the Time Potion right away as it cascaded towards the hole, which was twice as large now.

Closer and closer the liquid came to the hole. As it streamed into the anomaly, all hell broke loose.

It was a loud explosion. Harry was knocked directly off his feet onto the floor. His backside burned with pain as he lay on the floor. He didn’t have time to regain his composure as several objects smacked him in the head. He quickly shielded himself, and looked towards the hole, which had once again increased in size.

Harry attempted desperately to crawl away, but the attraction was growing as well as the size. Floorboards were shaking beneath him as he attempted to exit. A chair skidded past him, narrowly missing him, and was absorbed into the hole.

“What is going on, huh?” Cronus screamed. His voice was distorted, as if the anomaly was ripping sound from the air as well.

Harry managed to look back at Cronus. The man was having the same problem. Harry was about to respond, but at that moment, he lost all grip and he was pulled faster towards the hole. Watching Cronus, he finally lost all grip and was also plummeting towards it. Both men slipped into the growing hole.

Harry felt his body contort, stretch, and distort. Then black. Then color. Then nothing. And then everything.

When his finger was the last piece of his body to go through, the hole expanded, then collapsed in upon itself.

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