PROLOGUE

Tue. 18 June

Albus Dumbledore was dying. The river of death pulled at him. The current cascaded down through the impassable gates of death. He was cold, his extremities numb as though frostbitten. His vision blurred failing to integrate the composite images of life and death as they overlapped and bled together. In death he saw nothing but the river and the arms of the sorrowful reaching out from the depths into and through his body. In life he faced his last archenemy, Tom Riddle—or Lord Voldemort as he now fashioned himself.

The battle had been tenuous but Tom could not understand the depths of love or the meaning of sacrifice and thus left him blind to Albus’s intention. The unknowable hand of the sad one stretched out through Albus’s torso and into Tom clutching his core, his corrupted soul. Albus could feel the same, a force firmly gripping his own soul turning his insides to ice. It was a reminder of the debt he would settle yet this night.

Dumbledore was weary. He felt of so many bleached bones left forgotten in the sun. The realm of death sapped at his living energy, a promise of the inevitable. He knew his limits. He could not maintain this ritual for long and if not completed Tom would escape and Albus’s life would be forfeit for nothing. No time could be spared for goodbyes or last messages, but he had one last piece of unfinished business.

Just to his left lay the boy-who-lived, prone but still alive. Confirming his worst fear the young man’s soul was also locked in the fist of the ancient one. And there were other astral arms reaching out past the walls of the Ministry atrium to locations unknown. These, presumably, were the horcruxes that Tom had created to anchor his soul to the living world. And yet here was a living breathing spirit tethered by the darkest of magic to the vilest of corrupted beings. Unacceptable loss.

Thus there was one more feat of magic that was required of the old wizard before he could float over the final horizon. Albus reached out with his left hand struggling to position his index finger and incanted his final spell.

“Sigillum Quintessentiis.”

He waited as the milliseconds crawled by, barely clinging to life. As each seal snapped into place, the grip on the boy’s soul weakened, loosened, and finally retracted collapsing through the ancient wizard’s chest and back into the depths.

And then spent, Albus finally let it all go. He tumbled into the embrace of the weeping ancient and carried Voldemort with his fragmented soul into the deepest chambers of death. Albus Dumbledore—the greatest wizard of the age—died.

All that remained was the boy who had once again lived, two corpses, and the receding tone of a struck bell, low and mournful.