An unsettling hush had descended over the castle. Rubble laid in piles in the middle of the corridors; mountains of stone from the destroyed staircases blocked most entrances, but Harry was pleased to see a narrow path had been cleared leading to the kitchens. He climbed through the portrait hole and was shocked to see a handful of house elves bustling about the half-destroyed kitchen. Pans of steaming soup and broth sat upon magically conjured flames, simmering gently whilst the elves placed copious amounts of bread onto large platters.
Something small bumped into the back of his knees and he looked down to see two elves carrying a large tray of sweets towards the fire places.
"May I?" he gestured to the pastries
The elves looked up and their large eyes grew twice, "of- of course Mr. Potter"
They began to place them onto a large platter, rushing between themselves to fill it to capacity.
Harry took the time to glance around. The kitchen showed the same signs of destruction as the rest of the school. He saw a pile of white cloth peaking out from behind a door, shifting slightly to peer round he saw that they were covering small bodies. More casualties.
The lump in his throat grew larger and he raced back to the front of the kitchen, taking the tray from the waiting elves, returning the bow they bestowed on him, before throwing himself back through the portrait hole.
He made a beeline for the Gryffindor tower where the others had gathered when the great hall became overcrowded with friends and family of the fallen.
The path was eerily quiet, and Harry picked up his pace, not wanting to be alone with his thoughts just yet.
Reaching the entrance, he noticed the large gash in the front of the painting and sparing a thought for where the fat lady had ended up.
Walking through, he saw the huddled mass of red heads by the fire. Hoisting the tray of cakes higher on his arm, he strode over them. He allowed Mrs Weasley to pull him into a hug before placing them down on the table in front. Mrs Weasley began conjuring plates and handing out the food. When it came to George she urged him to try to eat, but stopped when Mr Weasley placed a soft hand on her arm. Her face fell and she sat back in her seat, fresh tears beginning to fall. Harry glanced over at the older man, his own face stained with grief. None matched the look on George's face, white and solemn, with eyes staring passed everyone, focusing on a spot behind everyone's view.
Harry wanted to say something, but what could he say? I'm sorry felt too shallow and anything more than that flew in the face of the huge sacrifice that had been made today. Harry would never be able to repay the debt that been created today.
He looked around the room, searching for his friends. Bill stood and walked over to him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"Harry," he paused, looking around at the others, "Let's go somewhere else."
"Oh, yeah, do you know where Ron and Hermione went?" His eyes still searching the room, the lump still sitting at the back of his throat.
"They're in the boys dormitory, let's go."
Harry couldn't help but feel like he was being steered away from the others, like his presence may have been too much for them to handle.
Bill began walking towards the spiral staircase, weaving his way through upturned chairs and stacks of destroyed books. They began a slow ascent in silence. When they reached the door to his former dormitory, Bill stood blocking the entrance. Harry braced himself, either through habit or sheer guilt.
"Harry, this is going to be hard for me to say. But I feel it must be said. None of the others are in the right mind right now and you need to know."
Harry's stomach fell, this would be the moment that Bill told him that the family – Harry's only real family – needed space from him. That what had been lost today was too great and they could not handle having a reminder of their loss around them every day.
"Hey, stop that," Harry raised his eyes to meet Bill's, noticing for the first time that a few new scars had been added to his handsome face since the last time they had spoken. "What happened today, it was inevitable. War has casualties, we all knew that when we joined. Fred knew it and he joined anyway. He knew what we were fighting for and he knew that he may have had to pay the ultimate price for it. This war was never about you Harry."
Harry stopped breathing. The words seemed so harsh and unfamiliar from the usually laid back Bill.
"We weren't fighting for the Boy Who Lived. We were fighting for own freedoms. Voldemort would have come for all of us eventually, once the muggleborns and blood traitors were gone, he would have needed new scapegoats for the failings of his great world. There was always going to be this war. And even if you had died today, the war would have continued and new Chosen one would have come along. There is only one person responsible for the deaths today and that's Voldemort. I know that you must feel guilty, and I understand." He took a breath, locking his eyes with Harry's, "I feel guilty too. What if I'd been with Fred or with Remus or with Tonks or with anyone else? Maybe I could have saved them. Maybe I'd be laying with them. At the end of it all, they're just what if's. We can't do anything about it now. We just have to rebuild and move on."
Harry hadn't realised that tears had began to fall down his face until Bill placed a firm hand on his shoulder, shaking him slightly. He smiled sadly and walked back down the stairs, leaving Harry facing the door. He could hear hushed voices coming from inside and he wiped a hand across his face before moving towards to the door.