Disclaimer: Harry Potter is the property of J.K. Rowling. This story was written for fun, not profit.

After All


He should have known someone would find him eventually. They were all looking for the hero, the leader of Hogwarts's greatest year, the bloody Boy Who Lived. He just wished someone else had found him. Ron, maybe. Hermione.

"I know you can hear me. Don't play dumb."

With an effort, he tore his eyes away from the deceptively placid lake and looked up at Cho Chang. It was perhaps the only time in his life when he had craned his neck to meet her eyes. When they were both standing, he was more than a head taller than her. "Of course I can hear you," he said irritably.

The tiny Auror-in-training shrugged. "I was wondering. You seem to have missed everyone bellowing your name before." She glanced at the lake, and at the castle looming over its far side. "You could have picked a better hiding place."

"Did they send you to get me?" he asked. The words sounded bitter, even to his own ears.

Cho moved closer, so close that he gave up craning his neck and returned his gaze to the lake. "Don't be stupid, Harry. I told them to leave you alone." Then, after a moment's thought, she added, "Although maybe what you need is a swift kick."

Despite his foul mood, Harry found himself fighting the urge to smile. He had barely recognized Cho when she had begun working with him and his fellow seventh years. She had changed since the Tournament, become unwilling to trust. Someone had taken to calling her the ice queen. Who had that been?

Oh, yes. "Have they found Malfoy yet?"

A quick shake of her head, just at the edge of his vision. "That slimy bastard? He disappeared. I should have hexed him when I had the chance." There was a rustle of robes as she settled on the grass beside him.

Harry gave her a sidelong look and found her watching him expectantly. "Was there something else?"

"Everyone's worried about you. Especially Ron and Hermione. They say you haven't been the same since..." She trailed off with a shrug.

"Since what?" Harry bit out. "Since Lucius Malfoy tried to throw me in Azkaban? Since Parvati died?" For a moment the memory flashed across his eyes: Hogsmeade burning, Death Eaters closing in, and his girlfriend buying him the moment he needed at the cost of her own life...

He chucked a convenient piece of bark into the lake.

Cho gave him a long look, an unreadable expression flashing across her face. "You miss her."

"You miss Cedric."

"She died months ago, Harry. Maybe you need to move on."

"Why? You haven't." It was mean-spirited, but he didn't care.

For a moment he thought Cho would stand up and walk away. Or hit him. Instead she tilted her head to one side, her face softening as she regarded him with a ghost of the once ever-present Ravenclaw inquisitiveness. "Do you ever wish it had been someone else?"

Harry frowned at her. "Someone else?" he echoed.

"With this." She traced a jagged line on her brow, like an invisible bolt of lightning.

For an instant he was completely taken aback. He didn't remember anyone asking him that, not once. People had come to their own conclusions, one way or the other, and he had been too busy or too heartsick to argue with them.

He dropped his gaze to the grass. "Every day," he said softly. "Every day I wish it had been someone else." He laughed, a sound with no humor in it. "But then I have to ask, who do I hate enough to wish that kind of life on?" He lifted his eyes to meet hers, and saw real sympathy there. No admiration, no awe, just sympathy from one sufferer to another.

Her hand slipped into his, and she gave him a tiny smile. It was sad, but it matched the strange, liquid glitter in her eyes. Her voice, strangely enough, was perfectly steady. "Maybe that's why you're the Boy Who Lived, Harry."

"I guess." He looked back out at the lake, and up at the castle. People were probably still celebrating in there. Or mourning. Or both, because maybe there was no difference anymore. "Shouldn't you go tell them you found me?"

There was a long silence before Cho spoke again.

"They can wait."