Chapter 18 – The Aftermath


'Harry … why did you let me die? Why didn't you stop him?'
'What?' Harry said feebly 'I ... I couldn't, I didn't know ...'
The ghost of Cedric Diggory was standing in front him, sending chills down his spine.

'You won the tournament Harry; you should have touched the cup alone. Then I wouldn't be dead.'
'No … I swear, I didn't ... I couldn't ...' he stammered
Harry watched in horror as the ghost in front of him changed into someone else.
'Why didn't you try harder at Occlumency Harry? You hardly tried at all.'
'Sir ... Sirius?' Harry gasped
'You should have tried harder to learn Harry, I would still be alive.'

'It wasn't my fault!" cried Harry, tears running down his cheek 'I ... I couldn't know ...'

The ghost changed again, and now it was Lupin.

'Noooo' he screamed, 'I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.'

He tried to run away, but an invisible force was holding him, shaking him…

Harry wake up! Wake up! It's just a nightmare.

He opened his eyes and saw Ron's worried face hanging over him, his arms shaking him by the shoulders.

'I'm awake, stop shaking me' he groaned, as he fell back against his pillow. He was in the hospital wing, Ron and Hermione standing by his bedside with worried faces.

'Are you ok Harry?'

'It was just a nightmare, I'm fine' he snapped. But he wasn't. His heart felt like it was made of lead, heavy and dead. He tried to hold back his tears as his memory recalled everything. Cho …

'Where's Cho? Is she ok?' he said with urgency

'She's fine Harry; she was let out of the hospital wing yesterday. She came by once or twice to see you but didn't stay.'

'How long …?'

'Four days mate, listen, we're sorry…'

'I don't want to talk about it' he said angrily, tears welling in his eyes again.

'We knew you're upset Harry –' Hermione said to him, her expression filled with sympathy.

'YOU DON'T KNOW ANYTHING!' he shouted

Hermione had tears in her eyes now, and Ron swallowed as he looked away.

Harry closed his eyes, and buried his face in his hands, letting the grief wash over him.

'I'm sorry, I … I just want to be alone. Please.'

'We understand. We're there for you if you need us.' Hermione said quietly, and she pulled Ron away by the arm. He didn't want to talk to them right now; he couldn't explain how he felt.

His hands were bandaged up, from his elbows to his fingertips, and he felt a dull stinging pain underneath it. Many of his muscles still ached too, an aftereffect of the cruciatus curse. He felt tears forming in his eyes again, as the memory of the tortured Lupin burned in his mind. Life's not worth this …

Now they were flowing freely, his whole chest shaking with the pain in his heart. Nothing seemed to matter anymore, life was just a never-ending tragedy and oblivion now seemed like a welcome alternative. He cried until there was nothing left, until his mind had gone numb, and then he wiped his eyes and looked up.

Dumbledore was sitting next to him, silently; he looked sadder and more tired than ever.

'I don't want to talk to you either' He said, his voice a mixture of grief and anger.

'I understand' Dumbledore said quietly, 'I will talk to you instead.'

He paused for a moment, as if he was thinking of where to start, and then took a deep breath before continuing.

'Your friends Ginny Weasley and Dean Thomas are completely fine. They were simply stunned and found by Filch shortly after I left.'

'The … professor …' he mumbled, and a sense of foreboding told him what was coming.'

'Nikolai was not so lucky; the impostor pretending to be Lupin used the killing curse on him. His body was found next to that of your friends.'

A wave of nausea washed over him. One more death on his conscience.

'I stunned him … it was my fault … I helped the death eater attack him …'

'Miss Chang told me what happened; it wasn't your fault Harry - or hers for that matter. I myself have been fooled by the polyjuice potion before, as you will remember.'

'The order … you said the order was attacked …' his trembling voice whispered.

Dumbledore's eyes looked downward, and he nodded, as he spoke.

'Remus Lupin, Elphias Doge, Dedalus Diggle, and Emmeline Vance were sent on a mission based on a lead we had. That information turned out to be false, and they were led into a trap. They were all killed, with the exception of Lupin who was captured alive for a specific purpose, as you know. It turns out that Voldemort himself was waiting for them, with half a dozen death eaters. They didn't stand a chance.'

There was bitterness in his voice now, resentment as he spoke the dark lord's name.

Another three people killed to get to me … more deaths on my conscience…

'Sir … he said there was a young death eater at the school, one of the students …'

'But he didn't say who?'

'No …'

'It is no great surprise, I'm sure we can both guess who has the motivation, the abilities, and the background to become a death eater. I think that your recent quidditch actions would only have spurred him on to seek revenge against you. But without proof, I cannot act.'

Harry nodded. Malfoy seemed like the logical suspect; no surprise there.

'Harry I would like to know exactly what happened. I have so far only received second hand information and Miss Chang's viewpoint, from which I can just draw educated guesses. I know you don't want to talk about it, but I have to know.

Harry began to tell the whole story. When he described Lupin his voice broke, and he had to stop for a few minutes. The headmaster buried his head in hands for a moment and looked utterly weary. For some reason he no longer felt the anger he had felt last year towards Dumbledore. Judging by his expression, Dumbledore was the one person who understood what he felt. He pulled himself together and continued on with the story, describing how he had told the prophecy to Voldemort, and how Voldemort had still tortured Cho. How he had become so mad and overcome with emotion that he had done wandless magic. How his emotions had increased the power of his spells beyond anything he had seen. Dumbledore didn't seem the least surprised, he simply nodded his understanding. When he told of how Wormtail killed Bella and attacked his master, Dumbledore lips formed into a grim smile. He remembered, as if from some other lifetime, how Dumbledore had said Peter owed him a debt. He had saved Wormtail's life a long time ago, and Wormtail had repaid the debt. Harry realized he no longer hated Wormtail; he had been a victim too, like everyone else involved in this tragedy.

His hate was reserved for only one person now, one monster, the one responsible for everything.

He finished the story, of how he had collapsed right after he got back to Hogwarts, and then sat silently on his bed.

'I understand Harry, and I believe I can explain everything to you. But first I would like you to sleep, rest your body and mind.'

'I want to see Cho …'

'Not yet Harry, you have to rest first. I will tell Madam Pompfrey to fetch you a dreamless sleeping potion. When you wake up tomorrow I will come back and explain, and then you can see your friends.

He nodded, too tired to argue, and drank the potion that the school nurse brought for him, instantly pulling him back into sleep.

When he awoke he found Ginny sitting on the bed next to his, reading a book.

'Harry! You're awake!' she exclaimed and gave him a hug.

'Hi Ginny, I'm glad you're ok' He said softly.

She smiled at him; he could see the understanding in her eyes.

'Hermione and Ron are in class. I'm supposed to have DADA right now but it's been cancelled for the remainder of the year, so I thought I'd come and sit here. I'm supposed to go and tell Dumbledore as soon as you woke up; I think he wanted to talk to you.'

Harry nodded, his lips forming a watery smile.

'Well you'd better go and get him, I think it's important.'

'Are you sure you'll be ok?'

'I'm fine' he said, but he couldn't look her in the eyes as he said it. He felt far from fine, but he didn't want to talk about it.

'Well I'll go tell him you're awake then. See you later Harry.'

He watched her leave and felt a sense of loneliness. He didn't want to be alone, and yet he didn't want to be with anyone either. He lay back on his bed and stared at the ceiling, his throat felt thick and his eyes heavy. His muscles still felt sore, but the skin underneath his bandages had healed somewhat; it was no longer stinging.

'Ah Harry, I'm glad you're awake.'

The headmaster walked in and sat down on the chair next to the bed.

'I'm sure you have lots of questions, but first of all let me inform you that you will be excused from classes for the rest of the year. I have spoken to all your teachers and they have agreed that you can catch up the work during the summer.'

Harry nodded. He wouldn't be able to study anything when he felt like this, let alone write his exams. He just wanted to go back to sleep.

'I'm sure you have learned of the four founders of Hogwarts, since the four houses were named after them. They were also some of the greatest wizards and witches of all time, though most do not realize the full extent of their influence. Godric and Salazar disagreed on the important of blood, as you know, and eventually split ways. Salazar knew he could not challenge Gryffindor, especially with Rowena and Helga on his side, so he decided to leave his plans behind for the future generation. He knew that one day his heir would follow in his footsteps, the heir of Slytherin, and he would finish the work that Salazar himself started.'

'Voldemort …' Harry nodded. He already knew all this.

'Exactly. What you may not know is that Godric knew what he had done too. You see, Godric Gryffindor was a great protector of the world; he fought for the betterment of both muggles and magical folk alike. However he knew that long after he had passed on, he would need others to follow in his footsteps. He ensured that the world would always have a protector, a person who would champion for those who opposed evil. You might call these people the heirs of Gryffindor.'

'You're the heir of Gryffindor?'

'Well yes and no, I'm not related if that is what you are asking. However, I am part of the legacy that Gryffindor left behind. Unlike Slytherin, Gryffindor never cared about blood you see, his heirs would not necessarily be his direct descendants, but simply a person who met certain criteria. They could be purebloods, halfbloods, or muggleborns. Each generation would have one such champion, a champion that would arise if there was a need. In my day there was an evil wizard named Grindelwald, he was taking over the world using dark magic, and it seemed no one could stop him. I was chosen by fate to fight him, and I rose up to the challenge. There was so much death in those years, so much destruction in both the wizard and the muggle world. '

'But then why can't you defeat Voldemort?'

'I'm old Harry; my time will be up soon. It is time for the next heir to step forward and prove himself.'

The words hit him like a bullet, leaving him speechless as his mind worked out what was just said.

'But … you can't mean me …'

'I would think your experience dueling Voldemort confirms it Harry. I was always sure of course, due to the prophecy, but now my suspicions have been proven. You are the one.'

'But … you can't die, I'm not ready yet!'

'I don't know what my fate is, but I have to pass the torch to you. I don't think it will be long now, perhaps a few more years. Especially now that Voldemort knows I cannot defeat him, he will surely attack me. But before that happens, I will try to teach you everything I can' He smiled.

'But I can't do it alone … I fought him, he was too good…'

'I admit it is much earlier than I would have liked, but you have uncovered your power now, you can tap into it at will. With practice, you will eventually learn to control it better as I did so long ago.'

'I don't want you to die… ' he gasped, the reality of what Dumbledore was saying starting to kick in.

'I've had a long and rewarding life Harry, I'm not afraid to die. Death is just another adventure, and when my time comes I will accept it.'

Harry felt tears in his eyes again.

'It is not important how we die, what's important is how we have lived.'

'But why me?'

'You are pure of heart, noble, magically powerful, and you have experienced great loss.'

'Did you …?'

'Yes, though not as much as you. I uncovered my power slowly over many years. It was not until I was almost a hundred that I had fully developed my potential.'

'So the fate of the world rests on my shoulders' he said bitterly.

'Well not entirely. I would like to point something else out. Do you remember what the qualities of the other two houses are?'

'Ravenclaws are smart and creative, and Hufflepuffs are loyal and hard working.'

'Exactly. Godric knew that strength rested in friendship. I can't help but notice that your two best friends posses the same qualities as Godric's friends did. You are not alone Harry, as long as you have your friends with you.'

Harry stared at Dumbledore and saw that he looked incredibly proud, his eyes watery, and his expression radiating love.

'Now if you'll excuse me, I must attend to some business. Feel free to drop by anytime Harry, and let me know when you feel like resuming your lessons. Rest well.'

Harry lay in bed all day trying to come to terms with what Dumbledore had told him. Even though he was supposed to be resting, he couldn't possibly sleep anymore after being hit with news like that. He didn't want to shoulder the world, but he somehow knew it was true. His fears were confirmed when he realized he could now do basic wandless magic with ease. It still hurt to move slightly, and he had wanted another pillow to hold up his back. When he reached out his hand and focused some of his emotions into it, as Dumbledore had taught him, the pillow flew into his hand.

It was surreal, scary, and yet it didn't surprise him anymore. The sorting hat had told him he had great potential, Dumbledore had known too, and somehow in the back of his mind he had always known since he was a child that there was something special about him. The prophecy had only confirmed it when it said he had "power he knows not".

He wanted someone to talk to, someone who could understand. Sirius … Lupin … they had given their lives for him. Dumbledore would understand, but he couldn't talk to him right now. It felt as if he was the reason Dumbledore would die, he was the next in line … his mind was going crazy, he wanted to break down and cry but somehow he felt as if there were no tears left inside him. He wanted to see Cho … she had been here when he was unconscious but he hadn't seen her in the day he had been awake. Was she mad at him for what happened? She was the only person he wanted to talk to right now, the only person who wouldn't offer him sympathy or pity.

He stared out of the window; the quidditch field visible from here, and he saw some first years were getting their flying lessons. It brought back memories; life had been so simple back then.

'You're awake are you? Let's check the bandages on your hands then.'

Madam Pompfrey had walked in and went right over to him, examining his arms. She took of the bandages and applied some more ointment before putting fresh ones on.

'I don't even want to know how you did this! These burns were right into your flesh.'

'Yeah' he said dismally, 'you don't want to know.'

She looked up at him in surprise, and saw the look on his face.

'Well you should be well enough to walk around by tomorrow Mr. Potter, I might even consider letting you out of the hospital wing.'

She was trying to be nice, lift his spirits, but somehow it wasn't helping.

'Could I have another dreamless sleep potion then? I'd like to get some rest before tomorrow then.'

'Very well, I'll go fetch one.'

He just wanted to sleep, forget about everything. As the liquid hit his throat he felt strangely thankful that he could sink back into oblivion.

On the afternoon of the next day he was allowed to leave the medical ward. Although he still had to wear the bandages and get them changed twice a day, the rest of his body had healed fully, and he could walk around the castle by himself. He waited until dinnertime to go back to the Gryffindor tower, hoping to avoid everyone. The common room was empty, which he was very thankful for, and he quickly made his way to his dormitory.

 'Harry! You're out!'

Neville was sitting on his bed, reading his herbology book when he walked in.

'Hi Neville.'

'Want to play a game or something Harry? Or practice some spells? I really missed the DA meeting this week, but we're on for next week right?'

'I don't know Neville' he said wearily 'I think we might stop for this year; I don't really have the energy anymore. I just came up here to get something from my room and then I have to leave, sorry.'

'Oh … alright' Neville said, looking incredibly disappointed.

'Did anyone tell you what happened Neville?'

'Well everyone knows you were kidnapped, and that you fought your way out. They also said the kidnapper killed professor Vladislav, but that's all they said. Lots of rumors of course, but nobody really believes them.'

'I faced Lord Voldemort, and Bellatrix Lestrange was there too.'

Neville's face went pale, and his expression changed from eager to bitter.

'I hate her Harry; I hate her more than Voldemort himself. She scares me, all my life I've had this shadow hanging over me, knowing that the people who tortured my parents are alive and now free.'

Neville was shaking now, he had never talked to anyone before and Harry could see it was affecting him deeply.

'Neville, she's dead' he said with a comforting smile. 'She was hit with the killing curse by a weak untalented wizard called Peter Pettigrew. She'll never torture anyone again now.'

He turned around and pulled the marauders map out of this trunk, and then headed back out.

'Harry …' Neville's voice called out to him. He turned around and saw Neville standing up, a look of determination on him.

'I still want to help Harry, I still want to learn DA stuff and fight alongside you.'

'Thanks Neville, I'm glad to have you with me. I just need some space right now.'

He walked back down to the common room and opened the map when he saw no one was there.

'I solemnly swear I am up to no good'

A quick survey of the Ravenclaw tower for Cho's name revealed that she wasn't there. He searched the rest of the grounds and saw her name by the lake, sitting by herself.

'Mischief managed'

As he ran down to the lake he folded up the map again, hiding it in his robes. She had her back to him as he approached, but as he came closer she heard his footsteps and turned around. There were tears flowing down her cheek, and her eyes were all puffed up; it was apparent that she had been crying a while.

'Cho … are you …'

She ran up to him and gave him a hug, but quickly pulled away after a moment; a look of guilt on her face.

'Look … I'm sorry … I … feel terrible about what happened …'

'Oh … it's not your fault Harry … I just feel so guilty inside … the professor is dead …'

'It wasn't your fault!'

'I stunned him! If I hadn't done that, none of this would have happened. Oh-'

She put her face in her arms again and began sobbing. He understood; he knew what it was like to cause the death of someone, even indirectly. He slowly put his arms around her and held her, letting her cry it out.

Finally she pulled herself together and wiped her eyes.

'I'm sorry; I just need some time to deal with this. You understand don't you?'

'Yeah' he nodded. He understood, though it pained him.

'I … think maybe it's best if we … have our space. Besides, I need to study for my NEWTS … I'm really far behind.'

'Do you still love me?'

'Of course I do!' she sobbed, 'but … I …'

'- Then I'll give you some space, and I'll be waiting for you. After your exams are over maybe we can see each other. I love you too, and if space is what you need then I'll give it to you.'

He hugged her tightly again, and she cried in his arms.

'Thank you Harry … I'll see you on the last day of school then' she whispered, and then walked back to the castle.

He wasn't going to class anymore for the last two weeks of school. What was the point? He couldn't find the energy to concentrate on anything, especially exam preparation, and he knew that he could pass all his exams quite easily if he hadn't been preoccupied.

He would spend most of the day wandering around the castle, or walking by the lake. Sometimes he would go and see Hagrid, listen to him talk about Grawp or Olympe. Anything to take his mind off the pain he felt. Sometimes he would take his broom early in the morning and go flying, as that was the only thing that could lift his spirits. Other times he would practice his wandless magic, making objects levitate around when no one was looking. He found he was most effective when he was feeling particularly emotional about something, and he quickly learned to control it as he did when casting the patronus. One time he had been so frustrated and angry about something that he had set a small log he was levitating on fire, and he had quickly pulled out his wand to put the fire out. The ease with which he could now do wandless magic was unsettling, it was almost second nature. He spent time with Ron and Hermione too, who were always careful not to upset him. Neville also seemed to understand, and he tried to interest Harry in games of chess or exploding snap with him, even though he wasn't much good at them.

And so the last two weeks of the term passed, and he woke up early on the last day of school, the day they would take the Hogwarts express back. His things were already packed and he slowly got dressed when an owl arrived.

Harry,

Can you meet me by the lake in half an hour?

Cho

He went early but saw that she was already sitting there, a letter in her hands. It was the letter that he had written her, and she was crying as she held it.

'Cho?'

He sat down next to her, and tried to put his arm around her, but she shook her head and gently turned it away.

'Harry … I … I can't do it anymore …'

It hit him like a ton of bricks. Somehow it didn't feel real, this couldn't be happening.

'Are … are you breaking up with me?'

A new set of tears ran down her cheeks, and she couldn't look him in the eyes anymore.

'Don't you love me anymore?' he said with a lump in his throat.

'I do! It's just … I'm sorry, I can't … it's too hard.'

'We can work through it, we have each other…'

'I can't. I'm sorry …' she sobbed, 'I'm not brave like you; I can't live my life with all the guilt and fear.'

He felt like his heart broke, pierced by icy shards. The memory of Marietta accusing him flashed before his eyes. …you will only end up hurting her…

They sat in an eerie silence, both of them waiting for the other to say something. He could not bring himself to look at her anymore, and stared out at the lake; thinking of all the things she had said to him. He thought back to the beginning of the year, when he had sat in the hospital wing with her. Don't you think it's my choice if I want to risk my life?' she had told him. He had been foolish enough to believe her; in denial, thinking he could somehow live a normal life like everyone else.

'I … understand if you hate me …' she sobbed.

A line of the prophecy rung through his mind …

neither can live while the other survives …

He sat in silence, the anger building up in him again, but he said nothing.

'I'm sorry Harry' and she wrapped her arms around him and gave him a hug. But he felt only anger. He stood stiffly and kept his arms by his side instead of returning her embrace. She pulled away and stared at him, fresh tears still rolling down her face. Then her expression changed from sadness to guilt again, and she looked down at the ground, unable to meet his gaze.

'I hope you'll forgive me someday' she said, and walked away, out of his life.

He sat on the train home staring out the window. Neville and Ginny had come by and asked to join him, but he had told them he'd rather be alone. He felt so empty inside, except for the occasional burst of bitterness. Had he been wrong to make her the necklace? Would she still have been so brave earlier in the year without it? When she had grasped his hand at the order of the phoenix meeting and spoken so fiercely, had it been an illusion? The necklace … he remembered her patronus, a swan. An animal of great beauty and grace, white in color to represent its purity and innocence … but underneath those white feathers its skin was pitch black. He felt anger again, washing over him. How could he have been so blind …

He turned his head as the door to the compartment opened, and Ron and Hermione walked in.

'I'd rather be alone' he said.

'We're not asking mate, we're here whether you want us or not.'

'I heard about you and Cho Harry, you must feel awful.'

'DON'T SAY IT' he yelled at her.

She paused for a moment, but then continued.

'And Dumbledore told us what happened, and the rest of the prophecy.'

'SO WHY DON'T YOU LEAVE ME ALONE'

'BECAUSE WE'RE YOUR FRIENDS, AND WE WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU'

Her angry words startled him, and he looked back at her in surprise. But there was no anger on her face, just determination.

'That's right mate, you can treat us as badly as you like but we're gonna stick with you until the end.' Ron said.

'Don't … I've lost enough people I care about, I have to do this alone.'

'You can't live like that Harry, everyone needs friends.'

'YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE - WHO HAVE YOU LOST? I LOST MY PARENTS, SIRIUS, -'

But he couldn't finish the sentence. He buried his face in his hands in frustration, his whole body trembling.

He felt Hermione hug him, and Ron's hand clasp his shoulder, but he pushed them away.

There was silence, until eventually Ron's voice broke it.

'You'll defeat v-Voldemort Harry, we know you will, and then you can live your life normally again.'

'OH RIGHT, it's that simple is it? Well then I'll just go kill him tonight, pick up a cake on the way back, and then we can all celebrate. Shall we say 8pm? No better make it 9, just in case he decides to put up a fight.'

Ron looked for a moment as if he might smile, but he simply nodded.

'It won't be easy, but we'll help you as much as we can. Hermione and I have decided to stop seeing each other too, go back to being friends the way we used to be.'

'Not because we don't care for each other anymore, but because it's the least we can do for you.' Hermione said, a note of regret in her voice. 'With all you've sacrificed, you're going to need friends, not a pair of lovers, to stand by your side.'

This made him look up, and he stared at their faces, filled with concern.

He was wrong; some things were stronger than even death. Friendship.

'Thank you' he whispered, and gave her a hug while shaking Ron's hand.

The rest of the journey was uneventful. Even Malfoy hadn't come to give them the usual end of year insults. He imagined that he had learned of Harry's new abilities and was now more reluctant to confront him. Of course, he had never had much luck in the past either.

Ron and Hermione talked about the news. Apparently Fudge was under a lot of pressure to resign, and they were saying it probably wouldn't be long now. Ron's dad was most likely to get the nod for the job, as people had been quite pleased with him so far. It all seemed unimportant right now to him, and he only listened with one ear as he stared out of the window. Somehow the burden he carried, though lessened by his friends, was heavier than ever. He was no longer a boy, he faced more responsibility than any adult, and it was time for him to grow up.

In another time, another place, things might have worked out between Cho and him. They had been happy together, but Voldemort had torn them apart, as he had destroyed everything else in Harry's life.

There was no more room for petty things. No more wasting time on foolish pursuits or quidditch, it was time to face the challenge. It was going to be a long summer. But like a phoenix, he would rise up from the ashes and bring hope to the world.



The End