Disclaimer: Don't own it. Harry Potter and all associated characters and places belong to JK Rowling, and I only use them for non-profit enjoyment.
A/N: Thought I'd put up another one-shot. This one's kind of different for me, and I don't know if I like it quite as much as I thought I did. When I wrote it, I liked it, but then it kind of got awkward to me. I've changed and un-changed it so many times, it's kind of gotten messed up. It's also a very cliché idea. A lot of people have done it, and a lot have done it much better than me. Maybe you'll like it, though. I dunno. It's just something I wrote, take it as you like. Thanks, Miss Laine
Title: Free and Home
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"I fear that we have come to always expect miracles from you, Harry," Dumbledore said solemnly. Harry looked away, feeling inexplicably embarrassed and ashamed.
"I'm sorry," he whispered weakly. Dumbledore smiled, though his blue eyes were sad and much older than they had ever looked before.
"There is nothing to be sorry about, Harry," Dumbledore said. "You did your best. You did much more than we could—should—have asked for."
"I wanted to—" Harry started to protest, voice thin and tired. Dumbledore put a comforting hand on his shoulder and smiled again, though tears now dripped down his wizened face.
"Shh," Dumbledore hushed him. "You should not feel embarrassed or weak, Harry. Every year you have amazed me with your courage, intelligence, and amazing cunning. This year was no different."
"It wasn't enough," Harry pointed out, swallowing weakly, just once. Dumbledore sighed, looking away a moment.
"Harry, you have always underestimated yourself," Dumbledore told him, "And I fear that I did nothing to make you see just how incredible and talented you are. Perhaps if I had taken the time—"
"This is no…time to second guess yourself," Harry broke in, forcing himself to look Dumbledore straight in the eyes. The snake did not stir inside his head, and he breathed out a shallow sigh of relief.
"I sent Minerva to find your friends," Dumbledore said, changing the subject. Harry nodded his head a little. "They should be just reaching the Great Hall for lunch about now," he added with a small, visibly trembling, smile.
Harry smiled as well, but he was no longer looking at Dumbledore. He was looking past him, over his shoulder… "I hope they weren't worried about me," he commented.
Fresh tears were washing down Dumbledore's face, glittering streams of water that betrayed the emotion he was trying so hard to keep in check. "We expected so much from you, Harry," he whispered. "Too much. Too much for a seventeen year old boy."
Harry wiggled his shoulders a little to show that it did not matter. "It has always been my duty…my destiny…" He sighed again, feeling relaxed now. "I did the best I could."
"I know," Dumbledore said. "Better than I ever dared hope and fear for."
"Ron and Hermione will be upset," Harry said, having not really listened to Dumbledore's last comment. He knew his voice sounded distant and unfocused, but he didn't care to correct it.
"I know," Dumbledore agreed. "Remus, as well."
"Although Sn—Professor Snape—will say he knew it all along or something," Harry added with a small smile. He tried and failed at a smirk. "'Foolish Gryffindor,'" he imitated. Dumbledore sighed this time, and he was the one to look away.
"You know Severus's opinions have changed of late," Dumbledore reminded him.
"That's right," Harry agreed. "He did apologize—I did, too," he remembered. "It's difficult to forget five years of hate and mistrust."
"I know," Dumbledore said softly. Harry breathed out.
"Why are they taking so long?" he asked abruptly. Dumbledore looked up and around.
"They should be here soon," he said. "I told Minerva to be as quick as possible."
"I may die of old age before they make it," Harry said, grinning slightly.
Two more tears tracked down Dumbledore's face. "Perhaps," he said weakly.
"Don't be afraid," Harry said. "I'm not afraid. I did all I could. It just wasn't enough."
"I'm not afraid, Harry," Dumbledore said. "I just wish that…that this could have ended differently."
"I know," Harry said. "But sometimes our best—this time my best—just wasn't quite enough…"
"It was more than enough, Harry, for us," Dumbledore said. "So much more than you should have had to do. Don't ever think that you didn't make a difference."
"It will not matter to Hermione and Ron, I think," he pointed out. Dumbledore shook his head.
"No," he admitted. "No, I suppose not."
There was a long pause, where neither of the two had anything to say. Harry continued to look past Dumbledore's white-hair framed face, and Dumbledore didn't seem to be able to do more than gaze at Harry.
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Did anyone ever ask you, Harry? Did anyone ever ask what you wished for every year? With every cake and every candle?
Would they have understood? Or would they have sympathized and smiled sadly, then told you that you had family. Weasleys, Grangers, Lupins, Dumbledores, McGonagalls, everyone…
But no one your own. Not since…
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Harry stirred himself from his frayed and fragmented thoughts and blinked his eyes a few times before focusing on Dumbledore again.
"Where is Sirius?" he asked, voice honest and innocent.
Dumbledore started. "Harry," he said slowly, "Sirius has been d—" Dumbledore stopped to swallow once, composing himself. Then he smiled softly. "Sirius is waiting for you, Harry," Dumbledore said. "He's back at Headquarters, waiting for you to come home."
Harry nodded. "Ah, I'd forgotten," he said softly. He shifted slightly. "The rocks are poking my back," he complained, his voice thin and light like a child's.
Like the child he had not been for many years…
"I know," Dumbledore said, even as he tried to raise Harry off the ground, just a little.
But Harry's breath hitched harshly at the movement, and Dumbledore was forced to lay the boy back on the rocky ground.
"I'm cold," Harry commented next, giving up on the rocks underneath his body. "And the sky is so blue…" He trailed off, deep green eyes on the flawless blue sky past Dumbledore's head, rather than the bright blue eyes of his Headmaster and the tears that dripped from them.
"Do you want a blanket?" Dumbledore asked. Harry shook his head weakly.
"Too warm for a blanket," he commented, wondering why in the world Dumbledore had suggested such a thing. "The sun is so nice here."
"Minerva is coming with Ron and Hermione, Harry," Dumbledore said, voice sounding tremulous. Harry nodded.
"Ron and Hermione might want to talk to me before…but they might have tests today," he said. "'Mione doesn't like to miss tests, you know," he confided. Dumbledore laughed, a choked sound.
"I know," he agreed. Harry grinned.
"She might want me to take it as well—but I haven't studied at all," he said. He looked right and left, as if checking for any eavesdroppers, and then spoke in a hushed voice. "But if it's anything but Potions, they'll just give me O's anyway."
"It's hard to take tests when you're out of class so much," Dumbledore agreed. Harry laughed, but stopped as the sound hurt his chest.
"I bet Ron'll be glad to get out of class," he said. "They might want to talk to me before…"
"They will," Dumbledore said. Harry felt the old man's hand on his shoulder again, and he smiled as best he could. The old man seemed so unsure of himself now…so helpless…
Harry could tell that the old man wanted to gather him up in his arms and try to save him…but he couldn't. No one could…
"Do you think Sirius will come see me before…"
"He will do his best, I'm sure of it," Dumbledore promised.
"I wish I could have lived with him, just for a little bit," Harry said. "It would've been nice to have a family like everyone else. Like Ron…"
"I'm so sorry you didn't," Dumbledore said softly.
"Ron and Hermione are coming, aren't they?" Harry asked. "They want to talk to me, right?" he insisted. Dumbledore nodded, silvery beard shaking.
"They are hurrying as fast as they can," he promised.
"It's getting colder," Harry reported, feeling oddly calm and painless.
"Do you want a blanket?" Dumbledore asked weakly.
"I'll be all right," he said. "The sun's so warm, I'll probably burn up."
"Poppy shouldn't have left," Dumbledore muttered to himself, but Harry caught the words.
"She wants to be sure," Harry said. "It won't be fast enough. Anti-magic wards five miles wide make it hard."
"Ron and Hermione will be here soon, Harry," Dumbledore reminded him.
"Hermione won't like missing tests," Harry said. "Ron'll be glad to get out of class, though. They might want to talk to me before…"
"Of course," Dumbledore said seriously. Harry felt warm hands holding his own cold fingers. The heat of the hands eased into his fingers slowly, and he grasped them as tightly as he could, seeking out that little bit of heat. He was so cold…
"I wish I could have done more," Harry said wistfully. "Just a little bit more…"
"You did so much, Harry," Dumbledore insisted. "No one will ever think that you didn't do enough."
"Are you sure Sirius is coming?" Harry asked.
"Of that, I have no doubt," Dumbledore assured him.
Harry let his eyes slide closed, much too tired to leave them open any longer. A hand slapped his cheek gently, but he refused to open his eyes again.
"Come on, Harry, just a little longer," Dumbledore said softly. Harry shook his head.
"I'm too tired to wait for them," he said. "I'll talk to them when I wake up," he promised.
"Of course, of course," Dumbledore agreed. Harry felt something wet hit his face once, twice.
"Why are you crying?" he wondered. There was a noisy swallow somewhere above his face.
"I am sorry that we will not talk again for a long time," Dumbledore admitted. "I will miss you so much, Harry."
"Tell Ron and Hermione…tell them that I will talk to them later, all right?" he asked. His eyelids were like lead weights, holding his eyes tightly shut. His arms were just as heavy, and he was sure his legs would have been, if he could have felt them any longer.
He just wanted to sink into the ground, to melt back into the earth. "Just a little longer, Harry, if you can," Dumbledore's voice floated down to him.
"He's really dead, isn't he?" he asked, still not quite believing that one fact.
"He is," Dumbledore said. "Really, truly, and completely dead. You did it, Harry. Riddle will never terrorize the world again."
"That's good," Harry said. "The twins will be enough to do that," he added.
He thought he heard a choked laugh from Dumbledore, but he was not sure. "I will miss you, Harry," Dumbledore said.
Harry twitched his head in a semblance of a nod. He was much too tired to talk anymore, and the cold had seeped through to his bones.
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Do you think that they are waiting? Just the other side…just there, waiting for you?
He doesn't have to wonder anymore. They are there. And they have been waiting many years for this day.
They are no longer waiting for him. They are calling for him. They are here.
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As if from a distance, he felt his body being moved, arms shifting him. He was leaning against something now, something warm and that moved…Dumbledore had pulled him against his body, arms holding him tightly.
He had never been held like this, like a father holds a son. Without judgment.
He imagined it was his own father…and somehow it was…he could see James…brown eyes shining through glasses…
"I would wish Voldemort back, if it would let you live," he heard Dumbledore say, voice broken. "I would wish anything, if only…"
His face was wet, he thought distractedly. Tears were soaking his skin…and he knew without a doubt that he would be missed…
But his family had missed him just as much. And he ached for them so badly…
Harry tried to smile again.
But he was drifting through a calm sky, flying through the perfect blue, feeling the warmth on his skin…free…
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A/N: Not much to say about this. Just trying something a little different. Hope you liked it. –Miss Laine