What Might Have Been
Ron's eyes trailed their way across the Great Hall. The students were talking and laughing as usual, first years huddled in front of a daunting and yet subdued Professor McGonagall, and all the Prefects were sitting up slightly straighter than they had the year before.
He felt his heart harden.
"Sit down, all of you," he snapped in a loud voice that no one had ever heard him use before. "Something has happened, concerning Voldemort, that I think you all ought to know about."
Strange as it was, the whole Hall quieted down immediately. The first years promptly sat on the ground, near quivering. Ron narrowed his eyes. "It's quite funny, actually," he went on, ignoring the frantic gestures of his girlfriend, Hermione, and his sister Ginny. "I think most of you will just laugh you heads off."
Dumbledore made to stand, but Ron snarled at him so ferociously that he sat down again, looking resigned. "So," Ron spat, looking out at his classmates, "Would you like the ironic or the funny news first?" He waited as silence greeted him. "Well?" He growled. "Choose."
Ginny buried her head in her arms. Neville patted her back and she attempted to smile at him; however, when Seamus reached over she snarled at him to "get the hell away from her". He drew back, a confused expression on his face. He looked into the angry eyes of Neville, Ginny, and Hermione and comprehension dawned.
He narrowed his eyes and muttered, "So Potter's brainwashed you, too."
Ron laughed. It was cold, high, and slightly maniacal. "You want the ironic news first then, Seamus?" The boy glared, but didn't seem to have the courage to stand up to the crazed look in Ron's eyes. "I see you do. Here it is then: Voldemort is dead!"
The Hall was so quiet you could have heard a pin drop. Then the cheers began. Loud, happy cheers reverberating off of the walls. Ron let them cheer for only a minute or so. They stood, they danced, for one, glorious minute of happiness.
Then he let out a loud, angry yell of, "SHUT UP!"
Surprised, they all did. It was a tense, confused silence. "You haven't heard the rest of my news." He growled. "This part you will just love. It's classic, really. You're doing to die."
He paused and seemed to look ever student in the eyes. "Would you like to know who killed him?"
No one answered, but many, many eyes slid to the Gryffindor table. Ron laughed harshly. "That's right. Bravo. Ten points to all of you!" He looked down at his Head Boy badge, snarled, and ripped it off his shirt. He threw it in the air, caught it, and hurled it into the nearest wall—it smashed to pieces.
"Harry Potter defeated the Dark Lord."
More silence. Heavier this time. Ron's eyes narrowed. "Is it a surprise to you? Yes, I suppose it is. After all, Harry is just a traitor, right? A turncoat? Someone who is going to get everyone killed? Does that sound familiar?"
His whirled around and looked Dumbledore straight in the eyes. "Yep, Professor—isn't that funny? Harry did it! He went up to Voldemort, was promptly put under the Crucatius curse for exactly ten minutes and fifteen seconds—" There was a gasp. Ten minutes was a long time. "—And when ole Voldy was done, he offered Harry the world."
He paused and turned around again. "He offered him revenge—on all of you." A shudder went through the hall, and Ron sneered. "And you know what Harry said? You know what he did—after everything you put him through?"
He shook his head, disgusted at his classmates and professors. "He stood up, looked the bastard right in the eyes, and said, 'I don't want revenge on them. I don't want anything from you.'" He stopped, his voice breaking. "He said that. To the most evil wizard in the world. And then you know what happened? It's great, really; you'll laugh."
The way he said it made everyone present feel very certain that they wouldn't.
"And then, Harry Potter died."
Complete and utter silence.
"That's right. Harry Potter died. Voldemort shouted Avada Kedavra, and Harry just watched it come. And then he grinned—a boyish, Harry grin—and let it hit him."
Ron let out a small whimper. "That's right. Just took it—right there in the chest. And plop! He died. But you know what happened after that? Voldemort; he died, too. Harry went up in smoke and boom! Voldemort burned. Right there; just burned, screaming, until he was reduced to nothing but ashes."
Hermione stifled a sob. "Would you like to know why Harry did that?" Ron asked, his voice a deadly whisper. "He did it for you."
He spat the word out like it was disgusting, looking at everyone in turn. "You, who taunted him, who hated him, who made his life a living hell. You, who kicked him when he was down, who sneered when he did well, and who did your damnedest to make him miserable! You, who didn't care to look into his past and see what he had suffered through before blaming him! You, who didn't give a ruddy rat's ass that he had been abused and starved when he was young, who didn't notice that all he wanted was to be normal, to not have to worry about Voldemort, who wanted a home, a family, for someone to love him…"
He broke off, breathing raggedly. "YOU, WHO DIDN'T NOTICE THAT HE WAS CRYING HIMSELF TO SLEEP EVERY NIGHT!"
He let out a frustrated yowl and slammed his hand on the nearest thing—the Sorting stool. "HARRY BLOODY POTTER DIED TO SAVE YOU—HE DIED SO YOU COULD REMAIN ALIVE! AND YOU KNOW WHAT? YOU DON'T DESERVE IT!"
Guilt. It was plain on every face—guilt, horror, and regret. Ron sneered. "Oh yes," he mocked, "Go ahead and mourn now. Feel guilty now. See him for who is was now. When he's dead, when he's dead for you, and you're here, alive, and YOU DON'T DESERVE TO BE! YOU! ALL OF YOU SHOULD HAVE DIED INSTEAD! I SHOULD HAVE DIED—HARRY SHOULD BE THE ONE HERE, ALIVE, EATING, LAUGHING, TALKING, LEARNING…LIVING! IT—SHOULD—BE—HARRY!"
He stopped and took a deep breath. And when he spoke again, his voice was deadly calm and quiet. "But he'll never do those things again. Ever. He'll never laugh again. He'll never smile, or shake his head ruefully, or play Quidditch. No. He'll never do anything again. Because he's dead. Dead, you hear me? And he died for the people who made him miserable. Who made his life hell. He died for those people."
He looked around, repulsed. "He died for you."
He stepped down and swept through the isles. He was joined by his friends—Harry's only friends as he went into battle that day, the only ones that had remained during the year—and he opened the door with a violent pull.
"By the way," he added as he went to leave, "Don't you dare praise him. Don't act like you're grateful, like you love him. Don't insult him. No; the only thing you could possibly due to make it up to Harry Potter—a man better than all of you put together—is to feel guilty. Is to let that guilt follow you everywhere you go, everyday. To drown in it. The only way to repay him is to never let that guilt die…
"Because that's what he felt."
He growled again. "Every time someone died, Harry took the blame. But you were too busy blaming him yourselves to notice that. So grieve. Grieve and feel guilty. Because you do not deserve to be alive today, do you hear me? You—Muggle borns, pure bloods, half bloods—deserve to be dead. But Harry took that hit for you. And I want you to know it. And if you ever, ever feel happy again, just think of Harry. And think of what you did."
He swept out of the Great Hall, the Hermione, Ginny, and Neville following.
Dumbledore cleared his throat and stood, his own eyes blurry. "So—So raise your glasses…raise your glass to…" He took a deep breath, giving his head a little shake. "Raise your glasses to Harry Potter."
Everyone, every single one, raised their goblets, knowing that Ronald Weasley was right. They would feel that guilt for the rest of their lives, because they deserved it. They deserved to be dead and Harry deserved to be alive. And so they, with shaking hands, put their glasses in the air.
"To Harry Potter," they murmured.