AUTHOR'S NOTES: If you can, I recommend listening to Elgar's "Enigma Variations" while reading this story. I have always wanted to watch a movie where, at the end of the great war, the hero/ine and companions stand in the dawn of a new day amidst the bloody losses of the night, and the Enigma Variations soar through the surround sound system with bone-shaking intensity. This is my approximation of it!
Dawn of a New World
The sun rose gently over the blackened husk of Hogwarts, shedding the light of a new day over a bedraggled, weary army.
On his knees in the cold grass, Harry felt the burden of their victory like a leaden weight on his back. His body was too weary to move, his heart too heavy for him to even raise his head to look around him on the dawn-touched battlefield. Had a spell been required of him at this moment, he would not have been able to perform even the most basic Protego.
Victory shouldn't feel like this.
It was the only thought he could summon, staring out over the battlefield at the living and the dead. The bodies lay haphazard, scattered over the ground where they'd fallen, friend and foe alike, a terrible carnage, a terrible price.
They'd won, hadn't they? They'd won the war. Defeated Voldemort, conquered the Death Eaters, and the dark army of witches and wizards who'd followed the Dark Lord; they'd won.
Why, then, did Harry feel more like he'd lost? Shouldn't there have been some kind of triumph? Some kind of relief? Something more than this hollow emptiness that suddenly ached inside him?
Above him, Hermione swayed, as if it was too much effort to keep still. He climbed to his feet, wedging his shoulder under her arm to try to hold her up. "You okay?"
"I'm fine, Harry." She didn't look fine. "No, really, I am. I'm just-" Her head turned to look at the broad expanse of grass. "We won." Her words were barely audible, the merest breath of air past her lips. She turned her head into his shoulder and her fingers dug into his upper arm as she sobbed those two words again. "We won."
And suddenly the full price of their victory came crashing down around Harry; the real cost of the war.
There was no joy for either of them in their success.
They'd won the war; Voldemort was gone - but so, too, were too many of their friends and allies.
Somewhere, out in the midst of the dead and dying, Ron Weasley lay, his face raised to a sky he could no longer see, the world around him free of the Dark Lord because of his actions.
In the midst of the field, Harry held his friend as she sobbed, and wished he could do the same. He wished there was something that could snap within, release the tension wound so tightly around his soul. But he couldn't. His eyes were dry and his soul felt barren.
Ron was dead.
"Harry." The voice was vaguely familiar, and he managed to turn enough to look at Neville Longbottom, coming up towards him, trailing people.
The other boy - the other possibility for the prophecy - looked as different from the boy he'd been that first night at Hogwarts as the night looked from the day. Neville had grown up, too fast, too harsh - as had all those who'd sided with Harry in the war against Voldemort.
They'd seen Voldemort die. Seen the Dark Lord swallowed up in the spell Harry had cast the instant before the twisted, hollowed nightmare of a wizard pointed his wand at the boy who'd been his chosen downfall, and spat two words that had killed countless others through the years.
Once, long ago, that same spell had been cast on Harry, and his mother's love had shielded him. Back then, all those years ago, a life had gone in sacrifice to protect Harry. And once again, a life had been required in sacrifice to defeat Voldemort.
It should have been his life.
The understanding slammed into him, even as Neville spoke, "Harry? Where's Voldemort?"
He couldn't bring his mouth to work. He could no more speak than he could fly.
It should have been his life for the victory.
The knowledge dragged at him, sucked him down into painful darkness and he couldn't answer.
"He's gone," Ginny spoke, coming up at his elbow. Her usually smooth voice was cracked and harsh from screaming spells all night. And she looked into Harry's eyes, and he was forced to meet the hollowing pain in her gaze - so similar to Ron's. And yet her expression was empty of blame, empty of the hatred she should have felt looking into the eyes of the boy who'd effectively led her brother to his death. "Voldemort is dead."
Neville didn't ask how she knew, he just nodded. His gaze flickered over Hermione, still crying, but who had turned her head to see the people who were now drawing near.
"Harry," she said quietly, raising her face to look him in the eye.
"I know," he replied. And he did.
"He would have- He wanted-"
Hermione's hand on his arm tightened briefly, and he saw her lift her chin and straighten her shoulders. In that moment, Harry felt like a git. Because it was his fault. He turned his face away from her
"It wasn't your fault," she said, as if she'd read his mind. She turned on him, blinking her tears away, her expression fiercely earnest, "It wasn't your fault, Harry. He chose it. He knew what he was doing and he chose it. I'd have done the same if I'd been- If I'd seen-"
"I should have-"
Her fingers dug even harder into his arms as she stared up at him, her expression willing him to believe. "You did what you did. I don't blame you. And Ron wouldn't either."
"How can you?" He almost couldn't get the words out. "You can't know-"
"I do," she said, through her tears. "Harry, believe me, I do-"
"You can't!" Harry denied hotly, shaking her off, stepping back. "You can't know-" He got no further, choking on his words, and turned away.
What he wouldn't have given this moment for a clap on the back and a triumphant laugh from Ron? "We did it, mate! We did it!"
Movement on the periphery of his vision made him look up. There was a slowly approaching circle of people, moving in around them, enclosing them. Their faces were young and old, relief-filled and grief-stricken, all houses, all people... All looking to Harry for the leadership they craved. Even the older folk seemed to require something of him in this moment: a look, a word, an acknowledgement, something.
Harry felt suffocated, buried under the weight of their expectations, their needs.
He couldn't face her. He couldn't face any of them.
They needed him, but he needed his own space now, before they enfolded him and made him into someone he didn't want to be. Now, more than ever, he needed to be himself, Harry Potter, not the Boy Who Lived, or the Boy Who Defeated Voldemort. And if he didn't take that time now...
As he turned away, he heard what sounded like a sob from Ginny, and an answering sob from Hermione. Even as they comforted each other, he knew that he needed to get away from them both for a little while. Just as he knew he'd need them later, now, he couldn't bear their grief - not on top of his own.
So he walked away, deliberately and purposefully, and the people who came towards him parted before his expression like butter before a white-hot poker.
He didn't know where he went, only that he walked into the midst of the carnage, away from where the others congregated. They could lick their wounds, count their losses and grieve together. Harry could not. In grief, as in everything, he was alone.
The grass beneath his shoes was slippery with blood. He stumbled, going down on his hands and knees, and his fingers closed around a length of wood he knew with aching familiarity. Dragon heartstring, rowan, twelve and a half inches - Ron's wand.Ron, oh god, Ron…
He sat back on his haunches in the bloody grass, and felt the tears sting his eyes.
He wouldn't cry. He wouldn't.
Overhead, the sun strengthened its hold on the living world around Harry, and the excess of his feelings ripped through him like a knife through flesh. It had been years since he'd allowed himself to feel like this.
Sirius' death had scarred him, drawn him back from caring about anyone or anything - because everything he cared about could be used against him by Voldemort.
He sobbed until his eyes were raw, grieving for so many things, for the loss of his childhood, spent in war; for the burden of killing, even a creature as vile as Voldemort; for the blood of the people who'd rallied behind him and died in the war, old and young.
Time passed. Harry didn't know how much, but he was left alone, and nobody bothered him. When his tears subsided, he was still alone, his fingers clenched around Ron's wand, with the bright sun spearing harshly into his eyes.
No, not alone. Not entirely.
A shadow fell across him, blocking the sun from his eyes.
She stood on the grass, mere metres away, not looking at him, but shading her eyes as she looked full in the face of the rising sun. Harry blinked a few moments, tearing at the brightness of the sun. But he stumbled to his feet, his legs shaking so bad he could barely stand.
Ron's wand was pocketed, but Harry didn't look around for his friend's body. He didn't want to see the glassy blue eyes reflecting the morning sky, an empty heaven. Not yet. Maybe...maybe when the sun had risen further in the sky and the world had lost the dew-brightness of dawn.
He walked over to stand beside the girl who faced the sun, her lids drawn down, the faintest flutter showing that she hadn't shut her eyes completely.
Everyone else seemed wearied, exhausted by the night. She, alone of them all, seemed untouched by it, as though the horror of the war had passed her over, without toll. If not for the mud smudges on her robes and face, the dirt beneath her nails and the untidy tangles of her hair, Harry might have questioned if she'd been in the battle at all.
But then, Luna had always been like that.
"Did you know," she said without turning to look at him, "that when you look into the sun and close your eyes, you can see sun-sprites dancing against your eyelids?"
In spite of himself, in spite of his grief, Harry found himself turning to the sun and closing his eyes against the bright glare of its rays. He didn't see any sun-sprites, of course but the sunshine on his face lifted his spirits from the damp cold of the night's labours. Sometimes Luna's craziness had its own payoff.
Having drawn the sunlight into himself, he opened his eyes to find Luna staring at him.
"You're going to have another scar, Harry," she said as she pointed at his cheek where a deflected spell had sliced across the cheekbone, opening a wound.
Just what he needed. Another scar. "I'm starting a collection," he said, trying to make light of it. "Unusual scars gained from facing Voldemort."
Luna regarded him solemnly, "It might be difficult to continue collecting them after today," she observed.
Harry snorted as bitterness drowned him. "Yeah, well, with Voldemort, you never know," he muttered. Suddenly, every muscle screamed, every cut gaped, every welt burned, and the fragile effects of the sun's lightening withered away like a flower killed by early frost.
Everything felt so heavy.
"I didn't fight for this." The words were no more than a whisper, barely passing his cracked lips.
"No, you didn't."
Harry met Luna's solemn gaze and she regarded him in turn, blinking in a way that seemed almost owlish, before she turned away from him, to look out across the battlefield of the night.
Anger ignited in him, a bitter heat beneath his breastbone that needed some outlet, something upon which to vent itself. And Luna was standing right there, a target all her own. She had broken his solitude - let her suffer the consequences!
"Do you know what I fought for, then? I never asked to be a hero!" The words were spat from him. "I never asked to lose my friends - my family! I never asked for this scar," he pushed back his hair to show the lightning bolt that had been his curse through the years. "I never asked for any of it!"
Luna felt his anger but she didn't flinch. Instead, one hand reached out to rest on his arm, and her large, blue eyes fixed him, piercing him with clarity unusual for her. "Heroes never ask to be heroes."
Swift as it had risen, his anger deserted him, blunted against her calm acceptance. "They want me to be a hero," he said. "They want me to lead them."
"Yes." Her answer was straight and plain. "Can you blame them?"
"Yes," he retorted, automatically. "I didn't give them anything! I did this-" I did this for myself. There was a truth in the words; self-preservation required that he destroy Voldemort before Voldemort destroyed him; but there was also more to it than that. He'd done this because...because...
"What did you fight for, Harry Potter?" Her head tilted a little, regarding him as though he were one of her fantastic, mythical beasts. "What did we all fight for?"
And he thought about it.
He thought of the Dursleys, comfortably close-minded in their own little Muggle world, not wanting to acknowledge anything that might upset that. He thought of the Weasleys, opening their ranks to accept him into their family, for all that he was a lightning rod for trouble. He thought of Dumbledore and the weight of the world that had rested on those thin, frail shoulders and the responsibilities required of him as the only wizard Voldemort feared.
He thought of Lupin and the haunted hunted grace of the werewolf, of Tonks and her solid, easy-going Muggleborn Dad. He thought of Mr. and Mrs. Diggory, whose sobs he still remembered after three years, and Sirius, laughing at Bellatrix, even as she killed him.
He thought of Hermione, gripping his arms; of Ginny's one, forgiving look; of Neville's expectation; of Luna's fey eyes watching him even now.
And Harry thought of Ron, sitting freckled and alone that first morning on the Hogwarts Express, talking about Voldemort and the fear he had spread across the wizarding world. He thought of his friend's attempts to speak the name he'd always been taught never to say, to find the strength to overcome the fears from his upbringing.
Around them, people were drawing closer, emboldened by his conversation with Luna. They were dirty, grubby, exhausted, drained, but a new dawn glimmered their eyes, powerful as a well-cast Patronus.
And Harry understood.
"For…hope," he said quietly. They'd fought for the hope of a new world – a world without the fear of Voldemort.
And her lips curved in a faint, gentle benediction. "They have that now."
- fin -