Harry Potter and the Strength of White II

Here is the sequel you've all been waiting for! Hope you enjoy it. I haven't decided yet, but I think it's going to have a sort of happy ending, so if you liked the bitter closure Harry received at the end of Part I, then don't read this one.

oOoOo

Run.

Stay.

Could he?

He wanted to.

No.

Running was the only option.

So run he did. He didn't apparate away, nor did he use any kind of magic. He pounded through the forest, unaware of where he was going, the scene of Voldemort's demise fixed firmly in his head. He ran until he could run no more and fell in a heap beneath a tree, and all he could think was why hadn't he killed him?

All his plans, all his hopes, where he had killed Voldemort and then killed them, had been dashed, because he knew that no matter how angry he was, no matter how disappointed and sad, and no matter how much he hated them for what they'd done, he could never kill them.

Maybe it was because deep down he wasn't a killer, or because he simply couldn't kill those who had once been dear to him. He pounded a fist to the ground and screamed. He wanted to hate them so badly it hurt. They would want him back now, he knew, and dammit! he wanted to go back to them.

Harry looked up at his surroundings, a frustrated tear streaking down his face. He wished he were in the Forbidden Forest; maybe something would come along and end his life. Was he a coward for wanting his life to end?

Cowardfreak

insufferable…

freak.

The thought never crossed his mind that he could take his own life, and end it all.

We're going into the Forbidden Forest? Wait till my father hears about this!

Ain't nothin' in here that'll hurt you if you're with me or Fang.

Hagrid there was a person-

It's all right, Harry, it was just Voldemort. You'll protect us.

My father…

"Rot in hell, Potter! Rot in hell!""Shut up Malfoy! You're crazy. Just crazy."

Crazy crazy crazy crazy crazy coward.

Harry stood up, pressing his hands into his eyes for a moment to banish the memories. Why did this keep happening? Had his mind unravelled so much that he could not control it?

He wandered aimlessly. Where could he go? He wished for the comfort of his wand in his palm, even though he did not need it. As he walked he found more memories floating into his mind, ones that he had not been able to remember in Azkaban, and that he had no desire to recall. He remembered meeting Ron, and the pathetic feelings of belonging he had felt simply because someone wanted to share something with him. He wiped the back of his hand across his nose. He was pathetic. He recalled seeing Remus Lupin for the first time, how he had said he looked so much like his father. Harry wished his hair was black again and reached up to pluck a piece, just to make sure that it was.

He remembered saving Hermione from the troll, and the firm friendship that had grown from their shared experience. The friendship that, in the end, had meant nothing.

Harry tried to clear his mind, but found it impossible. He walked quicker now, feeling his skin creep at the thought of staying in the dark forest. He still craved sunlight, even after all these months.

Slowly the tree thinned out, and Harry stopped before a low wooden fence. In the distance he could see a town, and he jumped the fence and headed for it. It appeared Muggle, so he didn't bother to change his appearance.

Merlin, he was tired.

He summoned a leaf, and by the time it reached his hand it had been transfigured into a twenty pound note. Not strictly legal, but what other choice did he have? A wave of his hand, and his robes became jeans and a polo shirt.

The town was bigger than he thought, and he trudged for a few minutes before deciding where to go. He should find a place to stay, but he suddenly found that he had no motivation to do anything. He stopped before a pub, and with a few seconds of deliberation, pushed open the door and went in. It was dark and dingy, and Harry took a seat at the furthest table in the back, where it was unlit and strangely welcoming.

It was late in the afternoon, and it was not long before more patrons began arriving. By that time, Harry was pleasantly drunk. He sat alone in the corner, sipping morosely on his drink and thinking how pathetic he was. He wondered what people would think if they could see him. He felt angry that he should even care about that, and ashamed at himself. He watched the other patrons. He wasn't sure he had chosen a particularly reputable bar to come into. There was a group of people obviously celebrating a birthday, but apart from that the custom seemed composed of leering drunks and prostitutes.

Feeling ashamed, Harry stood unsteadily and left, stumbling into the alley next to the pub. He leaned against the wall, hearing the door of the pub swing open and then shut with a sharp snap.

"Hello precious," came a low, throaty voice from beside him. Harry started, and stared blearily in the direction it had come from. "Lookin' for a good time?"

"Uh…"

Hands pressed him back against the wall and he didn't fight them, vaguely understanding what was going on.

Heavy breasts pressed against his chest and a warm mouth met his.

"Mmmm," he murmured, as he felt hands lift his shirt and roam over his chest. In his intoxicated state, Harry felt himself responding, urging on the hands that fumbled with his belt.

But suddenly a memory flashed through his mind, of Aunt Petunia ushering Dudley away from a scene almost identical to this one when they had been younger, hissing about dirty, disgusting people.

Harry didn't want to be like that. With an incoherent groan he pushed the woman away and stumbled out onto the pavement. Feeling filthy and repulsed, he muttered a sobering charm that he had learnt from Ron and Seamus in their sixth year and, trying not to think about them, straightened his clothes and walked off, ignoring the screeches now coming from the woman.

He felt sick, now, and frustrated. He wanted nothing more than to forget everything that had happened, but it was impossible. He had nowhere to go and no one to turn to. Struck by a sudden, incomprehensible impulse, he ducked into an alleyway and apparated.

oOoOo

Privet Drive was greener than it had ever been; the grass was healthy and the flowers were in bright bloom. Harry could almost imagine, if he closed his eyes and recalled all those memories from Before, that things were as they had always been.

Get in there Boy…You'll be sorry

I'm sorry, Uncle Vernon, I didn't mean-

Get out here! You ungrateful, pathetic

Your parents were pathetic losers. No wonder you turned out just like them.

Yes, just like old times.

Maybe he really was pathetic, if he wished he could go back to that. Standing Disillusioned on the sidewalk, Harry wondered if he should go inside. Maybe knock on the door and say hello. Maybe they had his things. Maybe they were burned now, sent out with the waste years ago. Maybe they were locked up in the attic, or in that cupboard that he had called home for so long.

He wondered if they would come looking for him here. He could just imagine it.

Oh yes, he's been here, all right, the little delinquent. Not so little anymore though, is he? What did he do this time? I thought you said we'd never have to see the little bastard again…

He wondered if Dudley still lived at home.

Harry blinked, becoming aware of a loud noise coming up the street. Turning to look, Harry saw a slim black car with dark, tinted windows. It was driving far faster than was lawful, loud music blaring, and Harry was forced to dive out of the way as it swung into Number 4 with a screech of tires and the smell of burning rubber. It idled for a moment before the engine was switched off and the door swung open.

A man stepped out, tall and fair-haired with an almost athletic build. Slightly on the chubby side, a pair of stylish sunglasses and a dark suit completed the suave look. Harry felt a swoop in his chest as the man removed his sunglasses and looked up at the house. Had he really missed them that much? The abusive, tormenting people that had been his only family?

Let's see you get out of there, you little freak. How are you going to get to that school of yours now, eh?

"Hello, cousin," said Harry, removing the charm from himself. Dudley started and spun around, and as soon as he saw Harry his face paled visibly. Dudley cleared his throat loudly and his head jerked in a convulsive movement towards the house and back again.

"What are you doing here?" he asked hoarsely. "Are you going to kill us?"

Harry smiled a humourless smile.

"Why would I do that?" he asked mildly. Dudley looked like he was going to choke.

"You killed all those people…they told us…"

Harry looked at him with pity, though he wasn't quite sure why he was feeling that way.

"They were mistaken," he said quietly. "I didn't kill anyone, and I'm certainly not going to hurt you."

He shrugged. "I felt the urge to drop by, maybe see how you were going. Goodness knows why."

Dudley stared for a second in mirrored bewilderment and then snorted, so reminiscent of his father.

"Well I can't exactly say I'm happy to see you."

Harry shrugged again, but felt a brief stab of pain. Why should he have reacted so strongly upon seeing his cousin, yet Dudley felt nothing? He banished the thoughts from his mind and his countenance became calm and placid once again. He smiled and looked at the car.

"Yours?"

Dudley's glance was suspicious for a second before a look of pride took over. He looked appraisingly at it.

"Yep, bought it myself."

Harry raised an eyebrow.

"Where'd you get the money for that?"

Dudley frowned, but he was not annoyed.

"Got a job when I turned sixteen. I saved up for three years." He sneered. "But you wouldn't know about that, would you? You never came home that year."

Harry stared at him without moving. He wasn't going to let Dudley rattle him.

I sentence you to life imprisonment...

That'll be a week in the cupboard for this, boy…

Harry smiled.

"So you look pretty flash, Dudley. Lost a bit of weight I see. What do you do?"

Dudley scowled, though he again looked proud at his accomplishments.

"Started my own business straight out of high school. Never went to uni. Dad helped a bit with the set up costs, but I'm expanding." He beamed. He seemed keen to talk about himself once he had gotten started, as though he were pleased that he wasn't such a useless bastard anymore. Then he looked suddenly nervous. "I, uh, I'm proposing to my girlfriend tonight."

"Girlfriend?" repeated Harry dumbly.

"We've been together three years," Dudley said, grinning sheepishly.

Harry felt like he wanted to cry. How could Dudley, who had made his childhood a misery, be this person in front of him? Dudley, who was now fit, handsome, and happy. Dudley, who had apparently found love. What was so wrong with him that Dudley deserved all of this and he didn't?

Harry looked up and away, towards the house.

"Congratulations," he said. "That must be great."

"Yeah, it is," said Dudley, his voice warm. Harry was sure he had forgotten who he was talking to. Any moment now he would tell Harry to stuff off, and Harry would leave without surprise or resentment.

"Your parents home?" asked Harry.

Dudley's gaze hardened and he glared at Harry.

"Yeah, I'm just visiting. They'll freak if they see you. What do you want, anyway?"

Harry shrugged.

"Like I said, I guess I thought I'd come by and see how you all are. I don't exactly have anywhere else to go."

Dudley looked at him strangely, a half sneer on his face.

"Nowhere to go? You don't mean that literally, do you? What about all your friends from that freak school?"

Harry smiled sadly.

"I never was one to lie, Dudley."

Dudley looked slightly uneasy, shifting slightly on his feet.

"Look, Potter- Harry. I can't say I like you, but I know I was a right little arsehole when we were kids, and I guess what I'm trying to say is that I really regret it now, and- I'm sorry."

Harry nodded his head.

"I don't blame you, Dudley. I can't say I particularly like you either, but you weren't really shown any other way to treat me."

Dudley had the grace to look ashamed.

"Dad had a heart attack, you know," Dudley blurted out. Harry stared.

"Can't say I'm surprised, really," he replied. He looked wistfully up at the house. "Better not come in, then. Might give him another one."

Dudley's mouth quirked.

"It would almost be worth it just to see his face," he murmured.

"Yeah," Harry agreed, smiling.

Dudley seemed calm now, over the shock of seeing Harry for the first time in more than four years, and he eyed him critically.

"You know you look like crap," he said.

"What an astute observation," said Harry coolly. "Thankyou for the compliment."

Dudley frowned.

"I'm serious, man. What have you been doing to yourself?"

Harry felt like this fake smile would be plastered on his face forever if he didn't leave soon.

"I really should go, Dudley," he said, taking a step backwards. "Good luck tonight. I hope it all goes well for you, I really do."

Harry spun around and began walking, too fast for it to look casual.

He was just passing the front door of Number 2 when Dudley yelled after him.

"Thanks!"

oOoOo

The Order of the Phoenix stood gathered at the edge of the lake watching the sun set. In reality it was not a particularly stunning sun set, nor was it a particularly pleasant afternoon, but to those standing huddled together, it seemed the most perfect evening in many years.

Harry wondered if his agony would ever end.

Voldemort was gone, delivered to a fate more apt than any they could have thought of. There would be no more death, no more fear, and no more sorrow. Life could go on, and they could be free.

He didn't know what to do, where to go, or how he should feel. The frustration consumed him.

But what, they wondered, of Harry Potter? Had it really been him, or had the prophesized child been another, after all these years? No, they decided. Harry Potter had indeed returned. They had found his wand, identical to the last detail to his first, and it only confirmed their beliefs.

I want so badly to hate them. I want them to feel what I went through. I want to forget all about them.

And at the same time I don't.

They would find him; even now, they had begun looking. They wouldn't stop until he had returned to them and all could be made right.

They'll find me. They'll want everything to just go back to how it was.

Some of them had cried, when they'd realised what they had done. At first they had been unsure, wondering if Voldemort had wanted a last dig at Dumbledore, but then Grey had stepped forward and defeated him, and they had known that Voldemort had spoken the truth. Tom Riddle was in the custody of the Ministry now, being questioned.

weak, snivelling cowardfreak

insufferable

freak snivelling

Snivellus!Put me down Potter I hate you

I hate you all.

oOoOo

That night Harry checked in at a small hotel under the name of Tristan Grey, using a fake ID and transfigured money. He went to bed early and slept through the night, and even when the sun entered his room the next morning he kept his eyes shut firmly, wishing for the blackness of sleep to take him forever. This dull numbness he felt when he ignored the memories was better than facing the truth.

He wondered what the day would bring. He would need to decided, soon, where he was going to go. All his emotions shouted at him to abandon himself to the Muggle world, but he instinctively felt, deep down, that that would not be his path. He new without a doubt that he would return to them, or there would be no closure. He feared the day when it would happen; looked on it with trepidation and apprehension.

Yet despite the fact that his actions seemed predetermined, he had no notion of how he could possibly handle it. He would rather die than face their pity.

oOoOo

Snape was by no means a compassionate man; he had faced too many hardships of his own to be empathetic to anyone else's. Despite this fact, the knowledge that an innocent boy had spent the majority of his adolescence in prison evoked within him a sharp stab of shame and – dare he admit it – regret. To feel such a thing for a Potter was simply abominable, yet in spite of this he could not ignore the fact that their treatment had been inhumane.

He found himself respecting Potter, if not for the fact that after what they had done to him he had still saved them, but because he had had the guts to return to their company.

Snape sneered at the scene before him, but it was half-hearted. After all, even he was not immune to the joviality of such an occasion. Today's meeting would be the last of the Order of the Phoenix, for Voldemort was gone, and it was occasion to celebrate.

Last night Snape had found himself actually enjoying the showers of shooting stars, had found himself admiring the beauty of the multiple rainbows stretching across this morning's skies. It had been such a long time since he had had the luxury of indulging in such simple pleasures. A cleared throat brought silence in the room and a beaming Dumbledore stood.

"I know," he said, "you are confused as to whether you should be celebrating today." He looked slowly around the room, meeting Snape's eyes.

"I myself have found it hard, but do not worry. Celebrate you should, for the reign of Voldemort is over. Harry will return to us, I will see to that, and he shall have our greatest thanks and most profound gratitude."

Snape could scarcely believe the lightness with which Dumbledore was approaching such a subject. Surely he did not believe that Potter would simply come running when he called? Snape most certainly would not have, had he been in a similar predicament. On the other hand, Dumbledore knew the boy- man- much better than he did, and Potter had always been exceedingly trusting and foolishly forgiving.

"Have you found any sign of him yet, Albus?" asked a tearful Molly Weasley. Dumbledore shook his head.

"I believe he has taken refuge in the Muggle world, though where I cannot say. He could be far away by now."

"But surely he doesn't have the means, Dumbledore," said another. Dumbledore considered his answer carefully.

"In the months I have known Harry as Tristan Grey it is evident that his powers have much increased. I have no doubt that he has sufficient knowledge of Muggles still to get along fine. He did, after all, grow up amongst them."

Snape passed the rest of the meeting without really listening, but scrutinising the members of the room instead. The war had cost both sides a lot. Seven years was, after all, a long time. None of the infernal Weasley clan had perished, unfortunately, though young Ginny Weasley had been badly traumatised by her experiences and the trouble makers were both badly scarred.

Weasley and Granger of course, had come through unscathed and were perhaps better off than they had been before. Granger's eyes were red from crying, no doubt over Potter. He supposed though, that she at least had had a valid excuse for testifying against him. He too, had been fooled by the Dark Lord's machinations, had believed like her that Potter had finally snapped under the pressure and given in.

Granger would have been Potter's eighth victim had he succeeded, and at the time no one had any doubts about whether Potter would have eventually taken her life. He had tried to rape her, and had Snape himself not walked in on the scene he had no doubt Potter would have succeeded.

His gaze travelled on to Remus Lupin. The werewolf had not believed when he had first been told; had in fact been the last to accept even when confronted with the bodies of the fallen.

The whole ordeal had been traumatising for all involved; those who knew of the prophecy were finally forced to accept that even though Potter had the power to defeat Voldemort, it didn't mean he would.

Minerva sat rigidly in her seat, looking older but more relaxed than he had ever seen her. Her posture radiated a sadness however, that he had not expected. They would all be out tomorrow, looking for Potter, and he would be included. He pitied the one who found him.

oOoOo

Three days, Harry thought, of sitting. Sitting and remembering. He was beginning to fear that his mind would never recover from the assault it had undergone in Azkaban. Today he had blanked out for nearly twenty minutes, the longest episode so far. The despair was so all-consuming that he feared his experiences would soon become an obsession and he would dwell on them forever. For a day now he had contemplated, again and again, the notion of taking his own life, but didn't have the courage. Every time the thought entered his head it would trigger memories. He was a coward… a freak…

Blink.

Focus.

He had nearly done it again. The only option was to cease thinking completely, but it was impossible. Thoughts would randomly flit through his head, triggering others that he didn't even know had been connected. He longed for an outlet, an escape, but none came. He could not spend his life like this, he knew, but what would his life be like now? What did he even have to live for? He had no friends, no family, and no possessions. There was nothing to keep him occupied.

In the past three days since he had destroyed Voldemort he had trekked continuously from place to place, with no destination in mind. He had occupied five hotels, twice checking in and out on the same day for no reason at all. His sequence of thoughts was annoyingly illogical, jumping all over the place. He considered seeing a Muggle doctor, and dismissed the idea immediately.

He didn't know what to do, so he ran, and even then he wasn't quite sure what it was that he was running from.

oOoOo

Weeks passed, and Harry slumped into a deeper depression than he had felt even in Azkaban. Out here in the real world he could think clearly about all the memories he was remembering, and he didn't forget them when he fell asleep or passed out. He had to admit that he needed help, but he didn't know where to go. He wasn't eating, barely sleeping; he was a wreck. He was drowning in something that would never kill him but was impossible to escape from.

He couldn't keep running; keep living from day to day as he was now.

So one morning, Harry made a decision. He got up, bushed his hair, and changed his clothes. He put on his shoes and he went into town. Exactly which town he wasn't sure, but he didn't care either. It was a Sunday, evident from the busy church he passed, and further down the road markets were open in a public park. He wandered through the stalls, eyes sliding disinterestedly over the products.

It was refreshing, going outside. The sky was clear blue, the grass green. He could almost remember being happy. He was staring at a tapestry, lost in thought of a similar one at Hogwarts, when he looked up and saw her.

She saw him at the same moment and her face paled and her jaw dropped. She mouthed his name and he felt his heart skip a beat in panic. He knew it had been a bad idea coming out here. Behind her stood a sign. 'Ottery St Catchpole,' it read. Harry blanched. He turned and began running, heard Hermione call out his name but ignored her. He had to get out of here. They would be swarming over this place in minutes, looking for Harry Potter. He had to leave. How could he have been so stupid? He should have changed his appearance, should have pretended to be a different person.

He slammed into a public building and apparated, barely concentrating and praying that he wouldn't splinch himself. He arrived somewhere- he wasn't sure where- and started walking. Would he ever be able to go out without fear of being found?

He kicked viciously at a rock and missed, nearly losing his balance and tumbling into the ditch at the side of the road. He wondered where he was. It had to be somewhere he had been before, or he never would have apparated here, but he couldn't recognise it. He apparated again, in case they were trying to follow him, and found himself in the dingy little alleyway next to the pub.

He left the alleyway and, heading into a more respectable part of the town, quickly found a small inn. He hated living like this.

oOoOo

Hermione hurried into the Burrow, face stark white and serious with the gravity of her news. She burst into the kitchen, where Ron sat with Fred, George and their father at the table.

"I just saw Harry!" she burst out, "down in the village at the markets."

The four men were on their feet in an instant, and Fred was already fumbling with Floo powder to contact Dumbledore.

"You're sure?" asked Ron roughly, his face pale.

"Yes, he recognised me." Hermione's shoulders slumped. "He ran though."

Fred finished conferring with someone in the fire and turned to them.

"They're on their way," he said breathlessly, his face flushed from the fire.

"Who is?" asked Ron.

"Whatever Order members were at Hogwarts."

"Do we have to wait? He might be gone," said Ron, fidgeting in agitation.

"They're coming straight away," said Fred, stepping away from the fire, and true to his word there was a whoosh and Dumbledore stepped out of the fireplace, closely followed by McGonagall, Snape, Remus and Tonks.

"Good morning," said Dumbledore cheerfully, though his eyes were serious. He gesture to the four standing behind him.

"The most I could come up with at such short notice," he explained.

They nodded and he beamed.

"Lead the way, Hermione," he said.

They searched for hours, but Harry was gone, and they returned to the Burrow in resignation.

"I don't think he wants to be found," murmured Hermione, "You should have seen his face, and the way he ran when he saw me."

"Then what was he doing here if he doesn't want to be found?" asked Ron, somewhat angrily.

"Perhaps," said Snape coldly, "he did not know where he was."

Ron looked up derisively.

"He's not stupid. He would know where he was, Snape."

Snape shrugged with a sneer.

"It was a suggestion, nothing more."

"If he does not want to be found, there may be nothing more we can do," sighed Dumbledore gravely, "than to let him come to us when he is ready."

Snape refrained from rolling his eyes but sneered inwardly. They had had this conversation numerous times already, and it had been over a month since Potter had disappeared.

Ron banged his fist on the table.

"We can't stop looking," he said firmly. "We have to find him."

Snape gave an impatient sigh.

"Weasley, if the idiot does not wish to have our company, who are we to force it on him? I for one have no desire to spend the rest of my life chasing aimlessly after him."

Ron looked ready to retort to Snape's vindictive tone, but Dumbledore stepped in.

"We shall continue looking for him," he said slowly, "but Severus is right, we cannot look forever. At some point we will have to concede defeat. In the mean time though, we should not give up hope." He turned to Hermione. "How did he look?" he asked.

Hermione sighed and sat down next to Ron, picking at a nail.

"Thinner than he was when he was teaching at Hogwarts. He didn't look well, to tell you the truth. And his eyes…" she shook her head, tearing up. Ron put a comforting arm around her, though his eyes were suspiciously bright and his jaw clenched tightly.

"So he wasn't happy to see you? Or scared?"

Hermione shook her head.

"He didn't show any expression at all, just stood there staring at me. He looked sad though, there was some expression in his eyes, but before I could see it properly he ran."

Snape snorted. Stupid, sentimental rubbish. Dumbledore sent him a warning look and then sighed.

"Very well. There is nothing more we can do for now. We should return to Hogwarts, and I will inform you of what we shall do."

oOoOo

Harry woke the next Sunday and stumbled into the bathroom. He had moved hotels every day in the past week, fearful of being found or followed. It was ridiculous, he knew, but he didn't know what else to do. He stared blearily into the mirror and rinsed his face, taking in his appearance. With a weary, heartfelt sigh he turned of the faucet and ambled into the small sitting room. He flumped into the threadbare armchair and pinched the bridge of his nose, closing his eyes in weariness.

After a few second of frustrated boredom he stood up again and headed for the kitchen, and it was then that his state of semi-peace and calm was shattered.

"So," said a cold voice from the other side of the room. He froze, bowing his head but not turning around. "This is what you have been doing? Hiding like a coward in the Muggle world?"

Harry stiffened, but Snape didn't seem to notice.

Coward…freak…

Blink.

Focus.

Run.

He found he couldn't apparate. He heard Snape tutting.

"You think I would let you escape so easily, Potter, when we have done nothing but seek you out since you decided to flee? Turn around and speak to me!" he suddenly snapped.

Faced with no other option but to ignore Snape, Harry turned around and took in the appearance of his old teacher. Snape seemed to be doing the same thing.

He was hard put to believe that this was the man who had stood seemingly so confidently before him just two months ago. Potter's hair was messy and unkempt, hanging in his face. His cheeks were gaunt, and his skin pale. Bags hung under his eyes and he seemed closed in on himself, hunched over slightly. His gaze was focussed not on Snape, but off in the distance, as though he were in a trance. It was something he had done when he had been Grey, and Snape wondered at it. Suddenly though, Potter seemed to come back to himself and gazed at Snape with an unfathomable expression.

"What do you want?" he asked, his voice firm. It contradicted his appearance.

Snape sneered again.

"I would have thought it was obvious, Potter," he said. "The wizarding world wants its hero back." An unidentifiable emotion passed over Harry's face, and then it returned to the weary mask of before. Suddenly he moved back into the room and slumped into the brown chair he had just risen from, dropping his head into his hands. With a wave of a hand, he gestured for Snape to sit across from him. Snape sneered and rejected the proffered seat. Instead he looked around the room bare of personal items, and at the appearance of the Boy-Who-Lived.

"Is there a reason you are not looking after yourself?" he spat viciously, his tone mocking. Harry looked up at him, and again Snape saw that strange vacant expression pass across his eyes. It intrigued him, but Harry's silence raised his ire.

"Well?" he snapped. Harry shook himself.

"Well what?"

"Look at the state of you! You are clearly ill, and clearly in need of proper nourishment." For a moment he felt disgusted with himself. He moved forward with a jerk and grabbed Harry's arm.

"Never mind. I shall take you to Dumbledore and he can deal with you as he sees fit." He yanked Harry to his feet, but Harry lurched away from him, that look in his eyes for a split second before he snarled at Snape.

"I am not going back," he said, hands balling at his side. Snape sneered. He had known that Potter would be trouble.

"Yes, well I am afraid you have no choice in the matter Potter. I refuse to spend a moment more of my time searching for you, which will certainly be the case if I fail to return with you today."

"I am not going back," Harry spat. Snape looked from his tattered clothes to his worn face again. He glared.

"My tolerance is waning, Potter. You will come with me, whether willingly or by force."

Harry's face registered anger now.

"I am no longer a child, Snape," he spat. "You cannot force me to do anything."

With a start, Snape realised it was true. Even though he knew that Grey had been Potter, he still associated this man before him with the sixteen year old he had seen in Azkaban, not the calm, confident teacher. The man before him was most certainly not a child; he was a wreck, and he told him so.

Harry laughed at the announcement.

"You think I need help?" he said.

"Yes," sneered Snape, knowing it would get under Potter's skin. To his surprise, it only had the effect of calming Harry.

"At least we can agree on one thing," he said quietly.

Snape stared at him and hesitantly took the second seat. He leaned back and clasped his hands superiorly, looking down on Harry, who seemed to have frozen again.

"You admit you need help," he said. "Why then do you not accept it when it is being offered?"

Harry blinked and looked at Snape.

"What would you do to help me? What would Dumbledore do? None of you are capable of taking back what happened."

"Do you not want everything to be normal again? The war is over, Potter. The truth has been uncovered. Everything can return to how it was."

Harry burst out laughing then, a rasping cackle that was nearly manic. He stopped, finally, and looked at a wary Snape.

"Of all people that I would have expected to say that," he hissed, "it was not you. If you truly believe that then you are a fool."

Snape sneered slightly at the insult.

"The only thing standing between you and the world is your forgiveness, Potter."

"Forgiveness? Would you forgive them?" Harry shook his head. "There certainly is that to be considered, but it is so much more than that, Snape, so much more."

Snape watched in curiosity, and now slight worry as Harry blanked out again. He blinked and shook his head again.

"I can't return, Snape, and nothing will ever be the same again. I am not the same person I once was, and I don't think I could even try to be."

"Then what do you propose to do with your life?" Snape sneered. "Live as a Muggle?"

Harry scrutinised his hands before answering.

"I don't know, Professor," he said softly, adopting the old title. "I don't know what I want and I don't know how I feel. All I know is that…"

"Is what?"

"I don't know," Harry breathed. "I'm not really sure of anything." His face hardened. "And I no longer wish to have this conversation. Please leave. Tell them I don't want to be found, and if, by some hideous miracle, I have the desire to see them, I will seek them out myself."

Snape frowned at the sudden mood swings. Harry rubbed his forehead, and Snape realised he had been doing it almost constantly since he got here.

"Your scar still bothers you?"

Harry sneered.

"Tom Riddle is not dead, Snape, and now he has all the time in the world to devote to tormenting me."

Harry stood abruptly and Snape did the same.

"I asked you to leave," Harry said quietly.

Snape scrutinised him closely.

"You certainly have changed, Potter," he observed. Harry raised his eyebrows.

"What an astute observation," he sneered, his voice snide. "Did you think I wouldn't?"

Snape was about to reply in a similar fashion when he saw that Harry had blanked out again. He waved a hand slowly in front of his face, but got no response. Frowning, he reached out and touched the Harry's shoulder.

"Potter?" he asked. He dropped his hand and crossed his arms, wondering what to do. A minute later Harry came to.

"That was the problem with everyone," he said harshly as though nothing had happened. "They all just expected me to bounce back from everything that happened and be the same person I was before."

He stopped at Snape's expression.

"Why do you do that?" asked Snape, his voice sharp.

"Do what?" asked Harry, his blood running cold.

"Since I got here you have been blanking out at random intervals. Just now you were out for over a minute."

Harry looked slightly alarmed.

"Get out," he growled. He spun around to leave the room but Snape grabbed him and wrenched him around.

"Tell me what it is," Snape demanded, not releasing his tight hold on Harry's arm.

"Fine!" Harry spat malevolently. "You want to know? I was in Azkaban for more than three years, Snape. I went insane. My mind was completely destroyed. It is not yet fixed and frankly I doubt if it ever will be."

Harry sneered at Snape's expression, which was no longer derisive or spiteful but harboured pity and surprise.

"What?" Harry spat. "You thought you could lock me in Azkaban and I would still be completely intact? In the place where even Death Eaters who enjoyed the torture and the killing went insane? Me, who had more bad memories than anyone?"

"You need help, Potter," whispered Snape, and Harry didn't even see the Stunner before it hit him and the blackness claimed him.

oOoOo

Hogwarts hospital wing, thought Harry, before he had even opened his eyes. He remembered the smell, the crispness of the sheets, and even the feel of the place, and he felt a sudden twinge of longing. He shoved it way. How dare Snape do that to him? He felt panic bubbling up inside him. He couldn't face them yet. He couldn't. He kept his eyes clenched tightly, listening for signs of life in the room beyond his bed. Thankfully, there was no one, or they were being so quiet he couldn't hear them. If he were lucky he might be able to sneak out unnoticed, but after all the trouble they had gone through to find him he doubted that. Apart from that, the fact that the school year had begun mean that there would be many students around.

He opened his eyes and pulled on his glasses. The early morning light filtered in through his window, and he felt a minute ray of hope. It was far too early for anyone to be up yet. Looking down at himself he saw with consternation that he was dressed in a pair of hospital robes, and he looked around for adequate replacements. He spotted some piled beside his the dresser and, pulling the curtain around his bed, changed quickly and quietly. Running a hand quickly through his hair he changed his appearance- auburn hair, darker skin, brown eyes.

You look so much like your father- but with your mother's eyes.

He loathed to part from his natural appearance; it gave him comfort, but he had little choice. With a slight sigh of annoyance, Harry stepped forward.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," uttered a drawling voice from his side. Harry stopped and looked coldly to the owner of the voice. An Auror, he thought, one he didn't recognise. His face took on an alarmed expression.

"Who are you? You aren't Harry Potter."

Harry frowned.

"I assure you I am," he said, banishing the illusion. The tension disappeared from the man's shoulders.

"I think the question would be who you are," said Harry, irritated. The Auror smiled smugly.

"I am here to make sure you don't escape," he said. "And to alert the necessary people when you woke."

"And have you done so?" asked Harry coldly.

"Not yet," said the Auror.

"Good," said Harry. He took another step forward.

"Uh uh," said the Auror again. How dare he speak to Harry in this condescending way? Harry started walking, and suddenly found he could go no further than a few feet. The air got suddenly and rapidly thicker, as though he were walking in honey, and then thrust him back with a slight stinging sensation. Harry felt a stab of anger as the Auror smiled.

"What is this?" Harry spat.

"A barrier," said the Auror, as though it were obvious.

"Why is it here?" asked Harry. The Auror raised an eyebrow.

"To keep you from leaving, of course."

Harry nearly shivered at the prospect of being imprisoned again and his anger grew.

"And why, may I ask, am I being kept against my will?" he asked, his voice quiet now.

The Auror's attitude was annoying now. He clearly thought that he was better than Harry, a superior being.

"Well I suppose there're still questions about your innocence, if you know what I mean," he said mockingly. "The Ministry doesn't exactly want you running away."

Questions about my innocence?

"Questions about my innocence?" Harry whispered threateningly, taking a step towards the Auror. And then louder, "Questions?"

The Auror sallowed slightly, though his face was calm.

"You may as well get back in bed, Potter, while I call Dumbledore. You can't get out."

"At the risk of sounding arrogant, Auror, I assure you I can."

The Auror shot him a disbelieving and haughty look. With a sneer of derision, Harry turned to study the barrier for a second. He turned back to the Auror and, raising his hand, clicked his thumb. The Auror blinked. Harry turned and walked out of the area previously enclosed by the barrier.

"H-Hey!" said the Auror, his voice panicky, stuttering. "You can't do that! Where are you going?"

Harry ignored him and stalked away.

"Stupefy!" yelled the Auror. The spell rebounded off of Harry's back. Another followed, but it seemed the Auror had given up, and Harry saw a Patronus streak past him and out the door. To his right a door opened, and Madam Pomfrey emerged from her office. A hand went to her mouth.

"Oh my, Mr Potter," she said, her eyes wide. "You shouldn't be out of bed!"

You are far to unwell to leave, Mr Potter, return to bed immediately!

Tsk tsk, what was he thinking, trying to cure it on his own?

Dementors, dragons, what will they inflict upon the students next? Completely disgraceful!

This is disgraceful, Potter! It is a wonder-

Blink.

Focus.

"Madam Pomfrey," he said. His voice was suddenly hoarse. He nodded his head at her as he passed. Her gaze followed him with wide eyes, but she didn't try to stop him.

Harry stormed from the hospital wing, not bothering to alter his appearance any longer. But the delay had cost him. He stormed angrily through the halls, the fury radiating off of him, and came finally to the Entrance Hall. A scream heralded his arrival, and he heard the footsteps of the arrogant Auror pounding after him. Students backed away, terrified, as he descended the stairs quickly, while others just stood with their mouths hanging open.

There were few he recognised here, just a few that were now in the older grades. Someone else screamed, and another, older person called his name, but he didn't stop to look. The doors burst open before him and the student sitting eating breakfast on the steps scattered before him. The air around him crackled as he stepped onto the grass, his eyes going immediately to the spot where he had destroyed Voldemort.

He had gotten only a few yards when Dumbledore spoke from behind him.

"Harry, stop!" he commanded, but Harry kept walking. "Stop," Dumbledore called once more, but when Harry refused he cast a spell. Harry felt it tugging at him, pulling him back slowly, and he banished it, flinging around.

"Leave me alone!" he screamed. The students were gone now, but their pale faces were there, pressed up against the windows. Dumbledore stood on the steps, wand at his side. McGonagall and Flitwick stood by him, and a teacher Harry didn't know, and as he watched the doors open and Snape exited.

Dumbledore stepped down a step and spread his arms wide, smiling benignly.

"Harry, welcome back. I didn't get an opportunity to greet you properly when Professor Snape brought you in, I apologise. Come up to my office and let us talk," he offered.

Harry's sneer deepened.

"I am no longer a child, Dumbledore; do not treat me like one. I told Snape I had no wish to return here, and I was not lying. You had no right to bring me here against my will."

Dumbledore's smile faltered slightly, and Harry had the impression that he was waiting for something.

"Mr Potter!" gasped Professor McGonagall, her actions mirroring Madam Pomfrey's.

Harry turned his now blank gaze on her.

"Professor Snape believes that you need help, Harry. I would-"

"You are the last people I wish to receive help from," Harry spat.

Suddenly the doors of Hogwarts opened and Ron, Hermione and Ginny ran out, their faces red with exertion. They looked like they had run all the way from Dumbledore's office. Harry turned his eyes on Dumbledore again and sneered as they stared at him.

"You think they will persuade me to stay?" he asked softly. He saw the doubt in their eyes.

"Harry, they are you friends. They miss you deeply."

"Friends," sneered Harry, and it was all he needed to say.

Inwardly he cried. They were right there. All he needed to do was reach out and take them. But he couldn't. It was impossible.

"It hurts us to see you so bitter, Harry," said Dumbledore. "You have done a great thing for us, and you have everyone's utmost thanks. But most of all you have our sorrow at what happened, and we ask for your forgiveness."

"It hurts you to see me bitter, Dumbledore? It hurts you to think of what happened to me? You, who knew better than any other person why I would not join Voldemort. You, who knew more of the prophecy than any other person besides myself. You, who had already seen Voldemort possess me on one occasion."

He looked wearily at the eight of them standing there, staring at him beseechingly, and his face lost its vindictiveness.

"I don't belong here anymore," he whispered. He looked at his three old friends. "You made sure of that."

Hermione and Ginny were crying; Ron looked like he was about to. He couldn't bring himself to care, but deep down it tore at him deeply. They truly wanted him to forgive them. They wanted it to all go back to how it was before, but it couldn't. It just couldn't.

Swap you? Really?

Sure. I've never had anyone to swap with before.

I think she heard you. Doesn't matter.

Wingardium Leviosa! Hermione, will you check this over for me?

Of course, Ron.

Blink.

Focus.

They were standing there wearily watching him. He saw the understanding on Snape's face, and the man finally spoke.

"Potter, you are clearly in need of help. How long do you think you will last on your own?"

And then Harry spoke the truth aloud, to himself and to them, for the first time in a long time.

"The shorter the better."

He never saw the powerful stunner that hit him from behind, and was powerless to stop the even more powerful one that came from Dumbledore a second later.

oOoOo

"Does he really want to die?" he heard Hermione whisper.

"Of course he does not wish to die," said the sneering voice of Snape. "He is merely looking for attention."

Harry thought his voice lacked conviction.

He wondered if he should let them know he was awake. He remembered the other times he had awoken to find them at his bedside, and the thought sent him once again into swirling oblivion.

Oh, Harry…

Oh, Harry…

Oh, Harry…

Oh, Harry…

Blink.

Focus.

They had cared, then, he remembered.

They cared now, apparently.

But not in between. Appearances had been too deceiving, apparently, for them to keep their faith in him. He hated that they could see him in such a vulnerable position now, and he hated the remembrances of the past.

"Why don't you shut it, Snape," spat Ron viciously. Harry shoved the pleasant feeling of loyalty back into the depths of his mind.

"Weasley, nobody wishes for death."

"How do you know?" returned Ron.

"I am confident I have seen-"

"Shut up, both of you!" said Ginny shrilly. "This isn't about you two and your petty differences. It's about Harry. Now just drop it."

Harry marvelled at how much she sounded like her mother and felt his stomach clench tightly. He had loved their family. There was a moment of silence.

"The others are here," said Hermione quietly.

"Good," sniffed Snape. "As soon as we can awaken him and I can leave, the better." He heard someone snort at Snape's careless reply. Harry decided to make his presence known while they were not staring at him. He sat up silently and moved back against the pillows, watching the four of them watch a crowd bustling through the ward. On second thought, he wasn't about to make this easy for them.

The crowd approached the bed.

"Where is he, Albus?" someone asked, and Harry saw that it was Mrs Weasley. Snape's gaze snapped back to the bed, and the others followed suit. Snape swore and lurched into a straighter posture. He looked angry, for some reason. Harry wondered what was so important that the Potions Master had to attend to.

"Severus? Where is Harry?" Dumbledore asked.

"He was right here a second ago," said Snape, gesturing to the bed. His gaze was sweeping the small room, drifting over the small side table. "His glasses are gone."

Harry stood in the corner, invisible, watching the unsure glances flicking around the room in doubt. All of the Weasleys were there, every single one of them. Harry felt his heart constrict painfully. And there was Neville and Dean and Seamus and Hagrid. And there, standing quietly, nervously at the back, was Remus.

Dumbledore's glance swept sharply around the room.

"He is still here," he said. Their eyes widened, and they looked around in vain. "You cannot leave, Harry," said Dumbledore, and Harry could tell at once that it was true. The wards around him now would take hours to undue, created by many wizards. "Please, we wish you no harm; we just want you to talk to us."

And suddenly Harry was visible, standing with his arms folded across his chest on the opposite side of the room. Mrs Weasley gave a muffled sob and dashed around the end of the bed.

"Oh, look at you," she lamented.

"Stop," said Harry. Mrs Weasley halted immediately, looking at him with anguish on her features.

"Harry," Hermione said, standing up. She reached out a hand to him, but it fell limply at her side when she perceived the expression on his face.

The look stung her heart.

oOoOo

Snape raised his eyes to meet Potter's, and a thought flashed in his head.

Have you ever looked into an insane man's mind?

An almost silent afterthought drifted after the unspoken question…

Let me show you…

And suddenly Snape was plunged into a nightmare. Images, black and gruesome, flashed across the fore of his mind, and behind them all he could perceive was a malevolent evilness. He saw scenes, hundreds of them, and though they were confused and jumbled, Snape could feel the utter hate and fear and pain that was inlaid within each of them. Then the thoughts became crazy, insane, and Snape believed. Potter had spoken the truth, he could see that now. He could see the memories of that time, but there was no understanding of what was occurring, just the screams and the darkness and the hate…

The befuddlement became more common, until it was no longer interspersed with moments of clarity, and Snape felt as though he were drowning. And then there was one memory, and everything was suddenly crystal clear, and he could feel the communicated pain of Potter's soul being torn almost from his body. And then there was no Azkaban.

You truly wish to die

I don't know what I want. I would so much like for it all to be forgotten…but it is impossible to forget

Why? Why do you hate it all so much?

I am twenty years old and I have nothing, Snape. I have completed the one thing I was born for and it has cost me so much. I no longer see a reason to go on.

And then suddenly Snape was cut off, or rather Potter was, and all there was, was swirling nothingness. Snape withdrew from Potter's mind, and Potter was frozen, his eyes vacant. It lasted only a second, and Snape was certain that no one had really noticed. And suddenly Snape found that he cared, and it disgusted him.

oOoOo

"No one wants you to go, Harry, can't you see that?" pleaded Ron.

Harry turned his gaze to the man who had once been his best friend.

"What reason do I have to stay, Ron?" he asked quietly.

"Because you're innocent, Harry. You were innocent the whole time, and we know that now."

Do they think that that makes it all right? Harry wondered. He didn't think so. They couldn't be that heartless.

"The Ministry still believes me guilty, apparently," said Harry, his eyes travelling coldly over the now surly Auror.

"A minor annoyance, Harry," said Dumbledore. "At first the Ministry believed that Voldemort just wanted to make our pain greater by what he said, but when he was taken into custody he began to allege that you were indeed guilty, and had done those horrors of your own volition."

"And of course Fudge would do anything to prove my guilt," interjected Harry. "He always was a pathetic man."

"It will not hold up Harry. Everyone heard Voldemort's declaration of you innocent, and saw you destroy him."

I wish they would just hurry up and convince me to stay.

Every year the boy concocts taller and taller stories, and yet you insist on believing them, Dumbledore. They boy is clearly unstable

I just want it to be over. I can't sacrifice my pride to them again. I want to so badly.

"You wish to stay, Harry," said Dumbledore. "I see it in your eyes."

"How dare you tell me what I want," returned Harry harshly. "You always thought you knew what was best for me."

"I tried my hardest, Harry."

It didn't deserve a reply, and Harry didn't give it one.

Harry's eyes travelled over Ginny's face, over the long, thin scar that descended from the corner of her ear and disappeared under the collar of her shirt.

"Did I do that to you?" he asked, his eyes on the scar. Ginny fidgeted nervously.

"It wasn't you, Harry," she whispered.

Harry sneered.

He cast his eyes over the rest of them standing there. It occurred to him that he needed, here and now, to tell them how it would be.

"I can't go back," he said hollowly. "I'm not who I used to be. And you…you betrayed me."

Someone sniffled- Hermione, he thought.

"Harry, please, we-"

"Imagine my surprise," he said, "when one morning I was in Gryffindor tower, and the next I was in a court room being sentenced to spend the rest of my life in Azkaban. Image my surprise, when I saw who had testified against me. People I thought I could trust under any circumstance. People who had sworn they were my friends."

"But we didn't know, Harry," said Remus. It was the first time he had spoken. Harry looked at him and Snape could have sworn that Potter almost smiled, though in a sad way.

"Remus. I heard you were the last one to believe."

"How did you survive in there, Harry?" Remus asked quietly, hope evident in his eyes.

Harry smiled wearily.

"It was hard," was all he said. Snape snorted. Really, the sentimental rubbish became wearying after a while, but he was curious. Someone punched him, not too softly, in the back, and he took the hint.

"You know when I got out of there, the first thing I promised myself was that I was going to kill Voldemort, and then I was going to kill all of you," he said. They stiffened, and Harry gave a humourless laugh. "I couldn't even kill fucking Voldemort."

They had never heard Harry curse before. Hadn't even hear him speak in such a vicious, venomous tone.

"Would you really kill us, Harry?" asked Hermione. She seemed to be the only one able to speak.

"I thought I could. I was sure I would be able to. But then I realised I can't even produce a Killing Curse." He gave a second, half-hearted laugh. "I guess that means I don't really hate you."

I just hate what I've become.

They seemed to find a glimmer of hope at that, and they seemed to close in on him, moving as one.

"We already know you don't hate us," said Dumbledore. "Or you would not have some back to rid us of Voldemort."

"You still presume to tell me why I act as I do," said Harry. "I destroyed Voldemort because of what he did to me. I destroyed him for my parents and for nobody else."

But he saw the faith, renewed in their eyes, felt it growing even within himself. It blossomed there, against his will; made his doubt himself, made him weaker. They truly believed that he had come back to save them, because he really did care about them, and Harry couldn't even be sure now that it wasn't true. He had lamented, in those first few moments of betrayal, before anger had overtaken all else, the loss of their love, and he supposed that it did mean he cared. He had eventually lost the will to care for them, he was sure, but it seemed that it had reappeared the moment he saw them, and the moment his mind started to reform.

Now, with their words, he came to understand that it was not them he hated, but the loss of them. He loved them so much, and that was why the betrayal stung so much.

That was why it was so hard to forgive them all and put it all behind him. His love for them only made him detest them more.

"Will you forgive us, Harry?" asked Remus quietly.

Harry looked down at his hands. The bones stuck out in stark relief from his pale, mottled skin, the fine hairs shining in the light. The nails were clean now.

"I don't know," he said slowly. "I don't know that I have anything to forgive. You believed what you saw, and I can't- I'm angry, but I-"

"It's okay, Harry," said Ron abruptly. "We understand. We can wait. We just want you back in our lives again."

Harry felt like giving in was wrong, but underneath it felt so good. He didn't want to sacrifice his pride, didn't want the last three years to have been for nothing. Maybe in the end they would have to be.

They're coooooomiiiiiiiiiiiiing

They all betrayed you…

Mooooooooooony

Blink.

Focus.

Smile.

"That would be good."

His voice sounded so foreign to his ears. The aimless running had felt so much secure than what he felt now but… they're was a glimmer of hope on the dark horizon.

The occupants of the room seemed to sigh simultaneously with relief. Even Harry.

Dumbledore cleared his throat.

"You are welcome to stay here for as long as you wish, Harry. I would also like to offer you the position of Defence against the Dark Arts teacher back," he said. Snape blinked and started.

If Harry had been his old self, he might half done the same, might have been surprised, and probably been eager and happy to accept. Now, though, he thought about it. He had enjoyed teaching. The students had enjoyed his classes. Snape had even thought him a decent teacher, apparently.

"I think I'd like to finish my own schooling before I begin teaching others," Harry said quietly.

Dumbledore's eyes dimmed.

"I assure you, Harry, it is no matter. You have done quite an admirable job so far, and you have far higher qualifications than any other-"

"I said," repeated Harry icily, his voice louder, "that I would like to complete my own education first. I am completely aware of what my qualifications I may or may not be. Believe me, my reasons are entirely selfish."

"Very well," said Dumbledore quietly, as the others looked on apprehensively. "But if I may be blunt, I would like you to begin teaching straight away. In all honesty, you did not miss a lot and-"

"Didn't miss a lot?" asked Harry in disbelief. Had Dumbledore lost his mind? Snape was eyeing Dumbledore with distaste. Harry felt his anger rising again, his mind blanking out suddenly and then flipping back on. He wondered why he was not just leaving. Why should he not just declare that he was done with them all, and walk out now? Of all the selfish- "What I missed, Dumbledore, was three and a half years of my life."

And that doesn't count the five years before that, or the eleven years before that.

He sent that message straight at Dumbledore, and saw the man stiffen. Snape had caught the message, too.

Dumbledore sighed deeply.

"I am sorry, Harry," he said, spreading his hands, palm up towards him. "Perhaps I am asking too much too soon. I have no right to ask anything of you. I simply do not wish to lose you again."

"We already established that I would not be leaving," said Harry coldly, trying to calm his temperamental moods. He supposed if Dumbledore wanted him to teach so much, he could do so, as long as he could take his NEWT subject simultaneously, and he told the headmaster so.

I owe him nothing. Why am I doing this? Do I want my old life back so badly?

Dumbledore left soon after that, and Snape left with him. There was an awkward silence, and soon Neville, Dean and Seamus said their goodbyes, promising to come back and see him.

He wasn't sure he wanted them to.

And then there were only Remus and the Weasleys, and he remembered that Hermione was a Weasley, now as much a part of the family as he had once been. There was nothing to say. They stayed on their respective sides of the room, the atmosphere strained and fraught with tension. Eventually Harry gave up.

"I'd like to be alone now, if you don't mind. I've got a lot to think about."

"Of course dear," said Mrs Weasley. She extracted a promise to come to dinner from him, and then they bustled out. And then there was Remus. He stepped forward hesitantly, and Harry did the same, remembering what people had said.

If the werewolf believes in him he must be guilty…

"Harry," he said, almost a whisper.

"Remus," Harry croaked in reply. He was caving in, craving the comfort that he knew this man could offer; the last man who had known his parents.

And then Harry was in his arms, and if he had had any tears left to give he would have been crying. Remus was shaking, trembling, and murmuring, "I' so sorry, I'm so, so sorry," over and over again. And Harry was reassuring him, telling him it was okay, that it hadn't been his fault.

And Harry knew then that Remus wasn't mourning the loss of the sixteen year old, or even remembering him as the boy he had last seen four years ago, but mourning the loss of those years in between. Remus had cared, Remus had believed. Remus had known that Harry would never have done those things. He knew Remus felt guilty, guilty for letting Harry down, letting James down, and Lily and even Sirius, and Harry told him again that it hadn't been his fault.

"I promised your parents if anything ever happened that I would help look after you, Harry, and I promised Sirius. And I failed."

But Remus hadn't failed, and his belief in Harry was more than Harry could ever hope for. The mere fact that Remus hadn't believed until the very end gave Harry the courage and the strength to carry on, and he knew then that in the end it would all be fine. And when Remus left, and Harry sank back into the white sheets and fell asleep, he slept without dreams for the first time in years.

oOoOo

"So it's really true," said Malfoy, gazing somewhat dispassionately down upon Harry. Harry blinked and pulled himself to a sitting position, fumbling for his glasses. "I really couldn't believe, you see, until I saw it with my own eyes."

Harry stared at Malfoy for a second.

"Hello, Malfoy," he said quietly. Malfoy gave a long-suffering sigh.

"It's all over the castle, you know. The infamous Harry Potter, at Hogwarts. Imagine that. I wish I could have been there. Apparently you made quite a scene, until some Auror stunned you from behind. Quite cowardly of them, actually."

Coward freak

insufferable…

freak

Blink.

Focus.

Malfoy was staring at him shrewdly now, and Harry thought how different he was. The sneer that seemed to have been firmly attached to his face was gone now, and without it he looked quite pleasant.

"I recognised you, you know," Malfoy said abruptly, crossing his arms and tilting his head slightly, as though he still couldn't believe it.

"Did you really?" asked Harry. He remembered the flash of recognition that had passed so briefly across Malfoy's face that night.

"You know I did," Malfoy said suddenly, accusingly. Harry inclined his head slightly in reply.

"I admit I was worried, but you were too unsure for it to really matter that much."

Harry looked around the ward.

"Where's the Auror?" he asked.

"Gone," said Malfoy. "The Ministry has given up. I'm sure they'll still be coming to ask you some questions, though."

"Hmm."

Who was this that he was talking to? What had made Malfoy change so drastically?

"So you betrayed Voldemort," said Harry. Malfoy jerked slightly, his hand going to his left arm. "What made you do it?"

Malfoy shrugged, his face white.

"It was Snape, I guess. I never knew he was a spy. If I had…" Malfoy shivered slightly. "I might have turned sooner."

Coward, thought Harry. He was pleased to find that this time the thought wasn't about himself. But he supposed Malfoy wasn't really such a coward, in the end. He had obviously risked a lot. Turned against his family, in fact. A big sacrifice, Harry thought. Harry swung his legs out from under the sheets, transfiguring his pyjamas into robes as he stood. He saw Malfoy watching him.

"What happened to Azkaban?" he blurted out.

Harry stopped and looked at Malfoy for a second.

"I destroyed it," he said, and walked past Malfoy. After a few steps Malfoy caught up with him and walked by his side.

"What time is it?" asked, Harry. Malfoy looked at his watch.

"Half past ten. Everyone will be in classes," he replied.

"Good," said Harry. "Let's go to the kitchens then."

Malfoy followed Harry silently, and he could tell he had a lot of questions. Harry was happy to let them wait.

"Do you live here now?" asked Harry, wondering why he was being civil to Malfoy, of all people.

"Yes," said Malfoy. "I'm studying under Severus."

Harry raised his eyebrows in surprise but didn't say anything. He ate quickly at a table in the kitchens, house-elves currying around them. He watched one sitting by the fire.

Winky is not well, Harry Potter. She pines for her master.

Master Barty, what is you doing? You is a naughty boy, master!You should be ashamed of yourself.

What would master say?

Master is dead

I killed my father. I turned the cup into the portkey.

Blink.

Focus.

Harry stood up abruptly, rubbing his scar. It prickled uncomfortably. Malfoy asked him something but Harry ignored him and exited the kitchens as quickly as he could, banishing the images from his mind. Would they never end?

"Potter, wait up!" shouted Malfoy, grabbing Harry's arm. Harry pulled out of his grasp angrily.

"Stay away from me, Malfoy!" he spat.

He rubbed his eyes, but the images were still flashing across his eyes like a vision. A sharp stab of pain shot through his head, driving him to his knees. His breath came in sharp, short bursts.

"Potter, what's wrong?" he asked, kneeling beside Harry. Harry heard him sigh with what could have been disgust, and forced the images from his mind. He propelled himself to his feet, shaken.

"Leave me alone, Malfoy," he repeated, his voice hoarse. Harry's footsteps echoed as he walked away from Malfoy, and Malfoy watched him go in silence.

oOoOo

"He's changed," said Malfoy.

"So I have heard," said Snape, staring into the fire. Malfoy frowned.

"What are you thinking?"

Snape didn't reply for a moment. He leaned back in the leather chair, thumb rubbing over the knuckles of his raised fist.

"I am merely trying to separate this Harry Potter from the sixteen year old boy I last saw."

Malfoy followed his gaze into the fire. Yes…It was difficult.

"He still rolls about on the floor clutching that scar of his," said Malfoy derisively. "If that helps."

"Indeed," murmured Snape. Interesting.

"Well, he doesn't exactly roll around on the floor. He tries to hide it, but it happened today. It seemed bad."

Again Snape did not reply.

"Why does he do that?" pressed Malfoy. Snape's gaze left the orange flames.

"I would think you should know that by now, Draco," Snape said. Malfoy frowned and Snape relented. "He received that scar from the Dark Lord. For many years we thought it was merely a curse scar- a connection that occurred when the Killing Curse failed. But it seemed Potter thought differently, and I suppose we should have believed him. I- regret- not listening now. If we had, maybe we could have destroyed the Dark Lord sooner."

"What did Potter think?" asked Malfoy, curious.

"I'm not even sure if he knew before he went to Azkaban. If he did he chose not to tell us. I don't know when he began to wonder…maybe because he could speak Parseltongue, or maybe there were other signs…I do not know. But he made it clear to us, what he thought, when he destroyed the Dark Lord. Do you know what a Horcrux is, Draco?"

"No. I heard Potter mention it that day though…"

"A Horcrux is an object in which a part of a person's soul has been stored. The Dark Lord had six. Potter was one."

Malfoy stared.

"So…Potter had a bit of the Dark Lord's soul in him…"

"That is correct," said Snape.

"Then why does the scar still bother him if he doesn't have any of the Dark Lord's soul anymore?"

Snape shrugged slightly.

"I can't be sure. They obviously still share the connection because the Dark Lord is still alive. Maybe it is because Potter now harbours the Dark Lord's magic."

"You mean Potter has his magic and the Dark Lord's? Bloody hell."

Malfoy looked befuddled.

"Why didn't Potter just kill the bastard?"

"That," said Snape quietly, "is something I will never understand."

oOoOo

Harry knocked hesitantly on the door of the Burrow and it swung open before he could even stop. He stared at Ginny with his hand still raised in a fist in the air.

"Hi, Harry," she smiled.

"Hi, Ginny," he replied, quietly and politely. He saw the scar running down the side of her face. She stepped aside and he followed her into the kitchen. Immediately his senses were assaulted with countless memories of Before, and he fought to keep his focus.

"Hello, Harry, dear," Mrs Weasley said happily. The pleasant atmosphere felt forced to Harry, or maybe he was just trying to force himself to be happy.

"Are Ron and Hermione here yet?" he asked.

"Out the back," supplied Ginny. "I'll take you."

Harry nodded and followed her through to the back garden, where Ron and Hermione sat on a bench. They stopped talking when they saw him and Ginny left, saying she had to help her mother with dinner. Ron stood up gingerly, Hermione beside him.

"Hey mate," he said. Mate. Harry nearly laughed, and then remembered why he was here.

"Ron, Hermione," he said evenly. "How are you?"

"We're good, Harry," said Hermione, somewhat timidly. Not like the old Hermione, he thought. "How are you?"

Harry shrugged. He wasn't going to delude them, or even himself.

"Not too flash," he said.

"You look much better," said Ron, and Harry saw that he was gripping Hermione's hand tightly. Harry didn't reply. He'd heard that enough.

"I always knew you two would get together," he said instead. They smiled, then, and Harry remembered for a moment how the three of them used to be. They stepped closer to him.

"We're really glad you came," said Hermione. And suddenly she flung herself at him, crying. Harry held her stiffly as Ron looked on helplessly. "I'm so sorry," she sniffed. "I'm so sorry I testified against you! I thought- I don't know. I didn't know what to think but-"

"Hermione-" said Ron weakly. But it wasn't Ron that she wanted comfort from. Harry gave a deep sigh and placed a tentative hand on her back.

"It's okay, Hermione. I know you didn't know. I didn't know either. None of us did."

It was not Harry's favourite visit to the Burrow.

oOoOo

Harry's spent his 21st birthday on his own at Hogwarts, spending most of the day simply sitting and staring at the pile of presents. He didn't even know who half of them were from, and he opened those one first. The impersonality calmed him.

He spent part of the day studying, as he had done every day since he had been here, and found that that too calmed him. At night he still dreamed. His scar still ached in the day. He still had moments of Blankness in between.

The sun had gone down when he finally decided to open the presents from those he knew. He couldn't bring himself to think of them as friends, thought he wasn't quite sure what else they were.

The present were…nice. He had missed the feeling of knowing that there were people who cared about him. And he knew they cared about him.

The last present, however, surprised him, and he was weary of opening it. After all, it was not every day that one received gifts from Severus Snape. It was not wrapped, merely bound in a scrap of black fabric, and as he unwound it a note fluttered out. He didn't bother to read it; instead he examined the potion contained within. It was a deep silver, almost grey, and very thick. It looked like mercury, and Harry couldn't help but feel suspicious. He picked up the note. There was no greeting, nor was there a 'Happy Birthday' to be seen. Instead there were a few lines about the potion. Harry read it with growing doubt and anger.

A modified potion normally used for the treatment of dementia, it read.

Harry put it down on the glass table with a sharp crack, his hand trembling.

To help you gain control of your memories.

At least his intentions seemed altruistic enough.

Harry grabbed the vial of silvery potion and left his quarters, heading for the dungeons. He had seen Snape here today, and hoped the man was still in his office or his quarters. He went to Snape's office, and then his laboratory, but was rewarded at neither. With a growl of frustration he turned to Snape's quarters. The door was heavily warded, but it burst open at Harry's approach. He was surprised at the sight of Snape and Malfoy, sitting in armchairs before the fire and drinking.

Snape frowned.

"Have you no manners, Potter?" he asked. Harry strode forward.

"What is this?" Harry snarled, pressing it into his hands.

"I thought I made it obvious in the note I sent. Can you not read?" he asked snidely.

"What gives you the right?" Harry asked, fists clenching. Malfoy didn't look surprised; Harry was sure he had already been privy to the details of his memories. "I don't have dementia!"

Snape gave a long sigh, but did not move from his relaxed position.

"This potion is not for dementia, Potter, merely based on it. It should stop you losing control of your thoughts, nothing more."

Beneath his anger, Harry felt a surge of hope. A cure? He had not thought it would come in the form of a potion, but it was a cure nonetheless. Snape held the vial out and Harry took it slowly, warily.

"Drink it now, Potter," Snape said. "I am interested in seeing the effects."

Harry had a suspicion that Snape had not used this potion before; was, in fact, fairly confident that it was a newly developed potion. He didn't have the courage to ask, though, and he tipped back the vial and swallowed it.

"Be warned," he hard Snape say, and thought bit late, "it may not work completely the first time. I admit I don't know how far the problem goes, so you may need a second dose."

A numb kind of pain rose through his skull and Harry heard the vial smash as he dropped it. A second seemed to pass in an hour, and then suddenly he was remembering things that he hadn't known had ever happened.

He suddenly found he didn't want to remember them though, and wondered how the potion was supposed to work. A cure for dementia, Snape had said…would it help him recall memories?

He felt a pain in his knees as they hit the stone floor, and someone was holding him up, but he pressed his face into his hands as the vision flashed across his mind.

And then suddenly it was gone, and Harry moaned into his hands, his mind feeling clearer than he oculd ever remember it being.

"Potter?" asked Malfoy. "What happened?"

Harry looked up to the two men above him.

"I remember…" he croaked.

"Remember what?" asked Snape, his face pale.

Harry looked down at his hands as though there was something he could remember seeing there. He held them up slightly.

"I remember killing them…"

oOoOo

Harry sat on his bed, gazing at the trunk that he had not yet had the heart to open. They had returned it to him weeks ago, with 'full apologies' and a handsome check, but it didn't make it hurt less.

He hadn't opened it, but he could remember exactly what was in it. There would be his old school books, his clothes, old gifts- but there was his wand, his broom, his Cloak, the Map, and the mirror. Harry didn't want to see them yet.

He lay back on the bed and closed his eyes. He hadn't Blanked out since he had taken the potion, but he wished now that he still did. The blank moments were better than what he remembered now. It had been Trelawney and Parvati first…Lavender had barely escaped. And then Ginny, looking up at him with fear in her eyes as he cursed her and then cast her away like the piece of filth he had said she was.

And then there were the others- some he knew and some who were nameless, and he'd killed them without a second thought. Hermione had been the last, and he remembered how terrified she had been, how disbelieving. It made him shiver to recall it.

He remembered being pulled off of her, and then he remembered the cell, and the trial, and the faces. So disappointed they had been, so sad. He remembered Azkaban, and he remembered insanity.

And he wanted it gone.

He didn't know whether to thank Snape or to curse him. Both seemed appropriate. He wondered if the horrors were less or worse now that he could recall them at will. Harry directed his thoughts away. In less than a week he would begin teaching again. In less than a week he would face the world again. In less than a week he was going to learn to live again. He promised himself he would.

He remembered the night he had taken the potion. He was sure he had begged Snape to obliviate him. He knew he had been pathetic, and Snape had looked down on him with pity in his eyes. It had been too much to bear and Harry had cried, right there in front of Malfoy and Snape, crying more than he had ever cried before. He'd choked out the story- how he remembered using the Killing Curse to dispatch Trelawney, and then turning his rage on Parvati. He recalled how the blood had covered his hands, dribbled down his hands, and then Ginny had been there and he'd hit her and she'd fallen.

He'd cursed her, something horrible, and the side of her face had been a mass of bright red blood. He couldn't separate himself from Voldemort. He remembered the agony he'd been in, how he'd tried to stop, but hadn't been able to. He told them how he'd stormed through the corridors, of the students he'd killed just because they were Muggleborn, and then he'd seen Hermione running up to him. And he'd thought, she's the one I hate most of all and then… he hadn't been able to go on.

He remembered it so vividly now, and it twisted in his chest.

He hated Voldemort. He should have killed him. Should have done away with the bastard when he'd had the chance. But he hadn't, and he hated himself for it.

He hated himself for not having the strength to fight, for not having the strength to go on, and for not having the strength to just end it all. He felt weak, and most of all he hated himself for showing that weakness to Snape.

He rubbed his scar. He hated it. He felt like getting a razor and cutting it out. He kept his hair long so no one could see it, not even him when he looked in the mirror. He smiled, and told them he was happy.

He told them he was living his life the way he had always dreamed.

And when he slept, that was when the nightmares came.

oOoOo

A/N: Whoo! Finally done! Please review, it took me so long. It is my opinion that sequels usually suck, and I think I'm going to stick by that here. Number one was definitely better. But tell me what you think! I was intending for this to end happily, so I think there's a number three in the works. Well, have to go now. So much to write and so little time to do it in! Read my other stories! I'm working on another one now, probably a one-shot, but who knows how it'll turn out. Watch out for it! It's called Harry Potter and the Heir of Voldemort- Wujjawoo.