Spoiler Warning. Seventh Book happenings mentioned.
Disclaimer: Do I look like J. K. Rowling to you? Didn't think so. So I don't own it.
There were trees, huge, menacing trees, all around him. Their branches were grabbing at him, tearing at his cloak, trying to stop him. But he couldn't stop, he had to go on. The young man had to keep running, had to keep sprinting, despite all the bushes jumping in the way, tearing at him with their thorns. He kept going despite the blood running down his legs from the torn flesh that the barbs of the malevolent plants in this forest had given him. He hurried, tripping over roots that leapt up to block his path, trying to bring him down into the earth with them. It seemed as if the forest was alive, a massive, looming beast that wanted to stop him from reaching his enemy. But the man couldn't let the forest win, he had to keep moving, he knew he had to. For the sake of those he loved, the sake of those he didn't know, for the sake of those who had a right to life without the fear and pain his adversary brought. He was running as fast as he could, rushing blindly as the branches of the trees stretched out above him to block the moon. He was panting, every breath tearing at his lungs. He had to sprint as hard as he could and get there first, before any of the others. He had to stop him, before he hurt anyone else he loved. He glanced up and saw his quarry through a gap in the trees. Finding a strength he hadn't known he'd had, the young man sprinted towards that hated figure, stumbling and falling at his enemy's feet.
"Well, well, well…" said that high, cold voice that he knew and feared, "look who finally showed up." He raised his eyes, knowing what he would see, and looked into those blazing red eyes. They were blazing with the fires of death and destruction, searing him with the heat of anger and hate. They were of fire, and yet managed to be cold. This despised creature spoke again. "I am disappointed it took you so long," the man said, his voice as cold as the grave. It sent chills down into his spine to gather as fear, making him weak. He couldn't look away from those eyes. He couldn't hear anything but that voice of death. His enemy slowly reached out his hand, a wand gripped tightly in his long fingers, and touched him with fiendish glee.
Harry Potter woke with a start. He grabbed his wand almost before he knew what he was doing and had it at the throat of whoever had touched him in an instant. He had clearly startled his assailant, for Harry heard the quick intake of breath. Harry was panting, the dream had made him feel as if he really had run that hard. He strained his eyes to see who it was, but couldn't make out anything without light or his glasses. He groped for his spectacles and slipped them on, the vague shape coming into focus and his heart rate going down. He still had no idea who had awoken him, but he knew it wasn't Voldemort. "Lumos," Harry muttered, and his want lit up, casting its glow around the room and on his best friend's nervous face. Harry quickly lowered his wand from neck. Ron unconsciously rubbed his throat, and Harry felt the familiar beginnings of shame. He had woken more than once to Ron shaking him, and the next moment had Ron frozen with his want pointed at him. "Sorry," Harry muttered, looking away. He didn't like seeing the fear in Ron's eyes.
"It's okay mate," Ron said easily, sitting at the foot of his bed, "We're all a bit jumpy, even though he's gone." Ron shrugged, seemingly unconcerned by the fact that his best friend had just had wand at his throat. "I came up to tell you breakfast's ready if you want to come down." Ron gave his friend a swift glance, and saw his shoulders rise and fall in a sigh.
"Ron, I'd love to, but…I'm not hungry," Harry said. It was a lie, and they both knew it, but Ron let it drop. His friend had been affected by the war more than he had, more than anyone had, and had his right to want time alone. He's faced the most and done the most, and he could still smile and laugh like the Harry Ron had met in first year. There weren't many men out there who'd still be able to have joy after going through all Harry went through.
"Okay…I'll bring something up later," Ron said, and he slipped out and down the stairs, Harry still looking at the covers over his feet. He sighed and turned to look outside. The sun was up and shining cheerfully, the birds were singing, and the grass was a bright green. It was a gorgeous day out, and Harry smiled as a young Robin flew by the window. There was new life all around him. There was new hope. His smile fell as he fell back on his pillow, his hands beneath his head, looking at the Chudley Cannon poster on the ceiling.
His thoughts drifted to the past year and what he, Ron, and Hermione had done. They had found the remaining horcurxes and destroyed them, and that wasn't easy. They had had no idea where they were, so they had been forced to wander around. Then they found the locket, round Umbridge's neck. Harry remembered the horrible feeling of wearing it and the way it had turned Ron. Then came the time to destroy it. He shivered as he remembered Ron destroying the locket…and the way the diadem had been destroyed…None of it had been easy. And after it all, the Last Battle. It had been worse than his nightmare, for in his nightmare he was the only one who suffered. No, so many people had died before he'd gone to Voldemort. He saw Fred lying there, dead, and Percy lying over him, trying to protect the body. He saw Collin Creevy, dead at much too young of an age. He saw Remus and Tonks, having just had a child…poor Teddy Lupin would never know his parents, like Harry had never known his. He saw Snape, lying in a pool of blood after having been killed by nagini. And he saw again Snape's memories…the memories that told him he'd have to die. The memories that made him walk calmly towards where Voldemort was hiding in the trees. The memories that made him realize how to open the snitch Dumbledore had left him and get to the Resurrection Stone. It was strange, to think that before he died, he had walked with Remus, Sirius, his Mum, and his Dad. He had walked towards his death with the dead. And then he had died, only to come back, because he couldn't die while Voldemort lived, nor would the Elder Wand—who recognized it's master—kill him. He remembered seeing Molly kill Bellatrix, seeing Voldemort go to kill Molly, seeing everyone's shock and happiness as he came out of under the invisibility cloak…He remembered shouting expelliarmus as Voldemort tried to kill him. He knew he hadn't killed Voldemort, but he was still responsible for his death. And that made him a murderer.
He sighed as he glanced in the mirror. His green eyes, which had always been so bright, were now dulled with grief and responsibility. He didn't look young anymore. He still looked that same physically, but there was an aged spirit inside of him. A spirit that had been through too much and had seen too much death and destruction. He knew it hurt his friends, the way he was hiding out, but he couldn't help it. He didn't feel … clean … anymore. He was tainted with blood, with murder. He had killed someone. No one looked down on him for it-oh no, he was a hero because of it-but he couldn't stand it. He had killed someone. He had taken someone's life. And no matter how much Voldemort had deserved it, he still couldn't handle it. He felt dirty and, when he was honest with himself, unworthy of his friends. He wasn't pure like they were. He had committed the heinous act of murder.
He shook his head, trying to clear his head of these thoughts, but they wouldn't go away. They were an accusing finger, an ugly voice reminding him of what he had done…what he was.
He looked around his room (Fred and Georges old one) and knew he had to get away. He just couldn't stay here. He loved the Weasley's and Hermione very much, but they didn't need his presence here. They didn't need a depressed Harry Potter hanging around. He was just making it harder on them. They needed the family time, and-no matter how much he wanted it-he wasn't family. He didn't have a real family. The Dursley's didn't count, though Dudley had shown a new side of himself. He was still alone. He was the only Potter around, and no matter how close Ron and Hermione were, they weren't his brother and sister. He loved them like siblings, but that was part of the reason he had to get away. They didn't need a murderer for a brother.
He had to leave. He quickly packed a few things and slipped downstairs, passing the noisy kitchen on the way down. He didn't pause. He didn't want to hear what he was leaving behind. He crept out the front door and down the lane, pausing at the end of the road, despite himself, to look back. It was his home, as much as Hogwarts had been. He loved it there. He sighed and turned around, concentrating on his destination.
He ended up in Hogsmead, aparating without a sound (he was one of the few wizards who could do that). He grabbed the invisibility cloak out of his small package and slipped it on. He didn't want anyone to notice him. He was famous and if anyone knew he was here, he would be signing millions of autographs. He didn't want that, he never did. He slipped up the road towards Hogwarts, glancing down and noticing a discarded Daily Prophet. He paused to look and started up again as soon as he saw a picture of himself on the front. He wasn't going to read another article on what a hero he was-how brave, how handsome, how powerful, how courageous, how amazing. It disgusted him how much they made him sound like a god. He wasn't, he was just a normal guy who had been put in some pretty amazing circumstances and did what he could. He smiled slightly as he walked past a group of people. They didn't see him. They didn't stare, stunned, at the Chosen one, the Boy Who Lived. Their heroic Man Who Conquered. He was invisible, a normal guy. He relished times like these, and they came too little and far between. He walked the rest of the way to Hogwarts without seeing anyone. He entered the castle at an almost lively rate. He was almost happy, which he hadn't been in ages. He slipped past the two winged boars and walked up to the school, his place of refuge for the past six years. For the first time in his life, he dreaded going back. He didn't want to be idolized by his fellow students, to hear the whispers that would follow him through the halls. He actually didn't want to go back.
He was walking up the deserted corridors, passing an occupied office or two. School started tomorrow, so some of the teachers were already there, checking their lesson plans and getting their rooms ready. He knew which professor he wanted to talk to.
"Hmmm…lemon drop…Droobles Best Blowing Gum…Bertie Botts Every Flavor Beans…lollipop…sugar quill-really?" he said as the gargoyle leapt aside and he saw the winding stairs. He didn't think the professor would like sugar quills, but if it worked, it worked. He stepped onto the stairs and rode it to the top, thinking about what he wanted to ask. He wondered what the professor would say. Harry thought he would understand better than most, but that didn't mean he would say yes. Still, Harry had to try. He went to the door and knocked.
"Come in," came the call. He opened the door and stepped inside. The professor didn't look surprised to see him, but he never was. "Ahh…Harry, I expected to be seeing you. Please, take a seat," Albus Dumbledore's portrait said.
A shout out to MaraudingKnight, who grammer-betad for me!