A/N: First One-Shot. Un-betaed; I apologize for the mistakes. I edited--read: I completely rewrote--the second part of the one-shot.
Reach the Open Space
I can't bring myself to feel guilty.
That's an unusual feeling for me; I have spent half of my life feeling guilty for anything bad that happened around me, without ever wondering if my guilt was well-founded or not. Of course, usually a couple of people would pat my shoulder and say comfortingly, "No, it wasn't your fault, it would've happened anyway," in that soothing, patient tone of voice one would use to talk to a five-year-old. And I would just nod distractedly and sink a little deeper in my guilt.
My current situation couldn't be any more different. Everyone looks at me in horror and/or disappointment, everyone is saying, thinking or—in most Weasleys' case—screaming, "Why did you do such a thing? Why did you ruin it all? You should be ashamed of yourself!"
…Sorry, I'm not. I am not the tiniest bit remorseful for what I've done. Quite the contrary, I feel so light-hearted I can't stop smiling broadly, even if I'm alone and locked up in a disused office at the Ministry, converted into a cell for the occasion. The sensation of freedom I've been experiencing since yesterday is so completely new to me it's slightly unnerving. I feel like I've just been born again.
People asked me to explain; they wanted me to give them reasons for my actions, and also for my feeling so carefree when I should probably be slamming my fists on my chest and begging for everyone's forgiveness. No answer comes to my mind. Naturally, when Hermione was granted permission to talk to me, she asked me the same question—and upon hearing me say I couldn't find a logical explanation, she suggested I should take the time to write down my own version of the—ah—"incident". It should clear up my ideas, according to her. Whatever; if I do write it down, maybe I'll end up seeing why I should be ashamed, and everything will be back to normal.
It's worth the try. There isn't much to do in this room, anyway.
So, where to begin? I just can't go and bluntly say, "Yesterday I killed the Minister for Magic and I badly injured a journalist and a fellow classmate." I somehow have the feeling it won't clear anything up. What else can I do—go for the overused sentence that every kid writes in their diary when starting the laborious description of their uneventful day?
Yesterday morning, I woke up in the Owlery.
Yes, I had slept in the Owlery; I hadn't exactly planned to spend the night up there, as it's not quite the most comfortable place in the world. The fact remains that one minute I was writing a letter to the Minister for Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour, and the next I was fast asleep on the floor, with my back to the stone wall. Someone had wrapped a blanket around me during the night, and it slid to the floor as I got to my feet, staggering a little, my muscles stiff and aching from the previous day's battle. I stayed there for a while, leaning against the window frame, my gaze wandering around the ravaged grounds of Hogwarts. The day before, I had defeated Lord Voldemort.
It had been a brutal, messy, and ugly battle. Nothing could have prepared me for that; and certainly not the 'war council' we held at Hogwarts, mere minutes before the Death Eaters that had gathered at the gates broke entry into the grounds. Members of the Order, friends and classmates were all collected in the Great Hall around me, getting ready for the fight and sharing their views on how we would conquer Voldemort's army; apparently, everyone trusted that I would lead them to victory, but everyone seemed to have a vital opinion as to how I should do it.
Hermione came up with about a dozen different plans, each of which had to be used if the former failed, and each involving extremely advanced magic. Ron suggested I should take the time to study the enemy's strategy and move my own troops in order to thwart said strategy. And Ginny kept saying I should listen to her, since she knew what it was like to face Voldemort, having been possessed by him in her first year at Hogwarts.
I pointed out to Hermione that she probably was the only Hogwarts student to be able to perform the spells she was talking about; I told Ron I doubted that the Death Eaters would give us the time to adapt our strategy to theirs, and that a battle was hardly something you could handle like a chess game; and I invited Ginny to shut the hell up. I didn't have the time to elaborate, though, because at that precise moment an alarm went off—the Death Eaters had gone through the gates.
I remember with an odd accuracy the grim looks and the clenched jaws of the oldest and most lucid members of the Order. They were obviously preparing to die in a hopeless battle—what could an army of students flanked by a handful of grown-up fighters do against Voldemort's Death Eaters?
As for me, I didn't know what to think at the time. Of course I was extremely nervous, though I won't deny I was quite excited at the same time: I was finally getting some action directly against the Death Eaters, instead of sneaking in the dark and trying to collect as much information as possible without getting caught; a task I had long grown tired of. But as we all spilled out onto the stone steps leading up to the oak doors, the sight of the crowd of Death Eaters advancing towards the castle made me abruptly realise half of us would be dead before the end of the day; and suddenly it didn't feel so exciting any more.
Questions were shouted—What do we do? Should we wait for them? Should we go and meet them? Should we go back inside and lock the doors?
The most logical strategy would have been to get back in the shelter of Hogwarts' walls; McGonagall and I had already talked about that, and we had come to the conclusion that we shouldn't let the Death Eaters corner us in a castle, no matter safe it seemed. Voldemort had already given evidence he could get in secured magic places. The Ministry of Magic had been besieged by half of the Death Eaters for two days now, and it was obvious that they were merely waiting for Voldemort's signal before bringing down the Minister's last defences.
So I ignored my former classmates' questions and I started walking. I didn't want to have them waiting; I didn't want them to realise they were running to their deaths; I didn't want them to have the time to start panicking.
They followed me, and we met the Death Eaters at about half a mile from the castle.
I won't give details about the battle, for the simple reason that I'm incapable of remembering precisely what happened. Every minute was exactly like the previous one, and on the whole, it was a horrible mess. People blindly sending hexes right and left in a cloud of dust, as the scent of blood and the yells of pain filled the air. Bodies pressing against my own, blows showering down from every direction, hands gripping my clothes or arms. And always, the feeling that I should never stop moving—that I had to continue fighting, tirelessly, endlessly, for hours; because pausing would mean being crushed by the crowd and ripped apart.
I probably harmed or even killed many Death Eaters, but I would be lying if I said I did it to protect my friends or to defend a cause. I fought to stay whole and alive. Everybody fought for themselves. We were outnumbered and attacked from all directions, and soon instinct of self-preservation was all that motivated the fervent partisans of the "Light".
Yet, surprisingly enough, this battle is far from being my worst memory. I wasn't thinking. I was acting on pure instinct, turning right, aiming, shooting, then turning left without waiting to see if my hex had reached its goal; the adrenaline had driven away every feeling of fear or helplessness. It was a living hell, but I almost felt good. I kept advancing. I wanted to walk through the black crowd pressing itself around me and reach the open space. I think that's the only coherent thought I had left at the time.
It is a wonder I managed to survive the battle. I wasn't much more gifted than most of those who died that day, and I almost never used the few really advanced spells I master. I simply didn't have enough time or space to utter complicated incantations—even mentally—and make the required wand waving. The spells I used, apart from a few exceptions here and there, were quite simple. Yet, I am convinced that what saved me that day was the fact I was quicker than anybody. The time a Death Eater took to wave his wand at me, I had already used it to fire two or three jinxes in his direction. Even the most powerful were taken by surprise. Many were probably just destabilised for three seconds, but three seconds were just what I needed to get away and keep advancing.
Time suddenly stopped when a harsh order froze the fighters.
"Let him through!"
The high voice, magically amplified, echoed in the valley of Hogwarts; the explosions and screams of pain and rage died away, and in the ensuing quiet, I was suddenly able to hear my ragged breathing and my own heart beating wildly in my chest. A sharp, burning pain made me bring a hand to my left side, and I found out my robes were damp. I had probably been cut by some spell.
The crowd slowly parted in front of me. I reflexively took one step forward, then another. I could distinguish a blurred silhouette waiting at a few feet ahead of me, standing alone in the middle of the space the Death Eaters had cleared. My glasses were misted up because of the heat of my skin; I had to take them off and clean them with a quick spell. The Death Eaters laughed at that, and thinking back, I honestly can't blame then. "Here comes the Boy-Who-Lives, the Chosen One, about to meet the Dark Lord in a deadly duel, but oh, please wait a sec, he's cleaning up his glasses."
Voldemort was smirking. His long white fingers idly played with his wand as he surveyed me, his eyes burning with the same excitation I had experienced before the battle. He was going to enjoy every minute of our duel, I could tell. The Death Eaters were gathered in a circle around us, most of them bearing quite ugly cuts and bruises. One of them was lying on the ground, coughing and wheezing in the last pangs of death. I recognised Avery, and I wondered who had killed him.
"So, Potter," said Voldemort, causing my gaze to shift from the dying Avery to him. "Ready for your last duel?"
And then, I was at a loss.
What could I possibly answer? An insolent line, a sarcastic remark, a noble and heroic sentence? They probably all expected one of those things from me, enemies and allies alike, but quite frankly, I wasn't in the mood to waste my breath. I half-shrugged.
If Voldemort had had eyebrows, he would have raised them.
"Well?" he said sharply. "When I ask a question, I expect to be given an answer, Harry Potter. Surely your teachers taught you that at school?"
Apparently, he was keen on going through the whole ritual, complete with the traditional exchange of insults and maxims, promises of painful death—from him—and vibrant declarations about Good and Evil—from me. Of course, why do things simply when they can be complicated?
I shrugged again. "Here's an answer," I said shortly. And I fired the first hex.
My duel with Voldemort is easily the most dangerous trial I ever went through—but, again, I cannot say it is a bad memory. The wizard I was fighting was ten times as powerful as I was; and if I had paused to try and use the most advanced spells I knew, I would have been dead before I had even opened my mouth. But I never stayed immobile for more than a quarter of a second. Voldemort's hexes never found me, though more than once I felt something burning-hot brush against my skin. My own curses scarcely found him as well, as he was incredibly swift for a man his age.
Voldemort was probably one of the best duellists of all times. Having duelled against several powerful wizards in the past, I noticed that most of the time, a duellist has one strong point. There are those who know spells of such power that they can easily overcome the various shields their opponent creates against them; there are those, like me, who mainly rely on their speed and agility; and there are also those who can foresee or influence their foe's decisions, mainly through Legilimency. Voldemort could use the three techniques all at once. The spells I dodged were far more powerful than those I was casting, and even as I fought, I could feel his eyes searching mine and trying to dive into them.
Yet, this time Legilimency was of no use. The rare times when Voldemort did succeed to enter my mind, he found nothing—for the simple reason that there was nothing to find. The memories were buried deep somewhere in the back of my mind, as every fibre of my being merely aimed to survive for one more second—and one more—and one more. There was no future, and there was no past.
And he was puzzled. I could fleetingly feel it through our mental connection—apparently the duel had made him forget to use Occlumency against me. He was puzzled, and soon he grew annoyed. And that's when he started making mistakes.
Of course, at the time I wasn't analysing any of this. It's only now, as I'm writing it down, that I begin to understand how on earth I was able to defeat the most powerful wizard in the world. It turns out Voldemort's greatest strength—his ability to use speed, powerful magic and mental domination all at once—became his weakness. The repeated and unsuccessful mental assaults irritated him, which led him to grow careless in his moves; maybe if he had just used his magical power and his physical agility, he would have lasted longer, and I would have been the first to make a faux pas.
From that moment, his moves became slower, and his spells on the other hand went more powerful still. He was impatient to finish me off. A mountain behind me was hit by a silver ray of light that had missed its target, and half of it exploded; trees were set on fire, cracks opened in the ground, but I was still fighting, and, as far as I know, relatively unharmed. And this time my spells found him. Every gash, every cut, every burn I succeeded in inflicting upon him was fuelling his anger.
Unfortunately, I was weakening as well. I had always been remarkably robust, especially given my thin build; but I had been fighting for a long time now and I would soon be reaching my limits. The air was rushing painfully in my lungs and my heart seemed about to explode. I had to win quickly—or die. It was as absurdly simple as that.
I'll have to venture a comparison with Quidditch if I want to explain my choice of a strategy—if one can call that desperate move of mine a "strategy". In short, when walking on the ground, I can move left, right, forward and backward; in the air, I gain the possibility to move up or down. In Quidditch, it is highly recommended to stay away from the ground so as to not be deprived of the possibility to move downwards. A flyer who is hedgehopping has a very good chance of being knocked down by a Bludger. But in some circumstances, hedgehopping is the only way to catch an opponent unawares: all players—except maybe Seekers, as they're hovering above everyone else—tend to fail to watch what's going on directly below them.
That's why, instead of attacking directly Voldemort, I drew as close to him as possible while still dodging the curses flying towards me, before flinging myself onto the ground and aiming at his legs—the one part of the body most duellists forget to protect.
It was a desperate move. Any spell cast at me while I was lying on the ground would have been near-impossible to avoid.
But it worked.
A powerful Stabbing Spell hit him just above the knee, opening a long and extremely deep gash in his thigh; for a second, the torn black robes revealed a bloody mass of crushed flesh, in the middle of which I could catch a glimpse of a white, naked bone. Voldemort fell sideways with a yelp of surprise and pain as his leg gave way beneath him.
"Master! Should we kill him?"
I was brutally reminded of the presence of the Death Eaters as two of them shot small balls of fire in my direction. I scrambled to my feet and conjured a shield just in time; the balls of fire collided violently with it, and a second later the whole shield was ablaze.
"No! Leave him to me! Wands away! Away, I said!"
Hidden behind my burning shield, I was shaking all over from my violent and long effort. My body seemed about to give way, and all I wanted was to crumble to the ground and never move again. I clenched my fist around my wand until my knuckles went white, in a feeble attempt to stop the uncontrollable shaking of my hand.
I took deep, calming breaths. It wasn't over. And I didn't want to die now, not after all this…
So I did my best to control the trembling of my limbs and, holding my wand in front of me, I stepped around the curtain of fire separating me from Voldemort.
He was standing again, and by the look of it he had already conjured a kind of magical tourniquet to lessen the bleeding of his torn thigh. However he couldn't lean on the injured leg, and he had to grip tightly the shoulder of a Death Eater in order to remain upright; clearly he wouldn't be able to count on his physical strength any more. However, his magical power was intact whereas mine had greatly suffered from the frenzied activity I had imposed on it. The Stabbing Spell and the shield I had created seemed to have consumed all the magical power I had left. And it wasn't as if I could run and dodge his curses any longer…
"So," hissed Voldemort, and from the way the "s" sound seemed to drag on, I knew he was speaking Parseltongue. "You have fought well, Harry Potter. Nobody has lasted that long against me in a very long time. It seems pointless to go on firing curses at one another, now, doesn't it?"
I surveyed him for a few seconds before answering. He didn't seem to have noticed that my magical resources had nearly run out. Maybe he was too proud to even consider the possibility that I could have held him in check with a power lesser than his. It was his second mistake, and it saved my life.
"Yes," I answered, careful of showing no sign of uncertainty or apprehension. "It does."
I had spoken in Parseltongue too, and I was oddly satisfied at the thought that the Death Eaters couldn't understand what I was saying; I felt as if I was Voldemort's equal, as if his followers weren't worthy of hearing our exchange.
Just as Voldemort's lips stretched into a smile at my use of Parseltongue, the heavy clouds hanging above our heads shifted to let through a golden beam of sunlight; the first in a week. I couldn't help feeling stupidly hopeful at the sight of a patch of blue sky.
"Then we'll just have to find another way to fight, shan't we?" Voldemort then whispered.
And I didn't have the time to say, or even think anything. One split second later I went blind and my head exploded with pain, a horribly familiar pain—the pain associated with the attack of a foreign mind taking possession of my own, a foreign will spreading in my whole body to the very tips of my fingers like a burning liquid, a foreign pulse oppressing my heart and forcing it into a rate that wasn't its own. The Death Eaters, Hogwarts, the patch of blue sky, everything faded into nothingness; and all that was left was two minds fighting for dominance over my exhausted body.
Voldemort probably thought it would be easy to possess me; I suppose he intended to stay in my body just long enough to let the pain finish me off, or to take a control strong enough to stop the beating of my heart or something. He must have foreseen I could drive him away, as I had done last time… Therefore he had to act quickly…
I didn't drive him away. I had been struggling for my own life for too long to suddenly long for the love of others. But what suddenly made my mind extraordinarily clear was a little sentence, so simple, so absurd and so silly, that I'm almost laughing aloud when I think back about it.
The sky's clearing.
This tiny sentence, the last coherent thought I had had before Voldemort's last mental assault, was literally etched in my brain. And it was still here, so insignificant that Voldemort had disregarded it as he had invaded my mind, and yet extraordinarily meaningful. The sky was clearing; it meant that soon the sun would bathe Hogwarts, and the lake would glitter, and oh how great it would be to fly in that weather…
As these thoughts—these silly, laughable thoughts—came to me, one after the other, I felt my mind slowly disentangling itself from Voldemort's suffocating grip. I was still half-blinded with the pain of the possession, but I could think straight. Had Voldemort long forgotten how it feels to just sit and enjoy a fine weather? Couldn't he relate to the idea of finding pleasure in a simple broom ride? It is the only explanation I could find for this strange phenomenon. Voldemort had forgotten all about taking pleasure from the simplest and silliest things. His own pleasure was to be found in the others' pain and in his own power. Maybe that was what Dumbledore had meant, after all… He had referred to it as "love", but it was much more than that. I can't find a name for that "power"; it is merely what makes me human, I guess…
Our two minds were still fighting in my body, but I was slowly regaining control. I was able to open my eyes and I found myself kneeling on the hard ground, which was scorched and browned by the multiple spells that had bounced off it. My gaze then fell upon the knees of another crouching figure, at a few feet from me.
Raising my head with a considerable effort, I stared at the figure. It was Voldemort's body. His eyes were fixed on me, and he seemed to wait for me to be completely under his control. I fought to keep my eyes on him, and it required all the strength of will I had left as every muscle in my body tensed and relaxed in a rather anarchic way, taken between two conflicting wills.
Through the thick fog invading my exhausted mind, still battling against Voldemort's, an idea emerged; Voldemort's body looked weak… He looked barely alive…
But what is keeping a body alive when the mind is in another place?
I was now staring hard at Voldemort. The light in his eyes was half put out and the rare sparks animating them were expressing a vague fear. Very vague, actually… As if he didn't have the strength to feel.
It was then I understood I had in front of me Voldemort's last miserable seventh of soul. And Voldemort's mind was no longer protecting the last thing that still made him a human being, this weak, wretched piece of his soul, probably despised but still vital to him.
And it was at my mercy.
I struggled to regain control of my limbs. There were two voices in my head screaming different orders and it was hard to tell which one I should listen to.
"Now, you foolish boy, why are you struggling?" hissed the louder voice. "Why are you even bothering to struggle?"
I actually paused to consider that question.
Because of all the lives you ruined, including mine.
The other voice was almost inaudible, but when it sounded inside my skull, I suddenly found the strength to grip my wand tightly and point it at Voldemort's kneeling form.
My voice was barely above a whisper, and at once I felt a power that wasn't entirely mine rushing through my whole being, in my fingers and into the wand. A green beam shot from the tip of my wand and hit Voldemort's body. At that precise moment I felt Voldemort's mind shatter in a million pieces; then my mouth fell open, and a horribly piercing cry escaped me. A high-pitched, inhuman scream, full of fear, hatred and rage. Voldemort's last scream was coming from my lips…
It was soon all over.
Then, and only then, the members of the Order were shaken out of their stupor; they proceeded to neutralise the astonished Death Eaters, and the battle started again all around me.
I don't remember much more from that day. I know I stood up, and I know I sent various hexes and jinxes—most of which I had never heard of in my entire life. Obviously, a piece of Voldemort's mind was still clinging to mine, as if he had started to transfer some of his own memories and powers to me, perhaps so that he could subdue me more easily. I know I used the killing curse more than once.
What else can I say about Voldemort's last battle? Losses were terrible on both sides; Ron, Neville, Seamus, Demelza, Kingsley, Moody and many others had died. Remus and Luna were badly injured and Hermione was in shock. As for me, I was little more than a wreck. My state of complete exhaustion was aggravated by the multiple wounds I had gotten—though most of them weren't deep. The possession had greatly weakened me and left me with an atrocious migraine. It is no wonder I collapsed in the Owlery before finishing my letter to Scrimgeour, in which I was telling him Voldemort was dead.
And so, the following morning, I woke up in the Owlery.
It was early, but the sun had already risen in a pale blue sky, and it obviously was the beginning of a glorious day. I felt my heart swelling with pure happiness as a beam of wonderfully fresh sunlight fell on my face; the ground was burnt and cracked, the scarce grass was dampened with blood in some places and a beheaded mountain stood in the distance, but in spite of those many reminders of the battle that had raged the day before, everything felt different. The light breeze wasn't carrying the smell of death and exhaustion that had been poisoning the air for months—that kind of smell you expect from a tracked down, cornered animal. That day, the breeze smelled fresh and new, like the beginning of a new era.
As I stood there, looking through the window, I suddenly realised what my victory over Voldemort meant. I had finally killed him; I had finally achieved the goal I had been pursuing since my childhood. For the first time since I had discovered I was a wizard, I had no obligation towards the wizarding community, no dead friends to avenge, no one to save.
I was free.
It was like starting a new life; what am I saying—it was like starting to live! I was still tired and aching, but I felt so incredibly and ridiculously happy that I would have sung aloud.
Unable to stay still, I left the Owlery and started wandering at random in the castle, savouring that new feeling of total freedom I was experiencing for the first time.
Like I said, it was early; my footsteps were echoing in the empty corridors, since most of the survivors were still fast asleep. Not all of them, though: when turning round a corner, I ran into Hermione who was leaning against the wall, her arms crossed, and staring right in front of her.
Seeing Hermione unoccupied—worse, unoccupied and not trying to do anything about it—was a little weird. I knew she had been badly shaken by the previous day's battle; it probably was the sensation of total chaos that had shocked her. Hermione wasn't afraid of fighting, as long as things were more or less organised. But the last battle hadn't been like any other skirmish we had participated to against the Death Eaters. Yesterday, we hadn't worked as a team or planned our moves. It had been everyone-fights-for-themselves, and hex-or-die. However, I knew she had fought well, and I had thought she would have recovered from the shock by the following morning.
"Hermione?" I called tentatively.
She turned towards me a pale, tearful face. She looked as if she hadn't gotten any sleep last night.
"Ron's dead," she whispered.
My smile disappeared from my face. But I must confess I wasn't overwhelmed with sorrow upon hearing those words. I had deplored Ron's death and I would certainly miss him. Ron would always be a pleasant memory to me, and his friendship had been a great part of my life; but I didn't owe him anything: his death had been avenged when the Death Eaters had been defeated. Right now, I was more concerned about Hermione.
"You'll be all right," I said, hugging her cautiously—we both had had our fair share of bruises and cuts and I didn't want to make it worse. "He had the death he wanted, you know… And, well, it's not as if he had died in vain…"
She stepped out of my embrace and hid her face in her hands.
"But now I'm all alone!" she moaned in a muffled voice. Then her shoulders started to shake with sobs as she collapsed against the wall again. I stayed with her until she calmed down; I didn't speak to her, mainly because I didn't know what to say—and I think she preferred me to stay silent.
She finally wiped her cheeks with her sleeve and walked away from me without saying a word, probably sensing too how useless it would be to discuss Ron's death right now. There was nothing we could do about it, after all. I set off in the opposite direction.
I knew Hermione would be all right, eventually. She would mourn Ron along with the other Weasleys—those who had survived yesterday, at least—then bury herself in work in order to drown the memory of him; and one day she would wake up and find out she was over him. She would be all right. Hermione wasn't the kind of person who wallows in self-pity.
My encounter with Hermione, if it had dampened my mood a little, had also reminded me that the castle was full of wounded, bleeding and crying people; and as I suspected I would be—once again—asked to deal with everyone's losses and pain, I avoided the inhabited parts of the castle, preferring the deserted corridors and secret passageways. I wanted to keep intact my feeling of blissful freedom as long as possible.
However, just as I reached a corridor leading to the wide marble staircase, I found out that apparently, this simple wish couldn't be granted.
The hearty call made me wheel around, and I found myself in front of no other than the Minister for Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour himself.
"Minister," I said slowly, merely acknowledging his presence. The satisfied smile on his face caused me to feel a stab of annoyance; you would have thought he had been the one to duel and defeat Voldemort.
"I have been looking for you everywhere in the castle. Beautiful day, isn't it?" he said joyously as he joined me in a few strides. Without waiting for an answer, he carried on, in a quite careless voice, "Congratulations for your extraordinary feat of yesterday; I was told you handled that battle absolutely beautifully."
I mumbled some inaudible answer to that. What could I say? I had handled a duel against the most powerful wizard in the world, while Scrimgeour was sitting on his ass in his besieged Ministry. I guessed that when Voldemort had died, the panicked Death Eaters had fled and all the Minister had to do was step out of his office and decide he had won the battle.
"Of course, you deserve the Order of Merlin, first class," he went on with the same irritating carelessness. "The ceremony will take place as soon as possible."
"Thanks, Minister," I muttered half-heartedly. As always, I was waiting for Scrimgeour to ask me whatever he wanted me to do for him.
"Then, you will join our Auror training programme," he said. "I believe it is your ambition?"
"It was," I corrected him. "I need to think a little about it. I haven't even taken my NEWTs yet."
Damn him, did he have to talk to me about my future now? Did he have to spoil the first moments of my life when, for a change, I could fully enjoy the present?
"I daresay you will soon come back to this ambition," he said confidently. "Many Death Eaters are still on the loose, and we need you to go after them and capture them. Surely a wizard of your power—"
"Why should I go after them?" I interrupted testily. "I did what I had to do; why can't you solve your own problems without my help, for a change?"
Scrimgeour's expression turned from satisfaction to a slight uncertainty.
"I would have thought," he said slowly, "that capturing the Dark Lord's followers would be a task you would be keen on performing yourself… It is your duty, after—"
"My duty?" I repeated incredulously. "Since when do I owe you anything?"
"The world sees you as its saviour," Scrimgeour explained with a hint of coldness in his voice. "The whole wizarding community trusts and venerates you. You, a wizard of eighteen! Are you going to disappoint them?"
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. I had waken up with the feeling I was now free of the duties and obligations I had contracted towards all those who had fought and died for me, and yet this man was telling me about more duties, more debts.
Disappoint them. I had to live the rest of my years being careful not to disappoint anybody.
"Excuse me?" Scrimgeour asked sharply.
"I have no intention whatsoever to be the saviour of the wizarding community all my life," I elaborated obligingly. "I think it's about time you try to save your own asses without my help or Dumbledore's. You shouldn't complain, we did the most difficult part—killing Voldemort. Now you can take care of the small fry. Good day to you, Minister."
That said, I turned my back on him and took a few steps towards the marble staircase; however, I hadn't walked three feet before another voice called my name from the Entrance Hall below us.
I peered down the marble staircase to find a young witch clad in very tight green robes running up the steps as fast as possible. Catching sight of the notepad and the quill in her hands, I groaned and started to walk in the opposite direction.
But the girl apparently couldn't take a hint.
"Harry Potter!" she squealed again as she reached the top of the stairs. "Miranda Backston, reporter at Witch Weekly. Can you answer a few questions for me?"
"No," I said shortly.
She started trotting alongside of me, and Scrimgeour followed suit. Those two idiots were really annoying me now.
"You are about to become the greatest wizard of all times, Harry," the reporter said confidently. "Tell me, how do you feel now you've defeated He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?"
Even more than her stubbornness, her casual use of my first name irritated me. Since when did the first person to come along could call me "Harry", on the pretext that I was only eighteen?
"I don't want to answer your questions," I said while quickening my pace. I could feel a headache coming; probably a vestige of the painful possession I had suffered the previous day.
"Of course, it must have been a traumatising experience," she went on, nodding knowingly. "You must be really distraught, Harry, but the wizarding community supports you. Don't be afraid of showing your pain—"
"I have no pain to show."
"Of course great heroes always are extremely discreet when it comes to their own feelings—"
I stopped dead in my tracks and wheeled around; she was so absorbed in her considerations about great heroes that she didn't see I had halted and ran head first into me, causing me to wince as she painfully hit my bruised chest. To my great annoyance, however, she didn't step back. Standing two inches away from me, she raised her head and flashed at me a seductive smile.
"Come on, Harry," she purred. "Talk to me." I felt a hand brushing against my own.
One second later my wand was digging in her throat.
"I said I wasn't going to answer your questions," I repeated calmly.
There was a bang, and the girl was abruptly lifted off her feet and crashed at full speed against the ceiling. I heard the skull crack.
I slowly lowered my wand and she came fluttering back to the floor, unconscious. She was deadly pale. I hadn't intended to be that brutal—my magic seemed a bit out of my control, and I suspected the traces of Voldemort's mind and power lingering into me were the reason for it. Still, I was left with a wounded and unconscious girl lying at my feet, and I had absolutely no intention of being responsible for her death. I conjured a Patronus, which, on my command, soundlessly ran along the corridor in the direction of the Hospital Wing. I knew by experience that Madam Pomfrey would easily deal with the girl's cracked skull. The reporter would live; besides, she had shut up, and that was all I was asking.
Scrimgeour had drawn his wand when I had pulled out mine, but he had kept it at his side. He had never tried to disarm or neutralise me, which I found odd.
"What are you doing, Potter?" he asked coldly, though he didn't sound the slightest bit angered or horrified. "You are ruining everything. You could be arrested for what you've just done. And in my presence, no less."
I took the time to lay the girl on a conjured stretcher before answering.
"Then arrest me," I shot at Scrimgeour as I passed him, my wand still in my hand. Now that there was no more journalist ambushed in the Entrance Hall, I had every intention of going down the staircase and getting out of the castle.
"Oh, I could," he repeated. "But it wouldn't do any good to any of us, would it? I am willing to let this slip, Potter; but you'll have to face your responsibilities."
"I have no—"
"You have responsibilities, whether you like it or not. You are a symbol, a hero—and because of that you need to be careful. One toe out of line and you can very easily be called the next Dark Lord, and locked up in Azkaban…"
I quickened my pace; I needed fresh air. My headache was intensifying, to the point I felt as if my temples were compressed in a vice. I gripped the banister harder than necessary as I proceeded to walk down the marble stairs.
"…It would be so easy to accuse you of using dark magic, Potter. How else could you have overpowered the Dark Lord?"
So that was how it worked. I was never meant to be free. Every fulfilled obligation led to another, more compelling still. For maybe an hour, a glorious hour, I had had a taste of freedom; then Scrimgeour had to show up and say, Now the break is over, Potter, it's time to put back on your costume of tragic young hero…
I slowly turned around to face him again. Suddenly the exhaustion of the previous day was, once more, weighing down my limbs. What an idiot I had been, to think they would have let me get away; that he would have let me get away…
Scrimgeour's satisfied smile was back on his face. Heat crept up my neck and cheeks as a sudden anger boiled in my veins. I wanted to get away. I would get away, whether Scrimgeour liked it or not.
"So," he went on, in a softer voice. "You can either live up to your reputation and role, thus becoming the most famous young man of Wizarding History; and I will overlook anything you might have done to defeat You-Know-Who. Or you can deny your responsibilities and refuse to help us, and you're no longer safe from our judicial system. It seems to me that it's an easy choice to make…"
"What about making a choice yourself?" I retorted through clenched teeth. "Either you let me live the life I want and never bother me again with duties and responsibilities, or—"
Scrimgeour was sneering at me now; sneering at my attempts to struggle out of the trap he had set for me.
"Or what, Potter?" he repeated. "You are cornered."
I raised my wand and pressed the tip of it into his chest. He didn't flinch; whether it was out of bravery or stupidity, I neither knew nor cared. I killed him at point-blank range.
I was oddly calm as I stared at his limp body, crumpled on the marble stairs, his face still set into a derisive smirk.
No one would ever corner me.
A banging sound drew my attention back to the Entrance Hall at the bottom of the stairs; the door of the Great Hall had been forcefully pushed open and had slammed into the wall. Three Aurors came into view, holding their hands in front of them, and right behind them were McGonagall, Snape, Arthur Weasley and his daughter.
All of them were about to have an unimpeded outlook upon Scrimgeour's dead body, and Harry Potter standing over it.
I tensed immediately, having snapped out of the stupor provoked by my use of the killing curse. It didn't make any difference that I had just beaten Voldemort; the murder of Rufus Scrimgeour was enough to have me sent to Azkaban for the rest of my life, which was certainly not an option. I considered fighting them and running away, but my physical condition wouldn't have allowed me to go very far. Sending an unsuspecting girl crashing into the ceiling was easy enough, but I needed some rest before I was able to fight and defeat half a dozen well-trained wizards all at once. So I didn't move. I lowered my wand and I waited for them to notice me. I didn't have the time to make plans; I would have to improvise.
"Harry!" panted Mr. Weasley when he caught sight of me. "Is everything all right? The Aurors detected an attack on Rufus Scrimgeour, not far from he—"
He stopped dead and his eyes widened as they fell upon Scrimgeour's crumpled form. Following his gaze, the other six came to an abrupt halt as well, and for a few seconds no one seemed to be able to find their voices. My heart was beating faster than usual, but whether it was from apprehension or adrenaline, I couldn't tell.
"Potter!" Professor McGonagall finally choked out. "What happened?"
Not really knowing how to react to this question, I prodded Scrimgeour's limp hand with my foot.
"He's… dead," I stated.
Strangely enough, the idea of denying I had killed the Minister never came to my mind at the time. Maybe the cold-blooded murder had affected me more than I thought, or maybe my decision of not letting anybody corner me again unconsciously made me reluctant to make up a story to cover my actions, just as a schoolboy would do to avoid getting detention. Thinking back, I don't think I should have lied anyway; they wouldn't have believed me—it wasn't as if I was the best liar in the world, after all—, and the simplest magic test would have proven I was the murderer anyway.
At my answer, everyone stared up at me in shock. The first to recover, unsurprisingly, was Snape—the new redeemed spy of Dumbledore's. He started looking through narrowed eyes from Scrimgeour to me and back again, barely hiding his gleeful expression.
"It seems that Potter has somehow lost control over his actions," he murmured with a smirk.
There were several more seconds of astounded silence before his words seemed to sink in. Then Arthur Weasley started slowly shaking his head, his disbelieving eyes never leaving me; I looked away from him and found that the three Aurors had taken a few tentative steps towards the bottom of the staircase, their wands raised, but at the same time they looked hesitant and almost shy—which gave me an insane urge to burst out laughing. Snape had gotten closer as well, though there was nothing shy in the way he pointed his wand at me.
Professor McGonagall's eyes flashed angrily in Snape's direction but she said nothing to stop or contradict him. Her wand was in her hand, though she looked uncertain as to against whom she should turn it. I suddenly wondered if she would stand by my side. It wouldn't have surprised me so much from her part.
"This is ridiculous!" Ginny suddenly interjected with authority. She stood next to her flabbergasted father, her hands on her hips and her chin aggressively projected forward. "You sound like you're accusing Harry of murdering the Minister!"
"Well, Miss Weasley," an Auror—Dawlish, I think—said slowly, "the Minister has been hit by an Unforgivable, and Mr. Potter seems to be the only wizard who was with him at the time."
I tensed even more under the now assured looks the other Aurors were giving me. One of them wheeled about and waved his wand in the direction of the large oak doors, which immediately slammed shut, trapping me inside the castle.
Dawlish cleared his throat and added, more slowly still, "I, too, find it strange that… Mr. Potter would threaten the Minister's life… so soon after his great victory, but… If… Mr. Potter is willing… to give me his wand… I'll be able to… solve the matter… within seconds…"
I stared blankly at him, then looked down at my wand. I was holding tightly onto it, as if it helped me to keep my balance; as a matter of fact, the idea of letting go of it somehow seemed suicidal. I hated being unarmed. But Dawlish was waiting with his hand outstretched, and if I didn't hand it over, the Aurors would take it using force. I simply wasn't in condition to resist them.
I threw my wand at Dawlish; he caught it and, with a last suspicious glance in my direction, put the tip of it against the tip of his own wand.
"Prior Incanto!" he said.
There was a rushing sound and a large figure erupted from my wand and rose in the air; the figure seemed to be made of dark grey smoke, and its sharp features and shaggy mane were unmistakeably those of the late Rufus Scrimgeour. And as everyone in the Hall stared at the evidence of Harry Potter's guilt, something extremely strange happened. The tense muscles in my arms and chest relaxed, and my heartbeat decreased to a steady, slow rate. I was no longer feeling apprehensive or tense. My mind was perfectly clear.
Now they all knew I had done it. There was nothing I could do about it, and I didn't want to do anything about it. I had made my decision, and I would stick to it.
The smoky figure disappeared as soon as the word was out of my mouth, and the six wizards and witches gathered at the foot of the stairs looked up, to find Scrimgeour's wand in my hand and pointed at them.
"Accio Harry Potter's wand!"
My wand was instantly snatched out of the Dawlish's grip and flew towards me. I caught it easily and pocketed it, enjoying the looks of stupefaction on the Aurors' faces.
"You killed him," whispered Mr. Weasley in a hushed voice, horror and disbelief written in every line of his face.
"I did," I agreed quietly.
"You… You are under arrest…" said Dawlish in a rather quavering voice. The other Aurors exchanged nervous looks at these words, and it occurred to me they thought I had defeated Voldemort using the Dark Arts. It explained why they were all staring at me with a mixture of fear and horror, without daring to approach me.
Well, expect for the one who was familiar with the Dark Arts.
"I'll be happy to help, Dawlish," sneered Snape; and without so much as a warning, he sent a spell I didn't know in my direction.
The spell was deflected by one of Ginny's.
"This is absolutely ludicrous!" she shrieked. Her wand in her hand, she took a few steps forward and stood between the Aurors and I. "You cannot arrest him! He just defeated You-Know-Who!"
"We are aware of that fact, Miss Weasley, now get out of the way!" snarled Snape.
"Ginny—" began Mr. Weasley.
"SHUT UP! All of you!" she yelled. "Scrimgeour probably… attacked him or something! Harry would never kill someone for the sake of it! Don't you think I know him way better than any of you does?"
Dawlish, who seemed to have plucked up some courage upon noticing I hadn't made a move to counter Snape's attack, merely shrugged and walked round her, preparing to walk up the marble steps. He was stopped by a Bat-Bogey Hex fired from behind. I watched in surprise as Ginny ran past him and came to join me on the marble steps. I hadn't expected anyone to deny the obvious so completely; we all knew Scrimgeour would not attack me, especially when he needed me to be on his side. Ginny knew it as well. And I was fairly curious as to why she was so keen on refusing to accept I had killed him in cold blood.
I got the answer to that question pretty quickly, when she finally reached me and grabbed my arm so that I would bend towards her.
"I know you're innocent," she breathed confidently. "You wouldn't ruin everything. You wouldn't ruin our future."
That said, she tried to put her arms around me but I seized her by the shoulders and forced her to take a step back. The word she had just uttered had had the sudden and nasty effect of a wasp bite.
"Our future?" I repeated in a low voice, staring in her large and hopeful eyes.
She smiled up at me. I could vaguely hear Snape arguing with McGonagall and the Aurors in the Hall—something about wanting to hex me, even if the curse had to go through Ginny before it reached me.
"Yes," Ginny said softly. "Our future. Nothing is preventing us from being together any more. We are meant to be, Harry, we both know it. I've known it from the moment I met you for the first time. We're meant for being with each other."
And then, I had a sort of… self-immune reaction. I can't find another word for it. Here she was, talking about how I was destined to be with her—and in her eyes was reflected my whole future. My future as the saviour of the wizarding world. My future as the Boy-Who-Had-To-Live-And-Save-Others. My future as Ginny's husband, as the Weasleys' seventh son, as the man who would never be whole again because of his best friend's death. My future as a trapped man.
I don't even know which spell I used. A kind of electric wave ran down my arms and through my hands, which held a strong grip on Ginny's shoulders. I released her immediately. She was looking at me questioningly, and she was probably about to ask me what was wrong when… when it started.
Her confident smile slowly turned into a grimace and she stepped away from me as well, bringing her hands to her face. Her skin had started bubbling, giving her a rather foul aspect; then smoke started coming out of her ears and nostrils.
"What—Harry! Help me!"
I stared, transfixed, at the quite repulsive sight Ginny Weasley was giving.
"Step out of the way, Miss Weasley!" roared an Auror, still struggling with Snape to prevent him from cursing me through Ginny.
"I can't move, you idiot, I'm burning! Help me!"
"Douse her in cold water!" Dawlish suggested with a satisfied smile—he had only just gotten rid of the last effects of the Bat-Bogey Hex.
"Potter! You are under arrest!" shouted one of his colleagues, who was too trying to get a good aim while Ginny still stood in front of me. "Hand over your wand, right now!"
"Hey, the Weasley girl—she's flying!"
Sure enough, the vapour rising out of Ginny's ears and nostrils had formed a sort of giant bubble all around her, which was now rising in the air. The bubble slowly made its way toward the ceiling, distracting the Aurors—including the one holding Snape. The latter seized the opportunity and fired half a dozen curses in my direction, which I deflected with a shield hastily conjured. Two Aurors swore and threw themselves between Snape and I to prevent us from starting a duel.
"I SAID PUT THAT WAND AWAY, SNAPE!"
"THEN DO YOUR JOB AND GET HIM YOURSELF!"
"YOU HAVE NO RIGHT T—"
"Ooooh, a flying weasel!"
Peeves' cackling voice made everyone turn around—the poltergeist was hovering over the top of the marble stairs, a gleeful expression on his face. He pulled a sling out of his pocket, nonchalantly adjusted some projectile into it and started swinging it around in Ginny's direction.
The projectile flew, the bubble exploded and Ginny fell with a shriek. And so the arrest of the Boy-Who-Lived took place in the Entrance Hall of Hogwarts, in the middle of shouts, cackling laughter, applauds—from Dawlish—, roars of fury, and a total confusion.
That's it. I have re-read everything I wrote, and I am sorry to say I don't feel any guiltier. I made my choice; and I chose to live the life I wanted, instead of the life everyone wanted me to live. Forgive me if I can't bring myself to regret it.
I am quickly regaining my former strength; I suspect my surprisingly fast recover is partly due to the shreds of power Voldemort left in me before he died. Actually, power isn't the right word for it: it is skill, rather than power, that Voldemort passed on to me; the skill to fully take advantage of my potential. I keep discovering new faces of my magical power, and I can't wait to be outside and free to use it at my pleasure.
I'll soon be out. This old office isn't designed to prevent evasions. All those Aurors guarding me are nothing—once I recover my wand, all I'll have to do is walk through the crowd and reach the open space.
It's what I've been doing for my entire life, after all.
People said Harry Potter's trial would probably be the longest in the whole History of Wizardkind; and sure enough, after a week of heated debating between opponents and partisans of the Boy-Who-Lived, it became clear that the court wouldn't come to a conclusion before long. The defendant never said a word to justify his actions or express his regrets; he just sat there, seemingly lost in thought, silent and smiling.
On the seventh day after the beginning of the trial, Harry Potter's wand was brought in front of the court. As Auror Ernest Brogman prepared to perform the Prior Incanto Charm, the wand suddenly flew out of his hand and right into the defendant's outstretched fingers. No one could figure how Harry Potter was able to Summon his wand, especially since his arms had been solidly tied up seconds before.
The Aurors and many wizards in the audience drew their wands at once to prevent the defendant from escaping, but to no avail. The other half of the audience, clapping and cheering, didn't hesitate to pull out their wands as well and fight the Aurors. In the resulting confusion, Harry Potter disappeared.
A/N: This idea wouldn't leave me alone. Now I've written it down, maybe I'll be able to concentrate on my studies once more. I hope you liked it!