Author's Notes: Before any of you comment, I know that this is the last chapter; I'm doing the entire story backwards, simply because I am super scandalous.
All my other chaptered's are going on hiatus until this is finished – I'm really dedicated to and proud of it, so that's that. I hope you all enjoy!
Snippets from the Seventh Year
For Julia Alvarez
Who taught me that time flows the way I want it to.
Chapter Twenty-Five: The End
What do we do now?
Countless injured. Thousands dead. Hundreds orphaned.
What do we do now?
Sometimes Ron doesn't think that they will ever recover; sometimes he fears that recuperation runs all too smoothly. He sees them in the shadows – friends and enemies alike – staring at him with their dead eyes and asking, Will we be forgotten?
They will rebuild; cement upon ash. This new world will sink, Ron knows, and be forever caught in the rubble. But this doesn't depress him – instead he feels a strange sort of optimism rising in his chest, to know that the dust that clings to the sides of their indestructible foundations will haunt for the centuries, and the names and faces of those he has loved will not disappear into textbooks that only Hermione's descendants will read.
What do we do now?
She wakes, more often than not, screaming. More than once, Ron or Harry has sprinted into her room, wands at the ready, only to find her bravely fighting tears, all the lights beaming and wrapping her in their warmth.
She struggles to look at Harry, because her eyes always travel to his forehead, the thin line that extends from the tip of where his scar used to be to his ear. He has already promised that she acted rightly, that he is proud of her strength and he feels guilty for putting her in such a position.
But she cannot push that moment from her mind; the look on Ron's face, Harry's terrible, terrible scream, and her own horror as she whispered the words to destroy the Horcrux but also, perhaps, her best friend.
That he survived seems somehow trivial; she can only reflect on the heart of the matter, the simple and revealing facts: Ron had not been able to do it, and yet she had. He had not been able to inflict such pain – he had not been able to risk sacrificing his best friend for the good of the world, and it stretched so far into the depths of his loyalty that he could not even raise his wand.
And yet she, who had always shrunk from inflicting any sort of lasting harm, had taken aim and forced her lips around the letters until they stuck together and formed this catastrophic word and issued purple light from her wand.
Ron takes her hand and whispers, "All right, 'Mione?" As if nothing has happened, as if they have always been this way.
The tiniest of genuine smiles crops up around her lips as she looks out of the window. The guilt will fade, she knows, with time. But until then, she clings to her grief, using its buoyancy to keep her afloat.
After all, she reasons, it is better to drown in guilt than never feel guilty at all.
What do we do now?
He wishes now that they hadn't done away with executions. He would rather suffer the eternal fires of purgatory than this endless waiting – for what, he does not know. Perhaps some sort of a sign; a vision; a dream; anything to give him validation. To let him know that he did right by her, and that she was, in her own way, proud of him.
"I was born at the best of times, only to die at the worst," she had whispered to him that night, gently kissing his forehead and raising her chin proudly. "A Black is never afraid."
He had frowned, watching her delicate fingers turn the door handle and feeling as though everything was about to explode. "And a Malfoy?" He'd asked bitterly.
Narcissa had not turned, but he could hear her sardonic smile and watched her back straighten, if only a little. "Ask you're father," she'd said, and then was gone.
For so long, he had tried to please them both. But it was clear that he could not; he does not regret the decisions that he's made, despite the endless churning in his stomach as his "trial" descends upon him, despite the emptiness of Malfoy Manor, now occupied only by himself and the shadows and the echoes of voices he never thought he'd miss.
Life was like a game of Exploding Snap, he decided as the hail came down and flattened the last remnants of his mother's precious garden. Sometimes you manage to get by undamaged … and others, the deck explodes between your fingers.
That's luck, he supposes.
What do we do now?
She feels like a ghost, because everybody treats her like one. Every time she enters the room, their eyes fly to her face and surprise registers, as though they are all thinking, She came back?
She does not tell them what Heaven looks like, because she does not think that they would understand.
Sometimes her dreams return her mind to that moment, and she is both glad and afraid. She can see her body and she can hear the warm voices of those she has lost calling her name, and she always considers trying to wake but never really bothers.
"I love you," Harry had whispered to her body, his voice not just his own but also her brothers' and her mother's and her father's. She could see them; Ron was fighting against the bile in his throat and Fred was crying and George had fallen to his knees and Bill stared dumbly while Charlie railed at the world and her mother collapsed against her father who stood erect as only a man whose entire life has ended can. And those words wrapped around her soul and tugged until she fell back to them all from the clouds and opened her eyes.
Her sacrifice, it seemed, served almost the same purpose as his mother's, all those years ago. Voldemort tried one last time to kill him, and Harry watched the light come, half-hoping to die as he thought of them – of her, of Mrs. Weasley and Mr. Weasley and Ron and Hermione and Remus and Sirius and his heart had swelled so large with the love and the sorrow he felt for them, and he half-hoped that he would die. But he did not; something in him exploded and the curse died on Voldemort's lips before he could fully complete it. The pathetic stream of green rebounded against whatever it was in Harry's heart that it could not bear to touch, attacking instead a now mortal Voldemort and ending their battle the way it had begun.
Whenever they are together, Harry has a constant hold on her, as though securing her to his side. Before the war it might have bothered her, but now she just clings to him and lets his new and desperate need for her drip into her heart and fill her to overflowing. She needs him as badly as he needs her, and through this strange sort of love she can slowly begin to stand on her own.
The world feels strangely new, as though they are all infants starting at the beginning, wonder in every sunrise and a friend in every passing stranger.
That's what they had fought for, she thinks. This newfound understanding between them – all of them, every single person that stood on that battlefield together and killed together and died together and lost together and felt victory seep into their very bones.
What do we do now?
They have chosen to make an album for the child that grows in her belly. It will be honest, they decided, outlining both the good and the terrible. They will discuss those terrible weeks when she lived with her Aunt in London, and he remained home in – as it seemed at the time – that unbearably claustrophobic house. Bill does not want to shield their baby from the truth – he wants him or her to know everything, to know that its parents loved from the beginning and loved at the end, but there were potholes the size of craters in the middle that was okay.
Fleur does not think that she could love Bill the way that she does if she had not once hated him, if she had not blamed him for the terrible thoughts in her head and her heart. Every night, she dreams of Gabrielle, her soft little hands reaching between the bars of that cell beneath the ground, clutching at Fleur's fingers and sobbing, You have come, you have come! And when she wakes, Bill's soft breathing calms her rapid heart and soothes her aching head.
She has developed a liking for steak and that somehow feels like loyalty.
Fleur rests a hand on her belly and feels joy in her heart, knowing that the little life inside will grow old, will grow to be one hundred, and will feel a little sad but mostly just detached from this war, that he or she will hold Mamá's hand when she cries on the anniversary of Voldemort's defeat every year, but will never cry with her.
It is bittersweet, she thinks, because her child will never know fear as she has known, will never known loss as she has known, but perhaps – here, she glances at Bill – will never know love as she has known, either.
What do we do now?
It was a struggle in the beginning, to look at Luna and not think: I am not enough. And he knows that he isn't, that he never will be enough – not handsome enough, not quirky enough, not clever enough, and certainly not smart enough – for her.
He is grateful that she does not seem to realize this.
And slowly, in that unsettlingly honest manner of hers, she has begun to show him that it doesn't matter what he looks like or what he believes or how smart he is. She describes it as her "doing vs. being" theory, and explains that she doesn't care if he believes that Crumple-Horned Snorkacks exist or not, but the fact that he cares enough worry is what's important.
He still doesn't quite understand this and has resigned himself to the knowledge that he probably never will. Sometimes he finds himself not even really caring, simply enjoying her presence and listening to her babble. It's a soft river of words that seem to relieve the wounds inside, soothing his sadness and salvaging his soul.
"It's okay to be angry sometimes, you know," Luna had told him, referring to his parents. "Sometimes I get so angry that I feel like I'm about to burst. Would you like an Acid Pop?"
Just like that, as though they were discussing hobbies or Quidditch teams.
But it is this airiness that draws him to her; she is everything that he will never be, and so she fits into the parts of him that he could never fill on his own.
It's funny, he thinks – it is craziness that he always hated, and yet it is craziness that kept him whole when the world and everything else fell to pieces.
What do we do now?
They have asked him this over and over again, as though he should know the answer. But he doesn't know, because he doesn't want to think about the future at all. He does not want to dream about those beautiful and untouchable things that seem unreal to him – things like a twentieth birthday, a wife, a family, a routine.
Those things will come, he reasons, or they will not – at the moment, he is strangely indifferent. For the first time in his life, the injuries on the inside are less than those on the out, except for sometimes, and at those moments when his guilt and his relief and his incredulity become too much to bear, there are those standing by to laugh and smile and sooth the pressure from his skull.
The day after he kills Voldemort, he dreams that his mother is standing by his bedside, smiling down at him, and he knows that she knows and she is grateful and proud and sad.
Ron and Hermione have finally crossed the bridge that took them years to build, and he knows that in time she will be able to smile at Harry without trembling lips, and that she will look at him and her eyes will not travel to the new scar that she was forced to create.
Every moment with Ginny feels stolen, as though at God will suddenly realize that he's missing an angel and come to claim her. But she is not repulsed by his neediness; she seems to welcome it, crave it even, and sometimes he is sure that she is just as afraid that they are living on borrowed time.
Peace is not something that Harry is used to, but it feels as though he has lived this way his whole life. He is surprised by how easily he falls into the routine of rebuilding and starting over.
He went to Vernon's funeral, and though his aunt would not speak to him, he knew that she was glad he was there.
He reaches up and gently traces his new scar. It does not feel like a burden, as the other did; instead, he is almost proud of his distinction, because although he does not want the fans and the media and the hassle, he knows that for once, for once, he deserves it.
What do we do now? A reporter asked him, camping outside a clean and comfortable number twelve, Grimmauld Place when he came home.
"Look, you see, life is like a river, and the war is like a dam," he impatiently, unable to just brush passed. "And we were stuck for a while, but . . . a river has to flow." The reporter didn't seem to understand and he clarified, "Just give it time."
"So you're saying . . . life goes on?" The reporter asked.
Harry smiled, tucking his hands into his pockets and gazing out across the street. Several Muggle houses had been destroyed; the neighborhood was half the size that it used to be. He could clearly see the final battle in his mind; this was where he had stood when Voldemort tried to kill him for the last time; this was where Ginny lay bleeding, lay dead; this is where Remus killed Peter – revenge for Harry's father, for Harry's mother, for Sirius, for himself; and this was where everything fell apart and came together in one single instant.
"It rather does, doesn't it?" He asked.