AUTHOR'S NOTE: Sorry I'm not working on the others, but this popped into my head. I probably won't have it posted until at least the next chapter of Rules, but…yes.
It had been years since Hermione had been in a church. She had gone a few times when she was young, on Christmas and Easter and once for her youngest cousin's christening, but she certainly hadn't been practicing or anything. She knew, dimly, in the back of her mind, that Hogwarts even had a chapel, for the more religious students, but she had never visited it. She had scoffed religion, when she was younger. She was smart, she believed in science, not some invisible God in the clouds. Even after she had discovered magic, she believed in that more than she did in God. She had thought it proved she was smart.
Now she just didn't know what it proved.
Ron seemed just as lost as her, even though she knew that some wizarding families were religious. She didn't know how they balanced it—Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live, right?—but she guessed it was the same way Muggle scientists balanced science and religion. It was just—believing, she guessed.
It was a very nice church, she admitted that. Stone and ancient, it reminded her comfortingly of Hogwarts. The windows were stained glass images of saints and angels, and she held on to Ron's hand as they entered. It was so quiet, she thought. Her and Ron's footsteps felt weak, muted somehow, as they stood in the entrance, slightly lost.
A man in front of them dunked his fingers into a little bowl filled with water and crossed himself before continuing. Ron gave her a look.
"Should we?" Ron asked, and Hermione shook her head.
"I don't think it's required. Come on, lets go in."
With tentative steps, the two entered. They could see that the pews were filled to the brim with people, and Hermione felt a bit blindsided by how many people were there. She had always thought smart people didn't prescribe to church nonsense—her parents hadn't, or any of her parent's friends. But here were all these people—how could they all be wrong?
They spotted the messy hair very quickly, with an ease born of years of searching for that familiar head at mealtimes, in lessons, on the Quidditch pitch. He was sitting in the middle of the pew, two rows from the front, and the rest of the pew was empty, as though people didn't want to get too close.
Hermione and Ron slipped in and nothing was said for a few minutes. Then Ron reached out, tentatively, and grabbed his hand and gave it a squeeze.
"You did it," he said softly, and Harry looked up, and she could see the tears in his eyes, and suddenly Hermione wanted nothing more than to hold him and cry with him about everything they'd won and all the things they'd lost.
Harry shook his head and swallowed. "I didn't do anything special." He looked forward again, where a man was talking in Latin. She listened and thought she could pick out a few words.
"Came here after Dumbledore," Harry said quietly. "The Latin…kinda soothing, you know?"
Hermione nodded wordlessly. It was soothing, she guessed. Was that what religion was for? Soothing?
"Harry," Ron said persistantly. "You—you did it. It's over."
Harry shook his head and his gaze dropped to his lap. "It's not—god, I don't think it's ever going to be over."
People started to leave the pews and line up, and Ron looked slightly confused. Harry stood.
"It's Ash Wednesday," Harry said as an explanation. "I—I think I'll get ashes."
"What's ashes?" Ron asked. Hermione had a faint idea—she remembered her teacher having a dark smear on her forehead one year in primary school—but she listened anyway.
"Ash Wednesday is when you—I don't know. It's—it's a sort of repentence. You know, just—thinking about the bad things you've done. Forgiveness. You get ashes to, uhm, I guess humble yourself before God."
Hermione frowned. "Are you Christian, Harry?"
Harry darted a look around him and shrugged. "I think I just need all the help I can get." He got in line, and Ron and Hermione followed him.
Ron persisted, even though Hermione felt like it might be better to stay silent. The church was too still and too foreign to be talking in it. It felt like a grave—but Ron never felt like that.
"Harry," he said in that same insistant, lowered tone, "You don't need any forgiveness. You won—we won! It's over!"
Harry avoided both their eyes. "I—I really hurt a lot of people, Ron."
Of course. Harry was sensative, Harry cared about people—the deaths would take a hard toll on him. That might explain why he'd run from the field.
They had gone frantic with worry looking for Harry at the end of the battle. He was nowhere to be found, and Hermione, who had always prided herself on her cool head in emergencies, had collapsed in hysterics. It had all just been too much—they had won, but at such a terrible price, and she wouldn't let Harry not be in this new world without Voldemort. It had all seemed to be just too much. To have lost Dumbledore, and Snape—Snape, who had fallen before Harry as if to say he was sorry, as if to get his own forgiveness—to have lost the people who had fought the hardest and given up the most, it was too cruel. Too hard.
But then Ron had cast a Point-Me and they had followed it all the way to the church. Harry hadn't stopped for a bath or a change of clothes or anything—he had dirt streaked on his cheeks, and his clothes were ripped and torn. Hermione and Ron looked a little better—a quick Scourgify before they entered the church, a hastily transfigured set of Muggle clothes that were still more presentable than Harry's tattered shirt and trousers. No wonder they had given him such wide berth in the pews—he looked homeless. He'd been crying, she could tell, tear tracks and puffy eyes. Harry was sensative. Harry cared, and his heart must be torn to shreds.
Ron didn't get it. "Harry—you didn't hurt anybody. They—you didn't kill them, it was the Death Eaters, and Vol—"
"Not just people on our side, Ron!" Harry snapped. "I—I really hurt them! Malfoy, and Nott—they're just kids, and I killed them!"
Ron was speechless, and Hermione leapt in for the first time, put her hand on Harry's arm. "Harry—you didn't want to. They didn't give you a choice—"
"I should be better than them!" Harry said angrily. "I shouldn't have to—to sink to their level!"
It wasn't just that Harry was caring, Hermione saw. It was that he cared about other people more than himself, that even horrible Death Eater scum like Malfoy—Malfoy, who had killed Colin Creevy—mattered. Not even them—it was the damage Harry had inflicted that mattered.
"Harry," Hermione said softly. "You're just a kid too. And they would have killed you—"
Hermione didn't let him finish. "And if they killed you," she continued, "Then there would be so many more people dead." She cleared her throat and remembered how it was when Nott fell.
"We would be dead, Ron and I."
Harry swallowed and shook his head. "There should have been another way."
"There wasn't another way," Ron said. "You did what you had to do. And now—"
"Now it's over," Hermione said softly. "You never—you'll never have to kill anybody again."
Harry looked her in the eye. "Even if it wasn't over—I don't think I would be able to anyway." He sighed, rubbed a hand over his face, took off his glasses—he looked so old, Hermione thought.
They had approached the front of the line, and Harry knelt before the man, who smiled gently at Harry as he reached out and smeared something on Harry's forehead.
"Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris."
Harry crossed himself, said a mechanical amen, and moved aside. Hermione was next.
"Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris."
Hermione did the same and looked up at the man, who smiled kindly. She looked behind her—other than Ron, there was only two other people left. She licked her lips, then asked a question.
"What does that mean?"
The man smiled down at her and reminded her of Dumbledore a little—always a smile. "Remember man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return."
She nodded, whispered thanks, left the line and stood next to Harry. He had his eyes squeezed shut, his Adam's apple was bobbing, and for the first time she noticed how very weary he looked. She had noticed him looking tired, of course, and everyone knew that there were great weights on his soul, but she had never seen him beaten. There was always a raw sort of determination you could see, sense, even in his darkest moments. She couldn't find it now.
She didn't normally do the customary eye flick upward that Ron sometimes did, and strangers to Harry, when they were checking his name against his scar. Now, since he just looked so weary, she did it.
She could barely see it. Instead, there was a dark cross of ashes over it. It was as if a small child had taken a large black crayon and tried to erase the scar from existing by crossing it out firmly.
She wished she could cross out the scar and that would mean everything would be okay.
But it wasn't okay. It was over, yes, for a while. Voldemort was dead, as was Lucius Malfoy and Peter Pettigrew and Bellatrix Lestrange, and out in the world people were celebrating. But Dumbledore was still dead, as was Sirius, and Cedric Diggory, and Snape and Neville. There were still so many people dead, so many people lost, and also so many people alive. So many of the Death Eaters had not been caught, so many had fled, and Hermione knew that there were still people scorning Muggles and calling people mudbloods and hating. That hadn't stopped, would never stop, and Hermione knew that it wasn't really over. Voldemort was over, but never what he stood for. Oh, it would be silenced, for a while, and it would decrease. But you can never stop hate.
Hermione knew that.
So she looked at Harry. She looked at the ashes on his forehead, the tears in his eyes, the weight on his soul. She looked at him, and she felt her heart break, and she saw the wish in every line of his body.
Please, he silently seemed to cry. Please, let it be over.
And she let out a prayer, right there, in a church, a prayer she never expeced to make, or need.
Please. Let it be over for him.
She thought about the forgiveness Harry needed, about the wounds he had suffered, about how much she would miss her parents if they were dead. She thought, for the first time in years, about how much Harry had missed in his life, how much he would never get back. How much he needed to forgive them, the wizarding world, for turning their back on him. For not believing in him.
She thought, and she prayed, and she yelled to God, because she knew her prayers would do no good.
Then she reached out and took Harry's hand. Ron took the other one.
And, wordlessly, the three walked out of the church, into the too bright sunlight and a world that all of them knew far too well.