Chapter Twenty six Dumbledore's Advice

Harry knelt beside Ginny as Mr. and Mrs. Weasley rushed up. Arthur Weasley picked his daughter up and rushed off. Harry stood and turned to look at Hermione, stunned and unfocused. Snape was kneeling beside her and Remus and Ron were on the opposite side looking down.

"You will live!" Snape said firmly, looking into her face. He turned to Ron who was white-faced. "Go down to my potion's closet and fetch me back white clover leaf and runnel. Do you know what to look for?"

Ron was still staring at the inert body of Hermione.

"Mr. Weasley!" Snape exploded.

Ron nodded. He immediately turned and ran back down the hall. Snape glanced around. The hall was filling with people as Harry, stumbled towards him.

"Longbottom!" Snape shouted.

Harry turned his head slightly as Neville walked past and over to Snape. The man looked at him. "Go to the greenhouses and bring me the Devil's claw plant. Do you know it?"

Neville also nodded and took off at a run.

It seemed to Harry that he was walking through mud. Everyone else seemed to be moving at the speed of light while he had only just arrived and looked down at Hermione. He collapsed to his knees beside her and looked at Snape who looked back.

"Alive?" he gasped breathless. "Is she still alive?"

Snape nodded and was holding her head in the crook of his arm, where her hair draped down to the floor behind it.. The bite mark was visible. It was white and veins of black stretched from it like deadly tendrils. The edges of the two bite holes were curdled white skin. Hermione's face was pale and it seemed like the very edges of her skull was shining through the translucent skin.

Harry studied her face and then looked into Snape's. "I can't do this," he murmured. "I can't survive if she dies. I can't stand it." He said it simply and somehow knew that he was in shock and yet could do nothing about it. He felt nothing, not Remus touch on his shoulder; heard nothing going on around him, not the noise and sounds of whispering in the gathering crowd and saw nothing but the white face before him. He took her hand between his own; it felt like ice.

"Shouldn't we move her to the hospital wing," Remus asked.

Snape shook his head. "The least amount of movement will force the venom through her faster. We must wait until they bring the ingredients to the potion."

Harry felt his vision blur and did not understand that it was his tears that caused it. "You cannot let her die."

Snape stared at him and caught his eyes. "I will do what I can."

Harry nodded and grasped her hand tighter. He continued to stare at Snape as if his own conviction would somehow make it true. They waited and Harry knew that movement was taking place around him and yet could not attend to it. He kept watching Snape who finally leaned over slightly.

"I loved your mother, Potter. Death took her from me and I have resented it all my life. There was a quality about her that I shall never forget, one that abides in this girl. It is a light that cuts through the darkness of the soul. It made living bearable and believe me there were many times when I felt that I could not go on." Snape's black eyes were almost glaring at him as he spoke. His voice was intense and almost terrible. "I would have done anything to prevent Lily's death. Since I could not I will stop death at the door for this one if it is within my power."

Harry nodded, still speechless.

He spoke softly, "Love can move mountains, Mr. Potter. Have faith, she knows you are here and your strength will sustain her."

Harry nodded again and clasped her hand tighter.

Snape held her and glanced up as Ron came running up carrying ingredients in is arms. He knelt and laid them on the floor next to Snape. Neville was not far behind.

"Mr. Weasley place the cauldron here and light a fire beneath it. Mr. Longbottom you will mix this potion. I cannot move Miss Granger. Do exactly as I say." Neville looked at him and Snape added, "It will produce three drops of liquid. There can be no mistake or it must be brewed again and it will be too late if we have to start again."

Neville knelt and began to pry open the Devil's claw plant that curled like two black wiry talons around a fat seed pod. He extracted the seed as directed by Snape and peeled it. In the meantime, Ron was lighting a fire beneath the cauldron. Both worked without speaking and showed none of the typical classroom jitters around Snape. Snape's face glittered with sweat as steam rose from the cauldron.

Harry was not aware that Remus had moved people back away from them and set them on errands to clean out the castle. They were left alone, just he and Ron, Neville working feverishly and Snape. Harry was capable of doing nothing but holding Hermione's hand and watching.

Snape glanced at him again but did not speak.

Harry swallowed the hard know in his throat. The potion took a long time to brew and was finally done. Snape accepted a teaspoon of it from Neville who handed it to him with a steady hand, unlike Snape's, whose shook. Neville guided the precious cargo, by steadying Snape's hand so that the three drops were finally poured into Hermione's mouth.

They waited.

Harry watched with tremendous anxiety, knowing that his heart would break if Hermione died. He had lost everyone that he had ever cared about with the exception of his friends. He looked over at Snape who also appeared worried.

He found the air in his lungs and blurted, "You know I have never thanked you for saving my mother." He didn't know where the words had come from but they were heart-felt and genuine.

Snape glanced at him and nodded once and then looked back at Hermione without responding. He held her as a lover would, gazing down into her face.

Dawn began to break and a pink- pale gauzy yellow light shone in through the mullioned windows of the corridor. Harry watched Hermione and wasn't sure if the pink in her cheeks was the result of the dawning light or color coming back into her face. He heard Snape give an almost inaudible sigh and his own breath caught in his chest as he watched her began to stir.

"That's it, that's it," Snape murmured. "Wake up. I can't have my best potion's student sleeping on the job." He said it tenderly and at last slowly lowered her to the floor where her eyes began to flutter until they opened. She opened her mouth to speak and was unable to. "It will be alright, Miss Granger. Try not to speak."

"Ahhhh," Harry gasped and Ron, who was just behind him let out a low moan.

The nasty bite marks were now red and the black veins of poison were receding and almost invisible. She looked at them with overly bright eyes and clung to Harry's hand and, to his surprise, Snape's.

Snape leaned over and said very softly, "I hope that we can say that you are still a maiden Miss Granger and have not sacrificed yourself?" She nodded once and he rose up to his knees. "I think it is safe to take her to the hospital wing," Snape said and gently pulled his hand away. "You can manage that can't you, Mr. Weasley?" Ron must have nodded because people began to stir around Harry who was still holding Hermione's other hand.

"Potter, you need to go too," Snape said gently.

"Huh?" Harry huffed with what was left of expelled air. "Oh, right." He allowed someone to help him to his feet and he followed behind Ron who had Hermione on an invisible stretcher and was propelling her towards the stairs to the hospital wing. A hand guided him along and his feet moved without any self-will involved.

Harry was still dazed and turned once to glance back at Snape who had risen from the floor and was watching him go. Lupin stood beside him. They both watched him as he left the hall.

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The next day and for many days after, the Daily Prophet put out two editions in their attempt to catch up with the events over the past forty-eight hours. The headline was like a toothache, it kept repeating in large letters across the entire top of the front page: HE-WHO-MUST-NOT-BE-NAMED-DEAD OR ALIVE?

It seemed Madam Pomphrey had been called to service in her customary place in Hogwarts hospital wing before term had even begun. There were a number of injured and she tended to them with her somewhat less then tender care. Harry was amongst them although he was not badly injured. He was, however, not himself. Or at least, not feeling like he'd ever felt before. He wondered if it might not have something to do with the fact that Voldemort was dead. Actually he worried about it, because he knew that at some level he had shared his mind with the evil wizard.

He lay in his bed and stared at the wall, his back turned to the room. Even Hermione could not draw him out. She could not talk for over a week because of the wound in her neck, but she did manage to walk to his bedside and pat his hand. She later stopped by to say goodbye for a short time and promised a quick return. She wore a silk scarf around her neck which covered the two very large holes that remained.

There was still the issue of Nagini to resolve and none of them had talked since the night of their escape from Azkaban and the fight at Hogwarts. Harry had not seen or spoken to Remus or to Snape.

The room was very quiet. It had been over a week and most of the injured had been moved to St. Mungo's or had been cured. Even Hermione had returned home briefly and was now at the Burrow with the Weasley family. Harry, on the other hand, had not left his bed.

It was now August and the new term of school would start shortly. He had listened as teachers arrived and cleanup of the grounds and the castle had started. He had not gone out to the grounds nor stepped out in the hall to watch. He had not accepted visitors; not the Minister of Magic, not even Hagrid.

"Mr. Potter you must eat," Madam Pomphrey said and bustled around his bed to place a tray nearby. She moved as crisply as her starched skirt and apron. He stared at her and she frowned. "If you don't eat I shall provide a special potion that will stimulate your appetite. And believe me Mr. Potter it will not be to your liking!"

"Perhaps, I can persuade him," a voice said behind her.

Harry frowned and turned his head away. he knew the voice. It was Lupin.

"Harry?"

Harry lay looking at the ceiling.

"Harry can you tell me what is troubling you?" Remus stood at the side of the bed, hands folded and waited.

Harry studied his feet tucked under the bedding and placed a hand over his brow. "I don't know if I can," he said after a few minutes.

"Try. I will try and understand."

"I don't know what to do with myself, Remus," Harry finally said. He pushed the covers aside and sat up and finally looked over at the man. "I don't have a home, I don't have a family." He swung his feet out and slumped on the bed. "I don't know what I want. Voldemort is gone. Whatever was inside of me that was a part of him is gone to. that should make me happy but instead, I feel as if I have lost a part of myself, like he took a piece with him. I don't feel anything."

Lupin was looking at him with sad gray eyes and yet there was a hint of a smile playing on his lips. "You survived Harry. Beyond all odds, you survived. That's a miracle in and of itself. you save peoples lives."

"Nagini is still alive, he's still alive," Harry said in disgust.

Lupin nodded. "Yes. But you must remember that the snake hold one Horcrux. The others have been destroyed. Even if Voldemort managed to regain a body, he is severely handicapped by the loss of the other six soul pieces."

"Don't you see, it feels like this will never end," Harry responded. "It's as if he will haunt me for the rest of my life."

"I understand that you want to be an Auror," Remus said and glanced at his nails. "If you do that you will always be hunting dark wizards. And you have some skill at it Harry and it didn't come from Voldemort. You are a talented wizard, I've known it all along. You didn't just inherit your looks from your parents Harry, you also inherited their intelligence and their skills."

Harry was already shaking his head. "I didn't get enough O.W.L.S. particularly in potions. I can't be an Auror."

"Perhaps that can be adjusted," another familiar voice said from behind him. It was Snape. "You still have one more year at Hogwarts Mr. Potter. With some special help you might be able to set for your N.E.W.T exams and acquire the requisite skill level acceptable to the Minstry's Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

The man was gliding towards them, dressed in his familiar black cassock robes and appeared already primed and ready for the school year; including his typical sour expression.

Remus glanced at him and then back to Harry. "Professor Snape has been re-instated, Harry. He will continue teaching at Hogwarts."

Harry studied the two of them as they waited for his reaction.

Lupin went on, looking at Snape, "Should we tell him?"

Snape with his characteristic snarling expression, raised his eyebrows and sighed deeply. "Oh please do, Lupin. Let's raise his already inflated ego just a bit more. Let's polish up his notoriety."

Harry frowned angrily and Lupin laughed.

"It seems that the wizarding world would like to give you an award, Harry. Both you and Professor Snape have been awarded the Order of Merlin First Class and since you are of age they have decided to make a place for you in the Wizengamot." Lupin continued, "I understand that there is some kind of movement to put you on a trading card in the chocolate frogs."

"What?!" Harry was now sitting erect and glaring at the two of them. "I...I..." he stammered first at Remus and then turned to Snape, "I don't want that!"

Lupin sobered quickly and said, "Yes, well we do have some things that the Order must continue to supervise and deal with. If you don't want to do any of those other things then I would at least like you to consider becoming a member of the Order. And the truth is Harry you do have a home. You can always return to Godric's Hollow." He stopped and seemed to consider it and then went on, "That is if there are no unpleasant memories associated with it." His face paled a little as he said it and Harry knew that he was thinking of his own memories.

"You're right Remus, I do think of it as my true home." He thought about what he had said.

"There is someone that wishes to speak to you, Mr. Potter." Snape interrupted the heavy silence that followed. "He has been awake and alert since the night of..."

"Who?" Harry interrupted not wanting him to continue.

"Why Professor Dumbledore," Snape said calmly. "His portrait. It remains in his old office. He has asked about you."

Harry realized he was mildly shocked. He hadn't give Dumbledore much thought over the past few weeks. He stared at the floor for a moment and then slipped off the bed and into his slippers. It was a hot and sunny day and the school was empty. He didn't bother with a dressing gown. Yes, that's exactly who I want to talk to, he thought.

"I'm going up to his office," he said and then at the last moment he reached into the bedside dresser and pulled out the satchel that had remained with him through the whole ordeal. He reached in and retrieved the diary by touch alone. He looked at it for a moment and then handed it to Snape who took it as if it were a fragile piece of pottery. Harry opened it to the first page and said, "I forgive you for lying to me Remus, about having read her diary. I know why you did it. Anyway-," he cleared his throat and spoke to the book, "-mum it's me, Harry. Remus and Severus are here. You can talk to them now."

Snape's hand shuddered as the words were spoken and then in the room with the tall cathedral ceilings Lily's voice rang out. "Hello my dear friends..."

Harry left them and in his pajamas and slippers he made his way to the stone gargoyles and stood before them. He had been afraid to walk the halls of Hogwarts, afraid that he was too much changed, that he could not stand to see them again, that somehow the school would tell him he didn't belong and he needed to get out. It was something he had been feeling all along, that he was now a foreigner in the wizarding world and that he belonged neither here or in the muggle world.

To his delight he found comforted as he walked. The halls and corridors had been returned to their pristine condition and with the exception of the lack of noise, it was as if he had returned for the new school term.

He closed his eyes and thought about the password for a long time and then said, "Lemon drop." He was not surprised when the staircase swung around and revealed the moving stairs. He entered Dumbledore's office and walked quietly through the tables with their whirring objects. He looked at them and then walked on towards the large desk. The perch that Fawkes normally would have sat on was missing, but other than that the office had been returned the condition left by its former owner. And that owner was now staring down at him from a portrait that hung just behind the desk.

Harry stared back. Dumbledore's deep blue eyes twinkled with delight and the former headmaster smiled.

"Hello, Harry."

"Hello, Professor," Harry said. Their voices were muted in the small room.

"I'm glad you came. I hope you are not too awfully angry with me," Dumbledore said. "I wasn't quite ready to leave you so soon; but alas, it was not something I could control."

Harry stared up at the picture and searched though his feelings. "I was angry Professor, and hurt. I had come to think that you could do almost anything. I didn't expect you to give up..."

"I didn't give up, Harry." Dumbledore interrupted gently. "I was weakened by the water of the Inferi and I had just enough strength to protect you. You were important, not me. The sands of the hourglass of my life had run out. I had lived a full life. It was important that you had a chance to have one, too." Dumbledore shook his snowy white head. "I knew, a premonition let's say, that my time was short. I tried to show you what you needed to know and set your feet on that path. Severus, tells me that you were very brave and you handled yourself very well."

Harry shook his head in disagreement. "We weren't successful. One of the Horcruxes survives. That could mean Voldemort is still out there somewhere. It could happen all over again..."

"No, Harry," Dumbledore said interrupting the stream of protests. "I think it will take some time...and skill, but it will be found and destroyed. I think what you need to worry about now is finishing school, being with your friends..."

"How can I?!" Harry snapped. "I don't know how to do that. I'm not sure of who I really am, like there are pieces missing. I have questions and I need some answers to. All I can think of is what almost happened. I lost you and Sirius and my parents and almost lost Hermione. There are others that died...could have died...almost died."

"But they didn't Harry," Dumbledore insisted. "And the truth is, death awaits us all. And if we can do something good before that happens, it is for the better. There will always be evil wizards out there whether you are alive or not. For now it is important that you learn to enjoy life without worry and fear, that you enjoy your friends and love them. You must find the answers to your questions and not rely on me, or others, to answer them." The older man peered over his glasses as he always did in life.

Harry looked into the eyes that were no longer human and three dimensional. "I miss you," he finally said. "I need you."

Dumbledore shook his head. "No, Harry. You need people who are alive. That was why I did not respond when addressed. I am but an echo of the human who lived. I cannot meet your needs; I cannot be a friend, a companion. You need and deserve more. Go out there and live!" The eyes twinkled. "I hear that you have a chance to be on the back of chocolate frogs. Quite the honor!" A smile crept onto the lips. "You are like the son that I never had. Go out there and make me proud."

Harry left the office not completely satisfied. There were certainly things about the wizarding world that were mystifying; that included the portraits. He could tell that Dumbledore's portrait was not whole, was not as satisfying as the man himself. He walked the halls and ended up in the Gryffindor common room. He felt lonely all of a sudden and wished for someone to talk to. After weeks of avoiding people he now wanted a live person.

Glancing out the window, he knew the very person that he wanted to see. Hagrid's hut had been burned to the ground. Now, he could see the beginnings of a new building. And it was obvious that the person doing the building was no architect. The simple mud and stick structure was going up rather like a child's sand castle. Harry felt sure that Grawp probably was giving Hagrid a hand.

He started out of the portrait hole and realized that he was dressed in his pajamas. He pulled out his wand and studied it for a moment. Seven years before he would not have known what to do with it; would not have been able to transfigure a beetle. Now he could easily transform the pajamas into normal clothes. He also knew deep in his heart that the magic he had used to kill Voldemort had not come from Dumbledore's wand or even from having Voldemort try to kill him. The magic had come from him.

The feeling he had been having was ebbing a little. With a touch of the wand, he changed his clothes and headed out of the building and across the grounds.

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Epilogue

Fred and George Weasley did the arrangements for Fleur and Bill's wedding. It was the last day of August and the day before Hermione, Ron, Harry and Ginny were to return to school on the Hogwarts Express.

Harry stood in the decorated garden along with Ron and watched Fleur standing with Bill in a circle of friends and family; all joining hands to begin the customary ceremony. He linked his fingers into Ginny's on one side and Hermione's on the other and felt satisfaction for the first time in his life.

to be continued...