A/N: I own nothing. The purpose of this fic is pure pleasure for the writer, and hopefully, for the readers.
Ghosts of the Past
Hermione Granger sat on a small chair, staring at the roaring fire, which despite its brilliance, still failed to share its warmth with the room. Her eyes tracked the smoke that trailed upwards to the green mantelpiece, now scorched lightly by the flame beneath it. Green, scorched by black… it reminded her of a certain someone she had once counted as a friend.
Hermione sighed – it would not do much good to think of him now. She cradled her head in her arms as she strove not to think of that strangely tragic day – the day they had that horrible "conversation", hours after Dumbledore's death – the day everything had gone so awry. No, she must not think of it. She had to go the Headquarters at eight. She looked at the clock. Seven thirty.
Tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tock…
She could not bear the anticipation, and the thoughts that threatened to overwhelm her in the cold room.
She went up to the window and stretched, sticking her head out. The cold breeze hit her face, and she revelled at the sight of a calm, cool morning in New York City. Yes, she thought, the States was an ideal place for her parents – far away from the horrors of war, far away from fighting that dreadful monster.
She went back to the chair. She looked at the clock again. Seven thirty-five. She sighed again. This was going to be a long wait. However, just as she strove to avoid the memory, it returned to the forefront of her mind. Again.
Harry had entered the Gryffindor Dormitory. His face was oddly set. Hermione glanced at the dark-haired young man. Ron, who was fastening a lock on his trunk, looked up as well. "Harry?" Hermione asked tentatively.
"I broke up with Ginny," Harry muttered.
Hermione and Ron stared at him for a silent moment, before Ron spluttered, "But… why?"
Harry gave Ron a cold, appraising gaze, a look Hermione had never before seen on Harry's face. It did not bode well. "She offered to help," Harry said quietly, "I don't… need her though."
Lavender, Katie and Romilda were in the room. They both looked up, apparently drinking in every word of the uncomfortable conversation.
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked quickly.
Harry laughed – a high, harsh laughter, which did not suit him.
"She… I don't think she's quite over Dean," Harry said with a shrug, still smiling in a fashion that look distinctly morbid, "Plus… like I said, I don't need her."
Then he glared at them. "And I sure as hell don't need you two."
Hermione shook her head. Something had gone wrong that day, dead wrong. No one had been thinking clearly.
She looked up at the clock. Five to eight. She opened the door quietly, locked it behind her, turned on the spot and disappeared.
Halfway across the globe, Ronald Bilius Weasley sat brooding on a chair in Grimmauld Place, London. A fire was blazing in the ancient hearth.
Ron gasped as he tried to untangle the robes that had wrapped around him, as he hung in mid-air. This was weird, he thought – Harry was never this aloof, nor this aggressive. But the man should not have called him – Ronald Weasley – a useless buffon.
"LET ME DOWN!" he shouted angrily.
"Why, Ron?" Harry taunted, "So you can kiss your long-molared, bushy-haired, Little-Miss-Know-it-all girlfriend?"
There was a noise as if a whip had just cracked on a horse's back, and Ron crumpled in a heap to the ground. He looked up quickly. Harry was clutching his cheek. Hermione stood in front of him, eyes blazing. Harry staggered backwards and tripped against someone. Harry turned around to find himself face to face with Ginny Weasley. Harry's eyes widened as he saw Ginny standing there, white-faced, her hands shaking in fury. Harry regained his composure, picked up Ron's wand, which had been lying on the floor, and thrust it at Ginny. "It's about the only useful thing here," he said in a horrible, sarcastic voice.
Ginny reared back and punched him in the face. Ron gaped. Harry staggered backwards, his face contorted in cold fury. He turned on his heels, picked up his trunk, and stormed away towards the Hogwarts carriages, which were to cart them off to the Hogwarts Express.
Harry did not speak to them on the Express. Neither did he even look at the Weasleys as he trudged across the platform to meet his podgy uncle.
Ron shook his head wearily. He buried his face in his hands. Hermione was right. Harry… something had gone wrong that day.
Suddenly there was a soft tap on the door to the Black ancestral home. Ron answered the knock with his wand held aloft. "Hermione?" he whispered.
"What's my favourite colour?"
Ron chuckled. "Right in one 'Mione." He unlocked the door.
Hermione stepped into the room and hugged Ron tightly. "It's been too long, Ron," she whispered. They tiptoed across the room where Sirius' old mother resided in a damned portrait.
"Has the meeting started?" Hermione asked Ron, after they crossed the room.
"No," Ron said as he tapped on the door leading into the kitchen thrice, "We were waiting for you."
"Enter," a stern voice said from the other side.
Ron and Hermione entered the meeting room – an erstwhile dining hall - and the door snapped shut behind them.
A few thousand miles to the south, Harry Potter stood on top of a small mound in the midst of a dark forest. The locals called it the Valley of Blood, and for good reason - it was a cursed place. And for some reason, Harry felt like he belonged there.
He frowned as his seat – a simple log of wood – grew increasingly uncomfortable as the hours passed him by. He flicked his wand. The log vanished and a plush, strange-looking, serpentine throne materialised from thin air on top of the hill. Harry sat wearily on the throne and ran his hand across the cold metal, softly tracing the contours of his own conjuration.
He had not intended for the… throne… to be so… majestic, or so ostentatious. The throne was solid silver, with serpents carved at regular intervals along the armrests. The back of the throne resembled a giant serpent, spreading its hood over the dark-haired boy who was seated upon it, brooding over the past year.
A strange and terrible year.
The paths he had trod, the people he had tortured, the creatures he had coaxed, the men and beasts he had killed… no, he must not think of them. Their ghosts always returned to haunt him. He was falling into a deep, dank well of misdeeds he would never recover from.
And there was no respite from the darkness.
Harry trudged up to McGonagall's office wearily. That was the second time that day she had summoned him to her office. If she wanted him to reveal Dumbledore's revelations about Voldemort, there was no chance he'd tell her, especially if the former Headmaster himself had kept it a secret from the former Deputy Headmistress. He opened the door to the Head's Office. He chanced a glance at Dumbledore's portrait, but it was still asleep. He sighed and proceeded to McGonagall who was studying an envelope on her table.
She looked up at him. "Dumbledore's portrait reminded me to hand this over to you." She looked up at Dumbledore's portrait, annoyed. "He's gone to sleep again, I see. He wouldn't tell me what it was about. Apparently, only you can open this envelope. And he insisted you open it at once."
Harry went wearily up to the table and tore the envelope open.
"Read this letter quickly, but carefully. If you are reading this message, it means that I have failed in my duty to protect you. Forgive me for this lapse.
"The letter will self-destruct as soon as you finish reading. I have left you my Pensieve and a few memories. I suggest you view the first memory as soon as possible. If convenient, I suggest you view it in the Headmistress' Room now.
"Albus Percival Brian Wulfric Dumbledore."
Harry looked at the cabinet in the corner. McGonagall followed his gaze. The letter in Harry's hand burnt to ashes. She gazed at the cabinet and the Pensieve within. Harry looked at her uncertainly. She nodded. "He left me a letter as well. He asked me to allow you to look into the Pensieve, for some strange reason. You… may do so."
Harry blinked. McGonagall took a few files from her desk and started surveying them. Harry forced his gaze towards the Pensieve. He edged towards the cabinet. He saw several memories. He picked up the memory marked "1" and emptied the silver substance into the Pensieve. He took a deep breath and plunged his face into the silver wisps of a dead man's memories.
Things had gone downhill after that. "I have a journey for you to undertake…" Dumbledore had said.
"Suspend your friendship and your relations Harry…"
"The path of nobility can be a lonely, albeit rewarding one"…
"Sacrifices have to be made, for the greater good"…
"I never wanted this for you, Harry, but you have lived a good life for seventeen years"…
"Harry I need you to look at this memory carefully"…
"Harry, concentrate on this place and apparate there for the first stage of your training"…
And Harry had followed Dumbledore's instructions. He had consorted with the best and the worst in the magical world – all of those meetings arranged by a powerful, crafty old man with a long reach that extended well beyond his own grave. He had learnt several things – terrible and great. Terrible and forbidden.
He shuddered as the weight of his own memories drove down upon him. They always returned at night.
His greatest failure.
He sat up straight on the throne on the hillock and brandished his wand. A mirror appeared in front of him. He looked into it and whispered, "Am I so very changed, Dumbledore?"
There was a flash of lightning across the sky. A gaunt, drawn and terrible face looked back at him from the mirror. He had suffered and the suffering had taken its due. No one would now recognise him as the Harry who had disappeared a year ago without a trace. No one. Not even Ron and Hermione. Not even Ginny.
"Why, Dumbledore? Why me?" he rasped into the dreary darkness of the Valley of Blood. No one answered.