Disclaimer: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
A/N: Again, thanks to my beta Tristifico.
Proof of Existence
Chapter 2: Forgotten Friendship
He clutched his wand by his side as he walked along the burning street. Lifeless bodies were everywhere. He saw a little girl with blood dripping from her forehead. A boy wearing the Hogwarts uniform. A man whose face was covered by a white mask. He had killed them all.
He stopped in his tracks as a tall figure appeared before him. He dropped to his knees at once and stared up into the pair of inhuman crimson eyes expectantly, even though he had no idea what he was expecting.
Then a scream rang out from behind him and he jerked, startled. A cold wave of fear swept over him as he recognized the voice. Still kneeling, he looked over his shoulder just in time to see a familiar redhead falling onto the ground. Their eyes met for a brief second. All he could see in his fallen friend's blue eyes were hatred and betrayal.
Harry woke up screaming. His eyes darted around wildly. It took him a moment to realize that he was not lying on the cold stone floor of his cell, but on a comfortable bed. A second later, the memories of what had happened the day before came back to him. He closed his eyes and took in several deep breaths, trying to clear his mind of the disturbing images from his dream.
Sitting up with some reluctance, Harry surveyed his surroundings. There was a large cabinet by the wall, just next to the door. Facing the window on the other side of the room was a writing desk and Harry's old trunk was placed on the floor beside it. Compared to his little dark cell in Azkaban, this comfortable bedroom was heaven. Everything was clean and orderly, which was not surprising considering whose home it was.
Images of the fallen redhead from his dream flashed before his eyes once again at the thought of Percy Weasley. An overwhelming – yet familiar - sense of guilt seized him and Harry shut his eyes tight, willing himself to calm down.
Get a grip, Harry, he told himself sternly.
Over the past ten years, guilt had become his constant companion. Had it not been for Percy's visits, he probably would have been driven insane long ago, especially in the first few years, with his past memories returning bit by bit in a slow, torturous fashion.
All things considered, Percy had every reason to let him rot in Azkaban. Instead, the usually stuffy and uptight Weasley had made it a point to visit him every year, supporting him despite – or perhaps because of - the history between them. And now, the least Harry could do to repay that kindness – a kindness that he hardly deserved - was to make the most of this second chance and stop dwelling in the past.
Or at least die trying to.
Harry let out a defeated sigh when he realized that mere thought of stepping out of this room filled him with dread. To his shame, he found that even though he was glad to be free, he was also terrified to go back to the world that he had not been part of for ten years.
Shaking his head, Harry pushed himself out of the bed and changed into the robe that Percy had prepared for him. He was more than a little embarrassed at the way that Percy seemed to be mothering him – he was twenty seven, for Merlin's sake – and he made a note to himself to buy some new clothes as soon as he had the chance. After a second of hesitation, he picked up his wand from the bedside table and stuffed it into his pocket without sparing it another glance.
There was no more reason to delay the inevitable. Harry called forth whatever was left of his Gryffindor courage and strode out of the room.
Molly Weasley stared at the stairs, her breakfast long forgotten. "I heard sounds coming from upstairs, I think he's in the bathroom now," she announced.
Her Mummy chuckled, pouring her a glass of milk. "There's no need to be so nervous, dear."
"I'm not nervous," muttered Molly. She was just excited to have a guest staying over at their house… and probably more than a little scared. But it was only natural, she reasoned. After all, their guest had been in Azkaban since before Molly was even born.
Molly didn't know much about Azkaban, except that it was a prison for the most horrible of wizards and witches. But that had changed around three months ago when she accidentally overheard her Daddy telling Mummy about a prisoner he had just visited there. Not just any prisoners, but a Death Eater. And her Daddy had referred to him as a 'friend'.
Like every child her age, Molly had heard horror stories concerning the Death Eaters. She knew that the Death Eaters worked for Voldemort in the war. They killed innocents, they kidnapped children from their parents, and they were evil.
That was why it made no sense at all for her Daddy, a hero in the war, to have a friend who was a Death Eater.
When her curiosity became too much to bear, she finally decided to ask her Daddy about it. To her surprise, her Daddy had become so uneasy with her questions that he had even forgotten to reprimand her for eavesdropping. She had learned much that day, not only about the identity of that mysterious Death Eater, but also about the Weasleys - her own family. She still remembered that conversation clearly. It had started with a most unexpected question.
"What do you know about Harry Potter, Molly?"
Molly's eyes widened. No Weasley ever talked about Harry Potter. It was a rule! It was a rule because whenever that name was mentioned, her Grandma would cry and everyone else would become very upset.
In her confusion, Molly barely managed to mutter, "Only his name."
Her Daddy nodded, not at all surprised, and carried her onto his laps. "I have known Harry for a long time," he began quietly. "He and your Uncle Ron were in the same year at Hogwarts. They were best friends since their first year. Sometimes during summer holidays, Harry would visit the Burrow and spent a few weeks with our family. Your Grandma was really fond of him." He paused briefly before continuing, "But then the war started and things became… difficult. We all had to choose a side, and Harry chose to become a Death Eater."
Molly gasped. Harry Potter was a Death Eater? Was that why everyone avoided talking about him? But why was her Daddy telling her-
"You- you were visiting him, weren't you, Daddy?" she asked suddenly. "That Death Eater you were visiting in prison-"
"Yes, it's Harry," said her Daddy quietly.
"But why?" she cried, unaware that her voice was growing louder and louder. "Why would you visit him? He has hurt Grandma and Aunt Ginny and- and everyone!"
Her Daddy sighed. "Harry has done some horrible things as a Death Eater, but he has also done this world a lot of good. It was largely thanked to him that we are at peace now."
Molly frowned. "How?"
"He turned back to our side, Molly. In the end, Harry chose to fight against Voldemort instead of helping him," An odd look crossed her Daddy's face as he said that. "And in the final battle, Harry defeated him."
It took Molly a moment to realize what that meant. "Harry Potter was the one who defeated Voldemort?"
Her Daddy nodded. "Harry won the war for us. He would have been praised as a hero, but he threw that away and took responsibility for what he has done as a Death Eater. He turned himself in to the Ministry after the war and he has been staying in Azkaban ever since."
Molly swallowed and leaned in closer to her Daddy for comfort.
"Harry felt so guilty for the crimes he has committed that it's hurting him badly everyday, even now. That's why I visited him. It was the least I could do after all he'd done for us."
Molly was beginning to understand what had happened. "But everyone else still hates him. They never talk about him."
"They don't hate him, Molly," said her Daddy, again looking uncomfortable. "They were just hurt by his choices. Harry used to be very close to our family."
Molly sat in silence, thinking about Harry Potter, who had defeated the Dark Lord Voldemort, who was a Death Eater turned good, who was also her Daddy's friend. She bit her lip and made her decision.
"Do you think I can meet him too, Daddy?"
Since that conversation three months ago, Molly had learned much more about Harry Potter. From what her Daddy had told her, Harry Potter had saved Aunt Ginny's life when he was still a student at Hogwarts. And when her Daddy was captured during the war, Harry Potter had also been the one who saved him. Finding out all these about the one man who had always been a mystery to her had been both exciting and frightening. And today, she was finally going to meet him in person.
She didn't have to wait long. She looked up sharply as she heard the sound of someone coming down the stairs. Beside her, her Daddy rose from his seat.
A man came into view. He stopped at the bottom of the stairs and looked around uncertainly. He was very thin and he looked as though he had been starved for ages. His black hair hung around his shoulders messily, sticking out in odd directions despite the length. Behind the pair of glasses, his green eyes were dull and lifeless. Molly shivered.
Her Daddy was the one who broke the silence. "Good morning, Harry."
"Morning, Percy." Harry Potter's voice was softer than Molly had imagined.
Feeling suddenly nervous as her Daddy led their guest into the room, Molly hastily shifted her gaze downward. She could hear her Mummy talking to Harry Potter now. And then-
"And this is my daughter Molly."
Molly tensed as she felt her Daddy's hand on her shoulder. She stood up and greeted their guest politely.
"Nice to meet you, Mr. Potter."
She looked up and found herself looking into the green eyes that had scared her just moments ago. They didn't seem as lifeless now and Molly could see – to her amazement – that Harry Potter seemed to be just as nervous as she was.
"Nice to meet you, Molly," he said, smiling. "And please, call me Harry."
Molly smiled back shyly.
The breakfast that followed was a quiet affair. No one talked much, except Molly's one-year-old sister Lucy, who was making funny noises as she was fed. Molly noticed that her Daddy was not reading the Prophet today like he usually did in the morning. In fact, the newspaper was nowhere in sight, even though she was certain that the delivery owl had already arrived.
Sitting across from her Daddy was Harry Pot- Harry. He was taking sips from his cup of tea, having already finished eating. He had only eaten very little. When her Mummy commented on it in concern, he had said something about his stomach not being used to too much food. Molly didn't understand what he meant, but she didn't think it would be polite to ask.
Then, before Molly realized it, breakfast was over. After telling Molly to look after Lucy, her Mummy gathered the dishes and retreated into the kitchen. Molly obediently cradled her sister in her arms and smiled as Lucy's little hand reached up to her. From the corner of her eyes, she could see Harry watching her. She struggled to hide her discomfort and was relieved when, moments after, Harry turned his attention back to her Daddy.
"Percy?" Harry sounded uncertain.
"Is there anything you need, Harry?"
Molly shifted in her seat. She concluded that since she was sitting right next to the adults and no one had told her to leave, she was not eavesdropping.
"I plan on visiting him today," said Harry.
Molly didn't know who Harry was referring to, but she could feel her Daddy tense up beside her.
"Everything went wrong after he- since that day," Harry explained. "If I am to leave the past behind and start over again, I have to speak to him, just once more."
There was a pause, then, "Do you want me to accompany you? I have to go back to the Ministry today, but-"
"No, I can manage by myself," Harry paused. He sounded uncertain when he continued, "Is- is that all right, Percy? For me to visit him, I mean."
"Of course," the answer came swiftly. There was a hint of surprise in Percy's voice.
"Harry, you don't have to ask for permission. You were his best friend."
"Best friend," Harry repeated with an odd undertone. "I don't think that counts for much anymore… after everything."
Molly wondered what Harry was talking about and why her Daddy had winced at Harry's statement. She didn't have the chance to find out the answer though, since her Daddy had finally deemed it unsuitable for her to listen in to his conversation with Harry.
"Molly, why don't you go play upstairs in your room with Lucy?"
Molly wanted to protest, but there was a guest in the room and she had to be on her best behavior. She reluctantly obeyed her Daddy's order.
The second wizarding war ended in June. Counting from when Voldemort had been resurrected, the war had lasted two years. It was relatively short compared to some other wizarding wars in history, but still many had died before the end of the nightmare. Among them were those who had sacrificed their lives in order to protect the world from Voldemort. To honour what they had done for the world, the Ministry had set up a cemetery and a memorial on a hill near Hogsmeade. The location had been chosen because Hogwarts was the battlefield of most important – and the very last battle in the war – the Battle of Hogwarts.
Around nine months after Voldemort had declared open war against the wizarding world, the Ministry of Magic had been taken. It had been October when the Ministry fell, and from that point on, with Albus Dumbledore as Headmaster, Hogwarts had become the last standpoint against Voldemort and his armies.
The famous Battle of Hogwarts took place in June, but Voldemort had made his first move to remove the last obstacle to his conquest long before that. Two months following the fall of the Ministry, Voldemort had sent his warning to Hogwarts' staff and students. It had been a Hogsmeade weekend – one of the few that had not been cancelled, and the Death Eaters had chosen that day to raid the magical village. More than half of those who had died in Hogsmeade that day were not yet of age.
Memories of the raid and all that had happened because of it kept playing back in Harry's mind as he walked up the stairs leading to the cemetery. As he came closer to his destination, the sick feeling in the stomach worsened. He was not worthy of this place. This was a place reserved solely for the heroes of the war, and despite what Percy had said, Harry knew very well that he was not welcomed here.
Still physically weak after his stay in Azkaban, Harry was panting heavily when he reached the top of the stairs. He could see the war memorial from there, but it was the person standing in front of the memorial stone that drew his attention. The first thought that crossed his mind was to flee and come back another time. He banished that cowardly thought immediately and forced himself to move forward. Sensing his presence, the person turned around and let out a small gasp.
"Hermione," the name came out in a whisper.
The last time Harry had seen her was in the Wizengamot courtroom. They were both seventeen then. Compared to Harry, who could barely recognize himself in front of a mirror, Hermione hadn't changed much in the past ten years, at least in appearance. Her hair seemed longer and her face sharper. She held herself with an air of someone of authority, which she was. According to Percy, Hermione had been working in influential position in the Ministry's Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
"I was waiting for you. I thought you might come here today," said Hermione. "I knew you'd want to visit him once you were-" she closed her eyes, and her calm façade shattered. "Oh, Harry, what have they done to you?"
Harry winced. "Azkaban does that to a person, Hermione," he said. "You know I deserve that."
Hermione looked pained, but she didn't contradict his statement. "In your trial, you said your memories were returning," she said carefully. "Do you remember what happened now?"
"There are still holes in my memories, but I can recall almost everything that happened in our fifth year," said Harry, knowing where this conversation was going. He glanced at his covered left forearm. "I suppose want to know why?"
"You suppose I want to know why?" said Hermione sharply. She took in a deep breath, obviously trying to regain her composure. It wasn't working. "So you are willing to share your secrets now, Harry Potter? It has been ten years! Twelve if you count from the moment you travelled back in time."
Harry's head jerked up. "What did you say?"
"You told Ron and me about it, remember?" said Hermione. "That's all you've ever explained to us."
"Professor Dumbledore told me about Alex, Harry," Hermione cut in, and Harry froze at the mention of his supposed alter ego. "I was trying to find out what exactly had happened to you, because it made absolutely no sense that you of all people would work for Voldemort. I knew everything started when you travelled back in time, but I couldn't figure out what could have changed you so much. In the end I decided to ask Professor Dumbledore – his portrait - directly. He told me that you and Tom Riddle were- were best friends in the past. And you became a Death Eater because-"
"Because I wanted to redeem him," Harry finished, when Hermione looked as though she was unable to continue. "I was such a fool."
He avoided her eyes, too ashamed of himself. Ron and Hermione were both his friends too, his best friends, and yet he had chosen his supposed friendship with Riddle over them, over everyone who had ever cared for him.
"I don't understand," said Hermione. She looked calmer now, but no less frustrated. "What made you think that Voldemort could- could turn back? Has he done anything-"
Harry shook his head. Hermione's attempt to make sense of what he had done only made matters worse, because there was no reason behind his horrible choice, or at least none that Harry could remember in any case.
"I don't understand my own decision any better than you do, Hermione," he admitted quietly. "Part of my memories never returned. I don't remember travelling to the past and I don't remember being 'Alex' at all."
Hermione looked surprised, then thoughtful. "It's possible for the victims of memory charms to recover part of their memories, but lose the rest of them forever," she said, mostly to herself.
Harry found that the possibility of never knowing what happened between him and Tom Riddle in the past didn't bother him as much now as it had been years ago, when Percy first told him about Alex. In fact, Harry was horrified by the length that he, as Alex, had been willing to go in the name of 'friendship'. If having those memories back meant turning him into that person – that ruthless fool – again, then perhaps it was best to let Alex stay dead. He told Hermione as much.
"You killed for him, didn't you?" asked Hermione hesitantly.
"I was a Death Eater, Hermione," said Harry softly. "It was more than just a name and a mark. I did what he told me to."
"And the Inferi?"
Harry bowed his head. "I was responsible for controlling them during raids."
Hermione looked away from him, blinking away tears in her eyes.
"I'm sorry," said Harry, though he doubted it meant anything to her.
"I've guessed as much, especially after seeing what you did in Hogsmeade," said Hermione. "It's just different to hear you admitting- Oh, how could you, Harry?"
"I'm sorry." He repeated his words, since that was all he could say.
They stood in silence for a long while, until Hermione's whispered question broke the suffocating atmosphere.
"Did you succeed, then? In… redeeming him?"
Harry stiffened. "What?"
Hermione sighed impatiently. "We were all battling at Hogwarts while you dueled with Voldemort in the Department of Mysteries. You never told anyone how he died but, to be frank, Harry, it didn't seem possible for you to win against him in a direct duel."
"So that's why you think something else must have happened?" said Harry as images of that disastrous duel between him and Voldemort flashed before his eyes. "Why does it matter, anyway? Redeemed or not, he's dead now. Isn't that what's important?" he said somewhat coldly.
Hermione studied him with a frown. "It certainly doesn't matter to me, Harry," she said quietly.
Harry clenched his jaws and turned away from her. Why should he care if Voldemort was redeemed or not when he died? He had killed that monster years ago.
A hand touched his arm and he looked up sharply. Hermione was smiling at him sadly.
"Come on, Harry, you plan to go to the cemetery, don't you?" she said.
"Yes," said Harry, eager to end their discussion of Voldemort. "I owe him an explanation, and an apology."
They walked towards the cemetery together in silence, both lost in their thoughts. The painful sight of row upon row of tombstones soon came into their view.
"I'll leave you to talk to him in private then, Harry," said Hermione softly, stopping at the entrance of the cemetery.
Harry nodded. "Thank you, Hermione," he said. "And I'm truly sorry for… everything."
Hermione averted her eyes from his gaze. After a moment, she turned around and quietly walked away without acknowledging Harry's apology.
Harry closed his eyes. He was not surprised that Hermione refused to forgive him – how could she? – but it still hurt a lot.
Shaking his head, Harry turned his attention back to what his original task. He slowly walked into the cemetery and made his way carefully among the graves, retracing the path that he had taken when he last visited this place the day before his trial. Finally, he reached the grave that he had come for. His throat tightened as he stared at the tombstone before him.
Ronald Bilius Weasley
March 1, 1980 – December 14, 1996
Beloved son, brother and friend
A/N: I didn't want to kill off Ron, honestly, but... there's a reason for it. His death started everything and eventually led to Voldemort's death. You'll find out more in the next chapter. And there's more to Harry's confession than just Harry feeling guilty, Percy doesn't know the whole truth yet.