The atmosphere felt oppressive, the air thick and humid as the mourners gathered around yet another casket, watching as it was lowered into its final resting place. This was the twelfth funeral Harry had attended and he didn't know how much more he could take.
He'd promised he'd go to every funeral of those who had laid down their lives for him, for all those who had sacrificed the most precious thing to enable him to defeat Voldemort. It was the least he could do to show his respect. It made him so mad when the Daily Prophet tried to hail him as the saviour, when really these people lying six foot under were the true heroes. Listening to the last words of grieving widows, sons and daughters, he felt something draining away from him with each attendance.
He watched as Mrs Weasley threw a single rose upon the coffin below before turning and burying her face against her husband's chest. He saw tears as every other Weasley followed in the same suit: Arthur, Bill, Charlie, Percy, Ron, Ginny, until at last it came to George. He muttered some final words to his departed twin, before throwing his own rose down, looking for all the world as though half his heart went with it. Charlie passed him a shovel, pausing for a moment to squeeze his shoulder, before George He heard Hermione sniff from beside him, tears falling down her face. He felt his own resolve falter and he put an arm around Hermione. Blinking rapidly, he looked back over to the Weasleys. They were embracing each other. His eyes sought out Ginny, who was currently in Ron's arms, tears flowing freely down her cheeks. Their eyes met and he saw more pain in those brown eyes than he ever wanted to.
The devil voice inside of him taunted him, saying that it was his fault that Fred was dead, his fault that this caring family who had dared to take him in as one of their own was now one down, his fault that George was no longer himself. Another small part of him sighed in relief that it was Fred and not Ginny that had been hurt, and then he immediately felt guilty for thinking such things of his friend. His chest was getting tighter and he was finding it hard to breathe. He couldn't stand it any longer; he had to leave. He stood up, and looked away from Hermione's questioning glance.
"I've got... to go," he mumbled and left, feeling two sets of brown eyes burning into his back all the way.
It was sometime after sunset, but not too close to midnight, as Harry looked upon the waters of the Great Lake. He sat with his back against an old oak tree; his favourite thinking spot. The half-moon shone brightly down upon the grounds, bathing the waters in a pearly glow. The night was still, apart from the Giant Squid moon bathing on the far shore. The grounds were not a hundred percent returned to their former state, they never would, but the castle looked as it had done before the battle. In his hands he held the fabled Elder Wand, twisting it and twirling it as he let the relentless onslaught of guilt, anger, grief, regret and relief run free.
So much had happened in the past week that he really could not comprehend it all. Voldemort was dead, the Death Eaters had either followed their master – which the majority had - or relinquished their wands. Only the Malfoys had returned to the 'good' side. If there even was such a thing as a good side. Both parties had caused the other grief, too many prejudices and grudges had been held.
Well, at least now was as good a time as any for a fresh start. Still, rebuilding was a long and painful process.
The funerals had started three days ago, starting with Colin Creevey and then followed by the fifty other students and people who had died in the battle. He was saddened that Tonks and Remus' funeral was only slightly more attended than Snape's. Guilt and anger rose within him when he thought of the greasy haired Professor, of the sacrifices, of all of the misdeeds he had done. It was ironic that the Dark Lord's closest servant understood and was driven by the one thing Voldemort didn't understand: the power of love. For years, his greasy professor had held a flame for his mother, but his upbringing and pureblood prejudices had ruined it all. Instead, he had bitterly watched as his father and mother found each other, giving them up to the Dark Lord by mistake and then having to live with the consequences until the day he died. Back in his first year, or even right through until a week ago, if someone had asked him whether he'd actually ever respect Snape, he'd have told them they were ask barking as Trewlawny.
He had never been afraid of death; he had been more afraid of dying without completing his mission. But his thoughts kept straying back to that half-world. He felt as at peace as he had ever done then, the grief and pain and suffering left behind. He felt a strange longing to return to that world, just to leave all this behind.
"Harry, suffering like this proves you are still a man! This pain is part of being human..."
Unbidden, those words spoken in reply to his selfish teenage rant in Dumbledore's office two years ago came to mind. He couldn't run away from these feelings and after seeing what Voldemort had done to himself, he was in a very big way glad that he wasn't like him. He shook his head, wiping his eyes on his sleeve. Glancing down at the Elder Wand, he felt the responsibility lie greatly upon his shoulders. For the rest of his life, he couldn't be beaten so that nothing like this would ever happen again. The magic had to die with him. He had told Dumbledore that he'd put it back where it belonged, but he was starting to have doubts about doing just that. The thought of disturbing his mentor's grave, despite the fact that Voldemort had already raided it, was not at all appealing to him.
He just wished that there was someone here that could help him understand what had happened and work through what needed to be done. Even after Dumbledore had gone, his instructions found their way to him from the grave. Now, however, the absence of any guidance left him hollow and somehow lost. He could not even pretend to comprehend everything that had happened, only just enough to get the general gist of things. Having survived, Merlin alone only knows how, avenged his family and freed those from Voldemort's tyranny, he felt a strange ... he didn't quite know how to describe it. For what seemed like ever, he had refused to think about what life could be like if he did survive, in the fear of being fearful of death. He'd been so consumed by the Horcrux and Hallows hunt that now it had come to an end and with a whole future stretching out before him like a blank canvas, he felt hesitation as to where to place the first brushstroke.
For what was the first time in a handful of years, Harry Potter began to seriously take a look into his unhindered future.
In terms of immediate action, the Elder Wand was number one on the list. And he felt like he owed it to the school to finish the restoration of Hogwarts. After that, the last remaining Death Eaters had to be rounded up, although that was probably going to be left to the remaining members of the Order or what was left of the Aurors. As for a career...he only had his OWLs. He groaned at the thought of going back to school next year, after everything that had happened, but what other options did he have? As saviour of the Wizarding World, his ambition to be an Auror seemed appropriate, but without NEWTs, he doubted whether he could actually get on the training course.
He sighed. So many choices. And then there was the decision of where to live. Hogwarts had really been his only home, and there was no way in hell he was going to go back to the Dursleys. Grimmauld Place had too many gremlins. Although he was sure that Mrs Weasley would insist he stay at the Burrow, he wanted a place to call his own. An excitement started to build as he explored the possibilities of his future.
And then there was Ginny. He closed his eyes, picturing her flaming red hair flying out behind her as she flew on a broomstick. He remembered those times just relaxing in the common room, those stolen moments in broom closets, those glorious afternoons spent in secluded places within the grounds and the secret moments on the Quidditch pitch after hours. Ginny was one of the best things that had happened in his life and was one of the things that truly kept him going this past year. Because of her, he had been unafraid of death. Because of her, he was able to defeat Voldemort once and for all. He was so very proud of her, standing true, tall, proud and courageous throughout it all. Even now, when she had endured so much pain, he had been unable to comfort her. He winced in remembrance of the moment when that green spell flew so close to her head that he thought she was a goner. He felt wrenched when he had heard her cry of disbelief when he was being carried in Hagrid's arms.
"I'm so sorry, Ginny," he whispered out into the night.
He wanted to hold her, to comfort her, to protect her from anything like this happening again. He wanted to wipe away her tears and be the one to comfort her. She had shared with him some of the experience she had in her first year, but now she was truly free to set her demons to rest. He felt great satisfaction that Voldemort could threaten her no longer.
He twirled the Elder Wand one last time before deciding that now was the time to get rid of it before anyone became too curious. It was far too dangerous an implement and too many people knew its true identity for him to try and protect it for much longer.
"Forgive me, Professor," he whispered, not relishing the thought of what he was about to do. Taking a deep breath, he pulled the cloak on properly, vanishing totally into the dark. Dumbledore's tomb it had to be.