A/N: After nearly seven months of attempting this chapter, it's finally done. I started writing this chapter on the 19th of January and finished it on the 2nd of August. It's taken a very long time, and I hope you don't see why.
The Streets Will Run Red
St. Mungo's seemed more menacing this time than it had the year previous. The walls had eyes and they stared. The guilt of surviving haunted him. He sat in a small waiting room outside the ward handling eminent deaths, hunched over in his seat, elbows on his knees, hands in his hair, breathing despair.
He and Ginny had arrived two hours ago. On Harry's request, Dumbledore had agreed to take them to the hospital himself; he had seen to it that Ron's ward of the hospital was shut off to visitors and the press. Rita Skeeter, it transpired, was already writing an 'investigative report' for the Prophet on the attack.
When they had arrived, he and Ginny had asked to see Ron; only she was granted permission. Ron, didn't want to see him. The witch at the reception desk had used the word "yet," but Harry, his mind racing and heart pounding, suspected that was her word. Ron did not want to see him. He knew this was Harry's fault.
Harry was glad to be rid of Dumbledore, whom he had asked to leave him be for awhile. Harry knew the term for what he was feeling, what Dumbledore would tell him he was feeling, what Hermione would have, could she have. Survivor's guilt, it was called. A Freudian lie. He could imagine Dumbledore explaining in his gentle, omniscient manner that what he was feeling would pass, that what he was feeling was normal, that what had occurred would have occurred with or without him.
But Harry knew a liar when he saw him, and Dumbledore was one, the type who would lie to keep another happy, the type who would lie for peace of mind and for any other lie a lie could justify. He would lie, and Harry would appreciate the courtesy of it; but a lie was a lie, and Harry would know it if said to his face.
Had he not kept to his precious self, had he not insisted on solitude, would this have happened? Everywhere he went for more than a year, he had had a minder. What if his minder could have turned the tide? What if he himself could have set back Voldemort's offensive? The final showdown needn't have been then, but stiffer resistance might have rebuffed Voldemort's attack. And it ate him alive.
He hated himself for his selfishness. Despite offers from the Weasleys, made only out of love and concern, Harry had insisted on remaining at the Dursleys'; he wanted to be alone, to brood, to suffer in silence like the tragic figure the Prophet had decried him one year earlier! The Weasleys had just wanted to see him, to have him happy, to share, and so lessen, his grief over the death of his godfather. And to what did their kindness bring them? The grave.
Even now, sitting in a waiting room in Britain's largest magical hospital, awaiting news of his oldest friends imminent demise, even now he thought only of himself and his failures. Ron lay dying, and Harry thought about himself, pitied himself, brooded, just as he had the whole summer.
Ginny had lost her mother, father, brothers, friends. She was an orphan now. She had no one. He had fooled himself earlier with his thoughts of romantic suffering, that she was not alone, that she still had him. They had been together less than half a day. His feelings were a loveless misappropriation. She could have been anyone. He would have any who would have him.
He couldn't sit there in that mourning room anymore. He couldn't stand to sit any longer, waiting for the opening of the doors, for the chance to come to Ron's bedside and beg forgiveness. He just couldn't. So with burning legs and blurring vision, he stood, turned, and walked out of the waiting room.
He had no destination, walked in no planned direction. But he had to move. He had to escape his head before it did him in. His brain burned. He wasn't rightly breathing. And he wished he couldn't breathe; he wished he was lying on a cold metal slab in the St. Mungo's morgue, like his adoptive family. They had died for him. But if he were dead, if he were to die now, no one else would have to go in his stead. He could be the last to die. And in death, he could spare all others the Weasleys' fate.
And then he knew where he was going. Down and down, he used the stairs. He wanted the basement. He needed to see them in the morgue, needed to see their cold and lifeless bodies, needed to beg their forgiveness, their absolution. And he hoped he wouldn't get it. Some savage, masochistic greed sought the catharsis of their rejection. He sought it as fully as he sought their forgiveness.
He descended further and further; St. Mungo's was a tall building, and it took time, but the burning in his legs matched the burning in his chest and in his mind, and he thought he felt it cleanse him, if only marginally. He picked up his pace, moving more quickly now down the stairs, desperate to see the family who had died for him. The family he had killed.
After an eternity, he reached it. At the bottom of the stairs there was an arch. Next to it was a black placard, reading simply, Death Ward. With a slow and deep breath, Harry stepped through the arch.
The Death Ward was colder than the rest of the hospital. Probably to preserve the bodies, Harry thought darkly. The ward was lit by torches, and Harry might have thought it a cavern if he hadn't known better. The atmosphere was mournful; like the waiting room, but without an air of expectation. The air was heavy. And he didn't know what it smelt like, but he suspected it was the smell of death.
Whoever was the usual attendant of the Death Ward was absent; but for the corpses and Harry, the ward was abandoned. As he walked deeper into the ward, past the reception desk, he saw them: Bodies lay on metal slabs in a long hall, eyes closed and dressed in St. Mungo's gowns.
Looking down the row of bodies, he found, after moments of gazing, the ones he was looking for. He moved slowly toward them; despite his rush to arrive and torment himself with their corpses, now that he was here, he was not sure he could bear to see them.
They looked so pale. Their red hair and brown freckles were so stark upon them. Each body was pale and lifeless and, but for one, serene. They might have been sleeping. But a twin's corpse betrayed the truth: They had been slaughtered. Not knowing which twin had been so brutalized hurt Harry like he never thought it could. They all had died, and for him, but…. The one who had been most mangled, the one who had been most butchered, was unknown to him. Harry didn't know the name of the one who had given his most for Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived.
There was a stool next to Molly Weasley's body, and Harry sat on it. He closed his eyes and his lips contorted, holding back a howl. He reached out a trembling hand and held hers in his. Mrs. Weasley, his surrogate mother, the loud and overbearing matriarch, loved and feared by her brood and all who knew her; Molly Weasley who had taken Harry in when she hardly knew him, all those years ago; the woman who had allowed her son's dangerous friend to stay with them for the summer, knowing even then what a target he was, knowing even then how dangerous knowing him was. And she willfully and lovingly associated herself and her family with him. She took him in, and was his mother in all but blood. And she was dead. For nothing.
"I'm so sorry," he said, his voice collapsing and folding into itself. "I'm so sorry, Mrs. Weasley." She was dead for him, and he'd done nothing for her. She was dead for him, because of him. Dead because he'd been too selfish to be around her and her family. She was dead because Harry was selfish. And all she'd ever done was love.
"I'm so sorry," he'd begun to break down. "Look what I've – looked what I've done to your family, look what I've…" he sucked in a breath. "I'm why you're gone – all of you. You're… dead. Because of me. I killed you." He blinked away. "I'm so fucking sorry."
He looked across to her dead husband, Arthur's closed eyes and slack face. "I took your husband," he said, his head falling to Mrs. Weasley's arm. And he remembered Arthur Weasley the Muggle fanatic, remembered being asked about rubber ducks, about how airplanes stayed up, about plugs, about dishwashers and light bulbs and every wonderful, quirky thing that endeared him to Harry; the man's familial devotion, his status as surrogate father to Harry, his understated wisdom and his friendliness. All of that was gone now. And Harry felt nothing but guilt. The blame was his. He had robbed the world of Arthur Weasley.
"I took your boys." Bill Weasley, her eldest, the son with the dragon fang earring, with the long hair that Mrs. Weasley had longed to cut. Charlie, who had been back in the country from Romania for the first time in years to be with his family for the last few weeks of summer. Fred and George, who would never play another prank, who would never crack another joke, who would never wear another grin, who would never tease another, who would never breath again.
Percy… Percy who had just reconciled with his family, who had rejoined the family after a year of siding against them, Percy who had made his mother's face tear-streaked for the last time, and that last time they were tears of joy, of feeling whole again. Feelings she would never feel again, now that Harry had taken everything from her. Ron, who would be dead in hours, dying of a curse no healer could heal, dying by no fault of his own, dying by Harry's own foolishness, by Harry's own selfishness.
And Hermione, her bushy hair now blood-caked, lay a few slabs from him. She was a sister, had been his closest friend in the world, next to the boy dying above him. Just hours earlier, he'd joked with Ginny that she and her brother were probably in a broom cupboard somewhere, sucking the other's face off. And now she'd never have that opportunity. She and Ron, whatever they had the beginnings of, whatever could have been, died with her.
She had written him over the summer, had tried to pull him out of his state, had tried to be there for him. And he had rebuffed her! He'd wanted to suffer alone, had wanted to be left to his head! Where would they be now if he hadn't? How many bodies would line the basement walls of St. Mungo's if not for his selfishness? One? None?
The last thing he ever said to her, he realized with a heart that broke like a dying star, was that he was fine and…. And he'd asked her if she would stop writing him. He'd asked her to leave him alone. And now she was dead. And he could never apologize. He could never explain. His last words to her were a kiss off.
Harry, the tears streaking down his face, ran his hands through his hair, warring for control of his breath, fighting for shudders and gasps. "I'm so sorry." He stood, his head bowed. He breathed out. "None of you should have died." Errant tears fell. "And no one else will die for me." He took a breath to breathe. "I'm sorry it took your deaths for me to realize that."
He turned and left without another word. Part of him was gone now, a part he would never have again. He couldn't just suffer their presence anymore. He couldn't stand before sightless eyes in lifeless bodies. He couldn't take their blind damnation. It was too much. Too painful. Too powerful.
At a funereal pace, Harry ascended the stairs, a plan forming in his head. They'd hit the bottom, and now was the time to escape. If there were a better reason to run and never look back, Harry didn't know it. He would come to Ron's death bed and beg forgiveness. One last time. From his dying friend, he would seek the absolution the dead below could not give.
Ascending faster now, beginning to feel the familiar sensation of desperation, of time ticking, he wondered if it was too late. Was Ron still alive? Had he… had he died? Had he died, Ginny standing over his body, with no one? He never should have left, and he knew it now. He started skipping steps, taking two at a time, rising higher and higher to be near.
Finally he reached the ward Ron was kept. He crashed through the doors that separated the waiting room from the stairwell, moving purposefully toward Ron's room. He had to see his oldest friend before he died. He had to be there.
He opened the door, more gently than the stairwell doors, and went into Ron's room. His was a private room – Dumbledore had seen to that – and no one was in it but he and his sister. The look in Ron's eyes when he saw Harry would stay burnt in his mind as long as he lived. Those blue eyes, once vibrant, were now pale and dimmed by pain and tears.
He was half-lying, half-sitting on his bed, the back raised. He struck Harry down with his eyes, undid him before his words got the chance. "Get out," he croaked. He croaked.
"Get out." He looked him in the eyes, piercing him with his gaze. "He… He was so angry… when you weren't with us. He killed… he killed us because of you. You. It's… it's because of… you. He would have spared us. But you!" He roared, "YOU!" And then he was coughing and his breath was short and Harry could see blood and – and he was dying. Ron was dying.
"Get out, Harry!" Ginny shouted at him. And there was… there was rage in her eyes. None of the tenderness he'd known was left in her eyes, on her face. There was just rage and hate now. She hated him. She blamed him too.
"I'm…" the words fell out of his mouth, "sorry. I'm sorry. I'm…."
"GO!" she roared as a pair of healers rushed past him.
And tears fell, and he turned, and against the light he walked out, out of the room and out of the word, out of the hospital and into the cold London night, away from his oldest and dying friend, the cold and silent bodies of his dead friends and family, and the girl he could have loved.
Eventually, he was found. He didn't know how long ago he had left St. Mungo's; it might have been minutes, it might have been hours, it might have been days. But eventually, as Harry knew he must be, the runaway savior was found.
"It was foolish to run, Harry."
"It was dangerous: Lord Voldemort has many spies."
"Did you wish to be found, Harry?"
"Not by you."
"But by Lord Voldemort?"
"He would have killed you."
"That's what you want? To die?"
"Yes, it is."
"I'm afraid, Harry, of all the things you might asked me, that is it the one I most assuredly cannot give."
"I don't care. Not about the Prophecy, not about you, and not about me."
"No, I don't believe you do, Harry.
"But you should."
"He's taken everything. Why should I care what happens now?"
"Because however much you would like it to be so, he has not taken everything. Lord Voldemort could take more than he has; and he will, before this is over."
"I don't believe you."
"You have lost nearly everyone, but some remain. You cannot see it now, and I cannot fault you that; but there is more you could lose.
"The Weasleys died for you, Harry."
"I didn't want them to," he said, and his voice broke.
"I know you didn't, Harry, but it was their choice to, and they did."
"They didn't want to die. Molly Weasley didn't want her sons dead."
"No, she didn't. But she died for you, and her sons made the same choice. As did Ms. Granger, as did the others. They believed in a cause and believed that their lives were less important than yours; you can war within yourself whether they were right, but it is what they believed. To some, Harry, it is worth dying for a cause to succeed. Is there nothing, is there no one, you would die for, Harry?"
"No. There is no one."
They came upon a bench and sat.
"I don't believe you, Harry," he said plainly. "Lord Voldemort has taken much from you today; but he has not taken it all. There is still Hagrid, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks – there is still Professor McGonagall, and there is still me. But it wouldn't be for us that you would die. Ms. Weasley has no one now, Harry, but you. And you know that."
A pause again.
"If it were possible, Harry, would you die now if it would save them?"
He was silent for half a minute. "Yes."
"Then see what has happened as an opportunity: You have been robbed of those you most love; a mother, a father, brothers, a sister, friends: Your family.
"You have nearly no one, and that makes you very dangerous. A man with no ties, with no one to lose, is capable of things, by his very nature, that a common man is not; it is precisely this which makes Severus Snape both so dangerous and so useful, precisely this which will make you what you must become.
"If you are prepared, Harry, if you are able to see what has happened and know that such evil must not be allowed to continue, if you are prepared to accept that such evil can be stopped, and that it is you who can stop it – if you are ready, Harry, I will teach you what you need to know to kill Lord Voldemort and those who would kill the ones you love.
"There is more to murder than knowledge of spells and dueling. If you are ready, Harry, if you have sunk low enough – and I believe you have – I shall teach you not only the means but the mindset to kill to save those who remain.
"Voldemort has gone beyond. He has struck at your heart. And violence understands only violence; if you are ready, Harry, I will teach you to retaliate. Voldemort has raised the stakes and set a new bar: You can allow him to win this, you can surrender before his death-stroke. Or you can rise above, and teach him terror.
"War is lethal. And thus so I must make you. If you are prepared, I will make you what you need to be to end this war. And if you back down now, if you sink into yourself rather than embrace what you must do, if you give in to the sorrow and the pain Lord Voldemort has brought you, this war will never end. And the streets of Diagon Alley will run red with the blood of your friends. And in time, we shall all die the Weasleys' deaths.
"This war will never end but by you, Harry."
Harry Potter closed his eyes. And when he opened them again, he was not the boy of before. "Then teach me," he said, vengeance in his eyes and violence in his heart. "Teach me to kill them." His voice was a whisper, and his words were lethal. "All of them. And their blood will stain the streets instead."