A/N: This is my frst attempt at posting anything I've ever written, and also my first attempt at a Harry Potter fanfiction. (Not real sure about the process of posting here, so I'm crossing my fingers and hoping this works.)
Disclaimer: This stuff belongs to J.K. Rowling.
Chapter 1 – Three Days Later
How do you recover from something like that? That was the question on the minds of many in the wizarding world after the final battle with Voldemort and his evil forces. Hundreds were dead, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was in ruins, and the Ministry of Magic was a shambles.
The one bright spot, the one silver lining amidst the clouds of war, was the end of Voldemort. Lord Voldemort, the man once known as Tom Marvolo Riddle, was dead and it was Harry Potter…the Boy-Who-Lived…the Chosen One…who had defeated the Dark Lord once and for all.
Fred was dead, as were Lupin and Tonks; no to mention Dobby, Colin Creevey, Mad-Eye Moody, Dumbledore, Snape and all the others who lost their lives in the war against Voldemort. Harry felt bad for all those who died during the war, but his real sympathy was for people like his friends…like him…the survivors who had to carry on with the pain and guilt of having lived while those around them died.
Being the Boy-Who-Lived, while his friends died, gave Harry more guilt than he could bear. Tonks and Lupin's son, Teddy…Harry's own godson…would grow up without parents, just as he, Harry, had done. It was all his fault. And how could Harry ever face Ron, Ginny, and the rest of the Weasleys now that Fred was dead? Harry would be a constant reminder of Fred's death. It was all his fault.
At least, that's how Harry saw it. How the rest of the wizarding world saw it, including the Weasleys, was that Harry was a genuine hero. He was the only one who could stop Voldemort's reign of terror, and he stepped up to the challenge and overcame insurmountable odds. The Boy-Who-Lived was now the Man-Who-Won. Nobody but Harry Potter himself held him responsible for any of the deaths during the war. To the wizarding world he was a hero…the greatest celebrity in the wizarding world since Merlin himself; and everybody wanted a piece of him.
All Harry wanted was to be left alone. He never asked to be the Chosen One; never asked to have the weight of the world shoved onto his shoulders. He never asked to watch his friends die fighting at his side against a power-hungry madman driven on by a misheard prophecy. All Harry wanted was a normal life.
The funerals of Tonks, Lupin, and Fred weighed heavily on Harry. He attended the funerals out of a sense of duty and respect, but as he stood by the gravesides amongst the crowds of mourners, he silently added these names to the list of people who died because of him: his parents, Sirius, Cedric, Dumbledore, Moody, Dobby, Colin, Snape, and now Tonks, Lupin, and Fred. For someone so young to have so many deaths on his conscience was not only unfair, it was unnatural.
As Fred was laid to rest in a small plot in the garden at the Burrow, Harry soberly watched the Weasley family as they put one of their own into the ground.
Arthur and Ginny were on either side of Molly, supporting the poor woman as she broke down once again, her worst fear realized. Charlie placed a hand on his mother's shoulder, adding his support to try and comfort the grieving woman. Bill and Fleur held each other tightly, both weeping openly. Percy cried with great heaving sobs, his usual air of unemotional decorum completely forgotten. George stood, stock-still, eyes staring off into space; he seemed to still be in shock, having lost the other half of his soul. Ron held Hermione's hand, her head on his shoulder as he wept silent tears into her great mass of frizzy, brown hair.
Harry felt like an outsider as he watched the Weasleys mourn. He knew they considered him a part of the family – Molly, herself, had said as much – but at a time like this, he felt like anything but a part of the family. He wished he could just leave them to their grief.
When the ceremony ended, Bill and Charlie helped their mother into the house, intent on escorting her to her room where she could lie down while Fleur made some tea. Ginny led Percy back into the house, his tears still accompanied by gasps and whimpers. George continued to stare blankly at his twin brother's grave, while Ron and Hermione walked off, hand-in-hand, towards the small grove of trees where the Weasley children sometimes played games of Quidditch, during happier times.
Harry was about to follow his two best friends, when he was intercepted by Arthur Weasley.
"Excuse me, Harry, might I have a word?"
"Of course, sir," Harry looked nervously at Mr. Weasley, expecting to be blamed for the sorrow brought upon his family and ordered to leave the Burrow immediately, never to return.
Mr. Weasley ran his fingers through his thinning hair. There were dark bags under his bloodshot eyes, betraying the fact that he, too, had been crying over the death of his son. He managed a weak smile for Harry's benefit.
"We're not quite at our best right now, Harry," Arthur stole a glance at Fred's grave, where George was still standing, as if mesmerized, "Having to bury your own child is a heartache I hope you never have to experience."
"I'm really sorry, Mr. Weasley," Harry said softly, "It's my fault…"
"Nonsense," Mr. Weasley interrupted, clapping a hand onto the young man's shoulder, "Fred new the dangers of fighting You-Know-Who…of fighting Voldemort…and the Death Eaters," it would take some time, even now with him dead, for Arthur to get used to saying the name Voldemort, "We all new the dangers, Harry, and we fought just the same."
"Yes, but --…"
"Now, now," Mr. Weasley interrupted Harry again, "This isn't the time for talking about this. I just wanted to tell you…and Molly feels this way as well…that this is your home now, if you'd like to stay. Mrs. Weasley has grown quite attached to you, son. We all have."
"I appreciate that, Mr. Weasley, but --…"
"At least consider staying until you have someplace else to go," Mr. Weasley looked expectantly at Harry who nodded deferentially, drawing another smile from Mr. Weasley, "There's a good lad."
Mr. Weasley patted Harry on the back and walked over to Fred's graveside, putting an arm around George.
"Come on, now, son…let's get you some rest," Arthur slowly turned his son towards the house and gently ushered him inside, nodding at Harry as they passed, "We could all use some rest."
Once George and Mr. Weasley had disappeared inside the house, Harry turned and started walking in the direction Ron and Hermione had gone. He knew talking to them about how he was feeling would be helpful, if for nothing else than to get their perspective on what he was thinking. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had been through a lot together in the last seven years, and he valued their opinions above almost anyone else's; surely they'd be able to give him good advice on what he should do.
Harry found the young couple sitting beneath a birch tree at the far end of the grove used as a makeshift Quidditch pitch. Hermione sat with her back up against the trunk of the tree, and Ron was lying on his side, in the fetal position with his head in her lap. Harry could hear Ron's sobs from where he stood and wasn't sure he should intrude. He was just about to turn around and leave when Hermione spotted him and waved him over.
Harry sighed and shuffled over, his hands in his pockets. Hermione smiled wanly at him, her eyes red and puffy, showing that she'd been crying as well. Ron didn't move as Harry reached them and sat down in the grass next to them. The three of them had been through too much for Ron to hide his anguish from Harry.
They sat in silence, no one speaking as Ron cried and Hermione tenderly rubbed his back. The sun was starting to set before Ron slowly rose to a sitting position, hugging his knees to his chest. Hermione put her arm around Ron and rested her head on his shoulder, reaching out and taking Harry's hand in her free hand.
"So…your dad said I could stay here for as long as I like," Harry spoke, causing Hermione and Ron to jump slightly at the sound of his voice breaking the silence like a thunderclap.
"Makes sense," Ron said softly, still looking down at his feet, "You're family. This is your home now. I expect the same goes for you, 'Mione," Ron nudged Hermione's head with his own, causing her to squeeze him tighter into the hug. "Mum loves you like a daughter and the others all think of you like a sister."
Harry noticed that Hermione's eyes were closed and tears were running down her cheeks, falling onto Ron's jumper.
"I hope they all don't think of me like a sister," she managed to laugh slightly as she said that. Harry and Ron both knew what she meant. Harry smiled and squeezed her hand, while Ron nodded slowly and placed a trembling hand on her leg, rubbing and squeezing her thigh lovingly. The very last thing Hermione wanted was for Ron to consider her his sister; not after that kiss outside the Room of Requirement the other day.
"Some of us don't," Ron admitted, giving her a quick sideways glance before looking back at his feet, his cheeks reddening. She squeezed him again when he said that.
Silence overtook the friends again, and this time it was Hermione to break the silence after taking a deep, nervous breath.
"I won't be staying," she confessed, "At least, not for long."
Ron's hand on her thigh stiffened, and it seemed as if he were contemplating pulling it away. He closed his eyes once more and it seemed almost as if he were fighting the urge to cry once more.
"Why are you leaving?" Harry asked when Ron didn't, "Where are you going?"
Hermione looked at Harry with an expression akin to despair in her eyes.
"I'm going to Australia to find my parents," she explained, knowing it would be a difficult undertaking, "I have to find them and restore their memories, so they don't think they're Wendell and Monica Wilkins for the rest of their lives."
Harry noticed Ron's jaw clench as Hermione revealed her plans, and he got the feeling she'd already discussed this with Ron and he wasn't keen on the idea of her leaving. Harry had counted on Hermione being around for Ron after he, Harry, had left, but now it seemed as though both his friends would abandon him at the same time. This brought about yet another pang of guilt for Harry, yet more pain he would bring upon his friends. He was barely listening as Hermione continued.
"I'll be back, though," Hermione said, patting Ron's hand reassuringly, "As soon as I've found them."
Ron looked up at Hermione and she mouthed the words "I promise." He hung his head again, knowing he would be unable to talk her out of going without him. After all, he hadn't been able to talk her out of it since she first told him her plans two days ago. Even worse, he knew he shouldn't talk her out of it, no matter how selfishly he wanted to keep her by his side.
"I'm not staying, either," Harry finally admitted, looking down at the ground in front of him where he'd been absentmindedly pulling up clumps of grass.
Ron and Hermione both shot him looks of shock and surprise. He hadn't spoken much to anybody in the last three days, since the end of the battle at Hogwarts, and he'd never mentioned anything to anyone about his plans for the future.
"Bloody Hell!" was all Ron could manage from behind his stunned expression.
"Where will you go?" Hermione asked, concern for her friend showing on her face.
"I don't know where I'll go," Harry shrugged, looking meekly at his friends, "But staying here doesn't seem right. I'll be a constant reminder to everyone of Fred being killed, and I've caused enough pain for Ron's family."
"You complete effing git!!" Ron yelled, interrupting Hermione, "Are you mental?! What pain have you caused my family?"
Harry could see that Ron was angry, but he needed to speak his mind. He had to make his two best friends understand why he needed to leave.
"Well, let's see," Harry replied, trying to keep his temper in check as he counted off examples for Ron on his fingers, "Bill's scarred, George is missing an ear, and Fred is dead…all because of me!"
"And none of that is your fault!" Ron spat back, jumping to his feet, his fists clenched at his sides, "You-Know-Wh--…Voldemort did all that! Or, his Death Eaters did anyway."
"Voldemort was after ME!" Harry yelled, jumping up to face Ron, "If your family wasn't connected to me, they never would've been caught in the crossfire! Without me, you could have all been living normal lives instead of being in constant danger! Without me, Fred wouldn't be dead and Hermione wouldn't have had to send her parents to safety! It's what I do…I bring pain, suffering, and death to those around me, all the while walking away unscathed. I'm the Boy-Who-Lived-While-Others-Died!"
"You ARE mental!" Ron laughed harshly, "You do realize that my family are blood-traitors, not to mention members of the Order of the Phoenix; we'd have been targets with or without you."
"And Voldemort despised Muggles and Muggle-borns," Hermione added, getting to her feet as if to prevent them from coming to blows, "My parents and I would have been in danger, too."
"Face it, mate," Ron said, placing a hand on Harry's shoulder and smiling slightly, "If it wasn't for you, we'd probably all be dead and the entire world would be buggered."
"You saved us all," Hermione added, placing her hand on Harry's other shoulder, "Sacrifices were made and it hurts, but…"
"It's not your fault," Ron said, finishing Hermione's thought for her, "You're a hero, mate, plain and simple."
"He's right, Harry," Hermione said with a tear in her eye, "You beat Voldemort; you saved us all."
"Not all of you," Harry thought to himself. "I don't feel like a hero."
"I think that's part of it," Ron said, drawing looks from both his friends, "A hero wouldn't be as heroic if he went around feeling all heroic; then he'd just be some full-of-himself git!"
"So then, the worse I feel, the more heroic I am?" Harry asked, a look of confusion contorting his face.
"Basically," Ron nodded.
"Then I must be just about the greatest hero ever," Harry scoffed.
The three friends laughed at that for a few moments before once again falling into silence. This time, it was Ron's turn to break it.
"You're not going anywhere," Ron said, punching Harry lightly on the arm.
"How's that?" Harry asked, looking slightly taken aback by Ron's declaration. He was about to re-list all the deaths he felt responsible for when Ron derailed his train of thought.
"You belong here, Harry," Ron explained, "Face it, mate, you're a Weasley; have been since First Year."
"First…?" Harry looked confused.
"You don't think Mum makes Weasley sweaters for just anybody, do you?"
The three friends laughed again, and the maudlin weight of Fred's death…and the deaths of their other friends…lifted a little.
"You know, I kind of missed not getting one of your mum's sweaters for Christmas this year," Harry admitted as the three friends began walking up the garden towards the house as the sun began to set.
"Bloody Hell," Ron exclaimed, rolling his eyes, "Don't let Mum hear you say that, or you'll get two for your birthday!"
They laughed again, longer, louder, and more freely this time, and while the three friends knew things would never be the same, there was a definite feeling that things would get better.