Author's Note - I would like to acknowledge and dedicate this work towards Barb, who is (In my opinion) the premier author of HP Fan Fiction. Her work with the Psychic Serpent Trilogy introduced me to the world of HP Fan Fiction and gave me many nights of joy at the various stories. To this day I still do not know which I like more. JKR's work or hers. She is my inspiration, and I hope that one day she will see this story and enjoy reading it as much as I have enjoyed hers.
A/N 2 - This is a new version from the previous one. It has been entirely rewritten.
In the Eyes of a Child
Six hours. Just six hours ago Voldemort had died. At last. As Harry Potter stood at the top of the grand stairs and looked out the window of Hogwarts he still had trouble wrapping his mind around the thought. It was over. Some might have said it was justified. Some might have said it was wrong to feel that way. A sin. But as Harry Potter's gaze swept the battlements of Hogwarts and the cratered grounds of the school that was littered with dead Death-Eaters, he smiled. Not a smile of relief. A smile of satisfaction. Many had said across the centuries, that revenge was a bitter pill to swallow. They were wrong. For Harry it was ambrosia.
Full circle he'd come. He was born, he died, but lived. He resurrected Voldemort and died and lived again. Into the abyss on a rope of chance and he came out smelling like roses. He was alive and Tom was dead. Fred, Cedric, little Colin Creevy; Remus, Tonks and wise old Dumbledore. Sirius and his dad and his proud eyes. His flame haired mum and her loving embrace. All lost. All Avenged! At the point of a wand and at the height of his power, bastard, Tom Riddle lost to a school boy. Brought low by his own magic turned against him. Poetic Justice indeed.
The singing crescendo of a group of celebrators distracted him for a moment and he idly looked over the banister down the long flights to see several men in tattered and torn robes, drunk off their ass, dancing in a circle and singing off key. Some little tune about him, no doubt invented by Peeves. Harry put them aside and turned inward again. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and adjusted his invisibility cloak. He wanted to be alone. The cloak was the only way, even from his friends. A soothing breeze swayed the trees of the forbidden forest and Harry opened the cloak a bit to allow the fresh wind to caress his tired face when it finally arrived at the castle walls. He took a deep breath and let it out with a vicious sigh.
The winds of change. The winds of the future. He paused a moment at that thought. Future. He'd never thought about the future before. He'd always just lived in the present. He couldn't afford to think about life when, at any moment, he could have died. The sudden luxury of that thought was both a high that the strongest muggle narcotic couldn't produce and a nauseating empty vortex that tore him in a dozen different directions. What did he want? What was he supposed to do now? He was born to fulfill The Prophesy and that was done with. The world started to close in a round him. The walls slide together and crushed him. The wind was smothering and the torches baked his skin. The bought of claustrophobia caused him to tear away the cloak and go racing down the stairs and through the halls. Trying his best to outrun his fear. Not of death, but now of life. Of that void he saw when he looked into the future.
He finally slowed down and panted to catch his breath. When he stood him he found that he was at the Headmaster's statue. It was still knocked aside, no one having yet repaired it. 'That's it!' he thought. 'Dumbledore would know. He could tell me.' He stepped past the sleeping and broken thing and ran up the stairs and burst into the office. Thankfully it was still empty. The portraits, who were still celebrating themselves, quieted and looked at the young boy with pride and awe. Dumbledore, who was chatting amicably, faced his greatest pupil with kind, but knowing eyes.
"Harry," the portrait said, "Twice within a day. I am touched."
"It's nothing, Professor," he stammered out, "I just had a few questions."
"Of course, my boy. Anything at all. The time for secrets is past. Now is the time for confidences."
"Well sir, now that he's dead and all; Voldemort I mean; I was wondering…well…" he threw up his arms and let them fall back to his sides.
"Now you are wondering, since your quest is finished and The Prophesy is fulfilled, what, if anything, your are to do with your life?"
Harry blinked. "Erm-well…yeah."
Dumbledore sighed and gave a sad smile. "That's one question I can't answer for you, Harry. It's your life and your future. It's your book to write how you see fit. In a very real way, you are just beginning your life, Harry. You have a magnificent opportunity for happiness because you, unlike others, know how to cherish the most precious of moments and have faced the greatest of trials. Whatever you do decide to do, I know that you will do so with all your heart and all of your boundless courage."
Harry thought it over for a moment. "But, where do I start? I mean, people usually have built up things by now. Have a life to begin a foundation to build something off of. I don't have anything," he grew frustrated towards the end and ran a hand through his dirty and rumpled hair.
"You are wrong, Harry. You have friends and a family in the Weasley's, and if I may so, a rather budding romance with Miss. Weasley. You have your Hogwarts education and a world of opportunity open to you. That's more than enough to begin." His face grew thoughtful for a moment. "But perhaps a push is needed. A pointed, shall we say, in the right direction."
"Oh, please, sir," Harry begged fervently. "Right now it just seems like a bottomless pit."
"I understand, Harry. I've always found retracing my footsteps to be most helpful. To your roots, we shall go. That solid ground that we stand on. Tell me, Harry. What has given you the greatest happiness in life?"
"My friends," he answered immediately. No contest there.
Dumbledore chuckled. "An excellent and wise answer, my boy, but you can't build a life off of only relationships. What about your life so far as seemed best? The most 'right?'"
Harry scratched his head. That was harder. Then it clicked. What saved him from the horrid Dursely's. "Well sir. I'd guess magic. When I first came to Hogwarts I thought it was the greatest place in the world."
"Then that's an excellent place to start. Find that joy again. Embrace it, nurture it. I feel that if you can find that spark and excitement that you had when you stepped into these halls, you will find your path."
Harry turned that around in his mind. Took it apart and looked at it from several angles. Put the pieces together in new and different ways. It suddenly popped into his mind. A small promise he made when he was floating across the lake in the boat. He was silently told himself that he would learn everything he could about magic. He would be a wizard that his parents could be proud of. That was it. He would continuing learning. Only this time without the distractions of fighting for his life. It all clicked. The stories, the adventures. Every little thing he had found envious about other peoples life. Freedom. He would wander the world and learn all he could about magic. He would see places and meet different people. From there he would build and begin. He had enough still in his vault to survive on for several more years.
Harry beamed a smile at his dead mentor. "Thanks, Professor. I know what I'm going to do."
"Anytime, Harry. Anytime. Harry, please remember this before you go. You are my greatest student. Almost a grandson to me. Never hesitate to come to me if you need anything. Even trapped in parchment and paint, I can sway enough people to aid you with any trouble. Do not forget that. And live, Harry. Live a grand life. A splendid life, so in the doddering old years that I myself reached you can look back on them and see a majestic mountain of memories. Live, Harry. Live well"
Harry blinked his glassy eyes rapidly, to banish the tears. "I won't sir-I will…and…thank you." he didn't really know what else to say. He was never good ay expressing his own feelings. He had a feeling though that Dumbledore knew he felt the same way about him. He turned and walked out among a scattering of applauses and fare-wells.
His feet wandered the halls. His eyes rapidly being filed away in his mind. The places he wanted to see, the things he wanted to know. With each step he grew more excited. When he got to the doors of the Great Hall he stopped. They were still celebrating. Music and voices. Laughter and cheering broke past the sturdy wooden doors. Something made him stop. His friends. Ginny. Regardless how excited he was, he still felt empty. He needed to begin anew. To build up something separate from them. The minutes past as he stood frozen in front of the doors. His heart hammering painfully in his chest. He knew that if he wanted to go this way, what he would have to do. Knowing didn't make doing, any easier though.
He had to leave them. Not forever, just long enough to find a life beyond fighting. He felt so guilty about everything. Remus, Tonks, and Fred especially. If he did this he needed to be far away or his guilt would eat at him and he would devote everything for them. It was a bit selfish, but he needed to think about himself this one time. He wiped away the tears and composed himself. He had one more battle to wage. The hardest of them all. He opened the door and slipped inside.
The Great Hall was a mess. Banners, streamers and balloons littered the floor and ceiling. Scraps of food were casually tossed aside and the House-elves were going crazy trying to keep the place clean and everyone with food and drink. Harry felt sorry for them. They should be celebrating too. It was the first time that he really saw what Hermione meant. 'SPEW huh?' Harry thought. 'Maybe it's not so silly after all.'
"Oh, Harry! There you are! I've been looking all over for you!" A sickly sweet voice said to the side. He stiffened and looked over to see Rita Skitter dancing up next to him. "An Interview! I insist! The whole world will want to know the thoughts of the Boy-Who-Lived on this, his triumphant day over his parent's murderer." She didn't have her quick quotes quill, but she did have a normal one, poised and ready to jot down his every word and facial expression.
He scowled at the vile woman. "Get away from me. I have nothing to say to you. I already gave my interview."
Rita's smile turned a little evil and she clucked naughtily. "Now-now, Harry. It's not wise to upset the press. I'm sure you remember the last time you got on my bad side. I can be a great help or a great hindrance. You really should reconsider having and interview with me."
Harry's thin venial of patience shatter and his wand was out in a heart beat. "Don't you threaten me! I've been dirty, hungry and running for my life for a year. I've risked everything to save you and your friends. I'll not be made of fool of or put up on some alter for you to sell papers from. You try to hurt me or my friends and we'll see how much my name can hurt you back!"
Harry didn't notice that he was shouting and that the Hall had grown quiet to listen. Rita did though and was glancing around apprehensively. "Really, Harry dear! You should get some sleep. This isn't the time or place to slip back into your, shall we say…temperaments of your fifth year?"
Harry took a step forward and hesitated. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. When he opened them, he lowered his wand and saw that she was giving a rather sly smile. Well two could play at that game. "Will someone get her out of here?" he asked loudly. "Throw her bodily if you have to."
Rita turned red. "Don't you dare-"
"Gladly," a couple of Aurors that Harry didn't know stepped up and took her by the arm. "Rita skitter. You are under arrest for consorting with You-Know-Who to discredit Ministry officials and to spread propaganda. Come with us." They each took her by an arm and dragged her away. Screaming and cursing to the top of her lungs. She rose quickly and fell just as fast. It would be the last time anyone would see Rita Skitter again.
"Good riddance to that, I say." Ron said behind him. Harry looked over with a smile at his best friend.
"Yeah," Harry said lamely. "Let's go over to your family."
"Our family, Harry. You're one of us. Like it or not." Ron was forceful in the declaration and Harry's heart swelled for a moment then withered down into a disgusting little thing.
"Thanks," he said softly and gave a weak smile. Ron looked at him oddly for a moment and led the way through the crowd.
The Weasley's were all sitting at the staff table. Looking rather subdued from the loss of Fred. Not really interested in joining in the drinks and dancing, rather just spending the time holding each other. Harry started to look at each of their faces carefully. Imprinting them into his memory. Ginny seemed to sense his coming and looked up. Their eyes locked like metal and a magnet. Harry studied every wisp of red hair and every freckle. Every dent and curve from the hollows of her eyes to her chin and neck. Regardless of the circumstance she was radiant in his eyes.
"Oh, Harry dear!" Molly said and got up from the table. She rushed around and took him into a crushing embrace. "I'm so glad you're safe. I was so worried. So-so worried."
"I'm fine, Mrs. Weasley. You didn't need to worry about me." He told her from the crushing folds of her robes.
"Nonsense. You're like one of my sons. I have to worry about you."
Harry relented and returned the hug as fiercely as it was given. She sensed how much it meant to him and pull away to look at his face. She leaned up and brushed his forehead with a kiss. "You and Ron. Getting so tall now," she said with misty eyes.
Harry blushed and bit and turned to the family. "Can we go someplace to talk? Someplace Private?"
The family looked at each other and began to nod at him. They all got up and started to leave when Harry felt a tub on his robes. He looked down and blinked. A little girl was looking up at him. She had on jeans and a fluffy dark green sweater. She was holding a ruffled Teddy bear in one hand and an envelope in the other. Her hair was a dark brown, just bordering on black with light curls down to her shoulders. Her eyes were large and round brimming with tears and fear. She was enchanting and pitiful. Harry was moved to the core at the sight of her.
"Yeah?" he asked the little girl since it was obvious she wanted something from him.
"Are-are you Harry Potter?" she asked in a trembling little voice. The other Weasley had noticed the girl as well and had gather behind him to listen.
Harry knelt down to her level and gave her a reassuring smile. "Yeah I am. What's your name?"
"I-I'm Lily." Harry blinked. The name was like a basin of cold water dumped over him.
"Well-Well hello, Lily. I'm pleased to meet you," he said when he looked back up at her. "What can I do for you?"
"I can't find my Papa. I looked and looked, but I can't find him." Her lower lip trembled in a pout and the tears in her eyes seemed to swell more. Harry gave an inward sigh. He hoped her dad wasn't dead. He didn't know how to tell a little girl that.
"We'll why don't we look for him? I'm sure he's somewhere around here."
Lily shook her head and sniffed. "He said he would be back and if he didn't come back I needed to find you and give you this." She held out the envelope.
Harry blinked and took it from her hands. "Who's your father, Lily?"
Harry's jaw dropped and he knew from the sudden stillness behind him that the rest of the Weasley's were in a similar state of shock. Snape didn't have a daughter. Surely someone would have known. "Err," Harry had to ask, "A tall man. Grumpy look on his face. A beaklike nose and oily black hair?"
Lily nodded. "That's Papa Severus, only he isn't grumpy!"
"Oh…well, I'm sorry." He didn't know how to tell her that Snape was dead. That she was alone now. He opened the envelope and read the letter inside.
With our difference not withstanding you are now the one I turn to. I assure you that I find this alternative as uncomfortable as you do. I could go on for miles of parchment about your inadequacies and ego so I will get to the point. If you are reading this it means I am dead and you have defeated the Dark Lord. My distaste for your skill as they are, I must concede that I was impressed the past year at your work. Even with the help of your idiotic friend and that disgustingly intelligent Granger, to have survived that long against the Dark Lord was impressive. If I did not have the opportunity to reveal the truth of that night on top of the tower then go to my rooms. I have prepared a special set of memories inside my pensive for you to look at. This time with permission. Look at those memories before reading further.
To read further. Please speak out the name of my love.
Harry took a breath. "Lily Evens." The rest of the letter appeared with flourish.
You can listen, Potter. Perhaps there is small hope for you yet. The girl in front of you is named Lily. I so named her two years ago when I adopted her. Naturally I could tell no one about this to keep her safe. The Dark Lord would not have taken kindly to my having adopted a muggle-born girl. It would have sealed my fate, and hers as well, if he had found out. I am now dead, to my eternal disgust, but you are triumphant and alive. I have fulfilled my vow to your mother, a greater woman than any other, and kept you alive.
I have sacrificed more than you can know to see you here. You owe me more than can be explained in parchment. Thus I charge you with a vow. A debt to fulfill one that will last a life-time. Lily, look after her. Why young you are and irresponsible to no end, I feel that in my absence you can provide her with what she needs. Like you she is an orphan. Twice now. You, more than anyone, can guide her through life with the loss of her parents. You more than anyone can see that she has happiness because you, more than anyone, seemed to have found it even under barrage by the Dark Lord. She is special to me. Look after her for me. Thus do I charge you.
P.S. Do your best to keep Molly's insufferable coddling away from her. She will undoubtedly leave the girl as scatter brained as her children.
Harry folded up the paper with a mixture of wonder and anger. Even in death he was mean and could get to Harry. Even when giving compliments he could cut to the quick. He tucked the letter back into the enveloped and took a long look at Lily. She was a beautiful little girl. But could he do it? Did he want to? Did he have a choice? Snape was right. He had sacrificed and entire life to make sure Harry lived. He had asked only that he look after his daughter. An orphan. Like him. Harry didn't know where it came from. He wasn't even sure what it was, but he wanted to hold this little girl and do what Snape asked. Keep her safe. He suspected that maybe Snape had charmed the parchment. He didn't care if he had.
"Lily?" he finally said after a minute of studying her.
"Yeah?" she asked in that small voice.
"Come with me. I'm going to make sure your ok and taken care of."
"What about Papa Severus?"
Harry reached out and touched her cheek. "Papa Severus isn't coming back. I'll explain more later, but for now I think you should get away from all this and get some food and a good night sleep."
Lily looked down at her slipper clad feet and nodded. Harry reached out and she dutifully took his hand. He stood up and looked at the Weasley's who had a questioning look in their eyes. He motioned towards the door of the Great Hall and they slipped out as a group, with Harry in the middle to avoid any harassment.
They made their way to an empty classroom and all took seats.
"What's going on, Harry? Whose is the little girl?"
"One second," he begged and taking out his wand cast a light sleeping charm on Lily. She sagged against him and he lifted her up and placed her carefully on a couch. He conjured a blanket for the girl and tucked her in.
"Awwww" He heard Ginny, Molly and Hermione say behind him. He blushed a bit. He turned back to the family and hopped up on the teacher's desk.
"She is-was, Snape's adopted daughter."
"What?! I didn't know he had a kid." George said. The rest nodded agreements all very much surprised.
"No one did. He kept her secret. She's a muggle-born orphan. If Voldemort had found out about her he would have killed her and probably Snape as well."
"That makes sense," Molly said as an afterthought. "I remember one time back in Grimmauld place. He was asking about how people went about adopting a child. I thought it odd at the time, but didn't think much of it afterwards. That was a couple of years ago."
Harry nodded. "Bout the right time according to his letter." He didn't want to say that he was given charge of looking after the girl. Mrs. Weasley and Hermione would throw a fit and tell him he wasn't old enough. He probably wasn't in truth, but he had to. He just had to.
"Now then, we have things to talk about. I'm sorry about Fred. I don't even know what to say." He looked at George for this. The lone twin gave a silent nod and ducked his head. Molly began to sob again and Arthur took her in his arms. Harry felt so guilty. He hoped George would recover and keep the joking spirit alive.
"We have other things to discuss," he continued. "A lot of things went bad in the Wizarding World because of Voldemort. They need to be fixed. I don't think we should trust the Ministry to do the right thing. I suspect they'll just try to forget about it all and go back to the way things were. We can't let that happen. Do you all agree?"
They all nodded and Ginny crept up beside him on the desk. She looped an arm through his and rested her head on his shoulder. He looked stunned for a moment, but then relaxed. He would enjoy it while it lasted. Molly looked at the scene approvingly once she had composed herself.
"What do you want us to do Harry? We're ready." Bill said with Fleur standing next to him, holding his hand. Harry felt grateful for the trust and a little unnerved by the look that Bill directed to him. It was almost hero worship. From a man over ten years older than Harry. He didn't like that one bit.
"The Ministry needs real unity. Not just between Pure-bloods and Muggleborns, but between all magical creatures. Elves and Goblins and Centaurs and Merfolk. They all should have a say and a part of the world. It's wrong to see them as third class creatures. They should be equal citizens. Hermione, Ron. Work on SPEW. You'll have people who will listen to you now. Push until the elves are given freedom and citizenship. Many of them died fighting with us. We should honor them."
"Right. We're on it." Ron said with determination and preamble. Hermione looked up at him with wonder and love. Like in the Room of Requirement she hesitated for a but a moment and then threw her arms around him for a crushing kiss. When they came up for air she ducked her head in a blush at the cherishing look Molly gave her.
"Arthur, I need you to work with the Ministry and the muggle-borns. I suspect there might be a rebellion brewing from the muggleborns if the Ministry doesn't work quickly to right things. A lot of families were torn apart and tortured over the past year. We need to make everyone see that its magic that binds us. Not blood."
"Wisely said, Harry," Arthur told him. "I'll get together with Kingsley and we'll start working on it immediately."
"Good. Charlie, you should work with the Centaurs. They respect strength. After handling dragons some grumpy Centaurs should be easy." Charlie thought it over for a moment and gave a nod.
"George, the world is going to need you most of all. Don't lose those laughs. Work with the Ministry Department of Commerce. Help them get Diagon Ally up and running again. You're brilliant with things like that. You really know how to make things cheerful again. Use that. Make the Ally an even more wondrous place to go to than ever before. It's a place of magic. Have it proclaimed from every shop."
"I think I can do that. I'm still saint-like after all." A smile broke through his gloom and he looked over towards Fred, to find him not at his side. The smile faded and he looked down. It would be a long and up-hill battle for him.
"Mrs. Weasley, Ginny. I have something really special I need for you to do."
"What's that, Harry?" Ginny asked softly from beside him.
"Orphans. There are probably a lot of them out there now. And probably a lot of muggle-born orphans as well stuck without a family. Find them. Help them. Bring them into the Wizarding world. Make sure they find a family."
Molly gapped for a moment and then walked slowly over to Harry. Gently she leaned down and kissed his forehead. "That's the most compassionate thing I've ever heard you say, Harry. I'm not sure I know what to do, but I'll find a way. You're right. Everyone needs a family."
"Right, that's settled then." Harry said with finality. Hermione and Ron were looking at him through narrowed eyes. They knew he was up to something and they didn't like what they suspected. Harry felt Ginny's eyes on him as well as she felt the tension in his body. He didn't look down at her though. He couldn't; not yet.
"If you don't mind I'd like to talk to Ron, Hermione and Ginny alone please," he asked politely.
"Of course, Harry." Molly said gently. "We'll be back at the Burrow. The floo's were all opened up. I don't really want to stay here anymore."
"I understand, Mrs. Weasley. I won't keep them long."
The rest of the family filed out and left the four of them alone.
"What's going on, Harry," Hermione said with suspicion. "I don't like the look you have now."
Harry gathered his breath and courage. "I'm going away." He felt Ginny tighten her grip around his arm. Painfully tight.
"Going away?" her sweet voice was rising slowly with panic. "What do you mean? For how long? A week or two?"
Harry slowly shook his head. "I don't know for how long, but it won't be for a week or two."
His eyes met Hermione's and Ron's. Hermione's were rebellious, but Ron's were curiously accepting.
"Now, Harry-" Hermione began, but was stopped but Ron's raised hand.
"I know what you're doing, Mate. I know why you need to do it. I don't like it, but I won't stop you."
"Ron!" Hermione said viciously, "What are you talking about! He can't just up and leave! He said it himself: we have to rebuild the Wizarding World. The Ministry, Hogwarts. Everything! He can't dump that on all of us and then go on some trip! He has responsibilities!"
"To some people more than others." Ginny said flatly and he risked a sad look down at her. She was furious and scared, but she wasn't crying. He always loved that about her.
"Yeah. Responsibilities…" He began and broke off. He pulled away from Ginny and walked over to an open window. The serene afternoon belittled the war that had occurred just hours before. The only testament was the holes and bodies that were even now being dragged away. "I've had my fill of responsibility for a time. Everyone looking at me to fix this problem or that problem. I've had my fill of running for my life. Of not knowing if I'll be dead tomorrow. Of actually expecting it."
He turned back to the three who were quietly crowded next to each other. "For the first time I actually have a future to look forward to. A life I can build. But I can't do that here. Something would keep coming up. If I was around I'd never be left alone. I'd kinda like to see the world as a regular person and not as the Boy-Who-Lived."
"Is that what you're going to do, Harry? See the world?" Ginny asked. Her face set into disapproval. "We can do that. All of us. We can take a long trip and see everything. Travel everywhere. You don't need to leave us to do that."
He shook his head. "I'd feel too guilty around you all. You may not have known it, but for years my life has been around all of you. Everything good revolved around you all. My life was inseparable from you. I liked that, but now…schools over. The war is over. I have to begin again. For the first time really. Dumbledore told me that if I really wanted to start a life that I had to live. That's what I plan to do. I can't do that around here. I can't be the person you all want me to be until I have the change to live like a regular bloke."
They were silent as they digested his words. A moment later Ron gave a reluctant nod. "I understand, Mate. Like I said I won't stop you. Don't stay away too long though. Stop by and see me before you go. You know where."
Harry met his eyes for a long time and nodded. Ron turned and walked out leaving just a shell shocked Hermione and an angry red headed girl.
"Well, he, may understand, but I certainly don't Harry James Potter!" Hermione was ready and willing to work into one of her famous tantrums of logic. He saw that she felt betrayed by Ron's willingness to let him go. "We fought beside you. We almost died for you. I sent my parents away for you. How can you just forget all that and leave?"
"Don't you see?!" Harry said hotly. "No one should do that 'for' me! You should have done all that for yourself1 I thought you did! That's the thing of it, isn't it? If I stay everyone will do things for me and me for them! For once in my life I have to do something for myself. To build up something of my own and not for someone else. I'm tired of trying to be strong for other people. Can't you understand?"
"NO!" Hermione screamed, now crying. "We were always together! Harry! You were my first friend! I never had friends in the muggle world! You were my first real friend! How can you ask me to just let that go?"
Harry felt awful. He didn't know that. She never talked about life before Hogwarts much. He guessed she was kind of lonely but never like that. "It won't be for good Hermione." He promised. Only for a year or so. Maybe two. Can't I have that?"
"But it won't be for just a year or two! These things always go on and on! You'll go away and we won't ever see you again except for maybe some visit ten years down the road! I know it! I just do!"
Harry walked over. Ginny was being suspiciously silent. He suspected she was going to talk to him alone. He owed her that. For the time being he needed to make Hermione see. "'Mione, I promise I won't stay away forever. And when I come back it'll be for good. I'm not giving you up for a new life. I just want a life of my own that, when I come back. I can share with you. Please let me do this. Please?"
Hermione looked at him for a long moment and absently wiped away her tears. She really did look awful. She needed a bath and sleep like the rest of them did. "You promise? You won't stay away for long? You'll come back!"
Harry nodded. "I promise."
Hermione gave a little hiccup of a laugh. "You better, Harry Potter. Or I'll find some spell to track you down. Mark my words. I'll find you and drag you back."
Harry grinned and pulled her into a tight hug. "I don't doubt it." She returned the embrace and they stood there for a moment. Then she pulled away and stood on her tip toes and planted a soft kiss on his cheek.
"Good-bye," she whispered in his ear and walked out the room, stopping once more to studied his face, before disappearing from sight.
Harry slowly turned towards the one person he was dreading leaving most of all. Ginny.
"Hi," he said softly. She didn't say anything. Just stared at him hard.
"So you're going to leave? Just like that? I thought…you made it sound like…what about 'us'? The way you talked…like we would be together when it was all over. Were you just trying to make me feel better? Did you enjoy hoping I would pine for you again? Cause I won't Harry Potter. I won't pine for you like a silly girl again. I just wont." she didn't sound like she believed herself though.
"I-I don't expect you to. What I said back then. I wanted it. I want you. I want you so bad it's killing me to go-"
"I have to. You heard what I said."
Ginny gnawed her lip. "Then take me with you. I don't need to finish Hogwarts. I'll go anywhere you go."
Harry closed his eyes. It was so tempting. The forbidden fruit. He had thought of that himself. "It won't work, Gin. I don't…I don't feel right inside. Like something is missing-"
"What's missing is me!"
"No. What's missing is myself. Who I am. I've got you in here already. But if I don't…heal. I'll never be the kind of man you deserve. I'd like nothing better for my whole world to be around you. That wouldn't be good for either of us though. We have to have our own worlds."
They looked at each other for a long time. Ginny gnawing on her lip and Harry shuffling his feet. "I can't wait forever, Harry. I-I'll wait for a little bit, but not forever. I want a life too you know."
Harry nodded solemnly. "I know. I wouldn't want you to. Well I would, but, well…Oh blast it!" He pulled her close and pressed his lips to hers for a kiss. She resisted at first, but eventually sighed and opened her mouth. His hands slipped up to tangle in her hair and around her waist as hers slid around his neck. She gave a low moan form deep within her throat that sent tremors through him. For what seemed like hours they kissed. Their lips tasting each other. Their hands clinging and exploring. Finally he pulled away. It was only maybe a minute, but it seemed like a lifetime was shared in that kiss.
"I care you for, Ginny. So much that, well, it kills me to leave. But I have to."
Ginny gave a nod, but refused to cry. He could tell that she wanted to, but didn't. It gave him hope. Her strength in his leaving gave him some as well. He reached out and traced her jaw, but she stepped away quickly.
"I-I should go. I'm not sure how much longer I can keep myself from stopping you."
Harry drank in her face and her body. He would memorize everything about her and when he went to sleep at night it would be to her face. He made a silent vow. No matter what, he wouldn't be with any girl but her. Even if he had to wait forever. He gave a nod. She blinked her eyes rapidly and turned to run out of the room. He thought he heard a chocked sob as she turned the corner.
He stared at the empty space for a moment and then turned to the couch. He walked over and raised his wand, "Enervate," and little Lily woke up. She blinked her eyes and looked around in bewilderment. He saw Harry and tucked her Teddy closer to her body and snuggled some more under the blanket he had given her.
"Good morning," he said with a smile.
"Did I fall asleep?" she asked worriedly.
Harry gave a nod. "You looked like you needed some, so I gave you a little push."
"Oh…what's going to happen to me?" He could see the stark fear in her pretty brown eyes when she asked this. He reached out and tucked a strand of her hair behind her ear.
"Well. I knew Snape."
"Papa Severus. I knew him. He was one of my teachers. That letter you gave me?" She nodded. "That letter told me that I should take care of you. That's up to you though. Do you have any other family anywhere?" She shook her head. "Then would you like that? To stay with me? I don't know much about little girls, but well. I'd be willing to learn, if you'd give me a chance."
She gave a little shrug. "I guess so…"
Harry pointed towards the teddy bear. "Who's that?"
Lily pulled the stuffed animal tighter against her. "That's Abigail. She my friend."
Harry gave another smile. "She looked like a good friend. Tell you what. She can come with us and look out for you. If I do something you don't like, she can tell me and I'll stop, ok?"
"How do I know you won't leave like Papa Severus?" Her voice was tiny.
Harry took one her hands. "Because all the bad things that made him leave are over. The bad people are gone. The fighting's stopped. I won't leave unless you want me to. Do you want me to?"
The little girl hesitated and then shook her head. "No. I like you. You're nice. I don't want you to leave."
"Then I won't. I promise. So, what do you say? I'm going to travel the world. Want to come with me?"
Her eyes grew round like saucers. "The whole world?"
Harry nodded. "Yup!"
"But it's so big!"
Harry laughed and ruffled her hair. "That's why I want to see it. You're welcome to come along." Lily just nodded her head dumbly. He grinned and pulled the blanket away. "Then let's go. We have a lot to do."
She hopped down off the couch and picked up the blanket with the other hand. She took Harry's hand and held Abigail and the blanket in the other. The conjured item dragging behind her as they walked out of the room. Harry stopped by the Quidditch pitch when they got outside. Ron was leaning against the door to the changing rooms. He told Lily to sit in the stands and he would be right back.
Ron met Harry's eyes and raised his brows. "The girl?" he asked.
Harry gave a bashful shrug. "It was Snape's last request."
Ron's eyes rose higher. "Blimey. The git really knows how to throw a sucker doesn't he?"
Harry gave a laugh and a nod. "He sure does. It's ok. She's an orphan like me. I think we can help each other."
Ron gave a nod and blew out a breath. "Where are you going first? Do you need anything?"
Harry shook his head. "I'm going to rent a room and the Leakey Cauldron I need a good long bath and some sleep. They I'm going to buy some things. I'm not just going to rush off. I'll spend a few days getting ready."
Ron gave a satisfied nod. "Good to hear. Hermione really rubs off doesn't she?"
Harry laughed. "She sure does…I'm going to miss her Ron. Take good care of her would you? Both of them?"
Ron gave a serious nod. "I promise. Do you want me to beat off any guys that come calling? I'd be happy to."
Harry gave a guilty flush. He hated to do this. "Just for a little while. She'll know what you're doing and she'll hate it, but appreciate it. She'll let you know if I've waited too long to come back and she wants to move on."
"Yeah. I figured that too. Well then. Think you can send me a card every now and then? Just a quick update so I know you're alive?"
"Sure," Harry agreed. "You can't tell anyone though. Hermione will probably be able to trace me somehow through my handwriting or some weird spell and show up at my doorstep."
Ron whistled. "You're asking a lot, Mate. She tends to ferret little things like that out easily."
"I know, but I need this and you know I do."
"Yeah…look, Mate. Seriously, don't take too long with this. I'm going to miss you too."
Harry smiled. "You always understand me Ron. I won't be long."
"Well that's what best mates are for."
"And you're the best of the best."
Ron flushed and scratched at his head. "Ah, don't go getting all mushy on me. Guys aren't like that."
Harry gave a hearty laugh and stuck out his hand. Ron took it in a firm grip. "I'll sneak some of Hermione's books on survival and stuff. Send them to you tomorrow or something."
"No need. I'm not going to camp out like we did all this year. Its hotels for me. Warm beds and lots of food."
Ron grinned. "That sounds great. A could use a bath and a good meal myself. So this is good-bye, then?"
"I know mom still has a lot of your stuff, like your broom. I'll get those and send them over if you don't want the books."
"Yeah. That'd be great…I should go, Lily's waiting on me."
"Bye, Harry. Be careful."
"I will," they shook hands again and Harry left the changing room. He spotted Lily sitting on one of the benches, swinging her legs back and forth. He motioned her over and she hopped down, her little feet pattering as she ran over to him. Her hand immediately found his and he marveled and the size and warmth. 'Was I ever this small?' he thought.
Together they walked towards the massive gates of Hogwarts, torn and unhinged from their placements. Four Aurors stood guard and saluted in awe as Harry walked past with the little girl.
"Mr. Harry, sir?" Lily asked when they were past the guards.
"You can just call me, Harry. What is it?"
"Why were those men saluting you?"
"They thought I was someone else."
"Oh…" he hesitated and then opened up both her arms. He looked down and gave a laugh. He leaned over and picked her up. She settled her skinny hands around his neck and to his amazing kissed his on the cheek. He felt something warm flood into him. That little hole that he told Ginny he had; well it filled a little. Enough for give him hope.
"Are you ready? I'm going to disapperated. It's a little odd at first."
Lily gave a little nod. "I've done it before with Papa Severus. What are we going to do?" she asked in hush but excited voice.
Harry grinned at her. "We're going to live, Lily. Live, like no one else before!"
With a twist they vanished with a load 'pop' and Harry Potter was gone.
A/N - If you are an old reader then I hope you enjoy this new version more. Too many people said the first one was too flakey. This was much more suitable I am told.