Disclaimer: JK Rowling and assorted publishers own Harry Potter.

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Chapter 90

The way it was told to Harry, there hadn't been much of Voldemort's body left by first light. The Blood Trackers had descended upon Hogwarts some time in the early morning as the Ministry's Aurors had done their best to sweep up the debris from a conflict the like of which most had never seen.

By the time the reptilian sentinels had arrived, Hermione and Sirius had managed to carry him up to the medical wing, leading Hagrid, blind now, along with them. As far as the Trackers were concerned, however, they'd found their prey - and had torn into the flesh as they slaked the programmed thirst of Harry's blood. Blood that Voldemort had forcibly taken from him at the end of the fourth year...

Oh Tom, be careful what you wish for...

Despite the warmth of the June sunshine at his back, Harry shivered, as though someone had walked across his grave. The grounds were practically deserted: it was double Transfiguration for the Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs, and even though Professor McGonagall's demeanour towards him had softened slightly, she had still insisted, most firmly, that Transfiguration held no relevance to the Mage, and he continued to be unwelcome in her lessons.

Lessons were depressing, anyway. Everywhere he looked, there were empty chairs and desks, testament to the night when Voldemort had launched the most savage attack Hogwarts had ever faced. The castle had, in the end, been up to the challenge, but only barely. The wall Harry faced slammed home the guilt with the authoritative weight that only cold stone could supply.

Cedric DIGGORY (Hufflepuff)

Harry traced the letters with the index finger on his right hand, somehow affronted, still, at how smooth and perfect the monument was. Words, dedications and monuments alone couldn't convey what it had meant to be there that night a year before: Kill the spare! Three words, and an entire world had been brought to its knees.

But where was the ragged pain in that smooth, chiselled channel in the stone? What indication of the struggle, the despair and the suffering did the immaculately straight lettering convey? None: none at all. It wasn't right that so much should be reduced to so little. It wasn't right that he had to dredge his own memories to conjure the guilt: the monument was supposed to supply the accusations for him... a neat, referenced list of what the Boy Who Lived had cost his world, set in stone to attest his failure for all eternity.

They said, of course, that Good had prevailed, that the right side had won, and that the Darkness had been defeated, once again, by The Boy Who Lived. The words felt bitter on Harry's tongue: The Boy Who Lived had been turned into a killer. Nothing more, nothing less: he'd sought out Voldemort, actively sought him, singlemindedly, with the sole purpose of ending a life.

Was that action the path of the Light? Was it noble? Was it what he had believed he was? No, it was none of those things. Lucas had warned him about revenge and vengeance. Hermione, who was the only surviving, presentable witness to the final conflict had insisted that Harry had acted out of self-defence, and no amount of protestation had been able to shake her conviction in the matter.

But, Harry reminded himself, accusingly, as he traced the second 'F' of Justin's surname, the one thing Hermione had forgotten was that he'd actively set out that night to confront Voldemort. One could not legitimately pick a fight and then claim self-defence.

Orla QUIRKE (Ravenclaw)

They'd said - Neville, Parvati, Padma and Hermione - they'd tried to convince him, as he'd spent the week laid up in the Hospital Wing, regrowing the flesh and bones that had liquified in that final assault, that had he not succeeded in overcoming The Dark Lord, then the Wall would have carried a far lengthier list of victims.

That was scant consolation: they didn't see how the path could be mapped all the way back to the Third Task - perhaps even before then. They weren't the ones who'd given presence and substance to Lord Voldemort. They hadn't picked wands with cores common to the Darkest threat the wizarding world had seen in the past half century.

Majella McCOURT (Ravenclaw)

He didn't even know what year she was, let alone what she looked like. Had she been a first-year, perhaps Muggleborn, overcome with awe and wonder as she'd discovered the fantastic world that had been her birthright, only to find herself betrayed by her new home in a conflict she had no say in?

Or maybe she'd been a seventh-year, perhaps planning her life as a witch? Harry didn't know, and this distressed him deeply. That completely innocent people had been wrapped up in the conflict. Completely innocent people had died whilst the world waited for him to do what he was supposed to do.

Harry's finger paused above the stone as he contemplated the next line. Well, not all of them were completely innocent: Pansy PARKINSON (Slytherin). The Killing Curse had accounted for Pansy, and although the Dark Mark on her forearm had made the legitimacy of the Slytherin's inclusion on the memorial debatable, at the very least, Professor McGonagall had been adamant on the matter: The Wall would list every Hogwarts student who had fallen during the second reign of Voldemort.

There were a lot of names - he knew this, as he'd counted them many, many times already across the summer term, vowing that he wouldn't forget a single one. His responsibility, his burden to bear...

Draco MALFOY (Slytherin)

They'd not found Malfoy's body: in itself, this was not so surprising - there were many names on the Wall where no body had been recovered. But it didn't seem quite... believable, somehow. Missing? Yes, most certainly. Unaccounted for, of course. But dead? No, not dead. Not Malfoy.

Professor McGonagall had weathered the Away Team's violent protestations that the Slytherin ferret did not deserve to be immortalised in stone, but had remained unmoved. To have left Malfoy off, when all others were listed, would have sent out 'quite the wrong signal', and that, apparently, had been that.

It was fortunate, perhaps, that the castle's wards were so depleted: had any of the staff got wind of just what the Away Team planned to inflict upon one Draco Malfoy, should he ever resurface, Harry was pretty sure they'd all have been in detention with Filch for the remainder of their academic lives...

Cho CHANG (Ravenclaw)

No, it didn't get any easier.

His peripheral sense registered the end of the morning's lessons, as the clusters of patterns dotted about the castle all began to stream towards the Great Hall, and Thursday's lunch. It was the penultimate day of term, and the final day of lessons proper, the Friday being given over to packing up and boarding the Hogwarts Express. The fifth-years, having endured the O.W.L.s spread across the previous fortnight, had been aghast to learn that they were expected to attend more lessons once the exams had finished: preparatory lessons for the N.E.W.T syllabi that they'd be studying as sixth-years...

Harry grimaced as he recalled his most recent conversation with Professor McGonagall, on that precise point. His sixth year - as a Mage, it was far from clear whether he would even be allowed to return to Hogwarts. Certainly, there were subjects he could study (lamentably, Potions was amongst their number), but there were also subjects that he couldn't (his Head of House had been quick to point out that Transfiguration, for example, was not an appropriate subject for a Mage to study, even from the wholly theoretical perspective).

But the curriculum itself was not the issue. He was. Or rather, as a thin-lipped Professor McGonagall had explained, "This is a school of witchcraft and wizardry, Mr Potter." The teacher's lips had compressed into a razor thin line on the ending of that statement, and Harry had mentally already tagged on the additional, unspoken clause, we don't like the Magi.

Before he could get too despondent, though, help, or hope, at least, had come from an unexpected source: "Matters of admission to Hogwarts, however, do not rest with me," Professor McGonagall had explained, in a tone that had managed to convey just how academic the conversation would have been were such decisions hers to make, "and as such I must conform to the wishes of the Founders."

Harry had frowned, and looked up at his Head of House questioningly: what wishes of the Founders pertained to him?

"You will be Sorted, Potter, before the rest of the school, at the Leaving Feast, and, as such, the decision as to whether you are entitled to return to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry," Harry was almost sure that his professor's stress of the school's disciplines was wholly unintentional, "to continue your education at N.E.W.T. level."

Harry's mind had spun. Sorted? Again? "But... but Professor," he protested, "I've already been Sorted. I'm a Gryffindor..."

"It is not so much the House that houses you so much as whether the Sorting Hat deems you worthy of admission to Hogwarts itself, Mr Potter. The Founders poured their intellect, their wisdom, their visions... the Founders poured the very ethos of this school into the Hat, to ensure that the principles laid down a thousand years past would be held to, would be cherished and... respected in the ages to come..."

Harry opened his mouth to interject an appropriate observation, but found that his brain was struggling to come up with a salient objection. Professor McGonagall's emphases hadn't been lost upon him, and although the reasoning behind the establishment as laid down in Hogwarts: A History was somewhat lacking in certain details, the Away Team had long since come to the conclusion that none of the Founders had been any friend to the Magi.

As Dean might have put it, Harry had a bad feeling about this.

The stone was cold against his forehead: eyes shut as he leaned against the Wall, Harry was attempting to either feel nothing whatsoever, or feel everything all at once: quite which he wasn't entirely certain. What he aimed to achieve never seemed to matter: events whirled around him, out of control. Wars began, friends died and families were destroyed.

And they were still grateful to him for inflicting it all upon them.

"Harry..." Parvati's voice had been expected; he'd absently tracked her pattern as she'd left the school's steps to walk over to the Wall. Neville, Hermione, Parvati and himself were all that were left of the Gryffindor fifth-years. Lavender, Ron and Dean were dead, and Seamus was confined to a cage of silver in Blackrock, the Ministry quick to convict the werewolf for Lavender's murder.

He ignored her: perhaps she'd take the hint and leave him alone, although, in truth he didn't want that. He wanted to be hated, he wanted to be loved. He wanted to be left alone with his grief, and he wanted people around him who understood what had happened, and who would neither praise nor condemn, but who were just... there.

"You have to eat, Harry..."

He exhaled, slowly, and slowly pulled his neck back, standing away from the wall, although still keeping his eyes closed. Every move, these days, was a considered move, all actions whittle down to the barest minimum, economy of motion, economy of speech. Economy of being.

"They should have a Wall of the Survivors," opined Parvati, suddenly, breaking the meditative silence.

Perplexed at the statement, Harry's self-imposed seclusion was broken as he opened his eyes to peer questioningly at her.

"You did a good thing, Harry. A great thing..."

In fairness, it wasn't Parvati's fault that her choice of words sent shivers up Harry's spine. You didn't get to choose greatness - in an ideal world, Harry would have chosen anything but. Greatness chose you, and it delivered with it burdens the rest of the world either didn't see, or chose to ignore. But they were still there.

Parvati continued to elaborate on her theme as they headed, slowly and carefully, Harry placing each foot just so on the grass, a slight upward lift as the sole of his shoes landed to minimise all evidence of his presence. And actually, as she outlined what there was to be grateful for, and reminded him of what had been accomplished, he almost started to believe she was right.


Fortunately, however, he caught himself just in time, and sat down beside her at the Gryffindor table without having uttered a single word.

Seamus had been found in a bad way, curled up in a foetal position on his transformation cell's floor, one hand clutching the silver blade, the metal having burnt away the fifth-year's flesh down to the bones. The 'evidence', as the Ministry had seen it had been both damning and conclusive, and all protestations that it couldn't have been Seamus' fault had fallen on predictably deaf ears.

Hermione, in a move that, with hindsight Harry felt he should have anticipated, had thrown herself into clearing Seamus' name with an absolute passion that would more properly have been classed as a frenzy. In addition to practically drowning herself in studying for the O.W.L.s, she spent days in the library, looking up legal precedents and writing reams and reams of notes in a rushed, scrawled hand that only bore passing resemblance to the immaculate assignments she'd been (rightly) famous for in previous years.

Her assertion that Peter Pettigrew had been responsible had not fallen on fertile ground, running up against the Ministry's predictable refusal to accept anything other than history's recorded version of events: Sirius Black killed Peter Pettigrew, and twelve innocent bystanders, and it was Sirius Black who'd placed both Harry and Hermione under a Confundus Charm in their third year.

When challenged to explain how it was, then, that Professor Lupin had been killed apparently by silver, that night, Hunter Carpathia, the same, somewhat sceptical Ministry agent who'd interrogated Harry in the autumn, had observed that clearly Ms Brown had elected to rid the world of the two savage part-humans - hence the presence of the silver sword. Obviously, she'd succeeded in 'dealing with' the elder wolf, but, regrettably, had fallen victim to the savage butchery of the younger variant.

Lavender BROWN, Order of Merlin (Third Class, Posthumous) (Gryffindor)

Oh yes, the Ministry recognised its heroes.

Hermione had suggested an alternative explanation of events, that involved Pettigrew attacking Lupin, being interrupted by Lavender, and somehow breaking the Wolfsbane's hold over Seamus so that the werewolf would do his dirty work for him. Carpathia had nodded, condescendingly, to the hypothesis, and observed that should they find this mythical, silver-limbed man, they would most certainly be questioning him.

Unfortunately, Hermione was then forced to concede that Pettigrew's arm had been destroyed. Carpathia, who clearly believed he could see a line when he was being fed one, had summarily dismissed Hermione and her 'delusional fantasies' with withering contempt.

This whole episode had stoked Hermione's fires still further, and none of the fifth-years had managed to maintain a conversation of more than a couple of sentences with her before she'd thrown herself back into her studies with frightening intensity.

And as they sat down to the Leaving Feast that Thursday night, Harry looked across the table at Hermione to be made keenly aware of how much the summer term had taken out of his best friend. Her face was pale, the skin stretched tightly over drawn features, and even the best efforts of her dorm-mates' makeover (Padma had moved into the Gryffindor dorm, unopposed, immediately after That Night) couldn't hide the dark rings under her eyes, nor restore the vitality to her eyes.

Harry's scrutiny went unnoticed by his subject, however - she was determinedly scribbling notes at the table as Professor McGonagall rose slowly to her feet, the chime of the glass stilling the muffled conversations that had broken out across the Great Hall.

"It has been a... 'difficult' year," announced Professor McGonagall, with what Harry considered to be world-class understatement. "We, as a school, have suffered many painful losses, and there are none who sit in this Hall today untouched by the past year's events..."

Although he wanted to listen to Professor McGonagall's speech, and knew that she would be saying important things in an important way, Harry found that he was unable to prevent himself from tuning out the words, concentrating instead on his sense's map of the Hall's five great tables, the clusters of students along their length quite different to the packed rows that had attended those same tables at Halloween.

So many missing, so many dead.

Unbidden, Parvati's hand held his.

Up at the high table, Hagrid tugged briefly at the ragged white bandage that covered his eyes in an exaggerated pantomime of adjusting the cloth's fit. The half-giant's blindness had so far resisted all attempts at reversal, but he'd insisted on carrying out his duties as best he could, a huge black dog his constant companion about the school grounds.

The spaces were more telling at the staff table, a product of both the High Table's relative prominence in the Great Hall, and also the smaller numbers of teachers versus pupils. Professors Sinistra and Vector were missing - the former had vanished with her domain, the Astronomy Tower, whilst the latter had fallen defending the Away Team's haunt, the South West Tower.

Fleur Delacour had chosen the wrong moment to start the Death Eaters' attack from within - perhaps no-one had told her that Professor Flitwick had been a duelling champion in his earlier days. Or perhaps she'd just misjudged the diminutive, and seemingly irrepressibly cheery Charms teacher. Either way, it was Flitwick who'd avenged Vector's death, and it was Flitwick who'd done much to hold the South West Tower, despite the Dark Mark glowing in the sky over his head.

Percy Weasley sat, importantly, upon Professor McGonagall's left, nodding approvingly at the acting headteacher's rhetoric. He held a scroll - an expensive, important looking scroll bound with a black ribbon - in his left hand, and was obviously desperately keen to share its contents with the school, but for now was contenting himself with obviously seeming to bestow his approval upon his former Head of House's closing speech.

Snape sat impassively on Professor McGonagall's left. His voice had not recovered from Durmstrang, and Potions lessons were conducted under a reign of terrified silence as the class struggled to catch every syllable of the Head of Slytherin's hissed instructions. The Potion Master's own role in the final battle remained unclear to Harry, although Professors McGonagall and Flitwick had both personally vouched for his loyalty and commended his (unlisted) actions.

As though feeling Harry's scrutiny upon him, the hook-nosed Professor's cold eyes turned on the Gryffindor table, and Harry quickly resumed his casual sweep of the top table, not wishing to openly meet the malice of Snape's stare with a return volley of his own.

At length, Professor McGonagall's oration was concluded, and she sat down to a suffocating silence in the room: you didn't applaud death, and even though the speech had, undoubtedly, hit all the right 'we move forward' notes, the necessity of the message served as a further reminder of what the year had cost.

Taking his cue, Percy got to his feet, and ceremonially unfurled the scroll in his hand: "I, Percival Weasley..."

"No relation," stated Fred Weasley, flatly, but distinctly, in a tone that cut through the Hall to land upon the ear of everyone present.

Percy faltered, blinking twice as he searched for the location of the heckler. At the far end of the Gryffindor Table (as far from Percy as they could get, as it happened), Fred and George returned blank stares back at their disowned brother. Conjuring up a politician's smile, Percy returned to the subject at hand, although he shot nervous glances at the twins throughout the rest of his text.

For their part, the Twins simply kept an expressionless gaze fixed upon the Ministry representative. There was no trickery, nor mischief in that look; nor was there any trace of familiarity or family. Percy Weasley was, Harry could tell, truly no relation to Fred or George Weasley.

"...and I am therefore pleased to announce that, in recognition of Mr Potter's contribution in defeating the Dark Lord..."

Harry heard several whispered protests over the word 'contribution' in that statement, but despite his better instincts, he found himself wondering what the 'recognition' might consist of. Parvati's fingers squeezed his own as a gesture of both support and, he suspected, restraint.

"...the Ministry offers its word that it will not pursue extradition of the Mage once he has left the Warlock boundaries."

Percy beamed at the stunned silence that greeted the proclamation as though he'd just announced that Christmas was going to arrive early. In triplicate.

Hermione, who hadn't stopped scribbling frantic notes throughout all the speeches, whipped her head around to face the High Table: "What?" she demanded, icily.

Percy, who wasn't quite as thick as he acted, caught on to the warning tones remarkably quickly, and did his best to placate the fifth-year as she rose carefully, and purposefully to her feet: "Well, Miss Granger, as I'm sure you..."

"Don't you 'Miss Granger' me," warned a quivering Hermione, as she shrugged off Neville and Padma's attempts to get her to resume her seat, "you miserable, pathetic worm of a sycophant..."

Percy's shock at these words was palpable - he almost looked as though he'd been slapped in the face. Meanwhile, Hermione was doing a very creditable impression of the way Mrs Weasley appeared to swell with rage, whilst Neville looked on in trepidation, and Padma (a refugee from Ravenclaw ever since the battle) buried her face in her hands.

Hermione, however, was on a mission, and stalked purposefully towards the High Table as she launched a tirade of accusations at the hapless Percy: "You lying, conniving, self-serving, dissembling excuse for a man..."

"You," interrupted Percy, finding his voice once more, "are insulting a Ministry official..."

"Oh go on and throw the book at me, why don't you?" hissed Hermione, murderously. "Hide behind your laws and your conventions... take peoples' liberties away and pretend its in the public's best interest. You mis..."

"But he's a Mage!" splustered Percy, losing composure, "we can't just allow him free run of this land. We have a responsibility..."

"I'm not just talking about Harry!" shrieked Hermione, causing Percy to flinch backwards at the strength of her outburst.

"Seamus," whispered Parvati from Harry's left.

"I'm talking," continued Hermione, in slightly more controlled tones, "about your treatment of everything that isn't you. Werewolves! House-elves! Even Muggles! You treat everything that isn't a witch or wizard as though its beneath you..."

Percy was nonplussed, "But they are..."

The Away Team, well aware of Hermione's feelings on this particular set of subjects, drew in a collective intake of breath, bracing themselves for what promised to be a truly incandescent outburst.

Instead, however, the broken, scratched voice of Professor Snape filled the expectant silence that was forming as Hermione drew herself up to challenge Percy's assertion. "Miss Granger," hissed the Potions Master, the sound something like the rattle of a collection of rusted knives, "I would sit down if I were you."

Despite himself, Harry found himself marvelling at the manner in which Snape could command complete and absolute attention with a voice that was little more than a whisper. The entire Hall hung upon every syllable the Head of Slytherin House uttered, and the weight of authority behind Snape's diction was unmistakeable. "Miss Granger, kindly return to your seat."

Harry could see Hermione slowly close her mouth, evidently swallowing whatever comeback she'd intended to hurl at Percy, and watched apprehensively as she turned to face Snape's malicious glare. Her lips parted once more, as though to begin her protestations, but Snape cut her off with a single, hissed syllable; "Now."

Knowing she was beaten, for that moment at any rate, Hermione flung one last, filthy glare at Percy before heading back to the Gryffindor table, glaring at all and sundry.

"Thank you, Prof..." Percy had turned towards Snape, his politician's mask slipping effortlessly back into place, but clearly found his former Potion Master's stare every bit as hostile as Hermione's had been.

"Thank you, Mr Weasley," intervened Professor McGonagall, before he could return to reading from the scroll once more. Ignoring the stammered protests from the former Head Boy, she continued, "you will, of course, be aware that Hogwarts lies outwith the Warlock Boundaries?"

The puzzled look that gave way to dawning, horrified comprehension told the audience that this minor detail was, in fact, news to Percy, and, in the way of such things, it was only after processing Percy's response to Professor McGonagall's disclosure that Harry realised fully what she meant: Percy had given the Ministry's word that he wouldn't be arrested outside the Warlock Boundaries. In other words, all the time that he was at Hogwarts, he was safe.

Professor McGonagall looked rather pleased with herself, whereas Snape looked as though he was chewing a wasp. It was only when Professor McGonagall confirmed that Slytherin House had won both the Quidditch and House Cups that the Potion Master's mood improved.

Some things in life were just plain wrong, in Harry's opinion, and he considered a smiling Snape to be definitely amongst their number.

Harry had no appetite for the feast itself, despite Parvati's repeated, and increasingly sly attempts at tricking him into eating. Opposite, a teary eyed Hermione was working herself up into a deeper and deeper frenzy of injustice, sandwiched between an alarmed, but awestruck, Neville and a concerned, but wary, Padma. Harry had a deep suspicion that no good was going to come out of his friend's barely contained anger, but he really had no clue as to how to forestall the impending explosion, so did the only thing that seemed sensible under the circumstances, and braced himself, mentally.

As the dessert dishes were cleared away, Professor McGonagall rose once more to announce the evening's final item of unfinished business: "As you all know, Mr Potter is a Mage - the Last of his kind, if accounts are correct..."

Harry wondered if she had intended to sound so hopeful on that last part.

"...in a school of witchcraft and wizardry, and so, as is right and proper, I have asked the Sorting Hat to re-evaluate Mr Potter's eligibility to continue his Hogwarts education. Thank you, Professor Flitwick."

The Charms professor had set the three-legged school in the middle of the space before the High Table, just as in the real Sorting at the start of term, and Professor McGonagall ceremoniously placed the tatty, weathered Hat upon it: "Harry Potter."

Parvati squeezed his hand briefly in a gesture of good luck as Harry rose to his feet and walked the long distance to the sorting stool, acutely aware that every single eye in the room was upon him. Acutely aware that many in the room wanted him to fall at this final hurdle, and be cast out of Hogwarts, never to darken the castle's walls with the blood of a Mage again.

As a first-year, the Hat had completely covered half his face, obscuring from him the sight of hundreds of eyes greedily watching the scene before them, fascinated at the spectacle, but safe in the knowledge that they'd all successfully passed the test.

This time, however, the Hat, although a little large, simply sat low across his forehead as it was placed upon him. And he felt it flinch as it attempted to explore his mind.

Ambition. Loyalty. Bravery. Intelligence. When asked on those fronts, Harry felt that he could meet any inquisitor head on. And reflecting on this, he sat a little straighter on the stool, feeling resolve flow through his bones. Why was he afraid of this? Let the Hat make its decision, he would survive, regardless.

Not knowing how he knew, Harry could tell that the Hat had already made its decision, and for the first time in a long time, the faint trace of a smile appeared on his lips.

"Gryffindor," stated the Hat, in the firm, assured tone of one who claims the prize for themselves.

No applause this time, just a collective exhalation as the school released its collective breath in relief. Flitwick whisked the Sorting Hat away, and Harry made his own way back to his table, taking Parvati's hand in his as he sat back down.

This was home, and he was back.

- FIN -