I remember the day the world nearly came to an end.
The morning was as mundane and gloomy as a September morning in London could have been. The overcast skies were but a bright ray of sunshine against the desolation that was within my own heart. With much reluctance, I left the comfort of my bed and joined my wife of over twenty years in our humble kitchen. For the first time, we found the silence between us oppressive and the desire to break it was so strong that it came second only to the inability to find any words to say.
We were alone in our nest and our fledglings had left us. I looked at my wife and marveled at how gracefully she had aged. Indeed, to appearance, she looked ten years younger than she was, while I probably looked five years older than I was. My eyes moved to the window and I saw the reflection of my face.
The desolation within me rose again, mighty and unmerciful. I saw in front of me the reflection of an empty shell, a man who could have achieved much but gave it all away in less than a heartbeat for a simple life. I loved my family, I loved my children, I loved my wife, I loved our little home. But sometimes it wasn't enough. I could have been much more, could have done so much more.
"Hermione was right."
I turned my head and saw my wife's concerned gaze upon me. I waited patiently for her to continue.
"Hermione knew this day would eventually come," she whispered sadly, perhaps with the knowledge that my best friend could still read me better than my wife. "She told me one day you would wake up and regret everything you gave up."
I waited for her to elaborate and elucidate Hermione's reasoning for the desolation I felt within me. Given time, I would have ventured down a long walk through green fields, an umbrella and a walking stick in my hand, in my quest for soul-searching and eventually understand the reason for my mood. However, as I had done so many times in the path, I decided to take the shortcut and rely on Hermione's explanation.
"She said giving up the Hallows and the Ministry offers will weigh you down eventually," Ginny continued. She came closer to me and touched my shoulder gently. I placed my hand on top of hers and brought it to my lips. "According to Hermione, you will regret leaving the path to greatness and choosing a simple life with me as another Weasley." I frowned, doubting Hermione would ever phrase it as such. "She was drunk," my wife continued, seeing my expression. "It was after she discovered Ron cheating on her, and she kept on talking about how their marriage was a mistake, how she should have been with you instead of Ron, how we Weasleys pulled both of you down. She even accused of using love potions. I don't think she remembered saying all this the next day."
"I do not regret marrying you," I said forcefully. The very idea that I could be with anyone but my wife was repulsive to me. "I never have."
Ginny smiled at me and tenderly moved her fingers through my hair, knowing how soothing that was to me. "I know you don't. But I brought you down, Harry. I never challenged you to the same extent that Hermione could have. Because of me, you were content to retire to a simple life investing your family wealth, have children, and watch them grow, always content with being a family man. She would have challenged you to do great things. She would have made you what the world needed of you."
"You make me happy," I said a bit irritably, unsure of what my wife was trying to achieve.
"And you make me happy," she said. "But I stole you, Harry. I stole you from the world. I stole you all for myself. And you are beginning to realize it now. I can see it in you, slowly you are beginning to hate yourself for not stepping up after defeating Voldemort and playing a more crucial role in the rebuilding. You were the Master of Death," she said, "and now you are just Harry Potter."
Just Harry Potter, wasn't that what I had always wanted to be? Finally, after several decades of ignominy and simplicity, I had achieved that. Gone were the days when the crowds would gather in the hundreds to catch a mere glimpse of me as I went shopping for milk and eggs. Gone were the days when a mere mention of my name would be followed by a hushed silence of reverence. No, now I was just Harry Potter, who used to be a somebody.
And I knew the cause for my grief. Everyday, I woke up and became more and more aware of how stagnant the society had become, how ineffective the Ministry had become, how utterly corrupt the entire system had become, how entirely useless I had become. Once, I could have changed the world by a mere word, but I chose to leave that life behind. Now, the world had left me behind.
"She hunted for them," said Ginny. "She found the Stone and the Wand. I gave her a vow to tell you about it the day I felt you doubt your choices. To free you, if you so choose, to become what the world needs you to be."
I observed my wife raise her wand and summon the Deathly Hallows. I held by breath as I saw the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Invisibility Cloak fly through our small cottage and fall on the table before me.
There was great power in them. I could feel it, even from the distance. I knew I had but to grasp the Wand and the world would be mine again.
"What are you thinking of?" Ginny asked me, and I could sense the insecurity in her voice, her fear that I might realize I had made a bad decision in marrying her. It was something I hadn't heard in her voice since I had asked her to marry me.
"They wanted miracles," I began slowly, "and I could have given it to them." I raised my hands and looked at them with disgust - these were the hands that had once united the Hallows and then cast them away. "But I was worse than Dumbledore. I didn't act. I had reunited the Hallows and I threw them aside when instead I should have ushered in the golden era of Britain, of my people, of my land. Instead, I threw it all away."
I saw the certainty of my regretting our marriage in Ginny's face and she lowered her head.
"Do you know why I chose not to?" I remained silent until she raised her head with curiosity and met my eyes. "I was afraid," I said, my voice a bare whisper. "I was afraid. I had power, I had money, I had influence, I had the Hallows. I was the Master of Death. Without Dumbledore and Voldemort, my power was godlike compared to everyone else. I was afraid, Ginny, I was afraid of myself."
I saw confusion in her face and knew my explanation wasn't clear enough.
"I would act with the desire to do good, giving the world the miracles they want. But through me, the Hallows would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine. It would eventually overpower me and make me a tool for greed, arrogance and avarice. I would have ushered in the golden era, yes, but in doing so I would have been blinded, and the gold would have burnt into a black ash."
I could see the horror in her eyes and the disbelief that her precious Harry could ever turn gold into black ash. But it was true.
"I am human, Ginny," I explained simply. "I was afraid of what I could become. In my fear and confusion, the only thing that was clear to me was you. I loved you and that was like a faltering spark in a dark, dark corridor, and I rushed to it as fast as I could. I came to this spark and allowed myself to stay there."
I looked at the Hallows as the silence between us grew. I reflected on my actions and my life. There was desolation within me, true, and all I needed to do was grasp the Wand. I could become more than a mere wasp that stirred the unmoving bull. I could become great yet again. I could usher in the golden era of Britain. I could do miracles the world so desperately needed.
War, corruption and terrorism could have been eradicated in a matter of days at my behest. Crime and poverty would become a thing of the past. I would eradicate every single global problem in the magical and muggle world with ease. Peace, splendor and prosperity would become a birthright of every individual. I would become a performer of miracles. I would become a leader to my people, cherished and beloved.
But then I saw red.
Few truly understood Godric Gryffindor's insistence on always putting red next to gold. It was a reminder to himself - a reminder to the rest of us, including Dumbledore and I - to always think of the red when thinking of the gold.
I would become a tyrant to my people, feared and hated. The slightest voice of dissent would be met with vicious brutality. Peace shattered before my very eyes into carnage as I walked alone through fields of battle, my ambition fed by my unmatched power, seeking and desiring more and more, never content. Weapons of Mass Destruction batter uselessly against my immense shields, destroying everyone except those I deem worthy. I heard cries and curses, all mingled as one, while I laughed - a sound eerily reminiscent of that which followed the death of my mother while I was but a mere baby.
And then I turned to my wife - the mother of my three beautiful children. She was so beautiful, so loving and tender. It was no longer a spark but a brilliant flame.
"I do not want to leave this bright candle now," I said as I walked to her and embraced her gently.