"A Long December" Counting Crows
The walls seemed familiar, but definitely unwelcome. Too small and cramped, there was a musty, stale smell about the air, and spiders were hanging from the ceiling again. Harry watched as one dropped lower and lower toward him. Suddenly, it began to grow, changing from a small and harmless daddy long legs into a thick, black, hairy creature that he did not want to be trapped with. Harry noticed his surroundings changing as well. The unwelcome walls had vanished and were replaced with thick trees and darkness that made him feel as though a blanket had been thrown over him. He heard whispers beside him, and saw flashes of light in the distance. The spider that captured his focus, however, continued to grow until he could see the details of its eight eyes and each coarse strand of hair coating its body. As he tried to back away, it scuttled toward him and began to speak in a voice that made his hair stand on end.
"Do you think it is over?" The high voice sneered. "It will never be over, not until I have finished with you, Harry Potter. And when I have finished with you, I will finish with everyone else who has tried to defy me!"
No, Harry thought as he backed away. This is impossible. The Horcruxes were destroyed; he had made sure of it. Voldemort only mentioned seven. Seven, the most magically powerful number. This couldn't be.....there couldn't be anymore!
His legs continued to carry him backward, his attention solely focused on the spider which was still morphing and changing. It continued to grow, larger and larger, and then suddenly it reared up on its two back legs. The front legs, pinchers, and eight terrifying eyes rearranged themselves into black robes, with a hood covering a white, snake-like face. The red eyes glowed from under the hood and he could hear ragged, excited breathing coming from the figure.
Voldemort had been reborn, again.
Harry groped blindly for his wand; the Elder Wand had not yet been returned to its rightful owner, which meant he should have two to choose from to defend himself. His pockets, shirt, and belt of his jeans were all empty. How had he become unarmed?
"Do you turn to run? Or will you face me like a man so I can kill you at last?" Voldemort laughed, raising his own wand. Upon a closer look, Harry saw that he had the Elder Wand. Harry reached for his neck, feeling from the outside of the Mokeskin pouch he had received from Hagrid the broken pieces of the Phoenix Wand. He was defenseless.
The whispers grew louder, sneering and laughing as he retreated back from his enemy. Still trying to wrap his overstressed mind around how this situation could possibly be, Harry took in each of their faces. Bellatrix Lestrange stood out the most, her dark, thick hair a mess with twigs and leaves. Along side her were the werewolf Greyback, the Carrows, and Yaxley. Walden McNair stood along side Lucius Malfoy, sneering in Harry's direction, and Dolores Umbridge laughed in her little girl voice at his fear.
Umbridge? What was she doing here? She was not an admitted Death Eater and, from what Harry knew of her, would probably run screaming at the site of Voldemort in the flesh. She wasn't the only one who seemed out of place. Further back along his retreat he saw the familiar faces of Professor McGonagall, Slughorn, and all the Weasley's; their faces frozen in horror and shock. Ron and Hermione stood along side Neville, Luna, Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, and Ernie MacMillan, all of whom seemed to be shouting silently at him. He could hear no sound other than Voldemort's ragged, excited breathing as he stalked after him, and the whispered taunts and laughter from the Death Eaters. At the sight of his friends and family, still supporting and waiting to fight with him, Harry slowed his retreat to a stop.
Time seemed to stand still and Harry saw several things happen at once. Distracted by a flutter of movement from the ranks at their sides, Voldemort shot a jet of red light from the Elder Wand toward the crowd, the spell flying toward a figure that had broken out of line. Ginny Weasley was running toward Harry, screaming a silent plea for him to run away. Hermione and Ron had begun to follow her, but were hit and knocked back by Voldemort's spell while Ginny raced forward. Harry froze and motioned frantically for her to stop; he wanted Voldemort no closer to the people he loved. She continued on, moving to place herself between him and Voldemort. When Voldemort realized her intent he laughed, and the cold raspy sound pierced the air as he raised his wand and brought it down, beginning to shout the curse Harry had escaped too many times.
"GINNY, NO!" Harry had screamed, but she seemed unable to hear him. Ginny's eyes were alight with fear and anger; she was entirely set on preventing Voldemort from attacking Harry. But she couldn't do this; it was him, Harry, who must die, not the precious, beautiful girl who was his reason for staying sane.
"GINNY!" he screamed again. He had to move between them. He wouldn't let her do this- he would throw her out of the way by force if necessary- but his feet wouldn't move. "GINNY, NO! STOP!" Harry screamed. He tried to move but his feet were like lead, and they held him to the spot at which he had frozen upon first seeing her. Voldemort heard his screams and smiled, knowing that this would cause Harry more pain than death ever could.
The tip of the Elder Wand began to glow a sickening bright green, and Harry heard the Unforgivable Curse coming from the high, cold voice he hated more than anything in the world.
"GINNY!" Harry screamed, terror and anger finally allowing his feet to move forward.
"It's time you learned the difference between dreams and reality, Potter," the low, familiar voice of Severus Snape stated, speaking the words that were familiar to him from a different time and place. Harry was too terrified to understand the meaning of them. What was happening couldn't be a dream, it was a nightmare.
"GINNY, STOP! NOOOO!"
Harry's eyes flew open and he sat bolt upright in bed, hearing his own screams break the silence around him. He found himself in unfamiliar surroundings again. The room was light, but he was shut in by red fabric hanging on all sides of him, and he was also sitting on a much too comfortable surface. As he was wiping the sweat from his forehead he realized where he was. Pulling open the curtains that contained his four-poster bed in the Gryffindor dormitory, he gazed, relieved, at his surroundings. A dream, he told himself. This is reality. His breath came slow and deep, calming him after the nightmare. Trying desperately to shake the dream from his mind, he heard another familiar, but unexpected, voice speak as he floundered around for his glasses.
"Master Harry is finally awake. Kreacher was beginning to worry," the deep voice said. Harry looked up to see the house-elf he acquired upon Sirius' death staring at him with a concerned look in his eyes. "Pascal had come to Gryffindor tower to drop off clothes for Master Harry and the other guests who have come back to Hogwarts. Pascal told Kreacher that Master Harry was distressed. Perhaps you is in need of more rest Master? Kreacher did not mean to be noisy."
"Kreacher!" Harry exclaimed, still trying to shake off the dream. "No, you didn't wake me. Who is Pasacl? Wha….how….what time is it? What day is it?"
"It is 11 o'clock in the morning on May the fifth . Pascal is a Hogwarts house-elf. Master Harry has missed breakfast, but Kreacher would be happy to fetch him pastries, toast, or something to eat from the kitchens."
"No, not now Kreacher, thank you." Harry didn't feel like eating. May fifth-, he'd been asleep for almost two days since the battle. "Kreacher, can you tell me what happened while I was sleeping? What happened to the other Death Eaters? How many are dead? Is everyone still here, or have they been sent home?" Harry asked. He wondered vaguely what he would have to face when he did decide to make an appearance.
The house elf shook his head, and said, "Kreacher doesn't know for sure Master Harry. Kreacher has been busy helping the professors with repairs and making sure the castle occupants are happy and comfortable. Perhaps Kreacher could fetch one of Master Harry's friends and they could give him the correct answers?"
"No, Kreacher, you don't need to do that," Harry said. He suddenly felt a little guilty. After all, Kreacher must have felt slightly abandoned when he, Ron, and Hermione had did not return to Grimmauld Place after the fiasco at the Ministry. "When did you come back to Hogwarts? Are you alright? I'm sorry we didn't come back, Yaxley held onto Hermione's coat as we Disapparated and-" He started to explain, but the elf cut Harry off.
"Master Harry does not need to apologize," Kreacher said with a smile. Harry noticed that even though it wasn't the most attractive smile, the elf was truly happy. "Miss Hermione explained what happened to Master Harry and Kreacher is not upset. Kreacher is just glad to see his Master awake and in good health. He would feel better if Master Harry ate something."
"Right," Harry said, but he still had questions. "What happened to you when we didn't come back?"
"Kreacher was busy making supper for Master Harry and his friends when a man burst through the door of Grimmauld Place. He yelled for Master Harry to show himself, and Kreacher knew he couldn't stay. Kreacher came to Hogwarts because that was where Master Harry had asked him to come the previous year, before his return to Grimmauld Place. Kreacher waited to hear from Master Harry; things inside the castle were frightening. The house-elves stayed hidden mostly, only coming to clean and prepare meals. We heard tale of Master Harry's brave rescue of Dobby and his kindness to Dobby. We house-elves are ever grateful to Master Harry for what has been done for our kind." Kreacher finished his brief tale and looked at Harry as though he was looking at the sun shining. Hearing Kreacher talk about Dobby did not, however, make Harry feel any better. The elf seemed to notice the quiet guilt seeping through his mind and continued.
"Master Harry should not feel sad. He has saved many from suffering and death through his bravery. Kreacher has only heard talk of how great Master Harry is from the occupants of Hogwarts. All who wait below are anxious to greet and to praise Master Harry for his valiant defeat of the Dark Lord. Master Harry has no reason to feel ashamed," Kreacher said, and the concern and kindness in the elf's voice made Harry's eyes water.
"Thanks Kreacher," Harry said thickly. Kreacher's attitude and mannerisms had improved even more since the last time Harry had saw him. He vaguely wondered if he was now channeling Dobby's spirit.
Harry's cleared his throat and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Getting to his feet and stretching made him feel rested, but his mind was still tired. "I suppose food would do me some good; it's almost lunch time. I think I'll clean up and head down to the Great Hall, Kreacher."
Kreacher bowed, "Should you need anything Master Harry, please just call Kreacher." And with that he bounced out the door and on his way.
Harry sat down on the edge of his bed and looked around the familiar room. A feeling of peace settled through him as he remembered the past few days. It was over, it was really over. No more looking for Horcruxes or running from Death Eaters. No more camping in unknown places or starving when food ran low. Nothing to fight against, but yet, still so much to do. There would be funerals for Fred, Tonks, Lupin and all the rest who had died in the battle, but when and where would they take place? Before he had gone to sleep he remembered news coming in that Kinglsey would be Minister of Magic, which meant he needn't worry about what was happening there. No one would need to hide anymore- Hermione could go find her parents and remove the memory charm, and Harry could try to reach his aunt and uncle to let them know they could come out of hiding. Thinking of them brought back the dream though, the cupboard he slept in for so long being the beginning of it. He shook the thought off and smiled as he considered not letting them know that the war was over and he was no longer a marked man. But then he remembered Dudley shaking his hand and saying, "I don't think you're a waste of space," and thought better of himself. He did laugh out loud, though, when he decided to send the letter advising the Dursley's of their freedom by owl post.
Sometime later, after a shower, a poor attempt to cut his shaggy black hair and shave the stubble that had become thick on his face, Harry dressed himself and made his way down to the Great Hall. Food would definitely be a good thing for him. His stomach was now growling. He also realized the jeans he was wearing, that had once had fit him quite well, now hung on his hips like Dudley's old jeans had. The castle seemed empty and quiet, though the disarray and destruction from the battle two nights before was obvious. Some portraits were in ruins, the inhabitants moved onto other locations, suits of armor lay on their sides and rubble was strewn throughout the hallways. It was a Tuesday, but classes had obviously been cancelled due to the battle, and half of the student body was now at home with their parents. The hallways were eerily quiet. Harry was not sure what would greet him when he entered the Great Hall- how many people were still at Hogwarts? He knew he must reach there eventually, but decided to take his time doing so. As he walked along he ran through the events of the last year obsessively.
His seventeenth birthday seemed like ages ago, and it was a shock to suddenly realize he'd be eighteen in two months time. Memories of his parents came up, as they had walked along beside him before he faced Voldemort in the forest. Sirius and Lupin also walking alongside him, both his surrogate father figures, now gone…. Fred, Tonks, Colin Creevy and how many others dead by the hands of Death Eaters? Robbed of lives they had only just begun. His friends, his family, gone again. He shook his head trying to stave off the emotions that threatened to break his resolve. Parts of him desperately wanted to run away and never face anyone again; the other half ached to be with the people he loved to deal with the grief threatening to consume him.
As thoughts of the ones who had passed and the ones who may still be at large crowded their way through his overtired and stressed mind, he looked up and noticed he was passing by the familiar tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy. He remembered the incident in the Room of Requirement, and the horrible fire destroying the diadem for him. The spell Crabbe had cast would have surely destroyed the room, Harry was sure, but he couldn't help but wonder. The room had been of such use to him, and to Neville and the other students of Hogwarts who had rebelled against Voldemort's tyranny the past year. It was a pity if it was no longer in existence.
Despite his better judgment, Harry began to think, I need the room of hidden things……I need the room of hidden things…
Slowly, a door began to appear in the solid brick wall. It was charred, singed and blackened from the cursed fire spell. Harry backed away quickly, half afraid that the door would burst open and unleash the flames from inside the room into the castle. Nothing happened; the door remained in tact as it always was. Nothing came out, not even smoke. Curious, Harry approached and placed his hand upon the handle. It wasn't hot; he moved his hands along the edges of the door trying to feel any remnants of heat. It felt rough and burnt, but cool as any other door he had come across on his walk. He slowly pulled the handle down and opened the door to the room that had been both a place of safe harbor and one of destruction.
His eyes met a site that was not surprising to him at all. Smoldering remains were all that was left of the items that had been hidden by countless ages of students there. Charred pages of books, burnt edges of cabinets, pieces of bent metal still glowed from the heat of the fire, and the ashes of items completely destroyed towered in pillars around him. Harry glanced around, only to find that nothing was left, nothing to be salvaged. He knew there was no way they would ever be able to find Crabbe's body, not that he cared, but he wondered if it might be of importance to his parents. He walked through the remains, the towers of rubble surrounding him on either side, and he thought about the extraordinary magic of the room. As he wondered whether or not he should go back into the hall and then access the room created for the DA, something caught his attention.
Lying on its side was a burnt and blackened cabinet, and a few feet from it was the charred partial mannequin of an ugly warlock upon which he had perched the diadem of Ravenclaw to mark the spot of his hidden Potions book. This was done before he realized the diadem was a Horcrux, before he even realized what it was at all.
The Half-Blood Prince! The book had helped him make such an impression on Slughorn, and had then turned around and caused mayhem when he used the then unknown spell on Draco Malfoy. It had belonged to Snape, and at the time realizing that fact had angered and disgusted Harry. Now, after seeing Snape's memories and realizing the extraordinary danger he put himself in to help protect Harry, he didn't feel such animosity. Curious, he bent over the cabinet and opened it, just to see what had become of the book.
Remarkably, it was still intact. The pages and edges of the book singed, but the book itself was whole. It lay open to a page describing the effects of the Amortentia potion, reminding him of the scent of the potion brewed in Slughorn's classroom; the flowery scent that he now realized belonged to Ginny. Ginny……
His heart rate picked up as he thought of her. Hopefully she was in the Great Hall with the others, but then it slowed again as he thought of facing everyone.
He reached out and picked up the book, flipping through the pages at the familiar cramped writing. As he turned through the pages, his desire to become an Auror was awakened and he remembered that Potions would be an essential part of that career. Pocketing the book for his own use, he stood and gazed around at the room again, deciding he could no longer postpone the moment. It was time to face his peers and see what the day, and the future, would bring for him. The image of Ginny's face glided back into the front of his mind, his longing to see her properly for the first time in ten months intensified. With a final glance around the room, he walked out the door, closed it behind him, and headed toward the Great Hall.