1: Sepulchral Mist
Harry Potter opened his eyes to almost total darkness. It was early, very early; there was not even the slightest glimmer of dawn. The stars and quarter moon provided scant light to the room.
He concentrated on his other senses. He was in pain, but nothing serious. He'd had much worse; he was simply stiff and sore. The soreness was the result of the lingering effects of the Cruciatus Curse, combined with the many other injuries he had sustained over the past few days. The stiffness, he realised, was because he had been lying in the same position for far too long. He wondered how long he'd been asleep.
Harry lay in bed for several minutes, moving slowly and trying to ease his stiff joints. He kept his eyes open, peering into the gloom until he could almost make out the shape of the curtains around his bed. He tried sensing his surroundings, listening; thinking.
He was not alone. He could hear others sleeping; their regular breathing interrupted by the occasional sigh or snore. His dormitory room in Gryffindor Tower had been empty when he had thrown off his clothes and fallen into bed. It had been only a few hours after noon when he'd finally managed to escape the crowds. He had quietly made his way to his dormitory to get some rest after more than thirty hours without sleep.
Harry listened carefully. Ron … that was Ron's breathing, he was sound asleep. Neville … no mistaking that noise, he was here too. There were other, quieter, breaths in the background. Dean and Seamus, he wondered; or Hermione? He held his breath and strained his ears. Not Hermione, he decided. He had shared a tent with her for so many months; he could easily recognise the pattern of her breathing. Dean and Seamus he suspected—hoped; because then he'd really be home. How long since the five of them had shared this dormitory? It was June last year; the night before Dumbledore's funeral. The day he broke up with Ginny, he remembered, but not, he remembered happily and hopefully, the last time he'd kissed her.
Slowly and quietly Harry pulled back his bedclothes and sat up in his four poster bed. He moved carefully, stretching hesitantly and easing his aching muscles into motion. When he was satisfied that he wasn't going to cramp, he gently reached around the curtains to his bedside table and ran his fingers over its familiar surface. This action, in the dark without waking his room mates, was second nature to him. He'd had years of practice. His scuttling fingers found his glasses, three wands, his watch, and the dry and curled remains of the plate of sandwiches Kreacher had brought him yesterday.
He could easily tell the wands apart, even in the dark. The Elder Wand, somehow cool to his touch; Draco Malfoy's wand, strangely familiar to him now, and Draco's no more; and, as the warmth spread through his fingers, his own holly and phoenix feather wand.
Harry put on his glasses, picked up his watch and his wand, and pulled his bedclothes over his head.
Lumos, he thought. The wand obeyed him perfectly, emitting a low glow; just enough to see his watch face.
It was a little after half past four. Dawn, his watch told him, was still almost an hour away. He had been asleep for more than fourteen hours. His roommates had not disturbed him; not even the normally noisy and blundering Neville. He had no idea when any of them had come to bed. Suddenly wide awake, he was struck by an idea. Now! He'd do it now!
Harry felt around on the floor for the filthy clothes he had discarded yesterday and quietly pulled them onto his bed. While scrabbling on the floor he also found his invisibility cloak and the Marauder's Map. He vaguely remembered pushing them roughly under his bed yesterday afternoon. For a second time he pulled his bedclothes over his head and carefully examined the map by wand light.
He checked his dormitory first. He was correct; everyone was here, Ron Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan. He looked quickly through Gryffindor tower. Hermione Granger, Ginny Weasley, Parvati and Padma Patil were all in Hermione's dormitory. Why was Padma here, and not in the Ravenclaw dormitory, he wondered.
Lavender Brown was missing, he realised! He tried to remember if he'd seen her after the battle. He hadn't. In a panic he checked the Hospital Wing. She was there. If she was on the Map, she was alive. He breathed a sigh of relief.
Returning to his examination of Gryffindor Tower he saw that George, Charlie and Percy Weasley were sharing a dormitory with Oliver Wood; Arthur, Molly, Bill and Fleur Weasley were in another. The other occupied dormitory contained Angelina Johnson, Alicia Spinnet, Katie Bell and a girl named Leanne Cowper; Katie's friend, he remembered. Gryffindor Tower, while not full, had a lot of residents.
Harry dressed himself in the dark. He picked up his invisibility cloak, all three wands and his trainers and tiptoed over to the door. Gently easing it open, he crept down the spiral staircase to the Gryffindor common room. By the light of the fire, he checked the map. Two unfamiliar names, Edmund Byers and Dominic Strang were outside the portrait entrance; a few unknown names patrolled the corridors. Aurors? Harry wondered. How could he find out? He paced around the common room for a few minutes, thinking, and then…
'Kreacher,' he whispered. With a pop, his house-elf appeared in front of him.
'Master.' Kreacher bowed low; then stood silently, awaiting orders.
'Thank you for your help,' Harry tried to remember when it was, 'yesterday?' he said uncertainly. Was it really only yesterday that Tom Riddle had died?
'Kreacher was simply doing his duty,' the house-elf croaked, bowing again.
'No, what you did was more than that, thank you.'
'It is an honour to serve.' Kreacher bowed yet again.
'Kreacher,' Harry asked, 'can you tell me who is outside in the corridor?'
'Aurors, Master Harry,' Kreacher replied, 'to keep you safe.' Harry scowled; even under his cloak he could not leave the tower. The Aurors would see the portrait hole open, and everyone knew about his cloak. The house-elf looked closely at Harry, examining the dirty and sweaty clothes he was wearing.
'Master Harry cannot go out, not like that,' said Kreacher disapprovingly, 'Kreacher will fetch clean clothes.'
'Wait,' Harry said; a wild idea struck him, 'Kreacher, can you take me to the prefect's bathroom on the fourth floor? A bath and clean clothes would be wonderful.' Kreacher appraised his master with his huge, watery eyes.
'Master Harry wishes to avoid the Aurors?' he perceived. Harry nodded. The elderly elf took Harry's hand and Disapparated, reappearing in the prefect's bathroom as requested.
'Thanks Kreacher,' Harry said, turning on the taps and watching the bath rapidly fill with hot foaming water.
'Kreacher will bring Master Harry clean clothes,' the house-elf said, and vanished. Harry undressed and slid into the warm, soothing water.
After twenty minutes scrubbing, swimming and floating, he was fresh, clean and completely relaxed; the aches and pains in his muscles soothed. He looked around the room and saw, next to a fresh white towel, a neatly folded pile of clean clothes; his dirty clothes had gone. His muddy and scuffed trainers had been cleaned. Harry hauled himself out of the bath and quickly towelled himself dry. He recognised the faded black jeans, boxers and socks as his own, the t-shirt, however, was new. It was bright red, with the golden Gryffindor lion rampant embroidered by hand over the heart. A card was attached to it. It read: "to Master from Kreacher. Happy Christmas." Better than a box of maggots, Harry thought, grinning to himself as he pulled the t-shirt over his head.
'Kreacher,' he said, his house-elf appeared again; looking a little apprehensive, Harry thought.
'Thanks for the t-shirt. I'm sorry I didn't get home for Christmas,' Harry said, 'I should have got something for you too, sorry.'
Kreacher struggled for words.
'Master Harry gave Kreacher this,' his long fingers lovingly caressed the locket dangling on his skinny chest, 'Master Harry is a good Master, as good as Master Regulus.'
That, Harry realised, was high praise indeed from Kreacher.
'Thanks Kreacher,' Harry paused, 'Kreacher, I thought that I might go home today, back to Grimmauld Place, is it safe?'
'Death Eaters arrived the day you went to the Ministry, Master. Kreacher fled, he followed Master Harry's earlier orders; came back to Hogwarts.'
'Well done Kreacher, you did the right thing.'
The house-elf bowed then stood erect and tilted his head first to one side, and then the other; his ears twitching.
'Your house is empty, Master,' the elf announced. 'Kreacher will go and clean.'
Before waiting for a reply, Kreacher vanished. Harry considered calling him back, but decided against it. He did not want to rely on having a house-elf at his beck and call. He was already feeling guilty about giving the elderly elf so many orders.
Harry opened the Marauders Map again and looked to see if anyone other than the Aurors were moving around Hogwarts. There was a moving dot outside the castle, walking through the grounds towards the main entrance. The dot was labelled 'Kingsley Shacklebolt.' Harry could not believe his luck. One of the two people he wanted to see was on his way to the castle. Harry pulled on his cloak, and dashed through the school using every shortcut he knew.
The corridors he ran through were curse scarred and on a few occasions he had to leap over rubble or feebly stirring suits of armour. When he arrived in the Entrance Hall, Kingsley Shacklebolt, the acting Minister for Magic, resplendent in robes of crimson and blue, was greeting two Aurors.
'All quiet,' a short, plump witch in navy blue robes was telling Kingsley as Harry, under his invisibility cloak, slipped into the entrance hall from behind a tapestry. 'The healers have all of the bodies prepared for collection, all apart from You-Know-Who. What are we going to do with him?'
'I don't know, yet,' Kingsley replied. 'Perhaps we'd better ask Harry.' With that, the acting Minister for Magic looked directly at the spot where Harry stood. Harry pulled off his cloak, grinning. The two Aurors standing with Kingsley jumped in surprise and turned their wands towards him.
'Can I ask how you got out of Gryffindor tower without alerting the guards placed there for your safety?' Kingsley asked unconcernedly.
'Would it be all right if I told you later?' he asked. 'There's something I need to do, and I'd like you and Professor McGonagall to help me.'
'As you wish, Harry, I was on my way to speak to Minerva,' Kingsley said. 'She is expecting me, why don't you join me?'
Harry fell into step alongside the tall, acting Minister for Magic. As they climbed up to the first floor, Harry turned to head towards Professor McGonagall's office.
'Not that way, Harry,' Kingsley said. 'Minerva will be in the Headmistresses office. Whether temporarily or permanently is, of course, a matter for the School Governors.'
Harry turned on his heels and continued up to the seventh floor and the Headmaster's i(Headmistress's … he wondered?)/i office. The gargoyle guarding the entrance had been repaired.
'Harry Potter,' Kingsley said, the gargoyle leapt aside. Bemused by the password Professor McGonagall had chosen Harry followed Kingsley. They ascended the stairs to the office to find Professor McGonagall waiting at the door.
'Good morning Kingsley,' she said. 'And good morning, Harry. How are you?' If she was surprised to see Harry, she did not show it.
Harry struggled to reply: how was he? Was that really such a difficult question to answer? He hesitated.
'I don't really know,' he replied honestly. 'I'm alive!' He noted the surprise in his own voice when he spoke.
'A lot of people aren't,' he continued unhappily.
Both Kingsley and Professor McGonagall reached over and placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. He stood and looked at his House Mistress and the acting Minister, then smiled sadly.
'Harry has come to ask for our help, Minerva,' Kingsley explained. 'What can we do for you, Harry?'
'Tom Riddle broke into Professor Dumbledore's tomb, and stole his wand,' Harry produced the Elder Wand from within the folds of his invisibility cloak, 'I want to return it, and re-seal the tomb. I'd like to do it before the castle wakes.'
'Ah,' said Kingsley, 'then I believe our business can wait a few minutes, Minerva.'
'Dumbledore's wand,' Kingsley asked, 'are you sure, Harry?' Professor McGonagall, too, was watching him carefully.
He chose to deliberately misunderstand the question. He looked Kingsley in the eye.
'Yes, it's Professor Dumbledore's. And Tom Riddle stole it. It was his final choice of weapon: the last wand he chose to use against me. His own wand didn't work against mine; and mine broke Lucius Malfoy's.'
The acting Minister regarded Harry in silence for a few moments.
'Tom Riddle,' Kingsley mused, 'Why choose to call him that Harry?'
'It was his name, at least the name his mother gave him;' Harry said 'Tom Marvolo Riddle: not the Dark Lord, or Lord Voldemort, or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or You-Know-Who. Tom Riddle! Tom Riddle isn't scary.'
Harry looked around the Headmaster's office; the paintings were all listening intently. Professor Dumbledore's portrait beamed at him.
'Can we talk on the way to the tomb?' Harry asked.
'Of course, Harry,' Professor McGonagall said briskly. 'Let's go.'
Harry walked between Kingsley and McGonagall as they descended the stairs. Very quickly, he explained about the Horcruxes. They walked past battered suits of armour and on every landing Harry looked sadly along the battle-scarred corridors of the castle.
'Professor Dumbledore realised that if Riddle knew we were looking for Horcruxes he'd increase his protections, or simply move them. Once we'd broken into Gringotts, he finally realised what we were doing. We had to find the last one, and quickly. It was here, so I came here, and Riddle followed, I'm sorry.'
'Harry,' Professor McGonagall said firmly, 'you and your friends are heroes, and it's time you realised that.'
'I don't want to be a hero, I never did, I just wanted the killing to stop … but I was too late for Fred, Lupin, Tonks ... all those others,' Harry determinedly fought back tears.
'Harry, you are not to blame for those deaths, and, like it or not, you are the hero of the wizarding world,' Kingsley rumbled. 'Look at this.' He showed him a copy of the Sunday Prophet. The headline read: "Voldemort Dead – Official," and below, "Harry Potter Triumphs," Harry groaned.
'Come along Harry,' Kingsley said kindly, stepping aside to let Professor McGonagall take the lead as they walked through the entrance hall. 'Let's get this job done, best get it over with now, while there is no one about. Then I must speak to Minerva about the future of the school …'
'You can't close it, you mustn't,' Harry interrupted, horrified at the possibility. Kingsley looked at Professor McGonagall.
'That's what I think, too, Harry,' he assured. 'Once we've discussed that, I think that you and I: or you alone, if you'd prefer, should work on a statement to give to the press.'
'I'm not doing an interview,' Harry insisted.
'You won't need to, if we get the statement right,' Kingsley advised solemnly.
'You would be in favour of us reopening the school?' Kingsley asked as they walked through the entrance hall. There has been a suggestion that it be permanently closed and that a new school be built on a new site.'
Harry shook his head. He stopped and looked around the hall. Statues were broken, banisters and balustrades cracked or missing, but the grandeur remained.
'There have been a lot of deaths here, I know, but Hogwarts School has seen many conflicts, and other deaths over the centuries. But it's still here, a testament to the founders. It should re-open, it must re-open.'
'Thank you for your views, Harry,' Professor McGonagall said. 'I was unsure myself. Some of the Governors are in favour of closure, but I believe that you are correct. We should re-open. Will you return, sit your final year?'
'Or, can I ask?' Kingsley interrupted before Harry could reply. 'Do you have a career in mind, any idea what you want to do next?'
'I wanted to be an Auror,' said Harry, he thought for a minute, 'I still do, I want to make sure that there are no more Voldemorts, no more killings.'
'I think we can arrange that for you,' Kingsley smiled, 'you can start tomorrow; or possibly the day after. There will be a full meeting of the Wizengamot tomorrow; I would be grateful if you would agree to attend it with me.'
'Harry missed his last year's schooling,' Professor McGonagall pointed out forcefully, 'he does not have the NEWT's required to become an Auror.'
'Minerva,' Kingsley replied, 'in the circumstances, do you really think anyone will care?'
'Professor,' Harry said, realising that the acting Headmistress wanted him back at school, 'after these last few months I'm not sure that I could cope with coming back to school, or that school could cope with me. I'm sorry.' He turned to address the acting Minister.
'Kingsley, people will talk if I'm made a special case. Could I study for my NEWT's while doing my Auror training, without coming back to school? Then I'd be fully qualified. It won't stop all of the critics, but I'd feel better.'
Professor McGonagall looked thoughtfully at Harry.
'I intend to ask the Governors to allow us to schedule an exam series for students just after Halloween, for those students who almost got to their final exams this year. iMost/i subjects were taught correctly,' she pursed her lips as she spoke, 'if you work hard over the next six months you should be ready for your NEWT's. If not, well, you can sit them in a years time. I'm sure that any professor you ask will be prepared to help you. Now, shall we continue?'
They walked through the Entrance Hall and out into the grounds. The castle exterior was full of gaping holes. The grounds were covered with rubble. Harry surveyed the damage in horror. Minerva McGonagall noticed Harry's shock.
'We will be open for the start of the school year, Harry,' Professor McGonagall said with certainty. 'The acting Minister gave me his assurance that if we decided to re-open, we would be ready for the start of term. We have almost four months to tidy the place up, to get everything ready. We can do it.'
Harry looked at the devastation, and then at the determination on Minerva McGonagall's face.
'I know you can: and you will,' he replied.
They walked down towards the lakeshore, towards the tomb of Albus Dumbledore. Long shadows were streaming across the castle grounds. A chorus of birdsong sprang from the trees as the dawning sun peeked tentatively above the Forbidden Forest. A thin dawn mist crept across the Black Lake, snaking white tendrils into the low ground by the lake shore. The scene was eerily beautiful. The fog created a clammy pallor around the lakeside as it sought out and filled all of the low ground. It was as if the lake had turned to clouds and risen by a dozen feet. The mist effectively screened the white tomb, and the three people approaching it from the castle.
It was simply dawn mist, Harry knew, but as he walked deeper into the enveloping white it was as if the school was helping screen this private, secret, act from the world. The swirling moist air cooled and calmed Harry preparing him for the duty he must now perform.
He halted in front of the white tomb and pulled the Elder Wand from within the folds of his invisibility cloak. He turned to face the acting Minister and the acting Headmistress. Suddenly, he felt very young and very foolish. I'm about to give orders to the most important wizard, and probably the most influential witch, in the country, he thought.
And they're going to do what I ask without questioning me, he realised.
Nervously, he swallowed hard and thought carefully about what he was going to say. Kingsley Shacklebolt and Minerva McGonagall waited politely, watching him.
'Tom Riddle used several different wands against me; none of them worked. Finally, he decided to steal Professor Dumbledore's: that didn't work either. I don't want this wand; I want it to go back where it came from, where it belongs. I'd like to make sure that it's protected, and that the tomb is repaired. Will you help me?'
Kingsley and McGonagall nodded.
'Of course, Harry,' agreed Kingsley
'Certainly, Harry,' affirmed Professor McGonagall.
Harry approached the tomb slowly. He used the Elder Wand to widen the crack in the top of the tomb, just enough to expose the partially unwrapped corpse of Albus Dumbledore. With the Elder Wand still in his hand he carefully reached inside the tomb. He gently placed the wand into the cold, dead, desiccated hands of the corpse. As he did so he looked down, for one last time, at the body of the man who had guided him and watched over him for so many years. After releasing the Elder Wand back into the care of it's true owner he moved up and straightened the Professors glasses, that done he transferred his own holly and phoenix feather wand into his wand hand.
'Professor; wherever you are now, it's not here. But this is all that remains of you, all we have to remember you.' Harry said.
He was astonished how calm he was; more astonished because, somehow, he knew exactly what he must do.
'This wand is yours, keep it safe.' He said.
He touched the tip of Elder Wand with the tip of his own holly and phoenix feather wand. Concentrating on using the Elder Wand to create a perfect spell he said:
A shimmering shield, cast with two of Harry's wands, holly and Elder, enveloped and enclosed both the body and the Elder Wand it held. He withdrew ihis/i wand from within the shield spell, and stepped back from the tomb.
'Could I ask one of you to try to pick up Professor Dumbledore's wand?' Harry asked.
Professor McGonagall shook her head.
'There is no need Harry: that was a brilliant piece of spell work. You have a remarkable knowledge of wand lore. Albus' wand will continue to generate that protection spell from within. I don't know why you needed us.'
'I - I wasn't sure it would work, Professor,' Harry stammered; praise from Professor McGonagall was a rare and treasured commodity.
'If you could add to the protection, and reseal and repair the tomb I'd be grateful,' he said. 'I don't think that I could repair that crack, certainly not neatly.'
After a short consultation, both Kingsley and McGonagall cast a series of additional protection spells over the tomb. Finally, Minerva McGonagall carefully and seamlessly repaired the cracked tomb.
Harry stepped back up to the white tomb and placed his left hand on it. The magical protections made his fingers tingle.
'Rest in peace, Professor,' he said. 'Your plan didn't work quite the way you intended, but it worked. The job you gave me is done, and you helped me right to the end. Even … even after your death you helped.
Tears in his eyes, Harry was about to step back from the tomb when Professor McGonagall stepped alongside him. She placed one hand on his shoulder, the other on the white tomb.
'Albus,' Professor McGonagall said, 'I doubted you; I doubted your trust in Harry. Forgive me.' Harry was stunned; Professor McGonagall looked close to tears, she turned to speak to him.
'Harry, I owe you an apology. On the night Albus died, I asked you what you had been doing. I was rather sharp with you when you refused to tell me. I now realise that you were, as you told me, following Albus' instructions, that assurance should have been enough for me.'
Harry couldn't think of anything to say. He was saved from embarrassment when the acting Minister spoke from behind them.
'Goodbye, Albus, old friend, I will do my best to follow your advice.'
Together they turned away from the tomb.
'Minerva, Harry, can we adjourn to the Headmistress's Office? We need to discuss the repair of the school, and then, if you don't mind Harry, we can Apparate to the Ministry and work on an official statement about yesterday's battle.
Harry nodded his agreement: suddenly, he was afraid to see his friends. He wanted to be somewhere far away from Hogwarts. He'd had hours of back slapping and congratulations yesterday. Today he realised, would be more of the same but mingled with introspection and mourning. The battle was won, but at what cost? He could not face seeing Molly, or George, he realised, not yet.