A/N - Bloody hell; it's finally here! The last chapter. Enjoy!
Severus drifted awake to the sound of a drawer being quietly closed. He squinted sleepily, focusing to see Molly tidying away some clean linen. Spotting his eyes open she smiled gently at him and came to kneel beside his bed.
'Do you need any pain potions?' she whispered and he shook his head.
In truth, everything hurt but he didn't want to be drugged again.
She gave him a concerned look and patted his hand gently before tucking the blanket up around his shoulders.
'I will get you some soup in a bit,' she said softly. 'Try and get a little more rest.'
Severus watched the matriarch leave the room before rolling onto his side with an agonized sob. The grief washed over him a wave. He had lost Harry. Nothing he had done had made any difference in the end. Harry had been forced to stand alone before the Dark Lord and sacrifice himself; the very thing that he had sworn to prevent.
He remembered the pain of losing Lily and the promise he had made in the midst of that agony. A promise to protect the child she had given her life for. He had never imagined that he would come to care for the boy as his own.
Burying his face in his hands he cried quietly, the exhaustion contributing to his sense of despair. As he calmed he became aware of other noises intruding from the rickety old house.
Floorboards creaked as people wandered up and down the stairs and the sound of children's laughter drifted through the house. Closer was the scratching sound of a quill as someone outside his door worked through paperwork.
He tensed as he recognized the soft sound of breathing beside his bed. He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax. It stood to reason that the Weasleys' would have had to double up on the accommodation with so many injured.
He rolled over carefully, feeling the pull of multiple injuries and bandages. Beside his bed was a large thread bared armchair that someone had hastily transfigured into a recliner. Someone lay curled in a quilt and was breathing softly and deeply in sleep.
Severus's eyes followed the breathing lump up until his eyes fell upon a familiar head of messy dark hair sticking out of the top of the quilt. His heart almost stopped in his chest. It couldn't be...he had fallen...Severus had seen...
He choked out a sob, eyes desperately looking for any other distinguishing marks, until he saw the hand that poked out from the side of the covers and was resting on his knee. A small pale hand, covered in scratches, but with a raised diagonal scar running its length.
"I must not tell lies," was clearly visible in the soft morning light and Severus almost howled with relief.
The tears were back now, deep out of control sobs that shook his whole frame. He heard the creak of the door and felt a hand settle on his shoulder but couldn't get himself under control.
Strong arms lifted him gently into a reclining position and a potion bottle was lifted to his lips. He swallowed automatically, feeling the pain formulae flood through his system and calm his screaming nerves.
'Severus,' the voice said softly and he recognized the wolf's voice. It was Remus who had positioned himself behind him on the bed and held him firmly against his chest.
'Is that...is that really Harry' he rasped and Remus's arms tightened around him.
'It is. He was lying under that fabulous cloak of his and wasn't immediately seen. He's fine Severus. No significant injuries at all. He's exhausted though. He hasn't even stirred in the last twelve hours.'
Severus sighed, his breath hitching and the wolf squeezed his shoulder gently.
'It's truly over Severus. There is not a single death eater who is still a threat; at least not a magical one. Voldemort is gone for good and the causalities were amazingly light on our side.'
Harry grunted in his sleep and rolled over, the covers slipping from his head as he turned to face his two guardians.
Severus greedily drank in the features of his adopted son. While a little pale, he truly did look unharmed. Harry muttered something, most of it unintelligible before settling down into a fetus position and falling deeper into rest.
"Molly sent me up with some soup. Do you think you can manage a few sips?'
Severus nodded and allowed his colleague to hold the warm mug to his lips. Remus slowly and patiently fed him the whole mug of soup while Severus continued to stare at Harry as he slept.
'Could you rest some more?' he asked as Severus nodded, tensing slightly as the man slid from behind him and gently lowered him back to the pillows. He shifted his position slightly so he could still see the teenager. Remus tucked him in and refilled the glass of water on his bedside table.
'I'll check back on you in a few hours. Don't worry about Harry. Molly set a monitoring charm on him so she'll know when he wakes.'
Remus moved around to where Harry lay sleeping and adjusted the quilt so that it was covering the boy properly. He cracked the window a little to let in some of the fresh spring breeze and the noise of people quietly chattering outside drifted on the air.
Severus felt tears prickle at the back of his eyes, this time in genuine affection for the people that had come into his life. Harry, the Weasleys' and dare he say it...the wolf. For a minute he wandered how things might have been if he had responded to Remus's attempts at affection in school? Would he have ended up as part of their group? Would he have resisted the advances of the Dark Lord? He would never have the answers; never know how different his life might have been.
He let his eyes drift close, hearing the other man quietly leave the room and pull the door too. He let the sound of Harry's steady breaths lull him back to slumber.
The next time he woke he was alone. His eyes darted to the empty armchair to find the patchwork quilt tidily folded over the back and Harry's muggle day sack dumped haphazardly on its seat. The light was fading with the evening sun glowing gently through the small window.
Severus carefully lifted himself up and dragged his legs back until he was resting against the mound of pillows. He catalogued his injuries and found everything much improved, with the exception of his leg that still burned and throbbed.
There was a soft knock on the door and then Harry entered, his face lighting up when he saw Severus sat up.
He shuffled in and stood awkwardly in the middle of the room, one toe scuffing the floor.
'Hi,' he muttered with a sigh and Severus huffed in annoyance.
'You stupid child; come here,' he barked, opening his arms wide and Harry practically flew across the room, falling onto the edge of the bed and burying himself in his guardians arms.
Severus sighed in relief as the teenager relaxed against him, feeling Harry's shoulders shaking against his chest as he cried into his nightshirt.
'Shh, child; it's over; you're safe now.'
Harry cried quietly for several minutes before sitting up and noisily blowing his nose.
'Sorry,' he muttered and Severus rubbed the boys back gently in response.
'Are you fully recovered,' the potions master asked quietly and Harry nodded.
'Yeah, I'm good. I have one more potion to take for my ears and Madam Pomfrey says my magic should be back to normal levels in a couple of weeks.'
'That's good news. I thought...,'Severus closed his eyes and took a deep breath, feeling Harry grab his hand.
'I know, I'm sorry. I didn't think I had lost consciousness, but I must have 'cos Ron said it was about ten minutes before they found me. It seemed like a few seconds to me.'
Severus squeezed the boys hand tightly and smiled. 'How did you do it? How did you finally beat him?'
Harry laughed. 'I told him to go away and he did.' The boy grinned before starting to laugh hysterically. 'All this time and all it needed was a bugger off!'
Severus frowned, not understanding and concerned at the teenagers unhinged laughter.
'Could you talk me through it?'
Harry sobered, his expression becoming haunted. 'Can I show you? Is there a pensieve we could use?'
Severus nodded. 'I'm sure we could borrow one. It would be a good idea actually if we entered it into the public record. Is there anything that people shouldn't see?'
'We talked about the Horcruxes and the Hallows. The stone and Elder wand were destroyed so that probably doesn't matter.'
Severus nodded thoughtfully. 'I will talk with Albus and see what he thinks. Are you doing OK? I know the Weasleys' suffered a loss?'
Harry grinned. 'Fred's OK. I...er used the Hallows when I was setting the Wards and it kept Fred here and...well, I don't really understand it all to be honest. Madam Pomfrey healed him and he's alright. He has to take it easy for a couple of months but should be OK.'
Severus relaxed back into the pillows with a pleased smile, strangely happy that the red heads were all safe and sound. The door opened and Arthur appeared with a tray and a folding table. He smiled softly at his Order colleague.
'You look so much better Severus. I hope you're hungry because Molly and Harry have been cooking up a storm down there?'
'Have they now?' Severus said lifting an eyebrow and Harry smiled.
'Full Roast dinner,' the boy said with pride. 'The headmaster turned up with two enormous chickens so we thought we would put them to good use. Kingsley made yams!'
Severus frowned. '...and what pray tell are yams?'
Harry laughed. 'Not a clue, some American thing I think but Molly says they're delicious.'
Arthur flicked his wand and the table unfolded and settled itself across the bed, the food tray landing softly on top. Severus felt his stomach rumble as the lid was lifted to reveal two full plates, bursting with home cooking.
'We assumed you would want to eat up here Harry?'
Harry nodded and smiled softly as he looked at his guardian.
'How many casualties were they Arthur?' Severus asked quietly as he unwrapped his cutlery and the Weasley patriarch pulled up a stool and sat with a sigh.
'Too many,' he said bluntly. 'but nowhere near as bad as it could have been. We lost Flitwick.'
Severus swore and looked with concern at Harry, who had bowed his head sadly.
'Three Order members were killed, although we didn't know them. I had no idea how wide a network Dumbledore had built. There were several fatalities amongst the Aurors and their injury count was very high. Eleven students were hurt but none of them badly.'
Arthur sighed sadly and rubbed his face. 'The worst is on the other side. Over three hundred were left as squibs by the Wards and over 900 died when Voldemort did.'
'900!' Severus hissed and Arthur nodded sadly. 'Many of them weren't even fighting for him. There were hundreds that took the mark during the first war and had left the country. Apparently, distance made ignoring the call more bearable. They all just dropped when he did. There have been reports coming in from all over the world.'
Severus looked down at his bare arm. The Dark Mark had completely gone; the only sign he had ever had it were the four raised pastcches of scar tissue where Poppy had burned through to the nerves.
'How did I survive?' Severus asked hoarsely and Arthur smiled as Harry blushed and looked down at his plate.
'Albus thinks Harry's magic protected you through the Apprentice bond. He thinks that's what knocked Harry unconscious.'
There was a moments quiet as the older man digested that, before he reached out and took Harrys hand. The boy squeezed tightly but kept his gaze firmly on his roast potatoes as his cheeks blazed red.
'Thank you Harry,' Severus whispered with feeling and the boy nodded.
Arthur stood, still smiling softly as he moved towards the door.
The two of them sat quietly as they each picked at their food, enjoying the quiet and the relief that came from knowing things had finally settled. Occasional laughter drifted up the stairs from the kitchen and garden. Harry unconsciously smiled each time, the lighthearted atmosphere warming his heart.
Severus watched his ward playing with his food and marveled at how relaxed the boy seemed. He was used to Harry being wound like a tightly coiled spring. That certainly wasn't the case now.
Harry looked up and smiled shyly as he saw his guardian watching him. Severus reached over and squeezed the boys knees in reassurance.
'So what are you planning to do now that you no longer have a dark wizard stalking your every move?'
Harry grinned, swallowing the mouthful of mashed potatoes he had just consumed.
'Go to school,' Harry said with a laugh. 'Do my homework, play Quidditch; maybe even get a girlfriend.'
Severus raised an eyebrow at that. 'Someone in mind?' he asked dryly and Harry blushed.
'Not really,' he mumbled. 'It would just be nice to have the option.'
'Well, you're a hero now. I'm sure you'll have no trouble finding any number of suitors.' Severus teased, causing the teenager to scowl at him.
'Don't,' Harry complained. 'The bloody prophet is already on about that.'
Severus laughed at the disgusted look on Harry's face.
'What are they calling you now?' he asked wryly and Harry scowled.
'The boy who triumphed,' Harry muttered with loathing and Severus sat back with a snort. He put his cutlery down and roared with laughter. It was so typically characteristic of the Prophet.
Harry smacked his arm in protest. 'It's not funny,' he muttered at Severus continued to laugh and the door opened quietly. Albus limped into the room, leaning heavily on a wooden cane.
He looked between the laughing potions master and the scowling teenager with amusement.
'The boy who triumphed,' Severus crowed, 'That's priceless! Can I call you that too?'
'Not if you want me to bloody answer,' Harry muttered grumpily.
They both turned their attention to the headmaster, as he pulled up a chair beside the bed and sat carefully. He smiled softly at Severus and patted his leg.
'How are you my boy?' he asked gently and Severus nodded with a small smile.
'I'm recovering adequately. Are you badly injured.'
Dumbledore shook his head. 'A few broken bones and magical exhaustion. Nothing a few weeks rest won't sort out. We were all very lucky.'
Severus nodded his agreement. 'Are Draco and Cissy unharmed?'
Harry answered with a smile. 'They're fine. They were both really helpful in the hospital wing. Draco brewed a heap of potions for Madam Pomfrey. They conjured a floating chair for him so he could work without tiring himself.'
'Many of the injured were treated by Narcissa,' Dumbledore added. 'It has gone a long way towards helping them find a place in the world.'
'Will Cissy be charged?' Severus asked and the headmaster nodded.
'She already has been. There were multiple charges, relating to harboring criminals and the use of dark artifacts. She has been fined quite heavily but the bulk of the estate has been returned to her. Draco has been treated as a minor and will not face any charges.'
'What of the death eaters who lost their magic?'
'The ones who were caught have been handed over to the muggle authorities. They are being charged under international terrorism laws and will serve their sentences in muggle high security prisons.'
Severus laughed. 'They won't know what has hit them. I take it some of them escaped?'
Dumbledore nodded. 'There are about 50 unaccounted for, who fled into the forest once the wards stripped them of their magic. None of them are on the most wanted list or considered a threat. The Ministry is considering an amnesty.'
'So they won't face charges?'
'Not unless someone accuses one of them directly. Victims' families will have the right to identify their attackers. Many of them were only guilty of funding Tom or having questionable political beliefs. '
Severus nodded thoughtfully, relieved that Narcissa and Draco would get a chance to move on with their lives. He found himself hopeful that they would stay in his life and not disappear off abroad, which he knew Cissy was considering.
He leant back against the pillows, unable to eat any more of the large plateful of food. It was beginning to sink in that most of the people he had known and associated with for the last twenty years were dead or no longer a part of the magical world. It was a sobering thought.
'Are you Ok?' Harry asked worriedly and Severus forced his thoughts back to the present and the concerned expression of his ward.
'I will be,' he said seriously. 'It may sound strange to you that I am sad for some of the Death Eaters, but I have known many of them for years. 900 is a staggering number of dead.'
Harry grimaced. 'Yeah, it's horrible isn't it? It sums Riddle up that he would deliberately put all his followers lives on the line like that. I'm glad they're not blaming me.'
Severus gripped the teenagers hand in sympathy. The wizarding world had been horribly unpredictable when it came to how they viewed Harry and he knew how easily they might have held the boy responsible for all those deaths.
He looked to Albus for reassurance and the elderly wizard smiled.
'Kingsley made a statement to the effect that Tom had deliberately drained his followers life force during the battle. On one level it is the truth but perhaps overstated a little. It has made anyone who followed him seem pretty foolish, which may go some way to preventing something like this happening again.'
'At least for a few decades.' Harry stated wryly and Albus smiled sadly at the teenager who was already so worldly wise. Far too much for his age.
The three men sat in silence as they ate, the headmaster watching fondly. Once he had eaten his fill, Severus put the cover back on his plate and relaxed back on his pillow with a sigh.
'Could we borrow your pensieve Albus? Harry wishes to show rather than tell his final confrontation with the Dark Lord.'
The headmaster looked thoughtfully at the boy and nodded his accent. 'Of course. I will bring it first thing in the morning. Would you permit me to copy the memory Harry.'
Harry put down the chicken leg he had been demolishing and wiped his hands on his napkin. 'Yeah, that's ok. As long as you watch it before showing anyone. I'm not sure if everyone should see everything.'
Dumbledore smiled softly at the boy. 'You would trust me with this? The decision as to who views the memory?'
Harry gazed intently at the older man, as if considering the request.
'Yeah,' he finally said quietly. 'I would. If you think everyone should see it then I don't mind. I just don't want people to think...' He faulted and looked down, encouraged when Severus took his hand and gave it a firm squeeze. 'I don't want people to think I murdered him.'
'Oh Harry,' Severus whispered sadly. 'I didn't want you to have to face this. I hoped to keep you safe in that damn tower.'
Harry shrugged tearfully. 'He was going to kill you. I couldn't...I couldn't just...,' Harry's throat closed off as Severus pulled the boy back into his arms, aware of the headmaster banishing their trays and conjuring a blanket to cover them both.
Albus nodded to his colleague and patted the younger mans arms before discreetly leaving them. Harry lay with his head on his guardians shoulder as the man settled back into his pillows.
'Just rest child. Everything will seem less overwhelming in the morning.'
Harry sniffed in his shoulder, allowing the man to hold him and rub his back.
'Thanks Dad,' he croaked, unaware of the tears that sprung in his guardians eyes at his words.
' You're welcome child. You're safe now. Just sleep.'
For once the teenager was obedient and drifted into slumber lying beside his father on the narrow bed. Remus crept softly back into the room and drew the curtains, leaving a single soft lamp the only light.
He reclined the armchair with a flick of his wand and settled into it for the night. He would keep watch and ensure his charge and...friend were safe and undisturbed for the night. It was the least he could do. Amber eyes burnt brightly that night as the house settled and slumbered, watching the young man who had saved them all.
The following day was a busy one as Harry gave an abbreviated statement to a Ministry official and helped Molly get the house back in order. Many of the injured had returned home, reassured by the fact the Death Eater threat had been neutralized.
By early afternoon, the Burrow was still buzzing with Order members and many of the staff from Hogwarts. Harry helped set up lunch and then retreated back to the loft room with a plate for his guardians and himself. They ate quietly, Severus now sitting up in an adapted armchair with a view of the garden.
Harry tried not to think about the pensieve that was being set up in the burrows main reception room. Dumbledore had collected the memory from him that morning and intended to show everyone in the Order, before modifying it slightly and handing it over to the Ministry.
Harry was strangely nervous at everyone seeing his final confrontation with Riddle. In his mind it was rather less than heroic; just a terrified teenager with a good dose of luck.
Albus entered the room quietly and gave the teenager a nod. 'It is time,' he stated quietly. 'Would you like to view it again as well?'
Harry shook his head vehemently and Albus smiled. 'Well then, perhaps you might permit me to wait with you here? I have already viewed the memory.'
Remus stood and with a quick look at Severus for permission, cast a floating charm that lifted the man's chair from the floor. The two men left silently leaving Harry stood staring at the headmaster.
Albus conjured two squashy chairs and a small chess set and lowered himself carefully into one of them.
'Perhaps you would indulge an old man with a game? Mr Malfoy informs me you are... how did he put it? "not awful".'
Harry sniggered and dropped into the other chair. The headmaster took the first move and they played quietly for a while, the silence of the house strangely unnerving. Harry had provided all his memories from the moment he had started working with the Hallows from the Astronomy tower.
Right now, all of the Weasleys', Order members and all of his Professors were watching the whole thing. They would likely be in the pensieve for several hours.
'Are you ready for the start of term Sir?' he asked in an attempt to still his fried nerves.
'I believe so. The damage to the Castle is mainly cosmetic. We will begin the term a week later and end a week later at the summer break. So you have a few more days to fully recover your strength my boy. I suspect you will find Severus rather demanding as a Master now that other distractions are removed.'
Harry grimaced. 'Yeah, Dad's already going on about the apprenticeship.'
Albus beamed at the moniker that had fallen unconsciously from the boys lips.
'You were already performing admirably Harry. I think we can all expect great things from you, but right now,' he added, peering down over his spectacles. 'I expect you to perform just as well as a teenager. '
Harry smiled softly 'Yeah, I'm looking forward to that bit.'
It was another hour before a quiet knock on the door brought Molly into the room with a tray of tea. Her eyes were bright and she smiled gently at Harry, patting his hand.
'Everyone's having tea and cake downstairs,' she said in a strained sort of voice. 'I thought you might like to remain up here dear?'
Harry nodded gratefully, unsure how to ask how the memories had been viewed by everyone. Albus smiled knowingly at him before lifting himself from his chair with a quiet grunt. The elderly wizard was obviously still hurting from his injuries.
'I must go and attend to the Order members Harry. I expect there will be some questions about the Hallows and the terrible means Tom used to remain with us for so long. He waved his wand and the chess board froze and shrunk before flying into the man's robe pocket. 'I hope you will allow me the time to finish this game with you once we are back at school?'
Harry nodded and watched as the man limped from the room, turning to Molly who was watching him with a wistful smile.
'You are a very brave man,' she said quietly and quite without her normal fuss. 'I'm very grateful you came into our lives Harry.'
She bent and dropped a kiss on his forehead as he blushed furiously. 'It wasn't just me,' he muttered. 'Ron was awesome. I couldn't have done it without him.'
Molly beamed happily. 'I'm very proud of the both of you Harry. I will leave you in peace with your tea. I expect Severus will be back up soon to check on you.'
By the time his guardian returned, Harry was asleep again; curled up on the window seat with a throw wrapped around him.
Severus allowed Arthur and Remus to help him from the chair and after a quick visit to the bathroom, he limped over to his young charge. His hand ghosted across the boys hair and he found himself smiling softly as he noticed the shadow of a stubble on Harry's cheeks. Soon to be a man, he thought fondly. A man with his whole life before him.
He limped back to his bed and lowered himself onto it.
Tomorrow they would return to Hogwarts with the rest of the staff to assess the damage and prepare for the new term.
Scratch that, he thought with a smile...prepare for a new life.
A/N - I can't believe this is over. I shall miss 'Perception' and all of you. I may add an epilogue at some point but right now this is done!
If you enjoyed my work then please do keep an eye out on Amazon for Cassandra Bellingham. I am planning to direct publish some short stories over the next 12 months and have recently given up the 'day job' and moved onto a house boat to write full time; the fulfillment of a lifetime dream. Thank you all for taking this journey with me. Kendra (Cassi in the real world).