The empty halls echoed with the sound of Harry's solitary footsteps. Everything was really different now, and he realized it with every torn canvas and broken statue on his way up to Gryffindor tower. Just like these halls, it was familiar but different. There were things to be mended and changed, but hidden among the rubble was hope of a better time.
Just as the portrait and suits of armor would be cleaned and fixed to perfection as the day they were made, the future could be healed the same way, so the quick fixes were smoothed out and made permanent, But Harry could not ignore the fact that there would also be the holes in the world, like those made by Fred, Lupin, Tonks, even Hedwig!
The same but different. New prospects, but the old ones still lurking. He could live with that.
Chunks of the stairs had been blasted away by spells, leaving gaping holes that Harry dodged and jumped over. Splinters were strewn across everything, and blood smeared the walls. Harry shuddered and whispered under his breath- "Scourgify"
When Harry reached the common room, the portrait hole was hanging open, the fat lady gone off somewhere to celebrate with the rest of the inhabitants of the castle. But now there was no one to fear might break into the common room to sabotage the Gryffindors. No one who might lurk inside, waiting for his or her chance to kill the boy-who-lived. He still closed the entrance behind him, then turned to face the common room.
Here, the stairs were clean and complete, no holes or dirt. The chairs were cozy looking, worn and faded. The fire was now out, having not been lit since the previous night. The portraits were all empty, their subjects gone about just as the fat lady had. There was even some half finished homework some like minded Gryffindor had left on a table as the student decided to go to sleep- or had they decided to go to battle? He stopped himself short of his next thought and turned towards the boys dormitory door.
He pulled open the wooden door and climbed the stairs slowly, looking out every window he passed at the grounds. The land was destroyed, giant footstep sunken deep into the mud, and trees fallen on the Quidditch stadium. He could only imagine that this was going to take a while to clean. Then he remembered something- he could do magic. It was strange that he'd forgotten, but with the loss of half the people he loved, even some of the most basic things about his life had been forgotten. Funny how when you think you're losing your humanity that it comes back to you.
How quickly he had forgotten! He had used magic minutes before, yet the feeling he got when he used magic had already left him! Harry pulled the Phoenix feather wand from his pocket and mumbled some spells out the window. The land rose up a bit and smoothed out, and the trees righted themselves. But just for the moment; they would have to be taken away. When something died, there was no way it could really come back, as Harry knew all too well.
Finally, he reached the top of the tower. The room was plain and bare, nothing personal hanging on the walls. Apparently, Seamus didn't sleep here. No one did. Even Neville's things were gone, probably stolen back in the night and brought to the room of requirement. Harry's four poster bed was neat, but dust had settled on the top of it and the other beds. The house elves didn't clean in here anymore, what was the point?
"Scourgify" Harry said, and the dust disappeared from his bed. He sat down slowly, his fingers trailing over the soft blanket on top. The springs, unused for a year, creaked softly under his weight. The room was lit only by the light of a half moon that filtered through the window, pure white. There was silence except for the wind outside and the gentle sounds if the waves of the lake splashing on shore.
"Kreacher?" He whispered to the darkness, and with a crack the gentleness of the night disappeared. The elf was a bloody, and a cut ran across his cheek from nose to ear. He was in good spirits though, and ran to his master.
"Master Harry! Oh, how can Kreacher help you?" The elf said, bowing so low his nose tickled the stone floor. Harry smiled at Kreacher.
"Er, I was wondering if you could bring me a sandwich actually. Maybe a few, with a nice-"
"Glass of pumpkin juice? Of course, anything master Harry! Kreacher will be back!" Then He disappeared with a loud pop. Harry chuckled to himself. Sirius would have never believed Harry that Kreacher had turned to liking anyone but death eaters! He swung his legs up onto the bed and rolled over so his face was buried in the pillow.
He woke up what seemed like seconds later.
"Kreacher?" He said. It was earlier than he expected him back.
"what? No Harry, it's Ginny." Her voice reached across the room from the doorway. He could see her framed there now. The creak the door made when she opened it must have been what woke him up. He heard her footsteps cross the floor towards him, then they stopped right in front of him.
"Can I sit down?" She asked him quietly. He sat up straight.
"Oh, of course, yeah." He lit his wand so he could see her face. There were tear tracks winding past the dirt and blood that covered her pretty face, and Harry wrapped his arms around her small frame.
"I'm so sorry Ginny. I never imagined Fred…" He trailed off in the middle of his sentence. It would be a while before he or anyone could talk about those they had lost. She put her arms around him and buried her face in his shoulder.
"It's okay Harry. Fred was just like Sirius…he would rather die fighting than anything else. And he would want us to be laughing, always laughing. I'm no stranger to loss anyway Harry, remember? We've been through a lot together." She mumbled into his shirt. Ginny was so strong, yet he could feel her fresh tears soaking through his t-shirt. "Plus, how could I be sad at a time like this? There will be plenty of time for mourning later Harry. We'll definitely need all that time, but now is the happiest moment in the world in 16 years. And it's all because of you."
Harry smiled. Of course it came back to him being a hero, it might always do so. But he knew full well, that it was just another lucky twist of fate. Just like he had found out 2 years ago that it could have been Neville who had to face this, he knew that if the littlest thing had gone differently, the world would have been in the worst position possible- with Voldemort as its ruler.
Harry looked down at Fabien Prewett's old watch. It was one thirty in the morning, hours past when he had come up here.
"All I want to know is where Kreacher is…he's been gone hours." Harry sighed. Ginny laughed a bit.
"Oh…well I saw him downstairs getting some food. I told him he should take it easy. He's been through quite a bit recently. I said I would get you something to eat. I might have forgotten though…." She looked up at Harry, an apologetic smile on her face. "I could go get you something now, If you'd like." Harry shook his head.
"I am a wizard you know."
"What about Grumps elemental law thing?" Ginny asked. "You can't create food. Only summon it if you know where some is."
"Firstly, It's GAMP, and secondly, Hermione and I thought you might be a bit hungry." Ron strode into the room, carrying a plate piled high with sandwiches. Hermione followed close behind with a pitcher of pumpkin juice. She casually flicked her wand at the darkened grate and flames sprang to life. They must have washed up after the battle. Their clothes were not torn, their hair combed and their faces clean.
Ron cleared the dust off his bed by hand and he and Hermione sat down across from Harry and Ginny.
"I think the best phrase for this moment is that it's the first day of the rest of our lives." Hermione said softly. Ron nodded fervently and Ginny shrugged. Harry just sat there, feeling the weight of the world lift from his shoulders. Hermione knew, of course, exactly what to say all the time. It was a new start. But first, he had a question for her.
"Hermione, since we, erm, well in case you hadn't noticed, we missed a year at Hogwarts. Are we going to have to make it up?" He asked, and Hermione laughed.
"Well, Harry, that depends. Do you want to graduate or not? I know I'm going back. I've worked too hard not to speak at graduation!" She reached over and grabbed his hand. "well?" She asked him. Her eyes searched his face and he looked away.
"I was told, promised really, that I would have seven years here. I think I'll make the most of that. Ron?" He turned to face his best friend. Ron shook his head.
"What are you, daft? If you're both here there's nothing for me to do! Plus, with old Snape gone, I might enjoy all of my classes. Or did I just jinx that?" He shook his head. "well, now we'll be in Ginny's class. But most of our class will have to repeat since they missed quite a bit of it too….Neville, Dean-and Malfoy. He might just go though. I hope so." He glared at the floor.
"Hmmm. I never thought of that. I mean, I knew Dean and Neville might come back but I never even thought of Malfoy. I suppose he will. There's really nothing for him now, and he'll always be associated with the bad guys, so he has to finish his education." Hermione added.
"Strange. I thought it would be the opposite," Ginny piped up. "wouldn't he avoid going out in public as much as possible for the time being? He's not exactly going to be welcomed by anyone…" She shrugged.
"Well that's it, isn't it? He needs something to give him credit in the world, doesn't he? It will be better that he graduates. Otherwise he can just add 'dropout' to his long list of failures." Ron interjected. "I know it's just about the worst thing that could happen, but we've dealt with it before." They all sat there for a moment, no one speaking.
Finally, Hermione got up, stretching her arms up over her head.
"well, its pretty late. I'm going to go to bed now." She leaned down and kissed Ron quickly on the cheek and hugged Harry. Ginny followed behind her after giving Harry a quick kiss. Finally, only Harry and Ron were left alone.
"Well mate, I'm pretty tired myself. Helping you bring down the baddest wizard of all time was fun but it can take a lot out of you. See you in the morning." Ron climbed under the covers fully clothed. Harry gave a short, forced laugh.
"Tell me about it. Dieing isn't that cool either, in case you're wondering." He replied.
"What? You actually died? Are you a cat or something? You didn't tell me that yet!" Ron's face was hard to read. It was a mix of offense and awe and humor.
"Well, It's only been a couple of hours since I died. Barely a day Ron! You Can't expect me to have filled you in completely yet." Harry got under his blankets too. "Can't we just talk about this in the morning?"
"Fine. don't get offended! I was joking." Ron rolled over. Minutes later Harry heard his snores. He sat up in bed and looked around. The sandwiches lay forgotten on the nightstand. He reached for one and stuffed it into his mouth before vanishing the plate. He gulped down a glass of pumpkin juice before getting rid of that too. The fire still leaped around brightly. He extinguished it with a wave of his wand before laying down again.
Within seconds he was under the sweet spell of sleep once again. No dreams chased him anymore, no nightmares. When he woke up again, the sun was sparkling through the glass window and Ron's bed was empty. Harry stretched then walked down the stone steps to the common room. Hermione, Ron, and Neville were sitting around the fireplace, each with a different section of the prophet in their hands.
"Look at this one Neville! 'No conclusion has been made about the whereabouts of Tom Riddles body, but a trusted source has told us his body will lie in repose for all to see!' Isn't that just preposterous!" Hermione giggled. Ron leaned over and read the byline.
"Of course, it's not, true! Skeeter wrote it! Has she ever written anything true in her life?" Ron said.
"Yes, she did actually-" Hermione started to say but Neville cut across her.
"Other than an article that you literally forced her to write. Look at this article-'Harry Potter named wizard of the decade by Witch Weekly Magazine!' Already?"
Harry watched them pass around the articles for a while before going down the last few steps. He stood behind Ron's chair and leaned down to see the front page which Ron had left on the arm of his chair.
VOLDEMORT GONE, HAPPY TIMES ARE HERE AGAIN
Below that, a smaller title read:
POTTER PREVAILS AGAIN
Hermione's section had the statistics-109 killed, 51 of which were on their side. The rest were various death eaters, even one giant. Names were listed for loved ones to find. Many people would be getting the shock of their lives this morning, or had they already? Maybe the Prophet had notified the families already. Harry deeply hoped so. There were a few pictures at the bottom of those too disfigured to identify, or those who had no identification on them. Their wands must have been taken away from them.
Harry shuddered for what seemed like the thousandth time in just 3 days. There wasn't a thing in the paper that wasn't about the battle, or as another writer put it, 'The beginning of a new era'. There was even an article proposing that since Voldemort was gone, now was the time to show muggles that wizards exist
"Prophet still going strong then?" He said. Hermione jumped a bit; he had been silent up to this point.
"Oh Harry! You startled me. Well yes, the Prophet will make quite a Prophet off of this. Like Rita said- the Prophet exists to sell itself and that's just what's its doing with this." She said. "And there's quite a bit they can do with this. It's all speculation stories though Harry. Someone swore they saw you go in to apply for a job as Auror yesterday, about an hour after you defeated Voldemort, which we know of course, is far from the truth."
"Hey, speaking of you being an Auror Harry, are you still considering that?" Ron asked. Harry shrugged and sank into an armchair.
"Ron, I don't even know where I'm going to live this summer. And haven't we decided we're going back to school for another year?" Harry responded. Ron looked up and smiled.
"For some reason I was hoping that was forgotten…school isn't exactly my strong point. Maybe when we're done I can get a job as a Horcrux hunter!" He laughed and threw the Prophet aside. "Let's go, I'm hungry. The house-elves said they'd keep cooking!" He bounded off towards the stairs. Harry and Hermione followed, but Neville stayed behind to clean up the paper.
They walked down the hall towards the stairs next to each other, in a row.
"So where's Ginny right now anyway?" Harry asked. "I haven't seen her so far." Hermione shook her head.
"She's having a bit of a lie-in. She was up half the night crying her eyes out. It just hit her when she went to bed- it's finally all over. Things can be right again. She's lived all her life with the world whispering about Voldemorts supposed imminent return, then with him back, and now…it's over." Hermione sighed. "She was taking Fred so well. I can only interpret this as confusion about everything."
"Yeah, but she never lets people see her cry. This will pass by pretty soon, I'm sure. She'll be fine when she gets up. I swear, she always is." Ron said.
The stairs had been cleaned up overnight. The splintered wood was smooth as always, and there was no blood anywhere. The portraits were sewn up, and their inhabitants were dozing, occasionally mumbling something in their slumber.
It was as if there was never a battle. The marble staircase shone, and the entrance hall was clean, the doors flung wide open. Harry could see people outside, planting flowers, magicking away debris and smoothing out the lawn. The great hall was laid out with it's house tables and a few people were munching away at another delicious breakfast. Professor McGonagall was walking into the hall at the same time as them, and stopped Harry and the others.
"Potter, Weasley, Granger, may I have a quick word with you three?" She said politely.
"Erm sure professor." Harry replied. They followed her over to a corner.
"I wish to speak to you three about the continuance of your education. Since you missed a whole year, you will not receive your diplomas until you receive the equivalence of that education." She was very stern.
"Oh well, Professor, you won't believe this but we actually were just talking about that. We were wondering if we could return next year, as students. A few of us missed quite a bit of class last year, like Neville. He was wondering if he could stay back too." Hermione said. McGonagall looked at her sharply.
"I'm sure that could be arranged , There will be a bit to work out, such as your dormitories, but I suspect we have some room in other dormitories. Many a parent will not want their children here. They've realized how precious time with your family is. But I'm sure we can work something out. Thank you." She strode away, towards the staff table.
"Whew," Ron said. "For a moment I was back in first year, when we were late to our very first Transfiguration lesson!" Harry laughed with him and led the way to the Gryffindor table. It was out of habit that he sat there. He would always sit there, especially next year.
They were deep into their eggs when someone dropped into the seat across from them.
"Hello chums. I've come to say goodbye, I can't stay long." It was Percy. His eyes drooped and he still wore the same torn clothes from the previous night. "I'm officially resigning from the ministry today. I've decided upon a different career path."
"What are you going to do?" Hermione asked the fatal question.
"I've decided to impart my knowledge upon the youth. I've taken up the post of muggle studies teacher here. There was an opening. Actually, there are quite a few. Defense against the Dark Arts, Transfiguration, Potions-"
"Wait-potions?" Harry cut in, dropping his fork.
"Well, yes Potions. Professor Slughorn has opted for retirement again. He's been quite shaken up by the events of this past year. He's an old man now Harry, you can't forget that." Percy said in his most pompous manner.
"If you say so. In case you haven't heard, we're continuing on here. We decided it's in our best interests to make up our final year here." Ron said before Percy could bore them any longer.
"Hmm. Perhaps you could convince George to do the same. He could use the distraction." Percy said. His eyes watered up again. "well I'm off. I have to tell mother the news. she'll be proud of me."
Percy swept off in the direction of the entrance hall. Harry shook his head.
"well, at least Percy's not going to change anytime soon. Can you imagine if he had taken up a class we actually took?" Ron said. "Our lives would have been a living hell!"
"Well, fate can be good to us sometimes if you hadn't noticed yet Ron." Harry said. They ate in silence for a few minutes before Harry felt a soft tap on his shoulder. He turned around to see the last person he expected standing there, all alone in torn robes.
"What do you want Draco? Apologies aren't going to go very far now. The Wizengamot will get their hands on you sooner or later, and you can't pretend to be a scared little boy anymore." Ron growled.
"Actually, I need your advice. On a very simple matter." Draco replied.
"what is it Draco?" Harry stood up slowly, as not to attract attention. Eyes had already followed Draco to where he stood in front of Harry.
"Should I go back to school, or apply as an Auror right away?"