'Do you want us to go with you?'
'No. I'll be ok. I just want…' He paused a moment, considering all that had just transpired. '…a walk. I'll catch up with you in a little while.'
He opened the door and walked quietly down the stairs into the corridor. A coating of dust still hung near the floor. He stumbled over debris in various places as he walked through the halls. Windows and doors were smashed everywhere he looked. In many places, entire pieces of wall had been reduced to rubble, exposing the beautiful, clear day outside. He sighed and trudged on. He walked aimlessly throughout Hogwarts without rhyme or reason. He soon stopped to retie one of his trainers, but then he realized it wasn't untied. The laces had been singed in two. He stood back up and came face to face with an inexplicable black patch of wall. Nothing else in the corridor had been damaged, but this wall looked like it had been subjected to extensive burning.
He suddenly realized that he stood in the seventh floor corridor, and the wall held the entrance to the Room of Requirement. Harry placed a hand on the wall to find it was as stone cool as it had always been. After a few moments, he returned on his journey around his first home.
It was over. Finally, he could step into sunshine and not have to worry about a jet of green. Or of red eyes baring into his. Months of running and fighting were over. But would he be able to just pick up where he stopped and… live? His last moment of normal existence had been 16 years ago. The last thing he had that was close to normal was at Bill and Fleur's wedding, before the Ministry fell. He stopped walking to look up at the winding staircase. Even it was in mourning by stoically remaining still. The Ministry. What was going to happen to it? So much of it was in ruin and chaos.
The longer he stood there, the quicker his breathing became. There were so many things that were going to change. What if he was asked to…
'Harry? Are you ok?' asked a cordial voice from behind him. Harry turned around to see Nearly Headless Nick floating a few feet from him.
'You look as if you're having a panic attack.'
Harry took a deep breath yet again and tried to calm his nerves. He knew that the adrenaline of the last 48 hours was causing him to overreact. He looked into the face of the friendly voice and said, 'It's…over.' Nick nodded his head and motioned to pat Harry on the back, causing chills to erupt all over the spot as though Harry's back had been plunged into ice water.
'Aye, young hero. You are free,' Nick said deeply as he floated away, leaving Harry to wonder whether he really was free now. Harry continued down the corridor and came to stop at a large window that looked out over the lake. On the surface of the lake he could see disturbances, meaning the giant squid was in the mood to toss some boats about. Up the lawns and against the tree-line, he saw centaurs returning to the forest to nurse their wounds and mourn their dead. Above the trees was a lone thestral hovering and making a call that Harry couldn't hear. He only knew it was a call because soon after, another thestral arrived and together they flew deeper into the forest.
However, on the grounds, burn marks and large club-made holes pockmarked the ground littered with the occasional rock, probably thrown by Grawp or one of the enemies he had faced and spectacularly defeated (at least from what Harry had been told).
Harry made his way down the corridor, descended the staircase and went out the giant oak door onto the grounds. More burns and debris met him, but luckily all the deceased had been moved hours ago. However, as Harry walked slowly he saw a strand of bubble gum pink hair in the middle of a 6 foot circle of burnt grass. Images of all the dead swam in his head again. Tonks, Remus, Colin, Fred…
He wasn't sure what made him do it but Harry bolted from the scene, running towards the lake to the only spot where he knew he could be away; the only spot he had never been intruded upon while out on the grounds with Ginny. He ran until the stitch in side began to hurt but didn't slow down at all. He rounded the edge of the lake, bolted into the trees and found the largest tree he could.
He stuck his foot in a divot he'd formed with his wand nearly a year ago, and climbed into the conjuncture of all the large branches. There was room enough for one person to lie comfortably on his back, which was why Harry and Ginny had used the spot in the first place. He lay down, feeling tears leak from his eyes and fall down his cheeks. He tried not to close his eyes, but the faces of his friends kept crossing his vision. He lay there for an unknown amount of time and allowed his grief to swallow him.
Ginny sat in the Great Hall watching her family. They all sat in companionable silence, except for Ron. He had gotten up and left with Hermione a few minutes ago and hadn't been seen since. He'd be back, but back whenwas the question. Harry hadn't been seen for a while either but this wasn't unusual. If she knew Harry as well as she thought she did, he'd want to be somewhere quiet right now. As she looked around at her family, she noticed that they all sat staring silently at their plates, barely eating. Well, except for Mum and George, who were stoically looking at the spot Fred had been placed before he was taken away. George wasn't even trying to pretend to eat.
Her Mum would not be well for a while. Maybe ever again, but then again, would any of them? Fred was quintessential to the whole family. Laughing was something the twins had done so easily and it was highly infectious. Right now, it seemed like none of them would ever laugh again.
'Fishies! Fishies is good.' Ginny turned to look over her shoulder at Grawp, who was still laughing joyously at all the people throwing food up to him. Apparently, he rather liked fish. When Ginny turned back to her plate, she could have sworn that she saw someone in the entrance hall. However, on the double take it remained empty.
She returned to feigning hunger and eating with what must have been unconvincing enthusiasm. After a few minutes Ron and Hermione walked into the Great Hall, but stopped short when they spotted the table where the rest of them sat. After glancing at each other, they turned back around to look in the entrance hall again. They then began have a conversation that Ginny couldn't hear, but it was obvious that something concerned them.
Ginny stood and looked at them both, causing all of her family to turn to see where she was looking. Ron and Hermione noticed them staring and reluctantly started walking towards them at the table. Ginny became nervous as they walked closer. Where was Harry? Why wasn't he with them? Her fears were confirmed as soon as Ron spoke.
'Wh– Have you guys seen Harry?' he said with a slight smile, running his hand through his hair.
'What do you mean, have we seen him?' Percy said hoarsely, having not used his voice in a while. 'We figured he was with you?'
'He was, but he said he wanted to walk alone for a little bit. We thought he would come here.'
'We haven't seen him. Where did he say he was going?' Arthur asked.
'He didn't…' Ron began.
'For a walk. He didn't say where,' Hermione finished.
At this, Molly jumped to her feet and said, 'We have to find him. Now.' They all walked hurriedly out of the entrance hall when Hermione stopped in front of them, causing Ron to stumble.
'Wait. I almost forgot.' She took a deep breath and said 'Kreacher!'
With a resounding crack, Kreacher appeared in the entrance hall. He glanced at the scene that met him before bowing low to the ground.
'Young mistress Granger called Kreacher,' he croaked in his bullfrog voice.
'Kreacher, do you know where Harry is?' Ginny asked quickly, unable to subdue the panic that was coursing through her.
'Young mistress Weasley, Master is not wanting to be found.' He replied.
'Then you know where he is?' Ron demanded.
Kreacher stood ramrod straight and closed his eyes before saying, 'Yes.'
'I is not able to tell you. You is not my Master.'
'But Kreacher– ' Molly began, before Hermione forestalled her with a hand on her shoulder.
'Kreacher, Harry shouldn't be alone right now. It still isn't safe for him.'
'Kreacher understands miss. But …'
'What's going on?' asked a stern voice from behind them. Professor McGonagall had left the Great Hall.
'Harry is AWOL, and this little bugger knows where he is but won't tell us.' George said, waving a hand in Kreacher's direction.
'Is that true, Kreacher?'
'Yes, Madam Professor.'
'Well…' McGonagall said, turning fully to Kreacher, '…as acting Headmistress of Hogwarts, under the compliance of House Elf employment, I command you to provide the Weasleys' with the information they desire.'
'Kreacher can't miss. He was ordered to secrecy by Master. Master's orders outweigh those of Kreacher's temporary master.'
'Correct, but he did not order you to withhold the last time he went to this spot, did he?'
Kreacher let out a long breath, or long for him, and said, 'No, Master didn't. But Kreacher is not knowing when Master last went there. Only the first time.'
'Well, when the bloody hell was that then?' Ron said quickly, frustrated from lack of sleep.
'It was spring of last year, shortly after the Quidditch Final.'
Ginny let out an audible gasp and her hand covered her mouth. Everyone's head whipped around to look at her as she began to blush a deep red.
'What, Ginny? Do you know where he is?'
Red eyes looked directly into Harry's. A high cold laughter rang in Harry's ears. Harry went to grab his wand but as soon as he touched it, it turned into a rubber chicken. Panicking, Harry turned and found the Elder Wand on the ground few feet from him. When he began to move towards it, a hundred more fell on top of it.
Harry grabbed one and pointed it at the eyes and bellowed 'PROTEGO,' but only smoke came from the wand. When Harry looked again, a horde of red eyes looked back at him. One of them stood in black robes and raised a startlingly white hand with a wand. A green light formed and grew larger and larger before the eyes said 'AVADA–'
Harry spun and hit something very resistant with his right shoulder. He opened his eyes but he couldn't see anything. Someone had removed his glasses. He began to roll and heard a tinkling of broken glass that told him someone didn't take off his glasses. He had smashed them.
He slowly sat up and looked around for his wand. His hand found his jeans and he reached into the pocket. However, he pulled out two wands, the warm Holly wand that felt familiar and a thick, chipped wand that he didn't remember. Harry grabbed his Phoenix wand and waved it where he thought the remains of his glasses were. They immediately reformed and Harry put them on.
He glanced around at his surroundings and found to his surprise he was in the dormitory. The resistant force on his shoulder had been the ground when he rolled out of his four poster bed. Harry looked at the window to see an orange and pink sky. It was late evening. He'd slept all day, but at some point, he had been moved. That meant someone had found him. It had to be either Kreacher or Ginny. They were the only two who could find him where he had been.
Harry stood and felt a wave of dizziness come over him. His stomach churned, but he didn't expel. There was nothing to expel. He hadn't eaten in nearly 24 hours. He moved to lay back on the bed when his vision went black again.
Harry awoke again with his head splitting nearly in two. He had never felt a headache like what he was experiencing, even when a bludger had cracked his skull. He opened his eyes and again found them without glasses. However, this time, someone placed his glasses on his face for him. When focus was achievable, he looked into the faces of Ron, Hermione, and Ginny.
'It's about time you got up.' Ron said, with a whack to the top of Harry's head.
'Ron, don't hit him.' Hermione said scoldingly.
'Harry, how do you feel?' Ginny said, walking between Ron and Hermione and knealing down beside Harry's bed.
Harry looked into Ginny's face for what felt like the first time in months. Ginny's eyes sparkled as they looked at him, and her red hair framed her face and fell from her shoulders. It piled on the bed and caused chills to run up Harry's arms. He pulled his arm up and placed a hand on the side of Ginny's face. Ginny closed her eyes and leaned into Harry's hand.
Without warning, Harry wrapped both his hands around Ginny's torso, yanked her into the bed with him and hugged her with all the might he could muster. After several seconds, he breathed, 'I will be now.'
He continued to hug Ginny despite the 'scoff's' and 'tut's' coming from the peanut gallery sitting on the next four-poster bed. 'Harry, could you not grope my sister while I'm sitting right here?'
Ginny peeked her head up from the crook of Harry's neck to look at her brother and say. 'Sod off, Ron.'
'Actually Harry,' Hermione said, walking over to the bed to sit in the plush red chintz chair beside it.' Given where we found you yesterday, you probably shouldn't let Ron and Ginny's parents see the two of you like this.'
Ginny disentangled herself, grumbling as she stood and moved across the room. She grabbed a sandwich from a rather sizable pile of sandwiches on a tray. Harry's stomach grumbled as he tried to remember the last time he had eaten.
'Wait a minute. Did you say 'yesterday?' he said, looking from Hermione to Ginny. 'You found me in the tree yesterday? How long have I been asleep? And why are Ginny's parents mad at me?'
Ron laughed and turned to look at Ginny, who turned red. 'I had to tell them why I knew where you were,' she said grudgingly. 'And now they think we've been shagging all over the place.'
Harry muttered a few things before laying back down on his bed. 'Should I prepare for a storm or should I just wait it out?'
'You're Harry– bloody– Potter,' Ginny said. 'Just let her get it off her chest and she'll be fine. Dad will have the responsibility talk with you like he does all the guys, and he'll be fine.'
'Is she coming here to talk to me?'
'Probably,' Ron said. 'She can probably sense you're awake.'
As if on cue, the door to the dormitory opened and Molly Weasley stuck her head in. 'Harry dear, are you… oh, you are awake.' She smiled, but it looked very forced. She walked in, as did Arthur, McGonagall and Kingsley Shacklebolt.
'Good morning, Mr. Potter,' McGonagall announced with a smile.
'Er…. Good morning. This probably isn't going to be fun, is it?' Harry said without missing a beat, causing all of the people around him to look at him curiously.
'Oh, uh… what?' stammered McGonagall. 'What do you mean?'
'Well,' Harry began with a smile, 'Molly and Arthur are here because they probably wouldn't allow you to ask me to do anything without being here. Kingsley's here to… well I guess I don't know.' He stopped talking to stretch and stand, albeit painfully. 'But Professor…'
'Please, you're a grown boy now, well… man, and you are welcome to call me Minerva.'
Harry smiled and inclined his head 'Minerva, you have never called me anything but Potter. So you saying 'Mr.' tells me that one of you is about to ask me to do something that I don't want to do.'
'I told you,' Arthur said, walking over to pat Harry on the back.
Harry still felt a little self-conscious around Mr. and Mrs. Weasley due to their new-found knowledge. He and Ginny had never done anything worse than snogging in that spot, but her parents probably wouldn't care.
'Yes you did, Arthur, but I'm going to ask him all the same,' Kingsley said. 'Harry, there are a few… requests that I have for you. I ask you first as a member of the Order, but also as the Minister of Magic.'
'It's official?' Hermione asked suddenly, her eyes growing to twice their normal size.
'Sworn in not two hours ago.'
'Oh Kingsley, congrat… sorry.' McGongall had given Hermione a very stern, 'please-quit-babbling-like-adolescent-schoolgirl-now' look.
'Ok, Kingsley. Only because it's you and not either of the last two. What do you need?'
'Well Harry, I have three situations I'd like to bring up. First, there is a memorial service at dusk that I'd very much like you to attend.'
Harry sighed. He knew this was coming. The last thing he wanted to do was relive any story or spend any amount of time thinking about the staggering amount of people who had died in order for him to stay alive. Every time he closed his eyes, the pictures of Tonks, Lupin, Fred, and Colin laying serenely on the floor in the Great Hall tormented him.
'Am I going to have to speak?' Harry asked.
'Not unless you want to, dear,' Molly said with a disgruntled look to Kingsley. Obviously she didn't like the idea of Harry speaking publicly any better than Harry did.
'Ok. I suppose I will go. But I don't want special recognition. I was just one man. It took an army to defeat him. Not just me.'
Kingsley nodded rather jerkily. Harry had a feeling that this particular subject wasn't closed yet.
'Second, I'd like you to consider coming to the Ministry as an Auror. I dare say you have enough experience in fighting the Dark Arts.'
Harry hadn't expected this. He thought Kingsley might ask him if he intended to join the Auror program, but he had no idea that Kingsley would offer him a job as an Auror. Harry wasn't sure how he felt about it. He had never considered another career path, but right now the idea of going to the Ministry every day, confronted with hordes of eyes and whispers, reporters, wanted posters, etc.
The very idea made Harry shudder, but he knew that one day he would be ready for it, especially once the excitement over the end of the war died down a little.
'Not yet. I really believe that I want to be an Auror. But right now, I just want to be 17. I'd like to adjust to life without the bullseye on my chest.' Molly let out a sigh and visibly relaxed a great deal.
'Absolutely Harry. I completely understand. It is an open offer. I just would like your expertise in the matter.'
'Expertise? Kingsley you've been an Auror most of my life. You worked with Mad-Eye. You have plenty of expertise.' Harry said incredulously.
'I have my experience. But Harry, you've got instincts at your age that most veteran Aurors still haven't developed.'
'But how on earth could I be ready for that. I still have a hard time with non-verbal spells. I…'
'Harry, none of those things matter. Instincts are something we wouldn't have to teach you. Everything else you can learn.'
Harry was, once again, arguing with grown wizards about why he wasn't special like they always seemed to think he was. 'Ok, but I don't want any special recognition. I want to earn the things I get. I don't deserve…'
'Oh Harry, please,' Ginny scoffed. 'You deserve this more than anyone.'
'But I don't want it,' Harry retorted. 'If I earn it, it will matter more to me. Working hard and making mistakes while learning is where these instincts that you say I have, come from. Plus, I don't want special treatment. I am no different than anyone else now,' Harry said to the group. Kingsley looked him full in the face and smiled.
'I understand Harry. Consider it a moot point until you decide to join us anyway. But the third thing isn't as pleasant of a situation.' Kingsley played with the lining of his wizard's robes. 'The… body… is still in the castle. We wanted to ask you first, what you thought should be done with it.'
Harry took a deep breath and sat on the bed. He looked at the floor in silence for who knows how long. When his legs began itching from inactivity he stood and walked over to the window. Over 50 years of murder, torture, and destruction. Harry's morals were internally waging war with his emotions. Harry finally felt a hand rest on his shoulder. He turned to look into the brown eyes of Ginny, who was looking beseechingly at Harry. She wasn't searching for his answer. She wasn't trying to persuade him to answer. She just stood there with an expression of concern on her beautiful face.
Harry had a flashback of a small red-headed girl laying on a stone floor, with a book on the ground beside her. Even at sixteen years old, Tom Riddle was capable of sacrificing an eleven year old to serve his means. Harry smiled and placed his hand on Ginny's shoulder.