A/N: Written for the Hogwarts Online forum Prompt of the Day grateful. I'm still not completely happy with it, but I needed to get it posted, so here it is.
Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no money from this story.
Edited for grammar, etc. on 1/19/11.
Harry takes a deep breath, reminding himself that although it's only been seven days since the Battle of Hogwarts, it's been over a year since this particular event occurred, and there's no reason it should be bothering him now, and steps up the last stair onto the Astronomy Tower.
The view would be breathtaking if it weren't for the oppressive gray clouds that obscure the sky. Harry walks to the railing and sighs, leaning on the railing to gaze over the grounds of Hogwarts. He's not quite sure why he's here, but he's glad he came – for the first time in a long time, he feels almost peaceful. Although that might have more to do with the fact that this is the first time he's been alone since he defeated Voldemort, and the silence is practically deafening.
Harry isn't sure how long he's been standing there when he realizes that there are tears rolling down his cheeks. Angrily, he blinks and swipes at his face, then gives up as his shoulders start shaking. Maybe it's good for him, and for a minute he should just let go, although he's glad that there is no one else to see him having a right breakdown –
"Harry?" Says a voice from the top of the stairs, sounding uncertain. It's Hermione. He doesn't turn around, trying even harder to stop the flow of tears. "Harry, we couldn't find you, and we were worried, and-" her voice stops as she realizes that something is wrong.
He feels a hand on his arm, and reflexively he turns to face her, vision very blurry.
"Oh, Harry," Hermione whispers, and then she pulls him down to sit beside her on the stone floor and guides his head onto her shoulder.
Harry doesn't want to lean on her like this, she's been through hell in this war just like the rest of him, but she's been his best friend almost for longer than he can remember, and in many ways she's the rock in his life, the one who will always be there for him, no matter what. And her arms are around him, and she's whispering into his ear, "It's ok, it's ok. Just go ahead and cry, Harry, there's no one here to see you. Just let go."
So he gives in to the onslaught of tears that weren't leaving anyway and sobs. Harry doesn't think he's ever cried this hard in his entire life – not when he found out about his parents' deaths, not when Cedric Diggory was murdered right in front of him, not when he saw Sirius die, not when Remus and Tonks and Fred left him, not even when Dumbledore died. And even though he doesn't want to admit it, this actually feels good.
"Better?" Hermione asks gently when the tears have finally stopped. He nods and tries to pull away, feeling ashamed, but she holds him tightly and refuses to let him go anywhere.
"I'm sorry," he says finally, feeling stupid.
"You have nothing to be sorry for. It's ok, Harry," she tells him firmly. "You've been holding that in for years. And you're not the only one - believe me, I've already cried into Ron's shoulder more than once, and he into mine. Besides," she adds teasingly when she sees that he's still upset, "did you know that it's been medically proven that crying releases chemicals to make you feel better?"
It's so very Hermione of her that he laughs, the sound rusty, but she joins in and soon they are both giggling madly on the top of the Astronomy Tower, and he feels the tension that has been inside him for so long start to slowly dissolve, and he lets it.
"Why did they all have to die, Hermione?" He asks finally, when they are both staring into the sunset a while later, quiet once more. "Remus and Tonks and Fred and Colin and Mad-Eye and Sirius and Dobby and so, so many others…" His voice trails off into the distance. "It's not fair, Hermione."
"No, it's not," Hermione says, and Harry is startled by how fierce her voice is. "It's not fair, not one little bit." Her voice softens. "But Harry, to tell you the truth, now that this final battle is over and I can think straight again, more than anything else I'm grateful."
"What?" Asks Harry in surprise, taken aback. "After everything that's happened to us, how can you be grateful?"
She's silent for a few minutes, then sighs. "I've spent a lot of time thinking this past week," she says softly. "There's so much that we lost, yes, but we can't dwell on that or we'll all go crazy. We have to focus on much we still have. It could have been so much worse, Harry. There are so many people we could have lost, whom we almost lost, but didn't. I keep having nightmares, seeing Hagrid walking out of the Forbidden Forest with-" she shudders, and Harry puts his arm around her shoulders and gives her a gentle squeeze. She gives him a small smile in thanks and resumes talking after a minute. "We gained freedom for our world. In the end, the point is, you did it, Harry. We all did it – we defeated him."
"I know," he says with a sigh. "I just wish it could have been different."
"I think we all do," she replies. "But we knew there were going to be losses; it's inevitable when there's a war going on. But it's no one's fault," she says pointedly, and he shifts, "that they died, and everyone knew what they were risking and willingly gave their lives up for this cause. I know that everyone who died would all want us to remember them, but I feel sure that they wouldn't want us to waste the world we've saved, in big part because of their sacrifice, because we're so busy mourning them. There's a difference between forgetting and being at peace with moving on. It's ok to cry for them - it's good, even – but even if you can't do it right away, it's also right to look back at their lives and smile. Just don't forget that."
They don't speak again for a long time, watching the sun sink slowly over the mountains, and remembering. Remembering all the ones they have lost, and all those that are still with them. Remembering what they fought for, and what they won, and how grateful they are that they're standing here, alive and well and with loved ones elsewhere in the castle, ready to embrace them with open arms, just as grateful as they that the ones who made it through have done so. "Thanks, Hermione," Harry says finally. If there were a few more tears on both of their parts, neither one of them mentions it.
She smiles gently. "Anytime, Harry. Now," her voice suddenly becomes brisk, "let's go find Ginny."
He looks taken aback at the sudden change in topic. "What do you mean?"
"Boys," Hermione mutters under her breath. "Honestly, Harry, it's been a week. How much longer is it going to take you now that there's not a death threat hanging over your head? I know you love her."
Harry blushes and stammers something about being "completely ready," and "sure of her response," and Hermione shakes her head and starts to descend the stairs. "Come on, Harry," she calls behind her. "And don't be silly. She's been waiting for you since she was ten years old. Besides, you're meant for each other."
Harry feels a small smile spread over his face and follows her, heart growing lighter with each step he takes.
A/N: Please leave a review!