Chapter One / Until We Get Burned
This is who they are, who they were always meant to be, and they won't ever be anything else.
In this chapter, our heroes deal with the immediate aftermath of the battle, and the loss of a family member.
If there's one thing I've learned,
it's that we never feel the heat,
until we get burned.
But we try so hard not to die,
sometimes we forget to appreciate life.
-Appreciation And The Bomb, by The Spill Canvas
Hogwarts was stained.
Standing at the doors of the Great Hall, Harry watched as one by one, bodies were removed from the castle. With clean up and repairs completed, this was the last act left to return the castle to its former state. But to Harry, it would never be the same; once a place of home and safety, Harry would never again walk these halls without memory of these days, without the crushing weight of the responsibility he felt for every single death.
This responsibility it what kept him standing there, watching them float past him, accompanied by their loved ones. He was determined to see every face, to endure each sharp pang of recognition and guilt he felt when he saw someone he knew, someone he hadn't realized had fallen.
He didn't look up when he heard Hermione's voice, his attention instead focused on the ashen face of a young girl floating eerily past.
He'd witnessed her crying and shaken so much in the past months, her anguish didn't immediately resonate with him. He blinked slowly and tore his gaze away from the procession. As he turned to face her, concern finally flooded him as he saw tears streaming down her face, and her visible shaking.
He reached for her immediately and she grasped his hands in return. They were touching a lot more lately- all three of them.
Because warmth meant life, and life was comfort.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked, dread filling him. "Who?"
The deaths hadn't stopped when the battle did. There were injuries, rubble and falling debris, even a sudden illness that claimed the lives of half a dozen- and people continued to fall, even after Voldemort had.
"No one- he's not-" Hermione stammered. She was out of breath, and Harry realized she must have run to him. "It's George, he's locked himself in one of the dormitories- we can't get him to come out, and Ron's worried he- he might-"
"Mr and Mrs Weasley-" Harry started, already walking, hooking his arm through Hermione's.
"They've gone, to take Fred-" Hermione's voice hitched at the name, and Harry felt his own stab of grief. "Nearly everyone went home with them. And the Floo is still down. Charlie's gone on broom, but it could be hours. He won't talk to Ron- I thought maybe you-"
"Hermione what am I going to-"
"You're like a brother to all of them, Harry, you know that." Hermione quickened her pace, pulling Harry with her. "But it isn't exactly the same, and maybe you can get through to him."
Harry understood. Ron had said it once, after ranting to Harry about a fight with Percy. Harry was the perfect blend to the Weasleys- enough of family to understand them, but enough of a friend to be distanced, unbiased.
"Come on." Harry fell into a run.
This is where he felt at home now. Hand in hand with one best friend, running towards another, this is where Harry felt safe.
They rounded the corner into the common room and Harry dropped Hermione's hand to run ahead of her up the stairs.
Ron sat on the floor, slumped against the door with his ear pressed to the wood. The fear in his eyes was enough to stop Harry cold. He kept his distance but Ron waved him forward.
"George, Harry's here, talk to Harry." Ron pleaded wildly, pushing himself against the doorframe, making room for Harry to sit on the floor beside him. Harry dropped his hand on Ron's knee as he sat. Touch, warmth, comfort.
"Lock broken, mate?" Harry called lightly.
The laugh from the other side of the door was hysterical sounding, high and dark, and it chilled Harry to the core.
"Fred liked you, Harry." George's voice was flat, almost unrecognizable. "We both did. Left you a share in the Shop. A- a sort of, Marauder's Legacy, yeah?"
"Yeah. Yeah, mate, that's great, thanks." Harry met Ron's wide eyed gaze, mirroring his own sudden fear. George and Fred had always been one, and George obviously couldn't separate himself from his twin at the moment. "But you aren't going anywhere anytime soon, right George? You've got lots of time to show me the ropes."
"Already gone, mate. He's- he's waiting for me-"
A crash sounded from the other side of the door. Ron flinched as if slapped and Harry grabbed his shoulder. Touch, comfort. Ron called out, his voice raw.
The door swung open. For a moment, nobody moved, nobody breathed. And then Ron was scrambling, up off the floor, flying into the room, Harry on his heels. George was on the floor, kneeling in shards of a broken mirror. He'd ripped it from the wall and the frame lay in pieces. Tears streamed down his face as he held out his wand.
"He's w-waiting for me."
"Ron, I can still feel him." George shook the wand in his brother's direction. "Take it, before I change m-my mind."
Ron took the wand and Harry stepped forward and together they pulled George up on the floor, shards of mirror crackled under their feet.
"I can't." George mumbled as they shuffled towards the nearest bed. He sounded as if he was trying to convince himself. "Mum would be livid."
"That's right. She'd never forgive you." Ron nodded enthusiastically, clapping his brother on the shoulder as he lay down and closed his eyes. "Just rest, mate."
"S'rough." whispered George. "Miss 'im."
Ron grimaced and rubbed a hand over his face. He remained silent.
"We all miss him." Harry said, throwing the covers over George. But he was already asleep.
Hermione reappeared suddenly, and out of nowhere, creeping silently around the bed to lay a hand on Ron's arm.
"Let me sit with him for a bit..." she said softly. "Take a walk with Harry?"
Ron nodded. He let his hand come up and linger for a moment in Hermione's hair and then dropped the curls and turned without a word.
Harry followed Ron down to the Common Room. He kept his distance for a minute or two, watched as Ron placed George's wand on the table and paced in front of the fireplace for a moment. Ron got like this often, wound up and full of frustration and Harry had learned it was best to let him work it out and walk it off on his own.
"This is worst case scenario, really." Ron said suddenly as he rounded on Harry, back toward the window on the other side of the room. "Out of nine of us, it had to be one of them? Bloody piss off, this is."
Harry just nodded.
"Though I didn't think we'd make it through this well off in the numbers, to be honest." Ron started walking again, back towards Harry and the fireplace, around the table, back to the window. His shoulder brushed Harry's as he passed. Touch, comfort. "Never dreamed the three of us would all make it."
Harry nodded again. This was something he'd marveled over himself in the past few days.
"Everyone would have expected it to be me, right?" Ron halted again near the fire, face to face with Harry. "Mum was prepared for me- she would have seen that comin-"
"Ron, no." Harry suddenly understood Ron's train of thought. "Don't say it should have been you, you can't play that game with yourself."
"It doesn't make sense, Harry."
"I know. But this isn't something you can solve with maths, Ron." Every part of Harry felt just the way Ron did, that Fred's death was pointless, unexpected, and completely unfair. But he needed to say what Ron needed to hear. "It doesn't make any sense, I know that. We should all be dead. We should have been dead at Gringotts. Hermione should have been dead at Malfoy Manner-"
"The three of us should have been dead in a tent 6 months ago, Ron. Why do you think I wanted to leave you two back at The Burrow? I never thought you two would get through this, let alone me! This really is best case scenario, Ron. It could just as well have been both of them."
"That would have been better." Ron stared at his feet, long ginger locks falling across his face. His shoulders hitched and Harry knew the damn had broken, frustration had played out. Ron laughed suddenly, high pitched and humorless. "Fuck, we did all right, didn't we?"
"I guess we did."
Ron sprung forward and hugged him. Harry gripped back, and both of them shook.
They drew apart a moment later, as the common room door swung inwards, but still clutched each others sweaters with one hand- touch, comfort.
Half the Weasley clan piled through the portrait hole, Mrs Weasley, Ginny, Percy and Charlie.
"He's sleeping." Harry supplied the answer to their silent question. "Upstairs, Hermione's with him."
Mrs Weasley and Percy made for the stairs silently. Charlie stared at the two of them by the fire for a moment before he strode forward- and to Harry's great surprise, took both of them into a hug.
"We're going home." he said quietly. "It's all over now."
It wasn't over though. This much Harry knew for sure. The war had ended, but a new one was beginning. A war for recovery, a battle for happiness. But they would fight this battle too, for they were warriors, soldiers.
This is who they are, the only thing they know how to be.
A/N: I don't have a thought out plot/plan for this story, but more of small snippets and moments that occur in the year after the final battle at Hogwarts. This will be a story of recovery, and rebuilding, told in a sort of scrapbook form: each chapter will be a single experience during this year, and while they will appear in chronological order, and will flow as one story, you may jump about and read them out of order as individual stories of their own.
I hope you enjoy and review! I am open to any and all constructive criticism.