Author's Note: I have written a lot of stories in my time, and yet this final one (more details in my profile) feels very fitting to publish as a last offering to those of you who had supported me on my writing journey.
I have thoroughly enjoyed working with you all, and will miss writing. But I leave you now with this, and all my love, always.
This story is dedicated to skaterkep, because without her, I would never have written like I have, and without writing, I would never have met her. I love you, soul sister.
War's Greatest Lesson
The battle was fought and the war was won. It had all amounted to a final confrontation-two spells that were cast—and one death. Victory was claimed.
The fight had been long—the battlefield spanning most of Hogwarts' grounds, Death-Eaters and Order members clashing in duels that were determined by strength and stamina. There had been casualties, of course.
Albus Dumbledore was watching two Aurors carry one of their wounded into the Great Hall—the extension of the burdened Hospital Wing. That man would live. But others had not. Albus knew that now was not the time for mourning; it was a time for the living to be reunited with loved ones and for the relief of the end of such a terrible war.
And for Albus, it was a time for waiting. He was waiting for...news. A word. Anything. Even a body, if that would end the waiting.
"Professor?" A voice said from beside him. Albus turned from watching the path leading down to Hagrid's hut and the Great Lake, "Hello, Harry." He greeted the younger wizard with a smile. "Not celebrating?"
Harry shook his head, looking uncomfortable. "It doesn't feel right. Everyone thinks I did this great deed—yet—all I did was hold onto my wand."
"Your great feat was facing Voldemort, Harry. Few others would have had the courage to stand and face him. That is why you are being rightfully treated as the hero you are. We could not have defeated him without you." Albus corrected carefully. But he could understand why the boy wanted to be away from the hustle and bustle of the Hall; it was the same reason that Albus was stood outside too. It was too much. He and Harry had seen the war at its most terrible, had seen what it had done to so many people, had been the two that everyone else relied upon to bring victory. It was draining, to carry such a burden, and no seventeen-year-old child should have to carry such a burden.
In his weakest moments, Albus felt guilty for what he had done to Harry. He turned his eyes back to the Forbidden Forest, still waiting.
Harry was silent for a moment, clearly thinking. He took his time when he spoke again, "Voldemort did not mention him to me."
Albus glanced at him, "Pardon?"
"When he was naming the list of the dead, to taunt me, he did not name him." Harry understood who Albus was waiting for. He would, of course. In the final battles, truths had been revealed.
The truth about one particular character in Harry's life was the most important of those.
"We do not know if he was discovered." Albus voiced his main concern, surprising himself. "I would have thought that he would have been back here by now."
"He will be fine, Professor." Harry sounded confident. Albus wished that, in his old age, he still possessed such optimism. It had been stolen from him with every war loss.
"I can still hope." Albus intoned in response after realising there had been a long silence in the conversation.
"You really care for him." Harry observed.
"I care for all my students." Albus answered. He was still watching the forest.
"But there are some you care for more than others. He is one of them." Harry had spent a lot of time at Albus' side these past few months. He would have spotted some things. He had picked up on something else.
"He has proved himself, time and time again. I have grown to care for him, yes. It is my fault, after all, that he is in this position."
"I should apologise to him." Harry said, softly. "I never tried to see the good in him."
"He made it just as difficult, Harry, if not more so. He chose never to see you as any different to your father-that was his decision in the beginning, and perhaps if it had been different, then many things would have been reversed. I strongly believe that his...slight aversion to you...helped him many times when his life was threatened."
"You mean when he was facing Voldemort."
There was venom in those words that had to be unintentional, but they still stung. Albus could have winced. He had done terrible things in his life. Perhaps Harry was really identifying his most terrible sin?
"Yes. I do." Albus responded. He paused and wrapped his fingers around the railing before him, feeling the cool marble against his palms. "You see Harry, war teaches you one thing above all others. It teaches you to lose, yes. It teaches you to use skill and strategy to outlast your opponent. It can teach you much about yourself, and who you have become. But it also teaches us how to love. Through the battles that are fought, relationships are formed." He contemplated his words. "It is when we are facing death, staring it in the face, that we realise how close we are to those around us. What they mean to us. You proved it, when you were happy to stand and face Voldemort, to protect those you love."
"Do you love him, sir?" Harry probed. His young face was aged beyond its time, and Albus found himself realising just how similar Harry was to another student. Another person Albus had failed to protect, and had instead placed in the front line.
"Yes. I should have realised it earlier, and I should have told him before he headed out to Riddle Mansion two months ago. But yes. I do love him, like a son, and I never found it in my heart to tell him."
"It must be reciprocal, Professor, otherwise he would not have done what he did for you." Harry was thinking about how his two best friends had done everything to protect him—in the final fight, they had thrown themselves before dangerous Death-Eaters, just to ensure that he survived. They were not doing it for the greater good. They were doing it because they cared for him. Because they loved him.
Harry had done it for them in return.
Every muscle in Albus' body suddenly stiffened, and he leaned forward, focusing on a point just a little out of sight. Harry glanced at him, and then followed his eye line. There were some figures making their way toward the castle. Harry focused as best he could, and he could make out two people supporting a third between them.
The third was dressed all in black, with lank hair that fell to his shoulders. And despite himself, because he thought he never would for this person, Harry smiled. He smiled broadly, as he realised that he was relieved.
He stood back as Albus hurried down the steps and out towards the figure. He watched as the Headmaster, without any reservation at all, swept the figure into his arms and hugged him tight.
He watched as the figure wrapped his arms around his mentor in return and embraced him too.
He was stood, grinning, for the first time in what felt like forever.
"Harry. We were looking for you." A familiar voice touched his ear and he turned to greet Ron and Hermione, who had come to stand with him. His two greatest allies, his family, and his best friends.
Ron was looking to see what was happening in the grounds. "Is that Snape?" He asked, incredulous, watching as the Headmaster drew back from his Potions' professor and proceeded to look him over.
Harry nodded absently, "He wasn't that bad after all."
The two Aurors who had been walking with Snape continued up to the castle, leaving the Headmaster and the Professor together. Harry put one arm around Ron and linked his hand with Hermione. "You know something? I think war can be a good thing."
Clearly his best friends thought he had lost his mind, as they both glanced at each other before looking at him. "Harry...?" Hermione murmured, wondering what to say.
"I think it teaches people how to really love each other." Harry said happily. Hermione and Ron both smiled at this, but they moved closer to him anyway, Ron putting his arm around Harry so his fingers could brush Hermione' shoulder, and Hermione resting her head against Harry.
But Harry's eyes did not leave the scene before him. He watched as Albus Dumbledore gently brushed a hand across Severus Snape's cheek and said something, his words soft.
And from the way that Snape smiled, and the slight nod that he offered in response, Harry had no doubt as to what the three words Albus Dumbledore had just said were.
I love you.