There were no signs posted, no decrees made, but by some unspoken agreement, the rest of the wizarding world found enough compassion in their hearts to leave the Boy-Who-Lived alone for a few hours. Kreacher and a handful of the uninjured house elves of Hogwarts had turned up sometime in the morning with mounds of scrambled eggs, platters of chipolatas and goblets of pumpkin juice, but after the first few bites to show their gratitude, none of them felt much like eating. There was too much to say and too much that couldn't be put into words for them to stuff their faces just yet.
The food was still there, balanced on top of a school trunk, when Harry finally awoke. The steam still rising from the eggs suggested that someone—probably Hermione or perhaps Kreacher—had put a warming charm on the feast, but no matter how loudly his stomach rumbled, none of it appealed to him. He knew that at some point, he would keenly feel the need to eat, but it was not a priority just yet.
After a few moments of enjoying the warmth of his blankets and the sounds of a few birds who had braved the possibility of a concussion to perch on crumbling towers, he turned his head towards Ron's bed.
Not surprisingly, really, Ron's appetite had already kicked in. He wasn't eating his usual shovelful, but he was steadily working his way through a stack of pancakes while Hermione looked on.
"What time is it?" he asked with a cottony mouth.
"What day is it?" Ron corrected. "You've been out all night."
So the pigeons weren't as brave as he'd originally thought. They'd waited for the dust to settle and then moved back in.
"Kreacher left a stack of food for you and it's still not gone?" Harry asked, "Are you feeling all right?"
Ron grinned at him and leaned across to offer a piece of toast. Harry accepted, but did not eat it.
"No," Hermione answered calmly, "this is the second round." She took a piece of toast from Ron, but like Harry, left it alone. "How are you"
He considered this for a long moment. His bruises still throbbed dully and he'd discovered a few new aches, but there was nothing that gave him real concern.
"I'll survive," he said honestly.
Ron chuckled. "That's about all we can expect, is it?"
"I hope I don't break the habit," Harry agreed. "Any word from the others?"
"Dad stopped in last night," Ron answered. "He said they're not going without us, but we should take our time."
"Going?" Harry echoed. "Going where?"
"The Burrow for now," Hermione responded. "They want the whole family home."
At one point, he had felt it odd that the Weasleys treated him as one of their own. After all that they had suffered, after everyone they had lost together, there was no denying it.
"Have you seen..."
"He was the only one who came looking for us," Ron interrupted. "I think there are strict orders from Kingsley, but I'd be surprised if someone hadn't tried."
"I wonder where Rita Skeeter is in all of his," Hermione added.
"Maybe she snuck onto the grounds and got squashed by a giant," he said hopefully.
"No," Harry said after a moment of consideration. "She's in her flat in London, already making up her version of what happened."
It was the first time that all three of them had laughed at something since before they got to Hogsmeade and, while his ribs ached, it felt right. Without waiting for an invitation, he stood up and climbed onto the bed next to Hermione. Rather than edge away, she leaned comfortably against his shoulder.
"So," he said after another minute of companionable silence, "where do we go from here?"
"The Great Hall," Hermione suggested. "There will be someone there who can point us in the right direction."
Harry found his trainers under the bed and stowed his wand in his pocket before following Ron from the dormitory. The house towers were among the few places not affected by the battle, since no one had been reported trying to lure Death Eaters into the Hufflepuff common room or anything of the sort. The cheerful light of the lamps on the side tables and the neatly-arranged armchairs that sat next to stacks of books forgotten in the evacuation seemed out of place.
Even more out of place was Nearly-Headless Nick. He was a common sight in Gryffindor Tower, but Harry had never seen him standing at attention as if he'd been commanded to let no man pass.
As they left the staircase, his head turned slightly to look at them, though the rest of him did not. "My lords!" he greeted cheerfully. "My lady."
"Hello, Sir Nicholas," they answered immediately.
"All right, Nick?" Harry asked.
"I am quite well," N ick answered. "I bring tidings from Professor McGonagall."
Ron groaned and Hermione immediately straightened her shoulders as if the Deputy Headmistress were already with them. Harry nodded to Nick, inviting further explanation.
"Lady Minerva hopes you slept well and expresses the wish that you join her in her office as soon as convenience allows."
Ron immediately turned with a hopeful look. "You've still got the Invisibility Cloak, haven't you?"
"You faced Death Eaters and destroyed a Horcrux" Hermione chided, "and you're avoiding the Transfiguration teacher?"
"It's McGonagall," Ron answered. "Dolohov wanted to kill me, not give me detention."
"Don't be ridiculous," she answered. "Sir Nicholas, please let Professor McGonagall know that we—all three of us-will be there shortly."
"We're right behind you," Harry added in agreement.
Ron waited until they were alone in the common room once more, and then turned a hopeful look on him. "Well done," he said. "With Nick out of the way, we can..."
"What are we going to tell her?" Harry asked.
"The bare minimum," Hermione suggested. "That is to say..."
"The truth," he concluded. "But we won't give her any information unless she asks for it."
"So, nothing about the Deathly Hallows," Ron suggested.
"We'll have to take it in stride if she asks about the Horcruxes," Hermione agreed. "They picked a fight with Voldemort so we could find Ravenclaw's diadem, so I think we can entrust the basics of our quest to Professor McGonagall."
Without waiting for Ron to add another rule, he strode towards the portrait hole. Nick met them halfway down the corridor and served as a kind of honor guard as they picked their way through the less intact parts of the castle. The bloodstains on the cobblestones had been cleaned, but they had left most of the battlegrounds as they had been at the end of the battle.
Nick stopped outside of a familiar door and Harry knocked. "Come," Professor McGonagall called.
She looked no less harried than she had at the end of the battle, but Harry supposed that she had been one of the main reasons he'd been left alone for so long. She had taken care of Hogwarts when there were students to evacuate, injured to care for and dead to bury.
"Professor," Harry said respectfully, "you wanted to see us?"
"Yes," she replied. "If you'll have a seat, our guests will be arriving in a few minutes."
He resisted the urge to give Hermione an alarmed look, but at the mention of guests, he slipped his hand into his front pocket and touched the Invisibility Cloak for reassurance. If things got out of hand, they could still run for it.
"Who are we waiting for?" Ron asked bluntly.
"No one you need fear," McGonagall answered. "I think you've all had enough of a lie-in and you have other duties."
"With all due respect, I'd rather decide on my own when I can take on more duties," Harry stated.
She peered over her spectacles at him and then glanced towards the fire, perhaps hoping that someone would arrive by Floo and explain things for her.
"I am not speaking of your duties to the wizarding world," she corrected. "I think you have gone above and beyond what we should have ever asked of you, Potter. You must look after yourselves now. And each other."
"Who are we waiting for?" Harry echoed Ron's question. "You're not sending us on holiday, are you?"
She smiled tightly. "Madam Pomfrey should have seen you after the battle," she answered, "but we will not trouble her further. I took the liberty of contacting St. Mungo's to ask that you be seen by their finest Healers."
He wanted to protest that he hadn't suffered anything worse than a few knocks around the head and a split lip, but that was so far from the truth that he couldn't bring himself to say it. If nothing else, he had been struck with the Killing Curse for a second time. Even if the healers sent him home with nothing more than a bandage and a restorative draught, it would please McGonagall.
"All right," he said. "Is that all?"
"For now." She glanced towards the others as if asking permission to take things a step further. "Do you have any unfinished business here?"
He had no proper answer for such a loaded question, but since they had agreed to only give her as much information as she needed, he shook his head. "Do you know when Neville and the others will be released from the hospital wing?"
"Neville was released last night," she answered. "Miss Brown is in St. Mungo's as well until they are able to determine the extent of her injuries. Most of your friends have already been taken home, but they will be glad to know that you asked after them."
The accounting of the casualties reminded him of others who were worried for his welfare. "The Weasleys..."
"Have been informed of my requst," McGonagall responded.
"If we let Mum in, we'll never make it to St. Mungo's," Ron pointed out. "Should we take that chance?"
Before they could even consider that alternative, the fireplace filled with green flames and a stern-looking woman stepped out.
"Mr. Potter, Ms. Granger, Mr. Weasley," she greeted them. "Healer Eccleston."
The fireplace came to life once more and a younger man arrived on McGonagall's hearth rug. "Apprentice Healer DeWitt," he added. "Are we ready to go?"
"What do we need?" Hermione interjected, sounding somewhat put out that no one had yet consulted her on this entire arrangement. "How long shall we be your guests?"
"We'll know more once you've been evaluated," Eccleston responded. "As for what you require, we will provide for all of your basic needs."
"And no chance of staying here?" Ron asked hopefully. "We don't really need someone fussing over us. Mum can do that."
"You will go with Healer Eccleston or I will have the Ministry mandate it," McGonagall threatened. "Our new Minister of Magic is quite concerned about your well-being."
McGonagall, for all her sternness, was not one to pull rank. She would assign detentions or take points at the first sign of trouble, but this was the first time that Harry had really heard her issue a threat.
"St. Mungo's it is," he agreed.