Chapter 1: We're Alive

The three friends left the headmasters office, the cheers from the ancient portraits receding as they descended the long spiral staircase. They reached the corridor and Harry, overcome by exhaustion, staggering at first, leant against the wall and then slid down to the welcoming floor where he sat bent over, hugging his legs.

"Sit with me for a while," he said.

"Not sure I'll be able to get back up again, mate," said Ron, but, slowly, both he and Hermione sat down, one on each side of Harry, their backs to the wall.

Harry slowly shook his head. "We're alive."

It felt unreal, something not yet capable of belief. The fears that they had each so long held at bay, the fear that they would fail, the fear that they would not survive their task, the fear they would lose each other, burst through gripping each of them.

"You guys …if I had lost…" Harry couldn't continue.

They leaned into each other, touching heads, gripping each other's arms, together in communion, as the emotions released by their exhaustion and the sense there just may now be a future washed in great waves over them.

"Were alive," said Ron.


The battered Great Hall was full of contrasts. There were groups, rowdy with celebration, exchanging tales of the battle. Others sat in weary despair. Some sat in quiet reflection, happy to have survived, happy that the darkness of Voldemort's reign was at an end. Some had made room on the floor and were trying to get some sleep. A few couples were having their own private celebrations, oblivious to the crowds around them.

A makeshift medical aid station had been set up at the top of the Hall. Here, a dozen or so people and a couple of house elves were being treated or were lying on camp beds conjured for the purpose. The more critical injuries had already been transferred to the hospital wing or St Mungo's.

Along the western wall, reverently placed in line, lay the bodies of those now beyond help. Some were surrounded by the grieving, others were alone. A red head man knelt in silent vigil over the body of his fallen twin, both impassive and unmoving.

Three people stood in the centre of the Hall in earnest discussion.

"They must have found a quiet corner somewhere in the castle to sleep," said a deeply concerned Bill Weasley. "They have to be absolutely exhausted. They left our home very early yesterday morning and then, if you can believe it, broke into Gringotts before they even came here."

"Escaping on dragon back, no less," said Kingsley shaking his head. Kingsley Shacklebolt had just been appointed by the Wizengamot as the interim Minister of Magic. "Do you have any idea what they have been up to for the last nine months?"

"None whatsoever," replied Bill. "All I know is that they showed up on our doorstep three weeks ago in a bad way. Hermione had clearly been tortured and was seriously injured."

Minerva McGonagall breathed in sharply, a look of distress passing over her face. "Not Hermione too."

"What happened?" asked Kingsley, scowling, lightening forming in his eyes..

"Bellatrix happened," spat Bill, the scar on his face now a vivid red. "That's about all I know."

"They came here to Hogwarts to find something, an item that had something to do with Rowena Ravenclaw. I don't believe they intended or expected a battle to occur," said McGonagall.

A man in Auror's robes came up to Kingsley and spoke in his ear.

Kingsley smiled. "Our three heroes are sitting on the floor outside the headmaster's office. Shall we go and put them to bed?"

Bill, Kingsley and McGonagall headed out of the Great Hall and through the long, battle scarred corridors of Hogwarts castle, each silently cataloguing the devastation they passed. Near the headmaster's office they came to an abrupt halt, arrested by the sight of three clearly exhausted teenagers, sitting on the floor, head to head, arm in arm, supporting each other in a silent embrace.

"Far too much was asked of them, far too much," said McGonagall.

"I agree Minerva," replied Kingsley "but they succeeded anyway. What these three did, what your other students did this night…extraordinary. I still find it hard to believe that such young witches and wizards could fight with that kind of skill, power, and courage."

"Again we have these three to thank. They formed and trained the DA right under the nose of Dolores Umbridge when that awful woman was here. I think you know that the students reformed it this year. That was mainly Neville Longbottom, Ron's sister Ginny and Luna Lovegood's doing and it cost them dearly."

"Ginny? Ginny was hurt?" asked a shocked and dismayed Bill.

"Your sister is a very brave young woman, Bill, and, yes, she was hurt. So many have been hurt this dreadful year." McGonagall fought to control her emotions which threatened to overwhelm her. "I never thought I would see the day when Hogwarts would be turned into a house of horrors." She spat out each word angrily. She took a deep breath, pulled herself to her full height and approached the trio still arm in arm on the ground, oblivious to anyone or anything outside themselves.

"Mr Potter, Mr Weasley, Miss Granger," said McGonagall in a stern voice belied by a barely suppressed smile, "Why is it that whenever anything happens at this school, it's always you three close at hand?"

Harry, Ron and Hermione all quickly looked up. As they staggered to their feet, Ron, who remembered being asked this very question by McGonagall a year ago, grinned and replied as he had then. "Believe me, Professor. I've been asking myself that same question for the past seven years."

"There were times," McGonagall said, "when I wondered whether this school would survive you three. Now I know it could not have survived without you. I could not be prouder of you if you were my own children." A tear in her eye, she shocked the three, Ron the most, by hugging each in turn.

"Has it survived though?" asked Harry as McGonagall released him from her hug. "So much damage, so many deaths. I am so sorry. I did not mean to bring that here."

McGonagall held Harry firmly by the shoulders, looking directly into his pained eyes. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Harry. You did not bring it here. The evil was already well and truly here before you came. You have ended it, Harry, and now we can all begin to live again. That is what you have given us. That is what those who died tonight have given us. Do not diminish their gift by blaming yourself. "

Ron trembled and then looked into Bill's eyes, trying to hold back the tears that had risen so quickly. Their brother, Fred, was among those who had died that night and their family would never again be intact. They moved to each other and embraced, each holding the other tightly, sharing their pain, their relief at each other's survival, each drawing what comfort they could from the other.

They stood like that in silence for some time, the others recognising and respecting the moment. Hermione herself was close to tears as her heart reached out to Ron.

Eventually Kingsley spoke. "I think we had better move. It is not necessarily safe here; there may still be some Death Eaters in the castle. I would like to get you to a secure location where you can get some rest."

"You can have your old beds in Gryffindor tower," said McGonagall.

"No!" said Ron, looking at Hermione, "we need to stay together." At this, both Hermione and Harry nodded their heads.

"Very well," said McGonagall after a moment's pause, "You can use the year three boys dormitory. They have all been evacuated. It wouldn't do, in any case, to evict Mr Longbottom and Mr Finnegan from their own beds after what they have done tonight."

They all started moving towards Gryffindor tower, Hermione hand in hand with Ron. After observing these two at Shell Cottage, this didn't surprise Bill at all. Nor did it seem to surprise McGonagall who smiled inwardly. "About time," she thought.

"I will place a guard outside the entrance so you will not be disturbed. Sleep as long as you need. Are you hungry? Would you like something to eat?" asked Kingsley.

Realising he was indeed hungry, Harry replied "I could handle a few sandwiches, and Ron is always hungry." In a bemused voice he added "Is room service part of the job description for the Minister of Magic now?"

Kingsley laughed. "For you three and, just for today, yes it is!"

Kingsley became more serious "Harry, I need to know what you have been doing all year. I don't need the details at this moment, but could you give me the five minute summary. I do need to know."

Harry looked at him, then at Minerva and Bill. Realising that he could trust these people completely and that secrecy was no longer an absolute imperative, he said simply "horcruxes."

"Horcruxes," repeated Kingsley. "You mentioned horcruxes when you were duelling Voldemort. Did he actually succeed in making a couple? Is that what you were doing, searching for and destroying these horcruxes?"

"No and yes. He made seven."

"Seven, impossible," spluttered Kingsley "I have never even heard of anyone succeeding in making more than one before." Beside him, McGonagall also looked stunned.

"Sorry, what is a horcrux?" asked a confused Bill.

"A most wicked piece of dark magic," explained McGonagall. "It is an object in which you have stored a part of your soul. While it exists you cannot truly be killed."

Kingsley and McGonagall thought they couldn't be shocked any further. They were wrong. Hermione added "Making one means splitting your soul, something that requires an act of murder. Voldemort made his first horcrux when he was sixteen, still a student here at Hogwarts."

"The final horcrux to be destroyed was Voldemort's snake Nagini. When Neville killed Nagini, Voldemort was vulnerable. He could be killed," added Harry as they continued their walk towards Gryffindor Tower.

Looking at his brother, Ron said "Sorry we had to keep you all in the dark, but if You Know Who got even a hint of what we were doing he could easily have stopped us. We could never have beaten him."

Kingsley asked "Harry, why did you come here last night?"

"After the break in at Gringotts – you've heard about that?" They all nodded. "Well after Gringotts, Voldemort finally realised what we have been doing all this time. The last horcrux, apart from Nagini, was here at Hogwarts. We had to find it and destroy it before Voldemort could get to it, otherwise it would all have been for nothing. We were lucky, Voldemort decided to check all the other places he had hidden his horcruxes before he came here, so we had a head start."

"How on earth could you possibly know all this Harry?" asked a bewildered Kingsley.

"That's a long story too," said Harry.

They arrived at the portrait hole just as the Fat Lady hiccoughed. "Welcome to the party," she giggled and the door sprung open. The Gryffindor common room was crowded with current and former Gryffindors and many from other houses as well. As in the Great Hall below, there were those still celebrating, those sitting quietly and others trying to grab some sleep wherever they could. As the group entered, silence fell over the room. Soon clapping and cheering broke out and people moved forward to once again congratulate the hero of the day.

"Halt!" boomed Kingsley's commanding voice. "Please give these three some room – they are beyond exhausted and need rest."

The clapping continued in a desultory fashion as the Minister of Magic, the acting headmistress of Hogwarts and the eldest son of the Weasley clan escorted Harry, Ron and Hermione up to the dormitory.

Kingsley shooed then into the dorm saying "Go now, get some sleep. We can talk more about this later, but only after you've had all the rest you need. I'll have someone stationed at the door to make sure you are not disturbed. If you need anything let them know." With that he closed the door.

There was nothing more that Harry, Ron and Hermione really needed to say to one another, nothing that couldn't wait. The work of an extraordinary day done, Harry walked to the nearest bed, took off his shoes, lay down and soon sunk into the deepest sleep he had known in a long time.

Ron moved to the bed next to Harry and sat down. He looked up at Hermione and patted the place next to him. Hermione hesitated for a few seconds then went to join him. Off came their shoes. They climbed up onto the bed and cuddled into one another. "Good night my love," whispered Ron into Hermione's ear. A big smile on both their faces, they soon joined Harry in deep slumber.

Outside the door, Bill turned to Kingsley and McGonagall. "You two go. You must have plenty you need to be doing and must be nearly as exhausted as this lot. I'll stand guard here till you send someone to relieve me."

As Bill watched them go, he thought about his youngest brother. He had lost some respect for Ron when he turned up at Shell Cottage before Christmas after abandoning his friends. Most of that respect was regained when Ron left to re-join them. It was fully restored and more when Ron had returned with Harry and an injured Hermione just a few weeks ago. He could see firsthand the hardships and dangers they had had to endure. The deep pain that Ron had experienced over Hermione's suffering was heart wrenching. It hadn't stop either Ron or Hermione from carrying on with their mission though. Now, after what he had learned tonight, he had a much clearer understanding of the extraordinary burden that had been placed upon his youngest brother. Bill, like all the Weasleys, was a courageous man. He had faced many dangers both in his profession as a curse breaker and during this war. All the same he found himself wondering, not for the first time, whether he himself could ever have found the courage to be Harry Potter's best friend.