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Chapter 1: Chapter 1
Harry woke to bright sunlight piercing through a gap in his hangings. He lay there content, not thinking, just enjoying the comfort. Something nagged at the edge of his mind, but he pushed it away; he was far too comfortable for any hard thinking. It had been a long time since he'd had a good sleep and he'd been exhausted. Thinking that, he knew it to be true but he couldn't remember what had caused his exhaustion. Casting his mind back he tried to recall what he'd done earlier. Nothing came to him; his mind was hazy and slipped like mist through his groping fingers. It was sort of like he'd taken a rather strong dose of Sleeping Potion. If he had though, surely that would suggest he'd gone through some traumatic experience. Ron would know.
With a sigh he reached out and grabbed his glasses, swinging his legs over the side of the bed. He looked around the room. Strangely, it was empty except for him. 'Ah well,' he reasoned, 'Ron would probably be spending some time with Hermione now that they'd finally sorted that out.' As he thought this, the block gave and the memories came pouring back. He recalled the day before, the fierce battle and the many lost. He groaned, feeling as if his brain had been repeatedly hit with a Bludger, as guilt sprung up inside him. How could he have forgotten even momentarily? How could he have been sleeping peacefully while around him, families had been torn apart?
For his sake, no less.
They had let him sleep, probably even caused it. He felt slightly hurt but maybe Ron just needed some time to recover without seeing the indirect cause of his brother's death walking around. Fred. He turned the name over in his mind. It felt strange saying just Fred, as he'd always been associated with his twin. Now that was no longer the case. He wouldn't see them laughing together, executing some perfect prank. No longer would they grin at each other, finish the other's sentence and generally confuse everyone listening to them. No, now there was only one. He couldn't comprehend that.
Rubbing at his eyes, he got dressed quickly, grabbing his Invisibility Cloak and slipping it on. He didn't want to see the accusing stares of the bereaved. Not just yet. He descended to the common room. The atmosphere of the few students inside was subdued. Ron and Hermione were curled up near the fire. Harry paused for a moment, considering joining them, before pulling away. No, they had each other, he didn't want to intrude. Slipping out the portrait hole, he walked off, not noticing the glance Hermione sent at the closing door. He didn't know where he was going and let his feet lead the way. He passed others like him, wandering aimlessly around the school or staring vacantly out. Others, teachers and adults, among them several members of the Order, were beginning on repair work. He would join them later, helping to superficially heal what he had caused. For now, he needed time to himself.
He emerged onto the grounds, the bright morning sun streaming down on him. Judging by the sun it was still early in the day, which meant that he'd been asleep for almost a day. Walking a little further, he turned to look back at the castle. The extent of the damage was evident. Large portions were scarred and broken, others had collapsed. Around him were scorch marks burnt into the ground from the fighting. Had it been the right thing to do? To bring Voldemort here? He knew that he'd needed the Horcrux, but surely there must have been a way to avoid the carnage he'd caused by his presence. Turning, he continued his walk, eventually coming to a halt at the edge of the lake. He'd spent many hours with Ginny down here in happier times, though that seemed another life right now. He stared at the water, wondering what it would show him, but it merely reflected back the sky and mountains beyond. He removed his cloak and saw himself in his full distorted glory. It was a different person to whom he had been. His appearance was dishevelled and his eyes held the secrets of a man who had experienced a thousand horrors. But there was competence in those eyes, and looking deeper, a fiery determination. He sighed and continued walking along the edge of the lake, before plonking down against a tree. Here he sat, staring out at the rippling water and feeling the soft, soothing breeze upon his skin.
An indeterminable time later, he felt a presence besides him. He didn't turn or acknowledge them and neither did they speak. Instead, they simply sat by his side and joined his vigil.
He stared out across the waters, watching the breeze form ripples over the surface. Framed by the forest and the looming mountains beyond, it was a serene location and his mind found rest. His peace wasn't to last, though. The ripples moved and he became aware that the wind had changed direction. It now brought a new scent to his nose. A soft, flowery smell. Thoughts flashed through his mind: images of swirling red hair, an infectious smile, gleaming brown eyes.
Slowly, he turned his head to face her. Sensing his movement, she also returned his look. His breath caught in his throat but she didn't speak, merely waited. He'd wanted this for so long, spent much of the past year dreaming of seeing her, of speaking to her again but now that it was here, he didn't know where to begin.
"Ginny... I saw that curse miss you. I don't know how it did but... You're alright, though?"
She nodded mutely.
"Ginny, I'm... I'm so sorry. For Fred, for everything. I... He..."
"Harry." Her voice was calm and steady and her eyes had become fierce, despite the tears now trickling down her cheeks. "It's not your fault he or anyone else died. We miss him terribly, but please don't try and blame yourself."
"I was there, Gin. He was fighting in my defence. I didn't even lift a hand to help him..."
"He was with George and Percy, not alone. And you had to finish your task. Besides, what could you have done? It wasn't even a specific attack against him."
"But if I hadn't..." Again, he was cut off before he could finish
"If you hadn't fought you mean? You really think that this was all about you? That they were fighting for you? They weren't Harry."
"But they came, because I was there and I needed help."
"You may have been the figurehead of resistance but you weren't the cause of it. No, Fred died fighting against fear and oppression; for freedom, friends and family. If you hadn't been involved, he still would have fought. So don't blame yourself for assisting him."
Harry was silent. There was nothing he could say in response to that; he knew she was right. And it was an immense relief to hear someone speak it aloud. To reassure him with such calm logic that he'd had no other choice and shouldn't blame himself. It felt like a large weight had been taken off his shoulders and finally, all the emotion that had been bottled up inside him burst forth and he was crying as well.
"What am I to do now, Gin? All my life has been leading up to this and now it's over. I've got no family left, nowhere to live except an old house filled with memories of Sirius. I feel so lost."
"Oh, Harry!" And she gathered him into a tight hug and for a while that was all there was.
"We're your family, Harry. You're coming back to stay with us. You would have already been living with us for several years if Dumbledore had allowed. Mum explained last year." She seemed to brighten at the prospect.
"But your mum. She's just lost Fred and I wouldn't feel right intruding upon such an..."
"Important family occasion? Please Harry, that is exactly why she needs you there. Don't you see? To her, you're her son and she really needs her family, blood or adopted, there with her."
Harry felt a small smile creep onto his face. The prospect of having a family after all these years was amazing. This was what he'd wanted more than anything, what the Dursleys had been unable to provide and what Sirius had wanted to before Voldemort destroyed that family as well. But hearing it from just Ginny didn't convince him she spoke for her whole family. Not that there was any point arguing the fact with her.
"Harry?" she asked in a small voice and he realised he'd zoned out. "It's almost lunch time and you haven't eaten for almost a day. Come on, let's head back up to the Hall."
The thought of food made his mouth water. He rose and allowed himself to be led back up to the castle. The Great Hall was fairly full with a mixture of adults and students. People intermingled at tables and house differences were non-existent. Many of them began whispering as Harry entered the Hall.
"You'd think they'd at least try and be somewhat subtle about the stares," he complained as Ginny led him to a seat alongside Ron and Hermione.
"What did you expect? You're their hero."
"Harry!" exclaimed Hermione as she wrapped him in a hug. "We hadn't seen you all morning and were starting to get worried."
"Well, she was. I knew you'd be right," responded Ron with a smile. "I may have started her though, when I suggested you'd done a runner. But blimey, how did you disappear so easily?"
"Ah, that'd be right. Still, we couldn't find you. We just had to trust that Ginny would know where to look."
"Hermione told me that you'd gone and suggested I might have more luck finding you," she explained, shrugging.
"Smart girl, that one," Harry responded with a smile.
Thankfully, the stares and whispering had mostly died down by this stage.
"I was asleep for a long time." Ron and Hermione exchanged glances. "Almost as if I'd been smuggled a Sleeping Potion?"
"Harry." It was Hermione that spoke. "You were dead on your feet, unlikely to sleep and too stubborn to let others help sort things out. Please, you needed the rest."
"I was not dead on my feet! Maybe a little tired. And I am not too stubborn..."
"Harry, you are. I'm sorry we went behind your back but honestly, you needed it. And please don't blame Kreacher, he didn't want to do it, but I convinced him it was the best thing for you."
Damn Hermione. She was too logical and he didn't have the strength for an argument. He stabbed moodily at his plate, then sighed and looked up.
"You're right, sorry. Thanks for taking care of me."
And with that the group relaxed. The rest of lunch was uneventful and relatively subdued, but once it was over, Ron spoke up.
"So Harry, what now? Are you going to join us with the repair work?"
"I think you should," joined Ginny.
"Yeah, I think I might. Try and repair some of the damage I caused."
"Harry..." The warning in Hermione's voice was clear.
"Ok, some of the damage we caused. Who would've thought? Hermione intentionally damaging the school." The others grinned. Small grins but grins nevertheless. A sign that they could get through this and that things could return to normal.
As the group marched out of the Hall, Harry was extremely grateful that he had such friends who would always be there to help him through.
A/N: So there it is. My first completed writing. Massive thanks to xtinjsc for her help, without whom this would be much delayed and probably in much worse shape. Please let me know what you thought and whether you enjoyed it. If enough people like it, I will expand the storyline.
Update: Thanks for the support! This story is now being expanded. Hope you enjoy it!