Chapter 1 : Autumn & Ashes
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Autumn & Ashes
He dropped to his knees at the edge of forest, his stomach churning with misery and regret. He wanted to vomit - to cry and to forget - but the powers above wouldn’t let him. He knew he had to pull himself together…too many people were depending on him. He was their sanctity, their hero, but he just wanted silence.
He had retreated here, the only true place he had ever considered home. The war hadn’t come to Hogwarts until its final days but when it came, it came with a vengeance. It shattered history, destroyed lives, and filled the once regal halls with death and despair. The ravage of war had done little to the structure itself and most of those displaced and left homeless by the tragedy of Voldemort had sought refuge within its walls. It was here that Harry had retreated, trying to piece back the remnants of his own personal hell. But that was not to be.
When he had first arrived, the scene had overwhelmed him. Parents clutching their dead children in their arms; fathers walking aimlessly as they searched for members of their family; children, students he had gone to school with, all trying desperately to make some sense of the tragedy that had befallen them so suddenly.
He took control as he always had – finding food, clothing, reuniting families wherever he could. But for every family he brought back together, he also had to bring the news of death to another mother. The children were the worst for him. He understood their pain more than anyone else…a lifetime of grief and questions lay ahead of them. If only they had had more warning, it only there had been a little more time…
Harry shook himself as he sank down onto the cold, dew covered grass. The dark clouds gathering over the horizon reminded him that winter would be setting in soon and arrangements would have to be made for those still without homes. Hogwarts would remain their safe-haven as long as possible but even the most destitute witch and wizard needed a home to call their own. “’lo, Fawkes.”
Dumbledore’s phoenix had returned to Hogwarts mere days after Harry’s arrival. Perhaps it knew his loneliness or perhaps it hoped to help. But even Fawkes could not save those that had perished. He remained good company for Harry, though, keeping him going even in the darkest hours when the graveyard became overfilled and the medical supplies ran low. Fawkes would disappear briefly during those times but never failed to return with the needed supplies and manpower Harry so desperately needed. It was only through the generosity of the outside world that the people of Hogwarts would be able to survive. Fawkes strengthened him and gave him courage to get through the toughest moments, but nothing could ease the ache that rose with each rare moment of solitude Harry managed.
His hours remained filled most of the day and long into the night. But it was times like this; times at midnight when the memories started to haunt his dreams that escape was his only recourse. They all haunted him – flashes of their faces would tear into his soul when he least expected it. Ron, whom he hadn’t seen in over a year, and didn’t know whether he was alive or dead since disappearing on the trail of the Death Eaters that killed his parents; Hermione, who had last been seen in the clutches of Lucius Malfoy and was feared dead; and Ginny, his Ginny.
Harry could almost smell her presence with him with each waking moment. Over the stench of death and mold and stale air that parched his mouth, he would catch a single whiff of the soft floral scent that could only be Ginny. He would turn to look every time… as a fool that had lost his way might turn in circles to find his direction.
More than anything - more than the death; the flood of blood that had been shed; the loss of homes, neighborhoods, and belongings - it was the unknown that terrified Harry most. Not knowing whether his friends were alive or dead, not knowing if they were out there somewhere, desperately clinging to life waiting on him to rescue them…those were the things that tore at his soul.
Harry could feel the tears starting to sting his eyes and pulled himself to his feet. He couldn’t allow himself time to mourn now and he couldn’t waste time wondering about their fates. Hungry and shattered people were waiting on him, relying on him, and he refused to let them down. He would go on, even not knowing what the future held, he would persevere. Autumn would turn to winter, ashes would cover with snow and the world would continue to spin as if their tragedy had never happened. But he would remember…they all would remember. And he would be their hero for as long as he could. It was, after all, the only thing he knew how to do.
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