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Healing by 1917farmgirl
Chapter 7 : Stumbling Blocks
 
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Chapter 6: "Stumbling Blocks" 

“Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.”

- African Proverb

*****

Standing at the window of St. Mungo’s Tea Room, George stared through the magical glass at the rooftops of London spread out before him without really seeing them at all. In fact, he had no real recollection of actually arriving in that spot to begin with, let alone why he would want to look at a bunch of dingy roofs through the perpetual London fog. After listening to that bloody Healer throw Fred’s whole world out of kilter, though, he just knew he had to get out. Out of that room, out of the presence of his family, away from Fred and his desperate attempt to hide his fear… He just needed to be anywhere but there before the anger that was suddenly burning through him exploded.

He’d stormed from the room and through the halls, not even aware of where he was going. After who-knew-how-many slammed doors and harsh comments from Healers and orderlies, and perhaps one or two pieces of upturned furniture, he’d wound up here, standing in front of a window he didn’t even want to look out of, his arms crossed and a glare on his face that warned of severe harm to anyone who dared to approach him.

He was just so angry! After losing Fred and then miraculously getting him back, against all the odds, he’d been so sure he was prepared to handle whatever happened as a result but apparently that had been a lie. He’d heard that Healer utter the word blind and just lost it. A million thoughts crashed into his brain with no way to stop them. Thoughts of never playing Quidditch together again, a pair of unstoppable Beaters… Realizing he’d never again glance at his twin and have whole conversations in an instant… No more catching each other’s eye to share a joke across a crowded room…

How could the universe do that to Fred? Sentence him to a life without sight? After everything they’d done and been through? It was just so bloody unfair!

“Not much of a view.”

George whirled at the unexpected voice from beside him, ready to verbally decimate the speaker for intruding, only to stop short.

“There are really much better windows around this place for brooding,” Augusta Longbottom continued, completely oblivious to George’s shocked expression and graciously ignoring the fact that he was gaping at her like a fish. “I could show you where they are, if you’re interested.”

She didn’t speak again, just stood there gazing out that blasted window instead of at him until he felt he had no choice but to say something in return.

“Look, Mrs. Longbottom, I don’t mean to be rude or anything, but I’m really not in the mood for company,” he said, re-crossing his arms and turning away slightly.

“That’s usually when you need it the most, lad,” she replied matter-of-factly.

George scoffed, pulling his arms tighter around himself. “What I need is a magical Do-Over switch,” he bit out, seeing Fred’s bandage-wrapped eyes in his mind.

“Wars don’t have Do-Over switches, George Weasley,” said Mrs. Longbottom bluntly, finally turning to look at him. “Wars don’t clean up nicely. They stop. They might be won. They might even be called victories, but they don’t have happy endings, not really.”

“Thanks,” said George bitterly. “If you’re trying to give me a pep talk, it’s bloody lousy.”

“I said wars don’t have happy endings, George. I never said life couldn’t.”

George turned and looked at the small, old woman next to him, frowning deeply and wondering exactly how a woman in such a ridiculous hat could be making him this peeved. And how she could sound so experienced at the same time.

“Let me guess, your brother’s lying in a bed somewhere in this hospital and you’ve just been told less than pleasant news about his future, correct?”

George didn’t answer, just glared. Mrs. Longbottom, however, seemed unfazed. “And now you’ve decided you’re entitled to stand here and curse the world because it’s been cruel and callous? Well, young man, I’ve some news for you: the world and most everyone in it doesn’t care one iota about your brother. So you’d best get over it.”

Her blunt words shocked the glare right off George’s face and he felt his anger roaring back, but the little woman went on before he could form a nasty enough reply.

“George,” she said, suddenly changing her tactic as she moved a little behind them to a table, “come here and sit down.” She gestured to a seat as she took one herself. George wanted to say no, in rather colorful language, but she’d said it in that tone of voice his mother used when it wasn’t a suggestion and somehow his feet just followed orders and carried him to the table.

“I know what you’re feeling, lad,” she said in a softer voice as he slouched petulantly in the chair.

“How could you?” he spat. He was being horribly rude, to someone he’d never even really spoken to before, but he honestly didn’t care. Fred was blind, would probably never see again, and this woman had the gall to intrude on his brood and then tell him she understood?

“Late one November night, several months after the horrible events that cost young Harry Potter his family, my son and his wife were home enjoying a rare evening alone. You-Know-Who had been defeated, at least we thought so at the time, and peace and safety had returned to our world after months of terror, horror and pain. Frank and Alice, Aurors both of them, had been in the thick of it for the entire War, and for the first time in months they’d planned a night off to spend together. I even offered to mind little Neville so they wouldn’t be interrupted.”

Mrs. Longbottom’s words were firm and measured, but there was no missing the undercurrent of sorrow they also carried. As she spoke, George found himself listening intently despite his best efforts. He’d always known Neville was raised by his grandmother, but he’d never seen the need to question why. Now he had the grim feeling he was about to find out.

“They were supposed arrive back at my house to retrieve Neville in the morning as I had other obligations the next day, but they were late. I was slightly annoyed, but it was the first alone time they’d had in almost a year so I tried to be understanding. The day dragged on, however, until after several hours of waiting, just when worry was really starting to set in, someone appeared at my doorstep: Alastor Moody, head of the Auror Department. He came to tell me there’d been another attack.”

She paused and looked right at him, deep into his eyes and George found he couldn’t look away. There, far beneath the surface, hidden behind the mask she allowed the world to see everyday, George saw a well of great pain. He sucked in a breath in shock, recognizing it because it was exactly the kind of pain he was currently lost in.

“The War was over, George,” said Mrs. Longbottom quietly, still holding his gaze. “It had been for weeks! Everything was supposed to be safe once more. But here was the head of my son’s department standing on my porch and telling me how very sorry he was, that they’d catch the ones responsible if they had to chase them to the ends of the earth, that Frank and Alice had fought like heroes. And the truth was I didn’t care. I wanted to hex him, curse him with every nasty jinx I had ever learned, and then slam the door and pretend I hadn’t just had my son ripped away from me.”

“Who killed them?” asked George quietly, finding his own rage melting away.

“Rodolphus and Bellatrix Lestrange, attacked them, with others,” replied Mrs. Longbottom. “Which reminds me that I really need to send my thanks to your mother, but that’s beside the point. You’ve misunderstood something, George. Frank and Alice weren’t killed. No, they’re still very much alive.”

“But then, why…?” stammered George, confused.

“They’re insane – tortured with the Cruciatus Curse to the point they lost their minds. They live here in the long-term ward now, which means I’ve spent many, many hours in this hospital as I’ve visited them.”

George straightened, really listening.

“George, I don’t know what they told you about your twin, what bad news you’re trying to deal with, but can I give you some advice from someone with a little experience? You may always feel like cursing the world, and you will always wish there was a way to, as you put it earlier, ‘do things over.’ But you also have to realize that’s never going to happen, which means you have a choice to make. You can live life forever brooding on the past, wishing for things that you cannot change and facing the world with that impressive rage you’ve got day after day. Or you can let it go and learn to live again. Wars might end, and with them many other things, but life doesn’t, not if you don’t let it. Yes, I wish every day that the attack on my son and his wife hadn’t happened, but I also thank the heavens each and every day that they’re still alive. Yes, they’re changed and different, not the same as they used to be, but Frank is still my son and Alice still my daughter-in-law – they’re still Neville’s parents. Just because things are different doesn’t mean I can’t still love them just as much, and I know they somehow understand that love. The same goes for you, George. Your brother’s alive, isn’t he?”

George nodded, finding himself for once in his life rather at a loss for words.

“And he’s still your brother, isn’t he, no matter what’s changed?”

He nodded again, feelings welling up inside his chest.

“Then why should any of the rest matter in the least?”

Traitorous tears George desperately didn’t want to let fall pricked the corners of his eyes and he looked away from Mrs. Longbottom, gazing instead back out the gloomy window. “Thanks,” he finally said after several long moments. “I reckon I needed to hear that.”

A wrinkled, leathery hand reached out and patted his briskly – once, then twice – and then its owner stood, straightening her stunningly awful hat. “We’ll, I’m going to purchase a cup of the bilge this place likes to try and pass off as tea and then I really must be on with my visit. But, George, I meant what I said. Look me up if you want the secrets of the best places to have a good fit in St. Mungo’s. I’d be happy to share, one brooder to another.”

She left abruptly after that, not giving him a chance to think of a reply let alone utter it. He shook his head, standing and turning back to the window in almost the exact spot he’d occupied before the strange and unexpected interruption from the formidable little witch in the stuffed-vulture hat. His feelings and emotions were still a mess but something was different, the rage was gone. Disappointment, stunned disbelief, overpowering sorrow – those all remained, but there were other emotions stirring again as well.

Almost without thought, he reached a hand up to the hole where his left ear used to be, fingering it absently. It still pained him occasionally, and he’d noticed some hearing loss on that side, but not enough to bother anyone about. Compared to the loss Fred was facing it was miniscule, but still… They’d lost things before and survived. Perhaps they could manage this blow as well.

The fog outside lifted slightly and he had a clearer view of the city. It struck him that just looking out at those rooftops below was something Fred would never get to do again and suddenly, they didn’t seem so dingy and unimportant.

Those blasted tears were back, stinging his eyes, and he turned his back on the room in a half-hearted attempt to save some of his dignity. This wasn’t going to be easy, this blindness crap, and so much was going to change now, but he knew it was going to be a heck of a lot easier for him than for Fred. So, he was going to stand there until he got himself put back together again, and then he was going to go back to that room and start learning to be the eyes for two people.

*****

The door was old and solid, a hold-over and remnant from many years of history. Generations of magical leaders had sat behind its imposing presence. An ornate, golden plaque had been added to its surface in recent years.

Bill Weasley, fist poised in the air to knock, stared at that door, a grin creeping over his scarred face.

The ostentatious plaque had originally born the phrase “Pius Thicknesse: Minister of Magic,” but someone, using indelible ink, had improved on it. It now read “Prissy Thickhead: Former Minister of Magic, Current Dead Death Eater.” Directly underneath someone had taped a piece of parchment with a crude, handwritten sign on it that read “Office of Kingsley Shacklebolt: Interim Minister of Magic – Good luck catching him actually in this room.”

Bill read it three more times, shaking his head as his smile grew. It was a silly, simple little thing but somehow very reassuring. Anyone of the several men who had sat in this office in the last few years would have made putting up a new gold sign on that door a top priority on their to-do list. The fact that Kingsley had more important things to do than get his name engraved in gold… It was about time they had a leader like that.

Still smiling broadly, Bill let his fist finish its journey and rapped loudly on the wooden door.

“Come in,” Kingsley’s deep voice rang out.

Bill turned the knob and walked into the office, right into a glorious mess. Books and parchments were stacked in haphazard piles everywhere – on the desk, in the corners, spilling out of open drawers. Some of them reached to the ceiling. Bill accidentally brushed past one on his way in and it teetered alarmingly.

Kingsley looked up from the small clear space on his desk where he was working on something and swiftly pulled out his wand, firing a hasty spell at the traitorous pile. It quivered, but stayed standing.

“Filing cabinet explode?” asked Bill wryly, glancing around as his grin only continued to grow.

“You don’t even want to know,” sighed Kingsley, shaking his head.

“I like the sign,” added Bill, nodding over his shoulder as he shut the door behind him.

“Guess who’s responsible for that decorating touch?” prodded Kingsley, leaning back in his chair as his deep, resonate laugh filled the small room.

“I would have suspected Fred and George in a heartbeat if I didn’t know exactly where they’ve been since the Battle,” said Bill, curiosity spiking.

“Oh, it was a Weasley all right, just not the ones you’re thinking of,” chuckled Kingsley. “Your brother Percy did that.”

“Percy!” stammered Bill, shocked. “Percy Weasley? Our Percy?”

“Yes, your Percy,” said Kingsley, using his wand to clear a stack of crumbling folders off the only other chair in the room and gesturing for Bill to sit down. “His tribute to Fred, actually,” he continued, sobering. “That’s one of the reasons I’ve left it there, that and the fact I haven’t been in this building long enough to really worry about it yet. You’ll notice he still managed to get a subtle hint in there that I really ought to be spending a little more time in this office.”

Bill sat in the offered seat, his thoughts drifting to his family. Percy had been working to reconnect with them since the Battle, but Bill knew it wasn’t easy for him. There were years of issues and feelings that didn’t go away in one moment of elation and forgiveness. And their prodigal son and brother was still himself, still Percy; Bill knew he still very much felt like a square peg in their rather round family. He was living at the Burrow again, to help out and because he knew it was what their mum needed at the moment, and he’d made an effort to visit Fred regularly, but Bill could still see how uncomfortable and out-of-place his brother often felt. And how guilty, especially around Fred. Heck, he could almost give Harry a run for his money in the guilt department. At this rate, they’d have to book the both of them for counseling before too long. Still, seeing Percy’s extremely visible tribute to his brother touched Bill greatly.

“I always knew he had more Weasley in him than he liked to admit,” said Bill softly. “I’ll be sure to tell Fred. He’ll love it.”

“I heard about Fred’s eyes, Bill. I’m very sorry,” said Kingsley seriously. “How’s he doing?”

“I think he’s still in shock, actually; we all are really. This is going to take a lot of adjustment, and I’m not sure it’s really sunk in yet.”

“You know, if there’s anything I can do, don’t hesitate to ask. This world and the Order owe a lot to the Weasley family.”

“Thanks,” said Bill, grateful for the offer, knowing it came from Kingsley as a friend and not an obligatory statement because he was Minister.

“I still wish I didn’t have to drag you all back out into the thick of it again so soon,” continued Kingsley wearily. “You should be with Fred right now, not out risking your lives once more.”

“We knew what we were signing up for and you know it, Kingsley. And I seem to recall Weasleys in the Order even before you, Mr. Minister,” said Bill, giving the older man a slightly cheeky grin. “Besides, you didn’t drag us into anything, we volunteered. We’re in this for the long haul and we’ll all take a break once we know the danger’s really gone.”

“Well, I will say this then – people sometimes hint there’s more Weasleys than should be allowed, but I wish I had two dozen more. We’d be lost without the lot of you.”

“Be careful what you wish for, Minister,” laughed Bill. “You do realize I have five brothers, all old enough to marry now… In a couple years you could be swimming in Weasleys.”

“Is that an announcement?” Kingsley shot back, returning the grin as he leaned forward on his desk. “Should I be sending congratulations to Fleur?”

“What? No!” said Bill hastily. “Not yet, at any rate.”

Kingsley laughed again, the sound filling the room, and Bill thought perhaps he was enjoying this little break from all the worry of his new job to chat with an old friend. It didn’t last long, however, as he sobered rather quickly.

“So, what brings you here, Bill?” the Minister asked. “I noticed you haven’t been out there with us for the last few days. What’s going on?”

“I’ve actually come to ask for a little official help,” admitted Bill, leaning forward on the chair and getting down to business. “For Harry.”

Kingsley let out a sigh at the mention of the boy’s name. “Harry,” he said, something akin sadness in his voice. “If there’s anyone who deserves a break from this continued madness it’s that boy. I hate that I can’t give it to him but the truth is we need him out there. He’s good – bloody good – and I’m in no position at the moment to be choosy.”

“He wouldn’t take it even if you could give it to him, and you know that.”

“I know, but that doesn’t make it right. The boy has more Defense experience and skills than ninety-five percent of my Auror Corps, or what’s left of them at least, and a logical head on his shoulders to boot. I haven’t told him this, but I’d induct him into the Auror Corps tomorrow and waive the training, but I’m not sure that’s what he really wants...or needs,” he added after a moment.

“Honestly, Kingsley, he’s so lost right now I’m not sure he knows what he wants,” answered Bill truthfully, thinking of the dark-haired boy who had become like another little brother to him. He knew Harry was hurting – his whole family could see it radiating off him like some sort of sorrowful pulse – and it was madding that they didn’t know what to do to help him. They did the only thing they could think of – surround him with family so he knew he wasn’t alone and keep a wary eye on him.

“What’s going on that you need my help for, then?”

“It’s Gringotts actually. I’ve tried every route and official string I can pull, but they’re being complete idiots about it.”

“About what?” said Kingsley with a frown.

“Harry’s accounts. They’ve locked them and banned Harry from accessing them, or even entering the bank. The kid can’t even withdraw a Knut.”

“What?” cried Kingsley, his eyes narrowing. “The hero of the Wizarding World and they’ve barred him from entering?”

“It gets worse,” said Bill grimly. “They’re even considering legal action against him because of that break-in he pulled off to find the Horcrux, and being typical thick-headed, treasure-centered goblins they aren’t listening to a word I say in his defense. I’m doing the only thing I can think of that’s left to me – going over their heads.”

“What I want to know is why no one told me about this until now!” demanded Kingsley, standing and collecting his cloak from the top of a pile of what looked suspiciously like Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes products. With an inner grin, Bill decided not to tell.

“Because he’s Harry!” he replied, shrugging his shoulders as he got to his feet as well. “He didn’t even come to me with the problem until three days ago. The kid’s been living out of his pack for almost a year; he figured a bit longer wouldn’t hurt and he didn’t want to bother anyone.”

“Has anyone ever bothered to tell that boy that it’s okay to need help? And to ask for it?” sighed Kingsley, shaking his head in frustration.

“You’ve met his relatives,” said Bill grimly. “I reckon you can figure that one out on your own.”

“Well, I reckon it’s about time this world started doing something for the boy who saved our collective posteriors,” said Kingsley, sounding more than a little menacing as he flicked out the light with his wand and moved through the piles to the door.

“Couldn’t agree more,” replied Bill with a wide grin. “Should I inform my boss that Gringotts will be getting an official visit from the Minister of Magic today?”

“What? And ruin all the fun? No, I say let’s make it a surprise.”

*****

“…and I think we should try Apparating to Melbourne tomorrow,” said Hermione as she sat on the edge of her hotel bed, busily organizing her bag for the next day.

Ron gave a distracted mumble as he approached his bed with caution, only half listening to her.

“I’d like to take a look in their library…”

Wand raised warily in his right hand, Ron reached out with his left and jerked the pillow to the side, eyes focused for sudden movement.

Nothing.

“…just think it might be the sort of city my parents would gravitate to, y’know?”

Nerves on edge for battle, Ron reached out again and this time grasped the covers on his bed. He took a deep breath and then yanked them backwards, baring the sheets underneath.

Again, nothing.

“…have a wonderful university there, and Dad always liked to live close to…”

He paused, thinking hard. Just because he couldn’t see them didn’t mean they weren’t there, watching him. That bloody book had said they were elusive. He eyed the dark edge of the bed where the covers met the floor suspiciously, fighting the urge to back away.

“Ron, are you even listening to me?” Hermione’s rather exasperated voice broke into his thoughts.

“Yeah, Melbourne, tomorrow. Got it,” he muttered distractedly, getting down on his knees slowly and forcing himself to approach the bed. He took a deep breath, then flipped the bed-skirt up and muttered a Lumos at the space under the mattress.

Still nothing. Well, almost nothing.

Ron reached out and picked up the Deluminator, eyeing it curiously. He didn’t remember packing it, but then he hadn’t really thought much about what he was shoving into his suitcase either. Good thing he’d looked down here, he thought as he pocketed it absent-mindedly. He would have hated to leave it behind.

So, they weren’t in the bed, and they weren’t under the bed. He was feeling a little better, but still…

“Should we pack a lunch for tomorrow or…”

In the closet. That’s the one place he hadn’t checked yet, and it was dark and closed in, just like that book had said they liked.

Face set, Ron walked toward the little closet, wand at the ready. He reached out and grasped the doorknob, counted to three silently in his head, and then yanked hard.

“Ronald Bilius Weasley! What in Merlin’s name are you doing?”

As the closet door banged loudly into the wall, Ron looked wide-eyed at his girlfriend. All three names definitely required his full attention.

“Um…”

Hermione just sat there, crossing her arms as she raised an eyebrow.

“Looking for spiders,” he mumbled.

“Spiders?” she repeated.

He nodded. “This ruddy country has at least a dozen of them that can kill you, y’know.”

“In the closet?”

“It said they like dark places!” he said, feeling the need to defend his actions.

“What said? Where have you been getting this information? You didn’t act like this last night, or any of the other nights we’ve been here?” asked Hermione, narrowing her eyes at him.

Ron mumbled something, looking at his shoes.

“I didn’t quite catch that, Ronald,” replied Hermione briskly.

“From a book,” sighed Ron slightly louder, as if admitting to some horrible crime.

“A book?” said Hermione, surprised. “You? Reading?”

“Well, what else was I supposed to do, sitting in that bloody library day after day while you did brilliant and confusing stuff with that Muggle kerputer? Not like I’m any help to you! There was this book sitting there, facts about Australia… Wasn’t too big, had a lot of pictures…”

Nasty, full color, high magnification pictures, he couldn’t help reminding himself with a small shudder. It was the first time he’d been grateful Muggle pictures didn’t move.

“And this book told you there were spiders living in the closet?” she pressed, incredulously.

Ron shook his head, exasperated with Hermione and her refusal to get it. “No, Hermione,” he said rather grouchily. “It told me there are an insane amount of blasted spiders in this freaky country, and that the little buggers can show up anywhere! And guess what else I learned – most of them are poisonous to boot!”

Hermione sighed. “Did the book also tell you that no one’s died from a spider bite in Australia in years? That spiders are more scared of you than you are of them and would rather run away than bite you?”

More scared of me than I was of them? Ron thought with a scoff. Not bloody likely. “Says who?” he asked, crossing his arms and glaring at her.

“Says any number of official and educated sources,” replied Hermione. “So you can stop acting like there are miniature Death Eaters in our room that are going to jump out and get you.”

Personally, Ron would take Death Eaters over spiders any day. Death Eaters were large, they were generally easy to see, and they didn’t run across your face with no warning in the middle of the night.

“Ron,” said Hermione, a little softer and with less exasperation, “just go shower. And try not to use all the hot water this time.”

Giving a long-suffering sigh and not letting go of his wand, Ron closed the closet door and gathered up his pajamas. It was when he reached down for his comb that had fallen in the space behind the chair that he saw it. It was sitting there, calmly watching him, on the carpet just below the window.

He froze, unable to think, unable the breath, unable to move. All he could do was stare at it while its eight beady little eyes stared back, almost mocking him.

Suddenly, a hand holding one of his trainers descended through his field of vision, completely obliterating the little monster. He blinked rapidly for a few moments then stood up, face burning with embarrassment at his reaction.

Shaking her head slightly, Hermione smiled at him. “Go shower, Ron. I’ll check the rest of the room while you’re gone. And for the record,” she said as she handed him the trainer she had just wiped off with a tissue, “a shoe makes a much better weapon against a spider than a wand. Just a thought.”

Not when they’re four feet tall, he felt like replying but didn’t. Instead, he picked his way to the loo, eyes never leaving the floor and wand still gripped between his fingers.

*****

Eyes glowing like embers from Hell, Voldemort lowered his wand and stepped away from the corpse. He turned toward him, an easy smile on his snake-like face.

“Are you ready to give up yet, Potter?” he asked calmly, pointing to the long form of Fred Weasley stretched out on the ground at his feet.

Harry’s mind was reeling, stunned by having just watched Voldemort slaughter one of his friends, but he forced himself not to betray his emotions. “No, Tom,” he said firmly, not lowering his own wand as he faced his enemy. “I’ll never give up.”

With a casual shrug, the Dark Lord gestured lazily toward one of his minions, who stepped forward and tossed a second body on the ground next to Fred’s. “What about now?” countered Voldemort calmly, pointing gleefully to the tiny form.

Harry’s heart stopped; he couldn’t breath. Time itself seemed to freeze. Ginny! That was Ginny! He stared at her pale skin and long, brilliantly red hair. Saw her brown eyes, once so full of life and love, now vacant and empty. This was all wrong! This was not supposed to happen! She couldn’t be dead!

“NO!” he screamed. A jet of red light erupted from his wand, catching the Dark Lord square in the chest. But, then, it simply fizzled and disappeared.

Voldemort cackled.

“A Stun spell, Potter?” he taunted. “I killed your little girlfriend and her brother and all you can offer is a Stun spell? I expected so much more from the ‘Chosen One’. Shall I kill another? Your beloved blood-traitor side-kick perhaps?”

Rage, hot and savage, burned through Harry as he screamed a second spell, this time sending a blast of green light from the tip of his wand. With vindictive pleasure, he watched as Voldemort fell to the ground, his taunting laugh finally silenced. Panting, Harry stood there, reveling in the sight.

“You killed him, Harry,” said McGonagall sadly.

Startled, he jerked around to find himself surrounded.

“An Unforgivable, Harry,” said Lupin, shaking his head, disappointment in his eyes.

“At least I only killed the snake, Harry,” put in Neville.

“You’re a murderer now, Harry,” added Mr. Weasley. “You killed Tom, and Ginny, and Fred.”

“No, I didn’t kill them!” cried Harry, desperately holding back tears as he looked again to the bodies of his friends lying on the ground. “Voldemort killed them! I had no choice! I had to kill him or he would have killed the rest of you!”

No one answered and suddenly the rest of the Weasleys were gathered there, great disappointment in their eyes. As one, they turned their backs to him and began to walk away, not speaking.

“Wait! No, please come back! He killed Ginny! I didn’t have a choice!”

“Goodbye, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley called over her shoulder to him. “I won’t have a murderer living under my roof.”

“No! Please! Please don’t leave! I’m sorry! I’m sorry about Fred! I’m sorry about Ginny! Come back! I don’t want to be alone anymore! Please!”

The last scream still on his lips, Harry jerked up in bed, shaking and sweating. Chest heaving from the vivid nightmare, he sat there panting and trembling for several long minutes before he shoved the tangled covers off his legs and swung them to the floor. Fighting the desire to retch, he leaned forward on his knees and ran fingers through his sweaty hair as he fought to control his ragged breathing.

That was the third nightmare this week and definitely the most vivid so far. He’d thought his sleep might be uninterrupted now that he’d ejected Voldemort from his head, but apparently his own brain was perfectly capable of torturing him on its own.

Shakily, he got to his feet and moved to gaze out Ron’s window at the dark night below. Sleep wasn’t coming back anytime soon, not with him trembling like a leaf and still panting as though he’d run a footrace. He might as well put the time to good use planning moves for the long day of Death Eater chasing ahead of him.

Morosely, Harry wondered if winning was always supposed to make you this tired.


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