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Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood by CambAngst
Chapter 4 : Losses
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 50

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OK, in this chapter we finally start to get to some of the interesting plot twists. I hope you enjoy it. I have about 3 more chapters complete already and I'll be posting them as quickly as the validation process allows. Thank you for reading. As always, the characters herein belong to JK Rowling.

Four Years Earlier

Harry regarded the stark interior of the Wizengamot chamber as they entered the room. It had always seemed a bit spartan, considering the magnitude of the decisions that were made there. The laws that governed wizarding Britain were debated here. The greatest disputes among witches and wizards were settled in this room. And lives were quite often made or broken.

Harry recalled his first experience before the council, when he was tried for using magic outside the school to save himself and Dudley from the dementors. Only Dumbledore’s influence had prevented him from being cast out of wizarding society by those who would not believe that Voldemort had returned. After he joined the Aurors, he became a frequent visitor. Harry had been a witness in the trial of every Death Eater that was sent to Azkaban for their role in the Second Wizarding War.

He had experienced a lot of success in this room and enjoyed some great moments of personal fulfillment. He only hoped that this day would end so well.

“This session of the Wizengamot shall come to order,” declared Chief Witch Athena Bagginthorpe, banging the gavel in front of her. The witches and wizards assembled before wizarding Britain’s highest court took their seats. All of the members of the Wizengamot were present to render their verdict in perhaps the highest profile trial since the last of the Death Eaters were tried. They regarded the three defendants seated before them gravely as the Chief Witch spoke.

“Will the defendants Harry James Potter, Ronald Bilius Weasley and Hermione Granger Weasley please rise.”

“Before this court hears closing arguments, we will offer the defendants one last chance to alter their pleas or offer any additional information that they might wish to divulge.”

Harry remained impassive, but he smiled ruefully on the inside. They’re practically begging, he mused to himself.

“My clients have no additional information beyond what has already been provided to this court, nor do they wish to change their pleas at this time,” replied Percy.

Percy had taken a leave of absence from the Ministry for the past several months to act as counsel for the trio. In spite of the fact that his specialty was international magical law and treaties, Percy had proven to be an excellent litigator. He had put in countless hours studying case law and learning the intricacies of trying a criminal case before the Wizengamot. Harry could not imagine anyone mounting a better defense.

“Very well,” Bagginthorpe sighed. “The defendants have pleaded not guilty to the intentional murder of one Edwin Michael Stoops, a muggle who was struck by the Killing Curse while in the custody of the muggle authorities in North London. The following facts of the case are not in dispute: First, that the deceased had been arrested by the muggle police for the crime of murdering one Ginevra Weasley Potter. Second, that unbeknownst to the muggle authorities, Mrs. Potter was a witch and the wife of defendant Harry Potter and the sister of defendant Ronald Weasley. Third, that no witness to this proceeding has been able to corroborate the whereabouts of any of the three defendants on the night when the deceased was struck by the Killing Curse. Fourth, that all three defendants were deeply distraught and angered by the death of Mrs. Potter. Fifth, that the magical abilities of all three defendants are known to be highly advanced so as to allow them to have penetrated the wards and protective spells cast around the muggle jail by the Aurors assigned to protect the deceased.”

“Pffft,” Harry let a small laugh escape under his breath. As Percy had clearly shown in his cross-examination of those Aurors, the wards were perfunctory and completely inadequate to protect such a high-profile target. It was embarrassing to think that his Aurors had been so careless. He and Ron definitely had some remedial training to do once this was all over.

“Mr. Potter,” the Chief Witch boomed, “with all due respect to your extensive experience in magical law enforcement, you will keep your opinions to yourself or be removed from this court. Is that clear?”

Harry silently cursed himself for his momentary loss of control. The Wizengamot chamber was charmed so that even the slightest statement by anyone in the room could be heard by the members of the Wizengamot. “Very clear, your honor. I apologize.”

Bagginthorpe paused for a moment before continuing. She looked as though she'd tasted a hint of something bitter. “Sixth, that the Aurors’ analysis of the crime scene demonstrated with certainty that only a single witch or wizard was present when the Killing Curse was cast. And seventh, that no eye-witness accounts or circumstantial evidence exists which can prove the identity of the witch or wizard who cast the curse.”

And there was the fatal flaw in the case. Three defendants, one killer. And not a shred of real evidence to prove that the killer sat among them, let alone which. Harry felt the bitterness rising in his throat. Why are we even sitting here? They can’t convict us on this rubbish and they know it.

“Will the prosecution please deliver its closing statement,” concluded Bagginthorpe, gesturing towards the prosecution table.

Prosecutor Rigel Barsamian rose to address the council, impeccably dressed and bursting with self-assurance. From the moment he was assigned to the case, he had zeroed in on Ron, Hermione and Harry. A more experienced prosecutor might have proceeded more cautiously, letting the Aurors take their time to pursue leads, collect evidence and see where the investigation led. Barsamian charged blindly forward, unshakable in his conviction that a circus trial under the blazing spotlights of the press would somehow shake loose the truth. He was the perfect tool for whoever had orchestrated it all, Harry reasoned. Young, ambitious and stupid.

“Members of the Wizengamot,” Barsamian began, “The heinous nature of this crime is apparent to each of you. You have all seen the images of the crime scene that were captured by the first Aurors to arrive. The Killing Curse that struck Edwin Stoops was so powerful that his body was incinerated. A hole eight inches deep and two feet in diameter was created in the concrete floor and the steel bars holding Mr. Stoops in his cell were partially melted. And make no mistake, Mr. Stoops was confined to a cell. He had no chance to flee. No ability to defend himself.”

Harry was barely paying attention, lost in thought. Whoever was behind the sham trial could have also engineered Ginny’s murder. Over the course of the trial, Harry’s Auror training and experience became a wall, keeping the flood of grief and loss from consuming him. He knew that he couldn’t keep his feelings at bay forever. Sooner or later, he would have to lower the wall and grieve. But that would have to wait until the business at hand was settled.

With Stoops dead, they’d never know for sure whether he was acting on someone else’s orders, either willingly or under the Imperius Curse. Worse still, the trial had kept him, Ron and Hermione away from the investigation while the evidence grew cold. It all felt very well planned, far too well for an idiot like Barsamian. Still, Barsamian seemed like a good place to start working his way back to the person pulling the strings. The tricky part would be finding out who without looking like he was using his position as Head Auror to pursue a vendetta against the arrogant young prosecutor. With patience and some well-placed inquiries, Harry reasoned that he could find out what Barsamian knew.

Harry returned his attention to the trial as Barsamian drew his wand for emphasis. “The witch or wizard who killed Mr. Stoops slaughtered him like an animal in a cage. He or she drew their wand, pointed it squarely at Mr. Stoops’s chest, and fired the Killing Curse with such force that the room was nearly destroyed.”

“This was the act of a powerful witch or wizard, ladies and gentlemen. An angry witch or wizard. A witch or wizard who looked at Mr. Stoops and saw the man who killed their best friend,” he gestured towards Hermione, “or their little sister,” he indicated Ron, “or their beloved wife,” he completed as the focus shifted to Harry.

Maybe if we all promise to buy his book when it comes out, he’ll shut up and we can go home, Harry mused grimly. Home. Harry shuddered to think about what awaited him there. It had been close to eight weeks since the three of them were taken into custody on the day after Ginny died. From what Harry could tell, the whole family had put its grieving on hold, gathering in a united front behind them. The Minister himself had approached Arthur to suggest a quick, quiet funeral for Ginny, but the family wouldn’t hear of it. Not while Ron, Hermione and Harry sat in jail. It warmed Harry’s shattered heart to see his family come together like this in their darkest hour, but he knew how badly all of them were hurting on the inside. There would be many tears to come.

“To convict the defendants in this case, you don’t have to believe that Mr. Stoops did nothing wrong. From all indications, the deceased was a violent, sociopathic man. He had a lengthy criminal record, including larceny, armed robbery and assault. The three defendants are certainly entitled to our deepest sympathy for their heartbreaking loss. But when you take the law into your own hands, you are crossing a line. The prosecution asks this court to find the defendants jointly and severally guilty of the crime of murder based on the evidence presented, based on their own statements, but most importantly based upon the inability, either collectively or individually, to provide this court with any credible accounting of their whereabouts on the night that Mr. Stoops was killed.”

“Thank you, Mr. Barsamian,” said the Chief Witch as the prosecutor returned to his seat. “Mr. Weasley?”

“Thank you, your honor,” replied Percy as he rose. He carefully positioned himself in front of the members. He had practiced for two days to deliver his closing argument, and he took a second to quickly go over the points in his mind. When he spoke, there was a deep conviction in his voice.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the defense is not here to dispute whether Harry, Ron and Hermione had a reason to loathe the deceased or to want to see him suffer for the loss that he inflicted upon their family. Ginny Potter was a wonderful woman, a loving wife and mother, a beloved sister of the Weasley family and a dear friend to all who knew her. The entire wizarding world was saddened by the news of her murder. It was a senseless, vile act.”

“Rather, the defense would simply point out that the law is unambiguous on the proof required to convict a witch or wizard of the crime of murder. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Honorable witches and wizards of the Wizengamot, that simply does not exist in this case. The prosecution has not presented a single witness who was able to place the defendants anywhere near the scene of the crime. Nor have they produced a shred of physical evidence to show that one of the three defendants cast the Killing Curse that ended the life of the deceased.”

“The fact that the defendants cannot corroborate their whereabouts on the night of the crime proves nothing. As the defendants stated while under oath, Mr. Potter was secluded in his home, attempting to mourn the loss of his wife away from the horde of reporters and photographers that have hounded him since her death. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were similarly attempting to hide from these shameless, unscrupulous profiteers as they consoled each other.”

“We are not here today to determine the guilt or innocence of Mr. Potter or Mr. and Mrs. Weasley,” stated Percy as he moved back towards the defense table. “That was obvious to anyone paying attention to the facts.”

“This entire inquisition has been mostly an attempt to advance the careers of certain wizards and witches within the Ministry” - Percy tilted his glance less than subtly towards the prosecution table - “as well as a misguided attempt to redirect the public outrage at the death of Mrs. Potter toward the very people who the wizarding world should be supporting in their darkest hour.”

Percy noted the nods coming from the spectators’ gallery with satisfaction. Time for the kill.

“Forty-three years ago, when the entire wizarding world was consumed by death and chaos at the hands of the Dark Lord, Harry, Ron and Hermione did not shy away from their responsibilities. Given a mission to stop the Dark Lord by Albus Dumbledore himself, they risked life and limb to save us all. We ask the distinguished members of the Wizengamot to fulfill their responsibilities under the law and end this absurd spectacle. The defendants have suffered long enough under these baseless accusations. It’s time to let them go home and properly mourn.”

Harry, Ron and Hermione were led to a secure room to await the verdict of the Wizengamot. Percy joined them as they waited, trying to keep their spirits up. “I really can’t see what they’re talking about,” he said. “Easiest case on its merits that’s ever made it to trial. They’re probably buying time for Barsamian’s office to write their press release decrying the verdict.”

After less than two hours of deliberations, the defendants were summoned back to the council chamber. Once the members were seated, the Chief Witch spoke.

“Will the defendants please rise,” she began.

“Mr. Potter, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, before I hand down the council’s verdict, I must state the following for the record. We are nearly certain that one of you murdered Edwin Stoops. Each of you had motive and opportunity. You are all powerful wizards. Your survival and triumph over the Dark Lord is a testament to your ability to do things that most wizards and witches find impossible.”

“But the law is indeed clear on this matter. The evidence in this case is insufficient to convict any of you beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, reluctantly, we must find you not guilty of the charge of murder. We hereby order the defendants released from custody and their wands returned. This matter is closed and the Wizengamot stands in recess.”

With that, the Chief Witch banged the gavel and the darkest chapter of Harry’s life drew to a close.

The extended Weasley family surrounded them outside the council chamber and they were swept up in a flood of hugs, kisses and tears. The children who were too young to be at Hogwarts were sequestered with Fleur and Victoire, so the adults had no need to put up a brave front. Tears quickly gave way to sobs. Molly fought her way to the three of them and drew them all into a crushing hug.

“Oh, my dears,” she sobbed uncontrollably. “My poor, poor children. I love you all so much.”

Hermione was to first to succumb to her pent-up grief, clutching Rose and Hugo as the tears streamed down her face. Ron pulled an arm free from his mother’s grasp and pulled his family towards him, burying his face in Hermione’s hair. Harry could see Ron’s shoulders shudder as he joined her in sobs of relief and mourning. Arthur was clutching Molly and George, doing his best to maintain a stoic demeanor, but Harry could see the tears welling in his eyes. He hadn’t seen Arthur cry since the family had laid Fred to rest after the battle at Hogwarts. Now Arthur would have to bury another child, his little girl. Harry felt his heart tear again as he watched the man he’d loved like a father break down before his eyes.

Can she really be gone? Harry pondered the question as he embraced his sobbing daughter and youngest son. He felt James’s arms wrap around his neck and felt his eldest son’s tears running down his neck. Somewhere nearby, Teddy’s voice kept repeating, “I’m so sorry, Harry, I’m so sorry she's gone...”

The time they had spent in jail made it all seem unreal. In a way, things were easier in jail. The three of them fell into their well-rehearsed routine of taking on the world. They plotted and theorized and tried to unravel the mystery, setting their grief aside to focus on the trial. It was easy to pretend that someone else’s world had come crashing down instead of his own. Harry realized that part of him expected to find her waiting by the fire when he got home.

But she wasn’t going to be there. The comfortable fantasy they had all been inhabiting was over. Now there was no more hiding from his emotions and building walls around his grief. He pulled his children more tightly to him and began to confront his new reality.

“It’s all over,” he whispered to Al and Lily, putting on his best father voice. “Let it all out.”

“I miss her so much, daddy,” Lily sobbed.

“I know, sweetheart. We all miss her. Now we can take her home and let her rest.”

“Why, dad, why?” James moaned from his shoulder. “Why did it have to be her?” Even as he approached middle age, James was still his mother’s son.

“I don’t know, son,” Harry responded, feeling the tears begin to flow. The answer came unbidden from his conscience. Because you failed, Potter. You weren’t strong enough to protect her and now she’s gone.

The family took a long while to collect themselves. When their lift arrived at Level Eight, Harry noted approvingly that a group of Aurors were keeping the reporters contained on the far end of the Ministry atrium, making up whatever excuse was necessary to limit their movements. Harry led the family to the restricted apparition point that was used by Ministry employees. Strictly speaking it wasn’t available to visitors, but Harry reasoned that the Minister wouldn’t mind if it prevented the mob scene that was sure to ensue when the family tried to get past the crush of photographers surrounding the wall of fireplaces.

One by one, the members of the family disappeared to the Burrow to continue their mourning in the privacy of the Weasley family home. Soon, only Ron, Hermione, Harry and Percy remained.

Harry regarded his two best friends. “You two go on. Tell everyone that Percy and I will be along shortly.”

“Harry, are you sure you want to deal with this right now?” asked Hermione, concern evident on her tear-streaked face.

“I’ll be OK, at least for a little while,” replied Harry. “Go and look after the kids. The youngest ones will be arriving soon and they’re going to need a lot of help to make sense of all this.”

Hermione leaned forward and kissed Harry on the cheek. “Don’t be long, OK? James, Al, Lily, Teddy... they all really need you right now.”

“I know. Believe me, I need them, too.”

Ron and Hermione stepped into the apparition point and she grasped his arm as he prepared to turn.

“You guys know how much you mean to me, right?” Harry asked at the last moment. “I mean, you really, really know, don’t you?”

They both stared at him, caught off guard by his sudden earnestness. “I think so, mate,” replied Ron. “At least I know how much you mean to us and I reckon it’s about the same.”

Ron and Hermione turned and disappeared to the Burrow.

“Come with me,” Harry said to Percy. They stepped into the apparition point and Percy took Harry’s arm. The next thing he knew, they were standing in the middle of a forest without a hint of civilization to be seen.

“Where are we, Harry?”

“The forest of Dean. Ron, Hermione and I hid out here while we were on the run from Voldemort. Very few people know this place.”

“So what do we need to discuss,” Percy asked, discomfort evident on his face.

“You know what we’re here to discuss,” replied Harry, regarding his brother-in-law levelly.

“Well, I’m never, ever going to tell anyone, if that’s what you’re concerned about.”

“Percy, I know you’ll never willingly give up the secret,” said Harry, choosing his words carefully, “but I am concerned about what you are planning to tell people. Inevitably, they’re going to ask what you know. No offense, but you don’t really have a lot of experience with this sort of thing.”

“I hadn’t really thought about it,” Percy admitted. “I guess I’ll just tell them that what happened in the jail doesn’t matter. I knew the three of you were innocent and it was my job to get you acquitted. Simple as that, really.”

“You’re already treading on dangerous ground, Percy,” replied Harry. “How were you supposed to know that we were innocent?”

After a long silence, Percy lifted his gaze from the ground to stare directly into Harry’s eyes. Tears were streaming down his face.

“Yeah, right, what do I really know? I’ll tell you what I know, Harry. I know that when the Minister’s message jarred me out of bed on that godforsaken night, he was scared. So scared that he didn’t even try to let me down easy. He just blurted out that my baby sister was dead and the muggles thought they had the guy who killed her. He was scared because he knew that somebody was going to try to get to the bastard who killed Ginny. If not you or Ron then Bill, or George. Bloody hell, he wasn’t even sure he could count on Dad. But he trusted me. He told me to get to the jail and make sure that I was there to talk whichever of you nutters showed up out of killing him. The Aurors knew I was coming. They let me into the jail and obliviated the guards on the spot.”

Percy sucked in a deep breath, struggling to keep from breaking down. “And there he was. Staring back at me from inside that cell. He wasn’t big, or scary. He was just sitting there, staring into space. I couldn’t help myself. I asked him why...”

“He just laughed, Harry,” Percy whispered, his face twsited with fury. “He killed my baby sister and then he laughed in my face. I don’t remember how, but suddenly my wand was in my hand and it was pointed at his chest. He was still laughing. Oh, look at the red-headed tosser with the pointy stick.

Percy sucked in two more tortured gasps of air.

"Do you know what it's like, Harry? Casting the Killing Curse?"

"I've seen it done," Harry replied, shuddering inwardly as he recalled his nightmarish journeys into Voldemort's mind. "But no, I've never done it myself."

"It feels..." Percy struggled to find the right word before settling on one. "Amazing. It felt bloody amazing, Harry. All of my feelings, all the anger and sadness and grief, all of it just flowed out through my wand. When it was done, when he was dead, it was the strangest thing I've ever felt. I should have felt bad or scared or, I don't know, maybe proud of myself in a sick way. But I didn't feel anything. Just empty."

The revelation surprised Harry. He had never heard a first-hand account of what it felt like to cast the Killing Curse from someone he trusted. He had questioned many dark wizards accused of using it, but their answers were invariably filled with boasting and bravado. It was all rubbish, the terrified ravings of animals in a cage. Percy’s earnest answer made him reconsider Tom Riddle for a moment. Was that the trap he fell into? Did he have to keep killing again and again to alleviate the pain of his shattered soul?

“So what do you feel now?” Harry asked.

“I don’t know,” Percy reflected honestly. “I hardly know who I am any more. I think about what I’ve become and it terrifies me.”

“Harry, I never thought of killing anyone before. During the battle, when I was fighting Thicknesse, the thought of killing him never even crossed my mind. Did you know that I hit Rookwood with a stunning spell at the same time that Aberforth took him down? His back was turned to me. The man who killed Fred turned his back on me and all I could think to do was stun him. How did I become a killer, Harry? How did it happen?”

“I don’t know, Percy,” replied Harry sympathetically. “If we knew what turned good men into killers, I suspect there would be a lot less killing in the world.”

“So you still think I’m a good man?” Percy asked, the look in his eyes almost pleading.

“I do, Percy. And I don’t think I’m the only one. There’s a reason why the Minister called you first. It’s the same reason that Rookwood chose to turn his back on you and face old Ab. You’re not a killer Percy. You’re just a man who lost more than he could stand.”

“Bloody Minister,” Percy snorted. “He sends the Deputy Minister for International Affairs to protect a killer. Well, I guess what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

Harry regarded Percy for a long time before speaking. “I’m glad we came here, Percy. I think it was important for you to get all that off of your chest.” He closed the gap between them with two quick steps and seized Percy by the collar of his robes. “Now you need to bury it all. You’ve got to bury it deep inside your mind. You can never, ever speak of this to another living soul. Do you understand?”

Percy nodded slowly, trying to meet Harry’s steely gaze.

“Because if you do then believe me, it will destroy you.”

Without another word, Harry released Percy’s robes, took his arm and they disapparated to the Burrow.

Harry sat bolt upright in bed and tried to calm his racing mind. After a fitful night of reliving some of his worst memories, he found it difficult to place himself in time. What was real? What was merely a bad dream? Instinctively, he reached across to the far side of the bed. It was empty and undisturbed. His heart sank as he realized that the worst nightmare of all was not a dream. He fumbled around on the nightstand and found his glasses. The clock read four fifteen A.M. He thought about trying to catch another hour of sleep, but his sheets were soaked with sweat and twisted in knots. He swung his feet to the floor and resigned himself to a long day.

After showering and getting dressed, Harry found Hermys already making breakfast in the kitchen. “Good morning, Master. You is up early,” the elf chirped happily. Harry half suspected that Hermys monitored his sleep somehow, since the elf always had breakfast going, no matter how early Harry awoke. He poured himself a cup of coffee and took two big sips.

“I didn’t sleep very well,” he admitted.

“Master needs his sleep,” Hermys replied, looking concerned. “Does Master wish for Hermys to contact a healer and arrange for some sleeping potions?”

“Thank you, Hermys, but I’ll be OK. Octavia was playing with the boggart last night and it stirred some unpleasant memories, that’s all.”

The elf’s normally happy expression shriveled into a disapproving frown. “Nasty creature, that. Not proper for such a noble house. It is not Hermys’s place to say, but Master should remove it from his house.”

Hermys made to smack himself in the face with the frying pan for his improper suggestion, but Harry quickly grabbed his arm. “It’s alright, Hermys. You’re probably right. But the boggart does have some uses. We just shouldn’t let it out right before bedtime, I think.”

Once he was sure that the elf wasn’t going to try to hurt himself, Harry requested his breakfast in the study. He quietly made his way through the house, sipping his coffee as he walked. He stopped by Lily’s bedroom and peeked in on Octavia. The little girl was sleeping peacefully. Artemis was also asleep, curled up on the pillow beside her head. Harry silently pulled the door up and continued down the hall. “Barely six years old and able to cast the Ridikulus charm,” he mused to himself. “She has a lot of her grandmother in her.”

He pulled the door of the study closed behind him and turned on the lights. The portraits on the wall were all still asleep, although several of the faces turned to avoid the light. Dumbledore’s portrait, as always, appeared serene. Harry had commissioned a painting of his mentor sitting behind his great wooden desk. That was always how Harry had remembered the man most fondly. Fawkes the Phoenix sat on a perch behind the headmaster with his head tucked beneath his wing. Harry was less clear on how the magic worked where Fawkes was concerned, since the bird was still alive. Looking at it a different way, Harry supposed, Fawkes had also died dozens of times. There was much about the magic of phoenixes that was not well understood.

“You look tired, son,” came a voice from behind him. Harry turned to see his mother staring at him from a large portrait across the room from Dumbledore. The portrait’s other three occupants, James, Sirius and Remus, continued snoring quietly.

“I didn’t sleep very well, mum,” Harry replied. The portrait of his parents and their best friends was based on an old photograph that Sirius had given him. Enchanted portraits were like living things in a way, starting off as lifeless as muggle portraits and then gradually developing their personality over time. Talking to them was key, Harry had learned. The day that his mother had finally answered him was one of the happiest days of his life. Harry could discuss anything with her.

“Bad dreams?” she asked knowingly.

“Rosie and I let Octavia play with the boggart last night. After it had a couple of goes at her, it decided to come after us. It took the form of the muggle who killed Ginny. I guess I was thinking about her a lot yesterday. I went up on the hill to see her and...” His voice trailed off.

Harry thought that he could almost see tears in his mother’s eyes as she smiled warmly at him. “Harry, I don’t know what to say. I never had to go on without your father. I can’t imagine what it’s been like for you.”

“Mum, what’s it like, dying?” Harry asked. “I know Sirius said it was as easy as falling asleep, but he fell through the Veil. Was it different for you and dad?”

She studied him for a long moment before answering. “It wasn’t especially painful, at least not in a physical sense. But I remember the sense of loss was overwhelming. You were just a baby, Harry. When the Killing Curse hit me, you were five feet away. You were crying, terrified. And the last thing I remember wondering before he killed me was who was going to change your nappy. It seems silly now. Such a stupid little thing. But it was part of a bigger realization. That I was never going to be able to hold you again. That hurt worse than anything I could imagine.”

Two sets of brilliant, green eyes stared into one another, sharing their pain. Just then, Hermys appeared with Harry's breakfast. He shook himself loose from his mother’s gaze and took a deep breath.

“Thank you, Hermys. Please keep some food warm for Rose and Octavia.”

“Yes, Master,” the elf replied and disappeared.

He sat down and forced himself to eat. He wasn’t the least bit hungry, but he knew he had a long day ahead of him. When he had eaten as much as his nervous stomach would allow, he rose and turned out the light. Lily spoke again as he was about to leave.

“Son, I know what you’re thinking about. And I can’t tell you whether you’re right or wrong to think that way. I haven’t been where you are. All I can tell you is that once you turn that corner, there’s no going back. All the gold in Gringotts can’t buy you another minute with those you leave behind.”

Harry paused in the doorway. “Thanks, Mum. I’ll try not to forget that.”

The study fell silent as Harry’s footsteps retreated down the hallway.

“I believe,” Dumbledore’s voice broke the silence, “that this world still needs Harry Potter. Perhaps more than he needs it.”

“Oh, shut up, Albus,” snapped Sirius angrily. “Nobody alive has sacrificed more for this bloody ungrateful world than Harry. If he wants his peace, let him have his peace and don’t interfere.”

“A bit casual about my son’s death, aren’t you, Padfoot?” James replied.

“All I’m saying, James, is that he doesn’t owe anything to anybody. If he chooses to end things on whatever terms he finds acceptable then that’s his choice. He doesn’t need Father Christmas over there gifting him any more Herculean tasks.”

“I do not plan to interfere, Sirius,” Dumbledore replied calmly. “But the secret of Harry’s greatness lies in the fact that he never sought it. Destiny calls upon him and he merely answers. And destiny, I believe, has further plans for Harry Potter.”

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