Chapter 1 : The Morning After
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He stood up slowly, not bothering to brush off the grime that had gathered on his trousers. The doors to the Great Hall were closed, and he went over and brushed the door handles with his fingers. He didn’t know how much the state of the room had changed in the last eight hours, but he knew he wouldn’t be able to look in and not remember the bodies that had lined the room, the heart-wrenching sounds of families being torn apart. When he had rid the world of Voldemort yesterday, his feeling of relief and elation had been incredible. Today, it just felt like he had lost more than he gained.
Harry turned away from the door. He needed to be somewhere that didn’t hold a sharp memory of the battle. Walking out the front door, he let his feet carry him away from the castle. The courtyard, the Forbidden Forrest – everything reminded him of the things he had lost.
By way of avoiding everything that made the lump in his throat grow, he ended up in the small grove that he barely recognized at first. When he rounded the corner, he realized that it was Dumbledore’s grave. The marble casket stood imposingly in front of him, impervious to damage from weather or outside force. It was one of the few things standing whole at the school.
The wind sprung into existence, sending a cold shiver down Harry’s back. The feeling sent him reeling into his memories of Dumbledore. Dumbledore standing at the front of the Great Hall, welcoming him to his first year at school. Dumbledore believing Harry about Sirius’s innocence when no one else did. Dumbledore arriving to save him at the Ministry of Magic. And finally, the last moment of Dumbledore’s life, those eternal seconds as he was hit by that curse, that terrible curse that had torn yet another father figure from Harry’s life. He now knew why Snape had killed him, but that didn’t make the feeling of loss any less.
The moments of grief he had piled up finally broke through the lump in his throat and tears began to run freely down his face. He dropped to his knees and held his face in his hands, his sobs filling the air. If he had only found the horcruxes sooner. If he had only stopped Snape that night on the tower. Hundreds of regrets tossed around in his head. Everyone had lost someone. Not a family at Hogwarts was not in pain right now. If he could have just ended everything sooner.
A hand on Harry’s shoulder made him jump and wipe quickly at his eyes. He lifted his head to see McGonagall’s face looking down with him with more compassion than he had ever seen on her visage. By the dim light of the early morning, he could see that her eyes held sorrow that was only too familiar. Harry noticed that her eyes were red-rimmed as well, and it looked as if she hadn’t slept much either.
“I’m sorry,” he said hoarsely, unsure if he was apologizing for his tears, his actions, or simply feeling empathetic. McGonagall helped him up, then wrapped him in an unexpected hug.
“My dear boy,” she began, and Harry was reminded with a jolt of Dumbledore. “You could not have done any more than you have done. The world expected none of this from you, and yet you delivered more than we could have ever asked for. You may have believed it your destiny to fulfil that prophesy, but it was our destiny to help you achieve that. Do not blame yourself for the events that have come to pass. Much more would be lost if you had not acted the way you did. Everyone went into that battle having known the danger.”
Harry nodded, but he couldn’t bring himself to look her in the eyes. She put her finger under his chin and forced his head up. “Sometimes I forget you are still a boy. You are well on your way to being a great man, it is true, but you are too young to have had so much responsibility on your shoulders. You need to relearn what it means to be your age, again. I should think you would be looking forward to having some time to relax and be a teenager again.”
“Fred was young,” Harry mumbled.
“Fred was too young. Colin was too young. Unless you want to put an age on death?” Anger was taking the place of weariness now.
McGonagall barely seemed to notice his sudden change in demeanour. “Of course they were too young to die. No one is justifying death, Harry. It is only right to mourn the loss of your friends. You just must stop blaming yourself. It is not your fault that people died. If Professor Dumbledore was standing here in my stead, he would force you to look at yourself the way he and your friends see you.” Her words, though pointed, bore a gentle tone that Harry had never heard. He could hear the desperation in her voice.
“I understand,” he said softly. It didn’t lessen the hurt, but the anger receded back into weariness.
“Perhaps you should find Ron and Hermione. I imagine they would be glad to see you.” Personally, Harry figured they’d want a bit more time by themselves to talk things over, but the look on McGonagall’s face said otherwise.
“See that you do,” she added.
Reluctantly, Harry turned from the casket and looked at the school in front of him. Whole classrooms were visible, and the castle looked like it was ready to fall over.
“The damage is quite bad,” McGonagall said, following Harry’s eyes, “but it can be repaired. I’m going to make the announcement over breakfast that exams have been cancelled, with the exceptions of OWLs and NEWTs, which have been postponed. However, Reversal Squad is pairing up with all of the professors to put the school back together over what we assume to be the next two weeks. The school should have some semblance of its usual self by the time the students that have chosen to remain here until the end of the school year will leave for the summer holidays.” Again, Harry could do nothing but nod.
McGonagall began walking back to the castle and Harry fell in stride with her. They walked back silently, stopping once they stepped inside the Entrance Hall.
McGonagall reached over and gave him a firm squeeze on the shoulder.
“Thank you, Harry,” she said simply. She turned away to the dungeons.
Harry began to climb the steps to Gryffindor tower, each level of stairs making his body ache. He hadn’t physically recovered from yesterday, though it was nothing compared to the emotional recovery he still had ahead of him. He reached the portrait of the painted lady, noticing and then dismissing the fact that she wasn’t there. The portrait was ajar, and he climbed in. He had every intention of walking up to his room quickly, as he didn’t want to see accusatory faces looking at him. A part of him ached for his friends, but he thought he was the last person they would want to see now, despite what McGonagall had said.
However, he had barely stepped into the common room when two sleepy face beamed up at him from a sofa and embodied him in tight hugs. He embraced his two friends, and he had to blink back tears. Hermione, however, let her tears come freely, and he noticed even Ron was giving him a watery smile.
“I’m glad to see you two,” Harry said after a moment, and he realized that the corners of his mouth were lifting even as he spoke.
“We’re more glad to see you,” Hermione told him factually. “How are you doing?”
Harry wasn’t really sure how to explain the soup of emotions churning in his midsection.
“Me too,” Ron said, before Harry could say anything. Hermione nodded.
To Harry’s surprise, a voice that he recognized as belonging to a particular Ravenclaw drifted over from the portrait hole.
“Hello, Harry,” Luna said as she stepped over to the trio. Unlike everyone else, she had retained her usual state of being, and the same calm, thoughtful girl looked up at Harry.
“You don’t need to worry,” she informed him, as if reading his thoughts. “You are always accepted with us. I am honoured to be your friend, Harry.”
With that, she took Harry by the arm and led him and his friends out the portrait hole, and Harry let the hint of a smile reach down to his toes. Perhaps he could learn to mourn his friends’ deaths in the company of others. The world was just a little bit lighter without the crushing guilt.
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