The tall, red-headed man walked slowly up the staircase. His eyes were alive surveying the wreckage that surrounded him. Holes blasted carelessly in the castle wall, alcoves where once stood suits of armour stood empty, but for the rubble and bloodstains. Scorch marks were everywhere. All these signs told the tale of a battle, yet they also didn’t touch upon the horrors that it entailed, the great cost that came with victory. Blinking tears out of his eyes he shook his head and approached the portrait hole, kicking aside a gigantic black, spindly leg with a shudder. The fat lady was gone, long since fled and her empty backdrop swung open upon his approach. The Gryffindor common room was untouched, a warm feeling crept over Ron as he ran his eyes over the chairs by the fire, and their curious arrangement indicated that they’d been used for cover. Needlessly it would seem. As he headed for the staircase that led to the boy’s dormitory he paused, his steps faltering. Harry. He wasn’t sure what he was going to find when he reached the room in which his best friend slept. Seeing him lying, dead at Voldemort’s feet had shook Ron. The shame he felt that Harry’s death had impacted him worse than Fred’s, his flesh and blood, overwhelmed him again. He shook it away. He’d always believed Harry would end this, that he would fulfil the prophecy and kill Voldemort. His mind cast back to McGonagall’s soul-destroying scream of despair. Hermione’s knowing look in that briefest of glances before Neville’s soul-destroying swipe of ruby and silver. The roar of voices was enormous as the forces of good and evil collided, charging at each other with a blood curdling crescendo of screams. If this was the end, Ron was going to make it count. “Sectumsempra!” he screamed, cutting a hooded Death Eater into ribbons. A cutting charm from Hermione severed the arm of Crabbe senior before he could throw the curse aimed directly at Ron. They were fighting to kill, of that there could be no doubt. Remus’ words directed at Harry in Grimmauld place a thousand years ago swam around his head as he caught Rowle full on with a blasting curse his wand a blur and his movements resembling a macabre dance, his soundtrack, death and destruction.
Entering the dormitory he immediately seen Harry, fingering his wand, lost in thought. “Harry?”
“Hey Ron, how did you sleep?”
“Can’t remember mate, Pomfrey made me take a dreamless sleep potion, how’re you feeling?” Harry grunted and stood up, wincing. He looked gaunt, and pinched Ron realised. Something to keep his mother occupied with he thought. She never failed to attempt to feed Harry up.
“Sore, but lighter, like a weight’s been lifted.” Makes me feel guilty really” Ron nodded; he understood Harry and was expecting the survivor’s guilt he’d be feeling.
“You’ll be fine Harry, we all will now. Let’s go down to breakfast, Hermione’s itching to talk about the forest last night “Harry raised an eyebrow; “It’s going to be a long day” he groaned.
When Harry and Ron entered the Great Hall Hermione’s head snapped up from her ‘Daily Prophet’, porridge spoon still in her mouth. He looked so tired, and brittle she thought. Noticing the way he favoured his left leg and unconsciously rubbed his ribs she knitted her eyebrows in thought. Being hit with the killing curse again couldn’t be a good thing, the worry was that no medical books could give an answer as Harry was still the only person ever to survive it. If it wasn’t in a book then it was an automatic worry for Hermione
“Did you sleep well Harry?” She enquired on his arrival at the Gryffindor table. Harry cast a sidelong look at Ron who just grinned sheepishly. “Fine thanks Hermione, woke up on the opposite side of the bed though so I guess I tossed and turned a bit” Hermione nodded, then demanded “Lift your shirt Harry” “What?” “You heard me Harry, lift your shirt and show me where you were hit. Don’t even pretend it isn’t bothering you especially as you’re still holding it” Harry looked down before dropping his hand to his knee. “Its fine Hermione, honest” “Ok, then you won’t mind showing me” Harry looked at Ron for support but Ron merely shrugged as if to say “I told you so” Harry grimaced before lifting his shirt. Ron gasped as Hermione leaned over to finger Harry’s torso. His chest displayed heavy purple bruising surrounding a perfectly healed, bright pink scar. “The shape…” Hermione whispered, “It’s different! I wonder why it hasn’t left a lightning bolt.” Harry cleared his throat before dropping his shirt back down “It’s no big deal Hermione, I’ll see Madame Pomfrey for something” “Try George” Hermione advised “His and Fred’s bruise removal paste is as good as I’ve seen”.
Harry knew why the mark of his most recently survived killed curse was perfectly circular, he knew that it was an exit wound as opposed to the jagged bolt his forehead had suffered seventeen years ago. The location that the last remnant of Voldermort’s fragile, broken soul had been forcibly ejected. Drawn out like poison. It was liberating.
While Harry and Ron were tucking into kippers, buttered toast and scrambled eggs Hermione was sitting staring into space, obviously deep in thought. “Have you noticed anything unusual Harry? I mean, since you were hit by that killing curse?” Harry carefully chewed his mouthful of kipper before swallowing and replying “I feel lighter Hermione, my hands feel like they grip stronger; my mind feels busy, curious even. I can feel magical presence everywhere, for instance, I can feel your magic seeping out of you, and it’s strong. As strong as Ron’s which is practically pushing me off my chair” Ron stopped eating, a sure sign that he was surprised “you can feel my magic?” he enquired, incredulously. “Yeah” said Harry, somewhat embarrassed “Dumbledore could do it, that’s how he found the entrance to Riddle’s cave” Hermione looked startled, have you used your wand since, since…” Hermione couldn’t finish. “Since I killed him?” Harry finished. “Actually, I haven’t, we’re gonna change that though, there’s Death Eaters still at large, many just as evil and dangerous as he was. What do you say to that Ron? I’ve a feeling Kingsley’s going to be looking for help” Ron grinned at his best friend enthusiastically “We always wanted to be aurors, as long as there’s dark wizards to be caught, then I’m in” Hermione rolled her eyes as she looked between the pair of young wizards. Both were visibly scarred from the last year of fighting and both looked older. It was their eyes, she realised. Before wondering if her own eyes bore the hallmarks of sadness, experience and loss that she seen so clearly reflected in the green and blue that sat across from her. Hermione’s musings were interrupted by the silvery, sleek appearance of a patronus, recognisable in its form of a tabby cat even before the strict tones of Professor McGonagall rang out. “Harry, could you please attend the Head’s office with Grainger, Weasley and Longbottom? Temporary minister Shacklebolt would like to meet with you to discuss the future.”
The first thing Harry noticed about Kingsley Shacklebolt was how tired he looked. Great bags surrounded his big, deep brown eyes and give him a distinctly menacing look. A look, Harry realised, would meet the description given by numerous Death Eaters should they be asked, not that all of them were capable of response. Neville too looked exhausted. Harry, Ron and Hermione had found him repairing the damage to the greenhouses, fluffy pink earmuffs around his head as he replaced panes of glass with a flick of his wand and banished mandrakes ‘temporarily’ into the ground with a casual skill that Harry silently marvelled at. There was a noticeable change in Neville’s demeanour as he strode around, shoulders back, relaxed and confident. Harry knew that Neville had witnessed much and seeing him eradicate the last of Voldemort’s horcruxes and thus making him mortal, with one glorious swipe of a sword that presented itself to the brave, well, it filled Harry with immeasurable pride that he could count Neville among his friends.
“Please take a seat” Professor McGonagall said as she indicated four tartan armchairs that had materialised behind them, “we have much to discuss”
Kingsley stood up and cleared his throat “Firstly Harry, I speak on behalf of the Wizarding world I think, when I wish you our heartfelt gratitude that you have ended this war and killed Lord Voldemort”
“It wasn’t just me Kingsley. Ron. Hermione and Neville played as big a part as I did.” McGonagall smiled at this as Kingsley went on, neatly cutting Harry off, “After the funerals take place and the repairs to Hogwarts are complete my first act as temporary minister will be to propose an Order of Merlin First Class for the Four of you, as well as a full pardon ‘Undesirable number one’” he said with a grin. Ron laughed, “Now, what’re your plans for next year? I know Minerva” he cast a sidelong glance at Professor McGonagall, who shifted in her chair behind Dumbledore’s desk, “would like you to complete your education, I however need to rebuild the ministry. One of our hardest hit departments is of course, the aurors.” Harry and Ron exchanged a knowing look as Harry’s prediction was confirmed, “Now I know that you two in particular” he pointed out Ron and Harry, “cherish long-held desires to become aurors. I’m here to tell you that I can offer you this. No training, straight in. You’ve proved yourselves more than capable, time and time again. You have the kind of invaluable experience that my current aurors can learn from. The same experience that enabled your ‘Dumbledore’s Army’ to form the cornerstone of our resistance here at Hogwarts. Which is why you’re here Neville”
Neville looked around before standing abruptly. “I’m flattered Minister, really I am, but an auror?! I’m not expected to achieve higher than A in my NEWTS except maybe in Herbology. I just don’t think I have what it takes… “Neville, you forget that I witnessed you fighting, I saw the way you rallied those around you. The encouragement they gained from your lead. That kind of courage, bravery and leadership is rare and can be a major asset in the monumental task we face” Neville gulped and looked at those around him, those he’d looked up to for so many years.
“Neville” Harry said “Beside Ron and Hermione I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have fighting at my side and that includes our new minister.” Kingsley smiled at this. “I’m going to accept your offer Minister” Harry said, turning to Kingsley “While there are still Death Eaters loose, I can’t rest”
“I’m with Harry” said Ron, rising. “Sorry Professor” Ron muttered, not daring to look at Professor McGonagall who had a wry smile on her stern face.
“I’m staying” Hermione, who had remained seated, spoke quietly but forcefully. “I don’t want to be an auror. I was part of this because Voldemort had to be stopped and my best friend was the only one who could stop him. Now he’s dead, I’m sure that between Harry, Ron and Neville, whatever remains of the death eaters can be rounded up. I’m sorry. Professor”, she addressed McGonagall. “I’d like to return and complete my Seventh year, if that’s ok?”
“Of course Miss Grainger!” McGonagall replied kindly “You are most welcome. While I understand the attitude of you two”, She looked at Harry and Ron, “I can’t pretend that I’m not disappointed. The doors to Hogwarts however, remain open to you always. Be warned though, if you don’t pay us a visit, I’ll hunt you down myself” Harry and Ron both grinned before replying “Yes Professor”
“And you Longbottom?” Neville could not meet McGonagall’s eye as he uttered “I’m an auror now”
Harry, Ron and Neville walked down the corridor toward the entrance hall having left Hermione to discuss her next year with Headmistress McGonagall. Kingsley had flooed back to the ministry as soon as there meeting was over citing that he had to meet the muggle prime minister. A man he was already familiar with. He promised to attend The Burrow one evening in the week for tea and ‘to discuss this business with horcruxes’ which had accompanied a pointed look at Harry.
“What’re horcruxes?” Neville had asked on the way down to the entrance hall. Harry swallowed and paused briefly before replying “Horcruxes are dark magic. The darkest. They’re bits of a wizard’s soul trapped inside an object, or another being. You can only make a horcrux in accordance with murder. While a wizard has a horcrux, he can’t be killed” Neville looked bewildered “that’s what you’ve been doing? Finding Vol… Voldemort’s horcrux?”
“Horcruxes Neville” said Ron softly. “Horcruxes. He had six” “And you Neville” Harry stopped, rounding on Neville until he looked him dead in the eye “Killed his most important horcrux. His last one” “The snake?” Asked Neville in astonishment. “The snake” repeated Harry. “Nagini was his last horcrux and while she lived, Riddle couldn’t truly be killed. You’ve played as big a part in his downfall as I have. As they approached the main doors to the castle Harry turned again “I’m going to Dumbledore’s tomb” He gave Ron a pointed look to which Ron immediately nodded his understanding. “I need to do this alone” he whispered, fingering the long thin wand he held in his inside pocket.
Watching Harry walk out into the sunshine Ron turned to Neville who raised an eyebrow in question, “Come on Neville, let’s go and find Hermione. Find out whether or not she’s head girl” Neville chuckled before following his red-headed companion back up the main staircase, past the house elves who were scrubbing out scarlet stains from the banisters.
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