As always, that which you recognize from the books belongs to JK Rowling
All around him, people were shouting and crying, treating the living and tending to the dead, dealing with the aftermath of the violence and preparing for more. The voices came and went. Bits and pieces of the conversation drifted through his mind.
... fourteen students injured, but thank Merlin none killed...
... already begun to notify the parents. Most of the kids are pretty...
... Bill carried her to the Hospital Wing. She ought to be in St. Mungo’s, but nobody’s sure whether...
... contained to the Great Hall, so not as much damage as...
... wards came down when Neville was killed, so eight or ten of them escaped...
... teams of three to secure the grounds. Remember, it’s protego maxima, fianto duri and then repello inimicum, in that order...
Ron appeared at his side. Fresh bandages covered a wound on his left arm. His hands were still trembling from the adrenaline. “Terry sent a message. He was able to talk the leaders of the Wizengamot into staying put on Level Ten, at least for now. They don’t understand why we don’t want them to trust Percy. He thinks you need to come talk to them personally.”
What is he even talking about? The petty, bickering fusspots of the Wizengamot belonged in another lifetime, disconnected from this one.
Harry kept staring at his hands. “It could have been him, you know? Tom Riddle could have just as easily gone after him. We both fit the prophecy. Do you ever wonder how things would have turned out? How Neville and I would have turned out? Would it be me over there under that sheet instead of him?”
There was a long pause. He could feel Ron staring at him, trying to assess his mental state. “That’s a lot of ifs, mate. I don’t know where to start.”
“I can’t handle it anymore, Ron. I can’t watch everyone else die. Cedric and Sirius and Dumbledore and Hedwig and Mad-Eye and Fred and Tonks and Remus and Snape and Ginny and Esme and now Neville... I just can’t do this anymore. What am I supposed to do when it’s Hermione’s turn? What about when it’s your turn?”
Silence. Why do they keep putting their lives at risk? Why don’t they just get the hell away from me while they still have a chance?
“Everybody dies, mate, sooner or later." His voice was filled with uneasy concern and calculated empathy. "There’s no way to know which of us is gonna go first.”
But I do know. I know because I’ve seen it happen in a thousand nightmares. And the nightmares always come true in the end.
A crack echoed through the entrance to the school. The hall instantly bristled with wands. The all-clear was gradually sounded as Hermione hobbled to them as quickly as she could, leaning heavily on a wooden cane.
Ron shot up and hurried to her side. “‘Mione, you’re supposed to be resting!”
For the love of Merlin, listen to him for once, Hermione. Get out of here and live a little longer.
“I had to come; everyone else is tending to the wounded. Percy’s been sending owls to the Burrow, asking us to come to the Ministry. The letters say we’ve been cleared of all charges.”
Ron snorted. “Until we show our faces and then she trumps up some more?” His voice became serious. “How do you think we should respond?”
She sounded uncertain, a bad sign if ever there was one. “Hestia thinks we should go directly to the Wizengamot. Explain to them how she’s controlling him and get them to pick a new Interim Minister.”
“And what do you think, love?” Ron’s voice sounded apprehensive. Her doubts were unnerving him, too.
“I think that if the Wizengamot stops supporting Percy, it’s a death sentence for him. If he’s no good to her, she’ll kill him just like everyone else she’s used up along the way. But we can’t let her solidify her grip on power. If she does, this whole thing starts all over again.”
Of course Percy has a death sentence. All of you do. Why am I the only one who can see it?
“As much as I hate to admit it, this curse of Malfoy’s is the best chance we have. Maybe she won’t be able to figure out this mind transfer spell and she’ll just die.” Ron could always find something to be optimistic about.
Hermione sounded doubtful. “If the book wants her to figure it out, I think she will. It’s how the book gets control of you. It tells you what you need to know when you need it most. We have to find her before she can attempt the spell.”
More awkward silence. “Has he spoken since the end of the battle?”
Harry felt like screaming. Why are you worried about me? I’m not the one who’s going to die. Just go back to the Burrow and save yourself. I can’t lose you, too.
“Just a bit.” Ron was trying to cover for him. Now she definitely knew something was wrong.
“Harry, why don’t you come back to the Burrow and rest for a while? You’ve been through a lot over the past twenty-four hours.” It seemed as though a lifetime had gone by. An hour ago, Neville was alive. Sixteen hours ago, he dared to imagine that he and Esme might have a future together. Four years ago, Ginny was still the center of his universe. They all made the same mistake. They got too close to Harry Bloody Potter.
“Can’t go. Something’s gonna happen.”
“What, Harry?” The maddening sympathy in her voice was even stronger. “What’s going to happen? Do you know something?”
“Something Neville said to me this morning. She’s not gonna stop until she gets to me. Might as well make myself easy to find. That way she doesn’t need to hurt anybody else.”
“Harry, you’re scaring me. Let’s go back to the Burrow and we can...”
A low murmur arose in the hall. A lone post owl was gradually sweeping across the scarred, bloodstained room. Its eyes locked onto Harry. The bird landed on the bench beside him with a single scrap of parchment tied to its leg. He removed it mechanically and spread it on his knee. Hermione’s chin rested on his shoulder and Ron’s presence loomed above him.
Potter - Meet us in the old carriage house on the Rowle Estate in Kent in one hour if you want to see the little girl alive again. Come alone.
“It’s a trap!” Ron and Hermione exclaimed simultaneously.
“Of course it’s a trap. I’m not completely thick.”
Hermione ripped the parchment from his hand. “Of course you aren’t Harry. Alright, this is a start. Let’s check this for any residual spells and round everybody up. We’ll find out as much as we can about the layout of Rowle’s estate and come up with a plan. If we can trap them all inside anti-disapparition jinxes and capture their leader, we can-”
Ron cut her off mid-sentence, but he wasn’t addressing her. “Don’t even think about it, Harry.”
“Don’t you ‘what’ me, Harry. You know bloody well what I’m talking about.”
A small crowd had begun to gather around them, trying to find out what news the owl had delivered. Ron’s voice dropped to a hiss. “I know what you’re thinking. Don’t be an idiot.”
Harry nodded glumly as George pinched the message from Hermione’s fingers with a practised touch and read it aloud, sparking a renewed wave of gasps and hand-wringing. Several people clapped Harry on the back and offered him reassuring whispers. Then the group discussion quickly turned to the best plan for capturing the Blood Order wizards holed up on the Rowle Estate. Ron conjured a battlefield map on the floor and busied himself positioning Xs and Os alongside Hermione, Arthur, George and Seamus. Harry simply allowed himself to melt into the background.
Nobody noticed as Harry stood up and walked to the rear of the Great Hall. His skin prickled as he passed through the broken wards. Stepping into the shadow of one of the giant, wooden doors, he cast a silencing charm and quickly turned. A fraction of a second too late, he felt the hand on his arm before he disappeared with a muted pop.
Octavia cringed as Arabela once again shrieked in agony and collapsed the the floor. It was the third time Arabela had tried to use the nasty spell that pressed on the edges of her mind. The sharp pain that Octavia felt at the moment the spell backfired was really starting to bother her. But the payoff of watching Arabela howl and fall down was almost worth it. She shot another pleading look at her Great Uncle Percy and tried to wriggle free of the magical ropes that held her on the uncomfortable stone table but neither attempt proved successful. Every time Arabela’s spell didn’t work, she seemed to get angrier. Octavia was starting to feel really scared of what she might do.
Arabela pulled herself back to her feet and began maniacally flipping through her book again. “What am I doing wrong?” she fumed, running her finger down one of the pages. “This should be working.”
“It’s probably because you’re dying,” Octavia opined. Arabela turned and fixed her with a furious glare. “The voice said you’re broken.”
“Stupid, insolent child!” Octavia turned her face away as Arabela raised her good hand above her shoulder with unmistakable malice in her eyes. The blow she expected to feel never came. Instead, she heard a stifled gasp of surprise. She turned and saw Percy holding Arabela’s arm. His face was still blank, but his eyes were dark and forbidding. Arabela stared at him for a second. The fury faded from her face, replaced by a look of concentration. Percy’s shoulders drooped a little as he released her arm and returned to his place behind her.
Arabela took a couple of deep breaths. It reminded Octavia of the way that her mother often stopped and counted to five when she was being particularly sassy. “Tell me about this voice,” Arabela asked. She couldn’t quite keep her irritation from showing, and Octavia decided that she had better answer, even though she didn’t want to.
“It said that it tried to give presents to you, but you were unworthy. Then it said that it was gonna give your presents to me, instead, and people would have to do whatever I wanted. I’m gonna make Uncle Percy stop snogging you and go back to Auntie Audrey. I don’t like you.”
Arabela seemed to be thinking really hard. Her blouse was slightly open and Octavia noticed that her shoulder was starting to turn the same ugly, green color as her arm. “Are you sick because of what Grandaddy did to you?”
Arabela glared at her. “Yes. I’m sure that pleases you very much.”
Octavia thought about it for a moment, then shook her head slowly. “I don’t want you to die because of Grandaddy. Only bad people kill other people.”
Arabela’s expression changed slightly. Octavia’s father often made the same face after she asked a particularly silly question. “Good people are an illusion, Octavia. They simply haven’t been forced to reveal their true selves.”
Octavia considered those words as Arabela turned back to her book. She wanted with all her heart to believe that Grandaddy Malfoy was good. Maybe he didn’t mean to kill Arabela. Maybe he just wanted her to stop hurting people, so he was trying to scare her. If that was true, though, time was running out. She closed her eyes and wished as hard as she could that somebody would rescue her and Uncle Percy before it was too late.
As soon as he reappeared on the edge of the Rowle Estate, Draco Malfoy found Potter’s wand pointed at his throat.
“What do you think you’re doing, Malfoy?”
It seemed perfectly obvious to Draco. The others had been too busy debating their ludicrous little plan to notice Potter slipping away. He was certain they were wasting their time. Lady Tenabra or Arabela Dynt or whoever the hell she was wouldn’t be anywhere near the Rowle Estate. All they would find was a group of low-ranking flunkies. He casually raised his arm and brushed Harry’s wand aside with the back of his hand. “After they’re done killing you, I thought maybe I could find a weak or injured member of the herd and prevail upon them to tell me where I might find my granddaughter.”
He could feel Potter’s green eyes boring into his. “I didn’t come here to die, if that’s what you’re implying.”
“Oh, of course not,” Draco crooned. “Knowing you, you’re probably here to win them over with some grand display of selfless nobility. It isn’t going to work, you know. The only way you’re leaving here alive is if you kill them all.”
“I’m here to get Octavia back. I’d prefer it if they cooperate. If they don’t, I’ll deal with it.”
Draco fixed his old nemesis with his own probing stare. “I hope you mean that, Potter. There might be hope for you yet.”
“I tried hope already. It didn’t work out very well.” Harry pulled the invisibility cloak out of his pocket. “If you’re serious about helping, let’s go.”
Draco managed to mostly suppress his discomfort as Harry threw an arm over his shoulders and covered them both with the cloak. Together, the two wizards crossed onto the Rowle Estate and made their way toward the old carriage house in the distance. Potter seemed to be listening for something. Twenty yards short of the ivy-covered stone wall, his hand tightened around Draco’s shoulder and they came to a stop.
“Wards, strong ones. Just in front of us.” Potter pointed his wand and probed at something Draco couldn’t see. “Anti-apparition jinxes, caterwauling charms and defensive spells designed to keep out everyone except me. This is where we part company.”
“Wait a minute, Potter!” Draco was suddenly feeling very anxious. As much as he tried to convince himself that it was solely because he was going to be alone in hostile territory, he wasn’t entirely successful. “You can’t just go barging in there all by yourself. We need to-”
“Shut up, Malfoy.” Potter fixed him with an icy stare that looked alarmingly out of place. “Remember, any man in that building could be the one who knows where to find Octavia. You have one job. Nobody gets past you. Understood?”
Draco stared back for a couple of seconds, waiting for his mind to serve up some belittling insult or backhanded compliment. When nothing was forthcoming, he simply nodded dumbly. Without another word, Potter slipped out from underneath the cloak and stepped into a cacophony of high-pitched shrieking and shouts of alarm.
The doors to the old carriage house didn’t close all the way, leaving a small gap between them. Harry could make out bodies scrambling into place on the other side. Clearly they had expected him to make more out of his last hour on Earth. He gently parted the doors and stepped into the carriage house, then closed the doors and slid the metal bolt into place. He casually turned and found eleven faces looking back at him in varying degrees of shock.
“Well, I’m here.”
Here again. You were born to stare death in the face. This is your destiny.
For a moment, it was as though nobody knew what to say. Theodore Nott finally broke the silence. “We’re going to kill you, Potter. We’re going to finish what the Dark Lord started.” A low rumble of approval came from his subordinates. Their wands were all trained on Harry. He surveyed them and tried to hide his disappointment. They were nothing but foot soldiers. Cannon fodder with a slim chance of getting lucky by sheer weight of numbers. Nott seemed to be their leader. Harry knew that he would have to make a point of not injuring Nott too badly to divulge what he knew.
“I knew Tom Riddle. I fought Tom Riddle. I stared into his evil, red eyes,” replied Harry coldly. “The lot of you couldn’t carry Tom Riddle’s chamber pot.”
Hero. Savior. Avenger. But always alone in the end. It’s your gift and your curse.
“How dare you call the Dark Lord by his filthy muggle name?” demanded Nott.
“He asked me the same question. Just before he died.”
Everyone who dares to care about you dies. Your mum and dad. Sirius. Dumbledore. Remus. Ginny. Esme. And now Neville, too.
The tension was palpable as they regarded each other in silence, eleven dark wizards pointing their wands menacingly towards one man who stood defiantly with his hands by his sides.
“Aren’t you going to offer us one last chance to surrender?” mocked Nott, drawing a malevolent laugh from the others.
Rose is just a shell now. Ron and Hermione? Fate is saving them for dessert.
Cold, black rage gripped Harry as he dropped into a crouch as his wand flew instinctively into his outstretched hand. Before his opponents could get off a single curse, bolts of lightning cascaded outward from the tip of his wand. They all tried to cast shield charms, but three didn’t make it in time. The blue-white bolts crashed into them, illuminating their bodies from within and making them look strangely hollow. Almost as hollow as Harry felt. They seemed to be frozen in midair for one terrible moment until Harry released the spell and they dropped to the floor with smoke rising slowly from their charred robes. The remaining Blood Order wizards, including Nott, scrambled for better defensive positions.
It doesn’t matter how many you defeat. Others will take their place.
Harry quickly deflected a barrage of curses and hexes. His movements were as fluid as they were automatic, the product of a lifetime spent honing his skills. The wizards nearest the sides of the room were trying to outflank him, edging around the perimeter. All they succeeded in doing was providing him space. With a quick turn, he disapparated and reappeared in the far corner of the room. Harry spun around and struck one of the dark wizards with a powerful stunning spell. The man’s body slammed into the old stone wall and he crumpled to the floor. Cursefire shredded the edges of Harry’s cloak before he disappeared again.
He appeared directly between Nott and one of his subordinates. Anger and grief and pain clouded Harry’s mind and fueled his attack. He sent the wizard on his left crashing into the ceiling with a violent levitation spell. Nott aimed his wand to fire a curse just as his comrade’s limp body came down on top of him. The collarbone of his wand arm snapped and he crumbled to the floor. Harry put him in a Bodybind Curse and searched for the next threat.
There will always be a dark wizard waiting to catch you with your guard down. Who’ll die next? One of your children? One of their children?
Harry lingered for a moment, letting two opponents on either side of him draw a bead. His own safety was secondary, irrelevant. They would either kill one another or end his pain. He disapparated at the last possible instant, leaving each wizard in the path of the other’s curse. When he reappeared near the entrance, his robes were singed and there were two wizards lying motionless on the floor.
The moment was short-lived as curses came flying at him from multiple angles. He parried half a dozen and then rolled away as a blast of green light blew a hole in the stone wall behind him. Waving his wand over the dirt floor of the carriage house, he whipped up a swirling cloud of sand and debris. The vortex quickly grew to match the turmoil of Harry’s own emotions and he sent it blasting across the room. His adversaries cried out in alarm, shielding their faces with their arms. Harry scrambled across the floor, firing a barrage of stunners into the blinding whirlwind. He reached a defensible position behind a post and pulled himself into a crouch just as the Blood Order wizards managed to clear the air.
This is your fate. Sworn to protect them and condemned to watch them all die.
Harry whipped his wand around and cast a ring of blue fire that shot outward towards his attackers. The two who managed to cast shield charms were still driven backward while the third was knocked to the floor. Back and forth his wand slashed. Blast after blast of magical energy pummeled his opponents. Images of his fallen loved ones filled Harry’s mind and his grief and anger poured into his attack. Past, present and future merged into a horrifying collage of suffering and death. In the middle of it all, he stood, powerful and miserable, triumphant and broken, bathed in fury and drowning in grief.
Lightning erupted from his wand again and the air screamed in protest. He opened his heart and emptied everything into the curse. The shield charms of his remaining attackers were pierced like tissue. For one deadly instant, three lives were joined on the points of jagged, blue streaks of plasma. Then it was over.
Harry stood motionless in the darkened carriage house. He collapsed onto his knees as he struggled to catch his breath and slow his racing thoughts. Bodies were strewn across the floor all around him. Wounded men moaned in pain and the acrid smell of burned flesh assaulted his nostrils. He crawled forward, numb to the carnage he had wrought. In the middle of the room, Nott lay on the floor, struggling against the invisible bonds that held him in place. Harry placed his knee against Nott’s chest and rolled him onto his back. Nott’s face screwed up in pain from his injured shoulder, but he was unable to make a sound.
Harry waited until his fallen adversary was able to open his eyes. Nott started up at him with a look of defiant rage. Harry pointed his wand directly at Nott’s face. “My wife is dead. My niece was brutalized. The woman I wanted to love was murdered in cold blood and one of my oldest friends died to save a group of terrified eleven-year-olds. Maybe I’ve got the wrong man, Nott. Maybe none of it is your fault. But vengeance has to start somewhere and you just drew the short straw.” Harry raised his wand over his shoulder. The anger in Nott’s eyes melted into terror. He flinched involuntarily as Harry whipped his wand downward.
“Legilimens!” Harry tore into Nott’s mind, taking full advantage of his confusion and mortal terror. In his mind’s eye, Harry watched the scenes and images pass by as he charged deeper and deeper into Nott’s memories. Nott’s murder trial in the Wizengamot chamber played out in a matter of seconds. The intimidating image of Azkaban loomed ahead as a boat transported Nott to prison. His first memory of the Great Hall of Hogwarts on the night of his sorting. Staring mournfully at the churning North Sea through the tiny window of his cell.
Harry could sense Nott trying to raise barriers to protect his mind. He increased the intensity of his invasion, driving forward harder and faster. He felt as though he was flying as Nott’s memories were compressed and distorted around him. Harry tore through the scene of Nott’s seventeenth birthday in the Slytherin common room. He saw Flint recruiting Nott on a threadbare couch in the cramped recreation room of the prison. Nott snogged Millicent Bulstrode somewhere in the dungeons of Hogwarts. Nott sat on a barstool in the Ragged Fang, listening to Jeremy Gamp rail against the Ministry.
Faster and faster Harry flew. The sights and sounds began to blur together. A whirlwind of disconnected images and fragments of moments was accumulating in his wake. Faster and faster. Nott’s escape from Azkaban. The first Blood Order meeting in the abandoned warehouse. Nott secretly crying in the Slytherin boys’ dormitory when his father was sent to Azkaban. Firing curses down the corridor at Malfoy Manor. The swirling cloud of shattered memories following Harry had grown into a tidal wave, sweeping up everything in its path.
Ahead, Harry spied an opening in a sheer, stone cliff overlooking the churning sea. Waves crashed violently against the rocks below as he hurtled toward the mouth of the cave. He looked around, carefully taking in his surroundings. His flight path twisted and turned through the narrow passage until he arrived in a room full of wizards clad in black. In the flickering torchlight, they listened to Lady Tenabra order the attack on Hogwarts while she held Herodonthus’s book in her uninjured hand. He could hear the avalanche approaching from behind, consuming Nott’s mind with a great roar. Taking one last look around, Harry closed his eyes.
Back in the carriage house, it took Harry a moment to find his bearings. On the floor in front of Harry, Nott’s eyes were empty and foam gathered at the corners of his mouth. Harry released him from the Bodybind Curse and his limbs twitched as a few unintelligible sounds emerged from his throat. Harry tentatively tried to touch Nott’s mind. There was nothing left. The man was an empty shell.
Harry looked around at the broken bodies littering the floor. Some would consider the fight a great victory. To him, it only meant that the pain would last another day. Fate would get another kick at the can. Someone else would die and he would be left to wonder why he couldn’t take their place. His triumph tasted bitter and hollow as defeat.
“Did he tell you anything?” Harry looked up to find one of Draco Malfoy’s grey eyes peering through the gap in the doors. He walked over and released the locks, allowing Malfoy to enter. “The wards fell a few moments ago,” Draco ventured awkwardly, as though he wasn’t sure he should have been there. He seemed grimly fascinated by the carnage he found inside.
“She’s in a cave on the Isle of Man,” Harry said as he returned his wand to his pocket. “Probably the same one where the Wizard’s Council imprisoned Herodonthus seven hundred years ago. We need to get there before she realizes that these blokes aren’t coming back.”
Draco nodded mechanically, still staring at the bodies scattered around the carriage house. “You really did it, Potter. I didn’t think you had it in you.”
Harry’s rage returned in an instant. “What? You think this is some great accomplishment, Malfoy?”
Draco turned to meet his angry stare. Harry might have found the look on his face sympathetic if he believed that Malfoy was capable of such an emotion. “If I thought so, I’d probably be lying among them. You did what was necessary. That was all I meant to imply.”
Harry stared at Draco for a long moment, trying to decide whether he really meant what he was saying. In the end, he decided that it didn’t matter. Malfoy could think what he wanted. It didn’t change his own fate.
He turned and walked out of the carriage house with Malfoy following close behind. They were nearing the edge of the estate when a loud crack sounded in front of them. Ron and Hermione appeared, and Harry could immediately tell that something was wrong. Hermione was desperately trying to cling to Ron’s arm without falling down, but Ron was having none of it. He stormed towards Harry with blood in his eyes. Harry readied himself for a stern lecture on putting himself at risk. He was completely unprepared for the punch that landed on the side of his head, knocking him to the cold ground.
“Ronald!” Hermione shrieked, but he completely ignored her.
“You stupid, arrogant, thoughtless arsehole! Do you know how badly you scared the shit out of us? Do you even fucking care?” Ron’s blue eyes blazed with rage. Hermione hovered just behind him, apparently afraid to even make contact.
“Of course I care.” It was the best Harry could muster, and it wasn’t remotely convincing.
“Augh!” Ron kicked the dirt at his feet, then spun away, apparently unable to even look in Harry’s direction. Hermione hobbled toward where Harry lay, giving her husband a wide berth. Draco simply stared off into the distance, clearly feeling uncomfortable. “What the hell were you thinking?” Ron muttered. Harry could hear the anger simmering just below the surface of his forced civility. His knuckles were white as he turned back to face Harry. “For fifty years, we’ve been watching your back. Keeping your skinny arse alive. Fifty years, Harry! And you go and try to throw it all away on a stupid stunt like this.”
“It was the best way, Ron-”
“The best way?” Ron was shouting again. “Are you daft? You walk into a bloody unfamiliar place to face an unknown number of dark wizards all by yourself? Tell me, Harry, what would you say if one of us had pulled this shite?”
“Ron, it was me they wanted! Nobody else-”
“Bullshit! She wants us all dead. All of us! What’s wrong with you, Harry? Do you have a death wish or something?”
A pause. Small, but just a fraction of a second too long. Malfoy didn’t seem to notice a thing. “I don’t know what are you’re talking about. Now do you want to know where they’re keeping Octavia?” The anger in Ron’s eyes changed. He felt Hermione’s hand on his shoulder as she lowered herself to the ground beside him.
“Bloody hell.” Ron breathed. His voice was still grave, but the anger was tempered with concern and horror. “Did you walk in here hoping that they would kill you? You really want to die?”
Inside, Harry could feel something crumbling. A wall that had stood for so long he couldn’t even remember putting it up. He struggled to keep it from falling. “Don’t be stupid. Come on, we need to get going and find Octavia.” Hermione’s hand tightened on his shoulder as he tried to sit up.
“Harry, please.” Her voice was shaking with emotion. The wall weakened further. “Let us help you.”
Harry’s eyes darted back and forth between his two oldest friends. He felt panicked, trapped. He stared at Ron, pleading for a lifeline. Whatever was behind the wall, he couldn’t face it. He was sure it would destroy him. Ron looked directly into his eyes. All traces of anger were gone. “We can’t watch you suffer like this, mate. Just talk to us. Please.”
“Yes.” The word tumbled from Harry’s lips before he realized it. His eyes dropped to the ground. “I can’t do this any more. Ever since Ginny died. All I’ve wanted was to be with her again.”
He felt his chest heave involuntarily, and Hermione pulled his head toward the crook of her neck. As the waves of grief and pain crashed over him, he felt Ron’s hand on his back. Once the words started to fall, they wouldn’t stop.
“I can’t even explain what she meant to me. She rescued me, in those horrible days after Riddle died. I never told you how bad I was after the battle. I’m so sorry. I never told anybody how much I hurt. How lost I was. Everything I had ever lived for was over. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. And the nightmares kept coming. Every night, I watched him torture and kill all of you. I relived the night of the battle again and again and again...”
Harry shook as the terrible memories raced through his mind. It took him several minutes to calm down. “Ginny saved me. She figured out what I needed when nobody else could help me. She never gave up on me, even when I’d given up on myself. No matter how much I yelled and threw things and cried, she just listened and told me that she loved me. I could never figure out why she loved me...” His voice trailed off into a tearful whisper. “How could anybody love me that much?”
He felt Hermione tighten her embrace. Ron surprised him a little bit when he broke the silence. “She loved you more than anything, Harry. From the time she was a little girl, she couldn’t really think of anybody else. You meant everything to her.”
“Ginny was everything to me.” Harry could feel the tidal wave of grief threatening to sweep him away, but the presence of his two best friends gave him the security to open the floodgates further. There were so many things he needed to say. “She saved me and healed me and she gave me something to live for. Everything I have and everything I am is because of her. She gave me everything that ever mattered.” A sob choked his throat. “And I let her die.”
“There was nothing you could have done, Harry.” Hermione’s soft words were barely audible above his own sobs. “You’re only human.”
“I tell myself that every minute of every day, but it never gets any easier. Why doesn’t it get any easier? Why can’t I say goodbye and let her go?”
“I don’t know, Harry,” Ron replied gently. “To be honest, I can’t let her go, either. I can’t see a picture of her or hear her name or really even think about her without feeling the pain in my chest. I’m an Auror. I protect people. And she was my baby sister. I was always supposed to be there to keep her safe.” Ron’s voice cracked just a bit. “You’re not the only one who failed her.”
Next to his head, Harry felt Hermione’s chest shake. “I was supposed to meet her for lunch. I was going to take the rest of the afternoon off and bring Octavia back to Rosie’s flat.” Her voice shook with emotion. “Something came up at the office. I don’t even remember what, some case or other. I sent her a message that I’d meet her for dinner, instead.” Sobs escaped her throat and Harry felt her head come to rest on top of his.
“You never told me that before,” Harry whispered, feeling her tears fall on the side of his face.
“How do you tell somebody that your best friend died because you were too busy at work?”
Harry felt Hermione slide away from him and into Ron’s arms. He wiped his face with the grimy sleeve of his robes and noticed Draco Malfoy for the first time in what felt like hours. Malfoy’s expression was unreadable. The sight of him suddenly jogged Harry’s memory.
“We need to be going,” Harry said softly. “Tenabra probably hasn’t missed her minions yet. She’s in a cave on the Isle of Man. I’ll bet you anything it’s the same one that Herodonthus was imprisoned in. We can catch her by surprise and end this.”
Ron helped Hermione to her feet and Harry was surprised when Draco walked over and offered his hand. The four of them circled around and Harry held out his hand.
“For Octavia,” Ron said quietly, laying his hand on top of Harry’s.
“Please let her be alright,” Hermione whispered as she added her hand to the pile.
“She’s going to be fine,” Draco added resolutely as he placed his hand on top of Hermione’s. “But that blond bitch is going to regret the day she laid eyes on my granddaughter.”
Harry took a deep breath and focused on the images of the cave entrance from Nott’s memories. Then he turned and the four of them disappeared with a soft pop.
"In war, the price paid by the victors is often hidden, but no less high." - Author Unknown
Enormous thanks are due my beta reader, sophie_hatter, for contributing some truly amazing "little things" to this chapter. I'm very proud of it. Thank you to everyone who has read Conspiracy of Blood and especially to those who have taken the time to review.
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