Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.
2 May 1998
Harry first noticed that his scar didn’t hurt.
There were plenty of other spots on his body that ached and stung, but his forehead was not one of them. The lightning mark was numb, no prickling reminder of the scar he could only see in a mirror. He would be foolish to say that he missed that feeling - ‘miss’ wasn’t the right word - but he felt as if he were no longer whole, as if the scar that had defined his life no longer existed.
Was it still there? He thought of asking Ron or Hermione, but a large part of him didn’t want to know the answer, didn’t want to know which answer to hope for.
If it was still there, it would remain there forever, no getting rid of it now. There would be a constant remainder of Voldemort, Tom Riddle, that Harry would never escape. It would glare at him from every reflective surface, the ghost of these dark times that were finally coming to an end.
Ron and Hermione were a few paces behind him, none of them talking now that Harry and explained exactly what had happened after Snape’s death. They seemed to still be a tad confused - honestly, Harry still was as well - but knew better than to push the subject. They knew everything he knew, and if they wanted to think about and talk about it, they could do so without him. He didn’t want to think because every time he did…
His mind flashed back to the end of his fourth year, dueling Voldemort over Tom Riddle Sr’s grave. He knew what he was thinking was illogical because it was the Deathly Hallows that saved him and he hadn’t even known they existed when he was fourteen, but he couldn’t help wishing he could go back to that time and let Voldemort use the Avada Kedavra curse on him. He wanted to make the events of tonight happen in that past night, minus all the deaths. He wanted Voldemort to kill the Horcrux inside him back then, he wanted Dumbledore to tell him the whole truth, and he wanted to destroy every last Horcrux before the end of his fifth year.
Mostly, he wanted all of those people who died because he took three years too long to kill Voldemort to still be alive.
When his thoughts reached this point, the faces started flashing by, blurring together in their quick succession: Sirius with Dumbledore’s long white beard, Cedric with Tonk’s bubblegum pink hair, Fred with Moody’s spinning magical eye.
Harry forced the thoughts away, feeling himself sway in his walk.
Ron cleared his throat, giving Harry something else to concentrate on. He struggled a moment for something to say then settled on, “I’ve never seen theses halls so empty.”
“Everyone must be in the Great Hall,” Hermione said, pausing a moment as if waiting for Harry to join. He had no intention of adding to the painfully normal small talk, so she went on, adding words upon words as if she were afraid to stop. “Or they could be going home by now. There will be a lot of celebrations today, once the news starts spreading. Last time Voldemort fell, the Ministry could barely assert the Statute of Secrecy, especially with Minister Bagnold encouraging the outrageous parties. Now that he’s actually dead, I can only imagine what the Ministry and Kingsley will have to clean up. I bet everyone will be taking advantage of the lack of law enforcement while the Ministry pulls itself back together.” She took a deep breath as if to continue filling up the silence but then found nothing more of importance to say.
Harry’s blurry mind only retained about half of what she had said. He was too distracted by the distress he felt not retuning to the Great Hall, thinking of all the mourning families and fifty dead bodies. Every living person in that room would look at him as if he could fix this too.
“D’you know it’s a Quidditch World Cup year?” Ron said, ripping Harry from his thoughts again.
“Are they sill having it?” Hermione asked, evidently no longer waiting for Harry to speak.
“Yeah, it’s gonna be in Japan this year. Charlie’s told me all about it. He says Romania might actually make it to the finals.”
“Are they, uh… a good team?”
“Not particularly. They’ve had issues with being accused of Dark magic for a long time. Charlie says this is the first decent team they’ve put together in two hundred years. ‘Course, he only knows because he’s friends with their Keeper.”
“I never thought about the rest of the world carrying on,” Hermione said, her voice quieter than when she was trying to force conversation. “It makes sense, though, that the world didn’t stop just because our country was in disarray.”
The conversation ceased, which both pleased and panicked Harry. The small-talk, an attempt at trying to make their lives normal again, irritated him as if each spoken word were a mermaid’s screech, but even that was better than being left in the quiet that made it much too easy for the questions in his mind to start up again.
How could he have let another child become an orphan because of Voldemort? Especially Teddy, the child he was supposed to care for as his own?
Would Lavender Brown survive? He assumed she was still being attended to, that she was still alive to be worried about, but the possibility of her already being dead was just as likely.
Oh, but Aberforth Dumbledore. His face gave Harry a twisted sense of pleasure. He looked forwards to marching into the Hog’s head and saying, “I told you so.”
But then the image of Fred’s broken body surfaced, and Harry lost the brief moment of triumph. He had let down all of the Weasleys, he’d let down Ginny, whose heart he broke to keep her safe. How had he ever expected that to work?
“Harry?” Hermione asked, breaking through the overlapping images of Ginny that formed a picture of her with smiling eyes and a wailing mouth.
“Hmm?” he answered, unable to force his mind away from the pictures of memories to search for words.
She stalled for a moment, adjusting her wand in her pocket and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She looked the best of them; just as dirty and scraped up but more awake and aware. She said, “We understand if you don’t want to talk, but… if there’s anything else you’d like to discuss that’s not Quidditch or Riddle-“
“It’s over,” Harry interrupted. “What else is there to say?”
Hermione looked stunned at the simple but true words while Ron nodded in agreement. It was enough for them not to attempt to engage him in conversation anymore. Instead, he could half-listen, enough to keep the disturbing thoughts from his head without becoming irritated at their nonchalance. At least they were discussing Hermione’s parents, who she wanted to wait a bit before finding, so all the Death Eaters would be captured and her parents could be completely safe, and not the Horcruxes or Hallows or Voldemort.
They reached the portrait of the Fat Lady a moment after, not having any time to worry about knowing the password. She thanked them profusely for all they had done to keep Hogwarts safe and swung open before any of them could become too flustered at the compliments.
Harry headed straight towards the boys’ dormitories, not noticing he had left behind his friends until he had nearly reached the top. He turned around to see Ron at the bottom of the stairs, tugging Hermione by the hand towards him while she stood half a meter away, glancing between the staircase and the one she had used for the last seven years.
“I don’t think anyone cares where you sleep at this point,” Harry said, a slight briskness to his voice that showed a glimpse of the chaos of emotions inside him. He continued up the stairs after Hermione nodded, finding that only the first year dorms were open and heading inside.
A plate of sandwiches and a bottle of pumpkin juice sat on a table near the center of the room, and that was all Harry could concentrate on in that moment. He ate like he had never eaten before, taking bite after bite with little time to chew. It might have been the fact that he’d been living on mushrooms and berries for the past year, but the cheese and meats and bread were the best of their kind that he had ever eaten. Two of the sandwiches were gone before Ron and Hermione entered the room and joined him in his gluttony.
For the first time he could remember, he ate more than Ron, who retreated to the middle of the three beds after just three sandwiches and a swallow of juice.
Hermione disappeared into the loo, and Harry heard the shower water running a moment later. He debated whether he should take a shower himself as he changed into the red and gold pajamas folded on his bed. Ron had already changed, climbed into bed, and fallen asleep by the time Hermione returned and Harry finished off the last sandwich, feeling as if one part of him could burst while the other still groaned with emptiness.
Hermione offered him a kind smile, and though he thought he returned it, moving the corners of his lips, he thought later that they must have pulled out instead of up since her smile fell.
He left the room, taking notice of Hermione curled in bed with a book on her lap and Ron snoring so loudly he didn’t know how she could read. Then he closed the door on them.
Leaning against the wood, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes, trying to take in the first private moment he had had since what seemed like a lifetime. And it had been a lifetime, had it not?
Since he’d been a baby, he’d always had a piece of Voldemort inside him, a presence that hung in his mind like a dark cloud that he had never noticed until it was gone. All those times he rushed to anger, when he refused to listen to anyone but his own gut feelings, when nothing seemed as important as the one thing he could think of, the obsessiveness, the short-temper, the wave of pleasure when he felt a surge of power that always scared him. Now what scared him most was that those traits were still there, still part of his personality.
An idea drifted into his mind as he stood up. He closed his eyes and summoned up that part of himself that he had never understood, could never explain, and imagined a snake in front of him. He opened his mouth, thinking of a simple greeting to the figment, but when he opened his mouth, no hissing came out.
That’s when the wall in his mind that kept his feelings at bay for the past year collapsed.
The tears of loss poured from his mind as he thought of everyone he had failed to protect and all that he no longer had. He had gotten everything he thought he wanted, did what everyone wanted him to do, but at what cost?
What was he left with now? His entire future had led up to this day, to this sunrise, and now he had nothing, Any future that he dared to think of had always started with this, the end of the war, the beginning of a peaceful life. But now all he could see was an empty black hole.
He had spent his entire life preparing to defeat Voldemort, and now that he had, the world wouldn’t need him anymore. They were safe. They would forget about him after a few months. He could escape the attention he’d always despised, and yet he already missed it. They had looked at him for answers, and now they would look at him with gratitude for a task he never asked for, one he would have willingly given to someone else, one that he had fumbled with for years and never quite knew what he was doing. He walked along the path formed from their corpses, for the greater good.
Harry looked down at his hands that were as empty as his being.
He thought he could be this great hero then fade out, but he didn’t feel heroic. He felt nothing. He felt lost. Dumbledore and Snape and so many others had set up a path for him to walk. On his own, he would have died in the Chamber of Secrets with no phoenix tears to save him.
How could Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen one, ever expect to have a normal, quiet life?
Wakefulness came too soon.
Despite closing all the curtains, the afternoon sunshine barged passed the fabric to spread across the bed and cause the entire thing to glow red. Harry squinted into the scarlet rays, half of his heart comforted by the familiar sight of a late Hogwarts morning and the other racing as the hue recalled memories of blood and rubies scattered across the floor. When he closed his eyes, the light shone across his eyelids so all he could see was red. There was no escape.
He brushed the curtains aside and found Hermione sitting at a small dining table on one of three chairs that hadn’t been there earlier. There were an assortment of pastries arranged on a platter, one of which was blueberry and being picked apart as Hermione plucked tiny pieces into her mouth as she continued to read her book.
She looked up as his feet thumped the floor, then said, “Good morning. Care for some breakfast?”
He shrugged as he took a seat across from her, placing the nearest pastry in front of him but not taking a bite. Whatever hunger had seized him earlier was gone.
“Almost everyone has gone home,” Hermione said as if Harry had asked, though as soon as she brought it up, he did begin to wonder what had happened after the three of them had retreated to Gryffindor Tower.
“Even the Weasleys?” he asked.
“Yes. Mr. Weasley left a message with Professor McGonagall that we can Floo there when we’re ready. The fireplace in the staff room has been connected to the Network. And Fred’s funeral is tomorrow at nine,” she added in a quieter voice. She poured a glass of orange juice as she talked, then slid it across the table to him. Apparently she wasn’t going to let him go with an empty stomach, so he sipped as little as possible. “We also received a letter from Kingsley,” she said, striking Harry’s attention. “He wants to meet with us at the Three Broomsticks at one.”
Fantastic, more war talk. His life would forever revolve around the war, wouldn’t it? “What time is it now?”
“Half past eleven,” she said glancing towards the center bed where Ron still slept, his long limbs hanging off the sides and sun not seeming to bother him a bit. “I’ll work on waking him up if you want to take a shower.”
“Sure.” He nodded, not feeling as if he were having this conversation. The morning felt like a dream, a pleasant one he was tentative to enjoy. There were no more Horcruxes to find, no Dark Lord to kill. The only things on his to-do list today were meeting Kingsley and going to the Burrow. It would be a rather boring day.
As he stood up, Hermione returned to her book, her bent neck reminding Harry of all the times he had seen her enthralled by a book. The sight was so familiar it hurt. “How do you do it?” he asked, jarring her out of her reading.
“Act so… normal?” He wanted so much to fall back into his old self like she did, but he couldn’t remember what his old self had done. Go to classes? Play Quidditch? Worry about Voldemort? He could no longer do any of those things.
“I don’t know,” she said hesitantly, squinting her eyes as she thought of a better answer. Then her eyes fell on Ron’s bed and her expression cleared. “I do it for him. He’s taking Fred’s death rather hard. I can’t afford to fall apart right now. Besides,” she added, “it’s over, right? We can have the lives we always wanted now.”
But Harry had never thought to want another life. He had been so sure that he would die, he didn’t want to torture himself with thoughts of a future he would never see. And here he was scrambling for a reason to go on when Ginny had lost a someone she loved too. Should he be trying to be strong for Ginny like Hermione was for Ron? Was he failing her before they even got back together, if they even got back together?
That sent a stabbing pain through his chest. Would Ginny still want him after all that had happened? How selfish was he to assume they would pick up from where they left off when Fred’s death was so new.
He grabbed the towel and clean clothes that Hermione had set out for him and rushed to the loo, a rush of emotion breaking through his mind again. He managed to turn on the scolding hot water and hurry into the steam before the tears started again.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione stood outside the Three Broomsticks, peeking in the windows and wincing at the sight of the crowd inside. They were a few minutes early for the meeting with Kingsley and stalled outside, not wanting to spend those five or so minutes crowded around celebrating witches and wizards who just might have the nerve to ask for an autograph.
Luckily, Harry had suggested they use the Invisibility Cloak as they walked through Hogsmeade, though they could still hear everyone passing along stories about the battle, each one more elaborate than the last. Who the hell started the rumor that lightning had flashed from the sky and struck Voldemort?
The trio gathered beneath a window and stayed away from the main entrance of the pub as people came out and in. It was as if each time a body squeezed into the pub, another one was forced out.
“Kingsley couldn’t think of a more private place to meet?” Ron muttered, glaring at the rowdy crowd through the window.
“I thought it suited just fine,” a deep voice said from somewhere to their right, startling all three of them. “If you came around the back, you’d find I arranged a more secluded spot.”
Although Harry couldn’t see him, he sensed Kingsley walking away, hearing something that sounded like the fluttering of robes. He led the way to the back of the pub where Madame Rosmerta was holding open the door. Kingsley appeared beside her, his wand pointed at the top of his head. She started, holding a hand to her chest, and said, “Oh there you are Kingsley. Where are the others?”
“I imagine just over there,” he said, pointing towards the general area where the trio stood, though a little to the left.
Harry tugged the cloak off of himself and his friends, and Rosmerta smiled as she ushered them into the back room, the walls shuddering from the main room. “You can go on up stairs,” she said, nodding towards a rickety stair case. “There’s tea and biscuits on the table.”
“Thank you, Rosmerta,” Kingsley said before leading the trio up the steps. They entered what looked like a small living room, and Harry assumed this was Madame Rosmerta’s flat. As promised, tea and biscuits waited for them around a square table that they all settled around.
“I know this past day has been hard for all of you, but I fear I have more to ask of the three of you if you would hear me out,” Kingsley said as soon as they were seated. He wasted little time with pleasantries, and Harry appreciated that. He wanted this business out of the way so he could go to the Burrow and return to his sulking. “But we have one more guest to wait on.”
Harry crossed his arms and sunk in his chair, staring at the staircase and urging someone to appear. Sitting still hurt more than running for his life.
“I think we all know what this is about,” Hermione said. Both Harry and Ron raised an eyebrow at her. “Or at least I do.”
“Not surprising,” Kingsly said. “And your decision.”
“I think it best I decline.”
Harry and Ron moved their heads from one to other as Kingsley and Hermione spoke, trying to piece together what they were talking about. Harry gave up and turned his head back to the stairs. The sooner this fifth person arrived, the sooner he would know.
“I would like to discuss something else with you,” Hermione said, her confidence slipping away as her eyes turned downcast.
“Ah,” Kingsley said. “Anything to do with your parents?”
Hermione’s head shot up and she gasped. “You know about my parents?”
“A small bit. After the three of you disappeared when the Ministry fell, I personally went to your house to offer your parents our best protection. How surprised I was to learn they’d moved to Australia.”
Hermione’s cheeks turned pink, either from embarrassment or sadness. Kingsley continued, “When you want same aid travelling there, I will do all I can to help.” She smiled at the Minister, thanking him for his understanding with the glistening in her eyes.
Footsteps echoed up the staircase, and everyone turned to watch a dark blond head appear from the floor below. “Sorry I’m late,” Neville said as he walked towards them.
“No matter. Have a seat,” Kingsley said, summoning another chair to the table so Neville could sit beside Harry. “Now, to the business at hand.
“All of you have shown immense bravery and skill, not just last night but throughout this whole year. You showed more talent and ability than most adults twice and thrice your age. You have fought dark wizards with valiance and survived with experiences that have made all of you outstanding duelers.
“As you all are aware, there are a number of Death Eaters that are still alive and roaming, and they must be captured before they can bring any more harm. The Auror department has lost some of its own, both from and to the Death Eaters.
“I know this is a sudden offer after everything you four have been through, but I would not ask this if it were not of the utmost necessity.” He paused, obviously still torn about the question he was about to ask. “I would like to offer all of you a position in the Auror department.”
Harry’s heartbeat quickened to a familiar pace, as if his pulse had slowed during the time of rest and finally had the motivation to beat properly again. It was all he could do not to leap up and Apparate to the Ministry right at that moment.
Kingsley continued. “You would have the authority to capture known and suspected Death Eaters, using lethal means if there is no other way. It would only be for the next couple months, until the Ministry has a better handle on the destruction that Tom Riddle has left in his wake. After that, we can begin discussing a more permanent place in the department, if you would like. Normally, we would require you return to Hogwarts and complete your N.E.W.T.’s, but I believe exceptions can be made in your cases.”
“When do we start?” Harry asked, unable to keep a hold on his impatience any longer.
Kingsley gave him a half smile, half grimace. “In time,” he said, and Harry felt his rush of excitement fly away. “You all could do with a few days of rest. Now, I do not need an answer from any of you today,” he said, mostly to the others. Harry glanced at each of them, wandering how any of them could say no. Ron looked almost as happy as Harry, but Neville, though a tentative smile on his face, had fear in his eyes. Then there was Hermione, who had already declined. He couldn’t understand why. She didn’t want to find her parents until after all the Death Eaters were captured anyways. Wouldn’t it make sense to help that process along?
“I will meet with you all tomorrow to discuss the details,” Kingsley said. “Take the time to come to a decision. There will be complete understanding if you chose not to accept.”
“Will we begin tomorrow then?” Harry pressed, not yet satisfied. If he could join the Aurors right that second, he would.
“Harry,” Kingsley said, a mix of firmness and concern in his tone. “You have been fighting against the most powerful dark wizard in centuries for many years. Take a day to rest.” He kept his eyes connected with Harry’s for a moment more, then stood from the table. “I believe that is all. I wish I could stay longer, but duty calls. Until tomorrow.” With a nod of his head, he walked down the stairs and disappeared.
Harry thought he was shaking but refused to look down at his hands. Who was Kingsley to tell him what he needed to do? He had been the one fighting Lord Voldemort. He was the only one who could know how to come back from that.
As the frustration rushed through his veins, he silently cursed himself. Wasn’t this anger supposed to disappear with the Horcrux? This wasn’t him, not the real him. But the more he tried to push it the way, the more his muscles tensed.
“Harry?” Hermione started, but he stood up before she could say anymore. He hurried down the stairs, unable to sit still any longer. He didn’t want to relax. He wanted to fight.