He felt himself slipping away. All reality blurred, and his redemption was beyond all thought or knowledge. It was selfish, he knew, but if it was wrong to feel like this, then he didn’t want to be right. It was almost amusing that he knew he didn’t have any control now. Since Dumbledore's death he had lead the way for everyone else. For all the fighting, and struggling, he had always known somehow that he wasn’t what everyone else saw. And Harry didn’t really want to be what they wanted anymore. Mostly he just wanted to be left alone, take Ginny and leave it all behind. But in the end he knew he wouldn’t. Even if he could, it just wasn’t in him. So he would endure, because he had to. All of these thoughts struck him as amusing, for a reason past his comprehension. In fact everything he heard in the last few minutes struck him as very funny. And he burst out anew with laughter.
Ron stared over the rim of his glass as he drank. Harry was acting very oddly. Whenever they stopped back at headquarters, many of the Order had remarked upon how down Harry seemed, and had taken to asking Ron and Hermione of Harry’s state. Indeed, Ron's mum was in such a state of worry over him, constantly fussing and fretting, that Ron wondered how Harry kept his sanity. They had all wished that he would loosen up a bit, or give them a smile, or just something real to let them know that he was okay. But aside from a grumbled “I’m fine,” Harry gave no clue as to how he really felt. This new change in his disposition was entirely unexplained, though. Ron considered that perhaps after so many years of pressure and pain, Harry really was cracking up.
With a pat on the back from his friend, Harry sat up with a start. He had been intently studying the liquid-filled glass in front of him, all the while laughing, trying to understand what might possibly convince him to drink more of the fiery liquor. Ron gave him all the inspiration he needed. So he took the glass and raised it briefly to his friend and swallowed the drink quickly.
Hermione, however, was shrewdly observing the twins, who thought that they had made a successful escape. She got up from the table and told Ron that she would be right back, sliding her arm across his shoulders as she passed. Stepping up behind Fred and George at the bar as they were telling Tom another joke, she cleared her throat, "He-hem". They nearly spit out their drinks in surprise as they turned to faced her.
“Bloody hell Hermione, don’t sneak up on us like that!” exclaimed George.
“What did you two do to him?” she demanded impatiently, in a tone that could have rivaled their mother.
The twins looked at each other innocently, acting as if they had no idea what she was talking about. “What do you mean, Hermione?” asked Fred in a honeyed voice.
She continued to glare at them, “You know exactly what I mean, don’t play dumb with me. What did you do to Harry? And you had better tell me quickly before I send for your mother.” Her stiff tone told them that she wasn’t playing around.
“Look,” said George, pulling her aside, “we just thought he needed to loosen up a little bit.”
“Take a night off, you know? It’s completely harmless,” continued Fred.
“Besides, we’re all here watching over him, it’s not like anything is going to happen to him,” said Fred with half a smile. Hermione, however, was neither satisfied, nor deterred. She raised an eyebrow at them imperiously, pressing them to tell her. Finally they quelled, “All right, all right, we’ll tell you,” he continued, swallowing hard.
“We just put a simple Cheering charm on him when he wasn’t looking. He won’t even know it happened in a few hours, and he can certainly use a break from all that brooding,” finished George.
Hermione looked even angrier than before though. Pulling them even further away from everyone, she began her rant. “Do you two have any idea how serious this is?” she started in a dangerously low voice. “With all the baggage he has, idiots! A Cheering charm can’t just be used on a person who is feeling all the things he is. There is a reason it isn’t used on people who have experienced a lot of emotional trauma, it’s dangerous. There have been cases where the person was permanently affected.”
“So? Big deal,” cut in George.
“It might actually be good if Harry could smile more,” said Fred indignantly.
“You brainless oafs!” she hissed. “It’s not that simple. The effects aren’t just that the person is happier, otherwise hospitals would use it all the time to cure depression. A cheering charm can cause such conflicting emotions that it can drive the person insane, or worse. The brain needs time to sort out emotions like he is feeling. Forcing him to be happy doesn’t solve the problem, it only takes away his ability to cope with those feelings and understand what he is going through. It could do any number of things to him to make him face these things without control; lose his sanity, become more depressed, even turn him evil! And that’s not to mention the fact that he is drinking like a fish over there,” she pointed vehemently in Harry’s direction. “I can’t believe you two would do that to him. Think about how powerful he is, as well. He might not be able to think things through rationally now, he could blow this whole place apart, thinking it was all a joke. You have three seconds to fix this before I turn the both of you into slugs.”
Now that they understood why Hermione was so upset, they wasted no time in sneaking around behind Harry. While he was distracted, trying to convince Ron that Voldemort was going to South America for a vacation, they cast the counter charm and released Harry from his happiness.
Harry slumped back in his chair, feeling immediately the pressure of his life drop back onto his shoulders. For awhile there he had felt like he hadn’t a care. If the whole world came crashing down around him he would have been just as content. That thought made his heart sink lower than it had been in nearly a year. He felt guilty about wanting to be free, when there were other people suffering. Slowly, he placed his hands on his face and let his head fall back. All the pain and remorse washed over him.
His friends watched him anxiously, even as his burden was renewed. What more did the world want from this young man who had already given so much of his life to protect them? Hell, thought Ron, he would give his life for them if he thought it could save even one person. It was a thought that they all knew. It was part of the reality of who Harry was, selfless. Of course there were some in the world who would call it foolish, but anyone who knew him could only call it endearing. It was why people followed him, they could see that in him, and it made them want to be better – to be like him. Sure he could be brave when he needed to be, he had courage to spare. And he was smart when he tried; humble and resourceful, and fun, and he was desperately ambitious. He was someone who wouldn’t quit. Anyone who really knew him could tell you about all he had endured, so much, so that no one could question his fortitude and perseverance. But it was his love, and willingness to sacrifice himself that made him noble. It was why he was a hero.
After some time Harry lifted his head again. His eyes were stained red with the stress that he had fought. Looking around he saw that everyone had gone quiet. The somber fire reflected in their faces. “You know, I was thinking before about stories, and what kind of tale our lives would tell. Sometimes it feels like life is a book that some unknown person is reading. It has adventure, and love,” he said as he looked at Ron and Hermione. Turning his gaze on Fred and George, before reflecting upon himself, “And there is mischief, and grief. Sometimes we find hope, or face evil and danger. But we also have to face each other. We have our family and friends, and all the small turns of life that fate, or whatever, has put in front of us. I wish I could skip ahead in the story and see what it all means, understand where each road leads and why. I wonder what the reader is getting from it all.”
“Harry,” Hermione said concernedly. She knew that part of this was coming from the aftereffects of the charm.
“I mean, every story has some meaning, something that the writer wants the reader to discover. When this story ends what does the writer want us, or the reader to know? With all these people dying, does it mean that we should live for right now?” Harry persisted.
“Well if that is it, then I want to stop reading now, mate.” Ron interjected. The others glared at him. “What?”
“No, Ron’s right. If that’s all there is to it, just right now, then I don’t think I would finish reading either. I want there to be more than that, I want something to look forward to. I need a happy ending,” Harry added.
Hermione looked around the table before adding her thoughts, “maybe the message is that we have each other. That’s something that has always helped us through the tough times.” Ron wrapped his hand in Hermione’s as she spoke. “That, at least, is a lesson with hope. We have each other to lean on, and that’s worth a lot more than words Harry.” The twins nodded their agreement.
“That is true, but are we all part of the same story?” Harry replied soberly. “I mean, I want to have your friendship, and hope, and a future. Sometimes it feels like I am all alone though, even when I’m sitting right next to you. I guess I just don’t know. We’ve come to far too lose heart now, but it is hard to turn to the next page. Where does the story go from here, and what will it show us? ” He sighed. Harry knew that they were all facing dark times. Yet somewhere in his mind, there was the promise of a great future. Whether it was foresight, or hope, or just a trick of his imagination, he didn't know. He shook his head as if to clear out the dark thoughts. Harry smiled genuinely, as if his heart had opened itself to warm him, “Well whatever it is, I’m sticking around to make it a good ending, and I’m glad you guys will be with me when it comes.”
“Perhaps,” said Tom as he stepped up to their table, “You are meant to take away the things that you want. Learn what you will from the writer's words and leave the rest for someone else. Each reader is different, as is each character, only you can decide what the story means to you. Bar’s closing up kids, last call.”
Author's note: Thanks again to Katieay for all of her work correcting my mistakes (there were a lot of them). Also, thanks to the people who took the time to read this story, and those who have reviewed; hope you all enjoyed it.
Beta’s note: Terribly sorry to Aschowin’s readers for the delay! My computer went and broke itself. Katie.