Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K. Rowling. I'm just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.
Authors Note: Hello again. Those of you who've read my stories in the past know that my favorite scenes are always the aftermaths. One of my biggest fears going into Deathly Hallows was that it would end during the battle, and we wouldn't get much of an aftermath. Sadly for me, that proved true — we didn't get ANY aftermath. Still, the quote at the beginning of this story leads me to believe there would have had to be some adjustment time for all of them, despite how well they were coping at the end of the book. This little plot bunny has stayed with me. For those of you who are like me and missed that, I hope it can fill some of the gaps…
Title of the story comes from a line in an Elton John song, Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me. It always reminds me of Harry.
Somehow he walled it all up in his mind, crammed it into a small space into which he could not look now: Thoughts of Fred and Hagrid, and his terror for all the people he loved, scattered in and outside the castle, must all wait, because they had to run… — Chapter 32, Deathly Hallows
Harry couldn't even remember where this day had begun. Was it back at Shell Cottage, or was that yesterday? His fuzzy brain didn't recall sleeping much the last time he'd actually lain down. He had to clutch the railing to remain upright as he descended the circular stairs with Ron and Hermione. His legs were shaking with weariness, and his vision had begun to fade in and out.
Dimly, he noticed Ron and Hermione's linked hands as the three slowly trudged toward the Gryffindor common room. They, too, seemed too tired for words. Or perhaps their minds were on the rest of the Weasley family huddled downstairs, grieving. Harry's chest tightened, and he squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn't bear to think about it now. He needed sleep first, desperately.
Woozy, he stumbled and had to catch the wall to keep from sprawling. His hands were shaking badly.
"All right, Harry?" Ron asked, reaching out to grab Harry's upper arm to keep him steady.
Harry flinched away. Ron's hand had grasped some yet unseen bruise acquired during battle.
"Yeah, just need to sleep," Harry replied, his words slurring slightly.
Hermione's brow furrowed. "Are you certain, Harry? Maybe we should see Madam Pomfrey first. You probably should get looked over."
"No," Harry replied, shaking his head. The thought of seeing the matron caused him to shudder involuntarily. "She's got more than enough on her plate at the moment. I'm just really tired."
"What? You need a lie down after taking out the greatest evil wizard of the century?" Ron asked, scoffing in jest.
Harry forced a chuckle. He didn't really want to think about that yet, either.
He didn't like the way Hermione was looking at him, so he was very glad when they reached the portrait hole. Leaning against the wall, he shut his eyes in weariness. He just wanted to lie down. After a pause that seemed to take too long, he opened his eyes to find Ron and Hermione staring at him, perplexed.
"Err, d'you know the password, mate?" Ron asked.
Harry's eyes widened. "How would I know it? I've been with you."
Hermione looked to the Fat Lady, her eyes pleading. "Is there any way you could just let us…"
"No password, no entry. You know the rules," the Fat Lady said imperiously. Then her eyes softened as she looked back and forth at the three. "I'm sorry. I wish I could, but I have no authority to change the rules — even for you."
Harry's knees nearly buckled, and he couldn't stop a groan escaping.
"Honestly!" Hermione said, exasperated.
"What have we done to Hermione Granger, eh, Harry? Seems wonky that she's the one complaining about having to follow the rules," Ron said, grinning fondly at the disgruntled girl.
A slow grin spread reluctantly across Hermione's face. "I'm just tired, too. Let's go back to the Great Hall. I think Professor McGonagall will let us kip here tonight. If most of the students have been sleeping in the Room of Requirement, I'm not certain who still knows the password, anyway."
The idea of going back to the Great Hall and facing all those people again filled Harry with dread. His thoughts must have shown clearly on his face because Hermione reached out and gently touched his arm.
"Why don't you stay here and wait for us. It shouldn't take long."
Harry considered it briefly but shook his head. "I'm all right. Let's just go." It wasn't fair to make Ron and Hermione face everyone alone. None of this was their fault.
"I really need to check in with my parents, anyway," Ron said, suddenly sombre. "They'll want to know where everyone is."
Hermione sniffled loudly and took Ron's hand. They all stared at one another for a moment, the enormity of everything that had happened and all that was still to come weighing heavy on them. The silence stretched out, but there really weren't any words to say. With effort, Harry pulled himself off the wall and began dragging his protesting legs behind his two best friends. One more task before he could sleep.
Gently squeezing her mum's shoulder, Ginny extracted herself from the tight hold she'd been pressed into for what felt like hours. After the extraordinary courage her mum had displayed during the battle, now she just seemed to need to physically touch her children. She'd held Ginny under one arm and George under the other while her eyes stared desolately at Fred's shrouded body.
Ginny really hadn't minded — she wanted physical contact, too. It was only now, after the excitement was over, that the full weight of Fred's loss was pressing upon her heart. She'd come within a centimetre of losing her own life to Bellatrix's curse, and when she'd seen Harry's lifeless body…
Choking back emotion, she glanced around the vast Great Hall yet again. The last time she'd seen Harry, he'd been sitting with Luna near the door. Ginny could presently see Luna standing next to Neville. Neville was surrounded by a group of admirers who seemed enthralled by the story he was telling. Luna occasionally prompted him if he got flustered, while waving her arms in the air every so often at something only Luna could see — Wrackspurts, probably.
Ginny had lost track of Harry quite some time ago, and it took only a short glance around the room to confirm that Ron and Hermione were missing as well.
Ginny had spent the better part of a year alternately agonizing over their safety and lamenting the fact she'd been left behind. Tonight, when the twins had got word that the missing trio was at Hogwarts gathering for battle, her heart had swelled, and she'd insisted there was no way she'd stay put this time. No one was keeping her from Harry again.
Her first glimpse of him — although he was thinner and bruised and obviously the worse for wear — had set her heart racing the way only he ever could.
Then he went and sided with her mother.
And then came that heart-stopping moment when Voldemort had claimed victory, Harry's body lying broken at his feet.
And finally, he emerged triumphant from nowhere to stare down his lifelong enemy, the two circling one another like predatory cats. In the end, only Harry, glorious in victory, was left standing.
Ginny's emotions had hit so many highs and lows in one evening that she didn't know which way to turn, but she knew she was never going to settle for being left behind again — and it was time he got that straight. She knew it was in his nature to protect — but he'd damn well have to learn to ask her how she felt about the protection he offered.
A huge commotion by the entryway caught her attention, and she turned to see Harry, Ron and Hermione all trying to push their way through the crowd to join the Weasley family.
Ginny felt her ire melting away when she saw the utter exhaustion on Harry's face. She didn't know what was even holding him upright at this point, and still bystanders tugged at his sleeve, wanting his attention. None of them appeared to consider what he might need at the moment.
Her chest constricted tightly, and she could barely suppress the sob threatening to erupt. She'd lost Fred — and she'd never get him back. She'd lost Harry tonight, too, but miraculously had been given a second chance. In light of everything that had happened, everything that had been lost, and everything that had been gained — it seemed incredibly petty to stay angry over being left behind.
She wasn't going to be known as the girl who wasted her second chance.
Elbowing her way through the hordes that wanted to congratulate him, shake his hand or question him, Ginny kept him firmly in her sight. Those glorious green eyes of his shone with a light of their own as he intently watched her progress, reminding her of a fox watching its prey. Those eyes acted as a beacon as she rushed across the Great Hall, leaped into his arms and kissed him — hard.
She saw those green eyes widen in surprise at first, but the slump in his shoulders seemed to lift as he wrapped his arms around her and gave as good as he got, as whistles and applause filled the air.
When they finally pulled apart, he rested his forehead against hers, whispering her name over and over again. His hands smoothed her hair and ran along the side of her face as if he couldn't believe she was really there in front of him.
"Finally more than a dot," he whispered, and she didn't know what he meant, but it didn't matter. He was there.
His entire body was trembling — with fatigue or emotion she didn't know — and her eyes couldn't seem to drink in enough of him. He traced one finger along her lower lip before leaning over to kiss her once again.
"Ron," her mum's trembling voice called, dragging Ginny back to reality. She felt Harry stiffen within her arms, as well. They pulled apart and both turned to face her grieving mother. There would be time for them later, but for now, Fred had to come first. She felt Harry's hand snake within her own. She didn't know if he needed comfort or offered reassurance but it didn't matter. Giving his hand a gentle squeeze, she led him towards her family, willing to both give and receive.
Ron sat down in Ginny's former spot next to her mum, leaning in and allowing her to smother him. Hermione moved to stand next to Harry and Ginny, quiet tears streaking her worn face.
"We went up to Gryffindor Tower. We all need a kip, but we didn't know the password," Ron explained, finally disengaging himself from their mother's embrace.
"It's Victory," her father said quietly, so only they could hear. "Minerva told me she changed it tonight… er, this morning… so we could all get some sleep."
The grief in her father's eyes was overwhelming, and Ginny had to bite down on her trembling lip to remain silent. Her gaze drifted to George, the only one of her brothers who hadn't moved when Ron returned. He remained still, staring at the shell of his dead twin. Ginny couldn't imagine what he was feeling. Fred and George had always been a pair, nearly a single unit. One was never mentioned without the other.
Nothing was ever going to be the same.
"Why don't all of you go up to the Tower. Your mother and I will be along shortly with George," her father said quietly, and Ginny suspected her father's own thoughts were mirroring her own. "We can all talk later." This last bit was directed towards her oldest brothers who were still staring in consternation at her and Harry.
Nodding, Ron, Bill, Fleur, Charlie and Percy — who still appeared uncertain — all got up from the table. Hermione took Ron's hand and began the march toward the door. Ignoring the watchful eyes of Bill and Charlie, Ginny tugged on Harry's hand as she followed them. When they reached the main staircase, Harry stumbled over some debris at the bottom. Charlie quickly moved to catch him before he hit the ground.
It was only then Ginny realized how badly he was trembling. Ron turned at the movement and let go of Hermione's hand to sling Harry's arm over his own shoulder. It was a testament to how drained Harry must truly feel that he didn't argue about the assistance. Charlie took Harry's other arm, and the rag-tag group wearily headed up the stairs. Despite the sunlight streaming in from the dusty windows, they all needed to lie down and surrender to blissful sleep.
Harry awoke gasping for breath. The edges of a nightmare still tugged at the fringes of his consciousness. He shut his eyes tightly as he clutched the edge of his bed, desperately trying to master his emotions and settle the rapid beating of his heart. As his breathing slowly evened, he glanced around at his surroundings.
He was beneath the covers of his familiar four-poster, the curtains drawn tightly around him. He had no recollection of how he'd ended up here. Pulling the bedcovers aside, he realized someone had removed his shoes and jeans, but he'd slept in his torn and filthy T-shirt, still stained with dirt and dried blood. Realizing some of the blood wasn't even his own, he quickly pulled the offending garment over his head and dropped it to the floor.
The dormitory was very dark, and he could hear the familiar sounds of various Weasleys snoring. He didn't even know who had shared the dormitory with him. The clock on his bedside table read 4:00. Judging by the darkness, he reckoned it was just before dawn. Although his stomach ached painfully, the pressing need for a shower outweighed even his hunger. He felt desperately sullied and unclean. He couldn't stand the grime a moment longer.
His legs shook as he stood up, and he had to take a moment to stretch before grabbing all three wands from his night table and quietly padding toward the bathroom. The chamber lit automatically as he entered, and he caught his first glimpse of himself in the mirror above the sink.
He wished he hadn't.
His face and body were littered with various cuts, burns and bruises. One nasty burn along his collarbone was oozing unpleasantly. Obviously he'd missed it after their escape from Gringotts. Overshadowing all the other marks on his body, however, was the dark, looming bruise on his chest. Nearly black and covering a vast area, he could dimly see the trace of yet another lightening-shaped scar, this one over his heart.
Shuddering, he turned away. He didn't want to examine that particular wound now. Turning on the water to a scalding hot, he stripped the remainder of his clothes and stepped into the cleansing spray.
When he was finished, he dressed quickly, after locating his knapsack at the foot of his bed, and plodded down into the quiet common room. There was a platter of sandwiches on the table that someone had thoughtfully placed a preservation charm upon. Stuffing half a sandwich into his mouth in one bite, Harry gratefully sank into his favourite chair. The tower was calm and quiet, but it made Harry feel very alone.
He tried to focus his scattered thoughts on how he'd got here. He had vague recollections of being pulled through the portrait hole by several Weasley brothers, but after that, his mind was utterly blank. He hoped none of her brothers had given Ginny a hard time about their display of affection in the Great Hall. He hadn't meant to do that; he just couldn't help himself. He was so happy to see her. Still, he knew there would plenty of time for them to get reacquainted. There were more sombre matters that had to be attended to first.
The second half of his sandwich turning to sawdust in his mouth, Harry put it down. His stomach churning unpleasantly, he got up and began to pace the common room. Images of the battle kept fighting for dominance in his mind. Fred's expression as the wall blasted apart, shrouded bodies in the Great Hall, Remus and Tonks' hands nearly touching, Snape demanding Harry to look at him.
Voldemort's words, "You have permitted your friends to die for you."
No! Harry couldn't stay here. He had to move. He hadn't noticed where his Invisibility Cloak was placed upstairs, but thought he'd be all right without it at this early hour. Silently creeping through the portrait hole, he left the common room and stared at the quiet corridor without.
The castle was eerily silent at this early hour, and he made a path toward the Great Hall without encountering another soul. The damage to the school was massive, and several times he had to alter his path to avoid mounds of debris and missing stairs. When he reached the wall where Fred had perished, his breath caught in his throat, the scene playing repeatedly in his mind's eye.
Through the hole in the castle wall, he could clearly see outside onto the grounds. Dusky grey light made streaks upon the ground as it stretched across the morning sky. Birds twittered amongst the gently blooming trees, some still budding in all their spring glory above the scorched ground.
How could such peacefulness surround the site of such profound loss?
The pressure in Harry's chest, a pressure he'd felt since awakening, compressed so tightly it made breathing difficult. He turned from the wall and hurriedly continued his journey, stepping on mortar and stone. The doors to the Great Hall were closed, and Harry took a deep breath before entering. If he were going to run into anyone else, this is where they would be.
The Hall showed no signs of life, however.
Instead, rows of shrouded individuals lay along the floor towards the front. The real heroes of the battle. Harry's eyes were automatically drawn to the area where he knew Fred, Remus and Tonks all lay. He had to force his legs to walk toward them, but before he'd reached them, he heard the rattle of the main doors opening. Someone else was awake in the castle.
Instinctively ducking into a side chamber, Harry's heart plummeted as he realized there was just one body entombed here.
Tom Riddle lay on a black cloak on the floor, his snakelike eyes closed in death. He appeared somehow smaller than Harry remembered, yet Harry still couldn't bring himself to get too close.
His breathing shallow, he couldn't shake the childish fear that even in death, Voldemort would reach out and grab him. Forcing himself to master his unreasonable fright, Harry inched closer toward the monster who had haunted his entire life. He didn't know what would happen to Voldemort's body, but he couldn't escape the irreversible truth that he lay here at Harry's hand.
He didn't cast the Killing Curse. Voldemort's own curse had rebounded onto him. It didn't alter the fact that Harry was a murderer. He stared at the unnaturally white face, still in death. Harry's hands shook, but he couldn't walk away. He felt as if he was waiting for something, but he didn't know what.
He was startled to feel a gentle hand touching his shoulder, and he jumped, wand drawn as he spun around. His heart thudded painfully in his chest.
"Come on, son," Arthur Weasley said gently, ignoring the wand pointing at his heart. "You don't want to be in here."
"Mr. Weasley," Harry said blankly, uneasy with the fact he'd been unaware of the man's approach. Still, he didn't lower his wand.
Watching Harry closely, Mr. Weasley slowly and deliberately lowered his own wand and stowed in his jacket pocket, raising his empty hands to show Harry he meant no threat. The overwhelming grief in the older man's eyes was plain to see.
Harry couldn't seem to focus. He knew Mr. Weasley would never hurt him. He knew that. So why was he sweating so profusely? Forcing himself to master his emotions, he shakily lowered his wand and swallowed around the lump that had materialized in his throat.
Palm open, Mr. Weasley reached an arm around Harry's shoulders and tried to steer him away from Voldemort's body.
Harry still couldn't tear his eyes away. "He somehow looks… I dunno, less threatening in death."
Mr. Weasley nodded solemnly, "But we all know he wasn't. You saved a lot of lives today. He wouldn't have stopped."
"No," Harry whispered, knowing it was true yet unable to fully acknowledge it.
"I know it must be overwhelming to process, but there will be time for it all to sink in. The answers can wait until both you and Kingsley have a chance to order your thoughts. Come on out of here, Harry," Mr. Weasley said gently.
Dazedly, Harry allowed himself to be moved, feeling oddly disconnected from his own body.
"What are you doing here?" he mumbled, his tongue seeming too big for his mouth.
"We're taking it in turns keeping watch until Kingsley returns from the Ministry," Mr. Weasley said, though none of it registered in Harry's foggy brain. "Have you had something to eat?" he asked.
"Not hungry. What about the others?" Harry asked, jerking his head toward the other bodies he could now see as they entered the Great Hall.
"Their families will claim them as arrangements are made," Mr. Weasley replied heavily."There is nothing to worry about, Harry. You need to take care of you right now."
"I'm fine," Harry mumbled as Mr. Weasley continued to lead him toward the entryway. "Where is everyone?"
"I imagine they're all still asleep in Gryffindor Tower. Most of us woke up and had some dinner last night, but we thought it was better to let you sleep."
"I'm sorry about Fred," Harry blurted somewhat desperately, not understanding how the elder man could stand being in the same room with him. "If there's anything I can do, anything at all…"
"Thank you, Harry, but you have nothing to be sorry for. Bill has gone back to The Burrow to check on the damage and reset some wards. Once we're cleared, we'll all be heading home, and that includes you."
Harry shifted uncomfortably, feeling he shouldn't intrude on this time of mourning for the Weasleys, yet uncertain what else to do. He didn't really want to be alone, and he had nowhere else to go.
Some of his feelings must have shown on his face for Mr. Weasley tightened his grip on Harry's shoulder.
"We all need each other right now. Together we can get through this," Mr. Weasley said softly.
Unsure what to say, and unable to bear the look of sorrow in the older man's eyes, Harry merely nodded and looked away, the pressure on his chest building again.