Chapter 1 : Recognition
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Thunderous applause again filled the students ears. All three were blushing furiously at this. "Please ... we haven't done anything to deserve this" one of them meekly said.
"Not done anything? My friends you have just rid the world of a great evil! I assure you that indeed you have earned all this, and more !!" stated their former Headmaster.
"But it wasn't only us. Many more were involved" the bushy haired girl replied. She felt a warm hand squeeze hers tightly, grateful for her saying this.
"Everyone played their part. But it was the sacrifices you three made which brought this to an end" the picture in the painting replied.
"Well for one I am just glad it's all over" the red haired boy responded. He leaned over to kiss the bushy haired girl on the cheek, causing her to blush again.
"Ron. Stop it please" she whispered.
"Can't my best mate kiss his girlfriend?" the other student wondered. He had thick black hair which if straight would have hung onto his shoulders. As it was most of it went every which way. He tried yet again to run his fingers through it, but he knew it was no use.
"Mate you should try tying it in back like my brother Bill does" his best mate Ron told him.
"Thanks. Maybe I will" he grinned. Harry watched as Hermione finally gave in and leaned to her right to kiss her boyfriend of less than 12 hours.
"There that wasn't so bad was it" she heard Harry reply. It made him very happy to see his two best friends finally realize and accept their feelings for each other.
Hermione broke the kiss for a moment, turned to opposite way to stick her tongue out at Harry Potter, and return to her boyfriend Ron Weasley.
"Oii you two get a room" they heard another of the paintings tell them. They pulled apart but continued to hold hands as they stood in front of the Headmaster's desk next to their best friend.
"Harry are you sure you are all right?" a very worried Hermione Granger asked. Her best friend had not looked well for weeks ( actually none of them for longer than they could remember ). Harry was leaning on the desk with both hands looking like he might pass out at any moment.
Ron waved his wand and three chairs slid over for them. "Let's rest for a few moments shall we? C'mon Harry. Between Hermione and I." He and his girlfriend helped Harry to sit in the overstuffed chair.
"Can you watch Harry? I'm off to find the loo" Hermione whispered into her boyfriend's ear. He nodded full of concern for his best friend. Yes Harry had defeated Lord Voldemort only a couple of hours ago, so he should be on top of the World right now. But he knew Harry better than that. All three had seen the bodies lined up in the Great Hall during the break in the action. Professor Lupin and his wife Nymphadora. Young Colin Creevy, who was underage but returned to fight after being evacuated. Ron suspected there were probably dozens more, but his heart was broken thinking about his brother Fred. He had died during the beginning stages of the Battle, and he was sure his parents were watching over his body now. A single tear began falling down his cheek, and he felt a pair of strong arms from behind.
"We'll get through this together" he heard his girlfriend whisper. She nodded for him to see Harry now fast asleep in the chair.
"Miss Granger. I believe if you find 'History of Magic' and tap it with your wand you will save yourself a very long walk" they heard the painting of Professor Dumbledore say. He gestured to the bookshelf next to where he was hanging. Hermione got up and began to study the titles of the books. She got so engrossed in one she found called 'Magical Maladies of Molgolia' that she forgot why she walked over there. She was startled when she heard Ron tap a book over her head and the bookshelf folded in revealing a private loo.
"Sorry" she mumbled handing him the book. She stole a quick kiss and stepped inside the white and black marble bathroom. Directly in front of her was a full length mirror and she was shocked to see how bad she looked. Her hair was matted and caked with dried blood. It was much longer than she used to keep it, but she decided to save cutting it until she got cleaned up first. 'Maybe Ron will like it this way?' she mused. She made quick work of her clothes (which turned out to be quite remarkable considering the condition they were in) and returned to find Ron reading the same book she was so engrossed in. Hermione placed her hands over his eyes and asked "Guess who?"
"The prettiest girl in the World" was Ron's reply as he turned in his chair to hug her. "I like your hair like this" he added.
"Thanks" she replied as she kissed him. "Now it's your turn." Grabbing both his hands she pulled him into the loo, and he surprised her by kicking the door closed behind them. "Ron what are you ... " was all she got out as she felt him pull her close. There in the Headmaster's loo they shared their most passionate kiss yet.
Harry's eyes snapped open when he heard the door close. He could hear their muffled conversation, and it made his heart feel good for them. But what about himself? After breaking up with Ron's sister Ginny just before Fleur's and Bill Weasley's wedding last year he felt horrible. He could see how hurt Ginny was when he told her she could not accompany them. 'It's too dangerous. I don't want anything to happen to you' he said at the time.
But he loved her. Nothing, not even Hermione and Ron, were as important to him. He would do anything in the World to insure her safety, including distancing himself both physically and emotionally.
"I must say Harry now that the other two are not here that I am both pleased and surprised you survived. I suspect you had a difficult decision to make out there" Professor Dumbledore kindly asked. He was peering over his half moon spectacles when he said this.
"Yes and no Professor. When I first headed towards the Forest and Riddle I knew I had no choice. Going past ... well ... going past her was by far the toughest thing. I think she felt me. I saw her hand reach out and I had to move quickly to avoid her. I couldn't have done it if I had paused, not even for a second.
Thankfully my parents, Sirius, and Professor Lupin stayed with me. They knew why I was there, and spoke about how proud they were. It gave me the courage to face Tom. My thoughts were about all of you when he did it."
"All of us Harry? No one specific person?" Albus gently chided.
"You know how much she means to me. I am never happier than when we are together. But I have botched it all up now. There is no way she will even look at me now" Harry sadly replied.
"Do not judge her too harshly. Like all three of you she has been through a lot this year. I suggest you let each other talk. If it is meant to be, then things will work themselves out."
"Thank you Professor. I'll try if she gives me the chance" Harry quietly replied as he heard the door open again. Hermione came out trying to straighten her clothes which appeared to be twisted sideways somehow.
"Don't even ... " she playfully threatened as she sat. "Ron will be out shortly. We just had a few things to ... errr ... discuss first."
"Oh so that is what they are calling it now" joked the Headmaster. "Back in my day we had another name for it. We called it spooning."
"I bet Ron would love that!! Anything to do with food and we know what happens" laughed Harry.
"Yes he can't seem to get enough" replied Hermione with a straight face. At least until she saw Harry trying not to laugh. Soon both had fallen out of their chairs, crying they were laughing so hard.
"OK what's so funny. Is it me? Yes I know I lost a lot of weight and my clothes are too big, and I got sunburn at Shell Cottage so my nose is still a little red, but that's no reason to be laughing at me " Ron crossly said as he returned.
"Mate it has nothing to do with you. Well actually it does. Headmaster could you explain it to him please?" wondered Harry as he helped pull Hermione to her feet. "I love you two. You know that right?" he asked as he pushed them together and stumbled to the open door.
"No. Harry needs to sort a few things out" Ron stated, preventing his girlfriend from following him.
"Are you sure Ron? Should we be leaving him alone right now?" Hermione whispered.
"You know Harry as well as I do. He needs to brood for a while before we go face everyone. When he feels up to it we can go."
"And by everyone I'm sure you mean Ginny."
Ron looked away, thinking more about his dead brother. "Yes. Her and George. We both know why he broke it off, but it still hurt her badly. The way she and Professor McGonagall screamed when we thought Harry had died sent chills down my spine. I swear we literally heard her heart break. And when she was fighting, she took a lot of risks. Like she was daring them to try and kill her."
"Ron I felt the same. If Harry was gone it didn't matter anymore. That's why we attacked Bellatrix Lestrange. She was making fun of Ginny. Luna and I had had enough. Together we were going to kill her for Harry."
"I'm glad Mom stepped in. If she hadn't then the old Witch may have hurt one of you before you got her. And I couldn't have lived with myself if that happened."
"I guess this is what Harry realized. He wanted to protect Ginny no matter what. Later I hope he tells us what he was referring to with the Headmaster" Hermione added, looking up hopefully at his portrait. Unfortunately for her he was asleep.
"I think he will. The four of us for sure, and maybe Professor McGonagall and Kingsley Shacklebolt. And in time maybe my parents too" said Ron.
* * *
When Harry Potter stumbled away from his friends, part of it was to use the loo for its intended purpose. Once he was done he stared at himself in the mirror for a long while. 'How can they look at me? Ron and Hermione? His brother Fred is lying in the Great Hall with Professor Lupin and Tonks! And Hermione you were cursed over and over by Bellatrix! You must hate me too!!
No this isn't going to work. I have to leave. Seeing me will be a reminder of all the pain they have suffered. How many did I cause to be hurt or killed? Dozens? Hundreds maybe??
And Ginny. I bet you can't stand the sight of me. You have every right to hex me too. Yes I will go downstairs with Hermione and Ron. His family deserves an apology if they can stand to be in the same room with me. Then when I get the chance I will leave. Anywhere it doesn't matter. None of them should be forced to look at me any longer than they have to. I can barely stand the sight of myself.' With that Harry hit the mirror in front of him as hard as he could, driving both fists into the wall behind it. The pain felt good as he felt both his hands break against the marble wall.
From somewhere behind him he heard Ron yelling but he could not make out the words. He looked at his hands, seeing the blood running down his arms and onto the white marble floor. He felt the door shaking like it was being hit repeatedly by a battering ram. The next thing he knew he was surrounded by his two best friends.
"Oh Harry" he thought he heard Hermione whisper through her hands.
* * *
Ron had convinced Hermione to sit down and let Harry have some time alone. "Hermione he must be sick of us by now. I bet he can't stand the sight of us" he tried to joke.
"Mr. Weasley I believe you are wrong. It was the love the three of you had for each other which kept you going, and now he needs Miss Weasley too. Harry is full of despair. Many, many times we talked about your journey, and he was very afraid for you. I had to convince him all three of you were needed or the plan would not work. He also felt very ashamed about his parents and Sirius, blaming himself for their deaths. There is a name for this. It is called ... "
Professor Dumbledore never got the chance to finish what he was saying because at that moment they heard a crash which sounded like glass breaking. Hermione jumped up from Ron's lap and ran to the door. It was locked from the inside. "Alohamora" she kept saying, unable to get the magical door to unlock itself.
"Here let me try" Ron stated as he pushed her aside. Crouching over he rammed his shoulder into the door, pretending like he was one of his favorite players on the Quidditch Team he adored the Chudley Cannons. Try as he might it would not budge.
"Miss Granger. Miss Weasley. I believe if you use 'Alohomora Optima' it will work" the former Headmaster asserted.
"Thanks" stated Hermione. She looked intently at her boyfriend who nodded he was OK and loudly said 'Alohomora Optima'. The bolts clicked and the door swung open. There standing blankly in front of them was Harry. Behind him the mirror was gone, and two fist shaped indentations were in the wall. All around his feet was broken glass.
"Oh Harry" Hermione muttered looking at her best friend. His hands and forearms were covered in blood, as well as the front of his shirt. She could see parts of the bones of his hands protruding out of his skin, but yet he wasn't in any pain as far as she could tell.
"I believe there is some ditany on the shelf to your right" Hermione heard the Headmaster tell her. Taking the only washcloth not covered in blood she poured some on it and placed it on Harry's bloodstained right hand which seemed to be the worse of the two.
"Ow" he replied, attempting to pull away. The pain had brought him out of his trance.
"Did you get into a fight with the mirror mate? It looks like you lost. Well no matter. 'Reparo' " Ron said pointing at the floor. The glass shards jumped up and reassembled themselves. Ron kept the mirror floating while he repaired the wall and used a permanent sticking charm to reattach it. "Scourgify" he said pointing at the floor again, cleaning up all Harry's blood. Slowly he moved his wand upwards and the most recent blood and glass particles disappeared from Harry's clothes too.
"Harry would you like to talk?" Hermione softly asked as she cleaned him up. She saw him barely shake his head no. "You know we are here for you right? All three of us? I know she wants to see you too."
Harry was now looking at the floor, ashamed of his actions. He felt Ron's big hand on his shoulder. "Harry we have all had bad hair days, although in your case it's been an issue since you were born" Ron teased. It had been a running joke of theirs over the years, how Ron's hair would lay nice and flat but Harry's stuck every which way.
"Thanks. You know I don't deserve you two, especially now" he quietly spoke.
"Harry James Potter you are the best friend we could ever hope for! While every relationship has its ups and downs, we have always been there for each other and always will" Hermione told him as she hugged him, trying not to squeeze his hands as she did so.
"Hermione's right Harry. I mean take the two of us. If I hadn't been so stupid for all these years I could have had the girl of my dreams sooner" Ron added.
"All these years? What do you mean Ron?" wondered Hermione.
"This goes back at least as far as the Yule Ball during the Tri Wizard Tournament. I saw how beautiful you were and I was very jealous of Victor. I wanted you for myself, but I didn't know what to say" Ron stated as he held Hermione.
"But what about Lavender" she asked looking him in the eye.
"She was a distraction. She liked me, so it was easy to get close to her. But every time I kissed her I felt bad, like I was using her. So I pretended to be kissing you instead. I wanted to break it off, but I didn't want to hurt her feelings. No the only one I want is you. So what I am wondering Miss Hermione Jean Granger is will you be my girlfriend?"
"Ronald Bilius Weasley I have loved you for a long time too. At least as long as the Yule Ball. Yes it would love to be your girlfriend" Hermione replied as she kissed him.
"Excuse me Professor but I was wondering if there was any plans for a final Ball for the year?" Harry asked.
"Mr. Potter I don't know. Perhaps if you ask Professor McGonagall she will have the answer. I suspect she will become Headmistress now" Albus replied.
"OK. I was just asking because I know how much Ron enjoyed the formal robes he wore to the Yule Ball during the Tri Wizard Tournament and I can tell he is wishing for another chance" Harry tries to calmly state. Out of the corner of his eye he could see both Ron and Hermione trying hard not to laugh. After a few more seconds they failed to contain themselves, pulling Harry into a hug with them. Their laughter soon changed to tears as they began to remember all those who they lost. Harry was especially loud, his cries echoing in the partially empty room.
"Yes we must remember them. Each of them gave their lives so the rest of us would live in peace. Now sit down please while we have a few more minutes to talk" suggested Albus.
The trio again settled into the very cushy chairs in front of the Headmasters desk. Harry thought for a moment and said softly "Kreacher."
With a 'pop' the older Elf appeared. "You called Master Harry? How can Kreacher be of assistance?"
"Firstly on behalf of Hogwarts we want to thank you for helping us earlier" Harry stated. He felt Hermione squeeze his hand, and he closed his eyes to help block out the pain.
"Is Master all right?" asked a worried Kreacher. He saw his Master close his eyes and grimace.
"Yes I am Kreacher thank you. If it isn't too much trouble could we bother you to bring us something to eat while we talk to the Headmaster?"
"Of course Master Harry." He snapped his fingers and two trays appeared. "Kreacher took the liberty of asking the other House Elves to prepare food for everyone." He snapped his fingers again and the trays floated over to the desk and plates and glasses appeared.
"Thank you Kreacher. Is there anything else?" Harry inquired. It seemed like Kreacher wanted to say more but was unsure if he could. "Kreacher we want you to know that anytime you wish to speak you may. We will not be mad at you for it."
"Thank you Master Harry. Kreacher does have some things to say. First he wants to apologize to you Master Weasley for calling you a blood traitor in Master's home. You are a good friend of Master Harry, and to the House Elves. We know it because we could hear you and your worries about us. It helped us to decide to fight not because we had to but because we wanted to.
Kreacher also wishes to apologize to you Mistress Granger. We should not have called you a mudblood. It is a term which should have stopped being used many years ago. We know that you too are our friend, and we all saw how much you love Master Harry.
Finally Master Harry we know how troubled you are. When you were at your home on Grimmauld Street you talked much in your sleep. Much of it had to do with all the ones you loved who are now gone, but Kreacher hopes you remember all the ones who love you because you are Harry, not the 'Chosen One' and all the other names people have given you. Downstairs in the Great Hall people are talking about all three of you. They are all very grateful for what you did. None of the House Elves have heard any bad words spoken about any of you. Yes there is much sadness at losing loved ones, but the blame rests on Voldemorts's shoulders not yours. If you can remember this then all will be well."
The Trio was stunned. Even Professor Dumbledore was surprised at Kreacher's frank words. "Kreacher on behalf of all of us I want to thank you for your honesty. I also hope one day to return to Grimmauld Place, maybe even to live there." Harry glanced at Hermione and Ron, and the same thought flashed between them. Yes they were probably could stay at the Burrow but it would feel weird after being on their own this last year. And their budding relationship would suffer with Molly and Arthur treating them like they were still 'first years' instead of being legal adults in the Wizarding World.
"Kreacher after we eat and rest we will come down there. Please keep it quiet about us for now. Do not lie, just don't volunteer anything" instructed Harry. He saw Kreacher nod and with another 'pop' vanished.
"Quite remarkable Harry. In all my years I have never seen a House Elf behave like that. You must have treated him very well" stated the Professor.
"To be totally honest with your Professor I'm not sure what I did" Harry replied.
"I think it's more like what you didn't do. Hermione preached about how we needed to treat the House Elves, and here in an example of how she is right just like always" Ron said seriously. "And who knows maybe in time this will catch on. With everyone except the pure bloods of course."
"Only time will tell Ron. But now onto other matters. Harry are you feeling better now?" inquired Albus.
"No Sir" was barely spoken by Harry.
"An excellent answer. I should think your action would not solve anything. Do you agree?"
"Yes Sir I do now." Harry was now looking up at the Headmaster.
"I am afraid what we are dealing with is what is called 'survivor's guilt'. Are any of you familiar with the term?"
"Ooh ooh ooh" they heard Hermione say as her hand shot up. "Sorry! Bad habit" she blushed, trying not to look at Harry and Ron who were trying not to laugh.
"As I'm sure our prize student could explain it occurs when people feel guilty after the loss of a loved one. Inevitably their thoughts go to 'Why wasn't it me?" or 'It should have been me!'. Oftentimes guilt sets in as they blame themselves for what they believe was their inaction or wrong choices" stated the Headmaster.
Harry didn't have to look at Ron or Hermione. He knew they were staring at him. He hung his head and felt his two best friends crouched on either side of him.
"I am feeling this right now too. Not just Harry. If I was quicker maybe my brother would be alive right now" said Ron as he laid his head in Harry's lap.
"For me it is Dobby. He lost his life saving us. If we could have escaped Malfoy Manor sooner, he might still be with us" added Hermione.
Harry placed his hands on the heads of his two best friends, gently stroking their hair. "My whole life has been like this. I never told you two about the nightmares I had when I was little. I used to wake up shaking and crying in my cupboard, but all that got me was my Uncle stomping on the stairs over me screaming to shut up and go to sleep."
Hermione leaned back to look up at Harry. As gentle as she could she held his right hand while Ron was doing the same with his left. "What were your nightmares about? Did it have to do with Tom Riddle?"
"At the time I didn't know. The same dream kept repeating itself. I was in my bed and I heard loud voices. There was a flash of light and I heard a thud. Then footsteps coming up the stairs. A shadow passed over me, there was another flash, and another thud. I saw a face get really close. Words came out of his mouth but I didn't understand. He pointed at me and I saw one more flash ... and then I would wake up crying. It wasn't until I got to Hogwarts and learned about my parents that I realized it was their deaths I was reliving."
"Harry how often did this happen?" wondered Ron. Even back in their first year he remembered times Harry would wake up screaming. Their roommates Neville Longbottom, Seamus Finnigan, and Dean Thomas wanted to tease Harry about it but Ron insisted they didn't.
"Several times a week. Less often when I got to Hogwarts, especially after the stuff started to happen with Voldemort" Harry responded.
"This my friends is what I was referring to. It is normal to wish your friends and family had not passed on, and to believe you were to blame. But what you must ask yourselves is are you really? It was Voldemort who killed your parents Harry not you. One thing I never told you is that on fateful night Voldemort had planned on visiting two houses. Yours and the Longbottom's."
"Really Professor? Does Neville know?" asked Hermione.
"I don't believe so. His plans were to take care of you and your parents, then Neville and his. One by one he was going to hunt down every member of the Order of the Phoenix and kill their entire family. So you see that night you saved Neville and his family, and all the rest of us."
"That may be Professor but Harry lost his parents that night, and we know what happened to Neville's later. How can any of this be good?" angrily asked Ron.
Hermione reached across Harry's lap and took Ron's left hand in her right. "Sweetheart we may never know why things happen the way they do. And we can't go back and change things no matter how much we want to. We must live for the moment and be glad that we are alive and together. We can and will grieve for our lost ones and never forget them. But I know if Fred was standing here next to us he would want to move on and be happy. And maybe set off a stink bomb or two in the Slytherin Common Room."
Out in the Hallway at the top of the stairs, just beyond the door which was not closed completely a solitary figure stood. Tears were again running down her face as she listened to her 'big sister' trying to comfort her two best friends. A sad smile crossed her face as she continued to eavesdrop on their conversation.
"This is why I was afraid to have you come with me. And why I had to break things off with Ginny. I couldn't have this happen to you too" Harry cried as he held them.
"But now it's all over mate. Yes Fred is gone and many others. But he died with a smile on his face. He and George knew they might not make it, and I overheard them promise themselves to keep the store going and to make you proud. Do you know what they meant?" asked Ron.
"I gave the money I won for the Tri Wizard Tournament to them. With it they opened the shop, and bought you the new dress robes. I think I still have your old ones somewhere if Hermione wants you to wear them for her" joked Harry.
Hermione pretended to consider the idea. "You can wear as much or as little as you want" she whispered in his ear.
Harry pretended not to hear what Hermione had said. She and Ron were kissing very passionately again, oblivious to leaning across him to do so. After a few minutes he tapped Ron on the shoulder and asked if he could cut in.
"Get your own mate. Only please be careful. She is my only sister you know."
"And you are snogging the girl who I love like she is my sister too. But I am promising you, in front of the Headmaster, that I will do whatever I have to do to love, to honor, and to protect her until the day I die. She means everything in the World to me" Harry said as honestly as he could.
Out in the Hall Ginny turned and walked away. Despite being mad at him for deserting her to go who knows where she could not help but admire all three of them. And to hear Harry's declaration of how much he loved her took away all her fears about his feelings for her. As quietly as she could she crept down the stairs past the broken statue of the gargoyle. "Thank you" she whispered to it.
Harry looked up to see the Headmaster nod. He guessed it was Ginny who was there listening, and he was as honest as he could be under the circumstances. Later, when he was sure they were alone he wanted to share everything with her. "Albus I think it's time we should be going."
"Perhaps. However I am guessing you have been up for how long now? A day at least? I suggest resting for a few hours first. Those in the Great Hall will wait, and I will ensure your uninterrupted sleep" Albus stated.
Harry yawned and said. "OK then. Please wake us by 4 please. I want to be back to the Great Hall by dark." He vaguely saw Hermione transfigure their chairs into beds, and he fell back into his falling asleep immediately. He guessed just before he fell asleep Hermione had combined the two chairs to make a bed big enough for her and Ron. It took them just long enough to cuddle up for both to be fast asleep too.
"Sleep well my friends. I have never been more proud of you than now" Albus stated as he too fell asleep.
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