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The Harder Struggle by Ericfmc
Chapter 5 : Debrief
 
Rating: 15+Chapter Reviews: 7


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Chapter 5: Debrief

Walls of highly polished oak and a floor covered with a red hued oriental carpet gave the room a comforting warmth and a certain elegance. The warmth failed to cheer Harry, Hermione and Ron who sat stiffly in a row on an overstuffed sofa. They faced an audience who, for the most part, looked no more comfortable than the trio.

Arthur, Molly and Ginny, looked apprehensive, almost fearful. Ginny was sitting on the floor in front of her mother. Harry had warned her earlier that she was going to hear a few things that would upset her and that, no, it had nothing to do with Veelas. He had apologised in advance.

George, sitting on his mother’s left, was barely present. The jocular mood that the evening newspapers had generated in him had quickly faded and he had once more withdrawn into himself. He had, though, made the effort to come tonight and be with the rest of his family.

Kingsley Shacklebolt and Minerva McGonagall both looked dog tired and could only hope that what they heard tonight would not add to the already long list of responsibilities each had assumed.

Only Neville and Luna were relaxed. Neville was excited and Luna was, well, just Luna. She was smiling happily, totally in the moment and with no expectation that the world should be any other way than how it was.

Everyone had been quietly amused when Neville arrived, Luna by his side, still clutching the Sword of Gryffindor. Harry wondered how long it would be before McGonagall’s sense of duty overcame her softness for Neville and she relieved him of his trophy and restored the sword to its proper place in the headmaster’s office.

There was one other person in the room, sitting a little outside the rest, holding parchment and quill in readiness. Earlier, Kingsley had taken Harry aside and introduced her.

“Harry, I would like you to meet Melanie Watts. I have just appointed her my personal private secretary.”

Harry and Melanie exchanged greetings. Melanie had a pleasant and forthright demeanour and didn’t appear in the least star struck meeting Harry, which pleased him. She was a handsome looking woman somewhere in her mid-thirties with short light brown hair.

“I would not have appointed Melanie,” continued Kingsley in a firm steady voice, “unless I had complete trust in her, trust she has earned working together with me over the last twelve years.” Melanie looked pleased at this remark. “Harry, I have asked her to take notes tonight and to help prepare tomorrow’s press release. This will be an enormous help to me, but, if you prefer, I will ask her to leave.”

Harry had looked carefully at both Kingsley and Melanie. “There will be things said tonight that must never leave this room. If you are Ok with that, then I don’t have a problem.” Both nodded.

It was time. Harry looked at Hermione and Ron for reassurance and then began.

“Thanks for all coming tonight. You are all here because you have the right to know what we three have been doing these past nine months. This isn’t going to be an easy night. We are going to find it tough telling this story and I think a number of you are going to find it hard to hear. Please keep in mind as we go through the story what you see in front of you. We three are all alive and Voldemort is dead.” He paused and then added in a quiet voice “there were times, though, in the last nine months, when that didn’t seem likely at all.”

There was nothing wrong with Molly Weasley’s hearing. She drew in a sharp breath and her hands flew to her face. Arthur took her hands in his and looked into her eyes with concern.

“Are you sure you’re ready for this, Molly? Maybe it’s too soon.”

“No, Arthur,” said Molly, regaining her composure, “I need to hear this.”

“Are you sure, Mrs Weasley?” asked Harry gently. It was mainly Molly he had had in mind when he had said what he said, her and Ginny. He knew Ginny was going to react very badly to some of what they were going to say and he dreaded that.

“Yes, Harry, I’ll be OK. Please go on.”

“Alright,” said Harry, “the first thing I want to say is that this was a team effort. Ron and Hermione are just as much responsible for bringing down Voldemort as I am. I could not have done this without them. I could not have done this with anyone else but them.”

This last part caught Ron and Hermione by surprise and both quickly turned to look at Harry.

“I want that clearly known. I want that clearly understood and not just by those in this room but everywhere,” said Harry with great firmness and passion.

Ron and Hermione were looking a little embarrassed at Harry’s fervour. Others around the room nodded in assent though they were not sure they really believed him. Not yet.

Harry regathered himself and then smiled. “A lot of you have probably been wondering why Professor Dumbledore entrusted a critical and dangerous mission to a bunch of kids. A number of you didn’t hold back telling me that I had misunderstood what Dumbledore had said. I hadn’t. Dumbledore entrusted this task to me, Ron and Hermione because he didn’t have a choice.”

Harry looked around the room. Everyone was fixed on him, waiting for him to explain what he had just said.

“It had to be me,” continued Harry. “I was marked for this mission when I was a one year old. It was Voldemort himself who selected me. He created a connection between us the day he killed my mother and tried to kill me, a connection mirrored by this scar.” Harry pointed to his famous lightning scar. “The connection was increased when a wand, sharing the same phoenix feather core as Voldemort’s, chose an eleven year old Harry Potter as its master. It increased again when he took my blood to regenerate his body in the graveyard at Little Hangleton.”

“It was through this connection that I was able to speak Parseltongue, through this connection that, at times when Voldemort was extremely angry or elated, I was able to see through his eyes, feel his feelings, and catch glimpses of his thoughts. Sometimes, it was through the eyes of his snake, Nagini. That’s how it was when Nagini attacked you, Mr Weasley, outside the Department of Mysteries. That was awful. It felt like I was attacking you myself.” Harry paused, trying to put the image out of his mind.

“I have seen some vile things through Voldemort’s eyes. I have seen him murder children without a second’s hesitation simply because they were in his path. I have seen him torture people to the point of death or madness. It was vile this connection. It made me feel polluted. It also gave me blinding headaches when it operated, but it was an indispensable tool in our mission, as will become clear.”

Harry stopped. He was finding this harder than he thought. He looked around the room. Most were looking a little shocked. Everyone here had had some knowledge of the connection between Harry and Voldemort, but only Ron and Hermione understood its extent and the affect it had on Harry, the toll it took on him. Ginny was looking ashen faced, her eyes wide with horror. She leant into her Mother’s leg and hugged it tightly. Molly put a reassuring hand on Ginny’s shoulder though she too was reeling at Harry’s revelation. Harry tried to smile reassuringly at Ginny, but she didn’t respond. Hermione put her hand on Harry’s leg, encouraging him to go on.

Harry continued. “For these reasons and for some others that will become clear as we go along, it had to be me who undertook this mission. The fact that Voldemort was determined to kill me no matter what meant that I really had no choice but to take it on. It was the only way I was going to have even an outside chance of surviving.”

“If it had to be me, it had to be Ron and Hermione,” said Harry flatly. “There was no way I could have done this on my own. I needed help and I needed people I could trust absolutely, with whom I could openly share everything and whose abilities complimented mine.” He was looking at Ron and Hermione when he said this. He turned to the rest of the room.

“There has been an unbreakable bond between we three ever since we faced a mountain troll together when we were eleven. We have been fighting Voldemort together for almost as long, from when we stopped him stealing the Philosopher’s Stone, still in our first year at Hogwarts. We have grown up together. We trust each other, we understand each other and we know how to work and fight together. Dumbledore knew this. He knew that despite our ages, we were the only ones that could take on this mission and succeed. He also understood the importance of the bond between us.

“Voldemort attacked that bond and, for a time, it looked like it was broken. That was a terrible time. But it wasn’t broken and together we went on to win.” Harry looked up to a sea of blank faces and realised no one had a clue what he was talking about.

“Sorry,” he apologised, waving an arm, “I’m rambling. Hopefully, this will all become clearer when we tell what we were actually doing. Before we do, though, there is one more thing I need to say.”

Harry turned to Ron and Hermione looking them both in the eye one after the other. “This mission needed Ron and Hermione, but unlike me, they didn’t need it. They would have been far safer if they had stayed at home or escaped the country.” Harry turned to back to the rest of the room. “They didn’t though. They knew exactly what they were getting themselves into. They knew in all likelihood one or all three of us would end up dead. They insisted on coming anyway. I owe my life to them many times over. Everyone else owes them their freedom.”

Harry choked up and couldn’t continue. Hermione, her eyes misting over, moved to hug Harry. Ron joined in in a three way hug. They stayed like that for a couple of minutes.

Everyone else in the room sat in silence. Bill, Minerva and Kingsley were all reminded of the scene they had witnessed, was it only this morning, outside the headmaster’s office.

I time, the trio separated and Harry started up again. “Well I suppose we had better tell you what the mission was and what we did. Hermione, would you like to explain about horcruxes and the aim of the mission?”

Harry leant back into the sofa. He was already feeling emotionally drained and they had hardly begun.

Hermione went into classroom mode, happy for the relief of a technical discussion. “How many here know what a horcrux is?” asked Hermione.

Ron couldn’t help himself. He moved to the edge of the sofa and shot his hand up in the air, straining with excitement. Harry, Neville and McGonagall, who had all seen Hermione behave just like this so many times over the years, tried hard not to laugh. Hermione glared at Ron, but she couldn’t hold it and soon broke into a smile. “Yes, Ronald, I know you know the answer.” Ron gave her a quick peck on the cheek and sat back in the sofa.

“The Prophet wrote about horcruxes today,” supplied Luna. “It said they were dark and dangerous objects. That’s all it said. A fairly pointless description, don’t you think? There are many dark and dangerous objects.”

“Well,” continued Hermione, “they are very dark and very dangerous.” She then went on to explain the nature of a horcrux, the foul deed required to make one and how Voldemort had used them in an attempt secure immortality. She concluded saying, “he made seven.”

It was clear that, apart from Kingsley, McGonagall and, after this morning, Bill, no one else had known anything about horcruxes.

“So that was the mission, to find and destroy these seven horcruxes?” asked Arthur.

“Yes,” replied Hermione, “Voldemort was invulnerable till they were all destroyed. Fortunately, two had already been destroyed before we started. Also we didn’t know about the seventh one till later… yesterday in fact.” her voice trailed away, pain fleetingly appearing on her face.

“You said two had already been destroyed before you started. How? By whom?” asked Bill.

Harry felt a stab of fear. He had dreaded telling Ginny the truth. Hermione saw his discomfort and, looking at Ginny, she spoke gently. “Ginny, I’m sorry. What I’m about to say is going to upset you. Harry destroyed the first Horcrux five years ago in the Chamber of Secrets.”

Ginny jumped up, horror stricken. “The diary? The diary was a horcrux? I was possessed by an actual piece of Voldemort’s soul? I’m going to be sick.” With that, Ginny rushed out of the room. Molly, who was looking a little sick herself, followed Ginny saying “I’ll check she’s OK.”

Both Kingsley and Fleur looked bewildered. They clearly knew very little about the incident. Most of Ginny and Ron’s brothers also had only had a sketchy understanding. McGonagall filled them in as best she could. Kingsley was stunned. He looked over at the trio with disbelief. They did that as twelve year olds?

Harry started again. He told how Riddle’s diary had first made Dumbledore suspect that Voldemort had made a least one horcrux. He described Dumbledore’s research, what he had shown Harry in the pensieve and how Professor Slughorn’s memory had provided the final key. He told of Dumbledore’s retrieval of Gaunt’s ring and its fatal curse and of how Snape had slowed the spread of the curse, giving Dumbledore precious time. One more horcrux down, but at a terrible price.

About half way through, Ginny and Molly had returned, both giving Harry a weak smile. Ginny sat down between her mother and her father, leaving George a little squashed at the end of the sofa. Arthur magically extended it.

Harry next recounted the events of the dreadful day Dumbledore died, how they had retrieved the locket and his despair that it turned out to be a fake, left by the mysterious RAB.

Now Ron took over. He described what had happened as soon as they had left Bill and Fleur’s wedding, about being attacked by Dolohov and Rowle and how Hermione had wiped their memories. Kingsley was wondering why he was no longer surprised that three unsuspecting teenagers, ambushed by two powerful and experienced Death Eaters, had still won the encounter or that Hermione could perform such complex and advanced memory charms.

Ron described how they had discovered that Umbridge had the real locket and how they developed their plan to penetrate the Ministry and take it from her. Ron, Hermione and Harry each described bits of the actual mission itself, trying to sound light-hearted, even though they were all terrified at the time. Ron even jokingly thanked his father for advice on indoor weather charms. No one was fooled. Everyone knew what would have happened to ‘Undesirable No 1’ and his companions if they had been caught in the heart of Voldemort’s Ministry of Magic. They understood the enormous risk the three had taken.

At one stage, Arthur was hit with a sudden realisation. “It was you. It was you, Harry, that told me I was under surveillance. I had never been able to understand why Runcorn let that slip.”

“Yes, I’d seen your file in Umbridge’s office,” replied Harry, “And I never want to see you look at me with such loathing ever again.”

“Don’t worry, Harry, you won’t,” chuckled Arthur. “Thanks.”

Harry’s tone changed when he described the scene in Umbridge’s court. The use of dementors to drain all hope and joy from the accused, the total absence of any fair process and the grossly unjust laws themselves had horrified and revolted Harry and Hermione. They quickly described how they took the locket from Umbridge. They spent far more time demanding of Kingsley that Umbridge be arrested and tried for her crimes.

Hermione cried as she described how their escape had gone disastrously wrong and Ron had been splinched.

Arthur spoke gently, “Hermione, you got everyone to a safe place and you succeeded in getting the locket. That is more than enough to be thankful for.”

McGonagall stood up. “I believe this would be an appropriate time for a break. We have been going for well over an hour.” She transfigured a cushion into a table. She waved her wand and pitchers of pumpkin juice and platters of cakes and tarts and cups and plates floated into the room and neatly organised themselves on the table.

No one spoke much during the break. Most were trying to process what had been said. Neville came over to Harry, Ron and Hermione.

“Thanks for letting me in on this tonight,” he said. “Look, I know it’s a lot to ask, but do you think you’d be able to go over some of this stuff with the DA. They’d really love to hear it from you directly and I sort of think they’ve earned it.”

“Sure,” replied Harry, after a few moments hesitation, “but there are things we’ll be saying tonight we don’t want going beyond the group in this room. That OK?”

“Sure, Harry.”

“The other thing is we want to hear from the DA what you’ve all been up to, what you’ve gone through. We haven’t really had a chance to catch up yet.”

“Fair enough,” replied Neville.

“Look,” said Harry, “we’re supposed to be having a press conference at 11:00 tomorrow. Why don’t we bump that back to 1:00, then we can meet the DA at 11:00. I’d like to hear your stories before the press conference any way.”

“Sounds good. I’ll try and get the DA together. Thanks, Harry.”

“You know, Nev,” said Ron, “You can’t keep that sword.”

Neville looked down at the sword, then back at Ron. “I don’t know, Ron, I’ve been thinking it’d be kind a cool for weeding.” With that he turned away and approached McGonagall.

“Do you know what we’ve just witnessed?” asked Hermione. “A general looking after the interests of his troops. I am really proud of our Neville.”

Harry left Ron and Hermione and approached Ginny. She was standing next to George, both lost in their own thoughts.

“You alright, Ginny?”

She nodded. “It was more the shock. So, is that what you were afraid to tell me?”

“Yes, but there’s more to come, worse I think.”

“OK,” she said trying to stay strong. Harry gave her a hug.

George smirked. “Just because you’re the hero, Potter, it doesn’t mean you can squeeze my sister whenever you feel like it.”

Ginny looked up at George and smiled.

“Yes it does, George.” She kissed Harry on the lips and then said “Let’s get this over with.” She released Harry, turned and went to sit back down on the sofa.

When everyone had resumed their seats, Harry started again. “The next period was in some ways the worst of the whole nine months. We were living in a tent, constantly on the move for fear of being caught. We had to take turns keeping a watch at night. We could never let our guard down.”

“We were often cold, tired and always hungry,” continued Ron, “although Hermione did get very good at cooking wild mushrooms.”

“That’s not what you said at the time, Ronald!” huffed Hermione, crossing her arms.

“The worst thing was that we were making no progress at all locating the other horcruxes,” Harry continued, ignoring Hermione. “Every lead we followed turned up blank.”

“And then, there was the locket,” shuddered Ron.

“Then there was the locket,” agreed the other two.

“No matter what we tried we couldn’t destroy it. No magic we possessed, no physical force we could muster made the slightest scratch on it,” said Harry.

“And then it went to work on us,” said Ron ominously.

“I insisted,” went on Harry, “that we took turns wearing it. After everything we had been through to get it, I didn’t want to lose it.”

“It was a little like carrying around your own personal dementor,” shivered Hermione, “it drained everything positive and magnified the negative. We got to dread wearing it.”

“It tried to drive us apart. It fed on every insecurity, every self-doubt and every resentment we had with each other,” said Harry.

“I think I was the worst affected,” said Ron. “In the end it had me believing all sorts of dreadful things; things about myself, things about Harry, things about Hermione. Deep down, I knew they weren’t true but they felt true anyway.”

Harry took up the story, “It all came to a head a few weeks before Christmas. Ironically, we had just discovered that we could destroy a horcrux with the Sword of Gryffindor. Ron and I had an almighty row. We hurled at each other all the hateful things the locket had been feeding us. We were furious with each other. All the frustrations of the last few months added fuel to the fire. Something almost broke between us. I told Ron to run back to Mummy, to leave.”

“And I left,” said Ron flatly. “I heard Hermione calling out for me, pleading with me to stay, but I left. I had promised Hermione that I would stay no matter what, but I left.”

Ron was visibly shaking. He turned to Hermione. “I’m so sorry, Hermione.” His face was full of anguish and he was on the point of tears. Hermione pulled him into her arms, rocking him ever so slightly back and forth, speaking quietly only to him, “It’s Ok Ron. I forgive you. I love you Ron. It’s OK.”

Eventually Ron pulled himself together and continued, “as soon as I left, I ran into a bunch of Snatchers. I was able to get away from them but I had to disapparate again. After that there was no way I could find my way back to Harry and Hermione. I wanted to go back straight away, but I couldn’t. Hermione’s concealment charms were just too good.” He smiled at Hermione.

“Where did you go, Ron?” asked Charlie.

Seeing Bill and Ron both hesitant, Fleur jumped in, “’e came to stay with us at Shell Cottage.”

Molly looked from her daughter in law to her eldest son. “Why didn’t you say something, Bill?”

“Don’t blame Bill, Mum,” pleaded Ron, “I begged him not to tell anyone else. I was so ashamed. I had just abandoned my two best friends when they were facing the greatest peril of their life, carrying their heaviest burden. It was the worst thing I have ever done in my life.”

Bill looked at Ron with compassion. “I am so sorry, Ron, for giving you such a hard time. I didn’t understand.”

“S’Ok Bill, you weren’t saying anything I wasn’t saying to myself.”

Harry’s voice cut across the room. “This is one of the things that never leaves this room. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, we sent Ron to Bill and Fleur’s because we needed information on what was happening in the outside world. Does anyone have a problem with that?” No one did.

“The least true thing about Ron is that he abandons his friends and I won’t have it said. I won’t. People who don’t hear the full story simply won’t understand. They certainly won’t understand the power of that bloody locket.”

Ron was looking down, beginning to be embarrassed by the attention and by the ferocity of Harry’s defence. Ginny got up and walked across the room to her brother. She pulled Ron to his feet and gave him a big hug. “I understand, Ron” she said. “I understand completely what a horcrux can do. Don’t forget that, dear brother.”

A tear came to Ron’s eye at this unexpected source of support. He realised that Ginny did indeed really understand and it gave him indescribable relief. Ginny released Ron, but she didn’t return to her seat. Rather, she sat down on the floor, next to Harry.

Fleur smiled.

Harry recommenced. “The next few weeks were the worst. We still had the locket and no Ron. We could barely manage to do anything, Hermione and I hardly spoke a word to each other. Eventually we realised we had to get on with it. We decided to go to Godric's Hollow.”

Hermione described their visit, the encounter with Nagini, their narrow escape and Harry’s injuries. When she had finished, everyone else realised they had been holding their breath. They didn’t know whether to feel horror at the nature of the encounter, amazement at the quick responses of the two, dread that once more they had been so close to death or sadness that again one of them had been seriously injured.

Harry then described the night the silver doe appeared, how he had decided to follow it and how the doe had led him to a frozen lake where he could see the Sword of Gryffindor resting on the lake floor.

“I dived in to retrieve the sword, but then the locket chain tightened about my neck and began to choke me. It pulled me further under. I was going to drown. Then I felt arms tighten around me and lift me out of the water.”

“Nice one Hermione, I didn’t realise you were that strong,” quipped Charlie.

“It wasn’t me,” said Hermione. “I was still nice and snug in the tent. I didn’t even know Harry was gone.”

“It was Ron,” said Harry.

“I still think you were bloody mental, mate, diving into a frozen lake, at night, with no one else around and with a horcrux around your neck,” said Ron.

“Well, maybe not my best decision, but you were brilliant, mate,” replied Harry. “Ron pulled me out of the water, ripped the horcrux from my neck and then retrieved the sword from the bottom of the lake.”

“How did you find your way back, Ron?” asked Percy, “I thought you said it wasn’t possible.”

Ron explained how he had finally understood how he could use the deluminator to return.

“And did you use the sword to destroy the locket then, Harry?” asked Bill.

“No, Ron did,” replied Harry. ”The Sword of Gryffindor is best wielded by a Gryffindor who has earned it by a selfless act of valour. That night, it was Ron. Last night, it was Neville.”

“Merlin, I bet you enjoyed destroying that effing thing, Ron,” chuckled Charlie.

“Not Exactly,” replied Ron, turning white.

After a while Ron continued. “It knew I was about to destroy it and it attacked me. This was far, far worse than wearing the thing. It projected a vivid image of my deepest fears. And it wasn’t spiders, it was deeply personal. It mocked me to the core. It tried to make me angry with Harry, attack him instead, but, in the distance, as if very far away, I could hear Harry calling out ‘It lies, kill it, it lies’.”

Ron paused, took a deep breath and concluded, “I held on to what Harry was saying. I trusted him, despite what I was feeling. I turned my anger against the locket and stabbed it for all I was worth. In the end, the bond between Harry and me was far stronger than Voldemort’s deceptions.”

“Three Horcruxes down,” said Harry.

Hermione was watching Ron closely as he said all this, turning paler and paler. She was feeling a little guilty about how she had treated Ron after he returned to the tent, but she could live with that. More importantly, she had to get to grips with the fears that Ron referred to. They really needed to talk about this.

Hermione’s reverie was disturbed as she heard George ask, “so all was sweetness and light for Gryffindor’s fabulous three after Ron’s return, was it?”

“Well, Hermione may have had a few choice words as I recall,” replied Harry.

“’You – complete – arse – Ronald – Weasley’ wasn’t it Harry? With a punch between each word. She can hit too. Just ask Draco Malfoy.”

Her boys were teasing her, but she was Ok with that. “Well you deserved it!” she pouted.

“Yes I did.” Ron kissed her and all three broke into smiles.

Hermione returned to the story. “It was about that time that we became interested in a particular symbol. It was cropping up in various places in our research, including the book bequeathed me by Dumbledore. Harry recalled that Luna’s father was wearing the symbol at Bill and Fleur’s wedding. We decided to visit him and ask about him about it. This was how we found out about the Elder Wand, a very powerful wand with a very bloody history.”

Harry expanded. “I knew that Voldemort was desperately seeking something, something to do with wands. I had seen him torture and interrogate Ollivander. Interrogate and murder Gregorovitch, the European wand maker. Eventually it became clear. He was seeking the Elder Wand.”

Hermione took over from Harry. “Dumbledore never made things easy for us. He believed that with knowledge, just as with magic, if you didn’t earn it, it wasn’t truly yours. Dumbledore could easily have told us all about the Elder Wand. However, he knew that Voldemort would seek it and he also knew that Harry would need to really understand about the wand before he finally faced Voldemort. So he set up a little quest for us so that we could earn that knowledge. All very nice in theory, but it almost got us killed, which seems a little extreme,” Hermione huffed.

“What do you mean, Hermione, ‘it almost got us killed’?” asked Molly. She was beginning to be weighed down with the understanding of just how often these three children had been in the utmost peril.

Hermione mumbled something, remembering they had agreed not to reveal Luna’s Dad’s treachery. Before she could do some more tap dancing, Luna piped up.

“Daddy told me what he did. He is very ashamed. I am very, very angry with him. I am not sure I can forgive him.” There was a tear in the corner of Luna’s eye, something that Hermione had never seen before.

“We have,” Hermione said gently. “He only did what he did out of love for you, Luna, because you were being held hostage. You were only being held hostage because he had supported Harry in the first place.”

“It is very kind of you to say that, Hermione. I’m not sure it’s enough though.”

“Could you please explain what you are talking about,” asked Kingsley.

Harry replied firmly, “this was something we were not going to reveal even to this group. We certainly don’t want it going any further. When we visited Mr Lovegood, he informed the Death Eaters we were there. In the battle that ensued, Luna’s home was destroyed. We only just escaped by the skin of our teeth.”

Harry addressed Luna, “Luna, if your father wants to say anything, that’s up to him. Be assured, though, that we never will.”

“Harry, that is very generous,” conceded Kingsley, “but you must understand this will all come out eventually. It will be revealed as we debrief captured Death Eaters. It will be better for Xenophilius if he makes a public statement before then. All the same, the only thing that will save his reputation is a very public act of forgiveness by you three.”

“Then that is what we will do.”

“Thank you, Harry.” Luna was shaking. Neville put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a reassuring squeeze.

Harry could see Ron and Hermione get tense. They knew what was coming up. He decided the only thing for it was to dive right in.

“Some weeks later we were captured by Snatchers and taken to Malfoy Manor.” He paused and swallowed. “It was all my fault. I had used the embargoed word ‘Voldemort’. The consequences of that mistake were enormous. Hermione was tortured, Dobby the elf was killed and we were never closer to death than at that time, but we also got the information we needed to finally crack the mission and win.”

Ron and Hermione were holding each other. Ron started talking as if to himself. He couldn’t bear to look at anyone. “It was absolutely awful. I know it was far worse for Hermione, but it was the worst day of my life. Harry and I were locked in the cellar. We couldn’t get out. Upstairs Bellatrix Lestrange crucioed Hermione again and again. I had begged her to take me instead, but she wanted the ‘mudblood’. She wanted to know where we had got the Sword of Gryffindor.” He paused, his breath ragged, his face contorted with pain as if he was reliving every moment. “On and on it went. Scream after scream after scream. Every scream cut through me like a white hot knife. I desperately wanted to get to Hermione, to protect her, to save her but I couldn’t. I couldn’t.” Ron was cradling Hermione in his arms rocking her gently back and forth, tears rolling down his face, giving her the protection now he couldn’t give her then.

Everyone in the room had already heard that Hermione had been tortured, but that was abstract knowledge. Now, the raw pain of it was graphically on display. Every one of Ron’s agonised words cut deeply into the assembled group. They were each deeply affected by it.

Ron finished up, “Eventually Dobby showed up and rescued us from the cellar. Then Harry, Dobby and I managed to rescue Hermione from Bellatrix. We apparated to Shell Cottage, but Dobby died from Bellatrix’ knife.”

“Bellatrix had thought the Sword of Gryffindor was in her vault,” Harry explained, still shaken by the power of Ron’s testimony, “she was mortally terrified that The Dark Lord would discover we had been in her vault at Gringotts. I decided there must be a horcrux in the vault. As it turned out, there was.”

Harry explained the planning for the mission to Gringotts including the deal with Griphook. Then Ron, relieved to talk about a less emotive topic, told the story of the break-in in the manner of a rollicking adventure. By the time he was finished his brothers, including Percy, were whooping and yelling. All except Bill.

“I don’t think even Fred could top that story, Ron,” said George, tears of laughter rolling down his face. “On the back of a dragon! It’ll be told over and over again down the ages.”

“Not at Gringotts, it won’t,” commented Bill, “Harry, don’t expect to get into your vault any time soon.”

Bill was worried, “Harry, what are you going to do when Griphook comes demanding the sword back? He will you know.”

“He won’t, Bill, Griphook is dead,” Harry said with regret. “After the raid, Voldemort finally knew we were hunting his horcruxes. He was in a towering rage. He murdered everyone in sight including Griphook.” Harry became visibly upset.

“The things we did,” he said in a strangled voice, “The thing we did, the raids, they had consequences. We didn’t mean that. We didn’t mean for anyone to die. We…” He couldn’t continue. Hermione put a reassuring arm around his shoulder but said nothing.

“We get the glory and they’re, they’re just dead. Innocent…” Harry became distraught as the weight of all those who had been hurt during the war, all those who had died, came crashing down on him.

“It’s not your fault, Harry,” Arthur said gently, but Harry barely heard him. He shook as he fought to keep himself together. Hermione held him firmly and Ginny put a reassuring hand on his knee.

After some time, he resumed. “Sorry. When Voldemort realised what we were doing, he mentally reviewed all his horcruxes. I was able to discover that there was a horcrux here at Hogwarts that had something to do with Rowena Ravenclaw. I also had confirmed what we had long suspected, that the final horcrux was his snake, Nagini.”

Understanding hit Neville. “’Kill the snake! Kill the snake!’ That’s what you told me, Harry. Did I destroy a horcrux?”

“Yes you did,” replied Hermione with a big smile, “the final one. With a swift stroke of your mighty sword you severed Voldemort’s last connection to immortality. We’re very proud of you, Neville.”

“It was only after you had killed Nagini,” added Harry, “that I could finally confront Voldemort.”

Neville beamed.

Percy asked, “You didn’t have the sword, Harry. How did you destroy the cup horcrux?”

Hermione happily described their trip to the Chamber of Secrets, extravagantly praising Ron’s “brilliance.”

“Hermione then destroyed the cup with a basilisk fang. It was brilliant!” beamed Ron with equal pride.

Harry then described their adventure in the Room of Hidden things, their narrow escape and the destruction of the Diadem of Ravenclaw by fiendfyre.

“Bleeding hell, Harry,” swore George, “I’m with Ron. I would’ve left the murderous gits to their well-deserved fate.”

Before Harry could respond, Percy cut in with his own pressing observation.

“I only count six horcruxes. You said there were seven, Harry.”

Harry’s heart sank. He didn’t want to talk about this but he knew he had to. He slowly opened his mouth to speak. Luna cut across him.

“Well it’s obvious, isn’t it?” Luna was back to her old form. “Harry was the seventh Horcrux. Is that why you gave yourself up to the Dark Lord, Harry?”

Everyone was stunned speechless, including Harry, Ron and Hermione. They had forgotten just how perceptive their friend was.

Molly was the first to recover. “Luna, dear, that just isn’t possi –.”

“Yes,” Harry cut across Molly in a clear, firm voice. “Yes, Luna, that’s exactly right.”

No one could speak; everyone was reeling, lost in their own thoughts. Harry began to speak again. He explained what he learnt from Snape’s memories, blurring a lot of the detail. Finally he concluded, “I had to allow Voldemort to hit me with a killing curse.”

More silence, then Molly asked, “but Harry, how did you know you would survive?”

Harry paused a long while. Horror spread through the room as, one by one, people began to realise how he would answer.

“I expected to die,” Harry said quietly. “I did die,” he added.

More silence, then the horrible sound of Ginny retching. Ginny moved to get up, but Harry put a hand on her shoulder and gently pushed her down again. He sat down beside her and held her firmly as she began to dry retch. Harry got out his wand. He cleaned the sick from the floor and then he began to work slowly, methodically, gently cleaning her jeans, her shirt and her hair. He alternated between watching what he was doing and looking into her pale questioning face. His own face displayed no revulsion, just compassion and love.

When he was finished he turned to Ginny and held both her hands in his and looked straight into her pained eyes.

“Why? How?” was all Ginny could get out.

“It was the hardest thing I ever did, walking into that forest.” Harry and Ginny were only talking to each other now but everyone in the room could hear every word clearly.

“I saw you as I walked to the forest. I wanted to stop and talk to you one last time. I knew I couldn’t do that. I could not have left you, could not have gone to Voldemort.”

“Why do it at all?”

“I thought it was the only way I could save you, save Ron, Hermione, save everyone. I thought it was the only way the nightmare would ever end. I thought it was my destiny. What I had to do.”

“You died?”

Harry explained meeting Dumbledore in Kings Cross station, how he had a choice to ‘go on’ or return.

“What was it like there?”

“There was no pain, no sadness, just peace.”

“You chose to come back.”

“For you and to finish what Ron, Hermione and I had started. In truth, I needed, once more, to see my beautiful chaser, her long red hair flying in the wind, a smile on her lips and mischief in her eyes.”

Ginny looked into Harry’s eyes for a very long time, letting his words take effect, letting true understanding come. Finally a smile filled her face and she said simply, “OK.” She sat back saying to Harry, “let’s finish the story.”

Harry turned back to the room, but he stayed on the floor with Ginny. He told them of Narcissa’s betrayal of Voldemort and he took them in detail through the final duel.

“And the rest is history,” concluded Ron.

For a while no one spoke. They were all totally drained. They had each been on an extraordinary journey. They had cried, they had laughed, they had been terrified, shocked and amazed, warmed and chilled. They no longer knew how to take the three exceptional teenagers whose story they had just shared. It was just too much to process. It would take a long time for those who participated in the night to come to grips with everything they had heard and seen.

It was Kingsley who finally spoke. “I do not think I will ever forget tonight. I thank you for letting me share in this. I feel deeply, deeply privileged.” He paused and then added, “Melanie and I have a lot to do. We’ll have a draft press statement ready for you by tomorrow morning.”

“Kingsley, we want to push the press conference to 1:00 if that’s OK. We want to catch up with DA beforehand.”

“That shouldn’t be a problem, Harry, in fact it suits me. Alright, I’ll fix it.”

George spoke up, “I would like to ask for something Harry, Kingsley. Could you hold off on the story of the seventh horcrux and Harry’s walk into the forest?”

“Why George?” asked Harry.

“It’s an important story and deserves to be told, must be told, but it is far, far too powerful. If it is told now no one will hear anything else. They won’t hear about all the other extraordinary things you three have done. They won’t hear about what the DA did. They won’t hear about what Fred…”

He stopped, took a deep breath and then continued. “They won’t hear about Fred, they won’t hear about the others who gave their lives. All these stories deserve to be heard too.”

Arthur added, “I think George is right.”

“Harry?” asked Kingsley.

“George is right.”

“OK,” said Kingsley. “Now Harry, Ron, Hermione for security reasons I need you three to share the same dormitory you used last night. I still need to post a guard and I don’t have the resources if you split up.”

Ron smiled to himself. He’d put Kingsley up to this earlier in the day. He didn’t want a battle with his Mum over sleeping arrangements just yet.

Ron’s reaction wasn’t missed by Arthur. “Well done son,” he thought, “yes, son, very well done indeed.”


0O0
 

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