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Graphic by Jessi Rose
Epilogue by LaDorki

Exhaustion could not describe it. Nothing he had ever experienced before could compare to it. It was draining, it was breathtaking, but it was victory. Harry’s legs were ready to give underneath of him, his fingers only just grasping enough energy to keep a hold of his wand. His jaw was hanging loose, his mouth wide open as his breath continued to race in and out of his lungs. He felt like the energy rushing through his body, so fast he couldn’t control or use it, would never slow or dissipate. The moment was eternal, his bewilderment steady and strong at the sight of the subhuman creature on the ground only feet away from him. Voldemort lay tangled in his own limbs, his long, spidery fingers no longer gripped elegantly around his wand. His crimson eyes were still open, still hauntingly full of hatred even in his death. Harry began to shiver as he stared into them, into the dead makeshift soul that lay behind those snake-like eyes.

Was this real, or another trick? Harry had been on guard for so long, he wasn’t sure how to feel relieved. The epic conflict between he and Voldemort had defined his life in so many ways, he almost couldn’t accept that it was over. He was so tired, worn down and bent to the point of breaking, that he could not fight down the paranoia that suddenly threatened to overtake him. He crept forward slowly, as if Voldemort was only sleeping and Harry didn’t want to disturb him. As he neared the body, however, he saw that it wasn’t breathing. There was a certain finality that fell over the scene as he realized this.

Still anxious, Harry glanced around, keeping one eye on the body, waiting for it to spring up and kill him. He found Voldemort’s wand laying a few feet away from its owner and scrambled to pick it up. Without thinking, he snapped it in two, the phoenix feather core desperately clinging to each piece in hopes of making it whole again. Then he stared down at Voldemort’s lifeless figure, his limbs tangled in his own robes, sprawled across the ground, his body full grown yet looking so small. His expression would have been entirely blank, but the hateful scowl he wore could not be wiped away, even in death.

All at once, the adrenaline induced force that had kept Harry going during the battle came to a crashing halt. His lungs slowed their gasping, his heart beat began to calm, and the energy was sucked out of his entire body. He crumbled to the ground. The only muscles that he managed to keep tense were in his fists, one of which still desperately gripped his own wand, while the other held the pieces of Voldemort’s. Harry continued to shiver as he gathered his suddenly jelly-like body back together, pulling his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms frantically around them.

What was he supposed to do now? He hadn’t expected to walk away from this situation. Where were the others? Would they come and find him? Should he go to them? He didn’t feel like moving; his legs were like dead weight. He rested his temple on his knee, his glasses pushed slightly askew, drilling into Voldemort’s face with his eyes. He couldn’t explain it, but looking into Voldemort’s eyes made Harry somehow very sad. All the suffering, all the deaths and murdering, all the fighting… it was all over. Yet Harry still had this weight inside of him, this discontent that the thought of killing Voldemort wouldn’t help shake off. Harry did not expect to feel alone after overcoming his greatest foe. He didn’t expect to feel so exposed.

Suddenly, he could not stand being there. He wanted to be back in the presence of others, where the death that had so plagued him could be stripped away. He scrambled to his feet with sudden energy, backing away from the twisted body of Voldemort at his feet. Should he just leave the body there? Would they come back for it later? Would Voldemort have a funeral? It was a very strange thought, and it made Harry feel even worse. He quickly turned away from the oddly angled body and started off through the scattered tombstones of the Little Hangleton Cemetery, away from the Dark Lord, away from the scene of his last murder. He couldn’t stand the thought of killing again.

The trudge back to the Riddle House was long and lonely. Time had slipped away from Harry, and he was entirely alone in the pitch black of night. He passed houses of sleeping people and shops that were closed for the night, each only reminding him of his current state – on his own. He climbed the hill to the Riddle House filled with emptiness, refusing to let thought overcome him. Where was the Order? He knew they were nearby; they’d come after him after realizing Hermione’s cover story wasn’t true. He’d eluded them before, but now he yearned for them with only Voldemort’s broken wand and his own for company.

He never reached the Riddle House, however, as something else caught his attention. He’d only glanced over, catching a flash of movement in his peripheral vision, and realized there was someone disappearing behind a hill on a broomstick. The Order had grown very accustomed to broom travel, as it was hard to track, although much more dangerous, and so this sight filled Harry with hope. He headed off in the direction of the hill, climbing its slope with creaking joints and aching limbs. They would expect explanations, but how lovely would it be to disappear in a group of people, to hide behind their protective hands and reverse the strange naked sensation that consumed him.

The top of the hill welcomed him as the sun broke over the horizon. It was behind Harry, causing him to squint when he turned to look at it. The sky had exploded with warm hues – oranges, yellows, pinks and reds – leaving Harry cold and dark in comparison on the Earth’s surface. He pulled his attention from the masterpiece in the sky to look back down the hill, into the valley that lay below.

The shadow from the hill with Harry on top nearly covered the entire valley, and in its centre he found the Order and almost every person he had ever loved or valued. They were all clumped together, although no one seemed to be talking. Were they waiting for him? Were they waiting for the end? Were they as unsure of his potential success as he had been? They looked so small from where he stood, unmoving and unnoticed. Distant, he suddenly felt as though he had been alone all along. They were so far, so untouchable. Yet everything he had done was for them.

It was as he stared down on the miniscule figures that he realized they were all safe now. Harry had protected them and defeated Voldemort. They stood unaware in his shadow while he kept watch over them all. But it went even further than that – they stood inside of him, inside his shadow. They’d been beside him all along, just hidden. Even Dumbledore had never left his side, Harry realized, looking down at the pieces of Voldemort’s wand, Fawkes’ feather sticking awkwardly out. When he looked back out over the crowd below, there were so many faces – Hagrid, Harry’s first true friend, the first person to speak to him with respect and dignity, was actually sitting on the ground, staring tearfully at what appeared to be a photograph; Ron and Hermione, standing together, but unable to meet each other’s eyes; Luna’s expression seemed to be the only one in a normal state, blank and dreamy, as Neville held a bandage over her forehead carefully; George, oddly alone and in a creepily stony reverie for such a vibrant individual; Harry couldn’t see Mrs. Weasley’s face, it was buried into her husband’s shoulder with despair and worry; and Ginny… Ginny, detached from the crowd, a blanket wrapped around her shoulders even though it was nearly summer, her eyes pointed off into the distance, seeing and revealing nothing. Missing faces; Remus, Mad-Eye, Fred, Tonks, just to name a few. Even in their absence, Harry could nearly feel them at his side as he thought about their deaths – all to help him get further, to protect his cause. He had felt so much responsibility and duty that he’d forgotten all about their devotion to him, just assuming that they were in it for the greater good.

But they were all waiting for him – even the dead ones, who he imagined lingering under his shadow. They weren’t waiting for the battle to end; they were waiting for Harry. He had been staring so determinedly ahead that he hadn’t noticed them. After all, you can’t see what is right behind you.

Suddenly, Ginny looked up, directly at him. He hadn’t moved, yet she seemed to just sense him there. He raised a hand, the newborn sun finally bringing warmth to his body. Ginny pulled a hand out from under her blanket, her fingers lengthening in a weak returning wave. The essence of death seemed to fall from him in that moment and he started off down the hill, toward those who he could always lean on, who would always support him, who he could always turn to. He was finally twisting around to see them all behind him, ready to catch him if he fell.

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