With the decision on the fate of the Elder wand made, Harry carefully tucked away both wands into his pocket and only then did the whirlwind of the last 24 hours finally catch up to him. All he wanted to do was sleep, and the vision of his comfortable bed in Gryffindor swam before his eyes. "I'm going to bed," he told Ron and Hermione as he headed wearily towards the door.
"A good sleep-in you have certainly earned, Harry, but wait just a moment please," said from Dumbledore from his portrait behind McGonagall’s desk. "Phineas, would you be so good as to locate Minerva? Hermione, Ron, Harry have a seat as we wait for Professor McGonagall."
Too tired to argue Harry sat down where he was on the floor, resting his head on his drawn-up knees. There was a crack and he turned to see Kreacher standing beside him. The room filled with tantalizing smells. "Your supper, Harry Potter," the house elf said with a wave of his hands towards the table that had appeared in the middle of the room with three chairs.
Harry’s stomach growled and he tried to remember the last time they had eaten. Shaking off the fog of exhaustion he sat down at the table with Hermione and Ron but before they had time to pick up their forks Professor McGonagall entered the room.
"Thank you, Dumbledore, for locating these three. Eat, children, eat" as she saw their forks stopped halfway to their mouths. "Mr. Weasley, your family is being taken care of - no, no," as Ron rose out of his chair, "I've reassured your mother that you are safe and just need to rest. Now, where to make up beds. Gryffindor tower has suffered damage and can’t be accessed until it is thoroughly inspected. We’ll have to make do."
With a wave of her wand she conjured up two camp beds in the middle of the room. "Potter, Weasley you sleep here, Miss Granger you may use my rooms-" she broke off suddenly as Harry, Ron and Hermione all stood up and protested, "Hermione stays with us" "I'm not leaving..." "No!"
"It simply isn't proper, Miss Granger is a …" sputtered McGonagall.
"Before you go any farther, Minerva," came a gentle voice from behind them. They all turned to look at Dumbledore's portrait. "Please consider that they have been traveling and living in a tent together for many months. I scarcely think that a night sleeping on the floor of my, excuse me, your office, will do any harm."
"Hermione stays." Ron repeated so strongly that Hermione turned to him and beamed.
Flustered, McGonagall said nothing but gave a shrug and conjured up another camp bed, a noticeable distance from the first two beds.
"Members of the Order & faculty are searching Hogwarts for any Death Eaters who may be hiding here yet, although we expect the cowards have all fled," She flicked her wand at the windows he vast curtains closed, blocking out the morning sun. "Finish eating and then get some rest. Merlin knows you have earned it," she said before sweeping out of the room.
As the door closed behind them, all three of them sank back into their chairs. Hermione sighed, "If Gryffindor tower is too damaged to enter, what shape is the rest of the castle?"
"I dunno, but I saw that the Astronomy tower was in pretty bad shape," replied Ron.
Harry was too tired to join in the conversation. After just a few swallows he stood up and staggered over to the last bed that McGonagall had conjured up. Mumbling "G'night," he was asleep within seconds.
Ron looked over at him as he was spooning a second helping of pudding on to his plate. "He's already out, but I suppose that getting killed and coming back to life could wipe you out for a bit."
Hermione smacked his hand, "Ron, don't joke about that!" she looked over at Harry, "Do you really think it is all over?" she asked. "Seven years, well really, seventeen years and now he can just live his life normally and move on?"
"I don't know if he'll ever be able to live normally. No matter where he goes he is always going to be the bloke who killed You Know Who. He survived the killing curse twice. You don't suppose any of those Death Eaters who escaped are going to see if they can do what You Know Who couldn't do?"
Hermione wandered over to the windows, pulling aside the curtains she looked out over the castle grounds. There were dozens of people gathered in groups, hugging one another, weeping. Ron come up behind her and hesitantly slid his arms around her. She leaned back and rested against his chest, it had been only a few hours since they had shared the kiss but so much had happened since then. Ron turned her to face him, bending down to kiss her.
Ron jumped back, "I'm sorry, I thought, I mean, uh...you didn't object before, um, when-"
"Ron," Hermione hissed, "Look around." Ron glanced around the room, "Harry is asleep, and anyway he wouldn't mind."
"Look at the walls!"
Ron looked at the walls and realized that every former Hogwarts Headmaster in their portraits was staring at them with avid interest, except Dumbledore's portrait. He had moved to the back of his portrait and appeared to be rustling around, his back to them.
"Oh," Ron’s shoulders fell, "Maybe we could take a walk?" He asked hopefully.
"You two had best follow Harry's lead and rest. Your family is going to need you tomorrow, Ron," came Dumbledore's voice from his portrait. His words made him remember with a sudden crash of emotion that Fred was dead. He slumped against the window frame, "I forgot, I forgot that Fred's gone. What kind of brother am I?"
Hermione pulled him into a hug, "You are the best kind of brother. Fred was so full of life it is impossible to really believe that he isn't going to come zooming in on a broom, laughing at the trick he played on all of us."
"If he is playing a trick, I'll kill him. Or George will," Ron said choking on a half-sob half-laugh, "I can’t believe he is really gone.”
"What we need to do right now is get some sleep, I can hardly stand up anymore." said Hermione nuzzling her head against Ron's shoulder. "Do you realize that this time yesterday we were entering Gringotts and we haven't slept or stopped moving since?"
They looked over at the camp beds that McGonagall had placed in the room. "Better than our tent," Hermione said with a little sigh, she lay down and Ron climbed into the bed next to her. Hermione turned so that she could look at him, her head propped up on her arm. "Maybe we can go for a walk tomorrow." she said with a smile.
Ron grinned, "Yeah, I'd like to take a walk tomorrow," he said as he reached across the gap to grasp her hand and they fell asleep.
The sound of a door closing woke Harry up with a start. Sitting up, he groaned as all the aches and pains from the last two days protested the move. Forcing himself to stand up, he looked around as he tried to stretch the kinks out of his shoulders.
It was strange to be back at Hogwarts. It should feel better he though, this was the only home he had ever known, but so much had changed. Voldemort was dead but Harry felt no joy in his death. So many others had had to die to defeat him. Lupin. Tonks. Mad Eye. Sirius. Dobbie, Colin Creevey. Fred. He couldn’t even to bear think what the Weasleys would do without Fred.
Thinking of Ron, Harry looked around and saw the other two beds were empty. Ron and Hermione must have gone downstairs already. Walking over to the windows he realized that the sunlight coming in through the windows was from the sun rising. He had been asleep for an entire day.
The table now held pans of breakfast sausages and eggs being kept warm with a floating blue flame, a big bowl of berries and a plate of sticky buns. Harry couldn't remember the last time he had been this hungry as he sat down and started eating.
His stomach full at last, he stood up from the table. It was time to go down and face everyone. He couldn’t even think about what people would think of him, so many dead because of him. What could he even say to the Weasleys?
Bracing his shoulders he walked towards the door, as he pulled it open he looked back towards Dumbledore's portrait. The wall was empty. Puzzled, he looked around the room and saw that all of the Headmaster's portraits were gone. He knew the deceased headmasters were able to wander from portrait to portrait but he had never seen the portrait frames disappear completely before.
Harry came down the twisting staircase from Dumbledore's tower and as he rounded the corner he stopped in amazement. The passageway was filled with people, magical creatures, and even ghosts in a whirlwind of activity. No one paid him any attention as they swept away debris, others were removing damaged tapestries and paintings, the ghosts shouting encouragement at all the workers.
With a half-smile Harry headed down the corridor unnoticed and turned into the Great Hall. The bodies of the fallen were still there, but the room now showed no signs of the battle that had been waged. The bodies were now properly laid out, each on a platform draped with their Hogwarts's house colors. Friends and family were gathered and hushed conversations filled the room. Sunlight filled the Hall mutely through the Enchanted Ceiling.
Harry saw Ron and Hermione with the Weasleys at the far end of the room, Fred's body was clearly visible on the red and gold covered platform. Forcing himself to walk towards them, he started moving down the passageway.
The mourners stopped their conversations and turned towards him as he walked by but he was only looking for one person. His pace quickened as he saw her talking to Ron and Hermione. His breath caught as she turned and saw him. It was impossible to say who moved first but they ran towards each other and met in the middle of the room. With a muted cry he lifted Ginny up and into his arms in a backbreaking hug.
They held each other tightly without speaking. Harry had to shut his eyes tight to hold back his tears. Barely a year had passed since their first kiss in the Gryffindor common room and so much had happened since then. He hadn’t dared hoped to ever hold her again. And the countless nights that he had spent in the tent, wondering what she was doing, if she was seeing anyone, if she was okay.
"Ginny, I…" Harry couldn’t finish the sentence, there was too much that needed to be said and now wasn't the time with the entire room of people staring at them.
"I know, me too" she said softly. He loosened his arms and took a deep breath. With his arm around her waist they walked to where her family was waiting.
Mrs. Weasley was the first one to reach out and hug him, "Harry, Harry, look at you, you've grown so and clearly you did not get enough to eat, all three of you so thin..."
"Harry, my boy, Harry" Mr. Weasley patted him on his back as Mrs. Weasley continued to hug him.
"I'm so sorry about Fred, Mrs. Weasley, I never meant …I should have-" Harry choked out at last. Mrs. Weasley broke away from him and gripped his shoulders hard and shook him.
"You never what? You should have what? You didn't do anything wrong, Harry. Fred died because he knew that the Death Eaters had to be defeated, that Voldemort must be stopped. Even if there was no Harry Potter, the battle would have been fought, Harry. And people would have died, more people would have died." Mrs. Weasley's voice rose and tears started flowing down her face. "Because of you Harry Potter, the battle was won. Voldemort is gone. I lost my son, but I am so grateful that the rest of my family is here today, that you and Ron are back together with us."
Harry clung tightly to Mrs. Weasley. The tears that he had been holding back just started to flow. He hadn't realized how scared he had been of losing them. The Weasleys were the family he had always wanted to be a part of, the only family he had ever known. They had suffered so much because of him. Mrs. Weasley gently patted him on the back. "I love you like a son, Harry. You will always be a part of this family." Harry looked over Mrs. Weasley's shoulder and saw Ginny, beaming a teary smile. Everything was going to be alright, Harry felt the pressure release from his shoulders.
A voice spoke up from behind them, "Harry, I would like you to meet my grandson, your godson." Turning Harry saw Andromeda Tonks holding a sleeping baby boy. Swaddled in a blanket with only a little tuft of light blue hair visible on the top of his head. Looking past them he saw Lupin and Tonks laid out next to each other. "I'm so sorry Mrs. Tonks, Nymphadora and Lupin, they should have had more time with their son."
"Fortunately he will have a godfather who knows what it is like to lose parents so young. They," she gestured at the couple who even in death were holding hands, "did not want their child to grow up in a world filled with fear. Look around Harry, these people did not die because of anything you did but because of what Voldemort did and because he had to be stopped."
Harry nodded, but he couldn't shake the feeling that there should have been a way to save them, if he had found the Horcruxes sooner, if he had been able to plan better. Beyond Lupin he saw Colin Creevey laid out on brilliant Gryffindor colors of red and gold. He was surrounded by fellow Gryffindors. "Seamus, Oliver, Lee" Harry greeted them with a nod. "Where is Colin's family? Aren't they here?"
"They are on their way, the Ministry is bringing them up by the Hogwarts Express, them and the other Muggle families" said Oliver. "We are watching over Colin until they get here."
"Gryffindors stick together." said Seamus. "It is good to have you back, Harry."
"Lee, I heard one of your radio shows," Harry said, "It was really amazing. You did a lot of good - reassuring and helping everyone," Lee smiled. "But did you really have to call it Potterwatch?"
"It is what everyone was doing, Harry, waiting and watching for you." Lee said, "We all wanted to know what was going on, they had to have something to go on, the rumors were just out of control. That you had died, that you had run off to who knows where. People still want to know what happened, Harry. Would you think about doing a final show -"
"No," said Harry brusquely. The three Gryffindors looked at him, their faces hardening, and he put his hands up defensively, "Look, there was a lot going on, there was stuff that I had to do that I can't talk about. But, it's over now, can't we just move on?"
Oliver, his old Quidditch captain, pulled him aside, "Look, Harry, moving on isn't going to be easy for these families..." he gestured down the room, "You are the team captain now, mate, whether you want to be or not. Your team won, but you need to talk to the families that lost a player. You need to say something to them. They all, we all, answered the call to come here, to fight with you."
Harry looked down the Great Hall, the families now lined both sides of the passageway now, parents, children, grandparents. They all stood waiting for him, looking back at Oliver, he nodded "You're right."
Steeling himself as if to face a Hungarian Horntail, Harry started to move towards the gauntlet of mourners. Ginny came up behind him and slipped her arm through his and he was grateful that he didn't have to face this battle alone. Together they moved towards the next family.
Some people he recognized from Hogsmeade - residents who had heeded the call to arms, others he recognized as having graduated from Hogwarts in the years that he had been there, members of Dumbledore's Army. Many who had died and those who had come to mourn them he didn't recognize.
He listened to the families as they told them about their loved ones, he didn't think the murmured platitudes that he told each family could help in their grief but it was all he had to offer and it seemed to be enough. Finally they came to a small table that was covered with the Hogwarts Flag, four house elves lay atop. Guarding their place was Kreacher and Winky.
"Harry Potter, Harry Potter, you came back." said Winky. "Hello, Winky, Kreacher. I saw you in the fight. Thank you." he said simply. "Who are the house elves behind you" "Four Hogwarts house elves who were proud to die in the name of Dumbledore, in the name of Hogwarts, in the name of Harry Potter" said Kreacher, with a Regulus's locket still around his neck. "Grax, Wrinkel, Thoma, and Carth"
"Kreacher, have you told Winky about Dobbie?" asked Harry hesitantly. Winky gave a silent, teary nod. "We buried him in a beautiful place by the sea. He died rescuing me and the others, he was very brave." Winky sobbed and Kreacher gently patted her on the shoulder, "You are a good wizard Harry Potter." said Kreacher.
Moving away from the elves and heading back to the Weasleys, Harry looked around the room and for the first time noticed the portraits on the walls of the Great Hall. All of the headmasters of Hogwarts were looking down with pride upon the defenders and protectors of the school. Harry still gripped Ginny's hand firmly in his own, afraid to let go of her again. The hour that he had spent talking to the families had drained him.
"Harry, McGonagall and Kingsley Shacklebolt would like to speak with you, when you are ready.
They are in the Hospital Wing I believe, visiting the injured." Mr. Weasley stepped forward. Harry stifled a sigh, he'd known that there would be have to be a debriefing, but he'd hope to put it off as long as possible. Better to get it over with now.
Harry Potter nodded "Ron and Hermione need to come also." Looking down at Ginny, well aware of the rest of the Weasleys watching them, he simply said "I'll find you when I'm done, alright?" With just a nod in agreement, Ginny slipped her hand out of his with one last squeeze and walked back to her mother's side.
Together the trio walked from the room. As they turned down the corridor heading towards the Hospital Wing, Ron stopped Harry "Wait up a minute, I need to know. What is going on with you and Ginny?"
"Ron-" Hermione started but Harry interrupted.
"It's okay Hermione" Harry looked at Ron. He owed his friend a straight answer. "I don't know yet, I know I can't just pick up where we left off last year. But," He paused, not sure how much he could tell Ron without getting his big brother protection up. "I missed Ginny this whole year-"
"You sure didn't talk about her! I thought you'd just forgotten about her since you never even said her name the whole time we were together - except for that night..." Ron trailed off as he remembered that that was the night that he had left their camp and it had taken a month for him to find them again.
Harry looked at Ron, "I thought about her all the time. I couldn't stop thinking about her." He stalked down the corridor, Ron and Hermione running to catch up.
Harry stopped and spun to look at Ron, "Do you want to know the last thing I thought about in the Forest, surrounded by Death Eaters, as Voldemort was raising his wand at me? Ginny," He set off again down the corridor as Ron and Hermione stood there stunned.
"Now you've done it," Hermione said to Ron.
"Whatcha mean?" Ron hackled back, "He must really like Ginny if he did that."
"Are you blind? Or just barmy? Of course he likes Ginny!" Hermione retorted right back. "He is crazy about her, he always has been. He just broke up with her so that she would be safe from the Death Eaters and so she wouldn't get more hurt if he died. And now you've made him go and tell you things that maybe she would have liked to known about first."
"Cor, you knew all this and you didn't tell me?" Ron said to Hermione's back as they hurried to catch up to Harry.
"Harry, wait up. We need to make sure that we know what we are going to tell them before we meet with McGonagall," Hermione said, as she pulled his hand away from the Hospital Wing door.
"We need to just tell them the truth." said Harry.
"Sure, but the whole truth? I mean, Harry, are you going to tell them that you were a Horcrux?" Ron whispered, looking around to make sure no one could hear. "What if they think that Voldemort is still in you, they might not believe that he is really gone. Maybe they will lock you up until they're sure."
"The time for secrets is over" said Harry.