Harry Potter & the Ritual of Merlin's Choice

Chapter 4

As Harry walked briskly across the grounds, he recalled his last trek towards the forest—the one he had thought would be his last. This time there was no spellfire to duck, no Death Eaters to avoid. The fighting had ended, and all that remained were the bodies, and the crews sorting and clearing them from the lawn—separating the critically injured but alive from the dead, and providing the former with swift medical care, unlikely though they were to survive the day.

He hesitated briefly at the boundary of the forest, but the Dementors had scattered after the battle, and he met no resistance. The trail was fairly easy to follow as Harry headed back towards the clearing where his two best friends had met their end. Though he'd had his eyes closed during most of the journey to the forest's edge, Voldemort and his Death Eaters had left a clear path of destruction in their wake.

Before long, he could make out the dying glow of the fire, which the Death Eaters had not bothered to extinguish, peaking through the trees. Miraculously, their oversight didn’t seem to have started a forest fire—or perhaps there were simply spells in place to prevent such things.

Harry hastened his stride at the first glimpse of the fire, but fell to his knees in grief as he cleared the last of the trees. There, by the still-smouldering embers, lay the discarded bodies of his two best friends. Tears pooled in his eyes as he finally allowed the bottled emotions of the last few hours to catch up with him. They hadn't been moved from when he'd last laid eyes on them, but the sight of their bodies was profoundly more heart-wrenching now that he didn't have their spirits walking beside him, now that he was no longer on his way to his own execution, to join them…

Instead, he was alone and facing the prospect of a potentially long life… alone. The temptation to reach into his pocket for the Resurrection Stone was strong, but somehow he resisted. His friends were gone, and to try and summon them would be wrong, Master of the Deathly Hallows, or not.

His plans for starting over seemed grandiose and daunting now, as it began to sink in that he'd be going at it alone, without Ron or Hermione, who had stood by his side for seven years worth of "adventures". No, instead they had set off on the next great adventure—without him.

The thought of joining them may have crossed his mind briefly, but he knew in his heart that to take his own life was not the answer. He had fought too hard for it to simply give up and die; walking to his death had been hard enough, had taken all his courage. He would not—could not—turn his wand on himself.

Eventually, his tears spent, Harry managed to pull himself up to his hands and knees and crawl the final yards to Ron’s body.

Kneeling at his friend’s side, he brushed a hand against his cheek and took in the red-head’s wide open eyes and look of defiance. Ron’s skin was already cold, despite the nearby flames, and when Harry tried to brush his eyes closed, he was hindered by rigor mortis, hastened by proximity to the flames. It took a great deal of effort, both physical and mental, to shift the eye-lids, but he did manage. He stifled a sob as he brushed a hand through Ron's flaming hair.

Crawling over to Hermione next, he took a moment to close her eyes, before finally climbing to his feet and gingerly lifting her stiff and unyielding corpse from where she'd fallen. The crumpled position that she’d been left in made the body hard to balance, but he managed, not wanting to resort to magic just yet.

One painful step at a time, he carried her back to Ron, and gently lay her by his side—where she belonged—entwining their hands as best he could, before collapsing at their sides.

As Harry sat in silence on the cold ground and stared, crying by intervals, time lost all meaning. Alone in the forest, there was no one to see this moment of weakness, no one relying on him to be brave.

By the time he finally gathered the courage to move once more, the sun had begun to set.

His first move was to search for his Invisibility Cloak, but only when he failed to find it in his friends’ pockets did he make the decision to resort to magic, for the first time since the battle had ended.

The decision to draw the Elder Wand, instead of the hawthorn one he had used till recently, was instinctive; he remembered how the Cloak had failed to respond to a conventionally cast Summoning Charm the previous evening—though perhaps that was more a question of who was summoning it and not a question of the wand being used.

"Accio Invisibility Cloak!"

The Cloak came soaring from behind an outcrop of rocks at the edge of the clearing. Whether Ron and Hermione had hidden it there before launching their attack, dropped it in the midst of their scuffle, or had it wrested from them in battle, was unclear, though the former seemed more likely.

Harry caught the cloak deftly in his left hand, and donned it in a single sweep. Strange how comforted wearing it made him feel in that moment...

He raised his wand once more, this time pointing it at Ron and Hermione, "Mobilicorpus."

As he corpses rose slowly, their hands remained clasped together and the bodies maintained their awkward and rigid postures, despite the vertical change in their positions.

For a moment they just hung there, floating a few feet above the ground. But then, at Harry's direction, they began to move forward, slowly at first, then more quickly, as he gained confidence in his ability to control the spell.

And thus began the second death procession through the Forest in less than a day—a far more sombre one than the first—one of mourning, not celebration. The biggest difference though—at least in Harry’s mind—was that this time there was no doubt that the bodies in question were truly dead.

He halted at the edge of the forest, hesitating. Harry didn’t want to draw more attention than necessary before he reached the Great Hall and could deliver his precious load to the Weasleys—what was left of the Weasleys... But which was less likely to draw attention? The floating corpses? Or himself? When put that way, the decision to keep the Cloak for himself was an easy one; the grounds were filled with the dead.

Fortunately, no one stopped him as he entered the Great Hall, though many stopped to stare as Ron and Hermione floated by, and most must have guessed at the power directing the corpses of two-thirds of the Golden Trio.

He found Mrs Weasley near the back of the Hall, hugging her two remaining sons tightly, while the rest of her family—minus one—lay in a neat row nearby.

Harry directed the bodies of his friends to an empty space beside the others, then, pulling off the cloak, he approached the woman he had long considered a surrogate mum.

When she opened her arms to embrace him, he gratefully accepted the offer of comfort. "I'm so sorry, Mrs Weasley, I couldn't save him," he whispered into her shoulder, as she held him.

Molly loosened her hold just enough to look Harry in the eyes, "Oh Harry!" Her eyes were moist with tears, "It's not your fault, child. You did your best—by all of us."

She hugged him tighter, "Thank you for bringing him back to me."

"It was the least I could do," Harry insisted, withdrawing from her embrace.

Then, before she could protest, he donned his cloak and walked away.

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