'Elizabeth! There you are! We thought – we thought that maybe a Death Eater…'
Minerva McGonagall had run the length of the Hospital Wing and wrapped her arms around the young woman whose eyes were red and puffy, and in whose hand was clutched a small piece of cotton with the initials SS embroidered delicately on one corner.
'Lizzie, are you alright?' Lupin asked, striding up to her side as well. 'Well, of course you're not alright, but –'
'No, Remus, I'm… I'm fine…' Her voice was oddly hollow as she removed herself from the vice grip that was the deputy headmistress… or, presumably, headmistress, now… and walked slowly over to where Harry was sitting, silent, on a bed, entranced with the phoenix's song. She kneeled in front of him, placed his hands in her own, and said quietly, 'I'm sorry, Harry. I'm so, so sorry…'
His eyes, which had been glazed completely over when she knelt, flashed to hers. He knelt too, and placed himself softly in the comforting envelope of her arms.
The arms of the sister who, over the past two years, had become more of a mother than he had ever had.
Before Harry left Hogwarts for perhaps the last time, he decided to escape the hordes of people offering condolences and walk around the grounds. He had only made it halfway around the lake, however, when he heard a gentle, female voice call out to him. Turning, he saw Elizabeth striding towards him. He slowed, and held out his arm for her to take.
'I'm sorry,' he said when she caught up to him. 'I shouldn't've ignored you all that time. I didn't mean for it to go on, but I just… you were with Snape all the time, and Malfoy, and you just-'
She interrupted with a gentle shushing noise. 'It doesn't matter, Harry. All that matters now is what you're going to do this year. And I need you to promise me something.'
'What?' he asked eagerly, willing to do anything to make up for shunning her the past few months. 'I'll do anything, Elizabeth. I swear.'
'Harry, listen.' She stopped to stand face to face with him. 'Don't go off the rocker, and don't start in on me, please. But I need you to swear to me that, unless you are in a life or death situation that you will not – I repeat, will not – harm Draco Malfoy or Severus Snape.'
The words were barely out of her mouth when Harry exploded with, 'What?! No! Elizabeth, you can't be serious! They killed Dumbledore! Those – those heartless, evil bastards killed Dumbledore! They deserve to die!'
'No! Harry, no, they do not. D'you know why? I'm going to tell you.' Her eyes pleaded with him while she said, 'They only did it because Dumbledore let them.'
'Don't you dare blame his death on-!'
'Harry! Do you think I of all people would want to see justice go unserved, especially when it comes to Albus Dumbledore? No! You just don't know why they did it! Would you kill someone if you were sure they were going to kill everyone you loved? Yes! Yes you would. I know I would. If a Death Eater was threatening your life I would kill them without a second thought. Draco was only following Voldemort's wishes because he was afraid Voldemort would kill his mother and father. And when Severus made the unbreakable vow to Bellatrix Lestrange, he told Albus he would rather die than have to kill him, but Albus told him that he had to follow through. That Severus is much more important to the cause than him now. Severus has Voldemort's trust. That is invaluable. If we lost that, we just might lose the war.'
'But – but he killed Dumbledore!' Harry paced away to hide the angry, frustrated tears forming in his eyes.
'I know, Harry, I know.' Her voice had softened some, and he felt her hand resting gently on his arm. 'But if you killed Severus, what good would that do? We would lose the most valuable tool we have within Voldemort's inner sanctum. And if you killed Draco? You would be killing a scared, confused boy who wanted nothing more than to be loved, and to keep his family alive. You can appreciate that, surely.'
Harry could feel his anger melting away as he thought to everything he would do if anyone ever threatened the lives of those he loved – Elizabeth, Hermione, the Weasleys… Ginny… even the Dursleys. 'Blood begets blood.'
Elizabeth smiled in relief. 'Yes.'
Harry sighed, and fell into her arms. 'But if I meet them in battle-'
'Severus wouldn't kill you, Harry. He would kill himself before he'd let that happen. And Draco… we'll be seeing him soon enough. Voldemort won't be too pleased that he failed in his charge. Or, that he succeeded. Voldemort set him up to fail, to get back at Lucius' failure at getting the prophecy. Draco's not safe, and neither is his family. Narcissa knows this. And she also knows how to contact the Order. They may come to us for protection. And I expect you to be civil.'
'I'm not a kid, Elizabeth.'
She sighed forlornly, patted his cheek, and murmured, 'How I know that.'
'I can handle them if they're not completely snide and arrogant – and if they're civil to Hermione.'
'They will be. Narcissa doesn't believe in the blood feud any more than Draco does. She just learned to agree with it to placate Lucius and their crowd. By the end, though, he'll probably be dead.'
'So… there's really no point for Malfoy's attempts. No matter what, Voldemort's gonna try to kill him and his family?'
'Just like no matter what, he probably would've killed Frank and Alice Longbottom, along with Neville in his pram all those years ago. And your mother, even if she had stepped aside.'
Harry rode the train wordlessly home with Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, and Luna. Occasionally, the compartment door would slide open and one of the few students whose parents were allowing them to take the train home would come to say hello, and wish Harry, 'the Chosen One,' good luck. Some, like the students from the DA, would offer their support. To these well-wishers, Harry would barely respond. Even after spending so much time talking with his friends, he was still slightly in shock, and certainly still in mourning.
No less than a dozen Aurors and Order members met their arrival at Platform 9¾, most of which Harry knew. They were to accompany Harry to Privet Drive for the last time, and so he said farewell to Neville, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione until they met again.
When Ron and Ginny arrived back at the Burrow, Molly was standing on the doorstep, wrapping a dishrag around her fingers nervously. As they approached, she called inside the house, and began jogging towards the car. She began waving furiously, and when they filed out, she pulled them all into an enormous hug.
'How worried I've been!'
'Mum, you just saw us yesterday,' Ron coughed from within his mother's chokehold.
'Yes, well, you were on a train. Why I let your father talk me into letting you ride the train I'll never know…'
'We're fine, mum,' Ginny choked, tears forming in her eyes. 'We're all here now.
'No, we're not,' Mrs Weasley said, ushering them all into the kitchen.
'We're not all here.'
'Elizabeth.' She began setting out lunch for them as she spoke. 'She's not here. After the funeral, she simply disappeared.'
'No, she didn't,' Ron told her. 'She was still at Hogwarts.'
'Where? I didn't see her anywhere.'
'She-' Ginny started, but discovered she didn't want to go through that particular discussion with her mother quite yet.
He was about to force the words when Ron, noticing his discomfort, said, 'She stopped by the common room to say goodbye to Neville, and see you soon to Harry. Dunno know where she went afterwards, though.' He shot Ginny a brotherly smile, and, shocked at his intuitiveness, smiled back.
'How's Charlie taking it? Ron asked, standing to retrieve a plate of rolls from his mother.
'He's frantic, of course, the poor thing. He wishes she would come home.'
'But… what if she is home?' Ginny asked, her eyes widening slightly in realization.
'But, Ginny, dear, this is home,' Mrs Weasley said, ladling soup into their bowls.
'No, think about it,' Ginny persisted. 'The one place she's always felt safe. Her only real home.'
'She's still at Hogwarts.'
It was not Molly who spoke, however.
It was Charlie.And with those words, he disapparated to Hogsmeade to find Elizabeth.