Home is Where the Heart Isn't
Uncle Vernon was shouting, "Good riddance, you ungrateful prat! We always knew you were trouble! You never were welcome here, remember that! And don't come back!"
Harry landed hard, but thankfully his full set of robes cushioned his fall somewhat. His new braid was tangled around the wand still gripped in his hand. This rope of hair was quite likely what had prevented him from losing the wand in the first place. Quickly, Harry untangled the thing and stashed the wand in the front pocket of his robes.
As he stood up, Harry gratefully realised he was none the worse for wear. Everything the crazy Adonna person had done to him seemed to have reversed itself after his leap from the Fright Bus. He even had his glasses back on. Belatedly, Harry remembered he'd abandoned the adoption papers on the bus. His heart sank. It's not like I'll need them anyway, he tried to convince himself.
Looking down, he got another start.
The stain on the arm of his robes! Instead of being red as it should, it was tinted silver… like Unicorn blood. Do dead people bleed Elixir of Life? he contemplated insanely.
Harry looked around and saw for the first time that he had landed at King's Cross Station, Platform 9 3/4. But he was the only soul there. The entire cavernous structure was silent and devoid of all internal light or activity. Moonlight shown through the glass and the rafters as he walked.
Unexpectedly, a fluttering noise whizzed passed his ear.
"Hedwig!" called Harry in delight as he recognised his messenger friend. His heart lifted at the sight of her.
She turned in midair and hooted, as if beckoning him to follow. At least she can see me!
Picking up his pace, he gave chase to his snowy owl as she winged through the building and for the open exit. Harry noticed immediately the soles of his shoes lightly striking against the floor in a cacophony of satisfying pounding; they echoed merrily throughout the Station.
He continued on after Hedwig flew out the entryway. Harry noticed that the city outside the building was just as dark and deserted as King's Cross, but he didn't care. After all, he and his pet were having fun. Determined to enjoy this moment, Harry let his feet fly as his robes billowed around him in a dark cloud.
Once again, he wasn't even getting tired for all the running.
On and on Hedwig soared, through the car park, over rooftops, leading Harry through the dank and dreary streets of a vacant London. Their only lighting was the moon and street torches. Every so often, Harry would call out a greeting to her, and she would invariably answer back.
It sure was good to have a friend, someone who could see and talk with him—even if she wasn't human.
Hedwig swooped down at last, and he watched as she flew in through the trees of a park some ways ahead of him.
No, not a park, Harry realised the closer he walked. A graveyard.
All of Harry's joy at seeing Hedwig again fell to the earth with a dull thud.
Of course, what were you expecting, he thought grimly, the Quidditch Pitch?
From somewhere close by, Harry heard someone weeping. He paused, concentrating. No, several people were weeping. Together. Entranced, he followed the sound.
A large group of witches and wizards was gathered together around an equally large headstone in the garish moonlight.
Harry recognised each and every one of them. They were his friends, classmates, and teachers from school and around the wizarding world. All of them looked so profoundly saddened, but none more than the Weasleys and Hermione, who were standing directly in front.
No one noticed him.
Walking up to the head of the solemn crowd, he could make out the epitaph inscribed on the granite:
Harry James Potter
Wizard Interred Therein A Mere Age 15
31, July 1980
Died: 2, July 1996
Feared by Many
Loved by None
Seeing it all stamped out in front of him somehow made his death more final than ever. Harsh reality swarmed around him as a black plague.
"It was his 'saving people thing'," he heard Hermione wail piteously, "I knew it would kill him someday!"
At least I died saving someone, he thought dourly. Better that than something meaningless, like a car accident.
Harry vaguely remembered wanting to comfort his friends, but what could he do? He was dead. And he already knew they wouldn't be able to see him; this was due from experience with his godfather. Being around this level of perpetual grief just….hurt too much.
Numbly, he began plodding away from the group and skirted around the gravestone.
Someone was crying alone on the other side of it, unnoticed by the crowd. Someone female and petite with long red hair. Someone was Ginny Weasley. She was sobbing bitterly to Hedwig, who had perched on her knee. Harry had never thought it possible that someone so small could tremble so violently.
"I needed to tell him, but never got the chance!" Ginny cried into her cupped hands. Hedwig hooted consolingly.
"Harry just didn't understand we already knew! All of us! Even Percy knew! We knew it wasn't him, wasn't his fault!" Hedwig turned to gaze meaningfully at him.
In spite of himself, Harry was intently listening to all Ginny said. What was she talking about? Was it something he already heard of? All of who knew all of what? he found himself wondering anxiously.
Ginny thrust her chin in the air and the back of her head brutally struck the headstone. Appalled, Harry grabbed the back of his own head in sympathy and leapt backward. He watched, dumbfounded, as she cried ever harder, lump on the back of her head forgotten. Hedwig tried to nip her fingers in a comforting way.
"But it was me who had to let him know! I was supposed to tell him!"
Harry drew closer to her. Whatever it was she'd been referring to, it was obviously very important that she would've let him know. Ginny was certainly appearing to take his death much harder than the rest of them.
"And now he's dead, thinking he doesn't deserve love, and with the burden of guilt!"
Harry winced at this display of such raw emotion. Ginny was now yelling herself hoarse, she felt so terrible. Hedwig hooted dolefully with Ginny in commiseration. A knot formed in his chest as he observed the distraught red-haired girl. Her depth of pain was almost unbearable to witness.
Because Harry recognised something. Not only was she hurting so badly, but her infinite ache inside was the hurting for him.
And there was nothing he could do about it. Nothing he could do to comfort her; nothing he could do to console the entire lot of his mourning friends.
All of that powerlessness made the hurt inside him build, too.
At least when he was alive, he could embrace his friends or lend a compassionate ear. Harry could feel his face screwing up with the anguish of not helping. His eyes burned.
Ginny stopped keening into the sky and looked directly at Hedwig.
"But worst of all," she whispered, eyes glistening, "I never once thanked him for saving my life in the Chamber of Secrets." She squeezed her eyes tight shut and continued.
"As I awoke, Harry was leaning over me protectively. I could see he was fevered and ill—and noticed the bloody basilisk bite on his arm through his torn robes. I pointed it out and watched as he hastily hid it from my sight." Ginny covered her eyes with her hands, as if to demonstrate. Hedwig fluttered to the ground in front of her.
It had been so long since Harry had recounted that fateful night, but he could still summon thoughts as if it happened day before.
"After that, I knew he was going to die. I glanced at his face; he knew it too. But instead of being selfish and demanding I stay, he insisted I get myself to safety. No regard for himself whatsoever." Ginny's eyes swam.
Harry's burning eyes pricked with hot tears. Once again, he'd forgotten that he wasn't the only one altered by the course of events leading up to and including that night.
"I never told him I'd figured out the real reason he wanted to send me away from him after I woke up." Ginny paused painfully.
Harry drew a sharp intake of breath. He'd never told a soul the actual answer to this. It was something that he scarcely acknowledged within himself. Could she really know why?
"It was because of his compassion. At twelve years of age, he had already lost his childhood innocence, and had no desire to see the same happen to me. Despite only vague memories, Harry knew he'd watched it happen to his parents—and couldn't bring himself to ask me to stay with him—" she was choking on her words—"to watch him…die. A final self-sacrificing act—to be alone when he needed a friend the most. I couldn't have felt more love and concern from him if he was my own brother."
Ginny buried her face in her arms and cried anew after finishing her confession.
It was like she said—Ginny did know. Through some unfathomable reasoning, she had discerned the true motivation behind why Harry tried to send her from him in that Chamber. She'd just so eloquently put the words to something he could've never expressed on his own.
More than death itself, Harry couldn't stand the thought of anyone watching him go through the process. Especially now after the dementors and Cedric and Sirius—anything that brought back death memory full bore. Watching said events irrevocably changes the once-innocent who witness them. It was tainted psychological torture for anyone who watched a loved one die.
Harry could feel stinging tears coursing down his cheeks unbidden and splashing on his robes in response to Ginny's lament.
This really was too much. Not being able to let this sweet girl know she was heard…how grateful he was for her now…that he finally understood her…
If she was feeling so distraught, just think of how Hermione's doing. Or Ron. Or Mrs. Weasley. He unconsciously wiped his wet eyes with the silver-stained fingers of his hands and moved closer to Ginny.
Her poor small body was wracked with sobs once more. Harry also noticed her hair had a strip of a darker crimson colour down the back. Apparently, her head had hit the gravestone with enough force to draw blood. Oh, Merlin's Mercy…
Forgetting himself, Harry knelt down on the ground next to her. He reached out as if to touch the back of Ginny's red hair and pantomimed the stroking motion instead. Some of her blood got on his hands as he brushed the headstone.
Harry tried placating the both of them by quietly saying things to her.
"It's all right," he said hoarsely, trying not to cry, himself. "I'm here and listening, and I heard you." Closing his eyes, he ploughed on. "And yes, that was the reason I'd wanted you to leave. I know—death—entirely too well."
As he went on, Ginny's crying subsided and her breathing gradually grew more even under his feigned physical ministrations. He fancied it was actually helping rather than the fact she'd probably just tired herself out to exhaustion.
Then, "Harry?" she asked wonderingly from under her curtain of copper hair.