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And they put a wreath of flowers over his head


Perhaps it would have been best if he hadn't returned from King's Cross at all. That way, at least it would have been his choice.

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And they put a wreath of flowers over his head

It was over. It was over. Half his life, he'd been miserable, and the other half he had been chased by his ominous fate, one Voldemort had sealed when Harry was only a baby. His happiness had consisted of fleeting moments of sunlight and laughter, condensed in his friends, his mentors, the family that had taken him in as one of their own, but it all faded too quickly, always. He'd seen his friends hurting. He'd seen his mentors die. He'd seen the people he loved torn apart. It had all been because of him, he knew it. All of Harry's moments of respite were to come to an end, even if only because he knew the odds were stacked high against him. What chance had he of defeating one of the greatest dark wizards of all times?

But now, now it was over, and even though he was exhausted in every way, even though there was a dull pain in the back of his mind, reminding him that things wouldn't get easy soon, that his life and those of his friends were still a steaming mess and he'd have to deal with it when he woke up, Harry felt free for the first time in what seemed like centuries as he lay his head on the pillow.

There would be no more watching everything he cared about coming apart. There would be no more pushing away the people he loved to protect them. He could make plans now, long-term plans that he would be able to carry out because he was miraculously alive and his future was not threatened: it lay in front of him like a stretched-out parchment waiting to be written.

He would marry Ginny one day. Harry knew that with the same certainty he knew it was her he thought of before the killing curse hit him, back in the forest. They would pick things up where they left, yes, but things had changed now. They had both changed. So they would date for as long as they felt was necessary, but Harry knew he would marry her, and no one else.

He would watch their best friends, the ones who had stuck with him from the start, through thick and thin, finally coming to terms with the fact that they were both crazy about each other. They deserved their happy ending, too, and where once Harry had thought it would be the end of their three-person friendship, and something he wouldn't look forwards to, now he couldn't have been happier to witness it.

He would become a Weasley. He would be forever in their debt, forever sorry for what this family had gone through partly because of him, but at the same time he knew that they would see nothing to forgive him for, and he couldn't have imagined a better family to be a part of.

It was over, and he was free, free to build his life without fearing the sword falling on him at last.

And with that comforting thought, the taste of the sandwiches Kreacher had brought him still in his mouth, the sounds of Ron and Hermione's breathing coming from the bed next to his, the familiar sight of the scarlet drapes around him, Harry closed his eyes and fell asleep.

When he woke up, it was pitch-black. Harry closed and opened his eyes again, and waited for them to adjust. The darkness was impenetrable. He felt blind. He'd never been particularly afraid of the dark, but this absolute lack of light was making him feel claustrophobic. Why was it so dark? He thought he'd slept enough for it to be midday again, but even if it was sometime in the early hours of the night, the tower had never been so hermetic. When the moon was absent, there were stars; when the stars were hidden behind stormy clouds, there was lightning. Or coals that burned on the hearth. Or a candle. There was always something.

Now there was nothing, and it was starting to make Harry feel trapped in the dense blackness, almost as if it would smother him. The bed under him felt harder than it had before, and he had the unshakable, inexplicable sense of something solid above him, inches from his nose, as if the ceiling had dropped. He felt a shiver run through his body and the palms of his hands began to sweat.

He couldn't take another second of it, so he tried to sit up. Only there wasn't nearly enough space for him to do so.

His forehead bumped against something only slightly cushioned and he bounced backwards as soon as he'd sprung up. That couldn't be good. Had the four-poster bed actually collapsed on him while he slept?

Moving his arms at his sides, Harry realized there wasn't room to move them, either: he could barely afford an inch before they, too, bounced back against his legs. He moved his hands up instead and felt the silky fabric above him. It made no sense. The bed curtains were velvet, and they would be bunched up directly on his face, almost suffocating him, not smooth and straight over him.

Harry pushed with as much strength as he could manage. The thing didn't budge one bit.

'Ron?' he called with mounting desperation. 'Hermione? Anyone! What happened?'

He balled his hand in a fist and hammered at the ceiling of his prison. It made no sound.

'Help me!' he shouted. He shouted again, and again, but no one came. His breathing became superficial, coming in quick, short gasps; his heart pounded as hard as if it was trying to escape from his chest. And then, he heard it. Or rather, them.

He was sure they hadn't been there before, the voices. They were crying, whispering, wailing. One thing Harry was sure of, though: it meant that there were people near him. They should be able to hear him

'HELP!' he yelled again, uselessly pounding against the box (for it felt like a silk-lined box) with both fists. 'HELP ME! I'M IN HERE! GET ME OUT!'

Nobody seemed to hear him, even though the voices were clearly audible.

Harry fell quiet, trying to listen. Were they friends or foes? What were they doing, how come they couldn't hear him? Where was he?

'He was fine!' Harry heard Ron cry out, amidst anguished sobs. 'We ate some sandwiches and we saw him get into bed, Hermione and I! We were sleeping right beside him! How—how could it—'

The rest of it was lost as Ron seemed to break down.

Was Ron talking about him? Why did he sound as if Harry had... as if he had died? He hadn't... had he?

No, it was mental. He didn't feel like a ghost; he was solid, he could touch things. If he were a ghost, he'd be able to float right through this thing. He bent his arms and managed to touch his face. Solid. Perfectly in one piece. He even had his glasses on, even though he remembered having taken them off.

Harry kept listening.

'I-don't-know I-don't-know I-don't-know I-don't-know,' he could hear Hermione repeating, like a litany, as she sobbed hysterically.

'I never thought we'd be burying two sons on the same day,' Arthur Weasley's sorrow-ridden voice said above him. 'It is time.'

Harry felt a lurch and as if he was being lifted—as if the thing he was inside of was being lifted.

'N—no!' he shouted, his heart racing in his throat and his hands flying upwards to keep banging on the box, scratching the lining desperately. 'NO! I'M ALIVE! I'M NOT DEAD, NOTHING HAPPENED TO ME! LET ME OUT! RON! HERMIONE! HELP!'

But nobody could hear him.

How could something like that have happened to him? How had someone found him sleeping, a solid, breathing, warm body just sleeping, and declared that he was dead and good to bury? Because he knew now, he knew that was what was happening.

Harry checked every space around him, looking for a wand. Wizards and witches were buried with their wands, after all, weren't they? Voldemort had broken into Dumbledore's tomb to retrieve the Elder Wand, he remembered. He scrabbled with his fingers, searching every inch of space he could reach, his muscles cramping painfully as he tried to twist this way and that. He fumbled through his clothes as well, but he couldn't find anything. No one had thought of burying him with his wand, or maybe it had fallen to the floor and everyone had been too shocked to think of looking for it.

And nobody could hear him.

He tried to do magic, any kind of magic without his wand. Accidental magic happened when you were scared, or angry, and he was both. Maybe it was because he was concentrating on it, and accidental magic was… well, accidental. Or maybe he'd wasted too much energy screaming, too much air had been depleted of oxygen already, and he had no power left. The fact was that nothing happened, and meanwhile, the people outside kept walking. Harry could imagine them: the Weasleys, Hermione, Hagrid, his former classmates, his teachers, all of them carrying his coffin or walking beside it on procession to some graveyard, the Chosen One's final resting place. Fred's coffin would be bobbing along next to him, except that he, Fred, was dead, hit before Harry's own eyes with a Killing Curse, and Harry was not. He would be, soon, unless they checked, unless they realized their mistake...

His weakened brain fought to process the situation, to at least understand the logic behind it, since it could do nothing to save him, but he could find no explanation. He, who had survived two Killing Curses; he, who had escaped the most powerful dark wizard of his time more times than anyone else alive; he, who had come back from death to keep fighting and had finally defeated Voldemort for good; he, Harry Potter, who had gone to bed with visions of a bright future waiting for him, would meet his end without reason, without cause, without explanation. None of that would be given to him at least, and so he would die with this final truth withheld, another question to add to a long list he thought he'd finally crossed out. As his body exhausted the remaining oxygen inside the coffin, as his brain discovered it could no longer function without it and shut down, his coffin would be lowered into the earth and covered with it, and they would put a wreath of flowers over his head, and cry for him, and mourn him for years to come while he, Harry, would lie forever deprived of answers, never knowing what forces had cut his life short just when he'd thought he was beginning to live. Secrets and lies had been his beginning, and they would also be his end.

He thought he could smell lilies, but he wasn't sure.

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