A/N: I started this chapter quite a while ago but never really went anywhere with it. Luckily, a plot bunny hopped its way into my head and I was finally able to finish it! I'm now working on trying to turn this into a full-blown story, so please check back for updates periodically if you like this chapter. All comments and reviews, no matter how short or long, are read and appreciated!
Harry recognized the sensation of being thrown from Snape's memories only a moment before he was back on the somewhat dusty carpet in the Headmaster's office, his heart beating frantically against the floor.
"So," he said to himself, not moving an inch from the place where he lay on the soft surface of the carpet. His own voice shocked him. It was so loud, compared to the silence of the room.
"So," he repeated. "So this is how it ends."
How it ends.
The words rang in Harry's ears, echoing inside what suddenly felt like an empty head. He felt he knew nothing. Here he was, lying on the carpet in a room where he had thought, long ago (at least, it seemed so long ago now), that he was learning the secrets of victory, learning how to survive, but had really only been learning how to delay the inevitable. Here he was, with his heart pounding against his chest as though it wished to escape its fate, and he felt he knew nothing at all. He no longer knew who he was, or who his friends were, or anything that seemed vaguely useful.
He had thought that he was Harry Potter, son of Lily and James Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, the youngest Seeker in a century, the one who possessed a power that the Dark Lord knew not, and who would one day use that power against his enemy, somehow, to rid the world of an evil that had been lurking in every shadowy corner for years. He had thought that he was a Gryffindor - strong, brave and chivalrous. He had thought that he was a survivor, having made it past the innumerable brushes with death that his life had thrown at him.
He had thought that his two best friends in the world were Hermione Granger and Ronald Weasley, who were always by his side, no matter what, and who had always helped him through each of the many rough patches that he had experienced throughout his life. He had believed that the entire Weasley family, except maybe Percy, thought of him like a son or a brother. He had let himself trust an old man - one who had seemed very wise and who had seemed to have Harry's best interests in mind - named Albus Dumbledore.
He had believed that he was at least moderately intelligent. Not nearly as smart as Hermione, of course, but smart enough to fend for himself. He had let himself think that he knew enough, or, at least, nearly enough magic to get through the battle in which he found himself at the moment. He had thought that he knew enough - had learned enough and lived enough and been through enough - to end this thing, to finally free himself of the burden that was Voldemort and live to see the light of a new day.
Now, it seemed, that was almost all wrong.
He felt that he truly knew nothing at all. Nothing valuable, anyway. Sure, he knew plenty of spells, both protective and offensive. Sure, he knew how to duel and how to fight. But did he know how to do what was expected of him now? Did he know how to get up from this carpet and walk to his doom with his wand in his pocket and his hands by his sides? Did he know what it would feel like to leave his body when his long walk ended? Did he know if it would hurt? The answer to all of those questions, he realized, was a firm, non-negotiable 'no'.
He felt, in that moment, that he was nothing more than what nature had made him and what his parents had named Harry James Potter; nothing more than flesh and bone and fluttering, frantic heart. All of those titles - "Boy-Who-Lived" and "Youngest Seeker in a Century" - seemed irrelevant now. All the things he had thought he was - strong, brave, a survivor - seemed silly now, seemed useless. For it did not matter how strong he was, if he was to stand in front of his enemy with no wand in his hand. It did not matter how brave he was; he was doomed to die no matter what he did. It was merely a matter of choosing whether to go quietly to his death or to prolong his suffering, probably taking many innocent people with him in the process.
Pushing up from the floor, Harry settled into a sitting position and put his face in his hands. Never before had he been so very aware of himself, so very conscious of the fact that he took up space, that he existed. What would it be like to leave this behind? What would he experience when he was nothing more than a spirit, nothing more than the stuff of memories?
Speaking of memories, he thought, what about those who he would leave behind? He felt that, despite more than six years together, he knew nothing about either of his two best friends. They had always been so busy trying to save the world, trying to save each other, that they had never really had time to get to know one another the way best friends should, to get to know all those silly little things about each other, all those silly little things that he hadn't deemed necessary to know until this moment, when he felt that, silly or not, he should know. He felt he should know, unimportant as it seemed, which of all the foods that Ron devoured was his favourite. It seemed that he should know, useless information though it was at the moment, when his red-haired best friend had learned to ride a broomstick. Merlin help him, there was so much he didn't know about the ones who had been with him from the very start of his journey, and no time to learn before he had to give himself up.
Amidst all of Harry's pain and desperation, Dumbledore's betrayal seemed like nothing more than something else he should have known. He should have realized that a man as powerful and wise as Dumbledore would never really spend so much of his time protecting a single child out of millions, unless there had been some bigger purpose for this particular boy. He should have seen that Dumbledore could easily have finished Voldemort off by himself, if not for the bit of soul that remained intact inside of one black-haired boy's seventeen-year-old body. Why the old man had not just killed Harry on his own and been done with it remained a mystery to the doomed boy. Perhaps it would have put a bit of a stain on his glowing reputation.
Harry sighed, his breath warming his face between his hands. He should have known. That one thought kept spinning around in his seemingly empty head.
I should have known.
He moved his hands from his face, dropping one beside him and nervously running the other through his perpetually messy hair. It brushed against his cheek on the way, and he found himself highly aware of the fact that he could feel. What would it be like when that was gone? What would it be like to never feel another joking punch on the arm from Ron, never experience another one of Mrs. Weasley's bone-splintering hugs?
What would it be like, he thought as he brushed his fingers across his cheek with a hint of nostalgia, to never feel Hermione's kiss again?
He shook his head at himself, smiling humourlessly. There she was. He had known that she would slip into his thoughts sooner or later. She had had a habit of doing that all year long. Actually, she had always had a habit of doing that, but he had found that she had done so far more often this year, and the last, and even the one before. Ever since he had learned about the prophecy, learned that there was really a chance that he would die at Voldemort's hand, he had found Hermione creeping into his head more and more often. He knew that he cared for her, of course. He didn't deny that, hadn't denied it since he was only twelve years old and sitting beside a stone-cold, Petrified statue of his best friend in the hospital wing, holding her hand in his. The trouble was actually letting her know. He had shied away from the idea for as long as he could remember, telling himself that it was silly to risk ruining something that was already so perfect, something that had already been a blessing to a boy who had never really had any sort of companion before. His friendship with Hermione was something that he treasured, and he had been unwilling to do anything to put that treasure in danger.
Besides, he had thought, Ron fancied Hermione anyway, so he would have been putting two friendships on the line.
It all seemed so silly now, he thought, shaking his head at himself again. Now that death loomed in his future, waiting impatiently for his arrival, it was as though his vision had been cleared of clouds that he had not realized were there, replaced by a plethora of 'could haves', 'would haves' and 'should haves'. He could have told Hermione everything, in the space of more than six years. He probably would have told her if he hadn't thought that he would be risking their friendship, and if he hadn't known that Ron fancied her as well.
Despite all of that, he thought, he should have told her.
And now it was too late for him to do anything. He couldn't very well find Hermione, look her in the eyes and say, "Hey, Hermione, guess what? I've fancied you for years now, but I've never told you. But now that I've found out that I have to die in order to get rid of Voldemort, well, I figured that I might as well drop this bomb on you before I go. Have a nice life."
He sighed. There was no hope for it now. And besides, it was probably better this way anyhow. If he died (he scared himself by thinking the word so easily) without letting Hermione know how he felt about her, it would be one less thing for her to have to deal with when he was gone. Losing her best friend was plenty.
Which brought him back to the present situation, he thought, remembering where he was and why. Taking a deep breath, he stood up and stretched a little, trying to clear his head and calm himself.
All right, he thought with as much determination as he could muster. All right, time to do this thing.
He was aware of the fact that he was shaking a little, but tried to ignore it.
Taking one last look around the familiar office - once a place of comfort for him, now just one of the many things he would never be able to see again - and drawing in another deep breath, Harry took a few slow steps towards the door and placed a trembling hand on the cool surface of the knob. He hesitated for a moment - perhaps, he thought, he could stay here for the rest of his life, and none of what he had just learned would have to be real - before he finally pushed the door open and stepped out onto the rotating staircase.