Taking the Train by lilyevans_Jan30

Summary: While talking with Dumbledore at King's Cross, Harry comes to a different decision about his future, a decision that puts his relationship with Ginny in grave peril. Can he find a way to fix things before it's too late?
Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Alternate Universe, Post-HBP, Post-DH/AB
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2008.02.15
Updated: 2008.05.18

Taking the Train by lilyevans_Jan30
Chapter 4: Found and Lost
Author's Notes:

Harry fell through the blinding mist, not caring about what he would land on or if it would hurt when he finally reached the bottom, only caring about whether Ginny would be nearby. And alive. And happy to see him. But the journey did not drop him back onto the lawn of Hogwarts or even into the Forbidden Forest and the Death Eaters’ gathering place. As he gradually became aware that he was no longer falling, Harry also realized that he was, once again, back at King’s Cross, laying naked on the ground.

“Maybe the whole train thing was a dream, something going on only in the my head, and this is still my first trip here. Maybe I didn’t screw it up at all,” Harry thought anxiously to himself. Noticing the fact that he was without clothes, he picked up the robes that again appeared on the ground a short distance away, putting them on. Taking a deep breath, he looked around. “I think Dumbledore should be appearing soon, from, over there I think,” he thought, peering into the haze in the direction he imagined Dumbledore had first come from. But something was different.

The station was utterly silent. Last time, Harry remembered far too well, the mist had been punctuated with the grating sound of the flayed child, as it gasped and mewed and wailed nearby. It had taken nearly all of Harry’s talk with Dumbledore before Harry stopped wincing at the sound and asking if there was something they could do to help. Harry suspected he knew what the baby had represented, and its absence unnerved him. That was the other difference. He was uneasy, and quite aware that somewhere, out . . . there . . . precious seconds were ticking away while Voldemort and his followers were, well, Harry had no idea what they were doing and the apprehension was almost killing him. When Harry had arrived at this place right after Voldemort cast the Avada Kedavra, he had been infused with the quiet calm of the place; the intensity of the outside world was quite absent as he and Dumbledore had talked. “Yeah,” thought Harry bitterly, and I let myself get so relaxed that I actually convinced myself to get on the flippin’ train. I think a little clarity now is a big improvement.”

Harry got up slowly and peered around. Dumbledore didn’t seem to be appearing from anywhere; the mist was thicker than ever. The place was looking less and less like King’s Cross station and more like Harry was lost somewhere in a cloud. He tried imagining Dumbledore arriving, wondering if he would be able to summon him as easily as he had summoned new robes, but nothing happened.

“Maybe I have to really think about getting back. Maybe I have to prove I am ready and deserving,” Harry thought. He screwed up his eyes and concentrated on going back to help in the fight, to be with his friends. Mostly, he thought of going back to Ginny, to erase the pain from her eyes and bring back the laughter. To start building the future he had seen in the Mirror. He concentrated with all his mind and heart on her, knowing with absolute certainty that without her, getting back to his life didn’t really matter. Nothing happened for a long minute as Harry stood in the nothingness with his eyes closed.

“You must be thinking of one of those Muggle movies, Harry,” an amused voice suddenly spoke to his right. “You can’t just click your heels together and get home.”

Having never been to the cinema with the Dursleys, Harry had no idea what Dumbledore was talking about, but he was more than relieved that his mentor had finally shown up. Opening his eyes, he was surprised to see that he was now standing in what looked like a gigantic Wizarding candy store. Shelves, as far as the eye could see, were covered with every sort of treat. In the middle were two squashy purple armchairs with a table between them. Two steaming mugs on the table sent a chocolaty smell in Harry’s direction. It was the kind of place Ron probably daydreamed about on a regular basis. “Please sit down, Harry,” said Dumbledore. “We have a lot to talk about.”

“But, but, the battle, Voldemort, the Death Eaters! I have to get back! That is why I jumped off the train in the first place! To go back! I know what I want now — why isn’t that enough?”

“Getting on or off that train, so to speak, is not something to be done lightly, Harry.” Dumbledore looked at him somberly, taking a seat and motioning for Harry to do the same. “The boundary between life and death is not meant to be tampered with. In only rare occasions — when someone becomes a ghost, for instance — can we regularly communicate and interact with those who have gone on. You learned with the Resurrection Stone that the dead are meant to stay in their world, and we in ours. You created an exception to that rule when you jumped, and now we must figure out the consequences.”

“You mean I am going to be a ghost?” asked Harry, with a sick feeling in his stomach. He remembered his conversation with Nearly Headless Nick after Sirius had died, and knew that Nick’s existence was often frustrating and lonely. Harry didn’t think he could stand the thought of it. Maybe he would be able to see Ginny, but to never be able to touch her, to be a real presence in her life, to never be able to smell the flowery scent of her hair again, was unthinkable. He couldn’t fight Voldemort as a ghost, he couldn’t do anything as a ghost. Not for the first time that day, Harry fought down a feeling of panic over what he had done.

“No, you won’t be a ghost,” said Dumbledore. People become ghosts only when they fear death and refuse to go on. I think we can both agree that no matter what mess you now find yourself in, your refusing to go on is not the issue. Quite the opposite, in fact. So, becoming a ghost is not one of your problems.”

“Somehow, I have the feeling there is a ‘but’ in your speech,” muttered Harry.

Dumbledore sighed. “Of course there is. You broke a sacred connection to your world when you decided to go on. The reasons you had to stay - the fight, your friends, and most of all, Ginny, failed to keep you where you now know you were meant to be, and there is no guarantee that they will be the same when you go back.”

“But I didn’t make the choice to go on because I didn’t want to stay, I thought it really was my heart’s desire to be with my parents — I made a mistake in what I saw in the mirror, but the truth was always there — shouldn’t that count for something?”

“Maybe it should, and maybe it will, but you won’t know for sure until you are back. There could be serious repercussions with those relationships. I just don’t know exactly how it will play out. It’s very possible that your magic itself won’t work the way you expect or need it to. You may not remember things. Your strengths, the things that make you who you are, may have changed. Anything is fair game to alteration. Not many people defy death as uniquely and as often as you seem to do, Harry. Once again, we are treading new ground.”

“Great. Now I’m The Boy Who Lived and Died and Lived Again.”

“You do seem to acquire a lot of nicknames, now, don’t you?”

Harry sighed. “None of them describe the real me. And now you are telling me that I might not even recognize myself when I get back?” This was getting worse and worse. “Maybe I just should have stayed on the train after all.”

“Don’t say that!” said Dumbledore sharply. “Don’t even think it. You are going to need all the strength of conviction you possess if you hope to recover what you have put in jeopardy. You need to want to be there, and you cannot give up, no matter what happens.”

“I know, I do . . . I didn’t really mean . . .” started Harry.

“Even so, this is too important for flippant remarks. Remember what is at stake.”

“I could never forget.”

“I believe that now,” said Dumbledore softly. “Try to rely on whatever strengths make themselves available to you. You are going to need everything you have for this fight. I don’t need to remind you that you made things considerably more difficult when you got on the train.”

“For myself, you mean?” asked Harry.

“For everyone. And now, Harry, it is time for me, once again, to go. The nice thing about making the rules of this place is that I get to choose my means of transportation. This is one of my favorites. Take care, Harry. And good luck.”

Dumbledore’s voice was fading, and Harry looked up to see a giant pinkish bubble float towards his old professor and swallow him up, before drifting back past the farther reaches of the candy store. Just as Harry was about to ask what he was supposed to do next, the mist closed in again, thicker than ever, and then everything went black.

. . . . Pain . . . noise, a ringing in his head . . . lights flickering, and then, shouts, cheers and cries. Even in his confused state, Harry somehow knew not to move a muscle as he tried to figure out what was going on. On some level of consciousness, relief flooded his brain. He was obviously no longer in King’s Cross, or even Dumbledore’s candy store. He might even be . . . back. But what had he come back to?

He was lying on the ground, his head turned to one side so that the grass tickled his cheek; his glasses were jammed on his face at an unnatural angle so that one earpiece dug into the side of his head. The jeering yells were coming mostly from behind him and to the sides. It seemed that the cries of anguish were somewhat farther away in the direction his head was turned. Harry focused all his energy on those cries, listening through the din for the one voice he craved, even if it was raised in sorrow. But it was too loud, there was too much interference to distinguish a single person among the many who screamed and sobbed and wailed.

“SILENCE!” cried Voldemort, and there was bang and a flash of bright light, and silence was forced upon them all. “You see?” said Voldemort, and Harry felt him striding backward and forward right beside the place where he lay. “Harry Potter is dead! Do you understand now, deluded ones? He was nothing, ever, but a boy who relied on others to sacrifice themselves for him!”

Harry deduced that he had come back to the scene he had viewed from the train. Risking a peek, he opened his eyes the tiniest bit, trying to see through the slits and his cockeyed glasses. It appeared he was facing the castle; in front of him blurred what looked like the steps up from the lawn to the front door. “Ginny is up there, to the left,” he thought, using every ounce of restraint he had not to leap to his feet and run to her. “If Voldemort knew I was alive, he wouldn’t hesitate to cast another killing curse at me, that’s for sure.” A thought suddenly jumped into his head and Harry tensed the aching muscles around his stomach where the curse had hit until he confirmed to himself that the wand he had captured from Draco was still there with his Invisibility cloak, both tucked into his robes. He remembered what Dumbledore had said about his magic probably being affected. “Will I even be able to use my wand? What about the cloak? Dumbledore said it worked so well for me because I was the true master of the Hallows. Have I ruined its power?”

Sighing, he turned his attention away from thoughts of Ginny and his magic and focused more carefully on the scene around him. First Ron yelled out, breaking Voldemort’s silencing curse, and then Neville, showing once and for all that the Sorting Hat had chosen the right House for him, risked his life to defy the Death Eaters and kill Nagini.

“Well, at least I was right when I told Dumbledore that I knew Neville could take care of things,” Harry thought to himself. At the same time, however, he knew that the rest of it was not Neville’s battle to fight, nor Ron and Hermione’s, nor anyone else’s. Except for his. Fred’s comment on the train popped into his head, “shouldn’t you be saving the world and getting the girl?” Laying there on the ground, Harry wondered to himself which was going to be more difficult. But he couldn’t dwell on it. Already Voldemort was turning a furious eye to Neville, who stood stock still, staring at the bloody sword in his hand and dead snake at his feet.

Without stopping to think, Harry pulled the Invisibility cloak over himself and cast a Shield Charm between Neville and Voldemort. Hagrid’s voice broke through the din crying out that Harry had disappeared from the ground. As pandemonium broke out, Harry allowed himself to be swallowed up in the crowd surging towards Hogwarts, only barely registering the fact that all of the hexes and shields he sent from his wand seemed to be hitting their marks perfectly, Death Eaters falling from an invisible foe.

Finally he was in the Great Hall. Battles were raging all around him as he worked from underneath his cloak. And then he saw her.

The sight of Ginny fighting there in the Great Hall was so overwhelming to Harry that for a moment he couldn’t breathe. It was as if the entire tumultuous battle, with its noise and flashes of light and horror, had faded away and all he saw was her. His Ginny. More beautiful than he had ever seen her, even tear-stained and dirty and with an expression on her face that mixed fury and fear and pain. How could he ever have thought of leaving her? But before he could dwell too long, the roar of the fight came back in an instant as Harry focused not on Ginny’s face, but her actions. She was throwing curses as fast as she could at . . . and here Harry’s breath caught in his throat again. At Bellatrix. She was fighting Bellatrix. With Hermione and Luna by her side. And the three of them together were no match for the crazed women who had killed Sirius with a laugh and who looked quite ready, and even excited to kill again.

A curse, green and horrible, flew from Bellatrix’ wand, missing Ginny by millimeters, and suddenly, Harry was quite oblivious to the fact that Voldemort was there, only meters away, and finally vulnerable to death. He whipped off his cloak and rushed towards Bellatrix, the only thought in his head urging him to save Ginny. He ignored the look of shock on her face as she saw him running towards her, didn’t notice how her features seemed to seize up and become mask-like as he drew near. He only cared about stopping the wand that was again trained on Ginny’s heart, and silencing the words that were emerging from Bella’s lips.

But Molly got there first, her mother’s instincts and strength more powerful than Bellatix’s insanity. Ginny was safe, although Harry had not been the one to save her. And Harry could focus on the task he had been born, and almost died, to do. Harry faced Tom Riddle in the center of the Great Hall as the voices hushed around them. Riddle was angry, but ignorant of the true power of the Elder Wand he held in his hand. Harry’s magic and might prevailed, and then it was over.

A moment of silence, and then everyone was there, surrounding him. Well, almost everyone. Ron, Hermione, Neville and Luna welcomed him with open arms and wide smiles. Others, crowded around, more than Harry wanted at that moment, when all he craved was the company of a few, and then solitude. But one was missing, and her absence from his arms made the joy and relief that it was finally finished seem empty. Harry had to find her, to make sure she was all right. To make sure she was still his. And then suddenly, Ginny was there.

Harry’s heart swelled at the sight of her and he let out a breath he had been barely conscious of holding. A soft smile played on his lips as he moved towards her; he was almost dazzled at the way the sun just beginning to peek through the windows of the Great Hall reflected off her hair and made it sparkle.

“Merlin, that’s sappy.” Harry thought to himself. “Ginny hates such gooey sentiment.” He looked at her full on, his wry grin betraying his thoughts and was shocked to see . . . nothing. Her eyes, as she looked at him, were cold and empty. The fear and pain and heartache and anger he had seen and heard from her earlier were gone. She looked at him for a moment as if he was a stranger she needed to get past on the street. Then, with a grim tightening of her lips, she muttered, “Congratulations, Harry,” and turned away, going to put her arm around her mother.

Harry stood there in shock for a moment, not believing what had happened; in the million imaginings he had had of his reunion with Ginny, none included the complete absence of emotion he had just experienced. He wanted to go after her, grab her and hold her and make her understand how he felt about her. Make her understand that nothing in the past mattered now that they could have a future. But something — exhaustion, and a fear he did not want to name - held him back. It was easier to take care of other things instead. His strength sapped from too many journeys, Harry had barely the energy to find Ron and Hermione, to give them the information they deserved after all they had been through with them. At least they welcomed his presence, wanted to hear what he had to say.

As Harry recounted to his best friends the contents of Snape’s memories and why he had traveled into the forest, he was only dimly aware of their shock at what he had done to save them all. His guilt about the decision he had made at King’s Cross burned at him, fighting with the exhaustion that threatened to overwhelm. Part of him wanted to unburden his soul completely, to tell them that he had almost abandoned them for good, that he had willingly turned his back on Ginny because he thought he was supposed to love his parents more. He wanted to beg their forgiveness and understanding, as if repenting would make everything all right. But when Ron exclaimed, “Wow, it must have been great to talk to Dumbledore again. What did he have to say?” Harry bit back his confession. The thought of more rejection almost paralyzed him; he couldn’t risk letting Ron and Hermione know his secret. Changing the subject to discuss how tired he was, Harry left his friends and slowly walked up to Gryffindor tower, purposely focusing his mind away from Ginny, unwilling to dwell on what her actions might imply. Maybe she had just been in shock. Maybe it would just take a day or two to wear off. Harry did not want to ruin anything by pushing her when she was not ready. He would find her tomorrow, make her listen to him. And it would all be okay. It had to be okay.

A/N On her website, jkrolwing.com, Jo explains that that the flayed baby at King’s Cross represents the last piece of Voldemort’s soul, the one that remains inside him after he makes all his Horcruxes. Of course, it would not be there when Harry returned to King’s Cross because Voldemort regained consciousness when Harry first decided to get on the train.






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