When Harry's very last battle is over, he finds that he's not quite done with Voldemort. Warning: Character deaths.
The Dance Macabre
The battle raged on. The magic of Hogwarts could almost be heard crying in the background as the many individual battles that were part of the big one raged all around it. Centaurs shot silver tipped arrows into werewolves. Remus Lupin, the only werewolf who fought on the side of the Light, had already been killed in the Battle of St. Mungo's. Fairies and Dementors fought a battle of emotions; sometimes the tiny fairies winked out, and sometimes the Dementors' rags fell to ground. The former Azkaban guards were exterminated that day, but it seems the fairies were too. Hagrid, Madam Maxime, and Gwarp had defeated the Giant clan that Voldemort had brought. When the light of dawn finally shown on the grounds, their bodies would be among the ones revealed.
Aurors, Unspeakables, Hit Witches and Wizards, and members of the Order of Phoenix fought Death Eaters, Vampires, and the wizarding underworld. Even a few muggles, like the Grangers and Thomases, were in the battle. And while they fought, a few knew that what they did was all for nothing if the main event went against them.
One who knew was Severus Snape. He had passed as much information to the Order as he could during the years since he had killed Dumbledore. When the final battle came, it was reported that he went insane and indiscriminately killed combatants on both sides. In the end, he couldn't decide which side he really was on, or which side he wanted to win. It was never discovered who cast the curse that ended his spying career and his life.
Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley knew that the ultimate outcome would be decided by a battle between Voldemort and Harry Potter. Harry had told them of the prophecy shortly after Dumbledore was killed. A few other Weasleys knew, but they were all dead, except Charlie, whose mind had gone when the Death Eaters attacked the dragon reserve where he worked. They had just wanted to kill some dragons for fun, and felt that rules protecting the endangered creatures didn't apply to them because they were pure bloods, or Voldemort's people, or something. Only one had escaped Charlie's revenge, but his mind hadn't survived either.
Luna Lovegood knew the prophecy. During the deadly hunt for the Horcruxes Harry had come to love the strange, silver eyed witch, and had shared his deepest thoughts and feelings with her. She had been killed at the Battle of Diagon Alley a few months before, though. Ginny Weasley, in despair at losing Harry's heart, had suicidally attacked the Death Eaters at the same battle. She had survived, but wouldn't be out of the French magical hospital for a few more weeks. She consoled herself with the thought that her rival was dead. She had never been told the prophecy.
Two more people knew that the final outcome was ordained by a prophecy: Tom Riddle, known as Lord Voldemort, and Harry Potter. As the battle raged around them, they had closed and fought a strange magical duel. Each knew that their wands wouldn't work against the other and both tried to avoid the magical cage that they had encountered when they fought at Voldemort's resurrection. But, in the end, it was impossible and the golden cage singing the Phoenix song formed around them and they battled with their wills as they were lifted off the ground.
Their wands connected with magical light, they pushed against each other physically and psychically, and slowly the distance between them reduced. They were within arms reach when Voldemort pulled out a wicked-looking dagger and slashed Harry's throat. The pain in his chest as Gryffindor's sword pierced his heart ruined any feeling of triumph he might have had. The golden cage collapsed, the Phoenix song stopped, and two dead bodies fell to the ground, followed by the first light of dawn. The forces of the Light soon overwhelmed the followers of Lord Voldemort.
To say that Harry had a successful battle up until then would be to overlook the many cutting, bludgeoning, and pain curses he endured. Also, being in the vicinity of Voldemort meant that his scar caused him huge amounts of pain. As he lay on the ground, the first thing he noticed was the lack of pain. The second thing was the sound of birds. The third was the green grass, the blue sky, and the feeling of warm sunshine. As he started getting up, he noticed one other thing. He had no flesh. His arm was just bones. His hand was the most interesting collection of white cylinders he'd ever seen. He looked down at his torso -- yes, just bones there, too. He laughed as he thought that he should be embarrassed because he had no clothes on, but that didn't seem to be a problem any more.
"What are you laughing at?" Voldemort's voice asked. Harry looked, and there was Voldemort's skeleton. The grinning skull seemed at odds with the voice's tone. Harry laughed again -- with no flesh neither of them could express their emotions in the looks on their face.
"Sorry, Tom! I don't think I can. I just feel so good. All the pain is gone. The prophecy's gone, too!"
Voldemort picked up his wand and aimed it at Harry and said, "Feel this! Crucio!"
Something happened that time. Harry laughed again.
"I don't think you can kill me again, Tom. We're already dead."
"No! I refuse to die! My Horcruxes. . . ."
"All gone, Tom; even the one hidden in Nagini. You are not only merely dead, but you're really quite sincerely dead!" Harry had seen the movie at Hermione's house a couple of times. Of her parents fantasy movie VCR collection, that and Labyrinth were his favorites.
"If I'm dead, how are we speaking?"
"This is what Albus called the 'next great adventure,' I think."
"Hogwash! There is only Life and Death. We are obviously not dead, so we must be alive."
"I can't argue with you about that. But I don't think this world is the one we were in this morning."
"None the less, if it's a world, I shall conquer it!"
Harry got up as Voldemort did.
"Are you going to try to stop me again, Potter?"
"I don't think I need to, Tom. In case you didn't notice, you have no magical power here. And you're just a skeleton."
"None-the-less, there must be power here. And I will take it."
His words might have been more impressive if he hadn't taken a step and tripped over a rock. He fell, coming down hard on his right arm, which snapped halfway between the elbow and the shoulder. Voldemort let loose with a stream of profanity.
Harry looked at the fallen pile of bones. Once he might have laughed, had he heard that Voldemort had tripped and broken his arm. But Harry didn't laugh now. It really wasn't funny. Before he had laughed in delight at the feeling of being alive, strange as that sounds, considering he was just a walking pile of bones himself. Then he laughed at the thought of trying to kill someone who's already dead. But now he didn't feel like laughing. He carefully went over to Voldemort (since he didn't want to fall, too) and helped him to a sitting position. He examined the broken arm. Picking up Voldemort's wand, he used his left hand to position the arm, and the right to attempt to cast a healing spell. It was as ineffective as Voldemort's hexes.
"Well, we'll have to do it the old fashioned way, Tom. We need to splint this, and try to stabilize your arm, and hope it will heal."
"Stop calling me that! I have given up my Muggle name, and demand you call me. . . ."
But what ever he wanted Harry to call him, nothing came out of his mouth.
"What have you done? I can't say my name!"
"You can't say your made up name. I wonder if I can. . . ." Harry tried to say 'the boy-who-lived' and had as little success as Tom Riddle. "Nope, can't say that name they gave me after I survived the killing curse."
Harry was still examining Tom's broken arm. Harry noticed that the forest was quite a ways away. There seemed to be nothing immediately around to use as a splint. There were numerous creepers on the ground, though. He was able to quickly collect a number of meter long green vines. He still needed a splint. He noticed he still had Tom's wand in his hand.
"Here, help me. Use your left hand to hold your arm in place. Does it hurt?"
"No. I can't feel my arm though. What kind of place is this?"
"I don't know. It's like no heaven or hell I've ever heard of."
"We're here, so it can't be totally nonsense." He used Tom's wand to hold the bones together, and tied it all up with the vine-like creepers he collected. Then he strapped the arm to the chest bones, to hold the whole thing still and give it more support.
"Why are you doing this, Potter? I killed you, and tried to kill you again a few minutes ago."
Harry's skull looked at Riddle. "I don't know, really. It just seems the right thing to do. I don't hate you. I think I did, but it doesn't seem to matter now. I hate everything you did, but I don't hate you. I think I could, if I wanted to, but it seems so pointless now. I killed you, and saved the world, and it seems that my hated of you died when I did."
"Well, I still hate you."
"Your choice; doesn't seem to bother me, though."
The day seemed to be ending as the bright, warm, sun disappeared behind the forest in what Harry decided to call the west.
"Look at that sunset! Have you ever seen anything so beautiful?" Harry asked.
Riddle glanced at it, snorted, and looked away. Harry briefly wondered how anyone could snort without a nose. Which led to the question of how he was seeing without eyes, and speaking without a tongue or lips. He looked at his hand -- how did it move and stay together without muscle and sinew? He laughed again, as he wondered how he could think, when he was sure his skull was empty.
The stars came out. So he wasn't an "O" student in Astronomy, he knew that he had never seen that sky before. He lay down in the grass, not really feeling tired, but feeling the desire to watch the sky. The moon eventually rose, and Harry was sure that the blue patches on it were lakes or oceans, and the dark and green patches were forests.
"Tom, do you see the moon?"
"Yes, but who cares?"
"It's just, I don't know, amazing? And further proof that we're someplace very different than where we were before we died."
"Leave me alone, Potter!"
"I'm not sleepy."
Harry wasn't either. He just lay there watching the moon the stars. Ever now and then the stars would re-arrange themselves, as if they were visiting and wanted to talk with different stars. Harry noticed something happening in the forest. There were faint lights coming from it, nothing really visible, but lights like glowworms, or candles. No, less than candles, he surmised.
He watched the lights in the forest for a while, but saw no indication of people. He glanced at Riddle. He too was watching the forest.
"Shall we head that way once it's light out?" Harry asked.
"No, I think we should avoid the woods until we have a better idea what's around here. Let's head up the mountain, and see if we see any signs of people."
Harry, who had no desire besides walking through the land, nodded. Up the mountain was as good as down. And who knows, maybe they would find other people.
Dawn came, and brought with it a reverse of the sunset -- beautiful colors in ever changing hues. Although he didn't think he felt cold, the sun warmed him. He examined Riddle's arm.
"I'll be! It seems to be healing. The bones appear to be rejoining."
"What is this place? How are we even living? Are we living?" Riddle was upset.
"We're not ghosts, but I think we're dead. This may be the Land of the Dead, for all I know."
"If it's the Land of the Dead, where are they? How did I get stuck with you?"
"Would you rather meet a crowd of your victims?" Harry asked, slightly amused. That seemed to affect Riddle.
"No. I'm virtually helpless. Without eyes, and you without eyes, I've been unable to use Legilmancy on you. And without magic, I can't protect myself. There has to be more to this place than what we've seen. There has to be more to us than bones!"
"Then come, Tom, and let's explore this land." Harry wasn't totally sure he wanted to stay in Riddle's company, but he didn't want to be alone, either. He helped Riddle to stand, and they were about to head up the mountain.
"Wait! I had my wand. Is your wand around?"
Harry looked around where he woke up, and found the holly stick that meant so much to him. He couldn't cast any spells with it. He just held it in his hand as they started to make their way up the side of the hill. However, as the day dragged on, his hand began to cramp. He had no pockets, and didn't feel right about putting it among his bones in his hip or rib cage. So after a while, he just left it behind. He didn't feel anything about that. Which was strange; he thought he would feel something for his wand, but no. It was no longer important.
They were in the foothills, with grassy or bushy plants around. As they made their way towards what looked like a pass Harry noticed a lot of wildlife around.
The first thing he noticed was the birds. They sang and flew, and all of them seemed to be songbirds. Either that or the more raucous birds were silent. Then he started noticing little animals in the brush -- ground squirrels, mice, a fox. Some of them were quite close to the two walking skeletons. After a few brushoffs from Riddle when Harry asked if he had seen an animal, Harry stopped asking. Then he started seeing larger animals mountain goats and sheep, elk and bears. They, too, seemed to ignore the walking bones.
Every now and then Riddle, would go off on a rant about how he was going to rule this world and all who opposed him would be punished. Harry just let it pass.
Harry wasn't sure, since he had no watch and didn't get hungry or tired, but he was pretty sure that they had been walking for more than a day. The sun just seemed to be still in the sky. He knew they weren't making good time -- walking through the pathless wilderness, even though it wasn't in a woods, was slow. And they were wary of falls; he didn't want to think of what a cracked skull would entail here. They reached the pass as the sun decided to move again.
With the sun moving again, Harry guessed it was a few more hours before they reached what seemed to be the highest point. There they met another skeleton.
The bones just sat there, muttering to itself. Harry and Riddle stood looking at it.
"It was Dumbledore's fault. It was Voldemort's fault. It was Draco's fault. It was Potter's fault. It was Evan's fault. It was Bella's fault. It was Lucius' fault. . . ." and on and on. Harry looked at Riddle, who shrugged. Harry turned back to the skeleton.
"Professor Snape? Is that you?" he asked. It sounded like Snape, but he wasn't sure.
"Of course it's me, you foolish boy! Who did you think it was?" The sneer in his voice was ruined by the grin on his face. But, of course, being just a skull, he had no choice in the face that he presented.
"I wasn't sure. You don't have any skin on, you know."
The seated skeleton snorted.
"Do you want to come with us?"
"Where are you going?"
"That way; we're looking for civilization."
"There isn't any. I came up here to look. I climbed that mountain," he pointed at one of the mountains that the pass moved between. "There's nothing for as far as the eye can see. We are abandoned here. Who are you?"
"I am . . . ." Riddle's mouth moved, but nothing came out. "Damn. I'm Thomas Riddle. I used to be your master, Snape."
"You! You burned that mark into my arm!" His skeletal hand rubbed the bones at his forearm. :"You cast the Cruciatus on me! You got me to this place! You did this to me!" He was screaming now. He got up, and Riddle started backing away. Snape's hands balled up into fists and he advanced on the former Dark Lord.
Harry wasn't sure what to do. He wanted them to not fight. It seemed so pointless, now that they were dead, but he wasn't sure he could stop Snape without hurting him.
Suddenly, there was a roar. Harry looked towards the sound, and a pride of lions were coming over the pass, from the direction he and Riddle had been heading. There had to be over fifty fully grown lions in the group. He started backing away from them.
The noise of the lions distracted Snape from his plans for Riddle. Harry ran over to the two other skeletons.
"Quickly, Tom, Professor! We should probably get out of here."
"No. There's nothing anywhere. I'll meet my end here."
"Fine," Riddle said. "Get eaten by a lion, for all I care. I never liked the idea of dying, and I won't wait to see if I can do it again. Let's go, Potter."
"Shove off, Potter. I paid my debt I owed your father. You can go to hell for all I care."
The lions were getting closer. They started jumping on each other, and fighting among themselves. Harry moved away, back down the pass they had come up. He kept glancing back. The lions were fighting, but none of them seemed to be hurting each other. It was as if they were playing, not fighting.
Snape stood in the middle of the crowd of giant cats, unharmed. That was the last glimpse Harry had of his former potions instructor.
"Now shall we go back to the forest and check out those lights?"
"No. I want to see what's that way. Something feels like it's calling me."
They continued down the hill as it slowly got dark. Harry looked at the sun. It seemed to be playing tricks on them again, not moving like it should. It was slowly getting towards evening, but it was taking its sweet time to do so.
Harry tried to talk to Riddle. His attempts were rejected.
"I don't care that you were neglected and abused as a child. I don't care that you didn't grow up with you parents. I don't care if you think that makes you like me. I still hate you, Potter. Someday you will bow to me once I've taken over this world."
"I just don't see that happening, Tom. Can't you just be happy that you're sort of alive, and your goal for living forever may have come true?"
"Fool! What good is living forever if there is no one to fear you? To worship you? To do your bidding?"
"Minions, lackeys, toadies and sycophants? You're telling me that life without them isn't worth living?"
"To win, you must have losers. They never knew it, but my Death Eaters were losers just like the Aurors, the Order of the Phoenix, and the rest of the wizarding society. Eventually, I would have conquered the Muggles, too, and had more minions than I could use. It would have been glorious!"
"What about friends?"
"What are friends except people that either owe you favors, or you owe them favors. People with the potential to hurt you or turn on you or backs tab you. Friends are a weakness and a liability. No. No friends."
They continued down the hills, the sun beating down on them. Harry could feel the sun on his bones, but he didn't feel too hot. There were wildflowers everywhere, and the perfume surrounded them. At one point a herd of unicorns ran by. The herd was enormous -- hundreds of unicorns, and not all white. There were gold and silver, and some pink and lavender ones, too.
"Have you ever seen unicorns that color before?" Harry asked, stopping to watch the herd thunder past.
Riddle glanced at them. "There are legends, but unless we have weapons -- lots of them with lots of people wielding them, they are of no use to us. Come on!"
"Does everything have to have a use? Can't they just be beautiful for beauty's sake?"
"And what good is that?" Riddle replied as he kept walking. Harry watched the unicorns running, playing, having mock battles (he was sure it was another game to them. There was no way so many long sharp objects could be swinging and hitting each other without causing a single injury. Eventually, they ran on, and Harry hurried to catch up with Riddle.
Later -- hours? days? how can you tell when the sun stops moving? -- a flock of phoenixes flew overhead in a great V formation. The hills echoed their song, which wasn't two dozen songs, but rather a single song in twenty four part harmony. Harry stopped, enthralled. He had never heard anything so beautiful or uplifting.
"Come on! We haven't all day," Riddle growled.
"But don't you hear it?"
"Yes, yes, it's all very nice. And Fwooper songs are nice, too. No doubt listening to these will lead to the same end."
"Why? Just because I don't have an ear for music? Do you think that everyone has to like what you like?"
"What do you like, Tom? You don't like animals. You don't like music. Do you like flowers? We're surrounded by them. Pretty girls? I admit that there have been a noticeable lack of girls around here. But then, there's been a noticeable lack of people in general. What do you want?"
"I want to win! I want to destroy my enemies; have them cower before me, knowing that nothing they can do can affect the outcome. I want to torture them, hurt them, and keep on hurting them. I want to WIN!"
Harry couldn't answer that for a long time. He wanted to, but he just couldn't come up with an answer.
Finally, he said, "Did it ever occur to you that this may be the land of winners? You may have already won. Except for the torture part, you have what you wanted -- eternal life. You don't get too hot or cold, or hungry. There's nothing that you're physically missing, and this place is really very pleasant. Maybe you've already won?"
"No. I can't do anything to this world. I'm not in charge! If I had won, we would have dined on phoenix and drank unicorn blood! I would have gotten rid of these smelly flowers. No, I haven't won yet. But I will!"
Harry had nothing further to say, then.
Many hours or days later they came to a path. The sun was finally setting.
"Shall we wait for morning and follow this path?" he asked.
"No. The evening will give us enough light to continue," Riddle replied. He strode down the path, as if he was late for a meeting with an important person. Harry followed. He'd kept a running argument with himself for a while now as to whether he should keep following Tom or not. His mind could come up with all sorts of reasons to leave. But his heart told him to stay with the former Dark Lord. He followed down the path.
For the first time since he woke up in this land of the dead, he felt unease. The path led towards the mountain; into a narrow box canyon. They entered it and Harry saw Riddle take a sharp turn and disappear from sight.
He got to the turn and stopped. Carved into the rock face of the mountain was a giant bas relief. Rising over thirty meters, the rock face was carved with the images of snakes. In the middle of the carving, at ground level, there was a dark opening, into which Riddle was walking.
Harry's unease had turned to fear. The sky was darkening. The canyon was in shadows. It was hard to see, but Harry hurried over to the door in the rocks. Riddle was standing right inside. Harry stepped in.
They were standing on a ledge overlooking a throne room about fifteen meters below them. There were columns of stone going all the way from the floor below to the ceiling, many tens of meters above them. They, like the throne below, were carved in the snake motif. There were torches down below and the skeleton of a snake curled up before the throne.
Riddle was talking to himself. "We saw plenty of animals, and they had flesh. Why would a snake skeleton be here? Unless that snake is dead? From our world?" He suddenly hissed in Parseltongue. Harry understood that Riddle had asked, "Snake, what are you doing there?"
"Massster!" the snake hissed back. "I found this place and knew it wassss for you, sssso I waited for you here."
"Nagini? Is that you, my familiar?"
"Yessss,. masster! We are together again! Come down."
Harry looked around. There was a rope tied to the middle of the ceiling, with the other end tied to the wall near the door. There was plenty of rope coiled on the ledge. He was sure, if it was untied and dangling from the ceiling, it would reach the floor below.
"Potter, unbind my arm, so I may go to my place."
Harry checked the arm, and found that the break had healed. He untied the arm and handed Riddle back the wand. Riddle went to where the rope was tied next to the door.
"Don't, Tom. Think about this. If you climb down that rope, you'll never be able to climb back up. And it's in the middle of the ceiling. Even if you did climb up, you'd never reach this ledge again, Tom! If you climb down, you'll be trapped."
"And what do you offer me, Potter? Wandering around forever with the birds and beasts? Being beaten by Snape or some other fool who hates me?"
He wasn't sure why he said it; it just came out, "Tom, I offer you my friendship and forgiveness."
That stopped him for a moment, but only for a moment. He untied the end of the rope, and holding on to the middle, he dropped the end over the edge.
"As you noticed, Potter, I want minions, not friends. I have at least one down there. Someday I will have more! And as for your forgiveness! That means less than nothing to me. I've tried to kill you and finally succeeded, and I'm glad. And now I'm even more glad that I will no longer have you around me. Begone."
"I'm going, but you won't have any more minions. No one else will ever come here. If you go down there, that's all you get. Forever."
"Then so be it! I wanted to live forever, and I can do it safely here."
Harry muttered, "A ship at anchor in the harbor is safe. But that's not what ships are for." He looked at the remains of the Dark Lord as he swung away from the ledge on the rope.
"Goodbye, Tom," he called.
"Go to hell, Potter!" came the reply. The skeleton quickly slid down the rope. As he reached the bottom the rope broke or came untied from the ceiling. Tom Riddle tossed it aside, and sat on his throne. Harry turned away and stepped out of the cavern.
"Maybe I will, Tom," he whispered, "and maybe I won't. But I know that you just crawled into your own hell." He carefully made his way out of the canyon. Once he was out, he saw the sky a blaze of colors as the sunset, which he couldn't get over the feeling had waited for him, turned the sky into a canvas of reds, oranges, and purples. He walked away from the mountain until it was too dark to keep going. He lay down and rested, and eventually woke up.
He knew he must have slept, since he was waking up, but he didn't remember dreaming. Maybe there were no dreams left for the dead?
He wandered the land and saw amazing things. Dragons and Griffins, tigers and gazelle, a herd of creatures he was sure were triceratops. He saw a grove of Whomping Willows, and he would have sworn that they were dancing, the way they swayed together. The flock of phoenixes hung around him for a long time, lifting his spirits when he felt lonely. He thought about his life a lot, and the events that had happened since he'd been dead. He had the feeling that it didn't matter how long it took to make a decision here; however long, it would be the right time to act when he acted on it.
He began to wonder about himself being here. Most cultures had some sort of belief about the afterlife. Wizards, well, wizards were just another culture, but many didn't think there was anything after death, which was why they invented ghosts and talking pictures; they wanted to continue on, in some way. But if this was some sort of heaven, he wasn't sure if he deserved to be here.
He thought how he had never spoken to Susan about the murder of her aunt, nor to Hanna about her parents, either. He didn't offer comfort or support or sorrow or anything. He just didn't say anything. He felt terrible about it, now.
And his two best friends -- he never thanked Hermione for all her help, even when it drove him to anger, with his school work. Even her nagging and insisting that he do it probably did more for his grades than anything. He certainly didn't work to his potential, but Hermione got him a little closer.
And Ron; foolish, jealous Ron. It wasn't his fault that Ron was jealous, but he certainly could have done more to help Ron get over it. He knew with complete clarity that he wasn't responsible for other's feelings or actions, but he was for his own. And he had failed in so many ways to be a good friend, or a good student, or a good person. With supernatural memory, he realized all his failings.
His mind kept going back to Snape on the hill. Snape hated him, and he'd often returned it. Not all the time; he realized that he couldn't lie to himself any more. So there were times he had tried to get along with the man. But he also knew that he, at times, did things just to annoy Snape. Snape -- sitting on that pass, not moving. Harry knew -- he didn't know how he knew, but he knew -- that Snape couldn't stay there. Snape had to move, but Harry didn't know where Snape needed to be.
He was not far from a forest. He couldn't tell if it was the same forest as the one he saw the first night in the land of the dead. He was pretty sure that the mountains and rivers didn't stay still, any more than the stars did. He sat down near the forest and waited for evening to come, and it did. He was curious if he would see the lights in the trees as he did the first night, but this time from much closer. And if it didn't look threatening (and he seriously doubted that anything here was threatening) he would go into the woods at night.
While he was waiting for dark, a group of animals came bounding around him. He looked at them, and noticed the way their horns were bent. He had never seen animals like that before, but as he watched the jumping creatures, he felt a great affection fill him. He wished he had lips so he could smile.
"Crumpled-horned snorkacks; who would have thunk it?"
"I would have."
His head snapped around and he found himself looking at another skeleton. He knew the voice.
"Luna! I'm so happy to see you."
"And I'm happy to see you, too, love."
"I was starting to get lonely."
"I know. That's why you came here."
"To the dance. Everyone eventually has a chance to come to the dance."
"I don't see any dance."
"It's right in there. Come on, I'll show you."
"Wait! Before we go, I have to tell you that I didn't always believe what you said, and sometimes I didn't follow your suggestions just because I was in a snit. You always gave me good advice, and I'm sorry I didn't always take it. Please forgive me."
"Oh, Harry! Of course I forgive you. But could you forgive me? I lied to you."
"Huh? What did you lie about?"
"All those animals I used to talk about? Some of them didn't exist. There are no Whackspurts, or Glomping Pimpies, or lots of creatures. I made them up. At first it was a game. My house mates called me "loony" and I gave them ammunition, knowing they were wrong. But then it became something other than a game. It was like a mask I was hiding behind, and I used it with you and my real friends, and I shouldn't have. That was the lie."
"Of course I forgive you, too. I sometimes had thoughts that you really were crazy. I want to apologize for those, too."
"And before I got to know you, I thought you were stuck up. I believed the rumors, which were lies, and I shouldn't have."
"How about we agree to forgive each other all our failings, and move on with our afterlife?"
"Good idea. We could be here forever if we went over every single thing we needed to forgive each other. And in this place, forever is a valid concept."
"Yes. But where is this place, anyway? What are we doing here?"
"We're becoming. We have to become what we always should have been, except for our faults. And one of the former dancers called this place The Valley of the Shadow of Life. To be honest, I'm not sure why."
"I think I saw The Valley of the Shadow of Death a little while ago. Not pretty. So, what is this dance?"
She helped Harry to stand, and they walked into the woods. They weren't too far into it when they came to a "room." The walls were made of tree trunks and straight hedges. The light came through the gaps between the trunks. While the trees' limbs and leaves were chaotic outside the room, inside they formed a perfect, arched roof.
The floor was dirt and pine needles (Harry looked around, saw no pine trees, and returned to examining the room). It was many times bigger than the Great Hall of Hogwarts. He realized that he couldn't see the far end of the room. And it was filled with people, or the bones of people. But not just bones. Some had flesh over parts of their bodies. It was strange, but it wasn't as revolting as he thought it might be. It struck him as the opposite of decomposing. Were these people -- composing?
"They're becoming," Luna answered his unspoken question. "They're become who they should have been. And they're becoming more alive than they've ever been. Once they are done, they leave through a door on the far side, and enter the Valley of Life. It's all very exciting."
"Yes. Yes it is. This place is starting to make sense, now. This is only a point on the journey. The destination is through there."
"Exactly. Harry? Will you dance with me?"
Harry hesitated. He saw the whirling bodies and could almost hear the music. The dance called to him, and he really wanted to join. But there was something he had to do first.
"Luna, I would love to dance with you, but I have a job to do first. Snape is lost out there, and I feel I have to help him, somehow. If nothing else, I have to forgive him."
Luna took a deep breath, which was strange as she didn't have any lungs.
"I could never be in Gryffindor. I've never been brave enough. But will you lend me some of your courage?"
"Of course. Anything I have, I offer to you."
"Thank you. Just a little courage, that's all. I've been thinking, and I think I have to do something before I can dance, too. I have to find Ginny Weasley and ask her forgiveness. I was so jealous when you started going together at the end of my fifth year. I really hated her, even though she was my friend. And now, now I think I have to confess that to her."
"I'll go with you."
"You can't. I'm sure I have to do this alone. And you have your own job to do."
"True, but time doesn't seem to work normally, here. Wait a minute! Ginny's dead? How did that happen?"
"I think it was old age."
"But that could be, probably would be, a hundred years after our deaths!"
"Yes, but as you said, time doesn't work normally, here. If I need to find her, I will, eventually; even if it takes a hundred years. That might be no more than a day or two here, anyway."
Harry thought about it. Yes, he was sure that Ginny had lived to an old age. He had no knowledge of her life after the war, though. He only knew about her death. He was pretty sure that knowledge came from outside him.
"If I finish with Snape before you're done, I'll wait for you."
"And I'll wait for you, Harry. I always wanted a Happily Ever After ending."
They walked away from the Dance, and were heading out of the woods, when Harry asked, "Luna? Do you know what those lights are that I saw in the woods at night?"
"Yes, Harry, and once we're back together, we'll spend the night in the woods and I'll show you."
"Can you tell me what they are?"
"Yes, but you wouldn't believe me."
"Oh, come on! I believed most of those animals you used to tell me about."
"True, but believe this -- if I told you, you wouldn't believe me. You'll see when we're back together again."
"I wish I could kiss you."
"I wish I could, too. I don't even want to hug you until we have skin."
"Errr, right. After the Dance. I'll be looking forward to that hug and kiss."
"I'll meet you at the Dance after I visit Ginny."
"I'll be there as soon as I'm done with Snape."
"Then we'll dance this life away."
- - - - - -
Author Note and additional disclaimer: Not only are the characters not mine, but neither are the ideas. You can find specific bits of this if you read The Great Divorce /by C. S. Lewis, and /Lilith by George MacDonald.