Harry landed hard in the cobblestone alleyway, his heart pounding with adrenaline and his senses clouded by grief and rage.
"Is everybody here?" Lupin asked, looking around. He carried the limp form of Hermione in his arms, though everyone noticed that his burned arm was quivering badly with pain and weakness. Voldemort's spell had burned the lower half of it almost to the bone, and the smell was a sickening combination of burnt fiber and flesh.
It seemed that everyone had successfully followed Lupin to the alleyway. Harry wasn't sure where they were, but at the moment, he did not care.
"Give her here," Ron said in a voice that was gentler than usual. "Let me take her; I'm not hurt."
Harry snapped his eyes back to Lupin, watching almost dispassionately as his guardian handed Hermione over to Ron, who held her as if she weighed nothing, checking for breath before kissing her forehead softly. "I'm taking her to St. Mungo's," he said, still in his unnaturally gentle voice. "She's still alive; they can still save her." His tone held a hint of desperation in it, and without another word, he disapparated.
"Oh, Harry!" Ginny cried, leaving Percy's side to wrap her arms around him.
Harry returned her caress automatically. "Are you hurt?" he asked, his voice hollow.
"I'm not," Ginny said, although she seemed to be unusually out of breath.
"Go with Lupin back to the castle," Harry responded in the same monotone, releasing his hold on her and backing away. "Percy, you should go to the Ministry. Someone's got to tell them."
With a glance at Harry that clearly conveyed newfound respect and even some awe, Percy once again obeyed without argument, disapparating with a soft 'pop.'
"Harry, you need to -" Lupin began.
"I'm going back," Harry said.
"Harry Potter, you'll do no such thing!" Ginny cried. "You should be in the hospital wing! You can't! It's dangerous; he could still be there! You've got to -"
"He's not still there," Harry interrupted definitely. "Now that Dumbledore's…dead…and I'm not there, he'll have left before anyone else saw him."
"Why, Harry?" Lupin asked softly, clearly reading the grief etched on the young wizard's features.
"No one knows," Harry said quietly. "No one saw but us. We can't let anyone else get to him, we can't let him lie there alone…we can't -" His voice rose in pitch but remained strong.
"We'll come too," Ginny said.
"No," Harry answered. "Lupin's got to get to the hospital, and Ginny, you need to get back to the castle and tell Professor McGonagall what's happened."
He could not bring himself to say it again. 'Dead' was too final a word for a wizard such as Dumbledore, an ancient man who had at one time seemed invincible.
Lupin met Harry's eyes and saw the determination shining through the grief, and he knew that there would be no talking him out of it. He carefully kept a check on his own sadness as he communicated silently with Harry, finally understanding his need to be alone.
"Be careful," he said simply. "Ginny, hold onto my good arm. Madam Pomfrey will be able to deal with this, and Harry is right: Professor McGonagall must be told." His voice broke slightly as he gazed once again into Harry's eyes. He hadn't seen the young wizard so tortured since Sirius's death, but there was a difference now. Harry was tortured, grief-stricken, yes…but he was not broken. Indeed, a strength emanated from him that was unlike anything his guardian had ever seen in him. With a slight shudder, Lupin realized that the feeling he was now getting from Harry was eerily similar to the aura of power that one had felt when Dumbledore had entered a room.
"Harry -" Ginny began, about to argue, but she stopped when Harry finally turned his gaze onto her.
"Ginny, please. I have to do this," he said quietly, staring straight into her weary but strong brown eyes. She, like Lupin, suddenly felt Harry's resolve and strength as clearly as if it was a part of her own soul, and she finally understood that there would be no arguing with him. Mouthing the words "I love you," she nodded slowly, took hold of Lupin's good arm, and the two disapparated.
For a moment, Harry stared at the spot where they had been only moments before, and through his stricken heart, he felt the glimmerings of thankfulness that neither had been irreversibly harmed. Unbidden, images of Ron's pale face as he had taken Hermione's limp body from Lupin flashed into his mind, but he pushed his worry firmly away, reminding himself, as Ron had, that she could still be saved. She will be, he thought fiercely, and once again focused on the task before him.
The image of Dumbledore's still form lying in the almost-hidden clearing in Hyde Park at the forefront of his thoughts, Harry pushed all other matters to the side and disapparated with a 'pop.'
* * *
He looked around cautiously as he apparated into the clearing, though he knew without doubt that Voldemort had gone shortly after he had. As he had hoped, Dumbledore's body lay undisturbed where it had fallen…he had been afraid that if it were found by the wrong people it would be taken, desecrated, or worse.
His grief fought to bring itself to the surface as he slowly crossed the distance. He swallowed hard, trying to quell the lump that was rising higher and higher into his throat as he approached his fallen mentor.
As he reached the form, he tenderly knelt and passed a hand over the cool, peaceful face and closed the Headmaster's eyes for the final time.
For a moment, he was still, the moisture of the damp ground soaking unnoticed through the knees of his robes as his fingers knotted themselves into the dark purple fabric of Dumbledore's cloak. For that moment, and only that moment, he let his tears fill his eyes and drop slowly onto the ground in front of him.
All too soon, the sounds of the clean-up just beyond the small grove of trees brought Harry back to himself, and he once again swallowed his sadness and swiped the moisture from his face. Gathering Dumbledore's body into his arms, he bore him gingerly and reverently down the small path and back into the main park.
* * *
The response to Harry's appearance bearing Dumbledore's body was immediate and predictable. Cries of surprise and alarm brought all action to a halt. In the uproar of the battle, few had noticed the direction in which Harry had run only half an hour before and none but Dumbledore had followed.
The Order members hurried to Harry's side, Molly and Arthur Weasley reaching him first. "Harry!" Molly cried, tears already filling her eyes as she saw Harry's burden clearly. "What's happened? Was it him? Where is Ginny? Ron? Percy?" Her voice rose in pitch as her greatest fears seemed to bloom into life before her.
"Dumbledore," Kingsley Shacklebolt said, his strong voice wavering in the slightest. "Is he…"
Harry remained silent. This was neither the time nor the place to tell the full story of what had happened outside of the main battle.
"Harry, my children?" Molly asked weakly.
Harry answered her, his voice hoarse but strong and unwavering. "Ron has taken Hermione to St. Mungo's." Visions once again came into his mind of Ron taking Hermione's body from Lupin as he continued, "Ginny has gone with Lupin back to Hogwarts, and Percy has gone on to the Ministry."
He did not need to answer Shacklebolt's question; the Auror had silently touched Dumbledore's limp wrist, recoiling slightly at the sight of his blackened and withered hand, while Harry had answered Mrs. Weasley.
Molly closed her eyes for a moment, thankfulness and relief flooding through her before the reality of the situation came back into focus.
"Was it him, Harry?" Tonks asked in a hushed voice. "Voldemort?"
"No one else could have done this," Mad-Eye Moody answered gruffly.
"Yes, it was him," Harry answered simply. "He's gone."
"Gone?" Shacklebolt asked sharply.
"Back to wherever he came from," Harry amended slightly.
Kingsley Shacklebolt and Arthur Weasley moved to take Dumbledore's body from Harry's arms, but Harry held on, shaking his head. He could not let the Headmaster's body go, irrational as he knew it was.
"Harry, we have to take him back -" Arthur said softly.
"To Hogwarts, I know," Harry interrupted, but he still would not surrender the body to anyone else. The child inside of Harry was beginning to scream, a high, continuous wail of pure grief and solitude, but the man holding the Headmaster's body so tightly would no longer surrender to it. Though the ones who loved him best could read the sadness in his eyes, no tears would he let fall, not now. There was so much else that had to be done, so many battles yet unfought. For, as Lupin had said, if Voldemort won the final victory, Dumbledore's death would be in vain. Harry could not let that happen.
Molly, her mind having cleared after finding out that her children were no longer in immediate danger, was moved back to tears at the emotion she knew Harry was trying to hide. As he grasped Dumbledore's body closer to his chest, she moved towards him and gently extended her hand to touch his face. She could still see the tearstains from his moment alone in the clearing with his mentor's body, and her heart went out to him.
"Harry, dear…" she said softly, noticing that he leaned his cheek into her motherly caress even though he seemed unconscious of doing so.
"I'm okay, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said automatically, but just as they had the night that Cedric had been killed, Mrs. Weasley's ministrations were almost enough to cause him to lose what control he had over his emotions. He knew he could not do that now, and he stepped away from her.
Molly's eyes filled with tears, not of hurt for herself because she understood why Harry had retreated, but of hurt for the man who stood before her - the man who should still be a child but who could no longer afford the luxury of childhood. At that moment, she would have given almost anything to restore to him what he had lost.
Mad-Eye Moody watched the exchange without comment, noting that the Aurors and apprentices were gathering around the inner circle, curious and horrified by what they saw and heard. Awed whispers had already begun to spread through their ranks, whispers of the Boy-Who-Lived surviving an attack that even the great Albus Dumbledore had not survived.
Silently, Moody conjured a simple, unadorned pallet that consisted of a stretch of white linen held between long, polished wood posts.
"We will all take him back, lad," he said softly, his voice still gruff but laced with some of the first emotion Harry had ever heard from him.
Harry nodded silently and laid Dumbledore's body on the stretcher, putting his arms on his chest, his wand-hand still clutching the wand which had channeled some of the most powerful magic ever known to wizardkind. Silently, Moody took one end of one of the posts and waited as Harry, Kingsley and Arthur took the other three.
As one, the four men raised the stretcher to the level of their shoulders, and Moody whispered to the remaining Order members before taking out his wand, tapping the stretcher and muttering, "Portus."
Even as he felt the familiar tug under his naval and was lifted away from Hyde Park, Harry never took his eyes off Dumbledore, whose work had finally come to an end.
* * *
Moody, Arthur, Kingsley and Harry landed with a soft 'thud' in the Headmaster's office, all having taken special care to land softly without disturbing Dumbledore's stretcher. Harry was not surprised that Professor McGonagall and Ginny were waiting there for him.
Even though Ginny had informed her of Dumbledore's death, McGonagall could not restrain herself from a small gasp of dismay and horror. To hear about it was bad enough; to actually see Dumbledore's still form, his eyes closed and peaceful, his hand still clutched around his wand, was almost unbearable. She and Dumbledore had worked together and maintained a strong friendship for over thirty years. Her mouth tightened as she, just like the others, worked to restrain her emotions.
"It is true, then," she said softly, looking into the grief-laden faces of the makeshift pallbearers.
No one nodded; they did not need to. Again working as one, they set the stretcher gently in the middle of the office, where it hovered evenly in midair. For a few moments, the living occupants of the room stared at the stretcher in silence, but this, like all times of war, afforded little time for mourning.
"We're needed back at the Ministry," Kingsley Shacklebolt said softly and evenly. "There are matters that must be attended to immediately. Arthur? Moody?"
The other two men nodded, and Arthur took a moment to place his hand on Harry's shoulder and to hug his daughter tightly before all three Flooed out of Dumbledore's office. Few words had been said, for what was there to say at a time like this?
Tears were streaming silently down Ginny's face as she moved her gaze back and forth from the Headmaster's still form to Harry's face, and though it was stern and immovable, Ginny could read his grief as easily as if it were an open book.
McGonagall left the room silently for Dumbledore's bedchamber, returning with a dark blue woven blanket. She stood beside the stretcher for a moment that seemed to stretch into eternity, looking into the silent face of the ancient wizard, before she gently covered his body with the blanket.
It was only when the Headmaster's body was covered that Harry was able to tear his gaze away from the stretcher and look into Ginny's eyes, and once again, the concerns of the living entered his mind. In two steps, he had Ginny in his strong arms, rubbing her back as she sobbed into his chest. It was not long before her sobs faded into silence, and just as she had the night so many months ago when he had told his friends about the prophecy, she looked up at him with strength rather than weakness radiating from her brown eyes.
Harry and Ginny did not notice at first as Professor McGonagall pulled a chair from one of the tables and placed it next to the Headmaster's body, sitting next to him with her back ramrod straight and her hands folded in her lap. Her posture was a stern as it ever had been, but as Harry looked into her face, he saw his own grief mirrored there, and he knew that she needed time alone with Dumbledore, just as he had.
"Ginny, is Moony in the hospital wing?" he asked, hoping that his guardian had gone straight to Madam Pomfrey. Ginny nodded, and without another word, Harry took her hand and led her from the office, trying to pretend he didn't hear the strangled sobs coming from behind him as he closed the door softly.
They found Lupin, as they had expected, sitting up in one of the cots in the hospital wing, Madam Pomfrey working busily on his arm. It was clear from the paleness of the nurse's face that Lupin had told her the news, but as always, her patients came first and she worked over him with her usual briskness.
"Harry," Lupin said, trying and failing to smile as Harry and Ginny entered the room.
"Moony," Harry answered, coming up beside his bed.
"Potter," Madam Pomfrey said in her most businesslike tone. "Are you injured? Miss Weasley?"
"I'm not hurt, Madam Pomfrey," Harry answered, "but I think Ginny may need a looking-over."
"I don't," Ginny protested, but it was clear to anyone who looked at her that the effects of being placed under the Cruciatus for so long had not left her unscathed. Even the short walk from the Headmaster's office to the hospital wing had caused her to be short of breath, and her paleness was due to more than grief.
Lupin looked at her shrewdly as he drank a gobletful of steaming potion that smelled faintly of apples. "Ginny," he said seriously after taking a gulp of the liquid, "what happened while you were alone with Voldemort?"
Harry looked at her sharply. He knew from unfortunate experience what happened to people in the company of the Dark Lord, and he remembered her piercing screams with a clarity that tore at his heart.
Ginny didn't answer, but her face grew even paler at the memory. Without another word, Madam Pomfrey handed her a pair of pajamas and pointed to a screen set up in the corner of the room, her face set and resolute.
With a sigh, Ginny went to change. She knew that if Lupin, Harry and the Hogwarts nurse insisted that she be checked over, arguments would be of little use. She had not yet emerged from behind the screen and Madam Pomfrey was preparing the bed next to Lupin for her when Molly Weasley burst into the room, her frayed and dirty robes flying behind her as she rushed to Harry's side.
"Harry," she said breathlessly, hugging him. "Where's Ginny? Where's my baby? I've come from the Ministry. Percy said that she was captured by Voldemort himself! Where is she?"
"I'm here, Mum," Ginny said tiredly as she emerged from behind the modesty screen clad in the traditional white hospital pajamas Madam Pomfrey had provided.
Mrs. Weasley took one look at her daughter, and, choking back her tears, went to her side and helped her into the cot Madam Pomfrey had prepared. She worked busily at the covers, tucking them securely around Ginny's legs and kissed her daughter tenderly on the forehead before turning to the nurse.
"What needs to be done?" she said, not letting a single waver betray itself in her voice.
"Miss Weasley has likely been exposed to the Cruciatus Curse," Madam Pomfrey answered, looking at Ginny's face for confirmation as she said this. When Ginny nodded silently, she continued. "I have several potions that will put her to rights, but she will need her rest."
Molly nodded, her eyes having filled with tears upon Ginny's mute confirmation of what she had been through, and sat down on the bed next to her daughter, pulling her close as they waited for Madam Pomfrey to retrieve the potions from the store cabinet in her office.
Ginny obediently drank from three separate phials, not once questioning her mother's or Madam Pomfrey's orders, though under other circumstances, she would have done so. The truth was that her body was still sore from the curses and the ensuing battle, and she was weary to her very core with grief and shock. This was one time when the comfort of her mother's arms and the competence of the nurse brought her more solace than irritation.
Harry came to the other side of her bed, taking hold of her hand in one of his and stroking her face softly with the other. It quickly became clear that one of the phials had contained a Dreamless Sleep Potion, as Ginny's eyes grew heavy within seconds of consuming its contents. Her mother lowered her softly onto the fluffy pillow, and Harry kissed her lips tenderly as she fell into sleep.
He turned back to Lupin's bed. "Are you all right, Moony?" he asked seriously.
Lupin held up his arm, which was already showing signs of healing. "I'll be fine, Harry," he answered. "How are you?"
Harry knew without question that this was one of the times when his guardian wanted an honest answer, and for once, he gave it. "I'll be all right," he answered.
Lupin saw that Harry spoke the truth, and that he had not attempted to pretend that he was fine at the moment. He nodded. "Where are you going to go now?"
"To St. Mungo's," Harry answered. Now that he had brought Dumbledore home and seen to Ginny's care, he wanted nothing more than to be with Hermione. His fear for her had not once really left his mind since Ron had taken her in the alleyway.
Lupin nodded, and Mrs. Weasley spoke from behind them.
"Send word, Harry, please," she whispered, for though she had never taken as much of a parental role with Hermione, who had parents who cared for her very much, she had still come to love her over the years. She knew Hermione's loss would be more than anyone could bear, and she hoped with the desperate hope of a mother that the young girl would recover.
"Harry, do you have your amulet?" Lupin asked suddenly as Harry turned to leave.
Harry did not have it. He had purposefully left it behind that morning, not wanting to take even the slightest chance that he would be discovered before he had done what he needed to do. "No, Moony," he answered. "I…forgot it this morning."
Lupin didn't comment about that, knowing that Harry had left the amulet intentionally behind but understanding why he had done it. "I'd appreciate it if you'd go get it," he said simply. "I'd like for us to be able to communicate."
Harry nodded and strode out of the hospital wing without looking back. He walked quickly to the Gryffindor Common Room, intending only to run up to his dormitory, retrieve the amulet, and go back to the Head's office to use the Floo network. He wished that he did not have to run this particular errand, for he knew that at this hour on a Sunday the Common Room would be filled with students, but he could not think of any other options. Lupin was right; dependent upon what had happened at the Ministry while most of the Aurors were battling the Death Eaters in Hyde Park, the amulet could well be the only safe mode of communication for the time being, and it would certainly be the quickest way to get word back and forth.
The Gryffindor Common room, as he had predicted, was noisy and filled with boisterous students celebrating the end of term, the fifth and seventh years having sought quieter areas in which to cram for their OWLs and NEWTs. All but three seemed to be in perfect spirits, but Neville Longbottom, Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnegan looked gravely at Harry as he entered through the portrait hole. It was easily apparent that they had been waiting for him or the others to return, and they did not miss his appearance.
The Common Room grew steadily quieter as Harry walked through the groups of students. He was filthy and sweaty, his robes torn and bloodstained, the pain and stress in his face undeniable. The silence grew complete as students pointed him out to their friends.
"What happened, Harry?" Neville asked him softly, intercepting him as he crossed to the staircase that led to the boys' dormitories.
Harry ignored the question. "I've got to get something from upstairs," he said abruptly, leaving them behind.
The three boys looked at one another as Harry hurried up the stairs. Given all that had happened and had been said over the course of the school year, Seamus felt quite awkward in Harry's presence, but after seeing the Headmaster this morning, he could not help but be anxious and curious about what had happened.
"What happened?" Neville asked again when Harry came back down, and they were all conscious of many sets of ears trying to hear his reply in the silent common room.
"There was a battle," Harry answered simply. He was not going to speak of Dumbledore right now, not like this, in the middle of a group of students in which most had no idea that the world had gone so badly awry.
It was plain to everyone that the battle had not been a small one. In and of itself, the fact that Harry had entered the room on his own rather than with Ron, Hermione or Ginny meant that the situation must have been very grave indeed.
"Where are the others, Harry?" Dean asked worriedly. It was not like any of them to come back alone after something like this had happened.
Harry knew he had to answer Dean's question. He sighed. "Ginny's in the hospital wing," he began, and seeing the looks on everyone's faces, continued, "she's resting, but she will be okay. Hermione's at St. Mungo's. That's where I'm going, and I don't know how she is. Ron's with her, but he's fine."
The common room broke out in loud chatter as Harry finished his statement. Hermione Granger was in St. Mungo's? They all knew that if she had gone there rather than returning to the Hogwarts hospital wing, she had been injured badly.
"Harry!" someone called from the back of the room. "Was it You-Know-Who, Harry?"
Harry didn't reply. He was glad that no one had even thought to ask him about Professor Dumbledore.
"Harry, what happened? Is Hermione going to be okay?"
Just as Harry was about to leave, a magically magnified announcement broke through the noise in the common room, sending the students once more into silence.
"Attention all Hogwarts students," said the voice of Professor McGonagall, and several students gasped at the gravity of her tone, the more perceptive ones hearing the note of sadness as well. "You are asked at this time to go to your dormitories and pack all of your belongings into your trunks and prepare for immediate departure from school. In thirty minutes time, there will be an assembly held in the Great Hall. All students are required to be in attendance."
The common room grew loud again as the students ran towards their dormitories in a state of extreme alarm, calling to one another loudly as they went.
"Go on," Harry said to Dean, Seamus and Neville as the common room cleared. "I've got to leave."
"But McGonagall," Dean said uncertainly. He had never known anyone to directly disobey such a serious command from the Deputy Headmistress.
"She knows," Harry said simply. "Go on."
Without another word, he walked purposefully back toward the portrait hole and left the now-panicked students of Gryffindor House behind.
Harry reached the Head's office as quickly as he could. The hallways were unnaturally empty, as all the students had gone back to their dormitories to pack and prepare for the assembly, and he kept his thoughts focused on Hermione as he said the password and ascended the rotating staircase.
But for Dumbledore's body floating serenely on its stretcher, the room was empty. Professor McGonagall had obviously needed to confer with the rest of the staff and possibly the school governors before making the decision to close school early, but Harry couldn't quell a slight uncomfortable feeling that Dumbledore's body had been left alone. It did not take him long, however, to realize that the office was not as empty as he had thought it was.
Fawkes, in all his scarlet splendor, was perched on the back of the chair previously occupied by Professor McGonagall, but he was not singing. He looked mournfully at Harry as he entered the room, and the stark sadness of the bird's stare cut him to the quick. Briefly, Harry wondered where Fawkes would go, but he wrenched his mind back to his destination. Fawkes would see to it that Dumbledore rested peacefully. Harry had to get to Ron and Hermione.
With one last, long look at the phoenix, Harry took some Floo powder from the small blue pot on the mantle, said "St. Mungo's" in a clear voice, and disappeared in a whoosh of green flame.
* * *
St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries was in a state approaching chaos. It was obvious to Harry as soon as he emerged from one of the three grates in the main waiting area of the hospital that news of the battle and Dumbledore's death had already spread like wildfire through the families of the sick and injured witches and wizards, both those who were already in St. Mungo's and those who had been injured in the battle itself.
Harry's part of it had obviously not gone unnoticed, for as the panicked people in the waiting room caught a glimpse of him, the anxious chatter died down into whispers. He could hear both his name and "the Boy-Who-Lived" being muttered in awed tones as he passed the huddled groups of people, but he paid them no heed, striding purposefully toward the information desk at the entrance to the main wards.
The plump blonde welcome witch behind the desk looked stressed and harassed. "For the last time," she said in an anxious voice, not looking up from her parchment list of patients and their room numbers, "I don't know any more than you -"
She broke off suddenly as she looked up and immediately realized who she was talking to.
"Harry Potter!" she gasped.
"I'm here to see Hermione Granger," Harry said clearly, in a tone that left no room for argument.
"But - how did you…and is it true?" the witch gasped, and Harry at once realized the difference in the atmospheres between St. Mungo's and Hogwarts. At Hogwarts, the overall tone of the people who had known of Dumbledore's passing had been one of grief and mourning; here, where people had not known and perhaps not even met the great wizard since their own school days, the air was thick with tension and fear. If the greatest wizard of the age had fallen, what hope could be left?
"Hermione Granger," Harry repeated.
"Of course," the witch muttered rudely when she realized she would be getting no inside information from him. "Fourth floor, Spell Damage." She gestured to the large sign behind her, mapping the different wards of the hospital.
"Thank you," Harry said shortly as he proceeded through the doors and up the stairs to the same ward in which George had been hospitalized following the attack on Weasley's Wizard Wheezes.
As he emerged from the staircase, Ron was the first person he saw. Although his best friend's head was buried in his hands, he was easily recognizable from his bright, Weasley-red hair, and a stab of fear pierced through Harry like a knife when he saw Ron's posture. Surely, Hermione wasn't…she couldn't be…
"Ron!" he called, hurrying across the room.
Ron looked up, and then quickly stood as Harry approached him.
"How's Hermione?" Harry asked, fearing the answer.
"She lost a lot of blood," Ron said in a low voice. "He hit her with a splitting spell, and there was something else to it that they can't figure out. She's sleeping now, while they work on her. They said they'd call me…" His voice trailed off.
"She's going to be okay, isn't she?" Harry asked, his heart sinking.
"They say that there isn't anything wrong they can't fix," Ron said, and Harry brightened slightly. "It's like Dad; it's just a matter of time." Ron looked around the room. "Harry, where is everyone else?"
"Dunno," Harry said. "Your mum's in the hospital wing with Ginny. Don't worry, she's going to be fine, Madam Pomfrey gave her some potions and said she needed rest," he added quickly, seeing the look of alarm on Ron's face. "Percy's at the Ministry. Someone had to tell them…"
"About Professor Dumbledore," Ron finished, looking down at his feet. Since learning that Hermione would recover, he had been able to think about little else as he waited for news. Ron had never seen anyone's death, and he didn't think he would ever forget the way Dumbledore had looked when he fell.
"Yes," Harry answered, his own grief attempting to well back up inside him. For a moment, both of them were silent.
"Where are my dad, Mr. Shacklebolt, and Tonks?" Ron broke the silence, running down the list of Order members he knew, dreading that Dumbledore had not been the only casualty that day.
"They're all okay," Harry answered. "They're at the Ministry trying to sort things out."
Just then, a young Healer approached them, a kind smile on her face. "Your friend is awake now," she said gently. "You may see her for a few moments if you would like."
Ron and Harry both nodded and followed the Healer through the double doors, but stopped when they reached the entrance to Hermione's room, looking at each other in sudden horror.
"Hermione fell before Dumbledore," Harry whispered. "She doesn't know yet."
"We can't upset her," Ron answered uncertainly.
"We have to tell her; she can't find out from someone else," Harry replied. "It's all over the hospital. If we don't tell her -"
"She already knows," the Healer told them gently. She had talked at great length with Hermione as she had woken up and had heard the entire tale. She could hardly believe what had happened, and that Harry Potter was standing in front of her after a confrontation like that, virtually uninjured.
"How did she find out?" Harry demanded. He did not like the idea of Dumbledore's fall being passed around like a casual rumor.
"I told her myself," the Healer said. "I wished to monitor her carefully during that news, and I feared she would hear it from another patient or visitor. She asked me a great many questions."
"That's Hermione," Ron said with the merest trace of a smile.
Harry nodded. He could understand why the Healer would have wanted to tell Hermione herself, and he liked the young witch, and trusted that she would not have passed the news casually.
"Go on in," the Healer urged, knowing that all three would be better off when they were together again. Such a terrible burden for such young hearts, she thought as she turned to tend to another patient. She meant Dumbledore's passing and the fact that the two young men had seen it; if she had known the true burden placed upon Harry Potter and his friends, her sympathetic heart would have nearly broken.
Ron crossed to Hermione's bed, which was situated between two others, each containing a sleeping patient. The only other occupant of the room, an old woman with the beginnings of a gray moustache, seemed to be content in muttering to herself and had no interest in the newcomers.
"Hi," he said softly, stooping to kiss her brow.
"Hi, Ron," she replied, her voice wavering. "Ron, Harry, is it true?" she asked, almost desperately.
"It's true, Hermione," Harry said, coming to the side of her bed, his voice breaking for the first time since he had brought Dumbledore's body back to the others.
Hermione's soft sobs and the muttering of the old witch in the corner were the only sounds in the room for several minutes. Ron held Hermione as she cried, and Harry stood awkwardly to the side, not sure where he should look or what he should do.
"What do we do now?" Hermione asked, sniffing away the remainder of her sobs and wiping her eyes with a tissue from the stand beside her bed.
"You've got to get better before we do anything else," Ron said softly, sounding a bit like Mrs. Weasley.
"They're going to let me go tomorrow," Hermione responded, "once my blood gets replenished and I've taken enough of the other potions to fix everything else."
"What else was it?" Harry asked, knowing there was no end to the evil that could be perpetrated by Voldemort.
"It could have been one of several things," Hermione said, sounding more like herself. "The most likely is that there was an aspect to the spell that was meant to hamper healing."
"Like Mr. Weasley's snake bite," Harry muttered, wondering just how linked Voldemort and his familiar, Nagini, actually were.
"That's actually what I thought, Harry," Hermione said. "It seems like part of the spell might have had the same effects as snake venom, but they can't be sure. However, the cut is healing, so the potions they are giving me appear to be working."
"That's good," Harry said bracingly.
"When will his funeral be?" Hermione asked softly.
"I don't know," Harry replied. "I guess it won't be long. They've closed the school."
Hermione gasped. "They haven't! What about OWLs and NEWTs?"
Ron rolled his eyes.
"There are more important things going on here, Hermione," Harry said seriously, the magnitude of what had happened starting to come into focus through his grief. "Imelda Arnold has been spying inside the ministry for months. There is no telling what kind of information Voldemort has gotten. Think about it, Hermione, the Department of Mysteries, the Hall of Prophecy…and now, Dumbledore…Hogwarts isn't nearly as safe without him." Harry said the last part with difficulty.
Hermione's chin wobbled and it was a sign that she understood the gravity of the situation when she nodded in agreement. "What are we going to do?" she repeated.
"Right now, we've got to get you well," Ron said. "We'll figure out the rest as it comes."
"Nothing's the same now, is it?" Hermione asked.
"No," Harry answered, fixing both of them with his most serious stare. "Nothing will ever be the same again."
Ron and Hermione looked at one another in amazement, not knowing that Lupin and Ginny had both already witnessed what they were now sensing from Harry: that the aura of power surrounding him was becoming nearly palpable in its potency. The Healer standing outside may not have known it, the other students at Hogwarts may not have known it, and Harry himself may not have known it, but Ron and Hermione now understood what Dumbledore himself had realized months before: that Harry had within him all the power he would need to finally defeat Voldemort forever. The end would not be long in coming now.
* * *
Dumbledore's funeral took place two days after his death, midmorning of the Tuesday that should have marked the beginning of the OWL and NEWT exams. Though all Hogwarts students had been extended an invitation, few would be in attendance; the parents of most of the students had agreed with the school governors and the new Headmistress that the safest place for their students was at home. Though most had felt quite safe when Albus Dumbledore had held the school in his charge, and though almost everyone felt that Minerva McGonagall would be an able Headmistress, there was no denying that the old Headmaster's death had caused no small amount of panic in the wizarding world. Families were huddling together in their homes, certain that end must be near, and even the funeral of the greatest wizard of the age was not enough to get most of them out.
Harry, of course, had not left Hogwarts. Hermione had been released from St. Mungo's and Ginny and Lupin from the Hogwarts hospital wing, and they had remained with many of the other Order members, who had taken over Gryffindor tower in the absence of the students. At their mother's insistence, Percy and George had closed the shop until after the funeral. It had not taken much persuasion; given all that had happened, they had agreed that it was more respectful to do so, and all of the Weasleys felt an indescribable need to be close to one another. Tonks, Lupin, Mad-Eye Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt had also taken up residence in the Tower, and Harry suspected that they were there to be a line of defense for him if the wards were not enough to keep Voldemort out of the castle. He could not find it in himself to mind very much, however.
Harry had lived the past two days in a sort of fog, waking up each morning after restless sleep with reality hitting him like a ton of bricks. He could think of nothing but how to best end this war, how he was going to find what he needed to defeat Voldemort so that nothing like this could happen again. How could he ever do it without Dumbledore? For though the other members of the Order had given him what tools they could, Harry knew that the key to this had been in the Headmaster's hands, and it had something to do with that ring, the one which had ultimately cost Dumbledore his life.
What had Dumbledore been doing on the day of the battle? What had been worth weakening himself so badly that he had become an open target? Every time Harry thought of these questions, the realization that he would never be able to ask Dumbledore these questions, that he would never be able to talk to him again, brought the grief back up to the surface and he would once again have to fight to quell it.
Fawkes had not once left his perch in the Head's office next to Dumbledore's body. He watched silently as preparations were made for burial, as the stretcher was replaced by a long, mahogany casket. He watched silently as the people closest to Dumbledore came into the office at all hours of the day and night to sit with the body. He watched silently as tears ran down their faces to be replaced by looks, in most cases, of stoicism and fortitude. And finally, when the pallbearers came on Tuesday morning to bear the casket down to the grounds for the funeral, Fawkes trilled a single, heartbroken note of farewell and soared out the office window.
"Are you ready, Harry?" Ginny asked softly as they all met in the common room, dressed in their best black robes with somber looks on every face.
Harry nodded silently, watching as Mr. and Mrs. Weasley came down the stairs from the boys' side of the dormitories. They had taken over the seventh-year boys' room, since Mr. Weasley was obviously unable to ascend the staircase on the girls' side. Mrs. Weasley, Harry noticed, looked thinner and paler than she had in a long time, and he knew that she was worried sick about her family. She had been since Fred had died, but now that the war had finally escalated into full-force, she lived with the almost-crushing fear a hundred times over. Mr. Weasley, as it happened, had had to convince her that morning to leave the family clock in the dormitory where she had placed it the night before.
When everyone was assembled, they all climbed through the portrait hole and proceeded silently and somberly down to the grounds in front of the lake. The four pallbearers; Rubeus Hagrid, Mad-Eye Moody, Remus Lupin and a man that Harry recognized as the barman from the Hog's Head; were about halfway to the platform as they quietly took seats near the front, and Harry could not tear his eyes away from the intricately carved dark wood of Dumbledore's coffin. Even now, after two days, it seemed impossible to believe that his mentor's body was inside that box, that he was really, finally gone.
The assemblage was small, and Harry felt it was better that way. The people who loved Dumbledore best were all there, as well as some that Harry did not recognize: an enormously fat, pompous-looking wizard, several older and venerable-looking witches, and some that Harry recognized as being from the Wizengamot. All of the Hogwarts professors were there of course, with the exception, Harry noticed with bitterness, of Severus Snape. Rosemerta, the barmaid from the Three Broomsticks, was there, dabbing at her pretty eyes with a soft-looking gold handkerchief.
All-in-all, fewer than fifty people had assembled for the funeral, and when all had been seated the old barman from the Hog's Head approached the front. As he turned and faced them all, Harry realized with a start that the surly old man to whom he had never paid much attention bore a startling resemblance to the Headmaster, and he was not surprised when the man opened his speech in a gravelly voice, "For those of you who have not met me, my name is Aberforth Dumbledore. Albus was my brother."
This news did not seem to be a surprise to most of the mourners, but Harry heard a small intake of breath next to him, and Ginny squeezed his hand in surprise. From her other side, Ron also started a bit, but Hermione said under her breath, "I knew it!"
Before Aberforth continued with his speech, however, a clear note trilled above the grounds, and Fawkes suddenly appeared in a burst of flame and landed softly on his shoulder. A murmur of surprise and appreciation ran through the crowd, and Aberforth took a moment to lightly stroke the bird's head, continuing in a much stronger voice, "Albus was a man to whom all aspects of life were sacred. He was held as the greatest wizard of our time, and I'll certainly not argue with that. The only question in my mind is how he could have been the brother of a bumbling idiot such as myself."
A smattering of laughter rang softly through the assemblage like a snippet of a forgotten song, and Harry suddenly remembered Dumbledore referring to a time in which his brother had been arrested for practicing inappropriate charms on a goat. Was this the same brother? As Harry looked at the man standing in front of them all, he saw a familiar twinkle enter and then leave the same clear-blue eyes as the ones that he had known so well, and he knew beyond a doubt that it was.
Aberforth continued, "You'll not hear me going on about how great a wizard Al was, because you all already know that. The man I want to remember today is the brother I've known all my life.
"From an early age, Albus was what you might have called a rather odd chap, always curious about things, always wanting to know the whys and wherefores of everything that went on around us. I have to tell you all that he drove our poor mum nearly to distraction before he even went to Hogwarts, asking questions that no wizard or witch in their right mind would even pretend to be able to answer."
Again, a short note of laughter passed through the crowd, but Harry remained silent, fascinated by this unexpected view of Professor Dumbledore as a child.
"Our Dad was always proudest of him, though, and I remember the day he went off to school with his trunk and his new robes. I was so jealous, because they gave him his very own owl and because he got to have a wand before I was allowed to have one. This was before the time of the Hogwarts Express, see, and before all these newfangled restrictions on what wizards could and could not do with what they call 'Muggle artifacts.'"
At this, Harry could not help but glance at Mr. Weasley. Although his face remained somber the corners of his mouth were twitching, and Harry had a feeling that he knew what was coming next.
"We all rode to the gates of the school on a carpet that easily sat the four of us," Aberforth continued reminiscently. "An Axminster, I believe it was, and I still have the old thing in a shed out beyond the pub."
Mr. Weasley's mouth continued to twitch in the way that it always did before he had a chuckle, and despite himself, Harry felt his spirits beginning to rise.
"Anyway, I expect you all know how Albus's school years went. Always the first in his class, he was, and I think our mum and dad were a bit disappointed when I didn't follow in his footsteps. Head Boy, of course, and a right fine Quidditch player to boot. I think he was the last first-year to be taken onto a House Team for a very long time indeed, a century or more."
At this, Harry's face split into a wide grin and he heard Ginny giggle softly next to him. He'd had no idea that Dumbledore had played Quidditch or that he'd been last first-year to be accepted onto a House Team before he, Harry, had been. He suddenly had an image of Dumbledore on a Firebolt, his long gray beard and heavy robes trailing behind him as he went in pursuit of the Golden Snitch. Somehow, he just knew that the Headmaster had been a Seeker just as he was. In his delight at this bit of information, he did not notice that Aberforth's eyes had flicked over to look straight at him, as if he knew something that no one else in the crowd knew.
Aberforth Dumbledore's gravelly voice now held the entire crowd entranced as though they were under some sort of spell.
"He spent a great deal of years after his school days going this way and that, making friends with the most famous witches and wizards of our time. I think my mum nearly burst with pride when he earned his first bit of fame for his work with that old dotard Nick Flamel. I'd opened the Hog's Head by then and gotten into a fair bit of trouble along the way, and I always got the feeling that mum and dad wished I was just a bit more like my brother."
Another smattering of laughter rang out, and Harry once again thought of the arrest for inappropriate charms on a goat. Had Aberforth been doing something mischievous, or had he simply been trying to live up to a name which had begun to become famous?
"After that, of course, times got dark as they always do, and Albus was always in the middle of every fight," Aberforth continued, his expression darkening. "We had our own Dark Wizard back then, an old bugger by the name of Grindelwald. Some of you won't have been around in those times, but I'll tell you they were quite as dark as things seem to be now."
Here, he paused for a moment, and this time Harry could feel those familiar blue eyes boring straight into him.
"Our mum and dad both died soon after Al kicked old Grindelwald's arse in 1945, but they died happy, knowing that at least one of their sons had made a difference in the world. The Muggles even felt the effects of that one, they did, because Grindelwald's counterpart, a squirrelly little Squib by the name of Adolf Hitler, kicked the bucket soon after."
Harry's mouth dropped open. How come he had never made that connection before? Dumbledore's chocolate frog card had mentioned the fall of Grindelwald in 1945, but Harry had paid scant attention to it. He wondered now how Grindelwald compared to Voldemort and who, if Voldemort were defeated, the next Dark Lord would be.
"You see," Aberforth continued, again glancing at Harry, "Albus always held one conviction to be entirely true, regardless of anything else that happened in the wide world, Wizarding or Muggle."
Here, Harry sat up a bit straighter. Maybe here would be a clue to the defeat of Voldemort. Maybe Professor Dumbledore had shared something with his brother before he had died.
"Albus always believed that good would win in the end," Aberforth said definitely, now speaking straight at Harry, as though no one else were in attendance. "He never let the idea that evil was stronger bring him down, and he never believed there was a task worth doing that couldn't be done with enough study and work. It was that belief that made him not only one of the greatest wizards of our time, but one of the greatest men."
Harry heard several sniffles throughout the mourners now, and he noticed that Professor McGonagall was weeping openly, something he had never seen her do before. As if the old man at the front had given him some sort of permission, Harry, too, allowed his tears to drip freely down his face as he had done in the clearing at Hyde Park, and his grip on Ginny's hand tightened when he saw that she, too, was crying.
"Now," Aberforth said gruffly, his own scratchy voice filling with emotion. "Al wouldn't want you all to remember him with tears. You've got your own tasks now, and if he's done anything to help you out in the fight of your own generation, remember it and be glad of it, for he was not the only great man in the world." As he said this last bit, he once again looked straight at Harry and this time, several of the mourners gazed at him as well.
Before he took his place on the front row of wooden chairs, Aberforth pointed his wand towards Dumbledore's coffin and lowered it slowly into the grave which had been prepared for it the day before. Stooping down with some difficulty, he grasped a handful of freshly-turned earth and tossed it in after. Harry's heart heaved slightly as he heard it land with a definite 'thud,' marking the consecration of the Headmaster's body back to the earth.
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