The grounds of Hogwarts wouldn’t open to the public until just before the memorial service at dawn, but already, beneath the sinking evening sun, the narrow winding streets of Hogsmeade Village were packed with witches and wizards from every corner of the country. Proud-looking mothers and fathers navigated the crowds with rows of children, still too young to understand what they were taking part in, following hand in hand. At every corner, warlocks with gaunt features and long beards tucked into the waistband of their matching tartans stood handing out enchanted red poppies to passersby. Elderly couples with silvered hair and stooped backs leant on each other’s arms as they hobbled along the street, nodding reverently to the village residents and shop owners. Large memos floated through the air, shouting advertisements for open rooms and hot meals at the Three Broomsticks, and for ponchos, scarves, and other odds and ends at Gladrags. In the shadows of storefront awnings, Aurors sent across the channel from the French Ministry to ensure peace for all those in attendance stood with their hands resting lightly on the handles of their wands.
Lee’s report on the six o’clock broadcast had certainly been accurate. The entire nation was converging, well before tomorrow’s ceremony to commemorate the Battle of Hogwarts, in an attempt to beat the congestion sure to plague the Floo Network and Portkey schedule.
Looking around, George inhaled a shaky breath as he tried to take in the magnitude of the scene in front of him. He recognized a few faces that flashed through the throngs, but the outpouring of strangers was stunning. This – these people and families – is what they had fought for.
“Name, sir?” a batty-looking witch, with thick lenses that magnified her eyes to an almost comical proportion, asked, glancing over the top of her scroll behind a booth emblazoned with the Ministry of Magic’s crest. “And which Portkey route did you travel?”
“George, George Weasley.” He knew from Percy’s reports that all travel into and out of Hogsmeade was being tightly regulated. “I took a hubcap from the corner of Diagon and East Hemlock.”
The flamboyant witch eyed him for a moment before standing up and grasping his hand. “Oh, it’s so very nice to meet another Weasley – bless you and your family.” She pressed her cold lips to the back of his hand before dropping it and looking back at her parchment for the place where she had deviated from her script. “Do you have arrangements to stay in the village of Hogsmeade tonight? If not, may I suggest moving to the next queue over, where Mr Cypress Blacknold from the Department of Mag–”
“Thank you, ma’am, but I’ll be staying at the Hog’s Head – my family has several rooms there,” he said, despite the woman’s evident surprise at being interrupted. She meant well, he knew, but her evident admiration had left him feeling flustered and exposed.
A sudden need to find his family commandeered his mind and burned the back of his throat. Turning away from the Department of Magical Transportation registration station, he secured his satchel on his shoulder before diving into the crowds.
Before him, in the distance, the spires of Hogwarts’s towers rose in stark contrast to the reddish light bleeding out from the sunset. Pausing mid-step, George studied the castle’s darkening silhouette. The last time he had been there had been a waking nightmare, fuelled by the scourge of desperation, blood, and fear. Of course, the fires had since been extinguished, and the rubble had been cleared. The wizarding world’s efforts to return the school to its prior grandeur had made tremendous progress – restoration teams had worked to repair bridges and raise crumbled ramparts – but there was still work to be done. Swallowing back feelings he couldn’t hope to put a name to, he wondered if Hogwarts would ever be the same again – if he’d ever be the same.
“Oi, watch where you’re walking, son,” a crackling voice crowed, effectively pulling his attention away from the castle, as a rotund witch in a bright purple smock sidestepped him
“Sorry, ma’am, excuse me.” He watched her back disappear into the crowd before continuing down the street.
According to the letter his dad had sent tied to the leg of their new keen-faced barred owl earlier that afternoon (his mum hadn’t yet conceded to any of his dad’s suggested names for Errol’s replacement), Aberforth was serving dinner at sunset. Already late, George groaned and doubled his pace. Growing up next to Ron’s voracious appetite, he knew that he ought to hurry if he expected there to be any food left for him.
As he neared the end of the lane, the grimy front windows and the large wooden boar’s head hanging above the tavern’s door came into view. Nothing about the establishment’s peeling paint or patched roof looked particularly welcoming. In fact, it was easily the least inviting building in the entire village. The recent influx of visitors had all passed by it without so much as a glance on their way to plusher accommodations at the Three Broomsticks, and for that, George was very grateful. Nervous about what sort of emotional floodgates tomorrow’s ceremony might open, he wanted nothing more than to avoid the crowds and spend the evening alone with his family and their friends.
He hoped to find comfort in their common experience.
A cool breeze kicked up, carrying with it the smell of potatoes and roasted lamb, and his stomach gave a deep rumble, a reminder that he hadn’t eaten since mid-morning. Agilely skirting around an elderly wizard walking hand in hand with a young, bright-eyed boy, he finally reached the Hog’s Head. His hand reached out to the tarnished brass knob, and he peered through the filth-coated window. Fuzzy silhouettes clustered around several tables. Straining to identify them, George jumped when a hesitant hand tapped his shoulder.
“George Weasley?” an unfamiliar voice said, in a quick staccato that sounded very much like a ripple of laughter.
George turned towards its source, a thin wisp of a man with a head of tight blond curls and a nose large enough to comfortably host a family of doxies. He didn’t know this newcomer, but there was something familiar about the twinkle that pulled up at the corner of his eyes, like a smile.
“I know this is probably a bad time.” The man continued speaking at a blinding pace. “But I heard your name when you registered with that old bat at the Department of Magical Transportation station a few blocks back, and have been following you, trying to get your attention ever since. I called your name like this” – the man cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted George’s name – “but, of course, the din here is horrible today, isn’t it? And you’re missing an ear, so naturally you didn’t hear me. But that’s neither here nor there. I’ve been meaning to speak with you for some time, but with your brother’s tragic death – well, I suppose death is a subject I’m frightfully insensitive to, but Marlow assured me it wasn’t appropriate to contact you – but seeing you here today, I simply felt inspired to finally speak with you.”
The man paused for a moment as if to catch his breath, and George blinked dumbly, trying desperately to find his voice before he missed what may be his only opportunity to get a word into the conversation.
“I’m sorry – I don’t want to sound unappreciative,” George finally said, “but what is it you’d like to speak with me about? I’m running late for a family dinner.”
“What is it I had to say? Oh, my, my. What is it indeed? Oh, yes. I do remember.” The man’s face cracked in a wide grin that betrayed his true age, as heavy lines formed across his forehead and at the corners of his mouth. “I have many, many things I could say, but only one thing is the thing meant for you. But neither here nor today is appropriate for such a thing, so please – take my card and contact me when you’re able. Oh, and do stay on a lookout for a marvellous blue bird, won’t you? I seem to have lost my assistant – Marlow is quite the wanderer. ”
George gawked as the peculiar stranger slapped a small, printed card into his open palm, and turned away into the crowded streets. He shoved the card into his robe pocket without a thought, and, unsure whether or not he was seeing things, rubbed his eyes in disbelief. From behind the man’s receding form, a large plume of bright blue feathers jutted out like a tail.
Bewildered by such a strange encounter, George turned the Hog’s Head’s brass doorknob and stepped into the tavern.
The air inside the small space felt heavy and restrictive, like it wasn’t made for comfortable breathing, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dim lighting. Scattered around the small wooden tables was a small gathering of familiar faces. Hermione and Ginny, who had snuck down from the castle, sat in a corner chatting with Ron. He was, uncharacteristically, shoving uneaten food around on his plate. Harry, too, sat with them, cradling Ginny’s hand between his own and staring at the table top as though there were secret messages inscribed in the wood grain. Bill and Fleur sat with Charlie and Hestia Jones, whose raven black hair was now streaked with flecks of silver. Percy and Kingsley sat quietly next to a rather short, garrulous wizard – Dedalus, George thought his name might be. Nearest to the fireplace, his mum and dad sat, delicately holding each other’s hands in silence across from the stiff-faced Professor McGonagall and bleary-eyed Hagrid, who was humming a slow folk song under his breath.
George inhaled deeply, trying, with little avail, to shake off the heavy feeling that had wrapped itself around him. This small gathering, with their drawn faces and conflicting emotions, contained the remnants of the Order of the Phoenix – and while the Order had never been large in number, the last time they had shared a dinner together, there hadn’t been empty spaces at the tables. At this observation, an overwhelming thought tugged at his mind: Fred was only one of the many faces missing from the group.
The sound of a chair scraping across the stone floor commanded his attention, and he looked up to see his mum walking towards him. She wrapped him in a brief hug before holding him out at arm’s length.
“Oh, George,” she said, in a voice somewhere between cooing and scolding. “I was worried you weren’t going to show up tonight. I didn’t want you –” Her voice faltered. “I didn’t want you to have to walk up to the ceremony alone tomorrow.” She cleared her throat, and dropped her hands from his shoulders. “Now, let’s fix you a plate – you’re looking rather peaked. Don’t suppose you eat right on your own. Aberfoth is out back, threatening to hex the next Prophet reporter that steps foot on his property, but he left the food out in the kitchen.”
Following her through the swinging wooden door that separated the kitchen from the rest of the pub, George felt a large swelling of appreciation for his mum fill his chest. Despite being far from peaked – truly, his robes were a bit snugger since he and Angelina had begun cooking dinner together several nights a week – he was hungry and tired and more than willing to allow his mum to fuss over him.
After all, fussing over her children made her happy, and Merlin knew they could all do with a few more smiles.
The impending dawn hung heavily in the air as George took his seat near the end of a long row of spindly golden chairs assembled in a clearing next to the Black Lake. He knew from the little bits of conversation that had filled the Hog’s Head last night that Professor McGonagall and her N.E.W.T. level students had spent the last few weeks conjuring the countless chairs that spread across the damp grass.
From what he could tell, they had done an excellent job.
“Everything looks great, Gin,” he whispered to his left, where Ginny was sitting, concentrating on the skin around her thumbnail.
“Thanks,” she said in a low voice. “Though I don’t envy whoever gets stuck sitting in the back few rows; we got a little sloppy this past week. Believe it or not, conjuring chairs gets a bit dull after the first hundred or so.”
Despite the solemn aura hanging over the clearing, he felt a small smile flick across his face. Ginny was always good for that.
George patted her knee and retrained his attention to the growing congregation. The few rows in front of his family were filled with important-looking witches and wizards flanked by severe-looking security details, delegates from ministries and republics around the world who had come to express their nation’s respect and gratitude for those who had taken part in Voldemort’s defeat. The very first row was primarily occupied by the professors and staff of Hogwarts, dressed in their very best dress robes – even Professor Sprout looked well-polished. Nearest to the centre aisle, McGonagall and Kingsley sat on either side of Harry Potter, who, if George knew him half as well as he thought he did, was surely wishing he could slip under that brilliant Invisibility Cloak of his and escape the public’s rapt attention.
Seated all around him were clusters of faces he knew to be the witches and wizards who had lent their wands to the Battle of Hogwarts, willing to sacrifice their lives for the chance of a peaceful and secure world: Members of Dumbledore’s Army, his schoolmates and Quidditch teammates, shop keepers from Hogsmeade, and the handful of remaining Order members. Turning over his shoulder, he found a vast array of mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, spouses and friends of the innumerable victims lost to Voldemort and his followers over the years. Filing into the next section of chairs, a long column of students dressed in black Hogwarts robes accented with the scarlet, blue, yellow, and emerald of the four Houses slowly snaked its way down path from the castle. George’s breath caught in his throat as his eyes came to rest on the wiry frame of Dennis Creevey; the boy stared straight ahead, with a determined look of pride emanating from him. At the back of the clearing, hundreds more witches and wizards clambered out of carriages drawn by skeletal, winged horses. Very few of them seemed to notice the thestrals, and George felt his heart thrum in his chest. Of course he knew that the beasts had always been there, but seeing them in all of their horrific tangibility reminded him how much the battle, and the war prior to it, had changed him.
He had seen a family killed in their home for harbouring a Muggle-born girl. He had read the names of the deceased over the airwaves, shattering the lives of the living. Only a year ago, he had fought alongside men and women who had ended up as cold and stiff as the stone floor of the Great Hall where they were laid. As that night had worn on, and they had been instructed to gather their dead, he had held the hand of a brave Hufflepuff who had snuck back into the castle to fight as she cried into the night for her mother, and after she stilled, he had carried her lifeless body in from the chaos of the grounds; Anna Rocks, her name was.
Numbly, he wondered if her mum was here today.
A sound somewhere between a cough and a sob at his right snapped his attention forward. Percy was sitting with his hand clamped over his mouth and chin, as though he were trying to hold in whatever the sound had been. He looked uncomfortable, and toyed with the neck of his robe with his other hand.
“You all right, Perce?” George asked.
The older Weasley didn’t answer.
“Do you know what time the sun’s actually supposed to rise this morning?” George asked, trying to guide Percy’s mind away from whatever he was thinking. “I’d think this all should be starting soon.”
“I’m sorry,” Percy spluttered.
George blinked at him for a moment, surprised that whatever was causing him such turmoil involved an apology.
“It should have been you. You should have been with him.” His voice was little more than a croak. “You should have been with him instead of me – you two were always together. I’m sure he would have wanted you there when – when he –”
“Percy, I –” George felt as though all intelligible thought had been doused in a Disillusionment Charm. “You don’t – I –”
Kingsley’s amplified voice rang through the hint of dawn peeking up over the mountaintops, effectively saving George from having to come up with a response.
“As Great Britain’s Minister of Magic, I welcome each of you to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry on this, the first anniversary of the battle fought and won here on these very grounds. This morning, we honour the men, women, and children, both living and dead, who risked their lives so that we may enjoy” – standing on the edge of the lake in front of an ornate podium, he gestured around him with his arms – “a future in which the magical community does not have to live in fear of tyranny; a future in which the only importance of blood is to sustain life and all of its glorious pursuits. This moment right now is a piece of that future, and it is a precious gift. So, as the sun rises over these now-hallowed grounds, please join me in a moment of silence to remember the cost paid for such a gift.”
A palpable silence rippled over the already-quiet crowd, pressing in on George’s chest, staying his breath.
In the back of his mind, he could hear Kingsley’s voice as it rang through that stark night “– and I will take groups into the grounds. We’ll need somebody to organize defence of the entrances of the passageways into the school –” George could feel the creeping acceptance of his own mortality that had crawled beneath his skin, and could see the chaos that had reigned within the castle’s walls as he and Fred had divvied up a small group of students to help them safeguard the integrity of the castle. Just before they had parted ways, Fred had placed a hand on his shoulder and smiled. “No one knows these passages better than us, mate. I better see you when this is all over,” he had said. George could hear his own voice as he had forced a laugh out of his tight chest, and could smell the night air as he had turned away from Fred and jogged down the corridor towards the statue of Gregory the Smarmy.
“May the sacrifices of both the living and the deceased be ever remembered and celebrated.”
The voice of present-day Kingsley tore through the memory hovering just behind George’s eyes, and he blinked rapidly, trying to dislodge it from his mind.
“And now,” the Minister continued in his rolling voice, “I’d like to introduce the headmistress of this institution of learning, Professor Minerva McGonagall.”
George watched as his onetime Head of House rose from her seat in the first row. In the early morning light, she looked older than she had yesterday evening. Her hair was much greyer than it appeared beneath the flickering torches that illuminated the Hog’s Head. Her movements were stiff, as though her joints weren’t entirely in agreement with her body’s intentions. Reaching the podium, she nodded ever so slightly to the Minister of Magic before replacing him behind the podium. As she opened her mouth to speak, George noticed that her jaw was trembling.
A programmed response rumbled through the crowd.
“Hogwarts has always been a hallowed place, a safehold for magic that has nurtured and cultivated our youth for very near a millennium. Each and every one of the students, teachers, and employees that have passed through its corridors have left their mark on these walls and added something to the rich heritage of the castle. Today marks the first anniversary of a great day – a day that will be celebrated in our world for generations to come – but no matter how joyous the celebrations, the fact remains that we must honour the numerous lives that were sacrificed so that we could enjoy a better world. This world. Hogwarts castle will always remember the fallen. The blood spilt on these grounds, though washed away, is a part of the very stone that gives the essence of Hogwarts its form. Those that gave their lives are a part of the sanctity and fortitude of this great castle. They are a part of wind that blows across the lake, a part of the grass and the trees, and a part of each of us. So celebrate the great victory won here one year ago. Honour those that risked their lives, and thank them. I can say from personal experience that the brave men and women who fought here are the finest witches and wizards I’ve ever had the privilege to know, but do not forget those you cannot thank – those that made the ultimate sacrifice.
“On that note, I am pleased to announce the unveiling of the Battle of Hogwarts Monument. Hewn from stone from each corner of Hogwarts castle, the names of all of those who took part in the battle, both living and dead, are etched into its surface.”
With that, George watched as each of the professors stood with their wands raised. In an almost eerie unison, they flourished them, and a puff of purple smoke overtook the shore of the lake. When the air cleared, an enormous stone phoenix stood several metres from the edge of the water. Its polished white surface shone in the morning sunlight.
“Now,” Professor McGonagall spoke up, over the buzzing chatter that had risen over the assemblage, “if you would each take out your wand and cast Lumos, and join me in remembering the dead: Miss Mary Ackerly; Mr Cuthbert Balberton; Mr Colin Creevey –”
He listened as the list continued, but his mind was far away from the shore of the Black Lake. He was in what had been left of the entrance hall when Voldemort had called his forces back. About to push open the door to the Great Hall, George had been met by his dad’s firm hand on the front of his chest. Sitting on his spindly gold chair now, he could see how his dad’s mouth had moved, could feel the confusion he had felt when his dad’s words failed to make any sense – how could Fred be dead? George shuddered in his seat, remembering the numbness that had sunk into his abdomen when he had looked up into his dad’s eyes and saw nothing but raw grief in them. He had pushed past his dad’s frame, leaving him helpless in the doorway, and charged into the makeshift medical ward.
“Mrs Nymphadora Lupin and Mr Remus Lupin –”
George felt his breath shaking in his chest and his throat closing to the passage of new air as his memory drew closer to seeing Fred’s lifeless frame – as McGonagall drew closer to reading Fred’s name from her list. George’s vision swam, and before he processed it, he was on his feet, clambering over Percy’s long legs and down the side aisle. He had no idea where he was going, but his feet never wavered in their blistering pace, marching him over a low-lying stone wall and down a wide-set staircase. It was only when his reached the wooden dock outside of the boathouse that his feet stilled. He fell to his knees, and heaved into the water.
He wasn’t sure how long he sat there before a warm hand gently tapped his shoulder. Turning his head, he squinted as his dilated pupils protested against the sun’s brightness. He could make out a tall, slender figure and sighed in relief.
“If you want me to leave, I will,” Angelina said in a low voice, kneeling down beside him on the dock, “but I saw you stumble away from the ceremony and was worried. I couldn’t help myself from following you.” Her hands hovered over his for a moment before she took them into her own and squeezed them.
“Bloody hell, Ang.” Unable to dispel his discomfort by running a hand through his hair, George exhaled sharply through his nose and squirmed.
“Should I leave you here, then?” She released his hands, frowning with concern.
“No,” he said, much quicker than he anticipated, combing his hair back from his face with his fingers. “No, I’m glad you’re here. It’s – this, it’s nothing really. I just – the last few months have been so good, almost normal. Well, as close to normal as they’ve been since –” His voice cracked. “Since Fred died. I really thought I was okay. That I was making progress with everything. And then today – I feel so bloody dramatic. Half the living world lost somebody last year, and I’m the only prat who had to run out in the middle of the tribute. I just… I don’t even know.”
His chest quaked as a low sob rattled out, and he pressed his eyes shut. He could feel Angelina’s arms wrap around him and pull him to her chest, and he felt her lips press a kiss to his forehead.
He wondered for a moment if he should feel foolish, crying into a woman’s arms, before pushing the thought away and reveling in the warm comfort that seemed to seep out of her pores. Suddenly, George knew why the few times he had seen his dad weep, it had been into his mother’s shoulder. There was something sacred and secure about being in Angelina’s arms – something that made the rest of the world fall away for a moment.
“Are you okay, George?” Her whisper was barely more than a breath on his ear.
He extricated himself from her embrace and studied her face while he searched for his voice. “Angelina, thank you,” he said at last. “I certainly hope you know how amazingly brilliant you are. I honestly don’t know where’d I’d be right now without you.”
He watched as her eyes lowered from his for a fleeting second and as the corners of her mouth pulled up a bit before he placed his hand at the back of her head and pulled her towards him. He kissed her, willing her to know that he had meant everything he had just said to her.
“And I hope you know how brilliant you are,” she said into his lips, before pulling away and standing. “I’m sure the ceremony is over by now, if you'd maybe want to go look at the monument – find Fred’s name for yourself, or whatever.”
George took the hand she offered and rose to his feet.
Together, they made their way back up the wide stone steps and around the shore to where the monument stood, still surrounded by flocks of people.
“Oi, George. There you are.” Ron trotted into view. “We’ve been looking for you. Mum’s been worried – had us searching all over the place for you.” He spun around and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Dad, I’ve found him.”
“I was only down by the boathouse,” George said, unable to keep a touch of defensiveness from his voice. “I don’t know where you lot could have thought I’d disappeared to.”
“You know how Mum is.” Ron kicked the toe of his trainer into the dirt. “Plus you did look bloody terrible when you walked out.”
“Ah, George.” His dad appeared next to Ron, panting to catch his breath. A thin sheen of sweat dappled his forehead. “We missed you at the end of the ceremony, and wanted to wait for you so we could all go and look at the monument together; I think your mum'd like that.”
“I’m sorry, Dad,” George said. “I needed a bit of air, that’s all.” He felt Angelina drop his hand, and glanced over his shoulder into the crowd after her, catching her warm smile before she disappeared behind a gaggle of elderly witches.
“Quite all right.” His dad clapped him on the back and, arm draped over his shoulders, turned towards the path leading to the shining hunk of white stone. “You know, that woman who was holding your hand? She’s quite beautiful.”
George almost halted mid-step, astonished his dad had noticed his hand within Angelina’s despite her covert disappearance. “She really is, isn’t she?”
For the first time that day, he could feel a wide grin split across his face.
Later that night, in the solitude of his flat, as he waited beneath his covers for sleep to come, George's mind played over the events of the past two days. It jumped from the busy streets of Hogsmeade to the batty witch from the Department of Magical Transportation, to his need to be with his family inside the Hog’s Head, to the bizarre stranger who had given him his business card – the business card.
He sat upright, nearly twisting his back in the process.
Curious as to what the peculiar man could possibly have wanted to speak to him about, George clambered out of his bed to the pile of dirt laundry flung in the corner of his room. He found the green robe had been wearing that evening, and his hands dug through the pockets. Closing around the sharp corners of the heavy paper rectangle, he pulled out the card and flipped it over. Printed on it in in precise penmanship was a singular name – Mr Garfield Zonko.
George slowly rose to his feet, and propped the card against his alarm clock on the bedside table. Curiosity anything but satiated, he climbed back into bed, knowing that sleep was a long way off.
Author’s Note: First, for some proprieties: the quotation by Kingsley in italics is from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, American Hardback Edition, page 611. As of 11/9/12, this chapter is now beta'd. Now, let me apologize for how long it has been since my last update. The outline for the remaining chapters of this story has been re-vamped and with this chapter, we are now just past the halfway point in the story!! Thank you so much for reading thus far. The overwhelming support for this story continually amazes me, and all of the nominations I’ve received for the Dobby awards thus far is beyond all my expectations! You are all fabulous!
I’d love to hear what you thought of this chapter, so if you have a minute, please leave a review. Lastly, I'm open to suggestions for the Weasley's new owl's name!