Harry walked along the deserted corridors of Hogwarts lost in thought, determined to avoid his friends and the Halloween feast taking part in the Great Hall at that moment. Or avoid it as long as possible at least. He'd received enough sympathetic glances for one day; he didn't want to put up with them throughout dinner too. Not to mention that everyone else was celebrating when all he wanted to do was mourn.
He'd just turned out into the main staircase when he spotted the blonde hair of Malfoy rushing towards the door two floors down, quickly followed by at least half a dozen other students. Without thinking, Harry rushed down the two flights of stairs between him and the blonde Slytherin, determined to follow him and finally find out what the other boy was up to. He was just moving across the top of the staircase leading to the dungeons when he quite literally ran into Astoria Greengrass coming up from the dungeons. "Sorry, I didn't see you coming up," Harry said, holding out a hand to help the younger girl up.
"I'm not surprised, the speed you were rushing across the hall," Astoria remarked dusting off her robes. "What has you moving so quickly?" she asked.
"Oh, nothing. I was… uh… just…" Harry stuttered looking over to the doors where Malfoy had departed not long ago. "Just going to…"
"Follow Draco outside to see what nefarious schemes he's partaking in?" Astoria asked in amusement.
"What?" Harry asked in shock as he looked back to the younger girl. "I… I... I don't know what you mean," he stuttered out.
"I've seen you watching him in the Great Hall during meals, a quick glance here and there in the corridors. Oh, don't worry. No one else has noticed I don't think. I have a habit of people watching people in crowded places. It passes the time when no one talks to you, Daphne is trying to break me of the habit," she said as though they were discussing the weather. "Anyway, Draco isn't doing anything suspicious tonight. He's going out to celebrate Samhain," she told him with a smile.
"Celebrate what?" Harry asked.
"Samhain. Summer's end, beginning of the autumnal harvest, preparing for winter," she told him.
"Wouldn't think storing food for winter would matter to Malfoy all that much," Harry muttered to himself before turning to head back upstairs.
"Oh, it wouldn't. But then again, it's not really applicable in this day and age. We don't have to worry about preserving food for the long colder months. But that's not why we're all going outside. We're going outside to celebrate something else."
"Celebrate what, exactly?" Harry asked again with a furrowed brow.
"Celebrate the dead. Are you coming?" Astoria revealed before she turned and made her way outside, confident that he would follow her.
And he did.
"What do you mean 'celebrate the dead'?" Harry asked when he finally caught up to the younger Slytherin, just as they were reaching the shores of the lake.
"Samhain is the one day of the year when the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest," Astoria told him. "It's believed that the dead can walk amongst us on this night. It's why traditional decorations comprise mainly of skeletons and ghosts; so they blend in amongst us," she explained as they made their way around the lake to what appeared to be a bonfire on the other side of the shore.
"The dead can't come back to us," Harry said bitterly, having heard those words said to him plenty in the last couple of months
"The dead never leave us either. They're always with us and on Samhain we celebrate their lives and give thanks to all they've done for us."
"I've heard that a lot," Harry remarked. "The dead never leave us. They told me that when Sirius died and he told me that about my parents. I'm tired of hearing it," he said as they finally arrived at the bonfire. "What are they doing?" he asked when he realised that the students that were already there were throwing things into the flames.
"Throwing stones with their names on into the fire," Astoria explained as she bent down to pick up two stones, handing one to Harry before using her wand to carve her name into her own. "You carve your name into the stone and toss into the bonfire. When the fire dies out, you collect your stone and depending on how the flames have tarnished it, indicates how the following year will be for you," she told him with a smile before stepping up to the flames and gently throwing her newly carved stone into the centre. "Once you've done that, take a second to breathe in the smoke. It's meant to keep bad luck at bay," she added, taking a deep breathe in and out before moving away to sit on one of the blanket covered stones that surrounded the bonfire to watch everyone else.
When Harry finally threw in his own stone five minutes later, she smiled.
"Why do you do this?" Harry asked later that night as they sat on the rock side by side watching the flames slowly die down. Everyone else was relaxing and laughing around them, but Harry found that he couldn't completely relax with the company he was currently with.
"It's tradition. One that's been followed for hundreds years, in one way or another," she said. "Nowadays it's all about jack'o lanterns, candy and fancy dress, but there are still some people that want to keep the old ways alive."
"Pureblood traditions," Harry muttered.
"Just because we're taught about these things still doesn't make it a pureblood tradition. There are half-bloods and muggle-borns around this bonfire as well as purebloods," Astoria pointed out. "Even faeries celebrate Samhain, see." She told him, motioning towards the multiply glowing lights that were beginning to dance atop the dying embers, creating a spectacle of light like Harry had never seen, but reminding him strongly of muggle fireworks, but without the big bang. "They're beautiful aren't they? Most people never see a faerie their entire lives; and we get to watch them dance most years. Seeing them make me question why anyone would rather stuff their face full of sweets than come down here for the night."
"I imagine most people don't know rituals like this even take place still," Harry pointed out in defence. "I certainly never did."
"But didn't you ever wonder if something else was going on? Why there were never any ghosts in the Great Hall on October 31st?" Astoria asked.
"Oh, I know why there are no ghosts. They're all at Nearly Headless Nicks death day party. We were invited to it second year. They're onto their 504th one this year," Harry revealed, much to Astoria's surprise.
"So if you already know there's more to the 31st than sweets and pumpkins, why did you look so surprised when I said we were going to celebrate?" she asked him curiously.
"I just didn't think rituals like this still occurred in this age. It's like something out a history book, or a muggle fairy tale. Besides, Halloween is never going to be something to celebrate for me," he remarked quietly.
"Of course," Astoria said, realising too late her mistake. Of course the boy wouldn't celebrate the day his parents were killed. Seeing the guilt shining in his eyes, Astoria tried another approach. "You know, there are some school of thoughts that say Samhain is not just about celebrating the dead, it's also a time for personal reflection. For recognising out faults and for developing a way to rectify or overcome them," she told him.
"Very philosophical," Harry muttered as he stared into the dying bonfire. "What do you personally believe about Samhain? What bring you out here every year?" he asked.
"My grandparents. They used to build the bonfires for me and Daphne when we were growing up, carve the stones for us, tell us about the smoke. The year the faeries came was … magical. That was last year they were with us for Samhain. They taught us both so much about the 'old ways of magic', told us to never take our gift for granted. So every year now, we go to a bonfire and we think of them and tell them everything we couldn't when they were living. We tell them how much we love them still and how much we miss them. And we take comfort in the fact that tonight they can hear us. That's what Samhain is to me; why I come down here every year," Astoria told him with a choked voice. "You must really miss your own parents. And your godfather."
"Never really knew them to miss them," Harry pointed out. "Didn't really know my godfather well enough either, not if I'm being honest with myself. I just feel guilt really. Guilt that they died for me and that I've never really, truly mourned for them. Never really understood how you can mourn for something you never really had to begin with."
"You mourn for how they made you feel. Whether it was a feeling of love; a feeling of protection. Or even a feeling of hope for the future," Astoria told him. "I know you don't to hear it, but it's true. The ones we love never truly leave us."
"The fire is nearly out," Harry pointed out, choosing not to comment on the younger girls' wise words. "Does that mean we collect our stones soon?"
"Yes. However tarnished the stone is from the flames is a reflection on how your year will be," she told him as she stood up and made her way towards the now charcoaled logs of the bonfire. "You don't have to look at you stone now, some don't even collect them. They just kind of take in all as blind faith that their year will be what it will be. To a good year Harry," she said with a smile before departing back for the castle with her sister and house mates, leaving a somewhat bewildered Harry stood in the clearing to think on all he'd experienced that night.
Whenever October 31st came around, he'd never really known what he should feel for the day that so many celebrated for one reason or another. He'd never known if he should be mourning for the loss of his parents, or celebrating the original defeat of Voldemort. And he'd always felt guilty for choosing one over the other, especially when people offered him their sympathies. But that year, he'd been shown how he could both celebrate and mourn and not be smothered under the weight of a hundred sorry glances, because everyone around him was doing the exact same thing! There were tears and there were smiles and it was perfectly alright. Perfectly acceptable.
And as he looked down at his slightly tarnished stone, he vowed that he would carry on this new Samhain tradition in the many years to come. And thanked whoever it was that put Astoria Greengrass in his path that night.
Well there you go. Just a little one shot for Halloween, or in this case Samhain. I've tried to be as accurate as I can in this story and I have taken different concepts/traditions from various aspects of Samhain rituals in order to fit into this story. I do hope you like it.