A/N: I'd like to take a moment to say thank you to all of the wonderful reviewers who have stuck by this story for over a year now, dealing with my frequent hiatuses and disappearances. Your words of critique and appreciation have meant the world to me, and I'm glad that my story has touched you as much as some of you have said it has. My writing skills have grown immensly by writing this. I've loved writing this fic, and I'm glad you've loved reading it as much.
And also, I'd like to explain the reasoning behind my title. I have intended to do so for a while, but in the end decided to save it for here. Phoenix tears are incredibly small and apparently insignificant things, but they have incredible healing powers. Harry, Hermione, and all the rest were a small, ragtag bunch of rebels that seemed to have no chance at doing anything bigger than surviving day to day, but in the end, they destroyed the greatest Dark regime ever to take hold of the wizarding world. They are the phoenix tears to which I was referring.
Thank you again for sticking by this story. And now, here is the final installment.
"I'm still here, you're still gone
Nothing I say will make you come back to me
So I'll carry on
As you would have done."
I don't think anyone can deny that this is the nicest day we've had in a considerable stretch of time. People have been talking about it inside the castle, and now I can see what they mean. The sun, normally quite well hidden behind a shield of gray clouds, is showing itself again. While the clouds still drift about in the sky, hovering near their newly released captive as though waiting for the right moment to reclaim it, they are easy to write off. I don't remember the last time I've seen the sky primarily blue rather than gray. To top all that off, it's actually somewhat warm, at least by our recent standards—it's probably a solid forty degrees or so. Anything that gets us above freezing is considered warm lately.
The birds are celebrating over my head as I walk slowly across the sloping grounds of Hogwarts castle. My eyes wander upward and I watch their playful games in the trees. Most of the snow has melted, and I can see patches of grass showing through in some areas. There aren't many yet; the snow was very deep, and while some of it has cleared, there are still sections that are two feet deep. It's wetter now, though, that's for sure. I nearly lose my footing several times in the slush as I trudge my way casually along, letting the soft sun warm my face. I'm in no particular hurry.
But as it is with most things, whether you make your way leisurely or quickly, you'll still get there eventually. After not too long, I come to a stop, and I peel my eyes away from the sky to look downward at the memorial which lies at my feet. It's no coincidence that this particular area is free of snow; I've kept it that way since the funeral a month ago. A grave guard, I guess you could call me. A weather guard, at least.
I kneel down so that I'm closer to the stone memorial. For a gravestone, it's pretty nice. It's a large, rectangularly-cut slab of shimmering black stone—obsidian, I think—that's set into the ground. The writing on it was engraved with a wand, each letter the color of deepest gold. I run my fingers gingerly over the inscribed patterns that run on either side of the gravestone—on one side, broomsticks and snitches; on the other, books and quills. It probably costs more than all the money I've had in my entire life collectively. Dumbledore arranged for it. He also sorted out the other one, which now lies in the Great Hall. That one is different, though. It's just as nice, but not in the same way. It's generic, in honor of all the people who died in the second war against Voldemort. This one is specific, which is why I suppose I like it better. My friends deserved something like this—something all their own. They didn't deserve to be thrown into some overall honorable mention in which their own names were never even stated.
I decided upon its location. Sirius was against it; he thought Harry would prefer to be buried with his parents, but I knew better. While that spot wouldn't have been objectionable, I remember Harry's last words to us as we plunged into what we thought was to be our last battle. He'd chosen Hogwarts for a battleground because he wanted a part of us to always be with this castle. Now a part of him always will be. He's buried on the spot he fell that night, near the edge of the Forbidden Forest and halfway between the lake and Hagrid's newly built hut. Hermione is buried right next to him, in the grave which was made wide enough to fit the two of them side-by-side. No one argued that that would be where she would want to be placed. So now they share a tombstone, eternally locked together physically, and—I would like to believe—spiritually.
I don't feel right, narrating this story. It's not my place. I'm reminded of this more strongly than ever as I stare down at the headstone. This was their tale to tell. I feel like a thief, stealing the ending from them. Perhaps such emotions are unfounded—it's not like they're capable of telling the end. Regardless of that, I can't banish the feeling. At one point in time, I guess the job of finishing this would have been given to me without question—at the time when the three of us were the best of friends. I don't think I'd have felt so awkward about it then. But we've been broken apart for so long, I no longer feel as though I hold that right. I can't just let this go without an ending, though; that would be much worse than my taking the narration from them. Harry and Hermione died for this end, and it will be told.
As my fingers run over the smooth obsidian, I feel the familiar knot forming in my stomach. We came here that night assuming that we would all meet our deaths. I suppose the fact that only six of us—including my two friends—were killed is a good thing. But I can only feel some unexplainable guilt about living while the two of them have died. If I'm to be honest with myself, I still often think that I would rather have died beside them than be the only one of our trio remaining, the only one left to shoulder the weight of the loss. When the sun rose the day after the battle, and the Death Eaters had fled, I began to understand what my mind had been too numb up until that point to register: my best friends were dead. I have lost so much to this war—my parents and Percy, so many friends that didn't make it out of Hogwarts, my whole life and my home . . . but I can honestly say that I never reacted quite so badly to any of it as I did to this revelation. With my parents' deaths, I'd been numb for so long that by the time I started feeling it, it was not so hard to deal with. It had been difficult, I can't deny that, but I still had Fred, George, and Ginny to help. I had Harry. He was always there. I guess I thought he always would be. But on that night on the snowy grounds of Hogwarts, that belief broke into a thousand shards. Harry and Hermione weren't just my friends; they were a part of me, as ever-present and necessary as my lungs or heart. They were pretty much all I had left. Even Hermione, whom I'd hated for so long, I still cared for deeply. I'd never stopped caring, which was what had made me bitter. When they were torn away from me, I honestly wasn't sure that I could go on. Sometimes, I'm still not sure.
I didn't understand what had happened until hours after their deaths. Harry had been winning; I'd seen it in his eyes, as well as in You-Know-Who's. I didn't see how it could have backfired so horribly. Dumbledore had explained it to me, though my grief-numbed mind hadn't processed it fully until days afterward. I remember his words with a painful clarity.
"Every human being is made up of components of good and evil. No one can exist without at least a small portion of each. But Voldemort, after years of attempting to attain immortality in various ways and becoming so lost within his own dark prison that he could never hope to once again see the light, became something less than human. An entity so full of darkness that no other emotion was welcome. Love was the thing that, above all, Voldemort could not understand, could not handle. Love was to him as water is to fire, something that holds the prospect of pure destruction," Dumbledore said.
"But what does that have to do with Harry?" I asked.
Dumbledore nodded gravely. "What Miss Granger understood last night was something we'd all overlooked. Love was the only thing that could destroy Voldemort. The Killing Curse and other offensive curses only served to strengthen him. Harry has forever been Voldemort's rival, his equal in emotion, if not in power. Harry was full of love, making him a great danger to Voldemort. Lily Potter's gift to him upon her sacrifice made him just as full of love as Voldemort was of evil. Hermione had him cast love spells on Voldemort that night. The process would likely not have worked had the spells been performed by anyone other than Harry. They would have damaged him, but not destroyed him. Harry succeeded because of the love he had—for Hermione, for you, for all of us. His emotions were strong that night. Unintentionally, he transferred his love into the spells, strengthening them by an unspeakable margin. Voldemort, an entity of nothing but darkness, was overcome by his power."
I shook my head. "That's all well, but I still don't understand how he. . . . What happened to. . . ." I couldn't bear to finish the sentence.
"What Miss Granger did not know—what she could not possibly have foreseen, and what I failed to foresee myself whilst I watched—was the fact that Voldemort had transferred a part of himself to Harry the night he tried to kill him as a baby. Harry was a Parseltongue because of the connection created in that instant. The Sorting Hat considered placing him in Slytherin for the same reason. Other small things became a part of Harry as well, things that never would have been there had that night not occurred. The love spells rebounded upon Harry because of that connection. It should not have harmed him, but the bits of Voldemort that had become a part of Harry were targeted by the spell. Perhaps Voldemort even projected his conscious state into Harry in those last few instants; we have no way of knowing. But one or both of these things overcame Harry. The spell was too strong. He perished alongside Voldemort. . . ."
Dumbledore had gone on for some time after this, but I had tuned him out. I understand now what happened. An unfortunate accident . . . a last act of malevolence by the Dark Lord . . . a tragic wand malfunction . . . all of these are things I've heard Harry's death described as. But his death is not accurately portrayed by any of these. It was fate's sick joke. Harry had to be attacked that night to gain his mother's love and protection and the power to defeat Voldemort. But by being attacked, he'd also gotten just enough of the Dark Lord so that by killing him, he would kill himself in the process. A twisted destiny of epic proportions.
A lot of the days following their deaths are a blur to me now. I've blocked a lot of it out. Most of my memories after that night start up again about five days later, the day of the funeral. I guess you could say I went, but I didn't show up until the very end, after all the speeches and mourning and lowering of the caskets were done with. I was supposed to give a speech; I never did. I showed up when the wizards had already re-formed the ground atop their caskets and placed the tombstone above them. There were only a few people standing around when I got there; I didn't bother to take notice of who they were. No one had seen me since the day after we took back Hogwarts except the house-elves that brought me food. I stood there above their memorial, until the gray day passed into black night and invisible snowflakes chilled and numbed my body and made it almost as cold as those that lay beneath my feet. Finally, when I could no longer even see the headstone through the darkness, the fact that it was reality began to sink in. I sobbed alone for the longest time. To this day, I don't know for how long. All I know is that I cried for my friends, and myself, and everything that's been lost until I had nothing left but a dull, hollow feeling that I knew would never fully go away. Afterwards, no one mentioned my absent speech or late arrival. In return, I've not mentioned that day again. But I still remember it. I always will.
A lot of people tiptoed around me for a while, as though expecting me to fly off the handle at any minute. I never really gave them any reason to think that, but I let them, because it isolated me, and I needed that. Now, looking back on it, I figure they all thought I was probably some revenge-crazed lunatic. How Lucius Malfoy died is well known fact by now. I killed him that night. It was he who had fired the fatal curse at Hermione. Despite the fact that I'd never before used an Unforgivable, and that I was hardly trained in their usage, my anger was powerful enough and my desire to kill strong enough that it worked. The two words left my mouth, echoing the ones Malfoy had spoken moments before—the ones that had struck down Hermione. The last thing I remember seeing of him—the image of him that will stay with me for the rest of my life—was his shocked look as he fell, never to rise again. It was as though I'd only stunned him, as I'd already done to so many others. I felt nothing; I just stared. I stood unmoving as my comrades—those who remained—chased away the Death Eaters that were still around, the ones that hadn't fled the moment Voldemort was vanquished. Curses flashed past my head but I never saw them, I never felt them. I felt no guilt about Malfoy's death, but contrary to what I'd believed when I said the curse, I felt no relief either. He didn't matter to me anymore. All that mattered was the image of my friends dying. The image of Hermione collapsing atop Harry without a sound, and of the life going out of her in one swift and silent motion that if I hadn't been looking, I wouldn't have even noticed. Her limp body had crashed down just as the first touches of dismal dawn began to paint the horizon, and later in the process of the sun's rising, the sky would turn a deep crimson, stained with the blood that my fallen friends had not spilled upon the pristine snow that night.
Dumbledore took care of the legal implications of my using the Killing Curse. It didn't take much; no one wanted Lucius Malfoy around anyway, and everyone was willing to look the other way on it. People have gone so far as to congratulate me on killing him, on "avenging" Hermione. I wish they could understand that I have no right to avenge her, for it was my own stupidity that helped get her killed. She shouldn't have had to die. We know now that Harry's death couldn't have been helped, awful as it was. Voldemort had to be destroyed, and in order to do so, Harry had to die as well. But Hermione was innocent. She should have lived. If I'd only held onto her for a little longer. . . . At first, I'd refused to let her run to Harry. Then I just let her go. Why didn't I keep her close? Why didn't I watch out for her, or look around once in a while? I never even got the chance to tell her how sorry I was. I waited too long, and when I tried, she cut me off. She hugged me, sure, but that doesn't mean she forgave me. She didn't know what I was sorry for, so how could she? How could she just forgive me without hearing me after I'd been so awful? She never knew, and now she never will. Harry was right. I should have told her that night in the cabin while I had the chance. But it was my own thickheaded desire to maintain my pride that kept me from doing it. Harry told me straight out that there were no guarantees that there would be another chance. I didn't want to believe that, and so I didn't. And now I'm here, and there's no taking it back.
The war is pretty much over now. The Death Eaters are lying low, for the most part. Naturally, the more loyal and vivacious ones are still causing trouble, but that's being dealt with slowly. Azkaban has been reclaimed. The dementors are being done away with; as Dumbledore has said for years, they're too unpredictable and their loyalties too flexible. Some are being kept around, just to keep the Death Eaters under control, but they're under the close scrutiny of watch wizards around the clock. It's getting to be very full. We're catching as many of the Death Eaters as we can, and those that don't die at the hands of an Auror or aren't immediately executed for crimes against humanity, are locked up in there.
The Ministry is still somewhat in shambles. So many have died that most of those who were once in charge are gone. Those that fled to other countries are returning, but slowly. Naturally, no one is anxious to come back unless they're sure without doubt that Voldemort is truly gone and the situation is under control. Some people have been here in England all along, as slaves of the Death Eaters in one capacity or another, but not a great number. Many of the other wizarding ministries are sending help, and we have a temporary Minister, due to Fudge's demise. Elections for the next Minister will be in a month or two, whenever they can get themselves stable enough and find people willing to run. Despite the fact that Horace Harshreuff—at one point the Head Obliviator—holds the title of Minister for the time being, it's Dumbledore who's doing all the real work. Stationed here at Hogwarts, he is commanding the regrouped Aurors, and taking care of much of the political and economic difficulties. He's sent out teams of wizards to rebuild homes, and is allowing families who lost their houses to stay in Hogwarts until his team gets around to rebuilding them. Some cities are doing okay again, and more are very near to being back to stability.
Dumbledore must also contend with the unforeseen issue of Muggle relations, both inside and outside England, for our existence is no longer a secret. Too many know of us now for us to just send out the Obliviators. We've revealed ourselves to them; we had no choice. Within England alone, many issues have arisen. The simple fact that we are coming out after a mass genocide by wizards against Muggles is not exactly an embracing fact. The Muggle population seems to be predominantly decided that we're evil. I suppose I can't really blame them. Voldemort did horrible things to them, just as he did to us. It will take time to convince them that a different set of people are in charge of our world now, and things won't be the same. Some of them are still calling for war, and we can only pray that they don't agree to it, for we're not in a stable condition for such a thing right now. Besides that, we'd have to defend ourselves, which would do no more than prove to them that we're as evil as they think we are. So far, though, our governments are attempting to straighten things out peacefully. Only time will tell what's to come.
Hogwarts itself has been purged of Dark Magic and all that relates to it. The common rooms are being redone—particularly Gryffindor, which was pretty much in ruins. We have about sixty families in residence currently. More come and leave as they return from hiding or depart to new homes. The teachers that are still alive are here, and Dumbledore sits high and proud in the office where he—and no one else—belongs. Hogwarts will soon go back to being the school it was intended to be. Lists of students who will be enrolled are being made up. Right now, they aren't particularly long, but more people are coming back every day, and more students are being added. We still have a good six and a half months to get more names. In September, regardless of numbers, the school will begin again, one more step toward the normalcy that for two years has been sacrificed. Dumbledore is determined that life go on, and hard as it is, we don't have much choice but to live with it.
One would think that in the wake of the ending of such a great and terrible disaster, I would be content to look into the future with an optimistic eye and a sense that nothing that's coming could be as horrible as what's been left behind. Maybe that's how I should feel. But looking into the future does no more than shake into my very bones a fear that freezes my spirit as surely as the ice traps an unfortunate fish. I see no bright horizon, no dawning day, no brilliant display of hope. I see only a black abyss, as dark and foreboding as the deepest of nights. It all comes from the simple knowledge that I am to be very alone in any new world that comes. For now, the numbness is a salvation. It's a state in which I don't have to grasp the harsh realities facing me. But once life begins to resume pace, and once I'm forced to fall back into step with it once more, I'll have to deal with the fact that everything I once knew and relied upon is gone. One could argue that I've already faced this dilemma; after all, Voldemort's triumph over Hogwarts and England must have had a similar effect on me, right? Truthfully, though, it was easier to deal with then. Because then, nothing was normal. It was all mayhem and chaos, and we weren't supposed to have a place. We were meant to be lost and drifting with nary a thing to cling to. It was okay. It was right; perhaps not in the moral sense, but in the sense that no one could expect it to be any other way. Now, life is being restored to its natural order, and I'm coming to realize that my place in this world, my little nitch in the grand scheme of things, is no longer where or how I left it. And the only people I ever had to share it with have been lost as well.
Despite all the times that I argued with my brothers and my parents, all the times I told Hermione to shove it, all the times I was jealous of Harry, I always needed them. Some people can meet friends and give them away without much damage being done, but the relationship I shared with Harry and Hermione was far deeper than that. I depended on them to help me through this world, to fill in the pieces of me that I was missing on my own. I'd like to think they depended on me in the same way. Hermione was the logical one, the voice of reason, the one who thought things through with intellect when sheer brawn and bravery weren't enough. She saw the things Harry and I were simply too thickheaded to notice. She tagged along with us on all of our possibly suicidal adventures, even when what we were doing went against everything she desired, purely because she cared about us. We never would have figured out the mystery of the Basilisk or made our way to the Philosopher's Stone without her. Much as I hate to admit it after all the rude remarks I made to her about nagging me so much, the fact is that without her, I probably wouldn't have passed most of my classes. Doing so certainly would have been harder by at least a tenfold. Hell, forget classes—without her, there's a good chance I wouldn't have lived. And most importantly, she was a good friend. Loyal and dedicated, despite what I've thought of her over the last two years. She never abandoned Harry and I, even when we (or I suppose I should say 'I'; Harry never was one to get on her nerves too much) gave her plenty of reason to. She gave up her whole life because she thought it was in our best interest.
And Harry. The boy who just happened to sit by me on the first train to Hogwarts and rarely left my side thereafter. He was just as much a brother to me as any of my redheaded siblings. He was the brave one, the strong one, the one who held the three of us together. The boy was almost mad with a deep-rooted desire to do the right thing. He was always as willing as I to break the rules that stood in our way, thereby sharing with me a bond that Hermione and I didn't have. He made my life more interesting than I ever could have dreamed. There were times when I treated him awful, when I was jealous of him for reasons that he couldn't have helped any more than the average Muggle can help their lack of magical talent. He had every right to never speak to me again, but he forgave me. And in the end, he died for me—for all of us, so that we wouldn't have to end up buried right alongside him.
I can't remember a time when they weren't at my side. I can't imagine a future where they aren't there still. I don't know if I can make it without the two of them to set me straight when I'm being a fool, and without my family to love and support me. I'm terribly afraid that I can't. I know for certain that I'll never again find friends as good as Harry and Hermione. Maybe I never even deserved to have their friendship in the first place. Because along with the fear comes the aforementioned guilt. I was so horrible to the two of them so many times throughout our seven years of knowing one another. I can't push away the feeling that everything should be opposite of how it is; that I should be lying in a box under the earth with the two of them standing above me. The two of them died so that I could live, but the problem is, I don't feel as though I deserve that right. I don't even want to go on half the time. It's not right that they should give up their lives in return for my ungratefulness. Sometimes that's the only thing that keeps me going; the fact that if I give up, their efforts will have been in vain, at least as far as I go. Maybe it's selfish to think that they sacrificed themselves for me. Maybe they couldn't have cared less about me, but did it for the good of everyone overall. But I still feel I would be lessening a part of their victory by giving up. They were brave enough to die for this world I now have the privilege of living in; the least I can do is make my way through it.
I'm not sure where I'm going. I'm stumbling blindly in the dark for a light switch that may or may not even be there. For now, sitting at Hogwarts and helping rebuild it is good enough. But in the long run, I know that it won't be. Some people can go back to their lives after the devastation. They can rebuild and continue. But even if I were capable of picking up the pieces, I'm not sure I'd want to live the life that ended in my fifth year. It was good enough for me then, and I'm not capable of denying that it was a wonderful life I had. However, I've been through so much more now, seen and done more than I ever dreamed, and lost more than I ever imagined possible. To go back to my mundane existence . . . I just can't. It's not enough.
I watch as a silent tear that has escaped my eye rolls down my nose, falls the short distance to the ground, and splashes upon the obsidian stone next to Hermione's name. I sniff and hurriedly wipe my eyes. I trace the minute letters of my friends' names before slowly rising to my feet. I need to return to the castle and help Dumbledore with the repairs and work. My feet don't move, though, and I can't pull my eyes away from the headstone. I've been three people in my almost-eighteen years; I've lived three lives. Two of those lives are buried along with my friends, though the headstone says nothing of the first two phases of Ronald Weasley's existence. The third phase is the one in which I am now. Admittedly, I don't know much about this new world, or about how I intend to survive in it. All I know is that I'll have to create a new place for myself to match the new world in which I live. It won't be easy, and I don't know if I'll succeed.
But at least I have a chance.