Chapter Sixty

The news of Voldemort's demise spread like a wild fire through the wizarding world, and before Harry had a moment to breath, he was being inundated with letters and requests for interviews. The morning after the final battle, the students were all safely returned to Hogwarts, and during breakfast, Dumbledore's majestic chair remained empty. Sitting next to it in her usual spot, Professor McGonagall did not feel she had the right to sit in that chair. No one could replace Dumbledore.

"No one can replace Professor Dumbledore," she said, her voice heavy with emotion, as she stood and made the announcement during that plaintive meal. "He will be missed greatly, not just by Hogwarts's staff and students, but by the wizarding community as a whole. His loss is great, and he will not be forgotten. His death, though, was nothing short of everything he stood for during his long life: bravery, loyalty, and the ultimate sacrific of love. It is with a heavy heart, then, that I must assume his role as Head of the school."

Sniffing, she reached for a handkerchief from her robes and wiped her nose and under his eyes. Continuing, she said, "But now is also a time of much joy. Thanks to Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort has been defeated now and forever. Finally, we are all free to live our lives, and for those who gave their lives, we commend them and remember them as they would have wanted us: with joy, not sorrow."

She raised her glass and proposed a toast, and the students followed suit. From the end of the head table, a single pair of overly large hands began to clap, and Harry looked with awe as Hagrid stood, clapping his hands, tears flowing down his ruddy cheeks. The other teachers soon joined, and then the students followed. Harry sat in stunned silence, not sure if they were clapping in rememberance of Dumbledore, the defeat of Voldemort, or of his deed... or all the above.

Next to him, Ron elbowed him, and from the other side, Ginny tugged on his sleeve. From across the table, Hermione hissed, "Stand up, Harry!"

Feeling unsure of himself, Harry stood, and the applause grew in volume. In spite of the loss of Dumbledore and the moments' ago tears, smiles were beginning to spread out on faces throughout the Great Hall. Once the applause surrendered, Harry sat back down and regarded McGonagall.

"Thank you, Harry," she said in the most sincere voice. "When I think of all that has happened, I realize that Albus Dumbledore wouldn't have wanted us to be sad. He died, wanting us to live and be happy. It is now up to us all to carry on what he started."

Harry smiled unsteadily and gave her a nod, even though he knew she had been addressing everybody. The rest of the meal went about as well as could have been expected, all things considered.

Later that day, Snape was still in the infirmary, having missed the simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking speech given by McGonagall during breakfast. Having slept most of the day (and not of his own volition), he was now sitting up in the bed, propped up by pillows, and a tray of food was next to the bed. Eyeing the food, he felt like he could vomit.

McGonagall suddenly entered the room and approached his bedside, gazing questioningly at the tray. "Not hungry?" she ventured.

"I don't feel like eating," Snape grumbled.

Taking a seat, McGonagall frowned. "But you haven't eaten all day. You'll need to build your strength back up."

"What for?" Snape sneered.

"Oh, don't be so obstinate, Severus!" she exclaimed exasperatedly. "You almost died, for heaven's sake. You do yourself no good with this attitude of not caring about your welfare."

"Then perhaps that is because I don't care, Minerva," he said harshly. "I told you: I should have died out there. I would have, too, had Albus not gotten in the way. Even in his death, the old fool has managed to reduce me to feeling like nothing."

"What do you mean?" she asked, clearly concerned.

"He always claimed to see something worth saving in me, but every time he came around with his kind and benevolent ways, it was too much for me. I never felt like I deserved any of it. I felt like nothing and could never understand how he saw anything in me. Dying for the cause was the only thing, the only sacrifice I could have ever made that would have proven myself."

"To whom?" she asked gently. "To yourself? You know you have already more than proven yourself a million times over to many people, Albus at the top of that list, and you know that you are worthwhile, Severus. Albus never told people lies. He always valued the truth, and he always valued the goodness in people, even when they couldn't see it in themselves."

Snape knew her eyes were boring into him. He could feel it, but he couldn't look back. Feeling too reminiscent of the way Dumbledore used to regard him, Snape felt his chest constricting, finding it harder and harder to breathe. Turning his head away, purposefully hiding his face with his black hair, he felt like stepping back into the shadows, the place where he always lurked, and never coming out.

From her vantage point, all McGonagall could see was his hair, curtaining him from not only her, but from the rest of the world. Without his imposing black robes or standing at his full height, he seemed reduced to a scared, shivering man... a scared, shivering man in a hospital bed, clad in white pajamas and covered with white sheets. She noticed his hand was trembling and then noticed that the rest of him was trembling, too. Reaching for his hand with hers, she tentatively covered his cold hand with her warm one.

Flinching at her touch, he tried to pull away, but she firmly insisted on keeping her hand where it was. Too weak, perhaps, to protest, Snape felt the walls caving in all around him. After so long, he was too tired, too drained, too emotionally shattered, to work so hard in keeping the barriers erected. His voice tremulous, he whispered, "W-why?"

McGonagall couldn't take another moment of just clutching his hand. She knew he needed so much more than just a mere touch to such a small part of his being. Using her hand, she grasped gently around his wrist and eased him toward her. Before Snape could resist, she had her arms wrapped around him.

His face was now buried in her robes. She was surprised when he tightened his grip around her, but then, as soon as he had returned the embrace, he loosened it and pulled back. Keeping his head turned, McGonagall finally said softly, "Look at me, Severus."

For what could have been an eternity, he did not look at her, but then, slowly, he turned and faced her. She nearly gasped when she saw his face. In all her years of knowing Severus Snape, she had never once seen such a look of desperation and loss on his face. He seemed utterly ashamed, appearing much younger than he was, and his eyes were glassly, glistening. He looked down and away with only his eyes, and when his lids shifted and closed, a tear streaked down his cheek.

"You must think me a horrible man, acting like some child," he croaked pathetically.

"No, never," she insisted. "You have just as much right to mourn his loss as anyone. You especially have that right."

"It wasn't supposed to be like this," Snape whispered, quickly wiping all traces of the solitary tear away.

Shaking her head forlornly, she murmured, "No one wanted this: the loss of someone we all looked up to for so long. But, Severus, Albus was proud of you. I know that for a fact, and he would have been proud of you right now. He wouldn't have wanted you to be so saddened, even in his absence."

"It is of little consequence, Minerva."

"Nonsense. He may have died, but you are still alive. Do not live your life like a dead man."

"You're sounding an awful lot like Albus," Snape half-grumbled.

"Good," she tried to tease, hoping to lighten the mood.

"I- " he hesitated, not sure what to say next. He considered her words and thought of all the times Dumbledore had been there for him, constantly reminding him of his self-worth. He oftentimes refused outrightly to believe what he labelled "an old man's insufferable, blathering nonsense," but in his heart of hearts, Snape knew that Dumbledore never would have lied to him, never would have sugarcoated the truth in his presence. "I will need some time," he finally managed.

"We all will," McGonagall agreed. "Before I go, there is one thing I would like to ask of you."

Casting a wary look at her, he asked, "What?"

"Would you be my Deputy Headmaster?"

At Snape's look of shock, she added, "Please at least consider it. Albus would have wanted it, I am sure."

He nodded, and with one more gentle squeeze of the hand, McGonagall stood and made to leave. "Think about it and eat something."

She left, leaving Snape to his thoughts as he picked at the tray of food.

Over the next few days, funeral preparations were underway for Dumbledore. The funeral was to be held on a Saturday on the grounds of Hogwarts, the place where Dumbledore had come to call home for many years of his life. In that time, life at Hogwarts went on, although, for Harry, something felt out of place. Even though parties were being thrown for Harry and for the demise of Voldemort, every student, especially Harry, could feel an emptiness filling the castle.

It was as if Dumbledore's presence and magic had coated the walls and saturated every stone to the core, even filling in the empty spaces in between.

When the day of the funeral arrived, people from all over the wizarding world came to pay their last respects to Albus Dumbledore. Harry had never seen the grounds and the castle so full of people. When the time came, everyone gathered outside near the lake, the sun shining down on them. It was as if heaven were smiling down on them, saying, "Don't worry. He is safe now."

The ceremony was a solemn occasion, people seated as they listened to the eulogy. The Minister of Magic gave a rather impersonal speech, talking about the things that everyone knew about Dumbledore: everything that was printed on Chocolate Frog Cards across Britain. Then, McGongall spoke, saying many of the things that she already had to the students the morning after Dumbledore's death.

"Would anyone else like to say anything?" she asked, glancing at the crowd.

Several people shifted in their seats, seeming to want to say something, but many of them held back. Finally, an ancient man who Harry didn't even know volunteered and spoke of the days when he had known Dumbledore and fought alongside him in the battles against Grindelwald. Some more people said a few words, and through the entire time, Harry wondered if he should say anything. There were many things he wanted to say, but he wished he could say them to Dumbledore directly, not to a crowd of people and in memory of him.

A witch with a high-pitched, nervous-sounding voice had just finished speaking now, and Harry felt that if he didn't say something now, he probably never would. Standing up, he felt the eyes of everyone on him, making him quite uncomfortable. Walking to the front of the crowd and taking a position on the podium near the casket, Harry looked out over the vast sea of people and swallowed apprehensively. He knew that everyone knew who he was, so he didn't bother saying his name.

Gazing at the casket now, keeping his eyes off the crowd, Harry imagined the lid opening and Dumbledore coming out, laughing merrily, as if this were all some horrible practical joke. Shaking his head, Harry blinked back tears, knowing he had not allowed himself to fully mourn the loss of Dumbledore yet.

"Albus Dumbledore was many things to many people," Harry said slowly, his voice shaky. "To me, first and foremost... he was my friend," he continued, his voice cracking. In that moment, he felt the hotness of tears burning overwhelmingly in his eyes, and dashing them furiously away, he said, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry..."

Harry turned to leave, but McGonagall stepped onto the podium and steadied him. "It's all right, Harry," she murmured consolingly to him. "Maybe everyone should know just how much he meant to you. Don't be afraid to share that with them."

Nodding, Harry murmured his thanks and turned back to the crowd. "Yes, he was my friend, and that is how I want to remember him. That is how I want all of you to remember him: a friend to the world, both wizard and Muggle. He wasn't perfect, even though a lot of us thought he was, but in everything he did, he did it with his whole heart, his intention always good."

Harry stopped, wondering if he should add anything more, but he felt like anything he could say would only be words already heard. Stepping quietly down from the podium, he made his way back to his seat. The moment he sat down, he was surprised to see a black figure walk past him. He realized with shock that it was Snape.

Everyone watched with curiosity as the darkly-clad man assumed the platform. Snape didn't look at them. Perhaps he feared what he might see looking back at him. In a low voice, he said, "Albus Dumbledore was one in a million. For me, words cannot say what he meant to me. If he could see even the good in someone like me, then I believe he saw goodness in all of you. As Mr. Potter said, he was a friend, but not just a friend: a true friend. That is a rare and precious thing in the world today."

With those words, Snape stepped down. After he had spoken, no one else came forward. It seemed a fitting end to the ceremony, as Dumbledore had been rare and precious.

Later that day, after most of the people had gone home, Lupin was sitting outside near the lake, gazing quietly at the sun as it made to set. He felt someone sit down next to him and turned to see Tonks in the grass to his left.

Smiling weakly at her, he returned his attention to the sun.

"It was a beautiful day," Tonks said quietly.

"Yes, it was," Lupin murmured softly, picking up a stone and rubbing it thoughtfully with his right hand.

"I think Sirius will be released soon," she said, trying hard for conversation.

Shortly after the battle, Sirius had been taken by the Ministry and had been kept quarantined while the Wizengamot gave a hearing. With Peter Pettigrew caught, the trial for Sirius's freedom would finally be held.

Sighing, Lupin muttered bitterly, "Sirius should have been here today, not locked up."

"I know," Tonks replied, feeling guilty. "Everything has been going well, though. I'm sure he'll be out in no time."

"I suppose you're right. Everything has seemed so unreal lately, though. I find myself wondering what to believe and what not to believe. I mean, Voldemort is gone, but so is Dumbledore. Sirius will be free, but right now, he's still a prisoner. I guess I never imagined the aftermath of the war being so... so mixed up."

"I know," Tonks repeated, stroking his arm lightly. "With gain comes loss, though. Albus was remembered in a beautiful way, and if you remember all the people who were there..."

"How could I forget?" Lupin asked. "They practically covered the entire grounds."

Tonks laughed a little at that. "At least all this wide, open space has been used for something. Too bad it had to be a funeral." She paused, then asked, "Have you talked much to Harry?"

"A little," he confessed, "but I think Harry has needed time to come to terms with everything. I think seeing him nearly break down in front of all those people today proved that he still needed to get some things off his chest."

"Well, he's certainly been through more than any other seventeen-year-old boy I know," Tonks acquiesced. "I can't blame him in the least."

"We owe him everything," Lupin observed. "Even if Albus were alive, nothing even he could say would be enough to express the gratitude we have for Harry."

Tonks only nodded, choosing to keep quiet and bask in the truth of those words, watching the sun set.

A couple days later, Sirius was released, all charges dropped. Vowing never to return to Grimmauld Place, he came to live temporarily in the castle, until the end of the school year, when Lupin and he would go to Lupin's house. For the most part, things around Hogwarts returned to normal, and as June quickly approached, the fifth and seventh years were working hard to prepare for the O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s.

On one late evening, Harry was sitting in Lupin's office, sharing tea with Sirius and Lupin. Harry had been extremely happy when Sirius was finally free and was even happier when he heard that he would be living at Hogwarts. Still, though, he found himself saying, "I can't believe it's really true."

"Neither can I," Sirius replied, taking a biscuit and chewing on it. "It sure beats talking through that portrait."

All three of them glanced over at the painting of the fifteen-year-old Sirius and smiled in remembrance.

"The only thing that could make this any better would be having Dumbledore around," Harry murmured. "I wonder if a painting will be made of him."

"I'm sure there will be one made," Lupin pointed out. "The whole headmaster's office is filled with portraits of all the previous headmasters and headmistresses."

Harry thought about that and smiled, thinking it would be nice to speak with Dumbledore again, even if it was just a portrait.

"I should tell you, though, Harry, that a portrait of Dumbledore wouldn't be the same thing as Sirius's portrait," Lupin explained. "Sirius wasn't properly dead, just in another realm, where he could somehow manage to communicate through a painting of himself. The vast majority of portraits are simply charmed to take on the personality of the wizard or witch they represent... a mere shadow, if you will."

Harry's smile turned into a frown. "Well... I guess it would be better than nothing."

"Don't be so down, Harry," Sirius said, trying to cheer him up. "You know what everyone's been saying - that Dumbledore wouldn't have wanted us to be sad, even on account of losing him."

"Yeah, I know, but it's gonna take a long time to get used to his absence," Harry muttered sullenly.

The next day, McGonagall decided that she had waited long enough for a response from Snape. He had been well enough to walk about the castle as he pleased for several days now, but he had remained withdrawn and reclusive. Ever since his speech on the day of Dumbledore's funeral, he had avoided speaking whenever possible.

Knocking on the door to his office, she awaited a response, and when none came, she pushed the door open just enough to peer inside. Sure enough, Snape was sitting behind his desk, bent over a pile of parchments, apparently grading.

"Severus," she said neutrally.

"Minerva," he muttered, not looking at her. "What is it?"

"Well?" she inquired, her lips tight.

"Well, what?" he asked, sounding bitter and annoyed. "What is the reason for this intrusion?"

Stepping fully into the room now, she firmly shut the door behind her and exclaimed, "Severus Snape! You look at me this instant! I'll not tolerate any more of this attitude of yours! You should be happy. Would it kill you to smile?"

"Happy," Snape spat, suddenly glaring up at her. "Happy was a word never meant to enter into my vocabulary, let alone be an emotion I could ever really feel, at least for any extended length of time."

She sighed exasperatedly. "What will it take to convince you that you are forgiven, free, everything you were ever ashamed of erased?"

"You already know the answer to that question."

"Saying you should have died is not an acceptable answer," she insisted sternly, losing her temper.

"Here is an answer to what you asked me a few days ago: no."

"But you said you needed time-"

"I had time! Plenty of it! All the time in the world to fester in my thoughts, and I don't see what good being your deputy would do anyone. Ask Sprout. Ask Flitwick. Hell, even ask Hagrid. Merlin knows those students wouldn't want the likes of me being second in command."

"If you are so concerned about what the students think of you, then why do you act the way you do?" McGonagall questioned fiercely. "You choose to be sour and cruel, letting your own shame get the worst of you, even when everything is all said and done."

"They are ungrateful, never realizing anything I went through."

"'They?'" she asked, suddenly realizing where this was going. "I think perhaps you mean 'him.'"

"Congratulations, Minerva," Snape sneered.

"Mr. Potter was the first one at your side that night!" she exclaimed. "You've really no idea, do you?" she asked, her voice dropping.

"No one ever told me."

"Give him time, Severus. You are not the easiest person to approach. I do not think Harry would take your sacrifice forgranted."

Snape wondered when Harry Potter's approval had come to mean so much to him. Thinking himself pathetic for even allowing that thought to enter his mind, he mumbled, "We shall see."

McGonagall turned to leave, but Snape said, "If it's so important to you, Minerva, fine, I'll be your Deputy Headmaster."

When she finally left, she thought she may have actually talked some sense into the impossible man.

June came, and the last remaining weeks passed by like a single day. Before Harry knew it, the N.E.W.T.s had come and gone. He had been so wrapped up in spending time with Sirius and Lupin, with Ginny, or with Ron and Hermione and his other friends, that the thought of ever talking to Snape was shoved further and further to the back of his mind.

At first, he had thought the timing would be off, reasoning that it was too soon after the loss of Dumbledore. Then, he noticed Snape's extremely bitter mood and decided to leave the man his space. After nearly a month, though, Harry's mind had become occupied with endless other things.

Time and again, he would recount to Ginny how blessed he was to have her in his life, thankful that they had both survived the war. Vowing to keep his promise to her, Harry looked forward to a future where he would be with Ginny, free to live his life without the threat of Voldemort knocking at his door.

Everything was happening so quickly now that Harry felt like he was in a whirlwind, everything blowing by him at an extremely fast rate. It was with a spinning head, as if walking on clouds, his mind elsewhere, that he suddenly realized he was walking down the aisle to accept his certificate of graduation from Hogwarts.

Graduation. The end. Could it really be?

Accepting the diploma, Harry gazed at the crowd, seeing everyone important in his life. Sirius was beaming, whistling insanely. Ron clapped loudly, which caused the rest of the Weasleys to erupt into bellows of congratulations and exorbitant clapping. Hermione smiled from ear to ear, clapping crazily. Then, it seemed that the clapping grew contagious, for the whole of the crowd cheered for Harry. Smiling, Harry returned to his seat.

After the ceremony was over, freshly-graduated students were milling about, talking with their parents, making introductions, and giving well-wishes to their friends and classmates. Surrounded by his friends, Harry felt like this was some sort of incredible dream, but at the same time, he felt overwhelmed.

"I think I'm going to just step outside for a moment and take a breather," he told them. "I'll be right back."

Going outside, Harry inhaled the fresh air, allowing it to fill his lungs, savoring its life-giving ability. Closing his eyes, he allowed the wind to blow gently around him and basked in the warmth of the sun.

When he opened his eyes again, he was surprised to see a point of darkness among all the light. Over by the lake, Harry noticed someone sitting, all alone.

I wonder? Harry asked himself.

Walking over to the lake, Harry soon enough realized that his belief was confirmed. Sitting there was Snape.

"Sir," Harry said levelly.

"Potter," Snape muttered.

"I didn't see you at the ceremony."

"I doubt anyone else noticed. What is it to you, anyway?"

Sitting down a short distance from Snape, Harry said, "You know, I never thanked you."

Snape remained silent.

"Really," Harry added sincerely. "I mean it, sir. Thank you. And not just for what you did that day. I know we haven't exactly gotten along over the years-"

Snape snorted.

"-but I am grateful, sir, for everything you've done. I just wanted you to know that."

Snape finally looked up, his black eyes boring into Harry's green ones.

He managed a small smile. He had heard what he needed to, even though he would never admit it. "If thanks are in order, then I should thank you, too, Harry. It is because of you that we are all here today."

Despite having heard similar words from a lot of people, Harry was at a loss for words when hearing them from Snape. Walking over to him, he extended his arm, offering his hand. "Good luck, sir."

Snape regarded Harry's proffered hand for a moment before taking it. Shaking his hand firmly, Snape replied, "Good luck, Harry."

Late that night, the night before he would leave Hogwarts, Harry sat up in bed, holding the mirror Sirius had given him. In the dimness of only moonlight, Harry ran his fingers along the edges, seeing his distorted image in the cracked glass.

Unlike a couple years ago, Harry could now look in this mirror and smile, in spite of its imperfections. Harry focused on his reflection, looking deeper than he ever had before, through his own eyes and into his own eyes. There, he saw the faces of everyone he had come to hold dear. Even in the times of the greatest loss, beauty could be found within those who chose to see it. Like Dumbledore had seen in people, Harry found himself understanding something deep and prolific: that he could now see that same beauty in people. Smiling back at himself and everyone else whose face was permanently etched on his heart, there was a smile of a reflection of himself.

The End

Author's Notes: A huge thank you to all my fans! For all my loyal reviewers - there are too many of you to name - I thank you! You have made me feel like a real writer, and I feel blessed to have such wonderful readers as you all. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I simply can't say it enough!

Writing this story over the course of the past year and a half has been an amazing experience. When I set out to write my first novel-length Harry Potter story, I never imagined it would surpass 200,000 words in length and reach 60 chapters! I certainly never imagined I would gain the favor of so many wonderful, loyal readers along the way!

When I first started writing this story, there were certain things that I didn't yet know (i.e. the way portraits can talk, the fact that Dean Thomas is really a half-blood, a new Minister of Magic during Harry's sixth year). I kept things limited to the working knowledge I had in December 2003 (when I first started writing this) and did actually add in little details of some things JKR revealed along the way (like birthdays). Any inconsistency was certainly not intentional, as I'm far from perfect!

My goal of finishing this before the release of book six was met! I wanted my readers to be done with this story before the "real thing" came out, changing everything. While I realize that some of the things I've written about, like Sirius's return, Lupin's being the DADA teacher, and a somewhat nicer Snape, may not actually happen in the "real thing," I can always dream, right? ;) I certainly hope at least some of the things I've written about come true. I guess we'll just have to wait and see...

Anyway, you are still welcomed to join my updates list at http/groups. since this will most certainly not be my last Harry Potter fanfic! I intend to start fresh once I've read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and look forward to "seeing" some of you again. Also, I hope to add more illustrations to this story, which will be posted at my updates list and on my website at http/harrypotter. where the illustrated version of this story can be found.

Finally, a BIG THANK YOU goes out to Deb Casselbury, one of my best friends and fellow Harry Potter fanatic! She has been ever-supportive and has been my second pair of ears and eyes for this story. She has also done some of the beautiful artwork for this story. Deb, thank you! You are a rare and precious friend!

Now, I'm out!

Signing off

Sindie, July 13, 2005