United We Stand
The hospital wing at Hogwarts was completely full for the first time in a long time. Most of the occupants were simply sleeping off emotional distress but there were a fair share of injured. Remus Lupin was recovering from the muscle damage Fenrir Greyback had done to his arm. He would be as good as new in no time. Bill Weasley was still suffering from Greyback's attack on his face and would probably never be the same. Cho Chang had suffered a broken leg and a deep cut across her back but her injuries had already been tended to. She was free to leave the moment she woke. Ernie Macmillan was sleeping off a concussion, Dean Thomas needed a broken collarbone mended and Colin Creevey needed to re-grow a few bones in his arm.
Then there were the two beds shielded from privacy screens.
The farthest bed was still occupied by the body of Albus Dumbledore, covered by a sheet. No one had even attempted to move the body yet, partially because they were still in shock and partially because they didn't know what to do. No one wanted to step forward and make the decision of where Dumbledore's final resting place would be. No one wanted to think of Headmaster Dumbledore having a final resting place.
The next bed housed a teenager who didn't have any severe physical injuries. However, he did have more bandages and was hooked up to more devices than anyone else in the hospital wing. Harry Potter's injuries were almost a summary of his last few years at Hogwarts: physical, emotional and magical exhaustion in addition to a mild concussion. He also had cut and bruises all over his body that had made Madam Pomfrey cringe. To help Harry recover, a needle was inserted into the back of his hand which was connected to a tube running into a large flask containing a blue tinted potion. The potion was a mixture of restorative draughts and nutrient potions developed in the last year to help someone recover quicker from magical and physical exhaustion.
It was also that mixture that allowed Harry to wake before everyone else in the early morning hours. The rays of the pre-dawn sun could be seen in the windows, giving an unusual lighting in the hospital wing. Harry opened his eyes in confusion and blinked tiredly at the blurry area around him. His body screamed in protest as he reached over to the bedside table for his glasses. It seemed to take an incredibly long time to find them since every movement sent an additional spark of pain up his arm and down his spine. Biting back a moan of pain, Harry slid his glasses on and blinked as everything came into focus.
There was a privacy screen to his left and another screen to his right behind a chair that was currently occupied by a sleeping Sirius. Harry stared at his godfather in confusion before the memories of what happened the previous night washed over him. It was so hard to believe that so much could have happened in one night. It was so hard to believe that less than twenty-four hours ago Harry's main focus had been the end of the year exams. Not anymore. Now, Harry was worried about how he was going to survive without Dumbledore in his life. Dumbledore had always been there to help, never criticizing any of the mistakes Harry had made over the years.
Letting out a weary sigh, Harry slowly sat up, wincing every step of the way. His healer training was telling him to listen to his body and remain still but that was the last thing Harry wanted to do. There was absolutely nothing to do in bed other than think which meant replaying the previous night over and over in his mind. Carefully, Harry pulled the needle out of the back of his hand and removed some strange looking patches from his arms before slowly sliding out of bed. His feet touched the cold stone floor, sending sparks of pain up his legs. Gripping the bed for support, Harry slowly walked to the foot of the bed, his body seeming to grow stronger with each step. He closed his eyes and mentally thanked Hogwarts. She knew him too well.
By the time he had walked past the screen, Harry was able to stand without relying on any support. His eyes widened at the amount of occupied beds. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were sleeping in a set of beds next to beds occupied by Ron, Ginny and Hermione. None of them appeared to be injured which was a relief. Harry's gaze fell on Bill Weasley across the room. He cringed at the site of Bill's face and immediately felt his legs moving closer.
A need to do something filled him. He was barely aware that Fleur was sleeping at Bill's bedside as he reached Bill and took a good look at the eldest Weasely sibling's badly slashed face covered with horrible smelling green gel. Slowly, Harry raised his hands and held them just above Bill's face. Warmth filled him in addition to intense warmth that seemed to enter from the soles of his feet and expand upwards as his eyes slowly closed. Harry knew instantly that Hogwarts was helping him and let the warmth move towards his hands. Lowering his hands slightly, Harry allowed himself to fall into the trance and concentrated on healing. He could feel the poisoned wounds on Bill's face and urged the skin to mend.
For a second, Harry thought he heard a gasp but was too focused on the magic flowing through him. He could feel the wounds closing and started to feel something deeper, something that felt rather familiar. It almost felt like something that Harry had felt when he had healed Remus but not as concentrated. Bill was infected but he wasn't a true werewolf. This wolf was more subdued but seemed to have the same protective urges that Moony had.
Harry's eyes flew open as the intense warmed quickly vanished only to be replaced with the emptiness that he normally felt after healing extensive injuries. He swayed on his feet and immediately felt arms wrap around him. It was only a matter of seconds before Harry's legs gave out, causing him and the person holding onto him to sink to the floor. It was then that Harry noticed Madam Pomfrey rushing to Bill's side as Bill sat up and looked at Harry in alarm.
Gasps filled the room as everyone stared at Bill's face. Instead of grotesque slashes were red scars that would most likely never fade. Bill slowly reached up and touched his face, his fingers running over every scar. Bill's gaze shifted to Fleur who let out an excited squeal and jumped into Bill's arms. Waves of relief and happiness flowed off of both of them as they cried into each other's shoulders. No one had the courage to interrupt them.
Madam Pomfrey let out an annoyed huff, hurried around to bed and knelt down in front of Harry. "I don't know what you were thinking, Harry," she said as she checked his pulse. "What have I told you about overexertion of your magical reserves? You're still recovering from injuries sustained last night!"
Arms tightened around Harry as a familiar voice filled his ears. "Not now, Poppy," Sirius warned through his teeth. "You can yell at him later. We needed to think of something to say quickly."
Harry shook his head slowly. "It wasn't me," he insisted. "Something was pulling me to Bill. I couldn't stop it." Okay, that was a partial lie but there were too many people to even consider mentioning his connection to Hogwarts. At least this way no one would think Harry could control what happened.
"That'll work," Sirius muttered and helped Harry to his feet. "Back to bed, kiddo. I think a few more hours of sleep could do all of us all some good."
A hand maneuvered Harry's left arm to settle along a set of shoulders. Looking up, Harry saw Ron with a compassionate smile on his face. Sirius followed suit with Harry's other arm which was slightly awkward because of the height difference even with Ron slouching. The moment Harry was away from Bill's bed, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley rushed over to Bill's side. Whispers filled the room as Harry was tucked back into bed. Great. Just what I need. One of these days you're going to learn to think before acting, Harry.
"That's enough!" Madam Pomfrey announced as she reached Harry's bed. "This is the hospital wing not the Great Hall!" Silence filled the room allowing Madam Pomfrey to turn her attention to Harry. She immediately inserted the needle back into the back of his hand after sterilizing it with a flick of her wand. "You will stay in this bed for at least the next twenty-four hours, Harry," she said sternly then lowered her voice. "You know better than this. Mr. Weasley's injuries could have been tended to at a later date."
Harry stared up at the ceiling, trying to ignore the concern and disappointment that was circling around Madam Pomfrey. She didn't understand. Helping people was what he did. But I couldn't help Professor Dumbledore. I couldn't stop it. Yes, Dumbledore had refused the help but that wasn't the point. The point was that it wasn't enough. Regardless of everything he did last night, someone still died. His abilities didn't count for a thing because there would always be something out there more powerful than what he could counter. That realization scared him more than he cared to admit.
"Back to bed, Mr. Weasley," Madam Pomfrey said sternly. "No arguments." Reluctantly, Ron left allowing Sirius and Madam Pomfrey to move closer to Harry. Madam Pomfrey started waving her wand over Harry while Sirius moved into Harry's line of sight. "No additional damage, Sirius," she said quietly. "However, I want him to stay on this potion for at least four more hours. With the Headmaster…we just can't take any chances."
Sirius let out a sigh and nodded as he started running his fingers through Harry's hair. "I know you're hurting, Harry," he said softly. "Please talk to me."
Harry slowly shifted his gaze to look at Sirius. "He's really gone," he said softly.
Sirius' gaze fell as he nodded. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asked as he sat down on the edge of Harry's bed and took his hand. Harry shook his head as he glanced around nervously. "Good point, Harry," Sirius said quietly. "We'll talk about it later with Moony, all right?" Harry nodded. "I should let you know that Scrimgeour will be stopping by sometime today to speak to you, that is, if you feel up to it."
Harry let out a frustrated sigh as he closed his eyes. He really didn't want to deal with Scrimgeour's 'support the Ministry' campaign at the moment. He probably thinks I'll agree to be his puppet now that Dumbledore's… Harry shook his head and forced the thought out of his mind. He wasn't going to waste his time on possible schemes going through the mind of the Minister of Magic. It would only give him a migraine.
As Harry slowly drifted back off to sleep, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley visited his bedside, quietly thanked him and kissed him on the forehead. The next thing Harry knew was that distant voices were slowly pulling him back to consciousness. Someone was holding his right hand while someone else was slowly running fingers through his hair. The voices faded in and out like waves striking the shore and pulling back. It made it incredibly difficult to figure out what was being said but Harry found that he didn't really care. Sleeping seemed to be an extremely good idea at the moment.
"I can't believe the 'Daily Prophet' got that picture."
"At least they're giving credit to where it's due. Scrimgeour can't deny anything now. Harry was the one who protected Hogwarts last night, not the Aurors. Any idea what took them so long to arrive?"
"There was an attack on a Muggle town at the exact same time. It's on page four since the 'Hogsmeade Attack' covers the first three pages. Four Death Eaters caught and another four killed, including Fenrir Greyback."
"What's the verdict?"
"His magical levels are leveling out at last. He wasn't as receptive to the potion as I hoped he would be."
"His body fought the potion, Sirius. It's not a common reaction but it was a possibility."
"And how do you know so much about this, Moony?"
"Poppy and I have been researching this potion ever since it was announced, for Harry's sake. We knew it was only a matter of time before he needed it. Harry's never been one to say no when someone needed help."
"You think he tried to heal Dumbledore last night?"
"It wouldn't surprise me. All the signs were there. Poppy, didn't you say it looked like the poison had somehow been altered?"
"Not necessarily altered, Remus. Harry's abilities don't alter ailments. I believe he simply gave Albus' immune system a powerful boost to delay the poison's affects. Albus never should have been able to duel anyone, especially a dozen Death Eaters. Harry certainly did everything he could but he was only delaying the inevitable. I just hope Harry doesn't blame himself…"
An arm burrowed under his shoulders and pulled his upper body upright with ease. Slowly, Harry blinked his eyes open only to close them quickly with the intense brightness that filled his vision. His head swam in a sea of confusion as he was slowly lowered onto a mountain of pillows, propping his upper body at a comfortable angle. His glasses were slid on his face as Harry tentatively blinked his eyes to adjust to the bright sunlight. Slowly, everything adjusted and Harry was able to see that his bed was surrounded by people. Madam Pomfrey, Sirius and Remus were on his left while Ron, Hermione and Ginny were on his right. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Tonks, Bill, and Professor McGonagall were stationed at the foot of the bed. Every single person had a concerned look on their face as Madam Pomfrey quickly checked Harry over with a few waves of her wand.
"The grogginess is expected with the number of potions we've given you," Madam Pomfrey said as she pocketed her wand. "You should be back to normal in a few hours. Until then, however, you will stay in bed, Harry. If you have a problem with that then I do know several spells that will bind you to the bed."
Harry let out a tired sigh and nodded. He really wasn't in the mood to fight with anyone at the moment. "What's going on?" he asked softly.
Sirius sat down and grasped Harry's hand. "We thought we should update you on everything before Scrimgeour arrives," he said. "The 'Daily Prophet' somehow got a picture of you fighting the Death Eaters and put it on the front page so we can't hide what happened last night. Scrimgeour knows that you were instrumental to the victory and he's going to ask questions."
Harry pinched the bridge of his nose in frustration. "What kind of questions?" he asked. "If it's about where we went—"
"—then we will refrain from answering," Remus interrupted calmly. "We can't let anyone find out about that. Questions are being raised, however, concerning the front gate and some of the destruction to Hogsmeade. Eyewitnesses claim that something powerful seemed to be fighting with you before we arrived."
Harry stared at Remus in confusion before realization struck. There had been no eyewitnesses other than the Death Eaters. Then how did the 'Daily Prophet' get that picture? Someone must have been at Hogsmeade but if that were true then why hadn't Harry felt their presence? They most likely arrived after the fighting started. I was too busy trying to survive to notice them. "There was no one else that I was aware of," Harry said smoothly as he met Remus' gaze. "I was rather busy at the time."
Sirius and Remus shared a glance before returning their attention to Harry. "That's what we thought," Remus said reassuringly. "We just wanted to make sure. Scrimgeour is currently under a lot of pressure because of this. Not many people are comfortable with the fact that a group of teenagers were all that stood between Death Eaters and their children. He will most likely be incredibly short tempered and demand answers that he has no right asking."
"Isn't that what he always does?" Harry asked bitterly. "Why should today be any different?"
Hermione gave Harry's arm a sympathetic squeeze. "We all know how much you cared about Professor Dumbledore," she said softly.
Harry inhaled deeply as he looked away. "I don't want to talk about it," he said through his teeth then shifted his gaze to Remus. "When is Scrimgeour coming?"
"A few hours," Remus said carefully then looked at Professor McGonagall. "Perhaps we could have some time alone?"
"Of course, Remus," Professor McGonagall said sympathetically. "I trust you will find me later."
Remus nodded and shifted his gaze to the Weaselys. They took the hint and reluctantly left but not before giving Harry's legs a comforting squeeze. Bill looked like he wanted to say something but settled for giving Harry a grateful nod before following his parents. Ron and Hermione were more hesitant to leave but a stern look from Sirius stopped any protests. Ron and Hermione quickly pulled Harry into an awkward group hug before reluctantly leaving. Madam Pomfrey also took her leave, closing the door behind her.
Silence filled the room as Remus sat down on the foot of Harry's bed, his injured arm still bandaged. Sirius looked extremely stressed and in need of a few hours of sleep. It made Harry wonder what had exactly been happening over the past hours and how much of it he would be told. There were so many uncertainties now. Without Dumbledore as Headmaster, would Hogwarts remain open? Would everyone be sent home to cower in their homes in fear instead of learning how to defend themselves? Dumbledore wouldn't want that in a million years.
"Harry," Sirius said as he held up a familiar looking locket hanging on a golden chain, "Poppy gave me this. It was hidden in Dumbledore's robes."
Taking the locket, Harry stared at it closely, almost transfixed. It was smaller than what Harry thought it had been and there seemed to be something missing. Flipping it over, Harry realized what it was. There was no Serpentine 'S' that was supposedly Slytherin's mark. Closing his eyes, Harry tried to reach out with his senses but felt nothing, not even from Hogwarts. That confirmed Harry's fear as dread filled him. This wasn't Slytherin's locket. This wasn't a Horcrux. It was just an ordinary locket.
Anger and frustration boiled in him as held the locket tightly in his fist. He couldn't believe it. Everything they went through last night was for nothing! Dumbledore had died for nothing! Unable to hold everything in, Harry threw the locket at the privacy screen before burying his face in his hands. He didn't know if he wanted to scream, cry or attack something. He just knew everything now felt all the more hopeless.
Arms wrapped around Harry and held him as his body started to shake. "It's all right, kiddo," Sirius said reassuringly. "Just let it out. We know it hurts but you have to remember that Dumbledore knew what he was doing. He knew there was a chance this would happen. This was Dumbledore's choice, Harry."
"But it was for nothing!" Harry protested angrily. "It wasn't even a real Horcrux!"
"No Harry," Remus said softly causing Sirius and Harry to pull away and look at him. In one hand, Remus had the locket and in the other, he held an old scrap of parchment. His brows were frowned in concentration as he tired to decipher what was on it. "It's not the Horcurx but it is a clue. 'To the Dark Lord, I know I will be dead long before you read this but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret. I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can. I face death in the hope that when you meet your match you will be mortal once more. R.A.B.'"
Sirius snatched the parchment out of Remus' hand and looked at it closely. His face slowly paled before his eyes closed and his shoulders sagged. Disbelief and guilt poured off him in overpowering waves that Harry found it difficult to breathe. Arms wrapped around Harry's shoulders and pulled him away from Sirius but the waves remained, drowning him in despair.
"Sirius!" Remus scolded. "Control yourself! Look what you're doing to Harry!"
Harry let out a relieved breath as the emotions were pulled back slightly, allowing him to think clearly. Sirius was staring at him apologetically with so much pain in his eyes that left Harry speechless. The only times Harry had seen that look was when Sirius had talked about severe mistakes he had made in the past. "What is it, Sirius?" Harry asked hesitantly. "Do you know who R.A.B. is?"
Sirius looked away and nodded. "I recognize the handwriting," he said quietly. "My brother wrote this. Regulus Arcturus Black. This was what got him killed. He knew…we could have known what we were facing…"
"Sirius," Remus warned. "Regulus made his own choices. At least we know Voldemort doesn't have it or knows what Harry and Dumbledore had been up to last night. All we need to do now is find out where Regulus could have hidden the real Horcrux…which we will do after everything calms down."
That was certainly one way of looking at it. Harry knew they couldn't dwell on mistakes made but it was so hard to keep a positive frame of mind after so much had gone wrong. Dumbledore's death had opened Harry's eyes to one heart shattering fact: no one was safe from harm. Any one of them could be killed at any moment in this war. That absolutely frightened Harry. He hadn't forgotten last year when he had thought Remus had died and that was enough to keep him going. The sooner this war ended, the better off his family would be.
The dam had been broken. For the remainder of the afternoon, Harry talked with Sirius and Remus about the previous night and what the immediate future held for them. Decisions needed to be made, decisions that would not be accepted by those who did not know the entire situation. At the current time, Professor McGonagall was acting Headmistress and Professor Slughorn would take on Snape's duties as Head of Slytherin. Snape's 'betrayal' was certainly a sore topic, especially when Harry relayed what Dumbledore had told him. Sirius was still extremely skeptical while Remus maintained a 'we'll see' attitude. This was all proof Harry needed to know that he couldn't tell Sirius what he had learned about Snape's past. There was just too much history between the two of them for rationality to be considered.
Harry had yet to decide whether to follow Dumbledore's word or do what his anger and rage wanted him to do. He wouldn't go out searching for Snape or something stupid like that. However, the next time they met face to face, Harry knew Snape would need an incredibly convincing defense for his actions. Harry would never trust Snape because he knew Dumbledore was probably the only person Snape was loyal to. With Dumbledore's death, Snape had a choice to make and that choice would determine everything. How do you know the truth when your life has been centered around lies for so long?
The privacy screens had been removed when Dumbledore's body had been taken to be prepared for the funeral which would take place within the next few days. Hagrid, Moody, Mr. Weasley and Professor McGonagall had surrounded the floating body to an undisclosed location, leaving Harry feeling incredibly empty. He didn't think he was ready to think of never seeing Professor Dumbledore again.
The entire Defense Association visited just before dinner, all wearing their scars from the previous night proudly. Due to the article in the 'Daily Prophet', the entire wizarding world knew that Harry Potter's Defense Association had played a large role in the victory at Hogsmeade. Current members were receiving letters from the Ministry, thanking them for their contribution while non-members were once again begging to join the group. Seventh year members even mentioned that they were getting job offers to enter Auror training which wasn't surprising. Last night was a clear indication to what Harry had told Scrimgeour months ago. There simply weren't enough Aurors to protect everyone.
It was during dinner in the hospital wing when Harry, Sirius and Remus were warned by Madam Pomfrey that Scrimgeour had finally arrived. At the present time, Scrimgeour was speaking to the student body in the Great Hall and would most likely come to the hospital wing after dinner which was when Remus was supposed to meet with Professor McGonagall. Sirius, of course, wasn't about to leave Harry's side which wasn't necessarily a good thing. It had been a long day for Sirius which meant his temper was bound to be shorter than usual.
After another tedious examination by Madam Pomfrey, Harry was declared healthy enough to leave…in the morning. Harry could tell by the faint waves of amusement that she was enjoying her job at the moment. She was doing this because she knew he hated staying in the hospital wing. Sirius and Remus were no help either. They seemed to agree that one more night away from the masses would be good for Harry.
When voices could be heard from the hallway, Remus wished Harry good luck and left to meet with McGonagall. Madam Pomfrey gave Harry a sympathetic smile before she retreated to her office leaving Harry and Sirius alone. As the seconds passed, Harry grew nervous and turned to stare out the window at the setting sun. The more he thought about it, the more Harry realized that he was currently at a turning point. He had his own choice to make. He couldn't do this alone. He knew that now. He needed help. The Order needed help.
The door opened with a loud creek, startling Harry out of his thoughts. Sirius was immediately on his feet with his wand at the ready only to lower it when he caught sight of Rufus Scrimgeour standing in the doorway, his yellowish eyes staring directly at Sirius. Without a word, Scrimgeour started to limp towards Harry's bed, his walking stick clinking loudly throughout the room. Sirius remained where he was, blocking Harry from Scrimgeour. Harry continued to stare out the window, trying to block the waves of tension bouncing off the walls.
"Black," Scrimgeour said roughly as he reached the bed. "From what I hear you are partially responsible for the training the Defense Association received."
Sirius pocketed his wand and enfolded his arms across his chest. "I only helped with the physical training," he said stiffly.
Scrimgeour nodded in understanding. "Which is something many of the current Aurors overlook," he said. "You did an excellent job with them, Black. You've also helped prove how wrong many of us have been. Children can make a difference in this war. They just need the chance to do so."
Scrimgeour moved around the foot of the bed so he had a clear view of Harry. "My condolences, Mr. Potter, for your loss," he said sincerely. "I may have had my disagreements with Dumbledore but we all knew what a great wizard he was."
Harry remained silent, waiting for the inevitable proposal.
"I would also like to commend you for your hard work in preparing the Defense Association," Scrimgeour continued. "I'm sure you have heard by now that several of them have been offered positions in the Ministry to help in the war. I have spoken to Professor McGonagall concerning the remainder of the term. We will have Aurors stationed around Hogwarts and on the train for the ride back to King's Cross Station."
"What about next year?" Harry asked softly.
Scrimgeour let out a long sigh. "That is really up to the parents and the governors," he said. "Without Dumbledore here as Headmaster—"
"—Hogwarts is still Hogwarts," Harry interrupted firmly as he turned and faced Scrimgeour. "This is the safest place anyone can be as long as people don't abuse the privilege. Do you really think children will be safe at home? Every student in the D.A. is now on Voldemort's enemy list. The only way for them to survive is to learn here at Hogwarts."
Scrimgeour pulled up a chair and sat down. "What do you propose, Mr. Potter?" he asked in a business-like tone.
Harry let out a sigh as he rubbed his eyes underneath his glasses. Why do I get myself into these situations? "Increase security at Hogwarts, check students for the Dark Mark and possibly have an Auror employed as teacher," he said at last. "With Professor McGonagall as Headmistress, there are now two spots open. Find someone talented in Defense or Transfiguration."
"That's plausible," Scrimgeour said with a slow nod. "I'll speak to Professor McGonagall. I suppose having one of your guardians filling either post is out of the question."
Harry glanced over at Sirius for a long second before returning his gaze to Scrimgeour. There was no room for pride anymore. "Minister, despite our difference in opinions, we want the same thing," Harry said honestly. "We want Voldemort dead. This isn't about me, the Ministry's image or even you. This war is about an insane killer who will do everything in his power to destroy the world as we know it." He turned back around to the window and stared out. "I owe it to Dumbledore to finish his work."
There was a long silence before Scrimgeour cleared his throat. "I agree, Mr. Potter," he said. "What do you have in mind?"
Breathing deeply, Harry felt a hand grasp his. Thank you, Sirius. "A truce, so to speak," Harry said as his gaze fell. "I will give you a part of the truth to what Dumbledore had been up to for the past year and what I will be doing in his place. In return, the Ministry won't interfere in what I will be doing and will do everything they can to actually prepare the wizarding community for this war."
Scrimgeour eyed Harry suspiciously. "You're asking a lot for giving so little," he said gruffly.
Harry wasn't about to be swayed as he met Scrimgeour's stare. "Take it or leave it," he said firmly.
There was a long silence before Scrimgeour nodded. "Very well," he said tightly. "I give you my word that the Ministry will aid you in your endeavors, Mr. Potter, and will do everything in our power to prepare the wizarding community as a whole for the war."
Harry nodded and let out a calming breath. "Before the first war ended, Voldemort was seeking means to make himself immortal," he said softly. "Voldemort fears death more than anything. He discovered a way to ensure his survival if his body were to perish. Professor Dumbledore was trying to prevent that from happening. I will try to prevent that from happening."
Scrimgeour stared at Harry in disbelief. "You're sure about this?" he asked. Harry nodded. Scrimgeour let out a long breath, shaking his head slowly. "How can I help you, Mr. Potter?"
Harry glanced at Sirius, who was staring at him proudly before turning back to face Scrimgeour. "I need Auror Tonks and Auror Shacklebolt to help me with this," he said cautiously. "This work we're going to be doing is dangerous and I'd feel better with a few trained Aurors to help us." Scrimgeour opened his mouth but Harry held up a hand to silence him. "I trust Tonks and Auror Shacklebolt. They've been there for me in the past and I know they will follow me into battle if necessary."
Scrimgeour rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I'll agree to Tonks since she is a part of your family," he said, "and I'll do what I can to have Shacklebolt reassigned to your protection squad. As far as the Ministry is concerned, you are now required to have an Auror shadowing you. Of course, no one will suspect Aurors coming to see me if you needed to pass something on. Am I correct to assume that Black and Lupin will be a part of this group?" Harry nodded. "Very well," Scrimgeour said as he rose to his feet. "I'll keep you up to date, Mr. Potter. I trust you will do the same."
Harry nodded as he felt some of the weight on his shoulders lift. "Thank you, sir," he said with a relieved smile.
Scrimgeour nodded, bid farewell and limped out of the hospital wing. Harry and Sirius watched him go in silence. The moment the door closed, Sirius pulled Harry into a fierce embrace. "I'm so proud of you, kiddo," Sirius said into Harry's ear. "Dumbledore would be too."
Harry could only hope that Sirius was right.
Dumbledore's funeral was scheduled for the following morning. All classes and examinations were postponed for the day to allow everyone to grieve. Aurors had been stationed to scan every witch and wizard who wanted to attend the funeral with secrecy sensors. There were rumors that people were even being checked for the Dark Mark however no one would confirm or deny it.
The entire Defense Association was waiting for Harry when he was released from the hospital wing. It seemed that the D.A. had resumed their post of protecting Harry from every possible threat. Ron and Hermione had taken up offering silent support which was usually a reassuring hand on the shoulder from Ron and a comforting squeeze from Hermione. Both of them seemed to understand that now wasn't the time to ask questions or talk about what they may have overheard. Rumors were still flying concerning how Harry and Dumbledore managed to be cornered by Death Eaters in the middle of the night and most of them seemed to center around Voldemort.
Scrimgeour was back for breakfast, sitting in Professor Snape's chair and talking quietly to Professor McGonagall. Madam Maxime from Beauxbatons had come and was sitting beside a distraught Hagrid, her large hand held tightly in his. In no mood to eat, Harry glanced around the hall, his eyes catching parents who had arrived to be with their children, previously graduated students comforting younger students who they most likely didn't even know and Ministry officials stationed around the large room. Everyone was wearing dress robes or their black school robes which added to the somber mood. It was difficult for Harry to concentrate with all of the emotions bouncing around. There was so much sadness mixed with regret, grief, uncertainty, and fear. It seemed that the shock had finally worn off allowing everyone to realize exactly what Dumbledore's death meant for the wizarding world.
Professor McGonagall slowly rose to her feet and waited as conversation ceased. "It's nearly time," she said firmly, her face betraying no emotion. "Please follow your Heads of Houses out to the grounds. Gryffindors, after me."
Everyone slowly filed out of the Great Hall. Harry kept his head bowed as he followed Ron and Hermione. Despite the warm day, Harry shivered as he walked through the Entrance Hall. He had never been to a funeral before but knew they were basically a formal event where people said goodbye to the departed. That was something Harry wasn't sure he could do. He knew Professor Dumbledore was gone. He just didn't know if he could say goodbye yet. It was so much easier to think that he was simply on a really long journey.
Reaching the bottom of the stone steps, Harry felt a hand on his shoulder and looked up to see Sirius and Remus. They pulled Harry away from the Gryffindors and ushered him towards the lake where there were hundreds of chairs in rows. There was an aisle in the center, separating the chairs into two groups. In front of the chairs was a large marble table that was obviously where Dumbledore's body would be put. Harry choked back a sob as tears filled his eyes. He wasn't ready for this. Why couldn't anyone see that?
An arm wrapped around his shoulders and held him steady. "I know, kiddo," Sirius said sympathetically. "Come on, Minerva wants you to sit up front since you were the closest Dumbledore had to family." At Harry's startled look, Sirius smiled. "She was there when he died, Harry. She heard you call him 'Granddad'."
Harry kept his eyes on the grass as Sirius and Remus ushered him towards the chairs. Whispers filled the air as they moved to the first row. Sirius tightened his hold and pulled Harry closer. Waiting for them in the front row were members of the Order including Mad-Eye Moody, Tonks, Charlie, and Kingsley Shacklebolt. Tonks immediately pulled Harry into a fierce embrace and kissed him on the cheek. Harry let out a shaky breath as Tonks pulled away and move to Charlie's side, her hand slipping into his. Moody and Shacklebolt both greeted Harry with a nod but their eyes couldn't hide the strong emotions flowing off them. Both men were determined to uphold their image even though they were clearly affected by Dumbledore's death.
As the chatter started to quiet down, Harry sat down between Sirius and Remus, his eyes fixed on the marble table. He barely noticed the Hogwarts staff and Scrimgeour walking past him to take the front row in the opposite group of chairs and only let out a shaky breath when Professor McGonagall stopped to give Harry's arm a reassuring squeeze. He could vaguely hear a strange sound coming from the lake but didn't bother looking to see what it was. He did, however, notice Hagrid walking towards the marble table with something wrapped in purple velvet shining with golden stars. With as careful as Hagrid was being, Harry knew it was Dumbledore's body underneath the velvet.
Tears flowed down Harry's face, as Hagrid set Dumbledore's body on the table. Sirius wrapped an arm around Harry's shoulders while Remus took hold of Harry's hand, gently rubbing the back of it with his thumb. No one said a word as Hagrid moved back to his seat while brushing away the large tears that were falling down his face. Harry couldn't bring himself to look at the velvet that had taken the form of the body lying underneath it. Letting out a wavering breath, Harry closed his eyes and just listened.
Someone walked past him and stopped before reaching the marble table. There was a brief silence before he started to speak. Harry just let the words float in one ear and out the other. No amount of words would change what he thought about Dumbledore. He knew that everyone saw Dumbledore as a powerful wizard, as a leader. To Harry, Dumbledore was someone who had to make the difficult decision when no one else would. Dumbledore did was he thought was best and even made a mistake from time to time. Basically, Dumbledore was human, just like everyone else.
Just like me.
Silence was the sign that the speech had ended. Slowly, Harry opened his eyes and looked up to see a little tufty-haired man in plain black robes walk back to his seat. Harry slowly shifted his gaze to Dumbledore's body and gasped. There were sparkles of light appearing just above it only to ignite into bright, white flames that seemed to surround Dumbledore's body. Several people screamed in shock as the flames grew higher and higher. Harry immediately had his wand in had to try to stop it but was held back by Sirius and Remus. White smoke filled the air and seemed to create odd shapes. For a moment, Harry thought he saw a phoenix flying. His suspicions were confirmed when he heard a phoenix singing. With a burst of red flames just above the white, Fawkes appeared and flew in a circle before landing on the ground in front of Harry.
Harry slowly sank to his knees as the white fire vanished to reveal a white marble tomb as Dumbledore's final resting place. His gaze shifted from Fawkes to the tomb and back to Fawkes before he opened his arms let the phoenix jump onto his lap. Harry wrapped his arms around Fawkes and buried his face into the bright red feathers. He didn't know how long he sat there holding Fawkes as their tears fell in harmony. All Harry knew was that he wasn't the only one who had lost a member of his family.
Fawkes had lost a brother.
The remaining days at Hogwarts passed slowly for many. Aurors were now seen patrolling the hallways and had been instructed to report any sort of suspicious activity to Professor McGonagall. Sirius had taken over as Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and Remus was helping Professor McGonagall with Transfiguration while she was adapting to Headmistress duties. Tonks had been assigned to Harry's security and Shacklebolt would be joining her when his replacement had been trained.
Harry had been moved out of the Gryffindor Tower and into the Marauder Quarters 'for safety reasons' although Harry knew that it was really because Sirius and Remus were still worried at how hard he had taken Dumbledore's death. Truthfully, Harry knew he would most likely be suffering from nightmares if Fawkes hadn't taken up sleeping beside Harry every night. For some reason, Fawkes' presence made Harry feel that a part of Dumbledore was still there.
Ron and Hermione spent every moment possible with Harry in the Marauders Quarters talking about anything and everything. Harry had eventually told them everything that had happened that night along with revealing the final secrets he had kept from them. They had expected the healing ability after what had happened to Bill but they had certainly been shocked to find out about Harry's connection to Hogwarts. Hermione had scolded herself for not recognizing the signs before running off to the library for research. Ron had merely shrugged his shoulders and said, "Only you, Harry. This could only happen to you."
Ron had informed Harry that Mrs. Weasley now accepted Fleur after a confrontation in the hospital wing involving Bill's injuries. The wedding was still scheduled for August since Bill's injuries were non-existent now, thanks to Harry's healing. Harry had tried to explain what he felt concerning Bill's wolf side to Ron but Ron looked as confused as ever. According to Ron, Bill was still Bill. He just had a craving for rare steaks every now and then.
One of the harder discussions had been concerning future plans. Ron and Hermione had been shocked to learn that Harry wouldn't be going home with them. Harry would be spending the summer at Hogwarts and focus on finding the remaining Horcruxes. Hogwarts had the most comprehensive library for wizarding history which was what they currently needed. There was also the possibility of Hogwarts being able to help which would significantly easier when school wasn't in session. Ron and Hermione had instantly offered to stay and help but were immediately halted when Harry brought up their parents. In the end, Ron and Hermione agreed to speak with their parents and hopefully be able to come to Hogwarts after Bill's wedding.
Once again the Leaving Feast was decorated with black drapes on the wall behind the teachers' table instead of the colors for the winner of the House Cup. Tonight was a tribute to Professor Dumbledore. Harry looked up and the empty chair at the center of the table and let out a shaky breath. He could almost see Dumbledore sitting there with his eyes twinkling at everyone before rising to his feet, saying something that made absolutely no sense and beginning the feast. Harry blinked his tears away and looked back at the chair to see it empty once again. He forced himself to look at his plate. It was so hard to see places Dumbledore had been not so long ago and accept that he would never be there again. That was the main reason Harry avoided Dumbledore's office like the plague. There were just too many memories.
Professor McGonagall gave the end-of-term speech which revealed that Hogwarts would indeed be open next year for those who wished to return. She also mentioned that there would be tighter security and punishments for any type of 'questionable magic' used. The majority of the student body was relieved since there had been rumors of Hogwarts closing. The question now was how many parents would allow their children to return.
The following morning arrived and in no time the students had their trunks packed for the train ride home. Harry had ventured down to the Entrance Hall to say goodbye to his friends. He found himself pulled into more embraces than he ever thought possible, especially by seventh year students. Cho and Katie had insisted Harry contact them if he needed anything since they owed him one for all of the training. Ron and Hermione's goodbyes had been hard but Harry promised that he would keep them informed and contact them if he needed help.
When the final Thestral-drawn carriage left for Hogsmeade, Harry turned to see Sirius, Remus, Tonks, Shacklebolt and Professor McGonagall standing at the bottom of the staircase, waiting for him. Despite the stress she was under, Professor McGonagall insisted on being a part of Harry's quest even if it was just as an advisor. Harry had a feeling that this was her way of actually doing something about what happened to her friend and mentor for so many years.
"Well Harry," Professor McGonagall said curiously. "Shall we get to work?"
There's no time like the present. "Yes, Professor," Harry said with a nod. "Lead the way."
Professor McGonagall smiled slightly and turned to lead the way to her office by the Transfiguration classroom. They had so many areas to cover. Harry had made the mistake last time of being caught unprepared. He wasn't going to be put in that situation again. He didn't have Professor Dumbledore's knowledge or experience so he would have to do things his own way. Harry just hoped that his way would work and he would make Professor Albus Dumbledore proud.
A/N: The end. The final chapter, Rise of the Protector is up. Check out my Author page to find it.