Author's Notes: Well, I finally got this finished. It took a while because I wanted to make sure the ending was just right.
Also, I know I'm skipping 5 months, but I really wanted to do this right. Later I might do some filler, but not right now.
Ch. 5 Worlds Change
The full moon was making the snow on the grounds of Hogwarts Castle light up and glitter as thestral drawn carriages pulled up to the front steps of the castle. Harry, Mallory, Tobias, and Sirius stepped out of the first carriage and Ron, Hermione, and Ginny hopped out of the second one. As the thestrals turned and headed off, Sirius pulled out his wand and magiced the luggage up to Gryffindor Tower before pocketing his wand and changing into Padfoot. Tobias attached the harness and Sirius walked over to Harry, the blind teenager taking the handle and giving Sirius a pet on the head before the group headed inside and into the Great Hall where the students that had returned early were enjoying dinner.
Sitting by themselves at one end of the Gryffindor table, Tobias pulled a plate of chicken over and put portions on everyone's plates while Hermione, Ginny, and Mallory dished out potatoes, vegetables, and butterflake rolls oozing with the house-elves' own garlic butter while Ron poured goblets of hot spiced apple cider for everyone.
"I've got to give the recipe for these rolls to Mom," Mallory said, as she pulled a roll apart. "She'd love them. And Dad would like them too."
"Bet Dobby would fork over the recipe in an instant, Mal," Tobias replied, pulling apart a chicken wing.
"Harry!" Everyone at the table, except for Harry, turned to see Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood coming up to the Gryffindor table, arm in arm and looking flushed but happy. "Harry, I was wondering if I could ask you for some help," Neville said as he sat down opposite. "It's about the lessons I've been having with Dumbledore."
"Something wrong?" Harry asked, taking a sip of cider.
Neville nodded before remembering that Harry couldn't see him. "Yeah. Dumbledore said that he was worried that Voldemort might be stepping up his timetable so he wants me to retrieve this memory from Professor Slughorn."
Harry nodded with a knowing look on his face. Getting up from the table, Harry took Sirius's harness and Neville followed the two up to Gryffindor Tower and to the boys' dormitory where Harry went to his trunk and started feeling around inside for something. Finally, he emerged, holding a small bottle of golden potion. "Hold onto that, Nev," Harry said, handing over the potion. "If Slughorn doesn't want to give up the memory, maybe you can improve the odds a bit."
"Thanks, Harry," Neville said, pocketing the potion. "I really appreciate this."
"What are friends for, Nev?" Harry replied, grinning.
Two days later at breakfast, Neville filled everyone in on his evening with Slughorn and the results of using the Felix Felicis.
"Horcruxes?" Hermione murmured under her breath. "Interesting. When we were at Sirius's mother's house there was a book on soul preservation. I remember that there was a chapter on Horcruxes."
Harry stood on the pretext of going to McGonagall's office, and after pulling his cane from an inner pocket of his robes and unfolding it, made his way out of the Great Hall and up to Dumbledore's office. Just as Harry raised a hand to knock on Dumbledore's office door, he heard distraught voice coming from inside.
"Headmaster, I can not do this. The cost is too great and—"
Dumbledore's voice was calm and quiet and Harry pressed his ear to the cool wood of the door to listen. "Severus, I understand your reservations, but it must be done. There is no other way to go forward with the plan."
"But I can't do it, Dumbledore!" Snape shouted. "If I do this… If I…murder…"
"With a shred of luck, it will be Mr. Malfoy doing the act. I do not want you directly involved, Severus. For your sake, not the sake of my plan," Dumbledore said, calmly. "I am sorry, Severus. But there is no other way."
5 Months Later
"Professor Dumbledore. What are you doing here, sir?" Neville asked as he and Harry made their way out onto the grounds on a surprisingly warm sunny May afternoon.
"Ahhh, Mr. Potter and Mr. Longbottom. I was hoping to speak with you both at the same time," Dumbledore said, briskly. "If the two of you would please join me in my office…"
Harry and Neville nodded and followed Dumbledore into the circular office and sat down. Dumbledore gazed intently at the two students sitting before him: Harry Potter and Neville Longbottom. What contrasts they were. Harry had arrived at Hogwarts so eager to follow in his brother and parents' footsteps while Neville had been quiet, shy, and uncomfortable with his status as 'The Boy Who Lived'.
Under the right circumstances the two boys could have been in opposite places. Harry from a broken home, and Neville with the happy and free life.
Realizing that he could no longer delay the inevitable, Dumbledore addressed Neville first. "Neville, I called you here because I have located a possible horcrux. If you still wish to accompany me, then we will leave right after dinner this evening."
"Yes, sir," Neville said, calmly, though Harry could detect a slight waver in the other boy's tone.
Dumbledore's blue eyes focused on Harry next and even without sight, Harry could feel the headmaster's gaze. "Harry, it is my wish that you not finish your final year at Hogwarts. Rather I have made arrangements for you to be trained as our Defense Against the Dark Arts Teacher."
"Sir," Harry started. He was shocked. Dumbledore wanted him, Harry, to be a teacher? "How am I supposed to teach if I'm blind?"
"Remus Lupin will assist you with the book work while you will focus on the more practical aspects," Dumbledore explained.
"Yes, sir," Harry replied, nodding.
"Excellent," the headmaster replied. "Now, Neville. If you would be so kind as to leave for a moment I wish to speak with Harry alone."
Neville nodded and stood, turning to leave the room. Harry heard the door shut and asked, cautiously, "Is there something wrong, sir?"
"Yes and no, Harry," Dumbledore replied as he stood and Harry heard him pacing the room. "I know that you have often wished that it was you and not Neville who was targeted by Voldemort that night. I wish that I had done a better job of protecting my students from such evil, but sadly what has happened can not be reversed. When I leave here tonight with Neville…. If tonight goes the way I believe it will, I will need you to do something for me."
Harry nodded. "Anything, sir."
Dumbledore stopped and looked Harry in the face before continuing. "Once Neville and I leave tonight, I want you to come here to my office and stay here. No matter what happens, you must keep yourself out of harm's way. Do I have your promise, Harry?"
Harry looked up and though he couldn't tell, made eye contact with Dumbledore for the first time in year. "I promise, sir," Harry replied before leaving the room.
Outside Dumbledore's office, Neville asked, "What did Dumbledore want?"
"He wants me to stay in his office tonight in case something happens," Harry said, shrugging. After a moment though, he stopped. "Nev, find the others and make sure everyone gets a taste of Felix Felicis after you and Dumbledore leave."
"Okay, Harry," Neville said, lifting an eyebrow. "What about you?"
In the Gryffindor Common Room, Harry told Ginny about meeting with Dumbledore. Ginny put her arms around Harry and felt him hug back. "I'll see you later, Ginny," Harry promised as he breathed in the scent of her hair.
"Be safe, Harry," Ginny murmured, never wanting to leave the safety of Harry's embrace.
When Neville and Harry arrived at Dumbledore's office they found the headmaster dressed in dark purple robes and a traveling cloak. "Ready, Neville?" Dumbledore asked.
"Yes, sir," Neville replied and pulled his own cloak on.
"Then you and I will go to Hogsmeade and proceed from there," Dumbledore replied before placing a hand on Harry's shoulder. Harry looked up in the direction of Dumbledore's voice as he spoke. "Harry, my books and trinkets are at your disposal. Good night to you." With a final shoulder squeeze, Dumbledore swept out, followed by Neville.
Harry sat down in Dumbledore's office after closing the door and pondered Dumbledore's last words. Harry tried to make them sound innocent, but he couldn't shake the feeling that Dumbledore's 'good night' sounded more like 'good-bye'. Like the headmaster knew that he would never see Harry again.
It had been a half hour since Neville and Harry had left the Great Hall after a hurried dinner and Sirius was starting to wonder where his youngest godson had gotten to. Running up to the Gryffindor common room, Sirius opened Tobias's trunk and started searching, finally pulling out a worn piece of parchment. Tapping it with his wand, Sirius said, "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good." Once the Marauder's Map materialized, Sirius looked over each floor of the castle, finally seeing a dot labeled 'Harry Potter' moving around in Dumbledore's office.
Two shortcuts and a secret passage later, Sirius was outside Dumbledore's office, knocking on the door. "Harry, it's Sirius. Can I come in?"
"Yeah, sure," Harry replied.
Sirius opened the door and was surprised to find all the lights extinguished except for a fire roaring happily in the fireplace. The light from the flames made the small instruments on tables glitter and while it make Fawkes's red feathers seem even darker, his gold feathers became the brightest part of the room. "Thought you might want some company."
"Dumbledore's afraid something might happen to me," Harry muttered, pacing the floor. After a moment, he stopped. "Sirius, where are you?"
Sirius watched Harry reach out a hand, feeling for his godfather and Sirius stepped forward until Harry's hand hit his chest. "I'm right here, Prongslet.," Sirius said, hugging Harry.
Harry hugged back before going to sit down on a sofa in the corner. "Thanks for being here, Sirius."
Sirius smiled and sat next to Harry. "No problem, Harry."
Harry was quiet for a few long moments, pulling his sunglasses off and playing with them, before saying, "You know that what I miss the most isn't even Quidditch?" Sirius turned to look at Harry. "I miss sitting at a table with Hermione, Ron, Neville, Luna, Tobias, Mallory, Fred and George. Fred or George would say something about Rom and Hermione's relationship and Ron's ears would turn red. I miss seeing everyone. I miss seeing the Great Hall at Christmas or Halloween…. I miss seeing Ginny."
Sirius could thing of nothing to say as he watched tears fall from Harry's sightless eyes so he just put a fatherly arm around him and gave a gentle squeeze.
Some hours later, a sound like a cannon blast shook the walls of Hogwarts Castle.
Harry leapt off of the sofa where he'd been trying to nap and reached out for Sirius. "Sirius? What is it? What's happening?"
Sirius took Harry's outstretched hand, saying, "No idea, but I can guess."
"Death Eaters?" Harry asked, heading to the window.
"Yeah," Sirius replied, his voice strained.
He let go of Harry's hand but before he'd moved towards the door, Harry grabbed his arm. "Sirius, don't leave me. Please. I don't want to be alone." Sirius tried to form an argument but the look on Harry's face, one of fear and anxiety, stopped him. When Harry felt Sirius relax he smiled thinly. "Thank you, Sirius."
"You're welcome, Harry," Sirius replied, trying to quash the notion that something terrible was going to happen. He looked out the window and finally saw a group of witches and wizards running from the direction of Hogsmeade village towards Hogwarts Castle. Sirius could make out the swift limp of Mad-Eye Moody and the bubblegum pink hair of Tonks. Most likely James and Lily would be coming soon along with Shacklebolt and Lupin.
Harry came up next to Sirius and asked, "What's happening? Are Mom and Dad…?"
Sirius knew what Harry was asking and knelt down in front of his favorite godson. "Your parents are here, Harry. But I'm not going anywhere. I'm not leaving you."
15 minutes later, the bright green image of the Dark Mark appeared above the astronomy tower, reflected on the lake's placid surface.
As fear started to grip both Harry and Sirius, they heard the sounds of battle both above and below them. Then, without warning, Fawkes the phoenix burst into flame making Sirius and Harry jump. When the flames subsided, Fawkes was unchanged, but Sirius gasped as he noticed the dullness to the phoenix's feathers. "Oh, no. Oh, God, no," Sirius said, as he looked out the window.
"Sirius… what is it?" Harry asked, a cold fear filling him.
"Fawkes's feathers are dull," Sirius replied, quietly. "That only happens when… when their owner is… is…" Harry gasped, then snatched up his cane and ran out of the office, leaving Sirius surprised at the blind teenager's speed. "Harry!" Sirius shouted as he ran after him. "Harry, wait!" Changing into Padfoot, Sirius ran after Harry even as the teenager went out the front door. Outside, Sirius followed Harry until he stopped suddenly next to something lying on the ground. Sirius changed back and was stunned to see the lifeless body of Albus Dumbledore lying on the grass.
Harry fell to his knees next to the headmaster and started to cry. "He's dead…. Sirius, he's…" Sirius knelt down next to Harry and pulled him into a tight hug.
"No," a choked female voice said behind them. A moment later, Harry felt his mother's arms around him. "This can't be happening… Why…?"
But Harry couldn't bring himself to say anything. The greatest wizard that world had ever known was gone. And no words could ever express what that meant, not only to Hogwarts, but also to the whole wizarding world.
In what felt like hours, but was actually minutes, Harry found himself in the hospital wing listening to Neville utter the three words he never thought he'd ever hear. "Snape murdered Dumbledore."
Sitting on an empty bed, being held by Harry, Ginny gasped and tears started rolling down her cheeks. Looking at the bed next to her, her eldest brother, Bill, was sitting up, leaning against a couple of extra pillows. Bill's left leg was bandaged due to a particularly nasty Cutting Curse from a Death Eater.
"I can't believe this is happening," Lily said, dully, as James held her. A bruise was starting to form on her temple and James's robes were ripped and bloody and a cut across his eyebrow had just stopped bleeding.
"Snape killed Dumbledore…" Tonks muttered. "It's like something out of a bad dream."
"It's no dream, Tonks," Lupin said, quietly. "Rather, I'd say a terrible nightmare."
"What's going to happen to Hogwarts?" Ginny asked. "Will the school close, or…?"
"That will be decided by the school governors," replied Professor McGonagall who had just entered the room, looking both grave and shell-shocked. "For now we, the Hogwarts staff, will plan Dumbledore's memorial for two days from now after which the students will be sent home." James nodded in reply, but no one spoke as McGonagall left the room and went up to Dumbledore's office.
Albus Dumbledore now snoozed in a portrait hanging on the wall and as McGonagall stepped towards it, she hissed, vehemently, "How could you, Albus? How could you leave this school… the students?" In a quieter voice she added, "How could you leave me?"
She turned to look at Fawkes as he gave a comforting trill but whirled back around when she heard Dumbledore's voice. "My dear Minerva, I have never heard you sound so selfish." Dumbledore was awake and his blue eyes twinkled as he looked down at her through his half-moon spectacles. "And who says that I have gone?" McGonagall mouthed Dumbledore's name as she ran a hand across the bottom of his portrait frame making Dumbledore's eyes grow misty. "As I have stated repeatedly, I will truly be gone from this school when no one within these walls is loyal to me. I had to do what I did, Minerva, and I do not expect you to understand. I wish we could have had the life I always saw us having together."
At these words, McGonagall's jaw dropped. "How did you…?"
Dumbledore smiled kindly. "I have always known, Minerva. It may not be as we wanted, but I will always be here should you wish to talk. It will take more than Avada Kedavra to rid me from Hogwarts."
On the morning of Dumbledore's memorial, Harry was thankful for the first time that he was blind. He didn't know how he would have felt to look up at the staff table and not see the headmaster's twinkling face there in the middle. Beside Harry, Tobias and Mallory picked at their bacon and eggs with practically no appetite. Mallory looked around the Great Hall and saw that the grim looks and sorrowful expressions were a severe contrast to the blue sky outside. The sun was shining and as Mallory looked out the windows, she realized that the color of the sky perfectly mirrored the blue of Dumbledore's eyes. Eyes that would never again gaze upon the school or its students.
And yet… Mallory closed her eyes and tried to imagine Dumbledore looking down at them all from wherever he was. Maybe that was why the sky was so blue… Opening her eyes, Mallory sighed. Would Hogwarts ever feel as safe and homey as it did when Dumbledore was here? Or would his absence leave a permanent blanket of loss over the school?
After a subdued breakfast, the students all headed down by the lake for the memorial. Tobias put his arm around Mallory's shoulders as they walked out onto the grounds. Ginny had her arm in Harry's as his cane tapped along the ground. Once everyone had taken their seats, Hagrid came down the aisle of people, Dumbledore's body—which had been wrapped in a rich purple material covered with silver stars—in his arms. Laying the headmaster down on a white stone table, Hagrid went to sit with the other teachers, great tears welling up in his eyes.
Minerva McGonagall got up and stood in front of the crowd, her green dress robes giving her the sense that she was trying valiantly to hold onto what control she had over her emotions. "It was brought to my attention that no other headmasters or headmistresses have ever been laid to rest on the Hogwarts grounds…" There was a slight choke in her voice as she went on. "But no other head ever gave more to this school. The Ministry of Magic offered to send a speaker, but I believe that Albus would want to hear from his own students."
At first no one moved, but after a moment or two, Ginny Weasley stood and walked up to the front and stood by Dumbledore's body. "When I returned to Hogwarts my second year, I started having nightmares about being back in the Chamber of Secrets. I tried talking to my parents, but they just said to give it time and the nightmares would go away." Ginny paused, and then laid her hand on a corner of the material that was the headmaster's burial shroud. "That was when I started meeting Professor Dumbledore for hot chocolate. Sometimes we'd be in his office, and sometimes he'd meet me in the Great Hall. Eventually the nightmares subsided, but once a week we'd share a mug of hot chocolate. That's what I'll always remember about him."
Once Ginny had sat down, Fred and George stood and walked up to the white stone table, standing on either side. Fred started off. "Professor Dumbledore never thought we'd see the end of out 7th year."
"Not because we were poor students or anything," George added.
"But because our ambitions always lay elsewhere," Fred finished.
"And in Professor Dumbledore's honor," George said, smiling.
"We'd like to say a few final words," completed Fred.
Harry couldn't help but let out a small chuckle and it was echoed by many others in the crowd. Once Harry heard the Weasley twins go and sit down again, he sighed and stood. He'd been dreading this but now it seemed that he had to say his final words. Harry stood before the crowd, thankful again for his darkened world, and began to speak. "Professor Dumbledore believed that the greatest choice was to choose between what is right and what is easy. He believed that it was not abilities that made a person who they are, but the choices they make along the way. He believed that people are as strong as they are united, as they are divided. Professor Albus Percival Wolfric Brian Dumbledore united all of us under one banner: the Hogwarts crest. He knew that hard times could be met and overcome with perseverance. And he knew that enemies could become friends, and that friends could become enemies. Professor Dumbledore believed that purity of blood meant nothing when it came to who was and was not worthy to study at Hogwarts."
Harry paused for a moment, before going on. Ever since overhearing the conversation between Snape and Dumbledore, Harry had been wondering what Snape had implored against doing. Now Harry knew. And though it was important that Dumbledore's secret agenda remain hidden, it was also important that Harry forgive Dumbledore's killer. "To Professor Dumbledore, it was important to give people second and sometimes even third chances…. no matter what they may have done in their past, he believed that people could change. There will never be another person, wizard or muggle, like Albus Dumbledore… but we can always carry with us the lessons and beliefs he gave us."
Watching from beside the lake, Severus Snape couldn't help but be amazed at Harry's words. To the Potter kid, the words were probably some insight or observation. But to Snape, those were words of forgiveness. I do not deserve forgiveness, Snape thought, bitterly. Why, Dumbledore? Why did you have to make me do this? If only Malfoy had had the guts to kill the headmaster. As Snape pictured that night, he remembered the hatred burning through him. The fact that Dumbledore had dissuaded Malfoy from committing the act, forcing Snape to do it. As Snape sank to his knees under the invisibility cloak he wore, he started to weep. It was over. His life as a part of Hogwarts school died with Dumbledore, condemning Snape to a life in Hell…. With no one to bring him back this time.
Draco Malfoy stood near the remains of Hagrid's hut watching the memorial in the distance. If only he'd gone to the headmaster… if only he'd brought up the courage to tell someone… if only he'd been strong enough to walk away from the Slytherin-Death Eater life and chosen his own path… But it was too late now. He was branded forever as a supporter of Voldemort and the next stop for him would be a cell in Azkaban. How…? How could he have been so stupid when it came to his family? Blind obedience… that was expected from the heir of the Malfoy family. Malfoy gave a snort as he thought of his father. Stupid idiot. But I'm no better, Malfoy reflected, sadly. I was proud of being branded as a Death Eater. Proud to be a pureblood and honored to be chosen to rid the world of those who tried to taint the purity of magic. Proud… to be a murderer. For the 1000th time Malfoy dearly wished that he'd warned Dumbledore what would happen. Told the headmaster earlier what the plan was. Malfoy sat on the ground, back against the ruined hut, and allowed himself to cry.
That night, Harry, Tobias, and Mallory Potter met in the Room of Requirement, waiting for their other friends. The bulk of the students had long gone, but there were a few that had begged and pleaded with McGonagall to let them stay for a day or two more. Harry knew why they didn't wish to leave…. Leaving the school would be truly saying good-bye to Dumbledore. Something Harry still could not bring himself to do.
A knock on the entrance alerted Harry to the others' arrival and Mallory slowly got up to let them in. Neville, Luna, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny sat down and through the magic of the room a platter filled with cold bottles of butterbeer appeared on the coffee table in the middle of the room. Tobias passed the bottles around and they all stood and drank a toast to Dumbledore.
Setting his bottle down, Neville said, "I've been trying to think of s good time to say this, but… I guess there never will be a good time. I have to fight Voldemort… alone."
"Of course you do," Harry replied. "And we'll be with you every step of the way."
Neville started to protest but Ron interrupted. "Hey, if we let you do this alone we couldn't very well call ourselves 'friends' could we?"
"Face it, Neville," Tobias said, smiling. "You're stuck with us."
Neville looked doubtful and turned to Luna. "What about you?" he asked his girlfriend.
Luna smiled as she replied, "Certainty of death… small chance of success… Sounds good to me. What are we waiting for?"
"To whatever end, Neville," Mallory said, raising her bottle to him.
"To whatever end," everyone else chimed in.
As Neville downed the rest of his drink, he finally understood that even at the darkest times, there was always hope.