Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters or events of the Harry Potter universe, nor do I own any of the quotes; credit to their authors is given immediately below.
astra": to the stars; "ad astra per aspera," to the
stars through adversities (or "to heaven the hard way,"
more colloquially), is the state motto of Kansas and was made up by
some Latin dude, I guess
-"Man's inhumanity to man / Makes countless thousands mourn!" is from Robert Burns' "Man was Made to Mourn: A Dirge," 1784.
-with nods to Anne Frank, philosopher(s) I had to read back in the days (Kant? Kierkegaard?—it's been a while), and George Santayana
There shouldn't be any spoilers, and this is vaguely pre-HBP.
We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars. —Oscar Wilde
Sometimes the world was a horrid, dirty place, a gutter where all the worst things had collected. Sometimes that was all you could see about it: death and suffering and despair and terror and meanness. "Man's inhumanity to man," that Muggle poet termed it, this belief that some were less than others, and could be treated that way. It was this belief that let one race enslave another, that made one man feel justified in killing another because of his bloodline. And, like the poet said, it did make "countless thousands mourn."
The gutter was filled with filth, to be sure. Some threw themselves headlong into it, imagining that a bloodstained and cowering world was a world worth ruling. Too many had lost their innocence to these, for whom others' pain was a delight, and who believed with deluded conviction that whatever means they chose to employ were acceptable to gain their end. Too often innocent lives were considered acceptable means to a genocidal, fanatical end. People are never a means.
Pensieve or no, he could still remember screams of panic and streets littered with corpses. It would be all too easy to remove the memories, store them somewhere safe where they could not haunt his thoughts, and maybe he could forget a bit. The idea had tempted him more than once as the situation grew dire, but it was a luxury he could ill afford. The cycle of history was turning, as it was wont to do. He would do well to remember what had happened in the past, as it was likely to happen again. And again the result could be the defeat of evil—although more permanently this time, one hoped.
Some were fighting back, as he hoped fervently that some would always fight back. But others... There were others who would never know a world without this evil, who would be taught to hate from the cradle, who would believe that there was no other way. And there were others who, having known peace and having seen the destructive power of the war, of the wizard who called himself a Lord, would give up all hope of ever living in peace again. The idea filled him with great sadness.
He was well aware that there were those, allies as well as enemies, who thought him naïve, idealistic, and too trusting by half. Perhaps they were right. Was it merely spiteful to prefer to be thought naïve if his enemies were thought shrewd and cunning? Could he allow himself such pettiness in times like these? Of course he could—he was only a man. His humanity, his mortality, were never far from his mind. And that too separated him from those who loved the gutter.
If your eyes never left the gutter, there was little reason to live.
But above the gutter there were stars. One had only look to see them.
There were those who kept their eyes fixed on the stars. They knew that there was life beyond war; they knew that there would one day be a world where evil did not reign. And they knew that even if they did not live to see that day, the battle was still worth fighting, for everyone who would come after.
In the midst of hate and fear and destruction there was still goodness. There were those who possessed decency and treated others with respect. There were people who believed that humans were good at heart—something he himself had occasion to doubt at times, faced with the aftermath, the blood, the tears, the final silence. But through it all there were acts that defied Voldemort. For every betrayer there was a friend whose loyalty no Unforgivable could break; for every coward who gave in there was a stalwart soul who stood firm, no matter what the majority might say.
There was love. Oh, certainly, Lily Potter's love for her son was well-known and oft-repeated, but it was not a nonpareil. Molly Weasley would have made the same sacrifice seven times over if necessary. Neville Longbottom showed the courage that others and he himself doubted that he had by doggedly loving his parents. It was almost a kind of unrequited love, for to love someone who you knew must love you but could never say it could be as hard as loving someone who did not love you in return. You could easily be fooled into believing that because they did not say they loved, they did not love. But Neville, faithful and strong, did not doubt. He deserved happiness that even a peaceful life could not promise him. And there were true friendships, ones that persevered beyond this life, ones that kept friends alive, in body and in memory.
People still believed in wonder, in miracles, in the everyday beauty of the world. Luna Lovegood, bless her, was unafraid to believe in any number of things that others scoffed at. Far-fetched though her beliefs were, she stood determined in the face of others' doubt and derision. Her belief made her strong. Alas, she could see the Thestrals—though there were few these days who could not see them—but she also believed in what she could not see, and for that he was thankful. Even if it was lost on her peers, her imagination and wonder inspired him. They reminded him of his own youth, days spent discovering magic and joy and life. Generations to come deserved the chance to discover the world as he had, when days were all blue and green and yellow, bright with earth and fire and air and water.
Life was not easy, nor was it fair, but it had never been promised to be so. And despite the trials they faced, life remained worth the struggle. There was good. There was love. There was beauty, and belief, and hope for what was to come. There were eyes, young and old, that looked beyond the gutter of a hate-wracked world. There were eyes turned to the stars.
We are all in the gutter...
"What's that, Headmaster?"
Dumbledore looked up and gazed at the young face before him for a moment, smiling. "Just admiring the stars."