-NINETEEN YEARS EARLIER-
Chapter One: The Speech
Harry did not remember the last time he overslept. A feeble ray of sunlight spilled over his face, bringing his senses to alert. For a split second, he feared to open his eyes and find the ceiling of the camping tent staring back at him, and his quest to destroy the Horcruxes unfinished, but as he regained consciousness, and opened his eyes, a different ceiling, like an old friend, reminded him of the good news: Lord Voldemort had been defeated.
Harry could not help but grin. For the first time in his life, he felt free of doubts and fear, like a normal person leading a common, normal and carefree life. He wondered what it would be to have lived forever like that, and having the concerns of his own age –seventeen years was, after all, quite young– on his mind, instead of the ones he had already faced, like the burden of finishing off a dangerous Dark Wizard, with huge odds against him, and having to fight hard and long to stay alive and protect the ones he cared about the most.
He shook this thoughts away, as he kicked the covers, a new energy pulsing through him like an electric current. There was no point lingering in what he had suffered, not when the sun shone so, and he no longer had to hide, or stay away from loved ones, in order to protect them…
But as he strolled down Gryffindor Tower, he started to recall, clearly now, all the events from the previous day, and night, and his grin faded. There had been losses, many of them, and the closest were the cruellest and most painful. His initial plans of searching the castle for that one red-haired girl felt distant now, at least where it concerned his initial intentions. Wherever she was, Ginny would be mourning the loss of a brother, as well as Ron and all the Weasleys, especially George, to whom Fred had been almost like a half. Harry felt a pang of remorse as he remembered the pair, always one in mind and deed, and it brought a lump to his throat to recall their most heroic –and mischievous– deeds; it had been them, after all, the ones that had passed on to Harry the Marauders' Map.
The Marauders had been reunited again. A flurry of memories brought an odd sensation to Harry's stomach, something strange that made him happy and at the same time, sorrowful, like when he had found his mother's letter at Grimmauld Place. He had seen his parents again, and Sirius and they had spoken to him, comforting him in the most difficult moment of his life. For a split second, Harry felt the impulse to go back to the Forest and find the Resurrection Stone, so he could call them all again and talk to them, but he had promised Dumbledore that he'd leave it where it had fallen, so he pushed the idea aside. Besides, he wasn't sure he'd find the exact place again.
As he entered the Great Hall, a thundering noise greeted him, as every student, parent and overall witch or wizard cheered and clapped, making him smile sheepishly and wish, for a moment, he would have stayed in his room.
"Harry!" A well-known voice greeted him right before a body clashed with his own. Harry patted feebly Hermione's hair as she laughed and hugged him, as if she had not seen him in ages. When they parted, he noticed she looked really nice, her face full of laughter and happiness, and wondered if he looked the same now. He smiled widely at her, his thankfulness for the massive amount of help she had been in his journey shining through his eyes and face. He scanned the room for another red-haired figure, and found him smiling besides Hermione, and as the girl moved aside, Ron hugged Harry like a brother, both youngsters talking endlessly to each other through that simple gesture.
The third person to approach Harry was someone he did not expect.
"Harry," Professor McGonagall beamed at him, and opened her arms. Harry obliged, feeling her shake and sob lightly as she embraced the adolescent. She quickly let go and composed herself, clearing her throat.
"Listen, Harry. We would like you to address a few words to the people reunited here, before we start this breakfast. I'm sure all of them would like to hear you at least once before they go back to rebuild their lives," she told him, nodding gravely, and there was something in her tone that made Harry nod and obey, even though he had never wanted to be giving speeches or, otherwise, 'hugging the spotlight'. He wondered what would Gilderoy Lockhart think if he saw him like that, but fortunately, the vain professor was far at St. Mungo's, probably still signing every bit of paper he could find.
"Ladies and gentlemen," he started, clearing his throat. He had never addressed such a large concurrence – willingly, that is. He could still remember his trial over the use of magic in front of a Muggle, which had saved him and his cousin Dudley from dying at the hands of Dementors. But still, it was a huge lot of people, hanging on his every word.
"We are here now, in the dawn of a new time, to be grateful and to remember everything we've been through, so we don't make the same mistakes again."
Where were these words coming from? For a moment, Harry wondered if Hermione hadn't silently put a spell on him so he knew what to say to the crowd, but somehow, it didn't feel like it. "We are here, with the memory of our losses fresh in our minds, but with thankfulness to their sacrifice in our hearts, because it is thanks to them that we can see the light of a new day."
Several people blew their noses, and others hugged closely the ones they had nearer, hiding sobs. Harry went on, feeling more confident in his speech by the minute.
"But we are not to relax and forget what was fought for in here. Even though the greatest threat has been completely vanquished," there were cheers and shouts and for a few minutes, the crowd roared and moved about as in a stadium. Harry knew he should let them do that, but not for long. He smiled, and raised his hand to make silence, "we still face small threats every day, in our homes, and in our daily lives and dealings with other people and creatures."
Harry sighed, and remembered Kreacher, wrapped in a filthy cloth and muttering curses at him and everybody else, and how much of a change it had been when he had finally forgiven him and offered him friendship.
"We do not have to fear the name 'Voldemort'"—there were a few gasps in the crowd, but they were silenced by other people "—anymore, but we have to fear something that might become his legacy: the feeling that us, wizards, might be superior than Muggles, Goblins, House Elves, or any other creature or human being that happens to be 'different'," he marked the word. "The threat of Voldemort"—more gasps and shushes—"was as simple as that: he believed that descending from magical parents made one person better than another who hadn't." People listened raptly, even the youngest ones, as if their lives depended on Harry's words.
"But if we are to host the same idea, even for a second, trust me," his voice became graver, "we are no better than him, and might as well turn ourselves into the next Dark Lord."
Some people shifted uneasily on their seats, glancing surreptitiously at each other, while others nodded and lowered their glances. Harry knew they must be examining their consciences at that point, and wished with all his heart that they made the right choice.
"I am a simple schoolboy," he added, provoking a slow murmur and head-shaking from several people. "I am nothing special, nothing more than you, only that Voldemort chose to kill my parents, and afterwards tried to kill me, only to fail—"
"How did you survive?"
The voice came from across the room from a middle-aged witch, and promptly the crowd demanded an answer to her question, which had been in more than one mind for a long, long time. Harry doubted for a moment before continuing, his voice as steady and grave as it had been.
"My mother sacrificed herself in order for me to live," he said, "just as I did yesterday, and just like many of our beloved ones did as well," he said, and added, "and that is exactly what I'm trying to say: it doesn't take an extraordinary person to make extraordinary things happen."
"My mother," Harry felt a rush of gratitude towards her, stronger than any other feeling he had ever felt for her memory, "was a wonderful person, a skilled witch and loving friend, but she wasn't extraordinary. She was just like you, a student, a friend, a daughter, a mother and wife, but she was willing to give her life to spare mine, which is an extraordinary act, the single act that saved me from dying at the hands of Voldemort that night."
The people listened attentively, some with amazement drawn in their features, and others clearly struggling to apprehend the concept Harry presented them, although there were some that didn't seem to believe fully what he had said.
"And that is what our beloved ones have done for us," he continued, "they have given their lives so we could remain alive. And we owe them a big gratitude debt that we ought to repay by defending what they died protecting: the idea that we're all equal and deserve the same rights, regardless of blood status or race."
The sound of applause filled the Hall, as several wizards and witches nodded and approved, while others smiled and a lot of them sobbed unrestrainedly. Harry scanned around the room for familiar faces, and found all the Weasleys knit together in a firm embrace, Hermione's arms wrapped around Ron's, an arm of his around her shoulders. Both of them were crying, but it was clear that Hermione was laughing through her tears, and after a while, Harry noticed several other people doing the same.
As he walked down the improvised podium he had given his speech from, he realised exactly where had all his words come from: they were his own feelings, transfixed into words from endless sources, like all the words of comfort he had ever heard, as well as rightful lectures – probably from Hermione, he smiled – and his own lessons learned in the path he had trodden. He had had no trouble putting his feelings in words the moment he realised he had, once more, being chosen to give a north to the people that needed one so desperately, to put them in the right path again, and to make them see what it would take to validate the many sacrifices made in order to overcome the ghosts of an extremely dark past.
But all of that could be pondered on later, he thought, as he saw a red-haired girl run to him, her hair flying beautifully behind her, and launch herself around his neck, her tears of gratitude and love spilling down his neck and onto his shirt. As he hugged Ginny, after such a long wait, and sunk his face in the flowery scent her hair had always carried, he felt something he had hardly felt before, but this time, it was clear, definite and permanent.
In Ginny's embrace, Harry finally felt he belonged somewhere, and that he had recovered the family he had lost so soon, and that this time, nothing would ever take that away from him.