Harry Potter sat on the edge of his four-poster bed in the Gryffindor dormitory, tying his shoes mechanically. The room was bathed with morning light but it was utterly empty except for Harry's few belongings. The curtains had been drawn, the beds made, and the trunks of Dean, Seamus and Neville had already been taken away by the busy house-elves. Harry could not tell if they had spent the night in the room at all. They had probably left very early, or they had slept elsewhere. Ron, Harry remembered, had said that he would remain with his parents and sleep when they would get at The Burrow. It felt strange to be alone in the dormitory. It had been Harry's home for six years. Now, after being absent for so many months, it did not feel as though he belonged there anymore. He had already said good-bye to this room. He had not expected that he would return.
Harry glanced at his watch. It was almost lunchtime, which meant that he had probably slept a good eight hours, yet he did not feel much rested. The phrases that Hermione had written down for him on a small bit of parchment kept popping in his brain like a constant reminder of the dreaded time today when he would have to stand up and speak in front of hundreds of people. Today we remember the braves.
He had chosen to wear black from head to toe instead of the dress robes that he knew the other students would be wearing. It seemed more appropriate since he had been absent from Hogwarts for a whole year. He had sent Kreacher back to Grimmauld Place to fetch him some clothes and the old elf had returned with a set of sober black robes that had once belonged to Sirius. As he tied the last button of his shirt, he was very careful to hide the bruise around his neck that he still had from the Horcrux that had almost strangled him. His hands showed signs of burns and Hermione had insisted that he applied Dittany everyday until the skin was fully repaired. He had also noticed a mark on his chest, right in the middle where Voldemort's Killing Curse had hit him. It was a bit sore at the touch, but it seemed otherwise like a minor injury. The faint black spot came out quite insignificant next to the round and raw-looking lesion left by the locket that had been thorn off his skin magically. Overall, he felt lucky that he had not lost a limb, or an ear like George. He could live with a few additional scars.
Harry looked around to make sure that he left nothing behind. The Invisibility Cloak and the Elder Wand were hidden carefully inside Hermione's beaded bag so that he did not have to carry them around. After the funeral, he was planning to gather his possessions and bring them all to Grimmauld Place. He had made up his mind that he would settle in Sirius' house. It was now his house, Harry's house, after all. Kreacher had respectfully agreed to prepare the residence for his arrival. The elf had seemed quite happy to be going home. Harry could not escape going back with Ron at The Burrow, however, has he had already made that commitment to Mrs Weasley. He could, of course, not refuse the invitation, but he would try to remain there for the shortest time possible. He had things to do and places to go to, and he wanted to be free of his comings and goings. But all of that would have to wait until the funeral.
With a jolt in his stomach, Harry realised that he had forgotten his lines, again. Hastily, he pulled out the piece of parchment that he had stuffed into his robes' inner pocket and read Hermione's tiny handwriting once more.
Today we remember the braves. Although their heart where heavy with loses, although the odds were against them, they fought, not because they were told to, but because they choose to. They fought oppression because they believed in the right to be free. They fought domination because they believed that all are equal. They fought cruelty because they believed that we are entitled to a life without fear, or pain, or terror. Today we honour them for their courage, their determination, and their self-sacrifice. They have brought hope and peace to countless future generations. Farewell.
Harry folded the paper and tried to recite the speech in his head as he crossed the empty Gryffindor Common Room. Today we remember the braves. Why did so many people have to die?
"Harry!" someone yelled loudly as the portrait of the Fat Lady closed behind him.
It was Hermione, climbing the stairs at a fast pace. She swung her arms around his neck as soon as she reached him. Harry was glad to see that she was not wearing her Hogwarts robes either but that she sported a long black dress. Her hair was elegantly tied with curls hanging loosely around her face. Harry could not help but notice how much older she looked and he wondered vaguely if it was the result of that last year's efforts, or if it was simply the natural course of things.
"Did you sleep well? I mean, did you sleep at all?" She said as she peered into his face. "You look awful."
"I can't remember this speech," he replied, ignoring her comment and showing her the folded piece of paper in his hand.
"Oh," she said, taking the parchment and reading it speedily. "Well, you know, it's more like a guideline. You should improvise a bit too, like we said. Add something of your own."
Harry shrugged. No matter how many times he turned it over, the only words that came to his mind were "I'm sorry".
"What in Merlin's name would you be apologising for?" Ron had snapped at him in a voice that could have been Hermione's. "You destroyed You-Know-Who! You finished him for good! How can you feel sorry for that?"
"I'm sure that Harry feels sorry for all the people who died, Ron," Hermione had offered, voicing out Harry's feeling.
He just felt that if he had been a bit cleverer, if he had asked Dumbledore all the right questions at the right moment, if he had acted sooner, if he had not wasted so much time in hiding, then perhaps Fred would still be there. But he could not bring himself to say that to Ron, not yet anyway.
"But Ron's right," Hermione had added at once. "Don't apologise. Just be yourself. And get some sleep."
But the time of the funeral had already been set and therefore the sleep that Harry had been able to get was the bare minimum.
Hermione folded the paper thoughtfully and handed it back to Harry. He could see in her pale composure that she had not rested much either.
"Your hands," she said, ceasing his wrists and turning them over so that she could get a good look at his palms.
Harry quickly noticed that her hands were completely healed though she had received the same kind of burns.
"You should show this to Madam Pomfrey," she said with a tone of concern.
He had pulled his hands back away from her and was trying to avoid her stare. The hospital wing was full of people, students and adults alike, who were too severely wounded to be moved to St. Mungo's. It was certainly not a place where he wanted to be at the present moment.
"I'm alright," he said quietly.
Hermione was about to retort but she was cut off by the sound of many footsteps hurrying up the stairs. Harry glanced behind her back to see Ron, Bill and Charlie Weasley, all of them wearing long black robes with a golden pin on their left shoulder. They were climbing the stairs two at the time.
"Hi, mate," Ron greeted him. His voice did not sound cheerful. "Dad reckons that you will need an escort to get to the lake."
"More people have turned up than we expected," Bill explained as they all started going down the stairs.
Harry noticed that Ron had positioned himself between Hermione and him and that he was now holding her tightly by the waist.
"What are you wearing?" Harry asked conversationally, pointing at Ron's shoulder pin.
"You've got one too," said Ron, thrusting a golden pin in Harry's hand.
The brooch that Harry was holding, not bigger than a Galleon, was a beautifully shaped W wrought in gold and encrusted with small red gems.
"Fred and George had a whole stack of silver pins made for the shop. They spit out rude comments if you wear them in front of a mirror. But these ones," said Bill, pressing a loving hand on his brooch, "were fashioned in gold by Goblins at Fred and George's request. They thought we should have a family crest. George gave them to us this morning."
Harry did not need to see Bill's face to feel his grief. The sorrow caused by the absence of Fred among the Weasley brothers was palpable. There was a new and solemn demeanour in all of them, sad but proud all at once. Harry felt almost awkward to be walking among them, like an intruder, yet they had given him one of their Weasley brooches. Not one of their brooches, Fred's brooch, he thought bitterly.
"Listen, guys, I can't take this. It was Fred's. I just can't…"
"It wasn't Fred's, mate," said Ron, pressing a hand on his shoulder. "There was one for you."
Harry's throat suddenly became very tight and he could not say anything.
"Shall we get going then?" said Charlie.
Harry held the brooch all the way down the stairs cradled in his hands as though it was very fragile and could brake at any moment. When he looked up, he saw Ron and Hermione holding hands. They seemed bathed in the bright morning light, and for a moment he could not take his eyes off them. He had a sudden urge to find Ginny. He had not spoken to her yet. Ron had said that Mrs Weasley was not letting Ginny out of her sight. She would find him, he knew, probably sooner than later. There was time now.
As they were walking down the corridors, Harry became more aware of his surroundings. He noticed for the first time the full extend of the damage that the castle had suffered. Almost all of the windows were broken, which allowed great beams of radiant sunlight to come through untainted, illuminating the many splintered doors, wrecked picture frames and thorn tapestries. In some places, the wall had been blast apart and stones were scattered on the floor. The corridors were quite deserted which gave Harry the peculiar feeling that he was walking through an old and sacred ruin. As they passed in front of the entrance to the Great Hall, Harry saw with relief that the ceiling was once again a perfect imitation of the outside sky, blue, with tiny white clouds, and he felt a little more cheerful at the sight. He seemed to remember that the ceiling had burst into a red blaze somewhere during his final duel with Voldemort, but he couldn't be sure. He had been very much concentrated on what he was doing at that moment and the details of his surroundings at that time were a little hazy. He was glad that, at least, one of the best features of Hogwarts had been salvaged.
"Oh, dear! I didn't imagine that there would be so many people."
Harry stepped up behind Hermione and instantly understood the sudden tone of nervousness in her voice. They had come through the front door to find themselves face to face with a crowd of at least a thousand people. They were all hunched in small groups and chatting in hushed voices. Most of them were wearing black or official looking robes. Up ahead, at the edge of the Black Lake, stood a wooden structure that reminded Harry of the one that had been erected for the Triwizard Tournament. So the funeral had to be taking place near the Black Lake as Dumbledore's had.
"Blimey!" Ron gasped. "Looks like the whole Ministry of Magic is here. And look, Beauxbatons!"
Sure enough, the carriage and its five magnificent winged horses could be seen in a shaded spot near Hagrid's hut and students wearing blue robes were walking in pairs towards the Black Lake, Madam Maxime at the lead.
"How are we going to get through, though?" Charlie whispered to Bill, with a backward glance at Harry.
"I don't think I'm in any danger," Harry joined in.
"Some people could still be under the Imperius Curse, Harry," said Hermione in a low voice. "There are still Death Eaters at large."
"Not for long, though," Ron replied angrily.
Charlie gave Ron a meaningful pat on the back.
"We're already late. Here, Harry, take this."
Hermione pressed the Invisibility Cloak into his arms. For a fleeting moment, he was a little reluctant to put it on. He did not want to hide anymore, but the prospect of walking through all of those whispering people and having to avoid their stares rapidly became a good incentive to put the cloak on.
Bill and Charlie led the way, and Harry could see through the cloak's transparent fabric that they had drawn their wands at their side. Ron and Hermione were following with Harry at the rear. Ron had a protective hand on Hermione's shoulders and Harry could see that he, too, had drawn his wand. Slowly, as they made their way through, the crowd began to part in front of them so that Bill and Charlie did not even have to ask people to make way. Familiar faces kept popping up along the way. Ron and Hermione stopped a few times to shake hands. The closer they were getting to the Black Lake, the more people were clapping upon their passage to show their appreciation. Bill and Charlie did not lower their guard, but Ron seemed to relax about halfway through when Viktor Krum came forth. He approached with a handful of Durmstrang students following him, and for a second Krum and Ron Weasley stood facing each other. Then Krum suddenly took Ron by the shoulders and gave him a brotherly hug, after which the other Durmstrang students all burst into applause and there was laughter all around.
"Vere's Harry?" Krum asked to Hermione's ear.
"Don't worry, he's here," Hermione reassured him as Ron pulled her away from Krum and towards the rows of seats.
Ron and Hermione's arrival at the edge of the lake was greeted with another outburst of applause from a core of Hogwarts students who were mostly DA members and their families. At this point, Harry really felt that he should take the cloak off, especially since people kept bumping into him. He nudged Hermione on the shoulder.
"No, not yet," she whispered at once. "There are rumours… Stay hidden."
Then he was almost knocked over by Neville who had only just arrived and was now hugging Hermione in a very tight and friendly embrace. Ron's attention was also caught up. He was locked in a prolonged handshake with Professor Slughorn. Since his friends were in no position to talk to him, Harry decided instead to head towards the structure that he had seen from the castle. It was actually a small wooden platform mounted on black curtains. It was not very wide, but it was high enough so that everyone could have a good view at the speaker. Harry elbowed his way towards it, hoping to get some privacy to rehearse his speech. He pulled off the cloak as soon as he was sure that he could not be seen from the crowd. Hermione's comment seemed to have awakened his senses. What rumours? Why had he not been informed? Who in their right mind would attempt any kind of stunt on a day like this? The thought was just disgusting. And for what purpose? The Dark Lord's reign was over, was it not?
Harry was pondering about the so-called rumours, when all of a sudden he realised that he had dropped the Weasley brooch while taking the cloak off. Hastily, and with a jolt in the stomach, he unfolded the heavy cloth and saw with relief the golden token fall to the ground. It was only when he kneeled to pick up the brooch that he noticed on what he was standing. Under his feet was a bed of small white flowers that seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see on each side of the stage. And in the middle of the white field, fifty or so black coffins had been laid down, rows after rows, like small boats on an ocean of light.
Harry remained rooted on the spot, breathless. He knew the number, but only now did he realise exactly how many had died. The knob on his chest seemed to tighten. How many of them were people that he had known? He had seen the list of names, but he could not remember them all. How could he not remember their names? Why was his brain suddenly so numb? The humming of the crowd behind the stage seemed to fade away. There was only him and fifty tombs. Fifty-two, he thought. Beyond the field of flowers, near the trees, he could see Dumbledore's marble tomb. Dumbledore's tomb counts as one and Dobby's grave at Shell Cottage. That's fifty-two. And as he started to add the tombs, other names came into his mind. Cedric, Sirius, Moody, Hedwig, Wormtail. How many others? How many had died because of one wizard?
One wizard? Voldemort? Is he to receive all the blame? What about the Boy Who Lived? What the hell took you so long, Chosen One?
Hermione's soft voice seemed distant, yet she was standing just beside him. Harry shook his head in an attempt to quiet the other questioning voice. It was his conscience speaking, and he would have to deal with it some other time. He rolled up the cloak and handed it to Hermione unceremoniously, but his shaking hands did not escape her glance.
"It's alright, Harry," Hermione whispered kindly. "It's nearly over. In a few days, it will be just…"
"A memory?" said Harry abruptly, finishing the sentence for her. "I doubt that the Weasleys would agree with that."
Hermione was going to add something back when they were interrupted by the arrival of Kingsley Shaklebolt, the newly appointed Minister of Magic. A little half-heartedly, Hermione took a few steps back so that Kingsley could shake Harry's hand.
"Well done, Potter, well done," he said warmly. "Dumbledore would have been very proud."
A moment later, Kingsley was climbing the steps to the platform and the last murmuring voices fell silent. Harry took a few steps towards the black curtains to see if he could spot familiar faces. He was aware that Hermione was half-watching him, half-listening to Kingsley's speech.
Ron had taken a seat with all of his brothers except Fred in the front row. Ginny was there too, at the end of the row. George was leaning on her shoulder and she was stroking his hair in a motherly fashion. His eyes were closed and tears were flowing down his face like raindrops. Harry suddenly understood why Ginny's mother had needed her. After Fred, she was the one to whom George was closest. And all that Harry wanted now was to be sitting with her. He wanted to share this moment with her, away from the center stage, away from the stares and the overwhelming presence of fifty coffins on his conscience.
"I don't want to do this," he said truthfully to Hermione. "I don't know what to say."
"It doesn't matter, Harry," she replied softly. "Just be yourself."
She kissed him gently on the cheek and left through the black curtain.
Kingsley was talking and Harry was reading the lines on the piece of paper once more. His throat was dried. The lump on his chest was pressing painfully on his lungs. He felt short of breath, almost dizzy. When he heard Kingsley call out his name, it was out of a haze that he heard it. Halfway up the stairs, he realised that he had forgotten to put on the Weasley brooch. He put it on hastily with one foot on the last step.
"Are you alright, Harry?" Kingsley asked, frowning at him. "You look like you're going to be sick."
Harry managed a weak "I'm okay" and Kingsley sat down on the single chair that had been placed on the corner of the platform. Harry had just realised with dismay that he had forgotten most of the speech. There was something about self-sacrifice, and hope for future generations.
"Today," he began. His voice was shaky and it did not seem to carry pass the first row.
From the corner of his eye, he saw Kingsley step up to him noiselessly. "Point your wand at your throat and say 'Sonorus'," he said to Harry's ear. "And take a deep breath first."
Harry did as he was told. He was increasingly aware that he was trembling all over and he hoped dearly that no one had noticed.
"Today," he repeated. This time his voice was carried so far that he heard a faint echo coming back to him as the sound hit the surface of the late. He took another deep breath. "Today we remember…"
But he could not say it. No words were coming out of his throat. He knew that his eyes were filled up with tears. He could not say that speech. It wasn't how he felt. But he did not have to words to articulate what he wanted to put across. In his head, there were only names: Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore, Moody, Hedwig, Wormtail, Snape, Lupin, Tonks, Fred.
Then suddenly, someone was clapping. And the clapping became a thunder of applause. And among the applause there were voices he knew. They were all saying his name in unison, encouraging him. Then it came, the thing that he had wanted to say.
"I wish," he started again, and the uproar faded at once. "I wish that I wasn't here today. I wish that I wasn't standing in front of you on this beautiful summer day. I wish that we could all be elsewhere, at home with our loved ones, not here with the empty seats, and the coffins, and the sorrow. Too many have died."
He paused and allowed his glance to fall on Ginny for a short moment. He could hear Mrs Weasley's sobbing. But beyond the rows of seats, hundreds of people were assembled. They were all from different backgrounds, different family trees, and different origins. House-elves, Goblins, centaurs, giants, wizards, Muggles: they were all gathered here for one reason. They wanted to know. They wanted confirmation. They had heard the rumour, the tale, the news, but they wanted to hear it with their own ears. Therefore, there was no better time to get everyone's attention. They had to understand that Voldemort would never return. And they had to know what they could do to prevent the rise of another Dark Lord.
"And today we must ask ourselves why," he continued forcefully, willing himself to stand up straight. "The Dark Arts? Dark Magic alone can't be blamed for all of these deaths."
The crowd was quite still and silent.
"My son!" someone cried all of a sudden. "My son died! The Killing Curse straight to the chest! The Dark Arts ought to be forbidden altogether!"
There was whispering, and nodding, but Harry choose to ignore it. He was rubbing his own chest on the spot where he had received the second Killing Curse.
"You see that kid?" he said suddenly, pointing his finger at a young boy in the third row. "His name is Dennis Creevey. His brother died. Yet Dennis could never summon enough hate to produce a Killing Curse. Not even to kill his brother's murderer. Because, you see, in order to kill someone, you have to mean it. And Dennis doesn't want to kill anyone."
He saw Dennis Creevey's mother pull her son into a hug.
"Why were the Death Eaters so good at killing people, then?"
The question was almost inaudible and he could not see the speaker so Harry repeated the question at large. He could see that people were moving in their seats now, inquiring to their neighbours, speaking out.
"They thought that they were doing the right thing," said a voice close to the platform. Harry looked down and saw that it was Minerva McGonagall. She was sitting very close to the wooden stage and was surrounded by the other Hogwarts teachers.
"Exactly, Professor" Harry agreed. "They thought that they were doing the right thing. They had a higher purpose. It was the old feud about purity of blood. This is why they worshipped him. It was the goal that he had promised. And they followed him without question, because he was everything they believed in, the purest of all, the heir of Salazar Slytherin."
His words seemed to start a general stirring. People were talking more and more loudly. Even with the Sonorus Spell, Harry knew that he would need to speak on top of his voice now if he wanted to be heard. But it was not a problem; he could do it. His throat did not feel so tight anymore.
"It's true, then," said Slughorn, and Harry could hear the shock in his voice.
"He was the heir of Slytherin," said Harry in a matter-of-fact tone. "But he was not pure-blood. He was half Muggle. And his name was Tom Riddle, like his Muggle father."
The crowd seemed to gasp, and then the countless voices rose at once. It was what he had wanted to achieve. The people in front of him were realising that they had been swayed. The most powerful wizard of all times had not been a pure-blood. For the first time in fifty years, Voldemort's supremacy was being challenged, and the result was an intensifying uproar.
"I remember Riddle," said a very old man who looked like he was just waking up. "He won an award for Services to the School. He was a Prefect, too. Are you saying…? That Riddle?"
"Not a pure-blood?" Cornelius Fudge squabbled. He was sitting apart from the Hogwarts teachers and with a few other Ministry officials. Harry thought that he saw the ex-Minister of Magic mutter something like "preposterous" under his breath.
"But why?" shrieked a woman who was in tears. "What did he want to prove?"
"He wanted to show how extraordinary he was," Harry answered. "He didn't want to create a new order. He wanted to be that order. He wanted power for himself. Every other cause was insignificant to him. His own greatness was the only thing that ever mattered to him."
"Are you telling us that this war was pointless?" yelled an angry voice. "Are you saying that our children died for some power-hungry fool?"
"Of course, he isn't saying that, you stupid git!" Ron shouted back. "Haven't you been listening?"
"I guess the thing I'm trying to say," Harry continued, "is that Lord Voldemort was a made-up name to inspire fear, but behind that, he was just a man. You see, Tom Riddle started out as nothing more than what any of us is today. He was a boy who went to school, who studied hard, and who was rewarded for his efforts. He had a plan, a goal that he had set for himself, and he went for it. But although he was very cunning, he failed to see the one thing that he really needed. And it's that one thing that makes us here more powerful than he ever was."
And as he said this he looked at Ginny, then at Ron and Hermione, and they were all beaming at him.
"L'amour," said Fleur with her arms around Bill's neck.
"The greatest magic of all," agreed Mr Weasley, kissing his wife on the forehead.
"We are here today because each of us has the power to love selflessly. Those who are gone fought to protect the ones they loved. What we have to remember is not the way they died, but how they choose to live. They are the true heroes. And if you would stand up now, it would truly show how proud we are to be able to call them family and friends."
He had not yet finished his sentence that there was a sound like a rolling thunder as the crowd in front of Harry Potter rose in unison. Some people were crying; others were hugging their relatives and neighbours. All were looking at each other and sharing their grief and their happiness. The moment seemed frozen in time as though it was a chorus that would never end. Then Harry thought he heard a faint musical sound, like the singing of a phoenix, but as he looked up at the sky, he saw only a flock of Thestrals through a midst of tears.