A/N: As promised, this is the last chapter of Metamorphosis. Enjoy and review.
Tomorrow is Saturday. I wake up at half past five, dress in my uniform sans robe and dig up the jacket I stole from the guy I killed in Egypt. After a while of deliberation I take the saif, too.
I trek down to Snape's quarters. The hallways are just as empty as they were during the summer, and I welcome it just as much as I did back then. Not having bothered with a Silencer today – after all, I can hardly be prosecuted for being out of bounds – my heels make a rhythmic clicking sound. I'm not used to it, but it provides me with a background sound while I'm trying to convince myself that this is real.
I'm going to Bill's funeral today.
The door to Snape's office is as uninviting as ever, but today I see all the details, little cracks in the wood, the way the brass of the knob is furred with grime and potions residue from students' hands… it's suddenly not obscured by the general impression.
I lift my hand to knock, but Snape opens the door before I can and ushers me inside. The same thing happens there; I scrutinise the lines of his face, the way the ends of his hair curl slightly, though with oil rather than keratin, the tiny scar in the corner of his mouth I've never noticed that makes it seem as though he was perpetually sneering. He does so often, but definitely not always… not now.
He, of course, wears black, but it's the second time ever I see him in velvet. The shine of the cloak makes his skin less sallow, simply pale. He has the Prince coat of arms embroidered on his chest.
"Come stand here," he beckons me closer to a shining glass ball. My guess is he uses it when marking essays to not ruin his eyes. Firelight definitely isn't conductive to good eyesight. When I don't step up quickly enough, the ball swings and comes closer to me, hanging in the mid-air.
Snape aims his wand at my chest. I grit my teeth, but remain where I am, unmoving. I trust this man, in certain things more than I trust either of the Weasleys. I don't think he would curse me…
Whatever charm he uses links the tip of his wand to the black velvet covering my breastbone. It takes longer to cast than anything (save wards) I have encountered before, and the ray changes colours during the process – grey, white, red, white, yellow, white.
"Better," he mutters when it's finally done. I conjure a mirror floating in front of me, and survey the result. There is a grey blazon with three white flowers and a helmet on the background of red and white vines, and a tiny yellow dragon at the top.
"It's the Potter crest," he explains tonelessly. I know he's not very happy about me being a Potter, but we need each other and the bitterness he feels is not directed at me. "Merlin knows I have seen it often enough to remember every detail." I figure my father would have flaunted it wherever he went. Well, if Snape can look at it without cursing someone or attempting suicide… I'm glad I get to wear it today.
"Could you please-"
I brace myself.
"Do the Black crest also?"
He hesitates. I know he hated Sirius even more than he hated James, but there were other Blacks he knew, too… he must have mixed feelings about it. Perhaps he even despises that it is me who inherited the entire estate, plus the name. I don't use it, but it doesn't change the fact that I am Lord Black. I wonder why he never used it to get at me, like he did it to Draco.
"Fine," he growls, and adorns the black jacket with a couple of dogs that guard a crest-shaped black patch under the colourful monstrosity. It takes less time to create, even though he doesn't scamp. I don't think he ever scamps. It's Snape.
"Ready?" he asks. It can't be later than quarter past six, but I can't tell because clocks have yet to come into fashion with wizards and he doesn't keep one (after all, we have spells that are more accurate than any clock).
"Aren't we going to be early?"
"Better early than late, Mr Potter," he says. He passes around me, clasping my shoulder for a moment in an astonishing display of compassion, and leads me out of the room. "Closer to seven we risk being intercepted," he clarifies along the way. "Neither of us has bothered to seek the Headmaster's approval for this excursion and while he is, undoubtedly, going to be there, I would rather he found out about our attendance in front of witnesses and too late to do anything about it.
I nod, since there is nothing I can say to that. We fear Dumbledore's manipulations so much… almost as much as Voldemort's. Such irony.
High Chiltern Meadow is not empty when we Apparate in. Charlie sits on the dewy grass, uncaring about the wetness and cold, staring to the East, waiting for the Sun to rise. Next to him is a three-feet high flat piece of stone with a bed of layered wood atop it.
Charlie notices the cracks and lifts his head to look at us. We communicate with a look and I walk over to him for a moment. I pet his hair like he did mine yesterday and lean down to kiss his crown.
"Thank you, Peace," I whisper to him. I don't even know myself what I am thanking for, but he accepts it and grasps my hands. They are much warmer than his this time; he must have been here for a long while.
"I'm glad you came."
"I couldn't have stayed away. Not if they forbid me, not if they Stunned me, bound me, broke my legs…"
I hear Snape gasp and realise that I said the last sentence loudly and with more passion than anyone but Charlie could understand.
"We'll be standing on the other side unless you need us," I inform him. He points me to a spot that is a bit up the slope but still close enough so that we'll feel like we're part of the service. Snape and I go there and stand in the darkness, waiting. I, like Charlie, face the East; under my breath I recite the greeting from the English translation of Wadi Biban el-Muluk that is resting in Snape's quarters among dozens of other books.
"O blinding light!
In face of Ra
We close our eyes
end the night
O Sun! O Ra!
So blinding comes
A smaller part of the slowly gathering crowd forms a line leading to the pyre. Everyone wears black; in the soft pre-dawn glow of the eastern horizon they are little more than walking faces and hands and, in the cases of the Dealacours mostly, hair. Fawkes deposits Bill on the wooden cot and for a glorious second he is bathed in red light, looking almost alive, but not quite so.
The line, with me on its tail, moves, everyone crying, whispering, or simply saying something small but positive to the dead, pretending (in many instances also believing) that he can hear.
Fleur speaks loudly, choking in the middle of the short message: "You gave me your 'eart… and took mine."
Women are sniffing, commiserating with the girl. Hardly anyone listens to Charlie, who has too many things to say, but limits himself to the absolute basics: "You tried to understand me. You stood up for me, even when I was wrong, so that I could figure it out and make up for it. You knew when I doubted myself, and supported me no matter who I chose to be."
Next are the twins, walking together, but speaking separately.
"You made me realise that I was unique."
"And helped me feel good about it."
Ron follows on their heels, dragging an apathetic Ginny by her hand.
"You explained to me that I should protect those weaker than myself and help those stronger remain strong. And taught me to play chess." I have to suppress a smile. It would not do to be caught cheerful – I cannot expect tolerance for such seemingly heartless behaviour here. This is not a battle, and I am not… well, I am the boy who lived, here, just not in the Boy Who Lived.
"You showed me how to fight my fears and how to stand up for myself," Ginny says clearly, for a moment maintaining a serene expression before it fades and she's dragged away by her brother.
A couple says something in an unfamiliar language and then it's my turn. A few people are eyeing me strangely; I realise that they don't recognise me. I wear an outlandish jacket, a military uniform no less, embroidered with crests that are less than visible in the darkness and have been out of cognizance for fifteen years.
"You taught me tenderness," I say simply and move back to where I've left Snape, who had nothing to say.
War taught me tenderness. There's so much wrong with that. Nevertheless, it's true, in both ways the statement could be understood. I see it now, in hindsight. The nickname was fitting. Bill was always fighting, against Darkness and ancient curses on the outside, against different Darkness and himself on the inside. I watch the people come and go, some offering a thank-you to the dead, some not.
Bill is War. Just as Charlie is Peace, and I am Effervescence, bloody huge mouthful that it is.
Bill lies on the wooden bed, with many more mourners than I anticipated surrounding him. Apparently Fleur found out about Charlie's plans and made her own. Her family stands there in the second row, right behind the four youngest distraught Weasley siblings. The twins, while not crying, are looking more sombre than ever as the first ray of the new day hits the pyre and the pre-set spell sets it on fire.
The strained silence finally breaks. I watch the familiar profile as it disappears and absently wonder why the wizards maintain such morbid traditions. That man meant a lot to me, and he's disappearing in front of my eyes, layer after layer, as the heat destroys the material part of the person who has been destroyed on Thursday in my presence.
I did not love Bill, and perhaps that makes it all the worse. If I had loved him, truly and all-consumingly, I could offer him myself, a corner inside me, the rest of my life to be spent with him and for him. But it's not my place.
Fleur breaks into racking sobs, her silver, un-fragile beauty marred by a grimace of (what is to me overly dramatic) grief. She wails loudly, echoed by quieter, more private in their crying, members of family. To me this play-act, the epilogue of the Renaissance tragedy, is the ultimate hypocrisy. Fleur did not love Bill. She didn't even know him.
I survey the rows of mourners; all grim, some crying, some quiet in reminiscence, some angry. Angry at the war, at Voldemort, at me, some probably even angry at Bill's useless, stupid heroism, which was the true culprit in this senseless murder. I watch blotched faces, glittering tears, welling eyes, hands gripped in fists or resting on shoulders in wordless offers of comfort. My sight slides over them, and I silently ask each and every one: "Did you love Bill? Did you even know him?"
Most of them fall short. Their sadness is not for the young man turning to ash in the flames, but for their ideals, illusions, their losses and fears and angers, and ultimately just for themselves. Some aren't even truly sad in the first place. This pretence is expected of them, thus they comply to avoid offending any of their compatriots.
They do offend me, but they have ever done so, and they ever will, and today it doesn't matter at all, because today is for Bill Weasley and I am just witnessing it, so that he will know that the Sun has risen, the wind is blowing and the stars shine. Because, of this crowd, assembled to show off themselves rather than show off Bill or his legacy, no one (except Charlie) will think to tell him those things – the things that would interest him most.
Charlie is different, though. Charlie knew Bill, knew him better than anyone and better than he knows himself. He stands in the second row, behind his stricken mother, offering silent support and yet somehow separated from his family. More separated than they would suspect, different in body, mind and soul. When I concentrate now, I can see through his Illusion. He is as beautiful as I remember him from Egypt – breeze-swept crimson hair with glints of copper, bright blue eyes and ashen skin, contrasting sharply and unnaturally with his heavy woollen black cloak. Charlie should never, ever wear black.
He stares at the pyre and his irises reflect it like a pair of carnations. Bill's red – blood-red – hair is lost to the fire. It has shrivelled to nothing with a wisp of poisonous black smoke and the Charms that isolate the burning corpse from the audience don't stop my brain from imagining the smell of scorched flesh as the flames eat away at the so suddenly naked head. Bill's red – blood-red – blood was soaked in by the Earth, greedy patron that it is, leaving a dry shell so susceptible to the blaze. But Bill's essence, blood-red essence of a man who loved and fought and died, a man who had lived, that remains in people who knew him. It's like a mark, like a tiny tattoo of a dung beetle on the breastbone. He's ours to remember.
The wind picks up and I imagine flecks of grey, black and white flying into my eyes, nose and mouth. I open myself wider, because this is him, and even though I had not loved him, I did know him, and he wishes me to keep a piece of him. I shall. Not for me. Not to assuage my grief or fear or anger.
Just because Bill wishes it.
Last embers have burnt to ash and a wind that doesn't seem all that natural blows and sweeps them away. I barely notice my feet moving as I pace forward to the stone slab. I'm almost there when a ball of flame flies at me from the side and I just manage to dodge. It might have been less than responsible off me, but it seemed wrong to carry a ward during a magical ritual.
I raise a shield immediately, but the attack doesn't continue. I find myself facing Fleur in a veela-mode, or as far as her quarter-blood heritage lets her into it.
"You were not supposed to go zere!" She screams. "If you stayed…" In her fit, her French accent comes back strong, making her words almost incomprehensible. Unfortunately, only almost.
"Don't you dare blame Harry, you ignorant Xanthippe!" growls another not human voice. I recognise the eerie echo quality. "Had he not been there, more of us would have died."
Charlie elbows his way out of the huddle and approaches us. I'm not afraid of Fleur, not in the least, rather infuriated and embarrassed. Why does she hate me so much? She doesn't know what happened in Egypt and, frankly, I never did anything else to deserve such hatred. And, this time, I know that Bill's death was not my fault, despite the fact that a line of reasoning that makes me guilty does exist. It's incorrect.
However, it seems that Fleur refuses to admit it.
"'ow can you defend 'im?" She whirls around and snarls at Charlie: "Bill was your brozzer-"
I see that her outburst hurts Charlie and it infuriates me far more than anything she could say to me. I reach for the saif, but Snape's hand on mine stops me.
"Yes, he was," Charlie tells Fleur calmly, with dignity that moves Heavens and Earth. "And I know that whatever happened out there, he laid his life for something he believed in with his whole heart." His eyes flick over to me and my throat tightens. Bill believed in me. I release the handle of the saif. "And no matter how much you scream, no matter how much you try to assign guilt, it will not bring him back."
"'e-" she points at me with her finger, "-probably killed Bill 'imself! 'e's a jealous little boy-"
My palms glow with magic struggling to get out, prove that it's horse-shit, prove that Fleur is just a liar and a whore and…
I straighten. Bill believes in me. The glow subsides, and I detachedly watch as Charlie grips Fleur's pearl-adorned neck and lifts her in the air. She chokes but shuts up. Different wind picks up around Charlie and two bulges form on his back, visible even through the cloak. There is silence all around, mourners watching with round eyes as the fiancée of the deceased is close to being murdered by his brother. Only Fleur's parents stare at the ground, ashamed of their daughter's outburst, understanding of Charlie's and my fury.
"You blind egoistical bitch," I whisper, but in the soundlessness my voice carries. "If you suggest something like this ever again… if you even hint at it… I'll kill you without a second thought and never look back."
I scare great many people, but it strikes me that even delivering death-threats I don't sound so dead inside anymore. All thanks to Bill. All thanks to the man she accused me of murdering… I would have given my life for him. I would have killed for him. He believes in me.
"Monsieur Weezley," a blonde girl tugs at Charlie's cloak; I recognise her as Gabrielle Delacour, "s'il vous plaît, let Fleur down. She says very stupid zings, but she is very sad."
We don't need more grief today. It's Bill's day and I won't see it tainted by murder. I refrained – Charlie can too. I put my hand on his, following Snape's example, and slowly, gently guide it towards the ground. He releases Fleur, who slumps backwards against one of the black-clad guests. She's conscious, but only just. More importantly, she doesn't say anything.
"Come, Peace," I whisper, "we have somewhere else to be." Anywhere else.
We (Charlie and I) take Ron, Ginny and Hermione back to Hogwarts. Snape accompanies us to the grand staircase and then runs off to hide in the dungeons. It must have been too much excitement for him today and he undoubtedly has some potion for Poppy, Remus or his own amusement to brew.
Ginny and Ron, neither of which slept a wink last night, are out cold as soon as they hit their beds, and Charlie sets up Silencing Spells so that they wouldn't be awoken by their room-mates sooner than necessary. Hermione hugs me and repeats over and over how sorry she is for getting mad at me. I tell her five times that it's all forgiven and forgotten and send her off to get some sleep, too, if possible. She takes a book into the bed, so I doubt it's going to happen.
Once they are sorted out – as much as we are capable of sorting them out – I walk Charlie out of the castle. Students flee from the Entrance Hall as we enter it; we cross it in summer-like silence, my heels echoed by other, much quieter set of footsteps.
I, with minor surprise, realise that he is now the Heir, though I doubt he'll hold the position for long. Percy has already refused it by refusing his family (moreover, he's 'missing'), Fred and George are not exactly made to be heirs of anything, and they would either take the position together, or not at all. That leaves Ron. My once best friend never imagined that he would hold that position one day. It wasn't too probable, sure, what with five older brothers… but Ron deserves it. Maybe this was waiting for him all that long time he felt overlooked.
Charlie stops on the highest step and waits for me to stand by his side. For a while we simply watch the horizon, tacitly coming to terms with the reality of the world remaining the same even without Bill in it. At least for most people – the two of us are going to walk our ways in very different directions.
"Am I going to see you again?" I ask him, letting my wistfulness trickle into the inquiry.
"But I'm not likely to," I finish for him, with understanding that surprises me. I search my heart for the reason and find it right next to the reason why I didn't cry when Bill burnt. I have little to mourn for – our paths have intersected, we gave each other little gems to carry in our souls, hopefully for the rests of our lives, but we have to go on and neither of us particularly desires to forcefully twist our futures together. What is mine of Bill I already have and what was not is not mine to mourn. What is mine of Charlie I already have…
"No…" he says plaintively, with a tiny hint of content smile playing around the edges of his mouth, "no, you're not likely to." I wish he was careful, and happy, and lived long and felt a lot of love. He knows that I do and wishes something similar, coloured by his experience and nature, for me.
"Goodbye, Peace. Take good care of yourself."
He turns to me, puts his arms around my hips and lifts me up against himself with ease. He gifts me with one last less than chaste kiss that lingers more on my mind than on my lips and we part; I go back into the castle, he goes free.
A/N: That's the end of Metamorphosis at Dawn. If you would like to know what happens to Harry now, go read Pantogogue ;-).