Title: Rituals for the Dead

Fandom: Harry Potter

Rating: PG-13

Pairings: None

Summary: The Weasley family honour their dead, in the wizarding tradition

Mrs Weasley approached Harry gently. "Harry," she asked quietly. He turned to look at her. Mrs Weasley's eyes were red still, but her face was peaceful and serene with acceptance, and he felt a sudden affection for her sweep through him. It had been three days since the final battle, and while none of them were recovered from the effects and the deaths, healing had at least begun, helped in large measure by the close bonds that the survivors shared. She smiled softly at him, and they both sat down on the squashy sofa in the front room of the Burrow. "Harry, both Arthur and I regard you as almost our son." She added hastily. "We understand we can never take the place of your parents, but we consider ourselves your family." Stopping for a second, she wiped away a stray tear that had fallen. They had a habit of doing that. "We were wondering if you would like to take part in a family ritual of honouring the dead. It is confined to family members, but as I said we consider you our family. We would like to invite Hermione as well."

Harry smiled at her. "Thank you," he whispered. "I would love to. Our dead deserve as much honour as we can give to them, and I am grateful that you consider me one of yourselves. Would you like me to ask Hermione for you?"

She nodded. Few people could get through to Hermione at the moment, she seemed to have retreated into a shell that only two people could access- Harry and Ron. The medi-wizards said it was a natural delayed reaction to shock and torture, and that it would only last a week or so. On impulse Harry hugged her. "When is it?" he asked.

"Tonight, as it is the third night from death, and thus a particularly powerful one." She hugged him back for a moment then released him with a wan smile. "I must begin to organise it."

Hermione sat quietly in the bedroom, hands folded, book untouched at her side. Her face was calm, with a faint hint of a smile. Her hair which had been plastered with mud and blood after the final battle was now clean, as bushy as ever, and Ginny had helped attire her in plain black robes. Her eyes were vacant until she heard Harry's voice, and then she looked up. "Harry," she greeted him, and he sat down beside her.

"Mrs Weasley would like us to attend a ceremony for honouring the dead tonight. As honorary members of the family we are invited. Would you like to come?"

There was silence then Hermione spoke. "I'm not sure I feel comfortable with the idea," she said warily, her eyes searching his face for something. "I am not family. And well you know I'm Muggle-born Harry, I don't understand these things, and it wouldn't be appropriate."

Harry was puzzled. "I can't imagine the Weasleys doing anything that a Muggle-born like you, or a half-blood like me would find uncomfortable, or inviting us to it if it was."

Hermione sighed. "If it means so much, then I shall attend though I cannot promise to partake."

He squeezed her shoulder. "It would mean a lot to us all," he said quietly.

Sometime later they both came downstairs, attired in their dress-robes. The entire Weasley clan was there, though Harry was surprised to see Fleur absent. The atmosphere was like a funeral, but strangely jovial at the same time. Ron took charge of Hermione, while Harry went to see if he could help in the kitchen. Mrs Weasley shooed him out, though she asked him to help lay the table. The virginal white tablecloth was spread out, the antique family silver lovingly preserved through the generations laid out, white lilies shed their heavy scent throughout the room, their waxy petals gently dropping.

They all sat down, and Mr Weasley in a grave hushed voice asked them all to join hands for a moment. Harry held firmly onto Hermione and Ginny's hands, and felt a little magical spark zing through him as Mr Weasley quietly uttered some form of a blessing, that seemed strangely similar to the Muggle children's prayer. For what we are about to receive may the Lord make us truly thankful.

Mrs Weasley and Charlie handed round the entrees , tomato soup, thick and sweet and heavy on the tongue, and Harry found himself thinking miserably of the twin who should have been there to drink it with them. The main course was beautifully cooked as always, the vegetables crisp, the meat cooked to perfection and glazed with honey, with a delicious sauce. Harry ate slowly, savouring the food as he remembered his dead. The dessert was pure clean cold vanilla ice-cream, which had been Fred's favourite dessert, and Harry could no longer restrain his tears- and nor could anyone else in the family. They wept wholeheartedly for the first time as a group, acknowledging their loss and their grief, and afterwards they felt strangely cleansed.

Harry looked round at them all. "When does the ritual begin?"

There was dead silence. Ron spoke first. Gently he said, "Harry, that was the ritual."

Harry looked puzzled. "I don't understand," he said slowly. "Just a meal?"

Ginny's eyes were full of pity as she took his hand. "By absorbing the body of the dead within us, we accept their final gift to us of their vitality and their magic. It is the last gift, and the most important. It is how we keep magic in our family, and make sure that the memory of the dead lives on inside us. That is why only family may partake. It is too precious for the world."

Harry backed away, horror in his eyes. "I ate Fred," he whispered. "His blood was in the soup, and his body was the meat." He doubled over, and began retching as he stared at the faces of the only true family he had ever known, who were suddenly perfect strangers to him.

Hope you enjoyed! I took the idea from other cultures which believed cannibalism gave you the qualities and powers that the dead had in life.

Review please