Year 8: Whispers of the Yet to Come

Written by: damonkeygirl

Disclaimer: I own nothing of the Harry Potter series. This is purely a work of fiction based on the novels and movies.

A/N (08/05/10): These updates are solely my attempts to a) order the chapters more to how I originally intended them to be, and b) fix a few inconsistencies and silly errors on my part. I have added a few notes at the end of the last chapter in regards to queries made in reviews.

Enjoy!


As consciousness began poking at him Harry Potter became aware of several things. As he lay with his eyes closed he realized he was in a comfortable bed beneath soft warm blankets. This was unusual as he'd normally slept in a sleeping bag on some hard surface for the past several months. Harry forced his eyes open and saw he was in a large four-poster bed, the bed hangings pulled closed around him. With a start he recognized the dormitory furnishings and realized he was at Hogwarts.

This realization brought forth the memory of how he came to be there and Harry sat up abruptly.

Images of the past couple days flooded his mind. Horcruxes, hallows; riding a dragon out of Gringott's; escaping the fiend fyre in the Room of Requirement. With a heavy heart, Harry remembered Fred, Lupin and Tonks, and rows of bodies lying in the Great Hall. Raising a hand to his forehead, Harry unconsciously traced his scar as he remembered walking onto the forest, fully believing he was walking to his death. Then he remembered his conversation with Dumbledore and walking beside his parents.

The final confrontation with Voldemort was crystal clear in his mind and yet felt unreal. Harry knew it had happened but the events seemed like it had happened to someone else or had occurred a long time ago and he was remembering a story.

Shaking his head and rubbing his eyes did little to block the memories but served to wake Harry up completely. Not knowing what time it was, he quietly opened the bed curtains beside him and reached for his glasses sitting on the bedside table. Once he could see properly, Harry immediately saw the two wands laying innocently side by side on the table. As he swung his legs over the side of the bed he picked up his old wand, feeling again the warmth as he ran the wand through his fingers. He sighed contentedly as he recalled using the ElderWand to repair his own. Harry knew he was fortunate. As badly damaged as it had been, his wand shouldn't have been mendable. He lifted the ElderWand in his other hand and looked at them side by side.

The ElderWand had a long bloody history. Many wizards would kill to own it; actually many had. That was the wand's legacy. The unbeatable wand, the wand of destiny. Harry knew that many who had witnessed the final battle between Voldemort and himself would deem it fitting that he now possessed the legendary wand. These same people would never understand or believe that he didn't want it. Harry was far happier with the wand he held in his other hand, the wand he'd had since he was eleven and discovered he was a wizard was the wand that felt right in his grasp.

Even Ron, his best friend, had found it hard to accept Harry's decision to give up the ElderWand. Ron and Hermione, however, would support Harry in this decision. The friends who had been with him in everything would be with him when he returned the ElderWand to its previous owner.

With a tremendous yawn, Harry returned both wands to the table and stood up stretching tight muscles. Glancing around the dormitory, Harry saw it was dark outside. The room itself was lit softly by a few guttering candles. Noticing a mound on the bed across the room, Harry moved a couple steps but stopped abruptly as soon as he realized what he was seeing. Sound asleep on the bed was Ron, but what startled Harry was the fact that Hermione also was there. While both were fully dressed lying atop the blankets, the intimacy of their positions spoke volumes. Ron was flat on his back but with an arm wrapped around Hermione's body who was snuggled on her side against Ron. Her head was on his shoulder and her arm was flung across his chest. Feeling uncomfortably like some voyeur, Harry turned around and walked back to his bed.

Harry was distracted right away when he noticed a pile of neatly folded clothes sitting at the foot of the bed. He recognized his belongings and realized that Kreacher must have been in while he slept and had washed his clothing. Grateful to the house elf, Harry took the clothes into the bathroom to wash. Once dressed, he returned to the dormitory, pocketed both wands and glanced across the room one final time. Creeping to the door, he silently slipped out, closing the door behind him.

In the Gryffindor common room, he saw by the glow of the fire that some of the couches were occupied. Percy Weasley slept with his mouth hanging open while his brother Charlie snored nearby. Still not knowing what time it was, Harry left through the portrait hole as quietly as he could.

The upper halls were dim and silent. It must be very late, Harry thought. As he made his lonely way down through the castle he saw the horrible damage wrought by the battle. Although logically he knew it wasn't his doing. Harry cringed as guilt tore at him. He still felt that, if he had surrendered sooner, the damage wouldn't be as severe. As he walked, he noticed that many of the portraits lining the hall were once again occupied. Most showed sleeping occupants but a few were awake and nodded to him as he passed.

He stopped in his tracks, shocked, when he reached the spot where Fred had lost his life. Harry hadn't meant to come this way. Remorse bubbled through him and tears ran down his cheeks. Forcing one foot in front of the other, he approached the hole in the wall and started blindly out at the grounds below. He didn't know how long he stood there but Harry's eyes were dry when he finally moved along.

As he came down the main staircase Harry still wasn't sure where he was heading. He let his feet lead him. When he came within sight of the entrance hall and saw people moving around, however, he suddenly knew he wasn't ready to be seen. Harry drew out his invisibility cloak and threw it over himself then continued on down the stairs. He stood for a moment in the doorway to the Great Hall. It was dimly lit. Near where the head table would normally be, cots were laid out in rows. Harry could see Madam Pomfrey leaning over one of the many who had been injured.

"Poppy," Professor McGonagall called softly from across the room. "Come quickly!" As Madam Pomfrey moved swiftly, Harry also drew closer, trying to see who they tended. He was nearly upon them when he heard Madam Pomfrey speak in a quiet, sad voice.

"He's gone, Minerva." And she reached out and gently lowered the eyelids on who Harry now saw was Terry Boot. He stood frozen in shock. Somehow Harry had never thought there could be more death. After all, the battle was won.

Numbly Harry watched as Professor McGonagall motioned to a nearby wizard who came and levitated Terry's body and walked it into a neighboring classroom which, Harry saw as he sadly followed, had been turned into a mortuary.

"Thank you, Harlan." Minerva McGonagall had followed behind also. Harry side-stepped so she wouldn't bump into him. She was silently weeping into a handkerchief as she watched the wizard lay Terry out solemnly next to an unknown witch.

"I will send an owl to his parents, Minerva." Harlan told her, laying a consoling hand upon her arm.

Sniffling, trying to pull herself together, she replied, "Thank you," before she turned and went back to other, living patients.

Harry stayed where he was. He gazed down on Terry Boot, guilt feelings causing him to tremble. His breath became ragged as his eyes traveled from Terry, a fellow quidditch player, to the unknown witch beside him. Feeling helpless to prevent it, Harry found himself walking around the room looking into the faces of the witches and wizards, seeing all the people who had died for him, to buy him the time he had needed to complete Dumbledore's plan.

Harry felt like he owed it to them to look upon their faces and acknowledge their sacrifice. Everyone treated him like he was the hero but, as he committed each face to memory Harry knew, here were the true heroes. When he found himself back at the door he turned to face all those who lay within and whispered. "I'm sorry," and "Thank you."

Harry entered the hall and, ghostlike, entered another classroom. This one was already full of the fallen. He repeated his private trek, committing all to memory. It was as he neared a back door that he found Remus Lupin. Tonks lay beside her husband. They seemed only to be sleeping. Tears sprang again to Harry's eyes and he could not hold back the sobs that burned in his throat. He fell to his knees, his hands over his face as he cried like he could not remember ever crying before. The pain of so much loss was crushing him.

How long he knelt there, Harry did not know when he felt a hand on his arm. "Master?" Kreacher came into Harry's tear stained vision. Harry hadn't noticed the cloak slipping off. "Are you all right, Master Harry?" Kreacher was patting Harry's shoulder in a comforting manner.

Trying to gain control of his emotions, Harry cleared his throat while wiping at his eyes. His first instinct was to reassure the old house elf that, of course, he was okay but couldn't find the words. The words that came out were in a rough whisper. "So many died."

"Yes." Kreacher agreed sadly. He continued to pat Harry's shoulder. "We fought a war, we did. The Dark Lord hurt many good wizards and witches. They died. Even house elves died. But we won, Master Harry. You must remember that."

Harry looked into the eyes of his ancient elf and heard his wisdom. "I know, Kreacher." He took a deep breath. "But it hurts all the same."

Kreacher nodded. He took Harry by the hand and pulled. "Come, Master Harry. Come away from here."

Harry allowed himself to be led away from the make-shift mortuaries. Kreacher held Harry's hand as he left through the back door into a narrow corridor. He did not pay any attention to where they were going until they stood before a large painting of fruit. The old house elf had to stretch high to reach the pear which he tickled. This, Harry knew, was how one opened a door which he recognized led into the Hogwarts kitchens.

Feeling too dull emotionally to protest, Harry meekly followed Kreacher and sat at one of the long tables which, Harry knew, mirrored the placement of the house tables directly above in the Great Hall.

"Now you wait here, Master, while I get you a cup of tea." Kreacher instructed. As the elf turned to do so, however, other Hogwarts house elves were already approaching with a tray containing not only a teapot but a plate of muffins as well. Kreacher nodded politely and stepped back as the tray was placed at Harry's elbow.

"Thank you." Harry murmured.

The handful of house elves bowed low and smiled, pleased to be of service. They scuttled away as Kreacher poured out some tea and placed the cup into Harry's limp hands. When he didn't make a move to drink, the elf spoke. "Tea will help, sir. Please."

Harry could sense that Kreacher was concerned for him. His heart warmed as he recalled how their relationship had been in the past. Although he couldn't at that moment see how a simple cup of tea could change how he was feeling, Harry didn't want to disappoint the old elf. He raised the cup to his lips and sipped. As the heat rolled down to his stomach he was surprised how good it felt and soon was amazed that the cup was empty. He met Kreacher's gaze. "You were right, Kreacher. That is good."

Kreacher smiled and Harry found he could lift his lips in a half grin. Kreacher refilled Harry's cup and lifted the plate of muffins closer, obviously hoping to entice Harry to eat something. Harry looked from the tea to the plate and back to Kreacher's hopeful gaze. "Would you join me in a cup, Kreacher?"

His large eyes opening wide in amazement, Harry's house elf for a moment could not speak. "Me, sir?" He asked hoarsely. Kreacher was patently shocked, never expecting to be made such an offer.

Harry felt kindly towards the elf. "Why not? You are taking very good care of me when I'm feeling down. And I'd like the company." Harry could see his words made an impression. It was only a few moments before the elf replied.

"I'd be honored, Master Harry." Kreacher announced. "I'll just go get another cup." The elf trotted out of Harry's sight but returned after several moments. Kreacher clambered onto the bench beside Harry and proceeded to pour some tea for himself. Harry waited until the elf was done before sipping tea once again. They both drank in companionable silence then Kreacher reminded Harry to try the muffins.

Harry chose a muffin and tore off a piece and found to his surprise that he was indeed very hungry. "This is good." He commented to Kreacher before demolishing the rest of the muffin.

Kreacher was happy that his master was eating something. The elf had been afraid when he found Harry among the bodies upstairs. Since he had accepted the young wizard as his new master, Kreacher had come to admire the complexities of Harry's personality. It was unusual for house elves to find themselves treated as courteously as Harry treated Kreacher. Former Master Regulus had been kind too. The old elf knew himself to be lucky. Although he hadn't had a chance to take care of Harry for very long at Grimmauld Place before the young wizard had been driven away by death eaters, Kreacher had begun to care for him in that short time.

Recognizing Harry needed human companionship Kreacher had, therefore, when he'd gone to get his teacup, asked one of his fellow house elves to go fetch a wizard or witch. He had described Ron and Hermione as best he could.

As soon as Harry finished the first muffin he found himself reaching for another but instead of taking a bite he put it down next to his teacup. For Harry had remembered something Kreacher had said to him up in the make-shift mortuary. "Kreacher, did you tell me upstairs that house elves died during the battle?" Harry's inside felt a little wobbly as he waited for the answer.

The elf gently placed his cup of tea upon the table before answering. Kreacher met Harry's eyes. "Yes, Master. Five house elves were killed in the battle. Many more were wounded."

Harry closed his eyes in renewed remorse. In his minds eye he saw again the house elves of Hogwarts swarming between the legs of wizards and death eaters, swinging cooking knives like they were wands. The tears that had flooded beyond his control earlier made silent tracks down his cheeks once again. "I'm so sorry."

"It is a great honor that you are concerned for mere house elves, sir." Kreacher replied, touched to see tears in his master's eyes for creatures he knew most wizards considered lesser beings.

"Of course I'm concerned!" Harry burst out. "Has anyone seen to the wounded elves?"

"We are looking out for them as best we can, sir." Kreacher answered. "But I am afraid several may not survive."

"Then a healer should be caring for them." Harry declared.

"But Master Harry," the elf replied, "surely the healers will want to tend wizards who were wounded before worrying themselves about house elves." Kreacher shook his head sadly, believing his statement to be true.

"That's not fair!" Harry hotly stated. Then he calmed himself, he knew what Kreacher said was true. Most wizards would never consider house elves as important as their own kind. His voice was soft when he spoke again. "You elves fought for Hogwarts just like everyone else. Your wounded should be of concern to everyone." He sat in thought for several moments.

"Kreacher, I want you to go up to the Great Hall and, please, tell Madam Pomfrey that there are house elves that need help." Harry didn't want to make it a direct order if he could help it but felt the welfare of the hurt elves should take precedence. "Perhaps she could send a witch down if she can't come herself."

He understood that his master did not want to order Kreacher to do this. However, this was one request the elf was glad to be given. He was sure some of the other house elves would die if they did not receive wizarding help. He hopped down from the bench beside Harry and bowed low to his master before padding quickly away.

Standing quietly in a corner of the kitchen where her elf escort had left her, Ginny Weasley had overheard the last few moments of Harry's conversation with the old house elf and had watched as the elf hurried to do Harry's bidding.

Ginny had found herself unable to sleep and had planned to assist wherever she was needed. Anything was better than laying in bed, going over in her mind the horrors of the past few days. Being active helped keep the grief from her brother's loss at bay. She had insisted on staying at Hogwarts when her parents accompanied Fred's body home. They and George were to make funeral arrangements before the rest of the family returned. Ginny had sensed that her mother and father had needed time, with Fred's twin, to grieve together. She felt George especially needed his parents' undivided attention. Thus she and her brothers stayed at Hogwarts for now.

It had been before dawn when Ginny awoke in her dormitory. Coming downstairs, she had been surprised when she had been approached by a house elf in the entrance hall.

"Excuse me, miss," the elf had spoken in a squeaky voice. "But are you a friend of Mr. Harry Potter?" The house elf had noticed Ginny coming into the hall and felt she met Kreacher's description quite accurately, not realizing he had been describing two people, one with long hair – one with red hair.

"Yes. I am." Ginny answered, her heart beating faster in a combination of concern and emotion.

"Could you come with me, miss?" The elf asked. "I was sent to fetch Mr. Potter's friend."

Realizing that the elf was probably meant to get Hermione and her brother but knowing they both were most likely still asleep, Ginny instantly decided to not disabuse the house elf's assumption that she was the friend in question. After all, Harry was her friend, too. Had been more than a friend once.

She looked now down upon the house elf standing before her. "Of course I'll come. Lead the way." Following, Ginny couldn't help but worry. What was going on? Was Harry hurt?

She was momentarily confused when they entered the school's kitchen then she heard Harry's voice. Once her escort had left her and the older elf with Harry had hurried off on his errand, Ginny watched Harry as he propped his head in his hands, his elbows braced on the table. His grief was palpable in the room.

Ginny knew Harry. She had heard enough in the past few minutes to know he was blaming himself for the injured house elves. It was his nature to try and protect everyone around him. She couldn't be sure but she thought it wasn't only the elves' situation that was bowing his shoulders now. It was like him to take everything on himself. It was killing him to see others hurt.

Coming up behind him, Ginny put comforting hands on his head, brushing his hair with her fingers. Totally startled, Harry jerked sideways on his seat as he turned around. "Ginny!" He gasped, staring at her as if she were a figment of his imagination. "What are you doing here?" He asked, breathing heavily.

Scaring him half out of his wits had definitely not been her intention. In light of recent events, specifically the battles, she supposed she was lucky he hadn't pulled his wand on her. "I'm sorry," she answered. "I didn't mean to scare you." She lowered her hands which had still been outstretched towards him. She thought, she imagined, that she saw regret in his eyes as he watched her hands move away.

"What are you doing down here?" Harry asked again. He forced himself to resume a more relaxed position.

"A house elf brought me here. I didn't exactly know why." Ginny explained. She saw his effort to appear nonchalant. "Please Harry. . ."

"What?" He asked, looking away from her knowing gaze. "I came in and saw you." Ginny began. Harry would not meet her eyes. "Please don't pretend you weren't upset." She put her hand out tentatively, ready to withdraw if he resisted. When he didn't, she gently touched his chin and he shut his eyes. "You looked like you needed a friend." She spoke softly.

Her touch, which he had dreamed of, was wonderful to Harry. He allowed her to turn his head and finally looked at her. He knew she was reading his expression, but what did it say? He didn't know.

"Why are you sad?" Ginny asked again, forcing herself to ignore much of what was in his eyes. Harry needed her to be a friend now. "Why are you sitting with house elves?"

With that strange understanding that they had shared since last year, Harry knew Ginny would listen, she'd be his friend first and he knew it was what he needed at that moment in time. "Death." He answered quietly.

Ginny sat beside him on the bench and waited, knowing he'd continue when he was ready. He glanced upwards. "I walked through the Great Hall earlier. No one could see me." She understood he was telling her he'd been wearing his cloak. She nodded and he went on. "I found the rooms off the hall." Harry suddenly went quiet. He wasn't sure he could continue. He stared into his teacup.

Tears pricked Ginny's eyes, more for Harry but also for herself. Her brother had lain in one of those rooms. "So many." Harry spoke so softly that Ginny had to strain to hear. "It's my fault."

Not surprised by this, Ginny took hold of one of his hands. "No." She spoke firmly. He looked up in surprise. "I mean it Harry, you cannot blame yourself."

He felt differently. "Can't I? If I had been smarter, if I had worked harder, it might not have come to this!" He tried to pull his hand away.

Ginny's eyes blazed. Normally, Harry enjoyed that look in her eyes but circumstances were different. "Stop it! Please listen to yourself. Think about it. While I can't say what it was you were doing this past year, you were not alone doing it. Could you have been smarter than Hermione?" He started to speak. "No, you can't deny that, Harry. Whatever plan it was, it must have been important. Tell me this, if this plan hadn't succeeded, would He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named be dead now?"

"No. . . but," Harry began but Ginny cut him off.

"If you hadn't had this plan to begin with, would you, could you have defeated him?"

"I don't think so, no." Harry admitted, allowing her to continue, needing to be convinced.

"You have to realize you weren't the only one fighting him, Harry. People had been against him since before we were born." She said firmly.

"But if I'd been faster, fewer people would have died." Harry said quickly, this being his main point. "Maybe Fred would still be alive if I had known what to do sooner, and Lupin and Tonks." He was crying silent tears.

"Do you think anyone, anyone, blames you for those who died? Harry, you can't believe that." Ginny, too, was crying.

"They should." He whispered.

"No, Harry." She replied softly through her tears. She reached out and brushed the moisture off his cheeks. "Everyone realizes many more people would have died if you hadn't stopped him." He didn't reply. "He would have kept on killing, kept on terrorizing all of us. And he would have enjoyed it all." She spoke bitterly.

Harry covered Ginny's hand on his cheek with his own. "Do you really think no one blames me?" He asked. "Do you not blame me for your brother's death?" He truly feared her answer.

"Oh, Harry!" Ginny pulled him willingly into an embrace. She told him, "I am glad you stopped him before he killed the rest of my family. You know we were considered the biggest blood traitors there were."

Harry held Ginny a long time. He truly wanted to believe her words. After a time he felt calmer, more at peace. He was about to pull away and speak when his stomach did his speaking for him. Rumbling quite loudly, he and Ginny separated laughing at the intrusion.

"There you go, then." Ginny said, grinning. "You must be feeling better."

Harry smiled sheepishly. "Yeah, I do. Thanks to you." He was grateful for her support. He wasn't ashamed of his emotions in front of Ginny. It went back to that understanding they had between them.

"Well I suggest you finish these muffins before the house elves think you don't appreciate them." Ginny announced, handing him one of them before picking one up for herself. "I admit, I could eat too." They ate in a comfortable silence until nothing was left but crumbs. They stood up at the same time. "Do you want to check on the injured elves?" Ginny asked.

"Yes. I want to make sure they're taken care of." Harry replied. Soon they found Madam Pomfrey in a side chamber kneeling near a sorely wounded house elf. "Will they be okay, Madam Pomfrey?" Harry asked worriedly as he glanced around at all the cots in the room.

Hogwarts' resident healer stood up using Harry's helping hand. She, too, looked around the room. She nodded. "I believe we got to them in time." She looked him in the eye. "You sent the old elf to me, did you?" She asked.

"Yes, ma'am. Kreacher had told me of these injured elves." Harry answered. "I don't think they would have asked for help."

Madam Pomfrey agreed. "They are a brave species. I heard they attacked with only kitchen implements."

Ginny spoke. "I saw them. They hacked at any death eater they could reach."

"Can we help in any way?" Harry wanted to know.

The healer shook her head. "They wouldn't accept it. They are quite capable of looking after their own. You two go on now, they'll be wanting to prepare breakfast. Best not be under foot." She shooed them out.

Harry and Ginny saw that Madam Pomfrey was correct. When they entered the kitchen, it was swarming with house elves. The aroma of bacon cooking made Harry realize the muffins had merely blunted his hunger. As the two of them edged along towards the door, Harry heard a voice. "Goodbye, Master!" Kreacher waved from nearby.

Harry smiled. "Bye, and thank you Kreacher." The elf bowed happily and went on about his task.

As they made their way back towards the Great Hall, it felt quite natural to hold hands. Harry knew he had a lot to make up for towards Ginny. The fact that she had come to him, had been willing and able to beat some sense into him, filled him with hope. Just below the top of the stairs that would bring them into the hall, Ginny paused. She turned to Harry. "I promised to meet Luna this morning. I told her I'd meet her outside the library. Will you be all right?" She asked, clearly concerned to leave him alone.

Although loathe to give up her company, Harry knew the minute he step foot in the Great Hall, they wouldn't be alone regardless. "I'll be fine. Tell Luna I said hello." He assured Ginny.

"Okay, see you later Harry." With a smile Ginny left him.

The ceiling in the Great Hall reflected the rising sun outside. Many people were already assembling at the long tables in anticipation of breakfast. Again, like yesterday, no one seemed to be sitting according to houses. As he had predicted, Harry was greeted enthusiastically by everyone as he walked up the tables. He smiled, nodded and waved every few steps. He finally spotted the two he'd been subconsciously looking for.

"Oi!" Ron greeted him with a smile. "Where have you been?"

Harry sat across from he and Hermione, who seemed a trifle ill at ease. "I was visiting Kreacher down in the kitchens."

"He's all right, isn't he? I mean he didn't get hurt?" Ron asked, having grown fond of the old house elf. "What about the others? Did we lose any?"

Ron's selfless concern for the well-being of Hogwarts' house elves caused Hermione to beam happily at him. He did not notice as he waited for Harry's reply. With a momentary shared grin with Hermione, Harry grew serious. "Five elves died. Kreacher's okay but he told me many were injured."

"Oh, no!" Hermione cried. "Does Madam Pomfrey know? Is she helping them?" Ron looked anxious also.

"She didn't until I made Kreacher go ask for help." Harry explained. "The house elves didn't think they were important enough to deserve our help." As Hermione looked ready to burst out, he continued. "I told Kreacher they fought like heroes and deserved to be cared for properly. I think Madam Pomfrey was glad to help them. She said no more should die now she's got to them."

Hermione seemed relieved. At the same time she flushed slightly. "Harry, about what you must have seen. . ."

Harry cut her off. "I saw nothing to be ashamed about." He said firmly. "You two had to have been as tired as I was. I know I was asleep the minute I hit the bed."

While Hermione appeared more comfortable, Ron, only now realizing what they had been talking about, cleared his throat and said, "Thanks, mate." His cheeks momentarily as red as his hair.

Harry grinned. Then, as had always been, breakfast appeared before them. All of them were quite hungry so conversation was stalled as they filled their stomachs. Before they had a chance to talk, however, Professor McGonagall had stood and was asking for attention. All eyes turned respectfully towards her.

"I need to announce several things so please bear with me." She began. "First of all, there will be a memorial service tonight to honor all those who lost their lives protecting Hogwarts Castle. The memorial will be at seven o'clock here in the Great Hall." Professor McGonagall paused sadly then cleared her throat briskly. "Also, the Hogwarts Express will arrive in Hogsmeade at 3 o'clock for those wishing to return to your homes. Arrangements have been made for the transport on the train of family members fallen in the battle." Again a respectful silence. "And finally, those of you who wish to remain and help make repairs to the castle, please report to Professors Flitwick, Sprout, or myself immediately following breakfast. Thank you."

As they were finishing up breakfast, Ron and Hermione speculated on how they might help make repairs. Neither of them noticed that Harry was rather quiet or that he had stopped eating. For at the mention of the memorial service, Harry had been reminded of his visit to the nearby mortuaries. Renewed sadness filled him as he brought to mind the faces he had committed to memory. As he sat remembering it occurred to him that someone was missing among the fallen witches and wizards. Harry slowly straightened up as he realized that nowhere had he seen the remains of Professor Snape. Was he lying in yet another classroom? It was suddenly important to Harry to know.

As he stood he was barely aware that Ron and Hermione followed suit. They had only taken a couple steps, however, when a tiny fluff of an owl came hovering over their heads. "Pig!" Ron exclaimed, holding out an arm so the owl could settle there. As his arm had become a perch, Hermione assisted Ron in removing the envelope that was attached to the little bird's leg. Once unencumbered, the excitable owl hooted happily. Ron told him, "Good owl. Why don't you go up to the owlery and get some rest, eh?" He tossed the bird into the air before accepting the envelope from Hermione. He tore it open. "It's from Mum and Dad. It is for all of us." Harry understood him to mean the letter was for Ron and his siblings. Ron's face was serious as he read the missive. "They are telling us when Fred's funeral will be." He choked up and tears came to his eyes.

Hermione embraced him. Ron closed his eyes as he returned her hug. Harry grasped his shoulder, not knowing how else to convey to Ron his feelings. A moment later, Ron pulled away and sniffled. "I better go find the others."

"Do you want company?" Hermione asked, indicating her willingness to go with him for support.

"Nah." Ron replied with a watery expression. "I think it should be only family. No offense."

"Of course not, mate." Harry said stoutly. "We understand." A part of Harry was relieved. He wasn't ready for the outpouring of grief that the Weasley's letter would surely engender. He'd only just gotten back on keel after his collapse earlier. Harry didn't think is would take much to plunge him back into despair and guilt.

"Okay, then." Ron was saying. "I'll see you later." He and Hermione touched hands for a few moments before Ron walked away.

Hermione had tears in her eyes as she turned towards Harry. He rubbed a hand up and down her arm. "He'll be okay." Harry said quietly. She didn't reply but changed the subject.

"Shall we see where we can help?" Hermione motioned towards the front of the hall where Professor Flitwick and others were handing out assignments according to ability.

Harry spoke. "I need to speak to Professor McGonagall." The seriousness in his voice surprised Hermione. Harry's solemn expression seemed to inhibit others around him as they waited their turn to speak to the transfiguration teacher. When it was their turn, the professor greeted them fondly and consulted a roll of parchment.

Harry put a hand on the list and interrupted the woman's thoughts. "I'm sorry, Professor, but before you give us something to do, I have to ask you something."

Surprised and respecting the tone Harry used, Professor McGonagall gave him her full attention. "What is it Potter?" Her head tilted a little in curiosity.

Harry took a deep breath. "I was wondering if you could tell me where Professor Snape's body has been taken?" He asked quietly. "I didn't see it with the others."

Clearly taken aback by the question, Professor McGonagall opened and closed her mouth a few times before finding her voice. "Professor Snape?" She swallowed. "I hate to say it, but I don't think anyone gave him any thought whatsoever."

"I was afraid of that." Harry replied. "I am ashamed I didn't remember to say anything until just now when you mentioned the memorial."

"Well, of course, his body cannot stay wherever it is." Professor McGonagall said with a small shudder. "So you know where he is?"

"Yes."

"Well, we should get someone to retrieve his body. If you could tell me where . . ." McGonagall trailed off as Harry raised his hand to interrupt her.

"I'll do it." Harry said quietly. He knew this was something he needed to do.

"Are you sure, Potter? Recovering the dead is very difficult emotionally and, let's be honest, your relationship with Severus was rather volatile." Professor McGonagall was clearly unsure Harry should handle this task.

"I'll be fine." Harry assured her. "We all have some rethinking to do about Professor Snape. He deserves to be treated respectfully."

Professor McGonagall studied Harry, judging his sincerity. "Are you sure, Harry, that you want to do this yourself?"

"I am sure. Just let Hermione know where I should take him once I retrieve Professor Snape." Harry nodded to Hermione who had stood quietly beside him thus far.

"What do you mean, Harry? I should go with you!" Hermione argued.

"I'm sorry, Hermione. I feel this is something I have to do alone. Please understand." Harry looked pleadingly into her eyes. "Besides, Ron might come looking for you. He might need you." Conflicting responses flickered over her face. "Please, Hermione." Harry repeated.

"Very well, you go ahead. I'll get details for Snape's placement from the professor." Hermione capitulated. She did want to be nearby in case Ron needed her.

Without any kind of farewell, Harry quickly left the castle. He was relieved not many people were out on the grounds. He didn't want to explain where he was going or what he was doing. Not particularly wanting to crawl through the tunnel again, Harry made his way towards Hogsmeade. He would enter the Shrieking Shack, for the first time, through the main door.

The walk gave Harry time to think. He recalled again all the things he had learned from the pensieve after Snape's death. Most disturbing to Harry, somehow, was the fact that his mother had been friends with Snape. They had known each other from the time they were small children. It was clear to Harry that Snape had treasured his mother's memory and had truly been devastated to have been an instrument of her death.

Harry entered Hogsmeade. Not many people were out and about. Most, Harry assumed, were up at the castle. He made his way through the town and stood for several minutes looking up at the Shrieking Shack from the fence along the road. He could see that the door was open as was the gate leading up to the shack. That was the door Voldemort had left from after he'd had Snape killed by Nagini. The huge snake had plunged its long fangs into his victim's neck, puncturing the jugular.

Bracing himself for what he knew he was about to see, Harry walked towards the shack, pausing in the doorway to allow his vision to become adjusted to the dim interior. Professor Snape's body lay where it had been when Harry had last seen it. Surrounded as it was by a large pool of drying blood, Harry was quite hesitant to approach. After several moments, however, he pulled out his wand and began clearing away the blood using a cleansing spell.

Delaying as long as possible the moment he would have to look directly at Snape's face, Harry cleared all the blood around the body. When he couldn't avoid it any longer, Harry steeled himself and looked down upon the man he had hated most. It was very disconcerting to realize Snape's eyes were still open. Knowing he could not continue while he felt those vacant eyes upon him, Harry knelt next to Snape's form and, shuddering, lowered his eyelids.

Knowing the truth at last didn't make it any easier for Harry to reconcile his feelings toward this man. "Why?" Harry murmured to the still form. "You cared for my mother. I truly believe that. Why did you hate me so much? From the moment I came to Hogwarts you treated me like I were vermin. Why? If you cared for my mother, why couldn't you show some compassion for her son?" Harry couldn't help himself, he was berating a dead man. "I thought you were evil. You let me believe that on purpose. You wanted people to despise you, didn't you?"

"You were punishing yourself, weren't you? You could not forgive yourself for betraying my mother." Harry found some understanding as he remembered more of what he'd seen in the pensieve.

"Dumbledore had reason to trust you but he still didn't treat you very well. He expected you to do his bidding." Without explanation, Harry knew. Almost without thought, Harry began arranging Snape's body into an orderly position. "I understand now you didn't truly murder Professor Dumbledore. If anything, you were pushed into it by himself. I don't think I'd have been able to do what he asked."

Since he needed to transport the body back through Hogsmeade, Harry used another cleansing charm to clean up the wound and Snape's blood soaked robes, necessitating the use of a hover charm to do the underside. Then, conjuring a stretcher, Harry lowered the body onto it.

Almost against his will, Harry admitted verbally what his deepest gut-feeling was telling him. "I don't know if I will ever be able to forgive you for the way you treated me since the beginning. But I truly believe that my mother, Lily, would be happy that you did what you could to protect me from Voldemort." He paused, Harry's jaw clenching. "Thank you."

Standing once again, Harry used his wand like a conductor's baton and steered the stretcher towards the entrance. Once outside, he pulled the door closed and locked it with a tap of his wand. He figured future generations of Hogwarts students would still troop up here. The legend of the Shrieking Shack would surely continue.

More people were moving about the streets of Hogsmeade. They did not approach but stood respectfully as Harry passed with his burden. Perhaps they were saddened upon seeing yet another victim of Voldemort's reign. And Harry knew that Professor Snape was indeed a victim. What seemed even sadder was the realization that he hadn't even died in battle. He'd been killed in cold blood merely because Voldemort had found Snape's continued existence to be a perceived block to his own victory. It hadn't mattered that Voldemort had thought Snape was loyal or not. Snape had been a rock in his path and he'd been kicked aside most casually.

Harry had to be grateful that he'd been nearby when Snape had been struck down or he might never have learned the truth. That Professor Snape's last moments on earth had been used to give Harry the information vital to Voldemort's defeat would not, could not ever be forgotten. As he climbed the final steps into the castle with his burden, Harry decided he wouldn't let Snape's sacrifice be overlooked.

Hermione had been watching for him. "This way, Harry." She led the way past the other rooms filled with the dead and paused at a smaller room. "This is where we are instructed to leave him." She appeared nervous.

"What's wrong?" Harry asked her before looking into the room. He immediately saw what made Hermione so ill at ease. "No way! I am not taking him in there!" This room had been used to store dead death eaters. Harry saw the crumpled body of Voldemort himself in the center of the room.

Harry hadn't tempered his voice at all and his outrage was heard by many. Professor McGonagall was there in a moment, she'd been in a nearby room. "What is going on here?"

"Professor, did you tell Hermione I should bring Professor Snape into this room?" Harry asked heatedly. Didn't she realize? Did no one know the truth but him?

"Well, Miss Granger said something about this room not being appropriate but I do not see how. Snape was a death eater after all." McGonagall replied stiffly.

"No he wasn't." Harry answered. He glared at Hermione, wanting to ask why she hadn't explained.

"I tried to tell her, Harry, I really did."

"Tell me what, Miss Granger?" Professor McGonagall asked impatiently. She abruptly dismissed their growing audience. "Be on your way. I'm sure you all have something better to do."

Harry chose to explain. He spoke succinctly. "Professor Snape was not a death eater. He was only playacting because he was a spy for Dumbledore."

"But he did despicable things. I witnessed some of them. And you. You have always believed Snape was evil." The professor countered.

"I was wrong." Harry stated flatly. He took a deep breath and tried to keep his voice calm. "Shortly after Snape's death, during the pause in the fighting when Voldemort withdrew his troops, I learned the truth."

"How?" McGonagall questioned. "If he was dead, how could you learn anything from him?"

"His memories, professor." Hermione told her. "We, Harry, Ron and I were there right after He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named struck him down. As soon as he left we approached Professor Snape. He, he was still alive." She looked a trifle sickened as she recalled the gruesome sight.

"When he realized I was kneeling over him, he tried to talk." Harry continued the tale. "But he was gushing so much blood, he could barely speak. He begged me to 'take it'. Liquid memory began pouring out of him. We scooped it into a flask. There was nothing else we could do for him. He died."

Professor McGonagall looked pale.

"When we got back to the castle everyone was in the Great Hall gathering over the victims." Hermione said. She looked at Harry. "But you didn't come in, you disappeared."

"I went up to the headmaster's office. I dumped the memories from Professor Snape into the pensieve and watched them." What Harry didn't say was that he hadn't done it to learn any truths. He had been escaping the pain of all the deaths of people he loved.

"And you learned that Severus had been on our side all along?" Minerva McGonagall surmised.

"Yes." Harry answered. He didn't elaborate.

"What else did you learn, Mr. Potter?" The professor asked shrewdly, guessing there was more.

"I learned Professor Dumbledore was already dying when Snape was on the tower last year. That Dumbledore's final death had been arranged between them." This was as far as Harry was willing to go at that time. No one needed to know all of Professor Snape's revelations.

When she appeared ready to interrogate him further, Harry spoke quickly to cut her off. "Can we please lay Professor Snape somewhere respectful now? He does not deserve to be hanging here in the hallway."

"Very well. Follow me." McGonagall took them to yet another room, one which Harry hadn't seen. As soon as he could he escaped to prevent Professor McGonagall from renewing her questions. Hermione followed him up a flight of stairs.

"Harry, she's going to want to know more, you realize that." Hermione stated as they walked down a second floor hallway.

"I know." Harry acknowledged. "I have to get back into the headmaster's office." Hermione looked confused. "I left the pensieve sitting out. All the memories are still in there!"

"But what does it matter? We could tell McGonagall and she can look for herself." Hermione postulated.

Harry was shaking his head. "There were some very personal memories in there. I'm sure Professor Snape wouldn't want anyone else to see them." He was adamant. "I'm sorry, Hermione, I won't even tell you or Ron. Some of it concerned me, my family."

Hermione tried to keep from feeling offended. "I suppose. I suggest you go now or Professor McGonagall will go looking."

"Yeah, I know." Harry agreed. "I just hope I can still get in there."

Luck was with him, the entrance to the headmaster's office was still in disrepair. The gargoyle which normally controlled access was able to tell him no one was currently up in the office.

"Good. I'll go now. Hermione, I'll meet up with you in a bit, all right?" Harry wanted to get going but took the time to be polite.

"You don't want me to keep watch?" She asked.

"No. I don't think it will be necessary." Harry replied. "If someone comes, I'll tell them I am getting something I left up there which is the truth."

"All right, if you are sure." Hermione finally agreed. "I'll go find Ron and see how they are doing." And she left Harry standing in the hall alone. He waited only a moment before mounting the circular stairs.

As often had happened to him in the past the occupants of the portraits in the headmaster's office were either gone from their frames or were asleep or pretending to be asleep. Harry only gave them a cursory inspection before going to the desk where the filled pensieve still sat. Even though he could easily refill the flask, he did not pull out his wand right away. It occurred to him to wonder what Professor Snape would want done with his memories now that they had served their purpose. It further occurred to Harry he should be able to ask him directly.

Harry glanced around the office. If tradition had not failed, he should find a new portrait. Harry knew each former headmaster had a picture in this room. Most of the portraits were on the upper left. None of them appeared to be new. Harry's eyes paused on Professor Dumbledore's portrait which was directly behind the desk. Although he appeared fast asleep, Harry noticed the arrangement of Dumbledore's hand in the painting. One of the professor's fingers was extended as if, surely it was, it was pointing toward the wall on Harry's right. Sure enough, when Harry looked he spotted the familiar black clothing. He went to stand directly beneath the portrait.

"Professor Snape?"

His eyes snapping open, Snape looked upon Harry in his customary dislike. "What do you want?" He asked waspishly.

Harry swallowed. Somehow he had expected Snape to be kinder towards him after death. Determined to be respectful, Harry spoke. "I want to thank you. The information you provided in your memories proved helpful to me." Professor Snape's eyes flashed dangerously.

"Is that all you wanted?"

"No, sir. I thought I should ask if there is any special way I could store your memories or dispose of them because I felt some of them might be too personal to let anyone else view them." Harry saw he'd gotten Snape's full attention. He continued quietly. "Professor McGonagall knows I've seen them. She's questioned me once already. I thought perhaps you wouldn't want her seeing some of them."

Professor Snape was quiet within his portrait as he reviewed Harry's words. He made the recognizable motion of running a finger across his lips. "No, I don't think I would like Minerva or anyone else seeing those parts of my past."

"How can I prevent it, then?" Harry asked, motioning towards the pensieve. "What do I do with them?"

Snape answered slowly. "If you wish, you could keep the images of your mother. I think Lily would like that." It was the first time Harry had heard Snape acknowledge knowing his mother outside the pensieve. "The rest could be destroyed easily enough."

"No, Severus." Professor Dumbledore was no longer pretending to sleep. Harry looked back at his painting. Dumbledore was looking at his successor. "We should allow those memories of all you've done to be preserved."

"Why, what good will it do?" Snape argued back.

"It is time people saw the good in you Severus." Dumbledore stated firmly. "I bowed to your wishes on this subject far too long. It is time to stop punishing yourself for a mistake made so long ago."

"A mistake!" Snape shouted angrily. "She died because of me, I . . ." He sputtered to a stop when he remembered Harry was standing in front of him.

Harry spoke quietly into the breach. "While I can't remember her, everyone who has told me about my mother has told me what a loving and forgiving person she was. I don't believe she would have wanted you to continually beat yourself up over her death, especially after regretting your actions and working to protect me and assist me in ending this war."

"Lily would want you to find peace, Severus." Dumbledore contributed.

Professor Snape's face was full of anguish. He didn't speak.

Harry spoke again. "I think my mother would want to remember your friendship." Harry thought it was time to move on. "Now, before Professor McGonagall comes up and interrupts, won't you tell me, please, how to separate these memories?"

A short time later harry held two bottles, one in each hand. One, he tucked into an inner pocket. He turned one last time to Professor Snape's portrait. "Thank you for these memories. Not even my Aunt Petunia has told me as much as you have shown me. She likes to pretend she's never had a sister." Harry smiled sadly. "Someday maybe you'd consent to tell me more about my mum."

Snape kept any emotion off his face. "Perhaps."

Harry left the headmaster's office. When he arrived at the entrance hall, he found it packed with people. He was wondering what could possibly be going on when a voice behind him explained. "The Hogwarts Express is waiting at the station." Ron and Hermione and Ginny were watching the activity. Harry joined them.

"How many are going?" Harry asked.

"Well, a lot of parents arrived to take their kids home, you know, those who died." Hermione described sadly. "I think they'll be escorted out in a kind of honor guard. That's why so many are in the hall."

"Should we join them then?" Harry started to move forward.

Hermione shook her head at Ron. "Harry, wait." Ron called out. When Harry glanced back he saw that the other three had not moved.

"What is it?"

"I don't think you should go out there, Harry." Hermione said in a small voice.

"And why not?" Ginny asked fiercely. "If Harry wants to honor the people who died, why can't he?"

Although gratified that Ginny was defending his rights, Harry had learned to listen to Hermione's opinions. He stepped back into the group and put out a restraining hand toward Ginny. "It's okay, Hermione usually has a reason." He looked at his friend. "Do you?"

"Harry, the honor escort is for, is about, the people who died. I know you know that." Hermione twisted her hands together. "I'm just afraid that, if you go with them you'll, well, you'll be a distraction."

"You have to admit, she's got a point." Ron said slowly. "I mean people are already talking about how you defeated You-Know-Who. And you can't even eat a meal without everyone looking at you."

"Ron!" Ginny hissed at her brother. "None of that is Harry's idea."

Harry felt torn. He could see the point that Ron and Hermione were making, but he wanted to show his respects for those who perished when the death eaters had come calling for the last time. With a sinking heart, he decided that what Ron said was true, that Hermione was right, he would be a distraction from an occasion that was not about him but about the fallen heroes about to be escorted to the train. Harry looked out at the people waiting to be part of the honor guard, thinking they were quite lucky to be normal. That's what Harry had often longed to be – a normal boy, student. But he'd been given a lightning bolt shaped scar on his forehead and his life had always been complicated.

Harry didn't meet anyone's eyes when he finally spoke. "You'd better get going, then, if you are to be part of the guard." He turned and walked way from the entrance hall.

Behind his back Hermione looked stricken and would have said something but Ron shook his head firmly. He glanced at Harry's retreating form sadly then indicated they should join the group milling about the hall preparing to be escorts. Ginny watched them go then followed Harry.

Harry had only gone around the corner. He stood staring blindly out a window, wishing he were a part of the honor guard. When he felt a soft hand grasp his own he wasn't surprised. She had already been there for him once today. Harry squeezed Ginny's hand in silent thanks. "All I want to do is show how much I appreciate their sacrifice." He spoke softly. "I'm not grand-standing. I don't want everyone looking at me. I wish to say thank you again to those people who died."

"Again?" Ginny asked while putting a comforting hand on his arm.

"Before breakfast," Harry explained. "I walked through the mortuary rooms and looked at every person, thanking them."

Ginny realized that this, then, was what had upset him so that morning when she had found Harry in the kitchens. He had such a sensitive soul. He couldn't bear to witness so much suffering and loss. His mention of the mortuary rooms gave her an idea. "Come with me, Harry." She pulled him into motion. "I have a way you can pay respects without the whole castle watching."

Harry silently went along, not questioning Ginny. As they slipped past a side door that led into the Great Hall, he saw that Professor McGonagall was organizing the grieving family members so to facilitate an orderly withdrawal of the mortuaries. He and Ginny reached the rooms and she led him past them to a point just before the corridor turned. She positioned Harry in a now-empty alcove where a suit of armor had once stood. She tucked in beside him but was shielded partially from view. "Now you'll be able to pay respects privately before they pass into the entrance hall." She explained.

"This is perfect, Ginny." Harry replied in gratitude. "How did you know about this spot?" He looked admiring into her face and saw as her eyes grew dark. "What's wrong?"

Ginny felt sad as she told him. "I cried in this alcove after they brought Fred down here." She whispered hoarsely, tears pricking her eyes. Harry held her in his arms until they heard movement coming from the mortuaries.

His eyes already red from crying a little with Ginny about Fred, they didn't get better as sad processions filed past his position. It seemed tears were very near the surface for each fallen hero who went by. Harry murmured condolences to family members or thanked the dead for their sacrifices depending on how well he knew them. Tears were nearly clogging his throat when a final pair of heroes came. The older witch accompanying them carried an infant whose hair was bright pink.

Tears spilled over and made tracks down Harry's cheeks as he looked upon Lupin's son. "I am so sorry, Mrs. Tonks." Harry whispered.

"Thank you, Harry." The witch replied sadly, she seemed beyond tears. She glanced at the baby a moment then placed the child in Harry's arms. As he juggled to support the infant properly, Mrs. Tonks spoke again. "Let me introduce you to your godson."

Harry stared down at the solemn looking baby with the pink hair. "Hello, Teddy." He wasn't sure what one said to a baby. "I knew your Mum and Dad. They were good people." The infant waved his arm and with a faint pop, the hair on his head changed to bright orange. Harry couldn't help but smile. He looked up at Mrs. Tonks. "Thank you for allowing me to hold him."

"You are Teddy's godfather, Harry. You are more than welcome." She lifted the baby back into her arms. She looked sadly at her daughter and her husband. Harry looked too. "Teddy's parents made a good choice, I'm sure. Come often. You need to be a part of his life."

"I will, Mrs. Tonks." Harry replied as their procession went into motion once more.

"I didn't know Tonks and Lupin had made you godfather, Harry." Ginny said as they became the last persons in the hall.

"Yeah. Lupin asked me when we stayed at Bill and Fleur's." He answered as they made their way out into the entrance hall which was now empty. Not knowing what to do with themselves since practically everyone in the castle was walking into Hogsmeade to the train station, Harry and Ginny returned to Gryffindor tower.

The common room was deserted. Tension sprung up between them. Harry wanted to say so many things to Ginny. He didn't know how to begin and wasn't certain that the time was right while her family was mourning the loss of Fred. Harry had treated her poorly for reasons that, while he knew she understood, still could block their path back to one another. If she even wanted to be together again. They'd been apart for nearly a year. Yes, Ginny had been kind to him that morning, had treated him like a friend, but Harry ached for more.

"Ginny," Harry began, "I owe you so many apologies for the way I ended things with you. I don't deserve the kindness you've shown me. I am so sorry I've caused you pain."

When he was brave enough to meet her eyes, Harry saw her standing with a hand on her hip, that blaze he so admired was piercing him out of her eyes. "You stupid man. I know why things had to end. You were protecting me. Well, guess what? It's over. You don't need to protect me any more. And unless you don't want me anymore . . ." She couldn't continue. Not because she'd run out of things to say, not because she had choked on tears. Ginny couldn't continue speaking because Harry had jerked her into his arms and was kissing her. He kissed her like he was starving for her. He drew her in to his body so tight Ginny could barely breathe. Her arms crept up around his neck and she returned his kisses with the same amount of passion as Harry was bestowing upon her.

How long they stood locked together neither knew nor cared. Eventually, however, they both needed to come up for air. Harry loosened his arms but did not release her as he raised his head to smile into her eyes. "Hi." He whispered.

Ginny stroked the growing whiskers on his cheek as she returned, "Hi there." She grinned impishly.

Harry couldn't help himself. He lowered his head and kissed her again. And again. He kissed her eyes, he kissed her nose and her cheeks but kept returning to Ginny's lips. Far from complaining, Ginny gloried in the attentions she had wanted for so long. She ran her fingers through Harry's hair which was longer than she had ever seen it. She stroked his cheeks. She ran a finger around his ears causing him to shiver.

Gradually their initial heated enthusiasm slowed down until they merely held one another in their arms. Then Harry guided Ginny to a couch where they sat as near to one another as humanly possible. They might have had a conversation but mutually thought that anything important had already been communicated. As Harry leaned back comfortably he put an arm around Ginny and she laid her head on his shoulder.

It was perhaps fifteen minutes later when they heard voices floating up through the open windows from the grounds. When they went to look down they realized that the honor guard escort was returning from Hogsmeade. Harry found yet another thing to be sad about that day when he realized that his private reunion with Ginny had to end so soon. He comforted himself with the knowledge that now at least they had a future in which they could pursue their relationship.

"Harry." Ginny broke into his thoughts. She had a serious expression on her face.

"What is it?"

"I don't think we should let anyone know we are back together. At least not yet." She wore a wary look as if worried how he'd react to her statement.

Harry was confused. He was so happy he wanted to shout it from the castle towers. He felt certain she was happy to be with him as well. "Why, Ginny?" He stroked her silky smooth hair.

"This isn't the right time to be advertising how we feel towards one another." Ginny explained. "There is so much grief all around us." She teared up as she thought of her brother. "We should show respect to all the loss, all the heartache. Do you understand what I'm saying?"

As she reminded him of what was happening outside the common room Harry felt guilty. Thinking now of Fred, of Lupin and Tonks, he felt he'd been disrespectful of their memories. "I understand. And I agree." Harry finally answered. He cleared his throat. "We'd best head down to the Great Hall, then. It's probably near time for evening meal anyway." As soon as the words were out of his mouth his stomach rumbled loudly enough for Ginny to hear it.

She laughed. "Oh, Harry! Come on, then, we'd better get you some food." They left through the portrait hole and headed downstairs. They scrupulously kept some distance from one another, feeling it was best to begin how they meant to carry on, at least in public. Harry's stomach continued to rumble, though now the two of them were more than a few inches apart, Ginny couldn't hear anything. She saw him rubbing his belly, however. "Have you been starving yourself, Harry?"

He started to grin but it faded as he recalled the past several days. "Actually, I can't recall eating anything since we left Bill's place to go to Gringott's. At least until this morning that is."

Ginny was astonished. "But that is three days, Harry! No wonder you're so hungry."

"Who's so hungry?" Asked a voice near them. Neville, Dean, and Luna joined Harry and Ginny as they headed into the Great Hall which, Harry saw, was now only partially filled.

Ginny answered the question. "Harry has hardly had anything to eat since they broke into Gringott's."

"Blimey, Harry!" Dean disclaimed.

"After you eat, maybe you can tell us about your adventure with the dragon." Neville said as they joined Hermione and Ron at a table, which tonight was a Hufflepuff's. Neville included them in his suggestion.

"I imagine we won't have time tonight, Nev," Ron commented. "What with the memorial service and all." Ron had his arm wrapped around Hermione's shoulder. The two of them seemed quite comfortable with the position. As soon as food appeared on the table, however, Ron disengaged so he'd have two hands to eat. "God, I'm starving!" He began heaping food onto his plate.

Harry was keeping pace with his friend as he began making inroads into the food he'd chosen. Dean and Neville, being guys, had large amounts of food on their plates as well. Luna, who had hardly taken anything, watched them gorging themselves with an almost clinical observation. Hermione and Ginny, however, who had known Ron's appetite for years, merely shrugged in amusement and ate their meal without comment. Once his hunger was blunted sufficiently, Harry questioned his friends. "So, how'd the escort go?"

Hermione looked up quickly, afraid that Harry was still upset. "It obviously was very sad. The townsfolk lined the streets of Hogsmeade. I think the families were pleased to be given such an honorable send off."

"You mean to say you weren't there with us, Harry? Why not?" Neville asked in surprise.

Dean added, "Come to think, I didn't see you anywhere. Course, so many were, I figured I'd missed you."

"Harry couldn't go." Ron answered for his friend. "He had other, uh, obligations." Harry gave Ron a tiny nod for his quick thinking.

As soon as the meal was finished, Hermione stood. "Ron, Harry, come on. I have your other clothes in my bag." When they looked at her blankly, she continued. "Come on! You've been in the same clothes for days. You should change before the memorial service." Knowing she'd keep at it if they didn't cooperate, the two of them allowed her to chivy them along up to Gryffindor tower.

In the still deserted common room, Hermione pulled out the trusty little beaded bag. She looked up at them in shared memories then dug around in the bag until she'd found fresh clothing for the two of them. "Oh, remind me, I should put the horcrux books back." She glanced up. "Well, go on, what are you waiting for? Go change!" With that she scuttled up to the girls dormitory.

"Starkers!" Ron murmured then led the way up to their temporary dormitory. As they began to change, Ron commented about their surroundings. "Almost seems normal to be back in this room, doesn't it Harry?" He threw his soiled shirt onto the floor before reaching to the clean clothes.

"Yeah, it does." Harry agreed then added, "Feels strange too, though."

"What do you mean?" Ron asked, pulling on clean socks.

Harry turned to face him. He motioned idly with a shirt in his hands. "We've been away so long. I don't know. I guess we've done so much, being on our own, it kind of feels like we've gone beyond school."

"I see your point. After all, the three of us have done a lot more than most seventeen year old wizards." Ron replied thoughtfully.

"You're eighteen now, mate." Harry reminded his friend then noticed he still stood there with a shirt in his hands so pulled it over his head.

"I am? Blimey, I'd forgotten." Amazement was plastered across his face.

Suddenly a pounding was heard. "Aren't you two ready yet?" Hermione called through the door.

Ron gave Harry a once-over to make sure he was decent before opening the door. Hermione stood there waiting for them. "Well? Harry! Hurry up and get your shoes on."

"Hermione, calm down. We've got plenty of time." Ron soothed her. He drew her towards him into a loose embrace. "You made sure we got up here with loads of time to change. Harry and I were just talking about what it was like being back in the dormitory."

"It does seem odd, doesn't it?" Hermione was adequately side-tracked so Harry could finish getting ready without her breathing down his neck.

Once Harry was ready, they trekked back down to the Great Hall which had been transformed. The long house tables were gone and in their place were chairs arranged facing the head table. The arrangement was familiar to them. It reminded them of the setup for Professor Dumbledore's funeral. Most people had waited in the hall after evening meal.

"Should we find seats down front?" Ron asked the others.

"Good idea. Coming, Harry?" Hermione asked when he didn't immediately follow.

"I'll be there in a minute. I want to do something first. Save me a seat won't you?" Harry stepped away into one of the numerous little alcoves that lined the hall. He did not notice the confused glances his two best friends cast his way. They wondered what he could possibly be doing.

"Kreacher." Harry called softly once he was alone. With a crack, the ancient house elf was bowing before him.

"Good evening, Master Harry. You wanted Kreacher for something?" He asked, looking up.

Harry felt uncomfortable towering over Kreacher so he knelt to come closer to eye level. "Yes. I was wondering if you could tell me the names of the house elves that died."

"For what reason would Master want to know that for, sir?" The old elf tilted his head curiously. He wouldn't refuse the request but had grown to understand that Harry was likely to explain things if Kreacher were to ask.

"There is to be a memorial service for everyone who died in a little bit." Harry began, motioning towards the chairs. "I thought that, if I got the chance, I might mention their names."

Kreacher's eyes were huge. "Master wants to talk about the house elves who died?"

"Well, I can't promise I'll get the opportunity but I feel it would be nice if it is possible." Harry knew he'd surprised the old elf. House elves didn't expect this kind of respect from wizards. "Could you tell me the names?" Harry held a scrap of parchment and a quill.

So Kreacher told Harry the names of the Hogwarts house elves who had perished when they joined the fighting. "Thank you Kreacher. I say again that I'll try but might not get the chance to mention these names."

"I understand, sir. Just the fact that you want to do this is a great honor and I will tell the other elves that Master Harry is thinking of them." With that there was a crack and the ancient elf vanished.

Harry hurried out, spotted Ron and Hermione, and joined them. He saw that in just those few minutes he'd been away, the Great Hall had filled up.

"What were you doing?" Hermione whispered as he sat beside her. Harry didn't answer because just then the door behind the head table opened and the teachers filed out.

Professor McGonagall, as deputy headmistress, moved forwards and began the service. It was much like what Harry recalled Dumbledore's funeral had been except that more than one person was being remembered. In actuality each and every fallen hero was spoken of individually. Members of the audience were encouraged to speak about their friends as they were mentioned. In an additional honor, a very large plaque stood near the head table and as each victim was announced their name was added to the sign.

Tears flowed freely throughout the hall. When Fred Weasley's name was called, many eyes sought the members of his family who were still present. Charlie, Percy and Ginny sat behind Ron and his friends. Oldest Charlie held his sister as she sobbed into his shoulder. Ron sat silently crying, his tears dripping onto his chest. Hermione held his hand tightly.

The service moved along. Towards the end, Professor McGonagall asked if anyone knew of someone who hadn't been remembered. Realizing this was the time, Harry stood.

"Yes, Mr. Potter?" McGonagall acknowledged.

Harry cleared his throat. "I have a few names I'd like to mention, if I may." He held the scrap of parchment in his hand. He read off the names and added, "Even though they were not wizards, these house elves are a part of the Hogwarts family and they died defending their home. Their sacrifice should be noted." Harry sat to silence. Clearly, no one would have thought to talk about house elves except, of course, Hermione and Ron, who called out, "hear, hear."

Although no one moved to add their names to the plaque, Harry was satisfied. His conscious was clear as he'd done what he'd hoped to accomplish for the house elves. A couple people stood after Harry and one or two more names were engraved onto the plaque. The memorial service was winding down.

Professor McGonagall was speaking what sounded like final words when Harry jumped to his feet once more. "Excuse me, Professor, but there is one more wizard whom no one has acknowledged."

"And who is that, Mr. Potter?" Clearly, she thought they had remembered everyone.

"Severus Snape." Harry proclaimed. Almost at once, murmuring began throughout the audience. The murmuring rapidly grew to angry protests as people stared Harry. He supposed he couldn't blame them, most everyone thought Snape had been a death eater. Harry intended to set the record straight.

All eyes were upon him as Harry strode to the front of the hall. Some made rude comments about his mental judgment though most sat in confused bewilderment. How could Harry, who'd been the one to defeat Voldemort, actually be defending their former potions professor? Professor McGonagall yielded the front to him, recognizing the mature determination in his expression. "Tell us what you know, Mr. Potter." Was what she said.

The audience hushed, waiting to hear what he'd say. "I think you all know how I've felt about Professor Snape. From the moment I set foot in Hogwarts it seemed his mission was to make my life miserable. For years I believed him to be an evil git." Murmured agreement abounded. "I could never understand why Professor Dumbledore trusted Snape. I would find what I thought were good reasons that the man should be feared, but Dumbledore remained steadfast. He would not allow me to speak ill of Professor Snape." Harry paused. "Then last year I was on the Astronomy Tower when the death eaters attacked the castle. I was a witness to the terrifying occurrence of Dumbledore's final moments."

The entire hall was silent. Harry hadn't spoken much about this to anyone. "I was immobilized, hidden under my cloak when Snape arrived on the tower. Professor Dumbledore was already weakened. I won't tell you how or why. There were other death eaters on the tower as well. They were arguing. Someone else was supposed to kill the professor but they were in a hurry. Dumbledore spoke Snape's name quietly. They stared at one another several moments then he struck. The avada kedavra."

Horrified shouts ran through the Great Hall. Harry held his hands up until the audience was ready to listen once more. "I felt, all this past year, justified in believing Snape murdered Professor Dumbledore." He paused a moment then announced firmly, "I was wrong."

Rumbling grew again and Harry had to speak over them to regain control. "Please! Allow me to continue."

Begrudgingly, the hall quieted once more. "It was during the midst of the battle just days ago that I learned the truth. We'd been scouting out Voldemort's location and was hidden when we overheard a conversation between he and Professor Snape. What they discussed is not important, what happened next is." Harry took a moment to marshal his thoughts. "No one has wondered how Snape died. I saw it. There was some ability Snape had, at least what Voldemort thought he had, that he wanted for himself. You might know about the giant snake Nagini? Voldemort casually ordered the snake to kill. It tore out Professor Snape's throat. Then the dark lord walked away, not even bothered about what had just occurred."

Shudders of horror could be seen throughout the room which now remained quiet, waiting for Harry to continue. "So far, I know nothing proves Snape's innocence. At this point even I still thought he was a death eater. But once Voldemort had gone, we came out of hiding and approached and I knelt down beside Professor Snape. He was still alive. He saw me and grabbed my shirt to pull me closer. He tried to speak. He told me to take something. A substance began pouring from his body. It wasn't blood. You might not be familiar with it but it was liquid memory. So we took it. By the time we had it collected, Professor Snape was finished. He died in front of us."

Harry cleared his throat. "About as we were returning to the castle, Voldemort had called a halt in the fighting. Everyone was gathering in here but I didn't join you. I really had no idea what Professor Snape had been trying to tell me by giving me the memories. But I knew how to access them. At that point I was desperate. We all were."

He continued. "Within Snape's memories, I learned why Professor Dumbledore had trusted him. I saw how he followed Dumbledore's orders even when those orders put him in extreme danger. How many of us would have been brave enough to be a spy right in the enemy's own camp? I watched how he saved Professor Dumbledore when he'd had an encounter with a cursed item that would have killed him if Snape hadn't acted. This curse was only stopped for the moment. Professor Dumbledore would have still died. Always looking ahead, Dumbledore made Professor Snape promise to . . ." Harry had to stop a moment to collect himself. "Professor Dumbledore asked Snape that if the time ever came he were to be in a position to be captured or was weakened beyond hope, he asked that Snape be merciful and give him a quick end." Tears flowed from Harry's eyes. He could see many more tears as he looked out in the hall.

"Professor Dumbledore had left certain instructions that Snape was to follow. He didn't really understand but he did what Dumbledore had said. Part of it was to wait for certain occurrences to happen then to find me and give me some information I needed to know. I will not share with you what the information was but I will tell you that without it, Voldemort would still be alive right now." Harry paused to gather his strength. He wanted to be sure he made them understand this final, crucial point. "The occurrences that Snape had been waiting for happened only came moments before his death. I think that when he saw me, he clung to life long enough to pass me the information the only way that he could, through his memories."

Harry looked out at everyone in the Great Hall. "Can you understand now? He may not have fought beside us but Severus Snape did everything in his power to stop the dark lord. Yes, he was once a death eater. But that ended years and years ago. He was loyal to Dumbledore and by association to all of us. He, he wasn't a nice man. But he didn't have to be nice to be a good man. I personally owe him a debt of gratitude for without his efforts, and without that final bit of information, I would not have defeated Voldemort in this very hall."

He turned to Professor McGonagall while reaching into his outer pocket. He pulled out the little bottle filled with silvery material. "Professor, here is the evidence to prove my story. These are Professor Snape's memories that he gave me as he died." He looked around one more time. "Please allow his name to go on this plaque. Please, let him be honored and remembered as a hero." Harry meekly left the front of the hall. He did not, however, return to his seat beside Hermione. He actually left the Great Hall and did not hear what was decided.

Harry went directly to the little room where Snape's body lay. He wasn't really sure why he went there. He kind of felt that Snape deserved someone to care, someone to appreciate how he'd died. Part of Harry was amazed he did care. His entire life since he'd learned he was a wizard, Snape had made Harry's life difficult. The man had enjoyed tormenting him. That had been real, Harry was absolutely sure of that. No one could have faked something like that. Only now was Harry able to catch a glimmer of the reasons Severus Snape had to treat him the way he had. Those reasons would never make much sense to Harry but he supposed they didn't have to. His musings were interrupted when someone entered the room behind him, when Harry turned to see Professors McGonagall and Flitwick paused just inside the door.

"Harry." The little charms professor began. "I'm surprised to see you in here." Harry shrugged without comment.

Professor McGonagall spoke briskly. "Well, Potter, you'll be happy to learn that Professor Snape's name was added to the plaque. We shall endeavor to remember the best of him."

"Not happy precisely, Professor." Harry returned. "Satisfied, yes. It's the right thing to do."

"Well, you might want to know that, seeing as how Severus had no living relatives, the staff and I have chosen to have a small funeral tomorrow morning. He is to buried in the cemetery in Hogsmeade." Professor McGonagall described the arrangements. "I assume you wish to attend?"

"I'll come." Was all Harry said.

"Meet here straight after breakfast. Now, if you will excuse us, Professor Flitwick and I must prepare him for burial." McGonagall said in dismissal.

Harry gave her a short nod and took his leave. He was about to reenter the Great Hall when he was waylaid by Ron and Hermione. "Hold up, mate. You don't want to go in there." Ron pulled him from the doorway before he was seen by the people milling about the Great Hall.

"Why? What's going on, Ron?" Harry's eyes were wide.

"Well, you've gone and stirred up a right old hornets nest, you have." He answered.

"What do you mean?"

"Harry, surely you can see that people are confused?" Hermione began. "For years you've told everyone who would listen that Professor Snape was evil. And last year you witnessed him killing Dumbledore." She saw that Harry was about to interrupt so put out a restraining hand to stop him then continued. "Now you do a sudden reversal and tell us that Snape was some sort of hero. No one knows what to think."

"But what I told them was the truth!" Harry maintained forcefully.

"We know that, Harry, we believe you." Ron answered. "But that's because we know you. We trust you."

"The people out there in the hall don't know you like we do, Harry." Hermione told him. "You must remember what's happened the last couple years, since Voldemort returned. The Daily Prophet made you out as a nutter on more than one occasion. Like I said, people are confused."

"You can't expect people to change their long held beliefs at the snap of your fingers, Harry." Ron advised. "Give them time to absorb what you said. Hopefully, they'll come around."

"Ron's right." Hermione agreed. "Remember, you are the one who heard Snape's memories first hand. It wasn't easy for you to learn the truth so you can't expect everyone else to find it easy either."

Harry was forced to acknowledge that logic. "All right, but if I can't go in the Great Hall we'll have to find another way up to Gryffindor tower. I'm actually becoming rather tired. It's been a long day."

Ron barked a laugh as they walked along the hall searching for a way up. "Harry, if you thought today was long, how do you describe the past week?"

"An eternity in hell." Harry said flatly after only a moment's consideration. All three of them laughed even though it was an apt representation of the last several days. When they reached the common room he bade them goodnight and went to bed.