A/N: I am so sorry that this has taken this long to get to you! I had truly hoped that it wouldn't take this long to get another chapter to you. I have reasons...lots of reasons...unfortunately, none of them make much sense. I apologise to you, but here is the next chapter.
Harry was the first to notice the wispy silver animal slowly limping across the Infirmary floor; he motioned to Severus with his free hand and the older man signalled to everyone that they could stop. Severus recognised the small mongoose as being Albus Dumbledore's patronus and called for immediate silence.
"Severus," the mongoose whispered, "he is gone...your plan worked. I am...coming...home..."
Just as the last word fell into the silence, the wards around the Infirmary screeched and a pile of purple and blue robes appeared where the mongoose had been. Poppy and Severus immediately ran to the pile of robes and lifted an unconscious Albus Dumbledore to place him on one of the beds farthest away from the now deceased Bellatrix Lestrange; she had been killed, like the Death Eaters present at Voldemort's demise, by the immediate draining of her magic. Poppy began to run scans on him, just as Severus did the same; the two, working in tandem with each other, seemed to automatically know which scan the other was casting and cast a different one. They both stopped casting and looked at each other before looking at the crowd of people gathered around the bed.
Severus thought about what he was going to say before taking a breath. "Albus apparently decided to go to the Dark Lord's headquarters, to verify that our plan had worked. Unfortunately, sending his patronus to me used up the last of his magic...Albus Dumbledore is a squib. And he's dying."
Severus moved to the side as Harry slowly walked up to the side of the bed and stared down at the man who had, for one reason or another, made most of his life at Hogwarts a living hell. He hadn't wanted for the old man to die, but he was going to make sure that Dumbledore was going to go out a hero.
"He risked his life to bring us information about whether or not our plan worked." Harry sighed heavily. "Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore is a hero for the Light." He backed away from the bed, straight into Charlie's arms.
Minerva addressed the room at large, not looking at any one person in particular. "Most of the Wizarding World did not know what Albus had done; I would like to keep it that way. Allow him to die a hero, allow him the accolades of the world he worked most of his life to save. Those of us who know what he did will have to keep his secret, one last secret, so that no one else knows about it...they wouldn't believe us anyway."
The group nodded as one and slowly drifted away from the dying man; they would keep this secret...it wouldn't do any harm to let the old man be known for the good he had done, instead of the harm he had caused one young man.
Albus Dumbledore lived for three more days before succumbing to the loss of his magic; Severus and Minerva had just returned to the castle, after seeing to it that Bellatrix's body was honourably buried, in an unmarked grave, in a tiny cemetery just outside of the town of Pitlochry, in the centre of Scotland. They hadn't even had time to sit and relax for a moment before Poppy was summoning them to the infirmary; once they arrived, she escorted them into the room where Albus had been placed.
"He's not going to last much longer...he wanted to see you both before he goes."
Minerva stood on one side of the bed, Severus on the other, and waited as Albus lifted heavy lids to look at them. "I am sorry...sorry for everything that I've done. In my muddled mind, I thought I was doing the right thing. I am truly sorry."
Minerva smoothed a hand over Albus' wrinkled brow and smiled gently at the older man. "Albus, you've given most of your life for 'The Greater Good'...it's time to leave it to someone else now. Don't worry about what you have or have not done right; you will be remembered for how tirelessly you worked for the Light and how the Light finally won."
"You have earned your rest, Albus...don't fight it anymore." Severus picked up one hand, absently noting how paper-like the skin was.
Albus nodded and closed his eyes; Severus heard the door open behind him and wasn't surprised when Harry moved next to Minerva to pick up Albus' other hand, Poppy stood by the door, monitoring the situation. Two minutes later, Albus Dumbledore, Order of Merlin, First Class, former Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, drew his last breath.
The four bowed their heads and mourned the passing of a once-great man.
Albus Dumbledore's funeral was held on a cold, bright day in mid-January. In keeping with allowing the Wizarding World to believe that Albus had died a great hero, Minerva had suggested that he be buried within the wards of Hogwarts; neither she nor anyone else wanted to make it easier for thieves and fans alike to desecrate his tomb. He had been Headmaster of the school for forty years before he had left the previous year; they had been years of unprecedented scholastic progress and everyone felt that it honoured his memory to be entombed on the grounds.
Those that knew what had happened during the previous four years all kept their mouths shut on the matter of Albus Dumbledore's greatness. True, the man had been a great rallying point for the forces of the light, but that, in their minds, had been eradicated by what he had done, and tried to do, to one young man. His manipulations would be long remembered by these people and none of them felt that they would be able to forget them any time soon...forgive...yes, forget...possibly never.
Cornelius Fudge, Minister of Magic, looked around after the speeches were done and the tomb sealed. He had been surprised that Minerva McGonagall had declined to give a speech about Albus and his greatness; after all, they had worked together for thirty-eight of the forty or more years that Albus had been Headmaster.
"Ah, Minerva! I was surprised that you declined to speak about Albus today. Weren't you great friends...or something like that?"
"Cornelius. I declined because everyone already knows about my relationship with Albus. I thought it best if those alliances and friendships that weren't better known got a chance to speak about him. I've been at this school for almost forty years...everyone knows how I feel. However, not many knew how you felt about Albus; not many knew of Elphias Doge's friendship with Albus. I thought it better that everyone hear from you, rather than me." Minerva artfully side-stepped the questioning; she wasn't about to stand up, in front of all of Albus' followers, to tell them what she knew of the man...she'd have been run out of the country before she was finished speaking.
Severus noticed the stranglehold that the Minister of Magic had on Minerva's arm and made his way over to rescue her. "Minerva...Minister Fudge..." Severus nodded in the portly man's direction, "I have need of Minerva's assistance in making certain that everything in the Great Hall is set up to Albus' specifications. He left detailed instructions as to how he wanted his reception held, you know. If you will excuse us?" Severus commandeered Minerva's arm and guided her into the castle, bypassing the main doors to the Great Hall and steering her down one of the side passages. When they were almost to the side doors that led to the head table, Severus stopped and looked down at the older witch. "Are you well?"
"I'm as well as I can be, Severus. Thank you for your assistance, by the way; he wasn't going to let me go." She sighed and ran a hand slowly over her face. "I wish this day was over with already...but the best is yet to come. Are Lucius and Narcissa certain that they want it to be known that they aren't dead? It could have many repercussions for both them and young Mr. Malfoy."
"They decided that they would 'come back to life' at this time, since they had already been to Amelia Bones' office to be questioned under Veritaserum about their involvement with the Dark Lord. They have been fully cleared and have papers declaring their innocence; they want to make a clean start and thought that today would be the best time...they don't want to hide anymore."
Minerva nodded; she could understand their reasoning. The sooner they came out with their story, the easier it would be to get back to normal life. She looked around, noticing the suddenly louder sounds of conversation coming from the Great Hall.
"Shall we go and get this over with?" At Severus' nod, they linked arms and entered the Great Hall.
Harry sat with Charlie at the end of the Gryffindor table closest to the head table; they were surrounded by the rest of the Weasleys, Sirius and a slightly skittish Draco. Draco had decided that he would come to the reception and was making an effort not to jump at the loud noises; it was unconsciously convincing everyone of the truth of the rumours of his mental instability. He wasn't faking the skittishness; having been away from the student body for so long, he wasn't used to so much noise and so many people. He knew his parents were going to be announcing that they weren't really dead today, but he wasn't quite sure that he was going to be able to make it until that time.
He felt a smaller, soft hand make its way into his and he looked to his right; Ginny Weasley smiled at him and leaned slightly into his side. "You alright?"
Draco took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Not really. It's been so long since I've been around this many people that I'm not sure I'm going to last until Mother and Father get here."
Ginny nodded. "I understand...I think they will, too, if you can't."
"I know, but I want to...I want to be here when they let everyone know that they're not really dead. I don't know if they're going to say anything about Severus being my other father, but Father's going to be obviously pregnant when they see him...everyone's going to wonder."
"Let them wonder...it's really none of their business." Ginny squeezed his hand but didn't remove it from his grasp. They held hands the rest of the time in the Great Hall; they held hands even when Molly noticed it and told Arthur. They held hands when the doors to the Great Hall opened to admit Amelia Bones along with Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy; they held hands and Ginny turned Draco's head to face her when she felt him shake because of the noise. They held hands as Draco's parents explained what had happened and why they'd had to fake their deaths; they held hands while they were being hugged by Harry and Charlie on one side and Ron and Hermione on the other.
They held hands as they went for a quiet walk after the reception...with Severus and Molly as chaperones...and they never once during that time got embarrassed about it or tried to let go. Ginny had become Draco's 'solid object' and he wasn't about to let her go.
A/N 2: A solid object, in the Mental Health field, is a person who helps another remain tethered to reality. A person who helps another remain grounded and helps them to not become manic, depressed or whatever other feelings a situation can produce. Ginny is helping ground Draco, helping him to not become frightened by all of the noise and the people...she's his strength at that moment.