Harry Potter is Dead
A light breeze blew across the shoreline, bringing the taste of salt in the air. High cliffs rose over crashing waves and turning sand; ancient boulders dotted the soft sea grass. The spot was wild, secluded, and as far from prying eyes as it was fiercely beautiful. The perfect place, in other words, for a gathering of wizards.
A large silver tent, its ceiling hovering without the need for support, had been erected at the edge of the cliff, allowing for a spectacular view of the ocean below. Several dozen chairs had been placed in rows before a raised platform, which sat so close to the drop that a silver railing had also been conjured for safety. A second and third tent sat further behind the first, each slightly smaller and surrounded by walls. The second housed the caterer's kitchens; the third was shut tight.
Guests milled about in the space between, treading among lilies and bluebells surely placed there by magic. They chattered excitedly, an anticipative hush hanging in the air. Eyes darted towards the third tent; whispers drifted on the salty air, talk of silver gowns and true love.
Harry watched the guests from a slight distance, surveying the scene in relative seclusion. He had noticed, lately, that the living seemed much more lurid to him than he had once thought they were. To think that he had once moved so quickly, laughed so loudly . . . . Much had changed in the years since he had had any contact with them. He found the living hard to follow at times, their emotions strangely distant from him. But he was not so ancient that they were entirely incomprehensible - not yet, anyway. His ties with his loved ones were much too strong for that.
The faces of the living were starting to blur, and so Harry watched the dead for a moment. With their number included the crowd more than doubled in size; for nearly every happy guest there was a translucent silhouette following close behind, and still more chatting in their own little groups. Harry was glad to see that they smiled just as the living did.
"Why aren't you in the thick of things?" said a quiet voice behind him. Harry turned. Ginny was there, her smile kind, eyes warm.
"I don't know." Harry said, as she seated herself in the grass beside him.
"No." said Harry. "No, not that. I'm happy for them."
"I am too." Ginny said. "That's why I was over there putting up with all the extended relatives, telling them thanks for coming, it means so much that you're here in the nicest voice I can possibly manage whilst telling an outright lie."
Harry grinned sideways at her. "Are Ron and Hermione really that popular?"
"We've got at least four generations of Weasley cousins that've turned up just for today. It's mad."
"I'm assuming they've been keeping you busy until now."
"Yes and no, actually. Bunch of deadbeats, no pun intended. And don't laugh," Ginny added, as Harry struggled to hide his grin, "I'm angry with you! Fred and I've been the ones that've had to deal with them all morning, no help from you."
"I'm sorry." said Harry. "I didn't realize your relatives were so horrible."
"Hey, I didn't say that. They're all perfectly lovely, they just tend to get in the habit of repeating themselves. Old age, I guess. I've had about thirty great-great aunts come up and start telling me my brother Arthur is going to be so happy with 'that Prewitt girl.'"
Ginny grinned, but as she looked at him, it faded into a look of confusion. Perhaps there was something in Harry's smile that was not entirely authentic.
"That's . . . why you were up here, isn't it?"
"No! Sort of. No. Definitely no."
Ginny looked at him quizzically, an inkling of concern growing in her deep brown eyes. Harry flushed, feeling the need to explain, to justify himself.
"I mean, it's not like that. I can still remember faces and what year it is and everything. I haven't reached the point of no return just yet. It's just . . . "
"Bit too many people?"
"I understand. It can be a bit overwhelming sometimes."
"It's not . . . just that." Harry rubbed his forehead in agitation, purely out of habit. "It's . . . I've been dead a bit longer than you have. It's hard to explain."
She looked at him with confidence and solidity, and he found himself melting under her gaze. "Try me." she challenged.
"I don't really know how." Harry said. "Everything just gets confusing sometimes. It's hard to describe beyond that."
"Confusing. How so?"
"The living seem . . . I dunno. Faster, louder, a little more complicated than I remember. Whenever I come to check on everyone, it's like I have to try extra hard to keep up."
Ginny's brow crinkled with sympathy. Her eyes were dazzling, ethereal.
"I feel like that sometimes too. Everyone does. Hell, just look at them." She waved at the crowd of the dead before them, shimmering with distance. "Wandering around without a clue whose party this is."
"Well, I'm not there yet. But it's been getting worse, though. Gradually, and not by much, but it is."
"I wouldn't expect it to be any other way. That's what happens, isn't it? When we get so ancient we can't understand what it's like to be alive any more?"
"It's only been a few years, Ginny. I haven't forgotten."
"Of course you haven't."
"So then why do I feel this way?"
"Don't shout." Ginny warned.
With a sigh, Harry let his muscles relax. He pulled Ginny close to him, relishing, as always, in the feeling of her body against his. They stayed still for a while, real and tangible, alive in a slightly different sense of the word.
"D'you think," Ginny said slowly, after a long while, when nearly all of the guests had found their seats, "That the living seem further away because they're starting to move on?"
"I don't know." Harry frowned, thinking. "I mean . . . it makes sense."
"Think about it." said Ginny. "We're tied to the people we love, right? We follow them, watch over them - "
"I wouldn't want to leave them even if I could." Harry cut in.
"Me neither! But think, Harry. Inevitably, at one point, there's going to be a time when there's no one left on Earth that we've ever loved, or even known. They'll be with us. By that point . . . maybe we'll be like my great-great aunts. They've got nobody here to look after. So, when they leave the company of the dead, they can't understand the living."
There was a lengthy pause while Harry digested this.
"If that's it," he said, "then I think it's good that it's happening."
Ginny's eyes softened, and her arms encircled him, and the pressure of her warm body was all he needed.
"Ladies and gentlemen, if you would please take your seats; we are about to begin!" said a magically magnified voice from the head of the nearby crowd.
Harry and Ginny both looked up in surprise; the voice had caught them off guard. Harry grinned and slipped his fingers between Ginny's.
"Come on," he said. "Today's for celebrating."
"Damn straight." said Ginny, and they laughed, though neither was quite sure what was so amusing.
They approached the crowd hand in hand, joining the larger throng of the dead as they pooled in back of the living, who had seated themselves beneath the silver pavilion. An aisle had been left open through the mass of people, adjacent with the one that ran through the marquee. All eyes were locked on the third, still closed tent.
Then, all at once, the tent's silver flaps rose of their own accord, revealing behind them a beautiful woman in a long, flowing gown. The crowd issued a collective sigh, and Hermione Granger beamed radiantly at them all, arm in arm with her father. They processed down the aisle, and she waved and smiled, a sheer composite of happiness; it seemed to be this, rather than the dress and the grin, which beautified her so substantially. Her eyes remained dead center, never breaking the gaze of one Ron Weasley. He stood on the podium at the front of the marquee, framed by the breathtaking cliff top view behind him, his hands clasped behind his back. His face was pale and taught with nerves; but he smiled broadly as well, looking at Hermione as if he had never seen anything more wonderful.
Harry watched them join hands at the altar, exchange a few whispered words. He realized he was grinning in spite of himself.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we are gathered here today to celebrate the union of two faithful souls . . . "
Harry found the voice of the presider drifting away from him as he looked on the happy scene. He found himself glancing around at the faces in the crowd, living and dead, drinking in their expressions like wine. Mrs. Weasley's cheeks were sparkling with tears; Mr. Weasley clutched her hand, though he kept removing it to wipe his eyes behind his glasses; Tonks and Lupin stood side by side, their eyes on baby Teddy, sleeping quietly in Andromeda's arms; Fred stood with his hands in his pockets, grinning sheepishly at the ground; Hagrid's reminiscences to the wizard beside him carried from the back row ( "Seems like jus' yesterday they wer' firs' years, bangin' on my door, wantin' ter know abou' the Sorcerer's Stone . . . Always knew they'd end up gettin' married, yeh could tell even then . . . " ); and, in the very back of the crowd, Dumbledore stood a little apart from everyone else.
Ginny, under his arm, looked up at Harry as he craned his neck away from the altar. Her eyes fell on Dumbledore, and then swiveled back around to meet Harry's gaze. Silently, Harry slipped his arm from around Ginny. He walked around the marquee, feeling the stares of the dead on him, but he only cared for that of one; Dumbledore, who nodded as Harry approached.
"I haven't seen you in a while." Harry said quietly, his eyes on the front.
"Indeed you have not." Dumbledore nodded. "Forgive me, Harry, but as an old, dead man I have lately been craving a bit of solemnity and solitude."
"Mm. You know, I think I'm starting to understand the appeal in that."
"Really? So soon?"
"The living are hard to understand."
"They are, indeed, to we who have been unable to relate to them for several years now. We are growing old, Harry." Dumbledore's lined face was full of mirth. Harry cracked a smile. "This sensation troubles you, I gather?"
"It's not bad. Not yet, anyway." He shook his head, determined not to meet Dumbledore's eyes. "It's not something that's bothering me. I talked to Ginny about it. I . . . I reckon it's a good thing."
"Assuredly it is." Dumbledore's tone was perhaps a little too understanding. "That is very wise of you, Harry, very wise."
"Don't go on about it. I haven't been dead as long as you have, I'm damn sure I don't even know the half of it."
"There is a certain truth in that as well." Dumbledore smiled. "I am nevertheless pleasantly surprised."
"Really. Surprised, are you?" Harry grinned.
"Oh, do not misunderstand; I really should have come to expect this sort of thing by now." Dumbledore's eyes twinkled with jollity. "You have, time and time again, surpassed my expectations by a gratifyingly wide margin. Forgive me, Harry, if I am continually impressed by the astounding amount of maturity and sensibility you continually prove to possess."
Harry found himself reddening; he stared at the ground.
"Professor . . . " he muttered.
"Oh, come, Harry, I have not been your teacher - nor a teacher at all - for some time now. You are more than welcome to refer to me as Albus."
"Sorry . . . Albus. I wasn't thinking. Just a bit embarrassed."
"Quite all right, Harry, though there really is no need. On the other hand, your humility, as ever, is undoubtedly encouraging."
"That's good to hear."
Dumbledore clasped his hands together and looked out over the cliff, at the clear blue water and the wind-swept sand, no more than a thin golden ring between ocean and stone.
"Mortality has a funny way of humbling us, Harry." he said. "We are providentially cleansed of all the many petty honors or degradations we may have accumulated during our time on this earth. In death, we are all equals."
Dumbledore turned to look at Harry, who met his gaze for a moment. They stood in silence for a long while afterwards, each watching the wedding, but the inside of Harry's head churned like a stormy sea.
"Where have you been?" Harry said suddenly, perhaps a bit more accusatorily than he had meant to; but the childish question fell from his lips before he could stop it, and Dumbledore looked around with understanding in his features.
"That, Harry, is a question not easily answered - even for myself."
He did not bother to say more, and Harry bit his lip and faced front. He refused to allow himself to become angry; not today of all days. Dumbledore still looked at him even as he stared resolutely forward.
"I took a leave entirely of my own volition, I assure you; I have not been avoiding you or anyone else. I do hope you have not been vying for my company." Dumbledore said.
"No, it's been fine. I have a lot to keep me busy."
"You certainly do. The wedding of your two best friends, to name one important occurrence."
A smile broke on Harry's face, and he found his agitation at Dumbledore abating in spite of himself.
"I've been waiting years for today to happen. It's about bloody time."
Dumbledore chuckled. "Oh, I quite agree. A happy occasion, is it not?"
"Well, come then; let us not ruin their day with out chatter. Even if they can not hear us, I believe good manners are among one of few the things which do, in fact, carry over from life into death."
Harry laughed, and surely enough one of Ginny's deceased great-great aunts turned around and pressed her finger to her lips. He waved a sheepish apology.
"I should get going. It's been good talking to you again, Dumbledore." Harry whispered.
"I might say the same of you."
Harry nodded, grinning to himself, and took his leave. The ceremony was nearly at a close; Ron and Hermione's hands were intertwined. As he started back towards Ginny, who was craning her neck over the crowd, he stopped and turned back towards Dumbledore.
"Are you back for good? Or is this just a visit, or a goodbye or something?"
"Ah, Harry," Dumbledore said, his eyes twinkling, "That, I am afraid, is neither here nor there."
Harry opened his mouth to reply, but he was not sure if he could have found a response even if he had not been cut off at exactly that moment. The crowd burst suddenly into thunderous applause; a shower of stars encircled Ron and Hermione as their lips met; Ginny was at his side, her hand in his; and Dumbledore waved, his blue eyes sparkling with the kind of life that can never truly be destroyed by death.
YES! After more than a year of (thoroughly enjoyable) effort, I can officially close the book on this fanfiction. It's extremely relieving to be able to finally type that sentence out, I have to say, even though it's been excellent writing this. I'm looking forward to a new project after such a long while. But! Not before I ramble on a bit more about exactly how lovely it's been.
First off, I'd like to thank all the people that helped me along the way; namely Kim, whose learned advice ensured that this story actually had an ending (I'm lousy with those). My reviewers, you've been lovely. Nothing speeds the writing process like a good batch of compliments. Many thanks to BrightWatcher and Briememory in particular for reviewing pretty much every chapter with nothing short of boundless enthusiasm. You're great, guys! And as always, to Jo, for making this all possible in the first place.
I also wanted to say that yes, I'm still in school, and yes, I have a lot to learn. The greatest thing about writing this story is that I've been able to read through the chapters I've written a year or more ago and actually watch my writing skills improving. It's the coolest thing.
So! As I've said before, I'm extremely grateful for all the nice things writing this fic has brought me, and I'm incredibly excited for whatever the hell I'm going to think up next. Thank you so much for putting up with me.