Disclaimer: Harry Potter and his world belong to J.K. Rowling. This short story belongs to me.
A/N- Hello to all my readers, old and new! This just a little one-shot, set in Harry's sixth year around Christmas time. Events aren't exactly the same as occured in canon (expecially with regards to Harry's summer) but it really isn't important. The main focus is on Harry's grief after the death of his Godfather, and the way that Dumbledore helps him with it. If any of it looks familar, that's because I took some of it from one of the chapters in my story 'Harry Potter and the Mark of a Hero'. I enjoyed writing it immensely, but thought it would make a good one-shot as well. It isn't perfect, but I hope you like it! And Merry Christmas to all who celebrate it!
Part of a 'What if' series of One-Shots
'Tis the Season
Weep for yourself, my man,
You'll never be what is in your heart.
Weep Little Lion Man,
You're not as brave as you were at the start.
'Little Lion Man', by Mumford and Sons
Christmas time was creeping up on Hogwarts, and excitement was in the air as the term was drawing slowly to a close, but the holiday cheer had so far evaded one particular sixth year Gryffindor. It had been months now since Sirius' death, but Harry knew he still wasn't coping. Not really.
The past summer had been horrible, and his first term at Hogwarts hadn't been much better. So far, no one had gathered the courage to speak to him about what had happened, and he didn't bring it up. They'd tried to ask him if he was alright, but everyone, even his best friends, seemed to be trying to avoid saying Sirius' name, obviously not wanting to upset him. In the end, he'd just kept telling them that he was okay, hoping that if he said it enough, one day he might actually feel it.
Harry, in a way, was grateful that no one was trying to force him to talk about how he felt. He'd seen Hermione give him worried looks, but Ron seemed to be stopping her from saying anything, a fact for which Harry was extremely thankful for. He didn't want to talk about how hollow he felt. How some mornings he'd wake up and the inside of his chest hurt, simply because he'd remembered what had happened.
Who he had lost.
Unlike the previous year, his friends hadn't deserted him during this summer, and neither had the adults in his life. He'd had visits from the Weasleys, McGonagall, Lupin, Tonks and even Professor Dumbledore, each of them, in their own unique way, trying to make sure he didn't feel alone in his time of grief.
The last visit, the one with his headmaster, had been the hardest for Harry to deal with. With each of the others, Harry had been able to at least appear like he was coping with Sirius' death. He would go through the motions, they would too, and then they would be on their way again, none the wiser as to how badly he wanted to simply be someone else; how much he wanted to just give up.
But Professor Dumbledore...
The old man just always seemed to know. He'd just taken one look at Harry, barely a foot through the door, and had just known that something was wrong; that Harry was about as far away from okay as it was possible to be.
The old Headmaster had been kind and understanding during his visit, and had repeated some of the things he had said in his office on that fateful night. How it was not Harry's fault. How it was normal to feel like this, and how the fact that he felt like this was his greatest strength. Harry had known, from the moment that he had looked into those striking blue eyes, that the Headmaster wanted him to be okay.
That he cared about him.
Harry hadn't known how to deal with that, so he'd simply stopped talking altogether. It might have appeared rude to the old man, but Harry honestly hadn't known what to say. His emotions were conflicted, and it had caused the ache in his chest to return, twice as painful. He still hadn't wanted to talk about how he felt, but he hadn't been able to lie to the Headmaster and say that everything was okay when it was clear to both of them that it wasn't.
In the end, Dumbledore had given up and had left with a small, sad frown upon his old face, realising, perhaps, that Harry just needed time alone in order to cope with what happened. Perhaps the old man had thought that he just needed some space to come to terms with the loss on his own.
Harry thought differently.
He'd buried it. Instead of confronting it, and allowing himself to grieve, Harry had buried his grief deep in his heart and shut it away. After that point, he became almost cold to his emotions, never letting anything get to him, never rising to any insult, jibe or sneer. He was immune to it all, and he was glad of it; he didn't want to feel anymore.
Harry had made himself stop caring, because caring only got you hurt in the end.
When he'd finally made it back to Hogwarts, it was with an exhausted mind and a heavy heart. The grief was weighing down on him, but still he pushed it away. He was barely hanging on by a thread and he was scared that if he opened himself up to the grief, it would destroy him.
Throughout the term, Harry took part in his lessons, he'd played Quidditch and he hung out with his friends, but it was all an act. A mask he put on to make sure no one would realise how badly he wanted to just give up. To make sure no one knew how...broken he was.
Harry had always been good at keeping things to himself.
All through term he had pulled off the act, and it seemed to work. His friends and teachers hadn't seemed to notice any difference in him, or if they had, they hadn't said anything to him. Of course, he had spent years at the Dursleys perfecting his mask, so he wasn't surprised by its effectiveness.
Never let them see how much it hurt. Never let them see that you care...
The one person who had seemed to notice anything was wrong was Professor Dumbledore. Harry had caught the old man giving him sad looks sometimes from the Head table. Because of that, Harry had made sure to avoid the Headmaster as much as he could, but he could never seem to shake the sense that he was being watched by the old man, even if the Headmaster was nowhere in sight. Whenever that feeling had come upon him, Harry had concentrated that little bit harder to make sure his 'mask' was in place. He didn't want anyone to know how much he was still affected by what had happened to Sirius.
He didn't want anyone to think he was weak.
That was why, when he received a summons to the Headmaster's office, just before the Christmas holidays, Harry had almost hidden himself away, scared that it was all unravelling before his eyes.
In the end, he had gathered his courage and had skipped the rest of breakfast to make his way to the Headmaster's office, hoping to get it over with, but he couldn't the nervous energy that began bubbling in his stomach, momentarily overtaking the grief that still sat in his chest and in his heart.
Because all Harry could think now was: He knows...
And for some reason that Harry couldn't quite understand, that thought scared him more than anything else.
"Sir?" Harry said quietly, heart thudding in his chest as he came through the door to Dumbledore's office. "You wanted to see me?"
The sixteen year old was vaguely nervous as he took in the sight of his mentor. He tried to school his features a mask of indifference, the one that had served him well all term, but upon entering the office, all his attempts seemed to fail when he laid eyes on his mentor. The man looked older than he ever had before, and not for the first time, Harry wondered if this war was taking too much from the old Headmaster. The words of the Prophecy hit him again, but this time he looked at it from another's point of view. Maybe he wasn't the only one struggling with a burden too great for one person's shoulders...
"Yes, Harry," replied the Headmaster as he pulled himself out of his thoughts, offering a warm smile to the Gryffindor that didn't seem to reach his eyes. Harry frowned. "I have something to talk to you about, something that might be rather difficult. Please, take a seat."
Immediately Harry closed off his expression again, his eyes dulling slightly as his gaze dropped to his knees.
"Harry, look at me."
The words came so softly and with such feeling, that Harry felt his gaze rise almost against his will. Green met blue and Harry almost faltered under the intense emotion escaping from the Headmaster's eyes as he looked towards his student.
"You are still struggling with Sirius' death," Dumbledore said softly. The words were not accusatory, but Harry felt the need to defend himself anyway.
"I'm fine," Harry said dully, his gaze dropping downwards again. He clung to the armour that he had wrapped himself in since the summer, the one that had kept him going for these many months.
"You are no more fine than you were when you left this office at the end of last term," Dumbledore argued gently. "You are no more fine than you were at the exact moment that you saw your Godfather, the closest thing to a parent you have ever known, fall through that veil."
"I don't want to talk about it," Harry said stubbornly. Why wouldn't the old man just leave it alone?
"I will not allow this any longer," Dumbledore said, although his tone of voice was not cruel. "In truth, I believe you have been left alone for far too long already."
"What would you know about it anyway?" Harry muttered somewhat angrily, still refusing to admit that he wasn't okay, still clinging to his armour. Memories from his last visit to this office swirled within him, and his mind was clouded by them. "You don't have a clue how I feel."
For a few moments, Dumbledore didn't say anything, clearly trying to gather his thoughts. The silence built until Harry could almost take no more, but eventually the old Headmaster did speak, and it was with a grief stricken look upon his face.
"I had a sister," Dumbledore began quietly, stroking Fawkes absently as he seemed to get lost in a long ago memory.
"Sir?" Harry prompted after a few moments of silence in which the grief seemed to pour out of Dumbledore. In that moment, the man had never looked more human.
"Forgive me, Harry," replied Dumbledore, offering Harry a small, sad smile before continuing. "It is difficult to talk about I'm afraid, even after all these years. Of course, I shall persevere. I had...a sister. Her name was Ariana, and she was a wonderful child. Full of joy and laughter. She...died when I was only a young man myself."
"I'm sorry, Sir," Harry offered gently, all anger gone as he wondered why the Headmaster was choosing to reveal something so clearly personal to him.
"It has been many years since her death, many decades, and yet it still hurts just as much, I fear," continued Dumbledore quietly, still stroking Fawkes. "It was...is hard to think about her now that she is gone. It is as if a light has gone out in my life that can never be re-lit. I will forever be with a piece of darkness in my heart where she once resided."
Dumbledore fixed his gaze onto Harry, his usual merriment missing, and the twinkle in his eyes dimmed as if never to return. There was the unmistakable look of guilt there instead, but Harry didn't dare ask the old man about it.
"I think Christmas time is perhaps the time I miss her the most," Dumbledore said gently, his bright blue eyes, sparkling not with their usual mirth but with unshed tears, were fixed firmly onto Harry's. "Loved ones are always missed most during the holidays, do you not think, my boy?"
Harry found that the emotion in the Headmaster's eyes almost caused his mask to slip, and he made an almost inhuman effort to cling to it. He was undone, however, by the other emotion Harry had detected there, one he hadn't expected to see in anyone. It was the understanding in the Headmaster's expression; that not only did he know how Harry felt, but that he also felt the same way that eventually broke through the shield Harry had placed around his soul. His chest hurt, and for the first time since he had last been in this office, Harry let a little of his emotions out.
"I miss Sirius," Harry whispered after taking a deep, steadying breath, clenching his fists slightly to control himself. "And...mum and dad."
"I know, my boy," Dumbledore replied sadly, and after hearing the Headmaster speak of his sister, Harry could almost believe he did.
For a moment, both man and boy simply sat in silence, both reflecting on lost family, both haunted by the people they would never be able to see again. Fawkes remained quiet too, but Dumbledore seemed to draw comfort from the magnificant bird's mere presence. After a few moments, Dumbledore seemed to pull himself together.
"Now, Harry," began Dumbledore quietly. "That was not the sole reason why I requested your presence this evening."
Harry cleared his throat, trying to regain some semblance of control. "What did you want then, sir?"
"I was wondering..." Dumbledore replied softly. "Well, as I have already told you, during the Christmas holidays, I feel her loss more than ever. It helps me to talk with her, to tell her of my life and what I have been up to of late."
"Her grave Harry," Dumbledore replied with a sad smile. "I visit her grave."
"Oh," said Harry, lowering his gaze slightly after seeing the sad look on Dumbledore's face. "But, what does this have to do with me?"
"She is buried with our mother at Godric's Hollow, Harry," Dumbledore answered softly. "There is a small graveyard in the village..."
"Godric's Hollow..." Harry said hoarsely, his gaze dropping to the hands rested in his lap. It was all starting to make a little more sense now. "Are...are my parents there?"
"They are," Dumbledore replied tentatively. "I was wondering if perhaps this year you would like to join me?"
Tears shone in Harry's eyes, but he refused to let them fall.
"Yeah...I mean, yes," Harry replied, his voice strong despite his shaking emotions. "I'd like that."
On the first evening of the holidays, Dumbledore and Harry walked along the quiet, snow-covered path to the graveyard in silence. Harry was due to visit the Weasleys over the Christmas holiday, but Dumbledore had suggested that perhaps he would like to make their small detour before he arrived there. Harry had readily agreed; he had thought of almost nothing else since that evening in Dumbledore's office.
Now, as they made their way silently down the snow covered path, both were lost in thought, and welcomed the isolation that the walk gave them.
Harry, who had never known the family that he had lost at such as young age, was currently hiding a maelstrom of emotion. In the last few days he had felt everything from intense sadness to anger, even at one point bordering on happiness that he was finally going to be with his parents, even if it was only in spirit. Guilt had crashed in painfully, though, when Harry remembered that he had also lost Sirius, taking over the brief happiness and replacing it with barely concealed melocholy again.
His friends had been great recently, taking his mood swings in their stride, but he was glad for their absence now. He did not have the energy, as he followed the Professor's path along the snow tipped gravestones, to hide his emotions any more. It had been bad enough to see the statue of his parents and the baby version of himself on their walk through the town, but he didn't think he could take it if he had to hold it in when he finally saw his parent's graves.
Harry chanced a glance over to his Headmaster, and noticed that Dumbledore had paused by a dark granite gravestone, the stone contrasting greatly against the bright white snow.
After hesitating a moment, Harry followed the trench that the Professor had left in his path until he reached the old man and was close enough to read the names on the two names on the stone.
Her daughter Ariana.
This must be Dumbledore's mother and sister, Harry thought, a fact that would have been self-evident even discounting the appearance of the names. The look of intense grief on his mentor's face had been enough to tell Harry that the Headmaster had reached the place he had come to see.
Not wanting to interrupt the man in his moment of grief, Harry allowed his eyes to wander to the quotation that could be found just below the names.
Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
"I chose those words," came a quiet voice from beside him, shaking Harry out of his thoughts. Dumbledore had finally noticed Harry's presence at his family's grave, but he didn't seem angry.
Just intensely sad.
"I'm sorry, Sir," said Harry softly, unsure of what else to say.
"As am I," came Dumbledore's uncharacteristically grief stricken reply. "Now, Harry. If you could give me a few moments alone, I would appreciate it. I think you will find your parents are over in that direction."
Dumbledore pointed to his right, indicating a row of graves only two behind those of the Dumbledore family. "You will be quite safe, and if you need me for anything – anything at all – just shout and I will be there in a flash."
Harry walked slowly over to those graves, trepidation and anticipation warring with each other as his emotions fought for dominance. He was scared, and yet excited. He was happy, and yet he was sad. He had never felt this way before, except for when he had encountered the Mirror of Erised in his first year. This experience was similar in a way; he was being reunited with his family once again tonight, but not in the way he had always dreamed of as a small child.
No; never like that.
His shoes left a melted trail in the snow as he traversed the rows of the buried, searching each name on the grave with reverence and intensity. Every time he spotted a familiar name, his heart gave a small jolt, but he moved on quickly, eager as he was to find the names he had craved seeing for years.
And then he saw it.
The white stone of the grave seemed to shine out into the darkness, making it easy to read the names inscribed on its surface.
JAMES POTTER LILY POTTER
BORN 27 MARCH 1960 BORN 30 JANUARY 1960
DIED 31 OCTOBER 1981 DIED 31 OCTOBER 1981
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
He walked slowly over to stone, and ran a shaking hand over the letters he found there, as if to convince himself that they were real.
They were there, he told himself, as he pulled his hand back in order for him to hug his arms close to his chest. He had never been so close to them.
The absence of Sirius' name hurt almost as much as seeing the names of his parents, and the tears began to fall almost immediately, making tracks down his cheeks before disappearing off his face to land on the cold, white snow. He made no attempt to stop them, nor did he even try to wipe them away. There was no one who could judge him here, and he honestly wouldn't care if there was.
All that existed for Harry in that moment was the ground beneath his feet, and the two names in front of him.
He did not know how long he stood there for, just staring at the white marble, but he was eventually pulled back into the present when he felt a hand on his shoulder. The grip was reassuring and tender, and Harry knew that the hand belonged to his Headmaster. He turned his slightly, possibly to ask the Professor whether it was time to go, but words failed him when his own eyes met those of his mentor.
Those blue depths held such emotion, such understanding, that the hot tears returned, even more rapidly than they had before. He was horrified by his lack of control in front of a man he so respected, but he could no more stop the tears, than he could stop breathing.
Dumbledore, it seemed, understood even that, and it was with a gentle action that the Headmaster turned the teenager around fully, and brought his arms around the body that was now shaking with pure emotion.
No words were spoken, and yet no words were needed, as both simply allowed themselves a moment to grieve in a way that neither had really ever had the chance to do.
They stood for what seemed like an age, the old Headmaster's arms wrapped around Harry in a gentle embrace, with the younger man's tears falling freely into the purple robes that enveloped him. All that Harry had suppressed for so long came upon him like a tidal wave. Grief for his parents. Grief for Cedric. Grief for Sirius. It all welled up from within him, and burst out from his soul. Had the Headmaster not been holding him upright, Harry was sure he would've fallen to his knees from the intensity of it all.
How much time passed, neither could say.
As the chill picked up, though, it was with a heavy heart that Dumbledore gently released the teenager to find that, although the tear stained cheeks betrayed his emotions, the tears themselves had stopped.
"I'm sorry, Sir," Harry said, wiping at his eyes furiously as if trying to erase his embarrassment. He'd tried so hard to push his feelings away, not wanting to accept that Sirius was gone, but one look at his parents' graves had undone that.
"Never be sorry for that, Harry," Dumbledore replied sternly, although his sympathy was clear. "You never have to be sorry for showing grief. It is what separates us from Voldemort. It is what gives our lives meaning."
"I wish it didn't," Harry admitted. "I hate it. I hate that they're gone. I hate feeling so weak."
"It is no weakness, my boy. It is a part of you, Harry," explained Dumbledore, understanding in his eyes. "It is a strength that Voldemort does not even understand, let alone possess. There is a reason why we love."
"Why?" Harry choked out.
"Because no matter how much it hurts when they're gone," Dumbledore told him, "It is, and always will be worth it. I am thankful for every single second that Ariana was on this Earth. That she is gone now, does not erase the fact that I loved her and that she loved me. That is something Voldemort will never understand. It is that lack of understanding that will defeat him in the end."
"Yes, Sir," Harry nodded, fresh tears leaking out of his eyes. He allowed himself a moment to digest what had been said. As his eyes raked back over the words on his parents' graves, however, a thought came to him, a thought unwilling to leave until he voiced it. He stared at the grave, the final phrase almost taunting him. "The words...at the end...?"
"The words mean living after death, Harry," Dumbledore said softly, correctly guessing Harry's concern. "It simply means that death is not the end."
"Death is the next great adventure," Harry murmured, and it raised a small, pleased smile on Dumbledore's otherwise grave face.
"I think it is perhaps time for us to make our leave," Dumbledore said softly, his aged hand still placed on Harry's shoulder in a reassuring grip. "Are you ready to depart for the Burrow? I daresay Molly is fretting as we speak."
"Okay, Sir," said Harry quietly. He took one last, longing glance towards the grave of his parents, before turning and making his way back to the gate they had entered at, his heart feeling oddly lighter despite the grief that settled there.
"I just...I wanted to say thank you, sir," Harry said as they paused at the gate. "I really appreciate you bringing me here."
"You're quite welcome, my boy," Dumbledore replied with a smile, his heart lightening as he took in the expression of gratitude and sincerity in the teenager before him. "Quite welcome."
They left then, leaving the cold, dark graveyard, and the souls it contained, behind them.
The next great adventure...
Yeah, Harry thought, Sirius would've liked that.
A/N- So what did you think? I'd really appreciate it if you could give me some feedback. This is the first in a series of 'What if' One-Shots that I intend to do, where I take one specific thing in canon and say to myself 'What if..." I know that's really what fan fiction is all about, and that it's not exactly a revolutionary idea, but I hope you'll check them out anyway, as and when I post them. For now though, thanks for reading!