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19 Years by marauder5
Chapter 50: Year 5: May 2nd, 2003
The high iron gates that led into the Hogwarts ground stood wide open, letting through a stream of witches and wizards, who only stopped momentarily on their way to let one of the Aurors waiting inside perform a couple of security spells on them before they hurried on towards the castle. They would not continue all the way through the large wooden doors, though, but stopped instead a little to the right of the entrance, where a hundred-foot-long marble wall had just been built, a stately background to a large, white statue of a Pheonix, its wings spread out as though it was protecting the wall behind it from an invisible threat there, somewhere under the warm May sun.
Little children reached up their hands to stroke the Phenoix’s marble beak or let their fingers trail its outstretched wings. Meanwhile, their parents walked slowly along the wall, their eyes sweeping over the thousands of names that had been engraved into it, stopping each time they recognized one, clutching each others hands as the children flapped their arms like wings a few feet away, laughing as they pretended to fly through the fresh spring air. An oblong, gold plaque had been put above all the names, its letters glistening in the light:
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them.
By the foot of the wall lay thousands and thousands of flowers, beautiful boquets of white and dark red roses, oriental lilies and daffodils. There were cards, letters, photos and newspaper cutouts. Here and there, someone was kneeling in front of them, placing yet another card amongst the others or kissing a photograph as tears streamed silently down their cheeks.
Among the people who were just arriving at the wall were Harry and Ginny. Harry stopped as his wife walked straight over to a small pile of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes products lying at the foot of the wall, while he lingered behind, watching as her eyes searched the names just there and how she froze when they found it, waist-high, just above the joke products. Frederick Weasley.
A wave of unexpected emotions washed over Harry as he started walking past the piles of flowers and cards, faces on photographs smiling up at him; there was a picture of a woman with two small children on her lap – a girl and a boy – and a handwritten message in the top corner: We miss you, Mummy. Another two children, forced to grow up without their mother… Perhaps they had started Hogwarts now, Harry thought. Perhaps their father was alone in the house for the entire school year, feeling her absence during his quiet meals each night after work, or reaching out towards her side of the bed at night, only to be met by empty blankets and untouched sheets.
There were flowers for other people, who hadn’t died in the Battle, but earlier, or even later, at the hands of Voldemort or his Death Eaters. There was a cutout from the Quibbler with the headline: Muggle family of five ruthlessly murdered in their home. Harry wondered how the Death Eaters had chosen this target; had they been bored that night, simply closed their eyes and pointed fingers?
A family was standing a few yards further down the wall, the father stroking his finger across one of the names etched into it. His other hand was resting on his son’s shoulder, and the mother was standing on the other side of the boy, crying silently into her hands. Harry felt as if someone had punched him in the face when the man lowered his hand and the name became visible to him: Romilda Vane. When had she died? Hadn’t she been too young to be in the Battle? Why hadn’t Harry ever known?
She had fancied him once. And now she was dead, survived by her parents and her younger brother. To the rest of the world, she was no more than a name engraved on a wall.
Professor Sprout and Hagrid stood on the other side of the family, tears streaming down both their faces as they bent down to place a wreath of flowers under Albus Dumbledore’s name. Harry turned his eyes back to the wall, and then he saw the names he had been looking for: Remus Lupin, and right underneath: Nymphadora Lupin.
It seemed so unfair that life could have gone on at all. Why hadn’t the world stopped or ended? Why were the rest of them all still alive? Harry had simply moved on from it, allowed himself to stop thinking about it every day. How was it that he got to be happy, when Remus and Tonks were gone forever? When Romilda Vane’s mother couldn’t stop crying? When Teddy, who had just turned five, would look up at those two names on the wall when his grandmother pointed them out, and connect them only to photographs instead of real, live people?
Harry lowered his head and stared down onto his feet, his vision suddenly blurred by tears. Then, turning back around, he noticed Ginny was still frozen in her position, staring at Fred’s name with her fists clenched so tightly her knuckles hade gone white. Harry walked over to her and let his arm slide around her waist, and she leaned her head against his. He desperately wanted to tell her something that would make her feel better, but in that moment, he couldn’t think of anything at all.
Fortunately, someone else cheered Ginny up in his place; just as they were about to start walking up to the castle, a high-pitched voice shouted out:
Moments later, Victoire had thrown herself around Ginny’s legs, and was grinning widely up at her. Her blonde hair was longer than when Harry had last seen her, and straighter; it seemed to him that she had become more of a child and less of a toddler every time they met.
Ginny scooped her niece up into her arms and kissed her cheek. “Happy birthday, gorgeous,” she said. “What a pretty dress – did you get it today?”
“M-hmm,” answered Victoire proudly, fingering the frill of her bright red dress.
Harry leaned in to place a kiss on her forehead. “Happy birthday, Vic.” He scratched his chin, pretending to think hard. “How old are you today, again? Three?”
Victoire giggled. “No, silly, I was three last year! Now I’m four!”
She held up four little fingers, and Harry smiled faintly as Bill and Fleur approached them, Fleur looking unusually tired with Dominique sleeping on her shoulder, and Bill with his hair in the typical, fiery red ponytail.
“Have you seen it?” Ginny said, making a gesture towards the wall behing them, and Bill nodded.
“Yeah. Lots of people have put stuff under his name, haven’t they? Products from the shop, cards… It’s nice.”
“He would have liked it,” Ginny agreed.
Bill, perhaps noticing the absent look on his brother-in-law’s face, took a step towards Harry and placed a hand on his shoulder. “You all right there, Harry?”
Harry met his eyes, which were piercingly blue like Victoire’s and full of something that looked like brotherly concern. Suddenly, he was overcome with the need to get away, to be alone with his thoughts; he could have opened up to Bill right then and there, but it was Victoire’s birthday, and she had leaned forwards and started playing with the fang in her father’s ear, turning Bill’s attention away. Harry couldn’t have felt more out of place.
“Yes, I just… I’m sorry, I just have to… I’ll meet you all in there, okay?”
He touched Ginny’s arm as he passed her, ignoring her: “Harry?” Instead, he marched away across the grounds, away from the castle and the marble wall and the names of all the people who had died. He was quite sure he wouldn’t be able to see one more person touch an inscripted name or place another card by the memorial wall with their eyes full of tears, without breaking down completely.
He wasn’t sure where he was heading and didn’t think about it either, and was quite surprised when he looked up and realized he had walked to the Quidditch pitch. Oval shaped and intensely green, the way it only was in springtime, it gave him a strange sensation of being at home.
He climbed up to the bleachers and sank down on one of the wooden benches. He had used to watch his housmates sit there from up in the air, smiling as they cheered for him, grinning at Dean Thomas’ banners and waving at Hagrid, who had always been impossible to miss. After all, he had been about four times bigger than most of the children surrounding him.
Harry felt as though he should be happier now than he had been then – and maybe he was, in a sense. He was happier than he could have dreamed of with Ginny, with his job, with the large family he so naturally had become part of. And Voldemort was dead.
And yet it seemed, when he thought back to those long nights he had spent out here practicing his flying, the late trainings that he mostly remembered as being very cold and very wet, that he had had no problems then. He had worried about what Cho Chang might think of his performance against Ravenclaw, or when to catch the Golden Snitch to ensure that Gryffindor would win by enough points.
The voice was soft, cautious. Harry looked up as Hermione sat down next to him, grabbed his hand and leaned her head against his shoulder. They sat in silence for a while. Harry watched the bleachers across the other side of the pitch and tried to focus on the memory of the Slytherins singing Weasley is our king, but he couldn’t remember the words, and his mind kept jumping back to what was really bothering him.
“I can’t do this,” he said, and Hermione lifted her head from his shoulder. He could feel her eyes on him but didn’t turn to meet them.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean,” he said, “that I can’t be here and celebrate, and… They want me to hold a speech. But what am I going to say? Do they expect me to stand up there and lie, to say that all of those people who are reduced to nothing more than names on a wall – to say they were worth it? Am I supposed to say that to Romilda Vane’s mother, or Mr and Mrs Weasley?”
“Harry, you can’t think of it that way…”
“But it’s true, isn’t it?” said Harry weakly. “They died, and there was no point to it.”
Hermione didn’t respond immediately, and when she did, it wasn’t what Harry expected to hear; instead of offering words of comfort and wisdom the way she so often had throughout the years, she let go of his hand, crossed her arms over her chest and stared across at the bleachers the way he had just been doing.
“I can’t believe you’d even say that.”
Harry furrowed his brows. “What are you talking about?”
Hermione turned her eyes towards him, and he realized they were flooded with tears.
“My mother!” she said, her voice louder now, more resolute. “My mother just died of cancer, and you’re really going to sit there and talk about people dying for no reason? Yes, some people were brutally murdered, and it’s awful what happened to so many families. But Remus and Tonks and all those people you’re thinking died for nothing – even saying so is a disgrace to their memory! They died for us. Trust me, there have been days when I’ve found it hard to appreciate it too… But isn’t it a bit ungrateful to even think that their deaths made no difference?”
Harry stared at her. “Yes… I…”
“Cancer,” Hermione continued, and her voice had suddenly dropped in both volume and strength. “That’s pointless. But those names on that walls are so much more than names, just so long as we remember it.”
For a moment, Harry felt as though she had just punched him in the stomach. Then, as her words sank in, he felt his cheeks burn with shame, because she was right. He could almost hear Ron’s voice in his head: Of course she’s right – she’s Hermione!
He looked back at Hermione and opened his mouth to tell her just that, but closed it again when he realized that tears were now streaming down her cheeks, her lower lip trembling. Without hesitating, he put both arms around her and allowed her to cry against his chest.
“I just really miss her,” she whispered.
“I know,” Harry mumbled.
For the next couple of minutes, Hermione cried, Harry rubbed her back, and neither one of them said a word. For the second time that day, Harry wanted badly to find the right words to say, but for the second time that day, he couldn’t think of a single one. It was Hermione who broke the silence a little while later, drying her cheeks with the back of her hand as she looked up at him.
“Draco’s here,” she said. “I saw him on my way down here. I don’t think he saw me, though.”
“Oh, really? Are you going to talk to him?” Harry asked. “Or at least say hi?”
“No. I might grant him a wave from afar,” Hermione answered, and now she was almost smiling. “He looked a bit uncomfortable. He’s probably hoping I’ll be at home ill, or something.”
“Or perhaps he knows you will have told Ginny everything,” Harry suggested. “I mean, she’s cursed him before, I bet he wouldn’t fancy another round of that…”
They both burst out laughing, and then, as if by an unspoken agreement, both stood up and started walking down the steps to head back to the castle.
Inside the Great Hall, everything was set up for the memorial ceremony – no long tables, but rows and rows of seats, and a rostrum up where the teachers’ tables would normally stand. The school ghosts were showing guests to their seats, and Nearly Headless Nick seemed particularly pleased to be the one to usher Hermione and Harry to the other Weasleys in the front of the hall.
“It’s a shame we don’t have you here more often, that’s what I told the Friar this morning,” he said as he floated forwards through the aisle in the middle, politely stopping every time someone stepped in his way, to spare them the rather uncomfortable feeling of having a ghost pass right through them.
“Yeah, it’s always nice to be back,” said Harry. “Brings back lots of memories…”
“Good and bad, I presume,” said Nick sadly, and Harry nodded, suddenly remembering that just some feet away from where Mrs Weasley was sitting, was the spot where she had lied that day, bent over Fred’s body, crying so hard that she must have found it hard to breathe.
The corner behind them, Harry realized as he turned his head, that was where Andromeda had learned the news about Remus and Tonks. Professor Sprout had told her, and Harry had watched her face and thought that if she hadn’t been holding baby Teddy in her arms, she would have fallen to pieces right then and there.
“Yes,” said Harry, returning to present time just as they passed Professor McGonagall, who was talking to a vaugely familiar couple and their daughter but paused to smile and nod at him and Hermioe. “Good and bad.”
Professor McGonagall returned her attention to the couple just as the woman said:
“Yes, Leonora is hoping to be sorted into Gryffindor in September, just like…” She sniffed. “Just like our Lavender.”
Harry turned his head to look back at – he now realized – Lavender Brown’s parents and younger sister. He had seen them at her funeral almost five years earlier. The girl, who had sang in the church then, Harry remembered, looked up, noticed that he was staring at her, and waved, looking as though she was trying to hold back a smile. Harry waved back just as he Hermione stopped in front of him, making him aware of the fact that they had made it to their seats.
Unlike the first year after the Battle, when all of the Weasleys had rushed to St. Mungo’s after the ceremony after finding out Fleur was in labour, they stayed for the feast that year. Victoire managed to charm all the teachers, Professor McGonagall, when seeing Angelina and her pregnant belly, vowed to retire before any offspring of George Weasley’s would start school, and naturally, Ron was delighted to be eating Hogwarts food again. Harry caught himself over and over casting a glance towards the Slytherin table, where Teddy was sitting with Andromeda, Draco, and Mrs Malfoy. He had told Andromeda he wouldn’t mind at all if they sat over there, but couldn’t help but feel pleased when Teddy ran over to the Gryffindor table before dessert, stating that he’d have more fun there.
“So when can I start school?” he asked as he climbed over the bench to sit down next to Neville, who smiled.
“I’d take you in this September,” he said, “but it’s Professor McGonagall. She says you have to be eleven. Do you know how long you’ve got until you’re eleven?”
Teddy started counting on his fingers. “Well, I’m five now… six, seven, eight…” He paused for a moment and grinned contently. “Six more years!”
“Clever boy,” said Neville.
“So, Professor,” smiled Ginny from across the table. “Got any plans for the summer?”
“Yeah, I told Gran I’d come stay with her for a while…”
“And what about Hannah?”
Neville’s cheeks instantly went as scarlet as his Gryffindor tie. “How do you know about me and Hannah?”
Ginny grinned. “I didn’t. I guess I do now. So you’ve been seeing her, then?”
“Just a few times,” Neville admitted, “but I really like her.”
Ron had taken a break from eating and was wiping gravy from the corners of his mouth. “You and Hannah,” he said, “who would have thought?”
“It was pretty obvious, wasn’t it?” said Hermione and raised an eyebrow. “That night we all met in the Leaky Cauldron…”
“Was it?” said Ron, but he didn’t have time to worry about his lack of perception, because just then, the plates emptied and was refilled with cakes, pastries and cupcakes of every colour and flavour he could have dreamed of.
Further down the table, George had had a few drinks of Firewhiskey and seemed to be doing his best to keep his mood up by discussing his best mate’s love life.
“Lee Jordan!” he said, smashing his fist into the table. “When I asked you to run the shop in Hogsmeade, I didn’t expect I was helping fulfil your wet schoolboy dreams…”
“What’s he on about?” said Harry to Ginny, because, it seemed, she knew everything.
“Oh, Lee’s been seeing Madam Rosmerta,” said Ginny casually, nearly making Ron choke on his bite of custard tart. “It’s kind of ironic, isn’t it? Katie broke up with him because she thought he was too childish, and now he’s with a woman who’s what, twenty years older?”
“Does he even realize what a serious age gap that is?” said Hermione in a hushed voice. “I mean, when he’s thirty, she’s going to be fifty! Why would he even want that?”
“It’s not that big a mystery, is it?” said Ron with a grin, which quickly faded when he met his wife’s eyes.
As the night progressed, the Great Hall slowly emptied. People with kids left early, of course; as usual, Andromeda had a hard time dragging Teddy away from first Victoire, then Harry. By the time the professors started going to bed, Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione started moving towards the exits too.
Before they were out the hall, however, a deep voice stopped them. “Wait! I’ll walk yeh ter the gates.”
With his long legs, Hagrid didn’t take long to catch up with them, patting Harry’s back as he did so and nearly knocking the wind out of him.
“How have your lessons gone this year, Hagrid?” asked Hermione as they walked through the corridors.
“’S been all righ,’ I reckon,” Hagrid replied. “Some good students, but yeh lot were always me favourite ter teach.”
His four former students remained silent, perhaps all feeling a bit guilty over the fact that none of them had exactly enjoyed Hagrid’s lessons in Care of Magical Creatures.
“They ask abou’ yeh, though,” Hagrid continued, ignorant to the rather awkward atmosphere. “Want ter know how yeh had yer tea, Harry, when yeh came over to visit in me cabin. I woulda thought they’d have better things ter worry ‘bout than if yeh prefer milk or sugar, but I s’pose not.”
They stepped out into the lukewarm night. The sun wasn’t completely set, a very thin stripe of dark red light was still visible at the horizon of the Black Lake, and apart from the distant voices of a group of memorial guests who had gone to sit by the water’s edge, and an owl hooting somewhere in the Forbidden Forest, it was very still, and very quiet.
“Well, it was great seeing you, Hagrid,” said Harry when they made it to the gates. “You’ll come over to ours for my birthday, won’t you?”
“I’d love ter,” grinned Hagrid. “Look after yerselves, will yeh? All four of yeh.”
“Of course,” said Ron, sounding a little smothered as Hagrid had just pulled him into a hug. “See you soon, Hagrid.”
“Yes, really soon,” Hermione said. “Good night.”
“Good nigh.’ See yeh real soon.”
A/N: The inscription on the memorial wall ("At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them") is taken from Laurence Binyon's poem For the Fallen, which he wrote in 1914 and which was published in The Times in September that same year. I do not own it.
I guess I wanted to focus this chapter on the difficulty of finding meaning in death, even the deaths of soldiers. I reckon Harry still has some searching to do before he'll realize how truly meaningful it all was, despite the tragedy of it.
Thank you so, so much for reading this story, it means the world to me!