take heart; you are alive, but my life died
long ago, to serve the dead.
Hermione said, "Fred," low and soft and then they clutched each other's hands, and it was the only place where either of them were touching or being touched, inside or out. Fred touched his wand to the doorknob, securing the house to intrusion, and then took Hermione to the car.
The caskets, Harry noted dully, were the same size. He hadn't done anything after all, just bankrolled the funeral, since Molly couldn't afford anything now that four of her sons were laid to rest beside her husband. She didn't even pretend to say no anymore, and that, too, proved how even though Molly lived, a little death had crept inside. Harry called her by her first name now, and she didn't call him 'dear'.
The first time he'd stood in a cemetery, Cedric had died for good. The second, Harry was incredibly surprised to see how like Muggle funerals wizarding ones were. He didn't know how many times he'd been back to a cemetery now. The rituals were all the same.
They wore black robes, not black suits, and the minister was secular, but Hermione even grabbed a handful of dirt and threw it on the coffins, first, followed by the rest of the family still gathered, as well as a few of the old Gryffindors still in the country. Bill was holding his mother's hand tight while Molly wept quietly, standing off to the side. Hermione and Fred stood out at the front of the crowd - Fred was the only one not wearing black; he sported dark red instead, and hadn't shaved in a week.
Dumbledore himself had stepped out to oversee this gathering, even despite the terror currently being paraded around in Kent.
"We are gathered here," he began, "to say goodbye to two fine young men."
Dumbledore had cried. Harry knew that. He knew that as he knew that Hermione and Fred hadn't, that Molly probably wouldn't ever stop. He knew that Remus wouldn't, that Bill would be the next to die. He knew that Ginny would come just at the very end. He didn't know where Ginny was, but he knew she would be here. Even when Fred and George were being held in Bulgaria, and Arthur was in danger of losing his life - even before Bill and Charlie had even made up with him, Ginny had come to say goodbye to Percy. She was the first then, and ever since she skipped all but the leaving.
"We all know how they died," Dumbledore said. "That's not what's important." He pulled out a handkerchief that had MM embroidered on it; that was right, McGonagall was fighting for her life. Kingsley and Tonks were already gone, Tonks had simply disappeared out of thin air. The day they buried Kingsley it was raining. "What is important," he said, "was how they lived."
Harry let Dumbledore's speech die off as he stumbled away, among the gravestones. This was a half-Muggle graveyard, since the town where the Weasleys used to live wasn't that full of wizards. Ginny would ride up on a broom, he knew, and probably wrapped in the Invisibility Cloak that she'd inherited from Moody. Alastor was still alive, but he wasn't available. Harry snorted. His mind was gone, eaten away by a curse that they still couldn't counter. What a way to go.
"Seen enough?" Ginny asked kindly. She was waiting at the gate, sitting on a low stone wall, broom beside her and satchel stuffed full.
Harry shrugged. "It's the same old bullshit," he answered. That was new, too - he didn't bother being quiet about exactly what he thought, except around Molly. He couldn't add to her torment, especially when she'd already had to give up her house and her husband and her children, to live at Number Twelve Grimmauld place as messenger and de facto maid. Since Remus had beheaded Kreacher, the place needed dusting.
"I was going to get some fish and chips," she said. "Walk me to the gravesite and we can go."
Harry followed in her steps, because Ginny knew what was going on, and of all of them, Ginny seemed to take things in stride without them managing to break her back. They got there just as people were breaking up, to head back to the cars or to disappear quietly. The wake was going to be at Grimmauld Place too, as if there was any doubt. It was the only place they could all go that was safe as well as it was home.
"Dear," and Molly wrapped her arms around Ginny tightly, Bill's hand resting on Molly's shoulder as if to ward off demons. Dumbledore was the first to Apparate away, because having this many people at the house at a time was going to cause problems in security.
Hagrid blew his nose and made as if to speak with Hermione. Harry grabbed his coat. "Don't."
"Yeh don't understand, Harry," Hagrid said angrily. "She's hurtin', and will for a good long while."
"Of course I understand," and Harry finally looked at the brand new fresh dug dirt. They'd be gone before the old grave tender came to put the dirt back in the ground where it belonged. Harry thought perhaps, if he survived to see some peace, that he'd take a job tending a cemetery.
"Our Hermione needs someone, Harry," and Hagrid pulled his coat away, to go put a comforting hand on Hermione and Fred's shoulders. Harry let him. Maybe Hagrid knew what to say - after all, he'd seen more freshly dug dirt than nearly anyone else alive. Fred and Hermione seemed unable to leave the coffins, but Hagrid pulled them gently away.
"Sometimes you have to step in," Ginny said from behind. "Let's get some chips. I haven't eaten all day."
Harry turned. "Aren't you going to say something?"
Ginny shrugged. "They can't hear me." She wandered over to the spot where Fred and Hermione had been standing just moments before, and peered down. Reluctantly, Harry followed her. "I think I keep coming," she commented, "just to make sure they're really dead."
The chips were too salty. Ginny's bag smelled like sea water. "Where were you?"
Fish batter spat onto the table as she answered, fork already going for another bite to stuff in her mouth. "Fishing fleet, off Norway. Flew all night. Neville heard that they might have Tonks alive."
Harry swallowed. Tonks. There was no service for her, because technically she wasn't gone, just absent, like a missing tooth; your smile was never the same. "Anything?"
"Possibly. I had to zip back when the Muggles started fighting each other. Fishing fleet was a cover for something else."
Ginny snorted, putting more vinegar on her chips. George liked vinegar on his chips. "Drug smuggling, I think. Can you believe it? It was a dead end, no sign of her. Still, one of the crew said he'd meet me next week for a drink. I charmed him." She flashed her eyelashes at Harry. "He liked my skirt."
"Of course. Criminal as they come. Could know something. You want those?"
There was going to be food at the house, Ginny knew that as well as Harry did. In one hand, she held a fork, and was shovelling food past her lips with abandon. Her lips were greasy, and her hair was messy, pulled out of her face. A stray piece kept brushing her eye lashes, and she blew it out of her face while she ate Harry's portion, too. There would be food at the house, but in one fist Ginny held her fork, and in the other she gripped Harry's hand tight. Ginny couldn't ever eat at Grimmauld Place. She had to steel herself to go home.
"--took them all night, but finally they pried it off, and sent it to Harry. A toilet seat!"
The laughter started up, and Harry chuckled. Dumbledore held a crystal goblet - one of the few that hadn't been smashed or sold in the original cleaning of the house - and raised it, before winking. "I believe the toilet seat is still in Argus Filch's office, along with a rather large stack full of detention slips and confiscated items."
A lot of people had shown up, relatively speaking. George was popular, and so was Ron, and the Order headquarters weren't quite as direly secret as in previous years. Dumbledore met with people at the Ministry, rather than in their kitchen. It was just a place to keep safe.
Angelina nodded fervently. "They were so adamant," she said. "It had to be a toilet seat. George yelled fit to be tied when Pomfrey removed it."
Neville, who couldn't risk leaving the house anymore, not with the reward posted on his life, snorted. "Maybe we could get it back here, hang it in the front hall."
People looked at each other sombrely for a moment; there was already so much hanging in the front hall. Once Harry had taken a burning spell to Mrs. Black's picture until the portrait itself coughed up the relevant magic to enable them to remove it - it had sold for a hundred galleons at auction last year, to make sure Neville wouldn't lose his family's house - the front hall had become like a museum. Harry didn't know who'd started it, but he suspected the twins, or possibly Remus. Percy's Head Boy's badge, that still read Bighead Boy, was pinned on the wall, and it was the first in a long line of souvenirs of people who had lived there and weren't there still. In the center was a picture of the old Order.
Harry hated the hall; he usually came in through the back garden.
"The real question is," Arabella asked, "would old Filch cough it up? It's evidence!" she screeched, and everyone laughed again. The imitation was uncanny. Harry knew that by tomorrow morning, Dumbledore would be sticking the damned toilet seat on the wall. He could only hope that if he died, there was nothing left of himself to preserve like some macabre exhibit, because he knew everyone would come to see it.
Upstairs, in Harry's room, Hermione was taking off her robes while Fred closed the curtains. They didn't really say much that the other could remember the next day. Hermione still had her engagement ring on.
When they came down again, Hermione even smiled while Harry told everyone about how Ron handled Lockhart. "And then he asked if we lived down there," Harry finished, "so Ron hit him over the head with a rock, of all things." Neville was wiping his eyes he was laughing so hard. "Poor fellow," he added. "Still at St. Mungo's."
Angelina passed another round of beer around. "Did he honestly hit him over the head?"
Harry put his hand on his heart dramatically. "Would I lie to you?"
The truth was, he didn't remember whether Ron had or not, and the truth was, it didn't matter. The story was good and Hermione had smiled, hand still wrapped tightly around Fred's. Harry glanced at Ginny. oh.
"Want to get out of here?" Ginny asked, a ghost gliding to his side. Harry shook his head. "It looks like Hermione and Fred will be okay."
"She was only just engaged." Angelina started telling the story about Ron's first ever Quidditch win, Bill speaking up every now and then to tell everyone about the owl Ron sent the family the next day. Ringed around the table was the fate of the world, and their numbers were dwindling. It was every kind of cliche. Molly's eyes were tinged with red; Neville's face pale from hiding for so long. Angelina had been playing for Kent, but quit the team once Voldemort moved through the region last month. Harry was currently housing her and Katie, who'd left home after no one was left. Harry shook his head. "They'd only just got engaged, Ginny," he said. "It took him that long."
"Ron was an idiot," she answered, not bothering to lower her voice. Angelina halted in her narration, and Remus - quietly drinking in the corner - turned around. Ginny raised her glass, as people's conversations died down. The whole of the Order wasn't here, but everyone Harry had cause to still call friend. "To Ron and George."
Everyone toasted. Molly cried. The drinking lasted until dawn, when Harry passed out with Neville in Mrs. Black's bedroom. It still smelled a little like Buckbeak.
"Toast and eggs for you?" Molly poured a cup of tea, and added another when Neville stumbled in too. "They're hot."
They never did eat, day after a funeral, but Molly cooked anyway.
Neville paused at the back garden gate. "Are you going out?"
Ginny turned around. Neville was protected from the scryers looking for him while he was on Black private property; that protection extended only as far as the garden wall. Beyond that, he was vulnerable. Neville's grandmother's last wish was her grandson to be protected. They'd tried to get at his parents in the hospital the week after he'd moved in.
"I have to send the order for the headstones," she told him. "Mum forgot to send the owl, so they won't be up until later today."
"Do you want me to lock up after you leave?"
"No, I'll be back a little later. Taking Angelina to a friend's house so she and Katie can get out of the dungeon."
They'd picked up calling the Black house the dungeon from their very first summer there. After Percy's wake, all the Weasleys officially christened it, when Ron had stared at the table blearily and said, "at least he didn't ever have to live in this dungeon." It had spread far enough that nearly everyone used it. Even Professor McGonagall had been heard to drop the nickname, though in her case it was probably just as a last insult to the family that did so much damage and lost them the only good son it ever had.
"Can you send a letter for me?" Neville pulled it out of his pocket, and it was much creased, as if it had been sitting a while, waiting to be opened. It was addressed to Alice Longbottom, care of St. Mungo's. There was no need to ask whether it could be traced, or what it said. Neville had been living at Grimmauld Place long enough. Ginny took it, tucking it into the inside pocket of her Muggle coat - she rode the Tube whenever possible, to avoid detection - and then planted a kiss on his cheek.
"Morning to you, Harry." Remus flopped down in a chair beside the stove, and put his feet up on the hearthstones. The house, no matter what time of year it was, still felt chilly in the mornings. It was still early enough that the morning sunshine was watery, the first winter frost still visible on the pane where the hedge blocked the window from view. Remus looked bleary. "Where'd everyone get to?"
Harry shrugged. "Most are gone already." He handed Remus his own cup of tea. "We slept in."
Neville closed the kitchen door a little too loudly, and both of them jumped up, then - as they saw it was Neville - clutched their aching heads. Harry felt like his skull was going to crack open. Sure, it wasn't prudent, letting half the Order get drunk on account of two people, but sometimes a hangover felt good. It reminded them that there were things that could hurt just as much as the Cruciatus curse and they were self-inflicted.
"Ginny's off to run an errand," he told them. "Hermione and Fred stayed in bed."
Remus stood, scrubbing at his eyes. "I have to get off. Dumbledore has me in Austria this month." Harry never knew Remus to get drunk, but sometime between Sirius and Tonks, he'd picked up the habit of the occasional lapse. Maybe he thought that since Sirius couldn't drink, someone had to in his stead. "Make sure you lock up when I'm gone."
"Ginny will be back."
"Then lock up after she's gone again." Harry nodded, tired.
The story went like this. Once upon a time, there was a prophesy made about he and Neville and Voldemort. Since that time, people had been tripping over themselves in order to protect one side or the other of that prophesy, while he and Neville ended up washing the dishes after the wake.
The sponge was soapy. "Is Hermione going to be all right?" Neville asked him quietly.
"Sure," Harry said, then he dropped a plate carelessly. "Damn." He repaired it, then added, "I don't know. Maybe."
"I sort of thought," Neville said, drying by hand, "that she'd turn to you."
When Fred and Hermione finally emerged, still in dressing gowns, Neville put the tea on without comment. Harry said to Neville, "make sure to give Arabella her mail when she comes round, and we have to double check on the last of those houses." They were trying to get alternate accommodations for nearly half of Harry's school friends. Dean had moved to the States; Seamus was doing a scholarship in Ireland that was soon to be over, and he wanted to live somewhere Harry found. "I've got to go." Out of habit, he added, "lock up after I leave."
Harry had to be at the Ministry for two o'clock, because the Aurors had a meeting. Ginny, still not official, would have to be back by then. They could maybe go in together, and make the news of the deaths public. That was the hardest part, maybe, except for all the rest of it: having to bury the bodies as fast as possible, so that more hits couldn't be made while they were trying to throw the dirt on the caskets. A lot of the time people didn't go anymore. It was too obvious to show up to your husband's gravestone, it was inviting something stupid.
"We've just enough time," and Ginny puffed, legs pumping like pistons. "Damn, they're going to be so mad if we're late. I'm just glad Angelina and Katie are off all right on the train."
Harry pulled her tight against the brick of an office building, and put a hand over her mouth. He didn't need to, Ginny would have been quiet if he'd even looked at her properly. The truth was, there was no way to tell if that even was the person they thought it was, if it was really Vincent Goyle in the shop along the way. It wasn't likely. They probably could have taken him, if he'd recognised them, moreover. They could have flown away, or ducked around and pulled out the Invisibility Cloaks they both carried habitually. The truth was, it was just nice sometimes to touch someone.
Moments passed without incident, and Harry backed off, slouching down. "I'm not going to be able to visit Moody this afternoon," she said, face sad. "And I had him a present."
Ginny looked up to Moody, ever since he shoved her off a bridge to get her out of the way of a Dementor and a wand blast, taking the chill that was meant, as a Weasley, for her. "What did you get?"
She pulled out a little toy dragon, that roared when you spoke to it. "His face reminded me of him."
They both laughed. The dragon looked incredibly annoyed somehow, permanently, and whipped his tail around.
Harry thought it was funny sometimes, how he didn't remember any of the wakes, but he could remember the oddest things about the deaths themselves. Ron and George died trying to get back from Hogwarts; their train derailed, they were surrounded and caught and still the duel was visible from five miles away. That was how everyone got there in time to see the Death Eaters leave. Harry and Hermione even managed to catch two of the stupider ones, and they were currently sitting in separate rooms with no windows and no doors and no wands, being guarded by Grawp. It wasn't a perfect solution. Hermione had suggested they leave out the food until they got some answers. By that point, she was willing to trade Tonks' life for Crabbe's.
Charlie died from a dragon bite. It was, perhaps, the most shocking loss in the whole Weasley family. He was taking a holiday, at another dragon preserve, and they let him deal with them and he was bitten, bad enough that there wasn't anything anyone could do. He was the only one that didn't cause anyone else any more enemies.
They think Kingsley was killed by Voldemort himself. It was professional work, at the least, and Kingsley was good. Harry didn't think that anyone else could have brought him down. He had been wearing, of all things, a baseball cap from some American baseball team. The hat was sitting on a table in their - in Harry's, the house, by rights, had passed to him by inheritance and by law - front hall. Mundungus had disappeared, but Dumbledore wasn't worried as yet, because Dung tended to do that. Barbara, Arthur Weasley, Dedalus Diggle, all taken out by Death Eaters. Arthur managed to fend them off long enough for the rest of the family to escape the Burrow. McGonagall and Moody, out of the running, possibly for good.
Ever since Cedric died, a kind of cold dread had suffused Harry's entire being. It started when Cedric died, and coalesced into something much more specific when Moody first pulled out that picture, the night they found out Ron was prefect. Each step that he took ever since then brought him closer to realizing that fear, to knowing that some day in the not too distant future, he was almost assuredly going to be pointing at a picture and telling someone that he used to know all these people, and now all of them were dead.
Aurors were a practical bunch. They all nodded, murmuring condolences, but the first real thing Dawlish, unofficially heading the Auror task force ever since Shacklebolt died, asked was, "did they get--"
Ginny spoke up. "They got what we needed."
"All right, then."
Ginny followed Harry home just long enough to say goodbye to her mother. Harry was to leave in the morning, and they worried about both Molly and Neville, considering that so many people had to be gone for so long. He was on the trail of Macnair, and didn't plan to give up until he caught him this time. Ginny was still searching for Tonks. When Harry heard her talk about her efforts, he almost believed Ginny could bring her back alive.
"Hang on," and she jumped off the Tube, glancing every which way before hopping up the steps. Ginny had taken to Muggle life like she was born for it. She loved the Underground, she loved the turnstiles. More than that, unlike her Muggle crazy father, she could blend in naturally, not even letting the barrier hit her hip as she shoved her way through.
They snuck into the little wizarding market without an incident, Harry only slightly nervous. The thing was hidden from Muggle view, and not patroned as often as Diagon Alley, because this was really just a place to do your daily shopping. Ginny went straight to the post office, pulling a parchment out of her ever-present bag. "I forgot to send Neville's letter earlier," she explained.
"What were you doing out?"
Ginny pulled out a few Knuts, and handed them to the old, nearly-napping postman, who fastened the letter onto an owl's leg. It hooted sleepily, and took off. "I had to send the orders for their headstones."
Harry looked through the stuff lining the next stall. A lot of it was wards to protect yourself and do-it-yourself tea reading kits. People got superstitious in dark times, Dumbledore once told him. "I would have thought, well. Hermione might have."
"She couldn't handle it," Ginny answered. "Here, get some more cleaning potion. Mum won't touch that Muggle wood polish I bought her, even if it does a wonder on the floors."
They stepped into an abandoned phone booth and donned their invisibility cloaks before walking the last ten blocks to home, crossing the street whenever another person came by. This part of London had once been quite heavily populated with wizard families, and there were still a number of them left. What was left of the Bones family lived just two Tube stations - one junction on the Floo Network - away.
They used the front door, and Harry regretted it right away. The damned toilet seat was already up, along with Ron's old, reliable broom. Ginny stopped suddenly, whooshing the cloak off, and stood stock-still, staring at the broom. She didn't breathe for a moment or two, and then forced herself around. "I've just had a thought. Do you think--" and she swallowed. "Do you think Hermione will want, well, Pig?"
Harry took her elbow. "She doesn't want an owl."
Molly cried when Ginny left, and again when Harry did the next day. Remus had disappeared in the middle of the night, right after a midnight visit from Dumbledore. Harry was planning to Apparate across the ocean, all the way to Morocco, and then started the long, tedious broom flight back again to southern Spain. It was just Molly and Neville, alone again, unless you counted Hermione and Fred upstairs. Harry would bet that by the time he got back, they'd be gone too. Perhaps they were already packing. They just needed a few days to remember that of anywhere they could pick to mourn, Grimmauld Place was not it. There were just too many memories of the departed there to properly focus on one set, one face.
Harry fastened his travel sack - a grubby but durable, and quite impervious, canvas backpack that had been significantly enlarged on the inside - to the underside of his broom. He stared at the back gate for a moment, and didn't look up at the windows or anything, knowing someone would be watching him leave, to make sure the gate was secure. He'd have to go through the gate to actually Apparate, and lock it behind him.
Percy died because of a stupid, tragic mistake. He was stupid and tragic. They found him at home, face up in his bed, a perplexed look on his face, as if he, like everyone else, couldn't quite believe what had happened. The Dark Mark was hovering.
Ginny was the last one to see him alive; they'd gone to the pub the night before, and back to see his apartment. Ginny was also the one that found him the next morning. She should have noticed Percy hadn't even locked the door when she left, but Percy didn't yet know he should. People kind of suspected that it was the mistake that pushed Ginny into the place she was. When she started saying "don't forget to lock the door behind me," they did it. Like everything picked up in death, the saying spread through their family until everyone now used it.