Ginny Weasley/Harry Potter
Ginny Weasley Harry Potter
Drama General
The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix
Published: 11/27/2004
Updated: 07/12/2005
Words: 244,604
Chapters: 33
Hits: 95,778

Harry Potter and the Curse of the Damned


Story Summary:
Seventh-year sequel to Power of Emotion. Harry is recovering from his captivity, but he's hiding how much it's affecting him. With his powers increasing, and Voldemort now aware of the prophecy, can Harry find the secret to destroying him before Voldemort discovers what's in the ancient texts?

Chapter 26

Chapter Summary:
Seventh year sequel to Power of Emotion. Harry is recovering from his captivity, but he’s hiding how much it’s effecting him. With his powers increasing, and Voldemort now aware of the prophecy, can Harry find the secret to destroying him before Voldemort learns of the existence of these ancient texts? Would this be HP fanfiction if it were that easy?
Author's Note:
Thanks to my wonderful beta, Mistral, for all your help and guidance. Thanks for the reassurances about this plot development, as well! I was stressing over the reactions to Dumbledore’s death, and she told me to look at it as preparing everyone. Yikes!

Chapter Twenty-six

The Winds of Change

After the portkey stopped his movement, Harry stumbled to his knees and stared blankly at the gates of Hogwarts as if he'd never seen it before. Percy Weasley stood at his side, tugging him back to his feet.

"Are you all right?" Percy asked quietly. Percy suddenly appeared years older than his twenty-one years. His shoulders were slumped, and his elegant dress robes were wrinkled and smudged.

Harry started at him numbly, unable to speak or even begin to process what had just happened. Professor Dumbledore is dead; he killed him...

"Of course you're not all right; that was a stupid question," Percy said, more to himself than to Harry. He adjusted his glasses needlessly on his face. "Come on; we have to get inside the gates and up to the castle. No one can Apparate into Hogwarts; we'll be safe inside."

Harry stumbled as Percy nearly dragged him towards the gates. "I know," he said in a daze. "It says so in Hogwarts: A History."

"What?" Percy asked, distracted. He was panting with the effort of dragging Harry along.

Suddenly, it registered with Harry with whom he was walking - leaning on, really. Percy - who hadn't believed him when he said Voldemort was back; who threw his whole family away; who told Ron to abandon him; who let Ginny get injured, because he had more important things to do. Percy - who had just pulled him away from the battle and stopped him from ending this thing once and for all.

"Percy! What are you doing here? Why-" Harry couldn't force himself to form the words. It was too much. He should be back at the Ministry battling Voldemort, not taking a leisurely stroll. What had Percy done?

"You weren't ready!" Percy hissed vehemently. "Professor Dumbledore told me as much, only I hadn't wanted to believe him. You were in shock, Harry; you still are. Bloody Hell, we're all in shock," he said, running a trembling hand in his hair. He suddenly looked lost and very young. "I've been observing your training for months now. Any fool can see that your powers are tied to your emotions, and they are all over the place right now. You couldn't have won a duel, and we'd all be lost. I had to get you out of there, so I turned your wand into a portkey - an illegal portkey, I might add. I am going to be in so much trouble. I just hope the Minister will understand-"

"You're worried about a bloody portkey?" Harry bellowed. "You left your family there with sodding Voldemort, Percy."

"He's gone by now," Percy snapped. "Didn't you feel what was happening in that room? That energy that caused everything to shake was Professor Dumbledore's life force extinguishing. He was a powerful wizard; I'm certain he'd planned for it to happen that way. Voldemort and his followers would have escaped after you disappeared, to avoid draining any of their powers in the aftermath. I had to leave with you; he would have killed me for helping you escape. He might have killed a lot more people if you hadn't disappeared."

Percy's words reminded Harry that Dumbledore was gone. He was really gone. He'd jumped in front of a curse meant for Harry. He'd sacrificed his own life for Harry's. It happened again. How many lives would be sacrificed so that he could live? Didn't they understand that he couldn't live with this? Harry felt hysteria rising within his chest. He had to get away. He couldn't have this conversation with Percy right now; he couldn't even deal with Percy right now. He needed to be alone; he needed to think.

Choking back a sob, he turned on his heel and sprinted for the castle in a full out run, not even caring what Percy would think of him. He felt a burning prickling behind his eyes, and he had to keep blinking to keep them clear. Don't think, just keep running.

"Harry!" Percy shouted, but Harry ignored him and kept running. He ran as fast as his legs would carry him, over sticks and twigs - hearing them crunch beneath his feet - over grass, and past the lake up the steps of Hogwarts. A stitch in his side burned painfully, but he ignored it. He burst through the doors and into the empty Entrance Hall, gasping for breath in short, painful wheezes. He couldn't face any questions in the common room right now, and he didn't want to have to tell Professor McGonagall what had happened. He couldn't tell Ron and Ginny that their parents and brothers were in that room, and he had no idea what had happened to them.

His heart thudded in his chest as he ran as fast as he could up to the seventh floor. The stairs kept shifting and moving, as if trying to slow him down. He screamed his fury and refused to be slowed. His scream echoed in the vast, empty stairway, making his howl of misery answer itself.

"Harry," he heard Neville call, but he ignored him and kept running until he reached the Room of Requirement. He paced back and forth along the length of the tapestry of Barnabus the Barmy three times, breathing raggedly and concentrating on his need of a place to be alone and think.

A door appeared on the open stretch of wall opposite the tapestry and opened for him. Harry flung himself inside, pulling off his dress robes and hurling them into the corner. The room held a couch with a throw rug in front of a blazing fire. There was also a bookshelf with rows and rows of books and small glass and ceramic objects.

Harry strode towards the bookshelf and grabbed a handful of the objects. He flung them at the fireplace, and the sound of shattering glass joined Harry's harsh breathing. He panted as he pulled books off the shelf and whipped them around the room.

"How could you leave me? You promised!" he cried, shattering everything he could reach and still feeling as if it weren't enough. How could he possibly succeed without Professor Dumbledore to tell him what to do? He was the glue that held everyone and everything together. What would happen to them all now? Harry hadn't felt this alone in a very long time.

"Not again," he raged, giving the bookcase a final shove and causing it to fall over. He punched it with his bare hand, causing his knuckles to bleed. "Not again," he cried as his adrenaline finally gave out, and he sank to his knees in despair.

Ginny sat in the common room, finishing up the last of her weekend homework. Ron and Hermione sat at the table in the corner, revising for the upcoming NEWTs, and several fifth-years sat by the fire, working on their OWL revision, but, otherwise, everyone had gone to bed. Ginny had promised Harry that she'd wait up for him, but she wasn't certain how late he would be.

She was considering curling up on the couch and catching a nap when the portrait hole opened, and a very perplexed Neville climbed through.

"All right, Neville?" she asked, wondering why he looked so concerned. Ron and Hermione both looked up from their books.

"I just saw Harry," he said, shuffling his feet.

"Harry?" Hermione asked. "He's back already? Where is he? Why didn't he come in with you?"

Neville shook his head. "I dunno. He didn't talk to me; he was running. He ran past me without even noticing I was there. He didn't look so good," Neville said, shrugging uncomfortably.

A chill ran up Ginny's spine. "What do you mean 'he didn't look so good?' What was wrong with him?"

Neville shrugged again. "He just...I dunno; he looked upset."

Ron glanced at Ginny, a frown furrowing his brow. He shrugged helplessly.

Hermione was one step ahead of them and already climbing out the portrait hole to look up and down the corridor. Ginny, Ron, and Neville followed her outside.

"Where did you see him, Neville?" Hermione asked.

"On the stairway, going towards the fourth floor. I'd just left Hannah in her dormitory," he said.

The stairway looked empty now, so the four began climbing down toward the Great Hall. There, they saw Percy talking with Professor McGonagall, who looked clearly upset.

"What are you doing here?" Ron demanded angrily. He hadn't seen Percy since the day of their Apparation test and still hadn't forgiven him for abandoning them for work when Ginny got hurt.

Ginny noticed the dejected slump of Percy's shoulders and the fact that Professor McGonagall was crying. "Stop, Ron," she said. "Percy, what's wrong?"

"Go back up to the common room," Professor McGonagall said. "There is nothing for you to worry about. I'll make an announcement at breakfast tomorrow morning."

"An announcement about what, professor?" Hermione asked warily. Ginny could tell that she wasn't certain she wanted to know.

"I don't have time to answer your questions, Miss Granger," Professor McGonagall said sternly before she sniffled and her voice softened. "Go back up to the common room; I'll stop by once I'm certain about the news."

"Neville thought he saw Harry," Ginny said, and she thought she saw Professor McGonagall flinch.

"Where is he?" Percy asked.

"Why?" Ron demanded, still unwilling to let go of his anger. "What did you do to him?"

"I pulled him out of the gala before You-Know-Who could kill him," Percy snapped, completely losing his cool.

Hermione inhaled sharply. "What?" she shrieked.

Percy shut his eyes and ran a hand through his hair. "You-Know-Who attacked the gala," he said wearily. "He aimed a Killing Curse at Harry, but Professor Dumbledore jumped in front of it. Harry and I escaped before You-Know-Who could cast a second spell."

"Oh, my God," Hermione whispered, covering her mouth and burying her face in Ron's shoulder.

"Do not repeat that," Professor McGonagall said. "I need to contact some members of the Order so we can verify it. Find Mr. Potter and wait in the Gryffindor common room until I can get there." With that, she headed stiffly toward the headmaster's office, with Percy following in her wake.

"Harry must be devastated," Hermione said. "We have to find him, Ron. He'll do something stupid. We have to stop him."

"Where could he be? I'd say the Quidditch pitch, but he didn't get his Firebolt, and Neville saw him inside," Ron replied.

"Yeah, he was running up the stairs," Neville said.

"I know where he is," Ginny said quietly, starting to climb the stairs.

"What?" Hermione shrieked. "Where? I have to talk with him-"

"No," Ginny said before she could finish. "Go back to the common room, and I'll bring him there when he's ready."

"What do you mean? We're all going, Ginny. He needs us," Hermione cried, nearly hysterical.

Ginny shook her head. "No. He's obviously upset, Hermione. You know Harry; he'll retreat. If all of us converge upon him, he'll close up even further. He loves both of you very much, you know that, but it's me he needs right now," Ginny said firmly. Although she was used to speaking her mind, she felt slightly uncomfortable standing up to Hermione about Harry. For years, she'd been the one on the outside looking in at their tightly formed trio, and she still felt slightly intimidated by it. Still, she knew she was right about this. Harry had finally opened up to her about things that had happened in his past. Each night that she'd given him the Dreamless Sleep Potion they'd talked a little more. He'd even told her about the torture at Malfoy Manor, and it was horrible enough to make her return to her own dormitory and cry herself to sleep for all he'd suffered.

He'd talk to her; she knew he would, but not if they all showed up and put pressure on him. He'd close right up if they tried. He needed her; she could feel it.

"Ginny," Hermione said, "I realize that you're his girlfriend, so of course he needs you, but he needs us, too. We've always been there for him."

"Ginny's right," Ron said, surprising her. She looked up into her brother's sad blue eyes and was startled to see a tremendous amount of compassion. She was forcefully reminded how much she truly loved her brother. Ron had done a lot of growing up in the past year.

"Ron," Hermione said.

"She's right, Hermione. Harry does need her right now, just her. We have to think about him, not us at the moment." He turned to Ginny and added, "We'll be in the common room waiting. Let us know how he is, even if he won't come back."

Hermione bit on her lip, looking back and forth between Ron and Ginny. Finally, she looked at Ginny and nodded. "Take care of him."

"I will," Ginny said, spontaneously rising on her toes to kiss Ron on the cheek before dashing up the stairs and running for the Room of Requirement.

She paced in front of the tapestry three times, but the door didn't appear. Ginny stomped her foot in frustration. She simply knew this is where he would go; she felt it. She turned to glare at the spot where the door should be.

"If he's in there right now, you know what he needs," she said through gritted teeth.

Silently, the door appeared, and she heard the lock unlatch. She let herself inside, and it resealed behind her. The room was dim, lit only by the fire burning in the hearth. A mess of broken shards of glass and torn books were scattered everywhere. In the center of all the destruction sat Harry, huddled on the floor and staring forlornly at the fire. He looked lost, and so terribly alone. She moved into the room cautiously, as if approaching a wounded animal.

"Harry," she said tentatively.

He turned, startled, and she could see the unshed tears in his eyes. Somehow, seeing her there caused the dam to break, and he flung himself into her waiting her arms.

"Ginny," he croaked, burying his head in her shoulder and searching for the words. "Professor Dumbledore..."

"Shh, luv. It's okay; I know. I saw Percy downstairs," she said, stroking his back as her own tears began to fall. He held her tightly, and she could feel his body shuddering, although he made no sound.

"This can't be happening," he said hoarsely after several silent minutes.

Ginny knew that he liked to be held, and that he liked for her to stroke his hair, but she wasn't certain how to handle this. If Professor Dumbledore had sacrificed himself for Harry, then it was like Harry's worst nightmare coming true...again. She wasn't certain if she should question him or just wait for him to open up on his own. Her silent contemplation took the matter out of her hands when Harry began to speak.

"I always thought there would be more time. I should have known when he finally talked to me about all that stuff with the Dursleys. He knew something, Gin. He knew...and he didn't tell me."

"What would you have said?" Ginny asked him quietly.

"I wouldn't have let him do it," Harry said fiercely, his words muffled in her shoulder. "We'd just finally begun to heal...but I thought...how stupid can I be? I should know by now...enough time is never an option! I knew he was sick; I could see it, but...I thought there would be more time." Harry's voice broke on the final words, and Ginny held him tighter in her arms. She led him over to the couch by the fire and pulled him down beside her.

"I don't know what to do, Gin," he said brokenly. "I feel like I should be the one to talk to Abe, but I can't. I don't know what to say, or how I can face him. What's going to happen to the Order...or to Hogwarts? He held everyone together. Without him, I'm afraid the Order will turn on each other. I don't even know which side Snape will choose."

"Harry, those aren't all your decisions to make. You're not in this alone. Let the rest of us work out the details. We all loved Professor Dumbledore, and losing him is a shock to everyone. It's going to take some time, but we'll get through it, as long as we stick together," Ginny said, sniffling. She'd just gone through the loss of Charlie, and she knew the hardest part had been when they fought with Percy at the memorial. If they'd all gone their separate ways to grieve, she didn't think any of them would have made it through.

"He's always had all the answers, even if he didn't share them. I don't know how to defeat Voldemort without him," Harry whispered. "I thought he'd be here."

"Yes, you do. The curse is the same, only now...Harry," Ginny said, suddenly realizing. She wiped at her eyes and turned to face him. "Now, Dumbledore is one of the spirits wronged by Voldemort who you can call."

Harry nodded. "I know. I've been thinking about it. The role of the servant shall decide. Only, what if it meant that my success depends on whether he sacrificed himself, or he sacrificed me? Maybe if he was alive to help in the end, then I'd kill Voldemort, but he'd also kill me - that would still be a victory for the light. Maybe he was supposed to lead the light after the fall."

"No! Don't even think that way, Harry."

"I have to. There are too many possibilities. Dumbledore sacrificed himself to save me, so that I can live. Do you have any idea what it feels like to have people keep doing that?"

She could see the devastation on his tear-stained face, and it broke her heart. Ron's prophecy played in her head and made her stomach knot with worry. The prophecy called for a sacrifice before the final battle took place. If Professor Dumbledore had made the ultimate sacrifice, that had to mean the end was near, and she hoped the headmaster had made the right decision. She couldn't bear to think about the alternative.

The weight of that decision weighed heavily on her mind, and she had a new appreciation for what Professor Dumbledore must have been going through if he'd suspected. Her eyes filled with tears for her beloved headmaster. She may have been angry with him on occasion for his treatment of Harry, but she knew that he really did what he had to do out of love for him.

Her eyes raked over Harry's exhausted face. He'd drained his energy along with his tears, and she knew he wasn't up to facing the others in the common room right now. She tugged on his shoulders until he was resting his head in her lap. "You look knackered, Harry. You sleep and let me keep watch for a while," she whispered, kissing his forehead.

She sat quietly stroking his hair until his breathing deepened, and she was certain he was asleep. She felt bad about leaving Ron and Hermione to worry, but there was no way she was going to leave him alone right now. She needed him as much as he needed her, and she wasn't moving from this spot. She made herself more comfortable and rested her head on the back of the couch. Ron would get the Marauder's Map out eventually and come to find her. For now, she was going to go to sleep.

Harry awoke the next morning feeling stiff and slightly disoriented. He wasn't certain exactly where he was, but he knew he wasn't in his bed in Gryffindor tower. He lay still for a moment, soaking in the warmth around him, before the memories of the previous night crashed down upon him.

He was lying with his head on Ginny's lap in the Room of Requirement, still dressed in his party clothes from the previous evening. Ginny was sitting upright, but she was sound asleep, with her head propped on the back of the couch. They'd spent the night together, even if it was innocently. Ron is going to kill me. Even as he had this thought, he was filled with a warm surge that Ginny had stayed with him. He didn't know what he would have done without her just then.

Harry sat up gingerly, trying not to disturb Ginny's slumber. He eased himself off the couch and stretched his legs. He had a crick in his neck, but otherwise felt physically all right. The heavy, leaden weight on his heart was another matter entirely.

Professor Dumbledore is dead.

The words sounded hollow in his mind. How could this be happening? How could they all survive and do what they had to do without Dumbledore? There had been some other Order members there when Voldemort attacked last night, so word of Professor Dumbledore's death would have spread. He had to find Professor McGonagall and find out what was happening. He wanted to know about Mr. and Mrs. Weasley before Ginny woke up, as well.


. He wasn't even certain to whom he was praying, but he needed for the Weasleys - all the Weasleys - to be all right.

He walked over toward the door and opened it, only to find Ron and Hermione both sitting in the hallway. They jumped to their feet when they saw him and entered the room. Harry was too stunned to stop them.

Hermione's gaze wandered over the condition of the room and searched his face warily. "Are you all right, Harry?"

Ron started at Ginny, still asleep on the couch.

"I'm okay," Harry said. "We must have fallen asleep. Nothing happened, Ron. Honestly, we just slept."

Ron waved a hand in the air. "I know, mate. I was here for a while last night, trying to convince Ginny to go back to the dormitory. I told her I'd stay with you, but she wouldn't leave. Don't make a habit of it, though."

Harry nodded without speaking.

"You've heard?" he asked. That numb, disconnected feeling had returned, and he almost felt as if he were watching someone else having this conversation.

"Yeah. We spoke with Percy and Professor McGonagall last night, then she made an announcement at breakfast this morning. All classes are cancelled until further notice," Ron said, eyeing Harry cautiously.

"Everyone is just stunned. Nobody even moved from the Great Hall - not even the Slytherins," Hermione whispered, her eyes filling with tears.

Harry nodded woodenly.

"Professor McGonagall is calling an emergency meeting of the Order today. She said she wants you to be there. I got an owl from Fred this morning. The rest of the family will all be at the meeting, but they wanted to know how you are," Ron said. He was trying to catch Harry's eye, but Harry just couldn't look at him. Although he was happy to hear the Weasleys were safe, a lump had formed in this throat at the idea of telling the rest of the Order exactly what had happened. He wasn't certain how many of them knew about the second prophecy, and he really didn't know what to say. He couldn't seem to force his mind to focus.

"Harry?" came Ginny's groggy voice from where she still rested on the couch.

"I'm here, Ginny," he said quietly. "Ron and Hermione are here, too."

Ginny pulled herself off the couch and walked over to the trio. She wrapped her arm around Harry's waist and looked up into his eyes. "How are you doing?"

"I'm fine."

Ginny smiled sadly and pulled his waist closer to her side. "Did you tell him about the Order meeting?" she asked Ron.

"Yeah. We should probably head up to Dum...to Professor Dumbledore's office now," Ron replied.

"If you two want to go down to the Great Hall, you can still catch the end of breakfast," Hermione said.

"I'm not hungry," Harry replied. "You go, Ginny. Get something to eat, and I'll tell you about the meeting after its over."

"No. We're going with you," Ginny said firmly.

Harry opened his mouth to protest, knowing they wouldn't be allowed to attend an Order meeting, but Ginny put her hand over his mouth to stop his words.

"You're not doing this alone, Harry. We're coming with you."

"She's right, mate. We've all got a stake in this one, and I want to know what's going on," Ron said, giving Harry's shoulder a brief pat. "Besides, I want to hear what Percy has to say."

"Percy?" Harry asked. "He was the one who gave me the portkey out of there last night."

"We know," Ron said, scowling. "We just don't know why he did it."

Harry shrugged. "He said Dumbledore told him I wasn't ready."

"Yeah, but since when has that stopped Percy?" Ron asked.

Harry shrugged again listlessly. "I dunno. He's been different since we were attacked at the Ministry. Last night, I saw him watching the rest of your family several times. I think he might finally be coming to his senses."

"Yeah, well, too little, too late. That's what I say," Ron said, folding his arms across his chest.

Hermione frowned, but, to her credit, she held her tongue and grasped Ron's hand.

"Let's not jump to any conclusions until we hear what he has to say," Ginny said. "Let's go find Professor McGonagall."

When they reached the entrance to the headmaster's office, the gargoyle sprang aside as if expecting them. They rode the twirling staircase in silence - each lost in his or her own thoughts. Harry still felt that odd, disconnected sensation; he was numb, but preferred it that way.

As they entered the office, they found that several of the Order members had already arrived. All eyes turned toward Harry as he walked in the door, and his hand instinctively reached for Ginny's. She laced her fingers with his and gave a small squeeze of reassurance. The thudding in his heart eased, and he took a deep breath.

Snape stood in a corner, scowling as he stared out the window. He didn't even spare Harry a glance when he entered the room. Professor McGonagall stood by Professor Dumbledore's desk with Mad-Eye Moody and Emmeline Vance, looking over some papers that were scattered on top. Tonks and Remus sat on the couch with their heads bent; both stood up as the teens entered the room. Tonks's hair was blonde, making her appear very much like a Malfoy. She looked tired and disheveled, with dark circles beneath her eyes.

"Harry," Remus said, wrapping him in a one-armed embrace. Harry's body stiffened momentarily; he didn't want to be touched. From the corner of his eye, he saw Remus glance at Ginny. Ginny shook her head slightly, and Remus took a step back. Harry couldn't even find the energy to be annoyed at them for silently discussing him as if he weren't there.

"How are you holding up, Harry?" Remus asked quietly.

"I'm fine," Harry said.

The flames in the fireplace flared, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley entered the office, followed by Bill, Fred, and George.

"Harry," Mrs. Weasley said, rushing forward to grab him. "Thank Merlin you're all right. I was so worried."

Ginny stepped in front of her mother and stopped her forward motion. "Hi, Mum," she said, intercepting the hug that was meant for Harry, for which he was eternally grateful.

"Oh, Ginny," Mrs. Weasley said, squeezing Ginny so tightly she nearly disappeared. "This is so awful."

Ron stepped forward to hug his mother before turning to his father and brothers. "You're all okay?"

"We're fine," Mr. Weasley said, looking rather haggard. "We stayed and helped with the clean-up after the Death Eaters left."

"They all left really quickly after you disappeared," George said. "You-Know-Who was in a rage, and I think the Death Eaters knew they were going to bear the brunt of it."

"Where is Percy?" Mr. Weasley asked, turning towards Professor McGonagall.

"Percy has been put in the faculty residence for the moment. We have some things we need to discuss before I take you over to see him," she replied.

Mrs. Weasley nodded, wringing her hands. She looked quickly over at Bill, who scowled and turned away.

"All right. Why don't you children go back to Gryffindor tower, and I'll stop by when we're finished here," Mrs. Weasley said, trying to usher them towards the door.

Harry clutched Ginny's hand tightly, gaining strength and reassurance. "I think they need to hear this, Mrs. Weasley," he said quietly.

Mrs. Weasley was taken aback. "Well...of course we need to hear from you, dear, but I think-"

"It is obvious we are moving towards a final resolution, and all four are regrettably involved with the second spell," Snape said from his spot at the window, without turning around. "Believe me, I'd like nothing more than to have all these...children... disappear from my sight, but for some incomprehensible reason, it appears Mr. Potter and his cohorts are to remain in the limelight, yet again."

Harry's ire rose slightly with Snape's insinuation that he wanted any glory from this mess, but the wave of lethargy that he'd been dealing with all morning descended again, and he focused his eyes back on Mrs. Weasley. "They need to stay; I need them to stay," he said quietly.

He could see Mrs. Weasley's conflicting emotions, but Mr. Weasley approached and wrapped his arm around his wife's shoulders. "Why don't you all come and sit over here with us," he said, leading them all to some chairs.

Mrs. Weasley looked at Mr. Weasley uncertainly, but then her shoulders seemed to droop in concession, and she followed him to the chairs he had indicated.

The fire flared again, and Abe entered the office with Cordelia. Although his eyes seemed somewhat dimmed and less mischievous, he still wore bright colors and had a smile on his face. Cordelia was more subdued, and Harry noticed that her eyes followed Abe's every step.

"Hello, everyone. How are we all doing?" Abe asked.

"Aberforth, we're all so sorry for your loss," Mrs. Weasley said. "If there is anything any of us can do..."

"Thank you, Molly. The only thing any of you can really do right now is getting those glum expressions off of your faces. Al wouldn't have liked that. He never liked to see anyone suffer, and I'm certain that he's right now soaking up everything there is to learn about the afterworld. He kept his thirst for knowledge right up until the end."

Harry had to look away. He found it unbearably painful, listening to Abe talk about Professor Dumbledore in the past tense. He heard Ginny sniffling beside him and leaned his shoulder into hers.

Abe noticed his movement and walked over to stand in front of him. "How are you holding up, laddie?"

Harry stared at his trainers, realizing that he was already in need of another pair. "Fine, sir. I'm sorry," Harry mumbled.

Abe rested his hand on Harry's shoulder. "You have nothing to be sorry about. He was so proud of you, lad. He thought the sun rose and set just for you."

Harry blinked rapidly and felt Ginny's arm wrap around his waist. Abe took pity on him and said, "We'll talk later."

He gave Harry's shoulder a final squeeze and turned back to Professor McGonagall. "So, what do we do now?"

Professor McGonagall blinked back tears and said, "The wards - the first thing we have to do is strengthen the wards. Technically, the wards set by Professor Dumbledore will hold for several more weeks. They are designed to give us time to get a new headmaster in place. With the upheaval that is taking place at the Ministry, I'm not certain how long it will take for the Board of Governors to act. As Deputy Headmistress, I'm authorized to act in the meantime, but anything I put in place will be null and void if someone else takes over. I think our best bet would be to leave Professor Dumbledore's wards in place and add some extra security measures of our own."

"What upheaval at the Ministry?" Harry asked sharply.

"Having You-Know-Who attack the Ministry at a well publicized event that Cornelius Fudge arranged isn't going over well. With the loss of Professor Dumbledore and so many Aurors, never mind the civilian casualties...well, Cornelius isn't going to be able to dodge this one. I think the Vote of No Confidence will take place within the week," Mr. Weasley said.

"How many Aurors?" Harry asked numbly, remembering the frequency of Killing Curses he'd seen hurtling throughout the room.

"Most of the ones on duty in the hall," Tonks said tearfully. "I only survived because I tripped when the curses started flying, and the Death Eaters walked right past me, thinking I was already dead. Kingsley wasn't so lucky."

Harry shut his eyes, remembering how Shacklebolt had saved him from a room full of overeager witches earlier in the evening. "I'm sorry. I hadn't realized."

"It's been a long night for all of us," Professor McGonagall said, wiping at the corner of her eye.

"I can help you strengthen the wards in the meantime. Professor Dumbledore showed me how it was done," Harry said.

"That would be appreciated, Mr. Potter. Also, Ivan Horvath wants to meet with you. I told him I'd get him word if you wanted to see him," Professor McGonagall said.

"Of course. Is he here now?" Harry asked.

"No, he isn't here, Potter," Snape sneered, finally turning from his place at the window. "Ivan Horvath is a vampire and cannot be trusted in a school. He may have had an agreement with Professor Dumbledore, but that doesn't hold for the rest of us."

"Of course he can be trusted," Harry snapped back. "He tried to warn us last night that there was going to be trouble, but the Ministry wouldn't allow him inside. If they had, maybe we could have stopped this. Professor McGonagall, we can't go against everything that Professor Dumbledore stood for. Let Ivan into the castle; I'll stay with him the whole time."

"You, Potter? Your arrogance really has surpassed even your father's. Exactly what do you propose to do if the vampire decides to go on a feeding frenzy and start with you?" Snape asked.

"He won't," Harry said firmly. He could see the discomfort on some of the other's faces, Mrs. Weasley included, but they all appeared ready to trust his judgement. It was a surreal experience for Harry.

"All right, Mr. Potter; I'll let him know," Professor McGonagall said, causing Snape to scowl and turn away once again.

"If Fudge is truly out, then that's a good thing, right?" Harry asked. He felt as if he was in over his head. He knew nothing about politics, except never to trust a politician. That was a hard-learned lesson.

"It depends on whom they get to replace him," Snape replied caustically. "I think our first order of business - after we see to the wards - is to determine if this second prophecy has been fulfilled by the headmaster's sacrifice."

Harry's eyes widened; he wasn't certain who knew of the existence of Ron's prophecy, but obviously Snape did.

"Second prophecy?" asked Remus. "What second prophecy?"

"There was a second prophecy made recently regarding the destruction of the Dark Lord," Professor McGonagall said quietly, glancing briefly at Ron.

"What did it say?" Remus asked, glancing at Harry in alarm.


"Professor Dumbledore and I discussed this at length. We were fairly certain that the sacrifice referred to either him or me, and that Potter is the apprentice. The headmaster made his decision, and now it appears it's up to you, Potter," Snape said, disdain easily heard in his voice.

Harry swallowed painfully; it had never occurred to him that Snape could have been the sacrifice, and he had to admit that he wasn't one hundred percent certain which way Snape would have chosen. "So...here we go."

Ginny, Ron, and Hermione had all moved closer to Harry, as if their physical proximity could somehow bring him strength.

"The headmaster was also concerned with Mr. Potter's welfare, if indeed he ended up being the sacrifice. He was concerned that with Professor Dumbledore out of the way, the Ministry would make a bid to take Potter into custody once again. He said if that happens, that Aberforth would know what to do," Snape said, sneering at Abe. It was obvious Snape didn't like being left in the dark with any of the details.

"Aye, Al and I talked about it. Of course, Al hadn't foreseen that ole Cornelius would lose his power at the same time. I think the public will be a far greater threat to Harry than the Ministry at the moment," Abe said, grimacing apologetically at Harry.

"What do you mean?" Harry asked.

"Use your brain and think about it, Potter," Snape said disdainfully, earning scowls from several other Order members. "The public is panicked. The Dark Lord attacked the Ministry when it was under full guard. Despite the prophecy, many still believed it was Dumbledore who could protect them. With him gone, they'll focus on you and want you to do something immediately."

Harry thought about it for a minute. Would that really be such a bad thing? He was ready - at least as ready as he ever would be. "Maybe we should do something now," he said quietly.

"No!" Ginny shouted, grabbing Harry's arm, "Not like this, Harry."

"As much as it pains me to say it, I'm afraid Miss Weasley is right," Snape said. "We need the time to look at this prophecy and make certain all our pieces are in place. We only get one chance."

"It's like a game of chess," Ron said, furrowing his brow.

"You need some time to come to grips with Al's loss, as well, Harry," Abe said kindly. "Your strength comes from your emotions, and your emotions are in turmoil at the moment. I don't like the odds at this point."

Harry nodded reluctantly; he couldn't deny that his feelings were all over the place, and he barely knew if he was coming or going.

"What about a service for Albus?" asked Mrs. Weasley. Her eyes were filled with fear as she stared at Harry and her children. "It's bound to be a large event. Do you think Voldemort would attack?"

"Not unless it is known that Mr. Potter will be there. I'd suggest you stay away," Snape said silkily. "The Dark Lord will want the headmaster's memorial to be large and widespread. It will fuel his ego if he believes everyone is talking about how he defeated one whom many consider to be the greatest wizard of our time."

Harry shut his eyes. He didn't want to be excluded from Professor Dumbledore's memorial service, but he knew it was an unnecessary risk. He couldn't deny everyone else the chance to pay their respects.

"It's all right, laddie," Abe said. "Al's body will be delivered to me within the next day or two, and I'll scatter his ashes here at Hogwarts. Al requested that you be part of that ceremony, along with Professors McGonagall and Snape."

Harry nodded numbly. It would most likely be better to say goodbye in private, rather than in front of a huge crowd, but Harry simply couldn't wrap his mind around it. He suddenly felt overwhelmingly exhausted and wished he could leave to return to Gryffindor tower. He felt as if it had been years rather than hours since he'd been there.

"Arthur, you'll keep us informed of any happenings at the Ministry?" Professor McGonagall asked.

"Of course. Minerva, what about Percy?" Mr. Weasley asked.

"Why don't we adjourn for now, and I'll take you to see him. I've asked him to stay here until we can figure out where the safest place for him to stay will be. You-Know-Who won't be happy that he facilitated Mr. Potter's escape. Abe, you'll let us know when you hear from the Ministry about Albus's body?" Professor McGonagall asked.

"Will do," Abe replied.

"I'm going to begin making arrangements for the service," Cordelia said. "The Ministry will probably want some say in that, as well, but they're so disorganized at the moment that I can get things the way we'd like and they'll be just as happy that they don't have to do it," Cordelia said.

"Very well, then. We'll all be in touch," Professor McGonagall said, calling the meeting to a close. "Severus, can I trust you'll begin making preparations for the wards?"

"Of course." Snape pulled some parchment from his robes. "I've already begun sketching the areas I think require immediate attention. I'll leave them here on the desk."

Harry glanced down to see some rough sketches of Hogwarts and the gates leading to Hogsmeade. There was something oddly familiar about the drawings, but Harry's brain was too overloaded to figure it out at the moment.

"You look tired, Harry," Remus said gently. "Why don't you all go up to Gryffindor tower and get some sleep? I'll be in touch."

Harry nodded mutely and allowed Ginny to lead him from the room. The four made their way silently back to Gryffindor tower. Ginny had to steer Harry along, or he would have got lost despite having made the trek hundreds of times before. Looking at the faces of the other three, Harry could see the same numb shock that he was feeling. He needed to sleep; they all did.

It was two days later that Harry stood on top of the Astronomy Tower with Abe, Professors McGonagall and Snape, and Ginny and Cordelia. They all stood around Professor Dumbledore's body, preparing for the wizarding ceremony before returning his ashes to the earth. Abe said that Professor Dumbledore loved Hogwarts best of all, so this is where his magic should remain.

Harry, Abe, and his two professors all had their broomsticks with them and would each take some of Professor Dumbledore's ashes to scatter where they saw fit. Although not taking part in the actual ceremony, Ginny and Cordelia were there to offer their support, and Harry was glad for it. Ginny had been the only bright spot in his life these past several days.

Life had been chaotic at best since the school and the rest of the world had awoken to the news of Professor Dumbledore's demise. At first, there was nothing but horror and numb disbelief. But, quicker than Harry would have thought possible, the demands had begun. There were again reporters camped outside Hogwart's gates, clamoring for an interview with Harry. The public outcry that both Snape and Abe had warned him about indeed came to pass and included some from the students. Fellow classmates demanding that he do something had stopped him in the hallway on more than one occasion.

Rita Skeeter had briefly veered away from Harry to cover Cornelius Fudge and his shameful exit from the Ministry. She had, however, repeatedly pointed out the fact that Harry had been there but had left before stopping Voldemort. An unnamed Auror had argued that Harry had saved more lives by leaving because Voldemort left immediately after he did, but Harry knew that answer wouldn't stop Rita for long.

He'd taken Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville and Luna aside and filled the latter two in about what had been happening. He'd told them about the wards surrounding Hogwarts and asked that they get the DA together - without telling them exactly what was happening - in order to arrange added patrols. The prefects already did regular patrols, but he thought the added precautions were necessary. They all had to practice constant vigilance and warn the others of anything that seemed even slightly suspicious.

All classes had been cancelled for the week, out of respect for Professor Dumbledore. Ginny had spent nearly all her waking hours by Harry's side, and they'd taken turns leaning on each other. In was now Tuesday, and the public funeral had been scheduled for Friday. Harry wouldn't be able to attend, but many of the students were planning on going with their families. Ron and Ginny were staying behind with Harry for security reasons, but Hermione, Neville and Luna were planning to attend.

Abe stood at Professor Dumbledore's head with his wand out. Professor Dumbledore's body had been preserved remarkably well. If Harry hadn't known differently, he would have assumed that Dumbledore was merely sleeping. Despite all the death he'd experienced in his life, this was the closest he'd ever actually been to it. He really didn't want to look at Professor Dumbledore's still, waxy form, but he couldn't seem to drag his eyes away, either. Harry's shock had given way to a deep, age-old sadness, as if a black shroud was hovering over his soul. He was grateful when Abe started to speak.

"The spell is simple," he said to Harry in a very subdued voice. "Those participating in the spell draw their wands and say a few words about the wizard. After we've all spoken, we'll place our wands above him and say, Postliminium Favilla. You can watch us, Harry, and after you've spoken we'll cast the spell."

Harry nodded mutely and felt Ginny move to stand by his side.

"Al, dear brother, I return thee to the earth. You always gave us all something to think about. Enjoy your next adventure without the weight of the world on your shoulders. Leave something there for me to do first," Abe said, bowing his head.

"Albus, dear mentor, friend, lover," Professor McGonagall said, causing both Harry's and Ginny's eyes to widen. "I return thee to the earth. Be happy, watch over us, and may you never lose your sparkle." She stood by Professor Dumbledore's feet and she gently patted one. Harry noticed that he was wearing a pair of thick, woolen socks, and a huge lump formed in Harry's throat. He blinked his eyes quickly, willing the tears to recede.

"Albus, dear friend, ally, and teacher." Snape's voice was scratchy and raw and held far less venom than Harry was accustomed to hearing. "I return thee to the earth. You believed when no else could, and for that you will forever have my gratitude."

Harry took a deep breath, feeling slightly panicked over what to say. What was Dumbledore to him? How was he supposed to put it into words? Everyone was waiting for him, and he felt Ginny give his hand a squeeze.

"Professor Dumbledore, dear mentor, teacher...friend. I return thee to the earth. You were always there for me...even if I didn't always agree with you. You'll never be forgotten, and all our lives are richer for having known you. Enjoy your adventure, sir. I hope you're with everyone you've loved." Harry throat really hurt, and he had to stop before he embarrassed himself. Ginny was crying openly next to him, and he pulled her body close to his, both taking and giving comfort.

The four participants raised their wands above Professor Dumbledore's body and said, "Postliminium Favilla." The air surrounding them swirled, and a tremendous calmness took hold. Harry felt peaceful, the tight knot in his chest eased suddenly. A brilliant flare of light caused him to shut his eyes, and when he opened them again, Professor Dumbledore was gone. Instead, four piles of ashes lay in front of them.

Abe cleared his throat and touched his wand to one pile of the ash. The wand appeared to absorb it. Cordelia hugged Abe tightly as he mounted his broom and took off without a word. Professors McGonagall and Snape did the same. Finally, Harry touched his wand to the last remaining pile of ash. He looked questioningly at Cordelia.

She sniffed and wiped the tears from her eyes. "Fly to a place where you think he had fond memories, Harry, and say Exonero Favilla."

Harry nodded. Gripping his Firebolt tightly, he took off into the wind. He soared higher and higher, feeling some of the tension leave him as he took flight. Flying always made him feel better. He soared over Hogwarts, scanning the area around him. Where would Professor Dumbledore be happy? If it were him, he'd want to be scattered over the Quidditch pitch, but what would Professor Dumbledore want?

Hogwarts itself made Dumbledore happiest, and he always seemed to be everywhere. He imagined Professors McGonagall and Snape would cover the school, and Abe would take care of any hidden spots that Harry wasn't familiar with, so where should he go? He remembered Professors Dumbledore's smiling face when they won the Quidditch cup in Harry's third year. Professor Dumbledore always came to all the games. Maybe this was one more way he and the headmaster were alike.

His decision made, Harry raced for the Quidditch pitch. A brilliant flash of light startled him, and Fawkes appeared by his side. They flew together in silence until they reached the pitch. Harry raised his wand and shouted, "Exonero Favilla!"

Fawkes began to sing a beautiful, haunting melody that calmed Harry's turbulent emotions. He watched as a trail of ashes flew from his wand and scattered in the breeze. With sudden inspiration, Harry raced his broom over Hagrid's hut and released the last of the ashes. Professor Dumbledore always had a soft spot for Hagrid. As Harry returned to the Astronomy tower, Fawkes followed him and settled on his shoulder when he dismounted.

Ginny came to him, and he wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her hair.

"I think," Abe said huskily, "that Al would have enjoyed that. He liked a big party, and I'm certain he'll be plenty chuffed to hear what everyone has to say at his memorial, but he also liked smaller, more intimate family moments. This certainly qualified."

Professor McGonagall choked back a sob, and Harry was shocked to see Professor Snape wrap his arm around her shoulder. Professor Dumbledore's death had finally made Harry see a glimpse of the man that Dumbledore had seen inside Snape.

He quietly returned to the castle with Ginny, Fawkes remaining on his shoulder; it had been an incredibly long day.

Author notes: I want to thank you all for the wonderful feedback last chapter over Dumbledore's death. I'd REALLY been stressing over how it was going to be received but after all was said and done - on all the sites I posted - there were only two negatives. I was thrilled. You all have been wonderful, we're rapidly approaching the end now. There will be 33 chapters in all.