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â€œAre you sure?â€
â€œOf course I'm sure... he's aâ€”a bit of a mess, that's all. Greyback attacked him. Madam Pomfrey says he won'tâ€”won't look the same anymore...â€
Ginny's voice trembled a little.
â€œWe don't really know what the after-effects will be. I mean, Greyback being a werewolf, but not transformed at the time.â€
â€œBut the other... there were other bodies on the ground...â€
â€œNeville and Professor Flitwick are both hurt, but Madam Pomfrey says they'll be all right. And a Death Eater's dead, he got hit by a Killing Curse that huge blond one was firing off everywhereâ€”Harry, if we hadn't had your Felix potion, I think we'd all have been killed, but everything seemed to just miss usâ€”â€
They had reached the hospital wing. Pushing open the doors, Harry saw Neville lying, apparently asleep, in a bed near the door. Ron, Hermione, Luna, Tonks, and Lupin were gathered around another bed near the far end of the ward. At the sound of the doors opening, they all looked up. Hermione ran to Harry and hugged him; Lupin moved forward too, looking anxious.
â€œAre you all right, Harry?â€
â€œI'm fine.... how's Bill?â€
Nobody answered. Harry looked over Hermione's shoulder and saw an unrecognizable face lying on Bill's pillow, so badly slashed and ripped that he looked grotesque. Madam Pomfrey was dabbing at his wounds with some harsh-smelling green ointment. Harry remembered how Snape had mended Malfoy's Sectumsempra wounds so easily with his wand.
â€œCan't you fix them with a charm or something?â€ he asked the matron.
â€œNo charm will work on these,â€ said Madam Pomfrey. â€œI've tried everything I know, but there is no cure for werewolf bites.â€
â€œBut he wasn't bitten at the full moon,â€ said Ron, who was gazing down into his brother's face as though he could somehow force him to mend just by staring. â€œGreyback hadn't transformed, so surely Bill won't be aâ€”a realâ€”?â€
He looked uncertainly at Lupin.
â€œNo, I don't think that Bill will be a true werewolf,â€ said Lupin, â€œbut that does not mean that there won't be some contamination. Those are cursed wounds. They are unlikely ever to heal fully, andâ€”and Bill might have some wolfish characteristics from now on.â€
â€œDumbledore might know something that'd work, though,â€ Ron said. â€œWhere is he? Bill fought those maniacs on Dumbledore's orders, Dumbledore owes him, he can't leave him in this stateâ€”â€
â€œRonâ€”Dumbledore's dead,â€ said Ginny.
â€œNo!â€ Lupin looked wildly from Ginny to Harry, as though hoping the latter might contradict her, but when Harry did nor, Lupin collapsed into a chair beside Bill's bed, his hands over his face. Harry had never seen Lupin lose control before; he felt as though he was intruding upon something private, indecent. He turned away and caught Ron's eye instead, exchanging in silence a look that confirmed what Ginny had said.
â€œHow did he die?â€ whispered Tonks. â€œHow did it happen?â€
â€œSnape killed him,â€ said Harry. â€œI was there, I saw it. We arrived back on the Astronomy Tower because that's where the Mark was... Dumbledore was ill, he was weak, but I think he realized it was a trap when we heard footsteps running up the stairs. He immobilized me, I couldn't do anything, I was under the Invisibility Cloakâ€”and then Malfoy came through the door and disarmed himâ€”â€
Hermione clapped her hands to her mouth and Ron groaned. Luna's mouth trembled.
â€œâ€”more Death Eaters arrivedâ€”and then Snapeâ€”and Snape did it. The Avada Kedavra.â€ Harry couldn't go on.
Madam Pomfrey burst into tears. Nobody paid her any attention except Ginny, who whispered, â€œShh! Listen!â€
Gulping, Madam Pomfrey pressed her fingers to her mouth, her eyes wide. Somewhere out in the darkness, a phoenix was singing in a way Harry had never heard before: a stricken lament of terrible beauty. And Harry felt, as he had felt about phoenix song before, that the music was inside him, not without: it was his own grief turned magically to song that echoed across the grounds and through the castle windows.
How long they all stood there, listening, he did not know, nor why it seemed to ease their pain a little to listen to the sound of their mourning, but it felt like a long time later that the hospital door opened again and Professor McGonagall entered the ward. Like all the rest, she bore marks of the recent battle: there were grazes on her face and her robes were ripped.
â€œMolly and Arthur are on their way,â€ she said, and the spell of the music was broken: everyone roused themselves as though coming out of trances, turning again to look at Bill, or else to rub their own eyes, shake their heads. â€œHarry, what happened? According to Hagrid you were with Professor Dumbledore when heâ€”when it happened. He says Professor Snape was involved in someâ€”â€
â€œSnape killed Dumbledore,â€ said Harry.
She stared at him for a moment, then swayed alarmingly; Madam Pomfrey, who seemed to have pulled herself together, ran forward, conjuring a chair from thin air, which she pushed under McGonagall.
â€œSnape,â€ repeated McGonagall faintly, falling into the chair. â€œWe all wondered... but he trusted... always... Snape... I can't believe it...â€
â€œSnape was a highly accomplished Occlumens,â€ said Lupin, his voice uncharacteristically harsh. â€œWe always knew that.â€
â€œBut Dumbledore swore he was on our side!â€ whispered Tonks. â€œI always thought Dumbledore must know something about Snape that we didn't...â€ .
â€œHe always hinted that he had an ironclad reason for trusting Snape,â€ muttered Professor McGonagall, now dabbing at the corners of her leaking eyes with a tartan-edged handkerchief. â€œI mean... with Snape's history ... of course people were bound to wonder... but Dumbledore told me explicitly that Snape's repentance was absolutely genuine... wouldn't hear a word against him!â€
â€œI'd love to know what Snape told him to convince him,â€ said Tonks.
â€œI know,â€ said Harry, and they all turned to look at him. â€œSnape passed Voldemort the information that made Voldemort hunt down my mum and dad. Then Snape told Dumbledore he hadn't realized what he was doing, he was really sorry he'd done it, sorry that they were dead.â€
They all stared at him.
â€œAnd Dumbledore believed that?â€ said Lupin incredulously. â€œDumbledore believed Snape was sorry James was dead? Snape hated James...â€
â€œAnd he didn't think my mother was worth a damn either,â€ said Harry, â€œbecause she was Muggle-born... â€˜Mudblood,â€™ he called her...â€
Nobody asked how Harry knew this. All of them seemed to be lost in horrified shock, trying to digest the monstrous truth of what had happened.
â€œThis is all my fault,â€ said Professor McGonagall suddenly. She looked disoriented, twisting her wet handkerchief in her hands. â€œMy fault. I sent Filius to fetch Snape tonight, I actually sent for him to come and help us! If I hadn't alerted Snape to what was going on, he might never have joined forces with the Death Eaters. I don't think he knew they were there before Filius told him, I don't think he knew they were coming.â€
â€œIt isn't your fault, Minerva,â€ said Lupin firmly. â€œWe all wanted more help, we were glad to think Snape was on his way....â€
â€œSo when he arrived at the fight, he joined in on the Death Eatersâ€™ side?â€ asked Harry, who wanted every detail of Snape's duplicity and infamy, feverishly collecting more reasons to hate him, to swear vengeance.
â€œI don't know exactly how it happened,â€ said Professor McGonagall distractedly. â€œIt's all so confusing... Dumbledore had told us that he would be leaving the school for a few hours and that we were to patrol the corridors just in case... Remus, Bill, and Nymphadora were to join us ... and so we patrolled. All seemed quiet. Every secret passageway out of the school was covered. We knew nobody could fly in. There were powerful enchantments on every entrance into the castle. I still don't know how the Death Eaters can possibly have entered...â€
â€œI do,â€ said Harry, and he explained, briefly, about the pair of Vanishing Cabinets and the magical pathway they formed. â€œSo they got in through the Room of Requirement.â€
Almost against his will he glanced from Ron to Hermione, both of whom looked devastated.
â€œI messed up, Harry,â€ said Ron bleakly. â€œWe did like you told us: we checked the Marauder's Map and we couldn't see Malfoy on it, so we thought he must be in the Room of Requirement, so me, Ginny, and Neville went to keep watch on it... but Malfoy got past us.â€
â€œHe came out of the Room about an hour after we started keeping watch,â€ said Ginny. â€œHe was on his own, clutching that awful shriveled armâ€”â€
â€œHis Hand of Glory,â€ said Ron. â€œGives light only to the holder, remember?â€
â€œAnyway,â€ Ginny went on, â€œhe must have been checking whether the coast was clear to let the Death Eaters out, because the moment he saw us he threw something into the air and it all went pitch-blackâ€”â€
â€œâ€”Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder,â€ said Ron bitterly. â€œFred and George's. I'm going to be having a word with them about who they let buy their products.â€
â€œWe tried everything, Lumos, Incendio,â€ said Ginny. â€œNothing would penetrate the darkness; all we could do was grope our way out of the corridor again, and meanwhile we could hear people rushing past us. Obviously Malfoy could see because of that hand thing and was guiding them, but we didn't dare use any curses or anything in case we hit each other, and by the time we'd reached a corridor that was light, they'd gone.â€
â€œLuckily,â€ said Lupin hoarsely, â€œRon, Ginny, and Neville ran into us almost immediately and told us what had happened. We found the Death Eaters minutes later, heading in the direction of the Astronomy Tower. Malfoy obviously hadn't expected more people to be on the watch; he seemed to have exhausted his supply of Darkness Powder, at any rate. A fight broke out, they scattered and we gave chase. One of them, Gibbon, broke away and headed up the tower stairsâ€”â€
â€œTo set off the Mark?â€ asked Harry.
â€œHe must have done, yes, they must have arranged that before they left the Room of Requirement,â€ said Lupin. â€œBut I don't think Gibbon liked the idea of waiting up there alone for Dumbledore, because he came running back downstairs to rejoin the fight and was hit by a Killing Curse that just missed me.â€
â€œSo if Ron was watching the Room of Requirement with Ginny and Neville,â€ said Harry, turning to Hermione, â€œwere youâ€”?â€
â€œOutside Snape's office, yes,â€ whispered Hermione, her eyes sparkling with tears, â€œwith Luna. We hung around for ages outside it and nothing happened... we didn't know what was going on upstairs, Ron had taken the map ... it was nearly midnight when Professor Flitwick came sprinting down into the dungeons. He was shouting about Death Eaters in the castle, I don't think he really registered that Luna and I were there at all, he just burst his way into Snape's office and we heard him saying that Snape had to go back with him and help and then we heard a loud thump and Snape came hurtling out of his room and he saw us andâ€”andâ€”â€
â€œWhat?â€ Harry urged her.
â€œI was so stupid, Harry!â€ said Hermione in a high-pitched whisper. â€œHe said Professor Flitwick had collapsed and that we should go and take care of him while heâ€”while he went to help fight the Death Eatersâ€”â€
She covered her face in shame and continued to talk into her fingers, so that her voice was muffled. â€œWe went into his office to see if we could help Professor Flitwick and found him unconscious on the floor... and oh, it's so obvious now, Snape must have Stupefied Flitwick, but we didn't realize, Harry, we didn't realize, we just let Snape go!â€
â€œIt's not your fault,â€ said Lupin firmly. â€œHermione, had you not obeyed Snape and got out of the way, he probably would have killed you and Luna.â€
â€œSo then he came upstairs,â€ said Harry, who was watching Snape running up the marble staircase in his mind's eye, his black robes billowing behind him as ever, pulling his wand from under his cloak as he ascended, â€œand he found the place where you were all fighting...â€
â€œWe were in trouble, we were losing,â€ said Tonks in a low voice. â€œGibbon was down, but the rest of the Death Eaters seemed ready to fight to the death. Neville had been hurt, Bill had been savaged by Greyback... it was all dark... curses flying everywhere... the Malfoy boy had vanished, he must have slipped past, up the stairs... then more of them ran after him, but one of them blocked the stairs behind them with some kind of curse... Neville ran at it and got thrown up into the airâ€”â€
â€œNone of us could break through,â€ said Ron, â€œand that massive Death Eater was still firing off jinxes all over the place, they were bouncing off the walls and barely missing us...â€
â€œAnd then Snape was there,â€ said Tonks, â€œand then he wasn'tâ€”â€
â€œI saw him running toward us, but that huge Death Eater's jinx just missed me right afterward and I ducked and lost track of things,â€ said Ginny.
â€œI saw him run straight through the cursed barrier as though it wasn't there,â€ said Lupin. â€œI tried to follow him, but was thrown back just like Neville...â€
â€œHe must have known a spell we didn't,â€ whispered McGonagall. â€œAfter allâ€”he was the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher... I just assumed that he was in a hurry to chase after the Death Eaters who'd escaped up to the tower...â€
â€œHe was,â€ said Harry savagely, â€œbut to help them, not to stop the... and I'll bet you had to have a Dark Mark to get through that barrierâ€”so what happened when he came back down?â€
â€œWell, the big Death Eater had just fired off a hex that caused half the ceiling to fall in, and also broke the curse blocking the stairs,â€ said Lupin. â€œWe all ran forwardâ€”those of us who were still standing anywayâ€”and then Snape and the boy emerged out of the dustâ€”obviously, none of us attacked themâ€”â€
â€œWe just let them pass,â€ said Tonks in a hollow voice. â€œWe thought they were being chased by the Death Eatersâ€”and next thing, the other Death Eaters and Greyback were back and we were fighting againâ€”I thought I heard Snape shout something, but I don't know whatâ€”â€
â€œHe shouted, â€˜It's over,'â€ said Harry. â€œHe'd done what he'd meant to do.â€
They all fell silent. Fawkes's lament was still echoing over the dark grounds outside. As the music reverberated upon the air, unbidden, unwelcome thoughts slunk into Harry's mind... had they taken Dumbledore's body from the foot of the tower yet? What would happen to it next? Where would it rest? He clenched his fists tighdy in his pockets. He could feel the small cold lump of the fake Horcrux against the knuckles of his right hand.
The doors of the hospital wing burst open, making them all jump: Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were striding up the ward, Fleur just behind them, her beautiful face terrified.
â€œMollyâ€”Arthurâ€”â€ said Professor McGonagall, jumping up and hurrying to greet them. â€œI am so sorryâ€”â€
â€œBill,â€ whispered Mrs. Weasley, darting past Professor McGonagall as she caught sight of Bill's mangled face. â€œOh, Bill!â€
Lupin and Tonks had got up hastily and retreated so that Mr. and Mrs. Weasley could get nearer to the bed. Mrs. Weasley bent over her son and pressed her lips to his bloody forehead.
â€œYou said Greyback attacked him?â€ Mr. Weasley asked Professor McGonagall distractedly. â€œBut he hadn't transformed? So what does that mean? What will happen to Bill?â€
â€œWe don't yet know,â€ said Professor McGonagall, looking helplessly at Lupin.
â€œThere will probably be some contamination, Arthur,â€ said Lupin. â€œIt is an odd case, possibly unique... we don't know what his behavior might be like when he awakens...â€
Mrs. Weasley took the nasty-smelling ointment from Madam Pomfrey and began dabbing at Bill's wounds.
â€œAnd Dumbledore ...â€ said Mr. Weasley. â€œMinerva, is it true ... is he really...?â€
As Professor McGonagall nodded, Harry felt Ginny move beside him and looked at her. Her slightly narrowed eyes were fixed upon Fleur, who was gazing down at Bill with a frozen expression on her face.
â€œDumbledore gone,â€ whispered Mr. Weasley, but Mrs. Weasley had eyes only for her eldest son; she began to sob, tears falling onto Bill's mutilated face.
â€œOf course, it doesn't matter how he looks... it's not r-really important... but he was a very handsome little b-bo... always very handsome... and he was g-going to be married!â€
â€œAnd what do you mean by zat?â€ said Fleur suddenly and loudly. â€œWhat do you mean, â€˜he was going to be married?'â€
Mrs. Weasley raised her tear-stained face, looking startled. â€œWellâ€”only thatâ€”â€
â€œYou theenk Bill will not wish to marry me anymore?â€ demanded Fleur. â€œYou theenk, because of these bites, he will not love me?â€
â€œNo, that's not what Iâ€”â€
â€œBecause â€˜e will!â€ said Fleur, drawing herself up to her full height and throwing back her long mane of silver hair. â€œIt would take more zan a werewolf to stop Bill loving me!â€
â€œWell, yes, I'm sure,â€ said Mrs. Weasley, â€œbut I thought perhapsâ€”given howâ€”how heâ€”â€
â€œYou thought I would not weesh to marry him? Or per'aps, you hoped?â€ said Fleur, her nostrils flaring. â€œWhat do I care how he looks? I am good-looking enough for both of us, I theenk! All these scars show is zat my husband is brave! And I shall do zat!â€ she added fiercely, pushing Mrs. Weasley aside and snatching the ointment from her.
Mrs. Weasley fell back against her husband and watched Fleur mopping up Bill's wounds with a most curious expression upon her face. Nobody said anything; Harry did not dare move. Like everybody else, he was waiting for the explosion.
â€œOur Great-Auntie Muriel,â€ said Mrs. Weasley after a long pause, â€œhas a very beautiful tiaraâ€”goblin-madeâ€”which I am sure I could persuade her to lend you for the wedding. She is very fond of Bill, you know, and it would look lovely with your hair.â€
â€œThank you,â€ said Fleur stiffly. â€œI am sure zat will be lovely.â€
And then, Harry did not quite see how it happened, both women were crying and hugging each other. Completely bewildered, wondering whether the world had gone mad, he turned around: Ron looked as stunned as he felt and Ginny and Hermione were exchanging startled looks.
â€œYou see!â€ said a strained voice. Tonks was glaring at Lupin. â€œShe still wants to marry him, even though he's been bitten! She doesn't care!â€
â€œIt's different,â€ said Lupin, barely moving his lips and looking suddenly tense. â€œBill will not be a full werewolf. The cases are completelyâ€”â€
â€œBut I don't care either, I don't care!â€ said Tonks, seizing the front of Lupin's robes and shaking them. â€œI've told you a million times...â€
And the meaning of Tonks's Patronus and her mouse-colored hair, and the reason she had come running to find Dumbledore when she had heard a rumor someone had been attacked by Greyback, all suddenly became clear to Harry; it had not been Sirius that Tonks had fallen in love with after all.
â€œAnd I've told you a million times,â€ said Lupin, refusing to meet her eyes, staring at the floor, â€œthat I am too old for you, too poor... too dangerous...â€
â€œI've said all along you're taking a ridiculous line on this, Remus,â€ said Mrs. Weasley over Fleur's shoulder as she patted her on the back.
â€œI am not being ridiculous,â€ said Lupin steadily. â€œTonks deserves somebody young and whole.â€
â€œBut she wants you,â€ said Mr. Weasley, with a small smile. â€œAnd after all, Remus, young and whole men do not necessarily remain so.â€
He gestured sadly at his son, lying between them.
â€œThis is... not the moment to discuss it,â€ said Lupin, avoiding everybody's eyes as he looked around distractedly. â€œDumbledore is dead. ...â€
â€œDumbledore would have been happier than anybody to think that there was a little more love in the world,â€ said Professor McGonagall curtly, just as the hospital doors opened again and Hagrid walked in.
The little of his face that was not obscured by hair or beard was soaking and swollen; he was shaking with tears, a vast, spotted handkerchief in his hand.
â€œI've... I've done it, Professor,â€ he choked. â€œM-moved him. Professor Sprout's got the kids back in bed. Professor Flitwick's lyin down, but he says he'll be all righâ€™ in a jiffy, anâ€™ Professor Slughorn says the Ministry's bin informed.â€
â€œThank you, Hagrid,â€ said Professor McGonagall, standing up at once and turning to look at the group around Bill's bed. â€œI shall have to see the Ministry when they get here. Hagrid, please tell the Heads of Housesâ€”Slughorn can represent Slytherinâ€” that I want to see them in my office forthwith. I would like you to join us too.â€
As Hagrid nodded, turned, and shuffled out of the room again, she looked down at Harry. â€œBefore I meet them I would like a quick word with you, Harry. If you'll come with me...â€
Harry stood up, murmured â€œSee you in a bitâ€ to Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, and followed Professor McGonagall back down the ward. The corridors outside were deserted and the only sound was the distant phoenix song. It was several minutes before Harry became aware that they were not heading for Professor McGonagall's office, but for Dumbledore's, and another few seconds before he realized that of course, she had been Deputy Headmistress... apparently she was now Headmistress ... so the room behind the gargoyle was now hers.
In silence they ascended the moving spiral staircase and entered the circular office. He did not know what he had expected: that the room would be draped in black, perhaps, or even that Dumbledore's body might be lying there. In fact, it looked almost exactly as it had done when he and Dumbledore had left it mere hours previously: the silver instruments whirring and puffing on their spindle legged tables, Gryffindor's sword in its glass case gleaming in the moonlight, the Sorting Hat on a shelf behind the desk, the Fawkes's perch stood empty, he was still crying his lament to the grounds. And a new portrait had joined the ranks of the dead headmasters and headmistresses of Hogwarts: Dumbledore was slumbering in a golden frame over the desk, his half-moon spectacle perched upon his crooked nose, looking peaceful and untroubled.
After glancing once at this portrait, Professor McGonagall made an odd movement as though steeling herself, then rounded the desk to look at Harry, her face taut and lined.
â€œHarry,â€ she said, â€œI would like to know what you and Professor Dumbledore were doing this evening when you left the school.â€
â€œI can't tell you that, Professor,â€ said Harry. He had expected the question and had his answer ready. It had been here, in this very room, that Dumbledore had told him that he was to confide the contents of their lessons to nobody but Ron and Hermione.
â€œHarry, it might be important,â€ said Professor McGonagall.
â€œIt is,â€ said Harry, â€œvery, but he didn't want me to tell anyone.â€
Professor McGonagall glared at him.
â€œPotter"â€”Harry registered the renewed use of his surnameâ€”"in the light of Professor Dumbledore's death, I think you must see that the situation has changed somewhatâ€”â€
â€œI don't think so,â€ said Harry, shrugging. â€œProfessor Dumbledore never told me to stop following his orders if he died.â€
â€œThere's one thing you should know before the Ministry gets here, though. Madam Rosmerta's under the Imperius Curse, she was helping Malfoy and the Death Eaters, that's how the necklace and the poisoned meadâ€”â€
â€œRosmerta?â€ said Professor McGonagall incredulously, but before she could go on, there was a knock on the door behind them and Professors Sprout, Flitwick, and Slughorn traipsed into the room, followed by Hagrid, who was still weeping copiously, his huge frame trembling with grief.
â€œSnape!â€ ejaculated Slughorn, who looked the most shaken, pale and sweating. â€œSnape! I taught him! I thought I knew him!â€
But before any of them could respond to this, a sharp voice spoke from high on the wall: a sallow-faced wizard with a short black fringe had just walked back into his empty canvas. â€œMinerva, the Minister will be here within seconds, he has just Disapparated from the Ministry.â€
â€œThank you, Everard,â€ said Professor McGonagall, and she turned quickly to her teachers.
â€œI want to talk about what happens to Hogwarts before he gets here,â€ she said quickly. â€œPersonally, I am not convinced that the school should reopen next year. The death of the Headmaster at the hands of one of our colleagues is a terrible stain upon Hogwartsâ€™ history. It is horrible.â€
â€œI am sure Dumbledore would have wanted the school to remain open,â€ said Professor Sprout. â€œI feel that if a single pupil wants to come, then the school ought to remain open for that pupil.â€
â€œBut will we have a single pupil after this?â€ said Slughorn, now dabbing his sweating brow with a silken handkerchief. â€œParents will want to keep their children at home and I can't say I blame them. Personally, I don't think we're in more danger at Hogwarts than we are anywhere else, but you can't expect mothers to think like that. They'll want to keep their families together, it's only natural.â€
â€œI agree,â€ said Professor McGonagall. â€œAnd in any case, it is not true to say that Dumbledore never envisaged a situation in which Hogwarts might close. When the Chamber of Secrets reopened he considered the closure of the schoolâ€”and I must say that Professor Dumbledore's murder is more disturbing to me than the idea of Slytherin's monster living undetected in the bowels of the castle...â€
â€œWe must consult the governors,â€ said Professor Flitwick in his squeaky little voice; he had a large bruise on his forehead but seemed otherwise unscathed by his collapse in Snape's office. â€œWe must follow the established procedures. A decision should not be made hastily.â€
â€œHagrid, you haven't said anything,â€ said Professor McGonagall. â€œWhat are your views, ought Hogwarts to remain open?â€
Hagrid, who had been weeping silently into his large, spotted handkerchief throughout this conversation, now raised puffy red eyes and croaked, â€œI dunno, Professor... that's fer the Heads of House anâ€™ the Headmistress ter decide ...â€
â€œProfessor Dumbledore always valued your views,â€ said Professor McGonagall kindly, â€œand so do I.â€
â€œWell, I'm stayin,â€ said Hagrid, fat tears still leaking out of the corners of his eyes and trickling down into his tangled beard. â€œIt's me home, it's bin me home since I was thirteen. Anâ€™ if there's kids who wanâ€™ me ter teach â€˜em, I'll do it. But... I dunno ... Hogwarts without Dumbledore ...â€ He gulped and disappeared behind his handkerchief once more, and there was silence.
â€œVery well,â€ said Professor McGonagall, glancing out of the window at the grounds, checking to see whether the Minister was yet approaching, â€œthen I must agree with Filius that the right thing to do is to consult the governors, who will make the final decision.
â€œNow, as to getting students home... there is an argument for doing it sooner rather than later. We could arrange for the Hogwarts Express to come tomorrow if necessaryâ€”â€
â€œWhat about Dumbledore's funeral?â€ said Harry, speaking at last.
â€œWell...â€ said Professor McGonagall, losing a little of her briskness as her voice shook. â€œIâ€”I know that it was Dumbledore's wish to be laid to rest here, at Hogwartsâ€”â€
â€œThen that's what'll happen, isn't it?â€ said Harry fiercely.
â€œIf the Ministry thinks it appropriate,â€ said Professor McGonagall. â€œNo other headmaster or headmistress has ever beenâ€”â€
â€œNo other headmaster or headmistress ever gave more to this school,â€ growled Hagrid.
â€œHogwarts should be Dumbledore's final resting place,â€ said Professor Flitwick.
â€œAbsolutely,â€ said Professor Sprout.
â€œAnd in that case,â€ said Harry, â€œyou shouldn't send the students home until the funeral's over. They'll want to sayâ€”â€
The last word caught in his throat, but Professor Sprout completed the sentence for him.
â€œWell said,â€ squeaked Professor Flitwick. â€œWell said indeed! Our students should pay tribute, it is fitting. We can arrange transport home afterward.â€
â€œSeconded,â€ barked Professor Sprout.
â€œI suppose ... yes ...â€ said Slughorn in a rather agitated voice, while Hagrid let out a strangled sob of assent.
â€œHe's coming,â€ said Professor McGonagall suddenly, gazing down into the grounds. â€œThe Minister ... and by the looks of it. He's brought a delegation...â€
â€œCan I leave, Professor?â€ said Harry at once.
He had no desire at all to see, or be interrogated by, Rufus Scrimgeour tonight.
â€œYou may,â€ said Professor McGonagall. â€œAnd quickly.â€
She strode toward the door and held it open for him. He sped down the spiral staircase and off along the deserted corridor; he had left his Invisibility Cloak at the top of the Astronomy Tower, but it did not matter; there was nobody in the corridors to see him pass, not even Filch, Mrs. Norris, or Peeves. He did not meet another soul until he turned into the passage leading to the Gryffindor common room.
â€œIs it true?â€ whispered the Fat Lady as he approached her. â€œIt is really true? Dumbledoreâ€”dead?â€
â€œYes,â€ said Harry.
She let out a wail and, without waiting for the password, swung forward to admit him.
As Harry had suspected it would be, the common room was jam-packed. The room fell silent as he climbed through the portrait hole. He saw Dean and Seamus sitting in a group nearby: this meant that the dormitory must be empty, or nearly so. Without speaking to anybody, without making eye contact at all, Harry walked straight across the room and through the door to the boysâ€™ dormitories.
As he had hoped, Ron was waiting for him, still fully dressed, sitting on his bed. Harry sat down on his own four-poster and for a moment, they simply stared at each other.
â€œThey're talking about closing the school,â€ said Harry.
â€œLupin said they would,â€ said Ron.
There was a pause.
â€œSo?â€ said Ron in a very low voice, as though he thought the furniture might be listening in. â€œDid you find one? Did you get it? Aâ€”a Horcrux?â€
Harry shook his head. All that had taken place around that black lake seemed like an old nightmare now; had it really happened, and only hours ago?
â€œYou didn't get it?â€ said Ron, looking crestfallen. â€œIt wasn't there?â€
â€œNo,â€ said Harry. â€œSomeone had already taken it and left a fake in its place.â€
Wordlessly, Harry pulled the fake locket from his pocket, opened it, and passed it to Ron. The full story could wait... it did not matter tonight... nothing mattered except the end, the end of their pointless adventure, the end of Dumbledore's life...
â€œR.A.B.,â€ whispered Ron, â€œbut who was that?â€
â€œDunno,â€ said Harry, lying back on his bed fully clothed and staring blankly upwards. He felt no curiosity at all about R.A.B.: he doubted that he would ever feel curious again. As he lay there, he became aware suddenly that the grounds were silent. Fawkes had stopped singing.
And he knew, without knowing how he knew it, that the phoenix had gone, had left Hogwarts for good, just as Dumbledore had left the school, had left the world... had left Harry.
The Half Blood Prince
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