“Easy does it, Harry,” Ron said, taking more of Harry’s weight on his shoulders.
There was nothing wrong with Harry’s legs — save the inevitable weakness that came with being confined in a bed for several days — but his balance was shaky at best. The past forty-eight hours had seen him regain his ability to stand but not his equilibrium. He managed alright on a flat surface. It was the stairs that were currently giving him trouble.
Regardless, he disliked depending on his friends so much. He shifted away from Ron and put his weight on his own legs.
“Quit being stubborn, let us help,” Ginny scolded him. Ever since Harry had become fully conscious she had been glued to his side as if there were a Sticking Charm at work. Her presence was his greatest source of comfort.
Which made what he had to do that much harder.
No, he thought, pushing that feeling away. There was still a little more time, yet. First things first — he had a funeral to attend.
They were met in the Entrance Hall by Hermione. Her face was pale, and the dark lines beneath her eyes left no question as to how she had been sleeping. She wasn’t the only one with that look, lately. The entire school sank under a cloud of grief and fear, pressed hard into the earth.
Neville and Luna also stood by the door, although Scott was nowhere to be seen. Scott’s frequent disappearances were not unusual, but slightly more worrying in this case. Harry didn’t think Scott would be so callous as to skip the funeral... not that he could say much about Scott with any certainty.
“I’m fine, I’ve got it now,” Harry grumbled, pulling his arm away from Ron when they reached the bottom of the staircase. He thought that might have seemed a bit more harsh than he intended, and softened it with a “Thanks.”
“Are you sure?” Hermione asked, though her question was more subdued than her usual tone.
“I think he’s got it… so long as there’s not a stiff breeze, anyway,” Ron said.
“I’m not that far gone,” Harry groused.
“Not from where we’re standing,” Ginny weighed in. “You’re not well.”
“We know, Harry,” Hermione said placatingly in response to Harry’s darkening tone. “We’re just a bit worried, still.”
Harry sighed, trying not to get angry at his friends. They were just offering their help, even if he didn’t want them to. “Yeah. It’s alright.”
Outside, the crowd had already gathered. Harry was deliberately late. It was yet another delaying tactic, as the last thing he wanted was to be cornered by anyone before the ceremony. By some miracle he had so far managed to dodge questions from Tonks, Remus, and Bill, mostly by sleeping a lot. He had even staved off a talking-to from McGonagall by pretending to sleep.
Regardless, he knew that it was only a matter of time before he had to start lying. This was unfortunate, because Harry was well aware that he was not a good liar. Given the choice, he’d have let Scott handle that.
As he approached the chairs outside, it became apparent that Scott was handling at least one issue. Most of the gathered mourners were conversing in soft tones appropriate for a somber occasion. Scott, in direct contrast, was using a voice that was perfectly audible. He was arguing with someone, but Harry couldn’t see the altercation yet.
“No, you can’t sit there, either. I don’t care who you are. It’s taken. I don’t ca— do you speak English? English. Habla Inglés? I’m asking because I’ve told you about five fucking times that you can’t sit here. There are others coming. How many more ways can I state this? It’s taken. Reserved. Occupata. Gefüllt.Vy ne mozhete maty tse mistse!”
By the time Harry staggered his way forward to see what was happening, whoever Scott had been lambasting was gone. The reason for the confrontation was obvious; Scott had somehow managed to keep a large number of chairs in his row clear. Harry had no doubt that this was accomplished through conversations not unlike the one he had overheard.
He almost managed at a smile at that, but the somber occasion cast a shadow over his thoughts. Even Hermione neglected to comment on Scott’s behavior. She sat down with the rest of the group, keeping her silence. Scott, probably sensing the mood, offered no words in his own defense. Not that he needed to. For once, Hermione had far deeper worries than whatever trouble Scott had been causing.
Harry could see many people he knew amongst those gathered. Bill was there, with his soon-to-be-wife, Fleur, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, along with Fred and George. Tonks and Remus sat together, and Mad-Eye Moody was close by. They were all in a different section, and Harry noticed that the students had been seated according to their houses. He was not in what was probably his designated seat, having arrived late. The row Scott had saved for them was mixed in with Ministry officials and other guests. Harry didn’t mind. It afforded him a sort of anonymity that sitting with the Gryffindors wouldn’t have.
He leaned slightly to the left and spoke to Scott in a low tone. “Who were you having that row with? About the seats?”
“Huh? Oh, it was that prick from the Ministry,” Scott said, thankfully lowering his voice. Harry reckoned they were surrounded by pricks from the Ministry. “You know, the lead guy. Your Oritorius, except lame. The Minister. Scrim–something.”
Harry wasn’t nearly as shocked as he probably should have been. In fact, he was rather satisfied.
There was a rough part of him, something near the heart, which had been abraded so badly that he no longer minded. He was angry. He was tired. He was scared, nauseous from the potions, still dizzy and in pain. He didn’t care what the Ministry thought. He hadn’t for some time. Now, though… now, he just wanted them all to sod off. Now he understood where Scott was coming from. He felt the satisfaction in simple defiance, for no other sake but its own.
It was a vicious joy, but no less pleasing for that.
“Nice,” Harry muttered. “Guess he found someone else to bother.”
“He really wanted to sit here. I didn’t tell him who I was saving them for, but he definitely knew. Wouldn’t take no for an answer. I think he’s gay for you.”
“He is. Wants me to chip in, do my part for the Ministry. Be a good little soldier.”
Scott made a wry face. “I take it that’s not going to happen.”
Harry snorted in contempt, even though it hurt his throat. “Not bloody likely.”
The crowd began to quiet, settling into place, and an expectant hush fell over the green. The white table at the front remained bare, but Harry could tell the ceremony was about to begin.
Harry tried to pay attention, at least initially. His mind continually wandered. What did it matter where Dumbledore’s body was? That corpse wasn’t the man, not really. The sermon being delivered spoke of honoring his life, but how many people would remember his life? Remember it not as they thought it should be, but as it was?
Dumbledore was still a mystery in so many ways. They called him the greatest wizard of his time, powerful and wise. And Harry could see that in him. Mostly, though, Harry thought that wasn’t the truth of the matter.
Above all else, Dumbledore had been a teacher. He had loved Hogwarts, loved the students, the knowledge being imparted, the lives being built. Hogwarts was supposed to be a school, not a fortress. Lately, it seemed like everyone had forgotten that. Harry doubted that Dumbledore ever had.
The sky was such a bright blue that Harry could barely look at it, but he raised his head and squinted upwards regardless. Dumbledore wouldn’t have wanted people to be staring at the ground during his funeral, ignoring such beautiful surrounds. Would he have wanted this sort of funeral at all? Given his eccentricities, perhaps not. He might have wanted a party.
Harry suddenly had the remembered image of Dumbledore wearing that ridiculous hat he had gotten out of a party favor. He almost grinned before he caught himself.
“Why fight it?” Scott asked quietly, having noticed Harry’s aborted smile. “If you try to forget him, won’t you forget what he taught you?”
There was truth in that. Harry wanted to remember Dumbledore, not as a great wizard now gone, but as full of life and peculiarity. He didn’t think he could forget the man even if he had wanted to. The differences they had experienced seemed irrelevant, now. Harry had learned so much from the old Headmaster. He felt he had hardly scratched the surface of what Dumbledore had offered.
“As for me,” Scott continued, “I’m staring failure in the face, and it’s not pleasant. And thanks to the joys of integration, I can’t even cut my losses and get out of here.”
That was a surprising sentiment. “What, you just want to run?”
Scott grinned. “Nah. I’ve invested too much time in you losers.”
Harry couldn’t suppress the smile that came. Trust Scott to still be giving Harry a hard time at a funeral. He was sure that they were receiving dark looks for their apparent lack of respect, but he just didn’t care. He knew that Dumbledore wouldn’t have minded. And that was all that mattered.
The funeral wore on. Harry was unfocused for much of it, lost in his thoughts. The tributes of the Centaurs and the Merpeople touched Harry more than any hollow words the politicians had to offer. At least the denizens of the forest and the lake had come out of respect, not obligation. He imagined a lot of those in attendance couldn’t say the same. The gathered students and staff of Hogwarts were an exception, of course. Their sadness was palpable, and Harry joined them in it.
To his left sat Scott, silent and expressionless. Whatever the Kharadjai might have been feeling was not apparent. To Harry’s right were the rest of his close friends. Ginny and Hermione sat next to each other, both with tears staining their cheeks. Ron had one arm around his girlfriend, his face pale. Neville appeared shaken and almost confused, as if he couldn’t believe where he was, and why. Luna looked troubled, but her eyes were clear and, when she noticed Harry’s gaze upon her, she gave him a little smile.
And then it was over. The crowd began to disperse, grouping into clusters that talked in low voices, making their way off the grounds. The reality of the day seemed to press on Harry’s shoulders like an unseen hand. Everyone was leaving. Dumbledore was not amongst them.
He couldn’t stay near the tomb. He stood and walked away, past the funeral area, towards Hagrid’s cabin and the edge of the wood. There was another pair of footsteps in the grass behind him, and a quick glance over his shoulder confirmed hi