The morning after had come, and all the students had gathered silently around the four Tables of Hogwarts, Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres among them. He had collapsed in exhaustion last night and been awoken in the infirmary next morning, still muzzy, with the Philosopher's Stone underneath his left sock.
The Head Table looked like a plague had swept it.
Dumbledore's throne was gone from the Head Table, without replacement, leaving the center of the Head Table empty.
Severus Snape was sitting in a floating seat, the magical equivalent of a wheelchair.
Professor Sprout was missing. According to what Harry had been told last night, a court Legilimens would examine her to see if any further compulsions remained, but probably no charges would be filed. Harry had emphasized to Professor McGonagall and the Aurors, as hard as he could, that Professor Sprout was probably just a victim. The Boy-Who-Lived had pronounced that he'd seen no evidence of Sprout's intentional guilt in Voldemort's mind.
Professor Flitwick was missing, presumably still staying by Hermione's side.
Professor Sinistra was missing and Harry didn't know why or where.
The numbness that surrounded Harry's mind was like a Mylar blanket, protective if not comforting. There were scenes in his mind of black robes falling and blood spilling, appearing for an instant before being shoved back. He'd process it later, not now. Some other time would be better, future-Harry would have a comparative advantage at coping.
Somewhere inside Harry was the fear that it wouldn't hurt, that there would be no price to be paid. But that fear also could be put off into the future.
No breakfast had appeared on the tables. The students sitting near Harry were waiting in frightened silence. Owls had been prohibited from entering or leaving Hogwarts since early last night.
The doors of the Great Hall opened once more, and forth came Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall. She wore robes of formal black, and her head was bare, denuded of its usual witch's hat. Her grey-brown-blonde hair was done up in a coiled braid, as if in preparation for a hat to be placed later; but for now Harry saw her head bare for the first time.
Minerva McGonagall came to the lectern that stood before the Head Table.
All eyes were upon her.
"I am afraid that I have much news," Minerva said. Her voice was sad, within its Scottish precision. "And most of it is terrible. First. The reason I am the one to speak to you is that the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus," her voice stopped, "Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, has been lost. You-Know-Who trapped him outside Time, and we do not know if he ever can be brought back to us. We, we have lost, what may have been, the greatest Headmaster, that Hogwarts has ever had."
A susurration of horror arose across the tables, no audible gasps or moans, just the sound of many intaken breaths; most from Gryffindor, and some from Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw as well. The ill news had already been known, but now it had also been said by authority.
"Second. You-Know-Who returned briefly, but is once again dead. All that remained of him was his hands clutched around Miss Granger's throat. There is no more threat from him, or so we think." Minerva McGonagall drew in another breath. "Third. Professor Quirrell died with his wand in his hand, facing You-Know-Who. He was found not far from where You-Know-Who perished again, a victim of You-Know-Who's Killing Curse." Another susurration of verified horror, now from all four tables.
Minerva drew another breath. "Last night we also lost what may have been the greatest Defense Professor in the history of Hogwarts. His scholastic merits alone... Our Defense Professor has gone by many names, but his true name was David Monroe. As he was the last of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Monroe, his funeral - his second funeral, and the true one - will be held before the Most Ancient Hall of the Wizengamot, in two days. Yet a wake shall also be held for the Defense Professor of Hogwarts, for our own Professor Quirrell, in this castle. That man also died a Hogwarts teacher, as nobly as a Hogwarts teacher ever did."
Harry listened in silence, shoving down the tears that again rose to his eyes. It wasn't even true, let alone unexpected; and yet hearing it still hurt. From where he sat beside, Anthony Goldstein put a comforting hand over Harry's hand, and Harry left it there.
"Fourth. One piece of exceedingly unexpected and happy news. Hermione Granger is alive and in full health, sound of body and mind. Miss Granger is being observed at St. Mungo's to see if there are any unexpected afteraffects from whatever happened to her, but she appears to be doing astonishingly well considering her previous condition."
It should have produced wild cheers from Ravenclaw and Gryffindor, if the news had come as part of any other package, or if it had been more unexpected. As it stood, Harry saw a few smiles, but they were brief. Maybe they'd jumped for joy earlier, but at the moment there was only silence. Harry understood that. He wasn't cheering either, not right now.
"Finally -" Minerva McGonagall faltered, then raised her voice. "I fear that I have the gravest possible news to share with some of our students. It seems that You-Know-Who summoned those who were once his followers; and many of them obeyed, whether from terribly misguided loyalty, or out of fear for their families if they refused. A sacrifice was required, it seems, to complete You-Know-Who's resurrection; or perhaps You-Know-Who blamed his former followers for his defeat. Thirty-seven bodies were found, more followers outside Azkaban than You-Know-Who was thought to have. I am afraid -" Minerva McGonagall faltered again. "I am afraid that among the deceased are the parents of many of our students -"
no no no no no no NO NO NO NO
As though by some terrible magnet, Harry's eyes were drawn to the picture of absolute horror that was Draco Malfoy's face, even as the comforting cotton wrap around Harry's thoughts was torn away like thin tissue.
How could he have not thought, how could he have not realised -
Somewhere in the background, someone was already screaming, and yet the room seemed very silent.
"Sheila, Flora, and Hestia Carrow. Lost both their parents last night. Students who have lost their fathers include Robert Jugson. Ethan Jugson. Sara Jugson. Michael MacNair. Riley and Randy Rookwood. Lily Lu. Sasha Sproch. Daniel Gibson. Jason Gross. Elsie Ambrose -"
Maybe Lucius realised, maybe he was smart enough to stay away, maybe he realised that Voldemort was the one who struck at Draco -
"- Theodore Nott. Vincent Crabbe. Gregory Goyle. Draco Malfoy. This concludes the list."
One student sitting at the Gryffindor table let out a single cheer, and was immediately slapped by the Gryffindor witch sitting nearby hard enough that a Muggle would have lost teeth.
"Thirty points from Gryffindor and detention for the first month of next year," Professor McGonagall said, her voice hard enough to break stone.
"Lies! " shrieked a tall Slytherin, who'd risen up from that table. "Lies! Lies! The Dark Lord will return, and he'll, he'll teach you all the meaning of -"
"Mr. Jugson," said Severus Snape's voice. It was also faltering, it didn't sound like the Potions Master at all, it wasn't loud and yet the Slytherin fell silent. "Robert. The Dark Lord killed your father."
Robert Jugson let out a scream of terrific fury and turned to run out of the room, and Draco Malfoy folded in on himself like a collapsing house and made sounds that nobody heard, because the babble was starting up now.
Harry rose six inches from the bench and then stopped.
what would you say to Draco there is nothing you can say to Draco you can't go over there now and pretend to be his friend
you want to make it right you want to make it better but you cannot make it right there is no way you can make right what you have done to him what you did to Vincent to Gregory what you did to Theodore
The world blurred around Harry, he barely saw Padma Patil rise up and make her way toward the Slytherin table and Draco, or Seamus heading towards Theodore.
And because Harry had read his father's science fiction and fantasy collection, because he had already read this scene a dozen times over when it happened to other protagonists, there was an image in Harry's mind of Mad-Eye Moody, of the scarred man called Alastor. And Mad-Eye's image was saying, in just the same voice he'd used to speak to Albus Dumbledore in memory, that the Death Eaters had been pointing their wands at Harry, that they had already chosen to take the Dark Mark, that they had been guilty of sins beyond reckoning and maybe beyond Harry's imagination, that they had foregone the deontological protection of good people and made themselves targetable if there was a strong reason to sacrifice them. That it had been necessary to save Harry's innocent parents from torture and Azkaban, that it had been necessary to protect the world from Voldemort. That plain old ordinary Aurors and judges had to do much more morally questionable things than killing sworn and blooded Death Eaters who were pointing wands at them, in the course of carrying out ordinary justices that were less clear-cut but still necessary to society. If it were not right to do what Harry had done, if it were not right to do much more morally ambiguous things than what Harry had done, then society as human beings knew it could not exist. Nobody with common sense would blame Harry for doing it, Neville wouldn't blame him, Professor McGonagall wouldn't blame him, Dumbledore wouldn't blame him, even Hermione would tell him it had been the right thing to do once she knew.
And all of this was true.
Just as it was also true that some part of Harry's mind had calculated that wiping out the blood purist political elite would make it easier and more convenient to rebuild magical Britain afterward. It hadn't been an important consideration, but it had still been calculated in those instants of rapid thought, a check on the long-term consequences to see if they rated as catastrophic, and a decision that they actually rated as pretty much okay. And that check had forgotten that Death Eaters had children at Hogwarts or that one of them wore the face of Draco's father. It wouldn't have changed anything. It wouldn't have changed anything at all. But that was the truth of the calculation Harry's mind had performed, given only seconds to think.
At least Harry could, if the Death Eaters' survivors were in any sort of financial trouble, do something about that easily enough. Transfigure gold, and use the Stone to make it permanent - unless making that much gold would be troublesome to the wizard economy at large, or cause objections from goblins who didn't understand market monetarist economics - though it wasn't as though Harry didn't also have useful services to sell -
Other cotton wrap was also being torn off Harry's thoughts, now.
"It seems likely," Minerva said, her voice was not loud but it cut through all other sounds, "that some of our students will also have been stripped last night of those named as their guardians. Should you end up a ward of Hogwarts, please know that I will take the responsibilities of my position with extreme seriousness. You will be extended every courtesy. Your family's vault will be managed well and truly. As best I can, I will treat every one of you as I would my own children - and I will protect you as much as I would protect my own children, no more, no less. I hope that is clear to EVERYONE AT HOGWARTS."
Students nodded rapidly.
"Good," Minerva said. Her voice sank back. "Then there is one more thing that must be done."
With a sad, solemn air, Professor Sinistra emerged from a side entrance. She was wearing white robes instead of her usual brown, and instead of her customary witch's hat, she was wearing a many-tasseled square hat whose colors had faded into mostly gray.
In her hands, Professor Sinistra carried the Sorting Hat.
With the air of someone carrying out a ceremony that had not changed in centuries, Aurora Sinistra kneeled, on one knee, before Minerva McGonagall, presenting to her the Sorting Hat in both hands.
Minerva McGonagall took the Sorting Hat from Professor Sinistra's hands, and placed it on her own head.
There was a long silence.
"As Albus Dumbledore is not dead," Minerva said, her voice so low that students strained to hear it, "but only taken from us, I accept this position in the capacity of Acting Headmistress only - until Dumbledore's return."
A piercing cry split the Great Hall, and Fawkes was there, overflying all Four Tables in a slow spiral arc. He passed over each of the tables, humming in his bird's voice, a hum of absolute loyalty that would outlast the death of merely physical fires. Wait, the hum seemed to say. Wait until his return, and be true.
Fawkes circled Minerva McGonagall three times, feathered wings brushing around her as the tears began to creep down her cheeks; then the bird flew out a window above the Hall, and was gone.
Ch. 118 will post on March 9th, 2015, at 12pm Pacific (7pm UTC).