The 1-Year Memorial - Part II
"I do apologize, Miss Granger, I did not mean to startle you," he told her, and the concern in his voice was genuine as he took in her tearful face. He'd clearly just interrupted a private moment for her.
"Hermione," she corrected him, as she sniffed delicately and blotted her eyes with a handkerchief. "And that's quite alright. I am just giving in to some confused feelings. I'm hoping by doing so now, I'll be able to hold it together better tomorrow."
Lucius approached her slowly and seated himself sideways on the sofa, so that he was facing her. "What is confusing for you, my dear? You are still recovering from horrific losses and terrifying events, are you not?"
"True," she said. She looked at him for a long moment. "And you? You suffered losses as well…"
Lucius' eyebrows rose upward as he deeply inhaled and slowly shook his head, while admitting softly, "Those who lost their lives on my side were almost exclusively criminally insane. They died fighting Voldemort's battle, believing he should have gained power over everyone and everything. It's hard to mourn their deaths in that context. Had they survived, they'd have been, at best, an utter societal nuisance. And at worst, a very dangerous threat. You are kind to offer your sympathies, but I have suffered guilt and shame this past year. Not grief, my dear." He squeezed her hands briefly, then released them. "Your valiant sacrifices and honorable actions gave me a new life. I will always, always be grateful to you."
Hermione's eyes filled again and she nodded acknowledgment to his words with a watery smile. Her eyes found the flames in the fire and she kept them focused there. "Draco lost a close friend," she pointed out. "That was a terrible moment. Terrifying to witness."
Lucius was touched by her capacity for caring. "My son lost someone he had fallen in with because of my bad influence and choices. But he's finding his own path, and has gained a circle of new, true friends as a result."
"He's come a long way," Hermione said. She looked back at him with a warm smile. "He and Harry are hilarious together. Now that is a miracle, if ever there was one."
"For me, every moment of conversation with any one of you is a miracle. I have gained more than I can quantify."
The stage from last year's event was recreated, but this time, more of the grounds were set up for a soirée-style event. The Ministry had hired caterers who were weeding through the crowd with refreshments and enchanted keepsakes. The turnout had doubled this year, and there were several people on hand to make addresses, including Minister Shacklebolt, Deputy Minister Weasley, Headmistress McGonagall, the newly appointed Commander of Magical Law Enforcement, Wesley Rothchilde, and then, Harry and Severus.
The speeches focused mostly on recapping the specific developments in the recovery of the many wizarding institutions, in all things business, education, politics and law enforcement. Harry heard updates that made him feel better about their society as a whole, but when he recollected his mindset this time last year, he realized that the only improvement he'd personally seen had been in his relationships. As far as he was concerned, the institutions continued to be flawed. Case and point, the nonsense at the Ministry three days prior. As a part of wizarding society, Harry had yet to have a good experience with the Ministry. He was willing to hold out a shred of hope that Kingsley and Arthur could really cut through the riffraff, and staff it entirely with quality people. But all signs so far were to the contrary.
He'd tuned out Rothchilde on sight. The man had the narcissistic pomposity that Harry could spot instantly now, and was openly full of himself. It was only a matter of time before he abused his power. Harry wondered idly if those four aurors had really lost their jobs since Tuesday. This Rothchilde bloke did not strike him as a man of integrity, by any means. In fact, he reminded Harry of Cornelius Fudge, though the two were nothing alike physically.
He was brought out of his reverie in time to feel his stomach plummet when he realized it was his turn to speak, and shakily made his way to the podium. He cleared his throat and cast a silent Sonorus on his neck. "HELLO TO ALL OF YOU," he said, and was completely rattled by the loud projection of his voice. The audience hushed and many appeared as startled as he. Feeling his nerves kicking in, Harry just forced himself to keep talking, albeit at a softer volume.
"Firstly, I'd like to apologize for my behavior at last year's Memorial. I know it's obvious to you that I've had an affliction for the last year or so. That very day, last June, the reality was really setting in for me. I'd just spent about an hour in front of the mirror, just glaring, and yelling 'really?' to no one in particular." The laughter in the audience was good to hear. He smirked, relaxing a tad. "I remember the kinds of things that were said on this stage last year, and how my own thoughts were so very inappropriate for that kind of gathering." Again, the laughter. Harry smiled lopsidedly at the crowd, eyes meeting some of his friends from school. "So, it has been a time of recovery for us. I suppose I've literally personified the progress we've made, as in slow but sure. I myself have only recently really begun to feel better. Most days." He cleared his throat, still receiving random chuckles to his comments. "I think I should share with you a bit of what has been going on with me physically. I know the Daily Prophet has kept you all informed on their ideas, but, uh, if you know me, you know that the Prophet hasn't gotten it right about me in… well, ever. So here goes: I've been recovering from the Failure To Thrive Syndrome, which set me back to the age I was when I was kidnapped with Cedric Diggory. That's when I had my blood forcefully taken, to add to a vile potion that resurrected Voldemort. A lot of things happened from that point onward that I didn't get to resolve until now. I can see that having to be fourteen again physically, and if I'm honest, also mentally, was necessary. And I think it's safe to say that today I'm a solid fifteen years old again. Sixteen's on the horizon." He paused and ran his hand through his hair as he made eye contact with more people. "The good news is that I've been getting loads of help from new friends- great friends- as you may know from whatever you can glean out of the gossip in the paper. I know I've caused many of you, those who've known me longest, a lot of grief and frustration by refusing your help. Not sure why that was, but in the spirit of Hermione Granger's message at our last Memorial, I'm going to suggest that I took a chance on something unlikely, like friendship with former adversaries. And it's paid off. I recommend it to everyone. I'm happy, and hopeful. I wish the same for all of you. Thank you."
There was a roar of applause and a cat call that sounded suspiciously like George Weasley yelling, "Yay! We love you, Harry!" as Harry made his way back to his seat. He laughed somewhat giddily at the relief to be finished speaking and to have apparently done a decent job.
Severus was standing to make his way to the podium as the next speaker. He smiled at Harry and clapped his shoulder as they passed. And now, the former Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry took center stage. The crowd went completely silent.
"As Mr. Potter has referenced, I'm certain the Daily Prophet has had all matter of information for you about my return. Rather than address anything they could have possibly misconstrued, I will share with you all that I think is appropriate for the public to know about my role in the recovery of the Light.
"I was a foolish and bitter teen when I pledged myself to Lord Voldemort and my rewards were in the form of loss: of innocence, loved ones, and of my self. By the time I transferred my loyalties to Albus Dumbledore and pledged my life, and my servitude, to him, there was not much left to give me hope beyond the eventual destruction of the Dark Lord. I kept my sentiments to myself while among my fellow Death Eaters, although I always suspected that most of us were of the same mind. Indeed, I kept my sentiments to myself while in the company of most, other than Headmaster Dumbledore and the members of the Order of the Phoenix. By the time it was all coming to an end, and it was up to Harry Potter to give his own life in order to take out Voldemort, I was depleted and hopeless. I know you've heard that I was thought to have died after the snake attack, but that was not the case- I was surprised, as well-" here, of course the audience laughed, easing tensions, "-but when I regained consciousness, alone again, in the dark, I decided to relinquish its hold on me entirely. And I left. And now I've returned, and it's been a pleasure to be back." He shocked the audience again with a genuine smile (hadn't there been photos of such an anomaly in the paper by now?) "I do not yet know the role I will play in our world in the future, perhaps by this time next year, I will have an idea.
"I would like to address my final comments to those who were students under my watch, the year I was Headmaster," he said. "There are no words of apology to appropriately express my sentiments about the way my students suffered during that last year at school. I readily admit I failed to protect most of you. I have hope that there were times when some of you realized I was intervening on your behalf, although my own vicious disposition couldn't possibly have reassured you. I regret my inability to shield you from what came to pass.
"And I share the grief, of all who were lost, with all of you."
Severus bowed to the crowd and returned to his seat with a strong, but controlled applause in his wake. He had been heard, and that was exactly what he'd hoped for.
Harry decided to give it one more go with Ginny, seeking her out after he'd exited the stage. She was standing with Micheal Corner, and they appeared to be having an intimate conversation, which caused Harry's stomach to clench in its familiar, painful way. He knew before she said the words that she'd moved on.
"Gin, can we talk for a minute? Hello, Michael," Harry tried to be unaffected, but knew he wasn't succeeding, and the heat rose quickly up his neck and into his entire face.
Ginny glared at him. She stalked several feet away from the crowd, obviously expecting him to follow. When she spun back to face him, her fury was palpable. "I've tried to understand you, Harry," she told him harshly. "This whole business with you de-aging was hard enough. I thought leaving, and living away would make it easier, especially since you were such a prat about shutting me out, but I cannot accept what you've done. I can't."
"What I've done," Harry repeated in confusion.
"You've befriended that bastard!" She nearly spat the words. "I have still not recovered from being possessed by that diary! I still have nightmares! You were there! How could you just forget that? How could you just set that aside?"
Harry was speechless. He knew she was right. He'd done exactly what she'd just said. He'd set it all aside, but he hadn't forgotten about it. He stared back at Ginny with his mouth open, scenes rushing through his mind of both those horrible moments in the Chamber, and facing Lucius over Dobby afterward, and of recent times, when he'd cried his heart out and Lucius had comforted him. Lucius had told Harry he loved him. No one had ever openly said those words to Harry. Until Lucius had. And now Severus had. And Harry was beginning to think he could feel whole one day because of it. But how could he say all of this to Ginny? When in order to get to this point, he'd had to disregard her feelings? And how could he tell her that he knew without a doubt, that Lucius Malfoy was haunted by his past actions? What was the right way to get past things like this? Never forgive someone for their mistakes, and miss out on a really special friendship? But he couldn't say that to her, could he?
"G-Ginny," he stammered, completely unable to formulate a response.
"Don't bother, Harry," she seethed. "Nothing you can say can fix this!" She turned to walk away but he grabbed her arm.
"Listen to me!" he said desperately. "It's you, it's always been you for me! I kept you in my mind when I went to Voldemort, to die in the Forest. You were the last conscious thing I wanted to think about in my life! But Ginny, I- I'm broken. I've needed a kind of help no one else could give me until the Malfoys stepped in. And now Severus." He gulped at her unrelenting glare, and the disparaging curl to her lip as she heaved angry breaths in and out of her chest. "You're not wrong to feel like you do," he said softly. "And I'm sorry I've hurt you. So sorry!" He gulped again waiting to see if she'd respond, and tried to stop his world from reeling. "Gin? Say something!"
She shook her head, still fuming. "I'll likely regret it," she said caustically. "I'll always want the best for you, Harry, but I can't know you anymore. I don't know you anymore." And with that, she stalked back to Michael, leaving Harry standing alone, away from the crowd, looking utterly crestfallen.
Lucius had watched the exchange from a distance, and instinctively knew what had come to pass, and why. Feeling horrible guilt, he made his way over to Harry, who had ducked around to the back of the stage to get away from nosy onlookers. He had no words to offer the boy, so he stepped close and gently cupped his hand around the dark head he adored so deeply, to guide it slowly to his shoulder, where he pressed his cheek to Harry's temple and said brokenly, "I'm sorry, son. This is entirely my fault."
Harry couldn't speak. He could never consider ending this close-knit bond with the Malfoy family, and least of all with Lucius. The man had literally saved him, on a difficult day just like this one, nearly a year ago. He wished Ginny could see that. He closed his eyes and leaned into Lucius's chest, feeling instantly comforted when the older wizard embraced him back.
"Do you think you'd like to leave?" Lucius asked after several minutes.
Harry pulled back, shaking his head. "No, I can hold it together," he said. He raised pained eyes to meet Lucius' concerned ones. "I still have to meet Naomi. I keep telling Draco I believe she's a myth."
"Alright, lad," Lucius said. "Come, they're passing out champagne. Perhaps a sip or two might do you some good just now." He leaned forward and kissed Harry on the forehead before placing his hand on the back of the boy's neck to guide him as they rejoined the crowd.
Narcissa, Hermione, Luna, and Draco were chatting in a circle with a pretty young witch that could only be Naomi. Draco shot Harry a concerned look, but it quickly turned into a pompous smirk when Harry wobbled his eyebrows in response. Harry and Lucius joined them just as a waiter came over with a hovering tray of champagne glasses, which he sent into the middle of the group so that they could each take a glass.
In the middle of the crowd -and many were indeed watching Harry Potter and Hermione Granger and their unlikely friends- Harry, Draco, Naomi, Narcissa, Lucius, Hermione and Luna each reached outward...
...and as each ones fingers clasped around the stem of their glass, they popped from sight.