When I die at last, irremediably, irreversibly the next time, I will remember this moment. I will remember all these people.
It’s exactly one year, on this very day, since I came back. A fine morning of May, but that’s all the two days have in common. When I compare the chaos - a victorious chaos, but still a chaos - of one year ago, with the serene dignity of today, I find myself moved to tears and overwhelmed by people’s capacity to heal, to recover and to move on in life. I feel proud of wizardkind and hopeful for humanity.
I watch the wizards and witches calmly exit the Great Hall after the memorial gathering, moving together like one body, and it is the picture of reconciliation. There’s no hostility, no resentment between houses and I see the determination in their faces: Never again! their expressions say. Be that so. Let them never forget the violence and the destruction that prejudices engender.
What an amazing voyage from war to peace we made this year - all these people, Harry and Severus, and me.
When I resurrected a year ago at the end of the war, I felt no joy, no joy at all. I felt disappointed and betrayed by my own magic, derided by the irony of fate that mocked my skills and punished me by prolonging my suffering path to death. What a waste, I told myself.
Still, it would have been a sacrilege to complain, and I resigned to my plight of living. No peace of mind would install itself, however, and I brooded and rummaged the events of the last half century over and over again. The turn of Tom Riddle into Lord Voldemort was probably not something that I could have prevented, but otherwise I saw the consequences of my flaws and the result of my mistakes everywhere… everywhere along the path of history, until the day I was cursed by my enemy, and then until the day I forced Severus to commit murder. In my mind it was a brutal, yet necessary course of events, that I submitted to freely, for the greater good. I had, truly, accepted to die that way.
My resurrection did not go into the equation, however. It had been conceived for the benefit of others. To end up being the target of my own sacrificial magic was yet a failing, yet another mistake. It was hard not to let my bitterness show outwardly, but I thought to myself that I had made so many people suffer already that I would not plague them with a dying man’s acrid regrets. Only Severus, my faithful young friend, perceived some of those musings, I believe.
The fact that I was still dying and that my still unrelenting death was the result of my dead enemy’s cursing, was all the more ironic. I was to be the last victim of Lord Voldemort. For the second time. It humiliated me. It’s easier to take a blow from your enemy in the heat of the war, but to suffer from it lengthily, to bear with the defeat and to surrender to his ultimate victory day after day is infuriating, belittling and exhausting.
Yet, somewhere along the way, I seem to have accepted that I could not dictate the course of my life, nor that of my death. I’m an ardent advocate of free will, but I realised that it was not possible for me to choose a dignified death. But then, maybe all deaths are pitiful, I told myself.
I was resigned to my fate, but what I regretted most and for all was that Harry, my dear, cursed child that my heart ached for, seemed to shun me. Whether it was due to his disease or not, the result was that no dialogue was possible. I was not allowed to explain myself, nor to beg his forgiveness, and therefore no reconciliation could take place.
I told myself that it was only right. That this was my punishment. Harry’s denial was the consequence of my inept way of bringing us through the novel rise of Voldemort and the final war.
Could I have acted differently, made other choices along the way? I probably could. I blamed myself for the presumptuousness that made me convinced of my brilliant calculations. I blamed myself for the numbness and the callousness that followed in the footsteps of my sister’s death. It made me push emotional issues aside in favour of rational arguments only, and that is how I made the mistake of leaving Harry with his aunt’s family. Harry has every reason to hate me.
Then, in the middle of my resignation and my mental preparation for death, the healers all of a sudden announced that the curse was no longer effective! That there was no longer an immediate threat. The curse somehow had strangled itself and extinguished.
I couldn’t believe it when they told me. Oh, they had hinted at the possibility before, but at the time I simply thought that it was a way to comfort me, to give me the slightest hope to cling to, and I paid it no deed. They must have thought my reaction to their wonderful news very strange indeed, because before I realised that some expression of joy was expected from me, I was completely nonplussed, completely neutral, or slightly disappointed, really. Bothered more than anything, and weary that I once again had to readjust to new conditions.
Followed the most difficult time since the resurrection. I was so depressed that I could barely take myself through a whole day without bristling and betraying myself. I told no one of the good news, and I brooded seriously, desperately, on the possibility of killing myself instead. I simply could not accept the respite. I had no wish to live - why did I have to?
Only Severus kept me from taking action. He had a difficult time, poor boy, struggling with adjusting to his new life. I had predicted his downfall to a certain extent. Severus was mightily struck by the resurrection magic and it left him so uncharacteristically optimistic and blissful, that I knew it could not last. It still did him good. Just look at the relationship he managed to establish with Harry during this time. But the landing back in reality was though on him, and I needed to be there for him.
Then, suddenly, Severus brought me Harry. Somehow, Harry had found it in him to overcome whatever made him shun me. I never asked what it was, I only embraced his return, so grateful, so afraid that it would not last.
Albus Dumbledore, who was on his way down the podium in the Great Hall to follow and to join his fellow wizards and witches outside the castle, shivered slightly and had to close his eyes briefly, so fresh was the memory of his reunion with Harry, and to such a degree did it still affect him emotionally.
That day, a few days before Christmas, he had conceded to Severus’ insistent pleading of giving Harry a chance at meeting him. Albus had no hopes whatsoever and suspected that Severus, in his desire to unite his friends, had pushed Harry into having yet another fruitless go at it, more or less against the young wizard’s will. Severus could be very insistent sometimes, and not always sensible to the feelings and needs of others when he had set his mind on something.
Harry had entered the office silently and cautiously, proceeding to the set of armchairs in front of the fire where Albus was waiting, advancing as if he were walking on thin ice and expected to plunge into cold water any moment. Albus remembered the empty feeling of sadness and hopelessness, pierced by pain while watching the young wizard coming towards him. He was acutely aware that the chance of Harry having a fit and falling unconscious was impending. He barely dared to glance at the young wizard who he had protected, and at the same time exploited to such a degree, during the course of the war.
It hurt, Harry’s inability to be near him hurt. It was such a rejection each time. Yet, it was, perhaps, only fair. He had played a part in his sister’s death, after all, and was tempted by power in his youth, fraternising with evil. He should bear his punishment without complaint.
Harry made it all the way from the door to the fireplace and sat down in an armchair next to his headmaster. Albus could have sworn he heard both Severus and Harry hold their breaths. Albus didn’t breathe himself. After a short time with his gaze fettered on the floor, Albus looked up to meet the shy, but steady and compassionate gaze of Harry’s. Albus felt his eyes widen, he cast a shocked glance at Severus and returned to meet Harry’s eyes. They looked back as steadily as an owl’s.
Then he heard a pitiful sound, a whining, followed by a series of short, hacked, guttural sounds. He felt his shoulders shake and tremble and for a short fleeting moment, he wondered if it was his turn to pass out, before he felt the touch of soothing hands on his shoulders, on both sides, and heard whispered words of comfort that he could not make out. Albus put his face in his hands and let go of his grief, while those friendly hands stroke his bent old back.
When Albus walked through the grand portal and reached outside the castle, he quickly descended the stairs to the left, brushing against the wall of the building, to avoid the main part of the crowd. He had rapidly scanned the open space filled with wizards and witches and spotted Severus and Harry standing together with a large part of the Weasley family a bit on the side.
When he met their eyes, they detached themselves from the group and took a few steps to meet him, Harry with a big smile on his lips and Severus with that neutral face of his, but nonetheless with a glow in his black eyes that Albus by now had learnt to know and to cherish.
It was a strange feeling, Albus thought, to experience such a strong sense of being surrounded by only two people. Moreover, it felt almost impossibly strange and spoilt, at his age, to be this coveted and loved. When, on top of it, the two wizards started to laud his speech earlier in the castle - Harry in lavishing terms and Severus with more restrained praise - Albus got a bit misty-eyed. He tried not to let on and cleared his throat.
”That was my second last formal speech as headmaster at Hogwarts,” he said mildly. ”It feels strange, but I’m perfectly happy and reconciled with my decision to step back and to retire.”
Severus and Harry scrutinised his face. Albus knew they were worried that his decision to pass the leadership of the school over to Minerva McGonagall, had been too hastily made and feared that he would regret it, or fare ill by the lack of purpose in life that a formal retirement might engender.
”I will make my last speech in a few weeks, when you and your fellow students graduate, dear Harry, and it will be my pleasure to wish you prosperity and happiness in your future lives. I’m so glad that you were able to return and spend the last trimester with us at Hogwarts.”
Albus was more than glad if the truth were to be told, because it still felt like a miracle that they were standing here, all three, together - the war a closed chapter. It had taken a sacrificial miracle to make the reunion physically possible, and a human one to finally enable Harry to face his fears and put himself together after the chain of shattering experiences his young life had contained. A miracle, unexpectedly assisted by Severus Snape.
”I never thought I would recover enough to go back to classes,” said Harry. ”A year ago, I basically thought that my life was over, or that I would be, at the very least, mentally crippled for the rest of my days. When you’re in the middle of misery you truly believe that it will never end. But it did.” For a moment Harry’s eyes were riveted far away, directed over the crowd toward the forest where Voldemort’s horcrux had been blown away from his soul exactly a year ago.
”You really deserve some peace and quiet, Sir,” he added, eyes redirected at Albus. ”I hope that you will enjoy your free time.”
”Well, I don’t intend to leave him in peace,” interfered Snape dryly and turned from Harry to Albus. ”I intend to pester you with frequent visits at you abode of retirement.” Snape’s deliberately drawling tone of voice could not hide the tenderness behind and Albus smiled in response.
”You’ll find yourself always to be welcome, Severus,” he said mildly. ”And I will expect you too, Harry, as soon as you return from abroad with your artist friend.”
”Definitely,” answered Harry. ”I’ve studied overseas apparitions, and I’m determined to make regular jumps back home during the eight weeks the summer camp of magical art lasts. I’ll be living at Severus’ place when I do so, and I will accompany him when he visits you. In september, Helena and I will be back, hopefully with a lot of inspiration, and we’ll find a place of our own in London where to live. We’ll meet really often, then. I do hope you’ll hang on for a long time yet, Sir, because I also plan to have yet another Christmas with you and Severus, just like last year, and maybe several others as well.” Harry looked eager, and just the least little bit contrite and worried.
”I’ll do my very best to hang on,” Albus mused reassuringly. ”We wizards are well known for our longevity, and now that I’ve recovered my spark of life, I prepare to join the line of centenarians and beyond. Now, let’s have a word with the Weasleys shall we?”
And all three turned around, prepared to plunge into the buzzing social life of the magical community that was surrounding them, to the very best of their respective abilities.