It was an impossibly cheery day for a funeral.
The sky, absent so much as the blemish of a cloud wisp, yawned as a great, bright blue chasm overhead, and sunlight blanketed the whole of the school grounds, glinting off the lake and dappling the ground where the odd arching tree offered shade. It was a glorious early summer morning, still cool enough that Harry wasn’t sweltering in his suit jacket.
He stood atop a grassy knoll a stone’s throw from the lakeside, shading his eyes with his hand and frowning up at Gryffindor Tower. The structure had been cordoned off with some sort of barrier spell to keep it from collapsing in on itself or dropping debris on unsuspecting passersby, but the destruction was clear for all to see. The steep-pitched roof had caved in entirely, and the stonework here and there was scored with deep gashes that Harry supposed must be claw marks. The topmost few stories of the tower—including the sixth- and seventh-year dormitories—were listing at a precarious angle, and Harry suspected the structure was only still upright thanks to some hefty Charm work.
The vicinity stank of ruined spells, the delicate enchantments laced through the mortar having been destroyed in Malfoy’s desperate flailing. Clearly there was no salvaging it; the tower would likely need to be demolished and then rebuilt from the ground up, brick by brick, before any students could call it home once more.
“Mad, isn’t it?” Ron said, rubbing his neck. “We were just sleeping there a week ago. They haven’t even finished digging through it all—pretty sure my autographed Cannons poster is still in there somewhere.” He frowned. “Malfoy’ll get a whole swarm of Howlers from me if it’s been damaged.”
Hermione swatted him with the handbag she’d had tucked under one arm. “I hardly think we ought to be concerned with knick-knacks and keepsakes that might have been lost. That’s real history there, lying in ruin.” She sighed, staring up at the crumpled shell of the tower. “I had half the Library’s collection of old N.E.W.T. papers in my desk drawer. I’d been meaning to copy them to use as study materials, in case they’ve repeated any questions over the years…”
Harry allowed a small, tight smile—this was kind of nice. A bit of normalcy, just the three of them, to enjoy in these final moments before they parted ways with Hogwarts—likely for good. He could imagine there was nothing special about today, that they’d just finished breakfast and Hermione was trying to organise a group study session while Harry and Ron were concocting plans to skive off and play some pickup Quidditch.
He dipped a hand into his pocket, fingers brushing over the gilded edges and chain of the fake locket. He’d taken to carrying it around with him; it grounded him, reminding him he had a mission, that he couldn’t afford to waste any time or give the matter anything less than his full attention. To do so might risk others going the way of Dumbledore, and he doubted he’d be able to pin the blame on Malfoy next time.
Hermione seemed of a similar mindset, already hard at work digging into the more urgent of the mysteries yet to be resolved: who exactly ‘R.A.B.’ had been, and what they might have done with the real locket. But between the Hogwarts stacks and back issues of the Daily Prophet and even a brief visit to the Ministry’s public archives, she’d come up empty. Indeed, her only finding of note had simply served to make Harry feel even worse than he already did: the revelation that a former Hogwarts student by the name of Eileen Prince had married a Muggle man with the surname Snape and given birth to a son who would have been…a half-blood Prince.
It had been a bitter pill to swallow, realising that this figure Harry had come to consider something of a friend-across-time, a clever, quick-witted wizard without whose help Harry might not have survived his sixth year, was probably second only to Voldemort as the person Harry hated most. Even Malfoy hadn’t made Harry’s years at Hogwarts half as horrible as Snape had (though not for lack of trying, to be sure).
He half-wished he’d left the Prince’s book in his dormitory, instead of chucking it; with any luck, it might have wound up incinerated by dragonfire.
From up at the castle, a bell tolled the hour—the service would be starting soon. Harry took a long breath, releasing it slowly, and Ron clapped him on one shoulder, inclining his head to suggest they find their seats.
Rows of empty folding chairs spread out behind them, waiting to receive funeral guests, and at the head of it all, before a modest pulpit, stood a white marble table, shot through with streaks of silver and grey.
He’d heard there’d been some controversy over where Dumbledore would rest—in his family’s plot, or in a London-based memorial garden, or even a Ministry-owned mausoleum reserved for those who’d rendered special services to the wizarding community and merited a stately burial. But as it was generally agreed upon that Dumbledore had been the best thing to ever happen to Hogwarts, and that he’d given the very last measure of himself to save the school and its students, the decision had been made that he would lie there forever as a monument for generations to come.
It sounded lovely; Harry doubted he’d ever visit, even after all this was over.
As the tolling of the bell died away, mourners began to filter down from the castle to take their places for the service.
While classes had formally ended some days ago, after the attack, most of the students had yet to depart, staying on through the weekend to attend the funeral. Some had been hurried away by their parents, worried that the school was no longer safe with Dumbledore gone and the students attacked under his watch—like the Patil twins, and Zacharias Smith, whose hoity-toity father had evidently blustered something about sending Smith off to study abroad for his final year if the school and Board of Governors didn’t address the ‘incident’ to the man’s satisfaction.
Others, though, had stood their ground, like Seamus, who had stayed behind against his mother’s wishes (and on the heels of a rather loud row that it sounded like the whole school had turned out to watch).
In stark contrast to the usual fanfare of the last day of the school year, today was a bleak, subdued affair. Trunks lay stacked in the front foyer, waiting to be loaded onto the Hogwarts Express after the funeral, and students milled about in sombre dress robes, looking as if they didn’t know what to do with themselves. The younger ones looked lost, most not quite grasping the gaping hole Dumbledore’s absence would have on the school going forward; the older ones were simply trying to hold themselves together, huddled in quiet conversation.
Divisions ran along House lines as well, with the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs offering the now House-less Gryffindor students shoulders to lean on for support and ears to catch their worries while the Slytherins kept mostly to themselves. Perhaps they felt keenly the truth that one of their own had been responsible for the death of their Headmaster; Harry couldn’t muster much sympathy these days, having wasted the bulk of it on Malfoy himself.
Crabbe and Goyle looked strangely lost without their handler around, lurking off to the side and darting worried looks at any who drew too close. Harry wondered if Kingsley had thought to question them; they had to have known about Malfoy’s mission, after all. Or at least suspected.
It had been several days now since the whole mess at the Ministry, and locked in his bedroom at the Dursleys’, Harry hadn’t heard a word about Malfoy’s whereabouts nor seen anything in the papers. During his debriefing, Kingsley had seemed more interested in asking Harry about his experience than in fielding questions of Harry’s own, especially when it came to what would become of Malfoy now that he’d managed to transform back. He’d thought the Ministry might want to boast about having caught a Death Eater, as the Prophet seemed to print nothing but bad news about dire happenings and disturbing events that served only to fuel public unrest. Had he been released after all, receiving a lighter sentence due to his being underage? Or perhaps they’d offered him a deal to go turncoat. Malfoy had seemed desperate enough inside his mind; it wasn’t impossible.
It was more than just Hogwarts staff and students here for the service, though. Witches and wizards of all sorts were pouring in from locations far and wide via Hogsmeade—had been all morning. Even Madame Maxime was here, having arrived in her powder-blue carriage hauled by a team of Abraxans.
Hermione inclined her head, suggesting they take their seats. The rows were quickly filling, now, and Harry let his gaze wander.
He caught sight of several Order members here and there—Moody, Tonks alongside a beleaguered Lupin, and the Weasleys, including Percy for once. Kingsley was here as well, to Harry’s surprise, hovering near the back keeping watch as guests trickled in around him. Harry tamped down the urge to push his way through the crowd to ask him what had become of Malfoy in the end; now was hardly the time to satisfy his grim curiosity.
Drawing up alongside Kingsley was Rufus Scrimgeour, the Minister for Magic—and Harry’s lip curled in sour disgust. Perhaps he’d hoped to once again corner Harry for a chat, thinking him vulnerable. Well let him try; he’d find out the hard way Harry had a very particular style of mourning. Unbidden, an image of a white peacock flaring its wings and chasing Scrimgeour into the open arms of the Whomping Willow came to mind, and he hid an inappropriate grin behind a cough.
Other assorted denizens of Diagon Alley Harry had a passing familiarity with were there, but a great many were total strangers, and not all of them looked like Very Important People, a testament to the many varied circles in which Dumbledore had walked.
To his displeasure, Fudge was there as well, and to his even greater displeasure, so was Rita Skeeter, clinging close to Fudge’s side and clutching a notebook and acid-green quill as she hungrily took in the other guests milling about. Harry was going to have a fit if he read some hit-job on Dumbledore in the next morning’s edition of the Prophet, really he was, and she was gonna wish Hermione had turned her in for being an unregistered Animagus.
Of course there was every chance she was here to do a piece on the destruction of Gryffindor Tower—and the person responsible—which would’ve been the height of hypocrisy and thus right up Skeeter’s alley.
Harry would have gladly welcomed both of these interlopers with a hearty handshake and warm embrace, though, if it had meant Dolores Umbridge wouldn’t show her toad-like face at the service—but there she was, crocodile tears already rolling down her overly-rosy cheeks with a huge black velvet bow pinned to an atrocious hat blocking the view of those unfortunate enough to be seated behind her. She blew loudly into a lace handkerchief, trading quiet words with the guests around her that Harry was very glad he wasn’t near enough to catch, lest he be tempted to Banish her on the spot.
Harry was starting to rethink his hierarchy of most-hated people; Malfoy might not even crack the top ten with this lot.
The final guests moved to quickly take their seats as an unnatural hush fell over the crowd. The wind off the lake picked up, and the tree boughs overlooking the service swayed in the breeze. It really was a beautiful day. Too beautiful for this. It made it all the more impossible to accept the reality of the situation. Maybe if it’d been overcast and dreary, the sky opening up and releasing its sorrow in time with the tears of the mourners, Harry might have felt it, it might have hit him, but as it was, it just felt so…off. So unbelievable. Dumbledore didn’t get killed by stupid, cowardly students wielding magics they couldn’t quite understand—he got killed by Grindelwald, he got killed maybe by Voldemort. He got killed by the ravages of old age from which even he couldn’t escape. But this? This was pomp and regality and quiet, and it didn’t fit. It didn’t make a lick of sense.
At his side, Hermione gave a soft little moan, thick with sorrow, and placed a hand on Harry’s arm. He followed her gaze, and his heart clenched quite without his permission.
Shuffling down the aisle parting the sea of guests in a moth-eaten overcoat came Hagrid, blubbering tears streaming down his cheeks and nose red as he sniffled with each intaken breath. He held something in his arms, wrapped carefully in a velvet throw of deep violet that shimmered in the sunlight with inlaid golden stars. With a sick jolt, Harry realised that Hagrid had been named pallbearer, and this was Dumbledore’s body.
The warmth of the sun and the sweet scents carried on the breeze seemed to slip away with the dawning horror that death was so near at hand and in so very dear a form. He could stand up and take three steps and touch it. Dumbledore’s cold, dead body, limp and lifeless in Hagrid’s arms.
Ron at his left was ashen, looking like he was just on the verge of bolting or being sick or both, and Hermione at his right wept openly, tears plopping into her lap and soaking her clutch. Harry turned his gaze ahead, focusing resolutely on the pulpit, and fought against the rising tide of emotion threatening to overwhelm him from within.
No. There was a bright blue sky above, the Great Lake was reflecting the sunlight in glinting sparkles, and this wasn’t happening.
Hagrid carefully laid the body on the marble table, gently rearranging the limbs in quiet repose before turning to reclaim his seat. He blew loudly into a handkerchief as he plodded back down the aisle, earning not a few rude looks. Harry half-considered hexing the offending parties, temper mounting with each passing second, but the thought of Dumbledore’s disapproval from beyond the veil stayed his hand. He could try not being entirely a Gryffindor and behave himself just for this afternoon. He really could.
The eulogy, delivered in a dry, meandering monotone by a wizard Harry didn’t recognise, was perfectly nice and perfectly bland, reeking of Ministry protocol. It was certainly not the sort of eulogy Dumbledore would have written for himself—it even paled in comparison to the silly speeches he’d given in the Great Hall at term start over the years. Dumbledore had never cared for tradition or what was appropriate. He lived in the moment, unapologetically, and said whatever curious things came to mind without filter. He was a lot like Luna in that respect, and Harry reckoned he might have liked to have been a fly on the wall during a conversation between those two, just to see.
The thought brought a small, wan smile to Harry’s lips—that was quickly dashed by the sudden overwhelming reminder of that dreadful truth: that he’d never hear any of those odd Dumbledoreisms again, would never be able to turn to him for advice that would be too cryptic by half, would never hear him say My boy in that fond, grandfatherly tone that both comforted and frustrated.
He was dead. Dead and gone. Not in a blaze of glory as he deserved, but in the stupidest—silliest, really—way possible.
Harry supposed he ought to hate Draco Malfoy for this. For robbing not just the wizarding world of its best defence against Voldemort but Harry, personally, of yet another loved one. Surely Ron hated him—had hated Malfoy long before he’d ever begun dabbling in Animagecraft—and Hermione probably at least resented him, deep down.
But Harry mostly just felt empty. Sapped. Unresponsive—drained by the unfairness of it all. Another loss, another in far too long a line of them, and they just kept coming and coming and coming, and he was so fucking tired of this. Of loving people and then losing them.
“Rely on others and you’re setting yourself up for disappointment.”
It wasn’t the same thing as Malfoy had meant—but it wasn’t entirely different either. He was supposed to be stronger for his support system, but he somehow always only felt weaker for it. Voldemort wasn’t choking back graceless sobs because he’d lost another mentor; Malfoy wasn’t rending his garments because he had the weight of the wizarding world on his shoulders.
But then, this whole thing was Malfoy’s fault in the first place, brought about because he’d loved his parents too fiercely and been too stubborn to ask for help, so Harry supposed that perhaps he shouldn’t be so quick to heed the git’s advice.
Ron brought a hand up, squeezing Harry’s shoulder, and Hermione knocked one of her knees against his, inclining her head as if to say Don’t think we don’t know what you’re thinking, Harry James Potter.
A sudden cry went up, interrupting his dark thoughts, and a wave of gasps rippled across the crowd as the marble slab upon which Dumbledore’s body had been lain exploded in a blinding flash—and when the smoke dissipated, all that was left behind was a stately white tomb, imposing for all its simplicity.
The eulogy had ended, the body had been laid to rest, and that—evidently—was that. Whatever spell of silence had lain across the crowd broke, and a soft din settled as the guests began to gather their belongings to take their leave. Harry sat there for a full minute, watching with quiet horror as everyone filtered back out the way they’d come. It baffled him that such a great man could be mourned and dismissed so quickly. As if they were all supposed to go about their business now.
But maybe that was what happened when you got felled by a fucking child in a mad accident. Of course there were no great speeches about his bravery and astounding intellect and power we can only hope to aspire to when hardly anyone had ever gotten to see it.
Hermione begged a moment to collect herself, and when Ron seemed to miss the obvious suggestion she wanted to be alone for that moment, Harry took him by the elbow and suggested they go say their hellos to Lupin and Tonks.
Before they made it to the other side of the aisle, though, Harry caught sight of Kingsley once more—this time in quiet conversation with McGonagall, who had traded her usual pointed, wide-brim hat for a staid birdcage veil with a sprig of Lily of the Valley behind one ear. Recalling his earlier curiosity, he grappled with the decision to confront Kingsley about Malfoy. The funeral was over; if everyone else was moving on to other matters, surely Harry ought to as well.
He was relieved of the choice when he found himself waylaid by Scrimgeour before he could take three steps, and perhaps thinking Harry might bolt otherwise, the Minister placed a hand on his shoulder and gave a tight, bracing squeeze, guiding him away from Ron. “Harry. I’ve been hoping to get a word with you—would you spare me a moment? I promise I won’t keep you long.”
Harry tried to peek around Scrimgeour—but Kingsley had slipped away, and now McGonagall was speaking with Madam Rosmerta. Perhaps about the plunging neckline she’d chosen in her funeral attire. His irritation piqued again, and he shrugged Scrimgeour away roughly. “I don’t think we’ve really got any words to trade, Minister—”
Scrimgeour seemed to realise niceties would get him nowhere with Harry just now and cut in, tone much curter than only a moment ago, “It’s no great secret you were close with Dumbledore. Closer than most any other student in your time.”
Harry regarded him coolly. “And?”
“…I’ve heard that you travelled with him on an errand off school grounds the night that he died.”
“Have you, then?” Kingsley, of course. Naturally the Minister would have been privy to any details of an ongoing DMLE investigation, and Harry silently cursed himself for assuming Kingsley would place his duty as a member of the Order over that as an Auror.
Scrimgeour dropped his voice and stepped closer, and Harry imagined that the voices around them grew dim and distant, as if they’d just slipped behind a privacy spell. “The Ministry would be ever so interested in knowing just what events preceded Albus Dumbledore’s death. An Animagus transformation gone awry?” Scrimgeour gave a crooked smile. “Seems rather far-fetched something like that could strike down Dumbledore at his peak.”
“Where I went with Dumbledore and what we did is my business and no one else’s. If he’d wanted you to know, I’m sure he would have done so, Sir.”
Scrimgeour gave a rough, derisive little chuckle. “The man’s gone now, Harry. You don’t need to toe his line any longer.”
Harry only firmed his jaw, mentally digging his heels in even deeper—the gall, to speak like this when Dumbledore wasn’t even cold in the metaphorical ground. “I’ve got nothing to discuss with you.”
“I think you have, Harry,” Scrimgeour said, giving him a meaningful look. “We discussed this before—you’re still a prominent figure in the wizarding community, and if you wouldn’t mind speaking perhaps to Miss Skeeter, giving a few words to boost public morale and remind everyone that despite the passing of so great a figure, the Ministry still holds fast, will still keep them safe, is doing its level best to—”
“Level best to what? How exactly are you keeping the people safe, Minister? What exactly should I be telling the public you’re up to?” Harry crossed his arms over his chest. “I heard you rounded up Stan Shunpike—is the wizarding world safer now that the bloke from the Knight Bus is behind bars? And what’s become of Draco Malfoy? I reckon that’s a high-profile case everyone would like to see brought to a just—and public—close. Do I need to sort him out again?”
Scrimgeour flushed, sputtering protests as Harry unleashed on him in a rising volume that was likely drawing the attention of the other guests still milling about—but he was beyond caring. He no longer had anyone reining him in, reminding him he needed to play nicely with these Ministry sorts or else they might meddle in Hogwarts’ affairs. Well Hogwarts’ greatest defender was gone now, and Harry wasn’t long for this place either himself.
“No, Minister, I’m sorry, but I think you won’t be able to rely on my cooperation in the coming months. So take your well wishes, and shove them up your—”
“Harry!” Hermione called, waving a hand at him as she and Ron jogged over.
Scrimgeour threw a dirty look over his shoulder at them, lips tightening with fury, then turned back to Harry, shaking a finger in his face. “We’ll speak again, Potter.”
“You can try, Minister. I don’t know that I’ll be readily available, but by all means.”
Scrimgeour gave him a long, dark glower, before turning to shove his way through Ron and Hermione, stalking away to rejoin the rest of the Ministry delegation waiting to depart.
Ron and Hermione held back just long enough to allow Scrimgeour to get out of earshot before crowding around Harry protectively.
“What did he want?” Hermione whispered, silently running her eyes over his body, perhaps fearing he’d been physically assaulted.
Harry continued to watch Scrimgeour until he was well out of sight. “What do you think? Same as at Christmas. He’s convinced I’m gonna spill about what Dumbledore had been up to the night he died—well he can wait ‘til the sun burns out, I’m not budging.”
“They’re not still on about that, are they?” Ron hissed, joining Harry in glaring at the gaggle of Ministry officials. “Haven’t they got more important things to worry about these days? There’s real, scary shit popping off left and right and they’re gonna tug at this thread?”
“When have you ever known the Ministry to focus on the ‘real, scary shit’ going on in the world when they’ve got a perfectly good scapegoat they can harass instead?” Hermione raised her brows, and Ron seemed to mull this over, giving a reluctant nod.
Hermione turned and glanced back at the ruin of Gryffindor Tower again. She crossed her arms, sighing. “I can’t stop looking at it.”
“It’s like a car wreck,” Harry said. “The eye can’t help but be drawn to the carnage.”
“You two are a barrel of laughs; remind me to invite you to the next funeral,” Ron muttered. “But—I heard they’re recruiting volunteers to help out with the rebuilding over the summer.” He glanced between them. “Maybe we could pitch in?”
It was tempting—it really was. Physical labour under the blazing sun, pouring his blood and sweat into seeing the Tower restored to its former glory with his own two hands (and his wand when necessary). No Dursleys, no dragons, no Dark Lords…
But it was as much a dream, a figment of the imagination, as Malfoy’s dreary moor, and Harry couldn’t go there any more than he could dive back into Malfoy’s mind.
“I’m not coming back after this,” he said.
Ron openly gaped—but Hermione only gave a sad nod, her shoulders slumping. “I had a feeling you were going to say that.”
“Had a feel—?!” Ron boggled. “Did I miss something?!” He turned on Harry, betrayed. “Whadyou mean you aren’t coming back? What’re you gonna be doing instead?”
He didn’t have one, honestly. Only a vague idea of places he wanted to visit, leads he wanted to chase down. “Back to the Dursleys first, I think—but only just a short while.” Dumbledore had seemed to think it was important Harry get all the protection out of the place he could, though he honestly didn’t see the use. But he’d obeyed Dumbledore unfailingly thus far. Why stop now?
“And then?” Ron asked. “Where are you gonna go if not back to school? You’re not of-age yet!”
Harry shrugged. “I’ve got a few places in mind—places I want to visit, just because. Places I feel like there might be Horcrux pieces hiding.” Anywhere but here, he didn’t say. Anywhere but where Dumbledore no longer was. “I mean, they’re still out there, somewhere. I’ve just gotta find them.” There were still four more hidden somewhere, lurking, waiting. And then there was the final bit inside Voldemort himself—now he thought about it, he did have a plan. A very simple one, a very cold one, but those were the best ones. No room for error. Just the doing. “I’m going to find them. And then I’m going to kill him.”
“Right, sounds perfectly simple,” Ron said, flatly. “You’re gonna find them, and then you’re gonna kill him.”
“No—you’re gonna,” Ron repeated, crossing his arms and frowning. “That’s what you said. ‘I’m going to.’ Like you mean to do it alone.”
Harry released a breath in a slow, irritated sigh. “Look—I know you both mean well, I really do appreciate it—”
“Oh, isn’t that lovely, Hermione?” Ron turned to her with a toothy, mirthless grin. “He appreciates us! What a guy, our Harry.”
Hermione wasn’t bothering with pretence. “Harry, we’ve been over this before—”
“But clearly we’re going to have to go over it again,” Ron cut in, dropping his grin.
The barbs cut deeper than Harry had thought they would, in large part because he knew how it seemed. Like he was having second thoughts—like he didn’t think they could handle it.
He knew they could—they were the bravest people he’d ever met, the strongest, most loyal pair of friends a man could ask for. But having just sat through one funeral service he’d not been prepared for, he knew he would never be able to stand for theirs. “I know what I said—but…just…” He shook his head. “This is mine, a mission meant for me. So it ought to be me—no one else needs to get involved.”
Hermione reached to settle a hand on Harry’s shoulder, squeezing none too gently. “You said to us once before…that there was time to turn back if we wanted to.” She looked to Ron, who nodded, then back to Harry. “We’ve had time, haven’t we?”
“Plenty of it,” Ron said. “Dumbledore told you about these things because he means you to destroy them—yeah, I’ll give you that. But he also told you to loop us in. I don’t think he meant you to do so just so we’d have something to laugh about over breakfast the next morning.”
No, Harry didn’t think so either; but this mission had already killed one person Harry had loved. He didn’t know if he could stomach losing any others. “I—I can’t ask you to—”
“Who’s asking?” Ron uncrossed his arms, shoulders slumping, and shoved his hands into the pockets of his shabby blazer. “We’re telling you we’re going.”
“We’re with you, whatever happens,” Hermione added, and her eyes were shining again as she gave a short sniff.
Ron nodded. “Though if we’re gonna go off hunting you-know-whats…we might wanna wait ‘til after the to-do at the Burrow.”
Harry glanced around, looking for Molly and Arthur, but they’d already made their way back to Hogsmeade, it seemed. “Why?”
Ron gave a short little laugh, like the answer was obvious. “Uh, Bill and Fleur’s wedding, remember? They’re planning to hold it before the next term starts—I think maybe Fleur’s been offered a position of some sort at Hogwarts? I dunno the details. But we can’t miss it, Harry—Mum and Dad would be gutted if you couldn’t make it, and they’d kill me if I skipped out.”
“Oh,” Harry said, dumbly. It seemed absurd that anything as normal as a wedding could still be planned at a time like this. But then again, here they were, having a funeral on as beautiful a day as could be asked for. Nothing made sense these days. “No—yeah, you’re right. We shouldn’t miss that.”
As a trio, they marched up the well-trod path back towards the castle, where carriages waited to cart guests down to Hogsmeade Station and respective Apparition and Floo points.
Against his better judgement, Harry had caved in the end, acquiescing to his friends’ insistence. Maybe he was a coward, maybe he’d live to regret not putting up more of a fight. Maybe he’d still wind up slipping out behind Ron and Hermione’s backs before they could make good on their vow to follow him to what could well be their collective doom.
Just at this moment, though, it was a comfort he could not describe, knowing he wasn’t in this alone.
He slipped a hand into his pocket, gripping the fake Horcrux tight like a talisman—and he didn’t glance back at the white tomb again.