It was easier than I had thought.
By that time I had, in a way, come to terms with what had happened out there, what we had lost. And we had lost so much, so much indeed.
But that was in the past, Albus would have wanted it to stay there.
So we held the memorial service, for those who were not there, so they could say goodbye, put it behind them and move on. It would be easier for them, those who did not see the end of it all.
The inglorious, pitiful end.
They could think of heroes, fallen in the heat of battle, giving their lives to save us all. But we were there, and we had said our goodbyes long ago, and so it was easier than I had thought.
To stand up there and talk of memories, the happy ones, because you want to remember the good times, then. You do not want to remember the pleading looks, the eyes that ask to be saved when you know you cannot help them.
And then the peace.
When you say goodbye.
And see the final breath.
So, when you speak of the good times, it doesn't hurt as badly as you thought it would.
I didn't cry.
Not then, anyway.
After the service we gathered, without even agreeing to. We were sick of the simplicity and splendour with which it had all come and gone, time for our own service, to remember what we saw.
The squalor and not the glory.
Lupin walked there with me, in silence, but then, what was there to say?
We took a table in the corner, took the table and a bottle of scotch.
He looked as old as I felt, and I felt older than Albus had been. Weasley and Miss Granger joined us shortly after, no offers were made and they did not ask, but Lupin knew and he simply poured them each a drink as well.
Severus was next, and last, and there we were, the few who survived.
But we didn't survive, at least, not in my eyes.
The other's survived; they went on, unchained by the toil of being a hero for something that was not heroic.
For as I said, it was inglorious.
Too easily done, too much pointless bloodshed, too many lives lost that could have been saved.
Weasley is barely restraining his hatred for Severus when he joins us. Miss Granger is all that keeps him from destroying what is left of the poor man, the fragile shell that remains. But I can tell, I see it in his eyes; it is himself that he hates. But Weasley does not understand that, and so he blames Severus for what happened. For Potter's death.
We were careless, you see, when victory came so swift. No one had expected to simply walk in and have it done with in a matter of moments. But that was what happened. And we were not prepared for what came after, the battle after the victory. It should have happened the other way around, we would have been ready, but instead we were surprised. And because of our folly, because it was all too simple, we failed in that moment. We failed and fell.
Potter had been leading, followed by Weasley and Severus. He died first, he turned that corner before any of the rest of us, and it cost him his life. Weasley will forget that he had gestured for Potter to lead, forget that because it is less painful to blame others. Black had transformed, to keep the Death Eater who had taken Potter from taking Lupin as well, and while the effort certainly saved Lupin’s life it cost him his own. The Death Eater died as well, a small consolation I suppose, but then what he did to the dog at his throat was not what one would call wise. Young Malfoy had been an unexpected ally, and died in the crossfire, fighting for us, dressed as the enemy. Hagrid was the only one whose death was even slightly heroic, he shielded Albus and I, but he could only shield us from the front, and for his sake I am glad he did not live to see what followed. And then, then I felt the hand on my arm and the knife at my throat and Lucius Malfoy who demanded Albus’s life for mine. That was when I cried. And I missed what happened, but then I was free and Albus was dying. That was when he told me, the reason why I am here, and then my great friend was gone.
There were no heroes, only fools.
Lupin is perhaps strongest of all of us. Or perhaps he is simply carrying on because now he must. Black saved his life, and perhaps doing so gave Lupin a reason to live, a reason he so badly needed.
I will go on. I will go on because that is what is expected of me.
Albus wanted it that way.
So I am now the leader, and I do not know how to lead. I wonder if he felt the same way, but it was different then.
I look around the table, at the few who shared that journey with me.
They do look to me now.
I poured another round of drinks. We are on the third bottle already. No one has said a word yet. We are beyond the need for them
They say that which does not kill you makes you stronger. I would have chosen death, I think.
But fate is cruel.
So it was easier than I thought, but tomorrow, tomorrow will be harder. When I can no longer pretend that night did not happen. When I will remember the indignity of it all. When I cannot hide behind the mask of a hero.
I look at them again. And then I know what to do.
How to lay the past to rest, once and for all. How to remember and forget.
I raised my glass in a toast.
‘But since it fell to my lot
That I should rise and you should not
I gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all
So fill to me the parting glass
And drink to health 'fore ill befalls
Then gently rise and softly call
Good night and joy be to you all.’
They raised their glasses back.
‘Good night and joy be to you all.’
It was easier than I had thought.