And so it's the end of an era. As with all epilogues, you can take this or leave it as you choose. It's not a full length chapter. But it's a scene that was written before Chapter 7 forced its way into existence and I have to admit, I like it. So it stays. And so here it is. There is of course the chance that it is utterly pointless, but there are worse fates in the world than that.
To the Guest reviewer who commented on how so many fics around suicide centre on the 'TRUELY pointless guilt of those around the victim'; there may be no rational point to it but that is the human reaction. Even those who have done absolutely everything possible for an individual, who have given huge amounts of time and energy to keeping someone safe, who have never failed once to put that person s needs ahead of their own; even they who have no nothing to be ashamed off still feel tremendously guilty. For those of us mere mortals who slip up and make mistakes (and in the case of the Hogwarts staff, oh boy did they make a few) then that guilt is paralysing; you second guess yourself constantly with the idea of 'could I have done more'. You do a vast disservice to everyone who has lived that by calling it 'flatulence'.
A huge thanks as always for the reviews and I'm glad that the last chapter was taken so well. So glad in fact that I managed to proof and finish this epilogue in absolutely record time and actually finish a Harry Potter fiction! Miracles happen! It is with great relief and a fair amount of pride that I mark this... COMPLETE!
Standing in the Great Hall of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I cannot help but reflect on how far we have come. How far we have all come. I am surrounded by the wounded and the dead and I know that the sorrow will come, the grief will hit, but for now I can feel nothing but pride. We stood, side by side, we stood and we defended our home, our future and the next generations future from a psychopathic madman. We stood strong. And we won. That win came with losses. All wars come with losses.
Cedric was the first of far too many of my students to fall before the madness that was the Dark Lord, except now we can strip away all of the pretensions and call him by his real name. Tom Riddle, psychopathic madman. Killer of children. Too many children. Names and faces that will be engraved in my heart forever. But now is not a time for weeping. Now is not a time for mourning. Now is a time for strength, for celebration and for hope of the future to come. Strength in unity. Strength together.
For I am standing next to my boys, my girls. All of my children. I am surrounded by an army of my house, nearly all of them too young to be an army and yet every one of them refused to leave my side, to leave Hogwarts. Every one of them stood and fought. We have been through a lot these last two years. This school of mine was changed from a hallowed place of learning into a veritable army training house. I tried to stop it. I stood in front of my youngsters and I told them to leave. I ordered them to stand down. And they refused. They presented me with a case as tight as an Unbreakable Vow; there was nowhere more secure than Hogwarts. There was nowhere that could stand against the forces of evil for longer. If I sent my children home, I would only be sending them to their deaths.
Only two years ago, I was faced with two broken, terrified children. Boys who felt so alone, so ashamed of themselves that they chose their own destruction over life. Now I look at my boys, my children with more pride than I can bear. They have been forced to become men far sooner than I would have chosen. Yet, they have become men with grace and strength. They stood before me and presented me with the only plan that could work. Hogwarts was to become a fortress. And whilst of course the youngest would be evacuated, they would only be evacuated at the very last moment, when attention was already centred on Hogwarts and the school would be become a battlefield. My boys stood with Amos, Arthur, Augusta and Remus to state their case. They have learned that they are not alone. They have learned they can depend on those around them.
Had I my way, all of my current students would have been long gone from Hogwarts well before this battle started. Prophecy or no prophecy, once all the Horcrux's were destroyed then Tom Riddle was just a man and made of flesh and blood. There were countless of us to vie for the honour of landing that final blow. As it was, I was overruled. By my head-strong, brave, generous and strong young lions. And yet they were not alone. Filius, Pomona and Severus stood with them. We finally stand here together; four houses, united at last. The snake lies down with the lion, the raven sits on the shoulder of the badger and we are in peace with one another. That I can lay at Severus' door. It took a vast amount of courage to come forward as a spy after Albus' death. It meant he could never pass beyond the boundaries of Hogwarts itself. And yet, he saved countless young lives by doing so. Many of those we thought well past redemption.
When Albus died, it was as though the world stopped turning. He hadn't told anyone but Severus that whatever had affected his hand was killing him, slowly but surely. He hadn't told anyone that Draco Malfoy had been enlisted to kill him. It was Severus who told me. It was Severus who brought Draco to me. But it was Amos who told me about the Horcrux's. If Albus had not already been dead, I would have killed him myself. After all my boy had been through. After everything we had done. Albus still laid another burden on that child's shoulders. And then he died. I don't know what he expected Harry to do. Go off on a wild niffler chase across the United Kingdom in search of those evil things? Or maybe he was going to tell me and died before he had a chance. On days when I am feeling charitable, I consider that interpretation.
On my less charitable days, I wish there was a way to resurrect people if only so you could kill them again. I have no doubts that Albus loved Harry. But he never let himself love the boy like a father. He always stayed one step removed because the war was more important. Hundreds if not thousands of lives revolved around the war it is true, but there were better ways of doing it. To think that he left one of my precious boys to discover alone that he was the final Horcrux. That a part of Riddle's evil soul had been nestled in his head all these years. It was Severus who worked that out as well. It was Filius, Horace and Merlin knows what contacts that man pulled out of the woodwork who discovered how to extract it without killing the boy.
It has been a hard two years and standing in front of the Ministry was merely a taste of what was to come. It has been frightening, terrifying, difficult and heart-breaking at turns. On all of us. And now we stand here together. All of us. Not just my young Griffins. It has taken us too many years but finally we have united Hogwarts. We have fixed the breaks and the holes. There are scars, some of them more obvious than others. Individually and collectively, there will always be scars. But we can and we will work through them together. And so I stand, surrounded by an army of children. An army of children who all had to grow up far too soon. I stand surrounded by death and injury, cries of pain and fear. But we stand. Together we stand.
A girl, slight of frame and covered in dust and grime, blood and dirt comes running into the Great Hall and it is only her voice that is recognisable. Her bright blonde hair is matted and dingy, a deep gash down her cheek drips blood down what is left of her outer robe but she is running, full pelt into the hall. Her eyes immediately fix on our group and I gesture with a genuine smile at the two young men beside me.
No longer boys. Perhaps they have never been allowed to be boys. But now as men Neville and Harry stand side by side, Ron to Harry's right and Hermione by his side. But to that particular young lady, it is as none of the rest of us exists. Her eyes are only for one man. Neville glances sideways at his companions, not to ask permission as much as to ensure they are all standing and then breaks ranks with a wordless cry. The girl stumbles at the last step and is caught by the subject of her attention.
In the wake of all this grief and pain, I can't help but smile. If I was a betting woman, I'd have put galleons on those two years ago. Unfortunately I'm not a betting woman. But I can't help but feel a certain level of satisfaction. Despite the girls reputation there is no airy faerie nonsense about her now. She attaches herself to my young griffin unceremoniously and he lifts her into his arms effortlessly. I can't catch what is being said, but I don't bother to suppress a grin. I can more than imagine.
I glance back to see how Augusta is taking this new development, but she is merely looking on at her son as slim legs wrap themselves around his torso with a somewhat bemused expression, but a slight smile that reaches her eyes. In fact glancing across the entire group of adults, as every man and woman standing here today has more than earned their status as an adult of age or not, every one of them is watching with amusement at this display of young love.
"Put him down Luna," Harry eventually steps forward with a wry smile at the couple's antics. "You don't know where in Merlin's beard he's been."
As I had anticipated, Luna shows no sign that she has even heard and is certainly not going to pay any heed to the advice. Judging from the fond smile on Potter's face as he looks at the two of them, I don't think he believed he would be heeded anyway. Instead he strides across to the two of them and bodily lifts the girl off her unresisting, prey, moving her into a shoulder lift as she laughingly screeches at him. It does my heart good to see such unthinking boyishness from that young man, even now, when we have become accustomed to smiles that fully reach those emerald eyes.
I can see tiredness in his eyes, in his face, in his manner, but no more than every one of us is feeling. There will be grief when the true cost of this battle is accounted for, but it will be a grief shared with all of us. I can trust that it will not be a grief shouldered alone, the burden growing steadily heavier on the shoulders of one who does not have the capacity to carry any more. It will be shared. And mixed in with that grief will be memories, stories shared around the table, guilty laughter eventually coming out into the open. It will take time. But we will all heal. Together.
For now, I am to forget about the inevitable cost, the coming tears and regret and instead take great joy and pride in the young men and women standing in front of. All of them have made me immeasurably proud. But in particular two of them. Both born to those who thrice defied Tom Riddle as the seventh month dies, only one marked as an equal but working together with the help and support of those around them. I don't put much stock in prophecies. I never have and I never will. I am a firm believer that oft or not they are self-fulfilling and that by hearing it and believing it you will make it come true. Whether I believe or not though, that was not a burden for a child to bear alone. It was not a burden for a child to bear at all.
But if the prophecy is to be taken literally, if we did actually fulfil it, you only need look around those assembled to see what both Harry and Neville have that Tom Riddle knew not.
Amos' hand resting lightly on a shoulder and Augusta's proud smile as she looks at her grandson.
Luna's arms wrapped tightly around the young man that she loves, her forehead pressed to his shoulder and the adoration clear in those hazel eyes as he encloses her in his arms.
The way neither Ron nor Hermione's eyes leave their friend, their hands clasped together; forever entwined by what they have come together.
The fiercely protective glow in Remus' golden eyes as he looks on the young man who is his Godson in all but name, the man he has named Godson to his own son, as yet a babe in arms.
The bond between these three young men, closer than brothers, and those who have fought by their side.
Albus was in some ways, completely correct. The power that Tom Riddle does not know, cannot know, is love. But it is that very love that means that neither Harry nor Neville are isolated. It is that very love which means they are surrounded by those who will protect them to the end. And it is in all the important ways that Albus was wrong.
Because love only gets more powerful the more it is shared.
By isolating my boys, Albus nearly crippled them. But together, together we stand strong.
Together we will rebuild, we will mourn and we will rejoice. In the warmth of the fire we will share memories of those lost and those still with us. We will love and in that love there will be another generation of young witches and wizards crossing the hallowed halls of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry who will never need to experience the fear, the hatred and the pain that their parents, grandparents and even great-grandparents experienced.
But all that is many years in the future. Today we have won. More than one battle and perhaps the most important battle of all was not the one in which the most blood has been spilled.
The most important battle was fought behind closed doors with tear filled voices and frantic pounding on an unwilling chest.
Looking into sparkling emerald eyes, full of life and love, I can only smile.
Together we stand. And so we stand strong.