A/N: Yes, this is the final chapter of Harry's Loophole. Longer A/N at end of chapter - for now, here's the story.
Chapter Twenty-One: Graduation, Pt. 2
Jolted from his ambling reverie, Harry glanced down a side corridor to see Ginny beckoning him. He followed her automatically – she did seem to enjoy bossing him around, he'd noticed over the years.
She led him into an empty classroom, and cast several locking charms on the door. Harry raised an eyebrow, and she grinned. As usual, he couldn't help but mirror her.
"Harry," she said more quietly, "I..."
"You know I used to have a huge crush on you, don't you?"
"You know I got over it sometime around fourth year?"
Harry nodded again.
"Hermione told me. She's good like that."
"It's... Harry, you're about to go away. And I'll miss you as a friend, definitely, but there's more. There always will be more, with you. There's nothing I can do about that."
Harry opened his mouth to speak, but Ginny held up a hand.
"The truth is I never did get over you, and I don't think I ever really will. I just gave up on ever being with you. And Harry, I know. That hasn't changed. It still wouldn't work."
Again Harry opened his mouth, and again Ginny held up a hand.
"I can't be with you, and you can't be with me. I know. I have Quidditch and Hogwarts, in that order, and you have Hermione and politics and research. In that order."
Harry stared at her. She laughed.
"I'm not stupid, Harry. I've seen the way you look at her. I mean, I've seen the way you look at me, too. If you'd started looking at me like that a bit bloody sooner, then maybe we'd have a different story to tell. But you're going off to save the world again, and I'm still stuck here at Hogwarts for another year. And even when I do graduate, I honestly won't have time for a boyfriend. Unless he was in the League, of course, and I know you're not interested in that."
Harry gave a slight shake of his head, as if to clear it. His gaze suddenly became a lot less vague.
"How long have you been planning this scene, Ginny?"
"A couple of months."
Harry took a half-step forward, then stopped irresolutely.
He looked up at her face, seeming suddenly to regain his humour.
"So, what comes next in the scene?"
Cheeks flaming, Ginny spun and walked away until she reached a wall. She leaned against it, still facing away from Harry.
"What do you think, Harry? Ugh, I feel like such an idiot."
Eventually Harry walked over, and tentatively touched Ginny's shoulder. She flinched, then spun around to face him.
He met her eyes, trying to ignore the jolt in his brain when he did so, and likewise trying to ignore the force that seemed to be pulling his face towards hers.
"Ginny, you're not an idiot. You just..."
He looked away.
"Ugh, this is hard."
She stared at the floor, blushing furiously.
Harry laughed bitterly.
"Maybe we're both idiots."
Ginny shrugged, and looked up to meet his eyes again. Good grief, those eyes... She shook her head sharply – too late for that.
As Harry stared awkwardly at a point just above Ginny's eyes, Ginny became uncomfortably aware of just how overwhelmingly close he was. Her back was pressed against the stone wall of the classroom, and he – well, he probably didn't realise just how much he was looming over her. He definitely didn't know what it was doing to her, she thought, as her eyes widened slightly.
Finally Harry met her eyes. He opened his mouth as if to say something, then shut it again. He took a step backwards, then turned and began pacing restlessly.
Eventually, Ginny broke the silence.
"Ugh, good work Ginny. I should go."
Harry stopped and looked at her.
"Ginny... Look, bugger this, alright? I don't want to lose you as a friend, and I absolutely refuse to be this bloody awkward with you. You're gorgeous, alright, and even I'm not dim enough to miss it. You're brilliant, you're funny, you're a genuinely lovely person. Absolutely I find you attractive, never doubt that. I mean, I think you're right, I really don't think we can be together, but never ever think it's anything about you not being good enough. Alright?"
Ginny studied his face for a few seconds, then grinned.
"Done. I keep annoying you, you keep annoying me, and we both pretend that we're not in any way thinking about snogging each other's brains out."
Harry floundered helplessly for a moment before rallying. He nodded gravely.
"That seems fair."
In the Great Hall, Harry found Hermione and Ron chatting amiably. Ron turned as his best mate arrived.
"Harry mate, glad you could make it. We were starting to think you'd had a better offer."
"You know how it is, mate – people to see, and all that. I wouldn't miss this, though. Apart from anything else, I'd hate to disappoint all the people who have bets riding on it. Me living long enough to graduate, that is."
Ron laughed, and Hermione glared.
"That's not funny, Harry! You know I still have nightmares about you dying."
Harry looked away.
Ron broke the silence a few seconds later.
"OK, so, we all know about my plans – straight to starting Keeper with the Cannons. I'm sure I've talked your ears off enough about it. But I'm still not really sure what you two are doing. Research? Something with the Ministry?"
Harry and Hermione exchanged a surprised glance. Had they really left Ron so much in the dark? Hermione nodded slightly, and Harry answered.
"I'm basically trying to reform the Ministry, with Hermione's help. And Hermione's trying to rewrite the laws of magic, with my help. That's the plan, anyway."
"Fair enough. Didn't really think you'd be a Ministry type like Percy, but anyone can tell Hermione was born to do research."
"Not much like Percy, I don't think, mate – he's all about the rules, and I want to change them all."
Ron raised an eyebrow, and Harry continued.
"I think I'm going to annoy your brother pretty badly, if things go well for me there."
"Ah well, it'll do him good. He always was wound a bit tight, was Percy."
Harry finally found his seat, sitting with Sirius and Remus.
Harry gave each man a quick hug in passing, as he moved to his seat and sat down.
"Sirius, Remus, hi!"
Sirius smiled slightly.
"Harry, you might be able to help us. We're trying to figure out... well, how you became the sort of person that Hermione Granger would take seriously, intellectually. We... We really didn't see what was happening, at the time."
"No big secret there, Padfoot – fourth year happened. I mean, for a start, it's amazing how much more time you have once you stop bothering with all the stuff that you're only doing because other people think you should. Like, take History of Magic. I probably know more about that than anyone else in my year, maybe even Hermione. I definitely know a lot more than what Binns has ever taught us. But actually going to classes for that? Waste of time. Complete waste of time. So I didn't, and that's that much more time I had for other things. Same with Divination, though that one I actually managed to drop."
Remus, who knew far less about Harry's subject choices, shot him a startled look.
"Hang on, when did you drop Divination?"
Harry looked puzzled.
"End of fourth year, why?"
"Um... How did you do that? You'd have still needed two electives, and wouldn't it have been too late to pick one up?"
"Yeah, I picked up Ancient Runes."
Remus stared at him.
"You picked up Ancient Runes at the start of fifth year? Harry, that'd mean covering three years of classwork in a single year!"
Harry smiled wryly.
"I know, believe me. Hermione tutored me all through the holidays after fourth year, and I even had a few lessons with Bill Weasley towards the end. I'd never worked so hard in my life, mind you, but by the start of fifth year I was actually a bit ahead of the class. I kept working with Hermione and occasionally with Bill, and I got a pretty comfortable O on my OWL. And then my NEWT, for that matter."
Remus inclined his head.
"I'm impressed, Harry - well done. Seriously, very well done. Your mother would be impressed, and I can give no higher praise than that."
Albus raised his hands for silence, and the packed Great Hall fell silent. The old man smiled genially.
"We're here today to acknowledge the achievements of the fine students who are graduating today, the Hogwarts class of 1997.
"I could talk about their remarkable academic achievements. At the top, a handful of extraordinary students have done things that we hadn't seen in many decades. Overall, on average this cohort has higher marks than any since sometime last century. And perhaps most importantly, even the weakest among them have done better this year than for many years prior.
"This group of students, to my enduring delight, has set aside unfriendly rivalries to an extent that even I had never seen in Hogwarts before. They all work together regardless of House affiliation, and in just a few years they've transformed the entire school likewise."
"I say a few short years, my friends, because this remarkable state of affairs truly came about only at the end of the Triwizard Tournament three years ago. Harry Potter was kidnapped on the orders of Voldemort – yes, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named – to be used in a ritual which restored him to a real living body."
Dumbledore paused again, as the audience dealt with that revelation.
"The ritual was successful, I'm afraid, and Harry Potter faced a Dark Lord stronger and more terrible than ever. Mr Potter survived Voldemort's Killing Curse – again – and then... Ladies and gentlemen, as a fourth-year student, Harry Potter killed Voldemort. Again."
There was pandemonium in the Great Hall, and for several minutes Dumbledore let it run its course. This was, after all, a great shock to almost everyone. When the noise finally began to die down, he held up his hands for silence.
"I personally saw the aftermath. Harry Potter unconscious, magically exhausted from casting such powerful spells as a mere fourth-year. Peter Pettigrew, Stunned. And Voldemort's new body, headless.
"Harry and I, with help from a few trustworthy people at the Ministry, were able to capture the remaining Death Eaters and bring them to trial. Happily, we were able to do this before the... less trustworthy... Ministry people could interfere."
A ripple ran through the audience, as Dumbledore went on.
"I wish to be perfectly clear; at that time Minister Fudge was owned outright by Lucius Malfoy, the then Lord Malfoy."
The audience fell deathly silent; Dumbledore saw a sea of slack jaws before him, and smiled faintly.
In the silence, everyone could hear Fudge's quiet command to his Auror guards.
The silence shifted, from slack to tense. Dumbledore looked across at Fudge and his reluctant Aurors.
"Arrest me, Cornelius? For what crime?"
As Fudge spluttered, Amelia Bones stood up and caught the Aurors' eyes. She nodded decisively.
"Aurors, arrest the Minister!"
The Aurors did so, looking remarkably relaxed now that their boss had taken responsibility for the situation. Technically the Minister had authority over the Director of the DMLE, but really the Aurors answered to Amelia Bones. She had earned their respect over the years, while Cornelius Fudge most definitely had not – he had held his position for so long only because no one had made the effort to remove him, and because he had been careful not to annoy anyone too much.
Once the former Minister had been removed, Dumbledore stepped forward again.
"My apologies, ladies and gentlemen – I had not intended such a scene. Now, where was I? Ah yes, the... corruptibility... of the Ministry at that time. Clearly we've come a long way since then."
A few people chuckled, and he went on.
"Now, no doubt you're all aware how Harry Potter insisted on giving the convicted Death Eaters a second chance. Peter Pettigrew squandered that chance, and is now living out his life as a Muggle tradesman with no memory of the events that had so warped his character."
Interestingly, many in the audience seemed more horrified by this than they had been by the return of Voldemort or the arrest of the Minister. Dumbledore smiled.
"Actually he's doing rather well for himself now – as his former Headmaster I can say that I've never seen him look so happy."
Some audience members, especially among the more traditional pureblood families, seemed even more appalled by this. Dumbledore nodded slightly.
"As for the other freed Death Eaters, we've had no further trouble from any of them. For that matter, several are in this room right now. I won't point them out, but I say this to you all - they are always welcome in my school, as you all are."
A pause, then Dumbledore continued.
"Now, I expect you're all wondering how it was that Voldemort was able to return in the first place. After all, didn't we find his burned and lifeless body in Godric's Hollow all those years ago?
"We now know that Voldemort had delved into the darkest arts, and had stored pieces of his soul in containers called Horcruxes. This required many acts of true evil, and it damaged him in several rather significant respects, but it did allow him to linger as some sort of shade after his body was destroyed.
"With help from Peter Pettigrew, this shade was bound to a new body – not precisely human, but near enough to serve its purpose. And as I mentioned earlier, this new body was promptly decapitated by Harry Potter.
"Now, at that time there were still a number of Horcruxes tying the twice-dead Voldemort to this world. Mr Potter and I were able to retrieve them, but I must most earnestly thank the Goblin Nation for actually cleansing those items. Not only is every piece of Voldemort's soul now gone from this plane, but we were able to recover the priceless historical and magical artefacts which he had corrupted to his use.
"Again, my thanks to the Goblin Nation. I sincerely hope that Wizarding Britain can improve upon its frankly stupid mistreatment of the Goblin Nation."
There was a murmuring throughout the Hall, as the audience tried to understand this latest shock.
"And now," said the Headmaster cheerfully, "I believe Harry Potter has something to say."
Harry stood beside Albus and stared out at the waiting audience.
"Um... This is actually a complete surprise to me – I... I hadn't actually planned to say anything. So, um, sorry if I don't make much sense?"
The crowd laughed, and Harry smiled as he went on.
"Look, I'll keep this short. Things are changing in our world – we all know that. After centuries of those so-called Goblin rebellions that Binns likes to bang on about, we finally have a chance for lasting peace and friendship with the Goblin Nation. After however long of Voldemort and his nonsense, and Grindelwald before that, we don't seem to have a Dark Lord around to make our lives hard. Or short, for that matter. Um... Look, we're about to have another election for Minister. We were about to anyway, even before Fudge... um, opened up the position. I just want you all to be the first to know, I want to be your next Minister for Magic. I think we all know there's a lot wrong with our Ministry right now, and I want to fix it. So, yeah, Harry Potter for Minister!"
Harry was entirely unprepared for the deafening applause – he still hadn't really understood how Magical Britain thought about the Boy Who Lived. He blushed a deep red, but couldn't help smiling as the cheering went on and on. Maybe this wouldn't be as hard as he thought.
A/N: Holy cow it's done! There will probably be a sequel, but it will be quite a different story - Harry's Loophole itself is officially finished. As I write this note, the fic has: 102 communities, 658 reviews, 1,590 favourites, 2,375 followers, and a whopping 429,922 views. Let me tell you, I did not expect anything like that sort of response. I am profoundly grateful to all of you, and especially to those of you who took my work seriously enough to engage with it intellectually. And yes, that does include most of the critical reviewers also. This story is far better than I could have made it on my own, and frankly I doubt I'd have finished it at all without a readership to encourage me. I thank you all from the bottom of my heart - I'm not exaggerating much at all when I say you've made an author of me.
On that note, a huge thank-you to my tireless beta Animekitty47. You've saved me from countless errors on a number of levels, given thoughtful opinions about all sorts of things, and prodded and/or reassured me as necessary. You've improved this story significantly all the way along, not least by prompting me to keep writing it. But it's more than that: I can't entirely convey the practical and psychological importance of always having an intelligent second opinion available. The writing of fiction is a doubt-riddled enterprise at times, at least for me, and it's tremendously helpful to have a trusted reality check to call on when needed. Thank you. You know the rest, after the millions of words we've exchanged. And yes, I did just do the math on that.
Love and joy,