Here, as promised, a short epilogue. If there will be a sequel, I'll only start it after the Horcrux story is done, so presumably around next New Year.
Whole story beta-read now, thanks to Butterfly83.
Forbidden Forest – 20 months later
"You should have been there, old friend."
Albus' face showed the same mix of sadness and happy contemplation he felt every time he visited the grave of Severus Snape. With slow, careful motions he drew a brush from one of his many pockets and started to clean the grave stone by hand. He took his time doing it. It was some kind of ritual he used to calm down from the daily rush, to rid his mind of any problems that were troubling him. For a moment his eyes rested on the hand that was guiding the brush. It was slightly darker than the other one, the skin a tad more leather-like and his feeling was similar to wearing a glove the whole time. Still it was fully useable and the simple fact that he hadn't lost it was something to be celebrated.
Cullen had kept his word and used the Christmas break after the battle to take care of Albus' hand. In a ritual similar to the one he had used on Harry, he and his circle of "Templar Squibs" had cleansed the dark curse from his hand. Argus Filch had been there, proof of the wisdom of Albus' decision decades ago to entrust the grumpy man with the job of being Hogwarts' caretaker. Petunia Evans and Ben Granger had been there as well and Marius Black, naturally.
It still stunned Albus every time he thought about Black. Since Sirius had reinstated him into the folds of the Black family and since his part in the final battle had become known, he belonged to a growing number of squibs accepted in magical circles. A part of this was certainly caused by his new job at St. Mungo's. Right after the battle, Senior Healer Prewitt had ignored any objections of the board of directors and hired the man as the first squib curse breaker. It had been an incredible far-sighted decision, one that saved at least a dozen lives since then. Especially in the first months there had been many incidents requiring his very unique kind of help and the DMLE had more than once borrowed his services as backup when investigating the house of a Death Eater. At least two Aurors owed him their lives, or so Kingsley told him.
Content with a job well done, Albus stored the brush away and stared at the gravestone. They had followed Minerva's advice and erected the grave on the grounds of Hogwarts but within the edge of the Forbidden Forest, still reachable for someone like Albus but not where annoying tourists would seek out. Severus had rightfully been put on the list of war heroes, and even got an Order of Merlin, one of only a handful getting the First Class. His name was inscribed on the memorial plaque at the Ministry as well. Still, he would hate too much attention, too much praise from the same people that had cursed his name for years. Here he would be safe and peaceful in his rest.
Albus liked the engraved stone. He believed that Severus would have liked it too even if there certainly would have been a lot of hissing and complaining on the outside. Severus always had a reputation to uphold. No less than Luna Lovegood had been the one to design the stone.
9th of January 1960 – 31st of October 1996
Peerless Potions Master
Loyal friend to his last breath
You repented and you are forgiven.
Two female shapes adorned the grave stone, one wearing a lily in her hand, the other a flower unknown to Albus. While he had no trouble recognizing Lily Evans/Potter, Luna had to explain to him that the other shape was Mother Rosalia and the flower an "Andraste's tear". Lily had been his first friend, the one guiding him through all his life. Rosalia had been the one to absolve him at death's door, using Luna Lovegood's mouth to speak the words Severus needed to hear. She would take care of him in the afterlife. Luna had been certain about that part and after everything Albus had seen in his time around Cullen, he had no doubt about that claim anymore.
"They left, Severus," Albus sighed with a very weak smile on his lips. "It's unbelievable, isn't it? Seven years ago a little boy with black hair and a Muggleborn witch with an unruly mane entered our lives and school. And today they left, got their NEWTs and won't return next September. She was our valedictorian – Miss Granger I mean. You expected that to happen for a long time, did you not? You already mentioned it after a few months, and after she solved your riddle in her first year, you were certain. She was head girl, too, no surprise there. I wanted to make Harry head boy, but he refused, willing to have a year without duties asides from the NEWTs and his girlfriend. So we made Draco head boy, partially due to how he changed since the battle, and partially to further house unity."
Albus smiled, thinking about Hermione Granger. "She was thinking about declining, too, but Harry convinced her otherwise. It had been her dream since she entered Hogwarts and he wanted her to take that chance. But you would have been proud about how she changed since fifth year. She has really grown up and relaxed at the same time. I think Harry had been good for her, even if I expect you to deny it," Albus said with a grin, half expecting to hear Severus roll in his grave.
"These are from her," Albus more stated than asked, his hand caressing the bunch of flowers adorning the grave – lilies. "It's quite a nice piece of magic to get them to last for a full year in full bloom." Albus knew that Hermione had created them in respect of Severus' actions and in thanks to him sacrificing his own life to save Harry's. He had no doubt he would see her here again in the first week of November. Harry would accompany her, again. Who would have expected to see a Potter grief at Severus' grave? Certainly not James Potter. Lily however, Albus was certain, would have been happy. She may have broken her ties to her former childhood friend after the "Mudblood" incident, but from their long talks when the Potters had been in hiding, Albus knew that Lily had never forgotten the unsocial boy who had been the one to introduce her to a completely new world, her first friend.
"Far too many died, old friend."
Albus' hand caressed the stone for a moment. "I know: you always had a harsher view on the matter, but their deaths, even those of Tom's followers, even those of the cruellest ones, they burden my conscience. The most prominent death perhaps was the one of Fenrir Greyback. It caused quite an uproar and – as I have to admit – quite a number of whoopees, too. Not only did one of the most infamous, vicious and bloodthirsty Death Eaters die with him, a Werewolf willing to bite even children as he had done for decades, but it was a squib who killed him – with a Muggle weapon. It wasn't a killing curse that brought him down, Severus; not a Reducto or Blasting curse, but a medieval crossbow with a silver-tipped bolt."
Albus sighed again, his face a mask of sadness. "The Carrows died too, Travers and Goyle as a part of the distraction attack; Rookwood was killed through Cullen's sword; Dolohov was defeated by Harry seconds after he hit you with his curse. I know he had nightmares for weeks, but the Grangers helped him to handle the experience – and Miss Lovegood as well. She's surprisingly good at this kind of things."
Albus looked thoughtful for a moment. "A little weird was the death of Theodore Nott. Apparently he had a weak heart and the stress was too much. He was found dead after the battle, without any signs of spells hitting him. His poor sister Ophelia is on her own now but she's handling it well. She's working with Narcissa Black on reshaping the pureblood society, with the help of Andy Tonks by the way. It's slow work apparently, but they're making progress. Integrating foreign families and Muggleborns but keeping parts of the traditions at the same time. I hope I'll live long enough to see them succeed."
One of the things the three women were working on, one of the things Albus wasn't too certain how to felt about, were their political plans. Andy Tonks had suggested creating something akin to the British Muggle system and it seemed the idea won more and more supporters, surprisingly among the oldest pureblood families. She wanted to create a House of Lords with seats for the oldest families and those which had done great service to the magical society. The idea pleased them and gave the pureblood families a continued influence and an accepted kind of nobility. In addition there would be a Parliament, the details still unclear, but with some kind of election system. Muggleborn and Half-Bloods would be part of the Parliament as would younger and/or poorer pureblood families which so far had no voice in the Wizengamot. It wasn't something that could be established overnight and had to be planned and done very carefully, but he had no doubt the three ladies would be successful.
"Two more of his followers died since the battle," Albus continued softly. "While Gibbon got only a lenient sentence and Marcus Flint even got a suspended sentence, Rowle was punished harshly. In the end the sentence was unimportant, because he died three weeks later under suspicious circumstances. The DMLE wasn't able to solve the matter. Apparently one of the families who suffered from his crimes was able to muster help from the Azkaban wardens and executed revenge."
Albus hadn't been happy about the deed. Revenge wasn't something he could agree with. However, he understood the feeling. He had felt the same after those Muggles raped his little sister a century ago. Perhaps something like this had happened again. After all Andy Tonks had nearly been one of his victims and he trusted both Andy and Narcissa from the House of Black to exact revenge like this.
"Bellatrix LeStrange is dead too. She got the Kiss and died a few months later. She was the last wizard or witch to get that punishment, as Amelia and Cullen convinced the Wizengamot to stop using Dementors as guards and executors. The matter of what to do with them is still unresolved. I fear it will be a problem for years to come. For now they're imprisoned in one of the North Sea islands because of their part in Tom's crimes. It's not a permanent solution, naturally." In a way Albus was happy that he didn't have to decide about their fate anymore. He had no idea how to solve the problem. Only about one thing he was quite certain: they wouldn't return to Azkaban.
Albus' face softened into a smile. "A sweet detail: Marcus Flint isn't leaving Ophelia Nott's side. According to rumours he is working as her very private secretary and even learned to dance and play the piano to impress her. Apparently they want to spend the next months making a voyage around the world. I don't think they'll actually marry but I wish them only the best for how long it will last." Albus was an unadulterated romantic and certainly hoped for the best, saw love everywhere. On the other hand he was realistic enough and had known both Theo and Ophelia Nott for years to expect a change of heart after a few years at most. Hopefully she'll let him down very gently.
"I'll visit you from time to time, old friend, but I'm certain Minerva will take good care of you as well. She'll take over as Headmistress of Hogwarts with the start of the next school year, with Pomona Sprout as her Deputy. Filius declined the honour because he is, like me, feeling his age. They have great plans and used the last year to collect ideas from students and parents alike. They want to change quite a few things, mostly about house unity and tolerance. Narcissa will organize classes about the magical society, laws and regulations, customs and traditions. Professor Binns has to go at last and Hagrid will get an assistant, partially to control his urge to teach about unsafe creatures like those blast-ended Skrewts. His time with Professor Kettleburn helped to get rid of this awful habit but from time to time he has still a relapse."
Albus realized that many of those changes were only possible because the Black sisters, Amelia and Augusta supported Minerva, with the board of governors assisting and but not obstructing. Only two years ago it wouldn't have been feasible.
"From next September onward, I'll be free from duties again. I already resigned from my other offices last summer. Now I can spend my time reading and researching again." Albus sighed. "I'll really miss Nicolas, my old friend and research partner. There are others interested in exchanging ideas, some of them certainly experts in their own way, but it won't be the same. With so many friends gone, perhaps it is time to quit the scene. What do you think?"
Albus listened for a long time for his old friend to answer. We will never know if he got one.
Hogsmeade Station – same time
"So, you'll really do it?" Ron asked, sitting on a bench aside Harry, the boys waiting for Ginny and Hermione to arrive for the departure. The girls were doing their rounds to say goodbye to some friends.
"Yeah, we'll leave next week," Harry nodded, his eyes closed, enjoying the warm sun on his face. "The Grangers always wanted to see China and Japan. We'll visit a few cities and places."
"With places you mean museums, right?" Ron grinned. "Better you than me, mate."
Harry shrugged. "I like museums, at least with Ben around. Hermione and her mother are in their own little world at such times." Actually Harry liked museums too because he loved the fire in the eyes of the Granger girls. But he wouldn't tell Ron this, he wouldn't understand. Sometimes he wondered how a relationship between Hermione and Ron would have worked. Harry shuddered.
"Hermione is eighteen already and I will be in a month," Harry continued. "So we'll be adults in the Muggle world as well. After that, we want to make a trip around the world, have a look at universities, Muggle and magical alike, before we decide what to do."
"No Auror career for you?" Ron asked.
"No, sorry, mate." Harry shook his head. He knew that Ron had liked the idea of going through Auror training together and to continue working as a fabulous duo. But after the battle, Harry had lost any desire to willingly put himself in a position where he would be forced to fight again. Defending those he cared for was one thing, searching for danger something completely different. "And no job at the Ministry for Hermione either," he continued. Like everybody had expected him to join the DMLE, most who knew Hermione had expected Hermione to do something about creature rights. Perhaps she would do that later, but not now. However, she wasn't certain what to do next.
Research perhaps, Harry mused. There had even been an offer to her by Albus Dumbledore to be his assistant and apprentice for a few years, completing a Master degree in Transfiguration or Potions. She would be his first apprentice since Minerva McGonagall, perhaps his last altogether. It was an idea worth thinking about. Since the battle the relationship between Albus and Harry had improved again. They weren't as close as before the Ministry battle, but they trusted each other again – simply because the whole Voldemort matter was now resolved.
However, there had been other offers as well, most of them from friends and pal pans of Minerva, Filius and Professor Vector all over the world. One offer sounded especially interesting. It came from a youth friend of Professor Flitwick who was teaching now somewhere in Northern India. He integrated Charms and Arithmancy into something astounding. Those subjects were Hermione's true strong points and Harry was certain she could do something to really improve the magical lore. On the other hand, even Hermione admitted that she lacked the instinct of a great potioneer or the sheer power a transfiguration mistress needed. So, while Albus Dumbledore's offer was a great honour, he didn't expect her to accept it.
This only left one question, a question he had to solve while doing the world trip: what did he want to do himself?
Granger home – same time
Petunia Evans was staring out of the window. She had been invited to the home of the Granger family to say her farewell before Harry left. There was no way to tell how long he would be gone – weeks, months, more than a year? They had been fairly successful in repairing their relationship and while not too cordial, they were at least polite and cared for each other.
Liam Evans, formerly Dudley Dursley, was far closer to Harry and Hermione. His changes had been incredible and every time Petunia looked at him she knew how right it had been to choose a future separate from her late husband. Thanks to Harry he had undergone a strict physical regimen, lost more than three stones of fat and developed quite a knack for boxing and sword fighting. Too bad he had no interest in the more widespread fencing schools. He found epee, rapier and foils to be too girly. Simultaneously to the physical changes, there had been a mental and emotional one as well. He still wasn't a great student, but far more diligent now and it showed. His degrees were average with above average results in his courses about literature, politics and philosophy. He now defended other students with the same fury he had bullied them at former times. Next year he would take his A level exams and after that… he had still to decide about his future plans.
"How was your first year as Hogwarts new matron?" Ben Granger asked.
While Beatrice still hadn't completely forgiven Petunia's past and how she had treated Harry, Ben was far closer to her after the months spent together in Cullen's training. He liked her no-nonsense attitude and had watched how the formerly sour-faced woman allowed her dry humour and caring nature to make an appearance.
"Alright," Petunia sighed "Hard, sometimes very hard, but alright overall. Argus had been a big help and Pomona as well. We needed a few months to organize our 'fields of work' but now we're good about that."
A few months after the battle, there had been much talk about possible successors of Steward Cullen. One of the most important points had been his decision that the Steward per se was only needed at times of war. Part of his job had to continue afterwards as the events of the years before the battle had been proof of. However, they didn't need to be concentrated in one person. In the end it had been decided – by Cullen's circle together with Matron Mathilda's input but without regarding Albus Dumbledore's counsel – that two people would continue Cullen's work.
Argus Filch would teach sword-fighting to talented students. Each of them would have to get his approval about his mental and emotional maturity. No kidding around, no using weapons outside of the training and certainly no attacking other students with their newfound knowledge. He would be assisted by the newly established matron of students. Her duty was to lent a sympathetic and unbiased ear to every student, help new students to acclimate and serve as a liaison between school, students and parents. Chosen as the first matron had been Petunia Evans. Her youthful dream had come true at last: she would live at Hogwarts, the place that he been Lily's home for the best part of her life.
There had been some rumbling, political and public, in the beginning. Two squibs with such important positions? Pureblood families forced to cooperate? Preposterous. Two women had stopped this in the end. The first woman – in a broader sense – had been Matron Mathilda. She announced that Lady Hogwarts would close the school's doors if someone tried to interfere with the decision. The second woman to support Argus and Petunia had surprisingly been Narcissa Black.
"We fought Voldemort to stop this purist nonsense," she one day yelled at a ruckus in the Wizengamot. "Miss Evans and Mister Filch helped our children, assisted Harry in the battle and risked their life – more than many of you can claim. They would do that again should the need arise in the future; I have no doubt of that. My son is still at Hogwarts. One day hopefully my grand-children will be there as will. I would feel better knowing them there."
And so it had happened.
Argus was still grumpy but not cruel anymore. Instead of polishing trophies, detentions consisted of laps around the Quidditch field and "down, twenty press-ups" was a feared order by now. To be respected by students and teachers alike – at least by most of them as there were always hardheads who needed to learn the wisdom of politeness – did wonders to his overall attitude. Last winter a few of the Muggleborn students had started to learn carpenter from him and more than one student with a cat familiar had consulted him about how to treat their sick cat.
Petunia had it easier and more difficult at the same time. The younger students adored her and the older girls – while fearing her sharp tongue – trusted her with every problem about their emergent sexuality and the accompanying problems. However, she had more problems with older, mostly male and mostly Slytherin, pureblood students and her lack of magic. It was changing, but slowly. She still hoped it wouldn't be a problem anymore as the students who started last fall would be got older.
It was a time of changes and Ben Granger was eager to see them happen. He himself was happy to return to his former life, more or less. Certainly his daughter and Harry could use his help and council from time to time, but his era as a squib-Templar was over. He had learned it to be able to defend his family – a family that encompassed Harry too. He would continue his training to be ready should the need ever arise again, but he would be happy if he was never forced to draw a weapon again, nor to kill a human being. Not that he regretted to have killed that beast which threatened his daughter one yota. Luckily he had no time to think about a miss as he pulled the trigger of his crossbow. With more time and thought he wouldn't have dared try the shot. The wolf was dead. His daughter was alive.
It was time to think about grandchildren.
Cullen and Luna
You want to know what happened to Luna and Cullen?
That's a secret only known to their closest friends and they won't share.
Ginny liked to tell a version how Luna seduced Cullen at last the night of her sixteenth birthday. It was at the edge of the black lake and under a full moon. In her story Luna immediately got pregnant – alright, perhaps not immediately but certainly after their third or fourth go at it – and she married Cullen right after her OWL, with her father Xeno standing behind Cullen with a loaded crossbow he borrowed from a happy grinning Filch. Not because he actually needed it, but because he read somewhere about that part being tradition.
Harry preferred the story where Cullen stayed with Luna as she went on a world-wide hunt for all kind of mythical creatures. He especially loved the part where she found the crumple-horned Snorkack at last and Hermione had to eat humble pie because of her former unbelief. Yes, he loved to tell that part, despite being forced to sleep on the couch for a night every time afterwards.
Hermione however had a third alternative she loved to speak about. In her story, Luna accompanied Cullen back to his home country. They reformed the society there and promoted the peaceful cohabitation of magic-users, Templars and all citizens. It was a slow process in Hermione's story, a painful process full of obstacles and hardships, great adventures and big speeches, but Luna and Cullen never lost each other, stood through this ordeal together, and were successful in the end.
You want to know which version of their story is true?
That's for you to decide and if you believe it strongly enough, your story will become true, because belief is truth, especially regarding people like Luna Lovegood from Ottery St. Catchpole and Cullen Stanton Rutherford from Honnleath.
"His work is done."
Mother and Lady were watching their favourite couple with intertwined hands.
"At least around here."
She nodded and put her head on her shoulder with a sigh of sadness.
"It was the easier part."
She nodded again. This time she was unable to keep the tears back as she thought about their future.
"Do you still wish to continue?"
She raised her head again and brushed away her tears. With a shaky smile the Mother nodded.
"We could leave them. They would be happier like this."
She sighed again. "I know. But they wouldn't forgive us. They could change everything. Their own happiness is nothing to them if it's at the expense of others. Their pain would enlighten thousands of others."
The Lady growled. "Why do they have to be so painfully heroic and willing to make sacrifices?"
The Mother laughed but it was a shattered laugh full of grief and troubled compassion. "Because that's why we love them so much."
The Lady hugged her, her eyes not wavering from the couple. "Let us watch them for a while before we send them on their way."
The Mother nodded, a small smile on her face. This time it was an honest smile.
"Yes, let us watch them."
Don't forget to click on the "Follow this story" button in case you're interested in the sequel.