Harry had always wondered at how different the process of moving into Hogwarts at the beginning of a school year was from moving everyone out at the end of one. There was a certain order and ceremony to returning to Hogwarts after the holidays, as everyone slipped into the order of years and houses, prefects and professors, but when summer approached, each day of good weather seemed like a reminder that school rules would soon be suspended, that they were approaching two months of freedom and no homework. There was a very persistent, school wide agreement among the students that you couldn't get detentions when the O.W.L's and N.E.W.T's were over – Harry had never heard any of the teachers confirm it, but that didn't seem to matter. As soon as the fifth and seventh years had sat their exams, respect for school rules was replaced by a rapidly spreading restlessness, a giddy longing for summer, which peaked in the last week of school in the form of late night common room parties, skipping classes for impromptu quidditch matches and a broad variety of Weasley-inspired shenanigans. The professors still detracted house points, but otherwise didn't do much to rein it in. The end of school chaos had long ago become a tradition that no one bothered trying to contain.
Harry had never really been able to join in the excitement. For him, summer had always meant his forced return to the Dursleys, and replacing Hogwarts with Privet Drive hadn't given him much to look forward to. This year, he would be going home with Ron to the Burrow, and so he revelled in the same yearning for freedom everyone else did. For the seventh years, though, the elation was tinged with some nostalgia. As much as Harry looked forward to spending the coming months with the Weasleys, he couldn't help feeling sad to be leaving Hogwarts behind. Last year, when he had been on the run, he had still, in the back of his mind, been sure that he would eventually return to Hogwarts. And it wasn't like this was goodbye forever, but when he did come back it would be as a guest, not as a student. It wouldn't be his home anymore.
None of the Gryffindor boys had started packing until the last evening, so after the feast their dormitory dissolved into accusations of uniform theft, attempts at bribing each other to face Madam Pince and turn in the overdue library books that had turned up in the strangest places, yelling about summer plans and promises of writing each other and keeping in touch. They didn't get much sleep.
In the morning, they dragged their trunks to the common room where they met with the girls. Together, all of them proceeded down to the Entrance Hall, where the prefects were trying to shepherd the younger students to the carriages in a somewhat orderly fashion. The teachers stood off to the side, seeing the students off and saying goodbye to the seventh years. The Gryffindors made their way towards McGonagall as soon as they spotted her. She stood next to Professor Flitwick, who had brought a small stepladder to stand on, so the students of his house would be able to find him in the swarm. On her other side was Slughorn, smiling and shaking hands and looking like he was enjoying himself immensely. Harry looked, but couldn't see Draco anywhere in the throng of students eagerly wanting to ingratiate themselves further, though he did notice that a small tower of gifts was steadily growing next to the professor.
"Oh, we should have bought something for Professor McGonagall!" said Hermione when she saw it. "Why didn't we think of that?"
"Because you're the only one who would have thought of it, and your head's been full of N.E.W.T's," said Ron.
"I'm sure she doesn't care," Harry said.
They pushed a couple of fourth years out of their way.
"Hello, professor," said Seamus.
McGonagall's eyes settled on the little flock of seventh years and a sad smile came over her face.
"Oh no, am I really saying goodbye to all of you today?" she said.
And really, that was just as hard for Harry to believe as it was that he was leaving Hogwarts.
"It's been a while since we were really your students, hasn't it?" said Ginny with a smirk.
"Don't say that, Ms Weasley. You'll still be my students, even when you're all forty and I'm teaching your kids," said McGonagall, though her words were slightly undercut when she reached out and pulled Ginny into a hug.
They all said their goodbyes and then Neville went to talk to professor Sprout; Ginny, Dean and Seamus headed down to the carriages and Hermione took Ron with her to say goodbye to Flitwick. Harry would have followed, but professor McGonagall called him back:
"Mr Potter, can I have a quick word with you?"
"I'll catch up in a second," he said to Hermione, and then turned back to McGonagall.
Her eyes followed Ron and Hermione for a moment, but then she turned a stern gaze on Harry.
"Well," she said. "I've had to hear from professor Slughorn of all people that you're planning on taking a year off? Apparently, Mr Malfoy told him."
"Yes, professor. Draco's doing the same."
"So I heard. Professor Slughorn seemed worried that you might spend too much time goofing off."
"We won't-" Harry said hurriedly, but McGonagall continued before he could finish:
"And I of course asserted that if anyone has earned the right to a year of goofing off, it's you. But I wonder why you haven't mentioned this to any of your teachers? You know I would have been happy to talk to you about your future."
"I know, but it's a pretty recent decision."
"Well, I'm glad to hear it. It's only healthy to take a bit of time to decide what you want to do. But I want you to know that no matter which direction you decide to go in, there will always be a home for you here at Hogwarts."
"And when I tell you that I'm proud of you, I want you to know that I'm referring to this year as well as every one that came before it. Don't think I haven't noticed what you and your friends have done for the school this year. There were some things I thought even years of peace couldn't mend, and to see the relationship between Gryffindor and Slytherin change so much in a single year has been nothing short of miraculous."
"I don't think you can give us the credit for that," he said.
"Oh, I am aware that Mr Malfoy has played a significant part as well," said McGonagall with a knowing smile that reminded Harry so much of Dumbledore he had to wonder if it was something that was passed down from headmaster to headmaster along with the office, or if it was simply a requirement for getting the job in the first place.
"Now you should probably get going," McGonagall said. "I think Mr Weasley and Ms Granger are waiting for you."
Harry looked back over his shoulder – Ron and Hermione were standing a few feet away, looking curiously at him.
"I probably should. Goodbye again, professor."
"What did McGonagall want?" asked Hermione when he joined her and Ron.
"I'll tell you on the train," he said. "Let's go find a carriage."
Harry didn't see Draco on the way from the castle to the gates either. They did pass Hagrid, who was managing the thestrals and helping the younger students with their luggage. Harry, Ron and Hermione had been by his hut for tea the day before and had said their goodbyes then, so they only waved to him before they climbed into their own carriage.
At Hogsmeade station, the Hogwarts Express was waiting for them, bright red and gleaming in the sunlight, white smoke billowing from the steam engine. Not all students had made it from the castle to the platform yet, but it was still crowded. They had just put down their trunks while they waited for a group of girls to board the train when Ron nudged Harry's side.
"Your boyfriend's here," he said, nodding towards the carriages.
Harry turned and saw Draco disengaging from a flock of Slytherins. He came towards them, his luggage hovering obediently behind him.
"There you are!" he called.
He flicked his wand and his trunk landed neatly next to theirs when he joined them. He draped an arm over Harry's shoulders, sagging heavily against him.
"Merlin," he sighed. "I thought I'd never find you."
"Don't lean on me," said Harry, trying to push him off. "You're making me feel short."
"It's not my fault you're practically an elf," said Draco, ignoring Harry's attempts to free himself. "Besides, I feel absolutely awful. Someone had the brilliant idea that we should have a little end of the year party in Slytherin last night, I've hardly slept at all."
"You don't look very hung over to me," said Ron.
"Just because I wear well doesn't mean I'm not suffering. I think I had a whole bottle of firewhisky entirely to myself."
"I'm sure your pain is very real," said Harry. "Should we get inside and find a compartment?"
"I guess we should," said Draco, straightening up and finally releasing Harry.
"Pansy isn't with you?" asked Ron.
"No, she's off somewhere fighting your sister."
"Yeah, so let's get inside before they see us and hopefully they'll sit with someone else."
Ginny and Pansy didn't sit with them, but despite Draco's claims of exhaustion, it wasn't a particularly peaceful ride from Hogwarts to London. It was only in the evening, when the sky had darkened and they were nearing King's Cross Station that quiet finally settled in their compartment. They had finished all their candy long ago and Harry sat slumped back in his seat next to Draco, full and happy, the gentle rocking motions of the train making him sleepy. Across from him, Hermione had pulled out a book and Ron was absentmindedly reading through the facts on the chocolate frog cards.
"Can't believe they haven't put you on one of these yet, Harry," he said.
"Would be fun. They'd have to make ones for you and Hermione too."
"Maybe they decided against it when they realized there wouldn't be room for half the heroic shit we've done. Most of these guys are at least four times our age, and they've got nothing on us. After this year, I think my real résumé is starting to look more impressive than Lockhart's fake one."
Harry grinned and glanced over at Draco, who would usually have made a snide comment about their egos about now, but Draco wasn't following the conversation. He sat rigidly in his seat, his gaze turned to the landscape rushing by outside. Harry nudged him.
"You alright?" he asked.
"What? Sorry, did you say something?"
"No, but you were spacing out."
Ron frowned at him, but didn't say anything. He resumed his reading of the chocolate frog cards. There was a stretch of silence before Draco cleared his throat and in a strained attempt at a casual tone asked Harry:
"So we're meeting the Weasleys at the station?"
"Yeah," Harry said. "You're still worried about it?"
"A bit. It'll be fine."
"But you have told them, right? Not just hinted at it, but actually told them?"
"I've told them," Harry reassured him for about the hundredth time.
He had been mentioning Draco often enough in his letters to the Weasleys, and he was sure Ron must have too ever since Draco had started spending time with them, but in truth it had taken him quite some time to work up the courage to tell them they were more than just friends. It had been agony waiting for a reply to that letter. Mrs Weasley had been very supportive, but Harry was still pretty nervous about introducing Draco to them, though he wasn't about to let Draco know that.
"Maybe we should have waited a bit longer," said Draco, also for the hundredth time.
"Would've been a bit hard to explain why you're coming to stay with us in August if we hadn't," said Ron.
"I'm not saying you shouldn't tell them we're friends-"
"I'm pretty sure it's not gonna make much of a difference to them that you're snogging him too."
Draco sank deeper into the seat with a low groan and hid his face in his hands.
"I'm going to die."
"You're being dramatic," Harry said.
Draco looked up again.
"Is it both of your parents who'll be there?" he asked Ron.
"Probably. I think George might come by too, I know he really wants to see Gin before she leaves for the aurors. I mean, he has the whole summer to see her, but he'll probably get Lee to look after the shop if he can. Percy's probably not gonna take time off work, but I'm pretty sure Bill and Fleur will be there."
"Why do you have so much family?"
Ron pointed at Draco with a chocolate frog card.
"I actually have a theory that you being an only child played a big part in turning you into such a prat," he said.
"Come off it, Ron," said Hermione.
She turned to Draco:
"Molly and Arthur are very nice. I'm sure you'll be fine."
"I'm sure they're nice to you," Draco muttered, sinking even lower in his seat.
"Hermione's right, you'll be fine," said Harry. "Ron and I have been giving regular reports on how much of an idiot you've been ever since first year, I'm sure by now actually talking to you can only improve their impression."
"Thank you, that is very reassuring," said Draco icily, but he was smiling a little.
Half an hour later, the train pulled into King's Cross Station, and all four of them turned to the windows, scanning the crowd to look for their families. Harry thought he caught a glimpse of bright red hair and his heart skipped several beats. The breaks of the Hogwarts Express shrieked and Harry climbed onto the seat to pull his trunk from the luggage rack. Draco looked paler than usual, like he might faint any moment.
"Alright," Harry said with a mad, nervous grin. "This is it, then."
He jumped from the seat and the four of them pushed out of their compartment into the crowded centre aisle.
They spilled out onto the platform in the chaos of parents and students and screeching owls. Harry turned to look back up at the red locomotive still belching smoke into the air.
"I can't believe we're never going back," he said.
"Don't be an idiot, Harry," Hermione said. "Of course we're coming back."
Then they heard Mrs Weasley's voice calling out to them over the noise. A cold hand grabbed Harry's wrist. He looked up at Draco's strained face. Harry took his hand.
"Come on," he said, and they followed Ron and Hermione to the group of Weasleys waiting for them.
Final author's note: So this is the end. Thanks to everyone who has stuck with me through this whole story and the endless waits, and especially thanks to those of you who left reviews - you're all lovely.
I don't know if any of you might be considering rereading the story or parts of it, but if you are, I strongly recommend you you go read it on AO3 instead, where it is also posted under the username Mymlen (idk how to make this site not delete url's or links, but if you google "mymlen aftershocks ao3" it's the first thing that comes up).
Fanfiction . net is really hard to work with/super inconvenient in so many ways, so even though I've edited the chapters of this story a lot (fixing spelling mistakes, wonky dialogue, plotholes and inaccuracies), I haven't had the patience for uploading these edits on here, but I have updated them on AO3, so the version on there is much more polished than the one you've read here. Also, on AO3 I'm usually better at replying to comments, if any of you happen to be interested in that.
Thanks for reading my in my fic.