DEATH BEFORE DISHONOR
Epilogue: The Sixth Year
Stepping off the Hogwarts Express, the first thing Harry heard was the familiar voice saying, "Firs' years! Firs' years over here!"
To his right, the giant form of Hagrid was waving his arms, gathering in Hogwarts' newest students for their ride across the lake. Harry grinned, exchanging looks with Ron and Hermione; it was good to be back, even though they knew that Hogsmeade station had been completely renovated over the summer holidays to repair the damage done to it during Voldemort's stay in the Wizarding village. Students poured off the train, heading for the horseless carriages under the watchful eyes of the school prefects, head boy, and head girl. It was another school year, and it was still Hogwarts.
One thing about the journey was different, however. Instead of going through the gates with their usual speed, the carriages slowed, allowing each student to see the plaque erected just outside the gates. It read:
Professor Filius Flitwick
Professor Annia Vector
Madam Rolanda Hooch
Gone, but never forgotten.
We shall always be in your debt.
HOGWARTS SCHOOL OF WITCRAFT AND WIZARDRY
The older students were more subdued than usual as they reached the Great Hall, but they filed in and took their seats, leaving empty spaces at each table to commemorate the dead who should have still been at their sides. This had become practice in the last school year as friends and housemates mourned those lost in the final battle against Voldemort. Gone, but never forgotten, the plaque outside the gates read, and it was true, because, for Harry and the others, those who had died were more than just names inscribed in bronze. They were remembered.
Conversation, however, picked up as the first years were lead into the hall by the Deputy Headmaster, Severus Snape. Finally free of his age-old role, Snape had seemed to soften, somewhat, towards the end of the last year; although he would certainly never like Harry, and nor would Harry ever call the oily Potions master his favorite professor, Snape had become less the terror of the school and more like the other professors. He still, of course, accepted absolutely no nonsense in class, but even the Gryffindors could deal with that. Snape, however, was not the only part of Hogwarts that had changed, which was made clear as the sorting ended and the Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall rose.
"Welcome to Hogwarts," she said with a smile. "Let the feast begin."
Even though the words were slightly less eccentric than the older students were accustomed to, they had the same result. With a wave of her hand, the plates on each table filled with food, and even as he dug in, Harry contemplated the other changes the Magical world had seen over the past year.
Even with Voldemort gone, there was still much to do. Cornelius Fudge had been eager to resume his role as the Minster of Magic (after hiding his head in the sand during all the final battles), and for quite a while, it had seemed as if he would be allowed to. After all, Fudge had never actually resigned, and when the Minister stepped forward, trying to pick up the pieces, many were willing to let him, because they were that eager to have a semblance of normality applied to the world. Dumbledore, however, came out against Fudge once more, and took the job that people had been trying for over fifteen years to give him. Fudge, embarrassed, outclassed, and disgraced, disappeared.
The Ministry had quickly hunted down the remaining Death Eaters (most of them had been with Voldemort in the final battle, so there really were very few left to find), and had then concentrated on reforming Azkaban. After the Dementor's abrupt change of loyalties, no one dared argue when Dumbledore yanked the prison out of Dementor hands and instead staffed the place with carefully trained witches and wizards. Following that, of course, what remained of the Aurors had been turned against the Dementors themselves, and although Harry did not know where Dumbledore had sent them, he was certain that the Dementors would never have a place in the magical world again.
Sirius had taken a leave of absence for the second half of the year, helping Arabella Figg reorganize the gutted Auror Division of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement and hunt the Dementors down. The entire school had been sorry to see their Defense Against the Dark Arts professor go, and only the promise of his return this term had kept the students from mutinying when his classes were split between Professor Snape and Professor Lupin. Snape, of course, did know an awful lot about the Dark Arts, even though Harry was beginning to understand that he'd never really wanted the job because he hated the Dark Arts with a passion even Sirius couldn't match. It was odd, learning that subject from a former Death Eater, but Harry supposed that signified that the world had gone full circle once again.
As the year ended, things got even stranger. Fred and George Weasley were good to their word and applied for Auror training; with Sirius' recommendation, they were accepted into the program and went into training while those still in school were on holiday. Mrs. Weasley had tried to talk them out of it, but Lee Jordan's death had made both twins determined to ensure that never happened to anyone else, and no amount of screaming or pleading on their mother's part could talk them out of it. In the end, she'd had to admit how proud of them she was and wish them luck. At least, she said, it was better than a joke shop—until the twins started talking about what they would do after retirement.
The summer holidays, however, could not have been better. During a brief trip to the Dursleys' (simply to pick up a few things), Harry got to gleefully tell his relatives that he would never be back. From there, he ended up in Sirius' family home, which his godfather had found out (much to Sirius' surprise) was still in his name. The Black Manor (there was simply nothing else to call it) was like nothing Harry had ever seen before. While Sirius had told him that it had been a bit run-down when he'd gotten it back, by the time Harry moved in that summer, the house was nothing but wonderful. He and Sirius had, of course, redecorated, but no matter what the place looked like, it was home. It was the first real home Harry had ever known.
He'd also gotten to experience a real birthday party for the first time, which included (unknown to Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, he hoped) a little bit of illegal magical pranks that he, Ron, and Hermione had indulged in. So had Ginny, for that matter, but who was he to quibble with particulars? Sirius and Remus had turned a rather obvious "blind" eye when all the notices from the Ministry had shown up, and there had been no harm done. They were sixteen, after all, and if they couldn't break a few rules, what use was living? Regardless, the party Sirius had arranged had been nothing but breathtaking, and it had taken Harry days to recover from all the fun. Spending half the summer Floo-ing between Sirius', Remus', the Burrow, and Hermione's house had been fun, too, and the trouble they had gotten in together had been unbelievable.
Also interesting, but not much to Harry's surprise, had been the announcement that Ron and Hermione were dating. He'd laughed when they'd finally screwed up the courage to tell him, and simply asked why it took so long. Ron, however, turned beat red and demanded to know why Harry was so oblivious to certain other things. Hermione just slapped Harry, and all the world was right.
Harry and Ginny had started dating less than forty-eight hours later.
When he'd left for King's Cross that morning, Harry had laughed his way out the door, dodging owls as he went. As usual, Sirius was besieged by requests to head the Auror Division—Arabella Figg, the current head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, sent him at least two owls a day, and even after he'd said no a hundred times, she showed no sign of letting up. Sirius, however, had promised to return to Hogwarts for at least another year and would make good on that promise, seeing how he had to prove that the Defense Against the Dark Arts job wasn't jinxed enough to keep him away. Harry had hitched a ride to the station with the Weasleys (it seemed to be tradition, after all), but he knew that Sirius would be at Hogwarts. A glance at the head table did not disappoint him, either. Sometimes, the more things changed, the more they remained the same.
"Harry?" Ginny asked at his side. "You home in there?"
Her voice started him out of his reverie. "I'm here. Just thinking."
Harry smiled. "Just that it's good to be back."
Author's Note: So it ends…although I will probably be writing a sequel, as per requests. Thanks for all the great reactions I've gotten. It's tentatively titled Summer of Hope, but we'll see what happens. First, I must finish Promises Unbroken, which I have also updated today.
That being said, thank you for all the wonderful encouragement that you've given since this fic began. It was indeed my very first Harry Potter fiction, and I can now happily say that this is the most friendly and wonderful fandom I've ever written in. You guys are great! Thanks for reading, and please review!