The Epilogue

Seventeen was a funny age. An age where a war could be brewing right outside your window, banging on your door and leaving graffiti on your porch steps, and you'd still spend most of your time thinking about love. There was so much pressure to find your soulmate. To find that one person who was going to face the great unknown with you.

And that's what the Gryffindor class of 1977 were heading toward once the year ended: the unknown.

There were many things that they didn't – couldn't – understand at such a young age, like how Preston Nott would manage to never face serious consequences for his behavior at school or more significantly, how a person became so sadistic in the first place. They wouldn't understand why, as the year progressed, Professor Slughorn became increasingly agitated, dropping phials of invaluable ingredients and overturning cauldrons as he navigated the rows of desks with his considerable bulk. Equally mysterious to them would be the change that occurred one day when Regulus Black refused to speak to his brother at breakfast, a freeze-out that would last long after the younger boy had forgotten why it started and long after he'd grown tired of the effort of resenting his brother.

On the day that Professor Dumbledore entered the Great Hall after a trip that took him away from the school for a whole month and with a beard that stretched to his chin, James would ask what had inspired the return, thinking that perhaps in this there at last would be easy answers. Alas, even when it came to facial hair nothing was ever simple, and Dumbledore would reply enigmatically that even as some things changed, he was always surprised by how little we could deny our inherent nature or the role we were designated to play.

So maybe they couldn't predict what would happen, but the shadows would seem a little less ominous with someone to lean on And for some of them, that person was already sitting right beside them. Others would have to be brave, be brave and learn that they didn't need a hand to hold to face the monsters in the real world. And worse, the monsters inside of themselves.

Crowing with victory, Lily would discover that all of her interference with Albert Albertson had created a vibrant if somewhat excitable young man, the kind who could capture the attention of a girl like Dorcas Meadowes. James Potter would spend months covering his ears as his girlfriend loudly boasted to anyone who would listen that she was a natural matchmaker and the one responsible for all their happiness.

By the end of the year, Shelia Marks would learn that she had already met the love(s) of her life. They were the four girls with whom she'd shared a dormitory for her entire adolescent life. The girls who never gave more than a passing glance to her pretty face, who always had chocolate on hand, and never asked her for anything they knew she wasn't ready to give.

Boys like Preston Nott could make her feel wonderful about herself, make her glow like she'd swallowed a candle, but that wasn't lasting. A candle flame could be snuffed out by the barest hint of a passing wind. At the end of the day, there was only one choice and it wasn't Preston Nott.

Shelia hadn't met her soulmate yet, but she would.

She'd marry twice – the first time to a boy who made her feel like a shooting star, complete with the fall and the second to a steady, thoughtful man with whom she would share a life. They would go on to have four children, countless memories, and a love that was as quiet as it was true.

Alice Williams hadn't yet met her soulmate either. He, however, was right around the corner. On her very first day in the Auror training program, Alice would meet a senior auror who made fart jokes and drank whiskey. A man who had no time for sappy romance, so driven was he by his singular mission to defend what was right.

There would be no sudden realizations that big, showy romances were the content of the secret yearnings of her heart. There would be no fairytale weddings. But there would be a partnership, a son, a shared name, and a shared life mission. Alice Williams would find love.

And it would not be a short love either. For in a ward together at St. Mungo's with an altered perspective on reality, the kind that could only result from the bare exposure to the truest horrors of war and cruelty, Alice and Frank Longbottom would still be together. They wouldn't need to understand and relate to the world around them in order to continue right on loving each other. Even if no one else would ever understand that.

War would not be kind to the love between Remus Lupin and Dahlia Reynolds. They were not each other's great loves. But Remus would find it far in the future. Not necessarily in his wife.

He would love a woman with many names – Nymphadora, Dora, Tonks. She would be in a comfort in a time when the newly found hope that he'd so long dreamt of had been ripped away from him once more.

Yes, he would love her. But there would always be a niggling doubt in the back of his mind that their relationship was somehow wrong. That they were built on the shaky foundation of war when love was meant to be planted in a garden of flowers.

His great love would weigh eighty-eight ounces and have a shock of ever-changing hair. In a son that he only knew for a brief time, Remus would experience a love that made him whole – that mended the scars that tore his body and the fears that had carved fissures into his heart.

Some people, like Marlene McKinnon, had already met their soulmate.

She was already well-acquainted with the great love of her life; it just wasn't Sirius Black. He had many great qualities, but Sirius just never learned to give, not when it came to Marlene. No one amongst the broader student population would be surprised when they broke up five weeks before Winter Hols. No, the only shock would be that it was Marlene that did the chucking, finally realizing that she didn't need validation from anyone. Least of all someone who took her for granted.

There'd be bitterness and awkwardness on both sides as they fought their way back to friendship, but Sirius Black was never meant to be Marlene McKinnon's one and only.

No, her great love had always been right beside her, a reassuring presence from the day she was eleven years old. She wouldn't wake up one day and know without a doubt that she'd fallen in love with her best friend. It wouldn't be anything as sudden as that. But before the school year was over, Marlene McKinnon would kiss Mary MacDonald in the Charms corridor, and she'd know that she'd found her home and was never turning back.

While there were few songs written about it, few odes in celebration of second loves, there were some people who were destined for two soulmates. Mary MacDonald was one such person.

Years later, people would ask Mary what it was like to only have Marlene for two years, and she would laugh in their faces. They'd shared nine years. Nine wonderful years. Maybe only two had been spent in the romantic sense, but every single one had been filled with love.

Losing Marlene would feel like losing everything. It would take years for Mary to repair her heart. Years to learn who she was when she didn't have that one person to protect, to orient herself around.

But in a smoky dive bar in muggle England, she would reconnect with Eliza Greenberg – the Gryffindor seeker. They'd talk about memories from Hogwarts and wizarding politics, and Mary would find that destiny could be monstrously cruel, but it was frequently, unexpectedly kind.

They would marry four years later and live a life filled with passion and peace, and Marlene would always be in her heart, but Eliza's name would always be on her lips.

For Sirius Black, there would be no great love at all. Perhaps in a different world he would have found one. He had learned his lesson with Marlene. Learned to open his heart if only in increments, learned to cherish those he loved. But there would be war and grief and endless fighting, and he would never get a chance to meet someone with whom he could prove it.

Truthfully, he'd already met his soulmate. His soulmate was a boy with glasses and messy hair and a joke always on the tip of his tongue. He'd know that any love he ever felt beyond that was just a bonus. Sometimes a platonic love was even more powerful than the big one.

And then there was one love, one great love that would save the world as they all knew it.

James would tell Lily he loved her by Christmas. She'd think he was joking until Valentine's Day when she realized that she loved him too. He'd propose a total of 37 times before she said yes. (But only because she wanted the number to match how many times he asked her out in the first place. She'd been planning to agree all along, and he'd known it.)

Not a week would go by where they didn't argue about something. Their temperaments were too different to allow for anything else, but they would never purposefully hurt one another. They'd curb their words and their wicked tempers and strive every day to be a home for the person they'd chosen above all others. The person that it seemed fate had chosen for them.

They would never feel lonely. James would remain a show-off as it was in his nature, but he would no longer demand all eyes on him, no longer need the admiration of strangers to feel validated. Lily would learn with time not to doubt that she was enough, to never worry that she had to hide her truth to be valued.

They would love one another completely and totally, and they would die confident that their love was returned.

James and Lily would die young. They would die heroes. And they would die having lived.

If you asked them, it really wasn't much of a tragedy at all.

A/N: And that's all, folks, I say glibly like I'm not crying inside. This is going to be a lengthy author's note, but please bear with me.

First off, I want to just speak to the fact that this has been an incredible journey for me. I know how easy it is to abandon fanfic, both from personal experience and from being a longtime reader. There was something special about this story and this OTP though, that told me from the start that this would be different. I learned a lot about myself, about writing (which is blatantly obvious if you compare the early chapters to the later ones lol), and about discipline. It was an incredibly rewarding experience on an intrinsic level.

And that's all before I touch on what a wonderful thing it was to share this story with the people who stuck it out with me. Knowing anyone liked it enough to read was, of course, gratifying. More so, I adore every person who took the time to review. I feel strongly that fandom is a collaboration between creators & readers, and the people, like you, who review and give feedback, help keep this little fandom alive. So, I want to thank you all on so many levels. First, as a reader, because you're the people who keep authors writing, and as a reader myself, that's obviously something that should be encouraged. Second, because you made this story so fun for me! I like to think I would have kept writing regardless of whether I ever received a single review, but I honestly can't say for sure.

You were all ridiculously good to me and to this story. A special thank you to all of the guest reviewers, who I could never thank in person, but still took the time to review. You're all wonderful! And, I've thanked the rest of you several times over, but thank you again! You're all fantastic.

I'd, of course, love reviews on the epilogue, but I'd also ask that if anyone has the time, that you also go to a survey I created on the story. I know it's a strange request, but I want to become more aware of my flaws & strengths as a writer as I prepare myself for my 2nd story, and your feedback on a few areas I've wondered about, could help enormously. It's super short, too, so it shouldn't take more than 10 minutes max! The survey can be found here: www. surveymonkey r/XKNL27B (remove the spaces).

Lastly, I encourage anyone who is interested in the one-shots and my follow-up story to follow for updates. I'll probably post 1-2 one shots in March, and I've plotted as far out as chapter 21 in my follow up story, which I think is going to be a wild ride, so you can expect that in Q2 of 2017.

Thank you thank you thank you!