Hi everyone! I'm finally back! I've been working on this story for the past year, as I've been so busy with work and life. I wanted this one to be finished before I started posting, as I have a major writing block during my last story. So here goes, I hope you all enjoy! And don't worry, this one is already finished!
"Harry, can you zip me up, please?" Ginny shouted from the bedroom. Harry put down the razor and headed over to his girlfriend, who was struggling to reach the spot between her shoulder blades.
"Let me," Harry offered, zipping up the dress. Her long red hair contrasted against her pale skin and Harry placed a soft peck in her neck. The dark green dress matched with the button up shirt Harry would put on later, after shaving the rest of his right cheek.
"You look adorable with the foam. Why don't you go like this?" Ginny joked, and Harry offered her a crooked grin.
"Why didn't you go with your dress half open, darling?" Ginny stomped him and Harry smiled, chuckling as he headed back to the bathroom. They had been together for ten years now. After the war, he had asked Ginny on a real date, a date without the fear that someone would get killed because they were associated with him. They'd been together ever since. Harry could call himself a lucky guy. Ginny was a wonderful woman. She knows what she wants and doesn't back out when it gets heavy. He liked that about her.
"Are you almost finished?" Ginny asked, popping her head around the corner.
"Five more minutes," Harry grumbled, putting on the dark green button-up shirt and a black pair of trousers.
"You're even worse than I am, when it comes to the bathroom," Ginny mocked, making her way downstairs.
"Only because it took you two hours to get showered!" Harry called after her. He smiled again, smoothening his hair a little and with a last glance in the mirror, he went downstairs.
Not long after, Harry and Ginny left the House and walked around the quarter heading for the legal Apparition spot. They'd agreed with Ron and Hermione to meet in Hogsmeade, so neither of them had to do unnecessary trips. Besides, Harry hated using Floo powder, and they usually used that method to visit Ron and Hermione's place. Harry hoped there wouldn't be too many people in the Three Broomsticks. He hated being in crowded places, and as all the student's who'd ever attended Hogwarts were invited, Harry guessed it would practically be impossible to find his friends. But well…
The couple apparated in the side street of Hogsmeade, near Hogs Head. To say the place was crowded was an understatement. Wizards made their way through the streets trying to reach the castle without getting trampled. Mothers pulled their children along on their arms and youngsters called out through the crowd trying to find their friends.
Hogwarts was celebrating its tenth anniversary of the renovations. Harry didn't like parties, but he had to admit that Hogwarts deserved one. It had been completely demolished after the war. He grabbed Ginny's hand and followed the slow trot of the people, trying to avoid accidental stomps in his stomach and keeping an eye out not to step on anyone's feet. He hoped the crowdedness would diminish when reaching the castle.
"How are we going to get in the Three Broomsticks like this?" He grumbled impatiently. Ginny shook her head, as to say she didn't know either. Harry looked around, feeling dispirited. Hermione and Ron could be walking along these people without knowing they were right here. He heaved a deep sigh.
"Calm down, Harry. We'll find them. The café isn't far anymore." They had been walking on the main street for a while now, and were nearing the side street that led to the Three Broomsticks.
"I just knew this would happen. I have no clue to why they invited everyone but this is going to be a drag," Harry muttered. Ginny pursed her lips disapprovingly.
"Lighten up, Harry. You're ruining the mood. It's going to be great to meet old friends and to catch up with them. Besides, you weren't obliged to come." As a matter of fact, he was. There was no way he would let Ginny, Hermione and Ron go alone and then be the odd one. He didn't respond but pulled a face instead.
He didn't feel like talking about the weather and his work with people that he hadn't seen for years and probably wouldn't see for years again after leaving this party. What was the point anyway? In the early morning they would all head home and go on with their lives. He might as well have stayed home to begin with. The only person he looked forward seeing was Hagrid. Luckily, he wouldn't be so hard to find.
After what seemed like an eternity, they reached the Three Broomsticks.
"Over there!" Ginny pointed, and yes, a few feet further, Harry could distinguish two red heads and a bush of brown curls. "Ron! Hermione!" Ginny shouted. Hermione turned her head and started waving. When she reached them, she engulfed Harry in a big, curly hug.
"It's been too long. You two should stop by more often!" Her smile was contagious and Harry lit up as well. It was good to see his friends again. He winked at Rose, then smiled apologetically at Hermione.
"It's been busy in the shop," Harry explained. He used that line for a lot of things, but he didn't feel guilty about it. It actually was busy in the shop. Hermione rolled her eyes.
"You're always working, Harry. You should take a break more often." Harry turned towards Ron, who winked at him before offering him a strong hug. Harry smacked his best friend on the back, before letting go again. "Says the woman who can't stop working overtime at St. Mungo's," Ron whispered in Harry's ear.
"I tell him all the time," Ginny brought in, wrapping an arm around Harry's waist. "But he never listens."
"How's George?" Hermione asked. As the women were talking, Harry shared another glance of understanding with Ron.
"He's great, really great. It's very busy in the Joke-shop as well, especially since the school year is starting soon," Ginny responded. Ever since the war ended, she'd helped out George in his shop, and helped developing new pranks. She never stopped and still worked there after ten years. Harry didn't mind. It was nice working so close to one another. On quiet days, they would go out and eat together in Diagon Alley.
Harry had opened an animal shop, or rather bought the premises from Eelops Owl Emporium when the owner retired and had completely renewed it. The shop was a lot more organised now, and he'd enlarged it, using the second floor as well. There were small staircases to go visit the animals on the upper level, there was a separated department for animal food and accessories and all the creatures had a spacious cage.
Even though owls were still a speciality, various animals could be found: Various breeds of cats, toads of all sizes (even the big ones like Neville used to have) and ferrets in different colours. Harry loved working in his shop. When Hedwig died, he hadn't wanted just another owl, afraid of it becoming her replacement. But the animal shop was something that suited him perfectly. He had lots of animals to love and care of, and make sure they were sold to an owner that would only want the best for them.
They finally reached the entrance of the castle. The view was mesmerising. The castle grounds were decorated with floating lights everywhere, resembling stars that had fallen from the sky. Upon entering, golden confetti fell in a continuous motion, disappearing again just before it hit the ground. Golden festoons had been put up everywhere and even the suits of Armor were coloured in gold instead of the cold metal gleam they usually had.
In the Great Hall, the four tables were put aside, filled with all sorts of starters: toast with various tastes of spread, tomatoes filled with prawns, crisps, salty sticks, cheese cubes, salami sausages, tiny pizza slices, etc. In the middle, they had left a large circle to dance, high standing tables were placed around, to enable the invitees to put down their glass of wine or in Hermione's case, fruit juice.
Everything around them was made up out of gold, even the ghosts had found some sparkly accessories to boost up their appearance. Small groups of dressed up people were scattered everywhere and Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny quickly looked for a free table before they all were occupied. As they put down their glasses, an assortment of starters appeared on the table.
"It looks really nice," Hermione said. "They've outdone themselves again." Harry nodded in agreement, not saying much. If Hermione would start to realize that all this beautiful work was mostly done by the House Elves, she might go on a hunger strike again. His gaze wavered over to the Headtable. He instantly recognized professor Flitwick and professor Sprout, but the other teachers were all new. Professor McGonagall sat in Dumbledore's chair, whose portrait had been added to the Headmasters' room. That was the only thing left of the wise old man.
Harry promised himself to stop by when the party was started off and nobody would notice his absence. Professor McGonagall had aged a lot, and it wouldn't be long before someone else took her place. She would then be added to the wall of Headmaster portraits, a well-deserved spot next to Dumbledore. Hogwarts would soon be unrecognizable to Harry.
He felt a pang in his stomach. It seemed like yesterday that he first walked along these corridors, trying to find his way through the maze of hallways, had his first meal at the Gryffindor table, his first dance with Cho Chang, and not much later his first kiss with the same girl. Everything was written in these walls, and it would soon be lost in the past forever.
"Merlin, it took me a long time to find you. I already figured you'd be in the epicentre of the party!" George smacked Harry's back and made him shot up out of his reverie.
"Hi George," Harry greeted, feeling a little disoriented. "Where's Angelina," was the first thing he could come up with.
"Catching up with Katie somewhere." George waved in another direction, not really taking notice of his wife. It looked like he had his fair share of girl talk and wanted to get out before it killed the last part of his masculinity. "So how are you, fellow neighbour?"
"I'm great. It's been too long since we went here," Harry responded, looking around again briefly. He really missed the old days.
"Yeah, I feel you, mate. Those were our glory days." A sad vail clouded George's gaze, and Harry knew he must be thinking about Fred. The 'our' probably referred to the two of them.
"They certainly were. It's hardly recognizable here, these days. Only the ghosts haven't changed." George nodded in agreement, and they both watched how Nearly Headless Nick passed around glasses of wine, a large golden bow knotted around his neck, preventing it from falling off.
"Is Fred Junior here?" Harry asked. George shook his head.
"No, we decided to take a babysitter. I see Rose is enjoying herself." Hermione wrapped an arm around her daughter.
"Yes, she really wanted to come. She'll be attending Hogwarts soon, so she was really curious about the place. We won't be staying late, though, as I have to work at St. Mungo's tomorrow and Ron is very busy at the Ministry as well." Harry smiled at Hermione's little girl, who turned crimson upon being mentioned in an adult conversation. It was still two years until she could attend Hogwarts. They had left Hugo with Molly and Arthur, but Rose had insisted on coming along. Harry wasn't ready for children yet – much to Ginny's despise – but right now, he wished he had a little boy or girl to use as an excuse to leave early.
"There are so many people here. Found anyone you know?" George asked.
"No. But they'll be coming soon, I guess." Harry replied. He couldn't help but think that his parents would've been here too, if it weren't for Voldemort. And Sirius… and Remus. A lot of older people were here, who'd attended Hogwarts in their younger days, had seen their own kids off and were probably waving out their Grandchildren on the first of September.
The Great Hall became more and more crowded, and when Harry couldn't stand the rush any longer, he excused himself to Ginny, saying he needed some fresh air and exited the Great Hall. He made his way to the Entrance of the Headmaster's office, stopping in front of the Griffin. What could be the password McGonagall chose? Harry pondered for a while.
"Discipline." No movement in the Griffin. "Wisdom." Nothing. Now Harry started to feel stupid. "Bravery?" he asked, but the Griffin remained motionless. Maybe he was completely wrong and nowhere near the right answer. He would have to go back without talking to Dumbledore. Harry grumbled. He thought one last time. "Loyalty." Finally, the Griffin turned around, and Harry wanted to let out a cheer of victory. The stairwell was revealed and slowly started to move up.
Harry knocked before entering, even though he knew nobody would be there. It was out of habit and respect for the former Headmasters hanging on the wall. He opened the door slowly, feeling like an intruder. Harry instantly noticed the difference from when Dumbledore was Headmaster. The room was extremely neat, the closets closed, the desk arranged. Completely different from the big amount of weird spinning devices Dumbledore used to have. Most of the portraits were asleep. But when he looked at Dumbledore's he saw bright blue eyes looking at him intently from behind half-moon glasses, as if he had known all along that Harry would show up.
"Hi," Harry breathed. He instantly felt like a little boy again, overwhelmed by the wisdom in the eyes of the old man.
"Hello Harry. I believe the party is downstairs." It felt surreal to hear Dumbledore's voice, like he had never passed away.
"Yes, I know. I just wanted to say hi. Too many people down there anyway." He felt a little awkward, knowing he shouldn't be here.
"It's been a long time."
"Yeah." Harry stared at the long white beard and smiling blue eyes, a pang of sadness stabbing his heart. There were so many things lost in the past.
"I have once said it, and will say it again: Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and most of all, those who live without love." Harry offered the former Headmaster a watery smile. "I've been told you and Ms Weasley are still a couple." The thought of the Redhead lifted Harry's mood.
"Yes, we are. We'll be having our tenth anniversary soon, too."
"That's delighting news." The wrinkles around Dumbledore's eyes deepened.
"Professor Dumbledore?" Harry asked.
"You can call me Albus, Harry. I'm not a professor anymore."
"You'll always be my professor," Harry responded, before continuing: "But… Don't you think it's sad that everything changes? I can hardly recognize Hogwarts."
"When you've lived as long as I have, you'll start to realize that life is volatile. That's not necessarily a bad thing, or sad thing for that matter. It just means you have to enjoy every moment to its fullest and try to make the ones you truly cherish last as long as possible. For example Ms Weasley."
"Yeah. You're right. Being back just made me a little nostalgic. How are you holding up between all those portraits?"
"Rather good, if I might say so. The daily gossip keeps me informed about everything and I am really looking forward to the start of the new school year. Lots of new children to learn about."
"It'll be another magical year, there's no doubt. I'd better get going. They'll be wondering where I'm at." Harry turned around, walking up to the door.
"Harry." The Survivor turned his head again, with the door handle in his hand.
"The things we regret not doing will haunt us forever, even long after we die." Harry wondered what Dumbledore was referring to. Was he thinking about Grindelwald? Harry had read in The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore that he'd been in love with the man. Not that he would take Rita Skeeter's word over Dumbledore's. But maybe he had regretted leaving the wizard. A flash of blonde hair and white, equally aligned teeth flashed through Harry's head. He blinked a few times, trying to push the image away.
"Thank you," Harry saluted, feeling confused by Dumbledore's comment as well as the image on his retina. He closed the door softly behind him and descended the stairs again, still wondering about what Dumbledore had meant. Was he referring to Malfoy? Harry had always suspected Dumbledore to know about him and Malfoy. Pink lips and clouded grey orbs shot through Harry's mind. Fingers buried in silky soft blonde strands. Harry shook his head trying to get rid of the memories. He shouldn't be thinking about that now. It had happened eleven years ago and Harry still didn't know what it all had meant. Malfoy was history.
When he neared the Great Hall, loud music drowned out his train of thoughts and he threw himself into the festivities. It took a while to find his friends, but he then saw four red heads and headed over there, slipping an arm around Ginny's waist and placing a kiss on her cheek. He kind of felt guilty because he'd been thinking about Malfoy, even though Ginny couldn't know about that.
"Where've you been? You missed all the fun. There's a live band!" Ginny shouted. Her voice rang into his ear, too loud for his eardrums to take in.
"I can hear that. I needed some air!" Harry shouted back. He didn't like this party at all. They were hardly able to talk to one another.
"Look who decided to show up." The cold sneer alerted Harry's awareness, every pore of his body suddenly tensing.
"I see you're still dating the Weaslette," the former Slytherin said, gesturing to the arm still wrapped around Ginny's waist.
"Yes I am. Has someone been foolish enough to date you yet?"
"You mean apart from you?" Harry turned as red as a tomato, his eyes quickly checking for his friends' reaction. They wouldn't believe that, would they?
"Very funny," Harry responded sarcastically. Only then Harry noticed the man standing beside him. Realization struck when the man looked up. Oh no! Was Malfoy dating Cormac McLaggen? Harry rolled his eyes. "You couldn't get anything better than that? He chased after Hermione for an eternity," he growled. Malfoy was the only person who could bring the worst out of him in just a matter of seconds.
"No, unfortunately, the Harry Potters were sold out. People change Potter." The double meaning of that sentence cut Harry like a knife. He quickly disguised his vulnerability with an angry scowl.
"Yeah, they certainly do," Harry replied coldly.
"What's that between you two?" Hermione stepped in. Ron hadn't paid much attention to their conversation, as he was chatting with George and assuming they were only quarrelling like in the old days, but Hermione had picked up something of the underlying message.
"Nothing, Hermione. Just Malfoy being his stupid old self, that's all."
"When are the two of you finally going to grow up?" Hermione questioned, rolling her eyes and turning away from them. She started talking to Rose, and Harry focussed on the blonde again.
"You know what, Malfoy? You've got some nerve, talking about personal stuff in front of my friends. But don't think for a second that I'm jealous of your stuck-up rich toy boy over there," he muttered between his teeth, just loud enough for the Slytherin to hear. He could feel Ginny tense next to him, trying to overhear him.
"Jealous? What would you have to be jealous of?" Malfoy questioned, a blank expression in his silver eyes. Harry grunted, an annoyed growl rumbling in his throat.
"Leave him alone Harry. The git is not worth it." Ginny pulled his arm and turned away from Malfoy. Their gazes locked just before Ginny could drag him away. "Just ignore him. He's always trying to get under your skin."
"Thanks, Gin," Harry replied, capturing her lips in a soft kiss. Harry tasted the sweet cherry of her lip-gloss, but there was something unusual there, something less feminine. Musky. A silver flicker triggered a memory of a blonde, slender figure and Harry cursed himself for thinking about Malfoy while kissing his girlfriend. He could curse himself right now.
After all this time, there was no way he could still have a soft spot for the blonde. Was the past catching up to him? Or was his mind just playing tricks because he was back at Hogwarts? "The things we regret not doing will haunt us even long after we die."
To be continued…