Chapter 16 endings and beginnings.
"Wow…your parents are something else Harry" Ron exclaimed as Harry nodded sadly still ensconced within Hermione's embrace. "But why did they come now? Why not all this while?" he asked in a puzzled voice but became silent as Hermione gave him an exasperated glance.
"what?" he asked again as Hermione patiently responded with a sigh "Ron didn't you hear them say that they have just now figured out how to appear at will….earlier it was due to the priori incantatem…their appearance had nothing to do with them per se" she explained in a quiet voice.
"I think it's rather nice that it worked out for them in the nick of time…they got to say their farewell to Harry" she continued as she gave a tentative look at Harry to gauge his reaction. Harry smiled wanly "It was brilliant…for a few minutes it felt normal you know….I felt like a normal kid with parents and all… but I am not destined for that kind of happiness Mione…I guess I am now back to being an orphan" he said a sheen of tears blurring his sight. "But what was that talk of some potion all about? Do you know what that is?"
Hermione looked distressed as she said "yes I do. It is a potion that gives spirits corporeal forms. As in, they assume a proper physical form for some time" she said. Harry looked at her dumbstruck "you mean as in flesh and bones? I can feel them?" he asked with a hopeful expression.
Hermione nodded "and they can also feel in turn. It's like they come alive for some time" she said unnerved by the raw feeling in Harry's eyes. "But I don't think it has ever been attempted so far. I am sorry Harry" Hermione muttered waiting for Harry to come back to himself.
Harry wiped his eyes and looked around noticing the curious looks directed at him. "It sounds very tempting you know …but hell! Come on, let's go. They have enough material for gossip now" he quipped and made his way out of the hall. For a minute he wondered if he should speak to the Headmaster and Snape but then realized that he would not know what to say, not that it was his place anyway.
Giving it up as a bad idea he spent the rest of the day going over last minute details and meeting the Weasleys and Lupin back at Grimmauld Place. Fred and George had left a huge pack of the prank products for him and had packed a whole lot of eatables that he could take with him. She had also handed over the money pouch that he had asked her to withdraw from his account along with some winter clothing that he had felt he might require at a later date, if not right away.
After more teary farewells, he made his way back to his dormitory where there was an impromptu party for his farewell. However at the end of the party, sadly enough, everyone felt a bit more weighed down rather than feeling good. It ended in a round of unexpected tears and it was with relief that Harry made his way to his bed.
But he was waylaid once again as Hermione and Ron approached him and they sat down near the fireplace as they had done on countless nights. The silence spoke volumes as each of them was somber with the feeling of loss and the anxiety of what was to come. Finally Hermione extended a small box in his direction breaking the tension.
"You don't have to give me anything Hermione" Harry protested but Ron shut him up "Harry, open it mate. It's from the both of us. You should know by now that all you would get from Hermione is a book" he quipped as Hermione shoved him playfully. But the tension had lessoned and Harry found a small smile playing on his lips.
Harry looked at them quizzically as he took the box from Hermione. He opened it to find a gold chain with a round pendant nestling in the centre. He took it out and looked at the design closely….it was a lily! "Thank you guys…it's beautiful" he whispered.
"Harry you miss the point" Hermione said with a small smile as Harry looked at her for more explanation. "It is a portkey designed to breakthrough any wards, even the ones for anti apparition. The activation word is "sanctuary". The idea was mine but the charms were done by Dumbledore and Snape. So it is very very powerful."
"Harry…we are not going to be there to watch your back and this is the second best thing that we could think of. We know that you don't exactly favor portkeys after what happened in fourth year but please wear it and be careful" she said with a plea in her eyes.
Harry was stunned at how much his friends cared for him and found himself tongue tied…what could he say? He could not even be angry that his friends went to Dumbledore and Snape. For Ron to have gone to Snape was a big testament to how much he cared for Harry. Silently, he engulfed his friends in a hug and carefully placed the chain around his neck.
"Incidentally….where would the portkey take me?" he asked with a note of curiosity. "To the nearest hospital" came the quick reply… "Knowing your track record it was the most obvious place" Hermione quipped with a mischievous look as Harry protested "hey!". Ron just rolled his eyes as the three of them shared a laugh over the slight.
However it was soon time to say goodnight and Hermione retired with a sad look as Harry and Ron went to their beds. Harry stood at the foot of his bed and looked around nostalgically. This was it…his last night at Hogwarts. For one insane moment he felt like throwing everything to the winds and recalling his decision, even if he would lose everyone's respect. The next second however he realized that too much had changed for him at Hogwarts and even if he stayed it would not be the same.
"I am going to miss this" he said voicing his emotions for the first time since he had made the decision. Ron placed a hand on his shoulder offering support "I know" he said equally softly. "This has been my home Ron…and I feel like I am leaving a bit of me behind" he confessed. "Well that's what even I would feel….in your case even more so" Ron said in an unusually perceptive manner. Harry looked up surprised. Perhaps his friends had changed a bit too...Harry mused.
"Well…this is it then huh?"Ron asked splaying his hands. Harry nodded quietly "yeah…this is it. Tomorrow I will be at a different place. I wonder if Hedwig can make a long trip….even otherwise I will figure out how to get in touch with you…" he muttered half to Ron and half to himself.
"Mate, you are rambling…don't worry we are just a portkey away…okay maybe a couple of portkeys away. That's all, so go to sleep. Everything will be fine" Ron assured and Harry idly wondered if Ron was channeling Hermione!
The night went by with no sleep for Harry. He wanted to hold onto the bed and the curtains and the memories for as long as he could until he drifted off to sleep sometime early in the morning. But before he could slink further into sleep he was being awakened by Ron, much too soon in his opinion.
"It's time to wake up Harry. That man from Durmstrang will be here. You have to be ready" he heard Ron say as he shook him from his sleep. Realization crashed into his senses and he sat upright. Yes, today he was going to Durmstrang. For a moment he felt blind panic and fear and through the panic he heard Ron's voice "Mate it's alright. Everything is going to be fine…it will be okay" over and over again.
"Yes …yes of course" Harry said himself wondering if he was reassuring Ron or himself "you are right…I should get dressed" he muttered and rushed to do the same. In his haste, he missed the sadness on Ron's face as Ron moved to join Hermione in the common room as they had done the last few years.
They looked at each other not knowing what to say. This was not a moment that they had ever imagined "so how is he?" she asked. Ron still had a spaced out look as he roused himself to answer "well as can be, I suppose. I honestly don't know if it has hit him at all you know, he is way too calm" he said.
"True …all we can hope is that he has better luck where he goes than what he has had here" Hermione said with a sigh as Harry walked up to them to hear her words. "Amen" he said with a wry smile as Ron looked appropriately confused at the muggle term. "Shall we go?" he asked and the three of them fell into the practiced rhythm of each other's footsteps as they made their way to the Great Hall.
"Harry, have you taken enough potions in case you fall sick or something? And the wand holster we got you last Christmas…keep it on you at all times alright? Do be aware of your surroundings and if you feel something is not working right…just come back okay. We will think of something...and..." Hermione ranted until she was interrupted by Harry's hand on her shoulder.
He turned her to face him gently and kissed her gently on her head. "Mione..Shush. It's alright. I have been taking care of myself all my life. I will be okay and you two can come visit me anytime you know" he said enveloping her in a hug.
It was one of the rare times that he had initiated a hug and he felt gratified as Hermione clung onto his robes hiding her tears in his robes and her shoulders shook with the sobs.
"I hate him Harry…I hate Snape" she muttered against his robes and Harry felt both alarmed as well as touched that she would say this even though it was not in her character. "Please Hermione…this is not you. Please don't change because of me. Now look at me..." he urged gently lifting Hermione's head and gave her a smile. "Please don't be sad. I want you to be happy…I want to leave with the image of both of you smiling…now come on. You are supposed to cheer me up!" he teased.
"Okay" the words came out garbled from Hermione but she followed it with a tentative smile. "Guys I am sorry to break up this touching moment but I am hungry" Ron butted in. Hermione glared at him but Harry smiled and started walking while pulling his friends along.
However the smile died on his lips as he walked into the Great hall which fell into silence with his arrival. He turned to the staff table and saw the tall blond man seated on the Headmaster's side. The stranger was dressed in dark blue robes and Harry was relieved to see that he looked friendly enough.
"That must be the person who has come to escort you Harry" Ron whispered needlessly. Harry nodded and shook himself from where he halted and made his way to his place on the table. Breakfast was a subdued affair as there were so many things to say but none seemed appropriate. Harry was caught in a maelstrom of thoughts and emotions as he went through the parody of a breakfast. His friends he knew were no better.
As he finished his breakfast, not wanting to acknowledge the nervousness that was steadily creeping upon him, the headmaster stood up in his seat. "I am happy to welcome Professor Mark Hodges from Durmstrang Institute to our school. He has come to escort Harry as you all know. We hope that he has had a comfortable journey and will prove to be a valuable mentor to our student in the coming years. We wish Harry luck and success on his new journey. Thank you".
Harry felt the eyes of every student turn to him even as he felt Hermione clutch his hand in a death grip. Reluctantly he extricated himself from her clutches and stood and Hermione stood up with him as he made his way to the staff table where the visiting Professor had come down to meet him halfway.
"Good morning. , I presume?" he asked extending his hand. Harry took the firm handshake with a "yes Sir" as the man asked "all set to go? I hope you have packed some warm clothing" he warned.
"Yes Sir I have…I just have to get my trunk from the room. I will be right back" Harry responded and turned to go but he was forestalled by Dumbledore who had joined them. "I will request one of the other students to get it Harry and also to fetch Hedwig from the owlery" he offered and gestured to Neville who left after a short conversation.
Harry took the time to slip in a couple of questions of his own "Sir…would it be possible to communicate with my friends from Durmstrang?" he asked. The man smiled, the creases on the side of his very blue eyes crumpling with the smile and Harry could not help return the gesture.
"Yes it is possible. You will have to use two or three owls very much like a relay. It will take longer than you are accustomed to but I am sure that you will get used to it in time" he responded. Harry felt the tightness in his chest release a bit with the knowledge that he could mail his friends at least. The break did not feel absolute with this small redemption.
"That's great Harry…so will you come back for the summer?" Ron commented as Neville returned with Harry's trunk in tow. He was accompanied by Dean Thomas who carried Hedwig in her cage. Harry turned to the man and raised the question of summer with him.
"The summer holidays come at a different time compared to here so you could come here but it will not coincide with their holidays." He answered the question and then before there could be any more questions from the group he gestured to the trunk "So shall we leave?".
Harry nodded and turned to his friends. He was immediately engulfed in a crushing hug as Hermione started crying again. Looking over her head he nodded to Neville and Dean as Ron moved forward and engulfed the both of them in a hug. Ron's eyes were suspiciously wet and for the first time words failed him. Dimly he nodded at Harry and gently prised Hermione off him.
Harry took the moment to shake hands with the Professors who wished him luck, coming to Dumbledore the last. He looked at him in the eye and nodded acknowledging his thanks and quickly averted his gaze from Snape. He had no wish to acknowledge the man. Granted that the simmering rage was no longer there but he could not bring himself to forgive the man either.
There was nothing more to be said and it was time to leave. Harry hefted his trunk, waved at the others like Ginny and the twins who had lingered mouthing "take care" and walked away from the Great Hall with the Professor. He dared not look back to neither see the tears falling copiously from Hermione's eyes as she clung to Ron nor see the tears in Ron's eyes as well.
His own heart felt heavy and he had to exert a lot of control to keep his own tears at bay as he followed the Professor to the apparition point. Some part of him was glad that no one had followed him out as it would make the break even more difficult. At the apparition point, he turned to see the castle standing tall and proud in the shimmering sun for the last time in the next many months. He had no time to acknowledge the nervous tattoo of his heartbeat as he felt the world falling away and he was whisked away from his home.
Author notes: My heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you who have followed the story from it's conception to it's finish. Your reviews have guided me, bolstered my spirit and have taught me many things new. I have been humbled by the love, acceptance and warmth that you have shown and I hope that I see more of you in my journeys in the future too.
I will now endeavour to finish my other fic and will think of a sequel to this only if I have requests for it. I might add a couple of add ons that will stand alone but that remains to be seen.
Thank you all once again. It's been a fantastic journey and I hope that I have not let any of you down in any way. Ciao. To endings and new beginnings!