Epilogue: Six years later
Even though the dual Charms had worked on the Horcruxes, it had taken six years to set up this gathering to get over the required power threshold, and almost as much time to teach enough people the adjusted Patronus Charm. The sixty-strong team at Azkaban were in charge of the sunlight Charm, with another team of fifteen to protect them with the normal Patronus, while over a thousand wizards and witches had gathered on the coastline to cast the modified Patronus. The beach was crowded almost fifty-deep; almost every single person was tense and quiet; the entire coastline was under a Muggle-Repelling Charm; and all eyes were turned to the sea. Out on the rocks, standing near where they'd struggled up them on the first night they'd met, Elen Black stood with his adoptive father Sirius. His yellow-and-black scarf whipped around him as he stared out to sea, shivering. Cedric Diggory, who three years ago had managed to talk him into joining the small faction of Hufflepuff House who stayed over Christmas for the traditional feast in the Great Hall and even to stay the night, left his main group of friends and workmates and slipped through the crowd to say hello. Most of Hufflepuff House's alumni from the past hundred years were on the beach, fidgeting with their wands in nervous but steadfast determination. Other Houses had taken other beaches along the coastline to minimise arguments while waiting for the signal – Sirius' other adopted son Harry was with all his friends in Gryffindor, but Pomona had gently insisted that Elen join his own House for this casting and Elen had wanted Sirius with him (although as Sirius noted, in a crowd of wizards as big as this Elen would have wanted him no matter what beach they ended up on).
Remus Lupin, the first DADA Professor in twenty-five years to stay for more than one year, had decided to go with Harry to the Gryffindor beach. He'd been teaching for six years and counting, and even his lycanthropy being revealed near the start of his fourth year hadn't ousted him, as a) Sirius had been covering his missed lessons for two years by that stage – bringing Elen along with him for anything at his level – and Remus was therefore never, ever, on the grounds during full moon even with the Wolfsbane and b) he was very almost the most popular teacher in the whole of Hogwarts due to the combination of his relaxed, controlled teaching style and him actually knowing the subject so well that he was single-handedly responsible for almost all the Hogwarts students over the age of fifteen and some as young as twelve being able to produce a corporeal Patronus. On hearing that he was going to join the Gryffindors, Tonks had promptly done a series of swaps with two Unspeakables and six other Aurors to get herself assigned there as well.
Still more beaches had been taken over by the foreign contingent: wizards and witches hailing from everywhere from Transylvania – a group of almost a hundred who spoke thirty languages between them but not very much English (their full range extended from the all-important and well-practised phrase "we Patronus Dementors where kill yes?" to the few other words they knew: "no", "bathroom", "sorry", "please", "hunger", "drink", "thanking" and of course the ubiquitous "Quidditch", all spoken in a very thick accent that few people could understand) – to Madagascar – one wizard and six tame lemurs, which he claimed were for moral support. Nobody had argued. He was capable of performing the magic and willing to swear the oath that he would act towards the success of the operation, and that was all they really needed. Severus Snape had singlehandedly bullied the entire sixty-strong staff of the renowned Italian potions research lab which, four years ago, had made him an offer he couldn't refuse (six times the pay, complete creative freedom, professional respect, and last but certainly not least no Neville Longbottom), first into learning the modified Patronus and then into coming to England to be part of the casting, and all of his colleagues had conspired together to save the Madagascan wizard from his acerbic tongue by keeping the lemurs well away from him – their consensus, after working closely with him for four years to mainstream his improvements to practically every potion under the sun, was that he was both brilliant and impossible in equal measure and could reduce absolutely anyone to the brink of tears in three minutes flat when annoyed.
On the Hufflepuff beach, Pomona Sprout was by far the most relaxed, on her stomach looking down over the rocks for magical sea-plants. Elen Black, on the other hand, was by far the tensest.
Light erupted, blinding and brilliant in a column extending from the horizon to the clouds, reflecting off the ocean like diamonds in silver. The assembled wizards and witches all raised their wands, moving almost as one.
"EXPECTO PATRONUM CANTATIO!"
Patronuses erupted from every wand, shining silver, almost dancing together and through and around each other, before every single one of them opened their mouths and began to sing. The wizards gasped as the phoenix song came from not just one Patronus, but many; the song of fifteen hundred phoenixes shimmering through the air from all the beaches along the coast of the North Sea; a sound that nobody on earth had ever heard before, and would never hear again. Still singing, the Patronuses sped over the water to the pillar of light, which shone brighter and brighter until it erupted in silver fire. The song died away and the gathered crowd stared at the pillar of fire with open mouths and eyes full of tears, or laughter – it was impossible to tell which. The pillar grew so bright that it became impossible to look at, yet nobody could look away. Then it faded, leaving everybody blinking away the spots from their eyes and looking at each other, a single question on everyone's minds that nobody wanted to voice.
Did it work?
A mighty rumble sounded from far away, and there was a series of popping noises behind them as four witches and eleven wizards from the Azkaban team Apparated into the roped-off area.
Then, like a tide, the Patronuses returned to the coastline, cavorting otters and badgers and two snakes and a winged horse and several breeds of dog and a centipede and a miniscule mouse and a hawk and a stag and three elephants and a cat with spectacle markings and a clouded leopard and a bear and a wolf and a Komodo dragon and an actual dragon and a hare and five rabbits and a wispy-finned goldfish and an aardvark and a tortoise and a doe and a goat and twelve foxes and a ring-tailed lemur and a dove and a hedgehog and a silver-maned lion and a unicorn and three ravens and an enormous spider and so many more other animals than could be identified or counted, every last one of them shining out like a star. They flowed over and around the assembled wizards, each Patronus returning to the person who had cast it, twining around them before halting in front of each one... and then the Patronuses changed, forms shifting into one or two or seventeen shadows of people, who all reached out to touch the dumbfounded wizard or witch in front of them.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. They lifted their arms to the sky and were gone in a whirlwind of light. All along the beaches, wizards and witches raised their arms after them and laughed and cried all at once for pure joy. A few moments later, the rumble increased to a roar, and Elen leant against Sirius' shoulder and took his hand and watched as the island of Azkaban tilted sideways and crumbled into the sea, as if it had never been.
~o0o~ ~o0o~ ~o0o~
~o0o~ ~o0o~ ~o0o~
Final Author's Note: The imagery in this Epilogue owes A Great Deal to the climax of The Last Unicorn, which also provided the epigraph right at the start.
For anyone who was wondering, Elen's Patronus was the hedgehog. A useful and desirable creature, and beautiful too; but very shy, all spines and highly self-protective... unless it trusts you. It would also be his Animagus form if he were to go down that route. I toyed with the idea of making Padfoot his Patronus, or Crookshanks, but I thought that the hedgehog was a better representation of who Elen is.
And yeah. I know I skipped over quite a big chunk there. I guess I was more interested in showing the point Elen was at to begin with (severely damaged; only approaching-normal interaction with ONE person in the entire world) and the start of his recovery to the stage where the gaps could be mentally filled-in, then skip to here and six years later (with a few brief flashback sentences to give hints at what happened during the intervening time) for everyone to see how much he's improved. I'm sorry if anyone wanted more, but I tried and it dragged – probably because I'd already done everything I needed to for both the plot threads – and I could not have a long sideline dragging the Epilogue down. There should be enough hints there for everyone to be able to figure out a basic level of what happened in the intervening years (for example: that Elen attended occasional classes at Hogwarts but never went there full-time).
This did NOT develop into a Horcrux Hunt because (in reverse order of importance):
· I had no idea how to get at the one in Bellatrix's vault,
· the only reason the locket Horcrux made an appearance AT ALL is because Kreacher decided that he was NOT going to let a chance like an actual Parselmouth slip away from him (which surprised me no end, by the way; I love it when a character steps outside the bounds I thought I'd set and surprises me. In the version of this story that I thought was complete Kreacher was just "occasionally there"... until he decided he wanted a bigger and far more interesting role). Also, emotionally it really, really, REALLY works to have the locket Horcrux in there,
· it slowed the story down dreadfully to the point where it was simply a slog that the reader had to get through before reaching the Epilogue and the tying-up of the MAIN plot,
· and most importantly I hated/loathed/was bored to death by the MacGuffin Quest in Deathly Hallows and didn't care to fight all the way through it myself. It does NOTHING for me.
Well, that's it, people. I hope you enjoyed my story (and if you can spare a moment to leave a review, I really do enjoy reading them). I've always fancied the "Voldemort's heir" concept... but the caveats I have on this area of interest mean that I have never been able to find an actual story that I like. I've looked and looked and looked – for YEARS – and it just doesn't seem to exist. Therefore, I naturally ended up writing my own. I always thought that Voldemort's heir would NOT be evil... and that being the heir would have completely destroyed his/her life. And of course it had to end happily. I can take darkness as long as it doesn't stray into sadism, but I can't take unmitigated darkness.