A/N:  I know it took forever but the end is finally here…

CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX:  Not The End

It seemed a much different Hogwarts then Remus Lupin was accustomed to seeing when he ventured out onto the grounds.  It was not the first time he had been outside since the enormous amounts of devastation had occurred, but no matter how many times he looked around, it did not make it any easier to see the place that always been a sanctuary to him – the one place where he had ever truly felt accepted – looking so badly ruined.  It was even harder to believe that once the new school year started in September, the majority of the damage would be fixed, as if the near destruction of Hogwarts had never occurred.  Next semester's first year students and many of the younger ones would probably never know how close they had come to losing this place.  He wondered if Harry's thoughts were following the same path.

He had looked out his office window and seen the young man enter the small, secluded cemetery reserved for the Headmaster's that had passed on throughout Hogwarts history.  Out of respect for Harry's privacy, Remus had not gone down there right away.  But when minutes turned into a full hour, he decided to check on Harry.  He found him standing in front of one of the graves, shoulders slumped and hands in his pockets.

Remus made his presence immediately known.  "Wherever Albus is now, he's proud of you, Harry."

"I let him down so many times," said Harry in a constricted voice.  He did not turn around.

"He expected you to make mistakes.  You were growing up with the responsibilities of ten adults.  And believe me, adults make more than their share of mistakes."

When Lupin reached his side he said, "they're proud of you too."

"Who?"

"Your parents.  You've grown up to be the kind of man they always knew you would be."

"I miss them," Harry said after awhile, "so much.  Every time I faced Voldemort all I could ever think of was the life he had stolen from me.  I hated him for that more than any other atrocities he had committed.  He wanted to make my death painful, but I wanted to make his suffering so unbearable he would beg me for death.  I wanted him to feel a fraction of what my life had been like.  I tried so hard, but somehow deep down I knew I could never beat him like that.  He would match his hatred with my own, until he finally killed me.  The only way to defeat him was to become everything Voldemort wasn't."

"The spell," Lupin said, though he did not sound surprised.

Harry finally turned around.  "For the protection spell to work on a living person it would require some sort of sacrifice or leap of faith."

 "You were willing to sacrifice your life to save millions.  An act so completely pure and selfless that it triggered the spell.  Harry, things like love, friendship and selflessness are all elements that Vodemort has never had, and could never understand.  Therefore, he had no way to defend himself against things he had never known.  Cutting himself off from his human side was his undoing."

Harry wasn't sure what he was supposed to be feeling at that moment, but what he did feel was relief.  It was all over now.  There would be no more fighting or lives lost.  He could focus on the things that mattered to him.  His friends, figuring out what he was going to do with the rest of his life, and Ginny.  He wasn't going to make a mess of things with her like he did before.  He was going to make sure she knew he never wanted to live without her.

"The ceremony's going to be starting soon," Lupin said to him.  "And after all the effort Minerva has put in to this graduation, I don't think she's going to tolerate tardiness."

Harry didn't argue.  He knew it was time to go.  He couldn't stop the future from happening.  He was suddenly a lot more scared of graduating then he had been only a few hours before.  Hogwarts was his safety net, and in a little while it would be gone forever.  Lupin seemed to understand what was going through his mind because he didn't try and force any conversation out of him on their walk back to the school.

For days, Hogwarts had been almost completely empty, but not on that particular morning.  The outside grounds were buzzing with activity, as last minute relatives shuffled in to find seats and mother's fussed over their son's and daughter's appearances one final time.  Each student's attire consisted of a black pointed wizard's hat and silky black dress robes, with the Hogwart's school crest on the upper left side.

Hundreds of chairs were set up facing a large-sized stage, which held an empty chair for each Hogwarts teacher.  The ceremony had been set up far away from the devastation caused during the Death Eater's attacks.  They were on the side of the castle that had remained relatively untouched during the attacks.

Due to alphabetical seating arrangements, Harry was nowhere near Ron or Hermione.  He had just enough time to wish her good luck before McGonagall came around shooing students to their correct seats.  Sirius along with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had come over briefly before taking their own seats with the rest of the Weasley clan.  When everyone was seated and silent, Professor McGonagall stood in front of the small podium on stage to address the gathered crowd.

"I have had the pleasure of watching many graduating classes over the years," she began, "but never before have I been so moved or proud at the choices each one of you made to get here today.  I know it is usually the Headmaster that begins the commencement, but I know how much Albus enjoyed breaking the old traditions and starting his own.  I also know that this war has taken many loved ones from us.  Many of whom fought right until the very end.  But as long as you remember everything they were when they were alive, they will never be forgotten."

McGonagall paused briefly out of respect for those who had fallen before continuing.  "I've known all of you since you arrived that first night here, seven years ago.  For almost as long, I've had to press upon many of you the seriousness of your studies.  Certain students did not need such prodding only encouragement to succeed.  One student in particular rose above all of her professor's highest expectations, achieving record breaking marks in each of her year's here at Hogwarts.  Her dedication to her studies, and going above and beyond what was asked of her in the classroom, makes me sure she will continue to make us all proud no matter what she decides to do with her life.  It is with great pride and honour I announce Hermione Granger as the Hogwarts graduating class valedictorian."

Applause roared up from the students and parents gathered, while Hermione made her way to where Professor McGonagall was standing on stage.  McGonagall shook her hand in a heartened way before going back to her own seat.

"Thank you, Professor McGonagall."  She placed her speech on the podium and looked out at the gathered crowd before speaking.  She searched out one individual in particular – Ron.  He looked like he had never been more proud of her and it made her heart swell.  They had stayed up until dawn, talking about everything.  They hadn't had one of those long, all night talks in ages.  But after everything that had happened; the final battle, innocent people dying, now more than ever they felt the need to work things out between them.  If they could survive a seven-year long war with the most feared dark wizard in history, then they could survive a little distance separating them.  She loved Ron, more than she did any other person in her life, and she wasn't going to lose him, not now – not after everything they had been through together.  If she had been able to read minds then, she knew Ron's thoughts would have mirrored her own.

The time for reflection was over.  She was sure everyone was expecting her to deliver some long-winded, over-practiced speech, but that would not be the case.  Originally, that had been true, but she had eventually realized that length did not matter, it was the words that did.  She let her gaze survey the graduating class one more time before speaking.  "The moment I got my letter saying I was accepted at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I made the decision that I wanted to become the top witch in all of my classes.  Nothing else seemed to matter, as long as my hard work paid off in the end.  Well, I was wrong.  I learned a long time ago that there were more important things besides completing an extra credit assignment.  Friends, for starters, fitting in, love, and yes, fun.  I came to Hogwarts expecting only academic achievement, but I received something far greater in return – a family.

"As with any family, there were good times and the bad, accomplishments and losses, victories and times of sorrow.  Sometimes it would threaten to tear us apart, but when it mattered most was when we pulled together.  That's why each of us are here today, and those that aren't, bravely gave their lives so that we could be.  When we leave here today to start the next chapter of our lives, though most of you will each go your own separate ways, our seven years here at Hogwarts is what will always keep us together."

With the conclusion of Hermione's speech, the resounding applause was deafening.  Harry, Ron, and every other Gryffindor were on their feet cheering and applauding with the rest.  Within moments, the entire graduating class was standing.

It was some time before the noise died down enough for Professor McGonagall to address them.  She began calling the students names out in alphabetical order to receive certificate that would represent the last seven years of their lives.  Professor Lupin was given the honour of handing out each diploma.  After the Patil twins, McGonagall all but shouted out, "Harry Potter!"

The cheering that followed was the loudest it had been during the ceremony.  Professor McGonagall had tears in her eyes as she congratulated him.  Lupin look equally teary-eyed when he shook Harry's hand firmly and handed him the certificate.

When every parchment had been handed out and every student was seated again, Professor McGonagall spoke loudly, "I present to you all the Hogwarts graduating class!"

One by one, the graduates stood up and threw their pointed hats up into the air.  It was only a matter of time, before everyone was breaking alphabetical order to congratulate and thump their friends on the back.  Harry whole-heartedly joined in.  For the first time in as long as he could remember, he had the feeling that everything was going to be all right.

Their bags were packed and waiting for them on the carriages that would take the students to the train station.  Some were already sitting in the horseless drawn carriages, while the majority were taking the time to make sure they had not forgot anything, others still were using the opportunity to walk along Hogwarts grounds one final time.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione were alone in the courtyard, standing around, not sure whether to grab a carriage or stay behind a little longer.

"It seems a lot smaller now," Ron commented.

"That's because we've seen nearly ever square inch of it," Hermione said from beside him, where she stood holding his hand.

"Even the ones we weren't supposed to," Harry added in.

"Do you think the repairs will be complete by September?"  Hermione asked him.

"Lupin seems to think so," Harry told her.  Then, watching the two of them closely, he cleared his throat and said, "there's something I have to say to you both before we leave."

Hermione was shaking her head before he even had all the words spoken.  "No, you don't, Harry.  We had a pact.  No good-bye's, remember?"

"I wasn't going to say good-bye.  What I wanted to say was I wouldn't have made it through these last seven years without either one of you.  I know I've done and said a lot of rotten things to both of you, and sometimes I wonder what I've done to deserve your friendship, because the fact of the matter is I don't.  But that hasn't stopped you from caring or trying to help.  All this time I've been telling myself I don't have a family I was wrong.  Ron, Hermione, you are my family.  I just thought you should know that," he added as an afterthought, feeling a little awkward at being so open.

Hermione's response was immediate.  She threw her arms around him, wetting his shoulder with her tears.  "It took you long enough," she sniffed.

He looked over at Ron, who's own eyes were shimmering as well.  For all they had been through together, a little emotional moment still seemed to embarrass them.

Hermione shoved the two of them together saying, "oh, go on you two!"

They hugged as quickly as was humanly possible but the sentiment was still there.

"I promised myself I wasn't going to cry," said Hermione, wiping at her tears.

"I could have told you that wouldn't happen," teased Ron, moving out of harm's way at the quick elbow aimed at his ribs.  A moment later, when the friendly jostling was over, Ron grabbed her hand and held it in his own. 

They made a silent decision to head for the carriages at that point, Hermione walking in the middle of the two young men.  They were quiet because nothing more was needed to be said.  They had survived everything and were on the brink of starting new lives.  As scary as it sounded, they knew they would be all right because they had each other.

A gigantic thank you to everyone who read and reviewed this story!!!  Your comments and points of encouragement are what helped me keep writing.  It almost feels strange to have Weight of the World finished because it's been such a big part of my life for so long.  I know a lot of you were probably expecting a big sappy reunion between Ron and Hermione, but I just didn't feel like it was necessary.  I think things turned out well enough on their own.  Besides, Ron and Hermione are not big on apologies anyways…

This is not the last you'll be seeing of me.  I'm currently working on another Harry Potter fic and hope to start posting chapters soon.