The Great Hall was still exposed to the elements. The tables had been repaired, though great gouges still existed in the fine grain of the wood. What remained of the Houses were gathered at each of the tables, with both parents and children sitting together.
Harry sat wedged between Draco and Ginny. The two Slytherins had been adamant that Harry stay in the Hospital wing, but the dark haired boy would hear none of it. He had dressed himself and was about to walk on his own to the Great Hall when they had relented.
Attendance at the Head Table was sparse; the absence of Trewlawny conspicuous between Hagrid and Professor Sinistra. Professor Sprout was also missing; the Healers had not let her leave the Ward, much against her agitated protests.
The Headmaster looked frail in the flickering light of the floating candles. His wrinkles were pronounced in the poor light and his blue eyes were dull.
A hush fell over the gathered people as he stood. Dumbledore was without his customary hat and loud robes. The stark black mien contrasted with his silver hair and stood out against the gray walls.
"I would like to start with a moment of silence. To remember our fallen, our brave and the lives lost this past week." He rested his hands against the table and bowed his head. A deep silence fell throughout the hall.
It had been a week since Voldemort's army had attacked. The first estimated count of the dead had been low – until those in the Infirmary began to die. Infection had set in, and combined with the curses the Healers did not know how to cure, the final death toll had grown in number.
Every House had lost students. The tiny bodies of first and second year students, too slow to escape the great falling panes of glass, had stuck a harsh blow to the wizarding world. Six Aurors had died in the battle and ten more had succumbed to their wounds later in the week. The Order of the Phoenix had lost many members, though the Ministry had forbid the exact total to the public. Their sacrifices, silent because of their absent names on the official lists, was a sore spot between the Ministry and the rest of the wizarding world.
Harry kept his eyes on the Headmaster, though he felt more than one gaze resting on him. Dumbledore raised his head and for a moment their gazes locked. Harry tried to offer a smile for the older man, but it did not reach his eyes. The Headmaster nodded and looked away.
"Today is both a sad and a glorious day. Sad, for those who could not be here, for those who gave their lives so that we might live. Their names and memories will linger, for we will not let them fade." A sharp glance to the Minister of Magic sent the man squirming in his seat. A rustle moved down the Hall and Fudge dropped his gaze to his folded hands, unable to meet anyone's gaze.
"But today is also a glorious day. For today the last of our sick have been cleared for recovery. Today we gather, to rejoice in knowing that Voldemort is truly gone."
A great cheer rose up from the gathered people. It had been debated that the Dark Lord had not been defeated, that Harry had merely banished him once again. But the teams of Aurors, Unspeakables and visiting specialists from all over the world had finally agreed – Voldemort's soul and body were gone for good.
"We are all thankful for this," Dumbledore continued after the roar had died down. "But none of this could have been done without the courage of our fighters, the ingenuity of our students and one Mr. Harry Potter."
There was a conspicuous pause from the rest of the Houses before their cheers went up. Slytherin's sole cries rang through the Hall at first, with both the students and their parents lending their voice to the cheer. Seamus stood at the Gryffindor table, with his parents following soon after. Harry ducked his head to hide the blush that had spread across his face and was creeping down his neck.
"Many of you, I am sure, are wondering what our Mr. Potter did to vanquish Voldemort in the final hour. But Harry's bravery, his willingness to die so that we might live, is not all that Mr. Potter has done for us this year. Mr. Potter was instrumental in gathering information for the Order of the Phoenix, so that lives and villages could be saved from Death Eater raids."
Gasps and whispers filled the Hall.
"So I propose a toast, to Harry Potter. For your vigilance, your bravery and your willingness to forgive all that has been done to you. To Harry Potter!"
The resounding echo rang in their ears. Draco nudged Harry in the ribs until he picked up his glass and took a sip. To his surprise, the liquid inside was not pumpkin juice, but champagne instead.
"Courtesy of the Minister," Draco whispered in his ear.
"How kind of him," Harry said and put down the glass.
"Would you like to say a few words, Harry?"
Harry looked up at the Headmaster, startled. He drew in a deep breath and nodded. He needed to use Draco's shoulder to steady himself, so he would not sway in front of the captive audience.
Harry focused his gaze on the far wall. "There are two names that have not been added to any list, and I think they should, since none of this could have been possible without their help." He took a moment to steady himself. "First, to Erin McVir." Confused whispers echoed in his slight pause. "None of you know her, but she was instrumental in our efforts. May we remember her name, and the names of her family members, who died to protect their secrets from Voldemort."
The fizzle of the champagne bothered his nose, so he took the smallest sip he could stand. The crowed echoed his words, though their voices were solemn and soft.
"I would also like to add Cho Chang to the list of the fallen and the brave."
Cho's grief-stricken parents were huddled at the far end of the Ravenclaw table, and the distance between them and the rest of the families was hard for Harry to see. Since the girl's disappearance, rumors had flown steadily throughout the school and the rest of the wizarding world as to where she was and what had happened to her.
"I know many of you think Cho was a traitor, but I'm here to tell you she was not. She was captured, kept against her will. Without her I might have never have survived." He turned to her parents. "She wanted me to tell you that she died with honor. She never gave in to them, ever." Cho's father began to weep and her mother collapsed in his arms. The distance between them and the rest of the table eased, as others come to comfort the pair.
"Anything else, Harry?" The Headmaster's voice was close. Harry looked up at him and nodded.
"One last thing." He shifted his grip on Draco's shoulder. The numbing potion the healers had given him was wearing off. The vicious strain and burning pain of his vocal chords let him know he was pushing his luck.
He raised his glass. He opened his mouth to speak and a whisper came out. He blushed and the Headmaster bent his ear so he could hear the murmured words.
"To our Allies, the centaurs. To the Dark Creatures with Light hearts and to the memory of the Gods, for without their return, we would have been lost. To memory!"
Harry sank down into his seat and Draco wound an arm around his waist. He gave the blond a grateful smile. A bony, long fingered hand appeared in front of his nose. He looked up into the Potion Master's eyes. He took the numbing potion and gulped it down, the mint taste refreshing.
"A few final words and I will let this celebration begin. There will be no House Cup this year." Dumbledore held up a hand at the groans that had sprung up in his declaration's wake. "Instead, for the first time in the history of Hogwarts, I am declaring all Houses winners of the Cup!" With a wave of his hand, the enchantments rolled across the room. The House banners dropped and the lights flared. The cheer was deafening as the food appeared on the tables.
The celebration lasted long into the night. After the dessert, the tables had been cleared from the center of the room and a band began to play. Harry eyed them from his seat at one of the small side tables set up around the edges of the room. They aren't half bad, he smiled and buried his nose in his drink. At least I don't have to dance.
The Slytherin House was arrayed around him, making it difficult for people to get to his seat. Pansy and Millicent were on the dance floor, having nabbed Draco and Bill for the first set of songs.
"I didn't know Bill could dance," he whispered to Ginny.
The youngest Black smiled. "Neither did I." She had a white knuckled grip on her cane. "The musicians are nice. Probably the best thing Fudge has done in a long time." The bitter tone was soft, so only Harry could hear.
He touched her cheek, making her look at him. "Why don't you go dance?"
She ducked her head. "I can't. Besides, no one's going to ask me to. Not with this." She caressed the head of her cane. "He's an excellent protector, you know. But he's rather a put off when people want to dance."
Harry chewed on his lower lip. He put down his cup and pushed back his chair. "Ginny Black. Dance with me?"
She gaped at him. "You – are you mad?"
His smile grew into a grin. "That has yet to be seen." He captured her free hand and tugged her to her feet. "C'mon."
She stumbled, but let him lead her out onto the dance floor. She gave Remus her cane as she passed. The werewolf smiled at her and tucked the implement away at his side.
The band modulated their song into a slow waltz. Harry flashed them a grateful smile and held his hands out for Ginny to take. He could see Professor McGonagall beaming at him from her seat.
"Is this – will you be alright?" She placed her cold hand into his and let him lead.
"There's nothing wrong with my legs, Gin."
"No, but you do have two left feet."
"May I cut in?"
Harry looked up at the unknown voice. A Slytherin seventh year he recognized from the Quidditch team stood at their elbows.
"Sure." He passed his lead to the boy, Adrian, if he remembered correctly, and ignored Ginny's frantic looks. He beamed a smile at the pair and began making his way back to his table.
Hermione's soft voice stopped him. He turned around.
She was dressed in a set of blue dress robes he had never seen before. "I just – I mean – I wanted to say…" She blew out a sharp breath. "Would you dance with me? Please?"
Harry blinked at her. "Are you sure?"
Their first steps were awkward, but they soon feel into a halting rhythm. Harry shook his head at Pansy and Draco, who were watching the developments with sharp eyes. "I – uh. Your robes are nice."
"Thank you." She kept her gaze on his chin. "I – I wanted to say – I'm sorry."
Their rhythm faltered again, but Hermione pulled him back into step. "Why?"
"For – for everything." Her eyes were glassy.
"Oh Herm." Harry grasped for words. "It – I guess it was how things were meant to be." He shook his head. "Don't – don't beat yourself up for things we can't change. It's over now. We have to move on."
"That's what Professor McGonagall said." She sniffed and freed a hand to wipe her eyes. "Would you – could you…"
"Apology accepted, Herm." He let the words settle between them. "Let's leave it at that for now, alright?"
She nodded and they lapsed into silence for the rest of the song.
"This place is crawling with muggles."
Lucius grunted as a foot connected with his shin. He glared at Sirius. "Well, it is."
"More than half these muggles helped clean up and repair the castle. Behave."
A sliver of a smile curled one edge of Lucius' mouth. "Now see here, Black…"
"Sirius. Dance." Remus pulled the animagus to his feet.
The pair would their way onto the dance floor, leaving Lucius and Severus alone at the table.
"Blasted werewolf. Right when we were about to argue."
The blond raised his eyebrows at his partner. The Potions Master looked away.
"How long until Fudge makes an ass of himself?"
"I'd say half that."
The lovers eyed each other. "I'll take that bet," Severus said. Lucius sniffed and flipped his hair over his shoulder.
It was neither half an hour nor a full one when the Minister of Magic rose from his seat and began tapping on his glass for attention. The three quarter mark left both the Slytherins glaring at the pudgy man.
The band ended their song with a flourish and all eyes turned towards the Head Table.
"I would like to say a few words."
"You just did!"
The anonymous heckler caused titters to spread through the crowd. Fudge's glare was brief, but vehement.
"As you know, the wizarding world has been strife with rumors and black accusations." A loud snort from the dance floor made him pause, but he forged on.
"I, as the Minister of Magic, would like to apologize to all those harmed by the baseless accusations that have caused such heartache. I offer a formal apology, to the families of Slytherin House, and to all others who have come under fire from the unrest that has plagued out world. It is out intention, with the backing of you, the people, that nothing of this sort should happen again. Unity, with both our parties and leaders, is…"
"That's wonderful, Minister." Lucius stood and drew the room's gaze. Fudge sputtered to a stop. "But please keep your speeches for another time and place. We have no use for them here." He flicked a hand at the band, which flipped through their books and avoided the purpling Minister's glare. "This is a time for celebration. So sit down old man, and let the rest of us enjoy it."
An impromptu cheer sent Fudge stalking from the room. The band lit up with a cheerful reel. Seamus' holler and Sasha's yelp could be heard above the din.
"The man's a fool." Lucius sipped his drink and made a face. "and he has terrible taste in wine." He looked around. "That house elf of mine works here, doesn't he? Dobby!"
The house elf appeared and his eyes grew wide. "I is not your servant anymore!"
Lucius narrowed his eyes at the creature. "You know the Manor. Bring some decent wine for this table and all others that hold members of the Slytherin House."
Dobby gaped at him. "Yous can't order Dobby around!"
Lucius' cup knocked over and spilled merlot into his lap. "Fine then! But only for Master Harry Potter's sake!" Dobby disappeared with a loud crack.
"You did treat him harshly."
Lucius gave his lover a sour look. "Don't you start."
Severus smiled at him and passed over his napkin.
The fading sounds of the band echoed down the empty hall. Harry stood on the top stop of the castle entrance and watched the dark.
A shadow stirred under the branches. Harry let go of the stone he was leaning against and started down the steps. The night air was cool, bringing color to his cheeks and lips. He pulled his cloak around his body and met the god halfway to the lake.
The rack of horns rose high into the air. The half human, half stag body towered over him. The dark eyes held no whites, but the light of a thousand stars. Cernunnos' powerful chest rose and fell with each deep breath he took.
"You're not the one who saved me."
The god tilted his head. "That is correct."
"Who was it?"
"The father of us all."
Harry nodded. "Is he…Is he alright?"
Cernunnos threw back his head and laughed. "Harry Potter. You are a treat to these old eyes." He sobered and met the boy's gaze. "Dagda lives in us all. In here." He touched his chest. "And here." He touched Harry's forehead. "The Lady walks the land once more. We have all woken from our sleep."
The god looked away, towards the creeping dark of the Forbidden Forest. He turned back to Harry and knelt.
"Harry Potter, you have done a wondrous thing. But as with all things, a balance must be met. There are no vacuums in nature, boy. Remember that."
Harry's left hand curled into a fist. "How long do I have?"
The god rose. "That I do not know." The dark eyes were shadowed as a cloud passed over the moon. "We will be waiting for you, Dreamer. You know out paths and our names." The god's powerful haunches bunched as he turned and trotted for the line of the forest. Harry watched him go.
The silence of the night settled around him. He looked up into the sky, tracing the familiar constellations. "Thank you for the warning," his voice was no more than a whisper. He drew in another breath, but let it out without another word. He had time – just not as much as I had hoped. He swallowed hard and bowed his head.
The faint strains of music and laughter touched his ears, making him turn. The castle was ablaze against the velvet night and for one moment, Harry saw it with the same eyes he'd had when he first came to Hogwarts. He smiled and headed back to the Great Hall.
The celebration was over and he was back in the dorms. He set down a stack of books and turned to the door.
Draco slipped inside and closed the door behind him. He leaned back and watched the smaller boy.
"Draco." Harry let his sleeves fall over his hands, hiding the faint tremors. He had pushed himself too far and his body was beginning to protest.
Draco took a step forward, then another and another until he had Harry in his arms and his nose buried in the messy hair.
"Draco?" It came out as a squeak.
"You can't dance, Potter."
Harry smiled. "Everyone knows that." He patted the blond's back.
"It was very kind, what you did for Ginny."
"She's…Gin. She didn't deserve to sit all night, watching while everyone else danced."
"You didn't dance with me."
Harry pulled back and looked at him. "I can't dance, Draco. It would have been a disaster. Besides, who would have led?"
"I would have!"
Harry raised his eyebrows.
"What, did you want to lead?"
His smile came with ease. "How about neither of us leads?"
Draco touched the corner of Harry's mouth and his eyes grew dark. "I can live with that."
Harry's laughter rang through the room.
The Headmaster sighed and set the letter down on his empty desk.
The emblazoned seal of the Ministry took up an entire corner of the page. The short missive had started a headache that was located right behind his eyes.
Albus rose and walked to his window. There had been a number of cracks in the panes, but the glass had held during the siege. He stared down at the children leaving with their parents. Their happy voices were muted by the spells surrounding his office, but their joyful expressions were telling enough.
His hands rested on the sill. He studied the mottled flesh, spotted with age and fading scars. There has been too much war, he bowed his head.
Soon, he would go down to breakfast and pull Harry aside. Soon, he would have to dash the hopes that had pulled the boy through too much pain and suffering. Fudge's interfering politics inflamed Albus' anger, but he was powerless to stop the pudgy man. He would have to appeal to the courts and Albus knew Fudge would dither and delay the proceedings as long as he could, for spite.
Soon he would have to tell Harry that he would not be returning with his godfather and his new family. But for now, he would wait and watch the joy of happy parents and students going home together.
He ignored the sharp pain that lingered in his chest.
The Headmaster had cancelled the rest of the term, much to the delight of the students. Official tests, such as NEWTs and OWLs were to be delayed one year, so that the students could have time to recover from their ordeals. Harry was glad – his studying had taken a severe down turn and he needed to catch up.
Most of the students had left with their families the day after the celebration. Only a handful remained, including a portion of Slytherin House and the rest of the Order. Teams of architects would be arriving to repair and rebuild the castle in the coming weeks. Renovations were thought to take the whole of summer break.
Harry sat on the edge of the hospital bed and swung his feet. The Infirmary was empty save for him and the bustling Madam Pomfrey. Healer Fabing had returned to St. Mungo's with the rest of the bedridden patients.
"Here you are, dear." The Healer had left Pomfrey with a list of the potions Harry needed to take. They all tasted nasty, but Harry didn't mind. The improvement to his throat was already making a marked difference. I can stand the potions. As long as they work.
The scars had lost most of their angry red look. They were still raised and painful to touch, but he was getting used to them. He had been admonished to speak as little as possible and to rest as much as he could. Harry was looking forward to being lazy. When he could.
Pomfrey took the empty vials from him and bustled down the aisle. His treatment also included salves he needed to put on the scars. They were sticky and uncomfortable, but he only needed to apply them for another month.
The far doors swung open, revealing the Potion Master's lanky frame. Severus stalked down the aisle until he came even to the boy.
"Have you taken your potions?"
"And the salves?"
He pointed to the nurse's open door.
"Hmph." Severus sat on the opposite bed and folded his hands in his lap. "Have you told the Blacks?"
Harry looked at him. The black eyes were unreadable, but they glittered in the bright light of the room. He shook his head.
"Why not? It will become obvious to them when you get on the train tomorrow."
Harry looked away. The windows of the Infirmary still had not been replaced. The hazy sunlight filled the room, catching stray motes of dust and dancing them in the air. The sky was blue, but dotted with fluffy clouds.
"And ruin what little peace I have right now?" The whisper was loud in the quiet room. "Sirius will be furious. Ginny will cry. Let me have one more day. That's all I want."
"The Headmaster swore that you would be transferred to you guardian's care."
"That was before Percy was killed."
Percy Weasley had been branded a traitor to the wizarding world. His sentence was supposed to have been carried out the day of the celebration, but rogue Death Eaters had beaten the Wizengamot to the execution. Percy's escort had been ambushed, and the Aurors with him killed. Percy himself was flayed and nailed to a tree, which his throat slit. The whereabouts and names of the dark army's hideouts had died with him.
"Have your relatives been informed of…what has happened?"
"Potter. If they do not know…"
"They won't care." Harry's gaze was bright, cutting the older wizard off mid-sentence. "I'll be fine, though."
"Potter, if they harm you…"
"They won't." A smile touched the edges of Harry's mouth. "Trust me." His eyes were the darkest green Severus had ever seen.
The Potion Master pursed his lips. "You are an irritating boy."
Harry began to grin.
"You are impudent, fool hardy, trusting…"
"I will miss you too, Professor."
"I said nothing of the sort."
Harry eased off the bed as Pomfrey approached. "I know," he said. He paused. "I won't be there long, you know. Just for a week or two." His gaze returned to the open window. His eyes tracked something only he could see. "I'll be at Sirius' house by July at the latest."
"How to you know this?"
Harry turned to look at him. The green eyes had darkened to almost black. He smiled and raised a finger to his lips. Then he turned to greet Pomfrey and his eyes changed again. He took the salves from her with a grateful nod and took his leave of them both.
Severus stared at the door for a moment and then rose. He looked down at the floor and felt a chill work its way up his spine. He picked up the glossy black feather and spun it between his fingers. He looked out the window, but saw nothing but sky and clouds.
"We'll get you out of there before July, Potter." He curled a fist around the feather. "No matter what you say." He bowed his head and left the room. A shadow passed across the floor, now bird, then human. The Morrigan braced herself in the window and grinned.
A/N: I want to thank everyone who has stayed with this story from the onset. It's been a long haul, people, but we've reached the end. Thank you Moonfairyhime for smacking me upside the head for the bone-headed mistakes I like to make. Thanks again to everyone!