Chapter 65: An end.
Harry lay flat on his back in the darkness, staring up at the infinite, black sky and identifying the occasional constellation as he let his eyes wander absently.
He had spent most of the evening sitting quietly as his friends had played games and celebrated with all the other witches and wizards. Before long, though, he had felt too tired for the excited atmosphere and had made his excuses, choosing to go for a quiet stroll around the lake to sort through his thoughts before heading to bed.
He eventually found himself in the clearing that he had adopted for his private practise, as it reminded him so much of the clearing he had used back at Marcello. He wondered briefly if the similarity between the two had been the reason why he had ended up apparating there rather than Hogwarts.
Before thinking too long on the subject, he concluded that it had been Fate that had taken him to where the Doyen was waiting to teach him about the elementals, and had laid down on the ground, staring up at the sky until he heard distant conversation and crashing through the undergrowth as a large number of people headed towards him.
He didn't move as his friends broke through the trees into the clearing, all looking relieved to see him lying there.
"We thought we would find you here." Todd said with a smile as they crossed the clearing.
"After visiting the Harry's room in the hospital wing, and the Gryffindor Common Room before scouting the crowds near the castle." Ginny replied, returning Todd's glare with a smile.
"You all right?" Brandon asked, taking a seat on the ground near Harry.
Harry didn't respond from where he was laid on the bank, just rolled his head on the ground until his eyes focused on the castle and watching the twin's fireworks as they burst brightly and full of colour.
"Not really." He finally admitted. "I'm exhausted. I can feel myself getting stronger, but it's going to take such a long time to get how I was."
He rolled his head the other way and looked at his friends. "I noticed what you guys did with the names on the base of the memorial. Thanks. It means a lot to me."
"It means a lot to us too, mate." Ron said. "Besides, it's so much better than your gorgeous face gracing us every morning." He tensed and ducked his head slightly, expecting Harry to send an elemental or hex his way. When it didn't come he looked up to see his friend grinning tiredly at him.
"I'll get you some other time, when I have the energy." Harry said tiredly, and stared back out over the lake.
"What are you thinking of, Harry?" Hermione asked after a short silence.
"The future," Harry said after a short pause. "And what I should do now."
"Have you got any ideas?"
Harry shrugged, and looked back at them. "What are you guys planning to do?" he asked.
"Well, we'll have to stay on here for another year, Ginny for two." Hermione said. "After that, I'm probably going to go on for some further education, become a professor or something."
"I'm thinking about working for the Ministry." Ron replied. "Dad should be able to get me a job there somewhere. I was thinking about going for an Auror apprenticeship, but I don't think I'll get the grades. I suppose it wouldn't hurt to apply for the position though."
"I'll probably go into a Healing profession." Ginny continued. "I'm doing pretty well at Potions now that Snape isn't being as much of a git as he used to be."
"And you lot?" Harry asked his Marcello friends.
They looked at one another, communicating silently before Horus spoke up. "Well, I'll be heading back to Marcello. I'm still a Master, and I'm quite looking forward improving my instructor skills and teaching new boys how to fight."
"And the rest of us are going to go back to finish our education." Conway said. "I guess things will go back to the way they were before any of this ever happened."
"Maybe not exactly the same." Brogan said, "Kat and Orson will no longer be there." and the clearing fell silent as they realised the implication of his words.
"I'll be going back." Harry said suddenly, breaking through the silence.
"Pyro...?" Horus started.
"I have to take my position as Doyen. It is expected of me."
"You don't have to live up to people's expectations any more." Hermione said. "You can do whatever you want."
"Oh, I'm not going to do it straight away." Harry assured her. "I plan to go travelling first. Learn about magic in different cultures; there must be hundreds of different magical methods out there and I only know a couple. Then I plan to come back. And I plan to change Marcello."
"Change, how?" Brandon asked.
"I want it to become a specialist school." Harry said. "For Wizards and Witches alike. I want it to offer more academic courses, focusing more on magic rather than duelling the whole time. I still want to keep its location secret, though I am going to make sure that people know it exists, so that any student who goes there can hold their head up proudly with the knowledge that they're one of the chosen few that are allowed access to Marcello."
"And how are you proposing to go about those changes?" Horus asked."Slowly." Harry immediately replied. "I'll start by focusing more on the art of wandless magic, then we can introduce other courses when people are settled on that idea. In fact, you lot can start that process off whilst I go travelling. When I get back, we can then work on introducing girls into the system, and bring in some other professors for the specialist subjects."
"That sounds like it's going to take years." Ron said with a grimace.
Harry nodded, staring back up at the stars. "I'm not planning on going anywhere." he said sadly. "In fact, if I ever have the misfortune of experiencing another burning day, I expect I'm going to be around a lot longer than any of you can imagine."
The others stared at him in silence as they replayed his words in their minds, and realising their implications.
"You know," Harry said after a small sigh. "Voldemort was intent on achieving immortality. He didn't want to die, and had tried so many methods of keeping himself alive that he turned himself into more of an entity than a human being. Yet, when you know that there is the possibility that you can never die... it scares me. I can imagine life becoming very torturous if you have to be alive for centuries. Phoenixes may be equipped mentally to deal with living for eternity, but I know I'm not. I'm sixteen years old, and I'm already looking forward to the day I die, knowing that it may be two-hundred years or more away."
"You aren't going to go and try anything silly to test this out, are you?" Ginny asked nervously.
Harry laughed once. "The idea has crossed my mind." He admitted. "But then I think that, on the off chance that I'm not immortal, I've wasted this second chance at life. No. I'm just going to have to live with the possibility, and do as much as I can in this lifetime. No unnecessary risks. No assumptions."
"Sounds like a wise plan." Brogan said, and silence fell over the group as more fireworks flew up into the air over the castle.
After a while, Brandon sat up slightly, turning on one elbow to look at his friends. "Anyone up for heading back to the castle for some hot drinks?" he asked, and was returned with some positive noises from the other teenagers.
"Sounds like a great plan," Hermione said, disentangling herself from Ron's arms to sit up. "Harry?"
The group looked to where the saviour of the wizarding world laid flat on his back, his eyes closed and his chest rising and falling deeply and steadily.
Horus started to laugh quietly at the sleeping boy, and the others joined in.
"You think we should wake him?" Ginny asked, leaning over and staring intently at the boy's face in the darkness.
"Nah." Sheridan said. "He looks content."
The others agreed as Harry had a small smile gracing his lips, his expression indicating one of a peacefulness that the others had not seen on his face for a long time.
"Let's let him sleep on." Hermione suggested. "We can take him back later when the fireworks are over."
"Sounds good." Todd said, falling back onto the ground with a small thump so that he didn't have to strain his neck to watch the fireworks.
The group then fell into a friendly silence. They admired the twins work with the fireworks as they drifted in their own thoughts, content with the knowledge that there were no longer any shadows threatening their futures, and that they had their whole of the rest of their lives stretching freely and undefined before them.