The Red Sox win, the Red Sox win, theeeeeee RED SOX WIN!
Okay, now that that's out of the way...
Well everybody, this is it. The long awaited conclusion of Part II of the Second War Trilogy. Let me just check my records here...I first began this story on May 31st of this year of our lord, 2004. So, that is....150 days as of Wednesday, October 27th, 2004. Roughly five months. Most of you know that I normally apologise when I post a chapter late, but I won't this time. I wanted this last chapter to be perfect, so I took the extra two days to make sure it was. I'm sure I won't receive any complaints.
A project? Yes. A burden? Sometimes. A pleasure? Always. And so will Part III (which as of right now remains untitled), once I start writing it. For those of you who don't already know, I will be taking a month-long sabbatical to relax and hammer out my schoolwork that I'm behind on. Maybe I'll write another chapter to 'Who Turned Off the Water?' as many people have asked for that. But as of right now, this is the last chapter of the trilogy you're getting until December. I'll be writing a nice long A/N at the end of this chapter, to sum up anything that people may be wondering, but that's it.
A couple of people asked me why I was expecting flames about last chapter, and given some of the violence and Krum's death, I thought some people would yell at me. I guess I was mistaken, but I sure won't complain about being wrong this time ;)
So therefore, ladies and gentlemen, I give you...the final chapter of The Path Ahead.
Chapter 22: Treasuring what we Give to Others
The flight back to Hogwarts took roughly twelve hours, given that the added weight on the brooms forced Harry and Draco to fly slower. Harry had never gone through a longer twelve hours in his life.
He knew Hermione was listening in on his thoughts, but he couldn't bring himself to shut his mind to her, or to ask her to stop. It felt too good to have her presence with him again, but Krum's death was dampening his celebration, as it should. Finally, as the topmost tower of Hogwarts became visible in the distance, Hermione spoke.
"It's not your fault, Harry," she said quietly. He couldn't bring himself to dignify that with a response. Too many times he had heard that sentence, and he was sick of it. He was sick of everything.
The castle was now fully in view, and he and Draco began their descents towards the ground. Once they were on the grounds, they dismounted along with the girls, and walked in silence into the castle.
"Must be lunchtime," Draco said, as they walked through the empty halls towards Dumbledore's office.
"Mmm," grunted Harry in response. The arrived at the gargoyle only to find it already moved aside, the hidden staircase revealed. They ascended the stairs towards the office, but stopped outside the doors when they heard voices coming from the inside.
"What if they're in trouble?" said a familiar anger-filled voice from inside.
"Dumbledore, you cannot honestly believe that they could do this all by themselves," another familiar voice said, this time feminine.
"They are not in trouble, Mister Weasley," Dumbledore's voice said. "And they did rescue the girls all by themselves."
"How do you know that?" Ron asked, still angry.
"Because they are standing right outside my office door, listening to what we are saying." A flurry of footsteps was heard crossing the room, and the door was flung open by Molly Weasley to reveal her husband, Ron, David and Emma Granger, and Dumbledore who was twinkling madly as they walked into the room. The twinkle died the moment he saw the absence of Krum and their somber faces.
This, however, did not stop the parents in the room from rushing over to their children and embracing them in bone-crushing hugs, while Dumbledore motioned for Harry and Draco to come over to him.
"I take it Viktor did not survive?" he asked gravely as they reached his desk. Harry did not look up as he shook his head an inch.
"What happened?" Ron asked, floating next to Draco.
"It's....a long story," the once arrogant, now turned grave blond teen said. As if on cue, Molly Weasley spoke up.
"Where's Viktor?" she asked, turning away from Ginny. "And why is he here?" she added, looking at Draco.
Her first question was answered by the defeated looks on the faces of the people around the headmaster's desk.
"He died to protect us," Harry whispered. "They hit his broom with a curse and he fell. He refused to come with us and ultimately died blowing up a large portion of the Keep."
"The Amortus Curse," Dumbledore said. "If what happened in your dream Harry is what happened not too long ago." Harry nodded.
"What's that?" Ginny asked.
For the first time in his life, Harry saw Dumbledore at a loss for words, or at least trying to phrase them in such a way to be less emotionally taxing. However, he needn't have made the effort, because Hermione answered before he could.
"Suicide," she whispered. "Turns the body into a bomb, and then goes off."
"How?" her mother asked in an awestruck whisper.
"It takes all the magic in the person's bloodstream and concentrates it in the place where magic is at its most powerful: the heart," Hermione elaborated. "And then it erupts."
"People who have seen it in the past claim there to be a brilliant white light that emanates from an aura-like effect surrounding the person before the explosion," Dumbledore said. "Which is how I knew, before anyone takes the trouble to ask."
"I agree that this is most tragic," Molly said, still holding Ginny slightly. "But my second question still hasn't been answered. What is Draco doing here?"
The person in question turned and looked to Dumbledore for some means of escape, but the look that was returned to him from the headmaster blatantly said 'It's time to fess up.'.
"I–I...I uh," he stammered, turning around to face Molly and Arthur.
"We're serious," Ginny said, without a hint of regret in her voice. Draco, however, was not as brave about the subject, and quickly cowered under the glare he received from Ginny's mother.
"You..." Molly breathed, slowly stalking over to him like a cat that has trapped a mouse it's about to eat. "After all the trouble your father, and your family has caused us, how DARE you touch my little girl!"
"I am NOT your little girl!" Ginny screeched from the other side of the room. "And if I choose to love him, then it's MY business!"
"I refuse to have the son of a death eater associating with anyone in my family!" Molly retorted, screaming. Everyone in the room (Dumbledore included) was now backing away from the two red- headed women who were now standing in the center looking as if they were about to draw wands and have at it.
"Ex-death eater," Draco mumbled, causing everyone to pause and look at him.
"What?" Molly asked, clearly annoyed and angry at him for interrupting her momentum.
"Ex-death eater," he said more clearly.
"And what is that supposed to mean?" she asked, growing impatient.
"It means that he's dead," Draco replied.
A pin dropping onto the floor could have created a noise as loud as an orchestra playing Wagner. Harry thought that perhaps there could be no silence more dead than the one that followed those words. Those who didn't know the story could only stare in disbelief as the son of the man who was quite possibly Lord Voldemort's second-in-command pronounced his father dead.
"How?" Molly asked, now more curious than angry or impatient.
"I killed him."
Harry quickly found out that his previous assumption of silence was wrong. If it hadn't been for the fact that Molly's face turned from the beet red of fury to the slight pale of realisation, he would've thought time had stopped altogether.
"You what?" she asked, slightly above a whisper.
"I killed him," Draco replied, this time in a much firmer voice. "And if you don't believe me, you can ask Harry, Hermione, or Ginny whether I'm lying, as they all watched me do it." The grown- ups in the room all turned at once to Harry, and without being asked, he nodded once.
"I think," Dumbledore said, breaking the tension that hung in the air. "That it would be best if we could find out what has happened in the past day." Without waiting for a response, he promptly conjured up nine chintz armchairs for everyone to sit in, before he sat in his own behind his desk. Everyone took seats (or in Ron's case, floated into his seat), and once they were comfortable, Dumbledore spoke. "Who wants to begin?"
And, to everyone's surprise, it was Draco who opened his mouth first.
"I do." the parents in the room looked at him curiously, but Dumbledore simply nodded. "When I found out that Ginny had been taken, I went into a rage," he said, looking at the ground. "Once Potter had been released from the hospital wing, I went looking for him so I could throw every hex and curse I knew his way, but he ran into me first."
"What happened?" asked Hermione and Ginny at the same time. Harry, Draco, and Ron couldn't help but smile slightly at the girls' demeanor.
"He threatened to kill me," Harry said nonchalantly. "To make a long story short, we worked out our differences and agreed to work together to find you." He felt Hermione's hand cover his at these words, and didn't have to look at her to know what she was saying.
"Then what?" asked Molly.
"I went to use the pensieve that Professor Dumbledore gave me over Christmas, to see if I could find any clue as to where Hermione and Ginny were, but when I emptied my memory of it into the basin, I contacted Hermione through our link."
"How?" asked David Granger. "My understanding is that it only works over short distances."
"It appears that if the mind is clear enough, it can work over large distances as well," Dumbledore said. "I believe that when Harry cleared his mind by using the pensieve, his reception increased and he was able to make contact with Hermione. It faded out because the memory of the conversation was taking up the space in his head that was allowing him to talk to her through the link."
"Anyway," Harry said continuing. "I talked to Professor Dumbledore, and during that conversation I had an idea about the potion that was used on Hermione and Ginny."
"The Vulnero Draught," clarified Dumbledore, causing Harry to nod while gasps were heard from Molly and Arthur.
"What's that?" asked Emma.
"I'll explain it later," Hermione said, clearly wanting to get past this topic.
"I went to Professor Snape and asked for his help to brew the antidote, and he agreed," Harry continued. "About eight hours after we started he gave me a break. I talked to Viktor about what was going on, since I promised that I would tell him about any developments, and then left to go back to my dormitory. That's when I ran into Draco."
"I had snuck out of the castle to go back to my house to look for clues," Draco said. "I figured if it was my father who had captured Hermione and Ginny, I might be able to find something that would point to where they were. And lo and behold I ran into..." As he trailed off, both he and Harry came to the same realisation at the same time.
"Where is he?" Harry asked, making the other people in the room wonder who he was talking about.
"He must've broken the tie," Draco said. "He wasn't in the library when we went back, was he?"
"I don't remember seeing him," Harry replied. "How could we let him get away?!"
"Um...who are you talking about?" Ginny asked meekly.
"Kreacher," Draco and Harry said simultaneously.
"Kreacher?" asked Hermione incredulously. "But he was working at your mansion, Draco, how could you not have gone to him right away?"
"He wasn't always around," Draco replied. "I saw him maybe once, before I ran into him while I was searching in my father's study. It became obvious that he knew something, so I bound him to me, ordered him to tell everything he knew, and came back to Hogwarts with him to tell Harry."
"He gave me this," Harry said, removing the beat-up piece of parchment from his robes, and passed it to Molly Weasley, who showed it to Arthur with wide eyes.
"Isn't that where –" she began, but Dumbledore cut her off.
"We will discuss that later," he said. She nodded, and Harry continued with the story after a moment of confusion.
"I questioned Kreacher, but he wasn't being helpful. We started searching the library for anything on where this 'Borghund Keep' was," he said. "But we didn't find anything by the time I needed to go back to Professor Snape, so I went down to the dungeons while Draco kept searching. It must've been nearly midnight when I finally was able to return to the library, and found Draco still looking through the maps and books."
"But the Keep –" Hermione began, but Harry cut her off.
"We didn't know," Harry interrupted, "that the keep was destroyed in a war in the 7th century before being rebuilt by Voldemort recently, and therefore it wasn't in any of the books or maps that were looking through. We figured it out eventually though, and it was around the time that we were getting ready to steal the antidote..." he trailed off.
"I already knew," Dumbledore said. "Please continue."
"Well it was around then that Krum came out from under an invisibility cloak and said he was coming with us," Harry said. "I wasn't about to turn down his help, so we left the library to get our brooms and my invisibility cloak, and we met back there about ten minutes later."
"And looking back on it, Kreacher had escaped sometime while we were gone," Draco said. "I don't know why I didn't feel the tie being broken, but he definitely wasn't there."
"Kreacher disappeared shortly after the three of you left for Norway," Dumbledore said. "He was hiding in one of the bookshelves when you met back in the library, and waited until you were off the grounds before severing the tie and leaving." The other nine people looked at the headmaster in confusion. "As I've said many times, I do try to be aware of everything that happens in this school."
"Well, we stole the antidote and left," Harry said. "It took us the greater part of a day to get to the forest surrounding the keep, but we managed it. Once we were there I used the same spell that the Professor used earlier in the year to detect any death eaters." A bit of the twinkle that had left the eyes of the headmaster returned slightly after this. "We snuck past the guards and got to the main entrance of the castle..." his voice died off.
"What?" asked Ron. "What happened?"
"We had to wait for the portcullis to be raised so we could sneak inside," Draco said. "And it did raise, but I'll be the first to admit, I never expected to see the two people who walked out through that gate."
"Who were they?" asked Arthur.
"Voldemort and Wormtail," Harry answered, causing a few gasps. "He knew I was there, and ordered the gate sealed, but we got in before it closed all the way."
"And then what?" asked Dumbledore.
"He walked into the forest with Peter and disapparated," Harry said. He could tell that Dumbledore was considering this carefully and when nothing was said for another minute, he asked the professor what was on his mind.
"Nothing," Dumbledore said with a dismissive shake of his head. "Please continue."
"Well after that, I could tell that Hermione and Ginny weren't on the main floor, so we found some stairs that led into a large chamber with more stairs going off in different directions. I managed to talk to Hermione and she told me how to get to where she and Ginny were. We got to their cell, killed the guards, and got inside to give them the potion."
"That was when we heard an alarm going off," Draco said. "We ran for the main floor, but before we got there..."
"Yes?" asked Dumbledore.
"That was when we ran into Lucius and his death eaters," Ginny said. "We killed the others, and Lucius lunged at Draco."
"I sidestepped him," Draco interjected in a tone of voice that said he wanted to be the person to say this. "He said some things about me betraying him, and that's when I killed him." There was a moment of silence after this before Harry continued the story.
"We ran up the stairs and got on our brooms, but when we got to the gate, it was down," he said. "And then the death eaters attacked. We flew back into the castle looking for a way out, and they got Krum. We found a courtyard and escaped."
There was a contemplative quiet in the room after the story ended, which was broken when Dumbledore spoke.
"Very well. I think much strain has been put on everyone these past few days, and it would be wise for everyone to get some rest," he said. Everyone rose to leave, but before anyone could leave, he spoke again. "Harry, perhaps I could speak with you alone for a minute?" Harry hadn't managed to complete his nod before Hermione spoke.
"I'm staying with him," she said insistently.
"Hermione, dear –" her father began, but she cut him off.
"No, I'm staying with Harry, and that's final," she said with such seriousness, not a person in the room found the courage to argue.
"I want to stay too –" Ron began, but Molly cut him off.
"You will not," she said in her traditional motherly voice. "They can tell you about it later, you come with us right now, Ronald." Seeing it was going to be no use to argue, Ron floated out through the open door that Molly was holding grumbling. The other six people in the room also left, leaving only Hermione, Harry, and Dumbledore sitting there.
"Harry, I want you to tell me exactly what happened when Voldemort sensed you were there," Dumbledore said, closing the door with a wave of his hand.
"Er...he ordered the gate shut, and Draco, Krum, and I dived under it just in time," Harry said, a look of slight confusion on his face. "Why?"
"Did anything happen after that? Did he try to penetrate your mind at all?"
"Yeah," said Harry remembering the strain against his mind after they were inside the castle. "I tried to put up a brick wall in my head to prevent him from getting inside."
"Did you succeed?" Harry thought about this for a moment before answering.
"I don't know," he replied truthfully. "But Voldemort seemed convinced that even if I was there, I wouldn't get past the guards, so he left." Dumbledore let out a sigh at this. "Is there something wrong?"
"Do you remember anything about the Order meeting in which Hermione was inducted?" Dumbledore asked. Harry cast his mind back, but from the look on Hermione's face, she already knew what was coming.
"Er...no," he said.
"The Tromhund Crypt?" Hermione asked.
"Ohhhhh," Harry said, vaguely remembering something along those lines mentioned. "Yeah...hey wait, I think I remember reading something about the king who destroyed the Keep –"
"Was looking for the Crypt, yes," Dumbledore finished for him. "In truth, he was looking in the right place, for that is exactly where the Crypt is located. However, since he did not have the key, he couldn't get in."
"Where is this key?" Harry asked. "Wasn't Voldemort looking for it or something?" Dumbledore nodded.
"And that is exactly why he let you enter the castle," he said. "The catacombs in which he hid Hermione are rumored to hold the key to the Crypt as well."
"Well, why have me look for it then?" Harry asked. "Why not go searching for it himself, or send his death eaters to do it for him?"
"It's well protected," Dumbledore said with a smile. "Booby traps and such."
"Well, why would I go looking for it while I was trying to find Hermione?"
"You wouldn't," Dumbledore answered. "But Voldemort's overconfidence is his weakness. I would assume that he planned on tricking you into going to look for it using your connection, but when you managed to close it, he must have figured that you were nowhere near him. Tom seems to be under the impression that your skills are no match for his," he finished with a smile.
"That still doesn't explain it," Harry said. "What if I manage to get the key?"
"He would lead you to Hermione, have you reach the main floor of the castle, then have his death eaters swarm you and take the key," Dumbledore answered. "The only reason they weren't already waiting for you is because you caught them off guard. Had Voldemort established the link, you more than likely would have been met with the mass of death eaters that took Viktor the moment you stepped foot above ground, instead of when you reached the gate." Harry thought this made sense, and sat in contemplative thought for a moment before something nagged at his brain.
"What's in the Crypt that's so special?" he asked. A smile appeared on Dumbledore's face at this.
"The correct question is: What is rumored to be in the Crypt that makes it so special?" he said.
"Okay, so what is it?" Harry asked. The headmaster got up and walked over to a cabinet in the back of his office that Harry had never noticed before. He muttered a series of unlocking charms, and the door opened to reveal a faint greenish glow. Dumbledore beckoned Harry and Hermione over, and when they saw what was hidden in the closet, Hermione let out a gasp.
"The Green Flame Torch," Dumbledore said. "The source of all evil in the world."
"But if you have it, how could Voldemort –" Harry began, but was cut off by the headmaster.
"The Crypt was only a rumored resting place for the torch," he said. "I myself retrieved it decades ago to combat a dark wizard."
"Grindlewald," Harry said, remembering their conversation in the waiting room of one of the wards in St. Mungo's earlier in the year.
"Indeed," Dumbledore said, watching the emerald flame dance slightly in the shadows of the cupboard. "I channeled some of its energy unto myself, and then sent it at Grindlewald amplified tenfold."
"What happened?" Hermione asked.
"He...what is it that muggles say? Exploded?" Dumbledore said with a twinkle. "The energy was too much for him. He couldn't handle all that evil power and sort of burst like a balloon."
"Can I use this to kill Voldemort then?" Harry asked.
"I'm afraid not," the headmaster replied. "It requires dueling to use effectively, and you and Tom cannot duel without complications, as I'm sure you remember all too well."
"Great," said Harry walking back over to his armchair and plopping down in it.
"Do not be discouraged," Dumbledore said, closing the closet and sitting back down behind his desk, Hermione taking her seat next to Harry. "We will find a way. We have to."
"You mean I have to," Harry said, looking at his hands.
"Harry..." Hermione said putting a hand on his shoulder.
"I mean it," he said, looking up. "Why is it, that no matter what I do, it's never good enough?!" he shouted.
"You saved two very important young women from a terrible fate," the headmaster said. "Is that not good enough?"
"Krum got killed!" Harry retorted. "I don't call that a success."
"But was it not better than failure?" Dumbledore asked. Harry couldn't hold it in any longer as small sobs came forth, silver tears rolling down his cheeks.
"I just don't want to do it anymore," he said. "I just want to not have to worry about people dying because of this war."
"You will have to end it before you can realise that dream," the aged wizard said.
"I don't want to end it!" Harry shouted. "I don't want to have to kill Voldemort, I don't want the responsibility! WHY ME?! WHY IS IT ME WHO HAS TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT?!"
"Because whether you want to believe it or not, Harry, you are the only one with the power to do something about it," Dumbledore said. "I think we have talked enough for now. Why don't you two go and get some rest?" Hermione silently thanked the headmaster as she helped a crying Harry stand and walk out of the office.
Some ten minutes later they arrived at the portrait hole and entered to find Ron waiting for them.
"What happened?" he asked, seeing Harry's grief-stricken face.
"Voldemort," Harry said shaking his head.
"What's new?" responded Ron sarcastically.
"Listen, Ron, we're really tired, perhaps we could talk about this tomorrow?" Hermione asked.
"Sure thing," he said. "Get some sleep." Harry and Hermione said their thanks before slowly making their way up to the Head Boy room. Entering and sealing the door with a locking charm, they collapsed on the bed in each other's arms, neither daring to let go for fear of losing the other.
"I was so scared," Hermione said after a minute, "that I would never get to see you again and tell you how much I love you."
"You don't need to tell me that for me to know it," Harry replied, tightening his grip on her. "But if it makes a difference, I felt the same way."
"I missed you," she said, tears shining in her cinnamon eyes.
"So did I," Harry said. "Merlin, so did I."
The day after they had returned, Dumbledore made to address the school, but as he was about to begin his speech, Harry interrupted and requested that he be able to tell what happened. With a slight smile and a nod, the headmaster acquiesced and Harry proceeded to tell the story of what had happened to the entire school, leaving out some of the gorier details along with the death of Lucius Malfoy.
"At least you got those death eaters good," Ron said, as Harry sat back down at the Gryffindor table to tumultuous applause. "I wish I could've been with you."
"You would've liked to see a Reductor Curse connect with a human head?" Harry asked, pushing his food away slightly.
"Oh," Ron said. "Yeah, I imagine that wasn't too pleasant."
"Quite correct," Harry replied.
"So how did the ghost meeting go?" Hermione asked, also pushing her food away.
"As well as could be expected without Dumbledore there," Ron said sighing. "I don't think I changed many opinions. We're going to go back over the summer to try to convince more. With Dumbledore present we should get a lot more to join our ranks."
"How many do we have right now?" Harry asked.
"About fifty," Ron said. "Granted, one ghost could take on a hundred humans single-handedly, but still, you never know when it comes to You-Know-Who."
"Ain't that the bloody truth," Harry mumbled.
After breakfast, Harry and Hermione went out to the lakeside tree with Ron and told him of what had transpired in Dumbledore's office after everyone left, to which the ghost could only shake his head and laugh.
"You got off easy," he said. "When mum found out that I knew about Draco and Ginny all this time, she went ballistic on me."
"What happened?" Harry asked.
"Not much, since you can't really threaten a person who's already dead with anything," Ron said with a smile. "But I did get quite an earful."
"I'll bet," said a drawling voice from behind them. They turned around to see Draco and Ginny walking towards them hand in hand.
"So you've decided to stop keeping your relationship quiet, then?" Harry asked.
"No need to anymore," Draco said with a slight frown. "After all, my life isn't on the line now."
"What about your mother?" Hermione asked. Draco could only shrug.
"I don't plan on telling her how my father died, if that's what you're asking," he said. "I guess I'll just go home and then move out as fast as I can."
"You're welcome to stay with us," Ginny said. "That is, if you want to."
"I am?" Draco asked.
"He is?" Ron asked at the same time. Ginny glared at her brother.
"Of course he is, you stupid git," she said pursing her lips. "He saved my life, he's welcome to stay at the Burrow."
"Fine, fine," Ron grumbled.
"Anyway, we're off to talk to Hagrid, so we'll see you later," Ginny said. The trio bade them farewell and turned back to the lake.
"Well, what now?" Harry asked.
"N.E.W.T.'s and graduation," Ron said. Harry groaned.
"I had completely forgotten about that."
"You mean to tell me you didn't do ANY studying while I was gone?" Hermione asked playfully.
"I did have more important things on my mind," Harry replied.
"True. Well let's get to studying then!"
"You've got to be kidding," Harry said. "On a gorgeous day like this?"
"Do you want to become an Auror or not?" Hermione asked. Grumbling, Harry rose to his feet and turned to Ron.
"You coming?" he asked.
"Nah, go ahead," the ghost replied. "I'll sit out here for a while."
"You okay, mate?" Harry asked, sensing something was wrong.
"I just still miss her sometimes, and what with all this death..."
"I know," Harry said gravely. "But I'm still keeping that promise." Ron turned and looked at him.
"That I'll get his wand for you." Ron nodded and turned back to the lake, and Harry and Hermione gave him one last glance before heading back inside the castle.
Nothing else of importance happened for the rest of the school year. Harry and Hermione hadn't been to any Order meetings since they had returned, so Ron was keeping them informed of all that was going on, which was apparently nothing.
N.E.W.T.'s came and went, and just like the O.W.L.'s the students would be receiving their results over the summer. Harry was quite glad that the schoolwork was over, and to his surprise, so was Hermione. The day before the graduation ceremony, they were summoned into Dumbledore's office, along with Ron and Draco.
"How come Ginny isn't here?" Draco asked, immediately realising that she wasn't present.
"She is still only a sixth year," Dumbledore reminded him.
"Oh," he said sheepishly. "Right."
"Perhaps you are all wondering why I've asked you here today?" Dumbledore asked.
"I'm guessing it has to go with graduation tomorrow?" Harry answered.
"Quite right," the headmaster said. "I wish each of you to write a speech to give to the class, and those parents who show up."
"Harry and I already had speeches," Hermione said. "Do you want us to do another, or–" Dumbledore held up his hand to keep her from rambling.
"I think it would be best for you to include the speeches I'm requesting you to write in your Head Boy and Girl ones," he said.
"Well, what do you want us to talk about?" Ron asked. Dumbledore paused for a moment as if to consider the best way to phrase his answer.
"Your lives," he finally said.
"Our lives?" asked Ron, slightly confused.
"Yes," replied Dumbledore. "I want you each to write about what your seven years here have helped you understand about life, and how they have changed them."
"Isn't that a bit broad?" Ron asked.
"I'm not asking you to write everything you know about life," Dumbledore said. "Merely to write about how your own personal experiences have helped changed your outlook on it." The four students nodded thoughtfully at this. "Now, go and get to it. I daresay you enough to prepare for as it is."
The four of them left the headmaster's office and upon reaching the hall below, stopped in thought.
"That was certainly an unusual request," Harry commented.
"I suppose," Hermione said. "I guess he wants us to put the hardships we've been through in perspective for everyone else."
"I don't understand why he wanted me to do it too, though," Ron said. "I mean, I wasn't with you guys. Why do I have to write a speech?"
"Experiencing death could have something to do with it," Harry replied.
"You've been awfully quiet for most of this, Draco," Hermione said. The blond turned to look at her and opened his mouth to say something, but apparently decided against it, for he turned his heel and walked away towards the Slytherin common room.
"What was that about?" Ron asked. Hermione shrugged.
"I have no idea."
"Come on," Harry said. "Let's get back to the common room and get to work."
"I never thought I'd see the day where it was you who said that and not Hermione," Ron said with a smile as they started to ascend the stairs towards Gryffindor Tower.
"Ha, ha, h –" Hermione began, but stopped short when a familiar figure in black robes turned the corner and started walking down the marble staircase towards them.
Harry and Ron too stopped, as Snape made his way past the trio without a word. He and Harry hadn't really spoken after he had returned, which had its ups and downs. On one hand, Snape didn't deduct any house points or berate Harry or Hermione in class anymore, but on the other he refused to comment on their finished potions, so Harry never had any idea how he had done. Realising this mutual silence couldn't go on forever, he turned around to call after his teacher.
"Professor!" he shouted just as Snape reached the bottom step. The potions master stopped to show he was listening, but that was all. Harry walked down the steps and stopped a few above where Snape was standing. "I...er...never really got to talk to you after what happened."
"Er...I wanted to apologise for breaking into your office and stealing the antidote..."
"And I wanted to thank you for saving Hermione and Ginny's lives..."
Yet more silence.
Slightly frustrated and disappointed, Harry turned and made to rejoin Ron and Hermione who were watching the exchange intently. He had only ascended four steps, however, before Snape spoke.
"Your father would be disappointed in you." Harry stopped and looked at his potions master, who had finally turned around.
"Why do you say that?" Harry asked. Snape snorted derisively.
"He would never have wanted any son of his to thank a man he loathed so much." Harry considered this a moment.
"Maybe not, but my mother would have," he replied. Snape thought about this for a moment, and then turned around to walk away, but did not do so before looking back at Harry.
"It's good to see that some of Lily's traits have been granted to you," he said. "You exhibited only James' qualities for far too long." With that he walked off down the hall towards the dungeons. Harry couldn't help but let a small smile creep onto his face as he walked back up to Ron and Hermione.
"That went well," she said as he reached them.
"I think he finally realised that I'm not my father, even though I used to act like him," Harry said.
"Think he still hates you?" Ron asked. Harry chuckled.
"With Snape, one never knows, do they?" he said with a smile. They shared a chuckle as they made their way up the stairs towards the tower, and a few minutes later reached the portrait of the fat lady.
"Looking forward to graduating?" Harry asked Hermione as Ron said the password for them to enter.
"Yes," she said as the walked into the common room. "I'm looking forward to having a summer where I can just read at my own leisure, without any assignments." This elicited a chuckle from Ron and Harry as they sat down on the unoccupied couch by the fire.
"You know," Ron said. "I'm going to miss this place."
"Yeah, me too," Harry said. "But somehow I don't think this is the last we're going to see of it."
"Well let's get to it," Hermione said getting up and summoning quills and parchment from the Head Girl's room. "We've got speeches to write."
The day came and went, and the following day Harry and Hermione were getting changed for the graduation ceremony in his room.
"Hermione, you don't need to worry about it, you look fine," Harry said as she adjusted her dress robes for the sixth time.
"I want it to be the best it can be," she said, looking in the mirror. "There will be people from the Daily Prophet there to take pictures, and as the Head Girl, I want to look my best."
"You look perfect no matter what you wear," he said, placing gentle kisses on the crook of her neck.
"Harry..." Hermione said warningly, but it was only half-hearted. "After the ceremony. We really can't get all undressed now that we're done up."
"I know an excellent spell that could rectify that," he whispered into her ear, causing a small shiver to pass through her body.
"Later," she said regaining some resolve and turning around. "I promise."
"I hope so," Harry mumbled to himself, but Hermione caught it.
"What did that mean?" she asked.
"Huh? Oh, nothing," Harry said with a smile. "Come on, Ron should be waiting downstairs."
The truth was, it wasn't nothing. Since their escape with Draco and Ginny, Harry had been contemplating something very carefully, and with the help of two certain Weasley twins, he had decided to go with his instinct and do it.
As he and Hermione walked down the stairs to the common room, he played with the velvet box that was hidden carefully inside one of the pockets of his dress robes, wondering whether or not it was going to be the right thing to do.
"Hey guys, what took you so long?" Ron asked with a dung-eating grin as they made their way through the crowd of 7th years to the couch.
"Nothing of your concern," said Hermione sticking out her tongue. "Why aren't you changed?"
"It's not really like I can change," Ron said with a scoff. "Less have anything to change into."
"Hey, Ron, can I talk to you for a moment?" Harry asked. Ron gave Hermione a confused look, who shrugged.
"Sure, I guess." Harry got up with a nod and led Ron away from the couch where Hermione was still sitting into the corner of the common room. "What's this about?"
"I'm going to ask Hermione to marry me." Ron laughed at this.
"I can't believe they were telling the truth."
"What?" asked Harry.
"Fred and George," explained Ron. "They sent me an owl a few days ago saying that I should be expecting an engagement announcement from you two soon, but I thought they were just joking." Harry pulled out the velvet box and showed the contents to Ron, causing the ghost's eyes to bulge.
"I can see that," Ron said as Harry closed the box and put it back in his robes. "Bloody hell, mate, how much did that thing cost?"
"A good amount," Harry said, watching Hermione on the couch playing with a strand of her milk- chocolate hair. "But she's worth every knut."
"I'm sure she'll say yes," Ron said comfortingly. "We've all known it was inevitable anyway."
"Thanks," Harry said rolling his eyes.
"Come on," Ron said. "We have speeches to deliver."
"Did you get Ginny to write it for you?" Harry asked as they walked back over to the sofa.
"Yep," Ron nodded. "She's going to be there anyway for Malfoy, so she gave the paper to him and when it's my turn he'll put the parchment up on the podium for me."
"All set?" Hermione asked. The boys nodded. "Well, let's get going, Dumbledore asked us to be there a little early."
"Got your speech?" Harry asked as they made their way towards the portrait hole.
"Uh huh," she said as she checked to make sure it was there. The three of them made their way down to the Great Hall for the ceremony and upon entering it looked around at the changes.
The four great tables had vanished, and were replaced with hundreds of chairs for the friends and family of those graduating (some of which were already present), and another hundred or so for the graduates. The staff table remained, but an oak podium with the Hogwarts crest engraved on the front stood in front of it.
"Ah'm glad ter see yeh made it," said Hagrid from behind an enormous box containing diplomas. "Got yer speeches all ready?"
"Yep," chorused Harry, Ron, and Hermione all at once.
"Ah," said Dumbledore coming from the antechamber and closing the door behind him. "Good to see you are here early. The rest of the students seem to be filing in now, so you can take your seats at the front." They did so, and were joined a little while later by Draco, who seemed lost in thought.
Finally about twenty minutes later everyone was seated and the ceremony was ready to begin. Dumbledore stood up from his seat at the staff table and raised his hands in the air.
"Seven years ago, these students before you came to our beloved Hogwarts unaware of the individual adventures that they would each experience before their time was out." He gave a small glance at Harry as he said this. "Each as unique as the person the adventure surrounded. However, there are four among us today who have had the chance to experience something that very few of us get to, that very few of us want to, and I have asked them to say a few words, describing what that experience is like. Mister Malfoy, if you would be so kind."
Draco got up from his seat and solemnly walked to the front of the room, placing a crumpled piece of parchment on the pedestal when he got there.
"Growing up as a Malfoy wasn't easy," he began with a slight sigh. "My mother always insisted that I listen to my father, and my father preached prejudiced ideas against muggles and muggle- borns. My father, for those of who don't know, was the late death-eater Lucius Malfoy." There was a low murmur from the crowd at this, and Harry noticed, when he turned around to scan the room, that Narcissa was visibly absent from the audience. "When I came to Hogwarts, I was under the belief that I was special because of my wealth and parentage. That didn't change until the beginning of this school year, when a special person changed my life for the better." Behind Harry, Hermione, and Ron, Ginny sat with a single tear of happiness running down her cheek. "I learned to forget what I had been taught, and started thinking for people beside myself. Only a few months ago were my ideals put to the test, when I was faced with the choice of pledging allegiance to the Dark Lord, or forsaking him and choosing the one I loved. I chose the latter, and though I have made many enemies in the process, I have made many more friends. My seven years here helped me realise the error of my, and my father's ways, and for that I am eternally grateful. Thank you." As Draco stepped down from the podium to applause, he left the piece of parchment up there that was Ron's speech.
"Very well spoken," Dumbledore said as the clapping died down. "For our next speech, the late Ronald Weasley." Ron drifted up to the front of the room and cleared his throat.
"The day that I went to King's Cross station for my first ride on the Hogwarts Express, a small, skinny boy with unruly black hair came up to my mum and asked how to get onto Platform Nine and Three-Quarters. I think that every facet of my life since I met Harry Potter has revolved around him in some way." There were some chuckles at this while Harry could only roll his eyes. "But he helped me in more ways than one. He taught me that there are more things to life than materials and possessions, that while I was jealous of him because everything centered around him and he had all the fame, he was jealous of me because I had family. And I had to stop and ask myself, 'Why should any human have to be jealous of another because of a lack of parents?' I couldn't come up with a reasonable answer. No man, woman, or child should have to endure life without a family, and immediately my concerns about wealth and avarice were quelled. Harry Potter taught me that love is the only thing of which any person should be envious, and for that, I thank him. I dedicate this speech to Luna. Thank you." There was again applause as Ron drifted back to his seat beside Hermione, and Dumbledore stood once again.
"More true words I have not heard spoken," the headmaster said with a smile. "And I have heard quite a bit." This got a small chuckle from the crowd. "Now, please welcome our Head Girl, Hermione Granger."
Slowly, Hermione rose from her chair and walked to the front, her parents giving her large smiles from their seats a little way back in the mass of chairs. With a breath, she unfolded her parchment and began.
"Before I came to Hogwarts, I wasn't very well liked," she said with a sad smile. "I was bossy, stubborn, and had to know everything."
'You're still kind of like that,' Harry said silently with a sly grin. Hermione shot him a death glare and he quickly looked the other way.
"On Hallowe'en all those years ago, I was greeted while I was in the girl's lavatory by a large mountain troll, who had been let into the castle by a certain Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Harry and Ron came and found me, and ended up knocking the troll unconscious, thereby saving my life. From then on, the three of us became friends. It was the first time I had friends, and it was strange at first, but welcome. I learned to not be so impatient with frustrations and in time grew to realise feelings for a certain person who currently holds my heart in his hand. Therefore I thank Ron Weasley for being such an excellent friend over the years, and I thank Harry Potter for being my other half over these years. Hogwarts taught me a lot of things, but the most pertinent was that there are more important things than books and cleverness. There's friendship, and bravery, and most of all love. Thank you." The usual applause was given as Hermione stepped down, and Harry made sure to give her a kiss on the cheek as she sat down next to him.
"Quite excellent," said Dumbledore, once again rising. "And now, for our final speaker. Please lend your ears to a young man I consider myself privileged to know, and honored to be a friend of. The Head Boy, Mister Harry Potter." Silence greeted these words as Harry got up from his chair and walked to the front of the room, standing behind the podium. After a moment of consideration, he began.
"My life hasn't been what one would call easy," he said. "At the age of one, my parents were murdered by Lord Voldemort." Gasps were heard at the name. "For the next ten years, I was forced to live under the extremely stressful care of my aunt and uncle, who despise magic and wizard-kind alike. When Hagrid brought me my letter all those years ago, the only word to describe the emotion I felt is elation. I would finally be able to go to a place where I wasn't constantly ridiculed by those who were, or felt superior to me, where I could make friends.
"That was how I came to Hogwarts," he continued. "In my very first year, I faced Lord Voldemort in his parasitic form, feeding off of energy from Quirrel. In my second, the memory of Tom Riddle threatened the very lives of the students in this school, and nearly killed two people who matter greatly to me: Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley. I followed Riddle into the depths of the Chamber of Secrets with the help of Ron, and killed the basilisk residing there before destroying the memory of Voldemort. With my third year came the escape of Sirius Black, and though I wasn't forced to deal with Voldemort directly, one of his most faithful servants, Peter Pettigrew, revealed himself and escaped to his master's protection. Sirius' name wasn't cleared, and he was forced to flee on the back of a condemned hippogriff. And I was forced to go back and live with the Dursleys.
"My fourth year was the worst up to that point. A death eater impersonating Alastor Moody came and entered me in the Triwizard Tournament, which, in the end, resulted in Cedric Diggory and I being portkeyed to the graveyard where Voldemort's father rests. I watched as Cedric was killed, and was then tied to a tombstone while blood was taken forcibly from me. I then witnessed the rebirth of the Dark Lord who currently plagues our world. I dueled with him, and barely escaped with my life to tell the story, but none aside from those closest to me believed a word.
"In my fifth year, I learned of a prophecy and witnessed Sirius Black, the person most closely connected to my father, be murdered by Bellatrix Lestrange. Sixth year held the deaths of Ron Weasley and Luna Lovegood, who were and still are both very excellent friends of mine. And so seventh year came around, along with my new relationship with Hermione. Before we were even at the school, we were attack and forced into the past where I met my parents. It was nice to be in a world where a madman wasn't after my head every second of every minute of every day, even though Voldemort did exist in that time. We eventually returned, and not four months after our return Hermione was taken by the death eaters we all fear. In the effort to rescue them, Viktor Krum was killed. I did not know Krum as well as I knew Sirius or Luna, but he was a good friend to me this year, and without him we would surely not have escaped. May he rest in peace.
"And so, as I looked back at all the adventures I've had over the years, I couldn't help but chuckle slightly, because these adventures will make for incredible stories for my grandchildren someday. For if there is anything that Hogwarts has taught me, it is to find the light when darkness consumes us. Thank you."
The most noticeable difference that Harry's speech had on the assembled guests was that they were all too shocked to applaud as he returned to his seat.
"Harry, you do know that not everyone knew about all of that, right mate?" Ron asked as Dumbledore rose once again to speak.
"Yeah," he replied as Dumbledore began to announce the names of students to come and collect their diplomas. "But that's what I wanted. Everyone has been misled by the lies of Fudge and the Daily Prophet, so I wanted everyone to understand exactly what has happened here."
"I think it was wonderful," Hermione said. "Besides, now people will come to realise just how foolish the Prophet is."
"And speaking of Fudge," Ron said. "Weren't they going to replace him as Minister?"
"They've removed him from office," Draco said, startling the three of them. "The vote took longer than they expected, and they haven't chosen a replacement yet."
"How do you know that?" Harry asked. Draco turned at him and smiled.
"Well, I did inherit my father's ability to convince people," he said. "I simply applied for a job in the Ministry, and after I explained the situation they hired me. I'm starting in a week, so I do know some of the little bureaucratic things that are going on."
"They just believed you?" Hermione asked incredulously as Mandy Brocklehurst's name was called.
"Well...not at first," Draco said with a grin. "But I convinced them to give me a...what do muggles call them? A lie-detector test? And after that they couldn't refuse."
"So you went during the school year?" asked Harry.
"Yeah, the day after we got back," Draco said as Justin Finch-Fletchley rose to get his diploma. "You remember, Ginny and I were going to see Hagrid. We needed him to help us get a pair of thestrals to ride into London."
"And Dumbledore just went along with it?" Ron asked.
"Yeah, he actually seemed quite happy when I requested it," Draco said as Hermione's name was called, but she didn't hear it.
"I wonder why?" said Harry truthfully.
"Hermione Granger!" said Dumbledore a little louder, jarring the four of them back to reality and making Hermione blush a deep red as she walked up to Dumbledore and received her diploma from him.
"Sorry," she whispered as took the scroll from him.
"Not at all," he replied with a twinkle. She made her way back towards the boys who were snickering as she sat down.
"Oh honestly, quit it," she said, hitting Harry on the leg lightly.
"Sorry," they chorused. The four of them avoided conversing for the rest of the ceremony, and Draco, Harry, and finally Ron (whose diploma had to be taken by Molly, since he couldn't take it himself) all had their diplomas and were waiting for the reception to begin.
"Now, if you would all please rise from your seats," Dumbledore asked. "We can begin the festivities." Once everyone was standing, he made all the chairs and the podium disappear with a wave of his wand, and replaced them with the same small tables that had been present those years ago during the Yule Ball. A long table appeared on the right side of the hall with extremely large portions of various foods, serving as a buffet.
"Well, if you'll excuse me, I'm off to sit with Ginny," Draco said standing up. The three of them bade him farewell as he walked over to where Ginny was sitting with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.
"He's got a lot of brass to go over there while Mum and Dad are right next to her," Ron said. "I'm impressed."
"Aren't we supposed to toss up our hats or something?" Harry said vaguely remembering something he had seen on the telly at the Dursley's once.
"That's a muggle tradition," Hermione said laughing. "Besides, I've always thought it was rather silly."
"Cheers to that," Ron said, pulling out the pouch that Fred and George had given him over Christmas and sprinkling some of the dust on his empty plate. "I'm off to eat my fill."
"Have fun," Harry said as the ghost drifted over to the smorgasbord.
"You don't mind if I go and sit with my parents for a bit, do you?" Hermione asked.
"Not at all," Harry said. "I'll come over and say hi in a minute." Hermione nodded and got up from the table, leaving Harry sitting there by himself, who was still feeling apprehensive about what he was going to do shortly. His self-contained thoughts were short-lived though, as a familiar voice brought him back to reality.
"Ah, there he is!" said Fred Weasley sitting down on Harry's right.
"We've been looking for you all over," George said, sitting on his left.
"What're you guys doing here?" Harry asked, causing smiles to appear on the twins' faces.
"Well we didn't want to miss you popping the big question, especially since we're the ones who referred you to the jeweler's." George said.
"Not to mention that I'd really missed a good Hogwarts feast," said his brother.
"What're you guys doing here?" Ron asked, echoing Harry as he floated down into the last vacant seat at the table with a plateful of transparent food.
"We're here to see Harry and Hermione's engagement," they said in unison.
"'o you're 'oing to 'o frew wiff it ven?" Ron asked, his mouth stuffed.
"Yeah," Harry replied, looking at where Hermione was sitting with her parents, laughing at something David had just said.
"She'll say yes, mate," George said. "She's too head over heels not to."
The rest of the meal went smoothly. Harry went over and said hello to Hermione's parents, along with Molly and Arthur and a few others that he knew. Several people had come up to him during the feast to congratulate him on his moving speech, including Neville and his grandmother, and Seamus' parents.
Finally everyone had eaten their fill, and with another wave of his wand, Dumbledore moved all the tables to the sides so that a dance floor was created. Where the buffet table once stood, a stage now occupied that space on which the Weird Sisters were once again waiting with instruments in hand.
"Before we begin the dance," Dumbledore said. "I would like to congratulate each and every one of the students who have completed their seven years here. I will not offer any words of advice or wisdom here save six. This is your night, enjoy it!" Applause rang throughout the hall as the Sisters struck up the first tune of the night, a slow paced song that sounded like it was from the late fifties or early sixties, given that the band was using a muggle saxophone.
"Perhaps I could have this dance?" Hermione asked in a very formal tone of voice.
"Of course, my lady," Harry responded with a smile. They walked out onto the dance floor along with several other couples and Harry wrapped his arms around Hermione waist while she wrapped hers around his neck.
"I wanted to do this with you all night the last time we had a dance here," she said reminiscently.
"All I could think about that evening was how amazing you looked," Harry replied with a far off gaze. Hermione noticed this and cocked her head slightly.
"Are you okay?" she asked.
"Yeah," he replied, desperately trying to keep their connection closed for fear of her finding out about his plans.
"Is there a reason you won't let me into your head?" she asked.
"A good one," Harry said with a smile. "You'll find out soon." He could tell Hermione wasn't quite convinced, but she relented and so they stood there rocking back and forth, continuing to be content in each other's presence.
A few hours later an announcement was made that the song after the next one would be the last. Harry and Hermione were sitting at their table with Ron, Fred, and George, though the twins, using a Disillusionment Charm, made themselves invisible so as not to alert Hermione to their presence.
"A dance?" Harry asked, extending his hand towards her.
"Of course," she replied getting up. As they stood from the table, Harry distinctly heard Ron whisper 'good luck' to him. They got out onto the floor and proceeded to wrap their arms around each other, dancing to the slow tune. Harry had fleeting thoughts of not going through with his plan, when Hermione saw the look again and took the situation out of his hands.
"Harry, honestly, are you feeling all right? You've been acting sort of distant all evening." Harry couldn't help but smile at her ability to sense when he was nervous, even when he was keeping her out of his mind.
"I'm nervous," he replied truthfully.
"About leaving school?" she asked. Harry smiled and shook his head.
"No....no," he said. "About us." Hermione loosened her grip on his neck and stepped back so she could look him in the eye.
"What about us?" she asked, now easily as nervous as Harry.
"Hermione...I love you very much..."
"But?" she asked when he trailed off.
"But lately I've been doing some thinking, and I realised that if something were to happen to you, I wouldn't be able to live with it – "
"Harry, what are you –"
"And I also realised," he pressed on, "that if something were to happen to me, the world would never know how much I truly loved you. When you got kidnapped, I realised that life was too short for me to hold off what I knew I wanted, what I needed to do from the moment I said 'I love you'."
"What's that?" Hermione whispered, feeling as if she knew what was coming. Harry answered her by removing the black velvet box from his robes and getting down on one knee. Hermione could only bring her hand to her mouth as tears started to roll from her eyes as Harry opened the box to reveal a gorgeous platinum band ring with an emerald situated in the middle, flanked by two small diamonds.
"Hermione Jane Granger, you mean more to me than my own life, and you are the missing part that completes it. Will you marry me?"
"Oh, Harry..." the tears were flowing freely now, and she had to resist the urge to tackle him to the ground and snog him senseless there. "Of course I'll marry you."
Harry slipped the engagement ring on her finger, stood back up, and was promptly smothered by Hermione who had crushed her lips to his. In the back of his mind, he vaguely registered a noise similar to when rain is hitting a window, then realised that the entire assembly was watching them and applauding.
'We have an audience,' he said silently, not breaking the kiss.
'I know,' she replied. 'We've certainly given them something to talk about, haven't we?'
"We sure have," Harry said, removing his lips from hers. They were immediately flooded by the onlookers, shouts of 'way to go, Harry!' and 'congratulations, you guys!' were being cried left and right. Finally, after five minutes or so of celebration, Dumbledore raised his hands for silence.
"As this is the last song of the night," he said, his twinkle shining at full power. "I would like to dedicate it to the soon-to-be Mr. and Mrs. Potter." More applause rang out at this, and the Weird Sisters struck up one last slow tune to which Harry wasted no time in embracing Hermione for the first time as his fiancee.
"Congratulations, mate," said Fred clapping Harry on the shoulder, having removed the disillusionment charm.
"Yes, yes, quite smashing, if I may say so," his brother said, appearing on the other side.
"Fred! George! What are you two doing here?" Hermione asked, surprised to see them.
"As we were the ones who showed Harry to the place where he got that million galleon ring of yours, we wanted to be there when you two officially got engaged," Fred replied.
"Thank you," she said kissing each of them on the cheek lightly.
"Well, we'd best be going now that we've seen what we came here to see," said George. "We're expecting a shipment of squid ink for a new product we're testing."
"Good luck with that," Harry said with a grin. The twins nodded and exited the Great Hall, waving at a few people as they went.
"That was nice of them to show up," Hermione said. "You didn't really spend a million galleons on this, did you?" she asked looking at the ring longingly.
"Nah," Harry said with a chuckle. "But it's not like I couldn't afford a million dollar ring even if I wanted to buy one for you."
"I love you," she said, resting her head on his chest.
"I love you too."
A few minutes later, the song ended and people started saying their goodbyes. The students would be staying another day for the End of Term feast, then going home on the Hogwarts Express the following day. Hermione's parents had not hesitated to give their daughter's hand to Harry, and to express their congratulations. Molly Weasley was especially teary when she embraced Harry in one of her famous bone-crushing hugs, and even Ron seemed a bit more cheerful at finally seeing his two best friends agree to tie the knot. Finally, after twenty minutes of goodbyes and well-wishes, Harry and Hermione were left in the Great Hall with only Dumbledore.
"My congratulations," the headmaster said coming over to them. "But it was a long time coming, if I may say so."
"You may," Harry said, shaking the headmaster's hand. "I'm going to miss being a student here, professor."
"And I'll miss seeing the two of you in my office every other day for one reason or another," he said jokingly with a smile. "Perhaps I should let the two of you get to sleep; you have another feast to empty your stomachs for, remember."
Harry smiled and thanked the headmaster again, but when Dumbledore held out his hand to Hermione, she pushed it away and instead embraced him in a hug, which, although it caught the aged wizard by surprise, he quickly reciprocated. As she pulled away, new tears were glistening in her eyes.
"I'm going to miss this place," she said tearily.
"Well I do believe that Harry said it best when he said that you'll definitely see more of it before your days are over," Dumbledore replied with a twinkle.
"You heard that?" Harry asked, surprised.
"Well, as you well know by now, I like to know –"
"Everything that goes on in this school," Harry and Hermione chorused together. Dumbledore nodded with a smile.
"I shall see you tomorrow, then," he said. Harry and Hermione nodded and walked out into the Entrance Hall, but stopped there.
"Would you like to take a walk?" Harry asked, wanting to get some fresh air and have some time alone with his fiancee.
"Sure," she replied.
They walked out of the castle and down by the lake, finally stopping at the tree that had come to be their own personal tree. Sitting down against the trunk, Harry looked up into the night sky at the stars and couldn't help but think about how much his life had changed over the course of the year. Meeting one's dead parents could do that.
"What do you reckon they're doing right now?" he asked, gazing into the dotted heavens.
"Your parents?" Hermione asked.
"And Sirius," he said. "I wonder if they'd approve of us being married."
"I have no doubt they would," Hermione said, resting her head against Harry's shoulder.
"I miss them," Harry said. "Ever since we've returned I've felt like they've died all over again."
"I know," Hermione replied. "They were starting to grow on me too."
They stayed like that for over an hour, simply sitting and wondering about the past and the future. Voldemort was still at large, and was going to have to be dealt with sooner or later, but that was in the future. The memories of his parents and Sirius still saddened him, but they were in the past, and were not to be dwelled on. No, if Harry had truly figured out anything that year, it was that one had to concentrate on where one was, not where one wanted to be.
And as if to agree with everything Harry had done in the past two hours, just as he looked up into the heavens one last time before heading back into the castle with the love of his life, he could've sworn that the Dog Star winked at him.
To be concluded...
And there you have it. What a road it has been, writing these 450 some pages all for the sole purpose of mine and other people's amusement. That's the one thing that will never cease to amaze me about fanfiction. We get nothing out of it, aside from giving other people an enjoyable read, which, in turn, makes us authors happy. And there's nothing else I would ever want from it.
I still haven't decided on the name of Part III yet, but hopefully by the time I update Who Turned Off the Water, I will have and will let you all know. The first chapter of the last part of the trilogy will probably go up sometime in early December, so expect it around then.
As for this chapter (and more importantly, story) I hope you all liked it. I don't write almost 12,000 word chapters often, so be happy you got what you did ;)
As for me, I'm taking a nice, well deserved (in my opinion anyway) break, to catch up with my schoolwork that I'm behind on. I will be submitting Chapter 21 to the WitchingHour's Call For Papers come November, in hopes of getting a fic reading spot. Living in Massachusetts has it's advantages (Sox, sox, sox, sox...sox, sox, sox, sox...da da da dum da dum! CHARGE!).
Lastly, I want to thank my beta, my father, for helping make my story what it is. There is absolutely nothing greater than being able to go out to dinner with one's editor and talk about your story face to face.
And that's all for now. Once again, I hope you have enjoyed reading my story just as much as I've enjoyed writing. So therefore, until we meet again:
Signing off, may all your ships be fluffy, and all your fics read well.
A.K.A. – TGF2K