X

XIX

XIXIX "Cleaning Up" XIXIX

Ron instructed Harry and Ginny that they must stay in their animagus forms until they got back to Hogwarts and into the catacombs. He was all business despite the celebration and the reunion with his family, demanding to the others that they were not quite out of the woods yet.

But the mood was too high. They had rescued Harry. They had destroyed the corrupted control of the powerhouse that had been driving everything wrong with the Ministry since the war. They had won!

Back at Hogwarts, the Weasley twins found a store of Weasley Wizard Wheezes fireworks they had left behind during their escape from school. And in grand Weasley fashion, they conducted a party, sending out notices all over Wizarding Briton that Fudge's reign of terror was over.

Draco, Tonks, and Kingsley got straight to work. They didn't pause to party, nor to sleep — though it had been a couple days since they had managed that. They collected their incriminating evidence. They collected trusted members of the Aurors and of the Ministry of Magic. And they collected everyone who was implicated with the incriminating evidence they had procured, and carted them off to Azkaban.

"Too bad Red couldn't be here to see this," barked the gruff Sergeant Grungle.

"Yeah," agreed Draco. "But she's busy with far more important things right now."

By dawn, word was out. Everyone knew what had happened during this most spectacular New Year's Eve. Draco was back at Hogwarts, where everyone who was anyone… was. The press was swarming. Hogwarts students and parents and alumni and friends had surged into the school to celebrate yet another victory against the forces of evil and corruption.

Nicolas and Perenelle Flamel arrived early on this New Year's Day. Minerva McGonagall greeted them and led them down into the catacombs where they could get to work on ensuring the continued safety of the wizarding world. As soon as they entered the catacombs, a surge of sweeter emotions burst forth — first from them, and second from the two lions that greeted them.

"Oh, my Harry," cooed Perenelle, hugging the animal closely. "Ron found us last night. He told us everything. But don't you worry about a thing. We'll set up some superbly strong brain barriers for you and Severus and Ginny. No one will ever be able to hurt you again, no matter what animal magic is in your body."

XIXIX

Hermione stayed with Remus until he transformed back into his human body. She had to recast the healing spells one more time, and she knew that his shoulder would never be as strong after shattering three times in two days. He was in a lot of pain, but she helped to soothe him until he slept. Then she rejoined the rest of the celebration at Hogwarts.

She found Draco waiting in the entrance hall by the door. He was staring out over Hogwarts grounds expectantly.

"Waiting for someone?" she said.

Draco beamed at her. "Oh yes. She should be here shortly, too."

And almost in response to his excited expectation, an absolutely gorgeous young woman appeared at the end of the drive, cloaked in Slytherin green. Draco was not as warmly dressed, but paid the weather no mind. He ran out toward the woman, not stopping until he had her in his arms. He swung her around and kissed her fiercely.

"Oh, Persephone!" he breathed, holding her close. "I didn't know if I would ever see you again."

"Draco, is it true?! I've heard so many stor..."

"I'm so sorry, love. I couldn't tell you. I didn't want to put you in danger."

"Merlin," she said, swatting at him playfully, though her eyes held hurt and fear and relief. "That's why you wanted to marry me before Christmas. Oh gods," she said, hugging him tightly again. "You could have been killed."

"Persephone," he said, pulling away, and falling to his knees there in the snow. "Will you marry me?"

"We're already engaged," she informed him with a stupid lovesick grin.

"Yes, but now I'm sure I'm in love with you. I thought I should ask again."

Draco's fiancée burst into tears and flung herself onto him in an entirely un-Slytherin way. They both lost their balance and fell over into the snow, sprawling happily, giggling with the joy of a newly engaged couple.

Hermione couldn't help but laugh as she watched on. She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned to see Ron standing beside her. She smiled warmly at him, and then threw her arms around him in a decidedly Gryffindor show of affection.

"Gods it's so good to see you," she said, tears already streaming down her face.

Ron hugged her back tightly, burying his face in her hair. "I missed you so much," he whispered. "But I knew I'd see you again one day. It's the only thing that kept me going sometimes."

"Ron..."

"No, Hermione, don't worry. I know about you and Remus. I'm not here to get in the way."

"But..." They pulled away and looked into each other's eyes.

"I love you," she said.

"And I love you. But I never could make you happy like he can. I don't think we were meant for each other that way. And our marriage was dissolved when I was declared dead. There is nothing to stop you from being with the man you are fated to be with. Not even me," he grinned.

Hermione threw her arms around him again, and Ron hugged her back with all his might. "You're my best friend," he told her. "That will never, ever change."

XIXIX

It took a month for the brain barrier ritual to be completed down in the catacombs. Once it was, Harry, Severus, and Ginny were very thoroughly protected from any sort of influence, control, or prying that could possibly come from anyone outside of their bonded triangle. The three rejoined wizarding society to a turmoil of trials and investigations. Minister Fudge, Angela Diamond, and Dr. Monroe, among many, many others, were implicated in a sickening web of corruption, marred further by the Imperious curse, extortion, and war profiteering. They had all benefited greatly from this War on Death Eaters that they had created and perpetuated with the use of Harry as a Weapon.

Ginny and Draco, along with Tonks, Kingsley, and Grungle, were assigned to the team of Investigators that would be sorting out this whole mess. While this went on, an interim government was appointed by the Wizengamot. Aberdeen Abernathy, the new Minister, was a highly ethical man who had never risen very high due to his lack of desire to climb to the top. But right now, he was just what was called for.

Harry was available for the investigations, for the trials. He wanted to be accessible by the public so they could know what had happened and that they would never have anything to fear from him again. But all the same, he shied from the spotlight. The last thing he wanted was to gain any amount of political power that might lead to him becoming corrupted as his captors had become corrupted. He was quite happy having absolutely no political power at all.

But he worked closely with Draco and Ginny and the others. They made a great team, and they worked very hard to put the past firmly behind them.

Draco and Persephone planned on a June wedding. Draco asked Severus to be his best man, and Harry to be one of his groomsmen. Ginny and Neville finally found their way together. Neville transferred to a position in London with the largest greenhouse in the UK. Hermione and Remus were quietly bonded with little fanfare. Only close friends were present. Ron brought Lavender Brown as his date, and stood in for Hermione's father who would never recover the memory of his only daughter. Harry stood in as Remus' best man.

As a wedding present, Harry presented Remus with the deed to the Black House. And finally, Remus accepted it.

Harry moved into Hogwarts. The Defense Against the Dark Arts position was open once again, so he stepped in. McGonagall offered him his own quarters, but Harry refused. He had nightmares now, haunted by the re-forming memories of everything he had done while under the control of the Ministry, haunted by memories of the war, memories from Voldemort, memories from the Dementor he had possessed. He had only ever felt entirely safe with Severus, and now that he was back with his bondmates, he intended to stay.

Severus pulled out the pensieve and set it on the table before them. He sat with his shoulder pressed against Harry's, close by his side.

"Are you ready?" he asked.

Harry shook his head. "I don't know if this is such a good idea," he said. "I mean, yes, these memories are horrible, and I shouldn't have to be responsible, even in my head, for what happened while I was under their control, but..."

"You don't want to lose Mala Suerte."

"Among other things," agreed Harry. "But yeah, she's the most important part. I don't think there is anyone else who knows her enough to miss her."

"What are you going to do with her house?"

Harry shrugged. "I was thinking about creating a shrine to her… to the kindest person I've ever met in my life."

"Then do it."

"I don't think I could live there, though," Harry added.

Severus glared at him. "I'd like to see you try."

Harry rolled his eyes. "I'm not leaving again. You know that."

"Again," drawled Severus, "I'd like to see you try."

Harry smiled. "You never gave up on me. During all of that time, all those years... and I treated you so horribly."

"I should have helped you," said Severus bitterly. "I should have figured out what was wrong." But Harry shook his head.

"You couldn't have known. They made it so that you wouldn't ever know. But... gods, I tried to break our bond. Several times! And still you held on."

Severus leaned closer, reached out and grabbed Harry's hand. "And I will never let you go. I will never give up on you."

Harry shifted, felt contented in the security of his bondmate. He was ready to start anew. He looked down to the pensieve and drew a deep breath. The fireplace flared just then and Ginny stepped in. She settled down beside them, pulling off her cloak and getting comfortable without invitation.

"You weren't thinking of starting without me, were you?" she asked.

"Never without you," said Harry.

The bondmates came together and sorted through the worst of their struggles, holding onto each other with the love and attention one offers only the most important aspects of life.

And together, they created a new future and a better life.

Fin.