After the End
(a post-Hogwarts tale by Arabella and Zsenya)
With much, much, much assistance from B Bennett, ElanorGamgee, Honeychurch, Jedi Boadicea, Lallybroch and Moey and many, many, many others...We can't possibly tell, at this point, who suggested what, so we'll just admit up front that we can't take all the credit for ourselves.
DISCLAIMER: This story will be rated R for mature themes, some violence, angst, and language, at intervals. Harry, Ron and Hermione are now eighteen, and will be acting their age. Also, though we have done our very best to stay as close to JK Rowling's world and canon, we've had to skip ahead three years and create that history for ourselves. That said, we welcome you to enjoy this - we sure have.
"I swear to die for you, Harry. I love you." Hermione's voice was clear, and the bluebell flame flickered in the center of the circle, near her feet. She held his hand tightly, and Harry was amazed to see, by the look in her face, that she meant what she was saying. He knew that she had to mean it – otherwise this spell would never have any effect. But hearing those words issue from Hermione in such a serious way caused a more powerful reaction in Harry than he had anticipated.
With her free hand, Hermione raised her wand and touched it to his scar. "In nomine Expecto Sacrificum." Harry shuddered to feel her promise transferring through what had once been nothing but his curse scar. Now it was a conduit, and this was working – he could feel the beginnings of the new magic taking shape within him. He nodded at Hermione, who was shining with hope as she stepped back into the circle.
Ron stepped forward next, his blue eyes grave. He clapped a hand firmly on Harry's shoulder and bent down to look his friend dead in the face. "I swear to die for you, Harry. I love you." The words had always been there, but spoken aloud they were a shock to both young men, and Ron's voice was hoarse. His eye-contact, however, was steady and there was strong belief in his gaze. "In nomine Expecto Sacrificum," he said, touching his wand to Harry's scar. The spell spread and deepened in Harry; he felt it taking root in the center of his own magical power. It was strange and difficult to believe that his friends were doing this for him. He wondered if he could possibly be worth it.
Lupin was next. His hand touched Harry's arm, gently. "I swear to die for you, Harry," he said calmly, his face unreadable. He might have been struck again by Harry's resemblance to James at that moment. "I love you." Lupin's expression changed slightly, and Harry could see tears in the grey eyes of his teacher as he raised his wand and put the tip of it to Harry's scar, which was burning slightly now, from the magic that was being channeled through it. "In nomine Expecto Sacrificum." Lupin lowered his wand and stepped quietly away, swiping beneath his eyes.
Sirius took one long step forward and lay his hand fully on the crown of Harry's head, pushing back his hair. His face was raw with emotion. "I swear to die for you, Harry. I love you." His godfather's eyes were not deadened now; they pierced into Harry with all the life he could summon and every word he spoke was impassioned. What had happened before would never happen again. He put his wand to Harry's scar and held it there. Harry felt as though his skin was searing now, but he didn't dare move. This was too important. "In nomine Expecto Sacrificum," Sirius incanted. And then, his eyes still blazing, he stepped back.
Ginny was the final contributor. She provided a necessary element, which was the only reason that Harry had allowed Hermione to ask for her help. Ginny had said yes instantaneously, but Harry looked at her now and wondered why he was letting her agree. Suddenly, he wanted to say no – to shout it – to stop her from doing the magic. He wanted to stop all of them. They couldn't risk their lives for his and they shouldn't have to. His protection wasn't worth this sacrifice, was it? He was only one person and they were five; he was only a wizard who happened to be good at Quidditch and have a mortal enemy; yes, he might be the Boy Who Lived, but that didn't mean anything if his friends couldn't live as well. They were his family now. His first family had already done this for him, and they were gone.
Panicking, Harry held up a palm to arrest her, and opened his mouth to protest. But Ginny caught his fingers with her wand hand and shook her head quickly, giving him a look so fiercely intense that he closed his mouth again without a word. He wasn't to speak. He wasn't to interrupt this. They had all been through these arguments together, and in the end, Harry had agreed to allow the building of this spell. There was no other way.
Satisfied that he was going to stay quiet, Ginny cupped his cheek with her free hand and looked up into his face. "I swear to die for you, Harry." Her voice was low, but every word was surely pronounced. "I love you." The tone of her whisper made him shiver. Everyone in the circle caught a breath, but Ginny didn't take her eyes away from Harry's. She let go of his hand and, still holding his face, she raised her wand to touch his scar. "In nomine Expecto Sacrificum." Harry flinched slightly at the touch. The magic coming in through the curse scar on his forehead was extremely strong, and by now very painful. There was a throbbing beneath Ginny's wand, and it was all he could do to stand still, but he did. He had to.
Without a sound, Ginny removed her wand from the spot and stepped back into the circle, leaving Harry in the center. The newly completed spell coursed through him from his forehead into his feet. Every inch of him was filled with it and the magic went deeper than his bones. Clearly, they had meant what they had said to him. And if he faced Voldemort with this... then perhaps...
Harry flexed his fingers on his wand and imagined the words in his head. "Expecto Sacrificum!" To his great surprise, a bolt of something white-hot shot through his hand and sparks flew from his wand. He jumped, and stared at it. He hadn't even said anything.
The bluebell flame lit all five faces in the ring and Harry looked up at them in wonder. He wanted to thank them, but his voice failed. He knew it wasn't just for him that they were doing this – it was for the world, for everyone who would suffer as long as Voldemort stayed in power. Yet, it was being done through him, and it could only happen through him because his friends were willing to give him so much.
Silently, Harry held open his hands. "I..." he began quietly, "I can't..."
But it didn't matter. A moment later, he was surrounded on all sides as everyone in the room fused together in a tight and protective embrace. Someone kicked the bluebell flame, which flickered out and left them all in darkness, but no one moved to right it. Either this spell was going to work, or this was going to be the last time they all stood together, and all of them knew it.
Harry shut his eyes and leaned his head heavily on the shoulder nearest to him, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly.
This had better work...
* * *
He had been sitting on the entrance steps to Hogwarts, looking out at the lake. It was beautiful in summer. Hogwarts was half falling apart behind him, but the lake was shining, quite oblivious, under the bright June sun.
"Come on, Harry, we're all ready to go if you are."
It still felt like a dream. Only a week ago, on graduation day, there had been a war raging here. Only a week ago, there had been a Voldemort who had wanted to destroy him. And now it was still.
"Hey, what's taking you so – blimey, is he still sitting out here? Harry, get up, I'm hungry, I want to get over there."
But it wasn't that cold, terrible stillness – the kind they'd all been whispering in for the past few years. Not the tense hush of frightened waiting, not the awful, quiet magnitude of another death. Just peace.
"Shh, let him be. Where's Ginny?"
"Saying goodbye to her room."
"Oh." There was a small sniffle. "My trunk's by the fire, is yours?"
"I'll get it in a minute."
"I thought you said you were ready! Well, go get it now, I'll get Harry to come in."
A little breeze blew. There was a sound of trees rustling at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, and the sound of some odd creature singing there – not quite a bird, not quite a mammal. Hagrid would have known what it was. Harry bowed his head. At least it was over, he told himself again.
"Harry, I'm going in. Come in when you're ready, we're going by Floo powder from the common room fireplace. Professor McGonagall said that it would work now." She paused. "I'll tell Ron to bring your trunk down, shall I?"
Harry nodded numbly and stared out over the lawn, tears swimming up in his eyes. He didn't turn around to show them, but for once, he didn't try to fight them back, either. He heard footsteps behind him, and the oak entrance door shutting softly. He was alone for a moment. Harry pushed up his glasses and blinked his eyes hard in order to focus on the letter that dangled in his hand. It was a good letter. It was too good to be true, and the shock of it hadn't quite worn off.
Of course you'll bring Ron, and Hermione and Ginny. We hoped
that you would, and there's more than enough space for all of you, though
two will have to share each room. Remus and I are looking forward to your
arrival. Get here as quickly as you can.
You know that I have had my doubts as to whether I would ever be
free to do my godfatherly duties by you. But Harry, now that I am, it's
going to be the way it should have been all along. I promise you that.
Can't wait to see you,
Harry looked at the letter for a long time. He was going to spend a summer – an entire summer – with his friends. And there wasn't any danger in it. No Dark threats hanging over his head, no Draco Malfoy next fall, no Death Eaters, no Dursleys.
There was a fierce ache in Harry – part joy, part emptiness. After everything that had happened, life continued. It was still summer. The lake was blinding. Hogwarts was out of session. He had graduated its halls.
He turned toward the gentle voice, and a tall, slim figure with red hair dropped down beside him on the step. "You ready, then?"
"Do I have to be?"
Ginny rested her chin on her knees and sighed at the question. Harry noticed that her eyes were already red-rimmed.
"No – of course you don't have to be," she replied quietly. "I'm not."
"But we have to go anyway."
They paused and Harry looked past Ginny, straining his head left down toward the Quidditch pitch. "Everything ends," he muttered, not sure why he felt so suddenly bitter.
"No. Some things don't."
He looked at her quickly – their eyes caught for a moment, and then both of them looked down.
"Ron said you were saying goodbye to your room."
"I was. So he came up and told me to quit talking to myself, and then he went up to the boys' dorm and magicked your trunk down for you."
Harry had to smile. That was Ron.
"So everyone's waiting on me, then."
"Well, Hermione said not to rush you. But it's... it's time, Harry. Sirius will wonder what happened to us."
"I wish I could take Fawkes with us."
"Soon. He'll be fine, and you'll have Hedwig."
"Yes. I guess we'd better do this."
Together, they got to their feet, brushing off their habitual black school robes and surveying the grounds once more. Harry drew a long, deep breath, turned, and was walking behind Ginny into the castle when he chanced to look up. His eyes fell on the tower that had once been Dumbledore's. The Headmaster's empty window glared brilliantly in the sun.
Harry lifted his hand in an instinctive salute. The window seemed to flash.
And then he followed Ginny inside to the Great Hall, where Ron and Hermione were waiting for them. This was going to be the first real summer of his life.