An End and A Beginning
***the last day of the school year***
Percy sat at the professors' table, watching the students sitting at their respective house tables, patiently awaiting the feast. It was the last day of the school year and, for the seventh year students, it was their last day at Hogwarts. The world outside awaited them now…a vastly changed world from several months ago. Voldemort was gone and many Death Eaters had been captured as they prepared to attack Hogwarts itself. Some of them had committed suicide rather than be captured. Lucius Malfoy was such a one. He had managed to summon his broom and fly back to Malfoy Manor before the Aurors caught him. He and his wife both took Reductus poison although there was some controversy as to whether Narcissa Malfoy had taken it willingly or not.
Wormtail had been sent to Azkaban, was found guilty of numerous counts of murder and torture and was administered the Dementor's Kiss. Percy had witnessed it, as did Harry, Severus, Sirius and Dumbledore. Percy could still vividly remember the look of wild fright in Wormtail's eyes as the Dementor approached him, breath rattling like someone dying of consumption. It turned towards Wormtail and lowered its hood. Percy had to stifle a gasp at the rotted, maggot-ridden vision of horror that hid under the robe. It was enough to make him nauseous. It lifted a skeletal hand and forcibly tipped Wormtail's face upwards, pinching the cheeks so that he was forced to open his mouth somewhat. Wormtail was moaning loudly and tears were streaming down his cheeks but the Dementor did not notice and certainly did not care. Then, Percy heard a sucking sound as the Dementor lowered its head towards the trembling man. A black mist began to come out of Wormtail's mouth, translucent shapes of no specific form that hung for a moment, shimmering darkly, and then rushed into the orifice on the Dementor's face.
It was over in less than a minute. The Dementor let go of Wormtail, who promptly collapsed to the ground. Percy saw the guards pick the unfortunate man up and carry him back to his special cell. Percy saw his eyes and shuddered. Yes, this was a fate worse than death.
Percy looked around the Great Hall and smiled. Draco and Ron were sitting together, heckling each other. Although it was common knowledge that the two were friends, especially following the deaths of Draco's parents, neither one of them would ever willingly admit to it. Lavender was also sitting very closely to Ron, her hand on his shoulder, softly touching his red hair and watching the animated exchanges between Ron and Draco.
Ginny, of course, was sitting next to Harry. Ginny had been frantic after they had come back from rescuing Hermione and had insisted on seeing Harry before she would let herself sleep. Although somewhat shorter and lighter in build than Harry, she had succeeded in knocking him off his feet as she rushed at him in relief. They both just sat there on the floor, holding each other tightly…neither one wanting to be the first to let go. Percy was also glad to see that Ron did not give Harry too hard a time about dating Ginny. Maybe that was because Ginny had threatened to wash all his undergarments in Pepperup potion if he did. And Ginny would have done it…as Charlie could attest.
Sirius Black was sitting at the professors' table as well. Since his exoneration, he had been working as an assistant to Remus Lupin in teaching Defense Against The Dark Arts. The students, once they had gotten over their initial fear of seeing Azkaban's most famous inmate in the flesh, immediately liked him and he quickly became one of the more popular staff members at Hogwarts. The best part to all this was that he was finally able to do what he had wanted to do for many, many years. He was able to adopt Harry legally. No more summers at the Dursleys for Harry. Harry finally had a family and, judging by the sparkle in his eyes as he held Ginny's hand, he wanted nothing else.
Sirius, Severus and Remus were involved in a very important project. They were going to examine modifications to the Wolfsbane Potion to see if a cure for lycanthropy could be found. Although admittedly a long shot, they were going to pool their considerable expertise in the Dark Arts to see if such an affliction could be reversed.
But the face that he was searching for was not at the table. He looked around for her in vain, trying to see where she had hidden herself.
"She will be here soon," Severus smiled at him. Sirius playfully punched Remus on the arm.
Percy blushed somewhat. "Is it that obvious?" he asked.
Severus simply smiled and returned to chatting with Remus and Sirius.
Dumbledore stood up to address the students.
"I wonder where Hermione is?" Percy wondered.
"Attention students. Attention," Dumbledore called out. The room became silent in seconds. Dumbledore beamed at the group of students who looked back at him with that combination of awe and respect.
"This has been a most eventful year. Voldemort and his minions have been defeated and there are a number of us present who must be acknowledged for their efforts to bring down the Dark Lord."
Dumbledore turned towards the professors.
"First, I must acknowledge Professor Remus Lupin, without whose assistance we would never have been able to safeguard Hogwarts as we did and track down the Death Eaters who would have attacked this school. His knowledge of the Dark Arts ensured that all of you were safe."
There was a round of thunderous applause. Percy was pleased to see that the students at Slytherin table were also banging their goblets loudly on the table.
"I must also acknowledge Sirius Black. Being unjustly accused of such a heinous crime can easily turn an individual against our community. Being unjustly imprisoned in Azkaban for twelve years and being on the run for an additional four years can easily fire the flames of vengeance against those who thought him guilty. Sirius did neither of these things. His assistance over the past four years has been invaluable, more so because of the great personal risk."
The applause was noticeably louder and Percy grinned as Sirius nudged Remus again with a smirk on his face. He had a sudden insight into how the two of them were when they were students here themselves.
"I must also thank Professor Severus Snape whose role has been possibly the most dangerous and difficult of all. Despite the huge personal risk, he was able to acquire information for us and assist us in protecting our students. Indeed, his quick thinking prevented a number of potential tragedies earlier in the school year and for that I am very grateful."
Percy grinned, as Severus looked extremely awkward at the praise. He really was the sort of man who preferred a more private acknowledgement of his actions. But even he looked pleased and, indeed, somewhat surprised, at the huge round of applause that followed. Looking out over the Gryffindor table (which was only surpassed by the Slytherin table in loudness) Percy saw Neville stand up and clap his hands loudly. The entire Gryffindor table and the entire student body quickly followed suit and rose up in respect.
"Finally, I would like to thank Professor Percival Weasley for his dedication to the difficult assignment I had given him last summer. He never wavered in his duty and, in the face of danger, showed the type of courage and loyalty that the Gryffindor house is renowned for."
Percy blushed somewhat at the praise and smiled as he saw Harry, Ron, Neville and Draco jump up on their seats and whoop loudly.
"There are also a number of students I must thank for their efforts in defeating the Dark Lord. First, Ronald Weasley, for showing the tenacity and the bravery to stand up for friend and enemy alike and for admirable courage in fighting the Dark Lord himself."
Ron blushed as Lavender kissed him on the cheek and held him tightly. He held her hand and did not say anything…he just beamed with happiness.
"I wish to acknowledge Draco Malfoy who proved to us all that it is not the house that we belong to but the values we carry in our hearts that determine who we are. He made the difficult transition to another house this year and was able to overcome the traditional prejudices between Slytherin and Gryffindor. I am most proud of that than anything else. He also showed incredible courage in offering to rescue a fellow student who had been captured and stuck by his friends, even when the situation could easily have swayed him the other way."
Draco smiled broadly as Harry and Ron captured him and started giving him noogies, making his silver-blond hair stick up at rather frightening angles. He took this very good-naturedly and laughed. Percy noticed how Padma Patil was looking at Draco shyly and smiled. Yes, it seemed as if the prejudices had certainly disappeared.
"Of course, I must acknowledge Harry Potter, whose relentless courage and loyalty to his friends have molded him into one of the bravest and finest young men I have had the privilege of knowing. Over the course of the last seven years, I have watched Harry brave a number of seemingly insurmountable obstacles and face the darkest wizard our generation has ever known. He has never faltered, even though he was unsure of his own abilities. He has never hesitated, despite knowing what the outcome could be. In every way, he has shown himself to possess all the best qualities of all the four houses…resourcefulness, courage, loyalty, intelligence, an over-riding sense of fair play. He has seen tragedy and he has overcome it. He has seen evil and he has vanquished it. He has found friends where before he only saw enemies. He is an example for all of us to follow and for this I toast him as I toast the others and, indeed, as I toast you. The world ahead is a much brighter one and we have these many brave individuals to thank for it."
The entire student body got up again and began clapping and cheering and there were many goblets banging on the table. Percy could just see how Ron put an arm around Harry's shoulder and just held him. And then, Ron held out his other arm and Draco, rather surprised but pleased nonetheless, moved in to join the two boys. If anything personified how the world had changed, it was this image of these three boys, each of them so very different, embracing one another in genuine friendship.
"There is one other person who will speak before we begin our Feast. She has been directly affected by the chaotic events of this past year and was almost lost to us. She had to overcome her own fears and insecurities in order to break away from Voldemort's evil and this was no small task. She has recently discovered certain truths about her past of which you are all aware and she has taken great strides to incorporate this into her vision of herself. She has not shied away from these truths, as many people would have, she has accepted them. She has had to endure much this year but she has shown herself equal and, when the time came to choose between good and evil, she made the right choice. She chose with her heart. Of course, I am speaking of Hermione Granger."
There was a loud thundering of applause as Hermione shyly approached the professor's table. Percy saw Severus looking at her with an expression of love and pride. The Gryffindor table was nearly beside itself with applause, Harry, Ron and Draco making a whole lot of noise and shooting fireworks out of their wands. Percy could see McGonagall smiling at them indulgently, not making any attempt at restoring order.
In a few moments, the students quieted down on their own and Hermione took her place beside Dumbledore.
"Headmaster. Professors. Fellow students. It is not usually the case where a student stands up here to address you all but this year is different. I asked Headmaster Dumbledore if I could have just a couple of minutes to talk to you as your Head Girl, but, most importantly, as your friend. This year has been a more chaotic one than usual. Voldemort came very close to attacking Hogwarts, to killing several students, to claiming me and to taking final victory in the struggle that has been around for as long as we can remember. Now, that struggle is over but we must never let our guard down. As Professor Moody told me, we must always exercise constant vigilance to ensure that another, perhaps even more terrible evil, does not threaten our world as Voldemort did.
We must continue to work together…to strengthen the bonds we have created between all the houses this year. It is through cooperation and trust and mutual respect that our future happiness and prosperity are ensured. If we quibble over differences of belief or of language or of background, then we are no better than Voldemort himself. As Headmaster Dumbledore told us, Voldemort's greatest strength was to sow the seeds of discord among us and we have seen how true that was. However, I believe that the strength and the love in our hearts are much stronger. Love can overcome all obstacles. It can forge friendships in the most unlikely of places. It can breathe life into the stoniest of hearts. It can bring life where before there was only death.
If there is anything that I would ask you to do, it is to always listen to what your heart is telling you. It is very easy to get caught up in the glamour and power of evil. It comes in many disguises and will use any means possible to seduce you into thinking that only through selling your soul will you achieve ultimate happiness. Your heart will never lead you down the wrong path. That is something that I learned from my father and I wanted to thank him for that."
Hermione walked over to where Severus was seated and hugged him. He returned the embrace warmly and kissed her on the cheek. Percy noticed Madam Hooch wiping a tear away from her eye. Hermione walked back to Dumbledore. Severus continued to watch her proudly, with tears in his eyes.
"For those of us in seventh year, the real world waits for us. It is a vastly different world from the one we left at the beginning of the school year. The opportunities are boundless. The very air is charged with the spirit of renewal. Let's go out there and really make a difference. Let's start something positive that everyone will be speaking of for generations to come!"
The entire student body and all the professors jumped to their feet and the roar of applause that followed was on a level unheard of before. All the ghosts were applauding and even Peeves refrained from dropping pumpkin juice on the first years, only allowing himself to do back flips in the air as a way of releasing his nervous energy.
"And now," Dumbledore managed to say over the applause, "Enjoy the feast!"
Everyone was still chattering loudly, as they sat down to eat the sumptuous array of food that magically appeared before them.
"Hermione, you may join your friends, if you wish," Dumbledore said quietly.
"Thank you, Headmaster," Hermione replied. However, she first walked over to where Percy was watching her.
"Will you meet me in the Common Room? I have something to talk to you about," she asked.
"Of course," he held her hand gently and smiled at her. She blushed somewhat and then hurried over to take her place with the other Gryffindors.
"I'm very proud of you, Percy," Severus spoke up.
Percy looked at the older man. He could see that the past few months had been kind and had erased much of the bitterness and darkness from his expression. Things had gone better than anyone could have imagined. The meeting with Mr. & Mrs. Granger had not been the disaster that he had feared. In fact, they were rather grateful because, if not for Hermione, they would never have known the joys of parenthood as they never could have other children and they would have been uncertain about adopting.
The relationship between Severus and Hermione was developing and Percy could see that there was a genuine interest on both sides to try to make it as normal a father-daughter relationship as possible. Severus had told Hermione all about her mother and had left nothing out as far as his being a Death Eater and what had happened afterwards. Yes, there was much sorrow and regret for time wasted but that was overshadowed by an overwhelming desire to concentrate on the future and to leave the past, with all its sadness, where it belonged.
"Thank you, Severus, for everything," Percy said sincerely.
That said it all and they ate their meal with good appetite…except for when Sirius started singing some ribald old songs from their schooldays, which made the students giggle and some of the professors blush. Hagrid and Remus quickly started accompanying him. No one seemed to mind and Percy was amazed to see even Professor McGonagall and Madam Pince joining in. There had been so little to celebrate in the past several years that there certainly was no harm in having a little fun now. Dumbledore laughed heartily at the merriment.
Hermione sat between Ron and Draco and ate her meal in relative silence, simply taking in all of the animated conversations around her. The rest of the school year had had its own challenges but they had been relatively pleasant ones. The things that stood out the most were the many meetings between her father and her adoptive parents. She had been a little frightened at how they might react to the news but, once they got over the initial shock, they were really very good about it. They had been the ones to insist that she should spend more time with her father. She suspected that they were keeping a lot of their emotions back for her benefit and she loved them all the more for it. No matter what, her welfare and her happiness had always been their primary concern. None of that had changed. She was still their daughter as well, not just Severus'. She felt pretty lucky about that.
After the meal, they made their way back to their respective common rooms. Everyone was already packed, trunks and bags already on their way to the Hogwarts Express. The seventh year Gryffindors were milling around, saying goodbye to their friends. There was a definite air of sadness as they realized there would be no returning to this place that had been their second home for the past seven years.
"So, will you be able to come to the Burrow this summer, Hermione?" Ron asked as he sat in one of the really comfy chairs with an arm around Lavender.
Hermione smiled at the two of them, "Absolutely. I will be spending part of the summer at home and part of the summer here at Hogwarts with my father. I would love to come down to see you all."
"Some of us more than others, right?" Ginny laughed.
Hermione blushed as Harry laughed and tickled Ginny in revenge.
"Well, the same could apply to you, Harry," Ron pointed out, "Besides, Mum will have my head if you don't come down. I'm sure Sirius could spare you for a couple of weeks before we begin Auror training."
"Oh, I'll be there if only to make sure you and Draco don't kill each other," Harry grinned. Draco was going to be spending the summer with the Weasleys. He hadn't wanted to go home for obvious reasons and had put Malfoy Manor up for sale. Ron's mother had insisted and it hadn't taken Draco very long to make his decision. Besides, he had always wanted to meet Charlie and talk about dragons.
Draco smiled somewhat and walked over to Hermione.
"How are you feeling?" he asked.
"Ask me that in a couple of months and I will have an answer. Right now, I still have so much to take in…sometimes it feels a little overwhelming," she answered honestly.
"Well, there is no textbook for this sort of thing. I mean, we have all had a lot to deal with this year…"
"Oh, Draco, I am so sorry. I was being rather selfish. I mean you have had a lot to deal with too…"
Draco cut her off by placing his fingers to her lips momentarily.
"Don't worry about me. I am made of pretty strong stuff. All those years of trying to live up to their expectations. Knowing they didn't really love me…just saw me as a means of achieving what they wanted. I'm very lucky to be free of them. I didn't even feel sorry when I found out they had committed suicide. Isn't that the epitome of selfishness, just taking their own lives and not even taking a moment to consider what effect it might have on me? Well, it was always about them, not me."
"I really am sorry."
"Don't be. Just be happy. And remember, if that Weasley fellow doesn't treat you the way you deserve, he will have to answer to me," he said it lightly, but there was a serious undertone to his words, "we all love you, Hermione…each of us in our own way."
Eyes glistening with tears, she nodded and then leaned forward to kiss him on the cheek.
"I know," she whispered. Draco nodded and walked over to bother Ron a bit more. Hermione smiled because Padma immediately joined the group and stood quietly beside Draco.
"Perhaps," Hermione thought with a smile.
The common room door opened and Percy walked in. He caught sight of Hermione and quickly joined her.
"You really did well up there today," he commented. The pride in his expression made her feel wonderful.
"I felt I had to talk to everyone…it was just something I had to do. Almost like a goodbye…almost," her voice died down to a whisper as his arm came around her waist. She looked at him lovingly.
"So, what are your plans now?" Percy asked as he sat down with her on a nearby bench.
"Well, Dumbledore will be retiring now and Professor McGonagall will become the new Headmistress. That leaves the Transfiguration post open and she has asked me to take it."
"And I have accepted. I was thinking that I might join Harry and the others at Auror training but I think my place is here with the students," Hermione noticed that Percy was grinning madly. "What are you so happy about?"
"It seems I will be returning as well. Professor McGonagall spoke to me last week. Looks like enrolment for History of Magic electives has doubled and she credits it to having a…well…a living professor," Percy's eyes danced with merriment.
Hermione was so happy she couldn't think of what to say which was, in itself, a rare thing.
"I bought you something," he smiled as he reached into his robes and pulled out a small box.
"Percy, I told you not to buy me anything," she protested as he placed the small box in her hands.
"Just open it," he said, blushing somewhat.
Hermione sighed and opened the little box, pulling out, of all things, a snow globe. She looked at him in confusion.
"Look closer," he replied to her unasked question.
Hermione returned her gaze to the snow globe. She watched carefully as the swirling crystals settled to the bottom of the globe and the panorama became clear. There was a gardenia, snowy white in colour and covered with sparkles, but one thing sparkled more than the gardenia, it was a ring…an engagement ring.
She looked at him in surprise.
"I know it is early but I…I wanted you to know that I love you and that I will spend the rest of my life ensuring that you are always happy. You don't have to answer me now…like I said…."
Hermione, with tears of joy in her eyes, embraced him happily, effectively cutting off his rambling.
"Yes," she whispered into his ear.
He smiled and held her tightly.
"I hate to break this up but I need a scrap of parchment to write down a spell for Neville's toad. It will help Neville find him more quickly," Draco broke in, Neville right behind him, both looking a little sheepish at having interrupted them.
The two of them broke the embrace with blushes, embarrassed smiles and stood up. Hermione fumbled through her robes and found a piece of something that felt like parchment. Pulling it out, she noticed that it was the horoscope she had cut out of the muggle newspaper before the school year had started. She read it over and started to laugh.
"What's so funny?" Percy asked.
Hermione showed him the horoscope. He read it over quickly and started to grin.
"Well, I am going to take a hint from this horoscope and do something my heart tells me is right," Percy smiled as he handed the parchment to Draco.
"And what would that be?" Hermione asked.
Percy did not answer. He simply took her in his arms and, in front of the entire Gryffindor common room, kissed her deeply and passionately. He did not see the looks of surprise on the faces of the others and, quite frankly, he didn't care. He was not about to live his life on the perimeter any longer. He loved her and he didn't care if the whole world saw them kissing.
Hermione melted into Percy's kiss and completely forgot where she was and who else was there. That was irrelevant. The only things that mattered were that she loved Percy and he loved her. But there was one odd thought that crossed her mind, which almost made her laugh.
"We will certainly have to see about playing those numbers in the wizarding lottery."
A/N: Chapter 5 of "Hour of Grace" will be up by October 8th.
There are so many people I have to thank personally. Here is a very incomplete list. Please read their stories too…you are sure to like them.
Tessie and wm_law2003: Words fail me. Thank you for being such great beta-readers, great people to talk to and also for writing stories that are quite awesome
Ron: The original Marauder…thanks for being a great person to talk to and bounce ideas off of…looking forward to more Draco stories
Catriona Snape: Mia amica italiana…sono cosi contenta di averti conosciuta e spero che continueremo a parlare
Meatball: My fellow Canadian…what can I say? When I finally make it to the east coast we'll go to the local Tim Hortons, order a couple of double doubles and watch "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" or "Royal Canadian Air Farce". Maple Leaf forever, eh? (PS: Hi Spaghetti LOL)
Princess Potter: Through an error of our ways, we became correspondents. Thanks for making my workdays so much fun and for the snow globe idea. Looking forward to more Aimee (hee hee)
Danielle: You are always so positive…thanks for everything
Sweeperchick8: Surprise!! From me and your sister (Soccer rules! World Cup next year! Forza Italia…well, what did you expect? Canada didn't qualify..again…sigh).
Lady Deatheater, Joycie Lionheart, Silveray, Emmy, Taran, Slytherin Goddess: For getting in touch with me and being so positive
Jesse: For those great reviews…keep up the good work
Zoe: For all your help in answering my millions of questions
Steffie: For being happy and perky…you always have such positive energy
Your Worst Nightmare: For always being able to put a smile on my face
Valancy: For being a great person and for putting some of my stories on your site…go tohttp://wolfiesden.50megs.com
Susie: For always having such nice things to say about me
Lauren: For having such excellent taste in protagonists (yes, I will clone Percy for you)
Catherine Cook: For appreciating the darkly enigmatic Potions Master as much as I do (Two words: Alan Rickman)