A/N: The Last One. Thanks to everyone who made it this far. Please, if you haven't already, leave me a note telling me if you liked it or not.
And I couldn't end without giving a HUGE SHOUTOUT to my faithfuls. You guys gave me so much encouragement along the way. I couldn't have made it through without you. Thanks, and I hope you enjoy this last little bit.
Chapter 50 (epilogue)- Freedom in the Midst of Peace
The next seven years crept by, with most of the Wizarding world returning to a state of complacency. Every now and then, a Ministry official or unsuspecting Auror would be shocked to find bodies bound and gagged in various stages of unconsciousness delivered anonymously, each labeled clearly with a sheet of parchment detailing their name and evidence of their ties to the former Dark Lord.
In August of 2000, nearly two and a half years after Voldemort's death, a mangled and bloodied female corpse was portkeyed into Auror Headquarters, labeled with a sheet of parchment addressed to Edward Dawlish. Auror Dawlish received the parchment, which had been charmed so that only he could read it.
She's the last one. We do hope the Ministry doesn't mind us taking care of this one for you guys. We figured the Minister was tired of seeing us in court everyday to give testimony, and frankly, we're tired of being there as well. In case her face is completely unrecognizable, her name is Bellatrix Lestrange. The Aurory should have her files on hand.
Harry J. Potter and Neville F. Longbottom
The Rogue Phoenixers
Dawlish set his wand to the parchment and vanished it, ordering the Junior Aurors watching him to take the body to the morgue.
He sat against the frigid wall, his arms resting on his knees. The Warming charms only worked for the area around his bed. During the day, he liked feeling the cold. It reminded him that he could still feel something.
They had given him a cell with a charmed window. It was tiny, but it was something. He never tired of watching the clouds move slowly past, or watch the small rectangle of sunlight slide across the floor until it disappeared to nothing. The days it was charmed to show rain were a pleasant change.
His head turned quickly towards the door as he heard footsteps coming down the hallway. A sly grin crept over his face as a copy of the Prophet slid through his food slot. He pushed himself up and walked over to the door, scooping up the paper in his right hand. He returned to his spot on the wall and unfolded it to read.
January 9, 2004
He snorted softly to himself. He was forty-five today. He felt eighty-five. He shook his head slightly and continued reading the main article, detailing the early polling results for the new Minister of Magic.
Samuel Cossinger was winning by a landslide over the incumbent, especially with his promises of amnesty for all those involved with The War Effort, as it was being termed now. Severus's grin widened as he read an endorsing statement quoted from a young Auror.
"I fully support Mr. Cossinger," said Auror Zabini, member of the illustrious Order of the Phoenix and holder of an Order of Merlin, First Class. "He's a hard-working man who will do what is right by the people."
Severus opened up the paper and scanned over the next few pages.
The morning of January 7, 2005, dawned crisp and frigid. Harry jogged down the deserted sidewalk towards the battered phone booth, pulling his long coat tight around him. He stepped inside it quickly and picked up the receiver, dialing 6-2-4-4-2.
"Please state your name and reason for visiting," said a dull female voice. Harry rolled his eyes.
"The Dark Lord, here to see Minister Cossinger," said Harry flippantly. There was a brief clanging before a silver badge dropped to the change slot.
"Please affix the badge firmly to your robes," said the voice. With a jolt, the lift began sinking into the ground. Harry bounced nervously on his heels, wishing the lift moved faster. He shifted his shoulder bag filled with a set of robes, boots and a warm cloak. Finally, the lift reached the Atrium level, opening its doors to the marble-floored room. He flipped his collar up and ducked his head a little as he stepped out of the booth. He made his way over to the security wizard glancing through an old copy of Witch Weekly.
"I'm here to see the Minister," said Harry quietly. The wizard didn't even look up from the magazine.
"Name?" he asked in a bored tone. Harry narrowed his eyes and coughed loudly into his hand. The wizard languidly looked up and started violently.
"Sorry, Professor," said the wizard, frantically grabbing a piece of parchment. He handed it to Harry. "He's waiting for you downstairs, sir."
"Thank you," said Harry tersely. He flipped open the note as he walked past some stunned young women staring at him on his way to the staircase. Sighing, he stuffed the note into his pocket and hurried down the steps to the holding cells.
"Professor Potter," said Samuel Cossinger as Harry arrived at the holding cells. Harry shook his hand briefly and was waved down the hallway.
"How are things at Hogwarts these days?" asked the Minister.
"Fine, fine," said Harry dismissively. "Minerva runs a tight ship."
"I bet she does," said Cossinger. "I mean, when I was your age, I always –" Harry tuned him out, nodding politely at regular intervals. He rubbed his sweaty hands on his coat.
Would he think it was Harry's fault for him being sent to prison? Would he blame him for not getting him out sooner? Would he even want Harry to be here, to see him after seven years of darkness?
"Ah, here we are," said Cossinger. He pulled his wand from his pocket and tapped the lock on the door. Harry quickly ran his hands through his hair and smoothed down his shirt beneath his coat as the door swung open.
"If you need anything," said Cossinger intensely, "just call. I'll have Aurors on guard here at the door."
"That will not be necessary," said Harry curtly, glaring at him. A low chuckle sounded from the room. Harry stalked in and almost slammed the door in the Minister's face.
"I see that attitude of yours is still getting some practice," said Severus, his voice gravelly and harsh due to disuse. Harry stepped over to the table behind which Severus was sitting, staring at the deathly thin face and the very long hair hanging down past Severus's elbows.
"That bad, hm?" murmured Severus. He rubbed at his throat, the soreness burning as he swallowed. Harry unshouldered his bag and set it on the table.
"A set of robes and boots," said Harry, taking the chair opposite Severus. "Oh, and –" he flicked his wrist, shooting a blackthorn wand into his hand. He flipped it over in his hand, holding the handle out to Severus.
"Your holster's in there as well," said Harry, allowing Severus to hesitantly take the wand in his hand. "Blaise was able to sneak it out of storage." He smiled at the ecstasy easily visible on the man's face, making it look years younger. He scooted his chair back and propped his feet up, pulling his own wand out of his pocket and sheathing it in his holster. He clasped his hands over his stomach. A glimmer of silver metal caught Severus's eye.
"What is that?" he asked, grinning as he pointed to Harry's left hand. Harry looked down and fingered the wedding band on his finger.
"Oh, yeah," he said bashfully. "Gin and I have been married for – God, six years in April. The girls just turned four in October."
"The – girls," stuttered Severus in complete shock. Harry reached into his pocket and pulled out a slim wallet. He opened it and slid a picture out of a plastic sleeve, handing it over to Severus.
"My God," whispered Severus, staring at the beautiful twin girls – one with long raven tresses flying wildly in every direction, the other with bright red hair tied back in a loose ponytail. Both girls had their father's eyes and their mother's coy and mischievous smile. He looked up at Harry's proud face.
"They're gorgeous, Harry," said Severus quietly. "What are their names?"
"The redhead is Molly Jade," said Harry. "The dark-haired twin is Liliana Tate."
"Molly and Lily," murmured Severus, gazing back down at the picture. He held the picture back out to him, blinking back tears. Harry took it and replaced it in his wallet, which went back in his pocket. He looked at Severus, who sat in his chair tracing a long finger around his lips.
"Are you going to get dressed?" asked Harry teasingly. "You have a job interview in –" he pulled Severus's own watch from his pocket – "about an hour. And I have a class to teach in two, so hurry up." He set the watch on the table and reclasped his hands over his stomach.
"A job interview?" asked Severus dully. "You're joking."
"Nope," said Harry smugly. "You have several lined up, but I wanted to give you a chance at this one in particular first." Severus shook his head in disbelief and pulled the bag towards him as he stood from his chair.
"And where may I ask is this interview?" asked Severus, pulling a set of wrinkled robes out of the bag. He sneered at them and used his wand to iron them, feeling a rush of adrenaline race through his veins at using magic again.
"Hogwarts," said Harry casually, ignoring the bag hitting the table with a thud. "Our Potions Mistress is about eight months pregnant now. We'll need someone to take her classes as well as take on the Head of House duties for Slytherin for at least the rest of this year. She may even be persuaded to quit teaching entirely, should you run her out of her job." Severus chuckled to himself, rubbing his eyes with his fingers.
"And who is the lucky woman whose lesson plans I get to modify and correct?" he asked. Harry grinned slyly.
"Pansy's," he answered. "Or Professor Longbottom, as she's very particular on her title being used."
"Indeed," said Severus, thoroughly amused. He pulled the boots form the bag and tossed them on floor at his feet.
The third Saturday in October found Hogwarts Castle mostly empty, save for a few overzealous fifth and seventh years, trying vainly to find sources for their monstrous Defense and Potions essays.
Many miles away in the south of Britain, amid a grove of trees, a cozy house rang with the excited laughter of two young girls, along with the stern shouting of a tired female voice.
A soft pop announced the arrival of the final guest for the party. His boots crunched noisily over the fallen leaves paving the drive up to the house. He stepped up onto the porch and knocked three times on the door.
"I'll get it! I'll get it!"
"No! Liliana! Stop! I wanna get it!"
"NO! You got it last time!" Severus laughed to himself as the door opened, revealing Ginny out of breath from running to catch the door.
"You shouldn't be running around like a madwoman, Ginny," said Severus as she opened the door for him.
"Yeah, well, Harry's out back with the boys, being utterly worthless," muttered Ginny. Severus grunted as two tiny bodies attacked his legs.
"Hi girls," he said, bending down in front of them, grinning at the mischief in their green eyes.
"I told Molly it was you," said Liliana. "She didn't believe me."
"I didn't say that, Liliana," said Molly, crossing her arms over her chest sullenly.
"Quit fighting, girls," said Ginny sternly. She blew a strand of hair out of her face and rested a hand on her bulging tummy. "Can I leave them with you, Severus? I've got to see if those boys are done cooking the food yet."
"They're cooking it outside?" asked Severus incredulously. Ginny rolled her eyes.
"Don't ask," she muttered, turning towards the kitchen. Severus waited until she was out of sight before pulling two Sugar Quills from his pocket. The twins' faces lit up as they each took one.
"Don't tell your mum," whispered Severus, giving them a wink. The girls giggled and pulled on his hands.
"You have to come see it, Severus," said Liliana. "Daddy decorated our new room."
"He said you wouldn't like it," said Molly.
"But we said you would," chattered Liliana.
"Because it's cool!" they cried in unison. Severus laughed out loud, loving every second of time he spent in this house. It was one of the very few places where he felt completely at ease, as if nothing could hurt him here. He allowed the girls to pull him down the hallway lined with frame after frame of pictures – ones of Harry, Ron and Hermione from school, ones of Ron and Ginny when they were younger, ones of the girls as babies. He stepped into the room at the end of the hall and froze. Tiny figures on brooms darted all around the room – some with long red hair and messy black, dressed in robes of red and gold; others with platinum blond hair and long black, dressing in green and silver. In amidst the players flew tiny quaffles and bludgers, interrupted at times by the smallest glimmers of gold.
"So do you like it?" asked Liliana, grasping Severus's hand with both of hers. Severus looked down at them both and smiled gently.
"Yes, I like it. Very much."