Chapter 35: The End of it All, and the Beginning of Something Else
A/N: Let's see if I can squeeze absolutely everything into a final chapter… I said I would, so I will, although this is the longest chapter EVER. Seriously, it makes the last one look small. Ah, well...
Thanks so much to everyone who's reviewed! I won't keep you waiting any longer. The Final Chapter.
Something cold and hard was nudging Harry's cheek. It was wet, but not unpleasant. Slowly, feeling returned to Harry's body. He was lying on a cold, rough stone floor, a steady dripping sound ringing through his ears. One thing instantly occurred to Harry; he was alive.
The minute he grasped full realisation of this, Harry opened his ears and shot up. Buckbeak made a squawk of surprise and shook his wet feathers. It made little difference, Harry was soaking anway.
"Thanks, Buckbeak." Harry rubbed his beak, knowing that somehow the Hippogriff had pulled him to safety. Shaking and a little cold, he pulled off his ragged robe and discarded it. "Doubt I'll be needing it much now anyway."
Harry turned and looked at his surroundings. He was in a long, dark cave lit up by blue torches on the walls, which gave it an unpleasant, ghostly glow. The walls were damp and dripping, and when Harry turned around, he saw a deep, thick pool burrowed out of the rock. This, he assumed, was were he had come from. There was no light seeping through the water to suggest warmth or persons on the other side, it seemed to go on forever. Not wanting to chance this route back, Harry decided the only way on was forward. Forward to where Centfray was. Harry could have kicked himself.
"My wand," he hissed, "I dropped my wand!"
He had, of course, been holding onto the sword with all his might, but that must have fallen to the depths with him. It could be retrieved later, of course, but not now. It was then Harry noticed something glinting in the dark; it was the sword of Gryffindor.
Harry rushed to pick it up, never knowing and not caring how it got there, whether he'd brought it with him or Buckbeak had pulled it up to, or if some kind of magic was watching over him, Harry would never know. But it was here. Light seemed to bounce off the blade. It was then something else caught his eye, a thick trail of watery blood leading off down the tunnel. Harry began to run, Buckbeak galloping after. Within seconds something swam into view.
It was Wynden. Pale, soaked, unmoving. The water must have carried him here. By his side was another figure, still as ever, but bleeding from a terrific wound in his shoulder. The blood-soaked body of Will.
Harry looked at the two of them for a guilty moment, his breath held in respect. How had he allowed this to happen? Harry would have stared longer if it hadn't been for a sudden realisation; Will was still bleeding. The dead don't bleed.
"Will?" A wave of relief washed over him.
Instantly, his ghostly face shot into the light. "Harry?" he said, and then looked back at Wynden. "It's OK, he's alive, just unconscious. Can't bring him round though…" Will suddenly clasped his shoulder and gasped, falling back against the rocky walls.
"That looks pretty nasty," said Harry, striding towards him. "Here, let's borrow your wand."
Will handed it over quickly and Harry tired to fix his shoulder, to know avail. Either the wand wasn't obeying him properly, or this wasn't something a simple 'Episkey' was going to cure. He hastily looked around for another solution.
"Hey, Buckbeak, go fetch my robe, will you- please?"
The Hippogriff puffed out his chest and headed back, returning in a matter of moments. Harry ripped it apart with his sword and wrapped it around Will's wound, holding in the blood. "Bit Muggle, I know." He admitted, "but it can't be helped." He looked over at Wynden, his chest barely rising. "How did you get here?"
Will winced, clutching his arm. "I was holding Centfray's tail when the water came in. Wynden tried to rescue me but got knocked unconscious, so I grabbed onto him. Blacked out or something. The next thing I knew, we broke the surface. Centfray flung us off, hit a rather smooth spot on the wall, of course, and he must have thought I was dying or something because he left. Sorry I couldn't follow him."
"No, it's fine, you're lucky to be alive."
"Are the others-"
"Safe, wet mostly- but unharmed."
Will took a deep breath of relief or pain. "Thank God."
"You're telling me." Harry peered further down the tunnel.
"Looks like the Bat Cave or lair of a Bond villain." Laughed Will.
Harry frowned. "You're a Muggle-born?"
"Nah, halfblood- best of both worlds, if you ask me." Will tried to laugh again, but Harry's face was deadly serious. Slowly, he began to pull himself up. "Right then, if you're going to fight Centfray, I'm coming with you."
"You're joking, right? You can barely stand!"
Will looked offended for a brief moment before he began to wobble and had to steady himself. "Yeah, OK," he said. "I'll give you that one."
"Stay here and look after Wynden- and try not to move too much. If anyone comes along, send them to help."
"Sure thing." Will flopped to the ground. "I'll try to stay awake then…" he leant his head back and Harry couldn't help but think Will was more badly wounded than he thought. But he couldn't help him, there was nothing he could do. Fighting down his worries, Harry gripped the sword and walked on, Buckbeak by his side. He wished Ron or Ginny or Hermione were with him, but he took comfort in the presence of the Hippogriff beside him. At least he wasn't alone in this battle.
"Always seems to end up this way, doesn't it, Buckbeak?" Harry sighed, petting his feathered back.
The tunnel seemed to go on forever, stretching further into darkness with each passing step. It seemed as if and age had passed before the lights grew brighter again, and Harry found himself in a tall cavern.
Centfray stood at the other end, near another patterned wall. Harry realised with horror that it bore the symbol of Salazar Slytherin. There was little time to think; Harry leapt onto Buckbeak's back and kicked off the ground, streaming through the air like lightning. Harry held his sword high, aiming for Cenfray's back, charging faster than he ever dared-
In a flash Harry felt a hand wrap around his throat. Buckbeak fell from under him, smashing into the floor with a loud, painful squawk. Harry could see him on the ground beneath him, writhing like a worm, a chick fallen from the nest. Centfray was so large he nearly filled the cavern, and his enormous pulsing tail was wrapped around Harry's feathered friend.
"Harry Potter!" he hissed, bringing his face so close that Harry could feel his tongue as he spoke, count every one of his large, jagged teeth. "I might have known… Come to kill me by yourself, have you? Or has all your pathetic army died?"
He loosened his hold, as if suspecting him to reply. Harry said nothing.
"No matter, no matter… should they live I'll kill them anyway… one by one, like little bugs…"
He began to slither back to the wall, holding both prey in vice-like grips.
"What are you going to do?" asked Harry, trying to hide the fear in his voice.
Centfray laughed. "I've heard your story, Potter. You've killed our Basilisk! Slytherin's most noble creature…no matter, though, now I have come… I will complete his noble mission…"
"Noble mission?" choked Harry, "You mean-"
"Yesssss, Potter. Have you not guessed what this place is? It is the lost tomb of Salazar Slytherin, hidden for Centuries beneath the forest. Voldemort discovered it, of course, no one knew better the secrets of Hogwarts than he. He filled it full of bodies, Inferi ready to attack, should he ever need them, and his little pets… this is the army he never used, and they run deep. This tunnel here will lead me into the Chamber of Secrets, and from there, into Hogwarts. There, I will purge it of all its impurities."
"FILTHY MUDBLOODS!" he seethed thunderously. "HALFBLOODS! BLOOD TRAITORS! ALL OF THEM! I can taste it, you know," the fork of his tongue slithering across Harry's cheek, "taste it round all of them. You, Potter, are a half-blood, son of a blood-traitor and a Muggle-born. That filthy Hufflepuff I killed… half-blood. The big-haired Gryffindor female- Muggle-born. The redheads- pureblood. And that disgusting excuse for a Slytherin… a traitor if there ever was one. I can smell the Muggles on him, the stench of treachery…"
"You're going to kill them?" Harry felt his blood boil in anger. "You're going to 'purify' Hogwarts- by bathing the place in the blood of children?"
"It doesn't have to be bloody," he roared, "so long as they don't move too much."
"They deserve no part in the glory of magic!" Centfray's eyes bulged. "It was OURS! All ours- those filthy things destroyed what was the old magic, and dirtied it. We are stronger than they are!"
Harry lashed out, kicking with all his might. Centfray simply laughed. "You might have been safe, Potter. I might have let you live, your parentage was magical of both sides, after all. But, I know you now, you are to dangerous to be kept alive…"
"YOU'LL NEVER WIN!" Harry screamed, "They'll stop you! You'll never take down Hogwarts!"
"Perhaps," Centfray agreed, "But I can certainly try… how many are you willing to bet I can kill before the Ministry arrived… they certainly aren't very good at finding you, are they? Where were they as I fought you before? Slow, so slow… and they'll come here, won't they, following the trail I set? It could be a long time before they realise where I have gone, and I could kill so many in that time, with my little friends, of course… I wonder how yours are, up in the tomb?"
"YOU'LL DIE! IF I DON'T KILL YOU FIRST-"
"You won't. And if you, the destroyer of Voldemort can't, then… all your little friends couldn't stop me, could they? What about all the other little children, sleeping in their beds… I slither like a snake into Gryffindor first, shall I? The first years' dormitories, I think…"
Harry thought of Minnie, back at Hogwarts. Would she be there, tucked up in her bed, or would she be sitting in the common room, awaiting their return, sneaking round the school? Harry wasn't sure he had ever felt so furious in his life, not even at Voldemort himself. Threatening to kill innocent sleeping children… he lashed out, blood pumping in his ears. His feeble attempts made Centfray laugh.
"YOU WON'T SUCCEED!"
"I already have. And now, Mr Potter, prepare to die…" Not trusting himself to strangle him, Centfray lunged, mouth open, teeth blazing. Harry could hear Buckbeak squawking pointlessly on the ground, struggling with all his might. Harry fought, trying to find his sword, to break free somehow- he couldn't die! Not now! But there was no escape. As Centfray's fangs rushed up to greet him, he swore he could hear Ginny's voice.
"Please be OK," he thought, "Just get out, all of you…stop him, and be safe…"
"DON'T YOU DARE KILL MY BOYFRIEND!"
Centfray turned round and screamed. There behind him stood a rather wet Ginny Weasley, her wand transfigured into some sort of flaming, rocky blade. She had driven it straight into Centfray's tail.
"Ginny?" Harry stared. Suddenly, Centfray had dropped him in pain and he was falling through the air. He barely registered it before something feathery and furry and streaked passed him and he found himself on the back of Eagle, clinging onto Neville.
They both slid to the ground and Harry shot off, collecting his wand. Ron and Hermione rushed towards him.
"All right, mate?" Beamed Ron.
"Thanks for showing up."
"Couldn't let you do it on your own, could we Harry?" Hermione seemed torn between the urge to hug him and the urge to finish the battle. As usual, sense won and she ran off to help Luna, who was beating back one on Centfray's arms with a sword similar to Ginny's.
"Wants with the weapons?" Harry asked Ron quickly.
"Hermione's idea, dead clever, of course. Lots of rock to transfigure and stuff- barely took her five minutes too, she's so-"
"Ron, save the drooling till after we've killed the bad guy."
And eruption came from the back of the tunnel. Grawp and Hagrid, dripping and covered in rubble, burst into the Cavern. The giants rushed up towards the snake, Grawp wrestling his arms, Hagrid taking his tail- Ginny, Teatrina and George were hacking away maliciously, beating him back to the wall. Buckbeak, injured, was being led away by Luna. Neville was still on Eagle's back, and Bill and Charlie were helping Grawp with the arms. Harry could not see Draco or Rachel.
Teatrina had somehow made her way to Centfray's head.
"Didn't quite get your eye the first time, did I?" she raised her wand, but at that exact moment Centfray's arm broke free and he ripped her off his face. She fell through the air at an alarming rate, but George was quicker. He caught her squarely in his arms.
"You just can't help falling for me, can you?" he grinned.
"Here, Uncle, here!"
Harry turned briefly and saw Kingsley Shacklebolt along with what appeared to be half of the Ministry striding down the tunnel. Draco Malfoy zoomed after them on broomstick. He dived to the ground and handed it to Harry.
"Go!" he commanded.
Harry took it without a second word.
Centfray hung in tatters, beaten and bleeding. His arms were pulled back by Grawp, tied to the ceiling by magical ropes. His tail was in pieces. The Ministry had him cornered. There was nothing he could do. He looked up at Harry, as though no one else were in the room and every bad thing in the world was all his fault.
"I was… A GOD."
"No," Harry shook his head. "You really were a freak."
"I am pure! The last great thing of Slytherin-"
Harry raised the sword to Centfray's chest, ready to strike the heart. He silenced him. "That-" he nodded to Draco, "Is the greatest thing Slytherin has ever turned out. You're just a vengeful imitation."
Centfray didn't seem to care. "Filthy blood traitors."
There was no need for more talk. Harry pulled back and heaved forward, his friends urging him on, and stabbed Centfray's heart. There was a horrific scream, followed by a blast of cold air that knocked everyone to the floor. Harry looked up, expecting to see some sort of explosion, but instead all the flesh was peeling off Centfray's body, melding him into the wall. The sword stood strong and true as the creature howled, wilder and wilder. In a few moments, all that was left of Centfray was a grotesque skeleton, stuck to the wall in a horrible green web, as though he'd been there for centuries.
"Slytherin's last monster," said Harry quietly.
The noise had gone, and feeling returned to Harry's body. Somehow, every part of him seemed to ache, and he'd ripped his leg rather badly at one point, although he'd failed to notice it. Draco was worse off as were the animals, and Will (who had been retrieved by a military healer) was been carried off in a stretcher, Rachel at his side. Neville seemed relatively unscathed for a change, and had his arm around a smiling Luna. Hermione and Ron were both panting on the floor.
"HARRY!" Suddenly Ginny was in his arms, holding him as she never had done before, as if an army of Centfrays couldn't have pulled her away.
"Ginny…" Harry breathed in her warmth, her body, the scent of her hair. He couldn't believe how close he'd come to dying, to losing her. "I… I do love you, you know?"
"Oh, Harry," Ginny spoke to his neck. "I love you too, idiot. I'm so relieved… because if you'd died…" she pulled back, scowling. "I'd have brought you back to life just to kill you again."
"Well, as long as it's quick…"
Ginny punched him lightly on the shoulder. Unfortunately, that happened to be where one of his injuries resides and she quickly regretted it and started fussing him like Molly Weasley herself. Harry could just imagine what her mother would say to this. Well, as long as they were all alive.
George and Teatrina stood apart from the others, looking at each other strangely.
"You can put me down now, George."
"I don't want to."
"I'm not injured."
"I don't care."
"You really can let go of me."
"No," George insisted. "I'm never letting you go again, Andromede Teatrina. Not ever."
And just –just- as George was leaning his head towards hers, there was a sudden noise from above as the Ministry succeeded in opening up a whole in the ceiling.
"Right then, men, let's get everyone up."
With the aid of an assortment of broomsticks, magic, Grawp and Eagle, the party of now over fifty –including their allied creatures- found themselves back on the floor of the forest. It was pitch black, but everyone was hastily lighting their wands. Kingsley Shacklebolt looked towards Harry, as though thanking him, but said nothing. It was though he seemed know that Harry didn't want to speak right now. Instead, he nodded, and began to led the party back towards Hogwarts.
Barely ten minutes had passed before a group of Centaurs found them. One approached the group with something like relief. "Glad to have found you," he said, with a tone that didn't quite match. "We have be scouring the Forest some time in the hopes of finding you."
"Who sent you?" asked Kingsley.
"Firenze has us all searching- as a favour, we obliged him. A threat towards Hogwarts is a threat to us. Seeing you all here, I must assume that threat has passed."
Kingsley nodded. The Centaur turned back to the others and conversed with them silently. "We will escort you back to the edge of the Forest. Your injured may ride on us. Come…"
The journey seemed to go much faster with the Centaurs as their guides, and Harry, who was travelling with Ginny's arm round his waist, from himself next to Ron, Hermione and the others that had made up their army. He filled them in on all that had happened, and they in turn of their desperation to reach him. Harry wasn't sure whose was more dramatic.
"I mean, we couldn't tell how far the water went!" Hermione explained. "So Draco volunteered to go underwater by broomstick… worked alright in the end, but for a while we were worried he'd drowned."
"Speak for yourself," said Ron bitterly, with such a tone Harry was beginning to think there was no hope the two would ever come to any mutual ground, ever.
"He was very brave, Ron. Stop mocking him."
Ginny laughed. "Yeah, you spent most of the time panicking."
"You weren't much better! 'Harry, oh God, Harry!'!"
"I did not say it like that! And anyway, I'm allowed, I'm his girlfriend."
"So what? I'm his best mate, I can be worried too."
"Guys!" laughed Harry, "Stop it, seriously. I'm fine now, aren't I? Nothing to worry about." He looked over at Neville and Luna, and Rachel holding fervently to Will's hand and George and Teatrina with their fingers wound around each other's so tightly Harry wasn't sure they'd ever let go. Draco Malfoy was, (rather ironically, thought Harry) riding on a steady broomstick alongside Buckbeak, who was in such a state that Hagrid and Grawp were having to carry him. He seemed rather upset. Charlie Weasley was conversing with a now awake Rylia, and likewise Bill with Wynden. Despite their injuries, everyone seemed in high spirits.
They reached the Castle Grounds to find Hogwarts ablaze with light. It seemed as if every teacher and student were standing on the lawns with their wands lit, stalwartly awaiting their return. The Hardwood twins stood in front of them all, making up a row that consisted of the entire student Order. They had been ready to fight.
Upon seeing their friends and classmates return victorious, a loud cry went up. People were fighting their way towards them, crying out their relief.
"Draco Malfoy, you're a bloody mess!" Announced June.
"Nice to see you too." He suddenly felt a bit light-headed and found himself leaning on her somewhat awkwardly. She sighed.
"Come on, then, better get you up to the Hospital Wing…" She and Edward led him away. The Ministry followed with the stretchers.
"Bloody hell, Will looks in a bad way…"
"Is that Rachel?"
"Is she OK?"
"And Professor Weasley too…"
"ANDY!" McGonagall flew towards her granddaughter with open arms. "Oh, thank heavens! And the others- they are safe too! Thank Merlin, I be damned! Are you hurt at all? No? And Mr Weasley… um, is you hand stuck?"
"Harry!" Minnie, seeing her cousin was fine and otherwise engaged, leapt towards him and wrapped her arms around his neck. "You're safe! Yay! Eveyone's OK! And you'll never guess what!"
"What?" Harry rubbed his shoulder.
"We beat Slytherin! Two-hundred-and-sixty-points to fifty. We've won the cup!"
Harry laughed, and then laughed harder, thinking how strange it was that a normal thing like Quidditch could still exist, and how he'd missed his last ever game but was happy all the same, completely and ridiculously happy. He was alive… they were all alive… they were all safe. Hogwarts, students, friends and all.
"Ahem!" Coughed Madam Pomfrey. "Did no one hear me? All battle personal to report to the Hospital Wing immediately!"
They had not been able to retrieve the Sword of Gryffindor. It was still in the tomb, sealed to Centfray's chest. Harry had gone back with the others a few days later, but it hole had vanished and the tomb swallowed up by the earth. Harry had no doubt they'd get it back someday, when it was needed. All someone had to do was dive into the hat and it would come to them, but not now. It couldn't help but feel that it was unfair somehow, how the sword remained lodged in the chest of Slytherin, as though one had triumphed over the other. There was still prejudice against that house, but not from him. He supposed it might take a generation or two before people had complete acceptation of it, and Ron was living proof.
Will spent four days in the Hospital Wing with his injury, but his stay was the longest. Draco had forcefully removed himself after two, claiming that he was an adult and could do what he liked. Only a feeble attempt was made to stop him.
The last few days sped on with little worry. Kingsley Shacklebolt had seen Harry and the others involved privately for a little, 'Thank-you-and-what-happened?' chat, and spoke to Harry separately about his career, telling him quite seriously that he liked his job and Harry couldn't have it, no matter how many dark wizards he defeated. Harry spoke to him about becoming an Auror and Kingsley said if he wasn't one within the year, he'd resign. He congratulated him once more and left the school without much fuss.
Most of the attention was focused on the new End-of-Year Ball, courtesy of the student council who complained Hogwarts didn't have enough social events and they'd never had anything more to celebrate. Dates were not obligatory, although Harry was fearfully glad he had Ginny because, as always, the girls hadn't seen it this way and were eyeing him eagerly. He'd asked her out of politeness, of course, but she'd just kissed him and said, 'I've already brought the dress.'
On the night before their last in Hogwarts, they all piled into their old common room and talked about the years and everything in them. It was hard to remember they'd been fighting an evil wizard only a few days ago, and that it had been well over a year since Voldemort's defeat. The only things they spoke of were irrelevant, like the plans for the summer that seemed to involve a lot of group camping.
The ball came all too early. Harry waited for Ginny at the bottom of the girls steps and she appeared to him as something like an angel, dressed in gold and white that resembled something like a wedding dress. She made Harry blush, thinking of the ring hidden safely in his trunk. As Harry took her hand, he couldn't take his eyes off her. While he knew that she was without a doubt the one for him, he wasn't ready to use it yet, and neither was she, although he felt it wouldn't be long. He wasn't going to let her go, not ever.
There was an embarrassing amount of clapping as he and Ginny entered the room. Even Ron let out a low whistle at Ginny, receiving an elbow in the ribs from Hermione. Hagrid cried and clapped him on the back.
"It's lovely, jus' lovely to see you two 'ere together, jus' like yeh parents. I'm so happy…" he said, taking another swig of ale. "Buckbeak's fine, by the way, Eagle too, and the Threstrals not too damaged… they'll all be OK by the start of next term, when… when… you'll be gone…" he dissolved into tears again and Professor McGonagall had to lead him away.
"I'll miss him," said Harry sadly.
Ginny squeezed his arm. "We'll visit- as often as possible."
"Hey! Lovebirds!" George squeezed into a seat beside them. "Why so glum?"
"It's sad, leaving."
"Well, you can't have my job. Sorry."
Ginny's face lit up. "You're staying on for another year?"
George nodded happily. "Yep."
"You'll break the curse! Oh, George!"
She through her arms around him.
"Yeah, well, broken all the school rules, thought I'd start with the curses…" he glanced over her shoulder to where Teatrina was dancing with Mike the Hufflepuff, the first student she'd turned into an animal. "I think there's more fun to be had here, personally. Figured as Ron's reopening in Diagon Alley, I can afford to stay here for a bit longer… excuse me."
The dance ended and he shuffled across the floor. Ginny seized Harry's hand again and Hermione pulled Ron away. They both looked particularly nice that evening in their new, flesh robes.
Neville and Luna were dancing somewhat clumsily, with several girls staring at their assistant teacher with disappointed expressions. Neville had never looked more embarrassed when Luna lent her head against his chest for a slow dance. His face resembled a beetroot, although he looked mighty pleased with himself nonetheless.
Rachel and Will were there too, with nothing to show for his serious injury at all. They both looked very happy, dancing to nearly every dance although not with each other. Eventually Harry and Ginny found themselves right next to an arguing Ron and Hermione in the middle of a relatively fast number.
"-Believe you danced with Malfoy!"
"It was only polite Ron, he was just trying to make amends-"
"Well he'll be making them for a bloody long time!"
"Honestly, Ronald!" Hermione swung out of his arm, "Ginny, can I steal Harry, please?"
Ginny smiled. "Sure, I'll go tame my brother."
Hermione seized Harry's hands and he suddenly felt a bit weird; he hadn't danced with anyone other than Ginny. Beside him, Ron and grudgingly agreed to partner with his sister.
"Don't be nervous, Harry. It's just me- I'm not going to steal you away!"
"Not much of a dancer?"
Hermione giggled, and glanced over at the two Weasleys. "Funny how things turn out, isn't it?"
"Yeah- in a good way, of course."
Hermione smiled, blushing slightly at Ron. "Yeah, in a good way."
Inspired by Hermione's example, a bit of partner swapping was going on. Harry hadn't much time with Hermione before he found himself dancing with Rachel, then a young Hufflepuff girl, then an all-too-eager Minnie, followed by Luna and eventually Teatrina.
"Sorry if this sounds patronising," she smiled, "but really you've done extraordinarily well, Harry. I shall be sorry to see you and your friends leave."
"Maybe we'll meet up at the Weasleys next Christmas."
"Harry!" she didn't scold him, instead finding herself blushing rather uncharacteristically. As if to reinforce this fact, George slipped in between them as the music began to slow.
"Mind if I steal this one, Harry?"
"Be my guest."
Harry heard giggling behind him and discovered Minnie and Jake, retreating for the tables from the slow song. They gestured to him.
"Are they going out?"
"I don't know," replied Harry, glancing back at them. They weren't actually smiling, but looking deep into each other's eyes with the same intensity that they'd had back at the battlefield. "But I bloody well hope so."
Ginny came over and took his hand. "Last one, Mr Potter?"
Harry smiled and let himself be pulled away. Minnie looked at Jake enthusiastically. "So, how long you want to bet before those two tie the knot?"
"I don't know- how long you willing to bet it will take Gryffindor to realise you're the second-best Seeker they'll ever have?"
Unseen, Teatrina had slipped out of the Great Hall, pulling George behind her. They ran up the stairs towards the classrooms and ran into hers, where she roughly shoved him towards the desk.
"What's going on between us?" she asked impatiently. "I mean, seriously. We haven't even kissed even though I practically told you I'm ridiculously, completely and totally stupidly in love with you, and you've barely looked at me since the battle. You implied, of course, yes, plenty of implying, lots of 'moments' here and there… you're driving me insane! 'Oh, I'm never going to let you go, Teatrina' Well you bloody well did! You haven't spoken to me since then! What the Hell's going on? All through this year- all the teasing and pranking and stupid stuff like that. Calling me 'Trina' when no-one else ever had. Giving me that adorable Christmas present! Did you mean to make me fall for you or something? Was it all some kind of game? I love you!" She added irritably, snapping her fingers in his direction as if implying, 'this is all your fault' "And I hate it. I hate the way you make me feel- the way I'm not happy unless I'm with you or plotting to get my revenge. And you don't even care! You won't even say anything! You sleezy, rotten, manipulative-"
Teatrina didn't get much further, because in a single movement George caught her flailing wrist, spun her round and crushed his mouth down on hers, silencing her. Teatrina resisted the urge to slap his face and instead flung her arms around his neck, pushing her body into his and began kissing him back violently.
"Idiot!" she barked when the two of them surfaced for air.
"You can talk! A game indeed. I never thought of you as a game, Trina. Not once! Every prank, every tease… just my way of showing affection."
"Yeah! I'd never been much for girls, really, and you… well, you weren't like others. Seriously, Trina." He took her in his arms, "I think I fell for you quite literally- when you first hit my over the head with your broomstick."
"I'm being honest here- for once. I've been in love with you for ages- longer than even I realised. There just wasn't much of a way to get your attention, that and the whole war-thing was bloody hiralious. I'll stop pranking you if you really, really want."
Teatrina took George's face in her hands. "George love, prank me forever, because I'm not stopping on you for anything."
Teatrina mumbled something like, 'shut up' and launched herself at him, wrapping her legs around his middle and leaping into his arms. George pulled her into his embrace, half laughing at his sheer luck when they toppled back against the desk.It was going to be another interesting year…
Back on the dancefloor, Ginny nudged Harry's side. "I've had enough of dancing- let's go find somewhere quiet."
Harry, suddenly extremely eager, allowed himself to be led away. There was something in Ginny's quietly wild mood that excited him. She opened the door of the nearest classroom she could find and was just about to pull him in when she quickly doubled back; inside were the tightly wound figures of Ron and Hermione, looking considerably less neat than when Harry had seen them last. They quickly hurried away.
"Er, bit noisy in there." He concluded, opening the second. The door swung open as Harry and Ginny's jaws hit the floor. The sight was even more shocking than their previous surprise- George and Teatrina were making out like horny rabbits that had just been released from prison. George lay flat on the teacher's desk, Teatrina astride him, legs wrapped around him, groping at his shirt. Their arms and mouths were so tightly entwined it was hard to tell where one began and the other ended. The two of them stared transfixed. Neither seemed to have noticed them.
"Definitely too nosy in there."
"Hagrid won his bet then."
They closed the door quietly and set off down the corridor. Harry whipped out his wand and summoned the Marauder's Map, hurriedly opening it up. "Merlin's beard, I don't believe this. Ron and Hermione, Teatrina and George…" he pointed out all the couples dotted in the classrooms around Hogwarts. "Will and Rachel –well, didn't see that one happening- Neville and Luna… weird, but OK…don't know them, or them, or- BLOODY HELL! Draco Malfoy and June Hardwood!"
"Oh, didn't I tell you?" Ginny laughed. "Hermione overheard them in the Hospital Wing. They're crazy about each other, apparently Malfoy's going to 'wait for her' to finish Hogwarts and they want to elope- even though both parents are thrilled or something peculiar."
"Nope." Ginny sauntered up to Harry and kissed him suggestively, sliding her arms around his neck. "There's one good thing about Ron and Hermione being so tied up."
"Oh yeah?" grinned Harry, "What?"
"Your room will be free for a while."
Harry's eyes widened. "What do you-"
"Come on, Harry." Ginny took his hand and began racing towards the Gryffindor tower. Behind them came the noise of George and Teatrina bursting out of the classroom. The noise seemed to suggest they were still attached and banging into several suits of armour in a desperate search for a more private place.
"What if they come up later-"
Ginny laughed. "They won't, and if you're worried, we'll keep the map unfolded just in case."
"Gin, are you sure-"
"Oh, yes, Harry, I'm sure. Besides which, I want to beat one of my brothers at something and by the sound of it, George is halfway there already.
Harry was torn between the desire to insist on a talk and the desire to keep up with her. Ginny was stubborn, he knew she'd already made up her mind. Perhaps they'd talk later, when they were alone…
Harry's last night at Hogwarts was the best he'd ever had.
"I'm going to miss this place." Ron said, pulling his trunk behind him. "And that last night was terrific."
Harry looked and Ginny and smiled. "Yeah, terrific."
"Sad to be leaving… where's Hermione?"
"Handing out winnings."
"Oh, of course."
Oddly enough, George and Teatrina had not been seen since their hasty exit from the ball, although at least one of their rooms was definitely empty. Ron hadn't returned until the early hours of the morning and Harry was quite certain he'd been with Hermione, whether in the classroom or somewhere else he wasn't really sure.
For the last time, their cupboards lay empty and their bags packed. Owls and cats dozed peacefully in their cages, ready to be taken down to the train. Hagrid put on a brave face when he readied a cart for them, but he was noticeably upset, as where a great many of the other teachers. Harry had seen it before with different students, the farewells and good-lucks, but it was somehow different receiving it himself.
McGonagall came last to say goodbye, hugging and kissing all four of them and saying should they ever want a teaching post, she'd be only to happy to give it them. She seemed more distressed than Hagrid.
"Take care, Harry," said Jimmy Peakes, climbing into a carriage with his sister.
"Yeah, good luck."
"Thanks," Harry waved. "And Martha- don't forget Minnie next year!"
"I don't think anyone staying will," she laughed. "She's brilliant. If she isn't picked for the team next year, I'm eating the Sorting Hat."
"Am I really that good?" Minnie appeared at Harry's side with Jake, beaming from ear to ear.
"Better," smiled Martha. "I'll see you at tryouts!" she disappeared behind the carriage door and the Threstrals set off down the path.
Harry took Minnie aside. "I've got something for you." He told her, and handed her the Marauder's Map. "Only a lend, mind, I'll be wanting it back when you've finished. I won't need it anymore… do you remember how to use it?"
Minnie nodded fervently. "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good…"
"Excellent! Use it wisely, Min. That thing belongs at Hogwarts… in the right hands of course."
"Thank you, Harry. I'll take good care of it." Minnie put her arms around his waist and squeezed him tightly. Impulsively, Harry reached down and lifted her into the air, spinning her around like a little sister. She looked as if she might cry with happiness.
They were interrupted as Rachel and Will came by with Draco and the Hardwood twins. Will, along with Neville and the Hardwoods, would be joint running the Order Recruitment at Hogwarts, which had been christened, 'the Threstral Division' which dealt with all the training of new members. Harry was sure more would be added as Neville through Luna got more inventive; he was sure they'd be a Nargle Division somewhere in his lifetime.
Final goodbyes were said and the last few trunks were loaded. Saying goodbye to Neville was oddly hard, and Luna was staying another day to help him with something in the greenhouses. Never again, Harry realised, would he take lessons with this two, have lunch in the Great Hall, smuggle Luna into the common room… with a final glance round the Entrance Hall, Harry realised with a great sigh his days at Hogwarts were well and truly over.
Ginny beckoned him into the carriage. It was a sign, somehow, he thought, of the things and futures that would follow, but only by leaving the place that had been his home for the past eight years. It was the saddest thing in the world climbing inside and watching as Hogwarts grew smaller and smaller.
There was Grimmauld Place, of course, that was his home now, although it didn't feel like one at the moment. He was sure it would come in time.
"-Stay with Mum and Dad for a while, till I get my own place."
"Stay at home? You must be joking! I'm moving into the apartment above the shop-"
"Lucky you. We professional Quidditch players don't earn enough for that- I'm staying at the Burrow. Harry?"
Harry was jolted from his reverie. "Oh, Grimmauld Place of course. Near to the Ministry."
"Lucky sod, all that space to yourself…"
A horrible thought struck Harry of the new life that awaited them outside of Hogwarts, of a life where they could only afford weekends and afternoons in each others' company, in which they were more likely to couple off than do anything as a group again. Since starting Hogwarts in October, Harry hadn't gone a day without seeing either one of them, except for Hermione at Christmas.
That was when an idea struck him. 'All that space…'
"Move in with me." Said Harry suddenly.
"What?" Ginny looked at him strangely.
"All of you- move in with me. To Grimmauld Place, make it a proper home and stuff."
"Harry, we couldn't, the cost-"
"Oh, hang the cost, so long as you buy some of the food I'm not stuffed. Come on, it's perfect. Close enough to Diagon Alley –and the Ministry for you too Hermione- and Ginny can get anywhere by broom or apparition."
Ginny beamed secretly. "And if you guys don't," she looked at Ron. "I might just move in on my own, if the offer's still open."
Harry half-wished he'd only asked her to begin with. "It is."
"Mate, I'll make it up to you one day, I swear."
"Just name one of your kids after me or something. Or a middle name or something."
Ron roared with laughter and Hermione blushed, mouthing something like, 'Harry Weasley-Granger?' somewhat experimentally.
Ginny threw her arms around Harry and slid into his lap. "Well, I'm in. And bags the room closest to yours."
"Ginny!" Ron looked distressed.
"Oh, hush Ron! You're going to get used to it."
Harry thought once more of that ring he knew he was one day going to use. "Yeah, Ron, you'll get use to it."
'horny rabbits that had just been released from prison'- not my line, I adopted it.
A/N: And there we have it. Not much to say, very long, and finally finished. Hallelujah! I really had fun writing this, folks. Poor edit, because I wanted to get this up ASAP.
I have finished this with:
151 Favs, 705 reviews and 247 Story Alerts.
It is my crowning achievement.
While it's my last chapter and I'm not demanding any more reviews for updates, I would be really thankful if just EVERYONE reviewed to tell me what they think of it, over all.
PS, feel free to beg for a sequel. I'm going to have a break for a while, but I'll be back! Next up: a story about what happens NEXT, as the group start their wizarding careers, continue their relationships… you know the drill! Also to include George and Teatrina! I love them so much… and/or a story about the next generation: warning, includes many other characters, because I think we all agree that the second generation of Weasleys/Potters/Grangers & co probably make up half the population of Hogwarts.
Great fun writing with you and for you, folks.