A word from the author: This epilogue is in response to a lot of readers who wanted Harry to tell Ginny about the Horcruxes and everything else. Also, I think it gives more closure to the story. Thanks to everyone for the reviews and for reading 30 chapters!
Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter, etc.
HARRY POTTER AND THE ARCHWAY OF THE DEAD
This would be a Christmas like no other; he would make sure of it. In fact, he could not remember being this much enthusiastic about any other Christmas or party before that. All of them had been filled with dread or fear of what lay ahead. There had always been this silent threat present, following him wherever he went, at the Burrow, at Hogwarts, or even at the Dursley's. He had not known it then, but he had carried a piece of Voldemort's soul with him. Only now could he fully appreciate how free he was without that presence in his mind and weight on his shoulder. Now he could be a normal teenager. Or was he a young man now? He couldn't really tell which it was, but it was still a good general feeling.
Well, almost normal... he thought, and then he couldn't help smiling to himself as he waved his wand and the entire content of a cardboard box soared into the air and landed neatly on the branches of a gleaming Christmas tree. The candles were burning by themselves without any tedious criss-crossing wires. The wooden soldiers hanging on each branch were shooting sparkles every now and then. And when they weren't shooting, they were arguing amongst themselves about who had the best spot on the tree.
There was the thud of the front door opening and closing, and he couldn't help but feel thrilled at the idea that he was not jumping at every sound. The state of his nerves had definitely improved.
The voice too was familiar, and unquestionably welcomed. "I could use some help!"
A figure appeared in the living room, red-haired, and with snow her emerald-green witch's robe. Her arms were filled with jars, bags, paper-wrapped boxes and other Christmas goodies. Harry immediately noticed the scent of spices around her, like ginger and cinnamon, but also another stingy smell.
"Here, take this," she said, dropping a heavy cauldron into his arms. "It's essence of Dittany. Mum thought you might have run out."
"Well, one can never have enough essence of Dittany," he replied jokingly.
"The joking definitely means that you managed the Christmas tree."
"We duelled for a while, but I won."
He couldn't help it. He was happy; there was no other word for it. All that he wanted to do was to take Ginny into his arms and kiss her for all eternity.
"Stop with the staring and the grin, will you?" she teased him. "Let's see that tree."
She followed him into the living room and he followed in her footsteps. And then, she was almost knocked down by a small toy plane. His enthusiastic tree decorating seemed to have turned into a fire hazard. The candles were small firecrackers. The toy soldiers were evacuating the tree and the fake-snow had melted into the floor.
"I thought you said you won!" Ginny yelled over the noise of a fire engine that was invisible.
She pulled out her wand, the Elder Wand, and as she waved it, the decorations reverted back to their original states. She waved her wand again and the candle lights turned red and green. With a final twist, she created silver-white snowflakes to replace the melted snow.
Harry couldn't help but smile.
"You really have the hang of that wand," he commented.
"I think I do," she replied as she was stuffing it back in the back pocket of her black skirt. "It doesn't do anything funny. I think it chose me, you know?"
"Yeah, I reckon you're right."
"Shouldn't we be preparing this party or what?"
"It depends," he said, bringing her closer to him.
"Depends on what?"
The kiss that followed was something that he would remember for years.
The rest of the preparations were completed reasonably fast given the constant romantic impulses.
He had invited his closest friends to a Christmas party at Grimmauld place. Everyone was welcomed to bring a date, and he knew that each of them would. Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley were not the only ones feeling the romantic impulses. It seemed every day now that the Daily Prophet was reporting a new engagement or wedding. It was a well-known fact now that the Boy Who Lived had found love at the Burrow. Harry had moved into Grimmauld place shortly after the trip to Durmstrang, and Ginny had become a part of the place as well. She had the habit of bringing little bits of the Burrow every time she visited: a chair, a rug, some house care books Mrs Weasley didn't want anymore, colourful pillows to make the living room more comfortable, an old lamp that Mr Weasley had fixed ("fascinating, these light bulbs!") and, which Harry liked the most, a large family portrait taken at the opening of Fred and George's joke shop. He had hung that picture in the hallway so that he could see it as often as possible. On it, Ginny wore a forest-green dress, a very short dress, with a black cloak and a white ribbon in her hair. Hermione was in the picture too, standing close to Harry and at a little distance from Ron and his brothers. This was, to Harry, the best family portrait he could ever have.
The hours passed rapidly at preparing the party, and Grimmauld place was soon full of guests. Overall, Harry was proud of his arrangement but he openly credited the cooking to Kreacher. The house-elf had indeed outdone himself in the area of salads, mashed potatoes, roast beef and, to Fleur's delight, ratatouille.
After a while of running back and forth to the kitchen to give Kreacher a hand, Harry was glad to sink quietly into the sofa, with his plate on his knees, and listen to the ongoing conversations while he hate his delicious meal. The next best thing was that Ginny came to sit besides him.
"Excellent meal, Harry dear," Mrs Weasley complimented him.
Ginny looked at him fondly and he had to look more closely at his plate to avoid blushing.
"He did very well," she said. "And, I might add that all was accomplished without the help of Hermione Granger."
"Hermione Granger!" said Mr Weasley, raising his Butterbeer, "to whom we owe this wonderful record player!"
Ron's dad had indeed spent a good part of the evening observing what he considered to be a work of art.
Hermione couldn't stop apologising about it. "My granddad was going to get rid it," she said apologetically to Fleur.
"Alors là, bravo! On a pas finit de se faire casser les oreilles," she mumbled to Bill while taking his arm.
"It's the pregnancy. It must be hormones or something. She actually likes music," Bill said to Hermione apologetically.
"We should be giving you presents," Ron commented in a soft voice to Hermione's ear. They were both sitting next to Harry on the sofa and Ron kept trying to take Hermione's hand, but she seemed a little shy to do it in front of everybody. "We'd probably be dead if it wasn't for you, 'Mione."
As he said this, Ginny made a grin that was reminiscent of George. "You don't have to tell me that, Ronald. I was only teasing. In fact, I know more than you think."
Hermione gasped. "You know? Harry, what exactly does she know?"
He couldn't suppress a smile when he saw Ron and Hermione's bewildered faces, and then he said simply: "Everything."
Ron looked incredulous. "What? Really, everything? Including the You-know-what's?"
"When did you tell her?" Hermione enquired.
Ginny lowered her voice. "It was the day that Harry moved in, or out, whichever way you want to look at it."
Hermione had a tear in her eye. "Harry, I'm so proud of you!"
"You were right. It felt so much better afterwards…"
He couldn't finish his thought. Hermione had wrapped her arms around his neck and she was kissing him on the cheeks.
"OK, enough kissing my girlfriend," Ron said after a few seconds.
The rest of the evening was a succession of presents, Butterbeers, hugs, kisses, and even the occasional tearful speech. Mr Weasley raised his glass to all of those who weren't present anymore but who gave their lives so that Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, could vanquish the most powerful wizard of all times.
"Does that make Harry the most powerful wizard of our time?" Luna commented musingly.
Everyone laughed as though she had just made a joke, but Harry knew that she was being serious.
He began to say "I really don't think…" while thinking hard how to turn this into a joke when he was interrupted by Neville Longbottom.
"Most powerful wizard of our time, huh? In your dreams, Potter," he said, patting Harry's back. "Don't ever forget that I killed the snake."
There was a great deal of laughter after that. The presents were great, of course. Ron gave Hermione a Weasley pin, which brought her to the verge of tears for the third or fourth time during the course of the evening (so far). Harry gave Ginny a Firebolt, Victory Edition. And Teddy Lupin got a huge fire engine from his godfather.
"I think I like being a godfather," he said happily to Ginny as he was playing with the little boy.
Her only reply was a smile full of love and meaning.
It was well after midnight that Harry started to feel the need for some peace and quiet. He was looking for an excuse to run upstairs for a few minutes when he heard Teddy crying. Mrs Tonks was already on her feet.
"I'll handle it, Mrs Tonks. Stay here. Enjoy the tea," Harry said rapidly.
He heard her say "Remus and Nymphadora couldn't have made a better choice for my grandson" as he climbed the stairs two by two, but he was only too happy to be escaping the noise and the talk, only for a little while. Also, the constant praising was getting on his nerves.
Teddy's crib had been set up in the master suite. It was a large but dark room with a burgundy rug and a large bed that Harry had not slept in yet. He much preferred Sirius's old bedroom which felt more like his own. Besides, he had not managed to get the master suite's large window clean, therefore the room was too dark for his taste.
As soon as he entered the suite, he knew what to do. Harry waved his wand to turn on the night light. The crying stopped instantly. The toddler looked up, smiled at his godfather, and then turned on his side and went back to sleep.
"This isn't so hard," Harry murmured as he pulled the blanket over the curled up child.
"Well, well. Is this one yours? Aren't you a little young?"
Harry wheeled around, startled by the voice that was coming from behind him. His wand was already in his hand.
He cried the first thing that came to his mind. "What are doing here? Get away from him!"
The man who looked like Sirius Black took a few steps into the light. He looked very handsome with the black velvet coat and the wavy hair tucked behind his ears. However, the smugness, the self-importance, Harry knew it all too well, and so he understood right away that he wasn't talking to Sirius.
"This would really be ironic, you know," said the Lord of the Underworld, circling around the room while Harry followed him with his wand. "You, stepping in to protect a child, and dying in the process. It would be a suitable end, don't you think?"
"Are you here to kill me?"
The man let out an irritated sigh. "I don't kill people. That's not what I do."
"Then, what do you want?"
Harry kept following him with his wand. He wanted to keep a distance between Hades and Teddy's crib.
"Just to let you know that my offer still stands," Hades replied. "I could give you the life you always wanted, without the pain or the hurt. The hurt is going to happen, you know."
The Lord of the Underworld picked up a picture of the Weasleys and then a picture of the order of the phoenix. These were the things that Harry had put around the little boy to make him feel more at home. Now he wished that he could smash them on Sirius's head.
"I already told you that I'm not interested," he said between gritted teeth.
Hades let out a cruel laugh. "We'll see. Things can change, and they will, especially for you. I mean that you're you. People are lining up just to get a shot at you. The rest of them want to die for you. It's the kind of situation where someone could get hurt again."
"Do you think I don't know that?" Harry burst out. "I already said that I don't want your help."
He had to calm down. He didn't want a confrontation, not with Teddy in the room anyway.
"Yes, well," Hades continued, "it's a beautiful night. Christmas Eve and all that. A lot of things can happen on such a night."
A dozen different scenarios rushed to Harry's head and pretty much all of them involved his house set on fire.
"What did you do?" he yelled angrily.
The Lord of the Underworld looked at him with piercing eyes, and they were so much like Sirius's eyes that Harry had to look away.
"Again, you're assuming that I have influence. Or a body for that matter. What do you think I am? Maybe I'm" – he looked at his face in a mirror hanging on the wall –" him. I could be. I could go downstairs and everyone would start crying because they would be so happy to see me."
Harry felt anger flow through him like an electric shock. "They'll never buy it," he said furiously.
Hades was merely shrugging. "It's just a suggestion. I can be whoever you want me to be. It would be just for pretend. Only you would ever know that Fred Weasley is really dead."
Harry was frozen on the spot, horrified.
"Come on, be a sport. It would be fun. No? Then again, maybe I'm just a fragment of your imagination and you're going mad. The famous Harry Potter. Seeing Voldemort in his soup. Attacking people who he thinks hold a piece of someone's soul inside them. Cracked. Done for. Poof! Just like that."
"I doubt that!"
The door flew open and Ginny stepped through the threshold, looking livid. She walked straight into the room and did not stop until she had the tip of her wand one foot from Hades's chest.
The Lord of the Underworld seemed to recoil, but only a little.
"Now I know where that wand ended up," he said wearily. "Good choice, by the way, Harry. What a great way to keep the most powerful wand in the world close to you, giving it to your girl."
Ginny was undisturbed. "You're about to see just how close that wand really is to you."
As she raised the wand, red sparks came out of its tip. A cool wind seemed to sweep across the room. It was the cue that Harry needed to regain his senses and step forward next to Ginny.
"Careful now." Hades said warningly to Ginny. "That wand is more powerful than you know."
But Harry wasn't going to let him taunt Ginny. "You've made your point. Now get out of my house."
Hades eyes darted from Harry to Ginny to the Elder Wand in her hand. He seemed to think for a while.
"OK, but you can't say I didn't warn you."
He took a step forward as though daring them to attack him; however, Ginny put herself in front of Harry with the same determination with which she had protected the coffins from the raving George just a few months before.
Resolute, Hades made a flourishing gesture with his hand and he disappeared in a cloud of black smoke. Harry and Ginny both sighed simultaneously, but before they had the time to breathe again, Harry spotted a spark on the floor.
"It's a … I think it's a necklace."
Ginny merely used her wand to shed light on the piece of jewellery. It was a silver chain with a triangle-like medallion in the shape of three-spirals connected at the center.
The deep voice that they heard from up above made them both jump. "In case you change your mind."
Harry let out a long sigh. His eyes could not leave the object on the floor.
"I'm not keeping anything given by Hades," said Ginny stubbornly.
Stepping forth, she put the tip of the Elder Wand just above the center of the medallion and cried "Reducto!"
Nothing happened. They tried several spells on the necklace, but all were useless.
Harry could feel the despair creeping over him. "Not another object to destroy. Ron and Hermione are going to have a fit."
Ginny seemed at a loss for words. "We don't… we don't have to tell them. We can just keep it in your vault in Gringotts."
"I'm not keeping anything from Ron and Hermione."
"But you didn't tell them about your visions concerning our children, just like you didn't tell anyone else in my family about the Horcruxes. It took you one month to talk to me about that, by the way."
Harry's mind was thinking hard. It was the last part of the mission, the one thing that he had put off doing since he had destroyed Voldemort.
"I felt so much better afterwards," he said, looking at Teddy's crib as though the little boy was going to give him an answer. "I can't bear those secrets anymore. This has to end. Tonight. Do you think we can ask your parents and brothers to remain behind when everyone else has gone? Neville and Luna as well. And Fleur, obviously. McGonagall, she deserves to know. And Krum."
Ginny was close to him now. "Viktor? Are you sure?"
"He's helped more than once. He's one of us; one of the DA, I mean."
Her eyes were wide when she spoke. "You're really decided, then?"
"Yeah, I am."
"I think it's the right thing to do."
"Me too. I…"
But he didn't finish his thought. There was a moving shadow on the dirty window. Someone was outside. Someone was peering in.
What came next happened really fast. Ginny pushed Harry out of the way. A red spark shot pass her and hit the mirror that broke into pieces. Harry swept Teddy Lupin into his arms. Ginny conjured up a Shield Charm to protect them while another shot of red light hit the wall. And then the three of them ran downstairs where they were welcomed by music and laughter.
Ron was having a good laugh at them. "We wondered if you two were ever coming down…"
He was cut off by Hermione. "What's wrong?"
Harry was trying hard to calm Teddy down. He was moaning in his sleep as though he knew that something had just happened. Screams of terror were not going to help him go back to sleep.
"He's all right," Ginny said hurriedly when she saw Mrs Tonks worried expression. "Something just attacked us. There was someone outside the window. Whoever it was shot spells at us. They nearly caught us too."
There was a sudden silence.
The first voice that Harry heard wasn't the one he had expected.
"All right, listen up. We have to make sure the Muggles don't spot us. But it doesn't mean that we have to stay indoors."
"Neville, what are you doing?" Harry said as Mrs Tonks was rocking Teddy in her arms.
"He's fighting back," Ginny said eagerly. "You're right, Neville. There's not a moment to lose."
George and Krum already had their wands ready. "Those people must be crazy to think they can take all of us."
The rest of the guests were nodding in approval.
"Let's divide into teams," said Bill Weasley.
Harry couldn't quite believe what he was hearing. This was madness. He couldn't allow his friends to face danger on Christman Eve. "No one is going out there. We'll cast spells around the house."
Hermione laid a hand on his shoulder. "It's OK, Harry. I think that they know what they're doing."
"No, they don't!" he couldn't help shouting.
He looked at Ginny but she seemed as resolute as the others.
"There are still a lot of Death Eaters sympathisers," she said sternly, laying a comforting hand on his arm. "We are not going to be able to have a moment's peace if we don't show them that we aren't scared."
Harry's mind was filled with the faces of Fred, Lupin, Tonks. He wished that he could be more like Ginny: fearless, outgoing, and confident. After one year of being cautious, acting impulsively and without a plan didn't come easy anymore.
However, his friends were not going to hide, that much he was certain of. What he didn't know was: if one of his friends died tonight, would he be able to resist taking out that necklace?
Ginny seemed to catch what he was thinking because she took his hand and squeezed it gently. And while she did that, she also took the necklace from his hand.
"I know that you don't want us to get hurt," he said softly. "We're not running into danger. The worst is over. We're just going to give a few pranksters a fright. What do you say?"
"Don't worry, Harry. It can't be any worst than the battle of Hogwarts," said Luna matter-of-factly. "Or than getting into the Department of Mysteries. Or than getting into Snape's office. Or than…"
"We get the point," Krum interrupted.
The others had already started to move out, wands at the ready. He felt Bill Weasley pat his back and mutter in a serious tone: "Best stay indoors, though, just in case."
As the house emptied, Harry went to the front window so that he could see what was happening. Mr and Mrs Weasley, Mrs Tonks, Fleur and Hermione had stayed indoors, not to mention Teddy.
"I know what you're thinking, Harry," Hermione said softly.
"I just… I can't believe that all the danger is really gone, that's it is safe to go out there and not fear for our lives."
"Yeah," Hermione whispered dreamily. "It feels good, doesn't it?"
"I don't know how I feel, to be honest."
Hermione turned to face him. She had one of her most motherly look on her face.
"It's only normal. It's only taking you longer to accept that it's all over."
"Is it really over?" he said without much thought.
She smiled and while staring at his face. "You tell me."
He wanted to hug her, but he was interrupted by Kreacher who came to declare that the cakes and deserts were ready to be served.
About fifteen minutes later, Neville and Luna walked in with a significant amount of snow on their heads.
"Ginny was right: it was just a prank!" Neville announced as soon as he came in the living room. "These kids were playing a game of truth or dare. One of them was told to attack the house of Harry Potter. They live in the neighbourhood, you see, so they know all about this house. They're wizards, you see, and Slytherins too. They started school this year. Mr Weasley is having a serious talk with their parents."
"Ron's dad stayed inside with us," Hermione said a little surprisingly.
"He means Percy," Luna corrected. "But I suspect that Nargoyles were involved too. They like to play pranks too, you know, especially on Christmas Eve."
As the rest of his guests walked back inside, fresh tea and biscuits were put on the table by the attentive Kreacher. They all ate joyously while this time George told the story of the Christmas pranksters who thought they could take on Harry Potter and Dumbledore's Army. Harry laughed a great deal at himself, and his friends laughed with him.
After that, some of the guests began to yawn. The coats were brought out and a few goodbyes were heard. While he was wishing his guests good night, Ginny was carrying out the first part of the plan. The selected people had been asked to remain a little longer. Presently, they were all sitting in the living room and looking tired.
"Where's Ginny?" asked Hermione when Harry finally arrived in the living room, a fresh pot of tea in his hand.
"She had to make a quick drop at Gringotts," he replied plainly.
Hermione opened her mouth to ask why but she was interrupted by a knock at the door.
He hadn't imagined that he would feel nervous. He had rehearsed this scene more than once in his head in the last couple of months. Now that it came to it, now that he had made up his mind, he had butterflies in his stomach, the same as on the day he had asked Cho Chang to the Yule Ball.
Ron's surprised yell brought him out of his reverie. "Professor, what are you doing here?"
To everyone's astonishment, Minerva McGonagall was standing in the threshold with a long travelling cloak on her back, and she looked unsure whether or not she should remove it.
"Ron, where are your manners?" Mrs Weasley cried out indignantly. "Come and sit down, Minerva."
The new Hogwarts Headmistress remained standing.
"Thank you, Molly. Clearly, this is a family event. Something on your mind, Potter?"
All eyes turned to him and his stomach renewed its protest. Ginny was beaming, but Hermione was looking at him as though she had just spotted him rubbing his scar.
"I thought that you should be here, Professor. You're family too."
He knew that he was blushing so he looked hurriedly at the floor.
"I appreciate that, Potter. I did think that there was some kind of emergency from the Patronus I received. It's a beautiful phoenix, by the way, Miss Weasley. When did it take that form?"
Ginny looked intently at the Headmistress and replied in a low voice. "When you were hurt last year, Professor, all the Gryffindors got together and we swore that we would be Dumbledore's Army forever. My Patronus started to change from there."
George was eyeing her with an annoyed expression. "It's a bit cheesy, isn't it, sis?"
She shrugged but smiled at her brother. "Maybe a little."
But McGonagall seemed unmoved. She was looking at Harry as though trying to see through him.
"I guess I need to get a new owl," he said jokingly.
Hermione could not hold her silence anymore. "What's with all the mystery, Harry?"
He couldn't stare at her. It would give him away instantly.
"It's been a really nice evening," he said to everyone in the room, "and I just wanted to extend it a little further, if everyone would care to stay."
Hermione kept looking from him to Ginny. "Harry, you're acting weird. What is it?"
Before he could reply, Ron had made a squeak as though he had just understood something that no one else had. "If you two are about to tell us that you're getting engaged or something…"
Mrs Weasley had stood up as though someone had just pinched her.
"No one is getting engaged, Ron!" Ginny burst out.
"Well," said Mr Weasley, stepping up as well, "I think it's clear that Harry has our blessing…"
Ginny looked appalled. "We're not engaged, dad!"
"Oh, Ginny! It was always meant to be," cried her mother tearfully.
She was hugging her daughter before Harry had realised what was going on. George, Percy, Bill and Charly burst out laughing.
"Mum, honestly, I'm seventeen! I don't want to get married now!" Ginny protested on top of the increasing laughter.
Harry could tell that he was losing the control of the situation. It was going to be a long night if he couldn't get everyone to focus.
"Please, if you could all just get into the dining room, we'll be starting in a moment. Hermione, a few protective spells, if you don't mind."
But as he looked over at Hermione, he saw that she was kissing Ron passionately under the mistletoe.
"Never mind," Ginny intervened.
She then took the Elder Wand and began walking around the house while whispering Hermione's usual protective spells.
"How come she gets to do the spells?" Ron sneered in Ginny's direction while Hermione was pulling him towards the dining room.
A good fifteen minutes later, everyone was seated around the table. Kreacher had brought water and a basket full of fruits. Harry cast a good look around the table, savouring the moment. They all looked happy and relaxed; even Krum had a smile on his face as he was talking to George. Only McGonagall looked slightly out of place with her black dress and tired eyes.
Mr Weasley spoke first on top of the noise. "So, Harry, what's on your mind?"
"Well," he began solemnly, "I thought since you are all here, it might be time for the whole story."
Sudden silence fell on the room.
"This is going to be good," said George excitedly.
Neville was instantly on his feet. "Harry, honestly, I don't have to be here."
"You've got to be kidding!" Ron and Hermione burst out simultaneously.
There was a thunder of protest. Luna was sitting next to Neville and she pulled his arm until he was seated again.
"Honestly, Neville," George said annoyingly.
Harry knew that he had everyone's attention now. He took a seat next to Ginny. She had just finished casting Muffliato on the dining room's door and windows which were tightly shut.
"They're right, Neville," Harry said in his most serious tone. "I think it's time you understand just how important you were in all this."
"You know that we're going to be here all night, don't you?"
Ron looked slightly incredulous. He was looking at his parents too.
His father saw his stare and, taking his wife's hand, he said resolutely: "I think we can take it."
There was a silence again, which was broken by Hermione's voice.
"Where do you want to start?"
"I thought about it and I think it's better to start with our sixth year since everyone knows about the Third Task, and how Voldemort returned, and also about the prophecy."
Fleur put her hand up. "Et moi, alors?. I do not know about any prophecy."
Neville seemed to be thinking along the same lines. "Maybe you can sum up… stuff," he said tentatively.
Hermione opened her mouth, but Ron put his arms around her and said softly: "I think he can do it without the help of Hermione Granger."
"We're all ears, Harry," said George eagerly.
However, Harry saw his friends jump in surprise as McGonagall who stood up unexpectedly.
"Will you please step out a moment with me before you start, Potter?"
He walked around the table to join his former Transfiguration professor out of the dining room. He heard the murmurs, but he couldn't make out all the comments. He didn't really worry. As far as he was concerned, whatever McGonagall had to say, it had to be important.
Presently, she was waiting for him near the front door, and she looked troubled.
"I don't expect that you will understand what I am about to say, Potter. So much has happened and I do not doubt that you've acted brilliantly. I see how you pulled out and I cannot begin to tell you how proud I am of what you have done and who you have become. Dumbledore was right to trust you."
"I sense a 'but', Professor."
McGonagall continued. "I can see that you have been hurt, but you are young. You have taken the first step to recovery tonight. In this room are friends who will stand beside you probably for the rest of your life."
Harry looked over his shoulder at the long corridor, feeling a wave of warmth sweep over him.
"There are more than friends. They're family."
"It was at a meeting like this that Dumbledore created the Order of the Phoenix, and I have no doubt, Potter, that you will do tremendously well as the leader of this new order that you are now starting."
The Headmistress looked lost in thought for a while. As he looked at her, he began to understand. There was so much sadness in her voice.
"You don't want to be a part of it," he said, weighing every word.
She shook her head. "I appreciate the offer, I really do. But I am old, Potter, and my mind needs to rest. I need to go back to my school and repair the damage that's been done. There is a deep magic… the kind that needs mending. There is no other task for me now. But I would like to know one thing, if that's acceptable for you."
Harry was taken aback, but he wasn't going to refuse. "You can ask anything, Professor."
"Is he really gone?"
He chose his words carefully and tried to be convincing. "I believe he is, Professor. We destroyed every part of him that could be destroyed. At the end, when we duelled, he was just a man, he was Tom Riddle again, and he could be killed."
He was not sure what to make of her expression. She seemed relieved, but still sad and distant.
"I'm not going to find anymore of Tom Riddle's old school things at Hogwarts, then?"
She opened the door. It was snowing softly outside. The wind was cool and inviting.
"Are you going to be all right, Professor?" Harry asked.
Her answer was a half-smile. "I may not have Dumbledore's style, but I do know how to Apparate on my own school grounds, Potter. You can give everyone my regards. Merry Christmas…" She seemed to hesitate, and then she said fondly, "Harry."
"Merry Christmas, Headmistress."
As he was looking at the old Hogwarts professor step into the snowy night, one last thought hit him.
"You were talking about Voldemort, weren't you, Professor?"
But there was no answer, only a faint pop as McGonagall vanished into the night. Not everyone grieves the same way, Harry thought as he closed the front door, locked it and cast Muffliato over it, just in case.
As he started to walk towards the dining room, he thought of George, and then of Teddy and Mrs Tonks. He, Harry, had yelled at Dumbledore and thrashed his office when Sirius had died; yet, the hurt still remained after years. And Dumbledore… that was hard every day as well. However, he didn't care about the pain anymore. It meant something to him. It was a part of him.
So it was up to the new generation now. But who was he to carry on this mission? Was he a hero: Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, who vanquished the Dark Lord? Or was he just a boy, a young man, who, by his experience, would tell others his story so that no dark wizard could ever rise again?
With that certainty well settled in his heart, Harry Potter walked into the dining room where his closest friends were gathered and waiting for him.
It was going to be a very long night.