Chapter Thirty Six – Year Seven; Beginnings

The year drew to an end. Seventh years sat for their Newts. Harry sympathized with Hermione, Ron and his other friends who were worried about their grades. Harry, himself, was not stressed at all. He knew that he would earn acceptable grades in certain classes, such as Potions and Herbology. And, in classes such as Charms, Transfiguration and Defense Against the Dark Arts, it was a foregone conclusion that he would earn an "Outstanding". His learning in these subjects went far beyond the school curriculum.

The examiners for those courses were thrilled to test Harry. After putting him through the mandatory exercises, they begged him to show some of his skill. He entertained them with some flashy spellwork and knew that they were impressed.

The elderly witch who had tested Harry in Transfiguration was in raptures over Harry's ability to conjure, in one wave of his wand, a comfortable arm chair complete with a sleeping cat. After the chair and cat had been vanished, and the teacher had finished scribbling notes in her clipboard, the witch stared intently at Harry and said, "It is clear that you have the ability to be one of the greatest wizards our world has ever known."

Harry smiled in pleasure at her praise, although it was a bit embarrassing. "Thank you, ma'am."

"You have a gift. A gift that I hope you will share with our world. It would be a shame if you left us."

Harry was taken aback. It was the first time that someone had openly admitted that they thought he would truly decide to leave the wizarding world.

"Yes, ma'am," said Harry, noncommittally and he hurriedly left the room.

The witch's words made him think. In just a little over a month, he would turn eighteen. His indenture would end. Where would he go? What would he do? He had thought about it before but now the time was upon him to decide.

Once the indenture ended, he would need to find another place to live. While Snape would probably permit him to stay for a while, Harry thought it time for him to get his own place. He suspected that Snape would miss him when he left. Harry smiled when he thought that the potions master would undergo torture rather than admit it.

So, where should he go? Did he want to leave the wizarding world? As he had told Ron and Hermione weeks before, this world was fundamentally flawed -- arrogant in its belief in its own superiority and contemptuous of others. Did he really want to stay in this world? A world that had betrayed him time and time again?

On the other hand, couldn't he help change this world for the better? He had already done so, after all. Not just by defeating Voldemort, but by forcing the wizarding world to acknowledge its own culpability for the racism and intolerance that had led to the Dark Lord's rise to power.

It wasn't as if the muggle world was any better. That world was filled with hatred, greed, betrayal, and pain too. Prejudice and intolerance were absolutely everywhere.

No, there was nothing for him in the muggle world. When he had left the wizarding world the last time, he had wanted to start over. He had been angry with everyone and had wanted to find a place to fit in. But, he fit in here, didn't he? He could stay. He was only eighteen and yet he could wield enormous influence over the wizarding world. If he chose to stay, chose to "take his rightful place in this world," as Draco would call it, over time, couldn't he change this world even more?

While it was sometimes annoying to be the focus of attention everywhere he went, it was kind of nice to have people smile when they saw him and want to shake his hand. It wasn't a substitute for friendship or love, but it filled up some of the lonely spaces of his heart.

He was lucky, really, when he thought about it. At least, being "Harry Potter" ensured that he would have friends and a girlfriend. Despite what Snape, Dumbledore and Ginny had said, he had to accept that he would never really be loved. It would be worse in the muggle world where he wouldn't have his fame to provide him with even this pale reflection of love and caring. Why not allow himself to enjoy having friends and maybe, with time, a family? He wouldn't be the first person in the world to give up on dreams of happily-ever-after in exchange for a practical reality.

Having decided that he would remain in the wizarding world, at least for now, Harry scoped out apartments for rent in Diagon Alley. Besides, he told himself, he could always decide to travel or even leave the wizarding world entirely if it didn't work out.

Harry decided that he would give himself the rest of the summer before even attempting to find a job. After all, he had plenty of money from his inheritance to fund a short break. He thought he'd like to lean more about other creatures. Perhaps, find a job that enabled him to spend time with goblins, elves, centaurs or others. After all, if he was going to try to give them a voice in the wizarding world, he needed to know more about them. He would look around after the summer and see.

The last day at Hogwarts was very sad for Harry. He remembered how he had been so hopeful that he had found a home when he had first arrived. Little had he known then the tumultuous years that lay ahead. Perhaps it was a good thing that he had no talent for divination. Now, that he was leaving for good, he knew he would miss the castle tremendously. Harry knew that most of the other seventh years were equally sad to be leaving.

Harry waved goodbye to the students as they left for Hogsmeade to board the Hogwarts Express back to London. Hermione, Ron, Ginny and Draco had already promised to meet him at the Ministry the day he turned eighteen and his indenture was lifted. In the meantime, Ginny and Harry promised to write to each other every day.

With the students gone, Hogwarts seemed so empty and forlorn. Harry spent the last week wandering from room to room, impressing the images in his memory and saying a mental goodbye. The day Harry left Hogwarts with Snape, Dumbledore came to say farewell.

Harry politely shook the headmaster's hand and muttered goodbye. The teen knew that the older wizard wished him well but Harry was never going to be comfortable in his presence. There was too much history.

Dumbledore regarded Harry with a sad smile. Whenever he looked at the boy, he was struck by a deep regret that he had missed his chance for Harry to look upon him as a friend. He believed in his heart that, if they each had made different choices along the years, they would have become close. Perhaps today they would be more like mentor and student or…dare he admit it…grandfather and grandson. After all, Harry was such a special boy. But, it was not meant to be. The past had led them to this moment and, if he were honest, he would not change anything. Every step – good or bad – had led to the downfall of Voldemort. But, that didn't mean he didn't wish that it could have been different.

Now, he retreated into formality as he said, "It is always a privilege to see young men and women embark upon a new stage in their life," he said. "In your case, we are eager to see you assume your place in our world. At the same time, we will miss you here at Hogwarts."

"Thank you, sir. I will miss Hogwarts, too."

"I hope you don't mind, Harry, but I'll need to be present at the Ministry when your indenture comes to an end."

"Oh. Sure," said Harry. "Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Ron, Draco, Ginny, and Hermione will be there, too. And Professor Snape, of course."

"Yes, I know. While you came of age last year, in many ways, this birthday is your true coming of age." After a short pause, Dumbledore continued. "I have in my possession a special cloak of your father's. An invisibility cloak. I plan on giving it to you then."

"An invisibility cloak!" Harry became excited. "Wow! That's great. They are really rare."

"I haven't given it to you before because, to be honest, I thought it best to wait until the indenture was over."

Harry smiled. "Afraid I'd get into trouble with it, huh?"

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Perhaps," he admitted.

Harry had a sudden thought. "I'm glad you didn't give it to that imposter, Andrew Danirson, back in third year."

Dumbledore nodded. "I would have, if the boy's behavior hadn't been so troubling. I was not sure that he would have made good use of the cloak and I decided to hold onto it until he was older. As it turned out, that was a lucky decision as, of course, the cloak did not belong to him."

Harry nodded. "I can't wait to see it."

Dumbledore laughed. "I'm afraid to even guess at the use you will make of the cloak."

Harry smiled.

The headmaster inclined his head in farewell. "Until your birthday, Harry. Take care."

"Goodbye, sir."


The rest of June and July passed quietly. Snape was increasingly irritable, but Harry knew that it was because the potions master was not pleased that Harry would be leaving. In preparation for his eighteenth birthday, Harry had already put a deposit down on an apartment in Diagon Alley.

The day of his birthday, Harry awoke feeling excited. This was the day! No more letting people into his head for "medical treatments". Harry could appreciate that the loosening of his memories had helped, but he was ecstatic to be done with it. At least, for now. Maybe he'd decide to have certain memories "loosened" in the future. But, it would be his choice. No more doing what other people told him to do. He was free!

Shortly before lunch, Harry and Snape flooed to the Ministry, where Scrimgeour and Dumbledore were waiting. Harry tried not to allow Scrimgeour's longwinded speechifying annoy him. The Minister had arranged for a reporter (thankfully not Rita Skeeter) and photographer from the Daily Prophet to memorialize the moment.

The Minister said grandly, for the benefit of the reporter, "We are thrilled to be present at this special day when Harry Potter assumes his rightful place in our world. Harry has successfully completed both his studies and his course of medical treatment. With the end of the guardianship," Harry noticed that Scrimgeour still couldn't bring himself to say the word 'indenture', "Harry now stands ready to represent a proud and ancient family line. We wish Harry good luck. We at the Ministry take pride in having contributed to making Harry the happy and healthy wizard we see standing here today."

Harry felt a flare of anger and bit his tongue. Now was not the time to get into a debate regarding the ethics of the Ministry's having forced him into an indenture in the first place. The wizarding world had a lot to learn about respecting individual rights. But, today, Harry was determined to enjoy his birthday and the luxury of having his freedom.

A short ceremony followed Scrimgeour's speech. Snape agreed that Dumbledore's debt to him – which Harry's indenture was meant to satisfy --- was paid in full. Dumbledore waved his wand, Snape muttered some words, and the spell was lifted.

"Is it gone?" Harry asked.

Dumbledore nodded. Snape said dryly, "Why don't we test it? Jump up and down three times, Potter."

Harry jumped up and down three times. He turned appalled eyes on the adults.

Everyone stared at him in varying degrees of shock and dismay, their mouths open.

"How…how…?" spluttered Snape.

"Oh, Merlin," breathed Scrimgeour in horror. The reporter dropped her quill in shock.

Dumbledore was speechless and just continued staring at Harry in alarm.

Then, Harry grinned broadly and said, "Just kidding! I'm fine."

It took a second for his words to sink in. Then, Dumbledore's eyes twinkled, Scrimgeour looked so relieved, Harry thought the older man might faint, and Snape looked furious.

"Potter…" the potions master began, in a threatening tone.

To forestall Snape's angry words, Dumbledore interrupted. "Congratulations, Harry," he said.

"Thanks," said the boy, still grinning, unrepentant. He was too happy.

Snape looked a bit sour. He muttered, "Remember that just because the indenture is over is no excuse to act irresponsibly. You are a role model for witch and wizard children everywhere and I expect you to behave sensibly. Unlike your recent behavior."

Harry tried to dampen his smile and appear appropriately serious as he promised, "Don't worry. I will."

Harry heard a whisper. "What was that?" he asked.

"What was what?" asked Snape.

"I heard some whispering," said Harry, looking around.

"I didn't hear anything," said the potions master. The other adults in the room also shook their heads.

Harry shrugged. "I must have misheard."

"What are you planning on doing now, Harry?" asked the reporter, bending to pick up her fallen quill.

"I'm going to take the summer to decide," said the teen. "I'll be moving into my own place – and, no, I won't tell you where," he said with a little laugh. "I have some ideas about what I might do, but I want to take some time to look around and decide."

"We wish you well, Harry," said the reporter. "We will be keeping an eye on you."

Harry rolled his eyes. "That's what I'm afraid of!" he said. "I wish you guys would give me some space!"

The reporter laughed. "You sell papers, Harry! I can tell you that the news that you are planning on staying in the wizarding world is going to be well-received. Many people were worried that you were thinking of returning to the muggle world."

"Harry belongs here!" objected Scrimgeour. "He knows that!"

Harry smiled politely but didn't respond. "I don't want to seem rude," said Harry, "but would you mind if I leave now? I have some friends waiting for me."

"Arthur Weasley's family, right?" said Scrimgeour knowingly.

The reporter lifted her head, scenting a story. "Ginny Weasley?" she asked. "Isn't she your girlfriend, Harry?"

Harry blushed. "I am friends with the whole Weasley family," he replied.

"Goodbye, Harry," said Dumbledore, shaking his hand. "Our paths will cross again, I have no doubt. And, if, at any time, you wish to visit me, I would be delighted to see you."

"Thank you, Professor," said Harry. They both knew that Harry would not visit him. But, as Dumbledore had said, they would meet again. They were bound to move in the same circles from time to time.

The headmaster handed Harry a package wrapped in brown paper. "This item was your father's, as we discussed, Harry. Use it well."

Harry reached eagerly for the package. "Thanks!" he breathed. He effortlessly shrunk the package and stuck it in his robe pocket. He couldn't wait to open it later.

Snape's invitation to keep in touch was issued in the potions master's usual gruff manner. "Potter. Remember that your behavior reflects on me, as people know I held your indenture over this last year and a half. I expect to receive regular updates on your activities."

"Yes, sir," said Harry seriously, striving hard not to smile. "Should I report on my behavior next Saturday night?"

Snape was silent for a moment. Then, he nodded brusquely and said, "Be at my home at 8 pm for dinner."

"Yes, sir," said Harry agreeably. Snape looked marginally more cheerful with future dinner plans arranged.

With a last goodbye, Harry made his way to Arthur Weasley's office, where Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Ron, Hermione, Draco and Ginny should be waiting. He couldn't wait to see them. It had been six weeks since he had last seen his friends, and letters, while great, weren't the same as spending time together in person. Harry wondered whether he could find a private corner to spend some alone time with Ginny.

Harry was in the elevator alone when he heard the whispering again, louder this time. He looked around, but there was nobody in the elevator. He listened more carefully, trying to make out the words. The whisper came again. It was like the sound of a breeze. He couldn't make out any individual words but he knew that it was calling him.

In a trance, Harry found himself pushing the button for the lowest level. When the elevator stopped, Harry stepped out and looked around. The hallway was deserted. The whisper came again, slightly louder and more urgent. Harry followed the sound, which beckoned to him like a siren's song. Through hallways and rotating doors, Harry followed the whispering. Finally, he opened a door onto what appeared to be an amphitheater. At the bottom of the sunken room, on a raised platform, was a stone archway. A black veil draped over the archway fluttered slightly, although there was no breeze.

The whisper grew louder and Harry knew that the sound issued from behind the veil of that archway. Slowly he descended the stone stairs that led to the platform on which the archway stood. As he approached, the whispering grew louder and Harry realized that there was more than one voice calling. The closer he drew, the clearer became the voices until, standing directly in front of the archway, Harry heard the voices of his parents.

"Harry," they called. His name was said so softly it was almost a sigh.

Excitedly, Harry answered, "I'm here!" He stared intently at the archway but the veil obscured anything behind it. The archway started to glow slightly and the veil fluttered more rapidly.

"Are you in there?" he asked. "Should I come through?"

"If you come," whispered his mother, "you will never be able to return."

His father's voice continued, "You had the choice before to come with us or return to your world. You chose to return to defeat Voldemort and we are so proud of you."

"Why are you here now? Do you want me to follow you?"

"We are always here," said Lily. "This is a portal to the other world. You can hear us because you have been closer to death than any other wizard. Because you did not fear death, you have control over it. No other wizard can hear the voices inside so clearly."

"You haven't heard us before because the indenture acted as a filter and wouldn't allow our voices to be heard. Our voices would pull you toward us and the indenture only permits you to obey your master," explained his father.

"Oh." Harry stared again into the veil. "I wish I could see you. I miss you so much."

"We miss you too," said Lily. "We love you so much."

A swell of longing surged up in Harry. His parents' love at least was real. He could believe them. And, oh, how he had wanted to feel that love again. He had been deluding himself into believing that the imitation friendship and love that he had now was enough to satisfy him.

Choking with emotion, Harry seized on his mother's words. "You are the only ones who ever really loved me. I want to be go with you. I want to be loved again." He took a step closer to the veil and, dimly in the background, he thought he heard a scream. He ignored it and listened to his parents.

"Oh, Harry," said Lily sadly. "We are not the only ones who love you. Open your heart to the possibility of love."

James interrupted. "Don't let Petunia poison you, son."

"You heard what she said?" Harry asked.

"Yes. We are always with you. Loving you. Watching over you," said his father.

"That's not true!" objected Harry. Finally, he allowed himself to admit a secret hurt that he had been carrying in his heart for years. "You didn't even recognize me when I was fighting Voldemort – the night he was reborn. You know, when priori incantatem made you come out of his wand. You didn't even know who I was!"

"No, Harry," objected his father. "We were there and watching you, as we watch you every day of your life. But, the images of us that came out of Voldemort's wand were not us."

"Your father's right," agreed Lily. "They were not our …spirits. They were just an impression of us. Like a portrait."

"You have always felt as if you were on your own, Harry," continued his father. "But you are not. We are always with you. And, if you look around you, you will see that there are other people there for you. Wanting to support you. Wanting to love you."

"You are worthy of being loved, Harry," said his mother. "Believe that and you will find the happiness you seek."

The glow of the archway started to dim and the veil's fluttering began to slow.

"Goodbye," Harry whispered.

In the distance, he thought he heard his parents' voices calling a farewell to him.

Slowly, Harry turned away from the archway. In surprise, he saw that a group of people were gathered at the top of the stone stairs. There was Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Dumbledore, Snape, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. What were they doing here?

Harry jumped down from the dais and approached the group. Everyone was looking at him with varying degrees of shock and worry.

Snape spoke first, his voice harsh and his breathing irregular, "Your friends wondered what was taking you so long and they came to find you. When we realized that you hadn't arrived at Arthur's office, we started a search. The security system at the Ministry was able to tell us that you were headed in this direction."

Mr. Weasley's mouth was open and he muttered, as if speaking to himself, "I've never heard of the archway acting that way before. You were communing with the dead! You spoke to the dead!"

Hermione's voice was shrill when she said, "We thought you were going to step into the veil! We thought you were going to…" Harry noticed that her cheeks were wet with tears.

Dumbledore looked extremely grave as he explained further, "When we realized that you were headed for the Department of Mysteries, we were worried that you would come to this room."

Draco's voice was shaky as he said, "You're a git, Potter. Didn't I teach you anything? When you make plans for lunch, it's the height of rudeness to be late."

Harry looked at Ginny. She hadn't said a word. She was just staring at him with piercing, haunted eyes. He realized hers had been the scream he had heard earlier. Her nose was red and her cheeks also bore the marks of recent tears.

Staring at the group standing there, Harry realized with a start that they were all worried about him. This is what Snape, Dumbledore, Ginny, and his parents had all been trying to convince him about. This band of people looking at him with worry in their eyes weren't just concerned about him because he was the famous Boy Who Lived. They cared about him – the person behind the fame. They all really cared! Even Dumbledore, that manipulative, ruthless, dangerous man. And, perhaps they weren't the only ones. There were the Weasley twins and other school friends. Maybe, he really did have a circle of people who cared about him, some of whom could love him.

He could never trust them completely. He had been through too much, seen too much. But, even though he wasn't sure if he could ever entirely trust anyone, he could open himself up to the possibility of love as his mother had told him to do. Maybe it wouldn't last forever but that didn't make it any less real.

Stepping forward, he reached out and pulled Ginny into his arms. She gave a little gasp and burst into tears. He hugged her and shushed her. "It's all right," he murmured. "I'm sorry for worrying you."

Over Ginny's head, Ron nodded and said, his voice gruff, "Please don't frighten us like that again, mate. We thought that maybe you had chosen to leave the wizarding world after all. Not to go to the muggle world, but to join your parents."

Mrs. Weasley looked like she wanted to cry too. "Your parents wouldn't want you to join them, Harry. They'd want you to be happy here, in this world."

Harry nodded his head. "I know. They do want me to be happy. I'm not joining my parents," he promised.

Ginny stepped back and scanned his face intently, trying to judge his sincerity.

Harry smiled. A quiet sense of peace settled over him and it shone in his eyes. Yes, this world was flawed. Yes, he would have demons to battle, perhaps for the rest of his life. But, he didn't have to battle them alone. Finally, he could let his heart believe that he mattered. That he could be loved.

"I am exactly where I belong."

The End

AN – Thank you to all my readers.

I hope you enjoyed the story (or, at least, parts of it!). It took me a very long time to plan and then four solid months to write. I hope you'll take the time to review. I would so love to hear from you. Whether or not you do so, thank you so much for reading!

FYI, I don't think I'll be writing a sequel, but I'm not completely ruling it out. (It's unlikely, though.)

Thank you to JK Rowling for giving us such a wonderful world and such special characters.

I will miss writing about my Harry but I imagine him out there working hard to improve the wizarding world (as we should all work to improve the muggle world).

Thank you again.