A/N: I hope to have at least one more chapter posted to Bearings and Growing Up Granger before I return to school. Hermione's Latin inscription means "with outstanding praise in pursuance of Honors." Ron's means "duly earned." The rest are self-explanatory.
Time To Say Goodbye
It is all falling indelibly into the past. –Don DeLillo, Underworld
"I am very pleased to open the ceremonies today," Minister of Magic Amos Diggory said, looking down upon the students from his vantage point on the raised stage. His eyes swept over the sea of red-and-gold, blue-and-bronze, yellow-and-black, and green-and-silver robes, focusing on the oldest students seated near the front.
"Hogwarts has always graduated extraordinary students. With this school's rich history and its continued contribution to the fabric of magical life here in Britain and throughout the rest of the world, students who move on from her hallowed halls are greatly expected to excel. I await no less from all of you, but I must acknowledge your considerable achievement thus far."
Amos paused, letting his words sink in for the gathered students, educators, dignitaries, and spectators; a soft summer breeze wafted over the grounds, ruffling hair and robes alike and sending along its warm currents the invigorating smell of clean lake water. His back was to the large body of water, and just over his left shoulder, on the far shore, was the white tomb of the former Headmaster. If they listened hard and long enough in the breezy silence, it was easy to imagine the fading echoes of the phoenix song.
"In a way, this would have been Albus Dumbledore's proudest moment," the Minister continued. "And I think it is a testament to his capabilities as a leader, a Headmaster, and a wizard that we are able to have this ceremony. Without his constant presence during the last century and a half, the world we live in would only be a shadow of what it is today.
"This brings me to our recent war with Thomas Riddle and how integral you students have been to breathing new life into our society. Hogwarts has long been a bastion of light, rising up and shining out against the darkness, and these last few years have been no exception. Even in the face of defeat, in the face of hostile take-over, you students and Professors were able to find it within yourselves to defend what you knew to be right."
Harry was watching this from the second row of the audience where he sat between Hermione and Ron, and he shifted in his seat as Amos sought him out and then smiled down at him. He felt Hermione lay her hand across his thigh and give him a supportive squeeze.
Still smiling, Amos said, "I know Harry Potter does not like to be singled out, but just as I have mentioned Albus Dumbledore, I must specifically name Mr. Potter. Over the last eight years, he has suffered much abuse at the hands of the Ministry, but I will say here and now that without his indomitable spirit during the final months of the Second War, we would be in a very a grave place.
"That does not diminish, however, the outstanding achievements of his classmates; nor does it obscure the fact that many of them stood by his side at the very end and, against all odds, brought down once and for all Thomas Riddle. Because so many of them lost their Seventh years to the fight against Riddle, we allowed them to return to Hogwarts for another year to complete their studies, which is why this Commencement will always hold a special place in the history of Hogwarts.
"I would like to formally recognize the Classes of 1998 and 1999, graduating jointly on this day the seventeenth of June, nineteen hundred and ninety-nine. As Minister of Magic, I underwrite your accomplishments without reservation and endorse the Board of Governors in the granting of this diploma."
The students heard the Minister sigh through his magically amplified vocal chords. Amos leaned over the podium and looked beyond the crowd toward the edge of the Forbidden Forest, where an onyx monument had been erected in memory of those who had sacrificed their lives.
"Minerva will be granting several honorary diplomas in just a few minutes, and I would like us all to observe a moment of silence to remember those fallen students who will endure forever in our hearts and minds. Remember not only them, though, but also the countless others who defended their ideals and the tenets of our world with their lives."
Harry glanced at Hermione and Ron, and he nodded slightly at their solemn looks. Ron's eyes clouded briefly with grief as he no doubt recalled his lost brother, Fred. Beyond Ron, Luna looked down at the ground, most likely thinking of her father. Flashes of Dumbledore, Remus, and Tonks ripped through Harry's mind, and he sought Hermione's hand for comfort. As the somber silence continued during the sunny afternoon, each and every one of them considered their lost friends and family. There was never victory without sacrifice, and their triumph over Riddle was no exception.
"Thank you," Amos said, eventually, his voice booming out over the grounds once again. "Hopefully this day marks a new beginning for all of us; hopefully we can move forward with the trials of the past in mind and embrace the bright future ahead. It is now my pleasure to introduce your Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall, for the handing out of the diplomas. Thank you once again," he concluded, and there was applause as he relinquished the podium to McGonagall.
She pushed her frameless spectacles up her nose as she took his position. "I believe the Minister has said all that needs to be said, but I must add one thing before we move on to your diplomas. I have been an educator at Hogwarts in some capacity for more than forty years, and have seen countless students come and go, but never have I been prouder of what you all endured to finish.
"Our curriculum is one of the most comprehensive in the world, and for these talented witches and wizards to balance their academic lives with the abundance of external pressures is truly something to be remembered and lauded. On top of their invaluable, and in some instances key contributions to the War, we are graduating thirteen of the top twenty European students and three of the top five global students. I could not ask more of you, and I am humbled by all you have done with your hard work."
She waved her wand and a stack of documents appeared on the podium. She raised the first one, glanced at it, and said, "When I call your name, please make your way to the stage to accept your diploma. You may then return to your seat."
"Hannah Abbot, magna cum laude," she called, and Harry turned his head to see their blond classmate from Hufflepuff leave her seat and head for the stage. She shook McGonagall's hand and then the Minister's, and returned to her seat. The ceremony proceeded from there.
"…Hermione Granger, egregia cum laude in cursu honorum…"
"…Neville Longbottom, cum laude…"
"…Luna Lovegood, summa cum laude…"
"…Harry Potter, cum laude…" Applause and cheers followed the reading of his name, but it was expected. Hermione supported him with her smile, as did his four other closest friends.
"…Ginevra Weasley, magna cum laude…"
"…Ronald Weasley, rite…"
When the Headmistress finished with the diplomas and all the students had returned to their seats, she presided over them silently with her eyes. Just as the Minister had, she briefly met Harry's gaze and nodded in his direction. She had told him yesterday that, although she would not actually say it during the ceremony, he was the real reason why Hogwarts was able to hold commencement once again.
"Before I end today's formal observance, I must confide in all of you how worried I was for Hogwarts after Albus Dumbledore's untimely death."
Countless eyes in the audience went to the white tomb over her shoulder.
"I was not sure if we were going to reopen the school; I was not sure if I would ever see another student graduate from Hogwarts. But our wonderful students seem to have intervened on her behalf, such that Hogwarts will hopefully provide quality education to the next millennium of students who grace her stone corridors.
"Finally, I have some advice. Take your knowledge, your experience, and the friendships you have forged here at Hogwarts with you as you move on with your lives. Many of you will take your place as vital figures in our society and in doing so will carry the weight of your years here. Learn from them…keep them…and never regret them. I wish you all the best of luck. Congratulations!"
Tumultuous applause and cheering broke out among the students as a smiling McGonagall stepped back from the podium. Harry turned to Hermione and hugged her tightly, briefly lifting her off the ground in his enthusiasm. It had taken them eight years of their lives and many nearly insurmountable obstacles, but they had done it. They had all done it, and after he pressed a quick kiss to her lips, he turned to his other four friends and offered similar embraces.
As the afternoon wore on, the students broke into their respective groups; many left Hogwarts with their families or friends to celebrate elsewhere, but Harry and his friends wanted to enjoy the rest of their last day where they had spent a significant amount of time during the last eight years: the sandy shore of the lake.
With their brightly colored graduation robes discarded on the grass behind them, they sat near each other on the warm beach, listening as the gentle waves lapped against the shore. Harry looked around at Ron, Ginny, Luna, Neville, and Hermione; he wondered where the rest of their lives would take them and how their time at Hogwarts would influence whatever eventual direction they chose.
"So…" Ron said, looking at them. He said nothing else, though, and they all shared a soft laugh.
"So…what?" Harry asked, still smiling.
Ron shrugged. "This is it, huh? The end."
"The end of Hogwarts, maybe," Hermione said, curling her toes into the sand. Harry's eyes were drawn to the action. "But the beginning of something else."
"Yes," Luna agreed, dreamily. "The beginning of the rest of our lives. Luna Weasley…" she murmured, more to herself than anyone else. Ron rolled his eyes while the rest of them shared private smiles. They were all used to Luna's slightly out of place statements by now.
"Where are you going to stay, Harry?" Neville asked. Ginny was leaning into his side with her red hair fanned across his chest.
"At Hermione's house for a week or two," he answered. "Her parents suggested it when we were there over Easter break. It'll just be until I can find a decent place. What about the rest of you?"
"I'm joining Ronald at the Burrow for a few days. Then we're off to Switzerland for some Snorkack hunting!" Luna said, smiling beatifically. They all looked at Ron, who smiled sheepishly.
"It'll be fun," he said, wrapping an arm over Luna's shoulder and pulling her close. She stared at him with her gray eyes, unblinking, as he explained. "Her father left her everything…" he started. They met eyes and she nodded. "So we're going to use part of that to take this trip she's always dreamed about."
"I think that sounds wonderful," Ginny said.
"Thank Gin," Ron replied. "What about you two?"
"We don't know," Neville said. "Gran wants to host Ginny for a week at least at the Manor, but I guess that's up to your mum and dad."
Ginny clucked her tongue. "I'm of age; I can do as I please. And you know that my mum and dad adore you, Nev."
He smiled fondly at her, stroking his fingers through her vibrant hair. "I suppose so," he agreed, and silence descended upon the six of them. Harry lay down on the sand and stared up into the brilliant blue sky, stretching out to his full length as Hermione did the same and curled into his side. The sand was warm and he was sleepy…
"D'ya remember our first night at Hogwarts?" Ron asked, breaking them all from their stupor. Harry looked and saw him staring out across the water. "The trip across the lake in those little boats."
"Very well," Hermione said. "I remember thinking only magic could have kept Hagrid's boat afloat."
Harry chuckled. "I thought we were going to crash right into the cliff."
"Seeing Hogwarts for the first time from the lake was incredible, though," Neville said. "It was all lit up and just so huge."
"Hogwarts does seem much bigger when you're a First year, doesn't it?" Ginny asked, sitting up and looking back at the castle. All of their gazes were soon trained over their shoulders at the massive stone structure. The clear sunlight reflected off its many windows.
"It went so fast," Luna whispered, softly, sounding uncharacteristically reflective and serious.
"Because of our good friends," Neville said, pulling Ginny close again. "And because we stood up for what we knew was right, all along."
"Well…maybe not all along," Harry said, thinking of his many personal shortcomings. There were certainly things he wish he could have changed—how he treated his friends at times and other decisions that hadn't turned out so spectacularly, "but more than enough and when it counted."
"Any regrets?" Ginny wondered.
"That's inevitable, I think," Hermione answered, for all of them. "After all we've done and all we've seen, it would be impossible to leave here without regrets. However…I think we used the time we were given as best as we could."
"I agree," Neville said.
The six of them spent another two hours or so by the lake; as the sun sank toward the western horizon, they stood and brushed the sand from their clothes. There was a vivid streak of golden light, reflected from the setting sun, across the middle of the lake. They were bathed in the pale light and when they turned toward the castle, they saw its facade lit up in the same way.
"I suppose we should be getting on," Harry said, linking hands with Hermione and starting away from the lake with the rest. "Hermione's parents are expecting us for dinner."
Hugs were exchanged, tearfully in some cases, and soon enough the six of them stood in three distinct groups: Harry and Hermione, Ron and Luna, Ginny and Neville.
"Stay in touch," Luna said. "Try not to let the Nargles get to you."
"We'll try," Harry said, laughing good-naturedly. "Thanks Luna."
A charged silence passed briefly between all of them. Neville shuffled uncertainly on his feet.
"I guess this is time to say goodbye," he said.
"I think so," Hermione responded, quietly.
"See you soon!" Ginny said, and the couples parted. Neville and Ginny headed for the greenhouses so he could pick up one of his magical plants; Ron and Luna headed for the castle to finish packing; and Harry and Hermione headed for the gates so they could Apparate to her house.
All six looked back at different moments, watching as the others faded into the evening light. Hogwarts was behind them and they faced only the unknown future ahead. They all were hopeful it would bring happiness.