I've executed a bit of retcon. If you go back and look at Ep. 3 Ch. 4, you'll find that the portion of the story in which the Cullen family surprises the president has been removed. I find that it no longer fits with the flow of the story. I'm sure none of you will particularly miss it.

Okay, so it has been a while since I've updated, but I've been busy with important errands…and I had lost all inspiration for the story. But it came back! A lot! So, I now present to you a nice long with chapter with 2.5 times the content! There's a rub though….

This is also the epic finale!

Yes, this is the last chapter of the story, the final battle, the climactic finish to a semi-engaging tale. It's been quite ride, but I need a break from fan fiction for a while, and I didn't want to leave my faithful fans hanging. Don't think for a moment that I forced this, either. I'm actually quite happy with how this turned out.

So, grab a snack, turn on some music, and enjoy the final chapter of Why Dance When You Can Slay The Dragon?.



Episode Three

Chapter Six

I think I played a video game like this once….

"It feels weird."

"How so?"

"Just…I dunno, it's like my arm is wrapped in some kind of cloth or something."

"You'll get that," Leon said, holding out his own prosthetic arm and pulling back the sleeve to show Ginny. "The itch fades after a while, but you have to get used to the movement. Hold your arm out." He held his own out to demonstrate.

Ginny attempted to move her new arm, which immediately zipped upward, almost whipping into her face and jerking her shoulder with it.

"Ow," she muttered, and Leon hurried forward, gripping her wrist before she could move the arm in an attempt to correct herself.

"Careful now," he said, easing her arm back down to a more normal position. "The arm is moved only by magic, not nerves and stuff, so it's gonna be a little sensitive to instructions before you get the hang of it."

Ginny nodded, staring contemplatively at the stark white skin of the prosthetic before lifting her hand carefully, she succeeded in holding her arm out in front of her before the limb gave a slight spasm, at which time she let it drop so as to avoid further injury.

"Good job," Leon said, smiling at her as she flexed her fingers. "I broke my nose the first time I tried moving mine, so you're doing better than me, at least."

Ginny smiled at Leon, letting a slight giggle as the doctor moved in to perform some final calibrations to the limb. "You actually broke your nose?"

"Oh, yeah," Leon said with a chuckle, staring out the window as he remembered. "Thing swelled up until it was the size of a grapefruit. And since I'm a righty, healing it was difficult without injuring myself even more."

Ginny was grinning now, and Leon bopped her in the shoulder with his fake arm. "Don't worry. Before you know it, you won't even notice any difference."

"Thank you, Leon," Ginny said as the doctor helped her stand. "For…everything. Saving my life and helping me with…this," she carefully held the arm up. Leon ruffled her hair, and she smiled at him, her heart pounding as she contemplated what she'd been wanting to do since Leon had arrived this morning.

"Glad to help," Leon said, and Ginny took a tentative step toward him, steeling herself before wrapping her arms around him in a hug, taking care not to crush him with her prosthetic. Leon chuckled and she felt a hand on the back of her head, stroking her hair for just a moment. "All right," he said. "Just don't let Emily catch you doing that. She might get jealous."

Ginny laughed before pulling away, smiling up at him. "Sorry," she said, dropping her arms to her sides. Her right arm twitched again, flexing involuntarily. "I, um…sorry."

Leon grinned, and she felt her face heat up. "No worries. Sometimes you just need a hug, right?"

His watch beeped at that moment, and he glanced at it. "Shit," he muttered. "I gotta go. The Order's having a meeting to finalize plans to defend Hogwarts."

Ginny pouted as Leon pulled away from her. "Why can't I help? Even Harry and Ron and Hermione get to help fight."

"They've been moved to Hogwarts for their own safety," Leon explained. "We don't know if Denson will be targeted again, so Dunlap's not safe anymore. They won't be fighting, though, not if we can help it. You're safe here in Phoenix, and I intend to keep it that way."

Ginny sighed, and Leon grinned again, playfully bopping her on the head. "Look, just stay here, get better, and behave. For me."

Ginny felt a pang at those words. "Fine," she muttered, and Leon let a short laugh.

"That was easy," he observed, and Ginny stuck her tongue out at him. Leon laughed, giving her a little wave.

"Until we meet again," he said, stepping backward and disappearing in a wisp.

At least he knew how to make an exit, Ginny allowed, as she scooted back into her bed.

……

"So, here's what we know," Madame Bones said, nodding at a large holographic screen that had been erected in the Great Hall where the staff dining table had once been. "Shortly before the Ministry was captured, we planted a large amount of magical probes within the halls," she gestured at the screen, which displayed a floor map of the Ministry and showed many dots scattered throughout. "They were enchanted with simple sound recording spells. Basically, they were designed to enable us to listen in on the enemy if the Ministry were ever to be captured. It goes without saying that we'd hoped to never need them.

"Riddle and his cohorts discovered quite a few of these probes," Bones went on, and many of the dots disappeared, "but they missed one in the Minister's office and in a few other key places. With the help of these probes, we've learned that he plans to attack the day after tomorrow. We've already evacuated all non-combat personnel, leaving you." She nodded out at the assembled troops, who were crammed into the already cavernous hall. She was pleased with the number of troops present, at least.

"Now, we believe Riddle will want to use his vampires as shock troopers. For that, we've developed…."

……

"The TanakaCo HI Unit, Mk. 1," the lead technician, Alex Tatsumiya, explained to Kingsley, who looked in amazement at what appeared to be suits of armor designed for cave trolls. Dozens of dozens of the things packed the newly refurbished Chamber of Secrets, and a team of seven "technicians" were performing calibrations on them using mundane tools.

"And…what is it?" Kingsley asked, peering closely at one of him. To his utter shock, it sprang to life, hundreds of small parts whirring and clanking as it turned to stare at him with a single glowing blue eye.

"CIVILIAN," it said in an inhuman monotonous voice, "STEP AWAY! THIS UNIT IS ARMED WITH THE LATEST FIRE-BASED WEAPONRY AND IS DANGEROUS IF NOT HANDLED BY A LICENSED TANAKACO ROBOTICS TECHNICIAN!"

Kingsley stared, and Alex chuckled. "Well, the human interaction programming is working just fine. HI Unit," he said, and the beast turned to stare at him, "begin firearms test protocol."

"CONFIRMED, FIREARMS TEST PROTOCOL. EXECUTING COMMAND."

The beast turned and walked past Kingsley, each step causing the ground to shudder slightly as it moved. Alex spoke to Kingsley.

"Recently, TanakaCo had a breakthrough in magical AI, or artificial intelligence," he said, leading the Minister to follow the beast. "Coupled with a magic-based motion system and the latest mundane guidance technology, we've be able to create robotic soldiers."

"Robotic…?" the word was foreign to Kingsley, and Alex nodded.

"Like a metal creature with a computer for a brain," he said. "This one is modeled loosely after a Himalayan Mountain Troll and has dual wrist-mounted – "

Whump-BOOOOOM! Alex's comment was cut off as the robot raised its right arm, firing a large ball of flame at the far wall, and even several yards back, Kingsley felt the heat. Just as Kingsley was about to try and speak, the robot lowered its arm and raised the left one.

Whump-BOOOOOOM! The other ball of flame was just as large, only serving to enlarge the rather sizable black mark left on the wall by the first.

"WRIST MOUNTED INCENDIARY PROJECTILES TEST COMPLETED. NOW TESTING CHEST-MOUNTED INCENDIARY PROJECTILES," the robot said. "CIVILIANS ARE ADVISED TO ACTIVATE FIRE SHIELDS OR CLEAR A FIFTY YARD RADIUS. FIVE…FOUR…."

"Ah," Alex said, pulling out his wand and waving it in a simple swirling motion. "Watch this shit."

"ONE."

Ploomp…WHOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAMMMM!!!

The robot disappeared amidst a ball of flame, which stopped abruptly at an invisible barrier just ten feet in front of Kingsley.

"Effective radius is one hundred forty feet," Alex said with a grin, and Kingsley nodded, duly impressed. Alex lowered the barrier as the fire faded, revealing the robot standing right in front of them. Alex addressed it, "HI Unit. Weapons inventory."

"THIS UNIT IS EQUIPPED WITH TWO WRIST-MOUNTED FIRE CANNONS, CHEST MOUNTED PROJECTILE INCENDIARY EXPLOSIVE DEVICE, AND LASER OPTICAL WEAPON. WEAPONS ARE RUNNING AT ONE-HUNDRED PERCENT CAPACITY. THIS UNIT IS COMBAT READY, SIR!"

"If vampires are weak against fire," Alex said, "we'll give 'em fire."

……

"Just fire, sir?"

"Well, this ain't just an Incendio spell," General Lowes said, holding up what appeared to be nothing more than a hunting rifle. "This is fiendfyre. This is not an ordinary flame. You don't fire this stuff, you release it. Observe."

He held up the rifle and pulled his wand out of his pocket, sliding it into the stock before placing it against his shoulder. He turned to aim in the general direction of the Forbidden Forest, peering through the scope and squeezing the trigger.

A huge ball of flame flew out of the end, morphing in midair to form into a tiger before it landed weightlessly on the floor, tethered to the barrel of the gun by a thin rope of flame. It roared soundlessly, the rushing of the flames the only noise it made. General Lowes moved the gun, and the tiger leaped across the grass, pawing at the ground. He slid something on the side of the weapon, and the tiger shrank back into a ball of flame before retracting back into the gun.

"Concentration is of the utmost importance when using fiendfyre," he said to the assembled soldiers. "Lose control, and you get burned, no pun intended."

A nervous chuckle rang from the crowd as two men passed out rifles identical to the one Lowes had used.

"Ready, then?"

……

"Aw, can't I stay just a little longer?" Hermione asked, sounding very much like a child in the toy aisle of a shopping center.

"Hermione, the library will still be here tomorrow," Harry said with a grin, and Hermione blushed. "And it's not like we have classes to keep us from dropping by whenever we want."

"Let me finish this chapter, then," Hermione said. "It's about defensive spells used by eleventh century Chinese warlords in their battle against Taiwanese invaders."

Harry was unsure of the exact location of Taiwan (not to mention exactly what had provoked them to invade magical China), but apparently Hermione found it important, so he plopped down in a seat next to her and rested his head on her shoulder as she read. She laughed and reached her free hand up to run her fingers through his hair, and he closed his eyes sighing.

"You can read as long as you want if you keep that up," he said, and Hermione giggled.

"Deal," she said, twitching a lock of his hair. Harry moved against her shoulder and kissed her neck, just below the jaw line. She sighed contentedly, turning to kiss him and closing her book.

"Well, I suppose the Chinese warlords can wait," she whispered, and Harry grinned.

"They can keep themselves occupied," he said. "They have a country to defend."

……

"And I think we'll do a damn good job of it," Leon said, lounging in a chair in Kingsley Shacklebolt's office. "Between the robots, armored shock troopers, and those turrets the Japanese are developing, I'd say we stand a pretty good chance."

"Don't get complacent," Kingsley said, standing with his back to Leon and staring out the great window in the headmaster's office. Outside, the great lake was just visible, the surface flat like glass, showing a prefect reflection of the crescent moon. "The fight hasn't even started yet." Leon nodded, and Kingsley turned away from the window, regarding the principal with a critical eye. He didn't know much of the young man, only that he was a capable teacher and quite a skilled fighter, and he was fiercely protective of his students, including Harry and his friends. "You said you had something to tell me?"

"Kinda," Leon shrugged. "You mentioned at the last meeting that Riddle may have made horcruxes." Kingsley nodded, and he continued. "I think we should tell Harry about them."

Kingsley paused, considering those words. "I know we're supposed to be under a 'no secrets' policy with him, but…what could be gained from Harry knowing about horcruxes?"

"Harry and Riddle are connected," Leon said. "We know that. Between all of the dreams he's had over the years and his ability to see Riddle's plans, there's really no question. And, when those vampires attacked Denson, Harry read Riddle's mind, I'm sure of it."

"How are you so sure?"

"He knew Riddle sent the vampires," Leon said. "They never said a word about why they were there, but Harry knew. And I think, if Harry were told about the horcruxes – "

"He'd be able to pull their location from Riddle's mind the same as he did before," Kingsley interjected thoughtfully, staring contemplatively at the blank portraits all around them. "It's a stretch, but desperate times call for desperate measures. We should tell him as soon as possible."

Leon nodded, grinning. "I'll go get him," he said, standing. "I'm pretty sure I know where they are."

……

There they were, in the library, and books were quite the last thing on her mind.

Her primary concern was the pair of piercing green eyes currently staring into hers as a hand slid behind her back, expertly releasing the clasp of her bra. Said hand then proceeded to toss the flimsy garment aside and give some much needed attention to her right breast.

"Oh…" Hermione gasped, and Harry's lips ghosted across hers. She quickly returned the kiss, eagerly deepening it, and Harry made a small laughing noise against her mouth. She pulled away, looking quickly around the darkened library. "What if we get caught?"

"What'll they do?" Harry said with a (very, very dashing) smirk. "Put us in detention?"

He had a point; currently, the last thing anyone in this castle wanted to do was something that went against Harry Potter's best interests. And currently, his best interests seemed to be certain parts of Hermione's anatomy.

"I suppose you have a…p-point," Hermione faltered slightly as his hand slid up her thigh, stopping at the hem of her skirt. "Don't stop," she whispered.

"Are you sure?" Harry asked, and she nodded. Harry hands shook as he slid them further up her thigh to the apex of her legs, and Hermione shuddered as his fingers lightly brushed her panties.

At which point, a small piece of paper folded into an origami swan fluttered around both of their heads, and for a comical moment, they followed its progress, frozen in their rather compromising position. The swan landed on Hermione's stomach and looked expectantly up at Harry, who finally unfolded himself from Hermione and took the letter, which reassembled itself in his hand. On it, Harry saw a rather simple scrawl that looked more like the work of an ink pen than a quill.

Whenever you two are finished, please report to Kingsley's office. There's something important to discuss.


Also, two tips:

1. If you're going to use the library for a private rendezvous, it's best to head to the back shelves. Much more privacy.

2. Try and learn a few contraceptive charms. That way, you don't have to worry about any little "accidents".

Oh, and you can bet Sirius is gonna hear about this.

Best wishes,

Leon

"Oh, I hate that man," Hermione said, already pulling her bra back on.

……

"Who are you talking about, Ginny?"

Ginny jerked awake at the sound of her mother's voice. She had dozed off and dreamt about…something…she couldn't even remember anymore.

"Oh…just dreaming," she replied. "Did you get some breakfast?"

Mum nodded, smiling at her. "Yes, I did. Your brothers are getting some food right now, and they'll be right up."

Ginny nodded, leaning back against the bed and staring down at her new arm. It still felt strange to look down at skin that was supposed to be slightly tanned (with a light spattering of freckles) and see this ghostly white "artificial skin", the doctor had called it. She flexed her fingers and worked the joints in her elbow, as the doctor had instructed she do, so as to adjust the arm to her preferred movements. It was getting easier; she barely missed knocking her bedside lamp down, but managed to stop herself.

"How does it feel?" Mum asked, and Ginny shrugged, noticing that her right shoulder moved almost in unison with the left.

"It's getting better," she said. "I think by tomorrow, I'll able to pick something up without shattering it." She smiled at her joke, and her mother chuckled.

"Well, dear, if you don't mind me leaving you alone, I have to use the loo," she stood, and Ginny nodded.

"The boys'll be back soon, you said," she said.

As her mother left, she settled back against her pillows, glancing over at the remote on her bedside table. Carefully as she could, she reached out with her right hand and gently grasped the remote.

Ker-SNAP!

"Son of a bloody bitch!" she hissed, glad her mother was out of earshot. Huffing and slumping back in her bed, she reached up to press the call button, lowering her hand when she saw someone enter her room.

He was dressed in the typical doctor garb, but something was…off. His face was inhumanly handsome and pale as fallen snow.

Her blood froze.

Not here…. Not again….

"Oh, my," the vampire said, a gentle smile on his face (though the calming effect was ruined by his blood red eyes). "It seems I've been found out already." Suddenly, he was at her side, too close; she could see every feature in his chiseled face. "We'll just skip the formalities and move to the part where I whisk you away."

……

A grinning Leon and an exasperated Kingsley awaited Harry and Hermione as they entered the former headmaster's office, along with Sirius and Remus, who were seated opposite the Minister with Leon.

"Sirius," Harry said. "Remus. I didn't know you two were here."

"Just arrived about an hour ago," Sirius said, grinning at Harry. "We would've come to see you, but Leon told us you were…busy."

Harry felt his face heat up, and Sirius burst into laughter, clapping his godson on the shoulder. "Way to go, pup!"

"Oh, shut up, Sirius," Hermione grumbled, plopping into a chair next to Remus. She, it seemed, was taking the development worse than Harry. "You wanted to talk to us, Minister?"

"Actually, yes," Kingsley said, glaring at Sirius and Leon as another chuckling fit threatened. "We wanted to ask you – "

BUZZ! BUZZ! BUZZ!

Everyone in the room looked wildly around as a buzzing sound filled the air around them, then back at Kingsley desk as a red phone setting on it rang. He picked it up.

"Kingsley. …How many? Vampires? …Damn. …Mobilize the robots and stick to the plan. If you need me, I'm on the walkie, frequency six."

He hung up the phone and looked at the assembled guests. "It seems Riddle has moved his plans up."

……

Elijah let an amused laugh as he listened to the sounds of the humans scrambling to ready themselves for the attack, as if they stood a chance.

"All right, everyone," he said, glancing at the other vampires. "Shall we eat?"

The other vampires nodded, some grinning, others stepping forward, their skin lighting up in the moonlight. Good. This would prove yet another distraction for the humans.

Whump-BOOOOOOOOM!!

Elijah only managed to jump out of the way as a ball of flame erupted to their right. He looked to the right to see about five large metal…trolls…making their way toward the assembly.

"What the blazes?" Peter said from directly behind him.

"Scatter," Elijah said, and they spread out as fast as their vampiric speed would allow.

"TARGETS IN MOTION," a monster said. "INITIATING TRAJECTORY AUTO-CORRECTION PROGRAMMING. INITIATING MAGICAL ACCELERANT MODULE. ENEMIES OF THE I.D.E.A! PREPARE TO BURN!"

Whump-BOOOOOOOM! Whump-whump BOOOBOOOOOOOOOOM!

The air was filled with explosions as Elijah dodged and dodged, coming to a halt to launch an attack on the metal beasts, only to be stymied by another as it launched a fire attack at them.

"Swarm one of them!" Elijah yelled. "We'll take them down one at a time!"

Elijah ran at a beast, accompanied by Peter, Lewis, and Arianna. With a jolt, he realized that the other four of his company had been incinerated already.

"FRONTAL ATTACK DETECTED!" the beast said in that strange monotonous voice, a plate moving aside on its chest to reveal what appeared to be a small cannon. "FIRE CHEST PROJECTILE!"

Ploomp…WHOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAMMMMM!!

And Elijah knew no more.

……

"Any action yet?" General Lowes asked, stepping into the Minister's office. Two men flanking the door sprang to a salute, and he waved them off.

"Those robots have eliminated what we think was a scouting party," Kingsley said. "I'm surprised. We didn't even lose any of them."

"Gotta hand it to those Japanese," Lowes said, moving to stand next to Kingsley as he surveyed a large holographic map of Hogwarts. "How are our defenses?"

"Sniping teams are in place," Kingsley said, gesturing at the various towers and turrets around the castle, "and defense teams are set up on each of the walls. The robots are patrolling the grounds and are under orders to eliminate unauthorized personnel on sight."

"Excellent," Lowes said, eyeing the diagram. "What are these passages leading out of the castle?"

"Secret passages," Kingsley said with a small laugh. "Apparently the founders had them built as a quick escape in the event that the castle was taken over. Harry actually told us about them."

"They've been blocked?"

"Naturally," Kingsley said. "We caved them in as soon as possible and set up a robot in each one for good measure."

"Great," Lowes said, looking puzzled as five large red dots appeared on the map, many smaller ones swarming around them. "What are those?"

"Minister!" a voice came over the intercom next to the map. "Giants! I count…four…five! And dementors! A ton, at their feet!"

"Send out the choppers," Kingsley said. "Have the patronus casters sent to the front line."

"Yessir," the voice said, and the line cut out.

"And Potter?" Lowes asked. Kingsley smiled.

"He's under the finest protection available."

……

"I feel like I should be out there fighting," Sirius said, and Leon chuckled.

"Be my guest," he said, unsheathing his sword and eyeing the blade. "I've had enough vamps to last me a lifetime."

"I bet I could take 'em," Sirius said, and Leon smirked, holding up his right arm.

"Yeah, and you might only lose an arm."

Currently, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Sirius, Remus, Leon, and Emily were all sitting in what used to be the Slytherin common room. Sirius, it seemed, was becoming restless.

"So, why the sword?" Sirius asked, nodding at the blade. Leon let a single laugh.

"Long story," he said. "I'll tell ya later."

Sirius said something else, but Harry didn't hear it; he didn't hear anything. Instead, a rushing sound filled his ears, like he was underwater. He blinked, and suddenly, he wasn't in the Slytherin common room anymore….

"My Lord, your guest has arrived."

"Ah, very prompt," Harry felt himself saying, in a voice that was so cold, he almost felt a chill run down his spine. "Show her in."

Harry turned around and saw Wormtail exit the room. Moments later, a ghostly pale man entered the room, toting a girl with flaming red hair.

Ginny! Harry wanted to shout, but it seemed he didn't have control of himself. Ginny was still wearing her hospital gown, her pale new arm glowing almost as much as the vampire's.

"Harry," he found himself saying. "I know you can see this just as clearly as I've seen many of your actions in the past weeks."

"Let me go!" Ginny shouted, and Harry felt himself pull out a wand.

"Stupefy," he hissed, and Ginny fell unconscious. "Now, if you want your friend returned, go to the Shrieking Shack in Hogsmeade in one hour. You'll receive further instruction there. Oh, and Harry…. Don't be late. I don't know how long I can keep this young lady secret from my men, and I know they would love to meet her."

The rushing sound filled his ears again, and he heard shouting.

"Harry! Harry, wake up!"

Harry blinked his eyes open, and he was back in the common room, now lying on the couch he had previously been sitting on. Someone had removed his glasses; he looked blearily around, blurry figures making their way around his field of vision in the distance, he heard Leon arguing with someone.

"He's awake!" Hermione's voice said, and Harry felt someone hand him his glasses. He slid them on and sat up. "Easy, slowly." Hermione helped him sit up, and he looked at the scared faces around him.

"You okay?" Sirius asked, and Harry nodded. He was shaky, and he felt a cold sweat on his forehead, but this was nothing new.

"Y-yeah, I'm alright," he said, then remembered his dream. He stood quickly, swaying as he did, and Sirius steadied him. "Ginny! Riddle has her!"

"What?" Ron asked sharply, moving forward. "Was that what you dreamed about?"

"In the dream, I…I was Riddle," Harry said, straining to keep the dream with him. "A vampire brought Ginny in, and Riddle said…. He knew I was there. He said that I needed to be at the Shrieking Shack in an hour or Ginny…. He said his men would love to meet her."

Ron looked revolted, and Leon snapped his phone shut in the background.

"She's not in her hospital bed," he said, opening the phone again and dialing at lightning speed. He placed it against his ear. "Sean. Listen, get some of our guys together and search the hospital. Check the security cameras and look for portkey traces. Ask if anyone remembers seeing any new doctors, nurses, suspicious guests, the whole gamut. …Bye."

"Are we going to Shrieking Shack?"

"Yeah," Leon said, gripping the hilt of his sword. "But not unprepared."

……

Captain Aaron Denmark had flown many missions that could be classified as "unusual" in his life. He'd covered the extraction of a Saint Bernard in Kuwait because it had swallowed a microchip with highly classified documents, chased down a prototype chopper after a lead engineer had gotten drunk and hijacked it (the engineer was now serving a life sentence in an undisclosed military compound), and even rescued a woman and her six pet cows from certain doom during the flooding following a hurricane.

This, however, took the proverbial cake.

"And to think, I was gonna retire to the desk after the hurricane," he muttered to his gunner, First Sergeant Nate Mutti. "Now I'm defending a magical school against a giant."

"Five, actually," his gunner corrected him. "Incoming hand!"

Aaron veered to the right, bringing the chopper around. "Lock onto its head and fire a missile. We'll find out how tough these things are."

"On it," the First Sergeant said.

Roughly a month ago, Aaron, along with several other renowned pilots, had been contacted by an organization calling themselves IDEA, asking if they were willing to fly some of the most dangerous missions they would ever encounter. The pay was high enough to promise Aaron an early retirement and a very comfortable existence for the rest of his days, as well as a university education for all three of his children, so he agreed to hear what they had to say.

That was when things got weird….

He'd been rather abruptly introduced to this "magical world" by the arrival of a "house-elf" named Jocko, who introduced him to the British Minister for Magic. Apparently, his flying prowess was good enough to merit the breaking of a "Statute of Secrecy".

And now, he was flying an enchanted AH-64D "Apache" helicopter and fighting against a giant, as were several other pilots that he was at least acquainted with.

"Firing missile," Mutti said, and they watched the homing missile arc through the air and collide with the giant's head, detonating. The giant reeled back, falling to the ground, its head ripped to shreds.

"Yes!" the First Sergeant said, and Aaron reeled the chopper around to start in on another giant. As they fixed the giant in their sights, something flitted across the domed window, and Aaron jumped.

"What was…?"

He didn't get a chance to finish his question, as a black…thing latched itself onto the cockpit, sucking in a ragged breath that even Aaron could hear.

"AAAAAAAHHH!" Mutti screamed. "What the hell is that thing!?"

"I dunno, but I'm shaking it off," Aaron said, his hands shaking as he gripped the steering mechanism. When did it get so cold in here? As he executed a simple spinning maneuver, another creature latched itself onto the cockpit, which was now frosting over.

"Shit! Get on the radio!"

"Control, this is Red Four, something's latched onto our cockpit! It's black, and it looks like it's wearing some kinda cape!"

"Copy, Red Four," a voice came over the radio. "Sit tight, reinforcements are en route."

Even as Control said this, a silvery glow appeared on the left side of the cockpit, growing steadily brighter until Aaron had to squint to see through it. What seemed to be some sort of silver creature was driving off the black caped ones.

"Red Four, Control, do you copy?"

"Copy, Control. Hostiles driven off. Thanks."

"Don't mention it," the voice said, and Aaron rolled his eyes, swinging the chopper back on course.

Frickin' magicians.

……

Even in Hogsmeade, Harry could still hear the echoes of the battle, the giants' roars, the steady thumping of the helicopters' blades, and the intermittent explosions as missiles were launched. Somehow, he felt detached from the whole thing as he ascended the steep hill to the Shrieking Shack, the others in tow. To him, this epic battle was nothing more than a mingling of sounds, and he had his own fight. They stopped just out of sight of the building, Leon and Sirius peering through the trees.

"I don't see any Death Eaters or vampires," Leon said, looking at Sirius.

"I doubt he'd want to spring a trap here," Sirius said, turning back to the group. "Too close to reinforcements."

"So, what's the plan?" Emily asked. Leon nodded at Hermione, who stepped toward Harry, drawing a necklace out of her pocket.

"This is a quick escape necklace, Harry," she said, reaching around his neck to do the clasp. She lingered for a moment, touching her forehead to his and giving him a kiss. "It has a cubic zirconium in it that I've programmed to transport you to my location. As soon as you see Ginny, get to her, grab hold, and say 'foxtrot'."

Harry cocked his head at the odd codeword, and Hermione seemed to read his mind.

"We needed a codeword you wouldn't accidentally blurt out, just in case," she said. Harry nodded, incapable of actually saying anything, and Hermione pulled away. "Don't get in over your head. Find out where Ginny is, get to her, and get out of there. "

Harry nodded again; he didn't fancy another duel with Riddle, even if he was getting rather good at it. He turned to face the Shrieking Shack, taking a deep breath and making for the front gate, which opened as soon as he reached it. Heart hammering, he stepped over the threshold.

Nothing happened. He continued forward, stepping over molehills and knots of tall grass, tripping once and almost falling. When he was almost to the shack itself, a creaking noise behind him made him jump, and he turned just in time to see the gate clank shut, latching itself securely.

A rustling sound, movement out of the corner of his eye. He turned and saw a shudder rippling through the tall grass heading, toward him. He raised his wand, ready to defend himself when he felt something contact his back.

The world around him seemed to dissolve as he felt that familiar sensation of a hook being latched behind his navel, and he was hurtling forward to whatever destination Riddle had planned for him.

……

He landed on grass, but he knew before he'd even moved that he was somewhere very different. The air smelled different here, cleaner, and there was a slight breeze where there had been none before. He stood up and gasped at what he saw. Before his eyes sat a ruined house, covered in ivy and clearly rundown in its age. It would have looked like any abandoned cottage save for the gaping hole in the top right of the place, evidence of a terrible conflict. Harry didn't know why, but his heart hammered as he took in the sight of this place.

To his right was a sign:

On this spot, on 31 October 1981,

Lily and James Potter lost their lives.

Their son, Harry, remains the only wizard

ever to have survived the Killing Curse.

This house, invisible to Muggles, has been left

in its ruined state as a monument to the Potters

and as a reminder of the violence

that tore apart their family.

On the sign, all around the neatly written letters, were various well-wishings from other magic-users who had passed through this place, hoping to see the spot where the great and terrible Lord Voldemort had met his first defeat; a defeat unknowingly orchestrated by himself.

"A place full of memories for the both of us, isn't it, Harry?"

The voice chilled Harry to the bone, and he turned, his hand gripping his wand, freezing at what he saw.

"Dumbledore?" he asked, and the new arrival let a high-pitched laugh that made the hairs on Harry's neck stand on end.

"Not anymore, I'm afraid," he said. "The Albus Dumbledore that you know is long gone, and as my own form suffered a minor setback, I was forced to use this one."

The new Dumbledore had dispensed of his long hair and beard, the bald look only serving to accent his long, crooked nose. The eyes were the same bright blue shade, though they shared Riddle's signature slit-like pupils. The transformation was completed by a long, flowing black robe.

"Where's Ginny?" Harry asked, refusing to be sidetracked by the fact that his former headmaster and arch nemesis now seemed to be one and the same.

Dumbledore-Riddle leered. "Not distracted by anything, Harry?" he said, and Harry suppressed a shudder at his voice; it sounded like a horrible mix of Dumbledore's soft-spoken tones and Riddle's high-pitched hiss of a voice. "She'll be here soon enough. And unfortunately for you, you won't be managing any daring escapes this time." As he said this, Riddle raised a hand and gave it a wave, and Harry's necklace flew from around his neck and into Riddle's hand. "Really, I'm surprised at how little forethought your friends gave this little scheme before sending you to your death."

Harry watched as Riddle crushed the necklace in his grip, letting the pieces drop to the ground. There went his escape, Harry thought, gripping his wand tighter. No matter. Sirius had been attempting to teach him how to apparate; no better time than the present to attempt a field test.

"Now, let's bring out the guest of honor," Riddle said, and in a blur of color, Ginny staggered into view, stumbling and falling to the ground, her hands bound. She was still wearing her flimsy hospital gown, and she looked terrified but otherwise intact.

"What did you - ?"

"Oh, I wouldn't worry about what's been done to her," Riddle said, pulling out his wand. "I'd be more concerned about – "

BAMM!

……

Blackness….

Cold….

Tired….

Sleep now….

Sleep, Harry Potter…. There's no need to trouble yourself with this world anymore. Rest. You can stay here and sleep forever.

Sleep? Why would he want to sleep? There was a battle to be fought.

The fight is won. Don't worry. The war is finished. Your work is over. Now sleep.

Something was wrong. The voice (if there could be a voice without sound) made him…nervous.

Sleep, Harry. Here, in this comfortable between, forever.

"NO!"

With a great effort, Harry forced his eyes open, jerking to a sitting position.

But he wasn't in Godric's Hollow anymore. He didn't know where he was, if he was anywhere….

He was lying on a white marble platform roughly fifty feet in diameter. The marble was slightly warm to the touch, as though it had been in the sun all day, which was odd; there was no sun to speak of. Around the edge of the platform, stationed at ten foot intervals, were thick, white stone pillars supporting a huge stained glass window nearly a hundred feet above him. The window itself depicted a golden ring, a silver locket, an ornate cup, a crown of some sort, and a coiled snake, all situated in a circle around a black figure. The significance of these items was lost on Harry. The sky outside the pillars was pitch black, dotted with stars.

"Well, hello, Harry," a chilling voice said, and Harry turned abruptly, gasping at what he saw.

It was himself. But more shocking was the thing in his other self's arms; he'd seen that creature once before, on a dark, cold night in a faraway graveyard, a night he'd rather forget. The primordial Lord Voldemort looked the same; the same reddened skin, the same slit-like eyes, the same child-sized body. The Harry doppelganger showed no signs of revulsion or even awe at the thing in his arms. Indeed, he showed no emotion at all. The green eyes carried a hollow, deadened look, like a doll made to seem human.

"Ah, this," the primordial Voldemort said, gesturing at the Harry copy with a tiny, malformed hand. "This is the fragment of my soul that resides in your body."

"What are you talking about?" Harry asked, surprisingly calm at this revelation. He realized he should be shocked at the fact that he shared a fragment of Voldemort's soul, but something about it felt…fitting.

"You know, Harry," Voldemort said. "You know for the same reason that I do. Because Dumbledore had deduced the fact."

"Because of the…magical introspection," Harry said. "I didn't just take a look at my life…I looked at Dumbledore's…and yours."

Riddle nodded. "Very good. At that single point, the three of us became one, in mind at least. It was a blunder on my part, I'm afraid. I was yet unaware that part of my soul was in you, and I'd already taken Dumbledore as a horcrux. The rest, as they say, is history."

"So, what now?" Harry asked. "Where are we?"

"Haven't you figured it out yet?" Voldemort asked, his voice condescending, his nonexistent lips turned up in a leer. "This, Harry, is the gateway to your mind. You, or rather this projection of you, are the last defense against me. When I defeat you, your mind is forfeit."

Instinctively, Harry reached for his wand, only to find that he didn't have one. Where was his wand?

"I'm afraid magic won't do you any good here, Harry," Voldemort said. "This is a battle of souls. And I have backup."

The Harry puppet snapped his fingers, and a hissing sound echoed throughout the chamber. Harry watched as Voldemort's snake, Nagini, he recalled, slithered to the Harry doll's feet, carrying three items. The first was a locket, which was hanging loosely from the creature's neck, along with what looked like a crown. In its mouth, it held the handle of a cup. Harry instinctively glanced up at the stained-glass window in the ceiling.

"Made the connection, have you?" Voldemort said, and Harry looked back at him. "Yes, these are my horcruxes. I'm laying all my cards on the table, as the muggles say. Know this, Harry. Should you destroy any of these horcruxes, they will be destroyed on the outside as well. I tell you this because you have no hope of accomplishing such a feat."

Harry watched as the three horcruxes floated into the air, thick green smoke billowing around them. The smoke grew until the separate clouds were nearly bigger than Harry, then began to solidify, first obscuring the horcruxes, then forming into creatures.

The cup horcrux formed into what looked like an animal, the green smoke taking on a yellow hue and gaining the texture of fur; a massive canary yellow badger with glowing red eyes. It eyed Harry, pawing the marble floor in anticipation.

The necklace formed into a snake, though it was much bigger than Nagini, nearly sixty feet long. Harry had a brief flashback to his encounter with the basilisk; this creature bore enough of a resemblance. The only difference seemed to be the eyes. The normally yellow eyes of the basilisk were the same glowing red as the badger's.

Harry knew what to expect with the crown. Sure enough, the smoke changed from green to blue, forming into a monstrous eagle, which stared down at Harry with the same glowing red eyes.

"Breathtaking, aren't they?" Voldemort said, and Harry looked to see his copy setting the baby Voldemort next to Nagini, who coiled around her master like some horrifying pet. "I only wish they could do this on the outside."

"I'll bet," Harry muttered. Voldemort certainly had a flair for the dramatic.

"So, Harry, is your soul strong enough to defeat all four of mine? Let's find out."

As one, the Hogwarts symbols and the Harry copy ran at Harry, the eagle swooping in first. Harry jumped to the side, tucking into a roll as he had learned in dueling practice. Unfortunately, he had no wand for a counterattack, so he could only dodge again as his copy swiped at him with a long, thin sword. Next, the badger came at him, swiping at him with claws far too long to be seen on a normal one. Harry ducked under the claws, spinning behind the beast as the eagle swooped in for another attack, its talons raking across Harry's arm, though he felt no pain at the impact.

Dodging a flurry of swipes from his clone, Harry spun to the side and grabbed the copy's arm, twisting it in an effort to disarm him. The clone seemed to have quite a grip, though, as he spun away from Harry's attack and nearly impaled him, but Harry ducked under the thrust.

I can't keep dodging like this! Harry said, leaping out of the way of the massive snake as it struck at him. But how can I match Voldemort in a duel? He so much more powerful, even with all the training I've had!

He stumbled over the snake's tail as he dodged another swipe from his clone's sword, falling back. As the snake reared back for what was sure to be the final strike, Harry squeezed his eyes shut, thinking of Hermione, of how he'd never be able to see her again, never be able to say goodbye or how much he loved her….

CLANG!!

That wasn't the right sound, he mused, as he opened his eyes.

"What?"

Before him stood what could only be described as a knight in shining armor, standing roughly eight feet tall, complete with a gleaming sword and a shield emblazoned with a stylized heart. Its sword was currently impaled in the roof of the serpent's mouth in an uncanny recreation of Harry's slaying of basilisk in his second year.

The knight gripped the sword and pulled it towards him, slicing the basilisk's head right up the middle and sending a blood spray that turned to red smoke and dissipated in thin air. The snake let out a shrill cry and coiled in on itself before evaporating similarly, its shrieks echoing even as the locket contained within it clattered to the ground. Simultaneously, Harry and his clone glanced at the locket before dashing for it. Harry's knight ran alongside him, and Harry did the first thing that came to his mind; he gave a command to it.

"Block him!" he shouted, and the knight raised its shield, dashing at the Harry clone and shoving him aside. Harry grabbed the locket, looking up as a horrible sound pierced his ears.

TSEEEEEER!!

The eagle! Harry pulled another dodge roll as the eagle flew by, its wingtips just grazing his shoulders. As his knight ran past him in pursuit of the eagle, Harry stared at the locket, unsure of what to do. How did he destroy a horcrux?

Not the horcrux, he realized. The battle's all symbolic. This is the actual piece of Voldemort's soul. And a whole soul crushes a fragment any day.

And he did just that; he squeezed with all his might, crushing the locket within his fist. His nails dug at his palm, and he gritted his teeth at the effort. The locket began to pulse, which quickly increased in tempo as Harry clutched tighter, until finally he felt a snap. He opened his fist to reveal the locket snapped clean in two, the pieces dissolving into smoke and floating away.

"NOOOOO!" Voldemort hissed, and Harry looked at him with a grin.

"Your need for immortality was your undoing, Tom," he said. "All you've done is broken your soul into bite size pieces for easy destruction."

"KILL HIM!" Riddle screamed at his remaining fragments. Harry's knight was back at his side, sword drawn. Harry found himself again thinking of Hermione, of how many times she'd been his knight in shining armor. Not in the literal sense, but by simply being there for him, saving his skin, helping him with the dragon in the Triwizard Tournament, and just generally being the girl he loved.

The knight ran forward, sword held at its side, and brought it up in a clean swipe at the badger, which dodged the blow. Bringing the sword up for another swing, the knight raised its shield as the Harry clone ran at it, and the clone's blade bounced off the shield. The badger leaped, and the knight spun, cleaving its head clean off. The separate pieces continued to fly, eventually dissipating in a puff of smoke. There was a clatter as the cup bounced to the floor, and Harry ran for it, aware of a rushing sound behind him. He skidded to a halt, grabbing the cup, and turned just in time to see his knight leap into the air, sword raised above its head, and bring its blade down on the eagle, which had been pursuing him. Seconds later, the crown fell to the ground, and Harry scooped that up, too, crushing both fragments in the same manner as the first.

"How is this possible!?" Riddle screamed as the Harry clone circled warily, the only combatant left. Harry looked at his knight, who was matching the clone's every movement. He noticed, for the first time, that the heart on the knight's shield was dimly glowing white.

Symbolic…. A heart…. Love….

The knight had appeared when Harry had been thinking of Hermione, of how much he loved her, and it had seemed to gain a power boost when he thought of her again.

But he will have power the Dark Lord knows not….

The words of the prophecy Kingsley had shown him came back to him. What if this power…was love?

He thought of Sirius, how much he loved the man who was like a father, his father's best friend; of Remus, and how the three of them had had a bond close as brotherhood; of Ron, and how he shared a similar bond with his best friend; of Hagrid, the first friend he had ever known in his entire life, who had introduced him to the this wonderful new life; of Hermione, his first true love, and how very much she meant to him, how he couldn't bear to live apart from her; of his Mum and Dad, and how despite having never met them, he loved them most of all, for their sacrifice, for their unwavering love and their willingness to brave death itself to ensure his continued life….

"What is this!?" Voldemort screamed as the knight's shield shone like a beacon. It raised its sword high above its head and brought it down with a thunderous impact, sending out a massive shockwave that obliterated the Harry clone on impact. The knight turned to the Riddle baby and the snake. Riddle made to stand and exit the way he'd come in, but Harry moved forward, and suddenly he was blocking Riddle's exit. He reached down and picked up Nagini, who hissed at him, but he merely gripped the creature and pulled. The snake let a horrible hiss as Harry tore it in half, the pieces evaporating into smoke in his hands.

"This is impossible!" Riddle screamed. "I am Lord Voldemort! I have conquered death itself! Entire society's fear to speak my name! I can't be – !"

THOOM!

The small tyrant's rant was cut off, as was his head, by the knight, as it stabbed the Riddle baby through the neck, impaling its sword in the marble. Harry gave a nod of approval.

"Give him another stab, just to be sure," he said. The knight obliged, pulling its sword out of the marble and stabbing the now headless figure of Riddle in the chest, and the creature evaporated in a wisp of smoke. This left Harry and his knight standing alone in the strange "gateway", Riddle had called it.

"So…how do I get out of here?" he asked, looking at the knight, who shrugged, then looked up as a red shard of glass fell onto its head. Harry looked up as well, holding up his arm to block a much larger blue shard. The stained-glass window was cracking badly, more shards raining down on the two of them, until finally, with a shattering sound that echoed in the distance, the whole thing crumbled and rained on top of them, revealing a bright white light that grew brighter, brighter, blinding Harry….

……

Seen in the August 14 issue of the Daily Prophet:

Peace At Last!

by Killian Smythe

It's been two months since the epic Battle of Hogwarts, which is sure to go down in the annals of history alongside the battle of Dumbledore vs. Grindelwald and the first defeat of Tom Riddle. In those two months, it seems the wizard world has finally moved past the dark few months following Riddle's return to power.

No more details have arisen yet as to the circumstances of the Dark Lord's defeat, though the IDEA will confirm that specially trained units known as "snipers" were involved. Further research has revealed that snipers use muggle weapons known as guns to fire small lead bullets long distances. (For a full interview with former military sniper Josh Welks, see pg. 12).

As of yet, the fate of Harry Potter is unknown, though rumors and theories abound, many of them outlandish, some downright grim.

"In his case, no news is usually bad news," says classmate Blaise Zabini. "If he's not dead yet, he probably will be soon."

Another classmate, Cedric Diggory, is of a different opinion.

"Harry's strong," he says. "They probably haven't told anyone anything because there's nothing to tell. Maybe he was in a long battle, and he's just sleeping it off."

"There's no way Harry could be beaten!" says Colin Creevey, a friend of Harry's. "He probably crushed You-Know-Who and is relaxing in Hawaii or something!"

Harry's close circle of friends was unavailable for comment, though Molly Weasley, mother of Harry's close friend, Ron Weasley, had this to say:

"It's none of your business, so nose out."

(continued on pg. 4)

Seen in the August 15 issue of the Daily Prophet:

Mass Wizengamot Sentencing Leveled Today!

Eighteen Death Eaters Sentence to Life in Azkaban!

by Aluc West

In a landmark case last night, eighteen Death Eaters were tried and convicted of a slew of charges (for a full listing, see pg. 14) and sentenced to life in Azkaban prison. The full list of Death Eaters:

-Alden Avery

-Amycus Carrow

-Alecto Carrow

-Vincent Crabbe Sr.

-Antonin Dolohov

-Charles Gibbon

-Gregory Goyle Sr.

-Ivan Jugson

-Walden Macnair

-Lucius Malfoy

-Louis Nott

-Philip Mulciber

-Peter Pettigrew (see full story, pg. 22)

-Augustus Rookwood

-Thorfinne Rowle

-Sylus Selwyn

-Ivan Travers

-Gil Yaxley

The Death Eaters will be held in the newly reformed Azkaban prison, now under control of the TanakaCo Security Company, which employs "robots" (see pg. 23. This article continued on pg. 6)

Seen in the August 23 issue of the Daily Prophet.

Hogwarts to Reopen in September!

"Educational Reform" Cited as Key Goal by Headmistress Minerva McGonagall

by Lois Leyne

It's been a tumultuous year for Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry; between the disastrous Triwizard Tournament, the arrest and subsequent death of Albus Dumbledore, and the assault by Tom Riddle, no one expected the school to open so soon, if ever again.

However, despite people's expectations, Hogwarts will reopen as scheduled for the 1995-96 school year. New Headmistress Minerva McGonagall has stated that damage to the castle in the final assault was minimal.

"We've been working as hard as we can to ensure that Hogwarts is ready for classes in September," McGonagall said. "Barring any unforeseen circumstances, we should be fully operational in time for term to begin."

Among the changes being made to the school is the addition of a new recreational center.

"We've commissioned the finest construction workers from Japan to build a new recreational facility on the grounds," McGonagall said. "For far too long, the only place the students could relax was their own common rooms. To promote House unity, we've decided to give the students a place to mingle regardless of House association."

More changes are planned for the school and curriculum and will be outlined in a pamphlet sent along with this year's batch of Hogwarts letters.

"Isn't that great, Harry? I hear Leon's one of Professor McGonagall's top consultants in the reform project. Hogwarts will be better than ever this year."

Hermione set the newspaper down on the bedside table, reaching over to brush her boyfriend's bangs out of his face and smiling at him.

"And Colin thinks you're living it up in Hawaii," she giggled. "That'd be nice. Maybe we can actually go there someday. A nice beachside resort, golden sands, aqua-blue waters, and hula skirts and coconut bras," she added with another laugh.

She sighed, staring out at the bright sky.

"It's hasn't rained in a while," she said. "They've already banned hosepipes, and Channel Twelve's calling it the worst draught in the last twenty-five years. Dad's really disappointed because he hasn't been able to fill the pool yet this year. I keep telling him to just be glad he's back home. Dunlap was nice, but Mum was really starting to get homesick."

"Ginny finally went home today," she went on. "The doctors said to keep an eye on her, but she really seems to have gotten the hang of that arm of hers. She can even use the Bat-Bogey Hex again. The boys weren't too excited to find that out.

"Oh, and guess what? Sirius has a house! A big place in this dingy old street called Grimmauld Place. He wants to have it demolished, but Remus convinced him to clean it up. He says he might give it to Fred and George to use for their joke shop, at least until they can find premises in Diagon Alley. That would be nice, don't you think? I can't say I approve of their career choice, but it seems fitting.

"Ron and Valerie are together now," she rolled her eyes as she spoke. "I caught them snogging on her last visit to the Burrow. Apparently, Valerie asked him out, if you can believe that. I guess Ron has a lot to learn about girls. Mrs. Weasley's ecstatic, of course. I think she already has a wedding dress picked out for Val. I will admit, though, Valerie Weasley does roll off the tongue quite easily.

"Leon and Emily are getting married. He proposed after the battle." She giggled. "She said 'About time' and grabbed the ring from him. I guess those two are meant for each other. She asked me to be the maid of honor. She said she doesn't know many girls that well, and I was one of her favorite students. Leon's friend Sean is going to be the best man. Leon says he's…saving you a spot as a groomsman."

Hermione sniffed, her eyes shining as she spoke. "I wish you'd wake up, Harry. The doctors say there's nothing physically wrong with you. And…I miss you. Every day I have to go without your voice and your laugh and that crooked smile of yours that makes my heart just start beating like it's going to burst from my chest. I can't stand it. I can't…bear the thought that you might never wake up. I…I love you, Harry. If you wake up, I promise I'll tell you again and again, every day. I love you so much. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. They can say we're too young, but I don't care. I love you, Harry James Potter, and if you would just wake up and let me tell you in person, I'd be the happiest girl in the world."

Sniffing again, Hermione gripped Harry's shirt, burying her face in his chest and sobbing. She'd sworn that she would stay upbeat when she talked to Harry, but she couldn't contain it anymore, this anguish she felt at the prospect of a life without Harry.

She felt a hand run through her hair and stiffened. She hadn't heard anyone come in, and the only one who'd ever initiated such contact was….

"Harry…?"

"What's that thing they always do in fairytales? When the princess is lying in an enchanted sleep, the prince does something, but it's slipped my mind…."

Hermione looked in disbelief at Harry's face. His eyes were still shut, but his lips were quirked up in the slightest of smiles. She let noise between a gasp and a laugh.

"You're hardly princess material," she said, and Harry's smile grew slightly.

"Humor me."

Hermione's face broke into the biggest smile she could remember as she stood and leaned in, crushing Harry's lips with hers. She felt Harry's hand on her cheek and reached up to grasp it, holding it against her face as she pulled away. For the first time in what felt like an eternity, she looked into those gorgeous green eyes, which were gazing up at her in adoration.

"Welcome back, Harry," she said. Harry smiled.

"Great to be back," he said. "Oh, and I believe you made me a promise?"

Hermione laughed, leaning in to whisper in his ear. "I love you, Harry Potter."

"I love you, too, Hermione Granger."

Sadness? Hermione had never heard of such an emotion. No, sadness could not exist in a world where she loved Harry Potter and he returned these feelings in full force.

……

Anyone in King's Cross on the morning of September the first, 1995, would never be able to guess what had happened in the past year. The station was still crowded with the most unusual assortment of children with unusual pets and wearing unusual clothing, and no one was quite sure where these children went or what train they all took, if they were all even affiliated. Strangely enough, the conundrum never bothered anyone enough to worry about it once they left the station.

So no one would go on to dwell on the fact that a truly massive group of redheads and a few other assorted hair colors were making their way through the station, apparently in a bit of an argument over something.

"I just think it would be fun!" Sirius said. "I could go as Snuffles, and you could just introduce me as your pet dog!"

"Sirius, they don't allow dogs at Hogwarts," Harry countered. "An owl OR a cat OR a toad. Now, if you could somehow change into a cat, I bet I could manage something."

"It's impossible to have two separate animagus forms," Hermione said offhandedly. "The change is too complex for one person to be able to make multiple."

"You could probably convince McGonagall, though," Sirius said with a grin. "I mean, you defeated Tom Riddle! You should be allowed to bend the pet rules a little."

Harry looked at Hermione, who rolled her eyes. "Oh, I supposed the worst that can happen is you get sent home," she said Sirius, who pumped his fist in triumph.

"Yes!" he said, immediately reverting to his dog form and dashing for the barrier before security could spot an animal in the station. Hermione and Harry shook their heads, joining hands and pushing their trolleys after him.

Yes, it had been the craziest summer any of them had ever had, but with luck, the next year would prove to be decidedly more peaceful.

THE END


And just to help you come to terms with it, I'll even throw it in the author's note:

THE! END!

My, that was a long chapter. But, I like to think of it as a special two-hour finale episode, like they do with CSI and all that.

And now it's over. At least, this story is over. I'm sure other stuff is still going on. I'd like to thank all of my reviewers (all six hundred of them) for taking the time to show how much they appreciated this story (and in some cases, didn't appreciate it so much), and I'd especially like to thank Titanium Gold, for being an all-around cool guy and giving me some truly great advice in reviews, Scout-01 for the generally upbeat feedback (just so you know, the sniper that got Riddle was supposed to be a character named Scout Owens, but she got cut, sadly), and all of the other folks whose names I can't remember but generally helped me out with Brit-picking and military stuff.

And now I'll say goodbye for now, everyone. I'll probably end up going back through and doing some revising throughout the whole story, so come back in about a month, and you might notice a significant change.

Thank you all again!

--Lord Cargyle