Harry Potter and the One Ring of Power---Epilogue
Over a century after they had returned, Hermione looked around the familiar circular room. She had worked there for nearly sixty years, and she was very proud of all she had done in her time as assistant headmistress and then headmistress of Hogwarts. From re-vamping the curriculum to encouraging more inter-House contacts, she had more than accomplished what she had set out to do. By now, her ways were as set in stone as the existence of the Four Houses, since only the oldest students' parents remembered any other way.
Dumbledore had fallen before the last battle with Voldemort, and Professor McGonagall had taken over a shocked, grieving school. In the last fight, she had been badly hurt, and she had never been quite the same. After the destruction of Voldemort, she had resigned, and Snape had assumed the Headmastership.
Reluctantly, Hermione gave her old Potions master and sparring-partner a mental salute. Knowing the dark side as he did, Snape had been just the person to make sure that evil influences would be rooted out of Hogwarts, once and for all. He had called in Bill Weasley to help Harry Potter open the Chamber of Secrets again, so that it could be neutralized for all time. His own status as a Slytherin Old Boy had meant that the Slytherins accepted his alterations in the way things worked, where they would have balked at the same changes instituted by a non-Slytherin.
And, Hermione thought with an inward smile, he had talked her into trying teaching at Hogwarts "just for a year or so, Miss Granger; we're terribly shorthanded." The year had somehow stretched to two, and then on and on. Most importantly of all, he had thrown her together with the man she married---and at her wedding, no one had danced more enthusiastically! Of course, he was convinced that he had cunningly arranged it all…
She looked with affection at a picture on the wall, showing a grinning young wizard with red hair; it was draped with black in token of mourning. Even so long after she had lost her husband, she still mourned him. "I miss you every day, darling…" she murmured.
"Talking to your husband again?" Ron Weasley's voice broke in on her reverie. He crossed the room, standing beside his sister-in-law as they looked at the portrait. "I miss him too." His voice shook slightly as he looked at the picture of his brother. "Not a day goes by but I see something that reminds me of him."
"At least, he's with Fred now," Hermione pointed out, her voice suspiciously thick. "After his twin died, it was like he didn't want to go on, no matter how much he loved me and our children."
"I know," Ron replied, turning from the portrait with a visible effort and sitting in the chair that had been in front of the Headmistress' desk since Dumbledore's day and before. "Fred and George were joined in ways the rest of us never understood, and without his 'other half,' I think something inside him was broken. He never was the same after Fred went." He sighed. "I wish that my grandchildren could have known their Great-Uncles Fred and George. Gabrielle's family is very nice, but very, very proper, and I often think that Fred and George would be just the thing to liven up a family gathering with them."
Hermione suddenly smiled, the old smile that flashed across her face so quickly that if you weren't looking just at the right moment, you'd miss it. "Remember when we got back from Arda?"
Ron grinned reminiscently. "Do I ever! We tried to make it work between us, Hermione, but we were too close. It felt like incest. When you and George got interested in each other, it was almost a relief, to me, at least."
"To me, too." Hermione reached out and touched her brother-in-law's hand. "Have you ever thought that, maybe, it's time?"
"Time for the Gateway?" Ron nodded. "I've been thinking that for some time; all of us have risen to the top of our professions, and there aren't any honors we don't have. Our children---heck, our grandchildren---are grown and successful. There isn't anything more for us to do."
"Then I'll contact them. I'll write the letters, while you look in on your great-grandchildren and other descendants." As Ron headed out of the room, Hermione took out a quill and some parchment and sat down at her desk.
A few days later, they gathered in the headmistress' office. The Minister of Magic Emeritus, his hair long since gone snowy-white and his trademark scar still visible on his lined face, looked around at his closest friends. "I had managed to forget about the Gateway, but now that Hermione's brought it back to my attention, I honestly can't see why we shouldn't use it." His green eyes gleamed behind his glasses. "I agree with Ron---we've done everything there is to do. It's time for us to move aside, to let the next generations of wizards and witches accomplish things without having us there, inhibiting them just by having been and done so much."
"Well, this reward was part of what was promised us, after Sauron fell," observed Draco Malfoy, his narrow, clever face still hardly marked, even at the age of a hundred and thirty. "I'll miss a lot of things about this place, but, honestly, the young Aurors don't need me any more." He rubbed his side. "This old wound still pains me---and the wounds I've suffered since then aren't much better. The worst ones are up here." He pointed to his forehead, and they all knew what he meant. He still blamed himself for a lot of the deaths---Crabbe and Goyle, in particular, were ghosts that never left his side.
"And all of us have outlived our spouses, haven't we?" put in Hermione. "We're just rattling around, going through motions. Our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren don't really need us any more." She paused as a shadow passed across Draco's face. "I'm sorry, Draco. I know your loss is most recent of all of us."
"Without you---without all of you---I'd have wanted to throw myself on the pyre when we cremated Susan," said Draco. His tone was light, but Hermione had known him for over a century, and she could tell he was deeply in earnest. Susan Bones Malfoy had been Draco's wife for many decades, giving him strapping sons and heartbreakingly beautiful daughters, before what had seemed like an inconsequential illness had blossomed into a raging disease that consumed her while she still lived. Draco had done all he could, but even the Malfoy fortune and St. Mungo's best hadn't been good enough. Hermione's eyes teared at the memory of Draco, lighting his beloved wife's pyre with his wand, his eyes full of horror as at a nightmare he couldn't wake out of. She still vividly remembered how it had felt, lighting George Weasley's pyre, their children and grandchildren sobbing with her as she cast the charm.
"To put it bluntly, we don't have anything much keeping us here. Neville's a fine Assistant Headmaster, and he'll do wonderfully well as Headmaster." Harry began summing up. "Ron's got Gringott's in perfect order, and this new boy they've got as Minister of Magic in my room's doing wonderfully well. I agree---it's time we took our reward." He looked sad. "If Ginny were here, I'd want to stay on and give Valinor a miss, but…"
At that, Hermione got up and went to a hidden closet, pressing a spring to make it open out of the panelled wall it was hidden in. The hidden door opened, and she reached in, coming back to her friends with a familiar object.
"This brings back memories, doesn't it?" she murmured. It was the same Portkey they had used, so long ago, to travel to Middle-Earth and begin their greatest adventure. It was now inert, but it was still an object they all remembered very well. "I'd like to bring it along, just as a souvenir."
As she packed up the things she was going to take along, Hermione thought about what they were about to do. Gandalf had told them about this, back in the Houses of Healing, when they were recovering from their ordeals in Mordor.
"So you see, as Ringbearers, you have been granted a unique privilege among Men---to journey west to Valinor with the last of the elves to leave Middle-Earth. Their time is coming to an end, and they must either leave or dwindle and be forgotten."
"Let me see if I've got this straight," Harry had said, taking off his glasses to wipe them absently, a habit of his when he wanted to think. "We sail west with the elves, and in Valinor, we'll live on forever, in happiness. Is that it?" At Gandalf's nod, he put his glasses back on. "Tempting. Mighty tempting. Before we answer, though---what about Ron and Draco?" Hermione nodded vigorously; she was as concerned with that question as Harry was.
"Oh, they'd have to stay behind, either here in Middle-Earth or in your world. They never bore the One Ring, after all." As Hermione processed this, she felt anger kindling in her mind, and one glance at Harry told her that he was just as indignant.
"So, if I've got this straight, you're saying that Hermione and I can go off to this Valinor place---where you came from originally, if I understand correctly---but Ron and Draco would have to stay behind?" Harry's tone was light and conversational, but there was an edge to his voice that Hermione knew meant trouble ahead. While he was free of most of the nasty side-effects of the Ring, he had become far more commanding than he had been before he had borne it, and that effect showed no sign of lessening. "Tell me, Gandalf---what sort of people do you think we are?" The last bit came out in tones of icy rage that reminded Hermione of Professor Snape at his very worst. "Do you think, for one second, that we'll abandon our friends to death while we two skive off to some paradise where we can live forever?"
Hermione, for her part, was just as furious as Harry. "Gandalf, with all respect, unless Ron and Draco are included in this little offer---you can take that offer and shove it---" She subsided at a gesture from Harry, but she gave Gandalf a furious glare. How dare he suggest that she and Harry abandon their companions, their comrades-in-arms, their dearest friends in any world? She would have slapped anybody else who suggested any such thing, and only her residual respect for her elders held her back.
Gandalf seemed to be honestly shocked and surprised at their reaction to his revelation. "But, Hermione, Harry, you two bore the burden of the Ring, and they didn't. They---" At the expression on Harry's face, Gandalf trailed off.
"They stood beside us, again and again, in wastelands, in the dungeons of Moria, and in places that would scare even you," Harry snarled. "They chose to come with us; they had the option of turning back at any time. At the end, it was Ron's strength and devotion that got me to the Cracks of Doom---I was all but on my last legs! Either he goes---and Draco too---or I don't, and that's bloody well my final word!"
"And Draco's skills helped us, time and again," hissed Hermione, her fingers twisting as she mastered the urge she was feeling to grab Gandalf by the beard and slap him senseless. "He knew how to climb mountains; he knew how to deal with our hurts; he helped us deal with the Galadrim, and eased our passage into Lothlorien!" The double-entendre she had inadvertently used suddenly struck her, and she had to suppress an urge to giggle---this was serious! "And, unlike Ron, who's been Harry's and my dearest friend for years, he was originally our worst enemy! He put himself in deadly peril, again and again, for our sakes---even when we were going to leave him with the rest of the Fellowship, he insisted on accompanying us!"
"Only fate---and the luck of the card-draw---made Hermione and me Ringbearers, Gandalf," Harry stated, leaning back and fixing the old wizard with a piercing stare. "It could have easily been either of them. We have a saying in our home-world: 'Greater love hath no man, than that he lay down his life for his friend.' They didn't lay down their lives, but they came mighty close, just as we did for them. If we've earned rewards, so have they---and I, for one, am going to make damn-well sure that they aren't cheated!" He pointed a finger at Gandalf. "I wasn't too pleased that they weren't mentioned when King Elessar presented us to the Free Peoples, and when I got a chance I let him know about it!"
"Tell me, Gandalf," Hermione asked, her tone conversational, "do you really think that eternal life, even in a paradise, would be anything but an unending torment for us, if we knew that to get it, we'd abandoned our best friends? I'd go to Hell for them---I went through hell with them---and if I've earned paradise, so have they!" She quirked a smile. "I thought, back in Cirith Ungol, that if I claimed the Ring, someone would survive, wearing my skin, answering to my name. I don't know that person. I don't know that I'd like that person---or like being her. This is no different."
Gandalf looked from one of them to the other, and what he saw seemed to move him deeply. "I will communicate your wishes, Harry, Hermione. In the meantime, please forgive me. I honestly meant no disrespect to you, or to your friends. And---" he turned to go---"let me say that devotion such as yours to your friends is something I have almost never seen, not in all my time in Middle-Earth."
When he was gone, Harry looked at Hermione. "Tell me, Hermione---did we two just stand up to, and face down, Gandalf?" He looked as though he was just realizing what they had done. "Or am I dreaming?"
Later, Gandalf had quietly let them know that all four of them would be welcome in Valinor. When they had explained the whole situation to Ron and Draco, their friends had been utterly dumfounded. "Harry---mate---you mean to tell me that you turned down eternal life and happiness because it wasn't offered to us?" Ron's eyes were as wide as saucers, and Draco looked just as shocked. At Harry and Hermione's nods, Ron sat down, trying to assimilate this news.
For once, Draco was utterly speechless. Without a word, he turned and left the room, and when Hermione got up to go after him, Ron held out an arm. "Leave him, Hermione." He pulled her close, and said in a low tone: "I don't think he'd want you to see him cry."
When they assembled in the Great Hall of Hogwarts, the student body was lined up in serried ranks to bid them farewell. Hermione's long-time assistant, now Headmaster of Hogwarts after her resignation, made a speech thanking Hermione for her services to Hogwarts and magical education in general, finishing with a flourish by unveiling a wizard portrait of the four friends; as she admired it, the Hermione in the picture winked at her. The Minister of Magic bid them all farewell, thanking Ron for his long service to Gringott's, Draco for his heroic years with the Aurors hunting down the remnants of Voldemort's followers, and Harry for his time as Minister of Magic after his defeat of Voldemort. Then the students gave them three rousing cheers. Hermione felt a lump form in her throat---she had never really realized how much the students revered her. Even in Paradise, she knew she'd always remember Hogwarts…and miss it.
With that over, they turned to go. The new Headmaster opened up the Gate spell, and ahead of them, they could see Middle-Earth. Shouldering their packs, they stepped through, and the Gate closed behind them. Hermione felt as though a burden she had long carried had finally fallen from her back, freeing her at last. She took a deep breath; she had forgotten how crisp and clean the air of Middle-Earth was.
Once again, they found themselves in a beautiful clearing. This time, though, there was a smell of salt in the air, and they could hear gulls crying; Hermione knew that they were near the western ocean.
"Welcome to the Grey Havens, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger Weasley, Ron Weasley, and Draco Malfoy," came a voice, and they turned to find themselves confronted by a tall elf. "I am Cirdan the Shipwright, and I have long wished to meet you. Gandalf is waiting, and we are just about ready to set sail."
He led them out of the clearing, to a harbor where a beautiful white ship was waiting, tied up alongside a wharf. Gandalf was standing nearby, along with Elrond, Galadriel, and some other elves. The breeze made the ship's flags flap, loud in the sudden silence.
"As we said, here we are. We're a team, remember?" said Harry. At this, Gandalf came forward, his face wreathed in a smile. As he and Harry embraced, Hermione found herself looking at him with different eyes than she had before. She was now over a hundred years old, and she had to admit that Gandalf looked very attractive. Stop it, woman! she scolded herself. You're a respectable widowed schoolteacher! Act your age! Didn't you learn your lesson with Gilderoy Lockhart? In any case, she figured that Gandalf was well out of her reach---but she had to admit, hugging him felt very nice indeed, when it was her turn.
Cirdan led them aboard the ship, and at his command, the elvish sailors cast off and set the sails. With a slight lurch, the ship began its journey, and all the passengers crowded the rails, to look their very last on Middle-Earth. Hermione was crying, and she noticed that she wasn't the only one. As far as she could tell, there wasn't a dry eye on the ship. The ship sailed on, into the West, with a gentle breeze urging it through the sunlit waters.
A few days out, when the highest mountains of Middle-Earth had disappeared into the sea behind them, Hermione felt an indescribable sensation, as of passing through a barrier. It reminded her of going through the barrier between King's Cross Station and Platform 9 3/4 in London. Peering ahead, she saw impossibly tall mountains, and she knew that she was gazing on Valinor. Birds wheeled around the ship, their cries seeming to bring a message of welcome. Looking at herself and her friends, Hermione was startled to see them becoming youthful again. As she watched, their hair turned back to its original colors, and they felt such vigor and energy as they had not known in decades.
And so, Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Draco Malfoy made their final journey to Valinor, the land of the Valar, to dwell among the Valar and elves in bliss and peace forever, held in the highest honor as the destroyers of Sauron.