Finale; Curtain Closed, Take a Bow, The End
The room around me felt different in ways I can't explain. The drapes were all the same color, the carpet didn't have any fresh stains, and Crookshanks hadn't strayed from his napping spot in the middle of the sofa. Everything looked normal, but it just didn't feel the same. I sighed and plopped down on the one corner of the couch that my overweight cat wasn't taking up with his lazy, stretched out body. I was careful not to wake him up because the last thing I needed today was to get all scratched up by my sleep deprived feline. As I settled he only shifted and continued in his steady breathing, thankfully.
I leant my head back up against the cushiony headrest and let my mind go blank. In less than an hour, I would be standing in front of the entire seventh-year class, making a speech that I knew I was incapable of making. Well, technically, I was capable, but I didn't want to. That's me—straight-O student, impeccable attendance and behavior record, but completely incapable of making a simple speech in front of people I've known since I was eleven. Or maybe that was the problem. These people have known me for six-odd years as bookworm Granger, the model student with the stick up her arse. But I hadn't worried about what people thought in quite some time, so that couldn't be the reason why.
I huffed out a frustrated breath and blew a few strands of hair out of my face. I hated how I could be so clever when it came to school smarts, but so daft when it came to other things like public speeches and love.
I never did grasp how things between Harry and I had developed so quickly, but they had. One minute, we were walking back to the castle, his coat wrapped around me and his hand about my waist, and the next, we were, what Harry likes to call "warming up by the fire, Gryffindor style." It sounds cliché, but somehow, it worked. Cheeky bastard. But it wasn't as if I was complaining. Oh, I was as far from complaining as one could get. The things he does would make anyone with half a mind blush, so I'll save the specific, unrated details for a later date. The gist is that I was happy, genuinely happy, with my life, and it was all because of Harry. He should get some sort of reward or something for being the best—erm, I guess I should classify him as 'boyfriend', but even that didn't sum up the way he made me feel. It had been four months since we had declared our budding relationship public. Boy was Weasley peeved. But he didn't matter, not one bit. All that was important was me and Harry and our young romance.
Okay, this is getting too cheesy for my taste. I should stop before I get all girly and start jabbering on about his eyes or something. Wait… okay, never mind, I'm okay.
Calmness finally began to seep through my tense form and I let my muscles relax into the cushions. I just needed to remain relaxed for a while, and then worry about my speech and other impending factors of my future later. It was all part of the plan. And if it failed, well, we weren't going to think about that right now. As of this moment, all was calm, all was peaceful, and the only thing that mattered was the silence and—
"Good morning, sunshine!"
My eyes shot open and I nearly landed on Crookshanks. Thankfully, my hand shot out an inch from his front paw and I balanced myself, barely. I twisted my head upwards to see Harry's too-happy face grinning down at me. I narrowed my eyes and straightened out, turning my focus to the fireplace and trying my best not to smile. You see, I've learned some things while growing closer to Harry, one of them being to never give him the satisfaction of victory over my pet peeves. Being interrupted while meditating, or whatever it was I had been doing, never ceased to irritate me. But not when Harry did it—never when Harry did it. It was both frustrating and baffling to me how he pulled that off. I'd bite my own mother's head off if she snuck up on me!
I heard him circle around the couch and bit my lip. Crap. I turned around to face him, despite my lack of better judgment. But as I did, he did something that only he could pull off without being murdered. He picked up Crookshanks and set him on his lap. The sleeping cat never once stirred or batted an eyelash; he just curled into Harry's arms and began purring. I scoffed. He only ever did that for Harry. I've given that cat four years of my life and he still loved Harry more than me. It was sickening, really.
"Traitor." I mumbled.
Harry grinned and hugged Crookshanks to his chest briefly. "It's not my fault he loves me more."
"He doesn't love you; he loves your body heat." I countered, trying to come up with some excuse to fill the aching void Crookshanks had just ripped open. Just kidding. Kind of.
He raised a dark eyebrow and I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. "The heat is a part of me, darling, therefore, he loves me."
I scrunched up my nose in distaste. "Don't call me darling."
He smiled goofily. "Or else what?"
"You know what."
He frowned and began petting Crookshanks absently. "You don't scare me."
I smirked. "Don't tempt me."
He gave me and odd look but didn't say anything more. There was a short silence before he felt the need to talk again. "Crookshanks still loves me more."
"Yeah, because you feed him scraps when you come back from the kitchens."
He looked at me, aghast. "I do not!"
I shot him a warning look. "I see everything, Harry; don't humor me with your lies."
He stuck out his tongue, then looked back down to the sleeping cat in his arms. "Works like a charm, though, doesn't it?"
I rolled my eyes. "He's easy, what can I say."
He nodded and scratched the patch of fur behind Crookshanks' ear that he always loved to have attended to. I looked at the two of them fondly. No matter how much I resented their "bond" it was still nice to see the two of them together like that. Besides, it could be much worse. Crookshanks could go into full-out protection mode and attack Harry within an inch of his life whenever he got near me. That wouldn't work at all. I think I preferred this way, no matter how much it pained me to admit it.
"So are you ready for your speech today?"
I sighed. "I was trying not to think about it when you came in, actually."
He chuckled. "It would have backfired eventually, Hermione. I think we both know that you can't keep something like that out of your mind for too long."
I let my body go limp on the couch. "Don't remind me."
I looked over at him with a distasteful frown. "Smartass."
He grinned. "You love it."
"For some odd reason."
He leaned in and gave me a quick peck on the lips. Crookshanks mewed in protest but otherwise did nothing. The lazy bum. When he pulled back, I had a small smile on my face. I couldn't help it, okay! You remember what I said about what he did to me. I gave him a small peck in return and he smiled against my lips, deepening the kiss with Crookshanks still in his arms. I don't know how he pulled it off without getting some sort of reaction out of him, but there are some questions that cannot be answered in this lifetime.
Only when Harry moved closer to me on the couch and began to close the distance between us did I feel Crookshanks get up with a distasteful grunt and strut over to find another place to nap. I pulled back from the kiss and mumbled, "I don't think he loves you anymore."
Harry looked over to where Crookshanks was heading and shrugged. "He'll get over it."
I snorted as he captured my lips once again in a fiercer kiss than the first, a fact I didn't mind in the least. Thank you, Crookshanks, for being a brat and allowing my boyfriend to kiss me properly. Without his presence, Harry now had the ability to scoot closer and wrap his arms around me, which he took full advantage of. His body was red hot against mine, and I reveled in the feeling.
He loosened his grip on my waist by only a fraction as he leaned the pair of us down into a more, erm, comfortable position, to continue our little escapade. My legs opened a tiny bit to allow one of Harry's to snuggle in-between them. We adjusted rather quickly and continued out kiss with vigor. After so many times of doing this, you get the hang of it pretty much off the bat. And we've done this many, many times. But he never bored me. Sure, his techniques were pretty familiar by now, but that didn't mean that I was able to predict his every move or something equally as ridiculous. Only someone with a really sad relationship would be able to do that. Even if they had the ability, any sane person wouldn't either because they were too distracted or was too afraid to open that can of worms. As for me, Harry always found new ways to distract me. Take now, for instance. His lips made a trail to my neck and I let out a small moan of appreciation, leaning into him. Nipping affectionately at the skin, he began to trail one of his hands down past my stomach until he reached the hem of the dress I was wearing under my robes. He elevated the fabric slightly as he caressed the skin of my upper thigh. I let out a breathy response and knew that it was all the ammunition he needed to continue. His hand trailed higher up until he reached my panty line. He played with the cotton material only for a moment before moving it aside and caressing my center as if it was his job.
And by Merlin was he getting high marks from the boss.
I lifted a hand from where it had been wound around his shoulder blades to play with the silky mess that was his hair. No matter how untamed and wild it looked, it was still heaven to feel between my fingers. I clutched it even tighter as he plunged one finger into my folds and caused me to buck with my now overwhelming need. He removed his lips from my neck the moment I did so and reattached our lips; probably for fear that I would tear his hair out if he kept it up. And he was right. My grip loosened as our tongues danced with each other in a familiar tango. It seemed that with every motion of his skilled now three fingers, his tongue would dive deeper into my mouth to seemingly attack mine in a battle of which he was rightly winning. I mean, how could he not? I was too busy moaning and groaning from the effects of his fingers moving around inside of me.
"Oh, Harry." I whispered fervently when we broke apart for air.
He only smiled at me and kissed me once more, determined to finish what he had started. It wasn't long before my hips began to buck on their own accord as I felt the wave of nirvana hit and envelope my senses with one clean wash. I let out one last long moan and collapsed onto the couch, slacking against the couch in bliss. It was a second or two over a minute when I opened my eyes and awoke from the sensations that were still slightly pulsing throughout my veins. I was completely out of breath and Harry seemed to be a little bit run out as well, but not as much as I, obviously.
I scooted back against the armrest of the sofa so that my back was completely straightened out. Harry simply crossed his legs Indian style and looked at me with one of his signature smiles. I gave myself a few more seconds to catch my breath before speaking, but my voice still came out breathy.
"What was that for?"
"Do I have to have a reason to pleasure my girlfriend now?"
I cocked an eyebrow.
He sighed. "It was a distraction."
My brow furrowed. "A distraction from what?"
He smirked. "Exactly."
I grabbed one of the pillows from behind me and threw it at his head. He caught it inches before it made the collision with his stupid seeker reflexes and I pouted. "Answer me."
"If I do that, the distraction will be void." He explained smoothly.
"I think the distraction's time is up, Harry."
He bit his lip, a sign that told me he knew I was right. He shifted his gaze to a pile of papers that were stacked on the nearby coffee table and then back to me. I stiffened and he nodded. "Pretty ingenious, isn't it?"
"Harry, you can't just do something like… that every time I have to make a speech." I said in resentment, wishing full well that he could.
He raised his eyebrows suggestively. "It seemed to work just fine this time around."
I stuck my tongue out in response. Glancing back at the papers, though, my playful demeanor was wiped away by cold, hard fear. I glanced at the clock and groaned. The ceremony was to begin in twenty minutes and all I had to show for my preparations were a stack of papers that were filled with a bunch of rubbish about the "good 'ol times at Hogwarts." Hogwarts for me was an escape, yes. But unlike former Head Girls, I couldn't talk about the friends I had made or the many memories I had. The only friend I had here was Harry and a portrait, which was sad enough in itself. I couldn't ramble on for five minutes about them and leave it at that. For one, people would think I was crazy, and frankly, so would I. And other than that, it would completely take away from the validity of the speech. Speeches were supposed to reflect not only the perspective of the speaker, but of the other students listening, and since I'm pretty sure I have absolutely nothing in common with any of the poor crowd who are going to be forced to listen to my speech, I was doomed.
"Why can't the Head Boy make the speech instead?" I moaned.
"Because it would be too damn easy," He answered. "Besides, you girls are way better at this kind of stuff anyway."
I rolled my eyes. "Oh yes, of course. Can't you see how excided and confident I am that this is going to be the best graduation speech ever?"
"Hey." He said in a soft voice. I twisted my neck to see him beckoning towards me with open arms. I sighed and scooted over into his embrace, leaning against his shoulder, my back pressed against his chest and my body seemingly clicking into his like a piece of a puzzle. Corny analogy, I know, but it's all I've got.
"You are going to be great today." He said evenly.
"How do you know?" I said in a voice just above a whisper.
He hugged me tighter against his chest and I felt his heart beat against my skin. It was a tender moment, and one that boosted my confidence significantly. "I know you, Hermione. You have never given up on anything because you were too afraid—well, except me, but I think you learned your lesson from that." I let out a breath of laughter. "The point is that you not only have the ability to knock this out of the park, but you could do it with your hands tied behind your back, blindfolded, and with ten thousand mosquitoes nipping at your arm. I bet you don't even need those papers over there. In fact…"
One of his arms suddenly left its hold on me and waved in the direction of my speech papers. My heart leapt in my throat and I spoke with a croak. "What are you doing?"
"Proving a point," He replied evenly.
And with that said, he flicked his wrist up and the papers lifted into the air as if being Wingardium Leviosa'd. I sat up in protest, but the arm remaining around my shoulders kept me close to him. I let out a squeak as he turned his wrist to the side and I watched in horror as my speech was thrown into the fire. The parchment burned close to instantly when it made contact with the flames. I began to struggle against him, trying to save them, but I knew it was too late. His raised arm fell back to hugging me and I tried to break free, but his grip was too strong.
"Why did you do that, Harry?!" I yelled. "Have you gone insane or something?!"
"I'm afraid not." He replied.
"Then what, pray tell, influenced you to burn my speech?" I asked hotly. "Because I know that you love me and would never ever do something like that unless you were provoked to do so!"
"Aw, I do love you, 'Mione." He said sweetly, kissing the top of my head. I grimaced. "I did it for your own good. I think we both know that you don't need those papers to make a great speech that will conclude to thunderous applause."
"I don't know what kind of potion fumes you've been inhaling recently, but I certainly do not think that I can make a speech in front of our entire class without something in front of me to go on. It's hopeless now." I hung my head low to accentuate the distress he had caused.
He moved his hand to cradle my chin and turn my face up to look him in the eyes. They met mine and I had to struggle not to get lost in them and pay attention to what he had to say. "It's not hopeless. Whatever was written on those rolls of parchment isn't important. They were just words recorded in ink. What's really important is what's in here." He moved his hand to rest on my chest.
I looked down at his hand and then back at him. "You mean my heart?"
He nodded. "Yes."
"It's on the other side, Harry."
"Oh. Oops." He said, quickly moving his hand to rest over my beating, blood-pumping organ that was pit-patting heavier than usual with his recent stunt still ever-present in my mind.
I giggled and covered his hand with my own, squeezing it tightly. "You really think I'm capable of speaking in front of a hundred or so teenagers with only my heart to guide me."
"Yes, I do. And you should, too."
I let out a heavy breath as our hands move to my lap, where our fingers knotted out of pure reflex. I snuggled more firmly into him and inhaled the musky scent of his cologne. It was soothing to me, being with him like this. It made it easier to believe what he said and forget everything except the two of us. We both knew that after today, we would never be returning to this common room ever again. I looked over Harry's shoulder to where our luggage was lying, all in a neat pile near the staircase. I had helped Harry pack the night before, gathering all of his scattered belongings into his large trunk. Hedwig's cage was empty, as we chose to get her after the ceremony to save her the distress of being locked up.
"She hates it." He had said when I suggested we put her in the cage last night.
But other than that, we were all set. All that was left was to have Dumbledore and McGonagall hand us our diplomas and we would be Hogwarts graduates, free to roam the Wizarding world and begin our new lives as educated citizens. I already had several interviews set up at the Ministry and St. Mungo's, knowing full well that I could have any job I wished with my N.E.W.T scores. Straight O's in every subject, thanks to Harry. I was sure I would get an E in Defense Against the Dark Arts if it wasn't for him tutoring me. And then some.
The fact still remained that we were going to head our separate ways, if only for a few weeks. I would love more than anything to move in with Harry or vice versa. But I would be staying with my parents until I found a job with a steady enough income that I could purchase a flat. Harry told me he would be moving into his late Godfather's house in Gimmauld Place, a large residence located in northwestern London. He also said that after we arrived back from the train ride, he would go straight to redecorating the place, since it reminded him too much of darkness and how things could have been if he hadn't defeated Voldermort. He had even invited me to help paint and pick out furniture, something I was very much looking forward to. But I still wish that I could live with him. Even though we've only been dating a handful of months, I still feel that we, meaning mostly I, was ready to take that next step. Alas, it was not meant to be.
I was shaken out of my thoughts when Harry began to stir me by shaking his shoulders in a signal for me to get up. I lifted my head from where it had been in the crook of his neck and looked at him curiously. He motioned to the clock. "Time to go."
My stomach felt like it had just erupted into tiny butterflies, and not the good kind. Harry saw my change in behavior and gave me a small smile, helping me up. I straightened up my black ceremony robes and reached in one of the inside pockets for my pointed hat. I thought it silly to wear attire like this to the ceremony, but I had to abide by the rules like everyone else. Placing the hat atop my head, I faced Harry and saw that he had done the same thing as I. Although I had to admit, he did look pretty adorable in his hat, which looked to be a tad too small to contain his mop of hair. I giggled and tried to straighten it with no avail.
"It's a lost cause." He said with a frown.
"Someday." I assured him. "Someday a witch or wizard is going to invent a potion designed to tame your hair, I guarantee it."
"No, but we can only hope."
He let out a huff of laughter and held out his hand for me to take. I did and he led us out of the portrait hole. He continued on, but I stopped, turning around to see Marie looking at us with a forlorn face.
"I'm going to miss you, Marie." I said softly.
"I'll miss you, too, poppet." She said shakily, seemingly fighting tears. I was unable to tell because of the paint job. "Even you, Harry."
Harry chuckled beside me. "Thanks for not giving me away within the first week, Marie."
She nodded, "Not a problem. I knew how it was going to end, anyhow."
"Of course you did." Harry said with amusement.
"What do you mean 'giving me away'?" I asked Harry.
He looked between me and Marie a few times before answering. "Well, I had to sneak out of the common room to get my letters to Hedwig some days. Marie here wasn't too pleased with that and threatened to report me. I assured her it was for good reason, and as soon as she saw you doing the same thing, she vowed to keep her mouth shut. She's actually part of the reason I found out you were Anonymous."
I raised both eyebrows high in surprise and looked at Marie. "You told him that I was sneaking out?"
She shrugged. "I didn't know it had any relevance until he informed me."
I sighed. "Well, in any regard, we'll both miss you, Marie."
A small smile faded onto her features. "You've been a pleasure to guard, I assure you. I'll be sure to tell your tale to future Heads, just to forewarn them, yes?"
I snorted and I heard Harry choke out a laugh beside me. "Sure." I said. "Anything to protect them."
She nodded and elegantly waved at the two of us. Well, it wasn't an actual wave rather than a simple movement of the wrist—the kind of motion you saw royalty perform when greeting a crowd. It was all bittersweet. It was highly unlikely I would meet anyone else like her outside of Hogwarts.
"Goodbye, Marie." I said softly, feeling sadness well up in my chest and behind my eyes.
"Farewell, darlings." She said, a hint of the same emotion showing through her voice.
And with one last fleeting glace, Harry and I continued, hand-in-hand, to the great hall. He gave me a reassuring squeeze as we arrived just outside the double doors. I took a deep breath as I heard the blur of hundreds of voices; students, teachers, and parents. I had almost forgotten I had to account for them as well. Awesome.
My feet remained rooted to the ground as Harry pulled my hand towards the hall. He turned towards me with a look that made me shift uncomfortably from one foot to the other. Rolling his eyes, he closed the distance between us and enveloped me in a tender hug. My body relaxed once more, as it always did when in his arms. Harry had picked up on a few of my kinks, for lack of a better word, as well, one of them being that whenever our bodies were close, all of my muscles went limp. It was probably the only way he could get me to enter the great hall and we both knew it. He pulled away a fraction and gave me a chaste kiss on the lips, cheek, and forehead. That worked, too. Merlin, I was such a sap. With a small smile he led us into the room with me following reluctantly.
Most of the students were already seated, with a few meeting and greeting siblings and parents alike. They were all dressed in black robes identical to mine and Harry's with some form of formal clothing underneath. It also pleased me to see that others had also put their hats on and were having trouble keeping it on. Harry gave me a look when he saw that, but I chose to ignore it, focusing on the podium in the front of the room. It was the same one that Dumbledore used during feasts, animated owl and all. I bit my lip and felt Harry tug on my hand once more. I followed behind him as we moved up to the stage area where our seats were located next to the professors. What I wouldn't give to be intermingled with my classmates right now, no matter how they treated me in the past.
A loud clapping sound came from Dumbledore's place on the stage and brought me back to reality. The people who were standing in the hall all moved to their seats and I unwillingly did so as well. Harry let go of my hand and I felt incomplete without it tangled with mine. But I knew it wouldn't help me much now that we were here. Without it, though, what felt like a ton of bricks had come to settle in the lower pits of my stomach and I gulped. This was it—almost. Dumbledore had some stuff to say first, of course, but then I was up. No speech prepared, thanks to Harry, and all eyes on me. When did I sign up for this? Oh, right, when I was eleven and found out that there was a Hogwarts and a Head Girl position reserved for the top female student in her year. Sometimes I hated how goal-oriented I was. I never gave up, and it sucked.
Dumbledore glided (and I don't use the term lightly) to the podium and waited for the hall to become silent. It did within seconds. Dumbledore was a pretty intimidating person, even if you had no idea how powerful he was. I can't imagine what he would be like if anyone was on his bad side, but that was a thought to be saved for a different time. Right now, I had to focus on him.
Although I couldn't see it, I knew he was smiling when he talked. "Welcome students, guardians, and siblings alike on this glorious afternoon to celebrate the achievements of this year's graduating class!"
There was thunderous applause from the audience and I clapped my hands in time with them. It was only polite, even if I did feel as if I was going to puke.
"I have known most of you since you arrived here at Hogwarts, and some longer than that. It has been a whirlwind of experiences getting to know and care for you as if you were children of my own. You have been through a great deal of experiences—plenty, I may add, to make for thrilling stories for your own children, whom I hope very much to see in the future, even though that may not occur for some time. In the near future, however, you will ride the train back to Platform 9 ¾ for the very last time and begin your journey into the Wizarding World as educated adults."
Hmm, where have I heard that before? I thought jokingly to myself.
"I, as well as the professor's, hope that the teachings we have provided you with will help guide you toward ideal and successful careers. Who knows, we may have a future Bathilda Bagshot, Myron Wagtail, even Rowena Ravenclaw or Godric Gryffindor. No matter where you choose to steer your life, you will always and forever more be a Hogwarts graduate. From the time you were first years, you have studied the ways of our kind to prepare for the world outside these walls, which some of you are familiar with, and others not. Despite the dark times we have been faced with in the past, you should always know that there is a light among the cloud of night. I am fully confident that you will be able to face anything thrown your way in the coming years. And though this castle has become a home for some of you, and a place of imprisonment for others, it will always be a part of your past, and I am proud to call myself your Headmaster. Good luck to you all in your lives and I hope to have a few visitors come by once in a while."
There was a small pause before the hall erupted into applause. I could even see a few teary eyes among the otherwise grinning faces. It was a moving speech, and I couldn't help but feel intimidated. I mean, who could compare to freaking Dumbledore? Yeah, that's what I thought.
The clapping continued for a few more seconds before dying down at Dumbledore's raised hand. I sucked in a short amount of air and felt my heartbeat accelerate to a dangerous pace. Harry must have sensed my jumpiness, for he placed a hand on my thigh. The warmth of his touch radiated through me and I smiled at him in thanks. He returned it with a nod and turned back to Dumbledore, not removing his hand, which I thoroughly appreciated.
"And now, I will turn the speaking over to your Head Girl. Someone I have gotten to know very well in her years here. She is the brightest and most warm-hearted girl—woman that I have come to know in quite some time. Ladies and gentlemen, please help me welcome Miss Hermione Granger!"
The applause wasn't deafening, but it was still quite loud. I stood up and felt Harry's hand slide off my thigh, the comfort he had been giving me vanishing. I walked shakily up to Dumbledore, who was holding a hand out for me to shake. I took it and was surprised at how firm the Headmaster's grip was, despite his age, whatever triple-digit that was. He gave me a warm smile with that signature twinkle in his eye and I felt a small wash of confidence come over me unexpectedly. From the way Dumbledore was looking at me, I could tell that he had faith that I could knock this speech out of the park. Don't ask me how I got that impression, I just knew. It was enough for me to let go of his hand and twirl to the podium, facing my graduating class and their guests with a cheerful grin. Wow, that was unexpected.
I looked back over at Professor Dumbledore, who was looking at me knowingly. "Thank you, Professor Dumbledore, for that lovely introduction." He nodded and took his seat by the other professors. I turned back to the faces watching me and felt a lump rise in my throat. This was it, the moment of truth. I had to come up with a speech in two seconds or else be publically humiliated in front of my entire class and their friends and family. Isn't life just bloody fantastic? I was doomed.
But then I remembered what Harry told me and the confidence he had that I could pull an entire speech out of my pocket without second thought. If Harry thought that I could do it, who was to say that everyone else wasn't thinking the exact same thing. Every student—and I don't say that for emphasis, I really do mean everyone—in the school had been putting me on a pedestal, either to ridicule me or hold me as the one that knew everything.
Oh Merlin, that was it.
I opened my mouth and the words rolled off my tongue as if I had been planning this from the day I was born. "I had a whole speech prepared, but it ended up in the fireplace earlier today thanks to my roommate." There were a few chuckles from the audience and I knew that I was doing something right. I pressed on. "But I don't need it anymore.
Ever since I found out that I was a witch I had told myself repeatedly that I would be the best. I would prove to everyone that I could be number one in everything, despite where I came from. Call me a revolutionist or whatever, but it was motivation that stuck. I've never received lower than Outstanding marks on my assignments and exams. It was the most important thing to me. So important, that I never really made time for friends or parties or anything else deemed 'normal' by schooling standards. I didn't have the best of both worlds, but that didn't matter as long as I stuck to the promise I had made to myself. But then, throughout the years, I realized I was wrong. You really do need friends. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to make many, seeing as how everyone had already made up their minds about me by the third month of being here. I was the bookworm, know-it-all, perfect student, and apparently that also meant that I didn't need friends. Sure, I had high marks, but that didn't change the fact that I was missing something dire."
I paused for a moment to take a deep breath.
"I was teased and bullied, yes, but that never really bothered me. I've never cared what anyone else thought. But then I met someone last summer that changed that and sent everything I had ever known into a whirlwind. After talking to him I realized what I had been missing all along. Sure, high marks and spotless records are one thing, but I don't think it means much if you don't have someone by your side to keep you from getting a big head. School is a place for learning, but also a place to form friendships that can last a lifetime. And that, I've come to realize, is the most important thing. The darkness that we have been faced with recently was scary, horrifying even, but it also made us that much stronger. Our bonds with the people around us held us together because we had the one thing that the self-proclaimed Dark Lord did not—we had love. We found love, and friendship, and bravery here within Hogwarts' walls. It doesn't matter if you're the top of your class or hold the highest record for most detentions received in one week, the thing that sticks with you longest is the bonds between you and your peers.
"Hogwarts has provided us with more than we ever thought possible. It has prepared us in every way with the skills we need to head out into the world. With friends by your side, you'll never walk alone, and with the knowledge on how to cast a flawless shielding spell you'll never be unprepared. So thank you professors, for teaching us all these years, no matter how many people have fallen asleep in your class. But most of all, thank yourselves and the people beside you for making our well-rounded education that much more complete."
I ended the speech by looking behind me at Harry, who had the 'I told you so' look on his face. I was going to thank him, but the sound of roaring applause prevented me from doing so. I turned back to the audience to see each and every person in the room, minus a few Slytherins, on their feet and banging their hands together. A wide grin spread across my face as I felt the heat rise to my cheeks. I tried to thank them, but it was drowned out.
Holy shit, I did it.
I felt Dumbledore come up beside me and place a hand on my shoulder. I looked up into the elderly man's eyes to see him wink at me. I smiled in return and took my place by Harry once more. He was grinning from ear to ear and I mouthed "Thank you" to him as well, because I knew he deserved it more than anyone else. He nodded and took my hand in his, bringing it to his lips and kissing it tenderly. The clapping quieted a few moments later and I returned to looking at Dumbledore.
He looked back at me briefly. "Thank you, Miss Granger, for that truly inspiring closing speech." I blushed. He turned back to address the crowd. "And now it is time for Professor McGonagall and I to hand out the diplomas. Please step up to accept it when you hear your name called. Hannah Abbott."
And so Dumbledore alphabetically recited the names. When he arrived at my name, I walked the few feet between us and shook his hand once more. He congratulated me and passed me over to Professor McGonagall, who handed me a rolled up parchment tied with a scarlet and gold ribbon. Entangled in the colors was a golden crest of the Gryffindor griffin. She offered me similar congratulations and kind words and I thanked her graciously. I joined my fellow classmates along the wall and watched as the rest of the students were called up and handed their diplomas. When Harry's name was called, I watched proudly as he strutted along the line of professors. What a hot dog.
As Blaise Zabini's name was called and he joined us, Dumbledore returned to the podium and spoke. "Please help me in welcoming Hogwarts' graduating class of the year 1998!"
The applause was loud, but it was all a blur as I joined the students around me in tossing our hats up in the hair and cheering for ourselves. Some were cheering for freedom, others for pure excitement. After venting all of that emotion out, however, I made a beeline for Harry. He probably sensed my approach or something, because when I reached him, he was grinning and holding his arms out. I laughed and ran into them. He twirled me around in circles and placed me on the ground, kissing me passionately on the lips. We stood like that for what seemed like eternity before I felt a tapping on my shoulder that brought me back.
I pulled back from Harry, who seemed confused as to why I stopped. We both turned to face whoever interrupted us and I froze.
"Oh. Hi, Daddy." He smiled oddly and I disentangled myself from Harry. "This is Harry, the one I told you about."
"Ah yes, the infamous Harry Potter." He said with a nod.
Harry held out his hand, "A pleasure to meet you, sir."
My father took it, thankfully, with a curt nod. "You too, son. I trust you've been taking good care of my little girl."
"Edward, you aren't interrogating poor Harry, are you?"
My mother stepped up beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder, saving Harry from an early death. He put on a smile and nodded. "Of course not, dear."
"Mhmm… It's nice to meet you Harry. Hermione has told us so much about you in her letters."
"Good things, I hope." Harry said, looking at me.
"You'll never know." I replied teasingly.
He rolled his eyes and placed an arm around my waist, hugging me to him. I looked at my parent's reaction to the public display of affection, since I knew they weren't used to seeing me with a guy. My mum seemed fine with it, but my dad had a slightly red tint to his face. I knew he wouldn't say anything, though. That's just the way he is.
"If you'll excuse us, Hermione dear, your father and I are going to find the restroom."
I nodded and watched them retreat.
"They seem nice." Harry said.
I sighed. "They just need to get used to you—and by they, I mean my father."
"I don't blame him for being protective. You are his little girl, right?"
"Unfortunately. And because I'm an only child, it's only going to get worse."
"Oh I doubt that."
"You don't know my dad." I said sternly.
"That I don't." He admitted. There was a small pause before Harry turned me around so that we were face-to-face. "But I do have something I need to ask you."
"Well I've been doing some thinking lately, and I've come to the conclusion that—"
I turned around to the source of the voice. "Oh my god, Sue!"
She sprinted the distance between us and enveloped me in a bone-crushing hug. I held tight to her for a few more seconds before she let me go, grinning like a madwoman.
"I didn't know you were coming." I said breathlessly, tucking a strand of hair behind my ear.
"Neither did I until my husband surprised me with the news. We were supposed to go to his parent's house, but I was moaning about missing your graduation so much that he excused me from the hellhole." She said excitedly. What was it about married adults not liking their in-laws? A worldwide unanswerable question, surely.
"That's great, I'm so glad to see you!"
"Me too, I—Hermione, why is Harry Potter staring at us as if we're two carnies?"
I turned around to see Harry giving the pair of us that exact look and snorted. "He does that."
"But I thought you—"
"Oh! I forgot to introduce you. Sue, meet Joe."
"Joe? I thought his name was Ha—oh. Oh! Wow, that's just… wow." She brushed past me breezily and hugged him much like she did me, but maybe even tighter, if that was possible. "It's so nice to finally meet the mystery man."
She let him go and he looked as though he had all of the breath sucked out of him. Ah, Sue hugs, gotta love 'em. "So you're the infamous Sue."
She curtsied nonchalantly, something only she could pull off. "That's me. I have so much to ask the two of you. Like how—oh."
"What?" I asked, watching as she went rigid.
She reached down into her pocket and pulled out what looked to be a Muggle beeper. But since I knew that Muggle electronics didn't work inside Hogwarts, I assumed it was enchanted.
"My husband's calling, can you excuse me?"
"Yeah, sure, go ahead." I said as she brushed by a few people to find a floo.
I turned back to Harry. "She's a bit enthusiastic sometimes."
There was a silence between that two of us. I was about to explain to Harry how Sue knew who Joe was to begin with, as he was obviously confused, but then I remembered that he had been about to ask me something.
"So you wanted to ask me something, right?"
"Oh, yeah." He said, as if being shaken from his thoughts. He got a bit closer and fiddled around for a moment, something he only did when he had something important to say. "I've been thinking about us lately, and what we're going to do after all of this." He gestured around the great hall. "And I've come to the conclusion that I pretty much can't be without you."
"Oh Harry, we already talked about—"
"Wait, let me finish." He interrupted. I shut my big mouth and he continued. "I was thinking of ways that we could be together more often and then I remembered you told me that you were going to be staying with your parents for a while after Hogwarts."
I nodded, not really knowing where he was going.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small black leather box. My breath caught in my throat as I got a closer look. It was too thin to be a ring box, so that was out of the question. I told him never to buy me expensive jewelry, save for birthdays, anniversaries, and gift-giving holidays, and even then I set a limit on how much he was allowed to spend. Hopefully I wouldn't have to turn away a beautiful bracelet or something like a few months ago when he bought me a one-week anniversary present. Since I didn't believe in such celebrations—I thought they were horribly cheesy and unnecessary—I had to give it back. It kind of sucked, a lot. Gods, I hope he wouldn't make me do that again.
"So I came up with a way that we never had to be apart."
He handed me the box and I just stared at him. "Harry, I don't know if—"
I saw how seriously he was acting and complied. Opening the box with a click, I saw a shiny bronze skeleton key nestled in white silk that looked to be recently restored. I looked from it to Harry and he smiled.
"It's an old key to Grimmauld Place, back when it used to be owned by Muggles."
"Oh Harry." I said, closing the distance between us and kissing him chastely. I pulled back quickly and gave him a sad look. "What about my parents? They would never—"
"No worries, I already owled them a few days ago."
He looked over my shoulder and shot someone a wide grin and a thumbs-up. I twisted to see who he was motioning to and saw my mum and dad standing nearby, waving with broad grins to match Harry's on their faces. I turned back to him. "You did all of this without telling me?"
"Are you complaining?"
"So what do you say?"
"I'm going to have to think about it, Harry." I said seriously. His shoulders sunk and he looked to be fighting the disappointment from showing on his face. He never made things fun for me, did he?
"I was kidding, Harry." I said. "Of course I'll move in with you!"
He grinned and picked me up once more, kissing me in front of the entire great hall. I could fell all of the eyes on us, but didn't care.
"Hey you guys I'm sorry about—" We stopped kissing when we heard Sue's voice, but she cut herself off with a smile before saying anything more. "Never mind, you two just keep doing what you're doing."
"Thank you, Sue." Harry said, capturing my lips once more.
I pulled back. "Harry, you can't just blow off Sue to kiss me!"
"But she said it was okay!" He protested.
I scoffed. "It's very rude."
He rolled his eyes. "Is this what it's going to be like every time we have her over for tea?"
"Is that sarcasm? Because I'll have you know that—" He cut me off with a kiss. I gave in only for a few moments before realizing what he was doing. I abruptly pulled away and gave him a hard stare.
"Are you going to kiss me every time you want me to shut up?"
"But of course. Do you have a problem with that?"
I bit my lip, knowing I couldn't hide the truth from him, no matter how much I wanted to. "I think you know the answer to that question already."
He grinned and leaned in once more.
"Hey!" I said against his lips, pushing him back. "I didn't say that it was okay!"
He shrugged. "It's not my fault that I misinterpreted your feelings. I guess I'll just have to find some other way to get what I want."
He pinched my butt.
"Harry James Potter!"
"Yes?" He drawled.
I sighed. "You're incorrigible."
He only laughed.
I tugged on his arm. "Now come on and apologize to Sue for acting like a pig."
"I most certainly will not!"
"Oh yes you will." I said, dragging him across the hall where Sue was talking with my mum.
"No I won't."
I huffed and skidded to a halt, spinning around to kiss him hotly—tongue-plunging, face-sucking, pure sex, poured into a single kiss. I pulled back with a smack and wiped my mouth, looking at his still half-closed eyes. He opened them slowly, as if coming from a dream and I smiled smugly.
"O-okay. I guess I can apologize or something."
I grabbed his hand once more and he followed behind like a lost puppy. Oh yes, I could get used to this.
A/N: And that's all folks! Thank you all for being such a great audience :) For those who are interested, the soundtrack and score of this story will be posted to my website tomorrow. Also, the poll for the new story will be open until next Sunday at 4:00 PM if you want to get some final votes in. A huge thanks to my beta, Vincent, who, even though he had a busy weekend and couldn't get the chapter to me before I had to head off to bed, has been a great beta!! Thank you all again and I'll see you in a few weeks with a brand new story!