Harry leaned back against his pillows and held the wand in front of him. He was having trouble comprehending what was in his hand; he couldn't imagine what kind of magic this wand must have done.
"Thank you," he said, his voice faltering. "I'm — I'm almost afraid to use it. What kind of wood is it? What's inside?"
"It's olive wood," Edward Pendragon replied, "but no one knows for sure what's in the core. Maybe they can figure it out at the Ministry. The family legend has it that there are two pieces in it from a single griffin, a wing feather from the eagle–part and a claw from the lion–part. At least that's what we think. The olive must have come from abroad, but the griffin could be from Britain."
Harry put the wand down on the bed. He looked at Ginny and they both giggled nervously. Harry turned sheepishly back to Edward. "I'm sorry, I guess I'm kind of speechless. It — it's overwhelming."
Edward nodded. "I understand, but I think you'll get used to it." He grinned.
Hermione put her hand on Harry's. "You know, on top of everything you've learned how to do since Christmas, having this wand probably makes you the most powerful wizard in England."
Harry groaned. "Oh, Merlin, please don't say that!"
There was silence for a moment, then everyone laughed, and Ginny hugged him. "Now I really want to be your girlfriend," she said, and everyone laughed again.
Soon the Pendragons left — Elspeth had to get back to Hogwarts — and the four friends sat in silence for a few moments. Finally Ron spoke.
"This is all so strange," he said. "Twenty–four hours ago we were about to play a Quidditch match, and now we're sitting here wondering what comes after you kill Voldemort and what the hell do you do with the coolest wand in the world. And in between, I thought Ginny and I were going to die." He looked quizzically at Harry. "Not that I'm complaining, but how did you get there so fast?"
Harry told him and Ginny about the events of the previous day after the attack on Hogsmeade. Ron shook his head when he heard about the gathering in the Gryffindor common room of students from all the Houses. "Even Slytherin. That's amazing."
"It doesn't surprise me," said Hermione. "I always suspected that Elspeth was put there for a purpose, not just because the Sorting Hat thought she belonged there. I'll bet that by the time she leaves school there'll be a completely different attitude in that House."
There was a knock and the Weasley clan entered, followed by Dobby who peeked shyly from behind Arthur's legs. Harry saw him and called him to the bedside. Fred dropped a copy of the Prophet on the bed, as Molly hugged her way around the room again. Hermione was about to produce chairs for everyone, but Harry stopped her. "Wait, let me try," he grinned. He picked up his new wand, and before he could even flick it a chair appeared behind each person who was not already sitting.
"Harry!" George exclaimed, "where did you get that wand? We haven't heard anything in Diagon Alley about new wands."
Harry put his bandaged hand on Ginny's knee. "You tell them."
"The Pendragons were here," Ginny said, "and they gave Harry the wand of Merlin. And the first thing he does with it is conjure up a bunch of chairs for people to put their bums in." She laughed. "I guess times are changing."
"Yes, times has changed," squeaked Dobby, "thanks to you, Harry Potter!"
But everyone else was silent, dumb–struck by what they had just heard. Finally George spoke. "I guess I'll tell my sources to stop looking for wands."
"Harry, that's brilliant," Fred added. They all started talking at once, and Molly hugged everyone, not just the usual four. After she let go of Dobby, the house–elf's tongue hung out and he gasped for breath.
Hermione picked up the newspaper, and Ron looked over her shoulder. "What's the Prophet say?" he asked. Hermione held up the front page. "LORD VOLDEMORT IS DEAD!" the headline screamed, and underneath it was the photograph of Ginny, Ron, and Hermione sitting around Harry on his bed; they were smiling and waving, and Ginny–in–the–photo planted a kiss on Harry's cheek.
"Hey," said Harry, "I don't remember that."
"They dubbed it in later," said George. "It's a true representation of reality, though, isn't it, Ginny?"
"What do you know about reality, George?" Ginny smiled. "Hermione, what's the story say?"
"No, please," Harry protested. "We can all read it later." But he was shouted down, and Hermione began reading.
"The sub–head says, 'The Chosen One Defeats The Dark Lord In The Final Battle.' By Stewart Shunpike." Harry covered his face with a pillow. "'Harry Potter and his band of intrepid companions have rid the world of Lord Voldemort. Mr. Potter was injured in the fight and is being treated for a severe wound to his hand at St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. The others, Miss Ginny Weasley, Mr. Ronald Weasley, and Miss Hermione Granger, all fellow–students of Mr. Potter at Hogwarts in the House of Gryffindor, were not badly injured, although Miss Granger sustained a spell–burn to her own hand.'" Hermione waved her hand to show a red mark on the palm.
She continued. "'The Dark Lord met his end by being pulled through the Veil in the Chamber of Death in the Department of Mysteries at the Ministry of Magic. There is some disagreement among experts about the veracity of this point, since it has never happened before. But newly–appointed Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, declared that he was perfectly confident that Voldemort's victims from the past did indeed wreak vengeance on their tormentor and murderer.
"'Details are sketchy at this time as to how both the Dark Lord and the four Hogwarts students were able to enter the Ministry undetected. However, three officials stated that someone entered the ninth level of the Ministry wearing an Invisibility cloak shortly before the Final Battle took place. Sources at Hogwarts have told this reporter that Harry Potter does own an Invisibility cloak.
"'The events in the Ministry followed a raid by Death Eaters on the village of Hogsmeade, during which Miss Weasley and Mr. Weasley were kidnaped. See story on page two.
"'Sources have also told the Prophet that Severus Snape, a former teacher at Hogwarts who is wanted for the murder of Professor and Headmaster Albus Dumbledore, was also in the Chamber of Death, and that he may have aided Mr. Potter in his confrontation with Lord Voldemort. Professor Snape's whereabouts are unknown at this time.'"
"What was Snape up to?" Bill interrupted. "Harry, didn't you say he lied to Voldemort about the Horcruxes?"
"Yeah, he did, and when I asked him why, all he would say was my mother's name. I still don't understand it."
"Ask Remus," Arthur said. "Things happened when they were all at Hogwarts. Severus was a very bitter man, and I'm afraid a lot of the bitterness came out against you, Harry. Snape hated all of them — Remus, Sirius, your father, and Pettigrew — but he never hated Lily. I don't know much about it, though."
"He did try to fix your hand, dear," Molly added.
"Shall I continue?" asked Hermione.
"No!" said Harry loudly. "We all know how to read. Please! You know I don't like that."
"Okay." Hermione folded the paper. "Just one more thing about Snape, though. There's an article on page three about some of the Death Eaters who have been captured. One of them is Draco Malfoy. The story says he wanted to go on the raid to Hogsmeade, but Snape kept him from going. If he had gone, he probably would have been killed."
Ginny shuddered. "Thank goodness he wasn't there! And please, don't read anything else about that." Harry put his hand on her shoulder, and she leaned against him. Molly came around to Ginny's side of the bed and sat next to her. There was silence in the room until Dobby spoke.
"They was deserving what they gots!" he squeaked emphatically. "Lot's of them had house–elves that hated them! You has done those house–elves a big favor, Ginny Weasley, and you, too, Ron Weasley!" He folded his arms and glared defiantly around the room.
"That's a valid point of view," said George.
"That some of us agree with," added Fred.
"Well, you weren't the ones who had to do it," Ginny declared angrily. "You didn't see them all going up in flames or hear the screaming." She buried her face in Harry's shoulder, and her mother put her arm around her.
"I agree," said Ron in a low voice, and everyone turned to him. "It was horrible, and I'll never forget it. I'd do it again if I had to, but I hope I never have to." The twins looked at each other and shrugged.
"Zat is a very honorable t'ing to say," Fleur put her hand on Ron's, and he looked at her and smiled wanly.
"It didn't feel very honorable. I didn't even know what I was doing. One of them grabbed Ginny, and the next thing I knew there were balls of fire all over the place."
"Please," said Ginny in a voice muffled by Harry's pajamas, "can we talk about something else?"
"Yes, let's do that," Molly added quickly. "Harry, we heard that a Healer from Japan was coming here to see your hand."
"I heard it was China," Harry said.
And so the morning passed, and when a wizard came in with a tray of luncheon sandwiches, the Weasleys left, Molly saying they would all be back to visit as long as Harry was in the hospital. Dobby bowed to Harry and his friends; he said he would not return because he was needed at Hogwarts to prepare the castle. Harry wanted to know what he meant but Dobby simply smiled and waved goodbye.
Shortly after lunch Hestia Derwent entered with a wizard and two witches. One of them was the Healer from China; she was dressed in beautiful, pale blue silk robes, with a caftan on her head like the one Professor Dumbledore wore. She introduced herself to Harry in perfect English as Chang Yun — "last name first" — from a small town near Shanghai. "It's small to us," she smiled as she unwrapped Harry's bandage, "but to you Englishmen it would be a large city. Now, let us see..." She took Harry's blackened hand and examined it carefully; the wizard and the other witch leaned closer and they all murmured to each other. Ginny sat on the bed and held Harry's left hand.
Chang ran her finger, then her wand over the hand; she poked and prodded, and bent the fingers, glancing at Harry as she did. "I'm going to give it a little shock," she said. "It won't hurt, but you might feel something." She brought her wand near the palm and a small blue spark flew from the wand.
Harry shook his head. "Nothing," he muttered; the Healer nodded. Then she looked at Harry's forehead. "May I?" she said, and ran her finger over the scar. Harry glanced at Ginny, and she squeezed his hand. It was something she had occasionally done, and Harry always liked the feeling; her fingers were soft and warm. The Healer's finger was somewhat rougher, but the touch was gentle. When she finished, she leaned back and thought for a moment; she glanced at the witch and wizard who had come in with her.
"Harry — may I call you Harry? — I must be frank. This is a severe wound, and it's remarkable that it does not give you great discomfort. Whoever treated it must have been very skilled, or else," she smiled, "had the healing powers of a phoenix's tears. But I'm afraid that even such a treatment would not restore the hand, only ease the pain."
"What are you saying?" Harry asked quietly. "That my hand will never get better?"
"I'm not saying that yet, but it may be true. I'm sorry. There are still things to try, but I want to be honest with you, of all people."
Harry stared at his hand. He took his left one from Ginny and held them up together. "When will you try... other things?"
"In a few hours. Some potions must be prepared. There are a few that take longer, and I will leave instructions with the good staff here." She nodded at her companions. "I cannot stay long."
After a few more minutes they left, and the four friends were alone again. It was quiet except for the occasional growls they heard from Moody when people passed their door. Harry did not speak, and the others looked at each other with troubled faces. Ginny sat next to him on the bed, but he turned his face from her and did not want her to hold his hand. After ten minutes of uncomfortable silence, she asked Hermione in a whisper if she and Ron could leave them alone for a while. "And ask Alastor not to let anyone in," she told them as they were leaving. They shut the door behind them and Ginny again sat down on the bed next to Harry.
He finally looked at her. "What do you want from me, Ginny? What am I supposed to do with only one hand?" He dropped his gaze from her blazing eyes.
"I don't have any idea what you're supposed to do," she said pointedly, "but I do remember a promise you made. You told me you would never walk away from me again. I want you to look at me." She turned his face toward her with her hand, then took his left hand and held both of hers next to it. "How many hands do you see?"
He looked away again, and she turned his head back. "Look at me, Harry. How many hands do you see?"
"Okay!" he snapped. "I see three hands. Two are yours and one is mine. What are you getting at?"
"Three hands. That's one more than anyone else I know has. Your promise never to walk away means that it's about us, not about you or me or even you and me. Us."
He dropped his hand and leaned back against the pillows, but this time he didn't turn away. "I thought that Snape was being... well, being Snape when he said it would never heal. But what if it doesn't?"
She picked up his good hand and pressed it to her cheek. "You can still do this," she said softly. Harry caressed her face, and leaned slowly toward her and kissed her gently. Ginny put her hand on his chest. "There's lots of things you only need one hand for," she said, and pushed him down.
Later in the afternoon there was a soft knock at the door and Ginny scrambled up. She opened the door a crack; it was Hermione and Ron. Ginny glanced back at Harry; he was sitting up in the bed, straightening out the bedclothes. She let them in, and Hermione looked from Harry to Ginny. "Is everything okay?" she asked.
"I'll check. Harry, is everything okay?"
"Huh? Oh, yeah. Yeah. Everything's fine. Great. In fact, it's never been better."
Ginny turned to Hermione with a smile. "Life is beautiful. How about with you two? Where did you go?"
"We took a taxi to Diagon Alley," Ron said, oblivious to the look between Hermione and Ginny. "Harry, you wouldn't believe what's going on. I think every wizard in England's there. And the Leaky Cauldron's packed to the rafters. About a hundred people tried to stand us drinks. Tom asked where you were. He said if you showed up he could retire on the profits, so many people would come to see you." Ron was still basking in the attention he had gotten.
"I think I'll skip it," Harry grimaced as he buttoned up his pajama top.
"Oh, and that reporter is downstairs, the one you promised an interview. I think he tried to get in earlier but Moody told him to go cool his heels. We saw him in the waiting room talking to the Healer."
"I guess I'll have to see him," Harry sighed.
Harry gave his interview to Stewart Shunpike, and he told the reporter to find out if his brother, Stan, had got his old job back on the Knight Bus. Later, Hestia Derwent and the Healer Chang returned with several bottles of potions and parchments with instructions for applying them and with charms to use. "I've sent an owl to your Madam Pomfrey with copies of these parchments," she said. "But we have been doing some research, and I have to tell you that it's not likely that your hand will improve, at least not anytime soon."
"Well, there's lots of things you can do with one hand," Harry said. "I'm learning more of them all the time." He gave Ginny a momentary smile, and when Ron also looked at her, she turned away from his arched eyebrows.
Chang's eyes twinkled. "You will do well, Harry Potter. It has been an honor attending you." She bowed her head and left, her pale, blue robes fluttering behind her like a meadow of forget–me–nots in a soft breeze.
Hestia watched her go, and turned to Harry. "There's no reason for you to stay here any longer, Harry. We've cleaned and patched all your robes. You can leave whenever you like."
They decided to wait until the next morning so that they would have a full day when they got back to Hogwarts. They anticipated a few celebrations at school, and Harry wanted one of them to be with the students who helped him and Hermione get out of the castle. There was also another piece of business he wanted to take care of, and it required a little planning since it meant a trip to Diagon Alley. Harry sent a message to Fred and George, and early in the evening they all Apparated into the back room of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, Ginny coming along on Harry's elbow.
"It's a bit of a party out there," Fred told Harry. "When they see you they'll think you've come to celebrate with them."
"We'll do it fast, in and out," Harry said. "I only want to go to one place." Fred seemed skeptical.
George led them out a side door and into the Alley, and it was as crowded and noisy as Fred had described. At first no one noticed them, but soon Ron and Ginny's now–notorious red hair started attracting attention, and finally someone spotted Harry. They were quickly surrounded by enthusiastic well–wishers; people started asking for Harry's autograph and offered to send him potions and charms for his hand. A motherly–looking witch asked Ginny when she and Harry were getting married, and then told her which dates, from an astrological point of view, would be the best.
Ron and Hermione were the center of their own group of admirers, and Ron was enjoying himself immensely. Three blushing young witches — they looked even younger than Hogwarts first–years — stood in front of Ron. "Please, Mr. Weasley," one giggled, "could you..." She handed him a quill and pushed up her sleeve, exposing her arm. The other two did the same, and they grinned at him expectantly.
"No problem, my dears," he said. He took her hand and signed his name on her arm, then on the others', as Hermione tried to suppress a laugh. The witches pushed their way back through the crowd, and as Ron and Hermione walked away they could hear their shrieks.
Harry and Ginny were making no progress toward Harry's goal until several Aurors showed up, attracted by the cheers and shouts. They formed a phalanx and escorted them to the vendor's cart a few yards from Gringotts. They held the crowd back as Ginny hugged the old hag who was still there selling jewelry and hair clips. The witch cried when she heard what had happened to the one she sold Ginny last summer. She did not have any more golden lion clasps because they had all been snapped up when the story about Ginny's had appeared in the Prophet. Ginny picked out three new clips — a dragon, a unicorn, and, with a smile at Harry, a griffin. George dutifully tested them for magic and declared them clean. The crowd applauded as Harry paid and clipped the griffin into Ginny's hair. The old witch curtseyed as the Aurors led the foursome away; she was immediately swamped with customers who bought everything else she had for sale.
Tom showed up from the Leaky Cauldron, and with Ron's help convinced Harry to make a brief appearance there, promising him free meals and drinks for life. Harry was actually starting to have a good time, and he didn't take much persuading. There was no room inside because word had spread that Harry Potter and his friends were in Diagon Alley, and wizards and witches had been pouring into the inn from the street entrance trying to get through it to the Alley. The four of them had to sit on the bar as cheers and toasts rang out; people handed them drinks and, by the time they pushed their way outside two hours later, they were all slightly tipsy.
Tom got one of the Aurors to escort them back to St. Mungo's. Mad–Eye scowled and growled at them as they wove their way down the hall to the room, and Hestia Derwent made a few tisking noises before handing out goblets with a potion to sober them up. They fell into separate beds — Ginny had to push Harry back into his own — and when Molly and Arthur arrived as dawn was breaking they had all slept soundly and awoken refreshed.
Arthur was wide awake himself but Molly looked tired. She presented Harry with a small, plain wooden box. "Charlie sent me the material," she said, "and I stayed up all night sewing it for you, dear, but don't worry about that."
Harry opened the box, and inside was a dark red, dragon–hide glove. They called Hestia in and she removed the bandage and Harry slipped the glove on; it fit perfectly. It was handsome and supple. "Thank you, Mrs. Weasley," he smiled. "This is brilliant!"
Molly hugged everyone in the room again. They brought Mad–Eye inside — she hugged him, too — and they all ate breakfast together. Finally, Hestia wished them well, and after thanking Moody for standing guard, they went downstairs for the Ministry car that would take them in comfort to the Burrow, where they would Floo into Hogwarts. They arrived at school after an uneventful trip. At Harry's request they entered through the Gryffindor fireplace, but there was still a crowd waiting to welcome them back. Harry looked for Dean, and saw him standing off to one side with Neville, Parvati, and Lavender.
"I knew you'd be back," Dean said, shaking his hand after pausing for a second when he saw the glove. "It was hell to pay, though, after you left. McGonagall blew her stack, gave everyone detention for life. Next time take me with you. I'd rather face Voldemort than her. Can you imagine? Everyone in Gryffindor was on detention except you four." They all laughed, and Ginny kissed his cheek.
"I guess you got out of detention only because we came back," she joked.
"So, how's the hand?" Neville asked. "The Prophet said a Healer came from Tibet to treat it." The students around them, who had been listening and smiling, lost their grins.
Harry held up his gloved right hand. "She was from China, but she... she didn't think they could do anything about it."
Oh, I'm sorry," Neville mumbled, chagrined that he had asked.
"But Harry," one of the first–years, Chantilly York, called out, "how will you catch the Snitch in the next match?"
Jimmy Peakes poked her hard in the back, and Ginny glared at the mortified girl. "What makes you think he can't?" she demanded angrily.
"N–nothing," the girl stammered. "I'm sorry." She burst into tears and rushed past Harry toward the stairs to the girls' dorm, but he reached out his gloved hand and stopped her. She looked at the glove, then apprehensively at Harry.
"Don't go," he said quietly, and looked around at the faces staring at him. "This is supposed to be a celebration. I haven't even thought about the match. If I can't catch the Snitch, then I won't play. But I don't want to worry about it today." He put his arm around Chantilly. "Don't you worry about it either," he said to her. She nodded without looking at him.
The crowd broke up into knots, and Harry walked to the boys' staircase. He stopped, and turned back to Ginny; she was watching him anxiously, and looked relieved as he reached out his right hand again. They went up the stairs and Ron and Hermione followed. When they got to the room, Ron took one look at the teddy bear that Hermione had left on his pillow and shoved it under the covers while his face turned pink. He and Hermione sat on his bed, and Harry and Ginny sat on Harry's.
"I guess we should have a team meeting," Harry said. "I don't want to ruin it for everyone."
"You won't be ruining it!" Ron exclaimed. "Even with just one hand you're better than anyone else."
Harry shook his head. "Elspeth can play Seeker. She almost beat me at the tryouts."
"Harry, no." Ginny put her hand on his shoulder. "She won't do it. It's your position, it's your team. We can't play without you."
"Madam Pomfrey or even McGonagall will say no," Harry replied. "And why can't you play without me?"
Ginny looked at him closely. She knew that the anger he had shown after Chang Yun had pronounced his hand to be incurable was not — could not — be gone. She felt stupid for not having thought before of how the injury would affect his Quidditch playing. She didn't know what the answer was, but she was not going to let him give up. She put her arms around him and he leaned his head against hers.
"Harry," she said, "look where we are. You came and saved my life, and you brought me back to a place I love."
"I didn't have much choice," he murmured.
"You have a choice about the team."
He raised his head; there was a small grin on his face. "You know, you are very bad for my resolve. I'll think about it. Like I told Chantilly, let's not talk about it now." Ginny didn't point out that he was the one who had brought up the subject.
The rest of the day was one long party for the entire school. Classes had been cancelled, of course, since no one would have attended them anyway. At lunch, before the meal started, Professor McGonagall rose to make a special announcement.
"It has certainly been a week to remember, but the festivities are not finished. There will be a Feast tonight, and I have heard that the kitchen is out–doing itself in the number of courses, so leave a little on your plates this afternoon. And in the evening, for those of you who survive the Feast, we have invited the Weird Sisters back for a special stone concert, in honor of the entire school."
She stood with a puzzled look at the silence that followed, until Ron said loudly, "That's a rock concert, Professor."
"Thank you, Mr. Weasley," the Headmistress called over the laughter.
After lunch Harry gathered the non–Gryffindors who had helped with the escape and brought them back to the common room, where the party went on until dinner time. The butterbeer flowed freely, and somehow Dean had smuggled in a case of mead; a few students had to make a side–trip to see Madam Pomfrey before the Feast. The Feast itself, and the concert that followed, became legends in the history of Hogwarts; no one who was there ever forgot them. Many students slept in the Great Hall that night, passed out from over–eating and exhaustion. Argus Filch, in an attempt to gain some revenge for the fireworks raid on his office, went prowling around the Great Hall and the corridors looking for members of Ernie Macmillan's team, the ones who had done the job. He caught only Erskine Labine and Zania Black snogging in a broom cupboard, and it would have gone badly for them if Professor Flitwick hadn't happened along and sent Filch back to his office, enraged and snarling.
The next day classes were cancelled again, as most students slept well into the day. The day after that, classes resumed and things started to return to normal. Late in the afternoon, when Harry was called up to Professor McGonagall's office, Ron, Ginny, and Hermione took advantage of his absence to talk about the Quidditch match.
"He's got to play," Ron said, as they sat down in front of the fireplace. "I've already talked to the rest of the team. If he wants to play, and they don't let him, then no one will play. We all agreed to that."
"But how can he?" Hermione asked. "I mean, how can he possibly catch the Snitch with his right hand? He can't bend it or grasp anything. It's like a block of wood."
"I don't know," Ron shook his head. "He'd have to use his left, and hold onto the broom handle with his right somehow."
"Could we rig some kind of strap?" Hermione suggested.
"That's illegal. You can't have anything attached to the broom."
Ginny had been silent, but she spoke up now. "He can brace himself with his right hand well enough. I've seen him make some pretty scary turns without holding on at all. I think we're talking about the wrong thing, though. If he wants to play, he'll play. The question is, does he want to play?"
"Well, what do you think?" Ron asked. "He talks to you the most. Has he said anything?"
Ginny shook her head. "I've tried to bring it up, but he keeps putting it off, says there's still time to decide."
"Why don't you get the whole team together and all work on him at the same time?" suggested Hermione. "You'd have to be careful not to push him too hard, but —"
"I don't care about pushing him too hard," Ginny interrupted, somewhat brusquely. "He's a big boy, he needs to deal with it. But I do think that's a good idea, Hermione." She looked at Ron. "Let's have a team meeting tomorrow."
At that moment Harry stepped through the portrait hole. He came over to the fireplace and sat down next to Ginny. "Boy, do I have news for you blokes," he grinned. "They're disbanding the Order."
Ron whistled. "Wow, it's really over, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but it isn't just because the war's over. It's also because Kingsley's Minister and Tonks is Head Auror. I mean, the Order practically is the Ministry now." He paused. "I just thought of something. They don't need the house at Grimmauld Place anymore. What the hell am I going to do with it?" He grinned again. "Anyone want it? It's a perfect fixer–upper. I'll even throw in a house–elf." Several students looked at them as they all, except Hermione, roared with laughter. When they had recovered, she had a thoughtful expression.
"What if you returned it to the Black family?" she said. "That would be quite a big deal in the Wizarding world, Harry."
"Yeah!" said Ron. "And if Kreacher went back, he could have his head mounted on the wall and die happy! See, Hermione, I'm always thinking about the welfare of house–elves."
"You are not, Ronald. And Kreacher deserves to be happy as much as anyone else."
"Not in my book," Ron muttered, and looked away from Hermione's scowl.
Hermione turned to Harry. "Can I make a suggestion? Give it to Zania. Her heart's certainly in the right place."
"Hmm," Harry pondered. "That's not a bad thought. Let me think about it for a while." He reached for Ginny and she took his hand and smiled quizzically.
"What?" she said. "You look happy."
"I just feel good. We're all alive, and no one's out there waiting to kill us. I can't tell you how much I'm looking forward to this summer." He looked at Ron. "I think all I want to do is sleep and eat and fly. Do you think your folks would mind if I moved in, at least for a couple of months?"
"Are you kidding me?" Ron said incredulously. "If you do anything else my mum will go find you, bring you back home, and tie you to a kitchen chair so she can force–feed you."
"And I'll be holding you down while she does it," Ginny had a bright–eyed grin on her face.
Harry leaned back in his chair. He had a tiny smile and a distant look in his eyes. He glanced at Ginny and their eyes met. "Let's go for a long walk," he said. He rose, and together he and Ginny disappeared out the portrait hole.
"He's so different," Hermione said with a sigh. "It's great to see him happy, after all this time."
"That's for sure," Ron agreed, and he took Hermione's hand. They sat in silence and watched the fire crackling in the grate.
The next day at breakfast Ron suggested to Harry that they have a team meeting to talk about the third match. Harry grunted but didn't look up from his plate of waffles.
"I'll take that for a yes," Ron said. He got up and went to the other tables to tell the rest of the team members. When he got back to his seat, Harry and Ginny were having an animated conversation.
"You can do it," Ginny was saying. "I've seen you stop on a Knut and do a one–eighty with both your hands off the handle. Of course it's different in a match, but we have plenty of time to practice. At least you've got to try."
"I don't have to try anything," Harry replied stubbornly. "I don't feel comfortable about it. And I don't want them feeling sorry for me, and letting us win just because..." He trailed off, looking disgruntled.
"Mate," Ron declared, "I have seen the Chudley Cannons fly right at a Beater whose arm was broken and whose eye was so swollen he was half–blind. They will show no mercy, believe me."
Harry scowled. "This is different. It's not a real match, they'll feel sorry for Harry Potter and his poor hand. I'm not playing."
"If it's not real, then why did we all need to go to the hospital wing after the first match?" Ginny demanded. "And I didn't see Salinger being sorry for you when he got that signal from the Keeper."
Ginny made an exasperated sound. "It's not different. But listen," she spoke over Harry's protest, "just come to the meeting, okay? If you still don't want to fly, then I'll accept it."
Harry agreed, but not gracefully, and Ginny rolled her eyes at Ron. She got up. "Where are you going?" Harry asked a little anxiously.
"I have a Charms class, dear. I'll see you later." She winked surreptitiously at Hermione and left.
"Oh," Harry said to her back as she strode out the entrance. "See you later." He looked uncertainly at Hermione. "Was she angry?" Hermione shrugged and also got up and left before she could lose control and burst out laughing.
"Was she angry?" Harry asked Ron.
"You're asking the wrong bloke, mate," Ron declared. "I never know nothin', and I find it safer to keep it that way." He also left, leaving Harry to puzzle it out as best he could by himself.
Ron had arranged the team meeting for late afternoon in an empty classroom. When they had all gathered, Ron told them that Harry didn't think he could play Seeker for the final match. Everyone protested loudly, but Harry remained adamant.
"It's going to come down to the Seekers again," he said, "and that means you need someone who actually has a shot at it. I don't see how I can do it." After fifteen minutes of sometimes heated arguments, Elspeth, who had not said anything yet, spoke.
"Harry," she said diffidently, "we all came and helped you when you needed it. Why can't you help us now?"
Harry stared at her. "What do you mean?"
"The whole school helped you and Hermione get out of the castle. If we hadn't done that, Ginny and Ron may h–have b–been..." She stammered to a stop and looked at Harry with limpid eyes. No one spoke, and Harry looked around the room at solemn faces. He glanced at Ginny and then down at the floor.
"Okay, I'll play," he said almost under his breath. He looked up at Elspeth. "I'll play." A broad smile broke out on her face, and she jumped up from the chair she was in and hugged Harry.
"Thanks!" she said. "A guaranteed win!"
On their way back to the common room Ginny took Harry's arm. "Are you really okay with it?" she asked.
Harry put his own arm around her waist and pulled her against him. "Yeah, I am. You'll have to score a lot of goals, though, just in case."
"I can do that," Ginny smiled, and put her head on his shoulder as they walked along. Hermione was waiting in a chair in front of the fireplace, and looked up as Harry, Ginny, and Ron sat down. "So?" she said.
"They talked me into it," Harry replied. "Elspeth actually had some pretty good points."
Hermione glanced at Ginny and gave her a thumbs up. "Good for Elspeth," she said.
The final Quidditch match was scheduled for the day before the first anniversary of Professor Dumbledore's funeral. A memorial service had been planned, and having the Quidditch match at the same time would make it more of a festive occasion than a somber event, which befitted the new tenor of the times. Harry did well in practice, and the whole team once again was feeling quietly confident. Dinner with the Cannon players the night before the match was decidedly different this time. For one thing, Ron wasn't angry about losing the previous match. And Forrester Salinger came right out and asked Harry about his hand, and Harry showed him how he was using it as a brace and catching with his left. After the meal Salinger rose and, in front of the entire school, presented Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione with a silver chalice as an appreciation from the Cannons for what they had done. It was eventually placed in a glass case in the entrance hall, where it remained as a tribute to the students who had helped defeat Voldemort.
The crowd at the match was more festive, larger, and louder than at either of the first two. The referee admonished both sides that he would not tolerate any "non–regulation maneuvers," as he put it. The Hogwarts team played hesitantly at first, and fell behind. But with some determined flying by all three Chasers they gradually caught up. The lead went back and forth, and again it became a game for the Seekers.
The score stood ninety–all when both Forrester and Harry spotted the Golden Snitch almost at the same time. They were not near each other, and they dove from different angles. The crowd noise became overwhelming as they streaked downward. The Snitch swerved wildly, and Salinger, who was closer, grasped at empty air. It zipped right past Harry's right side, and he instinctively switched hands; his left, which had been outstretched, gripped his broom, and his right hand reached for the Snitch. It swerved again and touched his gloved fingers, but he could not close on it. It veered again right into the open hand of Forrester Salinger.
The two Seekers hovered on their broomsticks, looking at each other. Then Harry pulled away and circled up. The crowd had gone eerily silent; only a low murmuring could be heard around the stadium. Harry paused, and far below Ginny put her hand to her mouth and felt her heart skipping. But Harry zoomed back down, and as he passed Forrester he grinned and swatted his back. The crowd erupted again, but this time a chant of "Harry, Harry, Harry" gradually filled the stadium.
The teams landed. Ginny ran to Harry and they stood facing each other. "That wasn't such a bad ending, was it?" he said.
Ginny smiled through tears. "No, not for our last match together at Hogwarts."
Salinger was standing next to them, and Harry was about to speak, when the Chudley Seeker took Harry's right arm. He lifted it up, and also raised his other hand which held the Snitch. They both acknowledged the cheers that rolled around them. Salinger stepped back. He picked up his broom and raised it in a salute to Harry Potter. The rest of the Cannons, standing behind him, did the same.
The locker room was neither boisterous nor subdued. They all felt that they had played a good, tough match, and could have won but for the caprices of the Golden Snitch. Harry and Ron sat together and talked with the other players and with the people who came into the dressing room to see them, but they did not want to take off their Quidditch robes; it would be the last time they wore them at Hogwarts. Their teammates decided to take a trip into Hogsmeade to celebrate, but Harry glanced at Ginny and she shook her head; the taste of the last trip there was still too strong.
So Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione walked to the lake and around it to the White Tomb. Rows of chairs had already been set up for the memorial service, but they sat on the grass with their backs to the tomb, looking out at the lake. Harry threw pebbles into the water awkwardly with his left hand. They talked about the match, and the end of term, and the coming summer. At one point they saw the flash of a silver body breaking the surface far out on the water. The mermaid, if it had indeed seen them, took no notice. Later, when they were walking back along the lake, they never saw the small band of centaurs passing silently through the forest nearby. The centaurs saw them, of course, but also took no notice; they cared little for the affairs of wizards and witches.
# # # #
Harry, Ron, and Hermione finished at Hogwarts a few weeks later, and the day after, Harry went into Hogsmeade and bought the Hogs Head Inn from the goblins who owned it; he paid a high price, but for what he had in mind the price was worth it. He did not tell Ginny, though.
He spent the summer at the Burrow, and when Ron and Hermione joined Bill and Fleur for a vacation in the south of France, he had Ron's attic room to himself. He and Ginny often went to the clearing and flew on their Firebolts, and they also took long walks around the woody English countryside. But once a week Harry went away for a day, and would not tell Ginny where or why, only that it was a surprise for her. She knew, of course, that it had something to do with his offer to live in Hogsmeade during her seventh year, but she didn't want to spoil the surprise, so she said nothing.
The Weasleys threw a huge and wild seventeenth birthday party for Ginny at the Burrow. It was attended by the entire family — including Charlie, back from Romania — all of her Quidditch teammates, every student who had helped Harry and Hermione get out of the castle, and most members of the Order of the Phoenix. The next day Ginny and Harry flew to Hogsmeade and Harry brought her to the Hogs Head. It was completely renovated on the inside with paneled walls, chandeliers, a hardwood floor, and a new bar. The upstairs, where Harry would live, was converted into a flat with large picture windows, brightly painted walls, comfortable oak furniture, three fireplaces, and a cozy bedroom with a four–poster. On the mantel over one of the fireplaces was the photograph of the Order of the Phoenix that Harry had found in Grimmauld Place. In the meadow in back where Ginny and Ron had fought the Death Eaters, Harry had planted an apple orchard.
Ginny's seventh year at Hogwarts is another story and a happy one. Except for classes, she spent most of her time in Hogsmeade. A month after she graduated there was a wedding at the Burrow. Their life together is also another story, and mostly a happy one with the inevitable bumps and bruises that they got from living with someone as strong and strong–willed as they both were. For Harry the knocks were nothing compared with what he had experienced "before Ginny." He had not had a family since he was one year old, and nothing else mattered.
Harry's scar never troubled him again, but he bore his maimed hand to the end of his life. Many powerful wizards and witches came to him and tried to heal it, but none could. He liked telling jokes about the hand, saying that it glowed in the dark and he never needed candles or the Lumos charm; that it ruined forever his chance of a career in the Muggle military service because he couldn't salute; that his greatest frustration was that he could never become ambidextrous.
Like his mentor Professor Dumbledore, Harry came to consider the loss of a hand a modest price to pay for ridding the world of Voldemort. And he always insisted that it was not Snape's magic that had stopped the unendurable pain of the Killing Curse, but the tears of his beloved Ginny.