Disclaimer

The Harry Potter universe and all the characters in it belong to J. K. Rowling. I get nothing out of this except enjoyment.

A/N Here it is, the final act of this little drama. Just a quick note that the rating has been increased to M. (Given what I'm sure you're all expecting to happen in this chapter, I suspect no one is surprised!)

-xox-XOX-XOX-xox-

Coming Back, Part 3 – Returning

October 31

Once again, Hermione's anxiety had steadily mounted over the last week as this day had approached. Now she paced back and forth in her room, reviewing her plans for the day in her mind. At breakfast that morning her announcements to the students had included a reminder of the costume party that evening. It had ended with the admonishment that costumes must be within the bounds of propriety.

In a good mood, she had continued on to inform Miss Weasley that dressing as Lady Godiva would not be appropriate. All the muggleborn students laughed, along with some of the others who were more familiar with muggle culture. The students in general were amazed at the more playful attitude they had been witnessing lately from the formerly stern professor. Victoire took the teasing good-naturedly, cheekily suggesting that the Assistant Headmistress might want to consider a Tarzan and Jane theme for her own costume.

Now, Hermione checked her watch for probably the tenth or twentieth time, and was gratified to see that it had finally reached the appointed hour for Harry's arrival. She'd been pleased that Harry had agreed to two-way communication, and now one of the school owls was able to find his valley. He'd given her a charmed band to clip to one of its talons that would negate the magic that kept his valley hidden from regular post owls, and she'd used it to send him a portkey that would bring him directly into the castle.

Suddenly he materialized right there in her room, and she had him in an immediate hug, almost before he'd completely landed. Once again the hug threatened to continue indefinitely before they broke it off, but this time it included a welcoming kiss as well. She outlined her ideas of how they could spend the day, and where they might visit, and he agreed.

First they flooed to Hogsmeade where she took some time to show him how the village had changed in the past fifteen plus years. From there they apparated to the cemetery at Godric's Hollow. Harry had confessed to her during her visit to his valley that he hadn't returned since that Christmas during the horcrux hunt, as the memories were still too painful. But he was willing to give it a try if he had her with him for support again.

While he spent time paying his respects to his parents, as well as to Remus and Tonks who were also buried there, Hermione reflected that their previous visit had probably been when she had felt closest to Harry on an emotional level of all the time she'd known him. With the way they had been hugging each other as they left, she wondered if their relationship might have changed that night had they not gone on to the disastrous encounter with Nagini immediately afterward.

Before they left, she conjured more flowers for the graves, repeating her action from before, causing Harry to smile and squeeze her hand in gratitude for her thoughtfulness, both then and now.

Their next stop was at her parents' house where she was finally able to introduce him to them. It seemed incredible that they'd never really had the opportunity to get to know him during all those years in school when he'd been her best friend. She firmly avoided the knowing looks her mother was shooting her way the entire time they were there.

They stayed for lunch, and Harry enthralled the elder Grangers with tales of his travels during the past decade and a half. (She noticed that he avoided any mention of his exploits during his school years, especially his conflict with a certain dark lord.) By the time they ended their visit, both of her parents had no doubt that their daughter had found her life mate, and both were entirely satisfied with her choice.

After that it was on to Diagon Alley, and they first went to Gringotts to see Bill and Fleur, both of whom were astounded at his appearance, despite having heard the report from their daughter on how dreamy he looked. While they stared at him, Harry eased the tension by noting that Fleur was as beautiful as ever, but commenting cheekily that Bill was showing some signs of his advancing age.

This broke the ice, as Fleur blushed prettily while Bill scowled, griping in jest that he got that enough from his kids and didn't need to hear it from some young upstart wizard. That got them all laughing, and the older couple spent an enjoyable half hour being mesmerized at hearing some of the things Harry had done. Bill in particular was interested in some of the ancient magic Harry had uncovered and they agreed to get together some time to discuss it further.

Finally it was time to move on to Weasley's Wizarding Wheazes, and the encounter Harry was most anxiously anticipating. The store was bigger and gaudier than ever and as they entered, Hermione spotted a certain clerk.

"Felicia, are Ron or George around?" she inquired. The pretty blonde witch (of course, she would be a blonde, Harry thought to himself) looked up and gave a smile of recognition to Hermione.

"Ron's available, George is in the back," she replied cheerfully.

Hermione shot a sly smile to Harry as they approached Ron, and when they caught his attention she took his arm and turned him toward Harry. "I'd like to introduce you to an old friend – James Evans," she announced. Harry had caught on to what she was doing and quickly made a small motion with his hand.

Ron's eyes went wide in recognition. "H….!" He frowned, and shot a puzzled look at Hermione when he discovered that he couldn't say his friend's real name out loud. Hermione merely smirked, so he shrugged his shoulders and turned back to Harry. He gave him a quick once over, shaking his head at how different his best mate looked.

"Where've you been for the last fifteen years?" he demanded good-naturedly.

"Seventeen," Hermione corrected with a smile, thinking that it felt just like old times. True to form, Ron rolled his eyes at her and all three of them chuckled.

"Traveling," Harry responded with a grin.

Ron gave him an odd look. "That's it? Just traveling?"

Harry shrugged. "Mostly. Spent my time learning all about magic, building a new world, that sort of thing. You know, the usual." Ron shook his head, amused at his old friend's antics. They'd always known, down inside, that Harry was destined to be different.

"So why'd you come back then?" he asked.

"Hermione," Harry answered straightforwardly. The witch being referred to beamed as she moved closer and took his arm. Ron looked back and forth between them several times, and nodded in understanding as a grin spread across his face.

"Like a sister, huh?" he commented. Harry grinned back, and took her hand in his.

"I may have been mistaken about that," he acknowledged.

Ron clapped him on the back. "Well, good on you. Both of you," he declared. "It's about time." He leaned forward and continued in a conspiratorial whisper. "I should warn you, though. Right scary that one is."

Hermione glared and hit Ron on the shoulder, and they all laughed as Harry put his arm around her and she leaned against him. They went to the back room to meet George, and spent the next hour catching up and reminiscing. Throughout it all, Hermione kept an eye on Harry, concerned about how he was adjusting to being the center of attention again after all the years spent in isolation. Harry caught her eye and smiled, nodding that he was all right. At this, she broke into a broad smile of her own. Everything was turning out splendidly.

Before the party that evening, Hermione indroduced 'James Evans' to McGonagall, Neville, and Teddy and Tori. The Headmistress gasped, her hand held over her heart as though it was in imminent danger of failing, while Neville's eyes bugged out. Teddy and Tori just grinned.

Tori took the opportunity to tease her professor about the costume she'd suggested that morning. "I can't wait to see him in a loincloth!" she gushed, eyeing him up with a suggestive leer. Harry laughed, having heard about her antics from Hermione, and shook his head.

"How about this?" he countered. Then he concentrated for a moment, and suddenly his beard and hair began to grow out, until both were several feet long. He turned it silvery gray, and added a pair of half glasses. As the finishing touch, he transfigured his robes to a garish purple color with gold stars. Dumbledore! Quite impressed, the onlookers broke into applause, and all agreed that his choice of disguise was perfect for the occasion.

Harry and Hermione circulated through the Great Hall during the party, acting as chaperones, and studiously avoiding too much touching or other intimate contact with each other. His presence set the students buzzing with speculation nevertheless. But the next morning, the hottest topic in the castle would be Professor Granger's new beau.

Back at her rooms after the conclusion of the festivities, Hermione asked him to stay the night with her. Harry raised an eyebrow in silent inquiry as to her intentions.

"Just hold me," she requested, as they both thought back to how wonderful it felt the previous month, sleeping in each other's arms.

He agreed.

The next morning before he left she invited him to come to the Gryffindor quidditch match in November. Both Teddy and Tori were chasers, and she pointed out that it would be a nice opportunity to see them play. He allowed with a grin that he supposed he could manage another day away from his valley.

-ooOoo-

Christmas Break

Harry looked around the cave again for perhaps the tenth or twentieth time that day, checking that all was in readiness for Hermione's visit. He'd enjoyed his two trips to Hogwarts to spend time with her, and had been surprised at his lack of discomfort and relative ease of readjustment to being around other wizards and witches again. But for the next step in the progression of his relationship with Hermione, he preferred the comfortable, familiar surroundings and privacy of his magical valley. Either way, it was unbelievable how much he missed her, and he couldn't wait to see her again!

Back at Hogwarts, Hermione let loose a long sigh, but then broke into a smile. It was Friday evening, and she'd finally finished seeing the students off and finishing up her paperwork for the term, and she was eagerly looking forward to spending the holiday with Harry. She checked her to-do list one more time and nodded, satisfied that everything was in order, then activated her portkey. In the blink of an eye she was back in Harry's valley, somewhat fatigued but bubbling with enthusiasm.

He greeted her with a hug and they shared a nice, long kiss. After a bit of cuddling they broke for supper, followed by an evening in the recliner watching the stars while sharing some of the things that had happened in the past month. Then it was off to bed.

They slept in their now customary position, with Harry's arm wrapped around Hermione's torso. Except that Hermione no longer bothered with a nightgown.

The next morning they enjoyed a companionable breakfast, but Hermione was visibly anxious to get on with the day. She went to the bedroom to finish getting ready while he cleared up the dishes.

He was just finishing when she came out wearing a new outfit she'd selected specifically for this occasion. It consisted of a short, thigh length pareo in a blue and green floral print, tied low on her hip, with a matching bandeau style strapless top. She completed the effect with a colorful flower in her hair, which was pulled back behind her ears.

"What do you think?" she inquired with a coy smile, eagerly anticipating his reaction.

Harry let out a long soft whistle. "Wow. You look like a Polynesian princess," he enthused. "Fantastic!"

"Well, perhaps you can help me," she informed him. "I can't decide whether to wear it like this …" she paused, then reached behind her back and untied the knot of her top, and pulled it off, dropping it to her side. "… or like this."

Harry was speechless. It was abundantly clear that she was ready to take up where they'd left off at the pool with the waterfall. He stammered for a while, then blurted out, "But I'd planned on some hiking first."

Hermione pouted, then glided forward and wrapped her arms around his neck, pressing her bare breasts against his similarly unclad chest.

Harry caved immediately.

At the pool Harry stripped and jumped in first, as before, while Hermione waited. When he surfaced and looked back so she was sure she had his attention, she slowly untied the pareo. He gasped as he realized she was wearing nothing underneath. She then walked, as calmly as she could mange, down to the small sandy beach area and waded in, smiling broadly that she'd made him speechless again.

For a time they alternated passionate kissing with some swimming, both of them aware of where this dance was heading. Finally they got out and Hermione began arranging the blanket she'd brought on the flat rocky surface. When she looked up she caught his eye and smiled shyly.

"I'm ready," she announced breathlessly. But Harry kneeled down beside her and halted her efforts.

"I have another spot in mind," he told her. Pulling her to her feet, he wrapped an arm around her and apparated them (both fully nude) to the top of the waterfall. Then he summoned their things up to join them while Hermione looked around at the new location.

It was another pool, this one perfectly calm, with a small sandy spot at one end. Constructed in this area was a thatched roof palapa, similar to those found at many beach resorts, with a double width, very comfortable looking padded sun bed.

"Oh Harry, this is perfect!" Hermione gasped.

They lay down together, both clearly nervous. "I've never done this before," she confessed.

"Me neither," he responded sheepishly.

"How can you be thirty-five years old and still be a virgin?" she asked in surprise.

"Hey, look who's talking, Miss Thirty-six year old virgin," he pointed out with a grin. "I have an excuse; I'm the one who's been living like a hermit all these years, remember?"

"I already told you I didn't date that much," she replied with a huff of mock indignation. "And you have to agree that there aren't a lot of opportunities for a professor living in that castle." She decided against revealing at this time her mother's contention that she was saving herself for him. (And she still wasn't ready to admit that the woman might have been right.)

They both laughed. "I think we'll figure it out," Hermione assured him. "I imagine it will come naturally."

"Besides, I'm sure you've read up on the subject," Harry teased. She playfully hit him and they both laughed again. Then she reached across him (very deliberately rubbing her body against his in the process) for her wand and cast two spells.

"I recognize the contraceptive spell but what was the other one," he inquired as she snuggled up against him.

"Something I looked up – it's a charm that's supposed to help for a woman's first time," she informed him.

"In the library?" he teased, raising an eyebrow.

"The Restricted Section," she grinned back.

"OK," he replied, then added hesitantly, "What do you say we start with kissing and touching and work our way into it?" Her answer was to run her hand down his chest and keep on going when she got to his waist

-ooo-

Hermione opened her eyes and sighed. It was perfectly wonderful. Harry had been determined that she enjoy it fully, so had stroked her to orgasm before entering her. She'd climaxed again just after he did.

Now she squirmed a bit. The charm had helped, but she was still a bit sore. Harry felt her moving and pulled her tightly against himself.

"I love you."

"I love you too."

After another long, lingering kiss, Harry rolled to his feet, then reached down and pulled her up. He concentrated for a moment, and waved his hand at the water, moving some rocks to divert a thermal spring into the pool. At her questioning gaze he smiled.

"Hot soak," he explained. She rewarded him for his thoughtfulness with a tender kiss.

They waded in and paddled around a bit as he adjusted the hot water flow until they were satisfied with the temperature. Eventually they found a smooth underwater ledge to sit on. After relaxing for a while, Hermione began feeling frisky again. She took hold of him and stroked him until he was hard, then climbed onto his lap. She relished the feeling of him inside her.

For his part, Harry was simply amazed that things had progressed so rapidly to this point, and that his childhood friend could be such a passionate, uninhibited lover. He picked her up and carried her back to the lounge bed. This time they did it with her on top. Harry was entranced by the vision of Hermione astride him, head thrown back, hair cascading down her back, her wet skin glistening in the golden glow of the morning sun, and soon lost himself in ecstasy.

They repeated the snooze, soak, lovemaking cycle two more times, prompting Hermione to question whether there were some sort of healing and rejuvenating potions in the water! Harry allowed with a satisfied sigh that there was a larger quantity than usual of raw magic in this pool, which was one of the reasons he'd selected this site. He theorized that their bodies used the magic as needed. Hermione agreed with a sultry smile that the experience had indeed been quite magical.

In time they began to get hungry, and decided to head back to the cave. Hermione wrapped her pareo around her hips for the walk back, but Harry surprised her by offering her a ride. He transformed into his panther form and with some slight trepidation she climbed onto his back.

She quickly discovered an unexpected effect of this mode of transportation. Feeling his powerful back and shoulder muscles rippling between her legs, and with his fur rubbing against a very sensitive spot (that had become even more so after four rounds of lovemaking!), she was extremely turned on by the time they reached the cave. Harry, in his animal form, could easily detect the scent of her arousal and hear her moaning and whimpering, and so was likewise quite aroused as he bounded over the last rock into the cave mouth and transformed back to his human self.

Not willing to wait an instant longer, Hermione demanded that he take her right there on the table. She bent forward and he entered her from behind, and as he did so she fleetingly recalled reading about how this position increased the amount of penetration.

A second later she was able to confirm – Oh yes, it most definitely did! They were screaming each other's names in no time.

After they caught their breath, Harry apparated them to his bed, where they took a few moments to recover their energy. Hermione noted with satisfaction that they were in the same position that they slept in, but with one very significant difference. And she fully intended to make that modification permanent.

They did eventually get up to eat lunch, when Harry jokingly inquired whether they were going to do anything else that day. Hermione smiled demurely and gave a one word answer. "Maybe."

That got them both laughing again. "So, what are you going to wear for the rest of the day?" Harry wondered as he dressed again. "Much as I enjoy seeing you in that wrap, I'm not sure it's practical for some of the things we'll be doing."

Hermione pondered this for a moment, then decided that she would wear the same thing he did – cargo shorts with no top, and a pair of boots when necessary. As she pulled on the shorts Harry noticed that this also meant no knickers.

"You're going to be driving me crazy all day with that get-up, you know," he moaned (not complaining, though). "Don't be surprised if I can't control myself and decide to have my way with you at some point."

Hermione merely shot him a seductive smile, and reached out to run a finger slowly down his chest. "Well, if that happens I know the perfect place for it," she declared impishly.

-ooo-

They spent the next few days with Harry showing Hermione in more detail how much was involved in establishing and maintaining the magical wildlife preserve. It was much like one of the larger open range style muggle zoos, she decided. Before he introduced a new species, he studied it carefully, then had to create the proper habitat, paying attention not only to what it ate, but what it nested in, etc. It was clearly a full time occupation.

He regularly made the rounds of the domains of each of the varieties of creatures that lived there, paying special attention to a half dozen of the newer residents. Through his ability to sense and identify magical signatures, he could keep track of the spread of each magical species, both plant and animal, and curb their movement if necessary. It wouldn't do at all to have two incompatible creatures come into contact with each other and begin to battle for dominance. This had happened a couple of times when he'd first started out, and it had been a difficult task to separate them before one or both were wiped out.

One afternoon, a week into her visit, Hermione persuaded him to show her more how he was able to feel magic. She was having trouble with it, so he took her to a small, peaceful location in the woods where they could concentrate without too many distractions. He sat down, leaning back against a smooth tree, and had her sit in front of him. Then he wrapped his arms around her waist and pulled her unclothed torso back against his own. (She briefly thought he would be tempted to fondle her a little before they started, but he managed to resist.)

First, he pushed his own magic outward until she was able to sense it through her skin where it was making contact with his. It began with a tingle against her back, then spread out through her shoulders, arms, and stomach.

"Can you feel it now?" he asked. She nodded excitedly. "OK, now try to maintain contact." Now that she knew what to look for he gradually retracted it while she followed it back into his body. She gasped at the sensation. It was highly erotic, one of the most intimate things she'd ever experienced (second only to their lovemaking).

Once she had adjusted to that, it was time for the next step. "Next, reach out your senses and try to feel for the magic in other places," he instructed. She complied, first detecting a slight tingling coming from the tree he was leaning against, then from some nearby bushes. He informed her that these were magical plants, and she concentrated until she could distinguish the feeling she got from each of them.

"The stronger the magic, the easier it is to detect," he explained. "But eventually you'll even feel trace amounts in nonmagical things." She nodded again, the familiar thrill associated with the discovery of new knowledge coursing through her body. Harry smiled affectionately at the enthusiasm for learning that was so characteristic of his longtime friend.

Suddenly Hermione sensed another magical presence, this one much larger and of an entirely different nature from the others. And it was moving! Her initial concern eased when she realized that Harry was not bothered at all, and she concluded that it must be a highly magical creature that was familiar to him.

And then Luna Lovegood walked into the clearing.

Hermione, startled, first instinctively tried to cover her bare breasts, but then stopped. After all, Luna was completely nude, so what did it matter? As her mind pondered that thought, she realized that her breasts were resting comfortably on Harry's arm, which had moved up slightly from her waist. That she hadn't noticed this until just now was a pleasant indication of how accustomed she had become to the level of intimacy the two of them now shared.

Luna came to an abrupt halt when she spotted the two of them sitting there and cocked her head, studying them curiously (but making no effort to cover herself). "Hello Hermione," the slender blonde greeted her. "I've never seen you here before. Are you helping Harry look for nargles?"

Hermione couldn't help but chuckle at the off the wall, but totally in-character query. "No, actually, Harry's helping me feel the magic." She promptly felt herself blush as she realized the possible double meaning of what she'd just said. But Luna didn't seem to notice, and just nodded her head.

"Yes, Harry would be good at that," she decided. "Then she studied the two of them for several more seconds. "The wrackspurts seem to have left both of you," she declared. "You must have finally realized something that should have been obvious for a long time."

Sheepish grins spread across both of the new lovers' faces at an obvious interpretation of Luna's proclamation, as she sat down to join them, her physical assets fully on display. The part of Hermione's mind that wasn't yet completely flustered noted that the other woman must have Swedish ancestry, since she was still a natural blonde in her mid thirties. Then things got more awkward as Luna seated herself, facing them, and pulled her knees up to her chest. While that covered her breasts, she was now displaying a view customarily afforded only to a gynecologist. But while Hermione had to battle her discomfort with the situation, and could feel Harry's uneasiness behind her, their free-spirited friend continued her conversation with an air of complete nonchalance.

"… but you should still watch out for the nargles," Luna cautioned.

"There aren't any nargles in this valley," Harry reminded her. Luna pondered that assertion for a moment, then nodded.

"You're right, I'd forgotten that," she corrected herself. "Do you want me to find some for you?"

"We don't have any mistletoe, so they wouldn't have anyplace to nest," he pointed out.

Luna nodded thoughtfully, then brightened. "I can bring you some of that too," she decided. "We grow it at the Rookery, you know." Satisfied with herself that she was able to make a contribution to Harry's magical creature collection, she bounced up to her feet and bid them good day.

"How is it that you know so much about nargles?" Hermione wondered. "Do they even exist?"

Harry shrugged. "I'll guess we'll find out," he replied. "And Luna mentioned the mistletoe thing in a DA meeting during fifth year, remember?"

Hermione found herself worried about Harry's reaction to Luna's nudity, her insecurities about her own body returning. After all, Luna had a nice, slender figure much like Ginny and Cho, which she had always assumed was Harry's preferred body type in a girl, while she was more full figured. Her concern escalated after Luna left and Harry asked her if she wanted to go swimming. Would Luna be there? What if he began to compare the two of them?

Harry picked up on her agitation, but it took him a while to work out the reason for it. When they reached the pool, he noticed her looking around anxiously as they disrobed. Then it came to him. Stepping up behind her he put his hands on her hips, then ran them lightly up to her waist and torso, continuing around to her front, gently cupping her breasts. She shuddered at the delightful sensation generated in her body by his intimate touch, and leaned back into him.

"Hermione," he whispered lovingly into her ear. "You have absolutely nothing to worry about. Let me assure you – I'm more turned on by you wearing just that pair of shorts than I ever am by Luna, no matter how she's dressed or what she does. It was all I could do to keep from touching you like this while we were sitting there."

A beaming smile broke out on her face, and she turned in his arms to face him, hugging him tightly to herself. "And when you wear that little wrap thing you tie around your waist, and I know there's nothing under it, it drives me crazy," he added. "I can hardly think of anything but ripping it off and making love to you."

"Well, I guess I'll have to wear that more often then," she teased, punctuating her declaration with a kiss. Then she stepped back and ran her hands over him like he'd just done to her. "Now, the only thing we need to decide is are we going to swim first, or …" she glanced meaningfully up toward the top of the waterfall where the other pool and the sun bed were.

Harry hesitated, clearly torn between two attractive choices. Hermione laughed and pushed him off the ledge into the water.

They didn't swim for very long.

-ooo-

By the end of the holiday they both knew they couldn't live apart from each other any longer. Indeed, they both seemed to be determined to make up for all the years of celibacy! They'd grown closer, even more than they'd been before – and not just in the physical sense.

As teens they'd still been immature, and each had characteristics that annoyed the other. For Hermione it was her strident bossiness, her attitude that she knew better, and her impatience when others didn't live up to her expectations. Harry was a procrastinator, was loath to study, and tended to make snap decisions without thinking things through. But now they'd largely grown out of those habits. They worked together well, and were a good fit as a couple. And they intended to keep it that way.

After discussing their needs and desires, they worked out a compromise. Harry would go back to Hogwarts with Hermione, but would make frequent trips to this valley. He'd plan on spending two or three days a week here. They would alternate where they slept, but it would definitely be together. It would take him longer to finish his work here, but that would be offset by having her help him during the time she was here too, especially during the summers.

She was confident that he would be able to teach at Hogwarts, and this led to a conversation about his teaching abilities. She reminded him of how successful he'd been with the DA, and he admitted that he had enjoyed that experience. They settled on a plan for him to begin by offering advanced magic classes and quidditch clinics.

-ooOoo-

January, Start of Term

As the students settled into their seats, the Assistant Headmistress stood to make an announcement.

"I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce our newest staff member, who also happens to be one of my oldest and dearest friends. Please welcome James Evans."

Harry stood up and waved his hand over the assembled students to cast the misdirection charm, continuing the motion into the normal gesture of acknowledgement for their polite applause of greeting, and then seated himself again.

"He will be a visiting professor, teaching several advanced elective courses, such as dueling, animagus transformation, and wandless magic," Hermione continued. This caused a considerable stir among the students, who now sat up and paid closer attention as they realized that this was not an ordinary announcement. This could be an amazing opportunity, as these were topics that were rarely, if ever taught at Hogwarts!

Harry leaned over to whisper something to Hermione, and she nodded, allowing a small smile to creep onto her face. "I should add that James was a rather decent quidditch player in his time here at Hogwarts, and is willing to offer tips to any house team that is interested," she added.

Several students had begun to realize exactly who this new professor was, and turned to whisper excitedly to their housemates. But they discovered to their puzzlement that they were unable to say his real name aloud, or even write it down. Some of the older students recognized that it was some sort of magical privacy spell.

One clever student worked out a way around it, calling out to ask if How To Defeat a Dark Lord might be one of the course offerings. This caused the whispering to increase dramatically.

"Actually, the key to that is having good people helping you," Harry responded cheerfully. "Neville, or I should say Professor Longbottom, and especially, erm, Professor Granger actually did more than I did."

The murmuring grew louder at this declaration, with many looks now directed at Neville, who shook his head modestly, and at Hermione who just gave Harry a knowing smile.

The Head Girl, a pretty Ravenclaw with long dark hair, who reminded Hermione of Cho Chang, shouted out that she'd be willing to learn anything he'd care to teach her, generating gasps and considerable giggling among the older girls, many of whom nodded vigorously in agreement.

Hermione decided that she needed to cut off this behavior before it got out of hand.

"I should also note that you are likely to observe the two of us spending a considerable amount of time in each others' company," she remarked pointedly, taking Harry's hand in her own.

This led to a chorus of sighs from the females, especially the upper years. The young Assistant Headmistress was strict, but warm and caring. She was well liked by the student body, so they were happy for her evident good fortune.

Victoire Weasley now stood. "Professor P…" she stumbled over the word and stopped, putting her hands on her hips and glaring at the head table. "How are you doing that?" she demanded.

Harry grinned at her. "Magic."

Tori shook her head and smiled, then began again. "Professor Evans, on behalf of myself and all the others here who owe our very lives to you, and wouldn't even be here without what you did …" She was interrupted by shouts of agreement and cheers, and waited for them to die down before she continued.

"Thank you. And welcome back."

Harry, now embarrassed, was at a loss as to how to respond, but Hermione prompted him with an affectionate smile. He rose to his feet, and the Great Hall went silent.

"It's good to be back."

-xox-XOX-XOX-xox-