Chapter 34: Epilogue—Service
On a beautiful sunny afternoon in early June, six months after the Battle of Godric's Hollow, a small group of a hundred or so mourners entered the graveyard of the Godric's Hollow church, following a solemn young man in black mourning robes who bore a simple pewter urn. They kept a respectful distance, letting him lead them to the chairs which had been placed between the headstones and crypts at the top of the hill at the back of the cemetery.
Harry Potter reached the grave he was seeking and stood before the headstone, gazing down at the words inscribed upon it.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore
26 January 1859 – 21 October 1997
Fear Not Death, For Death Is But the Next Great Adventure.
A single tear escaped his left eye as he placed the urn on a small table near the grave. He brushed it away, hoping no one had seen. He'd promised himself he could cry later when he was alone, but for now he had a job to do and couldn't afford to indulge in his emotions. When at last he turned around, it was to address the other mourners who had quietly taken their seats while his back was turned.
Harry nodded to Aberforth Dumbledore. The older wizard was now standing a few feet away from him between his sister's and parents' graves. The two wizards smiled sadly at each other before Harry nodded and began searching for the Weasley family. He located them sitting next to the Potter Crypt. Ginny sat ramrod straight next to her parents, a handkerchief clutched in her hand. Several chairs over, Ron had his arm around Hermione, just as he'd had since the memorial service at Hogwarts earlier in the day. Further back amongst the crowd were the Hogwarts teachers, easily spotted because of Hagrid and his brother, Grawp.
The mourners fell silent as Harry stepped behind the podium set up beside the open grave. He then raised his wand and pointed it at his throat, casting a Sonorus Charm.
"We gather here this afternoon to pay our last respects to Professor Albus Dumbledore and to commit his remains to the earth," he began, still searching the faces of the crowd for the friends he had invited to be here. "This morning at the memorial service we heard what a marvellous statesman, warrior and leader Professor Dumbledore was, but now I want to tell you who Albus Dumbledore was to me. Later you'll have a chance to share your own stories or memories."
Harry cleared his throat, giving himself time to gather his thoughts. "I first met Professor Dumbledore when I was eleven. At the time he was a rather imposing figure, the all-powerful Headmaster of Hogwarts. I admit I was rather intimidated by his long beard and unusual clothes, not to mention his crooked nose and the fact that he knew more about me than I knew about him." A ripple of laughter rolled through the crowd. Harry smiled at the memory, relaxing into his planned remarks. "We didn't have much contact at all my first three years at Hogwarts, but beginning with my fourth year Professor Dumbledore became an increasing influence on my life. I can never thank him enough for the support he gave me during the Triwizard Tournament. He helped me through that turbulent year while I competed against students much older and more accomplished at magic than I was at the time. He became someone I could rely on for answers to the many questions I had, and when he rescued me from Death Eater Barty Crouch at the end of the Third Task I felt as if an adult other than Mrs Weasley and my teachers really cared about me." He paused, glancing up to sneak a look at her, and caught her dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief.
"Unfortunately," he continued, "Professor Dumbledore and I didn't have much contact during my fifth year at Hogwarts and I felt completely abandoned by him that year. Many of my friends thought my anger was directed mostly at Delores Umbridge, but in actuality I was terribly hurt by Professor Dumbledore distancing himself from me."
Harry waited until a small rumble of comments died down. Then, he continued, "It wasn't until I became completely and utterly depressed in the aftermath of the battle at the Ministry that Professor Dumbledore stepped back into my life. My sixth year at Hogwarts had started out miserably and I found myself in the Headmaster's office more times than I could count because my teachers were concerned for my well-being. When Professor Dumbledore and Professor McGonagall took me off the Quidditch team and demanded that I spend at least an hour every afternoon in her office making up the work I had refused to do, I thought the world had caved in on me. However, that was the beginning of a friendship with Albus Dumbledore that only became more intense as the year went on.
"Professor Dumbledore often came to visit me in Professor McGonagall's office. At first, I was resentful of his intrusion into my life and didn't treat him very well, much to my Head of House's chagrin. Nevertheless, as time went on and Professor Dumbledore continued to take an interest in my progress, I came to see that he and Professor McGonagall really were on my side and I began looking forward to his frequent visits. He seemed genuinely pleased that I was finally recovering from my godfather's death and began making even more time in his busy schedule to monitor my academic progress.
"There came a day when I finally finished my work and didn't need to go to Professor McGonagall's office each afternoon. At first, I enjoyed devoting my extra free time to Quidditch practice and my studies, but soon I found myself missing my time with the two professors. Then a tragic accident took place which caused me to seek out Professor Dumbledore as one of the many solutions." At this, Harry looked at Ginny. She smiled sadly at him. "We met numerous times and as we worked out a plan to help the student, Professor Dumbledore and I became more than mentor and pupil… we became friends.
"Tragically, our friendship was to be very short, but not before we endured the Battle of Hogsmeade in which students and teachers alike joined together to keep Voldemort's Death Eaters from taking over the school." Harry paused as a shudder ran through mourners and he wondered if anyone would ever be comfortable enough to let Voldemort's name be just that—a name. "I then spent several weeks at Hogwarts after a short recuperation at my cousin's house. Those few weeks at the castle were the best I'd ever experienced. Every day Dumbledore and I would do something together, and it felt almost as if I was with my grandfather instead of the school's headmaster."
Harry stopped. A huge lump erupted in his throat and he had to swallow several times before he could speak again. "Then, on my seventeenth birthday, Professor Dumbledore gave me a day I will always treasure. He brought me here to Godric's Hollow to view my parent's graves and to personally tour the Potter Memorial. It was the best birthday ever for me, and I realize now how precious that day really was for on our flight back to Hogwarts, the two of us were captured by Death Eaters."
Harry stopped, nearly overwhelmed by the fury and helplessness that swept through him at the thought of their kidnapping. He closed his eyes and gripped the podium, willing himself to calm down enough to get through this part of his speech.
"The ensuing months in captivity are something I am still dealing with," he choked, now staring hard at Ginny.
She smiled at him and said, It's almost over. You can get through it.
Mentally clinging to her thoughts, Harry found the strength to go on. "They were months filled with pain and hunger and isolation so demoralizing that if I hadn't had Dumbledore's companionship and strength, I wouldn't have lived through it. Even though he was suffering as much as I, he found little ways to bring humour and comfort to our situation, always disregarding his own discomfort. He dried my wet clothes when our captors brought me back to our cell. He talked to me for hours about my parents and subjects we both found interesting. He helped me develop my wandless magic enough that after he succumbed to the spell that eventually took his life, I was able to carry on until we were rescued."
Here, Harry had to stop. He fumbled in a pocket for the handkerchief Mrs. Weasley had pressed into his hand that morning and used it to polish his glasses which had suddenly fogged over.
It's all right to let us see you cry, Ginny's gentle voice told him. If it helps you get through this, know that we're all sad, Harry. No one will think ill of you if you show how much you're hurting.
Harry closed his eyes and finally let a few silent tears course down his cheeks. It was a relief to let go of his tightly-bottled emotions, even just a little, and as he mopped his eyes he had to smile at the loud, fog horn-like sounds of Hagrid and Grawp sharing opposite ends of the same enormous handkerchief.
Thanks, Ginny, he sent back to her.
Clearing his throat, he continued his remarks. "Everyone says Albus Dumbledore was a great man, but they never knew just how personable and loving he could be. I, personally, will remember that about him and the fact that he cared enough about me to ask permission rather than use his authority to take what he wanted from me… I will always remember him as a surrogate grandfather and my good friend."
Harry raised his wand and cancelled the Sonorus Spell as those gathered about him stood up and began to applaud. Embarrassed, Harry stepped away from the podium, hoping to take the attention from himself. He was heartened when several people rose to give their own testimonials.
Neville Longbottom spoke first. He told how Professor Dumbledore had taken interest in him as a first year and had personally shown him the contents of the Herbology aisle in the Hogwarts library after Professor Sprout had mentioned Neville's prowess in the subject. Hannah Abbott recounted how Professor Dumbledore had personally come to visit her home after Death Eaters had killed her mother. Madam Rosmerta spoke of her long friendship with Dumbledore. Professor Trelawney related the story of her hiring and how personally concerned Dumbledore had been about ensuring that she was protected from Dolores Umbridge after her sacking by the Hogwarts High Inquisitor. Several others added their stories as well. Finally, to Harry's surprise, Dudley Dursley stood up and walked to the podium. As he passed Harry, Dudley reached out and briefly gripped his shoulder.
Clearing his throat, Dudley said, "I never knew Professor Dumbledore, but the things I've heard about him in the last few hours and what I learned about his relationship with my cousin makes me rather sad that I was too short-sighted and self-centred to make his acquaintance as I was growing up." He paused and looked at Harry. "You're lucky to have been so close to him, Harry. He taught you things that helped you save the world, that helped you be a better man… things that my parents couldn't be bothered with because they were too busy teaching me to be selfish and to hate magic."
A ripple of shock ran through those seated amongst the graves. Dudley ignored it.
"I remember being very jealous of you, Harry, when we were eleven and twelve. You stepped off the Hogwarts Express every year with a smile on your face—at least until you saw my parents—even if you'd had a terrifying experience just before school ended. I think some of your happiness was because Professor Dumbledore was helping you learn the truth about your life before you came to live with my family and teaching you valuable lessons, like choosing what is right over what is easy." Dudley stopped and turned back to the crowd. "I hope Professor Dumbledore taught each of you something as valuable… as much as he taught Harry. I think he touched a lot of lives, including mine." Then, his ears turning as red as Ron's, Dudley left the podium and went back to his seat to a smattering of applause and murmured comments.
Harry scanned the crowd for signs that someone else wanted to say something. When no one appeared to be coming foreword, he turned to nod to the chamber musicians he had hired for this part of Dumbledore's service. The small group of Muggle-born violinists, violists, cellists and a string bass player began playing the professor's favourite piece—a pretty little tune by Mozart—as Harry lifted the urn from the table and lowered it by hand into the hole in front of the headstone. Then, stepping back, he raised his wand and pointed it at the mound of dirt beside the hole. The dirt rose into the air and slowly began covering the urn, eventually leaving a rounded mound as the only sign there was anything in the ground in front of the stone.
"Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, I now commit you to the earth from which we all are made. May your next greatest adventure be one you want us all to share," Harry said, his magically enhanced voice loud enough for the other mourners to hear over the music.
Kingsley Shacklebolt, Interim Minister for Magic, now joined Harry at the grave.
"Let us take a moment to reflect quietly on how Dumbledore touched each of our lives," he said, bowing his head.
The music quieted but didn't entirely stop as everyone bowed their heads. A minute passed. Two minutes. Three…
Then the Minister intoned, "We will miss you, Professor. May you rest in peace."
With that, he strode down the aisle between the graves and chairs, down the hill and out of the cemetery. The other mourners rose and followed him, most of them Apparating away when they reached the square. Those who were left included Harry's closest friends and teachers, the people he had invited to his house for afternoon tea.
Harry was still staring at the tiny mound of dirt that covered Dumbledore's urn when he felt Ginny's hand slip into his. He looked down and gave her a wan smile that she returned with a watery one of her own. They stood, silently comforting each other for a time before Ginny broke the silence.
"It's finally, truly over," she murmured quietly.
Harry squeezed her hand. "Yes," he agreed with a sigh as he let his gaze wander over to the Potter Family crypt. "But I'm still going to miss them."
"I know," she said, and he felt her hand slide from his to come to rest at the small of his back. He put his arm over her shoulders, hugging her close.
They jumped when someone behind them cleared his throat.
"Now, isn't this a cosy sight," came the familiar sneering drawl that could only be Draco Malfoy's.
Harry turned to see his former school rival standing a little to the side, leaning heavily on an ornate cane. The two eyed each other for a moment before Harry let his face relax into a small smile.
"Draco, I'm glad you came," he said, genuinely meaning the words.
Draco's eyes widened. "You are?" he asked, sounding surprised.
"Yes," Harry replied. "You deserve the right to say good-bye to Professor Dumbledore as much as any of the rest of us."
"Glad you think so… Harry," Draco said hesitantly. He studied the new grave and ornate headstone for a bit. "He… Professor Dumbledore… understood me better than I think I understood myself."
"He saw the good in people," Ginny said, speaking for the first time. "He saw the good in you."
And to Harry's astonishment, she stepped from under his arm and walked over to Draco who was steadfastly looking at the grave. When she reached him, she put a hand on his arm and Harry was surprised that Draco neither flinched nor pulled away from her touch. Then he remembered her mentioning in her letters that she'd visited Draco regularly in the hospital wing at Hogwarts until he'd been released in April.
"Madam Pomfrey tells me you're nearly well," she said, causing him to look up. "I'm glad. You deserve a fresh start."
"You do," Harry added quietly, again meaning the simple words.
Draco sighed. "Thanks," he murmured, letting the word linger between them. He studied the hand on his arm, his expression unreadable. Finally he looked up at Ginny. "It's been hard these last few months," he admitted.
"It'll get better," she said with a sigh. "Each day gets a bit easier." And Harry knew she was thinking of Fred.
"If you say so."
Ginny glanced at Harry. "I do," she said firmly.
Draco shifted his cane to his other hand. "Enough of this nonsense," he said, sounding like his old self for a moment. He cleared his throat again. "Erm, what I really came for is to thank you for what you did that day. I… I… wouldn't have lived without your help."
"You're welcome," Ginny murmured softly. "I couldn't let you die, not after what you'd done in the crypt." She paused. "I couldn't let Theo or Blaise die either. All of you deserved a second chance at happiness."
"I wish other people thought like you do," Draco mumbled.
"They will, in time," Ginny said bracingly.
Draco's answer was only a huge sigh. Then looking up at Harry and Ginny, he added, "I… erm, I also want to thank you for testifying at my trial last week. Your testimony helped keep me out of Azkaban."
"You're welcome, Draco." Ginny's smile widened a bit as she glanced between the two wizards.
"We were hoping it would," Harry added sincerely.
Draco looked uncomfortable for a moment as he met Harry's gaze. Then he bowed his head and looked over Harry's shoulder towards the crypts standing on the hill.
More silence. Finally, Harry asked, "How's your mother?"
Draco smiled wanly. "Relieved the trial is over and glad to be away from Hogsmeade and my sick room."
"So… you're both living at Grimmauld Place now?" Harry inquired. He'd been so busy lately with the memorial arrangements and speaking engagements that he'd lost touch with those who weren't in his immediate circle of friends.
"For now," Draco answered, "until the Ministry releases us. There are still some things keeping us in London."
"And then?" Ginny asked. She had stepped back next to Harry and was holding his hand again.
"We've been allowed to keep one of Father's small foreign properties on the Continent," Draco explained. "We're planning to go there when things here are finally wrapped up."
Harry raised an eyebrow. "You're not staying in England?"
Draco shook his head. "We… Mother and I, we want a fresh start. I want to finish school or at least take my exams. After that? We'll see." He glanced back at Dumbledore's grave and Harry noticed his hands were shaking as he shifted his cane again. "I need to go," he said finally, sounding tired.
Ginny responded, "Don't be a stranger, Draco."
A small smile played at the corner of Draco's lips. "I'll be back at least once for your wedding."
Harry felt his jaw drop as Ginny gave him a little push towards Draco. "Stop acting like a fish," she giggled.
Harry shut his mouth and closed the distance between himself and Draco. "Come back sooner, if you can," he said, extending his hand.
As he and Draco shook hands Theo and Blaise walked up to the grave. Asteria Greengrass was with them. She walked up to Draco and rested her hand on his back. Harry noted how much Draco leaned into her for support now that she was present.
"Your mother's ready to go, Draco," she said, nodding a silent greeting at Harry and Ginny. Blaise and Theo did the same.
"All right," Draco responded.
Looking between Draco and the three new-comers, Harry asked, "Are you certain you won't come back to the house for tea?"
Asteria shook her head and answered for all of them, "Thank you, but no. Mrs Malfoy asked that we decline."
Harry smiled his acceptance of her answer, remembering that he had seen some of the guests at the interment pointedly avoiding the Malfoys, Blaise and Theo. It was going to be a long time before the Wizarding world forgave the Malfoys for Lucius' part in the war, and his son was likely to bear the brunt of its censure for the rest of his life.
"Thanks again for coming," Harry said.
Draco nodded politely to Harry and Ginny and then, slipping his free arm around Asteria's shoulders, he followed his friends down the hill.
"Hmm." Completely gobsmacked, Harry watched them go. "When did they get together?" he mused aloud.
Ginny giggled. "About two months ago. Asteria started spending time with Draco while he convalesced in the hospital wing. She was the one who protected him against Pansy Parkinson the night she snuck into the hospital wing to finish what Draco's father started."
"I see." Harry shook his head in amazement. He was just beginning to realize that his decision not to go back to Hogwarts after the battle had separated him from the gossip grapevine and that Ginny and Hermione assumed he knew things about happenings at Hogwarts that he didn't.
"Is that why Pansy's name was splashed all over the Prophet a couple of weeks ago?" he asked sheepishly.
"Amongst other things," Ginny answered vaguely. "That and her other trial for all the things she did as the lead student Death Eater at Hogwarts. She'd hex anyone who didn't think the same way she did, and get away with it nine times out of ten. I think she was harassing Draco for siding with Dumbledore long before she tried to kill him, though. He was different when he came back to school."
Harry cocked his head to one side. "What do you mean?"
"Starting in September Draco wouldn't have anything to do with Crabbe and Goyle," she said. "He, Blaise and Theo stuck together and more often than not, the three of them could be found protecting the first and second years from the older members of their House. Draco even seemed troubled by your kidnapping the times we accidentally met in the corridors. He always asked about the progress of the Order's investigation."
Ginny trailed off. A far-away, haunted expression appeared in her eyes and Harry knew it was time to change the subject.
"You're coming back to the house for tea?" he asked.
She giggled, the haunted look vanishing instantly. "Yes, of course I am, silly. Hermione told me a few minutes ago that Kreacher has everything laid out in the dining room, and chairs and tables set up in the garden just as you two requested. Are you ready to go?" she asked, her eyes still on Draco's retreating back.
Harry shook his head. "No. Could I have a few more minutes with Dumbledore?" he asked.
Ginny let go of his hand. "Sure. I'll tell everyone to go ahead. Will you be alright?"
He smiled sadly at her. "I think so," he told her truthfully. "I just… it's just hard, you know… saying good bye."
"I feel that way, too, sometimes," she said as she started down the hill. Then, she smiled. "Be sure to come back before Ron and George eat everything."
Harry smiled, too. In the last week, George had finally started acting a little like his old self. Well, at least he'd started eating like he used to. "Save me a plate, then?" he asked.
"I will," she called over her shoulder.
Harry stood watching her a moment longer, and then turned back towards Dumbledore's grave.
"Professor, I know you're in a better place now," he began as he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his trousers. "You looked so alive and whole when we met at Snitch's Rest with Mum and Dad. I hope you're happy where you are, because down here… well, sometimes it's hard to be that way."
Harry closed his eyes and let out a huge sigh. "The Battle of Godric's Hollow took so many lives on both sides, sir. Everywhere I go I'm reminded of someone I lost and it hurts so much! I look at George, or Dennis Creevey, who lost brothers. I encounter villagers who lost husbands, wives, siblings and parents… they're all hurting. I come up here to talk to Mum and Dad at the crypt and I see the newest graves, and I'm reminded all over again that this is the village where it all started and ended. It hurts so much, Professor. But as the months have passed and there are no more deaths or disappearances, I've come to realize that the casualties were all worth it. I've come to accept that there had to be losses on both sides in order for peace to take over the chaos Voldemort created with his narrow-minded ideas."
Harry stopped talking and looked around the graveyard. He knew the Wizarding part of the cemetery was now visible to Muggles because the village council had decided not to renew the concealment spells, thinking that it would be better for Wizard-Muggle relations to let everyone have access to the entire cemetery.
Finally giving in to his sorrow he added, "Sometimes I wish you were still here to talk to, like we did when I stayed at Hogwarts last summer. You were the best friend and Grandfather I could ever ask for…"
Harry sighed and reached over to touch the granite headstone. "Ginny says I obsess too much over the things I can't change. I know she's right, but sometimes I just can't help it. I find myself thinking in 'what ifs' which just perpetuates the sadness.
"What's funny, though, is how Kreacher acts when he catches me in a mood. It seems he's taken it upon himself to monitor me and then go running to Hermione to get her to come talk me out of my mood. She usually comes over with a stack of books she wants me to read and leaves them on the library table. The latest stack was all about the careers I can choose once I've done my NEWTs this summer."
Harry chuckled softly. "I know you'll be pleased that I've decided to take them in August, right after my birthday… the same week Dudley's sitting his A Levels. I've offered him the table in the library for his revising because he's still living with the Weasleys and finds the noisiness of The Burrow too distracting sometimes. Hermione whole-heartedly approves of the idea."
He took a breath to continue his musings, but let it out as two sets of footfalls interrupted his train of thought.
"Hey, mate," Ron said as he and Hermione came up on either side of Harry. "Hermione fixed you a plate and won't let me touch it."
Harry laughed aloud, feeling happy for the first time all day. Leave it to Ron to be grumpy about untouchable food. He turned to Hermione and gave her a one-armed hug. "I thought Ginny was going to make one up for me. What did you do to the plate?" he asked.
Hermione tried to keep a straight face as she answered, "You know that spell I put on the DA list in fifth year?" Harry nodded and she continued. "Ron became a 'GLUTTON' just now when he accidentally touched the plate."
"You didn't!" Harry chortled.
"Yeah, she did," Ron said, looking sheepish. "Felt right weird, it did to have those things popping up all over my nose."
"What did he have to do to cancel the spell?" Harry asked Hermione.
Ron answered for her, "Say I was sorry and hand the plate back to her."
"He figured it out quicker than Marietta did, because her 'SNEAK' has never quite disappeared," Hermione said, sounding smug.
Harry peered at Ron's face. "I think she's rubbing off on you, Ron," he said.
Ron just shook his head and asked, "You coming back with us, Harry?"
Harry patted the headstone one last time and with a flick of his wand sent the table and podium back to Gwenyn's attic.
He stood quietly for another moment before he said, "Thanks, you two, for helping me the way you did and for not giving up after Dumbledore and I were kidnapped. You're the best friends a bloke could have."
As he finished, Hermione threw her arms around his neck and began sobbing loudly.
"Now you've done it, Harry," Ron chuckled as he clapped Harry on the shoulder. "We won't see a dry eye for another twenty minutes."
Hermione raised her head and swatted Ron on the arm. "I can't help it… today's… today's an emotional day!" she retorted with a hitch in her voice. "And I'm allowed to be 'girly' on days like today!"
"She's right, Ron," Harry commented and Hermione smiled smugly at Ron. He backed a few steps away from Dumbledore's grave and Hermione let one arm fall away, only to swing it up to capture Ron around the waist. "I'm ready now," Harry said, and the three left the hilltop with Hermione still in the middle.
They dropped arms when they reached the cemetery gate because there was room for only one to pass through the opening. As he walked past the bushes where Ron had dumped Snape's body six months before, someone called out to them.
Turning towards the voice, Harry saw Aberforth Dumbledore leaning on the wall of the church. The three went over to him.
"That was a right pretty ceremony you gave Albus, Harry," the old wizard said approvingly. "A proper send-off, if you ask me."
Harry felt his face heat up and knew it was turning Gryffindor red. "Thank you, sir," he said suddenly finding the pavement beneath his feet rather interesting. "I just wish we could have done it sooner."
"No, you don't," Aberforth replied. "It wouldn't have meant as much if you'd done it before the war was over, and you know it."
Harry looked up, startled that he and the old wizard thought so much alike. "You're right. This was better."
"Glad we agree," Aberforth said as he pushed himself away from the church wall. "Well, I'd best be off. Won't be long before the regulars start banging the door down wanting something to quench their thirst."
"Thanks for coming, sir," Harry said, meaning it.
"You're welcome, Harry. See you around." And with that, Aberforth Disapparated, leaving Harry, Ron and Hermione to go back to the wake at Gwenyn.
A few minutes later, the trio approached Harry's gate and Harry stopped to take in the scene. Six months ago the garden surrounding his house had been thigh-deep in snow that had drifted in piles next to the house. Today dappled sunshine filtered down through the ancient trees lining the garden walls to dance on a dozen or so tables spread out on the grass. Most of Harry's guests were still eating and talking. The scene filled him with a feeling he had seldom felt but was becoming more and more familiar with: peace.
As he pushed open the gate a bell sounded somewhere and Ginny came round the side of the house carrying an over-flowing dinner plate.
"Hi, you," she greeted him as Ron and Hermione joined hands and strolled off in the direction of the drinks table.
"Is that what I think it is?" Harry asked, pointing to the plate.
Ginny shook her head. "Nope. Ron dropped that one when he realized he'd touched something he shouldn't."
"I wish I could have seen that," Harry said wistfully.
"Oh, I'm certain you'll see it again. Hermione's determined to teach Ron a few things Mum never managed to," Ginny said with a small giggle. She slid her arm through Harry's and gave a little tug. "Come on, Harry. Let's go enjoy the party."
Harry allowed her to tow him towards his guests, savouring the beauty of the afternoon. One by one, he greeted his friends and teachers until at last he'd talked to everyone. Then, taking the plate from Ginny, he walked with her over to his favourite part of the garden, a bench surrounded by orange, yellow and red lilies that had a commanding view of the property and sat down to eat. Kreacher had outdone himself. The food was delicious.
With a contented sigh, Harry finally allowed himself to relax. It was good to be home.
A/N: July 2010… "The End." I never thought I'd get to write those words on this particular story, but I have and it's a rather lonely feeling. I've lived with this particular incarnation of Harry, Ginny, Neville, Hermione, Ron, and Dudley for so long that they've become part of my drive to work and my late-night musings when it's been too hot to sleep. It's been fun finding out how they have grown and changed during the course of these chapters and I think you'll agree with me that although there are things Harry still needs to work through, he and the others are weathering the results of the war pretty well.
Some of you have asked whether there is a sequel to this story in the works. The answer is "no." Instead, I've decided to work on and finish all the stories I abandoned when this one became my main focus. I have starts and half-written chapters for fifteen different stories, so I intend to keep posting for as long as it takes to finish all of them. I hope you'll all continue to read and review my work.
In the meantime, I need to thank some special people. First, my friend KEDme looked over this chapter just as she did the Aftermath. Thank you, KEDme, for your suggestions and help with tightening up the chapter. Your help is greatly appreciated. Second, my awesome beta, Aggiebell, has stuck with me throughout the writing of this story and I appreciate all that she's done to help me with it. Finally, I thank you, my readers, for the 200+ reviews you've given this story. Your kind words and creative criticism have helped me think many of aspects of the story through in greater depth and at times have caused me to change the direction I wanted to go with various characters. Because of you, I am definitely a better writer than I was when I started this story back in 2007.