CHAPTER 20.

THE UNVANQUISHED TRUTH

Wind and rain greeted the Hogwarts Express as it pulled into the station. Harry stared out the window, eyeing the anxious parents who stood huddled together under the platform, each vainly attempting to catch a glimpse of their child. It was a sad sight to see those witches and wizards, their eyes frantically combing each window of the train as it pulled up beside them. Harry couldn't stand to look at them, and finally pulled himself away from the window and looked at the occupants of his car.

Ron and Hermione sat close together on the seat across from Harry. Hermione, who was sitting nearest to the window, peered sadly out of the window at the witches and wizards below them. Ron accompanied her in this action, his crisp blue eyes searching the crowds for his family. This would not have been unusual, had Hermione's hand not been grasped firmly in Ron's. Harry studied their hands a while as his friends continued to stare out the window. Ron's fingers were gripping Hermione's tightly, almost as if he felt the inner worry that just barely exuded from the girl's dark eyes. Harry could tell that Hermione was worried simply because he could read her emotions, but Ron....

Ron had never been able to tell before, or had he? It seemed to Harry that his friend had been more preoccupied with keeping Hermione off his back about his schoolwork rather than sensing her feelings. However, things had changed. Perhaps it was Harry who hadn't been noticing the changes in his friends, which only made him feel guilty.

However, he was sure he'd have time to discuss those things with Ron over the summer. Harry was to return to the Burrow with the Weasleys directly from Kings Cross and stay there the entire summer. He was to tell the Dursleys of this change of events as soon as he reached the station. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had left Hogwarts castle almost as soon as Bill and Rhiannon left on their honeymoon.

"Things to attend to at the Ministry, you understand." Mr. Weasley had murmured uncomfortably.

Ron and Harry hadn't understood, but they decided to let the matter rest. Whatever Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were doing was none of their business. Had they wished to let them know, they would have, but that didn't keep the two boys from being curious.

Harry watched as Ron quickly released Hermione's hand as the train rolled to a stop. Silently, the three friends grasped their bags and headed towards the door, each buried in their own private thoughts. However, before he could exit, Harry stopped suddenly at the door to the car.

"Where's Artemis? I haven't seen her since we got on the train."

"Yeah, me either." Ron concurred, frowning.

To Harry's surprise, Hermione blushed pink and eyed the ground.

"She said she and George were going to walk about the train."

Ron stared at Hermione as if she'd grown a second head.

"Walk, about, the train? Hermione, there's barely any room to swing a ruddy cat, let alone enough room to walk about!""

"Well, perhaps they were going to sit in another car then!" Hermione snapped shrilly.

Ron's eyes widened.

"Sit in another......Hermione, where,"

"They wanted to be alone! Wanted to talk about some things." Hermione insisted sharply.

"Why couldn't they talk about them with US around?" Ron demanded.

"Because there's such a thing as privacy, Ron, which you MIGHT not have heard of."

"Oh, I've heard of it." Ron countered. "I'm wanting LOADS of it whenever I go home!"

"Well then, you should understand when George and Artemis want a little,"

Hermione suddenly ceased speaking. While Ron and Hermione were arguing, the trio had begun making their way towards the front of the train. As Hermione spoke in George and Artemis' defense, the three suddenly came face to face with the former. However, George and Artemis didn't see them. They were standing in a small alcove just between where the coaches connected. George was standing close to Artemis, staring down at her, unable to see or sense anything else around him. Artemis was whispering to him, her hands grasped almost desperately by George. Neither of them could see anything but the other, and Harry got the distinct feeling that neither wanted to.

As Ron gaped rudely, Hermione gave him an insistent shove towards the front of the train. When they reached that place, Ron turned around to eye Hermione, a scathing look hanging off his still surprised face.

"Needed a place to talk, eh?" He spat.

"Oh, shut up!" Hermione hissed, getting a better grip on Crookshanks' carrier as she stepped off the train.

Ron watched her go, an expression of frustration replacing his astonishment.

"Girls." He muttered. "They always stick together."

Hermione, Ron and Harry stood in a small circle, each staring at the ground, occasionally eyeing each other. Harry wasn't sure all of what his friends were thinking, but he had an idea. So many things had happened since the beginning of the year, so many horrible things. Their world would never be the same again. The happy dreams were over and reality had set in. They would have to relearn ways of living in order to survive.

Then the touching image of Artemis and George flashed through his mind. They would have to relearn ways of loving, for how could Artemis, a student of Durmstrang, be allowed to care for not only a student of Hogwarts, but a member of Gryffindor House as well? That was one thing that had carried over from dreaming to reality. Durmstrang students had love only for the Dark Arts and its secrets. If they married, it was for familial strength rather than love. Durmstrang students were not allowed to love.

Then there was Ron and Hermione. If they truly loved each other, what would happen to them? They would be easily targeted because of their love. If one was captured, the other would go after them. Both could be easily killed because of that weakness. And then, if he and Ron became Aurors and were called to battle, what then? What if Ron was killed? What would become of Hermione if Ron was killed?

One could ask Mr. and Mrs. Weasley the same question. Were they not married in the time of Voldemort's reign?

Harry had not even thought of that aspect. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had survived more hard times than Harry or perhaps even Ron realized. They had survived, and their love had survived with them. Rather, perhaps it was their love that caused them to survive.

"Sorry for yellin', Hermione." Ron suddenly murmured, his face flushing pink.

Hermione looked him fully in the face and smiled.

"It's alright, Ron. Don't think on it."

Things had changed, most certainly, but Harry was positive that Ron and Hermione together, were stronger than if they were apart. He wasn't sure if he could say the same for Artemis and George. They still had Artemis' past to deal with and her powers, whatever they were. But Ron and Hermione, they would last.

Harry was suddenly broken out of his reverie as he caught sight of George and Artemis descending from the train. George took one last look at Artemis as she stepped towards Harry, Ron and Hermione. Artemis smiled and waved at George. A blissful smile passed quickly across George's face. It lingered there only a moment before he turned away from her and walked briskly towards his twin and Lee Jordan.

As Artemis approached them, Ron opened his mouth to say something, but closed it as Hermione elbowed him hard in the ribs. Harry had guessed that Ron was going to mention that he had seen Artemis and George in the train, but how Hermione knew, he could only guess. Perhaps it was the mischievous glint that had entered Ron's eye as he opened his mouth.

"Your parents here yet, Artemis?" Harry asked kindly.

Artemis frowned and scanned the platform.

"Don't look to be. Always the epitome of promptness my parents are." She murmured, narrowing her eyes slightly. Then she relaxed and sighed, picking up a bag covered in glittering stars that bounced over and about each other on the navy colored fabric. "Can't believe this year's over. It was probably the best school year I've ever had."

Hermione looked shocked.

"You mean, even after you went to Durmstrang for four years? How can Hogwarts be better? You learned so much MORE in Durmstrang, surely!" She insisted.

Artemis chuckled and shrugged.

"Well, Hermione, you must realize that in Durmstrang we learn quite a lot, but we only learn what the headmaster wants us to learn. We know enough about Dumbledore so that we could destroy him if possible. What we know about the Dark Arts, we know so we can use them effectively against an enemy. We know more about certain issues, certainly, but only a partial view. A Dark Wizard's point of view. We don't know the other side. In Hogwarts, I learned both sides. True, your Defense Against the Dark Arts is lacking compared to our Dark Arts program, but it was interesting. I'd rather know both sides of an issue, rather than one." Artemis eyed them with a sad smile. "I'm positive that that makes no sense whatsoever, but that's alright. It doesn't have to. I'd rather you didn't, and didn't ask questions." Artemis said jovially, but with a dark tone overshadowing her words as Hermione opened her mouth to speak.

"I was only going to ask if you would be coming back next year." Hermione replied, blushing, though Harry got the feeling that that wasn't what she was going to ask at all.

Artemis grinned broadly.

"Of course I will! I'm going to ask my parents to send me back. You didn't think that I was going to get all settled in at Hogwarts and then not come back, did you?"

Ron blushed scarlet.

"Well," Ron murmured. "Let's just say we didn't think you'd be back again."

Artemis smiled good-naturedly and patted the Ron on the back.

"Don't worry. I'll be back." Then her smile broadened and she threw out her arms and began to sing, much to Hermione, Ron and Harry's surprise. "Fare thee well, my own true love! Farewell for a while! I'm going away, but I'll be back, though I go ten thousand miles!" She chuckled as many of the children stepping off the train stared at her with wide, disapproving eyes. "Sorry, couldn't help myself. That's a Muggle song you know. Mum doesn't like it when I sing those. Actually, she doesn't like me listening to anything Muggle, period." She said seriously.

Harry nodded and grinned.

"Very appropriate, Artemis." He joked.

Artemis grinned and punched him in the arm. Then she stopped and squinted in the distance.

"Oh, wait a moment." As she eyed the brick wall of the station, her jovial appearance faded as quickly as it had appeared.

Harry could barely see what had made Artemis' smile fade. He assumed it was the two people standing just outside the barrier between Platform 9 3/4 and the Muggle world. They were tall, imposing, and blonde. Harry could not tell what color their eyes were from his place, but they were dark and glinting. Both of the people, a man and a woman wore identical looks of disgust without remorse.

Slowly, Artemis shouldered her bag and turned to smile faintly at Ron and Hermione.

"There's my parents. See you next year. I really can't wait! Don't worry, Hermione. I'll keep up with my schoolwork." Artemis chided Hermione as she opened her mouth to speak. Then she turned on Harry and to his surprise, planted a swift kiss on his cheek. "You ever seen the Muggle movie "Star Wars"?" She asked quietly.

Harry, still blushing from the unexpected kiss, shook his head, remembering that Dudley owned the popular Muggle film, but had never let Harry watch it.

"It's one of the bloody best movies I'VE ever seen, even if it is Muggle. Mum doesn't like it that I go out and see Muggle movies, but oh well!" She said, nodding eagerly. "In it, the girl kisses the fellow for luck. Well, Harry, you're one fellow who I think needs loads of luck." She said with a grin.

Harry shook his head and returned her grin.

"It was great to meet you, Artemis. Can't wait to see you next year." Harry said sincerely.

Artemis nodded as she stepped off the platform.

"Owl me sometimes, alright? I mean it! I expect LOADS of owls!!" She yelled as she rushed towards the two imposing figures that stood by the brick barrier between platforms nine and ten.

The three teenagers stood together silently, watching Artemis as she approached the two blonde figures and stood stiffly in front of them. The man looked as though he were admonishing the girl, his wife wearing a perpetual scowl as she looked down at Artemis. Finally, the two adults turned away from Artemis, walking briskly through the barrier, leaving the Durmstrang girl to walk behind them, her head hanging.

"I certainly hope she doesn't endanger herself by wanting to come back to Hogwarts." Hermione said abruptly.

"Hermione, honestly." Ron protested. "They were probably just mad that she was bein' so loud. Some parents don't like it when their kids make a scene."

"Ron, she wasn't making a scene! She was being a teenager! One of us! Remember?" Hermione snapped.

Ron's face flushed, but he held his ground.

"Hermione, in case you haven't noticed, Artemis is not like us. She's not one of us either. She's from Durmstrang. People from Durmstrang are very different than us."

For once, Hermione was struck silent. She could come up with no good retort to combat Ron's firm grasp of facts. So, she dropped her head a bit and fumbled with the strap hanging from Crookshanks' carrier. Ron looked abashed and quickly stuck his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground. Eager to combat the sudden mood change, Harry spoke up,

"I'm really glad I'm going home with you, Ron."

Ron sighed and shrugged.

"Oh, that'll wear off eventually. Soon you'll be one of the family and Mum will be punishing you by making you wash the dishes by hand when you do something wrong. Just like one of the family." He said dismally.

That gained a chuckle from Harry as well as Hermione, which caused Ron to smile just a bit, sensing forgiveness from his friend. Harry looked up as Mr. and Mrs. Weasley dashed through the barrier, breathing hard as they approached them.

"Sorry we're late! We had,"

"Business at the Ministry. I know, Dad." Ron said, cutting off Mr. Weasley mid-sentence. Mr. Weasley, however, was not put off by Ron's interjection and instead smiled gratefully at him.

"Did you have a good year, dears? Well, for the most part?" Mrs. Weasley asked them, wincing as she realized how rather silly the question sounded.

Before Ron, Harry and Hermione could answer, the unmistakable voices of Fred and George piped up.

"Oh yeah, Mum!" Fred said enthusiastically, draping his arm around his mother's shoulder.

"We were going to blow up a Hogwarts toilet before we left, but we figured the place was falling apart already, so we didn't bother." George said with a nonchalant shrug, though his eyes twinkled merrily.

Mrs. Weasley didn't scold the twins, but simply smiled and kissed Fred on the cheek, then George when he shoved his face towards her insistently. Mrs. Weasley kissed him, then shooed him and Fred towards the barrier, calling to Ginny from her place of friends as she did so. Harry followed the Weasleys and Hermione through the barrier and into Kings Cross station.

"Hey, Mum, have you heard from Bill and Rhia yet?" Ron asked.

"Actually yes. They reached Paris without trouble and they're going to stay there for a few more days before they go back to Egypt and get everything straightened out with Gringotts." Mrs. Weasley sighed happily. "Can't believe that Bill is finally going to be moving close to home. It's a right good thing that he'll be working at the Gringotts in Diagon Alley. Then he'll be able to come and see us sometimes. Won't that be wonderful, Arthur?" Mrs. Weasley asked her husband happily.

"That it will, that it will." Mr. Weasley concurred.

Hermione was suddenly stopped in her tracks as two cardigan clad adults threw themselves upon her. Harry turned to look as Hermione hugged her parents eagerly, but pushed them back slightly so as to breathe. After a long while, Hermione broke away from her parents after assuring them that she'd be back in a moment, though they didn't look quite convinced. Hermione walked briskly up to Harry and hugged him tightly.

"You take care of yourself, Harry. Don't do anything rash and stay with the Weasleys. You'll be safe that way. And if you get any instructions from Professor Dumbledore or Sirius, listen to them. And don't,"

"Alright, Hermione! Alright!" Harry laughed. "I understand. I'll be good. Though it'll be easier now that I'm with the Weasleys."

Hermione smiled at him fondly and nodded.

"I know it will. See you next year."

"See you."

Hermione approached Ron and stood there a moment, eyeing him.

Ron blushed pink and raised his hand to rub the back of his neck uneasily.

"Take care of him, Ron. Don't do something stupid that would risk BOTH your necks." Hermione instructed.

"Right, right. Nothing stupid." Ron mumbled.

Hermione eyed him a moment more, then spoke quietly,

"Well then, I'll see you next year."

"Yeah, I suppose."

"Well, see you."

"See you."

Ron raised his eyes as Hermione began to walk away from him.

"Hey, Hermione!"

Hermione turned about abruptly as Ron called her name. Harry gaped at the change that had taken place in the few seconds that Ron had called out to Hermione. In that moment, he had taken his hand off his neck and had run up to Hermione and was now staring down at her uneasily, as if unsure of something.

"Yes, Ron?" She asked.

A moment later, Harry had to rub his eyes vigorously as he took in the sight before him. Ron was kissing Hermione. What was even more surprising was that Hermione instantly relaxed into the kiss. She draped her arms around Ron's shoulders as one hand reached up to touch his neck. Ron's hands drifted to her waist and he held her there, eyes closed, a smile tugging at his lips even as he kissed her.

Harry glanced over at the Weasleys. Mrs. Weasley's mouth was open in surprise, but it was happy surprise. A moment later, her hand fluttered to rest over her heart and she smiled broadly. Fred and George, who had been pulling Ginny's fiery red hair, stopped dead in their tracks. Their mouths hung open in identical shock, fingers still grasping Ginny's strands of vibrant hair. Ginny's eyes were wide, one clenched fist just inches away from Fred's face.

Slowly, Ron released Hermione, his hands slipping off her hips. His face was bright red, but that persistant smile continued to tug at his lips. Hermione, bright red as well, noticed the smile, but didn't chide him. Instead, she stood on the tips of her toes and kissed him tenderly on his flaming cheek.

"See you next year." She whispered, smiling at him before walking away with her questioning parents.

Ron stood still with a lopsided grin resting on his lips as he stared after Hermione. When he turned to face his family, he looked right past them, shouldered his bag and began to walk towards the exit of Kings Cross. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley stepped aside as Ron shuffled blindly past them, but he didn't get past his brothers. As he passed, Fred said,

"Well, Ronniekins, didn't know you were so fond of kissing."

"Hot lips." George whispered.

Ron quickly snapped out of his reverie and glared at his brother.

"Well, you should talk Mr. I'm-Going-To-Go-Walk-About-the-Train." Ron hissed.

George took a step backwards, his face paling as his mother eyed him suspiciously.

"I daresay, Harry. Isn't that your aunt and uncle?" Mr. Weasley asked suddenly.

The Weasleys stopped walking abruptly, scanning the crowds. The Dursleys were eyeing Harry as he walked closely with the wizarding family. Eyeing him nervously was more accurate. Last time Harry's relatives saw the Weasleys, Fred and George had given Dudley a Ton-Tongue Toffee, making his tongue grow at least four feet. The remembrance of this event was most likely why Mrs. Weasley turned on the twins and hissed,

"Don't you even THINK of going near those Muggles! Don't even THINK it!"

The mischievous light that had arisen in the twins' eyes faded slightly as they gazed at each other, then their mother sadly. Mrs. Weasley ignored their saddened look, instead, nodding in satisfaction.

"What do you think they'll say about you not going home?" Ron whispered as they walked towards them. Harry raised his chin stubbornly.

"They'll probably wonder why I didn't go sooner." He whispered back.

Uncle Vernon eyed Harry nervously, anger growing in his eyes as he continued to stare at his nephew. Aunt Petunia grasped Dudley's fat shoulders to her, even as he tried to hide himself behind her. As he attempted to do this, his fat face grew red and his eyes widened as he saw Fred and George leering evilly at him.

"What do you think you're doing, boy? It's time to go." Uncle Vernon protested, eyeing the Weasleys with a look of malice.

Harry stepped towards them, staring his aunt and uncle straight in the face.

"Sorry. I'm going home with my friends this summer. I've already got my things, so I don't need to go back to the house. Have a nice summer." He said smoothly.

Then he turned on his heel and strode away, smiling as Fred and George howled loudly. Over the sound of Hedwig's satisfied hoot, he heard Vernon mutter in frustration,

"Of all the cheek! That boy and his abnormality,"

Harry couldn't help but grin at that. In Uncle Vernon's eyes, and perhaps in his own eyes, his powers were an abnormality, but if so, he was glad to have it. He'd rather have that abnormality than never have known Hermione, Ron, the Weasleys, Dumbledore or Sirius. His gift was his curse, and the other way round. There were times he regretted it, and at times, he was relieved he had it. He wouldn't be himself without it. He wouldn't be Harry Potter.

"And that's the truth. The unvanquished truth, Uncle Vernon. The unvanquished truth."

Even as he spoke, Harry Potter stepped into the Muggle world, but at the same time, remained in the world he loved, the world he fit into: the wizarding world.

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Author's Note: Hello all! I'm so sorry it took so long for me to update! My computer has MASSIVE issues. I've been thinking of getting it a therapist. ;-) So this is the last chapter. *sniffle* I'm REALLY sad actually. Really, REALLY sad. I'm gonna miss hearing from all of you, but I'll be around and I'll be writing little one shots here and there, so no worries there. But I will miss writing this story. Okay, I've gotta stop. I'm making myself even more sad than I already am. I'm gonna have a separate chapter just for thank you's and notes. I've also been thinking about releasing the title of the sequel just to start you guys guessing. I don't know though. Give me your opinions. I don't wanna release TOO much. Also, start thinking of questions to ask me about this story if you even have any, then post them in your review. I'm pretty sure you guys might have a FEW questions, so I figured I'd try to answer them in the thank you chapter. And if you don't have questions, cool.....sorta....not really.....I haven't done my job well. ;-) Any questions you've got, I'll try to answer them without giving away too much. ;-) So anyway, just wanted to let you know about that. Well, I'll thank you all in the next chapter, so I hope you all enjoyed this one! You have no idea how much I appreciate you all! Luv you all!!

T.H.