Chapter 35 : Epilogue
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Harry automatically wrapped his arm around Hermione as they settled into the brown leather sofa in front of the large, unlit fireplace in the Gryffindor common room. Their positions had become routine for them throughout their seventh year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Now in mid June, after having completed their NEWT’s, they sat contentedly as they laughed with Ron about Harry and Hermione’s first argument as a couple.
Word of Harry’s defeat of Lord Voldemort naturally caused uninhibited celebrations throughout the wizarding world, and Harry’s fame exploded as he became the hero above all heroes. As the month of the previous August ended, Headmistress McGonagall received tremendous pressure to name Harry Potter as Head Boy for the upcoming term, replacing the obvious but uninspired choice of Ernie McMillan. She resisted because she refused to remove the badge from Ernie, who met all of the requirements of the office - excellent marks, service as a prefect, and devotion to Hogwarts and its rules.
Finally, however, Ernie apparently solved the problem by contacting the headmistress himself, turning in his badge and encouraging her to name Harry Potter in his place. Though he dearly coveted the prestigious position, he realized that he would be seen as a usurper by many. Besides, after what Harry accomplished, how could he possibly not be named Head Boy.
The notion never occurred to Harry, and when McGonagall sent a letter to him with the Head Boy badge enclosed, his jaw nearly hit the floor. The Grangers graciously allowed him to spend the final weeks of August in their home, so Hermione saw the badge fall out of the parchment envelope. She squealed loud enough for the entire neighborhood to hear, leaping three feet off the ground. In the bemused presence of her parents, she wrapped her arms around her boyfriend and kissed him passionately. Harry, on the other hand, remained quite aware of her parents’ presence and pushed her off as quickly as he could. Hermione quickly reddened when she realized the show she had caused, but her joy over Harry’s appointment overcame her embarrassment.
After excitedly explaining to her parents the import of the position, she finally noted Harry’s less than joyful appearance.
"I can’t accept it," he declared firmly, "I’ll send it back. Ernie deserves to be Head Boy. He’s worked hard for it. Just because I’ve become famous doesn’t mean I should be Head Boy. I’ve never been a prefect, my marks are only average, and I’ve broken more rules than Sirius did. Well, maybe not that many, but I’ve broken my share. Anyway, I don’t want it."
"But Harry," Hermione pleaded disbelievingly, "You can’t turn down Head Boy. It’s not like you were fighting for it. You didn’t do anything to take the badge away from Ernie. I’m sure Professor McGonagall discussed it with him. Probably he turned it in voluntarily. We can be heads together. Doesn’t that mean anything to you?"
"Not really," Harry answered abruptly, "I'm proud of you for being Head Girl, but you deserve it. You’ve done everything you needed to do, and there’s nobody more deserving. But I don’t deserve it, and I won’t accept it."
Hermione felt equal parts devastation and anger, and she pressed her lips together tightly. Finally she issued a declaration of her own.
"OK, in that case, I’ll send my badge back too. If you’re not going to be Head Boy, then I’ll decline Head Girl."
"You’ll do no such thing!" Harry responded hotly, his eyes glowing slightly, "You deserve to be Head Girl more than anyone who’s ever attended Hogwarts for the last thousand years." Mr. and Mrs. Granger chuckled at Harry’s hyperbole. "You’ve wanted to be Head Girl from the first time you walked into the Great Hall. I will not be responsible for you turning it down."
"I’ll turn it down if I want to," Hermione argued, "It’s MY decision to make. It would take me away from you too much. If we were heads together, then we could be with each other a lot more. That’s more important to me than a stupid badge."
By now the couple had completely forgotten the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Granger until the older couple could suppress their laughter no longer. Hermione glanced angrily at them, while Harry looked away, wondering if he had just convinced them of his unsuitability for their only daughter. Instead, Mrs. Granger hugged Hermione happily, while Mr. Granger patted Harry on the back.
"That’s the best entertainment I've had all week," he joked, "Better than anything on the telly." Hermione found no humor in her father’s statement and turned to her mother.
"Tell Harry he’s wrong," she pleaded, "Try to make him understand."
"I’ll do no such thing," Mrs. Granger responded, "I think Harry’s reasons are quite noble, though I know that we don’t know how things work at Hogwarts. If Harry doesn’t think he should serve, then you need to respect his decision."
Harry’s lips turned up slightly at Mrs. Granger’s words, and deep inside of him, he felt an ounce of pride that he may have finally bested Hermione in an argument.
"I’ll just add one thing, Harry," Mrs. Granger continued, now looking directly at the young man, "Given everything that you’ve accomplished these past weeks, I think you are going to be Head Boy at Hogwarts whether you are wearing that badge or not. I certainly do not envy this Ernie fellow who would try to serve in your shadow. And as far as qualifications are concerned, I believe that defeat of a dark lord should count for something."
"Why don’t the two of you take a walk," Mr. Granger suggested, "Settle down a little, come to an agreement and then decide what you want to do."
The young witch and wizard took his advice, walking for ten minutes without saying a word, but holding hands as they always did.
"I’m sorry I became upset," Hermione finally apologized, "It’s just . . . It’s always been a dream of mine that you and I could be heads together. When I saw the badge fall out of the envelope, I thought my dream came true. But I understand your reasons. If you don’t want to accept it, that’s OK." Try as she may, the disappointment in her voice could not be disguised. She stopped Harry and wrapped her arms around him, clearly holding back tears. Harry recalled that day in the hotel room just a few blocks away when she cried on his shoulder after she opened his Hogwarts envelope, discovering that he had not been named Head Boy.
They walked on in silence as Harry mulled it over. He knew that Mrs. Granger hit the nail on the head. Already he discovered the new attitude wizards and witches took towards him, treating him as if he were royalty. Part of him hated it, but part of him ate it up. He almost felt embarrassed that to some extent he enjoyed the adulation, and he knew this to be the effect of the absorbed horcruxes. He tried to convince himself that he hated the attention, that he wanted simply to be left alone, but the truth was that at times he reveled in it.
In the days after Voldemort’s demise, they determined that while the portion of the dark lord’s soul that remained in his body did not transfer itself to Harry, the portion that had previously been absorbed by him, both as a baby and after the destruction of the horcruxes, would stay with him forever.
I am what I am, he convinced himself, I can’t deny that part of me. Somehow I need to deal with it rather than trying to deny it. He finally made his decision.
"I’ll accept it," he announced, "Not just for you, though that’s a large part of it, but because I want it. Part of me wants it; part of me does not. This time, I’ll go with the part that wants it."
"Are you sure?" Hermione asked, her voice full of surprise, "Don’t do it just for me. We can still be together either way."
"I’m sure," he asserted, and she felt the decisiveness in his voice. They stopped again on the sidewalk of the tree-lined residential street of her hometown, and commenced a serious snogging session which caused more than a few raised eyebrows among the neighbors.
Among his first acts as Head Boy, Harry intentionally violated one of Hogwarts' many rules. He helped Ron move into the Head Boy’s suite above the Gryffindor common room, an act clearly prohibited by the regulations. Not surprisingly, the headmistress overlooked the infraction, and Ron and Harry became closer than ever, spending hours together in their comfortable quarters, which included a spacious sitting room and a bedroom plenty large enough for the two of them.
Back on the common room sofa, after laughing over his friends’ first argument, Ron confided, "I must admit I wasn’t too happy about you being named Head Boy at first. Bit of jealousy, I guess. But I’m glad it was you rather than me."
In fact, Harry proved to be a rather lackluster Head Boy, singularly uninterested in enforcement of rules or delving into the minutia of administering a large wizarding institution of learning. Fortunately Hermione ate it up, and he more or less went along for the ride.
"I can’t wait for the wedding," Hermione interjected cheerfully, "It should be so much fun."
She referred to the upcoming nuptials of Evan Harrington and Michelle Goldsmith, to be conducted just days following the end of term. Harry, in fact, contributed directly to the improved fortunes of the happy couple.
After Voldemort’s demise, the Daily Prophet naturally begged for an interview. After a few requests, Harry agreed, but insisted that he would only allow himself to be interviewed by Michelle. The Prophet initially objected on the basis of journalistic integrity, insisting that it alone should determine who should conduct the interview. In response, Harry merely declined the invitation. Predictably, the Prophet relaxed its standards.
In the end, Michelle’s article was extremely well-received, and contributed mightily to Harry’s surging popularity and her increased status at the newspaper. On his few visits to Diagon Alley, the crowds quickly mobbed him, shouting words of adulation and thanks. The girls literally swooned over him, some even fainting. Again, Harry hated it and loved it, not sure which feeling predominated.
Minister of Magic Scrimgeour seemingly could not win for losing. His popularity increased momentarily after the tremendous victory at Hogwarts Castle, but Harry’s defeat of the dark lord Voldemort soon overshadowed Scrimgeour’s feat. In fact, after the Prophet published the interview, which contained some biting remarks about the Minister, the wave of popularity subsided. He retained his position, but still had to fight for every ounce of support from the public. Fortunately, Harry made no concerted effort to disparage him further, and even on rare occasions found himself in agreement with the Minister’s actions.
Harry informed the Ministry matter-of-factly about Draco’s assistance with their final confrontation with Lord Voldemort, but otherwise he did not intervene in the young death eater’s case. His crimes could not be ignored, but ultimately he received a shortened sentence. Ten years, initially in Azkaban, though plans for a new and more humane prison apparently were in the works. Harry did not give his formal rival a second thought, not after remembering what he had done over the years.
Evan returned to the Ministry and freely admitted his actions. Naturally he became a secondary hero in the press, as did Ron, Hermione, Ginny and others, and the Ministry found itself in a quandary. Clearly the auror violated his oath, and such an act could not be ignored. Moreover, Minister Scrimgeour felt no sympathy for the wizard and pushed for appropriate punishment. On the other hand, his advisors reminded him of the hit he would take when the news become public, especially because Potter and the auror had become extremely close.
Eventually, Evan agreed to resign his position voluntarily in exchange for all charges being dropped, largely because Harry and Hermione already found a job for him. Headmistress McGonagall only too happily offered him the position of Defense against the Dark Arts teacher. Evan accepted immediately, overjoyed to be free of the restrictions of the Ministry and to be close to Harry and his friends.
Harry and Evan soon became more than mere friends. The older wizard became a combined father/older brother figure to Harry, and the two spent hours together, often accompanied by Hermione and Ron, who also became close to him. Combined with his emerging romance with Michelle Goldsmith, Evan had never been happier.
In fact, the two men discussed Harry’s future after Hogwarts. He had offers from almost every business in wizarding Britain - manufacturers, shopkeepers, legal firms, accounting firms (this especially caused him laughter), even the Daily Prophet. Fortunately, Harry did not need a job. His inheritance from his parents and Sirius provided him with more than he would ever need, and after selling Number 12, Grimmauld Place (at an inflated price due to the fact that it was owned by Harry Potter), he had to open three new vaults at Gringotts to contain all of the galleons.
In the past, he considered entering the Ministry as an auror, but after Evan’s experience, he dismissed that option out of hand. Scrimgeour would never allow it regardless, still bearing a great deal of resentment towards the young icon. No career in the Ministry.
Eventually, Harry decided that he could not work for anyone. He would need to go out on his own, and after much discussion, Evan and he decided to create their own business. Ironically enough, when Evan made inquiries as to who might be able to assist them in this endeavor, as both Harry and he recognized their lack of experience, an acquaintance suggested the name of Jeremiah Harrison, Scrimgeour’s old friend. Even stranger, Harrison agreed to serve as a consultant. He could see which horse would carry him further in the long run. The Minister’s term would end sooner or later, probably sooner; Harry’s star had just begun to rise.
Harrison suggested opening a restaurant on Diagon Alley. Harry’s name alone would attract a huge clientele; it could not miss. But the young wizard dismissed it out of hand, refusing to provide any explanation. Ultimately they decided that they would wait until after his graduation to make a decision. He had all the time in the world.
Not a restaurant, however. Though life appeared to be treating Harry splendidly, only Hermione, Ron and Evan knew of the toll that the final horcrux took on him. So little time elapsed between the absorption of the Hufflepuff cup horcrux and the confrontation with Voldemort, that the effect of the horcrux could not be noted. Little by little, however, they noticed Harry’s sudden deep depressions, often accompanied by violent thoughts.
Several close calls occurred during September. Most seriously, when a trio of unrepentant Slytherins taunted him half-heartedly, Harry exploded, instantly pinning the three against the high ceiling of a hallway with every intention to allow them to fall to the stone floor, quite possibly to their deaths. He paused just long enough that Hermione, who fortunately came with him on that occasion, could calm him enough to allow the three down without injury. The Slytherins ran off and never bothered Harry again. Nobody dared report the incident to the administration.
Soon Ron and Hermione agreed that one of them needed to stay with Harry at all times, and he agreed, full of shame, fearful that he would kill someone. He considered leaving Hogwarts all together, and in fact on one occasion, just after Halloween, he entered the Headmistress’ office exactly for the purpose of informing McGonagall of his decision. Hermione chased after him, disconsolate that she could not talk him out it.
When they entered the office, however, the headmistress was nowhere to be seen, and Harry, furious at the derailment of his plans, merely spat at Hermione, "I’m leaving now. You can explain to McGonagall. I’m not taking any more chances."
"No, Harry!" she cried in response, "You should tell her yourself. You’re being too hard on yourself. And after all, nothing happened."
"Only because you stopped me," he retorted, "It could have been a disaster, a blood bath."
"Perhaps the two of you could explain your predicament to an old man," came a deep voice from the wall to Harry’s right, the unmistakable voice of Albus Dumbledore.
The old wizard stood in his portrait, placed in a setting much like the very office where they stood. He walked to the front of the scene to observe the heated discussion, recognizing the two students immediately. In fact, he had exchanged a few words with Harry during the year, but never an extended conversation. In general, portraits in the office rarely spoke more than a few words, usually saving their more extended conversations for the headmistress herself.
"I’m too dangerous to stay in school," Harry explained simply, "There’s too much of Lord Voldemort inside of me. I’ve become too much like him."
"There was an incident at the Halloween Ball a couple of days ago," Hermione added, "Harry took exception to some things that some boys said to me, and well, when Harry takes exception, he really takes exception."
She did not wish to describe the constrictus spell that Harry placed on one student, almost causing him to pass out, or the other one whom he turned into a niffler. Hermione changed him back before any faculty saw, and she rushed Harry out of the Great Hall before he could cause any more havoc. Ever since, he had fallen into the deepest of his depressions.
Dumbledore squinted his eyes in apparent confusion, commenting, "As of yet, I have seen no evidence of Lord Voldemort in your actions. Certainly your conduct is cause for concern, but it does not reflect the nature of Tom Riddle."
These words shocked Harry completely. How could Dumbledore think such a thing? Of course, this was a mere portrait, not the man himself.
"Voldemort, despite the depths of his evil, was a wizard of great discipline. He rarely acted out of passion or uncontrolled anger. In fact, he controlled his anger fastidiously, directing it with great precision towards his goals," Dumbledore expounded, almost sounding like the professor of his earlier years. "No doubt what has happened to you is a result of the sacrifices forced upon you, but your problems are of an entirely different nature."
Whether this was good news or bad, Harry could not immediately determine. His eyes scrunched together as if he had a headache, glowing slightly.
"Is there anything he can do about it, Professor?" asked Hermione, having exhausted her own store of ideas.
"Well, I have a suggestion," Dumbledore replied after a few moments of thought, "You will recall that Voldemort was one of the finest Occlumens in the world. He learned to control his mind. My suggestion is that you practice Occlumency, Harry. I believe it may allow you to exert greater control over you mind, and as a result, your actions."
The chance meeting with Dumbledore’s portrait changed Harry’s life; in fact, it may be reasonable to claim that it saved his life. McGonagall called on the services of an old friend to come to Hogwarts to teach Harry the art of Occlumency, the ability to close one’s mind. Harry immediately discovered that in fact, here lay the key to his survival as a reasonably normal, safe person. He devoted himself to the art with such fervor, that for a few weeks his friends could barely stand him, as he would speak of nothing else. In the end, however, he mastered the art and regained the confidence that he could function. The second half of the year passed without incident.
Hermione rode the roller coaster of Harry’s life. Especially during the first months of their seventh year, she felt the pressure of having to intervene immediately whenever Harry seemed to lose control. She learned to sense those moments, but she could not be with him every moment of every day. On a few occasions, she could not even use the loo for fear of what Harry might do in her absence.
But their pleasant moments still outnumbered the difficult ones, and their love for each other never faltered. Spending many hours of each day together, both in classes and Head Boy/Girl duties, she never doubted that this was the man with whom she would share her life. She helped him learn Occlumency, learning the art herself, and from that moment on, she felt that the corner had been turned. There would always be that dangerous side to Harry, but now he had a means to control it.
Of course, she received offers for every type of employment, but had not yet decided whether to accept a position or not. She considered joining Harry and Evan in their business venture, whatever that may be. In any event, despite her worry-wart nature, she found herself more tranquil than at any point in her life.
In a sense, Harry and Hermione’s romance allowed Ron a freedom that he never felt before. While still Harry’s best mate, he found himself on his own more often and made the most of it. He enjoyed two romances of his own during the year, with a Ravenclaw sixth year and a Hufflepuff seventh year, though neither one ever became serious. He did not mind. Taking over the captaincy of the quidditch team (Harry declined to play due to his various issues), he led the team to another Quidditch Cup and earned a couple of tryouts with professional teams.
The three friends’ minds returned from their reverie as Ginny walked by their sofa and chair. She smiled warmly.
"Off to see Malcolm, I assume?" her older brother asked dryly, "I think this is the first time I’ve seen you without him on your arm for the last month."
They all chuckled, and the red head admitted that she indeed intended to meet with her new boyfriend, the third of the year, a Ravenclaw sixth year. Ron no longer bothered worrying about her, finding it to be useless. Though she finally moved beyond her heartache over Harry, the two of them spent little time together and felt distant even when standing next to each other. They would each go their own way.
After Ginny left, Harry stood and reached for Hermione’s hand, lifting her off the sofa.
"Let’s take a walk," he suggested to her, "It’s a nice day outside." She noted a mischievous gleam in his eyes, but happily complied, and soon the two of them walked along the edge of the towering castle, along the grassy mounds to its side, and finally along the shore of the lake. After a few minutes, Harry eyed his girlfriend guiltily and pulled a pouch out of the pocket of his robe. He then took off his robe and threw it to the ground, kicking off his shoes at the same time.
"Dobby made a purchase for me," he whispered to her evilly while holding up the pouch.
"Harry!" she admonished him sharply, "We can’t go in the lake. It’s against the rules!"
By the time she finished, Harry already rolled up his pant legs and pulled off his shirt, tossing it next to the robe. A small crowd of other students enjoying the warm weather noticed them. He stepped into the lake and turned to look back at her.
"We can’t, Harry!" she hissed, turning her head side to side, "We just can’t!"
But Harry already stuffed a handful of gillyweed into his mouth and tossed the pouch onto the shore. His eyes displayed complete enjoyment of his little plan, and soon his gills grew, and he dove into the frigid water.
"HARRY!" she yelled, but by now, of course, he could not hear her. Again she looked around anxiously, wondering what she should do.
From behind her, the pretty Gryffindor Romilda Vane approached, having witnessed the scene.
"You better go, Hermione," she warned her, "because if you don’t, I will."
Probably a joke, Hermione thought, but with Romilda one could never be sure. The Head Girl threw off her robe and kicked off her shoes, thankful that she wore jeans instead of a skirt. Romilda lifted the pouch for her, and she reached in, grabbing a handful. Moments later she dove into the water as well.
Harry awaited her, just thirty yards from the shore, apparently convinced that she would follow. Though his mouth could not smile due to the gillyweed, his eyes shone with great humor. He reached out his hand, and soon the two streaked off to the center of the lake.
For an hour they frolicked, staying away from the bottom-dwelling grindylows and the merpeople’s village. In fact, for the most part, they stayed within a few hundred yards of the shore next to the castle, feeling no interest in exploration.
Finally the gillyweed wore off, and Harry returned to the surface, less than one hundred yards from the shore. Hermione appeared a couple of minutes later, and surfaced immediately in front of the extraordinary young wizard who would be her partner for life.
Reenacting their first kiss, they embraced and snogged for an extended time, well within sight of the growing crowd on the shore. They ignored the applause, shouts and catcalls from their schoolmates, lost in their own little world.
"I’m so glad that it was you that was crying in the loo when the troll came," Harry whispered to her, "Who knows if we’d be here right now if it was Lavender or Parvati."
She smiled but shook her head, "No, Harry. This was meant to be. It had to happen. I bet there was a prophecy about us somewhere. Probably the centaurs saw us in the stars."
They turned to look up at the magnificent castle, their home for the past seven years, which in a couple of days they would leave behind, facing a new life in the real world.
"So much has happened here," she whispered disbelievingly, "Who would ever believe it? When we tell our grandchildren, they’re going to think we’re senile."
"Grandchildren?" asked Harry, "You’re talking about grandchildren when we’ve never even talked of children. You’re getting a little ahead of yourself, aren’t you?" He laughed happily. She reddened slightly when she realized her gaffe, but merely smiled.
"OK, tell me about our children then," she asked, kissing him again, thereby delaying his response.
He looked at her, with her wet hair clinging to her head and her brown eyes glistening. Behind her rose the imposing castle, and he imagined his own children roaming the halls of the ancient structure. He thought of all his experiences, all he had suffered. Trolls, dragons, basilisks, werewolves, dementors, and more. And Lord Voldemort. He saw the faces of those he lost - Sirius Black and Albus Dumbledore. Finally he gazed back into her eyes, tears forming in his, and spoke with a choked voice.
"All I want for our children is that they live a nice, safe, boring life."
xxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx
A/N (updated August 15, 2013): Well, what do you think? I finished this story the day before Deathly Hallows was released, following a rush of writing to finish the final few chapters. I hope you enjoyed it, and even if you have not reviewed up to now, please review to let me know now what you think about it. I still check for reviews and will be happy to respond to any questions or comments you may have. If you have not already read it, you may also enjoy my other story, A Serpent's Sacrifice, which I wrote first and is a very different seventh-year novel. Thank you for taking the time to read The Bottom of the Lake.
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