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A Time to Live by ladymblack
Chapter 10 : Chapter 10: The Last Train Ride
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 24

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Chapter 10: The Last Train Ride


Minerva had offered to let them take the Floo rather than the train to get to school.  She understood that the train station might be insane with “fans.”  But there was something about taking the Hogwarts Express one last time that made the Golden Trio decide to venture forth into the masses. 


The morning of their departure found Molly flooing over to Grimmauld Place and knocking on Ron and Hermione’s door at eight in the morning.


“Wha’s goin’ on?” Ron could be heard asking in a daze.


Harry and Ginny realized her mother was there and scrambled to find suitable clothing for when she would start banging on their own door.


“Mum, what are you doing here?” Ginny asked, as Molly entered their room.  She and Harry had managed to find their dressing robes and were yawning on each of their sides of the bed.


“Did you think that I wouldn’t come to see you kids get ready and get on the train?” Molly asked, incredulously.  She looked at them both as though they had lost their minds.


“Sorry, Mum, we just hadn’t planned to get up quite this early,” Ginny replied.  Molly walked over to their trunks, looking inside them.


“It’s a good thing too, seeing as both of you have forgotten half of the things you’ll need,” Molly fussed, going over to their wardrobe and pulling out robes.  She began to rearrange their trunks to make things fit more easily and organized everything.  Harry just lay back down and smiled, while Ginny scowled.


“Mum, we can pack for ourselves,” Ginny said defensively.  Harry got up from the bed to approach the two most important women in his life.


Molly turned around to face her but Harry interrupted saying, “No, I don’t mind.  No one’s ever packed all of my stuff before.  It looks a lot better this way.  I always just threw things in there.  It’s really nice that you wanted to come and help us.”


Molly looked at him, while Ginny suddenly looked extremely guilty.  “No problem, dear.  Why don’t you and Ginny go down to breakfast?” Molly suggested, her voice a bit choked.


Ginny tugged Harry’s arm and they walked out of the room.  Harry could hear a soft sob behind him and told Ginny to go down and he’d meet her.  He knew she’d heard the sound as well and just nodded to him curtly, turning away.  Harry turned around to reenter his room.  Molly was sobbing hard as she was carefully trying to put their robes into their trunks.  Her hands were shaking so hard that it took her a long time to get even one set of robes into Ginny’s trunk.  Harry looked at her for a few moments, his heart feeling as though it had broken once again for the thousandth time.


Harry walked up to her.  “Mum.  I know.”


She turned around and just held onto him.  He let her tears soak the front of his dressing gown and let her spend the grief, that had racked her for the past month, flow over him.  She pulled back and wiped her face, suddenly turning brisk, “Oh, dear, Harry, what you must think of me!  Getting silly.  You’re just going to school!  But it’s the last time!  This will never happen again for you.”


In that moment Harry realized that she really was his mother in every sense of the term except that she hadn’t borne him. 


“I don’t know that I’ve ever thanked you properly,” Harry said lamely, his throat constricting.


“Thanked me?!!  For what, dear?” Molly asked, now confused.


“For being my mother.  I only know bits and pieces about my real mother, but I would imagine she would be just like you,” Harry said.  He rushed forward, burying his face into her shoulder, her arms coming around him to embrace him.  “You’ve always been my mother and I’m so glad that Dad told me that you wouldn’t mind if I called you Mum and Dad.”


They both broke down fully at that point and Molly managed to get them to the sofa by the fireplace.  They let their tears fall before they were able to compose themselves.  Harry then knew what he wanted to do.  He wasn’t ready for it, but perhaps his “new parents” could help him cope with everything.


Harry got up and retrieved the box.  He asked, “Would you mind reading these?  They’re letters that were written between Sirius, Remus and…my parents.  I’m not sure I’m ready to deal with all of it.”


He felt bad asking this of the woman who had already given so much to him.  She looked at him, with concern written all over her face, and said, “Of course, Harry.  Would it make you feel better if Arth…Dad and I read them first?”


Harry just nodded, incapable of speech.  Molly smiled a bit wryly and said, “Then that’s what we’ll do.  When you come home from school we’ll all talk about it?”


Harry hesitated.  He wasn’t sure how much conversation he wanted to have about it or whether or not he even wanted to read the letters himself.  The simple notes from his father and from Sirius that he’d found in the vaults had been enough to make him wary.  As curious as he was, he knew that they would be painful things to read.

Molly seemed to read his mind and said, “Harry, this is a part of life.  You will have to deal with your past whether you like it or not.  I can see the indecision on your face.  I can’t tell you that there won’t be any pain in reading these letters, knowing the outcome as we both do, but it might help you to get a better insight into the life that your parents led.  Look, here’s what we’ll do; I will read these first and if there’s anything that may shock you I will warn you ahead of time.”


Harry just nodded and turned his face back into her shoulder once again, another tear falling.  He thought he might have just turned into a watering can and would perhaps have been embarrassed had it been anyone else.  He knew that she didn’t care and would just hold him as long as he needed her to.


When he was finally done he used her own remark, saying, “Sorry, being silly.”


“Not at all, dear.  I just want you to remember that no matter what happens you can always talk to me,” Molly told him, cupping his face and looking into his eyes.  Harry just nodded with a watery smile.  She smiled and said, “Come on, or else Ron will have eaten whatever Kreacher made for breakfast!”


They walked down arm in arm, Harry telling her the story of how he asked Ginny to marry him, making her smile enormously.  They were laughing again, the tears gone, by the time they entered the basement.  Kreacher was running around making sure that everyone had hearty helpings of food.


Harry realized this would be his last chance to talk to Kreacher before heading to school and so asked him to go into another room.


“Did Kreacher do something wrong, Master Harry?” Kreacher asked fearfully, once they were alone.


“No, Kreacher, and you could never do something wrong,” Harry said.  “I just want to see you be happy.”


Kreacher looked confused, so Harry pressed on, “Kreacher, is there a female elf that you like?”

”Like?” Kreacher asked.  “Well, yes, Kreacher likes many female elves.”


“Well, I meant more like a particular female elf, like Winky.  Do you love Winky?” Harry asked, hoping that he wasn’t insulting the elf.


Kreacher’s eyebrows knit together and he seemed to have some indecision before saying, “Well, Kreacher doesn’t know if he loves Winky.  Kreacher has been taking care of Winky, if you see what he means,” Kreacher said, looking extremely apprehensive.


Harry decided to save the elf from possibly punishing himself by saying, “You can do whatever you want, Kreacher.  If you want to have a relationship with Winky it’s okay with me.  I just wanted to ask you if you might like to marry her.”

Kreacher blinked several times before looking at Harry as though he’d never seen him before.  Finally Kreacher said, “Master Harry, house elves do not marry.  We is not doing such things!”


“Is it because you don’t wish to get married or because you aren’t allowed to?” Harry asked.


“We is not allowed.  We cannot leave our masters, sir.  It would be wrong,” Kreacher intoned.


“Well, if you would like to marry her it wouldn’t be wrong because you both live here, right?  It’s obviously entirely up to you, but if you would like to be married it would be okay with me.”


Kreacher’s eyes got even wider and he asked, “Is you serious, Master Harry?”


Harry nodded and Kreacher squealed delightfully. Harry couldn’t help but think that perhaps Kreacher could help Winky to get over the loss of the Crouches somehow.


“Can Kreacher and Winky get married very soon?” Kreacher asked, excitedly.


“Sure!  When are you thinking about?”


“Today?” Kreacher asked.  “You see, we would be the first of our kind, that I know of, to get married.  We would then have a baby elf within wedlock!  Kreacher was going to have to tell Master Harry about that sometime soon.”


Kreacher’s words sank into Harry and with great difficultly he held in a laugh.  He composed himself before saying, “Yes, Kreacher, you can get married today.  When should we expect to see the…baby elf?”


Harry wondered very much what a baby elf looked like, as they were so small to begin with.


“Kreacher expects it to be at the end of the summer, Master Harry,” Kreacher croaked.


“Very well, I don’t want Winky doing any more difficult work around the house, Kreacher,” Harry said.  He knew he couldn’t ban the elf from doing anything as this would just cause more trouble.


“Yes, Master Harry, don’t worry, Kreacher will take care of Winky, it will be his duty now,” Kreacher said soberly.  “Now, Kreacher must get back to work.  Master Harry, if you wants to be catching the train you better hurry!  Get into the kitchen and eat your breakfast!”


“Yes, sir,” Harry said, saluting his house elf and walking back into the kitchen.  He sent off a quick note to Kingsley to have someone sent over later to marry the two house elves, explaining the situation.  That should give him something to laugh at, Harry thought ruefully.


He sat down next to Ginny and put his head on her shoulder briefly before grabbing some eggs and toast.  She had certainly noticed that her mother was in much better spirits in any case.  She saw the smile on Harry’s face as her mother shoveled a few fried eggs onto his plate and thought that perhaps they’d had a conversation about the letters that had been plaguing him.  She had all but suggested that he let her parents read them without actually saying so.  He hadn’t responded, but she knew that those letters had bothered him for the last few weeks.  She knew better than to push it though.  Harry wasn’t accustomed to expressing his every idea, thought and emotion.  That had usually gotten him into trouble in the past, with the Dursleys and then with Voldemort.  He’d shared a lot with her, and she realized, more than he’d ever even shared with Ron and Hermione.  She knew that he felt a bit vulnerable about that, but that he needed her.  She had also realized that he needed more than just a partner to share those letters with.  He needed a parental figure.  Who better than her own parents, who had pretty much raised him in this world?  If it worked, it worked.  That was all she cared about and smiled back at Harry lovingly.


“Okay, so the cars that the Ministry is sending should be here in about an hour, so perhaps we should all get changed?” Harry suggested as they were all finishing their last bites of breakfast.


The crew hurriedly took their showers and changed into muggle clothing to go to the train station.  There doorbell rang a few minutes before they were due to leave.  The Ministry workers were there along with a fleet of Aurors, including Harry and Ron’s new boss.


“Are we expecting a problem?” Harry asked Robards anxiously.


“No, you and Ron have sort have gained a reputation, you might say.  I’m afraid that your newest escapade at Malfoy Manor has only gained you a bit more notoriety,” he said with a chuckle.  Seeing the look of disgust on Harry’s face he said, “Well, better us than the press?”


At this Harry brightened a bit.  “So you guys might be able to fight off the Prophet when we get to the train station?”


“Maybe.  We’ll try at least,” he admitted.


With that Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny all piled into one of the luxurious Ministry cars.  They got to the station in record time.


As they got out of the car, the Ministry workers said they’d take care of the luggage.  Harry stopped to look around.  It was so similar to the time he’d spent with Dumbledore there.  He found it somewhat amusing that Dumbledore had never been there in his lifetime.  It had been obvious as he hadn’t recognized it until Harry explained what he thought it was.  Harry was lost in his musings as he caught every detail that had truly been there during his time in limbo, until Ginny poked him the ribs.


“Do you want to go, or not?” she asked.


He turned to her and blinked.  He finally asked, “Huh?”


“Harry!” she cried, as he started to gaze off again, “Harry! We’re at the platform; do you want to go through?’


“Oh, yeah, sorry,” he said, trying to pull out of the reverie.  She started to watch his eyes, and then remembered what he’d told her about after he’d “died.”


“Harry, this is the real King’s Cross,” she said.  She pulled his face to her so that she could look into his eyes, making him focus on her, before continuing, “If we want to get onto platform 9 ¾ we need to go through the barrier.”


He finally said, “Of course, let’s go!”


Harry had still not come back into the real world, so Ginny grabbed his arm.  She drove them into the barrier, entering onto the platform.  The Aurors, who had stayed at a discrete distance before, now huddled around them.   Unfortunately this was of little help as reporters swarmed in.  From what they could see, the entire platform was overrun by them.  Ron and Hermione were surrounded, both of them grasping each other desperately and looking for a way to escape.


“Robards,” Harry whispered to the Head of the Auror Department that he knew was behind them, “Can you send a few over to Ron and Hermione?”


The Aurors who had accompanied them were slowly, but surely, getting them towards the train.  Luckily their luggage was already taken care of, Harry thought.  He and Ginny held hands as tightly as they could as they were pushed through the crowd.


He could hear questions being shouted at him.


“There are rumors that you are engaged to Miss Weasley.  Is that true?”


“You were on the run all last year?  Did you really pose as a Death Eater all that time?”


“Is it true, Mr. Potter, that you’re now the master of the Elder Wand?  Is that how you defeated Voldemort?”


This one nearly caught him up short, and he shared a brief look with Ginny.  They tried not to betray anything, but just made their way towards the train.  Where did they get that from?  How?  Ginny and many others had been quite close to the final battle but hadn’t been able to hear much of the conversation between him and Voldemort.  So how did someone find out about the elder wand?


Harry and Ginny finally made it to the train and said goodbye to their escort, apologizing profusely for the inconvenience.  They all said that they were happy to help and to have a good time at school.  Harry and Ginny looked at each other.


“It might have been nice to actually say goodbye to Mum, but I don’t think we dare get off of the train,” Ginny said, bemusedly.


“Definitely not, that was worse than Diagon Alley,” Harry agreed.


“I think Hermione’s right, Harry.  When’s the first Slug Club meeting?” she asked with a smirk.


Harry shrugged as Ron and Hermione both showed up, both quite disheveled.  He laughed at the sight of them.  They laughed right back, since Harry and Ginny didn’t look any better.


They easily found a compartment and were joined shortly by Neville, accompanied by Parvati, and Luna with Dean.


“So was that a madhouse or what?” Dean commented.  They all just shook their heads.


“And I thought it might be cool to be popular,” Neville said, rolling his eyes heavenward.


“Yeah, I used to be jealous of Harry for being famous.  It’s not so much fun once you actually have the fame, though,” Ron said.


They commiserated for awhile about the media circus that had occurred at the station, while all the couples wound up sitting back contentedly. 


Ron, as ever completely tactless, decided to ask, “So, what’s exactly going on here?”  He was waving his hands at the two couples that had joined them.


“Well, I asked Luna out while we were at your Aunt Muriel’s house last spring…in case you hadn’t noticed,” Dean said, wryly.  They had all noticed the new couple, except for Ron apparently.  So Dean added, “You might have noticed if you weren’t looking at Hermione almost constantly.”


Ron turned his usual shade of scarlet and said, “Well, at least I managed it eventually.”  This caused Hermione to roll her eyes and blush at the same time.  Harry and Ginny just shook their heads, trying to suppress their laughter, but not quite succeeding.  This earned them scowls from the couple in question.


Neville and Parvati had somehow managed to escape questioning and looked at each other, thanking their luck.


It was not to be however as Luna dreamily said, “You know, I think most of us are wondering how you two are now together.”


Neville and Parvati looked at each other.  Neville chose to take the lead, saying “Well, after you two left,” indicating Luna and Ginny in turn with a wave of his hand, “it was basically just me and Seamus running the show.  Well, as you guys know, I had to start hiding in the Room of Requirement.  Parvati was the first one to respond to the call.  We’ve been together since then.”  He smiled down at her a bit.


Suddenly Hermione jumped out of Ron’s arms and shouted, “Oh my God, Harry, we should be in the Prefects’ Carriage, shouldn’t we?”


He felt alarmed.  Even if Minerva had reminded them of this he might have forgotten with everything that had happened at the station.


“Uh, are we?” he asked, uncertainly.


“Yes, we’re supposed to give instructions to the prefects!” she exclaimed, grabbing his arm.  He looked back at his friends forlornly.  He’d rather stay and be with them.  Why did Minerva have to make him Head Boy?  He followed Hermione down the train to the front carriage to find all of the prefects waiting for them.  They entered panting as they’d run quite a distance.


“Sorry, guys.  It’s been awhile since we’ve done the school-thing,” Hermione said, by way of apology.  Everyone laughed, knowing full well that both of them had missed the entire year at school.


Hermione, having had enough experience from running Ron and Harry’s lives as well as prefect duties, ran the meeting rather smoothly.  She sent them off in pairs for corridor patrols.


“So what exactly is my job?” Harry asked, looking over to Hermione.


“Well, we’re supposed to work together to set up those things.  I just figured you were flustered and didn’t know what was supposed to happen, so I sort of did it myself,” she said, looking unsure.


“No, you’re right.  I never really paid much attention to that sort of thing before, so I wouldn’t have known what to tell them to do,” Harry said, marveling at her ease.  “That’s what you’ve always been there for,” he said wryly.


Hermione laughed, “Yes, I’m quite good with administration.  You’ll be much better with true leadership duties.  It’s one thing to create and hand out schedules.  It’s the decision-making process that I can’t handle.  You excel at that.  If we’d listened to some of your ideas right from the start, we might not have had the problems that we did.”


“What are you talking about?  I never had any ideas.  All I really know is instinct (which we both know can go horribly wrong), and I’m sick of people telling me that I’m a great general or that I can figure things out.  I can’t.  Everything I’ve ever said or done was given to me,” Harry said, starting to get angry.


Hermione gave him her knowing glare.  “How many times did you say that Voldemort had hidden one of his horcruxes at Hogwarts?  And how many times did I say that it was impossible?  I told you not to follow the Hallows, but they were real and you managed to unite them, despite all odds.  You trust your instincts, and for the most part, they are usually right,” she said.


Harry wondered how carefully she had chosen her words, because her last sentence was very similar to the one that Lupin had said on Potterwatch, telling him to trust his instincts.  Then he thought about Sirius.  His instincts had told him something that was wrong then.  Or was that Voldemort telling him something wrong? 


He didn’t know anymore and said, “I don’t know, Hermione.  I don’t know if I even have instincts.  If I do, can I really trust them?  Perhaps some of them have been right, but I led us to the Department of Mysteries to find Sirius.  My instincts told me that I had to be there.  That wound up being disastrous.  Sirius would still be alive if it hadn’t been for my ‘so called’ instincts.  How can you possibly trust my instincts?”


Hermione looked at him, as only Hermione could, and considered her words very carefully again before saying, “Harry, I didn’t say that your instincts are always right, but at that time Voldemort’s soul lived inside of you and he was trying to manipulate you.  Your instincts got mixed up with the ideas he’d implanted in your head.  As for Voldemort getting inside your mind, I know you could never truly have gained control of that.”


Harry raised his eyebrows at her and said, “I finally found a way.”


“You finally mastered Occlumency?” she asked, incredulously.


“I don’t know if it was Occlumency exactly.  When he tried to possess me at the Ministry, after Bellatrix…killed…Sirius…he couldn’t bear to be inside me when my mind filled with thoughts of Sirius.  I’m sure Dumbledore could explain it better.  But basically, he couldn’t share my mind when I grieved.  Perhaps there is too much love involved in the grieving process,” Harry tried to explain.  He started rambling, finally working some of these details out for himself, “I was able to block him out as I dug Dobby’s grave.  Oh, Dobby…no one regrets more than….”


He paused to take a deep breath, as Hermione put a comforting arm around him.  Harry gathered himself and was determined to try to express what happened into words.  “It was as though I was living in a dream.  I could see Riddle torturing those that were left at Malfoy Manor.  But their pain, to me, was nothing compared to what was lost in front of me.  And as my heart filled with remorse and love for Dobby, the connection disappeared from my head.  I was finally able to block him out.”


Hermione sat there for a few moments looking at him and said softly, “You were different after you came inside.  You had a conviction to you.  No one would dare to gainsay you, not because you were angry and impossible to deal with, but because you knew what you were doing and were going to find a way to do it.  You’d changed, Harry.”


Harry knew it, although he didn’t like to acknowledge it.  Something had broken inside him that day and he had resolved to kill Riddle no matter what it took.  He then thought about what Ginny had said about the difference she’d seen in him between the summer and the Battle of Hogwarts. 


“I guess I did.  I resolved at that point to make the horcruxes my goal, as opposed to the Hallows, although I realized that I couldn’t completely ignore them.  That, as you know now, was why I questioned Ollivander,” Harry said.  “Ultimately I don’t think I have any quote ‘better instincts’ than anyone else!”


“But, Harry, what if we’d at least have gotten the diadem?  What if we’d managed to find a way into Hogwarts?  Snape wouldn’t have turned us in, and that would have been one last horcrux for us to finish in the end and we might have saved a lot of lives!”


Harry gave a hollow laugh.  “You don’t think that I’ve considered that?”


The tears that had become so familiar to him in the last month, more than he’d ever shed his entire life, began to spring to his eyes once more.


Hermione’s eyes filled as well as she wailed, “Harry, why didn’t I just listen to you?  We could’ve...”


“No, we couldn’t have, Hermione,” Harry said gravely.  “If you’ve forgotten, we thought that Professor Snape was evil.  We thought that he’d killed Dumbledore and was a true Death Eater.  Breaking into Hogwarts undetected would have been virtually impossible.  Well, we might have found a way in, if we’d used Ginny, Neville and Luna,” he mused.


“I know, Harry, I’ve played it out so many times in my head it makes me dizzy,” she confessed.  “I just thought it really weird that he would hide something at the school, where it would be so easy for someone to find it.  I never thought of the Room of Requirement.”

”Even if we’d gone there first, Hermione, I don’t know when I would have had the notion of the Room of Requirement.  We could have searched there for months without that clue.  I only thought about it because of his attachment to the school.  It was an attachment I could understand as it was a similar one that I had.  The real difference between him and me was you and Ron, in all honesty.  I had your friendship and support, whereas he denied anyone entry into his life.  You two gave me the love that I needed to push forward.  Every single time, it was you,” he told her.


“What do you mean?” she asked.


“Do you know how I produce a Patronus most of the time?” Harry asked her, smiling now.


She shook her head with a curious look on her face.  “You and Ron,” Harry said, “The two of you pop into my head and I can produce a Patronus.  You are my idea of happiness.”


Hermione looked at him with a strange expression on her face.  Harry wasn’t sure if she was about to laugh or cry and then she tried to do both.  She wound up sputtering.


“I didn’t know that, Harry,” Hermione said.  She hugged him tightly as the door opened.  Ron and Ginny stood in the doorway.


Ginny had a concerned look on her face, while Ron looked furious.


“Are you okay?” Ginny asked, rushing over.  Harry just half laughed and cried as she put her arms around him.  He looked at her lovingly and kissed her lightly.


“What’s going on?” Ron asked, still standing in the doorway.


“Harry and I were just talking about a few things,” Hermione said.


Ron raised his eyebrows and started to move towards Harry, his wand out.  Ginny and Hermione simultaneously figured out the problem and both tried to step between Ron and Harry.


“Ron, you need to calm down,” Ginny advised quietly.


“Oh, it doesn’t bother you that your boyfriend was hugging another woman?  Well, I guess you’re a lot more open-minded than I am!” Ron bellowed, causing quite a few carriage doors to open.


“Oh, great, Ron, good job!  Now the whole train will hear us fight,” Hermione snarled.


Knowing that Ron was about to curse him, Harry quickly but silently threw up a shield between Ron and Ginny, Hermione and himself.  Ron sent an equally silent stunning spell that rebounded against the shield destroying the seat behind him.  Ron knew he couldn’t get through that shield magically and so reached through it to punch Harry in the face.  Ginny and Hermione both grabbed Ron’s arms and pulled him back, tackling him to the floor of the compartment.


Ron was shouting, “No, you! NO!  She is mine!  She’s not yours!  Damn you!”


Hermione practically sitting on top of Ron shouted, “Get Harry out of here, Ginny.”


She didn’t need telling twice.  “Let’s leave them to it,” Ginny said, pulling Harry out of the compartment.


Ron and Hermione were shouting so loudly that the whole train car could hear them.  Harry and Ginny stopped, looking at each other apprehensively, unable to move.


“Yeah!  So why were you cuddled up together?” Ron’s voice said.


Hermione screamed for the whole world to hear, “I hugged him when he told me that it was you and me that he thinks of when he produces a Patronus!  He loves you and me so much that he is able to produce such a spectacular Patronus!  That’s why I hugged him!  If you want to break up with me over it then go ahead!”


There was silence for a few moments before Ron let out a muffled, “Hermione, I’m sorry!”

”You know what, Ronald? It’s going to take a lot more than that this time!”


“What do you want me to do?”


“Do you remember what happened the last time you thought something was going on with Harry and Me?”


There was a moment of silence before it sounded like a swarm of birds had attacked the room, or more likely attacked Ron.  Harry and Ginny shared another look.  Harry had half a mind to go in there before they killed each other, but she held him back.


“That’s right!  You got it in your head there was something more than was there and you flipping took off!  We were nearly killed by Voldemort in Godric’s Hollow while you were having a nice old time at Bill and Fleur’s!”


“Look, Hermione, I’m sorry I got jealous,” Ron said in a very calm voice.  “I can promise I won’t ever be jealous of Harry again.”


His voice broke a bit when he said, “I didn’t know he really thought about us that way.”


There was silence again, except for the occasional sound of kissing or crying.


“My brother is such an idiot!” Ginny exclaimed the minute they’d gotten out of hearing range, not that it probably would have mattered.  Pulling out her wand she tried to lessen the bruise blossoming on Harry’s cheek.


“You know, I would have thought that he’d have figured it out by now,” Harry said.  “Hermione’s just my friend.  She’s like…a sister…I guess.  We just started talking about Head Boy and Girl stuff, but it wound up heading back to the war.  The next thing we knew we were…well…you know.”


“Comforting each other?” Ginny asked, already knowing the answer.  He nodded, a bit embarrassed, even if it was Ginny.


“You know, it should feel weird that I have my soul to myself now, but it somehow doesn’t.  Then again it does feel strange, knowing that it was a part of me for most of my life.  Maybe that’s why I don’t really feel like I’m…I don’t know really,” Harry said, his face contorted in confusion.


“Like you’re you?” she asked, tentatively.  She stopped their walk back to their compartment.


“No, I’m definitely just me now.  My thoughts and emotions aren’t any different, anyway,” Harry said.  Or were they?  He didn’t quite feel the anger he used to, he thought.  “Maybe not.  Maybe I felt more anger before…sometimes.  I don’t really know, do I?  How do I know who I am?  Most of my life I shared my mind with Riddle, even if I didn’t know it or understand it.”


Harry looked down at Ginny and as much as he didn’t want to bring it up he had to ask, “How does it feel when the possession is over?”


“Well, I think we’re talking about two different things, aren’t we?” she asked, tentatively.


“Yes, in a sense.  He was never able to truly possess me.  He tried in the Ministry, but he couldn’t handle it.  But I had that piece of his soul in me, Ginny.  I still feel angry sometimes, but not that…crazy kind of anger.  I would shout or throw something to the ground I felt so angry.  Ron was right to pull you and Hermione out of the way when I had that nightmare.  It would make me physically sick sometimes.”


“Harry!” Ginny cried, pulling him out of his monologue.  “That’s why you’re different.  It bothered you to see and feel the horrible things he was doing.  You may still feel weird for awhile, and that’s really something that you need to discuss with the healer.  Remember that we swore him to secrecy.  You need to talk about all of this to someone who can help you to deal with it.  We can only do so much.  But remember, Dumbledore told you specifically that your choices are what make you different.  Riddle couldn’t possess you because you contained so much of the one thing he hated.  It’s what saved you and what saved all of us.  Please, Harry, you need to forgive yourself.”


“I know,” Harry said, resigned.  He didn’t know if the guilt would ever truly leave him, but in time perhaps the rest of them could convince him to banish it.


He pulled Ginny close to him, just holding her and enjoying her light flowery scent.  It wasn’t long before the call came that they were there.  Harry’s heart lifted.  This would be his last two months at his first home.


The lights of Hogsmeade reached them and they all exited the train.  Ron and Hermione were conspicuously absent, causing Harry and Ginny to share an amused expression.


“So, these are thestrals?” Ginny asked as they approached the carriages.


“Must be,” Ron commented, as he and Hermione came up from behind.


They too were looking interestedly at the thestrals.  Harry felt yet another pang as he looked around at a great many students discussing the animals that they couldn’t see a month or two previously.


Finally they had all gotten into a carriage and were headed up to the school.


Ron, looking decidedly guilty, said, “Sorry, Harry.  I didn’t mean to punch you, well I did, but I’m sorry about it.  It won’t happen again.”


Harry thumped him on the back and simply said, “So long as it doesn’t happen again, Ron.”  With that the argument was forgotten.


“Last time,” sighed Hermione, taking in the scene.  Harry, Ron and Ginny too looked up to the magnificent school as they approached.  Harry wasn’t sure if he’d ever seen a more welcoming sight.  It wasn’t raining, and being June, the sun was just setting.  It gave the castle an almost ethereal glow.


They entered the school much as they always had, but all looked around now.  Everyone who had come back knew now that this was the battleground for one of the most noteworthy battles in history.  As they walked through the front doors they found the same beautiful monument that now graced the Atrium at the Ministry.  Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione couldn’t help but stop briefly even though they’d seen it before.  They tried to move forward though, knowing that there were many who probably hadn’t seen it yet.  The entryway became clogged as students read many of the names on the plaque, Dumbledore’s portrait reminding people that they could come back at any time to see the monument.  Eventually, they all made it into the Great Hall.


It became apparent to everyone that Minerva fully understood the delay and so her introductory speech only consisted of, “We all know why we are here this summer.  So, all I have to say is ‘tuck in.’”


It felt a bit weird not having a sorting the first day, but they all dug into their food hungrily.  Harry looked up to the staff table to find Hagrid in a slightly different seat, but Hagrid wouldn’t meet Harry’s eye.


He leaned over to Ginny, “I really think we need to go see Hagrid tonight.”


She nodded.  Ron and Hermione had obviously heard and they too agreed that they would go down to see him.


“Now that we have enjoyed this marvelous feast that our house elves prepared for us,” Minerva said, looking at Hermione.  “I would like to make a few announcements as to staff changes.  I would like to welcome Narcissa Malfoy as our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and Dudley Dursley as our new Muggle Studies teacher.”  There was a smattering of applause as they greeted the new teachers.  Dudley waved over at Harry.  Minerva then continued, “It is time for bed.  If our Head Boy and Girl and prefects could lead everyone to their dormitories, please?”


The four shared a mischievous grin before Harry and Hermione began half-heartedly shepherding the Gryffindors to their tower.  It was kind of silly really, as there were obviously no first years.  Everyone knew where to go and they’d either go or not if they wanted to.  But ultimately they all found themselves in the cozy common room of Gryffindor Tower.


“So, do you have it?” Hermione asked.  There was no need to say anymore as the other three knew immediately to what she was referring.


“You mean Ignotus’ present? Of course!” Harry said, with delight.


It was still long before they would be in trouble for being out of bed, and even so, they doubted Minerva would punish them too badly if they wound up out of bounds.  But it was fun to pretend they were being rebellious.


They carefully sneaked through the castle, by aid of the Marauder’s Map.  Harry found it a delight to actually be using the map for the sort of mischief that his father might have found entertaining.  He wasn’t using it to fight evil or get into a dangerous situation, but just to have fun.  They had put the Invisibility Cloak over themselves.  Silly, really, Harry thought, as their feet were certainly showing with four of them under the cloak and none of them trying to hunch down.


As they reached the entrance hall an all too familiar voice sounded.  “Where do you think you’re going?”


Harry stopped dead in his tracks, and then looked at the monument. He looked at the others and they all pulled the cloak off, approaching the portrait.


“How did you know it was us?” Ron asked.


“I thought it was pretty obvious.  One can see your feet and you were certainly taking no trouble to keep your voices down.  Another evening stroll?” Dumbledore asked, obviously amused.


“I don’t think Hagrid understands, Professor,” Harry told him.  “He had to watch me die and then carry me up to the castle.  He wouldn’t even look at me earlier.”


Dumbledore gave Harry his usual piercing gaze, “He will understand, Harry.”


Harry nodded.  Dumbledore looked over Harry’s shoulder to Ron, Hermione and Ginny and said, “You do know that Harry could not have been successful without you, right?”


They all looked dumbfounded as the portrait of Dumbledore chuckled and said, “The power the Dark Lord knew not wasn’t just Harry’s capacity to love, it was his ability to inspire love within others.  You three are the best examples of that.  Through you he learned familial love and he learned romantic love.  You gave him a support and a will that not many could.”


With that Dumbledore disappeared from his portrait.


“I always said he was mad,” Ron said, trying to lighten the mood.  It worked, although their laughter was filled with questions and uncertainty.


Harry finally said, “Aren’t we going to see Hagrid?”


He threw the cloak back over all of them before heading down the steps of the castle towards Hagrid’s hut.  Hagrid was sitting outside chatting with Grawp, who was sitting near the garden.


Harry was suddenly apprehensive.  He whispered to Ginny, “What if he doesn’t want to see me?”


“Why wouldn’t he want to see you?” she asked.


“I think he’s mad at me,” Harry whispered back.  But he knew that even if Hagrid was mad at him, he had to do something to make it right again.  So he pulled the cloak off of them, the foursome appearing suddenly in front of Hagrid.


Hagrid looked at them for a moment with his mouth open, closed it, and walked back into the hut without a word.  The door slammed shut behind him.  Harry felt completely awful.   He wasn’t sure what to do.


Hermione saved him, “Come on!  Let’s go!”


She had that conviction in her voice that Harry and Ron had long ago learned to obey without question.  She pounded on Hagrid’s door.


“Wha’ do ye wan’?” Hagrid asked.


“To see you, Hagrid.  We need to explain,” she said, starting to lose her composure, tears welling in her eyes.


“Explai’ wha’?” Hagrid asked angrily.


“Everything, if you want to hear it,” Harry spoke up.  “I’m sorry, Hagrid.  I wouldn’t have done it if there had been any other way.  You know that.”


The door opened, but Hagrid turned his back as they entered. 


“Hagrid!” Harry shouted, making him turn around.


“That would be the last thing I would ever want to do to you, but you know I had no choice,” Harry said pleadingly, looking directly into Hagrid’s eyes.


“Merlin, Harry, do ya know what ya did ter me?  I watched yer be….I watched yer be killed!  I though’ it couldn’t ge’ worse than that!  Then they made me carry yer body up to the school!” Hagrid shouted, falling into a chair.  Harry walked over to him and fell into Hagrid’s arms, Ron and Ginny each taking one of Hagrid’s shoulders, Hermione rushing over to the stove to rustle up some tea. 


“Hagrid,” Harry finally said, once he’d felt a few more tears escape.  God, he thought, how many tears could he cry in one day?  “Look, Hagrid, did you want Voldemort to be killed?”


“Och, don’ say the name, Harry,” Hagrid said, “but yes, I did wan’ him gone din I?”


“It was the only way,” Harry explained, “I had to die in order for the piece of soul he left in me to leave our world.”


Hagrid looked terrified.  He finally said, “You mean like a hor-hor-horcrux?”


“Kind of like that, yeah.  As long as I lived, he couldn’t be killed.  But when he tried to kill me in the forest I was sent to a sort of in between sort of place.  Dumbledore was there and explained everything,” Harry started and gave the basic outline of what had happened.


Harry then somewhat regretted having leapt into Hagrid’s arms as he almost crushed him in a huge hug.


“I should’a known it would be summat like that,” Hagrid said, Hermione handing him a cup of tea that he accepted readily.  “Great man, Dumbledore.”


“Yes, he was,” Harry said fondly.  “He thought a great deal of you, too, you know.”


Hagrid laughed and said, “Nah, Dumbledore just always took in the outsiders.  Those of us that weren’t fit for work anywhere else.  Like, me and Filch and countless others.”


Harry had to laugh at this and responded, “I don’t think it was just Dumbledore.  He always valued your opinions and views.  I know that he wouldn’t have bothered to do so if he didn’t think they were worth anything.  Minerva even looks to you for an opinion, if you’ll remember.”


Harry had meant to continue, but he didn’t wish to discuss the night of Dumbledore’s death.  He had judged Professor Snape so harshly that night.  Had he really called the man a coward?  He had.


He was brought out of his thoughts by Hagrid asking, “Since when is she Minerva to you?  I still call her Professor McGonagall.  ‘Course she told me to call her Minerva abou’ twen’y years ago, but anyhow.  Do yer kids wanna know a secret?”


“Of course we do!” Ron said, moving away from his position at Hagrid’s  shoulder to pull up a chair.


“Who do ya think is the new head of Gryffindor house?” Hagrid asked, his beard twitching.


The four shouted their excitement, hugging their biggest friend.  The five of them spent the evening with some brandy.  They went out to visit with Buckbeak and Grawp.  Harry, Ron and Hermione were all extremely surprised at how polite Grawp tried to be.  He only tried to pick Hermione up once and Ginny let him pick her up twice so that he could talk to her closely.  Harry was extremely nervous both times, but she assured him that it was okay.


When Grawp had set Ginny back onto the ground, rather gently, Harry said, “You know, I’ve told you pretty much everything that’s happened to me in the last few years, but you have yet to tell me everything that happened in the last year with you.  I think that you and Hagrid should at least tell us about what happened when you, Neville and Luna got detention with Hagrid here.”


Ginny smiled at Hagrid.  She laughed and said, “Well, I think he thought he was punishing us by sending us down here, but…”


Harry interrupted, “No, he knew full well this would be no punishment.  As you know now, the sword you tried to steal wasn’t even the real one.  He was trying to save you from the Carrows.  He couldn’t pretend like trying to steal from his office was an okay thing to do.  He had to give you a punishment of some sort.”


“You know, Harry, you haven’t fully explained why you totally and completely trust Snape.  I’m not sure that I understand,” Ginny told him very plainly.


He could see Hagrid, Ron and Hermione also looking at him interestedly.


“It’s not my story to tell.  I don’t think he meant to give me as much as he gave me.  I mean, he was dying, and so I think he gave me everything in the hopes that I might understand it.”  Harry wasn’t sure how to describe what he felt about that man.  Harry felt a certain kinship with him and yet a part of Harry still hated him.


Hermione nodded at this, “I can see that.  His thoughts were just oozing out of his head, like he just wanted to make sure that you got the right ones.  Do you think he intended to tell you everything?”


“I don’t think so,” Harry said, thinking aloud.  It was the first time he was really considering this.  Snape’s memories had been filling his dreams and they combined with some of his own memories of Snape.  “He didn’t need to tell me everything.  It wouldn’t have taken much to convince me that a piece of Voldemort’s soul was embedded in me.  It would have just made all of the pieces of the puzzle fit together.  That’s what Dumbledore thought, but maybe at the moment when Professor Snape died he was worried that Dumbledore was wrong.  I honestly don’t know.  There’s no way to know.”


Harry once again got caught up in his own thoughts.  He brought himself to the present and looked at his friends, addressing Hagrid.  “So what did you have them do?” Harry asked Hagrid, trying to change the subject.


“Well, we just had some tea in me hut, though Snape told me to take them into the forest.  There wasn’ nothin’ tha’ needed doin’ in there though, so we just stayed here.  We talked about Dumbledore’s Army for awhile,” Hagrid replied, smiling at Ginny.  “Those were some scary times.  It wa’ wors’ than the las’ time….when your mum and dad…”  Hagrid blew his nose noisily into a handkerchief.   “Bu’ at least tha’ time Dumbledore was around and You-Know-Who didn’ dare take over the school.  I realize now tha’ Snape might’a bin tryin’ ter protect the students, but I don’ think he had much control, cause them Carrows were a nasty bit a work.”


“Bu’ let’s talk about summat fun!  Why don’ you tell me abou’ wha’ you all wan’ to do for careers!” Hagrid said enthusiastically. 


The rest of the evening passed amiably as Hagrid listened to each of them explain their ambitions to him.  Ginny had decided that she would like to look into healing, although she really loved to play Quidditch.  Hagrid reminded her that it was very difficult to get onto a team, and even then it was usually only as a reserve and she would have to wait a long time before she would actually be able to play.


When Harry and Ron explained that they were going to be Aurors, Hagrid’s reaction was uncannily like Molly’s.


“Och!  So, I’m not done worrin’ abou’ you two, eh?” Hagrid asked, rolling his eyes.  As they discussed it he finally agreed that it was, perhaps, the best career choice for them.


Quite a long time later, Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione finally said their goodbyes and headed back up to the castle, with the cloak on.  By that time, it was well past a reasonable hour and it wouldn’t do to get caught out of bounds on their first day back.  They made their way to the Head Dormitories.  Ron quirked a brow at Harry and Ginny entering the Head Boy’s room, but Hermione elbowed him in the ribs before he could say anything.


“How is that different from them sharing a room at home?” Hermione asked him.


“It’s just as bad…dunno…gotta kill those brotherly instincts somehow,” Ron admitted.  He knew that he couldn’t continue to get mad at his best friend for sleeping with his sister.  They were going to be married and all.  They would probably have children.  Ron tried to get that idea out of his head.

A/N: Thanks so much for the great reviews, folks.  As this story is getting longer and longer, I've decided to split the 19 years into separate novels.  This particular one will follow through to the end of September.  The next one will span the year immediately following that.  Let me know what you guys think.

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