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Harry Potter and the Conspiracy of Blood by CambAngst
Chapter 40 : Only What You Take With You
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 11

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As always, that with you recognize belongs to JK Rowling.

The first thing Harry noticed when he awoke was that the room was uncomfortably bright. He groaned and rolled onto his side, feeling a multitude of aches and pains as he moved. The next thing he noticed were two large, bulbous shapes hovering in the air in front of him. He fumbled blindly, finally locating his glasses in their familiar spot on his nightstand. The face of his house elf came into focus, adorned with a well-rehearsed combination of happiness and concern.

“Good morning, Master. Hermys is hoping you slept well?”

Harry paused for a moment. He had slept very well, now that he thought about it. It was the first time in a month that he’d spent the night in his own bed. He gave the elf an affectionate smile. “Very well, Hermys. By the way, what time is it?”

“Nearly ten o’clock, Master. Hermys has breakfast ready in the kitchen at your leisure.” The elf then disappeared with a soft pop.

Harry felt a sudden sense of panic and started to roll out of bed, but then he remembered that there was no need to get dressed and go in to work. After leaving the Isle of Man and returning to London, he and Ron had spent the rest of the day sorting out the Auror Department and getting Percy to sign dozens of warrants for witches and wizards who had conspired to help the Blood Order seize power. With the element of surprise on their side, they were able to make many of the arrests without even leaving the Ministry. By dinnertime, the situation was mostly under control.

Shortly before seven o’clock, Harry gathered everybody who was still in the office and announced his retirement. The semantics had been his one, small concession to Percy. By retiring rather than resigning, he could be reinstated at the Minister’s sole discretion if the need arose. After getting over the initial shock, the other Aurors were mostly too busy to make much of a fuss over him, which was exactly what he’d hoped for. Harry retrieved what few of his personal belongings hadn’t been disposed of by Rowle or Rosier and quietly made his way out of the Ministry of Magic.

He stared at the ceiling and made a half-hearted effort to process everything that had happened over the past three months. Making sense of it all was going to take a long time, but a few things dawned on him right away. For one, he had slept very peacefully, without any nightmares. Perhaps more significantly, he didn’t feel any frantic urge to check Ginny’s side of the bed. She wasn’t going to be there, and no amount of torturing himself would ever change that. He could feel the familiar tightness in his chest, but as much as his heart still yearned for her, the guilt and the grief had faded. Turning toward the empty pillow, he mouthed the words thank you, and then rolled stiffly out of bed.

As Harry soaked in a steaming hot shower, he found that his thoughts dwelled more on the future than the past. The threat to their world had been removed, but it would take a long time to deal with the aftermath. He felt certain that most of the conspirators would claim that they were placed under the Imperius Curse, just as the Death Eaters had. The evidence against several of them was nearly airtight, however, and the ones with no alibis would surely offer to testify against their fellows in return for leniency. Ron was going to be spending a lot of time in front of the Wizengamot for the next few months. Harry almost felt guilty for leaving his best mate to deal with it all, but there were new challenges in front of him, too. To be perfectly honest, he wouldn’t have traded places for all the gold in Gringott’s.

As he walked down the stairs, sipping the cup of coffee that appeared on his nightstand while he showered, he mentally braced himself for the first of many difficult conversations he’d be having over the next few days. He found Hermys happily washing dishes while his breakfast sat on the kitchen table. The elf was humming softly to himself, and Harry recognized the melody from a song that Kreacher used to mutter when he thought that nobody else could hear.

Harry pulled out a chair and sat down, then took a deep breath. “Hermys, there’s something I need to tell you.”

The elf suddenly went stiff. The pan that he had been scrubbing hung in mid-air, half covered in soapy bubbles. Slowly, Hermys turned to face Harry. His gigantic, bulbous eyes were filled with anxiety. He looked ready to throw himself onto the floor and start weeping at any moment.

“I’ve accepted the position of Headmaster at Hogwarts, so I’ll be moving to Scotland. I’ve decided to give the estate to Albus and his family. I’m going to keep the flat over the carriage house for myself, and I’ll definitely visit often, but I wanted you to hear this all from me.”

The elf stood rooted to the floor. His bony fingers trembled as he tried to process what Harry was telling him. When he finally spoke, his voice trembled. “Is... is Master f-f-freeing Hermys?”

Harry smiled warmly at the elf. “That decision belongs to Al now. He’s the master of the house. You trust him, don’t you?”

Hermys didn’t look at all convinced. Harry was sure that he could recall the animated arguments that Al and Hermione used to have against James and Ron over elvish welfare. Hermys opened and closed his mouth several times before finally responding with, “Master Albus is a kind and wise wizard.”

Harry placed his hand on the elf’s shoulder. “Hermys, don’t worry. Al will do the right thing. Even though he does share some of his Aunt Hermione’s ideals, he would never free you against your will.” Hermys seemed to warm somewhat to Harry’s reassuring words, but his lower lip still trembled. “You’re part of this family, Hermys. The choice will always be yours. It always has been. Al may not like that, but he was raised to respect it. Just like he respects you.”

Again, the elf nodded. Harry patted him on his shoulder and he turned back to his cleaning. The rest of breakfast was spent in silence, as both occupants of the room struggled to decide what to say next. When Harry finished eating, he stood at the table and stared at the elf’s back. Hermys seemed to be trying very hard to act normally, but with limited success. The scrub brush floating over the sink dripped soapy water into the basin as it moved in a slow circle, several inches away from the pot it was meant to be cleaning.

Harry cleared his throat, causing the elf to face him. “Hermys, you know that if you ever need something or want something, even if you just want to talk, you can always come and find me, right?”

The elf rubbed his hands together nervously and stared at the floor, stubbing one of his toes against the tiles. “Hermys would never trouble Master with such things...”

“Hermys,” Harry interrupted, causing the elf to look up at him. “I mean it. Day or night, it doesn’t matter. That’s what it means to be family.”

The elf’s eyes grew wide and he looked somewhat awed. Harry smiled warmly at him for a moment. “I’m off to the Ministry. I need to arrange an international portkey to France. While I’m gone, please pack up my clothes and clear out the master bedroom. Whatever won’t fit in the headmaster’s quarters at Hogwarts, we’ll move it into the carriage house.”

Hermys nodded vigorously and returned to his cleaning with renewed focus. Harry started to leave the kitchen, then turned around at the last moment. “And Hermys?” The elf turned to face him. “Thank you. Thank you for everything.”

A huge smile spread across the elf’s face before he bowed his head deeply. Harry left the kitchen and walked back up the stairs to begin packing for his trip.

A light rain pattered softly against the windows of the Burrow on the afternoon following the climactic battle at Hogwarts. Artie and Oliver Potter were sprawled across the couches in the sitting room, listlessly flipping through their great-grandfather’s collection of old muggle automotive magazines. Their school books lay discarded on the table along with the assignments that their teachers had owled to them. Snippets of conversation from the kitchen and family room occasionally reached their ears, but the ramshackle old house was unusually quiet.

Celeste Weasley entered the room with her younger brother Robert in tow. “Aren’t you two supposed to be writing an essay for Charms?”

“Can’t concentrate,” Oliver mumbled without looking up.

Celeste tutted disapprovingly as her hands subconsciously found their way to her hips. Neither of the boys looked up from their magazines. “Come on, guys,” she finally responded, “school starts again on Monday and all of this stuff is due when we get back.”

Oliver shot her a dirty look. “Since when did you switch houses and become a Ravenclaw?”

Celeste met his look with her own glare. “Since when did you decide to flunk out of school?”

“Shut up, Celeste!” Artie snapped, suddenly looking up from his magazine. Something inside of him was nearing the breaking point. He felt as though nothing made sense anymore and all he wanted to do was lash out at somebody and release all of the anger and confusion he felt. If not for the rain, he would have taken a broom from the shed and flown around the orchard until his whole body went numb from the fall chill. Feeling, it seemed to him, was highly overrated.

“But all of this is due on Monday!” his cousin persisted, waving a roll of parchment in front of her as though it was incontrovertible evidence of her point. “We can’t just-”

“I said SHUT UP!” Artie roared, leaping to his feet. Celeste’s eyes grew wide, and she fell back half a step. Artie advanced on her, unable to control himself. “Do you really think that anybody gives a toss about twelve inches of parchment on muggle-repelling charms after what happened yesterday? Do you?” Artie could see the frightened, anguished look in her eyes, which were now inches from his own. He could feel his clenched fists shaking by his sides. Oliver stood up beside him, ready to intervene if need be. When he spoke again, he was surprised at how shaky his own voice sounded. “People died, Celeste. Professor Longbottom is dead! So I’m sorry if I can’t spare a rat’s filthy, diseased arse about some Charms essay!”

Tears began to spill from Celeste’s eyes as she stared back at him. He could see her trembling as she chewed on her lip. Suddenly she spun around and started to bolt from the room. In her haste, she nearly ran into their Great Aunt Fleur, who was standing in the doorway. Several of their cousins stood behind her, peering into the room to find out what the commotion was all about.

One side of his great aunt’s body was heavily bandaged, from her cheek all the way to her wrist. She had cut her hair short to match the area that had been partially burned away, and she was favoring her leg noticeably. Fleur reached out with her slender hand and wiped a stray tear away from Celeste’s cheek before giving her shoulder a reassuring squeeze. Then her deep, blue eyes locked onto Artie.

He was convinced that she was about to tell him off. The fiery, French witch had a reputation for both her temper and her blunt approach to dealing with conflict. But the look she gave him was so sympathetic that it caught him completely off guard. He felt almost naked before her eyes. Her stare seemed to penetrate his swirling emotions and cut straight through to the fear and anguish lying beneath them.

“Nobody was supposed to die.” The words tumbled unbidden from Artie’s lips; he hadn’t meant to say anything. Once he started to speak, he found that he couldn’t stop. “We got to grandpa in time! We stopped Professor Tennant and we found him in time!” He could feel the tears burning his eyes as his fists shook. “We did what we were supposed to do! NOBODY SHOULD HAVE DIED!” His anguished shout filled the room. The whole house seemed to fall silent except for the soft sound of the rain on the windows.

“In a war, things seldom ‘appen the way that they should,” Fleur replied softly. Artie found that he couldn’t meet her gaze anymore. He turned and stalked to the window, staring at the rain.

“Come, my darlings,” his great aunt said, “let us sit.” Artie could hear the sound of stocking feet shuffling into the room. A pair of hands settled on his shoulders, delicate yet strong. He turned to find his great aunt standing behind him. She gestured toward an ottoman in front of the fireplace and he grudgingly sat down.

Fleur made her way to his great-grandmother’s rocking chair and gingerly settled into it. After smoothing her long skirt over her legs, she looked around the room, pausing to make eye contact with each of his cousins in turn. “When the last war was fought, I was not much older than any of you,” she began, giving an especially meaningful look to the older children. “When it was over, I remember feeling overwhelmed by all of the death and suffering I ‘ad witnessed.”

Her voice grew quieter, and she stared wistfully at the rain-speckled window. “We lost your Great Uncle Fred and your Uncle Teddy’s mother and father, but you all know that already. I am sure you ‘ave ‘eard many of the other names. But we lost more than just friends and family. We lost our innocence. That comfortable sense of security that comes from feeling that life is safe and predictable was taken from us all. I remember feeling so frightened, so hurt, so-”

“Angry.” Artie suddenly looked up. The word had been on the tip of his tongue, but his cousin Celeste had been the one to actually speak it. “I’m so angry!” she spat, tears glistening in her eyes. “We didn’t even do anything! They just used us because they couldn’t find Grandma and Granddaddy Weasley.” Her hands were shaking as her voice fell to a whisper. “They would have killed us all, wouldn’t they? If you hadn’t stopped them, they would have killed us.”

Fleur turned her gaze back to the window. Artie could see the pain on her beautiful face. She nodded slowly in response.

“Aren’t you angry, Aunt Fleur?” Celeste continued. Tears were streaming down her face. “Look at what they did to you? You’re so beautiful and...” Her voice trailed off as she struggled to find the words to go on.

“And I might wind up scarred?” Fleur finished the sentence for her. “Of course I was angry at first. As I lay in the ‘ospital wing of ‘ogwarts, I was furious at the cowards who did these things to me. But it is difficult to stay angry for very long when you can see that the price paid by others was so much greater.”

Fleur paused to give all of the children another meaningful stare. “Per’aps my face will never be the same, but the things that are important ‘ave not changed. Maman and Papa will not stop loving me. Victoire, Dominique and Louis are alive and un’urt, as are all of you.” A slight grin crossed her lips. “My darling Bill, well, ‘e and I may ‘ave one more thing in common now.”

Artie couldn’t help but chuckle, thinking of the prominent scars on the side of his Great Uncle Bill’s face. He had always thought that they made Bill look fearsome, but also dignified in a way.

“The point, my dears, is that it is alright to be angry about what you ‘ave lost, so long as you remember to be grateful for what you still ‘ave and proud of what you ‘ave gained.”

Artie felt puzzled. He was grateful that all of his friends and family had survived the battle in the Great Hall, but he couldn’t think of anything that he seemed to have gained. Fleur rose to her feet and surveyed the room. Apparently she thought that his unspoken question was shared by enough of his cousins that it deserved an answer.

“What you ‘ave gained is perspective. You all ‘ave stared into the eyes of death. While it is not a pleasant thing, you might find that life means just a bit more.”

Percy struggled to control his breathing as he stared at the carved, wooden elephant sitting on the desk in front of him. He had seen many like it in his lifetime. They appeared to be the souvenir of choice for wizards and muggles alike who visited the Indian subcontinent. The statue seemed to be taunting him as it raised its trunk in a mock salute. After all, elephants never forget, or so the saying went. By comparison, Percy was slowly coming to terms with the fact that his memory had failed him in the worst way imaginable.

“But I was there,” he finally declared, shaking his head and turning away from the wooden creature that stared at him with cruel laughter in its obsidian eyes. “I remember it! The counselor had a set of ostrich quills on his desk. He was wearing an obvious toupee. His office was uncomfortably warm and I had to loosen my tie. You can’t tell me this is all in my head!”

The kindly looking witch sitting across from him raised her palms gently. “Percy, please calm down.” Her voice was soft, but firm and reassuring. Percy realized that he was hovering several inches above his seat, and he lowered himself back into a sitting position. She turned to the chair next to him and spoke to its occupant. “Audrey, please tell us what you recall from that evening.”

Percy felt a lump in his throat as he studied his wife’s expression. She looked anxious and confused and hurt. He wanted nothing more than to reach out and wrap his arms around her, soothing her worries away. But he knew that the moment when he could once again embrace the woman he loved was still far away. There was so much healing that needed to be done, beginning with his own mind.

“I arrived at the counselor’s office just before three o’clock, so that I wouldn’t be late,” Audrey began. “The counselor was a cheerful witch in her forties. I remember thinking that she didn’t seem to have a care in the world, which made me wonder how on earth she was going to understand our troubles. There was no desk in her office, just a couch and two overstuffed chairs around a glass-topped coffee table.” Audrey paused, then looked away. The pain in her voice was obvious when she spoke again. “We waited for forty-five minutes, just in case you’d been held up at the Ministry.” Her voice fell to a whisper. “You never showed up.”

The words felt like a knife through Percy’s chest. He started to rise from his seat again, but caught himself and sat back down. The elephant fixed him with a stare, daring him to speak. “No,” Percy mumbled, feeling the emotion rising in his chest. “I was there. I remember every word, every detail, everything...”

The therapist waited for him to finish. “Percy,” she replied calmly, “I’ve worked with many victims of the type of assault that you’ve suffered.” He noticed that Audrey looked somewhat stricken by the therapist’s choice of words. “Given time, we will be able to repair your memory. First, you’re going to have to accept that anything you remember from the past few months, no matter how well you remember it, might not have happened.”

Percy nodded slowly. He knew that Arabela had controlled and manipulated him. But it was hard to accept that events which seemed so clear in his mind had never taken place. And even harder to accept that he had neglected his family so badly.

“Describe the set of quills on the counselor’s desk again,” the therapist continued. “Be as specific as possible.”

Percy racked his brain, summoning every detail he could recall. “There were three of them. The feathers were long and wide. Each one was a different color... black, white and brown. The tips were brass, I think.”

“Do you remember ever seeing a set of quills like them before?”

Percy thought hard. Now that she mentioned it, they did seem familiar. He suddenly snapped his fingers. “The Turkish Minister had a set almost exactly like them on his desk when Minister Shacklebolt and I visited to sign the treaty banning the trade in enslaved genies, back in twenty-fourteen. Now that I think of it, even the base was the same.”

“Did the counselor use them to write anything during your session?”

Percy thought some more, recalling the events of the meeting. “No, I don’t believe he did. He used a self-inking quill to take notes. I recognized it from my brother’s shop.”

The therapist stared at him over her folded hands. “Percy, if the therapist never took the quills out of their base during your visit, how did you know that the tips were made of brass?”

Percy sat perfectly still, with his mouth hanging slightly open. He wanted to say something... anything that would prove the therapist wrong, but no words came to his lips. All of the sudden, the image of the quill set on the counselor’s desk was shifting in his mind, becoming less distinct. He could no longer clearly recall the surface of the desk beneath them. He looked back and forth from the counselor to Audrey, who was twisting a handkerchief between her fingers.

“But I remember...” he sputtered before falling silent again.

“The most common way that the perpetrators in these assaults create false memories is by using images, sounds and feelings from the victim’s past to craft a new series of events,” the therapist explained patiently. “That way, it all seems authentic.”

Percy sat back in his chair, staring at his hands. The memory that had seemed so clear and irrefutable moments earlier now felt indistinct and riddled with inconsistencies.

Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. The therapist consulted her watch and sighed, then flicked her wand at the door. It opened to reveal Percy’s new personal secretary.

“I’m sorry to interrupt, Minister,” the young man said nervously, “but I wanted to remind you about your meeting with the head of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes in ten minutes.”

Audrey collected her purse from the floor and started to stand as the therapist reached for her day planner, doubtless preparing to schedule their next session. Before he quite realized what he was doing, Percy’s hand shot out and landed on Audrey’s forearm. She froze in mid-air, hovering above her chair.

“Tell Reginald that I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to reschedule,” Percy said, looking into Audrey’s eyes.

The young man shuffled his feet nervously. “Minister, with all due respect, this meeting was planned several weeks ago. I believe it’s rather important.”

“Noted,” Percy replied without taking his eyes off of his wife. “Please reschedule it as soon as possible.”

The young man closed the door behind him and Percy noticed that both Audrey and the therapist were staring at him. “This is important, too.” He took a deep breath and settled back into his chair, releasing Audrey’s arm. “Now let me see what I can recall about the counselor’s toupee.”

Harry eased open the painted iron gate that hung at the entrance to an ancient family cemetery near Rouen. It creaked slightly, momentarily drawing the attention of a muggle woman walking her dog on the chilly afternoon. Inside the stone wall, neat rows of grave markers lined the ground. Small piles of dry leaves accumulated around some of them, and the grass had already changed from the vibrant green of summer to the laurel shades of winter. He had no idea where to find her, so he strolled along the crushed stone path, studying the names and dates on the markers.

Under the bare branches of an ash tree, one grave stood out. The polished stone of the marker was unblemished by the effects of weather and time. The sunlight that reflected off of it danced on grass that had yet to surrender its verdant color to the long, cold nights of November. Harry’s limbs felt heavy with despair as he came to a stop in front of it.

Esme Osinalde
II Novembre MMXLV

He stared at the somber, stone monument for a long time, trying to find words to adequately express his sorrow. Although she would never hear them, the past few days had given him a new appreciation for the therapeutic effects of putting his feelings into words, so he continued to struggle for the right ones. His thoughts were interrupted by the soft crunching of footsteps on the path. He sighed inwardly and turned, expecting to find one of Esme’s relatives or colleagues who would no doubt regard him with a hostile, accusatory stare. Instead he found an ancient witch slowly picking her way over the crushed stone, trying not to let her cane sink in as she walked.

“Here, let me help you,” Harry said, hurrying to offer his arm to Professor Turgeon. The elderly witch smiled at him and laid her hand in the crook of his elbow.

“You are a gentleman, Mr. Potter. I can see why she liked you.”

He was certain that she could sense the pangs of guilt her words produced, but she made no mention of it. The weight of her hand on his arm slowly guided him back to the spot in front of Esme’s grave.

“When I told ‘er that she could not know ‘ow long she would be able to visit me, this was not what I ‘ad in mind.” Harry stiffened slightly at her gallows humor, but she only chuckled softly. “Mr. Potter, when you reach my age, it does not matter whether one chooses to regard death gravely or laugh in its face. It is coming either way.”

Harry considered his own recent encounter with death and decided that she probably had a point. After all, he seemed like a rather pleasant fellow. The professor drew her wand and pointed it at the foot of Esme’s headstone. With a few quick flicks and unspoken spells, she conjured a breathtaking bouquet of spring flowers that floated gently to the ground. “Goodbye, my dear,” she said softly. “I ‘ope you found the peace that you were always looking for.”

He felt her hand tug slightly on his arm and almost without thinking about it, be began to lead her back to the cemetery gate. Beyond Legilimency, she appeared to have a talent for other mild forms of persuasion. “Professor, did the peace that she was looking for have anything to do with me?”

The elderly witch didn’t immediately answer. After Harry closed the gate behind them, he turned to find her digging through her handbag. She produced a small glass vial filled with a silvery memory and reached out to press it into his hand. “She came to me forty years ago, very distraught, and begged me to ‘elp ‘er extract this. She told me that it ‘urt too much to remember. When we were done, she asked me to keep it for ‘er, in case she ever wanted it again. I believe that she never gave up ‘ope that she would one day look back upon it fondly.”

Harry stared at the slender, glass container and watched its contents swirl and shimmer in the sunlight. “Do you know what it is?”

“If memory serves, it is two young people who look very taken with one another. They enjoy lunch at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, celebrating the capture of a dangerous criminal. At the conclusion of their meal, ‘e promises ‘er that ‘e will write to ‘er and visit often. Then ‘e takes a portkey from ‘is pocket and ‘e is gone.”

The vial suddenly felt very heavy in Harry’s hand. The professor chose not to comment on his obvious discomfort. Instead, she raised her hands in front of her face and Harry instinctively bent forward, allowing her to place kisses on both of his cheeks. “Goodbye, Mr. Potter. I will be sure to pass your well wishes along to death when I see ‘im.” Then she turned and disappeared with a soft pop.

Harry stared in the direction of Esme’s grave and considered returning to it. Truthfully, he knew that it wouldn’t do either of them any good. He thought back to the last moments they had shared in the Blood Order warehouse. He remembered the look in her eyes when he rushed to her side after she was wounded. He recalled the feeling of her arm wrapping around his waist as Hermione, Scorpius and Ron frantically struggled to pull Rose back from the brink. Small things, but they would have to do. Anything more was simply not meant to be.

He slipped the vial containing the memory into his pocket and walked away.

Draco Malfoy had thought that he understood the true meaning of exhaustion after the series of events leading to Octavia’s rescue. As it turned out, he was mistaken.

He found that he was barely able to think as he slumped through the front doors of Malfoy Manor. He and Astoria had spent nine hours inside a cramped, windowless room at Gringott’s. Nine hours of grueling, detailed negotiations. Nine hours of struggling to understand the labyrinthine offers and counteroffers that the goblins placed in front of them. Nine hours of reading and rereading eight feet of parchment, ferreting out deceptive and unfavorable provisions that seemed to make their way back into each draft of the agreement after being struck from the one before. Draco crumbled into a chair, unable to find the modicum of energy required to pour the glass of firewhiskey that he desperately needed.

He watched his wife as she fell onto the couch across from him. In spite of the distinctly unladylike way that she was sprawled, he was in awe of her. While it might have appeared that he was taking the lead in their negotiations, Astoria had quietly prevented the situation from deteriorating into an utter debacle. She carefully diagrammed each agreement that was presented to them, determining what they would be forced to pay and when with ruthless precision. Armed with several competing estimates of the Manor’s value, she helped him counter offer after offer that would have resulted in them paying Gringott’s far more than the Manor was actually worth. In the end, the goblins had been forced to accept a down payment of fifteen thousand galleons -- the reward money thrust into Draco’s hands after Potter surreptitiously gave him credit for defeating Lady Tenabra -- plus a modest monthly payment extending over the next thirty years.

“You’re marvelous, you know that?” Draco asked softly, enjoying the small smile that played across her lips.

“Is being marvelous always such an exhausting ordeal?” she murmured in response without opening her eyes.

“I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been accused of it.”

Her eyes opened just a bit and she stared at him, looking slightly amused. Slowly, she rose from the couch walked over, sitting on his lap and toying with his greying blond hair. Draco let out a long, contented sigh. After a few moments, his expression turned serious. “Astoria, what you’re doing... what you’re doing for us, I simply don’t know what to say.”

She stared at him for a moment, looking slightly amused. “You mean getting a job? I thought about it after Scorpius left home, you know? The only thing that stopped me was the fact that you and your parents would have died from sheer humiliation.”

Draco snorted softly. The amused expression quickly faded from his face. “I just want to make sure that you know how much I appreciate it and...” The words seemed to catch in his throat for a moment. “How badly I feel about not being able to help.” His voice grew quiet. “I simply don’t have skills that anyone is willing to pay for. I’m afraid I’m not very marvelous.”

He felt her long, slender fingers underneath his chin and she lifted his face up so that she could look directly into his grey eyes. “Draco, dear, you were absolutely marvelous when it mattered most. Because of you, Octavia is alive and that horrible woman is dead. Compared to what you’ve done, getting up and flooing to the Ministry each day is far from marvelous.”

Draco smiled in spite of himself. Then he moaned with displeasure when Astoria slid off of his lap and stood up. “Where are you going?”

She gave him a bedeviling smile. “Ireland. Remember that charming inn where we celebrated after we became pregnant with Scorpius?”

He looked at her with a mix of amusement and disbelief. “Not a promising start to our new life of fiscal restraint.”

“We still have the gold in the vault that father left to me. Well, most of it, anyway. I only have four more nights as a free woman before I start work. Let’s enjoy at least a couple of them!”

Draco groaned as she reached out and helped to pull him to his feet. Before she could turn and hurry to their chambers to pack, he wrapped her arms around her and pulled her close to him. “You are the most remarkable woman in the world.”

She beamed back at him and for a moment he could see nothing except the beautiful young girl who had stolen his wounded heart and mended it after the war. Before she pressed her lips to his, she whispered, “And you, my marvelous husband, deserve no less.”

Harry appeared at the gates of Hogwarts with a pop, carrying a small rucksack over his shoulder. Nearly all of his things had been moved into the castle already, and he only carried a few small items that he had found around the house as he helped Al and Jenny settle in. He knew that he would miss the estate that he had called home for nearly forty years, but giving it to Al was the right choice. James and Lily both traveled constantly for their jobs and they also made far more than the modest salary Al took home from Magical Law.

He walked up the path to the school, struck by how quiet everything seemed. The students wouldn’t return from their impromptu break until the following evening, and most of the repair work had already been completed. He stopped in front of the enormous wooden doors and started to knock. He felt his chest tighten as Neville’s words came back to him. Of course, you could let yourself in if you’d just give in and become a teacher here. With a wave of his hand, the doors parted and he stepped into the entrance hall.

The Great Hall was eerily quiet as he stared through the open doors. The house tables had been restored to their usual places and the damage was completely repaired. The only signs that a bloody battle had been fought in the cavernous room were the small patches of new, light-colored stonework that didn’t match the rest of the walls. The sound of his boots on the flagstones echoed around the room as he walked to the spot where Neville had fallen. He studied the angles and the lines of sight to the far corner of the room, playing the horrible moment over and over in his mind and trying to think of anything that could have changed the outcome. Then he shook his head and walked out of the room. If Neville had been at peace with the decision, he would have to accept it, too.

He made his way through the castle until he came to the gargoyle guarding the headmaster’s office -- his office, he corrected himself -- and simply said, “Please let me in.”

The statue stared at him. “You’ll need a new password, Headmaster.”

It was a sobering moment. Harry had been trying to prepare himself, but the gargoyle caught him completely by surprise. Headmaster. It was all he could do not to look over his shoulder and expect to see Dumbledore standing behind him. “Umm, Nimbus Two Thousand,” he finally mumbled. It seemed like a safe enough choice. They’d been out of production for nearly forty years. The gargoyle nodded and moved aside, revealing the moving staircase.

When Harry entered the office, everything was as he had requested, a fact that was nearly as jarring as though nothing had changed. Gone were Neville’s Mimbulus Mimbletonia and the pictures of his family that once adorned the enormous, wooden desk. In their place, Harry’s family photographs and mementos had been neatly arranged. Fifty-year-old Ginny and Harry sat on his desk, waving happily from the portrait taken in the Caribbean. Sirius whistled appreciatively from the painting which now hung in a formerly bare spot, suitably separated from the portraits of the deceased headmasters. “You’ve done well for yourself, Harry! Very impressive!” He noticed that his dad looked rather grumpy, and quickly realized that his mum was visiting Snape’s portrait, chatting amiably with her childhood friend.

Gryffindor’s sword had been returned to its glass case behind the desk and the Sorting Hat once again sat on a shelf in the corner. Harry wondered momentarily what sort of magic the sword might have absorbed from its brief contact with Herodonthus’s book. It seemed to take something away from every significant encounter. Hanging slightly to the side of Dumbledore's portrait was a new addition to the cavernous office. Neville's kind eyes blinked at Harry. He looked slightly confused.

"Don't worry, old friend," Harry said, smiling sadly at the portrait, "I'll fill you in on everything soon. It all turned out alright." The portrait smiled back at him and closed its eyes.

The large fireplace across from his desk suddenly roared to life. Dennis Northway’s head appeared in the emerald flames, turning back and forth until he finally caught sight of Harry. “You wanted to see me, Headmaster?”

Again, Harry spent several seconds waiting for one of the portraits to respond before he realized that Dennis was staring at him. “Oh, yes. Are you free to join me for an hour or so, Mr. Northway?”

Dennis’s head disappeared from the flames and thirty seconds later he stepped out of the fireplace and brushed the soot off of his jacket. “I hope it’s alright that I’m not in my school robes. They got pretty torn up during the battle and we’re still waiting for the tailor to finish my new ones.”

“That’s fine, Dennis,” Harry said. “We’re leaving the castle, anyway.”

Dennis suddenly looked very apprehensive. “We’re not going back to see the dementors again, are we?”

Harry chuckled mirthlessly. If only their time together was going to be so pleasant. “No, Dennis. We’re going to visit St. Mungo’s.”

“Oh,” Dennis replied. Then he thought about it for a second and he looked stricken. “Ohhh...”

“That’s right,” Harry said grimly. “We need to go see Frank and Alice.”

Dennis swallowed hard, but nodded in response. Harry walked to the fireplace and offered the jar of floo powder to Dennis. Then he took a pinch, himself and tossed it into the fire. “St. Mungo’s.”

Several minutes later, Harry made his way across the common area of the permanent care ward. A healer hovered fretfully at his side and Dennis followed close behind. They found Alice holding an old magazine from the reading rack while Frank once again appeared to be trying to cast a spell with his missing wand.

“I’m still not sure this is a good idea,” the healer said to Harry as he pulled up a chair.

“Neither am I,” Harry admitted. “But they deserve to know.”

“Hello, Frank, Alice,” Harry began. “It’s me, Harry Potter.”

The twitching of Frank’s wand hand paused, while Alice stared into space just above her magazine.

“I’m afraid I have some terrible news,” Harry told them. “A group of dark wizards attacked Hogwarts with the intention of harming some of the students. A battle ensued. Neville had to choose between defending himself or keeping a group of First Years from being killed.”

Harry realized that he was struggling to look Frank and Alice in the face, even though they weren’t looking at him. He forced himself to stare directly into Alice’s distant eyes. “He chose to save the students. He died so that four young children would have a chance to live.” Harry felt his voice cracking with emotion. “Your son is a hero. He’s one of the bravest men I ever knew. And he loved you both very much. You would be so proud of him if you could understand. I’m sorry.”

The look on Alice’s face changed a bit, as though the elusive memory that she always struggled for had come partly into focus. For one instant, she stared directly at Harry. He realized that he had never really noticed her eyes. He found an amazing warmth in them but also a deep sadness. He knew that Alice had been close to his mother, and for a tantalizing moment he imagined what it would have been like to grow up with those warm, loving eyes instead of Aunt Petunia’s hard, cold glares. As suddenly as the realization in Alice’s face had appeared, it began to fade away. Harry stared at her frantically, willing the moment to go on. But then it was gone, and her focus once again drifted to the empty space above the beat-up potioneering magazine she held in her frail, bony fingers.

Harry took a deep breath and stood up. He turned around to see what had become of Dennis, and the young man quickly looked away, but not before Harry noticed the dampness in his eyes. Turning back to Frank and Alice, Harry leaned forward and gave each of them a quick hug. He had seen Neville do so on several occasions, and although they didn’t react any more than they ever did, it felt like the right thing to do.

“Goodbye, Frank and Alice,” he said to them. “And thank you. Thank you for sacrificing everything so that Neville and I had a chance to live. I’m going to keep trying to make sure it wasn’t in vain.”

Harry and Dennis left the permanent care ward and walked down the hallway in silence. When the doors of the lift finally closed behind them Dennis turned to face him. “Why did you want me to come with you? That seemed like sort of a private moment.” Harry flicked his wand at the controls of the lift and the car came to an abrupt stop. Dennis stared at him, waiting for an explanation.

“Well, for one thing, I wanted to make sure you were doing alright,” Harry began. “I didn’t get to see you before your parents came to get you after the battle. I know that Artie and Oliver and their cousins have been spending a lot of time trying to make sense of what happened. No offense to your parents, but I doubt that they understand. They’re too young to know much about the last war.”

Dennis stubbed the toe of his shoe against the carpet. “Honestly, I’ve spent most of the past few days in my bedroom. I just don’t feel much like talking.”

Harry nodded sympathetically. “The heads of house and I have already arranged some extra support for any students who need it. And Dennis...” The dark-hair boy looked up from the floor and Harry gave him a warm smile. “My door is always open to you, if you want to talk. I owe you at least that much.”

Dennis nodded, but the frown didn’t leave his face. “It’s weird, you know. School is starting again in two days. It seems so soon, even though the battle was only four days ago and that seems like an eternity.”

Harry took a step closer and put his hand on Dennis’s shoulder. “Give yourself time, Dennis. You’ve been through an awful lot. You’re not going to figure it all out in a few days.” Harry flicked his wand and the elevator resumed its descent.

When they stepped out of the fireplace into his office several minutes later, Harry walked to his desk and picked up a small wooden box.

“One more thing, Dennis. Several of your housemates are being expelled for helping the Blood Order to single out the muggle-born students.”

“Bloody right,” Dennis mumbled, suddenly looking fierce. “They belong in Azkaban.”

“Their future is still up in the air,” Harry responded. “That’s for the Ministry to decide. My immediate problem is two of the students we’re expelling were Prefects.” Harry opened the box and pulled out a silver badge with emerald inlays. “I was wondering whether you’d be interested in the job?”

Dennis’s mouth fell slightly open and he stared at the badge with wide eyes. “I... I mean, are you sure?” he finally stammered. “I’m not really a great student.”

Harry chuckled and handed the badge to the gobsmacked young man. “Remind me to introduce you to Artie’s Great Uncle Ron sometime. Trust me, if he could do it, you can do it.”

Dennis took the Prefect badge and slipped it into his pocket, then he made a point of looking at his watch. “Harry... I mean, Professor, I... what should we call you now?”

Harry sighed and gave Dennis an exasperated look. “I guess it really should be ‘Professor’ from now on. But that can wait until Monday.”

Dennis grinned at Harry in spite of himself. “Alright, Harry. I need to be getting home now. My parents are probably wondering and, well, I have some owls that I need to send out.”

Harry smiled at Dennis’s obvious eagerness. “Very well. I’ll see you soon, Dennis.”

“And Harry? Thank you. For everything.” Then the young man turned to the floo and a few moments later he disappeared into the emerald flames.

Scorpius Malfoy fixed his father-in-law with a disbelieving look as the older man took two butterbeers from the refrigerator and removed the caps with a wave of his wand. “So you’re saying that if somebody who isn’t a blood relative tries to pass through those wards, it’ll just burn their face off?”

“Ssssss!” Ron did his best impression of searing flames while his fingers fluttered beside his head. He handed Scorpius one of the butterbeers and looked very pleased with himself. “Rosie’s uncle Bill learned the spell in Egypt. I don’t imagine they have much trouble with breaking and entering over there. Oh, and these wards aren’t exactly approved” -- Ron made finger quotes in the air -- “for residential use by the Ministry. So we need to keep this hush-hush, alright?”

Scorpius nodded dumbly and took a long sip of his beer. The two of them had spent the entire morning casting protective wards around the new home that Hermione had found for Rose and Scorpius near Ottery St. Catchpole. The dormer bungalow had an ample lawn surrounded by high hedges. Since the owner was a muggle, it was fitted with lots of modern amenities. Scorpius watched his father-in-law eyeing the ice and water dispenser in the refrigerator door and moved quickly to distract him before they both found themselves cleaning the floor. “Tell me again how we were able to line this place up so quickly?”

Ron shook his head slightly and looked away from the refrigerator door. “Oh, that. Well, 'Mione found the place and took care of all the paperwork and Harry... well, I don’t know how much money Harry waved in front of the landlord, but let’s just say that he was pleased as could be to bring the lease to Harry’s house at eleven o’clock at night.”

Scorpius nodded knowingly and took another sip. For as long as he could remember, money had never been an object for Harry where his goddaughter was concerned. She was always the most popular girl on the Hogwarts Express because Harry slipped a handful of galleons into her pocket on the train platform each year. James and Albus used to complain bitterly, since their mother made them do chores for their pocket money. Nobody took them especially seriously, though, particularly after they both received top-of-the-line racing brooms when they made their respective house teams.

Ron took a long sip of his drink and his expression turned serious. “Do you mind if I ask what the healer told you at Rosie’s appointment yesterday?”

Scorpius shook his head slowly, then took a deep breath. He needed the extra time to formulate an answer in his head, then make sure that he’d be able to get it out without breaking down. “The healer is optimistic,” he finally said, wishing that he could force the tone of his voice to match the words. “She says that It’s good that Rose can recognize people and respond to simple instructions. There’s a good chance that the damage is reversible.” He paused, taking a deep breath to slow his racing thoughts. “But she’s going to need a lot of therapy. And some things, like the panic attacks and the fear of crowded places, may never go away.”

He turned away from his father-in-law, staring at the large elm tree visible through the kitchen window. The magnitude of what lay before them was overwhelming. Rose needed constant care and his job required constant travel. He had no idea who was going to take care of Octavia. Hell, he didn’t even know how much rent he’d agreed to pay when he signed the lease that his mother-in-law placed in front of him the night before. He felt like his life was spinning out of control and crushing him, like being side-along apparated with no end to the journey in sight. Just as the air in the room began to feel thin, he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Scorpius.” He turned to face his father-in-law, who was staring at him with a mix of concern and sympathy. “This family has been through worse. We’re going to find a way to make her better. Whatever it takes, whatever the two of you need, we’ll be there for you.”

Scorpius stared back for a moment, trying to take it all in. He recalled the words that Rose would say whenever one of her cousins showed up unannounced or there was a spontaneous party to celebrate some relatively minor thing or they had to watch Dominique or Lily or Roxie’s kids on ten minutes notice... whatever it was that smashed their evening plans and sent them scrambling for delivery menus. She simply shrugged her shoulders and said, “that’s what it means to be a Weasley.”

A loud wail suddenly pierced the air, and in an instant both men were hurtling up the stairs with their wands drawn. Scorpius’s heart was pounding in his chest as he skidded to a stop in front of his bedroom door, which was slightly ajar. Soft whimpering noises were coming from inside. Ron caught his eye and raised three fingers in the air, then gradually counted down. When his father-in-law’s last finger curled into his clenched fist, they both burst into the room.

Another loud yelp snapped Scorpius’s attention to the floor next to the head of the bed. The sheets and blankets had been mostly pulled off of the mattress and they were covering a shaking, whimpering human shape huddled in the corner. Scorpius moved slowly around the bed with Ron close behind him, keeping his wand trained on the trembling mass under the bed linens. Both men nearly jumped out of their skins when a black, furry streak tore out from under the bed and raced down the hallway at top speed.

“Bloody cat,” Ron muttered, trying to cover up the startled look on his face.

A small head covered with curly, brown hair popped out from under the blankets. Octavia pressed her finger to her lips, motioning for them to be quiet. Scorpius pocketed his wand and lowered himself to the floor. He gradually pulled the covers back to reveal Rose, clutching Octavia’s shoulders and shaking uncontrollably as she cried softly and rocked back and forth. Octavia was whispering comforting words to her mother.

“Mocha jumped on the bed and scared her,” Octavia said quietly. “She’s alright now.”

It took the three of them several minutes to coax Rose back into bed and get her settled down. After spending another few minutes talking to her and smoothing her hair, Scorpius slouched back to the kitchen, leaving Octavia to read a storybook to her mother. He felt completely drained. His father-in-law was waiting for him at the table with a fresh beer already opened. Scorpius slumped into his chair and took a long, slow draw off of the bottle.

Ron looked ashen as he stared into the neck of the beer bottle in front of him. “I think I’m starting to understand what the healer meant by ‘a lot of therapy’.”

Scorpius could only nod in response. The weight of the world was once again pressing on his shoulders and all he could feel in response was doubt and inadequacy. He looked up and found his father-in-law staring at him, looking as though he was carefully weighing his words.

“Scorpius, I know that the two of us didn’t start off on the best of terms. To be honest, I’ve never done as much as I should have to make things better. Remember at your wedding, when I told you to take care of my little girl?” Scorpius nodded slowly, recalling the menacing glare that accompanied the words. “That was pretty much meant as a threat,” he continued, confirming the recollection. Ron fixed him with a stare, but there was nothing threatening in his bright, blue eyes. His voice shook as he spoke. “Please, Scorpius, take care of my little girl. She’s hurting really badly and she needs a lot of help. Don’t worry about money or let pride get in the way. Everything this family has is yours for the asking. Just make sure she gets whatever she needs.”

Scorpius stared back at him. Truthfully, he had no idea how to respond to such unconditional, selfless love and support. In the end, he simply nodded dumbly and mumbled, “Yeah, right. Anything she needs.”

There was a loud knock at the front door and Scorpius glanced at his watch. “That’d be Dom and Roxie. They’re going to spend the afternoon with her while I clear out the last of our old flat in London.”

Ron stood up and pulled his cloak off of the back of the chair. “I need to get back to the office, anyway. ‘Mione will be over later, after she finishes the stuff she’s working on for next week. I think she’s planning to stay the night, if that’s alright with you.”

“Sure, sure,” Scorpius replied, still reeling. “And Ron...” His father-in-law stopped and turned to face him. “Thanks for getting on so well with my father. I know he’s a pain in the arse, but it means a lot to Octavia.”

“You know, I still think he’s a git, but maybe he’s not quite as big of a git as I always thought he was.”

The two men exchanged a soft chuckle, then Ron suddenly looked concerned. “You won’t tell anybody I said that, right?”

A huge grin broke out across Scorpius’s face. “Not a soul.”

Ron smiled back at him and made his way to the front door. As Scorpius listened to him exchange greetings with Roxie and Dominique, the world suddenly didn’t feel quite as heavy on his back.

On Sunday evening, just before dinner, Harry stumbled out of the private washroom in his office, wiping the pale, clammy skin of his face with a hand towel. The students were gathering in the Great Hall, preparing for a feast to welcome them back before the resumption of classes. Ordinarily, Harry’s mouth would be watering at thought thought of platters piled high with the house elves’ sumptuous cooking. But since he had just finished throwing up from sheer anxiety, food was the farthest thing from his mind.

“Are you feeling alright, Headmaster?” The concern in Professor McGonagall’s eyes matched her voice as she peered at him from her portrait on the other side of Harry’s desk.

“Yes, Professor, thank you,” Harry replied, smiling weakly. “Just nerves. I’m supposed to address the students before dinner and I really have no idea what to say.”

“Why so worried, Mr. Potter?” Professor Snape asked in his usual, oily drawl. “As I recall, you’ve never found it difficult to be the center of attention.”

Professor McGonagall tutted softly while James and Sirius howled in outrage. Harry turned around just in time to see his mother slap his father on the back of the head for some disparaging comment that he didn’t quite catch. She then turned her fierce glare on Sirius, silencing him as Remus laughed at his mates from the safety of the far side of the frame.

“Harry,” Dumbledore interjected, causing the room to fall silent, “don’t lose sight of the fact that you have been entrusted with this position precisely because you are Harry Potter. When you address the Great Hall, you shouldn’t try to be anything more or less than that. I believe that was all Severus was attempting to say, in his own unique manner, of course.”

Harry grinned at Dumbledore, but the momentary reprieve from his nerves quickly faded. “It’s just that there are so many things I feel like I should say. We just fought a war. There was a battle right here inside the castle and these kids were right in the middle of it. Where do I even begin?”

“Well, thankfully I never had to deal with such issues.” Harry turned to face Professor McGonagall, feeling thoroughly embarrassed. The look in her eyes was understanding, however. “I will let you in on a secret, Headmaster. The majority of what I meant to say at the first welcoming feast after the war went unsaid because I was an emotional catastrophe and so was everybody else. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to say everything that needs to be said in a single evening. You’ll have many more chances and besides, everybody is hungry.”

A genuine smile crossed Harry’s face and he felt the knots in his stomach loosen somewhat. “Thank you. All of you. I feel like I might just survive my first day on the job.”

“Any time, Harry. That’s why we’re here,” Dumbledore replied. Then he closed his eyes and resumed his serene slumber.

All eyes turned to Harry as he entered the Great Hall and the conversation fell to a low hum. As he walked down the aisle between the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw house tables, he could see several students who still had bandages visible on their extremities. The Grey Lady nodded subtly as he passed her and Portia Scamander gave him a little wave. Encouraging smiles awaited him as he reached the dais at the front of the room. He made his way to the center and stood behind the ornate podium.

“Welcome back,” he began, feeling as though it was the only part of his speech that he couldn’t possibly mess up. “I hope all of you have been able to rest and recuperate after the horrible events leading up to the battle here in the Great Hall. First of all, I want all of you to know that if you’re having a hard time dealing with what we’ve all just been through, you can talk to your head of house, any of your teachers or any of the prefects. Please, just talk to somebody. We’ll make sure that you get any help that you need.”

“Next, I’d like everyone to take a moment to remember Professor Neville Longbottom, who gave his life during the battle to keep several students from being killed.” Harry paused for a moment. He heard soft cries coming from several places around the hall. When he spoke again, it was very slow and deliberate. “I met Neville on the Hogwarts Express when I was eleven years old. He was quiet, shy and a little clumsy. Not the kind of guy who immediately struck you as being brave.

“As we grew older, that shy, awkward boy grew into one of the bravest men I’ve ever known. He was never afraid to stand up for what was right, even when it wasn’t the popular or safe thing to do. Neville deserved as much credit for defeating Lord Voldemort as anyone. He was a loyal friend with a good heart. His dying thoughts were of Hogwarts, and making sure that all of you were safe.”

Harry stood quietly, letting the silence permeate the hall. As he looked around, some of the students were staring down at the tables. Others were looking up at the starry sky that filled the enchanted ceiling above the floating candles. A few of the Slytherins even rolled their eyes. But nobody spoke.

After a minute or so passed, he spoke again. “I have a few announcements to make. First, I’d like to introduce all of you to your new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Susan Bones.” A round of polite applause filled the room as Susan rose to her feet, leaning heavily on the table in front of her. “Professor Bones is recently retired from the Aurors and she graciously offered to fill the spot vacated by Professor Tennant, who left to accept a position teaching remedial magical theory to his fellow inmates at Azkaban.” Harry allowed the laughter to die down before continuing. “Please go easy on her until she recovers completely from her recent injuries. If you don’t, I assure you that she has a long memory and a very dark sense of humor.”

Harry waited for Susan to settle back into her seat before continuing. “Next, I’d like to introduce your new History of Magic teacher, Hermione Weasley.” A much louder round of applause erupted from the students, led by Hermione’s grandchildren and their cousins. Hermione rose to her feet, leaning slightly on her cane, and waved to the students. “After much begging on my part, Professor Weasley agreed to leave the Department of Magical Law and join us to help revamp the school’s magical history curriculum. On a related note, the former History of Magic classroom on the first floor has been sealed and declared out of bounds for all students, so as not to interfere with the nap that Professor Binns embarked upon last Thursday. We all wish him a long and restful sleep.”

“Lastly, I need to recognize three very special young people whose actions on the morning of the battle saved many lives. They all showed tremendous courage, putting themselves in mortal danger as well as risking the ire of a certain well-meaning but misguided Head Auror.” Harry waited for the chuckles to subside before continuing. “In my first official act as your new Headmaster, I award fifty points each to Ms. Portia Scamander of Ravenclaw, Mr. Arthur Potter of Gryffindor and Mr. Dennis Northway of Slytherin for their exceptional service to the school.” A roar of applause went up around the hall. Even the Hufflepuffs joined in enthusiastically.

When the cheers finally died down, Harry took a deep breath and looked out over the room. “I know that everybody is eager to get on with the feast, so I’ll keep this brief. If there’s a lesson that we should all take away from the events of the past several months, it’s that magic is a priceless gift, but one that comes with an enormous responsibility. Magic helps to feed us, clothe us, take us from place to place and keep us safe, but it can also be used to manipulate, injure, torture and kill. Each one of us has do their part if we’re going to keep our world safe and stop our amazing gift from being used for evil. That begins now, here, at Hogwarts. This is where you’ll learn how to see the darkness for what it is and develop the skills to fight back. This is where you learn to make a difference.

“I was honored to be asked to serve as your Headmaster. Hogwarts is the most special place in the entire world. You will only ever get one chance to be a student here. So explore, learn, grow and above all else, don’t forget to have fun.

Harry looked out over the hall, taking in the sparkling, young eyes focused on him. All of the anxiety he had felt earlier was gone, replaced by an almost giddy excitement for the days and years to come. “Now, as a very wise man once said, tuck in!”

A/N: The dates on Esme’s tombstone translate to 26 February 1979 and 2 November 2045.

I hope that this chapter helped to clear up some of the unresolved questions you might have had. I'm sure there are plenty that I didn't think of, but it's already absurdly long. As always, enormous credit and thanks to my beta reader, sophie_hatter. Please go check out her story, Evolution (M). You won't regret it! One more chapter to go...

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