Chapter 1 : Going Back.
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“You got one too, mate?”
Harry turned the invitation over. “Yeah.”
“You don’t seem too pleased about it.”
Harry sighed. It was just his luck that Ron would choose that moment for a rare display of perceptivity.
“Look, Harry, Ginny’s mad about you. Always has been, ever since we were kids. If you’re losing interest, you owe it to her to be honest about it, at least.”
“Losing interest.” Harry stared at him. “Oh no, it isn’t that.”
“Are you sure, mate? I know she’s been worried. The way you broke up with her that time and all. I told her she was being daft, that you only did that because you loved her, because you didn’t want to put her at risk. And of course you’ve been busy this past year. We all have, right? Auror training’s a lot tougher than I imagined. But if you don’t even want to be there when she leaves Hogwarts…”
“Is that what she thinks?” Harry asked. “That I’m losing interest in her?”
Ron shrugged. “I dunno. Never been able to figure girls out, really. Have a hard enough time with my own relationship. But honestly, Harry, are you?”
“NO! I told you that, Ron. It’s just…well, it’s like you said, isn’t it? We’ve been busy. The training and then all the changes Kingsley’s making. They’re good. I think they’ll improve the Department. But it means every time we think we’ve mastered something, there’s a change and we have to start all over again. And she’s been busy too – Ginny, I mean. What with her N.E.W.T.S. and all.”
“Well, I know that. It’s been the same for me and Hermione, but that’s all the more reason to be pleased about this. One final Hogwarts banquet and the whole place to ourselves, basically. Just the seventh years and their dates and the staff. All the small fry will have gone home, so they won’t bother us. Have a meal, maybe dance a bit, if the girls make us and then watch them cross the Great Lake on the boats just as we did when we all started. What better way to catch up after spending most of the year apart?”
There was silence for a moment, as Harry gazed out onto the training ground where the Aurors – both qualified and qualifying – practiced their duelling.
“But it’s Hogwarts, isn’t it?” he said finally. “Going back there, after everything that happened – Remus’s death, your brother’s. Ginny’s brother too. Seeing her there and knowing…that’s where Fred died…”
“It wasn’t your fault, mate.”
And he did. The Weasley twins would never have sat back safely and let Voldemort continue his campaign of terror. It wasn’t just because of Harry they were involved. Taking risks was natural to them. And of course, Voldemort had killed their uncles.
And yet, he couldn’t help feeling that if it hadn’t been for him, it might all have been different. It was his return to Hogwarts that had started the battle, after all, and in a different battle, in a different place, Fred might have lived. Remus might have lived.
He knew it was foolish to think like that. Whenever and wherever Voldemort was defeated, there would’ve been casualties. In another time or place, there might have been more. Other people he was close to could have died.
But it was hard not to blame himself when his best friend and his girlfriend had lost a brother who’d arrived at Hogwarts because Harry had returned there.
It wasn’t just Fred either. So many courageous people’d lost their lives. And the school itself, the first place he’d truly felt at home, had been damaged to the point it no longer felt like the school he loved.
“Harry?” Ron’s voice broke into his thoughts.
“I was just thinking. Of the battle…what it did to the school.”
“They’ve built it back,” Ron said quietly. “Didn’t even take that long, with magic and all. You should’ve gone back to see it. You never did.”
Harry shook his head.
He knew Ron wouldn’t understand. Building it back, in some ways, made it worse, as did this…this banquet for the seventh years leaving the school. People had died at Hogwarts, Teddy had lost his parents, students had been pulled from classes and had disappeared. Some had never returned.
And they wanted him to return and sit in that Hall and clap when McGonagall made a speech or when Hermione, who’d been Head Girl, did, ignoring all the ghosts that would surely rise up.
He’d do it, of course. Ron did have a point. He and Ginny had never really spent much time together as boyfriend and girlfriend. They’d only just gotten together when he’d had to end it. and then after the Battle of Hogwarts, they’d only had the summer, a summer when she’d been mourning her brother’s death and he’d been getting to know his godson and applying to Auror training and dealing with everything that had happened, before they’d had to part again.
It wouldn’t be fair to let her down. Or Hermione either. Even though she’d have Ron as her date, he knew she’d be disappointed if he wasn’t there.
And he knew it mattered. He was pleased Hermione’d had the chance to finish out her education. It had seemed to be touch and go at one point, when she’d had so many difficulties about finding her parents. But then Kingsley’d stepped in and contacted the Australian Ministry and the whole thing had been sorted out officially, leaving her free to return to school.
He knew how much that meant to her and he’d have felt guilty if she’d missed out on her chances because of him and the quest they’d shared.
The last year had been important to Ginny too, not so much academically as because she’d been chosen as Quidditch captain for Gryffindor and was now thinking about making Quidditch her career.
“Though of course, if you’d decided to come back to do your final year, I’d have had no chance of the captaincy,” she’d written to him. “I don’t think I’ll ever be as good as you are.”
They’d both achieved so much and he knew he had to be there to congratulate them, just as they would, no doubt, be there, when he and Ron finally qualified as Aurors. He just wished, or a part of him did, he hadn’t been given the opportunity.
Whose idea had it been to allow the seventh years invite dates anyway?
He and Ron didn’t discuss the issue again, but he wrote back to Ginny telling her he’d be there and a few weeks later, he and Ron, dressed in their best dress robes, Apparated to Hogsmeade.
“I still feel like such a prat in these things,” Ron complained. “Do you think we’ll ever get to an age when wearing them will feel natural.”
Harry shrugged. “No idea.”
Hogwarts castle loomed ahead of them. For the first time, instead of welcoming, it looked imposing, forbidding.
He stifled that thought and marched determinedly towards it.
It was strange, passing through the gates again and walking in through the familiar corridors. In a sense, it was as if nothing had changed. And that was weird, because everything had. Everything looked the same, yet much of it had been destroyed and replaced. It was almost creepy, as if the Battle of Hogwarts had never truly occurred, but had just been a nightmare. Or a hallucination.
But then he spotted a change, a plaque above the doors to the Great Hall.
“In memory of all those who died fighting evil at the Battle of Hogwarts. May they never be forgotten.”
Below there was a list of all those who’d died.
He paused. He felt as if he should show his respect somehow. But he wasn’t sure how to. So, after pausing for a moment, he continued on into the Great Hall.
With only the seventh years and their dates there, it looked empty, although there was, of course, a larger than usual seventh year. Hermione had not been the only student to return. Many Muggleborns, denied the opportunity the previous year, had done likewise.
Ginny and Hermione, sitting together at the Gryffindor table, beckoned the boys over. Both were beautifully dressed and for the second time ever, Harry noticed Hermione’d had her hair straightened.
“You…you should dress like that more often,” Ron told her. “You look fantastic. I mean, not that you don’t usually, but…”
She stared at him as if he was crazy. “You must be joking! Have you any idea how much time it took? The next time you’ll see me like this will probably be our wedding day.”
The comment was so typical of Hermione that Harry felt some of the tension dissolve.
He glanced around the Hall, which was filled with so many of the people he knew and cared about. Luna was there, one of the few students apparently without a date. She was staring into space, seemingly lost in her own world.
McGonagall was sitting at the centre of the staff table, with Hagrid on her right hand side. Catching sight of Harry, Hagrid began waving furiously.
Harry raised a hand to return the greeting.
“Harry? You’re very quiet.” Ginny’s tone was tentative and Harry remembered what Ron said about her having worried, the implication she might have doubted his affections.
He reached for her hand, as McGonagall stood up at the staff table and called for silence.
“Today we celebrate the achievement of what is perhaps the largest class ever to leave Hogwarts. I know this is a tense time for you all, as you await the results of your N.E.W.T.S., which for many of you will determine the career you will follow.
“But for a moment, we’ll put that aside and recall everything you’ve already achieved. You arrived here, all of you, as small eleven year olds. For some of you this was nearly eight years ago, for the rest, nearly seven. In those intervening years, some of you have played for your House Quidditch teams, others have been prefects. Others have taken part in any of our number of other clubs and societies. All of you completed your O.W.L.S., with most of you receiving results to be proud of.
“There have been difficult times. Last year was one of the darkest our world has been through in recent times and unfortunately, Hogwarts certainly didn’t escape the horror. But over the course of that year, many of you truly proved yourselves. Some of you took part in the Battle of Hogwarts. Others were too young or for whatever reason, chose not to fight, but proved your worth in other ways - by helping to evacuate, protect and care for the younger students while the Battle was taking place or by your involvement in Dumbledore’s Army or by refusing to betray friends or family members when pressure was put on you to do so.
“Some of you were prevented from attending Hogwarts or were captured during the course of the year and you showed great bravery and endurance in dealing with this.
“Nor are your achievements in happier times any less important. Those of you with sporting and academic successes, those who have been prefects or Head Boy and Girl, also have a lot to be proud of as you leave Hogwarts for the final time today.
“But before I hand over to our Head Girl, I am afraid I have to mention the bad times once more as there is somebody else who should be with us today. Colin Creevey started Hogwarts when many of you did. He spent six years at this school, then tragically died here, fighting to preserve the world we have now returned to.
“He should have been with you this year, completing his education and preparing, like you, for the rest of his life. So before we continue our celebrations, I’d like you do raise a glass to Colin.”
“To Colin,” the Hall announced in unison, as the students and staff raised their glasses.
There was a moment’s silence before McGonagall stepped aside and Hermione took her place at the table.
“In other circumstances,” she began, “I suppose I’d be speaking about how we’re all about to go out into the world and truly begin our lives in the ‘real world’. But I don’t really think that’s true. All of us have been through so much already. We’ve seen more, perhaps, than many Muggles twice our age.
“Twenty-one months ago, the ‘real world’ came in here, to Hogwarts, when the Carrows were appointed as teachers and we Muggleborns were forbidden to attend.
“I don’t think there is much I can say about our impending adulthood, because I think the events of that year meant we’ve already become adults. We didn’t have any choice.
“So what I will say is that the world we now go out into is a far better one than that which we experienced last year, thanks in no small part to Harry over there.” She grinned at him. “And let’s just all try and keep it that way.”
A round of applause began in response to her words.
Once it had finished, the Head Boy, a Hufflepuff who’d been in the year below Harry and who he didn’t know very well, began his speech, but Harry didn’t listen too closely. McGonagall and Hermione had, in his opinion, said all that needed to be said.
The speeches completed, food magically appeared in the centre of the tables and the students began to tuck in. The atmosphere in the Hall, however, was sombre, the events of the war and the death of a classmate too recent to allow the proceedings be truly light-hearted.
A leprechaun band began to play, but quietly, as if sensitive to the general ambiance.
“Harry,” Ginny said quietly, as they finished their meal. “Can we talk?”
“Of course.” He stood up.
Together, they headed out into the grounds.
“It’s quiet out here,” he said.
“I just want to know how you feel. About us, I mean.”
He gazed deeply into her eyes. “I’m crazy about you, Ginny. I just…things haven’t been easy. We’ve had about the worst timing you could possibly imagine.”
“We still have the rest of our lives.”
He nodded. “And I want us to spend it together, Ginny.”
He leaned forward to kiss her. Their lips only touched for a moment, but he could see in her eyes that she knew he meant it.
Hand-in-hand, they returned to the Hall and to their friends.
Everybody wanted to greet him, Hagrid, Luna, Slughorn.
Luna was perhaps the most reassuring of all. She hadn’t had an easy time last year either, but in true Luna-fashion, she seemed blithely unaffected, reminding him only to be careful of what she called the “war spirits.”
“They haunt places where there’s been a battle,” she explained earnestly. “And they try to raise further conflict. So if you feel yourself getting angry, you should spin three times and then conjure a spray of water from your wand. That wards them off.”
“Um, thanks Luna. I’ll keep that in mind.” He tried to stifle his laughter. “You know,” he added thoughtfully, “you can always cheer me up.”
“Were you unhappy?” she asked.
“Not unhappy, no, but somehow even if I had been, being around you would probably change that.”
A smile spread across her face. “Well, that is a nice thing to say, Harry. Thank you. A lot of people don’t seem to enjoy my company, you know.”
“Then they are missing out,” he said firmly. “Seriously, missing out.”
And then finally, the night was over and the graduating students climbed onto the boats and sailed back across the Great Lake, led by Hagrid.
Harry watched as they disappeared from sight, feeling somehow that it was not only his friends’ schooldays that were ending, but that something was ending for him also.
This was how it all began. His first arrival at Hogwarts, coming across the Great Lake, his encounter with Voldemort on the back of Quirrell’s head, the revelations from Dumbledore in his office over the years, all leading up to his search for the Horcruxes and the final conflict with Voldemort right here at the school.
Now, he was back at Hogwarts, watching those same boats cross the Great Lake, but this time in the opposite direction.
In his mind’s eye, he could see the boy he had once been coming towards him, awed by his first glimpse of the castle that would become his home.
There was so much he hadn’t known back then, about his background and his destiny. Now, he not only knew it, but had completed it.
Finally, he was at peace.