The End of the Beginning

Chapter 47

Epilogue

2 May, 2000

Harry's chest finally expanded back outwards as the unrelenting pressure eased off.

"I never will get used to apparition."

"I did say we could take the Floo network." Hermione sighed.

"Yeah, but I couldn't pass up the opportunity to actually apparate onto the grounds."

"Why? Because I spent the better part of seven years telling you that you couldn't?"

Harry grinned and Hermione exhaled. "Whatever will I do with you Harry?"

He offered his arm and they walked the winding path past the quidditch stadium and towards the tall towers of Hogwarts. A crowd had gathered in the front courtyard. When they got close enough to discern faces, there was a loud crack and a tall red headed man appeared next to a blonde haired woman.

"Did you have to get so close Ron? We could have apparated right onto someone's head."

"Hey, I was trying to save you a walk. The healer said you shouldn't be walking long distances."

"That's not exactly what she said…"

"Hello Ronald." Hermione tapped him on the shoulder, then wrapped Ron in a tight hug that he returned generously.

"Hermione, Merlin it's good to see you." Ron turned to see Harry, "And Harry, long time no see."

"Not a lot of free time at the Academy." Harry took Ron into a tight embrace. "Aubrey how are you?"

"I'm great Harry." Harry was very gentle when embracing Aubrey. "Being pregnant isn't all it's cracked up to be though."

"Do you know yet?" Hermione excitedly pushed passed Harry.

"Well….we was going to keep it a secret…." Ron waved his hand airily.

"Tell us, oh please tell us." Hermione whined.

Aubrey looked like she might blow up she was trying so hard to hold it in. "It's a girl!" She finally exploded.

Hermione and Aubrey both squealed in delight and hugged each other.

"Congrats mate." Harry shook Ron's hand.

"Mum nearly fainted." Ron looked glowingly at Aubrey. "Said she always wanted a granddaughter. Still hasn't quite forgiven me for not inviting Muriel to the wedding though."

"Have you thought of a name?" Hermione asked excitedly.

"I like Anna Lee." Aubrey answered, "But Ron is really partial to Emily."

The two women talked in rapid sentences while Harry scanned the crowd. There were a lot of Ministry officials present. Kinglsey as well as most of his cabinet were seated on the stage. Directly behind them, the professors were dressed to the nines, though Sprout never could remove all the dirt from her hair. McGonagall alone was in the front row seated next to Kingsley.

There was a large, empty circle in front of the stage and the floor seating was arranged in a semi-circle around it. Many people Harry recognized were seated towards the front. The Weasley family took an entire row and the Longbottom, Tonks and Lovegood families were seated behind them. Harry chuckled to see little Teddy Lupin straining to escape his grandmothers grasp.

"I think they're about to get started." Hermione tugged Harry's arm. Kinglsey had risen from his seat. Harry, Hermione, Ron and Aubrey took empty chairs in the back row.

"Today is a solemn occasion." Kingsley's deep voice needed no amplification. "Today we honor and remember those who gave their lives two years ago, on these very grounds, to defeat the greatest threat wizarding Britain has ever seen."

Kingsley's speech was short but elegant. A few witches in the front rows had begun to cry towards the end. Harry's insides felt like ice. Hermione gently placed her hand into his and gave him a reassuring squeeze.

One by one, Kingsley called out names from a parchment in his hands. After each one a family member rose from their seats and accepted an Order of Merlin: First Class. George Weasley accepted on behalf of his brother. Andromeda Tonks (assisted by Arthur Weasley) accepted for both her daughter and for her son-in-law.

It was while Mr. Weasley was helping Andromeda back to her seat that a hard poke made Harry jump.

"Oi, what was that for?" He whispered to Ron.

"Look." Ron pointed to the back row opposite them. Trying to be as small and quiet as possible, Draco Malfoy slipped into a seat. "What's he doing here?"

"Shh." Hermione hissed.

Harry had his own suspicions as to what brought Malfoy here. He scanned the row of Weasleys until he found Ginny at the very end. Just as Kingsley called out the next name, Ginny turned around and craned her neck. When she caught sight of Malfoy, she smiled and turned back around.

It took quite a while to work through all the names. When the last name had been called and everyone had returned to their seat, Kingsley stepped back to his chair and there was a moment of silence. Harry could hear the creaking of the trees in the Forbidden Forest as they moved with the wind. McGonagall, Flitwick and Sprout then stood and took up positions around the empty circle. They each waved their wands in an identical motion and a large stone rose from the ground.

The stone had three identical sides, each with a large blank space in the shape of a house of Hogwarts: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. With another simultaneous wave of wands names began to appear on each side, each in the handwriting of the person in question.

The professors remained standing in their places. Flitwick and Sprout had both begun to shed tears and McGonagall wiped her eyes with a handkerchief. Kingsley again stepped forward to the front of the stage.

"May their example embolden us all to forge a better tomorrow and may they rest in peace."

With that, the crowd slowly began to disperse. Kingsley shook hands with all of the professors before he and his cabinet slipped out the back towards their waiting floo connection. Many of the family members pressed close to touch the name of their loved one on the stone. Most simply apparated away after a brief touch or a few words.

Molly Weasley pressed through the thinning crowd towards Harry.

"Hello dear." She crushed Harry in a hug, wiping away the last of her dried tears. "This was all just so..." But apparently whatever the word was she couldn't say it. "Anyways, are you coming 'round for supper tonight?"

Harry looked to Hermione who nodded. "Sure Mrs. Weasley."

"Thanks for all your help with the house." Hermione gave her a hug. "I was going spare trying to get everything arranged right."

"No trouble at all dear." Molly smiled, turning to Harry. "Your parents would be so happy with what you've done with their home."

"Thanks Mrs. Weasley."

"Now where has that daughter of mine ran off to?" Molly's eyes swept the courtyard.

"As if she has to ask." Ron mumbled under his breath.

"Well I better get going. Arthur left to see Andromeda home. How soon until Teddy moves in with you dear?" Molly turned back to Harry.

"Next week." Harry grinned. He was over the moon about his godson coming to live with him.

"Splendid, well do let me know if you need anything. See you tonight." Molly kissed them all on the cheek before turning towards the Great Hall.

"You know she's going to go ballistic when she finds out about Ginny." Ron looked at Aubrey.

"Well I'm not terribly excited about it either." Aubrey muttered. "Never thought I'd see the day where my child had to call Malfoy "Uncle Draco"."

Ron made retching noises behind Aubrey's back.

"You'll have to let me know how that goes." Harry laughed.

"Well we better get going too. I have to close up shop so we can head to Mum's tonight." Ron straightened himself and reached down to take Aubrey's hand.

"Business booming as usual?" Harry asked.

"Beyond booming." Ron sighed. "And that summer intern we hired is going to be the death of me."

"Be nice Ron, she tries." Hermione soothed.

"Yeah, tries to blow up the place." Ron muttered. "Anyways, we'll see you two later." Harry and Hermione gave them both a wave as they turned their heel and disappeared.

"Want to take a walk around the lake? For old times' sake?" Hermione intertwined her fingers with Harry's.

"Okay."

Before they had made it out of the courtyard, they came upon a short and very tanned wizard who was vigorously shaking the hand of a very uncomfortable looking Luke Morgan.

"Thank you very much sir, I'll have my secretary forward the reports to you." The man wheezed.

"Thanks Wilkins. See you around."

With a crack Wilkins was gone and Luke let out a huge sigh.

"How are things in International Relations?" Harry asked.

"They're great." Luke perked up. "When Wilkins isn't badgering me. How is the Auror Academy?"

"Tough." Harry answered.

Luke nodded, "And I hear that someone is making waves in Magical law." He turned to Hermione who blushed.

"It's not much really. It's just a small policy revision on house elf ownership."

"So modest," Luke shook his head. "Passes the first piece of legislation regarding house elf rights in a thousand years and it's a "small policy revision"."

"She's pretty brilliant." Harry smiled at her.

"By the way," Luke lowered his voice, "I really did appreciate you trying. You know, with that other piece of legislature."

Hermione frowned, "We had a solid presentation, but the opposition was just too heavily entrenched. We're going to get there someday though, I promise."

"The effort matters Hermione. People are talking about it now and that's a start."

"Would you like to come for dinner? We're headed to the Weasleys tonight and I'm sure Mrs. Weasley wouldn't mind."

"I'm flattered, but I actually have a date." Luke rubbed his neck awkwardly.

"Oh?" Harry and Hermione answered together.

"Yeah, it's a guy I met in France actually. It's my first real date with a guy."

"I'm sure it will be great."

"Yeah, good luck mate." Harry and Hermione both answered.

"Thanks, well I better get going. I'll see you guys around."

With a small pop he was gone. Harry and Hermione left the courtyard and made their way slowly down towards Dumbledore's tomb, stopping briefly to each conjure a rose on top of the white marble. There wasn't any sort of sign of the violation that Voldemort had committed; the stone was as pristine as the day of the funeral. The giant squid was drifting lazily on the surface of the shallows as they made their way around the lake's edge. They passed by their favorite tree and Hermione sighed and placed her head on Harry's shoulder.

"It still hasn't sunk in we're not coming back." Harry mused.

"McGonogall said we're always welcome to stop by." Hermione soothed. "Besides, I'm sure we'll find reasons to come here for our own children."

Harry looked across the lake. He could still see the last remnants of the crowd strolling around the grounds. The castle was just as he remembered it the first time he saw it, the lingering damage from two years ago had finally been repaired. His eyes lingered on the quidditch stadium and on the thing he had been twiddling between his fingers for the past few minutes.

"Harry?" Hermione sounded suspicious. It always had been hard to get things by her.

"I wondered if maybe we could try something different?" Harry brought out a tiny broom from his pocket and touched his wand to it. It swelled in size until his full size Firebolt was in his hands.

"Harry, you don't mean…."

"Not all the way," Harry hastily corrected her, "Just for a little while?"

Hermione smiled and shook her head at him. "I suppose I'll have to get used to it someday."

"Smashing." Harry mounted his broom and Hermione gingerly climbed on behind him, reaching her arms around and clamping on tight.

"Let's go home." Hermione placed her head against his back.

Harry gently lifted off the ground and drifted higher. His feet brushed against the top of the trees as they looped around the grounds. As he climbed higher he leaned down to give it more speed as the stadium, Hagrid's hut, the Whomping Willow and the Herbology greenhouses came and went below them. Before long the familiar rush of wind around him engulfed them and Harry's heart swelled.

They flew towards the far mountains as the turreted towers and the sparkling lake faded into the distance behind them.

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