Disclaimer: I don't own Harry Potter or claim anything from it. Yada yada you guys get the picture.

Summary: Picking up where the books left off, mostly cannon follows almost all major plot points revealed by Rowling about the future, adventure, action, starting slow, no bashing, normal pairings, Hallows, and Death Eaters

A/N: There will be changes regarding the Hallows that are non-cannon. There's a reason, I promise. It's pretty much the only major change from the story. If you have a question, it will more than likely be answered in the next chapter.

This chapter has been re-mastered a little bit with a few changes and additions but is roughly the same work

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"You've been so brave," breathed Lily.

"You're nearly there, Harry," said James. "So very close. We are... so proud of you."

His parents' words reverberated through his head as he saw them standing with him in the Forbidden Forest again. He could picture his mother exactly. Her green eyes flashing in the dim light.

Crack!

Harry awoke abruptly to the sound of something apparating nearby. Confused by his unfamiliar surroundings, he fumbled for his glasses and wand as his adrenaline began to surge. This was it, someone was here for him.

"Master, are you alright?" a low croaking voice asked him as he finally grasped his wand.

The words jolted Harry enough that he hesitated long enough to bite back the spell he'd been about to cast. "W-what?" he asked instead, finally managing to wrangle his glasses onto his face as he tried to make sense of the blurred world around him. Kreacher's ugly, manically grinning face soon came into focus standing at his bedside. He'd thought the house elf looked disturbing before, but he was now quite sure that he'd sorely undersold the elf's potential for creepiness. He glared at the elf and fought the sudden powerful urge to throttle him.

Harry had been on the run for close to a year now expecting constant ambushes and Kreacher had somehow thought it was acceptable to scare him out of his skin. He'd been on the verge of cursing whatever had appeared next to him and it was only the diminutive creature's good fortune that Harry hadn't fallen asleep with his wand in hand.

He was surprised, and more than a little annoyed, by the house-elf's appearance, as Kreacher hadn't often come to him on his own volition. "What is it, Kreacher?" he rasped, still trying not to swear at him after the rude awakening. Great, now I'm never getting back to sleep, he thought acidly as he rubbed his face, trying to dull the memory of everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours.

"I thought that master might like a sandwich," croaked the house-elf again, offering a plate he'd hidden behind his back laden with roast beef sandwiches.

As if in response to those words, Harry's stomach gave an audible growl, reminding him how famished he was. It'd been almost a full two days since he'd eaten. His body protested as he sat up, but with a loud groan, he managed it and took the plate from Kreacher. He thanked the diminutive house-elf quickly before dismissing him to eat his meal in silence.

As he lay back, his neck twinged horribly up the one side, reminding him just how broken he felt. Now that the adrenaline had worn off, each breath was causing his to chest ache where Voldemort had hit him with the killing curse, and he couldn't quite stop himself from rubbing it absently between bites. While he wolfed down the rest of the sandwiches Kreacher had bought, other injuries also began to make themselves known. He'd gotten numerous cuts and bruises all over his body when he'd been thrown around on the forest floor during the Death Eaters' celebration, and burns on his forearms and hands from flying through the Fiendfyre. Even by his own lofty standards, he'd taken a beating. Just thinking about his own injuries though brought up memories of some of the horrific ones he'd seen during the night. Lavender Brown, laying in a pool of her own blood, her throat ripped open. The small unidentifiable body of a boy who'd been hit in the face with a blasting curse. At least I'm here to feel, he thought angrily, punching the pillow next to him.

The thing that bothered him most though, was the guilt eating away at his heart. So many people had died. Colin, Tonks, Fred, Remus -and for what? 'The-Boy-Who-Lived?' It was like some kind of sick joke that once he'd finally stopped trying to win he'd finally managed it. If there was some kind of higher power in the world, then Harry had to believe that he had a twisted, dark sense of humour.

It felt like there was a void in his soul now. So much had been ripped out and he'd finally finished it. Voldemort was dead. It seemed inconceivable to him that it was all over.

For as long as he could remember, Voldemort's life had been intertwined with his in a sinister and mysterious way. He felt oddly purposeless now that it was all over; relieved, but strangely morose. He wondered if he'd done the right thing. Could he have done anything differently to save all those people?

He'd reconciled himself to death and gone willingly to the slaughter in order to save those he loved. However, due to some strange magic and a mistake made three years prior by Voldemort, he'd managed to survive yet again.

After that, Harry had been given a choice, to go on to death or go back to the world he knew. He'd chosen to come back, but had he made the right decision? He hoped so. Despite the pain and guilt he now had to deal with, there was also hope.

Hoping to dispel his troublesome thoughts, he massaged his forehead. After touching his scar, he realized that for the first time in three years it hadn't even twinged. He smiled slightly but couldn't really appreciate it. Happiness would come -he hoped- but it was going to be awhile before he was back to his old self again.

Footsteps echoed from the stairwell up into the boys' dormitory. Not wanting to be disturbed, he hastily placed the plate on his bedside table before rolling over and pretending to sleep. He had assumed that it was either Dean or Seamus, since Ron and Hermione had gone for a walk earlier. The footsteps continued to his bedside, but he didn't dare steal a peek, lest he give away his facade.

He flinched as a hand gently stroked his face, forcing him to open his eyes in surprise at the gentle touch. It was Ginny. The slumbering dragon in his chest reared in surprise as he felt his hope soar. It'd been awhile since he'd felt anything like it. Without saying a word, she lay down next to him and hugged him tightly.

"I knew you'd be here. How are you holding up?" she asked, her voice hoarse and eyes red and swollen from crying.

"Well, I'm alive if that's what you're asking," he whispered, his voice harsh even to his own ears.

The silence stretched as they lay there. He held her tighter and sighed. "I'm sorry about Fred...I...I... feel... responsi-" The rest of his words were left unsaid as she silenced them with a gentle but firm finger on his lips, surprising Harry with her forwardness.

He'd been gone for months, and he hadn't been sure what things would be like between them. At some point, he knew they'd have to talk about everything, but right now all that mattered was that he was with her.

She paused, looking up at him. "You know, deep down, it's not your fault, Harry. He was fighting for something he believed in. Just like all of us. He knew the risks, and he also knew the consequences of doing nothing. Don't hold yourself responsible for his death. There was nothing you could have done."

He digested this slowly. "I don't know," he said. "Maybe there was something I could have done differently. Left earlier."

"We all knew what could happen, Harry. Don't take his sacrifice away from him."

Harry couldn't shake the feeling of guilt yet, but eager to change the subject, he just sighed deeply again and grunted.

"Maybe you're right. How's everyone holding up?"

"I know." She smiled ruefully before punching him lightly and looking down, hoping to dodge his question.

However, he'd noticed the tears in her eyes regardless. Hoping to ease her pain, he leaned over and grasped her chin as he slowly brought her lips to meet his in a soft but sweet kiss. It'd been too long.

"Thanks... I needed that," she said in a shaky voice when they eventually broke apart.

She took a deep, steadying breath, but only succeeded in breaking down in wracking sobs that shook her body. She cried quietly on his shoulder for the better part of an hour, soaking his shirt in the process, not that he minded.

He comforted her gently, stroking her back the entire time. He worried about how awkward he felt at first, blaming their time apart, but was pleased to find that after a few minutes, it actually began to feel surprisingly natural.

"When I thought you had died too... I didn't know what to do with mysel-" she whispered.

"Ginny, I'm here now," he said, trying to comfort her before she became more worked up. "I'm here now. I did it for you, you know that? You and all the other people I loved. I found out that it's what Dumbledore had planned all along. I had to go. There was no other way. It wasn't about me anymore. It was about doing what needed to be done."

He stopped hesitantly, momentarily choked up. "You know, as I was walking towards the forest I saw you- You were helping some little girl who'd been caught in the fighting... At that moment, I couldn't imagine someone more beautiful. I wanted to say goodbye to you, but I knew if I stopped, I wouldn't be able to leave."

She was silent for a while, thinking about what he had said.

"Harry, I understand... Just don't ever do that to me again, please? I can't handle losing someone else."

"I won't leave you again, Ginny."

"Good. Or else I am going to have to hex you," she said as she pulled him tight against herself, causing all his bruises to throb in a way that he didn't mind at all.

Another lull in conversation presided before Ginny quietly asked, "What were you thinking about at the end... when you... you know...?"

He pondered her question momentarily, recalling his feelings at the time. "I was thinking about you and how I wished I'd gotten to kiss you one last time. That and at least I'd finally get to see everyone we've lost again." Harry lowered his gaze, trying to ignore the concerned look in Ginny's eyes and wishing he hadn't said anything at all.

She wouldn't allow it though and gently brought her hand to his cheek, forcing him to stare into her eyes momentarily before leaning forward and kissing him gently. His lips tenderly touched hers in a brief, very soft and moist kiss. It lasted for maybe five seconds, but it was the most intense kiss of Harry's life. He couldn't explain the electricity that shot through his whole body and the mind numbing effect her lips had on him. When she finally pulled away, her eyes were still closed, almost like she was afraid to open them. She finally lifted her eyelids, a soft, gentle smile on her face. She leaned back in again, this time with a little more hunger and a little more urgency. Harry reached over and placed his hand on the back of her neck, as their lips pressed together, her breath warming his face. After several seconds, he felt her lips part slightly, the tip of her tongue brushing his lips. He delicately reciprocated, his own tongue, softly brushing her lips in response.

Not long afterwards, she rolled on top of him and pushed her tongue past his lips again, this time there was no hesitation. Pleasantly surprised, he grasped her hips as she straddled him while she clung to his neck, bringing him closer. Once again, after perhaps a half a minute, she pulled back away from me slowly. He looked up at her, slightly confused by her blazing look. "How does it feel kissing me?" she asked coyly.

"Like this," he whispered, before pulling her face close to his. He let his lips barely graze hers, taunting her. She pulled him close, kissing him hard again before stopping and looking into his eyes.

"What is it?" he asked softly.

"It's just, I never thought I'd get to do this again with you. It's so strange...strange but great," she muttered, breathing heavily.

He leaned up and used his lips to caress her neck softly. She shivered at the contact and leaned down to peck him on the cheek before rolling back over onto her side again. She allowed her head to rest in the crook of his shoulder, enjoying the warmth.

"What comes next?" he asked her quietly as she cuddled closer.

"I'm not sure, but whatever it is, I'll be with you this time," she mumbled sleepily as she nuzzled against his chest.

Harry smiled slightly. Everything still hurt, the world was crazy, and he felt like he had been hit with an avalanche of emotions, but one thing was right in the world. He dwelt on that thought as they both drifted to sleep in a warm embrace.

OoOoOoO

"Harry! Wake up, you're shouting mate!"

Harry opened his eyes, and Ron's face blurred into his vision.

"What? Where are we?" asked Harry blearily as he sat up, the darkness disorientating him. Harry squinted around them, trying to make out more of their surroundings, but his friend's wand light was a small focused ball, illuminating only the immediate area around them.

"In the dorm. You've been asleep since… since this morning. I guess you were just having a nightmare," replied Ron. His face looked drawn, pale, and covered in more than a few scratches.

"Oh...er… right," Harry said, glancing around surreptitiously for any sign of Ginny and, thankfully, finding none. No matter what the circumstances, he couldn't imagine Ron being particularly pleased at finding Harry in bed with his sister. "What time is it?"

"Round about dinner time, but things are still a right mess. Come on, why don't you have a shower and then come down to the common room. Hermione and Ginny are waiting for us," said Ron, putting on the lights in the room with a flick of his wand. Up until then, Harry hadn't noticed quite how covered in blood and dirt he'd been.

"Right, yeah. I'll be down in a mo," he said, already jumping out of bed. While the sandwiches Kreacher had brought earlier had staved off the worst of his hunger, he was still famished for a proper meal. His stomach seemed to agree with him and made a particularly loud, guilty gurgle at the thought of food.

After a long and relaxing shower, he dressed and headed into the fairly deserted common room to meet everyone. On the steps, Harry was greeted with a full on rugby tackle by Hermione. Although it set his whole body to aching all over again, he couldn't have been happier.

"Blimey, Hermione, you're sure you don't want to try out for beater?" wheezed Harry through her hair.

"Harry, I'm just so glad you're okay! I-I-just-" she babbled.

"S'alright, Hermione. I'm here, and that's what matters. We did it," he answered softly, patting her on the back before putting her at arm's length to look into her eyes.

"Gave us a right scare though, mate. Don't you even think about haring off on your own again like that unless you want a proper bollocking," added Ron as he too joined their hug. Harry saw Ginny across the room, watching their embrace with a small smile on her face.

"Don't crush him you lot, I still need him," she called jokingly. They took the hint though and made space for her as she came over and slipped an arm around him.

"Let's go get some dinner, shall we?" suggested Hermione with a few tears in her eyes.

They made their way down carefully, stepping over destroyed statues, paintings, and suits of armour where they came across them. Despite the house-elves' best efforts, there were still large areas that needed to be cleaned or roped off for safety. Harry fought another wave of guilt as he passed the spots where he'd seen bodies just hours before. He caught Ron staring at the spot Fred had been found, eyes glistening, as they walked quickly past.

Down in the Great Hall, things still hadn't returned to normal. Many parents were staying until after the funerals had been held for everyone that had been killed during the fighting. Most of Slytherin house was empty, so there was quite a bit of space for those who wished to stay. Many other families had opted to stay in Hogsmeade, but apparently it had gotten extremely cramped.

The centaurs had gone back to the Forest, but had promised to return for the memorial service on the grounds. Firenze had been invited to rejoin the herd or, at the very least, to visit the forest if he wished to remain teaching at Hogwarts. Kingsley had also been forced to leave, as he had a thousand and one tasks to complete as the temporary Minister of Magic.

The mood was a mixture of celebration and sorrow. The downfall of Voldemort had come at a high cost. Over fifty students and alumni from Hogwarts had been killed in the chaos, and many families had been torn apart or even obliterated. Entire family lines had been wiped out on both sides, some whom had even been around for centuries. Even a few house-elves and centaurs had died. No one, it seemed, had escaped a deeply-felt loss.

As Harry sat down next to Ginny and Neville, his thoughts drifted. He most of all felt the sorrowful mood with a keen cutting sense of guilt. The deaths of Fred, Lupin, Tonks, and Colin Creevey had rocked him to his core. No matter what anyone told him, he still felt responsible. He sighed again. Their sacrifices laid heavily on his mind and soul as he tried to come to grips with staggering number of people that he would never see again. It felt as if he suddenly had shackles keeping him prisoner inside his head to stop him from being happy.

Ginny nudged him as she saw him slipping into his depressive mood again. He smiled faintly at her while those around them continued to chat away. Ron and Hermione sat across from them, silent but holding hands tightly. They had obviously been up since this morning talking and crying together as they both looked exhausted and disheveled. However, the sadness was a little tempered by the fact that their four years of beating around the bush had finally come to an end.

Professor McGonagall had risen to her feet at the staff table. The chatter and echoing conversation quickly died down.

"I have just a few announcements to make. Tomorrow, a funeral will be held on the grounds, and anyone who wishes to attend may do so. Secondly, it has been decided by the board of governors that the school will be shut down for a period of six months for repairs and to give those affected by the fighting time to recover both physically and mentally. Students who wish to return again next year to finish their education will be expected to be registered by Christmas and arrive back here on the first of January. Thank you for being here," she finished kindly. She then clapped her hands, and a feast appeared as grand as anyone had ever seen.

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All lessons were canceled and all events put aside as the school prepared for the memorial service. Some students had never returned to the school after leaving through the gateway in the Room of Requirement, but they were mainly Slytherins who hadn't returned to fight with Professor Slughorn, and no one expected many of them to come back anyway. Despite this Harry thought he spotted the Greengrasses and Blaise Zabini among a few others from their house.

Many people had arrived back at school after dinner the previous night, and Gryffindor house was almost entirely full again. However, Harry had avoided talking to most of them. Everyone had come there to both support Harry and lament those that had been lost. It was bad enough seeing their pain without also trying to deal with their hero worship.

Their house had suffered the worst casualties of all, although that had been expected, since almost all the students who were old enough had stayed to fight with him. No one seemed to want to mention or even talk about those who had been too young and had managed to sneak out too, never to come back.

The next morning, Harry awoke to the sound of his roommates snoring. Not wanting to wake them, he quickly dressed and went down to the common room. It was the morning of the funeral, and Harry didn't know how he felt about it. He'd been so touched when he'd seen how many people stayed to fight alongside him. Now he wished he'd just sent them all away. The empty feeling still hadn't left him as he climbed through the portrait hole and furtively made his way down to the grounds, avoiding anyone he saw. It was a misty, overcast day, which reflected his mood perfectly, he realized grimly.

The Resurrection Stone had haunted his dreams again last night. His parents' memories had walked with him as they seemed to do every night. He wasn't tempted to use the stone again, though, as he knew that he finally had closure with his parents and that to bring them back again would go against their wishes.

However, an idea had come to him. Would others find the same closure he had found by using the stone? His final goodbye to Sirius and Lupin had given him a chance to forgive himself, however slightly, for the role he'd played in their deaths and provided him with some much needed closure.

Perhaps the Weasleys could benefit from this same process, he mused. Now, however, would not be the time to test it. In their grief ridden states, he didn't know if it would be wise to give them an object that would bring Fred back too quickly, thus giving rise to the temptation for overuse and abuse of the stone. Perhaps in a month or two he theorized. The first matter would be collecting it, of course, but he didn't know if he should do it just yet.

The issue of the Elder Wand also lay heavily on his mind. He had almost forgotten about it, lying right there over his chest in the Mokeskin bag. He was supposed to have returned it immediately, but Professor McGonagall had repaired Dumbledore's tomb the day before. Harry didn't know if he had the heart to go back and disturb the old headmaster's resting place a second time and, in a small corner of his brain, he didn't know if he wanted to give it back.. The temptation to keep it was growing stronger by the day, and it wasn't as if he wanted to use the wand for dark purposes or to boast; but perhaps he would be permitted to tame it, as Dumbledore had.

His meandering steps led him to the edge of the forest and almost to Hagrid's house, which had been in ruins the last time he had seen it almost a year ago. He paused for a minute, reminiscing about the time Ron had thrown up slugs there, and their adventures with Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback. He hesitated, wondering whether he should go knock on the door or proceed into the forest.

Deciding that he couldn't handle talking to anyone about what had happened just yet, he chose the latter option. He sighed deeply, and continued into the dark and ominous woods.

OoOoOoO

Very little light filtered down through the tree canopy, and he rather quickly found himself in danger of becoming lost. Come on Potter. Get a grip on yourself, he thought to himself as he hardened his resolve. The Stone was going to help people, he was sure of it. It was up to him to get it and if he failed now or turned back he'd be letting them down. He shook himself as the hair on his neck prickled uncomfortably and walked deeper into the dim woods.

Moody's lesson from years ago surfaced unbidden to his mind, 'Constant Vigilance'. It would be a tragic event indeed if the 'Boy Who Lived' was killed by a creature because of a lack of respect for danger. He tried not to smile at the irony. In the future, it would also be an important lesson to remember if he still intended on becoming an Auror.

He pondered this thought momentarily as he reached into the Mokeskin bag to retrieve his newly repaired phoenix wand. He slipped his hand easily into the bag as he rummaged around, before his hands touched the smooth wood, only to discover that the wand he'd removed, was not his wand at all. Warmth spread to his fingertips as the Elder Wand rejoiced at being wielded at last by its master. He had always wondered how odd it was that an inanimate object was so able to convey its feelings.

Harry almost put it back inside of the bag, but on a whim, he shrugged and decided it wasn't worth his time. Now to find the stone. He knew the way to the spiders' lair was in a general northwestern direction but wasn't sure which way that was from his current location. "Point me," he whispered quietly. The wand spun briefly in his palm before coming to rest pointing slightly to his left, so he began to head that way as quickly as he could.

Accio Resurrection Stone, he silently cast. Five minutes later, the spell unfortunately still hadn't brought the stone to him. He would have to go in and find it he realized with a groan as he stepped deeper into the forest. This day just got better and better.

The ground became progressively steeper and harder to see as he walked, and he tripped more than a few times before he used the lumos spell to light his way. The shadows cast by his wand seemed eerie and threatening, but he did his best not to be intimidated by the ancient forest. He had finally reached a spot that looked familiar. The spot one died is rather memorable, he reflected.

Harry squinted into the darkness before him for a moment before raising his wand. "Lumos Maxima," he said loudly, lighting the whole area around him in a brilliant glow.

The clearing was surrounded by trees covered thickly with spider webs, but the Acromantula had obviously not returned to their lair after being driven out so recently by Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

Accio Resurrection Stone, he thought again silently. The forest litter shifted faintly to his left but nothing lifted itself towards him. He walked slowly towards the spot where the ground had moved slightly and peered carefully at the forest floor. The ground had been torn up and then pressed down firmly by hoofprints he could only imagine belonged to centaurs. He dug his hand in the ground gingerly for a minute before coming into contact with something cold and hard. The Gaunt family ring and the Resurrection Stone. He brushed it off hastily before tucking it away into his pouch with a smile. It was time to leave.

A horribly familiar clicking sound reverberated through the clearing. He remembered this particular sound quite well from his second year at Hogwarts when he'd been in this exact spot. Apparently, the acromantula had returned after all.

Having no desire to relive his previous encounter with Aragog's children, he began backing away slowly, keeping his gaze moving at all times in an attempt to watch as much of the clearing as possible. A twig snapped to his left and he froze, waiting for more movement.

Suddenly, an arachnid the size of a horse exploded out of the undergrowth, heading towards him faster than the eye could follow. Darting this way and that, it closed the gap between them horrifyingly fast. Harry had only moments to react, but he couldn't help but notice it's pincers gleaming menacingly in the wand light. Even one bite from those might be fatal.

"Arania Exumai," he bellowed.

The spell hit the spider right in the eyes, and with a bright blue flash, it was blasted backwards across the clearing. It hung in the air for a second before plummeting back to earth like a stone, landing some twenty meters away with a sickening crunch. Its legs jerked once but didn't move again.

Another form, slightly larger than the first, leapt at him from a tree on his right.

"Stupefy," he shouted instinctively, taking aim at the flying spider.

The red jet caught the spider in its underbelly, and it crumpled mid-air into unconsciousness. Harry realized a bit late however, that it was still a missile of flesh as it plowed into him with the force a brick shit house. Entangled with the large spider, he was tossed arse over end as his Wand and glasses tumbled free.

He cursed his poor eyesight and tried to force some air back into his lungs as his fingers grasped around desperately, searching for the Elder Wand. During his efforts to extricate himself from the carcass, his hand grazed his glasses, which he gratefully put on. Only to resume his terrified struggles as he noticed three more spiders rapidly descending towards him on thick strands of web. Their pincers clacked in what seemed like mocking laughter, taunting him, as they watched their prey struggle helplessly to lift the body pinning him to the ground.

Harry had finally managed to free himself and spot his wand a few feet away when he felt the ground jar beneath him as a giant arachnid dropped down the last few metres nearby.

He dove frantically towards his wand as the air rushed behind him, letting him know he'd escaped a spider's pounce by inches. His dive had fortunately brought him within reach of the wand and he snatched it up neatly before rolling to face his opponents.

Only to find a set of pincers closing sharply on his free arm, causing him to yelp in pain. The spider's eight eyes gleamed joyfully back at him as it prepared to inject him with it's venom.

"Reducto," he howled, pointing the Wand into the maw of the beast biting him.

The spider's face, which had been inches away moments before, exploded in a spray of gore and guts across the clearing as it disintegrated into a cloud of fine red mist. If not for the small puddle of its innards, one might have never known it had ever existed.

Although startled by the power of his spell, Harry spun away searching his other assailants. Two slightly smaller spiders, undeterred by their companion's spectacular death, raced across the clearing in a loose line, each eager to score the killing blow on their prey.

"Incendio! Sectumsempra," roared Harry, pushing his magic angrily into the curses. The first spider in line lit up like the sun as it was consumed by a raging fiery inferno. While the second spider was torn to pieces, as what look like five slashes severed it's legs, head, and body into various sized chunks that were promptly consumed by the unnatural blaze next to it.

How dare they attack me, Harry thought darkly as he glared around the clearing. He'd show them what happened to those who came after him. The Wand sung with power as Harry began to burn the clearing around him, destroying the acromantula nests and eggs. They would never trouble him again.

Breathing heavily, Harry surveyed the area. The entire clearing was wreathed in smoke as webs and eggs burned, leaving behind a lingering, acrid, black smoke. None of the charred and twisted corpses so much as twitched as he swiveled around, preparing for another attack. Eyes gleamed back at him from the trees in the distance, but no more movement followed as the firelight flickered in the clearing. Walking quickly backward, he proceeded to beat a hasty retreat.

Only once he was far away did his breathing slow and his heart rate return to normal. His arm was still bleeding profusely and he knew he'd have to heal it, otherwise he would have a hard time explaining this away when he got back to the castle covered in blood.

He was embarrassed enough already thinking about how close he'd come to dying after he'd just defeated the most powerful dark wizard of all time. The Daily Prophet would have loved the travesty he thought acidly. He gathered his thoughts for a moment before recalling the spell that Snape had used to heal Malfoy during sixth year, after Harry had cursed him.

"Vulnera Sanentur," he said quietly, copying Snape's wand motions and willing the deep puncture wound to heal. In seconds the bleeding had stopped and the wound closed, leaving only clean unblemished skin. All that was left was to get rid of the blood staining his clothes and it would be as if nothing had ever happened. Sort of.

He cast Scourgify as he pointed the wand towards himself and immediately the grime and blood from impromptu skirmish disappeared.

"What exactly happened though?" he pondered as he looked at the Elder Wand searchingly. It seemed that some of his earlier spell's power had been magnified threefold, and the Wand had seemed to hum with power as he'd destroyed the spider's nest. Curious, he looked around him for something else on which to test the wand's power. His gaze rested upon a towering mighty oak tree, whose height easily reached fifty meters, and whose width was as large Hagrid's hut. He walked quite some distance from it to ensure his safety in the experiment and discourage attacks from bowtruckles.

"Sectumsempra," hissed harry.

Three large gashes immediately appeared on the back of the tree, but it seemed to have no other unnatural or exaggerated effect. Shrugging, Harry concluded that more tests would need to be designed in order to test his hypothesis.

He had just begun to walk off, when he heard an explosive cracking sound from behind him followed by a thunderous teeth rattling crash. Dust, leaves, and insects pelted him and clouded the air as he turned around.

When the debris settled, Harry couldn't quite believe what he saw. He had sliced the great tree in half without even realizing it. Awed, he looked at the wand again. He had had no intention of chopping the tree down and depriving its inhabitants of a place to live. Generally, living things such as a tree were rather unfixable with a wand, but bolstered by his prior successes he decided to try the unthinkable.

"Reparo," he whispered, willing his magic to undo his unwitting damage to the forest.

The trunk of the tree, which was currently being held up by a few of its large neighbors, lifted itself clear of the wreckage and attached itself to the large stump. A few branches remained out of place, but the tree appeared largely unharmed. Bowtruckles could be seen running along its limbs checking for damage and shaking their tiny twig fingers in fury at Harry.

He walked away with a heavy heart. He would have to think more on his decision of what to do with the wand later. Things were starting to become decidedly more complex with each passing minute. He reached the edge of the forest again a short time later without having any more mishaps. Turning from the woods, he began a slow walk back up to the castle with much on his mind.

When he returned to the common room, Ginny, Hermione, and Ron were sitting there waiting for him. "Where have you been Harry?" asked Hermione breathlessly. "We've been looking for you everywhere."

He smiled sheepishly. "Sorry. Didn't mean to worry you. I just went out for a walk on the grounds. Needed to clear my head."

"You can't do that Harry, It's not safe, you know," chided Hermione. "They still haven't rounded up all the Death Eaters yet, and one of them could come looking for you."

"Alright, alright, lay off him, Hermione," intervened Ron on his behalf. "Harry's a big boy now and can take care of himself. There's no reason to get in a state."

Hermione snorted derisively and went to get a book while Harry shot Ron an appreciative look. Ginny, however, had remained rather subdued during the whole conversation. He was worried about her. She was normally so bright and outgoing, and he wondered if it was his fault she was in this state. He hoped he could draw her out of her lethargy.

He glanced silently over at Ron, who also seemed out of sorts. He had resumed staring out the window with a blank look on his face. Out of all the Weasleys, he seemed to be taking it the best, but Harry knew that he was only being strong for his family. He would do his grieving when he was on his own. Hermione was also probably responsible for cheering him up considerably.

Breakfast was a subdued affair as the magnitude of devastation began to sink in. Everyone ate in silence, barely looking up from their food as the grim mood settled firmly over the hall. Harry balled his fists as he sat close to Ginny and wished he could say something that would just make her smile again. They hadn't talked properly since yesterday morning and he worried that she was going to close him out. He reached out and grasped her hand firmly, willing his awkwardness to fade. She looked at him with a faint smile on her face and squeezed his hand back, letting him know she was okay.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry noticed a paper that had been left lying on the table. The news headline caught his attention, and he read with trepidation.

Battle at Hogwarts

Death Eaters Still at Large

We are receiving reports that You-Know-Who is dead, killed in a battle by Harry Potter in a pitched at Hogwarts. Details of the battle are still filtering through but but as a public service announcement, we've been asked to publish a list of all known Death Eaters and their currently known status. You should immediately report a sighting to the auror department if you see any of the wanted fugitives. Do not under any circumstances approach them!

Wanted: Alecto Carrow, Amycus Carrow, Bodrium Crabbe Sr, Antonin Dolohov, Gravus Goyle Sr, Rodolphus Lestrange, Rabastan Lestrange, Lucius Malfoy, Draco Malfoy, Archibald Mulciber Jr, Brant Nott Sr, Steven Selwyn

Captured: Calder Mulciber Sr, Pius Thicknesse, Augustus Rookwood, Jakub Rosier Sr, Stanley Shunpike, Destros Yaxley, Thorfinn Rowle

Deceased: Ragnar Avery Sr, Ramstan Avery Jr., Bellatrix Lestrange, Kristoff Gibbon, Walden Macnair, William Travers, Severus Snape

Temporary Minister of Magic, and ex-Auror, Kingsley Shacklebolt encourages wizards and witches everywhere to remain vigilant and report any sightings of the wanted Death Eaters.

"While these might be the most well known sycophants of You-Know-Who, there are also many snatchers and sympathizers on the loose too. Some are quite well known for their atrocities, such as Fenrir Greyback, while others may not be known to us yet. I encourage anyone with information to come forward," he said in an interview early this morning.

We here at the Prophet salute the brave aurors charged with bringing the contemporaries of the deceased Dark Lord to justice. We'll bring you more on the story as it develops.

Pictures of those at large featured prominently below, as the article went on to state all known facts of the events that had transpired. Unsurprisingly, there was very little truth to be found and what accounts they did have were wildly exaggerated. One woman had sworn she had seen Harry arriving to the battle on a dragon, which had then apparently, eaten Voldemort alive. It was daunting though, to see how many Death Eaters had escaped, as he knew that many of them would not go quietly. It was only a matter of time before some of them appeared again, causing all kinds of trouble.

After their relatively quiet breakfast they agreed to visit the hospital wing to go check on the injured that were in the capable hands of Madam Pomfrey. Upon arrival to the infirmary, they were greeted with shouts and cheers of, "The Chosen One" and, "The Boy Who lived". It made Harry rather uncomfortable to be the center of attention again, but he realized that he had to grin and bear it, as it was the least he could do.

As the group moved through the entrance hall towards the cemetery, they were awed by the new statue just outside the doors. A gleaming white obelisk that was over ten meters high rose proudly in the ruined courtyard. As they moved closer to examine it a clear voice chimed from behind them, "So you approve, do you?"

They all turned to see Professor Flitwick striding as quickly as his small legs could carry him towards them. "It's magnificent and no less than they deserve," replied Harry haltingly.

Flitwick nodded affably as he gazed up affectionately at them all and proceeded to tell them how it had been constructed. Apparently, every single person who had fought in the battle had their name engraved in the obelisk. The north facing side of the obelisk, however, was reserved for people who had died during the battle. He also continued to explain that the names never stayed in one place. Always moving around so that every name would be seen, not just those near the bottom.

It was pity that creating magical objects seemed to be so much simpler than fixing curse damage Harry reflected, as he glanced once more around the wreckage.

At this point, Ginny sniffed and allowed a single tear to run down her face. Harry was quickly at her side and wrapped his arm around her so that he could hold her close. They stood like this for a while, appreciating each other's presence.

As they continued on towards the cemetery, Harry caught a glimpse of Fred Weasley's name on the pillar. Memories of the moments he had shared with Fred flowed back as he tried, unsuccessfully, to swallow the lump in his throat.

OoOoOoO

The seating arrangement had been sorted by houses. All houses were present as even a few Slytherins had managed to show up, including Professor Slughorn. Harry felt oddly detached as he sat wedged between Ginny and Ron, who both wept unashamedly. He spotted Mrs. and Mr. Weasley crying silently behind him too during a few of the speeches. Bill tried valiantly to comfort his mother, but he wasn't as successful at holding back his own tears.

George looked as utterly miserable as Harry felt. His guilt began to rise just looking at the other twin. Percy could be heard whispering quietly to himself how sorry he was having not gotten to know Fred better. The centaurs were also there, standing stock still, looking remarkably like solemn guardians of the proceedings.

Everyone shed tears anew as their loved ones were laid to rest next the beloved deceased headmaster. There never been a tragedy of this scale in the school's long and occasionally bloody history. Harry imagined it would be quite a problem in the coming year to deal with all the pain that it'd brought, but the life had to go on. He noticed, with a jolt, that Professor McGonagall had finally risen to give the closing speech.

"Good afternoon, students and guests. Today is both a celebration of the defeat of Voldemort and a day of remembrance for those killed in the fighting. Those who died have been laid to rest here on the grounds adjacent to Professor Dumbledore's grave. A memorial has been constructed just outside the Entrance Hall to commemorate all those brave students, teachers, and witches, and wizards who died trying to stop Voldemort."

"Professor, could I have a word," asked Harry, standing up. His guilt had been eating him alive as he sat there. He wasn't generally the kind of person who made speeches, as he hated saying anything in public purely on principle. However, he felt he owed these people something, and he would be damned if he didn't have the courage to at least give them what he could.

"Uh... why of course Potter." said Professor McGonagall, clearly surprised.

Every eye turned towards him, but for the first time, he didn't feel the usual spike in fear at speaking publicly. Under normal circumstances, he would have been awkwardly stumbling over his words, but at the moment everything seemed entirely surreal which allowed him to speak plainly.

"Thank you all for being here today," started Harry, in a soft voice that somehow managed to carry over the crowd. "These people buried here, and many of you, risked your lives for what was right. We did what we had to do. We lost friends and family, and I would like to thank you and them for their sacrifice. We owe them everything. I'm…. I'm sorry." He paused, momentarily choked by emotion. "I'm sorry I couldn't save them. If there's one thing I've had a lot of in my life, it's grief. I can tell you now that dealing with this will be hard, but I can also tell you things will get better. Albus Dumbledore once told me that the greatest power we have is love, and in order to defeat death we must continue to love and keep living life. I think that's what they would want for us. This isn't the end." He sat down slowly, his words failing him as tears clouded his eyes and thoughts of those who'd died flashed through his mind.

As he settled back into his seat, Ginny leaned over to grip his hand and whisper in his ear. "That was beautiful, Harry. I didn't know you were going to do that."

"Neither did I," he whispered back quietly.

The ceremony ended shortly afterwards as everyone walked by the many coffins and paid their final respects to those who had paid the ultimate price.

As they all walked back to the school quietly, stunned by the loss of those they loved, Harry mulled over his thoughts. He didn't know how it was fair they had all died after just one time of facing deadly curses while he had now survived two encounters with the most deadly curse known to man.

In short order they were ushered into the Great Hall for a final memorial lunch. It passed in a blur of good food, muted but happy conversation, and more than a few tears. It was as if no one quite knew how to act and swung between delirious joy and terrible grief. Muggle born witches and wizards had been released in time for the funeral and were exultant to have had their wands redistributed by the Ministry of magic. They were once again in the fold of the wizarding world.

Throughout the meal, they celebrated the lives of those who had died and told stories of their exploits. Wine flowed liberally throughout the hall and many toasts were made. Though as dessert came, Harry realized he had a problem. What was he going to do in his six months off? Would he be going back to live with Kreacher again? He didn't want to intrude on the Weasley families grieving, especially since he felt largely responsible for it.

Mrs. Weasley interrupted his pondering as she walked up to him and hugged him fiercely from behind. "Thank you for the wonderful speech dear, everyone really appreciated it," she said smiling warmly at him through a haze of tears. She was clearly still distraught over Fred's death, but was trying to put on a brave face for everyone's benefit.

"Thank you, Mrs. Weasley," he managed to stammer, guilt welling up inside as he looked at her. He didn't know if he could continue to talk to her much longer if she started crying.

She had just begun to walk away when she turned quickly. "Oh, Harry dear, I forgot to ask if you would like to come round to the Burrow during your six months off?" she asked with a wan smile.

Finally able to summon a real smile, Harry agreed. Although he still felt the guilt keenly in his heart, he thought that just maybe they would all be better together. At last, he'd be able to get some much needed rest and peace. Ginny squeezed his leg in approval and encouragement. Well he thought happily, maybe just some peace.

OoOoOoO

Upon return to the almost deathly silent common room in Gryffindor Tower, he saw a notice stating that Professor McGonagall had been named headmistress by the Board of Governors. Below it they were also advertising the vacancy of more than a few teaching positions that needed filling. Harry wondered who would teach Defense Against the Dark Arts next year. He had realized how much he still had to learn, and if he still planned on becoming an Auror, he would need to catch up on his N.E.W.T. school work that he missed last year.

He sighed. Well, at least he'd have time to practice during holidays. He and Hermione would probably be spending a lot of time at the Burrow. He looked around for Ginny and saw her sitting in a chair close to the fire, staring into its depths without noticing her surroundings. He strode over and sat down into the chair next to her. Reaching across the gap he unceremoniously pulled her over towards himself and plopped her on his lap. Initially, she was shocked, but realizing it was Harry, she snuggled up against him.

"When are we going home?" she asked.

"Tonight, I think," he replied as he absently stroked her hair.

"You're staying with us this summer, aren't you?"

"For most of it, yes. I do have some errands to run though, and I might have to stay in London for a bit at some point."

"Then I'm coming with you," she stated matter-of-factly.

"If it's alright with your parents," he said smiling, "But I don't know how they'd feel about you sleeping there alone with me."

"Try and stop me, Potter," she said fiercely, eyes blazing.

He doubted very much whether he, or they, would be able to. Not that he was complaining. He caressed her face before tilting her chin up to look her in the eyes,

"You're not leaving me again, remember?" she said sternly, her mind clearly made up.

"How could I forget?" he asked playfully.

She leaned and kissed him softly before pulling away. "And that's to make sure you don't," she said with a cheeky smile.

"I do have some things to take care of though," he added. "You can't keep me locked away in a bedroom the whole time."

"We'll see about that." She laughed.

Eventually, he made his way up to the dormitory, smiling. Perhaps he could be happy sooner than he thought.

OoOoOoO

Harry had just summoned, and swiftly dismissed, Kreacher with some instructions for redoing the old black mansion and finished thoroughly packing his trunk when Ron walked into the dormitory. "You almost ready to head on to the Burrow then?" he asked.

"Well, sort of," replied Harry. "I've got to go to London in a week or so and get some things sorted before I can stay at the Burrow."

"What have you got to do that's more important than being with us?" said Ron with a bewildered look.

"First off, I've got to decide on what to do with the Elder Wand."

"I knew you would keep it!" said Ron punching the air violently. "It's too bloody amazing to let it go to waste. Go on then, let's have a look at it again!"

Ron sat down heavily on the bed next to Harry as he reached in his Mokeskin pouch and gently pulled out the Elder Wand. Its carved and decorative wood felt natural and warm in his hand.

"It's amazing," Ron breathed as Harry handed the wand to him.

"What changed your mind, Harry? Hermione's going to be livid," he said, examining the wand reverently before handing it back to Harry as carefully as a newborn child.

"I know." Harry sighed, putting the wand away again. "But I put some thought into it, and at some point in my life, I'm going to be defeated, disarmed, stunned, or jinxed right?

"Right," said Ron slowly, his brow furrowed in thought.

"Well then if someone defeats me, they become master of the Elder Wand. You-Know-Who had already told all his followers about the 'supposed powers' of Elder Wand, and since I beat him when he had it, they would know I'm the master now even if they hadn't realized before. If one of them wants to avenge You-Know-Who, they would come after me and try and take the wand anyway. Or at the very least find it. I mean, it would makes sense since it would make them more powerful."

"But would if you just put it back with Dumbledore? Then they wouldn't be able to get back into Hogwarts to take it."

Harry just shook his head. "With all the damage to the school and the wards now, who's to say that they couldn't break in again? I wish it was true but they've proved they can get in if they try hard enough. Besides if I did just leave it in Dumbledore's tomb, couldn't they take it first and then come after me to gain ownership of it afterwards?"

"Hadn't thought of that," Ron admitted, conceding the point.

"It's impossible to let it die a natural death right now. Maybe when, or if, I can die of old age, it can die too, but until then, it's more dangerous to leave it in Dumbledore's tomb or just lying around. Better to have it with me so I can protect myself and the people I love. Besides, I'm not taking it to gain anything from it, so I should be able to tame it? Right?"

Ron, who had gone white at the mention of death, gulped visibly."I dunno, Harry, doesn't it make you more of a target too?"

"I've always been a target, haven't I? In fact, I probably still am," said Harry, exasperated. "If someone was trying to become the next You-know… I mean, Voldemort. I keep forgetting we can say it now that the Taboo is gone. They'd probably come after me first anyway, just to prove themselves. The wand is more far more powerful than I realized too."

"What do you mean 'powerful'?" Ron asked furrowing his brow.

Harry told him about recovering the Resurrection Stone, and his few attempts at some spells.

Ron, stayed quiet the whole time, although he had gotten an uncontrollable shiver at the mention of the spiders, as if the mere thought of them disgusted him. Harry did omit the bit about one biting him however, and under played the whole fight, as he had no desire to get slagged off for being so stupid. He fancied that Hermione would take care of that later.

"What are you thinking?" asked Harry nervously, fearing his silence.

"I'm thinking you better be wearing armour when you tell Hermione all this," muttered Ron, clearly on the same wave-length. Harry grunted in reply, not entirely discounting his friend's idea.

"Blimey though Harry that thing cut through the whole bloody tree? And all three Deathly Hallows. Guess that makes you the 'master of death' then?" joked Ron, "I wonder if anyone else has ever had all three?"

"Not that I know of," said Harry quietly.

"Why'd you go back for the stone?" Ron challenged. "You aren't going to use it are you?" he asked, his face darkening. "Don't you remember what happened to Cadmus Peverell?"

"No, no, not anything like that," said Harry quickly, trying to reassure him "It's just...I figured… that maybe I can use it to help people get some closure. Say goodbye and stuff to the people they love," said Harry haltingly. "I know it helped me. It gave me what I was looking for and I don't want to use it again."

"What's to stop them from taking it and going mental like in the story though? Or telling other people about it?" asked Ron.

"Actually, I was thinking about making them do the unbreakable vow to use it and promise to never tell anyone about it," said Harry.

"Bloody hell Harry, that's actually not a bad idea," said Ron enthusiastically, seeing the validity behind his plan finally.

"I think it might work, but I'd only give it to people who really need it. But we should definitely give it some more thought after we tell Hermione though," said Harry seriously.

"That's brilliant," enthused Ron. "For people who have massive depression or something. Makes sense. I think we need to tell her soon though. I can't keep a secret from her, mate. She'll sniff it out in a second. You know what she's like," said Ron grinning.

"Yeah, and I know what you're like around her." Harry snickered. "Can't hide anything to save your life."

"Come on then, let's go find Hermione and Ginny. We've got some explaining to do," said Harry decisively.

OoOoOoO

After their conversation, Harry invited the girls up into the boys' dormitory, only saying that he had something big to tell them. Ron had been more right about Hermione's reaction than Harry could have guessed.

Upon telling them, Hermione hurled the nearest object, which happened to be glass, straight at him. Fortunately for Harry, he was able to duck nimbly. Having dodged bludgers for years had its benefits. Ginny threw a pillow for good measure, but more as a show of solidarity, as she seemed more curious than angry about the wand. It was only when Harry told them about the Resurrection Stone and explained its powers, that Ginny's face began to drain of colour and Hermione's darkened to a shade of red that Harry knew meant trouble.

"So you mean I could still see Fred? Right now if I wanted too?" Ginny asked, looking awed and slightly horrified at the prospect.

"Yes," said Harry reluctantly, "but I wouldn't recommend it. At least not right now."

"Why not?" asked Ginny, eyes glinting and nostrils flaring.

Speaking as gently and carefully as he could, Harry told her the legend of the Hallows and their dangers. Hermione chimed in now and then, but spent most of the time glaring at Harry, arms crossed in disapproval, clearly trying to keep her hands as far away from her wand as possible in order to resist the urge to hex Harry.

"Right, so basically you're afraid it could drive me mad?" summarised Ginny sharply.

"Well...Yeah," said Harry lamely. He and Ron looked sheepishly at each other simultaneously.

"I'm not a child, you know? I could handle it," she replied fiercely.

"We know that, Ginny, and we're not saying that. But before we'd let you, we'd have to do some... preparation, and you'd only be able to do it once," said Harry seriously.

"What kind of preparation?" she asked, her eyes narrowing shrewdly.

Ron scratched his head absently, searching for the answer somewhere high on the wall. "Uh... Well…. We were thinking that you'd… kind of... have to make an unbreakable vow?" His statement had somehow turned into a question. "You know, so you promise not to use it again or tell anyone about it and stuff?" he said quickly, stumbling over his words in an attempt to get them all out.

"Idiots," Hermione snapped as she paced. "And what if you or Harry died and she wanted to speak to you using the stone? She'd die, wouldn't she? And she wouldn't be able to tell anyone else about the stone. It'd be enough to drive anyone mad! You clearly haven't thought this through," she said testily.

"Oh yeah? Got a better plan, do you?" challenged Ron, rounding on her angrily.

"You should never have brought it out of the forest in the first place, Harry." she sniffed coldly. "You're creating a whole host of other problems for yourself, you know."

Harry ground his teeth and trying not to lose his temper despite his exhaustion.

"I know that, Hermione, but it's what I feel needs to be done. I've thought about it, and this could help so many people."

"Or harm them," she snapped back.

"Oh, lay off Hermione, it's his decision," begged Ron pleadingly

Hermione's responding glare at Ron could have curdled milk, and clearly unwilling to risk his tenuous new relationship status, he backed away with his hands in the air, physically cowed by her anger.

"I'll do it," said Ginny quietly from the side.

"You'll what?" asked everyone in surprise.

"You heard me. I'll do your stupid vow if it means I get to say goodbye to Fred. I'll follow your rules, but I get to choose the wording of it with Hermione's help. Are we clear?"

Harry started to say something of a placating nature but Ginny cut him off before he could get out a peep.

"I said 'Are we clear?'," she said with more determination.

Knowing he was backed into a corner, Harry nodded reluctantly. Hermione threw up her hands in exasperation and walked out of the boys dormitory. Ron made a shrugging motion and ducked out after her.

"Well, guess that's settled then," said Ginny smugly as she kissed Harry on the cheek.

Harry was beginning to wonder what he'd gotten himself into.

OoOoOoO

The next day everyone said tearful goodbyes before heading their separate ways for the holidays. Harry and the Weasleys departed together while Hermione promised to meet them at the Burrow in a few days. Her first priority was to restore her parents' memories. She'd made Harry and Ron promise not to let Ginny make an unbreakable vow before she arrived.

They had agreed that it was in the best interest of their physical health not to find out what the consequences of going against her wishes would be. Ron still bore scars from the flock of canaries Hermione had used to attack him years previously.

Arriving back at the Burrow was incredibly nostalgic and emotional for the whole family. Molly had shed a few tears before ushering them inside. She had quickly whisked her way into the kitchen and began cooking lunch for everyone, clearly seeking a distraction. The whole experience seemed entirely surreal to Harry- he hadn't dreamed of being able to ever come back here- let alone taste Molly's amazing food. He'd decided to delay his trip to London for another week or so in order to spend time with them.

The hardest thing for the Weasley's had been seeing George's reaction to walking into his old room. He'd collapsed into Molly's arms and cried for hours. The memory of his time there with his brother had overwhelmed him. He'd since refused to sleep in the room and spent most of his nights curled up on the couch.

The rest of week passed quickly as everyone found odd jobs around the house and sought comfort in the stability of daily routines. The atmosphere was tense and fragile but also filled with laughter, as times of tremendous emotional upheaval generally are. Harry found it strange, being able to laugh again so freely. It still hurt in a physical sense, but it was as if a massive burden had been lifted off his chest.

He pondered the conundrum of the Hallows and the future often but was unable to study either of his newly acquired objects further due to the close confines of the Weasley home. He did often catch Ginny looking at him whenever he stared into space for too long.

Their relationship had been put on hold yet again upon return the Burrow as they kept close company with the whole family and didn't feel comfortable forcing anything at this point. Harry knew that the limbo period wouldn't last and that they would have to talk with everyone soon.

The only bright point was that he was able to finally sit down with Ginny and tell her the whole story, from start to finish, about everything that had happened. He started with his lessons with Dumbledore and Snape and continued on for hours about his failed expedition with the locket, their year of misery, how much he missed her, their group split, the sword in the forest, the Horcruxes they had found and destroyed, Ron and Hermione's relationship, the final battle, him seeing her for he thought was the last time, the Hallows, the train station. Everything.

He could feel the tension melting out of him as he spoke, like a wound being drained of poison. When he finished, she just reached out and held him tight. It was the first time he had spoken to anyone about any of it, and it felt good. More than good, it felt right.

She then told him about her year. The torture, the fear, the pranks, the rebellion, how terrified her parents had been, waiting for catastrophic news each day, wishing she had gone with them, and everything that had gone wrong. And he held her right back, just the way she had comforted him.

Everything that needed to be said had been said. They could now at least move forward without any secrets. There was no awkwardness between them, and he felt closer to her than ever. Being close to death does that to a man, he mused.

The only upsetting thing to happen to them that week occurred one morning when the paper arrived with terrible news.

Pandemonium as Death Eaters Attack

There were tearful scenes this morning around the country, as rogue Death Eaters attacked multiple areas last night. The bloodbath began when a small party, celebrating the Dark Lord's downfall in Surrey, was attacked. There were no survivors in the massacre.

A second incident took place in Diagon Alley where two shop fronts were blown up and bystander killed, in what can only be described as a senseless act of violence aimed at inciting terror.

The final episode took place in a London alleyway, where several muggles were tortured to death with Cruciatus curses. So far the perpetrators remain free and no suspects have been arrested.

Ministry officials are still investigating while trying to clean up the various crime scenes. Reports state that the aftermath was exceedingly 'messy' at the first location and multiple removal teams had to be summoned. Similar parties around the country have been cancelled in response while aurors have been placed on high alert.

When will the madness end?

Contact the Auror department with any relevant information that you may have and stay safe.

OoOoOoO

Hermione owled them later that week, asking Harry, Ron, and Ginny to come visit her parents as they were dying to 're-meet' them all. Despite having regained their memories as a whole, some of their recollections were still rather fuzzy. Apparently, this would fade as time went on, but they would still experience 'deja vu' feelings as their memories were reconnected.

They happily obliged and had a lovely afternoon tea, despite Hermione's initial frostiness towards Harry. They snuck off shortly before supper to the Burrow, and after meeting social demands, went to the orchard to discuss the current situation.

"So..." Harry began awkwardly as they walked, not quite sure where to begin.

"What's the plan?" Hermione asked, exasperated by his hesitancy.

"Well, that's what I thought we should discuss really. What are we doing? I know we didn't expect to get this far, and I'm still trying to figure out what happens now."

"Isn't it obvious?" asked Ginny. "We'll go back to Hogwarts, so you can finish your last year."

Harry sighed deeply before answering. "I wish it were. I'm still not sure we should even go back to be honest. Firstly, I'm not sure how much they would be able to teach us anymore in school. We don't even know who's going to be teaching! Most of the classes Ron and I would take to become Aurors have been covered by our last year of Horcrux hunting. The real training we would need would have to be from Aurors themselves. Secondly, I think we might be more useful to the aurors by starting now, considering all that's going on. How many Death Eaters and snatchers escaped anyway? Where are they, and who's hunting them down? I'll need to owl Kingsley, or should I say 'the minister,' and Professor McGonagall to check what's going on."

"Harry James Potter, if you know what's good for you, you're not going to be going anywhere near the minister anytime soon or so help me," said Ginny ominously.

"But I-," he tried to interject.

"No buts!," she interrupted. "Not now. Once you've had a holiday we can discuss it, but I'm not letting you hare off anywhere before you've even had a week at home."

"She's got a point Harry," said Hermione diplomatically.

Harry's shoulders slumped in defeat. Sometimes there was no way of beating a woman in an argument. Particularly when she had another woman on her side. "Alright, at very least three months. Happy?"

"Hardly. We'll talk then," Ginny sniffed. Ron watched the exchange with a pitying look on his face but otherwise, kept his silence.

What a time to keep your mouth shut, mate, he thought as he shot his best friend a dark look to which Ron, annoyingly, smiled back at.

Hermione tapped her chin thoughtfully, "Those were all very good arguments though, Harry. I...just don't know. I don't want to leave you and Ron," she said looking torn by her decision.

Ron wrapped an arm around her. "We'll be fine, don't worry about us. I think we all know what you want though, and I don't think that's becoming an auror."

"You wouldn't think I was abandoning you?" she asked hesitantly, glancing at them both furtively.

Harry snorted loudly in amusement. "Hermione, you just spent the last year of your life living in a forest, eating mushrooms and being hunted by Voldemort with us. We'd hardly consider it 'abandonment' after we finished what we started. Stop being so hard on yourself," he said gently.

Visibly touched by their argument, she nodded silently to herself as her eyes welled up.

"So that settles it then," said Harry. "Hermione will be returning to Hogwarts."

"Who's going to rescue you two trouble makers when I'm not around?" she managed to ask sarcastically, blinking back tears.

Ron huffed indignantly. "I'm sure Harry here has another seven lives to spend anyway. He's harder to kill than a magical cockroach."

"You say the sweetest things. Very reassuring of you, Ron." Ginny laughed as she swatted him playfully on the arm.

Harry chuckled at his friend's expense. "He and I can look after each other for a while, but there's no doubt we will need some more training and possibly someone else to watch our backs. Maybe we should check with some of the Gryffindors or DA, see if anyone else is planning on joining up? I'm pretty sure Nev would be interested."

At this, Ginny's eyes had narrowed dangerously. "You can ask anyone as long as it's not Cho Chang you mean, don't you, Harry?"

"Ah...Er… Yes, of course. That's what I meant. Obviously." Said Harry, as his cheeks flushed.

Hermione and Ron shared a secret smile and poignant look, clearly amused and pleased that he and Ginny seemed to be getting along so well. Ron had finally managed to move beyond his role as over protective big brother.

"We'll need to start training right away though. Hermione, could you look up anything else we might need to know about becoming an Auror? I feel like we've got a pretty good handle on spells, curses, and hexes but, there could be more we need to know."

"Mate, you've probably got more experience than anyone alive fighting dark wizards at this point. I don't know if you need any more help. You also have a wand that's fairly capable of blasting every Death Eater we come across out of existence," joked Ron.

"Be that as it may, Ronald, Harry does have a point," piped in Hermione. "I'll see what I can find. Maybe I'll even owl Kingsley if he's got a spare moment, see if there's anything he recommends. In the mean time, I'll cross reference my current sources and start drawing up a list of some of the practices we can do to start training now that we don't have to worry about people ambushing us at every turn."

"'We'?" Asked Ron

"We," repeated Hermione. "You don't think Ginny and I were going to let you boys have all the fun now, do you? After all someone's got to show you how to do it," she said with a wink. Harry and Ron laughed, knowing that was, at least partially, truth.

"When are we going to talk about the Hallows though?" asked Ginny, bringing the discussion back on track.

Harry had been hoping that her position would have changed but knew it'd been a long shot. He blew out a long breath, dispelling some tension before replying.

"I stand by my decision on both counts. I'm keeping the wand and if you want to use the stone, you can. You still have to make an unbreakable vow though." Hermione looked as if she were about to interrupt when Harry continued.

"But the vow will specify that you can only use the stone once to contact Fred, and that you'll only be able to pass on knowledge of the stone if I die. I'll not budge on that. Does that sound reasonable?"

Ginny slowly nodded, unperturbed.

"I still don't think it's a great idea," muttered Hermione. "But if you both insist, at least let me help you phrase it."

"Agreed," said Harry and Ginny simultaneously.

"We'll need some time to prepare then. At least two weeks sound alright?" asked Harry.

And so it was agreed upon.

On the way back to the house Ginny walked in step to him, lightly brushing his hand with her own. He reached out and squeezed her hand in return

"Harry, I was thinking," started Hermione. "If you are going to keep that 'thing,' then maybe we should start doing some tests to see exactly how powerful it is in comparison to your normal wand? What are its other abilities?"

"That's a good idea, Hermione," Ron added eagerly. "We can check how much better it is!"

"We can also check to see how accurate some of the 'other' histories are concerning it," finished Hermione mysteriously.

"What do mean exactly when you say 'other' histories?" asked Harry dubiously.

"I'm not certain you could call them histories. Maybe myths or legends would be a better word," she said reluctantly.

"Go on, let's hear it then," implored Harry, intrigued.

"Well, some of the legends say that the wand possesses some level of sentience and that it taught the user 'dark magic' that they hadn't previously known. The most famous case was Godelot, who said the Elder Wand was his instructor and used his knowledge of the Wand's powers to write Magick Moste Evile," she said frowning. "That's why many consider it a dark artifact that should be destroyed, and yet another reason that you should've left it alone in the first place."

"Are we talking about something similar to Riddle's diary here?" asked Ginny, immediately worried.

"No, not quite I don't think. It would be unable to possess someone like the diary did, but it may be able to influence the user." She sniffed. "I'm of the personal opinion, however, that the increase in power the wand provided drove previously mediocre wizards to seek out dangerous and more powerful magic that boosted their power even more. Or that the psychological effect of having so much power drove them mad to an extent that constantly sought to exercise their power over others."

"Spoil sport," sniggered Ron. "You just can't leave it at legend, can you?"

"If you must know, no, I can't. Even if it's not true, it's still an incredibly dangerous item because of the people who will try and take it from you." She huffed, cheeks colouring.

Ron nodded agreeably, trying to assuage her wounded pride. "Fair enough," he said, willing to let the matter be dropped.

"So how do we test it?" asked Harry.

"Very carefully," Ginny said with a smile as she reached for Harry's hand.

"Of course," agreed Hermione. "I'll draw up some tests we can run as soon as possible."

OoOoOoOOoOoOoO

Author notes:

Hey guys!

This is my first attempt at writing so let me know what you think in the reviews. I hope you enjoy reading this series as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Big thanks to my beta readers hmweasley, Checkmate-13, and Anne Camp aka Obi-Quiet. Thanks also to the many fan fiction authors who've inspired me and of course JK Rowling.

One of the main challenges when writing this chapter was balancing Harry's grief while also trying to make it an interesting story. It's tricky to try and fathom someones mental state after such a momentous emotional upheaval, but I tried to capture my own emotions after funerals that I've attended. I hope that this shone through and I didn't over/under play it too much.

This will be an ongoing battle that I don't expect to get any easier. Your thoughts, ideas, and input are always welcome :).

I'll address some things as we get further along, but if you have a question that can't wait don't hesitate to ask!

Before you ask... The spells used are going to come from a combination of the Harry Potter books, movies, and video games. In the future their might even be a few made up ones too!