AN: Here they are, the final words to this story. Thanks to everyone who read this story, special thanks to everyone who left words of encouragement. I hope you enjoyed the story.
Exhausted, Harry let himself drop into an armchair. In the last few days, he'd been out of breath quickly. Today, Dobby had allowed him and Ginny to set the table while he was in the kitchen preparing Sirius' birthday dinner, and while his girlfriend put the final touches on the decoration, Harry rested a bit.
With a worried look, Ginny glanced over at him. "How are you? You still look a bit pale."
"Much better," Harry replied, and when Ginny kept her eyes on him, he added, "Really. I just need a little rest."
"Good," Ginny said. Giving the table one last glance, she nodded, pleased with the result of her work. "They should be arriving any moment."
"Hopefully," Harry said with a sigh. "I can't wait to see Sirius again."
It had taken three full days for the Order and the Aurors to discover Sirius in the dungeons of Malfoy Manor. They'd already feared the worst when they couldn't find him in the Ministry holding cells after Voldemort's demise.
Ginny nodded. "Me too. I still can't believe Malfoy kept him in his private prison at the same time I was there."
"Apparently, he wanted to keep it secret that he'd lost some of the treasures his Lord had given him to keep them safe," Harry said. Pushing up his glasses, he massaged his face, grateful that the scar on his forehead no longer hurt.
"They're coming," Ginny called merrily, looking out the window at the Quidditch pitch. "I'll go and get Ron and Hermione. An hour ago, Ron already asked when we'll have dinner. I'm surprised he keeps his bed rest without complaining."
Chuckling, Harry said. "He probably enjoys Hermione's company. She even made him a sandwich and brought it to his bedside."
"Do you think Ron asked her out?" Ginny asked as she hurried off to get her brother and Hermione.
"I wouldn't be surprised," Harry called after her. Hermione hadn't left Ron's side after his injury had been treated by his aunt Andromeda. The cutting curse had hit him badly, leaving a large wound on his chest and upper arm. He would have to wear a sling for a few more days, but Andromeda had allowed him to attend the birthday dinner.
As the door to the terrace opened and voices echoed through the living room, Harry rose to meet his godfather.
"Hello, Sirius. I'm so glad you're back home," Harry called, eyeing his godfather, who was a bit haggard and had a few scratches but was otherwise in good spirits.
"Me, too, Harry. Me, too," the man replied with a broad grin and hugged Harry. "How are you? You look a bit pale."
"You're the right one to ask that question." Harry grinned. "Looking pale would be an improvement for you."
"How right you are", Sirius replied, eying Harry closely. "I've heard strange things happened while I wasn't watching you. You have to tell me everything about it."
"That's for later", Harry replied, grinning. "First, I want to wish you a happy belated birthday. Although I'm not sure if I should be mad at you for rather celebrating with Lucius Malfoy than with me." Chuckling, Harry glanced at the people standing in the doorway watching the scene. Next to Remus and Tonks, Harry spotted Ginny's parents, who'd kindly allowed Ginny and Ron to stay with him. Indicating towards the table, Harry called, "Come in, everybody. And I mean all of you. There's enough room for everyone. Including you, Professor McGonagall." Harry nodded at the woman as he spotted her and two other Order members he didn't know.
"Moody couldn't come," Tonks said. "He said he's too busy at the Ministry. Kingsley asked him to help out. They're short of staff because the former Death Eaters among the Aurors have been arrested. My mother will also be a little late."
"No problem. We'll save her a seat," Harry said as the guests settled down.
"Ron will be here any moment," Harry said, noticing Ginny's parents looking around searchingly. "Aunt Andromeda allowed him to come down for dinner."
"Dobby is bringing the drinks," called the house-elf, balancing a tray of glasses into the room.
"What is Lucius' house-elf doing here?" Sirius asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Oh, that's a long story. I'll tell you later," Harry replied, shrugging.
"Hi, Mum, Dad! Hello everyone." Ginny nodded to the guests as she returned with Ron and Hermione in tow. Taking Harry by the hand, she beamed at Sirius. "Hello, Mr Black. I'm really glad you're back home."
"Oh, Ginny. Please call me Sirius. Mr Black was my father, and I hate to be compared to him," Sirius replied, glancing down at their joint hands. "Is there any other news you want to tell me later?" Sirius asked with an inquiring look.
Giving Sirius a confused look, Harry asked. "Why? You know my girlfriend Ginny, don't you?"
"Of course, I know her," Sirius replied, grinning. "But the last time I saw you, you still referred to her as your friend. And who do we have here?" Turning to Ron, who was just entering the living room with Hermione on his side, Sirius raised an eyebrow. "Hello Ron, how are you?"
"Perfect if it weren't for the hunger," Ron replied, grinning.
Sirius chuckled. "And who is that young woman by your side?"
"That's my girlfriend, Hermione," Ron replied, suddenly looking uncomfortable.
"Girlfriend?" Harry asked, raising an eyebrow.
Blushing, Hermione muttered. "He asked me earlier, and I thought why not give it a try?"
Ginny giggled. "I wonder if Ron will do more homework now."
"Nah," Ron replied. "A horse only jumps as high as it needs. I know I'll never be as brilliant as Mione. That's why I prefer realistic, more practical goals. But now, let's have dinner. My Healer said I need regular meals to regain my strength."
Shaking her head, Hermione followed Ron to the table, barely able to stifle a faint smile.
During dinner, the conversations mostly avoided the events of the past week. It wasn't until Dobby had cleared dessert and offered drinks that Sirius' guests moved on to more serious matters.
Harry took the opportunity to get Butterbeer for himself and Ginny when Professor McGonagall turned to him. "Mr Potter, I was told that you wanted to relay a message from Professor Dumbledore to me. I'm sorry I didn't have time to meet with you earlier."
"Yes, that's..." Harry shrugged. "It's not that important anymore. But if you have a few minutes, we can go to the library and talk."
"That would be very kind of you," McGonagall nodded.
"Please give me a minute. I want to call my friends. They should be there as well," said Harry, hurrying to ask Ginny, Ron and Hermione to come with him.
When Sirius gave him a questioning look, he called out, "We'll be right back. Take care of your guests. I'll tell you later."
"What is it about, Mr Potter?" McGonagall asked as they were seated in the library.
Giving the Headmistress a hesitant look, Harry ran his hand through his hair and took a deep breath. "Do you know what a Horcrux is?"
The Headmistress's eyebrows shot up. With a serious look, she asked, visibly worried. "Is that what You-Know-Who did?"
Harry nodded and told her what he knew about the Horcruxes.
When Harry finished, McGonagall looked at him thoughtfully. "Do you know why the basilisk attacked You-Know-Who? We'd rather suspected it would be an ally of the Heir of Slytherin."
"No. Nathaira told me she had to follow and protect the bearer of the Slytherin Ring, the ring that was one of the Horcruxes," Harry replied. "The ring must have been in Voldemort's possession when he opened the Chamber of Secrets. Otherwise, the basilisk wouldn't have followed his orders."
"Who is Nathaira?" McGonagall asked, puzzled.
"The basilisk who lived in the Chamber of Secrets," Harry replied.
"You talked to the basilisk?" McGonagall asked, dumbfounded.
"Yes, I can speak Parseltongue," Harry confirmed and hesitated. He could speak Parseltongue, couldn't he? But why did he suddenly struggle to recall any words in Parseltongue... Harry frowned.
"What's it?" Ginny asked, worried.
"I think I can't speak Parseltongue anymore."
Hermione's eyes widened. "I knew it," she whispered.
"What?" Harry asked.
"You were a Horcrux, too," Hermione replied.
"What makes you think that?" Harry asked in astonishment.
"That's nonsense," Ginny blurted out.
Hermione shook her head. "As I've told you. When the body with the main soul is destroyed, the other soul pieces have no anchor and dissolve. You've felt so light-headed the last few days. And look in the mirror. Your scar is barely visible anymore..."
Harry heard Ginny gasp next to him and then pull him closer towards her. "It's okay, Harry. It's over."
Ginny shook her head. "I know what it's like to have him in your head, and... You told me once that even though Tom was in my head, I'm still me. The same goes for you. You're still you. You're still Harry. "
Harry nodded slowly, knowing it would take him a while to accept that.
"You should get another check-up, Potter. I'll ask Madam Pomfrey to get a specialist involved," McGonagall said, watching Harry closely.
"Aunt Andromeda can do that, too," Harry replied.
"As you wish," said the Headmistress. "But don't forget it."
Harry nodded. "Let's go back before Sirius gets worried.
"I take it Mr Black knows about the Horcruxes?" McGonagall asked.
"Yes," Harry replied. "But when Sirius was in prison, and Dumbledore was dead, I felt uneasy knowing I was the only one who knew about them. As you, unfortunately, didn't have time for me, I told my friends about the Horcruxes. They really helped me a lot."
On the way back to the birthday party, Harry gave McGonagall a pensive look. "How did you know we'd need help in the Forbidden Forest?"
The woman smiled impishly. "As Headmistress, you have certain ways to get help throughout the castle. A painting notified me about a group of students who wanted to meet You-Know-Who in the Forbidden Forest to get their Dark Marks. And when Tonks told me that you and your friends would also be in the Forbidden Forest, the alarm bells went off. I immediately called for support."
"Do you know what really happened to Professor Dumbledore?" asked Hermione. "I can't believe he killed himself."
"I'd like to know that too," Sirius interjected. "Malfoy has boasted numerous times that Dumbledore is dead and that no one will help me. But I was sure he'd send me to Azkaban the moment he'd gotten his hands on the Hufflepuff Cup."
"Severus told me what really happened," McGonagall replied. "You-Know-Who wanted to send Dumbledore to Nurmengard to lock him up in the dungeon with Grindelwald. There, he could have visited Albus as often as he wanted, to taunt him and laugh at him. But Lucius Malfoy was afraid to attack Albus directly, and with the help of his wife, he poisoned him instead. Malfoy even told You-Know-Who that Albus had poisoned himself."
"May she rot in Azkaban for that," Ron cursed. "I hope the rest of the Death Eaters have been caught."
"Unfortunately no," Tonks joined the conversation. "But Snape gave Moody a list of the Death Eaters he knows. Hence, it should only be a matter of time."
"Now that you don't need to hide anymore, did you already make plans for your future, Potter?" McGonagall asked, eyeing Harry closely.
Harry shrugged. That was a question he hadn't considered yet at all. Glancing over at Ginny, he smiled. "I dunno. Maybe I'll go to Hogwarts to take my NEWTs."
"You don't have to go to Hogwarts for that," Sirius interjected. "I'm sure you'd pass the NEWTs anytime. After all, I've always wanted you to take your education seriously."
"Then I'll just use the time until the NEWTs for other things," Harry smiled, squeezing Ginny's hand. "We barely had time to ourselves since we've been together." Giving Sirius a crooked grin, Harry said, "But I worry what you'll do with your life when you don't have to babysit me anymore."
Sirius' eyes widened. "I don't know yet. It all happened so quickly. But I'm sure I'll find something."
McGonagall gave Sirius a pensive look. "Sirius, you've always been quite good at Transfiguration. I could use some support as I now have more of my headmistress duties to attend to. Would you dare to teach the first to fourth years? If you enjoy the job, you can later also take over the higher classes."
Sirius swallowed and looked around uncertainly. "How long do I have the time to think about the offer?"
"The new Transfiguration teacher should be in office after Christmas, at the latest."
"I'll let you know," Sirius replied, taking a deep breath.
"But don't wait too long," Ginny interjected, giggling. "Otherwise, you'll miss Harry's sorting in the Great Hall."
"Sorting?" Harry gave his girlfriend a startled look, but obviously, she meant it...
"Don't worry. I'll keep you no matter what house you end up in," Ginny giggled. "But of course, I hope you're brave enough, and the Sorting Hat has no choice but to sort you into Gryffindor."
Chuckling, Harry put his arm around Ginny's shoulders and kissed her hair, his eyes wandering over the happily chattering crowd. No matter what was waiting for him in the future, everything would be fine.
** The end**