The celebrations only lasted so long. There would be other days to celebrate. But a new day was approaching. A day where Dark was defeated and the good side reigned.
Harry was an indispensable part of the mingled outpourings of jubilation and mourning, of grief and celebration. They wanted him there with them, their leader and symbol, their savior and their guide, and that he had not slept, that he craved the company of only a few of them, seemed to occur to no one. He must speak to the bereaved, clasp their hands, witness their tears, receive their thanks, hear the news now creeping in from every quarter as the morning drew on; that the Imperiused up and down the country had come back to themselves, that Death Eaters were fleeing or else being captured, that the innocent of Azkaban were being released at that very moment, and that Kingsley Shacklebolt had been named temporary Minister of Magic.
They moved Voldemort's body and laid it in a chamber off the Hall, away form the bodies of Fred, Tonks, Lupin, and fifty others who had died fighting him. McGonagall had replaced the House tables, not nobody was sitting according to House anymore: All were jumbled together, teachers and pupils, ghosts and parents, centaurs and house-elves, and Firenze lay recovering in the corner, and Grawp peered in through a smashed window, and people were throwing food into his laughing mouth.
After a while, exhausted and drained, he only wanted the companionship of three people alongside him. He donned his invisibility cloak again, and walked across the hall, and found those three sitting with the Weasley family.
"Come with me," he breathed, to Ginny, Ron and Hermione, "Don't let anyone know I'm here. I want us to be alone."
"Well, it is getting really late," Ron said, "Can we be excused? Ginny, Hermione and I? We're just going to go up to the Gryffindor Tower."
"Well all need our rest," Mr. Weasley said, "I don't think we're doing too much more until tomorrow."
"I do need to talk to – to all of you," Mrs. Weasley said, "But that can wait, I think. Good night. We'll probably be up all night ourselves."
"Night, Mum," Ron and Ginny said.
Hermione, Ron and Ginny stood up and Harry followed them out of the Great Hall. As soon as he was out of sight of everyone else, he removed his cloak.
"Harry," Ginny said, in relief.
She put her arms around him, and he hugged her gratefully, back in her arms where he belonged. She looked at him and kissed him softly and he returned the kiss, then backed up.
"I'm sorry you had to go through that," Harry said, "All of you. Come with me. I'll explain it."
"Where are we going?" Ron asked.
"The Headmaster's office," Harry said, "Then, I agree with you... I need some rest."
Somewhere in the distance they could hear Peeves zooming through the corridors singing a victory song of his own composition:
"We did it, we bashed them, wee Potter's the one, And Voldy's gone moldy, so now let's have fun!"
"Really gives a feeling for the scope and tragedy of the whole thing, doesn't it?" Ron said, chuckling.
He put his arm around Hermione, and kissed her forehead, and the four of them headed up the stairs toward their destination.
"So..." Ginny said.
"I'm sorry," Harry said again, "I had to make Voldemort think I was dead."
"So... he killed you?" Ginny asked.
"He thought he did," Harry said, "That is hard to explain. The Elder Wand was never his... as you heard when I was talking to him. Draco disarmed Dumbledore the night Dumbledore died. I disarmed Draco. Even though Voldemort had the Elder Wand, it was never his."
"So what should we do with it?" Ron asked.
"We?" Hermione asked.
"I know what I'm going to do with it," Harry said, as they climbed the Grand Staircase, "But let me explain more. I owe you an explanation."
"Harry," Hermione said.
"Let me do this, Hermione," Harry said, "Or I will never get it out. You know Professor Snape gave me a memory right before he died, right?"
"A memory?" Ginny asked.
"Long story, Ginny," Ron said.
"Well, I went up to the Headmaster's office," Harry said, "And found the Pensieve. I found out things beyond my wildest dreams. Professor Snape loved my mother."
"You're joking?" Ron asked.
Harry shook his head.
"He loved her from the moment he saw her," Harry said, "Some time before their years at Hogwarts started. He always loved her. That doe Patronus, Ginny... the one that led us to the Sword of Gryffindor? The one that saved us in that alley?"
"Yeah?" Ginny said.
"It was his," Harry said, "Professor Snape's Patronus was a doe. The same as my mother's."
"So..." Ginny said, "Snape led you... us... to the sword?"
"Don't you see?" Hermione said, "Snape put the sword in that vault! He actually helped us."
"That may be," Ron said, "But he was still a git."
"Ron!" Hermione said, offended.
"What?" Ron asked, "Don't expect me to go all soft just because the man is dead. I haven't forgotten the way he treated us here. So he had a boy crush on Harry's mother. Doesn't mean he had to hate Harry just because he resembles the guy Lily fell in love with."
Harry shrugged, allowing Ron to have his anger. There would be more time for understanding.
"So, what happened in the forest, Harry?" Hermione asked.
For a few moments, Harry didn't speak.
"Well, I found out how to open the Golden Snitch," Harry said, "and the Resurrection Stone was in it."
"Oh, Harry," Hermione said, disapprovingly, "Please tell me you didn't use it."
"Hermione, I thought I was going to die," Harry said. "That's what 'I open at the close' means. The close means death. End of life."
Hermione gasped silently.
"You saw your parents again?" Hermione asked, "Didn't you?"
Harry nodded. "Sirius and Remus was there too," he said.
"Oh, Harry," Hermione repeated, though this time her voice was more sad than anything.
"I wanted to see them," Harry said, "One last time."
None of the them spoke any more; Ginny clutched herself to Harry, probably afraid he would disappear again. They walked up the Grand Staircase to the seventh floor, then made their way to the Headmaster's office. The gargoyle guarding the passage was laying there on the ground. Pieces of him were missing.
"Can we go up?" Harry asked the gargoyle.
"Feel free," groaned the statue.
They clambered over him and onto the spiral stone staircase that moved slowly upward like an escalator. Harry pushed open the door at the top.
He had one, brief glimpse of the stone Pensieve on the desk where he had left it, and then an earsplitting noise made him cry out, thinking of curses and returning Death Eaters and the rebirth of Voldemort -
But it was applause. All around the walls, the headmasters and headmistresses of Hogwarts were giving him a standing ovation; they waved their hats and in some cases their wigs, they reached through their frames to grip each other's hands; they danced up and down on their chairs in which they have been painted: Dilys Derwent sobbed unashamedly; Dexter Fortescue was waving his ear-trumpet; and Phineas Niggelus called,
in his high, reedy voice, "And let it be noted that Slytherin House played its part! Let our contribution not be forgotten!"
But Harry had eyes only for the man who stood in the largest portrait directly behind the headmaster's chair. Tears were sliding down from behind the half-moon spectacles into the long silver beard, and the pride and the gratitude emanating from him filled Harry wit h the same balm as phoenix song.
At last, Harry held up his hands, and the portraits fell respectfully silent, beaming and mopping their eyes and waiting eagerly for him to speak. He directed his words at Dumbledore, however, and chose them with enormous care. Exhausted and bleary-eyed though he was, he must make one last effort, seeking one last piece of advice.
"The thing that was hidden in the Snitch," he began, "I dropped it in the forest. I don't exactly here, but I'm not going to go looking for it again. Do you agree?"
"My dear boy, I do," said Dumbledore, while his fellow pictures looked confused and curious. "A wise and courageous decision, but no less than I would have expected of you. Does anyone know else know where it fell?"
"No one," said Harry, and Dumbledore nodded his satisfaction.
"I'm going to keep Ignotus's present, though," said Harry, and Dumbledore beamed.
"But of course, Harry, it is yours forever, until you pass it on!"
"And then there's this."
Harry held up the Elder Wand, and Ron and Hermione looked at it with a reverence that, even in his befuddled and sleep-deprived state, Harry did not like to see.
"I don't want it." said Harry.
"What?" said Ron loudly. "Are you mental?"
"I know it's powerful," said Harry wearily. "But I was happier with mine. So . . ."
He rummaged in the pouch hung around his neck, and pulled out the two halves of holly tstill just connected by the finest threat of phoenix feather. Hermione had said that they could not be repaired, that the damage was too severe. All he knew was that if this did not work, nothing would.
He laid the broken wand upon the headmaster's desk, touched it with the very tip of the Elder Wand, and said, "Reparo."
As his wand resealed, red sparks flew out of its end. Harry knew that he had succeeded. He picked up the holly and phoenix wand and felt a sudden warmth in his fingers, as though wand and hand were rejoicing at their reunion.
"I'm putting the Elder Wand," he told Dumbledore, who was watching him with enormous affection and admiration, "back where it came from. It can stay there. If I die a natural death like Ignotus, its power will be broken, won't it? The previous master will never have been defeated. That'll be the end of it.
Dumbledore nodded. They smiled at each other.
"Are you sure?" said Ron. There was the faintest trace of longing in his voice as he looked at the Elder Wand.
"I think Harry's right," said Hermione quietly.
"Me too," Ginny said, softly; she hadn't spoken up much over the past few minutes and if she wasn't so close to Harry, he might have forgotten she was there.
"That wand's more trouble than it's worth." said Harry. "And quite honestly I've had enough trouble for a lifetime."
"I could think of a bit more trouble you could get in," Ginny said, grinning, as they left the Headmaster's office.
"Oh, please," Ron groaned, "Can't we just go to bed?"
"I thought he was dead, Ron," Ginny said, though she was grinning, "I get to have my fun."
Harry chuckled sleepily. It was nice to have Ginny's wry humor back in his life. He knew she was trying to show a brave face... trying to be brave for Fred... and this was her way of doing it.
A few minutes later, Hermione, Ron and Harry arrived at the Fat Lady's portrait.
The Fat Lady was crying so badly, she was smudging parts of her portrait, and there were puddles of tears at the bottom.
"Dear Fat Lady," Hermione said, "What is wrong?"
"I-I-I'm just so-so happy!" the Fat Lady said, sobbing.
Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione looked at each other grinning. Though Ron also rolled his eyes.
"I've been trekking this castle for hours," the Fat Lady said, "I swear I probably visited all the portraits this place has to offer, just to watch the battles. I wanted to help, but I-I-I... well, look at me, I'm a portrait!"
She started sobbing again.
"Well, the battle is over," Ron said.
"Oh, I know!" the Fat Lady said, "I'm so happy! Now... the four of you, you tell me this. Where have you been since Christmas! I was so worried when you didn't show up!"
"Er..." Ron said, "Let's just say that it is a very long story. Can we go in please? We don't know the password."
"That's okay!" the Fat Lady said, "I don't know it either!"
She resumed sobbing and her portrait swung open. They walked into the common room. Harry half-expected the common room to be full of cheering, partying Gryffindors, much like it is after a Quidditch match victory, and was therefore relieved when she found that it was empty.
"Well, I don't know about you two," Harry said, "But I am going straight to bed. Ginny?"
"You don't have to tell me twice," Ginny said.
Harry looked at Ron, and he groaned.
"Oh, go on, Ginny," he said.
"Don't worry, Ron," Harry said, "I'm too tired to do anything too serious.".
"Yeah, yeah," Ron said, "Good night."
"What about the two of you?" Ginny asked, "Do you think the Head Girl room will open for you, Hermione?"
"I guess I'll find out – or rather," Hermione said, looking at Ron, "We will find out."
"I just want to stay down here for a little bit," Ron said, as he dragged Hermione over to the couch, "I missed this thing."
"Mmm, so many good memories on that couch," Ginny said.
Ron narrowed his eyes and Harry snickered. He chuckled and dragged Ginny toward the boy's stairwell.
"Do we have to go in that room, Harry?" Ginny asked, "It is where I saw that vision of you dying."
"I'm not dead, Ginny," Harry said, leading her up the stairs, "I am here. I'm not going anywhere without you."
"I know," Ginny said, "But – oh, fine, whatever, I won't be able to sleep unless I'm in your arms."
Harry smiled and they walked into his old dormitory. He walked over to the bed and laid down in it, and he noticed Ginny stand there in the middle of the room, staring at him.
"Harry," Ginny said, "I have a confession to make."
"Oh?" Harry asked.
Ginny nodded and then laid down next to Harry. He put his arms around her and she put her head on his chest.
"I was there when Remus and Dora were murdered," Ginny said.
"What?" Harry asked.
"Bellatrix killed Dora," Ginny said, "Dora was distracted for one second and Bellatrix hit her with the Killing Curse."
"First Sirius," Harry frowned, "Then Dora."
"I stunned Bellatrix," Ginny said, "And Remus was going in for the kill – the revenge kill I guess. And Fenrir attacked him. They fought and Remus was sent to the ground, and he was bleeding so badly on the stomach... I don't know if his stomach had been torn open or what, but he was able to talk to me. Fenrir was taken down by somebody – Neville, Seamus, Lavender, I dunno – and Fenrir got up and went after them."
"I saw Fenrir attack Lavender," Harry said.
"It was probably shortly after Remus and Dora died then," Ginny said, sniffling, "Well – okay – I didn't really see Remus die, but he probably died shortly after I left. But – erm – he told me something, and I wanted to tell it to you."
"What is it, Ginny?" Harry asked.
"He wanted me to be Teddy's Godmother," Ginny said, looking up at Harry, "But – I don't think he meant it as a title like gave to you. I – erm – I think he meant it like -"
"Like we would be Teddy's godparents," Harry said.
"Together," Ginny said, nodding, "Yeah."
"How did you feel when he said that?" Harry asked.
"I promised him I would," Ginny said, "That I would let Teddy know all about his father and mother when he was old enough. I promised I would be a good Godmother. And the only way I can do that is -"
"I'm sixteen, Harry," Ginny said, "I shouldn't be thinking of these things. War has made me grow up so quickly, and now I just want to be sixteen for these last few months until I become of age. I want to be that teenager again... who I was supposed to be. I know you're probably hoping to ask that question to me. But – my answer would be 'not yet', Harry. It wouldn't be no – it would just be... not yet. Do you understand that?"
"Yes," Harry said, nodding.
"Even if we didn't make it official for two or three years," Ginny said, "Being engaged is a big thing. I mean – I have a lot of growing up to do. I'll probably be expected to come back here for my final year. Being away from you is going to really affect me like that. And while we're still together – and you're still my boyfriend – that is all I want you to be right now. My boyfriend."
"Sounds a lot better than 'The Boy Who Lived Again'," Harry said, grinning.
"What will you do?" she asked, "After all of this."
"Well, first," Harry said, "I'm going to put the Elder Wand back where it belongs with a load of protection spells." And then I'm going to live a quiet life – if only for a little while before I get bored and I have to do something. Buit I can live peacefully for now. Just so I can think of things. I just want to live – to live the life I really couldn't when I was being hunted down."
"You've earned that," Ginny said.
"Yes," Harry said, "But I'm going to live that life as your boyfriend -"
"For now," Ginny said.
"For now," Harry said, nodding.
"Until I change my mind," Ginny said, "And either think you're too good for me. Or I'm too good for you. Or until I realize that 'not yet' just isn't good enough anymore. Whichever comes first."
"Sounds good to me," Harry said, chuckling.
Ginny smiled and kissed him softly. He kissed her back and for a few minutes, they just lay there, snogging and letting each other know they were there. And then Ginny nuzzled herself into Harry's neck and he heard her fall quickly to sleep, before sleep overtook him.
Hermione sat there on the couch in front of the fireplace, Ron's arms wrapped around her, and her arms around him. For a few minutes, neither of them had spoken. They just stared at the fire, and at periods of time, at each other.
"You're awfully silent there," Hermione said.
"Just thinking," Ron said.
"Oh – about Fred?" Hermione asked.
"He's on my mind, yeah," Ron said, "But I'm trying to think of other things too."
"You should spend time thinking about him," Hermione said, "Don't avoid it."
"I'm sure there will come time for that tomorrow," Ron said, "Tomorrow? Is it tomorrow yet?"
"Dunno," Hermione said, "I completely lost track of time. I can't believe we woke up at Shell Cottage today, still preparing for the Gringotts Heist."
"That does seem really far away, doesn't it?" Ron asked.
"Yeah," Hermione said.
She brushed her hand along her robes, and took out Bellatrix's wand.
"Are you going to keep that?" Ron asked, "Now that Bellatrix is dead? The job is done -"
"I didn't kill her," Hermione said, "Your -"
"My Mum did," Ron said, "Yeah, I know."
"I couldn't do it," Hermione said, "You were right. I couldn't do it. I couldn't get up the courage, even after weeks of dueling practice... to do it."
"It's okay, Hermione," Ron said, and he held her against him, "She's gone."
"Yeah," Hermione said, "She's gone. My parents can rest peacefully."
"You didn't answer my question," Ron said, "What are you going to do with the wand?"
"I'll keep it," Hermione said, "If only temporarily. Until Ollivander sets up shop again and I can get a new one. Then I'll snap this in two and it will be gone."
"Yeah," Ron said, "Probably best. You could always disarm Harry and take the Elder Wand."
"No," Hermione said, "That thing needs to disappear from the world."
"Could we break it too?" Ron asked.
"I'm not sure," Hermione said. "It is the most powerful wand in the world."
"Ye-yeah," Ron said, nodding, and yawning, "Probably not."
"You're tired," Hermione said, "Time for bed."
"You sure we can get into your old room?" Ron asked.
"If not we'll take Ginny's bed," Hermione said, "Or sleep in Harry's dorm."
"Ugh," Ron said, "Where Harry and Ginny are."
"They're going to be in our position before too long, Ron," Hermione said. "Maybe they'll wait - maybe Harry will wait to pop the question, but it is going to happen you know."
"Yeah," Ron said, "I know. Married with loads of speckled gits with badly combed ginger-colored hair."
"I was thinking of something," Ron said, "Now that the war is over – we have things to do."
"Er – are you talking about what I think you are?" Hermione asked.
"What do you think I'm talking about," Ron replied.
"You know what I mean," Hermione said, "And we can't – not tonight. Even if I wanted to - I doubt Madam Pomfrey has that potion we need, Ron and -"
Ron kissed Hermione to quell her. She chuckled against his lips and backed up.
"I was not talking about that," Ron said.
"Oh?" Hermione asked.
Ron nodded and lifted up Hermione's hand – the hand with her engagement ring on it.
"Oh, Ron," Hermione said, "That could wait, you know. A year – maybe two. I mean – it isn't hypothetical anymore, sure but -"
Hermione felt tears coming down her cheeks.
"What's wrong?" Ron asked.
"My father won't be there to give me away, Ron," Hermione said, sniffling.
"Of course he'll be there," Ron said, and Hermione raised her eyebrows, "In spirit. Both he and your Mum will."
Hermione sniffled and nodded. She briefly kissed him again.
"Besides," Ron said, "I'm sure my father would walk you down the aisle. Or Harry – he'd be happy to give his sister – in whatever sense it means – away."
"I'm sure he'd like that," Hermione said, chuckling, "Oh, Merlin, I can't believe we're talking about this."
"Our wedding?" Ron asked.
"Our future!" Hermione said. "These past few months, we talked about it, and sometimes it was just talk to me. But now – well – it can happen."
"There was never a chance it wouldn't happen, Hermione," Ron said, "I made sure of that today."
Hermione nodded. She leaned toward him to kiss him again and he yawned. She chuckled and smacked him playfully on the chest.
"What?" he asked, "I'm tired!"
"Me too," Hermione said, "Let's go see if my room works."
Ron stood up and Hermione took his hand and stood up. They walked up the stairs, toward the Head Girl room. They were happy to find that it still gave them admittance. Soon, they were cuddled up together on the bed, and after a short, fairly innocent, intimate bout, which was much-needed because it allowed them to completely know that the other was there and it wasn't a dream, they fell asleep in each other's arms...
Neither of them knew what surprises awaited for them the following day.
Hmm... did that ending tease you enough? The next chapter is the final one... and it is not an epilogue, because it takes place the following day. It will probably be a very short chapter. Also it will be VERY un-canon to the Harry Potter universe. Mostly I am writing it because it sets up a possible (possible, not sure if I'll do it) sequel for the story.