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Chapter 7, The Final Quest, Part II

The two of them stood on the shore of the lake in silence for a time, wrapped in each other’s arms as together they mourned the loss of his oldest and truest companion. Hermione waited patiently until he was ready to continue, which he acknowledged by placing a soft kiss on the top of her head.

In a low voice that was nearly a whisper, he told her of how some of the guests at the wedding had finally been spurred into action and overcome the remaining Death Eaters, led by Fleur herself. He wondered if Hermione knew that when Veela became angry enough, they could throw fireballs. She nodded with a shudder, trying to imagine the beautiful woman with whom she had recently become acquainted transformed into such a state of rage.

Harry went on to reveal that Bill had been attended to in time to save his life, but nothing could restore the part of his legs that had been lost, as she already knew from seeing him at Gringotts. Amid all the screaming and confusion, it took some time before order was restored, but eventually Fred and George had retrieved Hedwig’s body. They got word to Harry who surreptitiously came back the next day to join them to give her a respectful burial in the woods near the Burrow.

But after that day, and witnessing up close what had happened to their older brother who both respected and admired, neither of the twins were ever the same again. The inveterate pranksters turned their talents to an entirely different sort of mischief – devising and setting deadly traps for any of Voldemort’s supporters they could locate.

It turned out that before coming to the Burrow, Voldemort had led a much larger force to the Ministry of Magic itself, assassinating Minister Scrimgeour and taking control after a fierce battle. As at the wedding, most of the wizards in the building had offered no resistance, being more concerned with keeping themselves alive, and, not inconsequently, also keeping their jobs. Within days things were more or less back to business as usual, but with a new Minister and new department heads who took their orders directly from the dark lord.

The primary exception to this was in the Auror force. A large number were killed in the battle for the Ministry, but a good portion escaped and went into hiding, waiting for their chance to fight another day.

The Ministry takeover turned out in one way to be an advantage for the light side fighters. The roles had been reversed – they were now the insurgents, conducting hit and run raids, while the Death Eaters found that now that they were in charge, they couldn’t just kill people randomly anymore. They were still but a small fraction of the wizarding population, and they didn’t want a large scale rebellion on their hands, so they had to make sure that ordinary wizards would feel safe in their homes. And particularly, that they would believe Hogwarts was a safe place for their children. So the castle essentially was off limits, and actually became safer for the students than it had been during any of the years that Harry had attended!

As for the Weasleys, they were publicly declared to be enemies of the new order. While Ginny and Ron would be protected at Hogwarts, the Burrow was fair game. But Bill and Fleur, planning ahead, had already set up a new residence in a small house by the sea in Cornwell which they called Shell Cottage. It was already protected by the Fidelius charm, and ultimately served as a staging area for Fred and George’s deadly game of cat and mouse. Arthur and Molly, who was badly shaken by the turn of events, moved in with other relatives.

Harry took a deep breath, and taking Hermione’s hand, resumed their stroll. “So what it came down to was a race between me and Voldemort,” he declared. “He came to the conclusion that he needed the Wand of Destiny to defeat me, and therefore he put as much effort as he could spare into tracking it down and finding it. For my part, as you know, I had the task of tracking down and finding his horcruxes and destroying them so that he could ultimately be defeated.” Hermione nodded her agreement with his analysis.

“Ironically, you each had the information the other needed, since he knew where the horcruxes were and you knew where the wand was, although he obviously wasn’t aware of that,” she pointed out. This time it was Harry’s turn to agree, with one important clarification.

It was a while before I realized what Dumbledore’s wand actually was,” he pointed out. “I’d discovered that it was incredibly powerful, and I didn’t really understand why it would work that well for me, given what we’d learned about wands needing to be matched to the wizard. I think it was months later before I suspected it, and not until the following spring before I was sure.” A grim expression crossed his face. “It was actually Ollivander who confirmed it, after I’d rescued him. Then he insisted that I obliviate him of the knowledge that I had it.” He shook his head at the thought, and looked back at Hermione.

“At that point I had to be extremely cautious about the link I still had into his mind,” he added. “But all along the way we were both delayed by the raids. I felt I needed to provide at least some support to the folks who were fighting back, and he felt the need to retaliate. It was pretty brutal.”

He hesitated, then stopped walking and turned to face her directly. “Like you said the other day. It was a war, and in a war you kill the enemy because he’s trying to kill you. Dumbledore would not have approved.”

Hermione took his hands in hers and leaned forward, kissing him gently on the cheek. “You did the right thing,” she assured him. “Is that how Fred and George died?”

Harry nodded solemnly. “Remus and Moody too. For the twins, someone on the other side eventually got smart and set up an ambush. Remus was killed when he went after Fenrir Greyback. He got him, but he didn’t survive his wounds.” He took a few minutes to fill her in on the bitter history between the two werewolves, as well as Remus’s secret marriage to Tonks. Before he could get into the details of Moody’s demise, Hermione interrupted him.

“Tell me about the horcruxes,” she suggested, not wanting to dwell overmuch on the distressing topic of how so many of his friends had been killed.

“Well, you already know about the one in Voldemort’s snake,” he responded after a moment’s thought. “There was also one in Gringotts, and one at Hogwarts. And the one we thought was in the cave was actually at Grimmauld Place for a long time.”

Harry paused to shake his head. “There was so much luck involved, both good and bad. The locket was a perfect example. You see, Dumbledore had tracked down its location, but by the time we got to the cave where it was hidden, it had already been taken by someone else. So it could have gone anywhere. Bad luck. But the person who took it turned out to be Sirius’s brother, who’d been a Death Eater but had a change of heart. And he took it back to Grimmauld Place. We’d actually found it two summers before while cleaning up, but didn’t know it at the time. Good luck. But by the time I figured that out, it wasn’t there anymore. Bad luck. But fortunately, we were able to find out where it went pretty quickly. See what I mean?”

Hermione nodded and he continued. “So anyway, after the wedding I ended up back at Grimmauld Place. I was feeling miserable and pretty down about life, and that location seemed to fit my mood – dark and gloomy. Sirius had left the place to me in his will, but this was the first time I’d been back there since he’d died. I decided to check out his room, which turned out to be at the top of the house. Right across from it was his brother’s room. And there I recognized his handwriting and initials from the message that had been left in the locket.”

Harry went on to describe the note in more detail, along with what he’d learned from the Black house elf Kreacher about Regulus’s attempt to strike back at the dark lord. This was followed by Kreacher’s change of heart when he’d discovered that Harry was attempting to fulfill his beloved master’s last request, and his revelation that Mundungus Fletcher had stolen the locket along with quite a few other valuable treasures. Harry had thereupon instructed the ancient house elf to track the thief down and learn where the locket was currently located. Which he did.

“And …” he finished with a dramatic pause. “Delores Umbridge had it.”

“What? The same one who gave you so much grief?” Hermione blurted out in amazement.

“The very one,” Harry confirmed. Then his face darkened as he recounted the role the evil witch had chosen to play in the Voldemort controlled government – rounding up muggleborn witches and wizards, accusing them of ‘stealing magic’, and sentencing them to detention camps that were guarded by dementors. Most of them hadn’t survived.

He stopped and turned toward the lake, bending down to pick up a stone and throw it into the water. Three more stones followed as he worked off his irritation as he recalled the repugnant regulation.

“We took care of her,” he almost snarled. “With the cloak, and with Dobby’s abilities, it wasn’t too difficult to sneak into the Ministry and find her. She was in a courtroom, happy as she could be as she passed judgement on one muggleborn after another. I can still see her simpering little smile as another one was dragged away by a pair of dementors.” Two more stones sailed into the lake, as if there were a target floating out on the water with Umbridge’s face on it.

He finally nodded in grim satisfaction. “I stunned her and summoned her wand, Dobby grabbed the locket, and we left her with the dementors. Once her patronus faded away they were all over her, while we locked them into the courtroom and hustled away the muggleborns who were still waiting to be tried.”

Harry let out a long sigh as he turned back to her. “I have no idea how many of them actually escaped without being recaptured, but we did the best we could,” he concluded with a resigned shrug. Hermione stepped forward and took his arm, giving it a brief hug before urging him to continue along the path.

“So that’s two down, if you count the one in Nagini,” Harry commented as they resumed their walk. “The one at Hogwarts wasn’t too difficult to find; at least it wasn’t once I asked the right question.”

“Wasn’t it hard to sneak in?” she wondered.

Harry shook his head. “Not at all. There are several secret passages if you know where to look. And even without them, you can always come in through the Forbidden Forest.” He shrugged. “I actually spent quite a bit of time here.”

Hermione stared at him in disbelief. She’d expected that he would have spent the year in hiding, moving from place to place, setting multiple protective enchantments. “Weren’t you worried about getting caught?” she demanded.

“Not really,” he insisted. “Just like with the Ministry. Easier, actually, since none of them even suspected I was there, and most of the students and staff were on my side anyway. Especially the DA.”

A smug grin flickered across his face. “Voldemort tried to install some of his supporters at the school, but they kept disappearing. They had a habit of wandering into the Forbidden Forest and not coming back.” Hermione stared at him in wide-eyed disbelief. “Powerful Confundus charm with the Elder Wand,” he revealed in a mock conspiratorial whisper. “And always when all the students and staff had airtight alibis,” he finished with a nod of satisfaction, before adding, “They really didn’t have any competent people to spare, so the ones they sent to Hogwarts weren’t exactly the brightest of the bunch.” (1)

“As it turned out, half the time McGonagall was in charge while the Board came up with yet another Headmaster,” he chuckled, causing her to roll her eyes and respond with a smile of her own.

“So anyway, I was convinced a horcrux would be in the Chamber of Secrets,” he continued. “Dobby and I searched in there for days! After a certain point I was so frustrated that I said something like, ‘where else would you hide something in Hogwarts?’ And Dobby immediately suggested the Room of Hidden Things! Which turns out to be the most popular version of the Room of Requirement.”

“Which horcrux was there?” Hermione inquired.

“Ravenclaw’s Diadem,” Harry answered as his good mood vanished. “And that brings us to the darkest part of the year.”

He stopped at a grassy clearing and conjured a blanket, placing it over a moss-covered log. Then he sat down in front of it and leaned back, stretching his legs out as Hermione dropped down beside him. The sun shone brightly, reflecting off the lake, with Hogwarts in the background. It was such a peaceful, serene location, an ironic counterpoint to the disturbing information he was about to reveal. Sensing this, Hermione snuggled up against him and took hold of his hand, preparing for the worst.

Harry told her that after he and Dobby had left Godric’s Hollow, he’d run into a dry spell, with few ideas of where to look next. In the meantime, he was still trying to work out the story of the three brothers. Recalling that he’d seen XenophiliusLovegood, Luna’s father, wearing a medallion that resembled the symbol above the title of the story, he paid a visit to the strange man. It was from him that he learned about Questers and the legend of the Deathly Hallows, and also about the legendary Diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw. After thanking the man for the information, as well as for the support he’d been giving Harry in his newspaper, he left to continue his search, ultimately discovering the Diadem in the Room of Requirement.

It was several months later that he’d learned that Death Eaters had subsequently paid the publisher of The Quibbler a visit and threatened him. And that over the Easter holiday they had captured his daughter to force his compliance.

“I found Luna a month later at Malfoy Manor,” he revealed in a low voice. “I’d run out of ideas for where else to look for the last horcrux, and decided to look into the possibility that he’d given it to one of his Death Eaters, like he had the diary. Since Malfoy had the diary, and Dobby could easily get us into his house, we started there. Dobby took us to the hidden cellar where Lucius kept his dark artifacts and there she was.”

Hermione’s hand tightened her grip on his own; she could hear the pain in his voice. “She’d been tortured,” he whispered. “I could see it in her eyes. They were completely blank, no life in them at all. And that’s when I lost it and broke down. She was such a gentle soul – she’d never hurt anybody, and those animals tortured her out of her mind.” He turned to look at Hermione, a tear running down each cheek.

“And because I couldn’t control my emotions, I lost Dobby too,” he blurted out, causing Hermione to catch her breath in a startled gasp. “You see, we had a system for our raids. He could disappear any time he wanted to – no wards could hold him because of his elf magic. So anytime we were in trouble, I’d activate my time turner and he’d vanish. But this time, I wasn’t paying attention, because I was freaking out over Luna. So they heard me, and came down to investigate. Bellatrix Lestrange spotted me first, and shot a cutting curse at me. And Dobby jumped in front of me instead of saving himself. It killed him.”

Hermione wrapped her arms around him as her tears joined his, rocking the two of them back and forth as she tried to take on some of his pain. Eventually, Harry continued in a far off voice.

“I snapped. I activated the time turner, and kept cycling back until every Death Eater in that house was dead.” He gave a mirthless snort. “The Elder Wand casts a particularly powerful blasting hex. Then I burned the whole place down with Fiendfyre.”

Hermione was reminded of the latest Star Wars movie, where Anakin found his mother in the raiders’ camp after she’d been tortured, and went into a killing rage. She could still picture the haunted look in his eyes, when he returned to Padmé and confessed that he’d ‘killed them all’. In the movie, that had been the beginning of his turn to the dark side. She found herself wondering how close Harry had come to a similar fate, and was grateful beyond words that he had avoided that path. (2)

She remained silent for a time, struggling to get a grasp on what that horrifying scene must have been like. But she determinedly maintained her tight grip on Harry, intent on conveying her undiminished support.

Finally he resumed his tale. “I was at a loss at that point, not sure what to do or where to go. That was as close as I ever came to giving up. It all came crashing down on me – nearly everyone close to me was gone by then – Dobby, Remus, Fred and George, Hedwig – I felt that I had no one left. Then I remembered Bill and Fleur, at Shell Cottage. I needed to do something with Luna, and also Mr. Ollivander, who’d also been held prisoner at Malfoy Manor, so I took them there, along with Dobby’s body.”

Harry relaxed a bit at that point and related how he’d been worried about what sort of reception he’d receive there. Fleur had come running out to meet him and he’d tried to stammer out an apology for Bill’s injury, but she would have none of it. Instead she thanked him profusely for saving not only Bill’s life, but also everyone else who’d attended the wedding. Sensing his despair, she wrapped him in a crushing embrace, kissing him all over his face repeatedly until he got the message.

He shot her an embarrassed grin. “There’s nothing quite like being hugged and kissed by an emotional Veela to change your outlook on life,” he asserted.

Hermione managed a smile in return. She was now beyond any jealousy toward Fleur, and felt only gratitude that the French witch had been able to help him out of his gloom. But despite the advice the beautiful Veela had offered her about not dwelling on what might have been, she couldn’t help but think that if Harry hadn’t saved Bill’s life at the wedding, her best friend might now be with Fleur and living a very much different life.

Harry continued by noting that Fleur had taken Luna and Ollivander into the house and got them into beds, while Bill, getting around on a flying carpet that the goblins at Gringotts had rigged for him, came out and kept Harry company while he dug a grave and buried Dobby. Back inside and sitting around the kitchen table, he filled them in on what he’d been doing while eating a casserole Fleur had prepared.

Something Bellatrix had said while they’d battled in Malfoy Manor had made Harry believe that she might have been entrusted with the final horcrux, and had put it in her Gringotts vault for safekeeping. He now sought their input on how best to get it out. Bill suggested they try the direct approach, since the odds of Harry sneaking into a vault were slim, even with his invisibility cloak.

But the goblins had refused, despite being generally sympathetic to his quest. Voldemort had already alienated them with his demands that they turn over control of the bank to him. However, a Gringotts vault was sacrosanct – their reputation for security was the main thing that made wizards trust them to guard their treasures.

The only other idea they had was to ask Tonks to impersonate Bellatrix (who actually did resemble her mother Andromeda) and try to gain access to her vault. But before they risked that, Harry decided to return to Hogwarts. McGonagall was once again the temporary Headmistress, as Voldemort’s supporters on the Board of Governors had given up on appointing yet another of their own for the rest of the current school year after the remains of their most recent choice had been found outside the Acromantula colony.

“She snuck me into the Head’s office so I could talk to Dumbledore’s portrait,” Harry explained. I’d hoped he could give me some advice on what else to try.” He scowled. “But instead he only let me know how disappointed he was in me and how I’d gone about things. He told me it had been unnecessary to kill Snape and Malfoy, because their actions that night had all been part of his plan.”

“What!” Hermione exclaimed. “How on earth were you supposed to know that?”

“That’s exactly what I said,” Harry assured her. “I blew up at that point, going off on him for not letting me in on this grand plan of his, instead just leaving me with only a vague idea of how to carry out this mission, along with some obscure clues. But he just sat there with his maddening ‘I know better’ look. At that point I was so angry the room started shaking. McGonagall had to grab me to calm me down. But that was only the beginning. After I regained control, I informed him that I only had one horcrux left to go, and I thought it was in Gringotts, and asked if he had any thoughts on how to get it out.”

Harry shook his head and sat up, still bitter over the next exchange five years later. He turned to Hermione, knowing that it would likely infuriate her as well. “He just got this sad expression on his face and informed me that I was mistaken,” he told her. “Besides the horcrux in Hufflepuff’s cup, Voldemort had created one more, accidental horcrux on the night he tried to kill me at Godric’s Hollow. When the killing curse rebounded on him it split his soul again, and the fragment latched onto me. So I was the last horcrux, and I would need to die before Voldemort could be defeated.”

Hermione exploded, as he’d expected, although it was several seconds before he could make out anything coherent from the rant she unleashed. She leapt to her feet and stormed away from him, then whirled and stalked back, inveigling about senile old men, among other more colorful denunciations. Harry grabbed her as she went past a second time, and hugged her until she calmed down.

“What did you do then?” she finally managed. Harry shrugged.

“I sat down in shock for a few minutes,” he replied. “By that point I was so weary of everything that I actually considered it. Just end it all by walking up to him and letting him kill me. Maybe manage to take him out at the same time or something.”

“No!” Hermione shouted, dismayed that he could have even contemplated such a solution.

“That’s the same thing McGonagall said,” Harry informed her. “She wouldn’t hear of it, and instructed me to leave while she gave the portrait a piece of her mind.” He chuckled at that memory, and Hermione found herself smiling as she pictured how that exchange might have gone.

“Well, then I got to thinking about alternatives, and went back to talk to Bill and Fleur again,” he continued. “I wondered if the goblins had expected me to negotiate after their initial refusal. They said it was worth a try. I also asked if Bill knew any way to remove a horcrux from a person. He said it might be possible, but he’d have to look into it. So I went back and asked for another meeting with Ragnok, who was the head goblin in Britain.”

By now both Harry and Hermione had calmed down sufficiently to resume their walk, and they began heading back along the lake toward the castle.

“I presented it to him as a potential danger to the goblins who tended the vaults,” he declared. “I proposed that they should search all of the vaults belonging to Death Eaters, particularly any belonging to Bellatrix Lestrange. And if they found anything they could destroy it themselves; I didn’t need to go into the vault, so their security wouldn’t actually be compromised. They wanted some evidence for this possibility, and I offered them my pensieve memory of the Chamber of Secrets, to show that a horcrux was capable of possessing an unsuspecting individual.” Beside him, Hermione nodded in approval. It certainly seemed like a convincing argument to her.

“Well, they were rather impressed with that adventure, particularly how Gryffindor’s sword appeared,” he noted with a touch of pride. “They initially were going to demand the sword in exchange for helping me, since it was a goblin made weapon.” Harry paused his narrative to explain to Hermione the goblin notion of ownership of their creations. “But when Ragnok saw how I pulled it out of the Sorting Hat, he declared that I could keep it, as it had chosen me. Instead, they wanted the remains of the basilisk in payment for helping me.”

He turned and grinned at her. “After Voldemort’s defeat they held a celebration and invited me. They proclaimed that I would forever hold special status among the goblins. And they served basilisk meat.”

Hermione was fascinated, and couldn’t resist. “What does it taste like?” When she saw his smirk, she knew what his answer was going to be even before he said it.

“It tastes like chicken.”

Hermione groaned, mentally chiding herself for having fallen for that old cliché, but on reflection, she declared with a smirk of her own that this actually made sense, since basilisks were hatched from chicken eggs.

Harry laughed and returned to his story. “Bill was able to find a ritual in Gringotts’ collection of curse breaking books, that would transfer a soul fragment from one person to another,” he announced. “So that was part of the deal. They had a prisoner who had been sentenced to death, so they performed the ritual, then beheaded him with the sword. They were all pretty impressed with the scream the horcrux made when it was destroyed.”

“Was it painful, having it removed?” Hermione immediately wanted to know.

Harry nodded. “It felt like my head was being split in two. I think I might have passed out briefly. But I got through it by keeping telling myself that it was better than the alternative.” Hermione shuddered at that comment, and he wrapped his arm around her for a quick hug.

“After that, it didn’t take long before they found Hufflepuff’s Cup, in Belatrix’s vault just like I suspected,” he finished. “They let me do the honors that time, and then we were on our way back to Shell Cottage.”

They were getting close to the castle now, and Harry turned off the path and, taking Hermione by the hand, guided her around some boulders until they came to a secluded spot just a few feet from the shoreline. In a low, reverent voice he revealed that this had been his special spot all through his last three years at Hogwarts, where he came when he wanted to be by himself. No one else had known about it except for Dobby and Hedwig.

Hermione gave him a warm smile of appreciation, aware of what it meant that he was sharing this location with her. They settled themselves down on a large, flat rock for the conclusion of the saga.

“After that, it was just a matter of time …”

-oooOOOooo-

Harry glanced again at the slowly setting sun as he paced back and forth along the shore of the lake, a few hundred feet from Dumbledore’s white marble tomb, but perfectly concealed in his cloak of true invisibility. He had a feeling that tonight would be the night it all ended.

It had seemed relatively simple back at Shell Cottage when he’d settled on this strategy. Knowing that Voldemort was searching for the Elder Wand, he would just wait at Hogwarts until he showed up, while hiding in the Forbidden Forest in a tent that Bill loaned him. The implementation, however, had been altogether more challenging. For one thing, he no longer had the connection with the dark lord, so he couldn’t know exactly when he’d show up. And he quickly discovered that a month long around-the-clock stakeout was beyond the capabilities of a single wizard, even with a time turner.

He’d solved that problem by enlisting Kreacher’s assistance. The old house elf had changed his attitude completely since he’d helped Harry recover and destroy Slytherin’s locket, and now served his new master respectfully. He’d also cleaned himself up, dressing in a clean white towel, and always wearing Regulus’s locket around his neck. Harry still wasn’t fond of him, but managed to put those feelings aside. So Kreacher kept watch during the night, while Harry took his turn during the day. As long as he was alerted before Voldemort actually reached the tomb, he could use his time turner, if necessary, to get himself into position to ambush the evil wizard.

McGonagall had taken care of making certain that his search would lead him to Hogwarts. She’d informed Harry that they’d found Dumbledore’s original wand tucked away in his robes, and, not even realizing that he’d had more than one, had buried it with him. Just to be on the safe side, she’d suggested to Rita Skeeter that she do a followup article on Dumbledore on the anniversary of his death, and the story, which just so happened to mention that critical fact, had run in the Daily Prophet last month.

Harry had only briefly considered, then rejected, any thoughts of being noble and challenging Voldemort face to face. He had only to take the time to recall those close to him who had fallen in the struggle – Cedric, Sirius, Dumbledore, Hedwig, Fred, George, Remus, and Dobby, as well as those whose bodies or minds been irreparably damaged, like Bill and Luna – sacrifices to the dark lord’s vision of complete domination, to realize that the only thing that mattered was his ultimate destruction. If that meant hexing him in the back from ambush, so be it. He had used the Resurrection Stone to summon the spirits of his parents to confer with them, and they’d both assured him that it was the right thing to do.

He’d been greatly relieved when the school year had ended and the students had been sent home for the summer two weeks ago. Now there would be no innocent bystanders that might be put in danger. In their place McGonagall had summoned some of the former Aurors who formed the largest resistance group to the dark lord’s takeover of wizarding Britain, led byShacklebolt and Tonks. She’d even included a goblin delegation as additional witnesses. Unknown to Harry there were also a few select DA members staying in the castle, ready to defend it should Voldemort’s visit include an assault on the massive fortress. Even now, there were several pairs of omnioculurs trained from the tower windows, recording any potential activities at the tomb by the lake.

Harry paused his pacing and once again checked his wands. He’d faced a difficult decision over which one to use. The Elder Wand cast more powerful spells, but his holly and phoenix feather wand was more attuned to Voldemort. The last time they’d met it had rapidly and unerringly found its target with his first cast.

What had finally decided it was that ever since he’d had the horcrux removed, he’d been feeling more and more infused with magical power. He finally reasoned that either the Deathly Hallows were making him more powerful, or the horcrux had been draining him. Or perhaps it was a combination of the two. In any case, he’d settled on keeping the Elder Wand strapped to his leg, in reserve; he’d use his original wand for the first strike.

A snapping sound drew his attention toward the tomb – halfway there a house elf had just popped into view and was looking around frantically.

“I’m over here,” he whispered, causing the small creature to focus in his direction.

“He is being coming now,” the little being he now recognized as Winky squeaked. “He is bringing many bad creatures with him, but is leaving them in the forest for now.” Her message having been delivered, the nervous elf promptly disappeared.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief. This news removed a potential complication he’d been concerned about. Now it would be a simple one-on-one encounter. Silently he moved closer to the gleaming white monument, as the sun finally disappeared below the horizon. There was a solemn stillness surrounding him, broken only by the buzzing of an insect that hovered down by the shoreline.

Suddenly he felt an overwhelming presence of pure evil. He glanced around rapidly, but couldn’t see anything, until something in the sky over the forest caught his eye. There was a shimmering in the air moving toward the tomb and he realized that it was the disillusioned form of his mortal enemy, gliding silently to a landing just a few dozen paces away. Thanking his ancestor for passing down the world’s only perfect invisibility cloak, Harry silently moved closer even as Voldemort dropped the concealing charm and strode purposefully up to the marble structure.

Harry aimed his wand through the opening in his cloak and drew a deep breath. Control your emotions! Make the first shot count! He repeated these mantras in his mind as he waited for his best opportunity, when Voldemort’s focus would be entirely on his task. The dark lord raised his wand and cast a powerful severing spell, and with a deafening crack the tomb split in half.

Simultaneously, a golden jet of light streaked from Harry’s wand, with devastating results. Voldemort was hurled against the unyielding stone surface, impacting it with an audible thud, and slid to the ground as his wand sailed off in the opposite direction. Without pausing for self-congratulations, Harry snapped off a succession of spells, stunning and immobilizing his opponent, and summoning the wand as he shrugged off his cloak.

Only then did he stop to take a breath, inhaling several great gulps of air as he willed his pounding heart to slow down. With only a glance at his newly won trophy, he snapped it in half and dropped it at his feet. Focus! Finish the task! Don’t get distracted or start making speeches!

Harry reached back over his head and drew out the Sword of Gryffindor from the scabbard strapped to his back. A few more strides brought him up to his unconscious foe, now slumped against the gleaming monument. He spent only a few seconds regarding the snakelike visage that had haunted his dreams for so long, then with one swing it was severed from its pale, skeletal body.

Harry braced himself for the expected magical backlash, but it was merely a ripple, certainly nothing like the shrieks that had accompanied the destruction of the horcruxes. It was almost as though Voldemort’s essence, having been steadily weakened throughout the process, was finally letting loose its final tenuous grasp on existence. Instead, there was flash of light off to his side and he whirled and ducked, taking a quick step back to avoid the spell he thought was heading his way, while simultaneously raising his wand and readying a spell of his own.

But it was only Rita Skeeter, and her camera flashed again, taking a picture that she later would state unequivocally was the most terrifying one she or her photographer had shot in all her years as a reporter – Harry Potter, crouching like a panther prepared to attack, raising a wand and a sword in her direction, his emerald eyes glowing with danger.

Before either of them could say anything, a clamor of voices was heard, as shouts of triumph echoed from the walls of the castle, and a throng of his allies stormed out to join him. From the Astronomy Tower several brooms streaked his way, Ron and Katie being the first to reach him. They were quickly joined by Angelina, Alicia, and Lee, and then by those on foot – Neville and Susan and the DA, Tonks and Shacklebolt and the Aurors, and finally McGonagall and Flitwick and the rest of the professors, all coming together in a joyous tumult.

But the battle was not yet finished. From the edge of the Forbidden Forest another horde emerged, with a more evil intent. The defenders immediately turned toward this new threat, and Harry quickly levitated the head and body of his slain foe as they retreated to the more defensible walls of the ancient fortress of Hogwarts.

-oooOOOooo-

From their position at Harry’s private spot by the lake, the young couple had a clear view of the white monument rising from the shoreline with the castle behind it, and both of them had been picturing the scene in their minds as Harry recounted the events of that evening, five years ago to the day.

Hermione was by now sitting on Harry’s lap, leaning her head against his chest as his arms enfolded her. She’d let out a long sigh of relief at the apparent conclusion of the story, but now realized that it wasn’t quite finished yet.

She looked up at him when he didn’t continue, wondering at the reason for his hesitation. He looked down at her and shrugged.

“It was rather anticlimactic,” he assured her. “Raising Voldemort’s dead body into the air turned out to be an unintentional stroke of genius. You see, by then nearly all of his followers were mercenaries. Fred and George had taken out a lot of the key Death Eaters, and I finished the rest of them off at Malfoy Manor. Once these newer recruits saw that he was defeated, they lost interest rather quickly. The intelligent ones all turned around and disappeared back into the Forest. Some of them were captured, but most eventually made their way back to wherever they came from. Our main concern was the giants.”

“Oh no!” she gasped. “They’re formidable opponents. How did you deal with them?”

He tightened his arms around her briefly in a reassuring squeeze. “You know how elephants are said to be afraid of mice?” he inquired. Confused at this seemingly random remark, she nodded silently. “I think that legend may have a realistic basis, at least as far as magic is concerned,” he asserted. “I think that there is some sort of magical balance in the world. For example, you discovered that a basilisk, one of the most dangerous magical creatures that exists, can be killed by something as simple as the crow of a rooster.”

Hermione nodded again, now realizing where this analogy was headed. “So you’re saying giants have a weakness, and it seems like it must be a small creature of some sort,” she reasoned.

Harry grinned at her, impressed yet again by her sharp mind. “Yep,” he confirmed. “House elves.” Hermione’s face broke out in a broad smile. She’d always had a soft spot for the eager-to-please little creatures. “Giants are highly resistant to all forms of magic – except one,” Harry continued. “House elf magic is defensive in nature, but when their dwelling is threatened they can be fierce. As soon as the first giant attacked the castle, the house elves snapped their fingers and they were all thrown back into the Forest. It didn’t take them too long to get the message.”

Hermione laughed and clapped her hands in delight. “So then it was all over?” she persisted.

Harry described how Shacklebolt and his Auror force had retaken the Ministry the next day, with minimal resistance. At one of the goblins’ suggestion, they had mounted Voldemort’s head on a pike and displayed it in the busiest part of Diagon Alley, right in front of Gringotts. That act had established the finality of his defeat most convincingly. That, along with the photo of Harry, sword in one hand and wand in the other, standing triumphantly over his foe’s headless body. It had filled the top half of the front page of the Daily Prophet’s special edition that declared the victory of the Boy Who Lived, now tagged with yet another label - The Hero of the Wizarding World.

He also related how he’d used his now nearly unlimited influence to make certain that all the claims of being under the Imperius Curse made by the defeated dark lord’s suddenly reformed supporters were subjected to confirmation by Veritaserum. And that he had insisted that Remus, Fred and George be awarded Orders of Merlin, First Class for their heroic sacrifices. When there had been resistance from the reconstituted Wizengamot to bestowing such an honor on a werewolf, he’d exploded in anger. They’d quickly relented.

Hermione chuckled, picturing the scene. Although she herself could never fear that blazing look of grim determination in Harry’s eyes, she was now aware of its effect on the rest of the wizarding world. It buckled the knees of most wizards (and many witches, but for an entirely different reason).

He skimmed over the celebrations and awards for himself, and focused on all the funerals and memorial services for those who had been killed, or simply disappeared without a trace, during the year long nightmare. He also revealed that Luna was in the long-term care ward at St. Mungo’s, just like Neville’s parents from the first Voldemort war. Adding to the heartbreak, her father, when he heard what had been done to her, had lost his mind as well. The two of them were housed together, occupying a world entirely separate from reality.

“It wasn’t too long before I was completely overwhelmed with everything,” he confessed. “I wanted to just go somewhere and hide, maybe leave the wizarding world completely – at least the parts where I was so well known. But Fleur and McGonagall weren’t having any of that. McGonagall brought me to Hogwarts and put me up in the staff quarters here. The Ministry announced that they were granting me honorary NEWTs, but she put her foot down on that one. She said that eventually I would feel bad for not having earned them.” Hermione nodded her agreement with that assertion, and Harry shrugged, acknowledging the point.

“I took the NEWT for Defense immediately, and scored an easy O,” he informed her with a touch of pride. “For the upcoming term she made me an assistant professor for DADA, along with an Auror that Shacklebolt loaned us. By the end of the year I had taken over the whole course, all seven years, and I’ve had the job ever since. During that year I studied the other subjects, and that spring I took the NEWTs for Transfiguration, Charms, Arithmancy, and Ancient Runes. I got two O’s and two E’s,” he added before she could ask, chuckling at being able to anticipate her. She shot him a mock glare and they both laughed.

“And that brings us up to now,” he concluded.

She had one more question. “And what exactly is the significance of you being the Master of Death?” she wondered.

“You mean, besides the fact that I get discounts at wizarding establishments all across Britain and parts of the continent?” he smirked. Her response to this was a quick elbow to his ribs.

“You make it sound like a credit card commercial!” she complained.

“Actually, not much,” he explained. “It turns out that the legend was entirely speculative. I use the Wand for the heavy lifting, and the Cloak when I want some privacy, and keep the Stone hidden away where no one will ever find it.”

“That’s it?” she exclaimed in disbelief.

“Pretty much,” he assured her. “It’s not like I sit down to have tea with Death on a regular basis or anything.”

She rolled her eyes but said no more, and the two of them settled back into a comfortable cuddle. Harry found himself filled with an inner peace that he hadn’t experienced in years, if ever.

“I love you,” he whispered after a few minutes.

“I love you too,” she responded promptly, punctuating her reply with quick kiss.

But he had more to say. “I need you,” he declared fervently. “Over the past two weeks I’ve come to realize just how much I needed you. But my fear has been that if you realized how desperate I was that it would scare you off.”

Hermione wiped a tear from her eye. “I’m still here and I’m not ever going to leave,” she vowed. This led directly into a passionate embrace.

Eventually they relinquished their tight holds on each other. Harry had an idea, and leaned back to ask a question. “Do you want to stop by your parents’ house before the ball?” Hermione returned a puzzled look. “You know, so they can take pictures and stuff,” he clarified.

Hermione, thrilled that he could be so thoughtful, even after the emotion-filled past several hours, gave him a tender kiss. “I love you,” she whispered.

“I love you too,” he replied with one last hug. Then he stood, and helped her to her feet. “Time to go get ready for the ball.”

A large grin broke out on Harry’s face as they walked hand in hand toward the castle. “You know,” he announced with immense satisfaction. “This is the first one of these that I’ve ever looked forward to.”

-xox-XOX-XOX-xox

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Author Notes:

(1) It’s hard to see any other reason for Alecto and AmycusCarrow being installed as professors during the occupation in Book 7.

(2) Star Wars, Episode II: Attack of the Clones was released in May, 2002, a year and two months prior to the time of this story.

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