DISCLAIMER: The Harry Potter series and all the characters associated with it are the property solely of J. K. Rowling, her agents and publishers. No infringement of any rights is intended from the creation of this story. Nor is any money being made from it.


Circles of Power

Epilogue

By Mad Martha

       

One of them had been baking and, as Sirius's main criteria for good food was that it should be edible, Harry had no qualms in ascribing the smell of cinnamon and brown sugar to Remus's efforts in the kitchen. Other than that, the house was very quiet and still when he dropped out of the Floo, with nothing to suggest that either man was at home.

Summer was still in its last gasps, though, and Harry walked through the kitchen where a tray of biscuits lay cooling on a rack, and out into the back garden. Lupin was nowhere to be seen but Sirius was sprawled out on one of two steamer chairs at the edge of the lawn, with a handkerchief over his face. There was a small, low table between the chairs bearing a very large jug full of home-made lemonade and ice cubes and two tall glasses.

"This is very civilised," Harry commented amiably. He dropped down onto the empty chair and looked at his godfather. "Are you awake?"

Sirius grunted.

"That's okay. There's no hurry." Harry put the little book he was carrying onto the table and leaned back in the chair, swinging his legs up. It was very comfortable, so he followed his godfather's example and allowed himself to doze.

When he awoke again, Sirius was sitting up and examining the book. He glanced up when Harry stirred.

"I poured you some lemonade."

"Thanks." Harry sat up and picked up the glass. "Where's Remus?"

"In the village, having tea with a lady werewolf who moved in a few weeks ago."

"Seriously? Good for Remus."

"That's what I thought. About time he started living a little." Sirius smiled for a moment, then his eyes went back to the book and it slipped a little. "Where did you find this?"

"In the library at Hogwarts," Harry replied. He sipped his drink, watching Sirius cautiously.

The older man sighed. "I take it this is what made you try to immolate yourself on the altar of Voldemort's demise."

"You recognise it?" It wasn't really a question. "Do you know where my mum got it from?"

"I imagine you can work that one out for yourself."

"Well ... I did wonder if Snape gave it to her," Harry admitted, "but I couldn't think why he would or why she would accept it."

Sirius gave him a sharp look when he said this, but returned to considering the battered, ugly little copy of The Forbidden Artes.

"What made you think that?" he asked eventually.

Harry shrugged. "It just occurred to me that she probably knew him quite well. She took extra study sessions with him at school, didn't she?"

"You've been doing some research," Sirius remarked, but the grin that accompanied this was his usual crooked grin, amused. "About time."

"Yeah - don't tell Hermione, she'll pass out from shock." Harry waited patiently until the silence seemed to drag on too long. "So?" he prompted. "Did she know him?"

"They were friends." Sirius stopped and shook his head. "I take that back. Lily was Snape's friend but Snape seemed to think that it was just a prelude to something better. Of course, it didn't work out that way and he took it rather badly. But for a while they were close. I suppose that must be when he gave her this."

"So he fancied her." Harried pondered this. "I don't get it. What about all that 'pureblood supremacy versus mudbloods' stuff that the Slytherins all seem so fond of? Mum was Muggle-born and the Snapes are a prominent pureblood family."

Sirius smiled, but it didn't quite meet his eyes. "Harry, you learned all about Voldemort's manifesto when you started your Auror training. There's nothing in there that says a pureblood wizard can't have a bit of fun on the side with mudbloods and Muggles - hell, that's all they're good for. They're just not for marrying. Remember? Purebloods at the top of society. Half-bloods and Muggle-born wizards in the middle. Muggles providing the slave labour."

There was a tricky pause.

Sirius sighed, lowering his head. "Okay. I'll try to be fair. Perhaps he was genuinely in love with her." Another pause during which his jaw clenched and unclenched, before he conceded, "Okay, he was in love with her. It was very easy to love Lily. She was beautiful and sweet and fun. And so intelligent. James was a very lucky man and Snape never forgave him for that."

"That explains Snape and my dad," Harry said. "What about you and Snape? And Remus?"

Sirius raised his brows. "He hates Remus for being a werewolf. Well actually, he just hates werewolves. He's not alone in that, as you know. And he hates me for nearly making werewolf food of him."

Harry smiled slightly. "See, this is where I have a problem with the story. I can understand him bearing a grudge because of that, but it doesn't explain why the pair of you loathe each other so much. I mean, I can tell he doesn't like Remus because he's a werewolf, but these days they at least make an effort to be civil to each other. But you and Snape don't even try - in fact, you try to kill each other at every opportunity."

Sirius sighed again. "Well, you know, I did needle him a bit at school. More than a bit. Quite a lot, actually."

"By the sound of things, all four of you did. But it's only you and Dad he - " Harry stopped and stared at Sirius, who couldn't quite look at him. Then he wondered why this possibility hadn't occurred to him before. "He hated Dad because of Mum. Is that why he hated you, too?"

"You could say that things were made worse because Snape and I had some things in common," Sirius conceded reluctantly. "We both have tempers and bear grudges. And we both loved Lily. Which was unfortunate really."

Harry regarded him with fascination. "But you never fell out with Dad."

"Well, of course not!" His godfather looked offended. "He was my best friend! And besides, he wasn't an insinuating little swine about it like Snape was." Then a small grin dawned. "Mind you, it was a close thing for - oh! - all of ten minutes, when I found out." More briskly, he added, "I never stood a chance and knew it. Someone like Lily wasn't going to be interested in the class clown. It's one thing to make a girl laugh, but you have to know when to stop. Well, look at the Weasley twins! No girl's going to stand for being goosed by a pair of chattering teeth more than once."

The image made Harry snort with laughter, but his mind was busy with this interesting new information about Sirius.

"So that's it?" he pressed. "It's all just jealousy over my mum?"

"Just? Isn't that enough?" Sirius laughed softly. "I keep forgetting - to the man who killed Voldemort, things like that must seem very small by comparison!"

His tone was teasing, and Harry responded by throwing ice cubes from the lemonade jug at him.

"It was that on top of a whole lot of other things. The incident with Remus. The exploding quill. The incontinence curse. The - "

"Okay, I get the idea!" Harry shook his head.

"The thing with Lily was worse because we never let each other forget it," Sirius said, more quietly. "He never let me forget that my best friend made off with her right under my nose. And I never let him forget that he was a greasy-haired creep of a Slytherin whose pure blood wasn't enough to attract a beautiful person like Lily. That she preferred the rich, handsome, intelligent Quidditch champion and Head Boy. And if you don't know how bitter it is to have your nose rubbed in something like that, Harry, then I hope to God you never find out. God knows, I've regretted doing it enough since. The Snapes lost most of their wealth and prestige by throwing in their lot with Grindelwald before he was born, and Severus was practically a charity student."

"You obviously didn't regret it enough to bury the hatchet," Harry observed before he could stop himself.

But Sirius only looked sad. "He wouldn't accept that, Harry, don't you see? Too proud, too defensive - you've seen what that's like yourself, in Ron. It's what makes Snape the person he is. By the time I was old enough and mature enough to regret everything, it was far too late. If I tried to apologise to Snape now, he wouldn't just not accept it - he'd probably take offense. It's far easier for us both to be - " He visibly hunted for a word, and Harry supplied it for him.

"Beloved enemies?"

"Not even that," Sirius said dryly. "Harry, he still blames me for your mother's death. Since I can't really disagree with him on that score well."

"Sirius, you aren't to blame for Mum and Dad's deaths!"

"We'll have to agree to disagree on that," was Sirius's calm response, and before Harry could summon an argument, his godfather changed the subject. "How are those wounds on your arms? I see you still have dressings on them."

"Oh. That." Harry rubbed at the bandages a little irritably. "They're okay. I think the doctor's only making me keep them wrapped up as a precaution." Actually, he was heartily embarrassed by the attention the wounds were receiving and couldn't wait to get rid of the dressings.

The previous month had seen the bulk of the post-war funerals, including that of Cornelius Fudge. Harry had attended as a matter of course, but embarrassingly the cuts on his left arm and right wrist, which everyone had thought fully healed, chose to break open during the middle of the service. Molly Weasley had used an emergency charm to stop the bleeding and given him a dose of All-Heal Potion at the wake afterwards, and they'd all thought that was the end of the matter.

Unfortunately, the same thing happened less than a week later in the middle of Lucius Malfoy's preliminary hearing before the Court of Magical Law. As a piece of positive propaganda Harry supposed it couldn't be bettered, but he was nevertheless mortified by the fuss it caused, especially when the healing charm (performed by Lupin this time) failed and he had to leave the chamber to seek assistance. The upshot was two nights spent in St. Mungo's and a week of headlines in all the major wizard newspapers. He and Ron had finally escaped to the Burrow until the reporters' interest turned to something else.

"Hm." Sirius didn't look convinced. "Just be careful, Harry."

"I am, honestly. Besides, they didn't give me any problems during my Quidditch trials."

Sirius snorted. "Oh well! So long as they didn't interfere with anything important ."

"Those trials were important," Harry said indignantly.

"I'm just teasing you! Have you made a decision about accepting the Order of Merlin yet?"

Harry frowned. "I haven't changed my mind, Sirius. I'm fed up of being famous for killing Voldemort."

"Harry I know you hate it, but people need heroes and, like it or not, you're the best candidate."

"I'm not. Why don't they give Ron a medal - he was the one who brought me back to life and got us all out of that castle. Or Draco, for that matter. Better still - " and Harry's voice wobbled slightly, "better still, they can give Orders of Merlin to my Mum and Dad for saving my life the first time around."

"It doesn't work like that, I'm afraid," was Sirius's regretful reply.

"Please tell me we didn't lose Fudge only to put someone equally fatuous and useless in his place."

Lewis Castell was interim Minister until the purge at the Ministry was finished and elections could be held.

At this, Sirius grinned a little. "Harry, all politicians are fatuous, didn't you know that?"

Harry grunted. "Well, this is nice but I can't hang around all afternoon. I'm supposed to be meeting Ron and Draco. Will you be at the party at the Burrow tonight?"

"Yep. Remus too."

"I'll see you there, then." Harry was about to stand up, but paused. "Sirius?"

His godfather looked at him.

"Thanks for telling me all that about Mum and Snape," Harry said awkwardly. "I know you didn't want to, but "

"It's your right to know it," Sirius said quietly. "I should have told you a long time ago. It isn't right for any of us to withhold information about James and Lily from you when you have so little of them to hold on to. Okay, when you were at school you were still young enough that you probably would have misunderstood some things, or found them difficult to deal with, but things like this," he tapped the book, "I could have told you when you left school. I didn't because I was still uncomfortable about it, and that's just not a good enough excuse."

"I always understood your reasons," Harry told him.

Sirius smiled. "Then you're a better man than I am ... but I knew that all along."

       

"I can't describe how good it feels to finally get rid of that damn Seal of Honour," Draco commented, as the three of them pushed their way through the overgrown plants and clinging foliage.

"You and me both," Ron replied, "although I wish it would stop itching ...." And he reached around to scratch his shoulder for what seemed like the hundredth time since the Seal had been formally removed earlier that day.

"What I don't understand," Harry said thoughtfully, "was why the Seal didn't activate when Voldemort made you summon Grindelwald. Necromancy is a Dark Art, after all."

"I asked Dumbledore that. He said he thought it was probably a borderline case that necromancy is only considered a Dark Art because there are so few good purposes it can be used for, and that it wasn't like I was the one with evil intentions when I raised Grindelwald."

"Sounds a bit unlikely to me," Draco observed.

Ron shrugged. "I don't know that I'm convinced either," he admitted, "but I think that's the best explanation I'm going to get. Not that I'm complaining, you understand. I can't say that I'm looking forward to clairvoyancy lessons with Gran much, but Dumbledore's right I need to control it before it starts controlling me."

The silence that followed this was broken by Draco saying, "You definitely need to use a few shearing charms on this garden, Harry."

"One thing at a time," Harry replied, "and we're here."

They stepped out onto the well-weathered remains of a gravel path in front of the shattered ruins of Harry's parents' house. The three of them studied it for a moment, Draco in particular for he had never been here before.

"Thorough job," he commented finally. "Amazing how strong the curse residue is .... We'll need to take some of the safety wards down while we work."

"But what do you reckon?" Harry asked him. "Do you think we can neutralise it?"

"Let's put it this way," the blond wizard said, "if we can't, then no one can. As I see it, the main problem is that your mother anchored her protection spells with blood magic. I think the Avada Kedavra curse got caught in the web of the protection spells and that's why it's still fixed tight. The people who tried to clean it in the past didn't know that, though, so that's why they weren't able to clean it, but at least we know where to start."

"Let's do it, then," Ron said.

But Draco didn't move. He was looking at Harry with a curious expression. "Can I ask what you're planning to do when we've neutralised it?"

Harry smiled. "Actually, we were thinking of rebuilding the house."

"It's about time we got somewhere of our own," added Ron. "If I have to spend much longer under the same roof as Seamus, I think I'll go nuts. Either he's flinching around us, or he's trying too hard to be chummy. We're better off in our own place."

Draco looked mildly surprised. "Well, I suppose it's a nice enough spot. Your bank vault really must be bottomless though - "

"We're going halves," Harry told him, amused.

The other man shot him a disbelieving look, then glanced at Ron and his eyes widened. "Do I want to know how?"

Ron just grinned. "Let's just say I won a share in a lottery jackpot."

Which wasn't so far from the truth; a letter had arrived for him, the day after all the excitement at Hogwarts, which had turned out to be from the Muggle magazine whose quiz he had entered back in August. Ron hadn't won the prize outright, but shared it with a handful of other people. The amount was still a pleasantly tidy sum, though, especially when it was converted into Galleons.

"Just out of curiosity," Harry said hastily, "what are you planning to do? I overheard you talking to Moody about quitting the Aurors."

"Oh, I have a few ideas," Draco replied confidently. "Actually, Ron, since your brother seems determined to run for Minister in the upcoming elections, I've decided to take Harry up on a frivolous suggestion he once made and offer myself to Percy as a campaign advisor. He'll fail miserably, of course, but it'll get me noticed by all the right people and be good practice for a campaign I intend to mastermind in a few years' time."

"You want to run for Minister one day?" Ron clearly didn't know whether to laugh or look impressed.

"Not likely!" Draco snorted. "No, it's much more interesting working behind the scenes. And I firmly intend to work behind the scenes for a particular Minister." He glanced at Harry and smiled slyly at his confused expression. A sudden snicker from Ron suggested that he'd got it, though. "I assume," he continued, to Harry, "that the appalling t-shirt means you've come to a decision about your future?"

Harry looked down at the bright orange Chudley Cannons t-shirt he was wearing. "What's wrong with it?"

"Nothing only that the colour suits you almost as little as it suits Ron. Why did you pick the Cannons?"

Harry glanced at his partner for a moment. Ron had accompanied him to both of his try-outs, to provide moral support; and while both had been highly successful, it could not be said that the Wigtown Wanderers had been particularly accepting of the news that their prospective new Seeker lived with another man. The Cannons, on the other hand, had not only accepted it but had insisted on involving Ron in everything. They might be the less successful team, with shabbier facilities, but they made up for these deficiencies with an all-encompassing warmth that reminded Harry of rambunctious family gatherings at the Burrow. It hadn't been a difficult choice to make.

But as he was fairly sure Draco wouldn't understand that reason, he merely said, "Let's just say that I look forward to the challenge."

"They won't know what's hit them," was Draco's slightly cynical reply, but he was amused rather than critical. "When do you start training?"

"A week on Monday." Harry grinned wryly. "And no, I am not looking forward to that conversation with Moody!"

"He doesn't know yet?"

"No, but I'll have to tell him, because he's making grand plans to involve me in all sorts of clean-up duties." Harry's shudder was only partly feigned. Now that he finally had the opportunity to do what he wanted with his life, he could admit to himself that he really didn't want to be an Auror at all.

Nor was he the only one. Although he was staying with the Aurors for the time being, Remus Lupin had expressed an interest in returning to Hogwarts as the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher now that the new potion ensured he was entirely safe. Only recently, Cho Chang had confided to Draco (with whom she was definitely becoming rather friendly) that she was considering quitting and starting her own magical security company. Even people like Hermione and Sirius were looking thoughtful about their careers these days.

But the change that was creating the biggest shock-waves throughout the magical world was the news that Professor Dumbledore was retiring as headmaster of Hogwarts. Professor McGonagall would be taking over from him at Christmas.

Harry wasn't at all surprised. Although the professor had seemingly recovered well from his ordeal at the hands of Voldemort and Avery, it had inevitably taken its toll upon such an elderly man. He had told Harry one day, during a quiet walk around the gardens of Hogwarts, that he wanted an opportunity to explore his other interests before he "took on the next and final challenge".

And though he would be sad to see him step down, Harry had privately been very relieved.

"Let's get on with this, shall we?" Ron said, breaking into his thoughts. "Don't forget we have Percy's engagement party tonight."

"Let's do it, then," said Draco with a nod, and they took up their positions in the middle of the ruins

       

The Burrow was heaving with people by the time they arrived. The whole Weasley family was in attendance and Percy's prospective in-laws, the Clearwaters, had also made a respectable showing. On top of that were the inevitable friends and gatecrashers Mrs. Weasley was in her element, bustling around ensuring that everyone was well-fed and enjoying themselves.

Although she wasn't too busy to stop and remonstrate with her youngest son when she clapped eyes on him.

"Oh no, dear," she told him firmly, gesturing to his chin, "that's got to go. Nip up to the bathroom now, you can borrow one of your father's razors."

Ron touched his new, close-cropped beard rather defensively. "What's wrong with it?"

"It's not nice," she said, "unhygienic ...." Fortunately her attention was mostly on other things. She gave Harry a quick peck on the cheek, smiled vaguely at Draco, and bustled away again, muttering about cheese straws.

"Told you so," Draco told Ron, amused. He'd been predicting Mrs. Weasley's displeasure ever since Ron's declaration that he intended to keep his beard.

Ron shrugged irritably. "I'm not shaving it off."

They began to mingle. Cho appeared out of the throng after a minute or two and took Draco off somewhere. Percy was standing with Penelope in front of the living-room fireplace, looking rather less pompous than usual; they were surrounded by guests, so Ron and Harry were able to put off going to congratulate the couple for now, but instead they were seized by one person after another with demands to hear the story about Voldemort's demise and their escape. Finally, they were forced to escape into Mr. Weasley's study, where the man himself was sitting with Dumbledore and a few others.

Mr. Weasley turned a waste paper basket and an encyclopaedia into two new chairs and the pair sat down with relief.

"It's bedlam out there," Ron commented, fanning himself with an old magazine from a pile by his father's desk.

"If I get one more request to explain how I survived ...." Harry complained, and he sighed. "I'm starting to think people would have preferred me to die."

"More poetic that way," Sirius told him, nodding sagely. He was stretched out in a chair next to Dumbledore, with his feet propped on a boot-scraper. Harry puzzled for a moment as to why Mr. Weasley would want a boot-scraper in his study, then decided he didn't need to know.

"I knew there was a reason I never liked poetry," he remarked. "If the rest of the wizarding world is going to be this morbidly curious though .... I suppose I'm going to have to do that interview with Modern Warlock now, just to shut everyone up."

"It won't, of course, but it's worth a try," Remus Lupin told him. "How do the Chudley Cannons feel about your renewed fame?"

Harry began to grin. "I don't think they're really bothered about it one way or the other," he said, and he glanced at Ron. "What did you make of them?"

Ron chuckled. "If it's not Quidditch they're not interested! The impression I got was that they only noticed the latest Death Eater attacks because it forced them to postpone their match with the Caerphilly Catapults. They thought they were going to win," he added rather fondly.

This was met with one or two laughs from around the room, to which he glared half-heartedly.

"According to Oliver Wood, they always think they're going to win," Harry commented, "and it comes as a big surprise to them when they don't." Then he grinned and stretched, cracking his knuckles. "Well, you never know!"

This got an even bigger laugh, and Bill Weasley gave him a gentle shove with one foot.

"Confident are we?" he grinned.

"Speaking of confidence," Arthur Weasley said, when the laughter had died down, "just how confident are you that you're going to keep that beard, Ron?"

Ron glanced at his eldest brother, who still defied his mother with nearly waist-length hair and an earring. "I'm not shaving it off, no matter what Mum says."

"She'll hex it off you," Bill predicted.

"Glad you warned me." And Ron amused them all very much by placing a small protective ward over his chin.

"You've a little way to go before you can really join the noble brotherhood of bearded wizards," Dumbledore told him, eyes twinkling, and his stroked his own white beard with his fingertips.

Ron grinned. "I don't think I'm ready for a beard like that yet, Professor."

"And I know I'm not!" Harry added, causing more chuckles.

"So where's Draco?" Sirius wanted to know. "Didn't he come with you?"

"I think he's making up to Percy," said Harry, wryly. "He's got a grand plan of masterminding his take-over of the Ministry."

"He'll be disappointed," Mr. Weasley commented, shaking his head. "I admire Percy's ambition, but twenty-six is far too young to have a hope of being elected. Especially in the current climate. Have you seen the stories circulating in the newspapers? The complete history of Voldemort's life no one's going to fancy putting someone young and ambitious into power for quite a while yet, after that. No, between you and me, I think Lewis Castell will have his chance this time, especially with Ms. Houpner-Merdie in custody."

"Oh, I don't think Draco believes Percy'll get in either, but he wants the practice. He has some plan for the future." Harry shrugged. "God knows what."

Ron hid a grin.

       

Later, the two of them grabbed Hermione and raided the snacks table, and the three of them sneaked outside to eat their loot in the privacy and quiet of the back garden. The sun was just starting to show signs of going down and a handful of gnomes were playing leapfrog with real frogs by the pond.

Hermione was looking better now than when they'd seen her the day after the Hogwarts incident. She had fractured her left arm during a battle with some of the Death Eaters, so badly that it had been dangerous to heal it entirely with magic. The arm was still in a sling, but the cast had been removed and she was using her hand again.

She caught Harry staring at it and smiled. "The sling's just a precaution," she assured him. "It's mostly healed now I just have to be careful I don't try to do too much with it yet."

"That's good," he said, relieved. "By the way, I like what you've done with your hair."

The short bob she'd been left with after her earlier head injury was now a cap of gleaming brown curls that suited the soft curves of her face. She beamed.

"I think Fred and George got at the snacks," Ron commented after a minute or two.

The crudités were quietly muttering obscenities as the three of them dunked them in the onion dip and crunched them, and the cheese straws screamed as they were bitten into. Harry hadn't dared venture a vol-au-vent or sausage roll yet, although the tiny cucumber sandwiches seemed harmless enough.

"Percy looks happy," Hermione said. "Mind you, it's about time he and Penny got married."

For once, Ron was inclined to be generous about Percy. "Actually, I think it was her holding things up. I get the impression she wanted to see if he'd go any further at the Ministry before she made a decision. Of course, with Fudge and so many other gone, there are going to be a lot of opportunities, even if he doesn't get elected this time around."

"That's a bit cold-blooded of her," Harry observed.

Hermione shrugged. "Maybe it's practical. She's Muggleborn after all, and I get the impression that her family aren't wealthy. Someone has to be practical in a relationship." She paused, fiddling with the pastry crust from a slice of quiche. "By the way, I've got something to tell you both."

They were instantly all attention. Hermione gave them an odd little smile.

"Viktor and I are getting engaged eek! Mind the drinks!"

The two of them had pounced on her, smothering her with hugs and kisses.

"That's excellent!" Harry told her, grinning.

"And about bloody time!" laughed Ron.

"Well, with you two putting such a sterling example of fidelity in front of me, I decided I might as well," she teased. "Just don't say anything yet, will you? This is Percy and Penny's day, and besides, we haven't had time to break the news to my parents or Viktor's yet. But my birthday's in a week or so - "

"We hadn't forgotten!" Ron told her, rolling his eyes.

" So that would be a good time to make an announcement."

"When do you plan to hold the wedding?" Harry wanted to know.

It was Hermione's turn to roll her eyes. "I don't know, Harry, we haven't had a chance to think that far ahead! But after everything that's happened, I don't feel like waiting and neither does Viktor, so it could be sooner than you think!"

Ron and Harry exchanged amused looks over the top of her head. It was typical of Hermione to drag it all out and then suddenly decide that she wanted to get on with things right now. Fortunately, Krum was easygoing enough to take it in his stride. Besides, as a Seeker he knew when to wait and when to make a swift move; he had probably decided to grab Hermione before she had a chance to over-analyse the situation again.

"It's a pity the two of you can't get married as well," she said then, a tiny mischievous smile on her lips.

Harry snorted. "We don't need a ceremony, Hermione! Even if it was legal."

She wrinkled her nose. "Seems a bit unfair, if you ask me."

Ron was grinning. "Tell you what we'll get Draco onto it when he finally gets this Minister of his elected."

Harry and Hermione laughed.

There was a long period of quiet between the three of them then, as they all contemplated the future. Harry, in particular, was very content with life, which seemed to be going entirely in the right direction at last. Voldemort was gone permanently and, apart from some mopping up, the Death Eaters were mostly caught or dead. Cornelius Fudge's death, while regrettable, left the Ministry with an opportunity to finally pull itself together and do some real good for the wizarding world. And good people like Hermione and Krum were setting out on new, bright, promising lives.

All was well with the world.

"It's weird, isn't it," Ron said quietly then. "It doesn't seem like more than a minute ago that we all met for the first time on the train to Hogwarts. And yet it seems like we've been through a whole bloody lifetime or more of ups and downs since then."

"By the law of averages, then," Hermione commented, "we should be able to expect quiet lives from now on."

There was a pause. The three of them looked at each other.

Then they all grinned.

"Nah!"

 

- REALLY THE END -


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