The Hogwarts Express pulled into Platform 9 3/4 with a loud
screeching of brakes and a great puff of smoke. Before it had even come
to a complete stop, students were gathering their belongings and
standing in huge queues in the corridor, waiting for the porters to
open the carriage doors. Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron
Weasley were three of the last to do so. The corridors had almost
cleared before any of them even moved from their compartment.
was their last ride on the school train. Just a week or so before, they
had finished their N.E.W.T.s (Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests) and
thus, their magical education had ended. They were now fully-qualified
Harry followed the other two out of their
compartment, looking around with a sigh. Some of the best times of his
life had been intimately connected with this train, either on the rides
themselves or at the school to which the train had delivered him. Or,
on one memorable occasion, in a flying car above the train—but that
occasion was perhaps best forgotten.
"Coming, Harry?" Hermione asked.
Getting a better grasp on the handle of his trunk and the top of
Hedwig's cage, he heaved them out of the compartment, down the short
passage, and off the train. Ron already had a trolley for him, and he
placed his trunk down first, Hedwig atop it. "Merlin," he said, looking
again at the huge red locomotive, "seven years ago, this day seemed so
far off. This doesn't even feel real."
"I know what you mean," Ron said sympathetically. He knew Harry didn't mean only the end of their school days at Hogwarts.
"How's your side?" Hermione asked. "Didn't pull anything loose hefting that trunk down, did you?"
it's all right." He touched his left side, where a bandage stretched
from the top of his ribcage almost to his hip joint, remnants of a
curse that he had barely ducked in that last, cataclysmic battle with
Voldemort. Madam Pomfrey, the school nurse, had not been pleased to see
him out of bed and back in the world of Hogwarts by the end of school,
but Headmistress McGonagall had been firm: it was time Harry was up and
Headmistress McGonagall. Another change to get used to.
Harry started, coming up out of his reverie. "Oh—sorry," he said. "I was just—"
"Thinking," Ron finished for him. "That's all you've done for three months, mate. Are you sure you're okay?"
sure." As sure as he could be. He'd spent most of the time since waking
up in hospital either studying for his N.E.W.T.s, which he had forced
himself to take, or else remembering that horrific battle—the slitted,
glittering eyes of Voldemort, reembodied and larger than life; the
cowled figures of Death Eaters standing in a huge semicircle behind
their master; the night sky lit with flung curses and explosions; the
open, staring eyes of Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, whose
once-superhuman knowledge and strength had not, at the last, been quite
enough; the canine shriek of his godfather, Sirius, who had caught the
curse Harry had ducked and been flung backwards, transforming back into
a human with his dying breath….
Ron snapped his fingers under Harry's nose. "Come out of it, Harry!" His voice was rough with suppressed fear for his friend.
Harry blinked, suddenly back in the present.
"Harry," Hermione said nervously, "I'm really not sure—"
"I'm all right,
dammit!" Harry snapped. Hermione flinched back, and he felt a sudden
surge of guilt. "I'm sorry, Hermione," he said, looking down and
rubbing the back of his neck.
"Look, Harry," Ron said
uneasily, "we could take you back to the Burrow tonight, and then get a
Ministry car or something tomorrow to take you to your aunt and uncle's
to pick up the last of your things. You don't have to go there now."
Not like this. Not so vulnerable. Not so jumpy. Not so angry. Not so alone.
felt a sudden surge of gratitude toward his friend. "Thanks, Ron," he
said, "but I think I'd better get it over with, y'know? I can stand one
night." He gave a mirthless laugh. "It's not as though I need them to
protect me from Voldemort anymore, do I?"
"No," Ron said
slowly, looking at Harry with a strange expression on his face. "But
then, since you've known who and what you are, I don't reckon you ever
really have." He ignored Harry and Hermione's startled looks and began
trundling his own trolley toward the exit from the platform. "Come on,"
he said, "or your aunt and uncle might well have given you up and gone
Passing through the barrier was a matter of only a
moment or two, and then there stood Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, in
all their mouth-pursed disapproval. "About time!" Uncle Vernon barked,
as he always did. "Well, come on, boy. We haven't got all day."
moved toward them without a backward glance. He could feel Hermione's
and Ron's eyes on his back, but he knew if he looked at them, he'd do
something he shouldn't. He had one more night there, he told himself.
One more. And then he would never have to lay eyes on his "family"
The ride back to the Dursleys' was absolutely silent.
Harry suspected they were trying to make him uncomfortable. It rankled
that he should have gone through everything he had in the past few
months, that he and so many others should have lost so much, and still
the Dursleys' focus was simply to try to make his life miserable.
hauled his belongings up the stairs without magic, avoiding both Dudley
(who had not come to meet him at the train, mainly because the
seatbelts in the back of the Dursleys' van wouldn't fit him any more)
and Dudley's parents along the way. In his room, rather than unpacking
everything, he began opening drawers and going through them, finding
things that he thought he wanted to keep. There wasn't much; most of
his real possessions were already packed in his Hogwarts trunk. All
that remained in his room at the Dursleys' was some Muggle clothing,
most of which was far too big for him, as it had once belonged to
But he was of age now; he could do magic outside of
Hogwarts, and he was certain that at some point he'd need Muggle
clothing in order to blend in when stepping outside the wizarding
world. Accordingly, he pointed his wand at several of the
better-preserved specimens of jeans and sweatshirts and muttered, "Reducio."
The clothing shrank to a proper size, and he packed it into his trunk.
He added an extra pair of shoes and an alarm clock that had once
belonged to Dudley, and he was packed. He sighed, sitting down on his
bed next to the trunk. An entire lifetime's worth of possessions, he mused, and they all fit in one student trunk.
"BOY!" bellowed Uncle Vernon. "You'd better get down here and help your aunt with dinner RIGHT NOW!"
rolled his eyes and called, "Coming!" He put his wand into his trunk
and started to close the lid, then thought better of it. Instead, he
pulled his wand back out, locked the trunk with a muttered spell, and
tucked his wand in his back pocket, pulling his sweatshirt down to
cover it. Now that he could use it no matter where he was, he had no
intention of ever being unarmed. He just hoped he could manage to keep
himself from doing something irrevocable before leaving tomorrow
Dinner was even more uncomfortable than the ride back
from King's Cross, but Harry almost didn't mind. He'd be leaving the
Dursleys' forever in just a few hours, and the rest of his life
stretched before him in a wonder of possibilities, each better than the
last. Though one possibility, once almost a certainty in his life, he
hadn't thought of for some time.
he got up from the table and did the dishes of his own accord, without
having to be bellowed at. Not because he felt it was his duty, but
because it was something to do before going back to his room, to the
emptiness of the hours between now and nine o'clock tomorrow morning.
Ron had been right: he'd spent too much of the last three months
thinking, reliving the past, as though he could force himself to see
something good in it, some reason for it. There was no reason, he thought bitterly. Hot water nearly scalded his hands as he rinsed a dish. No
reason at all for so many good people to have suffered so badly at the
hands of so few. I should feel good about what I've done. I should feel
as though I've accomplished something amazing. All I can remember are
the screams and the pain and the terror and the death around me.
And Ginny. Always Ginny.
cleaned even to Aunt Petunia's satisfaction, he had little choice
beyond watching television with the Dursleys or going upstairs to his
empty room. He climbed the stairs slowly and let himself in, shutting
the door quietly behind him. His trunk lay packed; he levitated it up
off the bed and onto the floor at the footboard. Hedwig sat in her
cage, clicking her beak with anticipation and looking out at the night
"Want out, do you, Hedwig?" he asked. He opened her
cage and took her onto his wrist, moving toward the window. "I'll be at
the Burrow when you get back," he told her, scratching between her
feathers at the back of her neck. She made a little sound of
contentment. "We won't ever have to come here again, Hedwig. I promise."
opened the window and gave her a little toss to help her get airborne,
as her wings were too big to fit through the window itself. She soared
up toward the moon, and he watched until he could no longer see her
silhouette against it, then slowly drew his head in and shut the window
again. He lay down on his bed, staring at the dark ceiling, but not
really seeing it. For the first time in months, he cast his mind back
beyond the Last Battle, as it was now being called, and to the Hogwarts
he remembered, before the siege of Hogsmeade.
was an ordinary September in Gryffindor Tower. Students were engaged in
various stages of homework. Seventh-years were easily recognisable by
the stacks of books surrounding them and their peevish answers whenever
they were interrupted. N.E.W.T.s were only a few months away, and the
teachers knew it; the workload they had piled on the seventh-years was
nearly twice what the students had ever had before in their lives.
glanced up from a History of Magic essay ("Oh, no! More goblin
rebellions?" Ron had groaned when Professor Binns had assigned it) and
saw a flash of red hair across the room. Ginny was sitting with a
couple of girls from her year, laughing over something on the table,
and she had unconsciously thrown her hair back over her shoulder. He
watched as she leaned her chin on her left hand and looked
mischievously at the girl who sat across from her. He couldn't tell
what she was saying, but it was obviously something pithy and probably
off-colour to boot, for they howled with laughter.
sure when he had first begun noticing her. Somehow, without his
realizing, she had gone from being Ron's annoying little sister with
the rather embarrassing crush on him, to a lovely young lady, poised,
bright, and with a sense of mischief that at least equaled that of her
Over the final two weeks of the summer, when Harry had at
last come to visit, the two of them had begun talking. It had been
surprisingly easy to talk to her. Those brown eyes could switch from
flashing fury to twinkling amusement to deep pools of serious concern
with no warning. By the time they had all boarded the school train for
his last trip to Hogwarts, he was well on his way to being fascinated.
Only two things held him back: fear of Ron's reaction to Harry's
attraction to his baby sister, and uncertainty a