The Boy Who Lived had succeeded. There were people everywhere at Hogwarts now that it was all over. In past days, there might have been a crowd on the grounds, or a crowd in the halls, but now, there seemed no place one could find to settle where it was possible not to get trod upon.
Out in the gardens, new pairings and old walked talked and snuggled amongst the flowers. Death might follow life, but so too would life always follow death. And now that the war was over, life could begin again. Love was finally able to bloom once more, now that Voldemort was dead.
Out on the lawn, family members and friends who had not seen each other since before the final battle, and some for even longer stretches of time, were reuniting. They hugged and kissed each other with tear-stained faces, joyful at seeing one another again, but still feeling the loss of those no longer there with them.
Molly Weasley had had more to lose than most: a husband, seven children, and a daughter-in-law. She had already lost her twin brothers to the first war. Nor had her family remained untouched this time, as she had hoped it might.
Bill, her eldest, had never truly recovered from the wounds he'd received just over a year before. With the battles over, he and his wife had returned to Egypt, where he hoped to be able to forget the events of the war.
Charlie had lost an arm to a well-placed curse. He was wounded, but he would recover. Molly was grateful for that.
Percy had not been so lucky. He had redeemed himself, though his heroism had cost both him and his father their lives. Their heroism had saved countless others, though, and Molly was pleased to be proud of her son once more, even if only in mourning.
Fred had lost an eye in the final battle. Its magical replacement, modeled after Moody's eye made his vision sharper than ever before. Unfortunately, he was too devastated by George's fate to even care. George had been tortured into insanity, and was likely to spend the rest of his days in St Mungo's. Fred had refused to leave his side.
Ginny had been lost in the final battle. It seemed that her body had become the final Horcrux, and Harry had had to kill her to keep Voldemort from returning. Molly had tried to reassure him that she did not blame him for what had happened. The problem was, how do you console someone who had killed his girlfriend to rid the world of a maniacal Dark wizard?
Harry had slunk off after the third iteration of, "It's all right, Harry. She wouldn't have blamed you…" leaving Ron alone with his mum. It was obviously a fate worse than death, from the look on her son's face.
She opened her mouth to start on her youngest son, but he spoke over her beginning salvo. "Have you gotten to meet Pansy properly, Mum?" His arm wrapped around the dark-haired girl who had been standing nearby, pulling her forward to meet his mother, almost like a peace-offering.
Pansy, Draco and Blaise had appeared together at Harry's home-base halfway through what would have been their seventh year at Hogwarts. The Slytherin trio had offered various bits of proof exactly which side they were on, including the missing locket Horcrux, and had ended up helping track down the remaining pieces and helped dispose of them. The six students had managed to make peace with each other in hopes of ridding the world of a madman. It had been that close proximity which had brought Pansy and Ron together, and now they were inseparable.
It was something that annoyed Draco Malfoy to no end. He stood, glowering at them, watching Weasley introduce Pansy to his mother. To him, it felt like nothing less than desertion on Pansy's part, leaving him alone in this sea of Gryffindors, Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. It might not have been so bad if Blaise was here, but he was still laid up in the hospital, recovering from a slashing hex that had caught him in the back.
And then things got even worse, because his cousin was approaching him.
Her pink hair made her look like some sort of ridiculous Muggle pop star, he decided with a sneer before responding. "Cousin," he said, barely able to keep a civil tone. "Is there something I can help you with?" Not that he cared. They weren't friendly. Too many years of parental insistence that each was a horrible person simply for being alive. It was impossible not to see each other as the Traitor and the Snob.
She held out a hand that had the same long, slender fingers his mother had had. "Thought maybe we could make a go at burying the family grudge for good, maybe?"
Draco made a face. Did he really want to make peace? Then again, in this new world, could he really afford not to? He took her hand and shook it, though the wariness did not fade in the least.
"I know you won't believe it, Draco, but I'm glad you joined our side in the end. And that you survived. We might not always like the idea, but we are family."
Draco couldn't exactly say the same, but he'd had manners taught to him from the time he could stand on his own. At the very least, he could be gracious to her for a moment or two. "Thank you. I guess we both got lucky."
"I'm sorry about what happened to your mother," she added. "I know Mother always hoped for reconciliation."
Draco didn't particularly like to talk about his mother. It was his fault she had been killed, and her death had been the impetus for his joining the Order and doing all he could to help them rid the world of the creature who had ordered her death.
He wondered how his mother had felt, being estranged from one sister, then losing the other to Azkaban and madness. It had to have been difficult for her. Had she wanted to reconcile with Andromeda? He knew family had been important to her. "I think if Mother were still here, she would have liked that," he said quietly.
Tonks could see she'd upset him, so she tried for a lighter tone. "Guess you'll just have to come meet Mum in her place, eh?" Draco looked horrified at the idea. Before he could protest, she continued, "Though she'll likely want to cut your hair." She tugged on a shoulder-length blond lock.
Draco narrowed his eyes at her. "No one is touching my hair. Father's dead now. I can have it any length I wish." After all, he was the head of his family, even if he was the only one left. Long hair was a mark of distinction. If that woman tried to cut it…
"Whoa, Draco. It was a joke. I promise I'll fend her off for you. Come on, let me get you a drink and we'll plot a plan of attack so that she doesn't chop it all off when your back is turned." She put an arm around Draco's shoulders and steered him past the gardens and up the steps to the Great Hall.
They passed right by Hermione Granger, who had settled on the steps, looking at the two redheads and the brunette who seemed to be chatting quite gaily with the older of the two Weasleys. She sighed. She'd known it was a lost cause back in sixth year when he'd started going out with Lavender Brown, but somehow she'd let herself hope again in the past year.
Even after the Slytherins' arrival, she'd still been sure that if she just spent enough time with Ron, he'd eventually come round. And then she'd caught them kissing the night before the final battle. It had broken her heart. She'd managed to focus the next morning, though. Harry had needed her, and she couldn't let him down. But now that it was all over? All she felt was alone.
It wasn't fair. Why Parkinson and not her? What did she have, besides money, pure blood, and a pug nose that always made her look as though she were looking down on the world?
A soft voice came from just behind her shoulder, startling her. "Don't know why you bother, Hermione."
She looked up to see Neville standing there, smiling down at her sadly. "Bother, Neville? What do you mean?"
He sighed and settled next to her on the steps. "I've known you for seven years, Hermione. I could probably pinpoint the moment you first fell for him before you could. Heck, I know if he'd asked the right way in fourth year, you would have dumped Krum like a hot potato. Wouldn't you?"
Hermione wanted to disagree, but as she glanced back at where Ron was pulling Pansy into a hug and kissing the top of her head, her stomach sank lower, and all she could do was shrug. "Maybe. I don't know. You'd think by now I'd be over it, though."
"You never get over your first crush, Hermione," Neville assured her with a soft smile. "I never got over mine." He paused only for a moment before pressing on. "She was the first person here at Hogwarts to pay any attention to me that wasn't laughing at me because of something that had happened to me. In fact, she was the only one even willing to help me when we were on the Express…"
Hermione had only been paying half attention to what Neville was saying, still watching Ron and Pansy, utterly miserable until the final sentence's true meaning sank in. She turned to Neville. "What? Neville…"
He put a finger to her lips to stop her. "You don't have to feel anything back, Hermione. I just…" He swallowed nervously. "I thought you should know. There are other guys out there than Ron Weasley."
She looked at him for a long time, amazed, then her shock faded into a smile. "There are, aren't there?" She pulled him into a soft kiss that made him gasp for a second before pressing forward to respond.
Crookshanks-Padfoot-Friend looked on, pleased, as Hermione kissed Neville, then pulled away to beam him. It was good to see her so happy at last. Then, bored, he moved off. He knew that Hermione-friend would be well taken care of.
Too bad the not-dog could no longer be reached. He always knew where to pet and where to scratch. Maybe he'd go see if he could find the not-cat-lady, though. She was always good for a piece of fish, at least. He set off in search of the Headmistress, his bottle-brush tail waving in the air.