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A Long Vernal Season

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Prologue: Return
Sunday, 23 August 1998

With a crack, a tall, thin, black-clad wizard appeared outside the gates to Hogwarts, a carpet bag in each hand and a canvas knapsack slung over one shoulder. The wizard stood motionless for a moment, simply gazing at the gates, then he took a step forward and looked up.

The Hogwarts gates had been damaged during the battle three months before, and no longer did a boar grace them. Rather, a large bronze dragon, her wings spread, created a new archway over the gates. Her breast was embossed with a large heart; from her open mouth, copper flames flickered; her fierce eyes were enamelled green with dark onyx pupils. The Hogwarts motto, Draco Dormiens Numquam Titillandus, was inscribed on a bronze banner above the dragon.

The single Charmed bell that had hung above the gates for centuries had likewise been replaced. Now a carillon of three bells was raised just beyond the wall, and a handle protruded from one side of the ironwork framing the elaborate wrought-iron gates. Beneath it there was a brass plaque, decorated above and below with etched intertwined snakes. The black-haired wizard stepped closer and read the inscription.

In memory of Aurora Lucia Sinistra,
who died in defence of her House and her school.
3 April 1956 – 25 May 1998

Toll the bells and remember.

Given by Blaise Zabini and Family.

The wizard’s head bowed a moment. His fingers rested briefly on the bell-pull, but he did not ring. Instead, he reached for the gate handle, whispered a password, and let himself onto the grounds, his baggage now following in his wake, gliding smoothly behind him as he walked up the long drive to the castle.

Partway up his path, the wizard veered onto the grass, crossing over to a short, polished, squared-off column of red and black stone. A brass plaque was affixed to its angled top surface. The wizard’s expression did not change as he read it.

On this spot on 26 May 1998,
Harry James Potter,
son of
Lily Evans Potter and James Potter,
Tom Marvolo Riddle,
son of
Merope Gaunt Riddle and Tom Riddle.

The sombre wizard raised his hand and his fingertips hovered over the centre of the plaque, then he dropped his hand heavily and turned, heading back toward the castle and its great oak doors. As he approached, they opened to him, and some life came to his dark eyes as he saw the two who were waiting for him in the entrance hall. He nodded in greeting to the Headmistress and the Head of Ravenclaw, who both smiled at him.

“Welcome back, Severus!” the diminutive wizard said brightly.

Minerva smiled and took his arm as he passed over the threshold. “Yes, welcome home, Severus,” she said.