In late May of 2001, Harry Potter quietly apparated into Hogsmeade and slipped into Honeydukes. Dressed in unassuming muggle clothes, hands stuffed deep into his pockets, he looked very little like the savior of any world, let alone the wizarding one. He exchanged a quiet word with Ambrosius Flume and disappeared down the cellar steps. Few people had seen him arrive and nobody, not even Mr. Flume, saw him leave.
Headmistress McGonagall had contemplated, while repairing the castle whether it was prudent to close the secret passages to and from Hogsmeade, but magical buildings, especially ones as old as Hogwarts, have ideas of their own, and the castle quickly made it clear that it liked its secret passages exactly where they were. So, a passage still opened behind the One-Eyed Witch in the third floor corridor, out of which, with a curious range of emotions flitting across his face, Harry Potter emerged. McGonagall, waiting in the corridor, smiled at him in greeting.
Minerva McGonagall’s first impression on seeing the Savior of the Wizarding World again after three years was that he looked the same. Bright green eyes, hair that he didn’t seem to even attempt to manage, those same ridiculous glasses. Older, though, healthier, and not tired and frightened anymore. And, perhaps, he looked less like James. Yes, there was that, too. Three years of peace had softened away some of the hardness in his features, and three years of maturity had grown him into his own person, no longer the mirror image of his father.
“It’s good to see you, Mr. Potter,” she said to him.
“It’s good to be home,” he answered, smiling faintly.
They stood silently for a moment, taking each other in.
“To my office?” she suggested, breaking the moment. “Or would you rather see the repairs we’ve done to the school?”
“I think I’d prefer no one knew I was here. At least for the time being,” Harry said, delicately. “So maybe I can tour the school after term ends.”
McGonagall nodded “A wise choice,” and, taking his arm, began guiding him to her office. “You’ve created something of a stir, I must say, Mr. Potter. Disappearing again after the war like that. That horrible Skeeter woman has had quite a field day with speculation, though I dare say, no one believed her more wild conjectures.”
Harry laughed—and that still sounded like James. “What’s she been saying now?”
“I hardly keep up on the latest gossip,” McGonagall said, sternly.
“Oh, sorry, then,” Harry said, clearly not meaning a word of it.
“But Molly Weasley does, and she has been sure to tell me all about it,” she continued. “I believe the latest theory is that you have abandoned all obligations to magical Britain in pursuit of a scandalous relationship with an American witch, supported on the evidence of a single photo of you in New York city.”
Harry swore good-humoredly. “I thought that was a magical camera flash, but I wasn’t sure.”
“Now the Quibbler, which I do subscribe to, has been publishing some very entertaining rebuttals to these pieces. According to Miss Lovegood, you have renounced the title of Chosen One and are sequestered somewhere in the American Midwest, learning the ancient secrets of wandless magic and forming an entirely new branch of magic.”
“I can always count on Luna to make me sound far more interesting than I actually am,” Harry said fondly. “And she did know where I was.”
“Where have you been?” McGonagall asked, unable to entirely suppress her curiosity. She had received a few owls from him, inquiring on the state of Hogwarts repairs and knew from Andromeda that he was diligent about visiting his godson, but other than that she had been left as in the dark as the rest of magical Britain.
Harry shrugged at her side. “After the year with the ministry rounding up the last of the Death Eaters? I’ve been traveling. Spent some time in France for a while, and then on to Bulgaria and stayed with Victor Krum, you remember him. Learned some right nasty curses there that might have been useful, once upon a time.” She hears rather than sees the wry smile in his words. “Then six months in the States, with a muggle friend of Hermione’s family. No one knew me there, that was nice, and out west there are some remnants of pre-colonial magic to be found still. More so I heard in South America, but I didn’t make it there. And so on. Popping back across to see Teddy, of course, but he has his Gran, and Molly has practically adopted him—all of the Weasleys have really. Finished up with a stint in the Netherlands, funding some promising werewolf research, but mostly just thinking.”
“And now you’re back,” she said.
“And now I’m back.”
They stopped in front of the gargoyle that guarded the staircase to the Headmistress’s office. Harry looked something between pained and sheepish. “I still think of it as Dumbledore’s office,” he said, quietly.
A complicated mix of emotions lurked behind that sentence, and McGonagall wisely chose to say nothing in return, save the password—an obscure and high level transfiguration concept—to make the Gargoyle jump aside.
They didn’t speak again, all up the turning staircase, until they were seated in her office. She watched Harry take in all the changes she had made over her three-year tenure—more books and fewer dangerous magical artifacts to start, and the pensieve packed away for good. On the walls, the portraits of Dumbledore and of Snape were both absent from their frames, but the other headmasters and headmistresses looked on keenly, although many of them were feigning sleep.
“You understand, Professor,” Harry began, after a moment, “that I don’t have my N.E.W.T.s. I never even finished seventh year. Between everything, I never had a chance the first time around, and then afterwards there didn’t seem to be much point. Hermione argued for it, of course, but I was so tired of Britain. So technically, I am completely unqualified for the position.”
“Quite a way to begin an interview, Mr. Potter,” McGonagall said, dryly.
He smiled and scratched at the dark stubble that had collected on his cheeks. “Just being honest, Professor.”
Her eyes darted for half a second to the back of his left hand and the faint silvery scar there. The knowing look he gave her proved he saw it.
She recovered herself. “Mr. Potter, you defeated Voldemort at the age of seventeen after evading him for several months on the run and destroying some of the darkest magical artifacts known to wizardkind. At fifteen you organized secret meetings to teach defensive magic to your fellow students.”
Harry nodded. “Yes.”
“I hardly think it’s necessary for me to recap all the mad things you and your friends got up to during your time at Hogwarts, but I will take a moment to remind you that you began your Hogwarts career as the eleven year old who defeated a mountain troll.”
Harry laughed and nodded. “You know, I had almost forgotten about that.”
McGonagall leaned forward across her desk. “Regardless of the status of your N.E.W.T.s, the lack of which I find perfectly understandable, there is no question that you are entirely overqualified to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts this coming academic year and for as many following years as you would like. I, in fact, have only one question for you.”
She regarded him for a moment, relaxed before her like she had never seen him as an adult, and her voice softened to something almost motherly. “Why, Mr. Potter? You could have anything, be anything that you want. If you ran for Minister for Magic tomorrow, I feel quite sure you could win. Why come back here?”
It was a serious question, and she could see Harry take it as such. He leaned back in chair and took a breath, as if collecting his thoughts before answering.
He sighed deeply. “Professor, I’m tired,” he said. “It has been three years, almost to the day since I defeated Voldemort, and I am still—I never asked for any of it: I only ever did what I didn’t have a choice but to do. I bought back my parent’s house in Godric’s Hollow, did you know? Fixed it up again after some photos I found. And some part of me wants to hide in there and never come out again, bury myself in the past. But,” his eyes flickered to the empty portrait where Dumbledore should have been, “it does not do to dwell on dreams, especially dark ones. Let Hermione or Ron or, or Percy become Minister for Magic. Hogwarts is the only home I have ever known, and there are people here who need me but won’t ask anything of me I can’t do. And that, for me, is terribly rare.”
Something deep inside of her, wrapped in layers of stern stoicism, grieved for Harry, for the baby that she let Dumbledore leave on a doorstep twenty years ago and for the boy she let walk to the slaughter, too young to be a martyr. “Hogwarts will always be here for you,” she said, even as she remembered all the ways Hogwarts had failed Harry over and over again, “as long as you will have it, Mr. Potter.”
Despite McGonagall’s best efforts, the news that Harry had been hired as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher got out within the fortnight. Privately, she blamed some of the Headmaster portraits, who had been known to gossip before, but Harry Potter’s permanent return to Britain had raised interest and speculation all by itself. Harry granted the first and only interview to the Quibbler, a move which McGonagall thoroughly approved of, and Luna spent half of the interview asking questions about Harry’s fictional new magic style rather than his decision to take a position at Hogwarts. With every other paper having to go through Luna thereafter for statements from Harry, McGonagall was sure Miss Lovegood made a tidy sum off the entire affair.
As far as McGonagall knew, Harry spent the summer months with Andromeda and Teddy, although Molly’s letters seemed to indicate that he spent plenty of time at the Burrow as well. As July wound down, she sent an owl requesting his curriculum plans for the year. She received them promptly: a thick muggle binder divided into seven sections, each outlining a very sensible plan of lessons for each year, beginning with basic defensive spells for the first years and culminating with high level dueling theory and practicals for the seventh years. A note stuck in the back pocket informed her that Hermione had been very helpful in creating the plans, and some fifth year lessons on battle strategy struck her as very much the work of Ron.
The biggest surprise of the whole affair, although in retrospect it seemed rather obvious, came a few weeks before the start of term when she received an unprompted owl bearing letters from both Harry and Andromeda. They were in agreement that Teddy ought to spend at least part of the year with his godfather, whom he had become quite attached to over the summer, and were inquiring as to the possibility of the boy staying for the autumn term with Harry at Hogwarts. McGonagall had privately resolved not to show any special preference for Potter and to hope the student body would follow her lead, but she determined this was not so much a favor for Harry as it was for the son of Remus and Tonks. She had no interest in seeing any more magical orphans grow up feeling anything less than fully and wholly loved. She wrote back agreeing that, if Harry and Andromeda were agreed that it was the best thing for Teddy, then she supposed that she could not object to it, as long as arrangements were made for someone to care for Teddy while Harry was teaching class.
September first dawned bright and clear and warm, and, glad as McGonagall was to see all the professors—her friends—return, it was Harry’s arrival that she awaited most, with a mixture of apprehension and eagerness. He showed up around noon, accompanied by Neville Longbottom. Neville had begun apprenticing under Professor Sprout the year before, and McGonagall suspected him of suggesting the idea of teaching to Harry in the first place. Swinging between them was a small boy with bright pink hair that got more and more neon as they approached the castle.
“Welcome back to Hogwarts,” she said to them as they entered the castle. “And welcome to Hogwarts to you too, Mr. Lupin,” she said bending to speak to Teddy.
His eyes went wide for a second, and then he hid behind his godfather who hoisted him up into a piggyback ride. “Someone’s feeling a little shy,” Harry said with a note of affection that McGonagall had not heard from him before. “It’s been a big day for the little tyke. First side along apparation. First time seeing Hogwarts. We saw the giant squid sunning itself. And he’s practicing controlling his hair color.”
“Yeah, look!” Teddy piped up suddenly, poking his head out from behind Harry’s. He screwed up his face in a look of intense concentration and slowly his hair faded from bright pink to match his godfather’s black. “’m Harry now.”
McGonagall clapped her hands together, “Very good!”
“But I like pink,” Teddy said, and, with another look of concentration, his hair popped back to bright pink.
“What can I say?” Harry said. “He takes after his mother.”
The house elves showed them to their rooms then, and McGonagall was left to greet the remaining professors and go over and over again in her head her opening remarks for that night. She wasn’t surprised that Harry seemed to adore his godson, and she was glad to know that Teddy would never doubt that for a second.
At the feast that evening, all eyes were on Harry’s seat at the High Table, the whispering only stopping for the sorting of the new first years. Even McGonagall couldn’t help but sneak a glance at Harry. He looked fidgety in his new robes, less at ease than he had in his terrible muggle outfit, but some of that may just have been the novelty of sitting at the front of the Great Hall. Teddy was nowhere to be seen, but then, she realized with a barely suppressed smile, there was a suspiciously empty spot next to Harry that he seemed to keep patting. If that was his plan to take care of his godson for the entire term she might have to speak with him, but for now she decided to let it slide.
As the sorting concluded, McGonagall stood and with a look brought silence to the room. “Welcome,” she began, “to all the new first years, as well as to all our returning students. I will keep this brief, as I’m sure everyone is anxious to begin eating and full of summer gossip to tell their friends or legends to scare the first years,” laughter at this, “but first some announcements.
“First, following the incidents last April, we ask that students do NOT bait Peeves the Poltergeist or attempt exorcisms against him. He may be a nuisance, but he has rendered services to this school that merit his placement here. Calling to Mr. Filch that you are out past curfew does not void that.” A pointed look at some sheepish Slytherin fourth years.
“Second, the arithmancy section of the library has now been fully repaired and students are once again allowed to check out books, although Madam Pince warns that the northernmost end of the transfiguration shelves remains somewhat unstable, especially around the half moon, and recommends that students who intend to get books from that area inform her and at least two separate friends beforehand. Third, as always, the Forbidden Forest remains entirely off limits except on excursions led by a professor. Those of you wishing to visit the centaur Firenze for extra-divination lessons are no exception. Professor Trelawney will be leading chaperoned expeditions twice a month. You may speak with her for further details.” She paused a moment, taking a proper breath in.
“Finally, I am very pleased to announce that we have with us a new professor of Defense Against the Dark Arts, although I expect most of you already know this, Professor Potter.”
There was a flurry of whispers throughout the room as more than one muggleborn first year had the very condensed version of the Second Wizarding War explained to them.
“I do not need to explain his qualifications to you. I ask that you treat Professor Potter with the same respect and courtesy you would treat any other professor,” McGonagall said sternly. “Unless other members of the staff have any announcements, however, it is high time this feast properly began.” She took her seat and food appeared on the plates in front of the students, as the roar of conversation bubbled up.
At his seat down the table, Harry was surreptitiously passing food to his godson under the invisibility cloak.
As McGonagall sat in her office the next day during the start of classes, she insisted to herself that it wasn’t immoral, per se, to listen in on one of her new professor’s lessons. If anything, it was prudent, and maybe if Dumbledore had done so he would have noticed that Moody had been replaced by an imposter, or that Lockhart was a fraud, or that Quirrel had Voldemort living on the back of his head. Not that McGonagall suspected any of that of Harry, but, well, she was curious, and there were wards that let her check in on any room in Hogwarts. So technically, yes, she was spying on Harry’s lessons, but it wasn't wrong.
She felt uneasily like this was exactly the kind of thing Dumbledore would have approved of, but when she glanced at his portrait on the wall he appeared fast asleep. She conjured a shivering image of the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom before her.
Harry’s first class was at quarter to ten and a mix of Slytherin and Gyffindor fifth years. They would have been too young to have stayed and fought at the Battle of Hogwarts, but many of them would have seen it begin. Five minutes before class, they filed in, whispering to each other behind their hands, and Harry, sitting at his desk, checking over lessons plans, pretended not to notice. McGonagall saw him glance up as the students enter, but otherwise he made no acknowledgement of their presence until the minute hand on the clock behind him turned to quarter to exactly. He stood, and the whispering in the class stopped abruptly.
She expected—well, she wasn’t sure what she expected from him exactly. Maybe an acknowledgement of his credentials, or maybe a ban on asking questions, or maybe to just quietly start the lesson. Instead, he looked at the classroom and commented, “There’s a funny thing I noticed back when I was in school,” which sent up a rush of whispers all over again. “See, they put the Slytherins and the Gryffindors together in class, but the Slytherins always sit together and the Gryffindors always sit together, so why bother?” McGonagall saw his eyes glint with a suppressed smirk, and she knew, just like she always knew when James or Sirius or Harry himself had been about to do something horrible, what was coming next. “Everyone please stand up. I’d like all Gryffindors to go to the left side of the room please, and all the Slytherins on the right.”
Somewhat confused but curious enough to give it a try, the students stood and did what he had asked them to. A few, either more astute or more familiar with Harry’s wicked streak, groaned in anticipation.
“All right then, you please, yes, you, Ms. Burke, to this desk please,” Harry began, guiding Ms. Burke out of the Gryffindor group. “And you please, Ms. Montague, next to her, thank you.” Ms. Montague stepped out of the Slytherin huddle and sat down reluctantly with Ms. Burke.
One after another, Harry cheerfully separated the Slytherins and the Gryffindors, until the entire class, miserable and resentful, was seated in front of him again. “These are to be your seats for at least the next month, please. After that, if you find you still absolutely can’t stand the people you are sitting next to, you may change. At the very least, this should cut down on the mysterious whispering problem we seemed to have had as you all came in, although if we’re lucky you’ll make friends with your new seatmates and that whispering problem will come back.”
A tentative Gryffindor at the back of the class raised a hand. “But Ha- Professor? Why?”
Harry’s face darkened, and McGonagall watched with interest. “Because, Mr. Xin, house prejudices are dangerous things. They are dangerous when we make friends only with people of our own houses, and they are dangerous when we blame problems on people of other houses.” He smiled thinly, “Trust me, I know. We sort early, before we are whole people, and the friends we make in our houses shape who we become, as do the friends we make outside of our houses. There were Death Eaters who, had they been sorted out of Slytherin, would not have become Death Eaters.”
There were murmurs of unhappiness from the Slytherins in the classroom and Harry held up a hand. “But your house does not define you. The most cowardly man I ever knew was a Gryffindor, and I have seen Slytherins do braver things than any Gryffindor. That said, any prejudiced talk from anyone in this classroom will not be tolerated. Prejudice against other houses, prejudice against Muggleborns, prejudice against magical creatures. If I hear it, if I hear of it, there will be swift consequences.”
The students looked between each other with little trust, but no one said anything aloud.
“Anyway, I understand that your magical education in this as in most other subjects has been badly interrupted, but I’m glad that you have at least three years of defense training by now. More than I could say for myself,” Harry said with a grin. “I intend to spend this year with you talking about magical strategy and introduction to dueling. Because I am not sure of your background, we will also briefly cover some of the more advanced magical creatures as well as making sure you have a solid foundation in curses and countercurses.”
McGonagall, and Harry apparently, both saw some of the Gryffindors (and even some of the Slytherins) flinch, and Harry looked thoughtful, leaning against his desk. “I know some of you have more experience than you would like with curses, and whether that is casting curses or having them cast on you I don’t particularly care. We will not, in this classroom, under any circumstances, be casting curses on each other. There will be practicals, of course, but we will use magical dummies for that. If anyone at any time feels uncomfortable, you can speak to me during or any time outside of class. I hope this will work for everyone.”
There was a general noise of agreement.
“All right then,” Harry said, “first things first. Basic is good. Rather infamously, my signature spell is Expelliarmus, which I like for a number of reasons…”
McGonagall let the magical window into Harry’s classroom fall and sat, resting her chin in her hands for a long silent moment. She wondered how much of that he had practiced beforehand, how much of that Hermione had helped him write, and how much he was prepared for in his class. The questions about him hadn’t started yet, but though they would soon, she felt sure that he was prepared for them.
She was glad of him mixing the Slytherins and Gryffindors like that: it was why she had kept the split house classes, always making sure that the rival houses ended up together, but as many speeches as she gave about house unity, there remained a strained resentment even among the staff. And Harry, who had as much reason as anyone to maintain the split, seemed to be trying to mend it. What had happened to the boy convinced that Draco Malfoy was at fault for everything? She supposed he grew up. She was proud of how well he had done.
“He’ll be good for the school,” a familiar voice commented, grudgingly, from a portrait behind her.
“I don’t think I ever expected to hear you say that, Severus,” McGonagall said.
The image of Severus Snape leaned against his portrait frame. Dumbledore, who should have been in the picture next to him, had slipped away again.
Snape looked down his nose at her, as Slytherin proud as he had ever been in real life, but the next words to come out were distant and aching. “What has anger ever gained us?”
It was near Halloween, which was always somewhat of a difficult time at a school for young witches and wizards, but Minerva McGonagall was especially regretting her decisions this year.
Harry was doing well, of course, though as the weather had turned cooler he had broken out some truly hideous jumpers. Letters from Molly confirmed they were hand knitted not only by herself but also by Ginny, Hermione, and Luna Lovegood, which went a long way to explaining some of the more creative color combinations. As a probably intended side effect, the students had mostly lost their awe of him. She’d heard rumors that there was a daily betting pool among some of the seventh years on which sweater he would be wearing each day, but she didn’t personally see anything wrong with a little healthy gambling. Harry also had extra-help hours and had set up an all-ages dueling club that was predictably popular, drawing a good portion of the school together on Thursday evenings. Between him and Flitwick, things ran as smoothly as could be hoped for, with very few visits to the infirmary and no repeats of the disaster of Harry’s own second year. Furthermore, and most impressively, thanks to efforts in his classes, Slytherins and Gryffindors had even reached a wary peace.
No, the problem was his godson.
It wasn’t that she didn’t love Teddy Lupin. Everyone loved Teddy Lupin. How could you not? He was a precocious, curious child, and now and again she would watch him for Harry just so she could do advanced transfiguration for him and listen to the hundreds of questions that inevitably followed. However, it was becoming apparent that he took a little too much after his father and his father’s friends. The boy had a penchant for mischief.
At first it was endearing: the three year old with a shit-eating grin caught red-handed in the cookie jar, and all that. But he kept finding such new and creative ways to get into trouble that the most McGonagall could hope was that by the time he reached eleven he would simply have exhausted every possible option.
The other night he had gotten ahold of his godfather’s invisibility cloak, for example, and disappeared into the castle, prompting a schoolwide search involving most of the professors as well as the Head Boy and Head Girl. Harry had looked very sheepish afterwards and promised to lock the cloak away better, but McGonagall was nevertheless questioning the wisdom of allowing a three year old to stay at the school.
But then, the boy loved Harry so much, and Harry looked so happy with him. And the students loved him, of course. There was a regular rotating baby-sitting force of upper years, mostly students who had known Harry during his years at Hogwarts. One or two Slytherins had even quietly volunteered, and McGonagall suspected Harry had taken to mentoring more than one of the students.
Neville had been watching Teddy, which wasn’t at all unusual, while Harry went down to Hogsmeade to meet Ginny for the evening. Except halfway into the evening, Flitwick had come to get McGonagall because somehow Teddy had managed to activate what was apparently a leftover and overlooked trap from the battle, and though he was, thankfully, unharmed, he was stuck the ceiling, and no one was quite sure how to get him down.
By all appearances, Teddy was having a great time. When she entered, he called down to her “Aunt Minny! I’m flying!” and the smirks on various students’ faces were enough to make her determined to squash that particular nickname, which she suspected Harry of encouraging.
At first, McGonagall assumed it was a simple combination of levitation and sticking charms, because that would have been easiest to cast quickly when setting up defenses, but the anti-charms for that didn’t work as easily as they should have. She was hesitant to use a general finite incantatem and end the levitation as well as the sticking charm for fear that Teddy would come crashing down before she could cast a cushioning charm. On the other hand, the magic that held Teddy up felt like a single spell rather than a combination of two.
In the end, it took a full twenty minutes and the combined efforts of McGonagall and Flitwick to get him down. While the spell he had activated was deceptively simple, it was slippery, and when Teddy finally came floating down, McGonagall had the uneasy feeling it was because the spell decided to let him go, rather than because of anything they had done.
Neville took him back gratefully, apologizing profusely and scolding Teddy for playing where he shouldn’t have been. Teddy looked less than remorseful though, and a small part of McGonagall gave it up for a lost cause. When she was sure that Neville was once again in control of Teddy, she left them, walking slowly back to her office and contemplating the spell that had been activated.
It was strange because, to start, the castle had told her about the remaining traps. Of course, the castle believed that a little danger and peril was healthy for growing witches and wizards, but after the battle, it had told her the locations of traps. Peeves had gone through the corridors, deactivating them where he could and simply springing them when he couldn’t, so they could be dealt with properly, and she knew they had gone over the corridor where Teddy had been playing at least twice because it was close enough to the Gryffindor tower that there were bound to be students sneaking out past it at all hours.
It was possible it was a student prank gone wrong, especially since it seemed mostly harmless, but the magic seemed too advanced and unfamiliar, not the kind of thing they taught at Hogwarts at all. And Teddy himself had seemed to calm, almost like he had been expecting it—but then, perhaps he was just used to living in a household with the remaining Weasley twin.
The conviction that something wasn’t right only grew as she got closer to her office, as the portraits eyed her, and a painted girl flitted away. Not something dangerous, because the portraits would have told her, but something not as it should be.
She spoke the password and stepped onto the stairs but halted them before they began to move. Very faintly she could hear voices. She cast a basic silencing spell on herself and began up the stairs cautiously, waiting to get in hearing range of the voices before she decided how to act.
About halfway up the stairs she began to recognize the voices, and about three quarters of the way up she was able to understand what they were saying.
“- ever think for just a moment that I had a right to know?” Harry’s voice demanded.
“Harry,” and that was the quiet, reasonable, infuriating voice of Dumbledore himself.
“You sat up here in your high tower, and you organized everything as you saw fit! Did you ever care how anyone else felt about it?”
“It was war,” Dumbledore said, old, and defeated, and not as wise as he once had been. “I did what I had to do.”
“You thought you were the only one capable of making decisions that effected everyone!”
“Who else would have stood up to do it?” Dumbledore asked. “Who else but me?”
“How many plans?” Harry hissed, so that McGonagall, now just around the last bend of the staircase, could only just hear. “How many plans and back up plans and back up, back up plans did you have in place so in the end I would walk into that damn forest and die?”
It had the sound of something repeated, like this conversation had been going on for a long time before she got here, and she realized, of course, Harry had set the sticking trap himself, probably given his godson a treat for going along with it, so that he could sneak up into her office and talk to Dumbledore’s portrait.
“Harry, I knew it was the only way.”
“Bullocks!” Harry said. “You knew nothing! You guessed, and you schemed, and you hoped, and you prayed because you were guilty over something I never had a part in. You raised me like the damn sacrificial lamb, and just think of all the people who had to die for your guess to work out, for me to stand back up and—”
There was a pause and then Harry’s voice again. “We were just children.”
McGonagall had heard enough. She had had her own conversation with the portrait of the late chessmaster and knew that nothing came of it—no answers, no closure. Because Dumbledore had given none in life, his portrait, only an imperfect echo of the man that had been, could give none now. She threw off the silencing charm and rounded the corner into her office.
Harry’s invisibility cloak was in a shimmering heap on the floor, and he stood in the middle of her office, facing the portrait. He was pale and drawn and grim, composed entirely of taught, sharp edges like glass, and etched on his face was deep, unsalved pain and a dark, terrifying hunger for answers no one was left to give him.
When he saw her, he took a step back, unable to hide the emotions on his face.
“Harry,” she said, and she pulled him into as tight of a hug as she could muster. He stayed tense for a moment, pulling against her, then he collapsed against her and sobbed into her shoulder. She rubbed his back and sat them both down in a chair, letting him shake against her until he was worn out. Over his head, she glared at the portrait of Dumbledore, who quietly disappeared.
“You know,” she said, when Harry had calmed down a little, “I think James would have also stuck you to the ceiling as a diversion to sneak into this office. I know Sirius would have. You’re doing a disturbingly admirable job of keeping the legacy alive.”
Harry laughed wetly into her shoulder, and she smiled down at him.
The winter holidays came faster than they should have. It felt like everything came so quickly these days. The seasons changed. Children grew up.
She loved the winter holidays; she had since she was a child. The first snowfall of the year and the smell of fresh cut pine and transfiguring decorations for the Great Hall. Working at Hogwarts had only made her appreciate the holidays more as a break from the students and the madness that necessarily attended a magical school.
Teddy Lupin went home to his grandmother’s, but, while Harry promised Teddy (and Neville, and McGonagall herself) that he would be there for Christmas, he hung back, at first doing work in his office, and then just wandering somewhat aimlessly through the corridors.
There weren’t many students that stayed at Hogwarts over the holidays these days. Even going on four years since the end of war, families were reluctant to be separated for longer than they had to. McGonagall still remembered how long it took for the paranoia to die down after the first war. But still, some students stayed: a handful of muggleborns of all ages and houses, and a small group of Slytherins and Ravenclaws that mostly kept to themselves. No one really had to ask more than their last names to find out why.
McGonagall wasn’t much surprised that Harry sought them out. Harry seemed to have made it a point to seek out the students who needed guidance and then mentor them as much as they needed or wanted. Part of her worried that he was trying to live up to something, Remus perhaps, or his father, but he seemed happiest when she passed by his office and he had a couple of first years in there, excitedly asking questions about advanced magic, so she let it go.
A few days into break, wandering absently through the hallways, McGonagall came across an unused classroom emitting the distinct sounds of Exploding Snap and Wizarding Chess. It hardly would have been more than a passing notice, except that she also heard Harry’s voice, “No, no, look you're leaving your rook completely open to attack like this. Listen, I’m absolute rubbish at teaching chess, you want Ron for that.”
McGonagall pushed the door open gently and peered in at the scene in front of her. Harry was sitting cross legged on the floor across a chessboard from a third year Slytherin named Anthony, whose mother had died sometime before the battle of Hogwarts and whose father was now in Azkaban. Leaning against Harry’s side and flipping through a book was a second year Ravenclaw named Amelia, orphaned by the Order.
The rest of the group of Slytherins and Ravenclaws was spread out through the room: a seventh year named Henry, standing above Anthony and giving him pointers, a fourth year, Emily, playing Exploding Snap on the floor against a fifth year, Fergus. But also playing Exploding Snap, and getting corrections on the rules from Fergus, was a first year muggleborn named Anabel, and twirling his wand behind her was another muggleborn, Julian. In a corner, a couple muggleborns were teaching three of the Slytherins poker, and trouncing them soundly by the looks of it. In all, McGonagall thought that every student who had stayed behind for holidays was gathered in the room.
“Headmistress McGonagall,” Harry said, looking up, glasses askew, “I see you’ve uncovered our secret gaming room. Are you here to give me detention?” A smile flitted around the edges of his mouth as he struggled to keep a straight face.
“Certainly not, Professor Potter,” McGonagall answered primly. “Though if you think you are teaching chess you’re sorely mistaken. He’ll have you in three moves.”
Harry looked back at the board, puzzled, and Anthony smirked. “Merlin’s ba- Merlin,” Harry swore, remembering just in time the first and second years in the room. “You’re right. Well, if you’re not busy, do you want to take over for me?”
McGonagall was surprised at the invitation, but really having nothing better to do, she didn’t see any reason to decline. Anthony looked appropriately terrified at the thought of playing chess against the headmistress.
“Good!” Harry said, standing and brushing himself off. “Because Nigel,” a sixth year muggleborn in the corner, “is something called a Dungeon Master, and he promised to teach us.”
McGonagall raised an eyebrow. “What is a Dungeon Master?” she asked.
“I have no idea!” Harry said. “That’s why Nigel is going to teach us.”
Anthony had backed away from the chessboard and the prospect of playing McGonagall, suddenly finding, she supposed, that whatever Nigel was offering to teach sounded interesting after all. The seventh year, Henry, however, had placed the board on a desk and was silently replacing the pieces. “A game, Professor?” he asked.
With a last skeptical look at Harry, McGonagall acquiesced and sat down to play.
After the initial confusion with what Nigel was trying to explain, Dungeons and Dragons proved to be hugely popular among the students who had remained, and, to McGonagall’s knowledge at least, it became a daily meet up. Sometimes she would stop in and play a game of chess with one of the students, including, eventually, Anthony, but as it got closer and closer to Christmas day, she became increasingly worried that Harry wasn’t going home.
When she confronted him about it, however, two days before Christmas Eve, he just looked vaguely self-satisfied.
“There’s been a change of plans,” he said, evasively. “I’m just working out some details.”
“Details on what, Mr. Potter?” McGonagall asked, using her best headmistress voice.
A pause stretched out while Harry tried and failed to keep from looking smug. “Transportation.”
“To where? If I may ask.”
“Godric’s hollow,” Harry admitted. “Andromeda, Teddy, and everyone are going to meet us there. At my parent’s house.”
McGonagall waited for more details, which, after a moment, Harry volunteered. “I invited all the students who were staying here for the holidays. Hogwarts is great and all but, well it’s not the same as having a family for Christmas. And it seemed a shame to interrupt our D&D sessions.”
She was thoughtful for a moment before asking, “Isn’t a portkey the obvious solution?”
Harry shrugged, “Yes, well, some of the muggleborn parents are understandably a little concerned at their children taking magical transportation like that, and Nigel himself is terrified of them, something about the Star Trek transporter problem. So while a portkey will do it for most of them, I’m just working out some last minute details for the rest.”
“Perhaps,” she said after a long moment, “I might be persuaded to let you borrow some of the school brooms. Provided, of course,” she said, giving him a pointed look, “younger students are accompanied by older more experienced flyers.”
Harry grinned, “Can’t be more dangerous than flying thestrals to invade the Ministry, can it?”
“If that is the reference you insist on measuring things against, I’m afraid we may have a professional disagreement on the meaning of danger.” Harry laughed and McGonagall added archly, “And I, Mr. Potter, outrank you.”
It was a Saturday in late February when second term was already well under way. Outside, the wind howled and drove the stinging sleet into a steady assault against the castle windows. The castle itself was sulking at the weather; four separate groups of first years had had to be rescued after the moving staircases deposited them in the wrong part of the castle, and a fourth year who had wandered down one corridor had found herself somehow on an entirely different floor.
McGonagall, leaving other professors to deal with these matters, was sequestered in her office with a cheerful wood fire that flickered in different bright colors. A pot of tea sat mostly empty on a small, antique table rescued from the Room of Lost Things and several high backed arm chairs sat pushed around it. McGonagall sat facing the fire, holding a warm cup of tea, milk but no sugar. Luna Lovegood, responsible for the colorful fire, sat on the hearth, her chair having been commandeered by Crookshanks. Hermione sat in the chair beside Crookshanks as she told McGonagall about recent developments in the DMLE’s ongoing pursuit to root out the very last remnants of Death Eater sentiment, and the necessity of coordinating with the French and Romanian muggle governments.
Ron sat across from Hermione and looked at with her with a mixture of pride and fondness. McGonagall had attempted to interrogate him earlier on some of the new products appearing in his brother’s joke store, but Ron had refused to tell her anything, with an expression that was strongly reminiscent of Fred.
Ginny, wearing a home knit sweater in the Holyhead Harpies colors, was perched on the arm of Harry’s chair and kept stealing biscuits when she thought no one was looking. Harry himself was preoccupied by a game of Exploding Snap with Neville.
“The Prime Minister of Romania,” Hermione said, “has an uncle who is a wizard, actually, but apparently no one got around to telling the current president about the existence of magic, so that’s giving us quite a bit of trouble. We know for a fact that there’s a group of at least five Death Eaters holed up in Bucharest, but we can’t get at them.”
“You’ll get them,” Ron said, reaching out and putting a hand on her knee. “It’s just bureaucracy.”
“How’s S.P.E.W. going?” Neville asked, without looking up from his game with Harry.
The tips of Hermione’s ears colored slightly. “It’s not called that anymore,” she said, sourly.
“Yeah, but how’s it going?”
“Well, I did manage to convince Regulation and Control to draft a protection act. It’s not emancipation, but it’s regulation and that’s a start.” Hermione looked bitter. “Violent punishments are limited for one. And using magic on them.”
“Not just leaving random socks hidden all around Britain?” Harry asked. Hermione scowled at him.
The gathering in McGonagall’s office was something of an accident. Harry and Neville had come up to discuss a joint lesson about dangerous plants, and Ginny had tagged along because she was staying with Harry for the week. McGonagall had invited them to stay for a spot of tea, and somehow the others had ended up being invited by floo and coming in.
“So, do you think you’ll keep Harry on another year?” Ginny asked McGonagall, suddenly. “Or is he sacked for being a terrible influence.”
“I think Harry can stay,” McGonagall answered. “Although it was looking somewhat iffy a couple weeks ago when two second years managed to hex each other three separate times in the same class.”
Harry shrugged. “To be fair, Angela’s mother’s hearing got pushed up, so she was having a rough week.”
“And the excuse for Mr. Fraser?”
“Oh, he’s just a little git. Anyway, you know I docked points and gave both of them detention.”
Neville laughed. “Harry, detention with you usually means chocolate and a chance to ask questions about the war. Students try to get detention with you.”
Harry was unrepentant. “At least the questions I get in class have died down to only ones that are relevant to the lesson. Unforgiveable curses with the fourth years was rough, but I got through it.”
“You didn’t demonstrate on a spider, did you?” Hermione asked.
“Hermione, you helped me write the lesson plans.”
“Right, but since when have you ever stuck to plan?”
“I’m sure Harry is an excellent teacher,” Luna said, as the fire flared up in Ravenclaw colors. “I was thinking the Quibbler might publish an exposé on the hero’s life after his return to Hogwarts. Lots of student interviews.”
McGonagall frowned, “You’ll have to get parent permission to publish that.”
“Skeeter never does,” Neville said. “Did you see the Hogwarts’ Heartthrobs piece she published last week?”
“You’re just jealous because Harry beat you out for number of student crushes,” Ron said.
“Harry can have them,” Neville said. “I got no less than seven different bouquets for Valentines, all signed my secret admirer. Although there were some very interesting rare flowers in them that I have no idea how a student got a hold of.”
“Is it becoming a problem?” McGonagall asked. “We can do something about it.”
“Oh, two of the bouquets were me,” Luna said. “Sorry, I thought you would recognize them, Neville.”
Neville’s eyes lit up. “Where on earth did you find the Venetian hummer? All the texts say they’ve gone extinct.”
“I have several growing in my garden,” Luna answered.
McGonagall let the conversation wash over her. Here, she had gathered the heroes of the Wizarding World, and they almost sounded like normal young adults.
“Who is your least favorite student?” Ginny asked Harry, a note of mischief in her voice, breaking into McGonagall’s thoughts.
Harry looked at her, “I can’t answer that!”
“Professor McGonagall, will Harry get sacked if he answers my question?” Ginny asked.
McGonagall suppressed a smile, privately interested in the answer herself. “I promise I will not sack Harry for answering your question.”
“See? Now you have to answer the question,” Ginny said, triumphantly.
Harry huffed. “No, I just. I can’t answer that. It’s unfair.”
“Then your least favorite thing about teaching.”
Harry looked thoughtful now. “I don’t mind the questions, usually. Everyone wants to know, I get that, but sometimes. It happens mostly with the second and third years. The first years are too scared to ask questions, although that’s changing. But a lot of the second and third years, especially the muggleborns, feel cheated out of an adventure, and then they want to know everything. Sometimes they can get a little personal.” Harry grinned then. “Oh, and grading homework is almost as bad as having to do it.”
McGonagall narrowed her eyes, “I had noticed an unusually low level of essays required for your class.”
“I’m teaching practical magic, Professor, not theory,” he answered.
“Professor Sprout had me grading essays comparing and contrasting muggle and magical Venus fly traps,” Neville said. “I thought I would gouge my eyes out before the end of it.” Neville’s expression changed to rueful. “I love the first years, actually. I had a first year come to me the other day. She’d been in class all year and hadn’t said a word, and then she came up to me, and I expected a question about the war or something, but she said very quietly, is it true that there are merpeople in the lake, and she read that gillyweed would let her talk to them.”
“Mr. Longbottom, if you have given a first year girl gillyweed I can personally guarantee that you will never become a professor at Hogwarts,” McGonagall said.
“Is that really any worse than buying a first year a broom?” Harry asked.
“That,” McGonagall answered, “was for Quidditch and is an entirely different matter.”
Ginny seconded the idea while Hermione professed to still completely fail to understand the appeal of the sport. A familiar argument broke out in response to that, and McGonagall let them continue, secure and content in a tower of Hogwarts, high above the rest of the world.
McGonagall looked at the student fidgeting on the other side of the desk. She sighed. One day, she swore, she was going to retire. One day soon. The next time something like this happened she was going to quit Hogwarts entirely, move to someplace warm, and spend the rest of her life drinking colorful drinks with little umbrellas stuck in them.
The student was a seventh year Hufflepuff girl and, really, you would think seventh years would know better than to try stuff like this. You would think Hufflepuffs would know better than to try stuff like this.
Wasn’t there supposed to be an all magical island somewhere near Puerto Rico?
“Miss Junipers, has Professor Potter told you why you are here?” McGonagall asked.
Calypso Junipers was a pretty girl with long dark hair braided down her back, big brown eyes, and a round face that broadcast every thought that crossed her mind. While she was a good student and universally well liked, her reputation as a bit of a ditz was strong enough to have reached even McGonagall. In response to the question, she shook her head while wearing absolutely the guiltiest look McGonagall had ever seen on a student. Harry, sitting beside her, rolled his eyes, which McGonagall pretended not to notice.
McGonagall tapped the phial that stood on her desk with her wand. “You may not be aware of this, but Professor Potter has very good relations with all the house elves in the castle, especially a particularly malicious old one named Kreacher.”
Harry looked prepared to object to that description of Kreacher, but apparently thought better of it.
“This morning, Kreacher informed him that a Hufflepuff student had slipped into the kitchen and attempted to bribe the house elves to slip this into his drink. Professor Potter recognized it as a love potion and brought the matter to my attention. Does any of this sound familiar to you?”
“It wasn’t me Professor!” Calypso protested. “I’m rubbish at potions!”
McGonagall peered at her over her square glasses. “Miss Junipers, love potions can be bought. This one originates from an order service called Madame Monette’s Amorous Solutions.”
“I’ve never even heard of that!”
This was a particularly bald-faced lie. Madame Monette’s put out a monthly newsletter with romance tips, gossip, and a wizard of the month. They also had a daily horoscope subscription. Both of these had gained something of a cult following among the older students in the recent months, made obnoxious by the influx of perfumed pale pink envelopes every morning that fluttered neatly down to the subscribers. Even Professor Slughorn had a subscription, although what for was anyone’s guess.
“Additionally,” McGonagall informed Calypso, “it is entirely possible to determine who a love potion is intended to make the target fall in love with, without having to actually drink it.”
Calypso looked panicked, aware that she was well and truly caught in the act.
“Please explain yourself.”
Calypso’s mouth worked for a moment as she tried and failed to come up with a suitable excuse. At last she turned to Harry, “I’m so, so sorry Professor! It was—well someone sneaked some firewhiskey into the Hufflepuff common room for Andrea’s birthday, and things got a little out of a hand, and it was a dare, and I’m so sorry!”
“I’m afraid your fate isn’t in my hands,” Harry said, but McGonagall caught the corner of his lip twitching.
“Do you understand how serious an offense this is?” McGonagall asked, severely.
Calypso turned back to the headmistress, tears brimming in her eyes.
“You could be, reasonably, expelled for this and even get in trouble with the ministry.”
Calypso shrieked. “No! I want to be a healer at St. Mungo’s! If I get a record, they’ll never take me!” she wailed.
“You might have thought that before attempting such a foolish thing.”
“Are you really going to tell the ministry? Will they even let me take my N.E.W.T.s after this?”
Harry was doing a rather poor job at this point of suppressing his amusement. McGonagall shot a glare at him and then returned to the distressed Hufflepuff in front of her. “Miss Junipers, you are very lucky in that Professor Potter has requested that we be lenient on you, given that in your years at Hogwarts this has been your first offense.”
Calypso gasped and looked at Harry with something akin to worship. McGonagall hoped Harry saw that and kept his guard up around this one.
“Nevertheless, fifty points will be taken from Hufflepuff for this, and you will have Saturday detentions for the next month.”
“With Professor Potter?” Calypso asked hopefully.
“No, Miss Junipers. With Professor Slughorn.” They could discuss their Madam Monette’s subscriptions together.
Calypso visibly deflated. “Yes, Professor.”
“You may go now.”
Calypso got up and left with a last longing glance at the love potion and then at Harry. Somehow, Harry managed to keep it together just long enough for her to close the door and begin her descent down the spiral staircase, but as soon as she was out of earshot he burst out laughing.
“I don’t think it’s particularly funny,” McGonagall said. “If Kreacher hadn’t told you.”
Harry waved his hand. “Bit of well-founded paranoia: I always check my drinks first. I would have been fine. Besides, Ginny’s well stocked on antidotes to love potions.”
“But the principle of the thing remains. We can’t have students attempting to dose you.”
“No, we can’t,” Harry said, sobering. “But I’m only a few years older than some of these students, and I am the hero of the wizarding world.”
“As always, glad to see it hasn’t gone to your head, Potter,” Snape’s portrait muttered from the wall. Phineas Black sniggered, but McGonagall and Harry ignored both of them.
“I mean,” Harry said, “That I’m sure it will blow over within a few years, and until then I have the entire fleet of house elves on my side.”
McGonagall picked up the phial of love potion, looking over it thoughtfully. “I really don’t know why they still allow these.”
“They’ve been banned at Hogwarts for forty years,” she said. “I just meant more generally.”
“Oh, well, when has the wizarding world ever been progressive on anything?”
“I’m considering banning Madame Monette’s altogether.”
Harry snorted. “Replace all their subscriptions with Quibbler subscriptions. Luna would be able to afford another trip to Laos to search for—what was in Laos?”
“Some sort of dragon, I believe. Charlie Weasley turned her onto it.”
“Isn’t there anything you can do to stop the girls from falling all over you?” McGonagall asked, half ironically.
“Why do you think I wear all the ridiculous sweaters?” Harry asked. “I wouldn’t mind if they were just quiet about it like they are with Neville.” He got a sudden thoughtful look. “I could have Ginny threaten to hex them all.”
McGonagall smiled at the image of an enraged Ginevra Weasley threatening terrified students. After all, half them held Ginny in just as much awe as they did Harry, if not without more envy.
She set the love potion down on her desk and, with a wave of her wand, vanished it.
The end of second term came in a rush of warm days and golden light slanting through the Hogwarts windows. There was the usual amount of stress among the students. One Ravenclaw studying for their N.E.W.T.s disappeared deep into the library, only to be found two days later with a long beard, babbling about an orangutan. A Gryffindor and a Slytherin were caught in a cheating scandal by Professor Binns and threatened with expulsion, but ultimately let off with a warning when the Slytherin reasoned that, while they had been intending to cheat, they hadn’t actually cheated and therefore had, technically, done nothing wrong. Meanwhile, a Hufflepuff declared all exams a farce and took up a brief but eventful residence in the kitchens with the house elves and wasn’t ousted until McGonagall herself went to the kitchen to tell her that if she wanted to protest exams she could do it perfectly well from her own common room.
Despite looming exams, longing for summer and an end to classes was almost universally tempered by the ban on underage magic. Out by the lake, some sixth years who were not yet of age took out their frustration by competing to see who could make the biggest explosion over the water, until the giant squid flicked a tentacle in their direction in warning.
The winter holiday’s D&D group held out right to the last day of classes before exams, which McGonagall knew because she had scheduled a meeting with Harry for that evening, and he showed up fifteen minutes late, apologizing profusely because they had reached a very climactic point where Anthony and Julian’s characters had confronted each other and realized they were secretly long lost brothers, separated by war and family rifts. One of the portraits on the wall, who had been getting updates on the campaign from another portrait, gasped in shock, but a glance from McGonagall silenced him.
“Are you looking forward to summer holidays, Professor Potter?” she asked.
He grinned, “Yeah, Andromeda agreed to let Teddy get a broom that flies more than a foot off the ground so Ginny and I are going to teach him Quidditch. Then for my birthday Luna has promised some sort of surprise, and I have no idea what it is but knowing her it will be worth it.”
“And your gaming group?”
Harry waved a hand dismissively. “Worked that out ago months ago.” He rattled off a list of who was going where and finished up by saying, “Everyone is going somewhere where they are happy, and they have all promised to write.”
“Well, then you seem to have everything quite under control.” McGonagall said. “So, the reason I have asked you here.”
Harry sat down in the chair in front of McGonagall’s desk. “I’m not getting the sack, am I?”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Potter.”
“I just want to ask you how you are.”
“If this is a ‘check on Harry, make sure he’s okay’ talk, I get those weekly from Andromeda and daily from Molly,” he warned.
“As your employer,” McGonagall said, “and as your friend, I want to ask how you are and whether working at Hogwarts has done what you hoped.”
Harry went quiet for a long moment, looking out a window across the grounds of Hogwarts where the last, long rays of the sunset reflected off the lake. Distantly, Dumbledore’s tomb gleamed white and gold.
Harry looked much the same as he had a year ago when McGonagall hired him, except that he wore wizarding robes today rather than muggle clothes. The last remnants of long grief had fallen from his face over the course of the year, and he smiled often now. The golden light caught in his eyes, giving him an unearthly look for a moment, phoenix-like. A flock of birds took flight over the Forbidden Forest, and Harry looked back to Professor McGonagall.
“The real reason I made the Gryffindors mix with the Slytherins in my class was because I don’t care anymore what side of the war your parents were on. I just don’t want any more kids to die.” He ran a hand through his hair.
“Anyway, Meredith Burke and Allison Montague have a summer trip to France planned together. They’re doing half wizarding things and half muggle things. In the dueling club, two third years showed up last month and were able to pull off fully formed, if somewhat shaky, Patronuses. Henry, who comes from a mix of about twelve different pureblood families, is spending a couple weeks with Nigel’s family this summer.”
“Yes, but Harry,” McGonagall interrupted, “how are you?”
“That’s what I’m saying,” he said. “All these kids, I did that. I made that possible. So you have Gryffindors spending their summers with Slytherins, and purebloods staying at muggle homes, and what it all means is—” He paused and took a breath, trying vainly to flatten his hair back out.
He looked at her, his eyes greener and more piercing than ever. “The war is actually, finally over. Properly. And I’m not off running away across the world anymore. I’m here. With a job to do. Where it began, and where it ended, and it did end. It really is over.” He laughed, a slight sound of overdue relief.
McGonagall understood. “Good.” They looked at each other across the desk for a long breath, and then she said, “I expect any edits to your curriculum for next year by mid-July please. That’s all then. Go finish preparing your exam, Potter,” she said.
Harry stood, but waited a moment before leaving. He leaned down and put a hand over McGonagall’s. “I don’t know if I ever said thank you, Professor."
She smiled at him. “You never had to.”
He walked out and let the door fall to behind him. There were murmurings from the headmasters on the walls.
“He’s a good boy,” a plump old witch said. “I’ve always said so.”
“He’s too young to be a professor,” Phineas Black complained. “He’s too soft on the students.”
“You’ve done well by him, Minerva,” Dumbledore’s portrait said softly, almost regretfully.
“I think he’s done well by all of us,” she answered.
She watched the door for a while, thinking, and then said, “He’s right, isn’t he? The war is over for good this time. There’s no last minute plot to revive Voldemort, there’s no new Dark Lord, no secret heir?”
Dumbledore’s painted eyes twinkled in that strange, disarming way. “No. When Harry defeated Voldemort four years ago, he defeated him for good, with a magic older and stronger than anything Voldemort ever wielded. I cannot tell you if another dark wizard will rise to power; there will always be those who seek to rule over other men and be called lord, but I think if they come they will not find it as easy to gain power as they once did.” Dumbledore smiled. “Harry is healing very old wounds.”
“He gets to be happy now,” McGonagall said. “He deserves that.”
“Yes,” said Dumbledore’s portrait.
Exams came and Harry’s, modeled on Remus’s from years ago, went off without a mishap, which even Harry seemed a little surprised at. McGonagall overheard him commenting cheerfully to Nearly Headless Nick that he had expected at least one second year’s hex to go wild and hit someone instead of the target. He was pleased to say however, that the closest they had come was a Twitchy Ear hex that caught a portrait. The portrait in question swore bloody vengeance on the second year but was ultimately unharmed.
In a surprise upset, Hufflepuff won the House Cup with Gryffindor and Slytherin tying for second and Ravenclaw, which had been winning, coming in last, having lost all but fifty of their points for an incident involving no less than twelve different products from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes and several seventh years’ speculation on what it would take to lose all of the house points they had won over the course of the year.
As Harry left his seat at the High Table after the feast, he leaned over to McGonagall to say, “It’s strange for the end of the year to come without having to fight any evil.”
Dorms were emptied with the usual house elf efficiency, and students were packed away to the Hogwarts Express and the return London. McGonagall watched them go, until the castle was left, echoing and hollow. Something far away shifted as the castle settled in for the long summer months.
Harry came up beside her. His own trunk was being brought down to Hogsmeade, and all he had with him was a beat-up muggle backpack and his wand sticking out of his back pocket. “I’ll see you next September, Professor,” he said.
“Have a good summer, Harry.”
She watched him walk down across the Hogwarts grounds to Hogsmeade under the bright June sun. McGonagall smiled.
All was well.