As Harry reached the Gryffindor dormitory, the weight of what had happened over the last few months seemed to crash in around him. He had barely grasped the immense danger he, Ron, and Hermione had placed themselves in since leaving number four Privet Drive only days before his seventeenth birthday, until now. He slowly climbed the stairs to the room where he slept each night since his first in the castle, and to his relief, it had been left empty, even though he had not returned to Hogwart’s last September. As he changed into pajamas conjured for him by someone, although he suspected he knew who, he smiled, and felt he was home at last.
Only a moment later, or so it seemed, he was awoken by the voices of Ron and Neville. He hurriedly put on his glasses and stared into their faces, and after a few more moments, convinced them to speak one at a time, and more slowly. They looked at each other, and apparently decided to let Ron tell Harry the news. Ron began to tell Harry that Professor McGonagall was named Headmistress just hours ago, and she had announced that Hogwart’s “will not close as long as I live, no matter how impossible the repairs seem!”. In addition to this news, Ron told him that they had all been invited back to Hogwart’s despite having officially dropped out to search for horcruxes last year, to finish their N.E.W.T. year of studies. Harry honestly did not know how to feel at this point, but did not protest or even try to talk to Ron just yet.
Slowly and deliberately, Harry dressed and began to walk toward the great hall, to find the mourners already assembled. Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, Sprout and Slughorn all sat on the raised platform at the head of the room, expressions of fatigue, pain, and sorrow on all of their faces. As he entered he met Professor McGonagall’s face, and she gave him as much of a smile as she could manage. He made his way down the table row and found Hermione and Ginny sitting with the other Gryffindor students, and he took his place between them, as Ginny placed her hand in his. As he looked into her eyes, she leaned forward and kissed him gently on the cheek, and settled into his arms to listen to the announcements. Harry knew then and there that he would be staying at Hogwart’s for his, albeit post-poned, N.E.W.T. year.
As Professor McGonagall rose, a silence fell over the great hall, Harry looked to the podium that Professor Dumbledore had spoken from so many times and listened intently. After announcing that despite initial desire to simply close the school, the decision had been made to continue the tradition begun all those centuries ago. Naturally this would mean that extensive repairs would be needed, in addition to putting up new defensive wards, but this was not seen as a problem, simply a challenge. Professor McGonagall announced that as Headmistress she would immediately begin the search for a new D.A.D.A. Professor, and that hopefully this one will stay on longer than the previous seven had. There was weak laughter, as the mood began to lighten somewhat, and she continued. After a few seemingly mundane announcements, covering the fact that unlike previous years, the Hogwart’s Express will be making daily trips from King’s Cross at 11:00 in the morning, and returning each night at 11:00, so to accommodate those few ministry officials and parents as needed to be able to come and go, she announced that she wished Harry Potter to come to her.
With a look of confusion, Harry stood and still clutching Ginny’s hand in his, and refusing to let go, both of them made their way to the front of the Hall, where Kingsley Shacklebolt had joined Professor McGonagall, and was smiling as never before. As Harry and Ginny climbed the few steps, Kingsley began to read from a parchment he had just unrolled on the podium. “In honor of his great service to the ministry of magic, Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and the wizarding world as a whole, Harry James Potter is hereby awarded the Order of Merlin First Class.” Harry could hardly believe it, but before he could speak, the Great Hall erupted in cheers and applause, and he could not refrain any more. Pulling Ginny to him, and looking into her eyes, he kissed her. After a few more moments, the applause began to subside, and Kingsley, looking a bit embarrassed, walked over to the couple and quietly said, “I know how you feel son, but this may not be the best place, not to mention you now have to face Molly when you’re done.”
Harry reluctantly broke the embrace, but neither of them blushed out of embarassment. After looking at Mrs. Weasley, and giving her the best look of “I’ll explain later”, approached the podium, and after steadying himself, said “This award is not one I would be receiving without the contributions of everyone in this hall. While I know I would be hexed as never before by everyone before me if I turned it down, I do wish it to remain here at Hogwart’s school, with the request that the plaque read this way.
“With gratitude to all of the students and staff of Hogwart’s during time of need, and all who came to her aide when called”
Again the cheers and applause erupted, but this time it was Harry who held his hands up for silence.
As the crowd noticed him, they began to slowly fall silent, and when he again heard nothing, he spoke again. "For the past 17 years I have been the boy who lived, and recently I became the chosen one, but a few people have seen me only as Harry Potter, and did not expect anything grandiose from me, unless you count good marks and better study habits." Harry shot a grin at Hermione, who turned a glorious shade of Weasley red and buried her face in Ron's chest, "I would like to personally honor those people who became my family, became the people without whom I would not stand before you today. Ms. Hermione Granger, all of the Weasley family, Mr. Neville Longbottom, Mr. Rubeas Hagrid, please stand.” After a few moments, when only Hermione and Ron were standing, Harry crossed his arms and Ginny placed her hands on her hips in a wonderful imitation of Mrs. Weasley.
"Don't make me come down there and drag you up with with me, because I will, and I have help." Ginny barked as the others simply gaped at her in surprise. Mrs. Weasley gave her daughter a slight grin and pulled Mr. Weasley up with her as the others stood sheepishly. Harry began to applaud and soon the entire Great Hall erupted with cheering once again. As the applause continued, Harry and Ginny descended from the platform to join the others, and for the first time Harry felt he knew what it was like to have a real family.
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