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The last week and a half of sixth year flew by in a flurry of exams and pick-up Quidditch matches on the grounds. After Matt left the hospital wing Albus no longer had any reason to go in and eavesdrop on whatever conversations transpired between Felix, Elsie, and the various Aurors who went in and out. The only information he was privy to was what was published in the Prophet, which wasn’t much after that initial day. What he did find out was that Paul Willinson was arraigned on one count of murder, one count of evading capture, and one count of holding an underage child hostage. He would remain in Azkaban without bail until his trial, which would most likely take months to begin. Felix and Elsie’s parents spent one night in Azkaban and were then released after Selena Willinson posted their bail. Rose suspected they would take a plea deal and would never face trial or spend anymore time in Azkaban.

Kaden survived his O.W.L.s, but developed Rose’s habit of continually discussing how well he thought he did and what marks he suspected he got. James did the complete opposite after taking his N.E.W.T.s and refused to discuss with anyone how well he thought he did. He did mention once to Albus that he had a feeling he did poorly on all his practicals, except perhaps Herbology.

It threatened to storm the morning of that year’s Leavers’ Ceremony, which Albus saw as very fitting. Albus’s family, who took up many rows of the folding chairs set up on the grounds, were much more subdued than they usually were at Leavers’ Ceremonies. Albus suspected it was because the future was so uncertain for James and because everyone knew if it hadn’t been for his accident, he would’ve been drafted by the Tornadoes.

Albus sat with Rose, a few rows off from their parents. Teddy and Victorie sat on Rose’s other side, whispering together before the ceremony started. Albus turned away from his cousins and looked to the group of seventh years, seated on the raised platform behind the podium where Professor Kendrick would speak. James sat between Cedric and Ben, looking much more subdued than the rest of the seventh years. Albus hoped he wouldn’t develop a migraine during the ceremony.

Albus had now been to enough Leavers’ Ceremonies to know exactly what they entailed. It had gotten to the point where he could practically recite Professor Kendrick’s speech, as the headmaster only changed his speech slightly each year.

Professor Kendrick stood, welcomed the crowd, and started in on his speech. He spoke of the many talents possessed by the class that sat behind him and all the wonderful things they would surely do after they took their final train ride home. Normally hearing this made Albus want to roll his eyes because it was so flowery and over the top, but today it made him feel slightly ill.

“Poor James,” Rose whispered as Professor Kendrick finished.

Albus watched at his brother, who looked very uncomfortable and like he wanted to disapparate on the spot.

Next came the speeches from the heads of house. They were all short and to the point. Albus dozed off during Asher Carmichael’s head boy speech and was prodded awake by Rose once he finished.

“It’s Meg’s turn,” Rose said.

Albus was suddenly wide awake. He watched as Meg Johnson walked to the podium, a long sheet of parchment clutched in her hands. James was watching her, too, and seemed more alert than he’d been the entire ceremony.

“Hello, family, friends, and professors,” Meg began, smiling at the crowd. “For the past seven years we’ve had it relatively easy. Our parents buy our supplies and clothes. House Elves cook our meals three times a day. Professors watch out for us and make sure we’re learning what we need to learn. Madam Pomfrey is always there to patch us up after an unfortunate duel. We can look back now and say, ‘yes, we’ve had it easy.’

“But the thing is, it wasn’t easy at the time. The classes we took were hard. Our O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s seemed like life or death. That fight we had with our best friend was the end of the world. There was no possible way we’d survive that horrible breakup. The loss on the Quidditch pitch was the worst thing that could’ve possibly happened-“

“She didn’t,” Albus whispered.

“Shit,” Teddy said.

“I don’t think she was thinking,” Rose said.

“That’s the problem,” Albus said.

Albus looked to James, but he either hadn’t noticed or wasn’t giving Meg the satisfaction of knowing she said something that bothered him.

“-Life after Hogwarts isn’t going to be easy. We’re not going to get the first job we apply for. Not all of us who applied to the Auror Academy or the School of Healing got in. We’ll fall behind on our rent and have to move back in with our parents. We’ll forget to buy tea before our grandmother comes to visit. We’ll drink too much at the pub when we have to work the next day-“

“Cheerful, isn’t she?” Teddy muttered. “James is better off without her.”

It was depressing, but at the same time it was invigorating after hearing all the speeches about how wonderful the seventh years were and how many amazing things they were going to accomplish. It was a dose of reality.

“As we leave this place,” Meg continued, “not all of us are going on to our dream career. Not all of us even know what we’re doing next week or next month, let alone next year. And you know what? That’s okay. We’re seventeen and eighteen. We’re still kids. And one day? One day we’re going to look back on our time right after Hogwarts and think to ourselves, ‘hey, we had it pretty easy back then.’”

As the crowd applauded, Albus could’ve sworn he saw Meg look back at James. It was then that he knew she wrote that speech for James. Despite the flub about Quidditch, she wrote it for him, because she knew he wouldn’t be able to stand hearing another speech about success.

Albus let his attention wane as Professor Kendrick and the heads of house began to pass out the diplomas. He only snapped to attention when Lisa Galivant’s name was called. He noticed she didn’t look as happy as he would’ve expected when she accepted her diploma and shook Professor Kendrick’s hand.

“James Sirius Potter,” Professor Longbottom called a short while later.

Albus clapped as his brother walked across the raised platform. So far James had received the loudest applause. James accepted the diploma with his left hand and shook Kendrick’s with his right, which was still covered in the brace.

Cedric was the last to receive his diploma. By that point the crowd had grown restless and the sky had begun sprinkling. Quicker than he normally would, Professor Kendrick directed the seventh years toward the boats on the lake, where Hagrid stood waiting.

The seventh years climbed into the boats, taking up much more space than they had as first years. Once they were all in, Hagrid climbed into his own, and raised his pink umbrella just as the sky opened up and the rain poured down in buckets. The boats surged forward, disappearing into the growing fog.

***


“Can you believe this time next year we’ll be on our last Hogwarts Express ride?” John said as the train sped through the English countryside.

“Seventh year,” Albus said, shaking his head. “Bloody hell.”

“I’m ready,” Rose said, turning away from the window. “I want to do something, especially now that I did that internship.”

“I’d rather not think about it,” Matt said as he fished through his box of Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Beans.

“You will find something,” Rose assured him.

“But I doubt it will be anything I want,” Matt said. “I don’t want to talk about it now.”

Albus knew Matt was having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that he would be leaving Hogwarts in a year. But Albus himself was excited about it. He loved Hogwarts, but was ready to move on. He knew he had a good shot at getting into the Auror Academy and couldn’t wait to start.

The door to the compartment slid open and James walked in, no longer dressed in his robes. His hair was dry, which meant he found someone to perform a drying charm on him after the rainy boat ride.

“Here, Al,” James said as he tossed Albus a packet of Chocolate Frogs. He then sat down next to Rose, opposite Albus.

“Thanks,” Albus said as he caught the frogs. “What’s this for? You never buy me chocolate.”

James shrugged. “Just to thank you…for taking over the team and all. Did you tell Longbottom you don’t want to do it next year?”

Albus nodded. It had been an awkward conversation, but Professor Longbottom had understood. He turned to John. “I recommended you for next year.”

“What about Janie?” he asked. “She’s been on the team longer.”

“Janie’s not as dedicated as you,” Albus said. “She’s a great player, but she’s like me. Quidditch isn’t her life. Gryffindor’s been relying on brilliant Seekers for years, but we don’t have that anymore. The team needs someone who can strategize in a way that will get us to win even without a brilliant Seeker. That’s you, John.”

“I did pick up quite a bit interning for Puddlemere,” John said.

“Exactly,” Albus said.

“What are you going to do now, James?” Amanda asked.

James sighed and leaned against the back of his seat. “I don’t know. Work for my uncle George, I suppose.”

The awkward silence that followed was interrupted by a knock on the door. Albus looked at his friends, confused. No one ever knocked on the compartment door; they just barged right in, like James had. Albus got up and opened the door. Lisa Galivant stood on the other side, looking vaguely uncomfortable. She had also changed out of her robes.

“Er, hi,” she said. “Is James in here?”

“Yeah,” Albus said and stepped aside so she could come in.

Since all the seats were taken, Lisa stood awkwardly in the middle of the compartment. She turned to James, who was looking at her strangely.

“Hi, James,” she said quietly, shifting her weight from one foot to the other.

“Lisa,” James said.

“I…I just wanted to say that I’m sorry,” Lisa said. “For-“

“You didn’t do anything,” James said. “You weren’t even playing that match-“

“I just mean for the way things turned out. I know I didn’t do anything. But we both know if you hadn’t gotten hurt the Tornadoes would’ve taken you, not me. And I hate that. I didn’t want to be their second option-“

“No one could’ve predicted it,” James interrupted. “And don’t feel bad. You’re a great Seeker and the Tornadoes will be lucky to have you. I’m not mad at you.”

Lisa seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. “Do…do you know what you’ll do instead?”

“No,” James said. “When do you start?”

“In two weeks,” Lisa said. “If…if you ever want tickets or anything, send me an owl.”

James nodded. “Good luck…with training and everything.”

“Thanks. You, too, with whatever…” Lisa said. “It was good playing you all these years. You know, in Quidditch. You’re the only one who was any competition.”

James smiled. It was small and gone in seconds, but it was a smile. “You, too.”

Lisa nodded, muttered a quick goodbye, and hurried out of the compartment.

“That was awkward,” Kaden announced once she left.

“Yeah, well, I don’t want her to think I’m mad at her,” James muttered. “Not her fault my hand is useless. I think I’ll go find Ben and Cedric.”

The compartment fell into silence once James left. Rose went back to the book she’d been reading while Matt and Amanda both dozed off. John and Kaden collected everyone’s leftover Bertie Bott’s Every-Flavor Bean and began mixing them together to create disgusting combinations. Albus watched, declining all their offers of eating some.

“Has Felix Willinson talked to you at all since that night?” Rose asked a while later, after she finished her book.

“No,” Albus said, turning away from John and Kaden. “I’m not surprised. The only reason he came to me is because he was afraid for Elsie and didn’t know what else to do. It was a last resort. He’s still a Willinson and his family is still heavily into the Dark Arts. That doesn’t disappear overnight.”

“True,” Rose said. “Still…I hope it’s a sign he won’t follow in their footsteps. I know it’s hard to turn away from your family like that, but-“

“Burke did it,” Kaden interrupted.

“Good thing, too,” Albus said. “Can you imagine that kind of genius working in the Dark Arts?”

“He wasn’t completely moral,” Rose reminded them.

“I know, but it’s not like he was cursing children,” Albus said.

“Felix was very quiet at O.W.L.s,” Kaden said. “But then again, so was everyone.”

“Bet you’re glad those are over,” Rose said.

“Yeah,” Kaden said. “And next year I get to lay about while you lot study for N.E.W.T.s.”

Rose laughed. “You’ll still be a N.E.W.T. student, which means you’re going to have extra homework.”

Kaden groaned. “I’ll try not to think about that this summer.”

The train began to slow, which jerked both Matt and Amanda awake.

“We almost there?” Matt asked, peering out the window.

Albus craned his neck to look. He saw the countryside giving way to the buildings and traffic of London. “Looks like it.”

They spent the remaining minutes of the ride collecting their things and stowing them in their trunks. By the time the train squealed to a stop at King’s Cross, the corridor in their car was filled with chattering students. Albus and his friends joined the throngs and hurried off the train onto platform nine and three-quarters. Albus spotted his and Rose’s parents in the crowd. Matt’s parents stood nearby.

“My mum’s over there,” John said, pointing to the far end of the platform. “I’d better go. Dad’s on call and she won’t want to spend forever getting back. Owl me so we can figure out what we’re doing this summer.”

They said goodbye to John, and then to Amanda and Kaden, who hurried off to the brick wall so they could meet their parents on platform nine. Albus, Rose, and Matt walked slowly toward their parents.

“One more year,” Albus said.

“One more year,” Rose repeated.

“We’ll make it a good one,” Matt added.

Albus nodded. They would. They had one foot in Hogwarts and one in the real world. They’d make seventh year one to remember.


A/N: Well, that's it! For now... One year left, which means one novel to go. Now I shall answer a few questions I know are going to pop up in reviews.

1. I do not know when the 7th novel will be posted. I haven't started writing it yet so it'll be a while. I have a few vague ideas, which are about answering the questions this novel didn't answer.

2. I am currently working on two other novels. One is about James and his life after Hogwarts. The other is not related at all to my usual Next Gen universe and it is about Neville and Hannah's kids at Hogwarts. As of right now, the latter is most likely to be posted first. Possibly next Monday or the one after that.

3. I am not sure if I will write about Albus after his time at Hogwarts. I can't promise I will, but I certainly won't say I never will.

And lastly, if you have any questions about my stories or writing in general, please check out my Meet the Author page on the forum! There is a link in my profile here. And speaking of the forum, now is a great time to join. We're kicking off the Dobby Awards soon and I'd love for all of you to be involved with nominating and voting for stories.

Thank you again for all the lovely reviews and the support you've given me through this series. It's crazy to think how close I am to finishing!

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