These Cuts I Have by melindaleo



Summary: The war has been won, yet the aftershocks continue. The scattered survivors are left to pick up the pieces and find ways to move on. Join the various members of the extended Weasley family as they struggle to rebuild and cope with the consequences. And of course there are still Death Eaters left to find.
Rating: PG-13 starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Post-DH/AB
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2015.06.16
Updated: 2016.01.13


Index

Chapter 1: 1. After the End
Chapter 2: Echos
Chapter 3: Hard Truths
Chapter 4: Fallout
Chapter 5: Distractions
Chapter 6: Responsibilities
Chapter 7: Departure
Chapter 8: Nightmares
Chapter 9: Fallout
Chapter 10: Time Stands Still
Chapter 11: Tears and Fears
Chapter 12: Moving On
Chapter 13: Setbacks
Chapter 14: Unraveled
Chapter 15: Life Goes On
Chapter 16: Back to the Beginning
Chapter 17: Righting Some Wrongs
Chapter 18: Fears
Chapter 19: The Next Chapter
Chapter 20: Family
Chapter 21: Retribution
Chapter 22: Warnings
Chapter 23: Trials and Tribulations
Chapter 24: Past Poisons
Chapter 25: Friends and Enemies
Chapter 26: Toils and Tempers
Chapter 27: Coming of Age
Chapter 28: Fugitives
Chapter 29: Hope
Chapter 30: For the Thrill of It
Chapter 31: Beginning Again


Chapter 1: 1. After the End

Author's Notes: Hello again. Those of you whoíve read my stories in the past know that my favorite scenes are always the aftermaths. One of my biggest fears going into Deathly Hallows was that it would end during the battle, and we wouldnít get much of an aftermath. Sadly for me, that proved true - we didnít get ANY aftermath. Still, the quote at the beginning of this story leads me to believe there would have had to be some adjustment time for all of them, despite how well they were coping at the end of the book. This little plot bunny has stayed with me. For those of you who are like me and missed that, I hope it can fill some of the gapsÖ
Title of the story comes from a line in an Elton John song, Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me. It always reminds me of Harry.


These Cuts I Have
Chapter One
After the End


Somehow he walled it all up in his mind, crammed it into a small space into which he could not look now: Thoughts of Fred and Hagrid, and his terror for all the people he loved, scattered in and outside the castle, must all wait, because they had to run…
- Chapter 32, Deathly Hallow

Harry couldn't even remember where this day had begun. Was it back at Shell Cottage, or was that yesterday? His fuzzy brain didn't recall sleeping much the last time he'd actually lain down. He had to clutch the railing to remain upright as he descended the circular stairs with Ron and Hermione. His legs were shaking with weariness, and his vision had begun to fade in and out.

Dimly, he noticed Ron and Hermione's linked hands as the three slowly trudged toward the Gryffindor common room. They, too, seemed too tired for words. Or perhaps their minds were on the rest of the Weasley family huddled downstairs, grieving. Harry's chest tightened, and he squeezed his eyes shut. He couldn't bear to think about it now. He needed sleep first, desperately.

Woozy, he stumbled and had to catch the wall to keep from sprawling. His hands were shaking badly. "All right, Harry?" Ron asked, reaching out to grab Harry's upper arm to keep him steady. Harry flinched away. Ron's hand had grasped some yet unseen bruise acquired during battle. "Yeah, just need to sleep," Harry replied, his words slurring slightly.

Hermione's brow furrowed. "Are you certain, Harry? Maybe we should see Madam Pomfrey first. You probably should get looked over."

"No," Harry replied, shaking his head. The thought of seeing the matron caused him to shudder involuntarily. "She's got more than enough on her plate at the moment. I'm just really tired."

"What? You need a lie down after taking out the greatest evil wizard of the century?" Ron asked, scoffing in jest.

Harry forced a chuckle. He didn’t really want to think about that yet, either.

He didn't like the way Hermione was looking at him, so he was very glad when they reached the portrait hole. Leaning against the wall, he shut his eyes in weariness. He just wanted to lie down. After a pause that seemed to take too long, he opened his eyes to find Ron and Hermione staring at him, perplexed.
"Err, d'you know the password, mate?" Ron asked.

Harry's eyes widened. "How would I know it, I've been with you."

Hermione looked to the fat lady, her eyes pleading. "Is there any way you could just let us… "
.
"No password, no entry. You know the rules," the fat lady said imperiously. Then her eyes softened as she looked back and forth at the three. "I'm sorry. I wish I could, but I have no authority to change the rules ¨ even for you."

Harry's knees nearly buckled, and he couldn't stop a groan escaping.
.
"Honestly!" Hermione said, exasperated.

"What have we done to Hermione Granger, eh, Harry? Seems wonky that she's the one complaining about having to follow the rules," Ron said, grinning fondly at the disgruntled girl.

A slow grin spread reluctantly across Hermione's face. "I'm just tired, too. Let's go back to the Great Hall. I think Professor McGonagall will let us kip here tonight. If most of the students have been sleeping in the Room of Requirement, I'm not certain who still knows the password, anyway."

The idea of going back to the Great Hall and facing all those people again filled Harry with dread. His thoughts must have shown clearly on his face because Hermione reached out and gently touched his arm. "Why don't you stay here and wait for us. It shouldn't take long."

Harry considered it briefly but shook his head. "I'm all right. Let's just go." It wasn't fair to make Ron and Hermione face everyone alone. None of this was their fault.

"I really need to check in with my parents, anyway," Ron said, suddenly somber. "They'll want to know where everyone is."

Hermione sniffled loudly and took Ron's hand. They all stared at one another for a moment, the enormity of everything that had happened and all that was still to come weighing heavy on them. The silence stretched out, but there really weren't any words to say. With effort, Harry pulled himself off the wall and began dragging his protesting legs behind his two best friends. One more task before he could sleep.

______
Gently squeezing her mum’s shoulder, Ginny extracted herself from the tight hold she’d been pressed into for what felt like hours. After the extraordinary courage her mum had displayed during the battle, now she just seemed to need to physically touch her children. She’d held Ginny under one arm and George under the other while her eyes stared desolately at Fred’s shrouded body.

Ginny really hadn’t minded - she wanted physical contact, too. It was only now, after the excitement was over, that the full weight of Fred’s loss was pressing upon her heart. She’d come within a centimeter of losing her own life to Bellatrix’s curse, and when she’d seen Harry’s lifeless body…

Choking back emotion, she glanced around the vast Great Hall yet again. The last time she’d seen Harry, he’d been sitting with Luna near the door. Ginny could presently see Luna standing next to Neville. Neville was surrounded by a group of admirers who seemed enthralled by the story he was telling. Luna occasionally prompted him if he got flustered while waving her arms in the air every so often at something only Luna could see - Wrackspurts, probably.

Ginny had lost track of Harry quite some time ago, and it took only a short glance around the room to confirm that Ron and Hermione were missing as well.

Typical.

Ginny had spent the better part of a year alternately agonizing over their safety and lamenting the fact she’d been left behind. Tonight, when the twins had got word that the missing trio was at Hogwarts gathering for battle, her heart had swelled, and she’d insisted there was no way she’d stay put this time. No one was keeping her from Harry again.

Her first glimpse of him — although he was thinner and bruised and obviously the worse for wear — had set her heart racing the way only he ever could.

Then he went and sided with her mother.
.
And then came that heart-stopping moment when Voldemort had claimed victory, Harry’s body lying broken at his feet.

And finally, he emerged triumphant from nowhere to stare down his lifelong enemy, the two circling one another like predatory cats. In the end, only Harry, glorious in victory, was left standing.

Ginny’s emotions had hit so many highs and lows in one evening that she didn’t know which way to turn, but she knew she was never going to settle for being left behind again — and it was time he got that straight. She knew it was in his nature to protect — but he’d damn well have to learn to ask her how she felt about the protection he offered.

A huge commotion by the entryway caught her attention, and she turned to see Harry, Ron and Hermione all trying to push their way through the crowd to join the Weasley family.

Ginny felt her ire melting away when she saw the utter exhaustion on Harry’s face. She didn’t know what was even holding him upright at this point, and still bystanders tugged at his sleeve, wanting his attention. None of them appeared to consider what he might need at the moment.

Her chest constricted tightly, and she could barely suppress the sob threatening to erupt. She’d lost Fred — and she’d never get him back. She’d lost Harry tonight, too, but miraculously had been given a second chance. In light of everything that had happened, everything that had been lost, and everything that had been gained — it seemed incredibly petty to stay angry over being left behind.

She wasn’t going to be known as the girl who wasted her second chance.

Elbowing her way through the hordes that wanted to congratulate him, shake his hand or question him, Ginny kept him firmly in her sight. Those glorious green eyes of his shone with a light of their own as he intently watched her progress, reminding her of a fox watching its prey. Those eyes acted as a beacon as she rushed across the Great Hall, leaped into his arms and kissed him — hard.

She saw those green eyes widen in surprise at first, but the slump in his shoulders seemed to lift as he wrapped his arms around her and gave as good as he got, as whistles and applause filled the air. When they finally pulled apart, he rested his forehead against hers, whispering her name over and over again. His hands smoothed her hair and ran along the side of her face as if he couldn’t believe she was really there in front of him.

“Finally more than a dot,” he whispered, and she didn’t know what he meant, but it didn’t matter. He was there.

His entire body was trembling — with fatigue or emotion she didn’t know — and her eyes couldn’t seem to drink in enough of him. He traced one finger along her lower lip before leaning over to kiss her once again. "Ron," her mum's trembling voice called, dragging Ginny back to reality. She felt Harry stiffen within her arms, as well. They pulled apart and both turned to face her grieving mother. There would be time for them later, but for now, Fred had to come first. She felt Harry's hand snake within her own. She didn't know if he needed comfort or offered reassurance but it didn't matter. Giving his hand a gentle squeeze, she led him towards her family, willing to both give and receive.

Ron sat down in Ginny's former spot next to her mum, leaning in and allowing her to smother him. Hermione moved to stand next to Harry and Ginny, quiet tears streaking her worn face.

"We went up to Gryffindor Tower. We all need a kip, but we didn't know the password," Ron explained, finally disengaging himself from their mother's embrace.

"It's Victory," her father said quietly so only they could hear. "Minerva told me she changed it tonight… er, this morning… so we could all get some sleep."

The grief in her father's eyes was overwhelming, and Ginny had to bite down on her trembling lip to remain silent. Her gaze drifted to George, the only one of her brothers who hadn't moved when Ron returned. He remained still, staring at the shell of his dead twin. Ginny couldn't imagine what he was feeling. Fred and George had always been a pair, nearly a single unit. One was never mentioned without the other.

Nothing was ever going to be the same.

"Why don't all of you go up to the Tower. Your mother and I will be along shortly with George," her father said quietly, and Ginny suspected her father's own thoughts were mirroring her own. "We can all talk later." This last bit was directed towards her oldest brothers who were still staring in consternation at her and Harry.

Nodding, Ron, Bill, Fleur, Charlie and Percy - who still appeared uncertain - all got up from the table. Hermione took Ron's hand and began the march toward the door. Ignoring the watchful eyes of Bill and Charlie, Ginny tugged on Harry's hand as she followed them. When they reached the main staircase, Harry stumbled over some debris at the bottom. Charlie quickly moved to catch him before he hit the ground. It was only then Ginny realized how badly he was trembling. Ron turned at the movement and let go of Hermione's hand to sling Harry's arm over his own shoulder. It was a testament to how drained Harry must truly feel that he didn't argue about the assistance. Charlie took Harry's other arm, and the rag-tag group wearily headed up the stairs. Despite the sunlight streaming in from the dusty windows, they all needed to lie down and surrender to blissful sleep.
______
Harry awoke gasping for breath. The edges of a nightmare still tugged at the fringes of his consciousness. He shut his eyes tightly as he clutched the edge of his bed, desperately trying to master his emotions and settle the rapid beating of his heart. As his breathing slowly evened, he glanced around at his surroundings. He was beneath the covers of his familiar four-poster, the curtains drawn tightly around him. He had no recollection of how he'd ended up here. Pulling the bedcovers aside, he realized someone had removed his shoes and jeans, but he'd slept in his torn and filthy T-shirt, still stained with dirt and dried blood. Realizing some of the blood wasn't even his own, he quickly pulled the offending garment over his head and dropped it to the floor.

The dormitory was very dark, and he could hear the familiar sounds of various Weasleys snoring. He didn't even know who had shared the dormitory with him. The clock on his bedside table read 4:00. Judging by the darkness, he reckoned it was just before dawn. Although his stomach ached painfully, the pressing need for a shower outweighed even his hunger. He felt desperately sullied and unclean. He couldn't stand the grime a moment longer.

His legs shook as he stood up, and he had to take a moment to stretch before grabbing all three wands from his night table and quietly padding toward the bathroom. The chamber lit automatically as he entered, and he caught his first glimpse of himself in the mirror above the sink.

He wished he hadn't.

His face and body were littered with various cuts, burns and bruises. One nasty burn along his collarbone was oozing unpleasantly. Obviously he'd missed it after their escape from Gringotts. Overshadowing all the other marks on his body, however, was the dark, looming bruise on his chest. Nearly black and covering a vast area, he could dimly see the trace of yet another lightening-shaped scar, this one over his heart.

Shuddering, he turned away. He didn't want to examine that particular wound now. Turning on the water to a scalding hot, he stripped the remainder of his clothes and stepped into the cleansing spray.

When he was finished, he dressed quickly after locating his knapsack at the foot of his bed and plodded down into the quiet common room. There was a platter of sandwiches on the table that someone had thoughtfully placed a preservation charm upon. Stuffing half a sandwich into his mouth in one bite, Harry gratefully sank into his favorite chair. The tower was calm and quiet, but it made Harry feel very alone. br> He tried to focus his scattered thoughts on how he'd got here. He had vague recollections of being pulled through the portrait hole by several Weasley brothers, but after that, his mind was utterly blank. He hoped none of her brothers had given Ginny a hard time about their display of affection in the Great Hall. He hadn't meant to do that; he just couldn’t help himself. He was so happy to see her. Still, he knew there would plenty of time for them to get reacquainted. There were more somber matters that had to be attended to first.

The second half of his sandwich turning to sawdust in his mouth, Harry put it down. His stomach churning unpleasantly, he got up and began to pace the common room. Images of the battle kept fighting for dominance in his mind. Fred's expression as the wall blasted apart, shrouded bodies in the Great Hall, Remus and Tonks’ hands nearly touching, Snape demanding Harry to look at him.

Voldemort's words, "You have permitted your friends to die for you."

No! Harry couldn't stay here. He had to move. He hadn't noticed where his Invisibility Cloak was placed upstairs, but thought he'd be all right without it at this early hour. Silently creeping through the portrait hole, he left the common room and stared at the quiet corridor without.
.
The castle was eerily silent at this early hour, and he made a path toward the Great Hall without encountering another soul. The damage to the school was massive, and several times he had to alter his path to avoid mounds of debris and missing stairs. When he reached the wall where Fred had perished, his breath caught in his throat, the scene playing repeatedly in his mind's eye.

Through the hole in the castle wall, he could clearly see outside onto the grounds. Dusky grey light made streaks upon the ground as it stretched across the morning sky. Birds twittered amongst the gently blooming trees, some still budding in all their spring glory above the scorched ground.

How could such peacefulness surround the site of such profound loss?

The pressure in Harry's chest, a pressure he'd felt since awakening, compressed so tightly it made breathing difficult. He turned from the wall and hurriedly continued his journey, stepping on mortar and stone. The doors to the Great Hall were closed, and Harry took a deep breath before entering. If he were going to run into anyone else, this is where they would be.

The Hall showed no signs of life, however.

Instead, rows of shrouded individuals lay along the floor towards the front. The real heroes of the battle. Harry's eyes were automatically drawn to the area where he knew Fred, Remus and Tonks all lay. He had to force his legs to walk toward them, but before he'd reached them, he heard the rattle of the main doors opening. Someone else was awake in the castle.

Instinctively ducking into a side chamber, Harry's heart plummeted as he realized there was just one body entombed here.

Tom Riddle lay on a black cloak on the floor, his snakelike eyes closed in death. He appeared somehow smaller than Harry remembered, yet Harry still couldn't bring himself to get too close.

His breathing shallow, he couldn't shake the childish fear that even in death, Voldemort would reach out and grab him. Forcing himself to master his unreasonable fright, Harry inched closer toward the monster who had haunted his entire life. He didn't know what would happen to Voldemort's body, but he couldn’t escape the irreversible truth that he lay here at Harry's hand.

He didn't cast the Killing Curse. Voldemort's own curse had rebounded onto him. It didn't alter the fact that Harry was a murderer. He stared at the unnaturally white face, still in death. Harry's hands shook, but he couldn’t walk away. He felt as if he was waiting for something, but he didn't know what.

He was startled to feel a gentle hand touching his shoulder, and he jumped, wand drawn as he spun around. His heart thudded painfully in his chest.

"Come on, son," Arthur Weasley said gently, ignoring the wand pointing at his heart. "You don't want to be in here."

"Mr. Weasley," Harry said blankly, uneasy with the fact he'd been unaware of the man's approach. Still, he didn’t lower his wand.

Watching Harry closely, Mr. Weasley slowly and deliberately lowered his own wand and stowed in his jacket pocket, raising his empty hands to show Harry he meant no threat. The overwhelming grief in the older man’s eyes was plain to see.

Harry couldn’t seem to focus. He knew Mr. Weasley would never hurt him. He knew that. So why was he sweating so profusely? Forcing himself to master his emotions, he shakily lowered his wand and swallowed around the lump that had materialized in his throat.

Palm open, Mr. Weasley reached an arm around Harry's shoulders and tried to steer him away from Voldemort's body.

Harry still couldn't tear his eyes away. "He somehow looks… I dunno, less threatening in death."
.
Mr. Weasley nodded solemnly, "But we all know he wasn't. You saved a lot of lives today. He wouldn't have stopped."

"No," Harry whispered, knowing it was true yet unable to fully acknowledge it.
"I know it must be overwhelming to process, but there will be time for it all to sink in. The answers can wait until both you and Kingsley have a chance to order your thoughts. Come on out of here, Harry," Mr. Weasley said gently.
.
Dazedly, Harry allowed himself to be moved, feeling oddly disconnected from his own body.
"What are you doing here?" he mumbled, his tongue seeming too big for his mouth.

"We're taking it in turns keeping watch until Kingsley returns from the Ministry," Mr. Weasley said, though none of it registered in Harry's foggy brain. "Have you had something to eat?" he asked.

"Not hungry. What about the others?" Harry asked, jerking his head toward the other bodies he could now see as they entered the Great Hall.

"Their families will claim them as arrangements are made," Mr. Weasley replied heavily."There is nothing to worry about, Harry. You need to take care of you right now."

"I'm fine," Harry mumbled as Mr. Weasley continued to lead him toward the entryway. "Where is everyone?"

"I imagine they're all still asleep in Gryffindor Tower. Most of us woke up and had some dinner last night, but we thought it was better to let you sleep."

"I'm sorry about Fred," Harry blurted somewhat desperately, not understanding how the elder man could stand being in the same room with him. "If there's anything I can do, anything at all… ”

"Thank you, Harry, but you have nothing to be sorry for. Bill has gone back to The Burrow to check on the damage and reset some wards. Once we're cleared, we'll all be heading home, and that includes you."

Harry shifted uncomfortably, feeling he shouldn't intrude on this time of mourning for the Weasleys, yet uncertain what else to do. He didn't really want to be alone, and he had nowhere else to go.
br> Some of his feelings must have shown on his face for Mr. Weasley tightened his grip on Harry's shoulder. "We all need each other right now. Together we can get through this," Mr. Weasley said softly.

Unsure what to say, and unable to bear the look of sorrow in the older man's eyes, Harry merely nodded and looked away, the pressure on his chest building again.

Back to index


Chapter 2: Echos

Author's Notes: Thank you all so much for the warm welcome back. I wondered how many old names would still be around, and I was happy to see I wasnít the only one who canít let go. I want to thank a few people who have helped along the way. First, to Sherylyn, beta extraordinaire. When I told her I was writing again, she immediately responded and told me to send it along as soon as I was ready. To George, my cheerleader and copy editor, who helps me to consolidate if I get to verbose. To Ryan, you all would have had this years ago if it were up to him. Thanks for the prodding in the right direction. And lastly, to Littleforest, one of my favorite writers, who has offered some invaluable Brit Pick service along with motivation. Much love and thanks to you all!


Chapter Two
Echos


Ginny awoke to bright sunlight streaming in from the window next to her dormitory bed. She rolled away and turned her head to the other side, but it was no use. It was too damn bright. Grudgingly opening her crusty eyes, she glanced around in confusion, trying to clear her groggy brain.

The curtains that usually shrouded her bed in tranquil darkness were wide open, letting the early morning sun flood over her. The brightness of the day seemed to mock the melancholy in Ginny’s heart. Memories of the previous evening flooded her brain, recalling having dinner in the common room with her family.

It had been the strangest dinner she could remember, one minute crying over the loss of Fred, the next minute rejoicing that the war had been won, then back to grieving for the losses. Only Harry and George hadn’t joined them, her parents had encouraged the others to let them sleep.

Sighing, Ginny pulled herself to a sitting position and blearily looked about her dormitory.
Hermione was asleep in the next bed. Ginny could see the bushy hair splayed across the pillow through a crack the curtains. Naturally, Hermione hadn’t forgotten to pull them closed.

On the other side of the dormitory, Liz and Siobhan’s curtains were shut tight as well. Both of them had fought and survived.

Ginny’s gaze returned to Hermione. Her friend was sleeping in what should have been Anna’s bed. Sweet, silly Anna who always had to have jokes explained to her. She’d been too slow to move out of the way of a curse early in the battle, as well.

A sob caught in Ginny’s throat, and she forced it down. She felt she’d done more crying already in the past two days than she’d done in years. Not since first year, anyway…

She supposed there was nothing for it and pulled herself out of bed, quietly taking some clothes from her wardrobe. Ginny had never been a morning person — a Weasley trait, no doubt — but she perked up at the thought that since Harry had slept right through dinner last night, he might be downstairs already.

Harry. He was finally free. And alive! He hadn’t really been dead, but her heart had thought so, and she couldn’t contain the rush of relief that flooded her body again. She wondered how he’d managed to fake his death convincingly enough to fool Voldemort, but it didn’t matter. There would be plenty of time for questions. For now, having him was enough.

She showered quickly and headed downstairs, hearing the smattering of voices as she skipped from step to step. Her brother’s angry outburst reached her as she neared the bottom.

“Don’t tell me to calm down. I want to know where he is right now.”

Ginny turned the corner to find an angry Ron, his face bright red, glaring at Charlie who had his arms on Ron’s shoulders.

Ginny was startled to realize Ron was several inches taller than Charlie, who had always seemed larger than life to a petite Ginny.

“What’s going on?” she asked, her gaze switching to and fro between them.

“Is Harry up there with you?” Ron demanded.

Charlie stared at Ron incredulously, his coloring darkening to match Ron’s. “Why would he be up there with her?” he demanded angrily.

Ignoring Charlie completely, she turned to Ron, perplexed. “You know boys can’t get into the girls’ dormitory,” she replied calmly. “Why? What’s wrong?”

“He’s not in his bed. I woke up and his bed is just… empty,” Ron said, swinging his arm wildly toward the boys’ staircase. Ginny could distinctly hear fear in his voice.

“He didn’t awaken last evening. He probably arose earlier than you, no?” Fleur asked calmly. Ginny hadn’t even noticed her sitting in one of the cushy chairs by the fire with Percy.

“Why do you think Harry would be in Ginny’s dormitory?” Charlie demanded again. “And why aren’t you more outraged by the idea?”

Ron and Ginny both ignored him.

“I didn’t hear him get up. I don’t know where he is,” Ron said through gritted teeth.

“It’s over Ron,” Percy said quietly. “He’s fine.”

“He is not fine,” Ron shouted, whirling on his newly reunited brother. “What would you know? You haven’t been here.”

Percy recoiled as everyone in the room inhaled sharply, even Ron, who looked torn between regret and indignation.

“What’s going on?” Hermione asked from the stairway. Still wearing her dressing gown, her hair impossibly mussed as if she’d just rolled out of bed, yet she tightly held her wand at the ready.

“I can’t find Harry,” Ron repeated, turning all his attention to her. “He wasn’t in his bed when I got up this morning.”

Ron’s distress was beginning to rattle Ginny.

“Did you check the Map?” Hermione asked reasonably, although her voice was rather shrill.

Of course! Ginny had become acquainted with Harry’s map of Hogwarts during her fifth year when they’d sought quiet corners to be alone. She wished she’d thought of it.

Ron obviously wished he’d thought of it too. He was staring at Hermione with a gob-smacked expression, his mouth opening and closing silently. “How could I? It’s in your bag,” he finally managed, spluttering.

Hermione turned and was about to sprint up the stairs when the portrait hole opened. Harry stumbled slightly as he climbed through, followed closely by Ginny’s dad.

“Where have you been?” Ron demanded immediately, taking a step toward Harry and causing the raven-haired boy to take a step back.

Ginny was struck by how exceedingly pale Harry was and the slight tremor in his hand. He blinked at Ron dazedly. His face and arms were littered with small scrapes, bruises and what looked like burns. She wondered if he knew where to find the Dittany that the rest of them had already applied.

“Easy, Ron,” her father said. He stepped up protectively beside Harry and rested a hand on his shoulder. “We were downstairs.”

Ron appeared to be having a hard time calming down. “You can’t just disappear like that, Harry!”

Harry blinked owlishly. “You were asleep.”

“That doesn’t matter! I woke up and you were gone!” Ron shouted.

“Ron,” Ginny said, “we’re all on edge, but you’re overreacting.” She was concerned by the paleness of Harry’s face. She could tell there was more going on than she understood, but she didn’t think Ron was helping. She moved closer to Harry, resting a hand on his arm.

“Overreacting? Overreacting? The last time he pulled a vanishing act on me he ended up dead!” Ron shouted, his eyes surprisingly bright.

Ginny felt Harry flinch violently.

Charlie moved forward and pulled Ginny away from Harry. “I want to know what’s going on here,” he said, taking a threatening step towards Harry. Charlie was used to getting what he wanted by physical intimidation.

Ginny didn’t even see Harry move, but he had his wand out so fast she would’ve bet he had a Time-Turner. She was alarmed to see how badly his hand was shaking. It was Ron, however, who went ballistic. Drawing his own wand, he cast a quick spell at Charlie that shoved him half-way across the room.

Charlie stared back at Ron, utterly amazed that his younger brother had got the drop on him.

“Ron!” her dad shouted.

“He died for her, you great blooming pillock,” Ron shouted, clearly enraged.

“Stop!” Hermione cried, reaching a shaking hand over to take Ron’s arm.

“That is enough, all of you,” her dad said in his sternest dad voice. The voice that let all of them know they’d crossed a line. All the Weasley children were cowed, lowering their eyes to the floor.

“What do you mean he died?” Ginny was the first to speak, her voice shaking. “He was just fooling Voldemort.”

Harry swayed on his feet, causing Mr. Weasley to grab his arm firmly. “Ginny,” Harry whispered, “I… ”

“There’s a lot we all want to know, but this is neither the time nor the place. I think Harry needs a little space. We all need some time to process everything that’s happened here,” her dad said, tiredly.

Before anyone could respond, the portrait hole opened again as Bill climbed inside. Noticing the tension in the room, his eyes raked over all of them before resting on his wife still sitting serenely by the fire.
“What’s happened?” he asked tensely.

“Nothing to worry about,” her father answered. “Everyone is a bit on edge. How’s The Burrow?”

“I reapplied the wards and did a bit of clean up. Still needs some work, but we can go home anytime. Where’s Mum?” Bill asked.

“Thankfully still asleep,” her dad replied, staring pointedly at both Ron and Charlie who immediately looked abashed.

“Harry, Kingsley is in the Headmaster’s office with Minerva. He’d like a word, if you have a moment,” Bill said. His brow furrowed slightly as he looked closely at the younger boy.

Harry nodded woodenly. His flat, listless eyes caught Ginny’s for a moment before he turned to go. Ginny watched her father grab Bill’s arm and whisper, “Go with him. I think he’s suffering a bit of Spell Shock.”

Bill nodded and followed Harry out the portrait hole.

“I want to go with Harry,” Ron said, stepping forward, Hermione immediately behind him.

“I want to talk to you all first,” her father said. “Please take a seat.” His tone didn’t leave any room for argument. Ron looked mutinous for a moment, but he turned and led Hermione back to one of the sofas. Ginny noticed he didn’t let go of her hand.

*****

Harry didn’t quite recall how he arrived in the familiar circular office, but he found himself sitting on a comfortable chair sipping a cup of tea that Professor McGonagall had pressed into his hands. The room had come into sharper focus, and he suspected there was more than just Darjeeling in the tea.

Bill Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt sat in similar chairs so they formed a small semi-circle in front of the ornate desk where Professor Dumbledore used to sit. Professor McGonagall now occupied that spot.
Harry glanced up at Professor Dumbledore’s portrait. His eyes were shut, and he appeared to be sleeping.

“How are you, Harry?” Kingsley’s rich baritone voice filled the room, drawing Harry’s attention back to the living.

“I’m fine,” Harry replied automatically. “Err… why am I here?”

“I’m not certain if you’ve heard the news, but I’ve been appointed Acting Minister during the reconstruction. The Ministry is in such disarray that it will take some time to get everything all straightened out,” Kingsley replied.

The bright morning sun streamed light between the trees in the forest, shining through the window and causing Kingsley’s gold earring to sparkle.

“Oh. Er, congratulations,” Harry wasn’t certain what to say, and he was suddenly feeling very wrong-footed. “That’s good, isn’t it?”

The Acting Minister nodded before continuing. “There is much that needs to be done, Harry, and I’m hoping to take advantage of this time and make some long overdue changes. At some point, we’re going to want to have a discussion with you about exactly what went on this past year, but for now, there a few things I’d like to discuss that just can’t wait.”

Harry felt a prickle of apprehension go down his spine. He didn’t know what was wrong with him, but knew he wasn’t on top of his game.

“Such as?” he asked warily.

Kingsley’s dark eyes met Harry’s green, “There were a lot of things said between you and Voldemort during the Battle, but there was one thing at the beginning of your conversation that caught my attention. You mentioned a Horcrux.”

Harry nodded slowly, chewing on his lip. Despite whatever calming element had been in the tea, Harry felt his heart rate increasing again. How much did he want to share? He noticed Kingsley hadn’t flinched when he said ‘Voldemort,’ and thought that, in itself, was an improvement.

“I don’t think most of the people here would’ve caught it. Too much happened afterwards, and there aren’t many who know what a Horcrux is,” Kingsley said. His deep voice was soothing, but his eyes remained intent and probing.

Harry licked his suddenly dry lips. “But-,” his voice cracked, and he had to start again, “But you know what they are?”

“I do. Even amongst the Aurors, it’s rarely discussed, but I once worked on a case in my younger days, and I remember. The case ended up not involving a Horcrux, but I learned about them.”

Harry nodded again. It’s not like it was something you’d ever forget. “Voldemort had se… six of them,” he replied, deciding at the last minute to keep the details of the seventh Horcrux quiet for now. In the eyes of the wizarding world, he was the hero at the moment, but he knew how quickly that could turn. Look what had happened when people learned he could speak to snakes. If they found out he’d always been harboring a piece of Voldemort’s soul… that it had lived inside of him…

Harry must have paled because Professor McGonagall suddenly stood up and refilled his tea cup. “Are you all right, Harry?” she asked, and Harry was unused to the gentleness of her tone.

Six of them?” Kingsley repeated, stunned.

“What’s a Horcrux?” Bill asked.

“I’d like to know that myself,” said McGonagall, eyeing Harry closely as she retook her seat.

“Whatever we discuss doesn’t leave this room,” Kingsley said sternly. “I need to know how to proceed, but I don’t want anything about this getting out.”

“Naturally,” McGonagall replied huffily, drawing herself up in indignation.

Bill nodded, his eyes bright with curiosity.

“A Horcrux is the Darkest of all magic. It involves storing a piece of your soul in another object, ensuring the wizard can’t die,” Kingsley replied.

“Storing your soul?” McGonagall cried.

Bill’s eyes looked sharply up at Harry’s scar. “Is that how… ”

“Yes,” Harry replied curtly.

“I’ve never heard of this magic,” McGonagall said warily. “Where did you learn of it, Harry?”

“Professor Dumbledore told me,” Harry said, glancing again at the sleeping portrait. “He had all references about them removed from the library.”

“But how do you store your soul?” Bill asked, still trying to puzzle it out.

“It’s not the entire soul, but a piece of it, broken off by the act of murder,” Kingsley said softly.

Professor McGonagall shuddered, her hands clasped against her chest in horror.

“And you said Voldemort had six of them?” Bill asked, looking a bit green.

“Yes. Harry said, feeling slightly queasy himself. “During my sixth year, Professor Dumbledore began giving me some private lessons, sharing all he knew about Voldemort. He explained about Horcruxes. The first one he’d discovered had been the diary that helped to open the Chamber of Secrets in my second year.”

Bill looked up sharply, meeting Harry’s steady gaze. “The diary you destroyed?” he asked.

“Yes,” Harry whispered, clearing his throat again. “Dumbledore suspected there might be more since Voldemort hadn’t gone to any great lengths to protect that one. He found the second, a ring that had once belonged to Salazar Slytherin. That’s how he hurt his hand.”

His rapt audience nodded as recognition shown in all their eyes.

“The night he died, we had gone to seek another, but we failed,” Harry said, his heart clenching at the memory of that awful night.

“So Professor Dumbledore died after finding only two of the Horcruxes,” Kingsley said slowly.

Harry nodded, “But he’d puzzled out what he thought the others might be, just not where to find them. He didn’t know what one item was, but he suspected it was something that belonged to either Ravenclaw or Gryffindor. There was a locket that had also once belonged to Slytherin and a cup that had belonged to Helga Hufflepuff, and his snake, Nagini.”

“His snake?” Bill asked. “So a Horcrux can be a living thing?”

Harry shifted uncomfortably, feeling very unclean. He couldn’t manage to get his voice to work properly so he only nodded.

“That really didn’t leave you a lot to work with,” Kingsley said, staring at Harry intently. “Is that what you were doing all year… tracking these items down?”

“Yes,” Harry choked. He took a gulp of the tea and once again felt his nerves calming. “We found the locket at the Ministry. Dolores Umbridge had it.”

“Umbridge?” Kingsley asked. “She’s in custody already.”
“Good,” Harry snarled.
“Do you think she knew what it was?” he asked.
Harry shook his head slowly. “No. I think she was nasty enough all on her own that the Horcrux wouldn’t have affected her much.”

“Naturally we’d heard about your appearance at the Ministry,” McGonagall said.

“The cup was in Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault at Gringotts. After we found that one, Voldemort knew we were hunting Horcruxes,” Harry said, “and we knew we were running out of time.”

Despite the seriousness of the conversation, Bill grinned. “You didn’t seriously ride a dragon out of there.”

“Yeah, we seriously did,” Harry said, nodding.

“The goblins are in a state over the break in. It hasn’t happened before, and they’re enraged by it,” Bill said.

Harry had forgotten Bill worked for Gringotts, too. “It had to be done. We found the snake and Ravenclaw’s diadem at Hogwarts. Once they were destroyed, he was mortal.”

“And you’re certain you found them all?” Bill asked.

“Yes,” Kingsley replied before Harry had to say anything. “Otherwise, he wouldn’t have died. He would’ve just disappeared like the last time. His body remains downstairs. That’s another question I had for you. What would you like to see done with it?”

“Me?” Harry asked once he realized Kingsley was staring at him awaiting an answer. “I dunno. I don’t want it!”

“No one was suggesting you would, Harry,” McGonagall said gently.

“No,” Kingsley said. His voice was also surprisingly gentle. “I wondered if you had any suggestion on where he should be buried. I don’t want anywhere public where it could become a rallying point for any stray Death Eaters.”

Harry nodded, feeling shaken. “Bury him in the Muggle cemetery with his father. He would’ve hated that.”

Kingsley and Bill both nodded thoughtfully. “Done,” Kingsley said. “He’ll be buried in an unmarked grave in Little Hangleton.”

“Do we have a count on stray Death Eaters?” Bill asked, rubbing his hand along his heavily scarred face.
“Not yet,” Kingsley sighed. “At the Ministry, they’re still sorting through who was and wasn’t involved. There are bodies here at Hogwarts, and several who were taken into custody after Voldemort fell. We’re going to have to put together a list of who’s missing after that. I could use your help with that, too, Harry.”

Harry nodded absently. “Professor Snape’s body is in the Shrieking Shack. It needs to be retrieved.”

“Severus really was on our side all along,” Professor McGonagall asked shakily.

“He really was,” Harry nodded, not certain how he felt about Professor Snape at the moment. He was so confused.

Kingsley appeared to notice his fatigue. “We have plenty of time to talk, Harry. I know the Auror Department Head, Gawain Robards, will want to speak with you eventually. We’ll have to decide exactly how much we want to reveal in the interest of public safety, but that can all be done at a later date. You deserve some time to relax and recover.”

“What about the school?” Professor McGonagall asked. “It’s too unstable here to continue with the term, but I want to be able to start on time in September. I plan on offering all the seventh-years the chance to return and sit their NEWTs next year.”

Harry managed a weak smile. “Hermione will be pleased.”

Kingsley nodded. “I think you should send the remaining students home. I’ll see to putting a reconstruction team together. Harry, you don’t have to answer now, but the Auror division is in shambles. I don’t have the luxury of waiting three years to replenish the ranks, so after you’ve had a break and get your thoughts together, I’d love to have you join us.”

Harry was stunned. He’d always wanted to be an Auror, it was the only thing he’d ever wanted to be. Up until two days ago, he really hadn’t believed he’d have a future, however. Was that still what he wanted?

“Do you really have the Elder Wand?” Bill asked suddenly, startling Harry.

“Yeah,” he said, removing the wand from his pocket. “That reminds me. I could use some help.”

“I can’t believe it’s actually real,” Bill said, examining the wand closely.

“Anything you need, Harry,” Kingsley replied without question.

“I want to bury this back with Professor Dumbledore. It’s where it belongs. Will you help me set the wards afterwards?” Harry asked, feeling the sooner this wand was buried the better. Bill had that same amazed look in his eye that he’d seen in Ron.

“I think that would be a good idea. We’ll do it now before you head back to The Burrow and join the others with Bill. I think everyone is eager to just go home,” Kingsley said. “Is there anything else you need?”

Home.

“Uhm… there is one other thing I could use some help with… ” Harry replied.

*****

Ron dropped his rucksack and looked around at the bright orange walls of his childhood bedroom. It felt as if it had been years since he’d been in this room. Another lifetime, really. He sank down on his bed and absently watched the Cannons tossing a Quaffle in a poster on his wall.

His dad had arranged a Portkey to bring them all back to The Burrow after the scene in the common room. Bill and Harry were still at Hogwarts, and Ron couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling he had leaving them behind. Ron wanted all his family where he could see them.

His mum and George had come down to the common room after the commotion had ended, both of them looking gaunt and pale. His dad had berated the rest of the family that Mum and George didn’t need to see that. Ron hated seeing the desolation in his mother’s eyes, and the complete lack of animation in his usually jubilant brother. Ron didn’t know how to fix this.

He couldn’t imagine moving on without Fred. Fred was always just there. Always teasing, always joking, always taking the mickey… Nothing ever would be the same. How could you have George without Fred? They were a unit… a matched set.

Ron sniffled and wiped at his eyes, the constriction in his throat nearly choking him.

He looked up as his door swung open. Charlie stood there hesitantly, the burn scars on his arm standing out against his pale, freckled skin. Ron’s mind drifted back to a childhood memory of an enraged Charlie bursting through the door looking for the twins who had hidden his broomstick. Charlie, who was about to enter his second year at Hogwarts, was determined to try out for Quidditch, and they were moments from having to leave to catch the Express.

“Hey,” Ron said, breaking the awkward silence. “Sorry I jinxed you. I tend to act before thinking these days. It’s how we stayed alive these past months.”

Charlie shrugged and entered the room, taking a seat on Harry’s bed. “I was surprised you could, honestly. I forget you’re not still a kid.”

“I don’t think any of us have been kids for a very long time,” Ron said, images of the past year flashing in front of his eyes.

“I should’ve been here,” Charlie said suddenly. “I mean… I recruited for the Order from abroad, but… you were all so much closer to the thick of it than I was. Even Ginny, at Hogwarts.”

“Oh, drop it with the guilt, Charlie,” Ron sighed. “I get enough of that from Harry. None of this is anyone’s fault but Voldemort’s.”

Charlie’s eyebrows rose. “I haven’t quite managed that comfort level with saying the name.”

Ron shrugged. “He’s dead now.” He paused for a moment before adding, “It took me a long while, much longer than Hermione and Harry.”

Ron cringed. Both Hermione and Harry had seen a lot of things more clearly than he had.

“I’m bunking in with the twi-… with George,” Charlie said suddenly. “I don’t think he ought to be alone.”

“That’s probably a good idea. Where is he?” Ron asked.

“He’s resting. Mum, too. She took one look at me sitting on Fred’s bed, and she burst into tears.”

Ron winced. “How about Hermione and Ginny?”

“They’re downstairs helping Dad and Perc
y with some funeral arrangements,” Charlie said heavily.

Ron leaped off the bed and began to pace in the cramped room, unable to sit still. “It’s going to be awful.”

“Yeah,” Charlie replied. “The next few days will be nothing but funerals, but Fred’s… I can’t believe he’s gone.”

“I keep expecting to hear a bang or an explosion. The Burrow has never been this quiet,” Ron said, that painful lump back in his throat.

“What do you think about Percy coming back?” Charlie asked, watching Ron closely.

“I dunno. We get one brother back right when we lose another,” Ron’s voice cracked, and he had to take a deep breath. He’d been so angry at Percy for so long. If he was honest-

He stopped that thought short, guilt washing over him. “I haven’t really had time to think about it.”

“What’s up with you and Hermione?” Charlie asked suddenly, changing the subject as he always did when he was uncomfortable. “Finally asked her out, did you?”

“What? What do you mean finally?” Ron asked, bemused. “What do you know about it?”

“I saw you mooning over her at Bill’s wedding,” Charlie, ever the older brother, said teasingly. “Pathetic.”

“I was an idiot,” Ron replied.

“Yeah,” Charlie agreed easily. “So… our sister and the Chosen One, huh? That takes some getting used to.”

Ron shrugged. “It does, but… they’re good for each other.”

“What did you mean when you said he’d died for her?” Charlie asked the question that had obviously been plaguing him.

“Died for all of us, really,” Ron said in a low voice, still trying to wrap his mind around the sacrifice his friend had made.

“He was really dead?” Charlie asked skeptically.

“Get a good look at his chest if you don’t believe me,” Ron snapped before taking a breath. “Charlie, it’s his story to tell, and I don’t think he’s ready to tell it.”

Charlie frowned, perplexed “You think they’re good together?”

“Look… I gave him a bit of a hard time, but I know he cares. He has this Map of Hogwarts that marks where everyone is, you know? I used to catch him watching Ginny a lot at night when he didn’t know anyone was looking. He broke it off with her to protect her, and she wasn’t at all happy about it. Now they deserve a chance.”

Ron wasn’t sure if he was convincing Charlie or himself, but he knew the words were true as soon as he said them. Maybe finally being with Hermione was making him soft.

“Mum sure likes him,” Charlie said.

Ron nodded. “Yeah, with all that fame and glory, he could be such a… such a Malfoy,” Ron said unable to think of anything worse, “but he’s not. He’s a good bloke, and he’ll always take care of our sister. If she’s got to be with anyone, I want it to be him.”

“What do you think the Minister is talking about with them?” Charlie asked.

Ron shook his head, “I can’t believe we’re on a first name basis with the Minister for Magic. He and Dad used to sneak off into the study to share some brandy when we stayed at Grimmauld Place.”

Charlie shrugged. “I really don’t know him, but Bill thinks highly of him. I wonder what they’re doing. Bill doesn’t work for the Ministry.”

“Maybe it’s something to do with Gringotts,” Ron said, growing alarmed. “I hope Harry’s not in trouble for our break-in.”

“That was true?” Charlie asked, astonished. “The dragon and everything?”
“Yeah,” Ron said, grinning. “I couldn’t believe when Harry jumped on its back and told us to follow. I thought we were goners.”

“What happened to it?” Charlie asked, his concern obvious.

“Dunno. We jumped off over a lake. Reckoned it was better than letting it land since it might be hungry.”

“Good plan,” Charlie agreed fervently. “Blimey! I’ve never even ridden a dragon.”

“I hope I never do again.”

“I don’t think Harry will be in trouble. Bill and Kingsley will work it out,” Charlie said bracingly.

“I suppose,” Ron replied. “Honestly, who’s going to hold a grudge against Harry now?”




*In Deathly Hallows, it was Harry who jumped on the dragon first while Hermione had to be convinced. I’m aware the movie changed it, but the movies often gave everyone else’s best moments to Hermione. Books rule.

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Chapter 3: Hard Truths

Chapter Three
Hard Truths


The mind-numbing days after the Battle were filled with grief and sorrow. More sorrow than Ginny thought she could bear. Today marked the last of the endless stream of funerals, but it was doubly hard since it was for two people she’d grown to consider friends.

Quiet, thoughtful Professor Lupin, who had given her his time and attention when she returned to school after her dreadful first year. He’d shown her patience and kindness and taught her to master some defensive spells that made her feel as if she could take back some control.

Even more painful was Tonks’ death. Clumsy, bright, cheerful Tonks who, like Ginny, had pined for so long for her reticent love. She’d finally got all her wishes and had just become a mother. Tonks, who had changed her appearance at will to make Ginny laugh, who had sported bright red hair for an entire week to make Ginny feel she had an estrogen ally in a house full of boys.

It wasn’t fair.

The day was overcast and damp, a stark contrast to the brightness of the past few days. Ginny thought it seemed far more appropriate weather for a funeral.

She stood silently between Harry and Hermione at the graveside service. A gentle breeze ruffled her hair as the empty words washed over her. She dimly noticed that this group was much smaller than the huge gathering they’d had for Fred the previous day. Shutting her eyes tightly, she willed the hollow emptiness that had come upon her at some point after Fred’s service to return. She didn’t think she was capable of feeling any more pain or shedding any more tears. She was simply drained.

She suspected they all were. No one at The Burrow was sleeping well, and the Weasley boys could barely summon any enthusiasm to eat. It was just as well, since her mother hadn't once entered the kitchen since they'd returned from Hogwarts.

Glancing out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Ron’s arm draped securely around Hermione’s shoulders while the older girl wept into her handkerchief. Hermione had been the strong one for Ron during Fred’s service, and it appeared Ron was determined to be her support now.

Ginny’s gaze tentatively shifted to the stiff figure beside her. His green eyes were dull but dry as they stared stonily ahead. His hands were clenched tightly at his sides as if sheer force of will alone were holding him together. All of them had broken down repeatedly over the past several days under the onslaught of funeral services. All but Harry. He, alone, had refused to allow his emotions to get the best of him, but Ginny sensed the toll it was taking.

She was worried about him. She still didn’t know all the details that led to Voldemort’s fall, so she was uncertain how best to comfort him. Harry's entire life had been filled with so much pain and loss, she wondered if, now that it was finally over, it would all catch up with him.

They’d barely had time to talk amidst all the preparations for Fred’s services. Ginny’s mother had needed her support more than ever, and Harry had been expected to attend an endless list of Ministry functions. It seemed everyone wanted to see him honoring those they’d lost, and Harry couldn’t let anyone down.

He’d been by her side at Fred’s funeral, and like Hermione had done for Ron, he’d kept her steady as her entire world ripped itself apart. The sound of her mother’s wails as Fred’s shrouded body was encased in its casket had been Ginny’s undoing. Her knees had buckled, but a strong arm caught her before she hit the ground. He’d gently pulled her back on her feet and cradled her to his chest, allowing her to weep until she was spent. She knew how uncomfortable tears made him, but he showed no trace of discomfort as he stoically bore her grief, gently running his fingers through her hair until she’d finally drifted to sleep later that day.

Ginny wished he’d let her be that source of comfort to him now. She knew Remus’s loss was the hardest of all on Harry. She could hear it in his ragged breathing, see it in the way his shoulders hunched, as if the weight of the world had suddenly become too much to bear. The bruises on his face stood out starkly against his pale skin, and everything about his demeanor cried out for solace.

She didn’t know if he would let her in — didn’t know if that was still her right. She hated feeling so insecure, but there it was. Harry seemed so much older than the boy he’d been just the previous year. He was a man now, and she wasn’t certain he hadn’t outgrown her as well.

She felt his body stiffen beside her and looked up to see Andromeda Tonks lifting a small bundle of blankets from a basket that had been placed next to her. The older woman took two white roses and briefly laid them on the baby’s chest before placing one each on the caskets of his parents. Teddy made a soft, cooing noise. The sweet innocence of that sound belied the naked truth of what was happening before them, and Ginny’s throat closed as her vision blurred.

Harry’s breath hitched, and Ginny blinked the moisture from her eyes in time to see his lower lip begin to tremble. The stark pain of loss contorted his features, draining him of the little color he’d still had. Wanting to shield his pain from the bystanders who continued to gawk at him even at a funeral, Ginny took his arm and steered him around, facing away from the caskets. Just as his face finally crumpled, a blinding flash of light went off where they’d been standing. Moving more quickly than Ginny would’ve thought possible given his state of mind, Harry had drawn his wand and whirled back around to face a small group of reporters who’d interrupted the solemn occasion.

He wasn’t the only one. Ron, Hermione, and several other witches and wizards had all drawn their wands, as well.

“This is a private ceremony, and you’re being disrespectful,” Hestia Jones, who had been seated in the row in front of them, said quietly, casting a quick spell towards the camera.

“You can’t do that,” the photographer gasped, inspecting his camera for damage.

“I can, and I did. Either you leave now peacefully, or I’ll have someone escort you out,” Hestia replied.

Ginny’s eyes glanced back toward Harry. He wore that familiar, emotionless mask yet again. Ginny had never hated anyone more in her life than she did that photographer for interrupting Harry’s chance to grieve. That brief hint of vulnerability had disappeared as quickly as it came.

She wished he’d let himself come undone. She feared that instead he’d bottle up his emotions and move on, just as he always had. She wondered if perhaps that was the cause of his continued nightmares. He’d woke the occupants of The Burrow with his panicked screams for the past two nights in a row, but he’d refused to talk about it. He looked so uncomfortable with the attention that they’d all let it go for now.

“Shall we go up and pay our respects to Mrs. Tonks, or do you want to get out of here?” she whispered to him. It was pointless to ask if he was all right. He’d just say he was fine, and it was obvious he wasn’t.

Harry looked ready to bolt, but he took a deep breath and nodded towards Mrs. Tonks and the baby. “Remus asked me to be Teddy’s godfather,” he murmured. “I wonder if she knows.”

“Let’s find out,” Ginny replied, taking his hand as they began wending their way through the crowd, most of them members of the Order.

As they drew closer, Ginny was stunned by how much Andromeda Tonks resembled her sister. She had a brief flashback of a jet of green light rushing past her temple and couldn’t contain her shudder.

“All right?” Harry asked quietly. Of course he’d noticed.

“Yeah,” she nodded a little breathlessly. “She looks a lot like Bellatrix Lestrange.”

“I know,” Harry said, his eyes haunted. “I almost hexed her that night we escaped from Privet Drive.”

Ginny found it rather sad that he thought of leaving his home as ‘escaping.’

As they finally approached Mrs. Tonks, Ginny thought the regal woman regarded them rather coolly. Harry had stuffed his hands in his pockets and was looking steadfastly at his feet.

“We’re so sorry, Mrs. Tonks,” Ginny said, her throat closing up again. There were no words. What did you say to a woman who’d lost her husband, daughter, son-in-law, and sister all in the matter of weeks?

Mrs. Tonks nodded politely at Ginny before turning her gaze toward Harry. She regarded him for a moment before speaking. “My daughter spoke very highly of you, Mr. Potter.”

“I think your daughter was brilliant,” Harry said, looking through his fringe.

“And Remus told me it was you who forced him to see sense when he needed it,” she said.

Harry raised his head at this and met her eyes. “I don’t know if they told you… but… Remus asked me to be Teddy’s godfather. I’d like to help in any way I can.”

Andromeda took a step closer to Teddy’s basket. “He’s going to live with me.”

Harry seemed surprised, and Ginny suspected he’d never considered the idea that Mrs. Tonks might think he wanted to take Teddy with him.

“Of course. I… I don’t know much about babies, but I know what it’s like to lo-… to not… to be where Teddy is. I’d like to help,” he said sincerely.

Mrs. Tonks demeanor softened a bit. “That would be good of you, and I think as he grows older, he’ll appreciate it very much. I don’t want to wake him now, but perhaps you’d like to come over one day next week to get acquainted?”

Harry nodded, relieved. Ginny suspected he was much more keen to be introduced to Teddy when there wasn’t a crowd of people watching him.

“How is your mother doing, Miss Weasley?” Andromeda asked.

Ginny hesitated. She thought her mum wasn’t holding up nearly as well as Mrs. Tonks appeared to be.

Mrs. Tonks apparently understood Ginny’s silence. “Perhaps she’d like to call on me one day, as well? I think we could sympathize with one another.”

Ginny nodded, “I’ll tell her. I think she’d like that very much.”

The line behind them was growing, so Harry and Ginny bid Mrs. Tonks a farewell and moved toward Ron and Hermione. Hermione was dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief, but Ron watched their progress across the grass.

“You ready to go, mate?” Ron asked.

“Where are we going?” Harry asked, his melancholy returning.

“Back to The Burrow. I want to play Quidditch,” Ron said unexpectedly.

“Ron,” Hermione scolded, “I can’t believe you’re thinking of Quidditch of all things right now.”

But Ginny noticed a hint of spark in Harry’s eyes. A spark that she hadn’t seen in so long it nearly took her breath away.

“I can’t remember the last time I flew,” he said wistfully.

“I want to do something that’s not about the war,” Ron said.

“Something just for fun,” Ginny replied. There had been no Quidditch at Hogwarts this past year.

“Something I just want to do,” Harry said softly.

Hermione knew she was outnumbered. “Something where we can laugh,” she said.

*****

They Apparated back to The Burrow and decided to have a kip before meeting in the orchard. After Fred’s funeral the previous day, none of them had slept very well. Harry, in particular, was having a difficult time. As soon as he closed his eyes, images of the Battle flashed in his mind and he woke with his heart pounding in desperation from racing against time. Voldemort’s words plagued him.

You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself.

Had he? He didn’t think so. He’d never meant to…

He couldn't understand how the Weasleys could stand to have him here instead of Fred.

Since he’d awoken everyone with his screaming the previous night, he was determined to cast a Silencing Charm from now on. He’d fled the stuffiness of Ron’s attic bedroom after a short nap, and was the first to arrive at the broom shed.

He pulled open the wooden door and stared at the ragtag collection of brooms within, remembering huddling with Professor Dumbledore in this very spot. The brooms all looked a bit worse for wear.

How he wished he still had his Firebolt! He hadn’t really thought about it for so long. It had been lost somewhere over Surrey as they escaped Privet Drive the previous summer. He wondered what had happened to it. Was it destroyed in the fall or was some Muggle woman now using it to sweep her floors? Harry shuddered at the thought.

It was gone now. Gone like Sirius, who had given it to him. He shook his head, refusing to heed those morose thoughts. He didn’t know what was wrong with him, but he wanted it to stop.

It was over. Voldemort was dead, the prophesy had been fulfilled. Why didn’t he feel ecstatic? All he really felt was… empty.

He’d met with Kingsley each day since the Battle to work on a list of missing Death Eaters, but he still hadn’t mentioned the last Horcrux. He was having trouble wrapping his head around it, and thinking about it made him feel very unclean.

Forcing the thought from his head, he grabbed an older Cleansweep and took to the sky. The cool air whipped his hair as he swooped upwards. That familiar thrill in his gut rose as the world and all its problems dropped away. He pushed the old broom hard, diving and looping through the trees. It didn’t have nearly the speed of his beloved Firebolt, but it didn’t dampen Harry’s enthusiasm. He felt free.

Inhaling deeply as he felt his troubles melt away, Harry raced several loops around the orchard before letting the broom drift downward, testing what it was capable of doing.

The sky was much darker than it had been this morning, and he suspected rain was imminent. He hoped the others would join him soon.

He hoped Ginny would join him first.

They hadn’t had much time to talk or get reacquainted since returning to The Burrow. Too many commitments. Too many funerals. Too many brothers.

It was comforting to have her there, safe and whole. He wanted to ask her about Hogwarts and what she’d gone through, but he knew he couldn’t ask without sharing what had happened to him as well. He’d prefer to talk to her in private, but it seemed impossible to get her alone.

He’d rather just kiss her again than talk, anyway. Everything always seemed less desolate when she was in his arms.

Movement at the edge of the paddock caught his attention. He’d got half his wish. Ginny’s bright red hair was whipping around her head as a strong gust of wind blew. She and Hermione each had a broom, and they were chatting animatedly as they approached. Harry flew down to meet them.

“Hey,” he said, slightly out of breath.

“Hey yourself,” Ginny said, her eyes shining. She seemed happier than he’d seen her in days. “Did you sleep?”

“A bit. You?” he asked, unable to drag his eyes away. It had been so long since he’d been allowed to just look at her. He didn’t think he’d ever get enough. Her hair was slightly longer than he remembered, and her gaze appeared more closed off, but she was there. She was real.

Hermione cleared her throat, and it startled him. For a moment, he’d forgotten she was there.

“All right, Hermione?” he asked.

Hermione appeared to be trying to hold back a laugh, and it made Harry uncomfortable. He hated when she had that knowing look.

“Actually, it’s chillier than I thought. I’m going to run back and grab a jumper. I’ll be right back,” she said, smiling widely.

He saw Ginny roll her eyes. Before he could think of what to say, she mounted her broom and took to the sky, much as he’d done when he first arrived. Harry quickly followed her. They played a game of chase, racing around the pitch at breakneck speeds, taking it in turn to chase the other until the sky finally opened up and rain began to fall.

Harry followed Ginny to a landing, and they huddled beneath the leaves of a giant oak tree.

“You’re a bit rusty there, Potter,” she said, her eyes sparkling.

“No access to a broom,” Harry replied remorsefully. “You flew brilliantly.”

A light blush stained Ginny’s cheeks. “Hermione said you’ve been living in a tent this past year.”

Harry’s eyes widened in surprise. Of course the girls would’ve talked. They were sharing a bedroom. A small part of him hoped Hermione had already told her everything so he wouldn’t have to talk about it.

Ginny seemed to know what he was thinking. “She didn’t tell me much, just that you were looking for something that you needed to destroy him.”

“Horcruxes,” he said, his mouth suddenly very dry. “We were looking for Horcruxes. Dumbledore told me about them, but we didn’t know where they were.”

The rain was beginning to come down in earnest, plastering Harry’s hair to his head. Ginny, who was closer to the tree where it was marginally drier, noticed. “Want to make a break for the broom shed?”

Squinting, he looked toward the shed. He reached for her hand and the two of them made a mad dash. Harry flung open the door, and they crammed themselves inside, dripping wet.

He became very aware of how close they were and goose pimples erupted across his back that had nothing to do with being wet. Drawing his wand, he cast quick drying spells over each of them.

Her eyes were studying him very carefully.

“I don’t know what a Horcrux is,” she said quietly.

“I know. Not many people do, but it’s a very long story. Maybe we could take it parts?” he asked, feeling it would be less overwhelming if he could just talk about one part at a time.

Ginny nodded. “I can work with that. Merlin, I missed you.”

“I missed you, too. We overheard a conversation about you stealing the sword of Gryffindor from Snape’s office,” Harry admitted. “I was worried.”

Ginny shrugged. “Snape gave us detention with Hagrid. The Carrows were terrified of Hagrid, so I suppose they thought the students would be too. They thought he was some kind of dangerous monster.”

“And Snape knew he wouldn’t hurt you,” Harry said, his eyes clouded.

“Yeah. I can see that now after everything was revealed about Snape. At the time, I just hated him. I understand he was on our side, but it doesn’t mean I have to like him. It was an awful year at school. The Carrows were brutal,” Ginny said, shuddering.

The wind outside howled, causing the walls of the shed to creak.

“Did they… ” Harry asked, reaching for her hand and unable to finish, yet bracing for an answer that he had been worrying about.

“They really didn’t bother with me much more than anyone else once they realized that you and I truly weren’t together. There was some questioning at the beginning, and certainly some detentions for the trouble I caused, but I’m a pure-blood, so they didn’t want to inflict too much damage. I suppose that part of your plan did work,” Ginny muttered, looking as if it cost her something to admit it.

Harry felt the tightness in his chest loosen slightly.

“They were much harder on the boys. There was a lot of innuendo and threats, but I think Voldemort wanted to leave the girls all unsullied for some kind of new pure-blood race. The Carrows didn’t mind beating on the boys, however, and we all suffered the Cruciatus when they were feeling particularly vengeful. Something always held them back from any real damage, however. I always had the feeling they were waiting on something. I think it was your capture. In a roundabout way, your elusiveness kept us safer.”

Ginny’s eyes looked far away as she spoke, as if she were somewhere else seeing what he couldn’t see.

“It doesn’t sound very safe,” Harry said, his heart aching at the idea she’d felt that kind of pain.

“It could have been a whole lot worse,” she muttered darkly.

“I’m sorry,” Harry said.

“For what? You didn’t do anything. This wasn’t your fault, Harry. None of this was your fault,” Ginny said, firing up.

Harry stared at a dark spot on the floor and watched as it blurred slightly. He could hear water pounding against the side of the shed.

Ginny placed her finger underneath his chin and raised his head to meet her gaze. His face tingled at the contact. “You can’t keep blaming yourself for everything he did or you’ll drive yourself spare. Voldemort caused this mess. He and the people who let him control them. He didn’t control you, so you have nothing to apologize for.”

A piercing stab went through his heart at her words, and an icy tendril of fear crept down his spine. She didn’t know about the piece of Voldemort that had been inside him. How much of him had it controlled? How much of himself wasn’t really him? Harry didn’t know, and feared her reaction when she found out. How could he tell her when he had no idea what to say?

He suddenly found it difficult to breathe.

“Are you all right?” she asked softly, and he knew the color must have drained from his face. The pitter-patter of the rain hitting the roof of the shed was comforting, and Harry took a deep breath to steady himself.

“Yeah,” he said shakily. “Can we talk about this later?”

Ginny pressed her lips together and scrunched them to the side. “As long as you promise not to hold anything back anymore,” she said firmly. “If we’re going to be together, we have to be open with each other.”

“Are we going to be together?” he dared to ask.

“Did you meet any Veela while you were out on your travels?” Ginny asked. She was joking, but Harry could see the wariness in her eyes.

“I wouldn’t have noticed,” he replied quickly, earning a smile. “And you? Did you… ”

“There’s no one else. It’s always been you,” Ginny said softly.

Harry felt bolstered.

“But I won’t be made to wait like that, anymore. I’d like… I want to be included in your life and your decisions. Part of me died when I saw Hagrid carrying you out of that forest, and I couldn’t bear to think of all the time we’d never have. We do have that time though, and I want to share it,” Ginny said, swallowing thickly. “What do you want, Harry?”

“You,” he whispered.

He reached over and grasped her to him, crushing his lips to hers. She wound her hands around his neck, tangling her fingers in his hair. He pulled her close so her body was flush with his and kissed her as if his life depended on it. After several moments, they pulled apart breathing heavily.

Neither moved as they stared at one another, blinking as if each were trying to steady a world that had tilted.

He leaned over and gently — almost hesitantly this time — swept his lips across hers. She gasped at the feather-light contact, making Harry’s stomach flutter. Her eyes flew open wide, warm brown eyes meeting his bright green. She looked as startled as he felt. He’d never be certain which one of them moved first, but suddenly their arms were wrapped around each other, and they were kissing with the demands of too many months spent apart. His hand tangled in her hair as he leaned her back against the wall.

Her back must have been uncomfortable, but she didn’t seem to care as her tongue ran lightly along his bottom lip causing a delicious shudder to run down his back. He was thrilled that he could still cause this kind of reaction in her. Their time apart had emboldened him, and his hands ran through her hair and up her arms with no concern for the thought that her brothers could catch them at any moment.

“Harry! Ginny! Where are you?” Ron’s voice finally pulled them apart. So much for no brothers.

Harry rested his forehead against hers as they both struggled to get their breathing back under control.

“Suppose we should head back inside,” she said, still a bit breathlessly.

“Suppose so,” he replied, really wishing they could just stay inside the shed for a few more minutes… hours… perhaps the rest of the day.

“Harry!” Ron shouted again.

Harry took Ginny’s hand and swung the door open, each of them running side by side as they dashed through the rain.

*****

Hermione couldn’t remember a time when there was such a lack of activity at The Burrow this close to suppertime. It was painful to be here, and she felt guilty for wanting to leave.

Mrs. Weasley had barely left her bedroom since they’d returned from Hogwarts. Mr. Weasley was trying to keep things together, but his eyes kept searching The Burrow for someone who wasn’t there. George, too, barely left the confines of his bedroom, but when he’d passed Hermione in the hall earlier, she was certain she’d smelled alcohol. She was still debating if she should tell someone, but she really didn’t know who was capable of helping George at the moment.

Surprisingly, it had been Percy who’d taken up a lot of the slack around the house. The meals he prepared were simple but satisfying, and she’d seen him doing laundry earlier that day. Hermione suspected he was trying to alleviate some of his guilt.

Hermione felt sorry for Percy. She could see he didn’t know quite where he fit in this new family dynamic, but then, Percy had never seemed to quite fit. She’d liked Percy when they were all at Hogwarts together. She found him far more responsible than Ron or the twins, and she respected his dedication to his studies. She used to feel bad about the way the others teased him.

And then he’d written that awful letter to Ron about Harry. She knew Harry was hurt by it, and Hermione just couldn’t forgive him for that. He continually sided with the Ministry despite all the evidence mounting against them. How could someone who knew Harry personally think he sought attention? At least the Ministers who wanted to use Harry didn’t know Harry the person, only the Boy Who Lived. Percy knew Harry.

Hermione was struggling with her feelings, as she knew they all were. There simply wasn’t a precise answer, and Hermione hated that.

Percy had gone into the Ministry for the first time since the Battle, and he still hadn’t returned, which was the cause of the latest drama in the kitchen. Ginny was attempting to prepare something for the family to eat, but after burning her first attempt, she was growing rather frazzled.

Hermione wanted to offer help, but after she recalled her disastrous attempts making mushrooms edible, and Ron’s obvious disdain, she was hesitant. The Weasley boys were accustomed to good cooking and lots of food. Though it galled her to admit it, she didn’t think she was up to the task.

“Urgh!” Ginny moaned. “I don’t have the patience for this.”

Charlie, who was attempting to scrape the burned pan over the sink, reached out a burly hand and patted her on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about making it perfect,” he said bracingly.

“Perfect? At this point I’d settle for barely edible,” Ginny huffed.

“Can I try?” Harry asked, entering the kitchen. He and Ron had been involved in a game of chess, and Hermione hadn’t heard them finish.

Ginny shrugged incredulously. “Be my guest.”

“I’ll have to do it the Muggle way, I don’t know any of the spells,” Harry said, his eyes scanning the kitchen. “Does this oven even have a knob to turn it on the Muggle way?”

“I can help with some of the Spells,” Ginny said. “I know how to increase the amount you make.”

Gamp’s Law allowed you to increase food if you already had it, but if you didn’t do the spell exactly right, the taste and consistency would be off. Ginny might know the spell, but she hadn’t quite mastered it. Hermione watched Charlie cringe slightly at her offer.

Harry took out a large knife and cutting board and began cutting some vegetables. “Can you look in the cold cabinet and see if there is any beef?” he asked.

Ginny appeared more than relieved to get away.

Ron entered the kitchen and rested his hand on Hermione’s shoulder. “Want to go up with me and see if we can convince George to come down?” he asked Charlie.

Charlie looked about as happy with the idea as Ginny had about cooking.

“All right,” he sighed.

Hermione reached up and patted Ron’s hand reassuringly. It still amazed her that she was allowed to just touch him freely. For so long she’d had to hold herself back. The fact they were together now, together as a couple, hadn’t quite sunk in. She supposed they needed some time away from all the others to really establish themselves as a pair. She wasn’t certain when that could happen, however.

Ron’s family needed one another right now, and Hermione felt selfish for wanting to keep Ron to herself. She knew Fred’s loss was hard on him, and he seemed rather desperate to keep everyone where he could keep an eye on them. She had been ready to hex him when he called Harry and Ginny in from the rain. She suspected they needed the chance to reconnect as well.

Hermione couldn’t wait until bedtime when she could ask Ginny what happened. She hoped Harry had finally talked to her and told her everything, although, she supposed Ron really hadn’t given them enough time for that. She hoped Harry at least told Ginny about being a Horcrux.

That was the one aspect of everything they’d been through that Harry had been extremely reluctant to discuss since he’d told them after the Battle. She wasn’t certain why he found it so upsetting since it was gone now. Harry was finally free. The Horcrux was gone and Harry was alive. Professor Dumbledore’s plan had worked brilliantly.

She’d been reading a bit about Spell Shock in one of her Healing books after she’d heard Mr. Weasley use the term, and she thought Harry definitely had the symptoms. Her book said he needed to talk about what was troubling him, but getting him to talk had always been a problem.

Ginny returned to the kitchen, dropping the meat on the counter and sitting down next to Hermione. Her eyes watched as Harry poured flour into a concoction in a large bowl.

“I didn’t know he knew how to cook,” she murmured.

“He didn’t let me know when we were struggling to eat over the past year,” Hermione replied, disgruntled.

Ginny glanced quickly as Hermione. “The tent had a magical kitchen, too, didn’t it?”

Hermione nodded. “It wasn’t as if we had much to cook, anyway. I’ve never been so hungry in my life.”

“Ron must’ve been pleasant,” Ginny commented, rolling her eyes.

Hermione stiffened but Ginny didn’t notice. “I wonder what’s taking Percy so long,” Ginny said.

Hermione had been wondering, too. “Perhaps he went back to check on his flat,” she offered.

Ginny’s brow crinkled in a small frown. “I hope Mum will be all right. I don’t know what to do for her.”

Ginny sounded very young, and Hermione placed her hand on top of the younger girl’s. “I’ve been doing a lot of reading, and there are stages of grief. People have to work through them at their own pace.”

Ginny nodded. “I feel guilty when I catch myself being happy,” she whispered, her eyes once again flickering to Harry.

“I know. I think Ron feels the same way,” Hermione said, commiserating.

Ginny smiled, the first real smile in a long time. “I’m glad my prat of a brother finally saw sense,” she said.

Hermione grinned. She looked up as the door opened, admitting Bill and Fleur to the kitchen. Bill’s eyes swept the room, looking for who was missing, as they all seemed to do.

“Hi,” Ginny said brightly. “You’re in time for dinner.”

After exchanging greetings, Bill joined the girls at the table while Fleur went over to see what Harry was doing. Hermione remembered their time at Shell Cottage and that Fleur was also a very good cook. Hermione guiltily hoped Fleur would help Harry with the multiplying spells.

“How is everyone this afternoon?” Bill asked. The somberness that had been so prevalent at The Burrow over the past few days quickly descended back over the two girls.

“Ron and Charlie went up to see if they could rouse George; Percy is at the Ministry, and Dad’s out in his shed,” Ginny said. “Mum’s still in her room.”

Bill nodded, grimacing. “And how about you?” he asked, reaching out and tweaking his sister’s nose.

Ginny slapped his hand away, “Cut it out. I’m not seven,” she said indignantly.

“You also didn’t answer the question,” Bill replied easily.

“I’m all right,” Ginny said, looking directly in her oldest brother’s eyes. “I’m worried about Mum though.”

“Aren’t we all?” Bill replied.

“Andromeda Tonks said she’d like to get together with her,” Ginny said.

Bill raised his eyes. “That’s a very good idea, they both lost a child.”

“That’s really nice of her, considering… ” Hermione said, trailing off uneasily.

“Considering what?” Ginny asked.

“Well… I mean, I know she had to. She was protecting you, after all, but… your mum did kill Mrs. Tonks’ sister,” Hermione said, squirming in her chair.

“Oh,” Ginny said, her eyes widening. “I didn’t even think.”

Bill shook his head. “The Black family disowned Andromeda years ago. They weren’t close. Andromeda was closer to Sirius than Bellatrix.”

Both Hermione and Ginny glanced up at Harry. He didn’t appear to be listening but was instead focused on what he was doing.

“I’m going to go check on Mum and see if I can convince her to come join us,” Ginny said, rising from the table.

“Good luck,” Bill answered. “How are you, Hermione?”

Hermione shrugged. “Remus’s service was hard,” she said quietly. “He was one of my favorite teachers.”

“He was a good man,” Bill agreed.

“I’m certain you and Fleur are happy to have your home back to yourselves. Thank you so much for letting us stay,” Hermione said sincerely.

Bill waved away her thanks. “That’s what families do,” he said. “Did Ron tell you he stayed with us over Christmas, as well?”

“He did,” Hermione said uncomfortably.

“He was really down, and I know he regretted walking away,” Bill said. “I’m not excusing him, but I know he wished he’d behaved differently.”

Hermione nodded, knowing he was right. Ron could be rash; she had no delusions about that. They were in an impossible situation, and the Horcrux certainly didn’t help. She knew it was influencing his behavior. Still, she worried about what would happen the next time things got rough.

She still had to bring her parents home, and she was certain there would be some tension there. Her parents weren’t going to be happy with her for putting herself in danger. They’d probably also be suspicious of the fact that she and Ron had basically been living together, regardless that it was completely platonic, for the past year. It would be awkward telling them they were now a couple. She knew Ron didn’t always handle his insecurities well.

And, she couldn’t escape another unavoidable truth — the last time there had been real, emotional conflict in their lives, Ron had left. He’d left her.

Dinner that evening consisted of a surprisingly good cottage pie. Fleur had made pudding, and the meal seemed almost normal since all but Mrs. Weasley and George crowded the table. Even Mr. Weasleys face had some color back in it.

“This is good,” Ron said, shoveling more into his mouth. He appeared shocked that his best mate could cook.

“Thank you for making it, Harry and Fleur. I appreciate it,” Mr. Weasley said sincerely.

Harry blushed. “You’ve certainly fed me enough,” he mumbled.

“Eet’s no problem,” Fleur said demurely.

“This is good, Harry,” Percy spoke. He hadn’t interjected much since his return from the Ministry a short time ago. “Where did you learn to cook?”

Harry stiffened and ran his hand along the back of his neck. Hermione recognized it as a sure sign that he was uncomfortable with the conversation. She spotted Ginny noticing it, as well.

“I used to do a lot of the cooking at the Dursleys,” he mumbled. “How did it go at the Ministry today?” he asked, clearly trying to change the subject.

Hermione clenched her teeth, finding it extremely ironic that he’d had to cook for his miserable relatives when they barely allowed him to eat.

“Yeah, Perce. What happened?” Charlie asked.

Percy swelled in his chair a bit. “I went to turn in my resignation, but the Minister wouldn’t accept it. He said he could use someone with my knowledge of how matters were handled over the past several years.”

An awkward silence fell across the table. Bill was the first to break it. “Well, congratulations, Percy. It’s a sign that we’re starting to move on.”

Hermione watched in alarm as Ron’s ears grew red. Desperately trying to get his attention, she shook her head, hoping he wouldn’t blow up. His temper could be so volatile.

Before he spoke, however, he noticed her alarm. Surprisingly, he nodded at her before taking a deep breath and returning to his meal. Hermione couldn’t believe it. He’d listened to her! Pleased, she couldn’t help the smile that crossed her face as she reached for her fork.

She saw Ginny smirking at her but ignored her.

“Kingsley is making some very positive changes from what I’ve heard,” Mr. Weasley said. “I have a meeting with him myself tomorrow.”

“What kinds of changes?” Ginny asked.

“He started by getting rid of anyone involved in the Muggle-born Registration Committee,” Mr. Weasley said darkly. “He’s released all the Muggle-borns who were sent to Azkaban, but I’m not certain even the ones who survived will ever be the same.”

“Survived?” Hermione shrieked. “You mean… some of them died in there?”

“Azkaban is a horrible place, Hermione. It’s not meant to be survived,” he answered grimly.

“What about Umbridge?” Ron asked furiously. His ears were bright red again.

“She’s awaiting trial,” Harry said quietly. “Kingsley is ensuring everyone gets a trial, no matter who they are.”

Hermione knew that Harry had been meeting with Kingsley about missing Death Eaters each day. “Then we can send her to Azkaban?” Ron asked.

Hermione was about to snap about the meaning of a fair trial but saw the words I must not tell lies etched clearly on the back of Harry’s hand as he reached for his pumpkin juice and closed her mouth.

“How many Death Eaters d’you think are still on the loose?” Bill asked.

Harry shrugged. “We’ve made a list of about twenty five. The Lestrange brothers and Antonin Dolohov are probably the highest ranking still out there.”

“Has there been any sign of them?” Charlie asked.

“Not that I know about,” Harry said. “Have you heard anything?” he asked Mr. Weasley.

“No, but I haven’t been to the office, and Kingsley has been rather busy,” he replied.

They were startled when Mrs. Weasley quietly entered the kitchen. She was pale and moved lethargically, but it was the first time she’d joined them.

“Molly!” Mr. Weasley said, standing up. “Come sit down. Harry has made a wonderful dinner, and Fleur has made a crŤme brule for after.”

Mrs. Weasley smiled weakly and allowed him to steer her towards a chair. “Thank you so much for stepping up,” she said, acknowledging both Harry and Fleur.

“How are you feeling? Can your stomach handle the food, or shall I make you some tea and toast?” Fleur offered.

Mrs. Weasley smiled gratefully, though it didn’t reach her eyes. “I want to try this cottage pie.”

Hermione noticed Harry’s cheeks turning pink, although she knew he was pleased.

“Has George come down?” Mrs. Weasley asked.

“He didn’t want to, Mum,” Ron said, watching his mother warily. Hermione knew it disturbed him greatly to see her like this.

Mrs. Weasley nodded sadly. “Give him time,” she said.

Hermione hoped that time was all George needed, but somehow, she didn’t think so.

Back to index


Chapter 4: Fallout

Author's Notes: Many thanks to my awesome beta, Sherylyn who even took time to answer an email on her vacation! This wouldnít be here without her. Thanks, Sherylyn!


Chapter Four
Fallout


“You have permitted your friends to die for you.”

Harry woke with a gasp, the words ringing in his ears. Sweat rolled down his forehead, and he struggled to untangle himself from the sheets. It took several moments before his heart-rate returned to normal. His hands shook. This had been the second one tonight.

He wished he could get just one full night of sleep. Even a few consecutive hours would be helpful. He was too embarrassed to ask Mr. Weasley if they had any Dreamless Sleep Potion. Giving it up as a lost cause, he sat up and rubbed his bleary eyes. It was still dark outside, but the chirping of birds told Harry that dawn was rapidly approaching.

“Finite,” he mumbled, cancelling the Silencing spell he’d placed around his camp bed. Good thing, too. At least everyone else had a full night’s sleep.

Running a hand through his hair and making it stand on end, he heaved his body from the bed and tiptoed from the room. He knew it was too early to run the shower, so he plodded down the stairs, skipping over the creaky one, and entered the kitchen. He was surprised to find George sitting at the table

George’s bloodshot eyes had deep purple bags beneath them, making them appear bruised. He was gaunt and untidy with no trace of his mischievous personality. He rubbed his hand over the side of his head where his ear should have been.

Harry’s chest constricted, and he fought the urge to flee. He didn’t know why George would want to speak to him, but he owed it to him to let him vent if he so needed. He owed him so much more than he could ever give.

“Morning, George,” he said quietly, his body tensing.

George didn’t move, but he seemed surprised, “Is it morning then?”

Harry suspected he hadn’t been to bed yet. “Yeah. Coffee?” he offered, raising his wand to start a pot.

“I’m all set,” George replied, raising the glass of whatever he was drinking. It didn’t look like coffee.

Harry poured himself a cup and sat down across from George. “Is there anything I can do?” he asked quietly. He refused to ask him if he was all right since it was obvious he wasn’t. Harry had always hated when people had asked him that over and over after Sirius died.

George was silent for a long time, and Harry didn’t think he was going to answer. “No. Maybe. I don’t know. I keep asking him what I should do with the shop,” George eventually replied.

Harry, who only days ago had talked to someone he knew to be dead, wasn’t sure how to respond. “What did he say?” he asked curiously.

“He doesn’t say anything,” George snapped. “It’s only my own reflection. I see him every time I look in a mirror.” George’s voice had grown steadily louder, and Harry feared he’d wake up the house.

Harry couldn’t imagine what it would’ve been like to see Sirius’ face every time he looked in the mirror, particularly when all he’d wanted to do was escape. Fred and George had done a lot for him, and he knew he had to at least try to help.

“The thing about Fred,” he stated slowly, “is that he loved a good laugh. Not only making people laugh, but laughing himself. All my best memories of him involve laughter. I think he’d want you to carry on with the shop.”

Harry knew George probably wasn’t ready to go back to work, but when Harry was having a rough time, he always preferred when someone talked to him straight up rather than dancing around the issue.

“You’re probably right,” George said, his eyes glistening brightly. His voice had lowered considerably. “The thing is… I don’t know if I can do it alone. I’ve never done anything alone.”

Harry felt a flicker of irritation at that comment. He’d give anything to have what George had. “George, you have four other brothers and a sister who all would be willing to help you. Don’t overlook what you still have while focusing on what you’ve lost. He’ll always be with you,” Harry said, his throat tight, remembering Dumbledore’s words. “Those we love never truly leave us.”

“Well, he did leave me,” George said sharply, standing so suddenly his chair tipped over. “He left when that wall exploded, and I should have been there, too. We do everything together… did everything together,” George’s voice cracked as he turned and fled the room.

Harry watched him go, not knowing if he should follow or leave him alone. Once again drawing on personal experience, Harry remained where he was, reckoning George needed some time alone to regain his composure.

That heavy weight was back on Harry’s chest, crushing him. Voldemort’s words from his dream echoed in his skull.

“You have permitted your friends to die for you.”

If only he could have found the diadem a little faster. If he’d just convinced Aberforth to help them a little bit sooner…

Harry jumped up from the table, unable to sit still. Dusky pink light was spreading across the Weasley garden, and Harry needed to fly.


*****


Hermione sat at the kitchen table in The Burrow reading one of her old textbooks and petting a purring Crookshanks on her lap. Harry had mentioned that Professor McGonagall was going to invite all the students who missed their seventh year back to Hogwarts to complete their studies. Hermione hadn’t sat in a class in over a year, and she felt slightly panicked that she was woefully unprepared.

She knew neither Ron nor Harry planned on returning, and she was very disappointed. She’d never been to school without them. Ginny would be there, but it just wasn’t the same. She couldn’t help hoping that her boys would change their minds. She’d never been fully able to convince them of the importance of their education.

The Burrow had been busier this morning that it had been in days. Mrs. Weasley was up and puttering around the kitchen. Although she wasn’t saying much, she was at least there, which Hermione found comforting. The fire suddenly flared, and Mr. Weasley’s face appeared in the flames.

“Molly,” he called. His voice startled Crookshanks, who got up and stretched before sauntering from the room.

“I’m here, Arthur,” Mrs. Weasley replied, kneeling so she could see him clearly.
Hermione felt like she was eavesdropping, but couldn’t move her chair without bumping into Mrs. Weasley.

“Everything all right there?” Mr. Weasley asked, his voice strained.

“We’re all right, Arthur. You do your job,” Mrs. Weasley said listlessly.
Mr. Weasley nodded. “I just wanted to check,” he said.

The fire flared once again, and he was gone. Sniffling, Mrs. Weasley got to her feet and left the room. Hermione sat very still, her insides churning.

Something about seeing the devastation on the faces of Ron’s parents made her think of her own parents. She realized that her own parents had lost a child, too, but weren’t even aware of it. Hermione unexpectedly wanted to see them very badly.

The reality of it hit her hard, and she couldn’t keep the sense of loss at bay any longer. The kitchen suddenly felt too stuffy and confining. Pushing out of her chair and stifling a sob, Hermione fled into the warm summer sunshine.

It didn’t take long for someone to discover her hideaway.

“Hermione! What’s wrong?” Ron asked, poking his head through the trap door on the Weasley family tree house and finding her huddled in the corner with tears streaming down her cheeks. She’d thought she could find a bit of privacy hidden up there, but she’d obviously been mistaken.

Ron climbed into the tree house, hitting his head when he tried to sit up straight and swearing colorfully.

“Language, Ron,” Hermione said, sniffling. She was miserable and wanted to stay that way, but she had to admit, the sight of Ron scrunched over in the confined space he used to play in as a child cheered her a bit.

“Why are you crying? Did Percy upset you?” he demanded.

Hermione’s chest tightened knowing that in different circumstances, it would be the twins rather than Percy that Ron would automatically suspect of upsetting her. Would nothing ever be the same again?

“No, it’s not Percy,” Hermione said, succumbing to tears once more. This time she was derailed by Harry’s head appearing through the trap door.

“What’s wrong with her?” he asked warily. Her tears always brought out Ron’s protective nature, but they made Harry distinctly uncomfortable — another reason she’d sought the solace of the tree house. There was simply no way to be alone at The Burrow.

Harry tried to squeeze into the crowded tree house and nearly slipped back through the trap door before Ron caught him, shifting his position as best he could to make room. Taking a deep breath, he turned his attention back to Hermione.

“Hermione… is it a… a girl thing?” Ron asked, his ears turning red. Harry’s face flushed scarlet, and she was certain he was wishing he had fallen back through the trap door.

“No, it isn’t a girl thing,” Hermione snapped indignantly. “It’s my parents. I haven’t seen them in nearly a year, and they don’t even know I’m missing from their lives.”

Both boys remained silent, blinking through perplexed frowns.

“I know it had to be done, but I was so careful to ensure that Death Eaters wouldn’t be able to find them. I just didn’t consider how hard it would be for me when I wanted to bring them home. I understand your father will try and help, Ron, but it’s just been ages, and we’ve all missed so much,” she said, tears welling up again.

“Then we’ll just have to go look for them ourselves,” Ron replied, grabbing her hand. “Come on, we can do it. We found all those Horcruxes, didn’t we? How hard could a couple of married dentists be?”

Hermione giggled slightly through her sniffles before sobering. “I don’t even know where to begin, and we can’t just Apparate internationally with Muggles. If I remove the Memory Charms I placed on them before we come home… I just don’t know how they’re going to take it.”

“The Ministry is already working on it,” Harry replied quietly.

Two sets of startled eyes turned toward him.

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. “Kingsley and I talked about it when I met with him,” he replied. “I mentioned your parents and the many others who’d fled the country when Voldemort was in charge. I’m certain there were other parents that put Memory Charms on their children to hide them, never mind people who went into hiding like that couple we helped escape from Umbridge — the Cattermoles. He set up a task force to handle the problem, and he’s already got some people in Australia tracking them down.”

“Oh, Harry!” Hermione cried, flinging her arms around him and breaking into sobs. It was so like him just to fix things for everyone without saying a word. It occurred to her that he’d been doing that for a lot of people during all these many funerals.

Harry patted her back awkwardly, his eyes pleading with Ron for help.

“That was really good of you, mate,” Ron said, gently taking Hermione into his own arms. “You see, Hermione. With Kingsley and the Ministry on it, your folks will probably be back within the week. And even if they’re angry at first, you know they’ll forgive you. How could they resist you?”


*****

Harry and Ginny walked hand in hand around the perimeter of the paddock, their broomsticks tossed aside casually in the clearing. They’d had a nice flight in the early evening air, and as the sun started to descend in the sky, decided to take a stroll rather than returning directly to The Burrow.

Harry knew Ginny was giving him the opportunity to talk, and he appreciated the fact she wasn’t pushing him, but letting him do it at his own pace. Surprisingly, he found he wanted to talk to her, he just wasn’t certain how to begin. The task in front of him seemed insurmountable.

Her warm hand fit perfectly in his. As she began to lightly trace her thumb to and fro along the back of his hand, it bolstered his courage.

“I suppose I should start with the prophecy,” he said, his voice sounding a bit shaky even to his own ears.

“The one from the Ministry?” she asked, continuing to rub her thumb along his hand.

“Yeah. The orb was destroyed, but Dumbledore was the one who’d heard it originally, so he told me what it said that night when we returned,” Harry said, his heart thumping wildly in his chest.

Ginny remained silent, though her brow furrowed.

He could recite the words from memory. “‘The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches… Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies… and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not… and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives…’”

Even in the waning light, Harry could see Ginny had paled considerably. The grip on his hand tightened.

“So you’ve known since then you’d have to face him,” she said.

“Yeah,” he replied.

He wasn’t certain what he expected, but anger definitely wasn’t it. Ginny’s pale face rapidly colored as her eyes narrowed. “And he told you this right after we returned from the Ministry? What was he thinking?”

Harry shrugged. “He said he knew he should have told me sooner, but he kept putting it off. He didn’t want to tell me. I was angry about that at first, but now I can kind of understand it. I didn’t want to tell you… I didn’t want to tell anybody.”

“But you did, right? Please tell me you didn’t handle this on your own?” Ginny said, searching his eyes. They’d stopped walking and were standing beneath the big oak tree that had once shielded them from the rain.

“I told Ron and Hermione after I came to The Burrow,” he said.

Ginny’s lips thinned, and her ears were scarlet — a sure sign of trouble in a Weasley. “So he laid all that on you right after losing Sirius and then sent you back to the Dursleys?” she demanded.

Harry nodded. “It was upsetting at the time, but it all worked out. I… er… I didn’t handle it so well at first.”

He could tell she wanted to say more but managed to hold her tongue.

“I nearly destroyed Dumbledore’s office, broke a bunch of his probably priceless things, so it wasn’t like he didn’t know I was upset. Some of the portraits in his office still scowl at me.”

Her lips twitched. “Did you really? Good!”

Harry grinned, oddly pleased.

Ginny tugged on his hand, bringing him to sit beneath the tree, their hands still clasped together. The sky grew dusky, the sun casting the last of its light between the trees. Their shoulders rested against each other, and Harry let his head fall back before continuing.

“During my sixth year, I started having private lessons with Dumbledore. He told me all about Riddle’s past and his time at Hogwarts. His history, you know?”

“That must have been fascinating,” Ginny said, her face shadowed. Harry wondered if she was thinking about the Riddle she knew.

“It was interesting, but I was impatient. I couldn’t understand how all that information was going to help me to… well… to kill him.” The pressure on Harry’s chest grew painfully heavy again, and he shifted his position.

Ginny put her hands on his shoulders and pulled back gently but insistently until his head was lying in her lap. He felt rather ridiculous until she started running her fingers through his hair and gently massaging his scalp. That felt wonderful, and he shut his eyes, hoping she wouldn’t stop.

“I was sort of disappointed,” he said. “I thought he was going to teach me some advanced Defensive spells or powerful curses or something.”

“He knew you weren’t going to defeat him with a battle of magical might. You would defeat him with your heart,” Ginny said quietly.

Harry’s eyes flew open and he stared up at her, stunned. “That’s what he always said, that my ‘power he knows not’ was love. I used to want to hit him.”

“I bet you did,” Ginny said, giggling.

Stars had begun to twinkle in the darkening sky, but the glow of the rising moon enabled him to clearly see the sparkle in her eyes.

“This is when we started talking about Horcruxes,” Harry said. “But there’s one more thing you have to know about first. Occlumency.”

Ginny nodded. “I remember when Snape came to Grimmauld Place to tell you about it. That’s when he and Sirius almost hexed each other, wasn’t it?” she asked.

“Yeah,” Harry nodded, a smattering of memories replaying in his mind.

“My dad still wasn’t at full health, but I remember when we walked in that kitchen and saw the two of them with their wands drawn and you in between them trying to force them apart. I was worried my dad would put himself back in hospital, he was so angry. He doesn’t get angry that often, but when he does, you’d best watch out,” Ginny said.

“I don’t remember your dad being angry,” Harry said, although he supposed he was more focused on Sirius at the time.

“Oh, he wouldn’t have said anything in front of you, but I know he didn’t like them putting you in danger. He let Sirius have it after you’d gone upstairs. Said he was going to talk to Snape, as well, but I didn’t get to hear that conversation,” Ginny replied.

Harry felt warm inside, and exceedingly fond of Mr. Weasley. “How did you hear the one with Sirius?” he asked, genuinely curious.

“With an Extendable Ear, of course,” Ginny replied as if he were dense.

“Maybe that’s why Snape was so angry when I turned up for my first Occlumency lesson,” Harry said. “Then again, he was always angry with anything to do with me.”

“He really was terribly unfair to you,” Ginny said, still running her fingers in his hair.

“There were more reasons than I understood at the time, but we’ll get there,” Harry said. His thoughts about Snape were still very confusing.

“So Occlumency didn’t go well, then?” Ginny asked, prompting him to continue.

Harry shook his head. “Not by a long shot. The lessons were a disaster. Dumbledore wanted me to learn to block my mind, to block the connection between Voldemort and me. He was afraid Voldemort would try and lure me to the Ministry with a false vision.”

Ginny’s eyes opened wide. “And that’s what happened, too… isn’t it?”

“Yeah,” Harry said painfully. He wrapped his arms around himself, beginning to feel the night’s chill. Talking about what happened to Sirius could still make him feel very uncomfortable.

Ginny seemed to understand this. She placed a comforting hand on his shoulder and squeezed gently.

“So you didn’t learn to block him, then?” she asked gently.

Harry shook his head,” No, the connection was still there, although it didn’t bother me much during my sixth year. Dumbledore suspected he was trying to block me now that he was aware of our connection.”

Harry sat up abruptly, facing away from her. “He possessed me that night at the Ministry. He wanted Dumbledore to kill me while trying to kill him.”

Harry felt Ginny stiffen behind him as she drew a sharp breath.

“It hurt more than anything I can ever remember, even worse than the Cruciatus, but Dumbledore thought it hurt Voldemort, too. That’s important to remember, but we’ll come back to that,” Harry said, beginning to speak very fast. His heart was hammering, and a light sweat broke out along his brow despite the dropping temperature.

“It’s okay, Harry,” Ginny said, rubbing his back. “Breathe. It’s dark, so we should probably go inside before Mum begins to worry. We can talk more tomorrow.”

Harry knew she wanted more information, but he was eternally grateful to her for letting him stop. He didn’t know what was wrong with him, but his eyes were burning and his throat felt painfully raw. He was afraid if he had to keep talking he might start crying, and that just wouldn’t do. Harry had learned at a very early age to hide his tears, and he wasn’t about to expose them now. He didn’t know why he was getting so upset. This had all happened long ago. He began to think there was something seriously wrong with him.

Ginny kissed him on the side of his neck beneath his ear, blazing a trail of light kisses along the base. Her tongue darted out as she reached his throat, and all thoughts of Horcruxes fled his mind as a delicious tingle worked its way down his spine. He tilted his head to the side to give her better access. All the tension drained from his body, and he felt as if he were turning into a ball of mush.

“Ginny,” he breathed, afraid to move, afraid she would stop.

She shifted her positon so she was sitting in front of him, although she never stopped her attention to his neck.

The darkness continued to descend, but they didn’t really notice for quite some time.


Back to index


Chapter 5: Distractions

Author's Notes: Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Sherylyn for all her time and patience with me. Shout outs to George, Sue, Ryan and Danielle for all their support and encouragement.
Lastly, thank you so much to the SIYE readers for votes for the Silver Trinket. Iím so honored and delighted that Cuts has won best new story. This story has helped to fill some holes for me, and Iím absolutely delighted by the others out there who feel the same. Much appreciated!


Chapter Five
Distractions



Ginny closed the bathroom door and held her breath as she silently crossed the dark hallway. She pushed open her bedroom door, noting the ball of blankets on the camp bed, a shock of bushy hair splayed on the pillow. Crookshanks was curled at the bottom of Hermione’s bed, watching her with intent yellow eyes. There was barely enough room between the two beds, but she shimmied as silently as she could before climbing into her own bed and pulling the sheets up to her chest.

She’d barely released the sigh of relief at not getting caught before a voice whispered harshly, “Where have you been?”

Ginny tensed and stifled a groan. Merlin, Hermione sounded like Ginny’s mother. The older girl certainly wasn’t as easy to fool as her brothers, and Ginny knew she wouldn’t buy her innocent act like they did, either.

“Ginny,” Hermione said, a little louder. Crookshanks glared at them.

“Keep your voice down,” Ginny hissed. “Although I don’t know if Mum would even notice.” A wave of sadness washed over her with that thought. Normally, her mum would never go to bed without knowing exactly where they all were. She thought it would be worth a telling-off if her mum would just behave… well, more like her mum.

“We can find out if you don’t answer the question,” Hermione said, unwavering. “Where have you been?”

“Harry and I went flying, then we stayed out and talked a bit,” Ginny admitted.

“You’ve been out there all this time? You didn’t leave the wards?” Hermione asked suspiciously.

“Leave the wards? Where would we go? No, we were in the paddock,” Ginny said. “Why do you think we would leave?”

Hermione turned over and propped herself on her elbows. “I’ve been suspecting Harry will get tired of the confinement. He usually does.”

“He’s not being kept here, Hermione,” Ginny said, feeling a bit insulted.

“I know that, but I also know there are a lot of Death Eaters still on the loose that would probably like some revenge,” Hermione said.

Ginny was momentarily stunned. Of course Hermione was right, but Ginny honestly hadn’t given it a thought.

“I think your dad ensures that Harry comes right home from the Ministry, and he’s encouraged Ron not to take him meandering into the town at night,” Hermione said.

“Harry won’t like it if he realizes we’re all keeping an eye on him,” Ginny said.

“I know. That’s why I wondered if you two had sneaked out,” Hermione confided. “I’m worried about him, but I’m trying not to show it. He’s been a target for so long, I don’t think he’d be at all happy to know we think he still is.”

“He never gets a break,” Ginny sighed, flopping back on her pillow. “I don’t think Harry will accept being hidden away again no matter who’s after him.”

“I know. That’s why you have to keep him occupied here,” Hermione said, brightening. “Did you two have a chance to talk?”

Ginny wasn’t at all fooled by the casual tone.

“We did,” she said, realizing she wanted to share with her friend. “Not the whole story yet, but we talked about the prophecy, his lessons with Dumbledore and Occlumency. He didn’t start on the Horcruxes yet.”

Hermione nodded, “It all ties together, so I suppose it makes sense for him to start there.”

“Were you shocked when he told you about the prophecy?” Ginny asked curiously. “I wasn’t. It just seemed inevitable, like that’s the way it had to be. I don’t know why, but maybe because I already know how it ended. What did you think when he first told you? He said he did the summer before your sixth year.”

“I wasn’t really shocked, more frightened. I suppose we suspected it, too, by that point,” Hermione said, her eyes far away. “Harry, of course, thought we would ditch him. I think he was pleased that we didn’t consider it.”

“You two would never bail on him. I wish he really believed that,” Ginny said sadly.

Hermione lay back on her pillow and stared at the ceiling. Ginny could feel her mood shift but was baffled at what made the other girl so uncomfortable.

“What’s wrong?” she asked anxiously.

“There’s something I have to tell you, because I really don’t think Harry will want to do it. But you need to know to understand… and I really need someone to talk to… You have to promise me you’ll listen and not go storming off,” Hermione said, obviously working herself up to something.

“What are you on about, Hermione?” Ginny asked. The hairs on the back of her neck were standing on end, and she instinctively knew she wasn’t going to like this.

Hermione took a deep, steadying breath. “For a time after we found the first Horcrux, we had no idea how to destroy it. Dumbledore really hadn’t left us a lot to go on, so we still had all these Horcruxes to find, no way to dispose of them, Chosen One Wanted posters were everywhere we turned. It was very stressful, not even mentioning the fact we barely had enough food to survive.”

Ginny nodded, imagining how nerve-wracking it must have been.

“We were living in a tent where we really couldn’t get away from each other, and worst of all, we were taking it in turns to wear the Horcrux. We were terribly afraid of losing it,” Hermione said. “It… it radiated evil, Ginny. It affected whoever had it negatively. All our doubts and fears and insecurities were multiplied tenfold.”

“So you were getting on each other’s nerves,” Ginny said reasonably.

“It was worse than that. I think the Horcrux was trying to separate us, knowing we were stronger together. I’ve never been so hungry in my life… and Ron, well, Ron hadn’t, either.”

A shiver of apprehension went down Ginny’s spine.

“I think… It didn’t even register with me at the time, but it’s awful to think about now. Harry handled the hunger better than Ron and me because… well, because I think he was used to it,” Hermione said, her eyes tearing.

Ginny nodded, knowing how thin Harry was when he arrived from his awful relatives’ each summer. “Ron’s always had three solid meals a day plus some,” she said. “And he likes to eat.”

“Yes. He’d also been Splinched earlier in our hunt,” Hermione said.

“Splinched?” Ginny yelped, alarmed.

“Shhh,” Hermione hushed her. “Yes, so he wasn’t well. He was starving, and he’d been wearing that bloody Horcrux all day.”

“What did he do?” Ginny asked, dreading where this was going. Hermione was usually the one scolding Ginny for swearing.

“He and Harry had a row. A dreadful, terrible row. They both said some horrible things to each other that I know they’d have never normally said. And then Ron left,” Hermione was nearly whispering by the time she finished, wiping a few stray tears from her eyes.

“He left?” Ginny asked, knowing there had to be more to the story. She could barely tamp down the rage that was building against her brother.

“He asked me if I was coming with him… but I couldn’t leave Harry like that, not with so much depending on what we had to do,” Hermione whispered.

“Of course you couldn’t,” Ginny said, clenching her teeth.

“But Ron saw it as if it meant I was choosing Harry over him. He really believed that,” Hermione said, before bursting into tears.

Ginny scrambled out of bed and took the older girl in her arms. “It’s all right, Hermione,” she said as she rocked her friend back and forth.

When Hermione finally started to pull herself together, Ginny tried to stand up.

“Where are you going?” Hermione asked, confused.

“I’m going to hex my brother,” Ginny stated calmly.

“No! Ginny you can’t,” Hermione yelped, grabbing Ginny by the arm. “He came back. He found us again eventually, and he came back.”

“Eventually? How long was he gone?” Ginny asked.

“About a month,” Hermione said, sniffling.

Ginny immediately stood up again and moved toward the door. Hermione caught her and pulled her back. Crookshanks got up, stretched and plopped himself back down somewhat indignantly.

“Ginny, this all happened months ago. If Harry’s forgiven him, you can, too,” Hermione said, pleading.

“Yeah, well, Harry’s forgiven Snape and the Dursleys, too. I’m not that good,” Ginny replied, still fuming.

“Oh, Ginny, so much has happened in between, and I want to let Harry tell you the story. He won’t want to betray Ron, but I thought you should know. Ron really regretted it. He regretted it almost as soon as he got the Horcrux off and Apparated away, only he couldn’t get back to us.”

“I can’t believe he left,” Ginny said.

“I couldn’t, either. It was so hard… it still is,” Hermione whispered.

Ginny looked at her sharply. “I’m sorry, Hermione.”

“He left me, too,” Hermione said, swiping at her nose. “Things got hard, and he left me, too.”

“You’re afraid he might leave again,” Ginny whispered insightfully.

“What happens the next time we have a big row? It’s bound to happen. We row all the time,” Hermione cried.

Ginny smiled her acknowledgement. “Well, there you go. You row all the time, and he doesn’t usually leave.”

Hermione smiled weakly.

“Have you talked to him about it?” Ginny asked.

Hermione shook her head. “We really haven’t had much time to be alone with all the funerals,” she said.

“Tell me about it,” Ginny sighed. “Hermione, I’m really angry at the prat right now, so I’m probably not in the best frame of mind to reassure you, but… even I can see that the Ron who arrived at Hogwarts for the battle that night wasn’t the same Ron who left The Burrow last summer. He’s more mature, thoughtful even. He’s been a rock to this family since Fred… since Fred.”

Ginny had to stop talking, the words getting stuck in her throat.

This time Hermione reached out a comforting hand and patted Ginny’s shoulder reassuringly. “I suppose you’re right.”

“I am right,” Ginny said firmly. “Sit him down for a long heart to heart. He’ll love that.” Ginny suspected that would be more than a good punishment for her brother, the prat.

“Ginny, there’s one more thing. While Ron was away, Harry and I went to Godric’s Hollow. Don’t let him skim over that part when he tells you about it. It was really hard on him,” Hermione said.

Ginny was flooded with cold dread. She could only imagine how difficult that must have been for Harry. Ginny was raised on stories about what had happened that dreadful night in Godric’s Hollow. She wasn’t certain she ever wanted to actually see where it all happened.

“It was hard on him tonight, just talking about it,” Ginny said, wrapping her arms around her abdomen. “We stopped when I thought he’d had enough.”

Hermione nodded. “Shall I expect to find him brooding tomorrow then?” she asked.

“I don’t think so,” Ginny replied. “I think I distracted him.”

“Distracted him how,” Hermione asked curiously.

“I gave him a hickey.”

If her mother had been awake, she would have definitely heard all the giggles coming from the girls in Ginny’s bedroom.

*****

The next afternoon found Harry sitting at the kitchen table staring, perplexed, at an owl that had arrived moments ago. A Gringotts owl with a note informing him that both his own and the Black family vaults had been seized in reparations for the destruction inflicted upon the bank. There was also a summons inside, demanding he appear in front of the goblins to assess any further penalties.

Harry didn’t like the sound of that. He didn’t want to appear in front of the goblins, but he’d eventually need some money. He couldn’t live off the Weasleys forever. He reckoned he’d be paid once he started work as an Auror, but he had no idea how long that would be.

As he sat at the kitchen table pondering his options, he didn’t pay much attention to Hermione when she entered the kitchen until she leaned over and whispered in his ear, “Nice Concealing Charm on your neck, Harry.”

Harry felt his face flush as he slapped his hand to his neck, realizing a moment too late that obviously she couldn’t see a Concealing Charm.

Hermione sat down next to him, smirking.

“Ha Bloody Ha,” he replied, scowling. His skin felt extremely warm.

Hermione continued to smirk. “I wonder what Ron would think if I-”

“Don’t even finish that thought,” Harry yelped, interrupting her. “I really don’t want to know, Hermione.”

Hermione apparently decided to take pity, though she still looked far too amused for Harry’s liking. “What do you have there?” she asked, nodding toward his letter.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Harry replied, stuffing the note in his pocket. “More Ministry stuff.”

He didn’t want to worry Hermione with the goblin trouble. She was concerned enough for her parents without adding to it.

“I got a note from the Ministry, too,” Hermione said. “Cibby Seekum - that’s the person the Minister has placed in charge of the Muggleborn Retrieval Committee - wrote to me to say that she has a lead on my parents. She’s preparing an International Portkey so Ron and I can go in a matter of days.”

“That’s wonderful, Hermione,” Harry said, wondering when they’d decided Ron would accompany her.

His thoughts must have shown on his face because Hermione said, “I thought it would be too hard for you to get away with everything you’ve been doing for the Ministry, and I really don’t want to wait.”

Harry wouldn’t have wanted to wait, either.

“It’ll be good for Ron to get a break from all the somberness here, too,” Harry said, wondering if there was something he could do for Ginny. He doubted very much her parents would let him take her to Australia. She wasn’t even of age yet.

“Ginny tells me you had a good chat last night,” Hermione said tentatively.

‘That’s not all she told you,’ Harry thought, disgruntled.

“We did,” he replied, running a hand along the back of his neck.

“You haven’t told her about the Horcrux yet,” Hermione said.

He knew without her saying it which one she meant.

Unexpectedly, the kitchen appeared to dim around him as it elongated. Black dots filled the edge of his vision as breathing became difficult. Hermione’s words seemed to echo unrecognizably in his ears.

He was suddenly back in the forest staring at cold, merciless red eyes before a jet of green raced towards him, obliterating all else.

“Love, which did not prevent me stamping out your Mudblood mother like a cockroach, Potter.”

“Harry! Harry!” The fact someone was shaking him finally broke through the fog enveloping his brain. He was sweating profusely and really feared he might be sick. Hermione was staring at him, panicked.

“Are you all right?” she asked.

He nodded, dazed, and unable to speak. It was all he could do to clasp the bench and will his stomach not to expel its contents. Hermione stood and quickly pointed her wand at the kettle to start some tea.

“What was that, Harry?” she asked after pouring him a cup. She handed it to him as she sat back down.

Harry’s hand was shaking badly, and he sloshed a lot of it over the sides of the cup before finally putting it back down. “Nothing,” he whispered.

Hermione arched her eyebrow in disbelief. “We can all see that you’re not all right, Harry. You’re not fooling anyone.”

“Maybe I don’t want to talk about it,” he snapped.

Hermione just stared at him until he added more softly, “It creeps me out.”

She rested her hand on his arm in comfort, squeezing it gently. “Of anyone, Ginny should be able to understand what you’re feeling the most. It was a Horcrux that possessed her, as well.”

She placed her hands over his and gently assisted him in lifting the shaking teacup to his lips. The liquid burned going down but it helped him to focus.

Harry desperately wanted to get up and storm away from her, but he knew his legs wouldn’t cooperate at the moment. He settled for glowering and turning his eyes away from her. He knew Ginny had been possessed. He’d been possessed, too. This was different. This was a part of Voldemort living inside his head for his entire life, and he hadn’t even known. It had been there through everything he’d ever done, ever saw…

He shuddered, feeling that panic rising again.

Mr. Weasley entered the kitchen, his eyes darting between the two teens, taking in the intense stares between them. Harry knew he was a mess, but there was nothing that could be done for it. From the corner of his eye, he caught Hermione pantomiming something to the older man.

“I’m right here, Hermione,” he snapped.

Mr. Weasley sat along the bench and poured himself some tea. Hermione meekly slipped from the kitchen to join Ron and the others gathered in the sitting room.

Harry, who was already nettled, grew increasingly uncomfortable with the silence as Mr. Weasley prepared his tea without comment. He shut his eyes as he tried to pull himself together, absently rubbing his chest over his heart. That heavy, constricted feeling had returned, pressing on him.

“How are you, Harry?” Mr. Weasley asked pleasantly.

“I’m fine, sir,” he replied.

“If you don’t mind my saying, you don’t seem fine,” Mr. Weasley said in that same calm, genial voice.

Mr. Weasley had just buried a son. Harry didn’t want to upset him, but he couldn’t understand why he was bothering with him right now, either. He’d told the man he was fine. What did he want?

“I’m not trying to pry, but I’m concerned about you,” Mr. Weasley continued.

“You don’t have to be. I’ll be fine,” Harry said, feeling more and more nettled.

“I thought you said you were fine,” Mr. Weasley said easily.

Harry’s eyes darted toward the door, ready to make an escape. Everyone always accepted when he said he was fine, except sometimes Hermione. Why wouldn’t he?

“Er… just still a little tired,” he said. It was true, he was still sleeping horribly, so he wasn’t really lying.

“Have you ever heard the term Spell Shock, Harry?” Mr. Weasley asked.

“No, sir,” Harry replied, swallowing around a lump that was growing in his throat.
“It’s a common occurrence after a duel that turns particularly bloody or from heavy exposure to Dark magic. It happened a lot after the last war. Symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, increased anxiety,” Mr. Weasley said, his eyes boring into Harry. “Have you experienced any of these problems, Harry?”

All of them.

Harry shook his head rapidly.

“Harry, please remove your shirt,” Mr. Weasley said, and this time his voice was firm, unyielding.

“What?” Harry yelped. “Why?”

“Because you’ve been rubbing at that spot on your chest for days. I want to see if you’re injured,” Mr. Weasley said.

“I’m not,” he insisted, his heart thudding painfully.

“Remove your shirt, please,” Mr. Weasley’s voice was firm and brooked no argument.

Harry couldn’t argue with that voice, and he wasn’t certain why he suddenly felt so small. He cast his eyes down, blushing furiously as he pulled the T-shirt over his head.

“Merlin!” Mr. Weasley exclaimed loudly, startling Harry so much he jumped. “Have you had this looked at?”

Harry glanced at his chest, already knowing what he’d find. The bruise was as black as ever, it didn’t even appear to have lightened. The other marks and burns were in various stages of healing, making the large bruise stand out even more.

Mr. Weasleys loud exclamation attracted all of the others who’d been in the sitting room, and they all began piling into the kitchen. Feeling unbearably exposed, Harry wrapped his arms around his abdomen, hunching his shoulders and trying to make himself as small as possible.

Ron and Hermione were the only ones who knew what happened, but they hadn’t actually seen the mark. Even their faces registered dismay. Charlie and Ginny were both staring, horrified, and Mrs. Weasley burst into tears.

“Bloody hell,” Ron muttered.

“Harry! What happened?” Mrs. Weasley cried.

Harry wished they would all disappear. Better yet, he wished he would disappear. The Anti-Apparition wards on The Burrow wouldn’t let him until he was outside.

“Harry, what happened here?” Mr. Weasley said in that same stern voice, once he’d recovered from the shock.

Harry noticed all three of the Weasley children in the kitchen glanced at their father warily. Obviously, they felt the same reverence for that voice that he did. He felt compelled to answer.

“Got cursed,” he mumbled.

“Now there’s an understatement,” Ron said.

Harry glared at him viciously, but Ron seemed unperturbed.

“What curse did this?” Mr. Weasley asked, refusing to be distracted.

Harry hesitated. He really didn’t want to answer that question. He glanced at Ginny. Her eyes were glistening, but she offered him no way out.

“The Killing Curse,” he said, barely above a whisper.

Stunned silence filled the room, as Harry knew it would. He cast his eyes to the floor, unable to bear the horror on any of their faces.

Mr. Weasley faltered but eventually asked, “Did Madam Pomfrey look at this the night of the battle?”

Harry shook his head, still refusing to meet the man’s eyes. Peripherally, he caught a brief glimpse of the guilt that flooded the man’s expression and nearly came undone.

“There is a mediwitch at the Ministry. I want you to have her look at it tomorrow. I mean it, Harry. I’m going to alert Kingsley to expect you to do it,” Mr. Weasley said.

Harry nodded before quickly pulling his T-shirt back on. The awkward silence grated on his nerves, and Harry fled the kitchen without a backward glance. He entered the back garden and walked toward the fence, trying to alleviate the thumping of his heart. Absently trailing his fingers along the rough wood and enjoying the warm air as it ruffled through his hair, Mr. Weasleys words rang in his ears. Spell Shock. Is that what was wrong with him?

He heard the kitchen door bang open and looked up in time to see Ginny walking toward him. She wasn’t smiling, but her eyes were soft as she watched him.

Harry’s eyes began to sting, and he turned away from her toward the fence. She never said a word, simply walked up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. He leaned back into her, seeking her warmth. They didn’t speak, but she stayed with him until he managed to get his raging emotions back under control.

*****

The next morning, Ron was one of the last to rise. Professor McGonagall had arranged educational sessions at the Ministry for some of the students to revise so they could sit their missed exams later in the summer. Ginny had gone to work with their father for her first revision session. She’d never returned to Hogwarts after the Easter hols, so she was behind some of the other sixth-years.

Hermione had informed him that their International Portkey had arrived, and they were scheduled to depart in two days. Ron hadn’t put a lot of thought into it before, but now he was panicking.

He was going to see the Grangers. He was going to see the Grangers as Hermione’s boyfriend. He’d let their daughter put herself in danger all year, and he hadn’t been able to stop her being tortured.

They were going to hate him.

They should.

“What’s up with you?” George asked, joining him in the kitchen.

“I’m doomed,” Ron replied, forgetting to whom he was talking.

“Welcome to hell,” George said, pouring a glass of the juice that was on the table.

Ron glanced up. George really wasn’t looking so good. “You look like hell, mate.”

“Still better looking than you,” George replied easily. “Come on, what gives?”

It was one of the first times George had willingly engaged in conversation, so Ron thought he should continue. Perhaps he was tired of everyone tip-toeing around him. Harry got that way sometimes, too.

“I’m going to Australia in two days to get Hermione’s parents,” Ron said miserably.

George stared at him a moment. “Yeah, you and Hermione alone on another continent. I can see why you’re distressed,” he deadpanned.

Ron rolled his eyes. “We’re going to be with all Muggles,” he said, although the idea of being somewhere alone with Hermione and away from all the rest of his family was highly appealing. Unfortunately, the alone part wouldn’t last for long.

“Since when do you have a problem with Muggles?” George asked.

“I don’t have a problem with Muggles,” Ron said indignantly. “I just mess up using Muggle stuff.”

“Ah. You want to impress Hermione’s parents,” George said, his eyes showing a spark of mischief for the first time since the battle.

“Who wants to impress Hermione’s parents?” Percy asked as he came through the door, returning from the Ministry.

“Ron here needs some tips on impressing a girl’s parents,” George said, apparently delighted by Ron’s discomfort.

“Don’t let them see you eat,” Percy said without pause.

George snickered as Percy joined them at the table.

“Or drink. Getting pissed is definitely a no,” George said.

“Don’t swear. Your language is atrocious,” Percy added.

“And definitely keep your hands off their daughter,” Charlie added, entering the kitchen and joining them at the table.

Ron rolled his eyes, but his anxiety was growing. “Funny… not. We’re bringing them home on a Muggle aeroplane. What do I do on an aeroplane?” he asked, aware there was a whine in his voice.

“How would I know? I work with dragons,” Charlie said incredulously. “Why not ask Dad?”

Ron stared at him, gaping. “Have you actually met our father?”

“He’s got a point. Why not ask Harry or Hermione about the Muggle stuff. They could tell you what you need to know,” George suggested.

“Harry’s never been on an aeroplane, either… and I don’t want to ask Hermione,” Ron said, mumbling the last bit.

“Don’t want to admit you’re nervous, more like,” George said, smirking.
“Why are Hermione’s parents in Australia?” Percy asked.

The comradery of the moment was shattered. Of course Percy didn’t know what Hermione had done to protect her parents. He hadn’t been there. Ron stiffened as he tried to stifle the flare of irritation toward his wayward brother.

“We were sort of high on the most-wanted list,” he snapped. “She sent them away to try and protect them.”

Percy cast his eyes downward, irritating Ron further.

“I’m glad you came to your senses, Percy, but there’s still a lot you don’t know,” Ron said, a hard edge to his voice.

Charlie glanced warily between the two, but didn’t intervene. Percy’s shoulders slumped, and he nodded in agreement.

“Fred would’ve pranked you all by now to get rid of this awkwardness,” George said sadly. He showed no inclination of pranking any of them on his own.

“Might not have been a very good prank,” Ron said, trying to bring George back to his lighter mood.

“Remember when he charmed Dad’s robes to fart every time he shook hands?” Charlie asked, a reluctant grin spreading across his face.

“And Dad had a meeting with his Department Head that day,” George said.

“I don’t remember ever seeing Dad’s face redder than Mum’s,” Percy added.

“I do,” Ron said, nodding fervently. “Remember when you and Fred tried to make me take an Unbreakable Vow?”

“Not something I’d soon forget,” George said, frowning. “Dad got hold of Fred first, so his bum got the brunt of it.”

“You really shouldn’t have been messing with that,” Percy said, seemingly unable to stop himself.

“We never put as much stock in rules as you did, Perce,” George snapped, firing up immediately.

“I know,” Percy said, lowering his eyes once again.

“Fred could find a laugh in anything,” Charlie said fondly.

“That’s what Harry said, too,” George nodded, still keeping an eye on Percy.
They were all silent a moment, each lost in their own memories.

“I need to go into Diagon Alley and check on the shop,” George said suddenly, though he appeared reluctant.

“I’ll go with you,” Charlie offered, causing George to raise his eyes gratefully.

“If you can wait until Saturday, I’d like to help, as well,” Percy said quietly.

George glanced at him sharply. They all waited tensely for George to reply. “Okay,” he said slowly “We’ll go on Saturday.”

“I won’t be back yet,” Ron said. “But I’ll come in when we get back.”

George didn’t fully smile and it never reached his eyes, but Ron thought he was pleased.

Back to index


Chapter 6: Responsibilities

Chapter Six
Responsibilities



Harry arrived at the Ministry for an early morning meeting with Kingsley Shacklebolt. He hurried through the Atrium before anyone recognized him. He was uncomfortable with all the strangers who continued to approach him and congratulate him for what he’d done.

Strangers had even started sending him letters and gifts. He found it bizarre.

What was worse, however, was the press. They’d somehow got wind that Harry had been visiting the Ministry, and they’d been launching themselves at him each day. He couldn’t understand why they wanted to talk to him so much. There had been hundreds of people at the battle who’d already told them what happened. What more did they want him to say?

Kingsley had told him he’d have to get used to it, but Harry wasn’t prepared to accept that yet. They’d agreed not to mention anything about Horcruxes, and so far, that strategy had worked.

Harry reached the lift - which was thankfully empty - and quickly made his way to the office of the Minister. The reception desk was empty, so he walked right up to the door and knocked.

Kingsley’s rich booming voice echoed through the door, “Come in, Harry. It’s open.”

The Minister sat at his desk, which was covered in scattered papers. He appeared tired, and Harry wondered how long he’d been here.

“Morning, sir,” Harry said.

“Good morning. Thank you for coming in so early. I find my schedule is so tightly booked there’s no time for an emergency,” the bald man said.

“Is there an emergency?” Harry asked, alarmed.

“No, no. I apologize. I was just expressing my concern if there was one,” he answered reassuringly. “There’s also no time to do what I want to do. My wife is growing extremely cranky with the long hours.”

“What do we need to work on today?” Harry asked, not knowing what to say about a cranky wife. “Have you caught any of the missing Death Eaters yet?”

“Unfortunately, no. They’ve gone well underground, but they’ll surface eventually. They always do. Honestly, the fact they’ve burrowed in gives us time to get the Auror Department functional again,” Kingsley said.

“About that, sir. I think I’d like to take you up on your offer,” Harry said. “Ron wants to join, as well, but he’s got to go to Australia first.”

Harry had never seriously considered another career. His mind flashed on Professor McGonagall promising to do everything in her power to help him achieve his dream. And she had. He felt an upsurge of affection for his former Head of House.

“I’m delighted to hear it,” Kingsley said, grinning, his ivory teeth shining brightly in his dark face. “However, I was serious when I said I wanted you to take some time for yourself first.”

Harry shifted uncomfortably. “I know, but with so much to do…”

“It will all get done whether you are here or not. Reconstruction takes time, and that’s just the way it is. I’ll have some paperwork drawn up, and you’ll have to get your Apparition license to make it official.”

Harry knew Kingsley was aware that Harry had been Apparating all over the country for the past year, but he was obviously prepared to overlook it, so Harry did as well, grinning slightly.

“Yes, sir,” he said.

“And of course you’ll have to have a medical exam before you start,” the Minister added casually.

Harry’s eyes opened wide. This was something he hadn’t expected.

“Standard procedure,” Kingsley assured him. “Ron will have to have one, as well.”

Harry shifted uneasily. “Okay.”

The Minister paused a moment, seemingly waiting for something. Harry wasn’t certain what he wanted, so he just sat there uncomfortably.

“Arthur tells me you currently have an injury that needs attending,” the Minister said finally.

“Oh,” Harry replied, realizing the man had been giving him the chance to come forward on his own. Harry was hoping to avoid the whole thing. Obviously Mr. Weasley had followed through on his promise to alert the Minister.

“When we’re finished here, I’ll walk you down,” Kingsley said inflexibly. “I can pick up the paperwork for your entrance examination once I’m there.

Harry’s cheeks reddened. The Minister hadn’t left him any room to argue. “It’s nothing urgent.”

Kingsley laughed. “I see that you more than just look like your father, Harry.”

Harry was caught off guard. When Remus died, Harry felt as if he’d lost his last link to his parents. He’d forgotten that when Kingsley picked him from Privet Drive before his fifth year, he’d mentioned something about Harry’s resemblance to James. Everyone always said that, so it had slipped his mind.

“You knew my father,” he said, almost accusingly.

Kingsley nodded. “Not well, but I did know him. He was several years ahead of me at Hogwarts, but I remember him being Head Boy. There was a massive epidemic of a stomach virus that year, and he and I were in the hospital wing at the same time. He was not a very good patient, but he was kind to me,” the Minister said, smiling gently.

Harry felt as if he’d been punched in the gut. Unexpected mentions of his parents had always done that to him. He decided to tuck that bit of information away to examine privately.

He cleared his throat. “What did you need to see me about today, sir?” Harry asked, wanting to steer the conversation to more comfortable ground.

The Minister accepted his deflection with grace. “I think our missing Death Eater list is complete. We can always adjust it as necessary. Your assistance has been invaluable. Our next phase will be the trials. You’ll be called in to testify.”

“I’d expected that,” Harry said.

“I wanted to warn you that some deals were made with some of the lower-ranking Death Eaters for their corroborating testimony,” Kingsley said solemnly.

“Draco Malfoy?” Harry asked instantly.

“He’s one of them, yes,” Kingsley replied, forthright.

Harry appreciated the honesty. “What about his parents?”

“Narcissa will be given a full pardon for her role in Voldemort’s defeat,” Kingsley assured him.

Harry had told the Minister about what happened in the Forest and how Narcissa Malfoy had aided him in his deception.

“She was trying to protect her son,” Harry said. “They both were.”

“Lucius is another matter. Technically, he’s an escaped prisoner, so he will be returned to Azkaban to finish his original term. We’re not adding any additional time, but a good portion of his funds and property has been seized in fines for his involvement with the Dark Lord.”

“That must have gone over well,” Harry said, exceedingly glad he didn’t have to deliver that news to the arrogant family.

“Not really,” the Minister said, rolling his eyes.

“Are they losing their house?” Harry asked.

“Yes. Malfoy Manor served as Headquarters for the Death Eaters over the past year. There’s a lot that has to be examined and will be used as evidence,” Kingsley replied.

“There are dungeons in the lowest level,” Harry said.

“We’ll have them thoroughly searched,” the Minister assured. “The trials aren’t expected to begin for several more weeks, but I’ll let you know if anything changes or we need any additional information.”

“You know where to find me,” Harry replied.

“There’s also the matter of your relatives,” the Minister said.

“My rel… what? What about them?” Harry asked. He honestly hadn’t given the Dursleys a thought since leaving Privet Drive.

“Hestia Jones and Dedalus Diggle have been keeping watch over them in a safe house for the duration of the war. They’ve been informed that they’re now free to return to Surrey, but they’ve decided to stay where they are for another month in order for your cousin to finish his year at school.

“Your uncle is worried about his job, despite our reassurances that we’d simply convince his boss that he’s been away on business. I even considered Confunding his employer to believe that your uncle did a good job while he was away, but I decided against it. He doesn’t deserve it.”

Harry smiled his gratitude before a thought occurred to him. “Did the house on Privet Drive survive intact?”

“There was some damage. Death Eaters returned to the house after your escape. We believe they were looking for any clues where you might have gone,” Kingsley replied.

“I wouldn’t have left it there,” Harry said distastefully.

“I’ll have a Magical Reversal Squad set it all to rights before your relatives return,” Kingsley assured.

“Uhm… d’you think you could have a house-elf tidy up afterwards? No one’s idea of clean is clean enough for Aunt Petunia,” Harry said, knowing his aunt would be displeased no matter what he did.

“That can be arranged,” Kingsley said, wincing in sympathy.

Harry slipped his hands under his glasses to rub his eyes. He could feel a headache building. The Dursleys always gave him a headache.

“How are you holding up, Harry?” the Minster asked softly. “Honestly.”

“I’m all right. Hasn’t really sunk in yet that’s it over,” he admitted.

“Are you sleeping okay?” Kingsley asked.

Harry knew the purple bags beneath his eyes would contradict him if he lied, so he just shrugged.

“When we see the Mediwitch, you can ask her for a Sleeping Potion,” Kingsley offered.

Harry desperately wracked his thoughts for something else to talk about, anything else to talk about. His sluggish brain finally landed on the owl he’d received the previous day.

“Have you dealt with the goblins at all since taking over?” he asked.

“The goblins?” the Minister asked blankly. “I have a meeting set up with them later this week. Why?”

“I got an owl yesterday from Gringotts telling me my accounts have been confiscated, and they want me to come to a Summons about damage that was caused when we stole the Horcrux,” Harry said. He still didn’t know what he was going to do about it.

“Confiscated your accounts,” the Minister repeated. “Do you mean to tell me you’ve been living without any access to your gold since the Battle?”

“Yeah. I haven’t really needed it, but… I do want to get some new clothes before I start work, and I can’t keep living off the Weasleys without contributing,” Harry said.

“What did Bill say?” the Minister asked.

“Bill?” Harry asked blankly.

“He works for Gringotts. I think he’d be able to help, and I’ll certainly do whatever you need,” Kingsley said.

“I forgot,” Harry said, kicking himself for being so obtuse.

“Let me take care of this for you, Harry. It’s the least I can do,” Kingsley offered.
“Thanks,” Harry said, embarrassed.

“If there’s nothing else, why don’t we walk down and see that Mediwitch,” the Minister said, standing.

Harry had been hoping he’d forget about it.

*****


Hermione stood in Ginny’s room, frazzled, as she sorted and re-sorted her belongings, trying to decide what she needed to take. She had a travel case open on her camp bed with her belongings scattered around it. She planned to place both her and Ron’s travel cases in her trusty beaded bag. It would make travel so much easier.

Hermione was incredibly nervous. She wanted to see her parents so badly, and she wanted everything to be okay.

Suddenly realizing she’d left her toothbrush in the bathroom, she hurried into the hall and was brought up short by Charlie emerging from the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel.

Hermione dropped her bag and froze. He was nothing but burns and muscle. She knew she was staring, but she couldn’t get her mind to work properly.

“Hello, Hermione,” Charlie said.

He seemed much more amused than embarrassed, and it finally unstuck her. She squeaked and turned around.

“Sorry,” she said, her voice sounding extremely high to her own ears.

“You didn’t seem all that sorry,” Charlie said lazily.

He was teasing her! Fleetingly, Hermione thought of the twins. They’d have reacted the same way as Charlie.

Hermione turned back around and looked straight at Charlie who seemed surprised.

“Oh, hello, Mrs. Weasley,” Hermione said pleasantly, staring over his shoulder.

Charlie spun around nearly dropping the towel but there was no one there.

“Nice, Hermione,” he said, nodding his approval.

“What’s going on?” Ron asked, bounding up the stairs and stopping short. “Charlie, put some clothes on!”

“Hey, Ron. I think your girlfriend can hold her own with this family,” Charlie said before turning and heading up the stairs.

Hermione blushed, oddly pleased.

“What was that all about?” Ron asked, picking up Hermione’s dropped bag.

“He tried to fluster me, and I imagined what would stop the twi… er… what would stop George in a prank gone too far,” Hermione said, cringing over her blunder. She didn’t want to make Ron feel worse than he already did.

“What did you do?” he asked.

“I relied on your mum,” she said, smiling.

“That’d do it,” Ron replied, nodding fervently. “Are you packed?”

“No,” Hermione moaned, her anxiety returning.

“You’re not?” Ron asked, stunned. Apparently that wasn’t what he’d expected.

“I can’t decide what to take. It’ll be getting colder there,” she said. “Are you?”

“Yeah,” Ron said.

“You are?” Hermione asked, surprised. That wasn’t what she’d been expecting, either.

“Always the tone of surprise,” Ron said, shaking his head. He grinned, and suddenly everything seemed better. “Come on, I’ll help. It’s not like the Horcrux hunt, Hermione. This should be a good trip.”

He took her hand and led her back into Ginny’s room.

“The Portkey takes us through Germany since a direct trip all that way would cause some travel sickness. I have my Muggle documents, and Cibby Seekum had some prepared for you,” Hermione said.

“Well, those are the important things. If you forget anything else, you can always get it there,” Ron said, reassuringly.

Hermione was touched. She loved the fact he was watching out for the details this time since her brain didn’t want to cooperate.

“Oh!” she gasped. “My toothbrush. That’s what I was getting when I bumped into Charlie.”

Hermione dashed into the bathroom to grab it.

“Ah,” Ron said. His ears had suddenly turned very red, and he scuffed his foot on the ground. “Er… I mean, we’ll need…erm… d’you have any of your savings left?” he asked quickly.

Hermione had been thinking about that, too. She knew money was always such a sticky subject with Ron. “Not much,” she said. “I think I’m going to ask Harry if we can borrow some.”

Before Ron could say anything, a voice behind them said, “You don’t have to do that. I can help you out.”

Hermione spun around to find George on the landing. Again, she thought she detected the faint smell of alcohol, and his eyes were bloodshot. He was steady on his feet, however, and looking intently at both of them.

“We… I have money from the shop. Let me send an owl to Gringotts,” George said. “You said you’d help me get the place open again, so you can consider it an advance.”

He was looking at Ron when he said the last part, and Hermione sighed in relief. George knew how touchy Ron was, as well, and she knew he’d take the loan much easier from George than he would Harry.

“Thanks, George,” Ron said gruffly.

“Of course, that means I get to treat you as my slave without a guilty conscience,” George said, a glimmer of mischief in his eyes.

“As if you’d ever had a conscience,” Ron said.

George shrugged his shoulders. “I’ll send that owl,” he said and continued down the stairs.

“Well, that solves that,” Hermione said. “I can’t believe we’re really going. I can’t wait to see them.”

“D’you think Harry will be all right?” Ron asked.

Ron had been extremely protective of Harry since the battle, but Hermione really couldn’t blame him. The image of Hagrid carrying his dead body from the Forest and that gut-clenching feeling that followed were forever seared in her mind.

“I think Ginny and your dad are keeping an eye on him. He hasn’t had a nightmare in the past few nights,” Hermione said, knowing she couldn’t fully say that Harry was all right.

“He has,” Ron sighed. “He’s putting a Silencing Charm around his bed, but he thinks I don’t know. I saw him thrashing about last night but couldn’t hear a thing.”

“Oh, no. You have to tell someone before we go,” Hermione implored.

“I will,” Ron agreed.

“Then I guess we’re ready,” Hermione said, feeling both anxious and excited at the same time.

*****


Keeping his Invisibility Cloak tucked firmly around him, Harry solemnly pressed the doorbell of the Tonks’ home. He’d sent Errol ahead to announce his visit — as Mrs. Weasley had suggested — and warned her that he’d be arriving under the Cloak. The press had been following him relentlessly, and it wouldn’t do to alert them he was visiting. Harry didn’t want to put his godson in any danger by advertising their relationship.

Harry felt so overwhelmed by the media circus surrounding him that he had the intense need to do something he could control. Anything. So, he’d focused his attentions on his godson. Remus had entrusted Harry to look out for his son, and Harry had every intention of upholding that responsibility. If Kingsley was able to help him get his vaults back, he’d have more than enough to take care of his godson properly — and he thought Sirius would approve of the Black family inheritance being used to care for Teddy.

Harry would be the godfather Sirius had wanted to be.

When the door opened, Harry quickly stepped inside and removed his Invisibility Cloak. His breath caught, and he took an involuntary step back from Andromeda Tonks. He hadn’t meant to do it, but her dark hair and eyes so resembled the sister Harry hated that he couldn’t help himself. Andromeda eyed him coolly, but she was gracious enough not to comment on his blatant flinch.

“Hello, Harry,” she said, and it was then he noticed how pale and drawn she appeared. A wave of compassion washed over him, and he felt stupid for his momentary apprehension. She wasn’t her sister, and she’d lost as much in this war as anyone.

“Hello, Mrs. Tonks,” he replied. “How are you?”

He cringed. She obviously wasn’t well.

“You might as well get used to calling me Andromeda,” she said. “Teddy’s in the sitting room.”

Harry’s eyes roamed the hallway as he followed her. There were baby toys scattered about, and he could see a pile of laundry sitting in a basket. A crumpled up blanket was shoved in the corner of the sofa. He reckoned that Andromeda had been napping there with Teddy.

“There you are,” Andromeda cooed, picking up a bundle of blue blankets. Harry noticed her voice became much warmer and friendlier when she talked to the baby. Perhaps a grandmother was different than an aunt.

“Harry, meet your godson,” Andromeda said, striding forward and firmly placing the pile of blankets in Harry’s arms. He could just make out a tuft of blue hair sticking out the top.

Harry blanched.

“All right?” Andromeda asked, her eyes sparkling slightly.

“Err… yeah. I think so,” Harry replied. It occurred to him that this was the first time in his life that he’d actually been this close to a baby, never mind held one.

Maybe he wasn’t as capable of taking care of Teddy as he’d thought.

The baby looked up at him intently. Harry felt as if those blue eyes could see into his soul. Remus had often made him feel that way, and Harry was suddenly overcome with a deep sense of loss.

“Gaa,” the baby said, startling him. He wiggled a bit, and Harry panicked that he was going to drop him. He gripped Teddy more tightly and pulled him closer to his chest, causing the baby to squirm and begin to fuss.

“Not so tight, Harry,” Andromeda said, gently touching his hand in an attempt to loosen his grip on the baby.

Harry immediately complied and swallowed nervously, feeling a thin line of sweat dripping down his back. Teddy must have sensed his unease for his fussing increased, and he soon began to wail.

“Just rock back and forth a bit while you talk to him. I’ll get a nappy. He just woke up, so he probably needs to be changed,” Andromeda said, leaving Harry alone with the baby.

Harry wanted to yell for her not to go. How could she have just left Teddy alone with him? He obviously had no clue what to do with him. He awkwardly began rocking his arms from side to side.

“Shh, don’t cry,” he said, feeling completely out of his depth. His rocking took on a frantic quality, and Teddy’s cries increased in pitch.

“D’you like Quidditch? You probably don’t know what Quidditch is yet, do you? What do you do, anyway?” he asked, feeling even more stupid. What did babies do?

Teddy continued to wail.

“Here we are,” Andromeda said, thrusting the nappy toward Harry. “Would you mind changing him while I grab a new set of clothes?”

Frazzled, Harry had the distinct impression Andromeda was enjoying herself.

“Err… yeah,” he replied, grasping the nappy with a finger and moving toward the couch. He’d just dueled with the Darkest wizard in a century — and lived. He certainly could manage to change a nappy.

“There’s a pad in the corner that I usually use,” Andromeda called as she again left Harry alone with his fretting godson.

As soon as he laid the baby on the mat, Teddy settled down a bit and his eyes once again began roaming around the room. He gazed at Harry curiously as Harry tried to work out how to get the outfit off in order to reach the nappy.

Since he’d never held a baby, he’d obviously never changed a nappy, but he knew the general idea of the thing.

“You don’t like to be confined, either, do you?” he distractedly asked the baby as he struggled to remove his garments. “Can’t say as I blame you there.”

“Gaa,” Teddy said again, although it sounded much happier this time. He began chewing the sleeve of his shirt.

Triumphantly, Harry unhooked the buttons on Teddy’s trousers and after a few more snaps, found the nappy underneath. He unhooked the sides, and with extreme distaste, pulled the sopping fabric away from the baby. Frantically searching for somewhere to put it, he’d barely glanced at a now-bared Teddy.

“I’d cover him up if I were you,” Andromeda, who’d just returned with a new set of clothes, had barely uttered the words before Harry felt a suspicious warmth spreading across his chest and hands.

Recoiling, he stared in shock at a cooing Teddy.

“It’s the boys that get you every time, I’m told,” Andromeda said, calmly laying a spare flannel over Teddy’s exposed parts. “I don’t remember Dora ever doing that so much.”

Harry mutely stared at her, horrified.

She expertly finished with the nappy and dressed Teddy in his new clothes while Harry cast a quick, “Scourgify,” over his own damp shirt.

“Would you like to feed him?” Andromeda asked.

“Err… ” Harry said, his confidence gone.

Andromeda finally took pity upon him. “Here, it’s not hard. Just sit in the chair and cradle him loosely. All you have to do is hold the bottle steady; he’ll do the rest.”

Harry took a deep breath and did as he was told. Teddy greedily sucked on the bottle, intently watching Harry’s face as he did.

Then a strange thing happened. As he sat there watching his godson eat, Harry felt a fierce protectiveness grow in his chest that hadn’t been there before. He was confused how this feeling could grow so quickly, but he knew without hesitation that he’d give everything he had to ensure this small child’s happiness.

He’d make certain Teddy knew everything Harry could tell him about his parents and how wonderful they were. His thoughts turned to Snape and how he had shattered Harry’s image of James. That image was all Harry had, and he was devastated when it was gone. Then and there he vowed that he’d make Ron and Hermione take an Unbreakable Vow before he let them tell Teddy that Remus had once considered abandoning him. There was no reason Teddy ever had to know.

Andromeda had been watching him closely.

“I’m glad he has you,” she said softly, and Harry looked up to see her eyes were glistening. “I think it’s important for every young man to have another man in his life he can go to so he can talk about things he doesn’t want to talk about with his grandmother.”

Harry nodded, his throat burning. He found he couldn’t quite meet Andromeda’s gaze.

“In him, I have another chance to do something for my Dora, and you have another chance with Remus. We can’t take the place of his parents, but I think he’ll be all right,” Andromeda said, delicately wiping her nose with a handkerchief.

She was right. He wasn’t capable of taking care of this baby alone. This afternoon had certainly proved that, but together he and Andromeda could ensure that Teddy would at least always have people to rely on. Harry knew without a doubt how important that was.

“Babies are a lot of work,” he said, a new idea forming in his mind.

“Yes, they are, and I’m not as young as I was the first time. We’ll manage though,” Andromeda replied.

“How do you feel about house-elves?” Harry asked. Kreacher was still at Hogwarts since Grimmauld Place has sustained so much damage, and he hadn’t yet figured out what to do with him. Perhaps Kreacher could not only help Andromeda, but also let Harry do something for his godson.

Back to index


Chapter 7: Departure

Author's Notes: Playlist for Harry and Ginny on the couch: Madness by Muse.
I had several comments last chapter about missing the meeting with the Healer. I didnít show it because there will be one coming. I thought it would be too repetitive, and the next one is more significant.

As always, heartfelt thanks to my wonderful beta, Sherry, who always manages to find time for me. Much thanks also to George. Send him positive vibes on his job hunt!


Chapter Seven
Departure



Ron and Harry sat in the Weasley sitting room after dinner playing a game of chess. Harry wasn’t really paying attention, and Ron was getting frustrated. If it wasn’t for the fact that his friend looked thoroughly exhausted, Ron would’ve snapped at him by now.

Ginny and Hermione were on the couch flipping through some Witch Weekly magazines. They all looked up as George came down the stairs and plopped in a chair beside the girls.

“What’s up with you?” Ron asked, noticing the scowl on his brother’s face.

“I need to get out of this house. I can’t stand looking at the walls anymore,” George said. He hadn’t left The Burrow at all since they’d returned from Hogwarts after the battle, and this was the first time he’d showed any inclination to do so.

“Where do you want to go?” asked Ron.

“Where are we going?” asked Charlie, coming in from the kitchen. Ron assumed he’d also heard George’s comment.

“Let’s go grab a pint at the Leaky Cauldron,” George said.

Ron liked that idea very much. He looked at Harry, expecting to see the same excitement. Harry looked pensive, however.

“Okay,” Charlie said. “I’ll Floo Bill and see if he wants to join us.”

“I want to come,” Ginny said.

“Sorry, Ginny. You’re not of age,” George replied.

“What difference does that make? I’ve been to the Leaky Cauldron before,” Ginny replied huffily.

“Not to sit at the bar you haven’t,” George replied. “Tell you what, after your birthday in August, I’ll take you there myself.”

Ginny still looked put out.

“Ron, we’re leaving tomorrow,” Hermione said anxiously. “It’s a lot of travelling, and you’ll be miserable if you drink too much.”

Hermione worried too much. “I’m not going to drink too much. What about you, Harry. You coming?” Ron asked.

Harry glanced up at George and Charlie.

“Well, are you?” George asked.

Harry glanced at Ron again.

“I think Harry might be wondering if you Weasley boys wanted to go out together,” Hermione said tactfully.

“Well, yeah, that’s what we’re doing,” Ron said, wondering how she hadn’t caught on to that. “Are you coming, Harry?”

“Come on, Harry. You’re one of the Weasley boys, too,” George said, ruffling Harry’s hair.

Oh.

Harry could be a prat sometimes, but at the moment, he looked especially pleased.

“Percy!” Charlie yelled up the stairs. “Come to the pub with us blokes.”

Ron felt a pang of guilt. He hadn’t even thought to invite Percy. Convincing himself that it was only because Percy wasn’t sitting right in the room with the others, he shook off the stab of regret. He wanted to do this. He’d gone to the pub with Fred and George twice last summer before they got Harry from Privet Drive, but he’d never been out with his older brothers. Bloody hell, he and Harry had never done this together, even. This was going to be brilliant.

“This is so unfair,” Ginny said. She was sitting on the couch with her arms folded across her chest.

Harry looked over at her, his expression troubled.

Oh, no! She’s not going to ruin this.

“Don’t even think about it, Harry. You’re going,” Ron said, glaring at Ginny. “And don’t you make him feel guilty about it.”

“I’m not telling him not to go,” Ginny said, affronted. “I want to go with you.”

“Come on, Ginny,” Hermione said. “We’ll do one of these Witch Weekly quizzes. It’ll be fun,” she added, cajoling.

“Fine,” Ginny said, still pouting.

“Bill is going to meet us there,” Charlie said.


The four Weasley brothers plus Harry Apparated to the Apparition point inside the Leaky Cauldron. The bar was dimly lit but more crowded and smoky than Ron ever remembered it being during the day.

They’d barely had time to move into the main bar before Harry was recognized.

“Dog’s bollucks, it’s Harry Potter!” a round wizard with stubby fingers shouted, pointing right at Harry.

Heads turned and the noise level increased exponentially as the crowd rushed in, shouting questions and offering to buy him a pint.

“Bloody hell,” Ron said, taking a step closer to his friend who was near to being trampled.

Ron and his brothers attempted to form a circle around Harry but it was no use, the crowd was too large, too rowdy, and too insistent. A curvy witch with a very low-cut dress reached over and yanked out a tuft of Harry’s hair. Harry rubbed the spot on his head, staring slack-jawed at her.

A deafening bang shocked the patrons as a glowing shield of light appeared in front of the Weasleys, forcing the crowd to move back. Bill stood with his wand drawn, a furious scowl on his face.

“You’d think after defeating Voldemort, he’d be allowed to have a pint,” Bill snarled.

Ron wasn’t surprised to see how many still flinched at the name.

“I want to buy him his first pint,” a ruddy-faced wizard standing near the bar shouted.

Cheers and offers to buy the second filled the room as the crowd began to rush forward again.

“This isn’t going to work,” Harry said, leaning over so he could shout in Ron’s ear. “I’m going back to The Burrow.”

“No, we can go somewhere else,” Ron said. Once again he began to feel that annoying panic over the thought of separating.

Harry shook his head. “It’s all right. We’ll do it again when it’s better thought-out. George needs this. You stay with your brothers.”

Before Ron could argue any further, Harry stepped back. They were standing in front of the large fireplace, so rather than trying to make his way back to the Apparition point, Harry simply grabbed some Floo powder and was gone in a flash of green flame. Disappointed cries filled the pub.

“Where’s he gone?”

“Is he coming back?”

“Aren’t us common folk good enough for him?”

Bill pushed his way through the crowd. Ron noticed a path clearing as people stepped away from Bill’s wand. The other Weasley brothers followed in Bill’s wake.

“Ron,” someone shouted.

He turned to see Hannah Abbott, wearing a barmaid’s apron and motioning them forward.

“Hi, Hannah,” he said. “I didn’t know you were working here.”

Hannah nodded. “I’m helping Tom out since the crowds have been so large. Sorry about that. Next time forewarn me you’re coming and I’ll have a private table arranged. I did manage to clear you a spot in the corner.”

She ushered them to a circular booth where they could at least face the crowd and have their backs against the wall.

“Thanks!” Ron said, pleased. He knew Hannah from school, but they’d never been particularly close. “Do you know my brothers… Bill, Charlie, George, and Percy?”

Hannah smiled in greeting. “I’m so sorry about Fred. He always made me laugh,” she said.

Ron felt George stiffen beside him but Percy answered before George could. “Thank you.”

“What can I get you to drink?” she asked.

She took their orders and promised to be right back.

“She’s pretty, in a witch-next-door kind of way,” Charlie said, watching Hannah walk away.

“She was in my year, a Hufflepuff,” Ron said.

“I hope she hurries with our drinks,” George said, scowling.

Ron hoped a pint would cheer him up a bit. George had been so volatile of late.

“Where did Harry go?” Bill asked.

“Back to The Burrow. He didn’t think they’d leave us alone, otherwise. The nutters,” Ron grumbled. “Probably just as well. Next time we’ll try a Muggle place where he attracts less attention.”

“Why just as well?” Charlie asked.

Ron lowered his voice. “Dad told me the Ministry is afraid some of the renegade Death Eaters might try and do him in. I need you lot to keep a close eye on him while I’m away.” Ron’s blood had chilled during that conversation with his father. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to get away with Hermione, but the idea of leaving Harry alone and unprotected was giving him nightmares.

“Blimey,” Charlie said. “And I thought his adoring public was the worst of his worries. Do they always swarm him like that?”

“He should have expected it,” Percy said, earning scowls from the other brothers. “I mean… they pounce on him whenever he comes to the Ministry, too.”

“Yeah, well, if you’d taken the time to notice, Harry never did like the attention much,” George snapped, glowering at Percy.

Percy meekly cast his eyes towards the table. Fortunately, Hannah arrived back with their ale. She gave them each a full glass, and placed a pitcher on the table in front of them.

“Here you are. Let me know if anyone bothers you or you need anything else,” she said, smiling.

They all toasted her before she walked away.

“Here’s to us,” Charlie said, raising his glass to his brothers.

Ron took a long swallow, not certain if he liked the taste or not. He took another sip and thought he could get used to it, but he liked Fire whiskey better.

“And to Fred,” George said, raising his glass again.

“To Fred,” they all repeated rather solemnly.

Ron took another gulp, but George slammed his empty glass back on the table, reaching for a refill.

“Uh-oh,” Charlie muttered. He was sitting to Ron’s left. “I don’t think George is going to be his usual happy-drunk self.”

As the night wore on, occasional patrons would approach their booth, offering their thanks, or asking some nosy question about the war.

Despite the fact some of them could be rather annoying, Ron was enjoying the celebrity status. When he excused himself from his brothers and headed towards the loo, a witch with long dark hair and pouty red lips approached him.

“You’re Ron Weasley,” she said. “I recognize you.”

Ron wasn’t sure if it was the ale or the acknowledgement, but he felt very warm inside.

“Yeah, I am,” he said, ducking his head.

“You’re one of the heroes of the war. I wanted to thank you for your service,” the witch said. She had a very breathy voice, and she put her hand on his arm as she spoke. She was older than him, and Ron was very flattered by the attention.

“Oh, well, you know. We did what we had to do,” he said, scuffing his feet.

“And so modest,” she sighed. “Did you really fly a dragon out of Gringotts?”

“Yeah,” Ron smirked. “We did.”

“Hey, Ron,” Bill said, suddenly appearing next to him. “Everyone is waiting for you.” He took Ron’s arm and began steering him away.

“Bye,” Ron said, looking over his shoulder at the witch. She looked rather put out.

“I need to use the loo,” Ron said, yanking his arm away from Bill. “What are you on about?”

“Saving you a whole lot of trouble,” Bill said dryly.

“She was just thanking me for what I did to help end the war,” Ron said, miffed.

Bill shook his head. “You’re going to find a lot of witches who want to thank you. They also want to be seen on the arm of one of the heroes. If you really want things to go smoothly with Hermione, I’d suggest you steer clear of them.”

Ron remembered the birds Hermione had sent after him when she saw him with Lavender. He never wanted to see her that angry again. Besides, this was different. He just enjoyed the attention, he wasn’t going to snog her like he did Lavender.

Or anything else he did with Lavender, either. Ron felt a momentary wave of guilt. Lavender hadn’t survived the Battle of Hogwarts.

“I wasn’t doing anything,” Ron said grumpily.

“Suit yourself,” Bill shrugged. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

Considering Bill had a Veela for a wife, Ron thought perhaps he might know a bit more about how a witch’s mind worked than Ron did.

By the time they returned to the table, George was already pissed and staring moodily into his tankard of ale. Charlie and Percy were both talking to a pair of witches who stood in front of the table. The women took a step back when Bill and Ron rejoined them.”

“We’ll see you around,” one of the witches said, giggling as they walked away.
“You’re cramping my style,” Charlie said, grumbling.

“Sorry,” Bill shrugged, although Ron thought he didn’t seem to really care. “I’m going to head home soon, so you single chaps can entertain the witches.”

“I’m going to entertain them now,” George said, standing abruptly and heading toward the bar where the witch who had approached Ron was standing.

“You’ll keep an eye on him?” Bill asked.

Both Percy and Charlie nodded.

“What do you say, Ron? Are you staying or heading home?” Bill asked casually.

Knowing he had a long trip tomorrow and would face Hermione’s wrath if he wound up hung over, he decided he’d best follow Bill’s lead.

“You’re really leaving?” Charlie asked. “The fun is just beginning.”

“Yes,” said Percy finishing his tankard, “but they both have someone at home waiting for them.”

*****

Ginny sat at her kitchen table half-heartedly taking a Witch Weekly quiz with Hermione. Stupid brothers. Stupid underage rules. Stupid war. It was unfair! She knew they were all sitting together sharing memories of Fred, and she wanted to be there, too. She missed him just as much as they did.

Ginny angrily took a sip of her drink and placed it back on the table a bit too forcefully.

“I know you’re upset,” Hermione said tentatively.

Ginny glared at her.

“And you have every right to be,” Hermione added hastily. “But I really do think this will be good for George. It’s the first time he’s left the house. He needs to get back into a routine.”

“I know,” Ginny moaned. “It’s just so unfair.”

“You’ll be seventeen in August and never have to worry about it again,” Hermione said.

“Yeah, well, I’m hoping we’ll all feel a bit better by August anyway,” Ginny grumbled.

Before Hermione could respond, the fire flared green and Harry stumbled out, barely catching himself before sprawling on the kitchen floor. He had a spot of soot on his cheek and his glasses were askew.

“Harry!” Hermione yelped. “What happened? Are you all right?”

Hermione sounded slightly panicked, and Ginny knew she’d been worried about Harry going out in public after they’d been warned about the rogue Death Eaters.

Harry straightened himself out, rubbing a spot on his head. “There was too much of a crowd at the Leaky Cauldron, and they wouldn’t leave us alone. I reckoned it was better if I left them to have at it.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Harry,” Ginny said. She could tell he had been pleased to be included with her brothers.

Harry still rubbed his head absently. “It’s all right. There’ll be another time.”

“Is something wrong with your head?” Hermione asked.

“Someone ripped out a chunk of my hair,” Harry said indignantly.

Both girls stared at him for a moment before bursting out in giggles.

“They what?” Ginny asked, wondering if she’d heard him wrong.

A reluctant grin spread across Harry’s face. “Someone pulled my hair,” he said, beginning to laugh himself.

Suddenly Hermione stopped laughing. “Harry, did you see who pulled your hair? What if someone is making Polyjuice Potion?” she asked shrilly.

“I thought about that, too,” Harry said, “but it was a young witch, and I saw a bunch of her friends all reaching for some. I don’t think they were up to anything.”

“But you’ll mention it to Kingsley, anyway, won’t you, Harry?” she asked fretfully.

Ginny had a pit in her stomach. She hadn’t thought about Polyjuice Potion. Imagine the trouble someone could cause masquerading as Harry?

“Yeah, I’m going to tell him,” Harry said, sighing.

“Want to join us? We’re taking a quiz called ‘What kind of wizard turns you on?’” Hermione said with a perfectly straight face.

Ginny watched the color spread across Harry’s cheeks. She thought he looked as if he’d rather go back and get his hair pulled again.

“Er… thanks, but, I’ve got some paperwork Kingsley gave me to read over. You carry on though,” he said, ducking out of the room.


Ginny and Hermione finished their quiz, giggling at some of the more outrageous questions. When they’d finished, Hermione reached her arms in the air and stretched.

“I’m going to bed.”

“It’s only 8:30,” Ginny said, surprised.

“I know, but we’re leaving tomorrow, and I want to be well-rested,” Hermione said, shrugging.

“It’s going to be all right, Hermione. Your parents will be fine,” she reassured. She knew her friend was incredibly anxious about going after her parents.

“Thanks, Ginny. I hope you’re right,” Hermione replied, hugging her.

The two girls entered the sitting room together and found Harry sound asleep on the couch, his glasses pressed to his face where his head lay on the cushion, and papers scattered all over his chest.

“I’ll leave him to you,” Hermione whispered, heading up the stairs.

Ginny stared fondly at the dark-haired wizard. His chest rose and fell in rhythm with his breathing. Ginny suspected he hadn’t had a peaceful sleep in quite some time, so she thought she’d just let him kip on the couch. Reaching over to remove his glasses, she yelped when he leapt to his feet as if on a spring, eyes blazing. His wand was pointed directly at her chest.

Frightened, Ginny held her breath, frozen on the spot.

It took Harry a moment to register what had happened, but she could clearly see when it did. His hand began to shake, and his wand slipped from his fingers. She watched as his face drained of color, and he sank back onto the couch. She suspected his legs wouldn’t support him any longer.

“Ginny,” he breathed. “I’m sorry… I… ”

“It’s all right, Harry,” she said softly, approaching him as if he were a spooked animal. “You just startled me is all. I think I startled you, too.”

Although she’d been slightly taken aback by the ferocity of his gaze, she was grateful for his keen instincts. They were what had kept him alive all these years.

“I shouldn’t have drawn my wand on you,” he said shakily.

“You didn’t. You drew your wand on someone you thought was attacking you. When you realized it was me, you lowered it,” she reasoned.

Harry looked at her doubtfully, but his color slowly began to return.

“I know I’m too jumpy,” he said, his voice low.

“Not surprising,” she reassured. “Did you see the Mediwitch today?” The image of that ghastly bruise on his chest still haunted her. She hoped he’d listened to her dad.

“Yeah,” he said, rubbing the spot on his chest where she knew the bruise to be. “She gave me some salve I’m supposed to put on it every morning and evening. She said it was caused by Dark magic, so it would take longer to heal, and the scar underneath won’t fade. That one’s permanent.”

Ginny nodded sadly. “I wonder if your head bruised like that when you were a baby,” she said, gently brushing the hair from his forehead.

“I dunno,” he said, shifting. He wasn’t certain if the bruise came from the Curse or the Horcrux leaving his body. The Killing Curse never left a mark on its dead victims, but since he was the only one to actually live through it, there was no way to tell. He certainly could never ask his Aunt Petunia.

“Go get the salve, and I’ll put it on for you. I’ll make some hot chocolate,” she said, tugging him up and giving him a slight shove. “Go on,” she insisted when he looked as if he might protest.

She prepared two steaming mugs, and was back in the sitting room in time to dim the lights before he returned with his salve.

“Take off your shirt and lie back here,” she said, patting the couch.

Harry looked at her dubiously.

“Do you expect me to put it on over your shirt, Harry?” she asked, raising one eyebrow.

Harry blushed, but he began to undo the buttons on his shirt. He tossed it on a chair and pulled his T-shirt over his head. Ginny winced at all the wounds marring his skin.

He sat on the couch and leaned back, watching her warily. He was so tense she thought she could bounce a coin off him.

“Don’t you trust me?” she asked, batting her eyes innocently.

“Should I?” he asked.

“Not if you have your wits about you,” she said, winking.

She opened the jar and put a good portion of the smooth, creamy ointment on her fingers. “What’s this?” she asked, indicating a mark along his collarbone. She was hoping to distract him as she worked in the salve.

Harry hissed when her fingers made contact with the dark, angry looking bruise. “Am I hurting you?” she asked, trying not to put any pressure on her fingertips.

Harry shook his head. She could feel his heart beating wildly beneath her fingers as she spread the ointment across his chest. His skin was smooth and warm, and she could feel her own heart racing.

“What’s that mark?” she asked curiously.

“Burn from Gringotts,” he said. “The cup was hidden there, and it was jinxed to multiply and burn anyone who touched it,” he said.

“How did it touch your collarbone?” she asked.

Harry flinched again as she began to spread the salve further out on his chest, massaging it in gently. Her fingers worked in slow, languid circles as she made certain the entire area was covered. Harry remained silent, but she could hear his ragged breathing. She glanced up and her eyes locked with his brilliant green.

Suddenly she couldn’t breathe. How did applying medicine become so intense? She licked her lips and pulled her eyes away, putting the cap back on the salve. Something about this intensity scared her, and she retreated.

She wanted more information before they got carried away anyway. She’d applied enough of the salve, now it just had to dry.

“Why don’t you start where we left off?” she said a little breathlessly. “You were having private lessons with Professor Dumbledore.”

She thought Harry looked a little disappointed, but he settled himself back against the cushions and took a deep breath. He took a sip of his hot chocolate, putting the mug down carefully.

“This is where he told me about the Horcruxes,” he began. His voice sounded shaky. “Actually, you and I were both part of how he got the first one.”

Ginny frowned, “How?”

“It was the diary I destroyed with the Basilisk fang,” he said quietly.

Ginny inhaled deeply, memories from her horrible first year assailing her senses. “Oh,” she said. “So that’s what it was? A piece of his soul?”

Harry nodded solemnly. “It was the first one he made, and you fought it, Ginny. You fought it for an entire year when you were only eleven,” he said, brushing her hair back over her shoulder.

“It’s still kind of creepy,” she whispered.

Harry looked stricken, and his hand dropped from her hair.

“I know,” he said hollowly. He pulled up to a sitting position while reaching over to grab his T-shirt. He quickly ducked into it, refusing to meet her eyes.

She wasn’t certain what memory she triggered in him, but she didn’t want him to close off. She didn’t want him to storm off like he always did when he was cornered. She needed more of this story.

“It’s okay,” she said, grabbing his hand. “I want to know. I need to know.”

Harry regarded her intently for a moment before he nodded, squaring his shoulders as if he were going into battle.

He told her all about the Horcruxes and how they learned Tom wanted seven. He told her about the night Professor Dumbledore died, and how the locket they’d retrieved had been a fake. He explained about hiding at Grimmauld Place, and Kreacher, and how they discovered Dolores Umbridge had the real locket.

“That’s why you went to the Ministry,” Ginny said. “Everyone wondered. You were nearly caught.”

“I know. A Death Eater latched onto Hermione and followed us back to Grimmauld Place, so we couldn’t stay there anymore. Hermione quickly tried to Apparate us to a forest, and that’s when Ron got Splinched,” Harry said, looking at Ginny worriedly.

Ginny knew he was concerned about telling the next part, not wanting to share Ron’s betrayal. Ginny let go of his hand and put her fingers under his chin to raise his head.

“Hermione told me about that. She also told me about Ron leaving,” she said.

Harry looked immensely relieved. “She did?”

“Yeah. I think she needed to talk about it.

“It was really hard on her. She cried for days.”

“I bet it was hard on you, too.”

“Yeah, but he came back, and it was a good thing, too. He saved my life that night,” Harry said.

“How?” Ginny asked.

Harry explained about the silver doe and how it led him to the pool of water.

“I was stupid and didn’t take the Horcrux off before I dived to get the sword. I think it tried to drown me,” he said, shivering.

“It probably did,” she said, shuddering at the thought that he’d been there alone.

“That’s when Ron suddenly showed up, and he pulled me out, along with the sword. That Deluminator that Dumbledore left him in his will led him right to us. I thought that since Ron got the sword, he should destroy the Horcrux.”

“But how did you know the sword would destroy the Horcrux? And how did it get there?” Ginny asked.

Harry shook his head in frustration. “Oh, I skipped a part. We didn’t know how the sword got there at that time, but we knew we were looking for it. That was part of what caused the row with Ron, that we had to find another thing. Hermione read about how the sword was goblin made, and it would absorb anything that made it stronger. Since I killed the Basilisk with that sword, it had the venom in it.”

“That’s why Dumbledore left it to you,” Ginny said, wondering at the caginess of her former Headmaster. And the Deluminator helped Ron find you, what did the Tales of Beedle the Bard do?”

“That comes later,” Harry said, beginning to look overwhelmed.

“It’s okay, just keep talking. We can skip around a bit,” she reassured him.

Harry nodded. “While Ron was gone, we went to Godric’s Hollow because we thought Dumbledore might have left the sword there for us. I’d been wanting to go for ages, but Hermione was afraid it might be a trap.”

“Are your parents buried there?” Ginny asked quietly, reaching for his hand. Harry grabbed onto it as if he were looking for a lifeline.

“It took a while to find them,” he said his voice low. “Hermione had found this symbol on one of the tombstones that matched a drawing in her copy of Beedle the Bard so she got distracted, but I kept looking.”

He was clutching her hand so tightly Ginny thought it might break. She recognized this was very hard for him to talk about. “Did you find them?”

He nodded quickly, visibly swallowing. “It was strange.”

She had to strain to hear his voice.

“I mean, I knew they were buried there and all, but… I didn’t really feel them there. Not like I thought I would. It was just sort of an… empty feeling. I dunno,” he said, running his other hand through his hair. The one grasping Ginny’s hand didn’t let go.

“Maybe one day we can go back and plant some flowers now that you know what to expect,” she said gently.

He shrugged. “Hermione conjured a wreath. It was Christmas.”

Ginny didn’t think her heart could ache any more than it did right then.

“We went and saw the house too,” Harry said, talking very fast. The grip on her hand was unbearable. “It’s been left as some sort of memorial. We met a neighbor who we thought Dumbledore might have left the sword with, but she was acting strange. I could talk to her, but didn’t recognize it was Parseltongue until too late.”

“Harry, let go,” she said, trying to pull her hand from his.

“Oh! Sorry,” he said, loosening his grip at once. He didn’t completely let go, however, and Ginny could sense he was distressed.

“She was speaking Parseltongue?” she asked. “So… was she a relative of Tom’s?”

“No. She was the snake. I dunno how he did it, but the snake was inside her, and when it came out, it bit me. Through the connection in my head, I could hear it telling Voldemort where I was.”

“Wait a minute. This was the snake that bit my dad? The one that was a Horcrux? And it bit you?” Ginny asked, alarmed.

“Yeah. Hermione came up and tried to help me get rid of it, and I knew I had to get her out of there because Voldemort was coming, but my head felt as if it was splitting in half. We Disapparated just in time.”

“But had you already been bit?” Ginny asked again.

“Yeah, I really don’t remember much about what actually happened once we Disapparated. I was trapped in my mind. Or Voldemort’s mind. Maybe both, I dunno. I saw his memories of what happened the night he killed my parents,” he said. His voice was very raw, and his eyes glistened, the fire burning in the hearth reflected in them.

Ginny didn’t know what to say. She reached over to lay the palm of her hand on his face. He leaned into her touch, closing his eyes.

“Oh, Harry.”

He cleared his throat and pressed on. “So, no sword, no new Horcrux, and my wand got broken beyond repair battling the snake,” he said, resolutely prepared to press on.

Glancing at the floor where it still lay, she could see the wand she knew to be his. It didn’t look broken, but she decided to leave that for the moment. “Why did you think Professor Dumbledore would leave the sword in Godric’s Hollow?” she finally asked.

“It’s where he was from, too. Your Auntie Muriel told me at Bill and Fleur’s wedding,” he said hoarsely.

“That old bat does love to gossip,” Ginny said irritably. No one could get under her skin like Auntie Muriel always could.

“It was confirmed in that book Rita Skeeter wrote,” he said quietly.

Ginny remembered reading Dumbledore’s biography when she was stuck at her Auntie Muriel’s. She remembered it being very harsh, particularly in regards to Harry’s relationship with the late professor. Fred and George had to restrain her from going after Rita Skeeter with a promise of inventing a prank with her specifically in mind.

Fred had never got the chance.

“That book was very unflattering. You didn’t believe all that stuff they wrote about you and him, did you?” she asked, already seeing the pain in his dull green eyes.

“I didn’t know what to think,” he said honestly.

“It was obvious he cared about you. Anyone could see that,” Ginny consoled.

Harry didn’t respond but appeared to pull into himself. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped an arm around them. He glanced up at her briefly before looking down again. “It hurt,” he said, his voice husky with emotion.

Damn that woman. I’ll invent the prank myself.

She reached over and pulled him into her arms. He didn’t resist. Ginny simply held him comfortingly, rubbing her hand up and down his back. She thought he’d had enough for the evening, so she was surprised when he kept talking.

He didn’t move from her embrace so she had to strain to hear him.

“I eventually came to terms with it and decided I trusted the man I knew. That came later, though. I think we left off where I told Ron to destroy the locket Horcrux,” he said.

“Mm hmm,” Ginny whispered, still rubbing circles on his back.

“It knew. The Horcrux knew it was in danger, and this thing came out of it. It started taunting Ron about all this stuff that Ron had been worrying about. Stuff I didn’t even know he’d been worried about. I kept telling Ron to stab it to make it shut up, but he was frozen. I began to worry that the Horcrux was going to win,” he said over her shoulder.

Ginny shuddered. She knew firsthand how Tom played on insecurities.

“What happened?” she asked.

“Ron stabbed it with the sword.”

“Good for him,” she nodded.

Although she couldn’t see his face, she could sense his mood lighten. “Then we both went back to the tent, and he had to face Hermione. I think he thought that was nearly as bad.”

Ginny giggled and she could feel the laughter rumbling in his chest. She became hyper-aware of his body, pressed against hers. She moved her hand up and ran her fingers through his hair. Harry turned his head and suddenly they were kissing. Kissing as if they’d been starved for one another. Ginny felt a tingling that went all the way down to her toes. She didn’t ever want it to stop.

Harry leaned back against the arm of the couch, pulling her down with him so that she lay sprawled half on top of him. She wasn’t certain for how long they continued to snog, but when she felt Harry’s hands began to move into places they hadn’t been before, she somehow came to her senses and pulled away.

“Harry,” she said, panting.

“What?” he gasped, trying to recapture her lips.

“Harry,” she said again, more forcefully this time. “Er… I’m… er… I like, I mean. Oh, stuff it. I’m not ready for more right now.”

Harry stared at her blankly for a moment, his lips swollen from kissing and his hair messy as ever. It took all her strength not to lean over and kiss him again, but now he seemed to have come back to his senses.

“Oh… er... sorry, Ginny,” he muttered, his face growing even redder than it already was. He shifted up on the couch and away from her.

“Don’t be sorry,” she said firmly. “I got as carried away as you did — and thoroughly enjoyed myself doing it, I might add. I just want to slow it down a bit.”

She wasn’t a prude, but she also knew that, despite the fact she knew it would be Harry eventually, she wasn’t ready for that step yet.

“Okay,” he said, running his hand along the back of his neck.

Regardless of her resolve, she knew she couldn’t trust herself to sit in the dark, cozy room with him any longer.

“Good night, Harry,” she said before slipping from the room.

*****

Harry awoke the next morning to the sounds of Ron swearing and banging loudly around the room.

“Oi! What are you on about?” he asked grumpily. It had been the most decent stretch of sleep he’d had all night.

“I can’t find my sweatshirt, and our Portkey leaves in an hour,” Ron said, pulling up the covers and looking under Harry’s bed.

“I don’t have it,” Harry snapped, slamming the covers back down.

“I bet Ginny nicked it. She’s always nicking our stuff. Watch out for your socks, she likes those best,” Ron said as left the room in search of his missing sweatshirt.

Ginny.

Harry’s thoughts drifted back to the previous evening. He didn’t know what might have happened if she hadn’t stopped it. His brain hadn’t been doing any thinking at the time. It hadn’t even been functioning. All his blood was being used somewhere else. No one had ever made him lose control the way she could, but he was worried. He didn’t want to push her, but he knew it was really only her good sense that had stopped them from getting completely carried away.

Merlin, he’d practically pounced on her. What a prat.

Like any teenager, his thoughts had certainly strayed there, but he’d never had the opportunity to actually do anything about it. He didn’t really know what to think except that he’d have to trust her judgement. When they’d dated at Hogwarts, he remembered her slapping his hand away once then, too. He’d had what he thought was a death sentence then, though, and it had always kept him tightly in check.

He didn’t have that now, though, and he couldn’t help wanting to touch her. Would she ever want him to touch her once she learned the full story?

Her words reverberated in his mind.

It’s still kind of creepy.

She thought the Horcrux was creepy, and she was right. She’d been horrified by the idea that it was in the diary that she’d carried around. What would she think when she learned that one had been inside him? That it had lived in him like a parasite for the entire time she’d known him?

Harry couldn’t stand to be inside his own head at the moment, either. Hands shaking, he fought at the covers constricting his legs before bolting from the bed and fleeing from the room.


He found Ron and Hermione in the kitchen after he’d had his shower and managed to tamp down on his raging thoughts.

“Harry,” Hermione said, delighted when she saw him. Her smile turned to a frown as she got closer. Perhaps he hadn’t succeeded in pulling himself together as well as he thought. “Are you all right? You look rather peaked.”

“I’m fine,” he lied.

“Coffee, mate?” Ron offered.

“Yeah. Coffee would be good,” he said, taking a seat at the table.

“You will take care of yourself while we’re gone, won’t you, Harry?” Hermione asked, worrying her bottom lip.

“I’ll be fine,” he said, rolling his eyes. “It’s not like we haven’t been apart for the summer before, you know.”

“It won’t be for the whole summer,” Hermione said.

“And it’s not like you’ll be trapped with the ruddy Dursleys,” Ron added.

“Of course not. You’ll be here with Ginny and the rest of the Weasleys,” Hermione said.

Harry knew they were worried about him, and it meant more to him than they would ever know. “I’m just going to be sitting here doing the same old thing. It’s you two who are going on the great adventure. You stay out of trouble.”

“We don’t go looking for trouble, trouble usually finds us,” Ron said, grinning.

Harry grinned back, feeling immensely fond of his two best friends.

“And you’ll come meet my parents properly when we get back, right, Harry?” Hermione asked. She was sniffling a bit.

“Of course. Is your house okay? I mean… did anything-”

“It’s fine,” Hermione interrupted. “It was searched, but no lasting damage was done. Mr. Weasley has already had it cleaned up. It’s just waiting for us to come home.”

“And your parents’ business?” he asked.

“Well, that’s a bit trickier,” she said, worrying her lip again. “See, when they left, the staff had to find new employment, and their patients have found new dentists. That’s too many people to find and memory charm. This Ministry wouldn’t do it anyway, so… I’m not really sure what will happen with their practice.”

“Maybe their patients will want to come back once they know your parents have returned,” Ron said hopefully.

“Maybe,” Hermione said, but she didn’t sound very confident.

“Did you find your sweatshirt?” Harry asked Ron.

“Yeah,” he grinned sheepishly. “Sorry for waking you. Ginny had it.”

Harry waved him off. “I was planning on seeing you off anyway. Are you packed?”

Hermione patted her purse. “Both cases shrunk and inside, ready to go.”

“Do you know where you’re staying tonight?” he asked.

“We have a room in Sydney for the night, then we’re heading west tomorrow,” she said.

“One room?” Harry asked, raising his eyebrows.

Ron’s ears immediately turned red.

“Well, we’re trying to conserve our funds since we’re not certain how long it will take,” Hermione said, flustered.

“It’s not as if we haven’t slept together before,” Ron said defensively. Then his brain caught up with his mouth. “I mean… in the same room… in the tent. You know, we all shared the tent.”

Harry continued to stare at them, eyebrows raised. It took all his effort to hold his expression and not laugh outright at the two of them.

“We were in there together when you were on guard duty and nothing happened,” Ron spluttered.

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. What Ron and I do is none of your business anyway, Harry,” Hermione huffed indignantly.

Harry grinned. “I know. I’m only taking the mickey.”

Ron threw a dishtowel at him. “Git.”

Harry chuckled over their expressions and was still grinning when Ginny and Mr. Weasley entered the kitchen.

“Good morning,” Mr. Weasley greeted. “Just about to set off, are we?”

His enthusiasm for their adventure was obvious. Harry suspected Mr. Weasley wished it was him about to set off to live with Muggles.

“All set, Dad. Just have to grab on,” Ron said, nodding towards the empty fizzy drink bottle on the table.

“Excellent,” Mr. Weasley said, clapping his hands together.

Ginny moved to sit next to Harry, her hand brushing the tops of his shoulders as she walked past. “Have a safe trip, and bring me a souvenir,” she said.

Harry felt warm where she touched him, and he was pleased to see she wasn’t angry with him.

“We will,” Hermione promised.

“I won’t,” Ron said, causing Ginny to stick her tongue out at him.

“You do know that Australia has the largest population of venomous spiders, don’t you, Ron?” she asked sweetly.

Ron’s face paled considerably.

“It’s just about time, Ron,” Hermione said, grabbing his arm. Ron still looked worried.

Mr. Weasley, Harry and Ginny all stood and formed a half circle in front of the couple. Harry wrapped his arm around Ginny’s shoulders, and she put hers around his waist. They wished their friends off, and watched as they vanished from sight.


Back to index


Chapter 8: Nightmares

Author's Notes: Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Sherylyn for her awesome editing skills. I think this chapter ended up being my favorite, so Iím eager to hear your thoughts.


Chapter Eight
Nightmares



“You have allowed your friends to die for you,” Voldemort’s taunting voice echoed through the forest, bouncing off the trees.

The forest was still, ominously so. The quiet was unnatural.

Harry couldn’t find which way to go. He’d been on the path leading to Voldemort, but he’d taken a wrong turn and was now hopelessly lost. He ran through the trees and undergrowth, feeling the briars tearing at his legs. He had to get there. He had to stop this. He was the only one who could.

As he rounded a corner, he found Ron laying spread-eagle on the ground, his eyes staring lifelessly up at the night sky.

“Noo,” Harry moaned. Not Ron. Ron wasn’t supposed to die. Harry’s heart clenched, but he had to move. He couldn’t stop for Ron. There wasn’t time.

He turned to run, but stumbled to the ground. He had to reach Voldemort. He had to stop this. Scrambling to his feet, he pushed the brush out of his way. He had to meet Voldemort. It was the only way.

Professor Dumbledore had lied. Harry wasn’t meant to survive.

“You can’t outrun me. I’m inside you. I’m part of you,” the words rang in his skull. He clawed frantically at his own skin, desperate to rid himself of the soul he was harboring.

The forest got thicker and thicker, impeding his movement, trapping him, holding him. He yanked with all his might, pushing his body into a clearing.

Hermione was there, hanging from a tree, twisting slowly, slowly in the breeze.
“Noo,” Harry moaned. Not this. Never this.

He turned and ran in another direction, unable to bear the sight. This wasn’t happening. He didn’t want this.

Around a corner, Fred and George, dead.

His legs couldn’t move fast enough. He only had one hour. He had to go. They were depending on him.

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, dead.

A desperate, keening whine escaped Harry’s lips. He couldn’t breathe. He wasn’t going to make it.

He turned and tried another direction.

“I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman, and child who has tried to conceal you from me.”

Panting, he tried to move up a hill. His legs wouldn’t cooperate. He wasn’t going to make it. He needed more time.

Ginny, dead.

“Nooo,” he cried, bile rising in his throat. “Please, no.”

Remus and Tonks, dead.

In every direction, another body would appear. Bill. Neville. Colin. Charlie.

“I’m part of you, Harry. You did this. It’s all your fault, and forever will be. You have allowed your friends to die for you.”



Harry awoke with a gasp, panting and drenched in sweat. His eyes darted wildly as he looked around the room, seeking the hidden threat.

His heart felt as if it would burst from his chest. His throat was raw from screaming, and he was immensely glad he’d cast a Silencing Charm before falling asleep. His stomach roiled, and he felt a lump form in his throat. Try as he might, he couldn’t stop it. He leaned over the side of the bed and retched.

When his stomach was empty, he shakily picked up his wand off the night table. Pointing at the mess, he whispered, “Scourgify.”

He collapsed back on the bed, a small whimper escaping. Traitorous moisture filled his eyes, but he refused to allow it release. Instead, he clenched his eyes shut and concentrated on slowing his breathing.

Once he felt he could keep his legs under him, he got up and quickly left the room. He desperately wanted a shower. As he reached the bathroom door, however, he realized it was only just past dawn. It was much too early to cause the rickety pipes of The Burrow to come to life. He’d wake up the entire house.

Harry felt trapped. He wanted to tidy himself up immediately; he needed to feel clean now. He put his hand on the bathroom door, debating with himself. Finally, turning in disgust, he hurried down the rest of the stairs and began pacing.

It was only a dream. A dream he’d had many nights before.

It wasn’t real.

Only some of it was real. People died because he wasn’t fast enough.

Voldemort had lived inside of him, for years.

Harry couldn’t stop shaking. He had to get control before anyone else awoke. Abruptly, his thoughts turned to the swimming hole in the back garden. It wasn’t as good as the shower, but it was better than standing here feeling so dirty.

He strode through the kitchen and quietly opened the door to slip outside. It was a beautiful morning with only a few clouds dotting the sky. There was a slight chill in the air that he thought would burn off later, but it would mean the water would be cold now.

He wanted it anyway.

He sprinted to the water hole, ripped off his overly large T-shirt and quickly undid the drawstring on his pajama bottoms before diving in wearing only his pants. The water was even colder than he expected. He nearly lost his breath upon impact, but managed to hold it until his head broke the surface, gasping. He swam to the side and swished the water around himself, scrubbing as hard as he could with only his hands. He wished he’d thought to bring a flannel.

Or a towel.

Grimacing, he heaved himself out of the water, at least feeling calmer than he’d been before he dove. He sat on the edge of the swimming hole, dangling his feet in the water and shivering.

He hadn’t asked the Mediwitch at the Ministry for a Dreamless Sleep Potion as Kingsley had suggested, but now he wished he had. He really needed a few decent nights’ rest.

He didn’t know what was wrong with him. Mr. Weasley had called it Spell Shock, but Harry really wished it would stop. He’d always been prone to nightmares, but not like this, not every night.

As the sun rose higher in the sky, Harry pulled himself up and quickly redressed over his wet pants. He didn’t want to put his sweaty clothes back on, but he didn’t want to walk back into The Burrow in his underpants, either. There was bound to be a Weasley or two up by now.

He trudged slowly back toward the house and was startled when the kitchen door flew open before he could touch the door handle. Mrs. Weasley stood in the doorway, red-faced and scowling. Harry took a step back. He’d never seen her looking at him that way before, and it startled him. He’d recently acquired a new respect for her dueling skills.

“WHAT do you think you’re doing, young man?” she shouted, obviously not caring who was still sleeping.

“Er… I went for a swim,” Harry said, watching her warily. His heart thudded in his chest as he had no clue why she was so angry with him.

“ALONE? You never, ever go swimming alone, Harry Potter. It’s one of the strictest rules of this house,” Mrs. Weasley said, moving aside so he could enter the kitchen.

He didn’t know if he really wanted to go inside right then.

He moved through the door quickly, hugging the wall and stood well away from her. “Er… sorry. I didn’t know about that rule.”

“YOU COULD HAVE DROWNED. No one else was even awake and you were out there all alone. No word, no note. We wouldn’t have even known you were in trouble,” she shouted wildly, swinging her arms in the air and taking a step towards him.

Harry couldn’t stop himself. He flinched, raising his arms over his head to dodge a blow. He didn’t know why he reacted so badly. He knew the Weasleys were nothing like the Dursleys. He usually had better control of his instincts, but he was a mess this morning, and her shouting had startled him.

A heavy silence filled the kitchen.

Mortified, Harry slowly dropped his arms. Mrs. Weasley stood in front of him, still frozen in place, her hand covering her mouth.

Mr. Weasley, who must have entered the kitchen when he heard the shouting, stood in the entryway, a very troubled expression on his face.

Harry didn’t know where to look or what to say. He desperately wanted to get as far away from them as possible. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “I won’t go out there alone again.”

“Oh, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley said tearfully. “I was worried about you, dear. It’s dangerous to swim alone. You could have died.” There was a desperate, pleading tone in her voice as she swiped at her eyes.


Harry nodded jerkily, his emotions in turmoil. The urge to flee had reached a fevered pitch.

“The water must have been cold,” Mr. Weasley said, finally coming fully inside the kitchen and sitting down. His eyes never left Harry’s face.

Harry was grateful to him for carrying on as if nothing had happened. “It was,” he whispered. “Colder than I expected.”

“Here, sit down, let me make you some tea to warm you up,” Mrs. Weasley said, pushing him into a chair.

Harry didn’t want to stay, but he couldn’t refuse her. It was the first morning she’d been up for breakfast, and she looked so distressed. She’d just lost her son and without even realizing, Harry had just reminded her of that. He felt like such a tosser.

He reluctantly raised his eyes to Mr. Weasley. “Sorry if I woke you up.”

Mr. Weasley smiled. “The door is warded to let Molly and me know if anyone is sneaking out at night.”

“Oh,” Harry said. Of course it would be.

“Although I think the twi- eh, George knows how to get around it,” Mr. Weasley said.

“Ginny, too,” said Mrs. Weasley, placing a steaming mug in front of Harry. “But don’t tell her I know.”

Harry’s wet pants were beginning to leak through his pajama bottoms. “Er… I should probably go change.”

Mrs. Weasley noticed his dilemma and quickly cast a drying spell.

Harry flinched again, but she didn’t notice. He didn’t like having wands pointed at him. He felt stupid for forgetting the Charm.

Mr. Weasley noticed his flinch.

“Did you sleep well, Harry?” he asked casually, and Harry realized he didn’t miss anything.

“Yes, sir,” he lied, looking down at the table. He took a large, scalding gulp of tea to avoid having to speak.

“Ron and Hermione should have arrived in Adelaide by now,” Mr. Weasley said, still watching Harry with those too-knowing eyes.

Harry felt terribly exposed.

“I do hope they’re all right,” Mrs. Weasley said, joining them at the table. “It’s so far away.”

“They’re fine, Molly,” Mr. Weasley said. “Hopefully having a grand adventure.”

Ron and Hermione had left yesterday, and Harry already missed them. It was weird being at The Burrow without Ron.

“Are you hungry, dear? I could whip you up a spot of breakfast,” Mrs. Weasley offered kindly. She was still looking at him with anxious eyes.

Harry couldn’t take it anymore. “No. Thanks anyway, Mrs. Weasley. I’m not hungry. I’ll wait for everyone else.”

“Well, being Saturday, you might have a bit of a wait. That lot enjoys a lie in,” she said, nodding her head toward the ceiling.

“I’m going to have a shower,” he said, no longer caring what time it was. He left the room quickly before they could respond.

As he entered the sitting room, he heard Mrs. Weasley exclaim, “Oh, Arthur!”

Harry sprinted up the stairs two at a time.

*****

Saturday was the day the Weasley siblings picked to go into Diagon Alley and help George begin the clean-up of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. A bright, sunny day meant the area should be busy and bustling with activity. Ginny was excited to be out, and she hoped this would be good for George.

When they arrived by Floo, they were stunned by the devastation around them. The shop had obviously been searched — thoroughly. Evidently, the Death Eaters hadn’t been very happy with Fred and George mocking their Dark Lord.

Broken shelves, smashed windows, and ruined cauldrons greeted their arrival. Paper and various Wheezes littered the floor beneath a layer of dust. The counter had been smashed and overturned, its contents strewn everywhere.

“Looks like it was a hell of a party. Sorry I missed it,” George said dully, staring at the mess.

“Yeah,” Charlie said, dismayed.

Ginny suspected George was feeling Fred’s loss keenly. Fred was gone, and now his business had been destroyed. She hoped George could handle another blow.

“It’s okay, it’ll just take a bit longer to clean it up,” she said bracingly. “We can do this.”

“Right,” George said, glumly kicking at some debris. “I wonder if the flat looks the same.”

“I’ll start on the flat, you all get started down here,” Harry said, weaving his way toward the back of the shop where the stairway to their flat was hidden.

Ginny knew he was worried about drawing a crowd by being here, and it would be more difficult to see him if he wasn’t in the shop windows.

“I’ll start on the front desk,” Ginny said. The desk area looked more manageable than other parts of the shop, and since she was the only one who couldn’t use magic, she thought it was only fair.

“Watch out for broken glass,” Percy said.

Each of the boys went to opposite corners while Fleur started in the center, and they began to repair the damage. As time wore on, the shop at least became more recognizable as a shop, but it was slow, arduous work, even with the aid of magic.

Ginny watched as Bill moved from person to person. Albeit assisting each brother, she also knew he was doing his customary check in to see how each was coping. Before he made his way over to Ginny, Harry’s head popped out from the stairway. His hair was mussed even more than usual, and she thought he looked rather wan and tired.

“Hey, George. Which bedroom is yours, the one on the right or left?” he asked.

George turned from the mess he was binning. “On the right,” he answered shortly. “Here, I’ll come up and show you.”

“No, that’s all right,” Harry said hastily. “Er… it’s coming along. I just wanted to get a start on yours in case we can’t finish today.”

He turned and hurried back up the stairs before George could respond.

Ginny suspected that Harry was clearing out Fred’s things before George had to do it, and her heart swelled with appreciation.

Fleur moved towards Bill and whispered something before following Harry up the stairs. She must have caught on to what Harry was doing, as well, and went to help him. It would be easier for Harry and Fleur than on the rest of them. Ginny felt an upsurge of affection for her sister-in-law.

Bill caught Ginny’s eye and moved toward her area.

“How’s it going, squirt?” he asked fondly.

“Slowly. I wish I could use magic. Think Kingsley will consider eliminating the Trace?” she asked huffily.

Bill laughed. “You go ahead and campaign for that one.”

“Three more months,” Ginny replied, blowing a strand of hair from her face.

“How are the revision sessions going? Do you think you’ll be ready to sit your exams?” Bill asked.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Hermione left me a very detailed revision schedule. I’m certain I’ll get top marks if I follow it.”

“Are you following it?” Bill asked, amused.

“Going back to Hogwarts will be strange,” Ginny said, avoiding Bill’s question entirely. “I don’t know if I want to go back.”

“Mum will have kittens if you don’t.”

“I know, but Mum wasn’t there under the Carrows’ reign, either,” Ginny said more harshly than she’d intended.

Bill sobered immediately. “I’ve heard some things. I wish you didn’t have to go through that. Don’t hold it against Hogwarts, though. You want to leave Hogwarts with a good memory. You’ll appreciate it as you get older.”

Ginny nodded thoughtfully.

“Did you have fun out with the boys the other night?” she asked, still feeling slightly miffed she hadn’t been included but wanting to change the subject to something lighter.

“I did. It was good for George, I think. He at least talked to some other people,” Bill replied.

Ginny nodded. “He went out again last night, too.”

“He did?” Bill seemed surprised.

“Uh-huh. Said he had a date with some bird he’d met in the bar with you,” Ginny replied.

“Hmm. Must’ve been after I left. I’ll ask Charlie,” Bill replied easily. “Do you know what’s going on with Mum and Dad?”

Ginny stared at him blankly. “Other than the obvious, you mean?”

“Yeah. I think it has something to do with Harry,” Bill said.

Ginny frowned. “Now that you mention it, it was sort of odd this morning when we left. Harry stayed holed up in Ron’s room all morning. He didn’t even come down for breakfast, and when we were leaving, there was a peculiar sort of tension. I don’t know what it was about though.”

As she ran the morning over in her mind, she recalled noticing Harry wouldn’t even glance up as he walked toward the fireplace, and she’d thought he looked extremely pale.

“Dad Floo called me this morning. Wanted to know if I’d noticed anything unusual when I was guarding Privet Drive last year,” Bill said.

Ginny’s eyes widened. Well, that certainly hadn’t been what she’d expected. “His relatives? Why? Maybe they’re being moved home,” she offered.

“Maybe. Dad just seemed off to me,” Bill said, lost in thought.

“What did you tell him?” she asked.

Bill shrugged. “There wasn’t much to tell. I barely saw Harry, only heard his voice through the open windows on occasion. His relatives treated him poorly, but we all knew that.”

Ginny scowled. “I don’t understand why they insisted he had to be sent back there every year. Mum and Dad would have easily let him stay with us, and he’d have been happier.”

“Dumbledore told us there were special blood wards that protected him there. He thought Harry was safer if he stayed there,” Bill said, frowning.

“You don’t believe that?” Ginny asked.

“No, it’s not that I don’t believe it, it’s just… if it were any other kid, I think Dumbledore would’ve got him out of there,” he said slowly.

“Well, he’s never going back now,” Ginny said.

Bill helped her turn the front desk to rights and repaired the glass covering the display case so Ginny could begin replacing items by hand. She made a pile of broken items that would have to be repaired with a wand.

Her stomach had been rumbling for about an hour when the Floo flared and her dad stepped out with a picnic basket laden with a scrumptious feast.

“Your mother thought you’d all be hungry,” he said happily. Her mother getting back to cooking and fussing over what they ate was a good sign.

“I’m starving,” Charlie said, reminding Ginny of Ron. Typical of Ron to miss all the hard work. Prat.

“Where’s Harry?” her father asked.

Now that she was aware enough to look for it, Ginny could spot the telltale worry signs on her father’s face. His brow was furrowed in the center, and his eyes appeared rather dull.

Something was definitely troubling him.

“He and Fleur are cleaning upstairs,” Percy said. “I’ll get them.”

George moved over to the crowd and lifted a sandwich from the pile. “Thanks for doing this, you lot,” he said.

Ginny thought he looked desperately sad, but more resolute than he had in days. She hoped being back in the shop would reignite some of his creative energy.

Percy returned, followed closely by Fleur and Harry. Ginny watched Harry freeze on the stairs, one foot hovering in thin air before he continued down. He took a sandwich as far away from her dad as he could get.

To his credit, her dad seemed to realize he was making the young wizard uncomfortable. “Well, I know you’re all busy, so I don’t want to keep you. You’re doing a fantastic job. I daresay, the grand reopening will be a booming success.”

“Don’t you want to stay for lunch?” Percy asked hopefully.

It was only then Ginny realized how quiet Percy had been while they all worked. He couldn’t seem to get comfortable being around his family. That thought bothered Ginny but she didn’t know how to fix it.

“No, I don’t want to leave your mother on her own. I’ll see you lot at dinner,” he said before disappearing through the Floo.

“Suppose we should dismantle the anti-Apparition wards,” George said after a moment.

“Wait until you’re ready to open and the place isn’t so empty,” Bill said.

George nodded. “I’m going to have to hire some help. I can’t do this on my own,” he said, his voice choked.

“I could help with the ledgers,” Percy offered, causing everyone to look up at him. “I mean…if you want.”

George stared at Percy for a long time before finally saying, “Thanks, Perce. That would be a big help. Neither of us were ever very good with that stuff.”

“And I’ll work the floor until September,” Ginny said.

“Ron and I will, too. Weekends even after we start work,” Harry said.

George smiled and ducked his head. “Thanks,” he mumbled thickly.

Ginny walked up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist, squeezing him tightly. He patted her arms clumsily.

“Speaking of work, Harry, I spoke to the goblins and after some gentle persuading, your accounts should be available within the next few days. They’ll send you an owl,” Bill said, smiling at the younger wizard.

Harry’s face colored, but he smiled gratefully. “Thanks very much, Bill.”

Ginny was confused, and she saw the same puzzled expression on the rest of her brothers.

“What’s going on with the goblins?” she asked.

Bill looked surprised, glancing around at the faces of his siblings, he shrugged apologetically at Harry. “Sorry. When Kingsley told me, I thought they all knew.”

Harry waved him off. “There was enough to be getting on with at The Burrow already,” he mumbled.

“What’s going on with the goblins?” Ginny repeated. She could see the others all waiting for the answer.

“Er…Bill helped free up my accounts,” Harry said. “What did you have to do to convince them?”

“It seems the goblins, for some unfathomable reason, decided to confiscate all his gold in repayment for damage to the bank. They also wanted to try him for his break-in,” Bill said, enlightening the others.

“They what?” George said indignantly.

“You can’t be serious,” Charlie spluttered.

“That seems highly inappropriate,” Percy said, shaking his head.

Ginny turned to Harry. “Do you mean you’ve had no access to your money all this time?” she demanded.

Harry shrugged. “Hadn’t needed it yet.”

Ginny knew that was a lie. Harry’s clothes were ragged and worn, many of them too small. He had a godson now, and he needed his own owl. No wonder he hadn’t put up a fuss about staying at The Burrow. He couldn’t afford to go anywhere.

“So, how did you convince the goblins to change their minds?” Charlie asked.

Bill grinned widely. “I simply said, ‘I wonder how many witches and wizards will remove their funds from Gringotts when they realize the bank is persecuting Harry Potter for things he had to do in order to defeat Voldemort. The war wouldn’t have ended without him. It might be prime time for another group to start a banking option.’”

“Brilliant,” George whispered appreciatively.

“How’d they take that?” Charlie asked, eyes wide.

Bill shrugged. “The goblins are very prideful. The only thing they take more seriously than their pride is their money. Losing both just wasn’t an option.”

“I really appreciate it,” Harry said quietly.

“It’s what families do. You should’ve come to me yourself. We could’ve had this whole thing wrapped up sooner.”

Harry ducked his head, but Ginny could tell he was pleased. He never took being included with the Weasleys for granted. Sometimes, Ginny wished he would.

“Okay, now that Harry’s rolling in gold again, let’s see if we can refill my bank account. Back to work,” George shouted. He was in better spirits than he’d been when they first arrived, and his cleaning held a less manic quality. Occasionally some stray product would visibly stagger him, but all in all, he’d done remarkably well.

Grumbling halfheartedly, his siblings returned to work.

*****

When they’d returned tired and grimy from the shop, Mrs. Weasley was in the midst of preparing a large dinner for all of them. Even Bill and Fleur had come back to The Burrow rather than returning to Shell Cottage. By the time they’d all had showers and changed their clothes, it was time to eat.

Harry kept his head down and avoided the many attempts by Mr. Weasley to draw him into the conversation. He didn’t know what to say to the man, and feared his quiet, thoughtful eyes saw way too much. He felt badly ignoring him. After all, the Weasleys had given him so much, and they’d lost so much because of him, but Harry simply didn’t know what else to do.

The day’s physical work had been excellent for keeping his mind off things, and he was bone-weary. He hoped that perhaps his exhaustion would finally allow him a full night’s sleep.

Ginny kept giving him odd glances, and he suspected she was aware of his aloofness towards her parents.

As they were all clearing their plates, Charlie said, “Hey, there’s enough of us here to have a mock game of Quidditch. Who’s in?”

A chorus of affirmatives filled the air, and Harry was one of the first out the door, racing for the broom shed. They converged on the field, they began to split into teams, and that’s where the trouble began.

“Harry and I will go head to head as Seeker,” Charlie stated, grinning. “I want to see if you live up to your reputation.”

Harry grinned back. “I could say the same.”

“I’ll play Keeper,” Bill said. “Percy, do you want to play for the other team?”

Percy didn’t look thrilled, but he said, “Better Keeper than Chaser.”

“I’ll play Chaser on Harry’s team,” Ginny said quickly.

“And I’ll play opposite her,” Fleur jumped in.

That left George. They were short another Beater.

“Guess we’re one Beater short. We’ll always be one Beater short,” he said brokenly, his face crumpling before he turned on his heel and raced back to The Burrow.

“Shit.” Charlie said.

“I’ll go after him,” Bill said. He kissed Fleur on the cheek. “You lot carry on.”

Ginny looked close to tears herself, so Harry walked over and put his arm around her shoulders. She leaned into him, burying her face against his chest.

“I just want things to be normal again,” she whimpered brokenly.

“I know,” Harry said softly. “We just have to get used to the new normal.”

Ginny chuckled a little, her face still pressed into his chest. “Please don’t be angry with my parents. I know they can hover, and that must be difficult for you, but it’s only because they care.”

Harry sighed. So she had noticed the tension. “I’m not angry with your parents, Ginny. I appreciate them more than they’ll ever know. I just don’t always know how I’m supposed to respond to them. I never want to hurt them, and I’m sorry if I hurt you. I promise I’ll stop avoiding them.”

Ginny wrapped her arms around him more tightly. “Thank you.”

He’d just have to tamp down on his discomfort and treat the Weasleys as if nothing had happened. He could do that. He’d spent a lifetime doing that at one time or another. If it was hurting Ginny, it had to stop. He knew he was being ridiculous anyway.

Fleur, Charlie and Percy had taken to the air to give the young couple a moment of privacy, so once Ginny had pulled herself together, she and Harry joined them in flight. Charlie flew down and grabbed an apple, and they began a game of catch. Percy was horrendous, but Harry was pleased to see him agree to play.

He wasn’t quite sure how he felt about Percy. There was too much history and bad blood between them for him to ever feel completely comfortable with the wayward Weasley, but the fact remained, he was a Weasley, and Harry wanted them to be happy. He could be cordial to Percy, if not completely trusting.

Fleur was a decent flyer, and she and Ginny teamed up against the boys as they raced over the meadow. Harry felt all the stresses of the day melting away as he soared as high as he could reasonably go without risk of being seen by any Muggles. He was at the height of one of these ascensions when the first jet of orange light sped past his head.

It took the others a moment to process what was happening, but Harry was instantly on alert. His wand slid into his hand as he cast a Shield Charm.

“Get to the ground,” he shouted to the others. “What are you waiting on? Take cover!”

Another spell flew past him, but he pulled the broom to the left to dodge, and he ducked under the next one. They were coming from multiple directions. The Burrow was under attack.

The others had reached the ground, Ginny and Charlie on one side of the paddock near the trees, Percy and Fleur on the other much more exposed. Harry set down near Ginny when a searing pain erupted along his side.

He sucked in his breath, clenching his teeth to keep from shouting.

“Are you all right?” Ginny asked as he reached her spot behind a large tree. “That looked like it hit you.”

“I’m okay,” he said. “Did you get a glimpse of where they were hiding?”

“I think they’re in more than one spot, but still outside the border,” Charlie said, ducking as part of the tree blew off in front of him.

“Ginny, send your Patronus back to the house and get some reinforcements,” Harry said.

“What are you going to do?” she asked.

“I’m going to try and get Percy and Fleur. They’re too exposed where they are.”

As he spoke, Percy and Fleur were forced to move as the area around them erupted in flames. Fleur shot a powerful Stunning Spell toward the trees on the perimeter. Another jet of blue light streamed towards her, but her Shield held.

Percy wasn’t as lucky. As he sprinted across the open meadow, a jet of red light hit him in the back, and he crumpled to the ground.

“No,” Charlie gasped.

There was nothing for it. He couldn’t let the Weasleys lose another son because of him. Harry moved from the protection of the trees and sprinted toward Percy as the others shouted for him to come back. Spells of various colors flew around him, more now but still sporadic. He was thankful to note none of them were telltale green. Harry’s Shield held, and as he reached Percy, he tried to drag him inside it.

Percy was unconscious, but moaning slightly so Harry knew he was alive. He struggled to drag him to the nearest copse of trees. They were sparsely placed and not nearly as good a cover as where Ginny and the others were, but better than nothing. He saw Ginny’s horse Patronus galloping toward The Burrow.

A spell hit the thin tree above his head, and it smashed, raining down a torrent of splintered wood.

A deep, unrecognized voice boomed from the edge of the paddock, “Mr. Potter, if you’d care to come outside the wards for a discussion, no one else need be harmed.”

“You have allowed your friends to die for you,”

No, this couldn’t be happening again. Harry could barely breathe.

“Don’t do it, Harry,” a chorus of voices protested from the protection of the larger trees to his left.

“They’ve weakened the wards, but they can’t get through,” Charlie shouted. “That’s why they want you outside. They haven’t managed to breach them.”

Percy moaned beside him. Harry turned to see him moving his head from side to side. He couldn’t see a wound, so perhaps he’d merely been Stunned.

He pointed his wand at Percy’s chest and uttered, “Reennervate.”

Percy’s eyes fluttered open, staring around him in confusion. When he tried to sit up, Harry held him down.

“Stay still,” Harry hissed. “Our cover isn’t very good.”

Harry’s mind was racing. He had to get the others out of here. If the wards were still holding their attackers on the other side…

Expecto Patronum,” Harry bellowed, watching as Prongs leapt from his wand. Concentrating on the message he wanted to send, he watched as the stag ran towards Ginny, bowing its head as his message was delivered.

“Percy, we need to move backwards, closer to the house. I need you to stay low, and move as quickly as you can without getting into an open area. I’ll cover you,” Harry said.

“I don’t think you should stay here alone,” Percy said. “It’s you they want.”

“I know, but the wards haven’t fallen completely, and you’re still woozy. The further back we can get, the less likely the spells can reach us. It’s only because we’re out here by the edge of the property that they were able to attack.”

From the corner of his vision, he saw Charlie and the girls darting from tree to tree. Several spells flew towards them, but they grew weaker the further the trio moved.
“Go now, Percy,” Harry demanded.

Percy hesitated a moment before he began to move back. Another orange spell immediately raced toward him, but Harry raised a Shield, dissipating it.

As if their attackers had sensed what they were trying to do, the volume of spells increased, all aimed towards Harry’s hiding spot. Branches fell around him while dirt and rocks flew in the air, cutting and scraping his skin.

He kept a vigilant eye on Percy’s progress, and once he thought the Weasley brother was far enough back, Harry began to retreat, dodging the spells and holding his Shield. A tree branch snapped and fell, dropping within inches of his head. Harry paused to catch his breath, but before he could begin to move again, a blinding light flashed along the edges of the property, and all spell-fire stopped. Harry heard a muffled groan and a shout before the distinctive sounds of Disapparition filled the air. Harry cautiously got to his feet and began moving back, still facing the trees where the spells had been issuing.

“Harry!” Bill shouted.

Harry glanced to the side to see Bill with his wand drawn. “The others are behind me, and I’ve brought the wards back up to full strength,” Bill said.

Harry lowered his own wand and turned to walk towards the eldest brother. He could see George and Mr. Weasley assisting Percy. His eyes scanned the pathway, searching for Ginny. She was running toward him, flaming hair flying out behind her.

As his adrenaline began to fade, Harry realized his side was throbbing painfully. He put his hand to it, wondering if he’d bruised some ribs.

As Ginny reached him, her eyes widened. “You’re bleeding,” she gasped.

Harry pulled his hand away from his side, staring in consternation at the blood dripping from it. Before he could speak, before he could check the wound, before he could even acknowledge the others running toward him, Harry’s eyes rolled back and blackness descended over him.

Back to index


Chapter 9: Fallout

Author's Notes: As always, appreciation to my star beta, Sherylyn who always finds the time for me. I seem to have developed a capitalization problem that sheís been working tirelessly to correct.

Special thanks to Kezza, Calla, and WrappedinHarry for their invaluable Australian expertise. Thank you, ladies!

Shout out to Classic Jen who always worries about when the characters use the loo, lol.


Chapter Nine
Fallout



Ginny’s heart was still thumping too hard in her chest despite the fact the spellfire had stopped. Percy had to be all right. She couldn’t lose another brother. She couldn’t lose Harry, again, either. Why was this happening? There was supposed to be wards to prevent it.

Despite the acrid smoke, she could see her father across the clearing talking to Percy, who was on his feet and responding. Ginny’s legs wobbled, and she thought they might give out beneath her. Bill stood next to her father, waving his wand. She assumed he was attempting to strengthen the wards.

She hurried toward them but changed direction when she saw Harry emerging from the trees. Bill yelled to Harry, but Ginny didn’t even hear what he said, her relief was so great. Harry kept his back to her, carefully watching the trees in front of him for signs of incoming spellfire.

When he turned, his eyes immediately sought her out. A sob caught in her throat as she began to run toward him. It was then she noticed the blood-drenched side of his T-shirt.

Harry put a hand to his ribs just as she gasped, “You’re bleeding.”

He pulled his bloody hand away, staring at it stupidly for a moment that seemed suspended in time. His eyes rolled back, and his knees buckled. Ginny reached to catch him, but she couldn’t support his weight, and they both collapsed to the ground. Harry’s head lolled against her chest.

“Dad!” she screamed. “He’s hurt!”

Her dad left Percy with Charlie and hurried toward them, kneeling down and helping her to move Harry off her pinned legs. She cradled his head in her lap while her father checked his wound. She gasped as he lifted Harry’s shirt to reveal a long, gaping slash from his ribs onto his abdomen.

Ginny’s mother was hurrying up the path as quickly as her legs would carry her, panic written all over her face.

“George, go head off your mother,” her father barked as he moved to the side to allow Fleur to examine Harry’s ribs.

George didn’t move. He just stood there, staring horrorstruck at Harry’s prone figure.

“Zis eez very deep. I cannot fix it. We need to bring him to St. Mungos,” Fleur said. Ginny knew Fleur was agitated by the heaviness of her accent.

“Charlie, help me bring him inside. Ginny, you go get your mother,” her dad said.

Ginny didn’t want to leave Harry’s side, but she obeyed without argument.

Charlie left Percy with Bill and leaned over to scoop Harry into his arms as if he were a child. Her dad got up and took George’s arm, leading him back to The Burrow. George moved as if in a trance.

“I’m going to contact Kingsley and tell him what happened,” Bill said. “He’ll need to send a guard over to St. Mungo’s.”

When Ginny reached her mother, she grabbed her by her arm, halting her progress.

“What happened?” her mother wailed. “Is everyone all right?” The sheer panic in her mother’s voice further rattled Ginny’s nerves.

“They’re all coming back to the house now so you can look them over. We should go get your first aid kit and your potion supply,” Ginny said.

Her mother nodded frantically, seemingly happy to have something to do. They reached The Burrow first. Her mum hurried to get her supplies while Ginny anxiously watched the others enter the house.

Bill came first, allowing a limping Percy to lean on him. He propped Percy in a chair and immediately went to the fireplace to Floo call the Minister.

Her dad came in next, supporting a still-dazed George, followed closely by Fleur, and finally Charlie who was cradling Harry in his arms.

Ginny’s vision clouded and elongated. She felt dizzy as little stars burst in front of her. She was suddenly back at Hogwarts on the grounds of the battle, watching Hagrid carry Harry’s limp form from the trees. A sob welled up within her.

“Ginny,” Fleur spoke beside her, bringing Ginny back to the present, “are you all right?”

“Yeah,” she whispered, barely able to stand on her own. She fiercely blinked the tears from her eyes, refusing to let them fall.

Fleur guided her to a chair as her mother bustled back into the room, stopping at George first and giving him a once over. Charlie carried Harry into the sitting room.

“What happened to George?” her mum asked, unable to find a wound on him or get any response.

“I think he’s stuck in his memories,” Ginny said, since the same thing had just happened to her.

“Percy, do you have an injury?” her mother asked, looking through her potions for one that would help George.

“I just need a headache reliever,” Percy said, “I got Stunned.”

“Did you get hold of Kingsley?” her father asked, coming back into the kitchen.

“Yeah,” Bill said, turning around. “He told me to give him five minutes to get things ready at St. Mungo’s before we bring Harry in.”

“What happened to Harry?” her mother asked shrilly.

Ginny couldn’t take the anxiety anymore. She slipped away from Fleur and entered the sitting room where Charlie was using Harry’s balled-up T-shirt to try and stop the bleeding. Harry was exceedingly pale, and the circles beneath his eyes looked like bruises. He was so utterly still and un-Harry-like that it frightened her.

“Ginny, get me something to mop up this blood. This shirt is saturated,” Charlie said tensely. Charlie’s shirt was covered in Harry’s blood, as well.

Ginny hurried up the stairs to the linen cupboard and grabbed several towels before hurrying them back to Charlie.

“Bill said Kingsley is getting St. Mungo’s ready for him,” she whispered, unable to drag her eyes away from Harry’s white face.

“He’s a tough kid, squirt. He’ll be okay,” Charlie said gruffly.

“Ron is going to be beside himself when he finds out this happened while he was away,” Ginny said, thinking about her brother’s constant need to check on both Harry and Hermione.

“You’re too right,” Charlie agreed. “He’s been bloody overprotective.”

Bill entered the sitting room and eyed the scene critically. “Are you ready to move him? St. Mungo’s should be ready.”

“Yeah, I’ve done all I can do here,” Charlie said, pressing another towel to Harry’s bleeding side.

“Do you want to take him or should I?” Bill asked.

“You do it,” Charlie said. “I’m afraid I’ll drop him in the Floo, my hands are shaking so badly.”

Bill nodded, scooping Harry awkwardly in his arms and carrying him to the fireplace. Ginny and Charlie followed right behind.


Ginny emerged from the Floo in the emergency ward at St. Mungo’s. Her father was already there since he’d Apparated directly. He stood at the front desk, keeping his voice low but urgent. “This is the high-profile case the Ministry is expecting.”

Bill hunched his body over Harry to shield his face from the curious patients in the waiting room.

“A team is on their way down,” the receptionist said briskly.

A door behind her opened, and several Healers and Mediwitchs emerged, surrounding Bill and levitating Harry out of his arms. Ginny was thankful to note one of them had the foresight to drape a cloth over Harry’s face to hide his identity.

The team returned through the door from which they came, and it locked behind them before any of the Weasleys were able to follow.

“You can go up to the fourth floor, Spell Damage ward. Someone will be in touch with you,” the receptionist instructed.

Along with her entire family, Ginny sprinted for the lift. When they arrived at the Spell Damage ward, Kingsley Shacklebolt was awaiting them.

“Follow me. There’s a more private waiting area where we can talk,” he said before any of them could speak.

They followed him in silence, Ginny’s heart thumped wildly. Her mum walked beside her, wringing her hands. Her face was pinched, and Ginny could tell she was ready to launch herself at Kingsley for some answers.

George followed behind her, still quiet but more alert after whichever potion her mum had given him.

“Here we are,” Kingsley said, ushering them all into a comfortable waiting room with a door that closed securely.

“How did they get through the wards?” Bill demanded. He’d set many of those wards himself, and he looked furious that they’d been breached.

“I don’t know yet,” Kingsley answered. “I’ve sent a team to The Burrow to inspect them. I’ll let you know when it’s safe to return.”

“I repaired the ones that had been damaged,” Bill said.

Kingsley nodded. “I’ll let them know. There has been a lot of underground chatter that something involving Harry was planned, and I’m assuming this was it, but I just can’t be certain. There is an Auror guarding the room where he is, and there will be one there continuously for as long as he needs to stay.”

“I thought you said the Aurors were vastly depleted,” Bill said.

“They are, but this is top priority,” Kingsley replied.

Her dad nodded in agreement. “What can we do?” he asked the Minister.

“Nothing right now. Take care of Harry, and I’ll let you know as soon as I’ve heard anything. Were any of the rest of you hurt?”

“Percy was Stunned. The rest of us just have some cuts and bruises from falling debris,” Charlie answered.

“I’m going to have someone check you over, Percy,” the Minister said.

“That’s not necessary,” Percy said.

“Just to be safe,” Kingsley replied in a tone that said it was going to happen regardless of what Percy thought.

“I want to know what you plan on doing to keep Harry safe,” her mum said tearfully. “The war is over. He’s supposed to be safe.”

Kingsley nodded sadly. He knelt in front of her mum and took her hands in his. “I know, Molly. I’ll do everything in my power to bring these rogue Death Eaters to justice. In the meantime, he’ll need to continue to practice Constant Vigilance.”

“He’ll hate that,” George said, speaking for the first time since the attack.

Ginny nodded. “He will, so we have to discreetly keep an eye on him.”

They all settled into chairs, allowing the tension from the attack to drain as the hours passed. Eventually, a middle-aged Healer opened the door. He was very tall with kind blue eyes and a very bushy mustache.

“I’m Healer Stayer. Mr. Potter is resting comfortably. You’ll be allowed to see him shortly, but I ask only two at a time. He’s unconscious, and I don’t expect he’ll wake before morning. Once he does, I ask that you don’t overly tire him. He’ll be weak, and he needs rest.”

“What Curse did they use?” her father asked. “And what’s the damage?”

“I believe it was a simple Cutting Curse. I couldn’t detect any trace of Dark Magic. Unfortunately, the way the Curse hit him, it caused severe damage to some of his internal organs. We’ve repaired all the damage, and he’ll be fine in a few days, but he needs to rest to continue the healing,” Healer Stayer said.

“He’ll hate that,” George muttered again.

“I’m going back to the Ministry to see if there is any news. I want you all to stay here until The Burrow is secured,” Kingsley said.

“Understood,” her father nodded. “I think we all want to stay close, anyway.”

Ginny settled back in her chair, curling up against the side, and readied herself for a long, anxious evening.

*****


Harry slowly drifted back to consciousness. He was so comfortable and warm, so rested, he didn’t want to move. He didn’t want to lose the last vestiges of sleep, so he burrowed further into the pillow. Try as he might, however, he couldn’t stop his mind from being aware of the light in the room, or the nagging feeling in his stomach. Harry regretfully cracked his eyes open.

He didn’t recognize where he was.

Heart thudding in his chest, his eyes flew open wide, taking in the stark walls and pale green lighting. It wasn’t the hospital wing, so it must be St. Mungo’s. How had he got here? Harry’s muddled brain fought with the details. He’d been at Hogwarts. No, that wasn’t right. The Burrow. He’d been at The Burrow. The Quidditch Pitch! They’d been attacked on the Quidditch pitch.

His breath caught in his throat, and Harry sat up quickly, immediately regretting it. His side ached painfully, and his head spun so badly he thought he might pass out. He shut his eyes tightly, hoping the world would right itself. He rubbed his hand along his side, feeling the rough cloth bandages wrapped tightly around his middle.

What happened?

He had to find the others and make certain everyone was all right.

As he found his glasses on the bedside table, his door opened and an unrecognized Mediwitch bustled inside. Her eyes opened wide when she saw him sitting in the bed. “Mr. Potter, you’re awake,” she said unnecessarily. “You need to remain lying down to let that wound heal.”

She gently, yet firmly, pushed him back down. He was annoyed that he didn’t have the strength to resist her.

“What happened?” he asked immediately.

“Well, you’ve managed to get your insides stirred around, but we’ve set them all to rights. You’ll have to take it easy for the next few days. There’s a room full of visitors outside, but I’m only allowing them in two at a time,” she said.

Harry felt immensely relieved they were there.

The Mediwitch waved her wand above his body, starting at this toes and working her way all the way up to the top of his head. She frowned slightly, but covered it quickly when she noticed him watching.

“That bruise on your chest is still resisting the salve you’ve been using. I’m going to check if there is anything stronger.”

“How did you know I was using a salve?” Harry asked suspiciously.

She quirked her eyebrow at him. “The medical diagnostic I just completed tells me everything, Mr. Potter. I’m going to go and fetch you some pain reliever and a spot of breakfast. Oh, and here you go… ” she said, waving her wand once again.

Harry instantly felt relief from his full bladder. His face colored brilliantly. He wished the bed would swallow him whole.

The Mediwitch chuckled. “That lot out there warned me you wouldn’t give me an honest answer about your physical condition.”

Harry refused to look at her. He settled back on his pillows. “Can you send them in?” he asked.

She eyed him critically before nodding. “Just for a few minutes,” she said before bustling out the door.

Harry had only shut his eyes before the door opened and Ginny and Mrs. Weasley hurried it.

“Oh, Harry. How are you, dear?” Mrs. Weasley asked, sniffling. She looked even more wan and tired than she had over the past several days, and he instantly felt guilty for putting her through any more.

Ginny, too, was very pale, her eyes taking in every detail.

“I’m all right,” Harry assured them. “Is everyone else okay? How’s Percy?”

“He’s just fine,” Mrs. Weasley said, continuing to fuss. She fluffed his pillows and adjusted the blanket over him. “They fixed him up right as rain. He’s outside with the rest of them waiting to hear about you. We’re all going to head home for a kip shortly.”

“We’ll take it in turns staying so you won’t be alone,” Ginny said, laying a hand on his shoulder.

Harry was simultaneously touched and annoyed. “I don’t need a minder,” he said without any sting to his words.

“I know you don’t,” Ginny replied calmly, “but it makes us feel better, all right?”

Harry remembered when Ginny told him how upsetting it was for her to see Hagrid carrying him out of the forest when she thought he was dead. He must have put her through something like that again. He was such a prat.

He lowered his eyes. “Sorry.”

“You’re sorry that a Death Eater attacked you?” Ginny asked. “I wasn’t aware you’d asked him to do that.”

“Ginny!” her mum scolded.

Harry fought a smirk. Before he could respond, the door opened and the Mediwitch bustled back in. She carried a potion and a bowl of what he thought might be porridge, but he couldn’t be certain.

“Here you are, Mr. Potter,” she said, holding up the potion.

Harry eyed it warily.

“It’s a pain reliever. You can swallow it, or I can assist you to swallow it,” she said, no-nonsense.

Harry took the phial and downed it quickly, grimacing at the taste. “Why do they always have to taste like dirty socks?” he asked sourly.

“How on earth do you know what dirty socks taste like?” the witch asked, placing the porridge on a table next to him. “Eat what you can tolerate. Have one of these fine ladies let me know if it makes you nauseous. He is hungry, so be sure he eats something,” she said to Ginny and Mrs. Weasley as she left.

Harry scowled.

Mrs. Weasley lifted the bowl, filling the spoon with a bit of porridge and hovering it in front of his mouth.

Harry gaped. Certainly she wasn’t expecting to feed him?

“Come on, dear, open up,” she said, smiling brightly.

Merlin, she was.

Ginny snickered. “Yeah, Harry. You heard her. You need to eat,” she said gleefully.

If Harry could have Hexed her with his eyes, he would have done.

Scowling, he tried to take the spoon from Mrs. Weasley’s hand, but she pulled it away. Harry could see a plea in her eyes. She wanted to do this, and he couldn’t refuse her. Grudgingly, he opened his mouth to let a beaming Mrs. Weasley feed him a spoonful.

Ginny could barely contain her giggles, and he shot glares at her between each bite. It only seemed to make her laugh harder.

After several more bites, Harry began to grow drowsy. He supposed it was the pain potion beginning to work because the sharp pain in his side had lessened to a dull ache.

Turning his head away from the spoon, he mumbled, “That’s all.”

Mrs. Weasley looked down at the half-full bowl. “Are you certain, dear? Maybe just one more bite?”

Harry sank into his pillows. Her words were muffled and his head began to spin. He couldn’t seem to keep his eyes open.

“It’s okay, Harry,” Ginny whispered, brushing back the hair on his forehead. “You rest now. We’ll be here when you wake.”

Harry leaned into her touch, letting the darkness claim him.

When he awoke again, he suspected it was much later in the day. His side was painful once more, and he thought the pain was what had dragged him from his slumber. He also needed to use the loo.

Mr. Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt sat in the fluffy chairs by his bed, talking in hushed tones. Neither had noticed him open his eyes. He tried to pull himself up but couldn’t hold back a gasp as pain shot through his side, attracting the attention of both men.

“Harry!” Mr. Weasley said, immediately adjusting the pillows so Harry was propped up a bit. He handed Harry his glasses. “How are you feeling? Should I call a Healer?”

Harry shook his head, still unable to speak as waves like fire shot down his right side. He didn’t want a Healer yet. He wanted to know what they were discussing before the pain reliever put him back to sleep.

Mr. Weasley’s face was pinched, but he reluctantly retook his seat.

“We’ve done a thorough search of the area around The Burrow, Harry, but obviously they’d Disapparated by then,” Kingsley said, his deep baritone voice filling the still room. “Did you recognize any of them?”

“No, they never came out of the trees. I didn’t recognize the voice either,” Harry replied, gritting his teeth against the pain.

Kingsley frowned. He didn’t ask about which voice, so Harry assumed the others had already given their account of what had happened on the Quidditch pitch. “While you were sleeping, one of my best Aurors got a lead. Have you ever heard of a Death Eater named Doogin MacCullity?” Kingsley asked.

The name was unfamiliar to him. He shook his head.

“He wasn’t high-ranking, but his name kept appearing more and more frequently towards the end of the war,” Kingsley said. “Auror Proudfoot got a tip on where he was spotted this morning, so he’s gone to check it out.”

“Why were they at The Burrow?” Harry asked. “If they hadn’t completely broken through the wards, why did they attack? It would have made more sense to wait until they had collapsed completely.”

“That’s a very good question, and I don’t have an answer,” Kingsley said, grimacing. “What we do know is that you’re a prime target. Perhaps they saw you so close they couldn’t resist the chance.”

Harry’s insides went cold. “What do you mean I’m a prime target?”

“You destroyed their leader, lad. They’re looking for revenge,” Mr. Weasley said gently.

“Not to mention you took away the life of power and prestige they thought was coming to them once Voldemort took over,” Kingsley replied. “I’m putting The Burrow under tighter security until they’re caught.”

“I’m not going be locked up,” Harry said hotly. For a nightmarish moment he thought the Minister was going to try and send him back to the Dursleys.

“I understand that, Harry, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be cautious,” the Minister replied.

Harry scowled. It was supposed to be over. The Prophecy had been fulfilled. He was so tired of living as a target.

“I’m sorry,” Mr. Weasley said, resting his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “I know it’s not what you wanted to hear.”

“It still doesn’t make sense that they attacked, though. If they couldn’t get through the wards, why not wait until I went to the Ministry or Diagon Alley? They couldn’t have expected me to just walk into the woods and surrender,” Harry said, puzzled.

Mr. Weasley raised his eyebrows nearly to his thinning hairline at the irony of that statement.

Harry shrugged sheepishly.

Before Kingsley could speculate, a Healer entered the room holding a phial of potion. Her dark eyes raked over Harry’s guests, widening slightly when she noticed the Minister. She nodded before proceeding to her patient.

“Hello, Mr. Potter. I’m Healer Larkin. Let’s see how you’re feeling this afternoon,” she said while waving her wand over him much more quickly than the Mediwitch had this morning. She nodded before casting a spell that once again, eliminated Harry’s need to use the loo.

Harry colored brightly and prayed she wouldn’t mention anything about that in front of Mr. Weasley or the Minister.

“Why didn’t you call for a pain potion when you awoke?” she asked, frowning. “Here, drink this down now.”

“Are you in pain, Harry?” Mr. Weasley asked, alarmed.

The Minister was also staring at him appraisingly.

“A bit,” Harry mumbled, grimacing at the taste of the potion.

“I’d say more than a bit,” the Healer replied. “The Mediwitch informed me of the difficulty in Healing your chest wound. I’d like to take a look.”

“Now?” Harry asked.

She glanced at Mr. Weasley and the Minister.

“We’ve already seen it,” Mr. Weasley said firmly.

She looked at Harry who simply stared back. He was already feeling a little woozy from the potion. He wished she’d asked before he’d taken it. It made him a little loopy.

“Do you mind if they stay?” she asked.

“If who stays?” Harry asked.

Mr. Weasley smirked.

Healer Larkin waved her wand again and vanished Harry’s pajama top. Both men standing beside her winced, but she studied the mark curiously. “And you’ve been covering the entire area twice a day with the Bruise Remover the Ministry Mediwitch gave you?”

“Uh-huh,” Harry said, flinching when she put her cold hands on the scar beneath the bruise.

“This is Dark Magic at its worse, and I think we need a stronger balm. I’m going to send an owl to a Potions Master who might have something for us to try,” she said, pursing her lips.

Harry wondered if he should mention the Horcrux. It wasn’t just a Killing Curse they were dealing with, and they should probably know. His head was swimming, however, and he really didn’t want to talk about it. Was the scar how the Horcrux got out of him? Had it travelled from his head down through his body to his chest before being expelled?

“The Killing Curse rebounded upon Lord Voldemort, and a fragment of Voldemort’s soul was blasted apart from the whole, and latched itself onto the only living soul left in that collapsed building.”

He shuddered, feeling a desperate panic rising in his chest. He was having a hard time catching his breath. He clutched at the bed sheets. He couldn’t breathe.

“Mr. Potter,” Healer Larkin said, alarmed. She pulled the pillow from beneath Harry’s head so he plopped down level on the bed. She placed her hand flat upon his chest. “Deep breath, you’re all right.”

Warmth radiated from her hand, and her tranquil voice helped Harry to calm down. As he started to breathe normally, his eyes began to droop. It was nearly impossible to keep them open. He tried fighting the pain potion, but he couldn’t. There was something he’d wanted to tell her, but he couldn’t remember now…


The room was dimly lit when he awoke again, and the curtains were drawn over the window. Ginny was there, watching him closely.

“Hi,” he whispered.

“Hi, yourself,” she said, rubbing his cheek with the palm of her hand. “How do you feel? My dad said you had a hard time earlier.”

Harry nodded, feeling foolish. What was wrong with him?

“It’s all right. There’s nothing to worry about,” Ginny said, continuing to rub his face.
“Have you been here all day?” he asked. His voice felt scratchy.

“No. Bill and Fleur were here before me, but they said you slept through their visit.”

“Oh,” Harry said, feeling odd that they were here watching him sleep.

“Are you hungry?” Ginny asked, grinning mischievously. She nodded toward a steaming bowl of soup on the table.

Harry scowled, remembering her delight over Mrs. Weasley feeding him that morning. “Very funny,” he said.

“Oh, Harry, if you could have seen your face,” she said, laughing. “Besides, you made Mum’s day. She’s always happiest when she can fuss over someone. The fact it was you only made it all the sweeter. I think she needed that.”

Harry would have done anything to make Mrs. Weasley feel better. If he succeeded with the only cost being a little embarrassment, he supposed he could live with that.

“Come on, you must be at least a little bit hungry. You can use the spoon yourself,” she said, moving the tray in front of him.

His stomach grumbled loudly. Perhaps he was a little hungry. The soup was rather bland, but it didn’t upset his stomach. He was able to finish most of it.

Ginny cleared it away for him, handing him a glass of water as she did. “Do you want to talk about whatever upset you earlier?” she asked casually.

Harry froze, the cup inches from his mouth.

“You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” she said, pushing the cup to his lips. “Just, if you want, I’m here.”

Harry swallowed the water. “I know. It’s part of the whole story,” he said. “I don’t want to talk about it here, though.”

“Okay,” Ginny nodded. “I suppose it’s not very private.”

“Thanks for staying with me,” Harry said shyly, ducking his head.

“Always,” Ginny whispered, causing his heart to swell.

Ginny took his hand in hers, squeezing it lightly. He returned the pressure. “Is everyone else okay?” he asked.

Ginny nodded. “I think George had some sort of flashback yesterday, but he seems all right today. I think I had one, too.”

Harry squeezed her hand again. “That’s sort of what happened to me, earlier,” he admitted.

Ginny nodded sadly.

“Percy seemed perfectly fine after a good rest,” she said.

“That’s good. He scared me,” Harry admitted.

“Me, too. Ron is going to have a fit when he finds out you got hurt as soon as he left,” Ginny said.

“Don’t tell him, then. There’s nothing he can do from there, anyway. I’m fine,” Harry insisted.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Right. He might find out, anyway. The press has been snooping around since there are rumors you’re here.”

Harry groaned.

“You know, the press will have a field day once they find out about us. They won’t leave you alone, and they probably won’t be very nice,” he said, beginning to worry.

“I don’t care,” she said blithely.

“I care,” Harry insisted.

“I know. But there is nothing that you can do about it, so worrying is pointless. We’ll just hold our heads high and strut out the door.”

“I don’t strut,” Harry mumbled.

“I’ll do the strutting then,” Ginny replied, grinning.

The two had a quiet but enjoyable evening together until the Mediwitch returned with another potion for Harry.

*****


Hermione was irritated. She glared at the tall red-head who sat across the room, facing away from her. She was hot, tired and incredibly anxious, and she couldn’t seem to organize her thoughts.

When they’d arrived in Sydney after a tedious delay in Germany at the International Portkey Office, Hermione’s nerves were already all a jitter. They’d agreed to travel like Muggles once they arrived since she wasn’t exactly certain where she was going or what anything looked like. She’d never been to Australia.

Under other circumstances, she would have found it fascinating and would’ve spent a few days in Sydney just looking around. She couldn’t focus on anything else but her parents, however. She just wanted to find them and undo the spell she had cast.

Unfortunately, it would take much longer to get to Adelaide than she’d expected. It would be so much easier if she could just Apparate. They had been told the quickest and easiest way would be to hitchhike across the continent. Although Ron was game, Hermione wanted no part of it. Aside from the danger, she didn’t think Ron would be able to remain inconspicuous for that long under close interaction with Muggles. He couldn’t even move past his fascination with the pop machines in the bus terminal.

Hermione found there was no direct bus route, so she’d purchased tickets on the Firefly Express to Adelaide via Melbourne. Each leg would take about twelve hours, so they decided to forego a stay in Sydney and get the first leg underway immediately. It probably hadn’t been the best idea. They were both so exhausted by the time they reached Melbourne, they’d collapsed in the hostel where they’d booked a room nearly without speaking.

After a hearty breakfast and a long walk to the bus station to stretch their legs, they took the next trip to Adelaide. It had been late when they arrived, so they really didn’t get an opportunity to look around. Ron needed to eat (again!), and then Hermione splurged and booked them a room in a hotel rather than another hostel.

Despite frayed tempers, they’d snuggled a bit before falling asleep, which Hermione thought had been very nice. It was good to have Ron all to herself. She’d been worried about leaving Harry behind, and she knew Ron was too, but now she was glad. Not only did it allow the time for snuggling, but Harry was still seventeen. Legal age for Muggles was eighteen, so it would have been much more of a hassle to explain why a minor was travelling internationally with two young people and no parental permission.

They’d had enough questions as it was in Germany.

The Ministry had tracked her parents’ travel to Adelaide, but it was up to Hermione to find them once there. She’d thought she’d be able to find their practice in the phone book, but upon checking, she’d found no dental practice of Wendell and Monica Wilkins.

Her parents must be working for someone else.

Hermione was ready to cry, but Ron had patted her back and assured her they would find them. Once she was thinking clearly, she began looking in the dental registry. She’d found her mother worked in an office not far from the hotel. She’d cast a Confundus Charm, the first bit of magic she’d used, to convince the receptionist to give her Monica’s home address.

Hermione had it now. Since tomorrow was Sunday, she expected her parents would be home. She just had to wait one more night. She could barely contain her agitation, and Ron wasn’t helping.

After dinner, they’d gone back up to the hotel room, and that’s when Ron had discovered the telly. He’d been enchanted by it ever since, and Hermione’s patience was ready to snap. She felt as if she had one nerve left, and he was jumping on it.

“Ron! You’ve been watching that thing for the past two hours. We need to go over our plan for tomorrow,” she finally exploded.

Ron’s eyes never left the telly. “We’ve been over the plan ten times, Hermione.”

“But we can’t afford for anything to go wrong,” she insisted.

“Something always goes wrong with our plans,” Ron harrumphed before catching himself. Taking a deep breath, he turned away from the telly and looked her in the eye. “Hermione, you have to relax. Your parents will be nervous if you’re wound so tight.”

“I know,” she sniffed. “But I can’t help it.”

Ron frowned a moment before his face brightened. “Do you think they have brandy on this room servy thingy?”

“Brandy?” Hermione asked blankly, not even bothering to correct him.

“Yeah. My dad always gives my mum some brandy in her tea when she gets all worked up,” he said.

“I am not ‘worked up,’” Hermione said indignantly.

Ron simply looked at her, his eyebrows arched.

Perhaps he was right. She was tense and needed to be calmer to see her parents. That made sense.

“I saw a Muggle shop on the corner that sells alcohol. I’m going to get a bottle of wine,” she said.

“Wine?” he asked. “I’ve never had wine. Well, except for the glass that poisoned me in sixth year.”

Hermione gaped.

“I used to drink it at dinner occasionally with my parents,” she said. “It’s Muggle wine, not elf-made. I’ll be right back.”

“Okay,” Ron said, turning back to the telly.


Hermione barely had to leave the lobby of the hotel to find what she was seeking. Her parents had taught her a little bit about choosing a good wine, and she found a nice bottle of Riesling that wasn’t too expensive. When she returned to the room, she found Ron watching a rugby match and yelling at the players.

“Honestly, Ron. You don’t even know the first thing about rugby,” she said, pouring them each a glass of wine.

“This is brilliant, Hermione. Can you imagine how amazing it would be if we could find a way to show Quidditch matches like this? Instead of listening on the wireless, I could watch the Cannons play from home,” Ron said, nearly salivating at the idea.

“That would be truly amazing,” she said, rolling her eyes.

Ron missed the sarcasm. “I know, and every few minutes, they show pictures of food,” he said excitedly.

“Those are advertisements, Ron. They’re trying to convince you to buy their product,” she said, exasperated.

“It makes me hungry,” Ron replied.

“That’s the idea.”

Hermione had quickly downed her glass of wine, feeling the tension leaving her body. She felt warm, and her irritation with Ron faded. She sat beside him on the bed and attempted to watch the match, but she lost interest really quickly. She poured herself another glass of the wine, and was content to just sip this one.

She wasn’t certain exactly how it happened. Ron started tugging a tendril of her hair, rolling it between his fingers and curling it around. Soon his hand moved to her neck, lightly massaging the knots.

She sighed with pleasure, and he lost interest in the telly at last when he started kissing her. She wrapped her hands around his neck and didn’t resist as he leaned them both back on the bed.

Time had no meaning as they snogged, the rugby game continuing in the background. Her fuzzy brain thought it was Quidditch for a moment, and that made her remember the first Quidditch match Ron had played during sixth year. That caused her thoughts turn to Lavender Brown.

And that’s when Ron’s hand slipped under her shirt.

The fog lifted somewhat from Hermione’s mind. This couldn’t happen this way. She needed to know.

“Ron, stop,” she said, panting. She grabbed his wrist and firmly pulled it away.

“Sorry!” Ron said, his ears turning red. “I got carried away.” His hair was tousled, and he was breathing heavily.

“I know. I did, too. We need to talk,” she said firmly.

Ron suddenly looked very wary. He pulled himself up to a seated position and leaned against the headboard.

“About what?” he asked.

“I want to know how far you went with Lavender,” Hermione said.

That clearly hadn’t been what Ron expected to hear.

“You what? Why?”

“I want to know how far you went with Lavender,” Hermione repeated. “If we’re going to be intimate one day, and that day is definitely not going to be today, I need to know.” Her miserable sixth year had been plagued with thoughts and images of what Ron and Lavender were getting up to, no matter how hard she tried to insist she didn’t care. The thoughts had tormented her. She needed to close that chapter of her mind before she’d ever be able to move on with the story.

Ron was flabbergasted, and obviously stalling.

Hermione felt she deserved to know. “Well?” she asked.

“You snogged Krum,” he spluttered.

This fact had already been established.

“Yes, I snogged Viktor. I was fifteen and curious. He treated me like a girl. But snogging is all there was, and only a few times at that. I saw you and Lavender go further than I ever did in the common room. What happened when you slipped away?” she demanded.

“I was sixteen and curious,” Ron said, his eyes looked wild.

“How much did you satiate that curiosity?” Hermione asked. It was normal to be curious. It was all part of puberty. She knew that. But why did he have to be curious with Lavender Brown?

Ron remained silent, gaping.

“I know you snogged. Was there touching?” she asked.

“What? Hermione!” Ron looked ready to bolt from the room.

“It’s a yes or no question, Ronald. Was there touching?” she asked shrilly.

“Yes,” he admitted reluctantly.

“Over or under the clothes?” Hermione asked in a clinical tone.

“Both,” Ron said, agonized.

Hermione flinched, shutting her eyes. She could feel tears welling, but she had to know.

“Did you shag?” she asked, forcing the words out. Her voice sounded incredibly high-pitched, even to her own ears.

Ron jumped off the bed, holding his arms out in front of him as if fending her off. “NO! No, we never… No, okay. Never without our clothes, there was some groping, and… and… and… we kept our clothes on.”

“So grinding, then,” Hermione said mercilessly.

“Hermione! Don’t say that!” Ron pleaded. “It was a long time ago.”

“Did you?” she repeated, unable to stop herself.

“I’m not going to answer any more of these questions,” Ron said, shaking his head vigorously.

“That’s a yes, then,” Hermione said before bursting into tears.

Ron stood stock still except for his mouth, which opened and closed repeatedly. When he could take no more, he moved toward the bed cautiously, as if worried she’d attack him.

She hiccupped against the sheet she’d pulled up to her face.

“Hermione,” Ron said helplessly, “look, I know you’re worried about everything, but you don’t have to worry about me. I want to be with you. Only with you.”

He put his arms around her and she leaned into his shoulder, feeling a bit dizzy and spent. She looked up at him through teary eyes, unable to completely focus.

“I think you’ve had enough of this,” Ron said, taking the wine away. “Come on, let’s get some sleep. Tomorrow we’re going to collect your parents, have a smashing reunion, and plan a ride on an aeroplane.”

Hermione wiped her tears, snuggling in closer and hoping he was right.

Back to index


Chapter 10: Time Stands Still

Author's Notes: Many thanks to my awesome beta, Sherylyn, for fitting this in during her hectic schedule of getting her kid off to college. Iíll be doing that next year, and trust me, the thought is terrifying.

Thanks also to all the SIYE readers who have nominated this story for a Dumbledoreís Trinket Award. Iím humbly honored.

My oldest son Ė the one whoís off to college next year Ė told me heís embarrassed his mom writes fanfiction. Punk. I told him to back off, I was the geek before he was!


Chapter Ten
Time Stands Still



For the first time in two days, Harry awoke alone at St. Mungo’s. Blearily, he looked around the sparse room, tamping down on a growing sense of unease. He had to pull himself together. Shame bubbled up inside him as he thought of going to pieces in front of Mr. Weasley and the Minister. The Minister! How could Kingsley have confidence he was capable of being an Auror after seeing that?

He needed to find something else on which to focus. Once he did that, these memories, or flashbacks, or whatever they were, would begin to fade. He staunchly ignored the nagging thought that it was getting worse rather than better.

Taking mental note of his condition, Harry noticed for the first time that he had awakened without a tearing pain along his side. He tentatively pulled himself to a seated position, and was pleased that it only caused a brief twinge of pain. Maybe he could get out of here now.

Maybe he could get up and have a shower.

The Healers had steadfastly ignored his requests the previous day, insisting he needed to stay off his feet to let the wound heal. Cleansing Charms, however, weren’t the same. Harry wanted the hot spray and the strong smell of soap.

Perhaps if he moved quickly enough, he could get into the washroom before anyone noticed.

No sooner had the thought crossed his mind, than the heavy outer door swung open and a Mediwitch bustled in. “Good morning, Mr. Potter.”

“Morning,” Harry grumbled.

She did the customary sweep with her wand, a pleased smile crossing her stern features. “You’re feeling much better today, I see.”

“So I can leave?” he asked.

She quirked an eyebrow at his tone. “I believe they want to keep you another day. Healer Larkin wants to develop a plan to treat that bruise on your chest.”

Harry involuntarily began rubbing the mark.

“A Potions Master has recommended a stronger balm. He also suggested there could be some psychological factors involved,” the Mediwitch said, watching him closely.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked, startled.

“The wound was inflicted during the war. I imagine having someone casting a Killing Curse at you would be rather traumatic. Some wounds have shown a propensity for lingering until the trauma is resolved,” she said.

Harry’s heart began thumping wildly. “So you think I’m a nutter now?” he demanded hotly.

“No,” she replied slowly, “but I think you’ve been through a lot.”

Harry looked away, unable to meet her eyes. Why did everyone always want him to talk about his feelings? What good would talking do? It wouldn’t change anything. He’d spent the beginning of his life being told not to ask questions and to make himself invisible. Now everyone constantly wanted him to spill his guts. It was confusing.

Except, there was that time after the Third Task that Professor Dumbledore had made him talk, and that had made him feel… if not better, at least less awful. Perhaps once he finally got up the nerve to tell Ginny everything, the bruise would heal on its own. He hoped so, anyway.

“This stays between us,” he said quietly.

He thought the Mediwitch appeared rather sad. “As you wish,” she said.

“Are any of the Weasleys here?” he asked sullenly.

“No. I sent them home last night to get some rest. There was no need to watch you sleeping. Your guard is still outside, however,” the witch replied, pouring a glass of water from the pitcher and taking the cover off his breakfast on the bedside table.

“Guard?” Harry asked, his temper rising. “No one told me there was a guard out there.”

“Well, there is,” she replied, dismissing his temper.

Harry clenched his teeth. He’d told them he wasn’t going back into hiding. He could take care of himself without some guard under an Invisibility Cloak hovering around. It’s not like they were ever there when he’d actually needed them, anyway.

“I want to talk with the Minister,” he said sourly.

“He isn’t here at the moment, but it’s early,” she replied blithely. “Would you like to use the loo on your own, or shall I cast a spell?”

“I can get up?” Harry asked, his anger deflating somewhat.

“If you’d like. The wound is healing nicely. No shower yet, but you can get up and move around briefly,” she said as if knowing where Harry’s thoughts had gone.

“Why can’t I have a shower?” he asked.

“You need another day of healing before getting it wet. Besides, you’ve been in this bed for quite some time, I don’t want you getting lightheaded if you’re in there alone. Charming as you are, I don’t want to see you here any longer than need be, Mr. Potter,” she said flippantly.

Abashed, Harry lowered his eyes.

“Are you up for the loo, then?” she asked, her tone gentle once again.

Harry nodded and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He stood up and the room tilted alarmingly. Small explosions of light flashed in his eyes. The Mediwitch grasped his arm, steadying him.

“Easy. You’ll need to move a bit slower than that to start,” she said.

Harry kept his eyes shut until the floor righted itself. He shuffled his feet across the room, extremely irritated by the weakness he felt creeping through his body from doing something as simple as walking across the floor.

When he got to the door of the loo, he panicked when he thought the Mediwitch was going to follow him inside.

She must have read his thoughts, because she smirked slightly and said, “I’ll be right outside the door if you need assistance.”

Harry relieved himself and splashed some cold water on his face as quickly as he could. By the time he was back in bed, he was decidedly winded and felt his eyes drooping. It put him in an even fouler mood.

The Mediwitch left him to sulk while he ate some of his breakfast.


He woke to the sound of a baby’s cries. Squinting, he automatically reached for his glasses on the bedside table. Andromeda Tonks sat in one of the chairs by his bed, patting Teddy’s back and trying to quiet him.

“Teddy!” Harry said, a wide smile spreading across his face as he pulled himself to a sitting position. Forgetting all about his earlier annoyance, he was delighted to see his visitors.

“Sorry, Harry,” Andromeda said, smiling weakly. “He’s been a bit fussy today. I probably shouldn’t have attempted to take him out.”

“I’m glad you did,” said Harry sincerely, reaching out his arms for the baby.

Andromeda looked warily at Harry’s still-bandaged side. “Are you certain? He’s getting heavier.”

“I want to hold him,” Harry said, pleased as she handed him the squirming bundle.
Teddy’s hair was still blue and his face was red from crying. He settled as soon as Harry rested him on his lap, curious about the new surroundings. His little blue eyes studied Harry carefully, reaching up a chubby hand to try and grab his glasses.

“Hello there, Teddy,” Harry said, still smiling. Something about this small baby made his insides feel warm. “What seems to be the problem, huh?”

Teddy smiled at the sound of Harry’s voice and his hair darkened to a jet black. Harry’s eyes widened in surprise. That was a seriously cool trick.

“Oh, thank Merlin,” Andromeda said, relieved. “I was growing weary of the blue.”

“How have things been going, Mrs. Tonks? Are you and Kreacher getting along all right?” Harry asked. He’d been slightly worried that Kreacher would balk at helping Andromeda since she’d been disowned by the Black family.

“Honestly, Harry. If we’re going to raise this child together, we’ll need to be less formal. If Andromeda is too much, why don’t you try Andi,” she scolded lightly.

At that moment, Harry was reminded not of Bellatrix, but of Sirius. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly. “Andi it is.”

“Kreacher has been wonderful. I can’t thank you enough,” Andromeda said.
“Your troubles are always easier to handle on a full night’s sleep. You’re looking more rested than the last time I saw you, as well.”

“Nothing but the best for my godson,” Harry said, smiling down at Teddy and ignoring her comment. He had been sleeping much better while in hospital. He vaguely wondered if the pain potion they had been giving him had some Dreamless Sleep Potion hidden in it.

“How are you feeling? I can’t believe there are some fools still carrying on with this nonsense,” Andromeda scowled.

“I’m all right,” Harry sighed. “We’ll get them eventually.”

“I understand my sister’s husband is one of the Death Eaters still on the loose,” Andi said.

“Yeah, amongst others,” Harry sighed, beginning to feel glum again. He didn’t want to think about the missing Death Eaters and their agenda, whatever that might be.

“Be careful of Rodolphus, Harry. He’s a dangerous man. He and his brother both, but especially Rodolphus. Rabastan will follow his lead, but Rodolphus is the brains of the two. He can be both volatile and vengeful,” Andromeda said seriously, grasping Harry’s arm tightly. Her fierce blue eyes bore into his.

“I’ll be on guard,” Harry promised.

“You’d best be,” Andromeda said, her eyes filling with unshed tears. “Teddy can’t lose anyone else.”

Harry nodded solemnly. She was right, this little boy had lost far too much already.

*****

Ginny took one last look around her brother’s bright orange bedroom, pleased with her effort. She didn’t think Ron’s room had been this clean since he’d returned to The Burrow. Harry would be coming home within the next day or two, and she wanted everything to be ready for him. She planned on going to the hospital for a visit shortly.

As she was hurrying down the stairs, she stopped when she heard a noise coming from the twi-… George’s room. She put her ear to the door for a moment, but she didn’t hear it again. George had gone into the shop this morning for the first time since the attack, so his room should be empty.

Ginny drew her wand and cautiously opened the door.

She wasn’t completely surprised to find George there, just disappointed. He sat on his bed with his legs drawn up to his chest. His eyes were red rimmed, and he had a drink in his hand. That was another thing she’d noticed about George. He’d been hitting the Fire Whiskey more and more during the day.

“Hey, George,” she said, entering the room and sitting on the end of his bed. “I thought you went into the shop.”

George shrugged listlessly.

“You can’t continue like this, or you might not have anything to go back to,” she said gently.

“I don’t know if I want to go back,” he said.

“Then maybe we should start thinking about what else you’d like to do.”

George scowled. “I don’t want to do anything else. I’m good at inventing jokes.”

“You’re very good at it,” Ginny agreed. “You’ve got the whole summer before the next Hogwarts’ year starts. I bet you could come up with some great ways to welcome back the proper staff. I think everyone will be in the mood for a few hijinks.”

George was still hesitant. His face screwed up in misery. “What if I can’t? It’s always been a team effort. When I look into the mirror, I don’t even know who I’m seeing any more. My reflection is him. I don’t know how to be just George.”

“Well, you’re just going to have to be,” she said, startling him.

He looked at her with narrowed eyes. Ginny knew she was being harsh, but coddling him hadn’t worked at all, and if someone didn’t drag him out of this spiral, she just might lose another brother.

And that was something she couldn’t bear.

“You lived, George. You survived. You’re not honoring his memory by stopping. After my First Year, weren’t you the one who told me I had to pick myself up and defiantly stare life right back in the face? Show it that it didn’t break me? You have to do that now,” she said beseechingly, taking the drink from his unresisting hand and placing it on the floor.

“I was rather eloquent, wasn’t I?” he said, attempting a smile.

“You were right, and you helped me, as did Bill, and Ron, and even Percy in his own way. You have to let the rest of us help you now,” Ginny implored. “You’re not alone.”

George sniffed. “I know. Lee sent me an owl that he wants to help out, too. He’s supposedly coming by the shop later today.”

“So let him help. He’s hurting, too. We all loved Fred,” Ginny said, her own eyes filling.

George opened his arms wide and Ginny flung herself into his embrace. They held each other while they cried, but the tears felt more healing than they had in the past, for both of them. When they finally pulled apart, George wiped his eyes.

“I suppose I should think about moving back to the flat,” he said.

That took Ginny by surprise. “You don’t have to rush to move out, just move on,” she said.

“I know, but I think I need to get my legs under me to do that. Besides, you’ll be going back to school in September, and Ron’ll probably elope with Hermione in Australia.”

Ginny giggled. “Hermione’s smarter than that.”

“I don’t know how intelligent she can be; she does fancy Ron,” George replied.

Ginny snorted. “I suppose she’s bright, but daft.”

“How do you feel about going back to Hogwarts?” George asked.

Ginny stiffened. “I don’t know. It’s going to be hard. I spoke with Siobhan at Anna’s funeral, and she’s returning. Neither of us have heard from Liz,” she said, thinking about her roommates. It would be so strange to be in the dormitory without Anna’s smiling face. She’d been the first one who befriended Ginny after the Chamber, and she’d gradually pulled Ginny in with the other girls. Anna and Colin had been loyal friends, and now they were both gone.

“Were you all there last year?” George asked.

“Yeah. Colin was the only Muggle-born in our year, but the rest of us were there, and we all watched out for one another. Liz has an older brother who is married to a Muggle-born. She was one of the first ones to be called to face the Muggle-born Registration Committee, and they sent to her Azkaban. I still don’t know if she survived.”

“I want to go when Dolores Umbridge has her trial,” George said viciously.

“Me, too,” Ginny agreed. “The old toad. Things were bad at Hogwarts, but Siobhan said they got worse after the Easter hols. That was when Luna got pulled off the train, and we all went into hiding. Mum and Dad didn’t want me to go back to Hogwarts.”

“Good call on their part, judging by the condition of some of the students we saw,” George replied darkly.

Ginny nodded. “Neville and Seamus were always causing trouble and making waves.”

“Reckless Gryffindors,” George said, smirking.

“Yeah. The Carrows hated the Gryffindors. I feel like I abandoned them,” Ginny whispered the agonized thought.

“You didn’t, and I’m glad you didn’t go back,” George said solemnly.

“I wish I knew how Anna died. I mean, obviously she got cursed, but I don’t know how or where,” Ginny said.

“Would it make a difference?” George asked sadly. “I know exactly what happened to Fred since Ron and Percy were there, but it doesn’t make the hurt any less. Makes me feel guilty I wasn’t there. I’d gone after Dad.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Ginny said, sighing. She leaned into George again.

“I usually am,” George said cheekily.

Ginny elbowed him in the ribs causing him to emit a small, “Oomph.”

“So, what are you going to do?” she asked.

“I suppose I’m going to go into the shop and meet Lee,” George said thoughtfully.

Ginny nodded, pleased. “I’m going to St. Mungo’s to visit Harry.”

“He’ll like that. He seems a little lost without Ron and Hermione,” George replied.

“How do you think those two are getting on?” Ginny asked.

“They’re rowing. They’re always rowing,” George said, making Ginny laugh. “If I’ve taught my younger brother anything, he’d better have at least tried a few moves.”

“George!”

“What?”

“Why haven’t you taught me any moves?” she asked, pouting.

“Let’s not go there, Ginny,” George said. “I like Harry, and I don’t want to have to hex his bits.”

Ginny laughed. “I can take care of myself without any interference from you,” she said firmly.

“I know you can,” George said.

Ginny smiled, pleased.

“I know I’m your favorite, too,” he said before hopping off the bed and heading toward the door.

“You are today,” Ginny called as he hurried down the stairs.

*****

Ginny arrived for a visit after Harry finished his dinner. He’d been in a pensive mood since Teddy and Andromeda had left. Teddy didn’t really even know him yet, but he couldn’t help being reminded of how he’d felt when he lost Sirius. He’d never want to put Teddy through that.

The Healer had reduced the strength of Harry’s pain reliever, and although the new one made him relaxed and drowsy, it didn’t put him to sleep. He was much happier with it. He’d be even happier when he could just leave. He was tired of this room.

“So they really might let you come home tomorrow, then?” Ginny asked.

“That’s what she said,” Harry replied, rubbing his chest.

Ginny took his hand in her own and stilled it. “D’you want to talk some more about how you got this?” she asked, glancing at his chest.

Harry could think of a lot of things he’d rather do, but he supposed there was nothing for it. He looked around the hospital room. He was leery of talking in here because he wasn’t certain if anyone else was listening.

“You could always cast a Muffliato spell,” Ginny suggested as if reading his thoughts. She frequently seemed able to do that.

Harry drew his wand and mumbled, “Muffliato.”

Ginny perched on the edge of his bed and nudged him with her hip, “Budge over.”

Harry grinned and complied. The fit was tight, but neither appeared to mind as they settled back against Harry’s pillows. The overhead light caused Ginny’s eyes to sparkle with flecks of amber.

“Where did we leave off?” Harry asked, distracted by her close proximity.

“Ron the Prat had just returned, and you’d destroyed the locket,” Ginny answered promptly. That fact alone clued Harry in to how much she was waiting for the rest of his story.

“Right,” he said, before launching in and explaining the symbol that had kept popping up, which led them to Xenophilius Lovegood, and his retelling of the Deathly Hallows.

“So that’s where the Hallows came into it,” Ginny said. “I’d wondered after you and Tom went on about the Elder Wand.”

“Yeah. He was obsessed with finding it since our wands didn’t work properly against one another,” Harry said.

“But your wand was broken,” Ginny said.

“He didn’t know that,” Harry replied. “I could see into his mind, but the connection didn’t work the other way,” Harry said, his palms suddenly very sweaty. He knew Voldemort had purposely sent him the fake image of Sirius to lure him to the Ministry, but he never did learn why Voldemort couldn’t look through Harry’s eyes to see what he was doing. Perhaps because the Horcrux inside his head didn’t have its own eyes. Harry shuddered, shutting that thought down and pushing it to a corner of his mind.

He continued with the story about how Xenophilius betrayed them, their escape and run-in with the Snatchers. His breathing grew labored as he told her about their time at Malfoy Manor. His felt winded by the time he told her about Hermione getting tortured. He reached for a glass of water, and his hands were shaking.

“No wonder Ron panics when he can’t see you or Hermione right in front of him,” Ginny said. “Hermione didn’t mention any of this.”

“Ron was beside himself listening to her scream. He couldn’t even function. I hated hearing it, too, but one of us had to think. If it had been you, I wouldn’t have been able to function, either,” Harry whispered.

“Then you’d have to count on the rest of us, like they counted on you,” Ginny replied. “I would’ve felt the same if it were you. I remember when Umbridge was going to use the Cruciatus on you. My heart nearly stopped,” Ginny said.

“I’m sorry,” Harry apologized automatically.

“You need to stop apologizing for things that are out of your control.”

Sor… er… -” Harry caught himself apologizing.

Ginny took a deep breath, staring at him intently. She appeared to be gathering her thoughts and gearing up for something, and he felt a wave of apprehension run through him.

“I won’t be made to sit on a shelf ever again, Harry,” she said solemnly.

“I know,” he replied.

She squeezed his hand tightly, her brown eyes searching his for any sign of duplicity. She must have been satisfied, for she snuggled back down beside him.

“Here’s hoping neither of us are ever in that kind of situation again,” she whispered.

They both knew that, with Harry planning on becoming an Auror, it probably wouldn’t be the case. It was nice to hope just the same.

“So how did you get out of Malfoy Manor?” Ginny asked.

“Dobby. Dobby rescued us.”

He went on to explain the fight and rescue, carefully emphasizing the fist fight with Draco Malfoy. He told her about Dobby’s sacrifice, and burying the elf at Shell Cottage. He kept talking all the way through going to Gringotts with Griphook.

“You promised him the sword? How could you destroy the Horcrux if you didn’t have the sword? But wait, Neville had the sword at the battle. He pulled it out of the Sorting Hat. I saw him,” Ginny said.

He could practically see her mind grappling with all the facts he was telling her along with her own memories of the battle. He suspected she and Hermione would have a long talk once his friends returned.

“The sword will always present itself to a Gryffindor in need,” Harry said.

“I wish I could have seen Hermione pretending to be Bellatrix,” Ginny said, her eyes faraway.

“She almost blew the whole thing when she wished someone a good morning,” Harry said, chuckling at the memory. In hindsight, it wasn’t nearly as frightening as it was at the time.

Ginny giggled. “I can’t imagine Bellatrix wanting anyone to have a good anything,” Ginny scoffed.

“She nearly killed you,” Harry said, sobering.

“But she didn’t.”

“She could’ve. I was under the Invisibility Cloak on my way to confront Voldemort when I saw it and changed direction. Your mum got there first,” he said, admitting this for the first time. He hadn’t even told Ron and Hermione that part of the story.

“You did?” Ginny gasped, her eyes widening to large circles in her small face.

“I had to,” he said hotly.

Ginny appeared very troubled. “Harry, everything depended on you destroying Tom.”

“I know… but I couldn’t help it,” he said. “My heart overtook my head.”

She kissed him softly but her eyes looked sad. Harry didn’t want her to look that way. He reached for her chin, and gently tilted her face toward him. Leaning over, he softly took her face in both hands and kissed her, pouring all the things he couldn’t say into the kiss. His hands moved toward her hair, threading his fingers through the fiery locks he liked so much. Ginny leaned into him, deepening the kiss.

He would’ve gone on forever, but she eventually pulled back, staring into his eyes with a soft tenderness he couldn’t place. He smiled at her, exceedingly glad she came to visit. Before he could kiss her again, however, she straightened herself up beside him.

“You haven’t told me about how you got to Hogwarts,” she said, prompting him to finish the story.

As the hour drew late, Harry continued to explain everything up to the point he dumped Snape’s memories into the Pensieve.

“What did they show?” Ginny whispered fearfully. She was clutching his hand so tightly he was sure there would be marks.

Harry swallowed heavily, fear and dread churning in his stomach and making him feel ill. His mind displayed the image of Snape’s dying face when he demanded Harry look at him. “He knew my mum, knew her from when they were children. My Aunt Petunia, too. He was in love with my mum, but I don’t think she felt the same. They were friends until he got too close to the Dark Arts, and she fell in love with my dad. He hated my dad.”

“So every time he looked at you, he was reminded that she chose your dad because he could see both of them in you,” Ginny said softly. Her grip on his hand had loosened, and she was gently rubbing her thumb along the side of his hand. He began to caress her hand in the same way.

“I suppose. He sacrificed the rest of his life to her memory. He promised to protect me as homage to her,” he said. He wondered if his dad knew that Snape fancied his mum. He bet it would’ve annoyed him if he did. It certainly would’ve annoyed Harry if he thought Malfoy had a crush on Ginny. He shuddered at the thought.

Ginny must have thought he was upset about Snape because her voice sounded bitter.

“He was still petty and vindictive. You never even had the chance to know your parents, so holding you responsible for any of their actions is simply ridiculous.”

Although he knew she was right, he still felt the need to defend. She hadn’t seen Snape dying on the floor of the Shrieking Shack. “He was on the Light side all along.”

“But he was never a nice man. I can respect what he did without liking him as a person, you know. My brother Charlie once had a thing for Tonks. Would you be okay with him treating Teddy the way Snape treated you?”

Harry frowned, not liking the analogy at all. It was different. Teddy was an innocent. Harry vowed that his godson would never feel that there was nowhere to turn if someone was giving him a hard time. He’d never have to feel alone because Harry would be at the school moving hell and earth to ensure his happiness. Teddy had resources. He had Harry and his grandmother looking out for him. He wasn’t going to be on his own.

“Were there any other memories in there?” Ginny asked after the silence stretched.

Harry wanted to tell her what Dumbledore’s plan had been all along. He wanted to tell her everything. He tried, but he couldn’t get his tongue to work properly. The truth was stuck in his throat. He felt like a coward, but he couldn’t force himself to do it. He felt as if he were choking on the words.

“Just the fact he was a spy. I came downstairs and saw everyone gathering the dead,” he said instead, his voice very raw. “I knew Voldemort was waiting for me, and I had to go. I saw Neville outside and told him to kill the snake. Then I went into the forest to meet him.”

He skipped the part about seeing her on his interminable walk to the forest. He didn’t want her to feel she could’ve stopped him since she didn’t know that he hadn’t had a choice. He skipped the Resurrection Stone, too, beginning to feel panic overwhelming him. He began talking very fast.

“He used a Killing Curse, but it didn’t work.”

His mind flashed on the angry green light rushing toward him and waking up in that white room. He remembered that hideous baby-like thing that was gasping on the floor, and he started to tremble. He couldn’t stop the tremors as his vision tunneled once again, and he was back in that white room staring at the creature.

Dumbledore had said it was the piece of soul that had resided within Harry. That ugly thing had lived inside him, had been part of him. Harry felt ill. He imagined the creature turning to face him accusingly, its features morphing into that of Voldemort. He could hear eerie, high-pitched laughter that made his skin crawl.

“Harry! Harry!”

Suddenly he was back in his hospital room and Ginny was kneeling on the bed, shaking his shoulders.

He was going to be sick.

Pushing her back and leaping from the bed, Harry rushed to the loo, barely getting there in time. He retched until there was nothing left inside him, but the vision wouldn’t leave his mind. He knelt, trembling on the floor, trying to catch his breath.

Ginny followed him into the bathroom and gently rubbed circles on his back. She handed him a flannel to wipe his mouth and led him back to his bed.

Her brow furrowed in worry, and he could tell she was bursting with questions, but to her credit, she held her tongue.

Harry was not only embarrassed, but he hated himself for leaving out the crucial piece. What was wrong with him? He’d never been one to go to pieces like this. He hated to appear weak; he always had. Why couldn’t he suppress these feelings as he always had before?

Ginny didn’t climb back onto the bed but instead sat in the chair beside it, running her fingers through his hair. Harry found the motion soothing and he leaned into her touch.

“I can’t believe the entire fate of the Wizarding world was decided upon by a tussle between two teenage boys,” she said.

Harry knew she was trying to lighten the mood to help him relax.

“It was his mother, Draco’s mother, who told Voldemort that I was dead. She wanted to get back into the castle to rescue her son,” he whispered, struggling to keep his eyes open.

“Seems a lot of parents did that, that day,” Ginny mumbled.

Harry nodded, feeling thoroughly miserable. He was so impossibly drained. He couldn’t even raise the energy to move his arm to take off his glasses. Ginny deserved better.

“It’s all right, Harry,” she said, kissing him on the forehead. “Everything is going to be okay.”

He shut his eyes because he couldn’t bear to look at her. He’d promised he’d be honest. No more secrets. She’d asked for no more secrets. He was risking the one thing that made him happier than anything else in his entire life. What was wrong with him? Why couldn’t he force the words out? He was being ridiculous.

Ginny sat there silently, continuing to run her fingers in his hair. She even removed his glasses for him.

She deserved better.


Back to index


Chapter 11: Tears and Fears

Author's Notes: Thanks for all the wonderful reviews last chapter, and for the support regarding my sonís comments. I showed him a lot of them! Being a teenager, naturally he just rolled his eyes.
There have been several comments about Harry needing professional help. From what I understand from various Brit Pickers, getting counseling is not nearly as common in Britain as it is here. Itís quite rare, actually. That being the case, I think the wizarding world will follow suit, so there will be no "mind healersĒ during the course of this story.


Chapter Eleven
Tears and Fears



Ron took a deep breath and tried to steady his nerves as he stared up at the well-manicured house with the perfectly tended garden. The house was tidy and posh. Just looking at it made him nervous. He quickly tucked in his shirt, wishing he’d paid more attention when he got dressed that morning.

Hermione was a nervous ball of energy. She was up and dressing by six o’clock. He still didn’t know what to think of the bizarre conversation they’d had last night.

Why on earth would she want to know all that stuff about Lavender? Why on earth had he answered her? He should’ve grabbed the bottle of wine and locked himself in the loo.

He wished he were locked in the loo right now.

He was exceedingly grateful that she was so preoccupied with her parents that she hadn’t brought up the conversation that morning. However, the fact she hadn’t done so left him on tenterhooks waiting for her to resume it. As if he wasn’t nervous enough to see her parents as it was.

He hadn’t known she harbored any resentment toward Lavender. She’d tried to save his old girlfriend when Lavender had been attacked by Fenrir Greyback the night of the battle. Lavender had eventually died from her wounds, and Ron hadn’t really given that a whole lot of contemplation.

His first girlfriend was dead. That was a weird thought. Ron had been so proud of Hermione for trying to save her. If the situation had been reversed, he wasn’t so certain he’d have done the same for Viktor Krum. That knowledge didn’t sit well. He wanted to be a better person than that. Hermione deserved someone better than that.

If Viktor was lying there dying, he wanted to believe he’d help. Harry would help without a doubt, and Hermione had proven she would, as well. Harry had willingly sacrificed his own life for everyone, friends and strangers alike. He even went back in the Room of Requirement for Malfoy.

Ron knew he’d never live up to Harry-standards; who would? But he wanted to make Hermione proud. He’d done a lot of soul-searching and growing-up during the time he’d been trying to get back to his friends. He never wanted to make such a foolish mistake again. He’d vowed to spend the rest of his life making it up to Hermione and Harry.

“Are you ready?” Hermione asked, dragging Ron from his musings.

He had to smile at her. She was like a little kid, she was so excited. “As ready as I’m ever going to be. Are you calm enough to undo the Spell? You have to be calm for it to work. You told me that on the bus.”

Hermione took a deep breath, shaking out her hands. “I can do it. I’m ready.”

“Have your wand handy in case they don’t want to let us inside,” Ron warned. They’d come up with an elaborate plan of telling the Grangers they’d moved into an empty house on the corner and were out introducing themselves to the neighbors. Hermione had even given them imaginary jobs. He was supposed to be a baker since she was certain her mother would want to give him some of her sugar-free recipes.

He knew there would be some unforeseen problem. There always was, but Hermione was too excited for him to let her down. He’d pretend to be a baker.

They walked up the neatly trimmed pathway and knocked on the door. Ron felt a bead of sweat trickle down his back. Mr. Granger opened the door widely and before either of them could even open their mouths to speak, he ushered them inside.

“Are you both here about the job?” he asked, looking at each of them quizzically.

He led them into the parlor where, stunned and confused, they both took a seat.

“Job?” Hermione asked. She then must’ve decided to go with it for she said. “Yes, we’re both here about the job.”

Ron’s head was spinning, they’d got inside much more quickly than he’d anticipated, but the plan appeared shot to hell. What happened to being a baker? His palms were sweating, and Hermione looked as if she were about to faint. He had to be strong for her. He clenched his fists and tamped down on his rising panic.

“You look rather young. Have you got your certification yet, or are you here about the clerical position?” Mr. Granger asked, his eyes darting between them.

Hermione slowly pulled out her wand and although her hand was shaking, she aimed it directly at her father.

“What are you doing?” he asked, puzzled rather than alarmed.

She took a deep breath, the trembling of her hand increasing steadily. “Restituere Caligante Memoria,” she said breathlessly.

Her father staggered a moment, grasping the wall to remain steady. He glanced around the room in confusion, his eyes clearing as he looked at his daughter.

“Hermione?” he asked tentatively.

“Oh, Daddy,” she said, jumping up and launching herself at her father. His arms hung by his sides for a moment before eventually wrapping around her back.

“What’s happening?” he asked when they pulled apart. “I don’t understand.”

Hermione led the confused man to a chair, and he sank into it gratefully. He looked at Ron with the same bewildered expression.

“Hello, Mr. Granger,” Ron mumbled.

“Hermione, I think you’d best explain,” her father said faintly.

“I will, Dad. I’ll explain everything to you both, but first, where’s Mum?” Hermione asked.

“She’s upstairs. She still believes her name is Monica Wilkins. We were living someone else’s lives,” he muttered, clearly overwhelmed. “I have two entire people living in my head.”

“Why don’t I put on some tea?” Ron said. He felt useless and needed to expend some energy. His mum always made tea when there was any kind of upset, and he now wondered if she, too, used it as an excuse to gather her thoughts.

“That’s a good idea. Where’s the kitchen, Dad?” Hermione asked.

“Through there,” he pointed vaguely to a door on the right.

The man was clearly dazed, and Ron couldn’t blame him one bit.

“I’ll get it,” Ron said.

He walked into a brightly lit kitchen with a window overlooking the back garden. He could see a variety of fruit trees growing outside. The kettle was on the cooker, and he filled it with water from the tap. He drew his wand to light the stove, but stopped when he saw all the Muggle knobs. He remembered Harry saying something about turning on the stove with knobs back at The Burrow.

Ron stared at it, perplexed, but reached out and turned a knob on the far left. He was immensely pleased when it ignited. Placing the kettle on the flame, he dug some teacups out of the cabinet.

When he returned to the sitting room after preparing the tea, he found Mrs. Granger sitting next to her husband, wearing the same bewildered expression that still showed on the older man’s face.

“Hello, Ron,” she said absently.

“Hi, Mrs. Granger. It’s nice to see you again,” Ron replied awkwardly. He then wanted to yank the words right back into his mouth. How stupid could he sound?

Hermione poured the tea and gave a cup to each of her parents.

“I think we’re ready for an explanation now, Hermione,” her father said firmly.

“Okay, first of all, I want you to know that I didn’t do any of this lightly. As you know, the Magical world was on the brink of war—”

“Was?” Mrs. Granger interrupted. “So somehow, in the year we’ve been here, it’s over?”

“Yes. After Professor Dumbledore died, the Dark Wizard I told you about took over everything. He took over Hogwarts, he took over the Ministry, he had to be stopped,” Hermione said.

“And how does this relate to our being in Australia living as someone else?” Mr. Granger asked, and for the first time, there was a trace of anger in his voice.

Hermione was wringing her hands in her lap. “Because… because… I knew they might come after you while they were looking for me. I had to find a way to protect you, so I altered your memories, and sent you here to keep you safe,” she said in a rush.

Both her parents remained silent, staring at her. Mrs. Granger’s mouth was hanging slightly open while Mr. Granger’s forehead was furrowed in consternation.

“And it worked. They came to the house looking, but they never found you,” Hermione said, her voice so small it made Ron’s heart ache. “It worked. My plan kept you safe.”

Ron knew Hermione, and he knew how she hated to be proven wrong. He suspected she desperately wanted her parents’ approval for what she’d done. At the same time, he could understand the Grangers’ confusion. He had enough trouble keeping track of his own thoughts, never mind if an entire other person’s thoughts were inside his head, too. Ron suspected he might go mad.

“And why were they looking for you?” Mrs. Granger asked slowly. “Weren’t you at school?”

“No. I didn’t go back to school. Ron and I went with Harry. It was down to Harry to defeat Voldemort, but he needed to find several objects first in order to make Voldemort mortal so he could be destroyed.”

“Mortal,” her mother repeated.

“You left school? You didn’t complete your education?” her father asked, stunned.

“I couldn’t go back to school. I told you before: Voldemort disapproved of Muggle-borns like me. We weren’t allowed back to Hogwarts, and instead he was having us thrown in prison. A lot of Muggle-borns died in prison for no reason.”

“But he’s gone now?” her mother asked, still reeling.

“Yes. We found everything we needed to find, and Harry destroyed him. It’s over, so Ron and I came here to find you. It took me a little while, but I’m here,” Hermione said, and there was a pleading tone to her voice.

“So Harry killed him?” Mr. Granger asked incredulously.

“No! Not really. Voldemort tried to kill Harry, but the curse rebounded and killed him instead,” Hermione said.

“I don’t understand why this whole war came down to school children. Why was Harry involved?” Mr. Granger asked.

“Because Voldemort was after Harry from the moment he came back. It had to be Harry. Professor Dumbledore knew it, that’s why he told Harry about these objects he had to find before Voldemort could be defeated,” Hermione said, sniffling.

“And did Professor Dumbledore also tell you to steal your parents’ memories?” her mother asked sharply. “I’ve started an entirely different life here, and I didn’t even remember I had a daughter.” Mrs. Granger started to cry.

“I’m sorry, Mum. I didn’t know what else to do,” Hermione cried.

“Did you erase your parents’ memories as well, Ron?” Mr. Granger asked.

“Er… no. My parents are wizards, and my family is too big to hide. They were also involved in fighting the war,” Ron said, feeling as if he wasn’t helping at all.

“Ron’s parents could defend themselves. They could do magic, too. You would’ve been completely at their mercy, and they had no mercy,” Hermione pleaded.

“I can understand your desire to protect us,” Mr. Granger said. “What I can’t understand is why you were involved at all. You’re eighteen years old, Hermione. I know you’re an extremely clever girl, but I’m having trouble accepting an entire war rested on your shoulders.”

“It wasn’t my shoulders, it was Harry’s. Ron and I had to help him,” Hermione said.

“She was a huge help, Mr. Granger. We couldn’t have done it without her. She worked out how to cast protection spells that kept us safe no matter where we were hiding all year. Harry and I both would’ve been long dead without her,” Ron said, not enjoying the way Mr. Granger was scowling at him.

“If you were in that much danger, why didn’t you come here with us?” Mrs. Granger asked.

“Because I’m a witch, and I could do something to stop it,” Hermione said quietly. “You always taught me to stand up for injustices.”

“I didn’t teach you to carelessly put your life in danger, or to use magic for a quick fix to your problems,” Mr. Granger said.

“It wasn’t a quick fix. It was complicated magic, and it helped keep you alive. I’m not sorry I did it,” Hermione said. “I love you.”

The Grangers were silent a moment. Finally, Mrs. Granger said, “We love you, too, Hermione. This is just a lot to take in all at once. We’ve been here for nearly a year. We made a new life thinking we were someone else.”

“What about our practice back home?” Mr. Granger asked sitting bolt upright. “What did you tell the staff and all our patients?”

“I told them you had a family emergency and had to leave indefinitely,” Hermione said, hanging her head. She had told Ron she thought this would be a sore spot. Her parents had always been very career-oriented people, and they’d spent their lifetime building their practice. There was nothing she could do about it, however, so she’d made the best excuse she could.

“Indefinitely,” her father repeated, sagging back in his chair.

“I had no idea how long it would take,” Hermione said. “I thought you’d open a practice here, but when I started looking for you, I couldn’t find one. Eventually I tracked down Mum.”

Mrs. Granger held her head in her hands.

“How were we supposed to do that?” Mr. Granger demanded, thunderstruck. “We couldn’t simply start a practice cold without a client base. We had to start over, working for other people. We’ve just begun looking at office space to start a practice of our own. That’s who I thought you were when you rang. We’ve been interviewing potential employees.”

“What about your Aunt Sara’s chemotherapy?” Mrs. Granger suddenly shrieked. “What happened? Is she all right?”

Hermione just stared at her blankly. “Chemotherapy,” she said in a very small voice. Ron had no idea what chemotherapy was, but he didn’t think it sounded good.

“Oh, I hadn’t told you before you befuddled me. Haven’t you checked on her since it all ended?” her mother demanded.

“It’s only been over for a few weeks. There were a lot of funerals to attend, including Ron’s brother, Fred. Then I started looking for you immediately,” Hermione said, tears shining in her eyes.

Ron was getting annoyed with them. They were upsetting Hermione, and she had only tried to keep them alive. This wasn’t fair.

Both Grangers were staring at Ron in dismay.

“I’m sorry, Ron. He was one of your twin brothers, wasn’t he? How are your parents holding up?” Mrs. Granger asked.

Ron had had enough.

“They’re as well as can be expected, considering all we’ve just gone through. I think you’d be better off wondering how your own daughter is holding up. She did everything within her power to keep you safe, basically turning herself into an orphan to ensure you were okay, and it tore her up inside. I don’t think you’re being fair.”

“Ron,” Hermione said, putting a hand on his arm. Her eyes were pleading so he swallowed his ire. He knew he’d hopelessly blown it now.

“We need some time to sort out our own heads now that we remember both lives,” Mr. Granger said. “I need to call our practice and see if there is anything left, and your mother needs to call your aunt.”

“We’re staying at the Hotel Grand Chancellor on Hindley Street. I’m in room 311,” Hermione said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Mr. Granger nodded, but Mrs. Granger leaned over and hugged her daughter goodbye. Ron led his sniffling girlfriend from the house.

It had been an utter disaster.

*****

Harry took a deep breath as he stared at the familiar door of Twelve Grimmauld Place. He had finally been released from St. Mungo’s after Healer Larkin had given him a new bruise balm that he was supposed to use each evening. She’d also given him a bottle of Dreamless Sleep Potion with the instructions to use it sparingly because it could become addictive. He also wasn’t supposed to take anything else while he was using it.

Harry was embarrassed, but he was grateful to have the potion. After getting caught up on his rest while in hospital, he didn’t want to go back to the dazed feeling of sleep deprivation.

Ginny had gone to the Ministry for her revision session, so Mr. Weasley had come to the hospital to see him home. Harry felt awkward about it. Not that he didn’t appreciate the man’s concern, but he didn’t see what the big deal was in Apparating back to The Burrow on his own.

Mrs. Weasley had sent along a pair of Ron’s old jeans and a T-shirt, so Harry at least had something clean to wear rather than his torn and bloody clothes. The outfit was still a bit big, but fit far better than anything else he’d ever owned.

While he’d been lying in his bed that morning, he’d decided he needed to move out of The Burrow. After the attack, he was concerned for the safety of the entire Weasley family. He couldn’t be responsible for any more deaths in this family that had been so good to him. He couldn’t handle it.

There was also the niggling thought in the back of his mind that after living on his own for a year, he found the hovering of the Weasley parents rather disconcerting. He’d never had any kind of parental figure, and felt it was too late for him to figure out what to do with one now.

He’d briefly considered leasing a flat once he had access to his funds, but why lease a flat when he already owned an entire house right here in London? He hadn’t been back since the war had ended, so he supposed he should take a look and see if it was habitable.

When he told Mr. Weasley he wanted to stop at Grimmauld Place, the Weasley patriarch immediately sent a Patronus to Bill to have the Curse-Breaker meet them there.

The front door had some scorch marks, but it was still functioning. Harry opened it wide and found Bill standing in the entry-way.

“Morning, Dad. Morning, Harry,” he said cheerfully.

“Good morning, Bill. Have you taken a look?” Mr. Weasley asked.
Bill shook his head. “We have no idea if the Death Eaters left any traps behind, so no one should be here alone until it’s inspected.” He glared particularly hard at Harry as he said it.

“I’m going to do a sweep now to see if there is anything blatant, but it’s more likely than not that, since they knew you’d been hiding here, they would have left some traps in case you returned. I’m going to have Kingsley send a Ministry squad to come in and do a thorough decontamination. You’ll have to bring down some of the wards, but you’ll want to reset them anyway since they’ve already been breached.”

Harry nodded. He’d been thinking more along the lines of what the Death Eaters had destroyed, not that they’d left traps behind.

“I can help you when it’s time to reset the wards, if you’d like,” Bill offered.

“Thanks. I’d appreciate that,” Harry said.

He took a look around without touching anything while Bill went upstairs. The house was a mess. The furniture had been completely destroyed, but Harry didn’t think that was any big loss. The walls were covered with grime and scorch marks. The fireplace in the kitchen had been smashed so as to block the Floo. It looked as if the Death Eaters had gone on a rampage. Rubble and debris littered the floor along with various bits of trash. He suspected some of the marks on the floor were blood-stains.

Harry sighed wearily. It would take a lot of work before he was able to move in here. He’d have to start on a place to sleep and the kitchen before he could even consider it. He’d have to stay at The Burrow for a little while longer. At least he could still be close to Ginny.

His thoughts drifted to the previous evening. He should’ve told her about the last Horcrux. He’d promised no more hiding things from her. He was going to have to gather up his courage and just do it. He was a Gryffindor, after all, but he feared her reaction. What if, when he eventually told her the truth, she wouldn’t only be disgusted by the fact he’d been a Horcrux, but she was also angry with him for holding back?

He wanted to do something to make her happy before that happened.

“Harry!” Bill shouted from somewhere upstairs.

“I’m here,” he called, sticking his head out the kitchen doorway.

“Don’t touch anything, there are definitely spells in here,” Bill said grimly.

“What did you find?” Harry asked.


As he began to climb the stairs out of the kitchen, he absentmindedly grasped the banister. The wood splintered and began to wrap around his hand, holding it in place. Harry shouted out in surprise, but he couldn’t free his hand, and the grip was growing steadily tighter.

“What is it?” Mr. Weasley asked, hurrying towards Harry. When he saw Harry’s predicament, he drew his wand.

“Dad, no!” Bill shouted, grabbing his father’s arm and pulling it away from Harry just as Mr. Weasley fired off a spell. It hit the ceiling and caused a chunk of it to fall on top of Harry, leaving bits of dust and plaster in his hair.

“Don’t use any magic. It might make it worse,” Bill said, sprinting down the stairs to examine Harry’s hand.

Harry’s hand was growing increasingly painful, and numbness had spread down into his fingers. He could see a thin line of blood beginning to form against the wood covering his hand.

“Can you get it off?” he gasped.

“I’ll get it off, just hang on,” Bill said, running his wand around the area, apparently doing some kind of diagnostics.

“When?” Harry asked as a drip of blood ran down the side of his hand and dropped to the floor.

“Hang on, Harry,” Mr. Weasley said reassuringly, though his eyes looked worried so Harry was far from calmed.

He took a deep breath and shut his eyes, biting down hard on his bottom lip. Even if his hand was broken, it was reparable. He needed to trust Bill to reverse whatever curse had been used. This is what Bill did for a living. Harry clenched his eyes and tried to call up all the Occlumency skills he’d worked on over the past year in order to calm down.

He wasn’t aware of any passage of time at all, but when he opened his eyes to the calls of Bill and Mr. Weasley, he found his hand was free. He stared in confusion at the two men.

“Are you all right?” Bill asked. “You zoned out on us.”

Harry glanced at his heavily bruised hand. Although painful, he could flex his fingers so he didn’t think anything was broken.

“How did you free it?” he asked.

“I just had to work out the right counter-curse,” Bill said, confused. “Don’t you remember?”

“What were you doing, Harry?” Mr. Weasley asked, concerned but also curious.

“I… I tried to use Occlumency so as not to panic,” he admitted ruefully.

Bill nodded, obviously impressed. “It worked brilliantly. Once you calmed down, it was much easier to read what I had to do.”

“I think it would be better if we left it here today. You can come back after the Ministry has a chance to decontaminate,” Mr. Weasley said.

Harry agreed, disappointed.

“Oh, before I forget,” Bill said, reaching into his pocket. He removed a small bit of cloth and used his wand to resize a money pouch. “Here you go, Harry. You’ll find your accounts at Gringotts have been reopened. I took the liberty of withdrawing some funds for you.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, feeling more cheerful. At least that was one less thing to worry about.

*****

Ginny lay on the couch in the sitting room of The Burrow, exhausted. She’d been at the Ministry all morning revising for her upcoming sixth-year exams, and her brain felt spent. As she began to drift off, she contemplated the conversation she’d had with Harry the previous evening.

He was leaving something out. She just knew it.

Something was wrong with the picture he’d painted. Yes, it was very like Harry to be guilt-ridden by Tom’s demands and then to turn himself over. Yes, it was like him to sacrifice himself if he thought he could protect someone else. But it wasn’t like him to leave something so important unfinished, or to trust that others would do it in his stead. Telling Neville to kill the snake, knowing that Tom couldn’t be killed before the snake was dead, wasn’t like him. Something didn’t add up.

Harry had been so upset by whatever he’d seen in his flashback that she didn’t have the heart to question him further. But it agitated her that he was hiding something.
He’d promised her that they’d be open with one another.

She didn’t think he was purposely hiding anything, however. At least she hoped not. She suspected there was something he was having a hard time telling her, but she had no idea what that might be. She wished Hermione were here to give her some guidance.

Those flashbacks Harry was experiencing were beginning to trouble her. She knew he’d never ask for help, but wished she could find a way to help him anyway. The fact he refused to admit that there was anything wrong was beginning to frustrate her.

As her mind buzzed with all these thoughts, her eyes began to drift closed. She was in that stage between sleep and wakefulness when she heard the kitchen door open. Shaking her head and getting up, she peered into the kitchen to see Harry quietly closing the door.

An uneasiness tugged at her as she observed how the bright summer light streaming in from the kitchen windows illuminated his pale face. She knew concern for her entire family was weighing heavily on his shoulders — even though he undoubtedly placed that burden there himself. Glancing down at his long, slender fingers, she noticed that they were clutching a box of Sugar Quills — grape-flavored Sugar Quills.

Ginny’s favorite.

They usually came in a box of assorted flavors, and she always chose the grape ones first and then pouted when they were gone. She didn’t know where he went, or what favor he’d called in to get a box of exclusively grape ones, but she wanted to leap across the room and pounce on him for doing it.

She wondered how he’d react if she did just that.

Merlin, he was beautiful.

She’d always been attracted to him. From the first time she saw him when he was eleven-years old and just a timid, scruffy-looking ragamuffin, he’d fascinated her. He had a vital spark, a raw magnetism that she’d been too young to recognize at the time. Still, even then, she could never draw her eyes away. She always wanted to be near him. Those bright green eyes that appeared to mirror his soul melted her heart. Though he constantly struggled to keep his emotions carefully guarded, they always radiated from the depths of those emerald orbs.

Sometimes, it was easy to forget how much he’d been through.

“Harry,” she said.

He turned to face her, his face brightening so much when he saw her that it made her feel warm inside. “Hey, Ginny. They let me out.”

“I can see that. What do you have there?” she asked, nodding towards the box.

Harry looked down at the hand clasping the box of Sugar Quills. “Oh… er… I got you a present, but you obviously caught me before I could wrap it.”

“Can I have one now?” she asked, bouncing on her toes.

Harry grinned. “You can, but it’ll cost you.”

Ginny walked toward him sashaying her hips. “Oh, and what will it cost me, Mr. Potter?”

“I’ll think of something,” he said, leaning over to kiss her. She began to lean in but quickly ducked and pulled the box from his hands.

“Hey, I call foul,” Harry said, laughing.

“How did you ever manage to get all grape ones?” Ginny asked, admiring the box before she selected one. She offered the box to Harry, who took one as well.

His face turned very bright red, but he said, “Er… well… Bill got my accounts at Gringotts straightened out, and I know it’s been hard around here. I just wanted to do something for you. You’ve been really good to me.”

He looked at the floor, obviously embarrassed.

“Thank you, Harry. It’s very thoughtful of you, and I do love the grape ones,” she said, feeling exceedingly fond of him at the moment.

“I know. I went to Honeydukes, but they didn’t sell single-flavor boxes. The shopkeeper was really kind and wanted to help me out,” Harry said, turning even redder, if that were possible.

Ginny knew he didn’t like to use his fame, was rather embarrassed by it actually, so the fact he would accept special treatment for her made the gift all the more special. In fact, she couldn’t think of a time during the entire war that he’d used his fame to his own advantage. Leave it to him to use it on sweets. For her.

“I’ll have to thank you properly later,” she said, beaming.

Harry looked up then, his eyes wide. He was definitely intrigued.

“When did you see Bill? I thought Dad was picking you up from St. Mungo’s,” Ginny asked.

“Yeah, he did. We made a stop at Grimmauld Place, and your dad asked Bill to join us and check if there had been any curses left behind,” Harry said, taking a lick of his Sugar Quill.

Ginny noticed the severe bruising on his hand. She reached out and grabbed it quickly, causing him to wince.

“What happened? Harry, you’ve been in hospital. How did you manage to hurt yourself already?” she asked incredulously.

“Oh, yeah. Your dad said your mum could fix it properly. Turns out, the Death Eaters did leave some tricks behind at Grimmauld Place,” Harry said, flexing his injured hand.

“Why were you at Grimmauld Place?” Ginny asked.

“Well, I wanted to see the damage. It seems silly to rent a flat when I already own a house in London,” he said.

“You’re moving?” Ginny asked, stunned. Her heart began thumping wildly. She didn’t want him living on his own. How long had he been planning this? Was this something else he’d been keeping from her? Her dismay began to grow once again.

“Well… eventually. It’s going to take some time to get Grimmauld Place livable again. A team from the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes is going to have to do a thorough sweep to get rid of any Dark Magic the Death Eaters left behind.”

“But… why? Why don’t you want to stay here?” Ginny said, hating the pleading tone in her voice but unable to stop it.

“It’s not that I don’t want to be here, Ginny. I love it here, but I can’t stay forever. You’ll be going back to school in September, and I’ll start work at the Ministry. I’ve never had a home of my own, and I need to start somewhere,” he said.

Ginny knew that he never considered the Dursleys’ his home, and why should he? But The Burrow was his, if he’d only make it so. George was already leaving, and Hermione would be moving back with her parents. Ginny simply wanted to hold them all together for as long as she could. She knew it was probably unreasonable, but the thought of everyone going their separate ways was extremely distressing.

“This is because of the attack, isn’t it?” she said accusingly.

Harry stared out the window, toward the Quidditch pitch where only days before Death Eaters had attempted to abduct him. “It would be safer for you all if I wasn’t here,” he admitted quietly.

“But it won’t be safer for you,” Ginny snapped. “For Merlin’s sake, Harry. Do you think any of us can handle losing you — again? Haven’t you learned yet that we’re safer together when we can all watch out for one another?”

“I can’t let any of you get hurt trying to protect me, Ginny. I can’t,” he said, his voice hoarse.

“And you think we’ll stop trying to protect you just because you’re not living here?” she demanded. “If we’re all together, at least someone has your back.”

“People die when they try to protect me. You heard Voldemort say it, and I can’t take it anymore,” he insisted.

“Oh, so you’re listening to Tom now? Listening to him rather than us?” Tears stung the corners of Ginny’s eyes. She knew he was hurting, knew she was hurting him now, but she couldn’t let him go on his own again while they were hunting him. She couldn’t.

“Ginny,” he said, reaching for her, but she skirted away.

“I know you feel responsible. I understand that, but you need to understand that you’re not alone. You’re not okay, Harry, no matter how much you want to pretend that you are. Those flashbacks you keep having are getting worse, and I know about the Silencing Charm you put around your bed. What if one of those flashbacks happens when a Death Eater is standing in front of you?”

Harry scowled and looked away.

“You know it’s true,” Ginny said, sensing a weakening. “I’m afraid of your being alone.”

“Look,” he said, “it can’t happen right away, anyway. There’s a lot to clean and rebuild. When the time comes… I’ll… I’ll ask Ron if he wants to move in with me. Does that help?”

“I’d rather you both stayed here, but if you’re determined, then, yes. At least you won’t be alone,” Ginny said, drawing a shuddering breath. “Everyone’s leaving.”

“What do you mean, ‘everyone’?” he asked, wrapping his arms around her. She let him this time, leaning into him.

“George. Hermione. Now you and Ron. Fred,” she said, before the tears really did come. They started rolling down her cheeks, and she was powerless to stop them.

Harry just held her and let her cry.

Back to index


Chapter 12: Moving On

Chapter Twelve
Moving On



Ron and Hermione had spent several days going back and forth between the hotel and Hermione’s parents’ house. There was still some tension, but Hermione felt a lot better about things with each passing day. Her parents weren’t ready to move back home yet, however. They had a lot of loose ends here. Hermione didn’t want to rush them, but she was eager to get back and check on Harry. She had an uncomfortable, nagging feeling that he needed them.

Her and Ron’s funds also wouldn’t last forever. She supposed they could ask to stay with her parents, but Hermione felt that showing some independence would prove she was right about the decision she had made.

Her parents said they understood why she had done it, but they wished she’d informed them beforehand so they could have taken care of a few things on their own. Hermione chose not to debate them, knowing they never would have agreed to her plan. They’d have insisted they all go away together. They still felt as if it was their job to protect her, not the other way around, so her decision didn’t sit right.

The worst complication was her Aunt Sara. Her mum had called her sister and learned from one of Hermione’s cousins that Aunt Sara had passed away three months earlier. The family had been unable to find any of the Grangers, and the phone call was extremely chilly. Her mother was devastated.

Hermione had never been particularly close with her three cousins. The two sisters were slightly older than her and had always been more into clothes and boys than Hermione. The boy, David, was her age and also a lover of books. After she’d started Hogwarts, she never saw much of them, but her mum had remained close. She hoped her mum would at least be able to reconnect with her nephew and nieces after they’d returned.

Her dad had finally tracked down the woman who had managed their office staff, and she filled him in about how their practice had been disbanded. Her dad hadn’t really told Hermione all that much, but she knew he was upset. She felt that the sooner they went back to Cornwall and started to rebuild the practice, the sooner her father’s spirits would perk up.

Hermione was really happy that Ron had come with her. She didn’t think she could have done this alone. He’d surprised Hermione by how he’d compassionately weathered her many mood swings. He’d staunchly defended her to her parents and made the decisions when she simply couldn’t.

It was something a younger Ron never could’ve done, but Hermione was pleased with his newfound maturity.

And he hadn’t shown the first inclination of leaving.

That fact alone and bolstered Hermione’s spirits. She knew Ron was growing restless, but he hadn’t complained. She was beginning to wish he would so she could release some of her building frustration over the delay.

Hermione wanted to go home.

She started when the phone rang, and she hurried to answer it. She and Ron had agreed that he wouldn’t answer the phone since only her parents would be calling. Hermione didn’t feel she was lying to her parents exactly, she just hadn’t mentioned they were sharing one room. After all, both she and Ron were of age, and they weren’t doing anything wrong. Still, why force the issue?

For his part, Ron hadn’t attempted to go any further than snogging again. He’d been a perfect gentleman. Hermione wasn’t certain if she was happy about that or not.

“Hello?” Hermione answered.

Ron poked his wet head out of the bathroom door, his eyes questioning.

“Yes, all right. We’ll be there shortly, Mum,” Hermione said. Then, turning to Ron she said, “That was Mum. They want us to come over. She said they have something to tell me. Oh, Ron, I think they’re finally ready to go home.”

Ron’s grin split his whole face. “Wicked.”

“I know,” Hermione said, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “We’ll take an aeroplane back to Sydney, no need to take the bus again.”

“Thank, Merlin,” Ron said. “My legs still haven’t un-cramped from the trip over here. “We could be home in time for supper.”

“Well, no… but we’ll be on our way. Travelling by aeroplane is a lot quicker than bus, but it’s got nothing on Apparition. We’re still in for a lot of travelling.”

Ron visibly deflated. “Oh. Right. Still, I’ll be glad to get back. George and the others were going into Diagon Alley to clean up the shop last Saturday. I wonder if George has re-opened yet.”

“And I hope Harry is doing all right. I need to do some more reading on Spell Shock to learn how we can help,” Hermione said, deciding it was best not to let on her nagging concern about Harry. Ron had been overprotective — even by his standards — and there was nothing he could do from here.



When they arrived at her parents’ house, they found them in their sitting room with the tea service already out. Hermione felt the first thrill of apprehension. This scene brought her vividly back to her childhood whenever her parents had wanted to discuss some minor transgression on Hermione’s part. She glanced at Ron, who was smiling pleasantly at her parents, blissfully unaware of any upcoming row.

“Mum, Dad,” she said cautiously, “is everything all right?”

“Of course, dear. Why don’t you come sit and have some tea?” her mother said pleasantly.

She and Ron sat on the couch, facing her parents, the coffee table holding the tea service in between them. Hermione took her time preparing a cup, trying to calm her mind. She’d assumed her parents were going to say they were ready to go home, now she feared there would be a stipulation.

“Thanks, Mrs. Granger,” Ron said, snacking on some biscuits. “These are good.”
Her mother smiled weakly.

“So, are you ready to go home?” Ron asked, charging right to it and unsuspecting of a potential problem.

“That’s what we wanted to talk to you about, Hermione,” her father said. “Your mother and I have talked about this, weighing all our options, since you returned and un-magicked us.”

“I reversed the spell, yes,” Hermione said, her apprehension increasing. “What do you mean by ‘weighing your options?’” she asked.

“Hermione, I understand you did what you thought was best, but as your father and the one responsible for your safety, I feel I had the right to be consulted. I should have had a say in what happened to our family. We should have discussed this as a family, much in the same way we did when we learned you were a witch. We didn’t just decide where you would attend school. We discussed it together,” her father said.

Hermione dropped her head. In her heart, she knew he wouldn’t have agreed, and with their lives hanging in the balance, she couldn’t take that risk. They didn’t understand how powerful Voldemort had been. They simply didn’t understand her world anymore.

“So what are you saying?” she asked sadly. “What are you going to do?”

Her dad took a deep breath, his warm brown eyes, eyes so like her own, stared at her intently. “Our practice back in Cornwall has been completely disbanded. Not only disbanded, but there are some bad feelings lingering over the way we left.”

Hermione opened her mouth to interrupt, but her father held up his hand to stop her.

“Let me finish. The practice is gone, so when we get home, we’d have to start over. This would be difficult to do since our reputation has been stained. Here, in Adelaide, we’re at the point where we can open a practice, and each have a goodly list of clients that will follow us.”

“So… what are you saying… ” Hermione asked, already knowing yet unable to comprehend it.

“We’re saying that we’ve decided to remain in Australia,” her mother said quietly. “Your aunt is gone now, too, so there are no ties left behind.”

“No ties? What about me?” Hermione cried.

“Well, we have an extra bedroom upstairs. We thought you might consider remaining here with us,” her father said. “Your magic would allow you to return to England any time you pleased.”

“What? You want Hermione to stay here? To live?” Ron exploded, jumping to his feet. “What about school? She wants to go back to Hogwarts in September.”

“She could still do that,” her mother replied calmly. “She’s spent the school year away since she was twelve.”

“Eleven,” Ron corrected automatically. Hermione thought he looked rather stunned.

“I was almost twelve when I started Hogwarts,” she said, feeling rather stunned herself. “My birthday is in September, remember?”

“Oh, yeah,” Ron said, sitting back down heavily. He looked at her worriedly, and Hermione was touched to see how concerned he was over the idea of her staying.

“What do you think, Hermione?” her father asked. “I’ve spoken with a real estate agent who is going to look at the house. I thought we could have our personal belongings sent to us here. We could all catch up and get to know each other again. A whole year can change a person. I see it in you in so many ways.”

Hermione wiped at her running nose. Her throat ached, and the room had gone blurry. “I can’t. I want to work at the Ministry after I leave Hogwarts. I want to help with the reconstruction of our government,” she said quietly.

Ron was the only one who looked relieved.

Her mother looked down. “I was afraid you’d say that. But you’ll come for holidays and before you start work, won’t you? With your ability to travel, it’s not like the distance is as great as it would be otherwise.”

“Of course I will,” Hermione said, sniffling.

Her mother looked between Ron and Hermione knowingly.

“I can see you’ve begun to plant some roots of your own, but remember how young you both are. There will always be a room for you here if your life changes, or if you decide you need a change,” she said delicately.

“I suppose there is no sense interrogating you since you’ve been living with my daughter for the past year,” Mr. Granger said, looking appraisingly at Ron.

Ron swallowed visibly. “It wasn’t like that, sir.”

“Dad,” Hermione interrupted firmly. She didn’t want Ron to tell her parents they’d only been dating since the battle. It would only lead her mother to put more pressure on her daughter to stay with them. “Ron and I are of age in both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds.”

“I still don’t have to like it,” her father grumbled.

“But we can all take some time to really get to know each other,” her mother said soothingly. “You don’t have to leave right away. We can show you around the town, spend some time together. There’s no hurry for you to go back.”

“Actually, there is, Mum,” Hermione said, fighting her tears. “Both Ron and I have to give our statements to the Ministry about what happened during the war. So far, only Harry has been assisting them. They want our corroborating stories. They let it wait so we could come here and collect you.”

Ron put his hand on her shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly.

“Oh. I see. How is Harry?” her mother asked looking terribly sad. Her father had turned to stare out the window.

“He’ll be all right,” Hermione whispered.

“We all will,” Ron said firmly.

“When will you be back?” her father asked, his voice distinctly strained.

Hearing her father so choked up released Hermione’s tears, and she started to cry. “I’ll be back before the summer is over. Before September first to visit, and I’ll bring some of your things from home.”

Her mother got up and held out her arms. Hermione clung to her as the two women wept. Her father turned and wrapped his arms around both of them. She could see Ron staring, uncertain what to do. She broke from her parents and held out her hand to him, and he grasped it immediately.

“Send an owl to let us know you got there safely,” her father said, and Hermione knew it was his way of accepting her magical life, otherwise he would’ve told her to call.

“Goodbye, Daddy, Mum. I’ll write to you and fill you in on everything that’s going on,” she said.

“Goodbye, Hermione. We love you,” her mum said.

Hermione was aware of her parents standing in the doorway, watching the two young people walk outside onto the pavement until they turned a corner.

“Let’s get our things from the hotel, turn in our room key, and go home,” Hermione said, her voice sounding oddly devoid of emotion.

“Whatever you want, Hermione,” Ron said, squeezing her hand.

They didn’t speak again before reaching the hotel.

*****

Harry ducked out of the atrium and behind the glass doors as quickly as he could, moving away from the throng of people and reporters that had ambushed him as soon as he arrived. How had they known he’d be coming here today? He stood in the shadows, took a deep breath and tried to calm his breathing while watching Ministry workers rush to start their day.

Everyone was busy moving past the war — unless he was around. When it came to him, it seemed all people could focus on was that long, dark fight. It just wouldn’t end, and it left Harry with that painfully familiar feeling of being alone even in a crowded room.

He’d left The Burrow before Ginny had awoken that morning. He knew she was hacked off at him over the idea of his moving out. He also knew her ire came from concern. He didn’t want to hurt her, but he felt that staying with her family had the potential of hurting her worse. He wasn’t certain what he could say to make her understand this, and he didn’t like to see her upset.

He wished there was someone he could ask for advice, but there wasn’t. He certainly couldn’t ask Ron about his sister, and Hermione would put on that knowing face that he couldn’t stand to see — particularly when he didn’t just know.

He glanced at the watch he wore strapped around his wrist. It was a Weasley family heirloom, and it reminded him that if the circumstances had been different, he might have been able to ask Mr. or Mrs. Weasley about this stuff. With Ginny being their one and only daughter, however, that just wasn’t meant to be. He feared he was destined to forever flounder where personal relationships were involved.

Taking a deep breath, Harry steeled his resolve. He knew he was barely holding it together, but he didn’t want to appear weak in front of the Minister or Gawain Robards, his future boss, who was also meeting with them today.

Harry weaved his way through the now familiar route up to the Minister’s office, managing to keep his head down and pace brisk in order to avoid any further encounters. The Minister met him in the lobby and ushered him inside, offering him a cup of tea.

“How are you feeling, Harry? Is that cut completely healed?” the Minister asked.

“Yeah. I don’t think the Weasleys would’ve let me come back before it was gone,” Harry laughed ruefully. He appreciated their concern more than they’d ever know, but he honestly didn’t know what to do with it. Aside from Ron and Hermione — Hermione, really — no one had ever bothered with his physical condition in this way.

“Glad to hear it,” Kingsley smiled.

“Any news on Doogin MacCullity?” Harry asked. He hadn’t heard anything about the supposed Death Eater lead since Kingsley had mentioned him while Harry was in hospital.

Kingsley shook his head. “He was long gone by the time Auror Proudfoot arrived at the pub where he’d been spotted. He’d apparently asked a lot of questions about you, however.”

“Naturally,” Harry scowled.

“Don’t underestimate them, Harry,” Kingsley warned. “As happened after the last war, the Death Eaters are even more dangerous now because they have nothing to lose. You’ll recall what happened to the Longbottoms after Voldemort’s disappearance sixteen years ago.”

Harry nodded soberly. How could he ever forget what had happened to Neville’s parents? Harry’s parents were lost and gone in an instant. Neville’s parents were essentially gone, although they still lived. Harry couldn’t imagine living with that grieving process for so long. Neville was stronger than anyone knew.

“I’ve had a team at Grimmauld Place, but they still haven’t finished it yet.” Kingsley said.

“Did they find anything?” Harry asked quickly, his heart rate increasing.

The Minister winced. “The house is full of traps, but most are like the one you got caught in, designed to hold you or incapacitate you for capture. Voldemort had wanted you alive.”

“He wanted to kill me himself,” Harry muttered, lost in thought.

“I’m going to have the team run a second sweep before you return, but even then, I need you to be careful. The squad is very good at what they do, but in a house like Grimmauld Place, which was steeped in Dark magic even before the Death Eaters arrived, things can get missed,” Kingsley warned darkly.

“I’ll be careful,” Harry said.

“I need you to be more than careful, Harry. I need you to be vigilant. People get relaxed in their homes. It’s natural, but you remember what Grimmauld Place was like. It’s going to take you a good amount of time to change that atmosphere.”

Harry nodded slowly. “I know. I’m going to start in the kitchen and one of the bedrooms and go from there.”

“I had them try and remove old Mrs. Black’s portrait, but no luck. It’s attached with a Permanent Sticking Charm, and it’s a load-bearing wall, so it can’t simply be removed. She knew what she was doing,” Kingsley said, grimacing.

“I’ve thought about that,” Harry said. “But there’s no reason I can’t put another wall over the one that’s already there, or attach a Permanent Silencing Charm to the area.”

Kingsley nodded, grinning. “I think that just might work.”

“Good,” Harry replied, not wanting to get shouted at daily by Sirius’ deranged mother. That would be like moving back in with the Dursleys. Harry shuddered at the thought.

“Gawain Robards should be here shortly. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve filled him in on what you’ve told me. Along with several members of the Wizengamot, they are the only ones I’ve told about the Horcruxes. I trust Gawain nearly as much as I do Arthur and Molly,” Kingsley said.

“Does he get along with Mr. Weasley?” Harry asked. He knew there were a lot of Ministry employees who looked down on Mr. Weasley because of his devotion to Muggles, and he didn’t like to think of anyone looking down on the man who had been so good to him.

“He does. I’ve promoted Arthur to the Head of International Magical Cooperation. All Muggle-related issues now fall under this department. We need to improve relations between the Muggle and Magical worlds, and Arthur is just the person to do that. Gawain has asked him to come in and speak to the Aurors about the proper way to deal with Muggles.”

“That’s good,” Harry said, delighted to hear it. As far as he knew, Mr. Weasley hadn’t mentioned a promotion, but he could have missed it while he was in hospital. “If you’ve told Mr. Robards everything, why does he want to see me?”

Kingsley smiled. “Everyone wants to see you, Harry.”

Harry scowled, causing the Minister to laugh richly.

“He also has some questions on your time at Malfoy Manor. They’ve apprehended a Snatcher they think might be the one who turned you over to the Malfoys.”

“I don’t know his name, but I’d recognize him,” Harry said darkly.

The door opened and a very fit, middle-aged man entered. He was tall, nearly as tall as Kingsley, with slightly greying auburn hair and intense dark eyes. His eyes looked as if they missed nothing as he studied Harry appraisingly.

“It’s nice to finally make your acquaintance, Mr. Potter,” he said, doing the familiar gaze upwards to Harry’s scar.

Harry tried not to let his irritation show. “Hello, Mr. Robards. I’ve heard a lot about you, as well.”

“Well, let’s hope you can manage to overlook that then,” he said, grinning. His eyes showed a hint of mischief when he smiled, and Harry immediately warmed to him. “I understand you’re interested in coming to work for me,” Robards said, still watching Harry with that intense gaze. Harry felt as if he were being measured.

“Yes, sir,” he replied, holding the man’s gaze steadily.

“I look forward to it. We need some more good people. I’ve been told you’re more than a fair Seeker, as well. Our team is quite eager to meet you.”

Harry was flummoxed by this comment. “Team, sir?”

“Our inter-department Quidditch league here at the Ministry. Surely you’ve been told about it. The Auror Division is in need of a Seeker,” Robards replied easily.

Harry was stunned. Why hadn’t Ron mentioned this? “No… I didn’t know,” he said stupidly.

“Well, I hope you’re interested in playing. The team is already planning on it.”

“Of course! I’d love to play. Ron plays Keeper, as well,” he said, hoping there would be a spot for Ron.

“I’ll let you all work out the logistics once you start,” Robards said, smiling easily.

“Haven’t you got enough Quidditch issues on your plate, Gawain?” Kingsley asked, quirking an eyebrow.

Robards rolled his eyes. “Urgh. Don’t remind me.”

Harry stared confusedly between the two. “Er… is there something going on regarding Quidditch that I don’t know about?”

Robards sighed. “I’m investigating the Quidditch League Commissioner,” he said.

“Oh?” Harry said, intrigued.

“Yes. There has been some questionable activity during Voldemort’s reign. A player receiving a lifetime ban on one successful team, questionable calls on several others. I started looking into the Commissioner, Regor Baddell. I’ve found it more likely than not that he’s a Death Eater. His will be one of the early trials. For today, however, I just wanted to meet you and ask a few questions about Fenrir Greyback,” Robards said, growing serious.

“Greyback? What about him?” Harry asked.

“He was apprehended after the battle, and his trial is one of the first on the docket,” Robards said grimly.

“I know he was the one who originally turned Remus Lupin into a werewolf, as a child,” Harry spat. “Remus said he liked to position himself near children as the full moon approached. I can show you a Pensieve memory of that conversation.”

Robards shook his head. “It won’t be admissible since Lupin can’t be questioned, obviously. We have plenty of living witnesses ready to talk about him, however. I understand he was at Malfoy Manor whilst you were incarcerated there. Is this true?”

“Yeah… I mean, yes, sir.” Harry said. “He was there, along with Bellatrix Lestrange and the Malfoys.”

Robards nodded. “Good. That directly ties him to Voldemort. We have a Snatcher downstairs I’d like you to take a look at, as well.”

“All right. Greyback was also with the Death Eaters on top of the Astronomy Tower the night Professor Dumbledore was killed,” Harry said.

Robards eyes opened wider. “I hadn’t heard about that,” he said.

“Professor Dumbledore was particularly upset he was brought into the school,” Harry said, remembering that awful night.

“Understandably,” Robards said, lost in thought.

“It was Greyback who gave Bill Weasley his wounds that night,” Kingsley replied. “I was late to arrive.”

“This works, though. I can get corroborating testimony from some of the Weasleys who were also there, and the Malfoy boy, as well. I think we’ve got him,” Robards said, obviously pleased.

“Why don’t we head on down to the holding cells so you can take a look at our Snatcher, Harry?” the Minister said.

Harry nodded his agreement and followed the two men from the spacious office.

*****

Ginny stood in front of the sink in the kitchen of The Burrow washing some vegetables for her mother. She was grateful her mum had reclaimed the kitchen, but Ginny still wished she could use magic to assist with her chores. Three more months, the familiar mantra rang in her head. Merlin, how she hated feeling defenseless. The restriction on the use of underage magic was ludicrous. Just look at what underage wizards and witches had been put through at Hogwarts last year.

Harry had left for the Ministry before she’d awoken that morning, and he still hadn’t returned. She wondered if things were that busy or if he was avoiding her. They’d argued about his plans to move into Grimmauld Place. She still didn’t want him to go while the situation with the Death Eaters loomed, but perhaps that would be the case for some time yet to come.

She couldn’t expect him to live here with her parents indefinitely. She wished it could last longer, though. She wished they all could stay close just a little bit longer. After their row, she and Harry never sat and talked more about their conversation in the hospital. Ginny still believed he was hiding something, and she was upset about it. She didn’t want to call him on it, however. She wanted him to confide on his own.

Ginny took out her ire on the hapless vegetables in the sink.

“Leave some for supper, dear,” her mum said casually as she passed Ginny on her way to the cold cupboard.

“Sorry, Mum,” Ginny replied listlessly.

“Everything all right, dear?” her mum asked as she used her wand to start the stew on the stove.

Ginny smiled, pleased her mum was acting more and more like herself. “It’s getting there.”

“George won’t be here for supper tonight. He said he was taking a witch out to eat. Do you know who the young lady might be?” her mum asked.

Ginny shook her head. “He’s been out on several dates recently… only I’m not certain they’re with the same witch.”

“Oh,” her mum replied, disappointed. “I suppose it’s good he’s getting out and back with some of his friends.”

Ginny nodded. “I think he’s close to reopening the shop. I know the mail orders have been steady.”

“The Minister has kept Harry for quite a while today,” her mum said, a bit too casually. “Curious since the trials have yet to begin.”

Ginny stiffened involuntarily but remained quiet.

“You two appear to be getting on well,” her mum continued to press.

Ginny shrugged. “We have, for the most part. He doesn’t open up easily,” she admitted, feeling the need to talk.

Her mum nodded. “I think Harry has spent a lifetime closing off his emotions. After the war, those emotions are likely hard to repress,” she said sagely.

“So you don’t think I should press?” Ginny asked, curious. Her mum always pressed, so it was odd she’d suggest otherwise.

“I think he needs to talk, but you know how he is. A gentle pressing would most likely work best. I think those relatives taught him to be secretive,” her mother said, scowling and stirring the stew rigorously.

Before Ginny could ask any more questions, the door opened, admitting her father returning from the Ministry. He walked over and kissed her mum on the head before peering into the pot.

“How’s your day, Gingerbear?” he asked.

“Fine, Dad. Did Harry come back with you?” she asked, unable to hide her anxiety.

“No. He’s not back yet?” her father asked, his brow furrowing.

“Haven’t seen him all day,” she said despondently.

“I had lunch with him, Kingsley and Gawain Robards in the cafeteria. They’d been discussing Fenrir Greyback’s trial,” her father said.

Her mother turned around, her eyes widening. “Are they starting the trials already?”

“Not quite yet, but Greyback will be one of the first. Did you know a girl named Lavender Brown that Ron dated?” her father asked, turning to Ginny.

Her mum stared at her blankly.

Ginny swallowed. “Yeah. He dated her for a while during my fifth year. She died in the battle.”

“Oh!” her Mum gasped.

“Yes,” her father said, nodding grimly. “Apparently Greyback was the one who killed her. Harry told us Hermione tried to intervene to save the poor girl, but she later succumbed to her injuries. Gawain wants to talk to Hermione once they return. She’ll be a key witness in this one, obviously.”

“You children have all seen too much,” her mum said, sniffling.

“And we can’t un-see it, so it helps to get some justice,” Ginny said firmly.
The kitchen door opened again, and this time Charlie and Percy entered, talking amiably.

“Hello, boys,” her father said while her mum walked over to kiss each on the check.

“We’ve been to George’s shop. It’s ready to open when he is, I think,” Charlie said, taking a seat at the table.

“All his books are in order, and George spent the day in the back, working on various potions. I don’t know what he’s doing, but there were a lot of sparks,” Percy said.

“Take a seat, everyone. Dinner is ready,” her mum said, placing the steaming pot of stew in the center of the table.

Ginny had just served herself when the door opened again, and Harry finally returned. He looked wan and tired. He glanced nervously at the sea of faces in the kitchen before resting his gaze on her. She smiled tentatively, and his shoulders sagged in relief.

“Hello, dear,” her mum said, rising to kiss Harry on the cheek. He promptly turned red. “Have a seat and tuck in.”

“Have you been with the Minister all this time?” her dad asked.

“Yeah. We started going over the first few trials, but there was a lot more information than what we first thought,” Harry said tiredly. “They need to talk to Ron and Hermione about some of it, so we’re waiting on them. I’ve got some news on the Quidditch Commissioner that Ron is going to love. We finished as much as we could today, so I don’t have to go back tomorrow.”

“Well, that’s a good thing. You’re supposed to be having a holiday,” her mum said disapprovingly. She began piling extra on Harry’s plate, and something about that familiar gesture made Ginny’s eyes sting.

Dinner conversation lulled as all the retuning men sated their appetites. Her mum was just serving pudding when the kitchen door opened once again and a travel-weary Ron and Hermione entered.

Ron’s head lifted as he noticeably sniffed the air, which was ripe with beef stew and treacle tart. Hermione looked listless and exhausted.

Her mum squealed, rushing toward the pair and enveloping them in a bone-crushing hug. “Why didn’t you tell us you were coming? Did you just get back?” she asked, breathlessly.

“Are your parents here, Hermione?” her dad asked, peering out the window into the garden.

Hermione’s eyes filled with tears as she looked at her feet. Ron wrapped his arm around her shoulders, guiding her towards an empty chair.

“We’ve just Apparated from Germany. We had a rest stop there,” Ron said.

“Apparated. What happened to the Muggle aeroplane?” Charlie asked.

“Were you unable to find them?” Ginny asked, knowing how much her friend had fretted over being able to locate her parents. Ginny could tell something was wrong, and she was worried about Hermione.

“Why don’t we hold the questions, and let them tell their story?” her dad said kindly, using a tone that brooked no argument.

Ron cleared his throat. Before he could speak, however, Hermione turned toward her mum. “Would it be all right if I stayed here for a bit longer, Mrs. Weasley?” she asked timidly.

“Of course, dear. You’re always welcome here,” her mum said, smiling gently at the distressed girl.

“Thank you. I’m going to go up for a rest. I’m really tired,” Hermione said. “Could you fill them in, Ron?”

“Yeah. I’ll be up in a minute,” Ron said, watching her go.

“What happened, Ron?” Harry asked as soon as Hermione had left the room.

Ron sank into a chair. “Her parents didn’t want to come back. They’ve restarted their practice there, and they don’t want to have to do it all over again if they came home.”

“Ouch,” Charlie winced.

“What about Hermione?” Ginny asked, perplexed.

“They wanted her to stay with them, but she has Ministry commitments, and she wants to return to Hogwarts in September,” Ron replied, his ears turning red.

Ginny was stunned. In all the scenarios her mind had conjured, this hadn’t been one of them. “What about their house?” she asked.

“They’re selling it,” Ron said. “She took it pretty hard.”

“Why don’t you three go up and have a visit? She probably would rather talk to a smaller crowd,” her mum said kindly.

Ron, Harry and Ginny pushed away from the table and headed up to Ginny’s room, where they found Hermione sitting on her bed, slowly unpacking her case. She looked up with red-rimmed eyes as they paraded into the room.

“Ginny, Harry,” Hermione said, throwing her arms around each of them in turn. “I missed you both. How are you?”

“I think the question is, ‘how are you, Hermione?’” Harry said.

“I’ll be all right,” she said, sniffling. “It’ll just take some getting used to — their being so far away. They really do seem happy there, so I suppose I can’t complain.”

“Of course you can complain. It doesn’t mean it’s not bloody awful for you,” Ron said.

“Language, Ron,” Hermione said, though she gave him a weak smile.

“So… were they upset about the Memory Charm?” Ginny asked tentatively.

Hermione nodded. “They were. They eventually said they understood, but I know they’re still not happy about it. They would’ve preferred if we’d all gone into hiding together. They wouldn’t accept I couldn’t do that.”

Harry looked rather upset, and Ginny was certain he was blaming himself. Hermione must’ve thought so, too, for she said, “It’s not your fault, Harry. I chose to do what I thought was right, and I’d do it again.”

“I’m still sorry, Hermione. I know you really wanted them to come home,” Harry said gruffly.

Hermione smiled sadly. “They do feel like they’re home, just not in the home I wanted. In my whole life, I’ve never really been at odds with my parents like this before. I know it’s fairly common, but it hasn’t been for me.”

“I was always at odds with my relatives over magic,” Harry said.

Hermione snorted. “It wasn’t that bad,” she said, earning a wry grin from Harry.

“What’s been happening here?” Ron asked. “Where’s George?”

“George has been doing better. The shop is just about ready to open, and he’s out on a date tonight, but none of us are sure with whom,” Ginny said.

“And what about you, two? Have you been revising, Ginny?” Hermione asked.

Ginny shifted uncomfortably. “I have. I’ve been to the Ministry a few times, so I’ve caught up with a few others in my year.”

“The sixth-year exams were difficult,” Hermione said. “I’ll help you since it looks as if I’ll be staying here a while. How about you, Harry?”

“I’m fine,” Harry said, shooting Ginny a warning glare.

“All due respect, you’re never fine, mate,” Ron said good-naturedly.

Ginny quirked her eyebrow, but Harry remained tight-lipped. Their interaction alone was enough to clue Hermione in that something was going on, even in her exhausted state.

“What happened?” she demanded. “I want the truth, Harry.”

Harry scowled, but apparently he was unable to lie to her when she was already obviously upset. “There was a scuffle with some Death Eaters on the pitch, but the wards never completely came down, so it’s all right. Bill and the Ministry have been here strengthening them.”

“An attack? Here? At The Burrow?” Ron shouted, jumping off the bed. The color rapidly drained from his face and made his freckles stand out starkly. His panicked eyes flicked back and forth between Harry and Ginny as if inspecting them for damage.

“Was anyone hurt?” Hermione gasped, looking at Ginny for confirmation.

“Percy was Stunned, but he’s all right,” Harry said.

When Ginny realized Harry wasn’t going to tell the rest of the story, she piped in, “Harry was the one they were after—”

“Ginny,” Harry interrupted.

“They got him with a Cutting Curse that did a fair bit of damage. He spent several days in St. Mungo’s,” Ginny continued, unabashed.

“Bloody hell,” Ron bellowed, beginning to pace. “I knew I shouldn’t have left you. How many of them were there? How are we protecting you now?”

We’re not protecting me,” Harry said, irritated. “I’m fine, Ron, and I’m not going back under house arrest under any circumstances. I can take care of myself.”

“Oh, but Harry… ” Hermione said tearfully.

“There is nothing for it, Hermione,” Harry said firmly. “The Death Eaters are out there, and the Ministry is looking for them. In the meantime, I just have to be aware of my surroundings.”

Ron continued to pace, glancing at Harry every few seconds as if to make sure he hadn’t disappeared. “And the Ministry strengthened the wards here?” he asked.

Ginny nodded.

“I also went back and checked out Grimmauld Place,” Harry said. “I think I’m going to move in there eventually.”

“What do you mean you’re moving?” Ron asked, spinning around and facing Harry fiercely. “You can’t move out on your own with all Those-Who-Want-to-be-Named after you.”

Harry struggled to hold his temper. “I was thinking of asking you if you wanted to move in with me, but not if you’re going to try and be my shadow,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Oh,” Ron said, brightening. Apparently he hadn’t yet considered the idea of moving out on his own. Ginny suspected he was planning on shadowing Harry no matter how his mate felt about it. Ginny was glad.

“It needs a lot of work, but you can pick a room and start clearing it out and setting it up how you like. Hermione, you’re welcome to pick a room, as well,” Harry offered tentatively.

Hermione smiled tremulously.

“What about me?” Ginny asked, experiencing that familiar, left-out feeling she often had around the tight-knit group.

Harry looked at her quickly, his face coloring. “Er… you’re more than welcome to choose a room, as well, Ginny. But I don’t think your parents are going to allow you to come stay with me,” he said, scuffing his foot.

Ginny knew he was right, but she was feeling bold, and she was not going to be left out. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it, but I want to do a room, too.”

“You get to be the one to tell Mum and Dad though,” Ron said, shuddering.

Harry nodded in agreement, eyes wide.

“Did Kingsley say anything about the inspection?” Ginny asked. She was hesitant to bring up this touchy topic in front of Ron and Hermione, but she had to know.

Harry’s disconcertingly bright green eyes locked on hers, and she knew he was wary, as well. “Yeah,” he said. “They did a sweep and found several traps. They’re going to go through it again before I go back.”

“What’s this?” Hermione asked.

“It appears the Death Eaters left behind some traps. Kingsley is having a team from the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes decontaminate,” Harry said.

Ron suddenly swatted Harry on the back of the head.

“Hey! What was that for?” Harry asked, rubbing his head.

“You, git. I can’t even leave you for a few days without you ending up in hospital,” Ron said irritably.

“Yeah, I did it just to irritate you, Ron,” Harry said, rolling his eyes.

“Well don’t do it again,” Ron said hotly.

Harry stared at him incredulously while Hermione and Ginny began to snicker. The four friends sat together well into the evening. Although Ginny would never admit it out loud, it was good to have Ron home.



#freeBrady 

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Chapter 13: Setbacks

Author's Notes: That scene in Deathly Hallows where Harry fights with Lupin always stayed with me. I was really annoyed with Ron and Hermione at the time. They both grew up with strong, loving families, and I sometimes, I think they just canít fully appreciate what Harryís life was like. Anyway, that scene bugs me.

Everyone seems to really miss Mrs. Weasley. I just felt that I highlighted her a lot in my past stories, and I thought Mr. Weasley deserved some attention. Iím well ahead of you in the writing, but I promise Iíll add more of Molly in at a later point.

Shout out to all those who caught my Quidditch Commissioner reference. Since vindication was received in football, Iíve decided not to give the Quidditch Commissioner to the Dementors (as Iíd planned had it gone the other way!) Instead, Iíll use Sherylynís suggestion and just have him share a cell with Umbridge. You decide which is worse!


Chapter Thirteen
Setbacks



The next several days passed quietly at The Burrow as George spent more and more time at his shop readying it for the Grand Reopening. Alicia Spinnet had been spending time there as well, decorating the shelves. Ginny thought it looked really good and more… polished, somehow. She suspected Alicia had purposely tried to make it a bit different for George’s sake.

Hermione had been quiet and withdrawn since her return, but as she spent more and more time at the Ministry going over her testimony, Ginny could see traces of the girl she knew re-emerging. Hermione never did anything half-way.

Ron tried to divide his time between the Ministry and assisting George while keeping a vigilant eye on Harry. Ginny could see that Harry was beginning to chafe under Ron’s frantic need to know where he was at all times. But she also suspected Harry knew it was how Ron was coping with the war so he gritted his teeth and bore it.

Both Percy and Charlie continued to help George, as well, but Ginny could see that Charlie was beginning to feel the pull of his dragons. He’d taken a leave after Fred’s death, but she didn’t think he’d be there with them all much longer. She tried not to think about it too much.

Even Bill and Fleur hadn’t been visiting as much. Both had returned to work at Gringotts, although Bill seemed to spend a lot of time with the Minister. Ginny knew they’d been friendly during the war, but she wondered if Bill was now acting as a liaison between the goblins and the Ministry.

As had happened in the first few days after the war, she and Harry hadn’t found a lot of time to be alone. Either Ron or Hermione were always around, and as more time passed, Ginny feared Harry was less and less likely to discuss what was troubling him. Ginny really wanted to talk with Hermione about it, but since Hermione was going through so much of her own trauma at the moment, Ginny didn’t want to add to her burden.

She was planning on going with Hermione today to the older girl’s house. They were going to start packing up some of Hermione’s parents’ things, and Ginny didn’t think Hermione should be alone. Ron had to go to the Ministry, and Harry was going over to Grimmauld Place. It was the first time since Kingsley had given him the all-clear. Ron planned to meet him over there after finishing at the Ministry.

Ginny entered the crowded kitchen and poured herself a bowl of cereal. Rain spattered against the window in a steady rhythm, coming down so hard it was impossible to see outside. Sitting at the table, Percy wore his Ministry robes, ready to head into his office, and Ron nicked sausage links from his plate every time Percy turned to talk to Charlie or Harry. She knew Harry saw what Ron was doing, and he was having trouble containing his sniggers.

“Where is your mum this morning?” Hermione asked, watching Ron dubiously.

“She went over to visit Andromeda Tonks,” Ginny replied.

Harry looked up sharply. “She did? I didn’t know she was doing that.”

Ginny nodded. “Mrs. Tonks has invited her several times, but this is the first time Mum accepted.”

“That will be good for her,” Percy replied. “She needs to get out of this house a bit more.”

The kitchen door opened, and a sopping-wet George stumbled in, appearing very rumpled and disoriented. His eyes were bloodshot, and he cringed as the door slammed behind him.

“Morning, George,” Charlie said, clearly amused. “My, you must have been up and out early this morning.”

George slumped into a chair beside Harry, staring blankly at the coffee. Harry poured him a cup and placed it in front of him while Hermione uttered a quick drying spell.

“Are you just getting in?” Ginny asked, scandalized. She couldn’t believe her mum would have gone out if she’d known George hadn’t come home last night. Perhaps normalcy wasn’t as close as she thought.

“So?” George replied belligerently.

“So you could have at least let someone know you’d be out,” Ginny snapped, slightly horrified to realize how much she sounded like her mum.

“Sod off, Ginny,” George grumbled.

Ginny’s eyes widened in surprise. She and George usually got on best amongst her siblings, and she was stung by his tone.

“Easy, George,” Harry said, his eyes flashing. “She’s only worried about you.”

George looked as if he were about to say something harsh, but apparently rethought it. He shrugged his shoulders instead. “Sorry, Ginny.”

“Where have you been?” Percy asked, his face pinched in disapproval.

“Out with a friend. It got late, I stayed over, all right? It’s no big deal,” George said sullenly.

“We’re concerned that something could’ve happened to you, and we wouldn’t have known,” Percy said, frowning.

“The worst thing that could ever possibly happen to me already did, so what are you on about?” George snarled, causing an uncomfortable silence to descend upon the kitchen. The pounding of the rain against the roof echoed through the house.

“What happened to upset you, George?” Ginny finally asked.

George scowled. “Alicia keeps messing with the shop. It doesn’t even look right anymore.”

“I thought it looked rather nice,” Ginny said.

“And yesterday I worked on a new invention, and it worked,” George continued as if Ginny hadn’t spoken.

“Why would that upset you?” Ron asked.

“It’s a new addition to the Skiving Snack boxes, Rash-Giving Radishes. They cause you to break out in hives for about twenty minutes. Fred and I could never get them to work right, but I managed it yesterday.”

From the corner of her eye, Ginny saw Harry wince.

“So…. that’s good, isn’t it?” Ron asked, clearly confused.

“Oh, it’s great if you want to move on, but I don’t. This was our shop. Ours! Not mine; ours. There shouldn’t be any products that didn’t come from both of us,” George roared.

“But, the shop needs to go on to keep Fred’s memory alive,” Percy said quietly.

“Don’t you talk to me about Fred’s memory,” George said, rising to his feet and clenching his fists. “Don’t you, of all people, talk to me about remembering Fred. You weren’t even here. You never approved of any of our products. You thought our business was just a stupid phase that would pass.”

Percy visibly swallowed, looking miserable. “I’d give anything to change that, George, but I can’t. There are a lot of things I can’t change.”

“There’s a lot of things none of us can change. It never should’ve happened. It should have been you,” George shouted hoarsely.

“I know!” Percy shouted back, causing the rest of the room’s occupants to inhale sharply.

Ginny felt chills running up her arms, and her breath caught in her throat.

“Don’t you think I know you all think that? Don’t you think I’ve thought it myself?” Percy asked, his voice breaking.

“Percy, no,” Hermione said tearfully.

“I’ve got to go to work,” Percy said, standing quickly and rushing out the door. He Disapparated before anyone had the presence of mind to stop him.

George stared at the empty door, thunderstruck, before silently turning on his heel and rushing upstairs to his bedroom.

Ginny felt sick to her stomach. The worst part of all was knowing that the same awful, miserable, ugly thought had briefly crossed her own mind after Fred’s death. Looking at the tortured expressions on both Ron and Charlies’ faces, she knew she wasn’t the only one who’d felt it.

She didn’t mean it. It wasn’t true. She’d never trade one brother for another. Fred and Percy were very different, and she loved them differently, but she did love them both. She couldn’t stand to think how miserable Percy must feel. A sob rose in her throat as her breath hitched, and her head fell into her hands.

Harry’s arm instantly wrapped around her, pulling her to his side. She buried her face in his shoulder. His wonderful, woodsy smell didn’t comfort her this time, and she began to cry.

She could hear Hermione crying, too. “Oh, this is awful,” Hermione sniffed. “What are we going to do? Someone needs to go after him.”

Ginny wasn’t even certain to which “him” she was referring.

“We need to let them both cool off a bit,” Charlie said, sounding rather stunned. “I don’t know what possessed George to say that. I thought he was doing better.”

“Sometimes it just hits you,” Harry said quietly, pulling Ginny closer.

“I don’t think that,” Ginny said, struggling to regain her composure. “I don’t wish it was Percy instead of Fred. I wish it wasn’t either of them.”

“I know,” Harry soothed.

“But we’ve all thought it,” Ron said dully.

“Ron!” Hermione cried.

“What? Don’t deny it. The thought has crossed all our minds, even if we don’t really mean it. The guilt kills me for thinking it, but I’m not going to deny that I did. And you can’t either,” Ron said, glaring at Charlie.

Charlie looked down at the table. “It’s just that Fred had been here all along, standing with us when Percy deserted us.”

“But he came back,” Ginny said, her voice muffled against Harry’s shirt. “He came back when we needed him most.”

“I know. We all know that, Ginny,” Charlie said. “We just have to work harder at making sure Percy knows that.”

“George must be tearing himself up, too. I know I felt guilty for thinking it, but even I didn’t come out and say it,” Ron said.

“George just needs to know you understand and won’t hold it against him. I think Percy is in rougher shape,” Harry said, his voice very low.

Harry had been through all the grieving emotions while suffering from his losses, and she knew guilt was a familiar burden. She gently kissed him on the cheek, trying to let him know that they were here for him, too.

“So what do we do?” Charlie asked, staring at Harry hopefully.

Harry shrugged. “Just be there even if you don’t think they want you there. Try to include Percy more. I think he still feels as though he doesn’t quite fit.”

“Yeah… well—”

“Ron!” Hermione hissed.

“What? Pretending doesn’t change anything. We all know it. It doesn’t mean he can’t ever fit. The war changed him. It changed all of us. We just need to find a new way of fitting,” Ron said, struggling for words.

“Exactly,” Harry replied earnestly.

“I’m going to swing by the Ministry and check on Percy,” Charlie said.

“I’ll go check on George,” Ginny replied, untangling herself from Harry’s embrace.

“I’m really glad Mum didn’t see that,” Ron said.

They all nodded fervently before finishing their breakfast in silence, all lost in their own tortured thoughts.

*****

Bone-weary, Harry collapsed on a dilapidated old sofa in the drawing room of Grimmauld Place, causing a cloud of dust to rise around him. After the intense row at The Burrow that morning, and a full day spent scrubbing the kitchen here at number twelve, Harry felt both physically and emotionally drained.

Ron was supposed to join him when he was finished at the Ministry, but he’d never stopped by. Harry assumed that perhaps he’d met up with Percy, since everyone was feeling particularly raw about the blow up that morning.

He hated seeing the Weasley family so strained. They were the best family he’d ever known, and he didn’t want to see them hurt. Harry knew that Mr. Weasley, in particular, had spent a lot of his time checking up on him and ensuring he was all right. He didn’t have to do it, but Harry had appreciated the fact that he did. Now Harry was worried that perhaps Mr. Weasley had missed some strain amongst his own sons while he was worrying about Harry.

He hoped not. He’d never meant to come between any of them.

He couldn’t help but remember that awful vision that had emerged from the locket to torment Ron. It had told him that Ron’s mum liked Harry more than her own son. It was ridiculous, of course, but it concerned Harry that Ron worried about it. Ron had shared his family with Harry from the moment they’d first met, and Harry had never meant to take advantage of that.

Now he was worried that some of Ron’s brothers might feel the same. Harry wasn’t certain what he should do about it.

The old sofa he was lying on really was disgusting, but Harry didn’t particularly care at the moment. He just wanted a place to rest his weary muscles and shut his eyes for a minute, hopefully quieting some of the many worries racing around in his brain. His eyes drifted shut almost against his will.

He wasn’t certain how long he’d been there when his eyes popped open, startled by an insistent scratching sound at the front door. Grasping his wand, he sat up on the musty couch and glanced around the room warily. He must have dozed off after all.

“Ron,” he called, but was met with silence.

The scratching sound happened again, and it was coming from the doorway. Reminding himself that Voldemort was dead and buried and there was no reason to be so tense, he tiptoed stealthily along the floor, whipping the door open and brandishing his wand in front of him.

There was no one there.

“Hiya, Harry,” a voice giggled at his feet.

Harry looked down to find George Weasley sprawled on the front steps, one eye squinting up at Harry’s legs. Harry could see right into the hole on the side of George’s head where his ear had once been.

“What are you doing, George?” Harry asked, feeling his heart rate begin to slow.

“Visitin’. Don’t you have friends who come t’call?” George asked, clumsily pulling himself to his feet. “If you’re gonna live here, folks’ll come.”

Harry had to grab George’s arm to haul him upright and drag him inside. The smell of George’s breath nearly knocked him over.

“You’ve been drinking,” Harry said, grimacing as he tried to hold his head away from George’s face.

“‘Course I have. I’m enjoying life — thas what I’m s’pose to do. Everyone keeps telling me. I need to aks you a question,” George said, lurching into the drawing room and bumping into the sofa rather than sitting on it.

“Oh? And what’s that?” Harry asked, sitting down next to George. He couldn’t help but be amused by George’s wide-eyed sincerity.

“You’ve been dead, right?”

Harry’s breath caught in his throat and his body stiffened. Images of a sickly green flash of light zooming toward him filled his mind, leaving him gasping. His hands shook and his breath caught in his throat as he felt his own color drain. The room appeared to darken and elongate, as if he was looking at it from a stretching distance. He had to grip the arm of the sofa to hold the world steady.

George completely missed Harry’s reaction. “I’m wondering how it works, see. Are you jus’ aware of what everyone you knew is doing, or d’you follow ‘em around like a ghost — only a ghost we can’t see? Sometimes, I feel like Fred is right there, egging me on with a new ‘vention, right? But when I was with this witch last night — Lola — oh, Harry, you should have seen Lola. She taught me a thing or two — an’ I thought I knew a lot.

“Anyway, she got all shirty with me when I told her about the laugh Fred was prolly having over what we did on the stairs. She didn’t find it funny — thought it was kind of sick, actually. Now I’m worried Fred’s gone all pervy in his deadness.

“What d’you think?” George asked, his eyes boring into Harry intently.

Harry stared back, flabbergasted.

“Yeah, you’re probably right,” George said, sighing in relief. He’d somehow found comfort in Harry’s amazed stare. “There are plenty of dead birds Fred’s prolly putting his own moves on. He had some great moves — worked on the ladies every time.”

He slumped down further on the couch, shoulders sagging. “I miss Fred,” he sighed.

George’s delight was descending into melancholy, and Harry felt himself caught up in that same whirlpool of emotion, drifting ever closer to the drain right along with the twin-who-lived.

“I miss him, too, George,” Harry whispered.

“Yeah. I know you do. See, that’s what I like about you, Harrikins. You understand about this dead stuff.”

He suddenly pulled a bottle of fire whisky from the pocket of his jacket.

“Hey, look what I’ve got. Accio glasses,” he said before Harry could stop him.

Two dusty but unbroken glasses shot up from the kitchen stairs, and Harry had to duck to avoid being hit. They landed harmlessly on the sofa. George filled both glasses to the brim, spilling a generous amount onto the floor below.

“To Fred,” he said solemnly.

“To Fred,” Harry said, sighing.

“And all the dead birds he’s trying to get a leg over.”

Harry sniggered; George snorted, and they each finished their drink. Eyes streaming, Harry began to cough, forgetting how much the fire whiskey burned going down. He’d only had it that one time at The Burrow after fleeing Privet Drive. George quickly refilled their glasses while Harry caught his breath.

“To Colin Creevey, who also left a brother behind,” George said.

“To Colin,” Harry replied, beginning to feel rather morose himself. He took a drink and raised the glass again, “And to Professor Lupin, who was kinda like my dad’s brother.”

“To Professor Lupin,” George agreed. “He was the bess D’fense teacher we ever had. We should toast him twice.”

“Okay,” Harry agreed readily. The first drink had made him comfortably warm inside, and this third one was going down without a problem at all.

Harry hadn’t really intended for it to happen, but it had felt so good to just let go. He and George toasted Fred and everyone else they’d lost — plus a few of the survivors. Harry discovered that the more he drank, the more the constant pressure on his chest seemed to ease. Each time the bottle began to run low, George simply tapped it with his wand, and it refilled.

“I don’t really want Percy t’die,” George said, his nose quite red. Somehow, the two of them had slipped off the sofa and now sat on the floor in front of it, their legs sprawled in front of them. They kept kicking the other’s foot at each new thought.

“I know. Perty… Perry… Perce… Him, y’know. He doesn’t wanna be dead either,” Harry slurred. “He’s sorry. He wants t’take it back, but he can’t. None of us can.”

“I wish I told him. Told him he was the best twin I ever had,” George said, wistfully.

Harry nodded. “He was the best twin I ever had, too,” Harry said, letting his head drop back onto the sofa. He knew something sounded wrong, but he couldn’t work out what it was.

“Yeah,” George said, clinking his glass against Harry’s. “I wish Fred was here. He’d know how ta fix it with Percy.”

Harry couldn’t seem to lift his head from the couch, so he just let it stay there while George refilled their glasses. He didn’t want to feel sad anymore. He wanted to forget.

*****

Ron finally left the Ministry much later than he’d intended, and Apparated to Grimmauld Place. He’d spent the day with the Minister and Gawain Robards, his future boss, which Ron found rather intimidating. Harry had given them most of the details, so Ron simply had to confirm what he knew.

He’d also met with his father and Percy for a late lunch. After the row that morning, the lunch started very strained. Dad, in that serene way he had, managed to loosen both him and Percy up, and they’d actually had a nice time.

Ron felt tired now and concerned that he’d left Harry on his own for so long. He was supposed to meet him here hours ago to work on fixing up the place. The idea of moving out and living on his own had really grown on Ron. After living on his own for a year during the Horcrux hunt, he was beginning to find the restrictions of The Burrow and his mother’s hovering too constricting.

Not that he wasn’t happy to see his mother emerging from her depression. He was, but he needed some space of his own, as well. He realized he was being hypocritical since he knew that he was driving Harry spare with his own hovering, but that was different. Harry had actually died. He got hurt as soon as Ron had left for Australia. Harry needed someone to keep an eye on him. Ron didn’t.

He pushed open the door to Grimmauld Place. All the Weasleys had been granted access when Bill and Harry had reset the wards, but he stopped short when he was met with the sound of singing.

Loud, intoxicated singing of the Hogwarts School Song.

“Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts…”

Bemused, Ron followed the sound of the voices, definitely recognizing them as belonging to Harry and George. He found them sprawled on the floor in the sitting room, a bottle of fire whiskey between them, and the two of them pissed out of their minds. For George, this had been a fairly frequent occurrence recently, but Ron had never seen Harry in this condition.

Harry’s eyes were watery, and his lids drooped heavily over them. His face was flushed, and he was impossibly slurring his words. George’s condition wasn’t much better.

“What the bloody hell is going on in here?” Ron demanded, causing the other two to flail wildly. Harry dropped his glass, spilling the amber liquid all over his jeans. He didn’t even appear to notice.

“Ron!” Harry said, a delighted grin spreading across his face. “George came t’call.”

“I can see that,” Ron said, slowing moving towards the pair. He picked up Harry’s glass and moved it away from him.

“Want some fire whiskey?” George asked, enunciating each word carefully.

“I think you two have had enough,” Ron said, exasperated.

“Nah,” George said. “I brought some over, and Harry joined me.”

“He needed toknowaboutbeingdead,” Harry slurred.

“What?” Ron roared.

“I had some questions ‘bout bein’ dead, and Harry cleared them up,” George said as if it was the most natural thing in the world.

Harry began to giggle helplessly. “I missed you, Ron,” he said, staring backwards up at Ron.

Ron gaped.

“How can he be this much drunker than you if you were already drunk when you got here?” he asked George incredulously.

“He’s a skinny little bloke,” George said before moving to take another sip of his drink.

Ron brandished his wand and Vanished both the bottle and the glasses.

“Wha’d ya do that for?” George demanded irritably.

“I’m all wet,” Harry said, apparently finally noticing his spilled drink. “Did I piss myself?”

George began laughing uncontrollably.

Ron felt a headache building. He couldn’t handle this alone. He needed reinforcements. He conjured a Patronus and sent it off with a message to Hermione.

“Nice job, Ron,” Harry said happily as he watched Ron’s terrier trot from the room. He began to tilt sideways, and George had to push him back upright.

“We should play Quidditch,” George said. “Imagine Harry trying to stay on his broom!”

“No Quidditch,” Ron said firmly before Harry could agree. He’d seen the spark in his friend’s glassy eyes.

“D’you know the Quidditch Commissioner’s a Death Eater?” Harry asked suddenly.

“What?” Ron asked, derailed.

“Yeah. Robards tole me,” Harry said.

“I knew that bloke was shady. I never liked him,” Ron said.

“Me, either,” George said too loudly.

Ron heard the front door opening, and he shouted, “We’re in the sitting room.”

He heard footsteps approaching before Hermione and Ginny poked their heads through the door. Hermione studied the scene in front of her carefully, while Ginny’s eyes widened in surprise.

“Hiya!” Harry greeted before dissolving into giggles.

Both girls stared at Ron, stunned.

“At least he’s a happy drunk,” Ron said, shrugging.

“What happened?” Hermione asked, apparently unable to drag her eyes away from this extremely cheerful Harry.

“George happened,” Ron said dryly.

“Hey, Gin Gin,” George slurred. “I got your boyfriend pissed.”

“I can see that,” Ginny said, unable to suppress a giggle. “Any particular reason?”

“I needed to know about being dead,” George said.

Both Ginny and Hermione’s smiles faded.

“You what?” Ginny asked.

“I was worried about what Fred was doing, but Harry said he’s doing fine. He’s watching over me, so we’ll be okay,” George said.

Harry nodded enthusiastically.

“We toasted him,” George said, searching for his missing glass. “We toasted everyone who fought.”

“We toasted Lupin twice,” Harry said.

“Lupin told me he was proud of you when we were doing PotterWatch,” George said, staring at Harry intently.

Harry attempted to widen his drooping eyes. “He did?”

“Uh-huh. He said you kicked his arse and made him see sense when he needed it. Called you his hero,” George said, lost in thought. The two of them conversed as if they’d forgotten Ron and girls were there.

Harry visibly choked up as his eyes filled. Ron panicked that Harry was going to cry, and he stared helplessly at Hermione and Ginny. Harry would never forgive him if Ron let him cry in this condition.

“Okay, George,” Ron said nervously.

“We need to get you both home,” Hermione said, and Ron could’ve kissed her.

Harry and George continued their conversation as if there’d been no interruption.

“Ron ‘n Hermione didn’t like when I shouted at him. Thought I was wrong,” Harry said dejectedly.

George shook his head. “Lupin said he regretted jinxing you more than anything he’d ever done, and he hoped you forgave him. Said he’d never forgive himself for treating you like your damn relatives did.”

“Nah,” Harry said dismissively, waving his hand in the air. “Lupin could never be that bad.”

Ron heard Ginny inhale sharply. Harry rarely talked about life with the Dursleys, and Ron knew he wouldn’t want to now.

“Then after we toasted, Harry pissed himself,” George said triumphantly.

Harry nodded as if the story was complete.

“He did not,” Ron snapped watching the girls’ incredulous expressions. “He spilled his drink all over his leg.”

“M’tired,” Harry said suddenly, sliding down and resting his head back on the sofa.

“Oh, Harry. Come on, at least sit up on the couch,” Ginny said, tugging on his arm and trying to get him to move onto the sofa.

“We can’t leave him here,” Hermione said shrilly. “I don’t think it’s safe to leave him here all night.”

“Well, we can’t bring him home like this, either. Mum has been missing a lot, but there is no way she can miss this,” Ron replied.

“How ‘bout my flat?” George said. “Thass where I slept lass night.”

“That’s a good idea. I’ll stay with them,” Ron said.

Hermione frowned, obviously not thrilled with the idea.

“It’s a better choice than here,” Ron insisted.

“Ron, you Side-Along George, and Hermione can take Harry. I’ll meet you there by Floo,” Ginny said.

A moment later, all five appeared in George’s flat.

“M’going to bed,” George said, stumbling into his own room.

Hermione hovered a now passed-out Harry into Fred’s old room. When she returned, she, Ginny and Ron all slumped onto various chairs in George’s sitting area.

“I’ll just kip on the couch,” Ron said, feeling incredibly drained.

“I put a bucket next to Harry’s bed. You might want to do the same for George. Neither of them are going to have a pleasant morning,” Hermione said. “Whatever possessed him to drink that much?”

“George,” Ginny said simply.

“I reckon George was upset about the row with Percy this morning,” Ron said uncomfortably.

They all paused, considering that thought.

“What were they talking about with Lupin?” Ginny finally asked. “Was that when he tracked you down at Grimmauld Place?”

“Yes,” Hermione said, launching into the story of everything that happened when Lupin had wanted to join them on the Horcrux hunt.

Ginny looked horrified. “And you didn’t realize why that would upset Harry?” she demanded.

“I know,” Hermione said weakly. “I felt dreadful when I remembered what he’d said, but it was so tense at the time.”

“What who said?” Ginny asked.

“Harry. He said, ‘Parents shouldn’t leave their kids unless they have to.’ It was after everything had settled down that I really thought about it,” Hermione said, sniffling.

Ron shifted uncomfortably. Apparently Hermione had given this a lot more thought than he had. He had thought Harry was bang out of line.

“How could it have not have occurred to you how many parental figures he’d already lost?” Ginny demanded harshly.

Oh. Damn.

“I know,” Hermione wailed. “I told you, it was very tense and emotional at the time. We were all on edge. Sometimes I think I took my parents for granted.”

Oh, no. Ginny wasn’t going to drag Hermione down again.

“Neither of us caught on, Hermione, but that’s over and done with now. We can’t undo the past,” he said firmly.

Hermione stared up at him, her watery eyes shining, but she smiled. “Come on, Ginny. We should get back before your parents begin to wonder why everyone is missing.”

“I’d rather stay,” Ginny said, staring worriedly at Harry’s closed door.

“So would I, but Ron can handle this,” Hermione said firmly.

Ron’s chest swelled and he felt as if he’d grown taller as he stood there. Yes, he could handle this.

Back to index


Chapter 14: Unraveled

Author's Notes: Iím eager to hear your thoughts. This particular scene of Harry reaching his breaking point was the first one that came to me. The rest of the story has been written around it. I think I needed a drink once it was finally finished.

Thanks, as always, to my extraordinary beta, Sherylyn, whose tireless patience is really appreciated. Give a shout-out to Sherylyn for getting this ready every week.



Chapter Fourteen
Unraveled



*Warning — strong language ahead.

Harry slowly drifted back to consciousness, feeling wretched. For some reason, his eyelids were stuck together and didn’t want to open. He finally pried them apart before quickly slamming them shut again. The room was unbearably bright. Harry felt as if a herd of hippogriffs were stampeding through his skull.

What the hell happened?

Everything was a blur. He remembered being at Grimmauld Place when George arrived unexpectedly.

George.

The way Harry felt was entirely George Weasley’s fault. As soon as Harry could stand, he was going to find George and put him under the Cruciatus Curse. Then he was going to Hex him. And then put him under the Cruciatus again.

Harry groaned, then winced when it made his head pound in double time. His stomach roiled as he tentatively pulled himself to a sitting position. He took several deep breaths trying to settle it. Blearily, he looked around the unfamiliar bedroom. He had no idea where he was.

Harry leaned over the bed, holding his head in his hands and trying to piece together how he got wherever he was. It proved too much for his unsteady stomach. His head began to spin, and a lump formed in his throat. He couldn’t force it down.

Panicking due to the fact he didn’t know where the loo was, he sprinted from the bedroom into a larger, brighter living space. He had trouble getting his legs to cooperate, as he made an ungainly dash towards a door off the main room. He pulled it open, barely making it to the toilet before the entire contents of his stomach were expelled.

His eyes watered as he retched several more times. It took a moment before he realized someone was lightly rubbing his back.

“Come on, mate. Let’s get you out of here,” Ron said. He pulled Harry to his feet and slowly assisted him back to the bedroom.

Harry sank wearily onto the bed. “Where am I?” he asked. His head throbbed fit to burst.

“At the twi- er, George’s flat above the shop. You weren’t in any condition to show up back at The Burrow last night,” Ron said, sitting on the edge of the bed.

The movement caused Harry’s stomach to lurch again. “Is George here, too?” he mumbled, concentrating on breathing.

“Yeah, he’s in his room. Why?” Ron asked.

“Cuz I’m gonna kill him,” Harry said weakly.

Ron laughed. “I know there is some kind of hangover remedy you can brew, but I’ve never done it. Hang on, maybe George has some. I’ll be right back.”

Ron exited the room, and Harry was left watching it spin. He felt dreadful. He wasn’t certain he’d ever felt this ghastly in his entire life. He was vaguely alarmed that he couldn’t remember anything of what he might have said or done the night before, but he didn’t have the energy to be overly concerned. He had no idea how he’d found Ron along the way, either.

As he lay there staring at the unfamiliar room, it occurred to him that he hadn’t set a Silencing Charm before he slept. Come to think of it, he had no memories of any nightmares, either. Apparently the fire whiskey suppressed the dreams. He’d have to store that fact to examine later. He couldn’t think too heavily on anything at the moment. He hoped Ron had made a decent excuse to Ginny and Mrs. Weasley on why he hadn’t made it home.

When Ron returned, George was with him, looking marginally better than Harry felt. “What are you doing here?” Harry groaned.

George grinned, holding up a small flask of greenish liquid. Harry’s stomach turned at the sight.

“Ron tells me you’re in need of this. I made it myself,” George said.
Harry eyed the flask warily.

“Nothing can undo the effects completely, but this will at least let you feel human,” George said, handing it over.

Harry downed it quickly. For a moment he thought it would come back up, but then his stomach settled, and the ringing in his head diminished to a manageable pitch.

Harry nodded his thanks.

“Better?” Ron asked.

“Yeah,” Harry said, sitting up.

“Good enough for some breakfast?” Ron asked. “I’m starving.”

“Not that good, but I’ll take some coffee,” Harry said.

The three of them moved into the small kitchen that was part of the same room as the living area. The flat was basically one big room with the two bedrooms and the loo off of it. A small entry to the stairway down to the shop took up one corner. George and Harry both slumped into chairs while Ron poured some coffee. He poured himself a bowl of cereal from a container on the counter.

“Can I ask exactly how you two ended up so sloshed on the floor last night?” Ron asked, his eyes twinkling with amusement.

“Dunno,” Harry mumbled grumpily.

“It started by toasting Fred, then we just continued to toast,” George said, holding his head up with one hand.

George’s eyes were bloodshot, and his face was pale. Harry reckoned he didn’t look much better. He glared at George across the table.

“Don’t blame me,” George said. “I didn’t lift the glass for you. You did that all yourself, you Chosen Drunk.”

Ron snorted.

The fireplace roared green and Mr. Weasley stepped out, brushing the ash from his clothing. “Good morning, boys,” he said, smiling knowingly.

Harry shut his eyes. He did not want to be seen right now, especially by Mr. Weasley. For some reason, he feared the man would be disappointed, and that thought disturbed him. He shifted uncomfortably.

“Morning, Dad,” both Ron and George chorused, apparently unconcerned.

Mr. Weasley sat down at the table and poured himself some coffee. “Hermione and your sister told me you boys had a rather eventful evening,” he said.

Harry’s brow furrowed in confusion. “They were there?” he asked.

“Yes, they were there. I sent for them after I found the two of you,” Ron said, laughing. “You are going to get quite the lecture when we get back to The Burrow.”

Ron seemed entirely too cheerful about the idea. Harry scowled at him.

“Don’t look at me like it’s my fault,” Ron said. “You two didn’t even bother to wait for me.”

“Lucky you,” Harry said.

Mr. Weasley smiled faintly. “Well, boys, we all over-indulge on occasion. I’m concerned, George, that your occasions appear to be happening rather frequently,” he said pointedly.

Harry was immensely glad Mr. Weasley wasn’t looking at him the same way he was looking at George.

For his part, George stared at the table. “I know,” he mumbled. “I tell myself that every morning, just by the evening, it sometimes slips my mind.”

“Perhaps we should work on that together, then,” Mr. Weasley said mildly.

“Yes, Dad,” George said.

“Why don’t you go and get dressed, George. Ron, Harry, the girls are heading over to the Grangers’ again today, and they’d like for you to join them there,” Mr. Weasley said.

All Harry wanted to do was go back to bed. His face must have paled for Mr. Weasley said, “Perhaps after a bit more of a lie in, eh?”

Harry nodded gratefully.

“I’m going to go have a shower,” Ron said, leaving Harry at the table alone with Mr. Weasley.

The older man stared at him worriedly.

“I’m curious if this is the first time you’ve been truly hammered,” Mr. Weasley said, taking a sip of his coffee.

“Yes, sir. Last time, too,” Harry said miserably.

Mr. Weasley laughed. “I highly doubt that, but it’s a lesson in learning your limits. I enjoy a glass of fire whiskey myself on occasion. Any more than two, however, has its consequences.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said.

“It’s okay for a celebration or to let off steam with your mates, but you don’t want to learn to depend on it as a way to escape your troubles,” Mr. Weasley said.

Harry suspected Mr. Weasley somehow knew the alcohol had suppressed Harry’s nightmares. He looked up quickly.

“It’s a bandage, not a cure, son,” Mr. Weasley said.

“Yes, sir,” Harry whispered.

“I spoke to Kingsley yesterday,” Mr. Weasley said, changing the subject. “He asked me to let you know the Dursleys’ house has been swept, and it’s ready for their return. He said you could swing by and take a look before they do, if you’re so inclined.”

Harry nodded slowly. Did he want to go back to Privet Drive, even if the Dursleys wouldn’t be there? He didn’t think he did, but he supposed he should check it out just so Aunt Petunia wouldn’t take out any fault on whoever delivered her home.

Some of Harry’s feelings must have showed on his face, for Mr. Weasley said, “I’ve relayed the information, and I understand it’s your decision, but I hope you understand that you don’t have to go back. I’m certain the job the Ministry did was more than adequate. They were abusive, Harry. You don’t owe them anything.”

Harry’s eyes shot up, startled. He was surprised by the quiet anger in Mr. Weasley’s usually controlled voice.

“I wasn’t abused,” he scoffed, shocked Mr. Weasley would think so.

Mr. Weasley raised his eyebrows. “So, if Andromeda Tonks was to treat Teddy the way the Dursleys treated you, it would be okay, then?”

This upset Harry, and his stomach turned uncomfortably. Sure, they might have taken an occasional swing or denied him food for a few days, but he wasn’t abused.

The thought that Teddy was being treated that way bothered him greatly, however. Is that what Mr. Weasley suspected Andromeda was doing? His chest constricted tightly, making it difficult to breathe. Harry stumbled to his feet and lurched toward the door. Mr. Weasley followed, grasping Harry’s arm.

“Harry,” he said.

“Let me go. I need to check on Teddy,” Harry said desperately.

“Harry,” Mr. Weasley said more firmly. Harry forced himself to raise his eyes and meet the man’s intense gaze.

“I don’t think Andromeda is hurting Teddy in any way. I think she adores her grandson,” Mr. Weasley said. “But the fact you feel this concerned that she might treat him the way the Dursleys treated you must tell you something.”

Harry swallowed heavily. Mr. Weasley was just trying to confuse him. It was too much for his muddled mind to follow right now. He reached his fingers under his glasses to press against his eyes. He could feel his headache returning.

“The way they treated you was never okay,” Mr. Weasley said softly.

Harry nodded jerkily, unsure where to look. He was very tired and swayed on his feet slightly.

“Why don’t you go back and have a kip? I’ll have Ron wake you when he’s ready to go to the Grangers,” Mr. Weasley said kindly.

Harry nodded and, keeping his head down, walked back to the bedroom in which he slept, firmly closing the door behind him.

*****

Hermione and Ginny arrived at the Granger house right after lunch. They had spent a good deal of time here yesterday, packing up some of Hermione’s parents’ belongings. Hermione put everything in boxes that she planned to store in her little beaded handbag. She reckoned she could restore everything when she went back to visit later in the summer.

Cleaning the house was depressing, but she also found it cathartic. Hermione always enjoyed an organization project, and this is how she looked at it. Today she planned on sorting out her own bedroom. Most of her things were going into another box that she would store at Grimmauld Place until she decided what she was going to do.

“Pig’s here,” Ginny said, startling Hermione.

She looked up to see Ron’s small owl fluttering erratically outside the window. She walked over and lifted it up, allowing the excitable bit of fluff inside. Pig swooped around her head several times, apparently ecstatic to deliver his letter. Hermione quickly took it from Pig’s leg, glancing at the hastily scrawled note.

“Ron and Harry are back at The Burrow. Harry wanted to change his clothes before they came here,” Hermione said.

Ginny grinned ruefully. “I wonder how he’s feeling this morning.”

“Likely terrible, and it serves him right,” Hermione said, frowning. “He should know better than to let himself get so inebriated.”

“You sound like Percy,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes.

“I do not,” Hermione said, stung.

Ginny raised her eyebrows without speaking.

“Do I?” Hermione squeaked.

“Yeah, you do. It was probably George’s idea, but I think Harry needed to let loose. Didn’t you three drink at all while you were hunting Horcruxes?” Ginny asked.

Hermione shook her head. “We were more concerned with finding food than alcohol.”

“So has Harry never been pissed before?” Ginny asked.

“I don’t think any of us have. Why, have you?” Hermione asked curiously.

Ginny dodged the question. “Ron definitely has. He went out with the twi- with the twins once last summer before you arrived. They said it was his initiation.”

“He did? He didn’t tell me about that,” Hermione said thoughtfully.

“So you never have?” Ginny asked. “You’re of age in both the Wizarding and Muggle worlds.”

“Well, I did have too much wine when we were in Australia,” Hermione admitted, color flooding her cheeks.

Ginny noticed immediately. She grabbed Hermione by the hand and sat her on the bed, plopping down next to her. “Ooh! Do tell.”

“There’s not much to tell. For some reason, I became obsessed with hearing all the sordid details about Ron’s relationship with Lavender.”

Ginny stared at her nonplussed.

“Huh?”

Hermione cringed. “It was awful, and now I can’t get what I know out of my head. I was just so focused on the idea of deserving to know, that I never considered if I wanted to know.”

“What do you know?” Ginny asked, her eyes widening.

“Oh, not that,” Hermione squeaked. “They didn’t, but I know more information than I want to know, and it’s driving me mad.”

“Well, that’s clear as mud,” Ginny said. “I don’t think I’d want any details about what Harry did with Cho, though.”

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. There’s nothing to know. A soggy snog session about covers it,” Hermione snapped. “He’s probably more curious about you. Don’t tell him anything, though. It’s not a good feeling to know and compare.”

“There really isn’t much to tell aside from more snogging. Besides, we did a fair amount of snogging ourselves back at Hogwarts,” Ginny said wistfully.

Hermione smiled knowingly. “He missed you, too. He used to watch you on the Marauder’s Map, you know.”

Ginny paused, staring at her for a moment. “How do you mean?” she asked.

“When we were in the tent. He didn’t think we knew, but Ron and I both saw him following your little dot around. It was sweet in a sad sort of way,” Hermione said.

Ginny’s eyes filled, and she began to blink quickly.

“So what about you?” Hermione asked. “Don’t think I didn’t notice you dodging the question. Have you been pissed before?”

Ginny shrugged. “Yeah. Hogwarts was really hard last year. We’d smuggle in alcohol from the Hog’s Head, and it helped us escape for a little while.”

Hermione looked stricken. “I’m sorry, Ginny.”

“Don’t be. There’s nothing for it. We kept it away from the younger kids, but the rest of us imbibed when we could,” Ginny said.

The familiar sounds of Apparition interrupted them.

“We’re upstairs,” Hermione called.

Footsteps pounded up the stairs before Ron and Harry appeared in her doorway. Harry looked rather pale, but his eyes were clear.

“All right, Harry?” Ginny asked, grinning.

Harry blushed. “Been better,” he said.

Ginny moved toward him and pecked him on the cheek. Harry’s arm snaked around her waist, pulling her closer.

“So what are we doing?” Ron asked, looking around Hermione’s bedroom curiously.

Hermione suspected Ginny would appreciate a few minutes alone with Harry to discuss what had happened last night. She doubted Ron would catch on to that fact, however.

“Ginny, why don’t you and Harry go down and check the rooms we worked on yesterday. Just see that we didn’t miss anything. Ron, would you mind helping me in here?” Hermione asked.

Ron smiled happily. “Okay.”

Ginny grinned appreciatively at Hermione before taking Harry’s hand and leading him back downstairs.

“I want to put everything in this box, so just shrink the desk, the dresser, and the bed for me. I’ll do my bookcase,” Hermione said.

Ron nodded and set to work.

“How did everything go last night?” Hermione asked. “Did either of them give you any trouble?”

“Nah, both of them slept right through the night. Harry threw his guts up this morning, though,” Ron said.

“Did he?” Hermione asked, feeling guilty for thinking he deserved it earlier.

“Yeah, he was a mess before George gave him a Hangover Potion. Even I felt bad for him. Well, a little bit bad. Except for the puking, it was kind of funny,” Ron said, smirking. “He wanted to put George under the Cruciatus.”

Hermione giggled. “I bet he did. George had a Hangover Potion?”

“Yeah. He said he made it himself.”

“Hmm. I’m not surprised,” Hermione said tentatively. “I think George has been drinking a lot.”

“Dad said as much,” Ron replied easily.

“Your dad?” Hermione asked, startled.

“Uh-huh. He came over this morning to tell us that you and Ginny would be here. He called George out on how much he’s been drinking. George should heed the warning,” Ron said.

“Oh,” Hermione said, surprised. She hadn’t thought Mr. or Mrs. Weasley had noticed. She should have known better. Not much got past them.

“What else d’you want in here?” Ron asked, nodding toward the box.

“All that’s left is my clothes in the closet. Can you start putting them in the case, then shrink that, as well? I’m going to see how Harry and Ginny are coming along.”

“All right,” Ron said amiably.

Hermione hurried downstairs. She didn’t find the missing duo in either of the first two rooms she checked, but when she poked her head in the lounge, she found them fully engaged in a snogging session on the settee. Hermione quickly turned around, clearing her throat. Neither of them heard her the first time so she had to clear it again. She could feel the heat on her face.

“Sorry,” she said when she heard movement behind her.

“Hermione!” Ginny yelped. “Er… sorry. The rooms are all clear.”

“Ron and I are finished clearing my room, and I thought I’d start on my parents’. Can you two do the guest room? Same thing we did yesterday,” she asked, keeping her back to them.

“Okay,” Ginny replied, starting to giggle. “You can turn around, Hermione.”

Hermione slowly turned to face them, thankful to see that Harry’s face was even redder than her own felt.

The three of them headed back upstairs, Hermione glanced sadly at the family pictures on the wall.

“Are your parents going to start using their real names or continue going by Wilkins?” Ginny asked curiously.

“I don’t know,” Hermione said, stumped. “I never asked.”

“It must be strange for them. It’s as if they have two lives now. Another whole person living inside their head,” Ginny said. “That has to be so weird.”

Harry stumbled on the stairs, falling to his knees.

“Harry,” Ginny yelped, reaching for him.

Hermione noticed his hands were shaking badly. She glanced at his face and saw he’d lost all his color. His eyes were glassy as he stared ahead vacantly. He was having another one of those flashbacks.

“Harry,” Ginny said again, her voice panicking slightly.

Ron poked his head out of Hermione’s bedroom.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

Hermione didn’t answer him. Instead, she began snapping her fingers in front of Harry’s face while Ginny shook him roughly.

“Harry!” Ron said loudly once he’d caught on to what was happening. His voice jarred Harry out of it.

“What?” he asked weakly. He was sweating profusely, and Hermione could see his entire body trembling.

“Look, you’ve had a rough enough day as it is,” Hermione said gently. “Why don’t we go back to The Burrow and have a quiet afternoon? I can finish up here tomorrow.”

“Perhaps a nice game of Exploding Snap,” Ginny suggested.

Harry nodded numbly as the four trekked back downstairs.

*****

Ginny turned her head to and fro, absorbing the overwhelming sameness of all the Muggle houses surrounding her. She couldn’t believe Harry had grown up in a place as boring as this. They’d Apparated to the back garden of the house of his neighbor, Mrs. Figg, and were currently walking the short distance to Privet Drive.

While at Hermione’s house yesterday, Harry had told her he needed to check that the house was ready for the Dursleys’ return, and Ginny immediately volunteered to accompany him. Most of her family had been here last year when they’d collected Harry, but her mum had refused to allow her to come since she was underage. Ginny really hated being underage.

She hadn’t been able to decipher the emotion in Harry’s eyes when she said she wanted to come along. It was either gratitude or trepidation, perhaps a little of both. He hadn’t declined her offer, however, so here she was. Ron and Hermione had gone back to the Grangers’ house earlier in the day to finish up there, and they hadn’t returned before Harry had Side-Along Apparated her here.

He’d been extremely pensive for most of the afternoon. She wished he would open up to her, so she’d know what he was thinking. She settled for casting furtive glances his way every few steps. She noticed his hands had grown sweaty as they walked, and the tension radiated from him. She might not know much about the Muggles he’d lived with, but she did know that this wasn’t how going home was supposed to feel.

“All right, Harry?” she asked tentatively.

He nodded, his eyes darting as if looking for hidden threats. She imagined he was used to being on constant guard when he was here in summers past.

She didn’t think he was really all right, but she didn’t press. Her immense curiosity was keeping her mind fully occupied.

Mrs. Figg had been pleasant. She’d come outside to greet them and asked them to come in for tea, but Harry declined. Ginny noticed that one of the many cats in Mrs. Figg’s garden was still following them. She could see its tail dart in and out of the bushes every now and again.

When they reached a cross street, Harry turned right. She could see the words ‘Privet Drive’ painted on the sign. It looked identical to Magnolia Crescent. The late afternoon sun shone directly into Ginny’s eyes, and she was pleased when they stopped after only a short walk.

Harry stood on the pavement staring at the visage of number four. The house looked deserted, as she knew it was. The car in the driveway was gleaming as if it had just been shined. The garden looked a bit overgrown, but not outrageously so. She suspected the Ministry clean-up team had done some work outside the house, as well.

“Aunt Petunia won’t be happy,” Harry said at last, his voice very low.

“Why not?” Ginny asked, craning her neck to see what she missed.

“Gardening was always my job. There are too many weeds,” he replied.

“Well, they haven’t been here for a year. She can’t expect it to be immaculate,” Ginny said reasonably.

Harry snorted, but Ginny didn’t think it sounded like a happy snort. He was acting very peculiar. They walked up the front pavement and paused at the front door.

Harry took a deep breath as if steeling himself. “Kingsley said he’d leave the front door unlocked for me, but we have to remember to lock it when we leave,” Harry said. “Aunt Petunia will still have her keys.”

“Don’t you have a key?” Ginny asked.

“No,” Harry said shortly.

He turned the knob and pushed the front door open wide, allowing her to enter first. He closed the door behind them while Ginny took her first look around. The house was spotlessly clean for having been empty for a year. Ginny had trouble even detecting a dust mote in the waning sunshine streaming in the front windows. The furniture was stiff and formal and looked very uninviting. The walls were adorned with a vast number of photographs of a very large boy at various stages of life. Ginny assumed it was Harry’s cousin. The pictures didn’t move at all, and Ginny thought they made the large boy in the center appear stuffed. Harry wasn’t in a single photograph. There was no record of his childhood. It was as if he’d never lived here at all.

Harry only gave the room a cursory glance before moving ahead to the next room. As the door opened, Ginny glimpsed what she thought to be the kitchen. Frowning, she took one last look at the lounge before following him. The kitchen was a bright, gleaming white and just as spotless as the lounge before it. Ginny thought it looked disturbingly sterile.

“The Ministry certainly did a thorough job,” she said, uncertain why she was whispering.

“No, this is how it always is,” Harry said, turning and leaving the kitchen.

He walked all the way to the front door before turning to the left and bounding up the stairs two at a time. Ginny quickly followed in his wake. There were five doors on the landing, the first of which was covered in a series of locks and deadbolts and had an odd little opening on the bottom.

Harry walked by that door and began examining all the others one by one. Although fascinated by the preponderance of Muggle things, Ginny was more riveted by Harry’s behavior. He was angry. He didn’t say anything, but she could see it in his rigid posture, and the way he clenched his hands.

He was doing his utmost to contain an inner fury that seemed to be growing the longer they stayed.

Ginny knew he hadn’t been happy here. She knew the Muggles treated him poorly, but she’d honestly never known Harry to act like this, not even during the frequent outbursts of his fifth year. Everything about this place was just wrong, and Ginny felt her ire rising. It was a good thing the Muggles weren’t here, because Ginny really didn’t think she could refrain from Hexing them. Ministry be damned.

After Harry had checked all the other rooms, he brushed past her as he started down the stairs.

“Aren’t you going to check this one?” she asked, indicating the one with all the locks behind her. She was more than a little curious, and slightly fearful, to see what needed to be locked in so tightly.

Harry paused on the stairs, tensing. “It’s my room. I don’t care what they do to it,” he said tersely, never turning around. He quickly thundered down the stairs.

Ginny looked at the door, running her hands all over the locks. His room?

She stared for a moment, wondering how often he’d been locked inside. She felt her blood begin to boil. She turned the knob with some trepidation and pushed the door open. The room was tellingly barren. A dilapidated single bed was pushed in the corner next to a desk that appeared in only marginally better shape. An old wardrobe with one door hanging crookedly, and some shelves with an abundance of broken Muggle things took up the other wall.

Ginny had no idea why he kept so many broken things. Perhaps he enjoyed tinkering with them. That was what her father liked to do. The room had absolutely no trace of Harry in it except for one faded Gryffindor rosette hanging from a small cork board on the unbroken wardrobe door.

Ginny’s throat ached as she walked across the bare wood floor and pulled the rosette off the board. She tucked it in her pocket. It didn’t belong in this horrid Muggle room. Harry hadn’t, either.

A loud bang and the shattering of glass on the ground level startled her. She turned quickly as she heard the noise again, along with Harry’s voice swearing repeatedly. Ginny hurried down the stairs, wand drawn.

She found Harry in the entranceway chucking a variety of Muggle artefacts at the now broken door of a cupboard under the stairs. Ginny hadn’t even noticed the cupboard there on her first pass, but knew she would have if the door had been smashed that way. Harry grabbed whatever trinkets he could find off a small table in the corner of the entranceway, including several pictures of his heavy cousin, and continued to hurl them inside the cupboard. The floor was littered with debris from his rampage.

“Harry!” she shouted, startled, but he didn’t appear to hear her. He was lost in whatever was going on in his head.

When the table in the entry was empty, he picked it up as well and flung it at the cupboard door.

“Harry, stop,” Ginny yelled, alarmed to see that tears were rolling down his face. What on earth was happening to him?

Harry’s knees buckled as he crumpled to the ground, half inside the cupboard. He buried his face in his hands beneath his glasses as his shoulder began to shake.

Ginny hurried toward him, kneeling on top of all the smashed ceramic pieces and putting her arms around him. She’d known something inside him had been unravelling slowly since the battle. He’d been stoic through all the funerals, and she felt shocked that he’d finally come undone.

Harry gasped, struggling to control his tears. “I’m back to crying in the cupboard again,” he muttered with disgust, although Ginny didn’t think he was actually speaking to her. “Better not let the Dursleys see, or they’ll use it against me.”

Ginny felt helpless. “Is this where you’d like to hide?” she asked gently, desperately seeking a way to comfort him. Perhaps he’d sought refuge here as a child?

Harry began to laugh bitterly, and it sounded unhinged. It gave Ginny chills.

“I lived in this ruddy cupboard for ten years,” he said, his voice very tight. “Ten fucking years!”

Ginny’s heart stopped. She looked around the small, cramped space in disbelief. No. How could this be? Hadn’t anyone from the Wizarding world ever checked on him?

“They always used to call me a freak. I never realized how right they were,” Harry said, shuddering.

“You’re not a freak, Harry,” Ginny said indignantly, growing ever more furious with his relatives. It didn’t matter that they weren’t here; she’d hunt them down.

“I am! They were right. They were right all along, and I never knew,” he cried. “I never knew how right they were, but they must have sensed it right from the start.”

Harry’s shoulders shook as he wrapped his arms around himself, hanging his head in misery.

“Of course you’re not a freak, Harry. They never should have said any such thing,” Ginny said, trying to pull him back into her embrace. “Some terrible things have happened to you, but that makes you a survivor, not a freak.”

He refused to move. He was lost in himself somewhere.

“You don’t understand. You don’t know the whole story. I left that bit out. I left it out when I told Kingsley, too,” he gasped. “I don’t want it to be true.”

A chill ran up her spine, knowing this was the missing piece she’d been waiting for. Now she dreaded the answer, but instinctively knew he needed to get it out. “Left what out?” she asked warily.

“The other Horcrux,” he gasped, his voice somewhat muffled through his tears. “There was a seventh one. Voldemort didn’t even realize he’d made it.”

Ginny felt as if she was wading through muck and couldn’t see her way clear. “I’m not following you,” she said desperately.

Harry barked that unhinged laugh again, making Ginny’s skin crawl.

“I was following Dumbledore’s plan, but he didn’t tell me whole plan. He never told me the whole plan. I saw it in Snape’s memory,” Harry said brokenly.

“Saw what?” she asked, barely able to breathe.

Harry swallowed audibly. “When Voldemort killed my parents, his soul was already unstable. Another piece broke off when he killed my mother and attached itself to the only living thing left in that room. Me. It was me, Ginny. I was the Seventh Horcrux.”

Ginny felt as if she’d been struck in the gut.

“How can that be?” she asked, terrified.

“Professor Dumbledore knew I had to die all along,” Harry said, sounding incredibly vulnerable. “He also knew that if Voldemort was the one to kill me, there was a chance the blood we shared, blood he took in the graveyard, would tether me to him. He was right. I came back. I came back, but Dumbledore didn’t know it would work until it did.”

Ginny’s thoughts reeled. This is why Harry sacrificed himself before the snake was dead. This is why he entrusted Ron, Hermione and Neville to finish the job. There had been no choice. He had to die for Voldemort to be defeated.

He’d walked knowingly to his own death.

Oh, Harry.

Unaware of Ginny’s inner turmoil, Harry ploughed on with his story. For all his stalling, he appeared unable to stop now.

“He lived inside me since I was a year old. I don’t even know what part of me is wholly me. I can’t stand it. I feel tainted somehow. How much of me is me?” he moaned, brushing at his arms as if to get something off of him. “I keep wanting to have a shower to get rid of the stain, but it won’t clean away.”

“He didn’t taint you, Harry. He couldn’t. Remember how he couldn’t stand to be inside a mind filled with so much love when he possessed you at Ministry?” she asked. She knew she had to stop this train of thought right now before he let it consume him. She hoped it wasn’t already too late.

Harry shook his head. “You know how the locket affected us. I told you how it affected all of us. How can you be certain that piece of him that lived inside me hasn’t affected everything about me?” he asked desperately, tears flowing freely down his pale face. “People died, Ginny. They kept dying because of me, dying for me. I could never understand why. What if it was him? What if it was the piece of him in me making them somehow?”

“It wasn’t,” Ginny said firmly. She couldn’t let him keep going down this path. How could he not see how much he was loved?

“How do you know that?” he snarled, burrowing his head in his arms.

Ginny reached down, took him by the chin and forced him to look into her eyes.

“Because anyone who died for you died because they loved you. It was love, Harry, which is much stronger than hate. I would die for you now in an instant if it came to it, and he’s got nothing to do with it,” she said earnestly.

Harry flinched violently. “Don’t say that!” he shouted, nearly crazed. “I don’t want anyone else to die. I never did! How do you know it wasn’t him controlling me?”

“Because you’re stronger than him. You always have been,” Ginny said firmly, brushing away her own tears. “He fled from your mind in the Ministry. You beat him, Harry. Don’t let him win now. If he was controlling you, you never would’ve sacrificed yourself so the rest of us could live. Only a heart full of love could’ve done that.”

Harry’s sobbing slowed as he listened to her. He nodded slowly, leaning into her at last. She wrapped her arms around him tightly, resting her chin on top of his head.

“I don’t like this feeling,” he said, his voice very low. “I don’t know how to get rid of it. I just feel so… so… so—”

“Violated,” Ginny said quietly, understanding him completely.

He pulled his head back and stared at her, stunned. His lower lip trembled as he nodded slowly, appearing so vulnerable her heart ached.

“I know. I felt that way too, after the Chamber, and I only had him with me for a brief time. I didn’t know what was happening to me until after it was over. I don’t know if I could do what you did,” Ginny said, her insides cold at imagining his lonely walk into the forest.

“You already did,” Harry said suddenly, wiping his nose. “You threw the diary away. Then when you realized I had it, you took it back. You tried to save me at the expense of yourself.”

Ginny smiled tremulously. “See, that’s you. Despite all the turmoil you’re feeling right now, you just tried to make me feel better. That’s you, Harry. That’s always been you, and Tom had nothing to do with it,” she said firmly, taking him back in her arms.

Harry began to cry again, softly this time and not the desperate, all-consuming grief he’d started with. Somehow, Ginny suspected these were healing tears, and she just held on and let him cry. Her throat ached as her eyes roamed over the cramped, dusty cupboard. There were a few small, broken toys on one shelf tucked in the corner beneath some spider webs. The true, terrible misery of what had happened here pressed down upon her.

She felt rather stunned to look up through her own tears and realize Ron and Hermione were standing in the open front doorway. It was dark outside, and the streetlamps had come on. She wasn’t sure when they had arrived or how much they’d heard, but their pale faces and grief-stricken expressions let her know they’d been there for some of it.

It was okay, though. They all loved Harry, and she knew they’d all be there to help him heal. The more support he had, the better it would be. She’d need them to get Harry back to The Burrow. He wasn’t in any condition to Apparate. The mess on the floor would stay. Ginny wasn’t about to do anything for Harry’s Aunt Petunia.

She could start cleaning up her own messes.

She rocked Harry slowly as they sat on the floor of this miserable cupboard, letting him weep away some of the misery he’d carried for so desperately long.


Back to index


Chapter 15: Life Goes On

Author's Notes: The H/G scene written specially for Danielle, who always enjoys the romance.

Many thanks to all of you who took the time to review last chapter. I thought it fitting that Harry finally have his breakdown in that cupboard. One astute reviewer noted that at this point, Harry has spent more of his life IN that cupboard than out of it. That hurts!



Chapter Fifteen
Life Goes On



Ginny sat at the well-worn kitchen table of The Burrow with Ron and Hermione. Feeling drained, they were all nursing hot chocolates after their return from Privet Drive. Harry had been very subdued and had quickly gone up to bed, claiming fatigue. He was simply overwrought, and Ginny had suggested he use some of the Dreamless Sleep Potion the healer had given him. She hoped he had.

Ron looked pensive. He stirred his hot chocolate rapidly, causing most of it to spill over the sides. Hermione was pale, and she kept casting furtive glances at Ginny. Ginny knew the bright witch was holding back her questions, and she appreciated it. She didn’t know if she had the energy to talk anymore tonight.

Except there were a few things she had to know for certain.

“How much do you know about his life at the Dursleys?” Ginny asked bluntly.

Hermione narrowed her eyes. “Why?” she asked.

“Harry made a few comments that I found curious. What do you know about them?” she repeated, frowning.

“Well, they’re horrible. You’ve seen his uncle, and the way he talks to Harry. And we’ve had to send him extra food for years since they never fed him much,” Hermione said. “Sometimes I think he downplays how little food they gave him.”

“Have you been talking to Dad? Ron asked suddenly.

“Pardon?” Ginny asked.

“Did Dad ask you to talk about this with us?” Ron asked.

“No,” Ginny said slowly. “Why would you think that?”

Ron’s ears turned very red, and his brow furrowed as he stared at her. Ginny suspected he was trying to decide whether or not to share something with her, but she thought the indecision made him look rather constipated. Keeping her in the dark wasn’t helping Harry. Nothing they’d been doing was helping Harry.

After a moment, Ron seemed to come to a decision. He took a deep breath.

“I heard Dad talking to Harry yesterday at George’s flat,” he said. “He called the Dursleys abusive.”

“You didn’t tell me that,” Hermione said, slamming her cup onto the table in surprise. “How did Harry take it? He usually changes the subject.”

“That’s hard to do with Dad when he wants information,” Ginny said.

“Harry denied it immediately, but…” Ron shifted uncomfortably.

“But what?” Hermione asked.

“But when Dad asked if it was okay for Andromeda to treat Teddy the way the Dursleys treated him, Harry went dead silent. Then he tried to leave to check on Teddy,” Ron said.

“But… but… they were awful to him, but I don’t think he was abused. We couldn’t have missed that,” Hermione said worriedly. “Could we?”

“Abuse can be more than just physical,” Ginny said quietly.

“We did have to rescue him before second year, and they’d put bars on his window,” Ron said. “Besides, Harry has made numerous comments about ‘knowing when to duck,’ or about ‘staying out of his uncle’s reach’. He always made a joke out of it, though.”

“And the food,” Hermione said, her eyes filling. “It wasn’t normal that they denied him food. I always thought that.”

Ginny swallowed hard and took a deep breath. “What did he tell you about that cupboard where you found us?” Ginny asked.

Ron shrugged. “That’s where his relatives had locked his stuff when Fr— Fred, George and I rescued him,” Ron said. “George knew how to pick the lock to get it out.”

“He never said anything else?” Ginny asked.

“Why? What did he tell you, Ginny? What do you know?” Hermione asked sharply.

“He told me he used to live in that cupboard,” Ginny whispered. It literally hurt to think about it. “For ten years.”

“What?” Hermione shrieked.

“Shhhh,” both Ron and Ginny hissed together.

“Obviously, it was the Horcrux that’s been bothering him,” Ginny said. “But it was that cupboard that started his meltdown, and his bedroom had multiple locks on the door.”

“He has said they used to lock him up,” Ron said, his voice very low. “He was locked in there when we came in second year. We took him out the window.”

“I think you need to talk to your father, Ginny. He obviously knows something. Maybe the cupboard was it, or maybe there was more to it,” Hermione said worriedly.

Ginny nodded. “I suppose you’re right.”

“I’m glad he told you about the Horcrux. I don’t know why he was so hesitant. Obviously it was bothering him more than I realized. It’s gone now though,” Hermione said.
“It’s the fact it was there that bothers him,” Ginny said. “Everyone should be able to feel safe in their own skin, Hermione.”

“But—” Hermione broke off when the kitchen door opened, and Percy stuck his head inside.

He stopped short when he saw all of them huddled in conversation. His eyes darted to each before he turned to leave.

“Percy! It’s all right. Come join us. We’re having some hot chocolate,” Ginny offered.

She saw Ron glance at her curiously, but Ginny avoided his gaze. She knew Percy had been avoiding all of them since his blow up with George the other day. He left a room if there were more than two of them there. Ginny didn’t know how to make things better, but she knew he needed to feel as if he belonged. She might not want to discuss Harry with him, but they could discuss something else.

Percy hesitantly entered the kitchen and took a seat. Hermione poured him a steaming cup of the cocoa.

“Thanks,” he mumbled.

“Did you go into the Ministry today, Percy?” Ginny asked.

“I did,” he nodded. “There was something wonky going on. Lots of activity amongst the Aurors.”

“Any ideas?” Ron asked curiously.

Percy shook his head. “Er… I’m not exactly in the inner circle these days,” he said delicately.

An awkward silence fell across the table.

“Where is everyone tonight?” Ron asked, clearly the most uncomfortable.

“Mum and Dad went for dinner over at Bill’s. I don’t know about Charlie and George. How long have you lot been back?” Percy asked.

“Not long,” Ginny said. “Harry’s already gone up to bed. We wanted chocolate.”

Percy smiled fondly. “You always did have a thing for chocolate.”

Ginny felt her face flush remembering sneaking into Percy’s room to nick his Chocolate Frogs. “You knew it was me?”

“Of course I did,” he said.

“Knew what was you?” Ron asked.

“I used to steal his Chocolate Frogs whenever he left his door open,” Ginny said, grinning at her younger self.

“You used to accuse me of taking them,” Ron shouted.

“That was before I realized it was her,” Percy replied.

“So why didn’t you give her a hard time then?” Ron asked indignantly.

“She was cuter than you were,” Percy replied easily, causing Hermione to giggle.

“What’s so funny?” Ron asked, affronted.

“I never had siblings to steal from. I never really miss it except when I’m around you lot,” Hermione said, sounding a little sad. “It might have been fun.”

“Tell you what, Hermione. I have some Chocolate Frogs hidden in my top dresser drawer. You can nick them when I’m taking a shower tomorrow,” Percy said kindly.

Hermione grinned reluctantly while Ginny couldn’t contain a giggle.

“Hope you give her what for if she does,” Ron grumbled, causing both Hermione and Ginny to laugh. Even Percy joined in.

“Do you know what’s been happening at Hogwarts, Percy?” Hermione asked.

“I know there have been reconstruction crews out there continuously. They’re making some progress, but it’s slow. Professor McGonagall still wants Hogwarts to open on September first. They are going to continue the review sessions at the Ministry until the exams at the end of June. OWLs and NEWTs won’t be given until July, so the students in those years get some extra time. I saw your friend Neville there today.”

“How is Neville?” Ron asked.

“He looked good. Much better than the last time I saw him, anyway,” Percy said, his voice fading.

The last time any of them had seen Neville was at the Battle of Hogwarts. An awkward silence descended once again.

The kitchen door banged open, and a weary-looking Charlie came inside, stopping short at the sight of all them. “Did I miss an owl about a family meeting?” he asked.

“Just satisfying our chocolate cravings. Want some?” Ginny asked, holding up an extra mug.

Charlie nodded. He reached on top of one of the cupboards over the counter and pulled down a bottle of fire whiskey, adding a generous slosh to his cup of cocoa. He held up the bottle to the others. Ron grabbed it quickly.

“How did you know that was there?” he asked, adding some to his cup, although not as much as Charlie had.

Charlie shrugged. “Dad always keeps it there. You knew that, didn’t you, Perce?”

Percy nodded, adding a splash to his own mug.

“No one told me,” Ron shouted indignantly.

“And it’s too high for me to reach,” Ginny said, feeling put out. She took the bottle and added some to her own chocolate before any of them could say otherwise. She handed the bottle to Hermione who looked at it warily.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“Just use less than the wine,” Ron said with a smirk, and Ginny couldn’t control a giggle.

“It’s not like you’re even of age yet,” Percy replied to Ginny’s earlier complaint.

“Yeah, Ginny. Once you’re seventeen you can just hover it down. Then your height, or lack thereof, won’t matter,” Ron said, chuckling.

Ginny scowled. “It’s not like they told you, either,” she said snidely, causing Ron to frown.

“Where’s George? Didn’t he come back with you?” Percy asked.

“No. He’s staying at the shop tonight. A bunch of his friends showed up, and they’re all working on the place. He’s hoping to have his grand re-opening on June first,” Charlie replied.

“That soon? Really?” Hermione asked. She hesitated for a minute before adding, “How did he seem?”

“I think he’s doing better. The past couple days he’s been much more focused. I know Dad went to talk to him after he and Harry tied one on the other night. Whatever Dad said must have worked, because George appears to have his arse in line,” Charlie said.

“D’you know which friends stopped by to help him?” Ginny asked.

“His friend Lee, Alicia from the shop, and a couple other girls. One was tall, pretty girl. I think he called her Ang,” Charlie said. “Why?”

“Angelina and Katie,” Ron said.

Ginny nodded. “Good. They’ll help keep him in line. I know they’re all missing Fred, too, and he’d been avoiding them.”

“They were all on the Gryffindor Quidditch team together,” Hermione explained to Charlie.

“Where’s Harry? You should tell him to join them,” Charlie said.

“He’s already gone to bed,” Ginny said quickly.

“Besides, I don’t think he’s forgiven George for getting him pissed the other night,” Ron said, sniggering.

Percy raised his eyebrows.

“He’s hacked off, eh?” Charlie asked, grinning.

“Hacked off? He wanted to put him under the Cruciatus,” Ron said, laughing.

Ginny smiled, remembering how drunk Harry had been.

“Leave it to our brother to turn the Boy-Who-Lived into a Nutter,” Ron said.

All the Weasleys began to chuckle. Hermione, who had looked very disapproving, eventually joined in herself.

*****

Harry had taken a Dreamless Sleep Potion the previous evening, so he awoke slightly disoriented in the morning. The potion worked wonders, but it left him rather slow and sluggish upon awakening. Squinting, he looked over at the small clock on Ron’s dresser and was startled to see it read 10:00. He rarely enjoyed such a late lie in. Ron’s bed was already empty, and he was eternally grateful to be alone.

He knew Ron and Hermione had appeared on Privet Drive last night. He didn’t know when they’d arrived, or if Ginny had somehow contacted them for help getting him home. Parts of the evening were a blur. One thing he did know, however, was that he’d completely gone to pieces in front of Ginny.

He felt color suffusing his face, and he groaned as he pulled the covers back over his head, mortified. He wondered what she thought about that. Merlin, he’d told her about the cupboard, something he’d worked to conceal for his entire life. Mr. Weasley’s talk the other day had been playing in his mind, and when he stood staring at that dim little hole, he’d just lost it. At least he’d finally told Ginny the whole story about what went on during the battle. She knew about the Horcrux now, and she hadn’t been revolted. She’d been incredibly decent about the whole thing, actually.

He’d have to talk to her, but he didn’t want to face her — or anyone — just yet. He could almost feel Voldemort’s long, white fingers reaching out from the grave to try and suffocate him, but he wasn’t going to let it happen. The Horcrux was gone. Perhaps telling her about it had released him somehow. He felt as if he’d finally expelled some of the poison Voldemort had left behind.

He felt… lighter than he had in days. Well, except for the embarrassment.

He wished he could’ve explained it all without the crying. He hoped Ron and Hermione hadn’t been there for that, at least.

He really didn’t want to get out of bed. He rolled onto his side away from the door and shut his eyes, considering trying to fall back asleep for a while longer. He heard the door creak open and stayed still, hoping whoever it was would believe he was still asleep.

The soft tread of footsteps across the floor let him know someone was approaching, and he tried not to react. Ron’s bright orange walls glowed through his eyelids.

“Good morning, Harry,” Ginny said, sitting down on the camp bed beside him.

He should have known he couldn’t fool her.

Reluctantly rolling over, he looked up to face her. “Morning.”

“Are you planning on coming down, or are you going to hide up here all day?” she asked gently.

“I’m not hiding,” he mumbled.

Ginny smiled sadly and brushed a stray lock of hair off his forehead. “Okay.”

He looked up and caught her eye, relieved to find acceptance there. “Sorry,” he said softly.

Ginny continued to play with his hair. He found it soothing, and he leaned his head into her fingers.

“What are you sorry about?” she asked.

He shrugged. “You know. Yesterday. I didn’t mean for it all to come out that way. I know I should’ve told you… it was just hard.”

“I can believe that, but I’m glad you told me. It’s too much to keep all bottled up. We need to work on that,” she said, nudging his shoulder.

Harry smiled faintly. “How much did Ron and Hermione hear?”

“I don’t really know. I didn’t see them come in. You don’t need to worry about it though. They care about you, and they’ll always be there for you the way you are for them.”

Harry shifted uncomfortably. He knew that, but he still hoped they hadn’t been there for long.

“Harry, did your uncle ever hit you?” she asked abruptly, her eyes boring into him.

“What?” he asked, his eyes opening wide. He reached for his glasses on the bedside table.

“I’m worried about what happened to you at that house,” she said.

“I’m fine, Ginny. Your dad asked me about this the other day, and it was on my mind. It’s over. I don’t live there anymore, so there’s nothing to worry about,” he said firmly.

Ginny pursed her lips. “Just like the Horcrux is gone, but it was still upsetting you. Isn’t it possible your past is, as well?”

“No,” Harry insisted.

“You said they locked you in that cupboard,” Ginny fearlessly persisted.

“Look, they might have knocked me around a bit or withheld food, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle,” he said, rattled.

Ginny bit her lip, looking down. “I’m sorry, Harry.”

“Don’t be, just forget about it,” Harry pleaded.

“I wish I could, but I think you have a lot more scars than just the ones we can see,” she said sadly.

Harry shrugged, feeling extremely uncomfortable. Why wouldn’t she just let it go?

“I do appreciate your telling me about the last Horcrux. I had a nightmare, picturing you having to walk into the forest alone,” Ginny whispered.

Harry pulled himself to a sitting position and rested his back against the wall. He lifted his arm so Ginny could slide under, resting her head on his shoulder.

“I wasn’t really alone,” he said.

Ginny looked up questioningly.

“D’you remember when Dumbledore left me that Snitch in his will?” he asked.

Ginny nodded.

“The Resurrection Stone was hidden inside. I used it on the walk,” he said, his throat growing tight. “My parents, Sirius and Remus all walked with me.”

“What?” Ginny gasped, clutching his hand. “Oh, Harry.”

Harry swallowed heavily. “It helped. It was the first time I’d ever really seen them. I had memories from the Dementors, but this was seeing them. And I got to talk to Sirius.”

Ginny squeezed his hand. “What did he say?”

“He said it wouldn’t hurt. It’d be easier than falling asleep,” Harry whispered. “D’you know what was the last thing I thought about when I was waiting for him to cast the curse?”

“What?” Ginny asked, sounding timid.

“You. I thought about that blazing look you give me sometimes. It was the last thing I wanted to remember,” he said.

Ginny twisted forcefully, grabbing Harry’s head in her hands as she began kissing him fiercely. Harry wrapped his arms around her, all thoughts of cupboards and Horcruxes quickly fading as he gave in to the delicious tingling spreading throughout his body. This is what he needed, what he craved.

He lost all track of time and space as they continued to shower kisses upon each other. She felt so right in his arms, fit so perfectly in his embrace that he willed time to stop. He could kiss her for days.

Ginny’s hands moved from his face up to his hair, clutching stray wisps in her fists as she continued to hold his head in place.

He pressed his hand into her back, holding her firmly as their kisses intensified. He felt dizzy, as if the room were spinning, and she was the only thing holding him centered. Ginny moaned softly as he ran his other hand up her side, nearly driving him mad.

He felt his body respond to her, but he didn’t pull away, instead pressing himself firmly against her, causing Ginny to gasp. Tensing, she pulled back, her hair tousled and her lips swollen from kissing. She let go of his hair, her wide brown eyes looked questioning into his, desire mixed with a trace of fear.

Panting, he took a deep breath, trying to control his raging hormones. He never wanted her to be afraid of him, so he needed to slow this down. He gently pulled her closer to his chest, trailing soft kisses down her neck and across her throat. He felt her body relax as he continued his ministrations. He could wait forever for her, despite the fact his own body was insisting it didn’t want to.

Her lips were so soft, so gentle, as he found her mouth again. She kissed him eagerly, unrelentingly, and he complied willingly to her demands.

Ginny’s soft sighs were nearly causing him to come undone. It was Mrs. Weasley’s voice on the stairwell that sent an icy tendril of fear stabbing into Harry’s heart.

“Ginny. Are you up there?” Mrs. Weasley called.

Eyes wide, Harry and Ginny just stared at one another, panicked, for a moment suspended in time. Both of them were disheveled, but Harry’s prominent pajama bottoms proved a more pressing problem. He stared at Ginny helplessly and was rather shocked when she began to giggle. He could find nothing amusing in this situation.

Merlin, he hoped Mrs. Weasley wouldn’t come up here. He’d never be able to look her in the face again.

“I’ll go head her off,” Ginny said, taking pity. She began straightening her hair and clothing as best she could. “You just go hop in the shower, and meet me in the kitchen.

“Coming, Mum,” Ginny called as she hurried down the stairs.

Harry collapsed back onto his bed, willing both his body and his breathing to settle down. He was in Ron’s bedroom, for pity’s sake. Anyone could’ve just walked in here. Something about kissing Ginny made him lose all sense of self-preservation. Despite nearly getting caught, the snogging had been amazing.

Harry got up and gathered his things, quickly heading toward the shower before any other Weasley decided to make an inopportune appearance.

*****

Saturday dawned bright and sunny, a cheerful sort of day that suited the grand re-opening of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Ron and all his siblings, along with Harry and Hermione, planned to be there to cut the ribbon. Ginny and Hermione had been making flyers all week.

George had moved back into his flat above the shop, and his friend Lee Jordan had moved in with him. Ron’s mother had tried everything to get him to stay, but it was finally his dad who insisted it was time to let George try his solo wings. Mum had been tearful, but she’d agreed.

The Burrow was hustling with activity this morning as everyone tried to get ready to go to the shop. Harry had beaten Ron to the shower, leaving Ron feeling rather peeved. Harry had distracted him with news about the Chudley Cannons’ training camp, and when Ron looked down to see the article, Harry had sneaked past him into the shower.

He and Harry had been over to Grimmauld Place a few times to work on cleaning up their rooms. Ron had taken Regulus’ old room, while Harry took the master bedroom. Ron had the feeling Harry didn’t want to sleep in Sirius’ room. He still kept the door shut, and hadn’t changed anything in there. Hermione had sent her parents’ personal belongings on to them, then stored her own things in one of the empty bedrooms at Grimmauld Place. Since she was planning on staying at the Burrow for the rest of the summer, she wasn’t in a huge hurry.

Ron’s door opened and a towel-clad Harry entered, grinning widely. “Bathroom is free,” he said cheekily.

“Funny, Potter,” Ron said, scowling as he collected his things.

As Harry began to rub his bruise ointment onto his chest, Ron noticed that it finally looked as if it had begun to heal. “That looks better,” he said, surprised.

Harry glanced down. “Yeah, I noticed it a few days ago. Purple instead of black.”

“That’s good though, innit? ‘Course you can see that scar more easily, too,” Ron said, nodding toward the bolt-shaped mark. “That stuff must be working.”

Harry nodded pensively. “Yeah.”

Ron might not always catch subtleties, but he knew Harry well enough to know when he was overthinking something. Harry ran his hand along the back of his neck. Yep, a sure sign something was bothering him.

“What’s going on, Harry?” Ron asked.

Harry shrugged, looking toward the closed door. Using his wand, he quickly cast a Muffliato spell.

“I don’t want you to say anything to the girls,” Harry said, twisting his lips to the side.

Ron didn’t like the sound of that, but he nodded anyway. Harry was his best mate, and Ron would do just about anything for him.

“That healer who gave this to me… she said the bruise might be lingering because… well, she thought some things were bothering me,” Harry said uncomfortably.

“Bothering you,” Ron repeated slowly, trying to follow Harry’s logic but not grasping it. “What?”

Harry sighed. “She thought the bruise might not be healing because I need to talk about the war,” he mumbled.

“Oh,” Ron said, out of his depth. He shifted from foot to foot. “Well, what do you want to talk about?” He knew Harry had some heavy issues in his past, some that were just coming to light. He didn’t really know if he was the one who could help, but if he was who Harry wanted, well… he’d do his best to be there.

Harry rolled his eyes. “I’m not talking about sharing with you, Ron.”

“Oh,” Ron said, relieved despite himself. “Then what are you saying?”

“It’s just… after Ginny and I discussed some things at Privet Drive, I noticed it start to heal,” Harry said, awkwardly.

Ron remembered being floored by Harry’s meltdown that day, but they’d never discussed it. Harry made it very clear he didn’t want to talk about it, and Ron respected that. He wouldn’t want Harry to bring up when Ron lost it over Fred at the funeral, either.

“Well, that’s good then, right? I mean… you and Ginny are supposed to be there for each other,” Ron said. He didn’t want to know any details about what his sister and best mate did together, but he couldn’t deny they seemed happy in each other’s company — and Harry had shared more with Ginny already than he’d ever done with Ron and Hermione..

“Yeah, I suppose. It’s just weird,” Harry said.

“What is?” Ron asked.

“Just… I dunno. Here at The Burrow, you all just blurt out whatever you’re thinking all the time. Everyone always knows when someone else is upset, and they know exactly why. It’s odd, but odd in a good way. I reckon it’s just not what I’m used to,” Harry said, struggling to find the right words. “Never mind. Go have your shower. We can’t be late or George will have our heads.”

Ron took a deep breath. He hadn’t brought this up with Harry at all, but if Harry was giving him an opening, Ron was charging in. “I don’t think it’s all that odd, mate. It’s what families do. I think it’s those Muggles you had to live with who were barmy.”

Harry snorted. “Too right.”


After they’d showered and changed, the boys met the rest of the Weasleys in the kitchen. Ginny used the Floo while the rest of them Apparated since the Anti-Apparition wards at the shop had been taken down. Ron’s senses were overwhelmed as soon as he appeared inside the back of the shop. Agape, he looked around to see the changes that had been made. The shelves were all filled to the brim with various products in all shapes and colors. Small versions of fireworks exploded at the top of the magically expanded ceiling. Thick, golden drapes outlined each window, and if you watched closely, small, slimy-looking hands would occasionally reach out to tap any passers-by.

The floor was covered in a lush, purple carpet that made Ron feel as if he were walking on cushioning.

“Do you like the carpet, Ron?” Alicia Spinnet asked, grinning widely.

“Alicia,” Harry said, sounding pleased.

Alicia reached over and greeted them both with hugs. Hermione and Ginny walked over to join them. Alicia wore the magenta staff robes, and her hair was pulled up on top of her head. Ron had always thought she was rather plain, and he was surprised by how much she’d changed.

“You look great,” Ron blurted, and he knew the tone of surprise was evident in his voice when Hermione elbowed him sharply in the ribs.

“Thanks, Ron,” Alicia said, amused. “So, I saw you staring at my carpet. Do you like it?”

“Your carpet?” Ginny asked.

“Alicia’s invention, all her own,” George said, appearing behind them. “Self-cleaning with a built-in cushioning charm. Designed to make it feel as if you’re walking on air.”

Hermione’s eyebrows raised. “Self-cleaning? That’s impressive.”

“Watch,” George said delightedly. He poured a box of a powdery substance all over the floor. “We never had carpet before because there were always too many spills that were easier to sweep up.”

As they watched, a hole appeared in the carpet beneath the mess before it began to sink and regurgitate back over itself, looking clean and good as new.

“Wicked,” Ron said.

“I didn’t know you were inventing, too,” Harry said, looking impressed.

“This is the biggest thing I’ve ever done on my own, but I’m helping George with some of the products the shop already stocks,” Alicia said happily.

“And looking pretty as a picture doing it,” Lee Jordan grinned, coming up behind Alicia and kissing her on the neck.

“Hi, Lee,” the Gryffindors all chorused.

“You lot get on with the pleasantries. Bill and Charlie are working the till and I have to make certain to keep Fleur away. When I had her up there earlier, customers queued up, but ended up leaving without paying because they were so overwhelmed by her,” George said, shaking his head.

Ron could see his parents walking around the shop hand-in-hand while Percy and Fleur were assisting customers on the floor.

“How have you been, Lee?” Hermione asked.

“Things are good. After PotterWatch ended, the Wizarding Wireless offered me a job. I’m developing a new show that should debut in the autumn,” Lee said eagerly.

“You know what you should look into?” Ron asked. “Muggle telly. I watched some sort of sports match on the Muggle telly. They broadcast the whole match, with moving picture and all. It was brilliant.”

“It was a rugby match,” Hermione said, exasperated.

“If you could find a way to invent something like that for Quidditch, you’d make a mint,” Ron said enthusiastically.

Lee and Alicia looked at one another speculatively. “My mum has a telly,” Alicia said. “We should stop in for a visit and take a look.”

Ron thought Lee grimaced slightly, but he agreed nonetheless.

“Hey, you lot. Did you come to help or spend your time lollygagging?” George shouted good-naturedly.

The group broke apart and spread out across the shop. By the afternoon, Ron was sweating, and his stomach rumbled painfully. It had been hours since he’d had anything to eat. He knew his mum had brought a picnic basket, but so far no one had mentioned it.

Already he’d busted three different little thieves trying to pocket various items. One of them had stomped on Ron’s foot before doing a runner. Ron was decidedly cranky. When he spotted his Mum adding some new stock to one of the shelves, he made a beeline towards her.

“Mum, are we going to have lunch soon?” he asked pleadingly.

“Hello, Ron. Yes I’m having a good day. How are you?” his Mum asked sarcastically.

Ron’s ears reddened as he dropped his eyes.

His mum patted his arm fondly. “I suppose growing boys need their food. Why don’t you take Harry in the back for a lunch break? We’ll take it in shifts.”

Ron didn’t have to be told twice. “Come on, Harry,” he said, grabbing his mate’s arm and dragging him toward the back where the picnic basket was located.

“What are you on about?” Harry asked, stumbling over the boxes he was putting on display.

“Lunch,” Ron said simply.

He found the basket and stuffed half a sandwich in his mouth in one bite. His stomach growled happily. Harry had stopped at a window and was staring outside intently. Taking his sandwich with him, Ron walked over to peer outside.

“What’s up?” he asked.

Harry nodded across the road. “Feels kind of like dťjŗ vu, yeah?” he asked.

The streets were bustling and full, the windows of shops all gaily decorated. It was the familiar shock of blonde hair that caught Ron’s attention. Draco Malfoy was leaning in an alley, watching the comings and goings at Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes with narrowed eyes.

“You think he’s up to something?” Ron asked.

“One way to find out,” Harry said, grinning. His bright green eyes sparkled with a hint of mischief that Ron hadn’t seen in a long time. “Let’s go.”

Before Ron could agree or decline, Harry had slipped out a door and was striding across the street. Ron saw Malfoy’s head lift as his eyes followed Harry’s progress. Ron was out the door in a snap. No way was Harry going near him alone. The last time they’d seen Malfoy, he’d tried to hand Harry over to the invading Death Eaters.

Ron caught up to Harry just as they reached Malfoy, who took a few steps back into the alley. It was secluded and away from the traffic on the main road. Ron thought it felt ominous. He drew his wand and took a step closer to protect Harry’s back.

“Malfoy,” Harry said tightly.

“Potter,” Malfoy drawled. “And Weasley, of course.”

Ron wanted to wipe that smirk off Malfoy’s face. He always managed to get under Ron’s skin. He’d promised Hermione he’d work on controlling his temper, so he took a deep breath, determined to be civil.

“What are you doing here?” Harry asked aggressively.

Ron glanced over to see a tic working in Harry’s jaw.

“Relax, Potter. The war is over, and people are moving on — it’s not all about you anymore,” Malfoy said, sneering.

“So you just happen to be hanging outside George’s shop because you’re in need of some joke products?” Harry asked sarcastically.

“I wanted to talk to you,” Malfoy said.

“And you just knew if you hung outside glaring long enough, I’d have to come see what you wanted?” Harry asked.

“I didn’t know you felt that way about me, Potter,” Draco smirked.

“Even if I did swing that way, Malfoy, you still wouldn’t be my type. I was never attracted to spineless losers,” Harry replied.

Ron grinned as Malfoy’s face colored.

“Look, I came here to warn you,” Malfoy said, shifting uncomfortably. “If you don’t want the warning, I’ll just be going.”

Harry rolled his eyes, but Ron asked, “Warn him about what?”

“My father is being sent back to Azkaban to complete his sentence. Some of his old mates have been making some promises if he gives them aid,” Malfoy said evasively.

“The Death Eaters have been in touch with your father? Rodolphus Lestrange is your uncle, isn’t he?” Harry demanded.

Malfoy’s eyes widened. “If the Ministry were willing to make some sort of deal, my father might be willing to accommodate them,” he said without answering the question.

“So why come to me?” Harry asked. “Why not go to the Minister?”

“Because what the Death Eaters want is you,” Malfoy spat.

“What are you on about?” Ron demanded while Harry remained impassive.

“They’re determined to get you, Potter, despite all the security measures you’ve taken. They’ve only frustrated them and made them more determined. They will succeed eventually,” Malfoy said casually.

Before Ron could answer, Harry brushed it off. “Think so, do you? If Voldemort couldn’t manage it, what makes you think your lot can?”

Draco flushed as he clenched his teeth. “You may be full of your own press clippings, but I’ve never been impressed. If it weren’t for my mother, you’d be lying dead and forgotten in the forest with worms feasting on your rotting remains.”

“And you’d be jumping in line to lick Voldemort’s boots when he demanded it — if he hadn’t killed you for your ineptitude already,” Harry snarled

Draco took a step forward. “Why you…”

“Yeah, you want a go at me? Go on, draw your wand. I’d love an excuse to finally have it out once and for all,” Harry said, his hands shaking. Ron was surprised to see Harry losing his cool. He looked as if he wanted nothing more than to beat the living crap out of Malfoy. The blonde boy appeared to know it and quickly turned to leave.

“Don’t turn your back on me,” Harry snarled, grabbing Malfoy’s shoulder and spinning him around so he roughly slammed into the brick wall.

“Harry,” Ron said, pulling him back.

Harry jerked his arm from Ron’s grasp.

“Just watch yourself, Potter,” Draco snapped, rubbing his shoulder while quickly scurrying down the alley and out of sight.

Harry glared at Ron. “What did you do that for?”

“What was that all about?” Ron hissed, again grasping Harry’s arm and dragging him back towards the shop.

“Don’t you find it an incredible coincidence that he turns up just to deliver a warning about the Death Eaters we’ve been looking for?” Harry asked, pacing.

“You think Malfoy’s involved with them?” Ron asked, crossing his arms over his chest. “He seemed happy to be well shod of them after the Battle.”

“I think he’s too much of a coward to be involved, but he knows something,” Harry said. “And maybe I could have learned what it was if you hadn’t interfered.”

“Yeah… well… you threw me. I fly off the handle, remember? I fly off the handle, and you’re supposed to be the calm one. I don’t like it when you switch roles on me. I get all confused,” Ron said, waving his hand in the air.

Harry shook his head. “No matter what Malfoy says, I’m not going back to living that way again. It’s over.”

Ron wasn’t certain which of them Harry was trying to convince. They walked back into the shop where Ron’s dad was waiting for them.

“Dad!” Ron said, surprised.

“All right, boys?” his dad asked, his blue eyes raking over both of them.

“We’re fine, Mr. Weasley,” Harry said. “We ran into a classmate.”

“Yes, I saw,” Mr. Weasley said, glancing back at the window he’d been staring through. “Be careful, Harry. We’ve reports that some of the missing Death Eaters have been looking to make contact with the Malfoys.”

“Yeah, that’s basically what Malfoy just told us,” Ron said, nodding.

“How did you know that?” Harry asked sharply.

Mr. Weasley sighed. “We caught that Death Eater that Auror Proudfoot has been tracking, Doogin MacCullity. He’s been rather tight-lipped, but he did share that tidbit.”

“So that’s what the ruckus at the Ministry was all about the other day?” Harry asked. “I heard about it.”

“Albus always said you had a way of knowing what was happening,” Ron’s dad said, amused. “You need to be careful, Harry. Your name keeps coming up.”

“What else is new?” Harry grumbled, rolling his eyes. “Malfoy said his father might be willing to cut a deal. He’s been in contact with Rodolphus Lestrange.”

Ron watched his dad’s eyes widen. “I’ll be certain to let Kingsley know.”

Ron felt chilled. He thought he’d have the job of watching Harry’s back for the rest of his life. He didn’t mind, really, but he wished his friend could catch a break for once.


Back to index


Chapter 16: Back to the Beginning

Author's Notes: There were several of you who commented on the hostility between Harry and Draco. I know by the epilogue they are civil, but I donít think that couldíve happened without some further interactions between the two. The last time they were together, Draco tried to hand Harry over to the Death Eaters Ė several times. I think something else needs to happen, so Iím going to explore that a bit.

Thanks so much for all the wonderful reviews! I really do enjoy hearing your thoughts about what Iím putting on the page. Itís very motivating. This story isnít complete, and Iíve hit a bit of a block even though Iím very near the end, so the encouraging words really do help!


Chapter Sixteen
Back to the Beginning



Harry and Mr. Weasley sat in the opulent Office of the Minister for Magic, awaiting his arrival. After Harry had told Mr. Weasley about his encounter with Draco Malfoy the previous day, Mr. Weasley thought it best to inform the Minister in person. Less chance of being overheard.

The office still looked exactly the same. Harry imagined Kingsley had been too busy to put his own touch on it yet. He amused himself with the thought of the bold colors Kingsley favored adorning this stuffy old office.

Aside from the run-in with Malfoy, George’s re-opening had gone smashingly well. Large crowds had continued to stream in all day, and despite constant restocking, the shelves were bare by the time George locked the door. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had returned to The Burrow, but the rest of them stayed, and along with Lee and Alicia, had ordered some take-away and had a rather raucous evening up in George’s flat.

Harry and Ron had told Ginny and Hermione all about their encounter with Malfoy, causing Hermione to scowl and scold them for running out to confront him in the first place.

A haughty young wizard clutching a clipboard poked his head inside the office and announced that the Minister was running a tad behind schedule, but he’d be with them shortly. Harry and Mr. Weasley caught each other’s eye before turning away to hide their smirks. The wizard reminded both of them of Percy when he’d first joined the Ministry.

“So, how is Grimmauld Place coming along, Harry?” Mr. Weasley asked.

“Slow,” Harry replied. “The kitchen is done. Cleaned it up and painted the walls. It looks like new, except without food. Or dishes.”

Mr. Weasley smiled. “Was nothing salvageable?”

“No, most everything was smashed. Mrs. Weasley showed me some Cleaning Charms that worked on the counters and cooker, though.”

“Good. Let us know if there is anything else we can do,” Mr. Weasley said easily. “The Floo is still closed to anywhere but The Burrow, right?”

Harry nodded, “The Burrow and George’s flat, actually. And no one can Apparate directly inside, not even me. I’m being careful, sir.”

“I know you are. You can’t blame me for worrying though. It’s what I do,” Mr. Weasley smiled.

Harry felt warm inside. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley always made him feel as if he mattered as much as the rest of their children and — to Harry’s great relief — none of the siblings seemed to mind it. They treated him as part of the unit.

It was odd, but he found he liked it.

“Er… thank you. For everything,” Harry said, ducking his head.

Mr. Weasley seemed to know what he was trying to say, for he patted Harry jovially on the shoulder and said, “Any time, lad.”

Harry knew that both Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had concerns about his past, particularly after that awful scene over the swimming hole. They’d respected his desire not to talk about it and hadn’t pressed. He knew it was still on both of their minds, however, because on odd occasions, he found them watching him contemplatively.

“I understand that you’re a grown man and more than capable of taking care of yourself. I just hope you know that you’re not on your own. You can come to Molly and me with anything… even if it’s just to talk about the present, or even the past,” Mr. Weasley said, clearing his throat.

Harry ducked his head again. “I do know that, Mr. Weasley.”

“Arthur, Harry, I’m so sorry to have kept you waiting,” Kingsley said, interrupting as he hurried into the room. “I have a situation out at Azkaban that’s taking up all my time.”

“Anything serious?” Harry asked instantly.

“Nothing you need to worry about,” the Minister said firmly. “Now, what’s going on with you two? Your owl sounded serious, Arthur.”

“Draco Malfoy was waiting to talk to me outside of George’s shop yesterday,” Harry said. “He insinuated Rodolphus Lestrange was seeking aid from Mr. Malfoy. Draco is hoping to cut a deal.”

“He also warned Harry that he’s the main target of these rogue Death Eaters, not that we weren’t aware of that,” Mr. Weasley said.

“Harry, you’re certain that Voldemort didn’t share the information of his Horcruxes with any of the Death Eaters, correct?” Kingsley asked solemnly.

Harry’s heart rate increased. This was the perfect opportunity to get it done and over. He knew he should tell the whole story. Kingsley needed to know everything to ensure it could never happen again. Harry had to stop keeping secrets. Isn’t that what Ginny kept telling him?

He didn’t want to be like Voldemort.

“I’m positive. He never trusted anyone enough with that information,” Harry said. He took a deep breath. “There is one more piece you should know, however.”

Mr. Weasley raised his head, brow furrowed, and Kingsley’s eyes narrowed. “Oh?”

Harry took another steadying breath. He looked up and caught Mr. Weasley’s pale blue eyes. Somehow, they reassured him, so he looked directly at Mr. Weasley as he spoke.

“I don’t want the Order to know this part. I don’t want this to leave this room,” he said. The Daily Prophet would never leave him alone if this got out. They’d have him billed as the next Dark Lord within a week.

“What is it, Harry?” Mr. Weasley asked seriously.

Harry continued to hold Mr. Weasley’s gaze. “There was one more Horcrux. Voldemort never realized he made it. It happened the night he killed my parents. His soul split again when he killed my mother.”

Harry’s voice had run out of steam. Mr. Weasley put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed it reassuringly.

“It attached itself to me,” he said shakily.

“What?!” Kingsley exploded.

“Merlin,” Mr. Weasley gasped. His hand on Harry’s shoulder tightened to the point it was painful, as he stared at Harry with a horror-struck expression.

“Professor Dumbledore suspected it. I don’t know for how long. He also knew that, once Voldemort used my blood in that graveyard, that we were tethered to each other even further. Voldemort had to be the one to kill me in order to destroy the Horcrux, and it worked.”

“You walked into that forest unarmed?” Kingsley asked astutely.

Harry shrugged guiltily. “Well, I tucked my wand inside my jacket, so I wouldn’t be tempted.”

He felt remarkably lighter after finishing his tale. The pressure on his chest that had nearly suffocated him for so long was gone. It had lessened after his breakdown with Ginny, and now he could take a deep breath without any pain at all.

Mr. Weasley and the Minister, however, looked much the worse for it. Mr. Weasley appeared rather grey, and he seemed unable to speak. Kingsley had a thin line of sweat on his upper lip, and an astonished expression on his face.

“So there were seven Horcruxes in all,” Kingsley finally said.

“Right, plus him. His Death Eaters heard him say he couldn’t die, but I think they believed it just because they thought he was so powerful. They believed he was a pure-blood, too. I think they bought whatever he told them,” Harry said with disgust.

Kingsley nodded. “He certainly didn’t treat them like his equals.”

“When did you find out you were a Ho… Horcrux?” Mr. Weasley asked, stumbling over the word. He seemed to be having a hard time grasping it.

“It was one of Snape’s memories,” Harry said quietly.

Mr. Weasley looked bowled over. “Albus knew? All that time he had us guarding you, he knew?”

Harry knew what Mr. Weasley was feeling, but he didn’t want him to think badly of the former Headmaster. “He knew, but he had to look out for more than just me. He had the entire Wizarding world at stake. He still worked out how I might survive. He told Snape that Voldemort had to be the one to do it, but not why. Snape died thinking I was going to die, too.”

Mr. Weasley looked ready to collapse. He was really taking this worse than Harry had expected. Kingsley handed him a glass of brandy, and Mr. Weasley drank it quickly, handing the glass back to Kingsley, who refilled it.

“Look,” Harry said, “it worked. Dumbledore’s plan worked in the end. I had to face Voldemort believing I would die or else it would all be for naught. Professor Dumbledore knew what he was doing.”

“It’s just hard to take in,” Kingsley said, pouring himself a brandy.

“I know. I was upset with Dumbledore at first, too, but not anymore. He was right. He saved us all,” Harry said earnestly.

“I think the same could be said of you,” Mr. Weasley said, his eyes overly bright.

Harry ducked his head, embarrassed.

“I think it’s fair to warn you that the Wizengamot is planning to award you an Order of Merlin, First Class,” Kingsley said, watching Harry closely.

Harry frowned. “And Ron and Hermione?” he asked.

Kingsley nodded. “Them, too. Second class. There are also several members of your Dumbledore’s Army who will receive Third Class awards.”

“Good,” Harry said, pleased the recognition would be spread around to those who deserved it. He didn’t think he deserved any more of an honor than Ron or Hermione, but he’s save that argument for another day. At the moment, he felt rather drained.

“There’ll be a big celebration, but I’d prefer to hold off a while longer. We’ve had a few leads on these missing Death Eaters, and I’d like to follow through before presenting such a large target,” the Minister said.

“I can wait,” Harry said, feeling uncomfortable with the whole thing anyway.

The Minister nodded. “I’ll let you know.”

******

Ginny and Hermione were sitting in the shade under the big oak tree in the back garden. Hermione held a book, while Ginny was flipping through the latest copy of Quidditch Illustrated. It was a pleasantly warm day with a nice breeze that would flutter Ginny’s hair every so often. It was that kind of lazy summer day where she felt she had a lot to do, but didn’t particularly want to do any of it.

As Hermione had pointed out, she should be revising for her Transfiguration exam. Ginny had brought her textbook outside with her, but she’d yet to open it. Hermione kept eyeing it disapprovingly.

Harry and her father had gone into the Ministry early that morning to discuss the appearance of Draco Malfoy at the opening of George’s shop yesterday. She’d never cared for the arrogant, condescending Slytherin, and the fact he’d been there forcefully reminded her again that Harry still wasn’t safe. She was beginning to wonder if he ever would be.

Ron had gone to the shop to work with George, so she and Hermione were left to entertain themselves. She was about to ask Hermione if she wanted to go for a swim, when she saw Charlie coming out the kitchen door, a small rucksack in his hand.

He’d told them all he was going back to Romania that afternoon.

“Charlie,” she called, and he walked toward them.

“Hey, Ginny. Hermione,” he greeted.

“You’re really going then?” Ginny asked, staring at his rucksack. She knew he missed his dragons. She’d just hoped there would be a little more time.

“Yeah, I need to get back to work. I’m coming home for Christmas though,” Charlie said.

“How’s your mum?” Hermione asked. Mum didn’t want Charlie to leave, either.

“She’ll be all right. She always is. I’ll ask her to send food once I’m back. That always cheers her up,” Charlie replied.

“I wish you didn’t have to go so soon,” Ginny said unhappily. “Everyone is leaving.” Ginny knew she sounded childish, something she’d hex any one of her brothers for calling her on, but she couldn’t help it. She wanted them all together.

Charlie shrugged. “Yeah, and I wish I was here more last year, but we’ve all got our own paths to follow. When I came home, I still thought of you as the little girl I left behind. Things change, and I see you differently now, but I still love you just as much, even if I don’t live at home anymore, squirt,” Charlie said tenderly, reaching out and giving Ginny a bear hug. He ruffled the top of her hair as if she still were a little girl when he released her.

“I know,” she sighed. “I love you, too, Charlie.”

“Ace all your NEWTs next year, and then come and visit me in Romania. Bring Harry along. That Hungarian Horntail he got by in the Tri-Wizard Tournament will be happy to see him,” Charlie said, grinning.

Ginny laughed. “I don’t know if he’d be happy to see the dragon though.”

“I don’t know. I think he’s much fonder of dragons since that one helped us out of Gringotts,” Hermione said, grinning.

Charlie smiled. “That dragon was spotted over Poland. There’s a group from the Reservation tracking it, so you might be able to visit that one next summer, too.”

“Oh, I’m so glad it’s all right,” Hermione said. “The goblins treated it terribly cruelly.”

Charlie frowned. “I know. We’ve tried to offer compromises to them for years, but they won’t negotiate, and we don’t have any authority over them.”

“After Hogwarts, I plan on joining the Ministry and trying to change the way some things have ‘always been done,’” Hermione said, making little air quotes with her fingers. “Just because it’s the way it’s been done, doesn’t make it right.”

Ginny smiled fondly at Hermione’s passionate defense of an animal she’d been terrified of only a short time ago.

“I bet you will, Hermione. Why don’t you come for a visit, as well? You can get a first-hand look at what we do with these dragons,” Charlie offered.

“I’d like that,” Hermione said, smiling.

“Are you Apparating directly there?” Ginny asked.

“No, I’m stopping in Germany for a rest. It feels too much like a hangover if I go directly. Munich has a nice Apparition point with a little pub. There’s a girl that works the bar there that has great—” Charlie stopped abruptly, as if just realizing who he was talking to.

Both Hermione and Ginny grinned.

“Great what, Charlie?” Hermione asked innocently.

Charlie’s face colored. “Er… Great hands. She mixes my drinks just the way I like them,” he said.

“Uh-huh,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes. “Bill’s settled down now. You’ll be next on Mum’s mission list,” Ginny warned.

Charlie waved his hands. “Not me. I like my nomadic life, and you can’t do that with a family.”

“Aren’t you going to wait for Dad?” Ginny asked.

“I saw him before I left. Ron and George, too,” Charlie said before Ginny could ask. There was nothing for it. She had nothing left she could use to stall him.

“I suppose this is it then,” she said sorrowfully.

“Don’t be sad. I’ll be back at Christmas. You’ll be so busy at Hogwarts the time will just fly,” Charlie said bracingly.

Ginny wrapped her arms around him and hugged him fiercely. “Good bye, Charlie.” she said.

Charlie kissed her on the crown of her head. “Goodbye, squirt. Bye, Hermione,” he said, hugging her, as well. “Keep Ron on his toes. Make certain he treats you right, or I’ll come back and have something to say about it.”

Hermione’s cheeks colored, but Ginny thought she looked pleased. “I will, Charlie. Stay safe.”

With that, Charlie turned on the spot and was gone. Ginny’s couldn’t stop a sniffle, but she determinedly kept her eyes dry. She’d always prided herself on not being one of those girls who cried all the time, but lately she felt like a hosepipe.

“What do you say we go into Muggle London for lunch?” Hermione asked suddenly.

Ginny looked at her sharply. “What?”

“Come on, there’s no reason we can’t go out. I have some money, my treat. If we stay in Muggle London, no one will even recognize us,” Hermione reasoned.

Ginny knew Hermione was only doing it to cheer her up, but she had to admit, the idea was appealing. Ginny had never been in Muggle London on her own before, and it seemed a terribly grown-up thing to do.

“Do you think Mum’ll let me?” she wondered.

“Only one way to find out. Tell her it’s a place I’ve been to many times with my parents, and you’ll be with me the whole time,” Hermione said, her eyes shining.

Her mum did trust Hermione. Besides, even if she said no, Ginny knew plenty of ways to sneak out of The Burrow.

“Okay,” Ginny said. “I’ll do it. What should I wear?”

“Oh, let’s get dressed up a bit, shall we? A skirt and blouse I think should do it,” Hermione said excitedly. “Harry and Ron never like to dress up. We’ll have fun.”

“I have some lipstick hidden in the bottom of my desk,” Ginny whispered.

“Put in your pocket so your mum won’t see. We can put it on when we get there,” Hermione smiled, conspiratorially.

“Come on,” Ginny said, taking Hermione by the hand. She felt considerably lighter than she had in weeks. This would be fun.

******

Harry looked around the spotless kitchen of Grimmauld Place, still amazed it was the same room. The cooker gleamed when it caught the light streaming in from the unblemished window above the shiny sink. Kreacher had been by a few times to help him, but most of the labor and spell work had been done by Harry, and he was very proud of it.

For the first time in his life, he had his own home. A real home.

True, the only livable space was the kitchen, but it was a start.

He’d planned on working on a place to sleep next, but Ginny had been so distraught over the idea of him moving out of The Burrow. He thought he’d work on a living space first. If he cleaned and prepared the sitting room, at least there would be a place to hang out and socialize when he wasn’t working.

He’d put a Permanent Silencing Charm on Mrs. Black’s portrait, and Bill said he knew a spell that could construct another wall over her. It would narrow the entryway a bit, but Harry thought it was worth it.

George had moved back to his flat, and Charlie was going back to Romania. Harry thought Ginny wasn’t quite ready for him to leave, too. He knew Ron had been working on what was to be his bedroom, so Harry thought he’d go up and check on his progress before his friends arrived. Ron, Hermione and Ginny were all going to stop by and help him with some of the work. Harry was rubbish at picking colors, so he was happy to have the advice.

He pushed open the door to the room that had once belonged to Regulus Black, cringing slightly as he prepared to find it painted bright orange. He was pleasantly surprised to see Ron had chosen a more subdued color scheme. It was pained the color of a faded pair of blue jeans. Harry thought it was much better than the orange. Like the kitchen, there wasn’t any furniture yet, but it was clean and inviting.

The musty, heavy drapery that had covered the windows was gone, replaced with light, ivory curtains over each of the two windows. Harry assumed Hermione must have put them there, for it was something Ron would never have done himself.

Harry stared at the room, contemplating that thought. Hermione had chosen a room of her own, yet she hadn’t done anything with it. If she was helping Ron decorate his, did that mean… Harry didn’t know how far their relationship had progressed in Australia. To be honest, he wasn’t certain he really wanted to know details, but he was curious.

Ever since that morning Ginny had awoken him in Ron’s bedroom, Harry had been able to focus on little else. Stray thoughts kept popping into his mind at the most embarrassing moments. In fact, though his nightmares had been happening less frequently, they were replaced by other dreams that he didn’t want Ron to know about even more than he didn’t want him to know about the nightmares.

He shut the door to Ron’s room, and stared for a moment at the other closed door on the landing. Sirius’ room. He’d have to do something with it, but he’d yet to think of what.

The doorbell rang, distracting him. He ran down the steps and pulled the front door open to find Andromeda Tonks holding Teddy’s basket. She’d sent an owl telling him that she’d be stopping by.

“Hello, Harry. Here,” she said without preamble, handing him the basket holding his godson, who was sleeping peacefully. Harry was disappointed. He hated when Teddy slept during a visit. He could just see a tuft of light brown hair above the blanket. The color reminded Harry of Remus, and he wondered if Metamorphmagus changes disappeared when one was sleeping.

“Come on in, Mrs… er… Andi,” Harry said.

“Very good,” Andromeda said, smirking. The more time he spent with her, the more she reminded him of Sirius.

She took a long look around, frowning at the destruction.

“I haven’t been back here in years,” she said, her voice sounding slightly haunted.

“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about. There really isn’t much left that hasn’t been destroyed in some way, but go ahead and take anything that might mean something to you,” Harry offered. “The kitchen and Regulus’ room are the only two that have been renovated.”

“You really want to live here?” Andromeda asked doubtfully. She looked around her ancestral home in distaste.

Harry shrugged. “Well, I already own it, and if I can fix it up, it’ll be okay. Anyway, it was Sirius’ house,” Harry said. Even though Sirius hated it, Harry wasn’t certain he could ever sell that last link to his godfather. Even his Firebolt was gone; this house is what he had left.

“It’s not the things in your life that matter, it’s the people,” Andromeda said sadly. “Do whatever you can to hold onto those links, Harry.”

Harry didn’t know what she was talking about. All the links to his past were dead. “How do you mean?” he asked.

Andromeda shook her head. “Having the same blood isn’t the only way to have a family. Those Weasleys of yours adore you. Teddy will, too. Hang onto them.”

Harry felt warmth spread through his insides. The Weasleys had been trying to show him they included him for a long time. They didn’t seem to blame him for the loss of Fred at all. Teddy was his godson, and that counted as well as blood.

Unaware of Harry’s internal thoughts, Andromeda continued, “I, too, have family on Ted’s side of whom I’m very fond, but recently I’ve been contemplating my sister more and more.”

Harry frowned. He couldn’t understand what Bellatrix had to do with this. “But—”

“My living sister,” Andromeda clarified.

Harry had forgot that Narcissa Malfoy was also Andromeda’s kin… which meant Teddy and Draco Malfoy were related. His stomach turned at that thought. He didn’t think the snobbish, arrogant Malfoy would ever accept Teddy, and Harry wouldn’t allow his godson to be hurt.

“Wipe that frown off your face,” Andromeda said, amused. “I know what my sister and her family are like. Cissy and I are having lunch next week, just the two of us. I’m leaving Teddy with Kreacher. Cissy is the one link that is still there, and I feel a pull to at least try.”

Harry’s thoughts turned to Dudley for a moment. Not the bullying Dudley of his youth, but Dudley the way he’d been that last time at Privet Drive. Leaving him tea, and telling him that he didn’t think Harry was a waste of space. If Harry ever wanted to make an effort, there was one last link who could be called blood.

Harry just wasn’t certain if he wanted to make that effort.

Andromeda had shared a lot of her family issues with him, and he thought he could do as much. “I don’t get on with my Muggle relatives, either, but I don’t know if I want to try and change that.”

Andromeda stared out the window. It was grimy and smudged, so Harry wasn’t certain she could actually see anything outside.

“When I was young like you, I didn’t want any part of my family, either. It’s only now that I’m re-evaluating things. I have Teddy to consider, after all,” she said.

Harry wondered if she was accomplished at Legilimency. It wasn’t the first time she appeared to know what Harry was thinking.

“Do you think Mrs. Malfoy will be able to accept Teddy’s background?” he asked curiously. The Malfoys were prejudiced against both Muggles and werewolves, Teddy had the blood of both.

“I don’t know. I don’t know if we can even tolerate each other after all these years, but it won’t hurt to find out,” Andromeda said.

Harry shrugged.

“There’s nothing here I want, Harry. You do whatever you please with what remains. I hope you can make it a place where you’re happy. The house has lacked happiness for a very long time.”

“Perhaps it’s time for everything to change,” Harry said.

After Andromeda and Teddy left, Harry’s thoughts were muddled. One thought crystallized above all else, however. He’d need to prepare a room for Teddy. When the baby was older, he might like to spend a weekend or two with his godfather. That would’ve meant the world to Harry when he was young.

Suddenly, Harry knew exactly what he wanted to do. He thought Sirius would approve, as well. Bounding up the stairs, he pushed open the door to Sirius’s room, his mind already conjuring images of what he’d like. He’d hire Dean Thomas to paint a mural of a wolf, a stag, and a dog along one wall. Harry was always thrilled at any connection to his parents, and he imagined Teddy might feel the same. He could have the background be a forest that would change colors to represent Tonks.

Teddy would never have his parents, but Harry knew how much a connection could mean.

He walked toward the window, which looked out over the courtyard. As he pushed the musty drapes aside, a puff of dust enveloped him, causing him to cough and wave his arms about his head to dissipate it. He became alarmed when it didn’t clear, instead it seemed to settle on his skin and clothing. Harry’s throat began to close as he continued to choke.

Dropping to his knees, a second wave of powdery substance enveloped him. Harry began crawling towards the door. Something was wrong. He couldn’t breathe properly. His entire body was tingling. He wasn’t certain what was happening or what he’d stumbled upon, but he knew he had to get out of here quickly.

He made it as far as Sirius’s ruined bed. He tried to pull himself up, but it was no use. His vision dotted, and his skin felt as if it were peeling away. The blackness overtook him, and he knew no more.


Author's Note: Uh-oh — did I neglect to mention cliffy ahead? There’s about to be a bump in the plan…





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Chapter 17: Righting Some Wrongs

Author's Notes: Well, did you see that one coming? I didnít even know this was thing until recently, but Iím enamored of it. For those of you who donít like it, itís a two-chapter story arc only, however it will have some further-reaching repercussions later in the story.

As always, Iím eager to hear what you think!


Chapter Seventeen
Righting Some Wrongs



Ginny and Hermione took the tube to Grimmauld Place after finishing their lunch. They’d had a wonderful time, and Ginny was feeling light-hearted, even as the familiar, gloomy faÁade of Number Twelve appeared before her.

She and Hermione had gone to a restaurant Hermione was familiar with. The food had been good, but the atmosphere was what Ginny loved. She enjoyed pretending she was a Muggle and had only messed up once when she’d exclaimed over the Muggle money. Hermione had shushed her before she’d made too much of a scene.

Both girls were dressed up, and Ginny enjoyed noticing the glances both of them had received on the train. Since they were already in London, they’d decided to go right to Grimmauld Place. Neither was dressed for housecleaning, but after the reactions of the blokes on the train, Ginny was eager to see Harry’s response to her outfit.

She’d worn her best skirt. It was light grey and pleated, and it flared out when she spun. Her mum had found it in the village near The Burrow and had splurged to cheer Ginny up during the war. Hermione had let her borrow an aqua blouse with embroidery around the neckline. Ginny had never owned anything so delicate.

Hermione wore a white blouse that showed off her tanned skin, and a pretty lilac skirt that flounced when she walked. Ginny’s mother had taken their picture before they’d left for their lunch.

As the two hurried up the stairs, the clicking of their heels on the brick blended in with the chirping of birds on the green area across the street. Before they reached the top step, however, Ron materialized in front of them. Ginny and Hermione ploughed into him.

“Oof,” Ginny said, getting trapped between the other two and losing her breath.

“Where have you two been?” Ron shouted.

Ginny and Hermione looked at each other in confusion.

“I’ve been at The Burrow waiting for you for an hour. Mum said you went to lunch in Muggle London. How are we supposed to know how to find you in Muggle London? Anything could’ve happened,” Ron said, his ears scarlet.

Hermione stepped past him and opened the front door, ushering them both inside. “Stop shouting, Ron,” she said. “We’re fine.”

“Obviously. But we had no way of knowing that,” Ron said angrily.

“Don’t be a prat, Ron,” Ginny said. “We went out to lunch. Mum knew that, it just ran longer than we’d expected. We had fun.”

Ron looked as if he was about to strangle her before Hermione stepped between the two. “I’m sorry you were worried, Ron. I should have expected you’d be waiting on us. We’re fine. Nothing out of the ordinary happened,” Hermione said in a very even voice.

Ron still looked agitated, but he was calming down. The two of them were staring at one another with distinctly sappy expressions. Ginny had had enough. She knew Ron was coping with the effects of the war by keeping tabs on everyone at all times, but she didn’t want to stand here and watch Hermione calm him down.

“I’m going to see what Harry’s been doing,” she said.

Neither of them seemed to hear her. Ginny checked the kitchen first, but finding it empty, she went up to the sitting room. She knew this was the next room Harry was planning to clean. The sitting room, however, was as empty as the kitchen. In fact, it didn’t look as if anything had been done at all.

“Harry,” she called, but was met with silence.

The hairs on Ginny’s arm stood on end. Something wasn’t right. She ran up to the master bedroom and poked her head inside, but it was also empty. She began going from door to door, checking each of the many rooms, but there was no sign of Harry.

He’d said he was going to be here this afternoon. Perhaps he’d been delayed at the Ministry. She took the stairs up to the landing where Ron’s bedroom was located, but his room was also empty. She opened the door to Sirius’s room and glanced around. Nothing had been disturbed in this room, either.

She was about to leave when she heard the distinct sound of a sniffle.

Cautiously, she tiptoed into the room, peering around the bed. On the floor were Harry’s shoes, jeans, and a little further away lay a pair of underpants. Ginny stood, staring slack-jawed for a moment before she heard the sniffle again. It was coming from under the bed.

The legs on one side of the bed were broken, and it was barely off the floor. There was no way Harry could fit under there, and why would he?

“Harry?” she called warily.

The sniffling sound stopped abruptly.

“Harry, if you’re under there, this isn’t funny,” Ginny said. If he was having her on, he was going to experience her Bat Bogey Hex first-hand.

She watched the bed carefully, ready to flee at any moment. Something was wrong. Looking carefully at Harry’s discarded jeans, she could see his wand in the back pocket where he stored it. Harry would never voluntarily leave his wand behind.

“Come out of there right now,” she said firmly, holding her own wand on whatever came out from under the bed.

Ginny nearly fainted when a small, black-haired child scooted out. He stood before her wearing an extremely large T-shirt than hung on him like a dress. He kept his head down, and Ginny could see he was trembling.

She put her wand away and knelt before the little boy. “Hey, it’s okay. How did you get in here?” she asked.

The boy shrugged his shoulders but didn’t look up.

“Do you know what happened in here?” she asked. She had to find Harry, and this boy must know something. Where had he come from?

The boy shook his head, still staring at his feet.

“Do you know where Harry went?” she asked.

This caused him to look up, startled, and Ginny nearly fell over.

“I’m Harry,” he said.

Ginny stared into very familiar bright-green eyes beneath a mop of messy black hair. She could see his scar beneath his fringe, and it looked enormous on his small head. His eyes were watery and red-rimmed, and he couldn’t be more than three years old.

Ginny’s heart leapt into her throat.

“Ron! Hermione! Get up here now,” she shouted, her voice wobbly.

Her shout startled the child, and he backed away from her, looking around wildly, seeking an escape.

“Sorry. Sorry, it’s okay,” she said, holding out a shaky hand toward the trembling child. “I’m Ginny. Do you remember me?”

Harry shook his head, his lower lip sticking out. “I don’t know how I got here. My aunt is going to be really cross. She doesn’t like when strange things happen to me.”

Ginny put a hand to her head, feeling faint.

She heard the sound of stampeding footsteps on the stairs. Harry took several more steps back towards the wall. He kept his back against it, staring with trepidation at the door.

Ron and Hermione burst into the room, both of them pulling up short the way Ginny had done only moments before.

“Bloody hell,” Ron said, staring slack-jawed at the miniscule Harry.

“Oh, my,” Hermione said, raising her hand to her chest. “What happened?”

Ginny shook her head. “Your guess is as good as mine. He was like this when I found him hiding under the bed.”

For his part, Harry was staring at all of them warily, hands behind his back yet tense enough she was certain he’d take flight should any of them move. She realized they were scaring him, and that wasn’t fair. He looked so tiny.

“How old are you, Harry?” she asked kindly, trying to draw him out. If they were ever going to work out how this happened so they could undo it, they had to gain his trust.

“Four,” he answered promptly.

He looked up to them for a moment, then began to look sheepish. He twisted his lips as if he had more to say. She watched him, perplexed over what was troubling him. He apparently thought she was suspicious because he kicked at the ground and conceded, “Almost.”

“Bloody hell,” Ron said again.

“What’s that powdery substance all over the drapes?” Hermione asked, squinting toward the window. She’d been scouring the room since first seeing little Harry.

Ron took a step towards it before Hermione grabbed his arm and pulled him back. “Don’t touch anything until we get our dragon-hide gloves,” she hissed. “We don’t know what caused this.”

Ginny inhaled sharply. “I thought the Ministry cleared out all traces of Dark magic.”

“They did, but I think this might have been done by a potion. That powder could be a potion residue, and potions won’t register as Dark magic. Remember, Professor Snape told us potions were the most dangerous weapon because they were so easy to conceal.”

“There’s no such thing as magic,” Harry said forcefully, frowning at all of them. “Where’s Aunt Petunia?”

“He doesn’t remember us?” Hermione asked her, sounding slightly panicked.

“Not at all,” Ginny replied, feeling panicked herself. “What do we do?”

“Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Ginny,” Ron said. “We’ll contact Kingsley. Someone at the Ministry must have some knowledge about potions.”

“Don’t tell me to calm down,” Ginny said, firing up at once. “I’m allowed to be frazzled. My boyfriend is a toddler!”

“Yes, well,” Hermione said, taking a deep breath. “I think we need to get Harry back to The Burrow first. We don’t know if anything else is in here, and this house is dangerous enough as it is for a child. Your mum can watch him while we come back with some dragon-hide gloves and some flasks to collect the powder.” Hermione sounded as if she was on the verge of hysteria.

“You lot are going to get me in so much trouble,” Harry said worriedly.

“You’re not in any trouble, Harry,” Hermione said. “Your aunt and uncle had to take a trip, remember? They left you with Mrs. Figg. I’m her niece, Hermione, and these are my friends, Ron and Ginny.”

Harry eyed her suspiciously. “Where’s Mrs. Figg then?” he asked.

“She wasn’t feeling well, so she asked me to keep an eye on you,” Hermione said, inventing wildly. “That’s all right, isn’t it?”

Harry appeared to accept that. He nodded, then asked, “Where are my clothes?”

Ginny realized the dress he was wearing was actually the T-shirt that fit Harry’s seventeen-year-old body.

“We’ll get them for you in a minute,” Hermione said.

She turned to Ginny. “Keep him here, I’ll be right back,” she said before hurrying out the door.

“Where are you going?” Ron asked, sounding forlorn.

He’d yet to say a word to Harry, and he looked panicked about being left nearly alone with him.

“Relax, Ron,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes. “He’s still Harry, just a younger version of himself.”

“This is not normal,” Ron said, staring at Harry with a baffled expression.

Harry’s lower lip began to stick out again.

“Don’t worry about him, Harry. He’s just being silly. We’re going to go to my mum’s house, and she might make us some pudding. What’s your favorite?” Ginny asked, pretending to consider. “I bet you like treacle tart.”

Harry just stared at her, his brow furrowing.

“D’you like treacle tart, or would you like something else?” she asked. Perhaps he’d only grown to like that as he got older. “Ice cream, maybe?”

“I can have pudding?” Harry asked, wide-eyed.

“Of course you can. I bet my mum will make anything you ask,” Ginny said.

Harry began to worry his lower lip. “Did Aunt Petunia say I could have pudding?” he asked.

“His aunt didn’t let him have much,” Ron whispered out of the side of his mouth.

Ginny had to tamp down on her anger so she wouldn’t frighten him. “Well, you’re staying with us for a few days, so I won’t tell if you won’t,” she said conspiratorially.

Harry grinned mischievously. “Okay. I like ice cream.”

“With chocolate sauce and sprinkles?” Ron asked, speaking to Harry for the first time. Ginny suspected he wanted this little version of Harry to have everything that had always been denied him. Leave it to Ron to finally warm up to him over food.

Harry nodded eagerly. “When can we get it?”

Ginny’s thoughts turned to another lousy habit of his awful relatives. “Are you hungry, Harry?” she asked.

“I’m very hungry,” he said, and as if to prove it, his belly rumbled.

“Let’s gather this stuff so we’ll be ready to go then,” she said, picking Harry’s clothes up off the floor. As she was bending down, she saw his glasses poking out from under the bed. She picked them up, as well.

“They keep falling off,” Harry said at once, his eyes widening, panicked. His voice rose in pitch. “I didn’t do anything to them. Honest.”

“I believe you, Harry,” she said calmly. “My mum can fix them for you.” She was certain all it would take was a Shrinking Charm, but she still wasn’t allowed to do magic.

She could hear Hermione climbing back up the steps. The bright witch entered the room looking winded, her hair frizzing in every direction. She tossed a pair of dragon hide gloves to Ron, who caught them, staring at her questioningly.

“Here, Harry,” Hermione said, handing him a glass of what looked like pumpkin juice. “I thought you might be thirsty. We just have to do one more thing before we go.”

She handed a flask to Ron and directed him where to scoop up the powder. As they were gathering a sample, Harry drank his juice. Ginny watched in horror as his eyes rolled back in his head, and he crumpled lifelessly to the floor.

“Hermione! What did you give him?” Ginny shouted, managing to grab Harry’s head before it banged into the floor.

Hermione turned from what she was doing to see Ginny cradling a motionless Harry. “It’s just a mild Sleeping Draught. I even cut back the dosage to account for his small size,” She said, her eyes wide. “I didn’t expect it would work that fast.”

“Why did you give him a Sleeping Draught?” Ginny demanded angrily.

“When Harry was really this age, he didn’t know anything about magic. His relatives hated anything remotely associated with it. I thought if we suddenly thrust him into the Floo, it might alarm him rather badly,” Hermione snapped.

Ginny took a deep breath. “You’re right. I’m sorry. Can we get out of here now?” Watching Harry collapse like that had spooked her more than she was willing to admit.

“Yes, I think I’ve got enough of this to test it. Can you take Harry through the Floo?” she asked.

Ginny nodded, clutching the tiny version of Harry to her chest.

“Ron and I will Apparate and meet you there,” Hermione said, taking Ron by the hand.

Ron stared at a motionless Harry. “This is mental,” he said.

“I think it’s some kind of De-Ageing Potion,” Hermione said. “I read about them in one of my texts. Once we work out the ingredients, an antidote shouldn’t be too hard.”

“Why would Death Eaters leave a De-Ageing Potion though? That doesn’t make sense, particularly if it’s easy to counteract,” Ginny said.

Hermione shrugged. “I was wondering that myself,” she admitted.

“Maybe they thought they could catch him when he was small and unaware,” Ron said.

“Maybe,” Hermione answered, but Ginny didn’t think she sounded very confident.

Ginny carried Harry’s limp little body down the stairs and into the basement kitchen. Ron and Hermione followed her.

“We’ll be right behind you,” Hermione said, reaching for the Floo Powder.

Ginny stepped into the fireplace, clutching Harry to her tightly. Hermione tossed the powder and Ginny cried, “The Burrow!”

After what felt like an incredibly long amount of spinning, Ginny stumbled out of the fireplace in the kitchen of The Burrow, and would have sprawled headfirst onto the floor if her father hadn’t caught her.

“All right, ther… What happened?” Her father asked getting a good look at what — or rather who — Ginny was carrying.

“We don’t know exactly,” Ginny replied. “Hermione thinks he stumbled upon a De-Ageing Potion left at Grimmauld Place.”

Her mum turned around from the cooker and gaped at them just as Ron and Hermione burst through the back door.

“We have a sample of what I think is the potion. We need to have it checked,” Hermione said at once.

“What’s wrong with him?” her mother asked, hurrying toward Ginny and taking an unresponsive Harry from her arms.

“I gave him a small dose of a Sleeping Draught, but I think it was too strong,” Hermione said, tearfully.

“A full-strength Sleeping Draught?” her mother asked shrilly.

“In a much smaller dose,” Hermione pleaded.

Her mother shook her head, pulling herself together. “He’ll be all right. He’s just going to sleep for a while. Children can’t handle full-strength doses of potions. Ginny, go up in the attic. Against the back wall are some boxes with children’s clothing. Bring down some pajamas and things that might fit him,” her mother said.

“I’m going to go get Fleur,” her dad said. “She’s the best with potions amongst all of us.” He quickly left through the kitchen door.

Ginny hurried into the attic and had to shoo away the ghoul who was looking for attention. She eventually found the boxes her mother mentioned. She found one with some pajamas and clothes that looked as if they might fit. One box containing some toys caught her eye, and she pulled out an old, stuffed unicorn that had been one of her favorites.

Ginny grinned. Harry would kill her, but it would be worth the laugh. She brought the box of clothes along with the unicorn down into Ron’s bedroom.

Her mother had transfigured some rails along the side of Harry’s camp bed so he wouldn’t roll out during the night. Ginny tucked the unicorn under his little arm. She pulled out the camera that she’d grabbed from her mum’s room and snapped a photo. Her mother looked at her quizzically.

“There were no photographs of him in that Muggle house. They were all of his cousin,” Ginny replied sourly.

Mum’s eyes narrowed dangerously, and she held out her hand for the camera. Ginny handed it over. Harry would have more baby pictures than he knew what to do with now.

“Do you think he’ll sleep right through the night?” she asked. It was barely suppertime.

“I do. He’s very small,” her mother said, tenderly brushing the hair from Harry’s eyes. Ginny was again struck by how the scar covered so much of his forehead.

“He said he was hungry though, and I promised him ice cream,” Ginny said, feeling incredibly unhappy to disappoint him.

“He can have it tomorrow,” her mother said. “Come on downstairs. You’ve all had a shock. Let’s sit down to eat, and you can tell us all about what happened.”

With that, her mother gently, yet firmly, pushed her from the room.

*****

When Hermione opened her eyes, she wasn’t certain what had awoken her. She looked around Ginny’s dark bedroom when, with a start, she remembered the details of the previous day. Blinking the sleep from her eyes, she sat up and could see Ginny’s hair splayed across her pillow. The younger girl was still sleeping soundly. The second thing Hermione realized was that Crookshanks wasn’t curled up at the bottom of her bed. Her beloved cat had barely left her side since she’d returned to The Burrow.

Sliding out of the camp bed and securing her dressing gown, Hermione dashed downstairs. After their hurried return from Grimmauld Place yesterday, she, Ron and Ginny had eaten dinner with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. Fleur was working on deciphering what kind of potion Harry had been given. Mr. Weasley planned to go to the Ministry this morning to inform the Minister about what had happened.

When she got to the kitchen, she heard voices. She pushed open the door and found Harry sitting on a stack of pillows in a chair at the head of the table, an enormous feast splayed in front of him, and Crookshanks curled contentedly in his lap. Harry stroked the cat’s fur absently as he nibbled on his toast. His plate looked as if he’d made a good-sized dent in the massive pile of scrambled eggs heaped upon it.

“Good Morning, Hermione,” Mrs. Weasley chirped, sounding happier than Hermione had heard her in a long time. Obviously she was enjoying caring for a little one again. Hermione noticed there was a camera sitting on the counter.

Harry turned to look at her with wide eyes behind his round glasses. Mrs. Weasley must have adjusted them for him. He was wearing toddler pajamas with Quaffles printed all over them.

“Good morning, Harry,” she said, unable to stop herself from ruffling his hair as she moved to a chair.

“Morning, Herminny” he said, struggling with her name. He was still patting Crookshanks who purred loudly.

“It seems Crookshanks is happy you came for a visit,” she said, smiling. She’d give an older Harry a good hex if he tried to dub her with a nickname, but somehow coming from him as a toddler, it was extremely endearing.

“Yeah. Mrs. Figg’s cats like me, too. Did she tell you?” Harry asked.

“She did,” Hermione said solemnly.

Mrs. Weasley looked at them questioningly, but Hermione gave her a slight shake of her head.

Hermione scooped some eggs onto her own plate. She’d just bitten into a slice of toast when the fireplace flared green, and Kingsley Shacklebolt’s head appeared in the flames. “Molly, Arthur,” he called.

Harry yelled in surprise, causing Crookshanks to leap up and jump from his legs before sprinting from the room.

“Minister,” Mrs. Weasley said, torn between him and Harry.

Harry leaped off the back of his chair, toppling it and scattering the pillows. His eyes never left the face in the flames as he backed away. He looked more than just alarmed; he looked terrified.

“It’s all right, Harry,” Hermione said evenly, holding her arms out in front of her to try and calm the frightened child.

Harry was having none of it. He darted past her and tore from the room. Hermione followed him into the sitting room, but he was already on the stairs running back up to Ron’s room. Hermione quickly followed him, hearing his ragged breathing as she gave chase.

When she entered Ron’s room, Ron was still sleeping, and Harry wasn’t in his own bed. She looked around the room, positive he’d come this way.

“Harry?” she called, glancing in all the corners of the room. She found him huddled on the bottom of Ron’s wardrobe, his head buried in his arms. She knelt down to get on his level.

“Come on out of there, Harry,” she said, gently.

He looked up at her, eyes wide, and lower lip starting to tremble. He shook his head. “There’s no such thing as magic,” he said, almost desperately.

Hermione sighed, biting her lip. “It’s all right,” she said soothingly. “Do you know how there are different rules at the Dursleys’ than at Mrs. Figg’s?” she asked, praying it was so.

Harry merely shrugged, but he was watching her carefully, as if looking for any sign of deception.

“Well, the Weasleys like magic tricks. They like them a lot here,” she said.

Harry frowned. “Are you trying to get me in trouble?” he asked, a touch of defiance on his small face.

“Why would I do that?” Hermione asked.

“Dudley does,” Harry said sourly.

“Well, that’s not very nice of Dudley, is it? Magic tricks are all in fun, and no one will get you in trouble here. I promise,” Hermione said solemnly.

She reached out and offered Harry her hand. He stared at it for a moment before reaching out and taking it. Somehow gaining his trust felt like a major accomplishment, and she’d have to remember to guard it carefully.

“What time is it?” Ron’s muffled voice floated across the room.

Turning around, she noticed he still had his face buried in his pillow. Harry ran right over to his bed and put his face next to Ron’s ear.

“It’s morning time, Ron. Get up,” he said, abandoning his fright instantly.

Ron groaned as Harry began to pull on his arm.

“Come on, Ron. Your mum says you have a treehouse, and that you’ll climb it with me. Come on,” Harry said, attempting to forcefully drag Ron from the bed.

“Oh, do get up, Ron. He wants to go in the treehouse,” Hermione said, barely controlling her laughter.

Ron groaned again, but opened one eye to stare at his overly-excited best mate. Hermione wasn’t certain what was going through his head, but he actually sat up and said, “All right. Shower, breakfast, treehouse. In that order.”

“Yes!” Harry said, pumping a fist into the air.

“Come on, Harry. Let’s go finish our breakfast while Ron has a shower,” Hermione, said. She gave Ron a sympathetic glance before following a bounding Harry down the stairs.

Ginny sat at the breakfast table when they arrived, her hair still damp from her own shower. Mrs. Weasley bustled toward Harry, her eyes searching his face for any sign of his former distress.

Hermione intercepted her before she could remind Harry of what he’d seen. “Harry wants to go see the treehouse,” she said firmly. “Ron said he’d take him.”

“Oh, that sounds like fun,” Ginny said.

Harry climbed back onto his chair next to her. “Yeah,” he nodded eagerly. “Dudley didn’t want a treehouse ‘cause he can’t climb trees as good as me.”

“That’s because he’s too fat,” Ginny said nastily.

Harry looked at her, shocked.

“Oops. Did I say that out loud?” Ginny asked blithely.

Harry giggled and took a sip of his juice, inching his chair closer to Ginny’s.

“What happened with the Floo?” Mrs. Weasley asked in a low voice.

Hermione leaned over and whispered, “He doesn’t know about magic, and I don’t think the Dursleys were very keen on it, anyway.”

Mrs. Weasley nodded, scowling fiercely. She returned to the cooker, her back to them, and Hermione noticed her motions had become rather forceful.

Mrs. Weasley definitely didn’t like the Dursleys.


When Ron finally finished his breakfast, they went out to the back garden. Harry spotted the treehouse immediately and sprinted toward it. Ron followed, chasing Harry up the ladder and causing him to squeal in delight. Hermione smiled fondly at their antics. Ginny circled the bottom of the treehouse, shouting up at them to surrender as if she were a pirate. Hermione’s breath caught in her throat when Ron scooped Harry up and the two of them swung down together on the rope swing.

“Again!” Harry shouted before his feet had even touched ground.

The treehouse kept Harry’s interest far longer than it did Hermione’s, but eventually he found a ball, and they began a game of catch in the field. In the middle of their game, Harry stopped suddenly. A peculiar expression crossing his features as he began to dance from foot to foot, growing more and more agitated.

Ron stopped and looked at him curiously for a moment before pointing to the broom shed. “Quick, go behind there.”

“Outside?” Harry squeaked, crossing his legs.

“You’re a wi… a boy, aren’t you?” Ron asked.

Harry’s expression changed from alarm to determination as he sprinted behind the shed.

“He has to pee,” Ron said, shrugging.

Hermione giggled. “How did you know?”

“Recognized the expression,” Ron answered.

“I don’t think his aunt would ever encourage their tool shed for that purpose,” Ginny said, laughing. “Their house looked rather fastidious.”

Ron frowned. “After we rescued him before second year, and he’d been locked in that room for ages, I asked him what happened if he had to go. He just rolled his eyes at me and asked if I was a boy or not. He said he’d just use the window, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.”

“He is resourceful,” Hermione said, sighing unhappily.

“I’ve been thinking about a lot of the comments he’s made over the years since our conversation the other night,” Ron said, shifting uncomfortably. “I don’t think he had much fun being a kid the first time, so if we’ve only got a little while, we can give him some good memories now.”

Hermione’s eyes began to fill as she launched herself at Ron, kissing him soundly. His arms wrapped around her, and he lifted her up on her toes.

“Gross!” Harry said, coming out from behind the shed and witnessing Ron and Hermione’s embrace.

“I agree,” Ginny said, grinning.

Harry looked at Ron as if he’d fallen several rungs on Harry’s hero-meter. “Is she your girlfriend?” he asked, the final word dripping in disgust. Evidently, treehouses were cool, girlfriends were definitely not.

“Yes, she is,” Ron said, beaming at Hermione. Harry pulled a face.

The sky had grown steadily cloudier as the morning wore on, and as they stood there, the first few raindrops began to fall.

“Perhaps we should go in for lunch and see if it passes,” Ginny suggested.

“It’s just a little bit wet. Couldn’t we play a little more?” Harry pleaded, looking as if his heart were about to break.

Before Ginny could concede, as Hermione knew she would, a distant rumble of thunder rolled across the sky.

Harry’s eyes widened in alarm. “Lunch is a good idea. Race you,” he said before sprinting for the door.

“Is Harry afraid of thunder?” Hermione asked.

Ron shrugged. “Not as far as I know, but I never knew him as a squirt, either,” he replied.

The other three followed Harry inside. Hermione was really proud of Ron. He never appeared to enjoy the younger students very much at school. He always seemed more annoyed by them than anything, but he’d really stepped up here with a little Harry.

While they ate their lunch, Fleur stopped by and told them she was brewing the antidote, but it would take two days to complete. She’d started it the night before, so they had about a day and a half left with little Harry.

Harry hadn’t paid too much attention to the new arrival. He was far too intent upon the ice cream Mrs. Weasley had given him for pudding. He sat with Mr. Weasley, adding an impossibly large amount of toppings to his bowl of ice cream. Mr. Weasley kept encouraging him to add a bit more, and they both kept casting guilty looks at Mrs. Weasley.

It was Ron’s question that took Harry by surprise.

“So, what do you want to do before you go back tomorrow, Harry?”

Harry looked up sharply, his face falling. “I have to go back? Already? Why?” he asked, tears filling his eyes. He looked into each of their faces, appearing incredibly betrayed.

“Well, er… ” Ron hesitated, obviously not getting the reaction he’d expected.

“I’ll be good,” Harry pleaded desperately, looking up at Mr. Weasley with brimming eyes. “Can’t I stay just a little bit longer?”

“Of course you can,” Mrs. Weasley said fiercely, glaring as if they all were contradicting her. “You can stay as long as you like, Harry, dear.”

Harry blinked the threatening tears away, holding his breath and looking to Mr. Weasley for confirmation.

Hermione thought Mr. Weasley’s eyes looked rather bright, as well. “You’re not going anywhere, lad. Ron just has his days mixed up. Come on now, your ice cream is melting.”

Harry surprised them all by flinging his arms around Mr. Weasley’s neck and hugging him fiercely. Mr. Weasley wiped his nose with one hand while scooping the small boy onto his lap with the other.

Beaming, Mrs. Weasley pushed the heaping bowl of ice cream in front of the two and kissed Mr. Weasley on the head.

Hermione let go of the breath she’d been holding, locking eyes with Ginny across the table. There was no reason Harry needed to know about the potion returning him to his actual age. He wasn’t even aware anything had happened. She wondered if he’d remember any of this after he’d had the antidote.


After they’d finished their lunch, and the very messy ice cream, the rain was still falling outside and the thunder had grown more intense. Harry kept glancing at the ceiling worriedly. They all adjourned to the sitting room where Ron pulled out the chess board.

“Care for a match, Hermione?” he asked.

Harry watched the pieces move with fascination. He didn’t seem surprised by them at all, and Hermione suspected he thought they were somehow electronic. As the match wore on, Harry sat on the floor beside them playing with the discarded pieces, and completely distracted from the storm overhead.

Ginny got down on the floor with him and joined in his imaginary play. He seemed startled at first, but quickly accepted her, smiling widely and handing her some of her own pieces.

Ron’s chess pieces were indignant at being used in such a childish game. They kept hurling insults, but Harry thought it was funny and insulted them right back. As time wore on, the complaints from the chessmen grew less and less, and Hermione suspected quite a few of them were enjoying the change of pace.

Once the rain had cleared, Ron peered out the window, grinning broadly. He turned to Harry who was still playing his game of pretend with Ginny, and said, “Want to go play in the mud?”

Harry’s head whipped around, his bright green eyes growing into wide saucers. “What?” he asked, sitting bolt upright. The excitement in his rigid little body was palpable, but he was desperately trying to tamp it down to be certain Ron wasn’t having him on.

“There are plenty of boots out back, I think we can find a pair that fit you. Want to go stomp in the mud?” Ron asked.

Harry jumped up and stared directly in Ron’s eyes. “Won’t your mum be cross if we get dirty?” he whispered, half-excited, half-afraid.

Ron shook his head. “No. If we don’t hurry, she might get all the good puddles herself.”

Harry grasped Ron’s hand. “Let’s hurry!”

“I think these should fit you properly,” Mr. Weasley said, entering the sitting room with a small pair of Wellington boots. He tucked his wand back in his pocket, winking at Hermione.

Hermione smiled. He’d obviously been listening and had shrunk a pair to fit Harry.

“Are you coming, too?” Harry asked excitedly.

“Well… ” Mr. Weasley hesitated.

“Come on, Dad,” Ron cajoled. “It’ll be like a trip with a Time-Turner.”

“I’m coming, too,” Ginny said, hopping up. “Hermione?”

Hermione shook her head. “I think I’ll help your mum with dinner,” she said. Hermione really had no desire to stomp in the mud. Besides, she’d been meaning to learn some of the household charms Mrs. Weasley used without thought, and this was the perfect opportunity to do so without an audience.

She watched out the kitchen window as Harry tramped through the many puddles in the back garden. One must have been deeper than he’d expected because his foot got stuck, causing him to go sprawling. His little face splattered with mud, he looked fearfully up at Ron to see his reaction. When Ron merely pointed and started to laugh, a mischievous glint appeared in Harry’s eyes. He scooped up a handful of the mud and launched it at Ron, hitting him squarely in the chest.

Ron’s eyes widened in surprise before he gathered some more mud and began chasing Harry with it. Hermione could hear Harry’s squeals of laughter even through the heavy glass window.

The Floo flared, and George stepped into the kitchen. He looked around searchingly.

“I heard you had a tiny dinner guest,” he said.

Hermione smiled. “He’s out back stomping in the mud with your father and siblings. Your mum brought the camera.”

“Excellent,” George said, brightening. “I think I’ll go out and join them.”

Hermione lost track of time as she helped Mrs. Weasley prepare the meal, but Ron’s mother had better instincts than Hermione. She hurried over to the door and opened it widely, just in time to halt her muddy family from traipsing into the clean kitchen.

“Don’t you dare come inside looking like that,” Mrs. Weasley said, summoning several towels from the linen cabinet. “Here, wipe yourselves down first, and leave the boots on the steps. Hermione, please go upstairs and run a bath.”

Hermione caught a glimpse of a mud-plastered Harry being wrapped in a towel and pulled into Mrs. Weasley’s arms. The rest of the filthy Weasleys were so covered, Hermione could scarcely see a clean bit of skin showing.

She hurried upstairs and began filling the tub with warm water, using her wand to hurry it along. When Mrs. Weasley arrived, she put Harry down on the floor, still wrapped in the now mud-splattered towel.

“But I don’t want a bath,” he whinged, frowning at the tub.

“Well, there’ll be no supper until everyone is cleaned up,” Mrs. Weasley said, smiling at him to soften her words. “Come on now, in you go.”

With the uncensored innocence of a child, Harry stripped off his muddy clothes and climbed bare naked into the tub.

Hermione turned around, her face flaming. Harry was going to hex her when he returned to his actual age.

Mrs. Weasley apparently thought so, too. “Hermione, why don’t you go downstairs and see if any of the others need assistance, dear,” she said.

The Burrow only had the one bathroom, so Hermione suspected the others were managing with Cleaning Charms.

From the corner of her eye as she hurried to leave, she saw Mrs. Weasley kneel beside the tub and pull a toy boat from her apron pocket.

Harry was going to want to Obliviate all of them.


After everyone was clean and fed, the family gathered in the sitting room once again. Percy had come home, and George stayed for dinner. He was trying to work out how he could use a De Ageing Potion in a new line of products.

Mr. Weasley pulled out a copy of Beedle the Bard, and read aloud to them all. Hermione was surprised by how attentively all the Weasleys listened to the children’s stories, but she imagined this was probably a familiar scene from their childhood, and they were all feeling a touch nostalgic.

Harry curled up on the couch, his knees tucked into his chest, and his thumb stuck firmly in his mouth as he drifted off to sleep. It had been a busy day, and even though he fought it valiantly, his droopy eyes had eventually closed. Ginny darted up the stairs and returned with a stuffed unicorn. She placed it under Harry’s arm.

When Mr. Weasley finished reading, the family broke into random conversations around the room. Both Ginny and Hermione pulled out their textbooks, while Ron and Percy began a game of chess.

Hermione sat in the chair next to Mr. Weasley, and she noticed him watching Harry sleep with a very peculiar expression on his face. She thought he looked rather sad. Glancing at the sleeping boy, Hermione couldn’t see anything upsetting. She thought Harry looked rather sweet snuggling Ginny’s unicorn. Even the shuffling of chairs and murmur of voices hadn’t caused him to stir.

“Fred used to do that,” Mr. Weasley said quietly.

“Pardon?” Hermione asked.

“We had a jovial Healer back then. He used to make house calls, and with our brood, he made a journey to The Burrow nearly every week. Fred was our thumb-sucker, and the Healer called him a self-soother. He said the ones who sucked their thumbs were always good at calming themselves down. With two infants in the house, it was perfectly understandable to him that one would learn to self-soothe whilst Molly was tending the other,” Mr. Weasley said, his voice strained.

He had been the one there for everyone else as they all grieved for Fred. This was the first time she’d seen the loss really effecting the Weasley patriarch.

Hermione wanted to offer some comfort, but she felt completely out of her depth without a clue as to what to say. She knew she had to say something, however. She stared at the sleeping child, seeking a solution.

“I can understand how Harry would be a self-soother, too,” she said, realizing it was true. “I’d bet those relatives of his didn’t bother with him much when he was small.”

Mr. Weasley nodded, his eyes still sad. “I don’t suppose they did. It’s extraordinary to me how he turned out so well. He’s a resilient fellow.”

Hermione nodded. “Ron said he wanted to give Harry some fun childhood memories while we had him like this.”

“That’s a wonderful idea. Do you think Harry will be pleased or embarrassed?” Mr. Weasley asked.

“Both. I think he’ll be embarrassed at first. Mortified even, but after he has time to think about it, I think he’ll be pleased,” Hermione said, smiling.

“I saw a bit of mischievousness in him outside that reminded me of the twins when they were that age,” Mr. Weasley said, his mind obviously still on his missing son.

“Was George a thumb-sucker, too?” Hermione asked.

“A bit. Ginny was too, for a short while, but it was Fred who really formed the habit. Molly was beside herself wondering how to break him of it,” Mr. Weasley said, smiling fondly.

“How did she?” Hermione asked.

“She didn’t. One day, Fred just up and stopped. Never started back up again,” Mr. Weasley said.

“Well, once he got an idea in his head, it was hard to convince him otherwise. I remember tearing my hair out when I first became a Prefect, and he wanted to use first-years to test his new products,” Hermione said, nodding vigorously.

“I remember that,” Ginny said, looking up from her Transfiguration book. Hermione hadn’t been aware she’d been listening. “And Ron didn’t help you try and tame them at all.”

Mr. Weasley laughed. “Fred was always hard to control, and Ron never liked being on the receiving end of their pranks.”

“I was thinking him of earlier at supper,” Ginny said. “See that bowl on the edge of the counter?” she asked, pointing toward the kitchen.

Hermione could see dishes washing themselves, and a large blue-painted bowl with a chipped edge beside the sink. “I see it,” Hermione said.

“When I was six, I flung that bowl full of salad at Fred’s head after he teased me about being too small to play Quidditch with the rest of them,” Ginny said, glancing guiltily at her father. “It bounced off his forehead and landed on the table where it cracked. I could never find the missing piece. Mum had me doing chores for the rest of that night, but the startled expression on Fred’s face that my aim had been so perfect was worth it.”

“Are you talking about that blue bowl in the kitchen?” Mrs. Weasley asked, gently laying a light blanket over a sleeping Harry.

“Yeah,” Ginny said. “D’you remember that?”

“How could I forget?” Mrs. Weasley asked. “I had to tend the lump on your brother’s forehead.”

“Yeah,” Ginny said again. She was grinning without remorse.

“I remember when Fred stopped sucking his thumb,” George said quietly, proving he’d been listening, as well. “I told him if he could stop for a whole week, I’d pretend I was him the next time he got in trouble, no matter what he’d done. By the time the week was up, he didn’t want to go back.”

“So, what did he do to get in trouble?” Mr. Weasley asked.

Hermione grinned, noticing it never crossed the older man’s mind that Fred wouldn’t have done something to get in trouble.

George grimaced. “He turned Ron’s teddy bear into a giant spider.”

Ron shuddered. “I could never sleep with that bear again. I liked that bear.”

“Yeah, well. I got a paddling from Mum, and no pudding at supper. And Mum made my favorite that night thinking she was rewarding me for not being involved. But it was Fred who ate it!” George shouted indignantly.

The rest of the Weasleys joined in the laugher. As the evening wore on, they continued to share stories of Fred as they grew up. Although he slept through it, it was actually Harry who had brought about this wonderful, healing evening. Hermione promised herself she’d let him know once he was older.


Back to index


Chapter 18: Fears

Author's Notes: I canít tell you how delighted I was to the reaction to little Harry! Iíll freely admit Ė I fell in love with him, too. Thatís why one chapter stretched into two, lol. This one got a little more angsty, but I do love my angst, and letís face it Ė angst doesnít even begin to cover Harryís actual childhood. There is a definitely transition chapter ahead. I hope you enjoy it.


Chapter Eighteen
Fears



A sharp, piercing scream startled Ron from his slumber. He flailed around, kicking his covers to the floor, as his head whipped to and fro seeking a threat, all while the plaintive screaming continued.

Grey, early morning light peeked in from the curtains, illuminating the ghoul from the attic as it hovered over Harry’s camp bed. Ever since the ghoul had impersonated Ron while he was away on the Horcrux hunt, it had been prone to haunting Ron’s bedroom rather than the attic.

Harry was huddled in the corner of his bed, as far from the ghoul as he could get, with his arms shielding his head. He screamed again, but this only caused the ghoul to moan and attempt to imitate the sound, terrifying the small boy further.

“Hey! Cut it out,” Ron shouted, sitting up.

The ghoul stopped at once, turning toward Ron with baleful eyes.

“Go on, you. Back up to the attic. That’s where your room is,” Ron said, pointing toward the door.

The ghoul shot Ron a withering glare before floating directly upwards and disappearing into the ceiling.

“Harry,” Ron said, kneeling down beside the trembling boy’s bed.

Ron’s bedroom door burst open, and his father used his wand to flood the room with light. His hair was mussed as his eyes scanned the room for any sign of trouble.

“It was the ghoul,” Ron said tiredly.

Harry breathed quickly and erratically. He took great, gulping breaths as he hugged himself tighter, as if trying to disappear.

Ron didn’t know what to do. As long as he’d known Harry, his friend had been stoic, closely guarding his emotions and barely letting anyone through his walls. Sure, he’d cracked on occasion, but he’d always managed to pull himself together with very little aid. He was the hero ¨— invincible, aloof and always in control.

This Harry was vulnerable and unguarded, and Ron was having trouble reckoning the two. His father had no such difficulty. He crossed the room in two strides, reaching down to the camp bed and scooping the terrified toddler into his arms. He cradled him closely to his chest.

Harry stiffened for a moment, but it proved too much for him. The dam burst as he wrapped his little arms around Ron’s father’s neck and sobbed inconsolably.

“Shhh, shh,” Dad whispered. “It’s all right. No one is going to hurt you.” He sat down on the edge of Ron’s bed, still holding the little boy tightly in his arms and rocking back and forth.

Ron remembered being afraid of the ghoul when he was small. Even Fred and George had been intimidated for a time, albeit a shorter period. If it scared them, knowing full well about magic and all its idiosyncrasies, Ron could only imagine how terrified Harry must feel.

“It was hovering over him when I woke up,” Ron said helplessly.

“I— i— it was a ghost,” Harry wailed, pressing his face further into Ron’s dad’s shoulder.

“Shh. It’s all right. I’ve got you now, and I won’t let anything hurt you,” Dad said, pulling the boy closer and stroking his hair.

“It t- t- tried to get me,” Harry cried.

“I know, but it’s gone now. You’re all right,” Dad repeated.

“What happened?” Ron’s mom asked shakily, peering into the room. Her face was pale and gaunt, as if she’d been forcefully reminded of her worst fears.

“The ghoul happened,” Ron said angrily, feeling more and more angry with the creature for upsetting his family. His mum had finally seemed to be pulling herself together. Having Harry here as a child had definitely helped.

“How about a spot of your special tea, Molly dear?” Dad suggested.

Mum nodded and hurried downstairs.

Ron remembered his mum giving whichever one of them was upset some private time where they were allowed to drink a small bit of tea. It had always made them feel very grown up. Now that he was older, he suspected there had been a few drops of a Calming Draught in the tea.

After allowing Harry to catch his breath, Dad stood up, still carrying the little boy as they followed Mum to the kitchen. Ron didn’t think he’d be able to get back to sleep, anyway. They sat at the kitchen table, and Mum placed teacups in front of all of them.

“Here, Harry, have a sip of this special tea, just this one time,” Dad said.

Harry’s curiosity overcame his terror, as he forced himself to turn around and stare at the teacup. Ron could see the damp stain from Harry’s tears all over Dad’s shoulder, but his dad didn’t seem to mind. Keeping one arm firmly around Dad’s neck, Harry reached out with the other and tried a bit of the tea.

Mum always made it really sweet, and Ron could see it working the same magic it always had on him and his siblings. Harry sipped again before snuggling back into Dad’s chest.

“I’m surprised Ginny and Hermione didn’t wake up,” Ron said, swallowing some of his own tea.

“They did. I told them to stay in their room until your father had checked on the problem,” Mum said. “I don’t think Harry needs to be crowded right now.”

“There’s no such thing as ghosts,” Harry said, his voice very small. He tangled his fingers into the collar of Dad’s pajama jacket, and Ron suspected it would take a powerful Hex to make him let go.

Dad sighed. “There are ghosts, Harry, but they won’t hurt you. They just… do their thing. I think the ghoul upstairs was just curious about you, much like you are about him.”

Harry’s brow furrowed. “Aunt Petunia says there’s no such thing.”

“Yes, well… perhaps she’s just never seen one. I don’t think your aunt’s mind would be very open to them, do you?” Dad asked.

Harry considered this for a moment. “So I can see them, and she can’t?” he asked.

Dad smiled faintly “That sounds right to me.”

“Can I see my mummy and daddy then?” Harry asked, his eyes wide, tears still clinging to his lashes.

Mum inhaled sharply, while Dad seemed momentarily flustered. Ron didn’t know where to look. Harry’s life had been so unfair.

“I don’t think you can see them,” Dad said slowly, his voice unsteady, “but I’d bet you’re the only one who can feel them. In here,” he said, pressing on Harry’s chest. “They loved you very much, and that much love leaves a lasting mark.”

“They died in a car crash,” Harry whispered before sticking his thumb in his mouth.

Ron’s parents looked startled, but Ron remembered on the train ride in first year that Harry said that his relatives had told him that story. Hagrid had been the one to tell him the truth.

“But you survived,” Dad said shakily, and Ron suspected it was taking all his restraint not to correct Harry’s impression. “And that was what they wanted more than anything. They loved you very much.”

Harry’s eyes began to droop. Ron didn’t know how he could fall back to sleep. Ron loved to sleep, but he felt as if he’d been hit with an adrenaline rush. The early morning sun was just breaching the trees as Harry’s eyes finally closed. His little fingers loosened their grip on Dad’s pajama jacket, but they never completely let go. Dad didn’t seem to mind.



That afternoon, George visited The Burrow again. He, Ron, Hermione and Ginny took Harry out to the swimming hole, promising Mum that someone would be with him at all times. Ron was certain she’d planted herself in the kitchen window and was watching Harry like a hawk.

Harry had been quiet during the morning. He’d clutched that silly unicorn of Ginny’s and stayed with Ron’s parents more than the others. Hermione told him that it was understandable he was a bit clingy after such a fright, but Ron was baffled. It was so un-Harry-like. Then again, he supposed his best mate had never had anyone to comfort him when he was upset, so perhaps he just didn’t want to let go too quickly.

By the time lunch rolled around, Harry was ready to swim. He’d come racing down the stairs in a pair of yellow swim trunks demanding the others hurry up and get ready. He was so exuberant Ron feared he’d been hit with a Cheering Charm. Ginny discovered that both Mum and Dad had been slipping him sweets all morning, so this was the result of a sugar high.

When they reached the swimming hole, both George and Ron simultaneously tore off their T-shirts and did cannonballs into the water, causing a huge splash. Harry watched them with a big grin but stood further back and eyed the water warily.

Ron and George kept trying to convince him to jump, saying they’d catch him. Ron could see Harry wanted to do it, but something was holding him back. Ginny knelt down next to him and whispered something. He nodded and put his hand in hers as they both walked toward the edge together. She took off Harry’s glasses and laid them on her towel.

“We’re coming in,” Ginny said. She glared at her brothers. “No splashing until he’s ready.”

She sat on the edge and pulled Harry down next to her, letting him put his feet in and feel the temperature of the water first. Hermione joined them on the ledge. She was wearing a blue bathing costume with a bright, tropical flower pattern. Ron’s mouth dropped open.

He’d never seen Hermione like… well, he’d never seen this much of Hermione. His stomach did a funny twist, and the voices of the others dimmed. Hermione looked over at him shyly, and when she saw him staring, she smiled and ducked her head.

“Er, Ron, best close your mouth, or you’ll catch bugs,” George said.

Ron put his hand behind his back and gave his brother a very rude hand gesture.

“Are you coming in the water, Hermione?” George asked, holding out a hand to assist her. Ron didn’t like that.

“She’ll come in when she’s ready, and she doesn’t need you to help her, Ron grumbled.

Hermione laughed, but she took Ron’s hand instead of George’s and slid into the pond. Ginny picked up Harry, and she held him while dipping down to her shoulders and his neck before standing up again.

Harry laughed, but he had his arms so tightly around Ginny’s neck Ron was afraid he’d strangle her.

“Just give him a minute, Ron,” Hermione said in his ear, sending a delicious tingle down his spine. He felt goosebumps break out that had nothing to do with the temperature of the water.

“He’s going to strangle her,” Ron said, torn between wanting to keep an eye on Harry and stare at Hermione.

“I don’t think he’s ever been in the water before, but you know Harry. He likes adventure,” Hermione said.

“He doesn’t really seem like Harry though,” Ron said before he could stop himself.
“How do you mean?” Hermione asked.

“I dunno. I’m used to that emotionless mask Harry always wears. He hides what he feels. This little kid—”

“— Is Harry,” Hermione interrupted. “Ron, I think he learned how to hide what he was feeling. I think he had to in order to survive in that house. You’re seeing him before he’d mastered that.”

Ron hadn’t quite thought of it that way. That meant Harry was much more vulnerable when he was stuck with the Dursleys alone. “At least when we knew him, he had us, you know? This Harry doesn’t have anybody.”

“No,” Hermione said sadly. “He didn’t, and I think it affected him far more than I’d ever considered.”

“Have you been reading about this, Hermione?” Ron asked, feeling both incredibly fond and incredibly exasperated with his girlfriend.

“Of course I have,” Hermione said as if it were a stupid question. “Ginny and I have been talking a lot about it, too.”

A squeal from Harry distracted them. They turned to see George holding Harry. Ginny had apparently tossed him. Harry looked both exhilarated and terrified as he clung to George’s neck.

“Oi, George, toss him here,” Ron said.

Hermione inhaled sharply as George tossed Harry through the air into Ron’s waiting arms. Harry squealed when he was in the air, but laughed once he had a good grip on Ron.

“Again!” he said happily.

“Send him back,” George said, taking a few steps back.

“Oh, do be careful,” Hermione said worriedly.

“They’re all right, “Ginny said. “Bill and Charlie used to do this with Ron and me. Look how happy he is.”

“I think he looks terrified,” Hermione said, her eyes never leaving Harry as he flew through the air again. George caught him and tossed him in the air once more for good measure. Harry was already positioning his little body to be tossed back to Ron.

“Of course he is, but that’s half the fun. Isn’t that what being a Gryffindor is all about? The adrenaline rush?” Ginny said, laughing.

“I don’t know,” Hermione said. “I always thought being brave meant being afraid and doing it anyway.”

Ginny reached out and hugged Hermione, startling the other girl. “That works, too, Hermione,” she said.

The girls pulled themselves up on the edge of the swimming pool while Ron and George continued to toss Harry, each taking a step back after every toss. Finally, the distance became too great, and George missed by a few inches. Harry plunged under the water. It only lasted for a second before George scooped him up. Harry’s expression was shocked as he gasped and clung to George’s neck, water dripping from his hair.

“Good job, Harry. I wondered when you’d be brave enough to put your face in. I knew you would do it,” Ginny called as if Harry had gone under on purpose.

Ron watched as Harry’s hold on George loosened a little. He turned to stare at Ginny, wide-eyed.

"You think I'm brave?" he asked uncertainly.

"Of course I do. I think you're brave, and clever, and very kind," Ginny said solemnly.

Harry gaped at her as if he'd never been told any of those things. It dawned on Ron that at this age, he probably hadn't.

"You do?" Harry asked, searching for any sign she was having him on.

"I do," Ginny said in that same serious tone.

Harry grinned at her. She slid back into the water and swam over to George, holding her arms out.

“Come on. Shall I teach you to blow bubbles?” she asked.

Harry reached for her immediately. As he and Ginny began a game of bubble blowing, Ron swam over to Hermione, who looked very appealing sitting on the ledge.

“I like how you look in that bathing costume,” he told her, keeping his voice low so neither George nor Harry would hear him.

Hermione put her hand to her stomach. “Do you? My mum bought it for me when we were in Spain,” she said.

“Hogwarts robes cover a lot,’ Ron said, nodding fervently.

“Do they?” Hermione said, arching her eyebrow.

Ron knew he’d said something wrong, but he honestly didn’t know what. How was he supposed to think straight when she was sitting there looking like that? It was unfair, that’s what it was.

Ron didn’t want to use words. Hermione always outsmarted him when they used words. He grabbed her hands and pulled her into the water, kissing her soundly.

Hermione gasped as he pulled her in, opening her mouth and giving Ron the opportunity to deepen the kiss.

“A bit much when there are children present, don’t you think?” George asked, his voice uncomfortably close.

Ron opened his eyes to find him standing directly beside him and Hermione. Hermione blinked, looking a bit dazed. Ron was pleased he could cause that kind of reaction in her.

“Piss off, George,” he muttered.

George wrapped his arm around both him and Hermione, squeezing them tight to his chest. “It’s so nice to see young love blooming right here in the bosom of our home. It makes me feel so special. Haven’t you always felt special when wrapped in the bosom, Ron?”

Hermione turned bright red. Ron had left his wand on his towel, which was out of reach, but he was considering just hauling off and decking his brother.

“What’s a bosom?” Harry asked innocently, causing the color on Ginny’s face to redden enough to match Hermione’s.

Hermione pulled herself out of the water, found her clothes and pulled her shirt back on, ruining the view Ron had been enjoying.

Now Ron really wanted to hit George.

“Do you want to play another game of toss with George and Ron?” Ginny asked.

“Yes!” Harry shouted gleefully, forgetting all about his question.

Ginny plopped him in Ron’s arms and joined Hermione on her towel.

Ron was far more focused on Hermione and her wonderful bathing costume than he was on catching Harry. George was perfectly happy to play and continue needling Ron. They’d tossed Harry back and forth a few times before Ron missed, and Harry went under. Ron pulled him up quickly, but Harry was choking and coughing. He obviously hadn’t closed his mouth in time.

He clutched Ron’s neck tightly, gasping. Ron suddenly felt like a heel. Harry trusted him completely, and he really hadn't been paying attention.

"Sorry, mate," he said. "I missed."

To Ron's surprise, Harry smiled. "It's all right to make a mistake as long as you try and fix it."

Ron grinned. "How did you get so clever?"

Harry beamed. "Ginny thinks I'm clever, too," he said with obvious delight. Ron suspected he was storing up these compliments to savor later.

"Hey, Harry. Want to try jumping in, and I'll catch you? George asked.

Harry nodded eagerly. Ron lifted him out of the water onto the ledge where, without pause, he took a running start and hurled himself into George's waiting arms.

George was surprised, but he laughed. "Good one."

"Again," Harry exclaimed.

Ron pulled himself out, and sat on the towel beside the girls.

"He's having a lot of fun," Hermione said. "I think we'll all have to be really careful of anything George gives us to eat for a while. I can see him plotting how to use this."

"Too right," Ginny agreed, nodding.

Ron put a folded-up towel under his head and shut his eyes. The afternoon sun felt nice, and he was suddenly feeling rather knackered.

"Is he wearing you out, Ron?" Hermione asked, amused.

"A little kip wouldn't be a bad thing," Ron said, smirking. "I wonder what Mum is making for supper."

"Are you hungry already?" Hermione asked, exasperated.

Ron didn't know why this should surprise her. She should know he was always hungry by now.

"Bill and Fleur will be here for supper so Fleur can give Harry the antidote before he goes to bed,” Ron replied. "Mum should be making something good."

“I’ll miss him,” Hermione said sadly.

“Me, too,” Ginny replied.

Ron opened his eyes and looked at the two as if they were barking. “He’ll still be here, just… normal again.”

“I know, but he’s terribly cute this way, don’t you think?” Hermione asked, watching Harry jump repeatedly into George's arms.

“He’s cute when he’s older too, but I wish I could keep both versions,” Ginny said, smiling fondly.

Ron shrugged. “Well, you’ll probably end up with a kid that looks just like him one day, anyway. Then you can have both.”

Ginny and Hermione both turned to stare at him, gaping.

“What?” Ron asked.

Hermione giggled, while Ginny shook her head, her face turning pink.

“I think it’s time we take a break,” George said, dropping a shivering Harry on the towel between Ron and the girls.

“B— b— but I’m not c— cold,” Harry insisted. His blue lips contradicted him, however.

Ginny wrapped a heavy towel around him, rubbing her hands up and down to cause some warming friction. “Come sit here with us for a few minutes break,” she said, tugging the protesting Harry down beside her.

“This is boring,” he grumbled unhappily, staring longingly back at the water.

“You do look a bit chilly,” Hermione said, doing her best not to laugh.

“Well, I’m not,” Harry pouted. “I’m fine.”

“He never grows out of that, I see,” George said, amused.

Ron still wasn’t happy with George, so he ignored him. Looking over at the house, he saw Bill and Fleur arrive at the Apparition point.

“Bill and Fleur are here,” he said, nodding his head toward them.

“Already?” Ginny asked, looking around. Ron thought she sounded rather disappointed, and Ginny was never usually disappointed to see Bill.

“Who’s that?” Harry asked.

“That’s our oldest brother and his wife. We told you they were coming for dinner tonight, remember?” Ginny asked.

“How many brothers do you have?” Harry asked, amazed.

“Si— Five,” Ginny said, catching herself. She looked surprised as she swallowed heavily. “I have five brothers.”

Ginny sounded as if she might cry. Ron felt as if he’d been struck in the gut. He now had one less brother. How was he supposed to answer that question? He hadn’t really thought about it. His insides squirmed uncomfortably.

George got up abruptly and walked away. He stood staring at the water with his back to them.

Harry looked from face to face worriedly, finally settling on Hermione. “Did I do something wrong?” he asked.

Hermione opened her arms, and he shifted over to her. “No, it’s not you, Harry. The Weasleys have seven kids in their family, but one of them, their brother Fred, died not too long ago,” she said gently.

“Oh.” Harry said.

Ginny pulled herself together with some effort, obviously not wanting to upset Harry. “You’re just the first one who’s asked me how many brothers I had since Fred died. I was surprised, that’s all.”

“But you still have six brothers, just one of them died, right?” Harry asked innocently.

“You’re right,” Ginny said, her eyes bright. “I have six brothers. I’ll always have six brothers.”

“You would’ve liked Fred,” George said, still facing away from them. “He liked to make jokes, and everyone always smiled when he was around.”

“Maybe someone in Heaven needed cheering up, so he went to help them,” Harry said thoughtfully.

Ron smiled at him. “I bet you’re right.”

Harry smiled back, his shoulders relaxing. He began counting on his fingers before he looked up and asked, “So, who’s the other brother?”

“What?” Ron asked.

“You and George, Percy, the one in heaven, and the one with a wife,” Harry said, sticking up a finger for each. “One more.”

“Very good counting,” Hermione said, impressed.

“I’m good at maths,” Harry said, nodding.

“Charlie lives in Romania,” Ron said absently, still thinking about Fred making the other dearly departed laugh. “He works with dragons.”

Harry stared at him, gaping. “You’re fooling me.”

“No-”

“Of course he is,” Hermione interrupted, glaring at Ron. “Charlie works at a zoo in Romania.”

Ron kept forgetting Harry didn’t believe in magic. It would be much easier tomorrow when his best mate was back to normal.

“Dudley likes to go to the zoo,” Harry said, “but I don’t think he ever saw a dragon there.”

Ron snorted. “It would probably eat him if he did. Bet he’d make a good snack.”

“Ron!” Hermione scolded, but Harry laughed.

“D’you really think Fred is making everyone laugh?” George asked, re-joining them on the towels.

Ron held his breath. It was hard to know what would set George off these days. He’d been so volatile.

“Didn’t you say that’s what he liked to do?” Harry asked.

“Yeah,” George said.

“Then why wouldn’t he still be doing that?” Harry asked matter-of-factly.

George grinned. “No reason at all,” he said, ruffling Harry’s hair.




Dinner that night was an enjoyable affair. It consisted of roast chicken with jacket potatoes, and a scrumptious chocolate cake for pudding. Fleur monopolized most of Harry’s attention, and she kept casting dewy-eyed stares at Bill. Both Ginny and Hermione seemed rather put out, but Ron thought it was only fair. Fleur had created the antidote potion, and she hadn’t got to spend any time with little Harry at all. All the girls seemed rather taken with him, so it made sense that Fleur was, as well.

After all that swimming, Harry was having trouble keeping his eyes open, and eventually put his head right down on the table.

Fleur stood up and took a flask of blue potion off the counter and poured it into a cup.

“’Ere you are, mon Cherie. Before you go to sleep, drink this,” she said, putting the cup in Harry’s hands.

“What is it?” he asked sleepily, staring into the cup distastefully.

“Just a bit of medicine,” Fleur said.

“I’m not sick,” Harry argued. “Aunt Petunia says I don’t need medicine, anyway.”

Ron’s parents both scowled at this.

“Well, you do,” Ron’s mother said firmly. “All children do. Just take it, dear. It doesn’t taste bad.”

Harry reluctantly swallowed the potion. Ron remembered the potions he had to take as a kid never tasted as bad as the ones he had to take once he got to Hogwarts. He vaguely wondered why they couldn’t do something for the taste always.

At first there was no effect, but then Harry’s eyes began to droop. Mum scooped him up, and he rested his head on her shoulder, sticking his thumb in his mouth.

“Don’t put any pajamas on him,” Fleur instructed. “It might hurt as he grows back to his natural size.”

Ron and all the men at the table shifted uncomfortably. Mum nodded and carried Harry up to bed.

“You’re certain it will work?” Hermione asked worriedly.

“I am,” Fleur nodded. “It’s a fairly simple potion to brew. I’m surprised they do not teach it at ‘Ogwarts. At Beauxbatons, we learn in our fifth year.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “How long will it take?”

"Eet depends on how much a person needs to age. He will be right by morning,” Fleur replied.

“Will it hurt?” Ginny asked.

“Not awful, but eet will be uncomfortable. This is why it’s best to do while he sleeps,” Fleur said. “Do not worry. He will be all right.”

Ron thought Ginny still looked worried. Truth be told, he was a little worried, too. It would be a long night.


Back to index


Chapter 19: The Next Chapter

Author's Notes: So, this one is definitely a transition chapter as we move into Harryís Auror training. Thanks very much to Sherry for all her beta help. Iíd also like to tell all of you reviewers that I really appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts. Keep it up!


Chapter Nineteen
The Next Chapter



Harry woke slowly, feeling sleepy and content. He was drowsy, as if awakening from a very deep slumber. It took a moment for him to organize his scattered thoughts. The first thing he became truly aware of was the fact he was naked. Why was he sleeping naked in Ron’s room? Becoming more alert and slightly alarmed, he opened his eyes, scanning his surroundings. Why were there railings keeping him within the bed? And why in Merlin’s name was he holding a stuffed unicorn?

That’s when the memories of the past several days exploded in his mind.

He sat bolt upright in bed, horror gradually overtaking his confusion as image after image flashed across his mind. He’d sucked his thumb in front of all of them. Hermione had found him hiding in a wardrobe. Ginny had carried him around in her arms. Ron and George had tossed him in the swimming hole like some kind of human beach ball. He’d cried on Mr. Weasley’s lap.

Bloody hell! Mrs. Weasley had given him a bath!

Harry groaned, falling back on his pillow with a thump and pulling the covers over his head as heat flooded his face.

He was never going downstairs again. He was mortified.

Maybe Hermione could do a Memory Charm on all of them to make them forget. And then one on herself, too.

Better yet, just do the Memory Charm on him.

Bloody hell.

He groaned again before hearing a faint chuckling coming from Ron’s bed.

“Not one word,” he said through gritted teeth, still keeping the covers clutched in his hand and over his head.

“Not even one?” Ron asked, sounding entirely more delighted than should be allowed. “You’re crushing your unicorn there, mate.”

Swearing, Harry pulled the toy out from beneath his shoulder and whipped it across the room at Ron without once removing the blankets from his head.

Ron’s laughter filled the room.

Harry reached blindly on his night table, searching for his wand.

“It’s not there,” Ron said, his voice still full of laughter. “D’you think we would’ve left a wand with a toddler? How responsible would that have been?”

Harry clenched his teeth. He couldn’t even get out of the bed and deck his best mate since he was completely starkers. He wished the floor would simply open up and swallow him whole.

“Come on, let me see you, then,” Ron said. “Are you completely back to normal? Not that you were ever normal.”

Harry remained silent. Perhaps if he didn’t answer Ron would just go away. He couldn’t stop himself moving his arms and legs to be certain everything was back to normal. Beneath the covers, his eyes roamed down to his private parts with some trepidation. He let out a sigh of relief when everything appeared normal.

“Are you going to tell me what happened? Hermione found the potion residue in Sirius’ old bedroom where we found you,” Ron said.

Apparently he had no intention of going anywhere while the opportunity to take the mickey out of Harry was so available.

“Is everyone awake already?” Harry barked.

“How should I know? Why?” Ron asked.

Harry kept his teeth tightly clenched as he spoke, “Because I’m moving to Grimmauld Place today, and I don’t want to see anyone else before I leave.”

Ron roared with laughter. “Oh, that’s a perfect idea. Just move right back in. Maybe you’ll find another potion that can permanently revert you to your childhood. Did you really enjoy it that much?”

The sodding prat was right.

Damn! Maybe he could just rent a flat after all. He had to get away before George arrived, and he could never look at Ron’s parents again. Never.

“Could you at least hand me some clothes?” he growled.

“What? So you can get up and try and hit me? I don’t think so,” Ron replied, chuckling. “You need to control your temper.”

Harry stuck his hand out from under the covers and wordlessly showed Ron what he thought of him.

“Well, I certainly didn’t teach you that,” Ron sniggered. “It’s not my fault, you know. I didn’t do it. How did it happen, anyway?”

Reluctantly, Harry pulled the covers off his head. He’d had enough childishness to last a lifetime. Ron sat propped against the wall, his hair mussed from sleep and a delighted grin covering his face.

“And there’s the Harry I know,” he said, laughing.

Harry ignored him.

“The potion was on the drapes. I moved them to look out the window, and a cloud of dust surrounded me. I don’t remember much after that until I woke up on the floor without knowing where I was or how I got there,” Harry said, recalling the panicky feeling he’d first experienced. He was annoyed with both himself and whoever had done this. He hated feeling weak or vulnerable, and right now, he felt both.

“What was the point?” he asked irritably.

“That’s what we wondered. I suppose the Death Eaters thought you’d be easier to capture as a little kid,” Ron said.

“Yeah, but just knocking me out would’ve done the same thing,” Harry said. “I thought the Ministry cleared everything out, anyway.”

“Hermione said potions are much easier to conceal because they don’t register as Dark magic,” Ron replied. “Remember how that wine that poisoned me in sixth year got through the wards at Hogwarts?”

“So, what? They just wanted to humiliate me?” Harry asked.

Ron chuckled. “Well, that plan worked splendidly.”

“Sod off,” Harry grumbled.

“Come on, Harry. It could have been much worse. It’s not like you were poisoned. Now the Ministry knows to search for potions. Fleur said there aren’t that many that work solely by inhalation,” Ron replied. “Besides, Mum and the girls loved taking care of you.”

Harry groaned again, feeling the color rising up his chest and across his face. He sat up, keeping the covers securely across his lap. He tried to move the railings off the side of his bed so he could get up, but couldn’t get them to budge.

“They’re childproof,” Ron said, amused.

“Are you going to help me at all?” Harry asked, feeling that Ron had more than tested the limits of Harry’s patience that morning.

Ron looked torn, but eventually he picked up his wand and Vanished the rails on Harry’s camp bed.

“Thanks,” Harry said tersely, holding the blankets firmly across his lap as he swung his legs over the edge.

They felt stiff and cramped. He supposed he’d gone through fourteen years of growing pains in one night. No wonder his body ached. He tried stretching to work out some of the kinks, but it was hopeless. The whole situation was bloody hopeless. How was he supposed to face the Weasleys after this?

“Come on,” Ron said bracingly. “It could have been worse.”

“Will you quit saying that?” Harry snapped. “How could it possibly be any worse?”

“Well, at least you were toilet-trained,” Ron said, falling to his side and holding his stomach he laughed so hard.

Harry shut his eyes tightly, hoping the entire thing was some wicked nightmare. The bedroom door swung open, and Hermione stuck her head inside.

“Harry!” she shouted, pushing the door open wide to reveal Ginny standing beside her. Both girls, still in their dressing gowns, rushed over to his camp bed and sat on either side of him.

Harry pulled the blanket closer, feeling incredibly exposed on all levels. His heart thumped wildly as heat suffused his face.

“How do you feel?” Hermione asked.

“Are you in any pain?” Ginny asked simultaneously.

Ron finally took some pity. “Oi, back off a little. He doesn’t have any clothes on under there.”

Perhaps not too much pity.

Ginny laughed, but Hermione jumped up and grabbed Harry’s dressing gown from the hook on the back of the door.

“Are you all right?” she asked, handing it to him.

Harry managed to reach out one hand to grab it while keeping the other clutched to his chest. “Thanks,” he muttered.

He felt disconcerted that Ginny was sitting so near and watching him so closely with an amused expression. Had they been alone, he might have teased her back, but right now, he felt distinctly at a disadvantage.

“Er… would you mind leaving?” he asked.

“Of course,” Hermione said. “We’ll meet you downstairs.”

Are you going to come downstairs?” Ginny asked, quirking an eyebrow.

“He’ll have to. He says he’s moving back to Grimmauld Place today. He wanted to do it before anyone saw him though,” Ron said unhelpfully.

“Harry, you can’t!” Hermione gasped.

“He knows that,” Ginny replied. “That’s just his embarrassment talking. He knows Grimmauld Place isn’t safe. Right, Harry?”

“I reminded him,” Ron said, grinning like a Cheshire cat.

Harry glared at him. “Look, could you all please give me a minute to get dressed here?” he asked loudly.

Ginny leaned over and quickly pecked him on the cheek. “You don’t have to be embarrassed. We’ll meet you downstairs.”

With that, she stood up and bounded toward the door. Hermione and Ron both followed her out, shutting the door behind them. Harry finally pulled himself out of the camp bed and quickly dressed before they decided to come back.

Putting his hand on the closed bedroom door, he tried to steel his mind to just get through it. He was a Gryffindor, after all. Might as well just get it over with all at once.

When he arrived in the kitchen, he found Ron and the girls sitting at the table, but Mrs. Weasley wasn’t there. Harry wasn’t certain if he should be relieved or not. It just meant he’d have to revisit his embarrassment later.

Before he could even relax, however, Mr. Weasley stepped from behind the door of the storage cabinet, dressed in his Ministry robes.

“Good morning, Harry. How are you feeling?” he asked brightly, sounding as if he was delighted to see him.

Harry’s face flushed. “Morning, sir,” he mumbled, dropping his eyes.

Mr. Weasley chuckled, walking over to Harry and resting his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Chin up. No need to be uncomfortable, lad. Do you honestly think you’re the only one in this house with embarrassing childhood memories? We’ll just add yours to the bunch.”

Harry was extremely touched. “Thanks, sir,” he said gruffly, his eyes stinging slightly.

“I’m glad to see it all worked out. No harm, no foul,” Mr. Weasley said, patting Harry’s shoulder again. “I’m off to work.”

They called their good-byes as he left.

“Mum left your chair for you,” Ron said, nodding to a chair stacked with several pillows. Mrs. Weasley had put them there a few days ago to accommodate Harry’s slight stature.

Harry picked up the top pillow and beamed Ron in the head with it before taking a seat in an empty chair.

“Harry, there’s a note here that the Minister will be stopping by at half-twelve,” Ginny said.

“Did he say why?” Harry asked.

Ginny shook her head, “The note just said he was coming. Mum went to see Mrs. Tonks.”

Harry pulled a few slices of toast onto his plate.

“Ron told us you believe you inhaled the De-Ageing potion. Is that right, Harry?” Hermione asked.

“Yeah, from what I remember,” he replied.

“That’s odd,” Hermione said, frowning. “There aren’t a lot of potions that are effective simply by inhalation.”

“And that’s the only thing you found odd about this whole thing, Herminney?” Harry asked, pronouncing her name as he’d done when he was stuck in his younger self.

Ron and Ginny howled, but Hermione narrowed her eyes. “I might have let you get away with that when you were a cute little fellow, Harry Potter, but that’s over now,” she said firmly.

Harry smirked, pleased that he wasn’t the only one feeling disgruntled.

“Maybe that’s what the Minister wants to talk to you about,” Ginny said. “Dad told him what happened.”

“Great,” Harry said, rolling his eyes. “I’m just glad it’s over and done. Did he say why the potion didn’t turn up when the Ministry did its sweep?”

“Oh, it’s not completely over,” Ginny said, smiling sweetly. “Mum took plenty of pictures.”

Harry cringed, remembering Mrs. Weasley snapping her camera every time he’d moved. “Brilliant.”

“Potions wouldn’t register as Dark magic,” Hermione said. They’re easy to miss, and easy to smuggle where they shouldn’t be. Fortunately, most of them have to be ingested.”

“So don’t eat or drink anything you find at Grimmauld Place,” Ron said.

“As if I would,” Harry said indignantly. “How was I to know there was a potion on the drapes?”

“What were you doing in Sirius’ room, anyway, Harry?” Hermione asked.

“I was thinking of turning it into a room for Teddy in case he’d like to stay when he’s older,” Harry said. “D’you think Dean Thomas would be willing to paint something on the wall for me?”

Ginny nodded. “He’d probably be happy to get the work. He’s put his name down to return to Hogwarts next term.”

“There you go, Hermione, someone else from our year,” Ron said.

Hermione nodded. “Parvati is returning, as well.”

“Is she?” Ginny asked. “She never returned after Christmas, not until the Battle, anyway.”

Hermione nodded. “Her parents didn’t want her and Padma to return at all, but when it was mandatory, they sent them. They went to stay with relatives over Christmas and never returned. I spoke with Padma when I went into the Ministry.”

They spent the morning in the field playing two-a-side Quidditch, but returned for lunch and the visit from the Minister. He arrived promptly at half twelve.

“Good afternoon,” he nodded to the teens. “I see you’re back to your earned age, Harry.”

Harry colored but forced himself to hold the man’s gaze. “Yes, sir. No harm done, other than a little embarrassment.”

“A little?” Ron asked, chuckling.

Harry shot him a filthy glare. “What can we do for you, Minister?” he asked.

“I just wanted to confirm you’re all right. I have a Ministry team back at Grimmauld Place as we speak, looking for traces of potions. They are extremely easy to conceal, so I wanted to warn you to remain on guard,” the Minister replied.

Harry nodded. “I’m always on guard, sir.”

“I know, yet you still ended up as a toddler for two days. We were lucky your friends found you quickly,” the Minister said, frowning.

“No one else could have got into Grimmauld Place,” Harry said.

“True, but do you think it’s a safe place for a toddler, Harry?” Hermione asked.

“It will be,” Harry said firmly, thinking more of Teddy’s safety than his own.

“I have one other item to discuss,” the Minister said, his eyes scanning them all speculatively.

“Which is?” Harry asked warily.

“I have a class of Aurors beginning on the twentieth of June. I was wondering if any of you would be interested in joining them?” he asked, his deep, rich voice filling the kitchen.

“That’s sooner than you’d expected,” Harry said, intrigued despite his question. The need to do something other than clean Grimmauld Place tugged strongly on his conscience.

Kingsley nodded. “It is. The class before you is moving along nicely, but we need people, so we’re starting this second group earlier than we’d planned.”

“Thank you very much for the offer, Minister, but Ginny and I are returning to Hogwarts in September,” Hermione said, glancing at Ginny for confirmation.

Ginny nodded. “I want to finish my final year,” she said.

“I’ll do it,” Ron said suddenly, looking directly at Harry. Harry knew he was hoping Harry felt the same. “What do you think?”

“What about the trials?” Harry asked. “Ron and I are expected as witnesses on several of them.”

Kingsley nodded. “Gawain Robards is aware of this, and agrees the trials are top priority. The recruits coming in are at various levels of readiness, so we can work around any need you have to appear in front of the Wizengamot. Classes will be rather sporadic over the summer, since a lot of Aurors are witnesses at various trials, as well.”

Harry glanced at Ginny to see her reaction. “What do you think?” he asked.

“I think you’ll be happier if you have something to do,” she said. “But evenings belong to me.” She grinned to let him know she was only half-kidding, but Harry was intrigued by the thought of what they’d do with those evenings.

“I can live with that. Okay, Minister, I’m in,” he said.

He was going to become an Auror.


*****


Ginny walked through the corridors of the Ministry of Magic, her mind abuzz with Transfiguration facts. This would be her toughest examination. Despite all of Professor McGonagall’s best efforts, Ginny had never loved Transfiguration.

“Here you go, Gingerbear,” her father said, leaning over and kissing her on the cheek. He’d Side-Along Apparated her into work this morning.

“Thanks, Dad,” Ginny said, taking a deep breath and steeling herself. “Here goes nothing.”

“You’ll be fine. You’ve worked very hard. Your mother and I are enormously proud of you,” he said, smiling.

“I think Ancient Runes will be fine, but I have to get through Transfiguration first,” she said ruefully.

Her father looked down, his ears turning slightly red as his demeanor changed. “I know this past year at Hogwarts was difficult. I wish there was more we could have done—”

“Don’t,” Ginny said, interrupting. “There was nothing you could have done, and you pulled me out before things got really bad. It happened, but we all got through it.”

Her father smiled sadly. “You’ve grown into such a spectacular young witch and shown more strength of character than we could have even hoped.”

Ginny colored, ducking her head. “I love you, too, Dad,” she said, hugging him again and clearing her throat. An annoying lump had become lodged there. “It’s funny to be taking these exams now. It’s just about the same time we should be taking them if we were still at Hogwarts.”

Her dad recognized her attempts to change the subject, and thankfully didn’t press. She needed a calm mind to sit these exams.

“Good luck, but I’m certain you won’t need it,” he said. “Just do your best.”

“I will,” Ginny promised before turning and pushing open the door to the holding room.

The Ministry had set up several rooms to accommodate the testing. She saw one of her roommates, Siobhan MacAuley, as soon as she entered.

“Ginny!” the Irish girl called, striding toward her.

Siobhan was tall with dark hair and striking blue eyes. She always looked so carefully put together, but after living with her for six years, Ginny knew it came innately to Siobhan. She was just one of those people with a natural beauty. Ginny eternally felt she needed to straighten her spine when she stood next to her roommate. Siobhan towered over her.

Fleur always referred to Ginny as petite. Ginny thought that was just her fancy way of saying short. Bill and Ron had stolen all the height genes in her family.

“How are you doing?” Ginny asked, hugging her roommate. “Are you ready for this?”

Siobhan shook her head. “I don’t know. Today will be okay, but tomorrow is Potions and Herbology. That will be my worst day.”

Ginny nodded, remembering Siobhan moaning about Potions class for years. “At least I’m getting my toughest one over today,” Ginny said.

“I got an owl from Liz yesterday,” Siobhan said excitedly.

Liz Spencer was their other surviving roommate. Her sister-in-law had been sent to Azkaban by the Muggleborn Registration Committee. Neither Ginny nor Siobhan had heard from her since the Battle, until now apparently.

“What did she say?” Ginny asked urgently. “Is she all right?”

“She is, but her sister-in-law didn’t make it. Liz has been helping her brother take care of her nephew,” Siobhan said sadly.

“Oh, no!” Ginny gasped. She’d feared this might’ve happened but had hoped she’d be wrong.

“She felt terrible about missing Anna’s funeral, but it was held the same day as her sister-in-law’s,” Siobhan said.

Ginny nodded. There had been so many funerals, many people had to pick where they could be. “Is she coming back to Hogwarts?” Ginny asked.

Siobhan nodded. “She said she is. Professor McGonagall is making special arrangements for her to sit her exams later in the summer with a few others who were unable to come here this week.”

“That’s really good of her,” Ginny said. She’d always been fond of their Head of House. She was tough, but Ginny knew she had a good heart underneath.

“It’ll be so strange to be back in the dormitory without Anna,” Siobhan said.

Anna had been their fourth roommate, and she hadn’t survived the Battle of Hogwarts.

“I know,” Ginny agreed. “Hermione and Parvati are both coming back though, so they’ll be in with us.”

“That should be interesting,” Siobhan said.

Ginny agreed. Although she liked Hermione very much, it was always a challenge to put a bunch of witches in a room together. She hoped they’d meld and not separate into two distinct groups.

“Speaking of seventh-years, have you seen any of the others?” Siobhan asked, her eyes twinkling merrily.

Ginny felt the traitorous Weasley coloring suffusing her cheeks. “Well, I am related to one of them, after all,” she said blithely.

Siobhan nudged her shoulder. “And what about his best mate? I haven’t seen your picture plastered all over the Daily Prophet, so we’ve all been wondering.”

Ginny smiled, thankful for Harry’s sake that the paper hadn’t picked up on their relationship yet. Apparently there was still too much post-battle drama for them to focus on. “Harry is doing well, and he’ll be happy to keep the Prophet away for as long as possible.”

“Is he staying with you? I’ve seen a lot of speculation on where he went after the battle,” Siobhan asked.

“Yeah, he’s with us for now. There have been some reporters nosing around the wards, but fortunately they can’t get through,” Ginny replied.

“How cozy,” Siobhan said, batting her eyes.

“Get your mind out of the gutter,” Ginny said, smiling. “I’m a perfectly respectable young witch.”

“But I know exactly who you’d like to change that reputation with,” Siobhan said, laughing.

Ginny giggled. “We’re taking it slow. We’ve both been through a lot, and we’re getting to know each other again,” she said, sobering.

She knew what she said was true. The past few days aside — and she really didn’t want to say anything about Harry revisiting his childhood — had been better. Harry did seem so much healthier after revealing his fear about the Horcrux. His nightmares weren’t as frequent, and they appeared to have lessened in intensity. Was a little bit of reassurance all he really needed? Had he been so deprived of that comfort all his life? Ginny worried about him still, but all she could really do was be there for him.

She could understand why the thought of Voldemort living inside him freaked him out so badly, but she couldn’t help the disappointment that he’d ever considered she’d run from him over it. Above all others, she knew how he felt. She, too, had had that monster inside her. It was creepy to think about.

She shook her head to clear it. Tom wouldn’t get any part of today.

“Good for you, Ginny,” Siobhan said sincerely.

“How about you? Broken any hearts lately?” Ginny asked.

A light blush stained Siobhan’s cheeks, and she dropped her eyes demurely.

“Ooh! Do tell,” Ginny said excitedly.

“There’s not much to tell. It’s a Muggle boy from my neighborhood. Can you believe it? We’ve spent a lot of time together, and he’s got a lot of muscles. You know how much I appreciate muscles,” Siobhan said, grinning.

“I do,” Ginny said, laughing. “So… what do you do with a Muggle? Does he know you’re a witch?”

Ginny always wondered how that would work. Her magic was so natural to her, she never knew how she’d go about hiding it if she were dating a Muggle.

“We’ve gone to the cinema several times. I love the cinema! He doesn’t know I’m a witch, although he’s looked at me funny a few times when I mess up some Muggle thing I should know. My Muggle Studies class has come in very handy,” Siobhan said excitedly.

“Ginny! Siobhan!”

The girls turned to see Ritchie Coote and Andrew Kirke, two Gryffindors from their year approaching. The four exchanged greetings. There were five boys in Ginny’s year, and they’d also lost a roommate when Colin had been killed.

“How have you been?” Andrew asked. He was speaking to both, but his eyes were locked on Siobhan. Andrew had been asking Siobhan to go out with him since fourth year.

“It’s weird to think that the next Head Boy and Head Girl are in this room, isn’t it?” Siobhan asked.

Ginny really hadn’t given it a lot of thought. Her eyes roamed over her familiar class of almost-seventh-years. The people she’d always assumed would get it weren’t necessarily the same anymore. Last year had changed everything. The brutality of the Carrows’ rule caused some to step up, while others completely fell apart. They’d also lost classmates from each House.

The four spent a few moments catching up, but as the minutes ticked by, Ginny felt her heartbeat speeding up. She should have followed Hermione’s revision plan more closely. This was her own fault. She should’ve given her revision more time and attention. This was hopeless. She was rubbish at Transfiguration.

“I wish this was over already,” she muttered.

“Me, too,” Ritchie said. “I hate Transfiguration.” She and Ritchie had both been awarded extra work in Transfiguration on numerous occasions when they couldn’t grasp a particular spell. At least she wasn’t the only one dreading this exam.

Professor McGonagall opened the door and ushered them all inside. Ginny nodded as she passed, but otherwise, the strict professor gave no acknowledgement that she knew Ginny outside of the classroom.

“Well, it could be worse,” Siobhan sighed.

“How?” Ginny moaned.

“If we were back at Hogwarts, the fifth-years would be sitting their O.W.L.s. Can you imagine the nightmare Romilda would be?” she asked.

Romilda Vane was in the year behind them, and she was always very vocal about her complaints.

“Too right,” Ginny said, pulling out her quill and preparing to begin her first exam.


Ginny felt exhausted after finishing her last exam for the day. She and Siobhan exited the Ancient Runes exam and began following the crowd of sixth-years toward the Atrium. Each year had been assigned a certain week, and the sixth-years started things off. Ginny had another two exams tomorrow.

“Well, that was better than Transfiguration,” Ginny said. The exam hadn’t been as bad as she’d dreaded, but Ancient Runes was definitely easier.

“You think?’ Siobhan asked. “I thought it was harder than I’d expected.”

“Ginny,” a familiar voice called.

She looked up to see Harry standing in the shadows against the wall with his hands in his pockets. He smiled shyly as she walked toward him.

“What are you doing here?” she asked, surprised. By now, several of her classmates had noticed and the whispering and pointing had begun.

“Hi, Harry,” Siobhan said, still by her side.

“Hi,” Harry replied, rubbing the back of his neck. “I thought maybe you’d like to go out to lunch and celebrate. Er… unless you’ve already made plans.”

Ginny’s day immediately got remarkably better. “I would love to go,” she said happily, delighted he’d braved the crowds to surprise her.

“You two have fun. I’ll see you tomorrow, Ginny,” Siobhan said, hugging her quickly. “Potions, urgh.”

“Good luck,” Harry called, and Siobhan waved, winking at Ginny as she left.

“That’s my roommate, Siobhan,” Ginny said, knowing he’d forgotten her name.

“Right,” Harry replied sheepishly. “So, where do you want to go? The Leaky Cauldron or into Muggle London?”

Ginny took his hand and they began to walk, interrupted by some of her classmates who kept stopping by to say hello. Ginny knew the offer to go to the Leaky Cauldron was a big step for him. He’d been mobbed the last time he’d attempted it. Siobhan’s comment about not seeing her picture in the paper sparked Ginny to get the ball rolling. It would happen sooner or later, might as well let it be on her terms.

“Let’s go to the Leaky Cauldron,” she whispered in his ear so they wouldn’t have a crowd following them.

Harry raised his eyebrows. “You sure?”

Ginny grinned. “I am. I feel like strutting.”

Harry held out his hand, looking less certain that she felt, and they walked toward the Apparition checkpoint.

The Leaky Cauldron was busy, but not overly packed. Harry was spotted nearly instantaneously, and he graciously smiled and shook a few hands before Hannah Abbott ushered them to a table in the corner.

“Sorry about that,” Hannah said. “Give me some notice, and I’ll have a table waiting next time, Harry.”

“Thanks, Hannah,” he said, and Ginny knew he’d never do any such thing.

“What can I get you to drink?” Hannah asked, handing them some menus.

“How about a couple Butterbeers to start?” Harry asked. “We’re celebrating Ginny taking the first of her sixth-year exams.”

“Oh, congratulations. I’ve got extra shifts covered all week because I assume there’ll be bigger crowds,” Hannah said. “I’ll bring them right over.”

“So… it went well, yeah?” Harry asked.

Ginny shrugged. “Ancient Runes was fine. Transfiguration was harder, but I’d expected that. I still think I did okay. Onto Potions and Herbology.”

“What are they doing about Defense?” Harry asked.

Defense Against the Dark Arts hadn’t even been covered the previous year. The Carrows changed the title to Dark Arts, and actually taught them about using Dark spells.

“That one has been postponed. We’re to be given review materials after the other exams are over, then we’ll be tested at the start of term to determine what needs to be covered,” Ginny said quietly.

Harry nodded, grimacing.

“So, what did you do all day?” Ginny asked, wanting a lighter subject. “Did Ron and George throw you around in the swimming hole?”

Ginny cherished getting to meet Harry as a little boy. She’d recently spent so much time worrying about his past, it was nice to see first-hand what a survivor he was. He’d been timid at first, surprised by simple kindness, but he’d warmed up completely. Despite all his relatives had put him through, he’d still kept that innocence. Damaged, yes, but still innocent.

“Very ha ha,” Harry said, scowling, his cheeks turning red.

“Oh, Harry. It was funny. And you were so cute,” Ginny gushed.

“But if had happened to you, I bet you wouldn’t think it was so funny,” Harry said.

“Of course it wouldn’t be,” Ginny said unapologetically. “They’ve all seen me as a toddler already. It was the first time all of us got to meet little Harry.”

“Last time, too,” Harry grumbled.

“How do you know there isn’t any more at Grimmauld Place? Did the Ministry find anything else?” she asked worriedly. Fortunately, the De-Ageing potion had been harmless, but Ginny was uneasy thinking what could’ve happened, and what else could still be hidden there.

“Kingsley’s team is still there today, but… you heard him. Potions are extremely hard to detect,” Harry said, shrugging.

“So… you’re just going to risk it?” Ginny asked, alarmed.

“No,” Harry said calmly. “From now on when I’m cleaning, I’ll use a Bubblehead Charm. Anyone helping me will have to do the same.”

“Oh,” Ginny said, derailed. Obviously he had been thinking about it.

“Oh, indeed,” Harry said, smirking.

“You think you’re clever, don’t you?” Ginny asked. It was her turn to scowl.

“The Sorting Hat said I was,” Harry replied.

“It did?” Ginny asked curiously. “Did it consider you for Ravenclaw, then?”

Harry shifted, rubbing his hand along the back of his neck as he always did when uncomfortable. “At first it listed why I could fit in all the Houses,” he said, his voice sounding very far away. “But then it focused on Slytherin.”

Harry swallowed thickly, his face pale.

“D’you… d’you think it was because it detected the Horcrux?” he asked quietly.

Harry’s entire posture had gone rigid. Ginny hoped none of the patrons would come over and startle him now. He was liable to Hex them. She’d known he’d felt better about things after finally getting it off his chest at Privet Drive, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t still bothering him. She imagined it would take some time. Everything that happened at Privet Drive would take time to heal.

“I don’t know,” she said slowly. “Is that what you think?”

Harry looked worried. “Maybe. It said I had a thirst to prove myself.”

“Well, that’s true. You can be cunning—”

Harry looked up sharply.

“—and clever, and loyal, but most of all, I think you’re brave,” Ginny finished firmly.

“That’s basically what the Hat said at first,” Harry said, taking a gulp of one of the Butterbeers that had magically appeared at their table.

Ginny took a sip of her own to gather her thoughts. “But then it focused on Slytherin?” she asked.

“Well, not exactly,” he said. “I think I panicked when it mentioned all the Houses. I’d already met Hagrid and Ron, and neither of them was keen on Slytherin. I’d also met Malfoy in Diagon Alley, and I definitely knew I didn’t like him, so I asked the Hat not to put me in Slytherin. Malfoy reminded me of Dudley, and I didn’t want to be around more people like either of them.”

“So… the Hat never focused on Slytherin; you did. The Hat commented on all the Houses trying to work out where you were best suited,” Ginny said, trying to be certain she had it right.

“I suppose you’re right,” Harry said, his brow still furrowed. “It told me I would do well in Slytherin… but only after I kept asking not to be put in Slytherin.”

“When it listed all the Houses, which did it list first?” Ginny asked.

Harry thought for a moment. “Gryffindor.”

“And it chose Gryffindor. Even if it did pick up on any trace of that Horcrux, and I’m not convinced it did, it picked Gryffindor. You were stronger, Harry. Your will won out,” Ginny said earnestly.

Harry’s shoulders relaxed, and a bit of color returned to his cheeks. “Dumbledore said it was because I chose not to go to Slytherin. He said it’s our choices that make us who we are.”

“He was always very wise,” Ginny said, feeling a wave of discomfort descend upon her. Harry had been so good about sharing his thoughts and fears with her lately, she felt she owed it to him to do the same. “I was terrified I wouldn’t be put in Gryffindor.”

Harry looked up, surprised. “You were? Why? You definitely scream Gryffindor to me.”

Ginny smiled. “My entire family had been Sorted into Gryffindor. I was the youngest, the only girl — different from all the rest. I worried what if that meant I’d be Sorted differently, too.”

Harry blinked at her, obviously surprised.

“I was terrified… and still worried about what had happened to you and Ron. Thankfully, that fear was unfounded. Once it was done, I was so happy I didn’t burst into tears and make everyone wonder why I’d been put in Gryffindor in the first place,” she said, remembering her younger self. That had happened before she learned about real terror.

“Sorry,” Harry said automatically.

Ginny frowned, “I thought we’d discussed not apologizing for things that were out of your control.”

Harry clamped his lips together to avoid apologizing again. Ginny laughed. Hannah came by and took their orders. While they were waiting for their food, Harry reached across the table and took her hand.

“Thanks, Ginny,” he said shyly.

“For what?” she asked, blinking.

“Everything,” he replied. “You just… you make everything better.”

Ginny thought the feeling of warmth and contentment that spread through her insides just might allow her to fly without the aid of a broom.

“You do that for me, too, you know,” she said, glancing up at him through lowered lashes.

She knew there was still a lot they each had to work through, but working through it together made anything seem possible. She suspected Harry still had a lot of issues he hadn’t fully dealt with, but she could wait until he was ready.

She and Hermione had done some research on abused children. While she’d never been as studious as Hermione, she could definitely delve into a subject when it interested her. More than anything, they both wanted to know why Harry had never said anything to them back at Hogwarts. They would have done anything to help him. Anyone in the Order or the teachers at school would’ve, as well. All the research materials said abused children rarely did confess, however. If confronted, they often took it as the questioner putting the blame on them for not telling.

Ginny never wanted to do that.

Wounds took time to heal, but they were getting there.


*****


Harry woke up on the first day of Auror training with a slightly scratchy throat. He groaned, hoping it wasn’t the beginning of a summer cold. Perhaps a shower and some coffee would perk him up.

Ron still slept soundly, his snoring nearly shaking the walls of his small bedroom. On his way to the shower, Harry leaned over and barked into Ron’s ear. “On your feet, trainee.”

Ron jumped, his head whipping from side to side. When Harry chuckled, Ron scowled at him. “Very funny. Git.”

“I’m having a shower. If you go back to sleep, I’m not waking you again,” Harry called, ducking out of the way of the trainer Ron chucked at his head.

After his shower, Harry did feel better. He quickly changed into his new Ministry Trainee robes and ran down to breakfast. Ginny had said she’d meet him for breakfast. She didn’t usually like to get up so early, but he hoped she remembered.

She had.

Ginny sat at the kitchen table, still wearing her dressing gown with her hair looking extremely bed-rumpled.

“Morning,” Harry said brightly, pleased she’d dragged herself out of bed. For him.

Ginny looked up blearily, “Morning.”

Harry leaned over and quickly pecked her on the cheek as he sat down next to her and poured some coffee from the pot on the table.

“Good morning, Harry, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said, bustling over and placing a heaping plate of eggs and bacon in front of him. “Is Ron up yet?”

“Yeah, he’s in the shower. Thanks, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry replied, tucking in.

“Nothing is too good for my boys starting their Ministry training,” Mrs. Weasley said, kissing the top of Harry’s head. He thought she sounded a bit tearful, and he raised his head quickly.

“They’re proud tears, not unhappy ones,” Ginny said, absently patting his hand.

Harry smiled, pleased. Mrs. Weasley walked back over and kissed his head again. “I’m very proud. I can still remember the two of you on the platform on your first day of Hogwarts. Both so nervous and excited at the same time. And now look at you. You’re going to be Aurors,” she gushed.

“If we pass the training,” Harry corrected, still feeling both nervous and excited.

Ginny snorted. “As if you won’t.”

Harry scowled at her. “It’s supposed to be really difficult, and a lot of recruits drop out in the first few months.”

“That’s true,” Ginny said, placating him. She lowered her head to her plate, and Harry knew she was trying not to laugh.

“Shut it,” he mumbled.

Ginny threw her head back. “You really are adorable. Harry, you were made for this job. You’ll be fine.”

“Is Harry thinking they’re going to toss him out again?” Ron asked, entering the kitchen with his hair still wet.

Mrs. Weasley hurried over with a plate for Ron, kissing his head, as well. “Oh, Ronnie! Look at you in your Ministry robes.”

The robes had been sent by owl yesterday. They were black, much like Hogwarts robes, but with a gold trim and an ‘Auror Trainee’ insignia on the pocket.

Ron’s ears turned bright red, but Harry could tell he was pleased.

“Do you know anyone else who will be in your group?” Ginny asked.

Harry shook his head, swallowing his eggs. “No, but Kingsley said we might. He asked a lot of the DA if they wanted to join.”

“Hopefully not Zacharias Smith,” Ron said, grumbling.

“He’s in my year,” Ginny replied. “So unless he decided not to go back to Hogwarts, you shouldn’t have to worry.”

“I’m not worried,” Ron scoffed. “I just don’t like the git.”

“Good morning,” Hermione said, joining them at the table for breakfast. “Are you excited?”

“Yeah,” Ron said, smiling. “I’ll be excited to get paid, too.”

“I can’t believe you’re really not coming back to Hogwarts. It won’t be the same without you,” Hermione said, trying not to sniffle.

“I’ll be with you,” Ginny said bracingly. “We’ll have a girls’ year.”

Hermione smiled gratefully.

“And it’s not like you won’t see us. We’ll come up for Hogwarts visits, won’t we, Harry?” Ron asked.

“Absolutely,” Harry replied, grinning at Ginny, who beamed back.

They finished up their breakfast companionably before the girls kissed them goodbye, and they Apparated to the Ministry. Harry’s palms were sweating, but otherwise, he thought he’d managed to control his nervousness. Ron, on the other hand, had begun to fidget. He looked pale and sickly, as if he wished he hadn’t eaten so much breakfast.

He had eaten a lot.

“We’ll be all right, Ron,” Harry said bracingly as he pushed open the door to the training room. “Everyone else is starting right where we are.”

Those already in the room turned to look at the newcomers. He saw several pairs of eyes widen in surprise before a familiar face called to them. “Harry! Ron! I didn’t know you’d be here,” Susan Bones, a Hufflepuff from their year and fellow DA member said.

Her dark red hair was pulled back into a plait, and she also wore the Auror Training robes. She was sitting next to a girl Harry recognized from Ravenclaw, although he couldn’t remember her name.

“Hey, Susan,” Ron said, moving to take one of the chairs in the row behind her.

Harry followed him to the other. He looked around the room at the other trainees. There was a dark-skinned boy with bright, inquisitive eyes who automatically did the glance upwards at Harry’s scar. He sat next to a muscular bloke who wore a bored expression. The final occupant of the room was a curvy witch with thick brown curls. She winked at him flirtatiously, causing Harry to quickly turn his gaze back to Susan.

“You remember Lisa Turpin,” she said, indicating the girl who sat beside her.
Harry remembered her name as soon as Susan said it. She had small, rather plain features, and she now sported one streak of blue in her dull brown hair.

Harry nodded, “Hello, Lisa. How have you been?”

Lisa smiled sadly. “Never thought I’d be here, but after the Battle… I felt the need to do something. You know?”

“I do,” Harry replied, understanding completely.

“My auntie recommended this program to me for years before she was killed. She was a very powerful witch, and she always said a lot of the power players in the Ministry came through the Auror program,” Susan said.

“I met your aunt,” Harry said, recalling his trial for underage magic before his fifth year. “She was part of the Wizengamot.”

“Yes, she’d been a member for years. Some say it’s why Voldemort targeted her,” Susan said.

The door to the training room burst open again, and another familiar face sauntered in. Ron groaned when he saw who it was. Harry felt like groaning himself. Cormac McClaggan had been in the year ahead of them at Hogwarts. A big, burly chap who thought very highly of himself. He and Ron had competed for the Keeper position on the Gryffindor Quidditch team.

“Potter, Weasley,” he said. “Still doing everything together, I see.”

Somehow, he made it sound derogatory, and Harry felt Ron stiffen beside him. McClaggan took the empty seat next to the curvy witch, smiling engagingly at her.

“Violet Benson,” the witch said, introducing herself. “My father is an Auror, but I decided to take a gap year that stretched into three.”

“I took a gap year myself. My Uncle Tiberius told me anyone who was anyone started by being an Auror, so here I am,” Cormac said pompously. “The Minister is in desperate need to replenish Aurors since the war.”

“While this is true,” the instructor said, striding into the room and taking his place at the front, “it doesn’t mean you’re going to be pushed through his program without meeting my standards. And I have very high standards.”

He was tall with a narrow, muscular build and striking blue eyes. His gaze roamed over all of them, making Harry feel as if he could see their insides.

“I may not be happy with our current recruitment practices, but I can see the need for them. Do not mistake that for believing it means you will breeze through this training. The lives of your fellow Aurors will depend on your skills, and if I don’t feel you have the skills, you’ll not go through. And I don’t care who you are,” he said, his eyes landing on Harry.

Harry stared back unflinchingly.

“My name is Thaddeus Pierce, and I have been inducting trainees through the ranks for the past fifteen years. I won’t let my standards falter now. If you’re here for glory, you’re going to have to earn it,” he said, this time resting his eyes on Cormac who smiled widely, as if he didn’t think earning glory was going to be a problem.

Ron had slunk down in his seat, and Lisa looked rather nervous as she listened intently to the instructor’s every word.

“I’m aware there are different experience levels amongst this group, but that is of no consequence. We’re all starting at scratch, and those who can will move on. The war trials are imminent, and our class time will be adjusted as needed to work around them. I have an assistant who will cover the class during any of the trials I need to attend. You will all be subjected to a physical today. Providing you are all in top form, you’ll be sent home with paperwork that needs to be filled out before you return tomorrow. I will also be testing your dueling skills to see which areas need to be addressed first,” Instructor Pierce said.

“Benson, Bones, and MacDonald, please see the Mediwitch first. She’ll be out the door and to your left.”

Susan, the flirtatious witch, and the muscular wizard all stood up and exited the room.

“McClaggan, Potter, Tate, Turpin, and Weasley, follow me,” Instructor Pierce barked. The remainder of the room quickly obeyed.

“What do you think?” Ron whispered as they followed the group into a larger room with a Cushioning Charm on the floor.

“Haven’t decided yet. As long as he’s fair, it’s all right if he’s tough,” Harry said.

He was no longer eleven and scared half to death. He wasn’t about to put up with any Snape-like bullying. He might know nothing about Ministry procedures, but he was good with Defense. He was certain he could handle himself.

Instructor Pierce lined them all up against the back wall. He walked in front of them, lecturing, before turning sharply and aiming a Stunner at Harry.

“Protego,” Harry shouted quickly, not only raising a Shield, but ducking out of the way at the same time.

Pierce nodded and continued his lecture, stopping a few moment later to cast the same spell at the dark-skinned, wiry wizard called Tate. Tate jumped back, bumping into Ron, who stumbled and knocked into Lisa Turpin, who was grazed by the Stunner as she fell.

Pierce revived her without comment and continued his lecture. All five students were staring at him warily now. Ron was the next to have a Stunner sent his way. He raised a Shield in time, but only just.

“He was anticipating it,” McClaggan said scornfully.

“Stupefy,” Pierce shouted, and McClaggan dropped. Ron’s glee was nearly palpable.

Pierce revived McClaggan and moved on. Cormac sat up, rubbing his head and scowling as he dragged himself to his feet.

“When you are tracking a Dark wizard, very often the attack will come suddenly and without provocation as it did with Mr. Potter, who responded extremely well,” Pierce said, nodding to Harry. “Afterwards, you were all on guard, expecting me to do something, yet I still managed to Stun both Turpin and McClaggan. This is again how it will be in the field. Even though you were aware and believed you were on guard, I managed to attack you. Tate, you dodged well, but you left your partner exposed. We have a lot of work to do.

“You will be training both physically and mentally over the next several months. I expect you to not only improve your dueling skills, but become stealthy at Concealment Charms, efficient with emergency Healing Charms, and familiar with Ministry protocol in dire circumstances.

“I’m going to interview each of you individually to see where your skill level lies. McClaggan, I’ll start with you,” Pierce said, raising an auburn eyebrow at the burly wizard.

McClaggan held his head high as he strode confidently, with a hint of disdain, toward their instructor. The remainder of the group huddled around a water table. Lisa scowled at Ron.

“Sorry,” Ron said. “I was just trying to get out of the way.”

“It’s a wonder you managed to survive long enough to take on You-Know-Who after travelling with this one,” Lisa grumbled to Harry.

“Say Voldemort. There’s no reason to show him any respect,” Harry said quietly.

“I wasn’t being respectful. It’s just habit,” Lisa replied, offended.

“A habit that needs to be broken,” Harry insisted. He glanced at the other wizard standing with them. His robes were neatly pressed, and he observed them all with inquisitive hazel eyes.

“Duncan Tate,” he introduced himself, offering his hand.

“Harry Potter,” Harry replied, shaking his hand.

“I know who you are,” Duncan said, grinning. “I’d have to be living under a rock these past few years not to.”

Ron introduced himself, as well. “I don’t remember you from Hogwarts.”

Duncan shrugged. “I went to Hogwarts for my first couple years, then my parents divorced, and I moved to France with my mother. I finished my education at Beauxbatons.”

“What made you decide to come back?” Ron asked curiously.

Duncan’s eyes shifted. “A lot of reasons,” he said evasively. “I worked odd jobs for the past couple years. When I heard about the open call for the Ministry, I decided to try my luck.”

“So, being an Auror hasn’t been a lifelong dream?” Lisa asked.

Duncan shook his head. “Not for me, but I need some direction,” he replied, grinning.

“Potter,” Pierce barked. “You’re next.”

Harry exchanged spots with Cormac, who stalked toward them scowling. He glared at Harry as they passed. Harry stopped in front of the instructor, looking at him expectantly. Pierce studied him carefully with those hyper-aware eyes.

“Obviously you come with history,” Pierce said, those intense eyes boring into Harry. “If I met you in a pub, I’d buy you a pint and offer my congratulations. I can’t do that here, however. Here, you are simply another recruit, and my job is to see if I can break you easily.”

Harry steadily met his stare without comment. Pierce waited for a moment before he pulled out some paperwork.

“Your school records show you have an impressive record in Defense, one year notwithstanding. I believe that was the year Dolores Umbridge taught, so we’ll disregard it. You come highly recommended by your professors, and even the Minister had put in a good word. All of this would have gained you admittance without the current Ministry open call. It won't, however, get you past me. You’ll have to earn that right the same as any of the others.”

He levelled that penetrating gaze at Harry once again. Harry remained mum.

“Do you have anything to say, recruit?” Pierce asked, showing the first hint of irritation.

“You haven’t asked me a question yet, sir,” Harry replied.

Pierce’s eyes narrowed. “What experience do you have with the Unforgivables?” he asked suddenly.

The hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stood on end. His use of them was part of the public record, so there was nothing to hide. Harry still felt wary. “I’ve used both the Imperius and the Cruciatus, sir.”

“Despite the fact Unforgivable is in the title,” Pierce said slowly.

“Death Eaters didn’t seem to care, sir,” he replied, knowing he was pushing his luck.

“And that, Mr. Potter, is where we will have a problem. There will be no lone-wolf antics among the Aurors. You are part of a team, and will play by team rules, or this isn’t the career for you,” Pierce said firmly. He didn’t, however, threaten any kind of rebuttal for using the Unforgivables.

“What about the Killing Curse?” he asked abruptly.

“Only on the receiving end of that one, sir,” Harry said, doing his utmost to control the tremor that ran through his body.

Instructor Pierce started, showing the first sign of unease. “Right,” he said uncomfortably, his eyes doing the familiar upward rise to Harry’s forehead before focusing back on his paperwork. Harry was pleased he hadn’t also looked at Harry’s chest. It meant he hadn’t been fully briefed on what happened in the forest.

Harry answered several more questions about his knowledge and experience with certain spells before walking back over to the group of other trainees. He was met with frowns and suspicious glances when he returned.

“Tate, you’re up,” Pierce called, and Tate nodded at the group before walking toward the instructor.

“What took you so long?” Ron asked out of the corner of his mouth.

“He wanted to stress that there would be no special treatment for my celebrity status,” Harry replied, using his best Snape impression.

“So he kept you a half hour longer than anyone else to explain how you weren’t going to be treated differently than anyone else?” Ron asked, exasperated.

“Pretty much,” Harry replied, shrugging.

“Good. Just long enough for all the others to think you’re getting special treatment then,” Ron said.

“Welcome to my life,” Harry said wearily.

“And welcome to first-year Potions,” Ron said bitterly.



Back to index


Chapter 20: Family

Author's Notes: Thanks for all the lovely reviews last chapter! I had two questions that I thought were worth mentioning. Iíve been told JKR has said in an interview that Neville became an Auror before going on to teach. I did not see this bit Ė still havenít! Ė so, for this story, he does not join the Auror program. You will hear where Neville is working in a later chapter.

Second Ė one astute reviewer asked how Anna was allowed to stay and fight in the Battle of Hogwarts. Both Ron and Hermione turned seventeen during the course of their sixth year, and were thus able to take their Apparition licenses. So, even though Ginny wasnít yet of age, I think the majority of her classmates wouldíve turned seventeen by May and been allowed to choose if they wanted to stay and fight. Anna (and Siobhan and Liz, too) were all seventeen. Just like Harry, Ginny is the youngest of her roommates.


Chapter Twenty
Family



Harry sat at the kitchen table of The Burrow with paperwork scattered around him. He couldn’t believe how many forms he had to fill out. It was endless. Harry had always hated homework, and this felt like homework. Ron sat at the other end of the table doing the same thing. After what felt like an extremely long day at the Ministry, they’d been sent home with a stack of papers that needed to be filled out before they returned the next day.

They’d also had to be subjected to the humiliation of a Ministry physical. Thankfully, Harry had met with the Mediwitch several weeks before, so his exam didn’t last as long as any of the others. She was pleased that the bruise on his chest was finally nearly healed. Only a faint, yellowish outline remained around his lightning-bolt-shaped scar.

He and Ron had also, at long last, got their Apparition licenses. Not that it really mattered — they’d been Apparating for ages — but it felt grown up to have it, somehow.

Harry had nearly finished. He sat staring at one particular piece of parchment, the medical form. He’d agreed to treatment in the field and given consent for the Ministry to request his school medical records. The one question he struggled with was next of kin. He wasn’t certain what to write on that line.

His first thought had been to write Ron’s name, but the instructions said it had to be someone outside the Auror program. Hermione and Ginny were returning to Hogwarts in a couple of months, so they weren’t available to show up if he were hurt. He didn’t think he was going to be hurt during training, anyway, so why did he have to fill this out?

He didn’t want to write the Weasleys, as he feared he’d be stepping on Ron’s toes. He still had misgivings about the way the Horcrux had taunted Ron. So he was left with the dilemma of whose name he should write on the form. He supposed he could put Andromeda, but he would be exceedingly embarrassed if she ever found out he did. They still hardly knew each other.

Harry shoved the paper away and stuck his fingers beneath his glasses, pressing on his eyes until he spots.

“Everything all right, mate?” Ron asked, his eyes bleary.

“I’m tired of doing this,” Harry said without removing his hands. The pressure on his eyes felt soothing.

“I’m just about done,” Ron said.

“Still filling out your forms, boys?” Mr. Weasley asked, entering the kitchen and taking a glass from the cupboard.

“We’ve been here for hours,” Ron complained.

Mr. Weasley grinned as he looked over the forms Ron was filling out. “The Ministry does love its procedures. Muggles have a term for it. They call it… red stick, er… something like that.”

“Red tape,” Harry replied, grinning as he pulled his fingers from beneath his glasses. Mr. Weasley looked a little blurry for a moment.

“Right,” Mr. Weasley said excitedly, his eyes still looking at all the papers. Harry noticed him stiffen. “Er… Ron, you missed this section, here.”

“What?” Ron asked, realizing one of his forms had another page stuck to it. “Oh, no. This is impossible.”

“You can do it,” Mr. Weasely said. “You look finished, Harry. Care to join me for a game of chess?”

Harry was surprised, but oddly delighted. He knew Mr. Weasley had taught Ron and all the others how to play, so he didn’t stand a chance. But he never beat Ron, either.

“All right, but I’m not very good,” he said, standing and stretching his arms behind his back, which cracked from sitting so long.

Mr. Weasley poured a second drink and led Harry into the parlor. “Black or white?” he asked, handing Harry a glass filled halfway with amber liquid.

Harry recognized it and glanced at Mr. Weasley warily. Mr. Weasley grinned, nodding.

“I told you, I enjoy a glass of Firewhisky on occasion. It’s relaxing, and you need to see it’s fine if you don’t over indulge,” Mr. Weasley said, sipping his own drink before placing it on the table.

Harry still had his doubts. He placed his glass on the table without taking any. “I usually play white when I play with Ron,” he said.

“Then I’ll be black,” Mr. Weasley replied easily, beginning to arrange his pieces.

“Ron taught me how to play in first year,” Harry said, not completely certain why he felt nervous. “He always beats me, though.”

Mr. Weasley grinned. “He always beats me, too. It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about the enjoyment of the game.”

Harry moved a pawn. “He can beat you even though you were the one who taught him?” Harry asked curiously. He reached over and took a sip of his Firewhisky after all. It burned going down, but warmed his insides pleasantly.

“He beat me for the first time when he was ten. I will admit, I was rather stunned by it, but I never let him win. He took to the game quicker, and enjoyed it more, than any of the others. I think the reason Fr—” Mr. Weasley stopped and cleared his throat, “Fred and George teased him so was their frustration that their little brother could beat them handily at something.”

Harry glanced up, noticing the pinched lines around Mr. Weasley’s eyes. He had a sudden, irrational fear that Mr. Weasley would start throwing chess pieces at him and blaming him for the loss of his son. He froze for a minute before shaking it off. Mr. Weasley would never throw things at him, even if he did blame him. And somehow, Harry suspected he actually didn’t. He took another sip of his drink.

“I think Fred and George might’ve liked to tease Ron so much because he rose to it so quickly, too,” he said, fearing he was overstepping his bounds to give his opinion. Uncle Vernon had always been adamantly opposed to being contradicted.

Mr. Weasley laughed. “You’re right about that. Ron could always be a bit sensitive. Being the youngest boy left him insecure, but he’s come along stunningly,” he said, pride obvious in his voice.

Harry was ashamed to feel jealous of his best mate. He moved another pawn, and Mr. Weasley captured it immediately.

“How do you feel your first day of training went?” Mr. Weasley asked, moving his knight and taking a sip of his own drink.

“It went all right. We didn’t really do too much other than listen to the instructor. I don’t think he’s pleased with rushing people through the training,” Harry replied.

“Naturally,” Mr. Weasley said, smiling. “Most people don’t like change. Thaddeus Pierce has been preparing Aurors for years, and quite successfully. If there hadn’t been so many Aurors lost during the war, I don’t think there would’ve been any need to change. We can’t control every circumstance, however. Thaddeus will adapt, it just might take him some time, and you get to bear the brunt of his frustration.”

“Lucky me,” Harry said.


“He’s a good man. The Death Eaters who infiltrated the Ministry never tried to convert him. They saw him as a lost cause. The ones they saw as lost causes are the ones we want to empower now,” Mr. Weasley said.

“And you were one of them,” Harry said, remembering the intense scrutiny Mr. Weasley had been under at the Ministry.

He captured one of Mr. Weasley’s pawns.

Color suffused Mr. Weasley’s ears as he shifted in his chair. “Yes, well… I’ve long been considered a blood-traitor.”

“But not anymore. I hear you’re going to give the recruits some lessons in Muggle relations,” Harry said, feeling pleased Mr. Weasley was finally getting some recognition.

“That’s true,” Mr. Weasley said, smiling as he nudged his knight towards Harry’s queen. “Have you noticed anything different about this room?”

Harry’s brow furrowed. “Pardon?” he asked, looking around the familiar sitting area.

Mr. Weasley nodded his head to the back wall which was littered with pictures of the Weasley children in various stages of growth. Harry studied the wall curiously and felt a jolt in his stomach when he noticed a new addition. It was a picture of Harry as a toddler, splattered in mud and giggling madly as he ran in the back garden.

Harry’s face colored. He felt both thrilled and embarrassed. He’d never had his picture put on the wall before — unless you counted the Chosen One wanted posters. He was immensely touched they’d included him with their own children, and also pleased he wasn’t doing anything extraordinarily embarrassing.

“I… er… that’s me,” he said stupidly. He took another sip of his drink simply to have something to do with his hands. The Firewhisky had relaxed him, and he didn’t feel the urge to flee the room.

Mr. Weasley smiled. “Molly tends to go a bit overboard with her camera, but it’s a nice addition to our wall,” he said. “You are family here, Harry, and we’re happy to have you. I hope one day you’ll feel the same.”

Harry suddenly suspected Mr. Weasley might have noticed his leaving the next-of-kin spot blank on his paperwork.

He ducked his head. “Thank you, Mr. Weasley. You’ve always made me feel more than welcome.”

“You are,” Mr. Weasley replied simply.

“Bloody hell!” Ron shouted from the kitchen.

Both Harry and Mr. Weasley looked up sharply as Ron came storming into the room waving a copy of the Daily Prophet’s evening addition. He slammed the paper on the table, shaking it and making the remainder of their drinks swirl around their glasses. Harry looked down to see Ginny and himself on the cover. She was holding his hand at the Leaky Cauldron, and every so often he leaned over and kissed her soundly.

That had never happened in the restaurant. He hadn’t kissed her like that until they’d Apparated back to the paddock behind The Burrow where there were no prying eyes.

The headline screamed, “Chosen One Finds His Chosen Lady?”

“That’s not… I didn’t… She… ” Harry spluttered, uncertain what he wanted to say. He picked up his glass and finished the remainder of his Firewhisky.

“What were you thinking?” Ron shouted.

“We were having lunch,” Harry said, feeling ganged-up on.

“It’s all right,” Mr. Weasley said. “This was bound to happen sooner or later. Bill has already strengthened the wards to keep the press away from The Burrow.”

Harry glanced up sharply. Mr. Weasley didn’t seem overly upset to see Harry kissing his daughter.

“That never happened there,” he said, pointing at the picture. He couldn’t fully deny it since he had kissed her, but he hadn’t pounced on her in public that way.

Mr. Weasley smiled, his ears red. “I’m aware young people enjoy an occasional snog, Harry. I do have rather fond memories of my youth,” he said. “As a matter of fact, I still enjoy snogging Ginny’s mother.”

Harry’s face flamed as that image arose in his mind. He really didn’t want to think about that.

“Never mind the kissing,” Ron shouted. “Anyone could have sneaked up on you there. You’re not even paying attention.”

“No one sneaked up on us, Ron. I’m always paying attention. I would never let anything happen to Ginny,” Harry said hotly.

“I know you wouldn’t let anything happen to her, it’s your own hide you tend to forget about,” Ron snapped.

“Boys,” Mr. Weasley said, interrupting them. “We can’t live in a bubble, but now that the press has been alerted to your relationship with Ginny, we’re all going to be scrutinized when we’re out in public.”

“I’m sorry, sir,” Harry said, ducking his head.

“It is not your fault, Harry,” Mr. Weasley said firmly. “We just need to be vigilant.”

“You think the missing Death Eaters might target her since they’ve been unable to get to me?” Harry asked, realization dawning. He felt a sense of horror wash over him. This couldn’t be happening again.

“It’s possible,” Mr. Weasley conceded, making Harry feel sick. He sank back into his chair. “The fact remains, they’ve been unable to get to you, so they’ve been unable to get to her.”

“There you go, mate,” Ron said, calming slightly as if he just became aware of Harry’s despair. “You’ll just have to keep Ginny with you.”

Harry tried to smile but wasn’t sure he succeeded entirely. He suddenly felt exhausted. He yawned as he absently moved his queen.

Mr. Weasley moved his own piece. “Checkmate,” he said quietly. “Try not to worry, lad. Our family has always been better off with you in our lives.”

Harry looked up quickly, finding nothing but sincerity in Mr. Weasleys pale blue eyes. “How can you say that?” he asked, agonized.

“Never mind the fact that neither Ron, Ginny nor myself would be here without you,” Mr. Weasley said, raising his hand when Harry tried to interrupt. “It’s because we like you. You fit in our family as if you’ve always been there.”

“But if I hadn’t sat with Ron on that first day—”

“You would’ve met in the common room, or in class. You were meant to be friends — with all of us. The war would’ve touched us, regardless,” Mr. Weasley said firmly.

“But I brought it so much closer,” Harry whispered, his head down.

“It’s not your fault Fred died, Harry. He was an incredibly brave young man, fighting to defend his way of life. He would’ve done that regardless if he knew you personally or not. There were many who fought that day that had no personal connection. It didn’t matter. The cause was just,” Mr. Weasley insisted, his voice raw. “I wish I still had my son. But I blame Voldemort, not you, for his loss.”

Harry’s vision blurred. He hadn’t realized how desperately he needed to hear Mr. Weasley say that until he’d done so. Mr. Weasley drew him into a hug, patting him on the back before letting go.

“Thank you,” Harry said, reaching out and tentatively grasping the older man’s shoulder and giving it a brief squeeze.

“It’s never been your fault, mate,” Ron declared, clapping Harry on the back. “You’d save yourself so much grief if you simply listened to me more often.”

Harry smiled weakly, yawning again.

“I’m going to bed,” he said, bringing his glass out to the sink. He noticed the paperwork still sitting on the table. He gathered it all up in one stack, staring at the top one for a moment. Before he could talk himself out of it, he quickly filled in the last line.

For his next of kin, he listed Molly and Arthur Weasley.


*****



Ron re-read the same paragraph for what felt like the fifth time. The Auror trainees were sitting in a classroom reading up on Ministry protocols. Ron found it mind-numbingly boring, but he knew Instructor Pierce would quiz them all on the information shortly.

Ron glanced over at Harry, who was bent over his own text reading intently. Ron knew Harry didn’t like rules any better than he did. How was he managing to study them so attentively?

They’d already spent the majority of their time the previous evening filling out boring paperwork. Ron wanted to do something. He felt the need to move around a bit. The picture in the Daily Prophet had him all worked up, and he needed to expend some energy.

When he saw the photo of Harry leaning over to kiss his sister, he’d cringed. He really didn’t want to watch them doing that. It was better not to know.

He reckoned Harry felt the same about what went on between him and Hermione. What bothered him wasn’t the kiss, however, it was Harry’s sole focus on Ginny. There had already been an attempt on Harry’s life since the war ended, never mind the accident at Grimmauld Place. Harry couldn’t afford to get distracted like that.

Ron was still having a lot of difficulty wrapping his mind around the fact Harry had died. It plagued him. His heartrate increased and his palms got all sweaty whenever Harry was out of his sight. Anything could happen, and Harry wasn’t very good at watching out for himself. He was very good at watching out for Ginny, however. Perhaps having them stick together would keep Harry safe as well.

But he still didn’t want to watch them kissing.

He did want to kiss Hermione. She’d sneaked up to his room this morning when Harry had left to have a shower, but she’d only stayed briefly. She didn’t want to get caught. Ron hadn’t cared if they got caught, but he’d put in a supreme effort not to push her. He’d behaved like a perfect gentleman these past few weeks.

It was killing him, though. Thankfully, Harry was an earlier riser, giving Ron some alone time in the morning to relieve the pressure. Ron felt as if these days all he had to do was picture Hermione’s smile, and he’d get turned on. He wished he knew what she was thinking.

She’d freaked out in Australia when he got carried away and started in on his experience with Lavender. He definitely didn’t want to have that conversation again, but he also really wanted to get carried away with Hermione.

He wasn’t certain if she wanted to get carried away with him, however. He’d been delighted when she showed up that morning and plopped down beside him. She’d kissed him before he’d even fully become cognizant she was there. But then she’d left as soon as he was fully awake. Girls were so confusing!

Ron sighed, trying to read the chapter again.

The Ministry certainly liked their procedures. Perhaps Kingsley would do something about that. He and Harry had handed in all their forms when they arrived this morning, and Ron had hoped that would be the end of it. Apparently not.

He remembered glancing at Harry’s forms the night before when he was stumped on a question. Harry had left a blank in the spot for next of kin. He could be such a prat.

Ron was going to say something when the owl arrived with the Daily Prophet. His dad must have covered it, however, because he’d noticed that morning that Harry had put Ron’s parents in the empty spot.

He was happy about that. He knew part of Harry’s hesitation was Ron’s fault. Ron had accused Harry of not caring about the Weasleys before he’d abandoned Harry and Hermione. He’d tossed the fact Harry’s own family was dead in his face.

He didn’t think he’d ever live that down. It had to be his lowest moment. Since Fred’s death, Ron had come to appreciate his family so much more. Realizing how easily he could lose them had sobered him. He couldn’t even imagine how alone Harry must have felt. Ron nearly didn’t survive losing one brother — never mind his whole family in one go — and Ron, his best mate, had taunted him over it.

He didn’t know how to broach it with him, however. Harry had forgiven him — again! Ron didn’t want to bring it all back up. He wanted to make it up to him, but he didn’t know how.

At least his dad had managed to get through to Harry. That had to count as progress. Ron didn’t want Harry to feel so alone. He wasn’t alone, and he never would be again, but it would be a moot point until Harry actually felt it.

Ron gritted his teeth in disgust. Thank Merlin his brothers couldn’t hear him waxing on about feelings. Pathetic.

“Are you actually going to read that or just scowl at it?” Harry mumbled from the corner of his mouth.

Ron was an idiot to think Harry hadn’t noticed.

“I was thinking of starting a game of hangman. You up for it?” Ron asked.

Harry snorted quietly. They had frequently passed the time in History of Magic playing hangman. Ron didn’t think they’d get away with that under Instructor Pierce’s watch.

“All right, boys and girls, put your texts away,” Instructor Pierce said. “We’re going to take an hour for lunch, then you’ll be quizzed on this material. Cafeteria is on level seven.”

The trainees all stood, stretching and working the kinks out of their necks as they moved as a herd toward the door. Instructor Pierce had been referring to them as boys and girls instead of men and women all morning, and it was grating on Ron’s nerves. He suspected that was exactly why Pierce was doing it, but it rankled nonetheless.

“I wonder how detailed the questions on the quiz will be,” Lisa Turpin said as soon as they were out the door. “There are a lot of procedures to memorize in such a short amount of time.

She sounded worried. At that moment, she reminded Ron a lot of Hermione before an examination at Hogwarts. Ron wished Hermione were taking this course with them. He never thought he’d miss her detailed analysis of every subject.

“I don’t think he’s looking for specifics,” Duncan Tate said offhandedly.

“How do you mean?” Harry asked curiously.

Tate shrugged pensively. “I think right now he’s looking for how much we pay attention. He wants to know our attitudes toward the Ministry.”

“Why do you think that?” Susan Bones asked, affronted. “My auntie put a lot of these protocols in place before she was killed, and she wasn’t a frivolous person. The rules are here for a reason.”

“Some of these procedures are ancient, Bones,” Rory MacDonald said. He was the muscular wizard with dark curly hair who hadn’t said much the previous day. This morning, however, it was clear he found the rest of his classmates rather useless. “Your auntie couldn’t have issued all of them.”

“I didn’t say she’s responsible for all of them,” Susan said, scowling.

“Why do you think they’re looking at our attitudes, Tate?” Harry asked, ignoring the spat between the other two.

Tate shrugged. “A few comments Pierce made yesterday about playing by the rules and following direction. I’m not always so good at that,” he said, grinning.

“Me, either,” Harry said ruefully.

“So I’ve heard,” Tate responded, chuckling. “Did you really start a teenage Defense club right under the Ministry’s nose during the war?”

“He did,” Susan said. “I was part of it. Ron was, too.”

Tate’s eyes glanced at Ron, nodding slightly. Ron returned his gaze, but he wasn’t about to let his guard down yet. He suspected Harry liked this new bloke, which meant Ron had to watch his back.

“Yeah, but Potter always was a teacher’s pet. It’s not like he would’ve got in as much trouble as another student,” Cormac McClaggan said derisively.

“What are you talking about? He nearly got chucked out over it,” Ron said indignantly.

“But Dumbledore took the fall for him. As if he’d have done that for anyone else,” McClaggan said, rolling his eyes.

“Yeah, cause Umbridge went so easy on him,” Ron snarled.

“Ron,” Harry said warningly, but Ron was having none of it.

“As usual, McClaggan, you’re talking out your arse,” Ron said.

“Oh, as if Potter still isn’t getting special treatment now,” Rory MacDonald said bitingly. “He spent twice as long with the instructor yesterday as any of the rest of us.”

“Can’t really blame the man for wanting to stare into those dreamy eyes, can you?” Violet Benson asked. She was the third witch in their group and already recognized as an outrageous flirt. Ron could see she made Harry uncomfortable.

Harry ducked his head.

“Yeah, couldn’t have been because Potter might have more defensive knowledge than the rest of us,” Tate said sarcastically.

Harry nodded at Tate, and Ron’s opinion of the dark-skinned wizard rose several notches. It looked as if McClaggan and MacDonald were birds of a feather.

“And the Potter fan club begins anew,” McClaggan scoffed.

As they entered the cafeteria, McClaggan and MacDonald took off in one direction while Lisa Turpin sat at a small table and pulled out her text book. After selecting their lunches, Duncan, Violet and Susan joined Harry and Ron at another table. Violet absently placed all of the condiments on the table in order according to height.

“I wonder what we’ll do this afternoon after the quiz,” Susan said.

“Stealth and Tracking,” Violet answered before taking a bite of her sandwich.

“How do you know?” Duncan asked curiously.

Ron was glad he’d asked the question. His own mouth was too full. He was starving. Harry had paid for his lunch without comment, but Ron was eagerly anticipating his first pay so he could take Harry out to lunch for a change.

And take Hermione on a proper date. His stomach fluttered at the thought of treating Hermione to a proper date.

“Saw it on Pierce’s notes when he was gathering up his things,” Violet replied. “How old do you think Pierce is, anyway?”

“Early forties at most,” Susan said.

“He’s in really fit shape for an older bloke,” Violet said. “Do you know if he’s married?”

“I don’t think so,” Susan said. “My auntie never mentioned his wife, but things could’ve changed. A lot of people got married during the war.”

“That’s what my mum said when my oldest brother married,” Ron said, swallowing a mouthful of sandwich. “She said it happened a lot during the first war, too.”

“And there was a huge baby boom after Harry here defeated You-Know-Who as a baby. Think we’ll see another one around… er, next February, perhaps?” Violet laughed, counting out nine months after the war ended.

Susan laughed. “Wouldn’t surprise me. People were… affectionate after the battle.”

Ron stared at her, perplexed. He’d gone to sleep right after the battle. He didn’t remember anyone being affectionate. They were all in mourning, for crying out loud.

Harry looked irritated, but Ron suspected that had more to do with Violet’s use of ‘You-Know-Who’ rather than the idea of anyone getting a leg over after the battle.

“I wasn’t even in this country, and I celebrated with a very accommodating French girl,” Duncan said, wagging his eyebrows.

“Did you?” Violet asked, looking at Duncan with new appreciation.

Duncan grinned wolfishly.

“How about you, Harry?” Susan asked. “The Chosen One and all. You must’ve had witches throwing themselves at your feet.”

“Er… ” Harry said, looking trapped.

“I saw your picture in the paper yesterday. Looked like you were getting cozy with a pretty red-haired girl,” Violet said flippantly.

“That’s my sister,” Ron said through gritted teeth.

“Harry and Ginny dated back at Hogwarts, but I thought you’d broken up,” Susan said suspiciously.

Harry remained silent, but Ron couldn’t take it. “He didn’t want her targeted because of him.”

“She must appreciate your looking after her,” Violet said demurely.

“Ginny can look after herself,” Harry said quietly.

“How about you?” Duncan asked, looking at Ron. “Got a girlfriend?”

“I do,” Ron said proudly. “She’s going back to Hogwarts to finish her education on September first.”

“You finally ended up with Granger then?” Susan asked.

“What d’you mean finally?” Ron asked. Why did everyone keep saying that?

Susan laughed rather unkindly. “Come on, Weasley. Everyone knew you fancied her. Everyone but poor Lavender, anyway. I think there was a pool on whether or not you two would ever get together. Actually, I think it was one of your own brothers who started that pool.”

Ron sat still, spluttering.

“What about you, Susan? Is there a boyfriend in your life?” Duncan asked.

“Not at the moment, but I’m taking applications if you’re interested in the position,” Susan fired back.

Duncan waved his hands. “Not me. I like the bachelor life. Besides, my mum always said to never get involved with people at work.”

“My mum never said that,” Violet said, batting her eyes at Duncan.

Ron was beginning to suspect Violet flirted to test a reaction rather than any real romantic interest. He’d have to ask Hermione why she’d do that.

When their lunch hour was up, they travelled back to the classroom. As they reached the door, Rory MacDonald darted past them and took the seat next to Lisa Turpin where Ron had been sitting earlier. He shrugged and took another chair as Instructor Pierce handed out the quizzes. As he struggled to remember his facts, he noticed Rory peering over at Lisa’s paper.

He’d definitely have to watch out for that one.


*****


Ginny stood outside her father’s shed, pacing. An internal battle raged within her mind. She’d been meaning to have a chat with her dad for ages about his concerns over Harry’s upbringing. With all the drama of Charlie leaving, then Harry’s accident, her exams, and Harry starting Auror training…well, it kept getting pushed aside.

Her concern hadn’t abated, however.

She really didn’t want to betray Harry’s confidence, but she wasn’t certain keeping quiet was the best option, either. Ron mentioned that Dad had already questioned Harry, so that meant that he’d noticed something off before any of the rest of them did. She wanted to think of herself as an adult, but she really had no idea how to handle this. If she thought of herself as an adult, then she’d have to say Harry was, too, and he definitely didn’t want to discuss it. It didn’t seem like the kind of thing that should be left alone, but she had to admit he seemed to be doing much better.

She didn’t know what was right, and she needed some guidance. As far as she was concerned, there was no better person to offer guidance than her dad. Perhaps being an adult meant knowing when you needed help.

She paced back and forth in front of the door, raising her hand to push it open then pulling it back again. She took a deep breath to steel herself when her father’s voice drifted through the closed wooden door.

“Are you ever going to make up your mind to come in?”

She could never fool him.

Grinning, she pushed the door open. The shed felt unbearably hot. It was a warm afternoon, and the air was heavy and still. Her father had beads of sweat running down his face as he tinkered with some kind of Muggle device.

“Hi, Dad,” she said.

Her father wiped his brow with a handkerchief. “What can I do for you, Ginny? It seems you have something weighing on your mind.”

“I do,” Ginny said, biting her lower lip.

“Wouldn’t have anything to do with this, would it?” her father asked, nodding at the Daily Prophet lying on his work bench. It was splattered with a black, sticky substance.

She laughed. “No. I knew when we went out in public that our picture would be snapped eventually. They’re doing their best to make lunch at the Leaky Cauldron sound unsavory. They drive Harry mad.”

Her father nodded. “Well, he’s had to deal with it longer than you have,” he said sagely. “If not the Prophet, what’s on your mind?”

“I have to ask you about something. I just don’t know where to start,” Ginny said, frowning.

“The beginning usually works best,” her father said, going back to tinkering with his Muggle toy.

“It’s about Harry,” Ginny said bluntly.

This caught his full attention. “Oh?” he asked, putting his tools down. “Have you had a row?”

“What? No! It’s just… well, Ron said something,” Ginny stuttered.

Her father sighed. “I’m sorry if he disrespected you. Somehow, he forgets he’s only a year older than you are. I thought he’d be reasonable since he likes Harry so much.”

“No! No, he’s fine with me and Harry. Although, you’re right. He can forget I can take care of myself,” Ginny said, disgruntled.

“Ginny, why don’t you tell me what this is about?” her father said patiently.

“Ron said you talked to Harry about the Dursleys’ abuse,” she blurted.

Her father’s gaze narrowed, and the lines around his mouth tightened. “Has something happened?” he asked.

Ginny took a deep breath, her heart thudded rapidly. “I think you saw it before we did. Or at least understood what you were seeing,” she whispered.

“It took me much longer than it should have done,” her dad admitted heavily. “I met them before we attended the Quidditch World Cup, and I didn’t like them. I thought they were negligent. Harry was never cared for as he should’ve been, but it’s only recently that I’ve suspected we should have intervened regardless of Albus’ concerns.”

Ginny’s throat hurt. “Has he told you anything?” she asked.

Her dad shook his head. “Not in so many words, but his actions and what he doesn’t say are very telling. I don’t want to betray his trust, or go against his wishes, but if there is something I need to know, please share it.”

“I don’t want to betray his trust, either, but I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing. When we went to Privet Drive to look it over for his relatives, he got upset,” Ginny said, hesitating.

“That’s not unexpected,” her dad said, watching her closely. Her mum would have been screaming at her to spit it out by now, but her dad had always shown more patience. He was just as dangerous if angered, however.

“Dad, there was this tiny cupboard under the stairs. It held cleaning supplies and such… Harry said they kept him in it for ten years,” Ginny said, wide-eyed.

“Pardon?” her dad asked.

“He said that was where he slept for the first ten years he lived with them. I asked him if they ever hit him, and he clearly didn’t want to talk about it,” she said in a rush. Now that she’d started, it was as if the words were bubbling up and demanding release. “He said they used to knock him around and deny him food, but it was nothing he couldn’t handle.”

Her father didn’t say a word. He continued to stare at her for a moment, his brow furrowed. His ears began to grow alarmingly red — always a sure sign of trouble.

“The thing is,” Ginny said worriedly, “you know he was having some trouble after the battle. I know he told you about the Horcrux, and that’s what was causing most of his stress, but we ended up talking about his childhood, too, since we were there. Since then, he really does seem better. I don’t want to do anything that’s going to set him back.”

Her father nodded solemnly. “I understand completely. I’ve been giving this a lot of thought. Harry is an adult, and we must consider his wishes.”

“So we just let them get away with it,” Ginny asked bitterly.

“You did the right thing, Ginny. Knowing when you’re in over your head and seeking help is a sure sign of maturity. I’m very proud of you. Harry has grown accustomed to taking care of himself. I wish it hadn’t needed to be that way, but we can’t change that now. He does seem to confide in you more than any of the others, so that’s what your role should be. Simply be there if he wants to talk.”

Ginny nodded. Harry did allow himself to be vulnerable with her. Her father’s posture was still rigid, as if his entire body was tightly coiled. Something was off. Her mother had always been the volatile one, quick to anger and fiercely defensive of her children. Her dad was more easy-going, often getting carried away with his children’s exploits. He could be deceiving, however, because when he truly did get mad, you’d better pay attention. He showed all the warning signs now.

“What are you going to do?” she asked, slightly fearful.

“Nothing that you need to worry about,” he said, smiling, although the smile didn’t reach his eyes.

“Dad,” she said, alarmed.

“I’ll take care of the Dursleys,” he said with a finality that left her cold.


Back to index


Chapter 21: Retribution

Author's Notes: So, I imagine youíve all seen the news about the play in London. I have to admit, my feelings are very mixed. First off, Iím frustrated that itís only in London, but Iím also very wary. Iím not a huge Next Gen fan, and above all else, I want Harry to have his happily ever after. A ĎCursed Childí just doesnít fit the bill. Color me worried. Iím going to have to rely on you British folks to fill the rest of us in on what happens!


Chapter Twenty-one
Retribution



July had begun, and Ron and Harry continued attending their training classes. On this bright, sunny afternoon, Instructor Pierce gave the trainees some time off in order to prepare for Dolores Umbridge’s upcoming trial. Ron went over to George’s shop to help out, but Harry had plans with Ginny.

He felt tired as he hurried up the stairs in The Burrow to change his clothes. He’d been plagued with fatigue for the past week, and had woken each morning with a sore throat. It always cleared by the time he took a shower, so Harry wasn’t overly concerned. His body ached today, however, and he wondered if he was coming down with a summer cold.

He’d nearly reached the top landing when he stopped short. There were various pictures lining the walls of the stairway, and he’d just spotted another new one. Pictures of Harry’s “childhood” had been turning up all over The Burrow during the past few days. This one was the image of a small Harry sleeping soundly with his thumb in his mouth, and Ginny’s stuffed unicorn stuck firmly under his arm.

Harry’s current face colored warmly as he stared as his younger self. At least Mrs. Weasley had the decency to hang this one away from the living area. Ron and George were going to be merciless once they discovered it.

Despite his embarrassment, Harry still felt extraordinarily pleased every time a new picture appeared. Somehow, he suspected Mrs. Weasley knew that. If his mum had lived, he thought she might have hung pictures like that, as well.

He quickly changed into a pair of trousers and a button-down shirt. He and Ginny were heading into Muggle London. He’d actually asked Violet Benson from his Auror class for some ideas on what to do, and had to endure endless amounts of her teasing because of it. She had helped him out, however. Harry had reserved tickets on the Thames Clipper Service for a sightseeing tour up the river with a stop in Greenwich.

Both he and Ginny had been looking forward to it all week.

Once dressed, he bounded back downstairs, grimacing slightly at the tightness in his chest. Ginny stood in the sitting room wearing a pretty yellow sundress that he hadn’t seen before. It hugged her curves in all the right places, and the collar was V-shaped, so it plunged down to what Harry considered an entirely enticing spot.

“You look pretty,” he said, stopping short. It took considerable effort to keep his eyes focused on her face and not dipping to that alluring, lower spot. He clenched his hands together to discourage the irrational urge to reach out and touch the gentle swell rising invitingly above the neckline.

Ginny smiled, spinning around. “Do you like it? Hermione let me borrow it.”

“I like it on you,” Harry said, reaching for her hand. “You look pretty.” Harry thought it was worth repeating.

Ginny pecked him on the cheek, bouncing on her heels excitedly. “Mum packed us a picnic. I told her it was unnecessary, but she did it anyway,” Ginny said, pointing to a basket on the coffee table.

Mrs. Weasley never liked to see anyone go anywhere without an adequate food supply. Giving the amount of food her family could consume, it probably was a wise move.

Harry shrunk the basket and put it in his pocket. “Are we ready then?” he asked.

Ginny nodded vigorously. He enjoyed seeing her so excited. It was a pleasant contrast to the seriousness that had plagued their lives for so long.

As they walked through the kitchen, Mrs. Weasley turned to hug each of them. “Enjoy yourselves, but you will be careful, won’t you?” she asked, a hint of anxiety still in her voice.

“We will, Mum,” Ginny assured. “A boat ride and a picnic with Muggles, even Harry can’t get hurt doing that.”

“Hey!” Harry yelped.

Ginny grinned.

“I’m sure you’ll watch out for each other,” Mrs. Weasley said a little sadly.

Harry and Ginny waved their goodbyes and left The Burrow. Harry Apparated them to Grimmauld Place where they walked to the tube station. He enjoyed the feel of her hand tucked in his as they walked. His eyes kept straying to that tantalizing V-collar on her dress. He suspected she knew it, but so far she hadn’t called him on it. He kept hold as they boarded a train, getting off at a stop near Trinity Buoy Wharf.

The clipper didn’t begin boarding for another hour, so they took a stroll and visited some shops while they waited. Ginny loved the shops, and Harry was vividly reminded of her father by her excitement over Muggle things.

“This is such a wonderful idea,” Ginny said, beaming at the magnificent clipper ship on the pier. “How did you ever know about it?”

Harry felt his face grow warm. “Er… I didn’t, actually. I asked one of the girls in my class for some ideas on what to do,” he admitted.

“Oh?” Ginny asked, arching her brow.

For some reason, Harry felt nervous. “Her name is Violet Benson. Her father is an Auror, but she didn’t join the Ministry right away.”

“And how did you decide to ask her about dating?” Ginny asked.

“Er… well, I think she’s been on a lot of dates,” Harry replied.

Ginny’s gaze narrowed. “Has she? Been talking a lot, have we?”

“Er… ” Harry said, suddenly worried. He tugged at the collar of his button-down.

“Does she have big tits?” Ginny asked suddenly.

Harry’s eyes shot open wide. Was he supposed to actually answer that question? “Er… well, I suppose,” he said, stumbling.

“So you’ve been looking then? As much as you’ve been looking at mine since we left?” Ginny demanded.

This date wasn’t going at all how he’d planned. Harry’s shirt stuck to his back as he began to sweat. He ran his hand through his hair, making it stand impossibly on end. “No! I mean. Yes, I’m looking at yours, not hers, but… I mean… What?”

The corner of Ginny’s lips twitched.

Harry scowled, suddenly catching on. “You’re completely taking the mickey, aren’t you?”

“Just a bit,” Ginny said, her eyes sparkling.

Harry’s cheeks flushed. “Ha, bloody ha,” he grumbled.

“You’re terribly cute when you get flustered,” she said, laughing.

“Are you really upset I asked her?” he asked.

Ginny took his hand reassuringly. “No. It’s actually an especially cool idea for a date. We’re going to have fun.”

When it came time to board, the clipper ship, they took seats in the bow so they could see the sites easily but still be out in the fresh air. It was a beautiful, sunny day, and a light breeze blew off the water. Harry enjoyed watching the way Ginny’s hair flew around her face as she stared at Big Ben and Parliament when they passed.

The sun felt warm on his shoulders as he reached his arm around Ginny’s back. She leaned into him, resting her head against him.

“I’m glad you got the afternoon off,” she said.

“Me, too. The trials are just about to begin, so I should have more free time in the coming weeks,” he said.

“And Umbridge is first?” Ginny asked, scowling.

“Yeah. I think they’ll have to limit spectators though. Hers will be a big one,” Harry said. He thought a lot of Muggle-borns had the right to see Umbridge get her due punishment.

“Good,” Ginny muttered, snuggling in closer to his chest. Harry really wished they were alone on the ship. The Muggles around them didn’t seem to be paying any attention, but Harry thought they might if he and Ginny started snogging in the open.

Merlin, he wanted to kiss her.

He had to settle for keeping her tucked under his arm as they enjoyed the sites of London. He’d been into the city several times with Aunt Petunia, but never for leisure, and only when she couldn’t find something else to do with him. Since she’d usually been in a temper over his presence, he’d tended to keep his head down. It was a pleasant change to freely look around and point out things that interested him.

He’d found it much easier to open up to her since his breakdown at Privet Drive, and he wasn’t certain how he felt about that. He supposed it was healthy to be able to talk without bottling up so much, but he still wished she hadn’t seen him at such a low point. Still, it was nice to feel he didn’t have to hide from her anymore.

Ginny hadn’t been on a clipper ship before either, so she, too, enjoyed the experience. When they arrived in Greenwich, they followed the crowd of Muggles off the ship, checking the timetable for their return sailing before wending their way up to the Observatory. They blended in with the Muggles as they looked around, and eventually walked hand-in-hand to the Royal Park.

Harry found a relatively secluded spot to enlarge the picnic basket. He spread a blanket on the ground while Ginny pulled out a couple bottles of Butterbeer. The air was pleasant and warm, and the garden was lush with various flowers and plants.

Ginny settled next to him, and Harry finally had the opportunity to lean over and kiss her softly.

“I’ve been waiting to do that all day,” he said when they pulled apart, resting his forehead against hers.

Ginny grinned. “What took you so long then?”

Harry returned the grin. “Dunno. Wanted some privacy, I suppose.”

“Huh. That really doesn’t seem like our style,” Ginny said flippantly.

Harry threw back his head and laughed. “You’re brilliant,” he said, plopping flat on his back atop the blanket.

Ginny propped herself up on one elbow and leaned over to kiss him firmly. Her lips were soft but slightly chapped from an afternoon in the sun. Harry’s mind went blank as she deepened the kiss. The sounds of birds muted, as she became his sole focus.

The time got away from both of them as they enjoyed their picnic in between snogging. More snogging than picnicking, actually, but neither seemed to mind.

Harry traced his fingers gently up and down Ginny’s arm, thrilling that she was here with him, and that they were quite alone. She leaned in to intensify the kiss, and her hair curtained his face. He loved the silky feel of it as the wind blew it gently. They continued to kiss, enjoying the uninterrupted freedom, and Harry lost all track of time. A few stray wisps of Ginny’s hair had been tickling his nose for quite some time, and finally he couldn’t take it anymore. He kept trying to brush it back without interrupting their snog, but it was no use. The itching was driving him mad. He reached up his hand to run his finger under his nose vigorously.

Ginny pulled back, panting.

“Sorry,” Harry said, grinning sheepishly.

A deep, musical laugh rose up from Ginny’s belly. Harry loved the sound of that laugh, and he couldn’t help but laugh with her. All his troubles seemed so very far in the distant past. It was a new, but entirely pleasant, experience.

“Is this what you thought it would be like?” he asked, reaching for her hand as they lay side by side on their backs, heads turned to face one another.

“What what would be like?” Ginny asked curiously.

“Is this what you thought it would be like after the war… you know, once Voldemort was gone?” Harry said.

Ginny stared at him solemnly for a moment, her hand reaching over to brush a stray piece of hair off his forehead. “I always knew you’d beat him, Harry. Sometimes, I worried you might not protect yourself the way you’d protect the rest of us, though.”

Harry felt that old familiar guilt trying to rise within him again. He’d hurt her in the process of saving her. Why couldn’t anything ever be easy? He took a stray lock of her hair and begin twirling it between his fingers, pondering.

“Thanks for not letting go, Ginny. Even when I insisted,” he said, softly, not quite able to meet her eyes.

“You might be stubborn, but you’ve got nothing on me,” she said breezily.

“Noted,” he said gruffly.

“What did you think it would be like after it was over?” she asked.

“I dunno,” he said, sighing. “I never really gave it a lot of thought. Whenever my mind started to wander, I stopped it,” Harry said, remembering imaging Ginny as a bride at Bill and Fleur’s wedding. He’d feared it would be another groom.

He shifted uncomfortably, letting go of her hair. “I never really let myself think about it. It’s strange now that it’s really over. I’m training to be an Auror, which is what I always wanted to do. I have a house, even if it’s not ready to live in. I always wanted a home of my own, and…” Harry trailed off.

“And what?” Ginny whispered, staring into his eyes.

“And I have you in my life,” Harry said, blushing. It was true. The few times he’d allowed himself the luxury of thinking of his future, it always included her.

Ginny leaned over and kissed him again, hard. Harry closed his eyes and gave himself over to her ministrations. He groaned when she trailed a hot stream of kisses down his neck until she reached his pulse point. He loved when she did that.

He leaned his head to the side to give her better access, barely daring to even breathe in case she might stop.

“So, you have your dream job, your dream house, and your dream girl. Anything else going your way, Mr. Potter?” Ginny asked, punctuating each thought with another kiss.

Harry’s brain wasn’t working properly. He didn’t know how she could talk and kiss at the same time. He nearly moaned with frustration when she pulled back, her lips swollen.

“Well?” she asked, her brown eyes twinkling mischievously.

Girl. House. Job… godson!

“My godson!” Harry said, sitting straight up.

“Pardon?” Ginny asked, blinking.

“I have a godson. My very own godson. I should bring him a present. Aunt Marge always brought Dudley a present when she went away,” Harry said, trying to think what Teddy would like.

Ginny smiled kind of sadly, again tangling her fingers in his hair. “Little kids do like presents, but I’m not sure Teddy’s old enough to realize what a present is yet,” she said.

“You don’t think so?” Harry asked, feeling a bit crushed. He’d really wanted to do something for Teddy.

Ginny sat up, grabbing his hand. “You know, you’re right. As his only godfather, you should bring him a present. There were some gift shops back on the road. And I saw an ice cream shop.”

“Do you want ice cream?” Harry asked.

“Of course I want ice cream. Doesn’t everyone?” she asked, grinning.

As they began picking up their empty Butterbeer bottles and refolding the blanket, Harry felt an uncomfortable prickle on the back of his neck. He looked around carefully, peering into the spaces between the various trees and bushes in the park. He didn’t see anything out of the ordinary.

Pulling out his wand, he quickly shrunk the basket and put it back in his pocket. Ginny stared at him suspiciously as they began walking back toward the road. He kept his wand in his hand, his eyes darting.

“Is something wrong?” she asked, glancing around as well.

“I don’t know. I just feel… like I’m being watched,” he said.

Ginny’s grip on his hand tightened, and he saw her take her wand from her bag.

They reached the road without a problem. Harry began to relax when they blended in with the crowd of Muggles. They stopped in a gift shop and bought a small stuffed clipper ship for Teddy. While they stood in line waiting for their ice cream, Harry’s unease intensified again.

Something felt off.

His eyes roamed the faces of the surrounding Muggles, peering in between buildings at potential hiding spots. When they reached the front of the line, he paid for their ice cream and began steering Ginny back toward the pier.

“There, by the candy shop,” Ginny whispered, her own wand clutched firmly in her hand.

Harry looked over to see one of the Lestrange brothers standing outside the door of the shop, watching them intently. He stiffened when he realized Harry had spotted him.

“It’s one of the Lestranges,” Harry said softly.

“It’s not Rodolphus. He was frequently at Hogwarts to see Snape, so it’s the other one,” Ginny replied.

“Rabastan. Andromeda says he doesn’t do anything without Rodolphus’ direction, however,” Harry replied.

“What do you want to do?” Ginny asked.

Harry feared it might be a trap, but they’d been searching for the Lestrange brothers for so long, he didn’t want to risk letting him get away. His desires to protect Ginny and to apprehend Lestrange were at war with one another.

But she’d proven she could take care of herself. He had to prove he trusted her.

“Stay close to me,” he said, beginning to move across the road.

“Always,” she whispered, keeping step.

The decision was taken out of his hands when Rabastan Disapparated on the spot. Muggles continued to pass to and fro without even noticing he’d been standing there.

Harry looked around warily. “In there,” he said, nodding at an alley between two shops. Once out of sight, Harry conjured Prongs. “Go to the Ministry and tell Kingsley that Rabastan Lestrange Disapparated from Greenwich moments ago. Ginny and I are leaving now, but it should be investigated,” he told his Patronus. Prongs galloped down the alleyway and disappeared.

“Do you think we should take the ship back or Apparate?” Ginny asked worriedly.

“We’re taking the ship,” Harry said firmly. “He’s not ruining our date.”

Ginny was the boldest witch he knew, and he suspected it wasn’t her own hide she was worried about. It was his. There was nothing he could do here at the moment since he couldn’t trace Apparition, but perhaps the Ministry could.

Ginny smiled at him, taking his arm as he led her back toward the clipper ship. They reached it without incident, once again taking seats on the bow. Harry felt his tension ease once the ship was underway. The darkened sky was speckled with stars, and London looked beautiful with the lights reflecting on the water.

He leaned over and kissed Ginny deeply as they sailed beneath the lit Tower Bridge. And he didn’t care how many Muggles were watching as he did it.


*****


Ron locked the door on Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes after the last customers of the day departed. George stood at the till, marking some notes in a ledger. Ron’s neck ached, and he kept rolling it from side to side to work out the kinks.

“It was busy today,” he said, shutting the blinds on the door.

“Yeah, good haul,” George muttered absently. “Did Dad say what time he’d be getting here?”

Their father had sent an owl asking them to wait after closing the shop because he wanted to meet them there. Ron had been trying to block it from his mind all day. He couldn’t remember doing anything that would get him in trouble, and he didn’t want any more trouble. He felt as if he’d already had enough for a life time.

“Nope. He didn’t say what he wanted to discuss, either,” Ron replied. “Why do you suppose he wanted to talk to us here?”

“Probably doesn’t want Mum to know something,” George replied, seemingly unconcerned.

“Yeah, but that’s what the shed is for,” Ron said, perplexed.

The Floo in the back room flared. Both boys looked up in time to see their oldest brother entering the shop. He casually flicked some ash off his stylish clothes. Once he’d had a bit of gold in his pocket, Ron had gone out shopping with Harry to get a few things of their own. Somehow, though, he could never manage the same “coolness” that Bill always had. It’d been that way since they were kids.

“Hey, Ron, George,” Bill said, greeting each with a nod. “What’s the situation?”

“Situation?” asked George, bewildered.

“What are you doing here?” Ron asked.

Bill stared between the two confusedly. “Dad sent an owl telling me to meet you here,” he replied.

“This can’t be good,” Ron said.

Bill walked over to the till and leaned on the counter. “Whatever it is, I hope it’s an easy fix. I’m beat.”

“Overworking you at the bank, are they?” George asked, smirking as he put his ledgers away.

“Yeah. They’ve got several Curse-Breakers working on new procedures to prevent any further break-ins. Thanks, Ron,” Bill said, smirking.

Ron laughed. “It really wasn’t all that difficult.”

“Yeah, well, next time you’ll have to get past me, little brother,” Bill said, his eyes sparkling.

“Is that a challenge?” Ron asked.

Before any further sibling rivalry could erupt, the Floo flared again, and their father stepped out.

“Hello, boys. Thank you all for coming,” he said, his kind blue eyes raking over each of them.

“What’s going on, Dad?” Bill asked.

Their father took a deep breath, his expression pained. He looked as if he was struggling with what he had to say. Ron felt his alarm growing.

“I want to talk about Harry,” their father finally said.

“Harry?” Ron said, side-tracked. His confusion quickly turned to concern as he felt that familiar panic clawing at his insides. “What’s happened to him now?”

“Bloody hell,” George said, his shoulders sagging. “I thought something happened to Mum.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to alarm you, I’m doing this badly. Everyone is fine. Nothing new has happened to Harry. I want to talk about his past,” Dad said, obviously uncomfortable.

“This has to do with all the questions you asked about guard duty on Privet Drive, I presume?” Bill asked.

“Yes. I’m certain by now you’ve all realized he didn’t grow up under the best of circumstances—”

“Yeah, being stuffed in a cupboard certainly isn’t the best,” Ron interrupted.

Dad’s lips thinned, but he continued. “No matter how much I wish I could change it, what’s done is done. Harry has moved on and doesn’t want to be reminded. I’m going to respect that. What I can’t abide is letting the Dursleys escape without any consequences,” he said, quiet anger burning beneath his words.

All three brothers knew this was their father at his most dangerous. Their mother screamed and yelled and lost her temper frequently. Their father was much more laid-back and easy-going. It took a lot to make him truly angry. When he did, however, you’d best pay attention.

“What are you going to do?” George asked quietly. “Because I want in.”

“And me,” Ron said.

Bill remained silent, watching their father intently.

“I’m not planning on doing anything illegal, and I’m not planning on doing anything to upset Harry. He’s been through enough, and above all else, he is the one who deserves our concern,” their father said solemnly.

“But you’re not going to let them get away with it,” George said.

“No. The adults in Harry’s life — both wizard and Muggle - were never there for Harry when he most needed them. We all made tragic errors in judgement, and he had to pay the price. Harry had no advocate as a child. That oversight rests on the wizarding world, and I intend to see he has a voice now, even if he’s unaware of it,” their father said, a slight tremor to his voice.

“Dad, you’ve spent your life advocating for Muggles and the Muggle Protection Act. You can’t throw that away,” Bill said heatedly.

“I’m not going after them because they’re Muggles, I’m going after them because they’re abusers,” their father said indignantly. “No child — wizard or Muggle — deserves that.”

Ron was forcibly reminded of an eerie similarity to a scene between his father and the twins several years previous. Dad had been upset with them for leaving a Ton-Tongue Toffee on the floor for Harry’s bullying cousin to find. Both Fred and George had defended themselves that they had acted because of what Dudley had done, not because of who he was. Glancing over at George, Ron could see his brother was remembering the same thing.

“I know,” Bill said, lowering his voice. His eyes glinted dangerously. “And I agree that they should face punishment, but I don’t think you should throw away your career over it. Let us handle this.” He tilted his head towards Ron and George.

“Dad, if anything happens to you over any of this, it won’t really be helping Harry, because he’d never forgive himself. It would destroy him,” Ron said, beginning to see the reality of Bill’s concerns.

“I have no intention of using magic against them,” his dad said firmly. “I want to put the fear of wizardkind in them, but I want to do it without magic. I believe I can. I haven’t told your mother because I think she’d have a harder time controlling her temper. Your sister has enlightened me on a few details, and I cannot, in good conscience, let this go. Dursley will understand there are consequences to raising his hand to a child.”

“For raising his hand to a Weasley,” Ron said. “Harry is family in all but name and hair, and you don’t mess with a Weasley.”

“Too right,” George added. “Besides, Harry would do this for anyone else, so it’s only right we should do it for him.”

“Does Ginny know what you’re planning?” Bill asked.

Their dad’s ears turned very red. “I told her I’d take care of it, but I didn’t give her any of the details. I think it’s better this way. I don’t ever want to put her in the position of having to be untruthful to Harry.”

Bill nodded in agreement.

“Besides, she’d have bat-bogey’s coming out of their noses for the next fifteen years. Even Kingsley couldn’t get the Ministry to not notice that,” Ron said emphatically.

George snorted.

“Kingsley knows I plan on making a visit. I told him I have no intention of using magic, and I’d do my best to see that none of you did, either, but it’s best to have a back-up plan should something go wrong,” their father said.

“Nice to have the Minister on our side for a change,” Ron said.

“He could help with minor transgressions if it comes to it, but I’m counting on all of you to remain in control. If you think you’ll have a problem doing that, I ask that you back out now,” their father said firmly.

All of them looked over at Ron.

“What? I can do this. I’ve been with Harry longer than any of you, and he never even told me what was going on. I’m going,” Ron said indignantly.

He wasn’t going to be left behind. In fact, he had an idea about something he wanted to leave for the Dursleys. Something that wouldn’t get anyone in trouble, but would serve the Dursleys right. He needed Hermione’s help with the details, however.

Besides, Hermione deserved a piece of this, as well.


*****


Hermione walked slowly up the street in Diagon Alley, oblivious to her surroundings. Her mind was pondering the plan Ron and his siblings had for the Dursleys. Ron had told her about it after they’d already decided to do it, and he’d asked for her help with one of the details. Hermione was torn between wanting to warn them off doing it and wanting to go with them.

The Dursleys deserved to be punished, there was no doubt about that. She’d often suspected things were worse than Harry let on, and she should have pursued it. Outwardly, Harry covered his situation extremely well, but the signs were there if she’d only taken the time to really look. Still, she didn’t want Ron’s family to get in any trouble. She wasn’t certain that any of them — Mr. Weasley included — could hold their tempers around the Dursleys. From the few encounters she’d had with them, she could see they were impossible. That wasn’t even taking Harry’s memories into account.

When Harry had been under the influence of the De-Ageing Potion, the damage they’d inflicted upon him was more apparent. He repeatedly thought they were trying to get him in trouble and had seemed so startled by simple gestures of kindness. She suspected the older Harry still felt this way, but he did a much better job of hiding it.

But if Mr. Weasley had been the one to decide on a course of action, she supposed it would be all right. And she was going to help Ron with his idea.

She was currently on her way to George’s shop to meet Ron. They’d planned to go to the Leaky Cauldron for dinner. Food at The Burrow was always good and plentiful, but it would be nice to get away, just the two of them, for a change.

Ron had been treating her perfectly lovely these past several weeks. He’d been a model boyfriend. He’d taken her out to lunch a few times, spent some of his very first paycheck on dinner… he’d even gone into Flourish and Blotts without complaining or whining that he wanted to go to the Quidditch shop (although she knew he did).

They’d found several stolen moments to share a smooch or two, and he’d behaved like a perfect gentleman every time.

Hermione was shocked by how frustrated she was.

She’d never been as obsessed about being kissed as both Parvati and Lavender had been. She’d kissed Viktor a few times to see what they were talking about. It was certainly pleasant, but nothing she needed to go over every detail about repeatedly.

Right now, however, she had to admit that she wanted to be properly kissed.

She knew Ron’s reticence had to do with that awkward conversation about Lavender while they were in Australia. She’d stopped him from getting carried away with her questions about his relationship with Lavender. Hermione had always hated not knowing something. She felt horrible about being so jealous of a poor, dead girl, but the Lavender in Hermione’s mind was alive and mocking. Always mocking.

Hermione couldn’t get past the fact Lavender’s relationship with Ron had gone further than her own. She wanted to do something about it. Logically, she knew it was a horrible reason to let anything happen that she wasn’t ready to happen.

But she thought she might be ready to let something happen.

Not to let everything happen, but… It was driving her mad. She woke up in the morning thinking about kissing him, and went to bed at night thinking about the same thing. It didn’t help that she’d come upon Harry and Ginny snogging in the meadow while supposedly out for their evening “fly” on several occasions.

She knew from some of her late night talks with Ginny that it was Ginny who was holding back in that relationship, which Hermione found extremely interesting. Ginny was bold, and she always seemed to know what she wanted. Just because she was bold, however, didn’t mean sex wasn’t a big, scary step. Hermione felt better that Ginny was as nervous as she was. Ginny rarely cared what anyone else thought, and much like Harry, she liked to set her own rules. Hermione suspected Ginny had felt very not in control during the war, and she needed something she could control.

Hermione couldn’t help but wonder about Harry in this dynamic, as well. He was rash and impulsive on one hand, but also had a heap of intimacy issues thanks to his deplorable relatives. She wondered which would win out if given free reign. Of course, judging by her own hormonal indulgences of late, she thought she might know.

Hermione sighed deeply. She was well past puberty. She shouldn’t be thinking so much about it. Unfortunately, her mind didn’t want to acquiesce to her demands.

It startled her to realize she was standing in front of the door to Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes without any recollection of the walk there. She’d always prided herself on her well-organized mind, but lately, a certain tall red-head - with very full, pouty lips — kept forcing his way into that mind.

And she hated not knowing what to do about it.

The door to the shop unexpectedly swung open revealing Harry watching her with an amused grin.

“Are you planning on coming in or just glaring at the sign all night?” he asked.

“Harry!” she said, surprised. “I didn’t know you were here.”

Harry shrugged. “Just dropped by to help George with some stocking out back,” he said.

Harry had tried working the floor on several occasions, and while it drew a remarkable crowd, people were more interested in Harry than the products. Several displays had been damaged in the rush to get to him. Since then, Harry had only helped in the back room where the public wasn’t allowed.

Taking a good look at him, she thought he appeared rather tired and pale. “Are you feeling all right?” she asked. “You look rather peaky.”

Harry grinned wryly. “Been spending a bit of time with Mrs. Weasley, have you?”

Hermione reluctantly grinned. “I suppose. Where’s Ron?”

“He’s upstairs in George’s flat. George has already gone out for the evening,” Harry replied as the two of them began climbing the stairs to the flat.

Hermione could smell the delicious aroma of Chinese take away before she was halfway up the stairs. They found Ron sitting at George’s table, a variety of opened boxes in front of him as he sampled each one. Hermione stared at him, perplexed. How in the world had he known about Chinese food? It certainly wasn’t a wizarding norm.

“Where did you get that?” she asked.

“That smells amazing,” Harry said at the same time, moving toward the table and lifting one of the boxes.

“George got it in Muggle London,” Ron said, his mouth full of noodles. “Lee and Alicia were supposed to come over, but they invited him out instead, so he said we could have it. Try this.”

Although she’d been looking forward to going out, the food did smell delicious. She hadn’t had Chinese food since she’d gone with her parents before sixth year. “Could we at least use plates?” she asked, exasperated, watching the two boys shovel food directly from the cartons.

“I’ve had this once before,” Harry said. “It’s good.”

Hermione went over to a cupboard and removed three plates, not really certain why she bothered. Neither of the boys seemed interested in simple things such as cutlery.

“Here,” she said, putting a plate and some utensils in front of each of them, and adding spoons to the cartons.

“Thanks,” they each grunted through mouthfuls.

“When did the Dursleys take you out for Chinese?” Hermione asked curiously.

“They didn’t. I snuck some from the fridge after they went to bed. Got caught though. Dudley smelled it,” Harry said, shrugging. He stuffed a heaping forkful of chicken into his mouth. Hermione suspected it was to keep himself from saying anything else.

She was surprised he’d admitted that much openly. That was progress for Harry.

“It does smell wonderful. My mouth started watering as soon as George brought it in,” Ron said, heaping more noodles on his plate.

“How did things go at training today?” Hermione asked. She still couldn’t believe they were in a classroom setting without her. She was eager to hear what they were learning, but they didn’t give as much detail as she would like. They usually spent more time disparaging their instructor. Despite her frustration, Hermione had to admit it was nice that not everything had changed.

“Rory MacDonald Stunned Susan Bones so powerfully she had to see the Mediwitch,” Harry said.

“Is she all right?” Hermione asked, alarmed.

“She’s fine. Pierce sent us all home afterwards, though, so we got most of the afternoon off. I don’t like MacDonald much, but Bones was asking for it,” Ron said.

“Ron!” Hermione scolded.

“She was!” She kept going on and on about her auntie. If I hear one more word about her auntie, I might Stun her myself,” Ron said, grumbling.

“Madam Bones was a very powerful figure at the Ministry, and she did die under Voldemort’s orders,” Hermione said.

“I’m not complaining about Madam Bones. I’m complaining about Susan. She seems to think she should get credit for anything her aunt did,” Ron said indignantly.

“She does tend to brag about her aunt a lot,” Harry agreed, nodding.

“It’s like she wants credit in the class because of who she’s related to,” Ron added.
“Cormac McClaggan does the same thing, really,” Harry said.

“Yeah, but Pierce seems more onto McClaggan, the git,” Ron said, scowling. He’d never got over his aversion to the arrogant Gryffindor.

“I don’t remember Susan bothering you when we were back at Hogwarts,” Hermione said. “She was part of Dumbledore’s Army, after all.”

Ron shrugged. “Didn’t really know her that well, did I? ‘Sides maybe it’s only the Ministry she expects special treatment from.”

“Can’t see Snape letting anyone get away with wanting special treatment,” Harry said wryly.

“Yeah… well… he wasn’t hot for Madam Bones like he was for Harry’s mum, either, was he?” Ron said, grinning.

Harry dropped his fork and pushed his plate away, a disgusted expression crossing his face. “Eww, Ron… That’s just… Must you?”

Ron laughed. “I must. More for me,” he said gleefully snagging the box of takeaway Harry was eating.

Hermione shook her head. “But what did you learn today?” she asked, trying vainly to bring them back on point.

“Other than not to get Stunned by MacDonald, you mean?” Harry asked.

Hermione clenched her teeth. “Yes, other than that.”

“Not much textbook stuff today, Hermione. We learned some cool offensive spells and had to practice,” Ron said.

Hermione frowned. It hadn’t occurred to her that they’d be learning new spells. The idea that they’d know how to do something she didn’t distressed her.

“What kind of offensive spells?” she asked.

“Disillusionment Charm, too,” Harry said. “I’ve got mine much more controlled than when we did our campsite.” Part of the protection charms they’d used while on the Horcrux hunt utilized a Disillusionment Charm.

“I don’t like how it feels,” Ron said, shuddering.

“What kind of offensive spells?” she repeated.

“There was one really good one that constricts your windpipe so you can’t cast a spell,” Ron said.

“Couldn’t verbally cast one, you mean?” Hermione clarified.

“Well, it’s hard to concentrate on a non-verbal spell when you’re trying to focus on breathing,” Harry said reasonably. He pushed his chair back from the table to stand.

“Are you leaving?” Ron asked.

“Yeah. I promised Ginny to go for a fly,” Harry said.

“A fly? Oh, is that what you’re calling it?” Hermione asked, grinning.

Harry’s cheeks reddened, and he ducked his head. “We fly,” he mumbled.

Sometimes teasing him was just too easy.

“That’s enough,” Ron said, continuing to eat. “I don’t want any details. When are you going to get a new broom?”

Harry shrugged. “I need to. Want to go with me to Quality Quidditch Supplies and take a look?”

“Absolutely,” Ron said excitedly. “Mine’s still in decent shape, but it’s always worth a look.”

“Have a good night, Harry,” Hermione called as he went downstairs.

Ron finally got up from the table and moved over to the couch, groaning as he sat down and put his feet on the coffee table. “I’m stuffed.”

“You were stuffed ten minutes ago but you kept eating,” Hermione said fondly as she sat beside him.

“Yeah, but it was really good,” Ron said, grinning.

“There are lots of different types of food you could try. We should go out to eat in Muggle London one of these days,” Hermione said thoughtfully.

“If you want to,” he said warily.

“Ron, you just tried something new and really enjoyed it,” Hermione said, leaning back as he put his arm around her shoulders.

“Yeah, but I don’t want to push my luck,” he said, tugging on a stray curl.

She turned her face toward him, and he surprised her by leaning over to kiss her fully on the mouth. A delicious tingle shot up her spine. She wrapped her arms around his neck, and opened her mouth to deepen the kiss.

It was all the encouragement Ron needed.

“I’ve been waiting to kiss you since you walked up the stairs,” he gasped in between kisses.

Hermione pushed on his chest, incredulous. “You’ve been eating since I got here.”

“Doesn’t mean I wasn’t wanting to kiss you,” Ron said, grinning wolfishly. “I’m glad Harry left.”

Hermione thought it would be better not to mention that Harry left so he could go kiss Ginny. She pulled Ron closer, enjoying the feel of his hands on her bare arms as he resumed his ministrations. When Ron’s hands moved from her arms to her shoulders and then lower, she didn’t stop him. He hesitated, and she placed her hand over his, keeping them where they were.

The evening hadn’t been what she’d planned, but she ended up enjoying it nonetheless.

Back to index


Chapter 22: Warnings

Author's Notes: Special kudos to Ryan for inspiration in Arthurís words. I got stuck on this chapter, and after a long talk with Ryan, I had renewed direction. Thanks, Ryan! Itís not Mrs. Black, but I hope this will haunt Petunia more!

I had a few questions on Susan Bones last chapter. Just thought Iíd let you all know that I have an unreasonable, irrational dislike for the character that comes more from fanfic than canon, but there you go! We all have our quirks, and Susan Bones is mine!


Chapter Twenty-two
Warnings



Harry felt as if a Hippogriff was sitting on his chest. He sat in the training classroom learning about counter-jinxes, but he was having trouble focusing. He’d woken up feeling wretched that morning. He was congested and achy, and for some reason, taking a deep breath was difficult. He’d been feeling run down recently, but today, whatever illness he was fighting off had ratcheted up a notch.

He supposed it was time to ask Mrs. Weasley for some Pepper-Up Potion. He’d been avoiding it up until now, but he thought he couldn’t put it off any longer.

Ron kicked the back of his chair, startling him. He looked up to find Instructor Pierce staring at him expectantly.

“Well?” he asked.

“Er,” Harry said blankly.

“Apparently, Mr. Potter has better things on his mind than paying attention in class,” Pierce said, causing Harry’s cheeks to flame. “I don’t appreciate being forced to repeat myself. I said, what would you do if you were confronting a suspect in a heavily-populated Muggle area?”

“Use the Muggle-Repelling Charm if there’s time, so the Muggles won’t notice what’s going on. If there’s not time, or if someone approaches after the fact, you can try a Memory Charm,” Harry replied, thankful he knew the answer. This was another of the protection spells they’d used on their campsite.

“And what is the incantation for the Muggle-Repelling Charm?” Inspector Pierce asked.

“Repello Muggletom,” Harry answered promptly.

Inspector Pierce nodded, his blue eyes widening slightly. “Of course, it’s always best to wait for an Obliviator from the Ministry to handle the Muggles, if you’re able.”

There was a knock at the door, and Inspector Pierce stepped outside.

“How did you know that?” Lisa Turpin demanded, flipping through her text. “He didn’t cover the Incantation.”

Harry shrugged. “Had to use it before,” he replied.

“Good thing you knew the answer,” Ron said. “What’s wrong with you today? You seem really out of it.”

“Who are you to talk?” Harry said indignantly. Ron had regularly slept through their History of Magic class back at Hogwarts.

“I could’ve answered that one,” Cormac said. “Always good to know how to cover in front of Muggles.”

“All right,” Inspector Pierce said, returning to the room. “Our next phase of this training involves going out into the field.”

“What? On a real raid? Wicked!” Duncan Tate said excitedly.

Harry’s own interest perked. He hated spending so much time in the classroom. Still, it seemed rather soon to let them in on anything important. He knew the Aurors were diminished after the battle. Perhaps they’d got a lead on some of the missing Death Eaters.

“You will be going out as observers only, boys and girls,” Inspector Pierce stressed. “Each of you will be assigned a trained Auror, and where they go, you go. You will obey your assigned Auror without question. Am I clear?”

All of them had straightened in their chairs, muttering eager agreement. Even Rory MacDonald, who had looked particularly bored over the past several days, appeared excited.

Instructor Pierce moved around the room, putting a piece of paper face down on each of their desks. “Each of the Aurors to whom you’ve been randomly assigned is on this paper. The Auror Division is on level two. I want you to go up and introduce yourselves. There is a raid about to happen in Greenwich. You are to follow your Auror’s instructions to the letter.”

Greenwich? That was where Harry and Ginny had spotted Rabastan Lestrange. Could this be him? Had they found him? Harry eagerly turned over his paper and his heart sank as he recognized the name.

“I’ve got a bloke named Quentin Williamson,” Ron said. “How about you?”

“John Dawlish,” Harry replied dully.

“Dawlish?” Ron squawked. “Isn’t he the one Dumbledore—”

“Yep,” Harry said, sighing. Just once, couldn’t his path be smooth? Dawlish was the Auror Dumbledore had to Stun while making his escape during Harry’s fifth year. As he remembered, Dawlish was a by-the-book fellow, and very loyal to Fudge.

“Shall we head up then?” Ron asked. His sympathy for Harry’s plight obviously paled in comparison with meeting his own assigned Auror.

“Owen Savage,” Susan Bones said. “Oh, my Auntie used to talk about him all the time,” Susan Bones said, reading her card.

Ron’s face scrunched up as he silently mimicked her saying, “Auntie.”

“What are you waiting for?” Instructor Pierce said. “This is a raid, people. Move!”

The sound of scraping chairs filled the classroom as everyone stood and quickly gathered their belongings. They hurried along the corridor and crowded into the lift. Harry was smooshed between Ron and Violet Benson. He tried not to move so as not to bump into Violet’s prominent features. He really didn’t know where to look.

“Ooh, cozy,” Violet said, pressing herself more closely into Harry. She wore a V-cut black shirt, and Harry concentrated fully on keeping his eyes facing upward.

“Isn’t this exciting?” Lisa said. “I didn’t think they were going to let us in the field for several weeks yet.”

“Yeah, but only as observers,” Rory said, disgustedly. “If we’re lucky, we’ll see some real action, and they’ll have no choice but to use us.”

“Be careful what you wish for,” Harry said quietly.

“Oh, excuse us, Potter. The rest of us aren’t as jaded yet,” Rory said derisively.

“Back off,” Ron snarled. “After you defeat a few Dark Wizards, then you can talk. For now, keep your mouth shut.”

“Yeah, and exactly who have you defeated, Weasley?” Rory asked scornfully.

“Oh, stuff it, boys,” Violet said, once again pressing herself closer to Harry. “You’ll all get the chance to prove how overflowing with testosterone you are.”

Susan and Lisa giggled behind her.

Harry was thankful when the lift doors opened, and he could make his escape. He hurried towards Auror headquarters, Ron on his heels. The department was bustling with activity, but all heads turned when the students burst in. Harry scanned the desk looking for the name he was seeking. He found the nameplate in the third row of desks. John Dawlish sat there, eyeing him closely.

He walked up to the desk and held out his hand. “Harry Potter,” he said, thinking it best to start off fresh.

“I know who you are,” Dawlish said insolently, unmoving. “Everyone knows who you are.”

Harry remained silent, dropping his hand. What did Dawlish expect him to say?

“Let’s be clear. You are a rookie. You will do exactly what I say, no matter what happens,” he said scornfully. “If I say to run, you will run. If I say to hide, you will hide. If I tell you to cast an Immobilizing spell, you will cast an Immobilizing spell.” Harry was forcefully reminded of a similar speech Professor Dumbledore gave him one cold night long ago. Nothing then had gone according to plan.

“There will be no heroics, I can’t even tell you the amount of paperwork I’ll be forced to fill out if you get killed. You are to follow orders,” Dawlish said, shaking his head.

“Yes, sir,” Harry replied.

“We’re following a lead out in Greenwich. A former Death Eater was spotted there, and we’ve traced his signature to a certain area, so we’re conducting a search. We’re not expecting it to pan out, but there’s always a chance, and you must remain on guard. You are to stay behind me at all times. Is that clear?” Dawlish asked, making no secret of his aversion to taking a trainee with him, particularly Harry Potter.

“Harry Potter!” a jovial wizard with a thick black moustache called out as he approached. Duncan Tate was standing beside him. “We’ve heard you’d joined our squad. Is it true you play Quidditch?” the wizard asked.

Harry cocked his head quizzically. “Er… yeah. I played Seeker on the Gryffindor House team,” he said.

“Youngest Seeker in a century,” Ron added helpfully from the next desk over.

“Hans Rickman,” the wizard said, offering his hand, which Harry shook. “I’m a Beater on the Auror inter-department team. We’re in need of a Seeker, and we heard you played.”

Harry nodded, the pain in his chest forgotten as excitement burst within him.

“We’re meeting on Friday night in Opachinski Glen. Join us there if you’re interested,” he said.

Harry had no idea where Opachinski Glen was, but he’d find out.

“D’you need a Keeper?” Ron asked eagerly.

Rickman looked him up and down appraisingly. “You come, too. We’ll see how you play,” he said as he strolled out of the room, Duncan on his heels. He gave each of them a thumbs-up as he passed.

Before Ron had a chance to celebrate, Dawlish interrupted. “Now that all the socialization is out of the way, are we going to get any work done today?”

“Let’s go,” someone shouted, and they moved as a group towards the Apparition center in the Atrium.

“You hold my arm, I’ll lead you there,” Dawlish said, sounding as if there was nothing he loathed more than the idea of Harry touching him.

Harry squashed his own annoyance and took Dawlish’s arm, a moment later arriving near the Royal Garden where he’d taken Ginny on their date. They’d appeared in four separate groups. He could see the clusters of the others across the garden. Ron wasn’t in Harry’s group, but Rory MacDonald was. Of all his classmates, Rory was Harry’s least favorite. He found the dark-haired wizard to be rather lazy and manipulative. He’d seen him getting Lisa Turpin to do a lot of his assignments for him, and then ignoring her once the work was done.

“There is an abandoned warehouse two blocks up. It’s been warded, but the Ministry has dismantled many of them,” a tall, sandy-haired wizard who seemed to be in charge of Harry’s group said. “We’re going in four groups on each side. This is reconnaissance only. We’re not entirely certain there is anything there, but we want to search the premises. The building is empty at the moment, but if any hostiles arrive, both of you rookies are to remain under cover and observe only.” He nodded at Harry and Rory as he spoke.

Dawlish glared at Harry as if he’d argued the point. The direction in which they were headed wasn’t far from the sweet shop where he’d seen Rabastan Lestrange. Perhaps they’d finally get a solid lead. Someone had to be harboring these Death Eaters.

Harry followed Dawlish on one side of the street while Rory and his Auror, the leader of their group, took the other. The warehouse came into view once they rounded a corner. It was dark with boarded windows and a look of decay. Harry didn’t think they would have to do any Muggle-Repelling Charms. Who’d want to go in, anyway? The roof appeared ready to collapse.

Harry’s group took the left side of the warehouse. They spread out and tested for any wards, but found none. There wasn’t an Anti-Apparition Jinx applied, either.

“Savage’s group is entering through the front first,” Dawlish said gruffly. “We’ll go in after. The other two groups are entering from the rear.”

Harry nodded, his eyes alert and intent. His adrenaline was simmering, but hadn’t exploded. Nothing about this was screaming danger to Harry. His instincts were telling him they wouldn’t find anything, but he didn’t think Dawlish would be interested in Harry’s instincts.

Harry wasn’t certain about them himself.

The warehouse was dark and empty with the musty smell of disuse. He followed Dawlish, looking for any sign someone had been there. Glancing at the floor, he noticed a powdery substance against one wall beneath a blacked-out window. Before he could point it out to Dawlish, however, a shout rang out from across the warehouse.

Harry crouched immediately, pressing his back against the wall.

A streak of red shot across the air, bursting against the ceiling in a shower of sparks. Rory moved to stand but his Auror’s hand shot out and pulled him back down.

“Don’t move,” Dawlish hissed.

Harry hadn’t intended to. He could hear shouting from the other end of the warehouse, but it was too black to see. The shouting sounded more angry than panicked, “Wand down, first-year!”

“I knew bringing trainees along was a foolish idea,” Dawlish grumbled. “There’s no one here.”

“How can you be certain?” Rory asked.

“Simple Detection Spell,” the sandy-haired Auror answered. “I cast it as soon as we’d entered.”

“At least one wizard has been here, though,” Harry said.

“How do you know that?” Dawlish asked scornfully. “Something else only you can detect?”

Harry grit his teeth in irritation. Dawlish had at least some knowledge of Harry’s connection to Voldemort. “No,” he said as evenly as he could, “but there’s potion residue on the floor over there.”

“Where?” the sandy-haired wizard asked sharply.

Harry pointed to the powdery substance he’d seen upon entering. Dawlish glared at Harry while the other Auror pulled on his gloves and collected a sample.

Auror Savage approached them from the other side of the warehouse. “We’re all clear,” he said. “One of the trainees was startled. What have you got?”

“Potion residue,” Dawlish answered through clenched teeth.

“Good find. I’ll have the other groups on my side search for more of the same,” Savage said.

Dawlish nodded.

“Potter was the one who actually spotted it,” the sandy-haired Auror spoke quietly.

Savage turned to Harry, nodding. “Then perhaps bringing the trainees along wasn’t such a bad idea after all,” he said before walking back into the blackness.


*****


Harry and Ginny sat on the floor in Andromeda Tonks’ sitting room with Teddy lying on a blanket between them. Andromeda had gone out to lunch with her sister, and Harry and Ginny volunteered to child-mind while she was out. Harry used his wand to hover various small toys above the baby, and he was gleefully batting at them. He shrieked occasionally which would cause Harry to chuckle.

Ginny thought Harry was as adorable as the baby was.

“So tell me again what happened at that warehouse yesterday,” Ginny said.

“Not much to tell,” Harry said, shrugging. “It was empty except for some potion residue. The Ministry is testing it to see if they can decipher any of the ingredients, or what kind of potion it was.”

Using his wand, he lowered one stuffed dragon low enough for Teddy to reach. The baby stretched out and grasped the green dragon and immediately brought it to his mouth.

“You aren’t supposed to eat the dragons,” Harry said, grinning broadly. Ginny was vividly reminded of a dark-haired youth who’d run amok in her back garden with her brothers.

Teddy continued to chew.

“You’d better not let my brother Charlie see you doing that, Teddy. He takes his dragons very seriously,” Ginny told the baby. She was glad Teddy had Harry. Hopefully it would make his life easier than Harry’s had been.

Teddy removed the dragon from his mouth and squawked before stuffing it back again.

“There was a bit of drama when Susan Bones thought something was moving towards her and fired a Stunner. Her Auror wasn’t happy about it since he hadn’t told her to use a spell. I can’t say as I blame her, though. I think I’d have fired off a Stunner if I saw something coming at me, too,” Harry said fairly.

“So she cast at nothing then?” Ginny asked.

“There was a stray cat, but she fired too high. Auror Savage did a Homenum revelio spell, but it was just a cat,” Harry replied.

“I can’t believe they had you out in the field already. It seems really soon to me,” Ginny said.

“I hope they let us go again. I get bored in the classroom,” he admitted sheepishly.

“I can understand that. You’re not so good at sitting still,” she said wryly.

She picked up Teddy and placed him back down on his stomach. He stopped chewing the dragon and pushed up slightly on his arms, looking around.

“Hey, you’re getting good at that,” Harry said, obviously pleased. “He couldn’t do that the last time I saw him.”

A small, house-elf emerged from the kitchen, glancing back and forth at the small group in the sitting room.

“Master Harry,” he said with a deep, croaky voice. He bowed low in front of Harry.

“Kreacher!” Harry said, sounding delighted. “How are you?”

“Kreacher is well, Master Harry. He is taking good care of Master Teddy, and Mistress Andromeda. Kreacher is serving the Noble House of Black well,” he answered.

“Yes, you are, Kreacher, but you need a break, too. Ginny and I are going to watch Teddy for a while. You go on and have some rest while you have the chance,” Harry said.

Kreacher looked as if he were about to protest, but before he could open his mouth, Harry said, “I bet you haven’t had any time to shine your locket.”

Kreacher’s eyes widened, and he bowed. “Thank you, Master Harry. Kreacher will go and give it a good shine,” he said before disappearing.

Ginny stared at Harry incredulously.

“I gave him the fake locket. It makes him happy,” he said, shrugging.

“Master Harry?” she asked, delighted. She couldn’t resist teasing him just a little.

She got her desired result when two high points of color stained Harry’s cheeks. He picked up Teddy, ducking his head. Teddy reached for his glasses.

“It’s just how Kreacher talks,” he mumbled, continuing to dodge Teddy’s attempts at snatching his glasses.

“I can’t believe Hermione has let you keep him this long. I reckoned she would’ve demanded you free him by now,” she said, trying to distract Teddy with the stuffed Clipper Ship they’d bought him in Greenwich.

“Oh, she’s tried. Kreacher will have none of it, and I just don’t see the point in getting him so upset. He’s happy here, and Andromeda needs some help,” Harry replied.

Teddy launched his pudgy hand at Harry’s face and finally managed to grasp his glasses. He squealed and waved them in the air excitedly.

“Hey, you know I can’t see without those,” Harry laughed, gently prying his godson’s fingers off the rim.

They were hopelessly smudged, but Harry quickly used a spell to clean them. Unhappy with losing his treasure, Teddy began to fuss.

“Andromeda left some bottles in the kitchen. I’ll go grab one,” Harry said, pulling himself to his feet.

Ginny stared at him as he left the room, noticing for the first time that he looked quite tired and pale. She picked up Teddy, rocking him back and forth and making soothing sounds. Teddy quieted, staring curiously at Ginny’s face. He scrunched up his face and his hair turned a vivid red. She grinned as he squirmed. Harry handed her the bottle when he returned to the room. Teddy began greedily sucking, as Ginny sank into a rocking chair, smiling at him.

“Do you feel all right?” she asked. “You look rather peaked.”

Harry shrugged and glanced away.

“Say anything but fine,” Ginny said in a singsong voice. She’d been working on getting him to at least acknowledge if something was bothering him, and she’d banned ‘fine’ from his vocabulary.

Harry grinned sheepishly. “I think I’ve got a bit of a chest cold. I meant to ask your mum for some Pepper-Up Potion yesterday, but I forgot after all the excitement,” he admitted.

That was definitely progress.

“I’ll be sure to give you some when we go home,” she said. “It’s not your scar, is it?”

The bruise on his chest had finally faded, but the lightning-bolt-shaped scar over his heart would always remain.

“No, it feels tight over my whole chest. More on the inside,” he said. “Hurts if I take a deep breath.”

“Why don’t you go see the Mediwitch at the Ministry? That’s what she’s there for, you know,” Ginny said reasonably.

Harry shrugged. “It’s just a cold.”

Well, he’d at least he’d told her the problem. She couldn’t expect him to change the habits of a lifetime overnight. “Well, see her if it gets worse then.”

Harry looked down at Teddy, watching him eat. A faraway, wistful expression crossed his features, making him appear rather sad.

“What are you thinking right now?” she asked.

“I wish he could’ve had some time with his parents. I at least had a year, even if I don’t remember it, before I went to live on Privet Drive. I wish he could’ve had that, too. I wish Remus and Tonks could’ve had some time with him,” Harry said softly.

“I wish that, too, but we’ll just have to tell him about them,” Ginny said, sighing.

Some things that happened during the war simply couldn’t be fixed no matter how hard they tried.

Her heart ached for what had happened to the Lupin family. It was so terribly tragic and unfair, the same as it had been for the Potter family during the first war.

In the stories she’d read and had been told, Harry has always been described as a baby. She’d tended to think of him as an infant like Teddy rather than a small child. Someone able to toddle and speak a few words — and very aware of whom he lived with… and who was missing.

Ginny’s throat ached, and she ducked her head so Harry wouldn’t see her distress. She suspected Teddy would always have a hole in his heart where his parents were supposed to be, but she hoped she and Harry could make that hole at least smaller than the one in Harry’s.


*****


Ron and his brothers Apparated to Arabella Figg’s back garden just after nightfall. Their dad had gone on ahead to speak with the Squib woman so she wouldn’t be alarmed. He was waiting when the others arrived, all dressed in black robes. Bill had suggested wearing robes because it would make the Dursleys uncomfortable. He said they no longer had to acquiesce to the family’s demands for “normalcy.” They’d earned some discomfort. It made it imperative that no other Muggles see them, however, hence the reason for waiting until nightfall.

Ron suggested using a Disillusionment Charm for the walk to Privet Drive, and he was excited to get to use it for real after practicing all week in class.

“All right, boys?” their dad asked.

Ron, Bill and George all nodded affirmatively.

“I’m going to stress this once again — there is to be no magic used against the Dursleys. No matter what they say, or do, magic will only cause trouble for us, and for Harry,” Dad said solemnly. “You must control your tempers.”

“Yeah, no magic,” Ron agreed, “but if they really tick you off, the Ministry won’t register a punch in the nose.”

“Or a kick in the balls,” George muttered darkly.

“Boys,” Dad said, frowning.

“It’s true, Dad,” Bill said, smirking. “The Ministry cannot detect either punches to the nose nor kicks to the balls.”

Their father turned around and began walking, but not before Ron saw his lips twitch. Ron reached into his pocket, his hand skimming over the first object, the object Hermione had secretly helped him to charm, and came to rest on the second. He pulled out his Deluminator and proceeded to turn out all the street lamps as he walked.

“Impressive,” George said.

“Dumbledore’s,” Ron replied.

When they reached number four, Privet Drive, the house was lit from within, but silent. Ron could hear the faint buzz of insects in the warm, summer air, but no other sound.

“Are we ready?” Bill asked.

“Let’s do this,” George replied.

Their dad went first, the three brothers flanking him. They stood silently on the doorstep as Dad rang the bell.

“I’ll get it, Petunia,” a gruff voice bellowed behind the door. “Can’t imagine who’d be calling at this late hour.”

The door swung open and Vernon Dursley, his large belly stuck out as he tried to look intimidating, stood in the doorway. The appearance of four robed figures stunned him for a moment, and he just stared at them blankly. Reality caught up with him as color rose in his face. He quickly turned an alarming shade of puce.

“Oh, no. We’re done with you lot,” he said, trying to shut the door.

Silently, Bill’s arm shot out to halt the progress.

“We have some matters to discuss,” their dad said. “We can do it inside quietly, or out here shouting for all your neighbors to hear. The choice is yours.”

Vernon’s eyes wildly glanced at the neighboring houses. A shade twitched in number six. Apparently, it was the deciding factor. Vernon pulled the door open wide and gestured them inside with a nod of his head, his lips pursed in anger. Once they were in the house, he shut the door with a snap.

“What is this about? I don’t want your kind in my house. We no longer have anything to do with your freakishness,” Vernon bellowed. “I’m already having trouble with work after you disrupted our lives for over a year. What more do you want?”

Petunia Dursley poked her head out the kitchen door. She raised her bony hand to her throat upon spotting the four wizards. “We were told the war was over. What do you want? The boy is not coming back here,” she hissed.

“Back here?” Vernon repeated, shouting. “Absolutely not. I won’t have it.”

Ron wondered if his dad was ever going to have the chance to speak. No wonder Harry frequently burst with frustration. These two were already giving him a headache, and he’d barely stepped inside the door. He glanced past his father to the closed cupboard door. It had been repaired since Harry’s rampage. Ron clenched his fists tightly, determined to see this through properly.

Dad slowly removed his wand from his pocket and gestured toward the kitchen. “I suggest you take a seat,” he said firmly.

That shut the Dursleys up.

Vernon took a step back, warily keeping his eye on the wand. He scurried past Dad, leaving as much space as possible between him and the wizards. Petunia ducked back into the kitchen where she and her husband sat down at the kitchen table. Dad took the chair opposite Vernon, and Petunia shifted her chair closer to her husband. She crossed her arms in front of her chest, her horse-like face pinched as she glared. Ron, Bill and George all stood menacingly behind their father, remaining silent.

Ron crossed his arms and glared back, mimicking Petunia’s pose. George and Bill followed suit.

Their father placed his wand on the table in front of him with a firm clicking sound. Vernon and Petunia both flinched, their faces wary. Dad simply stared.

“What is this about?” Vernon finally demanded, apparently unable to bear the silence any longer.

“We want to talk to you about your nephew,” Dad said quietly.

“What about him?” Vernon sneered.

“I’m going to be very clear,” Dad said, choosing his words carefully. He rolled his wand on the table, and it sounded very loud in the silent kitchen.

Both Dursleys’ eyes followed every move of the wand.

“The way you treated Harry was deplorable and inhumane,” Dad said, his pale blue eyes looking icy. “I’m astonished you would ever find it acceptable to treat a child this way.”

“How I choose to treat my family is no concern of yours,” Vernon said, blustering.

“Are you saying that you treat your own son the same way as you treated Harry? Because if you do, I think the Muggle authorities might be interested in some of your practices. They tend to frown upon child abuse,” Dad said in a quiet, deadly voice.

The hairs on Ron’s arms stood on end as if chilled.

“Don’t you threaten me,” Vernon said, scowling.

The vein on his forehead throbbed so prominently Ron was mesmerized. He wondered how far the man could be pushed before it would simply burst.

“We would never abuse Dudley,” Petunia said, scandalized.

“So you feed him regularly, then? Give him proper clothing, and a place to sleep? Treat him as part of your family? Offer comfort when he needs it? Or encouragement when he’s down?” Dad demanded coldly. “Because you did none of these things for your nephew. Abuse can be more than just physical, although I wonder if you’re as free with your hands with Dudley as you were with Harry.”

“You can’t believe anything that little liar says,” Vernon said, although a thin line of sweat was slowly running down the side of his face.

Ron clenched his fists to keep himself from drawing his wand, but it was a struggle. It helped to see both George and Bill shifting, as well. Bill’s leg was twitching as it always did when he was agitated.

Dad’s eyes narrowed.

“We took him in and provided for him out of the goodness of our hearts. He was an unwanted burden, but we kept him,” Petunia snapped.

“And you never let him forget you saw him as a burden, did you?” Dad asked, seething.

Petunia’s lips thinned, and she turned her face away, staring determinedly at the sink.
“Tell me, had the situation been reversed, and it had been the two of you who were killed, do you believe your sister would’ve taken Dudley in?” Dad asked coldly.

“We weren’t involved with your crowd. Our lives weren’t in any danger until he came to live here,” a furious Petunia hissed.

“Muggles die in car accidents all the time. Isn’t that how you told Harry his parents died? You couldn’t even give your sister the courtesy of telling her only child about her. The child she died to protect,” Dad said in a quiet, deadly voice. “Do you really think she would’ve treated your son the same? Because I think she would’ve brought him into her family and treated him as an equal. It’s what a family should’ve done.”

“Don’t you dare tell me what I should’ve done! You know nothing about my family,” Petunia spat.

“No, I don’t. But I do know your nephew, and he’d make any parent proud. I’m a father myself, and I had two kids who set off explosives in their room on a regular basis, yet I never put bars on their windows, locked them in a cupboard, or threatened them with near starvation,” Dad said, his voice rising with every word.

His wand rattled on the table menacingly.

Ron tensed, wondering if he were the one who would have to hold his father back. He’d never seen his dad this angry. He was downright scary.

Vernon exploded, “How we chose to discipline—”

“It wasn’t discipline, it was cruelty and neglect,” Dad interrupted. He turned back to Petunia. “Harry is as much a grandson to your mother as Dudley is. Tell me, Mrs. Dursley, would she be proud of the way you treated him?”

Petunia paled considerably, turning her face away.

“As I said at the beginning, how you treated Harry was never okay. It’s the goodness of his heart that doesn’t want to see you punished now. It’s not what I would choose. I want you to know, however, that just because Harry no longer resides here, doesn’t mean your life will ever be free of wizards,” Dad said threateningly.

“What do you mean?” Vernon said, alarmed. His eyebrows shot nearly to his hairline.

“It means… I’m going to watch,” Dad whispered ominously.

Both Dursleys watched him warily, as if finally comprehending the danger they were in. Dad pushed his chair back and stood.

Ron quietly left the kitchen without garnering any attention. He walked into the hallway and opened the door to the cupboard under the stairs. Taking Hermione’s small beaded handbag from his pocket, he reached inside and pulled out a small portrait. He placed it on the back wall of the cupboard and stepped back.

He stared at a portrait of Harry as a child, sleeping. The small boy would turn and roll in his sleep occasionally. Ron had taken one of the wizarding photos and brought it to an artist to have it made. Hermione put a spell on it to make it attach to the wall with a permanent sticking charm. It would forever stay there to taunt Harry’s Aunt Petunia about the way she’d treated her nephew.

Hermione had said that Harry’s Aunt Petunia would never be able to walk by the cupboard without checking if the portrait was still there. She’d be on edge that someone would discover it, and her straining ears would always be listening for sounds. The fact that portrait was in there would gnaw at her more than actually keeping Harry inside had ever done.

Bitch.

Ron hoped one day she’d feel the shame she truly deserved.



Back to index


Chapter 23: Trials and Tribulations

Author's Notes: Hope you enjoy!


Chapter Twenty-Three
Trials and Tribulations



Ron and Harry stared up at the gleaming chandelier in the center of the marble lobby at Gringotts. It sparkled magnificently, casting bright prisms of light around the cavernous main hall. It was the first time they’d been back since their break-in, but there was no sign any damage had been done. Ron felt slightly off-balance as he warily checked all the shadowy corners. The last time he’d been here, he’d been under disguise and following Hermione, who was Polyjuiced as Bellatrix Lestrange. He’d left on a dragon. This time he was here for simple banking.

Life was weird.

Goblins worked busily behind the counter, but as of yet, none had taken notice of their presence. Ron wondered if there would be a scene, but Bill had promised to be on-hand to ensure there would be no trouble.

Ron glanced over at Harry’s profile. His friend looked pale and wary, his eyes darting quickly at all corners of the bank. He was definitely on edge. Ron hoped Bill wouldn’t keep them waiting long.

They’d come into Diagon Alley after class with plans to visit the Quidditch shop. Harry needed a new broom in order to meet with the Auror Quidditch team on Friday night. Excitement bubbled in Ron’s stomach at the thought, and he knew Harry was just as excited by the prospect of playing Quidditch again.

Although he hadn’t said anything, Ron knew Harry had slept badly the night before. Ron had heard him groaning in his sleep, but he still took it as a good sign. If Harry was no longer casting a Silencing Charm when he went to bed, it meant the nightmares had improved.

Ron had been plagued with nightmares since the war, as well. He usually woke up in a panic after watching Harry die, or listening to Hermione scream in pain. He wished those images would fade but didn’t think they ever would.

Harry put a hand to his chest, grimacing as he took a deep breath. Ron had noticed him doing this several times during class, as well.

“You all right?” he asked quietly.

Harry nodded, dropping his hand immediately. “Chest cold,” he said shortly. “Ginny showed me where your mum keeps some Pepper-Up Potion. I think it’s wearing off,” he said.

Before Ron could reply, Bill emerged from a door to their right and waved them over. Ron thought he looked highly respectable in his pressed, Gringotts robes.

“Oi,” he said easily. “I was beginning to wonder if you were going to show.”

“Pierce kept us longer than expected,” Harry replied.

“Yeah, ‘cause Benson had trouble mastering a Tracking Charm,” Ron grumbled.

He didn’t think Benson would’ve had nearly the trouble with the charm if she’d just paid attention instead of flirting with Tate. To be fair, he knew his temper was shorter because he was so anxious to get to Quality Quidditch Supplies, however.

Harry grinned. “I think Pierce is trying to cram in as much as possible before the trials,” he said.

“They start tomorrow, right?” Bill asked.

“Some of the smaller ones do, but they’ll be closed sessions,” Harry replied. “The first big one is Umbridge next week. I think it’ll draw a big crowd.”

“We’re listed as witnesses on that one,” Ron said. He, Harry and Hermione were all scheduled to testify against their former Defense Against the Dark Arts professor. Ron could hardly wait until she got what was coming to her.

“All right, let’s get this done. First, here you go, Ron,” Bill said, handing Ron several parchments.

“What’s this?” Ron asked.

“I started the paperwork to get you your own vault, you’ll just need to sign when you go to the counter,” Bill replied.

“A vault?” Ron asked faintly, staring at the parchment. It hadn’t occurred to him, despite the fact both George and the Ministry were paying him.

“I got mine right after I started work. It’ll help you to save if it’s not in your pocket all the time,” Bill said. “You can have your pay deposited directly to your account.”

Ron’s insides felt warm as he puffed out his chest. The idea of having his own vault pleased him greatly. Hermione didn’t even have her own vault, yet. Ron could hardly wait to tell her.

Bill led them over to the counter where Ron and Harry each approached a goblin. Bill went with Harry, while Ron placed his parchment on the counter.

“I want to get a vault,” he said, his voice cracking embarrassingly.

The goblin looked over his spectacles before looking over the parchment. It took several moments and Ron tried his best not to fidget. “Sign here,” he said, his voice low and gravelly. Ron signed his name, feeling important.

“Wand, please,” the goblin said, sounding rather bored.

Ron handed over his wand, and said, “I’d like my pay from the Ministry deposited directly to my account. I’m in the Auror training program.”

He felt stupid after he said it, and the goblin didn’t look impressed. Ron glanced nervously over at Bill and Harry. Bill was talking animatedly with the goblin, but Harry looked tense. Ron knew his friend had been worried about his reception. While Ron watched, Harry pressed his hand to his chest again.

“Here’s your key,” the goblin said, startling him as he pushed a small vault key towards Ron. “There is a fine if you lose it. Your vault is number 759.”

Ron took the shiny key, staring happily at it.

“Thanks,” he said, but the goblin was already looking for the next customer. Ron walked over to where Harry and Bill were still standing.

“Everything go okay?” he asked.

“Got a lecture about respecting bank property,” Harry said, scowling.

“They had to feel they were in control,” Bill said easily. “You did good.”

Harry nodded, his scowl fading. “Did you get a vault?” he asked.

“Yep, vault number 759 belongs to Ronald B. Weasley,” Ron said proudly.

“Nicely done,” Bill said, as a goblin with long, wispy white hair approached. “This is Eargit. He’ll be taking us to your vault, Harry.”

Bill nodded at the goblin who returned the gesture. “Which vault are you visiting?” he asked.

“My vault,” Harry replied.

“They are both yours, Mr. Potter,” Eargit said condescendingly. “To which would you like to go?”

Harry grimaced. “Not the Black vault,” he said tersely.

“Very well. Follow me,” Eargit said, leading them through a door behind the counter into a stone corridor lined with rail tracks.

Ron had ridden in the carts before when he’d gone to his parents’ vault, but he never enjoyed it. The crazy ride they’d had when they broke into Gringotts and ended up getting dumped out of one hadn’t improved that impression. Eargit whistled for a cart, and the three wizards piled in behind the goblin. The ride seemed much longer than it took to get to the Weasley’s vault, Ron thought, glad when it ended. He and Bill followed Harry as he opened his vault.

Ron stared, stunned at the piles and piles of Knuts, Sickles and Galleons. They stretched back as far as his eye could see. Ron had never seen so much money in one place, and his mouth dropped open as his eyes bugged. Bill nudged him sharply with his elbow, and Ron noticed Harry looked rather embarrassed.

Ron had always known Harry had money, and if he’d come to Harry’s vault even a year ago, he’d have been jealous. Nastily jealous. But now, Ron had the memory of the confrontation on Privet Drive, and how callously his relatives spoke about him. Harry might be rich in one way, but he was completely destitute in others.

Ron, along with his father and brothers, had returned from Privet Drive vowing to never reveal they’d been there to any of the others. It wasn’t nearly what the Dursleys deserved, but the publicity of bringing them to trial would hurt Harry just as much.
And Harry had been through enough.

“What’s this?” Harry asked, moving toward some documents on a lighted pedestal to the left. He frowned as he picked them up, his eyes roving over the wording.

“What is it?” Ron asked.

Harry, who had been pale to start with, lost his remaining color as his back went rigid. “It’s the deed to the house in Godric’s Hollow,” he said flatly.

Ron wondered why he’d never noticed it there before. The pedestal was rather prominent.

“It would’ve been placed there when you came of age,” Bill said. “Have you been here since then?”

Harry shook his head absently, absorbed in whatever was written on the documents. “No. I was wanted, remember?”

Bill nodded, grimacing. “The property is yours, but you don’t have to decide anything right now,” he said gently. “You can just leave it as is.”

Harry shuddered slightly as he put the papers down. Ron could tell he was disturbed — who could blame him, really? — but he didn’t want Harry to sink into melancholy.

“Come on, mate. Grab some gold, and let’s go get you a broom. It’s unnatural that you haven’t splurged on anything yet. I’d have never been able to control myself,” Ron said.

The only thing he ever remembered Harry splurging on was sweets on the train before first year.

Harry shrugged and filled his money-bag. “When I first got the vault, I didn’t know how much it would cost to get through seven years of school.”

Ron’s gut twisted uncomfortably. The only thought he’d ever had about money was the fact he never had any. It had never occurred to him that Harry had been supporting himself on his own all that time. There was a lot he’d never noticed, and it made him feel like a heel.

“There’re several new brooms over at Quality Quidditch Supplies. If you get there and realize you didn’t get enough, you can also have it drawn from your vault,” Bill said.

“Okay. Thanks, Bill… er… for everything,” Harry said awkwardly.

Bill shrugged. “Can’t seem to stop myself being a big brother,” he said easily. “All right, are you two all set now?”

Ron really wanted to go see his vault, despite knowing there wasn’t much in it at the moment. Still, he thought it was better to get Harry out of the bank before he could begin to dwell on unpleasant memories.

There was Quidditch to think about.

“Want to come to the Quidditch shop with us, Bill?” Ron asked, climbing back into the cart.

“Thanks, but no. Fleur is expecting me for dinner,” Bill said.

They said their goodbyes, and Ron and Harry strolled down the street. Harry kept his head low, trying not to draw attention. Ron reckoned it was a losing battle, but he hoped they’d get to look at some brooms before it happened.

“You can always get another Firebolt,” Ron said. “It’s still top of the line, but there’s a new one called the Nimbus Flash that’s been getting rave reviews from—”

Ron suddenly realized he was walking alone. He turned around and saw Harry standing on the sidewalk staring up at Eeylops Owl Emporium. Ron walked back to him.
“Oh, yeah, you need an owl, don’t you? Want to go in?” he asked.

Harry shook his head. “I’ll have to get one once Ginny goes to Hogwarts, but not yet. I think I’ll let her pick one out,” he said, looking away.

Harry stuffed his hands in his pockets and began to walk. He’d been really fond of Hedwig, and Ron knew her loss had upset him more than he’d admitted. Ron didn’t like to admit how much he liked his pets, either.

“You’ve got a birthday coming up. Maybe someone will get you one?” Ron said, planning on telling Ginny about it when they got home. She’d been harping about what to get him for days.

“Hagrid gave me Hedwig for my eleventh birthday,” Harry said wistfully.

“So, it’s sort of a birthday tradition, then,” Ron said, pushing open the door to the Quidditch shop.

They both were drawn like moths to flame at a display in the center of the store. Fortunately, the shop was near empty this close to closing, and the few customers at the counter hadn’t noticed them.

Harry pressed his hand to his chest as he stared at the brooms, again wincing when he took a deep breath.

“You’d better remember to have some Pepper-Up before the try-outs on Friday if that cold is still bothering you,” Ron said.

“He didn’t say it was a try-out,” Harry replied.

“Yeah, but it is,” Ron said confidently.

Ron studied the lines on the new Nimbus, appreciating the thickness of the handle. The grip looked suburb. He noticed Harry’s eyes had been drawn back to the Firebolt.

“We’re just about to close, so if you’ve made a decision…” the clerk said, clearly wanting them to leave so he could go home. He stopped short when they both turned toward his voice, stuttering, “Mr. Potter! Mr. Weasley! It’s an honor to have you here.”

His eyes darted up to Harry’s forehead as he exuberantly shook their hands. The clerk behind the desk walked over, as well.

“We didn’t know you were coming,” the first clerk said. “What can we do for you?”

“Harry needs a new broom,” Ron said, enjoying the attention much more than Harry.

“The new Nimbus Flash is our most recent best seller. It’s sturdy enough for the Beater position,” the clerk said enthusiastically. The other clerk walked over and locked the door, turning the sign to the closed position.

“Which position do you play, Mr. Potter?” the first clerk asked.

“Seeker,” Harry replied.

“The Nimbus is a fantastic broom, but for the Seeker position, I’d still recommend the Firebolt. It’s sleek and built for speed whilst the Nimbus works better for Beaters and Keepers because it can’t be knocked off course as easily,” the clerk said knowledgeably.

“I’m certain either company would be delighted with your interest. They would most likely ask you to come in for a test run, Mr. Potter,” the desk clerk said, staring transfixed at Harry’s scar.

“No,” Harry said quickly. “I want to buy and choose my own broom. I’d really appreciate it if you didn’t mention to the Daily Prophet that I was here.”

“Of course, Mr. Potter, anything you say. And you, Mr. Weasley? Are you interested in a new broom?” the clerk asked.

“Not today,” Ron replied.

The second clerk handed Harry each of the brooms to examine. Harry compared the weight of each carefully. He took his time, poking at the bristles and running his hand along the wood before handing the Nimbus to Ron.

“I’ll take the Firebolt,” Harry said. “I had one before, and it’s a great broom.”

“The speed is impressive,” the clerk agreed.

Ron felt the solidness of the Nimbus instantly and could understand why Harry would prefer the lighter Firebolt. A Seeker needed speed, while strength was important to a Keeper. Perhaps if he made the team, he’d think about an upgrade, as well.

Harry left the shop with his moneybag considerably lighter, but a broom in hand and a smile on his face. Ron wished Friday would hurry up and arrive.


*****

It was a struggle to get through class on Friday from the moment it started. Harry’s mind was on what would happen afterwards, even before he sat down to take his test on Stealth and Tracking. Fortunately, he and Ron had abundant experience on the matter, so Harry breezed through the test without difficulty.

He’d slept badly the night before, plagued by nightmares and a stabbing pain in his chest. He was no longer having nightmares every night, and the intensity level of the ones he did have had decreased, but every now and again, one would sneak up on him and catch him unawares. The pain in his chest was more troubling. The ache in his lungs had made breathing difficult, and Harry had suffered in silence, trying to stifle his hacking cough until morning light filled Ron’s orange bedroom.

He’d finally pulled himself out of bed, gasping as pain shot fire through his lungs. He’d gone downstairs and taken a dose of Pepper-Up Potion from Mrs. Weasley’s potion kit. Ginny had shown him where it was kept, and he had to admit, it had done its job. He’d sat through class all day without a twinge of pain. It worked so well, he’d brought a second dose with him to take right before Quidditch.

As the day was nearing its end, the pain in his chest was returning, and he absently ran his hand along it. He’d never had a cold last this long, and he thought it might be time to get it checked out. Not before Quidditch, however.

It wasn’t as if it bothered him all day, it was mostly the nights that had got bad. His chest would tighten painfully, making his breathing fast and erratic, almost as if his lungs were constricting. And his cough was getting deeper. Still, Pepper-Up quelled it, and Harry really didn’t want anyone to notice. He’d shown enough weakness recently, he didn’t want to be sick, too.

If it didn’t clear up over the weekend, he’d see the Mediwitch at the Ministry on Monday. Decision made, he gathered his belongings and waited for Inspector Pierce to dismiss them. His leg bounced in anticipation. He could hardly wait to fly.

He, Ginny and Ron had taken turns testing out his new broom on the Quidditch pitch, and Harry felt as if it was welcoming an old friend. Ron knew where Opachinski Glen was, and he’d brought his broom to class, as well.

Ginny had given him a searing kiss for luck that morning, and Harry was eager for the try-out to go well in hopes his congratulatory kiss would be just as good. Despite his request to the shop-keeper, his picture was on the cover of the Daily Prophet the day after he’d purchased his new broom. The shop-keeper had kept his word about not revealing which broom Harry had chosen, but the fact he’d been in the shop seemed to be enough for the paper to run with it.

Then Witch Weekly ran an article speculating why Ginny wasn’t with him, and hinting that they were on the rocks. Harry was disgusted. The papers implied trouble whenever they were spotted together — once even accusing Ginny of two-timing him — and now they insinuated trouble when she wasn’t with him. Harry thought they just wanted scandal. What was it about his life that it seemed to follow him?

“All right,” Inspector Pierce said. “There will be no class on Monday, and the schedule will be sporadic next week. As I’m certain you are all aware, Dolores Umbridge goes on trial next Monday. Some of you, and many of the Ministry, will be testifying, and I’m certain several of you will want to be there. I’ll send an owl to let you know our schedule next week, but again, no class on Monday.”

All of the students who had been at Hogwarts under Umbridge scowled, but squared their shoulders resolutely. Even Cormac McLaggan looked determined.

Harry planned to attend the trial along with Ron, Hermione and Ginny.

“I think most of us will be here, anyway,” Violet Benson said. “Who doesn’t want to see that bitch get held accountable?”

Harry glanced at her sharply. “What did she do to you?” he asked.

“My best friend was Muggle-born,” Violet answered tersely. Harry had never seen Violet without her trademark flirtatious grin, and it was somehow disturbing. He didn’t need to ask what had happened to her friend.

“I won’t be here,” Rory said in a bored voice. “I can find better things to do with a free day off.”

“I’m going,” Susan said. “My auntie told me stories of the havoc she created even before her reign at Hogwarts. She was always drawn to whoever was in power.”

“You must be a witness about casting your Patronus during one of the Muggle-born trials, right, Harry?” Duncan Tate asked. “That was all over the papers.”

“And about starting the resistance against Umbridge at Hogwarts,” Lisa added.

“For someone so reserved, you certainly do find a way to make yourself the center of attention, don’t you, Potter,” Rory replied witheringly.

“Some people step up to do the right thing while others just stand by,” Ron snarled.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rory demanded, firing up.

“Take your disagreements outside,” Inspector Pierce said firmly. “My time is over, and I’m not playing referee to a bunch of children. Class dismissed.”

Harry quickly grabbed his bag and moved toward the door. He wasn’t going to be drawn into an argument with Rory before his Quidditch try-out. Both Ron and Cormac followed him out the door whilst the rest of the class gathered their things.

“That git,” Ron said, obviously still peeved.

“He has a point,” Cormac said. “You do get special attention.”

“Do you need something, McLaggan, or are you just following us to be a general nuisance?” Harry asked.

“I’ve got a date,” Cormac said pompously. “What’s your hurry?”

Harry opened his mouth to respond, but Ron elbowed him sharply in his ribs. Harry staggered as pain ripped through his chest. Fortunately, it went unnoticed by the other two.

“Our plans are none of your business. Go have fun on your date,” Ron said.

Cormac sneered. “And you two enjoy your… plans,” he said, a clear insinuation in his words.

Ron’s ears turned red, but Harry grabbed his arm and let Cormac walk away. He knew Ron was pleased that Cormac didn’t know about the Quidditch try-out, and he thought it was better that way. Ron would do much better without Cormac there. The arrogant wizard could still make Ron insecure, despite the fact Ron’s Quidditch skills had grown exponentially.

Of course, neither of them had played in over a year.

“Let’s do this,” Ron said resolutely, his ears still red.

They Apparated to the Glen, which was located just outside the city limits in a wooded area. The Ministry used it for its matches, and the entire area was covered in Muggle-Repelling Charms. They were told each department had scheduled practice times. Hans Rickman was already there, and he walked over to meet them, along with another, familiar wizard.

“I think you know Kenneth Trowler,” Hans said, indicating the short, sturdy wizard with dull blonde hair standing next to him. Kenneth had been in Fred and George’s year at Hogwarts, and he also assisted Inspector Pierce in training the new recruits.

“Hello, Inspector Trowler,” Harry said.

“I didn’t know you’d be here,” Ron said blankly.

Kenneth smiled tightly. “You can call me Ken during Quidditch only,” he said. “We lost our Seeker during the battle. You’ve got big shoes to fill. I’ve seen your matches at Hogwarts, so I know you can play.”

Harry nodded respectfully. “We lost a lot of good people during the battle.” He was proud of himself for managing not to flinch.

“Ken is a Chaser, along with Abby and Elin,” Hans said, nodding toward the two witches who were flying above and tossing a Quaffle. “Owen Savage is our Keeper, but he’s not here yet. He prefers to play Beater, anyway, so let’s see how you do. We might have a spot for both of you.”

Ron stood up straight. “What do you want us to do?” he asked.

“We can just toss the Quaffle around until Owen gets here. He’s bringing along a few other Aurors who play for us whenever someone can’t make a match. We’re going to have a scrimmage to see how you do. Usually we scrimmage with the Unspeakables, but we didn’t want them getting a peek until we knew how you could perform,” Hans said.

“Here, Harry, you can practice with this,” Ken said casually, as he revealed a Snitch he’d been hiding in his hand and let it go without warning.

Harry dropped his bag where he stood and mounted his broom. He lifted off and felt the wind ruffling through his hair as his new broom accelerated. The Snitch dove suddenly, as if it knew it was being chased. Harry barely managed to stop himself whooping with glee as he dove after it.

The broom handled exactly as his old, beloved Firebolt had, seeming to understand his every need and meeting it. The speed was intoxicating, and Harry felt a thrill as the ground zoomed up to meet him. He reached out, grasping the struggling Snitch just before impact. He levelled off, feeling his feet graze the grass, and lifted back into the air like a shot.

When he returned the Snitch to Ken, he noticed both witches had stopped in the air and were watching intently. Hans Rickman’s grin nearly split his face. Harry thought he looked rather eerie and made a note to himself not to make him smile again.

“Told you he was good,” Ken said smugly.

“That was impressive,” one of the witches said, flying down to join them. She was tall, with sun-streaked hair and a beak-like nose.

“I think we’ve found ourselves a Seeker,” the other, shorter witch said.

“I knew some of the hype around your exploits had to be true,” Hans said enthusiastically. “We’re going to finally give those Unspeakables a run for it. We’ve got the youngest Seeker in a Century and the savior of the Wizarding world on our team.”

“Yeah. When Voldemort took out my Firebolt, I knew he had to go,” Harry said sarcastically.

The others snickered, but Hans roared with delight. Even Ken tried to hide a smirk. When Owen arrived with a group of seasoned, tough-looking Aurors, the scrimmage began. Owen Savage was an impressive looking wizard, even taller than Ron, with a deep scar on his chin. His language was abrasive, and his eyes scanned the surrounding area constantly. Harry had heard his name before, and he half-expected him to shout out, “Constant Vigilance!”

Harry and Ron were put on opposite teams, but Harry tried to look over as much as he could to see how his friend was doing. Ron had looked extremely nervous at first, but as the match wore on, and he’d saved more and more goals, his confidence increased. They were currently on their second match since Harry had caught the Snitch a mere ten minutes into the first one.

By the end of the match, the sky was darkening and insects had begun taking over the glen. Harry’s Pepper-Up Potion was wearing off, and stabbing pains were shooting through his chest with each breath. He’d seen the Snitch twice already, but since he was enjoying himself so much, he hadn’t wanted it to end. Now, he thought it was time to wrap it up. He’d go to bed early and take it easy over the weekend. Hopefully that would enable him to finally shake off this cold.

Scanning the glen, he saw a glimmer of gold near the goal hoops Ron was covering. He flew toward him lazily, keeping the Snitch in sight. When he was close enough, he pushed the Firebolt to its limit, zooming by Ron and grabbing the Snitch in a blur of color.

Once they’d all converged on the ground, the Aurors laughed with one another jovially, pleased with the results.

“All right, practice times haven’t been posted yet, but I’ll add your names to the roster,” Hans said, obviously pleased.

“And I can finally play effin’ Beater?” Owen Savage asked in his raspy voice.

“You can finally play effin’ Beater,” Hans agreed. “Usually we wrap up with a pint at the Leaky Cauldron, but since it’s Friday, several of these buggers have dates, so we’ll have to make it next time.”

Ron looked disappointed, but Harry was glad. It would have been bad form to refuse an offer to go out with the blokes, but he really didn’t feel up to it. Besides, he was looking forward to his congratulatory kiss when he arrived back at The Burrow.


*****


Hermione wriggled impatiently on her seat in the crowded courtroom at the Ministry of Magic. She was seated in the balcony, jammed so tightly on the bench between Ron and Ginny that she could hardly breathe. The trial was taking place in courtroom ten, a much larger courtroom than the one that had been used for the Muggle-born Registration hearings, and it was packed to capacity. There was a row of reporters seated on another bench, recording the names of all who entered.

Hermione knew she’d be called to testify, and she wanted to sound confident in her statement. She’d written down everything she could remember from her dealings with Dolores Umbridge, and she frantically reviewed those notes now. The dim lighting in the courtroom made the pages difficult to read.

Ron fidgeted next to her, drumming his fingers on his bouncing leg. He was too tall to get comfortable in these cramped quarters. On her other side, Ginny craned her neck, looking up and down the rows of spectators, occasionally nodding to someone she knew. Hermione saw her staring down a nosy reporter on occasion. On Ginny’s other side, Harry sat stiff and rather pale, absently twisting a stray thread on his sleeve.

He didn’t look well, and Hermione was concerned. Over the weekend, he’d reluctantly admitted he’d developed a chest cold. Mrs. Weasley had insisted he take it easy. She’d plied him with chicken soup and Pepper-Up Potion, but he still looked worn down, and this morning he was plagued with a hacking cough.

In the past, Hermione had never needed to take more than a few doses of Pepper-Up Potion to cure whatever ailed her. The fact Harry’s illness was lingering — in fact, seemed worse — was troubling. He’d promised them all that he’d visit the Mediwitch at the conclusion of today’s trial.

Before she had time to give it any further consideration, a heavy door on the side of the courtroom opened, and Dolores Umbridge was led inside. She walked regally, head in the air as if the entire proceedings were beneath her. Her robes were neatly pressed, and she wore her trademark black velvet bow in her curly hair. Hermione loathed that bow as much as she loathed the pink cardigan that she could see peeking out from the collar of Umbridge’s robes. Dolores Umbridge’s personality was incongruous with soft pink and bows, despite her penchant for wearing them.

Umbridge’s heels clicked loudly on the stone floor as she walked to the ominous-looking chair in the center of the floor. Once she sat, chains wrapped around her wrists and ankles with a heavy, clanking sound. She looked at them disdainfully before raising her eyes to the group in plum-colored robes staring down at her.

Kingsley Shacklebolt sat in the center of the Wizengamot, and he stood as he began to speak. “Before we begin, I want to remind our many spectators that this is a criminal hearing, and you will be expected to behave with decorum. Any disruption and you will be escorted from the room immediately,” he said, his deep, booming voice echoing loudly against the courtroom’s stone walls.

Percy sat near the end of the row, scribbling furiously in his position as court scribe.

Hermione watched Umbridge’s face closely as Kingsley listed the charges against her. She tried to appear bored and aloof, but Hermione knew her well enough to see the tell-tale signs of irritation.

Dolores was sweating.

Hermione turned back to the Interrogators. The man sitting next to Kingsley was introduced as Gawain Robards, Ron and Harry’s boss. His hair was greying along the sides, and his dark eyes were alert as he stared down at the accused. Hermione could understand Umbridge’s nervousness. Hermione wouldn’t like anyone staring at her like that, either.

Harry tried to stifle a cough, drawing Hermione’s attention back to him. He’d sat forward in his seat, straining to catch every word. He, too, had a light sheen of sweat across his brow.

A young witch stood, approaching the center of the floor. She wore plain robes with her brown hair tied back in a plait.

“Audrey Bates, representative for the defense,” she said firmly before taking the chair next to Umbridge. The two women nodded toward one another.

Gawain Robards stood, addressing the room. “We will begin assessing the long list of charges against Ms. Umbridge. I intend to show clearly a long history of an abuse of power.”

Hermione’s mind drifted back to Hogwarts, and the endless stream of Decrees instituted by Umbridge. She dug her fingernails into her palms as the outrage she’d felt then filled her once again. Umbridge hadn’t been a teacher, she’d been a dictator. She’d never actually taught them anything except how corrupt the Ministry actually was.

“I call to the stand a witness who was both at Hogwarts during the accused’s time there, and also present during a hearing of the Muggle-born Registration Committee. Miss Hermione Granger, please present yourself,” Gawain Robards called.

Hermione started. She’d thought Harry would be called first. She glanced over at him to gage his reaction, but he merely nodded. Heart thudding, Hermione squeezed past Ron and descended the stairs to the center of the courtroom.

“You are Hermione Jean Granger?” Robards asked.

“I am,” Hermione answered nervously.

“And Dolores Umbridge was your Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and eventual headmistress during your fifth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?” he continued.

“Well, technically, yes, but I don’t think she was really a professor. She never taught us anything useful, and I was never given a clear answer on her teaching credentials. We had to form a Defense group to teach ourselves in order to pass our OWLs,” Hermione said, scowling her disapproval.

“I would ask the witness to answer the questions rather than giving her opinions,” Audrey Bates said, frowning at Hermione.

“Ms. Granger tends to over-compensate to mask her insecurity,” Umbridge said in her little girl voice.

Hermione dug her nails into her palms.

“Yes, Miss Granger, please simply answer the question. During our investigation, you claimed that you felt Ms. Umbridge abused her power. Explain,” Robards asked.

Abashed, Hermione took a deep breath, trying to remember her notes exactly as she’d written them.

“She would issue Decrees forbidding us to meet in groups or allow the other teachers to talk to us while she tried to tamp down rumors of Voldemort’s return. She used students to spy on one another, and she attempted to use an Unforgiveable on a student,” Hermione stated, glancing up to see Harry’s reaction.

He stared ahead, stony-faced, that familiar emotionless mask clearly in place.

“I did no such thing,” Umbridge said, outraged. Audrey Bates mimed for her to remain quiet.

“There were other witnesses present,” Hermione said.

“On whom did she attempt the use of an Unforgiveable?” Robards asked.

“Harry Potter,” Hermione said. Gasps and whispers erupted around the courtroom, and the reporters thrummed with excitement in their chairs.

“He’d attempted to use the Floo in her office to make a call, and she caught him. When he refused to tell her who he was trying to call, she threatened him with the Cruciatus Curse,” Hermione said once the courtroom had quieted.

“So, she threatened him, but never actually used the spell, correct, Miss Granger?” Bates asked.

“She started casting the curse, but I interrupted her before she could finish. She was clearing saying, ‘Cru-’ before I stopped her. Ron and Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood were all witnesses, along with several members of her Inquisitorial Squad who were holding our arms behind our backs.”

“But as Ms. Granger stated, I never actually used the curse on Mr. Potter,” Umbridge said, simpering.

Hermione’s skin crawled.

“And you recommended a potion to other students who’d suffered harm to their hands during detentions with Ms. Umbridge, did you not? An essence of Murtlap concoction?” Robards asked.

Hermione stilled, flustered. She’d thought Robards was going to ask Harry about his detentions. She hadn’t planned for this. She glanced up at Harry, but his expression remained indecipherable.

“Er… yes, I did,” she said.

“What did the potion do, exactly?” Robards asked.

“It helped to heal cuts,” she said.

“And where were these cuts?”

“On the backs of students’ hands. I know of two Gryffindors who returned with bloody hands after a detention with Umbridge,” Hermione said. In for a penny, in for a pound. She had to answer anyway, but she disliked talking about things Harry clearly didn’t want discussed.

Umbridge whispered furiously to her barrister.

“But you never actually had one of these detentions, correct, Miss Granger?” Audrey Bates asked.

“No. I just told other students how to care for their wounds,” Hermione said.

“Who were the two Gryffindors to whom you relayed this remedy?” Robards asked.

“Harry Potter and Lee Jordan,” Hermione said.

“Ms. Granger, you also entered the Ministry under Polyjuice potion and sat behind the front desk with Ms. Umbridge presiding over several Muggle-born hearings, did you not?” Robards asked.

Hermione didn’t know how long she was on the stand. She relayed everything she could remember about that frightening day in court, and their eventual escape from the Dementors along with the Cattermoles. When she was finally dismissed, her legs felt shaky. She returned to her seat, and Ron put his arm around her. She leaned into him gratefully.

“You did great,” Ron said, squeezing her reassuringly.

“I didn’t know he was going to ask about the detentions,” she said to Harry.

He shrugged. “With everything else she’s done, I’d forgotten about them. I don’t know who told Robards.”

“Well, the detentions were a big deal, and she used that quill on several students. It could’ve been any one of them, or their parents,” Hermione said.

“You know they’re going to ask you about the detentions, too, right?” Ginny asked, rubbing her thumb over the scar on Harry’s hand.

“I know,” Harry said. He reached up with his other hand and ran it along the back of his neck.

“They should have at least prepared us that was coming,” Hermione said huffily. She didn’t like being caught unawares.

“We’re not children, Hermione,” Harry said so wearily it led her to believe he’d never actually been a child.

“Did you see the Cattermoles?” Ron asked.

Hermione turned her head quickly. “No! Are they here?”

“Yeah,” Ron said pointing to the balcony across the room. “Two rows from the back.”

Hermione looked over, but before she could find them, Robards called a Ministry employee to the stand.

“I’m going to use the loo before it’s my turn,” Harry said, excusing himself.

Hermione noticed several members of the press following his progress, jotting notes as he left.

“He doesn’t look well,” Hermione commented.

“He doesn’t feel well, either,” Ginny replied. “Being nervous over having to testify doesn’t help. He promised to go see the Mediwitch before we leave.”

“I think he’s stressed. He needs a holiday,” Ron said.

Audrey Bates got up to speak. “Yes, Ms. Umbridge is responsible for trying these poor Muggles, but the Registration Committee was not her creation. This was a Ministry-sanctioned board, and she was completing the task assigned to her. Ms. Umbridge always followed orders and remained loyal to the Ministry she served. You cannot punish her for following the orders she’d been given. The Ministry was under the control of Dark wizards, and she was not the only employee to follow orders. You need to charge those involved in giving the orders rather than the servants following them.”

Hermione gritted her teeth. Yes, Umbridge was following orders, but when the order was killing innocents, it needed to be questioned. Hermione had no doubt Umbridge thrived on power and also felt herself above the people she terrorized. She used the law only when it suited her, and skirted it when it didn’t.

“I call Harry Potter to the stand,” Robards’ voice rang out across the courtroom. Murmurs filled the room, and the reporters once again started scribbling furiously.

Harry had just returned to the room, looking more alert than when he’d left. Hermione suspected he’d taken another dose of Pepper-Up. He was still pale, but he took his seat and gazed up at the Wizengamot unflinchingly.

“While at Hogwarts, you’ve stated Ms. Umbridge refused to believe Voldemort had returned and attempted to silence your belief that he had. Is this correct, Mr. Potter?” Gawain Robards asked.

“Voldemort had returned, but the Ministry at the time didn’t want to acknowledge it. Umbridge wanted to silence anyone she believed hindered the Ministry’s ultimate authority, even if the Ministry was wrong,” Harry said, and Hermione could hear the rage simmering beneath his words. She was reminded of Harry’s impotent fury during the duration of fifth year.

“And she would assign detentions to you for speaking up about Voldemort’s return?”

“Yes.”

“And what happened during these detentions?” Robards asked.

Harry rubbed his hand along the back of his neck, the first sign of discomfort Hermione had seen. “She assigned lines,” he said. “Only she insisted I use her quill.”

“Her quill?”

“Yes. It didn’t have ink, but she said to write with it anyway. When I started, I felt a sharp pain in the back of my hand. The quill wrote in my own blood,” Harry said, facing firmly ahead.

Again, gasps rang out across the courtroom. Hermione saw several people shudder and draw their hands close to their own bodies.

“What did she instruct you to write?” Robards asked.

“I must not tell lies,” Harry said flatly.

“Mr. Potter. Please present your hand to the court.”

Harry reluctantly raised his hand. Mr. Robards cast a spell that magnified the image of his hand above his head for the entire courtroom to see. His scar spelling out that hateful phrase was clearly visible.

The courtroom erupted in noise. Harry put his hand down, tucking it under his arm and the image disappeared. Kingsley had to shout for order to resume.

“May I present exhibit one?” Robards asked, handing an item to the Minister. “This is the quill confiscated from Ms. Umbridge’s residence. It does exactly as Mr. Potter described. I’ve found no evidence of the pre-existence of this item, so we can only assume it is an invention of Ms. Umbridge’s own making.”

Umbridge shifted in her chair, smiling uncomfortably at the Wizengamot.

“When you entered the courtroom under Polyjuice, was Ms. Umbridge presiding over the trial?” Robards asked.

“Yes,” Harry replied.

“Were there any other Ministry official in the room?”

“Just Hermione, who was acting as court scribe, and someone named Yaxley, who is a known Death Eater. There were also several Dementors,” Harry replied.

“And Umbridge was presiding?”

“Yes, she was the one in authority. She’d said there were ten trials that day, including Mrs. Cattermole,” Harry answered succinctly.

“And Mrs. Cattermole is the woman whom you helped to escape after conjuring your Patronus?” Robards asked.

“Yes. My Patronus is a stag, and it alerted others to my presence, so we had to get out quickly.”

“I wonder why you and your friends were at the Ministry under Polyjuice, Mr. Potter,” Umbridge said in her sickly, little girl voice.

“I was being called ‘Undesirable Number One.’ I didn’t think I could just wander in with my own face. You all seemed to be rather chummy with Voldemort at the time,” Harry said.

Umbridge frowned in displeasure. “But why did you come to the Ministry at all if you feared for your safety?” she asked in forced sweetness.

“We were seeking a way to destroy Voldemort,” Harry answered, refusing to be cowed.

“And you thought the solution was here at the Ministry,” Umbridge asked.

“Mr. Potter is not the one on trial here. We all know Mr. Potter defeated Voldemort, now we’re interested in your part in his plans,” Mr. Robards said.

“I just thought the Ministry would like to know that Mr. Potter appeared to be working against them,” she said, lowering her beady eyes.

“I think he had just cause at the time,” Kingsley Shacklebolt said firmly.

“Yes, but you frequently had disdain for the Ministry, didn’t you Mr. Potter?” Umbridge asked, smiling her toad-like smile.

“I had disdain for Fudge’s incompetency, if that’s what you mean,” Harry said, causing Umbridge’s smile to drop.

“And Thicknesse, whom you were serving under at the time, was a Death Eater. Did you want me to show respect to them?” Harry asked scathingly.

“Yet you are now working for the Ministry, and serving under the Minister with whom you’d collaborated in an illicit, underground scheme against the Ministry, correct?” Umbridge asked, narrowing her eyes.

“The Order of the Phoenix was attempting to fight Voldemort while the Ministry buried its head in the sand, yes,” Harry said bitingly.

“It seems to me the new authority at the Ministry is rewarding those working outside its jurisdiction, yet punishing those who upheld the laws of the time,” Umbridge simpered.

“Might I remind you again, neither Mr. Potter nor the Minister is on trial here, Ms. Umbridge,” Gawain Robards said, a hint of annoyance in his voice.

“Of course, of course. I was merely contrasting my ideals of serving the Ministry to the best of my abilities,” Umbridge replied, smiling.

They continued questioning Harry about every detail of the hearing, and once he finally left the witness chair, several more Ministry employees were called to testify, including Mr. Weasley. As the time wore on, Hermione’s worry increased. She’d believed the evidence against Umbridge was overwhelming, but the woman had always done a good job of twisting the facts to her advantage.

She was playing the victim, the loyal Ministry employee who merely tried to do a good job, and Hermione wasn’t certain how many on the Wizengamot believed her. How many of them had done what they’d had to in order to survive themselves?

As the afternoon progressed, Harry’s wheezing became more pronounced. Hermione leaned over to look at him after one coughing fit. His green eyes were dulled, his lids drooping. He definitely had something more than a common cold.

After the last of the witness testimony had been given, Gawain Robards stood once again. The hour was late, and Hermione felt stiff from sitting so long. Still, she was nervous, and she clutched Ron’s hand, fearing the outcome.

Umbridge appeared pleased. Her toad-like grin stretched across her squat face. The phrase ‘cat who swallowed the canary’ came to Hermione’s mind.

“Ms. Umbridge, while you claim to have done nothing more than follow orders, I believe this excuse is invalid. You knew what you were doing was wrong, and you’ve proven in the past by your own actions that you’re not opposed to going against the Ministry. You proved this when you used an illegal device of torture on students, when you attempted the use of an Unforgiveable, as well as sending Ministry-sanctioned Dementors to silence an opposing view. In light of these atrocious acts, I call for a lifetime sentence in Azkaban prison. Those in favor, please say aye,” Robards said, putting his own hand in the air.

A vast number of hands followed suit, and for the first time, Umbridge’s smile faltered. She glanced nervously at the faces of the Wizengamot.

“Those opposed?” Gawain Robards asked.

Not one member raised a hand. Hermione suspected the reporters who hovered their quills and nearly salivated to report the outcome might have something to do with it. Even if a few members sympathized, they wouldn’t want their names associated. She was too unpopular.

“Dolores Jane Umbridge, you have been found guilty and will be escorted to Azkaban immediately,” Kingsley Shacklebolt’s booming voice echoed throughout the courtroom.

Audrey Bates’ shoulders slumped as she took her seat. Umbridge appeared stunned. Her toad-like face sagged. She kept shaking her head as if to clear it, awaiting someone to tell her it was a joke. When two Aurors approached, she backed away, rattling the chains that held her.

“Nooo,” she screeched. “You can’t do this to me! I demand to be released. I had the authority.”

When the chains holding her unlatched, she tried to bolt for the door, but the Aurors quickly grasped her arms.

“No, no,” she moaned. “I served the Minister himself. You cannot do this to me.”

She continued kicking and screaming as they dragged her out through the heavy door.

Hermione hugged Ron, happy it was finally over. Umbridge’s pleas rang in her head, and she kept reminding herself that the woman truly deserved punishment for all she had done. Harry slumped against Ginny, his eyes shut tightly. Ginny watched the closed door long after Umbridge had left, a satisfied gleam in her eye.

They waited in their seats as the crowd began to clear. The reporters rushed out first to get their stories in, but Hermione suspected some would remain outside hoping for interviews.

“I thought she was going to get away with it for a few moments there,” Hermione said, still in shock that it was finally over.

“So did I,” Ron said. “Did you see the look on her face when she realized she was going to Azkaban, though?”

“Harry, I think we need to go see the Mediwitch now,” Ginny said, concern evident in her voice.

“Okay,” Harry whispered, his throat sounding painfully raw.

He pulled himself to his feet and swayed, a hacking cough overtaking his slim body. He had to grab the bench to stay on his feet. He gasped, struggling to catch his breath, as his hand clutched his chest.

“Harry!” Hermione shouted.

Harry’s eyes widened in panic as he wheezed, fighting to breathe. His knees gave out, and he collapsed to the floor, still clutching his chest and trying to breathe.

Those still remaining in the courtroom noticed the commotion and began crowding around, peering over shoulders to see what was happening.

“Give him some space,” Ron demanded angrily, panic hinging his voice.

“We need to get to the Mediwitch, but I don’t think he can stand,” Hermione said, her voice fraught with emotion.

“He can’t breathe,” Ginny said, trying to loosen Harry’s collar.

Hermione watched as Harry’s eyes fluttered closed, and he slumped motionless to the floor. Both Ginny and Ron reached to grab him, but the sickening crack as his head hit the floor was nauseating and seemed to echo around the courtroom.

Back to index


Chapter 24: Past Poisons

Author's Notes: Well, there you have it! To those of you who suspected Harryís chest cold was something more ominous Ė you were right!

There were quite a few of you who were exasperated with Harry for not calling attention to it sooner, but I think thatís also a symptom of how heís been raised. I canít imagine Petunia ever treating a cold or flu with anything but annoyance and irritation that it was inconveniencing her. Harry wouldíve learned from a very young age that he had to take care of himself because no one else would. Itís another ďcutĒ that wonít heal overnight. Heís getting there, though.


Chapter Twenty-Four
Past Poisons



Once again, Ginny sat in a waiting room at St. Mungo’s Hospital. This was becoming a bad habit. Images of Harry gasping for breath flashed through her mind, making her hands shake. It had been chaos in the courtroom once he’d collapsed. Kingsley had managed to block the press from re-entering, but a number of reporters had parked themselves in the lobby of the hospital awaiting news.

They were all awaiting news.

Harry had looked extremely unwell when the Mediwitch used a Portkey to transport him to the hospital. His skin had a grey pallor, and his breathing was labored and erratic. Ginny had seen Harry hurt before, but never sick, and she found it disconcerting. The cracking sound of his head hitting the floor made her skin crawl, and she couldn’t shake it.

“He really didn’t look well,” she said again, as she paced in the waiting room. Her muddled brain couldn’t seem to focus on anything else.

She, Ron and Hermione were the only ones there at the moment. There had been no word from a Healer since their arrival.

“I’ve been wondering about that, too,” Hermione said. “Are there any side effects from taking too much Pepper-Up Potion?”

Ginny shrugged. “Not that I know of. Why? D’you think he took too much?”

“I don’t know. I suspected he took some before he testified, and I know he was taking it over the weekend,” Hermione replied.

“I’ve never heard of anyone taking too much,” Ginny said, frowning. Now that she thought about it, she’d never been ill enough to need more than a few doses.

“Ron,” Hermione said suddenly, “did you learn how to do Glamour Charms in your training?”

Ron’s eyes widened. “Yeah, that was part of our Concealment class. How did you know?”

“Because I think Harry was using a Glamour, so we wouldn’t know how sick he was. It must have collapsed after he passed out,” Hermione said, shaking her head.

“He wouldn’t have wanted to look weak in front of the Wizengamot,” Ginny said. It was very like Harry to do such a thing, but it made her want to throttle him.

At that moment, her mum and dad burst through the waiting room door.

“How is he?” her mum asked frantically.

“Mum! Dad!” Ron said. “How did you know we were here? It’s not in the paper already, is it?”

“No, we got an owl. Apparently Harry listed us as next of kin,” her father said tiredly.

“Oh, yeah. Forgot about that,” Ron said.

“I never knew,” her mum said, sniffling.

Dad wrapped his arm around her and squeezed gently. “I’m glad he did,” he said heavily.

“How is he?” her mum repeated. Her hair was untidy, and Ginny suspected she’d been tugging on it.

“We don’t know. They haven’t told us anything,” Hermione replied.

“Why don’t you tell us what happened?” Dad asked calmly.

“You know that Harry has been unwell all weekend,” Hermione began.

“More than just the weekend, he was congested all last week,” Ron added.

“It started even before that,” Ginny said, wondering why she hadn’t really thought about how long he’d been battling this cold.

“Right,” Hermione said. “Is there any downside to taking too much Pepper-Up? I don’t really know how often he was taking it.”

Mum shook her head. “There shouldn’t be, but it should have cured a cold by now,” she said worriedly.

“He was all right when he testified, but Hermione thought he might have taken a dose of Pepper-Up beforehand,” Ginny said.

“Does Kingsley know Harry’s here?” Dad asked.

“Yeah, he personally okayed the Portkey,” Ron said. “He said he’d be here after he finished with Umbridge.”

“Did they say when they’d be able to tell us anything?” Mum asked, worrying the apron she still wore.

“No, we haven’t seen anyone,” Hermione said. “It seems to be taking a long time.”

As she spoke, the door opened, admitting Kingsley along with the Healer who had treated Harry when he’d been at St. Mungo’s for the Cutting Curse.

“I saw Healer Larkin in the corridor,” Kingsley explained, taking a seat beside Mum and Dad.

“What can you tell us?” Dad asked.

“How ill is he?” Mum asked at the same time.

Healer Larkin’s brow furrowed, and she pursed her lips. “Why don’t you all sit down?” she said.

Ginny’s heart leapt into her throat. That didn’t sound good. She complied, but only perched on the edge of her chair, ready to bolt. “Tell us what you know,” she said.

“I did a Diagnostic Spell, and I can see he’s been taking Pepper-Up Potion for an extended period. If this were a normal illness, it would’ve been cured by now,” Healer Larkin said slowly.

“Yeah, we’d worked that out already, thanks,” Ginny said impatiently.

“Ginny!” her mother scolded.

Ginny didn’t care. She wanted answers.

“So eliminating the common maladies,” Healer Larkin said, ignoring Ginny completely, “I looked more closely at his symptoms. The problem appears focused in his lungs, but it’s spread to some of his other organs.”

“What’s spread?” Dad asked urgently.

“What’s wrong with his lungs?” Hermione asked, chewing her lip.

“His lungs are the most problematic. They are incredibly constricted. In fact, if he hadn’t been brought in, one — if not both — of his lungs would’ve collapsed. It’s as if something is crushing them. His liver and kidneys are also beginning to show the signs of pressure,” the Healer said.

“What? What illness could do that?” Dad asked.

“It’s not an illness, not a natural one, anyway. I believe Mr. Potter has been poisoned,” Healer Larkin said gravely.

A chorus of protests erupted in the room. Everyone fired questions at the Healer at once, until Kingsley put his fingers in his mouth and whistled sharply, causing everyone to cringe.

“I think we need to let Healer Larkin finish,” he said sternly.

“I don’t have any concrete evidence. He has no bite wounds or unexplained injuries. Nothing in his stomach contents show any trace of poison, and the fact his stomach hasn’t yet been affected leads me to believe the poison was administered through an inhalant. There are traces of deterioration in his throat and naval cavities. What I can’t understand is how this has worked so quickly. Poisons are rarely administered through an inhalant because it is notoriously slow-acting, except in children. The amount of damage in Mr. Potter’s lungs is inconsistent with any poison I’ve ever seen,” Healer Larkin said, obviously perturbed.

“So, do you know how to treat him?” Mum asked. “Is there anything you can do for him without knowing what poison was used?”

“What do you mean except in children?” Hermione asked, her face chalk white.

“Children can’t handle adult doses of potions. They’re too strong for them, but that’s only in young children. Mr. Potter is well past the age it would be a factor,” the Healer said dismissively.

Hermione whimpered. “Except, he wasn’t,” she said, looking at the Minister.

Kingsley’s eyes opened wide, and he let out an audible gasp. “Merlin’s balls! Mr. Potter stumbled upon a De-Ageing Potion left behind by some Death Eaters,” he said.

“That was also left as an inhalant,” Hermione said faintly.

The Healer turned sharply, her expression grim. “Do you still have this De-Ageing Potion?” she asked.

“My daughter-in-law developed an antidote. I can ask her, but I don’t know why she would have saved the potion residue once Harry was reversed,” Dad said.

“Would a full-strength Sleeping Draught have any effect on this? I gave him a Sleeping Draught,” Hermione said, her eyes wild.
Healer Larkin shook her head, placing a hand on Hermione’s arm to calm her. “No. This has nothing to do with a simple Sleeping Draught. That would just knock him out for an extended period. This is something far more lethal.”

“What about the drapes?” Hermione asked, still breathing very fast. “Minister, your team took the drapes from Grimmauld Place. Do you know who has them?”

“They’re still in a box at the Ministry. We haven’t had time to get them tested, but I’ll make it a top priority,” Kingsley said.

“But what can you do for Harry now?” Ginny asked, biting her lip.

“I’ve healed the concussion he sustained in his fall, but I can’t cure him without more research into what he was given. I do think I can stabilize him, however. I’ve got more to go on now, anyway. I’ll let you know when you can see him,” Healer Larkin said, quickly leaving the room.

“I’m going back to the Ministry. I’ll get our investigators working on those drapes. With any luck, there will be some trace of what was in the poison. Keep me informed,” Kingsley said in his deep, calming voice. He squeezed Mum’s shoulder and nodded to Dad as he left the waiting room.

“Harry knew just leaving a De-Ageing Potion was weird. I didn’t pay enough attention,” Ron said hollowly.

He was very pale, and his freckles stood out darkly on his bloodless face. He hung his head, grasping his hair in his hands.

“It’s not your fault, Ron,” Ginny said dully. “None of us thought beyond the De-Ageing Potion.”

“Harry did. He asked me point blank why they would simply de-age him when knocking him out would’ve accomplished the same thing. I told him they succeeded in humiliating him,” Ron moaned.

“Blaming yourself won’t help Harry now,” Dad said firmly.

“Well, he’s not here to do it, so I think someone ought to,” Ron said.

“We need to find out if Fleur saved any of the residue,” Hermione said.

“I’ll go do that,” Dad said. “Molly?”

“I’m going to stay until we find out how Harry is,” Mum said, slumping back in her chair.

“I’ll be back as soon as I can,” Dad said.



It was several more hours before Healer Larkin returned to the waiting room. Ron sat dozing in his chair with his head resting on Hermione’s shoulder. Hermione was absorbed in a Potions book. Dad had returned from Shell Cottage disappointed. Fleur hadn’t saved any of the powdery substance she’d used to develop the antidote to the De-Ageing Potion.

Ginny really hadn’t expected it, but she was discouraged nonetheless. Why was it always Harry? She was too wound in knots to sleep, and her mother had to stop her twice from hunting down the Healer for some information. The only thing that stopped her was the fact she could potentially hurt Harry with a delay.

When the door finally swung open revealing the Healer, Ginny jumped to her feet and strode across the room to meet her.

“How is he?” she demanded.

Hermione sat up, knocking Ron from her shoulder. He barely stopped himself from landing on her lap, but his eyes became alert when he saw the Healer, and he shook his head to clear it.

“He’s awake and stable for the moment,” Healer Larkin said slowly. “We managed to reduce the pressure on his lungs, but we can’t eliminate it. The poison will continue to progress. We can treat the symptoms and relieve some of his pain, but I’m afraid that’s the best we can do. The damage is extensive, and his health will continue to decline until we can find an antidote. I’ve told him that I recommend he remain here on a bedrest regimen, but he’s steadfastly refusing to do so.”

Ginny could tell the Healer was annoyed. She didn’t know if it was Harry’s refusal to remain in hospital, or her inability to cure him. Perhaps a little of both.

“What do you mean he’s refusing? That’s ridiculous,” Mum said, her face growing red.

Uh-oh, Harry was about to run into Mum in full-out mother-mode. If Ginny wasn’t so worried, she might have laughed at the thought. In this instance, she was on her mum’s side.

“I agree. If he remains in bed, we can slow the poison and have more time to work out an antidote. His magic is working full-time in a vain attempt to heal. Further use of magic will only weaken him,” Healer Larkin said grimly.

“Can we see him?” Dad asked.

“Please do. See if you can convince him to see reason,” she said, indicating they should follow her.

When they entered his room, Harry sat upright in his bed looking exceedingly tired and pale. Pain dulled his bright green eyes, and his breath rattled alarmingly in his chest.

“Hey,” he wheezed.

Mum walked directly to him, kissing him on the head before sitting on the edge of the bed beside him. “What’s this nonsense about not staying in bed, Harry dear? You need your strength to recover.”

Harry signed wearily, but Ginny could already tell he wasn’t going to be swayed. He smiled gently at her mum.

“I’m not going to recover, Mrs. Weasley,” he said, bringing Ginny’s heart to her throat. “Not unless we can find out what poison they used.”

His voice sounded scratchy and strained.

“But, Harry, we can look into that. You need to save your strength,” Hermione said tearfully.

“I’ll drive myself spare in bed, you know that. I need to feel like I’m doing something to fight back. I can’t just lie here and wait. That’s like letting them win,” Harry said, struggling to find the right words.

“You listen to me, Harry James. If the Healer tells you to stay in bed, you’re staying in bed,” Mum said, the color rising alarmingly on her face. Ginny shook her head, knowing the secret to mum was not letting her build up her rant. Harry hadn’t been on the receiving end enough to know that.

He took mum’s hand in his and squeezed in gently, derailing Mum instantly. It was rare that Harry instigated physical contact, and Ginny could read her mum’s disconcertion.

“I promise to take care of myself and see the Healer when I need to, but I can’t stay in bed, Mrs. Weasley. I know, for me, that will only make the poison work faster,” Harry said quietly.

Mum stifled a sob, and Dad immediately put his hands on her shoulders, squeezing reassuringly.

Perhaps Harry had learned more about handling mum than Ginny had given him credit for.

“I spoke to Kingsley. He said our best hope to draw out whoever left this poison is to make it appear you’re all right,” Dad said. “The fact you used a Glamour while testifying helps that illusion. Kingsley believes our culprit will be eager for information on Harry’s health.”

“We’re not using him as bait,” her mum snarled. “He needs rest. He needs to put his own health first for a change.”

“I’m not suggesting we don’t put his health first, Molly dear, but I agree with the Minister. Giving the illusion that Harry is perfectly fine will help draw out the culprits,” Dad said gently. “That doesn’t mean when he’s safe at The Burrow that we can’t ensure he’s resting.”

Dad looked at Harry sternly when he said the last bit.

“How do we even know whoever left the poison is still alive though?” Ron asked miserably.

“Harry!” Andromeda Tonks said, bursting into the room. Her hair was un-customarily disheveled. “I was listening to the trial results on the Wireless, and they said you’d collapsed. What happened?”

“I’m sorry you heard that way, Andromeda,” Mum said tearfully. “We would’ve sent you an owl, but they just let us in. We’re trying to convince Harry to stay in bed.”

“What’s happened?” Andromeda repeated.

“Apparently, there was more than just a De-Ageing Potion left behind at Grimmauld Place. We’re looking at some sort of poison, but we need to keep that information quiet,” Dad said.

“They want to draw out whichever Death Eater left the poison behind in order to discover what we need for an antidote,” Hermione said.

“Why a poison if Voldemort wanted me alive, though?” Harry asked, wheezing.

Andromeda cringed at hearing the weakness in his voice. “Bella always had a contingency plan,” she said forebodingly.

“You think it was your barmy sister? But she’s dead,” Ron said, sounding unhinged.

“Quite,” Andromeda said shortly, and Mum scowled at Ron. “But her husband, Rodolphus, is very much alive, and as I remember from Hogwarts, he was quite talented at Potions.”

“But the Potions Masters here at the hospital and the Investigators at the Ministry are all looking for a remedy. Certainly they’ll be able to find something,” Hermione said, pleading.

“Because the Ministry’s never failed us before,” Harry said.

Ginny moved to the other side of his bed, running her fingers through his hair. He leaned into her touch, his chest rattling as he breathed. He wasn’t nearly as unfazed as he was trying to appear. Ginny vowed she would be strong for both of them.

“We need a Death Eater who knows how they worked,” Ron said. “Someone who knows more about Dark potions. We need Snape.”

Ron looked as if the words tasted bitter in his mouth.

“Er… I agree Snape would be very helpful here, Ron. But the problem is, he’s dead,” Harry said wryly.

“But what about his portrait?” Ron asked. “Don’t all the former Headmasters have portraits at Hogwarts?”

Harry’s eyebrows raised speculatively.

“That’s a good idea, Ron. I’m certain Professor McGonagall would let us speak to him,” Hermione said, her mind beginning to turn.

“Let’s go, then,” Harry said, attempting to pull himself up.

Ginny pushed him down firmly. “It’s too late, now. We’ll go in the morning. You’ll give us one night of rest in this bed,” she said, inflexibly.

Harry looked as if he would argue, but the combined glares of Ginny, her mum, and Andromeda appeared to cow him.

“All right,” he agreed sullenly.

“You get a good night’s sleep, and the four of us will go to Hogwarts tomorrow,” Hermione said, indicating the teens.

The idea of returning to Hogwarts was unsettling. None of them had been back since the battle, and Ginny could see apprehension in all of their eyes. She felt Harry shudder beneath her hand, and she rubbed his head reassuringly.

Going to Hogwarts would be hard, but if it would help Harry, it’s what needed to be done.


*****


They arrived in Hogsmeade at noon. Harry had been asleep when Ginny arrived to get him out of hospital, and she thought it best to let him sleep. Ron didn’t mind the extra lie-in, anyway. Harry didn’t look good. He was even paler than usual, and he leaned on Ginny as they approached the gate.

Ron and Hermione had Side-Along Apparated Harry and Ginny to the train station in Hogsmeade. They’d agreed to keep Harry from using magic whenever possible. Ginny told them that the Healer said she’d cast a spell to expand Harry’s lungs, but it would need to be recast every few days, more often as the poison progressed. Harry would also get sicker as his kidneys began to fail.

They had to find whoever did this. Ron’s fingers itched to hex someone. Again, Harry had been hurt right under his nose. What good was watching him doing if his enemies continued to find ways to get to him? Ron hated feeling so powerless. It brought back too many memories, and Ron slept very poorly.

“Are you doing okay, Harry?” Hermione asked, concerned.

“I’m only walking, Hermione,” Harry said a bit impatiently. He had never handled mollycoddling well.

“Well, to be fair, you were poisoned,” Ron said reasonably.

“Thanks. I’d forgotten,” Harry quipped.

Ginny smiled slightly, squeezing his waist. Harry returned the gesture, briefly placing his head on top of Ginny’s. It was weird to see Harry so openly affectionate. That was definitely new. Ron opened his mouth to take the piss out of him, but clamped it shut again. Harry didn’t always know how to handle teasing about Ginny, and Ron thought he needed her right now.

He could always tease him later, after they found an antidote.

When they reached the gate, they stopped, all lost in their own thoughts as they looked up at the castle. Hagrid stood there waiting for them, Fang at his heels.

“‘ello there, you lot,” he greeted, opening the gate. “How are yeh?”

Fang bolted from beside Hagrid and ran to Harry, his tail wagging so hard his entire body shook. He nearly knocked Harry over, but his friend managed to stay on his feet as the dog licked his hand.

“Hello, Hagrid,” Hermione said, hugging him. The top of her head barely reached his chest.

“Hi, Fang,” Harry said, laughing.

“’e’s happy ta see yeh,” Hagrid said, beaming.

“How is the reconstruction coming, Hagrid?” Ginny asked. “Will it be ready on September first?”

Ron looked up at the castle. The outside certainly looked repaired. There were no broken windows or gaping holes as there’d been in May.

“O’ course we will,” Hagrid boomed. “Looking forward to you an’ Hermione coming over fer tea.”

“It looks wonderful,” Hermione said as they walked toward the castle. “Better than I’d expected.”

Ron’s eyes were drawn to the spot Fenrir Greyback had attacked Lavender Brown. It looked perfectly normal and unscarred. Ron felt as if there should be some sort of sign of what happened here. He noticed Harry’s troubled eyes roaming the ground, as well.

“I heard there was going to be a Memorial,” Ginny said quietly.

“Yeah. Professor McGonagall is workin’ on it,” Hagrid said.

They’d reached the massive front door. Memories were washing over Ron in waves.

“You all right, Harry? Yeh look kinda pale,” Hagrid said.

“M’fine,” Harry mumbled, looking at the ground. His arm was still around Ginny.

Ron shook his head. Harry had never been comfortable lying to Hagrid. He’d never mastered the art of misdirection.

“We had a rough night, last night, Hagrid. Harry is still feeling the effects,” Ron said, grinning.

Hagrid returned the grin. “Well, it’s good to see you enjoying life,” he said.

Harry shot Ron a grateful look. They did have a rough night. Hagrid assuming they were out in a pub rather than St. Mungo’s let them off the hook.

Hagrid left them in the entranceway, and they began their silent trek up to the Headmaster’s… or rather, Headmistress’ office. Ron didn’t want to walk by the spot where Fred had died. He wondered how Ginny would cope with that when she was back here in September. He suddenly had a new appreciation for how difficult his sister’s seventh year would be.

All four of them were disquieted by their memories as they walked along the stone passageways. The debris had been cleared, but Ron could detect chipped marks in the stone where a spell had gone awry. He took Hermione’s hand, feeling better by touching her as they walked.

Hermione uttered the password Professor McGonagall had given her, and they rode the circular staircase up to her office.

“Come in,” Professor McGonagall called when Hermione knocked. She strode across the room to greet each of them with a hug.

“I daresay, it seems familiar to have you all here together again,” Professor McGonagall said, a touch of fondness in her voice. “I understand you need to speak to the portraits.”

“Yes, thank you, Professor,” Hermione said. “Would it be possible to speak to them alone?”

Her cheeks reddened, but she held the Professor’s gaze.

“Naturally. I’m going down to the Great Hall for lunch and shall return in about an hour. You’re all welcome to come down for a bite when you’re finished,” she said graciously before leaving them in her office.

“That was brave, Hermione,” Ron said, impressed. “I wouldn’t have had the nerve to kick her out of her own office.”

“I didn’t kick her out, Ronald. I merely asked for some privacy. Kingsley wants us to keep Harry’s illness quiet,” Hermione said crossly.

“Looked like kicking her out to me,” Ron muttered to Harry, who nodded.

The walls of the circular office were covered with various past Headmasters, most of whom were looking at them curiously. Professor Dumbledore smiled at them fondly.

“It is good to see you again, Harry,” he said, his eyes twinkling merrily. He nodded at each as he said their name, “Miss. Granger, Mr. and Miss Weasley. To what do I owe the pleasure? Somehow, your urgency suggests more than a social call.”

“Hello, Professor,” Harry said quietly, and Ron thought he detected a catch in Harry’s voice. “We’re in need of some information about a missing Death Eater. We were hoping Professor Snape might be able to help. Is his portrait here?”

“As observant as ever, I see,” came a caustic voice Ron knew only too well.

They all spun around to see their greasy-haired, hook-nosed Potions Professor staring down at them from a small portrait set further back than most of the others. It didn’t surprise Ron at all. In life, Snape had never held much regard for other people, why should it be any different in death?

Snape’s portrait was much smaller than Dumbledore’s. In fact, all the portraits were of varying sizes. Ron wondered if the length of time served as Headmaster had something to do with it.

“Professor Snape!” Hermione said, surprised. “You’re here.”

“Obviously,” Snape said with a scowl.

“We need your help,” Hermione said, refusing to be deterred.

“And why, pray tell, should I want to help you? You bothered me enough when I had to teach you,” Snape said.

“Severus, why don’t we at least hear them out?” Dumbledore scolded gently.

“As you wish,” Snape said with a sigh.

Ron really didn’t miss the git.

“Professor, we need your help with a potion,” Harry said.

“And?” Snape asked impatiently, but Ron had to give Harry credit. He’d said the one word that could always draw Snape’s interest.

“We came across a potion, a De-Ageing Potion, but we believe there was some other inhalant mixed with it. Does that sound familiar at all?” Harry asked evenly.

Ron was impressed. He never remembered Harry using such a polite tone when talking to Snape at school. Of course, Snape was usually criticizing Harry, and he hadn’t done that yet, either.

“Inhalants aren’t common. They’re too slow-acting for most Death Eaters’ needs. They also leave a residue behind. Death Eaters don’t like evidence,” Snape said disdainfully.

“This potion was left at Grimmauld Place,” Harry said shortly.

“Idiot boy!” Snape snapped. “Have you been poisoned?”

And there was the Snape they all knew.

“After all I did to save your worthless hide, you go and get yourself poisoned a mere month after the war ended?” Snape asked scathingly. “Perhaps you do have a death wish, after all.”

“I didn’t get poisoned on purpose, you know,” Harry said hotly.

“Harry, why don’t you start from the beginning?” Dumbledore said, sitting forward in his frame, his eyes alert. His trademark twinkle had dimmed considerably.

Harry sighed, and Ron could detect a wheeze in his chest. “There were traps left at Grimmauld Place. The Ministry cleared them out, but I stumbled across the De-Ageing Potion,” Harry began to cough deeply, running out of breath.

Ginny put her hand to his back and led him to a chair. “Fleur developed an antidote to the De-Ageing Potion,” she continued for him, “but Harry began showing cold symptoms shortly after. Healers have discovered he has damage to his lungs and some other organs. We believe there was another potion.”

She rubbed Harry’s back as she spoke. Ron was alarmed by the fact Harry let her. He must be feeling worse than he was admitting.

“Obviously, since there is no evidence of a De-Ageing Potion causing that kind of damage,” Snape replied.

Ginny’s lips thinned. “For once, could you just drop the attitude and help us?” she snapped.

“Ginny,” Hermione warned.

Snape ran a finger over his lips calculatingly. “Bellatrix Lestrange was furious that the Order had used her family home as Headquarters. She never would’ve doubted the Dark Lord’s success, but she always had a back-up plan. You’d got lucky in the past, Potter. She would have wanted to ensure that luck ran out eventually.”

“The potion has caused a lot of damage to Harry’s lungs. Does that sound like anything you’ve come across?” Hermione asked.

“It could be the Intrudunter Elixir. It went out of fashion because of the residue remains, but I do know the Dark Lord used it on occasion. I wouldn’t count on a straight forward potion, however. Rodolphus Lestrange enjoyed experimenting. He tested his results on Muggles,” Snape replied.

“It’s a place to start, though. I’ll tell Healer Larkin to look into the Intrudunter Elixir,” Hermione said, her mind obviously racing.

Ron had no doubt Hermione would immerse herself in her Potions books upon their return, researching everything she could find. Ron would put his gold on her over the Healers any day.

“How are you feeling, Harry?” Professor Dumbledore asked kindly.

“I’m fine,” Harry said, and his voice did sound stronger. Ginny still stood over him protectively.

“Naturally,” Dumbledore said, smiling. “How long do we have to find an answer?”

Harry shrugged. “They’ve given me something to strengthen my lungs while we look. The Healer said she’ll have to keep re-administering it.”

“So we’re on a time clock,” Hermione said. “Professor Snape, do you know of any other places besides Malfoy Manor where the Death Eaters hid?” Hermione asked.

“I would look into properties owned by the Lestrange family,” Snape said.

“But their manor was confiscated after they went to Azkaban the first time,” Ron said. They’d learned about that in training.

“Yes, but the Lestranges owned more than one property, and deals were easy to make with our former government,” Snape said sourly.

“Draco Malfoy might know. He wanted to make some kind of deal with the Ministry,” Harry said suddenly.

“Yeah, at the cost of letting his bloody father off. No way!” Ron said hotly. Remembering where he was, he looked over at Professor Dumbledore sheepishly. “Sorry, sir.”

“Quite all right, Mr. Weasley. As I’m no longer Headmaster, and you’re no longer a student, I think we can let it go.”

“Yes, but Ron, Rodolphus Lestrange is the bigger threat, and if it can help Harry, we have to consider it,” Hermione said.

“Or you could just torture the information out of him,” Ginny said darkly.

“There’s always that,” Ron agreed.

“Ginny! That’s not funny,” Hermione said, scandalized. She scowled at both of them, but Ron noticed Harry covering a smirk.

“The Ministry wants to keep this quiet,” Harry said. “They’re hoping to draw out whomever did the poisoning by indicating it hasn’t worked.”

“We will endeavor to practice the utmost discretion, then,” Professor Dumbledore said.

“It’s not a bad idea,” Snape replied slowly. “Death Eaters aren’t known for their patience.”

“Please keep us informed, and above all else, be well, Harry,” Professor Dumbledore said sincerely.

Harry nodded, and the four turned to leave the castle. It hadn’t been a wasted trip at all.


*****


Harry arrived at the Minister’s office later that same afternoon. He was embarrassed to admit how worn down he felt, but he was determined to speak with Kingsley. Being seen strolling the corridors didn’t hurt his cause, either. He forced himself not to slump or show any sign of the weakness he was feeling.

When he entered the Minister’s office, he was surprised to find his boss, Gawain Robards, was also there.

“Good afternoon, Harry. How are you feeling?” the Minister asked.

“I’m fine, sir,” Harry said, nodding to Robards.

“I’ve filled in Gawain on your situation,” Kingsley said without preamble. “We have a team examining the drapes found at Grimmauld Place as we speak.”

Harry nodded again. “I went to Hogwarts this morning and spoke to Professor Snape’s portrait. He suggested a potion called the Intrudunter Elixir. He also suggested looking into other properties owned by the Lestrange family. Only, they’re most likely undetectable,” Harry said.

Gawain Robards wrote something in his notebook.

“The Fidelius Charm is supposed to be registered at the Ministry, but obviously that’s unlikely. Still, there are ways for us to detect traces of its use,” Kingsley said.

“I suggest talking to Draco Malfoy,” Harry said.

“You think he knows where these properties might be?” Kingsley asked.

“He knows something, and he is related to the Lestranges through his mother,” Harry said.

“I’ll have him brought in for questioning,” Robards said.

“I’d like to be there for that,” Harry said.

Robards looked at him piercingly. “You’re not an Auror yet, Potter,” he said.

“I know that, sir, but I was the one Malfoy approached at the re-opening of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. I think he wanted to tell me something,” Harry said calmly. “We have a long-standing… acquaintance.”

“That’s an interesting way of putting it. Didn’t the fact you disarmed him lead to the destruction of Voldemort?” Kingsley asked, amused.

“In a roundabout way,” Harry said modestly.

“All right. I’ll let you know a time for the meeting,” Robards said. “The raid in Greenwich didn’t lead to anything, so this is the best tip we’ve got at the moment.”

Something about the raid tickled the edge of Harry’s consciousness. He shut his eyes, trying to let the pieces come together.

“Harry?” the Minister asked, concerned.

“The potion residue!” Harry said suddenly. “Snape said it’s Inhalants that leave a residue behind. What happened to the residue we found in Greenwich?”

“We tested it for Dark substances hoping it would lead to a trail, but we didn’t have any luck. I’ll have the list of ingredients forwarded to your Healer at St. Mungo’s,” Robards said quickly. “Perhaps some good can still come out of that raid.”

“Snape also said Lestrange used to test his new potions on Muggles. Do we have a way of monitoring unexplained Muggle illnesses?” Harry asked.

“We can detect magic, but not potions. I’ll put someone on it,” Kingsley said.

“Let’s take a walk down to the Department of Mysteries where they’re doing the testing,” Robards said. “We can fill them in on the Intrudunter Elixir while we’re there.”

The three men walked to the lifts. They kept Harry between them as they walked through the Atrium, so no one approached him. Harry was satisfied to see several reporters taking note of his appearance. He put his shoulders back and a stern look on his face, attempting to show no sign of illness.

As they wended their way toward the Department of Mysteries, they passed two Aurors escorting a prisoner. He was a burly bloke with tattoos covering what was visible of his arms and neck. When he caught sight of Harry, he smirked, showing a mouthful of crooked teeth.

“How are you feeling, Potter?” he leered.

“Fine, thanks,” Harry said, narrowing his eyes. Something about him was familiar…

“You won’t be fine for long,” the prisoner replied, grinning.

“Hold up, please,” Kingsley said to the guards. “Was that a threat, MacCullity?”

“Just talkin’,” he replied.

His voice was familiar. Harry had heard it coming from the woods once before.

“You were one of the Death Eaters who attacked The Burrow,” he accused. “You wanted me to come outside the wards.”

“Prove it,” MacCullity sneered.

“I don’t think that will be difficult,” Robards said. “This is Doogin MacCullity, and we’ve got his wand’s signature on record.”

“What was the point?” Harry asked the question that had plagued him since that day. “You didn’t get through the wards.”

“Scared you, though, didn’t it?” MacCullity leered. “Wanted to protect those gingers you’re so fond of.”

“Take him away,” Robards said to the guards. “Keep him under tight security.”

Once the guards had led him away, the Minister turned to Harry. “Perhaps their purpose wasn’t to capture you at all. The Burrow was too heavily warded, they wanted you somewhere they could get to you.”

“Like with the traps left at Grimmauld Place,” Harry said, realization dawning. They knew he’d run to protect the Weasleys, and he’d done exactly what they’d wanted him to do. “I walked right into it. I was safer at The Burrow.”

He’d thought he’d left to protect the Weasleys, but he hadn’t been protecting them at all. They’d been protecting him.



Back to index


Chapter 25: Friends and Enemies

Author's Notes: Sorry for the lack of review responses last week. I hosted Thanksgiving here, and things were a bit crazy. I hope youíll all enjoy one.


Chapter Twenty-Five
Friends and Enemies



Ron ran up the steps up to George’s flat two at a time, Ginny close on his heels. They’d both worked at the shop with George and Alicia all day, and Alicia said Lee was coming over to show them something when they closed. She’d remained tight-lipped all day, but kept dropping tantalizing hints that they had exciting news.

It had been several days since they’d gone to Hogwarts, and Ron had watched Harry grow progressively sicker. Harry had gone back to the Healer that morning so they could cast another healing spell on his lungs. Ron hoped they would have some better news for him at St. Mungo’s. In the meantime, Ron felt he could use some good news, so he hoped whatever Lee and Alicia wanted to share would be worth it.

George sat on his purple couch chatting amiably with his friends. He’d gone upstairs with them when Lee had arrived, leaving Ron and Ginny to close the shop.

“Oi, we closed the shop… you know, your shop,” Ron said, slightly disgruntled.

“Oh, thanks, Ginny,” George said, ignoring Ron completely.

“No problem,” she said, smirking.

She always took George’s side. It had been that way since they were kids. Ron scowled at both of them.

“So, what’s this big announcement? Are you two getting married?” George asked easily.

Ron stared, flabbergasted. That hadn’t occurred to him. Judging by the blushing on both Lee and Alicia’s faces, it hadn’t occurred to them, either. Only Ginny didn’t seem surprised by the question.

“Er… no. That’s not it,” Lee said awkwardly.

“Are you pregnant?” George asked, unfazed by their discomfort.

“No!” Alicia snapped, irritated. “Just shut it and listen a minute, George.”

Alicia looked extremely annoyed, and Ron found himself wishing he hadn’t decided to stay. He didn’t want to find himself under the intensity of that glare. He walked over the kitchen and opened George’s cold cabinet. He pulled out some Butterbeers and brought them back to the sitting room.

“Help yourself,” George said dryly.

“Already did,” Ron replied, opening one of the bottles and taking a long draught. He passed the bottles around to the others. “So why are we here?” he asked.

“You’re going to love this, Ron. It was your idea, actually,” Lee said excitedly.

“What was?” Ron asked, stumped.

“Why don’t you three sit on the couch, and let us show you,” Alicia said, pulling something out of her bag. She kept it covered so they couldn’t see.

Ron and Ginny sat down beside George, as Lee pulled the table holding George’s wireless away from the wall and placed it in front of them.

Alicia took the item she’d been holding, a dark, oblong… well, Ron didn’t know what it was exactly, but she placed it on the wireless with a Sticking Charm.

“Are you ready?” Lee asked, grinning.

He waved his wand and quietly mumbled a spell. A hazy cloud rose above the wireless, gradually forming into an image of a Quidditch stadium. Ron quickly identified it as Puddlemere United’s home field by the signs along the stands. His mouth dropped open, and a chill went up his spine. He jumped to his feet, staring. They’d done it! They’d actually done it. He felt the hairs on his arms standing on end, as he turned wondering eyes on the grinning pair.

“You did it,” he said stupidly.

“Did what? What’s going on?” Ginny asked, staring at the pitch speculatively.

“Can the spell last through an entire match, even if it lasts for days?” George asked, excitement bubbling beneath his tone.

George clearly knew the potential.

“It can hold. We can sell the action transmitter — haven’t come up with a name for the device yet — with the spell attached beforehand. I’ve already pitched it at the radio station, and they’ve brought it to the Quidditch League. Best part is that they’ve asked me to broadcast Puddlemere’s opening match against the Tornados in September,” Lee said excitedly.

“This is brilliant,” George said, awestruck.

“Wait… you mean we can watch Quidditch?” Ginny asked excitedly.

“Yes!” Alicia said. “Ron actually gave us the idea when he talked about the Muggle telly.”

“How are you going to market it?” George asked.

“How are we going to market it, you mean? You gave me the idea on the spell, even though you didn’t know why I was asking at the time, and Ron had the initial concept. The four of us are in this together,” Lee said.

“This could be huge,” George said, still awestruck.

“We reckon anyone with familiarity with Muggles will know the concept, but we’re going to give out a few sample products to the Leaky Cauldron and a few other wizarding pubs before the match,” Alicia said.

“If this takes off like I think it will, the Wireless has offered me the gig,” Lee said, staring intently at George.

“That’s brilliant, mate,” George said.

“I know, but it’ll mean I have much less time to work here,” Lee said, watching George closely.

“So, I’ll hire more help,” George said, shrugging indifferently. “This is Quidditch.”

“Wait… so I get one if I gave you the idea?” Ron asked, brimming with excitement. He and Harry could watch from Grimmauld Place.

“They’re saying more than that, Ron. They’re saying when this thing takes off, and every witch and wizard on the continent wants one, we all get a cut of those profits,” George said excitedly.

Ron’s legs collapsed beneath him, and he sat back down on the couch. Ginny rested a hand on his shoulder and patted it reassuringly.

“Can we sell it at the shop?” Lee asked.

“Of course,” George replied. “We can to start. After it takes off, we might want to open a separate shop that caters to it. We don’t want anyone to think it’s a joke.”

“It’s no joke,” Ron said, still feeling stunned.

“We need a name for it,” Alicia said.

“How about an Action Twin?” Ginny suggested. “It duplicates the action, and you can honor Fred. He would’ve loved this.”

George reached over, grabbed Ginny’s head between his hands and kissed her on the forehead. “He would at that,” he said, a bit choked.

“Action Twin it is,” Lee said solemnly.

“How long do they take to produce?” George asked.

“The spellwork is complicated, so it’s not a quick job. We’ve got three done, including this one,” Alicia said.

“What about selling it at Quality Quidditch Supplies? I know the owner. We could give him a cut. It would probably work better than opening a separate shop,” George said, his mind obviously racing.

“That would work great. We can have the League approach him. They’re really excited,” Lee said.

“I can’t wait to show Harry,” Ron said. “We’ll set up a room at Grimmauld Place just as a Quidditch den.”

“Be sure to invite a lot of friends to the match. We want word of mouth to promote this thing,” Lee said.

“I’ll watch from the Leaky Cauldron. We need someone at the Three Broomsticks and the Hog’s Head, too,” George said.

“What’s the matter, Ginny? Don’t you like the idea?” Alicia asked.

Ginny sat on the couch with her arms folded across her chest and a scowl on her face.

“Oh, I love the idea,” she said. “But I just realized, I’ll be at Hogwarts without access.” Hogwarts didn’t allow the Wireless, even in the common rooms. Too much of a distraction.

“Puddlemere’s first match is on a Saturday. Harry will get you out, and you can come watch with us,” Ron said, wondering why he was being so accommodating. It didn’t matter. This was Quidditch!

******

Harry sat in Gawain Robards office awaiting the arrival of Draco Malfoy. His Healer had given him another treatment, so he was feeling much better than he had the previous day. The pressure on his chest was constant, but at least he had more energy. He hoped Malfoy would have some decent information that would lead to Rodolphus Lestrange. Harry felt frustrated. He’d always hated waiting — he wanted to do something.

He clenched his fists so tightly his nails dug into his palms. He’d have to remember to restrain himself from punching Malfoy in the nose, no matter what the provocation. He didn’t think his boss would take kindly to that. Harry wanted to prove he could follow Ministry guidelines. Draco Malfoy was not going to get in the way of Harry becoming an Auror. In fact, if he could pull this off, then in a roundabout way, Malfoy could actually help him to achieve his goal. That would be epic.

“How are you feeling, Harry?” Robards asked quietly.

Although his department head knew about the poisoning, thus far it had only been Kingsley who’d addressed it with him.

“Better. I saw the Healer yesterday,” he replied honestly.

Robards nodded. “And how have your training classes been? I instructed Thaddeus Pierce to limit any physical exertions without making it obvious he was doing so. I trust Pierce implicitly.”

Harry nodded. He’d been told about it, and although he hated any kind of special treatment, he acknowledged it was necessary. Cormac McLaggan had nearly sent him to the Medi-witch with a mere Stinging Hex to his chest during dueling practice.

Robards must have noticed Harry’s scowl, because he smirked, running a finger along his lip to try and hide his smile. “It’s not as if you haven’t had enough dueling practice. I think you can stand to sit out a lesson or two.”

“Yes, sir,” Harry said grudgingly.

“Your health has been compromised. That’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of desperation in our enemies. We will find a way to overcome this. Mark my word,” Robards said gravely.

Harry was surprised by the fierce tone. Until that moment, he hadn’t even been certain Robards wanted him in the program, never mind vowing to see Harry healthy again. People amazed him sometimes.

“Thank you, sir,” he said sincerely.

Before any awkwardness could descend, there was a knock on the door, and two Aurors entered, escorting Draco Malfoy between them. Harry recognized one of the Aurors as a Chaser from the Quidditch team, Elin something…

Malfoy’s eyes roamed the office, widening slightly when he noticed Harry already seated there. His familiar sneer quickly fell into place. His robes were clean and pressed, but Harry thought they looked more careworn than the Slytherin usually wore.

“Thank you,” Robards said, dismissing the Aurors. “Mr. Malfoy, please have a seat.”

Draco sat straight-backed and rigid in the other empty chair in front of Robards desk. Despite his aloof expression, he wasn’t nearly as comfortable as he was trying to appear.

Harry didn’t have the inclination to ease his anxiety. Instead, he stretched his legs out in front of him and slouched slightly in his chair, keeping his face neutral as he relaxed.

“What did you want to see me about?” Draco drawled, feigning disinterest.

“Actually, as I understood it, you requested this meeting,” Robards said, his dark eyes piercing.

“I requested a meeting with the Minister,” Draco corrected.

“This Minister is a very busy man. I’m in charge of handling prisoners, so he left this to me,” Robards said dismissively. “Mr. Potter tells me you approached him about some sort of deal. You want your father released, but I’m not certain what you could possibly have that might be of interest to us to make such an arrangement worth our while.”

Draco stared at him, slack-jawed, for a moment. By stating exactly what it was Draco wanted, Robards had taken any control the younger Malfoy felt he might have, and neutralized it.

Harry stifled his smirk, impressed. He could play this game.

“When you approached me in Diagon Alley, you indicated you wanted to make a deal. If that’s no longer the case, you’re wasting our time,” Harry said casually. He moved to stand.

“No! Wait,” Draco said, alarmed. “I have information.”

“Information in regards to what, exactly, Mr. Malfoy?” Robards asked impatiently.

“You’re still looking for some Death Eaters, and they’re plotting against you,” Draco said, jerking his head toward Harry.

Harry slumped back in his chair. “So what else is new? Do you have anything solid for us or just vague threats?” he asked dismissively. “Because I’ve heard all of those before.”

“I’ve had contact with Rodolphus Lestrange,” Draco said, a touch of desperation in his voice.

Harry felt his heart rate quicken, but he fought not to show a change in his demeanor.

“Now that is something useful. Where is he?” Robards asked.

“Before I tell you anything, I want an assurance that my father will be released, and the charges against him dismissed,” Draco said, gaining confidence.

“That will depend entirely on how useful your information is,” Robards said, conceding nothing.

Draco narrowed his eyes. “If I help you, my father will be released immediately, and our family home will be returned to us,” he said haughtily.

“Absolutely not,” Robards replied, regaining control.

Draco’s bravado faltered. “Then you have nothing.”

“Then you can go,” Robards said dismissively. When Draco didn’t move, Robards added, “Look, we do want Lestrange, and I’m willing to listen in regards to your father. Your home is non-negotiable, however. Consider it the spoils of war.”

Draco frowned, frustrated. “We’re currently forced to live in our summer home. It’s unsuitable. My mother is miserable there.”

“That’s not my problem,” Robards replied, shrugging. “Where can we find Lestrange? If your information leads to his capture, I’ll waive the remainder of your father’s sentence. Take it or leave it.”

Draco frowned, furious. “Fine,” he said through clenched teeth. “Uncle Rodolphus has a home in Nottingham. He’s not staying there permanently, however.”

“Where is he?” Harry asked.

“Obviously he moves around, since your people are hunting him like a dog,” Draco said, sneering.

“Then his house is no use to us,” Robards said, growing irritated. “Give me something I can actually use, Malfoy.”

Panic showed in Draco’s eyes once again. He kept running his hand through his slicked-back blonde hair, causing it to become unkempt. The corner he’d painted himself into was growing tighter. “They’re using his house as a meeting place. The next meeting is scheduled within the next two weeks, but I don’t know the date,” he said, his words garbled in his rush to get them out.

“How will you learn when the meeting is to take place?” Robards asked.

“They’ll contact me,” Draco said, licking his lips.

“Is the Lestrange property under a Fidelius Charm?” Harry demanded.

“Yes, but I can get in,” Draco said nervously.

“How?” Harry asked, raising his eyebrows.

Draco swallowed, glancing back and forth between the other two men. “Aunt Bella was the Secret Keeper. After her death, I became one since I’d been there before. Uncle Rodolphus accepts me, but he’s very suspicious of my mother. She helped you, at great personal risk. None of the others know exactly what happened, but she’s under heavy suspicion. I want her protected,” Draco said, once again making demands.

“What do you know about Grimmauld Place?” Harry asked suddenly, ignoring Draco’s news about his mother. He didn’t think Draco would know anything about the traps left behind, but he was curious.

The blondes’ eyes widened before recognition dawned. “Ah, right. Your dog of a godfather betrayed his lineage and let the Order inside. My mother and aunt were beside themselves. Ownership should’ve passed to them when the traitor was sent to Azkaban,” Draco said vindictively.

Harry struggled to keep his face neutral, and was pleased to succeed. “Except your aunt was also in Azkaban at the time,” he said, feigning boredom.

The color rose on Malfoy’s pale face. “Now that both Aunt Bella and the mutt are dead, my mother is the rightful heir. She’s awaiting the paperwork to appear in our vault, unless you’ve confiscated that, too,” he said scornfully.

Robards sat back in his chair, content to watch the exchange. Harry thought he looked rather amused. He had the distinct impression his boss didn’t care for the Malfoys.

A slow, lazy grin spread across Harry’s face. “The Ministry doesn’t own Grimmauld Place.”

“The ancient house of Black is a much better location than our summer home in Lewes. If you insist on keeping Malfoy Manor from us, then Grimmauld Place is the next best option,” Draco said haughtily.

“Yeah. Best get used to roughing it in Lewes then, because that’s not going to happen,” Harry said, feeling pleased.

“What do you know about it?” Draco asked scornfully.

“I know because I have the papers for Grimmauld Place in my vault. My godfather left it to me,” Harry said smugly.

The color drained from Draco’s face. “You’re joking.”

“Afraid not,” Harry said, enjoying the shock and dismay clearly written on his school rival’s face.

“Look, Malfoy, I don’t really care where you end up living. You get us Lestrange, and you get your father back. You can work out your living arrangement for yourselves,” Robards said, breaking it up at last.

Harry sat back in his chair, folded his arms across his chest and watched Draco steam.

“You’ll have to come with us on the raid,” Robards said, almost as an afterthought.

“What?” Malfoy yelped, dismayed.

“If we need a Secret Keeper to enter the premises, that’s going to have to be you,” Robards said firmly. His tone implicitly warned that Draco wouldn’t be able to wiggle out of this part of the deal.

“I’ll get you in, but I don’t want to be seen, and I won’t be put in any danger,” Draco said, desperate.

“You and I both know being around your uncle is dangerous. The sooner he’s caught, the sooner your entire family is safer,” Harry said, showing no mercy.

“Do we have a deal, Mr. Malfoy?” Robards asked.

“We have a deal,” Draco said, obviously not pleased. The look on his face clearly stated that the meeting hadn’t gone at all like he’d envisioned.

Harry didn’t deny he felt a certain amount of satisfaction in that.


******


Ginny stood outside the door to Harry’s training class, staring at her watch. It was minutes from the time his class should release for the day, and she would swear she saw the minute hand tick backwards. This class didn’t seem like it would ever end, and Ginny was eager for it to do so.

Today was Harry’s eighteenth birthday.

Ginny’s mind kept drifting back to the searing kiss they’d shared on his seventeenth birthday before her prat of a brother had so rudely interrupted them. She was going to make certain there would be no interruptions this year. She wondered if Harry had spent half as much time today thinking of that interrupted kiss.

She really hoped he had.

Her mum was planning a party, and Ginny was tasked with keeping Harry away until the guests had time to gather. Ginny had no problem with that plan. Mum had even asked Neville and Luna to come by, along with the rest of the family. Only Charlie wouldn’t be there.

… and Fred.

Ginny shook herself. She wasn’t going to sink into that melancholy today. Today belonged to Harry.

She could hardly wait to give Harry his present. Her stomach did summersaults just thinking about it. She’d had some help with the cost, but she really hoped Harry would be pleased.

He’d had a few good days after his most recent treatment, but at breakfast that morning, Ginny had noticed he merely pushed the food around on his plate. She’d also detected a rattling sound when he took a deep breath. Naturally, he tried to cover it, but there was no hiding that chilling sound.

She was worried. He insisted they were working on a lead, but Ginny couldn’t see them doing anything. She was beginning to rethink her return to Hogwarts. Instead, she could take Kingsley up on his offer to become an Auror. She wanted to make these rogue Death Eaters pay for what they’d done.

Except that she’d really never had any desire to work for the Ministry.

What she really wanted was to help Harry. She didn’t like seeing him ill. It was so incongruous to everything Harry was, and she found it disconcerting. She knew Hermione, too, was researching potion ingredients that could possibly cause Harry’s symptoms. The girls had spent many a late night scouring the vast supply of potion books Hermione owned.

Perhaps it would be the two girls who would find a way to cure Harry. A Muggle-born and a blood traitor thwarting the bigoted Death Eaters. That would be poetic justice.

The door to the training class opened, and a weary-looking group of trainees emerged. Ginny knew they’d had a test today, and from the looks of them, it must’ve been difficult. She could see her brother’s ginger head towering above, and as expected, Harry’s ruffled mop of black hair right next to him.

Harry’s bright eyes widened in surprise, and a grin formed when he saw her. Ginny couldn’t help beaming in return. The two trainees moved toward her, ignoring the curious stares of their classmates. A group of girls slowed their pace to watch them nosily. Ginny recognized Susan Bones and Lisa Turpin, so the dark, curly-haired witch next to them had to be the Violet she’d heard so much about.

Naturally she was really tall and buxom. Of course.

“Ginny! What are you doing here?” Harry asked, leaning over to kiss her cheek.

“Do I need an excuse to see you?” she asked, raising her eyebrows.

“Er… of course not,” Harry stuttered. “I just… I… er… ”

Ginny laughed, deciding to give him a break. It was his birthday, after all. “Happy Birthday, Harry. I wanted to spend a little time with you before Mum has dinner ready.”

Harry’s cheeks colored. “She really didn’t have to go to so much trouble,” he mumbled.

“Harry, how long have you known my mum?” Ron asked, exasperated. “She thrives off this stuff. Besides, it’s your birthday.”

Ron seemed to think that settled everything. He always did really enjoy his own birthday. Christmas, too. Ron just really liked presents.

“Is it your birthday, Harry?” Lisa Turpin asked, joining their gathering. “Why didn’t you say anything? Hi, Ginny.”

“Hi, Lisa, Susan,” Ginny said, nodding to each while watching Harry’s cheeks flush a deeper shade of red. As if he’d ever voluntarily call attention to himself.

“Yeah, Happy Birthday, Harry. Maybe Pierce would’ve gone easier on that test if he’d known,” Violet said, staring curiously at Ginny.

“Violet, this is my girlfriend, Ginny Weasley,” Harry said. Ginny felt a thrill tingle all the way down her spine hearing him call her his girlfriend.

“Nice to meet you, Ginny. Violet Benson,” the girl said, offering her hand. “How do you concentrate when he looks at you with those dreamy eyes? It must be impossible to stay angry with him.”

“Oh, I can manage,” Ginny said wryly. “He can be quite infuriating when he sets his mind to it.” She grinned at Harry to soften her words. His face was the color of a tomato.

“Can you answer the question Witch Weekly is dying to know?” Violet asked.

Ginny frowned, wary. “What’s that?”

“Is he a good kisser?” Violet asked seriously.

Harry grabbed Ginny’s arm and tried to steer her away. “We’re going. See you all next time.”

Ginny laughed, calling over her shoulder. “He kisses as intensely as he does everything else,” Ginny called.

Harry groaned, but the three girls burst into laughter.

“That’s it. I’m out of here. Don’t make him late, Ginny. I’m starving,” Ron said, disgruntled.

“And that’s new, how?” Ginny asked before Harry shoved her into the lift and pressed the button for the Atrium.

“Enjoy your intensity,” Violet called merrily.

Harry looked as if he wanted to melt into the floor, but as soon as the doors closed, he turned to her, pulling her into his arms, his face very close.

“Is intensity a good thing?” he asked, his breath warm on her lips.

“Very good,” she said, slightly breathless before he even kissed her.

When the lift doors opened, they were still locked in a tight embrace. Someone cleared their throat, dragging them back to the present. They laughed, taking each other’s hands and dashing toward the Apparition point.

“Where are we going?” Harry asked.

“Let’s go into Muggle London. I don’t want to share you today,” Ginny said.

Harry’s eyes glazed slightly as he tried to decide where to go.

“Oh! I know,” Ginny said, suddenly. She’d wanted to stroll the streets and look in some shop windows, but now the idea of some privacy seemed much more enticing.

“Let’s go to the village in Ottery St. Catchpole. We can take a walk back to The Burrow.”
Harry raised an eyebrow, perplexed. “Really?”

Ginny nodded. “Really. I’m in the mood for a long, private stroll through the woods,” she said, grinning.

Harry didn’t need telling twice. He wrapped his arm around her waist and Side-Along Apparated her to the village. Although Ginny was more than frustrated with the restriction of being unable to use magic, she had to admit that she liked Side-Along Apparating with him, because she could wrap herself really close. Perhaps once she finally came of age, that was one habit she’d continue.

The weather was still hot and sticky, despite the late afternoon hour. The village was busy with Muggles getting out of work for the day, but as Harry and Ginny strolled hand-in-hand towards the dusty road leading to The Burrow, the crowd thinned out quickly.

Once they’d reached a thick copse of trees, Ginny tugged on his hand to stop. He turned to look at her questioningly.

“I felt the need for some intensity,” she whispered.

Harry grinned. “Happy Birthday to me,” he said, before he leaned over and crushed his lips to hers.

Ginny leaned back against a tree, tilting her head and running her hands along his shoulders. They were broadening, and she could feel muscles defining on his arms. A good and plentiful diet was definitely having positive results.

Harry deepened the kiss, and all Ginny’s cognitive thoughts fled her mind. He was the only one who could ever disorient her like this. Her heart thudded in her chest, and a lovely fluttering filled her belly. Even the discomfort from the bark of the tree pressed against her back seemed to fade. When Harry finally pulled back, panting, Ginny felt bereft. She leaned closer, trying to recapture his lips. Harry pulled away with a monumental effort.

“Need a minute,” he gasped. “You’re driving me mad.”

“There’s nothing wrong with mad,” Ginny said, pressing herself against him once again. She really didn’t want to stop.

Groaning, Harry pulled her against him tightly, his green eyes blazing before his mouth descended once again.

Violet had been right. It was impossible to concentrate under that fierce gaze. It was only the distinct wheezing she could hear in his chest that brought her to her senses. This time, she pulled away, despite Harry’s attempts to keep her there.

She took a step away, breathing heavily. If she felt out of breath, she could only imagine the pain in his chest.

“Are you all right?” she asked, lightly putting her hand over his heart.

Harry nodded without speaking. She could clearly hear the rattling now. She slipped her arm around his waist, allowing him to lean on her shoulder as they resumed their walk. She could tell he was frustrated, whether it was because of his weakness or that she stopped their snog, she didn’t know.

“Stupid poison,” he muttered, kicking a rock as they walked.

“Well, we need to be at The Burrow for dinner, but there’s plenty of woods left,” she said, grinning mischievously.

Harry brightened immediately. “Yeah?”

“Yeah,” Ginny nodded, hugging him fondly.

“You’re always there when I need you,” he said suddenly, ducking his head. “Thanks for staying, Ginny. I know I’m not easy.”

“No, you’re not,” she said matter-of-factly.

Harry snorted. His breathing sounded better, but she thought he still looked pale, even more than his natural paleness.

“How are you feeling, really, Harry?” she asked, expecting his usual response of ‘fine’.

“I’ve been better,” he said honestly. “I think I’ll need to go in for another treatment in a couple days.”

Ginny was stunned. She couldn’t remember a time when he’d ever answered anyone honestly that he was having a hard time.

“Why not go tomorrow?” she asked.

“Because Healer Larkin said it would be less helpful each time she had to cast it, so I want to prolong it.”

“Is it still only in your chest?” she asked, more fearful now that he was actually confiding in her.

He hesitated, almost halting his stride. She watched the play of emotions on his face as he decided how much to tell. Finally, squaring his shoulders, he whispered, “No. My stomach hasn’t been right.”

Ginny shut her eyes. It was spreading.

“And what is the Ministry doing about finding the source?” she snapped, frustrated and more scared than she wanted to admit. She hated feeling she had no control.

“We’re waiting for their next move. I can’t tell you how we know, but there should be a gathering soon. We’re just waiting for it to happen,” Harry said quietly.

“Oh,” Ginny said, derailed.

So, they had been working on something, and it’s not like he could tell the Death Eaters to hurry up. She could see the perimeter fence of The Burrow through the trees now, and was surprised when Harry pulled her to a stop.

She turned, questioningly, still lost in her tormented thoughts.

“This is the last of the woods,” he said.

“And?” she asked, distracted.

He pulled her against him again, resting his nose against hers. “I want the rest of my birthday kiss,” he whispered.

Who was she to deny him?


Naturally they arrived for dinner late. Everyone but Ron shouted, ‘Happy Birthday’ as they emerged into the back garden. Ron continued to scowl at his empty plate. Obviously Mum hadn’t let him have anything before the guest of honor arrived. Ginny couldn’t help feeling pleased that she’d managed to annoy him.

She glanced at Harry to see his reaction. He stared in wonder at the many guests, his smile widening even further when he noticed Neville and Luna at the end of the table. Luna wore a bright orange sari with bits of live green plants stuck on in a random pattern. Neville could probably identify what they were.

“I didn’t know you were all going to be here,” Harry said, sounding somewhat amazed at the attention.

“Obviously,” Ron said, disgruntled. “I hope you wouldn’t keep us waiting this long on purpose.”

“Ron!” Hermione said, slapping his arm. She reached over and gave Harry a hug. “Happy Birthday, Harry.”

“Thanks,” Harry said. He walked over to Ginny’s mum and gave her a hug, as well. “You shouldn’t have gone to all this trouble, Mrs. Weasley.”

“Nonsense,” Mum said, beaming with affection. “It’s your birthday, and you’re no trouble.” She pushed him into an empty chair next to Ginny’s dad. Ginny took the empty chair on Harry’s other side.

“How are you, Neville?” Harry asked, reaching across the table to shake his hand.

“I’m good, thanks. I’ve been working in a greenhouse of one of the apothocary’s suppliers. It’s fascinating.”

“Er… sounds great,” Harry said.

Ginny thought he didn’t really think it sounded great at all. Being stuck in a greenhouse all day definitely wouldn’t suit Harry.

“How about you, Luna?” Ginny asked the blonde girl.

“It’s been rather dull. Daddy wasn’t well enough to continue our search for the Crumple-Horned Snorkack, and we were so close. He’s finally feeling better, though, so I think he’ll be able to manage alone once I go back to Hogwarts,” Luna said.

Ginny knew that Mr. Lovegood had taken Luna’s capture very hard, and his health had failed after the war. She really didn’t know what to think about a Crumple-Horned Snorkack.

“Let’s tuck in,” her mum said brightly, placing a huge roast in the center of the table.

Ginny could see through her attempt to avoid letting the conversation descend into war talk. It was inevitable wherever there was a gathering of wizards lately, but Mum was determined to keep Harry’s birthday on a happier note.

Ginny really couldn’t blame her. Harry still felt far too guilty for his own good.
The conversation quieted as they all tucked in to the delicious meal, but gradually, various smaller conversations broke out along the magically-expanded table.

“Have you received your class list yet?” Bill asked.

Ginny shook her head, swallowing some mashed potatoes. “Not yet. I reckon it’ll still be a few weeks. There’s so much to reorganize this year, I won’t be surprised if it’s delayed,” she said.

“Are you sticking with Ancient Runes?” he asked.

“Absolutely. It’s my best class,” Ginny replied, grinning. “I think I did really well on my exam.”

“So, are you thinking about following in your favorite brother’s footsteps and becoming a curse breaker?” he asked, squinting.

“If she’s following her favorite brother, she’ll be opening her own business,” George interjected.

Ginny smiled indulgently at both. All her brothers always argued over which one was her favorite. She had her own ideas of what she’d like to do once she finished Hogwarts, but she wasn’t ready to share it with any of them yet.

“I theenk Ginny will decide on her own what it iz she wants to do,” Fleur said, raising a finely arched brow.

“So, what is it you want to do, then?” Bill asked.

Fleur thumped him the side with her elbow. “She will let you know. All you boys need to mind your own business. She will be of age on her birthday.”

Ginny smiled gratefully at Fleur. It was weird how much their relationship had changed. Although they were very different, Ginny found she enjoyed having another female presence around the dinner table. She caught Hermione’s eye across the table. The older girl was looking at her speculatively. There was no doubt in Ginny’s mind that Hermione would question her once they’d both turned in for the night.

Hermione was on to her. Somehow, Ginny didn’t think her friend would be as enthused about the idea of a career in Quidditch as she was. Still, even making the try-outs was a stretch, and Ginny was certain Hermione would want her to have a backup plan. Ginny didn’t want a backup plan. She wanted to keep her focus on her goal. A backup plan would only mean she had some level of doubt.

Ginny was going to play professional Quidditch.

For now, her focus would be on getting the Hogwarts team back into shape. As the oldest member of the team, with a well-known passion for the sport, she thought she had a good chance of making captain.

Harry thought so, too.

Ginny enjoyed having it just between them for now, however. She just needed to get him well first.

Glancing over at Harry, she was dismayed to see he’d eaten very little and was pushing the food around on his plate rather than eating it. That thrill of dread rose in her throat, and Ginny had to forcefully push it down. This was a happy occasion. He certainly hadn’t had many birthday celebrations. The ruddy Death Eaters weren’t going to take it from him.

He must’ve sensed her stare, for he looked up, his brilliant green eyes locking on hers. He winked, and for a moment, despite how large her family was, she felt as if they were the only two at the table. Of course, it didn’t last for long.

“So, are we having cake?” Ron asked, knowing full well the answer.

“Cake or presents first, Harry?” Dad asked, his blue eyes twinkling.

Ginny knew he wanted Harry to choose presents to take the mickey out of Ron, but she wondered if Harry would catch on.

“Presents, I think,” Harry said, his face coloring.

Ginny was pleased. He did catch on. Perhaps he was truly beginning to fit in. She nodded to George, who discreetly left the table in order to get their surprise. Harry opened some new Quidditch supplies that seemed to delight him.

When Ginny saw George again, she quietly got up and walked over to him, assisting him to place the cage on the table in front of Harry.

The owl was slightly smaller than Hedwig had been, and with more grey-coloring on his feathers. He looked a bit dwarfed inside the large cage. She knew Harry had avoided replacing his pet, but she hoped he’d be pleased. Hedwig had been a birthday present signaling the start of a new life for him. She thought this pet could signify the same thing.

Harry sat frozen in his seat for a moment, staring at the bird as if mesmerized. George pushed the cage towards him, and Harry stuck his fingers inside, stroking the owl’s feathers. The bird preened and moved along its perch to allow Harry to continue.

“I think he likes you,” Ginny said, pleased as she moved to sit back down next to him.

Harry looked up at Ron, stunned. Ron put his hands in the air, shaking his head. “I didn’t, mate. They’d already planned this before I told them.”

“They?” Harry asked, his throat sounding raw. He looked back at Ginny.

She shrugged. “It was George’s idea, and I couldn’t swing it on my own.”

Harry looked over at George, thunderstruck. George, usually so confident and cheerful, ducked his head, his ears reddening with that trademark Weasley blush.

“Hedwig was a good owl, and I think she’d approve,” he said gruffly.

Ginny knew there were a lot of consequences from the war that they all wished they could change, George especially. This was something George could fix, and she suspected it was extremely important for him to do so. In his own way, Harry had really helped George to heal, and George wanted to help Harry in the same way, although neither of them would ever say it out loud.

Boys.

“He’s beautiful,” Hermione said tearfully, staring appreciatively at the owl.

“He’s still young, so he’ll probably grow a bit more. That’s why the cage is so big,” George said.

“Thank you,” Harry said, choked and still staring at owl. He turned suddenly, grabbed Ginny’s face in both hands and kissed her soundly. Scattered applause and many groans erupted around the table. After all, it was filled with mainly her brothers.

“What about me? Don’t I get a kiss?” George asked, puckering.

Harry colored again, but swatted George on the back of the head good-naturedly. “She’s better looking,” he said, grinning.

Harry left the owl on the table as he opened the rest of his gifts, glancing over every few minutes. The owl’s yellow eyes blinked lazily, but he seemed to be staring at Harry as much as Harry stared at him.

“We’ll have to think of a name,” she whispered as Mum served the cake.

“We?” Harry asked, amused.

“Of course. I’m not going to let you call him something stupid,” she replied, grinning. She’d never live down her twelve-year-old self naming Ron’s owl Pigwidgeon.

“I think I want to get to know him a little bit before we decide,” Harry said, wrapping his hand around hers beneath the table.

“That sounds like an excellent plan,” Ginny said, leaning over and kissing him again.

“Harry, just because it’s your birthday doesn’t mean you can snog her at the table. I’m trying to eat, here,” Ron groused.

Ginny kicked him in the shin.

“Ouch!” Ron yelped, dropping his cake. “Now look what you’ve done.”

“Well, since it will no longer interfere with your appetite, we’ll just carry on,” Ginny said, pulling Harry back into a kiss.

Though never much for public displays, Harry didn’t resist at all.

Back to index


Chapter 26: Toils and Tempers

Author's Notes: A few of you questioned what I thought about Harryís reasoning for naming Albus Severus. While I still donít like the name, I do agree it sounds very much like something Harry would do. The bit about neither of them having anyone to carry on their name wouldíve been particularly important for Harry to rectify. I liked Dumbledore, despite some of his more questionable decisions. Iíll never be a Snape fan, but Iím okay with that, too. I can respect what he did without liking him as a person.

I was far more intrigued by her reveal that the deaths at the battle haunted Harry forever. That was part of my reasoning for coming back to this story so many times since the end, so I was thrilled to hear it.

As usual, my never-ending gratitude to Sherry for her beta work. Also to Ryan, Danielle, Claire and Sue for reading this ahead and pointing out any inconsistencies ahead of time. Your enthusiasm has been epic.


Chapter Twenty-Six
Toil and Temper



Ginny Weasley was not in a good mood. It had started when she ran out of soap in the shower that morning, and the day had grown increasingly irritating. Ginny didn’t consider herself a particularly R