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SIYE Time:13:50 on 23rd June 2018


The Seventh Horcrux
By melindaleo

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Category: Post-HBP
Characters:All
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Fluff
Warnings: Death, Violence
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 860
Summary: The hunt for the Horcruxes begins. Harry has to decide who to trust as he moves closer to fulfilling his destiny. Will he be able to find and destroy all the Horcruxes? And at what price? Will he be able to find the strength within himself "the Power the Dark Lord Knows Not" in order to succeed in vanquishing Voldemort? And, can he do it and still get the girl? Join Harry and his faithful friends on their quest to finally defeat a Dark Lord.
Hitcount: Story Total: 198928; Chapter Total: 7624
Awards: View Trophy Room






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Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I’m just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.



Chapter Thirty-Two


A New Beginning



A low, distant rumbling intruded upon the quiet, dragging Harry back to consciousness. The noise sounded far away, but it was persistent, piercing the warmth and darkness that surrounded him. His mind struggled to hold onto the last vestiges of sleep, but a giant boom cracked overhead, causing his eyes to fly open with a start, his breathing fast and irregular.


The room where he lay was dim, lit only by a single candle hanging on the wall in a far corner. Without his glasses, all he could see was a fuzzy blur of light, anyway. The heavy curtains next to his bed hid the night sky, although he could hear a heavy downpour of rain splattering against the window.


He blinked, feeling very disoriented. He could tell he was in hospital and had a vague memory of Ginny being with him, but he couldn’t grasp the details. Distorted memories of his parents and others that he’d lost filled his mind, confusing him. He couldn’t focus his thoughts, however, because his body’s various aches and pains began demanding his attention.


An invisible weight pressed down on his chest, and his limbs felt leaden. Although no Petrifying Spells or ropes were holding him, he was completely immobilized. He was incredibly sore, and he desperately needed a drink to quench his intense thirst. Above all the other aches and pains – even his thirst – his head hurt the worst. He was grateful for the dim lights, because he didn’t think he could handle any brightness just then.


He briefly considered closing his eyes and drifting back to sleep, but he needed to know what had happened to everyone else. His confused mind refused to give him any details, but he knew the others were in trouble. He groaned, attempting to rise on his pillows and was dismayed to realize that he couldn’t do it. His right arm was weak and shook when he tried to move it, while his left was completely unresponsive.


Panicking, he tried to reach for his glasses on the bedside table. Sweat broke out on his forehead as he strained to reach them, but his arm felt like lead. He finally had to give up, and, panting, he laid his spinning head back on the pillow. His breathing hitched, and he groaned again. What’s wrong with me?


"Harry!" Hermione shouted, opening the door to find him so agitated. "Merlin! How typical of you to stay asleep the entire time I’m sitting here and only wake up when I take a moment to use the loo."


She walked across the room, reached for his glasses, and gently placed them on his nose. Her concerned face came into focus as he struggled to control his rapid breathing. He gazed at his surroundings, not recognizing the room but knowing he wasn’t in the hospital wing at Hogwarts.


"Wh-" he croaked, his voice scratchy and dry from lack of use.


"Shh. Take it easy," Hermione whispered, wordlessly conjuring a glass of water.


She slipped her arm beneath his shoulders and gently hoisted him so he could swallow it. It felt wonderfully cold and refreshing sliding down his throat, relieving the burning pain.


"You’re in St. Mungo’s," Hermione said, adjusting the pillows behind Harry’s back. "Do me a favor and pretend you slept through the night. Ginny is going to be so livid. Mrs. Weasley insisted that she needed to go home and get some sleep, and the Healers didn’t think you’d wake up again before morning. We’ve all been taking shifts sitting with you, but Ginny was adamant that she’d promised you she’d be here. She didn’t want to leave."


Another loud crack of thunder rumbled outside the window as if in support of Hermione’s words.


"Volde-" Harry asked, losing his breath.


"He’s gone, Harry," Hermione said, her eyes suspiciously bright. "It’s really over. How much of it do you remember?"


Harry scrunched his forehead, trying to piece his scattered thoughts together. Everything was jumbled, but he could picture Tom’s flat, distorted face staring at him with an intense hunger. He remembered a nauseating flash of bright white light but couldn’t say what had happened.


"It’s all right," Hermione said, taking his hand and gently squeezing his fingers. "The Healers said that you’d experience some confusion at first. It’ll come back to you."


"Arm," Harry mumbled, again trying to move his left one. The covers were pulled tightly around him, and he’d begun to fear it was gone. It certainly didn’t feel as if there was anything there.


"Does it hurt?" Hermione asked, plucking needlessly at his blankets while not looking directly at him.


Harry’s alarm grew. "Can’t…feel," he gasped.


Hermione looked up quickly, resting her hand on his shoulder and squeezing it. "It’s okay. Don’t get upset. The Healers said that the calmer we could keep you, the quicker all the Restorative Potions would work."


"Arm," Harry repeated, still trying to move it. His exhaustion grew with each attempt, but he continued to struggle. His vision swam and foggy spots encroached upon the edges. The thunder cracked loudly, sounding as if it were right above the hospital. Rolling echoes continued long after the initial crack had passed.


"Listen to me, Harry," Hermione said, forcefully grabbing his shoulders in order to keep him still. "You’re not helping. You have to stay calm. One of the Curses that struck your arm was deep, and it caused some nerve damage. The Draught of Living Death slowed down your bloodstream and all your internal organs, so it’s going to take some time to heal. Now, I know patience isn’t your strong suit, but you really don’t have a choice."


Something about her no-nonsense tone reminded him of Madam Pomfrey, and it alarmed him. Ron had always said she could be scary, sometimes. His anxiety must have shown, because her eyes softened.


"Will…heal?" he asked, feeling incredibly vulnerable. He fought the exhaustion, determined to get some answers. Thunder cracked again, weaker this time.


Hermione blinked rapidly. "We think so."


That didn’t sound as confident as he wanted. His heart rate increased again, and he had to take short, shallow breaths. He suddenly wanted very badly for Ginny to be the one there with him.


"Ginny?" he asked, cringing inwardly at the pathetic tone in his voice.


"She’ll be here in the morning," Hermione said, her lower lip starting to tremble. "We were so afraid we’d lost you."


Harry took several deep breaths, forcing the air out through his nose in an attempt to calm down.


"Ron?" he asked as scattered memories began to return to him. Ron had been hit and knocked out by some random curse.


"He’s all right. He was in a double room with you for a few days, but you know Ron. They couldn’t keep him still for long, and they finally kicked him out so he’d stop pestering them," she replied, sniffling. She began running her hand up and down his good arm, trying to soothe him.


His chest felt heavy, and a large lump grew in his throat. He cast his eyes around the room, desperately seeking a distraction before he really embarrassed himself. He tried to listen to the torrents of rain pelting against the window, waiting for the next boom of thunder.


"Draco?" he asked when the vision of the horrible curse that had struck the Slytherin filled his mind.


"He’s in another room," Hermione said vaguely. "The Healers put him back together, but he’s got a long road ahead of him."


Harry knew there was more that she wasn’t telling him, but he couldn’t get the words to form. He was so very tired, and he struggled to keep his eyes from closing.


"You did it, Harry. It’s really over," Hermione whispered. "We’re all so proud of you. Now we can focus on what we want to do with our lives."


"Dumbledore told me," he whispered, closing his eyes.


"Dumbledore?" Hermione asked sharply.


Harry’s eyes flew open. Why did he have the distinct impression of Dumbledore telling him it was time to live? Hermione was staring at him as if she thought he’d gone mad. Perhaps he had.


He blinked, looking away from her concerned stare. He tried to focus on the shiny silver instrument resting on the bedside table where his glasses had been. Hermione, of course, noticed.


"Oh! I brought that from Hogwarts, but we couldn’t get it to work while you were unconscious. Do you want to try it now? It should only take a minute, and I’m certain you’ll see that he’s really gone," Hermione said, her eyes shining with excitement.


Harry’s breath hitched again. He really didn’t know what was wrong with him, or why he wanted Ginny there so badly. He was being a baby, and he knew it, but he couldn’t admit that to Hermione.


Again, she must have noticed his distress and was kind enough not to mention it.


"Why don’t we wait for Ron and Ginny? I’m certain they’d like to be here, as well," she said.


Harry’s eyes felt very heavy, and his willpower to keep them open was waning.


"Go to sleep. Everything is okay. I promise," Hermione whispered, gently kissing him on the forehead.


Harry sank into the comfort of the pillows, listening as the thunder rolled and letting the darkness consume him once more.



**--**--



The next time Harry opened his eyes, his room was brighter, although he could still hear the patter of rain against the window. His body ached, but the pounding in his head was slightly better – he could tolerate the light, anyway. Everything was blurry, but he still didn’t have enough strength to raise his arm and reach his glasses. He blinked several times, trying to decipher the various blurs.


His glasses were slipped on his nose, and Ginny’s smiling face came into focus. She was pale, and her freckles stood out distinctly.


"Hi, bright eyes," she said, leaning over to kiss his forehead. "I can’t tell you how good it is to see you awake."


Harry closed his eyes again, enjoying the warmth of her kiss. His heart felt lighter simply because she was there. He was about to tell her how glad he was to see her when Ron’s voice alerted him to the fact they weren’t alone.


"All right, enough of that. Let me get a good look at him. You’ve left me alone with crying girls for a week, mate."


Harry glanced over Ginny’s shoulder to see Ron and Hermione standing behind her. Hermione looked drained, but she was beaming at him.


"Hi," he mumbled hoarsely, his throat burning.


"How are you feeling this morning, Harry?" Hermione asked, while Ginny helped him take a sip of water.


"’M fine," he mumbled, letting water sooth his throat.


"You’re still dreadfully pale," Hermione said.


"Bloody hell, Hermione. He just defeated the most powerful Dark Lord ever and saved the world – again. He’s allowed to look a little peaked," Ron said, rolling his eyes.


"Language, Ron," Hermione scolded, but her eyes shone brightly. "I was just about to head home and catch some sleep, but since you’re awake, why don’t we use the Soul Balance? Professor Dumbledore told me exactly how it works. It’s fascinating, really, and I’ve been so eager to try it."


Harry’s stomach lurched uncomfortably. He was feeling slightly nauseous, anyway and vaguely wondered how long it had been since he’d eaten. The idea of getting a confirmation from the Soul Balance – regardless of which result it would give – filled him with dread.


"Maybe it’s too soon, Hermione. He just woke up," Ginny said, eyeing Harry carefully.


He leaned into her hand as she gently stroked his hair.


"Why? What do you mean, it’s too soon? We’re all here, and he must be dying to know. I know I would be. I mean, it’s not like we don’t know what the results will show. Voldemort wouldn’t have died if all the Horcruxes hadn’t been destroyed, but I know if I were him, I’d want to see it for myself," Hermione said, pushing the bedside table so the Soul Balance came clearly into Harry’s view.


He swallowed heavily. He didn’t see a way out of this without appearing weak but talking about Horcruxes was forcing him to think about things he didn’t want to think about right now. His nausea increased, and a thin sweat covered his body.


"Ginny’s right. I think we should wait," Ron said, being far more astute than usual.


Harry refused to meet Ron’s eyes, feeling very ashamed that his weakness was showing. He didn’t know what was wrong with him. He glanced up at Hermione’s bright, eager expression. She obviously wanted to know. She must have spent as much time agonizing over the Horcrux inside Harry as he had. They all had in their own ways. He couldn’t deny them the answer since they were the ones who had worked out the riddle in the first place, no matter how much it made his insides squirm.


"S’alright," he said shakily. "Do it."


Now that he’d committed, he just wanted them to get it over with.


"Professor Dumbledore said that they are usually attuned to the owner, but he adjusted this one to pick up your aura. It should only take a moment," Hermione said, poking at the silver instrument.


"Just relax," Ginny whispered. "You don’t have to do anything." The gentle pressure of her fingers stroking his hair was comforting, and he tried to sink back into the pillows and simply not think.


Hermione tapped her wand against the silver instrument and mumbled a string of enchantments under her breath. It sounded as if it was another language, but Harry was too focused on watching the small puffs of smoke beginning to rise from the shiny silver tube to ask. A thrill of apprehension ran down his spine, and he really feared he might be sick.


"All right, Harry?" Ron asked, and Harry suspected he’d turned an ugly shade of green.


Hermione glanced over at him, her eagerness suddenly replaced by concern. "Should I get a Healer?"


"No," he said, clenching his eyes tightly and willing the nausea to pass.


"That’s the antidote they gave you," Ginny said, placing a damp cloth on his forehead. "They said it would make you nauseous."


Harry didn’t respond but instead opened his eyes to peer at the green smoke now rising steadily from the Soul Balance. It twisted and turned and looked as if it was forming a shape.


He distinctly remembered that he’d seen two snakes the previous time he saw this thing working, but this shape looked more like a round mass. He watched as it elongated but his jaw dropped in amazement as tail feathers appeared on the smoky object, and it suddenly unfurled its wings. The smoke hadn’t formed into the shape of a snake at all, but instead, it was the image of a glorious bird He felt tears form in the corner of his eyes as the sound of phoenix song filled the room.


"Harry!" Hermione breathed, her eyes wide.


"Blimey," Ron muttered.


"It’s beautiful," Ginny whispered, watching until the last of the smoke had dissipated.


"Does that answer any lingering doubts?" Hermione asked, beaming.


"You never do anything just halfway, do you, mate?" Ron asked, grinning madly.


Harry smiled, feeling enormous relief – even his nausea had abated. It was true. He was really free for the first time since he was a baby. He felt dazed and out of sorts.


It was really over.


"Well, I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted," Hermione said. "I’m going to go home and catch some sleep. I’ll return later, Harry."


She stood up and kissed him on the forehead.


"I’ll walk you out," Ron said, standing to accompany her.


Harry silently watched them go while Ginny hovered over him, adjusting his pillow and needlessly straightening the bed linens. He enjoyed the attention, and a small smile flitted across his face while he watched her do it.


"All right, Harry?" she finally asked, raising her eyes. A light pink blush stained her cheeks. She knew he’d been watching her.


"Better now," he whispered. "Glad you’re here."


"I’m glad I’m here, too. You really scared me," she said, her eyes filling. She resolutely blinked back the tears.


"Sorry," Harry said, alarmed.


Ginny shook her head, straightening her shoulders and adopting a fierce expression. "I’ll let you get away with it this time, but I’m warning you – you’ve had your last free pass. From now on, I never want to sit by another hospital bed waiting for you to wake up. I mean it. Not so much as a sprained toe."


Harry felt the corner of his mouth twitch. "Yes, ma’am."


"No more Dark Lords, Death Eaters, Dementors, dragons, Horcruxes, potions, prophecies…" Ginny said, running out of words.


"All right, all right," Harry replied, chuckling. "I’ll do nothing but listen to Quidditch on the wireless and drink butterbeer until my belly grows big."


Ginny scowled, crinkling her nose. "Well, I wouldn’t like that, either."


Harry grinned, feeling winded from his long speech. "I love you," he blurted.


Ginny’s eyes softened. "I love you, too."


He closed his eyes, breathing deeply. "It feels good to be able to say that without worrying."


Ginny brushed the hair off his forehead. "You feel warm," she said, sniffling.


"Did I make you cry again?" he asked, groaning.


"Who’s crying?" Ron asked, re-entering the room. "Did you make my sister cry, Potter?"


"Seems I’ve made it a bad habit," Harry replied, his eyes beginning to droop.


"That’s something that’s going to have to change then, isn’t it?" Ron asked, grinning to soften his words. "Now that Voldemort’s no longer around to make your life hell, you’ll only have to deal with me."


"Seems like a bargain," Harry said, smiling weakly. "It’s hard to believe it’s really over."


"Dad said you might need some time to adjust to it all," Ginny said.


"Yeah," added Ron. "Just think, next year at this time, no one should try to kill you."


Harry snorted, his eyes drifting shut. Ron and Ginny stayed and chatted with him for a while, filling him in on all the details he’d missed. He felt very guilty about worrying so much about his arm after hearing about George’s leg and how well he was handling it. He hoped that he’d have the same courage as George to face it if he never regained the use of his arm.


He drifted off to sleep at some point, secure in the knowledge that Ginny, Ron, Hermione, or somebody, would be there when he awoke.



**--**--



Over the next several days, Harry was able to stay awake for longer and longer stretches, enabling him to get a better grasp on what was happening in the Wizarding world. He also became aware of the media’s increasingly desperate attempts to gain access to his room. The Healers, medi-witches, and various visitors continued to keep a close eye on him as he suffered from the nausea and fevers caused by the antidote they had given him. In short, between his injuries, the side effects, and everyone’s fretting – Harry was feeling extremely confined.


Leticia Warbanks had been appointed as the Reconstruction Minister. The Wizengamot had decided that after she’d had the chance to get things up and running smoothly, there would be a general vote to decide if she would become Minister for Magic. Harry was pleased to see the sweeping changes she was attempting to put in place already.


Kingsley Shacklebolt had taken the position of Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Alastor Moody had come out of retirement to take the position as Head of the Department for Magical Accidents and Catastrophes, and Arthur Weasley had been promoted to Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation.


Ron said his dad was working very closely with the Muggle Prime Minister to recreate the harmonious co-existence the two worlds had enjoyed for so many years. He said he thought his dad simply liked going to visit the man to try out all his Muggle gadgets.


The Daily Prophet was up and running again, regaling readers with stories of Harry’s life. Ron told him that a hefty reward was being offered to anyone who could get a direct quote from Harry. He then tried to bribe Harry into admitting that the Chudley Cannons were the best in the League by threatening him with a list of "direct quotes."


Harry had used his good arm to reply with a very rude hand gesture.


Professor McGonagall had dropped by and informed him that Hogwarts would be opening in the autumn. She invited him back to complete his seventh year if he wished. He’d told her he’d think about it. Kingsley Shacklebolt had also told him there was a spot for him on the Auror training squad whenever he wanted it.


Vague thoughts and memories flitted in and out of his consciousness, hinting to him that his parents would want him to finish his schooling. Perhaps it was only because Mrs. Weasley was insisting that Ron should do so, but he couldn’t shake the feeling.


He thought perhaps he’d dreamt about his parents while unconscious.


It seemed to him that everyone was getting up and moving on with putting their lives together except him. He was tired of feeling weak and uncertain and wanted to get out of this bed.


The problem was that the Healers insisted his body wasn’t ready for it yet, and his friends were adamant about listening to them. He’d waited very impatiently for a moment like this to arrive.


His friends tended to stay with him all day until he fell asleep at night, but sometimes, in the early morning, he had a few minutes on his own before anyone arrived. He awoke one morning to just such a moment and was determined to make the most of it.


He’d waited for the medi-witch to come in and do her morning check and give him his potions. Then he sat up and shakily swung his legs over the side of the bed. He’d grown proficient at sitting up with the use of only one arm but hadn’t fully anticipated how weak his legs would be. After lying prone for nearly two weeks, they simply didn’t want to support him. He was determined not to give them the choice.


His head swam as he sat fully upright for the first time. He had to take a minute, blinking, for the fuzziness to leave and to regain his equilibrium.


Setting his jaw, he pushed himself to a standing position, his left arm dangling uselessly at his side. The room spun again, and his legs burned and shook as they supported his weight. Breathing through his nose, he slid one leg across the floor rather than lifting and placing it.


Sloppy, but it was a start.


He could feel a trickle of sweat running down his back, and his legs were actually shaking with fatigue. The wall on the other side of his room suddenly appeared much further away than it had when he’d been sitting in his bed. He had to prove to himself that he could do this. He’d never be able to work crutches with one arm, anyway. There was nothing wrong with his legs, and he’d convinced himself that if he couldn’t make it over to that wall, it would somehow prove Snape right about Harry’s weakness.


He dragged his other leg forward to meet the first, holding his hand out in front of him for balance. His knees buckled, however, and he crashed to the floor with a grunt.


"Bugger it all, Harry!" Ron shouted, entering the room just as Harry hit the floor. "What are you trying to do to yourself, and why are you doing it on my watch? Hermione and Ginny are going to kill me."


He bent down and wrapped his arms around Harry’s torso, hoisting him back to his feet. Harry’s entire body was shaking madly, and he had to lean heavily on Ron, which only increased his irritation.


"I just wanted to walk across the floor," he snapped, panting, "and I don’t want any help to do it."


"Well, you’re just going to have to swallow that Short-Snout-sized pride and suck it up because you do need help," Ron said grumbling. He slung Harry’s good arm over his shoulder but instead of turning back for the bed, he proceeded slowly toward the wall.


Harry’s irritation fizzled. He was very glad Ron and not one of the girls had found him on the floor.


"I’m sick of that bed," he mumbled, hanging his head. His legs were shaking so badly he could feel his knees knocking together.


"I know you are," Ron said quietly. They’d reached the wall, but Ron was now supporting Harry’s full weight. "Are you going to continue being a pillock about walking, or can I Levitate you back to the bed?"


"You’re not Levitating me," Harry said, snorting. "I’ve seen your Levitation Charms, remember?"


Ron grinned. "Better be nice to me, mate. I’m not one of the girls – I’d really drop you."


Harry chuckled, hating the exhaustion fighting to claim him.


"Accio Hover Chair," Ron said.


A floating cushioned-chair appeared in the doorway. Harry thought it resembled something that belonged in a pool. Ron lifted him up and plopped him onto the chair. Using his wand to direct it, he turned the chair around, and they moved into the corridor.


"We’re leaving?" Harry asked, both excited and alarmed. He’d desperately wanted out of that room, but he knew the reporters had been hovering. He really didn’t want to deal with any of them yet. In the quietness of his room, he could deny the reality of everything that had happened for a little while longer.


"We’re not going far," Ron said. "There’re only a few patients in this section, and you have to go through a security check to get here. I thought you wanted out."


"I do!" Harry said eagerly, his tiredness rapidly replaced by open curiosity. Ron pushed him from the lushness of the Minister’s Suite into the cold, antiseptic hallway. Even magic couldn’t erase the sterile feel of a hospital. "Who else do they have hidden here?"


"Malfoy’s in that room," Ron said, nodding toward the closed door next to Harry’s. "I hear he’s been talking loads of rubbish about the deplorable conditions. You know Malfoy."


"I want to talk to him," Harry said.


"Don’t do that to yourself, Harry. Wait until you’re fully recovered," Ron said, scowling.


"I’m fine," Harry replied.


"Sure you are," Ron said, rolling his eyes. Still, he stopped the Hover Chair and knocked on the door before pushing it open. "Oi, Malfoy! Believe it or not, you’ve got visitors."


Draco was lying in bed in a much smaller and less lavish room than the one Harry was using. Harry felt heat creeping up his neck, and he was eternally grateful that Malfoy didn’t know about the difference…or maybe he did. It was certainly something Ron would enjoy lording over him.


Draco looked waxy and pale against the crisp white hospital linen. Much of the usual vigor and venom seemed to have drained from his eyes. He turned his head to listlessly stare at them.


"Oh, look. It’s Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Can this trip down the rabbit hole get any worse?" he asked, rolling his eyes but never raising his head from the pillow.


"Does that make you the Mad Hatter?" Ron asked, sniggering.


"Since when do you two know about Muggle children’s stories?" Harry asked, feeling nettled at seeing the Slytherin boy looking so weak. It was unnerving.


Draco scowled, but Ron stared at Harry blankly. "That’s a Wizarding children’s story about a Muggle girl who accidentally stumbled across the Wizengamot."


Harry shook his head. "How are you doing?" he asked.


"Oh, I think even your lame power of deductive reasoning can figure that one out, Potter. I had my insides physically pulled out because I helped you. How do you think I’m doing?" Draco asked scornfully.


Harry swallowed heavily but fought the piles of guilt Draco was trying to lay on him. He’d had enough guilt to last a lifetime. "Thanks for helping with the Occlumency. I couldn’t have done it without you. Without any of you," Harry said.


"Yeah, well, it’s over now, and you’re everybody’s hero – again. Doesn’t do much for the rest of us, does it?" Draco asked.


"What’s that supposed to mean?" Ron asked. "Harry and Hermione both saved your useless arse. You’re alive, you’re no longer being hunted, and you’re free to go back to your life and do whatever it is you do."


"Yeah, I’m free," Draco said, rolling his eyes. "My mother’s dead, the woman I was supposed to spend the rest of my life with is dead, and it’ll take me months to recover enough to take care of myself properly. My life is just perfect."


"What are you going to do?" Harry asked quietly.


"It’s not like I have a choice. The Ministry still hasn’t released its hold on Malfoy Manor, and I can’t go there alone in my condition, anyway. So, I’m forced to rely on the pity of distant relatives," Draco said, gritting his teeth. "My mother’s sister, Andromeda, and her Muggle-born husband have agreed to take me in – under the condition that they’ll be well-reimbursed for my care."


Ron’s expression turned gleeful. "D’you mean to tell me that you’re being looked after by your aunt and uncle – your Muggleborn uncle – who most likely blame you for the death of their daughter?"


Draco scowled. "What of it?"


"Well…at least they probably won’t make you live in a cupboard," Ron said, obviously delighted by the irony.


Draco’s eyes flicked to Harry before his expression darkened. "Get out. Now. GET OUT!"


"Go, Ron – just go," Harry said, before Ron could continue antagonizing Draco. It wasn’t as if Draco wouldn’t have done the same thing to Ron – wasn’t as if he hadn’t done the same in the past – but he’d still helped Harry in the end, and Harry couldn’t forget that.


Ron moved the Hover Chair back into the Minister’s Suite while Harry fought the fatigue that was finally overwhelming him. He barely remembered how he actually got back into bed before the darkness claimed him once again.



**--**--



Seve ral days later, Harry’s sleep was broken by a loud clicking sound, startling him into full alertness. He rolled over quickly and fumbled on the nightstand for his glasses. He heard a male voice utter a locking spell and a loud grunt as something was wedged in the door. Harry’s heart beat frantically as he stuffed his glasses onto his face. He was dismayed to realize his wand wasn’t on the table. He was trapped.


Turning slowly to face his attacker, he was blinded by several bright flashes of light. He squinted, his panicked brain gradually focusing on the camera and the Quick-Quotes Quill hovering beside the intruder.


"Harry, I’ve got a family to support and a quote from you can feed ‘em for a year. Just one more photo," the reporter said, the camera continuing to click as Harry turned his face away. He tried to pull the blanket up to cover his useless arm. He felt incredibly exposed sitting there in his pajamas.


"Open this door! Alohomora," a stern voice shouted from outside the thick hospital door. Harry noticed the reporter had wedged a chair behind it.


"They can undo the magic, but the Muggle tricks always slow ‘em down," the reporter said, grinning. He was tall and reedy with extremely slick hair that he wore combed over to the side to try and cover the balding spot atop his head. "How does it feel to have defeated the Dark Lord, Harry? How did you do it? Did you have to use Dark Magic to accomplish it? Everyone is speculating on how You-Know-Who actually fell. Tell me about it – in your own words."


"Get out," Harry said, his teeth clenched.


"One quote, Harry," he said, ignoring Harry’s anger. The Quill scribbled madly despite the fact Harry had only said two words. "What’s wrong with your arm? Why are you still hospitalized? Will there be permanent damage from the battle?"


"Get out," Harry repeated, yanking open the drawer on the bedside table and searching for his wand.


The door behind the reporter suddenly imploded, blasting shards everywhere. The reporter was knocked to the ground, his camera skidding across the floor. An enraged Charlie Weasley stood behind it, his arms bulging, and his wand gripped tightly in his hand. He was covered with soot, which Harry barely recognized at first because he was so focused on the murderous expression on Charlie’s face.


Charlie grabbed the reporter around the neck and hoisted him to his feet. The man scrambled frantically, his face awash with terror. Harry leaned over and picked up the camera, holding it tightly while Charlie confiscated the Quick-Quotes Quill.


"How did you get in here?" Charlie demanded.


"The people deserve some answers," the man gasped, struggling to breathe. Charlie had him pinned against the wall with his forearm pressed against his throat.


"That’s enough, Mr. Weasley," an Auror said, entering the room, his crisp Ministry robes neatly pressed. "We’ll take it from here."


"Yeah, as if I trust you can do that. Where was the guard?" Charlie snapped.


Harry could tell the man was blushing deeply, despite his dark skin.


"There will be a full investigation," he said. "Please release him, Mr. Weasley. I don’t want to have to Stun you."


"You could try," Charlie said through gritted teeth. He pressed his arm tighter against the reporter’s throat. The reporter’s eyes bulged with horror, and he desperately grasped at Charlie’s fingers.


"Come on, Charlie," the Auror said, dropping his formal tone. "Everyone needs to use the loo. I’ll take it from here and make certain the guard is firmly reprimanded."


Charlie let go with a snarl, and the reporter slumped to the floor. "You do that, and see to it that his camera and Quill are erased before they’re returned."


"You can’t do that," the reporter whined.


"Watch me," Charlie snapped. Taking the camera from Harry, he raised his wand and blasted the camera into smithereens.


The Auror roughly dragged the swearing reporter outside as he continued to threaten to press charges.


Harry was slightly taken aback by Charlie’s intensity. True, it had been a rude awakening, and Harry really didn’t want to talk to any reporters, but Charlie’s reaction seemed over the top. Even now, he was pacing in front of the ruined door like a caged animal.


"All right, Charlie?" Harry asked tentatively. "He was a nuisance, I know, but he’s just a reporter. I suppose I should just talk to them and get it over."


Harry was startled when Ginny appeared in the doorway, looking just as smudged and rumpled as Charlie. She sprinted in the room and flung herself at Harry, her eyes raking over him as her hands rapidly smoothed his hair.


"Are you all right?" she cried.


"Of course I’m all right," Harry said, growing increasingly baffled. "He just caught me off guard – I was sleeping. What are you two on about? One of those reporters was bound to get lucky sooner or later. They’ve been trying to sneak in here for ages."


"It makes no difference that it was only a reporter," Ginny cried. "He never should have got inside. It could have been a Death Eater. They promised top-notch security."


"Death Eater?" Harry asked, feeling as he’d just been punched in the gut. His heart began beating very fast. "I thought there weren’t any left."


Both Ginny and Charlie started and averted their eyes. A wave of uneasiness overcame Harry, and he suddenly felt very nauseous. No one was going to make him go back into that kind of fear.


"Some of the few scattered Death Eaters who managed to escape alive have regrouped," Charlie said reluctantly. He refused to meet Harry’s eyes as he spoke. "They’re insisting Voldemort will return like he did before. They think you know more than you’re telling."


"The Burrow was attacked this morning," Ginny said softly, blinking tears from her eyes.


No! It’s over. Harry’s mind raced. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way. Voldemort was dead – it was over and his life was supposed to really begin now. It was over!


"Take it easy, Harry," Ginny whispered, rubbing his back soothingly. Her hand brushed against his injured arm, causing his fingers to tingle.


He was so caught up in the news that he barely noticed it. "Is everyone okay?" he asked.


"Everyone is fine," Charlie said. "Bill’s working on strengthening the wards. Ron and Fred are helping him. Ginny and I brought George in to have his new leg fitted and check on you. It’s a good thing we did."


"Do you think the reporter’s timing was coincidental?" Harry asked, the full implication of what could have happened finally penetrating his foggy brain.


"I don’t know, but we’ll find out. I’m going to go Floo Kingsley directly. I’ll be back," Charlie said, nodding at Ginny before he left.


"Well, you certainly keep life exciting, don’t you?" Ginny asked, grinning as she nudged him with her hip. "Budge over."


Harry’s face brightened as he quickly complied. She sat on the bed and leaned back so she was lying alongside him, resting her head on his shoulder. She was on his bad side, so he couldn’t wrap his arm around her and settled for kissing the top of her head instead.


"When am I getting out of here?" he murmured, delighting in the warmth of her body pressed against his own.


Ginny sighed, and he felt her stiffen. "I don’t know, Harry."


He didn’t like the tone in her voice. "What d’you mean? I thought I was getting the all clear some time this week?"


Physically, he felt much better and was beyond anxious to leave the hospital. He’d been up several more times since the original journey with Ron, and could even roam the corridors on his own. The nausea was virtually gone, and the bruises that had covered his entire body had faded to a sickly yellow.


The only thing still left uncertain was his arm. Repairing the nerve damage was a slow and meticulous procedure, and the Healers still wouldn’t commit to a prognosis. They were encouraged by the fact that his shoulder felt sore and achy after each healing attempt. Harry suspected that only Healers would think pain was a good thing.


"That was the plan," Ginny said. "Mum is dying to get her hands on you and had your room all ready, but now…"


"Now, no one thinks it’s safe enough for me to go to the Burrow," Harry said dully. He knew the routine. He’d been here many times before. Why had he really believed things were going to change?


"Don’t you dare start brooding on me now, Harry Potter," Ginny said fiercely, her eyes blazing as she turned to grasp his shoulders. "If not the Burrow, then we’ll go somewhere else…together. Do you hear me? It is different now, and you’re not going back to the Dursleys alone to recover. Not now – not ever again."


Harry smiled, although his heart wasn’t really in it. She somehow always managed to know exactly what was on his mind.


"All right," he said, "but soon. I’m tired of this place."


"Tired of this place, are you?" Ginny asked, raising her eyebrow at the vast splendor of the room. "This luxury isn’t good enough for you, dear? Your pillow isn’t fluffed just so, and the chocolates aren’t to your liking?"


"Oh, ho, very funny," Harry said, pulling a face. "You wouldn’t like being cooped up in here any better than I do."


"That’s true," Ginny said, ruffling his hair. "Although I’m thrilled to see you with some color back in your face and feeling spunky, I knew it would mean we couldn’t keep you tucked away any longer."


"I want to see what’s happening – how everything is being put back together," he replied.


"I know. The Ministry is fully up and running. The first Death Eater trials are supposed to start in September," Ginny said. "Dad says everyone is really eager to put all the bad behind them and start rebuilding."


"What are they doing about Azkaban?" Harry asked.


"I don’t know," Ginny said, shrugging. "Some of the Dementors returned and took up their old posts, but others are still roaming free. I don’t think anyone really knows what to do with them."


Harry nodded, silently pondering. "How bad is the Burrow?" he asked.


He knew if there had been any serious injuries they would have told him, but he dreaded hearing about the damage to the Weasleys’ newly-renovated home. Mrs. Weasley had proudly told him every minute detail of the work being done each time she’d visited him.


Ginny shrugged. "None of us were hurt, and that’s the important thing."


Harry scowled and raised his eyebrows.


"All right, all right. There’s a bit of fire and spell damage. Mum’s kitchen is a mess, but nothing that can’t be fixed," she said hurriedly, trying to calm his building eruption.


Harry swore. "Your mother’s kitchen? Damn it, Ginny. She was so proud of that."


"I know it, but she’s prouder of all of us. She can rebuild the kitchen again. Trust me, she’s much happier knowing you’re coming home, that George is getting fitted with a new leg, and that Fleur wasn’t in the house at the time ‘in her condition,’" Ginny said, rolling her eyes.


Harry smirked, imagining Mrs. Weasley’s fussing over Fleur and how it would test Ginny’s patience. "Where was Fleur?"


"She and Bill rented a flat here in London. I think Fleur refused to be anywhere near a chicken," Ginny said, crossing her arms.


"I thought you and Fleur were getting along?" Harry asked.


Ginny shrugged, waving her hand in the air. "She’s all right, and she does love my brother. It doesn’t mean she doesn’t get on my nerves sometimes. She’s such a princess."


Harry grinned, wisely refraining from commenting. Ginny elbowed him in the ribs, anyway.


"Shut it, you," she said.


"I didn’t say anything," Harry said, his voice raised an octave higher than he would have liked.


"You were thinking it," Ginny replied.


"Yeah," Harry said, his mind drifting back to the Burrow.


"Don’t worry about it," Ginny said, snuggling closer to him. "Bill will get the wards fixed, and it’ll be perfectly safe. Leticia Warbanks and the Order are obviously extra concerned about you since the Death Eaters want to get to you so you’ll tell them where Voldemort is."


"He’s in hell," Harry spat.


Ginny gently ran her hand along his chest, soothing him.


Despite the turmoil in his mind, his body had become very aware of how closely Ginny was pressed against him. He rolled slightly to his side and ran his hand along the bare flesh on her arm. Ginny moved her head so their gazes locked intensely for a brief moment. Her eyes briefly flickered to Harry’s mouth before he leaned over and captured her lips in a searing kiss.


She opened her mouth, deepening the kiss. She tasted warm and sweet and exactly how he remembered. His entire body thrummed with need and longing as he stretched his arm across his body and ran his fingers through her silky hair.


Perhaps it was only because it had been so bloody long since he’d been able to do this, but the kiss was somehow more intense than ever – full of hope, and promise and…possibilities. A thrill of excitement fluttered in his belly as he realized that she was finally, truly his. The Death Eaters might not have given up, but the threat that she would be snatched away from him if he let himself go was past.


Harry thrilled in the knowledge as he wrapped her possessively in his embrace. She was leaning on his bad arm an, through his impassioned haze, he once again felt that tingling sensation all the way down to his fingers. It was the fact that he felt them move that caused him to startle and pull back from the kiss.


"Harry," Ginny moaned, seeking his lips again.


"My fingers moved," he said blankly.


Ginny pulled herself into a seated position. "What?" she asked breathlessly.


Despite his shock and euphoria over his fingers, her swollen lips and the way her hair was wildly tousled pleased him, and his chest swelled with pride. She looked like someone who had been thoroughly, properly kissed – and he had done that.


"My fingers moved," he repeated, glancing at his limp hand. He tried unsuccessfully to move them again. They remained still, but he could definitely feel that tingling sensation throughout his entire arm and hand.


"Are you certain?" she asked, the hope radiating from her eyes. "I mean…that was rather intense."


Color rushed to her cheeks, and Harry grinned cheekily.


"It was, wasn’t it?" he asked, beaming. "They definitely moved, and I can feel pins and needles now."


"I’ll go get the Healer," Ginny said, standing.


"No," Harry said, grabbing her hand with his good one. "Come back over here. All the Healers will do is poke and prod to get the same results. I like your method better."


"Prat!" Ginny giggled, sitting back on the edge of his bed and leaning over to kiss him again.


They had barely resumed their activities when the sound of a throat clearing in the doorway caused them to spring apart. Harry glanced up warily to see Charlie looking at the floor and scratching his very red neck.


He felt heat rushing to his face, wondering why Charlie hadn’t already hauled him out of the bed and pummeled him. Perhaps he looked weaker than he thought, stuck in the hospital bed. He never thought he’d be grateful for anyone thinking him weak, but there you go.


"Nice timing, Charlie," Ginny said, standing up to straighten her clothes. She didn’t appear embarrassed or at all concerned about Charlie’s temper.


"We’re so sorry to interrupt," Leticia Warbanks said, following Charlie into the room. Her dark eyes twinkled with amusement. "It’s nice to see you’re obviously feeling better, Harry."


This time, Ginny did blush – thoroughly. Harry could feel the heat radiating from her body, and knew his coloring must have matched the Weasley red. They’d just been caught snogging in the Minister’s Suite at St. Mungo’s by the Minister for Magic herself. No one could ever say his life wasn’t interesting.


"Are you two going to greet the Minister?" Charlie asked, his voice dripping with sarcasm.


"Leave them alone. They’re embarrassed enough," Leticia said, sweeping into the room and taking a seat by Harry’s bed. "I’m here to discuss some future arrangements."


Harry looked up sharply, pushing his awkwardness aside. He wasn’t about to allow anyone to shunt him away again. It was over. Things were going to change.


"What kind of arrangements?" he asked warily.


"No need to be so tense, Harry," Leticia said, smiling knowingly. "I think you might actually be pleased with these plans."


"Oh?" Harry asked, still doubtful.


"Andromeda Tonks owns a holiday home off the mainland in Spain in the Mediterranean Sea. The island is called Formentera, and, although secluded, it is still a Muggle area so use of magic is frowned upon. Andromeda has agreed to take in her nephew whilst he recovers, and she’s also offered to open up her home to you and your three friends involved in You-Know-Who’s demise until the trials commence.


"There will, of course, be a Hearing, but it’s merely a formality whilst we have time to gather up the remaining Death Eaters. It will offer you some privacy whilst you fully recover and allow the proper wards and protections to be placed on your home, Miss Weasley."


Leticia spoke as if someone used to making decisions and having them followed. It was a decent plan, and the idea of a seaside holiday was appealing. He’d never before had a proper holiday, and he and Ginny had certainly enjoyed their beach in the Room of Requirement.


"I believe you were familiar with Andromeda’s daughter, and she also said you were close to one of her cousins. If it’s all right with you, I’ll have the arrangements made, and you can leave within the next few days," Leticia said.


"All right," Harry said, nodding.


"Very well. I’ll be speaking with you again soon. Good day," Leticia said, sweeping from the room.


Harry was still mulling over the offer. It was a chance to be alone with Ginny at the beach – only having one brother to avoid rather than five. Where was the down side? Perhaps Ron might even be so distracted by Hermione that he’d give Harry and Ginny some privacy…


Charlie seemed to know exactly where Harry’s thoughts were leading. "Don’t even think about it, Potter," he said, scowling. "Bill might be too distracted by Fleur and the baby at the moment, but that doesn’t mean I can’t pop in to check on you – at any undisclosed time."


"Get over yourself, Charlie," Ginny said, rolling her eyes. "You’re never very good at playing the overprotective role. I know exactly what you got up to when you were our age. Did Mum ever learn the full story about Alfreda Dobbins?"


Charlie blanched. "How do you know about…" he asked, trailing off with widening eyes.


"Don’t be ridiculous," Ginny said with a wave of her hand. "You used the treehouse, Charlie! It’s full of holes."


"Listen to me, Ginny," Charlie said, his ears as red as Ron’s sometimes turned.


"I’ve never said anything," Ginny replied, smiling sweetly. "You keep my secrets, I keep yours. That’s how it works."


"That was a long time ago," Charlie said, his teeth clenched. Harry’s head was bobbing back and forth between the two as if watching a tennis match.


"True, but Mum would be mortified to know she stood in front of all those neighbors swearing you didn’t even know Alfreda, and it was so far from the truth," Ginny said, her smile growing threatening. "I think you’ll do your best to convince Mum that letting Ron and I go along with Harry is a grand idea."


Charlie looked as if he was about to hit her before a slow grin spread across his wide face. "Some Muggle test proved Ritchie Cortland was that baby’s father, anyway. Well done," he said. "I don’t think even Fred and George have managed to hold their own when I’ve been really angry."


"That’s because your arm is the size of a tree trunk," Ginny said, rolling her eyes. "They’re far from stupid. Come on, Charlie."


"All right," Charlie said. "I don’t think Mum will have a problem with it, anyway. It’s not like you’ll be unsupervised. Ted and Andromeda Tonks will be there."


If Andromeda Tonks was anything like her daughter or Sirius, Harry didn’t think she’d be much of a hindrance.


"Excellent," Ginny said, her eyes twinkling. If the expression on Ginny’s face was any indication, she was as eager as he was to get away from the vast number of Weasleys and share some private time with him.


Harry liked that idea very much.




A/N: Thanks so much to my wonderful beta, Sherylyn, for always enthusiastic comments and for trying to help me understand British "phrase logic"! Hee. Thanks also to KEDme, Dianne, and GhostWriter for all their help and feedback.
Thanks also for the DSTA nods. They always give me such a big grin!


I had a comment last chapter that things had really slowed down. He’s right, but….well, that’s how these last few chapters are going to be. The wrap-up probably could have been done in a chapter or two, but the aftermath is my favorite part while reading, and I know I’ve had comments from others that they like it, too. So, if you just want to know how it ends, give it a few weeks and read it all in one go. If not…enjoy the slow ending and little details. :)



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