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.
And Life Goes On
An unearthly fog covered the length of the Weasley meadow, where only moments before a celebration of life had been taking place. The floating candles had all been extinguished by the cold, damp fog that always accompanied the presence of Dementors. Shouts and muffled grunts mixed with the sounds of rapid spellfire as those guests who had chosen to stay and fight attempted to hold back the approaching Dementors. Death Eaters could be seen gathering along the edge of the forest, casting a barrage of spells and further weakening the already strained wards.
Harry was cold and feeling slightly dizzy from the intensity of the memories flashing through his mind. His teeth chattered as he moved quickly toward the crouched figures of Fleur and Bill, Ginny’s hand held firmly in his own. He could feel her small body trembling, and he knew the Dementors were affecting her as badly as they were him.
"What are you doing ‘ere, ‘Arry?" Fleur hissed, directing her butterfly Patronus toward the direction Harry had just sent Prongs. Her beautiful white wedding robes were smeared with dirt and mud, and one sleeve looked as if it had been singed. "If zose Death Eaters do get in, zey will come right for you. You should evacuate now."
"I’m not leaving," Harry said firmly, his eyes locked with Bill’s. This was as much his home as any other place he’d ever stayed, and he would not leave it without a fight. He saw a look of acceptance and understanding flash on Bill’s scarred face, and he was grateful for it.
Finally, someone who wouldn’t treat him as if he were a child.
Bill nodded, and Fleur apparently took this as reason enough to cease her demands. Auntie Muriel’s tiara remained perched on her head, shimmering as the lights from various spells illuminated it. The thought rose unbidden in Harry’s mind that it was Ginny’s right to wear that one day, and he’d see to it that she got the chance.
"What are you trying to do?" he asked.
Bill sighed heavily, and Harry was struck by how strained and exhausted the eldest Weasley sibling appeared. The scars lining his face stood out starkly against the paleness of his skin. "The wards around the Burrow are failing. That loud clanging sound and the flickering lights that appear every few seconds are indications that the wards are about to collapse. I’m trying to strengthen them, but I don’t know if I can."
"Strengthen them how?" Harry asked.
"I designed the framework for these wards by using strength from the positive emotions that I feel for the Burrow," Bill said, and Harry could easily envision him as a Professor of Ancient Runes. "The wards are capable of being strengthened by transferring power from a witch or wizard connected to the place within the boundaries. I reckoned that one of us would always be here in case of an attack and could use our emotions to power it. I hadn’t expected the sheer number of spells being cast in each direction, however. The Burrow has always been crowded, but not this crowded."
"So, anyone who feels strongly about the Burrow could do it?" Harry asked, furrowing his brow.
"Anyone who feels positively about it, yes. It takes a lot of power, Harry, which is why I can’t even stand up right now," Bill warned. "I don’t think I have the strength to hold them up much longer."
Fleur placed her hand protectively on Bill’s shoulder.
"What if we try to do it together?" Harry asked, and now he felt Ginny’s hand on his own shoulder.
Bill looked at Harry uncertainly, his eyes flicking back and forth between his sister and Harry. Harry though he appeared vaguely uncomfortable, but he couldn’t dwell on that now.
"Look, I love this place as if it were my own, and you said yourself that what you’re doing now isn’t going to work," Harry said with a hint of annoyance.
"I don’t have time to teach you all the spells and wand movements in a few seconds, Harry, but I think I can continue casting them by using your strength and transferring it to the wards," Bill said contemplatively. "Head to that hill over there and climb to the top; that way, we can cover the whole area. On my signal, you have to project all the positive emotion and anything good you feel about this place into your thoughts. I’ll take it from there. Make certain to have some cover, though, as this will leave you feeling very drained."
"I want to help, too. I’ll go with you," Ginny said immediately, her eyes glinting with determination.
"No. Stay and help Fleur cover Bill; he’s more exposed here, and we can’t lose more than one Patronus while I’m up there," Harry replied, knowing she’d hate the answer.
Ginny frowned and stared back and forth between Harry and Bill, lying on the ground. Finally, she looked out across the meadow at the pitifully few Patronuses struggling to hold back the surging Dementors. Nodding, she squared her shoulders and whispered, "Be careful," before kissing him fiercely.
"You, too," Harry replied, squeezing her hand once.
He turned, crouching down low and running behind some of the others, as he moved carefully toward the small hill that Bill had indicated. He stumbled several times as waves of Dementor-inspired memories crashed over him. By the time he’d climbed the hill and reached the right spot, he was panting from exertion.
He could barely distinguish Bill and Ginny through the smoke, but thank Merlin for that red hair; he could spot it anywhere. He’d also been able to spot the twins standing near the perimeter with Tonks, her wolf Patronus signaling their position. He wished he could see Remus, but that search would have to wait.
When Bill sent red sparks into the air, Harry shut his eyes and channeled every positive thought and memory he had about the Burrow into the front of his mind. He had many to choose from and started focusing on memories of the Burrow connected with all that lived there.
He remembered the wonder and awe he’d felt as a twelve-year old coming to stay here for the first time. He’d learned so much that summer, not only about the wizarding world, but also about how it felt to really be a part of a family. He’d experienced how it felt to belong and not simply be cast aside as a nuisance.
He remembered the smell of freshly baked scones, roasted chicken, treacle tart, steak and kidney pie and all his other favorite foods that Mrs. Weasley had quickly discovered and always served in ample supply. He remembered the feeling of pleasure he’d felt that first time she’d washed and darned his socks right along with Ron’s and her other children’s. She’d folded them and put them back in his trunk, and he’d sat there in slack-jawed amazement for a full minute until Ron had asked him what was wrong. Aunt Petunia had usually just given him the socks once Dudley poked holes in them; Mrs. Weasley had actually mended them for him.
Harry took a deep, steadying breath and continued focusing on his memories.
He remembered Mr. Weasley’s shed, full of more electrical sockets than anyone could ever need in a lifetime, and the elder man’s open glee over sharing his discoveries. He remembered not only being asked his opinion for the first time, but also actually feeling as if his answer mattered.
Harry’s legs shook as he stumbled but managed to remain upright.
He remembered Quidditch matches in the meadow, tossing gnomes in the garden, and the camaraderie of a slap on the back from a group of redheads that had treated him as another brother, rather than the freak in the cupboard. He had laughed here, really laughed and enjoyed the summers for the first time in his young life.
Harry’s legs finally gave out, and he stumbled to the ground, panting heavily. He was tired, and his head ached, but he pushed the positive memories through and battled against those the Dementors tried to force to the front.
He remembered the face of the prettiest girl he’d ever seen smiling at him warmly in greeting, her eyes alight with such warmth, compassion and downright orneriness he thought he could drown in their depth. He remembered kissing her barely an hour before, and the feeling that he could do anything as long as she remained in his arms.
Harry needed his arms to support his weight now, yet still he pushed the memories and emotions forward.
This was the home of his best friend, the friend who’d opened his arms wide and shared his family with a lonely boy who’d never had even a glimpse of such a life. It was the home of the girl he loved, the girl who loved him enough to let him go. It was the home of the family that had stood by him and believed in him when no one else had, and he would not allow it to be taken from them now.
Not if he could help it.
A loud surge of blinding light illuminated the meadow for a brief moment, and Harry had to shut his eyes against the glare. A whoop of joy that unmistakably belonged to one of the twins filled the air and caused Harry to blink dazedly. Shouts of glee filled the night, and Harry became aware that his body was no longer chilled. He could find no trace of the Dementors.
He lay on the ground, panting, for a moment, trying to summon the energy to stand. He could see Prongs cantering back towards him and running with a small Jack Russell terrier Patronus that he knew belonged to Ron.
Ron was all right! He was somewhere in this chaos, and hopefully that would mean Hermione was all right, as well.
He recognized most of the faces remaining in the meadow and hoped that meant that Mrs. Weasley had managed to help the other guests escape. He fought against the dimness trying to encroach upon his vision, shaking his head in an attempt to clear it. The motion caused his world to tilt alarmingly, and for a moment he thought he might get sick. He had just managed to control his nausea with a few deep breaths when Ginny appeared by his side.
"Harry!" she shouted, dropping to her knees beside him and cradling his head in her lap while gently running her fingers through his hair. "Are you all right? Oh, you poor thing. Bill said you’d be exhausted. You did it, Harry! You really did it. You were magnificent."
Harry grinned and leaned into her touch. "It worked then, yeah?"
"It worked splendidly," Ginny replied, her eyes bright with excitement. "Not only did you strengthen the wards, but you somehow pushed them even further back and forced the Dementors out, as well. I literally saw one Death Eater’s body being flung through the air. You were brilliant, Harry. Even Bill is impressed, and it takes a lot to impress him. I wouldn’t be surprised if he offers you a job after you leave Hogwarts."
"Yeah? Harry Potter, Curse Breaker, eh?" Harry said, managing a weak smile. "Maybe if being an Auror doesn’t work out for me."
"Let’s get you back to the house where you can rest. Do you think you can stand?" Ginny asked.
Harry tried to rise on his elbows but couldn’t manage to make his body respond and flopped back onto the ground. "Right here is fine," he said, fighting to keep his eyes open. Suddenly, he felt his world tilt again as he was scooped up into thick, heavily muscled arms.
"Come on, Harry. Let’s get you out of here," Charlie Weasley said. "Ginny can say thanks by snogging your brains out later."
"She said I was magnificent," Harry said, slurring his words.
"Yeah, well, don’t let it go to your head, mate. She said you were a hopeless idiot yesterday. She’s always been temperamental, that one," Charlie replied, grinning.
"Hey!" Ginny cried, slapping her brother on the arm. "I’m right here, you know."
Despite his closed eyes, Harry could tell Ginny was smiling. He was too tired to care that Charlie was carrying him to the Burrow, so he just let his body relax, and the dimness on the edge of his vision covered his eyes completely.
The tinkling of glass, the drone of muted music, and the distant peals of laughter were the sounds Harry heard as he slowly drifted back to awareness. He was warm and comfortable and felt more secure than he had in quite some time. He wasn’t willing to give that up by opening his eyes just yet.
"Exactly how long are you going to pretend to still be asleep, Harry?" Ginny asked. He could hear the amusement in her voice as that sweet, flowery scent he always associated with her wafted across his nostrils. "You’re not hurt, and being too tired is no excuse to deny me the dancing that was promised me."
"We danced," Harry said, smiling but keeping his eyes closed.
"Barely! You’ll have to do better than that to keep me satisfied," she said primly.
"Is that so?" Harry asked, enjoying the banter. He opened his eyes wide as memories of the night crashed down upon him.
He sat up suddenly, glancing around the room and feeling slightly panicked. He felt his heart rate increase as he recognized his surroundings. He was back in the one place that he’d sworn he never wanted to see again. He was back at Grimmauld Place…at Sirius’s house.
He was lying on a couch in one of the small sitting rooms off the main hallway, and his head had been resting on Ginny’s lap. She rubbed his back soothingly, apparently understanding his dismay.
"Why are we here?" he asked tightly, struggling to do anything but look around at his surroundings.
Ginny moved closer and wrapped her arm around his stiff shoulders. "We sent a lot of refugees from the wedding here, remember? Mum was too uptight to leave anyone at the Burrow until the wards are thoroughly checked, so we’ve moved in for the night. Bill and Fleur absolutely refused to allow Voldemort to spoil their special day. They’ve continued the party right in the ballroom; the band set up their equipment and are down there playing right now."
Harry could hear the grudging respect for what Fleur had done in Ginny’s voice.
"Bill’s all right?" he asked. If he felt as bad as he did, certainly Bill couldn’t be dancing. He cracked his neck from side to side, trying to judge if had the strength to dance. He felt as if he could sleep for a week, and it galled him to think Bill was in much better shape.
"Oh, he’s just sort of propped up in a corner, watching Fleur dance. He can barely keep his eyes open, but she wasn’t about to let him use up all his remaining energy dancing. I’m certain she has other plans for him this evening," Ginny replied, her eyes twinkling.
It took a moment for the full impact of what Ginny said to sink in, and when it did Harry blushed crimson. "Ginny!"
Her words stirred images about what Bill and Fleur might get up to that he really didn’t want to think about. Having Ginny pressed so nicely against him caused his train of his thought to switch tracks to images of her that none of her brothers would want him thinking about, and his anatomy began to respond. He shifted uncomfortably, the collar of his shirt suddenly becoming unbearably tight.
"That caught your attention," Ginny said, smirking as if she knew exactly what she’d done.
She was right, too; he had been preoccupied with the idea of being back at Grimmauld Place until she’d moved his thoughts to other things.
"Ron and Hermione," he said suddenly, staring into her eyes with alarm. "I saw Ron’s Patronus, so I know he did turn up eventually, but-"
"Nothing to worry about," Ginny said soothingly, shaking her head and placing her soft hand on his lips. "Hermione did get cursed with something, but she’d already been tended to by Mum when I saw her. I haven’t got the full story out of anyone yet, as I’ve been rather preoccupied with you, but I believe it had something to do with an altercation between Ron and Viktor Krum."
Harry groaned and dropped his head into his hands. Ron, what did you do?
"All three of them are here somewhere. Ron’s been by several times to check on you, along with Fred, George, Charlie and Mum. Every ten minutes or so one of them pops their head in. I think it’s a conspiracy," Ginny whispered dramatically. Soft wisps of hair had broken free from the intricate knot on her head and tickled his face as she leaned near him. He longed to free the rest of her hair and let it fall loose.
"Don’t they trust us?" he asked, grinning.
"Should they?" she asked, arching her brow.
"Well, we’d best live up to our as yet unearned reputation, shouldn’t we?" he asked, quickly rolling over and twisting so that she was now resting back on the couch, and he was leaning over her. More pieces of her hair came undone as he pressed his lips to hers and lost himself in the sweetness of the kiss.
It felt like only an instant later when there was a sharp clearing of a throat from the entranceway to the room. Harry pulled back reluctantly, to find Ron standing in the doorway, glowering, his lower lip swollen to twice its natural size.
"Do you have to do that?" he asked, his speech oddly distorted from his fat lip.
"Most definitely," Harry replied cheekily and quickly planted another kiss on Ginny’s lips. "What happened to you?"
Harry and Ginny sat up and moved apart slightly on the couch, as Ron entered the room and took a seat across from them.
"Well, if you hadn’t noticed because of all your snogging with my sister…there was a battle with Death Eaters at my house a bit ago, Harry," Ron said, disgruntled.
"You don’t say? That would explain why I’m flat on my back then, wouldn’t it? Funny, I don’t remember seeing you during the battle," Harry said, cocking his eyebrow.
"You told him," Ron said, scowling at Ginny.
"Of course I did," Ginny replied, smirking and snuggling closer to Harry again. He wrapped his arm around her and ignored Ron’s glare.
"What happened to Hermione?" he asked, torn between enjoying seeing Ginny spar with Ron and wanting the details before it erupted into all-out sibling warfare.
"Vicky tried to get me with a Reducto spell that ricocheted off Mum’s hutch and hit Hermione. Mum patched her up, but she’s not talking to me. As if it’s my fault," Ron said, crossing his arms across his chest and scowling at the room in general.
"Why did he try to curse you?" Harry asked, suddenly feeling very tired again.
"He could have been provoked," Ron admitted grudgingly. "That’s not the point, though. He curses her, and she won’t talk to me. How am I supposed to ever figure that one out?"
Harry groaned. "What did you do, Ron? Why were you hexing each other? I thought you’d told me earlier that you knew Hermione went to the wedding as your date. I thought everything was okay between you."
"It was okay until that git tried to make his move on my girl," Ron said angrily, and Harry suspected he didn’t even realize how he’d referred to Hermione. "After you went off with Ginny, I knew you’d end up snogging, and I didn’t want to see it, so I went to look for Hermione. I found her cozied up with Vicky back inside the Burrow."
"But Ron, I thought we’d talked about this. She went to the wedding with you, as your date. I thought you were okay with her and Viktor," Harry said wearily.
"I was okay with it when he was just an old boyfriend on the dance floor, but I wasn’t okay with finding him chatting her up while she was wearing that dress and looking like that and sitting in my house at my kitchen table. No bloke would be okay with that, Harry," Ron finished with a shout, his ears as bright as his hair.
He had a point. Harry hadn’t liked seeing Jean-Luc with Ginny, and there wasn’t even a past between them. For the first time, Harry understood and sympathized with Ron’s feelings about Viktor.
"So, what happened? And what do you mean you knew we’d end up snogging?" Harry asked, suddenly realizing what Ron had said.
Ron rolled his eyes. "Come off it, Harry. You haven’t been able to keep your eyes off of her all week, and Merlin knows she wanted to snog you. She can’t seem to control herself."
"Hey!" Ginny cried indignantly.
"Neither of you were very discreet," Ron said, sounding remarkably like Percy at that moment
"Obviously not, if you noticed," Ginny replied coolly, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Well, obviously I was right if what I just walked in on was any indication. Good thing I wasn’t Mum," Ron said, narrowing his eyes.
"Mum is so grateful to Harry right now that we could have been shagging, and she would have allowed it," Ginny replied dismissively.
"Ginny!" Harry yelped, glancing quickly at Ron to gauge his reaction. He sat stone still and gaped like a fish.
"Well, she is. You saved the Burrow, Harry. She’d look the other way for just about anything right now. You really should use that to your advantage and let her know that you’re not coming back to our house. Get that out of the way," Ginny said, biting her lip in thought.
That’s not a bad idea, Harry thought, wondering how Ginny already knew he wasn’t going back. They hadn’t yet discussed anything about the future. He only knew that he wanted her in his.
"I can’t let her know my plans when I’m not even certain what they are yet. Besides, I would have helped Bill no matter what," Harry said sincerely.
"About that, Harry…I’m really sorry," Ron said, staring intently at the carpet.
"Sorry for what?" Harry asked.
"Sorry for not being there when the fighting started. I promised you that I’d be at your side through this whole thing, and I let stupid Vicky distract me at the first hint of trouble. I didn’t even know about the Dementors because I was so busy rowing. Then, when Hermione got hurt, I lost it. I couldn’t think of anything else but getting her sorted. It wasn’t until you were already up on that hill helping Bill that I got my arse into gear. I should have been right there with you the whole time," Ron said, his shoulders slumping.
"We both should have done, Harry," Hermione said from the doorway. She was very pale, and her eyes were shining bright with unshed tears as she gazed intently at Ron.
"Hermione!" Harry said, relieved to see her up and walking.
"Are you all right?" she asked, her eyes darting to him for a moment to do a cursory inspection.
"I’m fine. You’re the one who got hurt, from what I’m hearing," Harry replied.
"Oh, it’s nothing. I need to take it easy for a few days and take a potion for a few cracked ribs. Nothing too serious. You’ve been out of it completely, and Ginny wouldn’t let anyone near you," Hermione said with a disapproving sniff.
Ginny blushed, abashed. "He was sleeping."
"It looks like things are okay between you two. I’m happy for you. You really were being silly, Harry," Hermione said, smiling fondly at both him and Ginny.
Harry ignored her slight rebuff. "Speaking of being silly…" he said, staring pointedly at her and Ron.
Hermione raised her nose slightly in the air. "As usual, Ron overreacted."
"Overreacted, did I? When I walked into the kitchen he had his hands all over you. What was I supposed to think?" Ron demanded angrily.
"All over me? He most certainly did not, Ronald Weasley. He asked if I was happy, and I assured him that I was. We embraced and would have ended the conversation there if you hadn’t stormed into the room as if the hounds of hell were on your tail," Hermione said waspishly.
"He had his hands…wait…what? You told him you were happy? With me?" Ron asked, suddenly sounding very insecure.
Hermione’s eyes softened. "Did it really worry you when you thought I was hurt?" she asked in a small voice.
Harry immediately wished he were somewhere else. Anywhere else. Ron and Hermione were his best friends in the world, but he really didn’t want to be a witness to this side of their relationship.
"So, is Mum still hanging all over Percy?" Ginny asked. Obviously, she was uncomfortable with Ron and Hermione’s conversation, as well.
"Percy? Percy is still here?" Harry asked.
"Yeah. He was still talking with Mum and Dad when the attack began, and Mum just insisted we all stay together," Ginny replied.
"The git was shocked that Death Eaters would actually attack the Burrow. It was as if he couldn’t believe they would ever actually take notice of it…or us. I know Mum is happy to have him here and talking to her, but I don’t trust him. I don’t think he should be here," Ron said darkly.
"I was wondering about that, Harry," Hermione ventured tentatively. "I mean, there are a lot of new people here learning about headquarters. Do you really think it was such a good idea to use this place as a sanctuary?"
"Yes," Harry replied shortly.
"I mean, obviously it was imperative to get everyone to safety, but the Ministry has safe houses and checkpoints for just such occasions," Hermione said.
"I think using this house as a sanctuary for anyone running from the Death Eaters, or from the Ministry, is exactly what Sirius would have wanted," Harry replied quietly. "Besides, I’m certain Mad Eye is performing Memory Charms on anyone who leaves, and with the Fidelius Charm in place, no one can reveal the location, anyway."
"They can’t reveal the location, but they can reveal who is here and who they think is in charge," Hermione insisted.
"How come the Fidelius still works if Dumbledore is d…" Ron asked, trailing off with a sharp glance in Harry’s direction.
"The Fidelius doesn’t end when the Secret Keeper dies, or else all anyone would have to do is kill the Secret Keeper. It’s a slow, gradual fade of the magic, and it leaves time to reapply the charm with a new Secret Keeper. Professor McGonagall is ours, I believe," Hermione said.
"She is," Ginny said, nodding. "Percy isn’t the only potential security risk here. There are several of Fleur’s extended family here that we know nothing about."
"And I’d say Jean-Lucifer is too stupid to be a Death Eater, but they took Scabbers, so you can never tell," Ron said, grimacing.
Harry had forgotten about Jean-Luc with all the chaos after the attack. He glanced quickly at Ginny to see her reaction.
She simply rolled her eyes. "You weren’t very nice to him," she said to the room at large, although she didn’t appear concerned over it.
"Harry hates him," Ron replied, as if that settled everything.
"None of us liked Jean-Luc," Harry said indignantly. "I think Fred and George were planning to prank him, although I don’t know if they ever did."
"They didn’t," Ginny said, picking a piece of lint off the skirt of her robes.
"How do you know?" Ron asked.
"Because Bill warned them off doing it. Jean-Luc was making Harry jealous, and Bill thought it was the best thing to push him past his nobility complex. Fleur put him up to it, actually," Ginny replied, futilely trying to control her grin.
"So it was a conspiracy?" Harry asked, dumbfounded at the lengths all the Weasleys would go in order to set him up.
"Of sorts," Ginny replied, shrugging. "Don’t mess with us Weasleys."
"What’s this I hear of Weasleys being messed with? That just can’t be allowed," Fred said as he entered room.
His robes were torn and dirty, and he’d magically stuck flowers in odd locations to mask the destruction. Of course, the plan had failed miserably and only enhanced the ruin. Somehow, Harry suspected that was exactly what Fred had intended.
"It’s wrong on so many levels," George replied in that odd way of sharing the same thought with his twin.
"What are you gits doing here? I thought you were busy groping all of Fleur's friends," Ron asked, sounding both disgusted and proud of his elder brothers.
A wave of exhaustion flowed over Harry once again, and he leaned back against the couch and shut his eyes as he listened to his friends banter.
Fred sighed dramatically. "So many women…
"…so little time," said George.
"Why didn’t the two of you get your own dates for this wedding, anyway?" Ginny asked. "I’m certain there must be some witches somewhere who haven’t been warned off yet."
"Dates?" asked Fred in mock horror. "Why would we want to bring dates to an event where there would be many beautiful French women…"
"French Veela women," George added.
"…who hadn’t yet had the pleasure of being introduced to us. We were willing to sacrifice ourselves for their greater benefit," Fred said.
"Good grief," Ginny said, rolling her eyes and elbowing Harry in the ribs. He’d started to drift off again. He opened his eyes owlishly wide and tried to focus on the conversation.
"What about Angelina?" Hermione asked. "I’d thought that you two were seeing each other."
"Angelina?" Fred asked, blinking. "We went to Yule Ball together back in sixth year, but as far as I know it wasn’t a lifetime commitment. If it were, technically you should be sitting on that couch with Viktor Krum."
Ron’s expression soured instantly, and Hermione’s cheeks pinkened.
"Oh, let’s not do this again," Ginny said with a tired sigh. "What are you two up to, anyway? You had extremely guilty expressions on your faces when you came in here."
"Us? Guilty expressions?" Fred asked in mock horror.
"We’ll have you know, sister dear, that we’ve perfected the art of covering our guilt with expressions of nonchalance," George replied, scowling.
"We did not appear the least built guilty," said Fred.
"Uh, huh," Ginny replied drolly.
"We were merely avoiding Mum’s wrath. She’s quite put out at the moment, because it appears the nightingales from the wedding ceremony have not only followed us here, but have also taken an odd liking to Percy’s head," George replied with a mischievous grin.
"They’re fluttering about in a most unattractive way," said Fred.
"And you know nothing about that?" Ginny asked.
"Well, I suppose it could have something to do with the reproducing bird feed we sprinkled in his hair when he wasn’t looking," George said, scratching his head thoughtfully
"With a disillusionment charm on it, of course," said Fred.
Harry, Ginny and Ron all sniggered, while Hermione tut-tutted her disapproval. Harry’s eyes were itchy, and he tried unsuccessfully to cover another yawn.
"Mum is over the moon that he’s here, but Moody is insisting he can’t leave without a Memory Charm. They’re battling it out now. Moody is handing out Memory Charms like Honeydukes chocolate," George said.
"Well, then, let’s go and get our last dances in before the party is over completely," Ginny said brightly.
"I don’t think Harry looks up for much dancing, Ginny," Hermione said, glancing at Harry. He forced himself to sit up straighter.
Ginny looked Harry over for a moment before nodding resolutely. "He’ll be fine. We need one good night before we decide on what happens tomorrow."
Harry knew she was right. They hadn’t really discussed much of anything. They’d spent most of the time since reuniting snogging each other senseless. Not that that was a bad thing, mind, but he would have to make some hard decisions on the morrow. For tonight, he wanted this one last chance at glittering fairy lights and pretending the future didn’t appear so bleak.
Leaning on Ginny and Ron, he followed the others from the room to have that one last dance.
The next morning, Harry sat in Sirius’s old spot at the worn kitchen table at Grimmauld Place. He sipped a steaming cup of coffee and tried to figure out his next move, as he fingered the tiara that Fleur had worn yesterday, which he’d found on the table this morning. He’d planned on leaving for Godric’s Hollow today with Ron and Hermione, but that was before Hermione got hurt, and Ron had had to abandon his home. Now, he didn’t know what he was going to do.
And then there was the complication of Ginny.
Harry knew she suspected they had planned on leaving, but she was still trying to piece together what they were going to do. He knew now that he couldn’t cut her out of things entirely – he needed her. He found he was far more focused now that he wasn’t worried about where she was and what she was doing.
Still, he’d promised Dumbledore only to reveal the information about the Horcruxes to Ron and Hermione. He hadn’t even told Professor McGonagall when she’d asked what they’d been doing. He couldn’t break that promise, and he hoped Ginny would see it that way. He did have to tell her about the prophecy, however. He owed her that much. But the Horcruxes…
He trusted her implicitly, of course, but a promise was a promise. He supposed it was his own way of hanging on to his connection to Dumbledore, but he felt he still needed that. He ran his hand through his tousled hair and groaned.
"Things that bad, are they, lad?" Moody’s voice croaked.
Harry looked up to see the grizzled ex-Auror standing in the doorway, squinting his one good eye as he scrutinized Harry.
"Things could be better," Harry replied wryly.
"Aye, that they could," Moody said, sitting down at the table with Harry.
"Can I ask you something?" Harry asked.
"Appears to me you just did," replied Moody.
"When an Auror is on a case, is there a spell he can perform to detect if Dark Magic has been used?" Harry asked, thinking back to a cold, dank cave on a chilly spring night.
"Of course there is," Moody said shortly.
"Can you teach me?" Harry asked.
Moody’s glass eye narrowed as he studied him. He was silent for a moment before he waved his wand towards the open door. A moment later, a small black case came zooming into the kitchen. Moody opened it and pulled out what looked to Harry like a pair of theatre glasses.
"This is used by upcoming Aurors during training. It’s a Spell Detector. When you wear it, you can see traces of a magical imprint surrounding objects. Dark magic shows as red," Moody said, pushing the glasses towards Harry. "As an Auror becomes more proficient with them, some can even use their wand and a Revealo spell to detect the imprints, but you need to be able to achieve a unique level of concentration to detect the colors."
"Professor Dumbledore did it with just his hands," Harry mumbled, his mind in the not-so-distant past.
"Well, that was Dumbledore, wasn’t it?" Moody said gruffly.
"It can have a feel to it, too, can’t it? Just enough to cause a shiver, maybe?" Harry asked, searching for the words to relate his meaning.
Moody glanced sharply and appraisingly at Harry. Harry had the vague feeling that Moody was somehow impressed. "Anyone able to feel a magical imprint would have to be mighty powerful, indeed. That would be a highly useful skill for anyone who wanted to be an Auror. One would want to keep such abilities quiet. That kind of information should be kept from the wrong hands."
"Indeed," Harry replied, his eyes widening. Had he really felt something that night in the cave when Dumbledore was looking for the traces of Voldemort’s concealment? Harry couldn’t be certain, but he at least now had a way to attempt to find out.
"Can I borrow this?" he asked, holding the Spell Detector.
"I don’t think I’d notice if it went missing," Moody replied, shrugging.
Harry nodded and tucked the black case into his shirt pocket. "Where is everyone this morning?" he asked.
Moody slowly poured himself a cup of coffee. "Avoiding me, most likely," he said at last. "None of the Weasleys are too happy with me right now."
"Because of Percy?" Harry asked. He knew Percy had finally managed to leave headquarters the previous evening, and he could tell that Mrs. Weasley hadn’t been happy about whatever arrangements had been made.
"I understand he’s Molly and Arthur’s boy, but he’s a liability. It’s my job to concern myself with liabilities," Moody said gruffly.
"You used a Memory Charm, then?" Harry asked.
"No, but I still think we should have. Molly was adamant that he be allowed to remember reconciling with his family. Memory Charms are tricky business, mind, so I couldn’t promise her that. We finally settled on an Unbreakable Vow. Arthur agreed to it, but Molly was livid. I don’t envy being in Arthur’s position this morning," Moody said with a grimace.
Harry sniggered over the idea that battle-scarred Mad-Eye Moody was intimidated by Molly Weasley. Not that Harry wasn’t, as well, but still…
"She probably won’t speak to me for days before she lets loose again," Moody said. "I’ll miss the meals. I haven’t eaten this well in years."
"I don’t know. I don’t think Mrs. Weasley could let anyone go hungry, no matter how angry she was," Harry said.
Moody chuckled. "Let’s hope you’re right. She doesn’t have a soft spot for me like she does you."
Harry grinned and said cheekily, "Lucky me, then."
The kitchen door swung open again, admitting Ginny and Hermione. Both girls looked rather disgruntled and only half-awake. Harry poured them both cups of coffee, and they accepted gratefully.
"Morning, ladies," Moody said.
Both merely grunted.
"Why did you get up if you’re still so tired?" Harry asked.
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Do you know my mother? She’s on a rampage this morning about cleaning this place up before we go back to the Burrow."
"She is rather adamant about leaving," Hermione said sleepily. .
Ginny took the tiara from Harry’s hands. "This belongs to my Auntie Muriel. There is a great story behind it. It—,"
"She wants us busy so we don’t look around too much," Hermione said, suddenly wide-awake.
"Pardon?" Ginny asked, frowning and placing the tiara back on the table.
"Your mum. She doesn’t want us looking around here too much," Hermione said, raising her eyebrows significantly.
Harry suddenly remembered the conversations about a guest staying at Grimmauld Place.
"Good morning," Remus said, entering the kitchen with Tonks following closely behind him. "You’re all up bright and early today. I would have thought you’d all have wanted a lie-in after all the dancing last night."
"Who else is staying here?" Harry asked sharply, his eyes locked on Remus. Remus lowered his gaze to pour a cup of coffee.
"The Weasleys and the Delacours are here until the wards at the Burrow can be checked," Remus replied calmly.
"This is m-my house," Harry stated with a slight tremble in his voice that he hoped no one else heard. "I may have agreed that the Order could use this house, but I want to know who this mystery guest is; I want to know why he is here, and I want to know now."
Remus looked at Moody, who shrugged. "It is his house, and he appears to know more about what Dumbledore was up to than any of us."
Remus’s shoulders sagged. "I know," he said. "And Harry, we need to know what you’re planning in order to help you. We want to protect you."
"You can’t. No one can. I can’t tell you what I was doing with Professor Dumbledore, Remus. I promised him I wouldn’t. If he’d wanted the Order to know, he would have told you himself," Harry said firmly, feeling slightly uncomfortable in denying Remus.
Beneath the table, Ginny took his hand and squeezed it slightly. He gave her a weak smile, appreciating her support.
"Of course," Remus replied, and Harry could easily read his conflicting emotions. He trusted Dumbledore implicitly, but he also wanted to protect Harry. When would they ever understand that it was beyond them to do that now? It always had been.
"Who is the Order protecting?" Harry asked again.
"Draco and Narcissa Malfoy," Tonks said, speaking for the first time. Her face contorted into an ugly scowl. "My family."
Harry’s jaw dropped open. He wasn’t certain what he’d been suspecting, but that wasn’t it. Draco Malfoy? Here? Malfoy, the one who’d plotted Dumbledore’s death all last year? The one who’d led the Death Eaters onto school grounds in search of a little glory? And Narcissa! The one who’d plotted with Kreacher to get Sirius killed? Here? In Sirius’s house?
"What?" Harry exploded, pushing back his chair and causing it to clatter to the floor. He was at the door in two strides, ready to mount the stairs and strangle Malfoy with his bare hands.
Remus grabbed him by the shoulders and held him back. "Listen to me, Harry."
"What in Merlin’s name is he doing here?" Ginny demanded, her eyes blazing in fury.
Hermione’s face had turned chalk white, as she stared back and forth between Harry and Remus.
"He’s supplied us with some valuable information," Remus said, struggling to hold Harry back.
"Whatever it is, he’s lying," Harry snarled.
"He’s not. It’s information that has been confirmed," Remus said. "We were able to stop several deaths because of it."
Harry stopped struggling, breathing heavily. "Why would Malfoy give you any information? There has to be something in it for him."
"Of course there is. He has strong survival instincts. Voldemort ordered his death for failing to complete his orders. According to him, Snape helped him and Narcissa escape. They were trying to go into hiding when we caught them," Tonks said.
"Snape?" Harry snarled, seeing red again. "Why would he help them?"
"He’s always had a soft spot for Narcissa. Voldemort ordered her death, as well, for asking Snape to help Draco," Remus said softly.
"He killed Dumbledore, and Malfoy helped him do it," Harry said. He was physically shaking with fury.
"He got in over his head, Harry," Remus said, sighing wearily. "Look, I don’t believe he’s helping us out of any great desire to right past wrongs, but he does want to live. His only hope of being able to do that now is if we win; otherwise he knows he’ll be hunted for the rest of his life. And it won’t be a long one. It’s a forced partnership with mutual benefits for both sides. He doesn’t want to die, and he does want to protect his mother."
"She helped kill Sirius; I don’t want her here. She has no right to seek refuge in this house," Harry said, a hard lump forming in his throat.
Remus hung his head and answered in a strained voice, "I know, Harry. Believe me, I understand how you feel, but we have no choice. We no longer have our spy among the Death Eaters. Both Draco and Narcissa were heavily involved in some of Voldemort’s plans. They understand how the minds of the Death Eaters work better than we do. We can use their help."
"And in exchange they stay alive," Harry said bitterly.
Remus nodded, still keeping a hand on Harry’s shoulder. He could see Hermione fearfully watching him, waiting to see what he was going to do. Ginny’s expression was fierce; she didn’t like this any better than he did, but she was prepared to follow his lead.
"I hate this," he whispered, taking a deep breath.
"I know," Remus said sadly.
"That little ferret better stay out of my way. If I so much as see him, or hear him make one snide remark, he’ll never see the hex coming. And no one better stop me this time," Harry said fiercely.
He took one last look around at the pale faces of the others before storming from the room.
Harry spent the remainder of the day stewing over the fact that Malfoy was here, in Sirius’s house. His reaction could be called tame compared to the howl of rage Ron bellowed when he learned of the arrangement. Mrs. Weasley had been informed that they’d all have to remain at Grimmauld Place for a few days before anyone could inspect the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley hadn’t been pleased at all.
As he paced in his room, Harry came to the conclusion that he needed to get out. He needed to set his plan in motion, and something told him that his plan needed to commence at Godric’s Hollow. Something was drawing him there.
He’d promised Ron and Hermione that they’d work together to find the Horcruxes, and he still needed to figure out how Ginny fit into all this, but Godric’s Hollow was his own. This was his private quest. He wasn’t certain why he needed to go there so badly, but he knew that he did. And he knew he wanted to do it alone.
That night, as everyone slept and all was quiet in the house, Harry packed a light rucksack and took along the address Aunt Petunia had given him. He left a note telling Ginny not to worry and that he’d be back, there was just something he had to do first.
A/N: This chapter was written before JKR clarified how a Secret Keeper worked, so I left it as is. I do need others able to get into Grimmald Place.
Thanks so much to my beta, Mistral. She always makes these chapters read so nice. She even allowed me some slack on my love of exclamation marks this time! We had a miscommunication with emails this week and each were waiting on the other, so sorry about the delay.
I'd also like to express my huge thanks and appreciation to whoever nominiated me for a Dumbledore Silver Trinket Award. I can't tell you how pleased that made me. Thanks very much!