|SIYE Time:4:25 on 23rd June 2018|
Genres: Drama, General, Romance
Warnings: Death, Extreme Language, Intimate Sexual Situations, Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Sexual Situations, Violence
Summary: Things are not looking good for Harry Potter. Lord Voldemort has been defeated, but many of his Death Eaters are still on the loose, and Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, will not let Harry anywhere near them, insisting he needs time to recover from the trials of life on the run. And to top things off, he still canít manage to sort things out with his ex-girlfriend, Ginny.
Hitcount: Story Total: 7511; Chapter Total: 814
A/N: I hate this chapter lol. I don't think I fully considered the difficulties of splitting Harry and Ginny up or what kind of development I hoped would come from it but I already have this story mapped out so it kind of needed to happen without scrapping the whole fucking thing. I'm so grumpy right now but appreciate anyone who is still sticking along with me. I promise it won't be this shit forever. Also I wrote it in the shadow of Dolores O'Riordan's death - hence all the references to the Cranberries.
Edit on the Author's Note: Your reviews have all been too kind. I am still struggling with how I want to round things out from here but I am a lot less grumpy about this chapter than I was when I finished it at like one o'clock this morning. Thank you all xx
The images swirled around him, engulfing him fully, as if he were at the center of some grotesque panoptic cinema; first his father, falling in the foyer of the cottage at Godric's Hollow; then his mother, begging and pleading as a wand was pointed at her chest; Fred Weasley, his brown eyes staring without seeing in a rubble-filled Hogwarts corridor; Ginny, standing next to her bed, her expression anguished as Harry let her door swing shut behind him.
And suddenly he was on his knees, panting heavily as the cold flagstones of the training room pressed into his shins.
"Alright, up you get, Potter," a rough voice said from above him. "I'm not going to pretend that wasn't a bit pathetic."
"I've told you, Savage," Harry grunted. "I've always been a shit Occlumens, it's never mattered before…"
"Yes, Potter, I've read all about how you used your connection to You-Know-Who's mind to your advantage," Savage said with a sneer. "But You-Know-Who is dead, and since you'll be safeguarding Ministry secrets and highly classified information in that thick head of yours, its important that you know how to adequately defend it. Longbottom, forward!"
Harry slunk to the far wall of the room, where Ron sat, lazily practicing Patronuses. A Jack Russell terrier trotted happily around Harry as he sank down next to Ron.
"I could hex Rita Skeeter into oblivion for that bloody Horcrux article," Harry grumbled. "I fully intended to live the rest of my life without anyone knowing that I had part of Voldemort's soul stuck to mine for seventeen years."
"Yeah, well, Savage is pretty fucking savage if you ask me," Ron muttered darkly, handing Harry his canteen. Harry splashed cool water on his face. "He didn't have to say that."
"He's better than Snape was," Harry admitted. "I just can't figure out what it is about Occlumency that I can't get the hang of."
"Maybe you've just got a lot of feelings, mate," said Ron, a smile playing in the corner of his mouth. Only last week Ron had managed to close his mind to Savage's well-trained Legilimency. Kingsley's new government, which had split the Wizengamot into a separate court and parliament, had recently registered the use of both Legilimency and Veritaserum unethical in legal proceedings, but Aurors were still fully expected to master Occlumency in the event of encountering practiced Dark Legilimens in the field.
"Anyways," Ron continued, "you'd think Savage would appreciate being called off Giant detail to come train us for a bit."
"He's worried that those Patrols that Robards sent in to cover him will catch the Lestranges trying to recruit the Giants before he can," Ernie MacMillan conjectured, wandering over to where they were sitting and squatting down.
"Why do we even think the Lestranges will go for the Giants? Aren't they all in Siberia?" Ron asked, stifling a yawn behind his hand.
"Belarus," Harry answered quietly.
"Giants can be easily persuaded," Ernie said. "Some speculate the Lestranges still have wealth to offer, despite the Ministry seizing their gold."
"It doesn't help that no one's seen them in seven months, either. They could be anywhere," Padma Patil chimed in, twirling her wand idly as she joined their huddle.
Harry gazed around at his fellow apprentices. Five of them had signed up in response to Kingsley's announcement in the Prophet, and they had been in close quarters since late-August, when their training began.
The usual three years of Auror training had been condensed into less than nine months, as it was Kingsley's goal to have this batch of trainees in the field by April. The date could not seem farther away, however, as more and more days dragged by without a sighting of the Lestranges or Rowle. It seemed as though the missing Death Eaters were laying in wait, holding out for the perfect moment to strike.
Harry had been frustrated, at first, to not be allowed directly into the fray, given his experience, but he had to admit that Kingsley's taste for form had resulted in his magical skills becoming much more refined. Now, in late December, Harry was totally competent in nonverbal spells, could cast a Disillusionment Charm perfectly, and had managed to quickly brew antidotes to several common poisons. Most of this was thanks to a tiny witch with an eyepatch named Libba, who, up until a week ago, had been conducting most of their training. Apparently, however, Libba's Legilimency skills were rather subpar.
The four of them watched quietly as Savage brought Neville, too, to his knees. Harry had been trying his best not to let feelings of superiority shroud his willingness to learn over the last few months, but this had to be the final straw. Did Savage not realize that Neville had faced Voldemort head-on less than a year ago, when he was likely sitting in a cushy cubicle waiting for more Muggleborns to transport to Azkaban? Who was Savage, really, to be belittling them this way?
Neville made his way over to the rest of the group, where he collapsed in a sweaty heap. Harry passed him the canteen, which he refused. The inability of the Department to make any advancement in tracking down the Lestranges had perhaps hit Neville the hardest; the brothers were partially responsible for torturing his parents into permanent insanity.
Savage loomed over them. "Right," he huffed, apparently making a lame attempt at a rousing speech. "Let's see some improvement over the holidays, all right? Weasley, if you feel like taking the time over break to show the rest of this lot how it's done, I would be most indebted. MacMillan, I need your mockup arrest reports on my desk by six."
Harry was tempted to wipe the smug look off Ron's face with a cruel comment about how it must be easy to close one's mind when there's nothing in there to begin with, but he held back. It wasn't Ron's fault Harry was struggling. His frustration at being forced through these bureaucratic exercises was almost worse than the dread he had experienced that summer, idly waiting to return to Hogwarts.
He had thought, when Voldemort had first been defeated, that he'd want to be left alone, that he'd want peace and quiet; he knew himself better now. He'd never be able to take the backseat, and as his training wore on he became more and more frustrated with his own inaction; what was stopping him from going after the Lestranges on his own?
It was near-exclusively respect for Kingsley and his idealistic attempts to reshape the Ministry that kept Harry motivated through each day of training. Harry had never considered Kingsley to be particularly ambitious, but he'd been rebuilding the institution single-handedly for the last few months, severely limiting his own power in the process. There were hopes that the parliamentary body of the Wizengamot would have its first open elections in the coming year, while Kingsley would continue his role as Minister by overseeing the actual departments of the Ministry themselves.
The five of them gathered their things, Ernie clapping Neville enthusiastically on the back.
"Padma and I are going for a drink at the Leaky," he said boisterously. "Any of you want to join?"
Neville, who'd regained some of his coloring, looked blissful at the thought of a warm Firewhisky.
"Alright, then," he said, leading the group towards the door.
"What do you think?" Ron asked as they made their way out of the training room and through the halls of the Ministry. "Do we have time to stop by the Leaky Cauldron before the train arrives?"
Harry shook his head, holding up Fabian Prewett's battered watch for Ron to see. It was nearly six now, and Hermione would be upset if she had to wait. She's written about fifty letters to Harry articulating just how excited she was to see their new flat, how proud she was of them, and how much she'd missed them. She and Ron would be spending the first few days of the holiday at the Burrow before returning to the rooms in Soho that they had let that September.
Though Ron had been disheartened to learn that there had been few housing options in Diagon Alley, Harry rather preferred living in Muggle London. They were close to Charing Cross Road, but he received virtually no stares as he navigated the colorful streets and shops of his new neighborhood, and their rent was next to nothing thanks to the Confundus Charm he'd managed to place on their landlord. Hermione had called this decision "unethical", but the man was unpleasant and did something in finance, and Harry was certain that he would be well-off even without extorting thousands of Muggle pounds from Harry and Ron each month.
They'd nearly reached the Atrium when a door opened to Harry's right. Harry and Ron turned to see Kingsley step out of a conference room, surrounded by several harried-looking witches and wizards in plum-colored robes. Harry spotted Elphias Doge walking among them.
"Harry! Ron!" Kingsley greeted happily, clearly quite pleased to see them. "Training just let out for the holidays, then?"
"Yup," Ron nodded, gazing curiously into the room behind them.
"No such rest for us here, I'm afraid," Kingsley said good-naturedly. "Actually, Harry I was rather hoping to have a word. Ron, I'll be seeing you on the twenty-fifth, but enjoy your break."
Before Ron could object, Kingsley had beckoned Harry back into the meeting space, closing the door behind him.
"I apologize for being so abrupt," Kingsley said, taking a seat at the head of a long meeting table and gesturing for Harry to take the spot immediately to his left. "But I spoke with Savage this morning, and he seems concerned that-"
"Look," Harry said quickly, trying to make his voice apologetic. "I'm sorry about the Occlumency, I'll work at it more over the holidays…"
"What?" Kingsley asked sharply. "He hasn't said anything about your Occlumency skills, only that he believes you to be insubordinate. Harry, I'm going to be very frank with you. This process with the Department of Magical Law Enforcement is going to take years, and I want your input the whole way up; your's and Ron's and Hermione's. We have no established system for arresting individuals, holding trials, anything really. But we need to keep up the appearance that you are paying your dues, so that when it's time for Robards to step down, you are the obvious choice for his replacement…"
"Well, I'm not sure why that can't happen now. I haven't heard of a thing Robards is actually doing to find the Lestranges, and Savage keeps going on about how much he's doing, which is absolutely nothing."
Kingsley regarded Harry with a very genuine patience.
"Harry, I can't just sack people who have been working in the Department longer than even myself because they weren't openly fighting Voldemort. I'm trying to make this transition as seamless as possible. Right now, we have the support of most of our world behind us, but if I start replacing trained Aurors with eighteen-year-olds that don't even have their N.E.W.T.s, people are going to start questioning my judgement. Entire communities have been destroyed in the aftermaths of wars that weren't as severe as this one."
Harry knew this, but Savage was frustrating enough that he still struggled to find a counter to Kingsley's speech. He couldn't, and shrugged, smiling in spite of himself.
"Have a nice holiday, then," he told the Minister.
"You won't be at Molly and Arthur's?" Kingsley asked, surprised. "Arthur told me the whole family was using the holiday to bolster Molly's spirits; Bill invited me weeks ago."
Harry shook his head. "I told Andromeda Tonks I'd spend Christmas with her and Teddy."
"I'm surprised Fleur didn't invite them to the Burrow," Kingsley said, giving Harry an appraising look.
"She did, but I think Andromeda'd rather keep it quiet," Harry said, looking at his feet. Kingsley nodded understandingly and gave a small wave of his hand. Harry stood from the chair, quickly leaving the room and running to catch up with Ron.
They made their way into the lift, where Harry described his conversation with Kingsley to Ron, who looked unsurprised.
"Savage has to know that his job's at risk once we all advance," Ron said with a shrug. "Likely why he's always such a massive arsehole."
The lift thudded to a stop with an unearthly clanging sound and the pair made their way into the Atrium, walking to the center of the vast room before Disapparating with two loud cracks.
They rematerialized outside of King's Cross Station, where they quickly ducked into a telephone box to remove the robes that covered their Muggle street clothes. Harry could see Ron beginning to itch with impatience to see Hermione. Her last Hogsmeade weekend had been at the end of November, and it had been nearly three weeks since she and Ron had seen one another.
Harry felt almost entirely the opposite. It had been quite easy, these past few months, with Ginny out of sight, to keep her out of mind. Her name popped up occasionally in Hermione's letters, but beyond that he had not seen or heard from her since their disastrous break-up the day before her birthday. Harry had exiled himself to Percy's room for the remainder of the summer. He and Ron had moved into their flat shortly after Ginny and Hermione had returned to school.
The clock in the station struck six, and now Ron was practically bursting with excitement. They flew through the vast entrance of the station, launching themselves through the barrier between platforms nine and ten, only to collide with roughly half of Dumbledore's Army, who gave a great rallying cry at their appearance.
"There you two are!" Terry Boot cried excitedly. "Right in time, we're all meeting Neville at the Leaky Cauldron before heading home!"
Luna Lovegood, standing next to him, raised up her gold Galleon happily, indicating how Neville had summoned the group to the pub. Harry laughed and pulled her into a hug, his mood lifted considerably.
"You look well," he said.
"I've been moisturizing my skin with crushed fairy eggs," Luna said dreamily. "I believe it gives me a rather incandescent glow."
"Right," Harry said, only meaning that all of her cuts and abrasions from her time spent in the cellar of Malfoy Manor had finally completely healed.
"There you are!" a voice called from behind Michael Corner, who jumped in surprise. A bushy head of hair was pushing its way to the center of the gaggle that now surrounded Harry and Ron, and then Hermione was there, flinging herself onto them.
"It's good to see you," Harry said uncomfortably, extracting himself from her grip. Several passing lower-years were ogling at Ron and Hermione curiously, as they were now embracing each other quite intensely. Hermione made no attempt to reply, and Harry could see that her and Ron's lips had met.
Harry had stepped away, trying to ignore the wolf-whistles and chuckles when a voice interrupted his embarrassment from somewhere around his elbow.
"Oh, that is just so upsetting," Ginny said with a peal of laughter. "I'm going to have to wash my eyes out with soap."
Harry leapt, surprised to see her so close to him, and perhaps even more taken aback that she seemed to be talking to him. He turned away from her, shifting his gaze towards some vague point in front of him. Did she not remember their last exchange, back in August, when she had effectively pulled his heart from his chest and kicked it across her tiny bedroom? Harry knew that she was right; that it had to have stung to have not been consulted about his decision; but he still couldn't help but feel betrayed at how easily she had cut their ties.
"Are you coming to the Leaky Cauldron?" she asked him curiously, clearly unperturbed by his lack of response to her last comment. Harry couldn't bring himself to meet her eye, and in a desperate attempt to redirect himself instead chose to stare at Parvati Patil, who looked tragically lonely without being accompanied by Lavender Brown. Harry's heart sank slightly, remembering the final moments of Ron's first girlfriend, brought down by Fenrir Greyback. The Battle of Hogwarts was still incredibly raw, brought to the forefront of his mind by the sight of all of his old classmates.
"We're taking Hermione back to our flat to show her around; maybe after though," Harry said, crossing his arms across his chest and finally chancing a glance at Ginny. She looked incredible, wearing one of her red sweaters, her mane of hair flowing wildly around her shoulders. It was madness to Harry that she could be so close to him and he was unable to touch her.
"We should probably go, actually," Ron said, and Harry turned to see he and Hermione had detached themselves from one another. Ron checked his watch. "They're expecting us at the house tonight, and if we're going to get a drink it'll be ages before we can get to Devon."
He gallantly lifted Hermione's trunk and dragged it off the platform. Harry gave an awkward wave to Ginny, who had now been joined by Luna, and followed Ron and Hermione through the barrier.
They made their way from the station and Disapparated quickly once they reached the pavement, reappearing in the hall outside their flat. Ron dropped the trunk with a loud thunk, pointing his wand at the door, which gave a little click and swung open.
Harry led the trio indoors. He and Ron had tidied before leaving for the Ministry that morning, but it was hardly impressive. They hadn't bothered to find a bookshelf for the sitting room; spellbooks and Quidditch texts were piled in the corner behind the beige settee. They'd forgotten to turn off the wireless; the croons of Celestina Warbeck were being projected around the room. Harry silenced her with a wave of his wand.
"Where's all of your furniture?" Hermione asked skeptically.
"This is it, isn't it?" Ron said anxiously, gesturing at the sofa and the small table and chairs to its left. "We've got a sofa, a table, beds. We don't need much."
"You haven't got any art," Hermione said, looking at the bare whitewashed walls.
"Art?" Ron asked, taken aback. "I've got a Cannons poster above the bed."
"Oh, fantastic," Hermione breathed. Clearly deciding that it was time to take matters into her own hands, she waved her wand at the corner, where an imposing wooden bookshelf appeared, and with another flick, the mess of books inhabiting the space on the floor had arranged themselves, alphabetically by genre, no doubt, onto the gleaming shelves.
"Er, thanks," Harry said.
"No problem," Hermione said. "Let's see the rest of this place."
They passed a few moments showing Hermione around the flat. She opened her trunk, tossing her things into Ron's room, muttering something about having nothing to wear to a bar.
"The Leaky Cauldron's hardly a bar," Ron said. "I mean… there's no need to dress up for that toothless nutter who runs it, is there?"
Hermione ignored him, pulling a fresh skirt from amongst her things.
Harry sat on the sofa, idly checking his watch every few moments. He dreaded seeing Ginny again, and he still couldn't fathom why she'd be so warm to him on the platform after breaking up with him so suddenly in August. He had come to agree with her assertions that their relationship was something that they didn't have time for; he barely could manage to do a load of wash during the week, he was so busy with Auror training. It was intensive and exhausting, and most of his precious little free time was spent regaining sleep.
"Are you ready?" Hermione asked from above him. She'd decided on a floral dress and looked rather pretty, Harry thought, gazing up at her. Ron stood by the door, wand in hand.
"Oh, let's not Apparate," Hermione said, noticing this. "We'll have so much more time to catch up if we walk."
"It's freezing," Ron pointed out.
"We'll cast warming charms on our things. It's just around the corner," Hermione said decidedly. And so they made their way to the street, scarves wrapped tightly around their faces and hands shoved deep into their pockets.
Harry was still lost in thought, continuing to contemplate Ginny's happy attitude towards him. They had barely turned onto Wardour Street when Hermione dropped back from her place next to Ron to confront Harry.
"I want to talk to you," she said, her brow furrowing in concern.
"Not now, Hermione," Harry said, shoving his hands deeper into his pockets.
"Ginny feels terrible, Harry," Hermione said earnestly. "You two are both so passionate; her pride was wounded. She's said so many times she can't believe she shut you down after you told her you loved her-" Harry scowled at this, upset that Hermione was aware of this humiliating tidbit, "- and I think she's feeling much more secure now that she's been scouted by Holyhead; maybe you two could give things another go-"
"What?" Harry interrupted rudely.
"I think she'd be open to trying again with you; she hasn't said as much to me, but she talks about you constantly and I know she feels-"
"Not that, the - the bit about Holyhead," Harry said, excitement bubbling in the pit of his stomach.
"Oh, well she's been drafted by the Harpies for next season, as a Chaser, of course," Hermione said. "But you'll already kn-"
"I didn't know," Harry interrupted again.
"Ron knows!" Hermione exclaimed. "Why didn't you tell him?"
Ron turned from several feet in front of them.
"Because every time I mention my sister he makes a face like he wants to hang himself," Ron said irritably.
Harry ignored them, feeling happiness course through him. Ginny was going to fly for Holyhead. Ginny was going to fly under the Captainship of Gwenog Jones, her hero. Harry couldn't believe it. She would be brilliant; she was already brilliant. His heart was beating rapidly, thinking of her flying around a Quidditch pitch in front of hundreds of cheering fans. Young witches and wizards would have posters of Ginny hanging in their bedrooms. It was fantastic.
"You're beaming, mate," Ron said loudly.
Harry was broken out of his revery to realize that he, Ron, and Hermione had stopped in the middle of the pavement. He crashed suddenly back to Earth. Ginny had been scouted by Holyhead and she hadn't told him. They hadn't spoken in months. It wasn't his happiness to share. She wasn't his girlfriend. She wasn't his anything.
His realization must have splashed across his face, for Hermione touched his arm softly.
"Harry?" she said tentatively.
Harry quickly decided that he wanted to be as far away from Ron and Hermione as possible, and that he definitely didn't want to go see all of his classmates at the pub. He sighed deeply, turning away.
"You two go on," he said quietly. "I'm going home."
"Harry," Hermione said again.
"Happy Christmas," Harry said, hugging Hermione briefly and nodding at Ron. "I'll see you in a few days."
Hermione looked as though she was going to protest, but Ron nodded back at Harry and grabbed her by the elbow, pulling her down the high street.
Harry stared at his shoes for a moment, before turning back up the street towards home.
"That's got to be really advanced though, doesn't it?" Harry asked excitedly, watching Teddy pull himself up on the coffee table and reach for Andromeda's teacup. It was Christmas morning, and they had just finished helping Teddy unwrap a large mountain of gifts. Harry had let his affection for his tiny godson get the better of him while he was doing his Christmas shopping; Teddy was certainly in competition with Harry's cousin Dudley for highest number of presents received in a single day.
"It's typical, actually," Andromeda replied, smiling fondly as she used her wand to vanish the tea and saucer, effectively ending her grandson's quest. The baby fell back to the floor with a huff, but recovered quickly, rolling over happily onto his back and grabbing at his feet, encased in their pajamas.
Harry scooted forward from his spot on the floor, stacking some of the toy blocks they had just unwrapped in front of Teddy and patting the floor enticingly.
"Can you knock them over, Ted?" he cooed to the baby.
Teddy eyed him curiously, and Harry poked at the blocks again. Teddy rolled back onto his belly and crawled over to the blocks, using a chubby fist to send them crashing back onto the rug.
"Smart boy!" Andromeda cried dramatically. Teddy smiled at the praise, reaching out to Harry, who plucked him up and sat him in his lap.
"He's much easier than Nymphadora was at this age," Andromeda sighed sadly. Harry blushed and forced himself to look at her in the eye.
"Is he?" he asked kindly.
"She was an early crawler," Andromeda reminisced. "And so clumsy. She'd pull anything on top of herself, and she was constantly falling over. Ted and I had to cast cushioning charms over everything."
She took a deep breath and looked to the window for a moment. Harry knew she was gazing to the garden, where her only child and Lupin were now buried.
"I feel terribly old," she said.
"You're not," Harry said automatically.
She looked back to him and smiled shrewdly. Harry had always been a bit intimidated by Andromeda, their first meeting darkened by the fact that he'd mistaken her for her sister, Bellatrix. But he'd realized now that she actually was quite warm underneath her patrician exterior, and had a wonderfully dry sense of humour.
"It's difficult without them," she said. "But I'm glad you're here. It's important, I think, for Teddy to know who his family is."
Harry nodded in agreement. "I would hate for him to feel as lonely as I did," he said. "I didn't realize until I was eleven that there were people who knew me… who cared for me."
"Like my cousin?" Andromeda asked, smiling more widely now.
"Yeah," Harry grinned. "I was actually meaning to ask you; would you let me buy Teddy a broomstick in a few months' time? Sirius bought me one for my first birthday…"
Andromeda let out a barking laugh that reminded Harry so much of Sirius he froze.
"Why doesn't that surprise me at all?" she chuckled. "Of course Sirius Black bought a toddler the most dangerous birthday gift imaginable. I don't mind, but you'll be the one supervising him."
Harry smiled, secretly delighted. He was surprised at how much he enjoyed watching Teddy grow. He still felt that he didn't know much about babies, but he certainly knew a lot about Teddy; which toys he favored, how just to pat his back to get him to sleep, the foods he would eat ravenously and the ones he would refuse. Caring for Teddy made him, for reasons he couldn't fully grasp, feel closer to his own father.
He looked up from Teddy in his lap to see Andromeda staring at him rather intensely. He cocked an eyebrow at her and she leaned back, smiling.
"I sometimes wonder," she said softly. "If it was all worth it."
Harry didn't speak. He got the sense he wasn't meant to. Andromeda waved her wand at the side table and another glass of tea poured itself. She summoned it easily.
"I was meant to go abroad," Andromeda continued. "After leaving Hogwarts. My family was becoming increasingly enthralled with Lord Voldemort, and I wanted nothing to do with any of it, so I had arranged to train as a Healer in Austria."
"I didn't know you healed," Harry said, impressed.
Andromeda smirked. "I never did," she said. "I had Outstanding N.E.W.T.s in Potions and Herbology, so I assumed I would be well-suited. I wanted to do something good in the world. I was clever, and I wanted to leave my mark. But then I met Ted. Well, I didn't meet Ted. I'd known Ted my entire time at school, but we Slytherins kept rather to ourselves."
Harry nodded; little had changed amongst Hogwarts House relations in the thirty years that separated his and Andromeda's times at the school.
"I was on the train home at the end of my seventh year, and the compartment door slid open, and who stumbled in but Ted Tonks. He had been celebrating in a compartment with a group of Hufflepuffs and a bottle of firewhisky, and he got confused heading back from the toilets."
"We talked the rest of the train ride home, and exchanged letters all summer. And when
it was time for me to leave… I couldn't go. I told my parents why I wouldn't be leaving and we never spoke again. I never said goodbye to my sisters. Ted and I were married the next summer. And here I am, thirty years later, wondering if it was worth it. Not leaving my family. Bellatrix was always a lost cause and my parents were terrible. Narcissa lacked any genuine moral character. But now, all these years later, I'm starting to wonder if I should've gone on and become a Healer. Lived a life of solitude, doing what was important to me. Helping people." She sighed heavily.
"It is always a great risk, isn't it? Loving someone?" she asked him. "Of course, when things are going right, it's the best feeling in the world. But now all I can think of is how much I sacrificed. Not just Healing, necessarily, but the fact that I loved my husband and daughter so much, that in the moments they died, I also sacrificed my ability to be truly at peace, likely for the rest of my days."
She paused, and gave him the same searching look she had when Ginny had accosted her at Madam Malkin's robe shop. Harry had never mentioned Ginny to Andromeda, nor had she to him, but now he was beginning to suspect that she had caught on to the nature of his and Ginny's relationship more than he had initially noticed.
"And so I wonder," she repeated, "if it was all worth it. No parent should outlive their child, but I had always thought… I had always thought if it came down to it, after she became an Auror, that I would have Ted beside me in my anguish. Was it worth it? And yet, it is easy to forget, in our grief, that the freedom to take the risk of love is why we all embarked on that terrible endeavor to defeat Lord Voldemort in the first place, wasn't it?"
Harry looked down at Teddy in his lap, hearing Andromeda's unspoken words; that the victory against Voldemort was hardly a victory if their fear of greater suffering left them unable to form new attachments.
He already knew as much; his time in the forest had hardly left him a fool, but knowing something and putting it into practice were two very different things. Still, he thought, running a hand over his godson's tuft of turquoise hair, it wasn't always difficult to love.
He met Andromeda's steady gaze.
"It was," he answered.
"Where exactly are we?" Harry asked as they made their way down the tiny high street.
"Kenmare," Hermione replied, checking her watch.
Harry looked up and down the road. From where he was standing he could see almost the entirety of the tiny village. His heart thumped with anticipation.
"I always knew Seamus supported Kenmare," Ron grumbled from beside them, "but I never knew he was from this sorry little place."
"Yes, because Ottery St. Catchpole is so cosmopolitan," Hermione replied. "Anyways, it's rather interesting: Kenmare's a well-known Wizarding settlement, but it was actually Seamus' father, who's a Muggle, that grew up here. His mother is from Dublin."
"Thanks for the unabridged biography of Seamus Finnigan," Ron snapped, causing Harry to privately wonder if his friend had perhaps skipped dinner that night. He could think of little else that would put Ron in such a terrible mood.
"Which one do you think it is?" Harry asked Hermione.
"If I had to guess, I'd say that one," she said, smiling and pointing to a side street that Harry had not previously noticed, where sat a tiny cottage. The bottom floors were alight with a dim, multicolored glow, and as the trio approached, Harry could hear the loud beats of the Weird Sisters pumping from within the walls.
For tonight was Dean and Seamus' 'Holy-Fuck-We've-Made-It-To-1999' New Years Eve party, happily being hosted by Seamus at his childhood home. Some, namely Hermione, had objected to the party's name, thinking it openly insulting to the unspeakably high number of people they knew who hadn't 'made it to 1999'. Harry, surprising himself, found that he rather appreciated the blatant irreverence of his peers. They had perhaps spent too much time being painfully aware of death in the last few months.
There were other things on his mind, though, as he, Ron and Hermione pushed their way through the front door of the house to be greeted, as always, by a raucous cheer. Cups and goblets of mysterious, throat-burning liquids were forced into their hands, but Harry paid the party little attention as his eyes scanned the room for the tell-tale mane of flaming hair.
He had to find Ginny, he had to tell her that he wanted them to be together again. After his conversation with Andromeda he felt bold, he felt reckless; he would give up being an Auror and move to Holyhead that very night if she asked him to.
But Seamus' house was tiny, and even full of people, Harry could tell even from a cursory check of the rooms on the ground floor that Ginny was not yet present for the nights' festivities.
Harry returned to Ron and Hermione, talking quietly in the corner with Neville, who clapped Harry on the back form of greeting.
"Nice holiday?" he asked.
Harry nodded. "How was yours?"
Neville shrugged. "Same old," he replied. "Spent the morning with Gran, saw my parents in the afternoon."
Harry brought his glass to his lips.
"Watch it," Ron said. "It's a Rusty Nail and you never drink; it could be dangerous."
Harry shrugged. He wouldn't mind some liquid courage at this point. He suddenly found himself wishing he had a tiny bottle of Felix Felicis with which to align the stars in his pursuit of Ginny.
Harry felt his face grow hot as he continued chatting idly with Neville, and the knot in his stomach slowly unclenched. The night wore on, slowly at first, when Ron and Hermione wandered off somewhere. Suddenly Harry realized that Neville had gone too, and he was in the middle of an impassioned debate between Seamus Finnigan and Cho Chang, of all people, about whether Muggle music had any redeeming qualities.
Seamus's stereo system had been blaring The Hobgoblins for nearly an hour when Cho had decided to take matters into her own hands and used her wand to conjure a record by a Muggle group that she had happily directed under the needle. Much to Seamus's ire, the party was now accompanied by the crooning sounds of The Cranberries.
"Look," Seamus was saying loudly to Cho, as Harry's head followed back and forth as though he was watching a tennis match, "me Dad's a Muggle. I know all about Muggles. I know about the Rolling Stones and the Beagles. They're all terrible. I don't think a single one of them plays the lute."
Cho rolled her eyes. "You're being close-minded," she said patiently. "I think one of the first ways wizards can get over all this blood-purity nonsense is realizing that Muggles have arts and culture that are just as engaging as ours. It's elitist to think that just because something comes from wizards, it's inherently better. If you just listened to the Cranberries-"
"I'm Irish!" Seamus exclaimed. "Of course I've listened to the Cranberries! Harry likes the Weird Sisters, and he grew up Muggle, right Harry?"
Harry, deciding that he had very little to contribute to this conversation, drained his glass. He was shocked to see it refill to the brim almost immediately.
Seamus grinned. "Neat trick, eh? Dean enchanted them all to do that."
"Yeah," said Harry with a smile, by now was feeling particularly mellow and feeling less and less concerned with finding Ginny. He took another large swig, while Seamus looked concerned for a moment.
"I haven't seen Dean in hours, actually," he said, standing on his toes to peer over the heads of his guests. "He was outside smoking his pipe the last time I saw…"
Laughter escaped Harry's lips before he could fully comprehend what he found funny. "Dean smokes a pipe?" he asked.
Seamus didn't seem fazed by Harry's amusement. "Picked it up on the run, I guess," he said. "He's a new man."
Harry laughed again, shaking his head. He raised his glass at Cho, who smiled in return, before turning back to the crowd, hoping again to catch sight of Ginny. He had been assured by Ron that she meant to be here, and Harry couldn't fathom why, as midnight ticked closer and closer, she had yet to appear.
The din of the party seemed to have increased exponentially since his arrival, and he wanted to find Ron and Hermione. He quickly located Hermione standing in the doorway to the tiny scullery, speaking with Parvati Patil over another one of Seamus and Dean's self-refilling drinks. Harry's face, already hot, flushed happily as he approached her.
"He can be quite the pain sometimes," Hermione was saying animatedly, bringing her cup to her lips. "But I've never been able to help how much I adore him."
Harry grinned broadly. He still felt a bit of a gooseberry when he was alone with Ron and Hermione, but it was wonderful to see his best friends so happy.
Parvati smiled kindly. "I'm glad to hear he's doing well. He was always so funny," she said. "I remember how he would get cooped up in the dormitory and start running about screaming and spitting. I always wondered how you put up with him."
Harry's smile faltered for a moment, as he struggled to remember a time that Ron had run around the Gryffindor common room screaming and spitting.
"I've started letting him outside more, which has helped" Hermione said. "He is getting rather old, though…"
"Who are you talking about?" Harry interrupted rudely.
Parvati looked over from Hermione, who turned from her ale.
"Crookshanks, of course," she said. "Who did you think I was talking about?"
"Er, no one," Harry said hastily. "Look, do you know when Ginny's supposed to be showing up? I'd really like to talk to her and-"
"Ginny?" Parvati interrupted. "Ginny's been here for ages. She helped Seamus and Dean set this whole thing up."
"What?" Harry asked. "Why'd she do that?"
Hermione looked suddenly uncomfortable. "Oh, damn," she said, in a tone that Harry did not find comforting at all.
Parvati continued, undisturbed by Hermione's utterance. "She and Dean have been outside with everyone for hours now," she said, before giving Harry a quick once-over. "Why are you looking for her?" she asked curiously, a twinkle in her eye.
Harry felt a familiar sensation erupt somewhere under his chest, an old monster once again aspiring to rip Dean Thomas limb from limb. 'No,' Harry thought to himself, when a door slamming behind him caused his head to jump up, and then he saw them; standing in front of the tiny entrance to the garden, snow on their shoulders and cheeks flushed from the cold.
Dean leaned down to say something into Ginny's ear, and Harry watched her face light up as she laughed in response, and then Dean's arms were around her, pulling her in closer.
"Harry," Hermione said urgently, tugging at his sleeve. "Harry, it's not what you think. It's nothing. They're not…."
But Harry had already yanked himself away from her, desperate to be out of this terrible house. Ginny would rather spend time with Dean then him? Dean drove Ginny mad half the time. He pushed past a group of people and into the loo, not sure whether he wanted to go back to the scullery and murder Dean or Disapparate from the very spot. He slammed the door shut behind him and fell onto it, closing his eyes and breathing heavily.
"Harry, what are you doing?" a voice called from in front of him.
Harry cracked one eye open. Cho Chang was peering curiously over him, evidently just finished with washing her hands. A countdown had began on the other side of the door.
"Ten, nine, eight…" ambiguous voices cried.
Harry nearly laughed, but as his stomach lurched with the humour of the situation, he felt bile rise in his throat. Before he could stop himself, his mouth opened and a stream of vomit projected itself all over Cho's shiny black shoes.
"...four, three, two, one, HAPPY NEW YEAR," the voices cried from the other side of the door as Cho sank down next to Harry with a mixed look of disgust and pity on her beautiful face. She gathered up her skirts to avoid letting them trail in the sick.
"You always knew how to make a girl feel special, Harry," Cho said, patting him kindly on the back.
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