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Summer of Recovery
By PotterSloth

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Category: Post-DH/AB
Characters:Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, Teddy Lupin
Genres: General, Romance
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Sexual Situations, Negative Alcohol Use
Story is Complete
Rating: R
Reviews: 141
Summary: What comes after Voldemort’s defeat? A very, very difficult summer. The world moves on, and it’s much different than it was when Harry and Ginny first got together. The summer will be one of grief, but they’re ready to recover together after so long apart. The only question is: will the world finally let them?

Part 1 of Happier Every Day
Hitcount: Story Total: 16428; Chapter Total: 708
Awards: View Trophy Room


He supposed he should’ve been grateful that they had given him a day before they started asking questions, but honestly, he was just annoyed.


For the second morning in a row, Harry woke up with his head in Ginny’s hair. They were lying on their sides in his four-poster bed. She lay pressed against him, and his arm was draped over her, holding her while she slept. Thankfully, they had remembered to close the hangings on the bed this time, and Harry had no idea if they were alone in the room, nor did he really care. His attention was focused, as it usually was, on Ginny.

Running his hand up and down her pale arm, making a point to touch every freckle individually, Harry thought back to their talk by the Black Lake. He’d wanted to react angrily as Ginny told him about the horrors of her torture at Hogwarts this past year. She hadn’t even gone into detail on everything that happened to her, only mentioning a few of the notable punishments. He suspected her detentions had happened so often that she couldn’t even begin to describe them all. The thought of one of those vile pigs hurting her made him almost shake with rage. But Ginny’s need for him had trumped that feeling. Harry wasn’t used to having something to counteract his anger. For the last few years, as more and more difficult things happened to him, he’d become accustomed to flying off the handle. Ginny’s ability to help him stay at least somewhat calm was another thing to add to the ever-growing list of reasons he wanted her.

Instead of reacting angrily, Harry sobbed silently, listening to her tell him about how she’d been hurt because she’d been his girlfriend, and then how she’d been hurt because she’d been a hero at Hogwarts. He empathised so deeply with her feeling of guilt that she hadn’t been able to save everyone. Somehow, it was easier to comfort her when she was feeling the same thing he was than it was to let himself be comforted with the same words. He knew nothing he’d say would help much. But he wanted- needed- her to know he was there. Even though she’d joked yesterday about not letting Harry out of her sight, he suspected that she really did grow anxious when he wasn’t with her, like she was being thrust back into the lonely feeling of him leaving her a year ago. Because he felt the same when he wasn’t with her. Now that they’d gotten back together, even though it had only been two days, Harry wondered how he’d ever made it through the Horcrux hunt without her. She felt like a part of him, and he didn’t think he felt complete if she wasn’t around.

Harry wasn’t sure if that was normal in relationships. He didn’t have a lot of experience to draw on. His relationship, although that term was a little generous, with Cho had lasted a little more than a month but didn’t even survive one full date. And he was usually uncomfortable when he was around her, feeling more at ease when they weren’t together. His relationship with Ginny last year had barely lasted longer than that. Ginny had more relationship experience, and she’d probably know if what he was feeling was normal or not. But he didn’t want to make her feel uncomfortable if she wasn’t feeling the same way. He didn’t even know what exactly he was feeling, and it’s not like he had anyone to talk to about it. Ron was his best mate, but it was just weird thinking about talking to him about dating his sister. Hermione might have given useful advice, but she was a close friend of Ginny’s too. The problem was that everyone in Harry’s life that he could talk to about this was also inextricably linked to Ginny as much as him. He loved that the majority of the time; it made him feel like he was part of a very large family. But right now, he could use the advice of someone who wouldn’t make him feel weird talking about his relationship with Ginny. He realised, sadly, that he really would love to talk to Sirius about this.

Closing his eyes, Harry tried to imagine what Sirius would say to him. ‘You told her she was your future? You died thinking of her and came back to life because of her? You’ve got it bad, kid. Although it runs in the family, I guess. Your dad was the same way with Lily. So in love that there wasn’t any coming back from it.’

Harry’s eyes bolted open as his own imagination surprised himself. Love? He didn’t know the first thing about love. Not really. He’d had what felt like a profound moment of clarity before he saw Ginny for the first time after the battle, where he remembered the power of love and how important it was, but he had been in a sleep-deprived, battle-worn state. Now that he was well-rested, he felt just as confused about it as he usually did. What did he know about love? It was what let him defeat Riddle while surviving. It was something Dumbledore had talked about endlessly. But Harry felt clueless about love on a personal level.

He’d never told anyone he loved them, he realised. Then again, nobody had ever said that to him either. Harry supposed that his parents would’ve told him that quite often, but he couldn’t remember it. He couldn’t begin to imagine what love actually felt like. Was what he felt for Ginny love? Or was it just him being so happy to see her again that he couldn’t bear to leave her? Was there a difference?

Harry wasn’t going to get any of the answers to these questions by himself, he knew. Hopefully he’d figure out who he could ask about it without it being too weird.

He was brought out of his deep thinking when he felt Ginny shift, pushing herself further back into him. That definitely got his attention. She sighed and turned her head slightly so he could clearly see her sleeping face. Harry was still furious, he could admit to himself, that she’d had to deal with so much at Hogwarts. She was the last person in the world who deserved to know what the Cruciatus Curse felt like. He was furious that he couldn’t be there for her. He’d wanted to protect her, and he hated that he hadn’t helped at all.

But despite all that, here she was. Vulnerable, without a doubt, especially now, but she had an obvious strength about her that had grown significantly in the past year. They weren’t the same people who had dated a year ago. Most of the parts that mattered were unchanged, but they’d both dealt with trauma beyond their years. Both had dealt with loss and loneliness and fear, but they’d found their way back to each other. If Ginny still wanted Harry, as haunted and damaged as he was, it was the least he could do to be there when she needed him, even if it meant learning how to control his temper.

Plus, controlling his temper had some really nice benefits. He and Ginny had enjoyed a long flight into the night at the pitch, then snuck back up to the castle and ate a private dinner in the Gryffindor common room, catered by Kreacher, before falling asleep talking in the bed they were still in. Warming inside at the memory of their first date, if he could call it that, since they’d gotten back together, Harry decided that it had been too long since he’d seen Ginny’s eyes and heard her voice.

Leaning down to her, he kissed her softly, happy to find that even in her sleep, she instinctively kissed him back. She whimpered when he pulled back, a sound she never would’ve made if she’d been fully awake, but smiled slightly when Harry kissed her forehead, running one hand through her hair while continuing to move the other hand along her arm.

She opened her eyes slowly, looking up at him through her long red eyelashes. Harry felt his insides melt a little just seeing her eyes, still glazed over with sleep, but gazing adoringly at him, as if he were the only thing she would’ve wanted to wake up and see.

“Morning,” Harry whispered, planting a kiss on her nose.

Ginny smiled. “Good morning, dear,” she responded, yawning as she did.

Harry raised an eyebrow at her. “Dear?”

Ginny laughed at his expression, rolling over to face him fully. “Just trying it out. I’ll probably try some others and see what sticks. If we’re going to be a real, domestic couple, I want pet names,” she said seriously, as if she’d given great thought to it.

“I never took you to be one for pet names if I’m being honest,” Harry commented.

She laughed again. “I’ve never wanted one before, but I suppose being with you makes me feel differently than I’m used to. You make me wanna do irrational things,” she said, looking at him suggestively.

Liking where this conversation was going, Harry countered, “Oh really? Like what?”

“Let me show you,” Ginny practically growled, climbing on top of Harry and pinning him to the bed. She caught his lips with hers, dominating the kiss as her tongue battled his for control.

Harry gasped as she tore away from his lips and started kissing along his jawline before settling on a spot on his neck, just below his ear. He fervently ran his hands through her hair, reverently whispering, “Ginny… Merlin, Gin.”

She worked her way down his neck and started nibbling at his shoulder, causing a whole new sensation to flood through his body. But suddenly, she was pulling at his shirt, and Harry forgot all about how good she was making him feel and focused on not letting her see his scars. Doing the only thing he could think of, he flipped her over onto her back and returned the favour, slowly and methodically tasting the skin of her neck, loving the feeling of her hands tangled in his hair as she whispered his name with so much emotion that it made his heart ache.

He wanted to kiss more of her, to let her kiss more of him, but deep down, Harry didn’t feel right doing anything more while she still didn’t know the whole story. He didn’t think any of it would change her view of him, but she deserved to know exactly who she was dating and the baggage he brought before things went any further.

With great effort, he pulled his lips away from her neck and hovered just inches above her face, getting momentarily lost in the chocolate pools of her eyes. He came to his senses when she blinked, looking up at him slightly amused, very flushed, and ridiculously sexy.

“You’re perfect,” he said, so quietly that he wasn’t sure if he’d even spoken it aloud. But he must have because Ginny was beaming so brightly that Harry had no choice but to smile back at her.

“Not hardly,” Ginny chuckled, still smiling widely, “Not nearly as perfect as you,” she said, tilting her head up to quickly kiss him again.

Harry laughed as she kissed him. “You must be right about me making you feel irrationally because I’m pretty sure perfect is the last thing most people think of when they see me.”

Ginny’s smile briefly faltered, turning into a more serious look, making Harry wonder what he’d said.

“I think you’re perfect. Do you have problems? Sure. Doesn’t make you less perfect to me. I don’t care what anybody else thinks. They can all go to blazes for all I care. I only care about what you think,” she finished conclusively, and Harry stared in awe at the fiery woman below him who raged against anyone who dared to speak ill of him.

After a moment, Harry smiled. “You refuse to let anyone, including me, say anything bad about me. That’s the next thing on the list.”

He was rewarded with a soft kiss as Ginny blushed at his reminder of the list he was keeping in his head before they lay back down on the bed together, holding each other tightly.

“By the way,” Harry said, “You just came up with your pet name.”

Ginny looked at him, clearly trying to remember what she’d said recently.

“Blaze,” Harry whispered, hoping that she liked it as much as he did.

“Blaze?” Ginny asked probingly.

“Yeah, Blaze. I think it’s perfect. You just said everyone other than me can go to blazes. You have gorgeous, fire-red hair. You’re so fiery when you’re doing things you care about, even if it’s defending me. When you get mad, you explode like a volcano and your face gets as red as your hair and it’s honestly so adorable that it’s unfair. And most of all, when I think of blaze, I think of that look you get when you’re… passionate about something. It’s the look you gave me when we kissed for the first time in the common room, and the look you gave me when we kissed for the first time again, two days ago.”

Ginny stared at him with her mouth open in shock. Harry grinned affectionately at her, knowing that he’d hit the mark with his pet name.

“Bloody hell, Potter. I never took you for being so romantic,” Ginny finally managed to get out.

“I know. It’s disgusting, isn’t it? What can I say, you make me do irrational things too, I guess. It’s almost like magic,” Harry replied, still smiling widely at her.

“Blaze,” Ginny tried out. “You know, I thought you were going to stick with Gin. I don’t let anyone else call me that anyways. But I’ve gotta admit, Blaze is nice.”

“Oh don’t worry, as much as I like Blaze, my favourite name will always be your real name. Ginny, Gin, Ginevra. You’re Blaze too, and you’ll probably be babe or something else eventually, but Ginny in all its forms will always be my favourite name for you.”

Harry chuckled as Ginny stared at him again. He liked being able to surprise her like this. He would’ve thought being romantic didn’t come naturally to him, but everything seemed different with her, he was finding.

Eventually, Ginny said, “This isn’t fair. You’re setting way too high a bar for my pet name for you. Don’t you ever call me Ginevra though, or I will hex you into next week.”

Harry almost laughed as he saw that blazing look in her eyes yet again. “Sure thing, Blaze,” he whispered, pleased to see Ginny smile at that.

After a moment, Ginny narrowed her eyes and asked, “Wait… what time is it? I don’t want my family to send Ron up here again.”

Harry laughed, agreeing with her, and checked the watch that was on his bedside table. “It’s only nine. I bet we can still make it down for breakfast.”

Ginny nodded. “Sounds like a plan. Just one more thing though…”

She pulled Harry back down into another deep kiss, and Harry knew that he’d skip any number of meals if this was the alternative.


Ginny had to admit that despite spending her entire life sleeping alone, she didn’t think she’d ever be able to go back after sharing a bed with Harry the past two nights. Being with him seemed to chase nightmares away, and nothing could beat him waking her up with kisses. She’d never considered herself a morning person, usually preferring to sleep in and being rather grumpy when she did have to get up early. But if this was how every morning would be, she would become a very enthusiastic early riser.

Blaze. Merlin, the things this boy did to her, and he didn’t even seem to realise it. How on earth was it fair that he came up with a nickname so sweet and romantic and perfect for her and then said that Ginny would always be his favourite name? She was starting to get antsy. They’d only been together again for two days, and Ginny was already finding it incredibly difficult to not tell him that she loved him. Everything he said made it that much harder as she continued falling further and further into her feelings, feeling the bubbling emotions in her stomach more and more by the minute. Blaze. It was just so perfect, proof that Harry knew her better than anyone, even after spending a year apart.

There was one thing that was bugging her slightly though, she thought as she dressed in the bathroom. Harry hadn’t wanted her to take his shirt off. Granted, they hadn’t ever taken anything that far in the limited privacy of their relationship last year, and he had covered rather nicely for it by lavishing attention on her, which she realised, with a grin, left some very visible marks that she had to cover with a concealing charm. She didn’t judge him at all if he wanted to take things slower, but she was curious about why he didn’t just tell her if that was how he felt.

Ginny stepped out of the bathroom just as Harry finished pulling his shirt on. She cleared her mind of thoughts of Harry shirtless, as tempting and inviting as they were. There would be time to think about that later, but her stomach grumbling reminded her of what her priorities should be right now. Grinning at the sound, Harry took her hand in his, and they exited the empty dormitory.

Her family was already in the Great Hall when they entered, sitting in the same places they were yesterday. Ginny and Harry greeted the Weasleys, and surprisingly, nobody said anything about them obviously still sleeping in the same bed. Sitting down, they tucked into the breakfast in front of them, appetites a little stronger this morning than the previous one.

Well, nobody in her family said anything right away. Ginny was eating so heartily that she didn’t notice the devilish gleam in Charlie’s eye as he said, loud enough for her entire family to hear, “So Harry, how’d you sleep last night?”

She heard a strangled sound next to her as Harry choked on his toast. Ginny looked at Harry, who had gone incredibly red and was staring at the table, before turning to Charlie, who was grinning in a self-congratulatory manner, clearly proud of himself for the question. The rest of the family was silent, although Ginny saw Fleur glaring daggers at Charlie while Bill studied her and Harry. Percy looked away, Hermione was whispering to Ron, and her dad was actually doing the same to her mum.

Ready to chew Charlie out for that, she was interrupted by arguably the most surprising sound she’d heard in a while- George started chuckling, but it quickly grew into a loud belly laugh as the rest of the family joined in, slightly less enthusiastically but still appreciating George’s first real show of emotion since the battle.

Resigned, Ginny realised she couldn’t very well lay into Charlie now, so she’d have to do it later. George finally stopped laughing, wiping tears from his eyes as he looked down the table to her and Harry.

“Oi! You doing alright, Potter? You look like you’ve eaten some Fever Fudge. I don’t want you near my sister if you’re going to be sick. Actually, come to think of it, I don’t know if I want you near my sister anyways…” George loudly informed Harry, who looked as if he was trying to melt into the bench under him.

This got the rest of the family laughing, especially Charlie and Ron. Her mum tried giving George a stern look, but even she couldn’t hide how delighted she was that he was talking, even if it was just for a moment. Ginny was very pleased too, but the George she knew wouldn’t have dished it out without being willing to take it, and both he and Charlie deserved some revenge for the embarrassed look on Harry’s face.

Ginny stood up so she could see them both. “Laugh it up you two, you’re soooo funny. You seem to forget though that at least Harry’s getting some action,” Ginny said bravely, ignoring the mortified look on Harry’s face. “I mean George, you’ve spent so much time with your mouth on the radio transmitter in the last couple months that I wonder if you’ve forgotten what a kiss actually feels like. And Charlie, when was the last time you kissed a girl and she didn’t try to breathe fire on you? In case you’ve forgotten, this is what a real kiss looks like,” Ginny said brazenly as she sat down, turned Harry’s shocked face towards her, and planted a searing kiss on his lips.

At this, Bill, Fleur, Hermione, and even her parents lost it, laughing so hard that people nearby started to look at them. Ginny may have imagined it, but she even thought that she saw a smile on Percy’s face for a moment. That was an achievement itself, but nothing felt better than seeing the stunned expressions on Charlie and George’s faces.

Putting his hands up, Charlie interrupted the laughter. “You got me there, sis. Just don’t forget that we’re your big brothers, and it’s our job to protect you. And,” he continued, pointedly looking at Harry, “as you so kindly pointed out, I do deal with dragons every day, so I can definitely deal with a scrawny teenage boy.”

Crossing her arms and rolling her eyes, Ginny responded, “Fine, as long as you don’t forget that if you want to come after my boyfriend, you’ll have to go through me.”

“Merlin’s balls,” George moaned despondently, running a hand over his face. “She sure does know how to take all the fun out of sibling traditions.”

Ginny stuck her tongue out at him and was pleased to see that he responded with a subtle one-finger salute when their mom wasn’t looking. Maybe George would be okay, after all, even if it meant taking the piss out of her and Harry. At that thought, she turned to look at her boyfriend, very happy to see him grinning at her defensive display.

He leaned down to whisper in her ear, “Like I said, Blaze, you refuse to let anyone say anything bad about me. Definitely high on the list.”

Beaming, Ginny kissed Harry once more before turning back to her food and conversation with her family that thankfully did not include any more mentions of sleeping arrangements. As they finished breakfast, Ginny noticed Professor McGonagall and Kingsley walking towards them. They greeted the whole family, but, based on Harry’s tense stature, she suspected they were there for more than catching up.

Quickly, her suspicions were proven correctly when McGonagall spoke to Harry. “Potter, would you mind speaking to us in my office?”

Harry’s brow furrowed. “About what?”

Kingsley interjected, “We just have some questions about everything that’s happened in the last year… particularly concerning the defeat of Voldemort.”

Ginny felt Harry’s grip on her hand tighten slightly, and she returned the pressure, reminding him that she was there.

She looked up at the newly appointed Minister for Magic. “Tom Riddle, you mean?”

Kingsley looked confused, and Percy looked shocked that she spoke directly and without preamble to the Minister. “I’m sorry?” Kingsley asked.

“Before he was Lord Voldemort, Tom Riddle was a student at Hogwarts who hated his name. He wanted a name that people would fear, and it worked. If we continue referring to him as Voldemort, we give him the gift of the name he wanted, not the name that belonged to him. Personally, I think it would piss him off quite a bit to know that he was ultimately remembered by his real name, the one he despised- Tom Riddle.”

Harry squeezed her hand, and Ginny knew that he agreed with her. Kingsley nodded, looking contemplative. “That’s a very wise sentiment, Ginny. I think you’re right, and I apologise for not thinking about it sooner. Harry, we’d like to talk to you about Tom Riddle.”

Harry sighed, looking like he’d rather do anything else in the world than talk about it with them. But finally, he looked back at Kingsley, “Ron and Hermione have to come with me, then. They were there for all of it, it wasn’t just me.”

That was her boyfriend, Ginny thought, ever the model of humility. Of course Ron and Hermione had been there for everything, but in the end, it had only been Harry fighting Riddle.

Kingsley nodded, “Of course, they’re welcome to join us.”

Harry looked at her, and Ginny smiled encouragingly. “You can go. Just come back as soon as you can.”

Harry smiled back even though he still looked a little nervous at the thought of talking to McGonagall and Kingsley. He looked like he wanted to say something to her, but he settled for kissing her quickly before standing up and walking out the Great Hall with Ron, Hermione, Kingsley, and McGonagall.

When they left, Bill got her attention. “You really aren’t afraid of anything, are you, little sis? Correcting the Minister for Magic like that? That’s pretty impressive.”

Ginny smirked, seeing Charlie nodding in agreement. Percy didn’t make eye contact with her, looking mostly appalled, but once again, Ginny thought she saw his small smile for a moment.

The Weasleys didn’t linger for long after that, going their own separate ways for the day. They would be returning to the Burrow tomorrow, but they wanted to do what they could to help at the castle today. George had gone back to not really talking, but Ginny could tell the whole family was encouraged that he did still have his sense of humour somewhere underneath all the grief. Trying to find something to do, Ginny was about to head outside and see if she could help Hagrid when a flash of orange and pink caught her eye. That colour combination made no sense on almost anyone, but it seemed perfectly suited to the fashion tastes of Luna Lovegood, one of Ginny’s best friends. Ginny ran up to her friend, pulling her into a tight hug.

“Oh, hello Ginny,” Luna said dreamily, “I was wondering when you’d come over and talk to me.”

“You saw me and waited for me to come over to you?” Ginny asked, slightly amused.

“Yes. I knew you’d want to talk to me, and you seemed so excited that I’m glad I didn’t come over first.”

“And what do I want to talk to you about?”

“Probably about how you’re dating Harry again. Have you noticed the Erosprites floating around his head? Oh, look at that. They’re all around you too,” Luna stated like it was incredibly obvious.


“Yes, Erosprites. You know, they only appear when someone is in love. It must be rather awkward if one person in a relationship doesn’t have any Erosprites, but don’t worry, they seem very attached to both you and Harry.”

Surprised, Ginny stared open-mouthed at her friend. She didn’t think Erosprites were real- almost every creature Luna mentioned was mythical at best. But for some reason, Luna clearly thought she knew something about love.

“Luna, are you saying Harry loves me?” Ginny asked, trying not to sound too hopeful or desperate.

Luna blinked at her. “The Erosprites are never wrong. I suppose he could be in love with someone else, but he looks at you differently than I’ve seen him look at anyone else, so it would make sense. I have heard rumours that he, Ron, and Hermione are in some sort of relationship, but Harry seems much more interested in you. He’s much happier now than he was at your brother’s house, and he was with Ron and Hermione then too. I can’t think of anything else that’s changed other than him being with you.”

Ginny did her best not to gag at the ludicrous rumour Luna had so casually mentioned while also attempting to not laugh as Luna acted like Harry being around her was the only thing that had changed in the last few days. But then she realised that she’d forgotten that Luna had been with Harry and the others at Shell Cottage.

“Thanks for letting me know Luna, I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for the Erosprites. But I was actually coming over to see how you’re doing. We were all so scared when you were taken off the train. We didn’t hear anything more until Bill told us that you’d made it to Shell Cottage,” Ginny said, remembering the fear she’d felt when Luna had been abducted before Christmas.

“Oh. Yes, that was scary. But I made friends with Mister Ollivander, Griphook the Goblin, and Dean Thomas in a cellar, and then Harry, Ron, Hermione, and a house elf rescued us,” Luna said plainly before beginning to hum a tune only she could hear.

Ginny marvelled at how her friend had likely glossed over the torture she’d endured, not to mention that she spent more than three months trapped in a prison cell. Ginny remembered Bill telling her about how Dobby had died when they escaped. She imagined that that had affected Harry a great deal, and she made a mental note to find out where Dobby was buried so she could thank him for saving her friends.

Ginny sat with Luna for about an hour, catching up and talking about anything that they could think of. Their conversation ended when Luna abruptly stood up and started to walk away.

“Where are you going?” Ginny asked, slightly confused but not surprised at this wasn’t the first time Luna had ended a conversation like this.

Luna looked back at her like she didn’t understand what Ginny was missing. “Harry will be here in a moment. I assumed you’d want to spend some time with him.”

Luna turned and walked away, leaving Ginny shaking her head at how her friend could be so bizarre sometimes, but she was often right, Ginny laughed to herself as the doors to the Great Hall opened and Harry, Ron, and Hermione walked back in.

She rose to meet them but faltered when she saw the pale, distressed expressions on Ron and Hermione’s faces.


Harry had known that this was coming. He supposed he should’ve been grateful that they had given him a day before they started asking questions, but honestly, he was just annoyed. He liked Kingsley, quite a bit actually, but once Harry had learned that Kingsley had been named the temporary Minister for Magic, he knew Kingsley would want to talk to him.

It wasn’t that he had anything to hide, really. He’d just always hated talking about himself and the things he’d done. He wasn’t naive. He knew that he’d done some dangerous things, including helping to end Riddle’s reign of terror, but he hadn’t had any other choice. The prophecy in the Department of Mysteries had destined that Harry would fight Riddle until one of them was dead. People had always gawked at him, just for a scar on his head. After everything that had happened in the past few days, the attention would only become more obvious and intense. Harry didn’t want anyone to tell him that he’d done something heroic when he really felt like he’d failed so many people. Telling Ginny was different because he felt comfortable talking about his true feelings with her. She understood and was so quick to say the right thing. He suspected it would be a little different with the Minister.

Harry also wasn’t expecting Kingsley to pull Professor McGonagall into it. He hadn’t realised that he’d have to tell both of them about what had happened. He felt extremely uncomfortable at the look she was giving him. She usually appeared so calm and pulled together, completely in control, but right now, she was looking at him with an expression that confused him, and he wasn’t sure why.

He knew he didn’t really have a choice. He at least had to give answers to these two influential members of the wizarding community who hadn’t ever given Harry a reason not to trust them. Reluctantly, he went with them, but he refused to go without Ron and Hermione. He really wanted Ginny with him, but she didn’t know the full story yet, and Harry expected that he’d be a lot more blunt about what he said without her there. Besides, this was really something he needed to do with his two best friends.

Harry was surprised when they entered the Headmaster’s, or rather, Headmistress’ Office, and found it practically empty aside from some furniture and the portraits on the walls. He supposed that McGonagall had just moved in and hadn’t had time to decorate with all her other responsibilities. McGonagall conjured an extra chair for Kingsley next to hers behind her desk, and the three teenagers sat opposite them. Harry glanced up at Professor Dumbledore, who was smiling encouragingly from his portrait. Harry tried to smile, but he suspected it looked more like a grimace considering how he was feeling. They all sat looking at each other, seemingly expecting that someone would start the conversation. Harry was willing to be cooperative, but he wasn’t going to encourage any of this. He remained silent, waiting for someone else to begin.

Finally, Kingsley cleared his throat. “I’m sure that you three understand why we have some questions that need to be answered. We have tremendous respect and gratitude for what the three of you managed to do, but… we honestly don’t know anything about what you did other than disappearing for a year and then reappearing at Hogwarts a few days ago. There are some things that Minerva and I have heard that… concern us greatly. I’m going to be doing my best to rebuild the Ministry, while Minerva rebuilds Hogwarts. We realise that you don’t owe us anything, but we want to learn from everything that’s happened, to avoid the mistakes of the past, if you’ll trust us with the answers to some difficult questions.”

The trio looked at each other, wordlessly having an intense conversation. They should’ve planned, Harry thought, what they would say and what secrets needed to be kept. Ron looked concerned with the idea of talking about anything, while Hermione looked slightly more open to the idea of trusting them. Hermione had always been more trusting of authority figures, and even though the last couple years had jaded her, she still appeared to be willing to trust Kingsley and McGonagall. Realising that they would both defer to his judgement, Harry was mildly surprised to find himself agreeing with her. Aside from the Weasleys and Hagrid, Kingsley and McGonagall were two of the adults he trusted the most.

Ending their wordless exchange, Harry looked back up at the two of them, who were patiently waiting for their answer. Harry nodded slowly. “It’s not gonna be easy to talk about, but we do trust you. We’ll do our best to be as open as we can, but we need to know that you’ll ask us before sharing anything we’ve talked about. There are… secrets about Riddle that’ll only cause more problems if they come out.”

McGonagall’s lips tightened as Kingsley nodded solemnly. “I think we can manage that. We owe the three of you that much, at least,” he said. “The first question we wanted to ask is one we’ve already asked Dumbledore, but he said it was your story to tell. You said last summer that Dumbledore gave you a mission. What was that mission, and is that what the three of you were doing for the last year?”

Harry let out a breath. They were already asking a tough question. “This is one of Riddle’s secrets, really the biggest one, that I don’t think needs to be shared with the public. Do the two of you know anything about-”

“Wait!” Ron interjected. “What about them?” he questioned, gesturing at the portraits on the walls.

Harry hadn’t even thought about the portraits. In theory, they represented dozens more people who put the secrets Harry, Ron, and Hermione were about to share at risk. He knew that these people were all former Headmasters and Headmistresses of Hogwarts, but the idea of even more people knowing made him incredibly uncomfortable. For their part, the portraits had assumed a range of reactions, most looking offended or impressed that someone had finally noticed that they could eavesdrop on conversations in this office.

“Weasley, these are portraits of people who gave their lives to Hogwarts and the education of young witches and wizards. Surely they can be trusted to exercise discretion, particularly when the safety of Hogwarts students may be concerned?” McGonagall reasoned.

Ron shrugged. “It’s up to Harry, I guess. Just seemed like something I ought to mention, especially since I know Black was trying to spy on us for Snape this year.”

Both McGonagall and Kingsley turned to look at the portrait of Phineas Nigellus Black. He looked nonplussed, lounging in his chair. “It wasn’t easy with the Muggle-born blinding me every time I entered the other portrait,” he commented as if that was the only issue. Hermione sat up straighter in her chair, looking pleased with herself but slightly worried about the topic at hand.

McGonagall’s eyes narrowed as she glared at the former headmaster, but Harry knew why Professor Black had done it, now. If he needed any confirmation, he found it when he looked back at Professor Dumbledore, who smiled slightly while nodding, spreading his arms as if to indicate that the portraits were trustworthy. Harry realised that he and Dumbledore had discussed Horcruxes several times in this office, and Dumbledore hadn’t ever seemed concerned about the portraits eavesdropping.

“It’s okay,” Harry said. “I’m sure they’ve heard plenty of secrets over the years, and every person who sits in that seat-” he indicated the grand chair McGonagall currently occupied “-has trusted them, otherwise they wouldn’t still be in here. That’s good enough for me.”

Ron and Hermione both still looked concerned, but Kingsley and McGonagall had returned their attention to the conversation they had abandoned.

Harry continued from where he had left off. “I was going to ask both of you- have you ever heard of Horcruxes?”

Kingsley frowned but nodded. McGonagall shook her head, surprising Harry. He glanced at Hermione, hoping she could explain Horcruxes better than he could. He’d had a hard enough time explaining them to Ginny. Getting the hint, Hermione began, “A Horcrux is a container that holds a piece of a broken soul. Someone seeking immortality can damage their soul by committing murder. Then, there’s a foul process they have to undergo to actually rip a piece of their soul apart from the rest to place into the container they’ve chosen. Once their soul is split, the person in question cannot die until every piece of their soul has been destroyed. Horcruxes are nearly impossible to destroy without something even more destructive, like basilisk venom or Fiendfyre. That’s how Vol- Tom Riddle survived even after he should’ve died when he attacked Harry as a baby.”

McGonagall’s usually steely composure had completely dissolved as she now looked extremely distressed. Kingsley’s expression hadn’t really changed other than his eyes narrowing as he considered what Hermione said.

“So then he… made one of these- these Horcruxes?” McGonagall asked gingerly.

Ron snorted. “I wish. One would’ve been easy. No, that bastard made six.”

McGonagall gasped and Kingsley’s eyes widened. Even he hadn’t been expecting that apparently. Harry decided it best not to correct Ron’s count for the moment. There was already enough that the two adults were trying to wrap their heads around.

“What can you tell us about his Horcruxes?” Kingsley asked after a moment of silence.

Harry could answer this question. “He made his first Horcrux when he was fifteen and opened the Chamber of Secrets. He used the murder of Moaning Myrtle to turn his diary into a Horcrux, which later attempted to open the Chamber again through Ginny. He made his second Horcrux when he murdered his Muggle father when he was sixteen. Riddle turned a ring of his wizard grandfather’s into a Horcrux and hid it in his grandfather’s old house. I destroyed the diary in my second year, and Professor Dumbledore destroyed the ring two summers ago.

“His third Horcrux was a locket that had belonged to Salazar Slytherin, and his fourth was a cup that belonged to Helga Hufflepuff. He stole both of those from a witch named Hepzibah Smith while he was working at Borgin and Burkes. He killed her to make one of them, but I don’t know who he killed to make the other. The fifth Horcrux he made was the Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw, which he found where Helena Ravenclaw hid it in Albania. Those were all the Horcruxes he had when he murdered my parents. The year before he came back, he killed Bertha Jorkins and made his snake, Nagini, into a Horcrux.”

McGonagall still looked sort of shocked with everything, so Kingsley continued taking the lead. “It seems to me that he was foolish to make all these Horcruxes things that could actually be identified, although I’m sure they weren’t easy to find. You already explained where you found the first two, and we all saw Mister Longbottom kill the snake. Where did you find the others?”

“The locket had originally been hidden in a cave that Riddle had visited as a child,” Harry began. “Dumbledore and I were there the night he was killed, but the locket we found was a fake. The actual locket had been stolen by Regulus Black, who defected from the Death Eaters when he learned that Voldemort was creating Horcruxes. He had Kreacher hide it in Grimmauld Place, where it remained until Sirius died. Mundungus Fletcher sacked the place after he died, and he sold the locket to Dolores Umbridge. We got it from her at the Ministry in September.”

Kingsley smiled slightly at this. “There had been rumours that the three of you broke into the Ministry. I wasn’t sure if it was true or not, but I have to say, I’m quite impressed.”

“You should be. It wasn’t bloody easy, especially considering every person in the place was looking for Undesirable Number One,” Ron said grimly, pointing a thumb at Harry. “Although Gringotts made breaking into the Ministry feel as easy as flying a broom.”

Kingsley raised an eyebrow, and Hermione jumped in. “Hufflepuff’s Cup was hidden in Bellatrix Lestrange’s vault at Gringotts. I used Polyjuice Potion to take on Bellatrix’s appearance, and a goblin named Griphook helped us break in.”

“And the dragon?” McGonagall spoke for the first time, having regained her composure somewhat, although she still looked slightly incredulous about the entire story.

“Yeah, we rode a dragon out of Gringotts. We rode for pretty much the whole day before we could finally jump off,” Ron answered, far more casually than the situation warranted.

McGonagall’s eyes widened slightly as Kingsley said, “We did hear from some goblins that there’d been a break-in, and they accused the three of you of doing it. I was wondering how much of that was true. They’re very upset that someone managed to break in, and I think they’d like me to arrest you for it. However, that wouldn’t be the best thing for me to do on my third day on the job, and besides, I think they’ll see some reason after I explain to them what the punishment for illegally keeping a dragon would be, should the Ministry choose to investigate. We will need someone to try and find the dragon though before it starts causing problems in the Muggle world.”

Kingsley was already playing a rather shrewd political game in Harry’s opinion. He appeared to take to the role of Minister quite well, and it seemed that he had much more backbone than Cornelius Fudge had ever displayed.

“I think Charlie’s already started talking to people about finding it, so you may wanna talk to him about that,” Ron offered helpfully.

“If it helps at all, the dragon that they were keeping was also terribly abused,” Hermione added sharply, looking disgusted as she remembered the condition that the dragon was in.

Kingsley nodded. “Thank you for letting me know. I’ll be sure to mention that we have knowledge of that as well, and hopefully the goblins won’t give us or you three any problems.”

“How did you get hair from Bellatrix Lestrange to use Polyjuice Potion?” McGonagall asked, frowning.

Hermione paled discernibly at this, while Ron clenched his fists as his face turned slightly red. Both of his friends had been affected tremendously by the events that had led to getting that hair, Harry knew, so he decided to tell this part.

“Around Easter, I accidentally triggered the Taboo on Riddle’s name. We were picked up almost immediately by Snatchers, and Hermione cast some spell to mess my face up so I wouldn’t be recognized.”

“Stinging Jinx,” Hermione whispered to no one, still looking distressed with her memories of this day.

Harry continued, “They took us to Malfoy Manor. They asked Draco to identify us, but he said he couldn’t tell if it was me or not. He identified Ron and Hermione though, and they thought that was enough to call Riddle. They were about to do it when Bellatrix went mad because she saw the Sword of Gryffindor that the Snatchers had taken from our tent. There was a copy of it in her vault at Gringotts. She thought it was the real thing, so she thought we’d been there and stolen it. How she reacted told us that Riddle must have entrusted something incredibly important, like one of his Horcruxes, to her to hide in her vault.

“She- she tortured Hermione while Ron and I were in the cellar with the other prisoners- Luna Lovegood, Dean Thomas, Mister Ollivander, and Griphook, a goblin. We were rescued because Aberforth Dumbledore had the other half of a two-way mirror Sirius had given me, and I called for help. He sent Dobby, the Malfoy’s former house-elf, who was able to get us out of the cellar, and we fought to get our wands, the sword, and Hermione before disapparating away. Dobby- he died saving us.”

Harry looked down at his hands then, saddened by the reminder of Dobby’s death. Hermione sniffled next to him while Ron hadn’t moved an inch since Harry started talking.

“She left some hair on my clothes-” Hermione whispered yet again “-so we used that to make the Polyjuice.”

Harry looked back at the two adults. Kingsley was rubbing his forehead with his thumb and forefinger. McGonagall was looking at them with the look that had made Harry uneasy earlier. He still couldn’t figure out what that look meant.

“I’m sorry for all the memories these questions are bringing up, and I’m even more sorry that you had to go through that, Hermione,” Kingsley said ruefully. Hermione nodded, wiping her eyes before looking at the Minister. They all sat in silence for a moment, unsure how to resume the conversation.

Finally, McGonagall broke the ice. “Where did you find the diadem? It hadn’t been seen for centuries.”

“Riddle convinced the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw to tell him where she’d hidden it after she stole it from her mother. After he made it a Horcrux, he hid it here, in the Room of Requirement. It was destroyed when Vincent Crabbe cast Fiendfyre in the room. He and Gregory Goyle found us, along with Draco Malfoy, when we were looking for the diadem,” Harry said. “Crabbe was trying to murder us. Goyle… well, Goyle didn’t really do anything, and Malfoy was trying to keep Crabbe from killing us because Riddle wanted us.”

McGonagall shook her head, angry at the threat on the lives of her students in her school.

“Thank you for that explanation,” Kingsley began. “I think it’s safe to say that we both agree with you. The knowledge of Horcruxes shouldn’t be spread publicly. If there comes a point where the three of you need to publicly discuss what happened this year, we’ll come up with a plan to explain what you were doing without mentioning them.”

“Professor-” Hermione interrupted, looking at McGonagall like she’d remembered something “- Professor Dumbledore told Harry that Riddle learned about Horcruxes from books in the library. He said he removed all those books once he became headmaster. I don’t know if you know where they might be, but they don’t ever need to be available to students again.”

“I agree with you, Granger. I’ll see to it that those books remain safely hidden,” McGonagall responded.

Kingsley looked back at Harry. “The second question we have involved something you said to Riddle when you were in the Great Hall. You mentioned the Elder Wand several times. Can you explain that?”

Honestly, Harry had almost completely blacked out during the fight with Riddle. He had next to no idea what he’d said to Riddle that morning, so he was taken aback when Kingsley mentioned the wand. He wouldn’t be able to come up with a convincing enough lie, so he decided that he’d have to trust them with yet another secret.

Reluctantly, he spoke. “In The Tales of Beedle the Bard, there’s a story about three brothers who cheated death and received gifts of the most powerful wand in existence, a stone that could bring back the dead, and an invisibility cloak. The story was passed down as a fairy tale, but it’s based on a true story. The brothers were the Peverells, and the objects, the three pieces of the Deathly Hallows, are very real.”

Harry took a moment as he could see that both Kingsley and McGonagall were quite surprised by this. Then he continued, “The Elder Wand is the most powerful wand ever, but it’s also very disloyal to its master. If I was disarmed, my wand would likely still be loyal to me. But if the Elder Wand’s master is disarmed or killed, it immediately changes loyalty to whoever defeated its previous master. Professor Dumbledore won the wand from Grindelwald after their famous duel. He kept it until…”

“Snape killed him,” McGonagall interrupted, not bothering to hide her disdain. Harry would explain that eventually, but he decided that telling one story at a time was hard enough.

“Almost,” Harry corrected. “Professor Dumbledore had already been disarmed by Malfoy before Snape killed him. Without knowing it, Malfoy became the master of the Elder Wand. Dumbledore’s wand was buried with him, but Riddle stole it from his grave. Our wands shared twin cores, two phoenix feathers from Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes. Every time we faced each other, our wands refused to harm the other. He tried using someone else’s wand, but it still didn’t work. He decided he needed something even stronger, so he investigated and learned that Dumbledore had been the last master of the Elder Wand. He didn’t understand how wand mastery worked, so he thought that just having it would be enough. But the wand didn’t do anything special for him because it still had allegiance to Malfoy.

“Until-” Harry continued, pulling out his mokeskin pouch from his pocket “- I disarmed him at Malfoy Manor. The Elder Wand wouldn’t work properly against me after that because- because I’m the new master of the Elder Wand,” Harry said, withdrawing the long wand from the pouch to show to Kingsley and McGonagall.

Both of their mouths were gaping at Harry. Maybe Neville was right, he did have a flair for the dramatic sometimes because asking Hermione to add an Undetectable Extension Charm to his pouch had been worth it for this alone. Harry set the wand down on the desk in front of him and knew five pairs of eyes, plus several dozen more painted eyes, were looking at it. Nobody was speaking, so Harry decided to tell them what he needed. “I don’t want it. I’ve always been happy with my wand, and this wand has caused so much trouble that I’d be in constant danger with it. I want to put it back in Dumbledore’s tomb. If I die without being defeated, the wand’s power dies with me. I need help putting it back, sealing the tomb, and placing as strong wards as possible over it.”

Kingsley composed himself, looking a little impressed. “That’s very noble of you, Harry. I must admit, I’m very surprised, but I think you’re making a wise decision. Although… have you considered that many people have heard what you said about the Elder Wand in the Great Hall?”

Harry honestly hadn’t thought about this. He thought out loud, “I mean, most people think it’s a myth anyways. If I’m asked, I’ll… figure something out I guess. It’s not like I can undo anything I said.”

“You could always tell them You-Know-Who was off his rocker and thought he had the Elder Wand. You threw him off his game by taunting him with it,” Ron suggested half-jokingly.

“That actually could work,” Hermione mused, sounding a little impressed at Ron’s idea. “If we have a good story to make that convincing, I think most people would believe it. And even if some people don’t, who would dare come after the Master of the Elder Wand and Conqueror of the Dark Lord?” she asked, grinning at Harry in a rare joke as Harry rolled his eyes.

Kingsley chuckled deeply. “You may be right about that. Ron, I do like that idea. I’ll think more about how we can best explain that, and hopefully we’ll have a chance to talk further about it before Harry’s asked about it.”

“We had one more question,” McGonagall said, looking at Harry again with that odd look he’d noticed earlier. “What happened in the forest during the ceasefire?”

Harry almost felt the wind had gotten knocked out of him. This was the question he’d been dreading answering. It had been one thing to tell Bill about it. Bill was like a cool older brother or uncle, not really an authority figure or anything intimidating. Bill was one of the only people older than Harry who treated Harry like an equal. It hadn’t been easy to tell Bill, but it was way different to tell not only Kingsley and McGonagall, but also Ron and Hermione, who were looking at Harry with unconcealed interest in what he had to say. Harry started feeling guilty. How could he tell them, his two best friends, that he’d left, intending to die, without saying goodbye? Somewhere further in the back of his mind, he realised that as hard as it would be to tell them this, it would be so much harder admitting it to Ginny.

There was no getting away from this question, Harry acknowledged as he looked back at the expectant faces of the Minister and Headmistress. He steadied himself, knowing he had to share someone else’s secret first for it all to make sense.

“We- the diadem was destroyed as the battle started. That just left the snake, and Riddle was keeping her with him. We found out he was in the Shrieking Shack, away from the battle. We snuck into the Shack using the tunnel underneath the Whomping Willow. We got there when Riddle was talking to Professor Snape. He was going on about not being able to get the Elder Wand to work properly. He believed that Snape was the master of the Elder Wand because he killed Dumbledore. He- he had Nagini kill Professor Snape.”

Harry looked at the adults for the first time since he’d started talking and saw Kingsley’s frowning expression and McGonagall’s barely concealed horror at the manner of death Snape endured. It was a testament to their humanity, Harry thought, that they felt this way even about someone they still believed to be a traitor.

“I don’t know why, but I felt like I needed to see if there was anything I could do. Snape was seconds away from death, and he gave me his memories. They poured out of him, and we collected them into a flask. After he died, Riddle called for the truce. You all heard that. He said I permitted my friends to die for myself. He-” Harry’s voice faltered as he remembered that feeling, hearing Riddle taunt him like that, coming into the Great Hall and seeing those dead friends, dead because Harry had come to Hogwarts that night. They may have been fighting for things other than him, but the reason the fight was there at all was because of him.

Wordlessly, Hermione placed her hand gently over his, which was gripping the arm of the chair he sat in so tightly that his knuckles were white and the scar from detentions with Umbridge stood out vividly. On his other side, Ron, usually the last to notice anything related to emotions, patted him comfortingly on his shoulder. How was it that after all they’d been through, after all that being friends with Harry had put them through, they were still this supportive? His friends were slightly mental, he realised, but they also cared about him more than anyone had before he’d met them.

Harry felt reassured, but he knew the hardest part was still to come. This was the part of the story that not even Ron and Hermione were there for. He took one more steadying breath, then picked up his story again.

“I brought the memories up here, to Dumbledore’s Pensieve. We’d used it last year when he was teaching me about Riddle’s background and Horcruxes. Snape’s memories started with him meeting my mother. They met, and they were friends before they even came to Hogwarts. My mum- she disagreed, strongly, with Snape being friends with people using Dark Magic. He was jealous of my dad and his friends, and he hated that they got to be in the same house as her. She didn’t like them, not then, but it didn’t make Snape less jealous. In his fifth year, he called her- he called her a Mudblood, and she never forgave him for it.”

Harry saw Hermione’s eyes darken at this, knowing she empathised deeply with the pain that slur caused, having felt it herself.

“Professor Trelawney made the prophecy about me to Dumbledore. I don’t know if Dumbledore ever told you two what it said?” Harry asked Kingsley and McGonagall. Both shook their heads. That had been a secret for Harry and the people he told then.

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

Both Kingsley and McGonagall’s eyes widened at this, hearing the prophecy for the first time. It was still disturbing, even now that it had been fulfilled.

“Snape had become a Death Eater, and he overheard the first part of the prophecy, that one who could destroy Riddle would be born in July to a couple who defied him three times. Snape told Riddle, but what he didn’t know was that meant Riddle would be targeting me and my parents. When he found out, he came to Dumbledore and told him everything, begging him to do what he could to protect us. Snape- he was in love with my mother. He’d asked Riddle to spare her when he hunted me down, but he didn’t know if that would work. Dumbledore told him that he was disgusted that Snape was willing to let me and my dad die so he could be with my mum. He did what he could to keep them safe, but when they were betrayed by Pettigrew, there wasn’t anything they could do. Dumbledore told Snape afterwards that if he really loved my mum, he’d do everything he could to keep me safe.

“Snape hated me because I reminded him of my father, but he did try to protect me from Quirrell my first year, and he did what he could to help us in secret this year too. Two summers ago, when Dumbledore found the ring, his hand was cursed. That’s why it looked burned that whole year. Snape managed to contain the curse, but it was still killing Dumbledore. Riddle gave Draco Malfoy the task of killing Dumbledore, but he expected that Snape would do it if Malfoy failed. Dumbledore told Snape that Snape would have to be the one to kill him so that Malfoy’s soul would remain unharmed. He wanted Snape to kill him, and since it would’ve been planned, Dumbledore would’ve died undefeated, and the power of the Elder Wand would’ve died with him. And even if the Elder Wand still saw it as a defeat, Snape would’ve been the Elder Wand’s master. Malfoy messed that plan up when he disarmed Dumbledore that night in the Astronomy Tower.”

Wide eyes on all sides were still aimed at Harry, riveted by his story. Now for the hard part.

“Dumbledore told Snape, not long before he died, that when Riddle became very protective of his snake and kept her with him everywhere, Snape had to deliver a message to me. The night that Riddle killed my parents and tried to kill me, his soul was incredibly fragile from already creating five Horcruxes. My mother’s sacrifice gave me a blood protection that kept Riddle from hurting me. When the Killing Curse he cast on me rebounded, his soul broke in two. And although the majority of his soul fled to Albania, a- a small part of it latched itself onto the only living thing left in the room… me. I was… the seventh Horcrux- the one he never meant to make.”

Hermione and McGonagall both gasped, while Ron’s jaw dropped and Kingsley stared intently at Harry with wide eyes. Harry swallowed down a lump in his throat before speaking again.

“That meant… well, even if we destroyed all the other Horcruxes, he still couldn’t be killed. Dumbledore told Snape that when the time was right, Riddle would have to kill me. Otherwise, he couldn’t ever die. There wasn’t really another choice. Ron and Hermione knew that the snake would have to be killed. I told Neville too, just in case. But if I didn’t go to Riddle during the truce, he would’ve come into Hogwarts and killed everyone. So I snuck out the castle and into the forest. I found their camp as Riddle was saying he was surprised I hadn’t come. I revealed myself, and… well, he cast Avada Kedavra on me.”

Again in unison, Hermione and McGonagall gasped, while Hermione gripped Harry’s wrist tightly. “Shit,” Ron muttered, ignorant of the adults in the room. He looked like he was going to be sick, but his grip on Harry’s shoulder rivalled Hermione’s for strength. Kingsley lost his strong composure, rubbing his chin while his eyes somehow widened further as if in disbelief. Harry knew none of them would speak until he finished his story, so he continued.

“I was dead for a few moments, I think. I was in some sort of limbo, like a- a gateway to… whatever’s next. That’s- that’s the only way I can think of to explain it. I was… presented with the choice of coming back or… moving on. While I was there, I realised why I had that choice at all. When Riddle came back, he used my blood. The same blood that was in his veins is in mine. That meant that my mother’s blood protection was kept alive in him, even though he tried to get around it by using my blood to take a physical body. In all his arrogance, Riddle had given me the advantage. He couldn’t be the one to kill me, and for years, he’d commanded his Death Eaters to let him be the one to kill me. I realised that if I came back, there wouldn’t be a better chance to beat him, with the blood protection and the Elder Wand belonging to me. He’d destroyed the Horcrux in me, so it was just Nagini left. And I- I decided to come back and finish it once and for all.

“When I woke up, I pretended to be dead so that he’d bring me back to the castle. I knew if I moved, I’d get hit with another Killing Curse, and even though I trusted the blood protection, I really didn’t know, and still don’t know, if I’d get another choice in limbo, and I could’ve been hit by any of the other Death Eaters there. But he had Narcissa Malfoy check to find out if I was alive. When she knelt over me, she could tell I was breathing. She asked me if Draco was alive, and when I told her he was, she lied and said I was dead so that she could come up to the castle and find him. Riddle had Hagrid carry me up, Neville killed the snake, and you all saw the last fight in the Great Hall.”

Harry finished his story simply, as if the whole thing made perfect sense and wasn’t a discussion of literal life and death. He’d left out some details that he didn’t think were important from his story. None of them needed to know that Neville was almost the Chosen One or that Harry had talked to Dumbledore in limbo. And even Kingsley and McGonagall didn’t need to know about the Resurrection Stone, although Harry planned on telling Ron and Hermione about it.

The silence was broken by Kingsley clearing his throat. “I just want to be sure I understand. When you went to the forest, you had no idea that you had this protection? And you didn’t try to fight him there, you just gave yourself up?”

Harry shook his head. “I- that walk to the forest is something I’ve been trying to avoid thinking about,” he confessed. “I was terrified. I- like I’m almost shaking, just thinking about it. I don’t know how I made it. I put my wand in my jacket so I wouldn’t be tempted to defend myself. I had no clue that I’d have a chance at surviving. I just knew that he wouldn’t stop killing my friends until he was dead, and I had to die for that to happen. So when I went out to the forest, I knew I wasn’t coming back.”

Harry said this with such finality that he closed his eyes, trying to will away the feeling that he was back in the forest, heading toward his inevitable demise. Hermione let out a strangled sob next to him, and Harry opened his eyes, looking at her crying before turning, surprised to see tears running down Ron’s face as well. At that moment, he heard what sounded like light raindrops on a window. Harry almost didn’t register it until it grew so loud that he couldn’t ignore it, sounding like a raging thunderstorm. But it was still sunny outside.

Harry looked toward McGonagall and Kingsley, and only then did he realise that he’d heard this sound before, a couple days ago when he’d been in this very office. The Headmasters and Headmistresses of Hogwarts were applauding him for the second time in a matter of days. The first time, it had been for defeating Voldemort. Today, it was for the sacrifice that Harry had described. Just like before, he didn’t know how to react, so he sought out Dumbledore, who was openly weeping in his portrait. Harry wanted to talk with him, but he knew he’d have the opportunity soon.

He refocused his attention on Kingsley and McGonagall, both of whom had that look that had been bothering Harry since they met him this morning. He suddenly realised where he’d seen that look before. It was a mixture of the look Mrs. Weasley had for him the summer after Sirius died and… the look the Dumbledore he’d seen in the forest had given him when they first met. It was concern and care, but there was also pride and… admiration? Was that possible? He thought back to what Dumbledore had said to him when he’d given Harry that look. ‘You wonderful boy. You brave, brave man.’

Why the hell did they insist on being proud of him? Did they not see the damage that had been caused? He could’ve done more. If he’d been faster, stronger, maybe none of this would’ve happened!

‘You’re part of our family.’ Bill had told him that. Harry felt his breathing slow, evening out as he remembered the people who cared about him, despite everything that had happened. He still felt guilty, but remembering what Bill had told him made it a little more manageable.

Hearing the applause subsiding, Harry blinked and realised that Professor McGonagall was crying. His eyes widened, and she chuckled gravely through her tears. He’d never seen that visible an emotion on her before. Then again, Harry realised that he’d forgotten that she was the first person to scream when they’d all seen his body. She’d sounded like she was being wrenched apart by grief, and he could tell that she was remembering that too.

“Potter, I may be an old woman, but I do still have feelings from time to time. Forgive me for shattering your image of a perfectly stoic professor,” McGonagall said pointedly. Harry exhaled sharply and smiled a little as McGonagall wiped her eyes, clearly trying to break the tension that had gripped the room as the applause had been replaced with silence.

“Harry,” Kingsley said, “thank you for trusting us with this. You’re a braver man than I am.” Harry flushed as Kingsley continued, “I don’t think many people could’ve done most of what you’ve done throughout your life, but the sacrifice you willingly made goes beyond that. That’s a sacrifice I wouldn’t expect the best Aurors to make. I truly don’t know how I would’ve handled that. I know you detest any sort of praise, but… you’re going to be hearing this often, so you should get used to it. You are a hero, and I will personally be advocating for you to receive the Order of Merlin.”

McGonagall added, “We will also be giving you a Special Award for Services to the School, although I’ll be trying to think of something more I can do. The Minister is right, Harry. I may still see a boy who struggled to transfigure a matchstick into a needle and spent so much time out after curfew that you rivalled your father, but you have grown into an exceptional man. I’m proud to have been your teacher and to have watched you grow into the wonderful, brave person you are today.”

Harry swallowed, nervously looking around and avoiding eye contact with anyone. He hadn’t done any of this for praise or attention or awards. He was used to people staring at him, but he wasn’t used to them saying things like this. He knew they meant well, but it made him so uncomfortable. He just wanted to be able to live a normal life. Why did he have to get singled out like that? He wasn’t the only one who did something to fight Voldemort. He wasn’t even the only person to destroy Horcruxes. Ron and Hermione both did so much to help”

Harry knew then what to say. “I- I honestly don’t really know how to respond to that. I’m not really one for- for compliments or anything, much less awards. But if I’m getting any awards, Ron and Hermione deserve them too. I would’ve been dead long before we made it here if not for them. Both of them saved my life, destroyed a Horcrux, and fought just as hard as I did.”

Hermione squeezed his hand, tears still leaking out her eyes. Ron sat up slightly, but Harry could see his mate was blushing profusely as Harry directed praise towards them. But Harry wasn’t quite done.

“I don’t know how much you know about the rebellion that took place here this year. But I’d suggest you look into it. Based on what I’ve heard, Neville, Ginny, and Luna also deserve awards for everything they did to keep students here safe.”

Both of his friends looked a little perplexed. Harry supposed they hadn’t heard anything about the activities of the D.A. from this past year. Granted, he didn’t blame any of the members for not wanting to talk openly about it. The only reason he knew about it was because of Ginny, and that had been incredibly difficult for her to talk about.

Kingsley nodded, “You’re absolutely right Harry. I’ll be advocating for all three of you, and I’ll also look into this rebellion and advocate to the Wizengamot for its leaders.”

“All six of you will be receiving Special Awards for Services to the School,” McGonagall agreed. “I’m somewhat familiar with this rebellion, although I suspect there is much that I have yet to learn about.”

“Speaking of those Special Awards,” Ron commented, “I remember cleaning an award for Tom Riddle in my second year. Any chance that one gets removed?”

“Immediately,” McGonagall responded, looking at Ron with a kind of surprised respect.

“I realise we’ve been the ones asking you all the questions, and I apologise for taking up so much of your time. I don’t believe Minerva and I have any more to add at the moment. But before you go, I wanted to know if we could answer any questions for you,” Kingsley offered.

Harry hadn’t even thought about what he didn’t know. Most of the questions he had were things that he’d want Ginny to answer. But as always, Hermione was ready with a question Harry hadn’t even thought to wonder about.

“What happened to Riddle’s body?” she asked.

“We took a page out of Barty Crouch’s book. His body was transfigured into a bone that we burned. The ashes were vanished away. There won’t be any grave or rallying point for anyone seeking to continue his work,” Kingsley assured.

That triggered something in the back of Harry’s mind. “Wait… how many Death Eaters got away?”

Kingsley pressed his lips together into a tight line, and Harry could tell he wouldn’t like the answer. “We don’t have an exact number yet. There are some Death Eaters who may have died in the months leading up to the battle that we don’t know about. Right now, we’re estimating that around twelve to fifteen escaped though.”

Harry exhaled slowly, trying to remain calm as he worried about the potential ramifications of this.

Kingsley interrupted his quickly derailing train of thought. “They’re disorganised and in despair after losing their leader and the majority of their allies. Our entire team of Aurors is trying to track them down before any trails run cold. I will let you know personally when we catch more. I should also mention that there will be trials, beginning at some point this summer, for the Death Eaters and anyone else who got away with crimes under the previous Minister’s regime. You will have the opportunity to testify at any trials if you choose, but I won’t allow the courts to compel you to come in as a witness for those trials if you do not wish to.”

Harry nodded. One more thing to worry about. There would be more pressing matters to deal with in the immediate future though, and besides, they’d surely have enough evidence to get all the Death Eaters convicted without his testimony.

After a moment, Kingsley spoke again. “If there’s nothing else we can help with right now, we have taken up more than enough of your time.”

“Could I meet with you tomorrow morning before I leave?” Harry asked. “Both of you actually, if possible. I need to put the Elder Wand back before I leave, and I don’t want to ask anybody else to help with the wards.”

They both nodded. “We’ll meet you whenever you’re ready,” McGonagall confirmed.

“Thanks. I’ll be at the tomb before nine tomorrow morning. And… I also wanted to ask if it’d be possible for me to speak to Professor Dumbledore, privately?” Harry asked.

McGonagall gave him an understanding look, and she and Kingsley stood up. Kingsley shook Harry’s hand firmly before pulling him into a brief but strong hug. While Kingsley was shaking Ron and Hermione’s hands, McGonagall surveyed Harry briefly, and Harry thought he could see tears in her eyes again. Then she did the last thing he ever thought the stern professor would do. She brought him into a tight hug. It wasn’t even entirely unpleasant, Harry realised. Then she surprised him further by hugging both Ron and Hermione.

“Can you two wait for me outside?” Harry asked after Kingsley and McGonagall had left. “I’ll just be a moment, and there’s something else I need to tell you about.”

They looked at each other and back at him, nodding. They exited the office holding hands. Harry turned back to the portraits, walking until he was close enough to talk to Dumbledore.

“Harry,” Dumbledore began before Harry could say anything, “I am so sorry for what you’ve had to go through. Nobody, let alone someone as young as you, should have had to deal with as much as you have. I am so incredibly proud of you. You are a far greater man than I ever was, and I’m so thankful that you have the chance to live the life you deserve now. I just hope that someday, you can forgive me, a foolish old man who didn’t make your life any easier despite my best efforts.”

Harry felt the sting of tears in his eyes. It was like he was mourning Dumbledore all over again. This was the first time he’d really talked to him in a year, other than the few words they’d said to each other the morning after the battle and when he lay dead in the Forbidden Forest, and Harry wasn’t sure how real that actually was. This was much more real- the tears sliding down Dumbledore’s face in the portrait were enough evidence.

His voice raw, Harry said, “Thank- thank you Professor. For… saying that, and for everything. I won’t lie. It was really hard, and there were times I was so angry at you for not telling me more. But… I couldn’t have done it all if I’d known I’d have to walk to my death at the end regardless. I may not have agreed with it all the time, but I understand why you did what you did. I have nothing to forgive you for. You knew all along that I’d have a chance at survival, and that was better than what I’d have had otherwise. Thank you for training me and mentoring me. It means so much, honestly, that you’re proud of me. I only wish you were really here,” Harry confessed.

Dumbledore smiled sadly at him. “I’m sure we’d be having a cracking party right now if I was there, but I’m currently exploring another adventure. Besides, I’ll always be here anytime you want to entertain an elderly wizard, and I’d very much like to talk to you and Miss Weasley,” he said with a knowing smile.

Harry just gaped at the man, surprised at how much he knew, even in death. “We’ll be sure to visit. Thanks again, Professor, for everything.” Dumbledore nodded, still smiling at Harry, and his eyes were twinkling as they did when he was alive.

Harry turned to go, but Dumbledore called him, “Harry!”

Harry looked back at Dumbledore, whose expression had grown sadder. “You’ve made it through the toughest part of the fight, but I fear that what comes next will be very difficult as well. Your ability to love is what makes you special, but it also means that loss hurts. There will be a lot of pain, but that’s not weakness. It’s your strength. No matter how dark things seem, you proved with Tom that love will triumph. But in the darkness, never forget- happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.”

Harry choked up, feeling a surge of affection for his mentor. Unable to say anything, he nodded, trying to express his gratitude without words. Dumbledore’s placid smile showed that he understood. Harry turned and walked out the office, trying to compose himself before he met Ron and Hermione by the broken gargoyle. Neither of them had been talking, but both looked up when he approached. They were both pale and seemingly struggling to make eye contact with him.

“Look, mate,” Ron started, “I- that is, we- we’re really glad you’re not dead. I dunno what we would’ve done without you.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Honestly, what is it with boys? Harry, you’re our best friend. The few minutes we thought you were dead were the worst in our lives. We’re so happy that you got to come back because we would’ve killed you again for not saying goodbye.” She emphasised her point by swatting him on the chest, but Harry could tell that she wasn’t upset, really.

“Believe me, I’m glad I got to come back too. I would’ve done anything to tell you bye, but I wouldn’t have been able to leave if I’d done it. I almost broke down and forgot about everything when I walked past Ginny heading towards the forest, and I didn’t even talk to her. I couldn’t have handled any goodbyes,” Harry admitted.

Hermione teared up again, and without words, she pulled both of her boys into a tight hug. Neither of them resisted at all. Instead, they were holding each other just as tightly, saying without words that the feeling was mutual.

“I’m so sorry you had to do that, Harry,” Hermione murmured. Harry just nodded against her shoulder, unable to find words again as he became choked up holding his two best friends.

After a couple minutes, they slowly untangled themselves from the hug and began walking back towards the Great Hall. Ron and Hermione both looked slightly pale still, but they seemed to be in better moods.

Harry didn’t know when he’d get them alone again, and he had to tell them another secret. “There’s something I didn’t mention up there, but I wanted the two of you to know.” They both looked at him, obviously interested in what secret he’d kept from the Minister for Magic and the Headmistress of Hogwarts.

“I realised, when I was walking to Riddle, what it meant on the Snitch Dumbledore gave me. I open at the close. I told it I was about to die, and it opened. I was right. He put the Resurrection Stone in the Snitch. I saw my parents, Sirius, and Remus.”

Hermione clapped her hand over her mouth and Ron’s eyes widened. Harry was sure that they were realising what he’d realised some time after he had the Elder Wand in his possession. He may have been the only person to ever rightfully possess all three Hallows, and he was as close as anyone had ever been to becoming the fabled Master of Death, as ironic as that title was considering what Harry had been through recently.

“They stayed with me as I walked to Riddle. Right before I met him, I dropped it. It’s somewhere in the Forbidden Forest, but I doubt I could find it again if I wanted to. But the thing is… I don’t want to. As destructive as the Elder Wand has the potential to be, the Resurrection Stone is so much more dangerous. It makes the people you’re bringing back uncomfortable after a while, but it’s so… seductive, I guess, seeing the people you’ve lost like they’re really there. It’s honestly not surprising that the brother in the story killed himself. The Stone could drive someone mad. I hope that it stays hidden in the forest forever.”

Hermione nodded. “I think that’s an excellent idea, Harry.”

Ron nodded slowly too, but he bluntly said what everyone had already thought. “Yeah that’s probably for the best. But- bloody hell, mate… you already have the Elder Wand and the Invisibility Cloak. You’re the only one who could find the Stone… you’re basically the Master of Death.” He almost whispered that last bit.

Hermione looked sharply at Ron, but Harry just chuckled, shaking his head. “I’m not keeping the Elder Wand. Anyways, I reckon the whole Master of Death thing is just a part of the legend, and I’m not concerned with that. Besides,” Harry said with a sly grin, “I’ve survived the Killing Curse twice. I think that makes me the Master of Death way more than a rock.”

Hermione swatted Harry again, this time on the shoulder. Harry winced in mock pain.

“Kidding, Hermione. Although, that does remind me, I do have something to show you two before we get back.”

Harry pulled them into an alcove around the corner from the entrance to the Great Hall. Looking around to make sure nobody else was nearby, Harry tugged the collar of his shirt down until it exposed the skin of his chest. And there, above his heart, was etched the familiar lightning bolt scar, still red from its newness.

Yet again, Hermione and Ron paled. Ron let out a very uncharacteristic chirp of surprise, and Hermione swore under her breath, something she never did. Satisfied that they’d seen enough, Harry straightened his shirt back out.

“I didn’t really want to tell Kingsley and McGonagall about that. People already stare at the scar on my head. Last thing I need is them trying to get my shirt off for a look at the matching one,” Harry tried to joke, but both Ron and Hermione remained quiet, looking quite ill. Harry remembered how he’d felt when he saw the scar for the first time. It had made everything that happened feel very real, and he supposed that’s what was happening with Ron and Hermione right now.

Harry stepped out from the alcove, and Ron and Hermione followed him, still silent. They entered the Great Hall, and Harry beamed as he saw Ginny coming towards them. It had been far too long since he’d seen her, even though it had only been about an hour or so. She smiled right back at him, but he was surprised to see that smile fade when she got closer.

Now, she was peering at the three of them with a very concerned look on her face. Harry mentally slapped himself. Ron and Hermione looked like they’d just seen death, literally. Of course Ginny would be worried.

She looked back into his eyes, and he felt time stand still as her concern and worry became his. He was falling deeply into her brown eyes, and the only thing that caught him was the slightest hint of fear forming at the edge of those eyes. She’d been through so much, Harry knew, that seeing her friends and him looking like this was very difficult. But she was holding herself together, as much for him as for herself. Ron and Hermione would be okay- they had each other. Harry needed to be with Ginny now.

He held out his hand to Ginny. “Come with me,” he said softly. Without hesitation, she grabbed his hand, tightly as if to make sure he wasn’t leaving. Harry looked at Ron and Hermione, who both nodded at him, understanding why he had to go. Grateful to his friends and vowing to thank them properly for everything they’d done later, Harry led his girlfriend out of the Great Hall, hoping they could steal a few hours walking around the grounds together.

A/N: First, I wanted to acknowledge that this chapter contains my only conscious divergence from canon in the two books I’ve written so far. At the end of Deathly Hallows, one sentence states that Harry explained everything that happened with the Pensieve and in the forest to Ron and Hermione. I felt like their friendship and the emotions of what they were going through deserved more than a single sentence, so I decided that in the canon of this universe, Harry didn’t talk about the forest with them until now.
Funny story about the Blaze nickname… I knew I wanted Harry to give Ginny a nickname, but I had absolutely no idea what it could be that didn’t feel super corny. So, well-prepared author that I am, I wrote out almost the entire scene up until the point where he gave her the nickname, reread it, and got really lucky when Blaze stuck out to me. And Harry’s justification for it was exactly my thought process for choosing it. Honestly, I stumbled into things accidentally working out pretty well in the writing of this quite a bit.
I know there was a lot more recap stuff in this chapter, but I do promise that it’s going to slowly stop being so prevalent, and, again, I think I at least mixed it up enough with Ron, Hermione, McGonagall, and Kingsley being involved in the retelling of it all.
I also should’ve mentioned it in Chapter 3, but my interpretation, and therefore the ‘canonical’ interpretation for this series, of what happened in the forest is that when Harry was in limbo, he was actually dead. It obviously all still happened in his head, but I’ve always thought he was dead for a brief second. Also, it is a lot more complicated than it seems to try to figure out all the layers of protection stuff with Harry, the sacrificial love protection, his blood in Voldemort, and the Elder Wand. Literally, I’ve rewritten the explanation of how he survived so many times, but I think I’ve finally got it, so I hope it made sense.
And, in case anyone didn’t notice, what Dumbledore says to Harry about turning on the light is blatantly stolen from the Prisoner of Azkaban movie because it’s a fantastic line that I wanted to be part of this world.
Two more tiny notes about this chapter: Erosprites are my invention, based on the sorts of things Luna believes in. Also, it’s sort of funny to me to be posting the fifth chapter of book 1, which I refer to as 1.5 in my personal notes, when I was closing up a tiny plot hole that I noticed all the way in 2.5 yesterday. Kind of crazy to me to see how different the lives of everyone will be by the time we get to the fifth chapter of the second book, but we’ve still got a long way to go before then!
Thanks for reading another chapter, and please feel free to leave any feedback!
Coming Friday: Falling- Ginny pressed her lips together. “We need to take you to see Madam Pomfrey.”
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