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After the War by Sarah MacKay

Format: Novel
Chapters: 20
Word Count: 63,414
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 15+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence, Scenes of a Mild Sexual Nature, Sensitive Topic/Issue/Theme, Contains Spoilers

Genres: General, Romance, Angst
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Shacklebolt, Arthur, Molly, George, Ginny, OtherCanon
Pairings: Harry/Ginny, Arthur/Molly, Ron/Hermione

First Published: 08/06/2007
Last Chapter: 09/08/2011
Last Updated: 09/08/2011

Summary:
Short Novel, Completed!  *CONTAINS SPOILERS*  What happened to our beloved characters after the great battle?  How do they pick up the pieces of their lives and live to find happiness?  Has the threat of danger passed? Takes place in the summer after the war.  Over 70,000 reads, Merlin's Pants!  Thank you all so much, you guys rock!  *Story is currently being edited to fix mistakes. :)
 
 
 
 
 


Chapter 1: Back to the Burrow
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           Disclaimer: The characters are not mine they belong to Jo Rowling so please don't sue me! I'm just taking them out for a spin.

           

The next few days were some of the strongest roller coaster emotional filled days Harry had ever experienced. They buried and said their final farewells to many brave friends. The hardest to say goodbye to, of course, were the closest friends. Lupin and Tonks, who were buried side by side. Colin Creevey, so small but so full of courage. Lavender Brown, who didn’t recover from her vicious bite from Fenrir Greybeck. Fred Weasley, who was like a brother to Harry.

George seemed lost without his twin, his other half. Together since conception, they had had the closest bond any human could ever have. Now that the final battle was over Harry could allow himself to grieve. It wasn’t until nearly a week after Fred’s funeral that Harry decided it was time to talk to George. George had shut himself in his old room at the Burrow and refused to eat. Mrs. Weasley had been forcing him to at least drink broth. She had turned to Harry for help in getting through to him.

“George?” Harry called as he knocked on the closed bedroom door. George did not answer. Harry intended to talk to George whether he wanted to listen or not. Harry tried the knob and was not surprised to find that the door was locked.

“Alohamora,” with a click the door unlocked and Harry cautiously entered the room. George was lying on his bed, his eyes open but not looking at anything in particular, glazed over and red from crying.

“George?” Harry ventured. George didn’t move or speak. Harry decided that he would continue, “George, I - I just wanted to talk to you. Your mother said you weren’t leaving your room or eating.” Still there was no response or change in George. Harry tried to provoke him into responding. “Do you mind if I sit down?” Harry gestured at a box that he could use as a seat. With no answer Harry sat down.

“I know it hurts to lose someone you love. I know--”

“SHUT UP! You don’t know anything! You don’t know how I feel! You- You-” George bellowed then stuttered with anger as he leapt of the bed. Harry could tell George was close to throwing a punch. “Fred is dead because of you! If it weren’t for you he’d still be alive!”

Harry sat quietly on the box, his elbows on his knees, his hands steepled in front of him, as he watched George through his round-lens glasses. He had a feeling of déjà vu except when he had been in this argument the last time Harry was the one doing the bellowing. Dumbledore had sat quietly behind his desk watching Harry tirade and tear apart his office. Harry remembered how much angrier it made him with how calm Dumbledore had stayed. On that thought Harry cautiously got up and began pacing the room. Without George noticing he waved his wand a fraction, thinking the incantation Coloportus, relocking the door.

“You’re right,” Harry told George.

“I - er, what?” George stood there his chest heaving, about to continue shouting and arguing until he realized Harry had admitted guilt.

“You’re right, Fred might still be alive if it weren’t for me. So would countless others who died fighting. Then again…they’d also be living under Voldemort’s rule.” George hissed upon hearing Harry use the name. Harry waited a moment before continuing.

“Fred knew the dangers of fighting for the cause, just as much as you did. As much as anyone who helped fight did. I wish I could say that that makes me feel better about it but it doesn’t. The cost of freedom doesn’t come free. I still feel responsible knowing they all had faith in me to help them win but I couldn’t save them all. But then I had to think about the kind of people they were. They were all fighting for a better future. A place where people don’t have to live in fear. Thinking about Fred I know he’d have wanted everyone to be happy, to find the joy in life-”

“You don’t know what he would’ve wanted. You’re not his brother. He wasn’t your twin! I don’t have to listen to you dictate to me what they all thought and felt,” George exploded, making a dash for the door. It was still locked.

“No, I suppose not, but I think, in time, you’ll come to see that I’m at least partly right. That Fred would have wanted you to be happy. If that isn’t enough to convince you to have a care for yourself then think about what you’re doing to your family, George. They’ve already lost Fred; they don’t want to lose you too. They care, George, and so do I.”

“Stay away from me and stay away from my family. If I see you anywhere near Ginny again you’ll regret it,” George said in a menacing tone. With a loud CRACK he was gone.

Harry unlocked the door and walked back downstairs with his head bowed in defeat. Most of the Weasley family was sitting around the table and clearly had heard most of the conversation. Harry tried to avoid Ginny’s gaze.

“I’m afraid I wasn’t much of a help, Mrs. Weasley, I’m sorry,” Harry apologized.

“It’s all right, dear. Besides that’s the most energy and the first sign of any emotion other than grief that George has shown in a few days. It’s better to have him outwardly angry than to have him turn inside himself. I just hope he comes around,” Mrs. Weasley said dabbing her eyes with her kerchief.

“Of course he will, Mum, he just needs some time, that’s all,” Ron said giving his mother a gentle pat on the back. Mrs. Weasley nodded her head, collected herself then headed toward the cupboard.

“Harry, dear, care to stay for supper?” Molly Weasley asked.

“Erm, no, I uh, I better not,” Harry answered fully wishing he could because Mrs. Weasley was the best cook he knew.

“Are you sure? I was going to make treacle tart for pudding,” Mrs. Weasley goaded knowing full well that treacle tart was Harry’s favourite. After what George had just said Harry’s guilt had made him feel ashamed and he felt more of a burden to this family than a friend. Harry felt like an outsider in a family’s grief. Harry was about to repeat his decline when Ron spoke up.

“Stay, mate, I wanted to talk to you about something anyway,” Ron looked at Harry expectantly.

“I…yeah all right, thanks,” Harry said then followed Ron out the door to the gardens.

“Hermione should be here in a about a half an hour or so,” Mrs. Weasley called out to them as they went out the door.

“Thanks, Mum,” Ron called back.

They strolled around the yard for a bit in silence. A lawn gnome was sitting under a tree eating any bugs that came near it. Ron tossed a rock in its direction and it scampered off.

“So, what is it you wanted to talk to me about?” Harry inquired.

“Few things actually,” Ron told him pulling the top off a tall weed. “First, is I just want you to know we don’t blame you, Harry. Fred knew the risks, like you said, and he would want us to be happy.”

“How did you…?” Harry wondered how Ron had heard him, because while George had been shouting Harry had been rather calm and quiet.

“Extendable Ear,” Ron explained showing Harry a fleshy coloured piece of string in his pocket.

“But your Mum?”

“Yeah, well, Mum has realized how handy they can be to spy on Ginny and me. I saw her using one to listen in and so I figured she couldn’t tell me not to use it without being a hypocrite so… Sorry I eavesdropped though.”

“S’all right.”

Ron waited a moment before broaching the next subject, “the second matter is, now that the main battle is over it’s relatively safe for the Grangers to come back out of hiding and Hermione wanted me to ask if you would come with us to go get them?”

“Yeah, sure, of course, I’ve gotta go get the Dursleys from the safe house they got put in as well. We’ll make a safe relaxing trip of it,” Harry told Ron which earned him a chuckle. “Anything else?”

“Yeah, er, what are your intentions with my sister?”

“Ron, I-”

“Because now that the war is over you don’t have any excuses anymore and you still haven’t talked to her. You’re hurting her feelings you know.”

“I just figured that you all needed some time alone as a family,” Harry explained rather lamely.

“And?”

“And what?”

“Boy are you dim. Are you gonna talk to her or not? If you don’t want to be with her you need to tell her ‘cause right now you’re draggin’ out her hopes and I gotta tell ya, friend or not if you hurt her I-”

“I won’t hurt her, Ron. I’ll talk to her today,” Harry said, this was an awkward conversation to be having with his best friend.

“Just be gentle with her, okay, because I think she loves you,” Ron warned Harry.

“That’s good,” Harry said with a broad smile forming on his face, “because I love her too.” Harry almost laughed at the expressions that crossed Ron’s face. “So what about you?”

“Course I love her, I mean she’s my sister,” Ron said defensively.

“Now who’s being thick? I mean you and Hermione?”

“Oh, yeah, well the past week’s been sort of a blur.”

“Tell me about it,” Harry said dryly. “So, you planning on telling Hermione tonight?”

“Telling her what?”

“That you love her,” Harry said chuckling at Ron’s confusion.

“Oh, well yeah but I’m not sure how.”

“I know how you feel. I’m sure it’ll come to us though.”

“What’ll come to you?” asked Hermione walking up to them.

“Oh, uh, nothing, it’s nothing,” Ron stammered.

“Yeah, er, n-nothing really, Hermione,” Harry said not sounding much better than Ron.

“Uh-huh,” she said obviously not believing them. “Did you ask him?” Hermione asked turning to Ron.

“Yeah.”

“Yeah, he did, course I’ll come,” Harry said thankful for the change in topic.

“Great, we’d better go inside though. I think we should give a hand with supper,” Hermione said leading them back inside.
 


Chapter 2: Secrets and Flaws
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          Mrs. Weasley was mixing ground beef with different seasonings and teaching Ginny what to put in and how much. Then they both started rolling out the meatballs to pan-fry. Harry hadn’t realized he had stopped to stare at the interaction until Ron gave him a rather hard jab in his ribcage with his elbow.

“Need a hand with anything?” Harry asked, broken free of his reverie.

“If I could have someone fill that big pot over there with water and set it to boil on the stove that’d be great,” Mrs.Weasley answered. “Oh and the table needs to be set.”

Harry picked up the pot Mrs.Weasley had referred to and set it on the stove. He pulled out his wand and over the pot he waved it thinking the spell Aguamenti and the pot filled with water. He started the flame in the burner underneath. Ron and Hermione set the table.

“All set with the water?” Molly asked Harry as she set some of the meatballs to fry in a pan. Harry nodded. “Good, do you think you can help Ginny with the garlic bread?” Harry nodded again. He walked over to the counter where Ginny was working.

“Hello, Ginny,” Harry said brightly.

“ ‘lo,” was her clipped reply. She sounded angry.

“Er, is everything okay?”

“Fine,” she answered but to Harry it clearly wasn’t fine. He pondered her answer for a moment.

“Your mum wanted me to help you with making the garlic bread. What can I do?” Ginny made an exasperated noise that sounded like ‘tek-ah’ and was silent for a moment. She pulled out a long knife from a wood block and Harry leaned back a little, somewhat afraid that if he said the wrong thing the knife would end up slicing him in Ginny’s anger. She cut a long loaf of French bread in half so that there was now a top and bottom to the loaf. She lay the pieces on a cookie sheet flat side up.

“The butter.”

“ ‘scuse me?” Harry didn’t know what she was talking about.

“The butter, it needs to be melted while I mince some garlic,” she elaborated.

“Oh,” Harry replied as he found the butter by the knife block. He used his wand to heat the dish until the butter was melted. Ginny had taken a clove of garlic and pounded it rather forcefully with the flat of her blade. She cut up the garlic into tiny pieces and then scooped it up expertly with the knife and added it to the melted butter. It smelled delicious, Harry’s mouth started to water. He waited until Ginny had put the knife in the sink to speak again.

“Listen, Ginny, I’ve been meaning to talk to you.”

“Oh?” she said not sounding remotely interested.

“Look, I’m sorry I haven’t talked to you sooner but I felt that you and your family needed time alone--”

“But you’re like family, Harry, to all of us. You could’ve at least said something to me after the funeral, but you didn’t. No one blames you, Harry. If it weren’t for you we’d probably all be dead. I understood your reasons for disassociating yourself with me before the war was ended but to be honest with you I didn’t agree. It should have been a decision we made together. You never even asked me what I thought. I stayed silent because I knew you had enough to be getting on with. But now … now your excuses are just lame, Harry.” Ginny had said most of this in a low undertone only he heard but her voice started to rise in the end.

“I know, Ginny, and I’m sorry. Listen, can we talk about this later, in private?” he begged. He could see Ron and Hermione sneaking glances at them. For a moment it seemed as if Ginny was going to lose control of her temper and start shouting, it wasn’t until Mrs. Weasley asked how the garlic bread was coming that seemed to make Ginny realize that this was neither the time nor the place to be having this discussion.

“Fine,” Ginny answered her mother in a sweet voice that betrayed her inner feelings. “Fine,” she repeated to Harry in a lower, angry tone. Harry wanted to say something that would ease her temper and her mind but he couldn’t think of anything to say. He merely watched her in silence instead as she brushed the garlic butter on the bread then sprinkled the feta cheese on top.

Harry dutifully carried the pan over to Mrs. Weasley who put it in the oven. Before Mrs. Weasley returned to putting the meatballs she had cooked into a pot of tomato sauce she looked over Harry to Ginny.

“Ginny, dear, are you all right? You look as though you’re running a fever,” Mrs. Weasley inquired, worry making her voice a little higher pitched.

“I feel fine, Mum.”

“Are you sure? You don’t want to lie down before supper?”

“Mum?” Ron broke in, saving his sister from their mother’s attentions. “Is there anyone else coming to dinner, or is this enough place settings?”

“Huh? Oh that looks fine, Ron,” Mrs. Weasley answered, distracted from Ginny for the moment. “Why don’t you all go outside and relax until supper is ready,” she suggested. Harry and Hermione looked confused but said nothing as Ron and Ginny nudged them outside. They walked across the lawn in silence until they were well away from the house.

“Mum’s been pretty overprotective of us. Bit annoying really, but you know it’s only ‘cause of what happened with Fred. I know it’s out of love but I hope she gets over this phase soon,” Ron explained.

“Then why did she want us out of the house?” Hermione asked and, now that Harry thought about it, the actions were contradictory.

“So she can cry without us seeing,” Ginny answered, her own eyes turning watery. Harry felt a sudden urge to wrap his arm around her to comfort her and he didn’t resist the impulse. For a moment she sank into the comfort of his arms then quickly shrugged off his embrace, taking a few steps away from him.

“Is there anything we can do?” Hermione asked ignoring or not noticing what had just happened between Harry and Ginny.

“Just the fact that you’re here, Hermione, makes everything seem a little bit brighter,” Ron told her which made Hermione blush. Ginny separated herself from them heading into the tall grass and wildflowers growing further away. Harry thought it wasn’t such a bad idea to go after her. He certainly wasn’t going to stand here watching Ron and Hermione make goo-goo eyes at each other.

It didn’t take Harry long to catch up with Ginny for she had stopped to pick some of the wildflowers. The sight of her standing there, with a light breeze blowing her flaming hair, the sun lighting her beautiful face, took his breath away. It reminded him how precious life was and would be now that he had time to enjoy it.

“I bet if you pick enough of those to put in a vase on the dinner table it would cheer your mum up,” Harry ventured.

Ginny merely shrugged and continued picking more flowers. Harry watched her a little while and soon her back was turned to him as she went along with her task. He heard her sniff every so often and he knew that she was crying. His Ginny, who hardly ever cried, was crying and it nearly broke his heart.

“Ginny?”

“Hmm?” She still did not face him.

“Ginny, look at me,” Harry pleaded. She shook her head. Harry didn’t know what else to do so he walked up behind her, put his hands on her shoulders and gently turned her toward him. Ginny’s cheeks were covered with tears. She kept her head tipped down, not meeting his gaze. Harry crooked his finger under Ginny’s chin gently forcing her to look up at him. When her eyes finally met his it was as if the dam, that up until now had only let a slow trickle of tears to fall, broke. He pulled her into a tight embrace as her silent weeping turned into wracking sobs.

“It’ll be all right, Ginny. It will all be all right,” Harry tried consoling her. Her face was buried in his chest. He kissed the top of her head and stroked her back. He understood now that Ginny had internalized everything, only to cry when no one else was around, when there was no one there to comfort her. To give her family strength, to put on a brave face, right now was a rare exception to her own rules. “Shh, Ginny, it’s all right. I love you, Ginny. It’s going to be okay.”

The words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. It wasn’t that he regretted saying them but it just wasn’t how he envisioned it happening. Harry heard Ginny take a sharp intake of breath and her sobbing ceased. He waited with bated breath to see what her reaction would be.

Ginny slowly raised her head so that she could look at him properly. He could see the tears on her face that glistened like jewels in the sun.
Without saying a word she brushed the hair on his forehead to the side, he knew she was looking at his scar but for some reason it didn’t bother him.

“I love you too, Harry. I think a part of me always has,” Ginny told him, looking into his eyes, giving him a fleeting smile. Again, Harry had the sensation of having the wind knocked out of him. “But I don’t want to be hurt again,” Ginny continued, “I couldn’t bear it.”

“I am sorry for causing you pain but I didn’t want anyone to hurt you, or even worse kill you, to get to me. I wish you could understand that.”

“I do understand, Harry, but that doesn’t make it hurt any less.” She took a shuddering breath then continued. “That night, when Hagrid brought you out of the Forest, and V-Voldemort said you were dead I really thought you were gone. That you had truly died for us. I felt as if someone had ripped my heart from my chest. I didn’t want to believe it was true, but there you were, lying there at his feet. He even kicked you a few times and you looked so lifeless. I wanted vengeance and justice and I didn’t care if I died to get it because I felt like I had lost everything worth living for. Then the battle came and I was fighting Bellatrix and there was no time to think. Then out of nowhere there you were, alive! Oh, Harry, I couldn’t believe my eyes! You were duelling Voldemort, It all happened so fast. I knew you were tired afterward, and I had my family to comfort, so I didn’t expect much of an explanation that morning or that day, but it’s been about a week now, Harry. You could have said something to me after Fred’s funeral but you didn’t. You still haven’t let me in and that hurts!”

“I’ll try and explain, Ginny, really I will. You’ve had more patience with me that I could have imagined. I promise I’ll explain as much as I can--”

“When? Because if I’m not mistaken you’re going off with Ron and Hermione to get her parents.”

“Right,” Harry felt a little crestfallen and looked down at his shoes.
“I forgot about that.” Then an idea popped into his head, “Maybe you could go with us?”

“Yeah right, like Mum would let me. She’s only letting Ron out of her sights because he’s of age and he’d just go anyway even if she told him not to.” Ginny told him sounding less angry but still irritated.

“But you’d be with me, you’d be safe. I mean, no one would be stupid enough to have a go at me now would they?”

“You sound pretty sure of yourself,” Ginny teased with a grin. She started picking flowers again. “It would be nice to get away for a bit, even if it was just for a day or two. It would certainly give us a chance to talk, at length, about things.”

“So you’ll come?” Harry was starting to get his hopes up, he knew, but after everything he’d done for the wizarding world he felt it was high time he had time to just spend with the people he cared about in a situation that wasn’t risking life or limb. He started idly picking flowers as well to give his hands something to do other than fidget or stuff in his pockets.

“Like I said, it would be nice, but there’s still the problem with getting Mum to let me go. Even if we convince her that it’ll be a safe trip, and I’m sure it will, there’s still one other problem.”

“What’s that?”

“Oh, Harry, sometimes you are so clueless,” she said laughing.

“Gee, thanks,” he said laughing with her, “mind telling me what I’m clueless about?”

“Well, it’s obvious isn’t it? Ron and Hermione are clearly expressing their feelings for each other finally, which is great, but that makes the trip sort of boy-girl boy-girl and, well, no chaperones so…”

“Oh,” Harry said finally understanding, “but surely your Mum knows we wouldn’t do anything?”

“Lately it’s hard to tell what she’s thinking,” Ginny said sounding quite serious again.

“Well, it’s still worth asking her isn’t it? I mean, the worst she can say is no, right?”

“I suppose,” Ginny said looking contemplative once again.

“What’s the matter, Ginny?” Harry asked. Ginny shrugged.

“Does this have to do with something else?”

“Well, it sort of goes back to what I said earlier, Harry. I do love you, and it’s wonderful to hear you say you feel the same about me but…”

“But what, Ginny? You can talk to me,” Harry prodded.

“I just don’t think I could bear rejection again. Maybe, after we have a chance to talk, about everything, I’ll be willing to be in a more serious relationship with you, Harry, but for now…for now I just need time to think.”

Ginny’s eyes were watery, a sign she was close to crying again. He knew there was truth in what she was saying. He had left her out of the loop. He was reminded once again of how Dumbledore had kept secrets, not all of them had needed to be. It was about letting people into your heart, he thought. It was about letting people see you for who you really are and hoping that they can accept you despite your secrets and flaws. Ginny had waited a year for him, without any answers or true explanations. The least he could do was have enough patience to wait until she was ready, and hope that when she made her decision it would be in his favour.

“Take as much time as you need,” Harry told Ginny kissing her forehead. They stayed that way for a while savouring each other’s company. Harry finally let her go and together they strolled across the lawn. He gave her the flowers he had picked to add to the ones she had. They spotted Ron and Hermione by a large tree out of view of the kitchen window.

“And he used to pass judgment on me and my behaviour. Look at them, it’s like their faces are stuck together,” Ginny pointed out about Ron and Hermione. Harry couldn’t help but laugh. That was one of the things he loved the most about Ginny, her ability to make him laugh.

“What’s so funny?” Ron asked, coming up for air now that Harry and Ginny were closer. Hermione was a little red in the face and was making a futile attempt to fix her hair.

“Ginny was just commenting on your manners and public snogging,” Harry told Ron with a chuckle. Ron gave a sheepish grin and his ears turned red. “We were thinking about asking your Mum if Ginny could come with us to get Hermione’s parents and the Dursleys. What do you think?”

“I think it’d be fun…if she says yes,” Ron stated.

“But you don’t think she will?” Harry asked rhetorically. “Nah, we didn’t think so either,” Harry stated glumly flopping onto the ground beside Ron. Ginny hesitated then decided to sit beside Hermione.

“Maybe…,”Hermione wondered aloud after a few moments’ silence but she didn’t elaborate.

“‘Maybe’ what?” Ginny asked.

“Huh? Oh I was just thinking. Don’t give up on the idea just yet, maybe I can convince her to let you come,” Hermione told them then said no more on the matter. “Those are pretty,” she said looking at the flowers in Ginny’s hand.

“Yeah, we thought they would cheer Mum up,” Ginny told her.

“Good idea, butter her up and everything then ask her. She’ll be more likely to say yes if you’re on her good side,” Ron told Ginny.

“Tsk, Ron, sometimes you really show a lack of tact,” Hermione chided.

“What? It’s true isn’t it?” Ron said in his defense.

“Well, yeah, but it’s not really the best way to go about it.”

“Well, I think that if something has worked in the past and proven successful why do it differently?” Ron stated flatly. Hermione just rolled her eyes.

“It couldn’t hurt could it?” Harry asked Hermione and Ginny.

“It won’t hurt. I just don’t think it’s enough. I think there are a few things she needs to hear to ease her mind,” Hermione told them wisely.

While they sat there thinking about it a lawn gnome came wandering close to them. It was following a trail of ants and picking them up and eating them. To entertain them Ron started tossing worms and grubs that he found under a rock he flipped over to the gnome. The gnome was confused at first by the falling bounty and started running around with the mouth in its potato-like head wide open trying to catch the bugs like children catch snowflakes on their tongue. They all laughed when one of the worms got stuck on the gnome’s head and instead of picking it off with its grubby little hands it ran around in circles with its tongue stuck out trying to grab it. Eventually the gnome fell over on its back, plucked the worm off its head with its stubby fingers, and began slurping the worm contentedly.

“It wasn’t much later when they heard Mrs.Weasley calling for them. Ron stood up and helped Hermione to her feet. Harry was about to repeat the gesture with Ginny but she sprang to her feet before he had the chance.
 


Chapter 3: Photographs and Memories
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Supper was an uncommonly quiet affair in the Weasley household. George didn’t come back that night but he did have the presence of mind to owl his mother so she wouldn’t worry about him and told her he was staying in his flat above the shop for the night. Mr. Weasley dashed down supper as fast as he could because he had to go back to the Ministry and put in extra hours to help Kingsley Shacklebolt try and create some sense of order after so much chaos. Ron and Hermione kept giving each other looks across the table, which didn’t go unnoticed by anyone. Ginny refused to look at Harry over dinner or anyone else for that matter. She seemed lost in thought a few times and Molly asked her if she was alright when Ginny stopped eating and was idly twirling the spaghetti on her plate. Harry tried to avoid Mrs. Weasley’s gaze afraid that if their eyes connected she would know he was the reason for Ginny’s behavior. Harry thought maybe he was being paranoid but he felt that Mrs. Weasley was glancing from face to face of the people around her as she ate in suspicion of something.

“So…now that I’ve got you all in one room,” Mrs. Weasley said a little while later as she dished out the treacle tart, “what do you lot have planned?”

“Immediate or distant future?” Ron asked with a bit of cheek.

“Both, but why don’t we try immediate future first,” Mrs. Weasley said sounding a bit annoyed.

“Well, we need to take a trip to pick up my parents,” Hermione supplied in a sweet voice, “and Harry thought that while we’re at it we would pick up the Dursleys from the safe-house they got placed in.”

“Do you even know where they’re being kept?” Mrs. Weasley asked.

“Hermione knows where her parents are as she’s the one that hid them. As for the Dursleys, Kingsley said he’d fill me in on their location if I stopped by his office. I need to head over there anyway for another briefing. I was thinking about dropping by there tomorrow,” Harry informed.

“And all three of you are going?” Mrs. Weasley asked then looked over at Ron who merely gulped a large bite of treacle tart too early and nearly choked. He went into a coughing fit, his eyes watering, and couldn’t answer.

“Yes,” Hermione answered handing Ron his glass of pumpkin juice. “Well, actually, Mrs. Weasley, we were wondering if Ginny might be able to come as well?”

There was moment of tense silence. Mrs.Weasley looked for a moment as if she were about to lose her temper. Ginny looked up at her mother and pleaded with her bright brown eyes without saying a word.

“I really don’t think that’s such a good idea,” Mrs.Weasley finally answered. “I’ll need to talk to your father about it. I’d also like to know your travel plans.”

“Well, we were planning on Apparating into a magical village near where I placed my folks and catching a Muggle bus from there,” Hermione started to explain.

“Ginny’s not of age yet. She doesn’t have her Apparating License,” Mrs.Weasley pointed out.

“She can side-along with me,” Harry piped up. “I’ve done it already a few times.”

“And after you meet with the Grangers?”

“Floo Network,” Hermione continued. “I was planning on speaking with someone at the ministry to connect the fireplace in the house I put my parents in to the Floo Network temporarily.”

“And you expect to accomplish all this traveling in one day?”

“Erm, well, no, I thought that we could stay one night in the house my parents are in,” Hermione answered sheepishly. “I’ll have to have time to restore their memories a well.”

“So you’ll have a chaperone overnight. Don’t you roll your eyes at me, Ronald Weasley. You may be of age and quit school and spent almost a year alone with Hermione and Harry, and I know you were on an important mission, all the details of which I still don’t know, but your sister is sixteen and as long as she lives under this roof and until she comes of age she follows my rules, understood?” Ron just nodded his head dumbly. “Fine, so you’ve figured out travel and sleeping arrangements. What about if you get attacked? You-Know-Who may be dead but a lot of his Death Eaters and supporters are still at large.”

“Well, I’ll be there, Mrs.Weasley,” Harry said calmly, keeping in mind what Hermione said about putting Mrs.Weasley’s mind at ease. “If anything should happen I’ll be there to help protect Ginny. Besides, I don’t think they’d want to duel with me anyway, not now that they think I’m a force to reckon with. And I’ve seen Ginny at the top of her game, she knows how to defend herself, anyone who has seen her Bat-Bogey Hex knows it,” Harry added for good measure.

“True enough,” Molly conceded. “I still don’t know. I’ll talk to your father, Ginny, and we’ll see.”

“Maybe is better than no I suppose,” Ginny said looking a little less glum. She finally looked over at Harry and he gave her a quick wink. They all finished off their treacle tart and helped clean up. Ron and Ginny insisted that their mom sit down and relax as they washed the dishes. Harry and Hermione dried and put them away.

Mrs.Weasley had tuned the wireless to listen to her favorite singer Celestina Warbeck. When the quartet finished cleaning up they joined Molly in the sitting room. Ron and Hermione sat together on the loveseat. Harry sat on a stool. Ginny curled up on the floor at her mother’s feet and lay her head against Molly’s knees.

“I was just wondering,” Mrs.Weasley spoke after the song ended, “why it is that you won’t tell your father and I where it is that you three were hiding all year and what exactly was it that your mission was?” She looked at Ron, Hermione and Harry each in turn then looked down at Ginny.

“Don’t look at me,” Ginny said defensively, “I don’t know either.”

“I told you, mum,” Ron answered in exasperation, “we went to Grimmauld place then after that we had to stay on the move, camping in secluded places. As for the mission, you’ll know when the tie is right.”

“And I wonder just when that might be?” Molly said haughtily. A silence fell in the room where the Weasley kids and Hermione were afraid to speak lest they anger Mrs.Weasley further.

“Soon,” Harry said in a quiet voice. “I know it’s not easy wondering what we were doing, but we’re here now, quite safe and healthy. That’s not to say that what we were doing wasn’t dangerous, I won’t lie to you, it most definitely was. But it’s over and in the past.”

“Then why can’t you just tell me?” Mrs.Weasley pleaded.

“Because there are still some Death Eaters on the loose and some of Voldemort’s supporters that would probably cause trouble or worse if they found out what we did, what lengths we went to to take out Voldemort. The information needs to be kept quiet until we can be sure we can prevent it from happening again. We need to wait until things have settled down a bit more. I just feel that we should limit the people we tell. It’s not that we don’t trust you it’s just that it’s still not safe knowledge to carry. I don’t want you to become a target for any information you might know.”

“Then why bring Ron and Hermione in on it and put your best friends in danger?” Mrs.Weasley asked of Harry.

“When Dumbledore originally told me of the mission he asked me to share my knowledge with them in case I failed so there would be someone left who would know what to do to carry on. He told me to tell them and no one else.”

‘Yes, well, Dumbledore was very adept at keeping secrets,” Mrs.Weasley sniffed.

“Yes, he was,” was all Harry could say to that truth. “And I do keep that in mind. All I can do right now is assure you that in time you will know and I hope that will suffice for now.” Harry knew that Mrs.Weasley was angry with him. He understood her frustration at being kept out of the loop, when the Order of the Phoenix had rejoined at Grimmauld place no one had told him, he had spent a whole summer without anyone telling him their secrets.

No one spoke for a few minutes. Harry leaned his elbows on his knees and steepled his fingers and watched Mrs.Weasley over them. Ginny watched her mother as well, her neck craned to see Molly’s face. Harry glanced quickly over at Ron and Hermione and saw that they were holding hands discreetly. Ginny jumped a little when Mrs.Weasley let out a derisive snort.

“Well, I don’t have much of a choice do I?” Molly asked to no one in particular. She turned up the wireless volume again, leaned back in her chair, and closed her eyes. From afar she looked completely calm, but Harry could see a faint sparkle of a tear drop trickle down Molly’s cheek that she didn’t brush away because she did not want to bring any attention to it.

Harry watched Mrs.Weasley for a while longer until Ron stood up, walked over and tapped Harry on the shoulder. It gave Harry a start and he flinched a bit. Ginny stood up too but she moved toward one of the shelves in the room and pulled down a rectangular flower-printed box. She sat on the floor with it and lifted the lid off. Hermione joined Ginny on the floor to look at the contents of the box which was a collection of pictures.

“Fancy a game of Wizard’s Chess?” Ron asked Harry.

“Sure,” Harry answered not really wanting to but at least it would pass the time. They set up the chess game on the floor not too far from Hermione and Ginny. Harry was losing, as per usual when he was playing against Ron, but every now and again Ginny would mumble a hint to Harry. Harry’s interest in the game quickly waned when Ginny and Hermione started talking avidly about the photographs they were looking at.

“This one here’s a picture of Bill and Charlie when they were younger. You can see Mum in the background there,” Ginny pointed at the photo, “she was pregnant with Percy at the time.” Harry took a quick look at the photograph to see two mud covered young boys and a radiant, younger, very pregnant Mrs. Weasley trying unsuccessfully not to laugh at her sons.

“Oh, this one here you’ll like Hermione!” Ginny said holding up another photograph. “It’s ickle Ronniekins getting a bath, only about a year old too.”

“Oi! Don’t show that to her Ginny!” Ron said trying to snatch the picture out of Ginny’s hand, but Hermione plucked it away first.

“Oh, Ron, you were so adorable!” Hermione exclaimed upon seeing the picture.

“Yeah,” Harry said looking at the picture of baby Ron splashing around in a tub, “wonder what happened?”

“Oi!” Ron shouted and punched Harry on his bicep. All four of them settled into a fit of laughter. Harry and Ron abandoned their game of chess, Harry was going to lose in ten moves anyway, the surviving pieces complaining about the battle being unfinished. The boys joined the girls in looking at the photographs.

“Hey, Harry, look at this one,” Ron said pulling a picture out of the box. Ron handed the rectangular glossy picture over to Harry.

“What is that?” Ginny asked suspiciously.

“Baby picture of you, it’s only fair, you showed Hermione one of me. More than fair really, at least you have clothes on,” Ron retorted.

Harry looked down to see what looked like a two year old Ginny in a pretty flowered dress or at least it must have been pretty, Harry couldn’t exactly tell because the front of the dress was covered in chocolate cake and frosting. In fact all of Ginny’s face and fingers were covered in chocolate brown. As Harry watched the moving picture baby Ginny was still licking the frosting off her hands. Seeing Ginny as a baby gave Harry a weird giddy feeling inside. It made Harry wonder what any children Ginny might have in the future would look like. Would they all be just as beautiful as Ginny? Harry liked to think so.

Seeing her in a less than graceful state as a baby covered in chocolate gateau made Harry laugh politely. Hermione took the photo out of Harry’s hand so she could look at it.

“Aww, look at you!” Hermione commented on the picture. Ginny ignored Hermione’s cooing and reached back into the box for another picture.

“Who’s that?” Harry had to ask because he was looking at the photo of two Hogwarts students. Both were young, thin, and laughing. “Is this you, Mrs.Weasley?” Harry asked turning to her.

“Hmm?” Molly set down her wand that she was using to bewitch her knitting needles to get up and have a look at the picture. “Oh, yes, that’s me and Arthur. I think that was taken near the end of out fifth year.”

“This was taken on Hogwarts’ grounds?” Hermione asked. They had all circled around Mrs.Weasley.

“Mmhmm, not too far from the lake,” Molly answered. “Closer to the forest I think.”

“I don’t recognize the place,” Ron stated.

“I think I do,” Harry said.

“Yeah,” Ginny added, “it looks a lot different now but that looks like the hill that the Whomping Willow is planted on.”

“Oh, yeah, I see it now,” Hermione commented.

Harry couldn’t help but think of why the tree was planted. To block the tunnel that was dug to the shrieking shack, to prevent other students from finding the entrance. Dumbledore wanted a safe place for Remus Lupin to go during the full moon. Before Harry could dwell too long on his darker thoughts of losing Lupin Mrs.Weasley had taken the box of photographs and was holding up the next picture.

“Who’s that, Mum?” Ginny asked.

“That is Percy,” Molly explained, “and your father. I took this picture when Percy was three. He used to love getting horsy rides from Arthur. Used to beg him all the time for rides around this room.” Harry thought it was funny to see Percy in a situation that wasn’t so prim and proper. Apparently he wasn’t the only one because everyone began laughing as they watched Arthur Weasley crawl around the room with Percy on his back giggling and flailing his arms.

They spent most of the evening that way, going through pictures from the box and laughing if the pictures were amusing or in the case of a few pictures of Fred or Mrs.Weasley brothers there was some crying amongst them.

Chapter 4: A Rough Night
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It was getting late and Mr.Weasley hadn’t arrived home yet. Mrs.Weasley was suggesting to all of them that they might as well head to bed but Ginny pleaded for a little while longer and Molly conceded. It wasn’t much longer after that when the hands on Mrs.Weasley’s special clock started moving. Mr.Weasley’s hand on the clock moved from ‘Work’ to ‘Travelling’ and then finally pointed to ‘Home’. What was interesting was that along with it moved Percy’s clock hand.

“Ah,” Mr.Weasley said walking into the sitting room, “I see everyone is still up.”

“Hello, dear,” Molly greeted her husband, “everything go alright at work?”

“As well as to be expected,” Arthur answered as Percy stepped into the room.

“Percy!” Mrs.Weasley exclaimed pulling her son into a hug. “You’ve come to visit?”

“Yes, I was hoping to spend the night if that’s alright?” he asked rather pompously in a way that was strictly Percy.

“Well of course you can. Have you eaten?” Mrs.Weasley asked and without hearing Percy’s reply she started bustling Percy into the kitchen and fixed him a plate of food.

‘So what’s kept you lot from going to bed?” Mr.Weasley asked as he dropped into his chair.

“Waiting for you, Dad,” Ginny answered.

“Oh?”

“Yes, well we had a question to ask you. You see Harry, Ron, and Hermione are going to get the Grangers and the Dursleys and I was wondering if I could go with them?”

“What did your mother think when you asked her?”

“She said she wanted to see what you thought,” Ginny said, her shoulders slumping a little.

“She did, did she?”

“Yeah, we told her all our travel plans and everything,” Ron said enthusiastically.

“Well then I guess I’ll have her tell me the details when we discuss it tonight. It’s late, you should all go upstairs and go to bed. You deserve some rest,” Mr.Weasley said the last part looking pointedly at Harry. “We’ll tell you our decision in the morning.”

“It’d be really nice if I could go,” Ginny said as she hugged her father, “ ‘night, Dad.”

The rest of them said goodnight to Mr.Weasley then Mrs.Weasley and Percy, each in turn. It was a good thing Mr.Weasley came home when he did, Harry thought, as he trudged up the stairs feeling tired. Harry put on the pajamas Ron tossed to him and collapsed onto the cot that he noticed Mrs.Weasley must have set up before Harry even came over just in case he stayed the night.

Ron was snoring almost immediately after his head hit the pillow. Harry’s mind kept going even though he was exhausted. He kept thinking about George, he was worried about him. Harry hoped he would be okay. Then after thinking about George Harry’s mind wandered to the Grangers and the Dursleys. Would Hermione be able to reverse the memory charm she had put on her parents safely? Would they be angry or feel betrayed when they learned what Hermione had done?

How would the Dursleys react when they saw Harry again, alive? Would Dudley still be kind toward him or would he revert back to the way he used to treat Harry? Should Harry tell Aunt Petunia about Snape, and if he did how would she feel about it? Would she even want to listen? Probably not.

Then that got Harry to thinking about whether or not Ginny would be able to go on their trip. It sure would be nice. It would certainly give Harry the opportunity to talk to Ginny at length. Harry also wanted to talk to Ron, after his meeting with Shacklebolt, to tell Ron that it would be up to Ron’s discretion as to when he wanted to tell his parents about their mission. Harry knew in his heart that he didn’t want to tell them just yet because he wanted to protect them, like he had said. Harry also knew that if Mr.Weasley knew the truth and Kingsley asked him if he did he would be obligated to share the information and for some reason Harry felt that it was a story he wanted to tell Shacklebolt personally. His mind made up about telling Shacklebolt and Ginny tomorrow together at the Ministry the truth of the mission Harry allowed his mind to only think of pleasant things. He thought of Ginny and how beautiful she had looked today in the field of flowers and sun. She was the last thing Harry was thinking of before he finally fell asleep.

Harry was swimming in dark waters. Shadowy figures moved around him. Dense seaweed pulled at his arms and legs. In the distance ahead of him he could see a great structure of some kind that he was swimming towards although he didn’t know why. Harry felt like he was swimming in the lake near Hogwarts again.

As Harry swam closer to the structure, that was looking more and more like an underwater castle. The closer he got to it the more features he could make out, he could see thick lines of what looked like rope tethered to the murky bottom of the lake. On the other end of the ropes were floating dark figures that looked a lot like Dementors, void of any definition of features from afar. The figures showed no signs of life and the only movement they gave was caused by the water’s gentle current. Fear made Harry want to swim to the water’s surface, the thought did occur to Harry that he didn’t feel the need to surface for air which he found odd, but curiosity made Harry continue to swim toward the dark floating figures.

Harry could now make out some identifying features of the floating forms, one was smaller than the others, another was taller but skinny with ginger hair, the next body had bubblegum-pink hair its hand was holding the hand of the next figure which was even taller and thinner. The fear in Harry’s gut now clenched and made him want to vomit. He knew who these people were, but they had all been properly buried, what were they doing at the bottom of this lake? Harry swam up to them and then past them to see even more tethered bodies.

Harry could see so many of them now. There was Cedric Diggory and Lavender Brown. Vincent Crabbe and some of the other Hogwarts students who perished were grouped together on the edge of the field of bodies. Still Harry swam on in horror and with a sudden jerk he stopped, for in front of him floated the lifeless form of his father and next to him was Harry’s mother Lily. Next to Lily on her other side floated the dark-robed form of Severus Snape.

Snape’s eyes were open and unseeing. His once dark black eyes were now clouded over in death to a milky gray. A chill ran down Harry’s spine that had nothing to do with the temperature of the water. Harry’s gaze was drawn to Snape’s arm for some reason. The former professor’s sleeve had floated up revealing the mark on his arm. It was a pale scar now just like all the other Death Eater’s Dark Marks.

Just as Harry was about to continue to swim on he noticed the Mark began to change. The Dark Mark on Snape’s arm began to blacken once more. The skull and serpent now clearly defined once again. It just couldn’t be, Harry thought. He refused to believe Voldemort was back, Harry had watched him die. Harry had reflected the Killing Curse personally causing Voldemort’s death. In fear and denial Harry swam on, away from the underwater castle and it’s field of bodies, towards shallow water.

Harry could see an incline in the lake’s bottom up ahead and he knew it must be the lake’s shore. Starting to feel tired he swam forward. Just as he reached a cluster of seaweed a jet of green light passed him just inches away from his torso. Looking back he saw a black cloaked figure speeding toward him. The person was using their wand to propel themselves forward to reach Harry faster. Harry’s muscles were burning with fatigue. If he could just reach the shore, he thought, maybe he’d have a chance to escape. Whoever it was behind him Harry managed to gain some time by losing them in the seaweed. Just a bit further and he’d be out of the water. Harry still couldn’t see the person that was chasing him, maybe he had imagined him.

Harry finally broke the surface of the water. Cool night air greeted him. It was windy and misting. His eyes were well adjusted to the night and his glasses seemed impervious, allowing him to see. The lights of Hogwarts castle helped guide him to shore. Harry trudged through the mud and the muck until he reached solid ground. He was so tired he was tempted to collapse on the grass but something up ahead caught his eye.

Someone was laying by a nearby tree. He walked slowly toward whoever it was, slipping a few times on the wet grass. He called out to them but they did not answer. In the darkness he could not tell who it was. He pulled out his wand as he approached closer. Then quite suddenly the dark cloaked man that had been chasing him was standing right next to the person he was walking towards.

“Who are you? What do you want?” Harry asked. He received no reply. “Lumos,” Harry’s wand illuminated the scene before him. The person lying on the ground was wearing a beautiful pale green gown the shade of a smoky emerald. Her skin was like smooth alabaster. Her hair was like soft auburn flames blowing in the wind.

“Ginny!” Harry cried, every essence of his being seemed to depend upon her being alive. As he fell to the ground at her side he knew all hope was lost. Her skin was cold to the touch and she did not stir. “Ginny, oh please don’t be dead! Ginny!” As Harry continued to scream in an agony that would never cease cradling the body of the love of his life the dark cloaked man laughed a high shrill laugh.

“Let me die!” Harry pleaded. “Please, let me die, make this pain end!” Harry cried and screamed and still Voldemort stood there and laughed.

“Do you bow down to me Potter? Do you see now how foolish you are? You never had a hope of defeating me, Lord Voldemort. You’re pathetic, but I am not without mercy. Avada Kedavra!” There was a burst of green light and then all was dark.

Harry awoke with a start. His blankets were all twisted around him. There were tears in his eyes and running down the sides of his face onto his pillow. There was someone standing over him. Instinct made him quickly grab his wand and take aim.

“Harry, it’s me, it’s Ron!” Harry immediately calmed. “You alright, mate, you were crying in your sleep?”

“Yeah, I-I think so. J-Just a nightmare is all,” Harry stammered, righting himself and putting his glasses on. “Sorry I woke you.”

“ ‘S alright. You sure you’re okay? You’re scar’s not hurting is it?”

“No,” Harry answered truthfully. “Not even a twinge. Listen I’ll be right back I’m just gonna nip to the toilet.”

“Yeah, alright, as long as you’re sure you’re okay?”

“Yeah, just a bit shaky. Go back to sleep, Ron.”

Ron climbed back onto his bed and Harry quietly left the room. His bare feet padded down the stairs and along the hall to the loo. He took care of his ablutions then splashed cold water on his face. Glancing at himself in the mirror he could see dark circles under his eyes. His face was paler than usual. He looked up at his scar in wonderment that it, at least, was not causing his pain. But it would always be a reminder to him of everything that had happened.

He shivered as an image of Ginny lying dead in his arms floated back into his mind. He shut the light and tiptoed down the hall not towards the stairs back to Ron’s room but to Ginny’s. Her door was slightly ajar, just enough for him to see her sleeping peacefully and safely in her bed. Her chest rising and falling and as she breathed. Satisfied that Ginny was alive and safe Harry crept back up the stairs to Ron’s room. He fell back onto the cot, straightened the blankets and fell into a peaceful sleep that he did not wake from for the rest of the night.

Chapter 5: Another Trip to the Ministry of Magic
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Harry woke the next morning to the wonderful smell of frying bacon and eggs. Ron was alright throwing on some clothes proper enough for where they were going today. Harry put his clothes from yesterday back on, he’d have to change into clean clothes when he got back to Grimmauld Place where he’d been staying until he could find someplace better.

“Mmm, that smells wonderful,” Harry commented his mouth already salivating.

“Yeah it does,” Ron answered, “Mum hasn’t been really big on cooking lately but between last night and this morning I guess it’s two for two.”

Ron was out the door first and Harry was right behind him. Hermione was just leaving Ginny’s room as well. Together the trio traipsed downstairs. When they reached the kitchen Ginny was removing a pan of fresh baked rolls from the oven, perfectly golden brown and smelling delicious. Mrs.Weasley was plating the bacon and eggs for everyone. Mr.Weasley was sipping a cup of coffee and reading the Daily Prophet. Percy was sitting at the table and seemed lost in thought.

“Morning, you three,” Mrs.Weasley greeted them. She took her own seat as everyone else settled around the table. Mr.Weasley set the paper down and turned his attention to the food in front of him.

“Morning,” Harry, Ron, and Hermione chorused back.

“So,” Mr.Weasley began after a bite of egg, “Your mother told me your plans for your trip, and I have to admit you’ve thought it out pretty well. When were you planning on leaving?”

“Well I’ve got to go to a meeting with Kingsley today and I still have to pack so probably later this evening perhaps tomorrow morning,” Harry answered as he slathered butter on his roll.

“I thought you already gave your statements in writing to Kingsley?” Percy inquired.

“I did but I feel that although I explained as much as I could in writing there were some parts that were quite vague and apparently so did Kingsley, he asked for some clarification.”

“Well that makes what he asked me last night make sense,” Mr.Weasley commented. “He said you were stopping by at some point and wanted me to inquire if Ron and Hermione would accompany you?”

“Well, I’m already packed and everything so I’m free to join you,” Hermione said.

“Ron, I’ll pack your things so you can go,” Mrs.Weasley told him. “If Kingsley wants you there it must be something important.” She sighed heavily and continued an, “I might as well pack your bag as well, Ginny.”

“You mean I can go?” Ginny asked excitedly.

“Your mother and I have discussed it and have decided that you may go on one condition,” Mr.Weasley said smartly, “that you use the muggle felly-tone--”

“Telephone,” Hermione corrected.

“Yes, that, or some other means,” Arthur continued, “to contact us when you get to Hermione’s parent’s hideout to get a message to us that you got there safely.”

“That’s fair enough,” Ginny said jumping up and hugging her dad first then her mother, “thanks, Dad, thanks, Mum.”

“You might as well go with them to the ministry as well. I don’t think you’ve seen it under peaceful circumstances anyway,” Mrs. Weasley said.

“When are you leaving for the ministry? Do you want to travel in with me?” Mr.Weasley asked.

“No thanks, I still have to go home and change. If the others want to come to Grimmauld place later by Floo then we can use the visitors entrance.”

“You remember the number?” Arthur asked.

“Yeah, I think so; six-two-four-four-two?”

“Correct, well I best be off then,” Arthur said grabbing a roll to go and kissing Mrs.Weasley on the cheek as she handed him his lunch she had packed. “Thank you, dear. See you at work, Percy.”

“Actually, I should be going too,” Percy said getting up from the table. “Thank you for having me over,” Percy said kissing his mother on the cheek as well then bid farewell to everyone else. Arthur and Percy left for work together chattering to each other about Ministry business.

Harry finished breakfast and thanked Mrs.Weasley for her hospitality. She assured him the others wouldn’t be too far behind him and he walked out onto the lawn, covered himself with his invisibility cloak (he didn’t want any muggles to see him appear out of nowhere) and he apparated to the doorstop of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. He had recently obtained his Apparition licence from the Ministry, a formality really considering he had been Apparating since his sixth year at Hogwarts and quite frequently during the past year.

Hurrying inside Harry ran up to his room, he was still using the one he and Ron had shared, and quickly changed his clothes. He chose a few outfits for the next few couple of days, some bedclothes, and some toiletries and laid them out on his bed. He used his rucksack to carry everything he had just picked out for the trip. He was just carrying it downstairs when he heard the others start to arrive in the kitchen fireplace. Hermione and Ron had arrived they were just waiting on Ginny.

“You know, it will be really nice when I can just Apparate with a licence,” Ginny said after she arrived dusting her self off.

“Yeah, well, Apparating is not as pleasant as it’s cracked up to be,” Ron said dryly.

“Everyone ready to go then?” Harry asked ignoring Ron. “Kreacher.” Almost immediately after he called for him the house elf appeared in the room.

“Master called for me?”

“Yes, Kreacher,” Harry told him, “I just wanted to let you know I’ll be away for a couple of days. Nothing dangerous, just some errands to run. You’re more than welcome to visit Hogwarts if you want some company.”

“Thank You,” Kreacher croaked.

Without further ado the four young adults left Grimmauld place, Harry tucking his neck pouch holding his prized possessions under his cloak. They walked to the underground railway station and boarded the subway. Ron and Ginny were marvelling at everything reminding Harry of Mr.Weasley when he had first taken a trip with Harry on the train. Harry counted the stops to make sure they got off at the right one. They walked the short distance from the station to the street with the visitors entrance to the Ministry of Magic.

It was a dilapidated red phone booth. They all climbed into the booth, Hermione closing the door behind them all, and Harry picked up the receiver to the phone that looked as though it would not work. Harry dialled six-two-four-four-two and shortly after an automated voice answered. Already accustomed to this strangeness Harry answered the voice that was not coming from the phone.

“Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Genevra Weasley to see Kingsley Shacklebolt.”

“What Purpose?”

“To discuss top secret business.”

“Please attach the visitors badges on you person where they are clearly visible. Submit to a wand inspection at the security desk. The Ministry of Magic wishes you a pleasant day.” The booth started to sink into the ground and the quartet attached the badges that had come out of the coin return which stated thier names and also said "Top Secret Business" to their cloaks. The woman’s voice spoke to them once again informing them they had arrived in the Atrium as the lift stopped. Walking out of the booth Harry led the group to the wand inspection booth.

Ron handed his wand over first, then Hermione, after her Ginny and finally Harry. The man behind the desk was the same as always going through the motions of weighing and examining the wands, inquiring if his information was correct. Harry noticed that the man was more attentive to the people whose wands he was examining now, however, unlike a few years ago when he didn’t look up until after looking at Harry’s wand. Because of this the man realized who Harry was when he began the inspection of Harry’s Holly and Phoenix feather wand.

“If you even think about saying out loud who I am I must tell you it will not make me happy, please just make your inspection and be done with it, Eric,” Harry pleaded rather impatiently. Thankfully the man spoke not a word unless it pertained to the inspection, although he did seem a little star struck now. He handed Harry his wand back and Harry led his group of friends to the elevator. Paper memos were flying around the light. Hermione pressed the button for the floor they needed for the Minister’s office. There were a few witches and wizards on the lift but it wasn’t too crowded.

“Hold the doors!” a voice called out and Ron dutifully obeyed. “Thank you,” a darkly cloaked man said. He had another wizard a step ahead of him that was obviously a prisoner he was escorting. “Must warn everyone this is a dangerous criminal so please don’t touch him and stay on your guard,” the man told everyone as he nudged the prisoner onto the lift. Harry had already drawn his wand just in case. As the criminal raised his head to survey everyone in the lift Harry recognized the wizard as a Death Eater. The Death Eater obviously recognized Harry as well because as soon as he set eyes on him he made a lunging movement toward him. His guard wasn’t quick enough but Harry was.

“Immobulus!” Harry cast upon the man in a quick thinking moment. The Death Eater’s hands were still safely cuffed behind his back and now the man was still and unmoving. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Harry warned. He waited until the guard had full control of the Death Eater before he lifted the spell. Harry could sense Ron, Hermione and Ginny at his sides and back all on their guard no doubt with their own wands drawn.

“The war’s over,” Ron stated flatly.

“Not for me it isn’t! Filthy Mudbloods! Muggle lovers! You’ll meet a sticky end you’ll see! You’ll pay for what you did to the Dark Lord!” the Death Eater ranted.

“Shut it,” Harry warned in a low menacing tone. “Voldemort is dead, you chose the wrong side. You’re not in any position to make threats or insults so I suggest you keep your mouth shut,” Harry told him. There were several audible gasps when Harry said Voldemort but he ignored them. The lift stopped on the level with the courtrooms and the Guard dragged the prisoner off with him.

“See you in Hell, Harry Potter!” the Death Eater shouted just before the doors closed. There was a lingering tension in the elevator as everyone was staring at Harry.

“Sociable bloke, isn’t he?” Harry quipped and was relieved when a few people gave some nervous laughter breaking the tension in the room. The elevator’s remaining occupants shook Harry’s hand and introduced themselves in obvious awe and marvel at meeting their hero. They even greeted Ron, Hermione and Ginny with enthusiasm. The elevator doors opened on the floor that Harry and his group needed and they exited leaving their fan club behind.

The elevator doors closed behind them and blocked out the noise of the people on the lift and Harry and the others found themselves in a quiet hallway. The floor was carpeted in a shade of pale blue. The walls were painted an off-white egg shell colour. Portraits of ministers from the past adorned the walls and the occupants watched the visitors with wary eyes. At the end of he hall there was an office space with several desks and workers. Harry was reminded of what he saw outside of Umbridge’s office last year only on a smaller scale.

“Can I help you?” a short, black haired witch asked them. In one arm she held a stack of files and folders. With her free hand she was twirling a lock of her ebony hair. She as middle aged and thin.

“Perhaps,” Harry told her, “we’re here to see Kingsley Shacklebolt.”

“Your name?” the woman asked in an exhale, showing she was not pleased with Harry’s answer. “It might be a while so I’ll need to call you when he’s ready to see you.”

“He is expecting me,” Harry said, the woman’s disdain starting to annoy him.

“Is there a problem, Lisa?” a familiar voice asked. “Oh, Harry, you made it here in good time. I’ll see you to Kingsley’s office,” Percy said then made a quarter turn about to lead Harry and the rest to Shacklebolt’s office.

“Wait a minute,” Lisa gasped, “your Harry Potter!”

“Very astute of you to notice, Lisa, now if you don’t mind Kingsley is waiting for Harry and his friends for a private meeting,” Percy told the raven-haired woman. It didn’t pass by Harry the fact that Percy had made a sarcastic joke and was thankful that, after what had happened with Fred, Percy had not given up on trying his hand at humour.

Percy pushed his horn-rimmed glasses with one finger back into proper placement on his nose then squared his shoulders before knocking on the Minister of Magic’s office door. Harry tried in vain to fix his hair and somewhat flatten it with his hand.

“Who is it?” they heard Kingsley’s voice call out from behind the door.

“Percy Weasley, sir. Harry Potter is here as well as some members of the D.A.”

“Come in.”

Percy opened the door to let them in. Harry walked in first followed by Ginny then Hermione, Ron took up the rear. The office was rather plain but was large enough to hold a good number of people. There was a long antique table on one side of the room that was obviously used for meetings. The other side of the room contained the minister’s desk that Kingsley was sitting at when they entered. He was now rising to greet his visitors. There were hardly any portraits on the wall but there was a rather large picture of an older gentleman in a gray curly-haired wig.

“Harry, so good to see you again,” Kingsley said shaking Harry’s hand. “I see you’ve brought some friends as well,” Shacklebolt turned to the others to greet them. After everyone had shook hands with Kingsley he offered them seats around the antique table.

“First of all let me say that I’ve read your reports and I appreciated the information, really and truly I did, but some explanations and points were a bit…,” Kingsley began the groped his mind for the right word.

“Vague,” Hermione supplied.

“Yes, exactly, thank you,” Kingsley went on. “You eluded to something Dumbledore had said about Riddle, that he had gone further than anyone had ever gone to become immortal, what does that mean? Your report didn’t really go into detail about what your mission was either.”

“I know and I’m sorry about that, Kingsley, but I still don’t trust the information to be written down and passed along where prying eyes can see,” Harry explained. “But that is why we’re here for this meeting, so that we can clear up any confusion and allow you to ask any questions you might have.”

“I wasn’t aware that Ms. Weasley was in on the mission as well?” Shacklebolt asked and Harry could see Ginny’s cheeks turn a rosy hue.

“She wasn’t but this is information I want her to become privy to, it’s just easier this way. There’s also the matter of Hogwarts that I’d like to discuss and that’s information she has that we don’t,” Harry said smartly and Kingsley nodded his head in understanding.

“I suppose,” Harry began, “that I should probably start with the prophecy.”

Chapter 6: Reporting the Mission
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“The prophecy that Voldemort and his Death Eaters tried to steal two years ago?” Shacklebolt inquired.

“Yes, that one,” confirmed Harry.

“I thought it was destroyed by accident that night?”

“It was,” Ron fielded Kingsley’s question.

“The prophecy was made to Albus Dumbledore. He shared his own memory of it with me by means of a Pensieve. The contents of the prophecy foretold of a child being born at the end of the seventh month to parents who had three times defied the Dark Lord. It continued and stated that the Dark Lord would mark the child as his equal, and that the child would have power the dark Lord knows not. And that…that ‘neither can live while the other survives.’”

“Your scar. So you were the chosen one?” Kingsley thought aloud.

“Yes.”

“Wait a minute, Harry. You never told us that part about the end of the seventh month and parents that thrice defied Voldemort,” Hermione pointed out.

“What does that matter, Hermione?” Ron asked, nearly whining.

“Because, there were two boys born at the end of July that year,” Hermione said as if the information were extremely obvious. “Both to parents that were in the Order of the Phoenix. One was Harry but the other was--”

“Neville Longbottom, yeah, I know Hermione,” Harry finished for her.

“Then how can you be sure it was you and not Neville?” she asked.

“Because, Voldemort had already marked me as his equal,” Harry said brushing aside the hair on his forehead to show his lightening shaped scar. Hermione and the others just nodded in enlightenment.

“And that portion about having about ‘having powers the Dark Lord knows not,’ what does that refer to?” Kingsley asked.

“Yeah, that part is a bit more confusing. At first I had thought it had referred to the powers that Riddle accidentally transferred to me the night he killed my parents, the night he first tried to kill me. I think Dumbledore might have thought it referred to the ability to love, maybe that was part of it. Now though I think it mainly refers to the Elder Wand. It was the one thing he didn’t anticipate.”

“And to think I always thought the story of the Peverell brothers was a children’s tale,” Shacklebolt remarked. “what made you realize it wasn’t?”

“The book Dumbledore left me in his Will,” Hermione explained. “It was an original copy and Dumbledore had put a symbol in the story of the Peverell brothers that we recognized as the symbol Grindelwald had used. It took some investigating but in the end we realized the three objects were real.”

“Wonder where the other two are?” Kingsley pondered aloud not really expecting an answer.

“Well, I returned the Elder Wand back with its rightful owner. If I die naturally then the power dies as well. The Resurrection Stone is in a place where I don’t think anyone will find it.”

“Wait a minute, you had the Stone as well?” Shacklebolt asked incredulously.

“Yes, Dumbledore had found it first then left it to me. It was in the snitch he left me in his Will. The Stone had been fitted into a ring.”

“That black gaudy ring Dumbledore had been wearing?” Ginny asked.

“That’s the one, yes. As for the Cloak of Invisibility it remains with me, as it always has been. It has been passed down the generations. My father had owned it last and before his death he had lent it to Dumbledore. My first year at Hogwarts Dumbledore returned it to me.”

“So you had all three Hallows?” Shacklebolt was astounded.

“Yes.”

“So that’s how you survived?”

“No.”

“Huh?” Kingsley and Ginny both said together, thoroughly confused.

“The wand helped me defeat Voldemort, yes. The cloak only did it’s one purpose and that was to make me invisible when I needed to be. The stone I used to bring me a bit of piece of mind during a moment when I needed to hear particular things from certain people.”

“Who and what--” Shacklebolt began to ask.

“That’s private and personal and has no bearing whatsoever on the mission itself,” Harry cut him off.

“Alright,” Kingsley said taken aback, “I can respect that. So moving on with the prophecy, the last part said that ‘neither can live while the other survives.’ So you knew in the end that it would come down to you killing Voldemort or him killing you?”

“When Dumbledore told me of the prophecy at the end of my fifth year, yes. Incidentally, and I tell you this because it should be known, there was one other person who had heard the prophecy, part of it anyway. Severus Snape heard the first part of it and reported back to Voldemort with the information.”

“So Snape’s the reason your parents were killed?” Kingsley said obviously still angered over all of Snape’s apparent betrayals.

“Partly, yes, but when he discovered that Voldemort was targeting me and my family he repented. He begged Dumbledore for help at any cost. He even asked Voldemort to spare my mother.”

“After all he did, you’re defending him?” Ginny sounded sickened by the thought.

“I’m not agreeing with what he did, not in any way. All I’m saying is that he showed remorse. He knew he’d made a mistake and he spent the rest of his life trying to make up for it.”

“Why? Why did he care?” Ginny asked still repulsed.

“Because, Snape had one ability that Voldemort did not. He could love, and… he loved my mother, Lily. He had loved her since they were children, before they ever went to Hogwarts.”

‘So that’s why Dumbledore trusted him? Because he knew that Severus loved Lily?” Kingsley didn’t sound convinced. “A long time had passed, Harry.”

“Yes, I know. Even still, he kept his vow to help keep me alive. His Patronus was a doe, the same as my mother’s,” and when he died he wanted me to look into his eyes so it would be as if he were looking into her eyes again, Harry added to himself.

“Then how do you explain what happened with Dumbledore? I remember you mentioning something during your duel with the Dark Lord about some of what you’ve been saying,” mentioned Shacklebolt.

“Dumbledore was dying, he knew it, he knew he had less than a year to live. Knowing this and knowing that a fellow student of ours was given orders to organize his murder he had given Snape orders of his own to kill him first if the moment came. Dumbledore would rather die on his own terms. He had also intended Snape to gain the power of the Elder Wand but that plan didn’t quite work out. Snape was late getting to the tower, Draco had disarmed Dumbledore already but hesitated to kill.”

“So that’s how you got the power of the Elder Wand, by taking Draco’s wand?” Ginny asked even though she already knew the answer.

“So how did you acquire this information?” Kingsley wanted to know.

“Pensieve,” Harry answered shortly.

‘Just before he died Snape released some of his memories, we bottled them,” Hermione elaborated.

“So all along Dumbledore was right? Snape was trustworthy?” Shacklebolt couldn’t believe it.

“For all intents and purposes, yes. I should also mention that he went back to Hogwarts on Dumbledore’s orders as well. Dumbledore knew that when he dies the school would fall under Voldemort and his Death Eaters’ power. Dumbledore ordered Severus to face his fellow colleagues to ensure a certain level of safety for the students. To try and protect them when he could. It gets a little hazy for me after that because I wasn’t there but I heard the Carrows didn’t make his task an easy one.”

“I’ll say. When they started teaching Unforgivable Curses we knew there wasn’t much hope of going through the year unscathed. That does make Snape’s punishment for trying to steal the Sword of Gryffindor make sense. We did think he was soft on that one, only making us go with Hagrid into the forest,” Ginny said with comprehension.

“Yeah, ‘cause we’ve never been there before,” Ron quipped. The young quartet gave a chuckle at that. Kingsley cleared his throat and they grew serious again.

“Alright, so now we know about the prophecy and about Snape’s involvement,” Shacklebolt counted off on his fingers, “but what of your mission?”

“Just one more thing before we move on to that,” Harry told him. “Severus Snape proved his loyalty, and his bravery, even when the whole wizarding community thought him a coward and a murderer. I think that perhaps it is proper that Snape’s portrait be join the ranks among all the other former headmaster’s in the headmaster’s office at Hogwarts. I think we owe him at least that much.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” was all Shacklebolt said.

‘Alright then, the mission,” Harry said. He knew the information must be told but he felt reluctant still to share the information. “In my sixth year Dumbledore began giving me private lessons. We used the Pensieve to review memories, to gather information. Eventually he told me his theory, and that theory was that he thought that Riddle had made Horcruxes.”

“I remember you telling Voldemort that there were no more Horcruxes, but what exactly are they?” Ginny asked.

“Horcruxes are items that contain a piece of someone’s soul. To make them is to perform some of darkest magic known. Just to make one is to divide your soul in half. In theory if your body was killed your soul would still be linked to the object in the living world and you wouldn’t be dead entirely,” Hermione supplied.

“So that’s how the Dark Lord was able to live after his spell rebounded on him when he attacked you?” Shacklebolt asked.

“Yes.”

“Is - was the Dark Lord the only person to make a Horcrux?” Ginny inquired.

“No, I remember learning about the them in my training as an Auror. I believe the first person to ever make one was Herpo the Foul,” Shacklebolt told them.

“But Voldemort is the only person known to make more than one,” Hermione added.

“I did notice you were using the plural form, just how many did he make?” Kingsley asked his eyes growing a bit wider.

“The original theory was that Voldemort, believing seven was a powerful number, had made six Horcruxes so that there would be seven parts to his soul,” Hermione told them.

“So he made six Horcruxes?” Ginny asked leaning forward in her chair.

“No,” Ron said in a serious tone looking at Harry.

“Then how many did he make?” Ginny inquired looking annoyed at Ron for not giving more information.

“Seven, he made seven,” Harry explained. “The first was destroyed by me. Ginny you’ll actually recall it. It was Tom Riddle’s old diary.”

“The one that possessed me and had me open the Chamber of Secrets?”

“Yeah. The second was the ring Dumbledore had. Incidentally Riddle never realized the black stone in the ring was the Resurrection Stone, he only knew it belonged to his ancestors. Dumbledore took care of dispatching the ring Horcrux. That led us up to our mission. We knew that we had to find four more Horcruxes. The Slytherin locket Dumbledore and I went after the he died was a fake. Someone had gotten to it first but never had the chance to destroy it. We found it here in the ministry actually, Umbridge had it. Ron destroyed it later with Gryffindor’s sword. Then there was Hufflepuff’s cup, Hermione finished that one. That left the Diadem of Ravenclaw, Crabbe’s Fiendfyre destroyed it, and Voldemort’s snake Nagini.”

“Neville Longbottom killed the snake with the sword,” Kingsley stated. “Was Neville brought in on mission?”

‘Not exactly. Before I went…well before I did something I had to do I stopped to talk to Neville and asked him that if he got the chance, and Ron and Hermione didn’t, to kill the snake.”

“So that was all of the six Horcruxes that you knew to look for. What was the seventh?” Ginny was looking directly of Harry. He couldn’t help but feel uncomfortable under her intense gaze, he shifted in his chair.

‘The seventh was made on accident, Voldemort wasn’t aware that he had made it. If he did I don’t think he would have made Nagini a Horcrux. By definition I don’t even think the part of his soul that split off can even be considered a Horcrux but for lack of a better term we call it one.”

“What object was the final Horcrux in?” Shacklebolt was on the edge of his seat.

“First of all I should say that Horcruxes are normally put in objects because you would want your soul to go on forever, it can’t do so if it’s in a living thing. That’s what made Nagini so unusual,” Hermione added, giving Harry a chance to think about how he wanted to phrase what he had to say next.

“What does that have to do with the final Horcrux?” Ginny demanded, her voice a little shaky. She was smart girl and Harry was sure that she might have figured it out.

“Because, the final Horcrux was in me,” Harry said flatly. He paused to give the information a chance to sink in.

Chapter 7: Facing Fame
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“How did you come to that conclusion?” Shacklebolt’s deep voice asked, barely audible.

“Dumbledore did. He had told Snape to tell me so when he saw Voldemort protecting Nagini. He never got the chance until just before he died.”

“So how did you kill the Horcrux without dying yourself?” Kingsley queried. A thick silence fell in the room before Harry began telling the rest of his story.

“After reviewing Snape’s memories I knew what had to be done.  I knew that in order for Voldemort to be defeated I had to die. I put my Invisibility Cloak on and started walking toward the Dark Forest because I knew that’s where Riddle was waiting for me. I paused only long enough to speak to Neville about Nagini and to look at you, Ginny, for what I thought would be the last time. I didn’t stop to speak to you, to say goodbye, because I knew if I did I would falter in what I knew had to be done,” Harry was watching Ginny as he said this and he could see her fighting back tears, trying not to cry.

“I used the Resurrection Stone to speak with loved ones who have passed, mostly just to give me strength. They helped guide me through the line of Dementors eliminating the need for a Patronus, I don’t think I could have produced one anyway. I managed to walk right into the Death Eater’s camp. I stowed my wand so I wouldn’t be tempted to use it, and I revealed myself to them. Riddle never even thought twice about why I had chosen to come to him freely. He never comprehended why I didn’t have my wand drawn. Sirius was right, it didn’t even hurt really, just a flash of green light and it was done.”

“I don’t understand,” Kingsley uttered. Harry could hear sniffling coming from Hermione and Ginny. Harry didn’t want to see them crying so he tried to keep his gaze from straying to them.

“It’s all very complicated but the short version of why I’m still alive is Riddle was. When he returned to full power he used my blood to do so, doubling the link between us, linking me back to the living. I woke up but didn’t move, I feigned death. Riddle had collapsed after attacking me, maybe it was because he had just killed his own Horcrux, I’m not sure. He told Narcissa Malfoy to check to see if I was dead. I think if it would have been anyone else my cover would have been blown,” Harry gave a derisive snort.

“So she lied for you?” Ginny asked softly.

“Yes, she asked me if Draco was alive and in the school as she was feeling for my heartbeat, I managed to breathe out a ‘yes’ and she lied and said I was dead.”

“That will have to be taken into account during her trial you realize?” Kingsley told Harry.

“I figured as much.”

“So then they had Hagrid bring you back to the school and Voldemort announced to us that you were dead,” Kingsley said, narrating what he already knew.

“Yes, the worst part of that was not reacting when I heard everyone’s cries. I wanted so much to reassure everybody I was alright but I couldn’t. Words can not describe how elated I was to hear that everyone did not give in to Voldemort. Neville was brilliant, everyone was.”

“There was something I didn’t get,” Ginny interrupted as she wiped her eyes on her sleeve.

“What’s that?”

“His spells, V-Voldemort’s, they didn’t have a hold on us. How were we able to break them?” Ginny asked, it didn’t pass Harry by that she used Voldemort’s name instead of ‘You-Know-Who’. Harry smiled at Ginny’s show of cleverness.

“Ah, Yes, that. Well that goes back to me dying. You see I never did draw my wand. I died with the full intention of scarifying myself to protect all of you, all of Hogwarts.”

“The same protection your mother had given you, you gave to us?” Kingsley asked for confirmation.

“Exactly,” Harry told them. “I still sent blocking spells between our side and theirs whenever I could during the rush of battle that followed. The rest of what happened you already know,” Harry finished abruptly.

There was a silence in the room in which Kingsley and Ginny contemplated all the new information they had been given. Harry, Ron, and Hermione kept exchanging glances. It was Ron who finally broke the silence.

“So now you know what we were doing all year but we still don’t really know what was happening elsewhere and inside of Hogwarts?”

“Mostly the Order was helping with the defensive. Keeping communities safe as possible. Trying to keep hopes up, getting the word out that we hadn’t given up,” Kingsley answered.

“We heard some of Lee Jordan’s show,” Ron said, “it was bloody brilliant!”

“As for Hogwarts you’ll have to answer that one, Miss Weasley,” Kingsley said.

“I believe Neville already told you some things and summed up the key points for you. We tried to rebel in whatever ways we could. It wasn’t until Michael got caught that we toned it down. Then Luna got captured at Christmas. I had to go into hiding at Easter. Neville and the rest holed up in the Room of Requirement. There wasn’t a good sense of concentration for learning. McGonagall, Flitwick, and Sprout tried their best to keep things normal but in the end even they knew it was a futile effort. Hagrid had to Grawp and flee after his party in your honour, Harry.”

“Yeah, I had heard about that,” Harry said with a crooked smile.

“Anyway, Muggle Studies became an anti-Muggle preach and was mandatory. Defense against the Dark Arts became a Dark Arts study class. The Carrows taught those two classes. It wasn’t really a learning experience for the members of the D.A., unless you count learning what the Cruciatus Curse feels like on the receiving end.”

“Who used that spell on you?!” Ron demanded.

“It’s not like any of us suffered permanent damage, well, except maybe Michael. But that wasn’t typical, that was because he got caught unchaining a student, like I said. Most of us tried to hold our tempers and our tongues to avoid punishment. Most of the time it was just Crabbe and Goyle and their curses weren’t as bad as the Carrows’. We held our own, really. Neville only got hit as much as he did because without you guys he sort of made up for your cheek,” Ginny said trying to lighten what she was saying by making a little joke, although Harry already knew it was true. It didn’t make Harry laugh, he was extremely angry at the thought of anyone daring to harm Ginny.

“Yeah, he did say he got a little cheeky,” Harry heard Ron say with a chuckle.

“I still have another meeting with Hogwarts’ staff so what I’m about to say is still tentative,” Kingsley said regaining Harry’s attention. “I’ve been speaking with the professors about the option for a repeat year. Any student that wishes to can retake the last school year.”

“Does that include us?” Hermione asked eagerly.

“I believe it would, yes. Furthermore, because of the extensive damage to the school, we are forgoing the rest of the school year this year. Most families are only just reunited anyway and aren’t ready to be separated just yet.”

“Is the castle going to be able to be repaired?” Harry wondered.

“Yes, but it’s going to take some time,” Shacklebolt said solemnly.

“If you need any volunteers to help let me know,” Harry offered.

“Let us know,” Ginny amended. Ron and Hermione nodded in agreement.

“I’m sure Minerva will probably take you up on your offer. I’ll mention it to her that you’re willing to help.”

“Thank you.”

“No, thank you, Harry. Thank all of you, you’ve done more than most wizards for the sake of goodness,” Kingsley said in earnest as he stood to shake everyone’s hands and they stood to depart. Shacklebolt handed Harry a slip of paper.

‘It has the address of the safe house we put the Dursleys in,” he explained.

“Thanks.”

“Don’t mention it. If there’s anything you ever need, Harry, don’t hesitate to ask. You know, information…a job,” Kingsley quipped.

“I just might take you up on that offer someday,” Harry tossed back. “There is one thing, Gringotts-”

“Already know the break in was for something regarding the fight against the Dark Lord. I’m assuming, in hindsight, it was a Horcrux? We’ve negotiated them to drop the issue on the condition that you offer them information.”

“Yes, it was a Horcrux, Hufflepuff’s cup. Offer them what information?”

“I can only guess that it has to do with how you managed to break in and then escape. Gringotts is very serious when it comes to security.”

“So I’ve heard,” Harry recounted Bill telling them about where a few people had had a probity-probe stuck and Hagrid’s description when Harry first visited Gringotts. He now had his own experiences with the place to know how they were about security.

“There should be no incidents for you when you make any deposits or withdrawals so long as you agree to the terms.”

“That sounds fair enough.”

“Arthur tells me you’re taking a trip?”

“Yes, to go get my parents. Actually, I was wondering who is in charge of the Floo Network? I’d like to have the fireplace where my parents are hidden temporarily connected,” Hermione inquired of Kingsley.

“When do you need it?”

“That depends on how long it takes us to find them and for me to reverse the memory charms I put on them. I‘m pretty sure I‘ve located where they live and work so hopefully tomorrow we‘ll be ready.”

“Send word through Arthur when you have a set time and I’ll be sure to get the message to the Floo Network to be ready to make the connection.”

“Thank you.”

“Well, then, good luck on your trip,” Kingsley said as the group walked out of his office. “I’ll be sure to send an owl to all of you when I find out if Minerva accepts your offer to help.”

They all said their goodbyes and then Harry led his group of friends down the corridor to the lift. Ron punched the number for his father’s office floor. When the doors opened again the level they stepped out onto was buzzing with activity. Ron led the way to his father’s office.

“Is it always this busy?” Ginny asked looking up at a large swarm of flying memos.

“Not usually,” Harry answered.

“You there, what’s going on?” Ron asked a passing wizard.

“You haven’t heard?” the man asked, his eyes wide in disbelief.

“Heard what?” Ron demanded impatiently.

“Harry potter is somewhere in the building with some of the members of his group known as the D.A.! Can you believe it?”

“Er,” was all Ron could manage.

“I know, hard to believe, right? It’d be neat to meet them,” a witch chimed in next to the eager wizard.

“What are the names of the members of the D.A. that are with Harry Potter?” the wizard asked.

“Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Ginny Weasley or at least that’s who Judi said they were,” the witch, who was wearing a set of lilac robes that would make Lockhart envious, answered.

“Weasley, surely not?” a second wizard who had been eavesdropping asked.

“Yes, Arthur Weasley’s two youngest. He must be so proud,” the witch said beaming.

“Well, er, it was nice to meet you all but we best be going,” Hermione said as she tugged on Ron’s arm. Harry could hear the conversations in the hall were all about him and his friends as they walked toward the office at the end of the hall. He self-consciously made sure his hair was covering his scar. Ron knocked on the doorframe, the office door was partly opened.

“Come in,” they heard Arthur Weasley call out. They visited with him for a while. Mr. Weasley seemed oblivious to the buzz outside his office or maybe he was just ignoring it. After they had chatted for a bit, Hermione was explaining to Mr.Weasley about microwaves, they said goodbye. Mr.Weasley hugged both of his children and told all of them to be safe.

“I’ll let your mother know you’re departing. Enjoy yourselves, behave, and it is wise to still be on your guard. Make sure you let us know when you get to Hermione’s parents.”

“How?” Ron wanted to know.

“Hermione gave this to me,” Mr.Weasley said holding up what looked like a galleon, “I think you recognize it.”

“It’s one of the fake galleons I made for the D.A., I thought it would be best if I made a few extra.” Hermione said.

“Who else has one?” Harry asked.

“So far, other than the D.A. members, just the Weasley’s. I handed them out a few days ago. I thought it best to still limit who has one.” Harry nodded in agreement to Hermione’s decision, it was best if the coins did not fall into the wrong hands.

Ginny gave her father another hug and then they left Arthur’s office. The hallways were still filled with wizards and witches gossiping about Harry but thankfully not as many as before for most of them had gone back to work. So lost in their conversations or work the ministry associates did not notice when the four heroes snuck back onto the lift. Harry pressed the button for the Atrium.

“Where to now?” Ron asked.

“Gringotts, we’ll need travel money,” Harry told him.

“Oh,” Ron’s shoulders slumped. Money was always an issue with him because, more often then not, he did not have any.

“Atrium,” the witch’s voice of the lift announced. The elevator doors opened to the main floor.

“There they are!” someone’s voice shouted. A large group had gathered in the Atrium waiting to catch a glimpse of Harry and his friends. Applause broke out among the witches and wizards in the Atrium. It was so loud it was nearly deafening.

“What do we do now?” Ron shouted to Harry.

“Er,” was how Harry responded. How were they supposed to get through this crowd? Hermione said something to Ginny that Harry couldn’t hear the next thing he knew Ginny was tucking her hand at the crook of Harry’s elbow and Hermione did the same to Ron.

“Oh, come on then,” Hermione said tugging Ron a little. “We’ll just walk straight through. Just keep walking until we get to the fireplaces.”

“Brilliant idea, Hermione,” Ron said his voice dripping with sarcasm. “they’ll just let us walk through will they?”

“Well we’re walking through,” Ginny told them. “When you two finish arguing you’re more than welcome to catch up.” Without letting Hermione or Ron reply Ginny started walking and Harry fell into step with her for the simple reason that he thought it would look kind of stupid if Ginny dragged him off the elevator. The crowd seemed oblivious to their conversation and now along with applause people were shouting out questions and their thanks.

Harry took a quick backward glance and saw Ron grab Hermione’s hand and together they hurried to catch up with Ginny and Harry. The crowd did part to let them through and eventually they got a fireplace exit.

“Ron, why don’t you go first,” Harry suggested. Ron stepped into the grate and dropping a handful of the Floo powder he had picked up out of the pot near the fireplace he called out his destination.

“Diagon Alley!” with a flash of green flames Ron was transported away. Hermione followed Ron leaving just Harry and Ginny.

“Harry! Hey, Harry! Any statements for the paper? What have you been doing since the end of the war? Any details about how you conquered You-Know-Who?” a male reporter asked.

“Yes, do tell, Harry,” a silkily cunning voice asked without shouting but her voice was easily heard never-the-less. “And who is this beautiful young lady, Harry? Is she your new girlfriend?”

“Is that true, Harry? Is Miss Weasley your girlfriend?” a woman in the crowd asked.

“I’m sorry but I won’t be answering any questions today. I have important business to attend to,” Harry said curtly.

“Miss Weasley, perhaps there is something you’d like to share?”

“Rita Skeeter, if I did have something to share I certainly wouldn’t tell it to you. Anything you write about Harry is usually something scathing you’ve fabricated to further your career.”

“Can we quote you on that?” the male reporter asked. Ginny didn’t answer but Rita Skeeter stormed off with an angry growl, her photographer in tow. The crowd laughed at her departure and, realizing there would not be anything more to witness they began to break up and go back to their normal daily routines.

“You’re next, Ginny,” Harry said leading her to the Floo hearth.

“You’ll be right behind me?”

“Course I will be. Where else would I go?”

“Just make sure you pronounce Diagon Alley properly,” Ginny said with a wink. She stepped into the fireplace and like Ron and Hermione before her she was gone with a burst of green flame. Harry stepped into the hearth right after her and he was quite sure to enunciate properly as he dropped the Floo powder. He felt the familiar dizzying spinning sensation as he was being whisked toward his destination. When he stepped out of the fireplace he had been transferred to, Ron Hermione and Ginny were waiting for him. They were standing in the bar at the Leaky Cauldron.

Chapter 8: Gringotts and Departure
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Out of instinct Harry surveyed the room for any possible threats before relaxing into his surroundings. The Leaky Cauldron was relatively quiet with business flowing like normal. Not many people seemed to even notice the new patrons that just arrived by Floo.

“I was just wondering, does anyone ever guard the Floos?” Harry wanted to know.

“Not that I’ve ever seen. I mean the Floo Network can control who is connected to where but other than that I don’t think so, why?” Ron answered.

“Er, nothing it just seems like a weak point to me that’s all.”

“Weak point?” Ginny wanted clarification.

“Yeah, I mean if anyone wanted to come through they could. Certain high traffic Floos should be guarded like Muggles guard their airports.”

“It’s not a bad idea,” Hermione said mulling Harry’s idea over. “If they had Dark Detectors installed they might be able to catch people smuggling Dark magical objects more often.”

“At the very least it would be a preventative measure,” Harry said. Ron and Ginny still didn’t seem entirely sold on the idea.

They walked to the back exit into the alley behind the building, Harry tapped a series of bricks with his wand and the wall that had been standing in front of them shifted to become an entryway to Diagon Ally. The shops and streets were a flurry of activity. People weren’t as afraid of coming out into the open anymore. Most of all the shops were open again, with the exception of Fortescue’s Ice Cream Shoppe, Ollivander’s, and Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. At last they reached the front steps of the large white crooked building that was Gringotts Wizard Bank.

Harry was a little worried, despite Shacklebolt’s reassurances, about how he would be received. Judging by the audible gulp he heard come from Ron he knew he wasn’t the only one that was nervous. They made their way to the counter without incident. The Goblin at the desk leered at them. When Harry gave his name and purpose of coming to make a withdrawal the Goblin sneered at him and told him to wait where he was. A little while later the Goblin returned with another Goblin at his side.

“You are Harry James Potter?” the old Goblin asked.

“Yes, Sir,” Harry said and he could tell not many people addressed him as ‘sir’ based on the Goblin’s reaction.

“I have already spoken at length with Kingsley Shacklebolt. He explained that you broke into the Lestrange vault for reasons leading to the downfall of the Dark Lord. We Goblins still consider stealing wrong no matter the reasons. However, we are willing to overlook this incident on the condition of an exchange of information.”

“Kingsley did mention that and I am most willing to do so. It is in the interest of security?”

“Yes, we found it most…distressing that you and your friends,” the Goblin shifted his gaze to Ron and Hermione then back to Harry, “stole from one of our most secure vaults and still live to tell the tale. It caused this bank great embarrassment and people need to know their valuables are safe and secure from greedy thieves.”

“My friends and I all agree with you. We had a noble reason for doing what we did but stealing is still wrong,” Harry hoped he sounded diplomatic. “We’d like to assist you in any way we can to help prevent any future break-ins.”

“Very well,” the Goblin said turning and then leading them down into the tunnel where the first Goblin was now waiting with a cart that would bring them down to the underground vaults. “We’d like a report from all of you on how you managed to break in and then get out successfully. Where were there gaps in our security system that we can correct? Any information you can think of would be helpful.”

“We’ll all write up full reports and have them delivered in a few days time.”

“I’ll be waiting for them,” The Goblin said then gestured toward the other Goblin, “Droughnook will take you to your vault.”

They climbed into the cart that whisked them away to Harry’s vault. He retrieved a substantial amount of money, exchanged some of the wizard money for muggle money when they got back to the first floor entrance, then they left the bank behind them as they stepped back onto the cobbled street.

“Great, I thought I was done writing papers,” Ron commented.

“Oh, c’mon it’s not like it’s a boring essay for Professor Binns. You just have to write down as much as you can remember about when we had to get the cup,” Harry told him. Ron shrugged his shoulders.

“Right, then,” Hermione broached a new subject pulling out a piece of parchment from her pocket. “We need a few things before we can leave, let’s see…Floo powder, some rations to eat on the way, oh and new parchment, quill and ink to write the reports for Gringotts. We already have sleeping bags and Muggle clothes…,” she rambled on as she walked. They followed her and bought and checked off each item on her list, each thing purchased being added to Hermione‘s beaded bag. Surprisingly not many people recognized Harry, most people only recognized him by his scar which at the moment was hidden under his hair. The people they met along the way that did recognize him were friends and didn’t cause a commotion, for which he was thankful.

Hermione finally announced they were done shopping and they walked back to the Leaky Cauldron where they could depart from. They found a quiet corner where they were safe from being bumped or jostled as they made to Apparate.

“So, Hermione, how did you find out where in Australia your parents moved to?” Ginny asked.

“Through their business. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be, thank goodness. I just looked up all dentists new to Australia with the last name Wilkins and then narrowed it down even further by the first names Wendell and Monica. I made a long distance call to the office to speak with one of them on the pretence of a medical question, it was so good to hear my mother’s voice again, even if the conversation was about teeth.” Ron pat Hermione’s back in a gentle reassuring manner.

“Did you get their home address?” Ginny queried.

“Er, no, actually so we’ll probably have to follow them home from their work. Hermione checked to make sure her beaded bag, which carried everything they needed, was securely over her shoulder. “This is the name of the town that is our final destination, it’s too far so we’ll have to have stop points along the way. These are the midpoints we’ll be Apparating to,” she showed Harry, Ron and Ginny a map, that she had bought at Flourish and Blotts, indicating with her finger random places with names Harry had never heard of before heading south, that she had marked, ending at a small town. “We’ll hold hands on this one,” she told Ron who seemed relieved as he wasn’t the most adept at Apparating.

“Ginny, you just need to hold on tight to my arm,” Harry told her. Ginny did as she was instructed and Harry concentrated on their destination. He felt the now familiar sensation of being squeezed through a rubber tube. They made their way, stopping to rest a few times between Apparations, until they materialized in a peaceful town square. It was warm and sunny as the town was in northern Australia.

“You all right?” Harry asked Ginny, her eyes were a little watery.

“I’m fine,” she said rubbing her ears, but I think I might prefer brooms.”

“The sensation does take some getting used to,” Harry said chuckling at the reverse déjà vu.

“Come on, we need to check in to customs,” Hermione said still holding Ron’s hand. Harry and Ginny walked behind them. Ginny had quickly taken her hand back and Harry had to resist the urge to grab hold of her hand by stuffing his own into his pockets.

“They arrived at the Australian Ministry office and submitted for customs. Harry had expected no one here to know who they were and he wasn’t wrong until they reached the wand inspection desk. The gentleman operating the inspection desk was reading a Wizard World News article and Harry saw his own face looking back at him from the front page.

“Hem, hem,” Ginny cleared her throat in an imitation of Umbridge that made Ron and Hermione jump.

“Oh, hello there,” the wand inspector said setting down the paper. “Sorry about that, fascinating article. What can I do for you?”

“The woman at the customs desk told us to submit to a wand inspection,” Hermione told him.

“Oh, right, right,” he took Hermione’s proffered wand and began his examination. “So where you travelin’ from?”

“Britain,” Hermione answered.

“Are you really? Are things calming down now that You-Know-Who is dead?”

“Somewhat, listen we’re kind of in a hurry. Do you think you could…”

“Oh, sure, sure,” he handed Hermione back her wand. “I’ll need your name, dear?”

“Hermione Jean Granger.”

“Okay, then you’re all set. Who’s next?”

“Ronald Bilius Weasley,” Ron handed his wand over and the man put it on the scale that spit out information. The man wrote it down in the same process he did Hermione’s. Next was Ginny and then Harry handed his wand over for inspection.

“Hey, you know you look kinda familiar. You been to Aussie before?”

“No, this is my first visit.”

“Oh,” the man said still trying to place Harry’s familiarity as he inspected his wand. “Holly and Phoenix feather, eleven inches. Interesting combination. I must say the craftsmanship on these wands is outstanding, all the same wand-maker?”

“Yes, Mr. Ollivander,” Harry told him.

“Fine work, fine work,” the man said taking one last close look at Harry’s wand before handing it back. “And your name, sir?”

“Harry James Potter.”

“Harry…James…Potter,” the man parroted as he wrote down the name. “Wait a minute, the Harry Potter?” he asked picking up his newspaper and flipping it over to compare the picture on the front page to Harry. “Blimey, well it’s nice to meet you.” He reached over the counter to pump Harry’s hand in a vigorous shake. “Never thought I’d meet a real World hero before.”

“Er-”

“Right, right, your friend said you were in a hurry. Well enjoy your stay here in Australia and if you need anything; a tour, a list of the best places to rustle up some tucker, a place to stay, feel free to contact me. M’name’s Wally Wadkins.”

“Thanks for the offer,” Harry said.

“No problem, G’day.”

“And a good day to you, Wally,” Harry said as Ron started sniggering into Hermione’s shoulder.

“He fancied you, Harry,” Ron quipped when they were out of earshot. He made himself laugh even harder until Hermione elbowed him in the ribs and he composed himself.

Hermione led the way to the local bank, where Harry switched his English money to Australian currency, then she led them up the road and out of the town. A mile after the last magical house there was a picnic bench near a bus stop sign. They sat down at it and Hermione pulled out sandwiches and pumpkin juice from her beaded bag. It wasn’t too long before an old passenger bus rumbled down the road churning up red dirt. Harry paid the driver for them and they sat in the back. They rode in silence; Ginny and Harry looking out the windows, Ron and Hermione canoodling in their seats. After about twenty minutes Hermione popped her head up and told them they were the next stop.
 
 


Chapter 9: The Drs. Wilkins
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Finding Hermione’s parents’ dentist office was as simple as asking the driver if he knew where it was and he pointed them in the right direction. They only had to walk a block and a half before they came upon the office. It was a small white building with columns in the front. When they walked in there were a few people in the waiting room. The whole inside of the building was surgically clean and would make Aunt Petunia proud. Silk flowers brought a certain warmth and a splash of colour to the room. Hermione walked up to the reception window.

“Can I help you, dear?” the assistant asked.

“Yes, I was wondering if there are any openings today?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact we just had a whole family cancel on us, it’s freed up most of our day. Would you like to be written in?”

“Yes, please.”

“Do you have insurance?”

“No, I’ll be paying cash.”

“Okay, and what do you need done?”

“Just a cleaning.”

Harry knew that she didn’t really need a Muggle dentist cleaning, they could get a thorough clean magically from a healer. They all had done so after the final battle when they had gone to St. Mungo’s for the injuries they had gotten.

“Alright, dearie, it’ll be about thirty minutes. There’s one person ahead of you for Doctor Wilkins and the other Doctor Wilkins just started with another patient. You’re welcome to wait it out in the sitting room.”

“Thank you,” Hermione said. She rejoined the others and they all sat down. Ron reminded Harry of Arthur, Ron’s father, as he exclaimed over the different things in the Muggle magazines and how the pictures did not move. Harry and Hermione had to keep shushing him when he was getting too loud. The other patient in the room probably thought they were a bunch of nutters. It wasn’t too long before Hermione’s dad came out to call in the next patient and the man who was waiting went into the back with him. Tears filled Hermione’s eyes at the sight of her father. Ron gave her a hug and comforted her.

“You going to be alright, Hermione?” Ginny asked.

“Yeah, I just…it’s been a while since I’ve seen him. I’m so afraid of how mad they’ll be at me when they find out what I’ve done.”

“I’m sure they’ll realize you did it to keep them safe,” Harry told her, “that what you did was out of love.” These words seemed to calm Hermione. Ginny had a pondering look on her face but did not say anything.

It was Hermione’s mother who called her into the back. The last patient, a woman, walked out as Hermione walked in. The assistant let Hermione’s mother know they were free to close the office early after Hermione was done. Harry felt a little relief at this because it meant they didn’t have to wait around for very long to follow the Grangers home. A little time passed and Hermione reappeared with tears welling in her eyes, her mother behind her.

“Are you sure you’re alright, dear?”

“I-I’m fine. My mouth is just a bit sore now is all,” Hermione lied.

“Oh, I didn’t realize you’re teeth were so sensitive. They look impeccably well cared for.”

“Thank you,” Hermione said as she paid the bill. She finished the business transaction then rushed outside. Ron hurried after her to comfort her. Harry and Ginny weren’t too far behind him. They found Hermione crying facing a large green hedge on the side of the building.

“Hermione?” Ron stepped closer to her with caution.

“I didn’t think it would be so h-hard. It hurts s-so m-much,” Hermione stammered out between sobs. “They don’t recognize me. I m-mean I knew they wouldn’t but…” she buried her face into Ron’s chest. Ron did his best to console her. Harry felt a sudden wave of guilt that it was his fault that drove Hermione to such lengths to have to protect her parents’ safety. Harry kept his thoughts to himself.

By the time Ron got Hermione to wipe away her tears on a kerchief he conjured for her, her parents emerged from the office. Thankfully tailing them wasn’t too troublesome because the Granger’s walked home, Harry wasn’t sure how Hermione had planned to follow them if they’d driven. He asked her his query to answer his curiosity.

“Oh, well I sort of bugged my mum when she was cleaning my teeth,” she answered matter-of-factly. “If we lose sight of them then I can use my wand to point us in the right direction.”

“Kind of like the spell I used in the maze to use my wand as a compass?” 

“Exactly.”

They were a good distance behind the Grangers and had not been spotted by them. The Grangers were deep in conversation, or so it seemed by Mr. Granger’s hand gestures. They could not hear anything that was being said.

“So how are we doing this?” Ginny asked.

“Well, the reversal spell is simple enough in theory but I obviously need to be able to concentrate. Not to mention we can’t be seen practicing magic in front of Muggles, so we’ll have to be discreet. We need to get inside the house without attracting too much attention to ourselves.” They all thought on it for a bit until the Grangers finally came to a small two story house.

“There’s some windows we might be able to climb up to and unlock.”

“In broad daylight, honestly, Ron,” Hermione scoffed.

“Why don’t Harry and I go in and ask to use, what do you call it, the telephone? Then when we get inside we can freeze your mum and dad and let you two in,” Ginny suggested.

“What about the Trace? You’re underage,” Ron pointed out.

“They won’t be able to know who is casting the spell only that Ginny is around magic being cast. Hermione would be recognized from her appointment and two men seems threatening, they wouldn’t let both of us in,” Harry reasoned.

Ron and Hermione went around the corner of some hedges while Ginny and Harry walked on to the front door of the house. Harry tucked his wand up his sleeve and he noticed Ginny discretely doing the same. Harry knocked on the door and a short moment later Mrs. Granger answered the door.

“Hello, we were wondering if we might use your telephone to call for a ride?” Harry asked cordially.

“Of course, it’s just through here,” she said leading them into the house to a table in the hallway where the phone was.

“Who is it, dear?” Mr. Granger emerged from a side room.

It happened quite quickly. Harry looked at Ginny and she caught his eye. He gave her a quick barely perceptible nod which she returned. They drew their wands in one fluid motion and cast a full-body-bind on the Grangers. Ginny had targeted Mrs. Granger, Harry’s target had been Mr. Granger. The Grangers couldn’t move but they could still see and hear everything. Harry could only imagine the fear running through their minds. Ginny went to the door to signal Ron and Hermione to come in. As the other two made their way to the house Harry moved the Grangers to a better place than the floor.

“Mobilicorpus,” he set them skilfully side by side on the sofa. “I’m really sorry about this. It will all make sense to you in a bit when Hermione makes you remember.”

Hermione’s eyes got watery again seeing her parents in a full-body-bind. Harry was glad he thought to move them to the couch rather than leaving them on the floor, if he hadn’t he was sure Hermione would be crying even harder. As it was, she kept apologizing to them over and over as she took out her wand and knelt before them.

“Is there anything we can do to help?” Ron asked her.

“No, I just need to be able to concentrate so I need everyone to try to be quiet,” Hermione told them. She closed her eyes and began to breathe deeply; it was almost as if she were going into a trance. After a bit of time she raised her wand and pointed it at her father. In a barely audible whisper she began to chant a complex reversal spell. She repeated her actions on her mother. When she finished she broke into sobs yet again, new tears making fresh tracks down her cheeks.

“I’m s-so s-sorry! Please, don’t be angry. It was the only way I could think to keep you safe!” Hermione cried. Harry lifted the body-bind off of the Grangers. He waited with baited breath to see what their reactions would be. It was Hermione’s mother who made the first move.

“Hermione? What…how…?” she was still dazed and confused, both of them were. It was as if their brains needed time to process what had happened until now. Then Mrs. Granger flew off the sofa and threw her arms around her daughter.

“Oh, honey, my baby girl,” she cried squeezed her tight. “I had dreams with you in them but couldn’t remember who you were. But you’re okay?” she pulled back to inspect Hermione, “You’re not hurt?”

“No, Mum, I-I’m fine,” she answered, wiping away her tears.

“Are we in danger? Did anyone follow us?” Mrs. Granger asked.

“No, we’re safe,” Ron answered.

“The war, is it over then?” Mr. Granger spoke at last.

“Yes, for the most part,” Harry answered as Hermione hugged her father.

“And you’re all okay?” Mrs. Granger asked. Harry shrugged, Ron looked at the floor as did Ginny, Hermione solemnly nodded her head.

“Is it safe to go home?” Hermione’s mom asked.

“Yes, that’s why we came,” Hermione said sounding a little brighter.

“It will be a while before we can return. We have patients here we have an obligation to, not to mention this house to pack up and sell,” Mr. Granger said rather stiffly.

“I…I understand,” Hermione said, putting on a brave face, the fresh tears welling up in her eyes betraying her. “If you need help packing we can do most of it magically for you if you’d like?”

“That’s nice of you,” Mrs. Granger answered before her husband. “I’m afraid we don’t have rooms for you for the night, though. I suppose I could rustle up some blankets…”

“That’s okay, Mum, we brought sleeping bags. It’s still early though, so if you want to show us a room we can start packing…”

“Sure, sure, follow me,” and she led them upstairs to their bedroom. She took out a weeks worth of clothes for her and her husband and set them aside then told them they could pack the rest.

“Hermione, Ron, did you guys send a message to Dad to let him know we’re here?” Ginny asked.

“Mmhm, I already did when we were outside,” Hermione answered.

“Oh, alright then.”

Harry conjured some boxes and they set to work. Harry, Ron, and Hermione used magic to pack but Ginny didn’t want to press her luck so she didn’t. She packed the fragile items by hand. Harry’s packing was okay, Ron’s was kind of sloppy and Hermione’s was, of course, perfect. They spent the rest of the day going from room to room and packing everything they could. Mr. Granger would stop in now and again and Ron would start to fidget under his gaze. Mrs. Granger ordered pizza for supper and after they ate Hermione disappeared with her mother for a while. They managed to pack all the non-essentials in the kitchen before quitting for the night. They rolled out their sleeping bags in the living room.

“Hey, Hermione, do you have that parchment , quill and ink?” Harry asked her interrupting her and Ron. Hermione was showing Ron the television which he found fascinating. At first Ron thought it was like a large Wizard photo but when he realized there was sound and that the pictures told a story he was drawn into it. He had just recently been chastised by Hermione because he had pressed his face against the screen to see if he could look over to a nice looking blonde who had just strutted out of the scene.

“It doesn’t work like that, Ronald. Yes, Harry, just give me a second.” She found her beaded bag and dug out the quills, ink and parchment. Not only did she give Harry parchment she also gave some to Ron and took some for herself. She then turned off the television.

“Hey, I was watching that,” Ron complained.

“Yes, but Harry has the right idea, we might as well get these reports for Gringotts done and over with.”

“Gee, thanks, Harry,” Ron scowled.

Harry ignored him and started writing up his report. Ron announced his done first and he crawled into his sleeping bag before Hermione could say otherwise. Out of habit she proof-read his paper, making corrections when necessary. When she finished reading it she put it away and went back to her own paper.

“How was it?” Harry asked wondering what Ron had written down.

“Fine. Short, but it covered the key points,” She told him as she got back to writing. Harry looked over to Ginny, who was curled up in a chair, as she quickly averted her gaze. Had she been watching him? He wondered what was going through her mind. The rapid scratching of Hermione’s quill on parchment brought Harry’s mind back to where it was supposed to be, on his report. After a little longer than an hour Ron was snoring, Ginny had fallen asleep in the chair and Hermione finished writing her report. She proof-read it then yawned and stretched. She went to the loo and by the time she came back Harry had finished his own report. Hermione read it over and when she finished she carefully rolled it up and added to her bag with Ron’s and her own.

“You know, Harry, that was very good. You had a lot of good information in your report that Gringotts will be thankful for. Things I didn’t even think about. I think that’s what makes you so good at fighting Dark Wizards and Dark Magic, you notice things other people wouldn’t even think twice about. Add that to your natural instincts and it’s a winning combination.”

“Er, thanks, Hermione,” Harry said. There was a weird silence between them for a moment. “So, are you going back to Hogwarts?”

“Yeah, I’m pretty sure I am. I mean I don’t really feel right if I don’t finish school, that probably sounds stupid. It just…I don’t know…It’s just important to me.”

“It’s not stupid, Hermione. I was seriously thinking about it too.”

“But you’re not going back, are you?” it was more statement than question.

“No, not if Kingsley is offering me a job. I mean it’s a huge opportunity to end the corruption in the Ministry. If I can be an Auror without going back to school, why not, right? I just feel that for me it would be like taking a step backward, rather then forward, compared to that.”

“Yeah, that’s what I figured you’d say. Hogwarts just won’t be the same without you,” she said her eyes getting a little misty.

“Yeah, but you’ll still have Ginny and Ron.”

“Yeah, Ginny’s company will help but I don’t think Ron will be coming back either.”

“Why, did he say something?”

“No, I just don’t see him going back to school, do you?”

“No,” Harry chuckled, “not really. He never really cared for school anyway.”

“Exactly,” she said as she gazed lovingly at Ron’s sleeping form.

“Well, there’s always Hogsmeade weekends. Besides, I don’t think Professor McGonagall would mind too much if we come to visit every now and then.”

“Yeah, I guess,” she said with sadness in her voice. She crawled into her sleeping bag which was set up beside Ron’s. “Goodnight, Harry.”

“Goodnight.”

Harry went to use the lavatory and shut out the light on his way back. The moon was bright enough for him to see clearly once he let his eyes adjust. He stood in the doorway for a while watching over his friends as they slept. Hermione had fallen asleep quickly with her head resting on Ron’s chest, his arm wrapped behind her. Ginny was still sleeping peacefully in the chair. Harry picked up her sleeping bag and covered her with it.

Harry hoped Ginny would make her decision in favour of him, because he knew his heart belonged to her. If she decided not to see him again he didn’t know what he’d do. It occurred to him that what he was feeling now must be nothing like what Ginny must have felt all year not knowing where he was or if he was okay. It was that thought that reminded him to have patience and give her time. He crawled into his own sleeping bag and fell asleep and when he dreamed, this time, he dreamt of Ginny.

Chapter 10: Finding Thor
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When Harry woke the next morning Ginny was no longer asleep in the chair. She must have moved in the middle of the night to the floor with the rest of them. She was lying in front of Harry, her red hair trailing toward him, he couldn’t resist breathing in the scent. He lingered for a moment wanting to pull her closer to him. He resisted the urge and forced himself to get up. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and put his glasses on. He took care of his morning ablutions and when he exited the bathroom someone was up and about in the kitchen.

“Oh, good morning, Harry,” Mrs. Granger was making coffee and toast.

“Good morning,” he sat down at the kitchen table.

“I’ll be working a half-day today to spend time with Hermione. Her father’s already at work, quite a few patients with early appointments.”

“Oh, erm, do you want me to wake the others?”

“Not right now, might as well let them rest a bit longer. Would you care for some breakfast?”

“Yes, thank you, toast is fine.”

She gave him the proffered toast and also a cup of coffee. They sat in silence for a few moments as they ate. Harry could hear Ron’s snoring every now and again coming from the other room.

“Mind if I ask you something, Harry?”

“No, I don’t mind, ask away,” Harry said with a smile, it was very clear to him that something was bothering her.

“Is Hermione really all right?”

“I think she’ll be okay, she just really missed you. She was also pretty worried about how you would react upon learning what she’d done to protect you.”

“I won’t lie, I was upset at first. It’s kind of unnerving to know she had that much control over us, that anyone could have that much power over us. I know she did it to protect us, but it still…I don’t know,” she said with a sigh and a shake of her head. “As a parent you always do what you can to protect your children, to keep them safe. I never thought it would be the other way ‘round. I think that’s what bothers my husband the most. He’s always been the protector and this was something he had no control over, perhaps he feels that maybe somehow he failed in that endeavour. I’m sure he’ll come around, I just hope for Hermione’s sake it’s soon.”

Harry wasn’t sure of what to say so he nodded his head and looked at the pool of dark liquid in his cup. The sun was up high enough now to bring a golden glow to the kitchen. He looked up to see that Mrs. Granger’s gaze was also lost in the depths of her coffee.

“I’ll wake the others up now if you’d like?” Harry offered. Mrs. Granger nodded her head and with a small smile thanked him.

Harry walked back to the living room to find Ginny was already awake and brushing out her silken auburn tresses. She gave Harry a smile and bid him a good morning, Harry couldn’t help but feel like the sun was shining on him. Harry returned her morning greeting with a smile of his own. He walked forward and at the same moment Ron shifted in his sleep causing Harry to trip over his feet. Harry fell to his hands and knees beside Ron. Ron woke up with his wand at the ready blocking Hermione with his body. Hermione woke up spitting her hair out of her face.

“Bloody hell, Harry, you scared the livin’ daylights out of me!” Ron exclaimed. “What was that for?”

“Me? You’re the one who rolled over in your sleep and tripped me.”

“Oh, sorry.”

They heard a snort of laughter and looked up to see Ginny shaking with mirth trying not to laugh. Hermione had less restraint which made Ginny start laughing louder. Harry began laughing not bothering to get up from the floor. Together the four of them had a good long laugh that felt so good and was something they all needed.

After they had recovered from their bout of laughter they finished getting ready for the day and Hermione packed their sleeping bags back into her beaded bag. She let her mother know they would be back later to say their farewells and move any boxes that were ready to go back with them. Harry wasn’t really sure where they were headed for the day but it felt nice to let Hermione lead the way and not have to worry about being the one in charge for once.

“Where exactly are we going, Hermione?” Ron asked.

“Back to the wizarding village we arrived in. Thought we might as well do some sightseeing while we’re here.” None of them objected so she led on and they boarded a bus back to the village. When they got dropped off by the bus, the bus driver kept insisting they must be mistaken that this was their stop for there was nothing for miles around. They walked the remaining distance to the magically protected wizarding village. They walked along a straight road lined with shops.

“What is this place, Hermione?” Ginny asked.

“Vertic Alley,” she answered simply.

Everything was bright and bustling with activity. Occasionally Harry saw his own face in a paper or magazine looking back at him. Some witches and wizards spoke of the war back home but none noticed or recognized Harry or the others. Hermione bought herself a picturesque landscape poster with Australia written on it as a souvenir. It was beautiful with everything in motion, it was a scene overlooking the ocean, local tropical birds flitted through every now and again. Harry noticed the look of longing in Ginny’s eyes and decided to buy one for her and one for himself. Ron bought a colour-changing shot glass which made Hermione roll her eyes and scoff.

Hermione insisted they stop in the local book store and after she perused for a while she found a book she was satisfied with and they woke up Ron who was dozing in a corner chair. Ginny suggested they go to the pet shop before they went back to the Grangers. There were a lot of similar creatures here as there were in Diagon Alley but there were some unusual tropical animals they didn’t recognize. Harry saw a pen of Crups and a terrarium of Streel, a cage of Kneazles and a box of Puffskiens. There was a large glass aquarium of colourful coral reef fish and a large wire cage of tropical parrots much larger than Budgies. There was also another glass terrarium with a caution: poisonous sign on it that contained many different sized and various coloured frogs.

A loud commotion in the back corner drew their attention. One of the shopkeepers was struggling with a large screeching bird. Several dark feathers went flying as the bird tried to fly away from the man. As they drew closer the bird succeeded in escaping and circled the room looking for a place to land. Out of instinct Harry put his arm out as a perch. With a screech the great bird landed heavily on Harry arm. He could now see quite clearly it was an owl the colour of soot nearly black in pigment.

“Sorry about that, mate,” the shopkeeper apologized. “The bird’s a menace. Born in captivity but he won’t tame for nobody. No one’ll buy ‘im the way he behaves.” He reached out to take the owl but the bird remained solidly rooted to Harry’s arm being completely stubborn.

“How much?”

“Huh…uh, beggin’ your pardon?”

“How much do you want for him?”

“You’re serious?” the man laughed incredulously.

“Yes,” Harry said with all seriousness.

“I’ll give ‘im to ya if you buy his cage to go with him. He’s already chewed on the bars.”

“How much?” Harry repeated.

“For you, takin’ this problem of my hands…five Galleons.” Harry dug out the money from his pocket with his free hand and paid the man.

“Does he have a name?”

“Naw, we tried a few but he wouldn’t answer to any of ‘em. Here you go,” he handed Harry the cage. “Good luck, you’ll be needin’ it.”

They left the pet shop and Harry and the others looked over the owl carefully in the sunlight. He was a beautiful bird. Harry had never seen one like him back home. He ruffled his feathers a bit when Harry pet him but he didn’t attempt to fly away.

“He’s beautiful, Harry. What do you think you’ll call him?” Ginny asked.

“I’m not sure yet. I’ll have to think on it,” he told her. “Sorry, fella but until we get back to the house I’ll have to hide you in the cage,” Harry told his new owl. “I think I’ll buy him some owl treats before we head out if that’s alright.”

“We have enough time, but it’ll have to be our last stop before we head back,” Hermione said checking her watch. The owl, surprisingly, went back into the cage without much of a fight. Harry bought the treats at the pet supply store across the street and as they left the wizarding village he covered the owl’s cage with his invisibility cloak he pulled from his Mokeskin pouch he still wore around his neck.

By the time they got back to the Granger’s house after another bus ride Hermione’s parents were just getting back home from work. Mr. Granger didn’t seem quite as upset as he did before and even pulled Hermione into a hug. Harry could see Hermione’s eyes misting over. They helped the Grangers move all the boxes of packed things into the living room. Hermione performed another spell on an old carpet bag she found and managed to squeeze all the boxes into the magically expanded bag. She took out the D.A. coin and tapped it with her wand to send the message to Arthur Weasley that they needed the Floo Grate opened.

“We’ll probably catch a flight back in a week or so,” Mr. Granger told them. He hugged Hermione goodbye. Hermione and Ginny were saying goodbye to Hermione’s mother when Mr. Granger shook Harry and Ron’s hands. “I just wanted to say thank you for keeping Hermione safe.” Harry didn’t know what to say so he just nodded his head and Ron followed suit. Hermione, Ginny, and Mrs. Granger rejoined them by the fireplace.

The coin in Hermione’s hand changed to carry Arthur’s message that the Floo Grate was open and connected to the Ministry of Magic’s fireplaces Ron hefted the carpet bag full of boxes and Hermione dug out of her beaded bag the Floo powder. Ron took a handful of the powder first and disappeared in a flash of green flames. Ginny went next and Harry picked up his new owl’s cage and followed her.

This time travelling by Floo seemed to take forever. Harry felt like he was endlessly spinning, holding on to the cage tightly trying not to flail around too much. When he finally the Ministry of magic Ron and Ginny stood waiting for him. Harry dusted himself off with his free hand. He must have had some ash in his hair because Ginny brushed it out for him delicately with her hand. Harry felt a tingling sensation where her hand had been. Unfortunately he didn’t have much time to enjoy the sensation because Hermione came through the Floo at that moment. Mr. Weasley met them jovially in the Atrium a few seconds later.

“So, how was your trip?”

“Fine, Dad,” Ginny told him giving him a small hug.

“So everything is alright?”

“Yeah,” Hermione said.

“Goodness, Harry, that’s a beautiful owl! I’ve never seen one quite like it.”

“Thank you,” Harry said as the owl in his cage preened.

“You’ll have to check him in, of course, it being a foreign creature.”

“Oh, right. Where…?”

“That desk there,” Mr. Weasley pointed to a counter with a small queue of people waiting at it.

“Thank you. Er, catch you guys later?” Harry said to the others.

“Join us for dinner tonight, Harry,” Arthur offered. “Molly’s making stew. She thought you’d all tell us how Australia was.”

“Sure, sounds great.”

“I’ll wait in line with you, Harry,” Ginny told him.

“I-uh, that would be nice, wonderful, thank you, Ginny,” Harry stammered.

“Meet you back at the Burrow then,” Ron told them as he led Hermione back to the fireplaces and Mr. Weasley went back to work. As Harry and Ginny stood in line an awkward silence fell over them. Harry wasn’t sure what to say to her. Ginny finally spoke saving him from his internal struggle.

“I never thanked you properly convincing my parents to let me come along so I thought I should. Thank you, Harry.”

“No problem, it was nice to have your company,” Harry told her, truly meaning it. Their gazes locked as she gave him a gentle smile. The moment was interrupted by the witch at the counter.

“Sir, excuse me, sir, do you want me to inspect your owl?”

“Oh, yeah, sorry,” Harry apologized. He handed to cage over to the woman.

“Beautiful specimen,” she said looking at the owl and taking it out of the cage. “Begin inspection,” she said to a green quill that began scribbling down notes on parchment. “Sooty Owl, adult male, origin Australia, nearly all black, no trace of infection or disease,” the woman listed. “What is his name for the records?”

“Er, how about Thor.”

“Thor, that’s a fine name for such a handsome owl. And who am I to register this bird to?” she asked as she put Thor back in his cage.

“Harry James Potter.”

“Well that should do it, he’s all yours Mr. Potter,” she handed the cage back and other than a quick glance at Harry’s forehead the woman seemed not to take much interest in Harry’s identity for which he was thankful.

“That was quick,” Ginny commented as they walked back to the fireplaces.

“Yeah, good thing too ‘cause I think Thor’s getting impatient to get out of this cage and go for a hunt,” Harry said as Thor ruffled his feathers. “I bet he’s been caged up for a while, haven’t you?” Harry said holding the cage at eye level to peer in. “I know how it feels. We’ll be back at the Burrow soon and then I’ll let you out.”

“Thor is a fitting name for him, Harry. I must admit it did surprise me when you bought him.”

“I didn’t go into the shop expecting to but when I saw how unhappy he was there I just knew I had to. Besides, how else am I going to be able to write to you everyday while you’re at school?” Harry said with a wink. Ginny blushed and smiled but then looked solemn.

“So you aren’t going back to Hogwarts?”

“No, I’m going to take Kingsley up on his offer for a job. I mean it’s what I was going for Newts for anyway so…”

“Yeah, I kind of figured you’d say that,” Ginny said looking up at Harry with that blazing look in her eyes. “I’ll miss seeing you there, Harry.”

“I’ll miss you too. I’ll try to come up with as many excuses as I can to come and visit,” he said with a genial smile.

“I’d like that,” Ginny told him returning the smile. They each took a handful of Floo powder from the pot.

“After you.”

Once Ginny disappeared from the grate Harry let his elation from hearing that she’d like to see him and that she’d miss him show in a broad smile, then he tucked his joy away as he held onto Thor’s cage and travelled back to the Burrow.

Chapter 11: Welcome Home Dursleys
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That night Harry did enjoy supper at the Burrow and he and his friends told of Australia and how their trip went (minus some key emotional details) and what they saw. Harry did not stay the night, however, and chose to spend the night at Grimmauld Place. He told the others they could meet him there in the morning so they could set out to retrieve the Dursleys. It was going to be a reunion that Harry admitted to himself he was feeling quite agitated about.

When Ron, Hermione and Ginny arrived in the morning the four of them agreed that they would Apparate again to an area near their destination, in this case a wooded hill near the house the Dursleys were in. The safe house was on the outskirts of a Muggle town and was rather secluded but still they did not want to risk the chance of being seen and did not want to sneak up on the guards at the house who had remained as a precautionary measure just in case.

“Got a good hold?” Harry asked Ginny before he Apparated.

“Yeah,” she answered tightening her grip on his arm.

“See you on the hill,” he told Ron and Hermione.

“We’ll be right behind you,” Hermione said taking Ron’s hand.

The woods they Apparated into weren’t as dense as the Dark Forest and some sun filtered down through the trees. Ginny recovered from Apparating quicker than last time and when Ron and Hermione appeared a few yards away they walked over to join them. Harry used his wand as a compass to get his bearings then pointed toward where they needed to go.

“It’s this way.”

“So, Harry, how do you think they’ll react to seeing you?” Ron asked.

“Dunno, maybe relieved they can go home and probably still mad at me for being the reason they had to relocate for a year.”

“You really think they’ll be mad? I mean you’ve saved both the Muggle and the Wizarding world. You don’t think they’ll be thankful?” Ginny wondered.

“Honestly, Ginny,” Harry said with a sigh, “no I don’t. I don’t think my Uncle’s opinion of me will ever change no matter what I do.”

“It’s horrible the way they’ve treated you, Harry,” Ron said shaking his head in dismay. “You should have seen it, Ginny, they treated him like a prisoner, practically starving him. Boy, I’d like to teach them a lesson,” Ron whacked a low branch with his hand in anger.

“That won’t help any and it won’t change the past,” Harry said wisely. “Let’s just go get them, help them pack and escort them to Privet Drive.”

“How are we doing that exactly?” Hermione asked.

“I sent a message to Kingsley last night telling him we would be retrieving the Dursleys today,” Harry told them as he walked along a moss and lichen covered log. “Thor came back with a message from Kingsley that said Dedalus Diggle and someone else trustworthy would be there to meet us at the safe house. We’ll be taking my Uncle’s car with a trick we learned from Ginny and Ron’s dad,” Harry explained.

“Oh, ok,” Hermione dodged some low hanging branches. “So Thor’s settled in then?”

“That’s just the thing, I haven’t had a single problem with him. I think he just needed to stretch his wings and to be treated kindly, he needed someone who understood him. He delivered my letter quite fast actually.”

“That’s good,” Hermione said carefully stepping around some tall ferns. The sun brightened up ahead so Harry knew they were getting close. As they broke into the clearing they could easily see a small cottage with a white-washed exterior. Harry led them across the grassy lawn.

They walked around to the front and Harry knocked on the front door. They could hear a commotion coming from the inside that probably drowned out the sound of Harry’s polite knock. Harry heard his Uncle Vernon yelling about something but with his usual temper so that most of his words were incoherent. Harry tried knocking again and this time someone answered.

Dedalus,” the witch who had opened the door called out over the din, “they’re here!”

“I tell you we’re tired of being moved from one place to another, enough is enough! I’m going home and I’m taking my family with me whether you effing like it or not!”

“You are going home, Uncle Vernon, if you shut your pie hole long enough to listen you’d probably know that,” Harry stated as he walked into the sitting room where all three Dursleys were with Dedalus Diggle, their luggage at their feet.

“Harry?” Petunia Dursley said in a voice that was barely more than a whisper but carried well in the silence that followed Harry’s entrance into the room. “Is it over then?”

“Yes.”

“So we can go home now?” Dudley asked even though Harry had already said as much.

“Yes, that’s why we’re here, to escort and help you to get home safely,” Harry told him.

“‘Safely’, I thought you just said it was all over?” Uncle Vernon asked testily.

“The war is over, Voldemort is no longer a threat but a few Dark Wizards are still on the loose. It’s merely a precaution,” Harry answered trying to keep his temper.

“When you say ‘no longer a threat’ do you mean he’s in hiding again or…?” Petunia asked that made Harry remember she was indeed his mother Lily’s sister.

“He’s dead,” Harry said simply.

“Well then, now that everyone’s calmed down why don’t we get a move on,” Diggle suggested.

“Er, not to be rude,” Vernon said in a voice that most definitely was rude, “but how are we all going seeing as there is only the one car?”

“Expansion Charm, makes the car fit twice as many people on the inside without changing the outward appearance,” Hermione quickly explained.

“You are not putting a ruddy spell on my car!”

“Well the only other alternative is by Floo unless of course you’d like to stay here?” Harry told him, his patience waning.

“Don’t get smart with me, boy,” Vernon Dursley said wagging his thick stubby finger in Harry’s face.

“Don’t talk to Harry like that,” Ginny told him in a low tone that was quite menacing.

“And who the bloody hell are you?” Vernon demanded.

“Forget it, Ginny, old habits die hard. Let’s just get going,” Harry tried calming everyone.

“Get your Aunt’s bags,” Uncle Vernon ordered Harry.

“Fine,” Harry said then without hesitation pulled out his wand, “Locomotor Luggage! Is this it?” Harry asked as he guided his Aunt’s bags out the front door Ron was holding open as he tried to hide a smile and Uncle Vernon’s face grew redder.

“No, that’s all of it,” Petunia answered meekly turning her face away from the blatant display of magic.

The drive to Privet Drive in Little Whinging, Surrey was a quiet and tense one. Vernon was driving rather fast ad recklessly, Dudley looked like he wanted to say something but chose not to, Petunia was trying to act indifferent looking out the windshield but her gaze kept surreptitiously glancing down at Harry’s drawn wand. Harry, Petunia and Dudley were up front with Uncle Vernon. Dedalus, Ron, Hermione, Ginny and the witch, whose name was Beatrice, were squished together in the back. When they finally arrived at Number Four Privet Drive Harry and Ron manually carried in Petunia’s bags. Beatrice Mode and Dedalus Diggle followed them into the house and insisted on inspected every room for anything sinister.

As Harry accompanied them to each room Beatrice told him she had spent the past year on the run and had crossed paths with Kingsley during her travels and had been recruited by him for the cause. She remained guarded even when shaking Harry’s hand in farewell. Dedalus Diggle did not hold back his enthusiasm and shook Harry’s hand energetically and even gave him a hug and pat on the back as he thanked Harry once again for all he had done for the Wizarding World. When Harry rejoined the others in the living room he came to find Ginny, Ron and Hermione having a strange silent stare down with the Dursleys.

“All the rooms are clean,” Harry told them.

“No they’re not, there’s almost a year’s worth of dust on everything,” Aunt Petunia complained.

“I meant there are no booby-traps or anything like that.”

“Oh.”

“You thought they’d want to booby-trap out trap?” Dudley asked speaking finally.

“Not really, just being precautious.”

Uncle Vernon didn’t verbally comment but his loud grunt spoke volumes to the fact that he considered anything Harry said was rubbish. He walked upstairs taking his bags with him. Hermione took out her wand which made Dudley and Petunia tense up then watch with guarded curiosity when Hermione began magically cleaning and dusting the place. Ginny started pulling off the sheets that had been draped over the furniture. The two girls went room by room until the house was just as spotless as Petunia Dursley had left it.

“Aunt Petunia?”

“What?” she answered a testily as she sank onto the couch beside Dudley.

“There was something I wanted to tell you. Something I think you ought to know,” Harry began as he sat opposite her in a chair. “A past acquaintance of yours and a friend of my mother’s bestowed upon me some information, some…memories that made a lot of things make sense--”

“If this is about that boy, Severus I think his name was, I don’t want to hear about it,” She said sternly cutting Harry off. “He was…he did horrible things.”

“I know but you need to listen just this once so maybe you’ll understand. Believe me I’d be the last person to defend Severus Snape but you need to know the truth.”

“What does it matter?” she asked, her temper reaching its pinnacle, her voce rising in pitch with it.

“Everything, it means everything, makes sense of everything, even if it doesn’t justify everything he’d done. It puts all the pieces in place so it makes everything that happened make sense, it puts it into perspective.”

“You think I even care?”

“Yes, I do, even though you try very hard to make people think that you don’t. I know that at first you weren’t so against magic, fascinated and a little frightened by Lily’s displays of it, but you weren’t repulsed by it. Maybe you were a little envious of my mother and disappointed when Dumbledore wrote back to you telling you you could not go to Hogwarts because you were not magically inclined. But all of that is in the past, Lily was your sister and she loved you in spite of your treatment towards her. You do her memory a disservice by your continued insistence that she was a freak. She never thought of you that way and she often defended you.”

“What does any of this have to do with that boy?” Petunia said angrily, dashing away a tear in frustration. “Did he tell you about that letter? Did he also tell you he and Lily read my mail without permission? Did he tell you how he attacked me? Did he?”

“I’d hardly call a falling branch an attack.”

“How about how he used to spy on Lily? How he pulled her in and let her believe in his friendship only to betray her feelings. Did he speak of that?”

“He was a lost little boy from a poor family. His father was abusive and Lily was his one and only true friend who only ever saw him through kind and gentle eyes as no one else could or would. He made choices later on that he knew were wrong. He was young and impressionable, his opinion easily swayed. He fell into the wrong crowd, they certainly fed him with their opinion and ideas as they did to several other boys and girls at the time. He hated my father and after an altercation with him he said something to my mother he could never take back no matter how badly he wanted to. Lily and Severus went their separate ways but their was one thing that never changed.”

“Oh really, and what might that be?” Aunt Petunia said, her voice icy and her arms crossed.

“He was in love with her. It’s why after her death he risked everything to try and make amends. He did horrible things in his past, yes, but he repented, he felt remorse. It’s why so many times when I should have been killed I wasn’t, because he was always there protecting me. He saved my life because he loved Lily even though all I ever did was remind him of my father. He was sorry for what he’d done.”

“I still don’t understand what that has to do with me. Why would I care?” Petunia said haughtily.

“You should care, you do care, I know it! You were the only other person under this roof who understood what was at risk if Voldemort couldn’t be defeated. You knew how dangerous he was, what he was capable of, on some level you comprehended that. You made sure that this family would be safe, even if that meant going into hiding.”

“How could I not after what you had said. We didn’t have to know about your world to know something was wrong. Anyone could see it,” she scoffed.

“What is going on down here?” Uncle Vernon asked as he waddled into the room.

“Nothing, we were just about to leave,” Ginny walked toward the door as if on cue.

“What happened to him?” Petunia asked in a trance staring at the blank wall behind Harry. Harry wasn’t sure what made her ask, perhaps the thought that she would never have the opportunity to do so again.

“What was that, Petunia?” Vernon asked his wife.

“Harry, what happened to Severus?”

“He was killed. He protected everyone for as long as he could until his time ran out and Voldemort had him killed.” A silence filled the room as Uncle Vernon realized his wife had been discussing about a wizard and possibly more with Harry. Harry finally walked toward the door and just before he walked outside he heard his Aunt Petunia’s voice behind him so softly he almost missed it.

“I didn’t hate her. Lily was my sister and I loved her but they took her away from me, from all of us. I could never hate her, just what she had become.”

“She could never become anything other than what she always was. They didn’t take her away from you, you pushed her away. You had a whole world to gain if you could’ve only looked past the differences. It’s all in the past now but maybe it’s not too late to make peace with it all. This is the address of the town where she’s buried if ever you wanted to visit,” Harry handed her a slip of paper he had had in his pocket all day just in case. “Goodbye, Aunt Petunia, Uncle Vernon, Dudley,” he nodded to each of them in turn.

Harry walked outside and was surprised when Dudley followed him out. Ron and Hermione shared wary glances. Ginny stepped closer to Harry.

“Dudley?”

“I-uh, I just wanted to say goodbye,” Dudley said rather lamely.

“Oh, well, goodbye then, Dudley,” Harry said holding out his hand. Dudley shook it firmly with his meaty hand.

“Keep in touch, Cousin,” Dudley said in parting then he went back inside.

“Well, that was…” Harry began.

“Awkward?” Hermione offered.

“It was a bloody disaster is what it was!” Ron exclaimed.

“Ron!” Hermione scolded.

“Well he’s right, Hermione. Those people really are intolerable. I’ve still got half and mind to go back in there and curse the lot of them,” Ginny said heatedly, chucking her thumb over her shoulder in the direction of the door.

“It’s all over with the Dursleys now, at least Harry can put them behind him,” Hermione said.

“I’m still here y’know,” Harry said feeling like he was being talked about as if he weren’t present. He chuckled a little at the irony that it was what the Dursleys used to do to him when he was younger except in the Dursleys case they would insult him and now his friends were defending him.

“Sorry, Harry,” Hermione said.

“Harry!” a woman’s voice shouted out from across the street. It was Mrs. Figg. She was wearing a dress that was more like a m’uu-m’uu and on her feet were her usual carpet slippers. In her hand she carried a plate loosely covered in aluminium foil. “It is you! I saw the car pull up earlier and I thought it was you I saw get out of the car. Anyways, it’s good to see you, Harry. I thought you and your friends would like some cake.” She lifted the foil off of the plate to reveal the proffered cake she had cut into portions.

“Thank you,” Harry politely took a piece and, remembering that her cakes were a texture that was reminiscent of a loofa sponge and tasted not much better than one, took a cautious nibble. Harry knew this about the cake but Ron did not. Ron had taken a rudely large bite, his cheeks bulging.

“Good, eh? Would you like some more?” she offered to Ron.

“Mo fanku, imfyfanks,” He said around the mouthful of dry spongy cake trying not to choke. Ginny and Hermione had both taken a piece of cake but seeing Ron’s reaction chose to take Harry’s cue and only take a small nibble to be polite.

“Well, don’t be a stranger, Harry. I’ve got to get back to feed the cats. Just had a new little last week.”

“I’ll try and keep in touch, Mrs. Figg and if ever you need something feel free to owl me.”

“Alright then, take care,” she said and she began shuffling her way back across the street. When she finally was inside her house Ron loudly spit out the cake that had been sitting in his mouth. It had soaked up his spit and hit the ground like a rock. Harry kicked some dirt to cover it up where it lay, which happened to be near Aunt Petunia’s hydrangeas. Harry, Ginny and Hermione all threw their cake into the waste bin and then all four of them began walking down Privet Drive.

“That was horrible,” Ron said still pulling a sour face.

“It wasn’t all that bad, Ron.”

“You didn’t have to hold it in your mouth for as long as I did, Hermione. It just got worse the longer it sat on my tongue.”

“Well maybe if you ate normal sized bites instead of stuffing your mouth with as much food that’ll fit into it you wouldn’t have had that problem,” Hermione shot back which Ron had no comeback for so he didn’t say anything. Harry and Ginny found the whole thing rather amusing.

“So where to now?” Ron asked successfully changing the subject.

“Dunno, where do you want to go?”

“Want to go back to the Burrow and play some Quidditch?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Harry said shrugging his shoulders. Could it really be that he really did have the opportunity to do something so normal? He wished he still had his Firebolt.

“Mind if I join you?” Ginny asked. “It’s been a while since I had the chance to fly.”

“Sure,” Harry said glad for the chance to spend more time with her. “There’s an alley up here where we can Apparate from.” they followed Harry into the same alley that, almost three years ago, Dementors had attacked Harry and Dudley in. Without having to say anything Ginny gained a grip on Harry’s arm. Harry took it as a good sign that the rest of the day would go better than it began.

Chapter 12: Flying and Feelings
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Mrs. Weasley was outside in the garden when they got the Burrow. She was attempting to weed the patch. Someone with her, talking to her. It didn’t take them long to figure out who it was. She had her wand tucked in its usual position behind her ear, she wore butter-beer corks around her neck and earrings that looks like radishes that they now knew were dirigible plums.

“Hello,” Luna said in her ethereal voice.

“Hello, Luna,” they chorused back.

“How did it go?” Mrs. Weasley asked, concern in her voice.

“It, er, it went alright,” Ron told his mother.

“The Dursleys didn’t give you too much trouble did they?”

“Not too much, no,” Harry said not wanting her to worry.

“That’s good, dear,” Molly said. “Give me a minute here and I’ll fix some sandwiches for lunch. Luna you’re welcome to stay.”

“Thank you, I think I will,” Luna said dreamily. “Ooh, you must have lots of luck, Mrs. Weasley, you have a family of gnomes living in your hedges!” she exclaimed bending over at the waist to look between the bushes.

“Er, I guess so, dear,” Mrs. Weasley said looking utterly perplexed. “I think I’ll go start fixing those sandwiches now.” molly went inside the house giving one more confused backwards glance at Luna. Ron and Harry were trying not to laugh, Hermione elbowed Ron in the ribs. Ginny followed her mother inside the house and Harry breathed in her flowery scent as she walked by.

“You coming, Harry?” Ron asked from the door. Hermione had already gone inside without Harry even noticing.

“Er, yeah, I’m coming.”

“Oh no, Harry! Were you just attacked by Nargles?” Luna asked which made Ron dash inside so he could let loose the laugh that he could no longer hold back.

“No, Luna, no Nargles. I was just…daydreaming.”

“Oh,” Luna said then she began to skip toward the door.

They all dashed down lunch pretty quickly and then helped clean up. It didn’t escape Mrs. Weasley’s notice.

“Where are you lot off to in such a hurry?” she asked kindly but with a hint of worry.

“We were hoping to get in a small bit of Quidditch,” Ron told her.

“Really? Well before you go, Harry, there’s something here for you,” Molly said getting up from the table. Mrs. Weasley crossed to the other side of the room where, unnoticed by any of them in the cluttered room, a package leaned up against the wall. “This arrived for you today,” she handed the large, long, brown box to him.

Harry cautiously opened the box from the top. When he peered inside he couldn’t believe his eyes. He reached inside and pulled out a long, sleek handled broom. It was gorgeous and neatly trimmed at the bristles.

“No way!” Ron exclaimed.

“Wicked!” Ginny said reaching out to touch it.

“Oh, it’s a broom,” Luna said casually.

“It’s not just a broom, it’s a Firebolt!” Ron said, his energy high enough to make up for Luna’s lack of enthusiasm.

“Who is the new Firebolt from, Harry?” Hermione asked, ever the cautious one.

“I’m not sure it is new, Hermione. Look here, there’s still a little bit of charring near the end of it,” Harry said. “I’m almost certain this is my own Firebolt.”

“But how?” Ron wondered.

“There’s a note attached to the box,” Ginny pointed out.

“Harry pulled the note off. Hastily he opened the envelope and unfolded the letter inside. On it was scrawled in slightly messy writing an explanation about the Firebolt.

“What does it say?” Hermione asked before Harry had a chance to finish reading the letter. He finished reading it before ha answered her.

“It is my Firebolt! I had lost it when we were making the getaway from the Dursleys last year. Apparently a Muggle kid found it and a witch who lived near him reported it to the ministry. They confiscated it and did a memory charm on the girl. According to the letter the broom was turned over to the company that makes them. When the brooms are made they’re designed to recognize their owner and in the case of becoming lost the company will be able to use that charm to track the owner so it can be returned.”

“That’s a pretty powerful spell,” Hermione said snatching the letter from Harry’s hand.

“It’s a very expensive broom,” Ginny reasoned.

“True, but I didn’t know they carried that charm. It’s almost a good thing the Firebolt was lost,” Hermione said beginning to read the letter.

“How could losing such a priceless broom be considered good, Hermione?” Ron scoffed.

“Because, Ron, suppose they figured out a way to track Harry by this broom.” It was understood by all who she meant by ‘they’.

“Oh, right,” Ron conceded sheepishly.

“You don’t suppose they’ve hexed it or anything?” Ginny wondered running her hand down the handle.

Hermione finished reading the letter and drew her wand. Harry lay the broom on the table and Hermione pointed her wand at it. She waved it a few times muttering countless counter curses and dark magic detection spells. After a few minutes she put her wand away.

“Well, I’m not detecting anything sinister, but still…I’d be careful, Harry.”

“Only one way to test it, though. Might as well give it a go,” Harry picked the broom up and headed for the door with the others following close behind him.

“You do realise how reckless this is, Harry,” Hermione pleaded. “Tell him this is dangerous,” she turned to Mrs. Weasley.

“He’s a man now, and to be honest I don’t think my saying something will change his mind. Let’s just be ready to slow his momentum if it bucks him off.” Hermione had no choice but to acquiesce and nod her head.

“Hold on, let me get my broom from the shed,” Ron told Harry as they passed by the small building. Ginny went inside and grabbed one of the old family brooms as well. When they reached the clearing that was surrounded by trees where the Weasleys normally practiced flying Ron and Ginny mounted their brooms first. They kicked off the ground easily and hovered low just in case they needed to try and help Harry.

“Well, here goes,” Harry said as he mounted his Firebolt and kicked off the ground. Hermione was right, he was being reckless and he wasn’t sure why. Right now he really didn’t care though he knew he should. He rose slowly from the ground waiting for something to happen…it never did.

After a while of careful watching and following Harry with the aim of their wands Hermione and Mrs. Weasley finally conceded to the fact that there was nothing wrong with Harry’s Firebolt. Mrs. Weasley told them she would be back at the house if they needed her and she left with a smile and a wave. Luna kept Hermione company on the ground while Harry, Ron and Ginny tossed a ball around. Harry swung a few fast manoeuvres and passed the ball off to Ginny. She caught it deftly and tried to throw it past Ron. Ron did a rolling dive and managed to stop the ball from passing him. Harry wanted to cut loose and fly high but he reminded himself that they needed to stay below the tree-line so they would not be seen by Muggles. Ginny did give Harry a chance to challenge himself by throwing some hard to catch passes. Harry knew his love for Quidditch was something that would always be with him.

After about a quarter of an hour of playing Ginny and Ron got into a shouting match. Ginny had thrown a particularly hard throw that nearly hit Ron on the head, Ron only deflected the ball at the last second.

“I don’t see what your problem is?” Ginny said haughtily.

“The problem is you nearly took my head off!” Ron shouted at his sister, his ears turning red.

“I’m sorry, I thought we were supposed to be practicing? Besides, if I meant to hurt you I would’ve thrown it at my hardest. I’m just trying to keep you on your toes. Slytherin takes head shots at you all the time.”

“Yeah, well, I don’t have to worry about Slytherin any more.”

“Does Mum know you’re not going back to school?” Ginny asked accusingly.

“Whether she knows or not doesn’t matter, I’m an adult, it’s my decision,” Ron shot back but his look of guilt gave him away that Molly did not know and he knew it did matter…a lot.

“So what are you planning on doing?” Ginny asked with the knowledge that Ron had probably not thought that far ahead yet.

“Lay off, Ginny, please,” Ron begged her.

“Fine but you might want to come with something before you tell Mum you’re not going back to Hogwarts.”

Harry didn’t hear what Ron’s response was because he had pulled away from the other two and was headed closer to the ground in a slow graceful swoop towards Hermione and Luna. It had caught Harry’s attention that Ron and Ginny’s shouting match had not distracted Hermione from listening to Luna. Needless to say it piqued his curiosity and he was interested to hear what Luna was saying that Hermione was finding so intriguing. Harry gently landed a few feet away from the two girls. He caught Luna’s next words easily.

“So anyway, dad should be home from St. Mungo’s soon. I think he’s really upset that the horn wasn’t really from a Crumpled-Horned Snorkack but he wants to keep looking. I personally think that maybe they don’t exist. Maybe dad just believes everything a little too easily. I am still curious what really exists, you know, but maybe I should find out for myself what to believe in?”

“I think that’s a very good idea,” Hermione said to Luna kindly and meaning it.

“Yes, well I’m thinking of really concentrating my studies this year on Magical Creatures and on Herbology. Maybe after Newts I can really explore and maybe I can discover some real elusive creatures and plants.”

“That sounds like a great idea, Luna!” Harry said as he took a seat in front of the two girls.

“Oh, hello, Harry, I didn’t see you come down. Are you done flying then?”

“For now I guess,” Harry told her as Ron and Ginny landed in unison a few yards away.

“So, Luna, how are the repairs on your house coming?” Ginny asked as she sat next to Harry and Ron sat beside Hermione.

“Oh, just fine. Actually it’s funny you asked,” Luna said. They waited for her to continue but she didn’t.

“Er, curious, but why is it funny that Ginny asked?” Harry prompted.

“Oh, well it’s just that two days ago Kingsley Shacklebolt came by with some construction wizards and they helped rebuild the house. The Structure is fixed anyway, I still have to paint and redecorate. Oh, and fix my ceiling, thank goodness it didn’t get damaged too bad but I wish I could’ve shown it to you before it was banged up.”

“Well, actually, Luna, we did see it. It was beautiful,” Hermione said her eyes were a little misty.

“It really was and I just want to say thank you, Luna, for your friendship, for…everything,” Harry said uncharacteristically getting choked up himself at the memory of Luna’s ‘friendship ceiling’.

“Thank you, your friendship means a lot to me and…well, I wanted to express that. I knew you were at the house when it happened but I didn’t know you had been up to my room.”

“Yeah, well, actually it’s how I knew something was wrong. I went upstairs because I looked up and saw what I thought was myself in a mirror then I looked closer and saw it was a painting. When I went up to take a closer look Hermione and Ron followed me up. I noticed in your room there was dust and your bed looked cold, un-slept in. I knew then that you hadn’t been there. The Death Eaters came shortly after that.”

“Dad really is sorry,” Luna apologized for him.

“He doesn’t have to be, we understand. He didn’t see any other way out, he was just trying to get you back safely, to save you,” Hermione told her.

“What are you lot up to?” Mrs. Weasley asked surprising them as she had snuck up so quietly.

“Nothing, Mum, just talking,” Ginny said with a smile, trying to ease her mother’s worrying. Harry could only imagine what it must look like to Molly, to see all of them huddled and talking outside. Bringing up all her old fears when him and Ron and Hermione used to sneak off to plan and strategize for their mission.

“Luna was just telling us how her father is doing, weren’t you Luna?” Harry said.

“Yes, he’ll be home soon. He hopes to rebuild the printing machine.”

“That’s nice, dear,” Molly said. “Why don’t the lot of you come inside. It looks like rain on the horizon.”

Sure enough shortly after they had gone indoors it began to rain and the wind picked up. Ron pulled out his chessboard and Hermione pulled out her copy of The Tales of Beedle The Bard. Ginny went over to the window and sat on the bench seat that was positioned beneath it and she watched the rain.

“Are you watching for Augurey’s?” Luna asked Ginny.

“Is that another creature your father has showcased in the Quibbler?” Ron jibed.

“Actually, Ron, they’re dark green birds that let out mournful cries when it rains,” Hermione said looking up from her book.

“Oh, so they, uh…they do exist?” Ron asked dumbly.

“We learned about them in Care of Magical Creatures class in first year, Ron,” Harry told him.

“Oh, er, right. Sorry, Luna.”

“It’s alright, I understand,” Luna said with a dreamy look on her face as she gazed out the window looking for the elusive bird.

“Harry, care for a game of chess?”

“No, thanks,” Harry said turning to look at Ron and tear his gaze away from Ginny for a moment as he answered the query.

“Ginny?” Ron tried but she shook her head in decline.

“Luna, fancy a game?”

“Hmm? Oh, you want me to play?”

“Sure, if you want to,” Ron said. Clearly it meant a lot to Luna for Ron to ask her.

“Alright then,” Luna skipped over to join Ron. Harry walked over to Ginny and replaced Luna’s spot on the bench-seat beside her. Ginny’s gaze was still locked outside. Harry waited until Hermione was reabsorbed into her book and Ron and Luna were well into their game before speaking to Ginny. He didn’t want anyone to overhear, he wasn’t sure why.

“What are you thinking about, beautiful?” Harry asked with an easy smile. It earned him a slight grin and her attention. The look in her brown eyes when she looked at him took his breath away. Harry felt a very overwhelming need to kiss her, he involuntarily licked his lips and swallowed hard. Ron’s exclamation over Luna’s ability to play chess quite well broke the spell.

“Lot’s of things,” Ginny answered. “School, going back to Hogwarts. It’s going to be so strange, to be able to walk it’s halls again and not have to be afraid of who’s around the corner. I think what will be hardest is not seeing all the faces I used to see.” Harry knew she wasn’t just talking about of him. So many of their friends were either not returning to school or were lost at the hands of Death Eaters and battle. Still maybe he could offer her some comfort.

“I know it will be hard, we’ve lost so many friends. A part of me wants to go back if only to be closer to you. My comfort is that I have a way of knowing where you are if I really wanted to find out.”

“How?”

“The Marauder’s Map,” Harry explained taking it out of his moke-skin pouch. “All this past year, when I was alone guarding at night I would watch you on the map and wonder what you were up to.” He unfolded the map and tapped it with his wand, “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good.” Ginny studied the map for a while. There were no labelled dots to watch, no one was at the school as it was still closed.

“I wonder if it’s possible to re-open any of these passageways?” Ginny pointed to the tunnels that the Carrows had found and blocked.

“Good question,” Harry cocked his head to look at her. “You know these tunnels could be considered a major security risk. I might just have to investigate them,” Harry winked at Ginny. She finally smiled a full genuine smile before turning back to the window. Harry cleared the map and tucked it away again.

“So when do you think you’ll start working for Kingsley?” Ginny asked, still watching the rain fall.

“I don’t know. I was considering taking a bit more time to relax and help out with rebuilding, but I’m not sure.”

“Oh,” Ginny commented flatly. Harry watched her in silence for a while as she gazed upon the mournful outdoor scene. The rain continued to fall in a steady staccato upon the roof of the Burrow. The leaves on the trees shimmered silver in the wind. In a short amount of time the rain began to pool and create muddy puddles the drops would hit causing ripples along their surfaces. Watching the rain was beautiful in it’s own poignant way.

They whiled away the rest of the day much the same. Luna and Ron continued to play chess; Ron was happy to compete against someone who truly challenged him. Hermione was writing out a rune translation of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Harry followed Ginny when she got up after a while to help her and Molly make dinner. It was a mundane task but at least it passed the time and gave Harry an excuse to be near Ginny. The atmosphere didn’t really brighten up until Arthur and Percy came home in time for dinner bringing good news of progresses made at the Ministry.

Harry wished there were some other excuse for him to stay but when the sky grew dark and Luna said it was probably time for her to go Harry knew he should go as well. He was hoping Ginny would’ve opened up to him more before he went home.

“I’ll escort you home if you’d like Luna?” Harry offered.

“That’s a good idea, Harry, I was just about to offer the same. It’s still not completely safe, especially for people so closely involved in the Dark Lord’s downfall as we all were,” Arthur said.

“Thank you, Harry,” Luna said airily as she headed to the door. She stopped just outside the door to look into the bushes where she had seen the Gnomes before.

“I’ll just be moment,” he told her. Harry stood at the door, Ginny had followed him. Luna seemed engrossed in looking for the Lawn Gnomes and did not appear to have heard him.

Ginny moved in closer to Harry and he felt his pulse quicken. The other’s were in the sitting room, for the most part they were alone by the door. She leaned in closer still, Harry went rigid not sure what he should do. Very lightly she kissed him on the cheek and Harry couldn’t help the thought that if he turned he head just a few inches he could make it a real kiss. Already the spot on his cheek where her lips had caressed him burned with a warm glow.

“Thank you for being so patient with me, Harry. I know it can’t be easy for you, it’s not easy for me. I’ve just got some things to work out. I wish I could phrase better what I’m thinking but I’m not sure how. I wish I could make you understand how important it is to me for you to not take so much on your shoulders. That you could understand that you shouldn’t push the people who love you away when things get rough. It hurt that you did that, Harry, but I can’t change the past. I’m only afraid that it’ll happen again. Oh, I’m so confused, Harry. I-I’m sorry,” Ginny said first with tenderness, then fire and finally with sadness.

“Hey,” Harry said taking her into his arms for a hug, “It’s okay, Ginny, I understand. I’m sorry I put you through that.” He knew he meant it too. All he ever wanted to do was try and spare her pain. He was starting to really understand her fear. They just had to get past this. “I’ll wait for you for as long as it takes, you know that, right?” Harry kissed the top of her head. He drew in a breath, taking in the smell of her silken hair. He felt her nod her head and he knew she heard his rough whisper. “I love you, Ginny, nothing can ever change that.”

“I love you too, Harry,” Ginny said giving him one more hard squeeze, she kissed his chest and then she let go slowly.

“Goodnight,” Harry said and then he stepped outside to join Luna in the rain.

“Ready to go, Luna?” Harry asked.

“Sure, Harry,” Luna said brightly, maybe she had missed to whole interlude?

“We just have to walk outside the yard’s pereimeter then we can Apparate the rest of the way if you’d like?”

“Oh, I know it’s a short distance but I would like to Apparate! I wouldn’t want to get led astray by a Hinkypunk,” Luna said. They Apparated as one to the path just outside of Luna’s home, the lighthouse, which Harry was amazed to see was in working order. The light atop shone as a bright beacon over the water. The rain had slowed to an eerie mist.

“You know, Harry, she really does love you, anyone can see that,” Luna said in her Airy voice.

“Er, thanks, Luna,” Harry said feeling kind of embarrassed. Maybe Luna noticed more than she let on.

“Well, goodnight, Harry,” Luna said and she trotted off up the path. He watched to make sure she got inside safely. She turned on the lights inside and waved from the window. Harry turned to go back down the path, enjoying the feel of the sea breeze and the mist against his skin. The cold made him feel alive somehow.  With a heavy sigh he turned on the spot and Apparated away from the sea, away from his friends to his almost empty house, Number Twelve Grimmauld Place.

Chapter 13: Harry The Auror
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The next morning Harry woke to find Kreacher in the kitchen making breakfast. He had finally learned that Harry preferred simple fare of eggs and toast. Harry sat down at the scrubbed wooden table and picked up the copy of the Daily Prophet that had been delivered.

“Good morning, Kreacher,” Harry told the house-elf as he put the food on the table.

“Good morning, master,” Kreacher croaked out jovially. After he had served Harry he served himself. House-elves weren’t normally allowed to eat at the table with their wizards but Harry had insisted and eventually Kreacher accepted the invitation and they had settled into a pattern at meals.

“I think I’ll be going to the Ministry today, Kreacher. I want to talk to Kingsley, take him up on his offer to join the Auror department. I was going to wait and take some time but now that I see this,” Harry held up the paper, “I’ve made up my mind that I should join now. What do you think?”

“You want to know what I think?” Kreacher asked incredulously.

“Yes, I do.”

“Master should do what he thinks is best…”

“Go on.”

“But if these bad wizards still believe what the Dark Lord did is right and want to carry on with his work shouldn’t they be stopped and punished? Shouldn’t they be made to see that what they’re doing is wrong? Master Regulus learned what a bad man the Dark Lord was, he tried to stop him.”

“Exactly, Kreacher, exactly.”

“Master?”

“Hmm?”

“Please be careful,” Kreacher said then he started to eat. It certainly made Harry give pause to hear Kreacher speak with what could only be affection for him.

“I will, Kreacher,” Harry said then he too turned to his food. Harry read the Daily Prophet article that had caught his attention. Apparently there was a unified band of dark wizards and witches that had written on the walls of several establishments stating that they would carry on with the Dark Lord’s ideals and the like. They called themselves the Pure-blood Movement and more than just graffitiing on walls they ha attacked a few muggles and muggle-born wizards. Harry knew that several Death Eaters and their followers had escaped but he hadn’t expected an uprising from them so soon.

As soon as he was dressed and ready in a pair of black jeans and a clean shirt he left Grimmauld Place for the Ministry of Magic by way of the Floo Network. He did, of course, have his invisibility cloak tucked inside the moke-skin pouch that he still wore around his neck. Out of habit now he knew to check in to receive a visitor’s badge.

The Ministry was a flurry of activity but Harry was surprised by silence. Not many people were conversing unless it was required to conduct business. Harry knew it must have to do with happened. The Pure-blood Movement had brought the still inherent danger to realization. They had already become accomplished terrorists. Seeing fear in people only strengthened Harry’s resolve that he needed to do something to stop the dark wizards. When Harry reached Shacklebolt’s office level Percy noticed Harry right away.

“Hello, Harry. Is Minister Shacklebolt expecting you?” Percy asked as he shook Harry’s hand. Harry noticed a few heads turn in their direction and some necks craning the better to see him.

“Er, not exactly, but there was something I wanted to discuss with him,” Harry explained quietly so only Percy would hear him.

“Well, I’ll let him know you’re here. He’s meeting with the Head of the Muggle Liaison Office in fifteen minutes.”

“This won’t take long, really. At least, I don’t think it will,” Harry followed Percy to the door that led to the Minister of Magic’s office. Percy wrote out a quick note then charmed it to fly through the small hole in the door, Harry had not noticed it before, that was obviously designed for just that purpose. Almost immediately the door opened.

“Harry, good to see you,” Kingsley greeted him. “Have you thought more about my offer?”

“Yes, actually, that’s why I’m here,” Harry said fully aware that everyone behind him was eavesdropping.

“Why don’t you come in, Harry,” Kingsley said stepping away from the doorway to let Harry pass.

“Thank you,” Harry said. He waited for Shacklebolt to sit before he did.

“So what have you decided?” Kingsley asked cordially.

“I’ve decided I’m going to take you up on that offer, as soon as possible if that’s okay.”

“I take it you’ve read the Daily Prophet this morning, then?”

“Yes, it’s why I’m choosing not to wait. We need to make our presence known, to let people know that the Order is still on guard.”

“You’ve read my mind, Mr. Potter. As soon as possible, hmm? Is right now soon enough?” Kingsley asked with a crooked smile.

“Er, no, now is fine I guess.”

“I’m meeting with the Head of the Muggle Liaison Office, I’d like it if you’d sit in on the meeting. It’ll save me from having to fill you in later and…” Kingsley hesitated.

“And having me here will help people feel reassured that the Ministry is doing all it can to keep both the Muggle community and the Wizarding community safe,” Harry finished for him.

“I know how you felt before about Scrimgeour wanting you as an image, a poster boy if you will. I didn’t want to offend,” Shacklebolt admitted.

“Yes, but that situation was decidedly very different. Scrimgeour wasn’t actually doing everything he should have been doing to protect people. He was just delaying what he deemed inevitable. He wanted me as a visual reinforcement, a poster boy as you put it, to make people think they were making an impact, that the Ministry was doing right by the people and capturing dark Wizards. The difference now is that I know you truly do mean to help protect people and you are and I want to help.”

“Fair enough,” Kingsley told him as he steepled his fingers, leaning on the desk. “When we’re done with the meeting I’ll take you on a tour of the areas you should know.”

“I’m sure you have more pressing matters to attend to,” Harry said. He truly meant it.

“To be honest with you, Harry, I was planning on hounding you today to try and persuade you to take the offer of the Auror position. We really need your help. Seeing as you’re here we might as well get down to business,” Kingsley told him.

“Er, right,” Harry said lamely. He was used to doing things on his own schedule that being in a job position that was by someone else’s regimen was going to take some getting used to. After a short, silent pause Percy knocked on the door and announced the arrival of the Muggle relations Department Head and Muggle representative.

Both man were dressed quite appropriately for Muggle business-wear. Perhaps it was her slight form that prevented Harry from noticing her at first but there was also a woman accompanying the Muggle attaché.

“Minister Shacklebolt, may I introduce Mary Kate Cronin and her assistant Brad Pearson, Muggle liaisons representing the Prime Minister,” the official-looking wizard began the introductions. “Ms. Cronin, Mr. Pearson, Minister of Magic Kingsley Shacklebolt.”

“I’m very pleased to meet you,” Kingsley said as he shook their hands. “I’m also thankful that you were willing to come here to speak to me. Your Prime Minister and I have other ways of communication but he preferred to send a liaison.”

“Yes, he did mention that this was his preferred course of communication,” the woman said nervously as she looked around the office. Harry noticed Mr. Pearson seemed quite at ease in the magical surroundings, quite jovial actually.

“I hope it’s alright with you, I’ve asked one of our Aurors to join us,” Shacklebolt gestured to Harry and Harry stepped forward as he had backed to the wall when the liaisons had entered.

“That seems perfectly in order,” Ms. Cronin said after Mr. Pearson had whispered in her ear, but not so quietly that Harry couldn’t hear, an explanation of what an Auror was. Harry noticed that Percy had started a little when Shacklebolt had referred to Harry with the title of Auror. The woman leaned forward and shook Harry’s hand tentatively, “Nice to meet you, Mr?”

“Potter, and the feeling is mutual,” Harry said kindly. The woman’s hand was clammy, probably from nerves.

“Potter, not Harry Potter?” the head of the Muggle Liaison Office asked as he shook Harry’s hand.

“Yes,” Harry answered the man as he was still shaking his hand.

“My name’s Edwin Manteca, it really is nice to meet you, Mr. Potter.”

“Goodness,” Mr. Pearson said as he took his turn shaking Harry’s hand. “I’d never thought I’d see the day I’d actually meet you, Mr. Potter!”

“If you don’t mind my asking, how-”

“Oh, sorry, yeah, I’m a squib you see. That’s why I’ve been assigned to Ms. Cronin.”

“I see, well I’m sure that having you here will be very beneficial.”

“Yes,” Kingsley agreed. “Would you like to sit down?”

“Thank you,” Ms. Cronin said as she took one of the three present chairs in front of Kingsley’s desk. Rather than use magic to grab one of the chairs by the long meeting table, Harry retrieved one manually; the woman was frightened enough he didn’t want to spook her more by such a blatant use of magic.

“Would you care for something to drink?” Percy asked the room in general.

“Some water would be lovely,” Ms. Cronin accepted the offer of refreshment. Harry noticed Percy was keen enough to turn his back to conjure the glass of water but Harry still heard Percy’s low incantation of ’Aguamenti’. Ms. Cronin seemed not to have noticed, she was too fixated on the moving pictures on Kingsley’s wall. Percy made a quiet exit after serving those who wanted refreshment, which Harry declined.

The meeting that commenced was quite mundane in it’s entirety but informing the Muggle Prime Minister what had transpired in the final battle at Hogwarts and keeping him apprised of what was happening now with the new turmoil was necessary. Harry had never really cared for politics. It was helpful, Harry supposed, to know the mindset of the Muggle population with all the mysterious deaths. They seemed worried upon hearing of the Pure-Blood Movement, at least knowing that there was still some kind of trouble brewing did. Mr. Pearson did, however, feel very reassured to see Harry and hear directly from him that Voldemort was dead and that they were doing all they could to capture the remaining loose Death Eaters. Ms. Cronin eased a little after a while and all three Liaisons had a lighter air about them as the Muggle representatives headed back to the Prime Minister’s office. Kingsley offered them the use of the portrait passageway but Ms. Cronin declined after blanching at the suggestion and they left the way they had come, with Mr. Manteca escorting them back to the telephone booth lift.

Harry followed Minister Shacklebolt out of the office. Kingsley brought Harry to the level he would be calling his office and introduced him to the Aurors that were there. They all seemed enthusiastic to see Harry joining their team. Harry noticed there weren’t many Aurors in the office, whether that meant they were sorely shorthanded or because most of them were out in the field was anyone’s guess, Harry concluded for himself it was probably a little of both. Kingsley also led Harry to an office where he officially made Harry an employee of the Ministry. Harry received an official looking badge that declared Harry to be an Auror. The most exhilarating part of the day was when Kingsley brought Harry down to the training centre.

There were quite a few wizards and witches sparring off to one side of the room and on the other side was a much larger group taking defence training. It was with this group that Kingsley had left Harry to train with for a bit, though he joked it would be more like a refresher course, as Kingsley had some official Minister business to attend to. Some of what this group was learning was pretty basic stuff; Shield Charms, Disarming Spells and Counter Curses. Then the instructor introduced the learning group to advanced skills. It was when the instructor produced a Patronus that caught everyone’s attention.

“The ability to produce a Patronus is one of an Auror’s most useful skills,” the instructor explained in a gravely voice as his Patronus faded. “The incantation for producing a Patronus is Expecto Patronum.” Everyone chorused the incantation back, everyone that is except Harry. “Would anyone care to give it a try?” the instructor asked. What was the point of him asking these new trainees, Harry thought, if he hadn’t even told them the theory behind the spell? He hadn’t informed them about having to find inside themselves one truly happy thought or memory. Harry watched a few trainees make feeble attempts to produce a Patronus. The closest any of them came was one witch who managed to produce silver vapours. This surprised Harry and the instructor until the witch explained she had read about patronuses before, so she knew the workings behind the spell in theory. The instructor seemed more pleased at every failure which was really sarting to bug Harry. This man should be teaching these Aurors in training not gloating in their failures. It hadn’t occurred to Harry to hide his identity by hiding his Patronus, he was only thinking of wiping that smug look off of the instructor’s face. Harry pulled out his wand, held it at the ready, thought of a wonderfully blissful memory of kissing Ginny and spoke the incantation. Instantly Harry’s enormous stag patronus erupted forth from his wand and circled the room. Multiple jaws dropped in amazement. Including the instructor’s which quickly snapped shut with an audible click.

“That’s, uh, that’s very impressive,” the instructor commented when he found his voice. “Very impressive indeed, Mr. Potter. Your Patronus is, of course, already a legend in it’s own right. Now I can see why.” The few heads that were still watching Harry’s Patronus as it dissipated slowly snapped to face him. Most eyes trickled up to his forehead to search for his scar. Harry didn’t bother to flatten his hair, let them look. They’d have to get used to seeing him on a regular basis. Might as well let them get their curiosity out of their systems.

“I don’t see what’s so impressive about it,” Harry shrugged. “Being able to produce a Patronus is more about truly grasping the understanding of the thought behind the spell. Mastering the Patronus Charm is the hard part, being able to produce a Patronus in the face of danger, that’s the tricky part.”

“Yes, but you’ve been able to produce a corporeal Patronus since when…your fifth year?” the instructor asked. He was impressed by Harry. Good, Harry thought, that’s exactly what he wanted. This man’s ego stood in the way of teaching these trainees properly.

“My third year at Hogwarts, actually. Professor Lupin taught me.”

“Third year? That was mighty ambitious of this Professor Lupin, and dangerous. I’m surprised you managed to learn so young.”

“Professor Lupin was a very good teacher. I had asked to be taught knowing what the risks were. It was rather necessary for me to learn the Patronus Charm at the time. I’m thankful everyday that Remus taught me what he did.”

“I see,” the instructor said as he strolled leisurely to face Harry. “Well, I am pleased to meet your aquaintence, Mr. Potter. I’m Sean Travers, the instructor here at the Ministry.” Harry shook the man hand briefly and told him he was pleased to meet him as well. “So, what brings Harry Potter to the training room at the Ministry?”

“Well I’m here to attend classes actually. It is a requirement for new Auror recruits, is it not?”

“Really, well then, welcome to the class and the force for that matter, Mr. Potter.” Travers eyed Harry as the others shook hands with him and introduced themselves. Harry tried to catalogue all the names and faces but he was sure he would forget which names went with which faces.

“Alright then, back to the Patronus Charm. Mr. Potter is quite correct, the spell will only work if you can master the thoughts behind the spell. I had you try the spell before I told you how to gauge your spell casting knowledge. Sorry about that. Though I was quite impressed by your display Ms. Meyrick. Was that your first time trying the charm after reading about it?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very good,” Travers said. Perhaps Harry had read this man wrong. “Now, as I’m sure Potter and Meyrick can tell you, the thought behind the spell is this; you have to think of one singularly happy memory, hold on to it in your mind and then say the incantation. It’s what makes using the spell in a dangerous situation so tricky. So what I want you all to do now is think of a memory, a really happy one, and when you can see it clearly in your mind repeat the incantation Expecto Patronum. Wands in the defence position now.”

The trainees all raised their wands and one by one they closed their eyes and after a short time one by one they began to speak the incantation. Harry was having a strange sense of déjà vu. It was like being back in the Room of Requirement teaching all his friends in the DA how to produce Patronuses. Several of the trainees managed to produce silver vapours this time. Meyrick’s vapour was a little stronger. They spent the rest of the class continuing with the Patronus Charm. Travers asked Harry politely if he would mind giving the other’s a hand in helping to guide them through the process. This was familiar territory, this was just like the DA lessons. When the class was done and the trainees filed out Travers asked if Harry would hang back for a minute.

“I realize that you’re more advanced in your defence training. We are hoping to have a lot of new recruits join the Auror program in the near future and I was hoping, until we reach material you’re unfamiliar with, that you'll help me help the others to learn? I realize it’s not what you’ve signed up for but at least then these first few classes won’t be a waste of your time.”

“I think that will work out fine, Mr. Travers. I could do with a refresher course on some things anyway. We didn’t really get to learn much inside the classroom in my fifth year.”

“Ah, yes, that was when Delores took over Defense Against the Dark Arts wasn’t it? That was a fiasco.”

“Yes.”

“Well I hope you don’t mind being my assistant teacher for a bit?”

“Actually I’ve had a little experience with it.”

“Oh?”

“The year Umbridge took over we, er, several students and I, started our own learning group.”

“Oh, yes, we’d heard about that. Dumbledore’s Army you called yourselves. Is that what you were doing, learning defensive spells?”

“Yes, DA for short. How did you know about that?”

“Ha! Well let’s just say there were those of us here that knew what was really going on at Hogwarts and we didn’t like it. Not one bit. We lacked the power to change what was going on. The day Dumbledore went on the run and your DA was outed, you should’ve seen Fudge’s face. Never seen him so flustered. Had to go hide in the loo to laugh my arse off!” Travers clapped Harry on the back. See you at class tomorrow, Potter,” he said as they reached the door and the next class started filing in. Harry noticed this group was closer to Harry’s age. Kingsley appeared in the hallway as Harry was making his way back to the lift.

“How did it go with Travers?”

“Fine,” Harry answered as Kingsley fell into step with Harry back to the lift.

“He has an unusual teaching style, Travers does, but it is effective. He’s a good man but not very trusting. I’m surprised he’s hung on to his job these past few years. He wasn’t exactly one to hold his tongue but Fudge couldn’t find anyone more qualified and Scrimgeour had other things on his mind. Travers was hiding most of last year, travelled to Canada. I’m glad he came back.”

“That group that just went in, they were younger than the group I was just in,” Harry pointed out.

“Hmm, oh, yes. You didn’t think I was going to put you in with the fresh recruits did you? That would be making you go backwards. You already know most of what is being taught at the level I put you in, I’d imagine.”

“Er, yea, actually, I did. They were practicing Patronuses,” Harry said with a crooked smile.

“Gave a good show did you?” Kingsley asked with a laugh. “Bet Travers enjoyed that!”

“You should’ve seen the look on his face!” Harry grinned.

They went to Mr. Weasley’s level and met him in his office for lunch. Percy was already there and had already let Arthur know of Harry’s new appointment to the Ministry. He invited Harry and also Kingsley to dinner. Kingsley declined but Harry gladly accepted. The rest of Harry’s workday was going over any leads they had found in trying to capture anyone from the Pure-Blood Movement. It felt good to be able to run his ideas by other Aurors and Shacklebolt and to be taken seriously. Unfortunately there weren’t any fresh leads, the P.B.M. members were too good at covering their tracks. Before Harry knew it the day had passed and he met up with Arthur and Percy to head to the Burrow.

Molly welcomed him into the house with a hug. The house smelled wonderful, Harry was starving after such a full day. Something Harry never took for granted after so much experience of going without was food. Mrs. Weasley’s cooking was an indulgence he loved to give in to. Tonight’s dinner was a beautiful roast with potatoes and sprouts. Ginny sat by Harry’s side which made the meal an even better experience. He felt warmer on the side she sat beside. They didn’t have much time for private conversation owing to the fact that Mrs. Weasley insisted upon making Harry’s new job an impromptu celebration. They each had a butterbear and toasted Harry, wishing him good luck in his new job. As they table of people dissolved into separate conversations Harry did not hear much of any of them, Ginny had taken hold of his hand underneath the table. It wasn’t until Ron had repeated his name that he realized he was being addressed.

“Hmm, I’m sorry, what, Ron?”

“I was trying to explain to Percy that the Cannons are due for a win. They’ve got to be, there’s no way they’ll allow the Arrows to beat them again.”

“I don’t know, Ron, I mean the Arrows have been playing hard this year. They don’t like being behind the Wasps in the standings,” Harry reasoned. He knew this was the beginning of an argument. Ron still supported the Chudley Cannons a team that hadn’t won in nearly a century, and every day he hoped they would find there way back to victory.

“Even if the Arrows do win against the Cannons, and I’m sorry, Ron, but I think they will, then they still have to beat the Tornados and the Harpies,” Ginny pointed out. “The Tornados just picked up a new seeker last year and he’s really fast. The Harpies still have Jones and picked up two fresh Chasers two years ago.”

“I don’t know, I’ve just got a feeling that the Cannons are due for a win,” Ron argued against reason.

The rest of the evening went in a similar fashion. Harry wished he could’ve found some alone time with Ginny but he never got it. She did make sure their hands stayed entwined together under the table for the rest of the night, which was better than nothing, he supposed. He did notice that she was being cautious of her mother’s watchful eye. He didn’t even get to have her bid him goodnight as everyone was there to say goodnight to him and Molly handed him a brown bag with lunch for tomorrow in it. When Harry got home he let Kreacher know how the day went, told him what time to wake him and then he went upstairs and collapsed exhausted onto his bed. It didn’t take long for sleep to claim him.

Chapter 14: A Group Effort
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The rest of the week passed in a long drawn-out blur for Harry. The Pure-Blood Movement became very active so everyday when Harry finished his classes with Travers he helped Kingsley trying to capture the Dark Wizards. They also had to work out the existing security risks and problems including but not limited to the fact that Azkaban prison needed to be guarded properly, trials needed to be held for the Death Eaters that were captured and people claiming to have been Imperiused needed to be sorted out from the liars and the ones telling the truth. Kingsley and Harry both agreed with Dumbledore’s original assessment that the Dementors were a risk not to be taken. Several Dementors had joined the wizards in the P.B.M. in the last couple of days attacking a wizard family openly in a little coastal town in the south of Dorset and again another family this time further north in Dumfries. There seemed to be no pattern to the attacks, none that they could ascertain anyway, so there was no way of knowing where they would strike next. It was frustrating and it was making the wizarding community afraid to live their daily lives yet again, just when they thought things would go back to some semblance of normalcy. Harry put in long days everyday at work and out in the field at the attack sites and searching possible leads. He knew Kingsley really needed his help, it also meant Harry really didn’t get to see Ginny. Even Arthur and Percy worked long hours alongside them. Molly sent them food during the day which was greatly appreciated by all. It was on Harry’s ninth day in a row of working that Kingsley mentioned that fact that Harry should take a day to relax, Kingsley himself had taken the previous day off.

“Seriously, Harry, if you work yourself too hard then you won’t be in the best of shape when I could really use your help in a sticky situation,” Kingsley insisted when Harry made to protest. “Go home, get some sleep, take tomorrow off.”

“But, sir,” Harry started to protest until Kingsley put his hands up palms out in a way that so imitated Dumbledore that it did silence Harry.

“No ‘but’s, Harry. Take a day off, you’ve earned it.”

“Yeah, alright. It just doesn’t feel right resting when I know that people aren’t as safe as they could be. That there‘s something I could be doing to make them safer.”

“I know the feeling, believe me I do.”

“Yeah,” Harry said as he wearily got up from the chair at the meeting table in Kingsley’s office that was covered in various maps and papers. With a wave of his wad Kingsley rolled up the papers and put them away. It was just after nine at night and Harry and Kingsley had just finished a meeting with the senior members of the Auror department and key advisors in several other departments in the Ministry. Harry was just about to grab the knob to the door when then door swung open. Harry grabbed for his wand but quickly relaxed when he saw it was just Percy.

“Sorry, Harry. Minister, this just arrived from Professor McGonagall,” Percy handed Shacklebolt an envelope with familiar green inked script on it. Kingsley broke the wax seal and read the letter quickly.

“Change of plans, Harry, sorry.”

“What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong, but I’ll need you tomorrow. Minerva’s decided to have the school reconstruction tomorrow. She didn’t want to give the Pure-Blood Movement too much time to plan that’s why the last minute note. She’s sent a missive off to the people she trusts to help. I’ll need you there as added security, and I’m sure you’ve got a letter like this one waiting at home for you.”

“I’ll be there,” Harry said. “See you tomorrow then. Goodnight, Kingsley, goodnight, Percy.”

“Goodnight, Harry,” they chorused back tiredly. They were all pretty beat. On the plus side, Harry thought, he would get to see Ginny tomorrow. He was sure Ginny would be there. All the Weasleys would.

Harry trudged into Number Twelve where Kreacher was up waiting for him. Harry ate at the table hardly aware of what Kreacher had kept warm for him. He was beat and just wanted to sleep. The food gave him just enough fuel to make it up the stairs but being full made him too content and it made him even more sleepy. He told Kreacher where he would be tomorrow and Kreacher had somehow already knew. That made him wonder but Kreacher explained that he had befriended Winky and she had given him the heads up. Harry wasn’t sure how he felt about the fact that Winky felt so open with information that hadn’t been given by McGonagall until the last minute on purpose for security reasons. Harry was happy that Kreacher had taken it upon himself to fill the void of friendship that had been left after Dobby’s death, in Winky’s life anyway. He wondered if Kreacher would have more luck trying to sober Winky than Dobby had. Harry’s thoughts became errant as he started to drift to sleep.

The next morning Harry allowed himself the luxury of sleeping in, at least until the sun was up which was much later than he had been getting up for work. He dressed in the clothes Kreacher had laid out at the end of his bed. The clothes were much nicer than the clothes he had been wearing; Harry had decided that his new job required some new clothes that were more appropriate. Harry had entrusted Kreacher with the task of purchasing the clothes which he was too eager to oblige, apparently Kreacher had always enjoyed shopping. He had regaled Harry with a tale of when he had been with Sirius and Regulus for their school shopping and the mischief his masters had created. It was nice for Kreacher to share his story and Harry liked being able to learn more about Sirius but it still hurt, like someone had poured salt into a wound not quite healed. After dressing, reading his mail, eating breakfast and making sure he had on his moke-skin pouch and had his wand Harry headed out for Hogwarts. He Apparated into a side-trail that was very close to Hogsmeade. He enjoyed the walk into the town, taking in the fresh air and the early morning sunlight. A slight warm breeze played at his hair and, in a move that was subconsciously emulating his father, he ruffled the hair on the back of his head. Harry waved at Aberforth, who was shooing his goat out the door, as he walked by the Hog’s Head. Aberforth waved back with a smile before he went back inside. Harry noticed Madam Puddifoot’s place was quite busy, the tables she had set up outside were all full with customers. The Three Broomsticks wasn’t open yet due to the hour but Rosmerta was outside cleaning her windows as Harry walked by. As Harry rounded the corner in the street and finally looked to Hogwarts castle he felt a strange tightening in his chest that he couldn’t quite explain.

The castle itself still stood monument atop the hill with it’s windows glittering in the sunlight. Harry could make out the horrible damage rendered to the school. It hurt to see the building in such sorry shape but, Harry reminded himself, that’s why they were here. He quickened his pace to reach to castle faster now and his breathing became heavier as he hiked up the hill. Three were already quite a few people along the grounds when Harry got there. Kingsley was talking to Several of the professors and he gave Harry a nonchalant wave as Harry went by that was returned just as easily. In a letter Harry had received this morning Kingsley had told Harry to make sure their appearance was more of a friendly capacity but to stay on alert. These people had been through enough, why make them on edge by looking like a army squadron on the front lines? There were several Aurors mixed throughout the crowd, Harry nodded politely to the ones he recognized. Hagrid gave Harry a bone-crushing hug. Several of Harry’s friends came up and shook Harry’s hand or clapped him on the back in greeting. It was good to see people like Seamus and Dean, Katie Bell, Angelina Johnson, Oliver Wood, Lee Jordan, the Patil twins and even Cho Chang who greeted Harry shyly with a smile and a breathiness that at one time would’ve had Harry’s stomach doing somersaults. Cho really didn’t have any affect on him anymore, only one woman could have that affect on him now and his heart belonged to that woman. He greeted them all with kindness and happiness but all the while he kept his eyes roaming, looking for the group of people he felt most comfortable with.

Harry found the Weasleys outside of Hogwarts castle by the side that had been blown out. Several people could be seen inside the structure through the massive holes in the stone building’s walls. McGonagall was one of the people that Harry could see. No one had started any construction yet and seemed to be waiting for McGonagall’s instructions as to how to proceed.

“Hey, Harry, over here!” Ron waved to Harry. As Harry drew closer to the Weasleys he noticed that Luna as well as Neville had joined them. Ron and Hermione were holding hands. Harry wished he could display his affection for Ginny so openly. Mrs. Weasley was smiling at seeing the public display of affection. Would she approve so easily if she knew how Harry and Ginny felt about each other? Did she already know, had she figured them out? George’s comment as he had stormed out had not gone unheard, did it reveal too much? Harry tucked his fears away and smiled when he finally reached the group.

“Glad you could join us, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley said as she hugged.

“There’s no place I’d rather be right now,” Harry meant every word. He really owed Hogwarts a lot. It was hard to train his mind to not think of Hogwarts as home anymore. It hurt to look up and see the building so damaged.

“Hello, Harry,” Ginny’s voice drew his gaze away from the castle. Ginny was more beautiful to him every time he saw her. She was wearing a pair of tight fitted jeans and an emerald green blouse that complimented her hair colour nicely. She was smiling a full broad smile that, to Harry, was as warm as the sun shining down on them. And the sun was shining quite brightly, there wasn’t a cloud in the clear blue sky. A perfect day.

“Hi, Ginny,” Harry returned her smile with all enthusiasm. How easy it would be for him to reach out and caress her face, trace her freckles with his finger. He almost gave into the impulse but McGonagall began to speak to the now large group gathered to help using the Sonorus Charm.

“First and foremost I want to thank all of you for coming on such short notice. I know that there are other places you all could possibly be at but you chose to come to help rebuild Hogwarts. Remember that as we rebuild the castle, this wondrous structure, stone by stone we will be rebuilding our lives, our hope for the future. Hogwarts has seen many students pass through its’ halls. It’s been here for centuries, not only standing through history but becoming history itself. May it see many more years to come,” most of the people in the crowd shouted a ‘hear, hear’ and ‘yeah’ to her speech.

“Now let’s get down to it. We need a group to levitate the stones broken off from the wall lying on the ground up to another group that will be up here setting them in with mortar and cement. We also need a group to fly on brooms up to the roof to replace the slate. Another group to make repairs inside the castle and return things to their proper places. Finally another group to clean. The only thing I can guarantee is that this will be a long day.” That drew a few laughs from the gathered people. The crowd started breaking up into groups to do the assigned tasks.

Madam Hooch led the group going on brooms up to the roof. Hagrid led the group doing the actual cementing of the stones into the castle. Flitwick took the group that would be making repairs inside the castle as well and following him Professor Sprout led the group that would be doing the cleaning also joined by Filch. Mr. Weasley volunteered their group to levitate the stones up. Harry didn’t mind the assignment, it allowed him to stay outside where he could keep a good view of any oncoming threats.

There was definitely truth to what McGonagall had said, this day would most definitely be a long one. The smaller stones were easy enough to lift but once they did they had to hold them up until the mortaring crew had them secured. The larger boulders had to be team lifted which took a bit more coordination. To do this Harry had teamed up with Ginny; Arthur and Molly and Ron with Hermione were teamed up as well. Luna, Neville and Percy lifted the smaller rocks as individuals. After they had all worked up a sweat standing out in the sun levitating stones for several hours McGonagall called for a lunch break.

The house-elves had outdone themselves yet again. They had set up picnic blankets with a wonderful spread of food. The Weasleys picked out a few of the blankets closest to the lake. Ron and Hermione walked hand in hand until they got to the blankets and Harry couldn’t stop the sigh of longing that escaped him. A few paces later and he smelled Ginny’s flowery scent a second before he felt her warm hand take his. A warm tingling sensation crept up his arm, it felt nice. Harry’s steps as they finished the trek to the blankets seemed lighter. They joined Ron and Hermione on their blanket along with Luna and Neville. Harry couldn’t help but grin broadly when Ginny chose to keep her proximity to Harry very close when they sat down.

Harry was sure he was just being paranoid but he swore he could feel Mrs. Weasley’s eyes watching them. He had worked up quite an appetite, as had they all, so he put off looking at her by loading up the plate Ginny had handed him with food; cucumber sandwiches, potato salad, pickles and for good measure a couple of pumpkin pasties. It sounded like a lot of food but compared to what Ron ate it was hardly anything. Ginny, Hermione, Neville and Harry were staring at how much food Ron was taking.

“What?” Ron asked, his mouth full, looking up to see them watching him.

“Nothing, Ron, nothing at all,” Hermione said with a laugh.

They ate and chatted comfortably, Ginny took some of the pickles off of Harry’s plate that he didn’t finish. The cold pumpkin juice was so refreshing that the pitcher emptied quickly and it startled Luna a bit when a house-elf from the kitchens filled it with elf magic.

“It’s amazing how much they do here without really being seen,” Neville commented. Harry exchanged a worried glance with Ron, afraid Hermione would start on about S.P.E.W..

“The house-elves here enjoy themselves. They stay mostly to the kitchens. We used to visit them using the portrait passageway,” Harry told Neville.

“Wish I could’ve found and used that passageway without getting caught when I first went into hiding,” Neville said with a wry smirk.

“Yeah but if you did then the tunnel to Ab’s would never have opened up,” Luna pointed out as she tossed the crust of her bread into the lake. They all watched in silence as the Giant Squid grabbed the bread with it’s tentacles. Ginny rested her head on Harry’s shoulder as they waited for the others to finish eating. Harry could smell the inviting scent of her hair and he bowed his head down to kiss the top of her head. A sharp intake of breath reminded him they were under scrutiny.

Harry looked over to see Mrs. Weasley staring with a strange look on her face. Harry could feel the heat rushing to his cheeks and he knew he was blushing profusely. All he could do was open and close his mouth, unsure of what to say. After a moment Mrs. Weasley gave Harry a quick wink and smile. He returned the smile sheepishly and then looked away.

“Um, Ginny?” Harry whispered into her ear.

“Hmm?”

“What does this mean, exactly? I’m just asking because I want to be sure and well… you’re mum is watching us and…”

“Harry?”

“Shh,” she said looking up at him.

“Alright,” Harry acquiesced feeling a little disgruntled. Had he just messed up when things between them were going so good? Then Ginny smiled a beautiful smile with her eyes sparkling like diamonds and then, in front of anyone who happened to be watching them, she kissed him. The blush he had a moment ago came back in full. The kiss was sweet and tender, just a gentle pressing of lips but it warmed Harry to the core. It was something Harry definitely wouldn’t mind continuing later but he couldn’t forget that Mrs. Weasley was probably still watching them. When they broke the kiss Harry whispered to Ginny that her mother was probably still watching them. Ginny just shrugged her shoulders nonchalantly, winked in a mischievous way and hugged Harry tightly from the side. She rested her head on his chest and they stayed that way until lunch was over; content to just look out over the lake watching the sunlight glitter off the water.

The moment of contentment didn’t last long enough for Harry but they went back to the castle when McGonagall called them all back. They chatted as they worked. Ron commented on the fact that most of the younger female population was fixated on Harry. Were they? Harry hadn’t noticed. He said as much.

“Aw, come on, Harry. Honestly, what was that with Cho this morning? ‘Hello, Harry,’” Ginny imitated Cho, batting her eyelashes and giggling in a soft twitter. The others laughed at her antics, Harry tried to fight it but he couldn’t and he laughed too.

“It’s not like that, really,” He protested, apparently to deaf ears.

“Oh really? How about we test the theory?” Ginny said with a wicked gleam in her eye.

“What do you mean?” Harry asked cautiously, narrowing his eyes and scrutinizing Ginny.

“Look over to Cho or any of the girls in her group,” Ginny told him. Cho’s group were gathering more supplies and getting ready to go back up on their brooms to the roof. “They watching you?”

“Erm,” Harry didn’t want to answer that because they were indeed watching him with shameless adoration that made Harry feel slightly ill.

“Oh, they are, good!” Ginny said. “Now keep watching them.”

“Ginny, what’re you-” before he could finish Ginny had planted a kiss on his cheek. It lasted just long enough for Ginny to get the reaction she wanted. All the girls over by Cho and including her shot looks that were more like death rays at Ginny.

“Now they’re ticked, right?” Ginny asked already knowing what the answer would be.

“Quite,” Harry said. “You knew that would happen, you little minx,” Harry said giving her a light swat on her behind. Ginny laughed at that. They heard Ron clear his throat and whisper ‘Mum’ in warning. Harry and Ginny quickly composed themselves and managed to have a rather large boulder lifted nearly to the now much smaller open hole before Mrs. Weasley reached them.

“How’s it going over here?” she asked. Harry couldn’t look at her to gauge her mood, he couldn’t take his eyes off the boulder.

“Fine, Mrs. Weasley,” Neville answered as he had just set his stone down in the wall.

“You seem like a cheerful lot today,” Molly commented and Harry could feel his cheeks beginning to flame again. When the cementing crew gave Harry and Ginny the thumbs up they dropped their hold of the boulder slowly. Harry had never imagined using the Levitation charm for quite this purpose. Harry looked at Ginny before he looked to her mother and he noticed Ginny was blushing too. Molly was smiling a Cheshire cat grin when Harry finally looked at her. They were so busted. Ah well, at least she approved and he didn’t have to worry about the cat being out of the bag. “Minerva just told me she expects us to finish earlier than the other groups and wanted to know if we would mind helping the groups fixing the inside when we’re done?” Molly finished. They all nodded and said yes and she went back over to Arthur. Harry watched as she whispered into his ear and he whipped around to look at Harry and Ginny. Harry quickly looked away and went back to work. It was obvious that Mrs. Weasley had just informed her husband of what she had noticed going on between Harry and their daughter.

The work they had to finish seemed to go by faster as they were able to laugh and joke about silly things, trivial things. Neville also told them that he really wanted to make his love for magical plants part of his future career. He was hoping to go exploring for a while after his last year of school.

“Maybe I’ll run into you in a jungle somewhere, Neville,” Luna remarked as she floated a rock up into the sky. “I’m hoping to go exploring after I’m done with school too.”

“Oh, er, what were you planning on looking for?" Neville looked almost pained as he asked.

“Whatever’s out there,” Luna told him as though this information should be obvious. Harry was waiting for her to add a sarcastic ‘duh’ to the end of her sentence. Neville just shrugged and exchanged a smile with Ron that Luna did not see.

They levitated the last of the stones and it was around four o’clock when they were completely finished with the wall. They were all pretty tired but it felt good to see the castle’s walls fully intact. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley led them inside. Professor McGonagall asked if they would collect all the desks and return them to the classrooms. The damaged ones needed to be fixed with the spell ‘reparo’ if possible and if they had been hit by a stray curse they need to be fixed or salvaged the old fashioned muggle way. Mr. Weasley was only too eager to weld the muggle hammer and nails, even though every now and then he hit his thumb. He set up shop in the Great Hall. Mrs. Weasley stayed to assist him and to make sure he didn’t hurt himself too badly. The rest of them roamed the corridors and stairways looking for classroom furnishings and objects along with the desks and returned them repaired to the rooms they belonged to.

They were putting the door to Ravenclaw tower back on its hinges when one of the other groups came from the opposite direction. Among the group was Angelina Johnson and holding her hand was George. He glanced at Harry then at Ginny and Harry waited for a storm of anger but George looked more sad than angry. In fact Harry noticed George’s eyes were red-rimmed and puffy. He had obviously been crying.

“Hey, guys,” George said nodding his head. They all said hello politely, tentatively, all except Ginny.

“’Hello’ yourself, George,” she said after she had thrown herself at him to squeeze him in a hug. He smiled a little and hugged her back. “You’ve had me worried about you!” Ginny smacked George’s arm.

“Yeah, I know,’ George sighed. “I’m sorry, Ginny. Am I forgiven?”

“You know you are,” she told him with a grin.

“Hey, Ron, could I talk to you for a minute?”

“Er, sure,” Ron went with George around the corner to an empty hallway. They finished securing the door while they were gone and when they came back Ron was smiling.

“Ron, what…?” Hermione started to ask.

“The shop’s been really busy lately and without…,” George cleared his throat, “without Fred I really need help. Ron really does have a knack for the joke stuff, always has. I’ve offered him partnership in the shop.

“Guess you have a job now, Ron,” Ginny remarked. “Wonder if that’ll make telling Mum you’re not going back to school any easier?” she teased.

“You mean you had already planned on not going back?” George asked.

“School never was for me.”

“So when are you free to start work?”

“Whenever you need me.”

“How’s tomorrow sound?”

“Er, tomorrow is, er, great,” Ron lied. He obviously had not expected to give up his summer so easily. George laughed and clapped Ron on the back in a way that reminded them of the way George had been before Fred died. Harry could only hope it meant George was grieving and starting to heal. Harry knew from experience that the healing took a while and even then scars remained. He couldn’t possibly imagine what it would be like to loose a twin. Like losing Ron but so many times worse? Maybe. Just the thought hurt.

“So, George, have you been here all day?” Ginny asked walking closer to her brother.

“Just after lunch, took half a day at the shop.”

“Oh,” was Ginny’s one word reply.

The two groups, Harry’s and George’s, teamed up to tackle the rest of the castle. Harry could feel an almost palpable tension between George and himself. It didn’t help that George was ignoring Harry and that Harry was so afraid to break what little bit a peace transpiring between them that he hadn’t spoken to George. They were all as one large group a whirlwind of repairing and cleaning spells. It was hard not to realize the majority of the stains that they were casting ‘Scourgify’ at was blood that was to be expected, Harry thought bitterly.

When they reached the seventh floor on a very familiar corridor they all as one paused. It was Neville who moved first. He walked up to the spot in the wall opposite the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy where he knew the door would be if he wanted it for the Room of Requirement. Neville ran his hand down the wall in a gentle gesture that was more a loving caress and he whispered ‘thank you’. No one dared to laugh at him, nor would they ever want to, for the silent tear running down his cheek. All of the D.A. members understood all too well how much this room meant to them, most of all Neville. Hannah Abbott comforted Neville with a warm embrace when he rejoined the group. Harry thought they looked good together.

“I wonder if the room still works?” Hermione spoke her thoughts aloud.

“Only one way to find out, isn’t there?” Harry said as he started pacing back and forth thinking of the room as it was when they used to hold secret D.A. meetings. They all held their breath as the door appeared in the wall. Harry grabbed hold of the knob and pulled the door open. The inside looked as it had always looked. Cushions were set up on the side. Books full of defensive magic were on the shelves. A whistle was laying on a table. Harry lifted the whistle and examined it for damage, it was fine. The others looked around for a bit, taking private moments to thank the room as Neville had, but left after a while. Harry was last to leave but as he let the door dissolve behind him a thought struck him. He stopped in his tracks and started pacing by the door’s location three times again. He had to know, had to see for himself.

“What is it, Harry?” Hermione asked. Ginny and Ron exchanged glances.

“There’s something I want to check on,” the door reappeared again and this time, when Harry opened the doorhe was expecting destruction to face him. Destruction was exactly what he saw.

It was the room where things were hidden; where things had been hidden, most everything had been burned. The acrid scent of smoke and ash permeated the air and burned Harry’s nostrils. Everything was black and grey, what had burned completely had turned a strange sort of white. Hermione conjured a couple of face masks for them to wear so they wouldn’t breath in the soot and handed one to Harry.

“What is it that we’re looking for, Harry?” Ron asked, his face pale, as he took a mask from Hermione.

“What happened in here?” Ginny asked, stepping up to harry, donning a mask as well.

“Fiendfyre,” Hermione explained, “Crabbe used it against us but he couldn’t control it,” she finished in a hushed voice.

“So what are we looking for, Harry?” Ron asked again.

“That cupboard the Diadem had been on. I hid something in it in my sixth year. I wonder if it made it through the fire?” Harry headed in the direction he thought the cupboard was in. After they all searched for a while Harry finally spotted it, “Hey, I think I’ve found it!” He had to clambor over a pile of debris the get to the blackened cubic shape. When he opened the door it fell off it’s hinges. The inside of the cupboard was nearly as black as the outside. Harry reached his hand in and felt around. His hand clasped on thin air. The cupboard was empty. There was no trace of Snape’s potions book, there was no ash to even make up for the missing book that had once belonged to the self declared Half-Blood Prince.

“It’s gone!”

“It’s no wonder it burned, as bad as this room looks,” Ron reasoned.

“No, it’s just gone. There’s no ash or anything,” Harry clarified. Hermione pushed Harry aside to check for herself.

“There really is nothing here,” she announced.

“Like I said,” Harry said, half annoyed half amused; some things about Hermione would never change. “Well, at least it might not’ve burned,” Harry mused.

“What exactly was it that you were looking for?” Ginny asked.

“The potions book I used in my sixth year. It was Snape’s,” Harry said as he and Hermione trudged back down the mound of debris. “I hid it here after that incident with Malfoy. Snape had figured out where I’d gotten the curse from and how I was doing so well in potions. It wasn’t until later that we figured out it was Snape’s book,” Harry explained more for Ginny than for the other two. They already knew the story.

“How’d you get it in the first place?” Ginny asked.

“Remember Ron and I thought we wouldn’t have been able to take potions that year because Snape only allowed Outstandings come back for NEWT level potions but Slughorn ended up teaching potions that year. We had to use school potion books and the copy I got from the back of the cupboard belonged to Snape, though that’s not how he signed it so I had no idea. His notes were all over the book though,” Harry said as they walked carefully back to the door. When they went back into the hallway everyone else was talking to Sir Cadogan who was visiting the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy.

“Oh, there you guys are!” Neville said relieved. “We were wondering when you’d come back out.” Obviously they all wanted to try and get away from Sir Cadogan. Neville led the way in a direction niether group had taken and made repairs all along the way. Unfortunately for them Sir Cadogan followed them, passing through the paintings on the walls, ignoring the disgruntled occupants. Sir Cadogan kept hollering and exclaiming about the battle, it was really rather annoying and they had enough reminders about that day as it was, they didn’t need him drilling it in their ears. Ron started walking faster to try and get away from him and he turned a corner and for a few seconds Harry lost sight of him. A frightened yell made Harry draw his wand and run to catch up.

“Bloody hell!” Ron shouted. He was clutching his chest with one hand and pointing his wand with the other; he had turned a pasty white. “Damn thing scared me nearly to death! Is it dead?” Harry turned to face what Ron was so petrified of. Against the wall was an unmoving body of an Acromantula, one of Aragog’s descendants. Ginny walked forward cautiously and nudged the giant spider with her toe. It was stiff as a board.

“It’s dead, Ron,” she told her brother who was still cowering next ot Harry.

“Are you sure?” Parvati asked, she was just as pale as Ron.

“Quite. It’s so dead it’s a crispy critter.” To prove her point she kicked one of the legs and her show crunched against the exoskeleton.

“Well, we’ll have to get it out of here,” Hermione pointed out.

“Uh-uh, no way am I going near that thing!” Ron protested.

“We’ll take it outside,” Seamus said tapping dean on the shoulder and together they approached the Acromantula carcass. They levitated the spider and headed down the stairs ahead of everyone else. Ron, unsurprisingly, hung back to let them get a bigger lead on them. Sir Cadogan followed Seamus and Dean, exclaiming about their bravery all the way down the hall.

“Hello, hey, hello? Over here!” a female voice called. It wasn’t panicked but the voice was needy. They followed the sound of the voice until they reached a tapestry on the wall halfway down the stairway. The tapestry had been ripped and was covered in soot, ash and blood.

“Oh, goodness!” Hermione exhaled.

“I don’t suppose you could help me?” the young woman in the tapestry asked politely. She was huddled in the corner of her tapestry.

Scourgify,” Hermione said flourishing her wand at the cloth. It did clean it but when she tried to repair the tapestry it would not mend. “It must have been by a curse. Does anyone know how to sew?”

“I can do it,” Ginny offered. She conjured a needle and thread and set to work sewing the cloth back together. Harry had to admit she did a good job. From where he stood, and he was standing pretty close, he couldn’t tell where her stitches were.

“Ginny, when did you learn to sew?” Ron asked.

“Well, I used to get scraped up a bit when I used to sneak to practice flying and if Mum saw too many holes in my clothes she’d get suspicious so…” Ginny shrugged as she finished the tapestry.

“Pretty sneaky, Sis,” George said leaning on her shoulder.

“I learned from the best,” Ginny winked.

“Thank you ever so kindly,” the woman in the tapestry said shaking out her skirts.

“You’re welcome,” Ginny and Hermione said together.

Further along they had to fix some of the suits of armor and quite a few stone statues. They were getting closer to where the castle had already been repaired, they were almost done. Harry stalled when he saw Ginny walking near another tapestry. It was a country scene tapestry with no people in it, just a few farm animals. The rest of their group was heading down the hall. Harry wasn’t sure what came over him but he took Ginny’s hand and led her behind the heavy cloth where hw knew there was a small hiding cubby and pulled her into it. There was very little light but he could just make out her smile; it was mischievous and made her eyes sparkle with mirth. Then he kissed her with all enthusiasm, no holding back.

Her lips were warm and soft. They tasted faintly of the sweet lip balm she used. It felt so natural to kiss Ginny, to caress her neck to bring her closer, to press his other hand to the small of her back. It felt so good to feel her return the enthusiasm of the kiss, to feel her hand on his chest and around his neck. It felt like coming home. The kiss increased in heat and intensity. All harry could think about was Ginny and the feelings stirring inside himself.

“Oi!’ Ron shouted, tossing back the tapestry. Reality came crashing back.

“Honestly, Ron, when are you going to learn to butt out!” Ginny said angrily, sparks flying from her eyes.

“Ginny,” Harry put a restraining hand on Ginny’s wand arm. He wasn’t sure if Ginny would hex her brother.

“Oh, good, you found them,” Hermione said coming around the corner of the corridor. “When we realised you weren’t with us we got worried.” At this Ginny had the decency to look embarrassed. Harry couldn’t help but look a little sheepish himself.

“Sorry, guys, I guess we weren’t really thinking,” Harry apologized. “You didn’t send out a search party or anything, did you?”

“Naw, I didn’t want to jump the gun and worry the others if you were just straggling behind,’ Ron said turning a slight shade of red.

“We sent the others ahead and said we’d catch up. They’re probably in the Great hall by now,” Hermione said looking at Ron with a puzzled expression. “Actually I was going to raise the alarm but Ron suggested we shouldn’t. How did you know?”

“Well, they were only what I was thinking about doing with you, Hermione. They only beat me to it.’ The corner of Ron’s mouth lifted into a sheepish smirk. Now it was Hermione’s turn to blush. Harry couldn’t help it, he started laughing, so did Ginny. “Shut up, Harry,” Ron said but he was laughing too along with Hermione who wrapped her arm around Ron’s waist. The laughter released the tension. Ginny took Harry’s hand in hers and as a group they headed toward the Great Hall.

Chapter 15: Memories, Emotions and Fear
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When they reached the Great Hall the last of the other groups were filing in as well. The desks that had been repaired had been cleared and returned to their rightfuls rooms. The long House tables had been arranged in their proper places. The hour-glasses for House point standings had been repaired, the emerald and ruby jewels back inside the glass. The chairs and benches were all standing properly. Everything about the castle looked as it should.

The Weasleys were grouping together near the head table with Professor McGonagall. Harry and his group walked over to join them. "Oh, there you are,” Mrs. Weasley said as they joined the rest. “We were wondering where you lot had gone off to.”

“We got caught up in a side project,” Ginny covered smoothly. Harry had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from smiling. Ron wasn’t so inconspicuous and sniggered at Harry’s exspense.

As soon as everyone from all the groups checked in Professor McGonagall stepped up to the podium and made a short speech thanking everyone for their help and invited them to stay for a simple supper of stew and bread with chocolate mousse for pudding. They all sat at the House tables, Professors included, and mixed and mingled. The food was warm and hearty and Harry was thankful for that. Mrs. Weasley was still watching Ginny and Harry like a hawk but she didn’t look mad so that, at least, seemed like a good sign. Harry was only half listening to the conversation around him, in which McGonagall, Flitwick, Shacklebolt and Hermione were the key participants, about the problems they were having with the school’s web of protective charms. Harry was too distracted by Ginny and most of what they were discussing was beyond Harry’s knowledge. Harry did find it amusing that Kingsley was surprised to see Hermione was doing more than keeping up with the topic but also had some valid ideas on how to repair the fallen security. That was really the most Harry got out of the exchange because shortly afterward Ginny began to lick the chocolate mousse off of her spoon in a way that he found highly distracting.

“Professor?” Harry approached McGonagall when they were all done eating, had forgone the tables and gone back to mingling.

“Hmm? Oh, what can I do for you, Mister Potter?” McGonagall asked, turning around to face Harry.

“I was just wondering, well I noticed you had already fixed the gargoyle guarding the entrance to your office and I was wondering if, in your office you happened to find the memory in the Pensieve? I-I left it there so you could see, maybe to help you understand,” Harry rambled in run-on sentences. Minerva McGonagall’s face had turned grim. She gently laid a hand on Harry’s shoulder.

“Yes, Harry, I saw it. I figured that you had put it there when Kingsley had told me of your petition to have Severus’ portrait hung in the office. I knew it would take something as powerful as that memory to change your opinion of him.”

“Did you know?”

“Did I know the best of Severus Snape?” she asked and Harry nodded. “No, I never knew. It wasn’t his way. It was never Albus’ way to break promises either, when Severus asked him to keep his secret it was a promise that he knew would be kept.”

Harry nodded his head in understanding. “Do you think that I could, er, that is to say, do you think it would be better if we kept the memories in your office or…?”

“No, Harry, I think Severus meant for you to have it. You’re more than welcome to go up and retrieve it. It’s still in the Pensieve. Password is Fawkes.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Harry said as she gave his shoulder a squeeze then let him go. Her attention was immediately taken up by some of the other students asking questions regarding school in the fall. Harry turned to tell the Weasleys where he would be and that he would be right back. Ginny was just getting up to join Harry when someone else volunteered to accompany him upstairs.

“I’ll go with you, Harry. I wanted to talk to you anyway,” George added flippantly as he got up from the table. Most of the Weasleys exchanged worried glances. Harry, himself, shared one with Ginny.

“Erm, yeah, sure that’d be great,” Harry wasn’t sure what to expect. They walked through the throng of people in the Great Hall and were soon out into the quiet corridors of the castle. It was a walk in silence because whatever it was that George had to say was taking some time to build up the courage to say.

“Hello, fellow Gryffindors!”

“Hello, Sir Nicholas,” Harry and George returned the greeting.

“Say, have you seen where the Grey Lady is?”

“She’s in the Great Hall visiting the Ravenclaws,” George answered.

“Thank you very much!” the ghost said, nodding his head ever so slightly causing it to wobble dangerously on his severed neck. “Oh, by the way, I’d avoid the corridor by Charms, Peeves is flinging ink pellets at anyone unfortunate enough to happen by.”

“Thanks, Nick,” Harry said and they went their separate ways. It wasn’t until they were definitely out of earshot that George finally broached the subject that Harry knew was coming.

“Look, Harry, I, er, I’m sorry about what I said to you. I know it wasn’t your fault. Fred did know the risks,” George said, watching his feet as he walked. “I shouldn’t have blamed you, I don’t know why I did. If it wasn’t for you we’d probably all be dead. I don’t know what came over me,” George shook his head sadly.

“I do,” Harry told him which made George finally look at Harry. “When Sirius was killed I didn’t want to believe it. When I knew he really wasn’t coming back I was upset and angry. I was angry at Dumbledore for not telling me the truth, angry at Bellatrix for killing him, angry at anyone who’d dare call Sirius reckless even though I knew in my heart it was true; I was angry at Sirius for leaving me, but mostly I was mad at myself. I was mad that I couldn’t have saved him. I felt so stupid that I’d fallen for the trap. I couldn’t understand why it had to be him. Why couldn’t it have been me instead? I was so angry at myself I took it out on anyone around me. I felt guilty for having lived when he died. It felt wrong to live, wrong to laugh, wrong to find happiness. Why should I be able to when he no longer could? It all felt so wrong to go on living.”

“How, er,” George cleared his throat and wiped a stray tear from his cheek. They stopped walking, they were in front of the stone gargoyle. George took a shaky breath. “How do you…does it always hurt this much?” George pleaded to Harry as he began crying openly and unashamedly. George’s shoulders shook with grief, with the strength of his sobs. Harry put his hand on George’s arm to offer some kind of physical comfort.

“I can’t imagine how much you are hurting right now,” Harry really couldn’t. The closest he could come would be likened to losing Ron but so much worse because Fred and George were connected not just since they were born, but even before that. “The only thing you can do,” Harry went on, “is honour his memory. Think about what you would want for him if it was the other way ‘round. Think about what he would want for you. I can’t see Fred wanting you to lose your sense of humour or your penchant for mischief. He’d want you to find peace, he’d want you to be successful , he’d want everything for you that he’d wish for himself. He’d want you to be happy, George, I really believe that.” George nodded his head as he used the heels of his hands to blot his eyes. “Finding that happiness isn’t something anybody expects you to achieve overnight. It takes time, a little bit more every day until you feel almost like normal. Even then, sometimes you’ll feel okay and somebody will broadside you with a mention or a memory will be triggered by an object that reminds you, you have to try and not let the grief consume you.” George was gaining control over his emotions and was truly listening to Harry. “One of the hardest parts I had to convince myself of was that it was okay for me to enjoy life. That I could be happy and that I didn’t have to feel guilty about it. Ginny helped me understand that.”

“Speaking of Ginny,” George said after a sniff; Harry cringed inwardly and was sorry he had mentioned her, “what is going on between you two?”

“Er,” Harry wasn’t sure if he should answer or how to for that matter.

“I’m only asking because Mum was pestering me at supper,” George said stonily.

“Fawkes,” Harry gave the password and they went up the stone spiral staircase as Harry stalled to answer. “What did you tell her?”

“That maybe she should ask you two, after all, I haven’t been around. So, what is going on? Don’t say nothing because it’s obvious that something is. I saw it last year even when everyone was so busy planning for the wedding and all, it’s even more obvious now.” Harry was watching George for any sign of anger but his face only read as curiosity on the surface and beneath it a shroud of continuing grief.

“Well, it’s kind of complicated,” Harry wasn’t sure how to explain.

“It’s okay, Harry. I won’t be mad. What I said to you before, about staying away from her, I didn’t mean it. It was just that, well, Ginny’s always liked you and I guess I was only thinking that she would only get hurt.”

“That’s just it. I’m so afraid that she’ll be hurt by someone trying to get to me,“ Harry told him. “I mean, we dated for a bit at Hogwarts but then I knew it wouldn’t be safe so I broke it off so she wouldn’t become a target because of me. Now that Voldemort’s dead and the war is over I think we’re ready to make a go of it again. Breaking it off with her was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. I don’t like seeing Ginny in pain, knowing that I was the cause of that pain was killing me, but the alternative was to put her in greater danger. If something happened to her,” Harry’s chest got tight at just the thought, “if she were to get hurt, if Death Eaters were to get a hold of her…it’s one of my biggest fears.”

“Weren’t you the one who was just saying we should live our lives the way the people who love us would want us to? You can’t live in fear, Harry. I know you’ll keep Ginny safe. Just answer me this; do you love her?”

“Yes, I love her so much just the thought of living without her pains me. I’m not complete without her. She’s my reason for living,” Harry answered. The last part brought a wry grin to his face. Ginny really was the main reason he was living, she was his reason for coming back.

“If that’s how you really feel then the other stuff shouldn’t matter. Concentrate on all the good things, not the bad stuff, the rest will work itself out. The good should outway the bad not the other way ‘round,” George said.

“Exactly,” Harry grinned. It took a second for George to realize what Harry had got him to say.

“Point taken,” George said shaking his head with a small grin at Harry’s cleverness.

“Mind if I ask you a question?”

“Technically you just did,” George said flatly but with a look of mischief in his eyes that Harry hadn’t seen in a while. “What’s your question?”

“Angelina?”

“Yeah, she’s really been there for me. I don’t know how I’d have gotten through any of this without her. She knows when to push me to get me to keep going on, she knows when to go easy on me, we’ve been a shoulder to cry on for each other. She’s been a real good friend to me,” George said trying to explain with words how Angelina was helping him heal and get through the grieving process. Harry nodded his understanding. “So, what are we here for?” George walked into the Headmaster’s office.

“A memory,” Harry said simply. He walked further into the office towards where the Pensive was. The office still contained most of Dumbledore’s magical instruments but there was definitely a touch of McGonagall in the office now. Harry was aware of the portraits of the past Headmasters on the walls, several were sleeping, some were pretending to sleep but most were watching and listening unashamedly. One of the Headmasters watching them quietly was Dumbledore. George was looking around curiously at all the whirring and clacking instruments and when he finally spotted Dumbledore’s portrait he stood looking at it agape.

“Dumbledore!” it was a statement of surprise from George, not a question or a greeting, but Albus’ likeness responded just the same.

“Good evening, Mr. Weasley,” he said in quiet but friendly voice, tipping his head to George. “I was wondering when you might find your way back here, Harry,” he stated, looking at Harry over his half-moon spectacles.

“Just came to retrieve something, sir,” Harry said calmly, casually, nodding in greeting. Then Harry spotted it. A new portrait on the wall a few feet from Dumbledore’s, it’s occupant sleeping soundly with their head resting on the lab table they were seated at. Should Harry wake him? If he did what would he say to him? Harry’s feelings towards the man were so mixed. Bitter towards each other until the end, it wasn’t until after he had died that Harry knew what kind of man Severus Snape was.

Complicated, he was complicated in every sense of the word. Snape had done a lot of bad deeds, horrible things, terrible actions and decisions. Severus, Harry reminded himself, had also saved Harry’s and several other’s lives; for that Harry would always be thankful. It didn’t excuse Snape for all he had done but in a way at least he had tried to atone for his actions, he repented, he remorsed. Harry now knew why Snape had treated him so spitefully, Harry resembled his father too much. That fact made Harry wonder how things would have been between them if Snape had seen more of Lily in him. Would he have hated Harry so much? Would he have saved Harry because he cared for him and not just because he felt obligated to protect Lily’s son? What strange twist of fate had made Severus Snape fall in love with Lily Evans and what had made her fall in love with James Potter? How would Harry feel if the love of his life fell for his nemesis? What would that do to his soul if Ginny fell for someone like Draco Malfoy? Then to lose her to the clutches of death? It would tear him apart, Harry knew. Would he have the strength to turn around from such a dark place to do the right thing? Would he be able to put his life on the line, his honour, his pride to walk the thin line of being a double agent after losing his heart? Harry knew he could never answer these questions. All of this crossed his mind as he stared at the portrait of Severus Snape. The portrait that he himself had requested be hung in the Headmaster’s office.

“Harry, hello, Earth to Harry,” George said waving his hand in front of Harry’s face. George’s voice was loud enough to wake some of the occupants of the portraits including Snape whose head shot up off the desk so quickly it was as if he’d been woken witrh a stinging hex. “Didn’t you say we came up here to retrieve something?”

“Yeah, erm, yes. Sorry, George,” Harry said shaking himself out of his reverie. Before he turned away Harry caught the full attention of Snape’s gaze. Snape said nothing, his eyes curious and inquisitive. Harry nodded his head and gave a half smile. It was all Harry could think of to do. Snape responded to the gesture with a nod of his own, albeit a very curt one.

Harry turned his attention back to George and the task at hand. When he reached the Pensieve Harry drew his wand and conjured a new flask to contain the collection of memories that were still swirling in their misty silver-blue form in the magical basin.

“Hey, isn’t that your mum?” George asked as he spotted a fraction of the memory by the lake.

“Yeah, it is,” Harry stated solemnly as he collected the swirling memories with his wand and deposited them into the flask. He stoppered it, wax sealed it, and put a protection charm on the bottle just in case. Without a backward glance they left the office.

When Harry and George returned back downstairs Ron and Hermione were at the base of the stairs. Most of the group of witches and wizards that helped with the reconstruction were milling about and catching up with friends. Harry looked around for Ginny, he didn’t spot her, or Mrs. Weasley for that matter, anywhere.

“Hey, guys,” Harry greeted his two best friends. “Where’s Ginny?”

“Actually we, er, when we couldn’t find her we thought she might be with you,” Hermione said with a blush to Harry, glancing cautiously at George.

“No, she didn’t come with us. When was the last time someone saw her?” George asked, concern evident in his voice, his brows pinching together in worry.

“I don’t see your mum either,” Harry pointed out, still scanning the crowd as they walked into the Great Hall. They did find Arthur and Percy talking with Kingsley and Minerva.

“Hey, Dad”

“Hmm, yes, Ron?”

“Did you happen to see where Mum and Ginny went?”

“They were escorting a group that were a little unsure of their way around the castle to the loo. They should’ve been back by now though,” Arthur began scanning the crowd as well.

“Should I raise the alarm?” McGonagall offered.

“Not just yet, Minerva. I think maybe they just--” Arthur’s words were cut off by a heart breaking cry.

“My daughter, they’ve taken her! Please, help! Let me go! I have to help her!” A panicked Molly Weasley was being carried in by Slughorn and Seamus. Her cries were like a stab at Harry’s heart. He rushed to her side right along with all the Weasleys and Hermione.

“Filius, Hagrid, guard the front entrance. Do what you can to get the wards back in place!” McGonagall ordered.

“Dawlish, Murray, go with them,” Shacklebolt ordered quickly and the Auror’s ran to catch up to the proffesors.

“Molly, what happened?” Arthur Weasley asked his wife as he sat beside her on the bench.

“Death Eaters, they came in from one of the corridors, rushed us. We barely had a chance to defend ourselves,” she said breathlessly between hiccups and sobs. Two wizards carried in Dean Thomas who was unconscious, a gash on his forehead trickling blood.

“What were they after? Did they make any demands?” Kingsley asked the group coming in.

“They didn’t make any demands, they just attacked,” Cho Chang said as she sat heavily next to a witch Harry could only assume was her mother.

“Did they say anything?”

“Not that I can recall,” Seamus said. “They seemed rather determined to get to us though.”

“Honestly, Minister, I don’t think they were expecting such a fight. It was as if they were waiting for a group such as ours to break off so they could attack. If these kids didn’t know how to fight so well we’d probably all be dead,” Slughorn pointed out as he sat on a bench still trying to catch his breath, the buttons of his waistcoat straining with each puff.

“We can thank Harry for that,’ Cho said, “he taught us. Dumbledore’s Army.”

“Who was closest to Ginny?” Harry asked, ignoring Cho’s praise.

“Dean,” Molly answered between sobs, “she was covering the back with him while Horace and I took the front. I should have been there to protect her! I should have-” Molly broke down in earnest burying her face in Arthur’s chest.

“Cho and I each took up flank. When they had us surrounded they came ‘round to the back. Ginny and Dean took the brunt of it. Ginny was amazin', she disarmed two of them and injured three 'fore they broke through our defenses,” Seamus explained.

“How many were there?” Harry demanded. “Did you see what they looked like?”

“Looked to be about ten of 'em, I can’t be sure, everythin' happened so fast,” Seamus said finally sitting down, his limbs shaking, the weight of what had happened finally sinking in.

“We couldn’t see their faces, they wore Death Eater’s masks and robes,” Cho said.

“What about their voices, did you recognize any of their voices?” Harry pleaded. He was grasping at straws, he knew, but there had to be something, some clue, that would help them find Ginny. He felt like his world was crumbling down around him. He had to do something. His wand was held firmly in his hand, twitching at his side, anxious for action.

Ennervate,” Kingsley revived Dean and they waited for him to catch his bearings. He started violently when he first awoke.

“Ginny!” Dean yelled as Seamus and Slughorn moved to restrain him. He looked around, panting, trying to understand where he was and who he was surrounded by. They told him he was safe and he calmed down.

“Mr. Thomas,” McGonagall addressed him, “it’s very important for you to tell us what you remember. Did you see or hear anything that would help us understand what the Death Eaters were after?”

“What they were after?” Dean said a little dazed still. Madam Pomfrey was tending to the gash on his head and he waved her off. “They…they were after her, they came for her.” Dean said it with such conviction it made Harry’s stomach clench and plummet in tandem.

“What makes you so sure that’s what they came for?” Kingsley asked.

“When they had us cornered the Death Eater in front of us said to the other ones, ‘it’s her, the one we came for,’ and they came at us so fast. I tried to-to…but there were so many and, and I tried, believe me, Harry, I tried,” Dean stammered.

“I know, Dean,” Harry heard himself say, his voice sounding rather hollow in his own ears. If only he’d been there he would’ve been able to protect her.

“I don’t understand,” Kingsley said, “why would they target Ginny?” Like a shot to the heart a terrible dread filled Harry, immense guilt beyond what he could deal with. Wasn’t this exactly why he had broken it off with Ginny last year?

“Me,” Harry collapsed, surprised to fall onto the bench he didn’t know he had backed up to, “it’s because of me.”

“No, Harry,” Hermione said, shaking her head with tears glistening in her eyes. “This isn’t your fault.” Harry wished he could believe her but he couldn’t.

“Yes, it is Hermione! Why else would they have taken her?! Why, specifically, would they take her?” Harry yelled.

“I-I…,” Hermione couldn’t answer, he didn’t expect her to.

“Minister, you better come look at this!” Flitwick called out from the doorway.

Harry was the first to make it to Flitwick who had returned to the Entrance Hall door. He looked up to the sky where Flitwick was pointing. Up above the grounds was the Dark Mark glowing vivid green against the now darkened sky. Then Harry saw why it was imperitive that Kingsley see the familiar symbol in the sky. Below the foreboding skull and serpent were the letters P.B.M.

Chapter 16: Searching For His Heart
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They had been searching for hours. It was now nearing dawn. Harry had set out with Kingsley, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna and a handful of Aurors; a separate set of Aurors and friends made up another search party. The rest of the Weasleys went to the Burrow to await news and to provide protection and comfort to Molly who was distraught with grief. It was a small comfort that Madam Pomfrey had given her some Dreamless Sleep Draught before they left Hogwarts. McGonagall had stayed at the school with the other professors to guard the castle just in case the Pure Blood Movement returned or sent word of any demands.

Kingsley led the search party through Ottery St. Catchpole, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley was next but at the moment they were about to enter the grounds to a wealthy magical family’s home.

“Do you think they might know anything?” Neville asked as they waited for the wrought-iron gates to open.

“Who knows, but they might have overheard something,” Kingsley said pensively as he passed his palm over the front latch of the gates.

The gates let them pass a moment later; Harry and Kingsley led the way in. Gravel crunched under their feet and Harry looked down to see it glitter in the pre-dawn moonlight. An albino peacock spooked Hermione and made her jump; it fascinated Luna and Neville had to pull her along. The Malfoy’s must have had their wards up because Narcissa Malfoy opened the door promptly when they reached the front of the house. Her eyes widened when she saw the size of the search party.

“What is the manner of this visit at such and hour?” she demanded as she secured her dressing gown around her slim waist. Draco came up behind her. Lucius was currently in Azkaban awaiting his hearing. 

"We’d like to ask you some questions,” Kingsley said, walking up the steps to the front door. “We’re also going to do a search of your house and premises.”

“It’s still rather early, Minister. Has something happened?” Narcissa said. Harry and Kingsley exchanged a quick glance; did they truly not know anything or were they hiding something?

“We’ll explain what we can when we get inside,” Kingsley said sternly. Narcissa stood to the side. Harry stepped forward with his wand at the ready. Draco still stood blocking the doorway. He sneered at Harry but he moved when his mother grabbed his arm exactly where, Harry knew, the dark Mark had been branded on his skin. Harry wondered briefly if the Mark had disappeared when Voldemort had died or if it had merely faded but remained on the skin of Death Eaters forever. Harry entered the house cautiously, Kingsley, Luna, Neville, Ron and Hermione right behind him. The others began to search the grounds and outbuildings.

The house was sparsely furnished compared to the last time Harry had been here. No doubt all of the furniture had been auctioned to help pay for Narcissa and Draco’s crimes. The Malfoy bank assets were currently frozen by Gringotts. Paying fines was a lighter sentence than they could have been dealt had Harry not spoken on Narcissa and Draco’s behalf. The Malfoy’s were being forced to pay quite a hefty sum in damages and to aid the families affected by the war. Draco was also temporarily suspended from using magic. His wand was currently being held at the Ministry; he would get it back when his probation was over and he had served all his hours of community service.

Once they reached the sitting room, which ironically had no chairs in which to sit, Hermione and Ron began to magically seal and soundproof the room. When they were at last sure they would not be interrupted or overheard Shacklebolt finally spoke.

“Mrs. Malfoy, Draco, we’re here to inquire if you might have any information, if you’ve heard anything, regarding the disappearance of Ginevra Weasley?”

“Lost your girlfriend, have you, Potter?” Draco spat. Normally Harry wouldn’t let Draco get to him but he was already torn up over Ginny’s abduction and so Draco’s words hurt him like a physical strike. Harry supposed Kingsley expected him to retaliate against Malfoy with a Hex or the like because Shacklebolt put up a Shield Charm, but Harry stood frozen. How could he, for even a second, try to believe that Ginny being taken wasn’t because of him when even Draco Malfoy knew it to be true? Harry broke out of his stricken state when Narcissa began to speak.

“We haven’t heard anything, Minister. We haven’t been in contact with much of anyone lately,” Narcissa looked directly at Shacklebolt. She deliberately avoiding Harry’s gaze which he took as a relief.

“Do you mind if my team takes a look around?” Shacklebolt asked politely even though she must have known that declining wasn’t an option. The Ministry held the right to do searches on Malfoy Manor at any time or interval they chose.

“Not at all, Minister. We have nothing to hide,” Narcissa said raising her chin up in a defiant manner. Kingsley nodded at Harry and he led the others to search the house; Luna stayed behind with Kingsley no one trusting one person to stay alone with either of the Malfoys. They had agreed to having at least one person stay with Kingsley at all times. Luna had volunteered to be by Shacklebolt’s side at the Malfoys and Harry could understand why she wouldn’t want to be involved in the search as it would eventually lead to the basement. Harry didn’t blame her or think less of her either, not one bit. He couldn’t imagine what even being in this house must be like for her, it held to many horrible memories. Even Hermione had gone ashen as she eyed the room she had been tortured in. The chandelier had been repaired and returned to it’s proper position of hanging from the ceiling. It didn’t pass Harry by that Ron had his hand pressed to the small of Hermione’s back in a comforting gesture, his thumb rubbing up and down gently. It made Harry miss Ginny all the more, it drove him to push on with searching the house. Unfortunately Draco insisted on going with them.

“So how long have you lot been Shacklebolt’s ‘team’?” Draco jeered at Harry. Harry pointedly ignored the question.

Homenum Revelio,” Harry cast into the room they had just entered. He didn’t see anyone but he walked in cautious just the same. Neville followed him in, Ron and Hermione guarded the door and watched Draco, respectively. The room was dark and Harry had to light the end of his wand to see. The room seemed to be a gallery of some sort, with an abundance of paintings that portrayed the Malfoys. There were a few small sculptures up on pedestals that Harry could only describe as ugly. Harry raised his eyebrows at Draco, questioning the choice of room décor.

“Mum likes to paint,” Draco said with a shrug of his shoulders. Harry expected the retort ‘got a problem with that?’ to be tagged on but it was left unspoken and Harry didn’t press the matter further. There didn’t seem to be any Dark Magic objects in the room and Harry was about to leave and rejoin Ron and Hermione when one particular painting caught his eye.

“Somehow I don’t think you’re mum painted that one,” Harry pointed at the painting that showed a group of kids being forced to sit quietly for the portrait. There were three girls sitting on the floor in the forefront. Harry could easily recognize Bellatrix looking so out of place and quite cross wearing a pale peach frilly dress. Next to Bellatrix was Narcissa looking quite proper in a sky-blue dress with even more frills and lace. Continuing down the line was Andromeda wearing a pretty pastel pink that reminded Harry of the bubblegum shade Tonks used to turn her hair. Directly behind Andromeda, sitting in a wooden high-backed chair was Sirius Black looking like he’d rather be anywhere other than being forced to stay still. He kept trying to remove his tie and surreptitiously pulled Narcissa and Bellatrix’s hair, an action that kept making Andromeda laugh. Next to Sirius, and looking rather angrily at his brother, sat Regulus Black. Harry couldn’t tell how old they were but Sirius didn’t look old enough for Hogwarts just yet. If he had to guess Harry would say Sirius was nine maybe ten years old when the portrait had been painted.

“No, my grandmother painted that one. Are we done in here?” Draco asked impatiently.

“Yeah, sure, whatever,” Harry said waiting for Draco to lead the way out, not trusting him to walk behind him. “What’s in the next room?”

“Just the loo,” Draco said and waited outside while Harry and Hermione checked it over; Ron and Neville stayed out in the hall with Draco. They also inspected a solarium that doubled as a tearoom and a library that was also used as an office for Lucius. The desk was, of course, empty as the Ministry had taken its contents on their first inspection. They went up the stairs and insisted on looking in the bedrooms. When they reached Draco’s bedroom he balked but Ron shoved him in and held him by the arm just inside the door.

Hermione cast a few charms but they turned up nothing. Harry did notice one of the floorboards he stepped on creaked and rocked just a little bit than the rest. He bent down and discovered the floorboard came up quite easily. Draco tried to break away from Ron but Neville cast a Leg-Locker Curse on him that caused Malfoy to nearly fall over. For all his protestations, however, Harry didn’t find much in the cubby: there was just Draco’s own diary which Harry checked the most recent entry on to see if he did know anything but there was no mention of Ginny, there was also the Hand of Glory that Harry confiscated, some of the Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder that Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes sold, and a pair of black satin and lace women’s knickers that Harry chose to carefully avoid touching. There wasn’t anything else in the cubby or anything else in the room of interest. Draco finally convinced Neville and Ron to let him go so he could at least dress and Hermione stood at the door with her back pointedly turned. Harry returned the diary to the hole and replaced the floor board. It wasn’t much of a find and they didn’t find much more in any of the upstairs rooms. There was only one place left to look; the cellar.

They went down the dangerously steep stairs then went through the heavy door of the cellar with just as much caution as the other rooms if not even more. The room was just as dark as Harry remembered. At least this time he had his wand, he used it to light the way. The room didn’t reveal much in the way of anything. The Ministry had already swept through the room days prior to gather evidence to prove Ollivander and Luna had been held captive for a long period of time in the room. Hermione ran through her usual set of Revealing Charms but she shook her head to let Harry know she found nothing. This search was feeling hopeless. Harry was starting to feel the darkness of losing Ginny creep further into his heart. It felt like someone was concurrently ripping his heart out and constricting his ribcage with ropes. He took a shaky breath and reminded himself he had to hold it together, he had to keep looking, he couldn’t give up. Ginny had to be alive, she just had to.

Harry looked up to see Malfoy shudder as if her were cold, although the room was cool it wasn’t cold enough to warrant that strong of a reaction so it had to be nerves, Harry reasoned. Draco was pointedly staring at the floor in one spot so as to not have to look around the room. He had not seen Harry’s temporary emotional lapse for he seemed lost in his own thoughts.

“Something bothering you, Malfoy?” Harry goaded

“Nothing at all,” Draco lied. His eyes strayed over to the corner where Mr. Ollivander and Luna used to huddle.

“Imagine how much more terrifying it would have been to be Luna or Mr. Ollivander trapped down here against their will; wondering if and when you’d bring their next meal. Paranoid every time that door opened if it was you or someone much worse come to torture them. Did you hear their screams when they were writhing in agony? Perhaps you blocked your ears or put a Silencing Charm on your door so you couldn’t hear? Did you stare at the floor rather than see them in so much pain? Avoided their gaze so you wouldn’t have to see them plead with their eyes for relief?” Harry had railed into Draco with his torrent of words; he was hazarding a guess as to what was haunting Draco. He must have hit the right nerve because Draco sneered at Harry then stormed out of the cellar, Neville, not trusting him, stayed right on his heels. Harry waited for Ron and Hermione to leave the room first then he followed. Harry regretted the fact that Hermione, Ron and Neville had to hear him say such terrible things but he didn’t regret taking out his anger and frustration on Malfoy. He’d earned his contempt. Harry also thought he preferred to be angry over ice-cold and numb with pain and worry; anger was more motivational. Harry took a deep breath then stalked out of the basement to join the others in the sitting room.

"What did you say to my son?” Narcissa correctly accused Harry as soon as he entered the room. When Harry didn’t answer her she continued on, “you said something to make him so upset he won’t speak.”

“That’s enough, Mother,” Draco said with false calm in his voice. Malfoy was clearly still seething with anger towards Harry.

“Thank you for your cooperation,” Kingsley said after a long space of time. “If you hear anything or anyone contacts you be sure to contact the Ministry.” Shacklebolt started to walk toward the door and the others began to fall in behind him. Harry was still eyeing Draco who was watching Luna with a look of curiosity, disgust and an emotion Harry couldn’t quite place. Draco turned to Kingsley suddenly before the Minister had walked out the door.

“Where are you looking next?”

“Why do you want to know?” Ron shot out at Draco.

“I didn’t ask you, Weasley,” Draco spat at him then turned back to Shacklebolt.

“It was a valid question, Mr. Malfoy, why do you want to know?”

“There are places that I, that is to say, maybe I could be of help?” Draco wasn’t humbled or anything close to it he only seemed determined. Kingsley only nodded and then stepped out the front door.

“Draco, please be careful,” Narcissa said trying to hug him but he just shrugged her off.

“Of course, Mother,” Draco said haughtily, his chin aloft as he walked away from her toward the door.

“Potter,” Narcissa turned to Harry as Draco went out the door, “Harry you’ll keep him safe won’t you? Remember he has no way of defending himself. You’ll bring him home safe?”

“I-” Harry began but realized it was a promise he couldn’t keep. So many wished the Malfoy’s harm from both sides, the Death Eaters and their sympathizers for turning on them and the winning side that knew all the Malfoy’s treasonous ways. Harry just nodded his head in compliance and stepped out the door into the morning sunlight.

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the brightness of the early morning sun. Kingsley was conversing with the Aurors but it seemed they did not turn up anything. Malfoy was standing, back ram-rod straight, putting space between himself and the D.A. members.

“So where are we going?” Draco asked inspecting his nails.

“Knockturn Alley,” Harry answered in clipped tones.

“Brilliant,” Malfoy drawled sarcastically.

“You’re the one who volunteered to help,” Harry reminded him. The idea of having to watch Malfoy was irksome but not so bothersome now that an idea had struck him. He ran his idea by Kingsley who agreed heartily that it was the best plan they had left to them. It would certainly guarantee Borgin would be more relaxed and talkative than he would be if they stormed the place. So, a few minutes later they regrouped in front of Gringotts having Apparated to Diagon Alley (Draco side-alonged with an Auror). The Aurors silently took up positions skulking in the shadows in Knockturn Alley where they would not be seen.

Shacklebolt cast a Disillusionment Charm on himself and the D.A. members who couldn’t. Harry noticed and was unsurprised by the fact that Hermione cast her own. Harry knew the spell quite well now from his Auror training but chose not to use the charm. Harry held out the Hand of Glory to Malfoy.

“So what is it that I’m supposed to be doing with this/” Draco asked snidely.

“You’re going to see if Borgin will buy it back from you. Chat, make small talk, see if he knows anything,” Harry answered as he dug his Invisibility Cloak out of his Mokeskin Pouch.

“He’s not going to trust me,” Draco said dryly.

“Are you in or not?” Harry asked in a harsh whisper, “’cause if you’re not we could always have Mundungus go in for us.”

“Fine,” Draco said squaring his shoulders and giving an impatient huff of breath. His face was set in a determined expression that Harry thought only made Malfoy look more like a ferret.

“‘Fine’ meaning you’re going in or ‘fine’ I should have Kingsley send for Mundungus?”

“Don’t be so thick, Potter. My only way back home is by one of you or walking. If I’m here I might as well go in, just don’t expect too much.”

“Well,” Harry said, the corner of his lips twitching up into a snide smirk, “you could always take the Knight Bus or a Muggle cab.” Harry heard Ron snigger from somewhere to his right.

“Let’s just get this over with,” Malfoy said through clenched teeth.

“Be careful, Harry,” Hermione whispered in his ear causing him to jump. It took a bit of control not to yelp in surprise.

“Don’t scare me like that, Hermione!”

“Sorry,” she whispered back. Again Harry could hear Ron sniggering.

“Remember to be careful not to bump into anything and to be as silent as possible,” Kingsley said from somewhere on Draco’s right side, Harry’s left, as Draco was still in front of Harry facing him.

“It’s okay, Minister, we’ve had practice at being invisible,” Harry said cheekily as he threw on his Invisibility Cloak.

“That cloak really is flawless, Harry, truly one of a kind,” Luna remarked in her airy voice.

“You’ve no idea,” Harry said quietly.

“Right, Neville, Luna, you’ll go in first, take up post on either side of the door. Draco, wait thirty seconds after they’ve gone before you start walking. Harry, you and I are directly behind him so we are sure to get in the door before it closes. Ron, Hermione, if you can squeeze in before the door closes do so but if not go ‘round back after Draco’s gone in and pulled Borgin to the front of the store. Be careful no one sees you open the door. Draco, when you go in be sure to open the door as wide as you can so it stays open longer. We ready? All right, Luna, Neville head out now,” Shacklebolt gave them the run down and called the shots. Draco waited a bit then walked at a leisurely pace toward Borgin and Burkes. Harry followed close behind him. Occasionally he could feel Kingsley bump his arm. Harry took great care to not allow the cloak to snag on anything, it was a hindrance but he preferred to have the jinx defence of the cloak.

Draco pulled the door open wide and walked into the gloomy store. Harry easily slipped in directly behind him and could feel Kingsley pressed behind him. Harry didn’t think Ron and Hermione made it through the front door.

“Who’s there?” a voice called out. “Oh, it’s you,” Borgin said distastefully when he spotted Malfoy. “What do you want?”

“Good morning to you too,” Draco drawled sarcastically. Borgin merely stared at Malfoy. ‘I’ve come to do business,” Malfoy placed the Hand of Glory on the counter. “I wanted to know if you would be interested in buying this back, it’s served its purpose and I no longer have use for it.” Borgin inspected the Hand of Glory carefully, checking for damage to the severed hand.

“And why should I help you?” Borgin growled out as he looked up at Draco.

“I could easily just leave here with it but I thought I’d give you the business opportunity to have ownership of it once again as you’re the one who sold it to me,” Draco said smartly.

“Oh, really? From what I heard Gringotts had frozen your family’s account. Wouldn’t be a little desperate for money would yer?” Borgin said casually, knowing he had the upper-hand over a Malfoy for once. Harry thought he could hear Draco’s teeth grinding in anger.

“Fine, I can see you’re not going to be reasonable, I’ll just be going then,” Draco said then quickly grabbed the Hand of Glory off the counter, turned smartly but hesitated near the door.

“Wait,” Borgin spoke in a low voice, “let’s not be hasty. You paid, what, a hundred and thirty Galleons for it? I’ll give you seventy-five.”

“Ninety-five Galleons and I paid one forty-five.”

“Eighty-five, consider what I’m not paying you a rental fee.”

“Done,” Draco agreed to the deal. “So, how’s business been?” Draco asked seemingly uninterested as he leaned on the counter. Borgin was counting out the Galleons and Draco watched as he counted. Borgin gave a derisive snort at the question.

“Not much business to tell of.”

“Yeah, I figured as much,” Draco said still leaning on the counter as Borgin handed him the coins. Harry noticed he had shorted him by two coins. Malfoy counted them then cleared his throat. Not fazed in the slightest, Borgin handed over the two final coins. When he had re-locked the money drawer Borgin grabbed the Hand of Glory carefully and walked over to a shelf on the wall. It was then that Harry spotted it lying innocuously on a shelf among a pile of clutter. A tattered book with a juxtaposed new cover announcing it as a potions book. How it got here Harry didn’t know but he knew he wanted it back.

“So…have you heard anything new/’ Draco asked flippantly, Borgin eyed him before answering him.

‘No, not much of anything. Heard there was a raid at Hogwarts. Pure-Blood Movement took that pretty little red-head girl, Ginny Weasley was it? Not that I care much, whole family’s nothing but blood traitors. I’m sure whoever took her is going to enjoy her while they have her,” Borgin said with a sick smile on his face and an evil gleam in his eyes. There was no margin for mistaking Borgin’s meaning. Harry felt his stomach turn at the thought of Ginny being raped and tortured. Harry heard a sharp intake of breath between himself and Malfoy that broke him out of such morbid thoughts; he needed to concentrate on the task at hand. Draco coughed to cover up the loud breath and Borgin seemed none the wiser. Harry had a good guess that it had been Ron. Harry could just envision Hermione holding Ron back so he wouldn’t pommel Borgin and blow their cover.

“Yeah, she always was a looker,” Draco said wistfully, “it’s too bad she’s a Weasley.” Harry wanted to punch Draco himself. “Any idea who’s behind this new movement anyway?” Draco asked as he stopped inspecting his nails and stepped away from the counter. Borgin was watching Malfoy like a hawk and Draco was moving towards the door; Harry saw the opportunity and took it. He quickly snatched up the Advanced Potions Making book with the dog-eared corners and hid it with him under the cloak.

“Haven’t a clue,” Borgin answered quickly. ‘You’re mighty chatty today.”

“I don’t get out of the house much lately,” Draco said with a dry laugh. Most everyone knew Draco was under house arrest. He pulled the door open and paused with it open wide as he turned back to Borgin and said, “nice doing business with you.”

Harry quickly slipped out the door and once again felt the presence of someone behind him. They walked down the dark backstreets until they were out of Knockturn Alley and back on Diagon Alley. Draco stopped abruptly in front of Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour which was still vacant and boarded up.

“It’s clear, Minister,” an Auror announced as he stepped near Draco. Kingsley removed the Disillusionment Charm from himself and the others and Harry removed his cloak.

“I told you he wouldn’t tell me anything,” Draco said sitting on one of the outside tables, ignoring the fact that there were chairs.

“He didn’t know any more than what he told you,” Harry said. “He answered too quickly.”

“It’s not exactly a secret Borgin’s a shady businessman. The Pure Blood Movement wouldn’t trust him with their whereabouts and identities for fear he’ll be arrested soon and share his knowledge.”

“Why hasn’t he been arrested yet?” Neville asked, rubbing at his neck that Harry knew probably felt warm from the Disillusionment Charm being lifted caused.

“We were hoping his position in the middle of the Dark Wizard Underground would prove useful but I agree with Miss Granger; Borgin’s out of the loop,” Shacklebolt said rubbing his chin.

“Wait,” Malfoy stood up in alarm and protest, “you can’t go arrest him now. He’ll think I’m the one who tipped you off!”

“Like we’re supposed to care, Malfoy. What’s one more enemy to you anyway?” Ron said angrily.

“Shut it, weasel, nobody asked for your input,” Draco shot back his pale pointed face contorted in an ever-present sneer.

“We’re not going now,” Kingsley said with a great finality that no one argued. “We will soon. Just the cabinet alone is proof enough that he aided Death Eaters to break into Hogwarts the night Dumbledore was killed.” Kingsley’s mention of that plot deflated Malfoy.

“Speaking of, Malfoy,” Harry turned to him and held up the potions book, “any idea how this got into Borgin’s shop?” Draco examined the book then shrugged his shoulders.

“What about it? It’s just an old potions book with a new cover on it,” Draco said not really caring. Harry heard Ron and Hermione inhale sharply when they realized which book he was holding. “I needed a tester to make sure the cabinets were working. I was looking around hat room and found the book in a cupboard around the corner so I sent it through. So what?”

“It’s more evidence against Borgin, for one,” Shacklebolt pointed out.

“I notice you’re not calling him on the fact that he just nicked it out of the store,” Draco spat.

‘It wasn’t yours or Borgin’s to begin with,” Harry retorted.

“And I suppose you’re claiming ownership?’ Malfoy rolled his eyes.

“Technically, yes, I gave the school a new book in exchange for this one.”

“Why is this book so important, Harry?” Neville asked tentatively.

“It was Snape’s,” Harry said and he felt that was all the explanation he needed to give. Neville didn’t press the issue.

“Can we get back on track here,” Ron spoke up. “Borgin doesn’t know anything that will help us find Ginny. Where do we go from here?”

“Dawlish, Rhodes, escort Mr. Malfoy home. Moriarty, Hart, stake out near Borgin and Burkes; keep your eyes and ears open, do not be seen,” Kingsley ordered. They left and Malfoy looked disappointed to have the escort forced upon him. “Let’s regroup back at the Burrow, get something to eat and start out fresh. Maybe there’s somewhere we’re not thinking of in our tired state.”

“That’s it then? We’re not going to keep looking?” Ron said angrily, his face and ears turning red.

“I’m not saying we’re giving up,” Kingsley said, “I’m just saying we’re all beat and we need energy to go on or we’re no good to Ginny when we do find her.” When Hermione wrapped her arm around Ron’s waist he calmed down. Harry turned away from them; he didn’t want to see the tears in Ron’s eyes.

One by one the others began to Disapparate away from Diagon Alley and harry waited, counting the faint ‘pops’ as they left. Harry knew his glasses were clean so that wasn’t the reason his vision was blurred. His eyes burned with tears threatening to fall. he blew air up to his eyes trying to calm himself and willing the tears away. His breath hitched a few times and a few tears rolled down his cheeks. He wiped at them frustratingly and made sure his face was dry before he turned on the spot to Apparate to the Burrow.

Chapter 17: Deep in the Hollow
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“There you are!” Hermione called to Harry when he arrived at the Burrow. Ron and Hermione were the only ones still outside, everyone else had gone inside. Harry had to walk to get inside the protection barrier around the Burrow and the grounds around the misshapen house.

“You had us worried, mate,” Ron said softly.

“Sorry about that. I…I needed a moment,” Harry said sheepishly. Ron and Hermione both nodded in acceptance and understanding.

“Just, y’know, let us know next time if you can,” Ron admonished Harry. Harry nodded again and together the trio walked up the walkway to the door of the Burrow.

Molly was bustling around the kitchen. The Weasleys, Neville, Luna, and Kingsley were seated around the table. Harry looked around but the other Aurors must have all gone to their own homes for food and rest.

“There you three are,” Mrs. Weasley said as she spun around with a large plate of toast. “Sit down, sit down,” she shooed them to the table. There were eggs and bacon on the stove frying. The eggs flipped themselves and the bacon stayed flat as though it was under a press. Fleur set the table easily as she nearly floated around the kitchen. Harry watched Mrs. Weasley warily.

Her eyes were puffy and her cheeks were red; she wasn’t currently crying but it was clear she had been. She seemed to be pouring her grief into the task of fixing breakfast, her movements were jittery and shaky but fast and with purpose.

“Here you are,” Molly said as she served up eggs and bacon. “Tuck in everyone.” Most everybody helped themselves. Harry took a piece of toast and nibbled at it. He didn’t feel much like eating. More the opposite, he felt rather nauseous, his nerves were so raw that his stomach was doing somersaults.

“Come on, just try a little. You need to keep your strength up,” Harry heard Hermione’s soft encouragement to Ron. Harry looked over to see Ron looking as green in the face as Harry felt himself. Hermione had her arm around Ron’s shoulders; their chairs were pushed so close together they might as well have shared one chair. Hermione finally managed to get Ron to eat some eggs and toast. Harry looked away from his two best friends and managed to choke down a couple of pieces of toast. He was thankful for the tea Mrs. Weasley had brewed extra strong and he put more than enough sugar in it to give him an extra jolt of energy.

“So, Kingsley,” Arthur spoke between bites, “you had started to tell us you had gone to Malfoy Manor. Turn up anything there?”

“Unfortunately, no, the house didn‘t hold any clues,” Kingsley said solemnly. “When Draco Malfoy told us he wanted to help I was hoping he had more insight than he was letting on but he only suggested places my Aurors or our team had already been, like Hogsmeade, London, Tinsworth, Upper Flagley and Godric‘s Hollow. He was helpful in questioning Borgin but further than that…” he shrugged his shoulders and shook his head.

“I still don’t understand why he’d want to help?” Luna asked as she forcefully speared a piece of egg.

“He was hoping some good behaviour would help shorten his probation sentence,” Shacklebolt told them.

“What did you tell him?” Neville asked.

“I told him it was highly doubtful,” Kingsley wore a smirk as he said this.

Harry knew he would not be able to force any more food into himself and everyone else was still eating. Harry excused himself from the table. He was aware of Mrs. Weasley’s gaze being concentrated on him and he couldn’t bear it any longer. He took his cup of tea out into the garden.

No one followed Harry outside and for that he was thankful. He trudged his way to the tree and leaned against the trunk. Already the day was turning warmer with the morning sun. He stood there for a while, mindlessly tearing up a leaf into little bits, feeling restless as the minutes ticked by. He hated not knowing where to go and where to look next. His heart was breaking into smaller pieces with each minute that passed. He finished his tea and set the empty cup on the ground. Harry continued to lean against the tree, his arms folded across his chest, with the rough bark biting into his back. He tried racking his brain on where they could look next. Where didn’t they look that they should? He took his glasses off and rubbed hie tired eyes.

The wind blew a cool breeze towards Harry, rustling the new light green leaves on the tree, ruffling his hair and bringing with it a light flowery scent to Harry’s nose. The smell reminded him so much of Ginny he inhaled it deeply like he did whenever she walked near him. He nearly expected her to be standing near him though he knew she was not. He exhaled the air in a heaving sob that shook his entire body. He slid down the trunk of the tree, the bark cutting his back but he didn’t really notice the physical pain so intense was his ache for Ginny. Harry put his arms around his knees and cried.

What if he couldn’t find her? What if they did but were too late? Was it already too late? Surely if her heart had stopped beating his would have too. What kind of things were they doing to her? Was she being tortured with the Cruciatus Curse? Beaten by Muggle means? Had she suffered the horror of being raped?

What his stomach had threatened to do earlier happened; Harry quickly crawled to the bushes and his stomach heaved its meagre contents. He dragged himself back to the tree feeling shaky and weak. Still the tears came. He picked up a stone and threw it into the field in anger. He felt so useless. What was the point of being the hero of the Wizarding World if he couldn’t even keep the woman he loved safe?

Harry wished he could talk to someone, he wished he could talk to Sirius or Remus or better yet his mum and dad. He wiped his sleeve across his face and put his glasses back on. His vision was still kind of blurry from crying so hard. Harry picked up his teacup and stood up. Walking back to the house his legs felt like gelatin, he summoned the strength to put one foot in front of the other. When he re-entered the house he could feel all eyes on him but he knew he couldn’t face the Weasleys, not right now, being in their house made him feel guilty enough, like an imposter pretending to be a hero letting their hopes fall to the ground.

Harry marched up the stairs and found one of his old shirts in Ron’s room. It didn’t fit too tight because of all the weight he’d lost over the past year; the shirt did cling to his chest and biceps a bit but he could still stretch and flex without restriction. He put his Mokeskin pouch back on and, wand in hand, he trumped back down the stairs. Unsurprisingly Ron and Hermione were at the bottom of the staircase waiting for him.

“Where’re we looking next, Harry?” Ron asked hopefully and made Harry feel even worse.

“I wish I knew, Ron,” Harry hated to see Ron look crestfallen again.

“When we saw you come in we thought maybe you had thought of something,” Hermione said, wringing her hands until Ron took hold of one.

“No, I…I just, it’s stupid, I don’t know what I was thinking,” Harry slumped and sat on the stairs.

“Anywhere is better than just sitting here, mate,” Ron told him.

“Yeah, I just, I was thinking of going to Godric’s Hollow to talk to my mum and dad,” Harry said feeling sheepish and lame.

“Well, Kingsley said he had a team already go through and check Godric’s Hollow but still, a second look couldn’t hurt while we’re there, could it?” Hermione reasoned. Harry knew she said it to help put his mind at ease and make him feel like they were doing something worthwhile. “Let me just get my bag,” she said going to retrieve the beaded bag Harry and Ron knew so well. Harry wasn’t sure why she still insisted on carryong it around; after all it had provided perhaps now it was more like a security blanket. He couldn’t fault her for that. When Hermione came back with her bag Mr. Weasley was walking behind her.

“You three going off somewhere?” he asked suspiciously.

“We just need some air, Dad. We need to be doing something.”

“Where?” Arthur Weasley asked, nodding his head in understanding then he ran his hand through his thinning pate of red hair.

“Godric’s Hollow,” Ron answered again.

“When do you think you’ll be back?”

“Hour and a half, maybe two,” Ron looked to Harry and Harry nodded; they would need to Apparate outside the town and walk in as it was a partially Muggle town and it was in daylight hours. The amount of time Ron said was enough to talk to his parents and have a quick look around.

“Fine, fine…just make sure you’re back here promptly two hours from now,” Mr. Weasley sighed, “any later than that and we’ll raise the alarm.”

“We’ll be back in time, Dad,” Ron told him as he gave his father a hug.

“Just be careful,” the elder Weasley said as he hugged Hermione.

“We will,” Hermione said softly.

“Make sure that they are,” Arthur told Harry as he hugged him. To Harry the hug seemed stiff and awkward but maybe that’s because he felt too guilty to return the affection he didn’t feel he’d earned. “Keep yourself safe too, Harry,” Mr. Weasley said with his hand on Harry’s shoulder. He forced Harry to look at him but Harry looked away quickly under the intense scrutiny and nodded his weak assurances.

“I will, sir,” Harry said in a voice softer than he’d intended. Mr. Weasley let him go and Harry followed Hermione and Ron out the door.

Godric’s Hollow looked very different from the last time Harry had seen it. Gone was all the snow and now the ground was lush and green. The lawns of the houses were impeccably cared for and Harry spotted flowers in some gardens. The three of them had Apparated into the nearby woodland and walked into town. A few people who passed them smiled and waved in a friendly manner and they politely waved back. Harry continued on to the cemetery while Hermione stopped to show Ron the statue monument. A few of the headstones had fresh flowers by them. Harry didn’t have any trouble finding his parents’ grave. There was a veritable mound of flowers around the headstone, some people had left letters as well. Harry ignored the letters. He didn’t want to read people’s thoughts on how they believed Harry was their saviour, hero and the greatest wizard who ever lived when at the moment he felt as useless as a Flobberworm.

“Hey, Mum, Dad,” Harry said kneeling near the headstone. He brushed a leaf off the top of the stone. “I wish I was here to say that we won and everything is okay but it’s not. I wish you were here so I could talk to you for real,” Harry told them wiping away a tear. “Dark wizards have taken Ginny, with her they’ve taken my heart. We don’t know where else to look. I really wish you were here,” his breath hitched in his chest, “I miss you.” Harry kissed his fingers then placed them over his mother’s name then did the same on his father’s name. He wiped away the tears on his cheeks and looked up when he heard footsteps in the grass. Hermione was leading Ron into the graveyard. They stopped at what Harry knew was the Peverell tomb. Harry took a shaky breath and another deep one before he walked over to join them.

“It’s so strange,” he heard Ron say as he looked at the old stone. “To think that every time I heard that story as a kid it wasn’t just a children’s tale but that the three brothers were real. That the Hallows are real,” Ron shook his head as he stood up. “To think this whole time Harry’s had one, it’s just so weird.”

“Yeah, it’s got to be like finding out Cinderella was real and discovering her glass slipper in your attic,” Hermione remarked.

“Huh?”

“Nevermind, Ron,” Hermione said as she took his hand. “You ready, Harry?”

“Yeah, I guess,” Harry said with one last look at the grave he had stopped at, the Dumbledore plot where Kendra and Ariana were laid to rest. Harry had felt it only right to pay some respect to them as long as he was here.

“Blimey, Harry, that’s a lot of flowers,” Ron pointed towards the mound of colour surrounding his parents’ headstone.

“Yeah, hey, do you guys mind if we walk by the old house? I just want to check on it.”

“That’s fine, we’ve still got plenty of time,” Hermione said checking her watch.

Instead of forcing himself to see Ron and Hermione walking hand in hand Harry walked ahead of them at a slightly faster pace. It was for this reason that Harry reached the small cottage first and Hermione and Ron were left quite a few yards behind him. When Harry touched the gate the sign rose again but now it bore even more graffiti upon it. Harry looked at the small house and unkempt lawn. The flowers that had once grown in the garden grew rampant and wild now. His gaze roamed over the windows and shutters. He had begun to turn around and see how much longer Ron and Hermione were going to take to catch up when something in the last window caught his eye.

Harry crouched down as fast as he could drawing his wand simultaneously, hoping he hadn’t been seen. Behind him he could hear Hermione and Ron hurrying to his side. They ducked down beside him and Harry hoped the gate overgrown weeds and hedges were enough cover to hide them and that they hadn‘t already been seen.

“What is it, Harry?” Hermione whispered.

“Someone’s inside.”

“Did you see who it was?” Ron’s brow creased as he strained to see through the gate to the house.

“No, just saw a dark figure in the first floor window.”

“Are you sure it wasn’t just a lost Muggle or something?”

“Could be, but I thought this place was protected, didn‘t the sign say it‘s invisible to Muggles?” Harry said to Ron’s query.

“He’s right,” Hermione confirmed Harry‘s thoughts, “then again, if someone were desperate for shelter…”

“Or they thought it would be the one place no one would dare enter,” Harry supplied.

“Are we…are we going to?”

“Yeah,” Harry said as he looked for a way to get around the gate and get up to the house without being seen. He didn’t see plausible ways except for magic, of course. “Hermione, do you think you could cast the Disillusionment Charm on yourself and Ron?” Hermione nodded the afirmative. “If there’s any sign of trouble get yourselves out, find a way to send for help,” Harry instructed. Ron and Hermione nodded their heads but both looked like they wanted to protest that part of the plan. “I say we circle around to see if there’s any part of the gate down or a patchy spot in the hedges,” Harry suggested as he took his Invisibility Cloak from his Mokeskin pouch.

Hermione pointed her wand at Ron tapping him on the crown of his head and then did the same to herself and they disappeared right before Harry’s eyes. He slipped his cloak on and walk along the gate to the back of the cottage. Harry was trying to fight back the temult of thought and emotions brought up by the fact they were about to enter the house his parents had been killed in.

They got lucky in their search for behind the house there was a section of gate that had been broken and was lying on the ground. Harry carefully stepped over it and he heard Hermione and Ron climbing over it too. When they got to halfway across the back lawn a man dressed in dark Muggle clothing stepped out the back door and Harry froze not wanting the man to see or hear his footsteps. He didn’t hear Ron or Hermione so he assumed they had stopped where they were as well. The man didn’t walk further than just outside the door and his face was kind of ashen. The man lit a fag and began to smoke it enthusiastically, taking long drags off of it. It didn’t escape Hasrry’s notice that despite the Muggle clothing the man lit the cigarette with a wand.

“What do you think, Harry?”

“I’m not sure, the Muggle clothing’s a little confusing,” he whispered back to Hermione.

“What’s the plan?” Ron hissed.

“I’m going to cast Muffliato so we can get close to him without him hearing us. When we get close I’ll Confund him and get him to open the door wide and go inside. Hopefully we can slip in without any problems. Ready?” Harry didn’t wait for a reply, he did as he said he was going to do and they rushed across the overgrown grass.

The man wasn’t easily Confunded and Harry had to switch tactics and Imperius him. He made the man hold the door open as he flicked his cigarette away. Harry felt Hermione and Ron brush past him as they slipped inside. Harry followed them before he made the man re-enter behind him. When he was satisfied they hadn’t been seen by anyone Harry left the man he’d Imperiused to stand in the kitchen. It was clear, looking around the place, that someone had been hiding out in the house for some time. There were various food wrappers about and several cups with tea still in them on the table. Harry crept further into the house and winced when a floorboard near him creaked; must be Ron, Harry thought.

There were two more men in the sitting room dressed similarly as the first man, dark coloured Muggle clothes but armed with wands, complaining to each other about having to wear said Muggle clothing. Instead of trying to go past them Harry edged over to the stairs. The carpet was moldy but mostly dry so it wasn’t too slick. He tiptoed his way up and heard Ron and Hermione breathing behind him. There were three doors upstairs: the last door, across from Harry’s old room, was closed and there were voices behind it. Harry knew which room had been his because the door was ajar spilling light into the hallway; it was the nursery where Voldemort had first tried to kill Harry, the daylight coming from where the spell backfired and blew out the roof. Another door that was fully open led to a small bathroom.

Harry crept closer to the closed door trying to make out what the voices were saying. One of the voices was definitely male, deep and gruff and for some reason vaguely familiar. The second voice was also male but not so deep. A third voice was heard and Harry recognized it straight away, Gregory Goyle; but what would he be doing here?

The first voice spoke again, this time loud enough for Harry to make out the words. “Cheeky little brat! You’ve got a fire in you, pretty girl, but not for long. Soon I’ll grow tired of these little games and snuff that fire,” a scuffle was heard then a loud bang against the wall. “Why you little-”

“Told you not to get too close, Sir,” Goyle said. “She’s always been a hellion.”

“This’ll teach you not to bite people!” the first voice threatened angrily. A half second later Harry heard a heart-stopping scream of ultimate agony. Harry’s body froze for a short-lived moment then he sprang into action. He whipped off the Invisibility Cloak and lunged for the door but before he made it a pair of strong arms wrapped around him and pulled him backward into the nursery.

Harry fought like a caged animal but the arms around him were too strong. Harry opened his mouth to scream but when he screamed Ginny’s name over and over again nothing but silence came out. He heard Hermione trying to calm him and a grunt from Ron as he finally broke free from his grasp but Harry was calm enough now to know better than to rush headlong into the other room alone. He tried to speak Hermione’s name but again he couldn’t speak. There was only silence, Ginny’s screams had stopped.

“Sorry about that, Harry,” Hermione apologized and he heard her wand swish through the air. She must have cast a Silencing Charm on him when Ron had grabbed him.

“Sorry,” Harry mumbled as he wiped his nose on his sleeve. Apparently he was crying, he was so far out of himself he hadn’t realized it. After a moment Hermione became visible then she did the same for Ron. Ron’s face was scrumpled up in worry and he was pale as parchment.

“What are we going to do?” Ron asked, his voice low and gruff.

“You two go back out and send for help like we planned,” Harry said tucking his Invisibility Cloak back into his Mokeskin pouch.

“No way! I’m not leaving,” Ron said firmly as he crossed his arms in front of his chest.

“You know we can’t just leave you and Ginny here alone. We won’t leave,” Hermione said imitating Ron’s stance without realizing she was doing it; oddly Harry found Hermione more intimidating.

“Fine then,” Harry huffed. He was anxious to get into the other room and free Ginny. “We haven’t been gone long enough for anyone to start to worry about us. We need some way to send for help. Any ideas?” Ron remained silent but Hermione looked like she wanted to answer. Harry looked at her pointedly until she finally spoke.

“There’s one way, the speaking Patronuses like the Order uses. I haven’t practised one since before Bill and Fleur’s wedding. I think I could do it…oh, never mind, just forget it,” Hermione shook her head, her brown curls swaying. “The instant a Patronus is cast they’ll see it.”

“Do we really have any other choice?” Ron pressed. Harry knew that he could think of no other way.

“I’d feel better if you tried it, Harry. Your Patronus is stronger,” Hermione pleaded with her eyes.

“Fine, I guess. So what’s the theory behind a talking Patronus?” Harry asked hoping that he could still produce a Patronus with all the negative emotions running through him. Hermione explained the method and he was pretty sure he could do it if he could conjure up something happy to base the Patronus on.

“We’ll have to move fast once I cast it. We go in as is, completely visible, so we know where each of us is without having to cast Hominum Revelio. In the rush of things I don’t want one of us getting hit by one of our spells,” Harry said and both of his friends nodded in agreement. They stood near the door, wands at the ready. Ron had his hand on the doorknob.

“Ready when you are, Harry,” Ron told him. Hermione nodded in silent concentration on what was ahead. Both of them were whey-faced but had a steely set look of determination.

Harry squared his shoulders, raised his wand and pointed it towards the opening in the ceiling.

Chapter 18: The Stand At Potter Cottage
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With his wand pointed towards the gaping hole in the ceiling Harry closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on the task at hand. He could feel Ron and Hermione watching him but right now his self-consciousness was unimportant. He had to think of something supremely good, something entirely happy. He thought of how happy he’d be if they got Ginny out of this okay; not good enough, he chided himself, it was too close to the bad imaginings. Ginny…she just had to be okay, they all had to make it out of this all right. He couldn’t lose her; she was his heart, his reason for living. Even now he longed to kiss away all the pain. Kissing Ginny, he could be perfectly happy kissing her and loving her for the rest of his life. To feel the comfort of her arms around him, to see that blazing look in her eyes she had only for him, to feel the love she had for him. He let that feeling envelop him as he cast his Patronus with the added intent to send a message to the Burrow. He kept it simple; he sent word that they were at the Potter’s in Godric’s Hollow, that they found Ginny and that they needed back-up fast. At least that’s what he hoped he sent as he opened his eyes to see his large bright stag Patronus leap out of the end of his wand and through the roof.

In a quick succession of events spanning the time of mere seconds: Ron pulled the door open, a shout of alarm sounded from downstairs, they could hear Ginny screaming in pain again and Ron and Harry rammed themselves up against the door to the master bedroom so hard it was knocked off it’s hinges and in a cascade of dust and wood splinters slammed to the floor.

Without wasting any time Harry hexed a man who was standing inside the door to the right and he fell in a crumpled heap upon the floor, Ron did the same to a man on the left. Hermione shot a particularly nasty curse at Goyle that made him break out in gross pustules then she put him in a Full Body-Bind. Ginny was on the floor when they had first entered, her body had been bent at odd angles in agony. As soon as the Cruciatus Curse was lifted she kicked out her legs tripping up her attacker. He fell in a tangled mass of black billowing robes. Harry couldn’t get a clear shot in without risk of hitting Ginny who was throwing kicks and punches at the man. Harry was about to leap in to help her when more wizards came bursting into the hall. Harry felt a hot sting hit his back and he turned around fast to face his attacker. He quickly disarmed him, disabled him and turned back to see Ginny had freed herself from her attacker and was getting up from the floor. The man was lying face down on the carpet, not moving. Harry called out and tossed the newly acquired wand to Ginny and she caught it deftly with the skills of a Seeker. The next man through the door was hit hard by Ginny’s Bat-Bogey Hex and Hermione’s Body-Bind. Someone from downstairs must have signalled for help because there were more wizards than they had seen before. The dark wizards stormed up the stairs and into the room, outnumbering Harry and his friends three to one.

Hexes and curses continued to fly across the room in an array of colours; they were all careful to avoid the telltale green. The four friends stood in a line of defense, Harry on the outside left (as they were now facing the door), Ginny was directly to Harry’s right in the middle, Ron to Ginny’s right also in the middle and Hermione had the outside of the line. Unfortunately they had to keep backing up to put distance between themselves and the advancing dark wizards and they were quickly running out of room and would soon be against the wall. One burly wizard with dark hair and bushy eyebrows, that Harry thought he recognized as one of the students from Durmstrang, charged at Ron with the intent of tackling him but Ron feinted then decked him so hard the man fell to the floor out cold. Ron shook his hand and Harry heard Ron mutter, “nearly broke my hand with his face,” and called the man a few names Mrs. Weasley would shudder to hear Ron saying.

Harry disarmed two more and looked over to see Ginny, a flurry of Stunning Spells, take down another and helping Hermione battle the Wizard after her who was eyeing the brown-haired witch like a piece of delectable meat, Harry had a hunch he was one of Greyback’s disciples. Ron sent a strong Stinging Hex at the Wizard giving Hermione and Ginny trouble and he hit the wall hard clutching his chest. Unfortunately the move left Ron open to attack and Harry blocked a Cruciatus Curse aimed at him but Harry wasn’t fast enough to block a Curse that hit Ron’s shoulder and it singed Ron’s shirt and burned his skin. The Wizard who sent the Curse was advancing fast and just as he made to leap over one of his fallen mates Harry cast Levicorpus nonverbally on him, catching him off guard, and he was flipped up into the air with a yowl of surprise, his limbs flailing helplessly. Then the man froze and Harry realized belatedly that it was because Ginny had put a Body-Bind on him.

Harry ducked under a stream of red that streaked over his head. Hermione managed to cast a Jelly-Legs Jinx at the witch that was sending the curses Harry’s way and she began to wobble around the room so bad she tripped up the wizard next to her.

“Nice one, Hermione!” Harry called out to her as he stood up straight again. Just as he did so a shot of blue flew at him and he had to quickly duck again. “Whoa!”

“Hey, ugly!” Ginny called out to the new foe. To the wizard’s discredit he actually turned to her at the crude summons and barely managed to get out a ‘huh?’ before Ginny slammed him with a Disarming Spell. “Thickhead.”

The witch freed herself of Hermione’s jinx and Harry managed to Disarm her but the wizard that had been next to her had gotten up and hit Harry in the leg with a Curse that cut him up pretty badly just above his knee. It stung like fire and he nearly lost his balance but he gritted his teeth and managed to flip the wizard up in the air by his ankle and just as before Ginny magically bound him. What had seemed a longer amount of time because of the pain Harry felt in his leg the whole intereaction with the wizard in actuality took only seconds.

Realizing their fault in attacking the four friends was underestimating them and coming at them one or two at a time the Dark wizards changed their tactics and formed a line of four. Harry could see that behind them more reinforcements had arrived. Honestly, thought Harry, when had they had the time to recruit so many? It didn’t help that some of the disarmed wizards were getting up off the floor and were clearly prepared to fight without wands. Over by the window the wizard that had been torturing Ginny grunted as he began to rise. The Dark Wizards were encroaching upon the four friends and they, in response, drew back and closer together. No one was casting anything. Harry looked over at his friends; Ron’s shoulder was swollen and bleeding, his shirt sleeve torn up, Hermione was sporting a few welts and burns herself, Ginny looked like she had been through Hell and back.

“Give it up!” the wizard who had risen said, once again Hary thought the voice was familiar. The wizard had not yet turned to face them, it was arrogance perhaps or overconfidence to keep his back to them for so long. When he finally did turn around Harry recognized him at once-- Rodolphus Lestrange. He turned to look at Ginny, “don’t think you won’t pay for that you little bi-”

“Hey!” Harry shouted in outrage.

“Oh, how touching,” Lestange mocked Harry, “you really do have feelings for the wench. And here I thought they were merely rumours, but I had hoped they were true. Of course I hadn’t planned on you finding us,” Rodolphus growled. “How did you by the way?”

Harry didn’t answer him and Lestrange looked at Harry intensely. Harry knew he was using Legellimancy on him and he tried to block him out by clearing his mind. He began to feel the prickles in his mind but Harry continued to stare at a spot of blood on Rodolphus’ hairline until the sensation went away. Lesteange shook his head slowly.

“Well, well, we are full of surprises. Someone’s taught you Occlumancy, have they, Potter? No matter really,” Lestrange paced the line between the two sides and it was clear he was the leader of the Pure-Blood Movement; it didn’t surprise Harry in the slightest. “You have changed my plans quite a bit though. Not that it matters overly much. As I said before, Potter, you might as well give it up. You and your friends are severely outnumbered.”

“Think again, Troll-breath,” George said from the doorway.

“Duck!” Bill Weasley called to them and Harry pulled Ginny down with him and he cast a Shield Charm in front of them. Spells went flying as the re-inforcements for their side attacked from behind. After the first volley Harry dropped his Shield Charm and began carefully sending stunners at the Dark Wizards being cautious not to hit one of their own. Arthur Weasley stunned and disarmed a wizard. Kingsley took down one as well. With the odds now in their favour it didn’t take long for the battle to finish.

Harry was disarming a wizard when he heard a loud crash and wood splintering.

“Noooo!” Ginny cried out as she ran to stand under the gaping hole in the roof. “He’s getting away!” Harry tried to stop him but Lestrange was already too far way. He had flown out much the same method as his former master and when he reached the edge of the cottage’s protective barrier he Disappereated away, spinning in midair.

Harry tentatively put his hand on Ginny’s shoulder and in a great rush she turned around and buried her face into his chest. He wrapped his arms around her. He could feel he shaking as if she were cold.

“Don’t worry, Miss Weasley, we will find him,” Shacklebolt said trying to give some words of comfort as he handed her back her wand he had pulled off of the Wizard he had dueled and looked up through the ceiling’s opening.

“No, you won’t,” Harry could hear Goyle saying, “ he’ll never let you catch him, you-” what Goyle was going to call them they wouldn’t know because his words were stopped short. There was a loud thump and Harry turned around with Ginny to see Goyle was again passed out upon the floor.

“Sorry, he, er, kind of stood up too fast and hit his head on my fist,” George said with a perfectly imitated air of innocence.

“Right,” Kingsley said clearly not believing him but not willing to dispute him either. “You four, St. Mungo’s, no arguments. The rest of us can deal with this lot.” Harry was going to argue against the orders despite the mention not to but Kingsley gave him a stern glare that stopped the protest in his throat.

“C’mon, Ginny, your mum will be waiting for us at the hospital,” Harry tried to coax her to walk and she did, albeit very shakily. All thought of helping to bring in the prisoners left Harry’s mind. He knew he would not, could not, nor would he want to anytime soon, leave Ginny’s side until he knew she was safe at home.

Chapter 19: The Aftermath
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When they arrived at St. Mungo’s Mrs. Weasley was indeed waiting for them along with Fleur, Angelina Johnson, and a handful of Aurors for security. The hosptial staff flurried around them when they got inside. They rushed them into a private room where Healers examined them all. Ginny reluctantly let go of Harry after a brief struggle with the Healers and Harry’s reassurances that it was okay and they took her behind a set of curtains.

Harry barely acknowledged the Healer assigned to him or the fact that she was leading him to his own exam bed behind another set of curtains; he was listening intently to hear Ginny, her Healer and Mrs. Weasley who had gone behind the privacy curtain with her. His Healer made him strip off his singed and bloodstained clothes, sit down on the exam table, he covered his lap with a sterile cotton sheet and went back to listening. He couldn’t hear if Ginny was talking or not but he could hear Mrs. Weasley saying comforting things and the Healer ’hmm‘-ing and ‘uh huh‘-ing occasionally. Harry’s intense listening concentration was broken when his own Healer got to the wound on his leg. The stinging pain was excruciating when the Healer began to clean the wound but she healed it pretty quickly. Harry noticed that the nurse assisting his Healer was blushing profusely and was shyly avoiding eye contact with him when he looked at her but was gawking at him when he was not. Harry ignored her and tried to concentrate on listening again.

“Harry?” Mr. Weasley asked before coming behind the curtain.

“Yes? Oh, I take it you got everyone into custody okay, then?” Harry asked kindly but winced at a prod form the Healer’s wand at a cut on his head he wasn’t entirely aware was there before.

“Yeah, we got them all escorted to the Ministry all right. Kingsley let me leave early on account of…well family matters. I’ll file my report later.”

“Er, right, I’ll write mine up as soon as things calm down here. How is Ginny?” Harry didn’t really care about work right now, the thought of having to write a report had slipped his mind until the mention of it. Right now, though, he just wanted to know if Ginny was okay.

“Molly said she’s in shock, the Healer is still with her.”

“Ron? Hermione?” Harry enquired.

“Hermione’s fine, she’s with Luna. Ron is-”

“Right here," Ron said cutting off his father’s statement and joining them behind the curtain. He looked tired and worried but all his wounds had been tended to. Ron was rotating his arm to flex and stretch his shoulder muscles on the arm that had been injured. “Hermione wanted me to see how you were doing as she can’t check for herself.”

“M’all right,” Harry shrugged. “How much longer?” he asked the Healer a little impatiently.

“You’ve a lot of flesh wounds, a lot of them from debris, Mr. Potter, it takes time to heal them all. If I don’t they could become infected. Just a few more and then you can go.”

“I’ll go let Hermione know you’re still in one piece,” Ron said with a smirk as he backed out of the curtained area.

Harry had hoped that he would find out more on Ginny’s condition when he joined the others in the waiting room but that did not happen. They knew no more than he did. The solemn group sat in silence waiting for word from Mr. or Mrs. Weasley but they were still in the exam room with Ginny. Fleur was eyeing Luna curiously, Angelina was sitting on the edge of her seat after having asked several times if George was all right and had been answered repeatedly that he was fine and was at the Ministry, Neville had shown up when Luna did and he was now inspecting the Healer portraits on the wall. Harry had taken to pacing the room rather than watch Ron and Hermione snuggling as close as they could get upon the chairs provided. Harry wished he could offer a similar comfort to Ginny.

When Arthur finally came out to them he suggested they all go to the Burrow and get some rest. It was a suggestion that was shot down by all and they stayed and continued to wait, Mr. Weasley joining them. Mr. Weasley collapsed wearily into a chair and rubbed his face tiredly with his hands.

After what seemed like ages Mrs. Weasley finally came out with Ginny by her side. Ginny didn’t say anything and she stared at the floor. Mrs. Weasley gave an encouraging smile. Ginny seemed to be in some sort of trance; Harry wondered if perhaps she had been given some kind of sedative to sooth her nerves.

They took the Floo back to the Burrow. George, Bill and Percy came home shortly after they did. Mrs. Weasley fixed sandwiches for a late lunch. Harry still couldn’t find his appetite, not when he could see the turmoil Ginny was still going through written plainly on her face. She wasn’t eating either, methodically she picked the crust off of her sandwich. Ron had already finished his first sandwich and was starting on his second. Hermione looked like she was about to fall asleep and use her sandwich as an accidental face cushion. The tea Mrs. Weasley provided was soothing and Harry accepted it.

When Mrs. Weasley noticed Ginny was not eating she walked her up to her room and twenty minutes later, when she returned downstairs she looked very careworn and sighed tiredly as she sat down at the table. Fleur poured her a cup of tea.

“Thank you, dear.”

“How is she?” asked Ron the question on everyone’s minds.

“She’s finally asleep. The Healers say she will be all right physically. We have to watch for any muscle spasming as a result of Cruciatus,” Molly shuddered, her children’s pain was her own. “Really the hard part of this is going to be the emotional aspects of everything that happened.”

“What…er, what exactly did they do to her?” Bill tried to ask as delicately as he could one of the major issues worrying Harry and probably everyone else at the table.

“No…no, thank Merlin they didn’t assault her sexually. You know Ginny, she’d never let them….she’d never stop fighting…” Molly trailed off and started sniffling.

“You’re right, though, Mum,” Ron said in a hushed serious tone, “when we got there Lestrange was howling ‘cause Ginny’d bitten him.”

“That’s our Ginny, little hellcat,” George said trying, but not entirely succeeding, to sound light-hearted.

A silence fell across the room where no one spoke and the only noises to be heard were the clinking of teacups on saucers and people sipping.

“I should write out my report,” Mr. Weasley said to the room in general as he left to retrieve his favourite quill and ink.

“We should write up ours as well,” Hermione suggested as she picked her head up off of Ron’s shoulder and tried to supress a yawn.

And so they sat at the table, four quills scratching on parchment, writing up their official reports for the Ministry. Mr. Weasley finished first as he was used to the process of writing reports and having had less to report on. Ron finished his shorty after his father, writing never was one of his strong points, and he asked if Hermione would be willing to give it a read through when she was done with her own report. Harry tried to remember to stick to the facts instead of emotions in his own report, a task that wasn’t easy. Hermione was, of course, the last to finish as she no doubt added every last minute detail of the investigation of Potter cottage and the subsequent battle. She twirled a hank of her bushy brown hair as she read over Ron and Harry’s reports. She handed them back, spelling and grammar errors fixed, and they signed off on them. Mr. Weasley offered to take them to Kingsley in the morning.

“No, that’s all right,” Harry murmured as he sat down on the worn carpet of the sitting room, “I’ll take mine in with me when I go in to work tomorrow.”

“Ah, well, Harry, about that,” Mr. Weasley said leaning forward in his favourite armchair, “Kingsley was quite adament that you take his suggestion of a few days off. He had a feeling you’d refuse the offer so he told me to tell you to consider the time off an order.” Mr. Weasley said all of this very kindly and Harry knew Kingsley was only trying to be nice but still it rankled him. Harry felt like part of the problem, part of the reason the Weasleys were in danger was his presence in their lives. Lestrange was still loose and free; sitting still and doing nothing about it didn’t sit well with Harry. He wanted to get out there and do something about it.

“Fine,” Harry said curtly then sighed in defeat, “whatever.”

Mr. Weasley nodded his head knowing Harry would obey then he left to retire to his room. Hermione had fallen asleep leaning on Ron as they sat on the couch. After a few minutes of silence Ron’s head tipped to rest on the back of the couch and he began to snore. Harry got up from the floor as quietly as he could.

It seemed that everyone in the house was sleeping except Harry. He took one last parting look at his friends sleeping peacefully in each other’s arms and turned to walk away. Harry crept through the house and out the door closing it behind him as quietly as possible. He walked through the yard slowly, remembering moments with Ginny in the field. She would be cross with him, he knew, and he would be hurting her but how could he have been so stupid to believe it was safe to love her? He couldn’t put her in further danger. She had been lucky to have survived this time but what about the next time? Harry didn’t want there to be a next time, not because someone was trying to get to him. Ginny deserved to live and love without fear. His heart breaking more and more with each step he took away from the Burrow, away from the house that held so many fond memories and was the home to the people he loved most.

He was just a few paces away from the barrier that he had to get past to Dissapparate when a loud slam sounded behind him. Instinct and recent memories of battle made him quick to draw his wand and spin to face the source of the noise. He immediately lowered his wand when he saw that it was Ginny coming out of the house; she must have let the door slam behind her as she hastened toward him. Her red hair flew out behind her like crimson flames as she ran toward him. She had a blazing look in her eyes but this time Harry was sure she was angry; for a split second he nearly raised his wand again to protect himself from her wrath.

“Where are you going, Harry?”

“You should be back inside resting,” Harry said gently. Apparently it was the wrong thing to say because it made Ginny even angrier.

“I’ve had enough of people telling me what to do today! You’re evading my question, where are you going?”

“I, er, I was going home.”

“Now? Why?” Ginny narrowed her eyes and Harry knew she could read him like an open book, even if she didn’t know Legilimency.

“It’s not safe, Ginny, I thought it was but-”

“When is it ever going to be? There’ll always be some danger, someone who thinks they can continue what Voldemort started. We can’t stop living our lives because Dark Wizards threaten us, Harry!”

“And I can’t just pretend that they’re not out there!”

“I’m not saying that, why would you have joined the Aurors if there weren’t more Dark Wizards. I’m just saying we can’t let them control our lives with fear.”

“But I’ll always be their main target, Ginny. They’ll always try to find my weakness and they’ll exploit you and your family to get to me.”

“What are you saying, Harry?” Ginny demanded, tears streaming down her face.

“I’m leaving, I’ve caused you and your family enough heartache already. I should have cut ties a long time ago, but I wasn’t strong enough to do it, if I had maybe Fred would still be alive. Your family would never have been put in that kind of danger if it wasn’t for me.”

“No, Harry, we’d all be dead if not for you! Mum and dad were in the Order long before you ever befriended this family, we would have been targets anyway because we all made the decision to stand up for what was right. What happened is not your fault!”

“If it wasn’t for me Lestrange would never have gone after you!”

“You’re wrong, Harry!” Ginny shouted back vehemently. “Lestrange came after me for what I did. He came after me because what mum and I did to Bellatrix; your connections to me were just and added bonus to him. He meant to punish me and cause mum pain. He meant her to feel the pain of losing me like he felt when he lost Bellatrix.”

“Why you? Why, specifically, you, Ginny? Why not George or Bill or Percy?”

“It had to be me, because of what I’d done!” Ginny said stricken with grief. She sank to the grass and Harry paused before kneeling beside her.

“What? What did you do, Ginny?” Harry gently asked, feeling now more than ever was the most fragile he’d ever seen her.

“I started it,” she said staring off to some unknown point in the distance.

“Started what? I don’t understand.”

“That night,” Ginny wiped at her eyes and nose with the back of her hand. Harry conjured a tissue for her. “That night Tonks and I were watching the battle from above and she saw Remus dueling Dolohov. She ran after him and joined the fight. When I caught up to her she was dueling Bellatrix. Bella had gone after her on purpose, she was cackling and spitting like a Banshee going on about cutting off the bad seeds to her Pure-Blood family. She told Tonks she’d find and kill Teddy. It was enough of a distraction and one minute Tonks was alive and the next…the next…”

“So it was Bellatrix that killed Tonks?”

“Yeah,” Ginny sniffed.

“That still doesn’t explain what you meant by ‘you’ starting it? Clearly Bellatrix did.”

“When they pulled back, the Death Eaters, we regrouped in the Great hall, I found out about Fred when I brought in Tonks, and I saw Remus too. I went back out to help others. There was a moment, you know, when I thought you were there. I looked up but I didn’t see you, but I just knew. Then they had Hagrid carry your body out from the forest and I thought you were dead, we all thought you were dead!” More tears spilled down her cheeks. Harry rubbed her back and she continued on.

“In the sudden rush of battle, after Neville pulled the sword from the Sorting Hat and beheaded the snake, Bellatrix and I crossed paths again. She kept taunting. She taunted me about Fred and Tonks and Lupin and you and she laughed, Harry, she laughed. I thought I had lost you, I thought you were dead and I didn’t care any more if I lived or died but I knew someone had to stand up to Bellatrix so I did. I started the duel with her. I didn’t even think about the consequences; I used the Cruciatus, Harry. What kind of a monster does that make me? Even if I didn’t hold it on her for long I used it! I dueled her one on one for I don’t know how long until Hermione and Luna joined me, but it was my fight, I started it. Then I had a close call and mum…and she…but it was my fault, it was my fight to win or lose, my fight to end and now mum has to live with the guilt of killing her and I never meant for it to happen that way. Don’t you see, Harry? Don’t you see that Lestrange coming after me was my fault?!”

“Ginny, no, Ginny, listen to me!” Harry held her arm for she was trying to get up. “Listen, Ginny, this was not your fault. The only one to blame here is Rodolphus Lestrange. You are not to blame for defending yourself and others. Bellatrix, she killed and tortured and she took sick twisted pleasure from it. If you hadn’t have dueled her she probably would have killed you and who knows how many others. What you did, going after her like that, it was very brave.”

“But I used the Cruciatus, Harry, how does that make me any better than her?”

“You feel remorse and regret for doing it, even on someone as loathsome as Bellatrix, who had not ever regretted it in her life. It’s the ability to feel these things that sets us apart from them. They didn’t feel remorse or regret. I’ve used Unforgivables too, you know? But it‘s not like I took joy in it like they did, I regretted using them. It doesn’t make us bad people, Ginny, only a little misguided because of what they did to us and the situations they put us in.”

“Still, Harry-”

“No, Ginny, none of what happened was your fault.”

“Lestrange told me it was, when he tortured me. He used the Cruciatus on me. I could hear him laughing just as loud as my screams. He told me when he was finished with me he’d dump my body somewhere someone was sure to find me so mum and you would know what happened.”

“Come here,” Harry pulled Ginny into his arms as she finally released what she couldn’t before when she had still been in shock. She clung to him as she cried.

“Promise you won’t leave me, Harry?”

“I…” Harry hesitated.

“Promise me you’ll stay. If it’s not my fault then it is certainly not yours. I need you, Harry. Please tell me you’ll stay.”

“I promise, Ginny, I promise,” Harry told her and he knew he would stay, his resolve to leave had already crumbled. He wouldn’t break his promise to her. He had to push his fears away. She needed him here, he could see that very clearly. He embraced her tightly and kissed her silken hair. “I love you, Ginny,” he whispered and she held him tighter. He held her until her tears had subsided and longer still until she fell asleep in his arms.

Very carefully he lifted her and carried her into the house. Ron was still sound asleep on the couch but Hermione was awake. She gave a weak smile at the sight of Harry.

“Is she okay?” Hermione whispered.

“She will be,” Harry responded just as quietly with an answer he hoped would soon be true. “Did Ron see any of that?”

“He slept through it, even the door slamming,” Hermione rolled her eyes playfully then smiled. She looked at Ron with a funny expression of adoration. She looked back to Harry and blushed. “You okay, Harry?”

“Yeah, m’all right, I guess. I’m going to bring her up to her room,” Harry told Hermione. Ginny’s athletic form was starting to feel heavy.

“Okay,” Hermione yawned then snuggled up to Ron again. Her eyes were closed before Harry could traverse the room to the staircase.

Harry tucked Ginny into her bed and she continued to sleep soundly. He made sure her bedroom door was open wide, no need to anger Ron or any of the other Weasleys by making them think something inappropriate had happened between himself and Ginny. He knelt on the rug beside her bed and watched her sleep for a while, holding her hand. Exhaustion took over his body and he rested his arms and head on the bed still holding her hand, needing some kind of physical contact for comfort on both their parts, and he dozed off to sleep.

Harry couldn’t be sure what time of day it was when Mrs. Weasley woke him gently. “Harry, dear, you’ll regret sleeping like this later.”

“Huh?” he answered groggily.

“Here,” she handed him a pillow then set him up a nice bedroll on the floor by Ginny’s bed. “Kip on this.” Mrs. Weasley looked over Ginny as Harry removed his shoes and crawled under the blankets of his makeshift bed. Sleep was reclaiming him when he felt her gentle hands remove his glasses carefully and lightly brush the fringe of bangs on his forehead.

Chapter 20: Epilogue: Looking Forward
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The summer passed relatively peacefully at the Burrow. Lestrange had gone underground and hadn’t been seen since the battle at Potter cottage. The Pure Blood Movement had been silent, showing no activity or outward signs of revival but Harry knew that wasn’t always a guarantee of everlasting peace. For the moment though the period of inactivity was relished and enjoyed. Harry went back to work after taking a week off. He had to admit he was thankful for that week of vacation. He decided to watch Teddy for a couple of days to give Andromeda a break and to bond and helping to take care of Teddy helped Ginny heal and come out of her melancholy. When Teddy went back to Andromeda there was a day of high summer heat and Ron had the idea for them to go swimming by the small pond on the Burrow’s property. It was a day of enjoyable relaxation for the four of them: Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione. Ginny was inseparable from his side with the exception, of course, of nighttime when they all went to bed and Ron and Harry reluctantly went to Ron’s room leaving Hermione and Ginny to hers. Harry found himself almost reluctant to go back to work to continue his training as an Auror.

Mrs. Weasley warmed up to the idea of the way her children had paired with their new loves. The male population of the Weasley family gave Ron quite a ribbing for his finally realizing what he had with Hermione and they all gave Harry stern warnings about treating Ginny right. Ginny had walked in on one such conversation, the Friday after her birthday, which ended up with Bill being hit with Ginny’s now infamous Bat-Bogey Hex. She didn’t remove it until the newly pregnant and overly hormonal Fleur complained to Mrs. Weasley who yelled at Ginny to reverse the Hex. The whole affair was found highly amusing to George who decided to imitate Bill, the way he acted when the Hex first hit him, the rest of the weekend. It was nice to hear George laugh so Bill took it in stride and let his younger brother have fun at his exspense. Harry thought the incident drew out the fire in Ginny that had been missing for a while and it was nice to see some of the way Ginny used to be. Still, there were times when Harry would see her staring into space, her mind miles away. Truth be told they all had moments like that. Harry thought that maybe that’s what war did to people when they’ve seen and been through too much.

Harry had made a decision he did feel good about. He’d made a deal with Flourish and Blotts to do a printing of Snape’s potion book (minus some spells) to benefit a special children’s fund. The money would be used to help pay for robes, books and supplies for children attending Hogwarts unable to afford them under normal circumstances. Harry was pleased that it was going well, perhaps that had to do with the fact Harry himself had written the foreword explaining a bit about Severus in his own words. Harry hadn’t forgiven Snape but he certainly understood him more and he knew in time that forgiveness would come. Harry was also surprised to find himself overwhelmed with letters from witches and wizards from all over. Letters of thanks and gratitude. Occasionally people would send money in the letters and Harry decided to set this money aside and put it in a separate vault for Teddy. When all was said and done Teddy had quite a hefty sum in his vault. He couldn’t possibly answer all the letters but after several weeks of being buried in owls Mrs. Weasley suggested Harry write a letter to the Daily Prophet accepting their gratitude and suggesting any monetary gifts be donated to a fund of Harry’s choice. Harry chose to set up a war orphan’s fund.

For Harry’s birthday Mrs. Weasley had wanted to have a big party but Harry insisted on a small affair. Harry was surprised to receive a card in the mail from Dudley, even if he only did sign his name and wrote nothing more in it; Harry made a mental note to remember Dudley’s birthday and maybe a Christmas card for him. George told Harry to stop by the shop on the morning of his birthday to pick up what ended up being a box of Whizbang fireworks. Harry was surprised to find the Wizarding Community celebrating in full force and even more shocked to find they were celebrating his birthday. George said that Fireworks had been a top seller ever since the Battle at Hogwarts. They set off the box of fireworks that night at the Burrow. The perfect gift Harry could have received for his birthday was holding Ginny as they lay upon a blanket in the grass watching the colourful display. Harry was sure Ron and Hermione missed half of the fireworks for when he took a quick glance at them they were in the middle of a snog session while Ron’s parents were distracted by the fireworks and did not see.

Ginny’s seventeenth was a huge affair with a fully decorated canopy and several friends on the guest list. Most were from the D.A. and Harry wasn’t surprised to see Neville and Luna once again. Ginny enjoyed the ability to use magic freely as everyone does on their seventeenth. Harry wanted to make sure the present he got her would be the best so he checked with the Weasleys to make sure he wasn’t going to get something they’d already gotten her before he made the purchase of Ginny’s very own Firebolt. Mrs. Weasley and Ginny both insisted it was too much but when Harry saw Ginny’s look of freedom and pure joy when she first flew on it it was reward enough for him and well worth the Galleons it cost. They danced well into the night under the canopy and twinkling fairy lights.

Since Ginny’s birthday was in August after it was over all thought turned back to the fact that Ginny and Hermione would be returning to Hogwarts soon. Harry hated the thought of being separated from Ginny but she promised to write him every day and he promised her the same. McGonagall had also offered special priveledges to the D.A. members which would allow Harry and Ron to visit them on school grounds on some weekends. Harry found himself looking forward to those weekends.

For now, though, Harry stood on Platform 9 ¾ trying to find a way to say goodbye. He straigtened Ginny’s shiny new Captain’s badge on her robes as he tried to find the right words to say. She smiled kindly at him waiting for him to speak, he was sure he was starting to look like a fish above water trying to pull water from the air his mouth had opened and closed so many times.

“Make sure you beat Slytherin at Quidditch for me, yeah?” the moment the words slipped past his lips he knew it sounded lame.

“You know I will,” she said with a sly smile then she frowned. “I’m going to miss you, Harry.”

“I’m going to miss you too,” Harry pressed his forehead against hers.

“You promise you’ll come visit me?”

“I promise, Ginny. Every Hogsmeade weekend, every Quidditch match, every chance I can that McGonagall let’s me.” Harry kissed her gently. “You know Ron will want to see Hermione just as much,” Harry laughed.

“Yeah and to chaporone me,” Ginny rolled her eyes.

“He’s your brother, he’s only trying to look out for you,” Harry tried to defend Ron’s behaviour even though sometimes it annoyed him too.

“Yeah, I know.”

“Stay safe, Ginny, stay out of trouble,” Harry said when the first train whistle sounded.

“I’ll try,” she said wickedly with a wink, “I’ve got Hermione to keep me in line.” Harry looked over to see Hermione saying her goodbyes to Ron, her new Head Girl badge pinned to her robes.

“Yeah, fat lot of good that did for Ron and I,” Harry laughed. “We brought her down to our level.” It made Ginny laugh and Harry knew he’d miss the sound.

“Harry?” she asked as they walked closer to the train.

“Hmm?”

“You make sure you’re careful too. Stay safe,” Ginny said seriously.

“I’ll try my best,” Harry kissed her forehead. He knew she was thinking about him and his job as an Auror. They were still on the hunt for Lestrange. As long as Lestrange was free he’d gain followers and power. They needed to capture him and his cohorts. Harry was heading the investigation, an assignment given to him two weeks prior. It was Harry’s first official lead on a case and in addition to being in charge of the search he was also continuing his training and aiding Kingsley in re-structuring the Ministry. Harry was glad to have Ron’s help in the latter as he was helping George and helping the Ministry, something that earned him points in Hermione’s eyes. The Ministry was undergoing lots of changes under Kingsley Shacklbolt’s leadership but it was a long and hard process to fix all the previous leaders’ mistakes.

The train whistle sounded again and Harry gave Ginny one last hug.

“I love you, Ginny,” he told her before he kissed her.

“I love you too, Harry,” she replied breathlessly when they broke apart.

“Ginny, Hermione, you two had best be getting on the train before you miss it!” Mrs. Weasley said as she bustled over from talking to Kingsley. She hugged Ginny then stole Hermione from Ron for a hug. “Take care of each other,” she told the two young women.

“See you soon, Hermione,” Harry told her.

“Yeah, be seeing you, Harry.”

The girls boarded the train and harry’s gaze tried to follow them through the windows. He lost sight of Ginny’s red mane and Hermione’s bushy brown hair a few times but they came to the windows after a few short moments and waved goodbye. Harry and Ron waved back, the two best friends standing side by side. They waved and watched until they could not see the train any longer. Harry sighed and he heard Ron do the same.

“When is the first visit?” Ron asked.

“Three weeks,” Harry said glumly.

“Three weeks too long.”

“Yeah.”

“I gotta get back to the shop. You coming to the house for supper?”

“Yeah, I’ll see you at supper. I should head to work too.”

“This is going to be a long year,” Ron said looking back to where the train had been.

“C’mon, Ron, compared to last year this one should be a piece of cake,” Harry nudged his best mate with his elbow. Ron chuckled.

“Yeah,” Ron guffawed, “well, see you tonight, Harry.”

“Yeah, tonight,” Harry echoed as he walked towards Kingsley. A moment later Harry heard Ron Dissapparate away.

Harry tried to force his worries from his mind and concentrate on the moment at hand. He wasn’t sure of much lately and it was strange to think that he could live without the looming threat of a prophecy hanging on his shoulders. Sure there were the dangers of his job but nothing was written in stone for his future that promised impending doom. His future was uncertain, his path to be determined by decisions he would make. His life was finally his to live, free of any restraints. He was free to love whomever he chose and he did so fully and completely. Dumbledore was right on that count, Harry thought, love was the most powerful force to behold; it continued to save him time and again every day. There were still some things that needed tending in his life, Harry knew. His life wasn’t perfect, not all was well, but he hoped to get there some day.

*Fin* 

A/N: So that's it I guess.  It's strange to finally be done with this little story of mine.  Thank you so much to everyone past, present and future that has stuck with this story to the end.  I love you all for that and even more for the reviews! 
--Mac

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