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A Horcrux's Fate by Khauro

Format: Novel
Chapters: 14
Word Count: 67,464
Status: WIP

Rating: 12+
Warnings: Mild violence

Genres: Drama, General, Angst, Young Adult
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Slughorn, Hagrid, Arthur, Bill, Shacklebolt, Molly, Percy, Lucius, Draco, George, Ginny, Neville
Pairings: Arthur/Molly, Ron/Hermione

First Published: 04/27/2020
Last Chapter: 07/11/2020
Last Updated: 07/13/2020


After the battle of Hogwarts, Harry Potter had survived when the part of Voldemort's soul inside him was destroyed, but it left a mark more terrible than a scar - Harry’s soul was tainted. With his life slowly withering away, he struggles within himself whether to accept help or handle this alone and save his love ones from despair. As the clock ticks, will his friends ever discover his quandary or even the hopes of finding a cure?


Amidst this predicament, dark forces loom to the surface once again, hungry for revenge. Draco Malfoy seeks Harry as well, but will he be an ally or another adversary?


Hard decisions must be made as Harry discovers the fate of a Horcrux.

Chapter 1: Chapter 1
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A cool, twilight breeze swept past Harry Potter's still form as he sat outside the Hogwarts grounds. He stared with contentment and relief beyond the great lake where a soft glowing light emanated from the waters creating a beautiful reflection of the setting sun. It was always a sight to see, and each time he would find himself totally lost in its beauty. But even the magnificent view couldn't bring peace to his heart, and he was brought back from his reverie. His right hand subconsciously went up to his chest as he took several deep and shaky breaths.


Ever since the battle of Hogwarts a fortnight ago, he'd started to feel a dull pain between his lungs. It started off as a faint tugging feeling right in the middle where his heart was, which he'd disregarded up until this moment. The feeling never stayed for long, but it would come and go as fast as lightning. Today was different; the pain lingered for several minutes and then was gone again. He knew there was something terribly wrong, and no one knew about this except him. He was adamant in his decision of not telling anybody until he'd gained knowledge of what it was, but then again, he didn't know how to figure out what it was. He could probably read some medical books in the library, but it was impossible to get access to at the moment due to it being blown apart from the battle. Or maybe he could ask his best friend, Hermione Granger's opinion or Madam Pomfrey's, but he didn't want to bother them if he could help it for now.


A soft tap on his shoulder brought him back from his thoughts. He looked up and saw Ginny. Her smile would always render some sort of relief to whatever he was feeling. He smiled back and put his hand down from his chest. She didn't miss the momentary pained expression on his face before he returned the smile.


Ginny placed her hand to his cheek and caressed it gently. Harry instantly closed his eyes to relish her warm touch.


"Are you okay?" she asked, a look of worry etched onto her face.


He opened his eyes and looked at her. He debated whether to mention what he'd been feeling a few minutes before or not and decided the latter was best for the meantime.


"I'm fine, Ginny." He squeezed her hand as he said it, trying to cover his worries with a small smile and hoping that it would suffice.


"Harry, you know I don't buy that answer." Ginny knew him so well that she could tell if he was hiding something. She eyed him anxiously and continued. "You look like you were in pain earlier; you were rubbing your chest."


Harry lowered his head and glanced back at the slowly dimming horizon with a sinking feeling. He didn't want her, or anybody else, to start worrying about him. They'd won the war against Voldemort and all the worries, pain, and hurt they had experienced for all those years had been dealt with. Harry wanted it to stay that way. After all, they each deserved a worry-free and happy life in exchange for what they'd been through, but some things never really ended well in his life. This realization hit him with a heavy heart and there was only one thing left for him: he had to accept whatever his fate was.


"Harry," Ginny called out to him once again when he didn't respond. "Whatever it is that's worrying you… you can tell me and we'll deal with it. You know that, don't you?" she placed her hand on his back in the hope that she could somehow comfort him.


It was a moment before he answered. Ripples of cold undulated over his skin.


"I'm scared, Ginny," Harry whispered. "I -" The suffocating feeling extinguished the end of the sentence; he could not go on.


Ginny looked frightened all of a sudden. "Why? What's wrong?"


Harry's throat tightened instinctively. He tried not to be scared, tried not to think that something bad was about to happen or that there might be a problem he couldn't solve. He felt his fingers trembling slightly and made an effort to control them, but he couldn't.


"Harry, please talk to me." She felt her fear grow with each passing minute.


Harry shook his head. "I really can't say."


"What do you mean you can't say?" she asked. If there was one thing that would worry her too much, that would be Harry's unwillingness to say what was on his mind, especially when things were already getting worse. "Harry… please tell me what's wrong."


Harry was quiet for a long time as he gave the question careful thought. He didn't really want to say anything until he was sure of it, but he couldn't keep Ginny in the dark either. He loved her so much that he couldn't stand not telling her even though he knew it would break her. Harry had always felt that Ginny was a strong girl who was capable of handling situations really well. Her warmth and compassion were also two of the reasons why he wanted to be with her, not only as her boyfriend but as her husband someday if his fate would allow it. He wanted nothing but to make her happy, especially now that everyone was celebrating, but he couldn't do it with the problem he was facing right now. He couldn't do it because of the bad news he wanted to reveal so badly but failed to do so.


Harry took her hand and held it tightly. "I'm sorry, Ginny, but I need more time to know what's really going on before I tell you. I don't want to plunge in headfirst and tell you something I am not sure of."


Ginny let out a deep sigh. "I always admired your bravery, Harry. You always keep things to yourself and deal with it on your own. Whatever it is you're scared of, I'm sure you can get through it like always, but there are times when you have to let people in to help you out."


Harry didn't say anything. He didn't want them to worry, and it made him so desperate to find the answers before it was too late. Before anyone else found out. At least knowing what it was firsthand wouldn't hurt, and dealing with it later would surely break him, but he wanted to have a normal life and now was the chance to do just that.


He held on tightly to Ginny's warm hand as though it was the only thing that gave him hope. Despite the years that had passed since he'd first seen her, the effect she had on him had only grown stronger, and he didn't want to let it go.


Even though Ginny didn't have a clue on what was going on in Harry's mind, she completely respected his silence. She sat next to him as he watched her bring her hand to his face once again and held his gaze. Harry knew that she wanted to reach out to him, to let him know that she cared deeply for him. He'd been through so much already and she wanted to take his pain away. Very slowly, Ginny leaned toward him and gave him a soft kiss knowing that it was what Harry needed at the time. He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her back. After a moment, they pulled back but continued to hold each other, wanting nothing more than to make this last forever.

Harry stayed awake that night while the rest of his Gryffindor friends slept silently. Another faint throb in his chest meant he had trouble sleeping. It'd happened twice now today and although it didn't linger for long, he knew he had to do something.


He stood up and walked quietly out to the common room. He watched the dying embers in the fireplace for a while before he strode out of the portrait hole. It was probably too late in the evening to talk to one of the professors, but he couldn't wait any longer. He had to confirm his suspicions while he was still at Hogwarts.


He walked through the cold dungeons until he found himself standing at the door. He knocked and waited. Harry had been slightly worried that his professor might be asleep, but he answered his office door at the first knock.


A rather bleary-eyed, bald, old man with an enormous, silver, walrus-like moustache stood in front of Harry. He looked like he'd been awoken from a deep sleep, but when his eyes focused and he saw Harry, he immediately smiled and greeted him, his sleep gone in an instant.


"Harry! What a surprise."


Harry hesitated and said quietly, "Professor Slughorn, I'm sorry if I woke you at this hour."


"Not to worry, my boy. Come in!" Horace Slughorn stepped aside and gestured for Harry to come inside his quarters. The fire crackled as he entered and instantly gave him some warmth.


Harry had been inside his office before, and his last visit was highly unpleasant seeing as Ron had swallowed an oak-matured mead with poison.


Professor Slughorn closed the door and made his way to his cabinet to grab some drinks. "Please do sit down, Harry."


Harry sat gingerly in one of the chairs across from the fireplace while Slughorn poured the drinks into two separate goblets.


He made his way to Harry and offered the drink as he sat down opposite him. Harry couldn't help but eye the drink tentatively and reminded himself that it was safe.


"Now, what can I do for you, my dear boy?" Slughorn asked.


Harry took a little sip of the butterbeer and brought the cup down onto the table. He honestly didn't know where to begin.


"Professor, I…" he hesitated for a moment. He could very well remember the last time he asked about a certain subject that hadn't ended well for either of them and opening it up again... he could only hope his professor would understand. He was getting desperate.


"Professor," he tried again. "I was just wondering if you can talk to me again about –" he took a deep breath, his heart hammering fast. "– Horcruxes."


His professor was clearly not expecting this and he choked on his drink. He eyed him nervously and waited for the inevitable.


It was a moment before Professor Slughorn spoke in a soft voice, and Harry was more surprised when he looked at him with concern instead of yelling at him and telling him to get out.


"Why do you ask?"


"I was just curious, Professor."


Professor Slughorn narrowed his eyes at him. "That is an odd thing to be curious about, Harry."


Harry didn't speak.


"What do you want to know?" Professor Slughorn asked when he thought Harry wasn't going to explain himself any further and instead was only looking at him intently.


Harry's hands were trembling slightly. He hid them in his pockets and took another deep breath.


"Professor, you once explained that Horcruxes are a piece of a person's soul, right?"


"Yes, that's correct."


"Could you explain to me what happens when a Horcrux invades a person? What happens to that person's soul when the Horcrux is destroyed?"


Professor Slughorn frowned, thinking.


"I haven't ever heard of such an act, to tell you the truth," replied Professor Slughorn. "Mostly the person creating the Horcrux would then hide it in a non-living thing, but I would only assume that the host's lifespan would shorten drastically if for some reason it did invade another person."


Harry shook rather uncomfortably in his seat, looking deeply worried now.


"But what if it wasn't intentional? What if it's just an accident that he created a Horcrux and it latched onto another soul? Would it still affect that person's soul after it was destroyed?" He was gazing at his professor with intense fear.


"Well," said Professor Slughorn after he drained his cup and set it aside on the table. "Regardless of whether or not it was intentional, once a Horcrux invades another soul, that soul is already tainted."


"Meaning that person's soul will also die even if the Horcrux is destroyed?"


"Yes," said the Professor simply.


Harry was beginning to feel a little ill. All the information he was getting was starting to make him feel hopeless. "Is there a way to fix a tainted soul, Professor?"


Professor Slughorn felt uncomfortable, his suspicions rising gently. He had talked about this with Albus Dumbledore but wasn't entirely sure as he had not read a book stating that fact. Albus seemed to know something he didn't.


"That, I am not aware of," he said to Harry. "The creation of a Horcrux is evil enough that all information about it was banned to the public, so I would presume that there is no such reference as to how to mend a soul under those circumstances. After all, as far as I know, no one has attempted to do it but only -" he stopped, looking uneasy.


Harry knew that Slughorn was going to say "Tom Riddle". He had seen the memory with Professor Dumbledore and was well aware of how much Slughorn regretted his action.


"Would you know then, Professor–" Harry was sweating profusely now, his voice quivering slightly. "How – how long could the person live with a tainted soul? You said the lifespan would shorten drastically."


"A few months, but I can't really say how long for sure," said Professor Slughorn. "I can only assume that it's slow and excruciating and that you'd prefer to die quickly as time passes by."


Terror washed over Harry, his heart was beating fast. He felt weak all of a sudden. Professor Slughorn glanced at him when he saw his worried expression.


"Are you alright, my boy?"


Harry looked up. "Yes. Thank you. I have to go, Professor... I -" His breath came slow and deep, and his mouth and throat were completely dry.




Harry stood up shakily and went out of the door before Slughorn could even say another word.


As soon as the door closed behind him, Harry ran as fast as he could until he reached the bathroom. He fell to his knees in front of the toilet, gripped the rim with both hands, and threw up everything he had eaten that day. He could feel himself shaking so badly. He held on to the walls of the cubicle as he lifted himself up from the ground.


He returned to Gryffindor Tower feeling miserable and exhausted. He climbed up to his bed and felt his tears start even before his head hit his pillow. His soul was tainted and he was at a loss as to how to fix it. He didn't want to feel hopeless. He didn't want to think about how much pain he had to go through until he couldn't take it anymore. He was frightened and scared about what was going to happen. He thought he could live his life normally now after destroying the Horcruxes, and Voldemort had destroyed his own Horcrux inside him. But he was terribly wrong. Harry realized now that there was no hope for him to live in this world and it pained him to even think about it. He didn't want it to end like this. He didn't want to die. He wanted to do so much more in his life, but now he couldn't. It was like his life and soul had been snatched away from him, and to think that he only had a few months left was already killing him inside.

The morning sunlight poured through the window. It was their last day at Hogwarts and soon they would be riding the train back home. Harry was looking forward to going back and staying permanently with the Weasleys, but his high spirits died down when he remembered the talk he had had last night with Professor Slughorn. He was in a daze when Ron made his way slowly in front of his bed and called out to him.




Harry turned to look at the blurry outline of Ron.


"Wake up, sleepyhead." Ron handed him his glasses, which he took gratefully. "You look terrible as hell, mate."


Harry chucked his pillow at him, but Ron evaded it quickly.


"Thanks, Ron."


He stood up and a dizzy spell hit him. He swayed a little bit and held on to his curtain to stop himself from falling.


"Woah," said Ron as he grabbed Harry's arm, steadying him. "Are you okay?"


"Yeah. I think I stood up too quickly," he lied. He wasn't really feeling well today, probably because of last night. All his energy was drained, even though he'd slept through the morning.


The majority of the students had gone home the day after the battle at Hogwarts, and the few who had remained to help with repairing the school were packing their things and stowing them in their trunks. Only Harry and Ron didn't have anything to pack since they hadn't come back for their final year, only to finish the war with Voldemort. All of their things were tucked inside Hermione's beaded bag anyway, so they headed out to have breakfast in the Great Hall, which looked quite empty. Harry wasn't really looking forward to it, but he had emptied his stomach last night and now it was protesting.


He ate a little bit of toast while Ginny eyed him worriedly across the table. Harry smiled at her and looked down at his half-eaten toast.


"Is that really all you're gonna eat?" she asked.


"I'm not really that hungry." It was the truth. He could only manage to eat a small amount before his stomach turned wildly again, and he couldn't risk throwing up right now in front of everyone.


Ron and Hermione raised their eyebrows, but they didn't say anything. Despite the fact that the war had ended and everyone else was in a joyful mood, Harry couldn't help but feel extremely dispirited. Ron and Hermione thought that they totally understood his lack of enthusiasm because they too were grieving all the friends and loved ones who died two weeks ago, but neither of them knew yet what Harry was really going through.


Harry tried to be cheerful on their behalf and told them that he would eat more once they were back home at the Burrow. After all, who would want to be yelled at and force-fed by Mrs. Weasley every day, anyway? That earned him some satisfied nods from all of his friends.


After breakfast, he excused himself from them saying that he needed to go to the bathroom. He stood up and left the Great Hall. Instead of going to the bathroom, however, he turned another corner that would lead him straight to the library.


He saw Madam Pince reading at her desk when he entered what remained of the library. Most of the books that had been scattered across the floor or blown apart had been fixed and put back on their usual shelves. She had cleaned the entire library in no time without any help, but some renovations were needed that could not be done with a spell, much to her dismay. Madam Pince was always deemed an obstacle in Harry's student years. She was a very strict witch who was extremely reluctant to let any book leave the confines of the library. Harry had no choice. He needed to take some books before leaving Hogwarts in a few hours.


Slowly, he made his way toward her and asked for books relating to souls.


Madam Pince furrowed her brows. "There are many kinds of books about souls, Mr. Potter, some of which you have no access to in this library as they are for staff only."


"I only need books that I can borrow and take home with me during the summer."


"Your last term in school ends today," she said quite sternly. "Tell me, why the need to borrow books right now?"


'Because it's none of your business,' he wished to say out loud but thought better of it. He went for the one obvious reason Hermione would usually give.


"Light reading."


Madam Pince huffed. "Light reading?" she repeated.


"Yeah. I don't want to bore myself at home." Harry excused, hoping it would work. "I'd rather read."


She looked at him rather suspiciously. "And why do I find that very hard to believe? You hardly ever come here, Mr. Potter."


"That doesn't mean I don't like reading." Harry reasoned out.


Madam Pince contemplated. Harry was starting to doubt that he'd be allowed to borrow a book. She had a point; it was his last day. He had almost made a move to leave when she finally spoke.


"Very well. You'll find the books you're looking for on that row." She pointed at the far-right corner in the library. "You have half an hour before your train leaves."


Harry nodded and made his way to where she'd indicated.

Ginny sat beside Harry on the train back to London, where she held his hand and stroked it gently. Ron and Hermione sat silently across from them. They were all looking at Harry, who was fighting off sleep and failing miserably. He was feeling exhausted by just staring out the window. Ginny shifted her position and let Harry lie down on her lap, which he did gratefully. He cast a worried look at Ron, who disapproved of the act and threw Ginny a look that she ignored completely.


When Ginny was sure that Harry had fallen asleep, she glanced at the other two, who couldn't help but look worried.


"I haven't seen him look so depressed before," Ron started.


"How can you be so insensitive, Ron?" said Hermione. "We are all grieving."


"I am too!" Ron said defensively. "But this is different. I feel like there's something wrong with Harry."


Hermione gazed at Ron curiously. "I have to admit I kind of think there really is something going on."


They were silent for a moment while they looked at Harry's sleeping form. Even while he was sleeping, he brought his hand to his chest and they could see his pained expression, but then after a while, he looked peaceful.


"That's weird," said Ron, his eyebrows raised. "You think he's having a nightmare?"


No one answered him. Instead, they just continued to stare at Harry.


"He said he was scared," Ginny said suddenly.


Ron and Hermione looked up at her.


"Scared?" Hermione asked, looking puzzled. "Of what?"


"Why?" asked Ron.


Ginny shrugged. "He said he couldn't say until he was absolutely sure. He was shaking when he told me."


"When did he tell you?" Hermione asked quietly.


"Last night."


"No wonder he looked so terrible this morning," said Ron. "His eyes were all red and puffy."


"Is he not feeling well?" Ginny asked him. Even though she had seen Harry at breakfast that morning, she couldn't help but feel that something was really up with him.


Ron shrugged. "I dunno. He lost his balance when he stood up from his bed… said he did it too quickly, which I doubt."


The rest of the train ride was uneventful. They didn't bother waking Harry, thinking he needed a lot of rest, so they busied themselves with some more silent conversations and, all the while, staring out the window to pass the time as they neared the station.


A loud whistle woke Harry with a start as the train slowed down. They had reached London. He was shocked to find that he'd slept through the majority of the ride and his friends hadn't woken him up. He sat up and looked at them as they got ready to leave the compartment.


"How are you feeling?" Ginny asked as she squeezed his hand. Ron and Hermione looked at him.


"Well rested," he said. "I didn't mean to sleep all the way here."


"The moment the train left Hogwarts you were out of it, mate," said Ron.


They stepped off the train and onto the platform. Ron's parents were there and hugged each of them while Hermione bid them goodbye and waved before disappearing into a corner with her parents. Harry, however, walked over to the other side and looked around, as though waiting.


"Come now, Harry!" Mr. Weasley called out to him.


Ron went over to him when he made no move. "Harry, what are you doing? We're leaving. Everyone's waiting for you."


Harry looked confused. "What are you talking about? I'm supposed to wait for my uncle to pick me up."


Ron gave a small laugh. "Okay, Harry, stop with the jokes. Come on, let's go."


"What are you on about?" Harry asked, feeling totally confused now. They all knew that his uncle was picking him up, but they were all acting as though he was going home with them.


"What are you on about?" said Ron, his smile fading slowly.


"I'm spending the summer with the Dursleys, remember?" Harry explained. The rest of the group walked toward him. Ron looked at Harry, perplexed.


"What are you talking about? You live with us now, Harry."


"Li–live with you?" Harry's head was pounding with confusion. "But why? I thought—"


"Harry, dear," Mrs. Weasley said as she walked in front of him and brought her hand to his cheek. "Are you alright?"


"Harry," Mr. Weasley stepped forward, his face gentle as he stared at Harry. "Don't you remember what happened when you turned seventeen last year?"


Harry looked at him blankly. He shook his head.


Everyone looked shocked. Ron's mouth was hanging open. Ginny clearly looked bewildered and Mrs. Weasley brought her hand to her chest.


Mr. Weasley gently placed his hand on Harry's shoulder and said softly, "Harry… you said your goodbyes to the Dursleys at Privet Drive before they left to go into hiding for their own safety. And you agreed to live with us from now on."


Harry slightly backed away from Mr. Weasley. He looked at everyone else as though asking for confirmation, but they just stared back at him with odd expressions. He brought his shaking hand to his head. He tried to remember, but everything was jumbled in his head and it was giving him a massive headache.


"Why – why can't I remember, Mr. Weasley?" Harry's voice was quivering.


"You've been through a lot, dear," Mrs. Weasley answered for him. "I think you're still in shock after the war."


Harry lowered his head. As much as he tried, he couldn't remember anything. It was like someone had obliviated him in his sleep. He could see flashes of memories, but they were all confusing him in some way. There was only one reason for this, of course, and he was starting to get really scared.



To be continued...

A/N: To those who have read this chapter, I hope you enjoyed it. Please do read the rest; it gets better I promise. Thank you for all the wonderful reviews, as well as those who followed and favorited. It was always inspiring and encouraging to continue writing. Once again, thank you for supporting this story!


My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!


Beta-read by janie-ohio, MaraScarlett, RayQueen, KVeronicaP, Living.In.Bibliomania

Chapter 2: Chapter 2
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Harry felt like something inside him was broken, shattered to pieces, and nothing could make him whole again. Everything was all such blur to him that even his arrival at the Burrow with the Weasleys hardly registered. Ron and Ginny kept shooting worried glances without speaking.


"Welcome home, Harry!" Mr. Weasley broke the silence that took Harry momentarily by surprise. He smiled when he noticed everyone looking at him.


Mrs. Weasley cleared her throat, her eyes not leaving Harry's.


"We've all decided that you can take Percy's room as your own now, dear."


Harry gaped at her. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. They couldn't be serious.


"But, why? Percy –"


"–Agreed to this arrangement." Mr. Weasley cut him off. "He moved out already, Harry. He decided to live on his own. He was perfectly happy to give you his room."


"Come," Without giving Harry the chance to respond, Mrs. Weasley ushered him to follow her down a narrow passageway to an uneven staircase upstairs, which wound its way in a zigzag up through the house.


Harry and the others followed her. They made their way to the first floor and stood at the door to Percy's room. Molly pushed it open and let Harry inside.


"Ron gave us some ideas about what you'd prefer to have in your room," said Mrs Weasley. She nervously smiled behind Harry, who looked around the room with his mouth open in shock.


"If the Gryffindor colours are bothering you too much, let me know mate. We can always change them." Ron hurriedly assured him.


"It's perfect!" exclaimed Harry, his eyes wide in amazement. He was completely overwhelmed. He could feel his throat clench up in gratitude as he tried to hide his tears. He hadn't expected this. He had his own room now, his own bed, a desk with random books and some drawers. Glancing at the walls, Harry realized that Ron had covered nearly every inch of it with Quidditch posters.


"I'm not so sure what team you support... so I randomly selected a few of them." Ron quickly explained, but Harry was grinning widely.

"Thanks, Ron."


Living permanently with the Weasleys was a dream come true for Harry. They had been such a family to him and he still couldn't believe it. He turned around and hugged them all. He almost lost control of his emotions as he tried to convey his gratitude.


"Welcome to our family, Harry!" Mr. Weasley piped up, trying hard to control his own emotions. "We have always thought of you as our own son and having you now under the same roof was a responsibility we would always be willing to take on in a heartbeat. You are a very good boy and you deserved to be someplace where you are loved for a change."


"Climbing four more flight of stairs aren't such a bother for you when you want to visit my room, right? You still have your stuff in there, by the way." Ron reminded Harry. "Or I can switch with Ginny. Her room is right next to yours."


Ginny glared at her brother. "Not in a million years will I switch with you!"


"Come on now, Ginny," Ron pleaded. "Harry needs his best friend."


"I don't hear Harry complaining!" she retorted. She smiled at Harry, who returned her smile with a blush and went to her room, giving Ron one last glare.

That evening, Ron helped Harry move all his belongings to his new room. Harry could hear him cursing Ginny for all the effort he had to put in climbing up and down the stairs – all because she didn't want to switch rooms. They managed to transfer all of Harry's things before they heard Mrs. Weasley calling him with the others for dinner. Harry felt a little weird, having heard it for the first time since his official arrival as part of the Weasley's household. He felt like he really belonged in this family and he was very grateful for it. He left the books he had borrowed from the library - which he badly wrapped with paper before leaving Hogwarts - under his bed and went downstairs with the others, reminding himself to read them later before going to sleep.


The dinner held in the kitchen was the most fulfilling experience in Harry's opinion. Mrs. Weasley proved, yet again, how undeniably skilled she was at cooking different kinds of food. Harry thought her cooking would surely intimidate his Aunt Petunia, and surprisingly, just a mere thought of his relative made his mood drop a few notches. He knew very well how horribly he was treated by the Dursleys and yet, here he was, undeniably missing his mother's last relative. He wondered, for a moment, where they were now before he found himself being pushed down in a chair and force-fed by Mrs. Weasley.


Ron and Ginny sat on either side of Harry, while Mr. and Mrs. Weasley sat across from them. Harry noticed the table felt quite empty. George was nowhere to be found. Harry assumed he was busy running Weasley's Wizard Wheezes all by himself now that his twin, Fred, had passed on. Bill and Charlie had their own lives to live, as well. This gave Harry another jolt of sadness. He grieved at Fred's passing and even more at his funeral. He knew from then on how difficult it would be not to see him with George. Both of them, as Harry had recalled, got in a lot of trouble. One particular memory that had stuck in Harry's mind was Fred and George bewitching several snowballs to follow Professor Quirrell around and hit him in the back of the head. The thought that the twins were, of course, unaware that they were throwing snowballs in Voldemort's face, made Harry mentally chuckle at the table.


The family sat in silence, savouring each dish. Harry knew he wasn't very hungry, but couldn't help but change his mind when he saw the plate Mrs. Weasley handed to him. The look she gave him would make anyone think twice about arguing with her. He murmured his thanks and started dutifully eating.


It was awkward having Ginny beside him while the rest of her family was there. He wanted to reach out and touch her hand under the table, but he stopped himself. He decided to just shoot a quick glance her way, which Ginny returned with a smile.


"So… Harry," Arthur Weasley started, as he chopped his steak. "I hope you find yourself comfortable in your new room. Any plans for tonight?"


Harry hadn't planned anything for tonight apart from reading the books about souls, but he didn't want them knowing that. He had to make up or think of an excuse.


"I thought I could just go to sleep early, Mr. Weasley."


"What?" Ron asked him incredulously. "You slept most of the day on the train. You can't possibly be tired again. What are you, an old man?"


"Well, what do you suggest I do, then?"


"What a seventeen-year-old would usually do, perhaps," Ron said sarcastically.


Harry raised his eyebrows, totally at a loss for what Ron was trying to imply. "What is it?"


"Not sleep early, you idiot."


"Boys..." Ginny rolled her eyes, while Mr and Mrs Weasley sighed deeply.


"Did Hermione tell you about job applications?" Ron inquired Harry suddenly between gulps of his drink.


"She may have mentioned it," Harry answered wearily. He had too much on his mind to begin looking for work just yet and the new information he received from Professor Slughorn made him reluctant now to even think of applying for a job.


"She's been pestering me to start applying," snarled Ron with an irritated look on his face. "Blimey, we just had a war. We need a break, don't you think?"


"Yeah," said Harry who was not at all interested in the topic at the moment. "But knowing Hermione, I'd say start applying then if I were you."


"What are you gonna go for?" Ron curiously asked.


The career advice that they had received in their fifth year at Hogwarts with Professor McGonagall was very helpful, despite the constant contradictions and interruptions from Dolores Umbridge on one of her daily inspections at the time. Umbridge had insinuated that Harry's performance in school was not sufficient enough to qualify as an Auror. She even insisted that regardless of how much effort and training Harry was willing to take, and whether his criminal record was erased, was still dire proof that he wouldn't be employed. Harry hadn't completely lost hope but his dream of becoming an Auror now was dim due to the illness that he was going through at the moment, even if his chance of becoming one had been very high as he had just saved the Wizarding World and the Ministry was being reconstructed. He was starting to get annoyed at himself and unintentionally at Ron, who kept nagging at him.


"What are you asking me for?" Harry asked in an irritated voice.


"I thought you said you'd want to be an Auror."


"I do. And?"


"Well, I thought I'd give it a go, too, you know," responded Ron as he chewed his remaining food.


"Then do it!" Harry said forcefully. "Don't wait for me."


Ron was perplexed "Why not?"


Harry didn't respond. He was perfectly aware that he might not make it until then and it was making his heart throb painfully. He didn't want Ron to hold back just because of him. "Why not, Harry?" Ron asked again, completely oblivious to the obvious signs Harry was sending that he didn't want to continue the subject. The rest of the Weasley family stared at Ron dumbfoundedly, not understanding how he wasn't seeing Harry's increasing temper.


"Just let it go, will you?" Harry snapped back, and with that, he scooped his plate, brought it over to the sink, said his thanks to Mr and Mrs Weasley, and stalked off to his room.


Ron looked stunned and puzzled at the same time.


Storming up the stairs, Harry overheard Ron ask his parents who had silently watched the scene unfold in front of them. "What was that about? Did I say something wrong?"


"No, you were just being a prat." Ginny chided to Ron. "Couldn't you give him a break?"


"But I was just asking –"


"Clearly he didn't want to talk about it, Ron," his mother cut him off. "Just let it go and don't go bothering him tonight," she added firmly. "Let him rest."


But Harry knew that Ron wasn't going to let him rest. He would want to find out why he got upset so suddenly. And sure enough, when everyone had finished their meal, Ron bounded upstairs and knocked on Harry's bedroom door.


"Harry, are you still awake?"


Harry opened the door but didn't say anything to Ron. Instead, he walked back to his bed and busied himself with one of his books.


"What's that you're reading?" Ron asked with interest, following Harry inside the room and sitting comfortably on a chair beside the desk.


"Nothing," was Harry's reply.


"Must be nice to read nothing, huh?" Ron said in a mocking voice.


Harry put down his book and looked at Ron. "What do you want?"


"What's with the attitude, Harry? You ran off like you're upset or something."


"I'm fine," Harry said automatically, doing his best to sound casual. "Don't worry."


"Don't give me that crap!" exclaimed Ron in an exasperated tone. "You always say you're fine when you're obviously not."


"Then stop with the stupid questions!" Harry said hotly.


Ron looked at him incredulously. "What's wrong with you? You were fine earlier and now you're acting like a total arse."


Harry gave a deep sigh. "Nothing's wrong with me. I'm sorry, but I just want to be alone right now."


"There you go again, always thinking it's best to just shut everyone out."


"What's wrong with asking to be alone?" Harry asked defensively. "The last time I checked you did the same thing when you wanted some privacy."


"Fine! Have it your way!" Ron spat at him before standing up and storming out of the room, slamming the door shut behind him.


Harry buried his face in his pillows, trying to calm himself down. Ron could be very annoying at times and right now was not the time to piss him off. He was dealing with too much worry and pressure. He understood his friend's concern, but he just couldn't see how badly he wanted to be left alone.


A knock came at the door and Harry sighed heavily.


"What now?!" he yelled from across the room, finally losing his temper.


"Harry…" Ginny called out to him softly.


Harry immediately sat up and dashed to open the door.


"I'm sorry, Ginny," he said apologetically. "I didn't mean to shout like that. I thought you were Ron." Harry couldn't bring himself to look at her.


She brought her hand to his cheek, wanting him to look into her eyes. "I know… we heard Ron's yell all the way in the kitchen."


Harry looked embarrassed.


"I'm worried about you, Harry," she said. "I wish you could tell me what's wrong."


"I can't," he whispered and looked away.


"Why? Why is it so hard for you to open up?"


"Because…" he hesitated for a moment, his eyes full of worry. "Because I don't want to hurt you. Any of you. You're already going through too much and I don't want to add more to your concern."


"What is it that will hurt me? You told me you would tell me once you found out." Ginny reminded him of the talk they had last night and the way Harry had looked when he came down to have breakfast in the Great Hall. According to Ron, his "eyes were red and puffy" which was proof enough that he already knew something. "You did find out for sure, didn't you?" she said with an intense look as if daring him to lie.


Harry let the silence drag on for a long time but, knowing Ginny, she wouldn't let this subject drop now without knowing the truth. He glanced at her and nodded, confirming her suspicions. His heart was beating fast.


"What is it, Harry?" asked Ginny. She traced the worried lines on his handsome face with her finger, trying to ease whatever he was feeling inside.


"I'm sorry," he said sadly, turning away from her. "I can't tell you. I'm – I'm not ready. I don't expect you to understand, hell, I hardly understand, but now is not the time."


Ginny looked a bit disappointed, but she brought her hand to his and gently squeezed it. "Whenever you're ready, then..." she said. With that, she turned around and walked slowly to her room, leaving Harry in peace.


Harry stood transfixed in the doorway, reciting his mantra that no matter how hard things got for him, he was going to make it, even if he felt like his life was already falling apart. He had endured so much pain and suffering. He had known hardship and loss, but he wanted to move forward and grow stronger. He never wanted to forget the harsh lessons life had taught him or the people who truly cared for him, the people who died for him. His will to live had always been so much stronger than his fear of death.


He thought that he had been given a chance in life. Yes, he had survived the war, but it was over. Try as he might, it would always come to an end. With a deep sigh, Harry once again understood that he was not supposed to survive no matter the circumstances. It was his very own harsh reality.

Harry woke early the next day to make breakfast. He was part of the Weasley family now and this was the least that he could do for them. His attitude last night had been unacceptable and he wanted to make up for it. He hoped that it was enough for now.


He was greeted by the sight of multi-coloured and mismatched chairs surrounding a large wooden table when he entered the kitchen. There were several magical cookbooks neatly stacked on top of the mantelpiece, but Harry didn't need them; cooking breakfast had been one of his chores at the Dursleys. Instead, he eagerly gathered his ingredients, placed a pan on the stove and started with cooking some eggs, hoping that Mrs Weasley wouldn't mind him using the kitchen.


By the time Mrs. Weasley walked in, Harry had already set the table with plates and goblets, all laden with assorted food and drink for breakfast.


Molly Weasley stopped in her tracks and looked around with wide eyes until she spotted Harry scrubbing the sink.


"Oh, Harry!"


Harry turned and greeted her. "Good morning, Mrs. Weasley."


She was speechless. No one had ever done something like this before.


"Did you do all this?" she asked, looking incredulously at the table.


Harry nodded nervously. "I didn't mean to use your kitchen, I just thought I'd –" but he didn't get the chance to finish his sentence before he felt two arms wrap around him.


"So nice of you, dear," she told him in between hugs. "Thank you!"


At that moment, Mr. Weasley entered the kitchen, wearing long green robes. He stopped and blinked when he saw Molly and Harry.

"Look what Harry did, Arthur." Molly excitedly showed him the breakfast on the table.


"I must say I'm impressed, Harry! Not many young lads would care to wake up early and do what you did," remarked Mr. Weasley as he sat in a kitchen chair. Harry beamed at him.


"I guess that time I lived with the Dursleys, I kind of got used to it, Mr. Weasley."


"You have a talent, and that I'm sure." Mrs. Weasley expressed in her sweet, motherly voice. "Now, why don't you sit down while I call Ron and Ginny."


A few minutes later, Ron came trudging down the stairs while yawning widely. He immediately saw Harry helping himself to some pancakes. He lowered his head, avoiding eye contact as he made his way to sit beside him. He stared at all the food in front of him.


"What's the occasion? Are we celebrating something?" Ron asked his mother.


"No, dear. Harry made all these this morning."


Ron raised his eyebrows at Harry but averted his eyes before Harry could look at him. He made no comment, just silently settled himself with some bacon, eggs and muffin and started eating. Harry was certain that Ron still hadn't forgotten their argument last night.


"Oh, George will come by for dinner in two days' time," Mrs Weasley informed them.


"Is he staying for a while?" Arthur asked her.


"I would want him to…" she said hopefully. "But, you know George, he's been really busy lately managing the shop. He hasn't got time for anything else now."


Arthur squeezed her shoulders and gently saying "Without the shop to get his mind off things, he'd probably lose himself thinking about his twin brother all the time. I remember when he was at his worst. He'd been deeply depressed for several days and no words could bring him comfort. He had only managed to move on a bit when he started to visit the shop again. Thinking of making Fred proud of him as he managed the shop alone helped him to move forward despite the circumstances."


Molly nodded, understanding George's feelings at the moment. She and the rest of her family ate breakfast quietly.

Arthur had already left for work and Molly was outside feeding the chickens when Ginny came downstairs and into the kitchen. Harry thought she looked beautiful in the morning with her hair up and still in her pyjamas, but today he noticed that she looked downcast. She saw him looking when she sat down across from him and quickly gave him a smile, but then the dejected expression returned. Was it because of last night? Harry wondered.


Suddenly forgetting their argument, Harry asked Ron, "Could I borrow Pigwidgeon today?"


Ron frowned at him. "Why?" he demanded while pretending to look busy eating his breakfast.


"I just need to send a letter," said Harry quietly.


"Yeah, obviously," Ron muttered sarcastically. He cleared his throat and asked, "To who?"


Harry sighed. What's with all the questions?  he said to himself.


"To someone," he said simply.


Ron cast him a dark look and rolled his eyes. "Right." He turned his attention back to his food.


"So… Is that a 'yes'?" Harry asked, unsure of what Ron meant.




"Why not?"


"Because I said 'no'." Ron shot back with a glare at Harry.


Ginny gave him a nasty look, which Ron ignored completely.


Harry sighed in frustration. He had learned in the past not to annoy Ron because he would be sure not to help out and would only make things worse. On top of that, Ron undoubtedly knew how to hold a grudge, unless he made the first move. However, Harry wasn't going to do that. Ron needed to grow up. He was sick and tired of him acting this way.


"Look, Ron –"


"No, Harry! You look here," Ron cut him off angrily, his ears turning red. "I bloody know what you're trying to do. I'm not stupid!"


"What I do is none of your business!" said Harry, his temper rising.


"It sure is!"


"Give him a break, Ron!" Ginny snapped, looking daggers at him.


"No. He needs to know what hiding something does to a person. I assure you, Ginny, it's not good!"


"I'm sure Harry must have a reason why he couldn't tell you," she tried to argue desperately, but deep down, she agreed with her brother.


Ron snorted. "Oh yeah, like he doesn't trust me, or you, or any of us!" he said angrily, his words piercing Harry like scalding knives.


Harry sat perfectly still. His head was lowered and he stared at his almost-empty plate. He felt a hard knot in the pit of his stomach as sadness filled him. I trust them, he told himself. I trust them so much that I don't want to hurt them.


Ron couldn't take Harry's silence anymore. He slammed his fist on the table with frustration, stood up and walked out of the kitchen.

The tension between Harry and Ron didn't subside over the next two days. Ron was being totally stubborn while Harry remained shut in his room each day after his morning routine of cooking them breakfast. He was considering getting a new owl now, but just the thought made him feel terrible. He missed Hedwig a lot. She was the only one who was always there for him; he felt like they had a bond and buying a new owl was pointless when he knew he himself wouldn't be alive for long.


Oddly enough, he hadn't had any chest pains recently. He felt completely healthy. Usually, his insides would burn twice a day for a few minutes. Maybe what he had felt before wasn't necessarily about his tainted soul. Maybe it was just a fluke or misguided information and he was just getting worked up over nothing. However, the books he'd borrowed from the library weren't exactly helping his paranoia. There were no mentions of healing charm or potions for the soul; most of them simply described the importance of having one, some philosophical views and their meanings. He badly needed to talk to Professor Slughorn again, but he had no other choice but to wait for Ron to calm down.


Ginny was also quiet most of the time as she helped her mother with the chores. She couldn't help but wonder how long she had to wait for Harry to speak up. She didn't want to start nagging him if it would only result in an argument. She wanted to avoid that if she could. But as days passed, she was starting to feel that maybe Ron was right. Maybe Harry really was having a hard time trusting them completely. She didn't want to give in to that idea, of course, but it was beginning to work its way into her mind.


Much to Molly's delight, the day of George Weasley's visit came much sooner than expected.


"Oh George, dear," Molly embraced her son tightly, giving him the once-over. "How's my handsome boy?" His freckles didn't totally hide his solemn expression when he showed up at the kitchen's fireplace that afternoon, but he plastered a huge grin on his face to cover it up.


"I'm as well as ever, mum."


Molly smiled. "Your dad will be home in a minute. Anything you'd like for dinner, dear?"


George shook his head. "No, any food will do."


She squeezed his shoulder and went to prepare for dinner.


George spotted Harry sitting watching them from the kitchen sipping his tea. Ginny was helping her mother, while Ron was nowhere to be found.


"George," Harry set his cup on the table, going over to him and giving him a brotherly hug. "How are you?


"Doing alright. You?" George asked as Harry settled himself back into his chair.


"Okay, I guess," he replied. "How are things at the shop?"


"Still booming," George told him. "Not that I'm complaining, of course."


Harry could see a flicker of sadness hiding behind his eyes.


"Are you settling in nicely in Percy's room, Harry?" George eyed him curiously.


"Yeah, everything's great."


George nodded his satisfaction and smiled at him.


"I remember when Fred and I turned Percy's bedroom walls pink because he wouldn't stop blushing when he had his first girlfriend."

Harry chuckled.


"It annoyed him so much that he never spoke about his relationship to anyone ever again. Fred and I were devastated, of course. We ended up changing the colour to an even brighter pink to match his rage."


Harry laughed.


"Those are the things that make life more enjoyable, you know. It was annoying for Percy, but who cares, really. It was fun for us." George proudly stated, casting a grin at Harry.


Now that George had mentioned Percy, Harry wondered how he was doing. The last time he had seen him was at the battle of Hogwarts, and that was over two weeks ago. "Have you talked to Percy lately?"


"Oh yes, I was the one who suggested he should give you his room or I would turn it back to pink," George said matter-of-factly.


"And he just agreed?"


"I was expecting him to put up a fight so that I could jinx his room again, but no… he agreed like a good little dog. He said it was about time to move out anyway and start his so-called new life. He decided to come back and work in the Ministry when Cornelius Fudge stepped down as the Minister..."


That's true in its essence, thought Harry. Percy had finally realized just how corrupt the Ministry was and accepted that he had been wrong the whole time in believing that Voldemort wasn't back. He had reconciled with his family and fought alongside his brother, Fred, who sadly passed on when the battle took place at Hogwarts. Percy was totally grief-stricken after that.


"Kingsley Shacklebolt replaced Fudge as the acting Minister for Magic," said George knowingly. "Mind you, I was glad the wizarding world acted upon a decision to vote for someone worthy to be the next Minister."


At that moment, Mr. Weasley arrived home, smiling widely when he saw George.


"Son!" he greeted. "So good to see you!"


George walked over to him and gave him a warm hug.


"Me too, Dad."


Ron quickly bounded down the stairs when he heard George's voice in the kitchen.


"George!" he delightedly exclaimed, rushing forward to hug his older brother. "We weren't expecting you until dinnertime."


"What can I say, I missed my Ickle Ronnie-kins, that's why." George patted Ron's head and messed up his hair. "You're as tall as me now." He shook his head fondly.


They sat on kitchen chairs and chatted until Molly announced that dinner was ready. It was a hearty meal and everyone enjoyed their time at the table, except Ron, who kept shooting angry scowls at Harry. Harry was also silent for the majority of the time. George found this odd, but Ginny gave him a knowing look.


When everybody had finished their food, Molly looked hopefully at George. "Are you staying longer, dear?"


"Yeah, only for tonight and then I have to leave early tomorrow."


"Oh good," she smiled sweetly. "I've washed and put new sheets on your bed."


"Thanks, mum."


The night dragged by and Harry found himself staring out of his window blankly. He heard a knock and quickly opened the door.


"Is Ron with you? I've brought butterbeer." George lifted the bottles in his hands to show Harry. "Thought maybe you guys could join me in my secret sanctuary."


"Sure, I could join you," said Harry, and lowering his voice he added, "But I don't think Ron would want to be near me."


"Why not?" Seeing the glum look on Harry's face, George quirked his eyebrows. "Did you guys have a lovers' quarrel?"


Harry didn't respond, which was the only answer George needed.


"Well, whatever it is, it can't be that bad," said George consolingly. "A nice, long, heart-to-heart talk should do it, don't you think?"


"That's the thing… I was kind of the one trying to prevent that from happening," Harry said truthfully.


"And why's that?" George waited, but Harry remained silent with an emotionless look.


"Come on, then." He nudged Harry. "Let's have a little chat, shall we?"



To be continued...

A/N: My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!

Beta-read by janie-ohio, MaraScarlett, KVeronicaP

Chapter 3: Chapter 3
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Harry followed George upstairs until they reached his bedroom. George opened the door and went straight to the window, through which he climbed up, and gestured for Harry to follow him before he disappeared around a corner.


They sat on the roof just above the window. Harry could see the vast field from up there. It was quiet and very peaceful. He let the summer air brush his face and calm him slightly.


"Welcome to my sanctuary," George piped up as he handed Harry a bottle of butterbeer. "Fred and I spent most of our time here thinking of ideas for the shop or just escaping from mum when we fooled around - even if it would probably end with no supper, a Howler, and a healthy dose of motherly guilt thrown in."


Harry grinned. No wonder he couldn't find them the last time he had been at the Burrow. Mrs. Weasley had been fuming and looking for the twins, who apparently had just disappeared out of nowhere. Of course they had all given up and just waited for the twins to show up themselves. And by the time they did, Mrs. Weasley had forgotten all about it.


"It's great being out here where it's quiet and peaceful... Thanks for sharing this spot with me," Harry said, surprised that he couldn't even hear the gnomes hiding underneath the rose bushes.


"It's great having someone to share it with again, so thank you," George mirrored with a small, nostalgic smile. "So how are things, Harry? Are you up to anything lately?" he went on excitedly, gazing at the sky above them.


"I haven't really planned anything at the moment. I kind of just wanted to... rest for a while."


"You must be feeling the pressure, huh? Being the saviour of the wizarding world, the expectations must be coming around like crazy. Tell me, are you going to be the youngest Minister pretty soon? That's what I've been hearing lately. One idiot even said that you're going to take Stan Shunpike as your second-in-command if he didn't make it as Minister. I bet you anything it was him talking when I passed by the Leaky Cauldron."


"Yeah, no doubt it was him," said Harry. He recalled Stan after the Quidditch World Cup making the same outrageous and false comment in an effort to make an impression. "It wouldn't be the first time that I've heard of him bragging about being the next Minister. Was he trying to impress another group of veela again?"


"I don't know... he must've been," said George thoughtfully. "But he's not a man of high intelligence, is he? Still making those claims after landing himself in a lot of trouble at the Ministry."


"It was not his fault," defended Harry. "He didn't really know what he was doing at the time."


"Yeah... but he's still a stupid bloke. So, you're not planning to be a Minister, then?" George asked, genuinely grinning unlike before.


Harry stared incredulously at him. "Are you serious? Who said I would want more fame on my plate? I can hardly go out without being gawked at as if I were in a zoo."


George gave a sigh of relief. "Oh, good! I placed a bet with Angelina that you would decline if offered and instead join as Seeker on a Quidditch team. Sounds promising, huh?" A smile flashed across his face.


Harry raised his eyebrows. "Why would I want to be on a Quidditch team?"


"Who doesn't? It's Quidditch!" exclaimed George, looking at Harry in disbelief. He took a sip of his drink and said casually, "I know Ginny plans to eventually join the Holyhead Harpies. Did she tell you?"


Harry shook his head. "Not that I'm aware of."


"Well, don't let me spoil the fun. It's really great and all... and I'm proud of my sister. So proud!"


"'You start thinking anything's possible if you've got enough nerve.'" Harry spoke the words thoughtfully. "That's how Ginny described growing up with you and Fred. That's how much you've influenced her... and I couldn't agree more."


George beamed at him and said, "Hmm... I admit that Fred and I were snarky, sarcastic, and relentlessly rude – but underneath our well-intentioned tormenting, we cared very deeply for our siblings more than we let on. Glad to know that our efforts were paving its way to our sister and -" George cast a patronizing look over Harry before continuing. "I can clearly see your attempts to woo the heart of our Ginny."


Harry looked as though he had recently been hit on the back of the head with a Bludger. He tried to suppress the urge to turn pink in the face. It had taken him years of frustration of wrestling with his feelings and worrying about what Ron might have thought if he acted on those affections. He realized too late that he had to deal with George as well.


Like Ron, George gave a tiny jerk of the head that Harry understood to mean, Well - if you must.


"Just don't break her heart," George advised. "Her Bat-Bogey Hex is a legend... you know that, right?"


"I'm aware of it," muttered Harry, trying to sound nonchalant, although he was afraid that Ginny might hex him one day once his secret of having a tainted soul was out.


"She doesn't say much to us," admitted George. "She's very private when it comes to her love life... probably thinks Fred and I would play a prank on her. I don't know where she got the idea that we cannot be trusted, but I personally don't blame her. It's you who should be careful now," he threatened Harry in a friendly tone. Harry took it as a cue to watch himself from then on and stay away from possible tricks from George that were reserved only for him.


"You're absolutely right, I should," concurred Harry. "I don't want to be throttled upon by a red-headed wizard."


George smirked, patting him on the back. He then said, "That's my boy," before taking another gulp of his drink.


"So how are you and Angelina?" Harry asked, making George cough suddenly.


"Now, now... don't get started with me about my love life, young man."


They both laughed heartily.


George cleared his throat. "Actually, I want to marry her, and -" Harry opened his mouth to say something, but George held up his hand. "Believe it or not, Harry, it's not a joke."


"Well, I'm happy for you."


George gave a nod of appreciation. "It would be the best decision of my life, considering. I like it when she laughs at my stupid jokes." Drawing a deep breath, he continued, "She's my source of comfort now. Angelina kept me sane most of the time and even more so now after - you know..." He trailed off, unable to carry on, but Harry understood completely.


There was a slight silence between the two. Their eyes looked beyond the vast night sky in front of them.


"I wanted to get out what is on my mind, but -" Harry hesitated.


"- But you don't want to worry your friends?" George had somehow read his mind quickly.


Harry gave a curt nod.


"Quite understandable," George sympathized. "There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries. I used to think that way myself until Fred made me realize that I can trust the others as well, as long as I'm honest. Since then, I've noticed that people do confide in me easily. I used to think these were just coincidences - being in the right place at the right time."


"Were they?" asked Harry.


"No. I came to the conclusion that I am gifted with good looks and perfect personality traits that leave others no choice but to talk to me. Seriously, Harry, if I'd known from the start, I wouldn't have gone through so much drama in the first place."


Harry sniggered and laughed. It was a good thing he wasn't drinking his butterbeer at the time, or else he would be choking. "I find that hard to believe -" Harry muttered under his breath, but George shot him a fierce look, making him change his sentence halfway through. "I meant the drama part."


George seemed satisfied with Harry's choice of words and went on, "I know... I find it hard to believe as well that Fred and I were born for greatness." There was a slight seriousness in his demeanour before he spoke again. "Let me tell you a little secret." He paused, his eyes glinting under the moonlight. "I never talked about my problems to anybody except Fred. I confided with him so much, thinking that there was nobody else I could trust, not even my parents." He lowered his head and stared at the froth left in his almost empty butterbeer.


"Fred and I have done a lot in life together," George continued. "We knew that most of them were silly and stupid, and we proudly represented trouble at all costs, but that made it even more worth it because I had him, you see. He had my back when I needed him, and I had his in return. We helped each other and worked things out because I wouldn't be able to do half of the things I do now without him. You know what I'm trying to say, right?" He looked over at Harry, who hadn't taken a sip of his drink and was just holding it in between his hands, staring at George intently and contemplating his words.


"I know," Harry whispered.


"Ron may be the last person you'd likely confide yourself in because he's the biggest prat ever to walk this earth," George declared, making Harry chuckle. "But I know him, Harry… not because he's my brother, but I know for a fact that he would give all of his best to that one person he calls best friend."


"I've heard a lot of your adventures together," George said, looking at Harry, overly quiet beside him. He continued, "He stuck by you, you learned and fought together… solved mysteries. You guys have been through a lot; you trusted each other. Wouldn't you agree that he has already proven himself to be worthy of your trust?" he asked.


Harry felt guilty. He hadn't given Ron credit for it recently. He was always busy thinking of Ron and Hermione's own well-being without even realizing anything else. He valued their friendship to the point that he thought their camaraderie was enough to just go on in life and not give them any more to think about. He was absolutely wrong.


"To lose both an ear and a twin all in the same short space of time is more than most could tolerate. Heck, I couldn't even produce a Patronus, now that I think about it. Anyway, I'm only saying this because... I don't want you to regret it when the time comes that you lose someone important to you –" George paused, a slight break in his voice. He was unable to hold back the tears that were slowly falling from his eyes.


"I'm sorry," Harry said suddenly when silence fell between them. George lifted his head up with a sad smile.


"I think the hardest part of losing someone isn't having to say goodbye," he said in a low voice, only barely loud enough for Harry to hear. "But rather learning to live without them and always trying to fill that void… that emptiness that's left inside your heart when they go. I don't think I can ever truly get over a loss, you know… but I chose to move forward because I know that's what Fred would want me to do, I should at least honour his memory and not sit around and brood."


Harry nodded his understanding. If his surroundings could have reflected the feelings inside him, they would have been screaming in the pain and sorrow of losing the people close to him. It was unbearable. He tried not to think, but it was so terrible that he could not let it go.


"It's hard," Harry said very quietly. "I know in time it will be the small everyday occurrences that I'll remember most: the laughs, the stories, the smiles..." He trailed off.


"Although it might seem like the pain will never go away, it is these very memories that will help push the sorrow away and bring back happier feelings in time," George assured him. "There are always people who are willing to help to alleviate some of the pain, Harry. You don't always have to face it alone. I am open whenever you need me, even if it's just for a change of scenery and a bottle of Firewhisky next time. You are always welcome."


Harry gave a small smile and murmured his thanks.


The silence and the stillness dragged, broken only by the soft wind moving around them.


"Don't worry," George said after a while and patted Harry's shoulder. "I will personally smack Ron's head for you, so drink up, mate!"


He raised his bottle toward the dark sky as Harry did the same and said with great pleasure, "Cheers!"

Ron and Ginny, on the other hand, were having a not-so-friendly chat in the living room. Their parents had already gone upstairs, leaving them both free to row like cats and dogs.


"I told you, Ginny, to keep yourself out of this!" Ron said hotly.


"And you expect me to just ignore it when it's about Harry?" Ginny asked incredulously. "Well, that's not gonna happen, so better luck next time, Ron! And you're being such a jerk to him, so quit doing it!"


Ron looked extremely exasperated.


"What do you want me to do, then? He is so hard to talk to; not to mention he won't say a single damn thing about whatever he's hiding and acts like it's okay for everybody else and that we're just going to sit and watch him."


"What you need to do is to control that temper of yours!" she countered. "That's one of the reasons why Harry won't talk to you."


"That's a bit cheap coming from you! And he's being such an arse!" Ron reasoned out in anger. "Mouth always shut when obviously there's something wrong!"


Ginny sighed heavily.


"Harry was brought up like that, Ron. Can't you see? He was forced to believe that no one can help him, so he keeps everything to himself. He was taught that no one cares about his problems. Even if you rub it in as much as you can that people do care about him, there's always that small voice in his brain telling him that people might not actually care," she tried to explain to Ron. "And here you are just jumping down his throat, and not even once did you pause for a minute and understand why he's like that."


"I only wanted to help," he said, calming down a little. "Is that so much to ask?"


"I know you did. Harry's got a lot on his mind, I can tell, but you have to understand that it'll be really hard to get him to talk if he already set his mind not to say anything." Ginny pointed her finger at Ron and added quickly, "Just warning you now, I don't want you to feel disappointed and start yelling at him if he tells you nothing."


"Wouldn't be the first time he'd done it," he stated as though saying nothing was Harry's expertise. "Hermione and I always had to push him to talk, and he's still not used to it. It's not that hard."


"For you, it's not, but for him it is!" Ginny pointed out.


"Still, he should trust us more, don't you think?"


She stared at the floor. "It's not really about trust anymore," she said calmly but with a hint of sadness. "Sometimes, I feel like he doesn't want us to worry about him, like he's already moved on… you know what I mean?"


"He's being selfish then, and he's pretty good at that!" Ron snarled.


"No, there's something else," she said softly. "I just don't know what it is."


"Well, screw it!" Ron stood up abruptly and made his way upstairs. "I'll confront him tomorrow and hope for the stars that he knows how to use his mouth – and that is to talk."


"Could you please stop right now and listen!" Ginny yelled, glaring at her brother's retreating back.


But Ron continued to walk upstairs until he disappeared into his bedroom.

Ron didn't sleep well that night. He just tossed and turned in his bed, still fuming. He had only just managed to fall asleep when the sun was already up and light passed through his windows, making him curse when it hit his eyes. He swung his legs around, groggily stood up, and made his way downstairs. But before he could even take one more flight of stairs going to the kitchen, he heard someone retching and crying out in agony in the bathroom right next to Harry's room.


Ron made his way to the bathroom door quickly and knocked.


"I'll be right there. Just give me a sec." It was Harry's voice and he sounded weak.


"Harry, are you okay?" Ron heard the toilet flushing and water running in the sink. "Harry?" He made a grab at the doorknob when Harry pulled it open.


"Ron," Harry said weakly. "Do you need anything?"


Ron looked at the state of him. Harry's eyes were red again, and he was breathing heavily.


"Harry, are you sick?"


Harry slowly made his way to his room, ignoring Ron's worried look.


"I just need to lie down, Ron. I'll be fine." He made a move to close the door behind him, but Ron held it open.


"I'll ask Mum for help."


"No!" Harry made to grab Ron, but he was already running upstairs to his parents' bedroom.


Harry felt himself going red in the face. It was bad enough without everyone making all this fuss.


A few minutes later, Ron came down and entered Harry's room with Mrs. Weasley behind him, a few potion bottles in her hands. They saw Harry huddled in a corner in his bed, his head in his hand. He looked up when he heard them enter.


"Harry, dear." Mrs. Weasley went over to check him. "Ron told me you're ill."


"Mrs. Weasley, I'm okay," Harry reassured her while trying to move away. "Please don't worry."


Ron crossed his arms. "I heard you retching and moaning in pain in the bathroom, Harry. Don't tell me that's nothing."


Harry glared at him.


"Lie down, Harry," Mrs. Weasley ordered gently, bending down to stare closely at him. She pushed back Harry's hair and felt his forehead. "You have a slight fever, and you do look pale. Drink this." She handed him a purple potion. Harry took it and gulped down the contents.


"Try to rest," she said comfortingly. "I'll come by again to check on you." She stood up and left.


Ron closed the door behind him and stood awkwardly in front of Harry. They looked at each other silently. Ron didn't know what to say, but Harry knew perfectly well why Ron remained in his room.


"Harry," Ron started while looking at his feet.


"Are you here to ask what's wrong with me?" Harry asked with a sigh. "Because I have no intention of saying anything –" he hesitated as he remembered the talk he had with George last night about confiding with Ron. He took a deep breath and muttered, "For now."


Harry saw a flicker of hope and relief spread in Ron's face when he looked up and met his eyes.


Clearing his throat, Ron said, "That's fine." And unable to control himself, he cracked a small smile.


Surprisingly, Harry smiled back. He missed his best friend and he wanted everything to go back to the way it was before and make the most of the time he had left with him.


He coughed a little and said softly, "I don't want to sound rude, Ron, but I'd like to rest."


"Oh, um… sure," said Ron and hurried out the door.

Ginny came down for breakfast that morning expecting Harry to be up like always, but he was nowhere in sight. Mrs. Weasley was cooking breakfast, and Ginny was greeted in the kitchen by Ron, who looked like Christmas had come early.


"What's up with you?" she asked him.


Ron made a huge grin. "Oh, you know… Harry."


Eyes wide, predicting the worst, Ginny asked, "What did you do to him?"


Ron frowned at the sudden accusation. "I didn't do anything. We just talked."


"What did you tell him, Ron?" she asked sharply.


"Jeez… relax, Ginny. We're all good now."


"What do you mean? Where is he, anyway?" Ginny asked while looking around at the kitchen. "Is he still sleeping?"


"He was awake earlier, but he's probably sleeping again. He's sick." Ron informed her.


"Sick? Why would he get sick? He was fine yesterday."


"That's what I thought too," said Ron. "I heard him throwing up and in pain in the bathroom this morning."


Ginny frowned slightly. "Did he say anything else?"


Ron shook his head. "Mum gave him a potion. She'll come back to check on him."


"I'll check on him now." Ginny made to move, but Mrs. Weasley stopped her.


"Not now, dear. Let him rest. I'm making soup, and you can take it up later."


Ginny sighed, but she nodded sadly and helped her mother cook breakfast instead.


"Mum, where's George?" Ron asked suddenly.


"He left early this morning," Mrs. Weasley said gloomily. "It'll probably take weeks before George will come and visit again."

The day was already half over when Mrs Weasley decided to have Ginny check Harry's condition, bearing a cup of hot soup.


Ginny knocked gently at Harry's door, but he didn't answer. She slowly opened it and looked inside. Harry was lying in bed, shaking and sweating profusely, his back toward her.


"Harry?" She checked his forehead for any sign of fever; he was burning up.


Harry moved his head a little and looked at her.


"Ginny," he croaked and gave her a weak smile.


"You have a very high fever, Harry, and you're shivering," Ginny told him nervously while placing a blanket on top of him. "Didn't you take a Fever-Reducing potion already?"


Harry nodded and closed his eyes.


"I have to tell mum. It might take a while before you can drink another potion. I don't know why it didn't work the first time. I'll be right back." Ginny made sure that Harry was totally covered with blankets before running downstairs.


She arrived back a few moments later with her mother and Ron behind her. Mrs. Weasley also checked Harry's temperatures and confirmed that he had developed a high fever, sadly noting that he would have to wait for another hour before taking another potion.


"For the meantime, you have to eat." Mrs. Weasley gestured for Ginny to grab the soup she had set aside on the table before leaving. "We've brought you soup. Drink it while it's hot."


"Thank you, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said weakly before she left.


Ron propped the pillows and helped Harry in a sitting position. He slid the glasses on Harry's face and let Ginny position herself beside Harry, holding the soup.


"I can eat it by myself, Ginny," Harry said, looking slightly embarrassed.


Ginny sighed but made no move. "I don't know if you know, Harry, but you are shaking. I don't think you can even hold a spoon properly."


She scooped some soup and brought it over to Harry's mouth, and he reluctantly took it.


Ron couldn't help but grin at the sight of them.


"You better heal fast, mate, or else Ginny will take advantage of you."


Ginny glared at him. "Don't you have better things to do?"


"What? I'm standing guard just in case Harry needs my help," said Ron petulantly.


Harry smiled at him. "I'm okay, Ron. Don't worry about me."


"Admit it, you just want to be alone with Ginny," Ron said while smirking at his best friend.


"Can I have your permission, then?" asked Harry, looking hopeful at Ron who looked back as though silently saying, 'You better keep your hands off my sister or else.'


"Fine," he said, sounding exasperated. He turned around and walked out the door, taking as long as possible.


Harry and Ginny stared at the closed door for a few minutes, then looked at each other awkwardly.


"I don't know how you can handle my brother," said Ginny, scooping some more soup from the bowl. "I can't stand him. He's so irritating."


"He gets on my nerves sometimes," Harry said truthfully.


"He gets on everyone's nerves," she corrected him. She brought the spoon to Harry's mouth, and he gladly took it now that Ron wasn't there to make fun of him.


"But I'm grateful for him for being my best friend, though," he said after gulping down the soup. "I can't imagine my life without someone as annoying as him. It'd be so boring."


Ginny laughed.


"I do have to admit that he's a good person if you don't count his pettiness," she said as though it were the last thing to ever cross her mind. She even looked quite surprised at what she'd said.


"He is," Harry replied shortly.


"He's pretty adamant in knowing what your problem is." Ginny looked at him nervously, but he showed no expression that he had heard, so she continued, "Please don't push him or us away, because you are not alone in this."


Harry couldn't help but feel really empty, and having Ginny tell him that he was not alone - that he had friends who supported him and were willing to help him out no matter what it took - was the best feeling and one that he didn't want to disappear.


They were silent for a moment. Then Ginny looked up at Harry, her voice quivering when she spoke, "I'm scared to think that I may lose you one day. I don't know why or how... but I can feel it. I may not have the slightest idea of what is happening to you, but I don't want to just give up. There is always hope, no matter how bad it gets, and I need you, Harry. I want you to stay with me."


Harry felt his heart ache. He wanted to say that everything was going to be okay, even to himself; he knew, however, that it was a lie. He would trade his life for anything just to be with her, to make her happy.


"Harry." Ginny grabbed his hand and looked straight at him. "Please promise me you'll tell me what's wrong before it's too late. Don't pretend that there's nothing wrong when there is. It's alright to not be alright sometimes."


Harry wanted so badly to tell her now, and he wanted this time to be the right moment to reveal all the aches and pains he was feeling. He opened his mouth, ready to say what he had been keeping hidden for weeks, but a knock came at the door, and the opportunity was lost.


Ginny sighed and opened the door. It was Mrs. Weasley.


"Ginny, could you tell Harry I prepared a cool bath for him? It'll help bring down his fever." Clearly Mrs. Weasley was thinking that she had to resort to Muggle treatments if the potion wasn't working.


Ginny nodded silently.


Ron returned to Harry's room a few minutes later, only to find it empty. He went across to grab the half-eaten bowl of soup at the desk, as it would be no use to Harry now that it was cold. He was about to leave when his eyes caught some random pieces of paper with Harry's handwriting on it sticking in between the pages of different books. Curious, Ron pulled one paper and read:


internal pain, confusion, mental breakdown, antisocial behaviour


Startled as to why Harry had written it, Ron seized the book in which the paper had been placed. He opened it.


The page contained various ailments and afflictions. It had several pieces of information on how each of them affected the body, its symptoms, and how it could lead to death, but none of it specified the treatments.


Why would Harry read something like this? Ron thought. He flipped the book to read the cover: The Soul. He scanned the rest of the books lying on the desk and read each cover. Souls and Its Mysteries. Soul: The Introduction.


Ron stared at all the books in front of him. Everything is all about souls, he said to himself. But why the sudden interest in it? He was well aware that they couldn't have gotten assignments at Hogwarts for the summer since they hadn't come back for their seventh and final year. They only went back to Hogwarts for the war. We didn't get any homework, Ron thought in total bewilderment.


He racked his brain trying to make sense of everything when he suddenly heard Ginny come out of her room, and she knocked on the bathroom door across from hers.


"Harry, just checking in. Are you alright in there?"


"Yeah," Harry answered. "I'm fine. I'll be out soon."


Ron walked hurriedly out of Harry's room and confronted Ginny before she went back to her room.



To be continued...

A/N: My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!

Beta read by KVeronicaP, FatCatsAndUnicorns, janie-ohio, Scaehime

Chapter 4: Chapter 4
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"Ginny, I need to tell you something," said Ron tensely and urgently.


Ginny raised her eyebrows, noting the urgency in her brother's voice. "What is it?"


He looked around the hall and said quietly, "Let's talk somewhere private."


She suggested her room, and both of them went inside quickly.


"Okay," she said, turning to Ron. "Spill."


Ron took a deep breath. "I was in Harry's room just now. I didn't mean to see it, but it was just lying there, so I had no choice. There were books in there… with notes."


"What were you doing invading Harry's privacy?" she asked sternly, annoyed with her brother. She was half-tempted to reach for her wand and use her signature bat-bogey hex, but crossing her arms instead.


"I didn't mean to," he said defensively, trying to bring her back to the topic at hand, "but I got carried away and saw them."


"Saw what?"


Ron cleared his throat and whispered, "Books about souls."


Ginny raised her eyebrows. "Souls?"


Ron nodded, looking anxious.


"Well, what's wrong with reading about souls?"


"He's got a ton of notes in some of the pages," he explained in a low voice. "And besides, I don't remember getting any homework because we didn't come back to Hogwarts to study. So what was he doing?"


"Summer reading maybe?" she asked coolly.


"Come off it," said Ron, looking exasperated. "I know Harry hates school reading, and from all the books I've seen so far in his room, they only pertain to one topic: souls. Couldn't you tell it is kinda odd to read many books, but they're all talking about only one thing? And why is he interested in souls all of a sudden?"


Ginny just shrugged, nonplussed. "I don't know, Ron."


"Do you think he's dealing with post-traumatic stress because of the war?"


"He could be. After all that happened, I would definitely think it's possible."


Ron wanted to confront Harry, but he didn't want it to lead into another argument. They had just made peace with each other, and he didn't want to ruin it again. "Do you think I should talk to Harry about it?"


"Absolutely not," Ginny said, eyeing Ron as though he had gone mad. "Do you honestly think that he'd stay calm the moment you bombard him with questions about something he knows you shouldn't have known, anyway? Don't forget, it's Harry's business and not yours. Let him do the talking; he can be as stubborn as you when he wants."


"Should I talk to Hermione, then?" Ron had been dying to tell Hermione everything that had happened the first day back at the Burrow. He hadn't had the chance to speak to her anyway, and he already missed her.


"It wouldn't hurt to know her opinion, I guess," Ginny said thoughtfully, considering Ron's suggestion. "Hermione is the most responsible and capable out of all of us; she'll probably come up with a safe plan without hurting Harry in any way."

The next few days passed by in a blur. Harry remained cooped up in his room as his condition kept giving him headaches. It would come on and off in different time intervals and as frequently as Harry had sadly anticipated. It was making him feel as scared as ever, but he was still adamant on not telling his friends, simply saying it was "just flu" as his excuse.


Now that he was on good terms with Ron again, he was granted permission to use Pigwidgeon to send and receive letters. Ron, on the other hand, kept a close eye on his best friend but never confronted him about the soul books, as much as he really wanted to. The note he had read made him more aware of Harry's behaviour over the course of his stay at the Burrow, and Ron doubted it had anything to do with him, given the circumstances. However, his suspicions remained intact, and he was determined to send letters to Hermione, hoping she might have some answers. It's only a matter of time, I guess, he told himself. Ron gave Harry some space, which he took gratefully, while Ginny stayed by his side most of the time to take care of him "with vigour," as Harry would simply put it.


Harry awoke screaming one morning, feeling disturbed. He had had a weird dream concerning Hedwig. She had been in a cage beside him when she was suddenly hit by a green light, and then the dream changed to another scene where Sirius was floating beyond an archway that looked familiar to Harry, but he couldn't remember why.


Ginny and Ron burst inside Harry's room looking breathless, having run up the stairs and fearing something or someone had attacked Harry while he was sleeping. They found him still in his bed but sitting in a corner, his arms around his knees, rocking back and forth, and looking frightened.


"Where's Hedwig and Sirius?" Harry asked the moment they entered.


Ginny and Ron exchanged a quick glance. She went over to Harry, who shook uncontrollably.


"Where's Hedwig and Sirius?" Ron repeated, completely baffled.


"Harry, did you have a nightmare?" Ginny asked, looking worried.


"I don't know," he replied tremulously. "I saw Hedwig getting hit by a killing curse and Sirius floating away somewhere... and now that I think about it, I haven't seen either of them." He glanced at the empty cage sitting in a corner beside his desk.


Ron and Ginny watched him apprehensively, not knowing what to say or how to confirm that his nightmares were real.


Ron decided not to delay the inevitable and plucked up the courage to tell Harry, who looked at both of them with so much fear in his eyes.


"They're –" Ron hesitated for a moment. He looked nervously at his friend. "They're gone."


Harry's stomach lurched. "What do you mean, 'they're gone'?"


"What you saw in your dream…" said Ginny in a low voice. "That's – that's how they died, Harry."


Harry saw the sorrowful look on their faces.


"No," he said flatly, not wanting to believe it. "That can't be. What I saw was just a dream, like any other dreams I've had." He looked over at the door, expecting Sirius to come bounding in any second.


Ron looked at Ginny questioningly and mouthed the words "memory loss?" when Harry wasn't looking, but Ginny only shrugged.


"Harry..." Ginny placed her hand in his arm. "I'm sorry."


Harry looked at her; her expression made his heart feel heavy.


"How –" he paused. Nothing made sense to him. "When did they –"


"Almost a year ago," Ron told him. "Hedwig died before you turned seventeen. We were all pursued by Death Eaters on the way to our safe houses. You told us yourself what happened to Hedwig, Harry. You were there, you saw how she got killed." He gulped at the surprised look Harry showed - as though he hadn't been there at the time Hedwig had died and was just hearing it for the first time.


Ron continued as he tried to shake off the odd behaviour of his friend. "And at the Department of Mysteries, we were ambushed by the Death Eaters. Bellatrix was duelling with your godfather, and he got struck by a spell. He… he fell through the Veil that caused his death. That was almost three years ago, mate." Ron finished and looked at Harry once again. He was looking down at his knees. Ron could tell Harry was silently crying when he heard him sniff a few times.


"I was there when he fell, wasn't I?" Harry asked, not looking up at them. "I saw the whole thing, didn't I?" He felt grief-stricken as well as frustrated at himself for not remembering. How could I have forgotten? he asked himself. It was such a huge blow for him to be reminded of these events by his friend who knew he was there as well at the time. He couldn't bring himself to look at them. He knew they were silently communicating in front of him, asking the same thing, wondering why he couldn't remember things correctly.


Ron made a mental note of this occurrence which had happened twice now in less than a week. This first time was at the London train station when Harry thought he was being picked up by the Dursleys, and the second was this. He hated to think that it coincided with what Harry had written on that piece of paper about being confused and having a mental breakdown. Ron tried to shrug off the awful feeling. But that couldn't be the case, he told himself. What is really going on with Harry?


The silence dragged on to all of them. Only Harry's stifled sobs and the rain that started pouring outside of Harry's window could be heard.


Harry let out a breath when he finally calmed down. He looked up and saw them looking at him curiously.


"I'm sorry," he said, looking embarrassed all of a sudden.


"Harry, mate… No offence, but you gave us quite a scare," said Ron in a low voice. "Are you having amnesia? What was that about?"


Ginny cast him a look, exasperated by how tactless her brother was.


Harry looked away. There was no other way to hide his secret. He had to tell them now. He had already scared the living daylights out of them, and what more could keeping quiet do if the damage was already done?


He inhaled deeply and cleared his throat. He nervously glanced at them.


"Remember when I said I'd tell you guys something when I'm sure of it?" he asked more to Ginny than to Ron, who still nodded. He continued, "I… I found out about it the night before we all went back home, and –"


A soft tap disturbed them all of a sudden. Pigwidgeon hooted loudly outside the window. He had a couple of scrolls attached to his leg. Ron opened the window to let him in and grabbed the letters. One was addressed to Ron, clearly from Hermione with her slant and neat handwriting, while the other was for Harry. He gave the letter to Harry, who took it, a frown visible on his face as he read, and Ron opened his. It was a bit short and frantic.




Are you sure about this? There are many reasons why Harry would be interested in souls. He dealt with seven Horcruxes, not to mention himself as one of them. He told us about it right after the war, remember? But with illnesses and possible symptoms, I have no idea why he was looking into it. You don't think he's planning on making a Horcrux? Because that's just not Harry at all. He wouldn't do that. It would scare the hell out of me if he did. Keep me informed.





Ron pocketed the letter. He was about to ask Harry who had sent his letter when Mrs. Weasley's booming voice startled the three of them.


"Ron! Ginny!" she called from behind the door. "Breakfast is ready!" Then they heard a knock, and her soft voice said, "Harry, dear, I'll be bringing your breakfast in a minute."


Harry scrambled to his feet and opened the door before she disappeared from the stairs.


"No need, Mrs. Weasley. I'll come downstairs and have breakfast."


"Are you sure, dear?" she asked worriedly. "You're still looking pale."


"I'm sure," Harry said, giving her a reassuring smile.


"Okay, then," she said. "If you insist." She went downstairs and out of sight.


Harry turned around and faced Ron and Ginny.


"I guess we'd better go and have breakfast," he said, but when he saw the worried looks on their faces, he added, "I'll tell you guys later, I promise."


But that promise was stalled by Mrs. Weasley when she decided to have Ron and Ginny work around the house all day, and by the time night came, they were already too exhausted and sleepy to think of the promise Harry had made.


Harry was also having some difficulty talking to them, as Mrs. Weasley began her check-up on his condition as often as she could handle. The burning feeling started again as well, and it left him screaming in agony and breathless as he gasped for air for more than an hour each time as it worsened. The good thing was, it only happened when everyone was already asleep. He would always cast a Silencing Charm on his bedroom to prevent them from waking up. He knew it was only a matter of time before someone would find out, but right now he couldn't risk being heard.


A letter Harry had received several days ago from Professor Slughorn lay uncurled in his desk. They had been communicating, owing to Harry's need to know more about tainted souls, and Harry was getting desperate for a cure. Professor Slughorn was pretty cautious in what he wrote, for every letter he delivered to Harry carried the possibility that it might get intercepted. Their topic for conversation was serious and highly dangerous should it landed in the wrong hands. As much as possible, he would only write short notes, and it was starting to bother Harry.


To make it even worse than what Harry was already feeling, there was the fact that he couldn't stop himself from shaking. He was having a hard time holding his quill and writing properly now. He attempted several times, but oftentimes his handwriting wasn't legible enough to be understood. Out of frustration, he would then decide to toss the letter in the bin.


Ron was also getting frustrated. Hermione's letter brought a great deal of worry and discomfort to him. As much as he'd have liked to know what was going on with Harry, he couldn't find the time to do it because his mother was becoming increasingly needy for all the things she wanted to be done in the house, leaving Ron scowling permanently as though no other expression could ever change his foul mood.


The same went for Ginny. Even though her room was just beside Harry's, her exhaustion would take over before she could even decide to knock on his door.


As another day came, Ron decided to stop his cleaning duties and talk to his mother. He found her outside the house with Ginny, who looked ready to kill the chickens at any moment.


"Mum!" snapped Ron, coming to a halt behind her and looking furious. "Why are we suddenly cleaning the whole freaking house?"


Mrs. Weasley cast him a glare, her hands on her hips. "Don't you dare use that tone on me, young man. And didn't I tell you that your professor is coming in today?"


Ron and Ginny were both shocked.


"No, you didn't. Which professor?" Ron was completely surprised and puzzled.


"Horace Slughorn," she said simply.


"Why's he coming here?" Ginny asked.


"He said he needed to talk to Harry. I don't know what about, but I'm sure it's nothing to worry about."


"How do you know?" asked Ron who clearly knew there was something to worry about.


"Because Horace told me not to worry. He said his visit is purely for academic purposes."


Ron and Ginny exchanged worried looks.


Ron ran back inside the house and up the stairs to Harry's room. He knocked, but Harry didn't answer. He couldn't still be sleeping, Ron said to himself. He checked the clock on the wall: eleven o'clock.


He knocked again. "Harry! Are you awake yet?" He pressed his ear at the door. It was too silent. Ron sighed and opened the door.


He saw Harry curled into a ball in his bed, fast asleep. Ron made a move to leave when Harry stirred.


"Harry?" Ron knelt beside him.


Harry opened his eyes weakly and saw sunlight streaming through the window.


"Harry, you have to wake up," said Ron with urgency.


"Why?" Harry lifted his head slightly.


"Didn't you know Professor Slughorn is coming today?"


"No," he said as he tried to sit.


Ron looked surprised at him. "Why not?"


"What do you mean?" Harry asked, looking perplexed at Ron. He wasn't feeling really good today, and his head was pounding.


Ron sighed. "He's coming in to talk to you. I thought you knew."


Harry frowned and then his heart leapt as the realization hit him. "Oh, that must be the letters…" he muttered to himself, but Ron heard him.


"Letters? What letters?"


But Harry didn't hear him as he suddenly writhed in bed and screamed.


Ron was dumbstruck. He looked frantically at Harry, who continued to scream in pain.


"Harry? Harry! What's wrong?"


There were tears in Harry's eyes. "It… hurts!" he managed to utter as he writhed again.


Ron watched, horrified at his friend's condition. His insides crawled unpleasantly. He scrambled to his feet and ran as fast as he could outside where his mother was.


"Mum!" yelled Ron. Mrs. Weasley and Ginny looked up and saw his distraught-looking face. "Quickly! Harry needs help!"


"What happened?" Mrs. Weasley asked, sounding alarmed as they made their way to Harry's room.


"He's in so much pain –"


They reached his room and saw Harry breathing heavily and moaning. He looked really pale, and his face glistened with sweat that made his hair stick on his forehead.


"Dear…" Mrs. Weasley knelt down. She reached out her hand and touched his arm, but he winced, causing her to pull her hand back. "Harry, tell me what's wrong?"


But Harry only continued to writhe, though a little less than earlier.


"He said, 'it hurts,'" Ron answered for him.


Mrs. Weasley was careful not to touch his skin again as she brushed his hair away from his face. "Where does it hurt, Harry?"


"Everywhere," he croaked. His eyes closed.


Ginny's eyes sparkled with unshed tears as she watched Harry in his terrible state.


"Ginny, quickly, in the storage cabinet, there's a small bottle labelled 'Healing Potion'," ordered Mrs. Weasley.


Ginny nodded and sped downstairs.


A few, tense minutes later, she hastened back to her mother and Harry, whose face was half-buried in his pillow as he cried in pain while the time passed by.


Mrs. Weasley wrenched the stopper off the little bottle and said in a comforting voice to Harry, "Harry, dear… I have here a healing potion that you have to drink. It'll help with your pain."


A few tears dropped from Harry's face when he nodded weakly at Mrs. Weasley. She gestured for Ron to come near her so he could help Harry lift his body and tilt his head to drink the potion.


Harry felt cold wash over him as soon as the potion worked its way into his bloodstream, and the burning feeling throughout his body eased, but only a little. He curled into a ball once again; his hands turned to fists as he bit back the pain that he knew would engulf his already tired senses, and it did. The last thing he saw was Mrs. Weasley placing a blanket on top of him and calling his name before unconsciousness took over.


Ron quickly sent a letter to Hermione to inform her of what happened, and he hoped she could come by since he didn't want to deal with Professor Slughorn alone. He had seen Harry in pain before. He hated it each time, but he could handle it then when he knew why his friend was hurting, but this time, it was even harder for Ron, as he had no clue what was wrong with Harry at all.


Harry's sudden ordeal an hour ago made the rest of the Weasleys so worried that even Mrs. Weasley didn't know how else to help him but to ask a healer or someone with more knowledge in the medical field. The potions she had given Harry didn't seem to have much effect at all. As much as she wanted to help, she was running out of ideas.


Ginny remained beside Harry, who still had not woken up from unconsciousness, while her mother contacted her father downstairs. She felt Harry's skin, and he was burning up again. She had noticed that this symptom came and went. They had already given him multiple Fever-Reducing potions several days ago, but it didn't help at all, so they had to resort to muggle remedies. He had taken cool baths, which lowered his body temperature slightly, but then his fever would come back again.


Green flames erupted in the fireplace, startling Mrs. Weasley and Ron. Horace Slughorn arrived wearing his usual waistcoat with gold buttons. He peered around the Weasley kitchen and saw Mrs. Weasley, who had completely forgotten that he would be arriving today.


She stood up and shook his hand. "Horace."


"Good afternoon, Molly," Horace greeted as he stepped out of the fireplace. "Forgive me if I startled you with my arrival. Now that I think about it, I can't remember if I even mentioned the time. Old age must be kicking in, I would think."


"Oh, you mentioned it. Something just happened, and I completely forgot. I'm sorry," Molly said.


"Did I arrive at a bad time?"


Before Molly could answer him, green flames erupted once again behind them, and this time it was Hermione Granger who came out of the fireplace, her face already looking worried. Ron stood up.


"Hermione?" Molly stood perplexed. "What are you doing here?"


"Ms. Granger!" exclaimed Slughorn, looking surprised yet cheerful at the same time. "It's good to see you again."


Hermione beamed at the sight of them.


"Hi, Mrs. Weasley," she said breathlessly. "Hello, Professor Slughorn. I'm sorry that I didn't send an owl saying that I would be arriving today. I heard about what happened to Harry –"


"Harry? Harry Potter?" Slughorn asked quickly, his cheerfulness gone and replaced by worry.


Ron moved towards Hermione and gave her a hug. She took a good look at him and saw worried lines formed in his face.


"Yes," Molly said sadly to Horace. "An hour ago Harry was in so much pain that he fell unconscious. The healing potions didn't work much, and I don't know what else to do."


"I think this is more than just a simple sickness," interjected Ron. Though it caused everyone to look at him, he said it more to Slughorn, who regarded his sudden appearance with surprise.


"What do you mean, Mr. Weasley?"


"Harry's been acting really strange," Ron explained. "He woke up screaming from a nightmare and asked where Hedwig and Sirius were. He knew how they died, and we all knew that, of course, because he told us before." He looked to Hermione for confirmation, and she nodded, urging him to continue. "But now he seemed to think that they were still alive. And back at the train station, Hermione… after you left with your parents, Harry said he was waiting for the Dursleys to pick him up. He had completely forgotten that he's living with us now. He's very confused, not to mention having fevers that never go away for long, and saying that he's feeling pain everywhere in his body.


"It was pretty weird too," Ron added before someone could interrupt him. "I came across one of Harry's notes with different symptoms he had written on it. I didn't think much of it at first, but now whatever he wrote is happening to him now, and there were these books about souls – it doesn't really make any sense to me, but what you said in the letter about Horcruxes, Hermione –"


"What a minute, Mr. Weasley," Slughorn cut him off, a look of horror visible in his face. "Did you say 'Horcrux'?"


"Yeah," said Ron, frowning slightly.


Slughorn lowered his head, suddenly looking older than ever. "Harry came to me asking about it. It was late one evening, and he wanted to know what happens to a person's soul when once invaded by a Horcrux." Molly looked at him with confusion. "I told him the soul becomes damaged or tainted as I remembered I'd said –"


Hermione gasped all of a sudden, her hands covering her mouth.


"What is it, Ms. Granger?" Slughorn asked, looking alarmed.


"Professor, did Harry tell you the reason why he was asking?" Hermione asked tensely.


"I don't believe he said anything." He racked his brain. "Why do you ask?"


Hermione looked apprehensively at them. "Because – Harry was a… a Horcrux." She looked frightened saying it, but she continued when no one spoke. "Voldemort attempted to kill him when he was still a baby, and we all knew he failed, and the curse backfired on him instead." Everyone nodded at this fact. "But a part of his soul was transferred to Harry, making him a – a Horcrux. When Voldemort cast the Killing Curse at Harry again at the battle at Hogwarts, he destroyed that part of his soul unknowingly inside Harry."


"Merlin's beard!" Slughorn exclaimed. He hadn't known how grave the situation was before, and now he felt as though ice had formed inside him and was numbing him. "No wonder he was asking for a possible cure on the damaged soul!"


"What is this Horcrux that Harry was dealing with for such a long time? No one said anything about it to me," Mrs. Weasley asked worriedly.


"A Horcrux is an object in which a dark wizard or witch has hidden a fragment of his or her soul in order to become immortal," Horace explained in a very low voice, obviously not keen on the subject. "It can only be created after committing murder, the supreme act of evil. I wanted to avoid this kind of conversation as much as possible since I knew it was a dangerous topic... but it was -" he hesitated and gave a deep sigh. "It was I who told Tom Riddle about it. I had feared that the worst things could happen, and they did. Now I'm cursing myself so much for such idiocy. It was my careless tongue that caused Tom Riddle to misuse his information." He turned to regard Mrs. Weasley quietly. "Dumbledore insisted that I share with him that specific memory."


Mrs. Weasley slowly sat on a chair, shock coursing through her body, and her heart was beating fast. She felt weak all of a sudden.


"Professor," Hermione spoke, breaking the short silence that the professor's words had rendered suddenly. "When you said 'damaged soul,' what do you mean? What happens to its host?"


Slughorn glanced at Hermione wearily and said, "It's an unusual case, so I could only assume that the host would wither away and eventually die."


Ron gulped loudly.


Hermione was silent, trying to assess the situation, and then she asked the one question she feared the most, "And how long can that host live?"


"It could be a few months… weeks, or less," Slughorn said sadly.


There was a tense silence following Slughorn's last words. It pierced right through their hearts. They all knew now that Harry was fighting in a losing war. Ron finally understood why Harry couldn't bring himself to say what was wrong because he knew he only had a little time left and because he didn't want to give them anything to worry about anymore. He couldn't possibly think that, could he? Ron battled the thought within himself. He would've hated that Harry was thinking this way if he did. They had done a lot together and risked a lot. Surely that alone was proof enough for Harry to think that he was not alone and that he could trust his friends. He almost lost Harry to You-Know-Who, and he was not going to let that happen again no matter the cost.


Hermione looked like she was on the verge of tears. She had dealt with pain before, but losing Harry was not something she could handle. Harry was like a brother to her, and having him gone would be like a part of her had died, too. She hated herself for not noticing that Harry was going through something dreadful after the war. After all, Harry knew full well how to keep a secret if he really wanted to. Hermione respected that, but there were times that she knew he wouldn't be able to handle it on his own. She was always willing to help, but she felt like it wasn't always enough for Harry to even confide his thoughts to her, and that hurt. Even though that was the case, she wouldn't want to give up because he was already like family to her; he was a friend she was willing to risk her life for.


"Surely there's a cure, Professor?" Hermione asked desperately, her tears threatening to fall any minute now.


Slughorn sighed. "I could only hope. I want to happily tell you that there is a cure, but I would only be fooling myself to believe that. The creation of a Horcrux is evil enough that all information about it was banned in public," he said. "To my knowledge, I would presume to believe that there was no such reference as to how to go about mending a soul for that matter. After all, no one would attempt to do it, not until you told me, Ms. Granger. Interestingly enough, I once had a short talk with Dumbledore regarding this, and he did mention something about fragmenting a soul. It could be possible that he knew how to mend a soul; he's the greatest and most powerful wizard of all time, after all. But it caused me so much grief knowing that Tom Riddle had succeeded in making Horcruxes that I lost my interest in extracting more knowledge on how to mend a soul, so Dumbledore never mentioned it again."


They were silent once more. Only the hum of the wind outside and the chirps of the birds could be heard. Too much information had been revealed, and the shock of it all could not be overcome in an instant.


"So you said you thought Professor Dumbledore believed that it's possible to mend a soul," said Hermione eventually. "Surely he read that somewhere –"


But Hermione was cut short when Ginny suddenly showed up in the kitchen. She smiled awkwardly at them all and said, "Harry's awake."



To be continued...

A/N: My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!

Beta-read by KVeronicaP, Scaehime

Chapter 5: Chapter 5
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They all followed Ginny upstairs and into Harry's room. The afternoon sun shined across the floor, giving the room a pleasant ambience. Harry's eyes were closed, and his breathing had calmed to normal when they entered. Ron and Hermione knelt on the floor beside him while the rest of them remained standing and looking overly worried at the teenage boy lying in bed.


"Harry?" Hermione called gently.


Harry's eyes opened slowly, and he saw the bushy-haired outline of his friend in front of him.


"'Mione…" he said weakly.


"How are you feeling?"


It took him a minute before answering in a whisper, "Great."


Ron snorted while Hermione smiled. Harry closed his eyes again, too tired to open them.


"Uh… I came by to see you," she said. "Thought you could use some company."


Harry smiled and said in a hoarse voice, "Thanks."


She cringed at the sound of his voice. He must have been screaming a lot, Hermione thought sadly.


Mrs. Weasley drew a breath and said, "Harry, Professor Slughorn is here to talk to you, but if you're not up for it, he can come back anytime." She looked over at the professor who gave her a curt nod.


Harry made a move to sit as a way of saying that he was okay enough to talk, but he could feel how nervous he was when everyone was staring at him. Ron helped him up while Hermione propped his pillows. He looked so pale, and his eyes were bloodshot when he looked at them. Ginny slid the glasses onto his face, and he said his thanks. He ran his hand through his hair and made himself look comfortable against the pillows behind his back, occasionally wincing from the burning feeling that still wouldn't leave him.


He looked up and saw Professor Slughorn. "Professor," he regarded him as casually as possible as he cleared his throat. He knew he must've sounded horrible to them. He was kind of hoping to have a private chat with his professor, but they didn't seem to want to go away. He glanced at them nervously, feeling as though he were sitting in a very bright spotlight; the people inside the room kept shooting furtive glances at him as though he were about to collapse again at any moment.


Sensing Harry's uncomfortable look, Hermione blurted before she could stop herself.


"Harry, we already knew about the –" She hesitated to look at Ron for support as she addressed the truth to Harry. "Soul."


Ginny's head shot up with a questioning look on her face. "Soul? What are you talking about, Hermione?" she asked looking between Hermione and Harry.


Harry lowered his head and stared at his hands. He didn't speak nor move in his bed. He didn't know what to say to them. Whatever they thought of him having a tainted soul didn't really matter now. There was no cure, and all he had to do was accept it, go on with life, and wait for his final moments. This is always how it works, isn't it? he thought with a heavy heart.


Hermione heaved a deep sigh. She didn't want to be the one to tell Ginny of Harry's secret. She felt constricted to be in this position, but she had no choice. Before she could utter an explanation, however, Ginny went ahead and asked Harry herself, and Hermione took it as a huge relief.


"What aren't you telling me, Harry? What is this soul Hermione was talking about?"


"Since when have you known? Why didn't you tell us?" Ron cut in suddenly and looked apologetically at his sister who had shot him a hard look for interrupting her question.


"It's not really – I don't –" Harry tried to explain but was having a hard time. He hadn't expected them to find out so soon. Harry looked at Ginny who was waiting worriedly for his explanation. He was going to tell her, but for now, he would have to disappoint her by addressing Ron and Hermione first. "I felt it when Voldemort destroyed his Horcrux inside me."


"What did you feel?" asked Hermione softly.


"I… I can't really describe it. All I know is that it feels like my skin burns every time now." Harry touched his arm and felt it.


"Are you saying you've been feeling like this for three weeks now?" she asked with a frightened look on her face.


"It was not as much as now. It only lasted for a second the first time I felt it, and then it gradually stayed longer after that."


"And the potions I gave you didn't help either." Mrs. Weasley said this statement more to herself than to Harry who still acknowledged her and gave her a nod.


"I don't believe any potions could stop whatever you're feeling from happening, Harry," Slughorn said sadly. "It wasn't my intention to bring bad news, but it was the only truth I could provide, unfortunately. It's not your body that's suffering, it's your soul. It could be that as more time passes by, your soul withers away little by little. That's why I think you're feeling these."


"These?" Harry asked, a little confused.


"Ron mentioned quite a few things that have been happening to you these past few days, Harry," Hermione told him anxiously.


"What do you mean?" he asked, looking puzzled.


Ron looked at him apprehensively and said, "You know… you've been acting really strange. There were times when you were so confused like someone just obliviated your memory, and you couldn't remember a thing of what happened. You've been really out of it, mate. And all those books about souls –"


Harry raised his eyebrows, a look of disbelief went towards Ron. "You went through my stuff?" Harry asked him incredulously.


Ginny looked at Ron as though saying 'I told you he'd be mad.'


"Well, yeah… I did," he replied as though it was the obvious thing to do for keeping secrets, ignoring Ginny's look. "But not completely on purpose," he added quickly. "I saw your notes, and since you won't tell us anything, we kind of tried to figure it out."


"And you have to invade my privacy just to figure it out?" he asked, and even with a hoarse voice, he sounded dangerous.


"I don't regret it," Ron courageously said. "Now we all know –"


"And then what?" asked Harry with a glare at Ron.


"Then we find a cure," replied Ron simply.


"There is no cure!" Harry said exasperatedly.


"You don't know that, Harry," Hermione interjected. "There must be a way to fix this!"


"I'm running out of time, Hermione. What do you want me to do?" All this talk was making Harry feel edgy and frustrated. Even if they would look for a cure, he didn't know whether it exists or not. "And in case you don't know, there were no other reference books for the kind of problem that I have."


"You could be wrong, Harry. Don't be so thick to assume that it's hopeless –"


"Well, it is!" Harry cut Hermione off who stared at him with displeasure, and Ron looked daggers in his direction.


"So you're just giving up?" Ron spat at him. He couldn't help himself now but get annoyed. "Is that what you're trying to say? That you just let death take you away? Are you really that willing to die?"


Harry just glared at Ron who stared back at him furiously and continued, "I can't have that hopeless attitude of yours ruin what we and your parents fought for so long, mate, and that is to damn well live!" Ron was shaking with rage. He stormed out of the room before anyone could even say anything. Mrs. Weasley immediately followed him out to talk to him.


Harry sat frozen in bed. He couldn't bring himself to look at Hermione, Professor Slughorn, and much less to Ginny who was silent in front of him. He wanted to be alone. He felt ashamed of himself. He was so set to give up his life that he had forsaken the one thing his parents valued most and had sacrificed their lives for. It was true that his friends fought for him so that he could live, and yet here he was, tossing it away like a piece of trash.


"Harry," Hermione said softly even though she was feeling tense after seeing Ron lose his temper. "We want to help you, but nothing's going to work out if you keep pushing us away. We know how hard it is for you, and we know you're scared, but you are stronger than you think. You're a fighter, Harry, I know you are, and you have to hold on tight and fight as hard as you can because we're not giving up on you, and neither should you."


Harry knew that Hermione was aware of everything that he had undergone, how far he'd come, all the times he had pushed on, even when he felt he couldn't, all the mornings he got out of bed no matter how hard it was, and all the times he had wanted to give up but getting through another day and never forgetting how much strength he had gained and developed.


"If I must say, Harry, m'boy," said Professor Slughorn who was awkwardly standing behind Hermione. Harry looked at him, feeling suddenly embarrassed. "You may not always have a comfortable life, and you will not always be able to solve all of the world's problems at once, but don't ever underestimate the importance you can have. Because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and that hope can take up a life of its own. There are plenty of obstacles in your path, Mr. Potter, don't allow yourself to become one of them." With that, he excused and lead himself out the door to give them some privacy, but Hermione followed suit after giving Harry a worried look and a nod at Ginny who returned it just the same.


Neither Ginny nor Harry spoke when Hermione closed the door behind her. They were at a loss for words on how to comfort and reassure each other's thoughts.


It was Ginny's expression that caused Harry's heart to skip a beat. She was looking straight at him with a disappointed look on her face while holding her hands together.


"Ginny, I…" Harry trailed off. He watched as many emotions flickered over Ginny's face. With a sinking heart, he saw her tear her eyes away from him. He knew what she must be feeling at the moment, having been told of Harry's situation in such a way must have been unexpected. Harry was sure that it was a blow she had not been prepared to take, knowing full well that she didn't have any idea of what Ron and Hermione had talked about.


"I did what I thought was best for you or for us, Harry…" said Ginny in a strange strained voice. "I've given you time and space so you could think things through, work out what you need and you've done it… you knew."


Harry saw tears glistening in Ginny's eyes.


"Are you even gonna tell me what's going on with you? Do you even plan on it or am I just gonna keep on guessing?" she asked, frustration lacing her words, she wanted to control what little she had of her emotions, but she was starting to lose it. "Because right now I'm so disappointed in you. You kept me in the dark!"


Harry sat motionlessly.


"It's already hard for me, Ginny," he said sadly. "I don't want to make it harder for you. I don't have a choice –"


"Yes you do," she said angrily. "And you know it!"


"What do you expect me to do?" he asked, he was getting frustrated for Ginny to understand his situation.


"You could've told me sooner instead of me finding out from someone else. I'm your girlfriend for goodness sake!" She was glaring at Harry while she said it. Her tears threatening to fall from her face.


"I'm sorry. I know I've said this before, but I'm saying it again: I don't want to hurt you, Ginny."


She cocked an eyebrow at him. "And you think I care about that?" she asked.


"I care…" said Harry with dignity. "I don't want to see your life fall apart because of me."


Ginny looked outraged. She stared at Harry disbelievingly for a second. She could feel herself shaking when she asked, "So you'd rather I live a good life than finding out dangerous truths about you? Is that what you want?"


Harry sighed heavily and said softly, "It's for the best. You know how my life works, Ginny. I would hate to admit it, but we don't have a future together. My life had been cursed, and I have no other way to fix it – I don't know how to fix it."


"No," she said defiantly.


"No what?" Harry asked, completely confused.


"No way am I going to give up on us, and neither should you!" she snapped at Harry. "I've done my fair share. I had cried my eyes out thinking you died in battle with Voldemort – but you didn't, so this time I'll never going to lose you again, Harry, not in a million years! I'm willing to take that risk, even if it meant saving your life. So stop acting like a total jerk and let's find that damn cure!"


Harry was silent. He gave a long breath as though in defeat and said, "There really is no way out of this, is there?"


"No," Ginny said firmly. "So you'd better skip the 'I don't want to hurt you' talk because I don't care. I'm helping you out, and there's nothing you can do to change my mind."

The blazing afternoon sun matched Ron's foul mood when he stormed out of Harry's room and into the living room. He was fuming, and the heat was only making him feel worse. He didn't mean to yell at Harry, but he couldn't control his temper as well when it came to Harry's hopeless way of thinking.


He sat on the sofa and buried his face in his hands when his mother came storming behind him, her hands on her waist. Ron had expected that and was too keen for explanations to protest.


"Ronald –"


"Mum, please!" Ron cut her off, not wanting to hear her scold him at this time, especially when he was already feeling terrible.


"Don't you dare –"


"I know, mum! I know I shouldn't have said that to Harry, but he was being stupid," he tried to explain. "You heard how set he was on dying and how he wouldn't even hear us out. How could I not say something? He doesn't know how to value his life and… and after losing Fred, I – I couldn't…"


Ron couldn't finish his words as he sucked some air out of frustration and from the sadness that was creeping in slowly inside him. He stared at the floor and tried to calm himself.


Molly sighed. She could see the troubled look on her son's face and his slumped shoulders. She knelt in front of him and gently touched his arm.


"When some people are at their deepest point in life," she started. "They tend to lose control of their emotions and say what they don't mean to say. I understand where your words were coming from, but lashing out isn't a good way to point out your views."


At that point, Hermione and Professor Slughorn came downstairs and went straight to them, a look of worry on their faces.


"Harry is going through so much right now," Molly continued. Ron remained unperturbed when he saw Hermione from the corner of his eyes. "It's understandable that he would let his emotions overpower him and disregard anything else, but don't feed him with some more emotions that could potentially ruin him. Do you understand what I'm saying, Ron? You're his best friend, and there's a reason why he chose you to be his best friend." She patted his shoulder before standing up and walking away.


Hermione went over to where Ron was and sat beside him. She held his hands, and Ron squeezed them gently to let her know he was okay. At times like these, he just wanted to be with Hermione. Harry had always been a big part of their lives, and losing him to something that they knew they could have done better to solve was something Ron could never accept in his life.


Why does Harry have to succumb into thinking that there's no way out of this? Ron thought sadly, his mind still clouding with frustration.


"Professor, earlier you said Dumbledore might have known of a way to mend a soul. Perhaps he kept the book that stated that fact?" Hermione asked suddenly, looking up at Slughorn with desperation on her voice.


Slughorn sighed and slumped into a chair across from them. His tired-looking eyes peered at Hermione who was patiently waiting and hoping to hear some good news after all the bad news they had heard so far. Slughorn looked down in his hands and thought hard.


"I would believe so," said Slughorn. "But he could have read it somewhere, not only in Hogwarts library, or he could have heard it from someone. You can never really know. After all, he liked to travel back when he was young, and he's quite good at making conversations."


"We could at least try first and look in Dumbledore's office, see if we could find anything," Ron suggested suddenly. "If not, then we could always figure out what to do next."


Slughorn and Hermione glanced at him.


"That could be one of many possibilities, Mr. Weasley," said Slughorn.


"If the book is still in the office, maybe we could ask Professor McGonagall's permission," Hermione eagerly told Ron, but her expression suddenly became worried. "Would she be able to let us borrow books from Professor Dumbledore's own shelves?" she cast a look toward Professor Slughorn. "Professor, I know we're asking a huge favour, but could you –" Hermione hesitated for a moment. She badly needed the books if they held a cure, and the only one who can get them was right in front of her. "Could you try and find the book from the office?"


Silence greeted them as Professor Slughorn contemplated and pondered Hermione's question with barely a glance in their direction.

"I believe I could," Slughorn said thoughtfully after a while. "I don't think Minerva would mind, but it would take me some time to find it, not to mention Dumbledore has got a whole lot of shelves full of books."


"Thank you, Professor," Hermione said with a small smile and felt relief washed over her. "At least now we know where to start looking for a cure," she said happily.


Slughorn stood up and said, "I will have to go now, then. It was good to see you both care so much with your friend. I only hope I bring good news once I have any prospective book with me when I come back." He turned and strode to the kitchen fireplace so he could Floo back to Hogwarts. Ron and Hermione followed him. He waved goodbye to them before disappearing from the green flames. The only thing that Ron and Hermione could do for now was to wait for Slughorn to visit them again.

The air inside the Burrow felt rather subdued when the knowledge of Harry's condition was out in the open. The letter Arthur Weasley received from Molly at work that afternoon was clutched in his hand the moment he came home that evening. He sat on one of the kitchen chairs looking rather pale from having heard the news further when Molly retold what had been happening when he was away from work. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were in the kitchen as well, all with a worried look on their faces.


"Is Harry resting right now?" Arthur asked no one in particular while his head drifted upwards on the ceiling as though he could see through Harry's room.


"Yes," Molly answered him. "I gave him some sleeping draught. I could tell he was becoming increasingly restless." That much was true. Harry was having difficulty sleeping now. At random hour each night, he would be awoken from the burning feeling that was getting too painful for him to handle. The Silencing charm was never cast again after he reluctantly admitted to Mrs. Weasley what he was doing so as not to wake them up to which Mrs. Weasley scolded him for doing such a stupid thing. She said she would rather be awoken from his screams than not knowing what was happening to him, and so now Harry was forced to bite his lip and bury his face in his pillows again when he screamed. Not to mention, Harry was always in a daze the next day, and his emerald eyes were starting to look dull with dark circles.


Arthur sighed and asked his wife, "Do you think we should take him to St. Mungos's hospital?"


"No," Ron interjected suddenly, his parents looked at him. "Harry wouldn't like that."


"Why not?" Molly asked. "He will be well taken cared of over there than here." As much as Molly wanted to help Harry, she had to admit that she lacked medical knowledge when dealing with grave sickness and had to resort to professionals to do their work.


"Did you forget what Slughorn told us?" Ron asked while looking at his mother who raised her eyebrows. "No potion or spell can heal Harry's symptoms. Sure, they can try and give him some to make him feel comfortable, but the pain will always come back."


"Are you saying we do nothing and let Harry suffer in front of us?" Molly asked incredulously. She stared between Ron and Hermione who were seated on the far end of the table. Hermione gave her a reluctant nod and looked away from her direction.


"You can't be serious? Harry's getting worse each day. I can't just stand there and act as if nothing's wrong with him."


"That's why we're waiting for Slughorn to come back so that we can get started with finding the cure," said Ron. He ran his hand through his hair, gazing absentmindedly at the clock hanging on the wall. His stomach churned just thinking about what could possibly happen to Harry if they keep delaying.


"I really wish Professor Slughorn would hurry up," Hermione said under her breath. "Or else I would have to resort to those books Harry has –" she stood up suddenly, startling the other four people in the kitchen. "Why didn't I think of that before?" she muttered to herself.


"Think about what?" Ron asked, frowning at her.


"The books, Ron," she said. "You said in the letter that Harry has books about souls. I could very well read them now that I'm here." She strode across the room and up the stairs.


"You're not going to barge in his room now and get them, are you?" Ron asked quickly as he kept up with her from behind.


"Yes, Ron. I am," Hermione said before stopping in front of Harry's door and reaching for the knob.


Ron held her arm. "You can't. If Harry sees you he'll –"


"He'll do what exactly?" Hermione cut him off and asked with a menacing voice. "You know I don't care at this point what he does, and besides, your mum gave him a sleeping draught." Before Ron could speak, Hermione turned the knob and opened the door.


Harry's room was dark. Only his sleeping form could be seen from the faint light the moon gave from the outside. Hermione could hear that his breathing was ragged. She went straight to his desk and scanned the book covers. There were at least three books that were lying on the table. Hermione hurriedly took them and was about to leave when she heard Harry mutter something under his breath. He must be dreaming, she said to herself. She crept slowly out of the room but stopped when she heard her name.


"…'m sorry… 'Mione… Ron… Gin…"


Hermione looked at him when she thought she heard Harry crying in his sleep. She couldn't help but feel depressed at the thought of Harry slowly dying.


"Please hang in there, Harry. We'll get through this," she said quietly.


As though Harry wasn't sleeping, he muttered, "…M'kay…" That took Hermione by surprise, and she let her tears that were threatening to come out ever since she came to the Burrow, fall from her face.

That evening in the living room, Hermione, Ron, and Ginny busied themselves by reading the books Harry borrowed from the library, occasionally taking notes to add more to what Harry had written. The only helpful thing they could find from the books were the symptoms that they had gone over quite a few times already in their small talks. To add more to their disappointment, no such things as 'Horcrux' or 'mending of souls' were even mentioned in all the three books.


"Those were pretty much basic symptoms that can be fixed by a potion or spell," Ron sighed in frustration. "But in Harry's case, there's none! How can they hush it all up?"


Ginny rolled her eyes while Hermione shook her head when she answered him. "Because it's very dark and dangerous, Ronald. How many times do I have to tell you? They can't just have people grab the books and start teaching them how to break their souls like a Horcrux would."


"Well, at least they'd write more books for a possible solution if more people are involved in it, wouldn't you agree?" Ron knew he was being stupid, but the idea of people writing more books about souls and how to mend them could shorten the time they had already wasted and help Harry fast.


"And what is Slughorn doing at Hogwarts right now, anyway?" he asked impatiently while closing with a snap the book he was reading for who knew how many times already. "He hasn't mailed us or anything. It's not like the books might be on another continent... They're only in Dumbledore's bloody office!"


"We only assumed that. Give him time, Ron," Ginny said. "He only just left a few hours ago."


"That's exactly my point," spat Ron. "Slughorn left hours ago! It's almost midnight, and Harry could've died by now."


Ginny cast him a dark look. "Don't say that!"


"Well, it's true!" he countered. "We're just wasting our time reading these stupid books while Harry's out there suffering severely by the looks of it, if I may add."


"We could only hope that Professor Slughorn would get back to us as soon as possible, Ron." Hermione calmly said even though she was feeling impatient herself. "Haven't you been to Professor Dumbledore's office before? He's got tons of books. The book that we're looking for might not even be in there. I would gladly come to Hogwarts and help Professor Slughorn find them if I could."


"He could try the Summoning charm like you did with the Horcrux books," Ron suggested.


"I don't think it's that simple," said Hermione.


"Why not? You got the Horcrux books, didn't you?"


Hermione didn't say anything for a while but then said uneasily, "I would agree that it is a good idea, Ron, but there is something about the soul book that makes me feel like it isn't that simple to be summoned like it did with the Horcrux books... I was thinking, though," she said. "If we ever come across a way to mend a soul, do you think it would be an easy task?"


Ron and Ginny gazed at her with a puzzled expression. When no one spoke, Hermione went on.


"You know how creating a Horcrux is very dangerous, right?" she asked both of them who nodded. "Not to mention, you have to commit murder, and that's evil enough for the caster. Do you think mending a soul would be as hard to do as well?"


Ron gulped, his eyes wide. "I would hope not. I don't want to kill someone and spend the rest of my life in Azkaban."


"Honestly, Ron, you're not going to kill someone," Hermione said while crossing her arms. "I'm only just saying that maybe there are certain tasks that you need to perform."


"Whatever tasks needed to be performed, I'm willing to do it," Ginny said flatly, and Ron gaped at her.


"I second that," said Hermione to Ginny, and they both smiled.


"What about you, Ron?" asked Ginny. "Are you gonna chicken out?"


Hermione smirked at Ginny. Ron scowled at them.


"I'm willing to do it, too!" he snapped at them. "And besides, you will need a man on your side."


Hermione and Ginny snorted with laughter. Without them knowing, Harry woke up and heard their laughter downstairs. He smiled and sadly thought to himself that it'd be nice to join them again.



To be continued...

A/N: My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!

Beta-read by KVeronicaP

Chapter 6: Chapter 6
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

It was raining, and the windows were now a solid, shimmering gray when Harry woke up early the next morning. He felt very sick. When he put up his hand to slid his glasses on, he felt a horrible headache as well. He walked slowly out of his darkened room and went downstairs to join the Weasleys and Hermione for breakfast. He was shaking so badly that he had to hold on tightly to the railings to keep himself from falling down. When he was halfway down the stairs, Ginny saw him and ran to his side. Hermione and the rest of the Weasleys, with the exception of Mr. Weasley who had already gone to work, looked up and suddenly appeared worried. They hadn't seen Harry so weak in the knees, and it was starting to unnerve them, but Harry still managed to smile at them all when he reached the table and seated himself across from Ron and Hermione. Ginny sat beside him.


"Are you feeling well, Harry?" Hermione asked, surveying Harry closely with a look of concern visible through her eyes.


Harry rubbed his temple, frowning slightly, but he gave a curt nod and a smile to Hermione. "Yeah. I just have a headache. That's all."


"You must be starving, dear," said Mrs. Weasley, watching Harry anxiously. She handed him a plate of sausages and toasts which he took gratefully.


Harry looked at his plate in a daze. The pounding in his head was not helping him eat. He was slowly losing his appetite and feared that he might throw up if he took a bite, but he didn't want to disappoint Mrs. Weasley either for not eating. He glanced at them and saw all of them looking back at him expectantly.


"How are you guys?" he asked Ron and Hermione. He wanted to start a small conversation with them since they rarely talked about anything else anymore, and by the laughter he heard last night, something good must have happened.


"We're doing well, Harry," said Hermione brightly. "I'm actually staying here at the Burrow for the rest of the summer before term starts at Hogwarts. My parents let me after a few attempts at convincing them."


"That reminds me, Hermione. How are your parents?" Harry asked her. He remembered the last time Hermione had talked about them. She modified her parents' memories to have them believe that they were different people, and she moved them to Australia so Voldemort wouldn't be able to track them down and interrogate them about her or Harry.


"They're doing great, actually," she said eagerly. "I lifted the charm that bewitched their memories and brought them home straight away after the war. You have no idea how happy I am to have them back. I've missed them so much."


Harry smiled at her and she beamed.


"Are you really going back to Hogwarts to finish your term, dear?" Mrs. Weasley asked Hermione after drinking her cup of coffee.


"Yes, Mrs. Weasley. I wanted to take my N.E.W.T.s and properly graduate."


Mrs. Weasley beamed at Hermione, but she pursed her lips abruptly and looked sternly at Ron who choked in his drink when he saw her look.


"You should be doing the same thing, Ron!" she snapped at him.


"Why? We battled Voldemort and won." Ron reasoned out, a look of indignation on his face. "Wasn't that enough proof that we did well in school? We did, didn't we, Harry?"


Shifting his shoulders uncomfortably, Harry raised his eyebrows and grinned at Ron despite his headache. "Whatever you say, Ron."


"Oh, please!" Mrs. Weasley rolled her eyes at her son. "Don't give me that nonsense."


"And why should we?" Ron continued bitterly, ignoring her mother's glare. "Harry and I are gonna be Aurors in no time to round up some more Death Eaters, aren't we?" He looked at Harry whose grin had disappeared, and he now looked glumly at his untouched plate. Everyone noticed his sudden change of demeanour. They all knew what Harry was thinking, and it broke their hearts as well.


"Are you going to eat, Harry?" Mrs. Weasley asked, looking anxiously at Harry again.


"Huh?" Harry was startled. His vision blurred as his head continued to ache, and a gnawing sensation grew in the pit of his stomach. With difficulty, he said, "I'm sorry, Mrs. Weasley, but could I lie down for a bit?"


Mrs. Weasley eyed him worriedly. "Sure, dear."


Harry stood, swaying slightly and started walking. His vision swam around him. He almost lost control of his balance and would have hit the ground if Ron hadn't caught him on time.


"Woah," said Ron as he held him tightly in his arms. "Take it easy, mate."


"I'm sorry," he said apologetically. He felt weak and shivery. "I'm not feeling really good today."


"Yeah. I can see that."


Hermione and Ginny exchanged anxious glances.


"I think you should lie down in the sofa for now," Hermione said, following them from behind. "You're not in good condition to walk up the stairs anyway."


Ginny propped some pillows on the sofa and ran upstairs to get his blanket.


Ron helped Harry lie down. Harry kept his eyes closed. He felt dizzy when he opened them. Ginny came back and draped the blanket on top of him. She sat beside him while Ron and Hermione took the armchairs on each side of them. Mrs. Weasley stood in front of Harry and checked his temperature; he was burning up.


Harry moaned softly and opened his eyes.


"What is it, Harry?" Ginny asked while caressing his forehead.


"I think I'm gonna be sick," he said weakly. He brought his hand to his mouth and doubled over, throwing up and violently heaving out his stomach contents on the floor. Mrs. Weasley immediately cast a Scouring charm to get rid of it. There was not much since he barely ate his breakfast. His breathing quickened, and cold sweat started to break out. Everyone else in the room was anxious.


"Ginny, get me some lukewarm water and some towels," Mrs. Weasley ordered quickly while caressing Harry's back for comfort as he continued to dry heave.


Ginny came bearing the water and towels.


"Set it down on the table for me, Ginny," Mrs. Weasley instructed her. "And dip the towel in the water. Let it soak for a few minutes."


Ginny did as she was told and kept shooting worried glances at Harry whose sweat glistened while he heaved.


"Oh my goodness!" Mrs. Weasley exclaimed suddenly, bringing her hand to her lips.


Frightened, Ron asked, "Mum? What's wrong?"


Before she could say anything, all of them saw it. Harry was throwing up blood.


They all looked terrified at Harry. Harry didn't seem to notice what was happening though he began to moan in pain again, and his eyes watered. He stopped heaving and laid his head on the pillows, feeling extremely tired. Mrs. Weasley grabbed a towel and wiped Harry's mouth where blood was seeping through and running down his neck.


"Oh, Merlin…" Mrs. Weasley said under her breath, feeling very frustrated. "I can't take this," she said suddenly. "I'm getting a healing potion."


She stood up and disappeared into the kitchen. They all looked worried, but there was not much they could do but hope for Harry's sickness to stop.


Mrs. Weasley returned with a vial of healing potion. She knelt beside Harry and called out to him.


"Harry?" she said softly. "I brought you a healing potion."


Harry opened his eyes. He could barely see anything, but he felt the vial on his lips.


"Open your mouth, dear."


He obeyed weakly, and Mrs. Weasley poured the contents in. They waited with bated breath for the potion to take effect. Harry's breathing calmed, and his headache was gone the moment he gulped down the liquid. His temperature was slowly going back to normal as well. Mrs. Weasley cast a diagnostic spell, and everything seemed normal as it should be. She gave a deep sigh of relief. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny did the same.


"It's only a matter of time again before Harry's symptoms come back," Ginny said sadly in a low voice while watching Harry's exhausted form.


"Let me know right away if anything happens," Mrs. Weasley told the three teens who nodded, and she left.


They were all quiet. The shock was still evident on their faces, and the only thing they could do would be to standby and monitor Harry's condition. No one really knew when or at what time he would get sick again, and each time it came, it was worse than the last.


"Slughorn, where the hell are you?" Ron muttered in a whisper. He was getting nervous and scared. He went to the kitchen to grab some water for himself. Right at that moment, green flames erupted in the fireplace and Horace Slughorn stepped out, looking very exhausted and old as ever.


"Slughorn!" Ron exclaimed, bringing his cup of water down on the table. About time, he said to himself. Hermione rushed in when she heard her former professor's name.


"Good morning to you two." Slughorn greeted them. He was carrying something in his hand which Hermione surely thought was the book they were waiting for. "I'm sorry if it took me a while to get back to you, but not to worry now. I got a book here." He placed the book on the table, but before Ron and Hermione could so much as look at it, Ginny ran into the kitchen, looking frantic.


"It's Harry!" she said in a frightened tone. They followed her to the living room where Harry was gasping for air and rubbing his chest.


"That's not a good sign," Ginny said fretfully. "I had seen that before." She immediately knelt in front of him. Ron and Hermione were right behind her.


"Harry? Is it that burning feeling? Is it starting again?" Ginny asked in a panic, her voice quivering.


Harry looked at her and nodded. Panic and fear appeared visibly in his eyes.


"Ron, call your mum. Quickly!" Hermione said nervously.


Mrs. Weasley came rushing in the living room a minute later, looking breathless. Ron tailed behind her.


"What's happened?" she asked them anxiously while kneeling beside Ginny and facing Harry.


Before they could tell her, they saw Harry double over on the sofa again, burying his face in his pillows and drawing a sharp intake of breath. Mrs. Weasley took Harry's hands that were starting to curl into fists.


"Harry," she said soothingly. "Listen to my voice and stay with me, okay?"


Harry tried to nod his head, but screams started to come out of his mouth. Mrs. Weasley could feel Harry's hands on hers getting tighter as she continued to say soothing words of comfort. Slughorn and the others could only watch in horror as Harry battled the excruciating pain. Hermione and Ginny were on the verge of tears. Ron kept his head lowered to the ground. He couldn't bear to see his best friend suffer like this. Each scream pierced his insides, and he could only hope to Merlin or to anyone who would listen that Harry's suffering would stop.


Harry was crying from the pain. It was like a fire burning his insides. He could feel his skin as though it was being ripped slowly from his body, and knives were slicing every inch of his limbs. It was pain beyond anything he could imagine, and his screams were the only thing that could ease a little of what he was feeling. He sobbed into his pillow, wishing for it to stop, wishing for someone to make it stop. He couldn't take this kind of torture anymore.


"… It's going to be okay, Harry…" Mrs. Weasley continued to talk to him. Harry was finding it really difficult to concentrate on her voice. "It's alright, dear. Everything's going to be fine…" but Harry continued to scream and writhe and cry.


"Ron, could you please help me hold Harry down? He could hurt himself." Mrs. Weasley asked worriedly. She was having difficulty steadying Harry as he continued to thrash violently. Ron grabbed his feet and pinned them on one side of the sofa, but Harry could feel the pain even more if he stayed still. Harry tried to break free of the strong grip, but he couldn't. The pain was unbearable. He screamed in agony and cried as much as he could.


"It hurts!" he gave an anguished cry as he continued to writhe and sob harder. "Please… let it stop… please…"


They all looked miserable when they heard Harry's desperate cry for help. No one could do anything, and it was crushing their hearts to pieces. Ginny and Hermione could only call out Harry's name and throw words of comfort, but even that was not helping him at all.


"How long does he have to endure the pain?" Ron asked, looking at them all. "The way he's screaming right now, I don't think he can take it any longer."


"Hours," Ginny answered him. "I heard his muffled screams one night and went over to check. I don't know if it varies each time, but Harry said it was happening as much now than the last time, remember?"


"Why didn't you tell me right away, Ginny?" Mrs. Weasley asked, looking disappointedly at her daughter.


"I'm sorry, mum," she said in a small voice. "But Harry told me not to leave him. He was really scared."


"Can't we really do anything? A healing potion?" Ron asked desperately. He was already growing tired of pinning Harry down to the sofa, and Harry's screams were making him feel weak as well. He looked at Slughorn whose eyes were horrified at the sight before him.


"Professor?" he called out to him.


"He took a healing potion an hour ago and it's ill-advised to take another for at least five hours." Mrs. Weasley informed Slughorn. Her hands were already getting numb from Harry's grip. "What else can we do?"


"A – a Calming Draught probably could help," Slughorn suggested nervously. "It will not take the pain away but –"


Mrs. Weasley stood up suddenly. Hermione immediately held Harry's hands when Mrs. Weasley let go and quickly dashed towards her potions cabinet to rummage through the bottles. Mrs. Weasley knew she had kept some in store for emergencies. At the bottom shelf, she saw it and quickly grabbed the vial.


The blue liquid swirled around in its container when Mrs. Weasley came back to where Harry was lying.


"Harry?" she said softly. "I have a potion that you need to drink." But Harry couldn't really hear her from his pain and screams.


Slughorn helped her hold Harry steady as they tried to pour the liquid to his mouth. He gagged a little and had a hard time swallowing, but some liquid managed to pass down his throat.


Hermione felt Harry's grip slacken but his breathing was still heavy.


Harry jerked away when Mrs. Weasley tried to touch his shoulder. She gestured for Ron to let go of his feet now that he was calming down. It left Harry physically exhausted and emotionally drained, but they could still hear him whimpering. His limbs felt like lead. Mrs. Weasley tried to call his name, but he was too weak to respond and too tired to open his eyes.


Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Slughorn were also in a weakened state as though they had been attacked by Dementors.


Mrs. Weasley placed the blanket again gently on top of Harry so as not to hurt him even more. She stood up and drew in a deep breath. Her energy had left her, and she looked as tired as the others. She made to go to the kitchen to get some water.


"I don't want to think about the number of times Harry has had to experience this," said Ron as chills ran down his spine. "If Harry has a high tolerance to pain, then what he was experiencing just now was probably the worst torture in hell."


They could only agree silently while they watched Harry trying to catch his breath. Mrs. Weasley returned with a cup of water for each of them. She cast another diagnostic spell at Harry; his fever was back.


"He's burning up again," Mrs. Weasley told the tense group. She wrung the soaked towel that Ginny brought earlier and placed it gently on Harry's forehead. She sat down in the armchair that Ron had vacated earlier and readjusted herself. She closed her eyes while from time to time she looked over at Harry on the sofa.


Silence fell on all of them for a moment as they assessed the situation. Harry's fever had been going haywire, and it was driving them crazy. As much as they wanted to get rid of his fever, it just wouldn't leave him alone. It was as though it had found its permanent residence in Harry's body and would leave only when it felt like it.


Harry felt really hot, and he couldn't stop himself from shaking and gasping for air. He could still feel his insides burning, but the feeling lacked that intensity which he had felt earlier. He took that as a relief, but he would still wince every now and then whenever he would move from where he was lying on. Eyes blurred with sweat, Harry opened them for only a fraction and saw hazy figures in front of him. I must have scared them, he thought to himself sadly.


He was terrified of what was happening to him earlier and couldn't stop his tears from falling as he tried to stay strong. He didn't want to think of what could happen next. He was scared - really scared that he might not make it next time. His friends were one of the reasons why he was willing to hold on to his life. He didn't want to leave, he couldn't, he mustn't, but he couldn't think anymore. His eyelids were becoming too heavy to lift. He felt the last of his strength leave him as he faded into unconsciousness.


Slughorn looked down at them all. He was leaning against the wall near the window. His arms were folded and his eyes were closed. The scene that took place a while ago was still fresh in his mind. "What have you done, Tom?" Slughorn cursed from under his breath. "Harry doesn't deserve this. He is only a teenager who should be doing teenage stuff and not live like this where his life is bound and destroyed."


"Professor," Hermione said in a low voice, looking up at Slughorn. "We may have to take a look at the book now while Harry's resting."


"Yes, of course," said Slughorn, straightening up. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny stood and followed him back to the kitchen.


"I went straight to the Headmaster's office the moment I left the Burrow yesterday," Slughorn informed them.


"Were you able to talk to Professor Dumbledore?" Hermione asked Slughorn quietly.


"I did. He was peering down at me in his portrait when I arrived," said Slughorn thoughtfully. "I'm sure he wasn't expecting to see me, but he somehow knew why..."


They all sat around the kitchen table.


"Dumbledore knew the purpose of your visit?" Ron asked with a raised eyebrows. "How is that even possible?"


"He must've suspected my urgency with a mind like his... it wouldn't be surprising."


"What did he say, Professor?" asked Ginny.


"Well... all I can say is... given the fact that I only came this morning... it took me a while to get rid of the protective enchantment that Dumbledore placed around the book."


Ron frowned. "Why is there an enchantment?"


"Isn't it obvious, Ron? Dumbledore wanted to make sure that no one else could take it," said Hermione keenly.


"I know that!" snapped Ron. "I was just wondering why he placed an enchantment if he knew that Slughorn would need it someday? Why didn't he just hand it in?"


They all glanced at Slughorn.


"I honestly never thought I would need it, Mr. Weasley," Slughorn admitted in a serious voice. "After learning from Dumbledore that Tom Riddle had successfully created Horcruxes, I regretted it to the point that I gave up trying to know more about it. Dumbledore, however, immediately began to search tirelessly of any connection regarding the subject. He sought my help but I had already abandoned the will to go on much further. He found this book and never told me. Instead, he placed an enchantment to hide and to protect it."


"Why did it take so long to get rid of the enchantment, Professor?" Ginny questioned.


Slughorn sighed sadly. "Because Dumbledore had passed on. It was the nature of the spell that was cast to stay unyielding. But let's not dwell more about it. The book is here now."


All of them turned their gazes at once in the middle of the table. The book was a large volume, bound in a textured, white pearlescent covering that gave a pleasant shimmer as the morning light hit it. The title Anima embossed in gold was right in its middle with silver wisp-like engravings surrounding most of the front and back cover.


"I haven't seen such an exquisite-looking book in my life," Hermione said in awe while delicately running her finger through it.


"What does Anima mean?" asked Ron, frowning.


"It's a Latin word for soul," Horace said simply. He looked at the front cover and secretly admired its design.


Ron stared at the engravings that stretched in different directions. "That looks creepy. If souls look like that, I don't think I would want one."


Hermione rolled her eyes at Ron and said, "It's only a representation of what souls would theoretically look like, Ron. Honestly!"


They sat around the table while gazing fixedly at the book. It looked out of place in the multi-coloured kitchen of the Burrow as far as Ginny could tell.


"Professor, why is the title in Latin?" Hermione asked curiously. "Is the whole book in Latin as well?"


"No. The texts inside are translated in old English," Slughorn informed them while opening the book. It looked so delicate with its paper turned yellow from old age, giving crisped sounds every time he flipped the page. "I don't really know for sure the origin of this book and why it was named in Latin. Regardless, based on what I've read so far, it was way older than the published Horcrux book." He laid the book back on the table.


"The soul's very existence allows magical forces to break apart one's soul for immortality, hence the name 'fragmented souls'," Slughorn continued. "If I remember correctly from Dumbledore, I believe this was the reason why a Horcrux book was created."


Ron grabbed the book and flipped through it as though looking for something. "Who wrote this? There was no listed author."


"The name doesn't matter, Ron," Ginny said. She snatched the book from his hand and put it back on the table. "It could be the cure that we need to find."


"Well, this better provide the answer that we're looking for. It's the only hope for Harry," said Ron as though he was ready to set the book on fire or tear it to pieces if it failed to provide the answer.


"Right," Hermione said as she gave a short nod.


Slughorn took the book again and started flicking through the pages until he had found what he was looking for. He pushed the book toward them and they read:


A soul touched by evil slowly incinerates its own existence until it ultimately ends. It would amount to a higher price to recondition the soul back if attempted. And if it should fail, in accordance with who may have tried, the cost will, therefore, be marked the same as the other.


"What?" asked Ron, completely lost. The way it was written was giving him the chills. "What does that mean, 'marked the same as the other'?"


Ginny's eyes widened. She couldn't seem to find her voice, not to respond to Ron, but to simply utter her shock and horror. She stared up into the grave face of Hermione and felt as though the ground beneath her were falling sharply away. It was only last night when they had talked about the possibility of completing a hard task to help Harry, and they had expected as much but -


Hermione was trembling slightly. With great difficulty, she looked up at them and quietly said, "To put it simply, if we fail to fix Harry's soul, we suffer the same fate as him."



To be continued...

A/N: My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!

Beta-read by KVeronicaP

Chapter 7: Chapter 7
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

"WHAT!" Ron bellowed in anger after hearing what would grimly happen if the attempt to save Harry's soul should fail.


"Mending a soul isn't as easy as drinking a Healing potion, Mr. Weasley," Slughorn said bluntly. "The law of nature isn't very forgiving when it comes to something as formidable as this." He looked at Ron, Hermione, and Ginny's gaping faces. "There is always a price to pay."


"I kind of already knew this would happen," said Hermione, her eyes on the book. "Creating a Horcrux has consequences as well, and Professor Slughorn is right; mending one wouldn't be an easy task to do."


All of them silently pondered the information they had just read and discussed.


"I would highly suggest that you think about this thoroughly before making a decision," said Slughorn. "Your life will be all at stake once this is started."


"What do we have to do, then?" Ron asked, eyeing the book with a look of loathing. "Is there a list of tasks written in the book?"

Hermione turned the page and was about to read the contents when they heard Mrs. Weasley's desperate voice trying to calm Harry in the living room.


"Harry! Please listen…" she pleaded. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Slughorn dashed in and saw her standing a few feet away from the sofa, her hands raised in a cautious manner, so as not to frighten Harry, and gazing imploringly at him. He was standing against the wall looking disoriented and frustrated at something unseen at the same time.


"Mum, what's going on?" Ron asked looking alarmed and bewildered at the pair of them. Harry caught sight of them.


"Ron!" he made his way toward him, stumbling a little as he did so. Mrs. Weasley hurried to Harry's side to help him, but he swatted her arms away.


"Harry, you have a very high fever right now!" she said, looking desperately anxious and exasperated. "You should be resting."


"Please, Mrs. Weasley. I'm fine," said Harry, walking away from her. He then looked at Ron and Hermione, whose eyebrows were raised. He whispered, "Why aren't we leaving?"


"Leave? Leave where, Harry?" Hermione asked him in confusion as she held Harry still. He shook so badly and couldn't seem to control his balance.


"Here!" he said, exasperated at Hermione's honest question. Didn't they know we have to leave now? he asked himself.


"Why?" Ron asked Harry, frowning at him.


Harry looked at him in surprise. Had he gone mad, too? Clearly he's joking, right? he wondered. "Look, we have to leave and find those – you know." He went closer to Ron and Hermione and said in a whisper, "Horcruxes."


Ron and Hermione exchanged worried glances. They had been fearing that something like this would happen to Harry. His mental state had been going on and off lately.


"Are you guys coming or what?" Harry asked his best friends. He felt increasingly impatient at the way they were looking at him. He was suddenly surprised to see Slughorn in the living room with them but didn't ask why he was there. Ginny was silently gazing at him as though he had gone mad.


"Harry…" Hermione was contemplating how best to approach the situations. She took a deep breath and said, "We already got rid of them, remember?"


Harry looked at her with complete shock. They couldn't have… not yet anyway, he told himself.


"What do you mean 'got rid of them'? ?" he asked, frowning at Ron and Hermione. He thought they were acting really strange and saying odd stuff, and he wasn't in the mood to waste time. "And remember what?"


Hermione gave a worried sigh. "We've destroyed all of them, Harry."


Harry gaped at her. Surely she's kidding, right? he wondered uncertainly, but the serious look on his best friends' faces was evidence enough to accept the fact.


"When?" he challenged. "We didn't leave the Burrow, so how could we possibly have destroyed the Horcruxes?"


Ron glanced at Hermione who looked back at him anxiously.


"We left the Burrow after Bill and Fleur's wedding last year, mate," Ron filled him in, much to Hermione's relief as she was starting to lose her words. "We tracked down the Horcruxes and found out how to destroy them along the way. We were pretty much away from the Burrow and Hogwarts for months."


Harry felt his head pounding with so much confusion.


"That's not possible," he muttered under his breath. "We were upstairs in your room just now discussing it and –" he paused, random images flashed across his mind. He absentmindedly shook his head and brought his hand to it as though it was suddenly hurting him. "No… no, I – Voldemort must be killed then. He –"


They were all looking at him with extreme worry now.


Mrs. Weasley approached him from behind and touched his arm. "Harry, dear… you have to rest now," she said firmly. "You are really sick –"


"But Professor Dumbledore has a mission for us, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said as he tried to get away from her grip. "We need to leave and look for the –"


"I'm sure Dumbledore wouldn't mind you resting for a bit," she cut him off and dragged him back to the sofa.


"I don't need rest, please… Voldemort is out there still. I have to kill him," he pleaded. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny didn't seem to know what to do. They felt rather uneasy with their friend's mental breakdown.


"Ron." Mrs. Weasley gestured for him to come. Harry was still attempting to escape. "Help me with Harry. And Ginny, grab the Calming Draught and Sleeping potion please."


Harry went out of control when he realized what they were about to do to him. He pulled himself away from them but with no luck.


"NO!" he exclaimed to Ron and Mrs. Weasley who were pinning him to the sofa. "No, no… please. Please don't make me sleep, please… please…" he pleaded desperately in between failed attempts to get away from their strong hold.


Hermione watched Ginny reappear in the living room with tears in her eyes and holding two vials of potions. It was hard to watch Harry like this; it was unnerving both of them.


"Please… don't." Harry begged desperately when he saw the potions. He was struggling against Ron and Mrs. Weasley to stop. His cries echoed inside the Burrow. "No! Please… please…"


Slughorn rushed forward and helped them pour the contents of the potions consecutively into Harry's mouth.


Harry gagged and choked slightly as the potion was forced into his mouth. He stopped struggling at once and felt his body and mind weaken. He took several calming breaths before slowly drifting to sleep. Ron and Mrs. Weasley released their grip and immediately set about checking Harry's temperatures. Mrs. Weasley cursed under her breath when she saw his fever was still high after giving him a potion a few hours earlier.


"I'm running out of potions in my storage," she informed Slughorn. "I can brew some more, but I have to buy the ingredients."


"I can brew them, Molly," Slughorn offered. "I have a huge stock of ingredients in my potions lab. I can even ask Madam Pomfrey for some potions if you would like me to."


Molly nodded her thanks.


"I think it'd be best if we bring him upstairs to his room," said Molly. Slughorn scooted Harry's limp arms and hoisted him up. Even in his old age, Slughorn was still surprisingly strong. He could've levitated Harry, but seeing how small and light the boy was for his age, he thought it best to just carry him.


Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were eyeing Harry sadly as they followed Slughorn to Harry's bedroom. He laid him in his bed gently; feeling Harry's skin burning with fever. Mrs. Weasley wiped Harry's forehead from all the sweat that was forming on his brow. Harry's face was red, and he looked as though he were flushed.


"Mum, is he gonna be alright?" Ginny asked worriedly.


Molly looked at her, afraid to say anything but she had to. "I don't really know, Ginny. He had been through a horrific ordeal for a span of only hours. Later on, when he wakes up, he could be feeling the relapses all over again, and I wish he wouldn't. I don't think I could live another hour seeing him suffer so much."


"He was slowly losing his memories," Ginny said glumly. "I'm scared to think that he might not remember us, too." Ron and Hermione shifted uncomfortably from behind Ginny.


"I've been thinking the same thing," Ron said, staring at Harry. "I'm afraid that it might happen one day if the process of mending his soul keeps delaying." He sighed and hesitated to say what was in his mind, but he continued after a moment, with a swallow. "I have seen him lose his memories twice... suspected that this would happen again, and yet each time, I would lose my confidence. It's frightening to see the best friend I once knew to be healthy and strong to end up so sickly and fragile."

Arthur Weasley arrived home early that afternoon after hearing what had happened to Harry. He was so quick to leave work at once that he had cancelled several appointments and sprinted, causing many people on his way out of the Ministry of Magic to turn their heads, one of whom was his son Percy who currently worked as a trainee in the Department of Magical Transportation.


"Dad!" Percy called when Mr. Weasley accidentally collided into his shoulder when he passed by him hurriedly out of the Atrium. "What's going on? Why are you in such a hurry?"


Mr. Weasley stopped and spun around, looking breathless.


"Sorry, son," he said. "I got a letter from your mum," he held up the piece of paper in his hand. "Harry's terribly sick and getting worse."


Percy gaped at him. "What do you mean Harry's sick, dad?"


Mr. Weasley hurriedly put a finger to his lips to signal Percy to keep quiet. A group of wizards looked at them curiously when they heard Harry's name, recognizing it as the name of the famous Boy-Who-Lived and defeater of You-Know-Who.


Harry had become ever more popular when news broke into the whole wizarding community and other countries as well because he had finally succeeded in killing You-Know-Who. They had not heard anything from anyone about Harry Potter ever since, and they had been dying to see him, meet him, shake his hand, interview him, and all other impeding purposes.


Arthur went closer to Percy and whispered, "Not here, Percy. I'll tell you when I get back."


"But –"


"Now is not the time, son," he said quietly. "I have to leave. I'm sorry. I'll let you know as soon as possible." Arthur patted his shoulder and hastened away, leaving Percy alone with his own bewildered thoughts.

"Arthur..." Molly greeted sadly when her husband arrived at the Burrow. Slughorn looked up as the door opened. He was already in the fireplace and about to leave.


Molly hugged Arthur and he felt his wife's despair that was slowly showing on her frame. She looked stressed, and she hadn't been sleeping well despite her attempts since she always worried about Harry's deteriorating health.


"Horace came by to see Harry," Molly informed him. "He is on his way back to Hogwarts."


Slughorn gave a curt nod at Arthur's direction before grabbing a handful of Floo powder and disappearing from the flames.


"Where is Harry?" Mr. Weasley asked her after letting go of the hug.


Molly cleared her throat and said, "We put him upstairs in his bedroom. We gave him a Calming Draught and a Sleeping potion. He is becoming delusional and aggressive, Arthur," she informed him. "He's losing his memories just like the last time at the train station... He had been thinking he was being picked up by his muggle relatives. This time he thinks You-Know-Who was alive, and he wanted to leave to look for those Horcruxes and destroy them. Ron and Hermione just filled him in a few hours ago. They're in Harry's room right now."


Arthur looked grim as he listened to his wife.


"What about Slughorn? Has he found any book yet?" he asked. He had been thinking about Slughorn's visits to the Burrow lately and was informed about looking for a certain book that would lead them straight to the cure.


"He has found a book. They have it up there in Harry's room. I don't know anything about it. I don't believe they have gone through the rest of the book yet because Horace had to leave to brew more potions. I'm running out, and I don't know what else to do." Molly sat in one of the kitchen chairs looking worriedly at her husband who remained standing.


"Has Harry been eating well?"


"No," she said sadly. "He barely touched the food that I prepared for breakfast. He wasn't already feeling well when he came downstairs. He was still under the sleeping potion when we had lunch, too. I probably should brew a couple of nutritional potions for Harry to take if it comes down to it."


Arthur nodded his understanding.


"How's everything at the Ministry, dear?" Molly asked, trying to change the subject to lighten the depressing mood.


But Arthur could only bring bad news for now. He sighed and knew that he slightly contradicted himself when he replied, "Everything's fine. The Aurors have rounded up quite a bunch of Death Eaters. I haven't seen the wizarding community back in high spirits for seventeen years. You-Know-Who's gone, and they want to hear more of the Boy-Who-Lived. The way they were acting, I would assume they very much wanted his autograph, bombard him with questions, and all those nonsenses," he said with disgust. "They also said that Harry shouldn't be hiding, but instead, celebrate life in public with pride for being the saviour of the wizarding world. If only they knew what is really going on…" he trailed off, unable to say any more on what was in his mind.


"I wish they would just leave the poor boy alone," said Mrs. Weasley. "No one else knew about Harry's illness except us, right?"


"Well, I told Percy on my way here. I ran into him. He wanted to know why I was in such a hurry to get home, so I kind of told him that Harry's sick."


"How is Percy?" she asked. "He wouldn't tell anyone, would he?"


"Percy's alright," he said. "He wouldn't tell anybody. He knows it's family business so don't worry about him. And no one else knows, but as much as we want to keep it to ourselves, it may not be possible. People will eventually find out soon enough if Harry hasn't been seen for a long time and if there are no changes in Harry's health. It could cause suspicion, and they might start looking for his whereabouts. "

Meanwhile, in Harry's room, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were discussing what they had just read in the book. Ginny sat cross-legged beside Harry who was fast asleep behind her. She held the Anima book in her hands. Ron was on the floor looking totally bored out of his mind, his head lulling as he drifted on and off in his sleep. Hermione, on the other hand, paced back and forth in front of them in deep thought.


"Tell me the first ingredient again, Ginny," Hermione said in frustration. To her, the ingredients were annoyingly cryptic to even comprehend. However, they had learned that a certain potion must be brewed and drank by the one who would attempt to mend a soul. They had been throwing out guesses for hours now, and they felt they were not even close to reaching the right answer.


"A strand of an untamed creature that is a visage of death," Ginny read in an audible whisper.


Hermione made a frustrated sigh. "There are a lot of ferocious creatures that could possibly be a visage of death... like a werewolf."


At the mention, Ron got a distant look in his eyes when a memory suddenly flashed through his mind. The magnified eyes of Professor Trelawney opened dramatically, and a look of shock etched onto her face when she cried to Harry, "My dear, you have the Grim!" Ron blanched at the thought.


"Do you think we need to tame a werewolf?" Ginny gravely wondered out loud, causing Ron to come back to reality.


"Dragons are pretty nasty creatures!" suddenly stated Ron. "They look like death to me." Hermione stopped her pacing but gave Ron no reaction that she had heard him when she responded back to Ginny. He frowned, feeling as though he was being ignored.


"I haven't even heard of a tamed werewolf. I am hoping that we wouldn't have to... no..." Hermione said thoughtfully. "It would be impossibly difficult to tame considering a werewolf loses entirely its human sense of right or wrong."


"That's true," Ginny agreed. "Although I doubt that a werewolf suffers from a permanent loss of moral sense according to that one book that I have read. It's completely rubbish."


"Are you talking about a book called 'Lupine Lawlessness: Why Lycanthropes Don't Deserve to Live'?" Hermione asked, her eyebrows knitting together.


"Yeah, that's the one," answered Ginny. Ron scowled at them.


"I wouldn't bother reading that book again. The way Professor Emerett Picardy wrote his thoughts about werewolves... I just can't... all loaded with crappy information." Hermione resumed her pacing. "What other creature than a werewolf could possibly symbolize death?"


"Dragons... crows... thestrals... the Grim..." Ron kept throwing some guesses. He shuddered at the thought of the Grim once again, remembering Harry's pattern in the teacup which he perceived at first was a bowler hat.


"Dragons could be true," Hermione said distantly when a memory of the dragon they saw in Gringott's bank suddenly showed on her mind.


Ron blinked for suddenly being regarded by Hermione, but she shook her head and said, "But I don't think it -" Her face suddenly lit up when the realization hit her.


"Thestrals!" she exclaimed.


"As crazy as it sounds, there was a time when Luna mentioned something about a creature that no one else can see unless you've seen death." Ron disclosed, relieved.


Ginny smiled and said, "That's it, then."


"Oh, Ron!" Hermione squealed in delight.


Ron raised his eyebrows at her, and asked, "But aren't they only good for pulling carts at Hogwarts or to transport you by flying?"


Hermione rolled her eyes. "Don't be silly, Ron. We studied them in Care of Magical Creatures with Hagrid, remember?"


"I still have the book," Ginny informed them. "We can look it up." Without waiting for an answer, she stood up and made her way to her room to fetch it.


"Ugh!" Ron slumped on the floor and glared at them. "More reading?"


"Honestly, Ron!" Hermione snapped at him. "You weren't really helping us. All you ever did was sleep."


"I did not!" he defended loudly causing Harry to shift in his sleep, but Harry didn't wake. Ron decided to just continue his glare at Hermione.


Ginny came back with the book in her hand. She opened the page to where "Thestral" was located and handed it to Hermione. She took it with great enthusiasm and started reading the contents silently.


"I found something," she said to them. "It is rumoured that the tail hair of a Thestral has been used as a powerful wand core."


"Rumored?" asked Ron.


"There might be a reason why," said Hermione. "We can ask Professor Slughorn when he comes back."


"Could that wand core possibly be in the Elder Wand?" Ron tried to guess. "It's the most powerful, right?"


"There's a high chance that it could be," muttered Hermione.


"So we need a strand of hair from a Thestral, then?" Ginny asked, wanting to confirm their suspicion now so they could move on to the next ingredient.


"I would think so," said Hermione. "I mean, it fits all the criteria in the book, and I don't know any other creatures that are a visage of death, do you?"


"Let's say we agreed on the Thestral," Ron chimed in. "How do we get the hairs then if we can't see them?"


Silence momentarily fell on them, and only Harry's breathing could be heard.


Hermione looked outside the window and said in a quiet voice, "I'm sure we can already see them. We've witnessed enough deaths at the war. The battle at Hogwarts took many lives, and as much as I would have wanted to refrain from witnessing someone dying, I just have to accept it."


Ron and Ginny nodded at her silently.


"Are the Thestrals at Hogwarts tamed?" Ron asked suddenly.


"Hagrid suspects that they're the only trained large group of Thestrals in the whole of Great Britain," Hermione said, remembering the class they had on their fifth year before Dolores Umbridge ruined his teaching career.


"Then, we have to find a wild one?" he asked.


"Yes," she said simply.


"But where? You don't think we have to leave the country and look for one, do you?"


"That's exactly what I think," said Hermione. She read another passage on Thestrals and said, "They're native in Ireland as well as Great Britain according to the book, and some parts of France and the Iberian Peninsula... but they are very rare, too, so we may have a hard time looking for them."


"Maybe Hagrid can help," Ginny suggested. "If there is someone who knows everything about Thestrals and other creatures, that would be Hagrid."


Hermione nodded. "That's true. We can send him a letter or we could go and visit him at Hogwarts."


"I can imagine his reaction once he finds out why we need the hair of a Thestral," said Ron glumly. "He'll go ballistic."


Hermione considered what he said. "But we don't have a choice here, do we? Harry's dying and we need to do something."


"I'm sure Hagrid will understand," said Ginny.


"Oh, he will after he strangle us!" Ron said sarcastically.


"Regardless whether Hagrid understands or not," said Hermione. "It wouldn't be easy to tell anybody what we plan on doing –"


"Doing what?" Harry asked suddenly. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny jumped in surprise.


"Harry!" they called.


Harry had finally awoken from his sleep and heard only a snippet of what Hermione was saying. He still felt groggy, but he managed to sit up straight in his bed. Ginny automatically slipped his glasses in his face.


"Doing what, Hermione?" he asked again, his voice raspy.


"N–nothing, Harry," she said nervously, casting a look at Ron and Ginny who were nervous as well for almost being heard. The one person they never wanted to tell for now was Harry. They knew he wouldn't take it lightly if he found out, and they remembered Harry wouldn't want anybody risking their life just for him; he had protested against situations like that many times already.


"How are you feeling, mate?" Ron asked, trying to save Hermione who was obviously bad at hiding things and lying about them.


Harry was still in a daze but managed to say, "I feel weak but I'm okay, I guess. Did I miss breakfast? I can't really remember anything."


"You tried to have breakfast," said Ron. "But you missed lunch. Are you sure you can't remember what happened a few hours ago?"


"Why? Did something happen?" asked Harry. His hair was looking dishevelled.


"You were saying odd stuff about looking for Horcruxes and wanting to leave the Burrow to kill Voldemort. Do you remember any of that?"


"I was what?" Harry tried to rack his brain but shook his head. "No. I don't remember."


"Well, don't worry about it now, Harry. You must be starving already," said Ginny.


Harry nodded and made to get up. He could feel his knees not cooperating when he wobbled a little as he stood. Ginny grabbed his arm before he hit the ground.


"Are you sure you want to walk, Harry?" Hermione asked after finally letting go of her nervousness.


"Yeah," Harry said weakly. "Although I would need some assistance since I don't think I can walk steadily."


It was painstakingly slow as they made their way downstairs. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley rushed forward when they saw them coming down.


"Mum, do you have any dinner ready?" Ginny asked. "Harry's starving."


"Yes, of course, dear." Mrs. Weasley said with a smile at Harry and walked frantically onto the kitchen to set the table.


"How are you feeling, Harry?" Mr. Weasley asked, guiding him to a chair.


"I'm still feeling weak but I'm doing well, Mr. Weasley."


Mr. Weasley patted his shoulder and sat down next to him. Harry saw him setting aside the Daily Prophet newspaper away from the table.


"I haven't had the chance to ask, but how's the Ministry doing so far?" Harry asked. Mrs. Weasley set a bowl of stew and vegetable salads in front of them while eyeing Mr. Weasley beadily.


Mr. Weasley smiled sadly at Harry and said, "To tell you the truth, Harry, the celebrations after the war haven't died down, not even in the slightest." He cleared his throat and continued. "They actually want you out there with them and not to just disappear. Kingsley Shacklebolt is trying his best to change the course of any talk to something else so you would get peace of mind, but unfortunately, people always tend to bring up your name; they want you badly."


"But, of course, we wouldn't let anyone know what you have been doing nor your whereabouts, so you won't have to worry, dear." Mrs. Weasley added quickly, assuring him of his safety. She cast a charm to have some more bowls of stew zoom on the table.


Harry lowered his head. "I'm sorry," he muttered sadly. Everyone looked at him.


Mr. Weasley cocked his eyebrow and asked, "Why are you sorry, Harry?"


"For the trouble that you have to put up just so I could live a normal life."


"You never have to apologize for wanting something like safety in your life, Harry," said Mr. Weasley softly. "Everyone here knows how important it is for you to get away from all that unwanted fame that you didn't ask for in the first place. You have all the rights for a normal life."


"Oh, Harry." Mrs. Weasley squeezed his shoulders. "Let's eat before the food gets cold."


All the attention turned back to the food whose scent wafted deliciously in front of them. Harry's stomach growled suddenly, and he found himself very eager to eat, much to everyone's delight.


They were halfway on their bowls when Harry, a thoughtful expression on his face, asked his friends, "So what were you guys discussing earlier when I was asleep?"


Ron choked suddenly and quickly exchanged nervous glances, of which Harry missed for a fraction of a second, with Hermione and Ginny who fidgeted in their seats.


"Job applications," lied Hermione. "You know, we were planning on doing it."


"Oh, you changed your mind of continuing your final year at Hogwarts?" asked Harry who also turned to Ginny and asked, "You're going back to school, right?" Ginny gave a curt nod.


Hermione tensed. "N–no, Harry. I'm still taking my final year."


Harry frowned at her, totally confused. "But you said –"


"I meant, Ron's doing the job applications now, and we plan on doing ours once we graduate, right Ginny?" Hermione asked her quickly, and the younger girl nodded again.


Harry could tell that they were hiding something. He had known Hermione for seven years and he knew how much of a bad liar she was.


"So, what's in the Anima book?" he asked, taking a bite of the salad. "I saw it when we were about to leave the room." Upon hearing it, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley looked at each other in confusion.


Ron's fork fell in his plate in a loud clatter at the mention of the book while Hermione sat frozen on the spot, the stew that she was about to eat was dripping from her spoon. Ginny was nervously looking between Ron and Hermione, unsure whether to say anything or not. Harry didn't miss a thing.



To be continued...

A/N: My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!

Beta-read by KVeronicaP

Chapter 8: Chapter 8
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After dinner, Harry sat in his bed with Ginny beside him, holding her hand. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny already decided to fill Harry in on how Slughorn managed to find the book and on what they'd read in it.


"For now, we have to keep the secret from Harry that we are the ones attempting to mend his soul," Hermione had stated firmly and hastily to Ron and Ginny after pulling them aside in the empty seating room after dinner that night. "We couldn't risk him knowing it yet. He surely won't take it well." Ron and Ginny had agreed, looking downcast.


"The first ingredient," said Harry after listening to Hermione describe the ingredients that they had read in the book. "You think it is a Thestral's hair?"


Hermione went back to her pacing again while Ron sat on a chair beside the desk. He was nervous at the discussion they were having with Harry which he knew would inevitably reveal their purpose which Hermione had warned them against revealing sooner than he had thought.


"Yes," she answered. "It's very fitting concerning how it was described in the book, unless you know of something else, Harry."


Harry shook his head and asked, "How are we getting the hair?"


"Well," Hermione was looking at Ron and Ginny, not entirely sure whether or not to tell Harry that they were planning on asking Hagrid. "We actually don't know yet. We need wild Thestrals, and they're rare."


"I think I know who can help us," Harry said excitedly, but the rest of them already knew who it was.


"Hagrid?" Ron asked just to fill Harry's question quickly.


Harry was taken aback. He didn't know Ron could read his mind. Ron gave an uncomfortable smile.


"Yeah," he said. "He liked those creatures, so maybe he knows where to find wild ones."


Hermione nodded. "You're right, Harry. We could send him a letter."


"I'll do that," Ron volunteered quickly, and Harry was surprised again at Ron's behaviour, not that it was bad, but there was something odd about him that made Harry suspicious of the three of them. Ron, on the other hand, didn't want Harry to know that they were planning to tell Hagrid about Harry's situation.


"Right," said Hermione shortly. "Now that we've decided on that, let's move on to the next ingredient."


"Oh, finally," muttered Ginny.


Hermione held the book and read it aloud:


A piece of the doorway where life departs


They all stared blankly at Hermione. Ron could have sworn that each ingredient gave him a big headache.


"Seriously, why can't they just make it simple like 'a pinch of salt'?" Ron asked in an exasperated tone. "So is it referring to a gate on the cemetery?"


"Is it like a portkey?" Ginny piped up.


"Hmmm…" mused Hermione, unsure of Ginny's guess. "Portkeys instantly brings anyone touching it to a specific location… it could be the doorway, but it's very unlikely. It doesn't make sense to the part where it mentioned 'where life departs'."


"A portal of some sort, then?" Ginny guessed again. "It would make perfect sense if it referred to a portal. But looking for the doorway where it would lead someone to the afterlife seemed impossible to find. Honestly, I'm running out of ideas."


"We can talk to a dead person and ask whether they know of a doorway," Ron suggested sarcastically. "Maybe they could tell us."


"Ron's idea isn't bad at all," stated Ginny. "We can talk to a ghost at Hogwarts if we really have to."


"Do you think they would know?" asked Hermione, looking doubtful. "I mean, if they know about a doorway, their soul would have departed already, wouldn't they? They wouldn't stay as ghosts forever."


"Is there any other way then to talk to a ghost who has departed?" Ron asked in a hopeless voice.


"There's one," said Hermione. "I know it's simply pointless to even bring it up since it was lost in the forest..." she glanced uncertainly at Harry.


"You mean, the Resurrection stone?" Ron asked in earnest, knowing instantly to what she was referring.


Harry looked up at them at once. At that moment, his memories in the Forbidden forest came flooding back in his mind. He had turned the stone over in his hand three times, enabling him to talk to his parents, Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin. He remembered they had been neither ghost nor truly flesh. Along with Ron and Hermione, Harry had told Dumbledore's portrait that he had dropped it in the Forbidden Forest and would not go looking for it again to which Dumbledore had quickly agreed.


"Yes," Hermione answered Ron. "The stone has the power to recall the dead, but - well..." she trailed off.


Harry watched them uncomfortably. There was nothing they could do about the stone. He wouldn't be able to pinpoint exactly where, and to go looking for it again would be extremely hard and a waste of time. He wanted to help his friends, but like Hermione had said, it would be pointless.


"Let's just forget about the stone," said Ron quietly. "Do you know of any other way to talk to a departed soul?" He looked expectantly at his friends, but all of them stayed silent.


Harry closed his eyes and remembered the night he talked to his parents and his godfather, Sirius. He missed him so much. Harry still couldn't believe the dream he had of him floating away and dying on the Veil –


Harry gave a sharp intake of breath abruptly. He opened his eyes and tried to repeat the ingredient in his mind, 'A piece of the doorway where life departs'. His heart hammered fast. Could it be that the Veil is a doorway because a soul might depart on it just like what happened to Sirius? he thought seriously to himself. It made perfect sense, and it fit!


Harry chose this moment to intervene. "Yes," he voiced out suddenly, his eyes glinting fervently at them all.


Hermione stopped her pacing which Ron thought was a relief as it had started to annoy him.


"What do you mean, Harry?" she asked eagerly.


"The Veil," he said simply. At first, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny didn't understand what Harry meant about 'The Veil', and slowly, as though a fog had cleared their minds, realization finally dawned on their faces.


"Yes!" Hermione squeaked with delight. "Oh my goodness, Harry. Why didn't I think of that?"


"Why didn't you tell us earlier?" Ron questioned, he was a little surprised at Harry, but he gave a smirk that said 'Well done' for saving their minds from overthinking.


"I only just remembered the dream I had of Sirius floating away on some sort of an archway," Harry answered Ron. "And then you told me he fell through the Veil."


"Couldn't you still remember the whole thing of what happened that day?" asked Ginny. She was looking at Harry sadly.


Harry thought for a moment. "I've had flashes of memories... but they're all jumbled in my head in some way. Anyway -" He straightened up. "Let's just say for now that we've figured out the second ingredient, how do we get there? And what does it mean 'a piece of a doorway'? Do we have to dig in the rock surrounding the Veil?"


"It was very hard and confusing to get to it," reckoned Hermione, thinking hard. "The Death Chamber where the Veil is located is a room in the Department of Mysteries. To be able to get there, we have to take the lifts to level Nine from the Ministry Atrium. Apart from the plain black door that leads to the Entrance Chamber, that level has no other windows or doors... and the chamber has a circular room with handleless doors that would disorient any unauthorized personnel, but it would respond to a verbal request for an exit by the opening of the correct door."


"We might have to ask someone from the Ministry if they could do us a favour of getting that piece," Ron advised. "Mind you, it'll be difficult to let them agree on us that easily. They will want explanations as to why they're doing it."


"Maybe dad or Percy can help us," Ginny suggested. "Dad has been inside the Department of Mysteries when he was guarding the prophecy like two years ago. He would know of the Veil for sure."


Ron snorted at hearing Percy's name. "Sure, dad can do it, but I don't think I would trust Percy that much. He's such a nosy git if you ask me and only thinks of his own well-being. I still haven't forgiven him after what he did to our family."


"He's changed already, Ron," Ginny argued. "He knows where he stands now... and don't forget, he gave up his room to Harry so he can live with us. Isn't that enough proof? You need to forgive him. He means no harm to us now."


"I'll forgive him if he even knows where the Veil is at." Ron snapped at her. "I'm sure he doesn't even know how to get to the Department of Mysteries."


Ginny could only sigh in frustration. Harry knew from experience that it was always hard to argue with Ron when things got tough. Ignoring this was the only way.


Hermione suddenly chimed in to break Ron and Ginny's momentary argument. "To answer your question, Harry, I think you're right. They would have to dig and get a piece of the stone archway since it asks for a 'piece' of it."


"Do you imagine yourself drinking the potion with a piece of stone in it – plus the hair of a Thestral?" asked Ron, looking disgusted. "I think I'm gonna be sick before I even ask what the third ingredient is."


Then all of them quickly looked at the third ingredient that, according to the book, was the second to the last before they would start brewing. It read:


A tear from a guise to obscure from demise


"A what?" they chorused altogether after reading, except Hermione.


Ron scratched his head, obviously not liking what he had just read.


"'A guise to obscure from demise'," he repeated and stared at his two best friends who were in deep thought as well. "What does it mean?"


"Well," began Hermione. "See here," she indicated the word 'guise' and said, "It means form," then she read the next one, "Obscure means 'undiscovered' or 'unknown', while this –" she pointed at the word 'demise'. "Means 'death'," she expertly translated to them.

"So, you're saying…?" Ron tried to guess but his mind had apparently failed to work at the moment.


"– That we have to look for a certain form that cannot be discovered by death." Hermione finally declared.


All three of them stared at their friend who was patiently waiting for them to give out suggestions. When no one spoke, she sighed and said, "Let's put it this way, what makes a form undiscovered?"


"When you try to hide?" Harry asked uncertainly.


Hermione nodded. "And hiding from death means?" she gestured for Harry to continue with his guesses.


"Hang on," said Ron, looking bewildered. "Is it even possible to hide from death? I mean, if it's your turn to die, you die. There's no other way around it, is there?"


"I don't think it refers to the actual dying," explained Hermione. "I think it refers to Death itself. So let's go back to my original question, shall we?" She eyed them all with excitement, and they nodded. "Hiding from Death means?"


"You have to be invisible," Harry answered at once. "And to do that, you have to have the –"


"Invisibility Cloak!" The three of them chorused again. Ginny had a look in her eyes that showed how enthusiastic she was for finally unveiling the cryptic ingredients.


"But the question is," Ginny spoke to them after a while. "Where is the cloak?"


Harry wondered that too, but Hermione was prompt to answer it for Ginny.


"I still have it in my beaded bag."


"Did you bring the bag, then?" Harry asked right away.


"Yes, I brought it with me when I came here. It's in Ginny's room. I haven't really had the chance to empty the contents, so all the things we brought with us when we left the Burrow a few months ago are still there."


Harry was relieved to hear that. He was about to panic at the thought that Hermione might not have had it with her that whole time.


"What do we do with the cloak, then?" Ron asked curiously.


Hermione looked hesitant to say the next step, especially to Harry. She knew he wouldn't like it, but she had no choice.


"We tear it," she whispered without looking at any of them.


"What?!" Harry asked loudly as though he hadn't heard the first time. He wanted to hear it wrong so badly and not let Hermione confirm it again. Ron and Ginny were looking at them tensely.


"It's what it said in the book, Harry." Hermione croaked nervously.


"But –"


"We only need to rip a small portion of it," she asserted quickly, and added in a low voice, "I believe."


Harry's mouth hung open, still not believing that they actually had to ruin the cloak.


"But the Cloak of Invisibility is like the king of all cloaks!" declared Ron. "Could you really rip it apart?" He gazed at Hermione uncertainly.


"Remember, Xenophilius confirmed that no enchantments or spells can rip or damage it, but only the possessor of the cloak can," she glanced at Harry who looked away quickly. "You are the possessor, Harry."


Harry found it hard to believe Hermione's words at the moment. He valued the cloak for so long; it had been passed down from generations to generations and only to be torn down by, who else, but him. He didn't want to accept it, but - What else can I do?  he frustratedly asked himself silently.


"It's probably the only way, Harry," Hermione said softly after a moment of silence. "I'm sorry."


Harry nodded his understanding but didn't bring it up again. Hermione was glad enough to leave it and checked the last ingredient in the book.


A drop of the afflicted's blood


"It's my blood," Harry said simply. There was no need to deduce it. It was simple, and Hermione nodded.


"How long do you guys think we have to wait before we have collected all the ingredients?" Ginny asked.


Hermione began calculating mentally. "Since we have the last two ingredients... we will only be needing the Thestral's hair... and the piece of the archway. Hopefully, it wouldn't take us months before we get them."


"Months?" Ron asked incredulously. "I don't think Harry –" he stopped abruptly after realizing what he was about to say. He glanced at Harry apologetically, but Harry dismissed his meaning.


"It's okay," Harry mumbled, paying his attention elsewhere other than at Ron or anyone else. "I know you meant to say that I don't have that much time left. I wish I could say that it's not true, but I would only be lying to myself. So I guess it's best for me to say... I'll just do what I can to stay alive."


Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were silent for a moment.


"We will have to ask dad about the Veil, Ron," Ginny told him quietly. "And send the letter to Hagrid straightaway."


"It's too late now," Ron pointed out, checking the time on the wall. "Dad's asleep and Pig won't want to deliver a mail at midnight knowing the recipient is fast asleep as well."


"Let's do it early the next day, then," she suggested and looked at Harry apologetically, but he just merely shrugged as though saying it didn't matter to him.


"So, how long do we have to brew this potion?" inquired Ron, his eyes travelling from Hermione and to the book that she held. "Does it say?"


Hermione checked. "Only an hour. The ingredients are really hard to find for someone who hasn't got any knowledge about –" she gasped suddenly.


"What?" everyone asked her in alarm.


"I only just realized – but it must be just a coincidence as well," Hermione's eyes were wide while she muttered under her breath.


"Just say it already, will you?" Ron cried with an exasperated sigh. With all the times they had to guess the ingredients, Harry could tell that it had started to annoy Ron, and even he had become rather impatient.


"The three ingredients," she uttered excitedly. "They are very similar to the Deathly Hallows!"


They all looked astonished.


"I would assume that the tail hair of the Thestral is a very powerful core to be used in a wand," Hermione explained quickly. "And the only powerful wand we know existed is the Elder Wand. The archway of the Veil enables you to look through the afterlife like the Resurrection stone –"


"No wonder I could hear faint whispering and murmuring noises as though someone was standing right behind the Veil and trying to communicate with me when I approached it," Harry confessed, unsure of why he had remembered it all of a sudden like it hadn't left his mind, but only the death of Sirius had been lost. He seemingly thought his memories had been put in disarray and he had a hard time putting them back together.


"Right," agreed Hermione. "And Harry's Cloak of Invisibility is the same as the one in the story, making all three ingredients exactly like Deathly Hallows."


Confused, Ron asked, "So... what does that have to do with anything?"


"This makes me confident that we have the right ingredients - just like having the three hallows makes you a Master of Death. This, perhaps, does the same with a sickness like Harry's," replied Hermione assertively.


Ron mused. "And you said it only takes an hour to brew the potion... but why is the time so short?"


"Looking for the ingredients are complicated enough that no one would probably dare try and do it," guessed Hermione. "And brewing it I would say... The ingredients have one similar power in them that mixing them as one wouldn't take that long."


All these revelations made Harry's heart beat faster. He breathed a sigh of relief. He began to feel excited and hopeful that looking for a cure was very much possible. Harry spoke with excitement before he could even stop himself. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but I can't wait to drink that potion and be done with this damaged soul!" His face broke into a smile as renewed hope came into existence inside him.


If there was one thing that Harry wasn't expecting to see after figuring out the ingredients, it was the reactions he received from Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. He could see fear and alarm on their faces as though they had swallowed something they shouldn't. He could feel Ginny's hand turn ice-cold as he held hers, Ron had suddenly broken out with sweats, and Hermione just stood transfixed on the spot looking rather petrified.


"What's going on?" he asked uncertainly; he began to look terrified at their ongoing reaction. "Did I say something wrong?"


No one dared to glance at Harry. Hermione fidgeted nervously and miserably failing to calm herself. Ron and Ginny averted their eyes somewhere else.


"What?" Harry asked them again, slowly losing his patience.


Hermione made a deep, nervous breath and said in a quivering voice, "Harry… d-don't be mad and please hear me out f-first."


"Why? What did you do?" he asked in a dangerous voice.


"N-nothing," squeaked Hermione. "We did nothing, Harry."


"So what's the problem, then?" he asked impatiently.


Hermione hesitated. Her throat seemed dry at the moment. She looked at Ron and Ginny for help, but they only gave her worried glances. She cleared her throat and said, "Harry… the potion is meant to be drunk by… us."




Hermione's revelation had left Harry totally flabbergasted. Clearly they had read the book wrong, Harry thought in alarm. "But why? There must be a mistake. I am the one with the damaged soul, so I should be the one drinking the potion, right?" Harry glanced at them for confirmation.


"Harry, the book didn't say that you were the one who had to drink it," Ginny said softly in spite of her nervousness. "But the one attempting to save your soul have to."


Harry felt like his head was going to burst. He stared at Ginny with a mingle of worry and panic. "Wait - what are you saying, 'the one attempting to save?'" But Harry somehow already knew what it meant.


"We are the ones attempting to save your soul, mate." Ron finally disclosed the secret Hermione had warned them against revealing from the beginning. "We are the ones drinking the potion."


Harry shook his head in protest. "No, that couldn't be right. You must've read the instructions wrong."


"It's the only way, Harry." Hermione quietly stated.


"The only way to save my soul?" Harry asked incredulously.


Ron frowned at him. "Why? Do you really think you will be doing this all by yourself?"


"That's exactly what I think!" snapped Harry, frustration bursting inside him. "I don't want any of you to be involved –"


"It's our decision!" Ron fired back. "We're saving your life even if it means we have to risk our soul –"


Harry was stunned.


"WHAT!" he bellowed. Did I hear you right? You're going to risk your soul?" Harry's mind was in a panic.


Ron was terrified for accidentally spilling the truth to Harry.


"Harry, please listen!" cried Hermione who was now extremely frantic.


But Harry chose not to listen. He suddenly stood up and grabbed the book from Hermione who only realized too late what Harry was doing. He turned the pages quickly as though checking for something. His inside had gone numb when he reached the page from which they had been reading and his eyes scanned over the part where it said, 'It would amount to a higher price to recondition the soul back if attempted. And if it should fail, in accordance with who may have tried, the cost will, therefore, be marked the same as the other.' He was tremendously devastated. He could feel his blood draining and his hands shaking. Harry dropped the book on the floor and stumbled to the bathroom where he threw up all the contents he had ate that afternoon.


Ron, Hermione, and Ginny quickly followed him out. They watched him worriedly as he retched and heaved in the toilet. Ginny rubbed his back to comfort him and heard him sob silently. Ron and Hermione exchanged a sad look.


… Marked the same as the other... Those words kept repeating in Harry's mind. They can't do this. They shouldn't do this. Their own souls will be in danger!


"Please…" Harry muttered weakly. "Why you –" he heaved. "All want to risk your life?"


"Isn't it obvious, mate? We're family... and families help each other," Ron replied calmly.


Harry silently considered this. "But if you fail in this attempt –" his vision went foggy from unshed tears.


"Who said we're going to fail?" Ginny asked unbelievably. "It seems as though you expect us to mess it up. You have to have faith in us, Harry."


"You do trust us, don't you?" asked Hermione in a little disheartened tone of voice.


"I do," Harry answered quickly as he leaned his back on the wall and sat on the floor. "I have faith in you guys. I'm sorry if it doesn't seem like it… I just don't like the idea of all of you trying to risk your life just to save me. Your souls will suffer the same fate as me."


"We've gone over that consequence, Harry," reasoned Hermione. "We've already decided to push through with it regardless."


"Plus, it's not as exciting if there's no risk involved. Ow!" exclaimed Ron when Hermione stepped on his foot. "Besides, aren't you glad that you have us to help you out or else you're doomed? This is a fight you cannot take by yourself, Harry. You have to have backups in order to win."


Harry smiled at that. He was lucky to have friends who were willing to be by his side no matter what, but he still couldn't stop himself from feeling sad and worried for their well-being. They had made it sound like it was an easy task to do. It was true that they had taken risks and had overcome most of them, but he only wished this time that the chance that they were about to take would not fail, and instead, succeed so as to say it was worth it.


Harry slept fitfully that night. Images of his friends with their souls being ripped slowly and painfully apart because of him kept flashing in his mind. In the middle of the night, he laid awake in his bed thinking about the ingredients and summarizing what he had just learned. They had gone this far, and it was only a matter of time before his friends would start brewing the potion, drink it, and risk their lives. But a sudden question popped in his head, Does it say in the book that it needs all three people when attempting to save a soul? He didn't remember it being mentioned in the book. He would have to ask Hermione when she woke up. He closed his eyes and went back to sleep.



To be continued...

A/N: To those who have read this chapter, I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you for all the wonderful reviews, as well as those who followed and favorited. It was always inspiring and encouraging to continue writing. Once again, thank you for supporting this story!


My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!


Beta-read by KVeronicaP

Chapter 9: Chapter 9
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The morning sunlight poured through the window in Harry's room. Surprisingly, Harry felt really good that morning. He hardly ate that much anymore, but this time though, he finished breakfast complaining at how full his stomach was.


"It's a good thing that you got your appetite back," said Mrs. Weasley, clearly pleased to see Harry eating normally again.


This sudden feeling of health and interest in eating was somewhat odd in Harry's opinion. Truthfully, he didn't have the slightest idea what was really going with his damaged soul. He had felt ill for three weeks straight, and now it was like he was never ill in the first place. The change had started to scare him, but at the same time, it was something he wanted and needed in his life for once, allowing him not to worry.


Harry laid back down again in his bed with his friends around him. He wanted to talk to them more, and so right after breakfast, they went straight to Harry's room to talk about how best to tell Hagrid and Mr. Weasley about the ingredients, whom they had decided previously ought to hear about what they had planned.


"Don't you think it would be better off if we go to Hagrid personally and ask about the Thestral's hair instead of sending him a letter?" Harry asked, remembering Ron's eagerness at the time to owl Hagrid early the next day.


"Hagrid would be pleased to see us for sure," said Hermione, but Harry doubted whether Hagrid would be pleased once he found out the purpose of their potential call. "I wonder how's he doing now…"


Ron snorted. "He's probably out in the forest again taking care of Grawp. Do you reckon he has learned some more manners, or another English word, perhaps? I'd really like to hear that."


"Grawp helped Hagrid a lot in the war, you know," Hermione said matter-of-factly. "That proves that he's much more responding now."


"Responding?" scoffed Ron.


"The last time I saw him he was with the students at Hogwarts; they were throwing food into his laughing mouth," said Ginny, absentmindedly playing with Harry's hair, making it messier than it already was.


"Sure," said Ron dryly. "Next thing you know, Grawp's taking over Hagrid's teaching post. That'd be fun."


Harry laughed but Hermione just rolled her eyes.


"Speaking of teaching," she said thoughtfully, "I wonder if Hagrid will want to continue with Care of Magical Creatures?"


"I would assume he will," said Ron. "He loved it after all. We can just ask him all these questions when we come to visit."


"Do you think we should do it today?" Hermione asked them suddenly. "I mean, we're kind of in a hurry to get the ingredients, and I'm sure it'll take some time for Hagrid to find a wild Thestral, not to mention, he needs to travel out of the country."


"First of all, will he agree to it if we ask? I mean, that's a big task and –" Ron hesitated and said with a sour face, "I wouldn't want to watch over Grawp when he's away."


"That's probably what Hagrid's gonna do," Harry pointed out. "He asked us to take care of Grawp before, remember?"


"Let's not worry about it once we talk to Hagrid. He may not even mention his brother. So," said Hermione as though they had finally reached a conclusion. "Are we agreeing, then, that we visit Hagrid today?"


"I don't see why not," said Ron quickly.


Ginny glanced worriedly at Harry and said, "No offence Harry, but do you feel you can travel?"


"I think I can," he said confidently, although he wasn't entirely sure himself. "Besides, I miss Hagrid."


But Harry was sure Ginny was not convinced when she bit her lip, and he could see Hermione looked away after giving an anxious glance with Ginny.


"As much as you want to see Hagrid, I don't think you should come, Harry," Hermione said seriously. "I can't believe that I totally forgot that you're ill."


"But I'm not," said Harry rather forcefully. He felt his heart constrict painfully at the thought of missing out on seeing Hagrid. He didn't know if he would see him again if he didn't go now. "I mean, I feel fine today," he added as an afterthought, trying his best to look convincing.


"Sorry, mate," Ron interjected. "But I think Hermione's right. It's risky, and I wouldn't want to carry you if you ever faint in one of your attacks."


Harry frowned. "But I'm not gonna have another attack. Not now, anyway. Like I said, I feel fine."


Ron snorted.


"Harry," said Ginny. "That burning feeling you had was pretty unpredictable. I've seen it before at different times. You don't think I wouldn't have picked up on that, do you? But I figured it out. You can't really keep it a secret the way you were dealing with it."


Harry refused to budge. "But I haven't seen –"


"Hagrid will understand, Harry," Hermione cut him off. She looked at his emerald green eyes with a soft expression on her face.


"He'll probably come bursting in on here once he finds out that you're sick," said Ron, trying to cheer him up even though what he said sounded awful.


Harry glared at them. He hated this, hated the helplessness he felt at not being able to do what he wanted, hated the frustration he felt of falling ill at any time. "Fine!" he snapped and he folded his arms.


"Then I won't be coming along, too," Ginny informed Ron and Hermione.


Harry looked at her with surprise, but he already knew why.


"I knew you'd say that," said Hermione.


Ron made a face at Harry and Ginny and menacingly said, "You both better not do something while we're away."


"Do what, exactly?" Ginny asked in a stern voice. "You wouldn't be here anyway, so you wouldn't know if something happened."


Ron was about to retort back, but Hermione stopped him. "Now, we have to talk about your dad." She looked at Ron and Ginny.


"What about him?" Ron asked, still in a foul mood at his sister.


"We'll wait for you to come back before we talk to him," Ginny replied to Hermione who nodded.


"Better be careful what you tell your dad," Harry said suddenly, not looking at them. "If he finds out about your plan on that potion, he might take it worse than I did."


Free from pretense, Hermione spoke, "We'll tell him the details but not all of them."


"Oh, you mean to leave out the part where you drink the potion and risk your life?" Harry asked with a look of contempt plastered on his face.


"Well… yes, that's about right," she said calmly, not wanting to argue with Harry.


"Great," said Harry sarcastically. "I can't wait to see that."


"What's wrong with you?" asked Ron with a disapproving look on his face.


Harry shrugged.


"Don't worry about him," said Ginny. "He's just upset that he's not coming to see Hagrid."


Harry glared at her. "I said I'm fine."


"You'll be able to see him soon, Harry," said Hermione consolingly, but Harry clearly doubted that.


After a minute of silence, Hermione stood up and said, "Right. We better get ready to leave, Ron." And with that, they walked out of the room, leaving Harry and Ginny behind.

An hour later, Ron and Hermione arrived in a fairly roomy office of Horace Slughorn. They had decided to Floo to his fireplace to arrive at Hogwarts quickly. They looked around and saw the usual two large sofas that greeted them. Hermione remembered all too well the number of times she spent in this room where Professor Slughorn had held his parties, but today it was empty, and even Slughorn was not there.


"Where do you reckon he's at?" asked Ron after they scanned the office for him.


"He's probably in his Potions lab, brewing," said Hermione. "Remember when Mrs. Weasley asked him for more Healing potions for Harry?"


They made their way out of the door and into the corridor, and they went six floors down and passed the Great Hall without any interruptions.


"It's weird seeing the castle so empty," said Ron. "But at least they've managed to fix most of the damage from the war."


"Of course they have," she said while rolling her eyes. "It'd be hard to study if there are a mass of boulders scattered everywhere in the classrooms."


They walked outside the Hogwarts castle where they could already make out Hagrid's hut from a distance. Once they reached his wooden door, they knocked and heard several booming barks from Fang inside.


Hagrid's big, hairy face appeared in the door crack as he pulled it open. His eyes widened in shock when he recognized who they were.


"Ron! Hermione!" he greeted happily, giving them both bone-cracking hugs. "Come in!"


"Hi, Hagrid!" said Hermione with a smile. An enormous black boarhound bounded straight to Ron and started licking his ears like always.


"What's the two o' yeh doin' here?" Hagrid asked, still looking surprised at the sudden visit. He offered them tea which they took gratefully and sat down in his overly large armchair.


"We miss you, and we thought we'd come by and visit," Hermione said brightly, hoping that Hagrid wouldn't notice that Harry was missing.


She was wrong unfortunately when Hagrid said, "Thanks, Hermione. But where's Harry? He's comin', isn't he?"


Ron and Hermione glanced at each other before she spoke.


"Uh... no, Hagrid. He's resting right now."


"Restin'?" he asked curiously.


"He's really sick." Ron managed to say.


"Sick?" Hagrid's thick brow twitched as he frowned slightly.


"Actually, he's the reason why we came, Hagrid," said Hermione, suddenly serious. "We need your help."


"I had known Harry fer years an' I knew most 'o the injuries Harry's endured in the past, but the way yer said it, Hermione, it mus' be grave... Wha' happened ter him?"


Hermione took a deep breath. "His soul is damaged."


Hagrid raised his eyebrows. "Soul? Wha' d'yeh mean it's damaged?"


"Do you remember when Voldemort killed Harry's parents when he was a baby?" she asked.


Hagrid nodded.


"Well, that night when his cursed backfired, he accidentally transferred a part of his soul to Harry, making Harry a Horcrux."


Hagrid looked puzzled at the mention of the word "Horcrux", but he didn't say anything.


"When you thought Harry was killed in the Forbidden forest the night we had the war," continued Hermione. "It was actually Voldemort killing his soul inside of Harry, that's why he's alive. But –" She paused; Hagrid was making a guttural sound as he listened to her, his eyes looking grim, but he ushered Hermione to go on.


"A Horcrux is very dark and evil. Once a Horcrux invades another soul, in which case, Harry's soul, it becomes damaged even if the Horcrux or shall I say, Voldemort's soul, was destroyed."


"And now Harry's suffering… and he's dying, Hagrid." Ron said sadly.


Hagrid was speechless for a moment. "No," was the only word he could utter. "Tha's got ter be the worst thing I ever heard in my life... and I've heard many other terrible things, but not like this... He must be hurtin' so much."


"Not all the time," said Ron. "He's had days when he's feeling alright, but lately he's been in a terrible state. He's losing his memories... and throwing up blood. You don't want to imagine, Hagrid. It's very painful to watch."


"Yes," said Hermione. "We were looking for a way to mend his soul."


"Did yer find any?" Hagrid asked quickly, looking hopeful.


"Yes," she told him. "Professor Slughorn helped us find a book that could tell us how. We have to brew a potion... but it's tricky. We need to find ingredients, and that's where you come in, Hagrid."


Hagrid raised his eyebrows. "Wha' do I need ter do?" he asked eagerly. "I would do anythin' ter help Harry."


"We need a Thestral's tail hair," said Hermione.


Hagrid made a sigh of relief. "Oh, that's easy. We have a bunch here a' Hogwarts."


Hermione shook her head. "No, Hagrid. We'll need a wild Thestral."


"Wild?" he asked, frowning.


"Yes. Do you know where to find one?"


A silence fell as Hagrid thought hard.


"I think I know where," he said after a while. "They're very rare... and yeh have ter be an experienced wizard before yeh try n' handle 'em."


"You would be able to, wouldn't you?" Ron asked for confirmation before he could stop himself.


"O' course," he said proudly. "Only it'll be a bit o' a challenge, I must say. When d'yeh need it?"


"As soon as possible," Hermione said quickly.


Hagrid nodded making note of his task. "I would want ter come n' see Harry for meself when I have the tail hair," he told them.


Hermione smiled. "He'd like that, Hagrid. He was upset that he couldn't come and talk to you."


"Well, tell him I'm comin' soon, will yeh?"


Ron and Hermione nodded. They stayed and chatted with Hagrid a few more hours before they decided to go home. They learned that he was coming back to teach Care of Magical Creatures again for the next term, and Hagrid was thrilled to find out that Hermione was coming back as well, a little less so when she declined from taking his classes for her final year.


Hagrid also mentioned his half-brother Grawp now preferred to live in the cave near Hogsmeade, rather than the forest, saying that he was happier there. Ron and Hermione were also glad to know that they didn't have to take care of Grawp once Hagrid went for a hunt of wild Thestral. They never ask the reason why and dropped the subject of Grawp hastily before Hagrid changed his mind.


Ron and Hermione went back to Slughorn's office shortly after they said their goodbyes to Hagrid. They tried to knock at the door just to see whether Slughorn was back in his office, and surprisingly, they found he was when he opened the door.


"Ms. Granger and Mr. Weasley!" he greeted. "What a surprise. Come in!"


They entered. Leather chairs with glowing lamps on each side welcomed them but they didn't sit.


"What are you both doing at Hogwarts?" Slughorn asked.


"We visited Hagrid for an ingredient written in the Anima book," said Hermione.


"Ah, I see you've managed to work out the ingredients," he nodded, praising her intelligence. "I would assume Hagrid'll get it?"


"Yes," she said curtly.


"Excellent," Slughorn said. He walked over to his table where a stack of potions vials was bundled protectively together. "I was about to go to the Burrow to bring these potions for Mr. Potter. How is he doing so far?"


"He's doing pretty well today before we left," said Hermione.


Slughorn nodded. "I am hoping it will continue. Anyway, seeing as you two are here, you wouldn't mind bringing the potions with you when you go back, would you?" he asked Ron and Hermione.


"No," Ron said with a shake of his head.


"Excellent." He gestured for Ron and Hermione to follow him into the fireplace so they could Floo back. "I expect your mother didn't need any potion while I was away. Do tell her to forgive me if it took me a while."


Ron nodded before he and Hermione disappeared into the flames.

Back at the Burrow, Ginny was helping her mother prepare for lunch while Mr. Weasley was reading the Daily Prophet when Ron and Hermione appeared in the kitchen fireplace.


"Oh, good; you're both back," said Mrs. Weasley. They realized Ginny must have already informed her of their whereabouts when Mrs. Weasley didn't ask where they had gone to.


Ron placed the stack of vials on the table. "Slughorn made me deliver these potions. Where is Harry?" he asked.


"He's upstairs," said Ginny. "He said he wanted to take a nap before coming down for lunch."


"I can put these vials in the storage if you want, Mrs. Weasley." Hermione offered.


"Thank you, dear."


Ron made his way upstairs to check on his best friend, not that he didn't trust him to be asleep, but he regarded the unpredictability of Harry's sickness as an important sign that he shouldn't be left alone. Sure enough, he heard him retching inside the bathroom when Ron reached on the first floor. He knocked, but Harry didn't answer. Ron turned the knob and was relieved that it was unlocked. He opened the door.


Harry was sitting on the floor, his head buried in the toilet, sweating profusely.


Ron hurriedly went beside him. "Harry!"


Harry wiped his mouth and looked at him weakly, a sad smile on his lips. Ron saw the dark shade of red in the toilet bowl before Harry flushed it down.


"I'm okay, Ron."


Ron closed his eyes in frustration at hearing Harry's automatic "I'm okay" answer.


"Bloody hell, Harry. You are obviously not okay!" Ron cursed. He was about to go and tell his mother when Harry stopped him.


"Please, it's not that bad," he said and he stood up. "I only threw up but I feel fine now, I swear."


"But you need medical attention, Harry. You're throwing up blood!"


"I know that... but it doesn't help."


Ron knew what that meant, but he wasn't willing to accept it. "Yes, it does!" said Ron through clenched teeth. "At least temporarily. I don't know why you're being stubborn." He let out an exasperated sigh.


"I promise I will take a potion the next time I feel sick," Harry assured him.


"I swear the next time you show even just an inkling of pain in your face I would automatically force a potion down your throat whether you like it or not!" Ron said firmly at Harry as they came down for lunch.


"I promised I would, Ron," Harry said with a sigh. "So please stop nagging me."


"Harry!" Hermione greeted when she saw him in the kitchen. "How was your nap?" she asked, remembering Ginny telling them that Harry took a nap right after she and Ron left the Burrow.


Harry saw Ron give him a dark look which he ignored when he replied, "It was good."


Hermione smiled but the corners of her mouth fell slightly when she saw Ron shake his head in disapproval.


They all sat around the table after Mrs. Weasley presented the day's lunch. There were shepherd's pies, roasted chickens with a side of vegetables, and pea soups. They all looked delicious, and even Harry couldn't help his mouth from watering, but not as much as Ron who looked as though he could eat the entirety of the food on the table, his worry and anger towards Harry momentarily dissipating.


All of them had their helpings on each of their plates when Hermione told Harry the conversation she and Ron had had with Hagrid.

"And Hagrid said he'll visit you soon, Harry," she said excitedly.


Harry smiled but made no comment. He continued twirling his fork with his fingers and looking sadly at the food in front of him. He wanted to eat so badly, but he had lost his appetite again. He pretended to eat, scooping a little each time.


"Did you two go to Hogwarts earlier?" Mr. Weasley asked even though Molly had already told him. His eyes travelled from Hermione to Ron.


"Yes, Mr. Weasley," Hermione answered. "I'm sorry if we weren't able to tell you where we were going. We had to rush."


"Rush for what?" Mrs. Weasley asked.


"We've read Professor Slughorn's book, and we found a way to mend Harry's soul. We had to rush so we can start the process soon," Hermione said brightly. She glanced over at Harry who shifted in his seat. He looked away quickly.


"Oh, that's very good news!" exclaimed Mrs. Weasley, and beaming at Hermione who now smiled nervously, realizing she might have said too much.


"So what have you learned in the book?" Mr. Weasley asked curiously.


"There was stuff that we have to get," Hermione said, eyeing Ron who was looking pale and Ginny, nervous. "That's the reason why we went to Hagrid."


"What stuff are those?" Mrs. Weasley asked while she scooped a portion of the shepherd's pie.


"We need a Thestral's tail hair –"


"That's a strange thing to get. That's written in the book?" Mr. Weasley asked, "and Hagrid knows where to get it?"


"Yes," answered Hermione, her hands turning cold.


"And what else do you have to get?" he asked after he drank his water. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny looked tensely at each other. No one seemed to be eating their food now that the course of the conversation about the ingredients had started.


"Uhm… the next one is from you, Mr. Weasley," she said in a quiet voice, if somewhat hesitantly.


Mr. Weasley's head snapped up. "Me?" he asked, his eyebrows raised. "What do you need that requires my assistance?"


Hermione delayed her reply for a second. She could sense her friends' nervous gazes. "Do you know the Veil in the Department of Mysteries, Mr. Weasley?" she asked as she held her breath.


"The Veil?" repeated Mr. Weasley, his face suddenly looked grim. Mrs. Weasley watched the conversation inquisitively.


Hermione nodded. She sat in numbed silence.


After sharing a brief look with his wife, Mr. Weasley answered in a low voice, "Yes, I know it. What do you need in there?"


"It has a stone archway built around it... and we're wondering if you could get a piece of that stone?" Hermione said, looking anxious.


"And this is written in the book as well?" he asked, looking mystified.


"Yes," Hermione answered with a nod.


"Well... I would have to make arrangements to get it. It's not that easy to break inside the Department of Mysteries as I'm sure you're all aware." Mr. Weasley eyed the nervous-looking teens in front of him. "I myself won't be able to sneak inside without proper order from the Minister. The Unspeakables will never let me in."


"Do you think the Minister will give you permission, dad?" Ginny asked abruptly.


"I don't see why not. Kingsley Shacklebolt is a proud member of the Order of the Phoenix before he became the Minister for Magic. I do think he will gladly help, especially if he knows Harry needs it." Mr. Weasley spared a look at Harry's direction who bowed his head over his plate. "Would that be all you need before I contact the Minister?" he asked Hermione.


"Yes," said Hermione. "Thank you, Mr. Weasley."


Relief spread from Ron and Ginny as they began to eat again.


"I do have to ask, though..." said Mr. Weasley, the scraping sounds of the plates suddenly ceased again. "What do you plan on doing to it once you get it? How does it help Harry?"


Beads of sweat started forming in Hermione's forehead. Ron and Ginny watched her with bated breath, even Harry looked up from his plate.


"We – we make a potion out of it," she answered with a quivering voice.


"Ah," said Mr. Weasley, a look of dawning in his eyes.


Does Mr. Weasley know what would happen next? Harry thought.


Looking highly sympathetically in Harry's direction, he said, "I hope this potion tastes good before you drink it, Harry. Tail hair and a bit of stone doesn't sound appetizing to me."


Hermione, Ron, and Ginny gave forced laughs. They were relieved to know that the conversation was finally over. Harry, on the other hand, only made a small smile and didn't say anything until the end of their lunch.

Harry sat in one of the chairs in the living room right after. Ginny was helping her mother clean while Ron went upstairs. The conversation that had taken place earlier was making Harry dizzy. He was somewhat relieved that it ended well without causing any trouble, though he still felt uncomfortable letting his friends do most of the mending of his soul. He felt useless and, at the same time, he felt ashamed. He thought he should be the one doing all the work, and yet here he was, waiting for his friends to start the process. He was about to close his eyes when Hermione joined him.


"You're a smooth talker," Harry told her once she settled on the sofa right next to him. He arched his eyebrows in a stately manner. "With that, I highly praise you, Hermione."


"Oh, shut up, Harry!" said Hermione, red in the face. "You have no idea how nervous I was. I really thought I would mess it up. And thanks for not helping, by the way," she sarcastically said to Harry.


"You're very welcome. What are friends for, right?" he mocked, smiling at her.


She mildly punched his arm. "You should help me sometime. I bet you won't last a second."


"That's why I leave it to you," said Harry, rubbing his arm. "Because I won't last a second."


Hermione rolled her eyes.


Silence hung in the air between them for a few minutes before Harry decided to break it.






"Does it say in the book that it requires three people before making an attempt to mend a soul?" he asked, looking serious.


Hermione frowned and bit her lip, thinking. "I actually don't know, Harry," she said truthfully. "We still haven't totally read the instructions. Ron, Ginny, and I only decided that we'll help regardless of who will attempt." She paused. "Do you hate us for doing that?"


"No," he said. "You guys have done enough for me and I'm grateful... I'm just overwhelmed how willing you guys are to put your life at stake just to help me mend my soul -" Harry stopped. He drew a deep breath and went on again with a sinking feeling. "I have already accepted my fate that, even from the time my parents were killed, I wasn't really supposed to live... but I did. After all that I've been through... and after the war... I thought I had the chance to finally breathe, only for it to be snatched away from me again. I don't know what my fate is telling me, but I'm tired of dealing with something that I know isn't meant for me, Hermione. I just want it to end."


Hermione considered his words. "Harry, I know you are longing to break free... I could see and feel your struggles every day as though life is taunting you and, at the same time, the pain of still being bound. I am not saying that you deserve it, no... of course not, but you were given this life because you're strong enough to live it, Harry. No matter how you look at it, some things just don't make sense, but we believe in you the way you believe in us. Don't take that for granted. Hold on to your life for as long as you can. Don't give up on us, Harry, because we're not giving up on you. And –" she hesitated.


"And what?" Harry asked curiously.


"I still want to see you and Ginny get married one day and have kids," she said, her cheeks flushed. "Don't you want to have a family?"


"Why do you have to bring that up right now, Hermione?" he asked, looking exasperated. He averted his eyes from her, but Hermione saw him blush slightly.


"You don't want to miss that chance, is all I'm saying," she defended.


"I know," he muttered. "Thanks, Hermione."


"Sure. What are friends for, right?"


Harry smiled smugly.


Hermione made to get up from her seat. "Well, I'll leave you to rest. I think I interrupted you a moment ago."


"No, it's alright," he said hastily but Hermione got up and went upstairs after giving him a gentle squeeze of the hand.



To be continued...

A/N: To those who have read this chapter, I hope you enjoyed it. Thank you for all the wonderful reviews, as well as those who followed and favorited. It was always inspiring and encouraging to continue writing. Once again, thank you for supporting this story!


My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!


Beta-read by KVeronicaP

Chapter 10: Chapter 10
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Ron was spreadeagled on his bed in his room when he heard a knock. He opened his door and upon seeing Hermione, he let her in and settled himself back in his bed.


"When you and Harry came downstairs earlier at lunch, the look you gave me earlier meant that Harry was hiding something, wasn't he?" she asked while sitting on a chair across from him. "


"Yeah... he was lying about his health again," he informed her. "Afterward, I was going to check on him when Ginny told me that Harry was taking a nap. I heard him throwing up again in the bathroom, so I was going to tell mum and get a potion, but he stopped me. He doesn't even want to take the healing potions."


Hermione frowned. "What do you mean 'he doesn't want'? Of course he would."


"I mean, you'd think so, right? Well... Harry said that the potions don't help, but he did promise he'd take some when he gets sick again. I don't know whether to believe him or not."


Hermione lowered her head and didn't say anything.


"Do you know why he's acting this way?" he asked with concern. "It's so weird that he suddenly doesn't want to take them anymore. There must be something else going on, I take it?"


Hermione fidgeted with a stray lock of hair, biting her lip. "... He said he wanted his life to end."


"He what?!" Ron wasn't expecting Hermione's words to be so extreme. "He can't be serious!" He visibly shook his head when he added, "Harry shouldn't dwell on it. We have to think of a solution to get his spirits up."


"I know. I don't think he knows how important his life is." Hermione looked miserable when she said it.


Ron leaned back on his bed, dumbfounded. Both he and Hermione were silent for a minute before Ron piped up, "I think he needs a distraction from all the things that have been happening to him," Ron suggested. "I bloody-well would take one myself if given the chance." His eyes suddenly brightened with an idea.


"What kind of distraction are you suggesting?"


Ron looked unbelievably at her. "Come on now, Hermione. You know what Harry liked to do best. You've been his best friend for how long?"


"How would I know what he liked best?" retorted Hermione. "You're the ones with him all the time!"


"Isn't it obvious?" he asked incredulously. "I am beginning to question your friendship with Harry, Hermione. How can you not know?"


"What is it?" she asked, irritation etched in her creased brow.


"Quidditch!" Ron exclaimed loudly. "That's what he needs."


"Quidditch," Hermione repeated, looking appraisingly at him. "That's your distraction?"


"Yes," he said confidently. "It'll help him, I swear."


Hermione considered this for a moment. "I don't know if that's the right thing to do, Ron. When would you plan on playing?"


"Right now," he said simply.


"Now?" Hermione looked at him, unwilling to believe what Ron had said. "You're kidding, right? Harry threw up in the bathroom before lunch, and you want him to play Quidditch now?"


"Yeah… but he at least looks better than several days ago," Ron reasoned. "I know this is a stupid idea -"


"Very stupid, Ron!" Hermione exclaimed fiercely.


"Trust me, Hermione. Harry will want to play. It would take his mind off things for a bit."


"And how, may I ask, do you propose to play Quidditch with only the two of you, no goal hoops, and Quaffle, and Harry being sick?" asked Hermione sharply, her hand on her waist.


"Did I say we're the only ones playing?" Ron asked, but he quickly continued when Hermione raised her eyebrows. "You're playing with us and Ginny as well... and I can just transform something to look like a Quaffle, no biggie."


Hermione thought fast. "There are so many things that could go wrong with Harry. Besides, I'm not good at Quidditch... and you know I hate flying on a broomstick! I'd like to help Harry, too, but -" She sighed. She wouldn't want to hurt Harry. Looking dubious, she complied. "Fine, I'll play."


"Oh, I can't wait to tell Harry," Ron said excitedly. "This is gonna be fun!"


Hermione cast him a threatening look. "If something happens to Harry, I swear I'll do more than hex you."


"Relax, you lunatic," he said with a smirk that earned him a smack in the head with his pillow. "I'm gonna make sure nothing happens to him, of course. We haven't asked him yet. He might say no, but I doubt that, knowing him."

Ron found Harry sleeping in the living room. Sitting across him was Ginny who was busy reading the Daily Prophet with a frown on her face.


"Any good news?" he asked.


"Not really," she said, not looking up from her reading. "Some people are demanding to see Harry in public and other similar nonsense."


Ron gestured at Harry's sleeping form. "How is he?"


"Doing well I think," said Ginny hopefully.


"Hey, Harry!" Ron nudged Harry suddenly.


Ginny grabbed his arm, looking alarmed. "What are you doing?"


But Harry had already stirred. He opened his eyes, and they focused on Ron and Ginny.


"Are you alright, mate?" Ron asked.


Harry nodded and looked around groggily. "Did something happen?"


"No. You can go back to sleep." Ginny told him. "Ron just happened to be a jerk and woke you up for no reason."


"What are you talking about?" Ron retorted. "I woke Harry so we can play Quidditch." He offered his hand for Harry to grab so he could get up, but Harry merely looked at him with confused eyes.


"I don't think so, Ron," Ginny said sternly, swatting Ron's hand away and giving him a dark look. "Are you insane? Harry's not fit to play right now."


"He just had his rest," he reasoned. "And it's Quidditch. You can't pass up the game when offered. Besides, we'd only be playing with a Quaffle, so it's not gonna be that bad."


Ginny looked at him as though he had gone crazy. "Did you hit your head or something? I said –"


"I can play," muttered Harry. Ron beamed while Ginny did a double take. "I haven't flown for months, anyway. But I don't have a broom, though. I lost my Firebolt when we left Privet Drive."


"We have spare brooms," said Ron eagerly. "You can use one of those."


"Okay," said Harry, straightening up. "Let me get changed. I'll be right back." He stood and went upstairs with a spring in his step that Ron hadn't seen in a while.


Ginny was looking daggers at his brother. "You know Harry's sick, Ron. You are gonna be in so much trouble if –"


"He looked willing to go, so why not?"


"You know what I mean," said Ginny in a deadly whisper.


"He needs it, and besides, when's the last time you've seen him so happy? Especially since he wants his life to end," he blurted without pausing to think.


Ginny blanched. "Harry will never say that!"


Ron's grin slid from his face, realizing what he'd said. "He told Hermione after lunch," he said sadly in a low voice. Ginny gaped at him, but the determination in his eyes returned. "That's why I'm doing this, Ginny. Yes, it might not be the best time, but when's a good time to do it, then? We need to keep his mind off his sickness," He swallowed, remembering what Hermione had said, "or else he'll succumb to depression. You can jinx me all you like after the game, but Harry's gotta do something."


They looked up when Harry and Hermione came downstairs at the same time. Harry was looking excited, but Hermione and Ginny cast Ron a "this-is-still-a-bad-idea-but-since-Harry-looks-happy-we'll-play-even-if-we're-not-in-the-mood" look when they met him at the door that led outside to the backyard.


Harry was beaming by the time he set foot outside. He could see goal posts standing on either end of the made-up Quidditch field on which he hadn't played on for so long, He realized that he had been stuck inside the house for too long.


The hot afternoon sun blazed down on them when they walked across the field. Each of them had their brooms in hand. Ron held a Quaffle that he'd transfigured earlier. He stood firmly on the ground and faced his friends.


He cleared his throat. "Okay, players. There's four of us... and to make this a fair game - I think I'll pick Ginny for my team."


Hermione frowned, seeing a flaw on the plan already. "How is that fair? You both are good at Quidditch."


Ron smirked. "Don't forget you have Harry, Hermione. He's really good. Trust me, we're gonna lose."


Ginny raised her eyebrows at Ron. "Why am I even paired with you?" she asked with disdain. "I am ready for a challenge, and you're already expecting us to lose. What a good way to boost our confidence, Ronald." She tossed her hair. "I'm not gonna let Harry win this game." Harry smiled at her confidence.


"Are you sure about that, Ms. Weasley?" Harry challenged her.


"You better not start with me, Potter!" Ginny replied back with a fierce look. "I may be your girlfriend but you don't know who you're dealing with."


"Is that a threat?" Harry asked with a wild look.


"Why? Are you threatened?"


Ron and Hermione were grinning at both of them, glad to see Harry actually regaining a bit of his old self.


"Okay, players!" Ron's call brought Harry and Ginny's attention to him before they violated the rules. "The first team who shoots twenty Quaffles into the goal hoops wins the game. Now, let's play!"


Hermione looked worried. "Twenty? It'll last us until midnight," she protested. Harry snickered when she looked like she wanted to disappear.


"We won't, Hermione," Harry assured her. "Besides, you're with me."


"I know that, Harry. It's just... Are you sure you can play right now? Because you're looking pale -"


"I'm fine. Don't worry about me," Harry said quickly, suppressing the nagging feeling in his conscience telling him the same. He told himself that Hermione was only making up excuses so she wouldn't have to play.


"I've had my sleep earlier. I'm well-rested." But truthfully, Harry hadn't had a good rest at all. When he'd told Ginny that he would be taking a nap, he'd only slept for a few minutes before he was awoken by a pounding headache. He'd attempted to sleep again multiple times, but a wave of nausea had hit him next, and that was when Ron found him throwing up in the bathroom. Harry had only just managed to sleep again in the living room when Ron woke him up to play Quidditch. Quite stubbornly, he didn't want to pass up this one chance even if he was feeling sick. He'd deal with it later.


Harry took off without waiting for Hermione, but he could see that Hermione still looked unsure even when he flew up in the air and started playing.


As he rose into the air, Harry felt the soothing air brush his face. He could smell the wonderful summer scent. He'd missed flying so much. Harry felt much more alive, happy, and free when he was in a broomstick. It was a medicine that was giving him comfort and strength that no other antidote could provide. He never wanted the moment to end but instead keep flying and not care about anything else.


The game started right after Ron tossed the Quaffle in the air. Despite being sick, Harry was the one keeping an eye out to Hermione. She kept saying that she was bad in Quidditch, but her efforts suggested otherwise. On several occasions, he just managed to grab the Quaffle from Ron even though she did only just fail to shoot it through the goal hoops. Ginny was fast at blocking her, and Harry could hear Hermione cursing for not being quicker than her and that she hoped to Merlin that the game would end soon.


Harry and Ginny zoomed past each other, playing expertly. Ron made an effort as well and dived at once to block Harry's attempt to shoot the Quaffle, but he missed it by inches. Ginny caught it, and Hermione tailed behind her as fast as she could to get the Quaffle away from her hands. Her attempt was feeble, and Ginny swerved, almost making Hermione lose her balance because she halted so quickly.


Harry sped towards Ginny and blocked her direction. She tossed the Quaffle to Ron who caught it. With a force that almost took his breath away, Harry sped and bumped Ron accidentally, making him lose his grip on the Quaffle and it fell right in front of Hermione who grabbed it and shot it in one of the hoops as quickly as she could. That earned her both a score and a clap from Harry.


The game was growing intense as the afternoon turned to dusk. Ginny was spectacular at aiming the Quaffle right through the goal hoops, as well as Harry who had been shooting Quaffles multiple times in the goal posts even without much effort, making Ron miserable at blocking them.


Most of the scores were made by Harry and Ginny. Ron and Hermione even managed to score a few, and it was already down to a tie. One more shot remained to fulfil the goal of twenty, and the increasing exertion took its toll on Harry when he almost lost his balance. To Harry's relief, none of his friends noticed. He wanted to end the game without problems so badly.


Just one more shot, Harry reassured his exhausted mind. He zoomed close toward the goal hoop when Ginny sped up beside him. She managed to grab the Quaffle from his hand, doubling back to shoot it straight toward the opposite post. Hermione squeaked her surprise and dove to block it too late, and it sailed right through the goal hoop.


Ginny and Ron screamed in triumph when they landed on the ground.


"That was a great game!" Ron said to Harry and Hermione when they landed behind him. Notwithstanding his fatigue, Harry found Ron's joy contagious. "I can't believe we won!"


"I told you I won't let Harry win," Ginny reminded his brother, grinning proudly in front of Harry.


"Yeah... you were amazing!" Harry said happily to her despite his look of exhaustion. It still hadn't sunk in to him that he flew on a broomstick and played Quidditch. It would also be a lot more enjoyable if Fred and George were there as well like old times, but he knew he could only bring back those happy and carefree days with them in his memories.


He placed his arm around Ron's shoulder as the two of them trudged back to the Burrow and said in a sincere voice, "Thanks for making me play Quidditch again, Ron."


Ron smiled at him. "Don't mention it."


"Congratulations, too. Good thing you picked Ginny on your side or else you would've really lost." That made Ron elbow Harry on his side as they went inside the house.


Hermione was very relieved that the game had ended. She apologized to Harry for losing the game, but he shrugged it off and gave her a pat on the back instead for playing well and being a good sport.


Harry's good spirits carried all the way to dinner that night, but he also noticed that his energy declined drastically as the time went by. The game took most of his strength, and with the way he felt at that moment, he was surprised that he didn't collapse. Harry did himself a favour and decided to eat as much as he could to gain back at least a bit of his energy.


"That was a wicked turn you did back there, Ginny!" Ron praised, he still couldn't get over their triumph on the game, and he kept talking animatedly to anyone who would listen to the details. Ginny had already found it rather annoying.


Mrs. Weasley was flabbergasted when she found out that Harry agreed to Ron's idea and played Quidditch. She immediately set about lecturing to her son about how much danger he'd put Harry in, knowing that he was ill. "I can't believe how tactless you are, Ronald Weasley! You know he can't just –"


"But he's fine, mum!" Ron tried to explain, his cheerfulness gone. "Nothing happened to him - Harry, please say something to her," he pleaded for Harry to save him, but Harry knew that Mrs. Weasley wouldn't have it.


"Well, you best hope I don't hide those broomsticks, Ronald!" his mother snapped.


"Mrs. Weasley, Ron was only trying to –" Harry tried to reason out but was cut off.


"I will not tolerate it, Harry," Mrs. Weasley said firmly. "And you, of all people, should know better how risky and dangerous it is for your health. I am very disappointed in you. You went ahead and jeopardized everything we've done to keep you safe!" Her face was as red as her hair. "From now on, you are not going to be playing Quidditch until you get your health back to normal."


Ron could see the pained expression on Harry's face when his mother scolded him, and he spoke up quickly in his defence.


"That's not fair! You can't do that to Harry. He didn't do anything wrong. It was my fault!" Ron snapped at her. Harry could only stare at his best friend.


"Then that makes the two of you!" she said furiously at Ron who lowered his head and sulked at his food.


Only the sound of the utensils hitting the plate could be heard as dinner continued. Harry found it hard to concentrate on his food after being scolded by Mrs. Weasley. He tried to take a few bites, but he had already lost his appetite. Silently fuming, Ron resorted to stabbing his baked potato endlessly.


The silence was broken only when Mr. Weasley arrived home.


"I could only manage to send in a special note to Kingsley regarding the stone, Harry," Mr. Weasley informed Harry immediately as he sat down beside him. "He was in and out of the office and always surrounded with people."


"Thank you, Mr. Weasley," Harry muttered solemnly. Still feeling guilty about the Quidditch match, he could only utter his thanks and nothing else. He wouldn't want to disappoint Mr. Weasley either, so he kept his head down and stayed silent.


"I ran into Teddy Lupin at the Ministry!" Mr. Weasley announced cheerfully. "He was with his grandmother."


"That's Remus and Tonks' son, isn't it?" asked Mrs. Weasley, beaming up at him and suddenly forgetting what had happened a few minutes ago.


"That's right. And I believe he's your godson, Harry?"


Harry turned his head up and curtly nodded. Remus Lupin so kindly had asked him a month before the battle at Hogwarts if he wanted to be Teddy's godfather. Teddy should have been a bundle of joy and hope for Remus and Tonks before they were tragically killed at the war, and their passing had brought Harry so much grief. He hadn't had the opportunity to see Teddy yet, and could only guess what the infant would be like for the time being.


"How is he?" Harry asked Mr. Weasley who promptly gave him a wide smile.


"For a month old, the little tyke can already change his appearance at will," he announced happily to everyone at the table.


"He's a Metamorphmagus?" Hermione asked, thrilled by the news.


"Yes, and," said Mr. Weasley. "It's a good thing that he didn't inherit his father's lycanthropy. Andromeda just told me."


"Oh, that's wonderful!" Mrs. Weasley squealed with delight.


Harry couldn't help but smile at the good news. He remembered well how much Remus regretted marrying Tonks and fathering a child he feared would be a werewolf like himself and facing discrimination like he had.


"You should plan a visit, Harry," Mr. Weasley encouraged him. "I'm sure Teddy would want to see his godfather."


"I'd like to, Mr. Weasley," said Harry. "It's just – I can't right now… with me being sick." Harry lowered his head. The guilt and shame had returned to haunt him again. Ginny squeezed his hand from under the table.


Mr. Weasley gently put his hand in his shoulder. "We can work it out," he said comfortingly. "I'm sure Andromeda wouldn't mind coming over here with Teddy so you could meet him."


Harry smiled genuinely. He felt a little better. "That'd be nice. Thank you."


"Who does he look like?" Ron suddenly asked his dad.


"It was hard to tell when I first saw him," he said thoughtfully. "Like I said, he kept changing his appearance. But Andromeda mentioned he'd had black hair the hour he was born."


Since Remus was hazel-haired, Harry imagined an image of Tonks with black hair. It was strange since her hair colour was always strikingly different each time he'd seen her.


"I'm sure he'll do great things just like his parents," said Mr. Weasley before bringing the cup to his lips to drink his remaining water. "He may have lost them at such an early age, but he's got loving families that will help him cope and grow up."


Everyone couldn't agree more, most especially Harry who grew up with the same situation, only he wasn't raised by a loving family who wanted him for who he was. He was determined to show Teddy the love and care like how the Weasley family did to him, as well as his future kids if his fate to live longer would permit it.


Harry could feel his blood draining and face paling when he stood up to put his empty plate to the sink. He gripped the edge of the counter when his vision swam dangerously. He suddenly felt hot and feared that his fever was back again. Since the match, Harry knew his exhaustion had peaked. He tried to take deep breaths, wishing for it to stop so as not to cause panic to the Weasleys who had yet to finish their meals.


Barely seeing where he was going, he turned around and tried to walk steadily from the kitchen and into his room. He managed to reach his bed before his knees gave up and he collapsed.

Harry's sickness persisted over the next few days. As much as he had wanted to keep it hidden from the Weasley family, his attempts were unsuccessful. He managed for a day to act as though everything was normal. No one seemed aware that he fainted right in his bed, it only looked as though he was asleep. He didn't want to blame Ron or the Quidditch game that they had that day for getting him sick again. He'd already blown it off, and Mrs. Weasley had already scolded him for what he'd done. That was enough for him to deal with.


He stayed in his room most of the time so he could get away from all of them and most especially Mrs. Weasley. Harry told everyone that he wanted to rest, asking not to be disturbed. Ron totally understood his need to rest because he'd dragged him along for a game of Quidditch, and he left him alone.


From inside the room, however, Harry could hear Ron trying to get away from Hermione and Ginny, for they were relentlessly complaining loudly every time for not being able to see Harry whenever they come and visit.


"It's only for this day," Ron defended himself. "Leave him alone and let him rest. It's not like he's dying. He only wanted to stay in bed and get his energy back. That's all it is. Isn't that what you guys wanted him to do in the first place?"


But Ron's defence wasn't what Harry had hoped it would be. He began suffering under a high fever. His vision wouldn't cooperate with him as well and he kept getting dizzy whenever he tried to stand. Not wanting his friends to see him in his sickly state again, he locked himself inside his room, and decided to let sleep wash over him. Harry hoped that the next time he woke up, he would be feeling better.

The next day, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny sat uncomfortably in the sofa of the living room discussing Hagrid's whereabouts. They had a faraway look on their faces as they dwelled on Hagrid's attempts to find a wild Thestral. It had been two days since Ron and Hermione's visit to Hagrid, and they received no mail whatsoever from him as of yet. Their growing worry became overwhelming when they thought about how impossible of a task it might be for Hagrid.


"But there's got to be a wild Thestral somewhere," said Hermione, expressing her annoyance. Her hair had gotten bushier than ever in the humid air. "I know they're rare, but they can't just disappear."


"Hagrid will find one," said Ron, comforting her with assurance. "He can see them, unlike most people. We just have to wait a little longer, I guess."


But waiting had become unbearable as well, added to the fact that Harry hadn't come out of his room for a day now, and it was already the next day. After conferring, they resolved to check in on him in his room and see for themselves if Harry truly was resting.


The three of them walked upstairs, determined. Ginny turned the knob of Harry's door only to find it locked.


"Why would he lock his door?" asked Ginny while looking oddly at the other two. "He never does."


"And what's the point of locking it if we could cast a spell to unlock it?" Ron frowned as he said it.


"I'm sure something's wrong and that he's hiding it again," Hermione concluded. She grabbed her wand in her pocket, pointed it in the doorknob and said, "Alohomora." The knob made a soft click, and Hermione made a grab for it and opened the door.


Harry's room looked orderly, as though he hadn't moved any of his things around. The smell of summer flowed through his opened window, masking the scent of a faint metallic smell that wafted in their direction as they got closer.


Ginny gasped when she finally laid her eyes on Harry. His pillow was drenched with his blood. His eyes were tightly shut as though he were in pain, but he made no move to open them when Ginny touched his face.


She looked at Ron and Hermione. "He's burning up. Ron, please run downstairs and get me a Fever-Reducing potion, tell mum as well. He's very sick again."


Ron nodded and dashed out of the room.


Hermione muttered a cleaning spell to get rid of the blood in Harry's pillow.


"Harry?" Ginny tried calling his name, but he didn't seem to want to respond and only kept his eyes shut as he moaned.


"I knew something's wrong with Harry," Hermione suddenly said to Ginny. "I mean, why else would he want to be left alone for a whole day?" she looked at him and said in an exasperated tone. "Oh, Harry… why do you keep hiding things from us?"


At that moment, Ron came back with potions in hand; Mrs. Weasley was right behind him.


"Oh, Merlin!" Mrs. Weasley exclaimed in fright when he saw Harry's sick state, blood still trickling down his nose. Ginny scooted over a little bit when her mother sat in front of Harry. Mrs. Weasley cast a disapproving look at Ron and said, "I told you this was going to happen, didn't I?"


Ron could only look at her apologetically before lowering his head. She grabbed the vial from him and turned her attention to Harry.


"Harry?" she said softly. When Harry made no move that he had heard her, she called again but this time, more firmly. "Harry! Open your eyes."


A moan escaped his lips, and he slowly opened his eyes to see the blurry figure of Mrs. Weasley. He winced at the sudden light and at the pain from his pounding headache.


"Mrs. Wea –"


"Shhh… it's okay," she cut him off. "Don't talk, dear." She presented the fever potion in front of him. Harry frowned at it at first before taking it. His hands shook so badly that Ron volunteered to hold the vial for him. Harry looked embarrassed when he drank the potion. He slid back in his pillow and closed his eyes again, wincing.


"Harry, what else hurts?" Molly asked worriedly.


He gestured at his forehead. Molly understood the gesture, but before she could hand him the Healing potion that she brought with her, Harry's eyes watered, and he said in a whisper while pointing at his skin, "... hurts… burn…"


The teens looked at each other. The burn wasn't as intense as the last time, but they could see his tears coming out.


"I can only give you a healing potion, dear," Mrs. Weasley said sadly. "It'll help with your headache, but the burn… I can only hope will cease even if it's just a bit. Here –"


Ron held it up to his lips when Harry opened his eyes again. When he was done, Harry turned on his other side, his back facing them, still moaning in pain.




To be continued...

A/N: I hope you enjoyed reading this chapter. Reviews are welcome. To those who clicked the favorite button (even though I don't get notified of who did, I still would like to thank you! You lift my spirit :)


My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!


Beta-read by KVeronicaP

Chapter 11: Chapter 11
  [Printer Friendly Version of This Chapter]

The war brought so much uproar and ruckus at the Ministry because they had been breached by Death Eaters. In the aftermath, Kingsley had acted at once as the Minister for Magic and had gained control over the situation. Since then, both his efforts and the course of action to eradicate the supporters of You-Know-Who had been exemplary and outstanding and continued to do so long afterwards. He had been sending out Aurors day and night to track Death Eaters down and working tirelessly to bring the peace back that the Wizarding World had wanted for so long.


Inside the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office, Arthur shuffled his feet while he sat down in his chair. He kept looking at the time, and his growing impatience showed on his face as he continued his work. He had finally received a response from Kingsley about the request he sent a few days ago. Arthur had been told that he would be coming to visit his office right after the interrogations Kingsley had been conducting in one of the smallest courtrooms.


Arthur stood up and paced in his office. He brought his hand over to his chin, thinking, I wonder who he's interrogating right now that's taking him so long? He wanted to talk to Kingsley immediately, and he couldn't wait for him any longer. Harry's health had gotten worse and they needed to act fast. Upon considering his initiatives, he strode out of his office to go to Kingsley's office.


He was greeted by a bunch of people blocking the way in front of the Minister's office. He cursed and made his way to one of the courtrooms to check whether Kingsley was there. The hallway that went from the lifts to the courtrooms had suddenly become eerie and cold because of it being underground. A few Aurors stood guard, so Arthur quickened his paced a little until he reached a door to his left. He was about to knock when the door opened, and Kingsley stepped out looking both tired and irritated. Before the door closed behind him, Arthur momentarily saw a flash of the silver hair of Lucius Malfoy and his family.


"Kingsley," Arthur greeted wearily, dipping his head.


Kingsley nodded back and said in his deep voice, "I'm terribly sorry if it had taken me a long time to get back to you, Arthur. I only just finished interrogating Lucius Malfoy."


"Apology accepted, but nothing to worry," Arthur chuckled. His low whisper took on a serious note, "Finally got Lucius Malfoy to talk?"


"Yes," Kingsley told Arthur and moving farther away from the door. "He says he wants to join forces with our side."


Arthur snorted. "He's probably bluffing. Wouldn't be the first time he'd done it. He didn't want to go back to Azkaban again."


"Exactly my thoughts as well," said Kingsley. "But by the way he said it, I could tell he was really telling the truth."


"He wants to get away, that's all he's after. And bluffing it out is his sure way to go. We all know he's a good liar since he deceived Fudge so many times."


"Well, I'd like to see him try it on me. It would only take him a few seconds to realize bluffs are useless, and he'd be promptly packed off to prison for it." Kingsley's expression grew thoughtful. "But it would be a great advantage if we have Purebloods with big names like 'Malfoy' working for us."


"It's hard to see that happening... but what are his plans since he wants to switch sides? Did he say?" Arthur asked with a curious gaze.


"He said he's willing to give out names of all the Death Eaters and help in tracking them in exchange for his name and his family to be cleared of all charges."


Arthur snorted again. "Well, that sounds like a well-rehearsed excuse. At any rate... We've heard them a million times!" he said in an exasperated tone. "Some of them helped us greatly, but most didn't, so what made his excuse an exception?"


Kingsley smirked. "I simply threatened him. I said I would make his family more infamous in the Daily Prophet early the next day if he chooses to lie, and –" he cleared his throat before continuing, "put all his wealth to the Ministry. That put him in his place, I tell you. I saw his face turn pale when I said it. He wouldn't want 'adoring fans' on his doorstep now and not a single knut in his pocket, would he?"


Arthur couldn't help but laugh at the idea.


"It wouldn't be long now before we have all the Death Eaters in Azkaban," Kingsley said excitedly.


"Well, don't get too excited yet," said Arthur. "I'm sure Lucius will take his precious time, but it won't matter. We still have other pressing matters to discuss."


The door from one of the courtrooms opened and the Malfoy family came out followed by two Aurors. Lucius and Narcissa were in deep conversation and talking in whispers, their son behind them. They were being detained for the time being at the Ministry until the investigations had concluded, while Draco would be put under a tracking spell and undergo a series of disciplinary hearings.


Kingsley's face suddenly turned serious when he saw them, but he turned his attention back to Arthur. "Potter," he whispered. "How is he?"


Arthur shifted uncomfortably. "He's hanging in there," he replied in a solemn voice. "He's still very sick."


Draco glanced up at them.


"I found it rather odd when I read your note," said Kingsley. "You said you needed a piece of the stone from the Veil?"


"I hope it won't be too hard a substance to get?"


"Oh, I'm sure it is... but I'll have the Unspeakables acquire it as soon as possible. But how is the stone going to help Harry?"


"His friends are going to be brewing a potion... and that stone is one of the ingredients," Arthur told him. "I don't know how that's gonna work. It's pretty gross if you ask me."


Kingsley grimaced, "And Harry needs to drink that?"


"I suppose so."


They stood silent for a moment until they saw the Aurors escort the Malfoy family past them. Draco gave them both a lingering look as he tailed behind his parents.


Arthur raised his eyebrows at the boy.


Kingsley asked Arthur the moment the Malfoys disappeared around a corner. "To ensure his privacy, I would want to personally hand the stone to Harry once we get it. Is he well enough?"


"I'm sure it's fine. He trusts you in the Order anyway," and Arthur added swiftly, "he looks up to you as a former Auror. I believe he wants to be one as well."


Kingsley smiled. "Well, I look forward to seeing him at the Auror's Headquarters soon. He's got more skills than most of the Aurors we have. He could probably be the next Head of the Aurors, even at such a young age, wouldn't you agree?"


"I'm sure he'd be flattered and take that as a compliment. Even I can't wait to see what he can do for the wizarding world."


Kingsley's eyes brightened when a sudden idea crossed his mind. "I wouldn't be surprised if he one day became a minister."


Arthur laughed. "I don't think Harry would want that. He despises fame and popularity. He wouldn't want to draw more attention to himself. But I have to say, that's a good possibility."


Kingsley chuckled. "I won't jump on to that conclusion just yet, then."

Mr. Weasley was about to go home later that afternoon. On his way back to his office, he noticed Draco Malfoy standing outside. The boy was thin, with dark shadows under his eyes and a greyish tinge to his skin. He looked somewhat reluctant to show himself to where he was standing, but he looked up and saw Mr. Weasley staring at him warily.


"Do you need help finding your way out of the Ministry?" asked Mr. Weasley.


"No," muttered Draco.


Mr. Weasley opened the door to his office. Draco's eyes immediately scanned the Muggle-made objects that covered most of the small space. Mr. Weasley had an inkling feeling that he was being silently judged by the way Draco looked at his office.


Mr. Weasley sighed. "Well, you have to speak up, then. My work is done, and I have to get home."


"Is it true that Potter's sick?" Draco finally blurted out.


Mr. Weasley stopped moving and glared at him. "Had you been eavesdropping earlier outside in the courtrooms?"


"I wouldn't have known if you weren't saying his name so loudly, would I?" Draco retorted bluntly.


"Must be nice to eavesdrop." Mr. Weasley shot back. "I should say I'm not surprised." He didn't like talking to a kid like this, but knowing that he was a Malfoy and that they had done so many things to support the dark side were somewhat difficult to ignore.


"I'd only like to know if he is," he said coolly. "Because it's very unlikely for a Potter to get sick, given the fact that he's always up for some trouble."


"Well, it's none of your business, so you may very well leave."


"It is now," Draco said coldly. "I want to see him in person."


"Didn't you hear what I just said, kid?" Mr. Weasley asked, his temper quickly rising.


Draco made no move. He stood firmly in the middle of Mr. Weasley's doorway to block him from going out.


"I owe him," he muttered regretfully. He made eye contact with Mr. Weasley as though to let him know that he was telling the truth.


"And I should believe you because…?"


"He saved my life... and I am only asking in return to that favour and nothing else," Draco set his jaw and narrowed his eyes, putting his best effort to look as though it were a matter that no one could deter him from.


Mr. Weasley contemplated the sincerity of his words. Bringing him to the Burrow was far too risky and both their families would surely not take it well, but if the Malfoy boy really did need to pay off a life-debt then he had no choice but to let him talk to Harry because at that moment he was deathly sick.


"I will let you see Harry but under one condition," he said firmly. "Regardless of what you see or hear, you will not talk about this to anyone. I shall know if you did. Is that clear?"


"And if I did tell, what, then?" he challenged.


Mr. Weasley smirked. "Well, let's just say... your family would be placed under heavier suspicion and all your privileges will be suspended."


Draco merely gave him a noncommittal look and stepped aside to let him through to the Atrium.

Mr. Weasley appeared in the kitchen fireplace at the Burrow that afternoon. He immediately saw Ron, Ginny, and Hermione huddled quietly together around the table with distress written on each of their faces. Mr. Weasley had recognized what was happening by those looks, even without asking. He knew Harry was having a difficult time again. Before his children could even say a word of greeting at his arrival and before he could think whether the timing was right for a talk, another person arrived right behind him.


Ron stood up abruptly, his eyes scanning the face of Draco Malfoy with intense hatred, while Hermione and Ginny gaped at him with a little hint of annoyance on their faces.


"What the hell are you doing here?" Ron asked in a deadly tone. Malfoy raised his eyebrows at him, but before he or anyone else could utter another tense word, a faint scream was heard. All of them looked up at the ceiling.


"What was that?" Malfoy asked, his eyebrows furrowed. "Is there some kind of torture going on in here?"


Ron scowled and looked daggers at him. "What do you think you're doing here, Malfoy?" he asked again.


Mr. Weasley walked toward Ron and said, "Son, sit back down. Draco's here to talk to Harry."


"But he's not welcome here, dad!" said Ron fiercely while sending another dark look at Malfoy. "And besides, Harry's not in a good state to talk to anyone right now."


"Is he in his room?" Mr. Weasley asked.


"Yes," Ginny replied while eyeing Malfoy cautiously. "Mum's with him."


Mr. Weasley nodded, his face looking worried all of a sudden.


"I'm going upstairs, and I want a civilized conversation in this house while I'm gone," he directed his words more to both his son and Draco, the latter only eyeing him dully. He left without saying another word again.


Ron, Hermione, and Ginny stared at Malfoy with death glares while quickly exchanging looks at each other in silent communication. They saw him scan the room. Another scream and a sob were heard.


"Geez, they really should stop torturing somebody –"


"That somebody is Harry, you moron!" Ron snapped at him. "And he wasn't being tortured. He's –"


"Sick, I know," said Malfoy in a bored, drawling voice. He let himself lean against the sink. "So why aren't you all with him? Isn't Potter your friend?"


"Don't you dare question our friendship," spat Ron. "You know nothing!"


Malfoy sneered. "If I were in there sick and my friends were nowhere to be found, I'd be pissed."


"You have no right to tell us what to do, Malfoy," Hermione said with disdain. "You don't even know Harry's situation."


"And you turn up here without even showing respect to who lives here," said Ginny coldly.


"How can I show respect when I was not even offered a seat?" retorted Malfoy. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny's faces turned red in anger. "And you call this a house?" he whispered while looking around with disgust in his face.


Ron threw him a dirty look. "You don't deserve a seat in here. If you want one, go and buy yourself a chair."


Malfoy laughed deridingly. "Feisty, aren't we?"


"You don't have any business here, Malfoy, so you might as well leave now," said Ginny coldly.


He eyed Ginny coolly. "Weren't you listening to your father, Weaselette?"


"And weren't you listening to Harry's screams, ferret?" snarled Ron. "Harry's sick and he wouldn't talk to the likes of you even if he weren't."


Malfoy crossed his arms. "I'll see that for myself, thanks."


Ron, Hermione, and Ginny narrowed their eyes.


They heard a foot clomping through the ceiling, and another muffled screams from Harry before silence hung in the air inside the Burrow. The tension downstairs ended quickly when Mr. Weasley appeared again in the kitchen soon after; distress had settled on his features.


"Harry's stable now," he announced to the tense group.


"Is he asleep?" Ginny asked as if hopeful that Draco could leave.


"No," said Mr. Weasley. "He's only resting. And," he looked over at Draco. "He's agreed to see you."


Ron was taken aback. "Harry's okay with it? He's been in that ordeal for hours, dad. I'm sure he's exhausted. Can't Malfoy just come back when Harry had enough rest if at all?" He gave an annoyed look at Malfoy. "Harry would've been sleeping now and gaining back his lost strength if only you hadn't come and bother him."


"Looks like he's fine with it," Mr. Weasley said calmly to his son. "He didn't say anything but only gave me a short nod."


"I'd better go and ask him then." Ron started to move, but his father stopped him.


"No need, son. I'm saying only Draco should come up there - and you better stay down here when he does."


"What?" Ron's eyes were wide, and even Hermione and Ginny were looking disapprovingly at Mr. Weasley. "But, dad, he –"


"It's not really our business what Draco intends to talk about with Harry," said Arthur. Ron could see Malfoy smirking from behind his father. He glowered at him.


"He better not do anything to him or else –"


"Do I look that stupid to you?" Malfoy asked Ron with a sneer. "Of course I wouldn't do anything. He'd be no match for me anyway; he's probably too weak to even hold a wand."


Ron lunged at him, but Mr. Weasley immediately grabbed his arm before he could punch Draco to whom Mr. Weasley cast a reproachful look.

"I have given you the chance to talk to Harry. Do so properly and with utmost respect, especially because Harry's ill," said Mr. Weasley resolutely. "Or else I will put a stop to it and send you back to the Ministry. Is that understood?"


Draco only looked away from him.


"Do I make myself absolutely clear?" Mr. Weasley asked him again firmer that time.


"Yes," said Draco blandly.


"Good. Now up you go."


The four of them looked menacingly at Malfoy as he walked up the stairs. Ron saw his eyes glint with malice before he disappeared, and he wished he could hear them talk. I could probably use an Extendable Ear, he thought, but he knew there was no way he could hide it from his dad. He cursed and gave a deep sigh.

Malfoy made his way to the open door he thought was Harry's. He let himself in without bothering to knock on the frame. Mrs. Weasley was there, but when she saw him, she immediately stood up and let herself out without saying a word.


Malfoy turned his head toward the sick figure of Harry lying in bed, his eyes closed and his breathing was heavy.


He cleared his throat to let him know of his arrival. "Potter."


Harry opened his eyes and looked blearily up at the silver-haired figure in front of him. Even without his glasses, he could make out the sneer carved on his face. He shakily reached for his glasses and put them on. He could see the sun setting outside his window when he addressed the one person he least expected to see, especially after the war.


"Malfoy," he said slowly in a hoarse voice. His throat was very sore and scratchy after screaming for the longest time. He thought he had lost his voice but was surprised to find he had some left. He made no move to sit. He had lost a great deal of energy and the strength to talk was just about his limit.


Malfoy decided to remain standing even though his feet were already hurting him, having last sat down since his family's interrogation at the Ministry. He didn't really want any part of his body to even touch the so-called house of the Weasleys.


"What happened to you?" he asked, his cold eyes scanning the sickly appearance of Harry. "I was expecting a very proud bloke who has defeated the Dark Lord. Not like this." He gestured carelessly Harry's lying shape.


"Sorry to disappoint you, then." Harry could only manage to talk in a low voice despite his willingness to retort loudly at Malfoy. "You're not looking good yourself. The death of Voldemort cost you your looks? You miss him that much?"


Malfoy sniggered. "Hmm... you still have the strength left to utter such nonsense in front of your better."


Harry gave a snort of disgust. "My better? I only see a coward in front of me."


"You don't know me, Potter," retorted Malfoy. "I've done many great things."


"Done many great things according to whom, Crabbe and Goyle?"


"Even without their help I've managed on my own, you know."


"What happened now?" Harry asked. "Someone who has done many great things, you don't look as confident without your little goons behind you. Have you lost your way and needed someone to find your way back? Is that why you're here?"


"Don't think so highly of yourself, Potter," Malfoy barked with harsh laughter.


"Speak for yourself, Malfoy. Aside from insulting my health, why did you come here, then?" Harry asked in frustration. "Because I don't need to hear any more of your rude comments. I've had enough of it."


Malfoy glared at him. "FYI, you saved my life, and as much as I don't want to owe you anything, I do. I only came to return that favour and nothing else!"


Harry smirked. "So is that the way you treat your better to whom you owe your life, then?"


"Shut up, Potter," he spat. "Just tell me how to return the favour so I can leave now."


"Is returning a favour to me like a punishment to you, Malfoy? That you'd rather do it for anyone else?


"Pretty much," he replied bitterly. "I'm sure that you would think of something difficult for me to handle."


"Not seeing your face is enough for me, Malfoy," said Harry. "That's the only thing I could think of and the best one at that."


"No," Malfoy said firmly.


Harry frowned. "No what?"


"I'm not leaving just because you don't want to see my face. So deal with it, Potter."


Harry sighed. "No. I am not going to deal with you. I'm exhausted and sick if you can't tell by now." Harry closed his eyes as a hint to make Malfoy go away, but the latter didn't move.


"Why are you sick?" Malfoy asked, suddenly curious. "I heard you're dying."


Harry tensed at his words. "It's none of your business."


"The way you're screaming, it must be so painful," said Malfoy dramatically.


"Really, Malfoy? I have no idea." Harry said sarcastically.


"So what is it, then?"


"Will you please just leave?"


"No." Malfoy crossed his arms and stood fixedly to where he was. "Tell me how you got sick, and then I'll leave."


Harry gave a deep sigh again. He didn't want Malfoy to know how he got sick. He never wanted to tell anybody else, but people just couldn't stop interfering, and it was pissing him off already. Because he knew Malfoy's family was a huge supporter of You-Know-Who and loved to work on the dark side, he didn't want to take the risk and tell Malfoy about his damaged soul and how it all started from a Horcrux.


"I don't know," Harry lied. "And besides, there's already a cure, so you can just let it go."


"Oh, is that the stone from what is it –" Malfoy scrunched his face, trying to remember the conversation he had overheard from Weasley and Shacklebolt. "The Veil?"


Harry was taken aback. "How did you know that?" he asked, regarding Malfoy with suspicion.


"I have my ways, Potter," replied Malfoy in a bored voice. "So care to tell me now?"


"No," said Harry defiantly. Just because Malfoy owed him, didn't mean he could start telling him about it. I don't trust him and never will, he thought.


"Okay. I could always ask the Weasel's father anyway," Malfoy taunted. "I'm sure he'll tell me once I mention the cure and the stone."


"Let it go, will you?" Harry was getting exasperated. He wished Ron and Hermione or anybody from the Weasleys would take Malfoy away from the room.


"Which part of the word 'no' don't you understand, Potter? I know you're sick, but you didn't hit your head, did you?"


Harry was sure that Malfoy was enjoying the torment he was giving him. Still, he resolved he would never back out until he got what he wanted.


"Please…" Harry begged, his throat becoming painful. He didn't want to argue anymore. He was already exhausted and he just wanted to rest. "Just let it go, Malfoy. I'm getting tired."


"I'm getting tired as well. So why don't you just do yourself a favour and tell me what it is you're looking for? This cure. Do you have it now?"


"I don't, okay? We're still looking for the other."


"Other?" Malfoy asked curiously. "What other?"


Harry was silent. He was contemplating again whether to say anything or not, but he could tell Malfoy was pretty adamant himself and he would never leave unless something was said.


"It's not only the stone that we need but –" he hesitated. Maybe Malfoy knows, he thought. He looked at Malfoy and asked, "Do you know where to find a wild Thestral?"


Malfoy raised his eyebrows. "What do you need a wild Thestral for?"


"Just answer the question, Malfoy. Do you or do you not?"


"You know what's odd, Potter? The Dark Lord had looked for one as well," said Malfoy coldly. "And he just so happened to tell me exactly where to get them."


"Why was he looking for it?" asked Harry. Was he intending to create more powerful wands?


"How should I know?" said Malfoy. "The Dark Lord doesn't give out information about his plans. It was only one of my missions."


"Where is it, then?"


"If I tell you, will that conclude my debt to you?"


Harry nodded.


"There's a well-hidden cave in Roscommon, Ireland," said Malfoy. "It is a sanctuary for a bunch of wild and magical creatures. I'd be careful going there if I were you."




To be continued...

Beta-read by KVeronicaP

Chapter 12: Chapter 12
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"A cave in Ireland?" Hermione asked Harry the moment Malfoy left the Burrow.


As exhausted as Harry was, he eagerly told his friends what information Malfoy had disclosed when he had gone up to his room. They listened with their mouths open.


"Do you think he's telling the truth, mate?" Ron asked, his eyes narrowing. "He doesn't fit the criteria of someone to be trusted."


"I think so," said Harry. "He was indebted to me, so he might as well have told me the truth, or else what was the point of him coming here if he were only gonna lie?"


"Well, it's not the first time he'd done it," said Ron in a matter-of-fact tone. "He's a dark wizard, and that's what they do to worm themselves outta sticky situations."


Harry had also been thinking the same thing, but he felt that it was unlikely that Malfoy would lie to him this time. "I don't know, Ron. He sounded truthful to me. He may have lied many times, but he actually saved us once when we were caught and brought to the Malfoy Manor; he didn't confirm our identities to his parents and Bellatrix. He could be changing now and realizing the dark side has nothing to do with him."


"Your dad did say that the Malfoys would like to switch sides and help the Ministry in exchange for freedom and for their name to be cleared," Hermione said to Ron, and Harry tilted his head to look at her.


"Do you think Kingsley would allow it?" asked Ron.


"I honestly don't care whether he accepts or not," said Hermione calmly. "As long as the Malfoys don't do any more damage because of their influence, I'm okay whichever."


"I think I should help them," Harry suddenly piped up. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny gasped, taken aback.


"Have you gone mad?" asked Ron, his eyes wide.


"Why do you think that, Harry?" Hermione asked curiously and added swiftly, "I mean, it wasn't surprising anymore that you want to help, knowing you've always tried to help people and save them, even though sometimes it didn't make any sense. I only wish, Harry, that you're thinking clearly before taking a shot at helping people, especially the Malfoys."


"Because I owe Narcissa," Harry said simply.


They all gaped at him.


Harry reminded them what had happened on the night of the war when he went to the Forbidden forest to surrender himself to Voldemort, in which the Dark Lord had immediately attempted to kill him with the Killing Curse. "... and Narcissa was so concerned for her son that she told Voldemort I was dead." He paused and added as an afterthought, "I don't think she ever truly supported Voldemort more than she did her family."


Understanding finally dawned on them, but Ron snorted.


"They're lucky that they have you saving their arses from being sent to Azkaban. If she didn't save you from Voldemort, I wonder what Draco would do now without his parents, assuming You-Know-Who'd've killed them? He would have had to try even harder to fit in the society who hates his family now more than ever. Imagine being broke as well?"


Hermione reminded Ron of the talk Mr. Weasley shared to them that afternoon. "Mr. Weasley said that Kingsley was only threatening the Malfoys that he would put all their wealth to the Ministry if they ever lie," she said sharply. "I don't think he would actually leave Draco without a single sum of money to support himself if it came to that. It's just cruel."


"I would have a hard time believing that the Minister would become so heartless," said Ginny. "I know Kingsley, and I don't believe he'd ever do that."


"Well, the Malfoys are cruel people," snarled Ron, pounding his fist on the wall to where he sat. "Now that they've been caught, all they have to deal with are cruel decisions made about them. I still haven't forgotten all the times that they've mocked our family for being poor, you know. Now that possibility could happen to them and I would want to see how they strive to live and be called poor."


Harry silently agreed that the Malfoys gained their supreme reputation and their richness and power for their pureblood lineage. Even though the Weasleys are purebloods as well, I guess they have received countless ridicules from the Malfoys for their lack of money and their sympathy for non-magical folks, Harry thought.


"How do you plan on helping them, Harry?" asked Hermione eagerly.


Ron shook his head, still in disbelief. "I never thought a time would come that you have to help the one family that you despised the most."


"I don't despise the Malfoys," said Harry. "It's just..." he hesitated, not wanting to explain any further. "It doesn't matter now. Anyway, I guess I just have to talk to Kingsley and tell him what I know and go from there."


"Do you think Kingsley would listen to what you've got to say?" Ginny asked uncertainty.


"It wouldn't hurt to try, but I really want to avoid going to the Ministry if I could help it."


"We could talk to your dad," Hermione suggested to them. "Maybe he can convince Kingsley to come here at the Burrow instead."


"Let's also not forget Hagrid about the Thestrals in Ireland and hear what he says," Ginny reminded them.


They all nodded.


By then, Harry's exhaustion had reached its limit, and sleep had slowly crept in, weighing down his lids more and more. They decided to defer that night's agenda of talking to Mr. Weasley to the next day; it was late in the evening anyway, and they all felt they needed rest. They had given Harry a vial of Nutrition potion since he wasn't able to eat anything that day, and by the time they left Harry's room, he was already fast asleep.

Morning came, and Harry shifted uncomfortably in his bed sheets, feeling groggy. He opened his eyes and blinked several times to adjust to the light that was streaming from the windows. He squinted and saw a blurry outline of a ceiling. Where am I? Panic slammed into him for a moment before Harry turned his head to one side and saw his belongings scattered around in the room. Oh, that's right. I'm in the Burrow.


His body felt really weak when he hoisted himself up from the bed.


"That's strange," he said to himself. He gasped in pain when he tried to stand, falling hard on the floor instead. His knees that refused to support his weight wobbled and shook, and he swallowed, only to find his throat sore and painful. He gave an involuntary sigh. What's going on with me now?


Harry walked at a snail's pace when he decided to come down for breakfast. He leaned on walls and held on tightly to whatever that could support him as he trudged out of his room and down the stairs. He spotted Mr. Weasley coming down for breakfast as well. Harry gave him an awkward smile when he saw him.


Harry's legs suddenly gave out. Without warning, Mr. Weasley swooped him in and carried him all the way to the kitchen despite Harry's protests. Harry's face had gone red from embarrassment when he sat down. The rest of the Weasleys and Hermione were conversing quietly with each other and looking worriedly at him. He smiled feebly at them.


"Oh, Harry," said Mrs. Weasley as she held her hands to Harry's face. "You look really pale, dear. Did you sleep well? How are you feeling?"


Harry felt his body stiffen. Only a moment ago he would have smiled at them, but this time, something was wrong. The room began to spin, and he couldn't remember why he would have smiled in the first place. He flinched against Mrs. Weasley's touch and shrunk back from her. He gazed frantically around him, and everywhere he looked, he couldn't recognize his surroundings and the people at the table.


"Harry, are you alright?" Mrs. Weasley asked with a perplexed look in her eyes. She moved her hand to touch him again, but he flinched once more, making her freeze mid-action. "Harry?"


Harry tried to focus his attention on the unfamiliar woman by him but snapped his head about when another spoke, fixing him with a questioning look.


"What's going on, Harry? What's wrong?" Hermione asked.


Memories rushed back to Harry. He blinked a couple of times before answering breathlessly, "Hermione... I - I'm fine."


"Are you sure, mate?" Ron asked anxiously. "You seemed lost for a moment."


Harry nodded. He couldn't find his voice; his throat felt too tight to allow any words.


"If you say so," his red-haired friend stated, still looking uncertain. "You were looking at us as if you were only seeing us for the first time."


Harry cleared his throat and said his automatic response of "I'm fine" in a barely audible whisper.


In truth, panic threatened to overtake him when he thought his memories had slipped away completely. He realized now that he had been feeling worse than yesterday. He knew that his health was drastically deteriorating, even if he wouldn't admit it. He had acquired a headache from his fitful sleep last night, and now his eyes had turned blood-shot. His throat had gone so dry and sore from his screaming that whenever he coughed, he could see blood come back on his hand.


The burning feeling left quite a side effect on Harry's skin as well. He winced every time he moved suddenly, feeling the pain that lingered inside him. His sense of touch seemed heightened.


Everyone eyed Harry nervously when he stared at his breakfast plate, slowly scooping little bits of food and wincing every now and then. They were finding it really hard to watch Harry eat when he trembled too much. His utensils had fallen from his hands quite a few times already with loud clatters. They could see Harry's frustration each time he lowered his head and took deep, calming breaths so he could try again. Harry was aware of their eyes on him, but he preferred not to look at them.


Sensing the need to help, Ginny offered to feed him.


"I'm sorry," Harry said in a whisper. He felt really embarrassed about eating so poorly, but he straightened up with a determined glint in his eyes. They all knew he was getting weaker and that his body had slowly become progressively worse in its responses to any movement or other stimuli.


Ginny gave him a sad smile. "It's okay," she said while scooping a bit of egg for Harry to eat. "Don't worry about it."


Mrs. Weasley placed a vial of Nutrition potion in front of Harry so he could take it after eating, knowing he would need a lot of it now. He looked at it with reluctance. His appetite began to be annoyingly unpredictable. He wanted to eat and feel full again, but most of the time, he felt as though his brain was raging in a series of battles to the death with his hunger - the former typically the victor.


Hermione had started a conversation with Mr. Weasley, and Harry was glad that the rest of the Weasleys diverted their attention to her. He guessed she'd seen his insecurities through his burning cheeks and must've sensed how uncomfortable he was while eating.


"Mr. Weasley, is there a chance that the Minister would be able to visit the Burrow?"


Mr. Weasley was surprised by the question. He gulped his drink before speaking. "Yes. Why do you ask?"


"Harry wants to talk to him about the Malfoys," she replied.


Mr. Weasley turned his head to Harry and said, "If you don't mind me asking, are you planning on giving testimony against their behalf, Harry?"


But Harry seemed not to have heard him, sitting with his head in his hand.


"Harry?" Hermione called softly.


Harry looked up, confusion visible in his eyes. "Yes?"


"Are you alright? You look distracted," she said, looking worried. "Mr. Weasley has a question for you."


"Uh... sorry," he whispered. "Who is Mr. Weasley?"


The rest of the Weasleys glanced at each other, looking bewildered.


Hermione gaped at him. "Harry, what -"


"That would be me, Harry," Mr. Weasley cut Hermione off and gave Harry a sad smile.


"I'm sorry," Harry muttered quickly under his breath. "What was your question, sir?"


Ron raised his eyebrows at the mention of 'sir'. Similarly, everyone gave strange stares at Harry.


"I was merely asking whether you were planning on giving testimony against the Malfoys."


"Oh..." Harry fell silent for a few moments. Testimony against the Malfoys? Harry asked himself, deep in thought. He was at a loss for words, nervous to be asked right on the spot. He inhaled deeply and flickered his eyes after a while. Shaking his head, his voice came out hoarsely, "It's actually the contrary."


Mr. and Mrs. Weasley nearly fell over from their seats.


"Really?" asked Mr. Weasley curiously, looking quite interested now at the sudden turn in discussion. "I'm sorry, Harry, but someone like you helping out the Malfoys is just hard to believe. I'm sure Kingsley would take into consideration whatever you present to him. But what's the reason for your sudden want to help them?" Before he could stop himself, he added, lowering his voice, "Draco didn't blackmail you, did he?"


"No, Mr. Weasley," Harry said quickly. "I was just thinking of lending them a hand because I'm indebted to Narcissa Malfoy. She saved my life from Voldemort, you see."


Mr. Weasley scratched his almost bald head, looking startled. "Saved you? How? I'm sorry, Harry, but I am having a hard time believing that a Malfoy would save someone other than their own."


Ron spoke before he could stop himself, "Believe me, dad, we all know what you mean."


"Do tell us how it all happened, dear," Mrs. Weasley beckoned Harry to continue.


Harry retold the story again, stopping once in a while when a cough wracked his chest and he needed to reach for his water glass. By the time he finished, Mr. Weasley had crossed his arms and was in deep thought.


Before he could say anything, Harry spoke again. "Also, Draco was indebted to me," he informed them. "He told me where we might be able to find the wild Thestrals."


"Oh, that reminds me," said Ron at once. "I already sent a letter to Hagrid last night, so we'll see whether Malfoy was telling the truth or was just plain bluffing."


Harry nodded his thanks to Ron.


"Mr. Weasley, you said Kingsley actually is planning to come here," said Hermione. "May I ask why?"


"Ah," mused Mr. Weasley. "Kingsley would like to personally deliver the piece of the stone from the Veil to Harry, maybe to have a little chat as well... Don't ask me; I don't know any more," he said to Hermione when she opened her mouth as if to ask why again. He turned to Harry, worry knitting his brows. "You wouldn't mind it, Harry?" he asked.


Harry shook his head.


"Excellent. I shall inform Kingsley once I'm back at work," Mr. Weasley picked up his fork without another word, and the rest of them did the same.

The fireplace erupted in flames just before Harry finished his meal, revealing Percy Weasley sporting a smile at his family who jumped up from their seats at his sudden appearance.




Mrs. Weasley ran to his son and caught him up in a smothering hug. She automatically broke it to examine him all over, "Have you been eating alright, dear? Oh, I have missed you!"


"How are you, son?" asked Mr. Weasley who had come right behind his wife to hug his son as well.


Everyone else waved at him from the table, including Harry whom Percy felt both pleased and worried to see. through his parent's hugs, he had immediately noticed Harry's appearance and sickly stature. Even from afar, one could tell how his health had worsened over a few short weeks; his thin frame made his shirt looked even more over-sized. His face looked very pale as though he hadn't seen the sun for quite a while. Percy let go of the hug and gave a worried sigh, knowing the Potter boy was the reason for his visit and wanted to see for himself how Harry was doing. He hadn't expected that he would look so frail and weak.


"How are you, Percy?" Harry asked in his usually low, hoarse voice that took Percy by surprise; he winced slightly when he heard it. Nevertheless, he smiled through his alarm and concern.


"Is the Ministry treating you well?" Ron interjected.


"As a matter of fact, yes," Percy replied. Mr. Weasley motioned for him to sit down as Mrs. Weasley piled on a heap of food for him. "I've been doing well, to answer your question, Harry. Although I must say, the turn of events got me awfully preoccupied lately. Death Eaters have breached multiple Floo fireplaces in different areas, and we're closely monitoring any questionable activities."


"Death Eaters breaching fireplaces?" Ron asked in alarm.


"They're everywhere, Ron. On the run and hiding... but some still have the audacity to violate and trespass on Ministry's property, carrying out various attacks... And there has been so much riot at the Ministry about you, Harry. People want to see you. They want to know what has become of the boy who killed the Dark Lord."


"Yeah, we've heard that," said Ron, giving Percy a raised eyebrow when he said the "Dark Lord" instead of "You-Know-Who".


"What's become of Harry Potter?" Harry echoed in a peculiar voice.


"Yes, that's what I said," said Percy, raising his eyebrows at Harry.


But he seemed unable to follow when Harry asked, "Why? What happened to him?"


A very awkward pause hung thick in the air. Percy gazed uncertainly at Harry before giving the rest of the Weasleys a look as though asking for some explanations for Harry's suddenly odd behaviour.


Before anyone could even explain, Harry spoke again, this time sounding normal. "I don't expect much once they see me like this," he said quietly. "I don't think they would even recognize me." They all regarded him with worry etched in their features.


"You can't be seen, Harry," Hermione anxiously told him. "No one can know what has been happening to you. Once a Death Eater finds out you're this ill and weak, they'll all try and attack you for killing off Voldemort. They want revenge."


"I know that, Hermione," he said coldly. "It would be an easy task for them since I'm already dying." Harry closed his eyes and rubbed his hand to his temple again.


All heads turned in his direction.


Hermione bit her lip, affronted. "Don't say that, Harry."


"We just need to be careful in choosing whom we confide," said Mr. Weasley gently. "We know how to get this cure, and before the wizarding world knows it, Harry'll back on track."


Harry gave a small smile, but he felt a slight twinge in his chest. Every time they talked about fixing his problem, he couldn't help but feel sad and hopeless. The uncertainties shrouding his later health only continued to mirk his future. He was tired of all the things that had been happening; he preferred not to know his future... because there isn't one for me, he thought sadly.


Percy proceeded to fill his family more on what had happened at the Ministry, each conversation lasting no more than a few minutes, but Harry didn't participate in them; he only observed, staying silent. He propped his head on his hand and closed his eyes again when the talk turned to him.


"So, Harry… how was your life here?" asked Percy, repeating the question again when he didn't reply. "Harry?"


"Uh…" Harry brought his hand down and looked at Percy under leaden lids. He wasn't in the mood to talk anymore. "It was great. Thank you, Percy."


Ginny grabbed the vial of Nutrition potion, along with the ignored Healing potion that her mother had placed on the table, and urged Harry to take them. After no small amount of coaxing, he relented, allowing her to help him pour the liquids into his mouth.


"Do you want to take a rest, Harry?" Mrs. Weasley asked when Harry closed his eyes again. "You can sleep on the sofa." He nodded and stood up slowly.


Ron helped him walk, managing to reach the living room before Harry's knees buckled and he collapsed. Ron and his father carried him to the sofa where he fell asleep in an instant after mumbling his thanks.


"Is he really dying?" Percy asked Mrs. Weasley in a whisper.


Mrs. Weasley looked at him sadly. "We don't want to think that, but… yes, he is."


"What happened to him? He was looking fine when I saw him last at the battle at Hogwarts."


"He was," said Ginny quietly. "Not until You-Know-Who killed a part of his soul inside Harry and then it started."


"You-Know-Who's what?" Ginny's brother did a double take, having never heard of such a thing. "What do you mean, Ginny?"


It was Hermione who explained Harry's situation to Percy, careful to leave out the concept of Horcruxes themselves. By the time she finished, Percy was looking grave and speechless.


"And now," added Ginny. "We're only awaiting those two ingredients, and then we can start the mending process. I really wish Hagrid and Kingsley would hurry up. We're losing Harry as time passes by."


"Did dad talk to the Minister?" Percy asked them.


"Yes," Ginny confirmed. "And I think he's planning on coming here to give that piece of stone to Harry."


Percy nodded his understanding. "Earlier, Harry was acting like he couldn't recognize himself when I mentioned his name. What was that about?"


Ginny squirmed in her seat. Ron and Hermione exchanged lost glances.


"Harry's memories... I think they're confusing him in some way," said Hermione, her voice cracking slightly. "There was a time that he couldn't remember anything... and a time like today when - well..." she trailed off.


"Like there was an on and off switch," Ron said heavily.


"It's heartbreaking seeing him like this," said Ginny miserably. She turned her head to gaze at Harry's sleeping form. The corners of her eyes prickled with tears. "Him not knowing who he is... or the faces of his friends... I - I couldn't bear it. It'd be very painful if one day Harry couldn't be able to remember me and our relationship..."


Hermione wrapped her arms around Ginny's shoulders in a comforting hug, her tears threatening to fall at any minute. She took a deep breath. "He'll be okay, Ginny. We'll get through this... you'll see..."


A soft tap at the kitchen window alerted them to the sight of Pigwidgeon with a letter tied to his leg.


"It must be Hagrid!" exclaimed Ron as he ran to open the window to let the owl in. After untangling the thread tied to a scroll, he unrolled the piece of parchment, Hermione and Ginny joining him as he read the letter aloud.





I got the Thestral's tail hair but I am badly injured. Death Eaters attacked me. I am being treated at St. Mungo's Hospital right now.





All three of them looked at each other, shock evident on their faces. They rejoined Percy at the table, sitting themselves down so fast, they nearly disrupted the mug of tea in Percy's hands, eliciting a sharp gasp from Mrs. Weasley already clearing the plates with her wand.


"Was Hagrid attacked in Ireland?" Ron asked in a panic.


Hermione looked aghast. "But - nobody else could have known -"


Mrs. Weasley paused cleaning the table. "Who was attacked?" Ron handed her Hagrid's letter. "Oh my…" she said when she finished reading.


"I never thought Hagrid would be attacked by Death Eaters," said Hermione fearfully. "If anything, I'd have thought wild animals would be a more likely danger."


"Even if he was, how did the Death Eaters know Hagrid was going to be there?" Ginny asked quietly.


"Death Eaters are everywhere now," Ron reminded them. "Remember what Percy said; they're on the run and in hiding."


"I'm thinking about the same thing, but that's beside the point!" said Hermione shrilly. "Death Eaters are on the run and in hiding, and they just happened to be in that very cave where the wild Thestrals are? I mean, it's suicide to even think to hide there where wild animals gather and live. No -" she said flatly. "It wasn't just a coincidence." She slammed her palm flat on the table. "Argh! It's so frustrating not knowing the answers to our questions."


Ginny's voice rose to a frantic degree. "But no one else knows of our plan. No one knows that Hagrid will visit and check that cave in Ireland."


"There is one," said Ron, his eyes blazing. "Draco Malfoy."


"Draco Malfoy?" Percy asked, shock evident on his face, but in the next moment, his eyes glinted wickedly.


Ron nodded at him but was slightly taken aback at Percy's expression. He thought he saw malice smouldering in his eyes.


Percy jutted his chin forward. "How did he know about this?"


"Before dad went home, Malfoy asked if he could talk to Harry," Ginny explained. "He came here, and he was the one who told Harry where to find the wild Thestrals."


"Is that so?" asked Percy, his hand on his chin as though he was thinking of something.


"Harry said he was being truthful," Hermione reasoned quickly. "He can't just betray Harry. He said Malfoy owed him his life and that he was only returning the favour when he came here. He can't be the traitor."


"Who else knows about the cave aside from Voldemort, then?" challenged Ron. "Malfoy was the other one who knew about it, unless you could think of someone else."


Hermione sighed. "But it's just so unlikely that Malfoy would do such an important thing for Harry only to go back on his pureblood name."


"Who cares what Malfoy think he's doing!" snarled Ron. "He's a Death Eater, and that's how they work regardless if they owe you their life. Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater, no matter what the situation is."


"It doesn't make sense," Hermione said, frustration creasing her forehead. "I thought his family wanted to switch sides to clear their name. Were they just lying?"


"They're a bunch of liars, Hermione," said Ron in a hard voice. "What else would they be?"


"I say we go visit Hagrid and see what happened," suggested Ginny.


"I'm gonna stay here for a while with mum and dad," Percy informed them. Mrs. Weasley squeezed his shoulders gratefully. "I can look out for Harry as well while you guys visit Hagrid."


Ron and Hermione nodded, and they stood up quickly to prepare to leave.



To be continued...

Beta-read by KVeronicaP

Chapter 13: Chapter 13
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Ron, Hermione, and Ginny arrived at the ground floor of St. Mungo's hospital. The last time they had been here, they had been being escorted by Moody and Tonks to visit Mr. Weasley after they had found out that he was bitten by a snake. That memory hit all three of them with a wave of grief. They missed them both. Their Auror abilities had been like no other's, and they felt their deaths like losing a father and a mother.


The reception seemed to be quite empty, unlike the last time they had visited. They had seen rows of witches and wizards seated on rickety wooden chairs back then. Some had been disfigured-looking patients, and the others had merely made very peculiar noises. This time, quiet pervaded the cold chamber, and only the flipping of pages could be heard from a couple of witches reading out-of-date copies of Witch Weekly.


They saw the familiar lime-green robed Healers walking up and down the hallway. The three of them approached the plump blonde witch at the desk marked INQUIRIES.


"We're here to see Rubeus Hagrid," said Hermione quickly.


"Oh, the giant," said the witch in a bored voice. She gave a yawn before adding, "He gave us quite a fright when he came in here."


"What happened to him?" Ron hissed with a somewhat offended look after hearing the witch call Hagrid 'the giant'.


The blonde witch didn't seem to notice his tone of annoyance, replying, "Well, he's got huge cuts in his arms and chest... He was bleeding so badly, he left with puddles of blood on the floor. He's probably resting now."


Ginny's speckled features creased with concern. "Where can we find him?"


"Fourth floor. Go through here," the witch raised a bony finger at the double doors to the side, beyond her desk. "There's a lift that'll take you there."


"Thank you," said Hermione.


They had been inside the double doors before as well and very much remembered the portraits of famous Healers that still lined the walls lit with candles floating up from the ceiling. Their footsteps sent bare echoes gliding across the marble rooms, and they only had to climb a flight of stairs to arrive at the first floor for creature-induced injuries.


Beyond the hall, they found two lifts that stood behind wrought silver grilles. They entered one of them when the grilles opened automatically. The lift ascended slowly once the grilles slid shut. After a few silent minutes, the lift came to a stop, and a cool female voice said, "Level four, Spell Damage." The moment the grilles opened, several paper airplanes swooped into the lift and flapped idly around above their heads. They stared at them for a moment as they read the one closed to them a word that said BILL stamped along the edges of their wings. They stepped out of the lift and looked around.


A motherly-looking Healer saw the three of them and immediately approached them. "How may I help you, dears?" she asked, smiling warmly at them.


"Could you direct us to the ward of Rubeus Hagrid?" asked Hermione.


"He's right there," The Healer pointed her finger at a door that was at the very end of the hallway.


The ward was small and rather dingy. It was set for four patients, but no one else was there except a rather huge form occupying a small bed and looking very uncomfortable. Hagrid looked up and gave a huge smile.


"Hagrid!" All three of them rushed to his side. His arms and chest were heavily bandaged, and although his face was fine, some gashes streaked along his cheeks, even if they did appear to be healing.


"Hi there," greeted Hagrid. "Good thing yeh got my letter."


"We got your letter this morning and came immediately," piped Ron at once. "Harry'd definitely want to come and see you if he found out."


Hagrid furrowed his thick eyebrows. "What d'yeh mean? Harry don' know I'm injured?"


"He's getting worse, Hagrid," Ginny informed him. "He can barely walk, move, or eat anymore. He's constantly exhausted. He was asleep when we decided to see you."


Hagrid looked sadly at her.


"So tell us what happened to you, Hagrid?" Hermione asked worriedly and put a comforting hand on his massive arm. "You gave us quite a fright when you wrote us that you were attacked by Death Eaters."


"I was," said Hagrid gruffly. "Good thing I made it in time in 'ere or else I would've lost 'oo much blood."


"But what happened?" Ron asked impatiently. "Were you attacked in that cave of the Thestrals? Did you recognize the Death Eaters?"


Hagrid turned and shifted his weight to the other side of the bed before filling them in. "I was doin' me search of the Thestrals in one o' the lands that were far east at Hogwarts and close to Ireland when I got yer letter, Ron," stated Hagrid. "I had suspected as much tha' there would be wild ones in there... only I didn't know exactly where until yeh told me on the letter. Did yeh check yer owl this morning, Ron?"


Ron's expression darkened. "No, why?"


"The thing is," said Hagrid. "When yer owl delivered yer letter ter me, his left wing was in a weird angle... he's most certainly injured. His feathers were badly ruffled, too."


"Do you think he was attacked?" asked Hermione, looking both perplexed and worried. "And that Ron's letter was intercepted?"


"It looked like it," he replied. "I was worried yer owl wouldn' make it back ter yeh, but it seemed he was alright, then?"


"I haven't totally checked him when he arrived," said Ron.


"Yer might want ter check him up when you go home later," Hagrid said firmly to him.


"And then what happened next, Hagrid?" Hermione asked. She quietly dropped herself on the chair opposite Hagrid.


"I managed ter Apparate close ter the cave yeh mentioned. No one was there at first, so I started looking for the Thestrals. I found 'em huddled on a very far corner of the cave. By the time I got the tail hair, dark cloaks started emerging from all sides."


"Is that how you got those injuries?" asked Ginny, indicating the bandages in Hagrid's arms and chest.


"Two o' the Death Eaters cast a Severing charm on me," said Hagrid while looking at his bandages. "The charm could've killed me, but they didn' do a pretty good job with it 'cuz it were so dark 'n all - I only managed ter get away jus' in time when they started to cast more. I Apparated straight ter here."


Ron's mouth hinged wide open, and Hermione covered her mouth with her hands.


"I wouldn't want to think what could've happened if you didn't get away quickly," said Ginny, shivering slightly as chills run down her spine.


"You didn't see any of their faces, Hagrid?" Ron asked worriedly.


"No, it was dark inside the cave."


There was a short silence. Hermione withdrew into deep thought, and she could tell the others were thinking the same thing. Who could possibly send the Death Eaters after Hagrid? Who attacked Ron's owl so that it could be intercepted? Was Malfoy behind all these?


"We were thinking that it was Draco Malfoy who sent those Death Eaters after you, Hagrid," Ron revealed at once.


"Draco Malfoy?" Hagrid asked in surprise.


Ron nodded, determined. "There's just no other way around it. He must be the only one who knew about the cave -"


"We don't know that for sure, Ron," interrupted Ginny. "You-Know-Who may have told some of his other followers about the cave."


"But..." protested Ron. "Malfoy said himself that You-Know-Who told him about it. We just weren't sure why he would betray Harry if he owed his life to him."


"He owes Harry?" Hagrid looked like he had found it hard to believe. "How?"


"Harry saved his life at the Battle of Hogwarts," Ron explained. With a dark look, he added, "I honestly would've let him die if it was me. If he did betray Harry and sent those Death Eaters to come after you, he doesn't deserve to be saved."


Hermione looked up and met Ron's eyes. "But we don't know if that's true, Ron," she protested. "There may be someone else out there planning the attacks. I still don't think Malfoy –"


"Yeah, I've heard that, Hermione." Ron cut her off, a note of annoyance souring in his voice. He crossed his arms before adding, "It feels like you're siding with him."


"I am not, Ron," Hermione replied heatedly. "I am only saying that he knew about Harry's dire illness and he was very willing to help even if it's against his will."


"He's only faking it, Hermione," insisted Ron. "He's very good at it. He'd never help Harry."


"So what was the point of him coming to the Burrow and talking to Harry?" Hermione questioned with a raised eyebrow.


"I dunno. He was probably just there to snoop around."


Hermione sighed mentally to herself. She didn't know how else to argue. There were some parts that she agreed with Ron but some didn't. A sad look graced her face and she glanced apologetically at Hagrid.


"We're sorry, Hagrid. We didn't mean for you to get hurt for this mission."


"Tha's alright, Hermione," said Hagrid, trying to make a small smile, but it came across as more of a grimace. "I know what I signed up for. Besides, it's for Harry's health. I'd do anythin' for him."


"How long are you gonna be staying here?" she asked.


"A few days I would have expected, but since I'm... yer know, a giant n' all, I don' think they wan' me much longer - Oh!" Hagrid exclaimed all of a sudden. "I almost forgot –" he grabbed something out in his pocket and handed it to Hermione. "Here yeh go."


It was a blotchy envelope containing a Thestral tail hair.


Hermione's eyes welled up with tears as she took it from him. "Thank you, Hagrid. Harry would be so happy once we tell him." She pocketed it and raised her gaze again to meet Hagrid's. "Would you like to come with us?"


"I want ter. Hold on -" Hagrid stretched in bed before standing up and bending a little so as not to hit the ceiling. He grabbed his pink umbrella from the side of his bed and followed Ron, Hermione, and Ginny when they moved for the door.


They were about to take the stairs when they met Augustus Pye. Hermione recognized him from the time of Mr. Weasley's injury. His nametag was visibly attached to his lime green robe that showed his occupation as a Healer. His eyes lit up immediately upon seeing Ron and Ginny as one of the Weasleys.


"Hello," he greeted. "I thought the Weasleys would be here."


"What do you mean you thought we'd be here?" asked Ron, a look of confusion furrowing the features on his face.


"Aren't you visiting your brother?" Augustus asked in surprise.


"What are you talking about?" Ginny gasped, bewildered. "I wasn't aware of any of my brothers being here. Which brother?"


"Percy Weasley, of course."


Ron raised his eyebrows. "No, that's not possible. Percy is at home right now with our parents."


The Healer cocked his head, taken aback, and his eyes opened in sudden shock. "I assure you, Percy is here. He was admitted early this morning. He was unconscious when they brought him in. Looked like someone attacked him."


Ginny gaped at Augustus. "But that can't be! We talked to Percy; he was fine when he showed up, and he didn't look like he was attacked."


"Percy never left the hospital," informed the Healer. "Are you sure your brother went home? Because he's here right now. I can show you to his ward."


"That doesn't make any sense," whispered Hermione to Ron and Ginny as they hurriedly followed Augustus on the same floor but on the other side of the hallway. Hagrid stayed behind as the rest of them entered the ward since his huge form wouldn't allow him access inside the smaller room.


Upon entering, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny saw a red-haired young man with horn-rimmed glasses lying in bed and looking flustered from the pain. They immediately dashed to his side.


They caught the young man unawares, and when he saw the group enter, he gave a yelp. "I wasn't expecting you guys to come and visit."


"We weren't expecting you to be here either, Percy. What are you doing? Did something happen at the Burrow?" Ron asked quickly, narrowing his eyes at his brother.


"The Burrow?" a perplexed-looking Percy asked. "I've never been to the Burrow yet. I mean, I was going to but I never had the chance." He blinked rapidly for a moment at them.


Everyone's eyes went wide and round in surprise. "What do you mean you weren't expecting us?" Hermione asked curiously.


Percy brought his head down, looking embarrassed. "Well," he said in a low voice. "I didn't want anyone to know that I was admitted here. I didn't want all of you to worry. I was going to handle it on my own."


"You were attacked, Percy! The Healer just told us. How can you say that?" Ginny asked incredulously. "Of course, we'd be worried."


"I heard Harry is sick... Dad told me - but I didn't hear from him again after that. I planned on visiting, but work - you know..." Percy trailed off, not meeting their expectant gazes. "What are you all doing here, anyway? Are mum and dad here as well?"


"We came here for Hagrid," said Ginny.


A surprised look appeared on Percy's face. "Hagrid?"


"Yeah," answered Ron. "Death Eaters attacked him." He launched into details of what happened.


"...What?" Percy's eyes remained fixed on Ron.


"Hagrid's alright now," confirmed Ginny. "The Healers patched him up."


"Where is he?" asked Percy.


"Outside. He said he's fine with staying by the door while we talked to you."


"Tell us what happened to you," said Ron, looking closely at Percy.


Percy shifted uncomfortably in his bed. "I was in my office this morning... I actually don't remember much of anything else at the time the incident happened, but I woke up, and here I am. I had plans to visit the Burrow but... like I said, I never had the chance."


They exchanged nervous glances with each other. "The attack, did you see anyone or heard anything?" asked Hermione anxiously.


Percy shook his head. "No. I don't think I saw anyone... although I think I heard someone mutter something before I passed out."


Hermione tightened her grip on her fists, and Ron and Ginny had suddenly turned pale.


"What's going on?" insisted Percy. "You said I was at home?"


"Early this morning you Flooed to the Burrow," Hermione explained quickly, drops of stressed perspiration beginning to come out of her forehead. "We talked to you and – Oh Merlin!" She brought her shaking hands to cover her mouth.


Percy sat up straight in bed, panic blossoming across his face at the sight of Hermione's alarmed look. "Is there someone pretending to be me right now?"


No one said anything, but any suspicions would have been confirmed when he heard Ginny gasp, "Mum and dad – Harry!"


Percy scrambled out of his bed, and with no time to spare, they all darted quickly outside the ward.


"I'll come back, Augustus!" Percy said in a hurried voice, leaving a stupefied-looking Healer behind.

It was eerily quiet when they Apparated back outside of the Burrow. Even the gnomes hiding under the rose bushes seemed to have been hushed. Hagrid in the lead tramped as quickly toward the house as he could without letting his heavy footsteps fall too loudly, the teens at his heels. He pushed the front door very slowly, his pink umbrella raised and at the ready.


A stillness permeated throughout the whole house, and the scene of total devastation met their eyes. The kitchen was a mess; chairs were strewn across the floor with shards of glass and china. Even the windows stood cracked and jagged in their frames as well. Hagrid's sudden small intake of breath made the teens swivel their heads to follow his gaze. They gasped when they found Mr. and Mrs. Weasley unconscious on the floor, their wands inches away from their hands.


Ginny rushed to their sides, tears starting to well in her eyes. "Mum? Dad?" she called with a quivering voice. She immediately checked for their pulse, and she gave a sigh of relief. "It looks like they put up some sort of fight, but they were knocked out by a stunning spell."


"But wha' happened 'ere?" asked Hagrid quietly, looking around the small kitchen. Before someone could even say or do anything, a chuckle followed by a piercing cry of pain echoed in the living room. They hurried to see who had caused the noise but stopped in their tracks, and the remaining colour drained from their faces at once.


Percy Weasley was seated on a chair with his arms and legs crossed like some self-satisfied politician waiting for his next appointment. It seemed obvious that the impostor had used a Polyjuice potion to look like Percy. The real one raised his wand high, ready to strike his look-alike in front of them. But the fake Percy inclined his head to the side - Harry lay doubled over on the floor and writhing in agony.


"Funny how a few drops of this potion can cause so much pain," mused the impostor while examining the remaining liquid inside a small vial in his hand. He didn't look up at the small crowd that had formed in front of him nor flinched at the five wands pointed at him. He seemed as if he already knew who they were, so much as to act as if he were enjoying a cordial visit from them as he reclined upon the chair.


If Hagrid hadn't been holding him up and gripping his arm tightly to stop him, Ron would've succeeded in leaping straight to the impostor to tackle him. He only gritted his teeth in anger. "Who are you and what have you done to Harry?" he hissed in a deadly voice, his wand aimed directly at the fake Percy who grinned menacingly, making him growl in annoyance. The impostor reached his hand over to Harry's hair and pulled his head up sharply for everyone in the room to see his pained face.


"Don't you dare touch him!" barked Hagrid. He lunged at the impostor who immediately flicked his wrist, hanging him immobile in the air. Ron was having a hard time suppressing his fury. The tip of his wand was producing sparks.


But the fake Percy only ignored Hagrid. He flashed a triumphant and sadistic smile and replied casually to Ron, "I poisoned him, you see. You don't know how long I've waited to hear his scream and see him in so much pain." He paused momentarily as if to savour the sound of Harry's screams of pain.


"Why are you doing this?" Hermione asked, distraught. She advanced on the impostor slowly but stopped when he tilted the vial of poison close to Harry's lips as a warning.


Without preamble, the impostor drew out another vial of potion in his pocket and drank the contents; his appearance changing quickly. Before their eyes, curly red hair lengthened into long, pale blond hair that tied itself into a neat braid to hang down to his lower back, and his freckled features morphed into hard, blunt angles, but the unpleasant smile he wore remained.


Hermione's insides plummeted sickeningly, while Ginny and Percy gave a gasp of horror at the sight of a Death Eater. Hagrid sent death glares toward him.


Ron gasped. "Corban Yaxley," he muttered under her breath.


"That's right." Yaxley leaned his back against the chair again. "I have to say, I quite like that place where you tried to Disapparate to the last time you three were at the Ministry pretending to be someone else. I kept it for my hiding purposes, very useful."


"G–grim… mauld pl–lace isn't… y–yours to keep," croaked Harry weakly, through continuous writhes, and he cried out beside Yaxley as the poison intensified.


Yaxley gave a soft chuckle. "Oh, but it's mine now. You took away what was important to me, so I shall take away yours. The Dark Lord had plans, and you destroyed them." He kicked Harry's back and he let out a loud cry.


Ron looked as if he wanted to strangle Yaxley while Hermione and Ginny were on the verge of tears. They slowly advanced on him, their wands held high and unwavering.


"Oh, I heard Harry is dying," mocked Yaxley. He held up the poison and added, "This will speed up the process, won't it? But more painfully." His eyes shone with malice, and he grinned evilly at them before he flicked his wand and Disapparated.


A distressed "No!" burst forth from Ron's lips, but Hermione and Ginny instantly dropped their wands to rush to Harry's side. The real Percy cast the countercurse at Hagrid to make him move once again.


"Harry..." Hagrid scooped the limp boy into his arms. Harry's breathing wheezed heavily, and cries of pain still reverberated around the living room.


With Harry tucked safely in the giant's arms, Ginny dashed to the kitchen to begin nursing her parents who were still unconscious. Percy began muttering a charm to repair all the damages done in the house, a look of rage visible in his features.


"Hagrid, we have to take them to St. Mungo's and we need to go now!" yelled Hermione, shaking with panic.


"We have a Portkey that you can use," Percy told Hermione, pausing his mutterings. "It'll send you all straight to the hospital's lobby." He ran back in the kitchen to get it, and when he came back, he tossed an out-of-date Witch Weekly magazine to Ron who caught it. "I'll have to stay here at the Burrow. I'll contact the Minister and tell him what happened."


Hermione conjured a stretcher for Mr. and Mrs. Weasley while Hagrid cradled Harry and chanted some words of comfort to him. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny gathered around, and they all stood touching the Portkey, and after a moment, the magazine sucked them into oblivion.

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were being treated in the same room together while Harry was placed in a separate and more secluded ward, both on the same floor. Augustus Pye had assisted the Weasley family once again when he was at the lobby. He had fumbled with his words a moment as if he wasn't expecting the group to arrive with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley in separate stretchers and unconscious. He helped them right away to get checked in rooms. Ron stared at Augustus. He couldn't help but think whether the Healer found it odd to keep seeing his family always in a terrible state, or wondered what they had been doing with their life that they keep coming back to the hospital and always looking unstable.


Harry's screams were the only sound anyone could hear when they arrived at the lobby. The Healers had turned their heads and couldn't believe what they were seeing. For the first time after the war, the Boy-Who-Lived had shown himself but not how they were expecting. Anyone would have thought he would be living his life finally free from harm, but the reality couldn't have been any farther. Harry was instead, looking sickly pale, shaking, gasping for air with pupils dilated, and screaming wildly as excruciating pain hit his whole body.


Hermione shuffled in front of the desk again in the same day, looking breathless. "We need help fast! Harry has been poisoned."


Quite unsurprisingly, the bored-looking blonde witch nearly fell from her seat, momentarily taken aback when he heard the name. "Harry? Are you talking about the Harry Potter?"


"Yes!" snapped Hermione. "He needs help NOW!"


The blonde witch yelped. "Y–yes… right away." She frantically called over some Healers who bustled out of the room a second later, having taken Harry away from Hagrid. The witch then directed the rest of the group to go to the fourth-floor waiting room, but Hagrid disregarded it and followed Harry, parting aside a crowd of protesting Healers.


Inside the waiting room, Hermione started pacing. Ron huddled himself in a corner, silently thinking of what had just occurred. Ginny had her hands together and looked extremely worried. Three Weasley family members had been attacked, and everyone was still trying to figure out what had transpired.


"We have to act now and brew that potion," said Hermione fretfully to Ron and Ginny. "I don't want to think about what the poison could do to Harry even if the Healers can come up with that antidote. His body might not take it with his current sickness, and the poison could trap itself completely."


"The Healers have all sorts of very potent antidotes that could cure mild to rare poisons." Ron asserted to Hermione. "So they must have the one to that poison. We're in a bloody hospital! I'm sure they wouldn't let Harry die just like that."


"I wouldn't want to think that either," said Ginny in a distressed voice. "But Hermione's got a point as well. If they don't completely get rid of the poison, it can pose a graver threat to Harry's other sickness. I'm afraid he might not be able to handle it really well this time."


"That Yaxley!" burst out Ron, his face enraged. "I'll kill that bastard if I ever see him again. I'm sure he and Malfoy were behind all these attacks. We have to confront Malfoy, and the sooner the better. He won't get away with this. I will make sure he goes to Azkaban!"



To be continued...

Beta-read by KVeronicaP, Chirpo

Chapter 14: Chapter 14
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Hagrid remained at Harry's side while he was being treated. He didn't want to leave after seeing Harry's terrible ordeal. He would stay and no one could stop him, not even the Healers who tried to talk him out of staying. They were too afraid to even get near Hagrid or pull him out from the ward. They resigned to just casting him tense and fearful gazes and continued their work.


The Healers had furthermore been muttering to themselves and shaking their heads every so often when doing diagnostic spells. They took Harry's blood to perform some tests to find the poison's source, and Hagrid found it irritating that no one dared to update him on any of Harry's progressions.


Waves of nausea overtook Harry, and he kept doubling over to vomit on the side of his bed. Hagrid rubbed his back and helped him settle back in his pillows, Harry's breathing was becoming laboured and he held on tightly to Hagrid's massive hand.


"Oh, 'Arry." Hagrid caressed Harry's forehead and saw his tear-filled eyes as he tried to look at him without his glasses. Hagrid could tell that Harry was silently communicating with him even through pained expressions. "I'll stay. I won' go anywhere," he said comfortingly and squeezed Harry's hand gently. Harry let another tear escape his eyes.


It was painful to watch the scenes unfold again and again in front of Hagrid. Harry was having trouble breathing properly. The poison would not budge when the Healers tried to give Harry some antidotes. Their effects should have been instantaneous, but Harry continued to dry heave and gasp for air.


"It's goin' ter be okay, Harry," said Hagrid when Harry tried to call his name but failed due to another wave of the poison sending him into uncontrollable jerking movements. Hagrid was trying to be strong for Harry, but he couldn't stop himself from tearing up. He had seen Harry in worse cases but nothing like this, and this was not among the other things he was experiencing with his damaged soul. Hagrid didn't want to wonder how that part would attack Harry. Harry was like a son to him, and he wanted to be there for whatever he was going through. He couldn't bear to see him like this, but he knew Harry long enough to know he was trying to be strong for everybody.


One of the Healers entered the ward carrying a vial of potion in his hand. He examined Harry's diagnostics before nodding and administering the liquid.


"Wha' is that?" Hagrid asked with a frown.


The Healer looked up at Hagrid's huge form. "We firmly believed that the main substance of the poison that was ingested by Mr. Potter is called Angel's Trumpet. It is a plant that contains dangerous levels of poison and may be fatal if ingested - as you can very well see."


The Healer conjured a syringe and a needle. He injected the tip to the arm of Harry who moaned a little when he felt minimal discomfort. "This is a very potent antidote for uncommon and fatal poisons," he continued. "It will prevent further damage to Harry's body and help reverse the poisoning."


"Yer will be able ter get rid of the poison with this?" Hagrid asked desperately.


"We can certainly get rid of the poison, but it will be painful," said the Healer grimly. "It's like regrowing bones. It'll be a rough few days for Mr. Potter."


Hagrid grimaced and shuddered at the thought, knowing how much pain Harry was in already. "Can' he take any ter numb the pain or sleepin' potion, perhaps?"


"I'm afraid not," said the Healer, shaking his head. "The antidote must be carried out alone for it to properly counteract such a particular poison. Once it neutralizes, then we could administer any other means for comfort."


The Healer retreated after that and left Hagrid with Harry who had his eyes shut, his knuckles turning white because his fists clenching and unclenching too much. Harry could tell that the antidote was working its way when he felt stabbing pains all over his body.


Hagrid reached over and put a hand on Harry's arm, sighing deeply. "Harry..." His voice choked horribly.

Many long hours later, Harry awoke to find Hagrid dozing off at an uncomfortable angle beside him while he lay curled on the bed. He tried to stir slowly so as not to wake Hagrid only to realize that moving slowly was about the only thing he could do with his sore body. Despite his best efforts, Hagrid must have felt his movements and opened his eyes, looking wildly around as though in a panic.


Hagrid saw Harry gazing up at him. "Harry," he said in a low voice.


Harry smiled awkwardly at the tear-soaked face of his friend. "Hey, Hagrid. I'm sorry if I woke you." He sluggishly leaned his back against Hagrid's massive arm.


"It's alrigh'. How're yeh feeling?" asked Hagrid, looking closely at Harry's weakened state.


"Like I was on a full body-bind curse," Harry said dryly. "I feel stiff as a board." He made to move his arm but felt shooting pains all of a sudden. He lowered his arm and tried not moving as much so as not to aggravate it even more.


"I guess tha's the antidote," said Hagrid. "Yer poison'll be gone soon, I expect."


Harry nodded and looked around the room. It wasn't familiar to him. "Are we in St. Mungo's, Hagrid?" he asked, curious. Usually, one room could accommodate at least six patients, but this room seemed to be inclusive only to him. He realized the Healers did him a huge favour, and he was grateful. He wouldn't want other people snooping around anyway.


"Yeah. We decided ter bring yeh here."


Harry furrowed his brows. "We?"


"Yer friends, Harry."


Harry glanced at the door as though expecting Ron, Hermione, and Ginny to walk in any minute, but it didn't creak open as he expected. "Where are they?" he asked.


"In the waitin' room, I reckon," answered Hagrid in a thoughtful voice. "The Healers wouldn't allow visitors."


"But you're here," stated Harry quickly.


"Well," Hagrid cleared his throat, and continued in a matter-of-fact tone, "they had ter make an exception because I ain' leaving yeh, Harry." He wrapped his arm around Harry who gave him a grateful smile before casting his gaze to the tiled floor. Hagrid looked suddenly guilty before adding, "I think I frightened the lot of 'em when I admitted meself here earlier."


Harry whirled his head to look at Hagrid in bewilderment. A small wince escaped him as his neck protested the sudden movement. "Admitted?" he asked. His eyes grew wide when he slowly saw the bandages on Hagrid's arms and chest. "Hagrid, what -"


"I was attacked, you see." Hagrid responded quietly. He retold the story about what happened in the cave, and how he escaped just in time to Apparate to the hospital. "I sent a letter ter Ron an' told 'em where I was."


"But are you okay, Hagrid?" asked Harry in pure concern. "I'm sorry if we caused you so much trouble. We shouldn't have -"


"Am alrigh'," he replied dismissively. "It's yeh I'm worried about. Ron an' Hermione sure gave me a heart attack when I found out about yer soul. I wanted ter come an' see yeh meself… and now I'm 'ere with yeh." Hagrid sniffed and wiped a tear away from his eyes. He looked down at Harry and brought his massive arms around him. "I got the tail hair," he continued with a small smile. "I gave it ter Hermione. You're goin ' ter be okay now, Harry. They'll brew the potion an' you'll be healthy again."


"Thank you, Hagrid," Harry said sincerely while briefly wondering if Ron and Hermione had mentioned to Hagrid that he wasn't the one drinking the potion.


His head snapped up when the door slowly opened, and he saw Ron, Hermione, and Ginny quietly enter the ward.


"Harry!" they whispered together as they rushed to stand around him. Ginny immediately hugged and kissed him. Harry held her hand, and Hagrid beamed at them.


"We're not supposed to be in here right now, but we couldn't wait to see how you're doing, mate," Ron said breathlessly. "So much has happened. You're gonna freak out."


"How are you feeling?" asked Hermione anxiously.


"I think the antidote is doing its job. I feel sore all over, though," said Harry and adjusted himself to a more comfortable position. "Hagrid filled me in on what happened in the Thestral cave."


"Do you think it was Malfoy?" Ron immediately asked. Hermione gave an involuntary sigh. "I've been dying to ask your opinion on it, mate."


Harry didn't pause to think. "No." He thought he saw Ron look at him as though his head had been fatally damaged from the poison and was spouting rubbish.


"You're kidding, right?" Ron asked disbelievingly.


Harry shook his head. "He warned me of the dangers in the cave," he told them. "But whoever attacked Hagrid wasn't Malfoy's doing."


"How can you be sure, Harry?" asked Hermione, pursing her lips. "I'm also suspicious that there were other Death Eaters behind the attack - though I don't think Malfoy was one of them... I'm still uncertain."


"Because I know he wouldn't betray me," said Harry calmly. "He wanted to pay his debt even though that meant he had to talk his way to Mr. Weasley... and had to come to the Burrow to talk to me. I know he did what he came for without any pretenses."


"But aren't you gonna question his motive?" Ron asked a little too eagerly but with a hint of frustration as if he still wanted to prove his point. "I mean, he could just be faking it and setting you up."


Harry shook his head again. "His only motive was to return the favour and nothing else. His obligation to pay his debt is done."


"Are you saying you trust him?" Ron asked uncomfortably, his eyebrows furrowed.


"No, not trust," denied Harry. Noticing his best friend's growing annoyance, he explained quickly. "I'm merely saying that Malfoy is intelligent enough to act upon what he thought was the right thing to do - considering our rivalry."


"Never in the history of my life will I consider Malfoy as a friend, even if what you said is true, mate," said Ron darkly. "He'll forever be a spiteful bully, arrogant, and a spoiled brat. And –" he added before he could stop himself, "He's a coward like his father."


Harry nodded his understanding. "He is," he agreed. "But I stand by what I said… and if for some reason he was only lying to me, then that will only cause him bigger problems. I'm sure he's got a lot on his plate already that adding some more would be the last thing he'd want to happen."


"So you think Yaxley's working on his own?" asked Ginny with burning curiosity.


Before Harry could answer her, the door opened again and Kingsley Shacklebolt walked in, followed closely by Percy and an irate-looking Healer who glowered at all the occupants inside the room.


"What do you all think you're doing?" came the high-pitched voice of the Healer. "Mr. Potter needs his rest, and only two visitors are allowed. Out!" she bellowed at the group gathered around Harry, but the Minister stopped her with a calming hand and said that they needed to be there for interrogation purposes. The Healer sighed in irritation and cursed her way out of the room.


"Harry Potter," rumbled the deep voice of Kingsley. Harry regarded the tall black wizard in front of him with a pained smile before he addressed the rest of the group. "I didn't mean to intrude on this little chat, but I was immediately informed by Mr. Weasley here of what had happened." Percy stood with his head held high when the Minister acknowledged him. Ron rolled his eyes when he noticed.


"We were just discussing it, Minister," informed Hermione.


Kingsley smiled at her. "Please, you don't have to be formal around me. Just call me Kingsley." Everyone relaxed and returned his smile. "Do tell me what happened, if you may," he told Hermione and motioned her to begin.


"Draco Malfoy came to the Weasley house yesterday to talk to Harry. He said he owed Harry his life after Harry saved him. To make it short, he paid his debt by saying where we could find that one ingredient we needed for the potion to mend Harry's soul - in a cave in Ireland. We told Hagrid right away because we thought he could help, too.


"Then this morning," she continued without pause. "Percy suddenly visited the Weasley house. We only knew too late that he was an impostor when Hagrid sent us a letter saying that he was attacked in the cave Malfoy told us about and was being treated here in the hospital. We were about to go back to the Burrow when Healer Augustus Pye told us that Percy was here as well… That's how we found out that someone was impersonating him."


Percy made a hissing sound, causing everyone to glance at him briefly.


Hermione continued again when Percy's head had guiltily sucked into his shoulders, "By the time we came home, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were already unconscious on the floor, and the impostor had poisoned Harry. Then he showed his true self and turned out to be Corban Yaxley. He Disapparated shortly after that."


"Where are Molly and Arthur now?" asked Kingsley, stroking his chin.


"They're still unconscious," announced Ginny. "But they've been nursed back in the room across from here."


"I see." Kingsley turned his attention back to Hermione. "When you said 'we only knew too late' that Percy was being impersonated, what do you mean?" he asked, slowly taking his hand from his chin and placing his arms into his sleeves.


Hermione looked regretful for a moment before sighing, "When Percy's impostor saw Harry sick, he asked what happened… and I –" she hesitated, suddenly looking embarrassed. "I told him everything because I thought he was Percy himself."


"Everything, you mean…?"


"How Harry got sick…" she said sadly. "The ingredients for the cure, and about Draco's visit…" Hermione faltered, her eyes welling with tears. "Oh, I messed up so badly," she looked at Harry apologetically. "I'm so sorry."


Harry disregarded it with a weak wave of his hand and said consolingly, "You didn't know, Hermione. No one knew that he wasn't the real Percy. It's not your fault."


Hermione shook her head, her lip trembling. "But he could use that information against you. He could –" but she wasn't able to finish as she burst into tears.


Ron caressed her back and murmured his comfort. "Harry's right, Hermione. It wasn't your fault. We didn't know, too."


"But he may come back and hurt you again or any of us –"


"I will inform the Aurors as soon as I get back, Hermione. I will see to it that Yaxley will be severely reprimanded and put in Azkaban." Kingsley assured her. "I would want to know though, how Yaxley set up these attacks." He turned his attention toward Percy. "Did you notice anything unusual before you were attacked in your office, Percy?"


"No, sir," Percy answered truthfully. "I only remember hearing a voice, but it was faint, and the next thing I knew, I was already at the hospital, and that was when Ron and Ginny found me."


Kingsley crossed his arm, evidently thinking hard. "From your words, I conclude that Yaxley might have planned the attack on the cave in advance. But wasn't he at the Weasley household at the time when you received the letter from Hagrid?"


"Yes," said Ron and Ginny together.


"But how did Yaxley know about the cave?" Kingsley cocked his head to one side to look at them.


"The night when Draco Malfoy told us about the cave," said Hermione. "Ron immediately sent a letter to inform Hagrid who later told us that his owl looked rather roughed up. We were kind of debating whether Ron's owl was intercepted."


"Yes, his owl looked weird las' night when I saw him." Hagrid managed to speak after a long while of being silent. "He looked like he musta been forcefully searched."


Hermione nodded. "We believed that they've read the letter and that's how they knew."


Kingsley turned to Percy again. "Percy, you might want to double-check the protection you had in place at the Burrow," he ordered. "Not only the fireplace. If Yaxley Disapparated inside your house, that means the protection had been breached. For the meantime, I will have a group of Aurors guard your house on a regular schedule."


"Yes, sir," Percy said eagerly.


"As for Draco Malfoy," said Kingsley thoughtfully. "I have my suspicions, but he is under a tracking spell, and he knows about it. We will be able to discover his whereabouts yesterday. Harry, do you suspect that he's working with Yaxley?"


Harry gave his reasons to Kingsley. He told him what he told his friends earlier about what he thought of Malfoy as a traitor.


"As crazy as this sounds," he said, running his fingers through his hair. "I still find it hard to believe that Malfoy would go against me if his only reason for his visit was to pay his debt. Yaxley has allies, but I want to believe that Malfoy isn't a part of it." Kingsley nodded his understanding.


"I am not only saying this because I'm indebted to Mrs. Malfoy," Harry continued. "But I highly doubt that her son would do something that would potentially further their family's already-ruined reputation as of the moment."


"It would be reckless and stupid, yes," agreed Kingsley. "The unwavering decision that the Malfoys negotiated fairly certainly was to switch sides, and we are still under the impression that this strategy that they are carefully planning to achieve is null and suspicious, but –" he cleared his throat and looked straight at Harry who returned the gaze just as equally. "If what you have to say comes to pass and it does make a huge turning point that they were confidently against the dark side now, then I shall reconsider and give them a chance in society. Would you care to present to me your testimony in favour of the Malfoys, Harry?"


Everyone looked at Harry. It was evident that they were all against the Malfoys, and helping them out was not something any of them were willing to do except him. Harry didn't know whether or not his testimonies were enough to convince the Minister, but it was worth a try.


He took a deep, calming breath and started. "The night of the war at Hogwarts, I got captured. Because I told her that her son was alive, Narcissa betrayed Voldemort by saying I was dead. She only did it to find out about her son's well-being discreetly when I was sprawled on the ground. If it weren't for her, Voldemort would probably have killed me for sure. She saved me from him. That alone proved that she never valued her support of Voldemort over her son. I know that she only cared about her family, but it made a huge difference when she lied to him to save me instead."


Kingsley regarded this pensively but didn't say anything.


"Also," continued Harry. "When the battle recommenced, Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy had been seen abandoning the Death Eaters to search for their son. I think their family was reunited in the Great Hall at Hogwarts after the war." Harry trailed off, finished with his testimony and anticipated patiently for Kingsley to say something while the others waited with bated breaths.


"Thank you for your testimony, Harry," said Kingsley. "That greatly changed my perception about the Malfoys, and it did change the course of events, even more so in your life… With that, I will grant them a reprieve and revoke any incarceration in Azkaban. However, I will see them through more rightful retribution for their previous actions. No criminal shall roam freely without justice." Kingsley smiled wickedly at his last statement.


"I knew you'd understand," said Harry, smiling at him.


"Well, it's rare that I get to talk to you, Harry… so I may as well end this conversation on a good note." Kingsley put his hand in his pocket and brought out a small pouch. "This is the piece of the stone that you needed for the potion," he handed it to Harry who blinked his surprise.


"I wasn't expecting you'd have it right now," he said. "Thank you!"


"Anytime, Harry," said Kingsley. "Besides, I'm expecting to see you at the Auror's Headquarters soon and working your butt off. It's about time you show them what you've got, eh?"


"I think we could all agree that Harry had shown enough skill to land a position as the next Head of the Aurors, don't you think Minister?" Hermione proudly said while Harry looked away, blushing slightly.


"I very much agree to that, Ms. Granger. Let's see… I'll see you in the office a week from now then, Mr. Potter – and don't be late!"


"What?" said Harry in surprise, but Kingsley only chuckled and waved to say goodbye as he let himself out of the room.


"That's just it," said Ron, clearly upset. "You don't have to worry about job applications, but I still have to do them. I say take that offer, mate, and then hire me as your assistant, will you?"


At that very moment, the irate-looking Healer came storming back inside the ward the moment the Minister left, shouting, "This boy needs rest for Merlin's sake! Out! OUT!" Even Hagrid was told to leave, and he reluctantly followed the rest of the group. Harry was left alone with nothing to distract him from the stabbing pains creeping back into his entire body.

The next day, Harry woke suddenly in the sunlit ward and gave a loud yelp of pain; his whole body now felt like it was on fire. He realized that a group of people were standing around his bed and murmuring frantically. For a second, he thought that was what had woken him. He bit his lip when a wave of pain hit him.


"Harry, are you okay?"


Someone slid his glasses to his face, and he could see clearly. He saw his friends along with a familiar round-faced young man. He tried to sit up, but the pain was terrible.


"Neville," Harry whispered with effort, his voice croaked from his dry throat.


Neville seemed to understand the questioning look he received from him. "I didn't know you were admitted here last night until my gran handed me an article about you this morning." Neville showed the Witch Weekly magazine to Harry.


He saw a moving picture of himself being carried by Hagrid in the hospital's lobby. It looked like somebody had managed to take a photo of him while they were waiting to be checked in. The article had a large title that read, The-Boy-Who-Disappeared Finally Sighted in St. Mungo's Hospital.


"That Skeeter woman!" Hermione said hotly, not looking at the article. By her indignant expression, She had clearly already read the article. "I knew she'd do something like this again!" She sighed heavily, and Harry thought he heard her mutter an oath under her breath about sticking Rita Skeeter inside an unbreakable jar.


"Yeah," said Neville. "I was with my parents, and when I read the article and saw your picture, I came by and checked if it was true." He looked at Harry worriedly. "What happened to you, Harry? You look really sick."


"Poisoned," hissed Harry through clenched teeth.


"Poisoned?" Neville repeated in disbelief.


"Yes," said Ron, looking displeased. "Someone pretended to be my brother and poisoned Harry."


"Did you find out who?"


"Corban Yaxley."


"Isn't he among those Death Eaters who led an assault at the Astronomy Tower?" asked Neville as he glanced thoughtfully at them.


Hermione nodded to Neville. "Yes. I remembered Harry hit him with a Full Body-Bind Curse. He was arrested and taken to Azkaban, but he had broken out a few weeks later. When Voldemort took over the Ministry, Yaxley was made the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."


"He's really up there," said Ron loathingly. "He's like a part of the inner circle of Death Eaters."


"And this article," piped Hermione, throwing a look of disgust at the magazine. "Now that everyone knows Harry's whereabouts, I would hate to think that Death Eaters like Yaxley will likely charge in here and start attacking the hospital."


"Gran just told me that people have gathered outside of St. Mungo's right now," said Neville, shuddering slightly.


"They're probably here either to interrogate Harry and to know more about his health – or kill him," Ginny stated nervously.


"Yes," Hermione agreed in an irritated voice. "Rita Skeeter clearly mentioned in her article that 'Harry's dying in the arms of a ferocious-looking man'. Seriously, that woman –"


But her final words were drowned out as a different voice echoed throughout the hospital. It was strong, cold, and clear: There was no telling from where it came; it seemed to issue from the walls themselves.


"I know that you are afraid to come out." The voice reverberated around them, and alarm plastered itself on their faces as they whirled around for the source of the sound. "Death Eaters have fought valiantly alongside the Dark Lord. I have great respect and honour toward those who have fallen. Their magical blood had been spilt, but those who remained standing have yet to show the true legacy the Dark Lord had promised to fulfil, yet this was destroyed by the Undesirable No. 1 whom we all know as Harry Potter."


Then silence swallowed them all. Every head turned inside the ward. From the opened door, Harry saw some Healers and patients had stopped in their tracks from the voice.


"To my fellow Death Eaters," continued the unmistakable voice that Harry recognized as Yaxley's. "I urge you to come out and be not afraid, for we will tarnish those who defied the will of the Dark Lord. Let us bond, form once again, and finish what we all have strived to fulfill in this society. We now have the advantage at our hands. It has now been brought to all your attention the whereabouts of our enemy. Join me as we end him once and for all."


Before anyone could speak, they could hear tumultuous movements from outside St. Mungo's. Ron and Neville rushed to the window and cried out that witches and wizards had doubled in number and most of them were trying to get inside the hospital lobby.


"Was this Yaxley's plan all along to bring Harry out in public?" Ginny tried to ask calmly, but she seemed to be repressing her panic inside.


Her question was not answered when Neville spoke with considerable urgency. "Harry has to get out of here now!"


"Could we bring him back to the Burrow?" Ron asked the group, grasping at large pieces of his red hair.


"No," said Ginny, shaking her head and burying her face in her hands. "The Burrow isn't safe right now. Percy and Kingsley have yet to place another protection charm and Aurors around the house."


"Where else could we hide him, then?"


"This is only a suggestion," said Hermione, low and hurried. "Maybe we could ask Bill and Fleur if we could stay at the Shell Cottage!"


"Yeah," said Ron quickly. "We've been there before. They wouldn't mind, I hope. How are we gonna get there, then?"


"Well," mused Ginny frantically, nearly in hysterics. "Harry's not fit to Apparate in there, and Portkeys can be uncomfortable – but that's our only way, and I think we have one at the Burrow."


"Yeah. I know where it's at. I can get it," Ron volunteered, jaw set.


"I'll come with you," said Hermione immediately. "I have to get the Anima book and my beaded bag. The Invisibility cloak is in there, and we have to brew the potion straightaway."


They all nodded.


"I'll keep watch here with Ginny until you both return," Neville bravely told them. "Please hurry!"


"I have to inform mum and dad of our plan as well," said Ginny. "And tell them that we're leaving very soon. I'm sure Percy could look after them."


Neville watched as they left him and Harry alone in the room. He started pacing nervously in front of Harry. Grave silence stretched between them for a few minutes until Neville jumped when the door opened.


Ginny returned followed by Hagrid. They whirled about when they suddenly heard Harry utter a sharp cry of pain and noticed a look of horror in his eyes when he looked at Ginny. Understanding dawned on her features. Her face blanched while the blood drained from her face as she stammered, "Oh, Harry… No – no, not right now –" but her voice was drowned out when Harry's screams began again.



To be continued...

Beta read by KVeronicaP, Chirpo