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Chapter Five: The Chocolate Cure

“Hey look, Al! Daddy's green too!” Harry's first night on the second floor of St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries had not been a pleasant one. In addition to the constant pain and itching he was suffering through, he had been unable to sleep for more than ten minutes at a time due to the staff's repeated frantic searches for the elderly witch from the next room who had contracted a particularly nasty case of vanishing sickness.

But the sight of Ginny, with a green Lily nestled in the crook of her right arm, a green James dragging her forward by her left hand, and a green Albus popping out from behind her to peer at his father, instantly made his heart very nearly overflow.

“Hello, Harry!” Ginny greeted him brightly, doing a bit of a wiggle with her hips to try and get Albus out from behind her. “The healers wanted me to ask you if you've seen Mrs. Smethley. Apparently they think she might be in here?” Ginny feigned a frown, and narrowed her eyes – which, Harry noticed, had very dark circles beneath them – “Is there anything you want to tell me... Dear?”

“That I love you?” he groaned, struggling to sit upright in his bed. Ginny dropped James's hand and rushed to Harry's side, grabbed a pillow, and placed it gently behind his back. “And you can tell the Healer on duty that Mrs. Smethley hasn't been in here since last night.” He smirked and winked at his wife, who picked up another pillow and tossed it at his head.

“Pillow fight!” cried James, and he jumped up onto the bed and crawled on top of Harry before Ginny could grab hold of him. Harry stifled a moan that came unbidden when one of James's knees found a particularly sore boil.

“James!” barked Ginny, looking sternly at her oldest. But the morose spell of St. Mungo's had broken, and Albus, who had looked enviously at James as he jumped onto the bed, followed suit. “Albus...” this time Ginny was less resolute, and her admonition was more of a sigh of defeat. Harry knew as well as she did that once the boys had grabbed hold of an idea, there was no making them let go of it. Well, not unless there was chocolate involved, Harry mused. Thankfully, this being a hospital, there was a healthy supply of it in the nightstand beside the bed.

“Boys!” He hadn't meant to raise his voice, but it had come out far louder than he had intended. Perhaps the medicine that Ernie was making him choke down every few hours was having a positive effect. Albus and James stopped their roughhousing in mid-swing, and turned to look at their dad. Harry almost felt guilty for interrupting their fun. Almost, as he knew what he was going to say next. “Who'd like a chocolate frog?” he inquired, a sly grin on his face. Almost immediately, Harry realized that this was a silly thing to ask a hyperactive child, as the two on his chest started to bounce up and down excitedly.

“I want a fwog!” exclaimed Albus happily, once again swinging the pillow he had somehow managed to obtain.

“I hope I get Agrippa,” James chimed in. “Uncle Ron offered me five galleons for it if I ever found one!” Harry laughed softly – though still painful, it did not hurt as much as it had the day before – but Ginny huffed.

“Harry, I know he's your best mate and all, but he's my brother, and I'll hex him if I want to.” Harry smiled, but just shrugged. He couldn't blame Ginny for being upset, but the Agrippa chocolate frog card was so incredibly rare that there was practically no chance of money ever changing hands.

“Would you like one, Gin?” he asked, trying to gloss over the awkward moment. He reached out to the bedside table pulled open its drawer, and hesitated with his hand poised over it.

“Well, absolutely!” she enthused, nodding her head excitedly. “And James, if you or I get an Agrippa, I'll talk Uncle Ron up to fifty galleons, and we can split it. Agrippa's worth more than five. Lousy skinflint.” Harry nearly choked. Once again he had underestimated his wife's sense of humor. It didn't happen as often as it had when they were first married, but she still managed to surprise him from time to time.

“Well, all right then,” he smiled broadly at Ginny, and for the first moment since he had woken up in St. Mungo's, he felt no pain at all. He reached down into the drawer and when he withdrew it, he was holding three individually wrapped chocolate frogs. He handed one to James, who tore into it immediately. He popped the struggling frog into his mouth and swallowed it whole before turning over the card that was found at the bottom of every package.

“Aww...” he groaned, holding up a Dumbledore. The wizened wizard was looking out at the assembled family and waving happily, and Harry was certain that his mentor's bespectacled eyes were twinkling even more than they normally did.

“Oh! Can I have it James? Pwease?” Al's eyes had lit up at the sight of the Dumbledore card, and now he was practically begging James for it. Harry knew that his youngest son had a hidden stash with several dozen Dumbledore cards hidden back in his bedroom, and he was always trading away rarer cards to get more of his hero.

Ginny walked forward and put a hand gently on James' shoulder, and he immediately held the card out for Albus. “That's a good boy,” Ginny said, and she leaned down to give him a kiss on the cheek. Albus took the card carefully, and looked at it with reverential green eyes. Harry, knowing that Albus was going to be otherwise preoccupied for a few moments, held out a frog to Ginny with his left hand.

“You next,” he prodded. Ginny laughed, and set Lily down on the bed next to Harry. She took the offered package, and finding his left hand empty, used it to pull Lily in closer to his body. She wiggled briefly, trying to find a comfortable spot, then fell back to sleep. Apparently, she had inherited her mother's ability to sleep through anything.

Harry watched Ginny unwrap her chocolate frog with a bemused smile. She pulled it out, then used her other hand to flip over the card. With a gasp, she dropped the frog, which began to hop happily along the floor. James scurried after it, apparently not noticing his mother's distress. Harry, on the other hand, hadn't missed a thing.

“What's wrong!” he demanded. The hand covering Ginny's mouth trembled severely, and she shook her head slightly from side to side, still staring down at the chocolate frog card in her other hand.

“This has got to be somebody's idea of a- a joke,” she whispered, and Harry could hear her voice cracking, “but it's not funny.”

“Ginny, wh-” Harry pressed, but Ginny cut him off.

“I mean who would do such a thing? Chauncey Oldridge?” Harry quickly scanned his memory for the name – he knew it sounded familiar – and came up with an image of a chocolate frog card that had picture of a green wizard covered in boils. It had been a long time since he'd collected the cards, but if he was remembering correctly, it had read:

Chauncey Oldridge
1342 – 1379
First known victim of Dragon Pox

Harry, now acutely aware that the pain that had briefly disappeared was back, also failed to see the humor. But for now, his main goal was to calm Ginny down before some unsuspecting Mediwitch wound up with a cloud of bogeys flapping about her head. Not only was it terrifying, but this was a hospital, and he couldn't think of anything more unsanitary.

“Ginny, no one meant anything by it.” Ginny looked up at him, and he knew he had very little time to say the right thing. Her eyes were aflame with fury. Fortunately, Harry was rescued – as he had so often been in the past – by the arrival an unexpected visitor.

“What's going on in here?” the friendly voice of Neville Longbottom asked from the doorway. Harry, relief rushing over him, beamed at his good friend. Ginny wheeled around, looking determined to pounce, but Harry could see the muscles in her shoulders relax as Neville gave her a happy wave.

“We've lost a frog,” James, who had been on his hands and knees looking underneath the bed, replied. He sprung to his feet, and looked up into Neville's face with interest. “Please, sir, would you help us look for it?” Neville's eyebrows disappeared into his shaggy hairline, and his cheeks tinged slightly pink.

“I'm afraid I've never been very good at finding missing toa- er... frogs, but I suppose I could give it a go.” Neville withdrew his wand from a pocket, and gave it a swish. “Accio frog.” With a tiny thump, the chocolate frog hit him square in the chest, leaving a small blotch of brown on his otherwise spotless robes. The frog fell to the floor, no longer moving. James hurried over to where it had fallen, and scooped it up.

“Don't even think about it, mister.” Ginny had closed the space between the two of them in an instant, and had put a firm hand on his shoulder. “Give it here.” James, his shoulders slumped, placed the chocolate frog in his mother's hand forlornly. Ginny released him, turned back to Neville, and stood on tiptoe to kiss him on the cheek. The two old friends started to talk animatedly about the latest news out of Malfoy Manor, and James slunk back off to the bed where Albus had just pocketed the Dumbledore card. Harry, feeling sorry for him, opened the last of the chocolate frogs, bisected it as evenly as he could, and handed a half to each of his sons.

“Thanks Dad,” Albus said softly, and Harry reached out a hand to muss his hair.

“You didn't get Agrippa, did you?” James was trying to peer at the card at the bottom of the now empty package, but Harry held it beyond his reach.

“You've had your shot!” he chided, “this one is my card.” He kept James at bay with his body, and bent over to peek at the card, shielding it with his other hand. His body immediately tensed, and James noticed.

“What is it?” he asked excitedly, “Agrippa?”

“No,” said Harry slowly. He had to be mistaken. He could not have seen what he thought he had, but just in case, he had to pretend nothing was wrong. Thinking quickly, he remembered that Morgana's card was quite common, and decided to pretend that was what he had gotten. Harry absolutely hated lying to his kids, but it was an unfortunate necessity of the decision that he and Ginny – and Ron and Hermione – had come to long ago. “It's just a Morgana,” he said, hoping that James wouldn't press the issue. Thankfully, he didn't.

“Come on boys, let's leave Dad and Mr. Longbottom to talk, all right?” Ginny strode over to where Harry reclined on the bed, and bent down over him. “Don't you die on me Harry James Potter. When I said forever, I meant it.” She puckered her lips and grazed them up against Harry's, sending shivers down the spine of the Boy-who-lived. But it was not enough. Harry had to make her understand that he could never leave her, would never leave her. He grasped the back of her head as she started to pull away, and, using the last of his strength, sat completely upright. The pressure between their lips intensified, Ginny's mouth opened slightly in surprise, and Harry felt, rather than heard, a purr in the back of her throat. Time seemed to slow to a crawl, each second dragging into minutes, into hours, until Harry felt as though he had spent his whole life in this kiss.

When the two finally broke apart, Neville let out a long low whistle from behind them. “Wow,” he said softly.

“Wow is right,” Ginny whispered, gazing hungrily into Harry's eyes. Harry mouthed the words “I love you,” and Ginny did the same. Reluctantly, she scooped up Lily, took hold of Albus's hand, and made a motion with her head to get James to follow her.

“Good-bye Dad! Get better soon!” cried Albus as the four of them reached the door.

“Yeah!” added James, “you promised me you'd teach me how to fly!” Harry chuckled, and waved at them until he could no longer see them. He resolved to get better as quickly as he could. He'd only been out of the house for a day now, and already he missed his children terribly.

“So, Harry...” Harry, who had remained looking at the doorway his family had passed through, realized with a start that Neville had crossed the room to his bedside, and pulled up a chair. “Oh, you dropped this.” He bent over and picked up Harry's chocolate frog card, which had apparently fallen out of the package during his kiss with Ginny. Neville turned the card over in his hands and stared at it blankly for a few moments, and then he began to blush profoundly.

“I take it you've not seen that before?” Harry asked, a smile playing on his lips.

“No,” Neville breathed, “i- it's- this is real?” He turned the card over and Harry took a good long look at it. He had been so surprised when he first peeked at it, that he hadn't been able to take it all in. The picture on the card contained a group of four intimately familiar people, all of whom were smiling happily, and holding objects (a diary, a goblet, a locket and a ruby-encrusted sword) up for inspection. Beneath the picture was written:

The Gryffin-four
Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, Hermione Weasley (née Granger), and Neville Longbottom
Each responsible for the destruction of one of Voldemort's Horcruxes

“Yes Neville,” Harry sighed, “unfortunately, I think it is.” It had suddenly become much harder to keep his kids from learning the truth about their father. He had really hoped that he might be able to remain 'just Dad' until they reached Hogwarts at least.

“B-but why me?” Neville stammered, and he pressed the card back into Harry's hand quickly, as though expecting it to burst into flames at any moment. “I didn't do much of anything.” Harry frowned, and shook his head slowly.

“Neville, we've been through this how many times now?” Harry could remember nearly a dozen off the top of his head. “You've got to realize that you were just as important that night as any of us were.” Neville opened his mouth to speak, but Harry didn't let him break in. “Without you, we never would have gotten into Hogwarts, the alarm never would have been raised, Voldemort would have triumphed.”

Neville said nothing, but stared down into his lap, and Harry could see that he was fingering a wrapper from a piece of Drooble's Best Blowing Gum. “How are they?” he asked softly, almost hoping that Neville wouldn't hear him. The answer always broke his heart.

“They're good, Harry.” Harry winced. There had been no change in the condition of Frank and Alice Longbottom for nearly thirty years. He slumped back down into his bed, and closed his eyes, hoping against hope that Neville might one day get everything he deserved.

The two sat in strained silence for several minutes before Harry heard Neville give a start. “Oh! I almost forgot why I stopped by,” he said, excitement palpable in his voice. Harry opened his eyes to see that Neville had put the wrapper away, and was looking much more like his normal amiable self.

“Good news?” Harry asked.

“Great news. Professor Sprout's going to be taking over for Professor McGonagall in the fall, and she's asked me to come back and take her position as Herbology professor.”

“That's fantastic!” Harry cried, “you'll be a brilliant teacher!” Neville turned red yet again, but Harry could clearly see him trying to hide a smile.

“Oh I don't know about that Harry, but I- I think I could do all right. You definitely think I should do it though?” Harry looked into Neville's eyes, and he could see hope there that had been absent just minutes before.

“I don't want anyone teaching my kids Herbology but you Neville,” he answered seriously, and Neville breathed a sigh of relief.

“It'll be nice to be up at Hogwarts again, with Hagrid and Professor Sprout- Oh! And you'll have to come visit us in Hogsmeade! I mean, I know you would have normally, what with the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor being your brother-in-law and all.” Harry nodded enthusiastically. It had indeed been nice to visit Bill and Hagrid up in Hogsmeade the past few years, but adding Neville to the list of people he'd be visiting with would make the trip that much sweeter.

“I wouldn't miss it for the world,” he said, a wide grin plastered on his face.

“All right! Visiting hours are over!” The face of Ernie Macmillan had appeared around the doorway, and he was glaring at Neville. “Mr. Potter needs his rest.” He disappeared again, and Harry shrugged his shoulders apologetically.

“Sorry about him, he's a bit of a pain in the arse.”

“Oh, it's all right,” said Neville, getting to his feet, “I really need to get home anyway. Luna and Dean will be wondering where I've run off to. Thank you Harry,” he added, holding out his hand, “for everything.” Harry returned the gesture, and the two shook.

“No Neville, thank you.” He took the chocolate frog card he was still holding, and put it in Neville's hand. Neville looked at it briefly, nodded, and put it into his pocket with the gum wrapper.

A/N:  Thank you very very much to all of my wonderful reviewers, who continue to make every moment I spend working on this story worth it.  Remember, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns, please don't hesitate to ask.  I like to think that I'm pretty forthright with information, so long as it's nothing to spoilery for the rest of the fic.

Several of you mentioned in your reviews for the last chapter that I should read the interviews JKR's been giving in order to get ideas for what jobs to give the trio, Luna, etc.  While I appreciate the heads-up, I had read the interviews prior to writing last chapter, and I have made a conscious decision not to use any of the information that might come out in them, or in the chat that's to take place on Monday (I can't wait for it, by the way).  The purpose of this story is to provide closure based entirely on the books, and the tantalizing but too short epilogue.  I will continue to use my own ideas, albeit ones based off of JKR's masterpiece.

Many thanks for taking the time to read, even if you don't review (though obviously, I'd prefer you did, especially if there was something you feel could use a bit of work).

Next chapter will probably see us moved to a new location and a new point-of-view, so let's all look forward to that, eh?

Until then, I remain, your humble author.

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