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Chapter 3
Speculations and Preparations

That afternoon, when Harry had finished wandering Diagon Alley to contemplate what 
Narcissa and Draco were up to, he arrived home with new robes in hand and settled 
into a chair, his mind still turning with thoughts of what would transpire on the first of 
July. Curiosity burned inside Harry as had not known it to in quite some time. 

With the usual pop sound made by an apparating wizard or witch, Kreacher had appeared in front of Harry, making him jump slightly. He had just returned from Ron’s and Hermione’s homes to ask them to come for a visit to discuss what had occurred at the Robe shop. Since Harry had no owl to send, Kreacher agreed to deliver the messages after Harry called him to Diagon Alley. Harry was grateful. This also made Harry realize how crucial it was that he should find another owl to replace Hedwig, though pangs of guilt still bubbled up when Harry thought of it. 

“Kreacher has returned from Master Ron and Mistress Hermione’s homes.” 

“Are they coming?” asked Harry, sounding a bit excited. 

“Yes, Master. They asked me to tell you, as soon as they are able, they should be here by early evening.” 

“Thank you, Kreacher. You may go now. I’ll be eating here for dinner. Come to think of it, I think we should set three places at the table tonight.” 

“As you wish, Master.” replied Kreacher, who bowed low enough that his nose touched the floor. 

“Thanks, Kreacher.” said Harry, sitting back in his chair. 

Harry, in the course of thinking what the coming event was, believed he ought to have a plan of defense, in case it was a trap. It seemed very strange how Draco had acted at the robe shop. Was he being cautious? Harry had known Draco to be sneaky, but this didn’t seem to be the situation this time. Draco had acted very out of character. Harry was certainly glad he was not accompanied by Crabbe and Goyle, but Crabbe was dead, and Harry suspected Goyle was home, trying to straighten his own life out. 
He actually had no news about the fates of some people who fought during Voldemort’s reign of terror. 

The Azkaban prison was shut down, and it was speculated by other wizards and witches that another location and type of prison for magical people would have to be created, since Azkaban had been so heavily damaged and its security systems compromised. No official word was given by the Ministry of Magic and the remaining prisoners who had not escaped were being held at a secret facility. 

There was so much disruption in people’s lives, thanks to Voldemort; Harry fumed at the thought of what havoc he caused. Harry was glad that nightmare was over with. Mostly, he became angered over the loss of Dumbledore, but knew now that Dumbledore was not perfect. Still, Harry felt no less respect for the wizard he considered a mentor. 

Getting up from his chair, Harry went upstairs to get ready for Ron and Hermione’s arrival. Afterward, he came down to find Kreacher busily setting the table for three people. It had been covered in the whitest linen tablecloth Harry had ever seen. It was even whiter than Aunt Petunia could have hoped for, nearly glowing with radiant light. On the cloth sat fine China plates that belonged to the Black family. The silverware was equally dazzling. Harry’s eyes danced over the magnificence of the table, his face showing an expression of awe. 

“Kreacher, I must say you set a wonderful table.” 

“Thank you, Master. It is the best I can do.” 

“I don’t think anyone could do better,” replied Harry. 

Kreacher grinned at this comment, but said nothing, and continued his work to get ready for their guests arrival. 

“What are you preparing for dinner, Kreacher?” asked Harry, quizzically. 

“Rack of lamb, red potatoes, a vegetable casserole, and a fruit tart for dessert.” 

“It sounds delicious. It wouldn’t be a treacle tart by any chance, would it?” enquired Harry. 

“Yes, Master. I know it is one of your favorites.” 

“Excellent. Thanks Kreacher. My stomach is rumbling…” 

Harry broke off, hearing the front door bell ring. He didn’t think Ron or Hermione would be here so soon. Turning, Harry went to answer the door. Opening it, he saw Ginny standing there, looking perturbed at Harry. He knew this was not good. 

“Hi, come in, come in. I wasn’t expecting you…” 

“I hope you weren’t thinking of excluding me from this meeting. I am the one who loves you, if you’ve forgotten!” exclaimed Ginny, who stood at the door with her arms crossed, looking very Hermione-ish. 

Harry did not know what to say to this. The admission that Ginny loved Harry hit him so squarely; it may as well have been a curse from a Death Eater. Harry stood there, struck dumb. 

Recovering, he reached for Ginny, pulled her into his arms, and whispered to her, “I’m sorry, I just have this bad habit of trying to keep you safe, but I should know better.” 

Pulling away some from Harry, but not fully leaving his embrace, Ginny looked up into Harry eyes, and gave him a small smile. “I’m glad you realize this. You are improving.”
Smiling back, Harry kissed Ginny and ushered her inside, closing the door behind him. 

“How did you find out about Ron and Hermione coming tonight?” asked Harry. 

“I was there when Kreacher popped in to ask Ron to come. It gave Ron quite a start. He was raiding the cupboard and was expecting Mum to catch him. I nearly fell over I was laughing so hard.” giggled Ginny. 

“Is Ron going to be here soon?” asked Harry through a laugh. 

“I think he should be here within the next half hour. He was getting all primped for Hermione. When I left, he was spraying some ghastly cologne over him. I would recommend an anti-smell charm if I were you.” said Ginny. 

“I’ll keep that under advisement. Would you like to stay for dinner as well?” asked Harry. 

“You know I will. It smells wonderful. What are we having?” asked Ginny. 

“Rack of Lamb, potatoes, a vegetable casserole, and treacle tart for dessert.” said Harry. 

“Wonderful. How was your day, other than the Draco situation?” asked Ginny. 

“As strange as it’s ever been. This whole Draco invitation has got me curious and cautious at the same time. I invited Ron and Hermione here to get input on how to approach this dinner party. I can’t help feeling that I should be prepared for a trap, if that’s what it is. But something about what happened in Madam Malkin’s shop is telling me otherwise. Draco was so not himself, that I have to wonder, then there’s this.” said Harry, pulling out the invitation and handing to Ginny. 

Ginny read the invitation, and was about to comment when Harry said it for her. 

“Yeah, I know, Narcissa Black threw me as well. What happened to Lucius Malfoy? He somehow evaded prison, probably bargaining like Narcissa did, turning in Death Eaters, but from what I can tell, has also disappeared in the process. Did Narcissa do away with him? Did Lucius take off on Narcissa and Draco? I just don’t know what to make of that invitation. That’s why I need input from someone else. Now that you’re here, I can get yours as well.” 

“Draco never explained this?” asked Ginny, looking away from the invitation. 

“He turned and quickly departed the shop before I could even open it or ask him anything about what it was all about. I half expected him to come back or to find him in Diagon Alley, but he had gone as if he were smoke. He had to have apparated out.” 

“Maybe he’s grateful for being saved by you in the room of requirement and the cursed fire.” said Ginny. 

“That has crossed my mind, but it doesn’t explain his actions. He wasn’t himself. Usually, well, you know Draco, or so we all thought. He was sarcastic and nasty when at school, but he wasn’t like that at all, like a different person altogether.” said Harry. 

“But he was also not flanked by Crabbe and Goyle either. Maybe he only acts that way with them as his backup. But with Crabbe dead, and Goyle out of the picture…” 

“No, I’ve seen Draco without them also, and he wasn’t much different, until now. It’s got me really curious.” said Harry. 

The doorbell rang again. Harry and Ginny both turned to look at the door as Kreacher came into the room to answer it, but Harry was quicker to move. 

“Its okay Kreacher, I’ve got this, thanks.” 

Opening the door, there stood Ron, and Hermione, in dressier attire than Harry ever remembered seeing Ron wear. Hermione looked radiant standing on the doorstep, wrinkling her nose once or twice. Harry smiled broadly as he greeted them and let them inside. As Ron passed, Harry caught a lungful of the cologne Ginny had stated Ron was applying; in what were apparently, large quantities. Sneaking his wand from his robes, Harry did a quick charm which instantly took effect, reducing the intensity of the smell. Ron did not notice, but was glad Hermione entered first and did not pick up on any of it. Giving Ginny discrete thumbs up sign, which made her laugh, Harry closed the door. 

“So, I’m glad you’re both here…” 

“Aye, Ginny, what are you doing here?” interjected Ron, looking startled at the sight of Ginny standing nearby. 

“I am Harry girlfriend, in case you’ve forgotten. I want to help him as much as you do, if you don’t mind.” retorted Ginny, crossing her arms once again. 

“Ron, must you always nag Ginny so much? She is your sister, and can help as much as we can.” said Hermione. 

“Yeah, but she’s younger, and…” 

“Oh for heaven’s sake Ron, we are of age, and Ginny is shortly to be so! She’s not so little anymore.” exclaimed Hermione. 

Ron thought for a moment, the realization seeming to sink in that they were not at Hogwarts any longer, and that Ginny was basically their same ages. It had become a habit with him, being her older brother, to protect her as well. This, Ron realized, seemed to be more than just his instinct as well, recalling how everyone was eager to protect Ginny during the battle at Hogwarts with the Death Eaters. She was not, as Hermione said, ‘So little anymore.’ 

“Yeah, I just keep seeing you as my little sister, sorry Ginny.” 

Grimacing some, Ginny unfolded her arms, walked over to Ron, and hugged him. Turning to Harry afterward, she returned the thumbs up sign to Harry, confirming the charm was successful. Harry stifled a laugh of his own. 

“Anyone care for drinks? I have Pumpkin juice, butter beer, tea?” 

“I’ll take a butter beer. I’m starving.” said Ron, walking towards the dining room. 

“I’ll have the same.” Hermione said, spiritedly. Turning to Harry behind Ron, she whispered to Harry; “Anti-smell charm?” 

Harry could not help but laugh aloud. His mood instantly brightened. She knew what had happened after all. 

“Yeah, I didn’t think you knew.” whispered Harry, back to her. 

“How could I not. Ron is trying to make a good impression, but seems to not know that at times, less is more. Did he use the whole bottle?” 

“Ask Ginny later.” said Harry through another chuckle. Having his best mates and girlfriend here made Harry feel better than he could remember in a long time.
Entering the dining room, the three guests were amazed at the table Kreacher had set for them. Harry noticed that Kreacher had not missed a beat, and had set another place for Ginny. The superb smell of dinner cooking wafted from the kitchen, making Harry’s stomach rumble. Four butter beers sat at each place. Ron, quickly walked over to a chair, motioned to Hermione, and helped her into her seat. Everyone was impressed and surprised, but said nothing. Hermione smiled up at Ron for being so cordial, kissing him on the cheek, making Ron turn bright red. Harry, in turn, helped Ginny into her chair. She was equally delighted. 

Over dinner, they discussed recent events in their lives, and how each had noticed life returning to normal, or at least as close to normal as it could. Ron and Ginny expressed concern for their mother, hoping that her attitude would improve over time, but seemed to be running out of options to take her mind off of Fred’s death. 

George was not much better than Mrs. Weasley. He seemed to lose interest in Wizard Wheezes he opened with Fred, and since the Voldemort uprising was stopped, had opened it only sporadically, finding people to run it for him. Mostly, they were older students from Hogwarts interested in making some extra gold, or being paid in merchandise. This revelation seemed to put a damper on Harry’s improved state of mind, and he had become less jovial during dinner. It did not take long for Hermione to pick up on this. 

“Harry, you’ve gotten a bit quiet, what’s the matter?” asked Hermione, reaching out to Harry. 

Staring at his nearly empty dinner plate, Harry at first said nothing. It was difficult to discuss his feelings, there was so much going on in his head. 

“I…It’s hard to describe. I guess it’s just everything. Everything that’s happened to all of us gets me down. I can’t help feeling like I’m responsible, and I know that I’m not, but Voldemort picked me for his rival. It could have been anyone, really, but I got stuck with the task of doing him in. But in the process, so many suffered for it. So many whose lives won’t go on to be with their family, friends...It’s overwhelming sometimes.
Now I hear about how George is, and it brings it all back again. Now I get this ‘invitation’, so to speak, to what, do me a final blow? I just wish I could be forgotten, once and for all.” Harry finished to a very quiet room. 

Ginny, getting out of her chair, came to Harry and hugged him, looking as though she were about to cry. Harry clasped her arm in a half hug, acknowledging her and appreciating the comfort. Hermione and Ron sat in their chairs, looking awkward, not knowing what to say at first, but then, Ron spoke up. 

“Harry, we’ve been in this with you, at your side. Everyone I hear talk thinks you’re the greatest. I know that’s not much comfort mate, but we’re still here for you, whenever you need us.” finished Ron. 

Harry said nothing, continuing to stare at his plate. He was tired, and for a brief moment, thought of the way it used to be, before he found out he was a wizard. He almost wished it were like that again. The Dursley’s torments would almost be a welcome change to everything else that had happened. But Harry knew that road was long traveled and could not be revisited. 

“Harry, you have to think of all that you DO have; Ron and I, Ginny, your Godson, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, and everyone who genuinely cares about you, this house. My life, as well as many other people’s lives is richer for having you in it. I think I speak for everyone when I say this.” said Hermione, almost reading Harry mind, her voice quivering as she spoke. 

This confession seemed to bring Harry around from his despair. Looking up, he managed a small smile, but kept quiet. Harry was reminded of how much strength he drew from his friends and how his life was richer itself for having that first fateful meeting on the Hogwarts Express, just seven short years ago. 

“Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like my tart please,” said Ron jokingly, trying to lighten to mood that hung heavy in the room. 

Everyone broke in snippets of laughter, including Harry. Leave it to Ron to break the ice. Harry knew he could always count on him. He felt foolish for being so down about what might be nothing at all. This coming event may prove to be something interesting, to say the least. He had handled Voldemort, and could not see this situation as being any more dangerous. 

“Yeah, I know, there could be nothing better than having all of you with me. I guess I’m overreacting to this whole thing. I thought this whole affair was wrapped up, but I guess there’s one more chapter to the saga, so to speak. So, shall we have dessert while we discuss some ideas about July first?” 

“Nothing like planning over dessert.” chimed Ron, which made everyone laugh again. 

“Please tell me you’re not still hungry?” asked Hermione. 

“Well, for that treacle tart that. I keep smelling, yeah.” corrected Ron. 

Harry could only grin. His mood improved once again, he peered around the table to see Kreacher bringing a tray with the tart set upon it like a prize work of art. Everyone ate with delight, marveling at the delicious taste of the dessert, their minds briefly removed from the business to come. Afterwards, they retired to the pallor, where Ginny sat next to Harry, holding hands, and Ron, next to Hermione, his arm around her shoulder. 

“Okay, so what do we do about Narcissa’s invitation?” asked Ron. 

“Well, I think I need to be ready in case they’ve planned something to finally do what Voldemort tried to do.” 

Everyone winced when Harry said Voldemort’s name. Seeing this, he reminded himself that old habits die hard. At least no Death Eaters appeared out of thin air to take them in, thought Harry. Pausing briefly, he continued. 

“I think if I had some company come with me, not necessarily in the mansion, but at least, scout out the grounds, hang around during the dinner, it would give me some level of back-up if they were to try anything.” 

“Should we alert the Ministry?” asked Ron. 

“No, I don’t think it’s anything we can’t handle ourselves. Besides, I don’t want to have too many people involved in this, in case this is a trap. The three of you should do nicely.” 

“I’ve been practicing some nasty little jinxes lately. Mom doesn’t even know about it, but they might come in handy.” said Ginny. Harry could see a glint in her eye, as he knew she was picturing the effect these jinxes would have on any unsuspecting victim who received one. Ginny could pack quite a punch. Harry remembered her famous bat boogey hex her brother’s always warned him about. 

Within the next hour, they had a basic plan hashed out for July 1st. Ron, and Hermione would each take points around the mansion’s grounds, scouting for any trouble that might be lurking, ready to aid Harry in any battle they might face. Harry was going to pack a couple extendible ears with him, which Hermione would improve to use remotely. Fred and George had been working on them before the uprising, and nearly finished them. 

Ginny would use Harry’s invisibility cloak and follow him to the door, hopefully to slip in behind Harry when he entered. She would be invisible backup for Harry. They could only hope there were no detection devises in place at the mansion. With luck, maybe none of it would be necessary. But at least they would not be surprised.

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