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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yes, thank you, toast is fine.”

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

“Mind if I ask you something, Harry?”

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

“Is Hermione really all right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh, sorry.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Vertic Alley,” she answered simply.

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

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

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

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

“How much?”

“Huh…uh, beggin’ your pardon?”

“How much do you want for him?”

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

“Yes,” Harry said with all seriousness.

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

“How much?” Harry repeated.

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

“Does he have a name?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So, how was your trip?”

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

“So everything is alright?”

“Yeah,” Hermione said.

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

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

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

“Oh, right. Where…?”

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

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

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

“Sure, sounds great.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Er, how about Thor.”

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

“Harry James Potter.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“After you.”

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

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