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Harry’s feet touched down on a grassy hillside looking over the southern area of Ottery St. Catchpole. He could see the Burrow below, with smoke already drifting towards the sky from the home’s various chimneys. The morning still held a bit of a chill, the dew still collecting on the grass and tall weeds. Harry glanced behind him and found the Marauders and Lily straightening up and looking around.

“I haven’t been here in years,” said James as he surveyed the landscape. “It’s pretty beautiful, don’t you think, Lils?”

Lily nodded. “Yes.”

“When did you visit here?” Harry asked interestedly.

James’s happy expression faltered a bit. Scratching the back of his head, he replied. “During the first Wizarding War; Remus, Sirius, Peter, and myself were asked by Albus to protect the Weasley family from a tip off of a Death Eater attack. I refused to let Lily come along because she was extremely pregnant with you, Harry.”

“Was there an attack?”

Sirius shook his head. “Nope. We stayed in the woods all night but nobody showed up.”

“Thank Merlin,” said Lily. “The Weasleys had so many young children at the time. It would have been awful if they’d been attacked. I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I was when James came home the next morning unscathed.”

James smiled, putting his arm around her. “I had promised to come back safely.”

Lily managed a smile though her eyes seemed distant, lost in the past. Harry wanted to hear more but his mum was obviously a little distressed about the subject. James sensed this as well.

 Taking Lily’s hand, he turned to Harry and said, “Well son, why don’t you lead the way down to the Burrow?”

Harry started but then stopped. “Did you get permission yet for the Weasleys to see you?”

“I left while you were sleeping last night, Harry,” answered Remus. “And they gave it the all clear with the caution that the Weasleys and Hermione must never tell anyone else about our presence.”

Harry looked at the Marauders and his mother and noticed a terrible mischievous glint in their eyes. Grinning, he asked, “You’re all going to scare the living daylights out of them, aren’t you?”

All four displayed wicked smirks.

“Well, we talked about it last night, Harry,” said Sirius.

“And we feel that a little spook wouldn’t hurt anyone,” said James.

“So we thought, well…why not give them a little bit of a scare?” mused Remus.

Harry started laughing. “So what part am I supposed to play in all this?”

James tapped his chin. “Hmmm, well, we can’t have you ruining the prank, Harry.”

“Maybe he can be the victim,” suggested Lily.

Sirius thought this was a great idea. “What do you think, Harry? Can you handle that?”

Harry slightly grimaced. “Although I don’t like the thought of being the prey, I’ll do my best.”

James thumped him on the back. “Excellent! Don’t worry, Harry. The victim is essential to our scheme. Just play along with what we do, okay?”

Harry nodded.

“Great,” exclaimed James happily. “Now, you go into the Burrow alone and we’ll show up shortly after you. Sound good?”

“Let the game begin,” Harry replied.

Sirius grinned mischievously. “Try not to laugh, Harry.”

“I’ll do my best.”

Ten minutes later, Harry rapped on the door to the Burrow, trying to keep a straight face. He didn’t have to wait long before the door burst open and there stood Mrs. Weasley.

“Harry!” she cried, latching onto him. “We were so worried about you, dear! It’s wonderful to see you awake.”

“I’m sorry I made you worry, Mrs. Weasley,” said Harry as she led him inside.

“At least you were with Dumbledore,” Mrs. Weasley muttered. “He always was good at keeping an eye on you. Come into the kitchen, dear. Everyone’s just finished breakfast.”

The second Harry appeared he was attacked with hugs from Ginny and Hermione along with a good thump over the head from Ron. The others were kind enough to not cause him bodily harm though they did scold him for running off with Dumbledore without seeing them first.

Harry smiled sheepishly as he joined the others at the table, not really listening to the scolding he was receiving. He was more preoccupied with what his parents and the others were planning. His dad had said that they’d come a little after him. He didn’t want to explain about the curse until after the prank. He hoped they would get here soon.

Right after thinking this, Harry noticed the drapes over the kitchen window began to open and close on their own. His distracted gaze drew the others attention to the drapes which had picked up speed in movement. The pots and pans in the sink started to bang up and down, their clatters leaving a loud ring in Harry’s brain.

“George, it’s a bit early for a prank don’t you think?” said Mr. Weasley.

George blinked. “I’m not doing that.”

Everyone looked at each other in alarm. If George wasn’t doing this, then who was? A clock from the living room began to chime, the dull bong reoccurring every five seconds. An eerie green fog leaked in through the windows and kitchen door, the haze containing gruesome shapes of rotten hands and rolling eyeballs that rolled and crawled across the floor before disappearing into the wooden cracks in the floorboards. The sky became dark, like it was just before dusk, causing the eerie green mist to be the only source of light in the room.

The floor shook even more violently and then, out of the mist appeared three black tombstones, the letters glowing crimson red. Hands sprung out from the foot of the graves followed by a wretched cry as the ghostly green forms of Harry’s parents and Remus Lupin appeared, rising out of the floor.

By this time, the Weasleys and Hermione were shouting in horror. But their cries were about to be turned into silent screams of pure and utter terror. The kitchen door nearly exploded off its hinges as a great black dog appeared.

“It’s the Grim!” Ron shrieked, toppling out of his chair.

The dog’s red eyes surveyed the whole room until they landed on Harry. It snapped its ferocious sharp jaws, growling and snarling as its great paws stepped forward. Hermione looked around and noticed the ghosts of Harry’s parents and Remus Lupin had disappeared. Just as she began to wonder where they had gone, the three spirits burst from the floor, grabbing onto Harry from all sides, holding him in place.

“Bring him to us,” the ghost of Lily commanded to the Grim.

“HARRY!”

The shout was spoken by everyone in the room just as the Grim leapt into the air, crashing into Harry’s chest. Harry’s parents, Remus, and the greenish mist all disappeared. The kitchen immediately filled with sunshine and laughter, the latter coming from Harry who was being licked furiously by the great black dog.

The Weasleys and Hermione stood there with their jaws dangling to the floor.

“Ouch, Sirius, stop it!” Harry laughed as the dog continued to lick him furiously.

“Oy, Padfoot! I don’t think Harry appreciates you kissing him like a lunatic!” shouted the voice of James from the doorway to the kitchen.

The dog stopped licking Harry to growl at James. Removing its gigantic paws off Harry’s chest, the dog transformed into a man. Hermione screamed. Mrs. Weasley nearly fainted.

Sirius ignored their reactions to angrily retort to James, “I wasn’t kissing him, Prongs!”

James’s grin was as wide as the Nile. “Sure you weren’t. What did that look like to you, Moony?”

Remus smirked, opening his mouth.

“Don’t you dare say a word!” Sirius snapped.

Remus shrugged. “I don’t think I have to, Padfoot.”

James and Remus roared with laughter as Sirius stared at them, looking mutinous. Lily appeared to be holding back her own peel of laughter.

“Mark my words, Prongs,” said Sirius with venom, “you’d better watch your back!”

James continued to laugh hilariously, leaning against the frame of the kitchen door for support. Harry started laughing too but not from Sirius’ embarrassment. He was busy watching the looks of the Weasleys and Hermione. Their eyes were the size of dinner plates and the color of their faces resembled white chalk.

“That was an amazing prank,” Harry congratulated, looking at his parents and Remus at the door. “I liked your part the best, Sirius.”

“At least someone appreciates my skill,” Sirius replied with a huff.

James rolled his eyes. “Come on, Padfoot, lighten up.”

Sirius sighed. “Fine; it was a pretty awesome prank.” And then he cracked a smile, turning to the Weasleys. “I bet you weren’t expecting that. Sorry for scaring all of you to death.”

Mrs. Weasley, once devoid of all color, suddenly turned a deep shade of red. “Alright, what’s this all about? Harry, is this your doing?”

Harry shook his head emphatically. “I didn’t think it up, Mrs. Weasley. But I knew they were planning on doing this.”

“They? You mean-” -she looked at his parents and Remus in the doorway and then to Sirius who was standing next to Harry, grinning broadly- “They’re really here?”

Sirius let out a bark of laughter. “Good to see you, Molly.”

Mrs. Weasley held her heart. “My word. What- what in the- WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?!”

Mr. Weasley helped his wife to sit down but demanded the same explanation. All the Weasleys seemed to be hyperventilating. Hermione’s knees were shaking so badly Harry feared she would topple to the ground any second. Ron pulled her over to a chair, before sitting down himself.

Harry decided to be the one to elucidate the presence of the dead among them. He pulled out the Gate Frame and told the others that it was a gift given to him so that he could see his loved ones. He also explained that they couldn’t be seen by anyone except the Weasleys, Hermione, Dumbledore and Harry.

“How in the world did you get this?” asked Hermione, pointing at the Gate Frame.

“Dumbledore gave it to me last night,” said Harry. “Before he woke up from his coma he was asked to make sure this got to me.”

George looked at Sirius. “Does this Gate Frame only work for you four?”

Sirius looked at James who shook his head. “Anyone Harry wishes to see can come through it, George.”

George looked at Harry, his eyes filled with silent pleas. Harry had never seen George with such a look before.  The other Weasleys appeared to be filled with this same silent longing. Harry looked around at all of them before turning back to George and smiling reassuringly.

“I’ll call him, George, I promise, but first I have something to tell everyone.”

George looked extremely grateful. He nodded to Harry, silently consenting to wait.

Harry grew rather quiet, unsure of how to begin. The Marauders and Lily were now sitting at the kitchen table with the others. He looked to his dad who nodded to him encouragingly. Harry bit his lip.

“What’s wrong, Harry?” Ginny asked.

Harry sighed. “I want to explain the real reason I didn’t come back here last night.”

This got the Weasleys and Hermione’s attention. They furrowed their brows, confused.

“Dumbledore told us that you were too tired to travel,” said Mrs. Weasley.

Harry explained, “Dumbledore didn’t tell the truth because, in this case, he didn’t think he should be the one to tell it. The reason I didn’t return to the Burrow last night was because of a curse.”

“Curse? Harry, what do you mean?” asked Hermione.

Harry took a deep breath, gathering his discomfort concerning the subject. “I’ve been cursed by ancient magic to turn into a stag from sunset to sunrise.”

George scoffed. “Yeah, that’s a good one, Harry. Another prank?”

Harry shook his head, slightly pained. “I’m afraid not, George. Though I wish it was.”

Ron stared at his best friend. He’d known Harry longer than anyone and he knew for a fact that at this moment, he was being completely serious.

“He’s not lying, George,” said Ron, though he was silently wishing that he was.

“How do you know?” asked Percy skeptically.

“I’ve known Harry longer than any of you so I can most definitely say I can tell when he’s being serious and when he’s joking,” Ron answered heatedly, “and right now he’s being completely serious.”

Hermione furrowed her brow, concerned. “You’re telling the truth, aren’t you, Harry.”

She didn’t pose it as a question. Harry was rather grateful that his two best friends knew him so well. He looked to Ginny, hoping that she believed him. He was frightened by what he saw. She looked a little sick.

“Ginny, are you alright?” he asked.

She swallowed and nodded. “I’m okay.”

Somehow Harry knew she had more to say but she didn’t elaborate further. He still looked at her with concern but turned his attention back to the rest of the table.

“How did you get this curse?” asked Mr. Weasley.

Harry looked quickly at Ginny again before responding, “While we were in Egypt in that tomb, I think.”

Mrs. Weasley gasped, looking from him to Ginny. “Did it happen when you two were in that room together? Is Ginny cursed too?”

Harry shook his head. “Ginny’s fine. I’m the only one who was affected by anything.”

“How do you know that?” asked Bill.

Harry shrugged. “I made an exchange.”

He didn’t want to elaborate but the rest of the family looked on the verge of demanding a better explanation. Ginny shook her head, pleading for Harry to remain silent. He looked at her oddly but decided to do as she asked. He kept quiet, determined to keep the deeper details unspoken.

“We need to know more than that, Harry.”

Harry looked up. It was his father who had spoken.

“Dad, I’d rather not say anything more until I talk to Ginny alone,” said Harry.

Everyone looked from Harry to Ginny. She stood and took Harry’s hand. “Excuse us.”

Dragging Harry behind her, Ginny went out of the kitchen, across the yard, and over to the garden. They were well out of hearing now. Before Ginny could say a word, Harry pulled her to him and kissed her. It had felt like he hadn’t seen her in a thousand years. Ginny protested at first but as Harry deepened the kiss, she wrapped her arms around his neck.

Harry slid one of his hands down her back while the other snaked into Ginny’s soft long hair. He deepened the kiss, tasting her lips. Ginny tightened her hold on Harry’s neck, longing for more. Harry pulled away, allowing the two of them to breathe heavily. Ginny’s chocolate brown eyes were glittering, her cheeks slightly flushed. She hadn’t had time to put on any makeup but Harry thought she didn’t need it. She was positively stunning. Unable to resist the urge, he kissed her again.

He couldn’t get enough of her; the feeling of her so close to him, her body encased within his arms. He wanted to stay like this, holding her forever against him, but he knew his time was limited. At this thought, he pulled away but still kept their hands linked.

“You could say that’s my way of saying: it’s good to see you awake,” he said.

Ginny looked dazed. “Well, Mr. Potter, I’d say that was a wonderful morning welcome.”

Harry chuckled. “I’m glad to see you enjoyed it as much as I did.”

“I didn’t say that.”

Harry stiffened. Had he gone too far? He’d only tasted her tongue once and it was very brief.

Ginny laughed from her fiancé’s worried expression. Kissing his cheek, she mumbled, “Got you!”

Harry narrowed his eyes, grinning. He went for her sides, tickling them furiously.

“No! Stop!” Ginny squealed between laughs.

“What was that?” Harry called, laughing too. “I’m afraid I can’t hear you over all that giggling.”

“Harry!” she protested, laughing hard. “I’m sorry!”

Harry stopped tickling her but pulled her close, leaving his hands settled on her hips. “Now, what was it you wanted to tell me?” he asked.

Ginny immediately went quiet.

Worried by this sudden change of mood, Harry muttered, “Ginny, are you okay?”

She leaned into his chest, her arms hugging him tightly. “I’m scared, Harry.”

Harry’s brow furrowed. “Why?”

“When I was unconscious, I heard a voice. It told me that because I had touched that necklace you had suffered from a terrible curse. It said it was punishing me. When you didn’t show up last night, I was so scared. I thought something terrible had happened to you! And then, you told us you really had been cursed. I shouldn’t have touched that stupid necklace but I felt like it was calling to me. I picked it p without realizing what I was doing! This is all my fault!”

Harry stroked her hair. “No, Ginny,” said Harry. “Don’t blame yourself.”

“But you’re cursed because of my actions!”

“Ginny, I asked to be cursed.”

Ginny looked up at him. “You what?”

Harry wiped away a tear from her cheek. He told her all about his encounter with Sephtus and the price he paid to save her life. Ginny was crying renewed tears.

“So it really is my fault!” she cried. She tried to push away from him. “Let me go, Harry. I don’t deserve to be with you. I’ve ruined everything!”

Harry redoubled his grip on her. If she left him now, he would have nothing left to live for! “Ginny, I am not going to let you go. Don’t you realize? I love you. I would have lost you forever if I hadn’t made the exchange. Do you think I would have let Sephtus curse you? I’d rather suffer the curse meant for you instead of watching you endure it.”

“But now I have to watch you suffer, Harry!” Ginny argued, slightly angry. “That curse was meant for me!”

Harry rolled his eyes. “Look, Ginny, there’s no point arguing over this. The curse may have been meant for you but I took it instead. Can’t you just be grateful and support me through this? I need your strength.”

Ginny turned limp in his arms. “I’m going to hate myself forever,” she whispered.

“You’ll do no such thing!” Harry commanded. “I want you to be yourself, Ginny. I need you to be yourself! I can’t deal with this curse without you by my side. Come on. Where’s that inner fire that I always see in you? This is just a little bump we have to deal with. Dumbledore is working on finding a cure to the curse. I’ll just have to deal with it until he can fix it.”

“What do you want me to do, Harry?” Ginny asked desperately.

Harry kissed her gently. “Just be the strong and confident Weasley I fell in love with.”

She managed to laugh weakly. “Funny, I don’t feel very strong right now.”

“I’ll support you,” Harry assured, holding her tightly. “I always will.”

“Should we tell them exactly what happened?” Ginny asked.

Harry was about to say yes when he suddenly felt a dark presence enter his mind. Using Occlumency, Harry fought against the intruder.

“Don’t worry, One of Prophecy,” said a voice. “I just wanted to warn you about a few things. If you tell anyone that the object your lover tried to steal was the Ankh of Death, the curse will become permanent. The same punishment will ensue if you speak my name to anyone. You may roam wherever you wish in your cursed state but be weary; any injury you sustain while in that form will still be present when you transform.”

“But I already told Ginny about what happened,” said Harry through his thoughts, slightly panicking. “Does that mean the curse can’t be lifted?”

“No,” replied Sephtus’ voice, “but only because I did not warn you in time. However, speak my name or the title of the Ankh of Death to her again and your fate will be sealed. You have been warned, One of Prophecy.”

“So this is something new you’re adding to my sentence? That’s not fair!”

“I can change the curse to be permanent if you have any further complaints.”

“NO! No, leave it like this,” muttered Harry angrily. How could Sephtus spring this on him?

“I will not come to caution you again, One of Prophecy. Don’t break my rules or else I will be forced to execute my warning.”

“Wait! Is there a counter-curse to this?”

Sephtus’ voice did not answer. Harry waited, desperate to hear more, but his mind remained silent.

“Harry, are you alright?”

Harry blinked and looked down. Ginny was looking on him with concern. Harry explained to her what happened, except he avoided giving the object its title and revealing Sephtus’ name.

Ginny shuttered. “I’m sure that was the same person who spoke in my thoughts. What are we going to do, Harry?”

Harry shook his head, slightly frustrated. “I’m not sure. We can’t tell them exactly what happened. But we can say the curse came from an ancient sorcerer. We’ll just have to be emphatic that if we reveal anymore, I’ll be cursed permanently.”

Ginny groaned angrily while running her hand through her long hair. “This is simply awful! We got rid of Voldemort and now we have to face this problem?! When are we ever going to get a break?”

Harry felt the same frustration. But what could they do? He was stuck this way until they could find a counter-curse – if there was a counter-curse. He shook his head. He had to remain hopeful. He refused to be stuck like this forever.  

“We’ll take it one day at a time,” Harry decided. “If we think on this too much, we’re going to drive ourselves crazy. Come on, let’s go back.”

Ginny reluctantly took his hand and let him guide her inside, trying her best not to think the words she had been the entire night before: This is all my fault.    

 

       

  

 

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