Harry Potter woke up in a four poster bed not remembering how he got there. The pillow, which he was hugging as he slept, smelled of familiar things. "Ginny" he whispered, thinking of the scented shampoos she used at the Burrow. At night they used to lie under the stars on a hill not far from the old oak tree. He would conjure a blanket and they would laugh and talk about the things they both loved.
"This isn't getting me anywhere" he glumly told himself as he sat up, pushing the pillow away from himself. He felt chilled but not as badly as last night when he knew he was very tired. Hoping there were no others in the girls dormitory he went down the stairs and exited the Gryffindor Common Room. The early morning light cast shadows as he made his way through the empty corridors and out into the sun. He felt better as he continued across the grassy lawn in the direction of the Headmasters tomb. The sarcophagus was white marble with gold inlays of a phoenix.
Unfortunately the top was shattered and his body was exposed to the elements. The purple velvet shroud was lying on the ground outside covered in dirt. Harry gestured and the cloth floated over to him now free of the stains created by the changing weather and Tom Riddle. Before placing it back over the Headmaster he hesitated. The Elder Wand, or the Wand of Destiny, wanted to go with him. To continue on. "No. Like the Headmaster it is time you are at peace too. And for me it will be the same soon enough. You gain nothing by joining with me. The road I am to travel will not include joy or laughter. All will be at peace when I am gone." Harry slid the wand back into the hands of Professor Dumbledore and felt the satisfaction it felt returning into the hands of its last true Master. The bright purple garment floated over his body and Harry could almost swear he heard a sigh of satisfaction coming from him too. "Sleep well Professor" Harry whispered as the myriad of pieces of white marble reassembled themselves creating a solid block of unbroken white which glistened in the morning sun. The surface was so smooth that Harry could see himself reflecting in it. "Sleep well Albus. We will meet again one day" he said as he disappeared.
* * *
The sun was brightening in the Great Hall as people began to rise. Molly Weasley had transfigured a bed out of one of the benches for her and her husband. She went to the loo not noticing her daughter was not sleeping by her side.
"Molly where's Ginny?" Arthur asked as he sat up, still in his clothes from the day before yesterday.
"She was right here" Molly answered now beginning to panic. Along the near wall were the rest of her children and she moved quickly to see if any of them had any idea. There she found Ginny lying next to her Brother Fred, continuing to brush the hair out of his eyes.
"C'mon Ginny. It's off to the loo for us before the rest get up." As gently but firmly as she could she made her Daughter stand, wrapped her arm around her waist (she was way too skinny) and left the Great Hall for the relative peace and quiet of the loo located just down the passage. "Here I'll hold that for you while you wash up."
"No thanks Mom" she answered. With one arm still clutching the shirt she washed first her right hand and her face, then her left. At no time did she lose contact with what she was guarding. Unwilling to look at herself in the mirror she returned with her Mother this time walking on her own. Just inside she stopped as if uncertain of which way to go. For a moment she sat down at the table she and Harry had sat at, then got up and went to be with her Father.
"Princess do you want to talk? What happened yesterday?" he wondered. Most people were still under the influence of the sleeping draught, so he felt they were as alone as they could be under the circumstances.
"Daddy I don't remember. All of us were grouped around Fred's body. I saw Hermione and Ron come in, and the next thing I remember is George talking to me."
"They had gone to see the Headmaster. It was late afternoon when they returned. Harry said he wished to speak separately to you and the two of you went to that table over there" Arthur nodded to the one farthest away "and you talked while we did. It must have been at least two hours Hermione and Ron spent explaining much of what happened last year. We saw Harry had gotten on his knees to talk to you and George went to see if he needed help getting up after so long."
"We were guessing either he was begging for you not to bat bogey him or proposing. When I got there I saw it was only you and the shirt you are holding" George stated as he joined them. He could tell Ginny was having a difficult time with this.
"Ginny may I see that please?" her Father asked holding out his hand.
Looking down at what she was holding against herself Ginny was confused. She did not remember doing what her Father and Brother had told her. Or who this shirt belonged to. His hand remained outstretched as he patiently waited for her to decide what to do. The words 'You must do what is right, not what is easy' came to her as she relaxed and handed it to him.
"Thank you Princess" he replied, leaning over to kiss her forehead as he used to do at night when he tucked her into bed.
"HARRY NO!!!" screamed Ginny jumping to her feet. Just as suddenly she fainted into her Brother George's arms.
Molly waved her wand to send her patronus to find Ron and Hermione. 'I better not be interrupting anything' she growled to herself, thinking the two left alone spelled trouble. The rest of the room was awake now and crowding around. "Give us some air please" she commanded, standing between her daughter and the well meaning and curious.
Seeing she was in no mood to argue (and many remembered the fierce battle pitting her against Bellatrix Lestrange) the majority left to find other things to do. The sounds of running feet echoed in the passage and Hermione and Ron burst in very much out of breath.
"Glad to see you two could make it" Molly glared.
"Give it a rest Mom. We each took two potions and if you haven't noticed neither of us weigh much so we probably would have slept until tomorrow" Ron answered standing up to his Mother.
For Molly and Arthur this was new. At least for this child. Each one of them as they got older and more mature at some point decided it was time for her to back off. Ron was the last being the youngest boy. Ginny had several years before, over Harry of all things. Molly turned away for a moment understanding the last of her children had grown up.
"Mr. Weasley what happened? Is Ginny OK?" asked Hermione now on her knees next to a sleeping Ginny.
"I am about to find out. I want all of the Family here for her when I do."
"Thank you" silently mouthed Hermione to her future Father in Law.
Tapping Ginny's forehead with his wand he said 'Rennervate'. Slowly her eyes opened as if from a deep sleep. Ginny laid there looking up at the ceiling of the Great Hall which was also damaged so it did not reflect the outside like normal. She wondered what it must look like at night with all the stars in the sky when she sat upright. "HARRY!!" she screamed again.
"What happened to him? Where is he?" asked Hermione clutching Ginny's hands in hers.
Tears were streaming down her face, falling on both hers and Hermione's hands. "I don't know! He and I were talking at the table by the door and the next thing I knew he was gone. No wait that isn't it." Ginny's forehead furrowed as she tried to remember. "He was talking. I was sitting next to him. I couldn't look at him. So he got down like you are and kept talking."
"About what Ginny?"
"Mostly about when you were gone. And how much he missed me. Did all those bad things really happen?"
Hermione glanced up at Ron who nodded. "I don't know what he said but I'm sure it was the truth. He wants to tell you everything Ginny. And he has waited for months to tell you how sorry he was and how much he loves you."
Ginny kept her eyes closed as she continued to cry. Like Harry she could not bring herself to look at them. "What else Ginny did he say?" her Mother asked.
"I'm not sure Mom. My brain began to shut down. Harry was talking, and I was listening, but it was like I wasn't there."
"We were all exhausted Ginny. Especially you after seeing Harry alive, then dead, then alive again" her Brother Bill told her.
"Maybe. All I know is I tried to say something but I couldn't. I think Harry stopped talking ... and he kissed me here" she said touching her forehead with her fingers. "That's it. That's all I can remember."
"Ginny I found you holding this" George said of the shirt his Father had. "And you were mumbling."
" 'Probably not a good idea' is what you kept saying" said Molly. Her eyes narrowed as she watched her daughter's face turn white and she bolted from the room.
"I'll go" Hermione said as she raced after her. She saw Ginny duck into the loo and smiled wondering if she knew it was the boys she was in. Hermione waved her wand to lock the door behind them and stood by the sinks as Ginny was violently sick in one of the stalls. "Don't rush. I'm here."
A grunt followed by the sound of being sick again was not the reply Hermione wanted. She settled onto the floor to wait for her best female friend and eventually Ginny came out. She splashed some water on her face and slid down across from Hermione.
'As far away as she can be but still in the same room'. "Ginny what happened? What does that mean what you said?"
Ginny shook her head no, indicating she did not wish to discuss it. "Hermione I feel strange. It's like I remember Harry but I don't. How is that possible?"
"The mind is capable of many things, especially if you are tired. Which all of us are. It will take days for us to catch up on our sleep."
"I woke up early. No one else was moving so I thought I would spend time with Fred while I could. Where did you sleep? I didn't see you or Ron."
"We went up to Gryffindor House. Something said Harry was there so Ron and I did. We looked through all the boys dorm and didn't see him. Both of us were tired so we took the sleeping draughts and stayed there."
"Just you and Ron? Alone?"
Hermione blushed. "We were exhausted. I don't think either one of us thought about doing anything more."
"I bet Mom had a fit. All those times she sat up waiting for Harry and I. I mean really he's Harry Potter for bloody sake! If you can't trust him ... "
"I know Ginny. But Ron stood up to her. Now she knows he isn't six anymore."
"Good. Two years ago I did the same. Now we can just have a little teasing around the table but no saying we can't do ... whatever."
As Ginny was talking something hit Hermione that Ron said last night. She quickly stood as did Ginny. "I'm such an idiot!!" she said as they raced out the door.
"It's what Ron said last night. 'We have to stay together. I can't go up the girls side. Remember when Dean tried, just to prove that book wrong? It let him get up halfway before turning into a slide and down he came on his bum. If Harry is here at all he has to be on the boys side'.
"Which is where you two went right?" Ginny asked now running faster. Like Hermione she felt Harry was there, as far away as possible. "He has to be blaming himself for all this."
"Trust me he is. The whole time we were gone, except for when he was talking about you." They were now at the portrait hole and Hermione put one finger over her lips. Stepping in they skipped the boys side thinking Harry might be asleep upstairs. Flight by flight they went, looking into each room as they passed. At the top they went first into the seventh year's and saw nothing.
Ginny gasped at the sight of the sixth. The door knob had blood on it but wasn't closed completely so she pushed it open with the tip of her wand. Inside all looked normal except for her bed. Not being the neatest person the bed was hardly ever made, and she did not recall if she did prior to leaving midterm. A large lump was in the middle of it and she prayed it was Harry so she could apologize and explain what she meant when she said 'probably not a good idea'. As she got closer it was Hermione who gasped this time. Lying in the center of her bed was her pillow covered in blood.
Hermione bent over and placed her palm on the bed. "Still warm. He was here a few minutes ago. But where is he now? We have to find Ron. Maybe he can help." Grabbing Ginny's hand they started running back to where they started, the pillow keeping pace behind them.
"Ginny he can disillusion himself. He doesn't need his invisibility cloak for it now. And I think he can apparate in the Castle too. Professor Dumbledore taught him a lot before we left" she told Ginny as they ran not thinking it had anything to do with his wand.
Out of breath they returned to the Great Hall. The new Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt had returned looking even more tired than last night.
"Yes Minerva the building is secure. Fortunately enough volunteered to come with us last night to make this possible. A few skirmishes but nothing we couldn't handle."
Arthur saw the bruises on his best friends bald head and thought better of asking. "We have little progress to report. But here are my two girls. Ginny are you better now?"
Hermione replied for them. "Yes Mr. Weasley. I realized last night we did not search both sides of our House. In the sixth year girls room we found the bed still warm and this pillow." Hermione waved her wand and it floated over to land on top of the table next to Harry's shirt which was spread out being looked at.
Ginny prevented herself from yelling at her Family to stop touching Harry's shirt. Percy was speaking as he examined it. "Outwardly it seems fine. Yes it has seen a lot of use and could use a good cleaning but I don't know how much more it can tell us."
A faint 'pop' distracted them. It was Kreacher the House Elf. "Good Morning Masters and Mistresses. And how are we today? Who is hungry this morning?"
All eyes turned to Hermione knowing her views on the treatment the House Elves received. "Kreacher I have not had the chance to say thank you for what you did. Your help was instrumental in defeating Voldemort. I know Master Regulus would have been proud. As is Harry."
Kreacher bowed, his floppy ears touching the floor. "Mistress Granger it is Kreacher and the House Elves who are honored! I shall be back with breakfast momentarily." With another 'pop' he was gone.
"Hermione there is something I can use your help on. The press has been broadcasting about Voldemort. Is he dead or isn't he? We are having some reporters coming this morning to address this and some other things. Molly and Arthur feel you would best represent the Family and Hogwarts."
"Minister I will do what I can" she answered as Ron hugged her proudly.
Before they got a chance to talk they were interrupted by Neville. "Ron do you have a second?"
"You go ahead. I want to see what Kingsley wants to cover before they get here" she said ushering him away.
"Thanks Hermione." He and Ron went to an unoccupied table nearby where Luna was sitting. "We have an idea what Ginny was talking about."
Luna slid over to join them. "I know it was bad for you out there. Here it was too. Neville is the only one of us here the whole time. I'm sorry Neville I couldn't be here to help more."
"Luna you were kidnapped. And Ginny wasn't allowed by her parents to return. Which is probably just as well. I heard them say terrible things they had planned for her" Neville told Ron.
Ronald Weasley resisted asking what Neville heard. "You said you might know what she meant with 'Probably not a good idea'. What do you think it was?"
"As we said it was horrible the way we were treated. The Professors tried to help but sometimes they disappeared for a day or two. And then you could see how quiet they would be. It served to keep the students in line. Maybe they took punishments so we didn't have to?" speculated Neville.
"We never found out. They refused to say" Luna added now very focused. "You know how headstrong Ginny is. They would have killed her to make an example of her! But as Neville said things deteriorated here. We set up the Room of Requirement as our headquarters. You saw how we were living the other night."
"The whole time we were gone our concern was what was happening here. I will tell Hermione but let's not say anything to Harry when we find him. You know how he tortures himself over things. Maybe later, when enough time has passed, and he and Ginny are back together ... "
"Ron I hope you can do that. She agonized over him every day. Some of the guys asked her to spend time with them, to try and get her mind off things, but she always replied ... "
"Probably not a good idea. Is that what this is about? She thought it was someone else she was talking to Neville?"
"Possibly, but there is more. As things got worse the strain on all of us was horrible. We would take trips out at night to see if any students were left injured in the halls. As examples to us. Some we helped, others we were too late for. One night we came across a couple we thought had snuck out to snog. Two young Hufflepuffs. When Ginny touched one of them on the arm they fell over dead. We ran thinking this was a trap and we barely made it back" Neville said as he shuddered.
Luna put her arm around Neville to continue for him. "Things changed after that. We were scared before, but now we were terrified. Ginny withdrew believing not only was this a message for us it was at the cost of two more lives. We would sit huddled together in the corners and cry. Even your Sister who was the strongest of all of us. Her determination kept us going until that point. To see someone unravel right before your eyes is something I don't want to ever see again. Over and over she kept saying 'Harry! I need you Harry!' It broke our Hearts Ron."
"How much later did she leave?"
"Just a few weeks for the break. We felt so helpless! When we came back I was more determined" Neville responded his eyes flashing. "We knew you were out there too, so we couldn't give up. And we didn't. Now what can we do to help find Harry?"
"The Castle has been searched once already. But Harry can conceal himself probably as well as Dumbledore. He is making things difficult for us."
"Ron he doesn't want to be found. But we have to for their sake. This may sound silly but your patronus is a dog. Could it track Harry?"
Ron gave Luna a crushing bear hug. "I don't ever want to hear someone calling you 'Looney Luna' again. That's so brilliant I would have thought it was Hermione who said it."
"That's the nicest thing anyone has ever told me! I know how they make fun of me sometimes ... "
"Not any more. They will have both of us to contend with if they do" added Neville who hugged her from the other side.
The three friends went to find Hermione with Luna's idea. Both her and Ginny, who had went to see what Kingsley was thinking (and Ginny was worried about what would come up about the Castle this year) gave Luna hugs too.
"Minerva tells me Andromeda Tonks will be here soon. Ginny can you help her just in case?" requested the Minister.
As much as she wanted to search, she knew her time will be better served here. "I can help stand in for Harry."
"When all this is over you will be his Godparent too" Hermione told her.
"I hope so. But we have to find him first" she replied looking at her Brother.
"Expecto Patronum." Ron's patronus, which is a Jack Russell terrier, burst from his wand. Normally it ran around the room playing like it was a three month old puppy. It had changed, just like Ron had.
Hermione got misty eyed seeing Ron talk to him, explaining what he needed and how important it was. She felt him hug and kiss her as he, Luna, and Neville followed the 'bloodhound' as he calls it to the far table which Harry and Ginny were at. It yelped twice and left the Great Hall with them following.
They began by going up the Grand Stairway, then deviated suddenly down a hallway. Up and down, back and forth, they went. "It looks like Harry isn't sure where he is going" commented Neville. He had his wand in his right hand and the Sword of Gryffindor in his left.
"Did he talk about what came next. After you got back?" wondered Luna.
Ron hesitated before answering. "No. We avoided it. Of course we wanted to make it, but I think each of us were afraid we wouldn't. Harry did talk a lot about Ginny. And we had a map his Dad made while he was here. It shows where everyone is in the Castle. Harry looked at it every night for all of you, especially my Sister. It helped me to realize he really does love her. I promised Hermione that I would see to it, if it was the last thing I do, to get them back together."
"What floor are we on now? Seven? Maybe the Headmasters Office?" guessed Neville. Two more turns and the patronus stopped before the gargoyle.
"Excuse me Sir" Luna asked looking up at the guardian of the entrance. "We are trying to find Harry Potter. We think he came here before. Can you please let us in?"
The giant bronze statue, whose features never changed, got just the hint of a smile. It moved to reveal the hidden entrance which the dog chased up.
"Thank you" a stunned Neville told it as they rose up the spiral stairway.
"See. He touched the handle here" Ron said, pointing at the door which was left open. Inside they heard Professor Dumbledore's gadgets moving but they were focused on the headmasters chair. Both arms had blood stains where you would place your hands to either sit down or get up. And two more on the desk as if you leaned on it.
"Maybe he was unsteady?" pondered Neville.
"He has to be weak. Kreacher brought us a small meal but he hasn't eaten in a while." Ron stated. He watched his friend sniff around the room before barking and leaving.
"Let's keep up" Luna told them as she chased out too. Down, over, and across they went.
"Gryffindor House. This is the most direct route." Ron led the way and made sure Luna could enter. No jinxes were apparent as he waited at the entrance for her.
"I love what you've done with this. It seems so homey not like my house. 'Everything has a place' Professor Flitwick kept telling us if he found anything lying about. This is much better" Luna said as she smiled looking around.
"Thanks. We think so too" Neville grinned. In single file they started with the boys side, thoroughly searching each room for evidence of Harry.
"Which bed is his?" she wondered in the sixth year boys.
"That one was the last time we were here." Ron pointed at the one closest to the window which he remembered Harry used to like to sit at with his snowy white owl Hedwig.
"We'll find him" Neville told Ron as he too began to feel lonely. Luna hugged the both of them, and led the way out to climb the other side. Again they looked, this time accompanied by 'Rex' as Luna had named the patronus. At the top of the stairs he turned to his right and nosed the door open. He sniffed his way to the center bed which was unmade.
"Reminds me of home. Ginny's room is a smaller version of this only in pink."
Both Neville and Luna shuddered glad it was not theirs. "Is this where you found the pillow?"
"Right here Luna. Lying on top of the covers like it was tossed there."
"I don't see any evidence of him sleeping in one of the other beds and tossing it there. It definitely belongs to Ginny. Her perfume is unmistakable."
"Right then. So far he wandered the Castle ending up in the Headmistress' Office. Maybe to see Professor Dumbledore? No sign of him either. A trip here to sleep? Possibly."
"To be close to Ginny even after what she inadvertently said. Makes sense Ron. He was/is tired too. He should feel better now after sleeping. Maybe he went to the kitchens to get something?"
"I bet Rex will tell us. C'mon boy Harry has to be somewhere." Ron whistled and Rex set off again down the steep granite stairs and out through the portrait hole. Many hallways and passages later they returned to the Main Hallway which led to the Great Hall. Rex made for the doors then shied away now going to the main entrance.
"Harry almost went in. Too bad he can't tell us how long ago this was. All right Rex the sun will do us all some good." Ron opened the outside doors and they were temporarily blinded by the light.
"Seems brighter than normal. But we have been inside this dreary old Castle for days. No offense" said Neville , looking up to make sure a stone gargoyle didn't 'accidentally' fall on him. Moving around the perimeter they followed him past the greenhouses (which were barely standing) and towards the Black Lake.
"Have you guys been out here since ... "
"No. Curfew Ron was dusk to dawn, and no one unsupervised outside the Castle. If you had detention with Hagrid he met you at the door, took you into the forest, and brought you back."
"Luna I'm sorry again for how long it took us. If I hadn't ... "
"Shush Ron. I think Harry is here. I saw something moving near the tomb" whispered Luna. Cautiously they crept forward trying to be as quiet as possible. Rex was silent too, hanging back with them.
Climbing up the slight incline they now stood alongside. No evidence could now be seen of anything disrupting the Headmasters eternal rest. On the top now was the symbol of a phoenix, it's arms majestically spread to partially overlap the sides. They jumped when a figure landed in the center of the design.
"Hello Fawkes. You scared us. We are trying to find Harry. You haven't seen him have you?"
The golden red bird gazed at Luna, wondering what she should say. After deliberating she tossed a small bag to them, sang a song filled with inspiration, and with a flash disappeared.
"Ron. Over here." Neville was standing further down at the spot closest to the water. "Harry's handprints again." Another set of palm prints, comparable to the ones in the Office upstairs, were there. These were spaced farther apart, with the four fingers on the top and the thumbs on the side below.
"And see this too." Directly below was a large smudge of blood, maybe 25 centimeters in diameter. "This is recent. The blood is running down like he was just here. Maybe minutes ago."
Ron pointed his wand in the direction of the Castle. "Homenium Revelio." He waved it back and forth as he began to walk back, praying it could sense Harry even though he was not visible. Rex was weaving side to side also, looking up and whimpering occasionally.
"I don't think he is nearby. One of us should find him if he was. The reporters are here now. Hermione will need me." Ron began to walk faster.
"Before we get back there is one more thing about Ginny we should say. I didn't want to bring it up before."
Ron slowed down to talk. "What else happened? She hasn't said much about last year."
Neville looked at Luna who nodded. "It's the times we mentioned when the strain got to us. We would huddle together for support. Just rubbing shoulders, feeling like you weren't alone. Some of the people began to slip away into the corners and, well, do more than sit together."
"And did you two do more than sit together?" he asked trying to accept what his Sister may have done.
"No we did that before. But we learned that we love each other but not in that way. More like Harry and Hermione. Brother and Sister."
"I love Neville but we aren't meant to be together. You and Hermione are, and Ginny and Harry." Luna's face grew more sad as she talked. "One night it was really bad. Ginny allowed herself to be pulled aside by one of us."
"One of us. You mean you Neville? Or was it Dean, Seamus, Michael, ... "
"No Ron. And bear in mind it happened very fast and was quickly over. As soon as Ginny realized what was happening. No, it was Romilda Vane."
"IT WAS WHO LUNA?" Ron yelled totally astonished. "She was the one who poisoned me. Well actually she had made this love potion for Harry in this candy. To help break the spell Professor Slughorn gave us some mead he was saving for Professor Dumbledore. If Harry hadn't been there ... "
"Ron nothing much happened. They were there maybe 30 seconds when I clearly heard Ginny say 'Probably not a good idea.' But it was the way she said it which gave me chills. After that Ginny kept mostly to herself."
"And like Harry she probably blamed herself. Thanks, both of you. It had to be tough saying that. It proves Luna you would make a good Gryffindor."
"Thanks Ron" she said gratefully hugging him. "And I love you and Hermione too, just not that way."
"Luna everybody loves you. What's there not to love? Anyone who takes the time to know you understands that. And if they say anything otherwise ... "
"Then you have two older Brothers who will pound the stuffing out of them. Right Neville?"
Luna was so overwhelmed she hugged them both on par with Ginny or her Mother. "Now we have another Brother to find. Where's my Sisters that we can look some more?" Arm in arm the threesome returned to the Castle renewed in their quest to find Harry.
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