When the knocking started on Severus' office door, he was in no mood for company.
Dumbledore's knocking would have been politer, Black's louder and accompanied by Black talking.
One of his Slytherins, perhaps; news of the Dark Lord's return would have reached the castle. They'd have questions, or at least, he hoped they would, and in turn hoped he could steer them carefully and subtly in a different direction than their families were probably angling for.
But he couldn't do that from his armchair.
Severus pushed himself to his feet and winced. His body ached. The Dark Lord had been… liberal with his use of the Cruciatus last night. Worse, though, was the ache in his head; the Dark Lord had wanted information, proof that he could trust Severus, and he'd not been gentle in extracting it.
The knocking continued, insistent as only one person - other than Black, and Severus already knew it would not be him - would dare be. Something in Severus settled while something else in him tensed and grew heavy.
He limped through the bookshelf-door and pulled open his office door:
"Sir," Draco said, with some relief. Despite himself, Severus was touched by the way Draco's eyes flicked over him, catalogued him. Severus stepped back gingerly and Draco wandered in, shutting the door behind him and trailing Severus back into his quarters. He took the second armchair without waiting for an invitation, and watched as Severus eased himself down.
"Is it not possible to replace your leg?" he asked, staring at Severus' wooden foot. "Grow it back, or something?"
Severus blinked at the unexpected question.
"Not that I've found," he said curtly. And he had looked. Hard, and at length… though, in truth, it had been quite some time since he had; for the last two years, he'd been too busy training Draco. Then again, his disfigurement also didn't bother him the way it once had, and it certainly didn't limit him, or hurt beyond the occasional ache if he was on his feet for too long.
"What was it like?" Draco asked. "Losing an appendage, I mean." Severus looked at him, incredulous. Had his head not hurt the way it did, he would have probed at his godson's mind a little in the hope of understanding just what was going through it to prompt this bizarre line of questioning. Was it Draco's way to put off the conversation he was surely here to have? Or- "Potter lost a hand last night."
Severus breathed in so suddenly he had to cough.
"He what? How?" No one had said anything. Surely the Dark Lord would have wanted to gloat, surely Lucius would have mentioned it, or Dumbledore, or Black-
"Splinched himself," Draco said. "Are there magical prosthetics?" His eyes were on the smooth, dark wood of Severus' foot. "Yours isn't."
"Of course it is," Severus said, raising an eyebrow. "There are charms at the join to make it more comfortable, and charms around it to protect it and stop it from wearing down." Draco looked surprised. "I am a Potions Master, Draco," Severus said. "And I teach. Do you know how many corrosive puddles and mis-mixed spills I deal with each day?"
A smile tugged at Draco's mouth.
"I meant properly magical," he said. "Yours is… reinforced, perhaps, but-"
"I imagine some exist," Severus said. "But they'd be custom creations." He cleared his throat. "Are you really here to ask about missing limbs?"
"Mostly," Draco said, and looked a little apologetic, before his expression went smooth, and he tipped a shoulder up into a shrug. "If something had gone wrong, I imagine you'd have sought me out or contacted me before now. And if something had gone really wrong, you wouldn't be here at all, and certainly not in one piece." His eyes flicked over Severus. "Even if you look a little sore."
It was a response Severus might have given, had he been in Draco's place. Severus wasn't sure whether to be proud or exasperated, and after several moments of glaring at his godson, landed in a place somewhere between the two.
"Are you all right?" Draco blurted. Severus hadn't been aware they were locked in a battle of patience and indifference, but it appeared Draco had lost. He smiled, small and amused, and, though he would never, ever admit it, a little warmed by the obvious concern.
"Well enough," he said, forcing his expression back to something more neutral. "The Dark Lord had his doubts, as we expected, and was… rigorous in his interrogation, but I was eventually able to convince him of my continued loyalty." Draco nodded slowly. "Additionally, he has expressed a desire to meet you, once the term is over and it can be done without rousing suspicion." Draco blinked, and while his expression didn't change, it did freeze. After a second, he gave a rather jerky nod. "Consider yourself lucky," Severus said. "The timing will benefit you… or rather, not disadvantage you the way meeting him immediately would have. Potter's escape has not gone down well. At all."
"I was unaware we had a meeting for the Champions," Fleur said, only half-teasing. She folded her arms, and both Diggory and Krum turned to look at her.
"I was actually looking for you," Diggory said. "I just found Krum first."
"I found you," Krum said, and Diggory smiled a little, nodding. Curious, Fleur drew closer.
"I wasn't sure what you'd been told," Diggory said, looking nervous, "about what happened last night. And I thought you both deserved to know."
"I think we deserve to, too," Fleur said, folding her arms. Her voice didn't quaver, but it was a near thing. Any irritation she'd felt about the task being cancelled had well and truly dissipated in the day since; she remembered all too well how Dora Lupin had sounded when she asked after Harry, and today, Fleur'd heard more than one person say he'd died. She knew he had made it back to Black - she'd been there when a large, gleaming silver dog told Dora so - but he could have died after that if he'd been injured badly enough.
Or perhaps it was just a rumour.
What she did know was that she hadn't seen Harry, or Black, or Monsieur Lupin, or Dora, or anyone else that might be able to tell her for sure. Even Madame Maxime hadn't known. Fleur had actually been on her way up to the school to find Monsieur Lupin and find out when she bumped into Diggory and Krum.
"They are saying he's... dead?"
"Who?" Diggory asked.
"Potter," Krum said, glancing at Fleur. He looked troubled, and she didn't like that the same rumours had reached him too. It made it more real, somehow.
"He's alive," Diggory said, shaking his head, and Fleur surprised herself with the strength of her relief.
"You're sure?" Her voice did quaver this time.
"I've seen him," Diggory said. Krum let out a gusty breath, shoulders relaxing. "And he- everything he's been saying about the Tournament, about- about V-v- about You Know Who being involved… it's true. The Cup was a portkey. I took it because Harry told me to. He really didn't want to win. But as soon as I touched him while touching the Cup..."
Diggory's story unfolded, too dark and awful for a bright, clear afternoon on the Hogwarts grounds. Though the sun was warm, goosebumps rose on Fleur's arms, and Krum's expression grew gradually grimmer. Diggory seemed to be struggling in his retelling of it, and Fleur loosened her hold on her veela side; her aim wasn't to make Diggory suggestible or distracted, but rather to focus him, give him the little boost in confidence that came with being the subject of her undivided attention.
It worked, too. Diggory spoke more to her now than to Krum, but his voice was steadier… or as steady as it could be, while reliving something so terrible.
"That probably explains vhy Karkaroff has fled, then," Krum said. Diggory didn't look surprised, but he seemed curious. Fleur was surprised, though. "He has alvays had a leaning tovards the darker branches of magic. I suspect he vill haff gone to join this You Know Who." His lip curled, showing just what he thought of that. Diggory shivered and Fleur tried to imagine Karkaroff - who she hadn't known well - serving the man Diggory had described. She couldn't see it, not really, but then, she'd never have imagined that Pemberley could be capable of what Diggory had said either, but he had been. "I feel foolish," Krum said.
"What about?" Diggory asked tentatively.
"Everythink," Krum said, scowling. "I haff been trainink and competink for nothing. Is like chasing a snitch for hours only to find I haff been chasink the reflection of a button or coin on the ground the whole time. And by the time I realise, the other seeker has a hand on it. But worse, the other seeker has been shoutink all along that the real snitch is over here and I did not listen." He shook his head.
"None of us did," Diggory said. "Not really. Even after Bagman…"
"What were we supposed to do?" Fleur asked crossly. "Trust Harry on his word from the beginning? That would have been the foolish thing. We-" She nodded at Krum. "-did not know him then. Perhaps you did better, Diggory, but perhaps not. We had no way to know." Krum shrugged in a moody sort of way.
"Maybe not," Diggory said, "but I wish we'd known before it was too late-"
"It is not too late," Fleur said, scoffing. Diggory's account had left her feeling scared and upset, but also angry, and she'd never felt stronger for it.
If Diggory was right, the dome had been designed to fall in the third task - Gabrielle had been in real danger - and had things gone just slightly differently, it could very well have been Fleur instead of Diggory who'd taken the Cup at Harry's suggestion, who'd gone to the graveyard…
She'd wanted to be a Champion to show off what she could do, to prove that she was more than a pretty face, to show what she'd learned at the hands of the likes of Madame Maxime and Monsieur Lupin and all of her other teachers at Beauxbatons. She was formidable and capable and if Pemberley and You Know Who were going to cheapen everything she'd done to prove that in the arena, then she was going to start proving it outside the arena and see how long it took them to regret crossing her:
"Perhaps the Tournament is over," she said, tossing her hair over her shoulder, "but we know now that that is not the true fight. And it sounds to me like the true fight is only beginning."
Though his survival had been reported in The Prophet, and Harry's friends, family, and the staff at Hogwarts had all been assuring everyone he was alive, rumours of Harry's death had persisted until two days after the fourth task, when Harry joined his friends for breakfast at the Gryffindor table.
Padfoot had been an advocate for letting people believe what they wanted to and taking Harry straight back to Grimmauld, but Harry'd felt like he had to make an appearance. Voldemort knew he was alive, but the longer Harry stayed out of the public eye, the more Voldemort would assume Harry was struggling to recover from what had happened in the graveyard, and the easier he would find it to put his own spin on the events since.
And so Harry - who was struggling to recover - had let himself be seen, had actually been seen (despite Dora's offer to go in his place). He'd kept his stump hidden in the billowing sleeves of his school robes - lengthened slightly for the occasion - but Ron had been pressed so closely to his side that no one would have been able to see it anyway.
He'd eaten a bowl of cereal - simple enough to prepare and eat with one hand, and made even easier by the fact that Ron had planted his arm on the table against Harry's bowl to keep it steady. Hermione had chattered non-stop about their exams which were due to start the next day, and Draco had flicked through the morning's Prophet before deciding there was nothing interesting in it, and instead split his attention between Hermione and exam-talk, and Luna, who'd read snippets from her copy of the Quibbler aloud to Ginny and Ron.
Padfoot had been up at the staff table, catching Harry's eye every now and then, and the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang had been drifting in and out all morning to eat and say their goodbyes; both schools had been due to leave Hogwarts that afternoon. And, of course, there'd been no shortage of stares directed at Harry, and whispers he shouldn't have been able to hear, but could, thanks to his wolf-hearing.
It had all been so… normal, and mostly genuinely so, rather than manufactured for his benefit. And even so, Harry'd been barely holding it together by the time he'd finished eating.
A war needed sides, and he could have stopped it before it even began, but he hadn't. He'd wondered how many of them would be hurt in what was to come, wondered how many would die, or lose someone they cared about? And then he'd wondered how many of the people around him would be fighting against him. A war had sides, after all, and if Harry couldn't stop playing back what Voldemort had said to him, then others were sure to be taken in by him, convinced over to his side.
How many of them would Harry hurt trying to protect his friends or family, or even himself? Would he kill any? He didn't think so, didn't want to, and he wasn't a killer, but he was going to have to be if they were going to have any hope at all. He'd made that decision in the Riddle house-
"Ready to go?" Then Padfoot had been there, and though his tone had been cheery and he'd been smiling, Harry'd been able to smell how worried he was, hadn't missed the look that passed between Padfoot and Ron. "Kiddo?"
Harry's mouth had been dry with the sick, ashy taste of the killing curse and he hadn't dared speak, so he'd just nodded and got to his feet. Padfoot and Ron had done a funny little shuffle to keep obscuring Harry's left side, and then Harry'd been out of the Hall, and, barely an hour later, out of Hogwarts altogether.
He had fairly constant company at home. Kreacher, of course, and Stella, occasionally Marlene or Dora (who'd gone back to work), and, when they weren't at Hogwarts, Moony and Padfoot. Padfoot hadn't resigned, but it had been a near thing; he made himself available at Hogwarts each afternoon, but had moved back to Grimmauld to be with Harry the rest of the time, and Moony - who had not returned to France with Beauxbatons - was helping out too, running additional Defence revision sessions and trying to be at the school when Padfoot couldn't be.
Harry was glad for it; Defence Against the Dark Arts was going to be more important than ever in the coming months, and it wouldn't be fair for Hogwarts to be without a teacher for the subject on his account, and especially not during exams.
Harry wouldn't be sitting exams this year; Dumbledore had given him a choice - to complete his exams as normal, or, to not sit them, and be given ungraded passes for each of his subjects based on his performance in the Tournament throughout the year.
It hadn't been a hard decision, though Harry felt a little guilty for it, for accepting the special treatment; his friends had trained just as hard as he had, learned just as much, and they were still stuck completing their exams. And Cedric had been in the graveyard too, but he was still having to sit his.
"I think you made the right choice," Padfoot said, early one evening. Harry trailed after him just for something to do, wrist hidden in the pocket of his jumper. "You're dealing with more than enough stress at the moment, without having to go through exams." He flicked his wand and the training room - what had once been the formal dining room - expanded until it was about twice the size it had been. One part of it still had the padded flooring and a pair of spell-training dummies, but the rest of it was now empty. "A couple of bedrooms there, I reckon - just small ones, for overnighters," Padfoot said, waving a hand at the far end of the room, where chalk was now marking the floor where the bedrooms would be.
"Will there be many?" Harry asked. His voice sounded dull even to his own ears, but Padfoot didn't comment on it.
"If it's anything like last time, there will," he said. "It's safer to have people come and go on Order-related business from the one location, especially if that location is as secure as we are here…" Padfoot looked grim. "Stops people leading Death Eaters back to their families." Padfoot was now affixing a large photograph - the one of the original Order - onto the wall above the fireplace. Harry glanced at his parents, then Wormtail, who was skulking at the very edge of the photograph as if he knew he was unwelcome, but was still curious. Harry swallowed, and looked away again.
Padfoot tossed an open matchbox onto the floor, wand moving through a complicated motion, and then the bare space was almost entirely filled by an absolutely enormous wooden table. The chairs that had sprung up around it looked comfortable, and were upholstered in the colours of the four Hogwarts houses.
Padfoot transfigured one large blackboard and a large corkboard out of a chip of slate and a cork, and stuck them to the walls, then stood back to assess his work, a thoughtful expression on his face.
"What do you think?" he asked, and for a moment, Harry was eight years old again, and they'd just moved in and were working to make the house liveable. The moment passed just as quickly as it had come, and then Harry was fourteen again, tired and scared and crippled, and Padfoot was a little older, a little more stable, and they weren't in hiding; they were at war - or about to be - and that was on him. Padfoot noticed the change in Harry's mood - though whether scent or expression had given it away, Harry didn't know - and his own expression shifted.
"Looks good," Harry said before Padfoot could say anything, and made his escape from the room.
"... don't actually know whether Harry and Sirius are coming to meet us at the station, or whether we'll just have to catch a bus, but it's not far," Hermione said, as the train began to slow. She looked worried; they'd Flooed Harry from the common room the night after he'd left, but not been able to reach him for about four days now, and neither Sirius or Remus had been around once Defence exams finished up. "And I've got enough to buy fares for both of us - I didn't expect you'd have any muggle money." She looked expectantly at Malfoy, who looked at Ginny, then at Ron, and then Malfoy blinked, straightening in his seat.
"Are you talking to me?" he asked.
"Of course," Hermione said, giving him a strange look, and Ron winced. Malfoy saw that, and understanding dawned on his face too.
"Ah," he said. "I- thank you, Granger, but-" Though he was sitting upright and very straight-backed, Malfoy somehow appeared to shrink. "-my parents will be expecting me."
Now Hermione blinked, opened her mouth, closed it, started to reach out with a hand, then dropped it back to her lap. Ginny frowned.
Ron groaned silently; knowing what he did about… everything - he and Malfoy had spent many a night behind Silenced curtains since Harry left, talking - he had known Malfoy's plans for the summer. Even if Malfoy hadn't outright told him what they were, he would have assumed they were to go back to the Manor for the summer. But Hermione didn't know what he did, and had obviously assumed otherwise. Ginny too.
"And you're… going?" Hermione asked, uncertain.
"Why?" Ginny demanded, expression fierce. "Your father-"
"-is the same person he was last summer," Malfoy said stiffly. "And I managed well enough then."
"Yes," Hermione said, quickly. "We know you did, but…" She looked to Ron for help, and Ron grimaced.
"But what?" Malfoy asked her, tone polite.
"But is it a good idea?" Hermione asked, looking anxious and a bit uncomfortable. "I know he's- I know they're your family, but now that Voldemort's back… I don't think it's safe. Ron." She kicked him, and followed that up with a pointed look.
"It's not safe," Ron agreed honestly, shrugging at Malfoy, who raised an eyebrow. Ron pulled a face at him; both Ginny and Hermione were watching Malfoy anyway.
"You know Sirius won't mind," Hermione said, biting her lip.
"Mum'd take you in a second," Ginny said, still frowning.
"I know," Malfoy said, smiling a little, but it was grim. "I'm hoping I'll be able to visit-"
"Voldemort's back and you think your Death Eater father's going to let you visit with Harry Potter?" Ginny asked incredulously. Ron cast a hasty Silencing charm on their compartment. "Are you hearing yourself?"
"Severus and I can come up with an excuse for me being absent," Malfoy said, waving a hand.
"That's not the point!"
"What is, then?" Malfoy asked.
"You've always taken our side against your family," Ginny said, frowning. "With the Chamber and the Diary… you freed Dobby, you saved Buckbeak… Against Hydrus at school, and the other Slytherins-"
"Are you suggesting that by going back to the Manor I'm not?"
"Yes, actually," Ginny said. "I'm not saying it makes you a Death Eater, or anything, but if you'd prefer to go and live in a house with your Death Eater father instead of coming to the Burrow or to Grimmauld with us and the Order-"
"I'm not going because I'd prefer it," Malfoy said irritably. "I'm going because I have to."
"Why?" Ginny asked.
"Because of the dragons," Draco said.
"What?" Ginny blinked.
"The dragons I gave - well, not you, She-Weasel, because you left - you two back in September." Malfoy nodded at Ron and Hermione.
"The dragons," Hermione said. "And you can't explain any more than that-"
"No," Malfoy said. "But you promised to trust me anyway." Hermione nodded, ran a hand through her hair, pushing it back from her face, and nodded again. Ginny was still stony-faced.
"We do, mate," Ron said. "Well, I do, anyway. Besides, Mrs Malfoy's not a Death Eater. And Hydrus is a git-" He glanced at Malfoy. "-sorry - but he's not a Death Eater either. You're allowed to want to see them."
"You never want to see Hydrus at school," Ginny said.
"He's better without the other Slytherins around," Malfoy said. Ron had no idea if that was the truth or not.
"I'll take your word for it," Hermione said, scrunching her nose a bit. Malfoy's mouth twitched. "And- Ron's right, we trust you." She sighed. "I'd still feel better if you were coming with us, but I suppose the only one you're putting at risk is yourself-"
"And Harry," Ginny chirped, in a too-bright tone, as Platform Nine and Three Quarters stilled outside the window. "If Voldemort decides you'd make a good hostage for a bit of leverage." Hermione looked horrified and Malfoy looked a little ill, though Ron knew that had occurred to him before now; they'd discussed it during one of their late-night chats. "You can't say your father would stop him, can you?" Malfoy's expression darkened - not at Ginny, though, Ron didn't think.
"Snape might," Ron muttered.
"And Mrs Malfoy would, I think?" Hermione looked to Malfoy, who shrugged. "But none of that matters, because Draco's not going to become a hostage. He's going to have a safe summer, and keep his head down, and hopefully come and visit when he can. Right?"
"Sure, Granger," Malfoy muttered. Ginny still looked unimpressed.
Hermione sighed loudly, in a stressed sort of way, then checked Crookshanks' basket was secure. Ron stood and lifted their trunks down one by one, and then the four of them filed out into the corridor.
"You'll write?" Malfoy asked, as soon as they were off the train. His eyes were on a pair of platinum blonde heads, visible even through the steam.
"Of course we will," Ginny snapped, and dropped her trunk with a thud to give him a rather aggressive hug. Malfoy hugged her back, expression relieved, but also rather soft; he knew as well as Ron did that Ginny wasn't taking Voldemort's return to power well at all (that having been another of the late-night conversational topics). "Prat," Ginny muttered, releasing him.
"Don't be rude, Ginny," Hermione said, stepping forward to hug Malfoy too. "Sirius really wouldn't mind," she said.
"I know," Malfoy said. Ron saw her arms tighten around him.
And then it was his turn.
He pulled Malfoy into a hug.
"Look after yourself, mate," he muttered.
"Take care of Potter for me," Malfoy replied.
"You know we will," Hermione said.
And then Malfoy was gone, striding away into the steam. Ron watched him go, anxious for a few seconds; last summer he'd left school with a desire to not be useless. He'd keep working on that, obviously, but before he did, he was going to look into magical communication. Without mirrors like Harry and Sirius had, or Sidekicks like the Aurors used, he and Malfoy would struggle to talk about anything of real importance; what if their letters were deliberately intercepted, or just fell into the wrong hands - there were plenty of those at Malfoy Manor.
"Ron," Hermione said, tugging his sleeve. He walked after her, following Ginny; she'd already spotted Dora, who was seven feet tall and purple haired for the occasion.
"Wotcher," Dora said cheerily, pulling Hermione in for a hug as Dad - who'd been waiting with her - wrapped his arms around Ginny. Percy - who Ron certainly hadn't expected to see - took in the scene with a little smile and offered Ron his hand.
"Good ride home?"
Ron shrugged, batted Percy's hand away, and hugged him, a little surprised to find he was actually taller than his older brother. Percy patted him lightly on the back, then stiffened. Ron sensed rather than heard Fred and George approach, and hastily got out of the way as they bounded forward.
"How are you, old bean?"
"Absolutely delightful to see you!"
"Can't you just let me be glad to see you?" Percy complained, voice muffled from somewhere beneath Fred.
"I reckon he's missed us, Fred," George said. He had his arms wrapped around Percy's neck from behind and his chin perched on Percy's shoulder. Ron suspected he was standing on his toes to manage it.
"Of course he has," Fred said, ruffling Percy's hair so enthusiastically he dislodged Percy's glasses.
"Boys," Dad said, and Fred and George sighed, put-upon, and straightened Percy's glasses, then went to hug Dad instead.
Percy huffed and smoothed his robes, but he was smiling a little, and it widened when Ginny wrapped her arms around his middle.
"Mum here?" George asked.
"No, she's back at Headquarters," Dad said. "Everyone ready to go?" Ron caught Hermione's look, and he shook his head, shrugging.
"Headquarters?" Hermione said aloud, then, "For the…?" She looked around then mouthed the word Order.
Dad opened his mouth, then seemed to swallow his tongue. Smiling a little, Dora pulled a piece of paper out of the pocket of her Auror robes and offered it to Hermione. Ron craned his neck to read it over her shoulder.
In flowing script that Ron wasn't sure he recognised, it said, The Headquarters for the Order of the Phoenix may be found at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, London.
"I don't understand," he said, as Hermione passed the note to Ginny, Fred, and George.
"Is it a new Fidelius Charm?" Hermione asked.
"Surely you've heard Harry mention it," she said. "He was the old Secret-Keeper - the only one who could tell someone new how to find the house. It's a protective enchantment." She smiled, a little fond and a little sad. "The first time I went to visit, my parents came to pick me up and couldn't find the house."
"That would've been the muggle-repelling charms, not the Fidelius," Dora muttered. "Mum says Orion and Walburga were right pieces of work. But yeah, it's a new charm."
"Why? Did something happen?"
"Voldemort came back," Dora said grimly, then shook her head. "The old one was only protecting the fact that Harry and Sirius lived there. It didn't stop you from finding the house, just from finding them in it. Bill, Dumbledore, and Harry undid it - bloody complicated - and then they did some tweaking, so the new one protects the house's location and anyone in it who's a member of the Order."
"That explains why we haven't been able to get through to Harry," Ginny muttered. Ron nodded, thoughts on Malfoy; if he was no longer in on the secret, he would have to write to Ron and Ginny and rely on them to ferry his letters to Harry and Hermione. Or maybe they'd have to have Kreacher ferry letters between Grimmauld and the Manor all summer like Harry had the summer before their second year.
"But that wasn't Harry's handwriting…" Hermione nodded at the parchment that Dora was now burning.
"Dumbledore's," Dad said. "Harry's got enough to deal with." Dora's hair turned a deep blue green, then went back to vivid pink. Ron and Hermione exchanged another look, then followed Percy through the barrier and out into the main part of King's Cross.
"How is Harry?" Fred asked.
"I imagine he could use a laugh," Percy said, quite seriously, looking at Fred. "But no jokes, or teasing him-"
"I reckon we can handle that," Fred said, grinning at George. Percy and Dad cringed and then Percy began to swell, and Dad's expression darkened and he opened his mouth-
"They don't know about that yet," Ginny said, before either could say anything. "It was just a bad choice of words."
"Know what?" George asked. She shook her head.
Ron looked at Dora, who heard the unspoken question.
"He has good days and bad days," she said quietly. Hermione bit her lip; there was a grim note to Dora's voice that made Ron think there were more bad days than good.
"Drop it, boys. But it'll be good for him to have you all around, I think," Dad said firmly, over the top of Fred and George harassing Ginny and Percy for information.
"All around?" George asked.
"We'll all be there this summer," Dad said. "Sirius suggested it, and your mother and I thought it was a good idea… You're all back and forward over the holidays anyway, and we would be too, this time, so it should make it easier for everyone." He adjusted his glasses. "And it'll mean there's always someone around to keep an eye on you lot and little Stella while the rest of us are doing what the Order needs us to."
"You're staying too?" Ginny asked Dora, but Ron heard something different:
Were they worried about Harry leaving the safety of Grimmauld now that Voldemort was back and now that Harry was missing a hand? Or were they worried about leaving any of them in a house with less than two adults - ideally one of whom was an Auror - in it?
Or maybe, Ron thought, Mum and Dad had volunteered them to babysit Stella all summer while Remus and Dora were tied up with Order stuff.
"Going to be a full house," Fred said, letting out a low whistle.
"We'll manage," Dora said, not seeming overly worried.
Regardless of the reasoning, Ron actually couldn't find it in himself to mind. There wasn't much he could do for Malfoy, other than find a way to keep in touch (it would probably have to be Kreacher, or maybe they could have him send their letters to Marlene's house until Ron sorted out something else), unless Malfoy told him otherwise.
But, Ron could stop his parents from worrying about him while they worried about everything else.
And he could help Harry.
Ron could try to make the bad days less bad. Harry had to be willing to let him, would have to play along and let himself be helped or distracted, or whatever it was Ron tried, but he would be, eventually; Harry had a good reason to be caught up in his own head, or not want company at the moment, but Ron was more patient than Harry was, and he had time on his side.
He had the entire summer to work with now, after all.
And that's a wrap on "Intensity"!
Thanks to everyone for sticking with it this far, and I hope you've enjoyed it. To those of you that have left reviews along the way - thank you so much - I don't have the time to respond to them, unfortunately, but I do read every single one and I'm not exaggerating when I say they make my day. It's so much fun to hear your theories, and hear what parts of the story you enjoyed, or what characters you're invested in, as well as hear about where you think I could have been done better. I think it helps me develop as a writer, and it definitely also keeps me motivated, knowing there are so many people engaged with the story.
Moving forward, I will be posting on here and also on AO3 (same username and story titles), and I'll be aiming to stick to my usual fortnightly update schedule. :)
Thanks again for all your support!