Chapter 1: King's Cross Again
"Well, if it isn't the Boy Who Finally Died!"
Harry knew that voice, even if it had been years since he'd last heard it. He opened his eyes - magnificently unsurprised that he could see, he'd been here before - and saw Fred Weasley standing just a few feet before him wearing that familiar, mischievous grin.
"Fred!" he yelled. He gripped the other man's arm.
"In the flesh, mate," he replied. "Although 'flesh' might be the wrong word. We're dead, you know."
"Yeah, I got that part," Harry couldn't help but grin. "Are you the welcoming committee, then?" He looked around, drinking in the sight of King's Cross. The ceiling soared above him, and it was a dazzling white, just as he remembered.
"Weasley's Wizard Welcome, yeah. Ron and Hermione are around here somewhere... probably 'reminiscing.'"
"Reminiscing?" Harry asked blankly. He'd started turning left and right on the spot as soon as he'd heard those names.
"Look at yourself! You're young again! If Ginny were here, what would you want to do?" Fred, seemingly unable to help himself, grabbed him and roughly mussed his hair.
Harry looked down at his hands. They were young again, unblemished by time. He felt his face; no wrinkles to be found. He felt spry and athletic, no longer weighted by decades of living, but once more in his prime. "What the -"
"Better than magic, eh?"
"But when I was here last time, Dumbledore still looked old!"
Fred shrugged. "Mysteries, mate. He probably looked old because you saw him as old."
"Does that make sense?" Harry asked.
"Not really. Does it have to?" Fred looked genuinely curious.
Harry eyed him suspiciously, not fully trusting the 'wise old sage' act coming from a Weasley. Especially this Weasley, who, if he remembered correctly, had never been serious longer than a few moments in his life. But, Harry supposed, he could have changed in his death...
"Listen, I've got a great idea," Fred lowered his voice, and Harry was transported back a million years to Grimmauld Place and stolen doxies. He hadn't really changed at all. "They don't know you're here yet, so why don't we give 'em a little surprise? For old time's sake!"
Harry laughed. "Of course. But let's find them now!" Ron had been gone for seven years, after all, and Hermione had followed three years later. His best friends in all the world...
"Of course, of course," Fred waved his arm magnanimously. "I think they went this way..." His long legs required Harry to trot a little to keep up.
"Why are you still here, anyway?" Harry asked, glorying in the fact that his legs did not tire and his lungs did not threaten to vacate his chest and take his heart with him. "I thought for sure you would've gone on."
"I'm waiting for George," Fred said simply.
"You've been missed, you know," Harry said quietly. "Your death -"
"I know. I saw Mum and Dad, had a chance to chat. Catch up," Fred grinned again. "Auntie Muriel stopped by, too, not long after I died. Played a bit of a joke on her, too, it was great. When she'd gotten over it, told me all about the funeral. The fireworks? Brilliant. Couldn't believe it was all Percy's idea... you just missed him, by the way, he hung out for a while, then got on the train."
And then he saw them. He'd forgotten how red Ron's hair had been before it turned white; it shone even from yards and yards away. They sat with their backs to them, Hermione in Ron's lap, smiling again, happier than he'd seen her since Ron had passed. Even as he watched, they laughed, and it echoed in the station as though a huge crowd had roared with joy.
Harry had stopped. He drank them in; it wasn't until now, this moment, when he saw them again that he realized how very much he had missed them.
They hadn't noticed him. He walked forward as quietly as he could.
"Hold up, I'll distract them," Fred whispered. He gave Harry a gleeful grin, and strode over to his brother and Hermione. Harry watched as he put his arms around them and said something. Judging by Hermione's indignant squawk and Ron's snort, it was something inappropriate.
Something completely Fred.
His bare feet made hardly any sound as he continued toward them. He realized he was trembling and wanted to shout, but didn't want to ruin Fred's joke. The poor man had been here for decades, probably was bored out of his mind...
"You look particularly happy," Ron told Fred. "Almost as happy as when you saw Angelina. Find another girl with whom to while away the time?"
And suddenly Harry was nervous. What was he supposed to say? How was he to announce himself? He wished they'd just look over, but Fred's big head was in the way.
"Honestly, Ron, does everything have to be about girls?" Hermione asked. Harry knew that she was smiling without having to see her face.
"Just one girl for me, but Fred here woos every young miss who passes through here."
Harry opened his mouth to say something, but no sound emerged.
"As it happens, I did find someone skulking around, but -"
"But I'm not a girl," Harry said.
And then he was engulfed. Ron and Hermione had flung themselves at him faster than he would've thought, knocking over Fred in their hurry to reach him. Harry found himself with one arm around Hermione while she sobbed and laughed into his shoulder, and the other arm around Ron, who lifted them up, swung them around, nearly falling over. Ron was shouting "He's dead! He's finally dead! Finally!" and hitting him on the head, while Hermione clung even tighter. Harry was laughing as exuberantly as he had in what felt like forever.
"So how'd you finally go?" Ron asked when they'd finally calmed down.
"That's okay, Hermione, I don't mind," Harry grinned at her. "I think my heart just stopped. One minute I was reading in my chair, and the next I was here!"
"Really?" Ron asked. "Thought for sure you'd go down fighting. Blimey, you survive two Killing Curses and your heart just stops. Talk about anticlimactic."
But Harry roared with laughter. "I'll have you know that I'm happy that I died peacefully. At my age, I'm sure my heart would've stopped if I'd met another Voldemort... wouldn't have been able to handle it."
"Harry, we're so happy you're finally here!" Hermione breathed, and her cheeks glistened with tears. "We've been waiting for you, you know."
Harry blinked. "You mean... you haven't gone on because of me?"
The exasperated look that Hermione gave him was so achingly familiar that suddenly had a huge lump in his throat. He grinned at Ron, who asked, "are you mental? Of course we waited for you, mate."
"I know," Harry told them. "I should've known. You barely ever let me go to the bathroom by myself when Voldemort was around, of course you'd wait here for me."
Fred cleared his throat. "Is the emotional reunion done? Can I talk now?"
"When have you ever needed permission to talk?" Ron asked him. "As I recall, you were just as bad as George."
"Speaking of..." Harry looked around him. "You've been waiting here all this time, Fred? What do you do?"
"Oh, there's loads of stuff to do," Ron told him. "You just have to think it -" he demonstrated by grabbing bottles of butterbear out of what seemed to be thin air, "and it happens."
"Plus, I've had company," Fred said. "Fleur was here for a while, still as gorgeous as ever -"
"She's your brother's wife!"
"And then when Bill finally showed his face, they hung out for a bit before moving on. And other people were here too. The worst bit was the beginning when I had no clue how everything turned out, but Auntie Muriel told me all about it," Fred tousled Harry's hair again. "Heard you were bloody brilliant, mate, didn't expect anything less. And Lee Jordan and Oliver Wood showed up... this place is great for playing Quidditch, believe me."
"And Hermione and I found things to do, too," Ron said smugly, winking at Harry. "The best bit was when Luna came riding in on a Crumple-Horned Snorkack."
Harry laughed. "So they're real?"
"Apparently everything is real here," Hermione, unable to admit to the possible existence of the elusive beast, replied.
"That was pretty brilliant," Fred admitted. "She let me have a go, too, after I'd promised that I'd clear the building of the Nargles. Apparently there was an infestation."
"So is that what this is?" Harry asked, once more looking around at the seemingly empty building. "A place to party?" He was startled when the other three laughed at him.
"This?" Fred gestured, eyebrows raised.
"No way, mate," Ron agreed. "The real party happens when we board the train and go on."
"This is just a place of waiting, Harry," Hermione told him. "It's the first stage, sort of like the Muggle Limbo," at Harry's mystified expression, she continued, "it's wonderful and peaceful, but it isn't it. There's another journey ahead of us."
"And we'll all go together?" Harry asked quietly. "After Ginny gets here?"
He already knew their answer - wherever they went, they would be together - but another burst of light filled him when they nodded. But before they could do much more than that, a mighty roar echoed through the station.
And George was sprinting toward them, that familiar broad grin splitting his face.
"GEORGE!" Fred met him, and they flung their arms around each other, pounding each other's backs. Ron was there a moment after, and the three brothers danced jubilantly in a circle as carefree as they'd been growing up at the Burrow.
Harry and Hermione hung back, letting them have their moment of reunion. But George spotted them and ran to scoop Harry up into his arms. "I can't believe I outlived the Boy Who Lived!" He cried, and Fred and Ron laughed. Even Hermione smiled.
"Not by much," Harry told him indignantly. "I've only been here a little while."
"Almost a year!" George corrected him. "And I'm older than you."
Harry's mouth dropped open. "A year? Already? So... time is different here?"
"Never mind that!" Ron cut across him. "How was his funeral?"
"It was great. Loads of people crying. Huge turnout," George told them. "Story after story on him in the Daily Prophet, and the Ministry immediately dedicated July 31st as Harry Potter Day."
Harry groaned. He'd fought long and hard not to have a holiday centered around him. The other four laughed at the look on his face. And when he heard their joy, he realized that he couldn't really feel anything other than amazement at his own. Let them have a Harry Potter Day; he knew that he'd never been truly alone.
"How's Ginny?" Harry asked. "And the children?"
George gave him a look that was not solemn, but not jubilant either. "They're having a hard time of it. Al was the one to find you, you know, and they all sort of moved around like ghosts. I haven't heard Ginny laugh, really laugh, since you passed."
"Yeah, I know the feeling," Harry gave Ron and Hermione meaningful looks. He'd missed them every day. "But I'm going to wait for her."
"We're always waiting for Ginny," Ron rolled his eyes. "Waiting for her to come to Hogwarts, waiting for her to get a bit older, waiting for her to get her head right and realize that she and Harry were meant to be together -" he stopped when Hermione smacked him.
"You are such a revisionist! Harry was the one who was clueless. Just like you were! Still are..."
Fred and George sniggered. "How'd you deal with Harry falling in love with our little sister?" Fred asked.
"It was tough, at times," George tried to look mournful. "Walked in on them snogging two days after the war ended, almost finished me."
"I still think Percy making a joke was what killed me," Fred told him. "I'm sure I never would've made it through seeing my baby sister snogging the Boy Who Scored. Although," he looked at Harry thoughtfully. "I'm not sure that Harry would've survived it..."
"Tell Fred what you did when you found out Ginny was pregnant, Ron!" Hermione was practically bouncing.
Ron looked uncomfortable. "I don't remember," he muttered.
Hermione threw a glare at him before saying, "imagine a nice, family dinner at the Burrow. Harry and Ginny had been married for two years, so it really shouldn't have been such a surprise that they'd had sex," she said the word with relish, and Ron's ears turned red. "They made their announcement, and just as Mum was getting weepy and emotional, Ron lunged across the table, scattering food everywhere -"
"Not everywhere, it was mostly just on me -"
"He didn't even get to Harry, who just s-stood there, gaping at him, and started laughing like a loon. Poor Ginny was so embarrassed..."
All of them roared with laughter while Ron muttered "baby sister" and "wasn't thinking."
"No, wait!" Harry held up his hand. "I've got a good one." He grinned mischievously. "Remember that night when you guys were staying at Grimmauld Place? About two months after you got married?"
"No, Harry!" Hermione cried.
"Tell us! Tell us! Tell us!" The twins chanted, their identical faces gleeful.
"Well, they were just down the hall... and apparently forgot to use Muffliato..." Harry didn't exactly want to come right out and say it; it was far funnier just to imply. Besides, Hermione might try to kill him if he was any more explicit.
"Ron, you dog!" Fred chortled with glee.
That story led to another and another and time passed swiftly. They'd given up butterbeer and were now toasting each other with firewhisky. Harry was surprised to find that it was potent even when one was dead, and became steadily more inebriated. The twins had pulled out some old tricks and were competing to see who could make the naughtiest fireworks.
Harry sat back and just watched them. Ron and Hermione bickered, yet their love for each other was as easy to see as it was when they were young. The twins raced up and down, laughing madly, together again, and it was as though they had never been apart. They'd all conjured pictures of their families so Fred could see his nieces and nephews and great-nieces and great-nephews.
Harry had no idea how long he'd been there. He was not tired or hungry. Every once in a while little bubbles of happiness welled up inside him and popped until he was unable to imagine how he could possibly be any happier at all...
And there she was. His girl. His Ginny. She hadn't seen them yet; her arrival had coincided with a lull in the festivities. The twins were out of sight, probably planning a practical joke on God, or something. Ron and Hermione had drifted away after making pretty flimsy excuses that Harry pretended not to see through. He wondered if they'd somehow known...
She turned, and her face blazed like the sun.
They met halfway, he took her in his arms, and bent his head to kiss her. They swayed a little, and Harry could almost hear music. It was like the song of the phoenix which he'd heard only three times in his life, but would always remember. But it was the music of their lives, triumphant yet tender, full of love.
"Harry... do you hear it?" Ginny asked breathlessly.
"Yes," he murmured against her hair. "It's us. It's for us."
She looked up at him and he saw that she was crying. "I've missed you... so much. It was like an ache that never went away, not for almost three years."
He kissed the tears away. "Ginny... we'll never have to be apart again. Never."
They embraced again, until they'd both had enough, for the moment at least. They were young again, together again, and just as in love as they were the day they got married. And Harry had never dreamed that he could be so joyful.
He pulled back with a start. "But there are other people for you to see!" He gripped her hand and pulled her along.
"People? But who?" She asked blankly.
"You guys!" he shouted. "Come out! Ginny's here!"
Just then, a particularly excellent fire work went off, and even with all the noise, he could still hear the music.
"GINNY!" Two voices roared at once, and Harry grinned down at her at her look of dawning wonder and amazement and joy.
"Fred!" She screamed.
"I'm not Fred, he is!"
"You ARE Fred, you prat!" She nearly tackled him, and then George. George swung her around in a circle. Laughing, Ginny ran back to Harry and threw herself into his arms and squealed in his ear.
Then Ron and Hermione came sprinting out of one of the rooms, and Harry thought Ginny's smile would split her face in two. She pulled him along and the twins came in their wake and as they all hugged and laughed and cried the music kept growing louder and louder.
And then the train pulled into the station. And the music they all heard was its whistle, and they knew they were finally about to go on. Fred, Harry observed, was especially excited. He'd been waiting the longest, after all.
Chapter 2: The Journey
Harry stepped onto the train, trailing behind the twins and Ron and Hermione, and gripping Ginny's hand tightly. He knew he didn't really have anything to be afraid of, knew that wherever "on" was, it would be even better than the vast, mostly empty King's Cross; nevertheless, his palms were sweaty.
He looked down at Ginny. She squeezed his hand tightly as if she read his thoughts, as if she shared them. She probably did; her soul was the other half of his.
"Don't be afraid," he whispered. "I think it only gets better from here."
"I'm with you, Harry," she told him simply. "How could I possibly be afraid?"
Hermione poked her head around the corner, looking back to where they were loitering. "Come on! There're plenty of empty compartments, we can just pick one."
"But Hermione," Fred began, smiling slyly.
"We thought –"
"Being prefects and all –"
"You and Ron would have to sit by yourselves!" George finished, and jumped away when Hermione threatened to smack him.
"Although, George, they aren't in school anymore."
"Right, Fred, if they want to sit by themselves, it sure isn't because they're prefects!"
"Isn't that getting old?" Hermione asked coldly.
Harry caught Ginny's eye and wondered if they could find an empty compartment. He certainly wouldn't mind reliving good times… His grin widened when he saw the blush turning her entire face bright red. He liked that she blushed. He liked that he could still make her blush.
From somewhere up ahead, Ron let out a roar, and they were all running toward him. What if it wasn't the benign place it seemed to be? What if there were Dark Wizards, lying in wait, ready to take their revenge? It seemed almost impossible, but an old fear welled up in Harry's heart.
Until he realized what Ron was yelling.
"Look at this! All this food! Chocolate Frogs and Droobles! Sugar quills!" Ron was grabbing fistfuls of candy off an abandoned trolley with all the ecstasy of a young boy riding a broom for the very first time.
"Are… Are we supposed to pay for it?" Hermione looked around worriedly. "I haven't got any galleons on me, Ron; you shouldn't just take it and eat it!"
But Ron was laughing, his mouth full of chocolate. "Er-my-knee!" He swallowed. "There's no one else here, Hermione. There's no one to pay! That's the best part!"
She just shook her mane of bushy hair – Harry was still amazed at how young everyone looked – and started to turn into the closest compartment. "Might as well sit in here so Ron can have easy access to the food…"
Fred opened his mouth, but before he could taunt her with yet another sexual innuendo, she whirled around and glared at him. "That's love," he told George. "I die in the prime of my youth, and I'm still so unappreciated."
"You don't have a monopoly on being dead, Fred Weasley!"
"Speaking of," Ron said around a mouthful of food – Harry could see an assortment of candy crammed in there – and grabbed up as much food as he could before following his wife. "Can we get on with it?"
"You're the one who had to make a pit stop, Ron," Ginny pointed out. The twins were now dismantling the trolley and taking all the food with them. The way they so efficiently took it apart reminded Harry of when they'd sprung him out of the Dursley prison with the aid of Muggle lock picks and a flying car…
It was a few moments after they all sat before the train lurched forward and they finally began to move.
Fred, who was concentrating very hard on aiming Bertie-Botts Every Flavored Beans into his mouth, paused and said, "I think we've got to make a plan now—"
"Yeah, who knows how long this will take?" George agreed. "Don't want to be caught unprepared!"
"What plan?" Harry and Hermione asked together.
"How to pull the ultimate prank, of course!"
"We don't want to be tame about it!"
"Well, I was hoping I could just see my parents…" Harry said. "And Sirius. And Remus—"
"And Tonks!" Ginny cried. "Remember how she used to change her hair color?"
"Don't forget Mum and Dad," Ron looked around the compartment and stretched out his long legs. "If we don't go see them right away, Mum'll kill us. Won't matter that we're already dead."
"But… how do you know what we'll find there?" Harry asked. "How do you know it won't be just the six of us riding on a train until the sun explodes or—"
"Harry, don't talk like that," the look on Fred's face would not be inappropriate at the funeral of a friend. "For the most part, I was a good boy! I don't deserve that!"
Ron threw a cushion at him. "If this is your afterlife, then you've gotten what you deserved!"
"Harry," Hermione said seriously as Ginny squeezed his hand. "I know, I absolutely know for sure, that we will not be on this train until the sun explodes or whatever. This is just a journey; our destination is just ahead of us!"
"Is it just me," Ron asked. "Or is Hermione starting to sound like Luna?"
Harry was about to say something, anything, when Hermione let out a gasp.
"What? What is it?"
Even the twins stopped laughing long enough to look out the window where Hermione was pointing.
"Is that… is that us?" Ron asked.
And it was.
Harry heard the music again, welling up inside of his bones, and he knew that he was about to have one of the most incredible experiences of his life. He pulled Ginny onto his lap, wanting to be as close to her as he could (while in front of company) while all of them watched their lives unfold before them.
The closest thing to the experience was exploring the contents of a Pensieve, and yet it happened as though they experienced it all over again. It took no time at all!
Harry watched a young Ron, no more than four years old, wearing only a pillowcase tied like a cloak, running into the living room at the Burrow… a young Ginny stealing a broom out of the shed and flying… a young Hermione making the pages turn in her picture book without using her hands… young twins making Percy yell in fright… and a young Harry jumping on Dudley's bed when the Dursley's weren't home. All this happened in a single heartbeat, and, unlike the Pensieve, it wasn't just a memory. Harry could feel the joy as if it were his own, as if he shared the experiences with them.
Harry being told that he was a wizard by Hagrid ("HAGRID!" he shouted.)… Hermione getting the letter from Hogwarts… Ron getting his school robes, he was finally old enough to follow his brothers… the twins finding the Marauder's Map and accidentally saying the right words to make it work… Harry seeing Ginny for the very first time (Ginny squeezed him, "You remember the first time you saw me?")…
The next memory almost exploded. Ron, Hermione, and Harry meeting for the very first time… "There's a spot of dirt on your nose, you know…" ("Hermione! You were so posh!" Fred laughed.)… Sorting into Gryffindor, hearing the applause as they ran back to the table… Hermione's very first trip to the library… The first time Harry got Christmas presents… Ron standing in front of a mirror, Head Boy and Quidditch Captain… Catching the Snitch… The twins prying the seat off of a toilet, laughing madly…
On and on it went until it was all Harry could do to just hold Ginny and watch as he relived the very best parts of his life. He laughed as he felt, simultaneously, the pride Hermione felt when she entered the Yule Ball on Viktor Krum's arm, and the jealous rage Ron felt at the very same moment.
"See? I loved you even then," Ron told her smugly, then laughed as he watched Fred and George stealing kisses in the bushes at the very same ball.
And then the twins were escaping from Umbridge's regime, flying right through fireworks and heading off to open a joke shop… ("What ever happened to that evil gargoyle?" Fred asked. "Got sent to Azkaban!") And Harry was watching Ginny at the Burrow… And Ginny was watching Harry at Hogwarts… And Harry was finally kissing Ginny for what seemed like days ("Oi! Don't want to see that!")… And the twins were pulled into the bushes by veela cousins ("Cover your eyes! Cover your eyes!")… Ron and Hermione falling asleep holding hands… Harry saw a sign standing in front of a demolished house, everyone wishing him luck…Ron was coming back from Shell Cottage, and was delighted that Harry took him back, no questions asked ("Couldn't say the same for Hermione, though.")… And then they were escaping from Gringotts on a dragon, defying capture yet again…
And then, from three different perspectives, he watched himself pulling off his Invisibility Cloak in front of hundreds of people. He felt Ron, Hermione, and Ginny's explosive joy at the realization that Harry had survived… And there was Voldemort, his old enemy, lying dead on the floor, unable to harm anyone else Harry loved…
Faster and faster it went. Harry watched himself get married to Ginny, then Ron married Hermione, and George endlessly dating one beautiful girl after another. He saw the birth of James, Albus, and Lily, and met Rose and Hugo for the very first time. He saw Teddy, his godson, marry his niece and become truly a part of the Weasley clan at last…
Tears were streaming down everyone's cheeks, and Harry did not feel ashamed in the slightest, for they were tears born of joy, and tears of sorrow would never plague any of them again…
"Well, that was certainly special, wasn't it?" Fred asked, unabashedly mopping the corners of his eyes with his robes.
And then they were laughing, all of them, because such a small word could never encompass everything that they had all felt. Harry stroked Ginny's back as she sobbed onto his shoulder. "I never knew," she whispered, just for him, "I don't think I fully appreciated how amazing and wonderful and miraculous our lives have been."
Chapter 3: Sad Tidings
The train came to a smooth stop.
"Not like the real one, then," Ron muttered. "Always lurching around, it was."
"Well, it wouldn't be, would it?" Hermione asked. "I don't think they have whiplash in the afterlife."
"Just a bit surprised, is all," Ron squeezed her hand, still grinning.
"I still can't quite believe…" Ginny whispered.
"I know, me either," Harry told her. He met her eyes, and saw everything he was feeling reflected in their brown depths.
"Would you two come off it?" Fred said loudly.
"Yeah, honestly, your lives haven't been that bad," George smirked.
"Are we ready for it, or what? It's now or never."
"Honestly, Fred and George!" Hermione huffed. They'd discussed the details of the plan before they had arrived at wherever they were, and Hermione was still not convinced. "We have no idea where we are, who is waiting for us, if we can even hide from them –"
"Were you in Gryffindor or not?" came the indignant question, in unison.
"I'm really not sure that has anything to do with it! Just because I was in Gryffindor, doesn't mean I have some natural affinity for pulling pranks!"
"Actually," Ginny said slowly, "I think it does. Look at everyone in that House."
"I'm looking," Ron stared at Hermione. "And I think I see at least one Gryffindor who doesn't like pranks."
"Being in Gryffindor means being brave!" Hermione glared at everyone. "And I'm plenty brave. Not to mention, I've been in trouble plenty of times –"
"Only when it was for a good reason," Harry felt compelled to say. "Usually fighting for some good cause –"
"She's so noble," Fred chortled. "But I think it's high time she proved to be worthy of the red and gold."
"Yeah, or we'll start calling her 'Ravenclaw,'" George agreed.
"Good one, George."
"Thank you, Fred."
Hermione stewed for a moment, looking mutinous. Ron, Harry, and Ginny caught each other's eyes, and shifted around in their seats. None of them wanted to get caught in the crossfire, and they knew exactly what that look meant.
"I just don't think that hiding behind bushes, or whatever you wastrels –"
"Yes, wastrels. Whatever you wastrels thought would be enough… they're going to see us! If there are any people around in the first place! WHICH WE DON'T KNOW BECAUSE WE DON'T KNOW ANYTHING!"
"Fred," George spoke in an exaggerated stage whisper. "Think she might just be upset because she hasn't got a book to read about this place?"
Ginny stifled a giggle.
"Honestly! If we at least had the Invisibility Cloak, it'd be different, I'd play along –"
Everyone stopped talking and stared.
Harry's old Invisibility Cloak suddenly appeared right before their eyes, coalescing into form from absolutely nothing.
"Wicked," Fred and George breathed.
"Drat," Hermione muttered.
"Does it work?" Ron asked.
"Suddenly, the term 'Deathly Hallows' takes on a whole new meaning," Ginny murmured.
Harry pulled it over himself, and knew right away that it was he was just as invisible as ever. "I haven't seen this thing since I gave it to Lily…"
"So that's settled, Hermione's got to go along with it now," Ron said. "Although…" he looked thoughtful.
"What now?" Fred asked suspiciously.
"Can we ask for another one?" Ron asked. "The four of us are a bit big to fit under it all at once. Besides, I've always wanted my own…"
Two minutes later, they were finally ready to leave the train. Fred and George went first. They were visible, of course, all part of the plan. Harry and Ginny were under one Cloak, and Ron and Hermione under another. Harry couldn't even see Ron's shoes; it was perfect.
"Whoa!" Fred shouted. Ron stopped suddenly, and Harry walked right into him. The Weasleys were knocked right off the step. "Watch it, mate!" Ron said loudly, and then swore. Harry and Ginny stepped off together, much more gracefully than Ron and Hermione, but both nearly fell over when they saw what it was that had the rest so diverted.
The sun was high overhead, and they could see for miles and miles all around them.
"But…" Harry had never heard Hermione sound so completely bewildered. Ginny gripped his hand tightly, and he put an arm around her.
"Wow," Ron breathed.
Off to the left was a familiar, lopsided building. The Burrow was just as Harry remembered, even though he hadn't seen it in fifty years. There were slight differences in the locations, of course; there was no longer an orchard that surrounded it, and the make-shift Quidditch Pitch was displayed proudly. And now that he looked more closely, he saw other, very slight differences. It was further away from the mountains, for one, and he didn't remember other homes quite so near it… It didn't look like Ottery St.-Catchpole, either…
"Look, Harry!" Ginny pulled his arm and pointed.
Of course, there was Hogwarts. But it no longer stood on the side of a mountain, but next to one, with a large plain spreading out before it like a gigantic welcome mat. But it was definitely Hogwarts, he could see Gryffindor tower, in exactly the right place. The Forbidden Forest stretched out to the side, and off into the distance. He could see flashes of light or fire from deep within.
"George! Look!" Fred had pulled ahead of most of them, already walking down the gently sloping hill. "There's Hogsmeade! Er, I think it's Hogsmeade!"
Sure enough, there were the familiar winding streets, way off to the right, further away from Hogwarts than Harry remembered it being. The buildings were tall, but the furthest things from stately that Harry had ever seen. Apparently, those who lived there had no need of subduing themselves in fear of the prying eyes of Muggles.
"Diagon Alley!" Ron shouted.
The six of them had formed into a circle, each facing a different direction. The next few minutes, all that could be heard from them were nearly incomprehensible shouts as they noticed familiar landmarks.
"Guys," Harry said suddenly. "Don't you think we ought to continue on?"
"Yeah," Ron agreed. "I'm pretty sure we'll have an eternity to explore." Everyone laughed.
"Where to first?" Fred asked, looking around to where he thought Harry was, thus stared at a spot five feet away from Ginny's shoulder.
Ginny squeezed his hand, and Harry said, "Why not the Burrow?"
He thought about looking for his parents, he really did. But he was in the company of four Weasleys who probably wanted to see Molly and Arthur as much as he wanted to see James and Lily. Besides, he didn't want to part company with the other five just yet.
"This is how he saved the world from Voldemort," George whispered loudly. "By being so bloody selfless."
"Not complaining, though," George told a tree that stood about three feet from Harry. "To the Burrow, then!"
It was much closer than it looked. It only seemed to take seconds before they were down the hill and halfway across the Quidditch Pitch. Everyone but Hermione looked at it longingly.
"We'll have plenty of time for Quidditch later!" She hissed.
Ron and Hermione, and Harry and Ginny hung back just a little as the twins ran up to the door and pounded on it. "Mum! Dad!" They yelled. "C'mon! We're here!"
From inside, Harry could hear a shrill scream and the sound of pounding footsteps. "Arthur! Bill! Fleur! And Phillipe, you can meet your uncles! They're here!"
The door was flung open, and Molly flung herself at Fred and George, Arthur right behind her.
"You're finally here! How long have you been here? I hope you came straight away!" She pushed through Bill and Fleur, who had taken their turn to be hugged, and grabbed the twins again.
"We just got in, Mum, promise," George told her. "Saw the Burrow and came down straight away."
"Yeah, Mum, we didn't want to be killed a second time," Fred added.
Molly laughed. "You've just missed Percy, he came for lunch with Penelope."
"We saw him at the waiting place," Fred assured her. "I can wait another few decades before I see him again."
When the laughter died down, George assumed a serious, almost sober expression. "Mum, Dad, we've got something to tell you."
"It's about Ron and Hermione –"
"And Ginny and Harry, too."
"Oh no…" Molly whispered. "They didn't…?"
"They did," George said grimly.
"But, how could they! Harry, especially! He knew!" Arthur was clearly upset.
Harry stifled a laugh, and Ginny hit him in the stomach.
"Ron went first," Fred told them. "I saw him when he came in. And then Ginny."
"I saw Ginny arrive," George said.
"So they all…?"
"Yes. All of them."
Molly burst into tears. "My babies! They became ghosts! NOW WE'LL NEVER SEE THEM AGAIN!"
Fred and George pretended to look astonished. "They didn't turn into ghosts!"
"Yeah! Why'd you think that?"
Harry was half convinced that the twins were honestly bewildered.
"Damn, they're good," Ron whispered. They were standing close enough that they touched shoulders, even though Harry couldn't see Ron or Hermione at all.
"Then what?" Arthur asked. "What happened?"
Harry exchanged glances with Ginny, and poked Ron, hard, in the ribs. "Time!" he hissed. As one, they threw off their Invisibility Cloaks and shouted, "WE DIED!"
Chapter 4: Dancing in the Moonlight
Everyone was hugging everyone else. Mrs. Weasley had sprinted forward and practically tackled Ron, who swung his mum around in a merry jig and passed her off to Hermione. Ginny was lifted off her feet by Bill, Harry received a kiss on each cheek from Fleur, and Mr. Weasley was shouting and trying to embrace all of his children – including Harry and Hermione – all at once. Harry found himself being passed back and forth when he finally noticed a silver-haired young man staring at them and smiling wistfully.
"You must be Philippe!" He said loudly, striding forward. "I'm your Uncle Harry, and this is your Aunt Ginny, I don't know if you remember us…"
Philippe started to speak, but before he could do so, the twins had pounced. "I'm your Uncle George," George said, "and this—" he pointed at Fred – "is your Uncle Fred."
"Oh, Philippe!" Ginny and Hermione rushed forward. "We've missed you nearly all your life!"
Harry caught Bill's eye. The taller man was unscarred, neither on his face nor on his heart. All the shadows were gone. It was as though his fight with Fenrir Greyback had never happened, nor his son's drowning at the age of four. Same with Fleur; she was laughing and talking to the twins, throwing her hair back, and the clearness of her eyes seemed to radiate that all was more than well. He wondered if he looked like that.
If he didn't now, he would when he found his parents.
Ginny was watching him steadily. "We should find them. Right now."
He nodded. "Yes. But… I don't want to take you away from this…" he gestured at the other Weasleys.
"Harry," Ginny said simply.
"Thank you," he whispered.
They continued to celebrate with everyone until the initial frenzy had died down a bit, and people began to actually move off the front porch and into the house ("This is an occasion for firewhisky, I do believe!" said Bill.). The sun had disappeared over the mountains, and twilight was quickly advancing toward night.
"Molly," Harry began.
She looked at him and smiled. "If you head toward Hogwarts," she pointed, as if Harry couldn't see the gigantic castle, "you'll come to a small river. Cross it – don't worry, you'll barely get your feet wet – and turn toward the Forbidden Forest. You'll come to a road. If you look, you'll see a few buildings in the distance. Head toward them, and the one with the bright blue door is Potter Cottage. Your mum and dad live there."
He hugged her. "Thanks, Molly."
She squeezed him back and then pulled away abruptly, looking stern. "Harry Potter, don't you frighten your mother to death like you did me. She's been waiting ever so long for you, it would be cruel."
"I won't," he promised.
"Do you want us to come with you two?" Ron asked, wrapping his arm around Hermione's shoulders.
Harry didn't even have to think. "Of course. Well… I sort of expected you guys to…"
Ginny laughed. "You guys do have a bit of a reputation for always being there for him."
They set off. Again, they seemed to travel much faster than seemed possible. None of them suggested attempting to Apparate, or even wondered aloud if they could Apparate in this strange and wondrous place. Harry savored the joyful anticipation of a moment for which he'd waited his entire life, and he did not begrudge the extra minutes.
Soon enough, they came to a wide, but shallow river. It gurgled off into the distance, swirling around the stones.
Harry saw a flash of quicksilver out of the corner of his eye. "What was that?" He asked the others.
"What was what?" Ron asked. "What'd you see?"
"Right there," he bent down, and watched the swirling water. He saw shapes in it, shapes that solidified and became figures he knew very well.
"Lily," he breathed. There was his daughter, sitting in a rocking chair, patting the back of a very small baby, probably one of her grandchildren. The picture was blurry, but it was definitely her. It faded and was replaced with an image of James and Albus, grey-haired, and arguing over something. Harry chuckled. "There's our boys, Ginny. Some things never change."
"Bloody hell!" Ron exclaimed, squatting down and looking at something Harry couldn't quite see. "Rose's granddaughter! That's Hannah, Hermione, I know it is! And she's marrying a Malfoy! I'd know that scrawny, white-haired look anywhere!"
"Good for Hannah," Hermione said sternly. "I'm glad she hasn't inherited the Weasley/Potter family prejudice."
They watched their children for long minutes that stretched into an hour. Half of Harry missed his children desperately, but the other half realized that he would be reunited with them soon.
His heart turned to his own parents, and almost reluctantly, headed toward the opposite bank. He sat down on a rather large rock and tugged off his soaked shoes. He supposed he probably could've acquired more, but it felt good to be barefoot against the soft grass. The others did the same.
"I'm definitely coming back here," Hermione said fervently. "Do you think it's the whole river? Or just that particular spot? Or could it possibly be that every body of water in this place shows our children, and those we care about?"
"Dunno, Hermione," Ron said. "We'll find it again, though, I reckon."
"I don't know if I'll go back too often," Ginny said suddenly.
"What if it's like mourning the loss of those who've gone on?" Harry asked. "It's something we could get obsessed with, like the Resurrection Stone. It's definitely alright to think about those we've lost, but we've got to move forward."
"Besides," Ginny added, "we're the ones on the other side now. We don't have to go through the agony of not knowing. We only have to wait."
Hermione and Ron said nothing for a long while, until Hermione broke the silence, "I'm still coming back here every once in a while," she huffed. "But I see your point."
The Forest was just in front of them, and Harry saw the road that came out of it, curving in front the trees. He looked to the left and saw more trees. He looked to the right and saw a small group of houses, clustered together randomly.
"That's it," Harry said. His heart quickened in his chest and jumped inside his throat. "That's where my parents live."
Ginny grinned at him. "Finally!"
"Yeah, it's been a lifetime, mate. Let's go."
The moon had risen, and it lit their way like a silvery path. Harry and his wife and best friends continued onward, until they were standing just in front of a cottage with a blue door.
"What if they aren't here?" Harry whispered. "What if they've gone off visiting, or… something…"
"Then we'll wait, love," Ginny told him. She wrapped her arm around his waist, and he hugged her closer.
"Listen, Harry, Ron and I will wait out here," Hermione said. "Just for a few moments. Give me your shoes, I'll hold them for you, they're still wet…"
Harry moved with Ginny to the door until he was close enough to knock. He raised his hand.
"Harry," Ginny whispered, startling him. "Listen."
He could hear music, and a low murmur of voices, but it wasn't coming from inside. "I think they're 'round back," he said. "Should we?"
Harry looked at Ron and Hermione, who gazed back at him encouragingly. He stepped off the front porch, and went around the side. The music grew louder, and he could hear the voices better. It was definitely his parents. He slowed unconsciously until he was creeping along the side of the cottage, feeling like an intruder. His palms were sweating, and he hesitated for a moment until Ginny gave a forceful yank on his hand. He stumbled forward, out of the shadows.
They were dancing in the moonlight.
His dad's head was bent close to his mum's. He still couldn't hear what they were saying, but from the tender smile on his dad's face, it was something loving and private. They waltzed slowly to a song he'd never heard before, but they knew it well.
His mother laughed at something his dad said, throwing her head back, without even missing a step. "James! No, I don't think Sirius would like that at all!"
He couldn't hear exactly what his dad said, but it didn't seem like his dad cared about what Sirius would like. He found himself grinning. The Marauders were together again.
Ginny nudged him and mouthed, "Get on with it!"
But what was he supposed to say? His throat was closed, and he didn't think he could talk even if he tried. How the hell… What the hell was he supposed to say? 'I've missed you guys my entire life.' 'Hey, remember that time in the Forbidden Forest? Why didn't you tell me this place was so great?' or 'Nice to see you've gotten a new place, one that doesn't have a great big hole in it!'
Ginny, apparently overcome with impatience, shoved him forward, forcing him to take three large steps in order to remain upright.
His parents heard him, of course. They jumped, startled, and turned to stare at him. Harry's heart pounded in his chest, he could feel it against his ribcage. The silence lengthened as the three of them just stared at each other. Harry's eyes flickered frantically over both faces, drinking them in. As he watched, his mother's eyes filled with tears, and she clapped her hand over her mouth. His dad's jaw had dropped, and he blanched. One thought ran through his mind like a refrain, in time with the beating of his heart.
At last at last at last at last at last.
"Uh… hullo," Harry said. From behind him, he heard Ginny snort.
His mum made a sound that was halfway between a sob and a laugh. She lurched forward and ran to him, his dad right on her heels. Harry moved forward, too, and the three of them met in the middle. His mum practically knocked him over with the force of her hug, but there was his dad's hand on his shoulder, steadying him.
"Harry…" James' voice was thick with emotion. He wrapped his arms around his wife and son. The three of them stood for a long while, swaying a little, crying a little, and laughing a little.
"Dad… Mum…" Harry choked. "I thought…" But he couldn't finish. He couldn't believe that this wasn't a magnificent dream, and if it was, he never wanted to wake up…
Then he remembered someone. He looked over at Ginny, who was still standing where he left her, and her smile was radiant. "I want you two to meet someone."
Lily pulled back, and looked over Harry's shoulder. "Ginny! This is Ginny, of course!" She strode forward and the two witches hugged. Harry and James grinned at each other and went to their wives.
"What is it with Potters and redheads?" James asked, and all four gave a little watery chuckle. James pulled Ginny into a hug as well.
"You've made Harry so happy, Ginny," James said, a little huskily. "We really couldn't ask for a better daughter-in-law."
"She's perfect," Harry agreed. "Way too good for me."
"I don't know about that…" Ginny smiled at him. "Although I do think you ought to have your dad teach you how to dance."
"He is a rather good dancer, isn't he?" Lily grabbed James' hand. "I taught him everything he knew."
"Then you should teach Ginny how to dance so she can teach me." Harry laughed. Unable to stop himself, he reached out to hug his dad again, and then his mum, and then Ginny. Emotion kept welling up inside of him, spilling out of his eyes in the form of tears; it was as if joy was a living thing inside him, filling most of the holes that loss had made.
He'd always, always known that the loss of his parents had left a void. It was obvious. He'd missed them his entire life. Not always with that painful, awful ache, but he'd gone through his life with something missing. But he'd never truly realized what exactly he'd lost until he'd found it again. It was the sound of his mum's laugh, merry and tinkling, and the deep timbre of his dad's voice, deep and comforting, but also a little bit wicked. It was the feel of their arms around him, the way it felt like home, and the long, sweet days of childhood that he'd never really had. Ginny and Ron and Hermione meant the world to him, but even they could never have replaced the parents he could now finally get to know.
"Ron! Hermione!" He yelled suddenly, feeling slightly guilty that they were waiting outside. Within moments, he could hear quick footsteps heading toward him.
"Sorry, mate," he told Ron as he rounded the corner. "We sort of got lost in the moment."
"Of course you did, Harry," Hermione said. "It's perfectly understandable."
"Mum, Dad, this is Ron and his wife, Hermione. Without them, you would've seen me when I was about eleven, death by troll," Harry told them. Again, there were hugs all around.
"We've watched you guys, of course," Lily told them. "We feel like we know you all, but it really isn't the same as finally meeting you!"
"I know what you mean," Hermione said fervently. "We heard so much about the two of you while we were growing up," she looked at James. "You look exactly like Harry. And you, Lily, have Harry's eyes."
"Wait until Albus gets here," Ginny said. "It'll be like seeing triplets, I swear."
James smiled a bit smugly. "Potter blood will out."
Lily hit him in the stomach. "You look like your mother, and she was a Wilbanks."
"Weasley blood is pretty strong, too," Ron pointed out. "Two of your grandkids have got the red hair and freckles."
James held up his hands in mock surrender. "Alright, alright! I give in!"
Lily's laugh faded into a somewhat sober look. "Will you tell us what happened? With Voldemort? There's so much that we don't understand, and Dumbledore said, and I quote verbatim," she lowered her voice in imitation, "'the only person that could tell the full, adventurous tale the way it deserves to be told is Harry.' And no one else seemed to know the full details. There was a prophecy, we know that, but…"
"Still keeping secrets, is he?" Ron asked. "Remember the sword, Harry?" He rolled his eyes.
Harry opened his eyes wide, and asked, with exaggerated confusion, "sword? What sword? What're you going on about?"
"Do you think you guys could wait just a bit longer?" Harry asked. "I'd like to tell everyone all at once. No one knows exactly what happened, besides the four of us. Voldemort did things that were dangerous to talk about… we didn't want to give any young dark wizards any ideas…"
James nodded. "Sirius, Remus, and Tonks will want to know, too. And Mad-Eye."
"And Severus," Lily said casually. "He'll want to know most of all. I think he wanted to strangle Dumbledore when he still wouldn't tell him."
James laughed. "He went on about it for days and days. When you see him, Harry, I don't think you'll be able to hold him off."
The four exchanged incredulous glances. James' hatred of Snape, and Snape's hatred of James had helped mold Harry's years at Hogwarts, and to hear James speaking fondly of Severus was a bit shocking.
"But I want to know about the two of you," Harry said after a long pause. "I've only seen you once, briefly, in all my life, that I remember."
"Twice," James corrected.
"Twice?" Harry asked blankly. "When… ah! That was actually you guys at Priori Incantatem?"
"Well… yes," Lily said. "It wasn't like with the Resurrection Stone, though. It was a very odd feeling. We were immaterial. Our bodies were here, but our souls were back with you. With the Resurrection Stone, it wasn't fully us, but it was mostly us."
"About the Resurrection Stone…" James looked a bit worried. "Did we act too eager? We didn't really want you to die, you know. Well, maybe Sirius did, he was very disappointed… he thought you'd turn up any moment for weeks. But I have to admit that we wouldn't have been heartbroken to have you here with us."
"No… I didn't think you guys wanted me to die at all… you pulled that one right over my head," Harry assured him.
"Parents should always be able to fool their children," Ginny said unexpectedly. Harry looked at her. "Well? You raised James, too, Harry!"
They laughed, and continued to reminisce until the moon was low in the sky. Harry could not stop smiling, as he gazed around at the people he loved.
It was absolutely perfect.
Chapter 5: The Marauders
Dawn illuminated the world around them, sending pink fingers across the sky. Ron and James were playing a rousing game of wizard's chess (Ron was winning handily); the three women were chatting softly, sipping tea (Lily and Hermione) and hot cocoa (Ginny). Harry just watched all of them, content to do nothing, say nothing, for the moment. The time for tears had already come while he'd held Ginny and danced with her under the velvet black of night. He suspected that they'd all cried a little. The happiness that had welled up inside him was only tempered by the smallest of regrets – if only they'd had this in life – but even that was fading.
"Harry," his dad called, a few moments after his king had thrown down his sword after the bitter defeat. "We didn't mention this before, but your mum and I wanted to tell you about our neighbors."
Harry perked up. He could well imagine who might be living near to his dad: the Marauders. Remus and Tonks. Sirius.
"They live here too?" Harry asked eagerly.
"Who? The Marauders?" Ron asked.
"Can we go see them?" Harry interrupted. "D'you think they're sleeping?"
"Do we even sleep here?" Hermione inquired. "I'm not even tired…"
James raised his eyebrows. "Would it really matter all that much if they were? And, Hermione, we do sleep, but we don't really need to, it's hard to explain."
"They'll want to see you straight away," Lily told them. "They'll want to help plan the celebration, and we've got to start doing that –"
"What celebration?" Harry asked blankly. He had a nasty suspicion, but didn't want to jump to any conclusions. Maybe it was Christmas?
Ron and Hermione exchanged rueful glances while Lily and James grinned at each other. Ginny poked him, "Three guesses, Harry," she smirked.
"What – wait – no!" Harry stammered. "I thought all that stuff was over! I'm just a regular dead guy now!"
"It's just this small celebration," Lily told him soothingly. "Then you'll have the rest of eternity to be Mr. Anonymous, I promise," she implored him with her eyes. "Sweetheart, you deserve it. And more than that, I think we deserve to do this for you. And everyone else, they'll want to join in the fun. And you can tell everyone about all your adventures there, in one place. But I suppose it's your decision," she gave a soft, sad little sigh. "But everyone will be ever so disappointed…"
It was a reasonable and fair argument, Harry supposed. And it was his Mum asking him to do this. It was the only request she'd ever made of him, how could he possibly refuse her? Lost in his thoughts, he completely missed the sly look that passed between Lily and James.
Ron, however, hadn't. "Damn, Lily," he said admiringly. "I'm going to have to learn that trick. Would've come in handy so many times…"
"Yes, it really would have," Hermione agreed. "Remember when we had to Stun him and drag him to his own fiftieth birthday party?"
"I have other ways of persuading Harry," Ginny said smugly, giving Harry a look that caused goosebumps to erupt on the back of his neck. Oh, yes, Ginny knew exactly how to get her own way…
Everyone laughed. "Yes, I can see that, Ginny," James said.
"Anyway," Harry interrupted, slightly uncomfortable with the fact that the other five appeared to quite enjoy getting him to do things he didn't want to do. "What about Remus, Tonks, and Sirius?"
"Well," Lily said. "Who do you want to see first?"
"Don't make him answer that, Lily," James said. "We'll see Moony first, they live closest. Tonks needed loads of advice from Lily once she first got here," James explained to the others, especially Harry, who thought that Sirius would be closest.
Harry would've chosen Sirius, and he suspected his dad knew that. But it would've been rude to bypass Remus' house, especially if they lived so close… it was better this way.
The Lupins lived in a cottage so close to the Potters that Harry could have thrown a stone from the backyard where he'd been sitting and hit the front door. It was small and tidy with a neat garden full of all sorts of flowers, most of which Harry could not identify. But that was not its most distinguishing characteristic: it was painted a rather violent shade of bright pink. Harry was surprised that he hadn't noticed it, even in the dark; it looked bright enough to glow.
They all crowded around the front door. Ginny knocked.
Footsteps thundered down an unseen staircase. "Coming!" Tonks said brightly. There was a large clatter, and muttered swearing. "Damn clumsy oaf… can't even walk straight…"
A woman with turquoise hair threw the door open. She was hopping on one foot and rubbing the ankle of the other. "Sorry, you know me," she said, not even looking up. "I was born with the feet of a troll."
"Wotcher, Tonks!" Ron, Hermione, Harry and Ginny all yelled.
She immediately fell over on her bum, and Ginny rushed to help her up. Tonks looked like she'd seen a ghost (four of them, rather). Her mouth dropped open, her eyes filled with tears. She ignored Ginny's offered hand, but continued to gape at them. Her hair turned bright pink. "Remus! REMUS!"
In one rather awkward motion, she clambered to her feet and tackled Ginny. "Oh, my girl, you've gotten so beautiful! I wondered when you guys would get here, and look! You're all still together!" She tripped over to Ron next, and gripped both him and Hermione in a strangling hug. "I can't believe it! I just can't believe it!"
She stopped before Harry, her entire body shaking with emotion. "You took such good care of him," her voice wobbled and shook. "We've watched you two, when we could… REMUS! GET DOWN HERE, NOW!" She flung herself at Harry, and buried her head in his shoulder. "Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for loving him; we saw you, you were the best!"
"Merlin's pants!" Remus cried. He stood in the open doorway. Of all of those that Harry had seen since he had died, Remus was perhaps the most changed. He vaguely wondered whether or not he was still a werewolf, but he suspected that the wolf had left Remus in death. The man before him looked young, healthy, and happy.
He made a beeline for Harry. "You're here!" Harry found himself embraced and pounded on the back like a brother. "We can't thank you enough, Harry, Teddy's turned into a fine wizard!"
"He really has," Tonks sniffled. "We knew there wasn't anyone better than you for godfather!"
"What's this?" A pretty, round-faced woman had come out of her own home to see what everyone was screaming about. She spotted Harry. "Well, look! Lily, James… Harry's finally here!" She ran to hug Lily. "You must be so happy!"
"Overjoyed," James grinned, and flung his arm around Remus' shoulders.
The newcomer walked up to Harry, smiling a little shyly. "You don't know who I am—"
"Yeah, I do," Harry interrupted. "You look just like Neville! You must be Mrs. Longbottom.
"Call me Alice, dear," she patted him on the cheek. "Frank's gone over to the
McKinnons, he'll certainly want to meet you. Augusta's around here somewhere, but I'm sure you'll see her at the celebration…"
"Frank and Alice have been a comfort to your mum and me since both you and Neville were first left alone," James said quietly. "We sort of banded together, and never moved away. It's been really helpful having someone to talk to, people who knew exactly what we were going through."
Alice nodded. "We practically supported each other during those horrible first years…"
"Wait a moment," Ron interjected. He glanced at Alice. "I thought you were… but you weren't… weren't you still alive?" Even Hermione looked confused, and Ginny reached for Harry's hand.
"That's a mystery, isn't it?" Alice asked cheekily, but then her face crumpled. "We've been here since Bellatrix tortured us. Those bodies at St. Mungos were just that: bodies. We were already here… a real gift, actually. I couldn't imagine…"
Everyone was quiet for a while. Harry remembered seeing them in the closed ward for the first time (he'd gone back with Neville many times since the end of the war). After his experience with the Resurrection Stone, and the conversation with Dumbledore, he'd had a greater understanding of the impermanence of death, and it had really hit home that what Bellatrix Lestrange had done to the Longbottoms was about the worst thing that one human being could do to another. It lightened his spirit to find that they'd been here with his parents instead.
"Have you been to see Sirius?" Remus asked suddenly, breaking the melancholy.
"That's our next stop," said Lily. "You were closer."
"Are we going to surprise him?" James asked. "Because I've got a good idea…"
Ten minutes later, the nine of them (Alice came along with them after leaving a note on her own front door; "Just in case Neville comes looking for us," she explained, "Frank and I do this every time we leave.") once more set off. Sirius lived just down the street, so close to Potter Cottage that Remus' was only closer by a negligible amount. His house was larger than the others he had seen, and in front were parked several motorcycles.
"Just go in there and pretend to be me," James told him. "Walk right in, don't knock or anything, I never do."
"What if he has a girl over?" Harry asked suspiciously. Why did everyone want him to play jokes on people?
James shrugged. "Then it'll be even more awkward and wonderful! Besides, he's only got one girl, and I'm fairly certain that she's visiting her brother at the moment."
Harry took a deep breath and opened the front door without knocking. Loud music blasted from somewhere on the first floor. Stairs stretched up in a spiral to the second floor, and then to a third. A large motorcycle stood on a grease-covered sheet in the middle of what appeared to be an empty living room. Harry stepped gingerly around it.
"James!" Sirius had his back to him. He only wore boxers; his hair was longer and no longer looked stringy and matted. "It's about time you got here. I'm trying to organize a Quidditch game for this afternoon; Reg said he'd play, but we need another Seeker. Who do you think we should try?" He said this all very quickly.
"Er, I don't know," Harry said. "Reg?"
"My brother, dolt," Sirius had still not turned around. "He can be on my team. I don't want to just play two-a-side Quidditch. I want a full game, damn it! And the old boys have been heckling me; you know if Regulus wasn't on their team, they wouldn't stand a chance against us."
"Yeah, I understand," Harry lied. Sirius turned and got a carton of milk from the spell-enhanced icebox. He gulped most of it down, ignoring the fact that some had streamed down his bare chest. "What about Cedric Diggory?"
Sirius glared at him. "You bloody great moron! I told you yesterday that he was spending time with his family… his sister's only just arrived, and Ced is at Amos' until further notice. You know that!"
Harry shrugged. One more mistake like that and Sirius would know for sure. Despite himself, he found himself having quite a lot of fun. Perhaps because it was Sirius, and Merlin knew that Sirius deserved to have the wool pulled over his head.
"—It's too bad Harry isn't here," Sirius was saying. "He'd kick Regulus' ass, no problem. Just imagine it: me, you, and him, all on the same team. We'd bring down even that Bulgarian bon-bon's team."
"Don't forget Ron," Harry said. "And Ginny. They'd be on the team too."
"Never figured Ginny for a professional Quidditch player," Sirius shook his head, apparently still in denial even after the better half of a century. "I wouldn't believe it if Molly hadn't been the one to tell me. Unfortunately, it's a no go for now."
Harry did not remember his godfather speaking quite so quickly; perhaps happiness had sped up his vocal chords or something. "Why is it a no go?" He asked, grinning at Sirius' back. "There are other Seekers besides Harry…"
Sirius snorted. "Modesty doesn't become you, Prongs. You've been talking Harry up like he's Merlin's gift to Quidditch." Harry didn't really have anything to say to this, and was glad when Sirius continued, "Anyway, don't you know anyone? No recent arrivals who've got the skill for Seeker? I suppose Philippe could play again, but I'd like to beat Reg's team, and he's not good enough, you know he isn't…"
"I'm still surprised that you and Regulus are on such good terms," Harry murmured. It made him happy, it really did.
"Yeah, well, you're the one who talked me into it," Sirius agreed. "But he turned out to be a good egg. Surprised that my parents managed it, actually…"
Harry laughed. How thick could Sirius get? "On to the Quidditch problem, Padfoot…"
"Have you had an epiphany in the last three seconds?"
"I think that I should play Seeker," Harry told him.
Sirius snorted. "Yeah, right, you couldn't spot the Snitch if it was three inches from your nose. You're a Chaser, meant for it. Just like me."
"Actually," Harry said. "I'm not a Chaser."
"Keep lying to yourself, James. Remember thirty years ago? When you tried to play Seeker? We don't need another fiasco like that, I thought Dumbledore was going to wet himself laughing so hard…"
Harry attempted to imagine Dumbledore laughing so hard that he wet himself, but couldn't. "Sirius. I'm a Seeker. And I'm not James."
The carton of milk dropped to the floor, and the rest dribbled out as Sirius just stared at him. Harry grinned at him. Sirius' grey eyes were wide and shocked, and for long moments he couldn't seem to say anything. The sound of the door opening alerted Harry to the fact that he and his godfather were no longer alone, but Sirius still didn't react.
"Padfoot, you git, do something!" James said from where he was lounging against the wall, hands in his pockets.
Sirius stepped forward and pulled Harry into a hug that almost cracked his ribs. He immediately let go, and gave him a long look. "Should've noticed the eyes," he said thinly. "Lily's eyes, of course." Harry understood very well why the hands on his shoulders were trembling. For all his bluster, Sirius was a man who felt very deeply, and Harry had been – for too short of a time – like both a son and a brother to him.
"We're here too, Sirius," Ginny walked forward and tapped him on the shoulder. "Could I have a hug too?"
"Ginny!" Sirius laughed. "I should've expected you to be here! And where's –" his gaze landed on Ron and Hermione. "Ah, of course!" He threw back his head and laughed, unfettered and joyful. "C'mere you guys!"
After minutes of hugging, the ten of them adjourned to the small room off the kitchen. This one, thankfully, had actual furniture instead of a motorcycle. "Ariana fixed it up, said I could keep the motorcycle inside, but I had to have at least one room downstairs for guests," Sirius explained.
"Ariana?" Harry asked, bewildered. He only knew of one Ariana.
"Ariana Dumbledore Black," Sirius said proudly. "We've been married for almost thirty years, met at the disastrous Quidditch match I told you about; Dumbledore introduced us."
"That's great!" Hermione exclaimed.
"Blimey, Sirius, I'm surprised Dumbledore let you," Ron pitched in.
Lily laughed. "Dumbledore got over it. Eventually.
"Aberforth was the bigger problem, he thought Sirius was a bit shifty." Alice continued, reaching over and ruffling Sirius' hair.
"Sirius is shifty," James grinned. "But Ariana refused to let her big brothers control her death."
"Luckily for me," Sirius agreed. "She's at Hogwarts right now, that's where loads of people live, Dumbledore included, and she'll be anxious to meet you guys."
"But," Ron looked bewildered. "Why do people live there?" He asked. "Can't they live in their own place?"
"They can," James said. "But there are a lot of young people who die, and they just aren't ready to set up by themselves. Dumbledore takes care of them, teaches them. Just like he did in life."
"So is that where Philippe lived when he died?" Ginny asked. "He had Dumbledore to help him?"
"Actually, it isn't just Dumbledore," Alice explained. "Loads of us help out every once in a while; Frank and I have spent about twenty years up at Hogwarts."
"And Lily and I took special care of Philippe," James said. "With the help of Remus, Tonks, and Sirius. Your parents made Harry feel like a part of the family he lost, we wanted to do the same for their grandchild."
Ginny smiled at them. "Thank you, guys."
"It's the least we could do," Tonks patted her hand. "You four really made a difference in our son's life, when Remus and I weren't able to be there."
Harry looked uncomfortable. "It really was our pleasure," he said. "Teddy's a wonderful guy; you should see what he's done for the Ministry! He finally got the last of the Anti-Werewolf legislation put to rest, and he's something of a hero to the goblins, he single-handedly got the support needed for the bill to allow them to carry wands. I really couldn't be prouder of him."
Tonks and Remus were beaming.
"What about Neville?" Alice asked quietly, her eyes bright.
"Neville is one of the bravest men I know," Ginny said.
"Yeah," Ron agreed. "Not to mention the best with plants."
"And he's really very kind," Hermione told her. "You should see him with his children. His first two, you know, are called Frank and Alice. And then there's Padma, Grace, Mohinder, Harry, Shanti and Maggie. He and Parvati just kept having more and more!"
Harry laughed. "Remember when they told us they were having Shanti?" He looked at Alice. "They were forty-two, you know, and Harry was almost ten years older. They called her their little surprise. Then, when they told us about Maggie, they called her their little shocker! They were what? Almost fifty? And Frank had already made them grandparents…"
"And our grandson David married Maggie, so we're in-laws!" Ginny said.
Alice's entire face was alight with joy. "I'm so glad, so glad, that he was happy. We always wished we could've seen him grow up, and we couldn't sit in the river all day watching him…"
"About that," Hermione looked around at them. "What is it people do here?"
"Whatever we want," Sirius said smugly. Remus punched him on the shoulder.
"Well, it's true that there are some things that we don't have to do here," James said. "We don't really have to work or do anything."
"But it does get boring after a while," Lily said. "So we have tasks that we concern ourselves with. Hagrid, for example, raises dragons. He lives in the forest with Olympe, and they have all sorts of the oddest pets."
"There are dragons here?" Harry asked, interested.
"Yes," Lily leveled a stern gaze at him. "But there will be no breaking into secure places and escaping on the back of one!"
Ron laughed. "That was the best!"
"Tell me about it," Sirius said gleefully. "I wish I'd been there…"
"I had to live up to my godfather," Harry told him. "Since you'd already broken out of Azkaban, I had to do something like it!"
"Bill told us about it," James explained. "And how he thought you three were completely mental."
"But about working," Hermione persisted. "Is there a form of government? Or shops, or whatever?"
"There isn't really a government," Tonks explained. "There isn't much to regulate, everyone has what they need, and the Dark Arts don't exist here."
"But there is magic, of course?" Ginny asked.
"Of course! And many people work on furthering their knowledge. For example, I've become an Animagus," Lily said. "So has Remus; he isn't a werewolf anymore, there are no werewolves here. Your friend Luna and her husband Rolf have been working on advanced semi-Transfiguration, they want to have wings."
Hermione was looking happier and happier. "So we don't automatically get whatever we want? We have to work for it?"
Ron looked exasperated and amused. "But what about the Invisibility Cloaks? We just wanted it, and we got it!"
"It must've been because Harry was there," James told him. "Remember, he's the master of the three Deathly Hallows; because Ignotus embraced his death, they get to work here too."
"Ah," Hermione said.
"And we also play Quidditch!" Sirius burst out. "And we want to play today. Harry, Ron, Ginny? Are you three in?"
"You don't even have to ask, Sirius," Ron smirked.
"Yeah, we'll play," Harry told him. "Have you got room for two Beaters? Fred and George will definitely want in on this!"
"Fred and George are here, too?" Sirius beamed. "We're going to flatten Regulus' team!"
Chapter 6: Quidditch
There was simply no denying the fact that Harry Potter loved Quidditch. He'd been the youngest member of the Gryffindor team, and later the Captain; he was married to a former professional Quidditch player, and Senior Quidditch Correspondent for the Daily Prophet; but most of all, flying was something that he had always, always loved.
But for all the love he'd had for Quidditch in his mortal life, no memory of flying (except for, perhaps, the time when he and Ginny had been intimate together on a broomstick…) could compare to what he felt at this moment.
The Weasley twins (Harry's heart still did a happy little jolt when he saw the two of them together) were entertaining the family members who sat in the stands. Their mother and Philippe were laughing particularly hard. His father and Sirius raced each other up and down the pitch; Ginny practiced daring moves she had not dared perform since she was forty; and Ron was laughing with Hermione.
"Hey, Ron!" Harry yelled suddenly. "Remember your tradition of vomiting before every match?"
Ron made an obscene hand gesture at him. "Sod off, mate, I'm beyond all that now."
Sirius and James joined them. "What's this we hear?"
"Ron getting nervous? Weren't you in Gryffindor?" James asked, his hazel eyes twinkling.
Fred looked around eagerly. "Are we mocking Ron?" he asked, ignoring his mother's indignant squawk, and hurried over to join in.
"Shut it, you," Ron growled, but Harry could tell it didn't really bother him. "So I got nervous… no crime in that…"
Fred's eyes lit up, and he started to laugh. "I can finally do it!" Everyone stared at him uncomprehendingly. "I always meant to mock him for this, but never found the right moment! Ginny, your help, if you please…"
Still looking confused, Ginny mounted her broom. She hovered over the ground while Fred sped off in the direction of the goals.
"Throw the Quaffle!" he bellowed.
Harry's eyes widened. Of course! He stole a glance at Ron, who still looked dumbfounded. Distantly, Harry remembered Fred saying something after watching their team be flattened without them during Umbridge's ban. I'll save it for parties… Fred had said.
Moments later his suspicions were confirmed when Fred began doing an uncannily accurate imitation of Ron at his worst. After throwing the Quaffle (and scoring) three times, Ginny was nearly laughing too hard to continue. Fred made all of Nervous Ron's signature moves: the anxious bobbing, the exaggerated lunges, the look of abject fear on his face, and the repeated fumbling.
Ron was actually on all fours pounding the ground with his fist. Tears of laughter streamed down his face. Hermione held her sides, and even Mrs. Weasley was unable to hold in her giggles.
Harry looked up to where his mother sat in the stands, and was shocked to see that they were no longer alone. The man sitting beside Alice gave him a friendly wave; he must be Frank Longbottom. His eyes scanned over the rest of the quite sizeable crowd. Andromeda and Ted Tonks were there, sitting a few seats up from Lily, Alice, Frank, and two other people Harry didn't know. Remus and Tonks sat nearby with a man who looked so much like Remus that he could only be his father. Cho was there, sitting with her husband, along with the other members of Dumbledore's Army who did not survive the long ago Battle of Hogwarts: Terry Boot, Lavender Brown, Colin Creevey, and Michael Corner. Even more people were arriving, people who looked familiar, but Harry had forgotten their names.
"LUNA!" Ron shouted from behind Harry. Harry whirled around. Luna Scamander was indeed ambling across the Quidditch pitch toward them, looking rather more determined than she normally did. Ginny streaked toward the slight blond figure on her broom, while Harry, Ron, and Hermione ran at her.
Luna Scamander looked just the same as she always had. Her blond hair hung down her back, and her eyes popped excitedly. The only thing different about her was that she had a single, feathery wing that grew from her back like an absurd dorsal fin.
"Luna, we're so happy to see you!" Ginny shouted, throwing down her broomstick and grabbing Luna into a hug.
"Yeah, Luna!" Ron said enthusiastically.
"Thank you! I'm so glad you guys are finally here," Luna looked around at them, an expression of great affection on her face. "Rolf's here, too, he'll be quite happy to see you… He's not coming to the match, though, he's working on a rather sticky project…"
Harry found that he did not particularly want to know what sticky project Luna's husband was currently working on. Knowing the Scamanders, it would most likely be something quite unusual. Possibly even more unusual than having what looked like an angel wing sticking out of a human back.
"We'll have to get together," Harry said sincerely. "We've got a lot of catching up to do."
"Hey!" Ron was apparently not listening to a word Harry said; he stared down at Luna with a crazy smile on his lips. "Luna should commentate!"
Ginny started to laugh. "Of course! Remember when you commentated back in our fourth year?"
"Ooooh, I'd quite like that!"
James and Sirius flew over them. "The other team is here! Get ready! Save the chitchat for later!"
Hermione took Luna's arm, "C'mon, Luna, we'll get a good seat."
Harry looked around at the other team. He recognized the slight figure of Regulus standing in the middle of a bunch of people Harry had never seen before, although the two Beaters looked vaguely familiar, as if he had met them before, perhaps just once.
"Good day for a match, eh, Sirius?" Regulus beamed at his brother. "Ready to be flattened?"
"No," Sirius said shortly. "Take a closer look at the team."
"Yeah," James added, smirking. "We have two amazing Beaters – the Weasley twins; they played for the house team for six years. Wood himself has said that they're really more like human beaters. Then there's me, Sirius, and Ginny Potter. Sirius and I are pretty good, but Ginny was a professional. There's Ron Weasley who, despite the teasing, is a very talented Keeper. And Harry, my own son, joined his team in his first year, and is probably the best Seeker I've ever seen. There's no way you can beat us."
"Yeah," Sirius agreed, beaming, "You might as well just forfeit now."
"Not likely, bro," Regulus remained unflappable. "You say that every time. And every time you lose."
Despite the less-than-polite words, Harry could not help but notice a lack of rancor. Everyone was relaxed and, though competitive, did not seem to wish to do the members of the other team bodily injury. Even Sirius and Regulus seemed to know not to take it too far.
"Can we get on with it?" someone from the other team growled. "Crowd's getting antsy."
Harry thought he knew that voice, but when he looked closely at the medium-sized, young dark-haired man, no recognition hit. He did, however, feel nervous at how the man held his Beater's club.
"We're ready," said Sirius.
"Yeah, ready to flatten you," James agreed.
"Luna!" Harry called. "We're starting. Use Sonorus or something!" He hoped she heard him, but he could not quite see her face from this distance.
Less than a minute later, they were in the air: the match had begun. Harry soared above them as he usually did, searching for the Snitch, and watching his wife play beside his father and godfather. The three Chasers moved together as if they had done it every day of their lives; it was artistry in motion, the way they moved and ducked and whirled, like a dance in the air. Ron had not had any work to do yet, he sat back on his broom, confident and alert, ready to do his job. Fred and George were two blurs.
"…Never would have guessed he'd be such a good flier," Luna's magically magnified voice said dreamily. "Maybe because I only knew him when he was old. I like his robes, though, magenta is my favorite color…"
Harry laughed out loud, and scanned the area for the Snitch. Regulus, on the opposite side of the field, did the same.
"…Isn't it nice that we're all here?" Luna was asking the crowd. "Even Quidditch wasn't quite this much fun on earth, although I rather enjoyed it even then. But look! The Weasley twins are together again – they've always been very good Beaters – and Harry and his dad are playing on the same team, along with Stubby Boardman."
"For the last time, my name is SIRIUS BLACK!" Sirius yelled. In his exasperation he dropped the quaffle. The auburn-haired man had it in an instant, and was racing toward the goals. Harry was sure of Ron's abilities, but he watched anyway. The man lifted the quaffle, aimed very carefully, getting as close to the goals as he dared. Harry saw the look of determination on Ron's face slide into incredulity. His arms fell to his sides and he gaped at the auburn-haired man even as the quaffle soared right past his ear.
"…I think Ron has been infested by wrackspurts," Luna informed them. "Look at him, he hasn't missed such an easy goal since my fourth year. Only wrackspurts can cause such confusion."
"What the hell was that?" Harry cried.
"I was a bit surprised, is all," Ron said defensively. He pointed at the auburn-haired man wearing lurid robes. "Recognize him yet?"
"What? Of course not, I've never seen him…," Harry began, but then saw something so startling that he could not finish his sentence. At just that moment, the auburn-haired man had turned and winked at him. His eyes were a startling blue.
"Merlin's pants…" Harry breathed.
"…also gotten trapped in the wrackspurt infestation," Luna said. "Look how they're both just sitting there like lumps in the middle of the game."
"HARRY, WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!" Sirius shouted in his ear. "Get looking for the Snitch! And, Ron, if you miss another easy goal like that, I'll disembowel you!"
Harry darted off. His godfather had sounded very serious when he'd threatened Ron with disembowelment, and Harry did not want to push Sirius over the edge, even if he was a bit annoyed that neither his father nor Sirius had warned him that Albus Dumbledore was a Chaser on the opposite team…
He looked left and right, but there was no golden flash, or a hint of tiny wings. The Snitch was staying well hidden. Harry's team and Regulus' team seemed rather evenly matched. Harry's team led in points, but only by a forty point margin. Ron had gotten back in the game, and seemed to take particular relish in blocking Dumbledore; he had not scored again. Harry was very proud of Ginny, for she had scored seven goals, more than Sirius and James together. Although, to be fair, they seemed to have to worry about the dark-haired Beater more than she did; Sirius had taken a nasty hit to the leg, and James was nearly knocked off his broom.
"Come and get it, Mad-Eye!" Fred cackled from right beneath Harry. "You're no match for us!"
Mad-Eye.Of course! Harry laughed. Of course Mad-Eye would play Beater. He squinted, and he could now recognize him, even with the smooth, scarless face.
"Potter has apparently decided not to search for the Snitch," said a cold, magically magnified voice. "Perhaps he thinks it will simply fall into his hands."
Harry spun around and nearly lost control of his broom. He knew that voice, that tone, those words. Severus Snape stared at him from the stands from where he was sitting beside an uncomfortable Hermione. Luna was nowhere to be seen; she had apparently wandered off, and Snape had taken her place.
He sat for a moment, stunned. He met Ron's eyes, and saw his own feelings reflected back at him. The Ron grimaced and sort of shrugged, which Harry took to mean "Yeah, that's insane, but get back to the game."
So he did. He raced back and forth searching everywhere for the Snitch, frustrated when he still didn't spot it. He wove around players, ducked below the level of play to search along the grass, and nearly collided with Regulus on his way back up.
"Dumbledore is stopped once again by Weasley," Snape said coolly. "Must be a humbling experience for him. Potter – the elder – is in possession, narrowly misses a Bludger sent by Mad-Eye – I'll have to send you a thank-you card for that, Mad-Eye – and scores. 110 to 60."
Harry looked at his dad, expecting him to at least look annoyed with Snape's comments, but he appeared to be laughing heartily. He heard Sirius say, as he flew past, "Good one, James."
Harry found himself enjoying Snape's commentary even more than he'd enjoyed Luna's. As the game progressed, everyone in the stands was treated to both Quidditch commentary and sly sarcasm. Mrs. Weasley and Fleur Weasley laughed so hard when Snape called Fred and George monkeys on brooms that they nearly fell out of the stands. He especially liked to pick on Harry and Dumbledore. Once, when he'd been about to try to score, he'd been stopped, not by Ron, but due to the fact that he could not laugh and throw at the same time. Ginny caught it when he dropped it, and raced off to the other end of the pitch.
Harry saw it happen as though in slow motion. Ginny drew back her arm, preparing to throw, and there it was, flashing in the sunlight: the Golden Snitch. He sped toward her, keeping his eyes fixed firmly at the point near her left elbow. It fluttered.
He held out his hand when he was still ten feet away.
"It looks as though Potter – the younger – wants to congratulate his wife on another score. I would applaud his romantic nature, but he appears to be about to collide with her. Apparently he has about as much finesse with women as his father does."
But those words, funny though they were, could not deter Harry. He barely avoided knocking Ginny off her broom, stretched still further, and closed his fingers around the tiny Snitch.
"And Potter has caught the Snitch," Snape said in a bored voice. "I'm sure we're all very surprised."
"HARRY!" Ginny screamed, and launched herself off her broom and at him. "You did it!" Harry caught her and kissed her firmly before setting her back on her own broom. The twins were there next, grinning and thumping him on the back and tousling Ginny's hair. Ron clasped Harry's hand, and Sirius and James pulled him off his broom and took turns hugging him.
"You did it! We did it! We finally beat them!" Sirius and James chanted, both looking quite transported by joy. "We've never won before!"
Laughing, they all headed to the ground to meet the other team. There was a jumble of men and women shaking hands, a confused tangle of voices uttering rueful congratulations ("Congrats, Sirius, but don't expect it to happen again," said Regulus.), and Harry found himself face to face with Dumbledore.
"Hi, Professor," he said brightly. "Long time no see."
"Yeah, well," Dumbledore sighed theatrically. "I've been dead, you know, and you haven't died again until now. No chance for any more little chats."
Harry grinned. "I like the young look."
"Took you awhile to catch on," Mad-Eye had joined them. "You weren't being very vigilant."
Harry laughed. "Neither were you, or did I just imagine you getting hit by that Bludger George Weasley sent?"
"I'm older than you," Mad-Eye said gruffly, but both his eyes were twinkling. "Can't expect an old man like me to be vigilant all the time."
Harry probably could have stood there and talked to these two men for hours, but he turned to find Severus Snape staring at him. He sighed inwardly. He couldn't put this off, otherwise he'd never have the courage to do it.
Dumbledore, who had seen where Harry had been looking, had an understanding gleam in his blue eyes. "We'll talk later, yes? Come up to Hogwarts whenever you want…"
"I'll be there soon," Harry promised. "Possibly even tonight. But I've got to do this first."
Dumbledore nodded. Mad-Eye had drifted away to talk to the Weasley twins. "I'll be there."
Harry took a deep breath and set off to talk to Professor Snape, the man who had been the bane of his existence for seven years.
Chapter 7: Snape and Horcruxes
Authors Note: Yes, yes, I don't normally do these (and I tend to skip over them in other stories), but I'm making an exception. Some of you may have noticed that I did not update for a very long time; this is because I have been busy plotting and writing my own series (not to mention writing shortish one-shots), and I felt guilty taking time away from the Marimae series in order to write fanfiction. But I've realized that taking a step back from the Marimae actually stimulates my creativity rather than restricts it. I can't promise every day updates, but I do promise that I won't go another two months without another chapter.
To all the reviewers: thank you for your kind words. Several people have expressed hope that the type of afterlife I'm writing about will actually happen when the curtains close for the very last time. All I can say to that is I hope so too. Also, and I know this will sound very wacky, I have faith that this life is not the end. I can't imagine that love ends, and I refuse to believe that those I've lost are gone forever as though they had never existed.
Everyone ought to know that if not for gleamingeyes (who is writing a rather wonderful fic called Trouble Rebounds which everyone who is a Harry Potter fan ought to read), I probably would have remained lazy for a little while longer.
And now for Snape…
Harry walked slowly toward the man in the stands, and was somewhat embarrassed to note that his palms were sweaty. He was not afraid, no, this wasn't fear that he felt. Perhaps it was a close cousin that somehow encapsulated anxiety and determination. In his mortal life, he had never imagined that he would have this opportunity. He had honestly not dwelled on it, but he had thought of this man regularly throughout his life. But he had thought that his last chance to say certain things that weighed upon his soul had bled out on a dusty floor in an old shack before he had any idea that he would want to say them.
Snape stood impassively on the stairs leading down to the brilliant green of the pitch. His expression gave away nothing, no more than it ever had in life. One thing was missing, however. Snape did not look upon him with great disgust even hatred. This bolstered Harry a little; he did not think that he could say what must be said in the face of Snape's disdain.
Snape's physical appearance had both changed and not changed. He had the appearance of a man approaching forty, the same age he had been at his death. While everyone else Harry had seen generally affected the appearance of perhaps mid-twenties, Snape's face was lined, and he had wrinkles about his eyes. The changes death had wrought were, instead, smaller. His hair was still a thick black curtain, but it did not stick greasily to his head. His skin was also not sallow; he looked quite healthy. And, something less definable, he did not hold himself so tightly. His manner bespoke relaxation rather than bitterness.
Harry scratched the back of his neck, and was unable to stop himself from looking over at his father. Both James and Sirius were watching him closely. His mother joined them, and smiled encouragingly. He pulled his eyes away quickly; he did not want to give Snape the impression that he was ganging up on him.
"Er… Can we walk?" Harry asked. If the other man was surprised, he did not show it. He merely nodded, and followed Harry as he blindly led the way out of the pitch, and away from the eyes of the others. Harry felt slightly guilty that he was leaving his friends and family so soon after they had been reunited, but he had all of eternity to spend with them. And for his peace, this was important.
They walked in silence, the two of them, in a way that they never had in life. Harry thought of all the meetings they'd had, full of rancor and enmity, except for the last…
Snape seemed perfectly content not to say anything as they continued on rather aimlessly. They must have walked for several minutes, perhaps even twenty, before they came to a small bridge that spanned the river that had so fascinated Ron and Hermione. Harry leaned over the railing to watch the water; it was only water this time, he did not see the faces of his children reflected back at him.
He took a deep breath, and then another just for good measure. Snape, lost in his own thoughts, did not say anything.
"I owe you the greatest apology that a wizard can give another wizard, Professor Snape," Harry said quietly. He did not look at the other man, but felt him start. "I ask that you please not interrupt me…"
He clutched the railing until his knuckles whitened, marshalling his thoughts, and forged ahead. "I was blind when it came to you. I only saw the detest you felt for me, the rancor. From my very first year, I thought the very worst of you. As I grew older at Hogwarts… I distrusted you. I did not listen to Dumbledore. I thought he was a fool for trusting you. I gave absolutely no thought to the fact that he was older, cleverer, and wiser than I was, and that he would never have trusted you without good reason. I quite easily ignored the fact that even though you hated me, you saved my life on several different occasions."
Harry paused, alarmed to notice that his throat felt rather tight. Snape still said nothing. So he continued. "After the war… I deeply regretted the fact that I could not thank you for what you had done for me. You… I could not have defeated Voldemort without you. So… er… I'm very sorry for not trusting you, for always believing the worst of you."
He glanced at Snape, and he did not think he had ever seen a man quite so shocked. The impassive expression was gone; Snape's eyes were wide, his mouth open, and he stared at Harry as though he had never seen him before.
His brows knit together as though he was thinking about a particularly difficult and delicate potion. "But…"
Still he did not continue, but Harry waited.
"I did hate you, you know," Snape said almost conversationally. "It wasn't an act. I wasn't trying to protect you from liking me. Every time I saw you, I saw your father… and worse, I saw your mother."
"I know." Harry told him.
"I didn't do it for you," Snape pressed on.
"I know that, too," Harry assured him. "You did it for my mother."
Snape continued to stare at him, looking very bewildered. "I regret, now, the way I treated you… You say that you regret never trusting me?"
He paused for such a long time that Harry nodded. "I do."
It was Snape's turn to clutch the railing. "How can you possibly forgive me?"
"What?" Harry said blankly.
"I never gave you any reason to trust me," Snape said, looking off into the distance. "I was mean and cruel to you. I treated you with far more unfairness than you deserved… far more unfairly than your father ever treated me."
Harry shrugged. "But that really doesn't matter. You were a git, I'll give you that. You did treat me like I was scum on the bottom of your shoe. You taunted me, you taunted Sirius, yeah. I remember. But while you were being petty to me, you were also working tirelessly to bring down Voldemort, putting yourself in mortal peril to do so."
"Voldemort, whom I also served at one time," Snape pointed out. "Don't forget that I was a Death Eater."
"I know you were," Harry said. This was almost surreal, the way he was defending Snape; it was even weirder than when he'd defended Dumbledore in the waiting place all those years ago. If he had known in his Hogwarts years that he would one day do this…
"I didn't leave his service because I thought he was doing wrong," Snape looked him straight in the eyes. "I left and joined Dumbledore for personal reasons."
"Yeah, I know. You loved my mother," Harry paused, considering very carefully his next words. "I researched your life, you know, after it all ended. I was interested in knowing the person you were, and how you got to the point you did. I saw a little of it in the Pensieve… Believe me, if I'd had your father and mother…"
"My mother and father did not make my choices for me," Snape said quietly. "I was drawn to Voldemort through my own folly, believe me. If not for your mother –"
"Exactly. You loved her. You were still capable of love, and because of that love, you laid down your life."
"I did," Snape agreed.
"Greater love hath no man…" Harry let his voice trail away.
"That doesn't explain how you can stand in front of me and apologize to me."
Harry grinned suddenly. "That's all because of Ginny, actually. I love her deeply. Had she married Malfoy and had a son that looked exactly like him and then gotten herself killed because of him, I think I would've hated that boy as much as you hated me. I would like to think I wouldn't, but…"
Snape gave a wry sort of chuckle. "You know that I count your father as a friend, now. Old differences… they don't seem to matter much anymore."
"Dumbledore was right," Harry said. "You should've been Sorted into Gryffindor. Pettigrew should've been Sorted into Slytherin, that evil little bastard."
For the first time ever, Harry heard Snape laugh.
"Oh, one more thing," Harry said. "And if this can't prove that when everything with Voldemort was said and done, and the Wizarding world rebuilt itself, I never castigated you for your treatment of me, but honored you for your amazing courage, then nothing will. I named my son for you: Albus Severus. He's the only one of my children that inherited my mother's eyes… I thought it fitting."
Snape did not say anything for minutes. Instead, the two men stared at the river, each lost in thought. Harry felt that he had at last had a heavy weight taken from him, one that he had never really known was there. The entire world seemed just a little bit brighter.
"Well, they haven't killed each other!"
Harry turned to grin at Sirius, who had Ron's gift of using inappropriate humor to break the tension. Sirius, Remus, Tonks, his parents, his wife, Ron, Hermione, Arthur, and Molly all stood some feet away. Some looked anxious (namely the younger generation), and others looked pleased.
"I'll have you know, we were having a perfectly civil conversation," Harry said. "Besides… can you actually kill people here?"
He walked down to join them, and flung an arm around his father. "Good game, by the way, Dad."
James reached over and ruffled his hair. "Never forget where you got your Quidditch playing genes, son."
"You've said that since Harry was a year old," Lily said dryly. "Somehow you're entirely responsible for his excellent skills."
"No," Harry said. "He isn't entirely responsible. Sirius is partly responsible; he gave me my first broom, if you remember."
James and Lily laughed. "How could we forget? You were a maniac on that thing…"
Sirius punched Harry on the shoulder. "Who was the world's best godfather, eh?"
"Me," Harry answered promptly. "Teddy told me that every day."
"Yeah… I suppose not getting locked up in Azkaban for twelve years gave you a few bonus points," Ron said. Sirius stared at him for a few moments, eyes wide. Harry was afraid that he would find that offensive, but instead Sirius let out a laugh like a bark.
"I suppose that's true," Sirius said. "But I got Harry a Firebolt!"
Harry gripped his shoulder. "You were the best, you know."
"Anyway," Lily cut in. "We came to find you because we thought Severus might've wheedled it all out of you, and we didn't want to miss it! Sev, did you get the whole story?"
Snape grinned. "I haven't even tried yet."
"You guys really want to know?" Harry asked. "Right now?"
"YES!" shouted eight different people. Ron laughed.
"I think they're a bit eager, mate, better tell them," he said.
"Okay, but it'll be the short version," Harry warned.
"We know quite a lot about all your adventures, sweetheart," Lily said. "But we don't know the why of it."
"Fine," Harry said. "But I'm sitting down." He flung himself down on the grass. Ginny settled herself to sit between his knees, with her back up against his chest. He played idly with her hair. The others settled themselves rather more gracefully. Again, he was shocked to see that Sirius and Snape sat within strangling distance of one another yet seemed perfectly amicable.
"When Voldemort was around sixteen years old, he discovered what a Horcrux is," Harry began. At the blank looks of the others, he continued, "Horcruxes are an object in which a wizard has placed a bit of his soul. There are certain instances – most often murder – when a soul is ripped apart. If a wizard is evil enough, he can use this to his own advantage, and encase the part ripped away in an object. This effectively makes him immortal, because as long as a portion of his soul is on Earth, he cannot die."
"That's horrible," Arthur said, his face white. "That's… so that's what you were doing that last year? Searching for his Horcrux?"
Harry, Ron, and Hermione laughed bitterly.
"What?" Molly asked. "It wasn't the Horcrux you were looking for?"
"Plural, Mum," Ron said, ripping up grass by the handfuls. "Voldemort made several Horcruxes. The diary that possessed Ginny? That was a Horcrux."
Lily and Molly looked especially horrified. "You mean… a bit of Voldemort's soul was writing to her? Pretending to be her friend?"
"How could he have made multiple Horcruxes?" Sirius looked aghast. "I've heard of them… my parents knew all about the Dark Arts, and even they would never have made a Horcrux. It's supposed to be awful, do awful things, maim you beyond repair. And Voldemort was stupid enough to make several?"
"Is that why he looked like a snake?" Arthur asked. "Because he'd ripped his soul apart?"
"Yeah," said Harry. "He grew less human each time he did it."
"But what does this have to do with you?" James asked at the same time Sirius asked, "Where'd you find all the Horcruxes?"
"Well, I destroyed the diary Horcrux in my second year," Harry said. "And Dumbledore destroyed a ring Horcrux. When we left after our sixth year, Ron, Hermione, and I found the locket Horcrux at the Ministry –"
"What?" Arthur said sharply. "How did he hide it at the Ministry?"
"He didn't. He originally hid it in a lake full of Inferi," Hermione replied. "But Regulus went and got it out and took it to Grimmauld Place. Mundungus Fletcher stole it, and gave it to Dolores Umbridge as a bribe to get out of trouble."
"Do you mean to say," Molly's face was very pale, "That when the entire world was looking for Harry, you strolled into the Ministry for Magic and took it back?"
"Yeah," Ron said proudly. James and Sirius laughed.
"We found another Horcrux at Gringotts," Harry grinned. "And broke in. That was pretty fun."
"And escaped on a dragon," Arthur replied. "Molly, remember when we heard that they'd done it?"
"Remember how Bill told us what he thought was going on? And how he wouldn't tell me the location of Shell Cottage because he knew I'd try to stop them?" Molly countered. "I think my heart stopped when Lee Jordan started screaming about it on Potterwatch."
"At least they escaped," Tonks said. "You should've seen Remus when he heard. Laughed like a maniac, he did. Said that only the son of James and the godson of Sirius could break into something so impenetrable and get out again."
"I was very proud," Remus said. "Scared for you, but proud."
"So how many Horcruxes did he make?" James asked when the laughter had died down. "And what does the prophecy have to do with any of this?"
"He made seven Horcruxes," Hermione said.
"And about the prophecy… that's a very good question," Harry continued. "I had no idea what it actually meant until it was all over." He glanced at Snape, who had a rather arrested look of understanding on his face. The others merely looked confused.
"We destroyed the rest of the Horcruxes that night," Ron said. "We went to Hogwarts because there was a Horcrux there, and we found it as the battle was raging."
"And then…" Harry took a deep breath. "And then Snape gave me his memories, and I finally understood."
"Even though I didn't, until now," Snape said quietly.
"But what is it?" Lily asked, bewildered.
"The night that Voldemort killed you and dad," Harry said. "And failed to kill me because of your sacrifice, Mum, he made me a Horcrux. That's what the prophecy meant, even though I was too stupid to see it. Neither could live while the other survived. I realized that unless I let him kill me, Voldemort could not be defeated. Because I would anchor him to life."
Everyone looked stunned, except for those who had known everything: Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. Molly, Lily, and Tonks looked to be on the verge of tears, while Arthur, James, and Sirius looked furious.
"So when I saw you guys with the Resurrection Stone, I knew," Harry said. "What I didn't know was that I would survive."
Ginny squeezed Harry's knee.
"Yeah, we didn't know you'd survive either," Sirius said after a pause. "I was actually looking forward to having you here…"
Harry laughed. "Oh, I think that if I knew what happened after death, I would not have been nearly so afraid. Dumbledore explained everything in the waiting place, and I went back to live."
"But how did you survive if he killed you?" James asked.
"Because of Mum," Harry said simply. "She died to save me, even though she didn't have to die. She had a choice. And her blood protected me. Voldemort, on the night he returned, took my blood. That kept me anchored to life as much as his Horcruxes did for him."
"If I didn't know it was true," Snape said. "I would never have believed it."
They all fell silent. Harry knew that things would need to be explained more fully, but now was not the time to delve into the intricacies of the first eighteen years of his life. Understanding would come later, and Harry did not have to rush through any stories. They had all the time in the world.
Author's Note: I am so, so, so close to a million words of fanfiction! So close!