Harry Potter, Heir of Gryffindor

A United Front

As Harry made his way onto the school grounds Bane, Ronan and Emric approached him from the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Harry could see that all three of them were in heed of medical attention but he was too tired to do anything about it. Stopping on the graveled path leading up to the castle he waited for them to reach him. When they did Bane was the first to speak. "Is it over, Harry Potter?" he asked.

Harry looked up and nodded. "For now anyway. How did your people fare?"

Bane bowed his head. "Fifteen dead and many injured."

Harry looked down at the ground and chewed on his lowed lip for several seconds as he struggled to control his emotions. Finally looking up, his eyes brimming with tears, he whispered, "I'm sorry." Then, brushing away the tears he said, in a choked voice, "I'll send some of our healers out to help if you would like."

He could tell that Ronan was about to retort and say that they didn't need any human help but Bane cut him off. "That would be good, Harry Potter. But send them under the direction of Rubeus Hagrid. He knows our needs better than most humans and can guide them in our care."

Harry nodded tiredly. "Alright then," he said softly. "I'll send as many healers as we can spare." Then, turning to Emric, said, "And how have your people fared?"

Emric glanced up from his musings of the body that was floating in front of Harry. "Forty-three that we know of and at least two hundred injured."

"Healers?" Harry asked.

"We still have a few; but more are on the way. They should be here within the hour."

Harry nodded and turned to leave when Ronan's curiosity got the better of him. "Who is this you float to the castle, Harry Potter?" he asked.

Harry glanced down at Wormtail's lifeless body as it floated several centimeters above the ground. A part of him loathed and despised the man. But another part of him felt pity for the weak character that was Peter Pettigrew, a man who needed the approval of those around him to such an extent that he would sell his soul into the service of a madman. "A traitor," Harry said simply and turned to resume his journey back up to the castle.

As he made his way past Hagrid's cabin he paused and gazed longingly into Hagrid's vegetable patch and hoped his friend was all right. Hagrid and his group of students had been given the task of defending the train station and the docks. He knew that the train station had been heavily damaged but he had no way of knowing what the casualty and fatality counts were from that part of the battlefield.

When he was still a few meters from the base of the steps leading up to the castle's main entrance he felt Albus watching him. Looking up he saw the ancient wizard standing in front of the partially opened door, his wand arm in a sling. Looking curiously up at the old man he asked, "What happened?"

Albus did something then that Harry never thought he would ever see. He blushed. "Alas," Albus said sadly. "It is an old man's folly. I tripped while returning from my visit with the merpeople and broke my wrist. I am not as young as I once was and even in the wizarding world the elderly take longer to heal than do our youth. But tell me, how did you fare?"

Harry grimaced. "Neville and I now have the blood of several hundred Death Eaters on our hands. We didn't use any of the Unforgivables, but some of the curses we did use were awfully close."

Albus nodded sadly. "Yes," he said. "Such are the wages of war. And what of Tom?"

Harry looked up at the Astronomy Tower and choked back his tears. "I couldn't do it, Albus. I just couldn't do it. I had my chance but I couldn't kill him. He's afraid. In fact, he's very afraid. But the last I saw of him he was still alive."

"There is nothing to be ashamed of, Harry," Albus said, trying to sooth his young friend's feelings of guilt. "You will get another chance."

Harry looked back at his mentor, guide and friend, tears once more brimming in his eyes, threatening to spill down his cheeks. Angrily wiping the tears away with the soiled sleeve of his torn and tattered shirt he nodded then whispered, "Yes I will, Albus. Yes I will, but at what price?"

Albus nodded his understanding. "I understand, Harry. But understand this: The price of a thousand physical lives is nothing compared to the price of one soul."

Harry nodded. "You're right, of course, Albus. That's one of the things Godric and Salizar both spent a lot of time drilling into my head. They want me to win this war but they do not want me to win it at the cost of even one soul." Then, changing the subject, he asked, "How's Ginny?"

Albus frowned slightly and motioned for Harry to follow him into the castle. Letting Peter's body fall to the ground Harry ran up the stairs and burst through the doors. He was halfway across the Entrance Hall when Albus' words stopped him in his tracks. "She is alive, Harry!" Albus called after him. "She is alive but resting. We had to remove all of the charms so that her body can heal properly, but she is alive."

Harry skidded to a stop at the base of the Main Stair and almost collapsed to the floor. Leaning heavily on the marble banister Harry waited for Albus to reach him. "How badly is she hurt?"

Albus sighed. "Almost as badly as she was at Christmas. You, Joseph and Eileen will have to combine your forces to pull her through but it can be done. Word has already been sent and they are on their way."

Harry nodded. "Okay. What about the others?"

"Ron and Hermione are resting in the Hospital Wing; and Luna is helping Poppy with the wounded. All of the professors have reported in and are returning to the castle. Some of them are a bit worse for wear but they are all alive."

"What about Hagrid? Will he be able to help the centaurs?"

Albus looked at Harry curiously so Harry explained about his brief meeting with Emric, Bane and Ronan. "Ah," Albus said as understanding dawned in his bright blue eyes. "Yes. I believe Hagrid will be able to help and I believe we can spare Luna and a few others to help as well."

Harry smirked but nodded then asked the question he had been trying to avoid. "How about the students?"

This time almost all the twinkle went out of the Headmaster's eyes. "At last count thirty-seven were dead and over two hundred injured," he said sadly. "We are in the process of notifying their families and adding their names to the memorial. A service will be held for all of the fallen next week."

As they approached the Hospital Wing and made their way past the many stretchers and bunks that lined the corridors and hallways Harry could not help but recognize several of the students he had helped train among the injured. Dean looked to be resting comfortably but Harry could tell by the strained look on his face that he was anything but comfortable; Seamus looked up at him as they passed and grimaced as one of the healers from St. Mungo's healed a rather nasty gash on his leg; Hanna Abbot smiled weakly up at him as they passed and gasped as Luna healed a cut on her shoulder; and Marietta Edgecomb waved halfheartedly, her left cheek and lower jaw wrapped in a poultice to cover what looked to be a rather nasty burn. Harry's heart went out to all of these people - these students and children - because they had only just begun to experience the horrors of a war many of them were too young to even begin to understand.

When they reached the door to the Hospital Wing Harry asked his final question. "How did the evacuation go?"

At this Albus smiled and the twinkle, although not as strong as it had been, returned to his eyes. "It was very successful. We were able to get almost everyone out. The one hold out, however, is a very determined young first-year Gryffindor by the name of Mark Evans."

Harry looked up at the name. "My cousin?" he asked.

Albus chuckled and handed Harry a letter. "Yes, Harry, your cousin. It would seem his parents are quite fond of you and would like you to look out for their son while they are in hiding. They will visit when and if they can but they would you like to help him prepare for what lies ahead and give him the benefit of your experience."

Harry accepted the letter and glanced at it before looking back over at Albus. "Are you serious?" he asked.

Albus smiled and the twinkle was back in full force. "Quite."

Harry groaned but tucked the letter into his pocket as he opened the door leading from the waiting room into the infirmary for his aged friend. How did he get himself into these things? Well, he would just have to see how things went and hope for the best. He and Ginny had had plenty of practice with Dobby and Winky (Dobby more so than Winky) so maybe babysitting Mark wouldn't be so bad.

As they made their way through the infirmary Harry noticed that many of the most critically injured were lying in these beds. If Ron and Hermione were in here they must have been more severely injured than they looked. And yet they had stayed behind to protect Ginny. In that moment he knew that he owed them a debt of gratitude he might never be able to repay. "Where are Ron and Hermione?" he asked.

"This way," Albus said. "But please be careful when approaching them. Their injuries are bad enough. It would seem, however, that they have witnessed something so horrific that they have gone into shock. No one has been able to get a word out of them since their arrival."

Harry stopped and looked down at his blood stained hands then looked up into Albus' eyes as they studied him for any signs of understanding before leading him to his friends. "I think I know what they saw," he said. "When Neville and I found them Bellatrix LeStrange was standing over them. Neville and I transformed into our animagus forms and essentially tore her apart before their eyes."

Albus nodded. "Yes. That would explain why they were covered in blood when they arrived. It would also explain why they have been either unable or unwilling to speak since their arrival. Perhaps seeing you alive and well might help them to overcome their shock."

Harry looked up at him curiously.

"War is a dirty business, Harry," he explained. "Sometimes what the eyes see and what the brain interprets are two different things. They may have seen you and Neville dismembering Ms. LeStrange but under the circumstances their brains may have interpreted it as Ms. LeStrange killing you and Neville."

Harry nodded. "Alright. Where are they?"

"This way," Albus said gently and led Harry to a pair of curtained off beds just outside Madam Pomfrey's office.

Separating the curtains Harry stepped through and looked upon the faces of his two best friends. Their eyes were open but their faces were blank. They were staring up at the ceiling, seemingly unaware of their surroundings.

Stepping forward Harry reached out and took one of their hands in each of his own. Looking first at Ron and then Hermione he saw that their eyes had turned to look at him. "Ron," he said. "Hermione. I don't know if you can hear me or not but I want you to know that I'm really sorry you had to witness that because Neville and I aren't proud of what we did to Bellatrix. It was the heat of battle and the passion of the moment. We both felt she had a lot to answer for and apparently we got a little carried away. I want you to know that Neville and I are fine. We won this battle and we are both doing fine."

At that moment a tear leaked from one of Hermione's eyes and began tracing a course down her cheek and Ron hoarsely whispered, "Harry?"

Harry smiled down at his friends. "Yes. It's me, Harry. Neville and I are fine. Neville is currently searching for survivors in what's left of Hogsmeade and I'm on my way in to see Ginny. But I had to see how you guys were doing first."

Hermione began crying openly and reached out to pull Harry into a hug. Harry leaned over and hugged her and let her cry herself out on his shoulder. "Oh, Harry!" she cried. "We thought . . ."

"Shhh," Harry soothed. "Everything is going to be alright. I promise you that, other than a few cuts and bruises, I'm fine. I'm not going anywhere. I am the-boy-who-lived after all and I gave Tom something to think about."

Hermione turned loose of Harry's neck and hit him playfully on the shoulder. "You are not the-boy-who-lived," she scolded. "You are Harry James Potter and we love you just the way you are. But don't you ever go doing anything stupid like that again!"

Harry stood back up and turned towards Ron. "What she said," Ron said them held his hands up. "Don't even think about hugging me, Potter. I only accept hugs from three women and, believe me, you aren't one of them."

They all three busted out laughing, Ron and Hermione flinching slightly with the pain but reveling in the sure and certain knowledge that one of their best friends was alive and well. They visited for several minutes, talking about anything but the war, before Harry excused himself by saying, "I hate to leave you guys but I have got to go check on my girlfriend." When he said this they both visibly paled. Upon seeing their reaction Harry added, "Don't worry. I'll do everything in my power to bring her back and I haven't even begun to tap my power yet."

When they reached the door to the private room Albus placed his hand on the doorknob and held it fast. Harry looked up at him curiously for a moment and started to ask what was wrong when Albus smiled softly and started to chuckle to himself. "Now, Harry. Before you enter this room I want you to understand that you and Ginevra have made two house elves very happy and, consequently, they are more faithful to the two of you than any two house elves I have ever seen."

Harry looked curiously into Albus' sparkling blue eyes and the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry just smiled as he quietly pushed the door open. Mrs. Weasley was already there, sitting in a chair next to the head of the bed. Ginny was resting peacefully in the bed, her flaming red hair laid out like a curtain on the pillow, disappearing behind her shoulders and beneath the sheets. The gentle contours of her slender figure were artfully obscured by the blankets and sheets draped across her body. Her face was peaceful and relaxed and, to Harry at least, she looked like an angel.

The gentle rise and fall of her chest told him that she was still breathing and, therefore, alive. The skin on her face and arms was slightly pale which served to make her freckles stand out a little more than usual but it was not so deathly pale that he felt as though she was in danger of dieing any time soon. And yet something about her countenance communicated the idea that she was in need of a major dose of magical healing if she was going to come through this without any permanent physical damage.

Glancing around the room he saw that Dobby and Winky were pacing the floor nervously, occasionally glancing at Ginny to see if there had been and change, and that their trunk was standing open along the near wall. As he stepped into the room Dobby and Winky turned to him and screamed, "Harry!"

Harry immediately knelt down on one knee and scooped the two house elves he had grown to love as though they were his own children into his arms. "Hey, guys," he said gently then glanced over at their trunk. "I take it we are moving in here for a while."

Dobby and Winky leaned back to look at him. "Yes, Harry," Winky said.

"Madam Pomfrey isn't liking it at first . . ."

"But Headmaster Dumbledore is explaining . . ."

"That yours is being a very special trunk . . ."

"So she is agreeing . . ."

"To let us move in," Dobby finished.

Harry chuckled and shook his head. "You two are almost as bad as the twins."

Dobby looked thrilled to be compared to the inventors of Canary Creams but Winky looked to be highly insulted. "Humph!" she said as she turned her back, crossed her arms and lifted her chin up haughtily. "There is being no reason for you to be insulting Winky, Harry!" she chastised.

Harry laughed and pulled her into a hug. "I'm not insulting you, Winky," he said. "Those two are two of the best friends anyone could ever hope to have."

Winky smiled and hugged him back. "Alright then."

Harry chuckled and smiled at the strength of Winky's character and squeezed her back. Looking up he saw that Mrs. Weasley was standing next to the bed, watching their little reunion. Standing up he walked over to her and pulled her into a hug. "Don't worry, Mum," he whispered. "There is an elfish ritual that can only be performed between blood brothers, blood sisters and soul mates that will help her and Joseph and Eileen are on their way."

Mrs. Weasley pulled Harry into her arms and clung to him for several seconds before letting go. Thank you," she whispered, the unshed tears evident in her voice.

As Harry walked over to look down upon his fallen angel he felt Albus' presence at his side. "She will be all right," Albus said. "She has been resting peacefully since her arrival. Luna was able to stop the bleeding and heal most of the superficial damage but the vast majority of her deeper injuries can only be healed with the kind of magic you, Joseph, Eileen and Ginevra share."

Harry nodded. "How long until they get here?"

"I believe you have enough time to get cleaned up and read that letter I gave you before they arrive. I would, however, suggest you let one of the healers check you over before taking a shower. In fact, I believe Doctor Stone has specifically requested you as a patient." Conjuring a stool for Harry to sit on he added, "I believe he is rather upset and will be lecturing you on staying out of trouble." Then, conjuring a set of adjustable screens and arranging them so that Harry could have some privacy, said, "I suggest you get undressed and I will send him in as soon as he has a free moment."

Stepping behind the screens Harry grimaced at the idea of facing another one of Francis' lectures but resigned himself to his fate. "Yeah, okay," he said as he pulled the letter Albus had given him out of his pocket and laid it on the stool.

For the next few minutes Harry gingerly removed most of his clothing and hung their bloodstained remains over the top of the screens. He winced several times as the cloth was pulled away from his wounds and he heard Mrs. Weasley gasp several times as his clothes appeared draped over the screens. When he was finally down to his boxers he looked apprehensively at the letter, picked it up and cautiously seated himself on the stool, being careful no to open any of the wounds he had only just discovered on his legs, back, chest and arms.

Examining the front of the envelope he saw that it was from "Tom and Heather Evans, Little Winging, Surrey, England" and that it was addressed to "Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Scotland and Harry Potter." Shaking his head Harry smiled to himself and wondered how anyone could place him on the same level as Albus. But then again, the Evanses were muggles and probably didn't know any better. Turning the envelope over he lifted the flap and removed the neatly folded letter. The paper was a lot lighter than the parchment he was used to and he almost immediately recognized it as printer paper. Unfolding the letter he opened it and began to read.

Dear Headmaster Dumbledore and Harry,

We realize that this is an unusual request. But under the circumstances we
think you will understand. With the help of our guards and Harry's former
babysitter (we have been cautioned not to mention any names should this
letter be intercepted and wind up in the wrong hands) we have been monitoring
the progress of the war that is taking place in your world. Due to our status
in your world, and the escalation of the war, we have decided to go into
hiding until such time as it is safe for us to return. Our son, Mark Evans,
knows of this decision and is understandably upset. We do not, however, wish
for his education to be interrupted by this war. It is, therefore, our
request that you, Professor Dumbledore and Harry, please watch out for our
son and teach him everything he will need to know to defend and make a life
for himself in your world.

We have talked this over with our parents, all of whom were involved in our
second world war and, while they do not really understand your world do
agree that some strange things are happening and that certain sacrifices
will have to be made. We have exchanged several owl posts with Mark and are
fairly certain that he understands our concerns, both for his education and
future and for all of our safeties. He is a very determined young man and
we can only hope and pray that he will survive this war and live to lead
a long, healthy, happy and productive life.

The reason this letter is addressed to the two of you stems from our
conversations over the Christmas Holiday and our reassurances from Harry's
babysitter that Mark could not ask for two better guardians while we are in
hiding. Please take care of our son and make sure he knows that we love him.
He looks up to you as the older brother he's never had, Harry, and we know
that we can trust you. We will try to find some way to contact both of you
from time to time but if this war is anything like our parents' war then we
do not know when, if or how often this will be possible.

Tom and Heather Evans (the loving parents of Mark Evans)

As Harry folded the letter and put it back in the envelope it occurred to him how devastating war really was. There was not only the death and destruction that accompanied the fuzzy logic that was war but there were also the families that were torn apart, through no fault of their own, for safety's sake. In that moment he almost regretted not killing Tom when he had the chance but knew that if he was going to come out of this thing with anything close to resembling an intact soul he could not use any of the Unforgivables. He would have to talk to Mrs. Weasley about helping him take care of Mark. He wasn't going to push him off on her because Mark's parents were trusting him to take care of their son but he would not hesitate asking her for guidance and direction.

The door to the private room opened moments later and Harry heard the familiar voice of his doctor asking for him. "Harry?" Doctor Stone's voice said as the door closed softly behind him.

"Over here, Francis," Harry said. "Behind the curtains."

When Doctor Stone stuck his head around the end of the screen nearest the door he gasped then quickly stepped behind the curtain and drew his wand. "I'll save the lecture for later, Harry," he said. "Let's get you healed up first."

Harry nodded and grimaced in pain as he turned towards the wall and assumed the spread eagle position so that his friend see the extent of the damage and heal as many of the cuts and bruises as possible. Fifteen minutes later Francis said, "This might hurt a bit, Harry."

"What?" Harry winced as Francis suddenly pulled his boxers down.

"That," Francis said apologetically. "You've got a rather nasty gash on your hip and unfortunately your pants were embedded in the wound."

Harry gritted his teeth and nodded. When Francis was finished healing that wound Harry asked, almost afraid of the answer, "Is that it then?"

Francis stood up and stepped back. Twirling his finger in the air he gave Harry an appraising look and said, "I don't know. Arms out to your sides and turn around." After one complete revolution Harry looked hopefully at his friend who was smirking slightly. "Yes, that's it, Harry. You can get dressed now. And I don't want to have to come back here for at least three months. I'm already on call twenty-four/seven at Saint Mungo's because of this war. I don't need you adding to my workload."

Harry and Francis had build up a pretty good working relationship over the course of the previous year and even though Harry knew that his friend could be extremely serious when needs be, most of his comments were touched with an edge of humor. "I don't see what you're complaining about," Harry jibed. "You haven't been here in almost six months. And besides, I thought you liked getting out of the city."

"Oh I do," Francis laughed. "I just don't like coming up here because you need putting back together is all."

Harry smirked as his friend and doctor stepped around the screens and left the room. After calling Dobby and asking him for a fresh pair of pants and a clean pair of pyjamas Harry got dressed, picked up the letter and, after excusing himself from Mrs. Weasley's presence, climbed into his trunk to take a shower. After placing the letter on the kitchen table he went into the bathroom and crawled into a steaming hot shower where he spent the next fifteen minutes getting all of the blood, dirt, mud and grime out of his hair and off of his body. He actually felt dirtier than he was because he knew that he was responsible for the deaths of several hundred Death Eaters and so he scrubbed extra hard. But no matter how hard he scrubbed the stench of death would not come off. He didn't like what he had done but at the same time he knew that it had been a necessary evil.

When he emerged from his trunk, after putting on some clean clothes, cleaning his glasses and brushing his teeth, Joseph and Eileen were waiting for him. They both looked dirty, tired and worn. Harry invited them to spend the next few days with him in his trunk, an invitation they gratefully accepted once he explained about its Room of Requirement and assured them that it could replicate their rooms at home.

After they had rested a few more minutes Joseph, Harry and Eileen asked Mrs. Weasley, Winky and Dobby to leave the room and wait outside. This particular healing ritual was a very private affair which called for Harry, Ginny's primary soul mate, to bond with her in every non-physical sense of the word while Joseph and Eileen chanted a particularly long and complicated incantation that, once started, could not be stopped for any reason or they would risk losing Ginny forever. Removing their starlight crystals from around their necks they placed all four crystals around Ginny's neck and, holding her hands in his own, Harry closed her hands around the crystals and dropped into a deep meditative state which would allow him to reach out and become one with Ginny - his beloved angel - in ways that few could ever hope to imagine.

As Joseph and Eileen began the incantation Harry could feel the room starting to fill with the purest, softest white light imaginable. The very air seemed to glow and radiate a healing sense of purpose, well being and love. As the light grew more and more intense he felt himself being drawn into the emotional and spiritual bond he shared with Ginny and soon found himself back at the Burrow, In Ginny's place of safety.

Looking up he found her sitting on the beach again, tossing pebbles into the otherwise tranquil waters of the lake. Walking over he sat down beside her and said, "Hi."

Ginny looked over at him and smiled. "Hi yourself. I did it again, didn't I."

Harry nodded. "Yeah, I'm afraid so."

Giggling softly Ginny said, "You don't give up do you?"

Harry smiled back and shook his head. "No. Once a soul mate always a soul mate."

Ginny let herself fall back on the grass and laughed. "Oh, Harry!" she laughed. "What am I going to do with you?"

Harry leaned back and lay down beside her. Then rolling onto his side looked down into her eyes and smirked. "I don't know. But I do know one thing. I'm not giving up without a fight."

Ginny smiled warmly up at him. "That's what I love about you, Harry," she said as she reached up and pulled him over on top of her and into a warm and passionate kiss.

After a minute or two he rolled back over onto his side and said, "What's that?"

Ginny looked at him in confusion for a few seconds. "What's what?"

"You said that that's what you love about me. I was just wondering what 'that' is."

Ginny bust out laughing again. "You, silly. Harry Potter, the man I love."

Harry smirked again. "Oh. Well if you put it that way I guess it's okay then."

Ginny looked up at him and scowled. "Oh, you!" she giggled as she hit him playfully on the shoulder.

Harry flopped over onto his back. "Oh!" he gasped. "She got me, Albus! I'm a goner! You're going to have to find someone else to plat footsy with Tom."

Ginny quickly rolled over and flopped down on his chest, looking down at his closed eyes as he feigned death. The grin on his face, however, gave him away. "That's not funny, Harry!" she scolded. "Don't you even joke about something like that."

Harry opened his eyes and smiled. "Oh, okay," he said, blushing slightly. "I won't joke about it. Although I must say that I did put the fear of God into him this morning."

Sitting up Ginny looked at him and said, "You did?"

Harry nodded. "Mm hmm."

"Well don't keep me in suspense!" Ginny urged. "Tell me what happened!"

For the next several minutes, as Joseph and Eileen chanted the incantation and healed Ginny's body Harry told Ginny about the last few hours of the battle and his dissing of Tom Riddle.

As the last few measures of the song wound their way into their consciousness Harry led Ginny back to her body and returned to his own.

When the elfish healing ritual came to its conclusion the blindingly bright white light that was filling the room became concentrated in the four crystals in Ginny's hands and gradually faded to their normal radiance as the excess energy entered Ginny's body and healed all of her injuries. Ginny's eyes flew open with a gasp moments later and the first thing she saw was Harry standing beside her bed, smiling down at her. "Hi," he said.

"Hello again, she said then looked over at Joseph and Eileen and smiled. "Thank you."

"You are most welcome, my sister," Eileen said, her radiant blue eyes sparkling merrily as her silver blond hair cascaded down her back as though it were some kind of magical waterfall. "You will need to rest for a few days but you should be up and around before the end of the week."

Ginny scowled and looked over at Harry. "Has she been taking lessons from Madam Pomfrey?"

Joseph chuckled. "No, Ginny, I assure you that she has not been taking lesson's from your Madam Pomfrey. She has, however, been taking lessons from my mother, which could be better or worse depending upon your point of view. You are going to be weak for the next few days but it important that you get up and walk at least four times a day. So, come on. Up you get. It is time for your first walk."

Ginny lifted the sheets to make sure she was decent and, when she saw that she was clothed in her flannel pyjamas, smiled and threw the covers down. "Okay!" she chirped. "Let's go!"

"Easy does it, Ginny," Eileen cautioned. "You're going to be a little dizzy at first and your legs are going to be a little wobbly so Harry and I are going to be holding onto your arms."

Ginny threw her legs over the side of the bed and sat up. She almost fell back into the bed as a wave of dizziness washed over her but Harry caught her and helped into a sitting position. "Oh," she moaned as she closed her eyes and waited for her world stopped spinning. "I see what you mean. I think I'll take your advice on that one."

A minute later Joseph opened the door and first Eileen, supporting Ginny on her right side; then Ginny; then Harry, supporting Ginny on her left, exited the private room and began walking down the length of the infirmary. She was too weak to go far, though, so they stopped at Ron and Hermione's beds and, after a tearful reunion with her mother, sat down between their beds and visited with her brother and best girlfriend while she rested.

Most of the talk in the castle that week was about the Battle of Hogsmeade and what had happened. When the final counts were in, fifteen centaurs, fifty-one wood elves, thirty-two high elves, forty-seven students, twelve villagers, eighteen acromantulas, twenty-seven snakes and one thousand fifty-seven Death Eaters had died. It was decided that all of the Death Eaters' bodies would be sent back to their families (via portkey) once they were identified, as a gesture of good faith. Some had argued that that their bodies should be burned but Harry and Albus were strongly opposed to that idea. They had each lost friends without ever having a body so that they could grieve properly and they could not, in good conscience, do that to anyone if it was within their power to avoid it. And so it was decided that a letter would be drafted, with Madam Bone's assistance and approval, and pinned to each Death Eater's body explaining the circumstances of their death and expressing the Ministry's condolences for their family's loss. Remus and Harry drafted a special letter to accompany Peter's body that they included with the official letter before they sent his body back to his parents.

Harry had met Mark in the Gryffindor Common Room late in the morning after the battle and introduced him to Emric, Onric, Woodring, Joseph, Eileen, Winky, Dobby, Bane and Ronan and at least temporarily moved him into his trunk since he was the only first-year student staying and didn't really have any other friends. He set Dobby and Winky to the task of giving the first two chambers of his trunk the appearance of having false bottoms so that they could convert one of them into a suite of guest rooms for Mark and the other into a suite of rooms for Joseph and Eileen where they could stay whenever they came to visit. The entrances to these suites would be through Dobby and Winky's quarters so that they wouldn't have to redesign the library yet again.

Needless to say Mark was excited to meet Harry, Ginny, Ron and Neville's elfish counterparts and wanted to lean everything he could about them. Harry cringed when Mark started asking Joseph and Eileen rapid fire questions about everything elfish but they patiently spent hours visiting with him, answering his questions and dispelling many muggle myths about what the high elves could and could not do. More than ever Harry appreciated the role patience was playing in his life and vowed to learn patience, not only with others but with himself as well.

Mrs. Weasley agreed to spend a little time each week at Hogwarts teaching Harry how to cook in a Wizarding Kitchen. She was very impressed with Harry's trunk but especially liked the kitchen area because it was so modern compared to the ones she was used to. Before she left, however, she did sit Harry and Ginny down and talk to them about their living arrangements and she was very adamant about them waiting until after they had been married a few years before they even though about having children. And even then she wanted them to wait until Ginny had been out of school at least two years before they got married. They could live together, they could even sleep in the same bed but anything above or beyond snuggling or cuddling was a definite no no. She even went so far as to have similar talks with Ron and Hermione and Neville and Luna. She was not satisfied until Albus and Poppy promised to put the charms back on all of them as soon as they were healed.

The memorial service for the fallen was held that Saturday and was attended by humans, centaurs, wood elves, high elves, a few snakes and even an acromantula or two. Almost everyone was nervous when the acromantulas emerged from the forest, none more so than Ron, but gradually accepted their presence. Albus delivered the eulogy for the witches and wizards that fell in the defense of Hogsmeade. Emric spoke for the wood elves as Eileen spoke for the high elves. Hagrid delivered a truly moving eulogy for the acromantulas who fell and Harry translated Samson's farewell to his fallen comrades. Bane and Ronan both spoke on behalf of the centaurs and pledged their allegiance to the defense of the forest, the castle and the grounds.

Madam Bones was the last to speak and, after a short speech thanking everyone who participated on the side of the light, unveiled a polished, stone monument with the names of the fallen all listed with equal honor and dignity.

That evening, at what would have been the Leaving Feast, all of the house banners had been removed from the Great Hall and replaced with the black banners of mourning. Since all but one of the first year students, all of the second-years and a few of the third-years had already left in the evacuation and everyone else was remaining at Hogwarts over the summer holiday it was not your typical Leaving Feast. Oh, the house elves went all out to prepare a sumptuous meal fit for kings and queens but the usual festive atmosphere that accompanied this occasion was gone and many feared that it would not return in their lifetimes.

Ginny, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna and Mark were sitting together at the Gryffindor Table, surrounded by their friends, but Harry was sitting at the Head Table with the rest of the Defense Against the Dark Arts professors. When everyone was settled and the Great Hall began to buzz with the activity of several hundred conversations Albus stood and, tapping the side of a crystal goblet with his knife, called for the attention of all present. When all conversations had ceased and he was certain he had everyone's attention Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, began to speak. "Ah, yes," he said with a sigh. "Another year has passed. This time, however, those of you who have chosen to remain and train to fight will not be going home for another six weeks. And many of you will not be going home at all until the conclusion of next year, if then. "There are a little more than eight hundred of you here tonight. Alas I wish there were more but with all of the fighting that has gone on this past year we have lost more than fifty of your fellows. The banners, as you can see, are black. These banners will remain in place for the next few days in memory of those who have fallen. And, breaking with tradition, we will not be awarding the House Cup this year."

As a few students gasped in shock and amazement he explained. "Oh, don't worry. We will find some other way to reward you for your efforts but for now we are going to take this opportunity to honor those members of all houses who have fallen by awarding the house cup to them in memory of their sacrifice."

He paused for a moment to let this sink in and slowly the students began to rise and applaud their headmaster's decision. Then, taking his seat, he motioned for Harry to rise and deliver his portion of this year's End of Year speech.

Standing nervously Harry glanced around at his fellow professors, all of whom were smiling encouragingly, and, when everyone had resumed their seats and given him their attention, cleared his throat. "Er," he began, "I . . . I mean . . . Well . . ." A few girls started giggling which, amazingly, helped him get over his sudden bout of stage fright. "Alright," he said. "I'm still a student and I still have another year to go. But the Headmaster and the other professors have asked me to deliver this little speech to let you know what you will be doing for the next six weeks.

"In the muggle world it's called boot camp. Most of you have been getting up before dawn for the past six months to exercise and learn a few spells. That's all well and good because without you we could not have won this latest battle. But that is nothing compared to what you will be experiencing over the next six weeks. From here on out you will be getting up at four o'clock in the morning. You will be given one hour to get ready for the day and warm up. At five o'clock you will begin running laps around Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. Don't worry about the ground because we have placed charms on it to withstand your trampling. At six o'clock you will return to the Great Hall for a light breakfast. At six thirty you will report to your assigned classrooms for tumbling, gymnastics and flexibility training. You will work on these exercises for two hours. At eight thirty you will be given a short, fifteen-minute break. At eight forty-five you will return to you classrooms where you will spend the next three hours learning the spells, curses, charms, hexes and transfigurations you will need to defend yourselves and those around you. At eleven forty-five we will all break for lunch.

"After lunch, at one o'clock, you will report to the various training arenas that have been set up on the school grounds where you will be learning dueling from myself and the other Defense Against the Dark Arts instructors, archery and swordsmanship from the centaurs and wood elves, hand-to-hand combat and martial arts from the high elves, the art of aerial combat from Professor Krum and Madam Hooch and a few basic healing charms and techniques from Madam Pomfrey, Doctor Stone and the other healers that have been sent on loan from Saint Mungo's. You will be rotated through each of these afternoon classes on a weekly basis. After that we will break for dinner.

After dinner you will have the choice of relaxing and studying or going down to help rebuild Hogsmeade. The reconstruction of Hogsmeade is being funded by Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes so you will be paid for your efforts. Our goal is to rebuild Hogsmeade and have it rise from the ashes, stronger than she was before, to give our people hope and to let Tom Marvolo Riddle - the self-styled dark lord who likes to call himself Lord Voldemort - know that we will not bow down to his wishes either now or in the future."

Harry's speech was met with thunderous applause. When everyone had resumed their seats Harry glanced over at Albus who smiled and gave him a nod. "And now," Harry said with a smirking smile, "tuck in." With these two words the tables filled with food. The house elves had gone overboard for this feast and everyone's favorite foods were prepared in abundance.

About the Sequel

I have been thinking about the sequel to this story for quite some time now. I am going to write one but I'm afraid it is going to have to wait until book seven comes out because I want to include the horcruxes in this tale. Please forgive me and know that the reason I am waiting is because the diary from the second book has got to be taken into account and that, even though this is an AU (Alternate Universe) story, I want to keep it as close to the original story line as possible.