Chapter 25: At Last

" 'If the plant was sent anonymously, how's anyone ever going to find out who did it?' "

Remus looked up. The light in the office was definitely getting dimmer, even to his wolf sight. It's almost moonset. I should go.

He closed his book and nosed it over to the bookshelf, leaving it on the floor rather than pick it up with his teeth and risk tearing it. He can pick it up himself, he's an able-bodied man... I assume...

He looked over at Tom Lutch, who was still in the position he had started the night in – curled into a fetal ball in the corner. Lutch had been ever so lightly dozing until Remus had moved. Now he was about as on edge as Remus had ever seen anyone.

Remus yawned deliberately, showing off his teeth. Then he play-bowed, lowering his front half to the floor. Thank you, sir, for the loan of your book, and a most enjoyable night. We must do this again sometime.

He couldn't help grinning when Lutch swallowed hard and closed his eyes tightly, as though wishing the horrible thing would go away.

I do believe I shall honor his wish in this case.

He let himself out and trotted through the halls, headed for the room the wizards had appropriated. A nap for a few hours sounds good...

Circe's hair, I'm getting old. I used to be able to stay up all night and still do a full day's work in the morning.

He gave himself a mental shake. No, I didn't.

But I like to think I did.

-----

Molly Weasley had always been able to awaken instantly at even a hint of noise that shouldn't be there. The sound of the door handle turning, in this instance, qualified, since Penelope wasn't due in from her patrol shift for another twenty minutes.

Ah, of course, Remus is back. The room was softly lit by several hovering candles of the type used at Hogwarts, allowing her to watch the werewolf pad softly across the room, select a cushion no one was using, and curl up on it, head resting between his front paws.

Although she had identified the sound, Molly felt no need to go back to sleep, instead relaxing against Arthur's side and looking fondly around the room. She had always been an early riser, requiring little sleep – both useful skills for a mother. Now they gave her an opportunity to see a peaceful scene of rest, a rarity for the matriarch of a clan with the size and temperament of the Weasleys.

Fred and Angelina, the longest married of any of her children, were lying back to back in their double bed. If the top sheet had still been covering them, an observer might have thought they cared little about one another, but Fred was a restless sleeper, and Angelina hated being too hot. Between them, they had kicked off the sheet during the night, exposing the fact that they were holding hands in their sleep.

George was also a restless sleeper, but he tended to travel in his sleep rather than just remove the covers. Consequently, Alicia had had to get used to waking up facing her husband's feet. Molly could just see her son's shock of red hair beyond Alicia's ankles, one of which had a hand curled possessively around it.

Bill lay on his back, Fleur's face pillowed on his chest, Gabriel nestled beside them both with one of Fleur's arms over him. Molly had been surprised, perhaps even a bit scandalized, when she had first realized nearly fifteen years before what the lack of bassinets or cribs in Bill's household meant, but none of their three children had smothered, and the twins, at least, seemed like perfectly normal teenagers. It was too early to tell with Gabe, but all the signs were promising.

Percy was lying on his side in a pose that would have looked decidedly odd if Molly hadn't known the other half of it was missing. Penelope cuddled up against him would complete the picture nicely. Molly smiled at her third son. Asleep, he lost all his pomposity, something that only happened to him awake when he was with his children.

Charlie had taken one of the large cushions on the floor instead of making himself a bed and was lying on his stomach, spread-eagled. It's so obvious he's never married... he's not used to sharing the bed at all. But I suppose it's never too late.

Molly sighed, inwardly scolding herself. Six of them married off, and you still have to play matchmaker for the seventh, don't you?

She supposed it was another motherly instinct.

Ron was on his back, snoring; Hermione had draped herself across him at some point during the night. Her head was resting on his shoulder, and she seemed completely oblivious to the noise.

But she's used to it by now, I'm sure...

Minerva, a private woman by nature, had curtained off a portion of the room for her own use, and Molly certainly wasn't going to peek.

So who does that leave?

Ah, of course.

Elizabeth Petrov and Marie Elliot were asleep on separate cushions, both curled up on their sides. Helen lay near them, one hand flung out to touch Marie's. Ginny and Harry slept on a cushion next to their daughter, Ginny snuggled into the curve of Harry's body with his arm over her.

It can be so hard to remember they're grown men and women. I remember so well when they were my babies, my little darlings...

But they're still my darlings, of course. Just not so little anymore.

The door handle turned again and Penelope entered, covering a yawn.

"I'm awake, dear, I'll take the last shift," Molly said quietly, sitting up.

"Thank you," Penelope said, smiling gratefully at her. "I must admit I'm..." She yawned again. "...looking forward to a bit more sleep..."

Without further preamble, she shed her outer robe, laying it neatly across the footboard, and slid into bed next to Percy, who shifted over to make room for her without waking up.

Standing and stretching, Molly caught sight of the window. Sunrise in a few minutes. Which means moonset.

She picked up Fred and Angelina's discarded sheet and gently laid it over the sleeping wolf.

Every so often his clothes don't survive the change...

Thinking of Fred reminded her of the last step in the family's master plan. And since I'm up, and perfectly well qualified, why don't I get started on the things they'll need?

She went to the table, which had been pushed against the wall to make room for the beds. There, as she had remembered, was a list of everything her children would need to finish off this job with finesse.

Excellent. All right, start at the top... two Muggle suits – identical, of course...

-----

It took Tom Lutch almost fifteen minutes to convince himself to uncurl from his cramped pose, and another ten to get the blood flowing to his limbs again so he could stand upright. His mind wanted to ignore everything that had happened during the night, wanted to believe it was all a dream. And he might have been able to manage, had it not been for the two undeniable facts of the wallpaper pattern and the book on the floor.

He might have taken the book out himself, he argued, and forgotten about it. But there was no conceivable way he could have wallpapered his own office in the course of the night and then forgotten about it, and he wouldn't have done it in those colors, anyway. He hated red and gold, always had...

His intercom buzzed. Hastily, he cleared his throat. Must preserve appearances.

"Yes?" he said, pressing the button.

"Someone here to see you, sir. Name of Wesley. Says he's guardian of Marie Elliot?"

"All right, send him up."

Elliot? I could have sworn her guardian was female...

He rummaged through his files.

Yes, here it is, Elliot, Marie. Guardian, Rebecca Laburnum... nothing about any Wesley. Is this some kind of trick?

But Mr. George Wesley, redhead though he was, was the soul of sincerity, producing all the necessary papers to prove that he'd been granted guardianship of Marie Elliot, and expressing his regret at the necessity of removing her from the school. His family couldn't afford... the girl would be helpful at home... of course, Mr. Lutch would understand...

Oh, I understand all right. This is just the beginning. People will be coming all day. Parents, guardians, and then the police...

"Attention, all doors," he said dully into the intercom, wondering how many times he'd be repeating this speech today, and with what names attached. "A Mr. George Wesley will be leaving the building shortly with Miss Marie Elliot. She has been cleared to go. Thank you."

Mr. Wesley thanked him politely and saw himself out, and Tom Lutch sank back into his chair, seeing the beginning of the end of his life as he knew it.

-----

Marcie Dursley awoke with a start in a strange bed, felt her forehead, and moaned. It hadn't been a dream. It was all real. She and her son and husband were really cursed, being held prisoner in a school full of wizards who wanted God only knew what...

-----

Dudley Dursley opened his eyes slowly. Everything still looked odd. And his hearing was off as well, and his backside itched...

He groaned, remembering in a rush why these things were true. I was cursed. We were all cursed.

And all over that wretched girl...

-----

Harry knocked on the Dursleys' door.

"Come in," said a wary voice.

He entered. Marcie was sitting on the bed, Dudley leaning wearily against the wall. Chester was still asleep in the other bed.

"What do you want?" she snapped. "Here to gloat?"

"No," Harry said, biting off his anger rising in response to Marcie's. "I was hoping to discuss Helen."

"Let me make something clear to you, Potter," Dudley growled. "My wife and I made a promise. We promised that our daughter would never be a witch. And we intend to keep that promise."

"I intend to help you keep it," Harry said as sincerely as he could manage without sounding stupid.

"You lie," Marcie hissed. "You want Helen, you've said as much."

"Yes, I do want Helen. I want her to be my daughter." Marcie snorted. Harry ignored her. "If she's my daughter, she won't be yours anymore. She won't even be a Dursley anymore. Then you'll have kept your word. Your daughter won't be a witch, because you won't have a daughter."

Dudley appeared to be thinking, something which looked totally unnatural for him.

"We would, of course, take on all her expenses," Harry said casually. "You'd never hear from us again."

The last sentence had a profound effect on both the Dursleys, who went into a whispered conference.

Harry sagged slightly. Finally, I think I'm getting through. Why couldn't they just have listened yesterday?

After a few moments, Dudley turned back to Harry. "Fine," he said grudgingly. "You win. We'll sign."

"Thank you," Harry said politely, holding his elation firmly in check.

Celebrate when you get home. Right now, you need to finalize it.

"If you'd sign here, then, and here and here..."

Dudley signed, then Marcie, in the required sixteen or so places, and the papers were complete, or would be as soon as Percy and Penelope got a hold of them. Harry made sure the ink was dry before folding them. This was one set of papers he did not want to smear.

"Out of curiosity," Marcie said snippily, "would you still have taken her if we hadn't signed?"

Harry counted to ten. Then did it again, backwards.

Ah, the hell with control. I'll tell them the truth and see how they like it.

"Helen left this school fifteen minutes ago, Mrs. Dursley, in the custody of my brothers-in-law."

Dudley gaped. "She can't have," he protested. "The guards – they stop anyone who's not cleared to leave..."

Harry grinned cockily. "You'd be surprised what magic can do."

And he Disapparated in the presence of the Dursleys for, he hoped, the last time.

-----

Back at the Den, Helen checked her hair in the bedroom mirror.

It's nice to have my own face back.

The twins had charmed one of their Metamorphmagus Mints to make her look like Marie, dressed them alike, each taken a girl, and left the school by different doors at the same time.

"One final prank, to make sure they don't forget us," Uncle Fred had said.

"But they'll forget anyway," Uncle George had added. "Muggles tend to forget anything they can't understand."

My parents – no, Mr. and Mrs. Dursley – never understood me. I wonder if they'll forget me?

She rather hoped they would.

A round of popping noises downstairs heralded the arrival of the rest of the adults. Helen ran down the stairs and into her parents' arms. All the aunts and uncles crowded around to wish her well. Through the open door, she could see Marie sitting on the lawn, teaching some of the littler cousins a clapping game and looking blissfully happy.

"Thank goodness you're back," said Mrs. Figg, coming in looking rather frazzled. "Hermione, Ginny, I think you need to see this..."

Her mum let go of Helen and followed Mrs. Figg into the other room with Aunt Hermione. There was a moment of silence. Then:

"BRIAN SEVERUS WEASLEY!" bellowed Aunt 'Mione.

"SIRIUS NEVILLE POTTER!" shouted her mum.

"COME HERE THIS INSTANT!" they finished in perfect unison.

Helen began to laugh. It was such a perfect way for it to happen.

Mum's yelling at Sirius.

Now I know I'm home.

Really and truly home.

Home at last.

-----

THE END

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(A/N: Sorry for late update, everyone – the homework monsters ate me. But I beat them up from inside, and here I am, ready for anything!

Well, maybe not anything. Please don't hurt me for finishing this – it just seemed like a good place to end. As I promised, there will be a sequel (working title: School at Last – thanks, Craig!) but I have to come up with an idea for it first! I have several nebulous plans, but no definite plot line yet, so please bear with me! After all, wouldn't you rather have it a little later but good?

Thanks to all my wonderful reviewers! Please, please, give my other stuff a try! I write the same way in everything, so if you like my style, it's at least worth a shot, right?

athenakitty: Not really – if you take a reverser Mint in time, you avoid the sneezes, and it helps the Aurors out, so F&G have been requested to leave the Mints as they are. Yes to the other three.

Nalini213: Yes, he is... he's the grandson of her second cousin, whatever that's called. In other words, the son of Mafalda, the Weasley cousin who never made it into book 4. In my 'verse, she just didn't have quite enough magic to merit a Hogwarts letter... but her son does! Love borrowing ideas from JKR! And I'm counting on their unwillingness to admit to having such strange dreams to keep it under wraps. Thanks!

Lady Cinnibar: Thanks for the recommend, and the compliments!

Little Lioness: Congratulations on being my only reviewer to spot the origin of that quote!

blueJosh, Annikaya, Tanydwr, bubbatoo, Gyre, jbfritz, harryp123, RunningInCircles: Thank you all so much!

And now for something completely different...

Borg: I was going to give you a detailed answer, but then I decided it would be a waste of my and my readers' time. If you ever deign to give me contact information, I will be glad to respond to you in depth. For the record, let me state that I deleted your review because it was: (a) neither helpful nor original – all you had to say was that you disliked my work, which you had already stated in your first review, and that you disliked me, which seems obvious; and (b) insulting to another of my reviewers, which I will NOT tolerate. Thank you for your input, and have a nice day.

And, just so we don't end on a grouchy note, I have... (drumroll, please) a Home At Last Trivia Challenge for all you lucky readers out there! Scan the story to find the answers, then put them in a review or e-mail them to me, either is fine! Special mentions for all who attempt, and a character name in School at Last for the first five scores of 80 percent or higher!

Home At Last Trivia Challenge

1. What Weasley Wheeze did Helen once use to scare Chester?

2. Who was the first person ever to give Helen a real hug?

3. Does Helen have any blood first cousins?

4. Who gave Helen her wristwatch?

5. Find the direct allusion to OotP in Chapter 10.

6. How old were Helen and Ruby when they broke into the twins' workroom?

7. Why were Ron's brothers annoyed with him when the poker game resumed?

8. Who gave Helen good advice about fear?

9. What is the significance of Fleur's wallpaper design?

10. Who is Fleur and Bill's youngest son named after?

Extra Credit!

1. In Chapter 9, in an allusion to the movie "Robin Hood: Men in Tights", what does Ron cough into his hand?

2. In Chapter 21, what is the other "Men in Tights" allusion?

3. Find the source of the quote that opens Chapter 25.

Good luck, everyone! See you all soon!)