Title: "The Refiner's Fire" Chapter 40/40

Author name: Abraxan
Category: Action/Adventure
Sub Category: Romance
Keywords: Harry, Ron, Ginny, Hermione, Remus, Dursleys

Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: SS/PS, CoS, PoA, GoF, OoTP
Summary: Harry gives Neville some advice on romance. With Harry – especially in this story, poor guy – nothing, not even the trip home, is ever simple.

DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author notes: Many thanks to Kelpie, my brilliant Brit-picker, and to Blakevich, Starfox, Iris, Asad and Shawn for beta reading!

Chapter 40 – The Way Home

In the morning, Harry, as promised, quickly taught his friends the "pack" spell, and all of them were ready in plenty of time for the carriages to take them to the train station. Remus would be travelling back to London on the train, as well, since he couldn't Apparate with his trunks. Tonks had Apparated to Hogsmeade so she could ride back with him, causing much comment among the students.

"Oooo, Professor Lupin has a girlfriend!" some of the girls crowed.

"She's a babe!" some of the boys declared.

Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione all smiled, happy to see the glow on Remus's and Tonks's faces when they looked at each other.

Once everyone was on the train, Ginny, Ron and Hermione went to the front of the train for their last Prefect meeting and to start their duties for the trip home. Harry found a compartment and settled in, putting Hedwig's and Pig's cages on the overhead rack, and Crookshank's basket on the seat opposite him. Merlin perched on the back of Harry's seat. Merlin had taught Harry how to do a Glamour Charm so he would look like a scarlet macaw. Harry would perform this spell when they got to King's Cross Station. Muggles would be surprised enough to see someone walking down the street with a macaw on his shoulder, but if he had a swan-sized phoenix on his shoulder, traffic would just stop completely, so Merlin needed to be camouflaged. He would be disguised whenever he was outside of Harry's room in the Muggle world.

Harry sat by the window, leaning his head against the glass, watching the countryside go by, stroking Merlin once in a while. He was getting sleepy when Neville poked his head in.

"Hi, Harry. You alone?"

"For a while. Ginny, Ron and Hermione will be coming along soon. Come on in." Harry stretched, enjoying the extra room for his long legs for the moment. The compartment would soon be so full that he wouldn't be able to stretch as luxuriously again for hours.

"Thanks," Neville said, sitting down across from him. Harry relaxed against the seat again, still sleepy. "Harry?"


"Erm. . .where do you and Ron go when you come in so late?"

Harry's senses were instantly alert. He and Ron had always known it was dangerous to come in late, but that had never kept them from doing so. The other boys had always seemed to be asleep when they sneaked in long after curfew. "Why?"

"I just wondered. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be nosy," Neville said apologetically.

"That's OK. You're one of my best mates. If anyone else asked, that would be nosy. It isn't nosy coming from you. The truth is, when we came in late last night, we'd been out snogging our girls." Harry said, hoping he wouldn't have to elaborate much on his lie. Well, it's not really a lie. We did snog, he thought, smiling to himself at the memory.

"That's what I thought. Where do you go for that?"

"Um, if I tell you, then it's no longer a private place," Harry replied cautiously. "Why?"

"Oh, no reason," the other boy said hastily.

"You have a girlfriend, don't you?" Harry said with a grin, "and you want to find a good snogging spot! That's it, isn't it?"

Neville blushed madly. "Well. . .kind of."

"Kind of?"

"I don't know if she considers herself my girlfriend or not," Neville said, shrugging his shoulders and hanging his head.

"Who is it?"

"Luna Lovegood."

"Oh yeah, you two went to the Yule Ball together, didn't you? Have you gone out much?"

"What do you mean by 'going out'?"

"Going to Hogsmeade together, going for walks, that kind of thing."

"Oh." Neville blushed again. "A bit."

"Then why do you wonder if she considers herself your girlfriend?"

"I don't know. It feels more like we're just friends. I don't know how to . . . how to. . ."

"Move it to the next level?" Harry said wisely.

"Yeah. So she knows she's my girlfriend, you know?"

Harry thought a moment. "Are you sure she doesn't already know she's your girlfriend?"

Neville shrugged, looking miserable.

"Have you let her know you'd like her to be your girlfriend?"

"I don't know how!" Neville looked miserable.

"You could show her how you feel," Harry suggested. "Have you tried?"

"What do you mean?"

"Have you opened doors for her, held her hand, kissed her. . .?"

"Yeah, when she'll let me." Neville was blushing again. "Sometimes she just goes charging through doors and I don't have a chance to hold them for her. And no, I've never kissed her. I . . .erm. . .I don't know how."

Harry smiled, remembering the feelings of uncertainty and fear in his first encounters with girls. "So what do you want from me, mate?"

"Um. . .you seem to know a lot about girls," Neville began.

Harry hooted with laughter. "No, I don't! I just know a lot about Ginny. And Hermione too, I suppose. We were all friends long before Ron and Hermione or Ginny and I got together. Most girls I simply don't have a clue about, and that includes Luna."

"Oh," Neville said in a small voice. "I just thought. . ."


"That maybe you could tell me how to. . .what to do to. . .what I mean is. . . ."

"Spit it out, Neville," Harry encouraged him with a grin, his eyes twinkling merrily.

"How to get her to like me. How to find out if she does like me. How to have a relationship like you have with Ginny." The words tumbled out of Neville in a torrent once he got started.

Harry sat back and scratched his head. Where to start? "Um. . .have you ever held her hand?"

"Yeah. Mine got all sweaty. It was gross."

Harry grinned in spite of himself. "Yeah, that sounds like a first-time hand-holding," he chuckled. "It gets better, believe me. Have you ever told her you fancy her?"

"No! I could never do that!" Neville blanched at the very idea.

"Why not? Do you fancy her or not?"

"Yes, I fancy her, but I could never tell her!"

"If you don't tell her, how will she be sure?" Harry said reasonably. "I mean, you can be nice to her, give her little gifts, hold her hand, hold doors for her, help her with her chair, all that kind of thing, and she might think you fancy her. But she'll be hurt if you never actually tell her."

"You and Ginny are in love, aren't you?" he asked shyly.

"Yeah," Harry said, blushing and dropping his eyes. His whole face softened at the thought of Ginny. Neville could see the effect just her name had on his friend.

"What's it like?"

"What's what like?" Harry said, being cautious again.

"To be in love."

"Oh. Well. . . .it's wonderful. She makes me feel warm all over. Just thinking about her makes me smile. I feel safe and comfortable with her. She's a great friend – I think that's important in a relationship, actually. If you aren't friends first, then you don't have anything to build a relationship on. At least, that's how it seems to me. I mean, look at Dean. He goes from girl to girl, just having fun, not taking the time to become friends with them, and he hurts a lot of feelings that way. He always moves on just as the girl starts to get to know him, and begins really caring for him. Of course, maybe he doesn't want to get serious about anyone yet. I mean, we are pretty young still."

"But you and Ginny are serious."

"Yeah. I think some people find the right person early, that's all. My parents fell in love when they were sixteen. Remus told me that."

Neville chuckled. "So you're following in your dad's footsteps, then?"

"Yeah. My mum even had long red hair like Ginny's. My mum's hair looks darker than Gin's in pictures, but still, another redhead," he said with a smile.

"That means you're very likely to have redheaded kids," Neville said wisely.

"Huh?" He'd startled Harry. "What do you mean?"

"It's genetics. You have a gene for red hair in your family and so does she. So you may have redheaded children. It's like cross-pollinating plants. If you have a plant with certain characteristics and cross it with another that has those characteristics in its background. . ."

"Oh, yeah. I remember that lesson," Harry said, smiling at the thought of a houseful of redheaded children who looked like Ginny. "So what are you going to do about you and Luna?"

"I don't know. I'd like to write to her over the holidays, maybe get together now and again. I'll have my Apparition license by the end of July, so it would be easy enough to go to visit her."

"That sounds like a good idea. Where is she now?"

"I saw her sitting in a compartment alone. I was too embarrassed to walk in."



"If I were you, I'd go to her compartment and sit with her," Harry said.

"Wouldn't that be a bit forward?"

"What's wrong with that?" he joked. Seeing the discomfort in his friend's face, Harry came up with a different idea. "If it will make you more comfortable, invite her to join us here. The four of us will probably nap a lot on the trip since we didn't get a lot of sleep last night, so you'll be able to be with her uninterrupted, but you won't be alone with her."

"That would be brilliant! Are you sure you don't mind? I mean, this is your last trip with Ginny for a while," Neville said, suddenly acting shy again.

"Don't remind me," Harry said, immediately depressed. He fought down the dark feelings and looked up at his friend. "Go on and get her. I don't mind, and I'm sure the others won't either. But you'll probably have to put up with us snogging a bit. Will that bother you?"

"Uh. . .I don't think so."

"Maybe you'll learn something," Harry teased.

"Maybe I will," Neville said, brightening. "OK, I'll go see if Luna will come down here. You're sure you don't mind?"

"Not at all. See you in a bit," Harry said. "If I'm sleeping, just wake me – or not, your call." He thought a moment, then added, "and on the kissing thing? Just tilt your head to the side so your noses don't bump and the rest will come naturally." He tilted his head to demonstrate. "And start out slowly, gently. She'll like that better than if you rush her."

Neville beamed. "Thanks, Harry!" he said brightly, then left to find Luna.

After a few minutes, Luna came into Harry's compartment while Neville gallantly held the door for her.

"Hi, Harry," Neville said nervously. "Luna was alone, so I asked her to join us."

"Great!" Harry said with a smile. "Hi, Luna."

"Hello," she said, her enormous eyes locking on him intently. "You know, your scar looks different these days."


"Why is that?"

"I took another Killing Curse," he replied casually, not really wanting to talk about it.

"And survived it?"

"No, I'm a ghost," he said, teasing her. "Yes, I survived it. I guess he didn't aim it very well or something."

"Does it hurt?"

"What, the Killing Curse or my scar?"

"Either. Both."

"Yes," Harry replied shortly, hoping she'd get off this topic soon. Seeing Neville's distressed face as he looked between Luna and him, Harry relented. "The Killing Curse does hurt, a lot. And my scar gives me pain sometimes as well. Most of the time when I say I have a headache, it's actually my scar hurting."

"I'm sorry," she said simply but sincerely.

"'S'OK," he muttered.

"Are you looking forward to the holidays?" she asked.

"No," Harry said with a sigh. "I hate living with my relatives. I can't wait to get out of there."

"Well, this is the last time, though, isn't it?" Neville said comfortingly.

Harry smiled. "Yes, it is. I'm holding onto that thought as my one bright hope for the first part of the summer."

"Why the first part?" Neville said.

"Remus said I can stay with him in a few weeks," Harry said, hoping to avoid going into details.

"Remus?" Luna asked.

"Professor Lupin. He's my godfather. I thought everyone knew that by now," Harry said patiently.

"Oh. I forgot," she replied.

"Where does he live? I didn't know he had a house," Neville asked.

"He doesn't. I inherited Sirius Black's house. Remus will be staying there," Harry explained.

"Stubby Boardman has a house? Where? The last time I read anything about him, he lived in a tent in Shropshire," Luna said, her eyes confused.

"Sirius's family had a house in London. That's what I inherited," Harry replied, avoiding the Stubby Boardman subject completely.

"Are you going to try to get a job again this summer?" Neville asked. All of Harry's friends knew about his working for the tile shop. Some of his mosaics had hung in his room in Gryffindor Tower this year.

"Dunno. I'll just have to see what happens. And if I get a job in Surrey, it might be hard to get to work once I move to London."

"You have your Apparition license already, don't you?"

"Yeah, Dumbledore arranged it so I could get it early, along with the dispensation to do magic out of school while I'm still underage," Harry agreed. "It's been a huge help."

"I can't wait for my birthday, so I can do magic outside of school and get my Apparition license," Neville said excitedly. "I couldn't believe I was actually good at Apparating! As clumsy as I've always been, I was really afraid I'd splinch myself!"

"You've done loads better since you got your own wand," Harry reminded him.

"I would never have believed breaking my dad's wand would be one of the best things that could happen to me," Neville said with a grin. His pocket started moving on its own. Neville reached into it and pulled out his toad, Trevor, handing it to Luna. "He wanted to come and visit you," he told her tenderly.

She smiled at the toad, petting it gently on the head as she sat it in her lap. "Oh, cute widdle Trevor, such a dear widdle thing," she murmured.

Harry had to stifle a laugh at her speaking baby-talk to a toad. Then he looked at Neville, who was watching Luna fondly. While she was bent forward concentrating on Trevor, Neville's arm was sneaking around her back. When she sat up again, he would have his arm around her shoulders. Nice move, Neville! Harry thought, doing his best not to laugh and break the sweet moment between them. There was no mistaking the expression on Neville's face. If he could work out how to manage it, he'd kiss her right there in front of Harry and Trevor. Trouble was, Neville didn't seem to be able to work out how to manage it.

Just then, Ron, Hermione and Ginny arrived. Ron and Hermione sat on the same side as Neville and Luna. Harry noticed that Neville bravely kept his arm on the back of the seat behind Luna even when Ron raised his eyebrows at him for it. Ginny and Hermione noticed, but carefully stayed quiet so they wouldn't disturb the fragile moment. The seats weren't really made for four people to sit on one side, so Hermione snuggled tightly against Ron, which neither of them minded at all. Harry leaned into his corner by the window, so he was supported by both the window and the wall behind him. Once he'd got comfortably slouched there, he pulled Ginny into his arms. She rested her head on his chest, snuggling in, her arms wrapped around his waist. Harry leaned down and kissed the top of her head.

"Mmmm, you smell good," he murmured, stroking the silky richness of her hair.

"You, too," she mumbled against his chest. She turned her head around and smiled at Neville and Luna.

"Great party last night, wasn't it?" she said to Neville.

"Yeah, it was," he agreed.

"You should have invited Luna. She would've been welcome!" Ginny said. She moved so that her back was against Harry's chest and she was facing the others, her arms resting comfortably on Harry's, which were around her waist. She interlaced her fingers with his and smiled at Luna and Neville.

"Thanks. We spent the evening tidying up our House," Luna said calmly. "No parties."

"Sorry. We should have thought to invite the other Houses," Hermione said, distressed that she hadn't thought of it in time.

"Then we would have needed to use the Great Hall for the party," Ron reminded her. "Our Common Room was full to bursting as it was." He made a small "Oof" sound as Hermione elbowed him. "But it would have been nice to have the other Houses at the party, you're right," he amended, realizing his gaffe.

"Ronald, what are you going to do with the money the Ministry gave you?" Luna asked suddenly. "How much was it?"

Ron blushed brightly. When he hadn't been with Hermione, he'd thought of little else since he'd been handed the bag of gold along with one of his medals the night before. "I don't know how much it is, honestly. It seems to be all galleons, but I haven't counted it. I don't know what I'm going to do with it yet, either. I may buy a Firebolt, then save the rest. I'll probably use it to pay my Auror School costs so my parents won't have to pay them. Maybe I can help Ginny with her Healer School costs, too. I think I'd like to buy something nice for my parents." He grinned, then squeezed Hermione gently. "And I may buy something for my girl."

"Ron, you don't have to—" Ginny protested.

"I don't even know if I can. I don't know how much money is in there. But those are the things that I've thought of that I'd like to do with it," he said with a smile. "I'll just have to see how things work out."

"Thanks," Ginny said sincerely.

Hermione looked up at him, touched beyond words. He'd struggled his whole life with being poor, and now that he finally had a bit of money, he was planning to spend it on other people! Eyes sparkling with affection, she said, "You don't have to buy me anything, Ron! You should save your money to help with your expenses during Auror School."

"I'll sort it all out over the summer, I imagine," he said, smiling tenderly down at her.

Ginny watched this interaction between his brother and his girlfriend with interest. Were they ready to be more serious? She couldn't be certain from watching them. When Ron quieted and just kept staring at Hermione, Ginny decided to give them a moment of privacy. She turned to Luna and asked, "Do you two plan to see each other over the holiday?"

"I don't know," Luna said, looking shyly at Neville.

"I'd really like that," Neville said humbly. "Would you?"

"Yes. Yes, I would like that," she said, a smile spreading over her face. They stared at each other intently. Any other couple would have kissed at that point, but Neville and Luna weren't any other couple. They were both terribly shy and were still trying to work out how to be a couple at all.

Their conversation had caught Hermione's attention. She could see they were nervous with each other, and it seemed they wanted to kiss, but that stupid toad was in the way. She simply couldn't stand it. "Neville, why don't you put Trevor up in the overhead with Hedwig and Pig? They won't bother him, they're both in cages."

"What about Crookshanks?" he said, eyeing the cat in her arms warily.

"He isn't interested in toads, are you, Crookshanks?" she said, hugging the ugly yellow cat. "And you know Merlin won't bother him."

At the sound of his name, Merlin pulled his head out from under his wing and surveyed them all regally, then tucked his head away again.

"I don't mind holding him," Luna said quietly.

"But then you can't hold hands or snog," Ron said reasonably, "and if we all snog, you lot may as well too."

Neville and Luna blushed madly. "Snog?" Neville said, his voice cracking.

"Snogging is loads of fun! I highly recommend it," Harry said, chuckling as he leaned down to kiss Ginny's suddenly upturned, grinning face. Their kiss went from a peck to something more serious and she turned around again, snuggling against him happily as he folded his arms around her and pulled her closer to him.

"Oy, get a room!" Ron teased, and Hermione put Crookshanks gently on the seat beside her, then turned and grabbed Ron by the ears, planting a big sloppy kiss on him.

"See?" Harry said, chuckling softly into Ginny's hair as he nuzzled her neck. "Loads of fun!" He glanced up and saw how red Neville's and Luna's faces were. "Oh, I'm sorry," he apologized immediately. "We didn't mean to embarrass you or anything. We just get a bit carried away sometimes."

"That's OK," Neville said, sitting stiffly, still waiting for Luna to lean back in her seat so his arm would be around her. Suddenly she did sit back and felt the warmth of his arm behind her back.

"Oh, excuse me," she said, blushing furiously.

"No problem," Neville said nervously. He glanced at Harry, who winked and nodded. With that encouragement, Neville tightened his arm around Luna, letting her know it was no accident that his arm was around her shoulders.

"Neville?" she said, gazing seriously into his eyes.

"Erm. . .yeah?" Neville looked at her uncertainly, but something in her eyes made his expression soften. He leaned forward, carefully tilted his head to the right so their noses wouldn't bump, and kissed her lightly on the lips. Both of them now had bright pink cheeks, but they both looked happier, too. Neville glanced at Harry again, his eyes alight with joy.

Harry decided to give him an example to follow, so he cupped Ginny's cheek in his hand and kissed her softly several times before letting the kiss deepen. When he and Ginny came up for air, they glanced over at Neville and Luna. They were holding tightly to each other, their lips locked together, oblivious to anyone else around. Harry smiled at Ginny and kissed her nose, then her forehead. Both of them were very tired. She snuggled against his chest again, and soon they were sound asleep. Ron's soft snores and Hermione's deep breathing soon joined Harry's and Ginny's sleepy sounds. Neville and Luna kissed a while longer, then just held each other, happy their shyness barrier had been broken at last.

The quiet of their rest was broken some time later when Harry awoke, shivering and wondering why the train had stopped. He looked around, wondering what was going on, and realized he could see his breath. "Dementors!" he cried, sliding out from under Ginny and pulling his wand. The other five pulled their wands and followed Harry out of the compartment door. Dementors were in the corridor and several compartments, with still more gliding in through the train's windows, which were all open on this unusually sultry day. "EXPECTO PATRONUM!" Harry cried, and his stag raced down the passageway, tossing Dementors out of the windows as it went. Patronus charms were being cast all over the train as D.A. members became aware of the danger. Harry ran down the passageway, looking into each compartment he passed. He sent his Patronus into several compartments to chase out Dementors, then felt a cold wave on his back. Turning around, over his five friends' heads, he saw a mass of Dementors coming their way. "GET DOWN!" he cried, pushing Ginny to the floor and aiming over Ron's head to send a Patronus that direction. Ron turned and sent his bear Patronus to stop the Dementors that were coming in the window beside them. When the Dementors in the passageway left, Harry turned forward again, running as fast as he could, directing his stag wherever it needed to go.

Remus came into the car, saw Harry pelting toward him and cried, "I've got the carriage ahead. Is everyone all right here?"

"We just came forward. I cleared some that were in the passageway behind us, but we haven't checked the compartments back there," Harry replied in a rush.

"Tonks is working on the carriage ahead of this one – I'll go forward and help her. We need to check on the driver, as well. You clear this carriage and work your way backward. The D.A. members are casting Patronus charms everywhere, but not all of them are effective."

"Yeah, I noticed," Harry said grimly. "They need more practice."

"They're getting it today!" Ron cried, sending his bear into a compartment which a Dementor had entered from outside.

"We're surrounded!" Hermione cried, looking out of the windows next to her and the ones visible in the compartment beside Neville. "They're everywhere!"

Cries of "EXPECTO PATRONUM" floated through the train, with various shaped silvery mists, and some unshaped mist, coming out of wands all over the place. Most of these Patronus charms weren't strong enough to chase Dementors away but they at least held them at bay until a stronger one came along, usually Harry's or Ron's, since they were the fastest at casting the spell. Hermione's otter gambolled and played on its way to chasing the Dementors, then flipped the monster in the mask with its back feet, flitting off to take on another one. Ginny's horse galloped around, either rearing and pawing the enemy to the ground, or turning and kicking with its back feet, sending the Dementors flying out of the windows. Neville shocked himself by finally making a corporeal Patronus when a Dementor got too close to Luna. His Patronus was a dolphin that flapped its tail in the monster's face, knocking it down, after which it skulked away.

Harry raced back down the corridor, followed closely by his friends, checking every compartment, then running into the next carriage and doing the same. In one compartment, a Dementor was kissing a young Slytherin boy. Harry's stag threw the attacker out of the window, but the boy was already lost. A second monster was about to kiss another boy in that compartment, but Harry's stag got to him in time. As the Dementor left, Harry knelt by the boy, who was gasping for breath.

"Are you OK?" Harry asked urgently, shaking the boy's shoulder roughly. "Wake up! Are you OK?"

The boy finally managed to focus his eyes a bit and nodded. "I. . .I think so."

"Good. Eat some chocolate, you'll feel better," Harry said, turning to race out the door again.

Ginny broke off a piece of chocolate from the bar in her pocket and handed it to the boy, pulling Ron and Neville away from the boy who'd been Kissed. "You can't help him now," she said. "Come on." The boys, Hermione and Luna followed Ginny out of the door. She looked both ways, looking for Harry. He'd disappeared. She ran in the direction they'd been going, looking from compartment to compartment. She saw him come out of a compartment several doors down, run a few feet, and direct his stag down the aisle toward a Dementor entering the train through a window. While Harry was concentrating on his Patronus, a ham-sized fist came out of a compartment door and hit him hard just above his ear. His head crashed against a bell mounted on the opposite wall and he fell to the floor, not moving.

"HARRY!" Ginny screamed as she ran to his side. She glanced into the compartment. There was a Third Year Slytherin who had followed Draco Malfoy slavishly ever since he'd started at Hogwarts, standing with his fists still held ready as if Harry might get up any moment and fight him. This boy was already nearly as big as Crabbe and Goyle. Ginny raised her wand and did the first hex she could think of. Soon the boy was screaming, covered in running sores. Ron and Hermione cursed him at the same time, Neville and Luna moments later, all with different spells. Where there had once been a large and angry boy was now a quivering slimy mass like a pudding that had melted. It had open running sores all over it, oozing blood and green pus.

"Serves him right," Ron snarled, turning back to Harry. "How is he, Gin?"

"It's bad," she said, trying not to fall apart. "I can feel a deep depression in his head from that boy's fist. He hit that bell on the wall, and he has a huge bump on the other side of his head from that. I can't help him. I'm afraid to move him. He needs a real healer." She conjured a neck brace for him and then dissolved into tears, not knowing what else to do for him. Hermione knelt beside Ginny, putting her arms around her friend and holding her as she sobbed. Ginny held Harry's hand, her other hand smoothing his hair or touching his cheek, over and over. He was bleeding from the ear on the side where the boy had punched him.

Ron looked around. The Dementors seemed to be gone now. He sent an Adfero to Remus, who came pounding down the passageway and fell to his knees beside Harry, Tonks close behind him.

"What happened?" Remus asked, his heart in his voice.

Ron filled him in, indicating the slimy pile in the compartment as the villain.

"Well done!" Tonks said admiringly. "Whatever jinx that was, I want to learn it."

"It was probably four or five jinxes and hexes all at the same time," Hermione murmured, "except the boils were Ginny's – those were first."

"Good work," Tonks assured all of them. "Now, Remus, make him comfortable, and I'll go and get a healer."

"Could you try to get Healer Pomfrey from St. Mungo's? Harry trusts him. His password is 'scar on his sister's elbow,'" Ginny said, tears streaming unheeded down her face.

"I'm onto it. I'll be back soon. Remus, get them to stop the train at the next station, all right? Otherwise, we might Apparate right in front of it, and that could hurt," Tonks said with a cheeky grin, trying to lighten things up a wee bit.

"Yes, I'll do that as soon as I get him settled," Remus said, kneeling next to his godson. Tonks blew him a kiss and Disapparated with a soft "pop."

"This looks bad," Remus said, worry creasing his prematurely aged face as he pushed Harry's thick hair aside as gently as he could to try to inspect the wounds. "We need some ice and some sterile cloths. Neville, run to the galley and ask the food trolley lady if she has any ice. We'll need two ice packs, one for each side of his head."

"Do you know how to treat this kind of injury?" Ginny asked anxiously.

"I used to be the mediwizard for a local Quidditch team. I've treated this kind of injury before. Ice and sterile coverings are the best things to do until a real healer comes along," Remus assured her. "You did well to conjure the neck brace for him, Ginny. I'm guessing you're the one who did that?" She nodded, tears streaming down her face. "I think that, once we have ice on both sides of his head and something over the wound to protect it, we can move him to someplace more comfortable. Luna, would you go look for the nearest empty compartment?"

She nodded and took off running, looking in each doorway she passed. Four doors down, she found an empty compartment. "Here!" she called, waving back to the group huddled anxiously around Harry.

"Thanks," Remus called. Neville came back with a bucket of ice and an armload of clean dishtowels, all the "clean cloths" he could find. Remus and Ginny carefully made ice packs that wouldn't press on Harry's wounds, but would cool them and possibly stop the swelling. "OK, Ron, I'm going to need your help. Ginny, you're the smallest. Come get in front of me, between my arms. Your job is to keep his head stable, his ice packs in place and his head and neck in line with each other. I'll carry his shoulders. Ron, you carry his legs. I'll conjure a stretcher to put under him, but I don't want to trust that with the train rocking along the tracks the way it is. Between the stretcher and us, we should get him there safely." Following Remus's instructions, Harry was soon lifted onto a conjured stretcher, Ginny gently steadying his head, Remus controlling the stretcher and Harry's shoulders, Ron holding Harry's legs at the far end of the stretcher, moving cautiously along the passageway. Shocked faces were sticking out of every compartment in the carriage.

"What happened?" "Is he dead?" "Did a Dementor get him?" The questions flew the length of the train as word spread that Harry Potter was seriously injured.

Ron yelled at them to get back as the sad procession slowly made its way past them. Carrying a young man who is six foot three through a train's narrow passageway is a difficult task. Turning such a long burden in that tight passage to go through the narrow door of a compartment proved to be impossible. Hermione Vanished the entire wall of the compartment in a fury, anxious to do something to help. They finally got their awkward load into the compartment, where Remus magically enlarged the seat so it would be long enough for Harry to be comfortable. He, Ginny and Ron put the stretcher on the enlarged seat.

Harry's breathing was quick and shallow, his colour very pale, blood still running from his ear and the wound on his head. Ginny started to press cloths against the wound to stop the bleeding, but Remus stopped her. "You can't press on a wound like that. You might push bone into his brain. Just keep it covered. The healer will be here soon."

Ginny's face, already pale, lost all colour as the reality of Harry's injuries sank in. She looked at him, her heart breaking. What could she do for him? "Oh. He needs blankets," she said, her training breaking through her numbed brain.

"I'll get some cloaks out of these trunks," Ron said, pulling two trunks down and digging out winter cloaks. "Here," he said, handing them to his sister.

"Thanks," she replied, sniffling hard as she gently spread the cloaks over her boyfriend's still form. She sat on the floor by his side, holding his hand, stroking his cheek, praying he'd wake up soon. The others stood around waiting, as helpless as she was, hoping he'd be all right, but the dent in his head above his ear had been painfully obvious to the naked eye before the ice pack was applied. His hair was matted with blood. Luna excused herself and reappeared with a basin of water and a flannel, handing it wordlessly to Ginny.

"Oh, thank you!" Ginny said, wringing the flannel out and dabbing at the blood on Harry's cheek and neck, trying to clean his ear and hair. She knew enough not to try to clean the wound itself. That was a real healer's job, not hers. When she cleaned around his earring, she sobbed. It hadn't protected him at all. She couldn't wait until she was making enough money to buy him good jewellery that would help keep him safe! Ron stood behind her, rubbing her and Hermione's backs, comforting them the best way he knew how.

Neville stood aside, not knowing what to do. Luna put her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder. Neville wrapped his arms around her gratefully. That simple contact was more comforting than Neville could have imagined. He looked at Harry, his heart breaking. Why couldn't he find some way to help? Everyone else had. He felt like such a loser. Harry had always been such a good friend to him, and here he was, not doing anything to help. He felt a slender hand rubbing the tears off of his cheeks.

"He'll be all right," Luna said quietly.

"He has to be," Neville said fiercely. "He just has to be." He held Luna closely for a moment more, then said, "I know what we can do. Harry hates rumours. Let's go tell people the truth about what happened." Luna nodded.

"That's a good idea, Neville," Remus commented. "Thanks."

"Yeah, thanks, mate. That will be a big help," Ron said solemnly. "I think Harry would appreciate that."

"Oh, while you're gone, please tell the driver to stop at the next station to pick up Tonks and the healer, all right?" Remus added. Neville nodded, and left with Luna to tell people what had happened, and that a healer was on the way.

In a little while, they felt the train slowing and finally stop. Within moments, Healer Pomfrey and Tonks were at the compartment door.

"How is he?" the healer asked Ginny. She just stared at him, her eyes inconsolable, unable to speak.

"This looks bad," Marcus mused. "Has he come round at all?" Everyone shook their heads. "Harry! Harry, wake up! I need you to wake up now. You're scaring poor Ginny to death. Wake up, Harry!" he called.

"What's your password?" Ginny asked suddenly.

"Scar on my sister's arm, just above the elbow," he replied immediately, giving her a quick smile. "Someone did this with a fist?"

"Yes, and then his head hit a bell on the wall on the other side – he has a bump as big as a tennis ball there," Ginny said, pointing to the injury.

"Remus, lift his head and shoulders without bending his neck. That neck brace looks good, but I want you to be very careful with him until we know what's going on in there. I need to get some potion down him," Marcus said. When Remus had him lifted sufficiently, Marcus put a few drops of potion in the young man's mouth. Harry didn't move, didn't react. His breathing was quite shallow, his skin so pale, his eyelids were nearly translucent. Marcus put a few more drops in his mouth. Still no reaction. More drops, and finally Harry drew a deep breath. "OK, put him down," Marcus said. "Ginny, call him. Tell him to wake up," the healer instructed.

"Harry? Harry, wake up! Come on, wake up! Harry, please! Wake up! I need you, sweetheart," she said, her voice breaking as she forced herself not to cry anymore. "Please, please, Harry, wake up!" She straightened up and leaned over him, kissing him gently on the lips. "Wake up, baby. Come on, wake up. Harry! Wake up!" She ran her hand over his forehead, tracing his scar with a fingertip, something she never did when he was awake. She ran her fingers through his hair, traced his eyebrows, removed his glasses and kissed his eyes, then his nose, then his lips again. "Wake up, baby, please, wake up!" As he finally began to stir, she sat down on the floor next to the seat where he lay, and took his hand in hers. She put her face in his palm, breathing in the scent of him. "That's it, you can do it. Please, please, wake up," she murmured, kissing his palm. His fingers curled and touched her cheek softly. She looked up and saw his eyes just barely open.

"Gin. . .?"

"Right here, baby."

"Wha. . .?"

"You're hurt, but you're going to be fine," she said heartily. The faces of those around her began to relax a bit as Harry regained some colour. His eyes were wandering around oddly.

"How do you feel, Harry?" Marcus said.

"Who. . .?" Harry murmured.

"Healer Pomfrey. My password is 'scar on my sister's elbow.' Remember me?" Marcus said as he looked into Harry's eyes and ran his fingers lightly over his injuries.



"Three," Harry insisted.

"Three what?" Marcus asked.

"Of you." Harry frowned and squinted, trying to get his eyes to work together properly. "Of all of. . ."

"You're seeing three of me?" Marcus replied, still examining his patient.

Harry tried to nod, gave it up and said, "Yeah."

"Here are your glasses," Ginny said, putting them back on his face.


"Better?" Marcus said.


"Harry, I want you to follow my finger. Don't try to move your head, just follow my finger with your eyes." Marcus held his finger over Harry's face, then moved it up and down, then side to side. "Very good, Harry. Now, can you wiggle your fingers for me?" Harry wiggled his fingers. "And your toes?" Harry moved his feet. "Excellent. Can you feel this?" Marcus said, touching Harry's knee.


"Great. Can you feel this?" Marcus said, touching the calf on Harry's other leg.


"And this?" Marcus prompted, acting as if he were touching Harry's leg somewhere, but actually not touching him at all.

Harry frowned. "Erm. . .no?"

"Excellent, Harry. Well done."

"Why couldn't I feel . . .?" he said, much more awake now than he had been just moments before.

"Because I wasn't touching you. That was just a test, to make sure you were telling me what you were really feeling. You're going to be fine."

"Tell . . . my head . . . that," he said, wincing in pain as Marcus pushed his hair aside to see the damage caused by that huge fist. "Ow!"

"I'm sorry. It's going to hurt a little bit until I get things cleaned up and can see what I'm doing here. It won't take long. Are you still seeing three of me?"

"Two now."

"Good! That's an improvement," Marcus said encouragingly.

"Why can't I move my head?"

"You're in a neck brace. We need to see how your neck is, make sure there's no damage there, before we can remove it. Just be patient with me, I'll get to it in a little while," Marcus assured him. Eventually, Harry's wounds were cleaned, potions put on them, and other potions inside him to speed the healing process.

"Better?" Ginny asked, seeing him looking around more alertly.

"Yeah, I guess," he replied. "There's only one of you now," he added, smiling at her.

"Good! I can't stand competition, you know," she said tartly, making him chuckle.

"Harry? If you feel strong enough, you might be able to speed the healing process yourself. Can you do your healing spell, or are you not feeling well enough?" Marcus asked.

"Maybe." Harry raised his hands awkwardly, trying to find the injuries. Ginny and Marcus placed his hands near the wounds and told him to be careful there. His face became concentrated, intense, and his fingers gingerly explored the sides of his head, finally coming to rest with the fingers of each hand surrounding the wound on that side. After several minutes of complete silence, he said, "My brain's bruised. And I have a huge dent in my head." He looked around the compartment. "Where's Merlin?"

"Oh! We forgot about him! He's in our compartment. We just stopped in the nearest empty one after you were hurt," Ginny said, appalled that they'd forgotten that Harry now had a bird with healing powers in its tears.

"Do you want me to get him, mate?" Ron offered. "I doubt he can fly in the passageway. It's probably too narrow for his wingspan."

"Yeah. Thanks, mate," Harry whispered. "Hurts."

"The dent in your head is not nearly as bad as it was when I got here. You're much better already," Marcus told him. "Can you heal the bruise on your brain? I can do it, but your way is much faster."

"I think so. . ." Several minutes later, he dropped his hands. "That's all I can do for now," he said, looking tired. "I need Merlin."

"Here he is," Ron said, coming in with the phoenix on his shoulder. Once in the compartment, Merlin glided down and sat on Harry's chest, looking him in the eyes for a few moments. The phoenix stretched his beautiful neck out so his head was over one of Harry's wounds. Thick, silvery tears fell from the bird's eyes onto the injury, healing it quickly. The bird moved to the other side of Harry's head and healed the lump there.

"Thanks, Merlin," Harry whispered, raising one hand wearily to pet him. The bird settled down on Harry's chest and began crooning to him sweetly, filling the room with phoenix song.

"I never get tired of hearing that," Hermione murmured.

"Me either," Ron agreed. "Makes me feel good all over."

"Are you feeling better, Harry?" the healer said. He nodded. "Let's see what kind of progress you've made." He examined Harry first with his wand, then using a crystal point as Healer Bradford had done. "I'm surprised that boy used his fist instead of a spell, but it makes the injuries easier to heal," he commented. He reached into his bag and pulled out another flagon of potion. "Your phoenix healed most of the injuries that you and I hadn't managed before. Drink this. It should take care of the rest of the damage. Then you'll just need to rest for a few days and you'll be fine."

"Rest? At Privet Drive?" Harry said sarcastically.

"What's he talking about?" Marcus asked the young man's friends.

"He lives with his aunt and uncle at Privet Drive. They're Muggles and have mistreated him all his life," Remus replied. "Harry, I'll stay with you until you're better. And I would love it if those Muggles give either of us a hard time."

"You'll stay with me?" Harry asked, suddenly hopeful. "Thanks!"

"My pleasure," Remus replied.

"I can come and visit you, if you want," Tonks said brightly.

"I'd like that, but I bet Remus would like it even more," Harry said, a twinkle in his eye. "Can we get this thing off my neck?" he asked Marcus.

"I need to make sure everything's all right back there. Hang on," he said, using the wand and the crystal to check for broken bones or any other damage. "Wonderful. All right, Harry, the collar can come off, but I have to do some adjusting to your neck and spine because of your being hit from the side," he said as he removed the collar. "It will sound awful, but it won't hurt you, I promise. If I didn't do this, you'd have pain in your neck and back from the bones being out of alignment. I'm going to do a Cushioning Charm on this bench and leave a gap where your face will fit so you'll be comfortable, then I'll help you roll over onto your stomach," the healer explained. "You just relax." With the young man positioned on his stomach, Marcus ran his hands over Harry's neck and spine, then said, "Breathe out. Relax," just before pressing his hands hard into Harry's back, making his spine crackle, Harry grunt, and everyone in the compartment cringe. He ran his hands over the boy's back again. "Good, that worked. Now, I need you to relax," he said as he lifted the boy's head from the magically cushioned seat. "Trust me, Harry. Just relax," he repeated calmly. Harry blew out a breath and did his best to relax his muscles. With a quick twist, his neck crackled and Marcus smiled in satisfaction. "Fantastic," he said as he used both wand and crystal to check his patient again. "Good as new. Well, almost. Here, see if you can sit up," he said, offering his hand to help Harry up. "You may be a little unsteady at first."

The boy sat up, weaving a little when he first became upright, then shaking his head as if to clear it. He squinted, then rubbed his eyes, sliding his hands back carefully over the sides of his head to see how he was. The dent and the lump were gone, just a sore spot on each side of his head to remind him of his injury. "Wow. Thanks, Healer Pomfrey!" he said, smiling at the man.

"You're welcome. And thanks for what you did to heal yourself. If you and your phoenix hadn't managed it, you'd be in St. Mungo's for a week at least."

Harry shuddered involuntarily.

"You feeling all right?" Marcus asked, concerned.

"Yeah. Just the idea of a week in St. Mungo's. . .sorry," he replied, grinning ruefully up at the healer.

Marcus grinned. "I understand completely." He reached into his bag and pulled out two flagons of potion. "These are pain potions. This one will help you sleep, and this one is the non-drowsy formula. The directions are on the flagons." He studied Harry's face for a long moment as the boy took the proffered flagons, then seemed satisfied with what he saw. He stood up and closed his bag. "If that's all, I'll go back to work. Did you have any casualties from the Dementor attack? Someone else I should see?"

"One boy was Kissed, but everyone else seems to be fine, and we got chocolate into everybody," Tonks replied"Show me that boy. I'll take him back to St. Mungo's with me," Healer Pomfrey said. He and Tonks left to find the Slytherin boy.

"Harry! You're all right!" Neville cried as he and Luna came back to the compartment.

"Yeah. Still a bit sore and all, but the healer said I'd be fine," Harry said with a weary smile.

"Come on, let's go tell everyone," Neville said, taking Luna by the hand and trotting down the passageway again.

Harry chuckled. "Looks like they got over being shy with each other," he mused. He looked at his friends and asked, "What happened to me?" They told him the story, and what they'd done to the boy who'd attacked him. "Wish I could've seen that!" he said with a grin.

"It's probably still there, quivering like a great melting pudding," Ron replied.

"I should go check on him, actually," Remus said. "Will you be all right, Harry?"

"Yes, thanks. I'll be fine."

"I'll look in on you on my way back to my compartment, then. Call me if you need me," Remus replied.

"Thank Tonks for me, will you?" Harry asked suddenly.

"It will be my pleasure," Remus replied, his eyes twinkling.

"I knew that," Harry said with a cheeky grin. Remus laughed, then waved and left.

"Wonder why that boy hit me?" Harry wondered.

"He was a Malfoy fan," Hermione said. "He used to follow Malfoy everywhere."

"Not that fat little boy who had a funny walk?" Harry asked. "Bowlegged or duck-footed or something?"

"The very one," Ron assured him. "He's huge now, like Crabbe and Goyle. I guess we didn't notice him because he's a Third Year and we never had classes with him."

"I wish he'd never noticed me!" Harry said ruefully, rubbing at the few bits of his hair still matted with blood.

"You're a little hard not to notice," Ginny purred, leaning down to kiss him. "Don't scare me like that again, OK?"

"I'll do my best," he promised.

"That's good enough for me," she assured him.

"Do you want to go back to our compartment, or stay here?" Ron asked. "I'll help you if you want to go back."

"Thanks, mate. Yeah, let's go back. Hedwig and Pig are alone in there with Crookshanks," Harry said smiling in anticipation of Hermione's outburst.

"Crookshanks wouldn't hurt either of them!" she cried defensively.

"I know, but you're so beautiful when you're angry," Harry teased. "Sorry, I couldn't resist."

"Are you calling my girlfriend beautiful?" Ron asked mildly as he helped Harry to his feet. Harry was still a bit wobbly. Ron pulled his friend's arm over his shoulder to help him balance.

"Yeah. She is. So's mine," he said with a cheeky grin, tightening his arm around his best friend's neck playfully.

"Yeah, she is," Ron agreed amiably as the girls giggled behind them. "They both are, actually. Just checking."

Once they got back to their own compartment, Harry sat in his corner, pulling Ginny into his arms again. Soon their compartment looked just as it had before the Dementor attack. Ron and Hermione, Ginny and Harry were all napping, Neville and Luna snogging, Merlin sitting on the back of Harry's seat, his head under his wing.

When the food trolley lady stopped at their compartment, they all woke up. Harry reached for his pocket, ready to treat everyone to snacks as usual, but Ron put his hand out and said, "Nope. Not this time."


"Harry, you have treated us on every train ride we've ever taken together," Ron said seriously. "It's my turn."

Harry smiled and sat back in his seat, watching with a smile as Ron took a few galleons out of his pocket and took a deep breath. "We'll buy the lot," he said firmly, echoing Harry's words from their first train ride.

Hermione bit her lip, wanting to tell him to save his money, but not wanting to spoil this moment for him. Ginny looked at her, understanding her look, and smiled, then said, "Thanks, Ron!"

"Yeah, thanks, mate," Harry said sincerely as he reached out for a chocolate frog from the huge stack now on the seat beside him. Neville and Luna thanked Ron profusely and Hermione gave him a kiss.

Ron blushed madly, his ears fiery red, but he had a delighted smile on his face. This having money thing was fun!

They ate until they thought they'd burst, then Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione drifted off to sleep again. Neville and Luna snogged a bit and then cuddled happily for the rest of the trip.

A few hours later, they pulled into King's Cross Station. Neville and Luna left the compartment quickly, Ron and Hermione more slowly.

"Are you coming, mate?" Ron asked, noticing that Harry hadn't moved.

"Yeah, eventually. I'm just not in any hurry."

"Do you need some help getting up?" Ron asked, reaching out to help him.

"No, thanks. I'm not dizzy anymore. You guys go ahead. It's easier to get stuff down if the compartment's not so full."

"OK," Ron agreed, "but I'll get these trunks down for you." He got Ginny's and Harry's trunks and Hedwig's cage down and sat them on the seat opposite Harry and Ginny. "If you find you need help, or you want me to carry your trunk and Ginny's. . ."

"I'll let you know. Thanks, mate." Ron and Hermione finally left. Ginny sat watching Harry, who apparently didn't want to leave the train.

"Do you think they'd take me back to Hogwarts if I refused to get off?" he mused sadly.

"No. Come on, love, it won't be so bad," she said encouragingly.

"A lot you know," he grumbled. "Sorry, didn't mean to be ugly." She shrugged, not at all worried about his temper showing. It was understandable, given that he had Dursleys waiting for him. Finally, he got groaning to his feet.

"Are you all right?" Ginny asked in alarm.

"I'm fine," he said shortly.

"You always say you're fine!" she protested.

"I have a bleeding great headache. There, are you happy now?" he snapped. He saw the hurt look on her face and grabbed her shoulders. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I didn't mean to be so rude. I do have a bad headache, but I'll be fine. I love you, sweetheart. I didn't mean to hurt you." He folded her into his arms and covered her face with kisses, finally making her giggle.

"Do you want your pain potion? Remus has it," she said when he let her up for air.

"No, it's better already. I probably slept at a funny angle or something," he replied. "Then again, you're kissing it and making it better, aren't you?"

"Yes," she replied, pulling him closer and kissing him tenderly. He went from kissing her lips to nibbling her neck. "That tickles!" she laughed, pushing away from him a bit. She looked at his face in surprise. While he was kissing her, he'd grown his beard to make up for his show of bad temper a few minutes before. He knew it would make her happy. The white stripes looked very distinguished. "Oh, love. Look at you. You're magnificent."

"And love is blind, so I've heard. I think you just proved it," he said, kissing her neck again and laughing at the same time. He rubbed his beard over the soft skin under her ear, making her giggle.

"If you go outside like that, there will be girls all over you," she warned, pulling away from him and smiling up at him.

"That could be fun!" he joked, but then looked at her seriously. "But the only girl I want all over me is you." He kissed her quite thoroughly, earning groans, whistles and a wide variety of comments from the students passing by who could see into their compartment.

"Did you hear that?" Ginny said suddenly.


"Some girls were saying, 'Who's that man Ginny Weasley's snogging? Wait until Harry hears about this! Maybe he's free again!'"

"Oh boy. Just what I need, more fan girls. So should I keep the beard or get rid of it?"

"Keep it. I like it, and I know it's you under there," she teased, smoothing his moustache away from his lips, then running her fingers down the white stripes that outlined his chin.

"As you wish, m'lady," he replied, kissing her lightly on the nose, then lifted their trunks off the seat. Ginny carried Hedwig in her cage. They stepped off the train with him carrying both trunks and Merlin riding on his shoulder, still looking like a phoenix.

"Look, that's Harry's owl! That man in the beard. . .it can't be Harry, can it? Is that a phoenix?" The fan girls were staring, pointing and discussing him as if he couldn't hear them.

"Did you know I can hear everything you're saying?" he said, turning to them suddenly, his eyes blazing in a flash of temper. "Yes, I'm Harry, and Ginny and I are still together and always will be. You girls need to find boyfriends of your own. What you need is a good snog with someone you care about – and that someone is NOT me! Have a good holiday." With that, he put his and Ginny's trunks on a trolley, stowed Hedwig on top, and put the scarlet macaw glamour on Merlin as he forcibly tamped down his anger.

"With Merlin as a macaw and sitting on your shoulder, you look even more like a pirate," Ginny teased as she looked up at him.

Only Ginny could tease him out of a temper so quickly. "Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of butterbeer," he growled in his best impression of a pirate's voice, squinting one eye shut and trying to look tough. Her laughter pealed through the station, his deep chuckles not far behind. "I guess we have to go now, huh?" She nodded. He pushed his way through the divider between platforms 9 and 10, with Ginny close behind him, emerging in the sunlight at King's Cross Station.

The Weasleys were hugging Hermione and Ron and talking with them animatedly. The Grangers stood nearby, having already hugged their daughter and Ron. At the edge of the platform stood the Dursleys. Harry's stomach clenched at the sight of them. How was he going to survive there even a few weeks? Remus caught his panicked eyes, and nodded reassuringly. Harry relaxed a bit. With a werewolf in the house, they wouldn't give him a hard time for long.

He parked the trolley near the Weasleys and took Ginny in his arms again, holding her close, his head bent down next to hers as he drank in the scent of her. "I'll call you on my ring every evening, maybe even more often. And I'll write to you lots. Take good care of yourself."

"Stay safe. Stay well. I'll write every day," she promised.

"If you do, you'll wear out poor Errol!" Harry said with a laugh. He turned and looked at his owl. "Hedwig, would you like to spend the summer with Ginny? You know she lives in the country," he said, doing his best to coax her so she wouldn't be angry at either of them. "There's loads of fresh air. Tons of mice and frogs to hunt. And I'll bet she won't ever lock you up." He glanced at Ginny and saw a grin spreading over her face.

"You'll never be locked up at my house, Hedwig," she promised.

"See? You can fly whenever you want," he added. The owl hooted dolefully at him, then blinked and turned her head to consider Ginny. She looked back at Harry and hooted a bit more cheerfully. "Thanks, girl," he told his owl. He turned to Ginny and said, "Hedwig can carry your letters, and I'll use Merlin instead."

"I can't believe you'd let me borrow Hedwig," she breathed. Hedwig was the first pet Harry had ever owned, his only friend on Privet Drive during the long, horrible holidays at the Dursleys ever since he'd started Hogwarts. He'd always been generous about sharing, but lending his owl for the summer was a huge gift.

"I'd feel awful if Errol died from carrying our letters," he said with a smile. "Hedwig will enjoy the exercise, and living in the country will be good for her. I'll visit her as often as I can – and you, too, of course."

"Where is that infernal boy?" Vernon snarled, studying faces in the crowd. "Maybe they finally put him in jail or something. I'm leaving if he doesn't show up soon," he told Petunia and Dudley. Harry wasn't that far from him, but none of the Dursleys recognized him. They hadn't seen him since he'd become so tall, developed huge pectoral muscles from flying in his Animagus forms, and grown his beard with its white stripes. His face still bore scars from the battle, as well. He looked like a complete stranger to them.

"There you are, Ginny," Arthur said fondly. "Harry, it's good to see you. I heard about the trouble on the train. Are you feeling quite well now?"

"Much better, thanks."

Arthur started to take Ginny's things, setting Hedwig's cage on Harry's trunk. "Harry's letting her come with me, Dad," Ginny told him.

"Hedwig? Why?"

"So I can write to Harry often without wearing out Errol."

"Oh, that's very generous of you, lad. What will you do to send your mail?" he asked as he moved Hedwig's cage to sit on Ginny's trunk.

"I'll use Merlin," Harry replied, nodding at the parrot perched on his shoulder.

"That's your phoenix? Nice glamour! Well done. I wouldn't have known it was him at all."

"Thanks!" Harry said, smiling broadly. Learning to do that particular Glamour Charm had taking some doing, especially creating one that would last a long time. He was rather proud of how well he'd managed it.

Ron and Hermione joined them. "See you soon, mate," Ron said, gently punching Harry in the arm.

"Yeah, I can't wait," Harry replied. "When do you leave for Italy?" he asked Hermione.

"In two weeks. I'll be able to come to your party!" she said, her eyes sparkling as she smiled up at Harry. "My parents may come as well!"

"My party?"

"The one the Weasleys are throwing for you and Ginny. It's next Saturday. Didn't you know?" Hermione said.

"We haven't got that far in our conversation yet," Arthur explained. "Will Saturday work for you, Harry?"

"Yeah!" he said, putting his arm around Ginny and squeezing her shoulders. "Saturday will be great! Thanks."

Dudley Dursley poked his parents. "Mum – that must be him over there. The tall one with the beard and the big red bird on his shoulder."

Vernon gazed at his massive son indulgently. "That can't be him, Dudders. That's a grown man. Look at the grey in his beard."

"Those are Harry's friends all around him. That redheaded boy, that girl with the curly hair? The boy is a lot taller, but the girl isn't that different. That white owl looks like Harry's. That redheaded man is the one who blew up our living room that time. And the guy with the beard has messy black hair and glasses like Harry."

"Oh my goodness," breathed Petunia as Harry moved and she could see more of his face. She noted the maturity, the eyes that had seen far more than a boy his age should have, the grown man's physique and appearance of her nephew. Despite the beard, he looked familiar, yet vastly different. "He looks so much like James," she murmured in disbelief, but no one heard her.

Harry sighed as he took Ginny in his arms. "Last kiss for a while," he said sadly.

"Make it a good one," she urged him, and he complied. He held her close a moment longer. As he held her, he looked up and saw Remus kissing Tonks. He winked at his godfather when Remus came up for air, then kissed Ginny once more and followed Remus and Tonks as they walked toward the Dursleys.

Dudley's face was ashen. He'd seen Harry holding that beautiful red-haired girl, trying to suck her tonsils out, and it appeared she'd been doing the same to him. How did he rate such a gorgeous girlfriend? And how the hell had he grown so bloody big? Tall and muscular both? Where was his skinny shrimp of a cousin?

Tonks's hair was bright pink today, spiked all over her head, and she had a small glittery stone in the side of her nose, as well as a long dangly decoration hanging from her exposed bellybutton that sparkled as she walked. The Dursleys looked from Tonks, to Remus with his scarred face and prematurely greying hair, to a giant Harry Potter with a beard, earring and new scars on his face, and their faces fell, horror-struck. Harry snorted with grim laughter at their expressions.

"Hello, Mr. Dursley, Mrs. Dursley, Dudley," Remus said politely. "Do you remember me? I'm Remus Lupin, Harry's godfather."

"His godfather's dead. He told us so last summer," Vernon snapped.

"That was Sirius Black, his original godfather," Remus corrected gently. "He was one of my dearest friends, as was Harry's father. I offered to be Harry's guardian last summer and he asked me to be his godfather as well. All the legal documents have been filed. I am his legal guardian and godfather."

"Then he can go and live with you!" Vernon cried triumphantly.

"No, he can't. This is the last summer he will have to live with you, but for the protections to remain in place, he must live with you for part of the holidays. It may not have occurred to you, but those protections also safeguard your family. As long as Harry's there, you're much safer than you would be if he weren't," Remus said reasonably. "I'm sorry to impose, but I will be staying with Harry for at least a week."

"What? Who the hell do you think you are?" Vernon sputtered. Petunia was wringing her hands anxiously.

"If I were you, I wouldn't make a scene here," Remus warned. "And I need to stay with Harry because he was injured on the train. He needs to be watched for several days to make certain he's all right and healing properly."

"He doesn't look ill to me," snapped Vernon.

"He had a fractured skull and bruising on his brain among other things," Remus said quietly. "They were very serious injuries and he needs to be looked after. I will feel better looking after him myself than hoping he's getting proper care from you."

Vernon's face got a sly look. "You say this boy had a fractured skull that happened on this train ride today?"

"Yes. That's part of the reason the train is late."

"He looks fine! I see no injury. He looks perfectly healthy. We'll just be going and you can go wherever you normally stay," he said dismissively. "Come on, boy."

Remus was making a very obvious effort to stay calm. "I told you he had a fractured skull. I don't tell lies. Wizard medicine works much more quickly than Muggle medicine."

Harry looked at Remus and saw the feral light in his eyes that almost never showed except at the full moon. "Um, Uncle Vernon? Don't push Remus any more. You don't want to see him angry."

"He can damned well see me angry!" Vernon blustered, his face a magnificent shade of plum, his moustache blowing about fiercely as he blustered.

"Uncle Vernon," Harry murmured, leaning down to speak very softly to his relatives so passers-by couldn't hear, "Remus is a werewolf. He has the strength of a dozen men. He is a very gentle man, usually, but you're making him angry. If he wants to, he can chuck you and Dudley both over the roof of the station, at the same time, without breaking a sweat. Do not make him any angrier." He straightened up and stepped away, enjoying the sight of Uncle Vernon's face as he digested the information Harry had just given him. His face went from purple to mottled purple and white, like a plum pudding in clotted cream.

"There's no such thing. . ." Vernon sneered, but Remus interrupted him.

"Shall I come visit you on the full moon?" he said softly, leaning close to Vernon, glaring into his eyes, willing the thick-headed man to believe him. "Everything Harry said was true. Don't force me to prove it. And don't you ever doubt that young man's word again." His voice had become quietly dangerous.

A railway policeman strolling by sensed the anger in the group and moved to confront them. "Any trouble here, folks?"

Vernon was the first to answer. "No, no trouble, officer," he simpered. "My nephew and his godfather were just telling us some, um, family news, that's all. No problem. Thank you for checking."

When the security guard moved away, Harry, Remus and Tonks took their hands out of their pockets, where all three had been gripping their wands, prepared to do whatever was necessary.

"You know, guv, you're the worst wanker I've seen in a long time. You have an international hero for a nephew. Get him to show you his medals when you get home," Tonks suggested, her face uncharacteristically grim. "He has saved a lot of lives the last several months, including Remus's and mine. You will treat him with proper respect, and the same goes for Remus. If you were worried about that policeman, you should be doubly worried about me. I'm what you might call a Scotland Yard kind of person in my world. I'd just love to haul you in. Please, please give me an excuse!"

Vernon giggled as his eyes roved from the top of her colourful head to the heavy workman's-type boots on her feet, taking in the bellybutton decoration and the shiny stone on the side of her nose, as well. "You expect me to take you seriously?"

"I would if I were you," Harry warned.

Just then, Arthur Weasley joined them. "Problem, Harry?"

"The usual," he replied with a sigh.

"I could see the tension between you lot from way over there," Arthur said quietly. "Whatever you're talking about, it shouldn't be discussed in public, not in front of all these Muggles."

"You're right. I'm sorry," Harry apologized. "Come on, Uncle Vernon, let's go."

"You'll leave that ruddy great bird with those. . .those friends of yours. Did you replace that blasted owl?" Vernon said snidely.

"This 'ruddy great bird' is coming with me. My owl is staying with my girlfriend, but she'll be bringing me mail, so she'll be around frequently," Harry replied calmly.

"I. Will. Not. Tolerate. Any. Sodding. Owls!" Vernon growled as quietly as he could, his face going plum again.

"You will tolerate however many owls come to the house," Harry replied, exuding power merely by straightening his posture and looking gravely at his uncle as he spoke. "It's legal for me to turn you into a kumquat now, you know." He smiled a bit in satisfaction as his uncle blanched.

"Mr. Dursley," Arthur began, trying to find a way to defuse the situation, "I'm sure you remember me. Arthur Weasley?" He held his hand out hopefully.

"How could I forget, after you blasted a sodding great hole in our living room," Vernon snarled, purpling up again and pointedly ignoring Arthur's extended hand.

"You need to accept the fact that we're close to Harry. We're going to be relatives someday," Arthur said, pride in his voice as he clapped Harry on the shoulders. "Your nephew and our daughter are – what did you call it, Harry?"

"Spoken for," he replied shortly. He hadn't really wanted the Dursleys to know so many details about his life.

"Well, 'engaged to be engaged,' you might say, or 'promised.' At any rate, we're having a party in their honour on Saturday. Just family and a few friends. Would you like to come?" Arthur said as nicely as possible.

Vernon sputtered and puffed up in even more rage, but Petunia put her hand on his arm. "He's engaged?" she said sceptically.

"Not really engaged. Just promised," Harry corrected.

"Is she . . .?" Petunia asked nervously.

"She's a witch, yes, from a long line of purebloods," Harry said quietly. The look on his aunt's face told him that wasn't what she'd wanted to know. His temper flared dangerously, making the glass in the station windows rattle as if five trains were all pulling in to the station at once. "No, she's not what you're thinking," he snarled. "We love each other. That's all you need to know."

"What was she thinking?" Arthur asked Harry innocently.

"That I'd got her in trouble," Harry growled, fighting to control his temper. Petunia's expression confirmed his interpretation.

Arthur's temper was in danger of flaring too. He stifled it with visible effort. When he'd managed to calm himself, he said, "So will you be joining us or not? We need to know how many to plan for."

"No, we will not!" Vernon snarled.

"Good!" Harry retorted.

"I'm sorry, Harry. I thought I should make the gesture," Arthur told the young man placatingly.

"I know. You just don't understand them very well."

"I'd hoped we could build some bridges since we're going to be related," Arthur said simply.

Harry's heart softened. Arthur was a generous, kind-hearted man and had done his best to do the right thing. "Thanks for trying. Don't worry about it, OK?"

"All right. See you Saturday. Tonks, you're coming with Remus, right?"

"Yes!" she said brightly. "I wouldn't miss it!"

"Great, I'll add you to the list. Four o'clock, then? We'll have a picnic in the garden, maybe play some Quidditch, that kind of thing. The twins are going to do a fireworks display after dark. That should be fun," he said with a smile.

Harry grinned. "It sounds brilliant. I can't wait."

"Have a good week, then, Harry. See you soon. Bye, Remus, Tonks. See you Saturday!" Arthur said as he walked away. "Goodbye, Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, Dudley. You don't know what you're missing by treating Harry the way you do. He's a wonderful young man. Try treating him well. Try getting to know him. This may be your last chance to do so. I hope you have a nice holiday."

The Dursleys remained stubbornly silent as Arthur left. Dudley took advantage of his parents' attention being riveted on Arthur's retreating back, and sidled over next to Harry, looking him up and down in disbelief.

"What happened to you?" Dudley asked, looking up at Harry's great height and broad shoulders.

"I grew. Don't bother me or I'll give you pig's feet to go with that tail you had before," Harry warned offhandedly.

Vernon turned back to look Harry over as well. "What is wrong with that pathetic excuse for a school, letting you grow a beard. . .?"

"Oh, I grew it for my girlfriend. That beautiful redhead you saw me snogging? That's her. I can get rid of the beard if it will please you, Uncle Vernon," Harry said cheekily.

"Yes, you will!" Vernon snapped.

"OK," Harry said amiably, and an instant later, the beard was gone. Passers-by looked at him askance. Surely they hadn't seen what they thought they'd just seen? They shook their heads and went on about their business. Meanwhile, the Dursleys were gasping as if there was no air to be had anywhere. Harry laughed again, winking at Remus and Tonks. "This summer might not be so bad after all," he said with a roguish grin.

The End

I hope you've enjoyed "The Refiner's Fire" as much as I've enjoyed writing it. Be sure to read the sequel to "The Refiner's Fire," "The Time of Destiny," which begins moments after Refiner's ends and covers the summer as well as Harry's Seventh Year at Hogwarts. I will begin uploading one chapter per week of "Destiny" beginning next week (probably around 29 June 2005). Please remember to review! -- Abraxan