Hello my friends! Well, did you all enjoy the HBP as much as we did? Anyone else think that it was more a ramp-up for Book Seven than a stand alone novel? Anyone else already willing to fly to the UK, track down JKR and DEMAND she finish Book Seven a WHOLE LOT quicker than she did Book Six?
My personal theory? Snape isn't as guilty as he's being made out to be, he and Dumbledore had some kind of a deal. There seemed to be more going on in that scene at the top of the tower than Dumbledore begging for his life. I suppose we'll see. In a year – or three! In the meantime, we have fanfiction to keep us occupied. And I have, as promised, embarked on a post-HBP fic. This one is to get the juices flowing, folks... comments are welcome!
BTW – I'm killing myself laughing at one particular reviewer... anonymous, of course, who flamed me and essentially attempted to rip me a new one several months back, being doggedly insistent that H/Hr was the direction that JKR was taking, and Harry would never look at Ginny as more than a mild annoyance... LOL! Take THAT, you ship-doubter you!
Now, on with the show!
ev·a·nesce intr.v. To dissipate or disappear like vapor. n : the event of fading and gradually vanishing from sight; "the evanescence of the morning mist"
Chapter One: Return to Privet Drive
Harry had thought that the return journey to London the previous year had been difficult. After Sirius' death at the Department of Mysteries, after his decimation of Dumbledore's office, after... well, after everything that had happened... Ron, Hermione... Ginny being injured. Neville and Luna...
Well, it had been bad. He'd been numb with shock, almost not present as the Hogwarts Express had pushed steadily south last June. But he would repeat that numbness, trade it in an instant, for the pain he was bearing now, in silence.
Across the compartment, Ron and Hermione spoke in soft, worried whispers. Ginny sat on the same side as Harry, but well away from him. What he'd said to her at Dumbledore's funeral took away her right to touch him, to comfort him, regardless of how much he yearned for her right now... her closeness, her hand on his arm, the smell of flowers that seemed to follow her about.
Harry knew that he couldn't give in to the longing, though. He couldn't pull her into his arms and sob into her shoulder, let her stroke his back with her hand, as he knew she would do. As he wished she would do. He couldn't make her even more of a target than she already was, just by being a Weasley, and his friend. Sirius' death had hurt him, almost beyond measure, and Dumbledore's death had been a blow he didn't know if he would ever recover from.
But Ginny...well, that would surely kill him.
The compartment door slid open and Ron turned, glaring at the person who had dared open the door and infringe upon their privacy. His silent response to potential intruders had already run off three seventh years, a sixth year and two third years who were looking for a prefect to reverse a hex gone badly wrong.
"Um... sorry, Ron. I just..."
Ron sighed, "It's okay, Neville."
"I didn't mean to interrupt, but..."
"Neville, come in," Hermione said softly, lifting her head from Ron's shoulder. Her eyes were still red rimmed, as they had been for the past three days. Since the day they'd sealed Dumbledore in his cold, white tomb.
"Yes," said Harry without turning away from the window. It was the first word he'd spoken in the four hours they'd been sitting there.
"I just..." Neville, still hesitating, was pushed into the compartment from behind to admit a pretty little blonde with huge, distinctive eyes. Luna came further in, shutting the door behind them and sat herself down between Harry and Ginny while Neville sat down in the corner of the opposite seat.
Luna looked hard at Harry until he turned to look back. They locked gazes for a moment, and Luna smiled.
"We all miss him," she said softly, "But he's not really gone."
Harry remembered his conversation with this strange girl at the end of the previous year, after the Department of Mysteries, while everyone else was attending the Leaving Feast. He smiled despite himself, and there seemed to be a collective sigh from the others.
"So, what's going on out there, then?" Harry sat up straighter, turning back towards the others from where he'd been slouched, staring out the window at the countryside as it passed.
"Well, two fifth year prefects caught Dean and..." Neville suddenly stopped, flushed, and looked down at his hands.
"Neville, Dean and I are over," Ginny said. "Have been for some time. Who'd he get caught with, and doing what?"
"They... snogging," Neville said quietly.
"Dean and who?" Ron asked with a laugh.
"Lavender," Neville's voice was almost a whisper. He glanced nervously up at Ron. "In the loo."
There was a moment of silence in the car as Ginny and Ron exchanged looks, then surprise as they both broke out into laughter.
"Good on her," Ron chuckled.
"I daresay Dean will appreciate her more than you did, Ron," Ginny giggled.
"Appreciation?" Hermione snorted. "Is that what they're calling it?"
Harry glanced around at his friends, and sighed. Ron and Hermione were determined to not let him do what he had to do alone. He knew that. He knew that short of stunning them and locking them in a closet somewhere, and stealing their wands for good measure, he wouldn't be able to leave without them. He could only thank Merlin that the other three hadn't gotten wind of his plans.
Their arrival at Kings Cross Station was much more reserved than it had been other years. Probably because the train was only barely half full. A lot of students had been fetched from the school by irate or frightened parents in the days after Dumbledore's death, Harry looked down the long platform to see two red heads bobbing toward them.
"Here come Fred and George," said Ron.
Hermione stepped off the train, levitating her trunk behind her.
"Okay, Harry, Ron... I'm off. I'll be at the Burrow in two days... should be Thursday right after lunch, then. Okay?"
"Your parents?" Ron glanced around.
"I told them not to pick me up, that I'd apparate. I have a lot to tell them, best that they get used to my doing things on my own."
With this, she quickly hugged them all, then, clutching the handle of her trunk, popped out of existence directly in front of them.
Ron sighed, "It's scary how good she is at that."
They met Fred and George as they approached the barrier. Harry, expecting their usual jovial greetings, was surprised when they merely nodded.
"Ron, Ginny... Harry. Alright then?"
"Where's Mum?" Ginny asked, her brow furrowing. Molly had always met the train.
"At the Burrow taking care of Bill," Fred said. "She asked us to fetch you back to the shop and send you through the floo. Ronniekins can Apparate."
"So, I'm to be fetched, am I?" Ginny huffed. "Like a bloody package?"
Harry almost smiled at her reaction. Ginny's temper was one of the things he'd missed sorely this week. The twins, oddly, didn't respond to it.
"Got your things, then?"
"Yes," she snapped.
"Harry? You apparating, or...?"
"I'm going back to the muggles. For a few days, anyhow."
Fred and George just stared at him, dumbfounded. Harry had told them, and everyone else, really, often enough that, if it weren't for Dumbledore's insisting, he'd never have anything more to do with the Dursleys... ever. And here he was choosing to return?
Harry met their eyes and felt his back stiffen. He had something he had to do, and he knew that.
"Dumbledore wanted me to. I'll go for a few days, and then I'll come to the Burrow on Thursday, like Hermione."
"Well, then..." Fred took a breath. "Let's be off, then."
As they walked through the barrier, Harry looked around.
"See your uncle, Harry?" Ron asked.
"No. But I'm sure he'll be along. I'll see you Thursday, Ron."
"Right, then," Ron stepped away, followed closely by Neville, and Luna until she spotted her father in the crowd and waved happily before running off towards him.
Harry turned to look down at Ginny, who stared up at him as though trying to commit him to her memory.
"You are coming?" she asked softly.
"Harry," she took a breath. "It will kill Mum if you just... disappear. You know that, right?"
"I'll be there, Ginny. I promise."
She smiled, then hugged him. "I know why you want it this way, Harry... why you feel it needs to be this way. I understand. It's okay."
Harry nodded jerkily against her soft hair. He closed his eyes and breathed in the flowery scent of her. He'd never forget that smell.
It damned near killed him to let her go, but he did, stepping back and swallowing the tears he could feel at the back of his throat. But he couldn't look away. Her deep brown eyes were steady as she stared back.
"Thursday?" she asked, hitching her bag up onto her shoulder.
"Thursday," he nodded.
"Well, we'll see you then."
And Ginny Weasley turned and walked away from him without once looking back.
Harry waited. And waited. An hour later he gave in and admitted that his uncle probably wasn't coming, and considered his options.
He could simply go to the Leaky Cauldron and...
No. Dumbledore had wanted him to return to the Dursley's this year, he had had his reasons, and Harry knew that he couldn't go against it... it was really the last thing he could do for the old wizard.
So, he had to find a way there. Did he have any muggle money?
Suddenly, he laughed. Was he a wizard or wasn't he? Looking around, he spotted a dark archway some thirty feet away and headed for it. Technically, he shouldn't be doing this, as he didn't have his apparation licence yet, but he also understood the finer points of magic tracking better than he had after his second year at Hogwarts. He knew that in a place as full of witches and wizards picking up the other students, his apparating would be dismissed as someone else, if it was picked up at all. Unless he performed magic somewhere where there was no expectation of magic being performed, he was safe.
And it wasn't like he was planning on returning to Hogwarts this year, anyhow. To snap his wand... well, the Ministry would have to catch him first.
He knew he couldn't apparate into the house, he assumed the wards would still be in place to prevent apparition and he didn't fancy splinching himself, but there was somewhere he could apparate to.
Thinking of his Destination, he gathered his Determination and mentally pushed himself. A moment later he, his trunk, and a very upset Hedwig were all standing in a sheltered copse of trees in the little park down the street from number four.
Sighing, Harry lifted Hedwig's cage in one hand and took the handle of his trunk in the other, and began to walk. He hadn't taken four steps when it began to rain.
"Bloody brilliant," he muttered. "I ought to hex Uncle Vernon for this... turn his fingers into..."
He saw the estate agent's sign before he got another step – or another thought – further. The front door was closed, the lights off. Even the front porch light in it's fancy brass stand was turned off. Aunt Petunia turned that light on herself every evening half an hour before Uncle Vernon was due home.
The house was dark. And there was a pile of weathered newspapers occupying the front step. Harry sighed again.
Trying the door, he found it locked and glanced around to make sure that no was about before pulling his wand from his pocket.
"Alohamora," the incantation was given silently.
The door clicked open and Harry entered quickly, pulling his things after him and shutting the door behind him. Leaving Hedwig and his trunk standing in the hall, he walked towards the kitchen.
The house felt empty. Not the emptiness of no one being home, but the emptiness of no one having been there in days. Harry was glad of the wand in his hand as he entered the kitchen and flicked on the light.
He spotted the box on the table immediately. There was an envelope sitting squarely on top. Looking around, he could see that all that remained was furniture. All the little items belonging to the Dursley's were gone. The walls were clear of the many pictures of his porky cousin, the china cabinet empty of Aunt Petunia's treasured crystal and Royal Albert place settings. There was a pile of boxes in the corner of the lounge marked "fragile" in Aunt Petunia's neat handwriting.
Looking back down at the envelope, Harry felt only a distant sense of resignation. He knew before he opened it what it contained, but he opened it anyhow.
"Harry, we have made the decision to move overseas. Your uncle has been given a promotion. The movers will be coming for the furniture on the fifteenth of July, please be gone by then – Petunia."
Despite knowing what the letter contained, her words hit him hard. They'd moved. They'd left without telling him. They hadn't even told him where they'd moved to, only that it wasn't in England. His mother's sister... the only family he had left had just abandoned him without a second thought.
Harry took up the box and headed back out towards the front hall. Without thinking, he placed the box atop his trunk, grasped Hedwig's cage tightly, and disapparated away.
Dumbledore's wards must have died with him, for Harry didn't splinch.
The Burrow was brightly lit as Harry apparated at the end of the long dirt drive and looked up at it. Turrets and towers and additions of every shape and size poked out at odd angles here and there... everywhere, really. The large tree which stood in the back yard framed it darkly against the evening sky. Stars were beginning to twinkle even now, although to the west the sky was still a pearly, iridescent blue.
Taking a deep breath, Harry began walking up the drive. He'd never knocked on the front door of the Burrow before. Apparently, there was a first time for everything. The door was answered by a cautious Arthur Weasley, for no one who knew where the Burrow was would bother to knock at the door... they'd use the floo.
"Harry?" Arthur looked surprised. "Harry, we weren't expecting you until Thursday..."
"What on earth?" Molly bustled into the hall, taking one look at Harry's white face and rushing forward to pull him inside. "Harry, what is it? What's happened?"
"I know I'm early," Harry said. "I'm sorry. I didn't know where else to go."
"Come in, out of the rain, dear..." Molly pulled him further in, and took Hedwig's cage from him. Hedwig hooted indignantly and ruffled her damp feathers. "Of course you came here, love, and rightly so! This is your home. Arthur, close the door!"
"Harry?" Arthur closed the door and took the trunk from Harry's hand as Harry heard rushed footsteps on the stairs. Looking up, he saw a curious, then surprised, Ron and Ginny.
"What... your aunt and uncle?" Arthur held a hand up as he spoke to stop Ron from interrupting. "Did they not come to Kings Cross for you?"
"I... no. No, they didn't," Harry admitted.
"So where the hell have you been all this time, then?" Ron asked. "We've been home for hours!"
"I... I apparated to Little Whinging... I... Dumbledore wanted me to go there at the end of this year, so I went. But..."
"What happened, love?" Molly asked gently.
"They were gone."
"Gone?" Arthur Weasley looked at him, his blue eyes snapping. "Gone? As in...?"
"Gone. Moved. Left the country," Harry said. "Estate agents placard on the front lawn... my things packed and waiting for me. Gone."
"Oh... Harry... come, love, into the kitchen. You've not eaten since the train, then?"
"Come, there's a plate of dinner I'll warm up."
"Mrs Weasley, I'm... I'm not very hungry, I..."
"You've got to eat, Harry," Ginny came down the stairs quickly and grasped his arm, pulling him toward the kitchen. "Ron, take Harry's things upstairs."
Ron silently did as he was told as Harry was led from the room by his mother and sister, but not before he shared a concerned, and dangerous, look with his father.
Harry ate the chicken and vegetables that Mrs Weasley placed in front of him, and drank the tea that Ginny brewed, all wordlessly. He hadn't been lying, he really wasn't hungry, but it wasn't worth arguing with the Weasley matriarch, and the longer he spent in the kitchen, the longer it would be before he had to go upstairs and leave Ginny behind. So long as he sat at the table eating, he knew she would stay nearby. He desperately needed to be near her right now, even if he couldn't touch her.
So he ate. He ate everything on the plate, and when Mrs Weasley offered more, he took that, too. Numbly.
He'd known that the Dursley's didn't want him around. How could he not know that, the way they'd been with him over the years? But going back to Privet Drive to find them already moved, with no forwarding address, on top of everything else, had just been too much.
But he didn't know if it was the shock of finding them gone, or his inability to follow through on Dumbledore's wishes for him to return there once more this year, that was making him feel like this. Like he had failed, somehow. Again.
"Alright, then?" Molly asked gently, touching his shoulder.
He nodded, but couldn't produce a smile.
"You should get off to bed then, Harry. It's after eleven."
"Just a minute, Molly," Arthur said softly from the door. "Harry?"
"You apparated out of the house?"
"You're underage, Harry," Arthur said solemnly. "And you apparated from a muggle house..."
"Oh," Harry stopped. The Ministry would know that magic had been performed in the house. "I... didn't think. I did an alohamora to get in, as well."
"Give me your wand, Harry," Arthur said quietly.
"Dad!" Ginny's eyes rounded.
Arthur held out his hand, and Harry solemnly handed over his wand. Aurors he could avoid, but Arthur Weasley? No.
Silently, Arthur took out his own wand and quietly touched his wand tip to Harry's. "Transfero."
"Mr Weasley?" Harry looked at him as Arthur handed Harry back his wand.
"You came here tonight, Harry. You came here directly from the twin's shop. You used the floo. Ron apparated. When you told us that the muggles didn't pick you up, I apparated to Little Whinging to check on them. Understand?"
And he did. Ron had, apparently, flooed with Ginny. They didn't track the apparation of adult wizards... Ron was of age. All the Ministry would know was that two people, a boy and a girl, had flooed through from Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes to the Burrow.
Arthur Weasley was covering for him.
"Sir... that spell..."
"Transfero?" Arthur smiled. "A little trick that Moody taught me. Now, you said your family left your things... how did you know they'd left... permanently?"
"All their things were packed and waiting for the movers, and Aunt Petunia left me a letter."
"Do you still have it?"
"Yes," Harry stuck his hand in his pocket and came out with the letter, which he handed over to Mr Weasley. "They are gone, sir... I wouldn't lie."
"I'm not doubting your word, Harry," Mr Weasley looked up from the letter. "I'm just concerned about the speed with which they moved."
"They've had all year..."
"I checked in on them a week ago and there was no indication that they were planning anything."
"Harry, since your first year, we've check in on the Dursley family regularly, how did you think that they knew when and where to pick you up every year?"
"I assumed..." Harry was surprised. "I assumed that the school notified... no?"
"No. Normally, that information was relayed by the students to their parents... or guardians... in the normal course of letters and such. It was noticed very early on in your first year that you didn't correspond with the Dursley's at all. The Order has been keeping them notified of when to be where ever since."
Harry wondered why his Uncle Vernon had always been going on about his "wierd" friends, on the strength of one mishap with the Weasley's and the Dursley's electric fire... but he'd never really questioned it before. Uncle Vernon certainly was the type to let something like that carry over for years, so he'd never considered that the Dursley's had had ongoing contact with the Order.
"I see. Thank you, Mr Weasley,"
"I'm not sure for what," Arthur sighed as he sat down across from Harry and spread the letter out. "It wouldn't appear that our visits to them did much good."
"You cared enough to go. That means a lot," Harry said. "As bad as they are, I never expected this. I'm more surprised than hurt... and upset that I can't do what Dumbledore wanted me to do."
"He wanted me to go back there one last time this year. But I don't think that it would have done any good..."
"Why not?" Mr Weasley asked.
"The wards were down. I apparated out without a problem. I suppose his protections must have died with him."
Mr Weasley's face blanched. "What?"
"The wards on Privet Drive... I apparated through them. I knew that they were down the minute I walked into the house. I couldn't feel them anymore."
"You... feel them?"
"I..." Harry glanced over at Mrs Weasley and Ginny's shocked faces. "They hum. On Privet Drive, anyhow. I never feel them anywhere else. I assumed that it was because it was a muggle house..."
"And you say that they were... gone?"
"Harry... the wards on Privet Drive were done by a team of aurors and members of the Order. Dumbledore wove it all together, but..."
"So his bit must have come down when he died," Harry shrugged. "Mr Weasley..."
"The spells he used wouldn't have just... come down, Harry," Mr Weasley said firmly.
"But they must have, because they weren't there..."
"So they were removed," Mr Weasley said quietly. "Harry, did anyone know you were coming here?"
"I... unless someone was in the house..."
"Molly, floo Remus," Mr Weasley stood. "Tell him I need him and Moody here to help check the wards immediately. Then gather the children in Bill's room."
"Mr Weasley, what is it?"
"Harry, no one from the Order removed the wards on your relative's house," Mr Weasley looked at him levelly, his eyes speaking for him. "Therefore, someone else did. And if they did, there is every chance that they did so to be able to get to you. And if they missed you there... they may know that you're here."
"I didn't come straight to the Burrow," Harry said quietly.
"I apparated into the village... Ottery St Catchpole. I didn't know if I'd be able to apparate through your wards, so I..."
"Ah," Arthur looked mildly relieved. "Then they probably can't track you here, so long as the wards are in place. The Fidelius still protects us here, so long as Tonks..."
"Tonks and Remus are on their way, Arthur," Molly stood from the fire. "Moody is collecting Kingsley and a few others just in case."
"It should be okay, Molly. Harry apparated into the village. No one knows that we are here, we should be well protected. Take the children upstairs... I'll wait here for Remus."
Molly hustled them out of the room as Harry protested. Molly, however, was having none of it.
"Go. Now. Or so help me, I'll hex you into next week, young man!" Molly grumbled at him. "And don't think I won't! I raised Fred and George, remember!"
As they reached the first landing, Harry heard the floo fire and then Remus' voice. Relieved, he allowed Molly to herd he and Ginny up the stairs. It wasn't until they reached the door to Bill's room that he noticed he was holding Ginny's hand tightly.
Somehow, it felt right.
Fleur sat reading, curled up on the foot of Bill's bed. Bill was propped up against the pillows, talking to Ron who sat on a chair next to the bed about the Chudley Cannons.
"Harry!" Bill smiled. "Fancy seeing you here."
"How are you, Bill?" Harry came forward. The eldest Weasley looked better than the last time Harry had seen him, white and injured in a bed in the Hospital Wing at Hogwarts, only hours after being attacked by the werewolf who had attacked Remus all those years ago. As Bill had been attacked while the werewolf was still in his human form, they didn't know whether Bill would be contaminated by lycanthropy or not.
The night before had been a full moon. However, Harry knew from his study of werewolves in DADA that after being attacked it could take several months for the disease to take it's full effect. But so far, Bill looked well.
"Good, good... Mum?" Bill noticed his mother hovering at the door. "Everything okay?"
"I... we're not sure yet, Bill. Harry says the wards were down at the muggle's house, and your father has just called in a team to check our own..."
Bill stiffened. Harry saw his jaw set as he moved to put his legs over the side of the bed.
"What do you think you're doing?" Molly shrieked. "Get back into that bed!"
"Wards are my job, Mum," Bill said, pulling on a robe.
"No one Dad could call will be able to tell him as quickly or as surely as I can with a few minutes out of this bed. I'm going to check."
"This is my family, Mum... Fleur is here... do you think I'm going to risk this," he indicated to his face. "Or worse, for any of you? A few minutes and I'll be able to tell whether or not we're safe, as opposed to Moony and the others taking hours. Last night was a full moon, Mum... you know what kind of condition Moony's going to be in!"
Molly looked torn. She was only decided when Harry stepped forward. "You stay here with the others, Mrs Weasley. I'll go with Bill and make sure that he's okay."
"Do I need to prove myself again, Mrs Weasley?" Harry said softly.
"No," she said. "No... just be careful."
"Of course," Harry agreed. "Come on, Bill."
The two of them made their way down the stairs and entered the kitchen just as the floo erupted again, admitting Moody and Kingsley. Remus, Tonks and Arthur were waiting.
"Bill, Harry! What...?"
"I can check in minutes, Dad," Bill said gently. "Relax. I'll be fine. Harry's appointed himself my guardian, and you know what that means."
Tonks grinned, "That you'd better have your wand out."
"Precisely," Bill grinned back. Harry was surprised to see that the scarring that had looked so bad after the attack was already healing. Bill would never be the handsome man that had drawn the attention of so many girls again, but he wouldn't be as terribly deformed as Moody.
"Right then, Weasley," Moody clumped forward on his wooden leg. "Where do we start?"
Bill began to give orders, and the Aurors who had accompanied Moody hustled to carry them out. Bill sat at the kitchen table and began weaving a spell in front of him with his wand, muttering under his breath. As Harry watched, he could see the thin strands of light weaving together and coming loose, creating a knot the size of a football. After ten or fifteen minutes, Bill muttered a final incantation, and the strands of light disappeared.
"It's fine," he said, his voice tired. "The Burrow is well protected."
"The wards that Dumbledore...?" Arthur asked.
"They're fine. All accounted for and working fine," Bill looked tired. "Harry, I think I need to lie down. Could you...?"
"Of course," Harry helped him up and glanced at Arthur as he helped his eldest son from the room. "Okay, Mr Weasley?"
"I can't help but be relieved, Harry," Arthur nodded. "Tell Molly it's okay to come down."
Harry helped Bill to his room, where Fleur took over, clucking much as Mrs Weasley often did. Harry smiled.
"It's okay," Bill said. "I think Harry's apparating into the village will keep them from knowing exactly where he was coming..."
"Where else is there out here?" Fleur grumbled. "It's not like he'd be visiting anyone but you out here, is it? There is no one else for miles..."
Ron and Harry's eyes met, shocked.
"Dear Merlin..." Harry said, standing and suddenly sprinting from the room, Ron close on his heels. They were through the door before understanding hit Ginny, who was then up and following them.
"Ginny, what...?" Molly called.
"The Lovegoods..." Ginny called over her shoulder. "Harry took Luna to a party this past year... and they live just the other side of the village!"