"When are we going to tell everyone?" Ron asked the next morning while he, Harry, and Hermione sat huddled at the kitchen table.
"I was thinking we could tell them tonight, after the Order meeting," Harry replied. "I want to get going soon, I don't want to put this off too long."
"We can't just come right out and say we're leaving, we need to ease them into the idea," Hermione said, leaning closer to the boys.
"And how do you think we should do that?" Ron asked, sarcastically. "Hey, Mum, Dad, what would you think if I took off for a little while and didn't tell you where I was going?"
She scowled at him, "No, Ronald, I don't think we should be that silly. I just don't think we should just come out and tell them that we're going to sneak off and hunt down Voldemort on our own. We should ease them into the idea."
"And how should we do that?"
"I was thinking we could tell them about Harry and Dumbledore and what they did together, let them know that we're not going into this without some knowledge of what we're doing."
"But we can't tell them everything, it could endanger the mission."
"But we have to tell them enough so that they won't worry so much."
"I don't know about your Mum, but mine is going to worry like mad."
"All right," Harry interrupted them, knowing they could go back and forth forever. "I'll tell them. Just be ready, they're going to be adamant about talking us out of it. You know you guys don't have to go, I can go alone…" He broke off when Hermione laid a hand over his.
"You're not going alone," she told him. "We're all in this together."
"Yeah, Harry, you know that," Ron added.
"He knows what?" Molly asked as she bustled into the kitchen, not waiting for an answer. "Oh, look at the time! I can't believe I slept so late, I have so much I have to do before tonight. After breakfast, Ronald, I need you to help take down the tent."
"Don't argue, your father needs your help, Harry, Hermione, if you wouldn't mind helping as well, that would be wonderful."
"Of course, Mrs. Weasley, we'd be happy to help," Hermione assured her.
"Thank you, dear," Mrs. Weasley murmured absently as she set about making breakfast.
Ron scowled at the scrubbed table top, he hated how his mother always became depressed and a bit withdrawn whenever Percy breezed into their lives and then left again. He suddenly wished he hadn't stopped at kicking his brother, maybe if a little blood had been drawn…
His current train of thought was interrupted when Hermione laid a hand on his knee under the table. He looked up at her and felt comforted by the reassuring smile she wore. She's so pretty, he thought. Why did we wait so long?
Hermione felt a pleasant chill as he laid his hand over her's, squeezing gently. She couldn't suppress the shiver that raced through her, but she fought the urge to lean over and kiss him in the Weasley's kitchen.
The two of them broke their gaze when they heard Harry clear his throat. Ron grinned sheepishly at his friend while Hermione blushed.
"Here, here, eat up," Mrs. Weasley commanded as she set plates on the table. "Ron, dear, go see what's keeping Ginny, would you?"
"Buf I eatling, Muf," Ron replied through a mouthful of sausage.
"Oh, Ron, really," Hermione sighed.
"I'll go," Harry offered, pushing eggs and sausage around on his plate.
"Thank you, dear."
Hermione raised an eyebrow and caught Harry's eye. He gave her the most innocent look he could. She smiled and shook her head, turning to pat Ron's back as he choked on his mouthful of food.
"Where are you going?" Hermione hissed as Ron stood.
"Mum doesn't realize what she just allowed," he whispered back.
She grabbed his arm and yanked him back down, "Stop it, Ron, let him go. Nothing is going to happen."
"But nothing. Sit."
Grumbling, Ron sat, biting back a smile when Hermione pinched his leg. He refused to give her the satisfaction of knowing that he liked the way she poked or prodded him, well, if he was going to be honest, he liked it whenever she touched him.
Harry climbed the stairs, passing a very distracted Mr. Weasley as he walked by, mumbling under his breath, not even acknowledging Harry. After so many summers spent at the Burrow, it still surprised Harry to hear how quiet the house could be with the twins and the others gone.
"Who's there?" Ginny called when he knocked on her door.
She hesitated before replying, "Come on in."
Harry pushed open the door and found her sitting at her desk, "Your Mum asked me to come up and fetch you for breakfast."
"I'm not really hungry," she murmured, not lifting her head from whatever she was writing.
"Come on, Gin, you have to eat something."
"Don't tell me what I have to do."
"What is your problem?"
She whirled around in her chair and glared at him, "What do you care?"
"What do you mean? Of course I care."
"Just leave me alone, Harry."
"No," he sank onto the end of her bed, watching as she turned back to the parchment and quill on her desk. "Don't be angry with me, Gin."
She lowered her head a moment before taking a deep breath and setting her quill down. With deliberate care, she folded the parchment and slipped it into the center drawer of her scarred desk. Finally, she turned to face him again, "I'm not angry with you, Harry, I'm angry with everything else."
He nodded, but didn't speak.
"I'm not angry with you," she repeated. "But I am angry with the fact that you're going, you have to go, I'm angry at Percy for being such a thoughtless git, I'm angry at Voldemort for what he's doing, I'm angry at Greyback for what he did to Bill, I'm…I'm just angry."
Harry stood and slowly walked over to crouch in front of her and take her hands, "I know how you feel, I've spent most of my life feeling angry, so much so that there were times I thought it would swallow me whole. But I've learned from it, I've learned to use the anger. Take that anger and use it, Gin. Use it to fight back, to help at Hogwarts, to do whatever you need to do to stay safe."
"I'm scared," she admitted quietly.
"We all are."
She pulled her hands from his and stood, "We're over, Harry."
He looked up, surprised, "What?"
"We only had yesterday, our time was up at midnight, we're just friends now."
Harry rose to his feet, taking notice of the hollow tone of her voice, "You're right, sorry."
"Don't be sorry," she sighed heavily. "I'm sorry. I'm being a child. I'm sulking and being selfish. Please forgive me."
"There's nothing to forgive."
Ginny smiled wanly, "Thanks. Come on, let's go get some breakfast."
Nearly half an hour later, Ron, Hermione, Harry, and Ginny stood in the backyard of the Burrow looking over the chairs and tent that were still there.
"Where did it all come from?" Hermione asked.
"The tent belongs to the Ministry," Ron explained. "They use it for special occasions and sometimes lend it out to employees. The chairs came from friends and family."
Harry looked around, "Where are the tables?"
"They were transfigured. The head table was actually the coffee table from the parlor and the other tables were end tables and bedside tables from the house."
"All right," Mr. Weasley burst through the back door, a piece of parchment in hand. "I have a list of whose chairs are whose, we need to sort and stack them so we can return them, then we'll take down the tent."
It took over an hour to sort and stack the chairs. It didn't help that Ron and Hermione kept distracting each other. Harry groaned when he caught sight of Ron sneaking a pat at Hermione's backside. He tried to catch Ginny's eye, but she was making a point to avoid him.
"Harry, that belongs to Veronica Fitzgibbon, her chairs are over by the tree there," Mr. Weasley instructed as he checked something off on his list. "That makes the six chairs from her. I believe we are finally done. Now, onto the tent, Ron, Hermione, come out from under it."
The four of them watched as he pulled out his wand, performed a couple of quick flicks of his wrist, and muttered some words under his breath. The tent lifted a few inches off the ground, the ties coiled themselves up as the posts folded in. Seconds later the tent was neatly folded into a one foot square about six inches thick.
"Wow," Harry whispered.
"The advantages of being a wizard," Ron smirked.
Mr. Weasley picked up the tent and tucked it under his arm, "All right, then, thank you for your help, kids, I'll return the tent to the Ministry and everyone who lent us chairs will be around to collect them."
"I guess we're done," Ron said as his father returned to the house.
"What do we do now?" Hemione asked.
Harry shrugged, looking up at the clear sky.
Ron took Hermione's hand and whispered something in her ear. She looked at him and shook her head.
"Go," Harry sighed. "Run along and snog yourselves silly."
Hermione's face flushed a deep red, "Oh, Harry, really."
"Get it out of your system now so we won't have to deal with it later."
For the first time since any of them had met her, Hermione was completely speechless, her face burning and her mouth hanging open.
Ginny smirked, "Close your mouth, Hermione, you're catching flies."
She snapped it shut and crossed her arms over her chest, whirled around and stomped off.
"Great, now I have to deal with that," Ron mumbled, pushing his hand through his hair. "Thanks, mate."
"No problem," Harry shot back as Ron took off after his very annoyed girlfriend.
Ginny closed her eyes and turned her face toward the warm breeze that washed over them. She wasn't sure she was ready to be alone with Harry again. "I have some things to do, I'll see you later, Harry."
He wanted to stop her, to tell her to stay, to be with her. But that would just make it more difficult. "Yeah, me too. See you, Gin."
They both hesitated, waiting for the other to say something. When neither did, Ginny went back into the house and Harry headed off in the opposite direction from where Ron and Hermione had gone.
Harry needed to get away, to collect his thoughts and figure out what he was going to say. It wasn't going to be easy, he felt awful telling Mrs. Weasley that another one of her sons was leaving, but it was Ron's choice. He couldn't tell them everything, for fear of the Order trying to take over, but he had to let them know that he knew what he was doing.
He stopped suddenly, looking over the pond. Did he know what he was doing? Did he know where he was going? What am I doing? He thought. I am about to hunt down the darkest, most evil creature alive and take along my two best friends, what the hell am I doing?
Ron sat on his bed and watched as Harry sorted through his belongings, deciding what he wanted to take. They would be traveling a lot, so they could only take a few items, just what they needed.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had apparated to Grimmauld Place an hour earlier, grudgingly allowing the children to stay home alone since they thought it would be a short meeting and an early evening. Mrs. Weasley had protested and fretted, but Mr. Weasley had convinced her that they were all old enough and the wards from the ceremony were still in effect.
Bill and Fleur had arrived a while earlier, looking ridiculously happy and holding hands. Before the four of them left for the meeting, Bill took Ron aside.
"Ron, as your oldest brother, I feel it is my responsibility to talk to you about women."
Ron groaned and blushed, "You really don't need to, Bill."
"I'm afraid I do. I've been told that you and Hermione have taken your friendship to the next level."
"Now don't interrupt me, Ron, there are times I wish I had an older brother to impart wisdom upon me when it came to girls."
Ron rolled his eyes at Bill's dramatic behavior, "You seem to have done pretty well considering."
"Yes, I did. But just let me do this, Ron, let me help you. Hermione is a great girl, we've known her for years and we all think very highly of her. So try not to screw it up."
He continued, ignoring Ron's interruption, "She's a smart girl, some might say too smart for you, well, the twins would say that, I wouldn't, and she knows what she's doing. Don't push her, Ron, don't try to make her do anything she doesn't want to do or she seems hesitant about, you have plenty of time to get to know each other…on a more intimate level. With all that's going on, you might be tempted to rush into things…"
"Like a wedding?"
Bill ignored him, "Use your mind, not your libido, to make the important decisions in life. But, to help you along, here's this." He held a small, worn paperback book out to his youngest brother.
Confused, Ron took the dog-eared book and his face colored even more as he read the title 'A Wizard's Guide To Sex'. "Oh, geez, Bill…"
"This book has been passed through to Charlie, the twins, I even caught Percy flipping through it once. It is a fount of useful information."
"Where'd you get it?"
"Back in Hogwarts, my mate, Don, gave it to me."
Ron flipped through it, his eyes widening at the moving pictures. He slammed it shut, "Bloody hell."
Bill tapped the cover with his finger, "Every question you'll ever have, and some you never thought of, are all answered within this book. Just don't let Mum see it."
Unsure what to do, Ron stared down at the book, torn between feeling touched that his brother passed the book down to him and being absolutely embarrassed by what was in the book. "Uh, okay, um, thanks?"
"You're welcome, little brother," Bill grinned, clapping him on the back. "Just don't do anything stupid."
Now, Ron watched as Harry stuffed his invisibility cloak into a knapsack he had purchased for their trip.
"You're awfully quiet," Harry commented. "Having second thoughts?"
"What? No, just…thinking."
Harry smirked, "Try not to strain anything."
Ron stood and dug out the old knapsack he was taking, "Is there anything in particular I should be taking?"
"Your wand and some clean shorts."
"Thanks mate," he grumbled as he started stuffing clothes into the bag.
"May I come in?" Hermione asked quietly, knocking on the door.
"Yeah," Harry called, tugging at the zipper of his knapsack.
She slipped in, followed by Ginny. "Have you decided what you're going to say?"
Harry shrugged, "I'm just going to tell them the truth. Tell them where we're going and why."
"Be ready for them to try and talk you out of it."
"Mum will forbid you from going," Ron warned.
Harry nodded, "I know, but that won't work."
Ginny sat on the edge of Ron's bed, wordlessly watching as Ron shoved clean shorts and socks into his knapsack. She toyed with the edge of the bright orange Chudley Cannons comforter he had haphazardly tossed over his bed in an attempt to make it.
Hermione flopped back onto Harry's cot, "I've been doing some thinking…"
"Surprise, surprise," Ron mumbled.
Hermione grabbed the closest thing she could find and threw it at him. Ron ducked as Harry's sneaker flew at his head.
"Any way," she continued. "I was thinking that we should take the Knight Bus to Godric's Hollow, once we're there we can decide where you want to go after that. We don't know what we'll find there, what clues, if any, and they might lead us somewhere else."
"Yeah, I'm hoping I'll find something there," Harry tugged the zipper closed on his knapsack and turned to sit on his bed. He caught Ginny watching him with a mix of curiosity and surprise.
"Like what?" Ron asked. "I thought he, uh, V-Volde…he destroyed your parents house."
Hermione rolled her eyes, "It's Voldemort, Ron, oh, why do you still flinch when we say it?"
Harry ignored her comment, "I don't know if I'll find anything, I'm hoping there will be people around, maybe neighbors or someone, who'll remember my folks and what happened."
"But it's a muggle town, isn't it?" Hermione asked. "Didn't the muggles who were there have their memories modified?"
"I would think so, but Godric's Hollow is the only place I have right now and since it is the place everything started for me, it is the place where I will start my search."
"When do you want to go?" Ron grunted as he tried to shove the overstuffed contents of his knapsack in so he could close the zipper.
"Tonight?" Ginny gasped.
He looked at her and nodded silently.
She stood and abruptly left the room.
He stopped, his hand resting on his bag, debating whether or not to go after her.
"She wants to go," Hermione said unnecessarily. "And if she can't, she'd rather you didn't go at all."
"Neither is an option," he replied, throwing his bag on the floor.
"She'll get over it," Ron said. "She's going to pout and whine, but she'll get over it. Don't let her make you feel guilty."
"Do you really want to go tonight?" Hermione asked.
Harry shrugged, "I want to get started as soon as possible. What are we waiting for?"
"Ronald! Harry! Hermione! Ginny! We're home!"
Ron glanced toward the door when he heard his mother call up the stairs, "I guess we're waiting for that."
Mrs. Weasley was putting together a tray with teacups and heating water on the stove when they entered the kitchen. "Oh, good, there you are," she bustled around the room, plating cookies. "Remus and Tonks are in the parlor if you'd like to see them before you turn in for the night."
Harry felt his stomach clench with nerves. It was bad enough he had to tell Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, but he hadn't planned on having to tell Lupin and Tonks.
"I'm coming," Ginny entered the kitchen.
"Oh, good, dear, would you please take this plate of cookies into the parlor, Ron, carry the tray. Good, good, go, all of you, go see our guests."
All conversation suddenly stopped when they entered the front room. Lupin and Tonks sat side by side on the sofa while Bill and Fleur cuddled on the love seat and Mr. Weasley sat in one of the two chairs. Ginny set the plate on the coffee table and took a seat beside the fireplace.
"So, how was the meeting?" Harry asked, finding a spot on the floor.
"It was fine," Remus replied.
"What did you discuss?"
"Oh, this and that."
"Harry," he warned in his best teacher tone.
Tonks tilted her head slightly, "I don't think it would harm anyone if they knew what we were talking about."
"They are not old enough to be in the Order, there is no need to burden them with new worries," Molly said as she entered the room.
"I don't think that's possible," Ginny murmured under her breath.
"What was that, Ginny, dear?" Arthur asked.
She shook her head, "Nothing, Dad."
"How is Grimmuald Place?" Harry asked hesitantly. He hadn't been there since Sirius' death.
"Same old, same old," Tonks told him.
"Before the next meeting, Ginny, you and I are going and cleaning it up," Mrs. Weasley said. "Ronald, I expect you and Harry and Hermione to help too."
"When is the next meeting?" Hermione asked.
"Not for another week or so."
"So, what do you guys have planned for the rest of the summer?" Remus asked.
Harry scowled at the worn rug beneath his feet. Why are they all acting like there is nothing going on? Do they honestly think that I can just goof off all summer and then go back to Hogwarts?
Hermione caught sight of Harry's expression and poked him in the arm. He looked up and she nodded toward the adults. Fighting the urge to argue, Harry looked around the room, noticing how everyone seemed to be putting on an act. They were all acting relaxed, sipping tea, talking about the weather and Qudditch scores, pretending there wasn't even a war going on.
It's now or never, he thought, clearing his throat.
It was Bill who heard him. "You have something to say, Harry?"
"Uh, yeah, I do."
Sensing his nervousness, Hermione gave his arm a quick squeeze.
"I have a lot to tell you all, um, you…you won't like what I have to say, but I have to tell you." Taking a deep breath, Harry glanced at Ginny and caught her watching him. She smiled softly and nodded. Finding courage in her support, he stood and went on to tell Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Bill, Fleur, Lupin, and Tonks all about the horcruxes and all he and Dumbledore had done. As he told them about Tom Riddle, Fleur gasped and covered her mouth. Mrs. Weasley blinked rapidly as tears filled her eyes and convulsively clutched Arthur's hand. Remus and Tonks sat in stoic silence.
When he finished his story, he looked around the room, feeling as though a huge weight had been lifted off his chest.
"I didn't know," Remus said softly. "You could have come to me, I would have helped."
"I know," Harry replied. "I know, but Dumbledore wanted to keep it quiet."
"Why, uh, why are you telling us all about this now?" Bill asked apprehensively.
"I…I have to find the last of the horcruxes," he announced. "I have to face Voldemort, but the only chance I have of defeating him is to find and destroy the horcruxes."
Remus nodded, "Of course, I'll go with you and…"
"No," Harry interrupted. "You're needed here, with the Order."
"I can go with you, I can help you, you can't go alone."
Mrs. Weasley shook her head slowly, "No."
"Mum," Ron stood beside Harry.
"No," she said louder. "I don't like that Harry has to go, but I know he has to. But you're not going, Ron, you're going to stay here and then return to Hogwarts."
"I'm going with him," Ron announced sternly.
Hermione stood to join them, "So am I."
"No!" Molly declared, standing.
Arthur held tight to his wife's hand, "Sit down, Molly, let's talk this over."
"No, I've already decided," Harry announced. "I have to go, I never wanted to drag Ron and Hermione into this, but they offered to come and, if I'm going to be totally honest, I'm glad to have them along. I have to face Voldemort and the only way I can even have a chance to defeat him is if I do this. I know you don't like this and I know you don't want me to go, but I have to."
Everyone turned to look at Tonks, surprised at her admission.
"He's right," she repeated. "Dumbledore would not have involved him if he didn't think Harry could handle it. None of us want Harry to go, if any one of us could do this in his place we would, but it is up to Harry. We all knew he would eventually have to face Voldemort, but I think we had all assumed we would be with him to help. But let's be honest. Harry has to go on this mission, he has to track down Voldemort, and he has to do it himself. He has proven himself time and again and Ron and Hermione have helped him all along. He has to do this and we should be glad that he has two such talented, faithful friends to help him. Harry?"
He looked at her, feeling relieved and pleased. "Yes?"
"You know that all you need to do is ask and any one of us will help you."
"I know, thank you."
"Is there…is there anything we can do to help?" Remus asked. "Do you need anything? Money?"
"No, thanks, I already stopped at Gringotts and picked up some money."
"When are youplanning to go?" Bill asked.
"As soon as possible, I'd like to go tonight. I don't think we can put it off too much longer."
A weighty silence hung heavy in the room. Mrs. Weasley sniffled and dabbed at the corner of her eye with a handkerchief. Lupin looked beat, his hand enveloped in both of Tonks'.
"You'll write to us, won't you?" Arthur's voice sounded tired and hoarse.
Ron nodded, "I'll send an owl as often as possible."
"Hide your money well," his father continued. "You don't want to worry about pickpockets as well. And just…be careful."
"We will," Harry vowed.
"Have you packed," Molly asked in a shaky voice. "What are you taking?"
"Just what we need. Some clothes, my invisibility cloak."
"You'll need some food," she stood. "I'll put together some sandwiches for you to take."
Tonks and Fleur joined Molly in the kitchen, Fleur wanted to help with the food while Tonks just wanted to make sure Molly was all right.
"How long do you think you'll be gone?" Lupin asked.
Harry shrugged, "Hopefully not too long. I have a few ideas of where I'd like to go. We're going to start with Godric's Hollow."
"You're taking the Knight Bus?" Bill asked.
"That's our plan."
"Will you at least wait until the morning?" Arthur implored. "I would feel better knowing you had at least one more good night's sleep before you left."
Harry hesitated a moment before nodding, "Yes, Mr. Weasley, we'll wait and leave first thing in the morning."
Harry tossed and turned most of the night, a jumble of emotions churned inside him. He felt guilty for upsetting Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, he felt terrible for having to break it off with Ginny, he felt relieved to have the pressure of the secret released, and he felt responsible for Ron and Hermione. And he was dreading the next morning. He had hoped to sneak out without any fuss, but he realized now that that was never going to happen.
Early the next morning, the entire house was wakened by the wonderful aromas of baking biscuits, sausages, and eggs. Unable to sleep, Molly had finally gotten up and gone downstairs, if the three of them were going on this mission, she was going to make sure they left with full stomachs.
Word had spread quickly, the twins and Charlie had stopped by to see them off. Everyone had advice to offer.
"Don't trust anyone or anything if you can't see where it keeps its brain."
"Don't buy anything from hag on the street, especially not food."
"Be wary of everyone, Death Eaters have learned to disguise themselves very well."
"Make sure you have plenty of clean underwear."
"Don't let loose women, or men, distract you."
Molly smacked Fred in the back of the head. "Just be careful," she said quietly.
Ron rolled his eyes, "We will."
She set three small parcels in front of them, "Here are some sandwiches and biscuits, make them last."
"We have something for you too," George said, prodding Fred in the side.
"What? Oh, yeah," Fred reached under the table and picked up a bag. "Just a few things from the store we thought you might be able to use."
Ron took the bag and began riffling through it, "A mini Foe Glass, a Sneakoscope, Extendable Ears, a…a Skiving Snackbox, a, uh, oh, a portable swamp, and a box of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder."
"Who knows what you're going to encounter, so it's better to be safe than sorry."
Molly sighed, her hands on her hips. She looked as though she wanted to say something, but wasn't sure what it was.
The fire that had been crackling gently in the fireplace suddenly grew and turned green.
"That would be Remus," Arthur said. "He wanted to see you before you left."
A moment later, Lupin stepped out of the fire, followed by Tonks.
"Remus, Tonks, come have a seat, would you like something to eat?" Molly asked as she ushered him toward the table.
"No, thank you, Molly," he looked and sounded worn out. "I would like to have a word with Harry, though."
Tired of pushing his food around his plate and pretending to eat, Harry was glad for the distraction. He followed his former Professor into the hallway, noticing how nervous Lupin appeared.
Remus had taken it upon himself to look after Harry, he saw him as his responsibility. The boy no longer had Sirius and he was the only connection Lupin had left to James, Lily, and Sirius. He didn't know what he would do if anything happened to Harry.
"Harry," Remus laid a hand on his shoulder. "You know that we would all rather you didn't do this, just as we know you have to do this. I am glad to know that you aren't going alone, Ron is a strong friend and with Hermione's analytical mind, I know the three of you will do fine. I also know that your parents and Sirius are looking out for you. I wish there was more I could do to help you. I remembered something I thought Sirius had and I went back to Grimmuald Place last night, Tonks and I spent the entire night looking throughout the house. I thought you would like to take this with you."
Harry took the photo that Lupin held out to him. It was worn with age, the bottom left corner was torn off and the edges were curled, but his parents waved wildly at him. They stood proudly in front of a small, two story cottage with an overgrown lawn, a fence in need of repair, and a huge tree in the front. His father had his arm around his mother's shoulders while she rested a hand on her swollen stomach.
"That was the day they signed for the cottage, their first house together," Remus explained. "Lily wanted a fixer-upper, something she could make entirely their own, somewhere they could raise their family. Sirius took this picture, he was there to help them move in. I thought that you might be able to use the picture when you got to Godric's Hollow, it might help you find the area where the cottage had been."
A lump rose in Harry's throat as he studied the picture. His parents looked so young, so full of promise and life. It was before they had to go into hiding, when their lives stretched out before them for years. He watched as his father turned to his mother. James gently laid both hands on her stomach and leaned over to kiss her. Lily grinned, laying her hands on top of his.
"She was about eight months along in that photo."
Harry lifted his eyes to Remus', "Thank you."
"Is there anything at all that I can do for you?"
He shook his head, "No. I just…I have to do this, thank you for understanding that."
Lupin nodded, "Be careful out there, Harry."
"We'll be in touch."
"I know you will. And if you need anything, anything at all, don't hesitate to contact me."
"Thanks, Profes…uh, Remus."
Remus smiled sadly, "Take care, Harry."
"Uh, actually, there is something you could do for me."
Harry looked over his shoulder toward the kitchen and then back at his father's friend, "Look out for Ginny, would you?"
"Ready to go, mate?" Ron asked when they entered the kitchen.
Harry nodded, tucking the picture into his jeans pocket, "Yeah, now's as good a time as any."
Molly went into a flutter of anxiety, hugging each of them, fussing over their clothing and whether or not they had enough socks. Arthur took her arm, and tried to calm her, knowing this wasn't going to make the departure any easier.
They slowly filed down the front hall and out the door. Tonks went to the curbside and hailed the Knight Bus as the last of the goodbyes were said and hugs exchanged.
Harry came to Ginny just as the purple, triple-decker bus screeched to a halt.
"Good luck," she said with an unconvincing smile.
"You too," he replied, taking the hand she offered. He tried not to show any surprise when he felt her press a piece of paper into his hand.
"Come on now!" The conductor shouted from the open door of the bus. "We don't have all day!"
Harry squeezed Ginny's hand, "I'll see you later."
With a heavy heart, Harry shouldered his knapsack and followed Ron and Hermione to the bus.
"Bloody hell," Ginny muttered as she watched them go. "Harry!"
He turned, one foot on the step to the bus. A blur of flowing red hair in a blue jumper flew at him. He caught Ginny in a tight hug.
"I don't care what anyone thinks or says," she whispered tearfully into his ear. "I love you and I need you to come back to me."
"I love you too and I will do my best."
She leaned back and looked at him, "I know you will."
"Come on, Romeo," the conductor grumbled. He was an older gentleman, obviously crabby and unpleasant. Harry suddenly missed Stan Shunpike.
Ginny released him and watched as he entered the bus.
The three of them found comfortable chairs near windows where they waved to the gathered crowd. Mrs. Weasley waved wildly, dabbing at her moist eyes while Mr. Weasley hugged her and waved. The twins catcalled and wished them good luck while Bill, Fleur, Charlie, Lupin, and Tonks waved.
There was a crack and the Burrow disappeared as they shot away. Harry told the conductor where they were going and handed over the necessary money.
Making sure that Ron and Hermione were talking to each other and not paying attention to him, Harry slowly unfolded the piece of parchment Ginny had slipped into his hand. Written in her feminine, loopy handwriting was a short note:
I've started writing this letter at least a dozen times. I wanted to give you some words of wisdom or some insight that would help you, but I can't think of any, so I'll get to the point and keep it short and simple.
I love you Harry, I have for years and I always will. I know you can do this. But if you start to feel overwhelmed or uncertain, look up and know that wherever you are, whatever you're doing, I am thinking of you and loving you. I will be waiting her for you to come back and finish what we started.
I love you, take care,
He read the letter twice, a pleasant warmth spread throughout him and an intense longing washed over him.
"You okay, mate?" Ron asked, noticing the look on his friend's face. "What's that?"
"Nothing, I'm fine." Harry muttered. He knew he would always remember what she had written to him and he couldn't take the chance of the letter falling into the wrong hands, so he took out his wand and set the paper on fire, watching it curl and disappear.
"Secret letter?" Hermione asked.
"You could say that."
"What did Lupin want to talk to you about?" Ron asked.
Harry reached into his pocket to pull out the picture. When he did, a strand of small gold and silver beads slid out and clattered to the floor.
Ron reached down and picked them up, "What're these?"
Harry snatched them back, "A good luck charm."
"Since when do you believe in good luck charms?"
Hermione smiled knowingly, "Leave him alone, Ron."
"They look like the beads that Ginny wore in the wedding, oh geez, Harry."
Harry snorted, "This coming from the guy who kept a quill Hermione lent him fourth year because she had been chewing on it."
"You said you lost that quill," Hermione gasped.
Ron turned red from the tips of his ears to the collar of his shirt, "I did."
"No he didn't," Harry said. "It's probably still in his trunk."
"That is so sweet," Hermione leaned over and kissed him.
"Yeah, well," Ron went from embarrassed to pleased. "I can be sweet sometimes."
"I'd like to see that."
Harry rolled his eyes, still not sure if their relationship was going to make this trip more entertaining or more uncomfortable, but he was glad they were there.
AN:This is the end, this story is officially finished. Thank you for stopping by to read and review it, I really appreciate it!
Sorry for the delay in getting this up, I've been having some major computer issues and, for reasons I don't understand, this was the most difficult story I've ever written. I never meant for this to be a long story that went into the search for the horcruxes, it was just going to be some stolen moments that brought people together. I think the reason it was so difficult to write is because I am tinkering with some beloved characters with serious fans. I have taken some liberties, but I don't think I've said or done anything to upset anyone.
Thanks for the awesome reviews, they really do mean a lot to me. I have started my next story, which I personally think is better than this one, and hope to have it posted soon.