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Harry Potter
Day of Resolutions Written by Megawacky Max

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Author Notes:

I finished reading "Half–Blood Prince" a week after my twenty–fourth birthday, and this idea crept into my mind twenty–four hours after that.

This story contains spoilers. Lots of spoilers. Don't adventure further if you haven't read the sixth book. You have been warned.

Special thanks to my beloved Eve for correcting my grammar.

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Day of Resolutions

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Chapter One
Of freedom, love, and top secret missions

There was a gentle sound breaking the oppressive silence in the dark bedroom in number four, Privet Drive. It was a gentle tick–tock coming from the carefully repaired alarm clock on the night table next to the bed. Its hands read half to midnight.

The date was July 30th.

Harry Potter was busy. He was waiting.

He was staring through the window. The mist outside had grown thicker since the previous year. Dementors were breeding faster. They have been seen lurking nearby a couple of times. No… they have been felt lurking nearby. After all, Muggles could not really see them. Oh, but they could feel them all the time now.

It was the first time in years that Harry's room looked so clean and tidy. There were no parchment pieces on the floor, or strange books with stranger contents. Even the bird cage on top of the locked trunk was empty. Harry had sent Hedwig ahead on her own. She knew the way better than he did.

A sideways glance caught the hands of the alarm clock. Twenty–five to midnight. Soon Harry would turn age. Soon he would be allowed to do magic without breaking the Ministry's rules. Soon he would be able to leave the Dursleys at will, and he was sure going to do it at once.

But still . . . Soon, too, the invisible protection that lay on the Dursley's house would also vanish. Harry wouldn't be protected any longer, there. Nor would any of the Dursleys.

Harry was surprised on how he suddenly worried of them. It was a fact he didn't like the Dursley, but not to the point of . . .

He shook his head, angry. Very well. He had almost twenty minutes left. It was now or never. He picked up the trunk and made sure not to let the bird cage fall. He went downstairs and left the trunk on the floor. A quick peek in the sitting room showed all three of the Dursleys sitting on the couch, watching a movie on TV.

Harry cleared his throat. Uncle Vernon, following natural commands, growled in warning. Harry stared at the wall clock: it was twenty to midnight. He cleared his throat again, louder.

"What?" grunted uncle Vernon, not taking his eyes off the TV.

"We need to talk," said Harry, loud and clear.

All three Dursleys turned their heads to the rather skinny teenager in the doorway. Harry had never been so direct.

"That's no way to speak to your—"

"I'm leaving," interrupted Harry.

There was a long, strange silence. Uncle Vernon wasn't prepared for it. Aunt Petunia wasn't prepared for it. Dudley wasn't prepared for it.

Nobody was prepared for it.

"What?" asked Uncle Vernon, sounding slightly surprised.

"I'm leaving the house. Forever," said Harry.

Vernon tried to recall if it was a prank of any kind. He hated pranks, especially when they aimed at him.

"What are you talking about?" he finally barked.

A quarter to midnight, read the clock . . .

"What you heard," said Harry, perhaps a bit colder than needed. "Congratulations. You've got your wish: I'm leaving forever."

Vernon tried to smile, but primitive instincts were denying it. He had to be sure.

"You better explain yourself," he said, although the answer came from Petunia instead.

"He's turning seventeen," she whispered. "He's turning seventeen tonight. The man . . . Remember that man, last year, that one, what was his name . . .?"

"That… Dumber Lore?" suggested Vernon without tact. "You freaks have those odd names . . ."

Harry tried not to yell a retort. Fine, he'd let Vernon have that one his way. It was pointless to argue ten minutes from freedom.

"Dumbledore", said Harry in a tight whisper. "He died some weeks ago. You probably don't care, and I don't care you don't. It's all the same. I'm leaving."

Dudley turned the TV off absent mindlessly. This was better than car chases and buildings on fire.

"Then it's true? You're leaving? It's not a joke?"

"I wouldn't stay here another minute," whispered Harry. "I've stayed only because Dumbledore told me so. Now," he added, knowing he had to say it, "there is something I'd like to say, before I leave."

"Sure, sure . . ." Vernon said in a hasty manner. He was beginning to realize the facts.

"I don't know how much you will care, but I won't feel good leaving without a warning: you should remember, Dumbledore commented last year about Lord Voldemort returning to power. You surely noticed an increase in the . . . er . . . accidents throughout the country, yes?"

Even Dudley nodded; the TV and the papers were flooded with people having strange accidents in all sorts of improbable ways. Not to mention the dozens of disappearances and murders. The streets were no longer safe, or at least that's what Petunia said those days.

"Voldemort's work," said Harry. "Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Don't worry if you don't understand. What you must understand is, however, that we were safe from those people in this house, thanks to the protections cast by Dumbledore some years ago. Well . . . Tonight, the second I'm of age, they'll be cut off."

Vernon stood still, so did Dudley. Only Petunia, whose sister had been a witch and therefore she had a vague idea of the Wizard World, gave a little whimper.

Five to midnight . . .

Harry turned and walked to the bottom of the stairs, where his trunk and bird cage waited. He checked that everything was in order: his luggage was there, so was his wand, and his Invisible Cloak was neatly folded in his jeans' pocket.

There was a rushing sound behind, and when Harry turned to see he saw all three Dursleys standing on the doorframe, staring at him.

"What do you mean by we're unprotected?" asked Vernon.

Harry detected a glimpse of true worry in his voice. He couldn't help smiling.

"As unprotected as everybody else, actually."

The primitive side of Vernon gave a little shudder, and for the first time in his existence was unleashed.

"And you are leaving?" he said, his voice vaguely trembling. "You're leaving us alone, unprotected?"

"Exactly what you always wished," smiled Harry.

"But—"

"What, you're considering magic after so long?" attacked Harry.

"I—"

"Well?"

And Vernon thought, very much to his regret, What if there's something else I could have known, and decided not to?

"If you ever need help," Harry said, slipping his hand in his pocket, "you may as well use this." He tossed a large golden Galleon to his uncle, whose hand snatched it in mid–air, despite his attempts not to do so. "Don't sell it, please. Just keep it safe and rub it five times with your thumb. I have another one and I'll be warned."

The wall clock at the sitting room gonged. Midnight had arrived.

"Well," whispered Harry, "it is time, at last. I am free."

He gave the Dursleys a last, longing glance. Vernon still had the Galleon coin in his large fist.

"Goodbye, then, and thanks for everything."

Harry smiled a bit wider. He grabbed his trunk and bird cage and thought on his Destination. With a turn, he vanished from sight, away from Privet Drive . . . Away from the Dursleys.

o–

There was a snapping sound. Harry tried not to stumble as he regained balance. He certainly preferred brooms than this, but it was the quickest way. He had Apparated precisely where he expected.

Number twelve, Grimmauld Place.

He had refused to go straight to the Burrow. He didn't want to arrive too late in the night, nor did he want to stay with the Dursleys more than needed. So there was only left one place to go: Sirius' home.

No . . . It was now Harry's.

The idea was still a bit shocking. Harry owned that house, now. He had his own place to drop by and live. It was not the best place (he would have chosen the Burrow any day), but it was his and that was good enough. He recalled he had refused to own it at first, but Sirius had wanted Harry to use the place. He would honor his godfather's wish.

He recalled he had given it to the Order of the Phoenix. Would they be there? After all, Dumbledore was – Harry didn't really want to think about that.

He approached and knocked on the – his – front door experimentally. After a few seconds a surprised voice at the other side shouted:

"Who is it?"

Obviously, nobody expected a visitor in that house. It had been made Unplottable. Harry smiled.

"Harry Potter," he announced.

"Harry? Dear Lord — No, wait! I need to check that out. Let's see… Ah, this will do… No, wait, I better—"

"Is this really necessary, Tonks?" asked Harry.

The voice on the other side paused. "What are you doing here, anyway? You are supposed to stay with your uncle and—"

"Tonks, please!" snapped Harry: "I've been living with the Dursleys for sixteen long years! The protection Dumbledore set upon the house has vanished minutes ago when I turned of age! I just Apparated here because I thought perhaps some members of the Order of the Phoenix were still gathering! I needed a place to stay until Bill and Fleur's wedding—"

The door unlocked and a young witch with bubble–gum pink hair stepped through the doorframe.

"That'd be enough information. Wotcher, Harry."

She smiled, so did Harry.

The house was darker than Harry recalled. It has been a whole year since he last visited, and by then the Weasleys and Hermione Granger had cleaned up part of it. Now it seemed as if the place had collapsed. There were cobwebs everywhere and stains of humidity. The dust on the floor, knick–knacks, and furniture seemed to be weeks old, now. Tonks locked the entrance and guided Harry along the hall.

"What happened? I mean, after . . . that day . . . You know."

"I do," nodded Tonks, and her smile faded. "Things have changed a lot in these few weeks. The attacks have increased. You surely read the Prophet, yes?"

"Indeed. Any news from Snape or Malfoy?"

Tonks meditated on the answer. She knew how Harry felt upon that specific topic.

"No," she said. "Really, nothing."

Harry didn't push it. Instead he said, "What happened to the Order?"

"Ah, the Order . . ." Tonks exhaled a long, sad sigh. "It's getting difficult to keep us together. Minerva McGonagall is now our leader, but I don't really think she approves it. One thing is to become Headmistress of Hogwarts, but to turn into the leader of a troop against You–Kno—"

"What happened to Hogwarts?" Harry interrupted. It had been one of the main questions in his mind for ages.

"Hogwarts," said Tonks, slowly, "won't open its doors, this year."

Nobody said anything. There was no need. Harry broke the silence.

"Right. You were telling me about the Order?"

"Yes, yes. The Order. Well, Mundungus is in Azkaban, as you know."

"For stealing, I hope," retorted Harry, frowning slightly. Mundungus Fletcher had been selling possessions of the Black house.

"I know you are upset. Mundungus wasn't a great aid, but, well, Dumbledore trusted him — I didn't mean to say that!"

But she panicked in vain. In any other situation Harry would have snapped and said something like 'Dumbledore also trusted Snape, and there you have it, killed by him!' Ever since Dumbledore was gone, Harry had felt more mature. He had been forced to, since now he remained nearly alone in the quest ahead of him.

Nobody knew of his quest. Of his mission. Nobody except a few. Harry would have to defeat Voldemort, but first he would have to find and destroy the remains of the man's shattered soul – the Horcruxes.

"No worries, Tonks . . . I won't snap," whispered Harry.

They reached the kitchen. A man sitting at the table jumped off his chair when seeing the newcomer.

"Harry!" yelped Lupin. Harry could notice he looked much better. It seemed he had even managed to put finally on some weight.

Lupin crossed the room in a few large steps and hugged Harry.

"What are you doing here?"

"Don't start it up, please. I turned age and decided to move on away from the Dursleys," Harry commented with no pity.

"Oh, right, right . . ." said Lupin, then smiled a bit. "Well, in that case, welcome to the new life. Welcome to Grimmauld Place!"

"Is anybody else from the Order here?" asked Harry as he and Lupin had a seat. Harry noticed Tonks had moved to the stoves.

"Only us and Dedalus Diggle. He's sleeping on the second floor. So, tell me, how are you?" he added, now serious. "I mean, how are you feeling?"

Harry knew what Lupin meant.

"I'm fine. It feels very odd to have lost him."

"A great loss," nodded Lupin. "The Order almost broke up in that moment. McGonagall is working hard to keep us united, but . . . I fear she is weakening."

"How do you mean?"

"She's shattered, poor thing. Dumbledore dead, you know."

"Yes, Tonks did tell me something about that in the hall."

They glanced at Tonks. Harry noticed she was cooking. He hadn't registered the slight smell of fried eggs until that moment.

"You cook?" he asked. Tonks half–turned and smiled.

"Not the greatest chef in the world, I know that, but good enough to avoid famine," she claimed.

"Oh, so, you two are . . . sort of living together?" Harry asked without thinking.

"That doesn't mean anything!" said Lupin all of the sudden. Harry turned his head toward him, though he could hear a rather sympathetic giggle from behind him. "I mean it!" the man resumed. "I already told you—"

"You are a big liar, Remus," Tonks' voice floated past them. "Don't pay any attention, Harry, he's like that when a third person is around."

Harry couldn't help but feel happy for them. Of course, Lupin grimaced and turned his back on her, but Harry felt that had not exactly been a sign of denial. Harry knew of denial in these matters, because he had also denied his feelings toward—

He had just recalled Ginny Weasley.

The smile dropped from his face. He hadn't forgotten her and, whenever her face appeared in Harry's mind, his feelings went dark and sad. And he would have to see her in a few weeks. All because of Bill and Fleur's wedding.

Harry struggled to think of something else. He certainly didn't hate Ginny, and that's why all those feelings surrounded him as he thought of her. He truly loved her. All the time she had been there, around, and now he himself had denied her presence. For Ginny's sake, mainly. If Voldemort just managed to imagine how important she was to Harry . . . No, Ginny had to be part of his past, and perhaps a future. Perhaps, after Voldemort's destruction…

It was a hope. One of the few hopes in Harry's view of things.

Harry went to bed that night after trying Tonk's eggs, which reminded him of something out of Hagrid's recipe book. The extra salt she had accidentally knocked into the mixture hadn't helped. He delayed sleeping in order to and stop thinking of Ginny. But it was a lost battle from the very beginning. She would never leave is mind. Never…

Never

o–

It had been an interesting week at number twelve, Grimmauld Place. Harry got used to calling the house his, despite the horrible portrait of Sirius' mother opining to the contrary. Along came several members of the Order after someone – either Tonks or Lupin – sent news of the new arrival.

On the very first day it was clear to Harry why there was hardly anyone in the place.

"Potter!" yelled a most annoyed Minerva McGonagall. "How . . . When . . . What are you doing here? Are you insane?"

That wasn't, Harry thought, the best welcome available.

"I don't see why not, Professor," he said, honest. "Sirius left number twe —"

"Yes, yes, he did, but what in Merlin's name are you doing here! Have you lost your common sense?"

"What do you mean?" asked Harry, now a bit offended.

He noticed McGonagall hesitated on replying. "Snape," she said at last. "As a former member of the Order, he had been allowed in here. Even if the house remains Unplottable, he could walk in perfectly."

Harry's eyes widened. In all his rush leaving the Dursleys he had forgotten Snape had been in the house in the past. What if, instead of Tonks, the door had been opened by a tall and greasy–haired traitor?

"Potter, I am very disappointed! I thought you could have a little respect for Dumbledore! He always commented to me you would be a great person and the first thing you do is leave your relatives — no matter how bad they are — and Apparate in front of what could have been a trap!"

Harry felt like trash for the rest of that day, especially after McGonagall mentioned Dumbledore. Her eyes behind those square glasses had watered at the mention of the departed one. Harry felt like a complete moron.

He was then allowed to stay for as long as he desired, provided someone else was in the house that was able to use 'adult behavior'. Harry couldn't help but smile when Tonks was allowed in that selected group. Aside from that, though, he didn't smile at all during the few meetings the Order had during the week, where the different members shared pieces of information on Death Eaters and planned a defense.

The problem was that something was missing. It could be felt from a long distance away. Dumbledore was an excellent leader, always calm and thoughtful; he always seemed to have the answer to the problem, even if the answer would have included waiting for more news. McGonagall didn't have that success, and from time to time Harry felt she didn't really know what to do.

And there were reasons. Only Dumbledore and Harry knew what to do, and it was the ultimate secret Harry promised to keep. Nobody in the Order had ever heard of the Horcruxes Voldemort created by splitting his soul and containing the fragments inside objects outside the body, or Harry's secret mission to destroy them. He would just stay for a couple of extra days and move to the Burrow, where he would assist in Bill's wedding and then . . . depart on his journey.

He had been told Hogwarts would be closed by order of the Ministry of Magic. The invasion of Death Eaters within the school walls was a very low blow on Hogwarts' reputation . . . Now the education had been denied to the young wizards and witches of the country. He thought on Hermione Granger and felt really sad for her. She was only one year from her N.E.W.T. examinations, something she was surely looking forward to.

But Harry thought it was the most sensible thing to do. Now that Hogwarts was closed he could explore the world in his search, and then . . . Voldemort. School could wait, especially if there was no Harry Potter by then, a nasty thought no matter what.

Minerva McGonagall, Alastor 'Mad–Eye' Moody, Nymphadora Tonks and Remus Lupin were all gathered at the kitchen of the house on that eventful morning. Harry walked in the room after an uneasy night of bad dreams.

"Morning, Harry," yawned Tonks, then aimed her wand to the stoves and resumed breakfast.

"Morning," he nodded in reply.

"Potter, you'll be leaving to the Burrow today, right?" said Moody, his magical blue eye moving from here to there.

"Yes. I'll stay there until Bill and Fleur's wedding. That'll be some event."

He had a seat next to Lupin. Tonks placed a dish with crispy fried sausages and slightly blackened toast in front of him, but Harry had caught McGonagall's scowling eyes.

"Potter, we would like to . . ." she interrupted herself, then resumed. "We would like to talk with you."

"Er . . . Yes?"

"You'll be visiting the Weasleys, I understand that, but we were wondering what would become of you after the wedding."

Harry didn't need to look up to see everybody's eyes, including Moody's magical one, land on him.

"How do you mean, Profe—"

"Save the 'Professor' for when Hogwarts opens again," snapped McGonagall with a noticeable wince. "Examining Dumbledore's personal files last night I ran across this . . ."

She held up a large, white envelope. It had the Hogwarts emblem printed on a large blot of purple wax that had sealed it. Now, however now the seal was cracked open. He took the envelope and turned it. There were words on the back in the recognizable style of Albus Dumbledore:

To:
The Order of the Phoenix
(To be opened in times of crisis)

Harry moved his sight from the envelope to McGonagall's. She looked half–irked, half–sad.

"It cannot be more of a 'time of crisis' than now, so . . ." she claimed, now gesturing Harry to investigate inside. Harry did so and produced a series of letters and hand–marked maps. Dumbledore's calligraphy greeted the group from the paper.

To the Order of the Phoenix:

This envelope has been charmed under a Testamentary Spell, so it would only be readable after my death. Therefore, it is my sad duty through this to inform you that I am no longer with the living.
It is my last wish to inform you about my latest research related to the subject of Lord Voldemort, Harry Potter, and the Order itself.

Harry swallowed, but resumed reading without looking to any of the people surrounding him.

This letter was written after having completed my suspicions on Voldemort's behavior thanks, in great deal, to the help provided by Harry James Potter. I fear, however, that my stay in this world shall not last much longer now,the reason why I am now taking notes that might, I hope, help the remaining members of the Order in our mission of defeating Voldemort, hopefully for once and for all.
The first thing that must be pointed out is the matter regarding the way Lord Voldemort has been keeping himself alive, after a fashion, even after…

Harry's eyes traveled the manuscript with a mix of feeling. There Dumbledore explained the concept of Horcruxes and their function. The text followed with a brief revision of some of the memories visualized by both Harry and Dumbledore in the latter's Pensive.

Finally, the text moved to a second topic:

I ask the Order of the Phoenix for its full support on Harry Potter's doings, since he still has one task trusted by me. I wish on my Will that he is informed of Death Eater sightings, as well as receiving help the moment he so asks for it. By this point some of you may have guessed his remaining task, but don't stop him. Instead, enlighten his path with guidance and support.
Along with this letter I have included marked maps and random annotations from my previous investigations on the whereabouts of the remaining Horcruxes. These places I discovered may or may not, contain strong magical defenses.
I also ask on my Will for you to remain together and fight this one last battle. Give Harry the best weapons he can receive; the same weapons you gave him and thousands of other students back at Hogwarts: education, comprehension, and love.

With my best regards, yours truly (and, too, on my Will)...
Albus Dumbledore

Harry observed that last line, that signature, for a long time. He felt his eyes burn. Finally, he risked a glance and met with McGonagall. There was no more anger there.

"You better eat your breakfast, Harry," Tonks whispered. "Because you'll hate us for having you going that long way on an empty stomach . . ."

o–

Harry had never seen McGonagall in such a mood. She was perhaps sadder than on the night Dumbledore died. So Harry had no choice but to tell his experiences with the Pensive to the rest of the Order.

At least now he had a whole team supporting his journey. For a fraction of second he thought himself as the moral leader of the Order of the Phoenix. An unnamed leader. A leader brought by circumstances. Not as much of a leader, really, but the only one with more relevant information of the main mission, which was almost the same.

"I almost forgot," said Harry before stepping out of number twelve, Grimmauld Place. He turned to Lupin and handed him a large golden Galleon. "I gave the Dursleys one Communication Coin. Hermione sent me a few in case . . . in case something happened. I told them to use it if there was an attack. Could you help them for me if that ever happens?"

"Sure thing, Harry," promised Lupin, taking the Galleon and storing it in his pocket.

The morning was clean, although the mist was still visible. An owl carrying news from the Burrow came the day after, indicating Harry was expected the morning of the following day.

"Will you Apparate?" asked Moody, his normal eye fixed on Harry, his magical one spinning wildly.

"It's the faster way," he murmured.

"Right, now," said McGonagall, "tell Molly Weasley we shall arrive either the day before the wedding or the day of the wedding itself. Here's our list of personal questions, just in the event we get impersonated by Death Eaters. And don't give me that harsh look, Potter! The security is vital."

Harry sighed and nodded. He accepted the list of questions and answers and stored it in his jeans' pocket.

"Tonks will go with you," said McGonagall next. "In case you Apparate somewhere else. I believe you haven't got your License, yet . . ." she added in a disapproving tone.

"Very well. Then I shall . . . We shall, I mean, depart."

There was a slight hesitation in McGonagall's attitude, then she let it go in a more maternal tone, which was very strange for her.

"Now take care, Potter. As far we are concerned, you are probably our last hope." And she hastily added, in a normal, cutting tone: "So don't go around showing yourself so you can be jinxed by any passing Death Eater!"

Harry had to smile. "I won't, I promise."

"Let's go, Harry!" Tonks encouraged, grabbing him by his arm. "At the count of three, okay?"

"Yes, okay. Goodbye, everyone!" Harry waved to the rest of the present ones.

"One…" said Tonks.

"… Two…" followed Harry.

"… THREE!" they both said and, with a new turn, were gone.

There it was . . . that nasty feeling of stretchiness . . . just before Harry felt himself running out of breath a snapping sound brought fresh countryside air to his lungs. The Burrow, at last.

"Harry, Harry!" claimed a voice from behind. Tonks released his arm just when a brown, blurry figure landed on Harry and embraced him in a choking hug. "We were so worried! We went to your uncle's house and they said you had gone! It was a good thing Professor Lupin owled the next!"

Harry managed to get away from Hermione's arms and stumbled back. When he looked up at the sky a freckled face smiled down at him.

"Welcome back, mate," said Ron. "Rushing away from the Muggles, I guess?"

Harry was escorted toward the house of the Weasley family, a very strange edification whose only possible explanation for its toweresque architecture was good old plain magic. As soon as he put a foot in the kitchen Mrs. Weasley turned from the breakfast dishes she was washing with the use of her wand and hurried toward Harry, giving him his second and entirely unnecessary spine–cracking hug in less than five minutes.

Even though Harry had already had breakfast, Mrs. Weasley insisted on him taking some more. He sat at the table and Ron and Hermione sat at their sides. Tonks excused herself and went out to patrol a bit.

"Good Lord, Harry, you had us so—!"

"—worried, I know," Harry finished it for her. "I'm fine, Mrs. Weasley. I'm seventeen, now."

"That's no excuse," she said, sounding just a little annoyed. "So did Ron, and he hadn't Apparated so many miles away from his home. Disapparating and Apparating back at Grimmauld Place!"

"What's so wrong about that?" asked Harry as Mrs. Weasley brought a dish with a nice, hot meal.

"Are you serious?" Hermione spoke first. "You could have… Well… Probably died."

Harry raised his eyebrows at her. "Just for Apparating so far?"

"Of course! Harry, the first rule of Apparating is Destination, don't you remember? You have to concentrate on your Destination, and if you don't remember it properly you could have Apparated anywhere at all! Probably in several places at the same time! Talk about extreme Splinching!"

Harry shuddered.

"I didn't have problems Apparating back at Hogwarts when—"

"That was totally different! You knew Hogwarts so well that there was little chance you couldn't focus on your Destination. And the situation was so abrupt you had your Determination and Deliberation! No matter what you—"

But Harry's focus on Hermione's lecture had momentary faded away. His nose had detected, past the tasty sausages in his breakfast dish, a flowery smell. He jerked his head back, but Ginny had just left the room.

"—say, what you did was actually imprudent and — What's with you? Harry?"

Harry returned to reality.

"Oi! I mean . . . Oh . . . Sorry, wasn't paying attention."

He caught the expression of his friends and urged for a topic.

"So, where's everybody else?" he asked. "Fleur? Bill?"

Ron snatched a bit of sausage from Harry's dish. "Oh, Bill is visiting Fleur's family," he said. "They're returning in a couple of days. Fred and George are still working hard on their passion. I did shout at them for those Peruvian Darkness Powders, though."

"First time they don't laugh at him," murmured Hermione. "When they knew what the use of their jokes led to . . ."

"'Oh, come on, now! That couldn't have possibly ever happened!'", Ron mimicked. "'Dumbledore can't be dead; that was an awful joke!'", he finished with a soft, dark laugh. "You should have seen their faces after we convinced them. They even thought the issue of the Prophet after the burial was a well–manufactured prank."

"I can imagine," said Harry, swallowing the last bits of food. "How are they, now?"

"Sad," whispered Hermione.

"They've closed Weasley's Wizard Wheezes," added Ron.

"No!" yelped Harry.

"Not for good, Harry. They are inventorying their stock, trying to figure out how to prevent people from using it for really bad stuff. So far they managed to add a couple of special ingredients to their Love Potions so they would be detected by Secrecy Sensors," Ron explained.

"I see. And, how about Charlie?"

"Oh, Charlie's coming to the wedding, yes. He hinted something about a show for it, or something. He can't probably mean he'll bring a pack of dragons for a flight demonstration," Ron chuckled, only it didn't hide his uneasiness.

"What about Percy, then?"

"Don't ask," murmured Ron, looking away. "That prat hasn't been seen since Christmas. Mum sent him an invitation, of course . . . Only he returned it without even opening the envelope."

Harry nodded as he thought how would have Mrs. Weasley taken it. Not good in any case, he knew.

Later on, Harry thanked Mrs. Weasley for the breakfast and remembered to hand her the list McGonagall had provided him. Mrs. Weasley thanked Harry and then the trio climbed up to Ron's attic bedroom.

"You'll be sleeping with me. The house will receive guests soon," Ron explained. "Some relatives, see. I think dad will have to conjure an extra house, or something. Can't imagine where we're going to lodge so many people, even if it's only for one night . . ."

Harry only half–heard what his friend was saying. When walking past Ginny's bedroom door he could swear it had just closed behind him. There was a new whiff of flowers.

"How . . . how's Ginny?" Harry asked, mostly without thinking. He noticed Ron had suddenly gone silent and Hermione didn't reply.

"She's fine," Ron finally said. "Normal as always. Why do you ask?"

"Curiosity," he excused himself, though it was obvious his friends didn't believe it. Thankfully they neither pushed it further.

Once at Ron's bedroom, Harry was greeted by a beautiful white owl who had just perched on the windowsill.

"She arrived last night," said Ron as Harry greeted Hedwig back with a gentle rub on her head. In turn, the owl nibbled at his fingers.

"Very well, Hedwig . . . I'm also happy to see you . . ." Harry smiled, letting Hedwig fly back to the other end of the room, where a smaller, far more hyperactive little owl by the name of Pigwidgeon was fluttering and jumping in pure joy within the bars of his cage.

Having closed the bedroom door, Harry and his friend began to talk more seriously, especially on the matter of Harry's mission. Harry told his friends about Dumbledore's last will and how he was going to get aid from the Order. This eased some of Hermione's notorious worries on the subject, but didn't change her mind: she was still resolved to accompany Harry in his trip, so was Ron.

"Mum is going to kill me," he smirked. "I mean it. She'll kill me. She will scream, she will yell, she will threaten me with her wand, and then she will just kill me."

"She doesn't know—"

"—not a single word of it," Ron finished Harry's sentence, nodding miserably. "No one really knew; if we come to that. None of the Order, and if it wasn't for Dumbledore's letter—"

"My parents don't know of my plans, neither," said Hermione, her cheeks softly flushing. "I found it really difficult to talk to them about . . . this world and . . . and its war."

She turned her head to the window, apparently lost in a thought. Harry and Ron often forgot Hermione was Muggle–born and her parents probably knew close to nothing of actual workings of the Wizard World.

"I don't think they believed me, actually," she resumed, speaking softly. "They were quite stunned when I finally drew my wand and began to do magic. They have never seen that before, with the Restrictions and all, but now . . . Well, that was it, they finally really knew what was I talking about. Magic. I can still see their faces. Mum was even a bit terrified when I made her ceramic turtle move, but they're calmer, now."

Harry could see the hint of a teardrop appearing in her eye.

"They think I'll go to Hogwarts after my stay here. I wanted to explain how bad things are around here, but . . ." she sighed, ". . . a lie seemed much better, then. They don't know what I'll be doing, nor for how long."

Ron cleared his throat loud enough for making Hermione return from her inner world.

"How long you figure we'll need before finding all those Horcruxes?" he asked Harry.

"Less than I thought at first," he admitted. "Dumbledore left marked maps with possible locations. I've been examining them. Voldemort deliberately spread his soul all over the country. None of them seem to have been placed in foreign lands. I just don't know how we'll get to some of them," he added, now in a concerned tone. "There a few in mountains or deep valleys."

"There will be ways," said Hermione. "There're always ways."

They nodded, though mournfully.

o–

Midnight came, accompanied by the attic ghoul's moans and Harry Potter's insomnia. The day had turned out very good: his friends were safe and Lupin had joined the party after lunch, probably because Tonks had asked him to. But still, something was troubling Harry.

Ginny had barely spoken to him. During both lunch and dinner. It was a dumb, difficult dialogue, he had to admit.

"Ginny, hello," he had said.

"Hello, Harry," she had replied.

And that had been all.

Harry couldn't sleep. He had a strange feeling. Just like the time he had drank the Felix Felicis, his mind was telling him he had to do something before sleeping properly. Somehow, his mind was telling him to go downstairs.

Harry got out of bed and carefully wrapped himself under his Invisible Cloak, he didn't really know why, probably just instinct. Invisible now, he climbed down the stairs to the kitchen of the house, stopping suddenly at the bottom of the stairs.

There was Ginny.

She was sitting at the kitchen table; her head resting on her curled arm, next to a straw basket with yarn balls and knitting needles. There was a pair of wool socks Mrs. Weasley had been working on, that day. Ginny's other hand was tickling Arnold the Pygmy Puff with an index finger. The little fluffy ball seemed to chirp with each tickle.

He approached slowly. He wanted to see her face. Once in front of her, Harry saw she was wearing a serious expression.

"Couldn't sleep, Harry?" she suddenly whispered. Harry managed to suppress a gasp of surprise. "Neither could I. Have a seat, if you wish."

Harry didn't move. Arnold got hold of Ginny's finger and attached its long tongue to it while her owner flicked it.

"Harry, I've grown up with Fred and George as brothers. Believe me, I know when I'm being stalked," she said.

The was a sigh and the chair in front of Ginny moved backwards. After a moment Harry removed the cloak.

"So, how have you been?" she said, her eyes fixed on Arnold.

"I . . . er . . . Just normal," he said.

"Liar," she whispered. There was a very vague hint of a smile, but it vanished after one second.

"Fine, so I wasn't as keen as I would have hoped," said Harry, perhaps a bit harder than he should. "What with Dumbledore's death and everything. And the thought of Voldemort knowing and . . ."

He dragged the last syllables quieter as he noticed her face. Her eyes were shining.

"Ginny—?"

"You know, you shouldn't be talking to me in the middle of the night if we were supposed not to be together again," she said.

Harry opened his mouth and shut it almost immediately. Ginny went on, now in a choked tone.

"I know you came because of Bill's wedding. Well, I can understand that and I am truly glad you can share our family moments with us. I just — It's not like — Whatever you were thinking—"

She sank her head flat on her curled arm. Arnold released its owner's finger as she clenched her hand in a tight fist. The Pygmy Puff cheeped in worry and approached Ginny's fallen hair on the table, where it curled up and gave a new, sad chirp.

Harry looked down at her. The girl who hadn't cried when he explained they couldn't be together anymore. She had resisted until this day. It surely was a fierce battle. Harry stared at her closed fist halfway the wooden table. He suddenly recalled a similar situation he once faced, and this time he decided to do things right.

Ginny felt something warm squeezing her closed fist. A pair of watery eyes rose from her arm and followed the length of the sleeve. Her fist was now covered with a slightly larger hand.

She looked up at Harry Potter.

"I also thought a lot about you," he confessed.

Arnold the Pygmy Puff had just closed its tiny, black eyes. Curled up against its owner's hairs it had begun to snooze with a peculiar high–pitched purring which was the audible equivalent of big, wide, sad puppy eyes. A second later the noise became a surprised squeak when its comfortable cushion of red hair rudely vanished. When it looked up, Arnold saw its owner and that other person standing together. And, still annoyed with her a bit, Arnold moved towards one of the wool socks and squirmed in to doze some more.

Neither Harry nor Ginny noticed. They were quite busy together.

The following morning Harry awoke late for breakfast, despite he had been called several times. He wasn't feeling good, but neither bad. He felt good whenever he reminded of Ginny, but also felt bad due to the same reason. If he could only make sure she was totally safe . . . If he could do something to protect her from any harm . . .

Of course, he had to finish Voldemort, that's what he had to do. The best way to keep her safe. But in the meantime a long journey and a fight to death awaited, and however Harry sometimes felt confident he also felt he was risking too much. Not only would he take part in this mission, but so would the Order, but also Ron and Hermione. There would be no way of leaving them behind. And if he ever did so they would find a way to catch up with him. Hermione was smart and brilliant and Ron . . . well, Ron had Hermione, who was smart and brilliant and wouldn't try to hit any Death Eaters on sight.

It was one of those mornings when Harry worried about the people around him. Every one of them was a possible target, an imminent victim; and what was worse, a bait candidate. He knew how Voldemort operated. He would attack him through his weaknesses. He had achieved it twice already with Ginny and – Harry shuddered – Sirius.

Still, he feared something else. Knowing his friends the way Harry knew he knew them, there was the horrible nightmare in which any one of them said to him 'Run and save your life! I am not important! Just run and save yourself!' It was scary mainly because it would be perfectly true.

The door of the bedroom quietly opened. Harry turned his head toward it and saw Ginny carrying a tray. She smiled.

"Breakfast," she whispered. "Mum would have hexed herself if you didn't eat something."

She approached as Harry sat on the bed. The tray was laid on his knees. Ginny brought a chair and sat on it, very close to Harry.

"How are you?" he asked.

"Good. Mum had a big scare, this morning. She slipped a wool sock on her foot and my Pygmy Puff was inside. Funny, huh?"

"Yeah. And Ron and Hermione?"

"Outside," she said, a strange tone in her voice. "They're rather fine alone, don't you think?"

He caught the glimpse of a smile in her face.

"Yes. Almost like you and me. Ginny, about last night—"

"I already told you what I think," she stated, sounding firm.

"Yes, well, the thing is—"

"And I don't regret it. I won't regret it. Never."

Harry thought he had lost the initiative. He sighed and began to eat. Ginny wasn't taking her eyes — or her smile — away from him. After a brief and somewhat uneasy breakfast, Harry decided to try again.

"You will regret it," he said. "You will. Or what's worse, I will. I don't want to lose you."

"It won't be better the way you propose. But if I go with you, however—"

WHAM! The bedroom door flung open and Fred and George leapt in. It was, Harry thought, a worked–out surprise entrance.

The twins where the surprised ones, though.

"Harry! We thought you—" Fred said, then gasped. Both he and his brother George had just spotted Ginny.

"The rumors were true!" George yelped, clasping his hands on his cheeks in a rather over–acted way.

"We didn't believe Ron at first—", said Fred.

"—but here's the evidence!" said George.

"Our little sister Ginny—", said Fred.

"—and our great friend and financial loaner Harry—" said George.

"—TOGETHER!" they both said, and, in complete synch, spun melodramatically and fell on their backs. Wands were placed on their chests and magically produced mourning flowers from them.

Harry and Ginny laughed.

"You had your fun?" he said. "Can I jinx you now?"

"More respect to the deceased ones, Harry," murmured Fred in a deep, grave voice.

"Yeah, you gave us a deadly surprise," George went on, imitating Fred's dark tone.

"When did you lot arrive, anyway?" said Ginny.

"Just now," Fred got to his feet in one jump, so did George. "We locked Weasley's Wizard Wheezes until we return. We'll only be selling our improved merchandise. Can't believe we actually sold Peruvian Darkness Powders to that prat . . ."

"Those powders may have saved the lives of several people," recalled Harry, now serious. "It may have stopped our friends from attacking Death Eaters, but it did the same to the Death Eaters."

"What a positive perspective!" smiled Fred.

"You've made our day, Harry. And since you seem to be in such fair company—" George winked at they "—we will leave now. Oh, just wait until mum finds out…"

"Hey, keep it quiet!" Ginny squawked, but the twins had chosen that moment to Disapparate.

"Well, there goes the secret," murmured Harry, though smiling.

"It wouldn't have lasted, would it?" Ginny also smiled.

They stared at each other for a few seconds, then their smiles slowly faded. The topic previously in discussion had emerged once more.

"Ginny—"

"No," she said, knowing what was coming. "I'm not moving."

"But your mother—"

"Have I ever said it'd be an easy thing to do? Harry, please . . ."

Harry laughed, though it was short and somber. "There's no way to change your mind, is there?"

"No," Ginny said, the smile resurging within her face. "We both know how to be stubborn."

Harry tried not to smile, but it won. He didn't want her to do it, but . . . truly, deep down inside, he secretly hoped she—

Aw, what the hell . . .

"I think I have an owl to send," said Harry. Before he could understand how it happened, the breakfast tray had been carefully placed on the floor, and now two teenagers were hugging and kissing with no remorse.

o–

(To Be Continued. . .)