Chapter One: Disturbing Dreams
Harry couldn't remember everything that had happened the night before at Bill and Fluer's wedding, though when he strained to recall the wedding's events, he remembered a flagon of wine spilling down Ron's sleeve, Hermione's admonishions as he and Harry gave a slurred toast, and Ginny's cheery-red lips as she ran into the garden with flowers in her hair.
The next morning, Ron had refused to get up, saying his head hurt terribly. His neck was scored in angry red hickies, and Hermione refused tearfully to say what had happened. If Harry couldn't remember, why should she relive it? she'd demanded and run off sobbing wildly into her hands.
When Harry sought answers from Ron's parents, Mr. Weasley merely shook his head solemnly and Mrs. Wealsey burst into tears.
"Ron had a little too much to drink, Harry," Lupin confided in Harry that morning outside of the Borrow. "Fred and George thought it would be funny to spike his punch, but he got so drunk he wound up snogging that girl who works at their joke shop and well . . ."
Harry nodded grimly. After seeing Ron so many times with Lavender he could well imagine what had happened. He wondered where Hermione had gone and how she was, but Lupin told him not to seek her out.
"Why not?" Harry asked, startled.
"She's angry at you too, Harry," Lupin said gravely. "Ron wasn't the only one who was spiked."
"I -- you mean --" Harry touched his head. "No wonder I can't remember anything . . . but my head didn't hurt this morning like Ron's -- "
"I don't believe you drank nearly enough. It was some kind of joke wine the twins made for Ron's coming of age. They just wanted to prank him, but the wine turned out to be stronger on him than they expected."
"So . . ." began Harry with a heavy feeling of dread. "So -- what exactly did I do to upset Hermione?"
Lupin looked uncomfortable and gazed off into the morning mist with narrowed eyes. "The morning's getting along, isn't it? I've got important -- I've got unfinished work -- Order business, you know." and hestrolled down the lawn to the road, where he disapparated, leaving Harry quite clueless and miserable.
When more people came by the Borrow to congradulate the newlyweds' parents that Sunday, most of them snickered when they saw Harry or pretended not to see him at all. Professor McGonagall was (if possible) even more strict and formal than usual. Instead of greeting Harry with a curt "morning Potter," she merely tilted her head in awkward acknowledgement and marched past with tightened lips.
"Will someone please just tell me what I've done!" Harry growled to no one in particular as he watched from the Weasley's wild garden the departure of more wizards and witches.
"Talking to yourself, are you?I guess the prank wine still hasn't worn off."
Harry turned. Ginny was marching through the garden from the direction of the hill on which Harry and her brothers had often played quidditch, her green cape floating behind her in a flurry of fabric. She had an old broomstick perched on her shoulder and her eyes twinkled with bitter amusement.
"Mad at me too, eh?" Harry asked, noting the slight sarcasm in her voice.
Ginny halted, facing Harry.
"I'd like to be," she answered honestly and it was amazing how much she resembled Mrs. Wealseyas her nostrils flared momentarily. "ButI know it wasn't your fault, what you did."
"But what didI do!" Harry burst.
Ginny rolled her eyes: "The Elixir of Life. That's what Fred and George called their little prank wine. They thought it was terribly clever at the time, but apparently Mum and Dad didn't. Dad went stark white and could barely string a sentence together he was so angry and Mum went beserk and chased them out of the house with the kitchen silverware when they tried to apologize."
"And she doesn't blame me?" Harry asked anxiously.
Ginny's lips twisted into a half smile, "She never does."
There was a pause as both of them watched the sunlight illuminate the Weasley's wild garden and bring it to life. Harry stood with his hands in his pockets, wondering what he could say to get around whatever it was he had done at the wedding the day before.
"So . . . you were flying? Reckon we could fly together?"
Ginny's eyes hardened, "Don't you think you did enough flying last night?"
She lifted her eyebrows as if she thought this was a stony hint, but when Harry remained perplexed, she scowled and rolled her eyes to the heavens again.
"Ginny," Harry said, angry suddenly. "If you just told me what it was I did -- "
But she walked away from him while he was speaking and didn't look back when he called her name.
"Everyone's mad at me," Harry grumbled to himself as he flopped moodily on a patch of grass in the garden. "ButI guess that's nothing new . . ." He laughed bitterly.
"In your defense, Harry, what you did was completely out of your control."
Harry looked up and his heart leapt a mile: Dumbledore was seated on a rock near the cracked shed in the Weasley's garden, resplendid in white robes. He smiled serenly at Harry.
"I hope you're not chewing gum. It would be a shame to have survived so very much only to meet your downfall because of a slab of treebark lodged in the throat."
Harry blinked and after a moment of frightened staring, whispered, "Professor?"
"At your service, Harry," Dumbledore murmured, still smiling.
Harry stood slowly, "But -- but how is it --" He swallowed, feeling the hot tears rise. "You're dead! I saw it happen!"
Dumbledore nodded gravely. "Yes, yes. You saw it. But you didn't see what you thought. Come. Sit." He gestured to another large rock that seemed to have appeared out of no where beside him.
Harry didn't move. "It must be the prank wine," he said to himself, running a hand through his wild hair. He looked at Dumbledore and blinked. "It must be . . ."
"Yes, Harry, I am dead. And, yes, Harry, I am also sitting right before you."
"You're dead . . . so are you a ghost? Or is this the prank wine?" He blinked again and shook his head.
"No, it is not the prank wine, and, unlike most ghosts, I am quite substantial." Dumbledore offered his hand, and Harry crept forward to touch it gingerly with his finger.
"Good," said Dumbledore cheerfully. "Now that we have established that, yes, I am dead and that, yes, I am seated here before you . . ." He gestured to the large rock he'd indicated before and Harry sat.
"But . . . is this . . . real?" Harry asked, blinking in the sunlight. "I mean, am I dreaming? Did I really get drunk at the wedding? Or was that a dream too?"
Dumbledore was smiling. "You haven't changed a bit, I see. You are too stubborn to be deterred. It has always been an excellent quality of yours." His smile widened. "No, Harry, this is not a dream. I have been sent back, by whom I shall not say, to impart to you a certain knowledge that I failed to before, but only -- and ONLY -- because it had not occured to me."
"Do you remember, Harry, when I told you that Voldemort had put a little of himself into you?"
Harry nodded, waiting, but his heart was already full of dread.
Dumbledore sighed and gazed off into the horizon, "Lovely sunrise, isn't it?"
"Professor . . .?" Harry said uncertainly. The sun had completely risen hours ago.
"Yes, lovely. But it can only really rise when the darkness has waned, and even then it must set . . . in the end."
"What are you trying -- "
"Oh! Look at that!" Dumbledore started and Harry was surprised to see a watch on the older wizard's arm. "I'm late." He leaned over and whispered with a confidential smile, "Even in death one must be punctual, Harry. Well, I'm off. Say hello to Minerva for me. She's been looking rather peaked. Tell her not to worry. The end is near."
He stood and marched across the grass. Harry was amazed to see a bright portal of light in the morning fog.
Dumbledore paused and looked back with an imploring smile, "Yes, Harry?"
"What is it you came to tell me?"
"What is the cure for hatred, Harry?"
Harry blinked, "Wot?"
"The cure for hatred!" Dumbledore smiled even wider. He seemed to be enjoying himself immensely.
Harry wanted to say a good kick in the pants. Dumbledore laughed as if he'd read Harry's mind.
"No, no -- though the remedy has worked on minor occasions. The cure is understanding, Harry. It's very hard to hate what you understand. Good bye!" and he stepped into the light, never turning when Harry called after him.
"Harry! Harry! HARRY!" Someone hit Harry in the face with a glass of water. He sat up, gasping, to find that he was on his cot in Ron's room.