Harry Potter and the Rings of Ceangal Fala

Chapter Five

The Seventh Month Dies

Days always passed quickly when Harry was staying at the Burrow, but the remaining days until his birthday veritably flew by. Mr. Weasley woke him early on the first morning of his seventeenth year. Harry showered and shaved, trying all the while to rub the sleep from his eyes. He dressed, throwing a pair of black robes over his Muggle clothing, and walked downstairs. Now that he was fully awake, the reality of the test he was to take hit him. Since waking he had been growing more and more nervous, wondering if it was reasonable to expect someone to Apparate successfully when they hadn't attempted it in months. It must have been reasonable, though, since many others had done it before him.

Mr. Weasley handed him a stack of buttered toast and Harry took it, though he didn't think he would be able to eat it. "We'll take the Underground," Mr. Weasley told him. He added with a smile, "If all goes well, we'll be able to Apparate home."

The trip to the Ministry of Magic was long and uneventful. Despite the fact that it was late July, there was a chill in the early morning air. Harry, glad for the robes that shielded him from the wind, thought the trip went more smoothly than it had the last time he had travelled to the Ministry with Arthur Weasley. The older wizard was still very talkative, asking questions about Muggles and their devices.

"Harry," Mr. Weasley inquired in a tone all too audible for Harry's comfort. "What are those ridiculous earmuffs that young man is wearing?" People turned to stare at the man with ginger hair as Harry saw the boy with earphones who was tapping his foot in time with a beat they could not hear."They don't look as if they could keep his ears warm at all."

"Those are headphones, Mr. Weasley," he answered in a hushed voice. "They play music for the person wearing them."

"Ah, I see. A genius invention."

The two of them left the Underground and walked the short distance to the seemingly abandoned building of the Ministry. They stepped into the telephone box, which was a bit more cramped than the last time Harry had been there due to the sizable difference in his height. Harry picked up the receiver and dialled six, two, four, four, two.

"Welcome to the Ministry of Magic," stated the same witch as had in Harry's fifth year. "Please state your name and business."

"Arthur Weasley, Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects."

"Harry Potter, Apparition Test," Harry said tentatively. He had expected Mr. Weasley to speak for him as he had two years previous.

"Thank you. Visitor, please take the badge and attach it to the front of your robes." The younger of the box's two occupants pinned the badge to his robes as they descended. "Visitor to the Ministry, you are required to submit to a search and present your wand for registration at the security desk, which is located at the far end of the Atrium."

Harry put his hand against the glass of the box to steady himself. He couldn't see a thing. What little toast he had managed to eat was making such a fuss in his stomach that he was beginning to wish he hadn't eaten anything at all. Finally they came to a halt.

"The Ministry of Magic wishes you a pleasant day," the witch informed them in a nondescript manner. Harry smirked, slighted by the automated message; it wouldn't be a pleasant day if he didn't pass the test. Stepping into the Atrium, the memories of his last encounter in the Ministry burned in the back of his skull. He shoved them off before noticing the statue central to the room had been replaced. It was now only a witch and a wizard both with their wands pointed to the sky and, much like before, a fountain erupting from the tip of each wand. He thought it better because it was more plausible. Perhaps, though, it was too optimistic to believe the wizarding community had realised more magical creatures despised wizards rather than adored them. It was more likely they simply did not think them important enough to warrant a sculpture.

Harry followed Mr. Weasley to the security desk, flattening his hair over his scar, where his wand was inspected. "Good luck," said the man as he handed back the wand and gestured to the badge, which read Harry Potter, Apparition Test.

"Thanks," Harry answered, glad the man hadn't asked about his scar or any other such things. He didn't care to have other things on his mind when he had to concentrate. The two wizards stepped onto the lift, along with two witches and another wizard. This time, Harry was careful to cover both his scar and his badge.

"Level Seven, Department of Magical Games and Sports, incorporating the British and Irish Quidditch League Headquarters, Official Gobstones Club, and Ludicrous Patents Office."

"Good morning, Mafalda," Arthur piped up after the other two occupants left through the doors. "How's the family?"

"Oh, just dreadful," she replied, clearly relieved and delighted to make conversation. "Anthony came home ill last week. Just as he was getting better, he's given it to his father. If it was any other time of year, it wouldn't be so disastrous, but summer is the most hectic for us."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"What time is my appointment?" Harry asked, trying to ignore the witch eying his badge suspiciously.

"Seven o'clock," came the reply as Arthur glanced at his watch. "You should be right on time."

"Level Six, Department of Magical Transport, incorporating the Floo Network Authority, Broom Regulatory Control, Portkey Office, and Apparition Test Centre."

"Here we are," Mr. Weasley said and squeezed his way past a rather large wizard and off the lift. Harry followed him down the hall to a door upon which the sign Apparition Test Centre hung.

"Good luck! When you're done, I'll be on level two." The older man went back to the lift, leaving Harry alone outside the door. His stomach getting even tighter, he knocked on the door. A young witch opened it and ushered him into a waiting room.

"Harry Potter!" she squealed as though she had been waiting for this moment since the appointment had been made. "Do you remember me? Patricia Stimpson."

"Er- yes. You were in Gryffindor, right?" If he remembered correctly, she was happy to see anyone so long as he or she could carry on a conversation. He thought he just might get out of this without any questions about Voldemort.

"Yes!" she sang, clearly delighted he remembered her. Her blonde hair was tied up in an intricate knot of sorts, no doubt a style requiring a wand and help from at least one other person. Her brown eyes shone with excitement. "Nervous?" she inquired. "I know I was when I first took the test. Nearly went bonkers. It took me five tries to get it right."

"A little," he admitted, recalling she supposedly had a breakdown during O.W.L.s. Of course, the information of Fred and George Weasley was not known for its accuracy, so he could not be sure.

"It's nothing," she confided despite her previous confession and chuckled a bit. "Of course, it shouldn't be anything for you after all you've done." Harry didn't have anything to say to that. People always acted as if he was infallible, but it wasn't something he appreciated. Sure, he'd done some amazing things, but that didn't mean he didn't get nervous over tests or the like. She sensed his hesitance to reply and changed the subject, "Well, let's see then," she prodded, sitting at her secretary's desk.

"Er-" he stammered, confused at being asked to Apparate so soon. "Is this my test?" he asked, not thinking about the fact that he was in a waiting room.

"No, no. You're a bit early yet. You do want to practise first, don't you?"

Nodding vigourously, Harry closed his eyes and tried to remember the three Ds, but all that came to mind was Dogbreath, Dunghead and another even less polite word Seamus had taken to calling Twycross last year. The bespectacled youth was reminded of the hula hoops that had been on the floor in the Great Hall. With a swish of his robes, he disappeared and reappeared a metre away. Patricia stood and clapped, more pleased with his performance than Harry would have thought likely. One of the several doors opened, and a short man poked his head out.

"Anyone waiting?" he asked, his eyes looking over from his secretary to Harry.

"Yes sir, Mr. Twycross. I'll send him right in." She turned to Harry and pulled him into a chair in front of her desk before rounding it and sitting in her own chair, which looked slightly more comfortable. She opened a drawer and rifled through folders absolutely stuffed with papers. Harry wondered if the filing cabinets lining the walls held records and forms and if they were in a similar condition. Finally, she pulled out a form and turned it upside do so Harry could read it as she slid it to him.

"What's this?" he asked.

"A waiver," she explained. "If you splinch yourself we won't be held accountable whether or not we can put you right."

Harry gulped, but grabbed the proffered quill and, after skimming the form, signed his name. She certainly hadn't managed to ease his nerves despite her carefree tone. In fact, she had only magnified his anxiety. It hadn't occurred to him that the Ministry or the healers at St. Mungo's might not be able to fix a bad splinch. What if he left behind his heart or brain? He would be dead before they could even attempt to reattach him.

"Good," she continued. "Right through that door, then. Good luck!"

Harry wiped his sweaty hands on his robed and opened the door. Wilkie Twycross sat behind a lengthy desk piled high with papers, books, folders and dossiers. His chair looked rather uncomfortable. It was wooden and placed between two small windows. Outside, the day was getting brighter. The Muggles passing by didn't spare a glance for the seemingly dilapidated building.

"Come in, come in Mr.-"

"-Potter," Harry provided.

"Harry Potter?" Mr. Twycross asked.

"Yes, sir," Harry replied politely, sarcastic comments flooding his mind. He was tired of the stares and second glances. It had been worse since the Daily Prophet had been reporting surprisingly accurate accounts of the events at the Ministry of Magic in his fifth year. There must have been a leak somewhere, though Harry could not think from whom it would have come. There hadn't been any reports on him or on Voldemort in months, but it had been an uneventful summer and he was sure, once the holidays were through, the papers would start the chin-wagging once more.

"Well then, Mr. Potter. Please stand on that red X over there. Yes, very good. Now, I want you to Apparate onto the green X over there. Can you see it?" Harry nodded. This is it, he thought. It looked a rather specific place to land. He felt his stomach turn violently.

"Very good. When you are ready," Mr. Twycross said, gesturing with his hands to proceed. Harry closed his eyes and concentrated on the green X nearly seven metres away. There was that familiar feeling of being squeezed through a rubber tube as he had felt with Dumbledore, but now he had no one to guide him. His feet touched solid ground, and Harry allowed himself to breathe. He opened his eyes and quickly looked down to see how close he had gotten: only a few inches from the centre. A sigh of relief escaped him.

"Well done, Mr. Potter, well done. Now I want you to close your eyes and Apparate to the blue X."

Harry had closed them when told to do so, but they snapped back open at the instructions and he looked at the man. "Sir, I haven't seen the blue X," he asserted.

"That's the point. You're not always going to Apparte to a place you have already been, are you?"

He hadn't thought it had mattered. He had side-along Apparated several times to a place he had never been, but it had never occurred to him that his companion had never before been there either. Though, he supposed, it would be quite a hassle to travel to a place before you could Apparate there. Sweating more than ever, Harry closed his eyes once more and concentrated on a blue X somewhere in this room. He wiped his hands once more on his robes, praying he would not end up on a different level, and felt the squeezing sensation. He opened his eyes tentatively to see that he was very close indeed to a blue X.

"Very good," Twycross said, scribbling on a piece of parchment and placing it on his desk. "Well done, Mr. Potter. You have passed. You may get your license from the secretary."

Harry felt as if he were breathing properly for the first time as he left Twycross's office. Patricia was talking excitedly to a young woman as he closed the door behind him.

"I knew you could do it," she said happily and handed him a piece of plastic that looked a bit like a driver's license. His picture waved excitedly up at him, looking rather as relieved as he felt. Printed beside it was his full name, birth date, and other personal information. Patricia continued, "It will look just like a diver's license to Muggles. Just don't drive if you don't know how. You could get into a load of trouble with the Ministry. Not that you'd want to drive when you can Apparate!"

"Thanks," Harry replied warily. He left the Apparition Test Centre with a grin and boarded the lift, pressing the number two. He would have to stay at the Ministry at least until Mr. Weasley could leave for lunch since the Order was not inclined to let him travel alone, but his impending boredom didn't much bother him in his euphoric relief.

Mr. Weasley, who had been busy all day at work with robes that were supposedly as thick as dragon hide, though they turned your skin a rotten sort of purple, never had time for a proper lunch, so Harry was forced to remain in the Ministry all day. While he was bored, he honestly didn't mind. Mr. Weasley didn't bother Harry a whit, giving the young man time to think. When they arrived at the Burrow, they found Mrs. Weasley in a right state. Harry didn't think he had ever seen Ron's mum so worked up. She was running about frantically cooking and cleaning, giving orders to whoever was unlucky enough to get into her way. Fred was bringing Angelina to dinner that evening and Mrs. Weasley was anxious to impress her. He and Hermione agreed that, if a girl was put off by seeing the Burrow in its normal state, she was not good enough for the Weasleys.

Ginny launched into a tirade about Bill's new wife, who had looked scornfully about the Weasleys' home on not only one, but all occasions she had been there. "It's her fault," Ginny accused, "that mum's so nervous. She's worried Angelina will be just as awful."

"She's always like this when anyone comes over for the first time," Ron reminisced. "Remember when I invited Hermione?"

"She wasn't this bad," Ginny argued.

"True, but we were twelve and I wasn't dating Hermione." Ron blushed, realizing what he had just said as Hermione continued setting the table as if she had not heard. "Not that I'm dating her now," he stumbled. "Or that I will be, I mean..."

"It didn't seem like she was that nervous when I first visited in my second year," Harry pointed out, taking into account that he was not female, but still coming to the conclusion the Mrs. Weasley would have made a fuss about the condition of her home.

"She didn't have a warning, either," Ginny asserted. "She didn't know Fred, George and Ron were bringing you home in Dad's Anglia."

Harry chuckled. Their exploits with the blue Ford seemed so amusing to him now, but in his second year Harry and Ron had thought they would have been expelled for sure. They had been so relieved when Professor McGonagall arrived to save the day, leaving a plate of sandwiches in her wake rather than allowing them to join the feast. They had gotten off rather easily, now that he thought about it.

"What ever happened to that car?" Ginny asked, still a bit put off, though she would never admit it, that Ron and Harry hadn't been there for the triumphant moment in which she had been sorted into Gryffindor as had her entire family.

"Still in the Forbidden Forest, so far as I know." Mr. Weasley's bewitched Ford Anglia had practically spit Ron and Harry out and drove off as if it were their fault that it had crashed into the Whomping Willow. Though it had later saved their lives from Aragog, Harry was still perturbed that the car acted as if it had been intentionally damaged.

"Dad loved that car. Never got to fly it though. You know, now that he isn't in the Misuse of Muggle Artefacts Office, it doesn't look quite so bad that he's got a shed full of misused Muggle artefacts," Ginny giggled.

Harry laughed. He watched as Hermione and Ron argued about nonsense while setting the table. Fortunately, most everything was back to normal. Everyone was speaking to each other with the exception of Percy, but he, as the Weasley children put it, was a prat.

Harry had told himself he would enjoy his birthday; that one day off would not be selfish, but he was having a hard time putting unpleasant thoughts out of his mind. "Why is she so nervous?" Harry asked, hoping to distract himself. "It's not so big a deal that Angelina is coming."

"It is to her," Ginny pointed out. "I suppose part of her thought Fred and George would be too ambitious to ever bother with finding wives. Not to say Fred's going to marry her," she added hastily as Mr. Weasley gave her a warning look. Her mother was panicked enough as it was. "But he is fairly serious: as serious as he can be, anyway. Other than that, she probably thought they would test their Toad Truffles on their girlfriends and drive them away before there was even the potential for marriage."

"Toad whats?!" Mrs. Weasley exclaimed, turning around swiftly to stare at her daughter. The icing flowing evenly from her wand squirted all over Harry's birthday cake in her surprise. Crookshanks, who had been eying it interestedly, saw his moment of opportunity and began sneaking over. His plan was thwarted when she turned back to the cake.

"Joking, Mum," Ginny calmed her quickly.

As Ginny leaned over to whisper something to Hermione George Apparated into the room. He wore blue robes instead of the violent magenta staff robes that clashed so painfully with his trademark ginger Weasley hair. "Evening, Mum," he said. "Fred wanted me to tell you he and Angelina will be here in five minutes."

"All right," Mrs. Weasley replied as she finished icing the cake and covered it to keep Crookshanks away.

"Why don't they just come now? What are they doing until then?" Ron questioned. "Snogging?"

"Giving Mum warning," George yawned. "But snogging to pass the time, I'd wager."

"Ginny, dear," Mrs. Weasley murmured as she placed a bowl of string beans on the table. "Would you go up and get Harry's presents?"

Fred and Angelina appeared as Ginny went up the stairs. "Hello, Mum," Fred said. He removed the arm that had been around Angelina and kissed Mrs. Weasley on the cheek before pulling out a chair for his girlfriend.

"Hello, Fred, Angelina, how are you doing?" Now that the two of them had arrived, Mrs. Weasley looked completely calm-as if she hadn't been in a panic minutes before. She gestured for everyone to take their seats and called her husband to the table.

From across the table, Angelina said, "Happy birthday, Harry."

"Thanks," he replied. It felt strange to have people gathered for his birthday. Usually he spent the entirety of the day alone in Dudley's second bedroom, eating the cakes sent by his friends and reading the cards that had come with them. Now he was surrounded by smiling people and was even more the centre of attention than he was used to. It made him somewhat nervous.

"Did you take your apparition test yet?" she asked, trying to make conversation. It was clear that she felt uncomfortable about having dinner with the family of her boyfriend.

"Just this morning," Harry told her. "I passed."

"That's great!"

Ginny returned, brightly wrapped packages in her arms. Harry, who had been about to say something to Angelina, stopped in favour of watching Ginny's hair in the fading sunlight that filtered through the windows. She placed them on an empty armchair in the corner and took a seat in between Harry and Hermione. Ron took the only vacant place, which was between his father and Harry.

"Still here, Charlie?" George asked as he spooned beans onto his plate. Harry shook his head to clear it, but still could not remember what he had been about to say.

"For another twelve days or so. I'm staying for Ginny's birthday. Then I am off to Romania again."

"I do wish you would settle down," Mrs. Weasley interjected. "Bill and Fleur are very happy, you know."

"I'm sure," Charlie replied. "I haven't met the right girl yet. Besides, those dragons aren't going to raise themselves. We've got our work cut out for us. There have been seven orphaned dragons this year already."

"I thought you were dating someone," Mr. Weasley interrupted, not realizing that information was confidential.

Cornered, Charlie flushed a bit and admitted, "Yes, but we're far from getting married."

"Why haven't we met her?" his mother asked with a touch of warning in her tone, though it could not drown out the excitement she obviously felt.

"Well, she's a Muggle. I haven't told her about magic yet, let alone thought about introducing you. I want to be sure about her before I turn her world upside down. I want to see if things pan out first."

Harry remembered the shock and disbelief he felt when first told about magic. He had even seen and done things to prove it existed, but still had a hard time accepting it. He still felt a surge of pride that everyone seemed perfectly fine with Charlie's dating a Muggle. It didn't bother them in the slightest.

Mr. Weasley nodded and asked as he buttered a roll, "Wasn't Remus coming?"

"Yes," Mrs. Weasley replied. "He and Tonks are coming for cake. The poor dear has been so busy, what with her new job."

Harry hadn't heard that the Auror had a new job. He was about to ask about it, but Hermione interrupted him.

"Did they ever work things out?"

"Oh, yes, and it's high time they did. They're dating now."

"Wasn't Hagrid coming as well?" Mr. Weasley asked, hoping to avoid a conversation likely to be ripe with gossip.

"He couldn't make it. Grawp got into a spot of trouble." Harry was upset that the one who had introduced him to magic would not be celebrating with them, but understood completely.

There was a knock at the door. Mrs. Weasley stood and cried "Nymphadora!" before hugging the witch adorned with periwinkle hair in a bob. "Remus, how good of you to come. Come in, come in, join us," Mrs. Weasley insisted and conjured two chairs with her wand.

"No, no, Molly," Lupin said, putting up a hand. "We've eaten."

"Well, we haven't quite finished. At least have some tea." Tonks and Lupin sat down at her urging. "Have you seen Kingsley? How's he doing?"

"He's very excited," Tonks replied. "He's been working for the Minister ever since Scrimgeour took him off the hunt for Sirius."

Harry put down his fork quickly. He had expected his godfather to come up in the conversation what with part of the Order of the Phoenix reunited, but he hadn't been ready for it. Hermione put her fork down as well and Ginny turned to him. She looked at him concernedly, but he averted his eyes.

"He doesn't much like working for Muggles," Tonks continued, apparently unaware that she had said something awkward. "He's quite sick of it. He's really a very talented wizard, if a bit arrogant."

"Angelina?" Lupin asked, changing the topic for Harry's benefit. "It's been quite a while."

"Professor Lupin! How've you been?" she asked, glad to enter the conversation once more.

"Can't complain, though I'd've liked to have carried on at Hogwarts."

"Everybody says you were the best Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher we ever had. I doubt they'll be able to fill your shoes," Angelina said confidently.

Lupin blushed slightly and thanked her for the compliment. Tonks, who had been reaching for the sugar, distracted half the occupants of the table by dropping the dish into the string beans. "Oh, Molly, I'm sorry. I'm just so clumsy."

"Why don't we move into the living room?" Mrs. Weasley suggested. She and Ron passed out cake while Ginny gathered the presents one more and everyone took a seat. A small pile of boxes wrapped in paper was placed on the table in front of Harry, and he looked at them with confusion. It was surreal to be presented with gifts. Everyone looked at him, and he glanced across the room to Ginny. He had never been in this situation before and wasn't quite sure what they expected him to do.

"Just open one," Hermione whispered from next to him, having picked up on his hesitation. "Thank the person it was from." He nodded, having seen similar things on television, though never expecting it would be quite so awkward.

The Witching Hour was playing on the WWN, and Harry was glad for the sound. He put his butterbeer down after a quick swig and reached for a small box. Reading the card, he saw it was from Ron and thanked him before peeling the paper off to reveal a new penknife. His last one had been a gift from Sirius; it was something that did not survive his fifth year at Hogwarts. Thanking his best friend again, Harry reached for another, which turned out to be a Skiving Snackbox from the twins.

Hermione had gotten him a copy of Magick Moste Evile. She seemed to shrink away in embarrassment, as if having bought the book made her nervous. It had been little help last year when they were looking up Horcruxes, but Harry still appreciated it. Charlie, Ginny, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley got him a small, leather-bound journal. "We thought," said Mrs. Weasley nervously, "what with all that had been going on you must have too much on your mind. It was Ginny's idea, really."

Ginny flushed at this. "I wanted to give you a pensieve, but…" she paused, not wanting to explain how expensive that would have been. "I hope you like it," she amended.

"I do. Thank you."

"Harry," Lupin said as he handed a wrapped gift to the young man. "It's not really a present, but I thought you should have it, and I'm sure you have the other." He reached into his shabby robes and pulled out a small mirror identical to the one Sirius had given him.

"Thanks," he said, unwilling to be reminded of Sirius for the third time that night.

After that, the night was not so focused on Harry as it had been, and he preferred it that way. He was still grieving as would be expected, and he wasn't keen on attention even when he wasn't grieving for Sirius and Dumbledore. After all, when he had heard of his godfather, he had expected Sirius to be there for his birthdays. Finding out he had had a godfather was a god-send to a young man who had previously had no family to speak of. It was cruel that Sirius had been taken away so quickly. He lay awake in bed that night, unwillingly going over past events in his mind, unable to stop them. Ginny was right – a pensieve would have been helpful, but he was willing to give a journal a try.