Okay... so I've begun revising this story. I know I said I'd have it finished by Christmas but obviously that didn't happen! Anyway I'm about half finished with the revisions I think, and then once it's finished I'll start on the second part. BTW, for those of you who didn't know, there's going to be a second part ;)
Disclaimer: I own nothing. Except Maria and Katrina, those are mine. But the rest all belong to JK, so you can't sue me!
Summary: Now that Harry's seventeen, he leaves the Dursley's to fulfill his destiny. The road to saving the world is not without problems, but Harry finds strength and comfort in those who love him, discovering power he never knew he had.
Chapter One: A Journey Begun
Harry stood, trunk in hand, staring up at Privet Drive. It was just before sunrise on his seventeenth birthday; the last day he would ever have to look at this dreadful place.
He thought back to the memories of the past sixteen years. He remembered being the subject of much bullying and humiliation for years, until that glorious day when his Hogwarts "letters" began to appear.
He chuckled as he thought of Uncle Vernon pulling hair out of his mustache, and that rundown little hut they'd stayed in during the storm, where Vernon had thought they'd be safe from the letters. He remembered Dobby's action-filled visit, and Ron, Fred, and George showing up in that flying Ford Anglia to "rescue" him.
He laughed guiltily as he pictured Aunt Marge bobbing around on the ceiling, and the Dursley's reaction to the news that Harry had a convicted mass murderer for a godfather. His grin widened as he remembered how he'd coerced Uncle Vernon into allowing him to go to the Quidditch World Cup with the Weasleys by mentioning Sirius.
But his smile faded as his thoughts turned to that lonely summer he had spent here with hardly any wizarding contact, culminating in that dementor attack and Uncle Vernon trying to throw him out of the house.
A loud CRACK! behind him jerked him out of his thoughts, causing him to jump ten feet in the air and whirl around, pulling his wand out as he went. He found himself face to face with Hermione, and he lowered his wand.
"Hermione, you nearly gave me a heart attack," Harry said as she pulled him into a fierce hug.
"I'm sorry," she replied, her voice muffled with her face pressed into his shoulder, "but I didn't exactly expect you to be waiting outside." She released him and stepped back, giving him a Mrs. Weasley-ish once-over. Her eyes fell on his belongings, which sat at his feet, and she raised an eyebrow.
"I couldn't stand the tension in there," he explained, shrugging it off. "Can we just go?" She stared at him for a minute.
"Have you said goodbye?" she asked almost sternly. Harry rolled his eyes.
"Oh yeah, we said goodbye, all right," he replied sarcastically. Hermione looked on the verge of arguing, so he interrupted her. "Look, Hermione, we're not going to kiss and make up, and hopefully I'll never have to see them again. I just wish I could go back in there and turn Dudley into a pig." Hermione glared at him, and he raised his hands in surrender. "Just kidding!" He laughed. "Not that it would make a difference anyway." She suppressed a smile and held out her arm mutely for him to take.
"Where's Ron?" He asked, stalling the moment until he had to endure that squeezing feeling again. His heart sank slightly as he remembered that the only other person he had side-along apparated with was Dumbledore, but he shook off the feeling. He could dwell on his grief once he'd destroyed Voldemort... and Snape.
"We thought it would be better if Ron stayed behind, as he might need his eyebrows in the future," Hermione told him in a tone that implied that Ron had thought nothing of the sort. "Now quit stalling and come on!" She demanded. "The sun's almost up." Harry sighed, took her arm, and closed his eyes as she apparated them to the Burrow.
They appeared at the end of the lane and hurried toward the house as red and gold shot up over the horizon. Hermione pointed her wand at the doorknob and the door sprang open, admitting them into the house.
Harry followed her down the front hall and into the living room, where they found Ron fast asleep on the couch, snoring loudly. Ginny was curled in a chair in the corner, reading a book.
"That was quick," she commented without looking up. Harry had been anxious to see how she would act after Dumbledore's funeral, and was relieved to see that she would not be given to hysterics. He stood awkwardly for a moment, not sure how to act or what to say. Hermione stepped over to the couch and gently shook Ron, who jerked awake, flailing his arms and legs and sputtering incessantly.
"Hey, Harry, mate, it's about time you got here," he said calmly, once he was fully awake and sitting up. Hermione sank onto the couch beside him and patted the place next to her, indicating that Harry should join them. He did, gratefully, as he had been feeling very uncomfortable while standing in the middle of the room.
After a moment, he noticed Ginny watching them with a strange expression on her face. He'd seen the look somewhere before, though he couldn't quite put his finger on the occasion.
"So, when's the wedding?" He asked, breaking the silence. Ron blushed ever so slightly at the mention of Fleur, and Hermione rolled her eyes, an expression crossing her face that was identical to Ginny's.
"Next week," Ginny replied finally, returning to her book. Harry nodded, and another awkward silence followed. Was this how it would always be now?
Suddenly, Ginny stood, marking her place in her book.
"Where are you going?" Ron demanded. She glared at him.
"To get some breakfast, if that's all right with you," she snapped. Ron cowed slightly under her furious stare and nodded.
"Well… okay then," he replied. Harry looked at his friends, who both shrugged. Harry sighed, shaking his head slightly.
"I guess I'll go get us something to drink," he said, getting up with some amount of difficulty. Hermione raised an eyebrow. Ron's expression was unreadable.
Harry pushed through the kitchen door and entered the small, sunny room. Ginny was seated at the table with a small bowl of oatmeal and a glass of pumpkin juice. She glanced up briefly when he entered, but said nothing, quickly returning to her food. Harry pulled a couple of glasses from the cabinet and rooted in the ice box for some juice. Ginny made no effort at conversation, and the atmosphere was beginning to choke him.
Finally, after locating the juice and pouring three glasses, he decided to say something, anything to relieve the tension.
"So, you're up awfully early." Even as the words left his mouth, he felt how stupid they were. It was obvious why she was awake, especially by the red flush creeping up her cheeks.
"Yes, well, there's a lot to be done today," she said matter-of-factly. "You know," she continued, looking up at him. "What with the final wedding plans and all, we won't have a moment's peace."
"Especially with Fleur as the bride?" Harry joked, relieved when he saw a ghost of a smile cross her face. He crossed the room with his own glass and seated himself next to her, forgetting about Ron and Hermione completely.
"Of course. 'Everyzing 'as to be perfeect'," she mimicked, and Harry laughed softly with her. Another awkward silence followed.
"Harry, I can't do this. I can't sit here and pretend to be happy about all of this." Ginny said quietly after a moment. He dropped his gaze to his glass.
"Ginny, you do understand, don't you?" He pleaded. "You understand why we can't do this?" He lifted his eyes to her face slowly, meeting her gaze.
"I understand more than you know, Harry," she replied in the barest of whispers.
"What do you mean?" He asked.
"It's true, isn't it?" Her voice was stronger, and she wore an expression that said she didn't need him to confirm it, but preferred to ask him anyway.
"All that Chosen One rubbish; about the prophecy. It's true, I heard you telling Ron and Hermione last summer. I didn't want to go downstairs with Phle- I mean Fleur, so I waited outside the door for you lot and-"
"And you eavesdropped on our conversation?" Harry finished, but he wasn't angry. He sighed. "It doesn't matter, Ginny-"
"Yes, it does," she said firmly. "It matters because I know you're not going back to Hogwarts, even if it reopens, you're going looking for Voldemort."
"How do you know that?" Harry asked, amazed. She smiled grimly.
"Ron had a huge row with mum at the beginning of the summer because he told her he wasn't going back, but he wouldn't tell her why. I knew it had to have something to do with you." Harry looked away and then back at her. He knew it was no use to lie.
"Yeah, I'm going to find Voldemort, and hopefully destroy him," he said finally.
"But why now Harry?" She asked. "Is it because of Dumbledore? And Snape?" Harry's eyes flashed at the mention of the name.
"Partly," he replied evasively. "I can't really tell you why," he told her, knowing she wouldn't rest until she found out.
"Well, you're going to have to, because I'm coming with you," she said. Harry was shocked right to his feet.
"No," he said, more firmly than he'd ever said anything in his life. "No WAY," he added.
"Harry, I can't change your mind about not wanting to be together, but I still care about you, maybe more than you know, and I am not staying behind in school while you three go off and risk your lives." Harry opened his mouth, but she cut him off again.
"Don't bother arguing with me!" She shouted. "I'm not budging! It's just like when you didn't want me coming along to save Sirius! I cared about Dumbledore as much as you did, and I care about finishing Voldemort just as much, maybe more! I haven't forgotten what he did to me, Harry," her eyes flashed dangerously. "I don't forget something like that." They were both standing now, having shoved their chairs aside, and they glared at each other for a long moment.
"And what does your mother have to say about this?" He continued. A shadow crossed Ginny's face.
"It wasn't easy, you know, fighting with her. First Fred and George dropped out early, and then Ron, and now me," she sighed. "But I think she understands that there are things more important to Ron and me than school, even if she doesn't know what those things are." Harry sighed. He was determined not to lose this battle.
The kitchen door opened, and Mrs. Weasley walked in looking annoyed, flanked by Fleur, who was jabbering on about wedding guests.
The two women stopped abruptly at the sight of Harry and Ginny facing off as though battling. Fleur broke off her monologue and ran to Harry, hugging him fiercely.
"'Arry, 'ow've I've missed you!" She exclaimed. "'Ow was school?" Harry shrugged, catching the look on Ginny's face and trying not to laugh.
"It was fine, Fleur," he replied. He waited for Mrs. Weasley to come hug him and say he was too thin, but instead she walked right past him and busied herself with some pots and pans. Harry raised an eyebrow at Ginny, who got the message clearly.
"Mum, we'll be on the porch," Ginny said. Mrs. Weasley slammed a pot down on the stove.
"Fine," she replied through clenched teeth. The two of them hurried out of the room as fast as they could.
Out on the porch, Harry and Ginny found Ron and Hermione sitting on the suspended swing.
"So, has Ginny convinced you as well?" Hermione asked without preamble.
"I haven't been convinced of anything," Harry muttered stubbornly. Ginny crossed her arms and glared at him.
"I'm not changing my mind, Harry. You'll have to tie me up and hide me in a trunk to keep me from coming, and even then I'd probably find a way out and follow you." Harry glared back at her, and Hermione and Ron looked on, unsure of what to do.
"I'm not willing to change my mind anymore than you are," He snapped. "If I have to tie you up and lock you in a trunk, I will."
"I have to agree," Ron chimed in, and Ginny began to turn red.
"Ron! You already promised I could come!" She was beginning to sound slightly desperate, giving her voice a whiny edge. She shot a pleading look at Hermione, who looked away.
"I think Ginny is just as capable as Ron or I," she said carefully. Harry shot her an angry look. "But it's ultimately Harry's decision," she finished swiftly. Ginny looked close to tears.
"So this is how it's always going to be, isn't it? You three together, running off to whatever new adventure you find, and leaving me behind." She stood and stomped into the house, slamming the front door behind her. Harry thought he now understood the look she'd had earlier on in the living room: jealousy.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat for a few more moments without speaking, a little stunned by what had happened. Finally, Hermione said, tentatively,
"Why don't you want her to come, Harry?" Harry sighed.
"I just can't. What if something happened to her? It's hard enough for me to allow you two to put yourselves in danger, but at least the three of us have done this together, several times before. I would be devastated if something happened to you two, but I couldn't live with myself if I allowed Ginny to come and then something happened to her." Ron seemed unwilling to enter the conversation. Harry had already noticed that Ron's attitude toward him lacked a bit of its usual warmth.
"It's your choice, Harry, just like it was your choice to allow us to come," Hermione said. He reluctantly met her gaze. "But I think you underestimate Ginny as to what she can handle. And I don't think you realize how much you're hurting her, mentally and emotionally, by not letting her come." Harry looked away.
"I just can't," he repeated in a strangled voice. "I can't let anything happen to her." At his words, Ron looked up, an expression of pity crossing his face.
"We understand," he said, all traces of coldness gone. "We trust your decision." Harry nodded.
Before he could say anymore on the subject, Mrs. Weasley came out onto the porch. Ron and Hermione jumped up and retired into the house, leaving them alone. Mrs. Weasley seemed not to notice as she hugged Harry tightly, a sheepish expression on her face.
"I'm sorry, Harry," she said, all smiles and motherly love. "I was being silly."
"It's all right, Mrs. Weasley," he assured her. He'd already guessed that her cold attitude was a result of Ron and Ginny not wanting to go back to Hogwarts. Who else did she have to blame but him?
"No, it's not," she replied. "But I'd like to make it up to you with a nice meal. Those Dursleys never did feed you properly." Harry grinned and started to follow her inside, but they were hailed by a shout. Turning, they saw a man running up the path, a man with red hair and horn-rimmed glasses, behind which tears were already falling.
Harry watched, emotionless, as Percy came within a few steps of them and stopped. Mrs. Weasley was staring at her third son with an expression of ill-concealed rapture.
"Percy?" She whispered. Percy's eyes were trained on the ground. This was a much different man than the one who had visited last Christmas. At last, he lifted his eyes to meet his mother's.
"I'm so sorry, mum," he whispered. Harry felt awkward, as though he was intruding, but couldn't bring himself to leave. "I've been such an idiot. I don't even know what to say." Mrs. Weasley responded by pulling him into a big hug.
"Percy, you're my son. I don't care how much of an idiot you've been, all I want is to keep this family together. All I ever wanted was for you to come back to us." Percy smiled through his tears.
"Thanks mum. I don't know how I'll ever make this up to you, and the rest of the family." He turned to Harry, who was pretending to examine the bushes lining the front walk.
"Harry-I," he broke off. "I don't know what to say. I've treated you the worst of all, and you definitely didn't deserve it. I- all I can think about is how I acted toward Dumbledore. He was a great man, and I- I never got to apologize…" Percy trailed off, wiping his eyes behind his glasses.
Harry didn't say anything at first. He remembered the letter Percy had sent to Ron, suggesting that Harry was deranged and that Ron ought to "sever ties" with him, and he remembered Percy's infuriating attitude in Dumbledore's office after the DA had been caught. But when he turned to look at Percy, and saw Percy as just another person who'd made a mistake, another person who was mourning Dumbledore's death, he found it didn't matter in the slightest.
"It's ok," he said finally. "Really, it doesn't even matter anymore. Everyone makes mistakes, even Dumbledore admitted to them." Percy smiled slightly.
"Thank you for not cursing me," he said, and Harry smiled back.
"How can you just forgive him like that?" Harry whipped around and saw Ginny standing on the porch, staring at him incredulously. "After everything he's put us through? After everything the ministry put you through, Harry, and Percy was right there supporting them instead of his own family!" Percy reached toward her.
"Ginny-" he began, but she stepped away from him.
"Don't touch me!" She sobbed. "I hate you and nothing you say will ever make me forgive you!" Turning, she fled into the house. Mrs. Weasley looked highly disconcerted.
"I'll go talk to her," Harry said.
"No, let me," Percy stopped her. "I made this mess, and I need to fix it." Harry felt his respect for Percy grow slightly. Percy was extremely pompous and more than a little irritating, but altogether a good person. He knew he would have to live with his mistakes for a long time, and he was accepting that responsibility without hesitation.
Harry entered the kitchen to find Ron, Hermione, Bill, Fleur, Mr. Weasley, Tonks, and Remus Lupin seated at the table, eating breakfast. He wondered why Ginny had eaten earlier instead of with the rest of the family, but shrugged it off.
Tonks was her usual inquisitive self, but even that was slightly subdued, as was the rest of the table. Harry knew why: it was hard to be cheerful when the man who defined cheerful was gone forever. 'Wait a minute,' Harry thought, 'Dumbledore's not gone forever!'
Everyone looked up at him, surprised. Ron was staring at him as though he'd finally cracked it, a bit of food dangling from his mouth. Harry almost laughed at the site of every gawking; he must have spoken aloud.
"Umm, Harry, no one can come back from the dead," Hermione said tentatively. Harry shook his head.
"Sorry, guys, I didn't mean to say that out loud... but what I realized was that even though Dumbledore's dead, we can still talk to him, you know, through his portrait. When I went into Dumbledore's office- which I guess would be McGonagall's now- there was a portrait of him on the wall, just like all of the old Headmasters and Headmistresses! Which means he'll be able to talk to us, and- and to give advice..." Harry's mind was reeling with the possibilities. He knew that somewhere along his quest he would have to include a visit to Hogwarts.
"Harry, I'm not sure if it will be the same as talking to the real Dumbledore," Lupin said cautiously. Harry grinned.
"Of course it will!" He replied. "Phineas Nigelus' portrait was a right pain in the-" He stopped at Mrs. Weasley's look.
"Well, I suppose it's worth a try," Tonks said with a very forced amount of cheerfulness. "You could always ask McGonagall to let you go in there once you're back at Hogwarts."
"So they're definitely opening the school?" Hermione asked, but Harry said, "I'm not going back." Everyone around the table froze, and Lupin gave Harry a very shrewd, calculating look, as though he might know what was going on.
"Neither am I," Ron declared with a bit of defiance, but his expression softened a bit when he glanced at his mother. Lupin glanced at Hermione, who shook her head.
"None of you?" He asked. Fleur was staring at all of them, open-mouthed. "Well, I can't say I'm surprised."
"Yeah, well, I've got some things to take care of this year," Harry said with a lot more defiance than Ron's statement. There was a collection of breath among the table other than the four teens. Harry knew that they all assumed he was talking about Voldemort, and of course they were right. "I'm going to destroy him, whether they say I'm supposed to or not. I can't rest as long as he's out there." Lupin was nodding softly.
"I understand," he said. "I suppose you're an adult now, and you have to make your own decisions." Mrs. Weasley had an odd look on her face, as though she was trying to seem supportive of Lupin's statement, but was internally disagreeing.
"Mum?" Ron asked softly. Mrs. Weasley forced her expression into a small smile.
"Dear, whatever needs to be done to stop You-Know-Who is most important. Although I would much rather have you in school, well, I suppose you could always run away from there as well. I can't very well stay with you twenty-four hours a day and force you to go to classes." Hermione patted her arm gently. Ron was smiling ever so slightly.
"Thanks, mum. Your support means a lot." Harry nodded in agreement. Mrs. Weasley gave them a real smile.
"Anything you need, you can just pop in over here. Literally. Even if you just get hungry!" Ron rubbed his stomach.
"I know I will." They laughed and went back to their breakfast.
Later, Harry joined Hermione and Ron in the backyard.
"It's a bit odd," Ron was saying, "but I guess I can get used to it."
"Used to what?" Harry asked as he took a seat on the grass beside them. Ron made a face.
"Percy." Harry nodded in recognition.
"If he's truly sorry, I don't see why we shouldn't give him a chance," Hermione said. Ron shrugged.
"I suppose. I don't know how dad will take it, though. He pretty much closed up about the whole thing, but you could always tell he was still angry."
"Still, it's his son," Hermione argued. "He might be a little angry, but Percy is here, sincerely apologizing. He ought to at least give him a chance," she repeated. Ron shrugged.
"We'll see." He turned to Harry. "You sure you're okay with it?" He asked. Harry nodded.
"It's like Dumbledore said, back in fourth year. "We are as strong as we are united; weak as we are divided. If we don't stand together we'll never be strong enough to beat him." Ron nodded solemnly. Hermione placed her hand on Harry's arm.
"We're all standing behind you, Harry. We can beat him, I know we can." Harry smiled at her.
"I hope you're right," he replied.