Disclaimer: I do not own any part of the Harry Potter novels or their characters, and I am making no profit from the distribution of this story.
Spoilers: Spoilers up to and including Half-Blood Prince.
Warnings: Rated T for character death, psychological torture, run-of-the-mill torture, and violence.
Author's Note: I hope you enjoy the first chapter of my new fanfic, Harry Potter and the Simulacrum Seal. I won't hound you for reviews, but they are kind of nice. Constructive criticism is especially appreciated. Kudos to my beta reader, Clara Minutes, for her assistance :)

Chapter One: Beyond Reach

Harry awoke with a start as a bumblebee stung him in the nose. He shuffled his arm out of his sleeping bag and pressed it to his face, which felt fine; it had been a dream.

He sleepily looked about the room, initially confused about where he was. Then he recalled that he was at the Dursleys' house on the floor of the spare bedroom. Ron's arm was hanging down near Harry's head from the bed next to him. Hermione was asleep in Harry's bedroom down the hall. He could hear the distant sound of Dudley snoring, and the less distant sound of Uncle Vernon snoring. The room was not as dark as it had been when Harry went to bed; it was the twilight of morning.

Harry closed his eyes and breathed softly. Even by the standards of his visits to the Dursleys', this one had been spectacularly unpleasant. It had only lasted two nights; he would have left within the first hour if Hermione hadn't insisted that Harry ought to stay at least a full day to make sure that the protection magic didn't wear off. Harry had argued that they didn't know if he was protected at all outside the house once he left, no matter how long he stayed, but he had yielded in the end; he suspected Hermione was trying, in her way, to be polite to the Dursleys.

They certainly hadn't returned the favour. He was not keen to get up and face the Dursleys that morning, though at least he'd never see them again afterwards, as he, Ron, and Hermione were departing after breakfast. Maybe we could depart before, Harry thought. It's not as though they'll miss seeing me off. The only reason I came at all is because Dumbledore wanted me to.

The thought of Dumbledore made his eyelids even heavier from tiredness. He couldn't stand to think about it anymore, so he went back to thinking about the Dursleys and how inexcusably, yet predictably, rude they had been to his friends since they got off the Hogwarts Express.

The train ride itself had been quiet since so many students had already been taken away by their families. It had seemed longer than any journey from Hogwarts had before. Harry had spent most of the time with his head leaning against the window; Ron and Hermione had been almost as subdued, holding hands and leaning against each other.

Harry's occasional glances at them had stabbed painfully at the wound in his chest that had opened when he broke up with Ginny and was not wholly healed. She had been in another compartment, having stayed more within her own group of friends since their break-up. From the few words and looks they had exchanged since, Harry didn't think Ginny was angry with him; it was just easier to live with their choice when they weren't around each other so much.

Still, the distance between them was hard to bear after their few happy weeks together, even though Harry knew it was for the best.

Then the train had stopped at King's Cross, and several Order members had greeted them when they got off. Ron had told his mum and dad that he was going with Harry to the Dursleys, Hermione had told her parents, and then Tonks had led them over to a car surrounded by a handful of the Order.

Uncle Vernon, surrounded by witches and wizards, had swallowed any protests rolling through his mind; his face had turned a deep shade purple, and his teeth had clenched, but he had been silent. Harry still didn't know how they had all managed to fit in the car, but managed they had, and he wondered if Hermione – now considered an adult witch by wizarding law, and therefore allowed to cast spells outside of school – may have cast a surreptitious charm or two to make it work. At least the Dursleys had left Dudley at home.

Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had been silent for the entire journey to number four, Privet Drive. It had been much like the train, except for the palpable fury exuded by Uncle Vernon. He had turned every corner sharply and the wheels had screeched at least a half dozen times before they made it to their destination, at which point both his aunt and uncle had opened the car doors immediately after the engine shut off, slammed them shut, and made for the house without a word.

Ron hadn't been taken aback by this behaviour, but Hermione's eyes had been wide with shock, following the Dursleys until they had entered the house and shut the door.

'They're like this all the time, remember?' Harry had said to her. It had been the first time he had spoken for several hours, and the hoarseness of his voice had made it sound as though he were hurt by the Dursleys' actions even to his own ears.

The hostilities had only escalated. Dudley had been disgusted by the presence of even more 'freaks' than usual, and had been very vocal about it until Ron, also of age and irritated by Hermione's discomfort, had pointed his wand at him, which sent him scurrying away. Uncle Vernon simply left the room whenever they entered it; he didn't even eat with them. Harry wished Dudley could be as invisible at mealtimes, but he still ate a good three quarters of whatever was put on the table, leaving little more than scraps for him and his friends.

Aunt Petunia seemed less angry than sad, but she was just as quiet as Uncle Vernon, and Harry didn't particularly care about her feelings. Normally, Harry would be delighted by the silent treatment from the Dursleys, but with his friends staying over, he found it deeply embarrassing.

'You awake?' Ron whispered to Harry.

Harry opened his eyes, slipping out of his unpleasant reverie. 'Yeah.'

Ron turned over and looked down at him. 'Think we could leave before breakfast?' he asked. 'I'm starving.'

'You won't hear me arguing,' Harry said, sitting up. He knew the lack of proper portions of food had been particularly hard on Ron; he had given Harry odd stares as they were 'eating', as if to say he couldn't imagine how Harry had grown past five feet tall with such a diet. Their things had already been taken to The Burrow by Mrs Weasley, apart from their wands, the clothes on their backs, and Harry's Invisibility Cloak, so there was nothing to pack, and they could leave as soon as they pleased.

'Merlin, I hope Hermione has given up on politeness,' Ron said, throwing off the covers. Her efforts the previous day at drawing his aunt and cousin into conversation had been truly heroic, but by dinner the previous night, even she had grown annoyed.

The Dursleys were still sleeping. Ron and Harry knocked softly on the door to Harry's room. Hermione opened it swiftly; she was already dressed. 'Are we leaving?' she whispered.

'Yeah,' Harry said quietly. Together, the three of them tiptoed down the stairs. Harry could feel a weight in his chest lift as they got closer to the door – closer to the exact moment when Harry would be gone from Privet Drive forever, never to see or hear from the Dursleys again. He took one final breath of air from within the house, breathed it out swiftly, and closed his hand around the doorknob.


Harry turned around. Aunt Petunia was standing at the top of the stairs in her dressing gown. Hermione and Ron were very still, as though she wouldn't notice them if they didn't move. 'Yes?' Harry said, inwardly groaning.

His aunt stood stiffly, her hands clutching at her gown. 'You're leaving?' she said, her face twitching into something resembling a calm expression.

'Yeah.' Harry turned the doorknob, still looking at her, eager for the conversation to be over and to be gone.

'Well…' she struggled with her throat, then added, '… good luck, then,' with a false smile pressed upon her face.

'Sure,' Harry said, looking away. He pushed the door open and walked out ahead of Ron and Hermione, eager to taste the fresh morning air. When Ron shut the door behind them, Harry grinned bitterly. 'Good luck, she says.' He puffed the air out of his nostrils. 'What a laugh.'

'Just forget about them,' Hermione said.

She looked around; it was very early, and there were no signs of activity visible on Privet Drive. 'Let's get onto the street and Apparate quickly before the neighbourhood wakes up.'

'Uh, Hermione, we can't Apparate, remember?' Ron grumbled. He was still frustrated at having failed his test the first time; he and Harry planned to take it together in August once Harry was of age.

Hermione rolled her eyes. 'Side-Along Apparition, Ron. I don't know if I can do you both at once, so I'll take Harry first and then come back for you.'

Ron and Harry agreed to her plan, at least after Harry realized that Hermione was not going to take Ron first and leave him alone, even though they knew that there were surely Order members around ('But that didn't protect you from those Dementors, did it, Harry?' Hermione said sternly). So he grabbed onto Hermione's arm tightly, and after the usual unpleasant sensations, they arrived in front of The Burrow.

'You go in, Harry. I'll get Ron,' Hermione said. Harry backed away from her as she raised her wand and cried 'Appario,' disappearing with a loud pop.

Harry walked down the lane to the door and knocked. He heard someone walking toward him from within and another loud pop from behind him; Hermione had come back with Ron.

Then Harry was slammed against the door, his face pressed hard into wood by the back of a large someone. 'Stay back!' growled the man. Harry heard more voices behind him, then heard Hermione shriek and Ron yell. Harry could hardly breathe, let alone call out to them; as he struggled, the footsteps from beyond the door pounded frantically.

The door swished open and Harry fell inside just as Mrs Weasley leaped out of the way. The man landed on top of him, compressing the breath out of Harry's lungs with his weight.

The commotion ended as suddenly as it had started, and frantic voices turned to friendly ones. 'Sorry about that!' he dimly heard Tonks yell from outside. 'We thought you were evil.' The man on top of Harry was scrambling off, and Harry took the opportunity to snatch two lungs worth of air.

'Sorry.' Harry rolled over and saw Kingsley Shacklebolt above him, his arm held out. Harry grasped it and was practically lifted to his feet. 'We're all a little on edge lately,' Kingsley continued.

'No problem,' Harry said, wheezing, blinking the shock away and rubbing his sore ribs, 'but maybe you could just hex me next time.'

'We didn't think you were an attacker,' Kingsley explained, 'but when we saw someone Apparate behind you…'

'Oh,' Harry said. He looked behind Kingsley and saw Tonks removing a Jelly-Legs Jinx from Hermione, who was sprawled out on the ground. Harry came to the somewhat sickening realization that Kingsley had been physically blocking him from harm. Shacklebolt hadn't seen him more than a handful of times, and yet he was willing to take a Killing Curse for him.

'Harry,' he heard Mrs Weasley say as she touched his shoulder, 'come on in to the kitchen and I'll fix you something to eat.' Her voice was shaking.

He followed her into the kitchen of The Burrow and saw Mr Weasley sipping coffee at the scrubbed wood table. When he saw Harry he hurriedly put the mug down on the morning paper, sloshing out some of its contents. 'Hello, Harry!' he said brightly. 'Have a seat! Molly was just making breakfast.'

Harry sat down next to Mr Weasley and was about to sneak a glance at the Daily Prophet when Mr Weasley folded it up and set it aside. 'How have you been?' he asked Harry quietly as Mrs Weasley flipped the eggs, looking him in the eyes with a kind expression.

'As well as can be expected,' Harry replied steadily. Mr Weasley nodded swiftly in understanding.

At that moment, Ron and Hermione entered the room; Hermione's robes were covered in dirt, and her awkward walk and wide eyes made her look sore and rattled.

'Breakfast!' Ron exclaimed happily, sniffing at the air with a contented grin on his face. Hermione brushed her dishevelled hair out of her face and sat at the table while Ron peered over his mother's shoulder.

'Smells wonderful, Molly,' Tonks said as she walked in, followed closely by Kingsley, who also took a seat.

Ron gulped down much of the first helping of food, aside from that which he insisted go to Harry and Hermione, due to them being starved for 'ages'. More was on the table soon enough, and Harry enjoyed a breakfast filled with good food and pleasant conversation.

'How are things with Remus?' Hermione asked Tonks, a conspiratorial gleam in her eyes.

Tonks wiggled her eyebrows in reply. Then her nose changed to a long, leathery grey elephant trunk and trumpeted in the air. Everyone covered their ears and laughed.

After a short time, Mr Weasley set his napkin on the table and announced that he had to get off to work. Mrs Weasley fussed over him a while, and just as he was heading out the door, a panting, tired-looking figure entered the kitchen: Ginny Weasley.

'Don't leave yet!' Ginny said. She went up to her father and hugged him tightly around the chest. 'Keep safe!'

Mr Weasley looked lovingly down at his daughter and hugged her softly in return. 'You too,' he replied. Then he left, shutting the door behind him, and Harry and Ginny's eyes locked together almost immediately. She shot Harry a warm smile that made his throat constrict.

'Hi, Harry,' Ginny said, taking the seat next to him that her father had recently vacated. 'How were your relatives?'

'Same as ever,' he said, trying to sound casual. 'How're you?'

'We're doing okay,' she said. Then they both fell silent. Soon Tonks and Kingsley left as well; with Ron eating too fast to speak and Harry and Ginny not inclined to talk, the kitchen became very quiet.

'Bill should be arriving soon,' Mrs Weasley said to the room at large as she magically scrubbed the pots and dishes. 'Fleur is in France with her parents taking care of last-minute plans and getting the Portkey approved by the French Ministry.'

Everyone except Ginny looked up in surprise. 'The wedding is taking place in France?' Hermione said.

'Yes, at her parent's home. It's going to be a very grand ceremony,' Mrs Weasley said, smiling broadly. Harry couldn't detect any remnants of her previous hostility toward Fleur. 'We'll be arriving through an international Portkey in a few days.'

'I've never been abroad,' Harry said.

'You'll love France, Harry!' Hermione beamed.

'Well, we won't be doing any sightseeing,' Mrs Weasley sighed. Hermione's smile sank. 'We're just going for the wedding and coming back the next day. Arthur is needed at work. I would love to stay longer, but this isn't the time for a vacation,' she said, each word coming out as though it were painful to say.

'Oh, of course,' Hermione said. 'Would you like some help with the dishes?'

'Thank you, dear, but I've got it taken care of,' Mrs Weasley replied.

At that moment, Bill knocked at the back door. Mrs Weasley went to it. 'Bill, there you are!' she said. 'What's your favourite sweet?' she asked through the door.

'Blood-flavoured lollipops,' Harry heard him reply. Ron gagged. Must be because of his new werewolf tendencies, Harry thought sadly. 'And who's your favourite son?' Bill asked her.

'Bill, be serious! Arthur is quite insistent that we do this properly!'

'All right, all right… what's your favourite Celestina Warbeck song?'

'A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love,' she said firmly. She opened the door. 'Come in, come in!'

Bill walked in, and Harry's gaze was drawn to his face, badly scarred in Greyback's assault. He supposed he would get used to it eventually, but it was difficult to see the body of the attractive Bill Weasley topped off by a mass of scar tissue. 'Honestly, Mum,' Bill rolled his eyes, 'if we can hear through the door, a Death Eater could easily smash it in.'

'Don't joke,' she said sternly.

'I'm not,' he said seriously. 'I know we have security here, but I'd be more comfortable if you were at headquarters.' He sat down at the table and greeted Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny.

'We're quite all right here,' she replied.

'You'll have to convince her to go, Harry,' Bill said, grabbing some cold, leftover toast. 'It's your house, after all.'

Harry had almost forgotten that he was the owner of number twelve, Grimmauld Place. 'Of course you're all welcome there,' he said lamely, with no enthusiasm; he didn't have any particular desire to ever go back there, and he couldn't imagine where he would go if he didn't stay with the Weasleys.

'It's quite all right, Harry,' Mrs Weasley said, her cheeks a little red with embarrassment. 'We have security here. Not to insult you…or Sirius, but I don't like that awful house.'

'I don't, either,' he said honestly, 'and I'm sure that Sirius wouldn't have taken offence. He hated it there too.' There was an awkward silence for a few moments, which Harry was determined to break; he didn't want Sirius' name to be taboo. 'So when's the stag night?' he joked to Bill.

Bill looked at him suspiciously. 'It's in a couple nights. How'd you know about it?'

'I didn't,' Harry said.

'Awesome!' Ron grinned. 'I can't wait!' Hermione rolled her eyes. 'Are Fred and George planning it? They'd be really good at organizing the stag night.'

'They insisted,' Bill said, 'and it's a good way for them to help out. It plays to their strengths,' he added mischievously. But then Bill, awkward, started, 'But unfortunately, you can't –'

'You'll have a great time, Harry! One of Charlie's friends got married last year and he said they went to this club, and –'

'Ron,' Bill said disapprovingly. 'You really shouldn't…'

'But you went, too, didn't you, Bill? You said you had a great time! Are we going to the same place?'

'It won't be nearly so smashing as that was. It's too dangerous these days.' Bill gave his brother a look, and Ron went quiet, although he shot Harry a questioning look across the table. Harry shrugged.

'Harry,' said Bill, 'I'd love for you to come, but since you're not of age, it's not possible. I'm sure you won't be missing much, anyway,' he added – too hastily to be believed.

'What?' Ron cried, slouching to the table. 'Of course Harry's coming! Harry has to come! Come on, Bill…'

'It's not Bill's decision to make,' Mrs Weasley interrupted. 'He's too young. He wouldn't be allowed in that place.'

Harry shrugged. Missing the stag night wasn't a problem for him. 'No hard feelings. I understand.' Ron snuck a glance at Harry's eyes, and seeing that he genuinely wasn't offended, relaxed and sat back up again.

'Er, I could stay…' Ron offered.

Harry laughed. 'No way! You have to tell me all about it when you get back.' At this, Ron snuck a glance at his mother, who didn't look as though she approved.

Ron cleared his throat. 'Er… so, Bill… the wedding will be in France, will it?'

Bill nodded, and though it was hard to tell through the scarring, he seemed to be grimacing. 'Yes, it seems like the only option that will allow all the guests to attend safely. I know Mum would have preferred if it were in England…'

'It's all right, Bill,' Mrs Weasley said with a sigh. 'I know that travel to Britain is too dangerous right now for Fleur's family to attempt, especially with Fleur's little sister being so young.'

'I appreciate your understanding,' Bill said genuinely. 'I know you wanted to help out more with the planning.'

'It's fine, really,' she said. 'I have other boys I'll be able to plan weddings for.' With this, Mrs Weasley let out a great sob, reached down and hugged Bill around the neck. 'Oh, Bill!' she cried. 'I can't believe that in a few days…'

'Don't worry, Mum,' he said, patting her arm. 'We'll still be living near here. Hardly anything will change, really!'

Mrs Weasley sniffed and let go of him. 'My little baby…' she sighed again before going back to her cleaning. Hermione reached for the paper beside Ginny and scanned through the first few pages. 'No one we know died,' she announced to a sombre crowd, 'although there are a few Muggles…'

'Hermione, perhaps you would like to go get cleaned up?' Ginny interrupted.

Hermione set the paper down, grabbed at her hair and cringed. 'Yes, perhaps I ought to.'

'You should all wash up,' Mrs Weasley added. 'Madam Malkin is coming over this afternoon to measure new robes for the bridesmaids and let out everyone else's dress robes.'

The day was a flurry of activity at the Burrow. Dress robes were made and mended by Madam Malkin, Mrs Weasley was having everyone practice saying 'Please,' 'Thank you,' and 'Where's the bathroom?' in French, and Charlie was rehearsing a speech for the wedding to anyone who sat still and then breaking down in horror about being a terrible best man. Fred and George visited that night, gushing over their grand stag night plans. Then they had an argument with their mother about Harry not being allowed to attend ('But we already bought him the Ageing Potion, Mum!' Fred protested), but Mrs Weasley won out by pure staying power ('Sorry, Harry,' George shook his head, 'but she's had too much practice.')

Harry thanked them, but he wasn't too unhappy to be left behind. He wasn't at all in the mood for a loud party; the death of Dumbledore still pained him, and he could hardly go five minutes without thinking of Horcruxes and Voldemort.

The next day, a great flood of Weasley uncles, aunts and cousins appeared at the Burrow. Every time Harry stepped into a hallway he was assaulted by a red-headed blizzard, peppered by the occasional brunette who married into the family. It didn't help that many of them were intentionally bumping into him for another excuse to shake his hand, ruffle his hair, hug him, or in the case of the frightfully assertive Aunt Meliflua, bear his young. Mrs Weasley put a stop to her behaviour within an hour of her arrival by threatening to tell Meliflua's husband, a burly Weasley who nearly cracked Harry's ribs when he drew Harry and Ron into a bear hug.

It struck Harry that none of the people there were related to Mrs Weasley; they were all Mr Weasley's brothers and their families. When he, Ron, and Hermione were alone in Ron's room, crammed together by Harry's trunk and Uncles Burt and Ernie's suitcases, Harry asked, 'Why aren't any of your mum's relatives here?'

Ron, blinking in surprise, sat down on the edge of his bed. 'Mum doesn't have any other family,' he said gravely. 'Her brothers were killed by Death Eaters before I was born. They were in the Order: Gideon and Fabian Prewett.'

Harry blinked. 'I didn't know they were her brothers,' he said.

He remembered Moody having pointed them out in the photograph of the old Order members he showed Harry at Grimmauld Place. 'I'm sorry I brought it up.'

'Nah, it's okay,' Ron said, standing up. 'It happened before I was even born.'

'Just don't mention it to Mrs Weasley,' Hermione said sadly. 'I think she's been a little down about it since all of Mr Weasley's family showed up. She's trying hard to hide it, but she seemed melancholy when I saw her in the kitchen this afternoon.'

'It's probably just Bill she's thinking about,' Ron said, shrugging. 'She's been tearing up every time he passes by lately.'

Harry was more inclined to agree with Hermione's version. He felt a great deal of sympathy for Mrs Weasley. No wonder she worries so much about her family when she lost her first one, he thought sadly. Then, looking at Ron, who had turned away from Harry to check his appearance in the window, he realized that Mrs Weasley didn't know yet that Harry, Ron, and Hermione would be going off to search for the Horcruxes, which she didn't even know existed. It hadn't occurred to him before that Mrs Weasley or anyone else would be worrying about them every day. A stab of guilt pierced him, even as he realized that he had no choice and there was no way for him to deter Ron and Hermione from following him, so determined were they to stand by him.

A knock at the door startled Harry. 'Come in,' he said. Ginny opened the door and stood outside the room. 'Ron, Fred and George want to talk to you downstairs about some surprise for the party.'

'Great!' Ron said, grinning ear to ear as he walked out the door.

'And Mum wants to go over the rules again,' she added.

'I don't see why she's so worried,' Ron grumbled. 'Dad has tons of Magical Law Enforcement employees guarding the place as a favour to him, and even a few Order members are going to be there.'

'Ron, she has every reason to be worried. It's not as though a few MLE people would be able to stop…'

'Let's not talk about it, all right?' Ron interrupted, looking at Harry askew. 'There's no reason to worry. No one can sneak in; Fred and George charmed the doors with some spell so that no one can enter who wants to hurt anyone inside unless they cast the countercharm, and the MLE's would notice that.'

'That's interesting,' Hermione remarked. 'Why wouldn't they use that everywhere?'

'It would be useless unless there was someone watching the door the whole time, wouldn't it?' Ron replied, sounding unusually annoyed by Hermione's questioning nature. He'd been unusually irritable all day, but Harry chalked it up to the excess of relatives under the same roof.

'Mum's still going to go over the safety rules again,' Ginny said sternly. 'Go get it over with and then you and Fred and George can scheme to your heart's content.'

'Fine, fine,' Ron huffed, 'I'm going.' He stomped out of the room.

Harry looked down at his feet, waiting for Ginny to leave. 'I know you're probably upset about not going to the stag night,' Ginny said tentatively. Harry looked up abruptly; the party wasn't on his mind at all. He still didn't meet her eyes. 'Hermione, Mum and I are going to play some Muggle card games this evening with some of the guests, though. It might be fun, even if it's not too exciting. You should join us.'

And with that, Ginny walked away, shutting the door gently behind her. 'I should go help Ginny pack her bridesmaid gown properly. She's just thrown it into her overnight bag!' Hermione said, following her out.

Harry sat down on the edge of his bed and sighed. It didn't sound too horrible, and he'd never played Muggle card games before since he'd never had anyone to play them with. He really wasn't bothered by not going to the party; in fact, he was surprised that Ron was so excited about it and so unconcerned about the safety measures. Harry looked down at his hands and wondered. He supposed that Ron couldn't be expected to take everything as seriously as Harry did, even if he was his best friend. After all, he's not the Chosen One.

The appointed time arrived. Harry reassured Ron once again that there were no hard feelings, and then Ron and some of the younger male guests departed, leaving the house slightly less cacophonous than before.

Ginny got it backwards when it came to playing cards: it wasn't much fun, but it was certainly exciting, especially when playing Fish with real fish and a rod, with the water up to his chest in the room, and with near-blind Great Aunt Augustine catching other players instead of the cards. Hermione looked distraught (how had she expected it to turn out? Harry wondered) and Mrs Weasley spent half the time casting healing spells on people who were injured during the razor-sharp flying card version of Fifty-Two Pick-Up invented by Crazy Old Uncle Ralph (that's what everyone called him, and Harry could understand why).

The card games were called off as soon as politely possible, and Harry ended up spending most of the night alone in his room, exhausted and half-asleep. Hermione came in to check on him, but he was curled up on the bed, nearly asleep, and she left quietly. It had been an exhausting few days: first dealing with the Dursleys, then the wedding and party preparations, and then the guests. With that thought, Harry dug his wand out from his pocket and aimed it haphazardly at the door, locking it just in case Meliflua was still a threat. He knew he had to share the room with Ron and Bert and Ernie since space was so tight, but Harry figured they could unlock it when they got back from the party. Then again, so could Meliflua, he realized with a shiver.

Harry woke groggily to the sound of raucous laughter permeating through the walls. He took the opportunity to get under the blanket and laid back down, trying to ignore the noise. Eventually, one of the voices arrived outside the door, which unlocked swiftly and opened. 'Harry?' he heard Ron say, sounding dazed. 'Y'here?'

'Hey Ron,' Harry replied, not turning over. 'You should get to bed. We've got to go to the wedding tomorrow, remember?'

'Uhuh,' Ron grunted, entering the room and shutting the door with a click. 'Where are you?'

'In bed.'

Ron stumbled into the room as though he'd had too much Firewhiskey, tripping over one of the sleeping bags and landing lightly on the floor. He cursed, and Harry heard him scrabbling to his feet again. 'Where?'

'Over here.'

Harry heard as Ron bumbled toward him and rolled over to look at him. 'You sound like you had a little too much fun…' he smiled in the darkness.

Their eyes met, and at that moment, Harry could tell that something was horribly wrong, for Ron's eyes were glowing in the darkness, and they were far more alert and sober than he sounded.

And his wand was pointed at Harry.

'Avada Kedavra!'