A/N: Thank you, B Bennett and Cap'n Kathy, who were the first to read and review, in person and in pen, sitting on the floor of Zsenya's apartment and accidentally throwing knives at each other, when AtE was still a two hundred page stack of paper that never actually made it into the final document. You read every single draft, didn't you? For two and a half years? You poor hapless souls. Just when you thought the wait for canon could get no more painful.
Thank you, Honeychurch, for your many beautiful suggestions.
Thank you, Dr. Aicha, for looking over this at the eleventh hour.
Thank you Moey, for evil chexing and for being patient and encouraging. And for 87.
Thank you, Jedi B, for teaching us the joys of plot, and the good of evil.
Thank you, Caroline and Hallie and Joe, for slowly but surely digging us out of glaring Americanisms. Arabella would like it known that she said "car park" the other day, when she was so craxed out on AtE that she actually could not think of the words "parking lot". She blames this on you.
Thank you, Firelocks and CoKerry, for stepping in halfway through and lending us your tireless encouragement, your excellent editing eyes, and your absolute devotion to canon.
Thank you to everyone who has kindly and constructively reviewed. Every single word you wrote was digested and - if not acted upon - considered seriously.
Thank you, Pretty Anna Moon, for the beautiful list illustration. That's them. But then, you'd know.
Thank you Laurel, for the timeline. And thank you, Slowfox, for contributing to it.
Thanks to everyone on list who illustrated, critiqued, out-took, debated, and enjoyed. You all made the ride a lot more exciting. We'll miss sharing this with you.
We're sure we're forgetting someone important. Whoever you are, we love you. We're just tired.
And finally - probably most importantly - thanks to JKR, for not outlawing fanfiction, and for finally delivering Order of the Phoenix.
Canon. Tonight. What the hell are you all doing reading THIS?
Harry's stomach had never let him down, and now was no exception. He felt as though flobberworms were slowly coiling through it, and he knew that he was nervous. He'd known about Godric's Hollow – it was always mentioned in reference to the "night that Lily and James Potter were killed," but he'd so far managed to avoid putting any time in thinking about the place where he was born.
The copper-colored box sitting on his bed gleamed as a sunbeam came shooting through his window. Harry had noticed it in his vault at Gringotts during one visit when he'd accidentally knocked over several large stacks of gold Galleons. The box, which had probably been in a prominent position when it had been placed in the vault by his parents, had been buried underneath the years of interest that had accumulated. He'd forced himself not to be curious and ignored it. But he'd risen early on this day off and made a special trip to Gringotts to retrieve it. He didn't know what was inside, but the impending trip to Godric's Hollow with Sirius this afternoon had awakened Harry's curiosity, and he was suddenly anxious to learn whatever he could about his parents before visiting the home where they'd lived.
Sitting down next to the box on the bed, Harry let his finger trace the crest that had been engraved into the metal. It looked very old; so many things in the wizarding world looked that way that it surprised Harry that he noticed it. But it made him wonder – exactly how old? Had this been in his family for centuries? Did his family go back for centuries? Obviously, they'd had to start somewhere. Who had made this box? Had it been one of the people he'd seen in the Mirror of Erised during his first year at Hogwarts?
Harry looked at his watch. Hermione was probably already at St. Mungo's. She might know some good books where he could look up family information. She'd probably already looked it up for him anyway, and was just waiting for the day when he would ask. Maybe the contents of the box would answer all of his questions. If only he could get it open. There was no lock, but the lid appeared to be on tightly, and none of the simple opening charms Harry had tried seemed to have an effect.
Maybe there was nothing in that box. Maybe it was filled with more Galleons, or perhaps only air. Maybe his parents had kept it simply because it was so old. Harry leaned forward and looked at the crest pattern carefully. Something was moving on it. He blinked to make sure that his eyes weren't playing tricks on him, and then looked again. The crest wasn't shaped like any crest he'd ever seen – it looked like a cauldron, and the cauldron's handle was standing upright. At the top, underneath the handle, the word "POTTER" was clearly written. And inside the crest was an odd-looking winged creature that almost resembled Buckbeak, Hagrid's hippogriff. It had a bird-like head and wings, but its feet and tail were like that of a lion.
"A gryffin…" said Harry. It looked ferocious and its wings were flapping. It seemed to be… swatting something. Upon closer inspection, Harry saw that a tiny Golden Snitch was circling the gryffin's head, weaving up and down and around, and then disappearing entirely from the crest, only to return a few seconds later in a new location.
"I guess I'm a Gryffindor," Harry muttered, trying to anticipate where the Snitch would turn up next. "And I guess Quidditch has always been…"
A whirring noise interrupted him, and he was unable to move his head in time to avoid the Snitch, which had transformed into a real Snitch and soared out of the crest and off the surface of the box. It fluttered and flickered around his head.
"Hey!" Harry said, rubbing his forehead with one hand and reaching out with the other to try to catch the Snitch. The Snitch, however, had somehow made it across the room, and was now hovering above Harry's mirror. He'd never tried to catch a Snitch while on his feet, and he lunged for it, only to bang his thigh against the side of his wardrobe.
The Snitch flew under the bed, and Harry fell to the floor, ready to trap it between himself and the wall, but the Snitch flew past him, and Hedwig let out a screech as the Snitch circled her cage, bobbing up and down in the air. Harry stood and dusted himself off. His door was closed, and so was his window. The Snitch wasn't going to get out of the room. Harry sat down on the bed to wait, and Hedwig shrieked again in annoyance.
Harry put a finger to his lips and rose again, slowly walking over to her cage. The door was open but she was sitting on her perch, trying to peck at the Snitch through the bars. The Snitch, meanwhile, seemed much more concerned with the owl than with Harry, and didn't seem aware that he was now within arm's reach. When he thought he was close enough, Harry reached out and wrapped his fingers tightly around the fluttering ball, losing his balance while doing so and falling into Hedwig's cage. Hedwig flew out, pecked his head briefly, and then hopped over to rest on his desk.
Harry looked at the wings that had stopped flapping in his grip, and wondered what he was supposed to do with this thing now that he'd caught it. He didn't have to think for long, however, because a moment later, the Snitch disappeared from his hand entirely, and the lid to the copper box on his bed popped open.
Pulling himself up off the floor, Harry limped back to the bed, and with a shaking hand, opened the lid all the way. His heart fell at first when he looked inside. The box appeared to be filled with gold. But after a moment, the gold disappeared like Leprechaun gold, and revealed a pile of neatly tied scrolls, parchment, and even wizarding photographs underneath.
He lifted the largest scroll from the top, and carefully unrolled it. It felt odd, as though it were made from some sort of animal skin instead of paper. There were many intricate designs drawn on it in inks that still sparkled, but the writing was very small and very difficult to read. There was a seal at the top that he didn't recognize. Harry pushed up his glasses and tried to decipher what it said.
CERTIFICATE OF MARRIAGE
This certifies that Bowman Wright, metal-charmer of the village of Godric's Hollow, and Lucinda Gryffindor, daughter of Roric Gryffindor, granddaughter of Eamund Gryffindor, great-granddaughter of Gyrth Gryffindor, and great-great-great-great-great-granddaughter of Godric Gryffindor, are united in marriage on the 19th day of the month that is called Junius, in the year 1522.
Harry had read about Bowman Wright in Quidditch Through the Ages. Wright had invented the Golden Snitch. Harry gasped. Could it be that Wright was a relative of his? Hands shaking with anticipation, Harry pulled another scroll out of the box, and unrolled it, although it was very stiff, and he had to hold onto the top and the bottom to be able to read it. This one had a map drawn on the back of it.
DEED OF LAND
Grant for life by Roric Gryffindor, chief warlock of Godric's Hollow, to Bowman Wright, son of Bartholomew Wright, and Lucinda, his wife, of all of his land in Godric's Hollow, namely between Potter's Spring and the boundary charm at Wilson's Sty and the gate to the entrance of the Roman Road at a rent of 7 Golden Snitches per annum. Given at Godric's Hollow, Thursday next after the festival of All Hallow's Eve, 1523.
Turning over the parchment to look at the map, Harry noticed that it greatly resembled the hand-drawn map that Sirius had given him to study the previous evening. He traced the outline with his finger, stopping when he reached the building at the top of the hill. That was where he was supposed to be going today, but on Sirius's map, there was no building. This document was all about the village of Godric's Hollow.
Harry released the bottom of the land deed and it immediately rolled back up. He reached into the bottom of the box, past the photographs, to look at more of the scrolls. Some of them were made out of parchment, and Harry tried not to worry as bits and pieces of paper flaked off the edges and fluttered down to the floor. If there had been any doubt that these documents rightly belonged to him, it was disappeared with the third scroll he opened. It was another marriage certificate, this time for Katherine, daughter of Bowman Wright and … Harold Potter, "maker of fine cauldrons." Harold Potter… Harry stopped and thought. No one had ever called him "Harold" before. He'd always assumed that his name was "Harry," but now he wondered. With all that he was learning this morning, nothing would surprise him now.
He kept looking, and found more marriage certificates, land deeds, death certificates, and his own birth certificate, which confirmed that he was, as he'd always thought, "Harry." That came as something of a relief. Eventually, he reached for the old, fading photographs. The wizards in them looked tired and stiff, as if they'd been sleeping for years, which, Harry realized, they probably had. As he drew one closer to his face to have a look, the sour-looking witch and wizard who were standing in it smiled and stretched their arms. Then the man suddenly grabbed the woman and gave her a big kiss. Harry laughed, and he could have sworn that the main in the photograph winked at him.
Harry didn't know who they were, but they looked familiar. Everything looked familiar and he wasn't sure if he were imagining it because he wanted it to be, or if there really were resemblances. Maybe men in the olden days just didn't normally comb their hair. And the fact that every other picture showed a witch or wizard with a broomstick in hand seemed to Harry to mean that he came from a family of Quidditch lunatics.
Soon, the photographs turned to color and the dates on the documents reached the 1900s. One picture, in particular, caught his eye, and he had to do a double-take to make sure that he was seeing things correctly. It was the Gryffindor House Quidditch Team, 1942. They were holding the Quidditch Cup and beaming into the camera. There was a short boy in the front row that looked vaguely familiar, but he wasn't the one who drew Harry's attention. In the back row, a tall, angular girl – the only witch on the team – was smiling and holding onto one of the handles of the cup. She had dark hair that was pulled back tightly, and she looked very clever – she looked like…
"Professor McGonagall?" Harry said aloud and then looked more closely at the photograph. He could see writing coming through the people from the back, and he turned the photograph over to see names scrawled on the back. Harry had to assume that "Minnie, haha!" referred to Professor McGonagall. And the slight boy in the front row with the messy dark hair and the triumphant blush on his face was "Me: Andrew Potter: Seeker Extraordinaire." Potter.
"Then he must be my…" Grandfather, Harry finished to himself. A grandfather. He had never, ever, let his mind wander that far – never considered his family past the parents who had died when he was just a baby. He had assumed they were dead, of course – he knew the Dursleys were his only living relatives. If his grandfather had lived, he'd be around Professor McGonagall's age, barely halfway through his long wizard life. Harry didn't know how his grandparents had died – it must have been something unnatural, or they would still be alive. A thousand more questions flooded Harry's brain, despite all the answers he had already received, and suddenly, he very much wanted his friends around him. Ginny. Ron. Hermione. He wanted to share all of this with them, and talk to them about it, the same way that Ginny and Ron proudly boasted about their brothers' accomplishments, or the way that Hermione spoke of her parents.
But he didn't have time to fetch them now. He checked his watch, afraid that he was late to meet Sirius. To his relief, Harry saw that he still had a few minutes before noon. He continued to be amazed at how much he could get done in the time when he might have been flying on Norbert, and wondered for a moment what he'd do with his all of his time now. Maybe he could go into business for himself crafting custom Snitches.
Entertaining himself for a moment with an image of himself standing over a workbench, carefully molding a piece of gold into a perfect round ball with his wand, Harry finally returned all of the documents to the copper box, slid it underneath his bed, checked his map one more time, and the Disapparated to Godric's Hollow.
Sirius had chosen an Apparition point on the outskirts of the village, and Harry found himself inside a cavernous room with no ceiling overhead – just blue, cloudless sky. No one else was there, and Harry panicked for a moment, wondering what type of trouble he might be in, when Sirius appeared next to him.
"My, you're punctual," Sirius said. He looked relaxed, and healthy, as though his weight had finally caught up with his height. It was amazing, really, how much of a difference a few good nights of sleep could make to a person.
"Not usually," Harry said. "I was worried I'd Apparated to the wrong place. There's no building on the map."
"Yes, well… I'm not really an artist," Sirius answered. "I wanted to surprise you, and there was only the slightest possibility that we wouldn't be able to Apparate in here."
"What?" Harry sputtered, suddenly envisioning half of himself atop the turrets he could see looming overhead, while the other half of him walked around without a torso at the bottom of the hill.
Sirius shrugged. "I was really the only one in danger," he said. "None of the wards on this place would have stopped the heir of Gryffindor from entering."
Sirius pointed to the sky, and when Harry followed his finger, he saw an alternating pattern of gryffins and lions carved into the top of the stone walls.
"We're inside the Gryffindor Manor?" Harry said slowly. "Then this is…still here?"
"You knew about it?" Sirius asked. "How?" He sounded disappointed.
Harry told Sirius all about the copper box and what he'd found inside. Or most of it. He didn't mention his grandparents, although he desperately wanted to know. Something told him it wouldn't be a happy story, and he didn't want to ruin the mood of the day.
"Well, I imagine it's all yours," Sirius said. "There are copies of all of the legal documents in the Ministry Archives. You are the last in the line of Gryffindors – Roric was the last official male to carry that name, I believe - there were nothing but daughters for centuries once the Potters came into the family. Actually," Sirius paused, as if for effect, "I think you own the whole village at the bottom of the hill."
"Can Muggles see this?" Harry asked, thinking how wonderful it would be to live in a castle and to fix it up with his own Great Hall and a room for his broomsticks. True, it didn't seem to be an exceptionally large place. "Let's go look at the rest," he said, heading towards the opening that had once held a door.
"Oh, they can see it," Sirius assured him. "And they think they own it. There's a sign outside that says, "Property of the National Trust: Not Open to the Public at Present. Beware Falling Stones."
"Really?" Harry said. "What do you think they want to do with it? Do you think they'd notice if it were repaired?"
They'd entered a large entrance hall. Sunlight poured through the enormous opening where the main gate used to be. The light showed that the stone was crumbling all over the place. Harry heard a soft howling noise, and swiveled around, trying to see where it had originated.
"Are there ghosts?" he asked, feeling a bit excited. Ghosts here might be his relatives. A thrill shot through Harry as he imagined himself dining with his great-great-great-great-great grandfather sitting across the table from him.
"Birds," Sirius said, pointing up towards the ceilings. "You could fix this up, you know, with a little bit of magic here and there. But let's come back – no one's lived here for centuries, and you want to see – "
Sirius had grabbed onto Harry's arm.
"What are you – ?" Harry started to ask, but stopped as he realized that they were both teetering on the edge of a huge drop.
"There must have been some sort of drawbridge," Sirius said, balancing, and taking a step backwards. "We'll have to Apparate down to the village."
Harry waited for Sirius to disappear, and then, after a long, hopeful look around the entrance hall, pulled his wand and Disapparated. A minute later, he was standing on a shady road. A quaint village, not unlike Stagsden, except more bustling and open, spread out in front of them.
Turning his head, Harry looked back up the hill at the ruins of the manor. It looked as though it had once been much bigger, and the large stones that lay scattered around the part that was still standing did not look to be enough to make a whole building.
"I wonder what happened to the rest," Harry said.
"Well if no one was living in it, I expect people carted off the stones to build their own houses," Sirius said. "Maybe you can order the people of Godric's Hollow to return them to you."
Harry pushed him, and Sirius laughed. "Actually, your father knew about owning the land under Godric's Hollow," he said. "I think his family has always known. But he always used to say 'What would I do with a village?' which I always thought was a stupid question. Lots of things! But your father was too modest or something to do anything about it."
He could tell that Sirius was only half-joking, and in his voice, Harry could tell that Sirius really did feel as though owning a village might be a worthwhile possession. But he could understand his father's point of view. He didn't know the first thing about running a village. Besides, things were different now – as they began to walk towards the town, Harry could see signs of Muggles and modern conveniences – electrical wires, telephone poles, paved roads and cars. No, Harry decided, he definitely did not want to own a village. But it was certainly cool to have that castle up on the hill.
"Sirius," he asked. "Where did you come from? Before, I mean."
Sirius stopped walking and looked over at Harry, surprised. "No one's asked me that in years," he said. "I come from London, actually."
"Really? Do you still have family there?"
"No." Sirius shook his head. "My parents died when I was very young. I was raised mostly by my grandfather, and he … died when I was in Azkaban."
It took a moment for this information to sink in, and when it did, Harry let out a breath. "So you were… you were an orphan?" he said. And then, quickly, when he saw an odd look pass over Sirius's face, "Sorry, if you don't want to talk about it -"
"No, it's all right, Harry. I don't mind." Sirius smiled, though he looked sad. "My grandfather was a wonderful man. I was lucky to have him. It was nothing like being raised by the Dursleys. He came to see me in Azkaban right before he died. Told me he didn't believe that I was guilty – I've only just remembered that – the Dementors sucked it out of my consciousness as soon as he left. It's made a big difference, knowing that."
"I'll bet," Harry said, not sure what else to say. "Did you know my grandfather?" he burst out, before he could stop himself.
"I did," Sirius said, the color returning to his face. "Another fine man. Always had sweets in his pockets. Remus was especially fond of him. He died before you were born."
"Okay," Harry said. He didn't want to learn more just yet. He had all the time in the world to learn what had happened to his family, to other peoples' families. The second war with Voldemort had caused death and destruction, and Harry couldn't imagine living through it a second time. Yet all these people – Sirius, Remus, Arthur and Molly Weasley – they'd all lived through two giant wars, the second as awful as the first. He was only just learning how to deal with his own losses – he needed some more time to fully absorb all of theirs.
Sirius seemed to understand. He tugged at Harry's sleeve . "Come on," he said. "Let's go see the village."
Godric's Hollow seemed to Harry to be a fun sort of place. It was a bit larger than Hogsmeade, and all of the Muggles made it seem much more fast-paced. A bus honked its horn behind them and Harry and Sirius scrambled onto the pavement to let it pass. People seemed to be on their lunch breaks, and as they neared the main square, more and more people seemed to be coming in and out of shops, or sitting by the small fountain in the center, eating their sandwiches and crisps.
Harry suddenly felt very out of place, even though both he and Sirius were dressed in jeans. He'd never really been a part of this world. Even when he had lived with the Dursleys. As they crossed the square, and turned down a sort of long alley, Harry saw an elderly woman dressed in what looked like robes making her way slowly down the street towards them. The sight of another magical person made him breathe a sigh of relief.
"This is a part of town that most Muggles rarely visit," Sirius said, stopping in front of several garbage bins near the end of the alley. "That's a pub – "
"Goodness me! It's Harry Potter!" said the witch Harry had noticed. She was in front of them now, and she clutched one of the bins to balance and put her other hand over her heart. "My boy," she said, tears brimming in her eyes.
Harry felt himself blush, but for once, he didn't feel like running away. He gave her a nervous sort of smile. Sirius made a snorting sound.
"My boy," she said again. "I'm so proud of you! And so grateful. I don't think I could have lived through another war. But you! You've made sure that won't happen."
Not knowing how to answer, Harry just nodded and said, "Thank you," as politely as he could. This sent her into a monologue about how polite and well-mannered he was. Just as Harry was coming up with a good excuse for them to continue, the woman reached out and touched Sirius's arm.
"And you! I always knew you were innocent. You don't remember, but I saw you and your friends in the Purple Pony quite often. My husband and I used to go there every Friday night for fish and chips. They still have the best. One night someone started a fight with Christopher – my late husband – and you stood up for us. I'll never forget that. I told people you were innocent, but do you think anyone listened to an old lady like me?"
She seemed to be waiting for an answer.
"No?" guessed Sirius, sounding both amused and affectionate.
"Of course they didn't! But I was right, wasn't I? You're a good man, Mr. Black."
"Oh, I don't know about that," Sirius began, but she interrupted him.
"Don't argue with me! I'm right!"
This time Harry laughed. "Thank you," Sirius said. "Thank you very much."
"You're welcome." The woman nodded happily to both of them and continued on down the road behind them.
After she was out of earshot, Sirius cleared his throat, but Harry could tell he looked pleased. "And as I was saying, Harry. Over there is the Purple Pony, home of Christopher's Defense, fish and chips, and Butterbeer that always tasted slightly off. We used to spend a lot of time there. Wonderful times."
"Are we near where my parents lived, then?" Harry felt something like a terrible lead weight fill his stomach. The house where he had been born. Where his parents had lived. Where they had died. He had never tried to picture it before. He had his memories – a green light, a cradle, a wooden floor. Sometimes he thought he could remember the smell, and other times he thought he could also feel the wind across his face as he rode with Hagrid on a motorbike to the Dursleys. But he didn't know which memories were real, and which he'd wanted to be real. And try as he might, he could remember nothing about his parents except what he had been forced to remember later.
They turned back onto a main road, and continued walking. It seemed that they were heading towards the end of town. They stopped at and intersection and waited for the cars to pass.
"It's on the outskirts," Sirius said. It's a little bit like Lupin Lodge – more in the countryside. It was an old house, and the town sort of grew up around it."
As they walked, Harry tried to picture an old house like the Notch or Lupin Lodge, set back from the road – surrounded, perhaps, by a huge, colorful hedge. Perhaps his parents had a garage, like Mr. Weasley. He wondered how large the house was, and if, once inside, he would recognize anything.
The houses now were growing further apart. They turned again, this time into a sort of enclave, where several small houses stood, spaced far apart. There was no pavement in this neighborhood, only a rough road, and Harry thought for a moment that it might be an entirely wizarding community, until a car squeezed past them and ambled roughly down the street.
"Are there many witches and wizards here?" Harry asked, as they passed another house that was closer to the road. Harry could see a television on through the window.
"Not as many as there used to be, I'm sure," Sirius said. "Godric's Hollow was always an odd place – Muggles and wizards living next door to each other, each accepting the other as "eccentric" without actually paying too much attention to what was really going on. I told your father that a real Black and Potter success would be getting a Muggle in Godric's Hollow to admit that they'd seen something strange. But he was always very protective… never let me pull any pranks here."
Harry smiled to himself. People were always telling him he looked like his father. And Sirius often told him he acted like his father, and usually it was when he thought Harry was being particularly stubborn or difficult. For the first time, Harry really appreciated that he understood his father. He didn't feel embarrassed, or shy, or affronted. He wanted Sirius to tell him more.
Sirius was slowing down, peering into each yard as they passed. "It looks a bit different these days," Sirius said. "Some of these people have put up fences, or taken down trees… there used to be…"
He stopped, looked up at the house in front of them, which was set back from the road and surrounded by a low, wooden fence. Harry felt a thrill of anticipation as he looked at the house, which looked cozy and welcoming. Was this it?
"Sixty-one," Sirius read. "No, it was down a few more. Yes. It's two more blocks."
"Are you sure you were never Memory-charmed?" Harry joked, trying to mask his disappointment. He wished that Sirius had just arranged for them to Apparate directly to the address. All of this anticipation was making him feel ill.
"Well," Sirius said. "It's been a while, hasn't it?"
Sirius was walking more quickly now, looking relaxed, and casually peering into the gardens of the houses that they passed. Occasionally he would make a comment like "I guess the nasty dog who lived there is gone by now," or "that one was a hunter – nearly had a heart-attack when he saw Prongs on his lawn one night."
Harry checked each house number as they went by. He felt stupid for not remembering which house had belonged to his parents. It had been written on one of the documents in the copper box, but he hadn't paid much attention. Still, they must be getting close. Eighty-one. Eighty-three. Eighty-five. Eighty-nine. They kept walking – the houses on this section of street were further apart than they had been earlier. Ninety-one…
"Sirius," Harry said, stopping. "Shouldn't we be there by now? You said two more blocks back there, and now we're at the third." He hoped he didn't sound too eager. Sirius looked puzzled.
"What's the number on that house, then? Ninety-one? Yes, we have gone too far." He turned, and started back in the other direction. Was it eighty-nine? No, they walked passed that one. Sirius was slowing down. It must be eighty-five, then.
Running a bit to catch up with Sirius, Harry was surprised to discover that he had stopped right in-between eighty-nine and eighty-five. The land here was also surrounded by an old-looking wooden fence. It wasn't neatly cared-for like the one earlier had been. It seemed to be made of large, unfinished logs, and held together by each other rather than by nails. There was no gate – only an opening in the fence.
Sirius looked very pale.
"Which is it?" Harry asked excitedly. He peered past Sirius into the garden. It must belong to one of the houses on either side. Beautiful, tall trees formed a semi-circle around the perimeter of the garden, and in the middle was a magnificent array of flowers, all in bloom in bright scarlets and yellows and violets. It was not quite wild and useful, like the garden at Lupin Lodge, and neither was it pristinely manicured and maintained for no apparent reason like Aunt's Petunia's garden.
"Sirius?" Harry said, for Sirius was now leaning on the fence, both of his hands supporting him. He looked as though he might faint.
"Sorry," he said, not looking at Harry. "I didn't expect… I knew, but I didn't expect it to get to me this much. It looks beautiful. I wonder who made that garden…"
"The garden wasn't there before?"
Shaking his head, Sirius turned to face Harry. "The trees were there. Around the house. Which used to stand right in the center there."
Harry felt the bottom drop out of his stomach entirely. It was a moment before he could speak.
"Used to stand? You mean… the house was here. And now it's … it's gone?" He tried to comprehend what was happening. "You said we were coming to see the house and I thought –" he stopped when he saw the look on Sirius's face.
"I – I thought you knew. I said we were going to see where your parents lived. The house was destroyed, Harry."
"No," Harry said, feeling as though he'd just lost something he'd never had. "I never thought – I don't know, I just assumed that – I mean, where was I? I know how I survived Voldemort, but how did I survive an entire house falling down? What happened?"
"It burnt down, Harry. I don't know how. By the time I arrived, the house was gone. I mean, parts of it were still here. But it was mostly ashes. Your parents were on the ground… dead, but without a mark. And you were just… sitting there."
Harry had a sudden vision of himself as an infant, falling from the second floor to the ground floor, tumbling amidst the debris. A small baby among the splintered wood
and nails and heat and death, his whole world collapsing around him and
beneath him and on top of him.
It was impossible that he had survived. He suddenly understood why "Harry Potter" had been such a big deal to the wizarding world. That he was alive was a miracle. Harry had an urge to pinch himself to make sure that he was actually real, because he was no longer really sure.
"Damn!" Sirius said, under his breath. "Damn! I knew I would mess this up!
Harry pinched himself anyway, before answering. "What do you mean?"
"This is why they never should have made me godfather, Harry. I never think. And look what it's done. I've ruined it all. They should have made Remus the godfather. He wouldn't muck things up like I do."
"Remus has mucked plenty of things up," Harry said. "You're both great." He wanted to explore the garden. If he couldn't be inside the house, standing where the house used to be would be the next best thing.
"Do you think you can remember where you found me?" he asked, taking a step through the gap in the fence.
Sirius looked relieved. "I think so. When we find it, we should mark it somehow; I've wanted to show Remus."
Harry stopped. Suddenly, he wanted Ginny there with him. He wanted to share this experience with more than just one person. And he wasn't sure if he'd want to come back anytime soon.
"Wait," he said. "Why don't you go get him?"
"What? Get who?"
"Remus. Let's Disapparate, fetch them. And Ron and Hermione too, and bring them back."
Sirius looked a little bit relieved. "Are you sure? It will violate our Black and Potter code."
"Rules," Harry said, trying to sound wise, "were made to be broken. It won't take long. Ginny's at Lupin Lodge. So's Remus. I'll go get them, and you find Ron and Hermione – Ron left early for the Ministry and he's bound to know where Hermione is."
"Meet back here in a few minutes?" Sirius was already walking towards a large tree, where he could hide and Disapparate.
Harry followed, and a moment later he was standing in the study at Lupin Lodge. Remus was sitting behind the desk, looking over what seemed to be an official Ministry document. He looked up in surprise at Harry.
"You didn't want to walk down the stairs?" he asked.
"I wasn't upstairs," Harry said. "I was with Sirius. I've come to fetch you. And Ginny, is she upstairs?"
"Reading, I think," Remus said. "She was looking into something for the Longbottoms." He stood up and stretched. "Where are we going? Do I need any special tools for this journey?"
Harry shook his head. "Just wait here until I've got Ginny. I'll explain to you both at once." And with that, he ran up the stairs, two at a time, and paused outside of Ginny's door, which was half open.
Ginny was sitting on the floor, books piled around her. Harry was reminded of last summer, when she'd confided in him that she wanted to make the Wolfsbane Potion. He stood for a moment, watching her, knowing that she could probably tell he was there, but still taking advantage of the moment to study her as she worked.
Her blush told him that she definitely knew he was there, and he took it as an invitation into the room.
"Hi," she said. "It's still strange to see you at home at this time of day."
"Thanks, I can leave if you want."
"No!" Ginny shifted some books and patted the floor next to her. "It's nice. Have a seat."
"I can't stay," Harry said, reaching out a hand to her. "And neither can you. It's time for a break."
Ginny looked down at her Healer text, obviously torn. "Well… is it outside?" she asked. "It's a beautiful day."
"It is. Come downstairs. Remus is coming too, it won't take long."
"Where are we going?"
A thrill ran through Harry as he walked with Ginny down the stairs. Somehow, he felt like this might be the most special thing that they'd ever done. It was a good feeling to have a surprise for someone. Ginny was constantly surprising him with words, or letters, or just with actions. Only rarely had Harry truly felt as though he'd had something to share. He remembered how he had felt the night that Ginny had successfully wakened the Grangers – when she had seemed to relax at his touch. This feeling was similar.
He didn't answer her until they reached the study, where Remus was standing in the center of the room reading a book, which he put down when Harry and Ginny entered the room.
"Are you going to enlighten us now?" Remus asked.
"Yes." Harry said, and he pulled the map out of his pocket and put it on the desk. "We're going to Godric's Hollow."
"What?" Remus said, examining the map more closely. "Did Sirius draw this?"
"Yes, he's gone to get Ron and Hermione and they'll meet us there. I want you all to be there with me to see where my parents lived."
Ginny squeezed his arm and looked at him as though she were very, very proud of him. Remus, however, looked apprehensive.
"He's got you Apparating to the top of the hill, where the ruin of the old manor is located," Remus said slowly. "Harry – did Sirius tell you anything about your parent's house?"
Harry couldn't help smirking. Sirius had been right, in a way. Remus was much better at preparing people for unpleasant things. Perhaps that had been why he'd been such a good Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.
"We've just come from there," Harry told him. "It's okay, Remus. I know." He turned to Ginny. "The house isn't there anymore. But it's fine. Really," he said, when she raised her eyebrows. "The house is quite a ways off from here, on the other side of town," he explained to Ginny. "I haven't got a map for that part, but if we Apparate together, you should be able to get to it."
Ginny nodded and pulled out her wand, still holding onto his arm. Together, they Apparated to Godric's Hollow.
When they arrived, Sirius, Ron and Hermione were already there. Harry imagined that Sirius had not given them much time to discuss things.
Sirius was standing against the fence, talking with an elderly woman. He waved when he saw Harry, Remus and Ginny, and beckoned them over.
"Here's Harry now," he said. The woman looked around at them, astonished. "Where did you lot come from?" she asked. "I didn't see you come in the gate."
From this, and the way that she was dressed, Harry guessed that she was a Muggle. She shook her head, as if she felt she were imagining things, and held out a hand to him. "I'm Mrs. Blythe," she said, kindly.
"I'm Harry," he said. "And this is Ginny. And Remus."
The woman looked shocked. "Remus! I hardly recognized you – you've both grown, I suppose. You'll be forever young men in my eyes though." Sirius patted his hair self-consciously and from the way that the corner of his mouth turned up, Harry could tell that he wanted to laugh.
"And you. I used to look after you, you know. When you were a baby. And now, you've grown. And you look just like your father. He was such a nice young man. And your mother – a beautiful girl. I knew your grandparents, too. It was such a sad, sad day when the Potter house burned down – it's just lucky that your parents were on holiday when it happened."
Harry tried not to feel sick.
"Mrs. Blythe is the one who has been tending the garden," Sirius explained.
"I hope you don't mind," she said to Harry.
"Mind?" said Harry, recovering. "It's brilliant."
"Oh! I'm so glad you like it," she said, clasping her hands together. "I had to do something. Such tragedy – your parents dying in that car accident the very next day – although I wasn't surprised, I'd never seen them drive a car, you see. And then I heard that you were with relatives in the north, which was a bit of a surprise – your mother said she wasn't on speaking terms with her family. Still, I assumed that someone would be back to sell the property, but no one came, so I decided to start the garden. Of course, you'll be wanting to build on it now, I suppose?"
She ended her monologue with an imploring look at Harry, and he shook his head. He looked out over the garden. Hermione was walking the perimeter of the garden, looking down at the plants with an intent look on her face. Ron was hanging back by a tree; he held up a hand to Harry when he noticed Harry looking his way.
Even though she was a Muggle, Mrs. Blythe certainly had a magical way with plants. His parents had lived here. A house had once stood right where the foxgloves and buttercups mingled in the center of the lawn. Had that strawberry patch near the back belonged to his parents, or had Mrs. Blythe planted the berries later? Before they'd arrived, before he'd known, he had entertained the idea of living in his parents' house. His family's house. But now, somehow, he didn't see the point. Bad things had happened here, and as beautiful as the garden was, he didn't think he could ever visit this place without thinking of that.
Ginny put an arm around his waist. She leaned her head against his and said, very quietly, "Don't dwell on it, Harry. You're here. You lived."
She was right.
He turned back to answer Mrs. Blythe. "I think you've done a lovely job with the garden," he said. "I want to leave it like this."
Mrs. Blythe looked visibly relieved, and began to thank Harry profusely. Remus stepped in to ask her how her strawberries had done, and she invited them over to the patch to taste for themselves.
Harry stayed back, his arm around Ginny now, and leaned against the fence to look out over the garden. Hermione had stopped walking and was kicking at something in the dirt. Ron wandered over to her. "What's wrong," Harry heard him ask. "Dogs not cleaning up for themselves these days?"
But Hermione wasn't listening. She'd knelt down in the grass and started clearing away something with her hands.
"There's something here!" Hermione said, reaching out her arm and clearing more dirt. "Harry! Come here!"
She stood up as Harry and Ginny approached, and dusted off her hands. Then, to Harry's amusement, Hermione stomped on the ground several times with her foot. He heard a hollow thunk as her foot came in contact with the ground, and he hurried forward for a better look.
"Harry, there's something under the garden - I think this is a door!"
Hermione, as usual, was right. It did appear to be a door – a heavy, metal door with a large, round, metal handle. It was rusted and dirty, and part of it was buried under several inches of turf.
"The cellar…" Ron said. "It must be a cellar of some kind." He turned to survey the property. "Yes. If the house started there, which makes sense because of where the trees are, then the outdoor cellar would be just about here."
He looked at Harry, whose heart was thudding so loudly that he was sure they could all hear it.
Harry looked back, in silent agreement, and a moment later, they got down to their knees, checked to make sure that Mrs. Blythe was fully occupied, and removed the dirt and grass from the door.
"Hermione," said Ron, sliding his wand back into his belt, "will you do the honors?"
Hermione nodded, pulled out her wand, swished and flicked, and said, "Alohomora!"
The rusty handle turned with a creak, and slowly, the doors started to open upwards from the ground. Harry and Ron both hastily grabbed onto a door, to make sure that Mrs. Blythe wouldn't see, but she was heading back towards her house. Remus and Sirius, however, started to walk towards them.
When the doors were finally open, a musty, earthy smell came up from the hole. Harry, who was used to having to face dark, endless holes leading nowhere, was happy to see a set of stone steps leading down into the cellar.
"I didn't know they had a cellar," Remus said, bending down to peer inside.
"Neither did I," Sirius said, "and I thought I knew everything."
"Well, what are you waiting for?" Ginny asked, prodding Harry in the back with her foot. "You go first."
Carefully, Harry put his foot on the first step. It was very dark. "Lumos," he said, and the stairs illuminated below him. There weren't many, but he was able to stand upright when he reached the bottom. It was much colder here, and he shivered for a moment.
Ginny had followed him; the rest not far behind. Soon they were all down there, and Hermione conjured a lantern with a bluebell flame, which she set in the center of the stone floor. Soon an eerie blue light flickered and danced off the walls and the floor.
The room was empty. He tried not to be annoyed with his parents for a moment – had they been so neat and orderly that they hadn't left things lying around? He was certain that if this were his cellar, it would not be so pristine.
Then again, they had left that copper box at Gringotts for him. And the Kinolia – they'd left that with Sirius. And the Invisibility Cloak – somehow, Dumbledore had ended up with that and passed it on to him. Lily and James had seen to it that he'd inherited the things that mattered most. What did a house mean, really? Maybe his parents hadn't known about the cellar either.
Maybe they'd never been here.
Harry wandered around the small room, breathing the musty air and looking for something, anything, that would indicate that his parents had been here – that this had been a part of their house. Something that would make him feel as if he'd been a part of their family.
When he'd finished circling the room, Harry looked up and saw that Ron and Hermione were standing near the stairs; Ron had his arm around Hermione's shoulders. Both were watching him. Sirius was leaning against the wall, looking lost, and Remus was standing near Ginny; both appeared to be trying to warm their hands from the feeble light of the bluebell flame.
Thiswas his family. Harry smiled at Ginny, and was afraid that he could feel the tears forming in his eyes as he did so. But he was no longer sad. He no longer felt lost. He crossed the room to where Ginny and Remus were standing, and a moment later, he was surrounded on all sides as everyone in the room fused together in a tight and protective embrace. Someone kicked the bluebell flame, which flickered out and left them all in darkness, but no one moved to right it.
Harry shut his eyes and leaned his head heavily on Ginny's shoulder, taking a deep breath and exhaling slowly.
He was home.