BONDED

Chapter 10 Bonding

Ron's eyes snapped open. He had heard something, or so he'd thought. Slowly, he lifted his head from the bosom of his wife. With ears stretched and breath held, Ron listened, but there was nothing. Breathing a sigh of relief, he turned his attention to Hermione. Still in his position nestled in between her legs, the bulk of his weight resting on the bed, Ron gazed upon her lovingly.

Hermione lay asleep beneath him, her mouth slightly open and her breathing rhythmic. Without realizing it, Ron's hand ghosted across her cheek and over her full mouth. She stirred and within seconds, her eyes opened slowly. Although they had been asleep for less than an hour, it had been deep and cleansing. At least Ron hoped his marriage was working its way back to being normal.

As Hermione's gaze focused on him, Ron held his breath. Would she still be angry and hurt, or would she now be regretful? He hadn't meant to do anything sexual with her, he had simply wanted to be close to her, and being with her like that was the only time he ever felt like he could touch her soul.

Before he even realized he was speaking, he had whispered, "I know you." Hermione's face scrunched up in a frown, and she looked as though she was going to cry again. Fuck! Ron shouted in his head, would he ever get it right? A soft hand on his whiskered face halted his mental berating.

Hermione struggled to speak, but managed to say, "I…know," she swallowed hard and pulled his head to her until their mouths met. Ron wanted to cry out as he gently pushed his tongue into her warm mouth. He slid up her body a bit, and was now directly over her. As his mouth slipped down her jaw and over her ear, he whispered another apology. Hermione gently, but firmly pushed at his chest, causing Ron to jerk back quickly, searching her eyes for clues as to what he'd done wrong.

"Don't apologize anymore, all right," she said firmly, as they locked eyes.

"Well," Ron hesitated. "I am sorry, Hermione. I'm going to be sorry for the rest of my life!"

"No, Ron. Don't you see? You've said it yourself, they are trying to come between us, and if you let this hang over us then they will have succeeded." Hermione caressed his cheek again. "People are playing with our lives and I hate it!" she said, with an angry sigh. "While you were still at work this evening, I had plenty of time to reflect, well brood rather, and I imagined all sorts of terrible things that could have happened," she whispered, looking away from him sadly.

"I thought about what would have happened if you had actually…you know…gone all the way with her." Now it was Ron's turn to look away. "What if she would have gotten pregnant? Or if—"

"Hermione! Stop, don't do this to yourself…to us," he pleaded.

"No, Ron, I'm not trying to drive myself crazy or anything. I'm simply trying to tell you where my mind was," she sniffed. "I was imagining the worse case scenario and it would have been for that woman to carry your child." She swallowed, and a thick tear bubbled out of her eye. "My point is, even if that had happened, I would never want you to leave! Never!" she said, and both her hands were on his face now as a tear slipped from his eye too.

"Don't ever ask me that again, all right?" Ron nodded mutely. "All right?" she reiterated, with a little squeeze to his face.

"Yes," Ron mumbled.

"Don't you see? I had imagined the worse thing possible, and I still wouldn't have wanted you to leave. We would have figured it out because no one can break our bond, do you understand? Nothing can break us!" Ron nodded again, as tears streaked both their faces now.

"Say it!" Hermione demanded with intense eyes. "Say, nothing can break us!"

"Nothing can break us!" Ron hissed out intently, before burying his head in the curve of her neck. He struggled to fight the onslaught of an agonizing wail caught deep in his throat. Hermione hugged him to her tightly, and stroked his back.

"What is it?" she asked gently, with an intuition that was beginning to scare Ron a bit. "Something more is bothering you."

"It's…just…" Ron began, still muffled in her neck. "…you said I shouldn't apologize anymore…but I feel so…guilty," he stopped, and gave a huge sniff. "I can't help it, you were so angry and so hurt, I know you still are…and I know some of it is with me." He sniffed again. "Don't bury it, love…just be angry with me if you must…I can take it."

Hermione squeezed him tighter and gave a sniff of her own.

"Ron, look at me." His head rose slightly, and he let her see his wet face. No sense in hiding it now, he'd been crying in front of her for years now. All the same, he wiped his face quickly.

"Yes, I was…am angry, and hurt but…it was never about what you did. I know my words in the bathroom were harsh but…"she sighed, seeming to be frustrated that she couldn't express herself properly. "…close your eyes," she whispered, and he did it instantly.

"Picture a man…someone you really dislike." Ron immediately got an image of Gunther Douglas' stout form in his mind. "Now imagine that you've walked in and found me on my knees pleasuring him."

"Fuck!" Ron shouted, and rolled off of her instantly, his hands clapped over his face. "Merlin, Hermione!" he groaned, that had been a god-awful vision.

"Do you understand now?" Hermione asked mildly, from beside him. Ron took several calming breaths before he spoke.

"Yeah," he nodded. "It was never about what I did…never really about me not being able to tell the difference between you and an imposter…it was really about someone else…touching me." He pulled his hands away from his face and chanced a glance at her. She was propped up on her elbow, looking down on him and nodding.

"You may think you've cornered the market on jealousy, but you haven't. It makes me crazy to think of someone else being with you. I…I… really wanted to… kill her," Hermione whispered, and it rang so true to Ron that it scared him. He quickly pulled her into his arms.

"I know what you mean," Ron whispered. "I nearly killed Douglas tonight because he merely implied that he would do something sexual with you."

Hermione snorted. "We're a fantastic murderous pair, aren't we?"

Ron chuckled into her hair, as he looked at the clock. It was a quarter to ten. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been in bed holding his wife at this time of the night. Actually, he could, and it had been the night Harry had attacked Ginny. That had been roughly a month ago. Hell, he hadn't made love to her since then either. This became quite obvious as Hermione snuggled closer, and her leg brushed over the front of his pyjamas.

Their eyes locked as certain parts of Ron's anatomy sprang to life, and then it became a race to see who could get naked first. Ron fumbled and kicked, trying to get his bottoms off, and Hermione seemed to be tangled in the arms of her opened dressing gown. She finally gave up as Ron, now completely starkers, sucked one of her heavenly breasts into his mouth.

He groaned as soon as his lips touched her skin, causing Hermione to claw at his back. She wanted him inside her, and Ron knew this. She was often the impatient one when they had been away from each other for a while. Before he could give her other breast equal attention, Hermione reached down and firmly grabbed his cock. He was so hard he feared he'd come before he'd even get inside of her.

"In me…now!" she panted, and wrapped her legs around his waist. Ron responded instantly, shifting his body and ramming himself home in one swift movement. Their harmonizing moans vibrated the walls as he began to move swiftly.

"This…isn't…going…to… last…long," he panted. "Sorry," Ron growled into her neck, knowing that he only had a dozen or so thrusts left in him before he was a goner.

"Good," Hermione moaned, and began to grind against him earnestly.

God, it felt like years since Ron had felt how warm, soft, and wet she could be. He could feel Hermione trembling under him as he drove into her slick center. They were like two wild animals mating in the jungle. Ron was desperately kissing, touching, and biting every bit of flesh available to him, while Hermione was frantically groping his buttocks, back, or anything she could get her hands on, just to keep him applying pressure to her swollen nub. She always acted like this, Ron mused, when she was desperate for quick release.

Not three thrusts later, Hermione was wailing and quivering against a powerful orgasm, pulling him right along with her. Every moan carried with it a deep plunge until Ron had emptied himself completely. God, he felt like his body would never stop throbbing. With a final kiss to his wife, Ron rolled off, and collapsed beside her.

"I'm never moving from this spot," he panted, Hermione chuckled.

"Well, not for another ten minutes, at least," she murmured.

Ron's head rose from the pillow to get better look at her. "What's happening in ten minutes?" She quirked an eyebrow and Ron knew she wanted to have another go. "Give me twenty love…I don't think I'll be able to make my legs work now if someone gave me a million Galleons," he sighed.

Tap, tap, tap. Ron heard the faint sound against the bedroom window. He sat up little and spotted the snowy owl immediately.

"Hedwig!" he shouted, and in an instant, he was out of the bed and racing to the window, completely forgetting his fatigue. Something was wrong, and Ron knew it with every fiber of his being. His fingers trembled as he untied the note and quickly opened it. A photograph fell to the floor, but Ron was too eager to read, so Hermione picked it up.

Ron,

If you are reading this, I've found him! I've found Harry! Sadly, if you are reading this, I've not had any luck convincing him to come home and I need your help. I've enclosed a photo of where we are. Come as soon as you can.

Ginny

Ron quickly snatched the photo out of Hermione's hand and she did the same with the letter. Something in his heart was telling him that they were in trouble. The events of earlier had him spooked, and he knew something was about to explode soon.

"I've got to go, something's wrong!" Ron shouted, dropping the photograph, having thoroughly memorized it.

"How do you know?"

"Soph—er…Teagarden, said that they had been watching us constantly. If Ginny found Harry, it's not hard to imagine that Lestrange was probably watching her when she did," Ron said rapidly, nearly sick with worry and guilt that he didn't go to his sister straight away and make sure she was safe. Fuck! He could have sent a few Aurors to watch her, anything, but all he was thinking of was getting to Hermione. If something happened to Ginny…Don't think of that! Just go! Ron barked to himself.

"I'm coming with you!" Hermione stated, interrupting Ron's thoughts, and her voice implied she would accept no argument. He didn't have time for one anyway, his stomach was churning with fear.

"Fine, be quick about it!" he said, already pulling on his jeans.

"I need ten minutes beca—"

"WHAT?" Ron roared. "You haven't got ten bloody minutes! You've got thirty seconds!" he shouted incredulously, and bit back a comment about Hermione and her common sense again, for he certainly didn't have time for that argument. Her eyes went wide at his tone.

"I've got to get the potion!" she said, through tight lips, and Ron felt rather ashamed of his earlier assessment of her.

"It's going to take you ten minutes to get the potion?" he asked, now fully dressed. He was at least pleased to see that Hermione was almost dressed as well. She fumbled with her jeans as she spoke.

"That powder I had in my office earlier, it's highly combustible and I need to add it in a stable environment and—"

"So add it! Why should that take ten minutes? And why are you just adding it now? "

"Stop interrupting me!" she shouted furiously. "I need to add it right before I use it, as it will only be viable for thirty minutes." Hermione glared at him, and Ron knew his impatience was going to drive her insane.

"Just go, Ron!" she rolled her eyes. "I'll meet you there in ten minutes." Ron paused, he didn't want to wait, but he didn't want her showing up alone.

With his jaw tight, he agreed. They raced from their bedroom, and split in different directions, Hermione to the guest bedroom where she kept the potion and Ron to the front door so he could Apparate. Instantly, they both halted, and ran back to each other, kissing ferociously. After rapidly pleading with each other to be safe, they parted. It seemed they both had a bad feeling about what they would find when they got to their destination.

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Ginny's heart thumped wildly in her chest as she watched her husband take another menacing step toward her. His evil red eyes fixed on her with terrifying pleasure laced in them. She would soon run out of space, she knew, as she was steadily backing up toward the other end of the cabin.

"KILL HER!" Isabella screamed again, causing Harry to move forward even more.

"Fight it, Harry. You must! Please!" Ginny wailed, now with her back against the wall, she had no place to go. Frantically, she cast around for something she could use to stop him, something she could hurt him with, but not too severely.

"KILL HER!" Isabella shouted again madly, now at Harry's shoulder. "KILL HER NOW, DAMN IT!" She gave Harry's shoulder a hard shove.

"SHUT UP!" Harry barked, and whirled around, backhanding Isabella with a blow so powerful it swung her to the floor. The stunned woman spat out a wad of blood that Ginny was certain contained at least three teeth.

"Wha…what are you doing?" she gurgled, with a mouth full of blood. Harry hung over her like a predator ready pounce on its prey. All right, Ginny thought shrilly, he's done something violent, he should vomit now and this will be over, if everything Hermione said was correct. But Harry merely crouched down and pulled a wide eyed Isabella to her feet by her throat. The muscles in his arms rippled as he slammed her against the wall.

"Stop it!" she choked.

"I don't think you are in any position to give orders," Harry said coldly. If Ginny hadn't been looking at him as he'd said it, she would have never thought the voice was his. Though there had been no physical change, he was becoming utterly unrecognizable right before her eyes.

Isabella was gasping for breath as Harry's other hand joined the one already on her throat, and together they squeezed. The pale woman made a feeble attempt to aim her wand at him. Harry quickly removed both his hands from her throat, only to snatch the wand from her and snap it in half, then toss the pieces to the floor.

"What are you going to do now?" he asked her with an evil smirk, and Isabella's eyes began to swim with tears.

"You're going to cry? That's the best you've got? You've been planning this for who knows how long and tears are all you can give me? Pathetic! This is what you wanted isn't it?" Harry taunted her as he stepped back and opened his arms as if to say, look at me, I'm magnificent! The dark-haired woman shook her head, weakly, tears streaming from her eyes now.

"Hel…help me," she whispered, and locked eyes with Ginny, causing hers to go round with surprise.

"You…you created this monster to kill me, and now you want my help? What made you think you could control him?" Ginny shouted, scared beyond any measure she ever thought possible. "You better pray he vomits soon!" she said, and Isabella's face became stricken with panic. Ginny almost cried with her, because that one expression told her all she needed to know. Whatever the unstable woman had given Harry had been improved, and he was not about to vomit anytime soon, if at all.

Harry glanced over his shoulder, and his red eyes locked on his wife's brown ones briefly before turning back to Isabella.

"She makes a good point you know," he laughed, and the sound made Ginny clamp her hands over her ears, for it was pure evil. "What made you think you could control me? Guess you need to work on that plan a bit more, but seeing as you have less than…" he made a show of looking at his wrist, which held no watch "…two seconds to live, perhaps you'll have better luck in the afterlife." He laughed again.

"But…but we were supposed to…to rule together. You need a…a queen," the insane woman moaned. Harry really did laugh then.

"Oh, I'll have a queen…but it won't be you." He glared at her for a second before looking back at Ginny and blowing a kiss to her, which made Ginny cringe.

Isabella's eyes went wide. "STILL?" she screeched, "STILL YOU WANT HER?"

Harry chuckled. "What can I say…I'm partial to red-heads." He shrugged, and laughed again. If Ginny hadn't been terrified within an inch of her life, she might have been flattered that no matter what Harry's mental state was he wanted only her, but it was not comforting in the least.

With a wild maniacal scream, Isabella charged him. Soon there was a blur of black hair and flailing arms attacking Harry. She was no match for him, however. In all the confusion, Ginny didn't see what Harry had done to send Isabella sailing into the wall, but she was certain that the woman was hurt as she slumped to the floor moaning loudly. With a strong foot, Harry kicked the wounded Isabella in the stomach, causing her to scream and curl in on herself. As he hovered over her, looking as though he was trying to find a new place to cause her pain, Ginny took the opportunity to sneak over to the satchel and grab Harry's wand.

Just as he was lifting Isabella off the floor by her neck, Ginny aimed the wand at his back and shouted, "STUPIFY!" The spell shot out of the wand and hit Harry square in the back, then rippled around him and disappeared. Ginny's hand shook fiercely as she tried again, and again to no avail.

Harry peered over his shoulder at her. "You wait your turn!" The corner of his mouth rose in a wicked grin and Ginny nearly dropped the wand, she was so frightened. Harry's hands were wrapped around Isabella's throat again, and the woman was rapidly losing what little colour she had. Ginny needed to do something! She was nearly paralyzed with fear, but she couldn't stand there and watch her husband become a murderer.

With a quickened heartbeat, Ginny dropped the wand, placed a hand on her stomach, and prayed nothing would happen to her unborn child as she took off at a run and leapt onto Harry's back. Grabbing at any available flesh she could find, Ginny tried to inflict enough pain to get Harry off that idiot woman. If it weren't for the fact that she knew Harry would never be himself again if she allowed him to commit murder, she'd let him choke the life out of the barking mad bitch.

Unfortunately, nothing she was doing seemed to be causing Harry any sort of pain, and she had even scratched his face, bit his shoulder, poked him in the eyes, and punched him repeatedly in the back of his head. He merely reacted to her attempts as though she was a rather irritating insect buzzing around his head.

Thinking quickly, Ginny jumped down off of his back, and with a strong deliberate movement, kicked Harry square between the legs. She instantly knew she'd been successful, for he let go of his victim and both his hands flew to his crotch. Isabella slumped to the floor in a dead faint as Ginny cringed at Harry's howl of pain. She'd never in a million years want to do anything to damage him there: in her eyes, it would be a crime, but he needed to be stopped. Ginny only prayed that she didn't do too much damage to it, as she would surely need it again if they ever got him back to normal.

Harry turned slowly, still crouching over and cupping his genitals. His fiery red eyes burned into her as he pulled himself up with agonizing deliberation. Ginny took several steps back; she had not slowed him as much as she'd wished. It seemed she had merely pulled his attention from Isabella to herself.

"You bitch!" he spat, and took a menacing step toward Ginny, causing her to take even more steps backward. "I didn't want to kill you, but now I think it might be fun!" He took another step, but before he could get any closer, the front door swung open and Ron framed the entrance like a beacon hope to Ginny.

"Ron!" she screamed, and wanted to run to her brother and wrap her arms around him, however, Ron looked as if he was momentarily paralyzed as his eyes took in the scene. Before he seemed to fully wrap his mind around what must've happened, Harry was on him.

Ron struggled to aim his wand at Harry as Ginny flitted out of the way of the two fighting men. Harry grabbed Ron's wand and threw it over his shoulder. It skidded to a halt on the other side of the cabin. Ginny didn't bother to retrieve it, as it would do no good. Ron punched Harry in the throat and caused him to stumble back gasping for breath, but a second later he was on Ron again. It seemed nothing he did kept Harry at bay for longer than a few seconds.

Ginny knew at this rate, Ron would not last much longer. Harry seemed to have a bottomless vault of energy and although the two men had only been fighting for no more than a few minutes, it seemed like hours. Ginny scampered out of the way, feeling helpless as Ron and Harry threw each other around the rickety old cabin, shattering things as they went. A blood curdling scream ripped from Ginny's throat as she watched her husband pick up a chair and smash it over Ron's head. His knees buckled and he fell to the floor. Ginny rushed to him, only to be violently shoved aside by Harry.

"Wait your turn, I told you!" he growled, and Ginny knew he'd keep to his promise to kill her.

She wanted to run, to flee, and she knew she could, for Harry was certainly preoccupied. There would be nothing stopping her from Apparating to safety…nothing except for her brother. As she locked eyes with Ron, her mind was set. If he was going to die tonight then so was she!

Ginny watched, transfixed, as Harry pulled Ron to his feet with a strength she knew was infused by that evil potion. His hands were now wrapped tightly around Ron's throat and squeezing the very will to live out of the man he'd called a brother. Ron feebly made to pull Harry's hands away from his neck, but he was far too weak, and his hand dropped to his side dejectedly.

It was up to Ginny now, and she had just made the most sickeningly difficult decision she'd ever made, or would ever make, in her life. Crawling past them, Ginny picked up Harry's discarded wand and grabbed a dirty spoon. With trembling hands, she transfigured it into the sharpest knife she could muster. Wobbling terribly, Ginny got to her feet. She saw her brother's eyes widen as he watched her stalk up behind her husband with a sharp knife held high above her head ready to plunge it in his back.

Ginny's vision was blurred behind the magnitude of her tears. Her chest heaved as sobs racked her body when the realization hit her that she had no idea where she could stab him to incapacitate him without ending his life. However, as she saw Ron's lips turning a ghostly grayish-blue color, she knew it was now or never. As she raised the knife with unstable hands, ready to plunge it into Harry's back, Hermione burst through the door.

Ginny simply sagged to the floor, and let out a wail of a cry, doubling over with the weight of her tears. She sniffed and looked up at Hermione, ready to beg her forgiveness for being too weak to stop Harry from killing her husband, when she saw that Hermione was carrying three black phials.

Before Ginny could ask, Hermione hurled one of the phials at the pair of men, but in a blur of speed, Harry released Ron's throat and caught the potion in mid air. Ginny screamed. Yes, Hermione had two more, but the element of surprise was gone and now it would probably be easier to get Harry to take the potion with tea and biscuits than it would be to force it in him. He turned an evil glare onto Hermione, as Ron took this opportunity to gasp for air, rapidly bringing his colour back.

"Don't you know by now, I'm faster than he is!" Harry bit out, then threw the phial to the floor violently, causing it to shatter at his feet.

"I wasn't throwing it to Ron," Hermione said with a quiver, and Ginny saw the determination in her eyes a split second before the shattered potion began to smoke. Realization hit Harry's face instantly, as he knew he had just done exactly what Hermione wanted him to do.

Two narrow funnels of black smoke weaved and swirled up from the floor aiming straight for Harry. He stepped back quickly, but the tiny black tornados followed, and then in a snap, they flew straight up his nose. Harry stumbled back snorting and grunting, trying to blow the soot out of his nostril.

He looked up, and the glare he fixed on Hermione made her face turn as white as a sheet. It wasn't working! Before Harry could set out to do whatever horrible thing he was intent on doing to his other best friend, Ginny scrambled to her feet, grabbed the remaining two phials from Hermione's terrified hands, and threw them at Harry's feet. This time, four black funnels of smoke rose from the broken glass and within seconds had shot up Harry's nose. He arched back violently gasping for breath, then he leaned forward clutching his throat and Ginny wanted to scream, for he looked so frightened and helpless. He gave a great cough and black ash shot out of his mouth, then a wisp of red vapor followed before he keeled forward and fell to the floor unmoving.

The room was in a stunned silence as the three of them looked at Harry in disbelieving horror. Ginny was the first to move, but Ron quickly pulled her away and turned Harry over. His mouth and nose were covered in black soot, making him look as though he'd been caught in a fire.

"Is…is he all right?" Ginny asked, wringing her hands.

"I…I don't know," Ron whispered hoarsely; Harry's finger marks remarkably noticeable on his throat now. "What was that potion supposed to do, Hermione?" he asked, but Hermione seemed to have gone into shock as she gaped, pale faced at the unconscious Harry. Ron quickly got to his feet, retrieved his wand from the other side of the cabin, and grabbed a plate out of the basket by the fire. Ginny hazily heard him make a Portkey out of it and shove it in Hermione's hand, then force her to the floor bedside Harry's limp form.

"That's going to activate in one minute, hold onto it Gin, and make sure it's touching Harry. It'll take you to St. Mungo's. I'm going to take her to the Ministry," Ron indicated the unconscious Isabella Lestrange over in the corner.

Ginny quickly grabbed the plate and sat it on Harry's bare chest with Hermione's hand still clutching it. Shortly thereafter, she felt the tugging behind her navel as they were wrenched away.

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"You lied to me," Chief Weinpret said, rather casually to an extremely agitated Ronald Weasley. It had only been one day since the incident at the cabin and Ron had been forced to tell his Chief all that had transpired over the last month. As much as Ron wanted to plead his case, his mind was on Harry, for he was still unconscious and showing no signs of being able to breathe on his own.

"I asked you flat out if you knew something, and you said that you did not," Weinpret continued slowly.

"Yes, Sir," Ron responded, not knowing what else to say.

"You withheld vital information, you mislead an official investigation…" The Chief looked over a parchment which Ron gathered contained the long list of his violations. "…you assaulted a fellow Auror…twice, AND you Obliviated a witness!" Weinpret glared up at Ron from his seat behind his desk.

"Yes, Sir." Ron clenched his jaw. This was not like the chief at all. He usually got straight to the point. There was no need to rehash Ron's rampant list of infractions, he simply needed to get on with the sacking and be done with it. He watched as the Chief pinched the bridge of his nose, and ran a weary hand across his forehead. The man never fidgeted, so Ron he surmised that what he was about to say was not going to be good.

"Weasley…what the hell were you thinking?" Ron gaped at him for a second, not expecting the question.

"Protect Harry, Sir, that's all I was thinking" he answered. Weinpret fixed him with a curious glare.

"I understand that you two are mates, but…"

"No Sir, Harry's my…brother, and as I said before, nothing comes before my family," Ron's eyes were intense as he said this. The Chief sighed, then stood slowly and walked around to the front of his desk, leaving only a yard or so between them.

"You've put me and this department in a terrible position. If given the choice, I'd merely turn a blind eye to it all rather than lose two great Aurors such as you and Potter, but it is not only up to me," he paused and rubbed the back of his neck.

"I like you, Weasley. You're smart, thorough, competent, a hard worker, and you've got great instincts."

"Thank you, Sir," Ron said hesitantly, not really sure where this was headed.

"Unfortunately, the fact that I'd rather have one of you as opposed to ten of Douglas, does me no good when you are incapable of following protocol. While I'm pretty certain that you are only that way with people you care about, the Ministry is forcing me to implement some disciplinary action," the Chief said with a sigh.

"They wanted you sacked, at Douglas' request of course. Wanted to make it appear that you resigned of your own choice, since they didn't want to seem as if they were ungrateful for all you did in the war, not to mention that you actually caught the person behind the red Dark Mark. But I flat out refused to do that." He looked intense, as if he was reliving the conversation with the Ministry in his head.

"I only had a leg to stand on because no one knows about what really happened with Mr. Kadigen..." Ron's mouth fell open, he was certain that the Chief had shared the full report with the Ministry. "…otherwise, you may have been looking at a few months in Azkaban, along with Potter…should he recover." Ron winced at that statement, but as quickly as he could, he pushed it out of his mind. Weinpret folded his arms over his chest, and gave a great sigh.

"So here it is; you will be suspended for ninety days without pay." Ron gulped, three whole months with no wages!

"And upon your return, you will be demoted to an Auror second level…for a full year." Ron winced at that as well, seeing as he was currently an Auror Third Level and just about to make Level Four.

"I'm sorry, I need your communicator. You'll get it back when you return at the end of your suspension," he finished, with a firm pat to Ron's shoulder. Ron made an awkward movement and detached his medallion then handed it over, leaving his neck feeling quite bare.

"You're dismissed," the Chief said, quietly.

Ron was nearly insane as he pulled himself from the office. His head was swimming with a jumble of words, frightened expressions, and mixed emotions. He had been up all night interrogating Lestrange and talking to Ginny, so he was now fully aware of what had transpired at the cabin before he got there.

Lestrange explained her twisted plan to make Harry the new Dark Lord, and nearly made Ron vomit with her rather calm veneer now that she was not afraid that Harry was going to kill her. She admitted that the potion was still not one hundred percent complete in its effectiveness obviously, because Harry had tried to kill her, but she had improved it enough to keep him from regurgitating it. Ron prayed that the red vapor they saw escape Harry's mouth was the poison leaving him, but only time would tell.

Three months! Ron moaned to himself, what on earth would he do to keep himself sane for that long? God, he was humiliated, but he could be in Azkaban, so he resolved to himself that this was not important, he began to chant that in his head. He'd make it for ninety days without a salary. He'd make it for a year on a reduced salary. He would be okay, he thought, as he swallowed thickly. The only thing that mattered now was that they had saved Harry…at leas, he hoped they had. And with that thought, he made his way to St Mungo's.

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Something or someone was sitting on his chest. With a heavy arm, Harry reached up and slowly ran his hand across his torso…nothing. Something had to have been causing his shortness of breath, he thought as his eyes opened slowly, confirming that nothing was on him. His vision was blurred, he knew from his glasses being somewhere else. As his hand ran over his face, he felt a hard shell of some sort covering his mouth and nose.

With a hazy determination, Harry wrenched the apparatus away from his mouth and nose, and was instantly sorry. With a great inhale, it felt as if he'd just sucked down a mouthful of ash, sand, and smoke. His body racked with the force of his coughing fit, and he couldn't stop long enough to get the apparatus back on his face.

Suddenly a strong hand gripped the back of his head as another one clamped the clear mask back on his face. Harry's eyes opened and rolled to his left to see a terrified looking Ron, holding the breathing contraption securely over his face.

"You have to keep that on, mate," Ron whispered urgently.

Harry took great gulping inhales and his lungs seemed to regain proper function. Another hand was now before him and his glasses were hooked over his ears bringing his wife's lovely face in to clear view. Ginny sat on the right side of the bed, gazing down at him with a mixture of relief, worry and sadness marring her beautiful features.

He flopped back to his pillow and looked down at himself. The clear shell covering his mouth and nose was obviously there to keep him from choking to death, judging from what had just happened. A blue mist swirled through it and gave off a sugary smell and taste. While Harry could remember mostly everything that happened, it still didn't really explain why he was in the hospital with this contraption on his face.

"What…" he coughed and his voice echoed through the mask in an odd hollow whisper. "…happened?" he wheezed. Harry didn't miss the look that Ron shot at Ginny, but her eyes remained downcast as if she was incapable of looking at her brother.

"You…you don't remember, mate?" Ron asked, hesitantly.

"Yes…" Harry hissed with difficulty. "…but…why…am…I…here?" he sighed exhaustedly, after the brief sentence.

"Well, you still need help breathing," Ginny answered. "The poison and…the antidote have…have affected your lungs," she said, sadly. "I may have given you too much…I'm sorry…"

"The Healers don't think that, Gin," Ron said, giving Ginny a comforting look, but she still would not meet his eyes. Harry squeezed her hand and she gave him a weary smile.

"How…long…" Harry began, but Ron seemed to want to spare him the effort and answered the obvious question.

"Nine days. You've been out for nine days," Ron said, looking a bit paler.

Harry sank back even more into his pillow, and looked up at the ceiling. Nine days wasn't so bad, it could have been nine years, he thought wryly. Now that he was taking deeper breaths, he was feeling a bit better. They were all safe and…wait…where was Hermione? Harry looked at the stricken faces of his wife and best mate.

"Her…mi…o…ne?" Harry wheezed, looking between the two. Ron seemed a bit more worried, while Ginny appeared to withdraw slightly. Oh God! Harry shouted in his head. "Did…I…hurt…her?" He panted, thickly.

"No, mate, she's over there." Ron gently jerked his head toward the corner and Harry sat up to get a better look at Hermione in the corner. She was deathly pale and looked to have lost a good bit of weight.

Her eyes rounded as they locked on Harry's, and he wondered why she was sitting all the way across the room. He racked his brain for something he had done to her to make her frightened of him. Of course, everything he had done in that cabin warranted fear from his loved ones, but he could think of nothing in particular that involved Hermione. Then Harry's heart sank as he realized she probably hated him for nearly killing Ron. He raised an ashen hand and beckoned her to him, she merely lowered her head and began to sob.

"Tell…her…I'm…sorry…" he gasped.

"It's not you, mate, honestly." Ron dipped his head and whispered to Harry. "She blames herself. If…if you have to wear this…this thing forever, she's the one that made the potion." Ron swallowed thickly. "I've been trying to talk some sense into her, but she barely eats, or sleeps, all she does is try to find a better potion, something that will help you breath normally again." Harry sat up completely.

"Hermione!" he shouted, and paid dearly for it as he was attacked with a fit of coughing. This only made her curl in on herself and hide her face. When Harry's breathing had settled, he said to Ron, "Go…get…her."

Ron stood and walked over to the corner of the room, then half dragged, half carried Hermione to Harry's bedside. All it took was for him to reach out and grab her hand before she fairly collapsed on top of him and wailed inconsolably. Harry fixed Ron with a startled expression, and Ron merely threw his hands in the air.

"I'm so sorry, Harry," she sobbed, with a loud hiccup. Harry attempted to speak to her, tell her that she had nothing to apologize for, tell her that he was grateful and that he loved her. And that if he needed to wear this stupid thing for the rest of his life, he would do so gladly, as long as it meant the people he loved were safe.

It would be a constant reminder to him that he had not been turned into the new Dark Lord, and that, he could live with. But Hermione had gone into a crazed ramble, explaining how sorry she was, and how she was working on something to help him, and that she would never stop until she came up with something.

Harry grabbed her shoulders and gently pried her off his chest, then he smoothed away the curly strands of hair clinging to her face. He held her teary gaze for a moment, and then he wheezed, "Thank…you." Hermione's chin began to quiver and she shook her head.

"I'm…not…angry," he said. Still, she looked as though she wanted to drown herself in a bucket of her own tears. Harry thought, perhaps if he made her laugh, she would know that he was truly grateful for whatever it was that potion had in it.

"I…don't…blame…you…sugar…knockers," Harry wheezed with a wide smile, as Ron burst into laughter, but Hermione, simply gaped at him. Perhaps she was not in the mood for a joke just yet. Fortunately, Ron saved him.

"Come on." He hooked Hermione around the waist. "Let's go have some tea and I'll explain that what Harry did there was called a joke," he chuckled as he dragged Hermione from the room, though her eyes remained locked on Harry's until she had stepped into the corridor.

It quickly fell silent as Harry's attention was brought back to his wife. He became suddenly aware that the bed was vibrating slightly. It didn't take long for him to discern that it was from Ginny's trembling body. Seated on the edge of the bed, Ginny seemed near the point of combustion as she held in whatever it was that was troubling her. Harry knew it went beyond simple fear that he'd have to were this silly breathing apparatus for the rest of his life, because if he had anything to do about it, he'd have it off in a week. No, something more was troubling Ginny, and a sudden realization had Harry nearly passing out as a crippling fear washed over him. Quickly he reached out and grabbed her hand. She moved away from him, stood up quickly and began pacing beside the bed.

"Gin…" Harry wheezed, in a desperate whinge. He wanted to ask, had to know, but he could possibly go the rest of his life never asking this question. "Is…it…the…baby?" he panted, and it was more than because of the issue with his lungs. As distraught as she seemed to be, Harry distinctly saw her shake her head. She stopped pacing, pale faced and eyes flooded with tears. Harry reached out for her, hoping that she would sit with him and tell him what was wrong. The baby was okay, Ron and Hermione were all right…so what had he done?

"I…don't…care…about…the…bloody…potion," he panted, knowing that she probably felt just as responsible as Hermione.

"Gin…please…tell…me," he gasped, and tried to extract the information from her before he suffered an attack of nerves. Ginny sat again, looked at him briefly, but quickly dropped her head, and whimpered into his chest. Harry decided that he couldn't force her. She would have to calm herself and tell him when she was ready, so he merely rubbed her back and ran his fingers through her silky hair. After a few deep breaths, Ginny looked up at him with an extremely wet face and was utterly angelic in that moment to Harry.

"It's…all…right," Harry whispered, and he gently thumbed the tears away from her face.

"Wa…" Ginny choked out an unintelligible sound, then took a deep breath. "Whe—when we were in—in the cabin," she sniffed. "I was…I almost…" The words seemed stuck in her throat as she gaped at Harry with an opened mouth. "I…I had a knife…" she keeled forward and sobbed into his chest. Harry was utterly confused, he had been awake for less than twenty minutes and he had been forced to console two weeping women. Before he could become too overwhelmed by this, Ginny's head rose again and she seemed determined to get it out, then her eyes changed.

"I'm sorry, I sh—shouldn't be burdening you wi—with this nonsense, you've only just woken up…I should get the healer." She sniffed, and made to stand, but Harry squeezed her hand weakly, feeling a bit shocked that she seemed to have read his mind.

"No…please…tell…me."

Ginny looked away and seemed to be unable to meet his eyes, but after a loud sniff she said, "I had a knife…and I…I was going to…to…stab…you." Again, her head slumped to his chest and she wailed. Harry was relieved. Good, he thought. She should have killed me, and he was almost happy that she was strong enough to do it. He would rather die than hurt someone he loved and he had nearly killed Ron.

"Good…Gin…I'm…not…angry…you…did…the…right…thing," he rasped, and gently pushed her back so he could look in her face. What he was met with nearly stopped his heart. Ginny's face was torn in the most awful expression and seemed to be frozen in a state of sheer agony. She was beyond tears as her sorrow, and guilt, and shame seemed to have paralyzed her. As their eyes locked on each other, Harry could see the truth so plainly that he wanted to close his eyes against it.

The fact that he could know this woman, better than he sometimes knew himself was mind altering. For Ginny was not telling him that she was sorry that she could have killed him, she was telling him that she was sorry she couldn't kill him. She had chosen her husband over her brother, and the guilt, fear, and shame of it all was nearly causing her to come undone.

Slowly she slumped forward, and gently rested her head on Harry's shoulder, appearing to be fully aware that her husband knew what she was trying to say without her having to utter the words.

"Please," Ginny whispered, thickly. "Please, don't ever tell him."

Harry nodded, slowly. If he had anything to do with it, Ron would never know. It would die with him. He held on to his wife, trying to keep them both from spiraling out of control. As much as he wanted to tell Ginny she should have plunged that knife into his back, and saved Ron or anyone else, how could he? He knew his wife well enough to know that although she complained about Ron, and they had rows that rivaled the ones he had with Hermione, she absolutely adored him.

The guilt alone would eat at her for years to come, and he would not add to it. If he looked deep enough within himself, Harry would see a bit of happiness under the surface, hiding in a dark corner, because someone loved him enough to choose him. No, Harry would never let that come out. He'd work with Ginny to help her let go of her guilt, and for the first time in his life, he resolved not to carry the guilt for things that were out of his control.

00000

Six months later…

Ron sat on the edge of the bed lacing his trainers. They were old and tattered and even magic couldn't really help them. He'd flat out refused to buy new ones when Hermione suggested it. It was bad enough that she'd carried the household finances for three months while he had no wages, he would not waste money on nonsense now.

There had been another stipulation to his suspension that came about a few weeks later when he went to work at the Twin's store. He was informed that he could not hold down another job while on suspension. Some malarkey about still being employed as an Auror for the Ministry of Magic forbids him from holding another position. When hired, he had signed an employment agreement attesting that he would be available 24 hours a day, and therefore could not take another job. In turn, Aurors were paid rather well to compensate for this. Ron knew that this was just another way to further punish him, though the Chief would never be that petty.

Hermione made more than enough money to handle the bills, but Merlin, did it chip at his ego. Though Harry was still out on disability, and had received the same disciplinary action that Ron had received, it was not the same. Harry had tons of money and though the school didn't bring in much, it still turned a small profit.

Now that he was back at work, Ron hated being demoted. He had a new partner who was as dumb as a brick and as cowardly as Hagrid's boarhound, Fang. His days were filled with frustration and each payday only made him angry when he saw his reduced wages.

Ron looked up and saw Hermione watching him from the bathroom. She had a small, familiar bottle in her hand and she was fingering it pensively. Hesitantly, she uncorked it and drained the contents in one swallow. With a small grimace, she tossed the bottle in the rubbish bin and walked out of the bathroom.

"All right, love?" Ron asked.

"Yes," Hermione nodded. "Actually, I was thinking of stopping my potion." Ron gaped at her for a moment, trying to understand what she was really saying. His eyes went wide as soon as it became clear.

"You want to have a baby?" Ron tried to close his mouth but he was simply gobsmacked.

"Well, yes. Don't you?"

"Yes…but…but not now." They stared at each other for a long moment, and he could see the sadness creep into her eyes. She had not been expecting him to answer that way. Slowly Hermione sat beside him on the bed and Ron put his arm around her waist, pulling her nearer.

"Is this because Gin is pregnant?" he asked.

"Well, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a bit envious, but it's also that I've always thought we'd start around this age, you know, and I feel ready. Don't you?"

"It's not as if I don't want to, it's just our vault has taken a large hit, and with all that just happened between us all, I just don't know if it's the right time."

"Ron, we have plenty of money to do this. Is it because I'm making more than you now? You know I don't care about that."

"You may not care, but it bothers me that I'm not an equal partner in this relationship."

"Says who? You contribute plenty! It's not as if you are a lay-about and won't work. What happened, happened and there is nothing we can do about it. We are far from destitute so…get over it!" she snapped. Ron's head shot back as his eyes rounded at her tone.

"Hermione, it's not just that!" He stood and began pacing. "I want to be able to give our children all the things I never had growing up."

"Like what? Was your life so lacking that you feel as though you missed out on things? New books and new clothing? Those things mean nothing! As a matter of fact, I think I will be asking your mother to give me knitting lessons so I can start making you jumpers." Hermione folded her arms over her chest defiantly. Ron stopped his pacing and looked at her, then he burst into laughter.

"What are you laughing at?" she asked indignantly, and Ron flopped on the bed beside her.

"You, knitting." He continued to laugh. "The wooly bladders!" He laughed harder. Hermione pinched him severely causing him to scream out in pain. "Bloody hell, Hermione! You nearly ripped my skin off!" he said, with a mock dramatic grimace.

"Serves you right. I can knit just fine if I put my mind to it."

"Love, with a little practice, I'm sure you'd be able to knit an entire home." He smiled up at her from his sprawled position on the bed.

"So…" she looked down at him, the seriousness back on her face. "Are you saying no? Because if you are worried about money, don't. If I were to get pregnant now, you'd be back at full pay by the time the baby was born. Besides, it will take at least a few weeks, maybe longer, to be off the potion before I'd get pregnant."

"Harry said Ginny was barely off the potion for a week and she got pregnant!" Ron sat up on his elbows and fixed her with an incredulous expression.

"She's a Weasley! She probably got pregnant the minute Harry sat beside her!"

"Oi!" Ron grabbed a chuckling Hermione and pinned her to the bed. "Are you having a go at my family?" He tickled her sides.

"No!" she squealed. "I'm just saying that the Grangers aren't as fertile, so we won't have to worry about that." She smiled wide, seeming to know that Ron was not buying it.

"That's probably because your parents only shagged once!"

"Hey! Now who's having a go?" She pinched him again. This time Ron laughed.

"I'm just saying, you and I go at it like bunnies, we'd be just like Harry and Gin."

"Is that so bad?" Hermione asked, looking suddenly sad. Ron dipped his head and pressed his lips to her gently.

"No, love, it's not bad at all." He moved a curl from in front of her face and twirled it around his long finger. "I'm just…scared," he whispered, feeling a weight lift the moment he admitted that. Hermione touched his face, softly.

"I'm afraid too, Ron."

"I know…but I have the type of job that's…well, it's dangerous, and I want to be able to provide for my family should something ever happen to—" Hermione placed her hand over his mouth, and Ron gently pulled it away.

"I need to say this, love." She nodded, and silently told him to continue. "My biggest fear is leaving you…you know that, and if I can help it, I never will. But I will feel like a failure as a man if something happens to me and I leave you without any support." He stroked her cheek. "While it's nice and romantic to think that all we need is love, the hard truth is, we need money too." Ron paused for a moment and read her eyes. She looked sullen, although she seemed to be putting a valiant effort to hide it from him.

"Love bug, I'm not saying never, okay?" He held her gaze. "I'm not even saying a year. Give me a few more months, that's all. I just want to make sure we have a certain amount in our vault. Weinpret said at the end of my year's demotion, he will reinstate me at a level four. So that will almost be double the wages I'm getting now." Hermione nodded silently, but her eyes were misty.

"Bollocks! I feel like I'm mucking this up! Please, love, you have to know that I'm not putting you off. Honestly I'm not. I'd love nothing more than to have loads of babies with you." Hermione's eyes went wide at the word, loads, but Ron hardly noticed.

"I know you are not going to like this, but the best way I can explain it is, it's…it's a man thing. I need—"

"Ron, it's okay." Hermione had pressed two fingers to his lips. "Honest, it is. I've just been thinking about it lately, and I wanted to discuss it with you, and we have, so it's all right." Ron watched her for a moment, trying to see if she was being truthful with him.

"I'm okay, Ron. Besides, in a few months, I'll have thoroughly researched pregnancy and how to care for babies. And really, I'll need that time to do a proper job of it," Hermione said with a gleam in her eyes that Ron recognized, and he knew she was speaking the complete truth now.

"So…the end of the summer?" Hermione asked, hesitantly. Ron smiled.

"Yeah, the end of the summer sounds perfect." They stared at each other for a long time. The decision was heavy, Ron knew, but it felt right. Though they would not be where he'd like to be financially in three months, they would be better than they are now and he would sleep a bit better for it.

"You know," Hermione began. "I've read that if we want to make it more successful, we should probably not make love for the next few months until we are trying to conceive," she said, studiously.

"WHAT?" Ron sat back and fixed her with terrified eyes. Hermione seemed unable to maintain her business-like expression, and burst into laughter.

"Not funny at all!" Ron bit out, and began to tickle her once again.

"Oh, I think it was quite funny. You looked like you were going to soil yourself!" she squealed, as he latched onto a particularly ticklish spot.

"Now, I think we need some practice," Ron said, and his hand was already pulling down the flies of her jeans.

"No, I think we've got it well underhand by nnnaahhmmm…." Hermione's word got caught in a moan as Ron's hand delved deeper in her jeans. She was holding her breath now as his fingers did wicked things to her. "Wah…we have to be at…haaa… Harry's fffor…lunch," she moaned.

"We're bringing the food, they…will…wait." Ron whispered hotly, then fairly attacked her.

00000

The sound of gravel crunching vibrated off the thick of trees as Harry's feet pounded up the path. He ran hard and fast, and reached the clearing in a matter of minutes. Slowing to a brisk jog, Harry looked at his wristwatch. It had taken him only fourteen minutes this time to run the entire perimeter of Potter's Cove. He took a few deep inhales letting the potion that swirled around the breathing apparatus fill his lungs.

Though he was only required to wear the contraption one hour a day now, he often found that it helped to have it on when he worked out. The Healers had told him that he'd never be able to go more than twenty minutes without the breather, but Harry was having none of that.

Within a month of coming home, Harry began to work to build up his lungs. He was determined to quench the guilty looks Hermione and Ginny flashed on him constantly. Hermione had been tireless in her effort to find something to help him. About two months ago, she came over and hesitantly gave Harry a potion that she was certain would help him. He practically had to wrestle it out of her hands. Her fear of further damaging him made her quite reluctant to give him the potion. As with everything Hermione did, it was well made and had greatly helped. And that, in Harry's opinion was the main reason he could practically go all day without wearing the mask.

Stopping by the large shady tree at the back of Potter's Cove, Harry stretched out his sweat drenched muscles and pulled off his soggy shirt. June had come in beautifully, and the smell of flowers was strong from the nearby garden. Harry could smell them clearly even through the sweet smell of the blue mist swirling before his mouth and nose.

Taking a seat by the trunk of the massive tree, he sighed with a fatigued content on his face. He had come close to losing all of this, but he was not going to dwell on any of that. He was going to enjoy this beautiful Saturday afternoon, he thought as he folded his arms behind his head and leaned against the tree.

His calm mood was suddenly interrupted as a scream ripped through the air and had Harry on his feet in a flash. Quickly he stepped around the large base of the tree and peered in the direction of the scream. His heart flooded with relief when he saw it was only Ethan, screaming, giggling and bounding down the hill like a runaway barrel, chasing a frightened Crup. Ginny walked at a much slower pace, as her rather round belly prevented anything else.

She waved at Harry and it looked as if she had a letter in her hand. As she got closer, this was confirmed. Harry smiled as he watched her walk toward him. Her yellow sundress was tinted in the front due to her slightly pointed stomach, making her mother insist she that was having a boy. A bit winded by the time she got over to him, Ginny kissed Harry on the cheek and ran her hand over his buzzed head. He had liked the haircut she'd given him so much that he made Ginny trim it every two weeks.

"Hey, luv," she puffed. "Help me sit?" she asked, although it wasn't necessary, as Harry doted on her nearly every waking moment. He guided her to the ground then sat beside her, and they both leaned against the tree. Silently, they sat for long moments, watching Ethan harass the poor Crup that Professor Marcus had entrusted in their care while he was on holiday. Harry knew Ethan's rough play was going to get him nipped again.

"Ethan!" Ginny called. "Not too close to the stream!"

Ethan nodded and ran the other way. Then he seemed to realize that he hadn't spoken to Harry yet so he did an about-face and ran full speed toward Harry. Realizing that he needed to protect himself, Harry quickly closed his legs as he had been rammed in the gonads by the overzealous child once before. Ethan careened into Harry's chest and hugged him around the neck. Then he put his mouth right on the breathing apparatus and said, "HELLO UNCLE HARRY!"

Harry chuckled as he pried the boy off his face. "Ethan, I told you, you don't have to speak into the breather, I can hear you just fine."

"OKAY," he yelled into the contraption again, and then ran off before Harry could say anything more. Harry shook his head, with a laugh.

"He only does that because you always laugh," Ginny said, as she watched Ethan with a dreamy sort of gaze on her face. While Harry was in the hospital, the Ministry's Child Treatment Department removed Ethan from their home. With only moderate information coming out about who was behind the red Dark Marks, it was enough to raise questions about Harry's involvement. The Department stated that it was standard practice to remove a child from the home while they investigated the care givers and searched for any relatives.

Ginny had nearly died when she found out that Ethan was going to have to stay at an orphanage while the investigation was taking place. He could still attend school at Potter's Cove, but every evening he had to return to the orphanage. Nothing Ginny did would make them go against their policy, so she had to wait until it was complete. Harry didn't know what would happen to her if they found a relative. He half expected Ginny to run away with the boy, she had become so attached. Harry had as well, but he felt that Ethan should know his family if he had any. How he had wished he had some other family to call his own besides the Dursleys.

Ginny's head rested on Harry's shoulder and he heard her sigh. She fingered the letter in her hand and Harry wondered what it was, but he decided to let her bring it up. No sooner than he had that thought, Ginny's head rose from his shoulder.

"Harry, can I talk to you?"

"Of course." He looked at her with concern. She handed him the letter.

"What's this?" Harry asked, as he opened the envelope and pulled out one of the two pieces of parchment inside.

"Just read it and tell me what you see," Ginny whispered.

Harry unfolded the letter and the heading read: Family History of Ethan Avery Connors. His eyes rolled over the parchment once, looking at the unfamiliar names and wondering why Ginny wanted him to read it. Just as he was about to ask her this, his eyes moved over the paper once more, traveling up the many ladders of generations until he stopped on a name that was familiar to him. Belvina (Black) Burke. Harry swallowed hard. Having nearly memorized that tapestry hanging in Grimmauld Place, he knew that Belvina Black was one of Sirius' distant relatives.

Harry stood slowly, looking at the letter and then he turned and looked at Ginny. She watched him expectantly, but he hadn't a clue what to say. What did she want him to do with this information? Harry turned and looked at Ethan, staring at him as if he expected to see some resemblance to Sirius, but that was ridiculous. His relation to the man was very distant, and he would bare no more of a resemblance to him than Mr. Weasley would.

Harry looked at the parchment again and saw Chilton Synclair Connors with a line connecting it to Caroline (Dunkin) Connors, and then a short line under it with Ethan's name connected. Though this was not a full genealogy of Ethan's ancestry, it was his father's blood that tied him to Sirius, and for some strange reason, Harry wanted to simply sit down and stare at Ethan. It was ridiculous, he'd never felt the need to sit and stare and Tonks, and she was Sirius' cousins. Perhaps it was the dark hair and the fact that Ethan was a boy, but he felt something for the child.

"Can we keep him?" Harry was jarred out of his thoughts by Ginny's question, and was surprised to realize that he had taken a few steps toward Ethan, who was still playing by the stream.

Harry turned to Ginny. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"

"Can we keep him?" she repeated resolutely. Harry starred at her incredulously for a moment. This question had come up before, though never this bluntly. Harry had skirted around it, changing the subject or faking fatigue, anything to keep him from discussing what was gnawing at his insides. He would not be able to escape it today.

"He's not a puppy Gin, we can't just…keep him," He said before he even thought about it.

"I know that!" she shouted. "But now that you see that he's related to Sirius, I thought…"

"You thought what?" Harry's eyes rounded at her. "That's not fair Ginny! Hell, you're related to him too if you want to get technical about it!"

"I know, Harry, and I'm sorry, that was low of me to play on your love for Sirius, but it's true and it's all the more reason for us to do this. The letter proves it; he has no one else that's fit to care for him. All of his relatives are dead, in prison, or insane!" Ginny whinged, and Harry knew she was speaking of his distant relation to Belatrix and Isabella Lestange.

"What about Caroline's family?" Harry asked, but Ginny was already shaking her head as Harry pulled out the other letter, his hands trembling slightly.

"The youngest living relative on her side is ninety-seven! Caroline was an only child, her mum and dad where only children and her grand mum has a sister that's still alive, she's far too old to run after him. I can barely do it." Harry was silent for a while as he looked over the other genealogy chart.

"I…I just can't send him back to that place!" Ginny started again. "It's horrid and he hates it! He told me he cries whenever he is there and it kills me!" she whimpered, and Harry moved immediately to console her. Sitting on the ground beside her, he pulled Ginny into his arms. His stomach churned with the weight of this decision.

God only knows he had wished someone like he and Ginny would have come and rescued him from the Dursleys. And when he thought of how Tom Riddle had been raised in an orphanage, an icy fear ran down his spin. Ethan deserved better than that. He was a wonderful child, but…

"Gin," Harry whispered as he held her at arms length. "This is something that we can't decide over night…"

"Why?" Ginny whinged again. "He's here five days a week as it is. All we would really be adding are the evenings and weekends. He'll be no trouble, you know that. I'll take care of everything, I promise."

"Ginny, you honestly think I wouldn't want him living here because he'd be a bother? It's not that…"

"Well then, what is it?" she nearly shouted, and Harry felt as if his chest was constricting, but he knew he had to tell her what was causing his reservations. Slowly, he popped the breathing apparatus off his face and the blue mist vanished instantly. Harry swallowed hard.

"Gin, what am I supposed to tell him…" he stopped, and Ginny remained silent, waiting for him to get out what it was that was eating at him. "…what am I to say to him when he asks…how his mum died?" The lump in his throat prevented him from continuing momentarily.

"He will ask you know, he'll…he'll want to know, and I'll have to tell him…that…it was my fault…he'll hate me, Gin…he will," Harry finished, with quiet anguish. Though he had resolved not to take on guilt that did not belong to him, Harry was having a pretty hard time letting go of his guilt behind Caroline's death. In fact, it ate at him every time he saw Ethan.

"He won't hate you, Harry." Ginny reached up and held his face in her hands. "And when he asks, we will tell him the truth…Isabelle Lestrange killed his mother. Not you, but an insane woman, with insane motives; nothing more, nothing less. He will not blame you." Harry looked down sadly, and Ginny pulled him into her arms.

"We have to do this, Harry, you know we do," she whispered with a sob, and Harry nodded against her shoulder. Ginny pulled back, gently. "You have to be on board totally, Harry, this is not something that you can go about half-hearted. This is his life…our lives"

"I know," Harry sniffed. "I'll…I'll deal with my guilt in my own time, but I don't want him to go back to the orphanage either." Ginny's body seemed to relax, but it was obvious that she was fighting off tears. She pulled him to her and kissed him on the mouth.

"I love you," she murmured against his lips.

"I know," he whispered in reply.

"Hey! There's a child present, cut it out!" Ron's joyful voice called across the lawns and Harry looked up to see the tall red-head carrying a large picnic basket in one hand and holding Hermione's hand with the other. He pulled her along, forcing her to keep in time with his long strides.

"What's going on?" Ron asked, as he seemed to take in the expressions on Harry's and Ginny's faces.

"Nothing, we've…we've decided to keep Ethan here with us…permanently." Ginny said, and Ron and Hermione stilled for a moment, then Hermione fell to her knees and hugged the sitting couple.

"I knew you were going to do it!" she screeched. "I wondered what was taking you so long, but I didn't want to ask because I knew it's a tender subject."

"Well, we had to wait for them to follow their bloody procedures," Ginny answered.

"So they found no relatives?" Ron asked, as he began to unpack the picnic basket.

"Well…" Ginny stopped as Harry squeezed her hand. "No, they didn't," she finished, seeming to know that her husband did not want her to talk about Ethan's connection with Sirius just yet. He would tell them later, right now, he did not want delve into it, and he knew they'd have loads of questions.

"UNCLE RON!" Ethan yelled, and came barreling into Ron, who picked him up and spun him around in the air.

"Ron! You'll make him sick!" Hermione scolded, and Ron placed a very dizzy Ethan on his feet.

"Can I have some candy?" Ethan asked, and held out his little hand.

"Sure!" Ron dug in the pocket of his jeans.

"No, not until you've had lunch." Ginny stated firmly, causing a loud groan from the little boy. The minute Ginny's attention was on something else, Ron slipped Ethan the sweet and told him to run off and eat it. Before he ran away, Hermione pulled him into a quick hug.

"Hi Aunt Hum-ninny," he said cheerfully, and ran over by the stream to sneak his candy.

"Does he have a speech impediment?" Hermione asked, as the four of them began to situate lunch on a large blue blanket. Harry and Ginny looked at Hermione with great concern.

"You think something is wrong with his speech?" Ginny asked, with worry evident in her voice.

"Don't pay her any attention," Ron began, casually. "She only says that because he can't pronounce her name, as if it should just roll right off his tongue or something." Ron snorted.

"That is not the only reason." Hermione glared at him.

"Yes it is," he said, and turned to Harry and Ginny. "She's just upset because he called her Aunt Hump-me the other day." The roar of laughter was instant, all except for Hermione, who folded her arms and rolled her eyes at the group.

Harry smiled at each of them, his family, which was about to increase by two and he found he quite liked that idea. Leaning back on the tree, Harry's hand absently caressed Ginny's belly, and the action probably relaxed him more than it did her.

As he watched Ron and Hermione playfully bicker, and Ginny laugh at the couple, he looked over at Ethan playing in the grass, and finally realized what Ron was talking about all those months ago in his garden. This is what they fought the war for, and if the need ever rose again, he did have it in him to stand on the front lines and fight another war…because all of this was certainly worth saving.

The End

A/N: Thank you all for reading and reviewing! I hope you enjoyed the conclusion of this story and will come back for my next installment in this universe. It's called Transitions, and will be the story of how Ron and Hermione became the couple that they are in Four Days and Bonded. Come and check it out!

Til then...

Karen

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