Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter

Author's Notice: To be honest, I'm about ready to give up. I managed to get up to chapter twenty of Deathly Hallows, and I would have gone even further, but I can't bring myself to read further.

I'm angry.

Yes, I'm one of those dreaded H/Hr shippers. This story isn't H/Hr, but I love that pairing all the same. H/Hr was shot down in HBP, and the fans' feelings were trampled on in the IoD (you try being called laughed at and called militant and delusional, and see how you like it), but you know what? I pushed on. I figured, hey. I could deal with R/Hr and H/G. I'll just write lots of fanfic. I won't let Melissa and Emerson get me down.

But now…

Rowling let me down. Big time. I don't care that in canon it will never be H/Hr. Screw shipping. This has to do with respecting her fans. You've got to be shitting me, making a Horcrux designed to show Ron's biggest fears take the shape of Harry and Hermione kissing? This woman is not an ignoramus. She knows this is a sensitive issue. But instead of bypassing any mention of H/Hr, which she should have done out of simple respect for her fans' feelings, she throws the issue directly in our faces. She has to make the only canon H/Hr take place between two fake images with freaking Voldemort's soul in them. How messed up is that? She's basically saying that H/Hr is as bad as Voldemort.

And the thing was, she didn't have to do that. We've never gotten any indication that Ron was jealous of Harry and Hermione's relationship. Hermione and Krum's, sure, but not Harry and Hermione's. And subtext aside, there's no evidence that Harry loved Hermione like anything more than a sister. So this wasn't an obstacle Rowling had to destroy. She brought it up by herself out of nowhere and shoved it in the fan's faces, and pretty much laughed at the H/Hr fans in their little lifeboats as their already sinking ship had another canon-ball shot into it (if you'll excuse the imagery).

I might just be upset because of other things going on in my life. But regardless, I can't help being angry at how mean, actually mean that was. I've always thought Rowling was sort of condescending and holier-than-thou but I didn't really peg her as an unkind person. But she's just proven to me, once and for all, that she doesn't give a crap about her fan's feelings. And I'm sick of being shat on by this woman like a rug by an incontinent cat.

Part of me just wants to give up right now and delete all my Potter fanfiction. But I've been putting a lot of thought into the fic and I have so many things I want to do with it, and plus I don't want to let you guys down by suddenly stopping. I don't really know what to do. My Potter love is probably done when I've finished this fic (in any form).

Well, anyway, I hope you like this chapter. And part of me hopes this isn't the last one.

Tentative Steps

It felt good to breathe fresh air again, Ron minded, as he took his first step out of St. Mungo's. Not that it was actually a step, as he, still too weak from blood loss to walk, was being pushed out of the hospital in a wheelchair, steered by none other than Luna Lovegood.

He would be hard pressed to forget his first roll around the hospital. Luna had caught sight of him, and nearly upended her chair running to him.

"Ronald! I'm so glad you're okay! I was getting so worried; I was thinking you might need some unicorn blood, but that would've made you worse, so I thought I might have to get the liver of a Bent-Back Marvalian—it's an excellent tonic for the blood, you know—but they're dreadful hard to find because they live in Tibet, and so very few ever migrate to England, so I thought I could use the money for Sweden to go to Tibet, but—"

She had only stopped when a passing Healer informed her that she was getting far too worked up for someone in Ron's condition, at which point she gasped loudly and silenced herself with her wand.

Now she was pushing his wheel chair, humming a made-up tune, her wand, which was held in one of her hands against the handlebars, tapping his head erratically as she swayed side to side with the tune of this imagined beat.

"I'm so glad I didn't need the liver of a Bent-Back Marvalian," she said. "They're considered sacred, you know, to the Tibetan monks, so it would have been rather hard to escape with one. Those Healers knew what they were doing. Perhaps I should be a Healer."

"Yesterday you wanted to be a slug," Ron commented dryly.

"Yes, it must be interesting to be a slug, don't you think? Just sliding away on the ground, covered in your own slime. Of course, it's not unusual for the slug, but how interesting would it be for a human to see from its point of view?"

"I don't think it would be much of a treat," he replied tartly.

"I do."

She removed her wandless hand from the handlebar and began toying with his hair. The wand was still tapping his head in a steady, rhythmic time signature.

"You should never, ever judge someone until you walk a mile in their shoes," she said sagely. "I want to have a go at being everything in the world, except, of course, a Death Eater."

Luna fell silent after those last few words, and Ron was grateful that she had, not just because her talk confused and disoriented him, but also because at the thought of Death Eaters, his thoughts went reeling back to the night his life was blown straight to Hell.

Ginny heard it first. A very faint ticking around just outside the door. For the first time ever, Ron appreciated that his father knew about Muggles.

"That sounds astoundingly like something on the Muggle cartoons," Arthur said. "They call it a…let me think…a "bome" or a "bomb" or something, and it causes great big…explosions…"

Molly stood, shoving back her chair, not flinching with the others as it made a horrible screeching noise against the hardwood floors.

"Ron, Ginny, get upstairs," she said, in a voice that demanded and never failed to receive obedience. "Bill, you watch the stairs. Arthur…"

"Yes," Arthur acknowledged, glaring intently at the door. Ron grabbed Ginny's hand and dragged her up the stairs as Molly walked to her husband's side. She reached into her robes and unsheathed her wand. She was matched by Arthur's own. Both wands pointed directly at the door.

Ron and Ginny squatted at the corner of the first landing up the stairs, squinting down to see their parents. Fresh aches were beginning to form on Ron's body; the welts left by the brains were beginning to show.

"Ron!" Ginny whispered fiercely, grabbing his hand. He hadn't realized that he'd been wincing.

"If you're out there," Arthur called loudly, his voice strong even as his whole frame shook, "enter the house and fight."

"Arthur!" Molly whispered.

"It'll happen anyway," Arthur replied softly. "Well?" he yelled at the door. "What are you waiting for?"

Complete silence, save for the ticking, was his answer. Bill moved but Molly stayed him with a flick of her hand.

"Dad, do you think…?" Bill whispered.

"Shh." Arthur cocked his head, listening intently. The ticking grew louder, quicker, more menacing, and then…it stopped.

"Dad?" Ginny called down nervously.

"Get down!"

Arthur jumped on Molly and pinned her to the floor, shielding her with himself. Bill dropped, and Ron threw Ginny back, bouncing after he and holding her to his chest, as the door blew backward with a tornado-like fury.

The welts on Ron's arms and neck suddenly exploded with pain, as if dozens of jellyfish were stinging him simultaneously.

There was a clattering as scattered, half-destroyed two-by-fours were kicked.

"My, my," a female voice said. "I haven't been in this house since my graduation party, do you remember, darling? Dear old Sirius did us the courtesy of changing my caviar into locusts that attacked Mother's wig. Well, it certainly has taken a fall from grace, hasn't it?"

"It's Bellatrix," Ginny whispered, clinging to Ron. He didn't answer. His mind seemed to have been wiped out by the pain.

"Arthur! Molly! How lovely to see you again!" the same sickly sweet voice continued. "Though I must say, you look a bit worse off than when I last saw you. Living in that shack might be the problem. And to think, Arthur, your mother was Cedrella Black, my father's own aunt!"

"My mother was Cedrella Weasley, and was a sight too good for this house," Arthur answered steely.

"Oh, well. No time to argue over family, don't you think?" Bellatrix continued cheerfully, twirling her wand with her fingers like a baton. "I had the pleasure of seeing your son and daughter writhe in agony back in June. I wonder if they learned that from you. Let's find out."

"Silencio!" Molly shrieked from the floor, wand pointed at Bellatrix's throat. The spell hit her where, had she been male, her Adam's apple would have been. Eye snapping with fury, Belaltrix grabbed her husband and thrust him forward.

"Wingardium Leviosa!"

"Prote—" Arthur started, but before the word left his mouth he was suspended in mid-air.

"Locomotor Arthur Weasley!"

"Arthur!" Molly screeched, as Rodolphus slammed Arthur's body into the wall. He collapsed, unmoving.

"Damned annoying woman…" a third Death Eater muttered. "Avada Kedavra!"

Molly shrieked as the spell exploded from the tip of the Death Eater's wand. Her shriek was suddenly cut off as a body flung itself in front of her.

"Bill!" Ginny screamed, her fingers digging harder into Ron's shirt. Tears poured from her eyes like drizzling rain. "Oh my God, oh my God, Bill, oh my God…"

Molly stared at the body of her son, eyes glassed over, mouth slightly open, looking as if everything she had seen and heard had gone through her mind and out the other end.

Ron's mind numbed with the pain of the welts. Ginny's sobbing was the only thing keeping him from passing out. And suddenly, Ginny had detached herself and sprinted down the stairs, tears flying off her face as she unsheathed her wand.

"Ginny!" Ron yelled, jumping up, immediately wishing he had not when the excruciating pain doubled. Forcing himself to ignore the throbbing ache, he forced himself to run down the stairs after her.

"C-Crucio!" Ginny half-yelled, half-whimpered, pointing her wand at the unknown Death Eater.

"Protego!" he said carelessly, flicking the spell off of himself. "Very weak, little girl. Very weak, indeed. You want a strong curse? How's this feel for you?" He flicked his wand lazily. "Phthisis!"

Ginny stopped instantly. Her face turned a sickly shade of white as she sunk to her hands and knees on the floor. She coughed, and from her open mouth poured a stream of blood.

"Expelliarmus!" Ron shouted, pointing his wand at the Death Eater,

"Reverti!" a female voice cried, and Ron's wand was sent flying from his hand. Bellatrix had performed the counter-charm. "Crucio!"

Ron's head spun in a circle. He could feel blood pouring from his welt marks, streaming down his arms and legs. Darkness was claiming him; he swayed on his feet and collapse, head painfully crashing onto a stair step. Time and space ceased to exist.

He had awoken in Fred and George's shop as George tried to pull splinters from the destroyed house out of his wounds.


Luna's wand tapping against his head brought his mind back to the present, and his eyes once again saw what was in front of him.


"Are you feeling quite all right?"

"Yeah. I guess."

She was still toying with his hair, and as her hand touched his head, he felt a shiver pass through him.

The Burrow had a mixed ambience of mourning and welcome. Sunlight filled the air, but the pond was letting off a cool sea breeze, making it an abnormally cold temperature for the beginning of August.

"Mère Weasley!"

A stunningly beautiful girl of nineteen, long, platinum blonde hair swinging behind her, ran out from the front door.

"Fleur?" Harry sounded, slightly dumbfounded. A distant memory revealed that Fleur had been dating Bill since last year.

"Oh, Mère Weasley, I 'ave been so worried about you, and Père Weasley, and mon freres and mon soeur!" Fleur cried, tears starting in her eyes.

Harry sent a questioning glance at Hermione.

"She said she was worried about Mother Weasley and Father Weasley, and her brothers and sister," Hermione explained in a whisper. "Look." She pointed to Fleur's hand, which sported a silver band and a small diamond.

"Fleur, how good of you to stick around," Molly said tiredly.

"Frere Charlies, 'e is 'ere, as well," Fleur said. "And also…"

"Hey," a male voice said from behind Fleur, and Charlie stepped out onto the small flight of stairs leading up to the house. A shadow swayed against the doorway, and another male hesitantly joined him.

"Percy?" Molly said, sucking in her breath.

"Mom," Percy said, and bit his lip. "I'm sorry…I didn't find out anything."

"The Death Eaters hiding in the Ministry may not have been involved," Arthur said resignedly. "They've had to become a lot more careful now that the truth's been exposed."

Ron sent a bewildered look at anyone who looked at him.

"Speaking of that, I don't know how long I can keep this up, now that I'm back for the funeral…"

"We'll figure that out later," Molly said. "Let's get inside, dears," she said, addressing the group at large. "I need to sit down."

"Monsieur Dumbly-dore, 'e is very kind," Fleur said over the cup of steaming tea she held in her hand. "'E came 'ere just yesterday to make sure all was ready for your return from ze 'ospital."

"As Hagrid is so fond of saying: "Great man, Dumbledore"," Arthur said. He also held a mug of tea. Molly sat beside him, and they both sat across the kitchen table from Fleur.

"Mère Weasley, Père Weasley," Fleur said suddenly, reaching out and grabbing Molly's hand. "Bill and moi, we wished to wed. We were planning on announcing our engagement soon. But now, as 'e's gone… I 'ope you will not mind my leaving Eengland after ze funeral. My family awaits me, and I am sure zat zere are zese…Death Eaters…in my country, as well. I will stay in contact, of course."

"Of course, dear, you can go home," Molly said. "I just wish…I would've loved to see one of my children married before I die."

"Belle Mère Weasley, you are but forty-nine years," Fleur protested.

"I feel ninety-nine," Molly replied wearily. "Arthur, please take me to our bedroom. I need some rest, but I can't go upstairs…not to where his room is…"

"Of course, Molly," Arthur said, taking her free hand and lifting her from her chair.

Charlie, who had not made a single utterance the entire time they had been at the table, suddenly let out a strangled sob as Arthur and Molly disappeared into the next room. Fleur flung her arms around Charlie, buried her face in his shoulder, and sobbed with him.

"So you're telling me you've been a bloody Order spy this whole time?"

"Yes," Percy said, with a watery yet proud smile at the incredulous look on Harry and Ron's faces. "All those years of being a rulebook-thumping stickler certainly taught me how to act like a perfect wanker, didn't they? I have to apologize about that letter…though I think it was a perfect example of good acting on my part."

"It sure as hell sounded like you," Ron grumbled.

"Language, little brother."

"So that fight with Dad…?"

"Staged. I wrote the script. That was quite good, too, if I do say so myself."

"It was bloody brilliant. Had me totally fooled."

"Mother often tells me I have a flair for acting," Percy said, somewhat proudly.

"You're too good at acting," Ron asserted. "I really thought…I mean, you've always thought the twins were huge pains in the ass…and, well, we thought the same about you. We're seriously thought you hated us."

"Hated you?" Percy asked flippantly, though his voice and face revealed a small hurt. "Well, Ron, if I didn't cut off contact as soon as I graduated due to all the little "pranks" the twins have played on me over the years, it stands to reason that I wouldn't ever cut off contact, doesn't it?"


"Let me make this clear, Ron," Percy said sharply, eyes narrowed. "No matter what you think, my family is important to me."

"I'm sorry," Ron blurted out, sincerely.

Percy sat back in his chair, folding his hands in his lap. "That's okay, Ron," he said quietly.

Ginny lay in her bed, staring at the ceiling. If she stared at a certain patch long enough, the woodwork changed shapes. Whether or not that was the work of the ghoul, she neither knew nor cared.

"Ginny, you're very quiet," Hermione said softly from a cot opposite to Ginny that Charlie had set up. Her injured eye was covered in a patch; the Healers had proclaimed the blindness irreversible.

"Am I not allowed to be?" Ginny asked, sitting up straight. She winced as the blood rushed to her head, but was immediately grateful she'd had blood enough left. "I'm seeing two of my brothers buried tomorrow. You're none so loud yourself, Hermione."

"I'm watching my parents being buried, too," Hermione snapped. "Be grateful I'm not screaming my head off."

Ginny bit the fleshy inside of her cheek, looking remorseful. "I'm sorry for being cross, Hermione."

Hermione shrugged. "No, I should be sorry. We're in the same boat."

"No, we're not. I mean, Bill is dead because of someone distantly related to us, but you…"

"Does it matter if they're my biological parents?" Hermione snapped, echoing Sirius's comment on Bellatrix a year prior. "They abandoned me when Voldemort fell, and then they killed the only people I could ever consider my parents. They are slime. They are nothing to me at all."

Ginny looked frightened. "Hermione, I'm sorry, I…"

Hermione released a heavy sigh. "Sorry."


"Sorry, for snapping at you, again, for the second time in five minutes."

Hermione toyed with the comforter on the cot, and then stood abruptly.


"Excuse me."

"Where are you…"

Hermione had shut Ginny's door before she could finish her question.

Hermione took a deep breath. Her throat felt like it was slowly closing in on itself.

Her mouth opened to cough, but what came out was a choking sob. Tears began to pour from her eyes as she sank to the floor, burying her face in her hands. She slammed her fist on the floor, swearing loudly.

"How could you?" she demanded of her invisible biological parents. "How could you?"

In her mind's eyes Aaron and Belicia stood just out of arm's reach, giggling and smiling at her.

"God damn it!!" Hermione screamed. "You God damned shitheads! How could you?"

No one opened a door to look in on her. The silent, deferential reaction to her shouting was maddening. Her hands were on her skull and she was prepared to rip out strands of hair by the roots when three hard, pounding knocks resounded up the stairs from the front door.

She froze. The entire house did likewise, the same thread of fear running through each of them at the thought of just who might be at the door. Hermione clutched her wand, her hand shaking as she bit down on her lip.

"Who's there?" Harry's voice from the kitchen demanded, hiding its shake.

"It is Viktor," a voice, obviously unused to English, said from the other side. "I received a letter from Herm-own-ninny…ink splattered all over the page…"

Hermione tripped as she hastened to her feet, nearly tumbling down the stairs. She rounded the banister, wand still clutched in case he proved to be an imposter, and threw open the door.

"Who sent a letter to you?" she demanded.

"Herm-own-ninny." Viktor held his hand out. He brandished Hermione's ink-stained account of her parent's death that she had sent in another fit of madness during the past week. "And I heard the news…I order the International Prophet…"

"Viktor." Fresh tears lined her eyes, obscuring her vision. Clumsily she knocked the letter out of his hands and launched herself forward. Viktor caught her before she could sink to the threshold steps and held her tightly against himself, stroking her hair.

"I am sorry to hear this," he murmured, gently kissing the crown of her head. "So sorry…"

A wild, animalistic sob escaped from Hermione's mouth as she clung harder to Viktor, pawing his arms and shoulders and trying to reassure herself that he was there in the flesh and not an illusion born from wishful thinking. Viktor slipped one arm around the back of her thighs and the other across the middle of her back, picked her up, moved inside the house, sat down heavily on a couch, and held her as if she were a baby.

Ron's face was pink when Luna wheeled him through the living room to get him to his bedroom, but Hermione did not notice him. She did not notice anything through the salt water in her eyes. She only felt Viktor's hands protectively holding her around her hip or running through her hair.

It was raining, and the roof of the church was catching and amplifying the sound of each drop, deafening the congregation to the outside world though failing to do likewise with them. Ginny was sobbing hysterically again her crying father's chest. Beside Arthur, Molly was pale-faced, eyes wide and staring and dry. Fleur sat between Charlie and Percy, clutching both of their hands, intermittently letting out a sob followed by soft whimpering. Luna sat next to Ron, patting his hand and whispering about seraphim mice as he, deaf to her voice but clutching her other hand in a vice grip, allowed tears to pour freely down his face.

Weasleys who Harry hadn't been aware existed before this point filled up the pews behind them. Among them were Arthur's parents, Septimus and Cedrella, and his remaining brother, Palamedes. Harry could see an uncanny resemblance between Sirius and Cedrella, and nearly convinced himself that Sirius had been adopted and was really Cedrella's child as well.

People Ron had chokingly explained were his mother's relatives sat among the mourners, as well, but their number consisted of only three: Molly's father, Ignatius Prewett, his sister Muriel, and her husband Alphard Black. Harry resisted throwing himself at Alphard's feet and begging for every scrap of information about Sirius's young life as the old man could recollect.

Sitting with her arm around Hermione was her paternal grandmother, June Granger, a formidable-looking old woman who addressed Cedrella, Septimus, Alphard, and Muriel with a grim smile of recognition. Viktor sat on Hermione's other side, holding his girlfriend's hand.

Augusta Longbottom had arrived with her grandson. According to her sniff, Bill had cut her lawn for her and she liked the look in his eyes. Neville had murmured his condolences to Ron and Hermione, red-faced and teary-eyed when Hermione burst into tears.

"Hermione, dear, it's time to see…them…buried," June said, patting her granddaughter's hand. "Come."

"No." Hermione shook her head, face white where it was not red. "No, I want to stay…stay here."

"Herm-own-ninny, I vish to…I vill go in your stead." Viktor stood, and then knelt before Hermione, taking hold of her hand. "There are respects I vant to pay to them. Do you mind me doing so?"

Hermione shook her head and managed to smile at him. "I'm sorry you never got to meet them."

"I did not need to. I know you, and you are the greatest epitaph they could have."

He brushed a strand of hair away from her patched eye and kissed her forehead, before rising and offering his hand to help June to her feet. Harry noticed the inert form of his friend and went to her as Viktor and June departed, slinging his arm around her and sending a message with his eyes to Ron that he planned on remaining with her.

"Dad," Ron called as Arthur passed, half-carrying the squalling Ginny, "don't take her out there. I'm staying with Hermione and Harry; leave her with me. She's a mess."

Arthur regarded Ron's tear-streaked face dubiously, but silently obliged and released Ginny to Ron's arms. She hiccupped wildly as she sat on his lap; he rubbed her back as he wheeled towards Harry and Hermione.

"I…I want to stay with my friends, Gran," Neville said, plucking up his courage. Augusta acknowledged his bravery with a sniff and swept from the church.

"I do too, Daddy," Luna immediately said, seeing that the five had already assembled. Apollo nodded and followed the throng of mourners as Luna too her place beside Ron's wheelchair on the pew. She leaned over, resting her elbows on her knees and propping her chin on her fists.

"So…" Ron started awkwardly, unable to bear the silence that had permeated his world since he came home any longer. "So…how'd you do on your OWLs, Neville?"

Neville seemed to relaxe his stiff spine. "Better than I thought I would. I'm an A student. I got O's in Defense Against Dark Arts and Herbology, an E in Divination, A's in Transfiguration, History of Magic, Charms, and Astronomy, and a P in Potions. I expected a T, so I'm pretty happy about that." Weak laughter spread around the group. "Oh, and I got a new wand. Gran was actually really proud that I went to the Ministry with you guys, even if I destroyed Dad's wand. Said there's an Auror in me yet." He unsheathed a wand from his pocket. "Poplar tree and Unicorn hair, ten inches. How did the rest of you do?"

"I got O's in Care of Magical Creatures, Charms, Defense Against Dark Arts, Herbology, and Transfiguration, E in Potions, A in Astronomy, and T's in Divination and History of Magic," Harry recited lethargically. "I'm an E student."

"You got an E in Potions?!" Ron exclaimed. "I just barely scraped the bottom with an A. I got O's in Care of Magical Creatures, Defense Against the Dark Arts, and Herbology, E's in Charms and Transfiguration, A's in Astronomy and Potions, a D in History of Magic, and a T in Divination. I'm an A student. What about you, Hermione?"

"Let me guess," Harry said, smiling. "O, O, O…"

"O, another O, and I just saw another one, let me take a picture, O…" Ron added.

"There's goes a mother O and it's three little O's, followed by the big father O…"

"All right, enough," Hermione snapped. "I only got ten O's."

"You only take ten subjects," Ron shot back at her.

The quip closed the branch of conversation abruptly. Ron mentally flagellated himself for picking such a stilted topic.

"Harry, are you continuing the DA?" Luna asked suddenly.

"Of course," Harry said bitterly. "God knows who we'll get as a Defense teacher. Even if this one's any good, I'll continue with it. We need all the practice we can get."

"Good," Luna said, smiling.

"Good?" Hermione scoffed, staring down. "Do you get it at all, Luna? You're in danger by sticking around with us. They know you were with us at the Ministry. You're damn lucky that you and Neville weren't attacked."

"What good will backing down now do?" Luna returned simply. "Like you said, they know who we are. Besides, Death Eaters are a terrorist organization. They go after everyone, not just big names. Neville and I aren't safe anyway. I'd rather have an experienced teacher help us learn how to defend ourselves than wander about blindly."

"Yeah," Neville said with weak conviction. "What she said."

"If you think I'm quitting now after what they did to Bill, you're delusional," Ginny said through clenched teeth.

The sextet fell into silence again, a silence than Ron neither did nor wanted to break.