Disclaimer: I'm not JK Rowling, so all characters, locations, spells etc remain her property.
A/N: Written for the Who, What, Where, When Genfic Challenge on Checkmated, using the prompts: Harry, Remus, Muffliato, Godric's Hollow and Harry's Birthday. Enjoy :).
"I never really thought about it much, until now," Ron said, "Harry, y'know, not having any parents."
In the hall, Harry froze. Though Ron's words had been slightly muffled by the half-closed door between them, he'd heard every one. He'd only nipped to the kitchen for another slice of birthday cake –
Now he barely noticed the plate he was still holding.
Why was Ron talking about..?
Harry edged closer to the door, curious to hear what Ron was going to say next, because they'd never really talked about it.
If Harry was honest, he didn't think about it much, either, not having any parents. It wasn't as if he woke up every day thinking about them, although they drifted into his thoughts occasionally, and sometimes at the oddest moments. When he did think about it, he couldn't quite imagine what it would have been like to grow up with people who cared about him, to have people – parents – ask how he felt, protect him, or teach him things, be able to answer all the questions he had about magic and – well, life.
Sometimes, he missed them.
And he knew that was stupid, that he couldn't miss what he'd never had, but occasionally he'd remember something – a far off whisper of a feeling that felt light as air and strong as stone, and ache to know it again.
But it didn't do to dwell – Dumbledore had told him that, once – and so he didn't.
He craned closer to hear, wincing as a floorboard creaked beneath his feet.
The voice was Hermione's, and her tone suggested she was engrossed in a book and only barely listening to what Ron was saying. She'd been reading a lot, lately, kept muttering something about being unprepared, forewarned is forearmed, knowledge is power, as if she thought going after Voldemort's Horcruxes was going to be some kind of sustained exam.
"Must be weird," Ron said. "Lonely, maybe. 'Specially days like today."
Harry hummed sadly at the thought, because Ron was right.
He'd had a good day, all in all. He'd left the Dursleys for the last time, and come to The Burrow to find a table strewn with party food – sandwiches with every filling, a large treacle tart, and an even bigger birthday cake with 'Happy Birthday Harry!' written across it in what looked suspiciously like a gold icing version of Ginny's handwriting. There'd been presents, more presents, actually, than he'd ever had before – and he'd enjoyed himself a great deal, odd as it felt to be celebrating anything at a time like this. But there, in the back of his mind, or in a corner of his heart, had been a tug: his parents should have been there.
The thing that got to him most was what he didn't know.
He didn't know what it felt like to have his dad clap him on the back and tell him he'd done something well. He didn't know how it felt to come home for the summer holidays and see his mum, smiling, on Platform 9 ¾ through the smoke.
He didn't even know what their mingled laughter sounded like, because he'd only ever heard them shouting in his head, frantic and brave in the face of someone merciless.
Sometimes the memory of what he'd heard when the Dementors approached woke him up at night. He'd jolt upright in bed, and be cold and clammy, tell himself it was just a dream – but, horrible as it was to wake up like that, sometimes he'd sink back on the pillows and not try immediately to go back to sleep, because those half-imagined scenes were all he had left of them.
A book snapped closed, and someone – Hermione, Harry presumed – got to their feet and moved across the room.
"That's why we need to make sure he knows he's not alone," Hermione said softly.
"Well he isn't, is he?" Ron said, with such certainty – indignation, really, that Harry's chest fluttered. "He's got us. And he always will have, won't he?"
Hermione murmured her agreement, and Harry gripped the plate in his hand tightly, watching as his knuckles turned white as the china.
He swallowed. Reasoning that he couldn't stand out in the hall all night, he was about to clear his throat and make his presence known, when a voice, soft and hoarse, interrupted him.
"All right, Harry?"
Harry looked up to find Professor Lupin smiling gently down at him. His face flushed – what must he think, finding him listening at ajar doors? – but Professor Lupin's smile widened as he took in the plate of untouched cake and Harry's position. "I was just about to grab a piece myself," he said, gesturing to the sponge cake. "I thought I might eat it outside, if you fancy some fresh air?"
Harry nodded. If he was honest, he couldn't drum up any real enthusiasm for the thought of going back into the sitting room and facing Ron and Hermione, even if they didn't know he'd overheard, and so he followed Lupin back to the kitchen, watched him perform a slicing charm rather deftly on what was left of the cake, and Summon a plate from the dresser.
The night air was refreshing on his skin – cool but not cold, and they sat on the steps just outside the back door. It was a wonderful night, a vast starry sky overhead, and Harry marvelled, as he always did when he came to stay, at how much more of it he could see here than he ever had in Privet Drive.
Where would they have lived, he wondered, if his parents hadn't died? Would they have lived in the country, a wizarding town – Hogsmeade, maybe? Or the city?
He sighed and picked glumly at the white icing on his cake. So much he'd never know.
"I'm not sure I've said it yet," Lupin said, "so, happy birthday."
Harry forced a smile, finding it came a little easier than he expected. "Thanks."
"Big day," he continued, "coming of age." Lupin leant back on the step, resting against the edge of the doorframe. "I remember mine," he said wistfully, and then frowned. "Well, to be more precise, I don't – " Harry met his gaze quizzically. " – your dear father and godfather," Lupin said, his lips twitching into a smile, "spiked my breakfast pumpkin juice with Firewhiskey, and I'm ashamed to say that after a couple of rather large glasses, I went a bit woozy, passed out with my face in my Charms textbook and missed the whole thing."
Harry laughed, feeling considerably lighter than he had done all day, and Lupin grinned. "There are so many stories I'd like to tell you," he said. He shifted a little on the step, put his plate down next to his tatty brown shoes, and then searched in the pocket of his trousers for something. "But then," he said, producing a tiny glass phial full of swirling smoke, and holding it out to Harry, "I thought that maybe, you'd rather see for yourself."
Harry's gaze switched rapidly from the phial Lupin was holding out, to Lupin's gaze. Lupin raised one eyebrow encouragingly, the corners of his mouth curving into the slightest of smiles. "You know what they are?"
Lupin nodded. "I've ummed and ahhed all day about giving you this," he said, "wondering if it would be too upsetting. But I think you're old enough, now, to decide for yourself." He gestured to his shabby clothes, his smile broadening a little and his eyes dancing with amusement. "And I'm hardly in a position to offer you anything with any material worth, so you'll just have to make do."
Harry met his gaze once more, feeling rather numb. It was if Lupin had read his mind, because there, in his hand, was a chance to know – not everything, of course, but some things, things he would never know any other way – the way his parents looked smiling, maybe, the way they sat, or stood.
And, more than that, it was a chance to have a memory of his parents that was completely untouched by Voldemort.
Harry reached out and took the phial carefully, holding it in his palm and watching as the smoke twirled inside and moonlight glinted off its surface. "Thanks," he said, although 'thanks' hardly seemed like a big enough word.
"It's entirely up to you whether you view these or not," Lupin said, brightening further and picking up his cake. "There are three memories in there," he said, "all very dear to me. One is a moment I especially cherish, your dad and Sirius and I talking after they'd found out what I was. It's serious for a while, and then your dad cracks a joke, and…." Lupin trailed off, shaking his head and smiling at the thought. "Well, you'll see. The next is of your mother and I talking by the lake in summertime – because she always did look radiant in the sunshine. I'm afraid I don't come off terribly well in that one and she whacks me round the head with a Potions textbook – "
"Well," Lupin said, leaning towards him conspiratorially, "she'd just spent around twenty minutes detailing James' various short-comings, saying she'd rather dance a tango with a Venomous Tentacula than go to Hogsmeade with him, and I happened to point out a Muggle saying that I thought was appropriate – the lady doth protest too much. Which I'm sure you'll agree," Lupin added, tilting his head down and regarding Harry through a few stray bits of fringe, "is grounds for violence in anyone's book."
Harry chuckled; just imagining it, his stomach tingled. "The last," Lupin said, "is of them together. I know you've got a picture from their wedding, but – they were so happy that day, dancing together, even though neither of them really could. I thought you'd like to see that."
Harry nodded, trying to force back the pricking of tears behind his eyes, digging his nails into his palm until he succeeded. "There are some familiar faces in the crowd, too, if you care to look for them," Lupin said, "Sirius, trying to impress one of Lily's friends and failing abysmally, Dumbledore – even Alastor, although he refused to touch the buffet and called us all fools for sampling the sausage rolls."
Harry sniggered, still looking at the tiny phial in his hand, and wondering how something so small could hold so much. "Thanks," Harry said, even though he'd already said it. "I – I'll enjoy looking at them one day, I think."
Lupin smiled, and Harry pushed the phial down into his pocket as far as it would go, to keep it safe. He'd have a root through some of Hermione's books later, he thought, for some kind of charm to make glass unbreakable, just in case.
"Where we're going tomorrow," Lupin said, his expression a little more serious than it had been, "it won't be easy."
Harry swallowed. "I know," he said.
"I just wanted you to have some memories of what they were like when they were alive, even if they're not your own, to counteract the things you'll see that are all about their deaths."
Harry nodded, and they sat for a moment on the step, underneath the stars. Harry followed Lupin's gaze off down the garden, wondering what he was thinking, how many more memories he had that he'd be willing to share, whether they were stories, anecdotes from school, or things he could see for himself.
It was a wonderful gift, he thought, and, cheered by the weight of what sat in his pocket, Harry picked up his birthday cake and took a large bite. After a moment apparently lost in thought, Lupin followed suit, and they passed a minute chatting about what a fine cake it was, and how amusing the novelty singing candles Fred and George had provided had been, although Molly hadn't really thought the chorus of 'For he's a jolly good fellow, and he'll save all of us!' was entirely appropriate.
"About tomorrow," Lupin said, and Harry looked up. "I wondered if you'd mind if Tonks came, too. I'd feel better with someone else there – I'm not anticipating any trouble," he said in answer to Harry's eyes widening a little in alarm, "but it's when you don't anticipate trouble that it sneaks up behind you and causes you problems. I thought maybe if we needed to split up it might be useful, and another pair of eyes never goes astray. I know you all think you're old enough to look after yourselves, but…."
Lupin trailed off into a vaguely apologetic smile, but Harry didn't protest or disagree, because with what lay ahead, he thought it might be nice to have someone looking out for them for a bit. "I don't mind," Harry said.
"I thought she'd be a slightly more relaxed presence than Mad-Eye," Lupin added.
Harry concurred, thinking that the last thing he'd need was Mad-Eye going on about constant vigilance and checking for booby-traps, and besides, he liked Tonks. Maybe he'd be able to find a moment to ask her about Auror training, what kind of things they had to learn. His thoughts drifted…. "Is she – Tonks – is she your girlfriend, now?"
As soon as the words – which he'd uttered without really thinking – were out of his mouth, Harry wondered if it wasn't a bit of an impertinent question, but Lupin smiled. In fact, Harry thought the curve of his lips verged on becoming a smirk. "Yes," he said. "I'm delighted to say she is."
"Good," Harry said, and Lupin laughed.
"I'm glad you approve, Harry."
Harry felt heat rush to his face. "No – I meant – well – just that, she's nice, so…."
Lupin's smile widened and he looked away, rubbing his hand over his jaw. "Yes," he said quietly, "she is. I'm a very lucky man."
"Do you – " Harry swallowed, and Lupin met his eye, his gaze patient and encouraging, as it always had been when he'd taught him the Patronus charm. "Do you think my mum and dad would have liked her?"
Lupin grinned. "Oh yes," he said. "Would have teased me mercilessly about her, of course, but they would have liked her very much. Very much indeed."
Harry smiled to himself, not really knowing why Lupin's answer had made his stomach all warm and tingly, but liking it, regardless. "Anyway," Lupin said, getting to his feet, "we should get to bed. It's going to be a long day tomorrow."
Harry nodded his agreement, and, fingers closing around the phial in his pocket, he went back inside.
Godric's Hollow was nothing like Harry expected, although it was only when the thought occurred to him that it was nothing like he expected that he realised he'd thought about what it would be like at all.
It was a hamlet, no more than that, really, of grey stone cottages set against a backdrop of trees. Each had a low, dry stone wall around a small garden, and the cottage to their left had a red door, another, blue.
It was all so – normal, he thought. He'd imagined that maybe there'd be something here to indicate what had gone on, that he'd be able to feel it, the magnitude of what had occurred, in the air, but as they made their way towards the village, flanked by Tonks and Lupin, it didn't feel as if anything out of the ordinary had ever happened.
Birds sang in the sunshine, the sky was blue, a man in a flat cap rode past them on a bicycle, doffed his cap and said, "good morning".
Had he really expected that the place would echo what he felt about what had happened here?
"Well, Harry," Lupin said quietly, gesturing to a cluster of houses a bit further ahead, nestled against a copse, "this is it. Where do you want to go first, to the house, or..?"
He let the question hang, meeting Harry's eye and smiling gently. Harry stared straight ahead, trying to quell the feeling that had been brewing in his chest that he wanted to shout long and loud about nothing in particular. "The cemetery," he said, and Lupin nodded, exchanging a glance with Tonks and then gesturing to the left.
They walked down the twisting, hedge-lined lane in silence, eventually coming to a graveyard. It was walled in the same way as the houses, and the grass was a little long but very green, and in amongst the headstones were trees. There wasn't a church – had he been expecting one, he wondered? – and it was small, no more than fifty graves, he didn't think.
Some of the headstones were obviously very old – they sat at odd angles, covered in moss, and the engraving on them had been almost worn away. Others were newer, and Lupin lead them down the rows, past graves for beloved fathers, much-missed friends, and even children. Harry couldn't help but read the names on the headstones, wondering who these people were and what they'd meant to those they'd left behind, but even as he did it, he knew he was just trying to keep his mind occupied, take it off what he knew lay ahead.
Eventually, Lupin slowed and stopped by the back wall, and Harry tried to take in the details, but stay a bit detached, too, for fear of what might happen if he didn't. It was a nice spot, sunny, with a red beech tree off to one side, casting dappled shadows on the ground. It was tranquil, Harry thought, and he wondered who had chosen it.
Harry glanced at Lupin beside him, and watched as he looked at the graves. Lupin frowned, and in the lines of his face Harry saw, etched, longing and sorrow, and it struck him that beside him probably stood the only person who missed his parents as much as he did. Lupin sighed, ran a hand heavily over his jaw, and then looked at Harry. "It's been a while since I've been here," he said quietly.
Harry nodded, and Lupin smiled, then reached out his hand. He hesitated for just a second, and then placed it on Harry's shoulder. His fingers tightened momentarily, and he smiled sadly, but with understanding, too, for which Harry was very grateful. "We'll be just over there," he said, gesturing to the wall and the beech tree. He raised his eyebrows in silent inquiry about whether Harry would be all right, and so Harry nodded.
Lupin lead Tonks away, and, out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw her lightly touch his arm, and him smile gratefully at her, and he was glad that he'd said it was ok for her to come.
With a pounding heart, Harry took a deep, steadying breath, and turned to the graves.
The headstones were identical, save for the names. They looked as if they'd be hewn from some hefty slate, and they were all angles, but looked solid, sturdy, lasting. He wondered if Hagrid had –
The lettering was impeccable – Dumbledore must have done it, Harry thought, and he read them both, twice, the words 'courageous to the end', 'much loved and sorely missed', 'parent', and 'friend' colliding in his head, the date, October 31st, 1981 thumping in his veins.
Now he was here, Harry didn't know what to do.
In the ground beneath his feet were his parents. He tried not to think about it, their eyes, glassy and lifeless as Cedric's – but he couldn't help it.
He felt so many things all at once, in a rush, that he couldn't quite tell which he felt first, or more keenly, or which he wanted to let form fully.
There was sorrow – immense and vast – so much so that he would barely have had words to describe it should anyone have asked him to, that tug in his chest about all the things he'd never know because someone had stolen them from him, that feeling that he wanted to shout long and loud about nothing in particular and everything at once. There was anger, certainly, and longing, too – but the more he stood and looked at the graves, the more he was overtaken by another feeling.
He felt calm.
The beech tree's leaves rustled in the wind, and a soft breeze tickled his skin. With it came the thought that this was the closest he'd been to his parents since he was a baby, and it seemed such a waste to spend the moment feeling angry, or resentful, or even upset. There'd be time for that later.
He smiled, stepped carefully between the graves, reaching out to run a hand over the stone, then slowly traced the L in Lily with the tip of his finger.
"Mum," he said quietly, without really meaning to.
The word felt foreign on his lips – and he realised it was probably because he'd never said it before – not like this, at least, not as a form of address. All the chances he'd missed to say it swirled through his head –
He swallowed, moving so he could place a hand on his dad's headstone too, loving how solid it felt beneath his fingers. He traced the jagged edges, forcing the word 'dad' out past the lump in his throat because he wanted to say it, like that, just once, to see how it felt.
He saw lots of things – a past that had never happened – his dad teaching him how to ride a toy broom, his mum helping him to blow out the candles on a birthday cake, them on the platform next to the Hogwart's Express, laughing with tears in their eyes and waving him off as the train whisked him away for his first year.
Harry didn't know how long he stood there – but it was long enough for tears to stream down his face and then dry again.
He didn't know what else to do, and so he brushed his hands quickly over his face, and turned to Ron and Hermione, who were regarding him with rather worried expressions. As his gaze fell on them, Ron fidgeted with the hem of his T shirt, and Hermione chewed her bottom lip. "We'll – um – give you a minute," Ron said, and he and Hermione exchanged a glance and then went to move away.
"No," Harry said quickly, because that was the last thing he wanted. "I – er – could you stay?"
Hermione's gaze flickered nervously to Ron's, but then she smiled at Harry tentatively and they didn't move.
Harry ran a hand through his hair and shot a glance back at the graves. He felt he should do something – say something – mark this, in some way, the fact that he'd been here, but –
"I – er – I don't know what to do," he said. "I should do something, but – "
Ron offered him a sympathetic grimace, and a shrug, but it was Hermione who stepped forward and took out her wand. "Orchideous," she whispered, and from the end of her wand appeared a bunch of flowers – white lilies, stocks and chrysanthemums, surrounded by some kind of shiny green leaves. She gave them an appraising look, fiddled slightly with the arrangement, and then knelt down by the side of the headstone, tucking them into the pot on the ground underneath the words 'Lily Potter'.
Then she performed the spell again, and this time Conjured sprigs of holly, as well as lilies. She nestled that into the pot underneath the words 'James Potter', and then got to her feet, brushing grass and a few specks of dirt off her jeans. "They're everlasting," she said, with a small smile, "so there'll always be flowers here. The holly's for you – for your wand, so it's like there's a bit of you…."
She trailed off, looking down at the ground and then back up again, nervously. "They're lovely," Harry said, smiling. "I should have thought of that."
Hermione shook her head, started to say something, and then trailed off again.
"Do you want to say something?" Ron said, and at the thought of what he might, Harry baulked. "Just – well, one of us should, I think."
Ron met Harry's eye, then Hermione's, and when neither of them volunteered, he swallowed heavily, his eyes flickering back to the graves. He cleared his throat and squared his shoulders, having evidently decided it was up to him. "I – er – I don't know quite what to say, but – " Ron sighed, his ears reddening a little. " – I wish we could have met you," he said, "because you both sound ace. I'm sorry that we didn't, and about – everything."
His gaze darted briefly to Harry's, and Harry offered him a reassuring smile, his heart pounding so loudly he was surprised the others couldn't hear it. "Thanks, Ron" he said.
Ron nodded, his jaw tightening, his forehead creased as if he was concentrating. "And don't worry about Harry," he said quickly, his gaze fixed on the headstones in front of him. "We'll look after him."
Harry felt his eyes sting with fresh tears, but he gritted his teeth and managed to force them back, and he met Ron's eye and held his gaze, silently saying all the things he couldn't have found the words for.
They stood in silence for a moment, the breeze whispering around them, and then, by mutual, unspoken assent, moved away.
As they walked back through the graveyard, Harry thought. He was glad that he'd come.
It had always been just a fact that his parents were dead. Petunia had acted as if her sister had never existed rather than had died, and Harry had never really had the chance to say goodbye to his mum and dad, like they deserved.
But it was more than that. At the graveside, he'd realised something, something that now seemed so obvious, he wasn't sure why he hadn't known it all along. Ron and Hermione had always been there when he didn't know what to do, and if he let them, maybe they always would be. Any thoughts he'd clung onto about going it alone evaporated.
Whatever was next, he thought, they'd tackle it the three of them. Together. They'd always been stronger that way, hadn't they?
The house was on the very edge of the village, and it, too, was nothing like Harry expected.
It was the same as all the other cottages, except that there was only half of it left. Most of the roof was missing, and one of the walls had drifted into rubble. Cobwebs hung in the remaining windows, and the door was firmly bolted, the garden overrun, but that wasn't what gave Harry pause. Lupin had told him – warned him – that the place was on the brink of collapse, that Dumbledore had preserved it as it was in case Harry ever wanted to return, and that it wasn't a pretty sight, wouldn't be easy to see.
What surprised Harry was the fact that in the garden, in between a monstrous honeysuckle and some vicious-looking roses, barely visible, was a For Sale sign. The paint was aged and peeling, and Harry could barely make out the name of the estate agent, but there it was. He met Lupin's eye quizzically.
"It's been magically obscured," Lupin said quietly, "like Hogwarts, so the Muggles leave it alone but aren't suspicious no-one lives here."
"Oh," Harry said.
He was just about to ask Lupin if he could go inside, when he saw a portly woman with grey hair and a wide nose walking towards them, her arms folded and a shopping basket tucked into one elbow. Lupin noted her, too, and his arm drifted up around Tonks' shoulder as he met the woman's eye and she glared at him as if demanding to know what he was up to. "We're thinking of buying it," Lupin said pleasantly, and Tonks nodded enthusiastically.
"We know it needs a bit of work," she said, "but it's a lovely spot."
The woman with the shopping basket slowed her pace and eyed them cautiously, and Harry wondered if it was Tonks' pink hair, more than anything, that bothered her. Lupin's arm tightened around Tonks' shoulders, and they exchanged a smile, which the woman evidently found moderately convincing. "Well I wouldn't if I were you," she said. "Place is haunted. Has been for years."
She raised an eyebrow and curled her lip in their direction, and then continued on her way.
Lupin watched until she was well out of earshot, and then let his arm fall from Tonks' shoulders. "Haunted?" Ron said, his eyes widening in alarm, but Lupin waved airily.
"Dumbledore got the idea from the Shrieking Shack," he said. "It's just an intermittent wailing charm. Shall we?"
He indicated the cottage with a sweep of his hand, and Harry murmured his agreement. "I think I should go in first," Tonks said.
"Isn't that a bit dangerous?" Lupin said, and Tonks frowned at him in question.
"Well I'm the Auror – "
"No, I mean – well, one of the walls has already come down, the last thing we need is you tripping and seeing to another one."
He shot her a cheeky grin, and Tonks stuck her tongue out at him. "All right," she said. "We'll all go in together – but don't anybody do anything stupid and die, or Mad-Eye'll kill me."
They picked their way through the garden with difficulty. Ron stung his hand on some waist-high nettles and muttered about Apparating the rest of the way and why were they bothering with the front door when half the wall was missing, and in replying that they had to keep up appearances that the house was still all there and they could hardly do that by appearing to walk through walls, Hermione lost her footing on some loose stones that had probably at one point been part of a path. When they reached the front door, they all had snags on their trousers and scrapes on their arms, and were glad to be free of the garden.
Lupin took out his wand and surreptitiously cast some kind of spell to make the door spring open, and he stepped inside, peering round the edge of the door and into whatever lay beyond.
Tonks jerked her head at Harry to indicate that he should go next, and so he did, with Ron and Hermione just behind him, Tonks bringing up the rear, her eyes darting off to the horizon, bright and alert.
Inside the cottage, the air was dank and a little bit acrid, and Harry thought that if he'd wanted something to be a manifestation of the terrible things that had happened here, this place was it. It was as if death hung in the very air.
Slowly, they moved between rooms, avoiding the loose bits of rubble and odd roof tiles as best they could.
The kitchen was a bit of a wreck. There were mice, who scurried as they approached, nesting in the old stove, and the surfaces were thick with dust, especially the old, round table that sat in one corner, a tiny vase that probably held flowers at some point still sitting quietly on the top. The dining room was similarly gloomy, with a very cobwebby sideboard and a dour-looking bookcase, and so they went into the lounge.
Harry looked around, but there was very little left to see – a picture of some kind of landscape hanging askew on one wall, a rug, with the corner turned over, as if someone had rucked it or stumbled over it. The carpet, he thought, probably used to be green, the walls were pale, and heavy red curtains, a bit like the ones in the common room, hung limply at the windows.
Tonks and Lupin crossed the room – Lupin righted the landscape painting and smiled at it sadly – and they continued to look at it, and so Harry beckoned to Ron and Hermione, and said, "We're just going to have a quick look upstairs," over his shoulder.
The stairs were creaky, and the hall walls eerily untouched, despite the state of some of the rest of the house, and they made their way into the first room, the bedroom.
This must have been where it happened, Harry thought, but he felt oddly detached as he wondered if the hole in the wall had been caused by the curse rebounding, or something else. Maybe a spell his mother had used to defend herself, and him, he thought. He liked the thought of that.
It was an odd kind of feeling to be here, surrounded by the place his parents – he – had lived, and there were still vestiges of them – a mirror they must have looked in on the wall, a wardrobe that may well still be full of their clothes, but the more Harry thought about it, the more he came to realise something.
They weren't here.
They were more in evidence in the phial in his pocket than they were in what was left of their final home.
But he'd needed to come, he thought, to find that out, because he couldn't have gone on to what he knew he had to do with the nagging thought about what had happened here in his head. He looked around the room, thinking that he'd done it now, everything he'd wanted to do before going after the Horcruxes: Bill and Fleur's wedding, the Dursleys for the final time, and now, Godric's Hollow.
Somehow, standing in a bedroom with tattered curtains and only half a wall, it felt as if he'd made a break with the past, with the Harry who was connected to, and maybe held back, by all those things, by families, new and old, people. And it wasn't that he didn't care, but he knew that now he had to be prepared to be someone new, someone who could face what he had to face.
"There's nothing here," he said, and Hermione turned and looked at him, raising a questioning eyebrow.
"I know it doesn't seem like there's much of anything left, but we should look," she said. She cast a furtive, worried glance at the doorway, and then took out her wand and muttered Muffliato. "If he was intending to make a Horcrux here," she said, lowering her voice in spite of the spell she'd cast, "then there might be something – I mean we don't know how it works, if he made one anyway, with his own death, or – "
But Harry shook his head, and all of a sudden, he could see a path – not all the way through what lay ahead, but a little way into it. "Dumbledore would have thought of that," he said. "Even if there was something here, it's not any more."
Hermione frowned. "What are we going to do, then?" she said.
Harry pressed his lips together in thought, but only one thing seemed to make sense. Hermione was right – there may well have been something here, but he was right, too. Any object would have been moved, either at the time because it seemed out of place, or more recently, when Dumbledore had started collecting and destroying the Horcruxes.
And say Dumbledore had found something, where would he have put it for safe keeping?
Hogwarts? Or –
"We leave tonight," Harry said.
"Tonight?" Ron said, eyes wide as saucers.
"But Harry," Hermione said, "we're not ready – there's so much more I need to read, and Professor Lupin promised to show me some beyond NEWT level defence spells – "
"And mum's making pork chops – "
Harry shook his head to still their protests. "We'll wait until everyone's asleep, and then – "
"Harry, I really think you should think this through," Hermione said, "you can't go off on something like this because you're angry."
"She's right, Harry – and we understand, after today anyone would be – "
"I'm not angry," Harry said quietly, and he wasn't, even though he'd half-thought that coming here might make him so. "Voldemort knows I'm of age now, that Dumbledore's spells won't protect me any more. He'll come looking – I know he will – and I don't want to just sit there and wait."
"We understand that, but – tonight?" Ron said, disbelievingly.
"It's like Professor Lupin said," Harry said, "trouble always sneaks up on you when you're not expecting it – and that's what I've got to be to Voldemort – trouble – something he doesn't see coming. I've got to do things that he doesn't expect – things he doesn't think I'm capable of."
Ron's mouth hung slightly open. "Where will we go?"
"The Hog's Head," Harry said.
"The pub?" Ron said, and Harry nodded. Ron shot a sideways glance at Hermione, as if questioning whether she, too, thought Harry was off his rocker. "I mean, I can understand why you might need a stiff drink, but – "
Harry rolled his eyes, glancing at the doorway. "They'll let us stay there, no questions asked, and then tomorrow – tomorrow, we're going to Gringotts."
"Gringotts?" Hermione said, and leant in, her eyes questioning. "Why are we going there?"
"Because Hagrid said there's no safer place – and I've been before, to the school vault, I think, and if Dumbledore had found anything important, something he couldn't keep on him and protect all the time, like the ring, I bet that's where he'd keep it." Hermione glanced at Ron, looking to all intents and purposes like she was trying to find a flaw in Harry's logic. "You don't have to come," Harry said quickly, "either of you. I mean it. If you'd rather stay at The Burrow, go back to school, I'll underst – "
"No," Hermione said, in a tone that brooked no argument. "We're not letting you go alone."
Harry smiled, and turned to Ron, who grinned sheepishly and shrugged in agreement. "Promised your mum and dad, didn't I?" he said.
Dear Mrs and Mr Weasley,
Don't worry – nothing's happened to us, we've just had to go somewhere to do something for Dumbledore, something to help stop Voldemort.
We knew you wouldn't let us go, so we had to sneak out. Sorry. Try not to worry, and we'll be in touch when we can.
Fred and George – we've borrowed some things, hope you don't mind.
Ginny – we'll miss you.
Stay safe, and we'll see you soon.
Harry, Hermione, and Ron.
The night air nipped at their skin, and, as they stole away from The Burrow, exchanging anxious glances about what lay ahead, stars twinkled above them, stretching out across the sky, further than they could see.
Harry didn't know what would happen – no-one did. He didn't know what sacrifices there might be, if he was right about the vault, or even if they'd win.
But in spite of that, as they turned onto the lane leading them away, he couldn't help but put his trust in the odd glow in his stomach, the deep down feeling that somehow, this was right. He curled his fingers around the phial in his pocket. He'd do it for them, he thought, for all the things they never got to do.
He looked at Hermione, her wand held steady in her hand, even as she nervously glanced back at The Burrow as if she expected any second for the lights to come on and Mrs Weasley to appear and shout at them, and then at Ron, his face set and determined, his fists balled and ready.
Looking at them, leaving everything they loved behind for him, thinking of how they'd said that they'd never turn back, Harry thought that he might not have known what it was like to have parents, but he sure as hell knew what it was like to have friends. And that, he thought, put him one up on Voldemort from the start. Well, actually, two.
They walked off into the night until it was safe to Apparate to the Hog's Head.
And so, Harry thought, as he landed on the Hogsmeade cobbles, it begins.
A/N: Thanks for reading : ). Reviewers get a Pensieve memory, and the chance to follow their favourite character around ;).