The following is Part 1 of Harry's Future, a possible continuation of Harry's adventure suggested by the final chapter and epilogue of book 7. The characters and locations are of course the intellectual property of JK Rowland. Additional characters and situations have been developed for the purpose of this particular storyline.
Harry's Future Part 1.
As Harry, Ron and Hermione left Dumbledore's office, for that was how Harry would always think of it, he stopped them at the bottom of the staircase. Harry was tired. More tired than he could ever remember being. He scrubbed at his face with his hands and then looked at his best friends. They too looked all done in.
"Ron, Hermione, I'm exhausted. I think you are, too. Ron, I need to talk to your mum for a minute but I can't stand the idea of walking back into that crowded hall. I'm going to hide under the Invisibility Cloak and come up behind her. Would you let her know I'm there so I can whisper to her?"
"Sure thing, Harry. I'm ready for a long kip myself." He took Hermione by the hand, smiling shyly at her. "We'll walk in front so no one runs into you."
He swirled the robe around his shoulders and pulled it up over his head. Ron and Hermione turned and slowly walked down the hallway with Harry silently trudging behind them. They eventually made their way to the Great Hall where people still sat in knots at the tables or stood in groups here and there. No one spoke loudly or celebrated the final defeat of Voldemort and his dreaded Death Eaters. There had been too many losses for it to be more then the most bittersweet of occasions. The Weasleys sat at the senior end of the Gryffindor table. Ginny was still leaning against her mother's shoulder as Harry had last seen her. Mr. Weasley sat on his wife's other side holding one hand in his. Across the table Bill, Charlie, Percy and George sat side by side largely silent but occasionally whispering a comment to one or other of them.
Mr. Weasley was the first to see Ron and Hermione come to stand at the head of the table. He gave them a small tired smile.
"Ah, there you are, son, Hermione. Where's Harry? Is he alright?" The rest of the family looked up, concern showing through their grief.
"He's fine, Dad," Ron said quietly. "He's right behind you under his Invisibility Cloak. He needs to talk to Mum but he doesn't want anyone to notice he's here."
Mrs. Weasley raised her head up a bit.
"Harry, dear, what is it? Are you alright?"
The note of such genuine concern in her voice, despite the loss of her son, was enough to break Harry's heart. He took a deep, quiet breath and then leaned forward and spoke in raspy whisper.
"Mrs. Weasley, I need to talk to you and the rest of the family but I'm nearly asleep on my feet. Can we talk sometime tomorrow? This is pretty important and I don't know who else I can turn to."
She turned as if to talk to her husband and whispered back to where she felt Harry was.
"Of course, Harry, dear. It will take some time to get this all under control so I think we'll have time to sort you out. We're all here for you."
"Thank you," was the best he could squeeze out through a tightening throat. He swallowed and then leaned sideways toward Ginny.
"I need to talk to you too; about a lot of things but right now I just need to ask one question."
"What's the password? I need to lie down before I fall down."
Ginny couldn't help but laugh but before she could answer, Mrs. Weasley spoke.
"Ginny, you go with Harry, Ron and Hermione. Take your brothers with you. You all need sleep and the tower is as good a place as any. And don't even think to argue with me, not now, not tonight."
She got a series of subdued 'Yes, Mum' in response and her children all rose and slowly followed behind Ginny as she led them to the Fat Lady. She looked down at them, somber and subdued,
She gave a wan smile and swung out of the way.
Ginny led the way in, Hermione next and then the boys came in behind them. Harry had slipped off his cloak before crawling in. Once inside they gathered together in the common room. Ginny stood before Harry, looking into his tired, bright green eyes. Tears began to run down her cheeks and she pulled him to her and hugged him tightly, her head against his chest. Ron had his arm around Hermione, his brothers standing in a loose arc beside them. It was Bill who spoke first.
"Let's get to bed, tomorrow will be here soon enough and we need some rest. Harry, I don't know what else to say but thanks. For all of us."
Harry gave a brief smile over the top of Ginny's head but remained silent. He gave her a last squeeze and then stepped back.
"G'night" was all he could manage and he turned and trudged up the stairs to his old room. Ron and his brothers fell in behind, Ginny and Hermione headed for the girls dorm. Ron and Harry went to their room while the brothers took the one just below. Harry took no notice of the room other then to pull the curtains aside and tumble onto the bed. He was asleep before he knew it. For the rest of his life he would be forever amazed that his sleep was deep and dreamless. He was awakened in the morning by knocking on the bedroom door. He rolled over and began to climb out of bed but the door was opened before he could get to it. Bill poked his head in, a small smile on his scarred face.
"Alright there, Harry?"
"Yeah, I'm okay, Bill. Slept pretty well in fact."
"Good, Ron and Neville are already downstairs. We thought we'd give you some extra time for a lie in. They're serving breakfast down in the Great Hall."
Harry wasn't really surprised that he hadn't heard Neville come in, or maybe he was already in bed when he and Ron had stumbled in. He was feeling a great deal better this morning, at least physically but his mind was still spinning when he thought of what had occurred yesterday. Voldemort was dead, his Death Eaters dead, captured or fleeing. A great shadow was gone from the world but so were a number of friends. Most bitter was the loss of Fred Weasley. As he walked down the steps everyone in the common room looked up at him. He sought out Ginny and gave her a small smile. He looked at Ron and Hermione, truly grateful that they had survived the trial they had all shared. He then saw George looking up at him, his eyes looking slightly glassy, his face set in a bewildered cast. And there was Neville, looking much less the harried herbology student and more like the young man who had made his fearsome grandmother proud last night. As he walked across the floor the small crowd gathered around him. Ginny laid her hand on his arm, others patted him on the back or shoulder with a number of 'well dones' and 'good on ya, Harry'. After a few minutes he looked around and said,
"Thanks, we all did a good job yesterday. I don't know about you but I'm starved. What say we head down for breakfast?"
This got a few chuckles and the group began to file out through the hole and past the Fat Lady. Harry hung back and let the taller brothers Weasley precede him into the Great Hall, hoping to avoid notice. It didn't work. It appeared that many of the students who had evacuated the school had returned and so did many of their parents. The Hall was quite full and they all seemed to be standing and applauding, many craning their necks or standing on benches to get a better look at Harry. He smiled sheepishly and gave a little wave and then looked at the others helplessly and shrugged.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley hurried over and motioned for them to take seats at the end of the Gryffindor table that they were holding for them.
"Sorry, Harry. We should have warned you," Mr. Weasley apologized.
"It's ok, Mr. Weasley," Harry replied as he squeezed in between Ginny and Ron. He felt Ginny lean into him a bit and then straighten up.
"Alright, you lot. Tuck in and don't stop till you've eaten your fill. Heaven knows you'll need it."
She didn't have to say it twice as bowls and platters were passed around and emptied in short order. Harry managed to maintain his composure and finish his meal despite the many eyes that seemed to follow his every move. He could hear Mrs. Weasley clucking her tongue in dismay as she and her husband did their best to shield him and the rest from the more aggressive of the inquisitive. As they finished up Mr. Weasley bent down to whisper to Harry.
"Harry, I've spoken to Professor McGonagall and she said we could use her Transfiguration classroom to have our little chat."
"Thanks, Mr. Weasley, can we do it now?"
"Of course, Harry," he replied as he stood up. "Ok, you lot. Follow me."
The Weasley family, plus Harry and Hermione, trooped out of the Great Hall and down the corridor until they came to the door of the Transfiguration classroom. Mr. Weasley opened the door and held it as the rest walked in. He closed the door behind him as he entered and then used his wand to seal the room. Next we waved his wand and the desks slid to the side of the room leaving only chairs which Mrs. Weasley arranged in a circle with her wand. They all took seats. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley sat directly across from Harry, Ginny to his right, Ron to his left and Hermione to Ron's left. The brothers took the last seats.
"Alright, Harry, dear. We're here and ready to listen."
Harry took a deep breath and looked around at them all.
"First, I just want to say how sorry I am about Fred, I can't help thinking if I had.."
Before he could finish his thought Mr. Weasley leaned forward in his chair and fixed Harry with a firm look.
"Harry, if you're about to say something about any of this, especially Fred, is somehow your fault, don't. The only one to blame for any, and all, of this is You-Know…dammit, Voldemort and his followers. You've done more then anyone, or perhaps, all of us combined to finish him off and we won't hear anymore about apologies for this or that. We appreciate how you feel about Fred, we'll all miss him terribly but we, you, have to go on. Now, what else would you like to say?"
Harry was a little taken aback by how firmly Mr. Weasley talked but he saw the understanding in his eyes and with an encouraging nod from Mrs. Weasley he swallowed once and continued.
"Well, as for going on, that's what I wanted to talk about. To be honest, I didn't really think I'd get this far." He looked down at the floor and continued, "For the last few years, I knew that one of us, Voldemort or me, had to die. We both couldn't go on."
"How did you know that, Harry?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
"That night in the Ministry, the night Sirius died. The Death Eaters were after a prediction that Professor Trelawney had made the night that she was interviewed. Professor Dumbledore heard her. It said that one of us had to kill the other because we both couldn't live on."
The rest were quiet.
"What's more, yesterday, just before Professor Snape died he passed on one of his memories to me. I saw it in the pensieve in Professor Dumbledore's office. They were talking about me. What it came down to was that when Voldemort tried to kill me as a baby, he made me his last Horcrux. They thought that I would have to die in order for Voldemort to be destroyed. That's why he had me when he came to the front door of the school. I went into the Forbidden Forest figuring he was going to kill me. But it didn't work. When he hit me with the Killing Curse again, it backfired but differently. I was knocked out and he might have been, too. I woke up and just laid there. They thought I was dead and brought me out to show you. You know the rest."
When he looked up he saw that the rest of them were looking at him as if thunderstruck. Mrs. Weasley had one hand over her mouth and the other on her chest as if to hold her heart in. He looked a little sideways and saw Ginny in tears again and Hermione half covering her face behind her hands, her eyes wide in shock. Ginny buried her face on Harry's arm and cried quietly.
"Harry, this goes behind anything we could have imagined," Mr. Weasley said, his voice subdued. "We knew you were carrying around quite a bit these last few years but this is incredible. Why didn't you say something? You could have shared this with us. As for yesterday, we thought that Voldemort had kidnapped you. You willingly went to sacrifice yourself? I can't believe it."
"It's all I could think to do. If you had heard what Snape passed on to me. He was Dumbledore's man to the very end. But it didn't turn out that way and now it looks like I have a future and that's what I need to talk about. I need your advice. Without my parents or Professor Dumbledore or Sirius, I don't know where else to turn. You've been like my family for quite a while now anyway so…."
It happened so fast that Harry didn't have time to react. Mrs. Weasley swept across the floor and pulled Harry into a fierce embrace. He almost lost his glasses but they were grabbed by George who was now standing to his side as were the rest of them. Ginny and Hermione were also hugging him. Once again it was Mr. Weasley that pulled them back.
"Alright everybody, let's give Harry some breathing room."
Mrs. Weasley gave him one more squeeze and then backed away, a teary smile on her face. After everyone had taken their seats again Harry continued,
"A couple of years ago during my career counseling with Professor McGonagall I told her I thought I wanted to be an Auror. I think that's still a good idea. Just because Voldemort is gone doesn't mean the end of dark magic. But I need NEWTs and that means coming back to school. Do you think they'd let me back in?"
"One way to find out. I'll be right back." This was Bill as he stood and strode to the door. "Dad?"
"Oh, yes, sorry, Bill." Mr. Weasley waved his wand and the door came open.
"Being an Auror is a dangerous job, Harry. But to be honest I don't think I know anyone who would be better qualified. I think the Ministry would be ecstatic at the idea of the famous Harry Potter hunting down dark wizards and witches."
He said the last with a little smile on his face. A moment later the door opened and Professor McGonagall entered, followed by Bill. The acting Headmistress walked to the center of the circle of chairs and looked down at Harry, her face its usual mask of concentration.
"Bill Weasley tells me that you would like to return to Hogwarts for your seventh year, is that correct, Potter?"
"With what aim in mind?"
"I want to join the Ministry of Magic as an Auror and I need my NEWTs. I remember you once telling Dolores Umbridge that you'd do whatever it took to make that happen. Can I, Professor, can I come back?"
"Potter, not only can you come back, I'll write the letter myself and hand it to you before the day is out. We'll need to discuss a few things, but that can wait."
She turned to face Hermione and Ron.
"What about you two?"
"Yes, ma'am, I'd like to return," replied Hermione.
"No, ma'am," Ron said quietly.
"Why not," asked the acting Headmistress. His parents looked a bit annoyed.
"I'm going to go to work with George, to help him with Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes."
While his parents didn't look to happy and Harry was sure there would be a great deal of discussion, George looked very pleased.
"As you wish. Ms. Granger, you will have your letter along with Potter. Excuse me; I have many things to attend to."
She turned and walked toward the door but before she opened it she turned to them with a small smile.
"I think it is safe to say that Professor Dumbledore would be proud of you all, I know I am, especially you, Potter..Harry. Very proud, indeed." Then she opened the door and left.
"Well, Harry, that seems to take care of that. Anything else?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
"Yes, ma'am. I won't be going back to the Dursleys and I'm not sure I want to spend the summer at the Black house. Do you think that…" he left it hanging.
"It's not a question, Harry dear, you will be coming home to the Burrow with us for as long as you like. I've lost one son, gotten back another who went astray," she smiled at a blushing Percy, "and it looks like I've found another, the first without red hair."
Her smile was a happy one.
"That brings up something else though. I don't think I want to leave Kreacher alone all summer." He heard some snorts of derision from the Weasleys. "No, he's changed a lot. Hermione can tell you. Once we started being nice to him, he really changed. But I need to talk to him. Can you give me a moment?"
He looked up at the ceiling and called out, "Kreacher, I need to speak to you."
With a pop the little house elf was standing in the middle of the circle of chairs. To those that remembered him from the days spent in the Black house he wasn't the same house elf. He no longer slouched; he was clean and wore a clean tea towel. He no longer had the sullen expression nor mumbled.
"Yes, Master Harry, how may Kreacher serve?"
"Well, Kreacher, I need to talk to you. Do you know that Voldemort is dead?"
"Yes, Master. All the magical world has heard of Master Harry's triumph over the dark one."
"Well, as a result I will be returning to Hogwarts this fall but I intend to spend the summer at the Weasleys' house. How will that affect you, Kreacher?"
"A house elf is most comfortable in the house of those serveds, but a house elf must have someone to serve, Master Harry. Kreacher should be where Master Harry wants Kreacher to be."
"Mrs. Weasley? Do you think you'd like to have a house elf to help you at the Burrow?"
"Hmm, he is certainly so much different then I remember. I suppose he could be a help about the place, don't you think, Arthur?"
"If you think so, dear."
"Harry?" Hermione said a lot with that one word.
"I know, Hermione. Kreacher? I need to ask you something else. I'm not really comfortable with you being, well, a slave to me. I'd like you to think about accepting your freedom and working for me for real wages. What do you think?"
"Is a strange idea for a house elf to be thinking about, Master Harry. Kreacher knows Master Harry means well but Kreacher will have to think about it, but think about it Kreacher will and Kreacher will tell Master Harry when Kreacher is done thinking."
"Fair enough, just don't take forever thinking about it. Okay, Hermione?"
"It's a start, Harry." She smiled as she said it.
"Good. Well, that's all I wanted to talk to you about for now, I suppose they'll be plenty of time to talk more over the summer. Thank you all for everything you've done for me. I know I wouldn't have stood a chance without you."
He got another hug from Mrs. Weasley and all the male Weasleys shook his hand. Hermione came up and gave him a hug as well, whispering something in his ear that put a smile on his face. Ginny took his hand in both of hers and looked into his face, studying the now quiet scar, the deep green eyes that still had a bit of fatigue about them. He looked at her and smiled and said,
"Ginny, would you like to go for a walk by the lake? We can talk out there."
"Of course, Harry."
"Come back in time for lunch." Mrs. Weasley said to them as they headed to the door.
"We will, Mum," replied Ginny.
As Harry held the door open for her, he heard Bill say to his parents,
"It's unbelievable. Carrying all that around inside him, with all the other nonsense he's had to put up with these years. It's just incredible."
He pulled the door closed before he heard anyone else's comments. He and Ginny strolled hand in hand down the corridor to the main door and out into the day that held sunshine and warm breezes. They said nothing until they were near the edge of the lake. Harry stopped them and he turned to face Ginny, holding both her hands in his. He was once again amazed at just how beautiful she was. He took in a deep breath and let it out.
"I don't know if I've ever told you but one of the happiest moments of my life was that night that we first kissed in the common room. Most of the others came in the weeks after. I loved you then, Ginny, I hope you know that."
"I do, and I loved you then, too, Harry, I still do. But what about you Harry, what about now?"
"Then is now, I never stopped, Ginny. When I said we had to stop seeing each other after Dumbledore's funeral it wasn't because I wanted to. I just didn't know any other way. I guess I thought it would keep you safe, or at least safer. I guess I was wrong. Everyone was in danger, one way or the other. I'm sorry for what I put you through. I loved you then and I love you now. We're kind of young and it might be too early to say this but I think I'll love you forever." His look was hopeful, questioning.
"We're not so young, Harry. We've been aged a lot the last couple of years. But at least now we have a future to look forward to and yes, I want to spend it with you."
With that she pulled his arms around her waist and put hers around his neck pulling his lips to hers. It was the first of many, many long lingering kisses they would share. As he pulled her tighter to him Harry had to agree it would be a future to look forward to.
Eventually they pulled apart and began a slow walk along the shoreline of the lake saying very little. Occasionally one would look at the other and when their eyes met they would smile, squeeze their hands a bit tighter and continue on. In various places on the grounds work, sometimes grim, was ongoing to clear away the wrack and ruin from the previous days' battles. At one point they did stop to look at some large tracks and footprints that led up to the water line but neither could figure out what they meant. Turning, they both looked up to the castle, seeing for the first time the totality of the damage to the stately old building. In several places holes had been knocked or blown through the walls. Roofing slates were missing in a number of areas and several windows were completely gone. However, a number of people were working to begin repairs. Even little Professor Flitwick could be seen levitating building stones that had fallen to the ground back up and through their respective holes.
"I guess we all have some rebuilding to do," Ginny said quietly.
"Yeah, but I think the castle will be the easy part," Harry replied, looking at her with a sad smile. She responded with a hug and said,
"You're probably right. I think it's time we got back. They'll be serving lunch and Mum will probably get worried if we aren't there."
"Ok," he agreed, but secretly he liked the idea of having someone that would actually worry about whether or not he had eaten lunch. They strolled hand in hand back up the lawn, Harry returning waves, respectful nods and one or two "Well done, Mr. Potter." The entered through the doors and saw more workers attending to the damage that resulted in the final battle. As they entered the Great Hall together, they saw the Weasleys once more occupying the end of the Gryffindor table with one obvious addition. Seated between Bill and Charlie was Fleur, the beautiful French girl that Bill had married just last summer and whom Harry had competed against in the TriWizards Tournament in his fourth year. As they all looked up Fleur caught sight of Harry and gave a small cry and struggled up off the bench. She ran to Harry and threw her arms around him and held on to him, crying into his shoulder. Harry looked down at Bill and the others, his eyes wide with surprise and his arms gently holding on to the slender young woman.
Through her sobs Harry could hear here saying,
"Mon dieu, 'arry, 'ow much more are you supposed to endure. Eet ees all so unfair."
Bill got to his feet and came over to try and comfort his wife as well as extract Harry from her death grip.
"It's all right, dear. Harry is safe and Voldemort is gone. He has his life back for the first time in seventeen years. He's okay."
After a few minutes she brought her head up off of Harry's now much moistened shoulder and look at Bill.
"You do not understand. Yes, 'e 'as defeated the most dangerous wizard anyone can remember. You tell me he weeshes to become an Auror. So every time some new dark witch or wizard comes along, 'oo will they send, 'arry, that's 'oo. Our beautiful 'arry will end up like that crazy Moody, or worse."
This was all said through flowing tears and a number of sniffles. Before Bill could answer Harry spoke,
"Fleur," he began, his bright green eyes fixed on her. "You have no idea how much this means to me. I know that when we first met, you weren't all that impressed with me. I seem to recall the words 'little boy' somewhere in the discussion."
Fleur laughed and gave him an embarrassed smile, which under other circumstances might have stopped Harry's heart but he continued on.
"But hearing you say what you just said, knowing that you're that worried about me means a lot, a whole lot. But this is something I have to do. The way I've grown up, the things I've done and had done to me, what else can I do? I can't let someone else fight this fight while I stay home. I said yesterday in Professor Dumbledore's office that I'd had enough trouble for a lifetime, but maybe it was just enough to teach me how to do what I feel I have to do. Can you understand that?"
She returned his direct gaze with one of her own. Then with a sigh she leaned forward and planted a kiss on each cheek and slipping a hand around his shoulder she looked at her in-laws and said,
"Theese Lily and James, 'arry's parents. They must 'ave been fabuleux, extraordinary people to 'ave produced this brave, brave boy. I mean, young man."
"Yes, Fleur, they were," Mrs. Weasley replied. "We knew them well and they were the very finest. Now what do you say you let Harry sit down and have some lunch?"
The last was said in her finest 'mum' voice and got a laugh from everyone. Fleur gave Harry a last hug, gave one to her sister-in-law Ginny and whispered something in her ear to which Ginny grinned and replied,
"I don't intend to."
Harry came around and sat next to Ron and Ginny sat beside him. There were sandwiches and large tureens of soup. Everyone reached in for sandwiches while Mrs. Weasley ladled out soup for her 'family'. As they ate Harry couldn't help but look at them all. After all these years he had finally found a family. Not one of blood, but more importantly one of love. He couldn't help but smile, the biggest smile in a long time.
"What's with all the teeth, Harry?" asked George.
"Oh, I guess I'm just starting to feel better about things. It's all been so horrible for so long, maybe there's some light at the end of the tunnel."
But looking at George he thought about Fred and the smile dropped off his face in an instant.
"Harry, what's wrong?" asked Charlie. "You've gone pale."
Everyone turned to look at him.
"I'm sorry. I'm smiling like an idiot and Fred is, is…"
"Harry, dear, you've got to stop punishing yourself. It wasn't your fault and the last person in the world that would want you to be so unhappy would be Fred. We'll all miss him but we will always remember him with love and pride. It's ok to smile Harry, heaven knows you need to more then most."
He felt Ginny give his hand a squeeze and lean into him. Ron leaned over to whisper in his ear but loud enough for everyone to hear.
"Lighten up, mate. Otherwise Fred is likely to come back and haunt you and if you thought Peeves was bad, imagine Fred walking through walls and popping out of suits of armor."
Even Harry had to laugh at that image. They resumed eating and Harry had a thought. He leaned over and asked Ginny what she had meant when she said 'I don't intend to'.
"Oh," she whispered back. "Fleur said to make sure that I didn't let you slip away."
Harry got back his big smile. It was a few moments later when they were interrupted by a sharp rapping from the direction of the head table. Professor McGonagall was standing at the podium. She looked tired and worn, but very resolute.
"If I could have your attention please."
She waited a few moments until everyone was quiet.
"The last twenty four hours have been, to say the least, rather extraordinary. A great victory has been won but at a very great cost. I know that all those who have lost friends and family members are in the thoughts and prayers of all those in the wizarding world. Well, the ones that matter anyway. I have word from Acting Minister Shacklebolt that many of the fugitives have already been apprehended and a number of Ministry employees have been taken in for questioning. He wants me to tell you that Hogwarts has the full support of the Ministry and he will do what he can to help get us back on our feet. While I appreciate the Minister's thoughts, I am sure that we can put Hogwarts in order without the Ministry's help. They have more then enough to deal with."
There was a smattering of applause and 'here, here'. She cleared her throat and adjusted her glasses.
"We, the wizarding world, owe so much to those who have labored long and hard against the forces of evil that invaded here yesterday. Many did what they could, some did so much and one did perhaps the most of all."
She looked down in Harry's direction and he could feel his neck and ears go red as many others looked around at him. Ron gave him a gentle nudge in the ribs as Ginny once more squeezed his knee. Hermione reached around Ron and squeezed his shoulder. The other's smiled at him, Fleur through a fresh bout of tears.
"There will be a time, I am sure, for accolades and honors. But our immediate attention is for all those who have fallen. After much discussion with those who are affected it has been decided that a single site will be used as their final resting place.
"Even as we speak, the house known as the Shrieking Shack is being demolished and the grounds will be turned into a cemetery and memorial park. For those of you who did not know, the Shack was never haunted. That was simply a device to disguise its true use as a sanctuary for a student who had special needs and who now as a man will rest there forever. I am speaking of Professor Remus Lupin. The internment ceremony will be held two days from now at nine o'clock in the morning. I hope as many of you as possible will attend."
There was a great deal of murmured conversation at this point and the Professor let it go on for a few moments. Then she cleared her throat once more and continued,
"On a somewhat happier note there are a few announcements I would like to make regarding staffing and students for the coming year. Yes, we will be opening as usual come September first."
This was greeted with thunderous applause and cheering. The Professor held up her hands to ask for quiet. When the noise subsided she continued.
"Once again, we find ourselves short a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Fortunately, I have been able to arrange for the services, for the coming year at least, of a most capable wizard and one of the best students I have had the privilege to teach. Professor Bill Weasley, would you please stand up?"
With a crooked smile, Bill stood up and acknowledged the enthusiastic response to the announcement. The other Weasley brothers were on their feet laughing and slapping Bill on the back. Fleur's face was alight with pride as were his parents. Harry sat dumbfounded at first but then he too stood and clapped. Once more Professor McGonagall waved for quiet.
"It is also a pleasure to announce that two students who left us before the start of term last year to do extensive research in the field have been accepted to return and complete their education. I am speaking of Miss Hermione Granger." Her face went bright red at the applause. "And of course, Mr. Harry Potter."
At which point the roof nearly came off the Great Hall. A number of the surviving members of Dumbledore's Army came rushing over to shake his hand, slap his back and not a few hugs and kisses from the girls. Harry looked down to see Ginny smiling back up at him, secure in the knowledge that they were together. This time it took repeated raps with her gavel to get the crowd to quiet down again.
"Professor Weasley, I believe this would be an appropriate time to make any announcements you might have. Oh yes, and Mrs. Weasley, we will not be requiring the Professor to cut his hair." Mrs. Weasley glared up at her son as everyone laughed and eventually she did, too.
"Thank you, Headmistress. It may have occurred to some that Defense Against the Dark Arts won't be very important in the years to come. I couldn't disagree more. The Dark Arts are not gone; just it's most dangerous and twisted practitioner. There will always be those who succumb to the allure of the Dark ways. I don't say this to scare you but to alert you to the fact that we must be ready so the next time someone tries to impose their will on us we can stop them. With that in mind I would like to announce a special appointment, that is my assistant, who will help me teach, particularly the first years and share with all the students his unique insights and experience that have been gained at great risk to himself." Bill turned and looked down at Harry, who had regained his seat on the bench. "What do you say Harry, will you help me, help us all?"
Once more Harry was dumbfounded. Everyone around him was shouting congratulations and encouragement. The DA members who remained standing behind Harry were chanting "Harry, Harry, Harry". Harry looked up at Bill and gave him a couple of nods, the best he could manage.
"I'll take that as a yes." Bill said as he turned towards the front of the Hall. "I've got my assistant, Professor McGonagall."
"Excellent. Harry, Hermione would you come up and get your letters? And Mr. Ron Weasley, are you sure you won't change your mind? You would be most welcome."
Ron laughed and shouted back over the noise.
"No thanks, Professor. George and I plan on getting filthy rich."
Everyone laughed including Mrs. Weasley. So Harry and Hermione walked up to the podium acknowledging waves from friends, schoolmates and total strangers. When they reached the podium Professor McGonagall handed them each the familiar envelope with the Hogwarts emblem and seal.
"When you open these you will find only your letter. I will need to speak to both of you about your course work so you will know what materials and books you will need. We haven't yet worked it all out."
"Yes, ma'am," they replied in unison, smiling widely.
In a lower voice she added,
"It would only be fair and appropriate if I were to appoint you two Head Boy and Girl, but for several reasons I don't believe it would be wise. The first is that I think you've done enough already. The second is you should be allowed to concentrate on your studies since you've been away for a year and you, Potter, will have the added responsibilities of your teaching assistant post. As for you Ms. Granger, I wish to have a long talk with you about your future. So that's enough for now, let's get through these next few difficult days and then I will send word for our meetings. I'm very pleased you'll be back with us. Oh, and Potter, what are your plans concerning the Quidditch team?"
"I'm not sure, Professor. I really need to concentrate on my studies. I'd love to play again, though. Hermione? Can you help me figure out how to set up a schedule for studying and all those things you do for your courses. I don't know anyone who knows more about that stuff than you do."
"Of course, Harry, I'd be happy to help," she said enthusiastically. "I have tried to help in the past you know." The last was said with an impish grin.
"I know you have and maybe now that I don't have to worry about someone trying to kill me all the time, I can take advantage of it."
He said this with a smile but there was something in his tone that brought a lump to Hermione's throat and she laid her hand on Harry's arm and gave him another little smile.
"Right then," the Professor broke in. "We have you two settled. Let's see what we can do with the rest of the old place." She looked up back to the crowd.
"Well, everyone. I believe that's all for now. May I have all the teaching staff meet me in my classroom in thirty minutes? You're excused from this meeting, Potter. Those of you who have volunteered for the memorial park work, please make your way to the Shrieking Shack, or the grounds at least, as quickly as you can. Students, please stay put for a moment, your heads of house will have assignments for you for helping set things to rights here in the castle and on the grounds. And Hagrid, please see me right away. I will see you all, hopefully, at nine o'clock, day after tomorrow for the service. Thank you all."
The crowd gave the Professor a great cheer and round of applause as she left the podium. It was clear they were happy to see a firm and orderly hand in charge once more. More than one person assumed she would be the new Headmistress in short order. Harry and Hermione made their way back to the Weasleys and after some hurried conversation, Bill started toward the faculty and staff meeting, Charlie, George and Ron were going down to help with the memorial park, Percy and Mr. Weasley felt they needed to go to the Ministry to help with matters there. Harry and Hermione thought they should go with the work crew but Mrs. Weasley told them to remain behind for a while at least. Students were divided up into groups and soon were going off on this task or that to try and restore order to the school. Hagrid stumped off soon after having spoken with the Professor. Soon it was just Harry, Hermione, Mrs. Weasley and Fleur sitting at the table.
"Well, first I thought we'd talk about this summer. Harry, dear, after the ceremony, I would like you and I to go to the London house, get whatever things you may have left there and then get you settled in at the Burrow. Hermione, I don't know what plans you have for the summer, but you are welcome to visit at anytime for as long as you might like."
"Thank you, Mrs. Weasley, but first I have to get my parents back from Australia. I suppose I could fly there by plane but that could get expensive. I used a lot of our savings to send them there and set them up."
"Don't worry, Hermione. Make the arrangements and I'll have Gringot's transfer the money out of my vault."
"Oh, Harry, that's so generous, but I can't ask…"
Harry cut her off.
"You're not asking, I'm offering, and quite frankly I'm not in the mood to take no for an answer. There is a lot of be set right and with what my parents left me and Sirius' on top of it, I've got more than I'll ever need. So no arguments and the sooner the better."
Hermione and Fleur were both visibly shocked by the force and tone in Harry's voice. Mrs. Weasley's eyes were narrowed as she looked intently at Harry. Then she spoke,
"Yes, Hermione, I think it would be a good idea for you to do just that. I suppose you know where you need to go and who to talk to and make the arrangements?"
"Yes, Mrs Weasley. I'll need to call the same travel agent we always use for trips and things. I'll just go down to the village and Apparate home from there."
"Good. Fleur, why don't you go along with Hermione. I'd feel better if she had someone along with her while she makes her plans." Her facial expression said much.
"Of course, Mother Weasley. I'd be 'appy to go with 'ermione."
"Wonderful, and dear, I've told you, 'mum' will do nicely," she smile.
"Yes, Muum," Fleur laughed. "Come, 'ermione. Let's be on our way."
"Okay, Fleur. Harry? You'll be okay?"
"Sure, Hermione. I'm fine, just kinda tired. I'll be even better once I know your folks are safe and home."
Hermione gave a little smile and then hugged Harry tightly. She and Fleur left the Hall, leaving just Harry and Mrs. Weasley alone at the table. A small group of students, first and second years by the look of them were busy with cloths, brooms and such trying to put a shine on the tables, benches and floors in the hall.
"Harry, dear, I think you and I should take a walk."
"But there's so much to do, shouldn't I be helping with something?" Harry asked.
"Harry, I won't offend you by telling you you've done enough already. Let's just say that with everything that has gone on, you might prove to be too much of a distraction to people and it might slow things down."
"Oh, the 'Famous Harry Potter' thing, you mean."
"Yes, dear, I'm afraid so," she said with a warm smile.
"Ok, let's go."
As they walked out of the Hall, through the corridor and out the main doors Harry couldn't help but notice that everyone they passed stopped what they were doing and watched him go by. A few were students that he knew and they would say 'hi' and he would reply but mostly it was just a quiet observation. For many years after there would be more than a few people who would say,
"Yes, I was there. I saw him walk out of the castle the morning after he overthrew You-know-who, no I still can't say his name. He looked so tired, so somber."
So Harry and Mrs. Weasley walked without talking for a while until they came to a bench that overlooked the lake.
"Why don't we sit, dear? I'd like to talk with you for a little while."
"Sure thing, Mrs. Weasley."
They sat down on the bench and for a few moments they just looked out over the lake, the large tracks he and Ginny had seen were still evident and still a mystery. Mrs. Weasley finally broke the silence.
"Harry, dear, I don't know how to say this so I'll just come right out with it. I am extremely worried about you."
"Why?" Harry asked, genuinely surprised. "For the first time in seventeen years someone isn't out to kill me. I'm coming back to finish school and I might even get to play Quidditch again. Ginny and I are, well, back together. For the first time in a long time I feel like I have a future, what's there to worry about?"
"Those are all external things, Harry. I'm worried about what's going on in here and here."
She pointed first to Harry's head and then his heart.
He stared at her for a moment and then looked back out at the lake and said nothing.
"Harry, look at me."
As he turned his head to face her, she locked his brilliant green eyes with her own.
"You have had to do and endure so much in your young life, especially these last seven years, than whole groups of adults have in their entire lives. You've seen so much, lost so much, had to do so much, most people would be crushed under the weight. Yet you remain so quiet, so resolute, you let so little emotion show. I've know you since you started out at Hogwarts and every year I've seen you hurt a little more. Accused of being the Heir of Slytherin, accused of crashing the Triwizards Tournament, of lying about Voldemort's return, being ridiculed in the paper. And each time you've come out on top, the truth is told but not before more hurt is done. I've watched you Harry, yes I have. And not just at the Burrow, I'm not ashamed to say that I've had my spies watching you."
At this admission Harry's eyes widened. He had brief wild thoughts about being betrayed by his friends.
"No, Harry, not like that. But with all my children around you so much I would always ask how you were doing, we're you sleeping enough, eating enough, were you worried about things, like that. Ron and Ginny tended to be very closed mouth about it. Ron said he wasn't going to inform on his best mate and Ginny has been very protective of you. One time she got very angry after I asked them a lot of questions about you after they came home at end of term and she said, 'Mum, lay off Harry, I'm keeping an eye on him.'
"The point to all of this Harry is you can't keep this all bottled up inside. You've taken on so much responsibility and I'm sure you're feeling guilty about what's happened. That's all rubbish, like Arthur said this morning. You are as much a victim as anyone who died yesterday and the day before and all the days since Tom Riddle decided to become Lord Voldemort. Grief is okay, Harry, we're all grieving right now, but no guilt, not now, not ever."
As she spoke his eyes began to mist over, then fill up and soon the tears were coursing down his cheeks and then Mrs. Weasley pulled his head down onto her shoulder and held him as she would one of her own children, which as far as she was concerned, he was. His shoulders shook as the dam he had built inside all those months ago finally collapsed and he let himself go. The loss of his parents, their surrogates in Sirius and Dumbledore, Lupin and Tonks, his friends and schoolmates, the loss of a child's happiness at the hands of the Dursleys all came flooding out. Mrs. Weasley said nothing, letting the warmth of her embrace and the love that it represented say what Harry needed to hear. It was some minutes until the shaking had subsided and he finally lifted his head and looked at her. His face was red and tear stained but his eyes were bright and he smiled a little.
"Now that's the ticket, Harry. You have such a nice smile; you should use it more often."
"I think I will. It'll be easier now that I've found my mum again."
Now it was her turn to have her eyes well up and the tears to flow but for her it was happiness. It was joy at the knowledge that the famous orphan was one no longer, in spirit if not in fact. She pulled a handkerchief out of her pocket and wiped her eyes and cheeks.
"Dear me, we must look a fright. Why don't we go inside and clean up?"
"Ok, Mrs. Weasley, whatever you say."
They strolled up the lawn toward the castle, arm in arm, their mood considerably lighter than when they had left it. That mood was darkened when they were confronted by an unpleasant sight at the bottom of the staircase leading up to the castle doors. It was none other than Rita Skeeter, the most yellow of journalists in the wizarding world.
"Harry, darling!" she exclaimed. "The wizard of the hour or perhaps the century, I daresay. What a story and as I'm somewhat your biographer I thought…"
She was cut off with a burst of laughter from Harry. Mrs. Weasley was ready to shout Rita down but didn't get the chance.
"Who are you kidding?" Harry said scornfully. "The only thing that got you to write the truth about me was the threat of Azkaban. It worked once so it should work again. If you ever so much as look at me or anyone close to me again, I'll make sure the right people in the Ministry know your little secret. And these days the Ministry is a lot more likely to believe what I have to say. Now get away from me."
With that he led Mrs. Weasley up the stairs, leaving a gaping Rita standing at the bottom of the stairway.
"Well done, Harry, but exactly what were you talking about?"
"I guess it's safe to tell you. Back near the end of the Triwizard Tournament, Hermione figured out that Rita was an unregistered Animagus. She can turn into some kind of beetle. That's how she was able to snoop around and write all that trash. Hermione blackmailed her into writing that story for Luna Lovegood's dad."
It was Mrs. Weasley's turn to laugh.
"Well, well, well. You two will never cease to amaze me. Your secret is safe with me, Harry."
They parted company in the corridor to find the nearest washrooms so they could clean up. She made Harry promise to meet them in the Hall for dinner. He gladly did so. It would be nice to have a 'family' dinner. He took to strolling the corridors for the first time in a year. It was comforting to be surrounded by the familiar sights. More then once someone would call to him from this painting or that and we would smile and wave back. He could hear the sounds of people working to clean this mess or repair that damage. More than ever before he felt this was the place where he belonged and now the world was a place he liked being in. He was pulled out of himself when he heard a familiar voice call his name. It was Neville.
"Harry, Harry, I've been looking all over for you."
"Hullo, Neville, what's up?"
"Can you come with me, please? I want you to see something."
He didn't say so, because it would likely embarrass his friend but Harry felt he owed Neville a huge debt and he wasn't about to say 'no' to just about anything he asked. Neville led him to one of the classrooms on the fifth floor. It was quiet here since little had occurred that needed fixing. As he walked through the door he saw a crowd of familiar faces. Dumbledore's Army stood there awaiting him. They were all smiling, a few waved but they remained silent. Neville came to stand next to him.
"We wanted a chance to see you alone, Harry, just like when we started. I thought you had enough cheering downstairs and besides we didn't want to attract attention."
"Thanks, Nev. This is great. You guys are great. No matter what I do in my life, I think the DA is going to always be the thing I'm proudest of."
They all moved forward and there were many handshakes and embraces and one great big kiss from Ginny. This got a few cheers and when they pulled apart a little Harry kept one arm around her shoulder as he looked at Neville.
"Nev, thank you. You really saved the day, and me, yesterday. I may be the boy who didn't die and the guy who destroyed Voldemort but you were the one who saved me and made it all possible. I'm proud you're my friend."
"Thanks, Harry. We couldn't have done it without you though, mate."
"What're you talking about, Neville? You kept the DA going all this past year." Harry looked at the others. "You all kept it going with everything they tried to do to stop it. Ginny was telling me about it this morning. You guys were great."
"That's not what I meant, Harry. I mean from the beginning. It was tough being you. But you stayed with it. No matter what. This whole past year, we kept telling each other you wouldn't quit so we wouldn't either."
Harry didn't know what to say. He looked down at Ginny who was smiling and with pride in her eyes. He looked at all the familiar faces who were grinning fit to burst. He then looked at Neville who was looking at Harry with a shy smile. Neville turned around and picked up a long package from a desk.
"Here, Harry, I figure this should go to you. You used it to save Ginny that time. We all thought you'd know what to do with it now."
Harry took it and pulled back some of the paper. He saw the hilt of Gryffindor's sword. He shrugged and shook his head.
"No, Nev, it's not mine to decide about. It came to you this time. You do with it what you think is best."
He handed it back to Neville, who smiled again and set it down on the desk. They spent the rest of the afternoon swapping stories about what had been going on at the school and what Harry, Ron and Hermione had been up to. Harry chose not to talk about Ron's absence. That was a personal matter between those three alone. When it was time for dinner they left the room and trooped down to the Great Hall together. Harry was feeling better than he had all day. His mood was buoyed by the stories of how they resisted and subverted the attempts to turn the school into a haven for the Dark Arts and purebloods. He voiced his objections whenever they tried to give him the credit but inwardly he drew more then a little satisfaction from the fact that his teaching of the DA had had such a positive effect. He faced the idea of being Bill's assistant with a little more confidence.
Dinner was not a joyous event but the shock and horror of the day before was lifting and with signs that the school was returning to a modest measure of normality, the mood was lighter. Harry was once again seated with the Weasleys and he was listening as Bill was discussing what went on in the school staff meeting.
"As I was saying, Harry, Professor McGonagall is very impressed by what she's found out about the DA. She had hints after it was discovered last year but apparently she had a little talk with Neville and a few of the other older members and it gave her the idea about you helping me. You better be careful. If you do as good a job with the first years she's liable not to want you to leave for Auror training." Bill laughed.
"Do not laugh, 'usband. It would be best if 'arry stayed 'ere and became a Professor and not runneeng around 'unteeng dark ones," Fleur said with undisguised anger.
"Come on, Fleur," Charlie Weasley said. "With his reputation and a few years of Auror training, there won't be a dark witch or wizard that would dare stand up to him. Besides I think he's earned the right to make his own decisions about his life."
Fleur didn't respond but it was obvious she was still upset. Bill could only look at Harry and shrug. That and the look on his face spoke loudly that he had no idea why his wife felt so strongly. Considering their history Harry wasn't sure. They certainly parted on good terms at the end of the Tournament and she was always pleasant when they met the few times when she and Bill were dating, but that didn't explain all this. The rest of the dinner passed with nothing else of any significance.
There were no further announcements. An owl did arrive to tell them that Mr. Weasley and Percy would be staying at the Ministry overnight. There was much work to be done dealing with Voldemort's allies and the disruption caused by their disappearances or arrests. They promised nothing would keep them from the memorial service.
After dinner everyone went off to find their beds either in the dormitories or in makeshift accommodations that had been set up in the school or in the village. This night Harry, the Weasleys and Fleur sat up for a while in the common room. Hermione was at her home making ready to leave for Australia. She would come back to Hogwarts for the memorial service then go back to London to begin the long flight that afternoon. She hoped to be back within the week.
Slowly people began to make their way to their rooms for the night. After a while all who remained were Harry, Ron, Bill and Fleur. Ron made to get up and Bill stood with him, offering his hand to help his wife up.
"Um, Bill, Fleur," Harry began. "Would it be alright if I talked to Fleur alone for a bit?"
Bill looked from Harry to Fleur and back. He nodded his agreement.
"Of course, 'arry."
Bill followed Ron up the stairs to the boys' dormitory. Ron looked back over his shoulder at Harry and gave him a lopsided grin. Harry smiled back. When he heard the doors close he turned and looked at Fleur who was looking at him with a questioning tilt to her head.
"So, 'arry, what do you weesh to discuss weeth me? Are you goeeng to try and convince me of your plans?" Her voice was level, her tone neutral.
"No. But I would like to try and understand why you feel so strongly about this. Even Mrs. Weasley, who worries about everything I do, hasn't objected to it. She even said that with my tendency to attract trouble at least this way I'll be trained to handle it. Why do you care so much?"
"'arry, you are like family to me now. That means very much to me."
While her face didn't give it away, her voice sounded a bit evasive. Harry looked back at her, his expression clearly showing he wasn't convinced. Fleur stared back for a moment, then looked down into her lap, her hands held tightly together. She looked back up at Harry again.
"I 'ave a confession to make 'arry. I 'ave felt very guilty these last few years. When we first met after you 'ad been chosen the fourth champion, I thought many bad theengs about you. I believed all those theengs they said about you. That you were arrogant, always wanteeng to be the center of attention. Even after I saw you fly so magnificently against that dragon I thought no better about you. That I was shown up by a leetle boy, as I called you, was very 'umiliateeng. Then you saved my leetle sister when you could have won that event. Eet made me ashamed. But I thought we parted on good terms at the end of that year and all was well."
"We did, Fleur."
"Oh, 'arry. I still felt so bad. The more I came to know about you the worse I felt. My seester adores you, you know. Always talkeeng about 'ow brave you are. She tried to find out all she could about you and she would tell me what she learned. Then when I came back to work at Gringott's I found out so much more from Bill and his family. All that you've done, all that you 'ad suffered. Keepeeng that 'orrible creature at bay all those years and then when 'e returned you told us and 'ardly anyone believed you. But you never stopped, you didn't give up. And een the end you were willeeng to die to see Voldemort destroyed. Who was I to be so proud, so arrogant to treat you so badly? Eet shames me steell."
The last was said amid choking sobs, tears streaming down her face. Harry wasn't sure what to do next but he couldn't let this go on. Not if things turned out the way he hoped and he and Fleur would be seeing a lot of each other. He reached across and took her hand.
"There's nothing to be ashamed of, Fleur," he began and she started to shake her head. He squeezed her hand a bit and looked directly into her eyes.
"No, there isn't. When we first met all you saw was a scrawny little fourth year that didn't belong where he was. You didn't know anything about me or what was going on. You saw how other people were reacting, why should a stranger from another country know any different? But most of all you did change how you felt when you found out more. You should have seen the looks I got when you kissed me on the cheeks when you left to go home. We're going to be friends, Fleur, we're practically family as it is. You need to stop beating yourself up about this. It's over. Please."
Fleur looked back at those bright green eyes, pleading with her to let go of her guilt and she marveled at the idea of what kind of man he would grow into. She took his hand into both of hers and with a little laugh said,
"You are right, 'arry. Eet ees a bit seely when I think about eet. Maybe eet bothers me so much because eet proves I'm not so perfect like I used to theenk I was."
"I don't know, Fleur. You seem perfect to me," he said with a smile.
"Oh, 'arry," she laughed again and she put her arms around him and hugged him tight.
"Wait unteel I write and tell my seester I am 'arry Potter's good friend. She weell be so jealous."
She gave him a final squeeze and then leaned back away from him.
"Okay, mon ami. Off to bed weeth you, I 'ave kept you up far too long."
"Good night, 'arry."
"Oh, Fleur, did I ever tell you how much I love to hear the way you say my name." He smiled and gave her a little wink.
"Bad boy, to bed with you." She laughed and with a toss of her shimmering hair, she went quickly up the stairs to the girls' dormitory.
Harry could not help grinning as he walked up to his room. Things were falling into place and he looked forward to the future. He crawled into bed and lay staring up at the ceiling for a while, listening to the heavy breathing of Ron and Neville.
He wasn't sure when he fell asleep but before long he found himself laying on the ground back in the woods being picked up by Hagrid to be carried to the front of Hogwarts like a trophy to be displayed. There was Neville defying Voldemort and behind him the defenders of the school. But the sword never came and before Harry could act, Voldemort blasted Neville to nothingness and the Death Eaters and their allies rushed the door and out of the village of Hogsmeade came not the townspeople and returning students but a wave of foul creatures of Dark magic and they began blasting the school with powerful curses and Harry jumped up shouting for it to stop, that he was dead and it didn't have to go on.
He was screaming at the top of his voice and then he fell and he awoke lying on the floor tangled in his bed curtains. Ron and Neville were shouting, 'Wake up, Harry, it's a dream.' He continued to struggle but as he came to his senses he stopped trying to fight them and as they began to make some head way getting him unraveled the door banged open and Bill and Charlie and George boiled in.
Ginny and Fleur could be heard calling up to them from the common room as other voices could be heard with questions about what was going on. They finally got Harry free of the curtains and up on his feet, although he was none too steady. His eyes were glazed and his vision was blurry.
"Good grief, Harry. You're white as a sheet and soaked with sweat. What was it?"
"I was dead again, but I wasn't. Like before, but Neville never got the sword and Voldemort blasted him into nothing." Harry tried to focus on his friend but instead had to reach out and touch his face to convince himself he was there.
"Then they attacked the school and all these dark magic creatures came up out of the town. They must have gotten everyone in the village first. They were blowing the castle to pieces. I tried to stop them, tell them I was already dead but they wouldn't listen, no matter how loud I shouted."
He swayed despite the grip Ron and Neville had on him.
"C'mon," Bill began. "We've got to get him up to Madame Pomfrey. He's really out of it. Someone run up to the hospital wing and tell them we're bringing Harry up there." Turning back to Ron and Neville he said, "See if he can walk, otherwise we'll carry him up."
They got two steps before Harry's eyes rolled up into his head and he slumped. If they hadn't been holding him he would have been face down on the floor. Bill and Charlie stepped in and scooped him up from either side and went out through the door sideways and then down the sweeping stairs. Ginny and Fleur looked horrified and the other Gryffindors weren't much better. As the elder Weasley brothers carried Harry's inert form towards the exit hole Charlie called back over his shoulder,
"George, go find Mum and get her there."
Bill took Harry as Charlie climbed out of the portal, then passed him through and came out himself. Ginny and Fleur tumbled out behind them as did Neville and Ron. George came last and sprinted off towards the room his mother was sharing with some of the other moms who were staying overnight. They proceeded quickly through the corridors and to the hospital wing. Madame Pomfrey stood at the door to the ward, anxiety plain on her face but maintaining her composure.
"Right here in this bed, boys. Gently now. Let me see."
She pulled back his eyelids and clucked her tongue. She felt his pulse and listened to his shallow breathing. His pale face and his sweat soaked hair plastered to his forehead told her volumes. She mumbled under her breath.
"Alright, clear out all of you please. I have many other injured people here who need their rest. You can do no more for him tonight. Yes, I know you are all concerned but that means nothing right now, he's a very sick young man and he needs his rest. Yes, you can wait outside if you must."
She shooed them out into the waiting room where they all took seats. Fleur was holding on to Bill's arm so tightly he was wincing. Ginny hopped up and began pacing, chewing at her lower lip. When George came in with Mrs. Weasley Ginny flung herself into her mothers arms and cried.
"What is going on here? Poppy? What is it?"
"I'm so angry at myself right now, Molly. That boy has been through so much this last year and who knows what that last spell You-Know-who hit him with may have done. And here he is waltzing around the grounds, up late. I should have had him in here from the very start but with all the injured I just didn't think. Stupid."
"Calm down, Poppy. We've all been around him much more today than you and we didn't notice anything more than a little fatigue and a bit of moodiness. How could you know? But how is he?"
"I'd say shock, exhaustion, who knows what emotional trauma. I'm sending an owl right now to St. Mungo's and asking for someone to come out here. I'm not taking any chances."
"Can I see him, Poppy? Just for a moment?"
"All right, but for a moment and quietly. No, just your mum, all of you."
Mrs. Weasley slipped through the door and walked quietly up to Harry's bedside. She looked down at his face, pale in the moonlight that came through the large window at the end of the ward. Why hadn't she noticed how thin he looked, how worn, she berated herself.
"I'm sorry, Lily, James."
She touched his face, it felt clammy. She smoothed his hair away from his face and then with a sigh she left the room. Her children and the others looked up, every one a mask of anxiety. She looked back at them with a small smile.
"We've all gotten used to him coming out of such horrible scrapes we just didn't pay attention. He's pushed himself to the limit this time and he needs rest. I know it's a waste of time for me to tell you to go back to bed, so I won't, since I'll wait here with you. Ron, please, go tell the Gryffindors that Harry is staying here tonight, then you can come back." She then settled herself down on a bench with Ginny at her side. "And now we wait."
It was nearly sunrise when a small wizard in white healer's robes bustled into the room. He carried a small bag and his wand. He didn't even stop to acknowledge those waiting in the outer room. They heard a greeting from Madame Pomfrey before the door closed. They waited some more. It was perhaps an hour and a half later when the little man came out again, followed by Madame Pomfrey. He came to stand before Mrs. Weasley.
"I am given to understand that you are close to the boy?"
"We consider him family, yes."
"Well, ma'am, you have a very sick young fellow on your hands. Physically he is on the verge of complete collapse. I can't be certain but whatever happened when he was struck with that last curse by You-know-who, yes, yes, it's silly but old habits, you know. Anyway, it took a great deal out of him. On top of that, he has been through a great deal of stress in his young life. That can be enormously damaging over time. I've ordered complete bed rest for the next several days, then he must be allowed to recover at a controlled pace that I will lay out and supervise. I will return in three days to see how he is coming along. You are his friends and family, you must see that he does not tax himself in any manner. He could damage himself permanently. And under no circumstances is he allowed to perform any magic. Am I clear?"
"Yes, Doctor. Thank you very, very much."
"While I am here, Poppy, would you like me to look at any of your other patients?"
"Why, yes, thank you. That would be very helpful."
They both disappeared back into the ward room. Those in the waiting room looked around at each other. Molly Weasley looked at her sons. They all looked grim and a bit shocked. Fleur was as pale as her hair, wringing her hands in her lap. Ginny was quiet but had a strange, almost determined look on her face.
"Well, you heard what the healer said. We are going to have to do everything we can to help Harry along. Fleur, when you've had a chance to pull yourself together I think you should go along to Hermione as planned. Yes, let her know what has happened but she needs to finish her preparations. She can be here tonight and there isn't anything she, or we, can do in the meantime."
"Mum," Ron started. "Harry is going to be very upset if he misses the funeral tomorrow, you know that."
"Ron, there's no help for it. We don't even know if he'll be awake by then, and if he is he'll be in no condition to get out of bed, let alone be out there. Now look, I know how you all feel about Harry, I feel the same way, but it's not about us, it's about him. Now, I want you all to go down to breakfast, No, don't argue. Go down there and eat, you can bring something up to me when you're done. Off you go."
As her family, along with Neville, trudged out of the waiting room, Mrs. Weasley settled in. With nothing else to do she began to tic off a list in her mind about what they would have to do to get Harry well. She wished her husband would return soon. They had much to discuss. Perhaps an hour later, about mid morning, the healer emerged with Madame Pomfrey.
"Thank you so much, Doctor, you've been a great deal of help."
"Not at all, Poppy, we do what we can. Extraordinary times. Remember, tell those two that they should come see me at St. Mungo's as soon as they are up and about. The rest should be fine." He turned to Mrs. Weasley. "I've checked on Harry one last time, he seems to be resting a bit easier, but he has a long way to go."
"Yes, Doctor, thank you so much."
"You're all very welcome. I'll see you in three days."
With that the little wizard left the room. Mrs. Weasley looked back at Madame Pomfrey.
"The healer said it would be all right if you wanted to come in and sit with him for a bit, Molly."
"Thank you, Poppy. I'm grateful."
She followed the nurse back into the ward room. She saw that they had put up a screen around his bed on one side and the bottom. She saw a chair had been placed next to the open side. She sat down and looked at Harry's face. It did seem that a bit more color was there and his breathing did seem stronger. She settled back in the chair and watched. She could hear Madame Pomfrey moving about the other beds, talking in low whispers. The other patients seemed aware that something odd was going on and there was very little talking. Perhaps an hour or so into her vigil, she saw Harry stir a bit and as she leaned forward she heard him mumble, "Mum?"
"No, Harry, dear. It's Mrs. Weasley."
"Oh, same thing, really."
He settled back into the bed and there was a small smile on his face. Mrs. Weasley blinked back tears as she leaned around the screen and caught the nurse's eye with a wave. When Madame Pomfrey came around the curtain, Mrs. Weasley looked up and said,
"Poppy, he moved a little and spoke a bit, then he got quiet again."
"That's a good sign, I'd say. I hear someone out in the waiting room. Perhaps it's your family with your breakfast, you need to eat too."
"Yes, I'll go and see."
Molly got up and went out to find everyone but Neville in the room, a covered plate and basket and a pot of tea. They all looked a bit harried.
"Here you go, Mum. Some bacon and eggs, rolls, butter, tea. You should have seen what the house elves tried to push on us. Delivered it by hand," Bill said as they set her food down on the bench. "What a madhouse. We almost got bowled over by everyone rushing at us to find out what happened. Professor McGonagall almost broke the podium trying to quiet everyone down. She said she'd find out how Harry was and let them know at lunch. How is he?"
"He's resting easier. His color is a bit better and his breathing is stronger. He even spoke a bit but I'm not sure if he was awake or not."
"What did he say, Mum?" Ginny asked.
"He said 'mum' as a question."
Fleur chocked back a sob as Ginny took her hand.
"That was it?"
"No, when I said, no it was me he replied, 'oh, same thing, really'".
"He's got that right," Ron said.
"Yes, well. It's a good sign but he has a long road ahead of him. I think we should all go and try and get some rest, we'll do him no good if we make ourselves sick and tomorrow is likely to be a trying day."
"Mum, before we go, could I…?" Ginny asked, her voice shaking a bit.
"I don't know, Ginny."
"Well, I guess it would be all right for just a minute. But you must be quiet and just for a minute."
She took her daughter's hand and led her into the ward. Madame Pomfrey looked up from one of her patients and after a moment nodded slightly. Ginny walked over and stood next to Harry's bed side. She reached down and took his hand. It felt warm which was good, but it seemed so frail. Harry was never and likely would never be a large person but he seemed somehow shrunken. Still holding his hand she knelt down and leaned close to his ear. Some of her long red hair touched his face. She began to whisper softly and Mrs. Weasley wasn't sure but she thought Harry smiled a bit. A moment more and then Ginny stood up, kissed his hand and set it back down on the bed. As she turned to leave she looked at her mother and said,
"I'm not going to lose him, not now, not after all this."
Her face was set with a fierce determination. Her mother only smiled and nodded. They turned and left the ward room. The others were all standing waiting for them. Ginny looked at them and said,
"He'll be fine; he's been through tough times before. He'll get through this, we'll see to it."
Fleur stepped up to Ginny and gave her a hug. Then they walked from the room arm in arm as the rest of the family followed after. When they got back to the Gryffindor common room it was happily empty since there were still many chores to be done. Bill and Charlie helped Mrs. Weasley through the portal and they all took chairs by the fire.
"All right now. When your father and Percy return we'll figure out how we'll get Harry to the Burrow. No magical transportation can be used so we'll see if the Express can take us to London and then either a taxi or ministry car can drive us. Ron, Harry will be in your room as usual."
"Wait a minute, Mum. Why not move them down to our room, Fred and mine. It's bigger, you don't hear the ghoul in the attic and it gets a lot of sun. I'll be kipping at the store a lot and…."
"Thank you, George. That's a wonderful idea. So that's settled. Ron, I know you want to help George with the business, but I think it would be good to have you around for Harry so I'd ask you to plan on living at home this summer."
"Sure, Mum. Although I bet he won't even notice I'm gone with Ginny around the house." He smiled at his sister who gave him a scornful look, stuck her tongue out at him, and then laughed.
"Yes, I think you might be right. Which brings me to a second point. You young lady, will behave yourself. I know how you feel about the boy but no funny business. He can't be taxed that way."
Ginny turned bright red, the Weasley boys all laughed and Fleur gave her hand a squeeze and whispered something in Ginny's ear that sent them both off in near hysterics. They continued the conversation after that in a decidedly lighter mood. Late in the afternoon a Gryffindor third year came in and breathlessly told them that Mr. Weasley and Percy were waiting for them in the Great Hall. They all bustled out and hurried down the stairs.
Arthur and Percy Weasley stood up from the table as they entered. The hall was mostly empty as dinner was still an hour away and people were still about their chores. They looked tired, a bit anxious but still somehow quite satisfied. Molly hugged them both and they all sat down close together.
"First things first," Arthur said. "How is Harry?"
"He's exhausted. The healer also said something about shock and emotional stress. He needs bed rest and a long recuperation. Likely all summer. He'll be staying with us, Arthur."
"Wouldn't have it any other way. Well, I can tell you that we heard some wild rumors at the Ministry this morning. Harry had dropped dead, had gone mad, and had done all sorts of crazy things. We got a message from the Headmistress about noon that said he had collapsed but was resting and expected to recover. That settled things down. It's still pretty chaotic, we uncovered more than a few turncoats. There will be some serious shakeup in the leadership, that's for sure."
"Too true, Dad," Percy offered. "Looks like Shacklebolt will stay on and Dad will be moving up. Lots of vacancies all round."
"So, how are all of you holding up? It's been pretty trying around here too, I'd wager," Mr. Weasley asked, putting his arm around his wife.
"Well yesterday went pretty well, Arthur. Harry wasn't doing well in the morning but I thought he improved as the day went. We sent Hermione off to arrange to go get her parents from Australia. Harry insisted on paying for it. He and I talked in the afternoon and I think we made some headway about his feeling responsible for everything but maybe I didn't do so well after all. The arrangements are made for tomorrow for Fred and the others." She smiled sadly at her husband. "This afternoon we all discussed what we need to do for Harry this summer. Do you think the Ministry can help us get him to the Burrow? He can't use any magic for quite a while, the healer said."
"My dear, at this moment in time I believe we could get Harry hand carried all the way. What did you have in mind?"
"I was thinking the Hogwarts Express and then a car from the train station."
"Easy enough. It's nearly end of term, such as it is. I can have a car waiting at the station with no problem."
"That's wonderful. So, how are the rest of you holding up? Bill, how are you doing with your teaching assignment?"
"We had a staff meeting yesterday. I have some idea about what I need to do. Harry's illness might complicate matters, but if he's resting at the Burrow, I don't think our having some conversations would hurt. Just no practical class preparation for a while." The last was said with a grin as his mother mock glared at him.
"How about you, Charlie?" Mr. Weasley asked.
"I'll be heading back to Romania day after tomorrow, Dad. I have some research to finish, then I'm submitting an application to the Ministry for a research grant. A bit hush hush right now, but I'd be around more if it comes through."
"That would be great. Boys, what about you?" he said to Ron and George.
"We're going to get the store back in order. Had a few problems with the old Ministry. But I've got some new ideas, Fred had written down a bunch more. Ron made a great suggestion that we concentrate on inexpensive stuff right now. Not as much profit margin but people right now probably can't afford or won't want to buy more expensive stuff so we'll offer all kinds of cheap laughs for a year or so, build up the clientele then move into more high end stuff."
"Makes a lot of sense. Looks like you boys will do all right. I think the Ministry issues will disappear now. You were being harassed because of your connection to Harry and to me to some extent. We've taken care of that," Mr. Weasley said with a grim smile. "Ginny, what about you? How are you doing?"
"Well, Dad, Harry and I had a long talk yesterday morning. We've come to an understanding, I guess you'd call it," she said, then blushed a bit but her dad was smiling. "Right now I guess I'll be helping him recover and then we're both back to school come September. We had talked about practicing our broom riding this summer but I guess that's out. I'll smack him with it if I see him even looking at his Firebolt."
This got a laugh from everyone.
"Fleur, you're awfully quiet. How are you, my dear," Arthur said to his daughter-in-law.
"I went to bed feeling very good last night, Father Weasley, I'm sorry, Dad. 'arry and I sat up a bit after the others and we talked and 'e made me feel very good about some theengs. Then this. Mon dieu. I theenk perhaps I should 'ave waited but he wanted to talk with me."
"Fleur, dear. If you went to bed feeling happy, I'm sure he did too. I don't think you caused him any harm, probably the opposite," Mrs. Weasley said.
Fleur just sighed and leaned into her husband's broad shoulder. They sat quietly for a few more minutes and then people began to drift in. Some stopped to ask how Harry was doing. The answer was the same, 'he's doing better but needs his rest.' Others asked Arthur how things were at the Ministry. 'A bit chaotic at first but things are settling down.' was the answer. Dinner proceeded without incident until a note was delivered to Professor McGonagall who then had it taken to the Weasleys. It was from Madame Pomfrey. Harry was awake and asking for them. They all quickly rose and hurried from the Hall. They left a hall full of chatter as they did. Within moments they reached the waiting room where Madame Pomfrey met them.
"He's still very weak but he's awake and aware. I'd ask that only two at a time go in and only for a few moments. Arthur and Molly first if you would."
She let them in and then moved off into the ward. Arthur and Molly walked up to Harry's bedside and looked down at him. His eyes were closed but they opened and they were as clear and bright as they recalled. He smiled slightly.
"Made a proper mess of it, haven't I."
"Don't be silly, Harry. It's not like you did it on purpose," Mr. Weasley said, trying to sound lighthearted.
Mrs. Weasley sat down and took Harry's hand.
"Don't you worry about a thing, Harry. You're still coming home with us and you'll be right as rain in no time. The healer said you just need rest, proper food and fresh air and you'll be fine. It's the least we could do and you're family after all, remember."
"Okay, 'Mum'." He said with a bit of an impish grin.
Mrs. Weasley had to fight the tears back again. Mr. Weasley coughed a bit and said,
"We can't take too much time. The others want to talk to you, too."
"About tomorrow. Can I still go? I have to. For Fred and the others."
"Out of the question, Harry. The healer gave strict orders. No moving from that bed, no stress. Nothing."
"But nothing, son. You of all people should know that sometimes you have to do the thing that is hard and not necessarily fair. Besides, and I don't mean to be unkind, but with everything that has happened, perhaps it's better. If you are there you'll draw a lot of attention and I think the focus should be on those we're burying. I don't know how else to say it, Harry."
"No, sir, you're right. I'm just being selfish and stupid."
"Wrong on both counts, but we won't argue that for now. We're going to go and let someone else in. We'll see you afterwards, tomorrow. Sleep well tonight."
"Good night, Harry dear," Mrs. Weasley said as she leaned over and kissed his forehead.
Next in were Ginny and Fleur. Harry smiled as he saw them come in.
"Ah, two of my three favorite girls in all the world," his voice light but barely more than a whisper.
"Harry, I thought we were done with you scaring us to death. What am I going to do with you?" Ginny said crossly but with her eyes alight and a small smile.
"I have a few ideas but it looks like they'll have to wait," his lips curling up a bit.
She knelt down and took his hand and held it to her face, then she leaned forward and gave him a brief kiss on the lips. His hand came up and stroked her hair.
"Did I ever tell you home much I love your hair? Promise me you'll never cut it."
"I promise," she said.
He then reached over and sought Fleur's hand. She took his and held it tightly. He squeezed it and smiled up at her. She couldn't trust her voice so she just smiled back.
"Harry, we are going to go now. I'm sure Madame Pomfrey is going to give you something to sleep through the night. I'll be back in the morning. I promise."
"Okay. I'll see you tomorrow."
Next came Bill and Charlie. They kept their comments brief and on the light side. Charlie even offered to keep Harry's broom in shape with a long flight to Romania. Bill smirked and Harry gave a slight shrug. They left the room shortly afterwards and Ron and George came in. George did most of the talking, reassuring Harry that his investment in Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes was safe and guaranteed to grow. Ron nodded and gave Harry a smile. Next in was Percy.
"Wasn't sure you'd want to talk to me, Harry. Not with some of the things I said about you and how I've behaved."
"No worries, Perce. You came back, that's all that matters," Harry said and he raised his hand to Percy. They shook hands and Percy said,
"Thank, Harry, that means a lot coming from you." He paused, then added, "I'm the last of the lot. You should be able to get some rest now."
As Percy moved to leave, the door slid open and Hermione came into the room. She looked at Percy who nodded and moved around her and out the door.
"Oh, Harry, what have you done this time?" she said.
"Hey, can't blame this one on me. I was asleep. Had a bad dream. All went down the tubes after that. How are things going with your parents?" he asked.
"Typical you, turn it back on me. It's all set. I leave tomorrow. I should be back in about a week. Thank you for paying for it. I'm sure my parents will pay you back when they can."
"Forget it. I owe you a lot more for all the things you've done for me, especially this last year." His voice was getting weaker.
"That was because we're friends, Harry."
"So was the airfare."
She knelt down next to the bed and hugged him as best she could and he returned it. She felt his grip slacken and when she leaned back she saw he was asleep again. She stood up and gave his hand a final squeeze and let herself out of the ward. He woke up briefly around midnight and Madame Pomfrey was there to check on him and give him a potion. His sleep was deep and dreamless. When he awoke the next day around midmorning he was still weak but he was hungry. He looked around his bed and didn't see any kind of tray.
"Um, Madame Pomfrey? Hello?"
"Yes, Harry? Are you alright?"
"Yes, Ma'am. I'm just kinda hungry," Harry said.
"One moment, Harry. Breakfast is on the way."
Harry settled back against his pillows and stared up at the ceiling. Yesterday's events, what little he could recall were rather hazy in his mind. He knew he had visits from the Weasleys and Hermione but he had trouble remembering just what was said. He was painfully aware that he was missing the funeral but what he could recall of Mr. and Mrs. Weasley's visit it was probably better if he wasn't there. Something about being a distraction. He would just have to say good bye to Fred and the others in his own way in his own time. He was even having trouble remembering the nightmare that woke him up and led to his collapsing, but he was sure it was pretty bad. His introspection was cut off when Madame Pomfrey came with a small tray that held a bowl of thin broth, some thin slices of bread and cheese and a cup of pumpkin juice.
"Here you are, Harry. We need to go slowly for the first few meals, so take your time. Many of my patients are leaving this morning so you may hear a lot of commotion but just try to ignore it and relax. The Weasleys said they'd be up to see you before lunch."
"Thank you, ma'am."
Harry sat up and Madame Pomfrey plumped up his cushions so he was sitting up. Harry felt a little light headed but that passed quickly. Obeying orders, he took his time spooning up the soup and taking small bites of the bread and cheese. By the time he was done his stomach felt full but he was very tired. He drank the last of his pumpkin juice just as Madame Pomfrey came to collect the tray.
"Well done, Harry. I'll just take that and you slide back down and rest a bit. It appears that people are coming back up to the castle so the funeral must be over. Your visitors should be along in a moment. I'll only let in a few at a time and if you start feeling overtaxed you let me know."
Harry slid down against the pillows so that his head and shoulders were still propped up and he waited. It was perhaps twenty minutes when the door cracked open a bit. Madame Pomfrey hurried up and slipped into the waiting room. Harry could hear some conversation through the closed door, one a particularly deep tone. The first two visitors through the door were a bit of surprise. Professor McGonagall was followed by Acting Minister for Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt. Their faces were serious but not particularly grave.
"Good morning, Potter," the Professor began. "How are you feeling, any better?"
"Yes, ma'am. Much better." Harry saw the look the Professor gave him. "Well, a little better at least."
"Potter, the Minister would like to have a word with you. I'll leave you two alone. I'd like to talk to Poppy for a few moments."
"Hello, Harry," the Minister began in his deep voice. He held out his hand and shook Harry's. "It would appear that we are all in your debt once again. It's starting to get to be a habit."
Harry's face flushed and the Acting Minister laughed quietly as he pulled up the chair and sat down.
"Seriously, my boy. We do owe you a great deal. I know you've had a very bad time of it with the Ministry, particularly the last few years. It's been a great embarrassment frankly and I would like to see us make amends. Is there anything we can do for you?"
"Well, sir, I'm not exactly in the best shape to do any serious thinking. What I can say is I plan to return to Hogwarts for my final year to get my NEWTs and then apply to become an Auror. I guess it wouldn't hurt to have the Minister make a recommendation."
Shacklebolt looked stunned.
"Harry, after all you've been through, you want to become an Auror and do more of it? Haven't you had enough?"
"You'd think so, wouldn't you? But, it's seems I have some talent for it and some experience too. I know Voldemort is dead but I can't sit around and let some other dark witch or wizard follow in his footsteps. I think it's what I'm supposed to do, sir."
"Well, I can't say that I'm not surprised, Harry, but if that's what you want and you come up with the necessary NEWTs you can rest assured you're in." He paused and rubbed his head and then looked at Harry again. "I know this may sound rather cold, Harry, but your joining the Ministry would go a long way in helping rebuild our reputation and credibility with our community."
"I understand, sir. The Ministry has tried to use me in the past, even ruin me, but that was then and other people were involved. This time it's my idea and the people involved are ones I can trust, I think," Harry said, his voice fading at the end.
"Well, Harry, it's obvious I've overstayed my time. You get your rest and I'll make sure that Professor McGonagall is aware of your decision and my support for it and we'll get you set up properly. We'll talk again when you're up to it. Take care, young man."
With that, Shacklebolt shook Harry's hand again, stood up and walked around the end of the curtain. He heard a murmured exchange and then he and the Professor went to the door. The Professor turned toward Harry,
"Potter, you and I will talk before you leave, but not before you're well enough, all right?"
The rest of the morning consisted of brief visits from pairs of Weasleys and Hermione. She came first since she had to leave for the airport and her trip to Australia to collect her parents. She once again thanked Harry for his friendship and generosity. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley gave Harry a brief description of the service and what the memorial park looked like. He would have to wait until he returned to school to see it. His name came up a time or two in discussions but overall it was a very nice, moving ceremony much appreciated by all the families. The Weasley siblings were brief and up beat, wishing Harry well. Once more Ginny and Fleur arrived together, this time they both knelt next to his bed, one on either side and gave him brief, heart felt hugs and kisses, Ginny on the lips, Fleur on the cheeks. He teased them in a hushed voice about getting so much attention from the two most beautiful girls ever to step foot in Hogwarts. This got him giggles and more kisses. As they were leaving, Madame Pomfrey came with another tray, his lunch this time, much the same as breakfast and another dose of potion. He was soon fast asleep and did not awake until around sunrise the next morning. Despite his protests to the contrary, Madame Pomfrey compelled him to use a wheel chair to get to the washroom where he could tend to himself and get a little wash up. By the time he returned to his bed he was heavily fatigued and glad he hadn't walked. Along about mid-morning he received an unexpected visitor, Professor Slughorn.
"So, Poppy? How is our patient getting along?"
"Our patient?" asked Harry.
"Yes, Harry. The potion that is allowing you to sleep without any dreams has been made by Professor Slughorn. It's a very subtle thing, I understand. One of his specialties."
"Oh, not at all, Poppy. A simple thing really, if you have the experience. Only too glad to help out. I'll make sure you have a good batch of it to take when you leave school, Potter. You'll likely need it for a few weeks more. Well, back to the dungeons. Have to get things ready for close of term, such as it is."
While Harry wasn't particularly crazy about Slughorn, with his tendency to collect pet students, he was a lot easier to deal with then had been Professor Snape and Harry would need a potion NEWT for Auror training. Lunch was a bit more substantial and he was able to eat it with company. Ginny and Ron came up with a tray for themselves and Madame Pomfrey provided a much more robust soup with little slices of meat, cheese and bread. It was less tiring to eat now and he was doing better at keeping his end of the conversation going. Occasionally he would reach out and take Ginny's hand just to feel the warmth of it. Ron would smirk, then smile. After lunch another dose of potion put him under until the next morning.
As promised the little wizard healer from St. Mungo's returned and gave Harry a thorough going over, using both mundane and magical tests. After perhaps half an hour of poking, prodding, wand waving and incantation mumbling, he sat on the chair and looked at Harry.
"Well, young man, you're doing much better than last I saw you. You're not out of the woods yet, but you're well on your way. I would like to ask you a few questions. I have a few suspicions, did some research, but there are still some holes I need filled."
"Yes, sir, I'll do my best," Harry replied.
"Mr. Potter, it's my understanding that you had a rather special, close connection with Voldemort, see, I can say it now. Can you tell me about that?"
"Yes, sir," and Harry explained about the night his parents died, the special magic invoked by his mother's sacrifice, the use of his blood to revive Voldemort's body and the whole issue of Horcruxs. He then related the conversation that Snape and Dumbledore had that he overhead in Snape's memory in the pensieve. As the healer listened he nodded here and there. When Harry was done the healer leaned back in his chair.
"This helps explain quite a bit, Harry. If I understand it then, something that you've carried around with you since you were a year old was suddenly ripped away by Voldemort's attempt to kill you in the Forbidden Forest. You had the fighting before and the fighting afterwards. Yes, yes. A great deal of strain and a tremendous drain on your strength. Your collapse is no great surprise then. The dream you had triggered a great emotional response, again draining already diminished reserves. Well, I have no doubts that we will get you back on your feet with rest and proper diet. As to the dreams, that I cannot guarantee as easily. But it is obvious that you have a great deal of support and that should help. It will, though, in the end, be up to you. Strength of mind and character will tell the tale, yes. Unless you have any questions, I think we are done here. I would suggest you stop by St. Mungo's near the end of the summer. I understand you are coming back to school? Yes and I'm sure Professor McGonagall would appreciate a clean bill of health. See you then?"
"Yes, sir, I'll do that and thank you for your time."
"Not at all, my boy. We all must do our part. Good day to you and good luck. I just need to consult briefly with Madame Pomfrey and then I'm off."
Harry smiled as the healer turned and left. It did seem to make sense. So much had happened practically all at once and with the whole Horcrux issue he figured he was lucky he didn't fall apart all together. Ron, Ginny and Fleur paid him a visit that afternoon to tell him that Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had left the school for a while, Mr. Weasley to go back to the Ministry with Percy to continue the reorganization and Mrs. Weasley back to the Burrow to get the house in order for when they all come home. Bill was working to figure out how to revise the curriculum for the DADA class and he was anxious to talk to Harry about it. Charlie was off to Romania but would be home again for a bit in mid summer. George was back at the shop starting to get things ready to reopen. Harry noticed that Ron still had trouble talking whenever Fleur was around. He couldn't help but smile.
"Oh, 'arry, eet ees good to see you smile like that. What makes you so 'appy?"
"Oh, I don't know, nothing special," he lied. "I'm feeling pretty good, I'm glad you're here and the healer gave me some good news this morning. That's all worth some smiles, don't you think?"
"It sure is, Harry," replied Ginny. "In fact, it's getting kind of contagious."
She broke into a huge smile and took Harry's hand. Fleur smiled and Ron laughed. Harry thought that was the greatest sound. Madame Pomfrey told Harry later in the day that his dose of potion was being cut back and his need was to eat more so dinner was added starting that afternoon. She brought him a bowl of savory stew, a plate of bread slices with cheese and pumpkin juice. Harry devoured it all and enjoyed it immensely. When Madame Pomfrey took his tray away she told him he could get out of bed for a while in the morning and sit up in the chair. After lunch that day, as he was sitting up in bed, Professor McGonagall paid him a call.
"Well, Potter, I must say you're looking much better today. You had me thoroughly worried, young man. But I think now would be a good time for us to have that discussion I mentioned the other day. I had a visit from the Acting Minister after he talked to you. He was very supportive of your intent to become an Auror. I seem to recall that we had a discussion along those lines when that despicable Umbridge woman was here. I have spoken with all of the teachers involved and each has agreed to help you prepare for your NEWTs. It will mean a great deal of work, Potter. I'm fairly certain that the distractions you've had in the past won't happen this coming year but you will need to concentrate all your efforts. You'll get your list of required books and materials as usual. As far as your teaching duties are concerned I believe you'll have ample opportunity to work with Bill Weasley to sort that out. I would suggest that you enlist Ms Granger to help you get organized, but remember, Potter, it's your insights, experiences and knowledge that we need here so don't let others decide too much of what you will do with this assignment."
"Yes, ma'am. I'm actually looking forward to it. Despite what else was going on, I did enjoy working with the DA and watching how they progressed. I can see why you like to teach."
"Well, I must say that there have been times, especially with you and your partner, Ron Weasley, when I was ready to quit but yes, most of the time I still love what I do. And as for that, I know you have your mind set on going into Auror training but I think you should think about a career in education, as I said, the DA members told me you have a real knack for teaching," the Professor said.
"I won't say I hadn't considered it but I think what I'm going to do is more important right now. There's something else to consider. If things go the way I hope, I'll have a family and kids someday and likely they'll come here. It will be tough enough having the famous Harry Potter for a dad, having him in school with them would be even worse. Maybe once they've left school and I've gained more experience I'll be ready to consider it."
"Very well, Potter, I can't argue your logic. By the way, have you given any thought to Quidditch for this last year? As you can imagine there was no competition this year."
"I'd like to. I'll have to see how I feel about it once I've gone through my courses and teaching with Hermione and Bill. I have a feeling I'll need something for the stress relief."
"If you decide to play, the position of captain would be available to you."
"Oh, no, I don't think so, Professor. I remember how crazy that made Wood and Angelina Johnson. Let someone else deal with that. If I play, I'll just want to concentrate on playing, if you don't mind." Harry laughed.
The Professor chuckled as well as she said,
"You're growing wiser, Potter. I think you're right. Well, I'm glad to see you're doing well and we'll talk again before you leave, I'm sure."
With that she rose and left the ward. A while later Harry slowly pulled himself out of bed and sat in the chair again. From there he could look out the window and see what a bright beautiful day it was. Shortly thereafter, Madame Pomfrey came along with the wheelchair.
"Oh, I see you're up, very good. Let's go for a little ride, shall we, Harry?"
"Yes, ma'am, where to?"
"A very quiet comfortable spot that's perfect on an afternoon like today."
She wheeled him through the ward which he could now see was empty besides him. They went through another set of doors which opened onto a balcony that was more like a small courtyard. It caught the full afternoon sun and was warm without being uncomfortably so. There were a few small potted trees, some chairs and benches and a low wall around two sides and the walls of the castle on the other two.
"I thought you could do with some fresh air and sunshine, Harry. Why don't you shift over to this chair here and make yourself comfortable. A couple of hours here should do you a world of good."
"Thank you, Madame Pomfrey. This is really great."
"If you need anything, I'll be close enough to hear you. If anyone comes to visit I'll send them out."
Harry settled back in the well formed wooden chair and took in the sights he could see from where he was. He was too far from the edge to make out the grounds but he could see the mountains behind the town and beyond the lake. He watched the few puffy clouds float by and he allowed himself the luxury of not thinking about much at all. He found this a wonderful luxury. He did wonder if anyone else would visit today but he reminded himself there was a lot to do and even the famous Harry Potter had to take a back seat now and then. He let his head rest on the back of the chair and just let the sun warm his face. It was perhaps an hour after he began his sunbathing that he heard the door open up and a familiar voice said,
"Alright there, Harry?"
It was Hagrid. Harry realized he hadn't seen him since his collapse. His eyes popped open and he sat up and looked at his gigantic friend. Hagrid had to stoop to get out onto the balcony and stood towering over Harry in his chair.
"Yeah, Hagrid, I'm doing loads better. It's good to see you."
"Blimey, Harry, ya had us all pretty worried. I got summat for ya."
He reached under his moleskin coat and produced the largest role of parchment Harry had ever seen. It looked big even in Hagrid's manhole cover sized hand.
"Some of us have been workin' on this for the last couple days. I woulda been up ta see ya sooner but I've lots ta do but this couldn't wait."
"What is it?"
"Take a look. I'll hold it for ya."
Hagrid held the top of the scroll and let it unroll on the stone floor in front of Harry. Across the top in big flowing script it read,
"By General Acclaimation"
Underneath in smaller, neater script it read,
"We the undersigned, by general consensus, do declare and affirm
our everlasting gratitude to Mr. Harry Potter, son of Lily and James
Potter, for his paramount role in the defeat and destruction of Tom
Riddle, also known as Lord Voldemort and his accursed followers,
the Death Eaters.
His courage, resourcefulness and perseverance in the face of
overwhelming odds have once and for all freed the wizarding world
and the world in general of a grave and terrible threat. Despite
numerous life-and-death encounters, physical injury and illness,
emotional stress and public ridicule, he never faltered nor failed in
his convictions and led us out of the darkness into a bright future.
Below this were hundreds of signatures, many he recognized but most he didn't. Several groupings were evident. One was members of the DA, another the small group of remaining members of the Order of the Phoenix. A surprising number looked to have come from the Ministry of Magic, with Kingsley Shacklebolt at the top. It looked like all the staff at the school had signed and many, many more at random. Some just names, others with little notes of thanks or wishes to get well soon. Harry was quite overwhelmed. He reached out and pulled up the lower edge of the scroll to see all the names. He looked up at Hagrid, whose eyes were crinkled up in a big smile, and the best he could come up with was,
"Yeah, Harry, it was amazin', one of the muggle borns mentioned about something called 'get well cards' and it all kinda blew up from there. I promised I'd hold on ta it fer ya."
For someone as large as Hagrid, watching him swell with pride was really something to see.
"Thanks, Hagrid, I'd appreciate it. Not much room here for me to keep that safe."
Hagrid stayed for a while and told Harry about what he had been up to the last few days. Harry finally found out where the tracks down by the lake came from. Apparently, one of giants that had allied with Voldemort had been killed and Garwp had dragged the body down to the lake and the giant squid had reached out and dragged the huge body into the water.
He then helped herd the giant spiders back into the forest. He spent some time talking with the centaurs. The last minute intervention by some of them had created quite a rift in their community. Hagrid told Harry he didn't know if he helped much but at least he kept them from open violence. Even a bow wielding Centaur will think twice about crossing a twelve foot half giant with a crossbow in one hand and a six foot club in the other.
Harry enjoyed Hagrid's visit but he was ready to return to his bed when Madame Pomfrey came to shoo Hagrid out and wheel Harry back into the ward. A note was lying on his pillow. He picked it up and held it as he crawled into bed. As he lay there he cracked the plain wax seal and opened the paper. He read,
We've been very busy getting ready to return on the Hogwarts Express. Sorry we didn't get up to see you yet today. Look for us around dinner time.
See you soon.
Ginny, Ron and Neville."
Harry settled back into his pillow and stared up at the ceiling. Another couple of days and he would be going 'home' on the Express. He hoped he'd be allowed to go to the train under his own power. He flashed on an absurd scene where he was carried down to the station in a sedan chair, something he had seen in a muggle movie years before. He couldn't help but laugh. His friends were as good as their word. Just as Madame Pomfrey brought him his dinner, more hearty stew and such, the door to the ward opened and in came Ginny, Ron and Neville with trays loaded with dinner goodies.
"Yes, well," began the nurse, "that lot is fine for you three, but Harry sticks with what I've given him. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, ma'am," they replied in unison.
When Madame Pomfrey turned her back the three smiled at Harry and winked. Ginny took the chair that was already in place and set the tray on her lap. The boys set their trays on the end of Harry's bed then pulled two chairs over that were next to now empty beds. With Harry the only one left in the ward, they didn't have to be overly cautious about noise but they did restrain themselves somewhat so as not to draw the ire of Madame Pomfrey.
"I got your note," Harry said around a mouthful of bread. "What were you guys up to this afternoon?"
"With all the work going on around the place, today was the first day we've had to get our stuff together, you know, pack trunks, find all our confiscated junk. Those two Death Eaters that were skulking around as Snape's deputies stole, excuse me, confiscated a lot of gear. Took us a while to find where they stashed it," Neville said.
"Yeah, they took everything we had that had to do with Quidditch, jokes or any other fun. Anything from Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes got you a month's detention. They wrecked my broom, Harry," Ginny stated with some heat.
"I'll take care of that, Ginny. I figure I'm a few Christmas and birthday presents behind," Harry said with a grin.
Ginny's eyes lit up in a bright smile. But then she looked down at her tray,
"I dunno, Harry, that's kind of a lot of money, you probably shouldn't be spending it on me."
Harry looked at Ron and Neville.
"Did you guys hear something, I couldn't quite make that out," Harry said seriously.
Neville and Ron tried in vain to suppress laughing while Ginny looked up and leaned over her tray to slap Harry's arm. But her eyes were bright again. They continued to discuss what had been going on while Harry convalesced. He mentioned Hagrid's visit.
"Wasn't that brilliant, Harry?" Ron exclaimed. "That roll of parchment went everywhere in just a few days. People were queuing up all day long to sign it when it started here. The three of us got to jump the line since we're such close friends of the famous Harry Potter," Ron said, puffing out his chest with mock importance, a very serious look on his face. They he started to laugh.
Harry started to laugh too and then he looked at the three of them and said,
"A guy couldn't have better friends, famous or not. Thanks for sticking with me all these years," Harry said quietly but firmly.
"No problem, mate. It's been a rough ride at times, but we came through it in fairly decent shape," offered Neville.
"I wouldn't have made it through my first year if it hadn't been for you, Harry. I won't ever forget that."
Ginny smiled at him but her eyes got a little tight around the corners as she remembered the horrors of her first year at Hogwarts and her possession by the sixteen year old shadow of Tom Riddle.
"Believe me, I won't let you. Every time you start to give me a hard time, I'll remind you," Harry said with a devilish grin.
"Oh, you are so horrible," Ginny exclaimed but she laughed none the less and the tension was broken. They were nearly finished with their dinner when Madame Pomfrey returned.
"All right everyone. Time to let Harry get his rest. I'll need to ask you three a favor however. I'll need you here bright and early tomorrow so you can go with Harry down to breakfast. I think it's time he got some exercise and it would be good to let people see how well he's doing. Some of the rumors have been positively ridiculous."
The four young people were ecstatic with this news and the three friends promised to be there right at the appointed minute. The boys shook Harry's hand and Ginny gave him a brief but heart felt kiss. They all said their good nights and 'see you in the mornings'. Madame Pomfrey gave Harry a much smaller dose of the potion and as it began to take affect, he nestled into his pillow; more content then he had been in a long, long while.
He awoke the next morning in time to walk himself to the boy's washroom to get himself cleaned up and presentable. His hair, as always, had a mind of its own, but at least today it seemed to be a bit more cooperative. When he returned he found clean clothes and robes. He could only assume they were delivered by house-elves. He was dressed and talking with Madame Pomfrey when his friends arrived. Ginny saw him standing and rushed to wrap her arms around him and give him a warm kiss. Ron and Neville stood there grinning widely.
"Now, Harry, you are to take your time. Don't exert yourself and if you feel dizzy or disoriented, have them bring you right back here. And you three," she said firmly, fixing them with a stare, "keep your eye on him and make sure he doesn't get carried away."
"Yes, Madame Pomfrey," they chorused in unison.
Ron and Neville led the way while Ginny and Harry walked hand-in-hand a couple of steps behind them. They took their time going down the staircase and through the corridor that led them to the Great Hall. People were starting to file in and there where many shouted greetings to Harry as they noticed the four friends make their way to the Gryffindor table.
Harry noticed there were very few adults present, he guessed most had left after the funeral and those that remained were primarily workmen trying to get the building and grounds back into shape. Harry was glad to be sitting down. The trip to and from the hospital wing could be taxing for him. Harry looked up to the faculty table and got a big shaggy grin from Hagrid, a small smile from Professor McGonagall and a few nods from other staff members.
With the familiar faces and relatively common place conversation Harry could almost let himself slip back in time to when he was a regular Hogwarts student, or as close as he ever could be to one. As the food appeared on the table Harry had to restrain himself from piling his plate high with everything close to hand. Madame Pomfrey had given him strict instructions of what and how much he should eat.
As he ate, he listened much and said little until someone broached a serious subject. It was a bulky fifth year student that Harry recognized as a Gryffindor Quidditch player from the time he was suspended.
"Hi, Harry. Um, some of us were wondering. We hear you're planning to come back next year. Are you planning to come out for the team?"
"I'm not entirely sure right now. I'd like to but it depends on how well I'm doing at the start of the term and how much time I think I'll have from my studies and extra duties."
"Okay, Harry. Well, it would be brilliant if you can make the team. So long, Harry."
Harry looked at Ginny. "I recognized that guy but I can't recall a name."
"That was Jerry something or other. He was a beater after George and Fred got banned along with you. He's not bad. A little slow in the air but he can knock a bludger from one end of the pitch to the other."
The conversation turned to Quidditch for a while and slowly Harry's first regular meal in almost a week came to an end. He looked at his friends and said,
"Ok, I survived that. What's next?"
"Well, Harry, Nev and I still have some things to do. I promised I'd help him help Professor Sprout close up the greenhouses. As you might recall I didn't have anything here this year to pack so I'm traveling light back home with you and Ginny."
"I'm done packing, Harry. Maybe we could take a little walk, get you some fresh air," Ginny said with a small smile.
"I'd love to. See you guys at lunch?"
"Right, Harry. Don't overdo it, mate," Ron laughed.
Harry gave him a mock scowl. They parted company at the main door and Harry took Ginny's hand as they set off down towards the lake. They moved a deliberately slow pace, as much to conserve Harry's energy as to allow them to stay close together and not trip over one another. As they approached the waters edge Harry noticed that the marks left by the giant's corpse had been repaired. It promised to be a warm clear day and he could see the tentacles of the giant squid slowly waving just below the surface. As they began to walk further along Ginny slipped her hand out of Harry's and put her arm around his waist and pulled him to her. He draped his arm over her shoulders and she leaned her head against his upper arm. She sighed and said,
"This is so nice, Harry. This is what I had hoped for us before Professor Dumbledore died. The two of us together, no life and death situations, like regular people."
"I don't know if either of us is exactly regular but I know what you mean. I'm about as happy right now as I think I can be."
He stopped them and pulled Ginny around so that they were embracing face to face. He held her with her head against his chest and then she looked up at him and into his bright green eyes and smiled. He smile back and said,
"I love you, Ginny Weasley."
"I love you, Harry Potter."
Their lips met and it was not the brief warm kisses that Ginny had given him as he lay in his hospital bed. This one communicated all the pent up emotions that they had felt toward and about each other over the last turbulent, often confusing seven years. When they pulled apart sometime later there was no doubt how either of them felt. Harry's legs shook a bit and he leaned into Ginny.
"Harry, are you okay?" she said with genuine concern.
"Oh sure, I'm fine. You just have that affect on me. You make me go weak in the knees," he said with a lopsided grin.
"I'm glad to hear that, but I think we should sit down for a bit anyway."
So they found a bench in a quiet spot and sat together, Ginny wrapped in Harry's arm, his other hand holding on to both of hers and they talked about nothing in particular, just enjoying being together. Harry's stomach gave a grumble after awhile and Ginny giggled.
"I guess we should start back for lunch," she said with a laugh.
"Good idea, but first." He bent down and gave her another kiss to which she responded with enthusiasm. They pulled apart after a while and Harry said,
"Wow, I didn't think it was possible. I've found something I like more than Quidditch."
Ginny laughed delightedly and hugged Harry tightly, and then she bounced up off the bench and pulled him to his feet. They walked hand in hand back up to the castle and lunch. As they walked into the Great Hall they searched out Ron and Neville, who were sitting together at the senior end of the Gryffindor table, both of them looking decidedly dirty. Harry thought Professor Sprout must have been working them hard. As they went to sit down Ron looked up and said,
"Harry, you need to go up to the staff table before you eat."
"Ok, do you know what's up?"
"Sorry, mate. Some first year was sent down here to tell us," Neville told him.
"Hang on, I'll be right back," he said and gave Ginny's hand a squeeze, then he moved to the table at what could best be called cautious haste.
"Here, Potter," Professor McGonagall called to him.
"Yes, ma'am. You wanted to see me?"
"Actually, I have a message from Madame Pomfrey. She reminds you that you are to take it slow and to be back in the ward right after dinner. You'll need to be up early tomorrow to get to the train. In addition, you are to report to Professor Slughorn before you leave to get your sleep potion. It's an important part of your recovery, Potter, I'd advise you not forget it."
"Yes, ma'am. I'll make sure I get it," Harry replied. The Professor continued in a quieter tone.
"I also have a message for you from Professor Dumbledore. He was very dismayed by your illness but he has every confidence in your ability to achieve a complete recovery. He asks that you refrain from any adventuring this summer. He said he has found your propensity for finding or attracting trouble to be most disconcerting."
The last was said with a wry smile. Harry couldn't help laughing.
"Alright, Professor I'll do my best, although the Weasleys garden gnomes might cause me some trouble."
"I'm sure you will be able to handle them, Potter. Professor Dumbledore asks that when you return to Hogwarts at start of term that you pay him a visit."
"Couldn't I see him before I go, Professor?" Harry said, suddenly eager to talk to his mentor.
"I'm afraid not, Potter. He specifically told me that it not be before the start of term."
"Yes, ma'am." Harry was a little disappointed but also thrilled that he would be able to talk to the Headmaster again.
"That's all for now, Potter. Go get something to eat," she said, firmly but kindly.
Harry smiled and then turned away and headed back to his place at the table. Lunch passed pleasantly. Ron and Neville regaled Harry and Ginny and anyone else that was listening with their tales of horticultural daring-do, subduing various hostile plant life, cleaning up potting tables and ensuring that the watering system was in good repair. Neville explained that he was going to be returning to Hogwart's himself the next year. He was going to be doing additional study with Professor Sprout, going on collection expeditions, sort of a post graduate program.
"That's brilliant, Neville. It'll be cool having you with us. Ron, do you think you'll be able to get up here to visit?" Harry asked.
"I'd think so, Harry. George and I are talking about setting up a shop here at Hogsmeade so I'll think you'll be seeing a lot of us," Ron said with a smile.
"That's great, Ron. This is going to be a great year."
"Just slow down there a minute, Mr. Potter," Ginny said very firmly. "You have a lot to do this summer, as in get yourself well, so don't get all excited about school just yet. One thing at a time."
"Yes, ma'am," Harry replied with mock seriousness. Then he grinned at her.
"I'm not kidding, Harry. You know what the healer and Madame Pomfrey said. This is one time the famous Mr. Harry Potter does what he's told to do. And if he can't do it for himself, maybe he can do it for all the people who care about him."
The look Ginny gave him while she said this was a mix of righteous indignation and anxious pleading. Ron and Neville sat in silence looking back and forth from Harry to Ginny and back. Others who happened to be near by seemed to be holding their collective breath. Harry's eyes tightened and his face reddened. He stared intently at the beautiful girl who had been the subject of many of his dreams and daydreams. Then his face relaxed and the red drained from his cheeks. He reached out and took her hand and let out a long breath.
"You're right, Ginny. I do have a tendency to not think things through sometimes and not pay attention to people if I don't want to. It's one thing my dad and I have in common, being a bit full of ourselves. I'll do it your way. I'm glad you'll be around to let the air out of me when I get too puffed up," he said with a sad smile.
"Oh, Harry, I didn't mean it that way. You just have a habit of putting yourself in danger without considering the consequences. I just want you to please be careful. For me?"
"For you, anything," Harry said. He gave her another, somewhat cheerier smile.
"I think I should go back to the hospital wing. It's going to be a long day tomorrow and I'm kinda tired right now."
Ron looked at Ginny and saw her stricken look but he voiced his agreement with Harry.
"Good idea, mate, you do look a little done in. We'll walk you back up. Madame Pomfrey will have our skins if we don't."
The four friends walked back up to the hospital wing. Harry was quiet with a brooding look on his face, his eyes cast down in front of him as he walked. Ginny walked slightly behind him, her hands clasped in front of her. Ron and Neville glanced at each other repeatedly, clearly worried with Harry's sudden turn. They entered the hospital ward. Harry sat down at the end of his bed and looked up at the boys.
"Would you guys mind leaving Ginny and I alone for bit?"
"Sure, Harry, um, we'll just wait for Ginny outside," Ron replied.
"Thanks," Harry replied, looking back down at the floor. Ginny sat down in the chair beside the bed, wringing her hands in her lap. When the door closed she said hurriedly,
"Harry, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean…"
Harry raised his hand palm outward to stop her.
"You've nothing to be sorry about, Ginny. You're absolutely right."
He stretched his hand out to her and she timidly placed her hand in his. He closed his fingers around it and pulled her gently so that she wound up sitting next to him on the bed. He didn't let go of her hand but he still looked down at the floor.
"What I said down in the Great Hall a few minutes ago wasn't the half of it. When I really think about it, most of what I've done since coming here to Hogwarts has been more luck then skill or brains. You know, the first time I caught the snitch was by accident. Finding the Sorcerer's Stone had more to do with Ron and Hermione getting us through. I sometimes think I've just been stumbling along relying on luck and other people to get by. The famous Harry Potter. More like the fraud Harry Potter," Harry finished, his voice low and bitter.
Ginny was stunned. Her admonishment of Harry earlier was simply intended to make him understand that she wanted him to be careful and not try and do anything too strenuous while he was recuperating. Now she was genuinely frightened by Harry's abrupt change in mood after the wonderful day they had spent.
"Harry. How could you possibly think that? From what Ron and Hermione had said it was you that finally figured out how someone was going to get past that three headed dog. You were the one that outwitted Tom Riddle and fought and killed the Basilisk to save me and destroy Riddle's memory. I could go on and on, but Harry even if you did get lucky now and again, it was you that turned that luck into something great. You've been brave and smart any number of times and you're the best flyer anyone has seen in years and years. Look at me. I said look at me." Her voice was filled with anxiety and desperation. "Yes, you've made mistakes. But you always stood up for them and worked to make things better and in the end, you were the one who figured out how to deal with Voldemort and beat him, you Harry. Do you understand me?"
Harry looked at her with those brilliant green eyes that were his mother's and saw a very frightened young woman sitting next to him. She was frightened for him, not of him. She was someone who cared about him deeply, perhaps more than anyone or anything in the world and here he sat saying stupid things and feeling stupid feelings that were making her miserable. What right did he have do that to her, who in the last week has lost a brother, has been scared to death when Harry collapsed and now being emotionally whipsawed about with his nonsense? He shook is head and gave Ginny a rueful grin.
"Can you tell me something?" he asked her quietly.
"Of course, Harry," she said almost eagerly.
"How is it possible that you could fall in love with such a total prat?"
Her eyes grew wide in shock and then misted over as she began to giggle, then laugh, tears running down her face. She threw her arms around his neck and buried her face in Harry's shoulder. He rested his cheek on the top of her head, running his hand up and down her back.
"I'm sorry, Ginny. I'm just being stupid. That's something else you'll have to watch for and tell me about."
"I promise to break it to you gently when you do."
They stayed that way for a few minutes then Ginny pulled away, stood up and walked to the door. She stuck her head out and Harry could hear her say something.
She then turned around and came back over to sit by Harry's side. She wrapped her arms around his waist and he around her shoulders. They remained silent for some moments and then they began to speak of little things. Normally these things would not have seemed important, but for the two of them, for the rest of their lives, these moments would be regarded as the true beginning for them. In this quiet corner of an otherwise empty hospital ward they left behind the emotional rubble of a troubled youth and began to build a life together as happy adults. It was some hours later that they left the ward and walked hand in hand back down to the Great Hall for the last dinner of the most tumultuous term in Hogwarts history.
Ron and Neville eyed Harry from their spot at the table. He and Ginny sat down across from them. Harry could see the question plain on their faces. He decided to answer before they were asked.
"Yes, I'm fine, no, I'm not loosing my mind and yes, Ginny and I are just great. I'm sorry I've been such a prat lately. Been a bit of a roller coaster ride for us all."
"What's a roller coaster?" Ron asked.
"Oh, sorry. It's something that muggles like to take rides on. Gives 'em a thrill. It's sort of like a small train that goes up and down and around tight turns. I meant the up and down part. I don't think it was very thrilling for anyone."
"I dunno, mate. If by thrills you mean scaring us half to death, I'd say the night you had your nightmare was pretty thrilling," Neville said with a wry smile.
Harry could only laugh and repeat that he was lucky to have such great friends. Harry felt much better and was able to enjoy a good dinner and light conversation. They were just finishing up their dessert when Professor McGonagall stepped up to the podium and motioned for quiet.
"We have come to the end of a very difficult term. But in that end comes the hope for a much better future. We have gained much and lost much."
She paused as she looked about the room, noticing the empty spots at various tables. The Slytherin table in particular had many vacancies. She continued,
"I would like to make some announcements concerning our next term. In light of the fact that there was a great deal of disruption to this year's studies we will be commencing the term one week early for second through seventh years. I would ask that you take time during your summer holidays to review your course work from this year and reviews will be held during the first week back. While there will be no formal exams, we will be gauging how well you've retained this year's teachings. I regret to say that the muggle born students who were expelled early this past year will need to repeat but the Ministry has made special arrangements to compensate them for the lost year. If you have friends amongst them please take the time to reach out to them and help ease them back into the school community. One last time, I would like to thank you all for everything you've done to help us get through this terrible time. We of course are not able to award a house cup this year, but instead, to commemorate events, the name of each house will be engraved upon the cup and it will stand in the front hall for all to see as a reminder of our need to stand together. Have a good night and we'll see you off first thing in the morning."
The assembled students stood and applauded the acting Headmistress, who smiled back at them and then left the Great Hall with the other faculty and staff. The students took their time leaving the tables. Harry and his friends stayed behind at their spots commenting on the Professor's announcements.
"Seems like you've got some catching up to do, Harry. It's been a whole year since your sixth year."
"You're forgetting, Neville, I've already taken my sixth year exams. Ginny's going to have a problem, she had to leave months ago."
"Don't worry, Harry, I'll get some help from Hermione. I'll be fine," Ginny said.
They talked for a while longer then got up from the table.
"You coming to the tower, Harry?" Ron asked.
"I don't think so, mate. I'm sure Madame Pomfrey wants to give me another check up before I go. Plus I'll need my supply of potion. It'll be easier to take care of it if I stay up there tonight."
"Okay, Harry, we'll walk you up there."
The four friends took their time on the way to the hospital ward, Harry and Ginny hand-in-hand, Ron and Neville on either side of them. As they entered the waiting room outside the ward, Madame Pomfrey came through ward door.
"Ah, Harry, very good. I want you to get a good night sleep ahead of traveling tomorrow," she said when she saw them. "Professor Slughorn will have your supply of potion waiting for you in the morning at breakfast. I have tonight's dose for you. Say your goodnights and I'll see you inside."
She turned and went back into the ward but left the door open.
"G'night, Harry," Ron said.
"See ya in the morning, mate," Neville offered.
"G'night guys, see you at breakfast and thanks," Harry replied with a smile.
"Good night, Harry," Ginny said softly, pulling his head down for a brief kiss.
"Good night, Ginny," he murmured as he put his arms around her for a tight embrace.
He reluctantly let her go and he watched as the three turned and headed out of the waiting room, Ginny the last who turned and blew him a kiss, then closed the door behind her. He walked into the ward room, changed into his pajamas behind the screen and crawled in to bed. It had been a difficult but in the end, satisfying day and he welcomed the chance to get some sleep. Madame Pomfrey appeared with a small cup of the potion that kept him dream free. In minutes, he was sound asleep.
"Harry, Harry, it's time to wake up. You're going home today."
"What, um, oh, okay, yes. Thanks, Madame Pomfrey," Harry said as he scrubbed at his eyes.
He pulled himself out of bed and trudged off to the washroom. When he came back he once more found clean clothes waiting for him. He pulled on his pants and shirt, threw on his robe and was in the process of putting on his shoes when Madame Pomfrey came around the screen.
"Hold on there a minute, Harry, if you please."
She took his chin in her hand and looked carefully at this face and eyes. Harry could see her eyes shift as they roamed over his face until they came back to his eyes. He noticed her mouth twitch twice. He held his breath.
"Well, Harry, it would appear that you are doing very well, but that does not mean that you are recovered. I mean to say that you are doing better than I would have thought possible so soon, but you still have a ways to go. I can still see a great deal of fatigue around your eyes. I will be sending instructions by owl to Mrs Weasley, who, I am sure, will make sure you follow them. Make sure you don't leave your potion behind. And Harry, please do try to stay out of my hospital ward during this coming term." The last was said with a kindly smile.
"Yes, ma'am, I'll do my best," Harry said with wry smile but then his expression turned serious. "I'm sorry I've been such a bother. I didn't mean to be."
"Oh, Harry," she exclaimed and took his face in both of her gentle hands. "You've never once been a bother, a challenge yes, but never a bother and don't ever think that. You must come see me if you have need. I am just hoping you have at least one term where it won't be necessary or under such dire consequences."
"Yes, ma'am," Harry said, somewhat embarrassed.
"Alright, off you go then and have a quiet, healthy summer."
Harry proceeded with deliberate haste down to the Great Hall. The mood in the hall was one of great excitement. After so much had happened everyone was eager to start their journey home. Harry grabbed his usual seat next to Ginny. His friends had already started in on their breakfast.
"Harry!" Ginny exclaimed. "We were getting worried you'd miss breakfast."
"Madame Pomfrey wanted to give me a last look before I left. She said I was doing better then she thought was possible but I still had a ways to go. She's sending my instructions straight to your mum. I guess she doesn't trust me to stick to the rules. I wonder where she got that idea," Harry laughed.
"Oh, I dunno, Harry. You do have a certain reputation, mate," Ron said with a snicker. Neville smirked and Ginny giggled.
Harry gave Ron a "what? me?" look and then shrugged and began serving himself breakfast. Knowing he was behind he ate and spoke little. He was just finishing his second helping of eggs when Professor McGonagall gaveled for attention.
"Your attention, please. I believe all has been said that needs to be said. I wish you a pleasant and peaceful summer. Enjoy the time for you truly deserve it and return to us ready for a new and busy year. The carriages are waiting. Potter, if you would, please remain. I have a few words for you."
Harry looked at his friends and could only shrug. Ginny smiled and squeezed his leg.
"Nothing to worry about, Harry. I'm sure she just wants to say a personal good bye and make sure you don't get trampled by the rest of us. See you on the train." With that she kissed his cheek and joined the crush for the door.
When the last of the students had exited, the Professor strode down the aisle between the tables and came to stand by Harry, who had risen to meet her.
"Potter..Harry, my comment applies to you especially. Enjoy your time as best you can without violating too many of the healer's orders. The wizarding world needs you healthy, but more importantly you need to get well for your own sake. If you need anything from us or have any questions regarding the coming year, send a message and we'll see to it." And to Harry's surprise she reached out and pulled him into a fierce hug. She whispered, "God bless you, Harry, and thank you." Then she held him at arms length and said more clearly. "Now get yourself home, the last carriage is waiting for you, but don't rush."
Harry gave her a crooked smile and when she let him go he turned and made his way to the front door and the carriage that would take him 'home' at last.