Chapter One – After the Battle
Harry awoke from his slumber twenty-two hours later. Sunlight was just beginning to penetrate the windows of Gryffindor tower, painting golden reds and deep purples along the wall over the door leading down to the common room. Dust motes floated lazily in the beams of light. Muffled bird song floated up from the trees on the grounds. It was all so peaceful; a sharp contrast to the tumult of the final battle and uncertainty of finding and destroying the final Horcruxes.
His thoughts shifted to his friends and how, in the end, he needed them. A lot. He remembered how they had insisted on accompanying him when he began his final quest and how he had tried to dissuade him. He thought about the intervening months on the run, tracking down the loose ends of Voldemort's life, and finding the Deathly Hallows. He remembered everyone that had fought and bled and died. Then he thought of Ginny.
He thought of how hard it was to say goodbye to her at Dumbledore's funeral, seeing her from under his Invisibility Cloak during the battle, and how when that rush of green light came at him from Voldemort, it was her face that carried him into the next life. And it was the thought of her along with the need to destroy Voldemort that brought him back again.
A steady rumbling from the bed next to him broke his reverie and he knew that he had one more mountain to climb – one more battle to fight. He groaned in pain as he slowly brought himself to a sitting position. Every muscle and joint fought against him. He wished he could just lie in bed for the next week, but some things could no longer wait.
He showered and dressed in school robes that had been placed at the foot of his bed by someone, probably Kreacher. Then, he descended the stairs.
She was already there, waiting for him. The common room was empty except for her. She faced the cold fireplace and stared unseeing into the black and gray ashes. Harry approached, grasping at what he might say to her, wishing he could say anything that would soothe the ache he had caused her. He just wanted to hold her again.
"Hi," he said lamely. She must have showered, too, because her hair was slightly damp at the tips and she smelled strongly of the same unidentified flower that always reminded him of her.
She turned to look at him, focusing on his eyes as if she didn't really believe he was there. "Harry."
There was pain in her voice, but something else, too. Harry opened his mouth. "I left you. I'm sorry."
She blinked and the corners of her mouth turned down. "It hurts," was all she managed to reply.
"I know. I'm sorry."
Her head tilted down and she sniffed. "I understand why you did it, Harry, but it still hurts."
"I needed something to come back to... someone to make me want to live."
Her head snapped back up. "You were dead. I saw Hagrid carrying you…" She seemed on the verge of tears and Harry started to panic. "It ripped my heart out and all I could think was I wanted to die and be with you."
His nerves calmed. She wanted to die for him and that meant she still felt something for him. "But I wasn't dead," he replied. "I came back and you're the reason why."
She smiled – just a little – and the tension broke like a thin bubble. She threw her arms around him and clung to him as if to make sure he wouldn't leave. Harry enveloped her and inhaled, never wanting to be apart from her again. He was home.
Some time later, Ron and Hermione emerged from their respective dormitories. It took Ron less than ten seconds to prod them about breakfast and Harry and Ginny reluctantly agreed. Harry wasn't ready to face anyone outside of his friends now that he was sure to be even more famous for defeating Voldemort for the last time. Hermione gave him an encouraging look, smiled at his proximity to Ginny and followed Ron out the portrait hole.
The Great Hall must have been cleared of debris and the wounded while Harry slept because the old house tables were back in their usual places. Teachers, Aurors, and Mediwitches were coming and going from the head table, taking handfuls of minutes each to eat and chat with their neighbours before bustling off to some other task. It seemed that Hogwarts wasn't just the epicentre for the end of the war; it was also the hub of the rebuilding effort. Students were there, too, eating from platters of breakfast in the centres of each table, but Harry noticed something odd about them.
Dennis Creevey was sitting by Terry Boot at the Ravenclaw table, each with plates full of food. Susan Bones and Eleanor Branstone were chatting with Astoria Greengrass at the Slytherin table and the younger witch let out a light-hearted laugh at something the others said. The Sorting Hat finally got what it wanted – house rivalry was impotent in the face of the sheer joy of winning the war. Of course, it didn't hurt that most of the Slytherins that were associated with Death Eaters were out of the castle.
Ron nudged Harry and pointed to a clump of red heads near the back of the Gryffindor table. Harry instantly sobered upon seeing that they were all there – all but Fred – and followed Ron up the nearest aisle.
"Harry!" It was Neville. He leapt to his feet and gave Harry a swift hug, slapping him on the back as he did. "You did it, Harry. You did it." He was beaming and Harry couldn't help return the smile.
"Thanks, Neville." He turned and the din conversation had disappeared. Everyone was staring at him. Then, as if they had been waiting for a signal, everyone began to clap. They stood together and applauded. Some whooped and some screamed that they loved him. He felt his face flush and made to duck behind Ron's larger frame, but was stopped by Ginny, who held his hand tightly.
"Let them," she mouthed and he nodded, feeling very hot.
Ginny led him to her family and pulled him next to her at the very end of the bench. The clapping subsided and the conversation resumed at its normal volume.
"'Lo, Harry," said George with a half-hearted wave. "We were just talking about the funeral."
Ginny rubbed her fingers over his knuckles and he shivered, wondering how he could go from hot to feeling a chill in so short a time.
"When do you...?" Harry trailed off and when Molly gave him a small smile, he cleared his throat and began again. "When will it be? I wouldn't miss being there. Fred was..."
"Fred knew what he was doing," Arthur filled in when Harry's voice faded again. "His death is still fresh and will be for some months, but we've got to keep focused on the positive." It was very much like Arthur to steer things in a more optimistic direction.
"There's going to be a mass for everyone that died during the final battle," said a new voice that Harry recognized as belonging to Angelina Johnson. She was sitting next to George. "But we're going to have our own service for Fred at the Burrow."
There was a disturbance in the hall outside the large oak doors. Everyone turned to see what it was, but they could only make out a knot of people and the distant sound of giggles.
George sniffed, bringing everyone's attention back to the table. "We'll bury him in the Weasley plot in St. Catchpole." He looked to Arthur for confirmation, even though it wasn't a question.
Arthur nodded. "There's room enough for the whole family," he said and added significantly, "when the time comes."
Harry felt useless as they continued to work out the details of laying to rest their son, brother, and friend. He caught Hermione's watery gaze and knew she felt the same. After working so long and so single-mindedly, it was going to be very hard to pick up the pieces of their lives and just live again. He felt Ginny shift next to him and realised with a start that unlike George, he wasn't going to be alone as he resumed his life. Then noticing the way Angelina was staring at the elder twin, perhaps George wouldn't be alone after all.
On Saturday, the mass was held at Hogwarts. Unlike the funeral held for Dumbeldore, there were more people gathered than could be reasonably accommodated, so stands were erected in an arc in the space between the castle and the lake. Fifty-three caskets lay across a red carpet in the middle of the semi-circle, but Harry knew that a few of them were empty – they never found some of the bodies. The coffins were flanked by a raised platform where Kingsley Shacklebolt and Minerva McGonagall sat. They were joined by a handful of witches and wizards Harry presumed were family members from those who had died.
Everyone was in black and some of the witches wore black veils over their faces. One of the rows, about a third of the way up from ground level was entirely occupied by the Weasleys. Harry sat next to Ron and Ginny in the middle of their row and stared at the gleaming brown and gold coffins. Tonks and Lupin were among them.
As the proceedings began, Harry tuned the words out. He remembered learning about Boggarts and Patronuses from Remus in his third year and how to use happy memories to fight of their evil influences. Other memories flashed through his mind – Quidditch, and detention and Sirius. Then there was purple hair, tripping over umbrella stands, and being saved from his own stupidity on the Hogwarts Express.
Someone else was speaking, but Harry couldn't quite make out the words through his memories. He reckoned that was okay though, as it was his own private way of saying goodbye.
Ginny's cheeks were wet, but she wasn't crying. Her tears seemed to just slip slowly onto her lap as if the pain they all felt inside somehow became too much and poured out her eyes. Ron was sitting with his elbows on his knees staring blankly at his shoes. His fingers were in his hair, gripping it hard and Harry knew how he felt. He would probably be sitting the same way, but the pain was lifting away and the relief of it was paralyzing. He wished it would last forever, because that's how long it would take for it all to leave. Remus, Tonks, Fred, Dobby, Moody, Hedwig, Dumbledore, Sirius...
He caught something that McGonagall was saying. Later, when he would think back on this moment, he wouldn't remember which words she used, but he would remember knowing that they had died to uncover the world from a blanket of darkness and that it was Harry's and everyone's duty to remember their sacrifice by living in the light.
The Burrow was as dilapidated as ever when Harry Apparated in front of it two days after the mass. Bill, Charlie, and Percy were arranging chairs in the back paddock and every time Bill and Charlie levitated another one out of the stack, they would clash them together in a mock duel that reminded Harry of the day before the Quidditch World Cup Finals.
"Hi, Harry," said Ginny as she appeared in front of him, her dress covered by a flour-smattered apron that looked like it may have had a dragon underneath the white.
He moved to hug her but Ginny put her hands on his chest. "Don't. You'll get all floury."
There was a sound of smashing wood and Percy's scolding voice carried across the garden.
Harry's eyes darted to her front and he smirked. "It's worth it." His hands found her hips and he pulled himself closer. She gave in and in a few minutes he was much happier and very floury.
"Come on," she said, pulling Harry into the front door of the Burrow. "You can help me make the cakes."
"But I've never made a cake before," he protested, but followed anyway.
That didn't seem to faze Ginny, as she found a larger apron, this one featured a moving, stern-looking witch with the words, "What part of 'It's Not Ready Yet' don't you understand?" emblazoned on the top. It was obviously Mrs. Weasley's and the witch on the front reminded Harry of her as she crossed her arms and gave an impatient tap with her foot.
"It's easy," explained Ginny. "You just follow the recipe."
That was easy, because the recipe was floating above the bowl at eye level.
Harry watched her measure out some more flour and mix in the other dry ingredients. He didn't mind being designated to fetch eggs and milk, but when that cake was sent to the oven, Ginny pushed him toward the counter.
"Now it's your turn."
"But..." Harry tried again, but the stern look in her eyes caused his protest to die out. "All right."
She smiled. "Good. Now do just what the recipe calls for. I won't let you mess it up."
Harry sent her a lopsided smile and went to work. She was right; it was easier than he thought it would be. It was only a matter of minutes before he was scraping batter into another cake pan.
"That was the last one," she said proudly and shucked her apron.
"You've got flour on your nose." He pointed to the tip where a dot of white adorned it.
She brushed it off with the back of her hand and took a step forward. Her hands snaked around his back and began to untie his apron.
Harry's breath grew more shallow. "Where's your mum?"
His apron landed on hers near in a heap next to the counter. "In the garden, roasting the chickens."
Her arms resumed their position and she laid her cheek against his shoulder. He found his arms moving to hold her close, wishing her lips were more accessible.
She sniffed and he felt her chest hitch.
"What's wrong?" he asked, trying not to sound alarmed.
She squeezed him and let out a sigh. "I miss him."
Fred. Harry understood. Of all the losses, this one would take the longest to heal from. "What can I do?"
She pulled away and looked up into his eyes. Her eyelashes were moist but there were no tears. "Just hold me."
So he did.
The funeral was solemn, with Arthur presiding over the service. Everyone was asked to share one experience they'd had with Fred while he was alive. Harry told about the time he'd given Fred his Triwizard winnings and looked at Molly guiltily until he noticed the pride shining in her eyes. Ginny shared an experience she'd had when she was eight and Fred had charmed a Harry Potter doll to say things like "I love you, Ginny" and "Will you marry me?" In the end, Fred became the first recipient of her Bat-bogey Hex.
Harry was blushing almost as much as Ginny as she told it, but as she sat down and Ron began to speak, he could almost see a weight lift off her shoulders. She was smiling in a way that told him her heart was less encumbered than it had been. Fred wasn't being mourned any more. He was being remembered and the subtle change helped everyone on the path to healing.
When everyone was done speaking, George stood and pointed his wand at a large box in the centre of the garden. "For Fred!" The box sprung open and a dozen fireworks shot into the sky, exploding with bright colours that danced and fell around them like fairy dust. The show lasted for the better part of an hour as they all sat back and celebrated Fred's life.
After the fireworks, they ate outside under the twinkling stars. Harry was squashed between Ron and Ginny and across from Bill and Charlie. Hermione sat next to Ron. Harry was trying hard not to touch Ginny more than was necessary and it seemed that Ginny was having just as hard of a time, so it took Harry a second to realise that Ron and Hermione were having a heated conversation.
"I can't wait any more," said Hermione. "They've been there too long already. The longer their memory stays modified, the harder it will be to undo it."
Other Weasleys were turning to watch the spectacle. "Hermione," replied Ron. "It's not that I don't want you to go, it's that I don't want you to go alone."
Hermione seemed to battle something inside her and she took a measured breath. "Ron, they can't see you yet. Not until I remove their fake memories."
"I'll eat lunch at a pub while you find them. I don't have to be there when you..." He made a swishing motion with his hands. "Whatever it is."
Harry repressed a smirk.
"It's not that simple," Hermione replied. She lowered her voice. "Besides, I'd rather take some time with them. I need..." Her voice cracked. "Oh, Ron, I just need to explain things to them. I need time..."
Ron's mouth clamped shut. "Fine," he ground out. "Go see your parents. Bring them back and then I'll meet them."
Hermione's shoulders slumped. "Thank you."
Harry pushed around his mashed potatoes and the rest of the family resumed their conversations. He caught Ginny's eye and she shrugged. He looked around the table and noticed that Molly had a particular gleam in her eye as she stared at her youngest son.
The next day, a crowd of loud, demanding, and very pushy witches and wizards carried a bespectacled wizard to a dais in the centre of Diagon Alley. Harry had just popped into The Leaky Cauldron to visit with Ron and George about letting a new flat when he was pulled unceremoniously from the bar and carried bodily through the magical brick wall that separated Muggle and Magical London. Ron and George shrugged helplessly as they watched Harry disappear around the corner.
The air crackled with boisterous energy and Harry realised that it was futile to try to escape – there as simply too many of them and they didn't want to hurt him. From the shouting wizards carrying him, it seemed they wanted him to make a speech. Voldemort had been defeated, the funerals were over, and the entire Wizarding world was celebrating. They had their hero and they wouldn't take 'no' as an answer to their ravenous demand to see and hear the one who they thought had brought it all about.
As Harry was forced onto the makeshift wooden platform and had the Sonorous Spell cast on his vocal cords, he decided then and there that he would never be made into a public spectacle again. Too many years of having his life made bare to casual scrutiny had taken its toll. Not even years of duelling dark wizards had prepared him for this.
The crowd's incoherent noise solidified into a chant of, "Harry, Harry, Harry, Harry..." He didn't know what to say and wished more than since he was cornered by Dudley's gang in primary school that he could just disappear.
Harry was walking quickly away from the crowd after delivering his speech, ignoring everyone in the hopes that by not making eye contact, he would be left alone. He just wanted to get back to Ginny.
The voice sounded familiar, but the dull roar of the now diminishing crowd made it hard to tell exactly who it was. Harry turned the corner at Flourish and Blott's and made a bee-line for The Leaky Cauldron.
He turned, purely out of habit and saw through the corner of his eye a wand being raised. Reacting on instinct, Harry fired a spell at the man before he had even turned fully around. By the time he recognized who it was, Kingsley Shacklebolt was teetering on his frozen legs.
"Sorry," Harry said and quickly undid the Petrification Spell. "I didn't realise it was you."
Kingsley smiled and waved off his apology. "Don't worry about it. You have a second?"
"I – "
"Good. There's something I want to discuss with you."
Harry had visions of being cornered by previous Ministers of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour and his predecessor, Cornelius Fudge. He decided that his list of things to avoid now included politicians as well as Death Eaters and large crowds.
Kingsley steered him into the Wizarding pub and with a nod at Tom, they walked into a private room near the back.
"Sit, sit," said Kingsley kindly.
Harry warily obliged.
"As you may be aware, I've been asked to be Minister while Thicknesse is being evaluated for the effects of the Imperius Curse."
"The appointment is temporary," he said, placing his hands on the back of the chair opposite Harry.
"It might be less than two weeks. There's already talk from some of the department heads about forming a coalition to get someone else in the top spot."
"What's the hurry?" Harry asked, confused. "It's only been a few days, why are they so keen to give you the sack?"
Kingsley chuckled. "I won't be getting the sack, as I don't formally have the job. I'll go back to heading the D.M.L.E." He pulled the chair out and sat down, wiping a large hand over his shiny head. "The person they're trying to get to replace me isn't too far from the previous administration."
"You mean. . ." Harry said, feeling his blood start to boil. All that effort and they were going to be back at square one?
"Oh, there won't be any questioning of blood status or any of that rot," explained Kingsley. "But if my information is correct, the International Statute for Secrecy will look like a wet napkin compared with what they have planned."
"They want to isolate us even more?"
"Yes. You-Know-Who – "
"Say the name," said Harry forcefully. "He's dead, you know."
There was another deep chuckle from Kingsley. "Old habit, sorry. Voldemort's ideas struck a chord with a lot of people and – "
"Please don't tell me there are witches and wizards who actually liked being rounded up for questioning about their family history?"
"No, but the people who were doing the questioning liked the power they had and are looking for new ways to exploit it."
"I thought we chucked them all out?"
"I'm working on that, but I can't do much in two weeks, especially because they are so well funded."
Harry's eyebrows rose. He'd heard of someone greasing the Ministry skids with Galleons before. "Malfoy?"
"Probably. That's actually one of the reasons I asked you here." He folded his hands and leaned back, regarding Harry with a studied gaze. "Draco's going on trial for accessory to Albus Dumbledore's murder."
Harry rocked back in his chair, his mouth hanging open. "But it was Snape. . ."
"Because of Voldemort's taking of the Ministry, there was never a trial."
He couldn't believe it. "Draco didn't cast the Killing Curse, and he certainly didn't push him off the tower. . ."
"But he did disarm him, as you said yourself, and that makes him accessory."
"Well I won't pretend that he doesn't deserve to be punished for that, or for the stupid ways he tried to kill Dumbledore before then. He almost killed Ron. . . and Katie Bell."
Shacklebolt nodded. "And he's been charged for those incidents as well. As you can guess, your testimony will be incredibly valuable in each case."
Harry didn't know what to say. On the one hand, Malfoy had been a rival for almost the entire time they'd been at school and some of the things he'd done had been downright criminal. On the other hand, Malfoy didn't follow the rest of the Slytherins to Voldemort's side and even helped him when he was captive to Bellatrix Lestrange.
"You may not have a choice in the matter. If the Wizengamot decides your testimony is necessary, you'll have to appear or be put into Azkaban for contempt."
Harry snorted and jerked his thumb at the wall. "I'd like to see you try it. That lot out there would tear Azkaban down brick by brick to get me out." He shook his head. "They're completely mental."
Kingsley chuckled and seemed to be considering something.
Harry cleared his throat. "You said that was only one of the things you came to see me about."
"Yeah. Listen. . ." He folded his hands on the table. "I'd like you to consider applying for the Auror Academy this year."
It had been a spur of the moment decision for Harry back in fifth year, to tell McGonagall that's what he'd wanted to be. Now, he wasn't so sure. Hadn't he had enough trouble in his life without dealing with Dark Wizards on a day to day basis? "I haven't taken my N.E.W.T.'s and I haven't even finished seventh year at Hogwarts."
Kingsley retrieved a folded piece of parchment from his robe pocket and passed it to Harry.
It had the seal of the Hogwarts School Governors on it. He broke the seal and read the page. A low whistle echoed in the room as he got to the bottom. "It says I've been awarded N.E.W.T.'s in Defence, Transfiguration, and Charms." He re-read a section quickly and quoted, "'For my role in defeating the darkest wizard in a century'."
"Nice touch, eh?"
Harry's brow furrowed. "But what about Potions? Don't I need a N.E.W.T. in Potions too?"
Kingsley pulled something else out of his robe and plunked it down on the table.
"Able Avery's Advanced Potions: Pass Your N.E.W.T. in Two Weeks," read Harry. "That's ludicrous; I can't take the Potions exam in two weeks! I don't even know if I want to be an Auror any more."
"The Wizarding world needs you, Potter. You did pretty well back there, getting the jump on me with that Petrificus Totalis, and you did everyone a favour by getting rid of Voldemort, but we still need you."
Harry weighed his options. "I just don't know. It seems like I deserve a break after all that." He remembered what Dumbledore wanted to do when he left Hogwarts but couldn't because his mother died. "How about I get back to you on this?" He shrunk the book, pocked it with the letter and stood to leave.
Kingsley stood as well, scraping his chair on the wooden floor in the process. "The Ministry may not make it without good people like you inside."
"What can I do as a trainee Auror, anyway?"
It seemed like Kingsley had no answer to that, and stuck out his hand instead. "I'll see you in a couple of days in Courtroom ten."
"Goodbye," said Harry and he turned and left.
The trial was as tense and demanding as Harry had expected it to be. Malfoy glowered and sulked the whole time, even when Harry took the witness stand and testified in his behalf. When the verdict was handed down and Malfoy was pronounced guilty of attempted murder of Ron, Katie, and Dumbledore, Harry held his breath for the worst. When they passed sentence and Malfoy was remanded to the custody of his mother for a two year house arrest, a fraction of surprise broke his recalcitrant façade, before being immediately replaced with disbelief. There were shouted accusations of corruption from many in the gallery, but Harry knew that no money had been exchanged for votes this time. Kingsley had met with each member of the Wizengamot to personally ensure a fair trial.
Malfoy's wand was handed to Kingsley to be locked up until its owner was free again. Malfoy himself was escorted to a processing cell where he'd be magically tagged and marked as a prisoner and where, Harry was sure, his mother was already waiting for him.
His eyes scanned the courtroom as the assembled witches and wizards began to file out into the hallway or gossip in knots along the carved benches. Along the back row stood the Weasleys. Fiery red hair dotted the top of each of them and his eyes snapped to the shortest of the lot. Across the courtroom, Ginny smiled and Harry knew what he'd be doing for the rest of the day, assuming no interference from fans, foes, or ministry workers with idealistic motivations.