Chapter 22

A New Chapter

A few hours later, Harry walked down the halls of St. Mungo's with Cho and the senior Healer. "How are they doing?"

"As well as can be expected, Leader Potter," said the man. Is that really the title? wondered Harry. Guess so, Kingsley said it, but somehow it doesn't sound right. Last two letters being the same, I'm not sure if that's good or bad. Like it rhymes or something. Definitely not going to let the Aurors call me that.

"They won't be able to move that much," added Cho. "Their muscles have atrophied to various extents. The ones who were attacked on the day of Fred's funeral, they were less affected, but they'll still need a few days to recover. About twenty people have been here longer, some attacked when the previous government was in power, and just a few before that."

Cho opened a door, and Harry saw a very large—magically expanded?—room, with about twelve rows of ten beds, very simple. Harry reminded himself that this hadn't been a high-priority area—the people hadn't been expected to ever recover—so there had been no problem putting so many into one room. As they walked in, Cho added, "They've been told what happened, of course."

"Harry!" shouted a familiar voice three rows to Harry's right; it was Dennis Creevey. There was light applause as most tried to clap, but some couldn't manage it. "Hands down, everyone," admonished the senior Healer. "Don't try to rush along your recovery. I'm sure Leader Potter understands your sentiments."

Harry conjured a chair near Dennis's bed, and sat. "Hi, Dennis. How are you doing?"

"Alive again, thanks to you," said Dennis fervently. "If anybody could do the impossible, you could. Colin would be proud."

Harry nodded. "Thanks, Dennis. What was it like? Do you remember anything?"

Dennis shuddered. "Just the soul-sucking thing; it was horrible. When it was happening, I felt like it was like dying, only worse. I was sure that that was the end, that was it. That was the last thing I remember. They tell me that over three months have passed since then, but for me, the funeral was less than a day ago."

"It's probably better that way," said Harry. "If my soul had been removed by a dementor, I probably wouldn't want to remember the time in between."

"Yeah, it seems kind of disgusting," agreed Dennis. "But now I'm back. Harry, can you promise me one thing?"

"What's that?"

"I heard about the Aurors, and that you have to recruit new ones. I want to join, as soon as I can."

Harry smiled. "I'm sure you'll be good. I can't promise you'll get in, but I can promise to consider you carefully, give you every chance. So, work hard at Hogwarts, and listen to Professor Longbottom."

"Neville's the DADA teacher? Oh, wow, he'll be good!" enthused Dennis.

"I think so too," agreed Harry. "Take care of yourself, Dennis."

Dennis gripped Harry's hand for a few seconds; Harry nodded and patted Dennis on the shoulder before standing. He walked around, saying hello to people he didn't know, accepting their thanks. Soon he saw a familiar face: Dolores Umbridge. He turned to Cho and the Healer, who had been following him. "Could I have a moment alone with the Undersecretary?"

Surprised, they nodded, and moved off. Harry conjured a chair and sat. "Madam Umbridge," he whispered. "How are you doing?"

"Problem—with my voice," she said, and indeed, it sounded rough from disuse; she couldn't speak above a whisper. "Thank you for what you did. But of course, I should not have been in Azkaban in the first place. I may—sue the Ministry—false imprisonment…"

"Madam Umbridge, you were responsible for persecuting Muggle-born wizards, accusing them of stealing magic, taking their wands. Do you regret that?"

"Of—of course. I had to do it, the government was insistent. I feared for my safety. I hated what I had to do." She sounded convincing, but Harry knew that every word she had said was a lie. "Mr. Potter… if there is anything I can do for you…"

"There is, Madam Umbridge. I'd like you to resign as Undersecretary."

Confused, she stared at him. "W—Why?"

"Because you regret what you did," he whispered. "You want to make a fresh start, and in repentance for your actions, you're resigning as Undersecretary. You can't, in good conscience, continue in that position with the stain on your record. But you will remain in the Wizengamot, and hope to use that position to redeem yourself, by judging fairly and compassionately."

She stared at him again. If looks could kill, thought Harry… "And if I refuse?" she croaked.

"First of all, all I would have to do is tell the truth about what you did to me three years ago, and you would be the political equivalent of a leper," said Harry, still keeping his voice very low. "But that wouldn't even be necessary. You see, I'm Auror Leader, and I could bypass the Wizengamot entirely and have you put in Azkaban, just on my say-so. I have that power, and I advise you not to tempt me. What you did, both to me and to the Muggle-borns, more than merits it. My offer is a bargain, Madam Umbridge. I expect to hear of your resignation within twenty-four hours."

He stood. In a normal tone, he added, "I hope you feel better soon." Knowing she was looking daggers at him, but not caring, he walked off and rejoined Cho and the senior Healer. Before coming to St. Mungo's, he'd used Malfoy's artifact for an hour—a half a second of real time—thinking about things. He'd decided to offer Umbridge that option, because while he could put her in Azkaban, he couldn't—no one could—strip her of her Undersecretary position. He wanted Kingsley to have an Undersecretary appointment, and at the same time, it would remove a thorn in Kingsley's side. He let her stay in the Wizengamot because, as one of many, she could do much less damage there. He had considered simply having her prosecuted for her actions, but was unsure how it would come out legally; he wasn't sure what law her Hogwarts punishment broke, and she could argue that she was simply a functionary of the previous government. So, he would offer a compromise. Normally, he wouldn't threaten anyone with extralegal punishment—he didn't want to get into such a habit—but for her, he would easily make an exception.

He walked up and down the rows, and finally saw another familiar face. He conjured the chair, and sat again. "Dedalus," he said kindly. "How are you?"

"Alive, which is better than I deserve," the small man said dejectedly. "I am so sorry for what happened to your Muggle family, Harry. I failed them. I broke under torture, and gave away their location."

Harry patted him on the arm. "I know. It's okay, Dedalus. They're okay."

The man stared in shock. "How can that be?"

"It's a long story, but the main point is that it turns out Dudley is a wizard. He was able to fight off the attacker, and he and his family survived, with no injuries. They were lucky."

"Indeed they were," agreed Dedalus. "It is quite a load off my mind, but still, my conscience plagues me—"

"No one can be expected to stand up under torture," said Harry firmly. "I know that. No one who had ever been tortured would blame you for a second. Please, don't let that disturb you. You did the best you could."

The man's eyes seemed to moisten. "You are so kind, Harry. You always have been, even when I first met you, before you went to Hogwarts. And now, look at what you have done. You have fulfilled all the promise that anyone said you had, and then some. Your forgiveness is truly a blessing."

Well, let's not go that far, Harry thought but didn't say. "It's nothing more than the truth. But thank you for what you said. I hope you'll be feeling better soon."

"I have little doubt of it. Thank you again, Harry Potter."

* * * * *

Harry Apparated to the room in which he'd taken the Auror Leader test. He looked over at the energy field he'd been in to take the test, and memories of taking the test hit him again. It hadn't really happened, but in a way, it had.

He looked again at the glowing door that he'd seen after waking up. Then, he hadn't cared about it, or wondered what was in it. Now, not only did he care, but he was sure he more or less knew. A secret room, he guessed, visible only to those who've passed the test.

The door had no handle. When he got close, the image of the door started to fade, and he knew he could simply walk through. He did, and the room was quite large, covering what Harry guessed to be the surface area of a small house. To his surprise, the energy field was there as well, with a comfortable leather chair in the middle of it. There was a desk, old artwork on the walls, and a few rows of bookshelves. He walked around, taking everything in, and soon saw against the far wall what would no doubt be the highlight of the room for him: another comfortable chair facing the wall, giving a view of three rows of five portraits each.

He sat in the chair. "Hello, gentlemen."

The one on the lower right spoke. "My, but you are quite young. My name is David Wilton, and I was the most recent Auror Leader before you, the fifteenth. I died in 1917. And you are?"

"Sorry. My name's Harry Potter. To be honest, I'm surprised you haven't heard of me. Everyone has. Don't you have other portraits?"

Wilton shook his head. "Because of that," he said, gesturing his head to the energy field, "time does not move in this room. But it affects us differently: when no one is in the room, it… does not exist, in a sense. When I died, I moved into this portrait, and I was given an hour to talk to the others and get used to being a portrait. Then, suddenly, you were here. Because of that, unlike other portraits, we do not have other frames; we do not move. We are here strictly for the benefit of the current Auror Leader. Now, may I ask, what year is it?"

"It's 1998," said Harry. "September."

Surprised gasps came from many of the portraits. "My goodness," said the thirteenth Auror Leader. "An eighty-year gap; the second longest on record."

"I assume, then, that the Muggle War is over?" asked Wilton.

Harry frowned. "I'm sorry, which war is that?"

"The one in which Muggles in Europe have been senselessly sending their young boys to die in trenches, giving up thousands of lives to gain a few yards here or lose them there—"

"Oh, yeah, World War I. I read about that a little—"

"One?" demanded Wilton. "There was another?"

"Yes, in the 1940s, but history's never been my strong point."

"Well, you must find out. We depend on the next Leader to keep us informed of the march of years. How old are you?"

They're not going to like this, thought Harry. "Eighteen."

More shocked reactions. "Eighteen?" repeated Wilton in disbelief. "An eighteen-year-old was allowed to take the test?"

"I didn't ask to take it." Well, thought Harry, if time doesn't move in this room, then I have all the time in the world to explain this to them. "There's a story I need to tell you, and then it might make more sense…"

He told them, then stayed in the room for what was to him another six or seven hours. There was a lot to learn, a lot to read, and a lot to plan. He told the portraits about the situation that faced him, and they gave him some advice.

* * * * *

Harry Apparated into Kingsley's office; Kingsley was in the middle of a conversation with Bill. "Hi, Kingsley. Sorry, didn't mean to interrupt." He nodded to Bill, who nodded back.

"That's okay, we were almost done anyway," said Kingsley. "Bill was just telling me about the bank's plans."

Harry hadn't thought about it since he'd returned. "Oh, yeah, how's that going?" He sat in the chair next to Bill.

"Very well, which reminds me, we need you to do more forms, with the Elder Wand; we're running low."

"Sure. Just bring them around to Grimmauld Place, and I'll get on them."

"Thanks. Anyway, it's grown greatly. A building is under construction in Diagon Alley, and we're up to ten employees. A competitor has started up, a month ago, aiming at the high end of the market, but we got most of it first, so it's questionable whether they can survive. With more people, it's gotten so I can finally work only eight hours a day. So, Fleur's happy."

"Well, that's the important thing," Harry joked.

"You better believe it," agreed Bill. "And we've had a lot more capital investment. Your capital was the bank's only capital at the beginning, but businesses have been buying in; we're up to eight million Galleons, which is great growth in such a short time. It also means that, if you wanted, you could decrease your capital. That is, you could reduce your ownership share, and have the money for your own use again."

Harry shrugged. "I'm okay, for now. But let me ask, is this the kind of ownership where they get to decide what the bank does?"

"Nope. Fortunately, due to the early start we got, we were in a good enough position that we didn't have to offer voting shares. They have ownership, they share in profits, but they don't have voting rights, and they don't decide policy. So, you needn't worry."

"Good, I'm glad to hear that." Bill talked to Kingsley for another minute and left. Kingsley looked at Harry. "In the future, maybe you want to Apparate into the other room there. Knock on the door, I'll get up and go in there."

"What if you're in that room?"

"Then I'm napping. Or, it's very late at night, and I'm sleeping there, which has happened before. Unlike you, I can't Disapparate out of here."

Harry was puzzled. "You can't take the one-minute walk to Apparition range?"

The expression on Kingsley's face told Harry that the discussion was too trivial for him to worry about. "Apparating when you're very tired isn't always the best idea. Increases the chance of Splinching. Anyway, what can I do for you?"

"I thought we should talk about what I'm going to do to rebuild the Aurors. I'm hoping for at least twenty at first, but I'll take more if there are good people who want to do it. I need to let you know what we're going to do."

"By 'we', you mean you and the Aurors, right?"

"No, I mean you, too. There's only two Aurors with any real Auror experience," pointed out Harry. "I can't train Aurors, I've never been one. Well, okay, during the test, but that hardly counts. I'm going to be relying on you and Hestia to do most of the training."

"I'll do what I can, Harry, but you have to keep in mind that I'm the Minister. At least, for now. I thought the Council was going to sack me today, but I guess they decided to put it off until the excitement over you dies down."

Harry shook his head. "Nope. Sorry, but you're staying." He explained what he had done with the Council. "So, unless there's a full-scale riot demanding your removal, you're not going anywhere. I need a Minister who isn't going to try to politicize me."

"So, this isn't personal, one way or the other."

Harry took a deep breath, and sat back in the chair. "I was naïve. I didn't know the pressures you were looking at. Not only with all of society in general, but having to worry about who'd been corrupted by Voldemort, and what they might do. I looked at it strictly as a personal thing. 'Kingsley's my friend, he wouldn't do that to me.' I realize it wasn't quite that simple."

Solemnly, Kingsley nodded. "I'm glad you understand that. I really wanted to let you have that time. You did deserve it. But, like you said… I've second-guessed myself for that more times than you can imagine. So… are we okay?"

Harry paused. "You should have asked me. I understand why you did it, I know both sides, I know that you'd been thinking about it before. That you'd planned all along simply to ask me, and that bothered you, because you knew I couldn't really understand what it involved. And then you rescued me, and… there was your chance, being handed to you on a silver platter. But you still should have asked me."

Kingsley met his gaze. "You would have said no."

"Probably," agreed Harry. "All the more reason not to do it. It's a hell of a thing to ask of someone who doesn't want to do it, not only the test, but the job itself. Maybe this isn't what I wanted to do with my life."

"You could have come back and joined a Quidditch team," Kingsley pointed out. "You chose to do this."

"Yes, I could really come back to an Auror-less society and do my own thing, not care if Dark wizards make a huge comeback," said Harry sarcastically.

"If the Aurors hadn't been killed—"

"I don't know," answered Harry honestly. "I doubt I ever will. I'm not saying this didn't have the best result for society. I'm saying that if you respect someone, you don't do something that changes their life so radically without asking them. That was going to change my life radically whether I passed the test or not."

"I know. But let me ask you this. Suppose I had a vision, or a prophetess told me, that if you give Harry the test and he passes, a hundred people who would otherwise die, won't die. Does that make it okay?"

Harry paused, then admitted, "The fact that I even pause to think about it suggests that you have a point. I can't answer that. But I do know that if I were in that position with Ron or Hermione, I wouldn't just do it. I would ask them."

Sadly, Kingsley nodded. "I know. Maybe I'm trying to justify my actions. I asked you those questions because I wanted to make sure you'd really thought about it from my side, and it seems like you have. I don't think there are any truly right or wrong answers to questions like this. But… whether this means anything or not, I want to apologize for what I did."

"Well, it worked," pointed out Harry, not wanting to address what Kingsley had said about the apology meaning anything. If Kingsley was asking for forgiveness, Harry wasn't sure he could do it just then. Maybe in the future… "You rolled the dice, needing snake eyes, and you got them."

"I know," said Kingsley heavily. "But just because you win doesn't mean that gambling is all right."

Harry nodded. "But it's ironic that British Airways just happened to take me to Japan, to a country where what you did would have been universally approved. Not that they totally changed my mind, but you could say that I got another view on the whole question of how much people should do for society. By the way, I do want to say that I appreciate your telling Sato to warn me to leave the country if you got sacked, and not telling me what happened to the Aurors. I know you were trying to keep me away from it."

"One could argue that it was self-serving," said Kingsley. "You were going to come back anyway—well, probably—and it was just a question of when. If it was by your own choice, you were more likely to accept your fate, as it were."

"You could argue that," agreed Harry. "But I know that wasn't the reason."

"Say, how do you know that, anyway?"

"When I was getting the dementor information, I had visions, saw some stuff that helped me understand things. Anyway, what I came here to tell you was that you're, you and Hestia, are going to help train us, and so that society isn't too unprotected while that's happening, we're all—you, me, Hestia, and whoever I recruit—are all going back in time, about a year. I know one year isn't total training, but it'll do for the basics."

Kingsley's eyes went wide. "And how are we going back in time?"

Harry reached into his robe and pulled out a Time-Turner. "All of them were supposed to have been destroyed, but one had been lost before that. Auror Leader stuff allowed me to see that happen, and about an hour ago, I went and found it."

Kingsley shook his head in wonderment. "But we can't do it in England—"

"I know, too dangerous," agreed Harry. "There's an island, in the South Pacific, that'll do. It's shielded from Muggles by magic, and no one lives there. One of the former Auror Leaders—I can talk to the portraits—told me about it. We go there, do basic training, and come back a day after we left. The new Aurors won't be fully trained, but it'll be a good start. Other things, like character tests, can be done when we're finished with that. So, you and Hestia will have all the time you need to do whatever training you can, in one year."

Kingsley whistled, impressed. "You can talk to Auror Leaders' portraits? I didn't even know they existed. Where are they?"

"A kind of sanctuary, a room that only the Auror Leader can enter, or even see. I just found it this afternoon, but they've already been very helpful."

"I'll bet," agreed Kingsley. "You know how dangerous time travel can be, right?"

"Yes, I know," said Harry. "But this is my decision, and I think it's a good one."

Kingsley held up his hands to emphasize that he wasn't arguing. "Just making sure. Professor McGonagall was in here a few hours ago. She said you slapped her around a bit."

"I didn't want to."

"I know, and I think she knew. I just want to make sure you know that I'm the last person who's going to second-guess your decisions. Sometimes I may question you, just to make sure you've thought of everything."

"Fair enough. Well, I'll be spending most of the next few days talking to people, deciding who's going to join. Ron and Hermione have already said yes, and Neville's next on the list. Professor McGonagall's not going to be happy, but that's the way it goes. I need him more than she does. Maybe there's an ex-Auror or two who'll do it for a few years."

"Maybe so, now that the curse is off the job. I'll talk to some people."

"Okay," said Harry, standing. "I'll be in touch."

Kingsley stood as well. "Thank you, for what you did today. That helps a lot, but there are still former Death Eaters and Dark wizards out there. It won't be easy for a while. But, I suppose there's nothing to be done, but…"

"Keep moving forward," finished Harry. He noted Kingsley's very surprised reaction, and nodded slightly. "See you," he said, and Disapparated.

* * * * *

The next day was very busy, as he imagined most of his days would be for quite a while, or at least until the Aurors were up to full strength and life was calm again. He walked around Diagon Alley, talked to people, and even signed a few autographs, secure in the knowledge that if someone handed him something that was really a Portkey, his ability to see magic would spot it instantly. Nothing untoward happened, however. He did the Pinter interview, caught up on his mail, and the day went by faster than he would have imagined. Later in the day, he went to Hogwarts to request Ginny and Neville's presence for a few hours; McGonagall granted Ginny a few hours' leave, but reminded Harry that as a teacher, Neville could come and go as he pleased. Finally, he visited Luna and requested that she come as well.

He would have dinner with the Weasley family the next night, but this night, on his second full day back, he wanted to eat at Grimmauld Place with his friends, with those who had gone to the Ministry with him that day a little over two years ago. The six of them spent three hours together. Neville agreed to join the new Aurors. Harry asked Ginny as well, who said she was flattered, but wanted a day or two to think it over. All of them had a good time, and it made Harry glad he had thought of it. We may be busy, he thought, but we need to enjoy our friends, enjoy our time together. Life isn't only work.

After Luna, Neville, and Ginny left, the three main occupants of Grimmauld Place went to the kitchen to clean up. Hermione washed the dishes, Ron dried and put them away, and Harry cleared the table. "You're doing the dishes manually. I'm surprised you haven't learned any household spells yet."

Annoyed, Hermione glanced at him over her shoulder. "Why do I have to? Just because I'm the woman?"

"I was talking to both of you," Harry assured her. "But, you know, the Japanese think that a woman's place is to stay at home, take care of all the household work, raise the children, and so forth." Hermione rolled her eyes, clearly showing what she thought of that.

"So," said Ron, "you mean that the Japanese embrace solid, traditional, old-fashioned values." Amused with himself, he glanced at Hermione for a reaction.

"You'd better watch out, or you'll be washing them as well as drying them," muttered Hermione. Ron grinned.

"We've had this conversation a few times," explained Ron. "She thinks there's something to doing it by hand. Something about not forgetting what manual labor feels like, not relying on magic for everything. Like Mum does."

Now, she was more than a little annoyed. "Don't start with me, Ron," she warned him. "I've said before that I don't blame your mother, especially since she had a huge family to deal with. I don't think everyone has to do it the way I do. It's just the way I want to do it, at least for now. And I did tell you that I don't care if you do it or not. But I know you're just trying to annoy me. God only knows why, though. It's as though you like to fight."

"I don't like to fight," he protested. "Just making jokes."

"Because becoming like Fred and George is such a good thing," she countered sarcastically.

"So, Harry, are you going to get a new house-elf?" asked Ron.

Harry shrugged. "I wouldn't have any idea of how to go about getting one. I wonder about that, anyway. Who brings them up, when they're small? Do their owners keep their kids? Anyway, we'll see. I might learn a few spells if it becomes necessary. It's not like I need a house-elf, and I feel bad that now, two house-elves have died saving me. I wish I could thank Kreacher for—"

Harry was startled as suddenly, two things appeared in front of him: what appeared to be a ghost of Kreacher, and a live house-elf. She was young, a little shorter than Dobby or Kreacher, and cute, or at least as cute as house-elves could be seen as by humans. Seeming surprised by her surroundings, she immediately let out what Harry assumed was a squeal of joy. Harry gasped. "Kreacher?"

"Master Harry said Kreacher's name," said Kreacher happily. "Master Harry does not know house-elf law, so Kreacher will explain. When a master's elf dies, a successor is appointed: the young one next in line to be provided to a wizarding home. The old elf's ghost and the new elf are summoned by saying the old elf's name in the family home. The young one is Master Harry's new elf, Kreacher's replacement."

Uh, okay, thought Harry, stunned. He asked the first question that came to his mind. "What's her name?"

"That is Master Harry's decision," said Kreacher. "The young elf has no name at this time."

"Me is so excited, so lucky!" squeaked the elf. "Master is Harry Potter!"

Hermione didn't look happy. "Harry, are you really going to—"

Harry gave her a sharp look; hurt, she cut herself off. He would explain later, but he didn't want the new elf to feel rejected, as if he was considering whether to ship her off. "I'll deal with it," he said to her.

He turned to Kreacher. "Kreacher, I wanted to say thank you for what you did. Without you, I might never have gotten out of there."

Kreacher shook his head. "Kreacher was honored to die for Harry Potter. Kreacher is now legendary elf, and has no regrets. Goodbye, Harry Potter."

"Goodbye, Kreacher," said Harry, as Kreacher's image slowly faded, and finally disappeared. He turned to the new elf, who was still brimming with excitement. "Okay, a name." Something occurred to him quickly, and he decided to go with it. "I'd like your name to be Maria."

Hermione smiled; Ron looked puzzled. "Elves aren't given human names, Harry. Maria's a human name."

"That's the point, Ron," explained Hermione. "Harry—I assume—picked the name to say that he regards her as equal to humans. Isn't that right, Harry?"

"Exactly," he agreed. "So, is Maria okay with you?" he asked the elf.

"Maria! Maria sounds pretty. Maria is very happy," said the delighted elf.

"Good. Maria, there's something I want to tell you, and it's very important." The elf nodded, listening attentively. "I'm not a usual master. I think that house-elves are equal to humans. I know you want to serve me, and I appreciate that. But in addition to doing what you'll do around here, I want you to learn things. For example, can you read English?"

"Of course, Master Harry. It is necessary to go shopping, and—"

"Just a minute. What I'm going to say will sound strange to you, but many things I say will sound strange. This is also very important. You must not call me 'Master Harry.' You must call me 'Harry.' Do you understand?"

The elf looked hesitant, and a little frightened. "Maria was told always to call the master by 'Master.'"

"Yes, I know, but I am telling you something different. Will you do as I ask?"

"Of course, M—Of course, Harry. Is very difficult, but Maria will try."

"Good. Now, so, you can read. Have you ever read the Daily Prophet, the human newspaper?"

"Oh, no, Mas—Harry. Is not necessary for elves."

"I want you to start reading it, every morning. Not the whole thing, just the front page, at first. Okay?"

"Of course, Maria will do as Master—oh, Maria is sorry! Maria will do as Harry says. But Maria wonders why."

"Good. You should never be afraid to ask why. It's because I'm Auror Leader, and the news will be important for me. It'll be useful for me if you know what is in the paper. At first, I'll explain some things about wizard life so you'll understand what's in the paper. Now, you should walk around the house, get familiar with it so you can start your job. Okay?"

"Yes yes yes! Thank you, Harry. Maria is so happy!" She seemed to bounce out of the room.

Hermione regarded him with approval. "That's a good idea, Harry. I'm not sure I would have thought of it."

"But why the Prophet?" asked Ron.

Harry put up the spell that would guard against eavesdropping. "I want her to learn, to understand the world outside of this home, to think about things. I want to see what she can do. I know it'll take years, but that's okay. I want her to like me; the more she does, the harder she'll try to do what I say."

"And, you hope, she'll come to the conclusion that house-elves shouldn't be owned," said Hermione.

"Partly, but that may be too much to hope for," said Harry. "But I'm not going to keep it a secret how I treat her. If she starts to think for herself, gets more free will and more human-like, I can show her as an example, like, look what house-elves are capable of if we give them a chance."

"Oh, I really hope so," said Hermione. "It'll be a lot more than I could do at Hogwarts. I was so stupid, thinking I could change things overnight. I didn't accomplish anything."

"That's not true, Hermione. You made me think about it. Do you think I'd be doing this if you hadn't done what you did? I would have just done what most people did. But for now, I think you shouldn't tell her she should want to be free, and not try to help her with housework or anything. She'll take it as you thinking—"

"That she's doing something wrong, I get it. Don't worry, I won't."

"I can't believe how excited she is," put in Ron.

"Well," said Harry, "she is the house-elf of the incredibly wonderful and legendary wizard Harry Potter. No wonder she's excited."

Ron chuckled. "Good to see this Auror Leader stuff isn't going to your head."

"Absolutely not." Harry lifted the anti-eavesdropping spell. "So, you told your mother I'd be over tomorrow night, right?"

"Yep. I think she'll be satisfied with that, if you can make it over every Wednesday. She'd sort of been hinting lately that she hoped that Hermione and I would make it over there more often than once a week."

"Why?" asked Harry.

"Well, I never officially moved out," said Ron. "We started staying here when the goblins kidnapped you, and then after you left the country, we decided to keep staying, partly because it seemed like the house shouldn't be left totally empty and unused, and partly because we knew you'd want us to—"

"You were right about that," agreed Harry.

"But I never said to Mum that I was moving out, exactly. I'd just come over and get more and more of my stuff. I suppose I should tell her at some point."

"Just to make sure, I hope you know I want you both to keep staying. Of course, soon we're going to be living on an island in the South Pacific, but still, I'd rather not live here by myself."

Ron nodded. "We're happy to. Several reasons, but the most important one is that here, we share a bedroom, but Mum would have had a bit of trouble with that." Harry grinned at Hermione, who blushed.

"I've got no problem with that, needless to say. By the way, that reminds me of something. When Kingsley gave me that test, as you know, I was living with my parents. Horrible as that whole thing was, I did at least in that time get to have a good conversation with each of them, the people they would have been if they'd lived. In the one with my Mum, we were talking about Cho, who was my girlfriend in that thing—"

"Why was Cho your girlfriend?" interrupted Ron. Hermione gave him a 'don't ask that' glance.

"I don't know," said Harry. "After it was finished, that wasn't exactly my biggest concern, but I was surprised too. I'd have thought it would be Ginny."

"You're really okay with her and Neville?"

Harry sighed lightly. "I don't have much of a choice, do I? I'm trying to take the high road, because the result is the same no matter which road I take. But no, I saw enough in the visions to know that when I left the country, I lost her for good. Not that I could have done much else; it was just circumstances. I couldn't be there for her, and she couldn't wait for me. By the way, I hope you made up with her."

"What do you mean?"

"That fight you had, after you told her I left the country. It was pretty ugly."

Ron's eyes went wide. "You saw that? In your visions?"

"Yeah. I felt bad for both of you, but I appreciated that your impulse was to defend me."

Ron shrugged. "Just seemed like common sense to me. But yeah, we made up a while back. When I found out she was with Neville, I wasn't thrilled. I mean, I like Neville, you know that. I just…"

Hermione gave Ron a superior grin. "He means that he wishes it had been you."

"Yeah, I got that," smiled Harry. "Thanks. I just hoped there wasn't any long-term damage from that."

"You were saying, Harry?" prompted Hermione. "About your mother?"

"Oh, yeah. I was talking to her about Cho, that we didn't seem to be connecting, that we didn't have so much in common. Of course, there, you two were also together. But Mum said that she'd always kind of hoped that Hermione and I would get together." He saw Hermione and Ron exchange surprised glances. "It was funny that she thought that. I guess it means she liked you," he added, looking at Hermione, who looked as though tears might come to her eyes.

"And that she didn't like me," joked Ron.

"No, just that she liked me more than you," retorted Harry. More seriously, he added, "Anyway, I told her that I thought you were a good couple, and I was happy for you. She asked if I'd told you that, and I said I hadn't. She said I should. So, in respect for her memory, I'm saying it now. I think you're a good couple, and I'm happy for both of you."

"Oh, thank you, Harry," gushed Hermione, tears trickling down her cheeks. She walked to Harry and hugged him.

"Thank you," echoed Ron, clearly emotionally affected.

He patted Hermione's back as she let go. "Well, it's just the truth. One thing I learned from the visions was that we should say how we feel, because you never know if you'll have another chance. Not to be morbid, but I think it makes sense anyway."

"It does," agreed Hermione. "But it's still very sweet of you."

Harry decided it was time to change the subject. "So, I never did ask you, what have you two been doing work-wise since I left?"

"I helped out with the bank for a while," said Hermione. "A month or so after you left, Bill started to get it on track, and hire more people. He tried to get me to stay, but that's not what I want to do. I came in a few more times to help, but once things were settled, there wasn't much I could do that others couldn't. And sometimes, like Ron, I helped out his father."

"Which I've been gradually doing less of as well," added Ron. "There hasn't been so much to do, though I do check in with the Muggle-borns from time to time to see how they're doing. But other than that, I've been hanging out here, not doing much of anything. Which was good, as it turns out, since I'm now going to be very busy."

"Well, I had an idea, which would make you even busier, but I'm not sure what you two will think of it. I was thinking that we should write a book."

"What??" Ron and Hermione chorused; Harry couldn't help but grin at the unintended coordination of their reactions.

"Yeah, I thought you might say that. Everyone wanted to hear the story of what happened, and I didn't want to tell it. But the guy at the end of the visions thing said that stories are important, that they inspire people. And for the first time, I sort of understood.

"So, here's my idea. We write about our Hogwarts years, from the first year Hogwarts Express to the victory over Voldemort. It would be written by all three of us, in our own words. We would each write what happened, from our point of view, and it would be organized to be in order. Like, in second year, Hermione would write about getting together the Polyjuice Potion, then one of us would write about taking it, then Ron or I about going to the Slytherin area and talking to Malfoy. Like that. The story would switch off writers, according to whose words should be next in the story."

"What makes you think I can write?" asked a surprised Ron.

"It would just be a matter of saying what happened," said Harry. "It could be edited later. Part of what makes me want to do it, besides the whole story thing I mentioned, is that… I talked to Flourish after I had this idea. I mentioned it to him, and he was practically wetting his pants over the notion of being the one to publish it. Turns out Flourish and Blotts publishes as well as sells books. He said he's sure it would be the biggest seller the store's ever had, and it would sell well internationally too. But he also said that now that I'm Auror Leader, a biography on me is bound to come out; it would just be a matter of time. And he said if whoever it is couldn't interview us, he or she would just do the best they could, and guess at a lot of things, talk to people who were only somewhat involved. Rather than have to say, this was true but that wasn't, I think it's best if we just write it ourselves. Then it's the definitive account. So, what do you think?"

Ron's eyes lit up. "He said it would be a bestseller? Were any amounts mentioned?"

"Ron!" Hermione admonished him. "The money's not the reason to do it!"

Harry grinned. "He did mention amounts. He said at the very least, it would sell ten thousand copies in England, at ten Galleons per copy. After publishing expenses, and his profit, we'd be looking at fifteen thousand Galleons each. And he thinks internationally, there'd be at least that much, maybe more."

It was clear to Harry that even Hermione found the money appealing. But he also saw a look of dismay cross her face. "But isn't it the same thing as them paying us for an interview? We'd be making money for what you did."

"I couldn't have done it without you, you know. But it's your story, too; you were just as involved in this stuff as I was.

"But before you answer, there's one thing I want to mention. If we do this, I think we need to do it right, tell the whole story. Meaning that we have to tell everything that happened, honestly, even if some things were embarrassing to us, or make us look bad." He knew he was largely referring to Ron's having run out on them, but didn't want to say it so directly. "Is this something both of you would want to do, even under those conditions?"

Hermione and Ron exchanged a glance; Hermione nodded. Ron looked pensive. "Now, that fifteen thousand Galleons, was he really certain of that, or—"

"Ron!" she admonished him; he chuckled. Annoyed, she pointed a finger at him. "That's not something you want to be doing to me very much,"

"I'll take that as a yes, from both of you," said Harry. "Now, there'll be a couple of things to help us write it. One, I already told you about the artifact I got from Malfoy. I figure we can use that, take turns. We could finish it really fast if we wanted.

"The other thing is that I stopped by the antique shop, to look into getting a Pensieve. They don't have one right now, but they were in contact with someone who had one, and negotiating for it. I should have it by tomorrow. So, we can use that, and it'll help a lot. We'll be able to use it in the slow-time field, I'm pretty sure."

"I'm sure those things aren't cheap," said Ron. "How much will it be?"

"Twelve hundred Galleons."

"Wow!" exclaimed Ron. "Well, I suppose you can afford it. But yeah, that'd be pretty helpful. By the way… we don't have to include every little detail, do we?"

"What do you mean?"

"Well, you know, like sixth year… I'd really rather not mention You-Know-Who…"

Harry's eyes narrowed. "Voldemort?"

"He means Lavender," said Hermione, casting suspicious glances at Ron.

"Well," said Ron defensively, "okay, it's not something I'm especially proud of, and it doesn't have anything to do with Voldemort, so…"

Harry grinned. "It's just nice to hear You-Know-Who mean someone other than Voldemort. But no, I wouldn't think so. I mean, the story should be about our Hogwarts years, especially where we did unusual stuff, and I did plan to write about Cho, for example. But—"

"But then, you didn't embarrass yourself," said Hermione pointedly. Ron rolled his eyes, but didn't respond.

"I think it's more that she embarrassed him," suggested Harry.

"Thank you," said Ron, his tone indicating that Harry had hit the nail on the head. Hermione looked at Ron as though there was a lot she wanted to say, but was refraining, with great difficulty.

She turned her attention to another subject. "So, the book should be divided into seven parts, of course, one for each year… and maybe the text could be in three different colors, each one to indicate who's talking, or I should say, writing… and we probably shouldn't coordinate our accounts before we write; we might remember things differently, and it might be interesting for the readers…" Harry and Ron exchanged a quick, amused glance. Hermione would clearly be in charge of the production details of the book. Fine with me, thought Harry. He listened to her talk, very pleased to again be in the presence of his two closest friends.

* * * * *

The next week went by very quickly for Harry; there seemed to be a dozen things to do each day. The main issues he concerned himself with were preparing for their trip to the island, and talking to the people he wanted to accompany him. He thought about whether he should take anyone who was interested in becoming an Auror and seemed qualified, but in the end he decided to make it only those he knew and could trust. The others could be trained in the more normal way. Kingsley advised him to reconsider; he felt it could lead to factionalism. The ones who went might consider themselves 'D.A. Aurors' or 'island Aurors,' more important and more connected to Harry than others. Harry thought about it, but after consultation with the Auror Leader portraits, decided to do it his way. The current situation was very unusual, and he didn't want to take someone he didn't know to the island only to find that they weren't suited to be an Auror. Not that he knew 100% that all who would go were, but at least he already knew them, and had confidence in their ability. He ended up with a group of fifteen people who would be going with him, and he implored them all to keep what they would be doing a secret.

Since it didn't cost him any 'real-life time,' he spent a lot of time talking to the Aurors' portraits. He was beginning to realize that this would be a very valuable resource, perhaps the most valuable one the room offered. They knew which books in the library were the most important, they knew spells which had long since fallen into disuse, they had useful suggestions when he brought up a problem, and most of all, they had all had the weight of society on their shoulders, as he now did. So that they could give him better advice as time passed, he carefully filled them in on the current situation and what had led up to it. Despite their badgering, he simply couldn't fill them in on wizarding history over the past eighty years, but promised to try to get caught up on it. He would have to buy several books on twentieth century wizarding history, read them in that room, and then tell them about it. He had to agree with one former Leader who pointed out that he would benefit greatly in his new role by knowing such information. When he responded that there were no doubt a great many things he didn't know that he would benefit by knowing, the Leader responded, "Yes, exactly." Unhappily, Harry had to admit that he was right. He had one very long conversation with them about training Aurors, something which was of great interest to him at the time.

To his great surprise, five days after he had talked to them about the book, Ron and Hermione reported that they had both finished their parts. That Hermione had done so didn't surprise him, but Ron's effort did; he was further surprised to hear Ron say that once he started, he really 'got into it,' and had finished sooner than Hermione. Harry had to admit that he hadn't gotten far on his, and told them he'd finish it soon. The next day, he did the work in several very long stretches in the Auror Leader room, and gave it to Hermione for editing. Again using Malfoy's device, she finished it within a day, and delivered it to an ecstatic Flourish. Harry knew everyone would think he and they had worked on it over the past three months, and he planned to do nothing to change that impression.

As he had in the 'other reality' of the Auror Leader test, he made sure to tour Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade every day, letting people see his face and get used to him being around. He slowly learned who had something to say and who tended to bend his ear for no good reason. He also made his way through Knockturn Alley, knowing he needn't worry about being ambushed by magic he could see coming. He wanted to get to know the bartenders and shop owners on the seedier side as well, knowing they could be good sources of information, or good people to keep an eye on. Even they, to his surprise, tended to praise and celebrate him as did most people, and his new ability told him that most were being sincere.

The day after he finished his work on the book, he was making his way through Diagon Alley when a paper airplane appeared in front of him. Recalling the earlier paper airplane incident, he was glad that he could see whether it was a Portkey, and this wasn't. He opened it to read that it was from Kingsley, requesting his presence as soon as possible. Shrugging, he Apparated to Kingsley's office.

To his great surprise, he was across the desk from Kingsley, and face to face with Kaz; his face lit up. "Kaz! What are you—oh, they let you leave the country?" Harry extended his hand, which Kaz shook.

"The Minister has been very helpful," said Kaz. "It's good to see you again."

"You too," said Harry. "So, what happened after—"

Kingsley cleared his throat. "Sorry, but I will need my office. Why don't you two use the adjoining room. It's soundproofed from here, so you can talk freely."

Harry nodded, and he and Kaz went to the other room and took seats on the sofa. "I wanted to talk to you before I left," said Harry. "But they wouldn't let me leave the Satos' house before I left the country. I assume you had a similar situation."

"I was little angry, to be honest," said Kaz; Harry realized that he wasn't wearing the translator, so Kaz would have to rely on his English. "I expected them to be more grateful, after doing that. It wasn't my reason, but still, they treated me like criminal. You too?"

"Less bad than you, but yes. I'm surprised they let you leave the country."

"Me too. Before I left, Sato talked to me. He spoke very honestly; I was surprised. Said he was grateful, many Japanese were grateful, but Minister had personal problem. He said Minister would not accept me back to Japanese society, but making me ronin again was a politics problem. He said my choice was to be ronin, or to leave the country."

"I can understand why you'd choose that," agreed Harry. "But why here and not America? Or are you just visiting?"

Kaz looked embarrassed. "I came here because you are very kind, I think England is good place. But also… I heard about your Aurors, what happened. You are making new Aurors. I… I am pretty good at magic, did well at tactical school. I hope I can join your Aurors." He said it with the air of someone who was sure he was asking too much, but hoped for a good response anyway.

Harry didn't try to hide his surprise. "Wow. But this isn't your home country, so why would you want to be an Auror here?"

"I tried to save Japanese lives; it was my country, even though I was ronin. Japan was not your country, but you risk your life anyway. I understood that people's country doesn't matter; people are people. If I can help your people, I will be happy."

Harry was impressed; he was sure that Kaz was being truthful and sincere. Grinning, he said, "I think a lot of Japanese wouldn't agree that a person's country doesn't matter."

Kaz grinned in response. "Yes, very true."

More seriously, Harry said, "I understand, and I know you mean it. But there's one question I have to ask, which I normally wouldn't ask…"

Kaz understood. "Chieko." Harry nodded; Kaz looked very serious. "I was happy she visited, but I always thought nothing could happen. Maybe I was selfish, but it was better than having nothing. I had no plan to leave her; I mean I always was sure she would leave me sometime.

"After last week, Aurors looked in my mind, asked me questions when I was sleeping. Found out her, told her parents and… high family person…"

"Patriarch," supplied Harry.

"Patriarch, thank you. She was in big trouble, of course. Said she might be ronin. They let her see me. She said… very sorry, but doesn't want to be ronin. I asked if she would come to England with me. She said, very sorry, but too difficult to leave Japan, doesn't want to leave family, and society. I understood. We said goodbye."

Harry winced; he could imagine what Kaz had felt. "I'm really sorry."

Kaz nodded, and gave a little shrug. "Sho ga nai," he said; it was a phrase Harry had heard a lot, which roughly meant, 'there was nothing that could be done.' "You know 'sho ga nai', right?"

Harry chuckled. "You can't live in Japan for three months and not know that. I was going to say that you came to the place where people don't have to gaman, but Aurors do sometimes have to gaman."

"I may not be a normal Japanese, but I can gaman," said Kaz. "Mmmm, maybe not, since I got angry and broke my…"

"Antiquity Link," supplied Harry.

"Antikity Link," repeated Kaz poorly. "Difficult word, in English. So, maybe I don't gaman so well. But other times, pretty well. Probably, better than most English."

"Probably," agreed Harry. "Anyway, about your question… you know that Aurors have to risk their life, maybe even have to give their life, in doing their job. That's okay with you?"

"I tell you a secret. My name, Hirokazu, usually Japanese call Hiro as nickname. In America, I said, call me Hiro. I didn't know that sounds like English word 'hero,' and American friends said like, 'he's a hero.' I didn't like that, because once in America, I saw someone in trouble, and could have helped, but didn't. I felt bad, like, not brave. After that, people stopped to make 'hero' jokes. So, when I met you, said my name is 'Kaz,' because didn't want you to make 'hero' joke."

"I wouldn't have. People do say I'm a hero, but I don't like that. I'd be the last person to make a joke like that. But I guess you couldn't know that."

"Now I know, of course," agreed Kaz. "I am not a hero, but am glad I did the right thing that night. Don't worry about the joke anymore, but decided I like 'Kaz' better. Stronger sound, so I will use that. Anyway, after that night, I feel more… believe in myself. I believe I can be Auror, risk my life."

Harry nodded, and paused for a minute, thinking. He didn't doubt Kaz's bravery, but there was more to being an Auror than bravery. He didn't want to discourage him, but didn't want to build up his hopes either.

"I understand, and I appreciate your offer. To be honest, choosing an Auror is a big responsibility, and I have to be very careful. I will consider you, and I will give you a chance to prove that you should be able to join. But, not yet. To be an Auror, you have to be fluent in the language, and you have to understand the country, the culture, the values. I don't know how long that will take you. Maybe a year, maybe two. When that happens, I will seriously consider it. Do you understand?"

Kaz nodded. "Thank you, Harry. I know I cannot do it right now, and you are right about the language. Of course, I will study hard."

Harry could easily believe that. "Where will you be staying?"

"I arrived today, so I do not know."

"Well, I have an idea about that…"

* * * * *

Later that evening, to Harry's surprise, he got another summons, to meet another Japanese person. He entered the Foreign Ministry offices at a little after ten p.m., and greeted the visitor with a smile. "Sato-san, it's good to see you again." They shook hands.

Also smiling, Sato looked over Harry's crimson Auror robe. "You, too. It looks very good on you." As they sat in a lounge, Sato added, "You should feel free to call me 'Kenichi,' as we are now operating by your cultural norms, and in your country, you are several levels higher rank than I."

With an impish smile, Harry responded, "I appreciate your saying that, Sato-san."

Sato chuckled. "As you wish. I hesitated to disturb you, as I have nothing of great importance to say, just news that I thought would be of some interest to you."

"I'm happy to talk to you, even if there's nothing of importance to say."

"It's very kind of you; I know how busy you are right now. First of all, I don't know if you have met Harada-san yet, but—"

"I talked to him earlier. For a while, at least, he's going to be a houseguest at the Weasleys'. It somehow seems right. He was surprised they let him leave the country, and so am I. I guess that part of the reason was that for Minister Morishita, just making him ronin again would be seen as ungrateful?"

"Partly," answered Sato. "But it is also rumored that the Minister actively hoped that Harada-san would leave the country, because he feared that many grateful Japanese would seek him out, though he was ronin—remember, doing so is not technically illegal—to thank him, and get his story, which does not reflect well on the Minister. Out of the country, he is no such threat."

Harry sighed. "Human nature, I guess."

"Indeed; that the Minister would react so is hardly unique to Japan, I suspect. But while the news media has still been silent on the matter, rumors are swirling; some say that even the Aurors are leaking the truth of what happened. In his personal unhappiness, the Minister has inaccurately gauged the response of society to his ungrateful actions, and society is reacting in typical Japanese fashion: behind the scenes, with no bold proclamations, but with everyone understanding what is truly happening. It is expected that the Minister will resign within a few weeks; you may well be invited to Japan to attend some ceremony to honor your actions, after a new Minister takes over."

It wasn't something Harry wanted to do, but he didn't strenuously object, either. He was tempted to say that he wouldn't do it unless Kaz was also invited, but decided to wait until it became an issue. "I understand."

After a short silence, Sato went on, "It may amuse you to know that Yasunori requested, far more vigorously than is normal for him, to accompany me here. I felt it was inappropriate, as I have diplomatic credentials and he does not."

"Just so you know, I'm pretty sure I can guarantee that if he were to come, the English government would have no objections."

Sato smiled a little. "Given all that has happened recently, I suspect that nothing you wished for would be impossible. But I am sure you know I mean that our government would not allow it. In any case, he sends his regards, and asked me to tell you that, as a direct eyewitness to the events of that night, he has gained a great deal of social currency. Even older students have asked to hear his account."

"Wow. When I first got there that wouldn't have surprised me at all, but now, of course, I know how strange that is. Please tell him that even though I'm super-busy, I still miss him. Tell him, and have him tell the others, that getting the information about the dementors required a lot of gaman. But it wasn't the pain kind; it was the stubborn kind, which I really prefer. Oh, and that reminds me, there was something I got for them. Just a minute, I'll be right back."

He Disapparated to his bedroom, then Apparated back a few seconds later, carrying a long, thin bag. He handed it to Sato. "Please give these to Yasunori, and have him give two to Yusuke and Yosuke. I was walking around Diagon Alley, saw these in a shop, and thought of them."

Sato reached into the bag, pulled out one of the three umbrellas, and chuckled. "I recall the day you were talking about this, when it rained all day. I'm sure this will give them a good laugh."

"Well, I hope they use them, too. They're nice umbrellas."

"I have no doubt that they will. The other thing I wanted to do was to give you an update on the status of the Antiquity Link. Discussion is proceeding; in a breakthrough of sorts, the newspaper reported yesterday for the first time that, according to the testimony of several dozen honored spirits, the Antiquity Link does not allow them to move on even if they wish to do so. You already knew this, so it may not seem so surprising, but most citizens—including our family, until that night—did not know, and it is quite a shock. Nothing will happen instantly, but this will hasten discussion about what steps to take."

"That's good," said Harry. "Frankly, I'm surprised that the Minister allowed that to be published."

"As was I," agreed Sato. "We—that is, people at the office—speculate that the newspaper published it without informing him, which would also be a sign that he is on the way out. Normally, the Minister would be consulted before such an incendiary revelation is made in those pages. It suggests that the newspaper's editors have lost confidence in him as someone who will make the judgments best for Japanese society.

"In any case, I have spoken to all my ancestors, and they insist that the Antiquity Link is not a hardship for them. Unfortunately, they have chosen not to participate in the discussion among the honored spirits, saying that the whole problem was caused only by a few malcontents. I pushed as hard as I could, much harder than I normally would, for them to be honest, and they insisted that they were. The problem for us is that if we push too hard for them to tell us their true opinion, it causes it to seem as though we are accusing them of lying, and it runs the risk of causing offense, as we are younger and should not be so bold. I am sure you can see the difficulty."

Harry nodded sadly. "Unfortunately, yes. Funny how I know Japanese culture well enough to understand that, but I do. I guess, like Fred said, change is going to have to come from within the Link. But change for your generation, and Yasunori's, that's still for you to decide."

"It is a very difficult question," said Sato thoughtfully. "It is my hope that a modified version of the Link can be found, so that those who wish to stay can do so easily, but those who do not wish to stay can move on. But, if nothing can be found before I pass on…" With a gleam in his eye, he concluded, "I will gaman."

Harry laughed. "I wouldn't expect anything else."

* * * * *

Five days later, everything was finally ready. The transportation, the portable shelters, the food and other supplies, and the magical equipment that was necessary for Auror training. They would leave the next day, go back in time one year, and focus on training. Hermione had overseen the gathering of a small library of books to take with them.

After talking to a few dozen people, Harry had settled on sixteen people to take. All except two had said they were interested in becoming Aurors. One was Luna, of course; the other was George Weasley. He hadn't promised to be a full-time Auror, but did allow for the possibility that if someone trustworthy could be found to tend the shop, he might yet become one. In the end, Harry had decided to take him anyway; partly because he was a Weasley, and partly because even if he couldn't be an Auror full-time, he could be part-time, available for special situations.

Except for Harry, Kingsley, and Hestia, the group included: Hermione, Ron, Luna, Ginny, Neville, Dean, Seamus, George, Parvati, Padma, Michael Corner, Terry Boot, Ernie Macmillan, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Lee Jordan, and Angelina Johnson. Each had been sworn to tell no one that they were going back in time; their families had only been told that they had been recruited as Aurors, and would embark on special training. Harry regretted that Fred couldn't join them, but he couldn't go back in time, as he was a ghost.

There was one last thing Harry wanted to do before leaving, something he'd been thinking about since accepting the mantle of Auror Leader and deciding on the unorthodox training setting. He had set the night, and made sure everyone involved could attend. He had asked Aberforth to close the place to the public just for the night, and paid a generous fee for the privilege.

One by one or in pairs, they walked or Apparated in: the founding members of Dumbledore's Army. When everyone had arrived, only three were not there who had been there on that day nearly three years ago: Marietta Edgecombe, Zacharias Smith, and Colin Creevey. One who was there now had not been then: Seamus Finnegan, who Harry felt had done enough to fight Voldemort at Hogwarts to earn the right to attend tonight. Fred, naturally, was in attendance.

They ate, talked, exchanged stories of the Hogwarts Resistance, and exulted in their victory. Dennis Creevey drank some firewhiskey, and no one, not even Hermione, told him he shouldn't. He realized it, of course, when soon after he burped loudly and a three-inch flame came out of his mouth. Everyone laughed heartily, and Seamus promptly nicknamed him 'Dennis the Dragon.' Luna and Cho spent some time talking, to Harry's surprise.

Neville and Seamus engaged in a 'duel' in which each spell was sillier than the last; Neville turned Seamus's clothes pink, and Seamus responded by making Neville's ears five times their normal size. The duel ended with Neville doing a theatrical spell that seemed to have no effect; asked by Dean what the spell had done, Neville responded, "He'll find out the next time he goes to the loo." As everyone laughed, Seamus, overacting somewhat, pretended to look down his pants, and put on an expression of shock and dismay. This display got most of the alcohol-fueled onlookers laughing hysterically. Harry laughed as well, happy that he'd had the idea. Maybe we should make this a yearly thing, he thought.

After another hour, the food had been eaten, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat in exactly the same positions they had three years ago. Harry remembered how uncomfortable he'd felt, and how angry he'd been with Hermione for roping him into doing something he hadn't wanted to do. Spurred by the thought, he put an arm around her shoulder and leaned close to whisper into her ear. "I want to thank you for making me do this three years ago."

She chuckled. "I seem to recall you wanting to bite my head off then."

"Yeah, well, I was irritable the whole year," he half-joked; he knew it was a great understatement. "Right now, I'm very glad."

She put an arm around him and squeezed. "I'm glad you're glad."

Curious, Ron leaned over. "What are you two glad about?"

Harry patted Ron on the back. "Being here tonight."

Ron nodded. "It's been quite a journey, from the first day of the Hogwarts Express. I've enjoyed every minute of it."

Harry grinned. "What a huge liar you are."

Ron laughed. "Well, okay, maybe not every minute… but most of them."

After they chatted for a few more minutes, Harry raised his voice and spoke. "Excuse me, I'd like everyone to come over here, pull over some chairs. Sit in the same places you were three years ago."

People continued talking and laughing as chairs scraped against the wooden floor. "So, what's all this about you having seen You-Know-Who come back?" joked Corner. "What did you see? We deserve to know!"

Still standing, Neville replied, "You want to know what happened to him? Here's what happened to him!" His eyes took on a glazed expression, and keeping his body straight, he fell backwards, hitting the floor with a hard thud, slightly louder than it had been at Hogwarts due to the different flooring. The room erupted in laughter and cheers. "Ow, that hurt!" he exclaimed as Ginny reached out and helped to pull him up.

"Probably hurts less," shouted Seamus, "if you're already dead when you hit the ground!"

"I'll keep that in mind for next time," grinned Neville.

"Anyway," said Ron loudly, "the reason we're here is that the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor is teaching us absolutely nothing!"

"Hey, I resent that!" retorted Neville. "And you haven't been to class anyway, you slacker!"

Harry laughed again, along with the others; he wouldn't have guessed that Neville had such a flair for comedy. He was about to speak, but was cut off.

"Speaking of Umbridge," said Cho, "what did you say to her, anyway? You talk to her privately, then almost as soon as she walks out of St. Mungo's, she resigns her undersecretary position? Was that a coincidence?"

In the spirit of the evening, Harry shrugged. "I just told her I hoped she would get better soon." Greeted with chuckling and scoffing, he continued, "I might have said a few other words, like 'repentance'… and 'resignation…'" Laugher and cheers greeted that word. "And," Harry continued, "Azkaban…" The laughter increased dramatically. "Yes, yes, yes!" shouted Lee Jordan.

Harry waited for the revelry to die down, then spoke again. "Okay. The first thing I want to do is say a few words about Colin Creevey, who was told not to fight, then came back and did so anyway. Maybe he shouldn't have; if he hadn't, he would be here now." Harry saw Dennis looking especially somber. "But I know that wasn't how he wanted to live his life; like all of us, he wanted to do his part. But in a battle like that, there's a lot of luck involved, and he got unlucky. We really wish he could be here today, to enjoy this moment with us. So, let's have a moment of silence for Colin."

There was total silence for about a minute, and Harry spoke again. "Okay. Now, the last thing I wanted to talk about tonight was—"

"Hey, just a minute," demanded Fred. "Why no moment of silence for me?"

A few people chuckled. "Oh, come on," retorted George. "If there was one for you, you'd just make a joke in the middle of it."

"And in view of my sacrifice, should I be denied that opportunity?"

Harry smiled. "All right. Do you really want a moment of silence, Fred?"

"No, no, no," pouted Fred, in his best martyr's tone. "Don't worry about me, I'll be all right."

"Good," said George. "Harry, you may continue."

"Anyway… I recall how three years ago, I didn't want to talk about what had happened with Voldemort, when he came back. It was pretty traumatic, and it was hard to deal with it in general, never mind talking about it. When I finally did give that interview—at Hermione's urging; she seems to be the one to tell me to do things I don't really want to do—it was still pretty difficult, but I realized that people had to know that he was back.

"Then, after—wait, first, I want to apologize for not telling you what I was doing, when we came back to Hogwarts that last night. I know it might have seemed like I didn't trust you, but it wasn't even close to that. I did, and do, trust you, all of you. It was partly that Dumbledore told me not to tell anyone but Ron and Hermione, and partly that the explanation was pretty long; I would've had to explain a lot of other things also, and there wasn't time.

"But recently, I realized that probably the biggest reason was that I was used to keeping things to myself. My whole life, people were curious about me, asked me lots of questions, sometimes very personal questions, wrote about me, and so forth… it made me feel like I shouldn't talk, it was my way of protecting myself. It was just something I got used to doing. Sometimes I didn't even tell Ron and Hermione things, and if I didn't, I always regretted it. In the last few months, especially the last few weeks, I started to realize what I'd been doing, and why I'd been doing it.

"Someone told me recently that stories are important, that they inspire people. I had never thought of it that way before, because no one told me stories when I was very young. But I could see that it made sense. And Aberforth said that stories are a bartender's stock in trade. It may seem like common sense to many of you, but like I said, it just never entered my mind. After Voldemort died, practically everyone wanted to know the story, what had happened in the past year. I didn't want to tell it, again, I think mostly because of that habit, that reflex.

"I know that when you have a fear of something, sometimes the best way to get over it is to jump into it with both feet. So, in that spirit, I decided that Ron, Hermione, and I should write a book about our time at Hogwarts." This prompted quite a few surprised glances. "The good, the bad, the happy, the traumatic, all of it. To be honest, I'm not sure what a person would learn from my story, from our story, but I know that from where I sit, it may be hard to see. So, I'll let the reader decide that.

"The book is finished, and is being published now. They did a test run today, and they're checking it to make sure it prints as it should. For the next few days they'll be checking it, and then they start the main print run." He reached behind him, and picked up a large, thick book. "It's pretty big; it's over seven hundred pages." The D.A. members looked very impressed. Harry, Ron, and Hermione had told the Flourish and Blotts editors that they should feel free to suggest edits, but to Harry's surprise, they didn't want to change a single word, even poor grammar; they wanted it to read exactly as written by the three of them. Of course, Hermione had already altered most of Harry and Ron's poor grammar.

"What I wanted to do now is… because we were a group at Hogwarts, an important group and one that made a lot of difference in beating Voldemort… I wanted you to be the first to hear stuff from this. So, Ron, Hermione, and I are going to read a page or two from each of our sections of the book. We might do this in public on the day the book comes out, but we're going to read different parts, less… personal than the ones we'll read here. Ron?"

He handed the book to Ron, who found the first page he had bookmarked. "Before I start, I just want to mention that doing this wasn't easy for me, especially at first. Part of doing this is writing about what I was feeling at times, and as Hermione knows, that's never been one of my strong points. But once I started, it got easier, and it turned out to be pretty… what was the word you said?" he asked Hermione.


"Yeah, that's it. I feel like I got it out of my system."

Harry nodded. "I think we all felt like that, at the end."

Ron started reading, first choosing a section that explained the locket, pausing to explain to those assembled what a Horcrux was, and why it was important to obtain and destroy them. He then read his account of the fight between him and Harry that led to his departure, then his encounter with the Snatchers.

Not having the locket anymore, not being near it, my head started to clear. Right away I regretted that I'd gone, and wanted to get back, but the Snatchers and the splinching made that impossible.

It was definitely the biggest regret of my life, the thing I most wished I could take back. I tried to tell myself that it wasn't really me, that it was what was inside that locket, the Horcrux. But I couldn't understand why the Horcrux seemed to affect me more than Harry or Hermione. It was no fun for them, either, definitely. But I seemed to have the worst reactions. Was I just weaker than them? More susceptible for some unknown, magical reason? I thought about that a lot over the next few weeks.

Sometimes I blamed Harry. In the argument we had, he practically dared me to do it, so it was easy to say that it was at least partly his fault. But that didn't make me feel any better. In one stupid moment, I had given up this quest, the thing that I'd been willing to risk my life for, and to allow the girl I loved to risk her life for. The quest that could save our society. But even though I felt bad for that, I felt worse for having let down Harry and Hermione. They were my two best friends, the two most important people in my life. Knowing that I had done that hurt worst of all, and I couldn't feel better again until I found a way to rejoin them.

"I'm skipping ahead," Ron said to the D.A. members, "to later, when I was finally able to find Harry, and you saw in the scene at the Merlin ceremony that I jumped into that pond to save Harry. This is from after that." He read the account of his encounter with the visions from the Horcrux, and then:

I finally realized why the Horcrux had been weighing us down all that time, and why it had weighed me down more than them. Inside that locket was a piece of Voldemort, literally, full of evil and malevolence. Naturally, one of the things it would do most strongly is amplify your self-doubt, your insecurities. When the locket was closed, it was more on a subconscious level. But when it was open, it really had at you. I realized that I had more insecurities and less self-confidence than Harry and Hermione, and the Horcrux told me exactly what they were; I hadn't even realized it that much myself until then. We try to put our darkest fears out of our minds, but here it was staring me in the face. Of course, I'd had the feeling before—especially during the Triwizard tournament—that I was just Harry's sidekick. He never did anything to make me feel like that, though, so it wasn't so bad. But the other thing… I had only thought once or twice that Harry and Hermione might like each other more than me; I think that the Horcrux dug that one up and really went with it, because the idea was so devastating. Evil knows what weapons hurt most.

Even though I was freezing and wet, and pretty messed up mentally from what the Horcrux had shown me before I was finally able to kill it, I was very, very happy at the same time. When Harry hugged me, it seemed as though all the stress, all the doubt, all the times I'd sworn at myself just fell away, disappeared. I'd been able to save Harry's life, and I'd been able to overcome my fears enough to kill that Horcrux. When he hugged me, I knew it meant he had forgiven me, and that was the best gift I'd ever gotten. I wasn't sure whether I deserved his forgiveness, but I would definitely take it. But Hermione's forgiveness, I soon found out, was much slower in coming.

"Which was very understandable," put in Hermione sternly.

Ron, who had closed the book, opened it again, and pretended to look for the spot he'd last read. "Which was very understandable," he repeated, as if he had written it in the book. The D.A. members laughed, as did Harry. Hermione gave him a 'very funny' look, and tried not to smile.

"All right, that was it for my bit," said Ron, handing the book to Hermione; he was surprised when the small audience applauded, including Fred, though his hands could make no noise. "It's very good, Ron," said Ginny. "Amazingly honest."

He smiled. "Yeah, I didn't know I had it in me."

Hermione opened the book to her bookmarked page, explaining that this was the point at which she and Ron had found out about the Horcruxes.

As soon as I heard what a Horcrux was and how they worked, the realization came to me in an instant: Harry was a Horcrux. I had absolutely no doubt of it; it explained so many things. It explained why he was a Parseltongue, why he had visions of what Voldemort was seeing and feeling, why he got splitting headaches when Voldemort was angry or emotional, why he was always so angry and irritable in fifth year; Voldemort was trying to put visions in his head, so there was more contact, which was bad for Harry. I never doubted for a minute that this was the case.

Which, of course, led to the conclusion that before Voldemort could die, Harry had to, since all the Horcruxes had to be destroyed. I refused to seriously consider that possibility, and focused my thoughts around the notion that there must be some other way, some way to kill the Horcrux without killing Harry. I knew the information I needed wouldn't be in any library; I just had to pray that it would providentially come our way.

I wondered, of course, whether Harry had realized this; I prayed he hadn't. It seemed obvious to me, but I knew that not everyone's mind worked the same, and he truly might not know. Or, he might know; one thing I knew about Harry was that he could be very close-mouthed about some things, and if he worked this out, he probably wouldn't say anything to me or Ron about it. I resolved to keep an eye on him, look for clues that he might do something about it, particularly when we started to get most of the Horcruxes taken care of. I didn't say anything to Ron about Harry being a Horcrux, because I didn't want him to worry.

It wasn't a hard decision for me or Ron to go with Harry, to do what he had to do. It just had to be done, and we knew it might mean our deaths, or worse, the death of only one of us. But we needed to do it for the wizarding world, and we needed to do it for Harry. He didn't ask to be the Boy Who Lived, or for the stuff that happened to him. But he was stuck with it, and needed our help.

Hermione moved to a page near the end of the book. "This is during the Hogwarts battle, while Harry was off in the forest."

I was with the Weasleys, mourning Fred's death, doing anything I could to help, which I knew was almost nothing. After a while, it suddenly occurred to me that Harry wasn't with us. We'd gone on ahead, and I'd assumed that he would join us. I started looking around, but couldn't find him. I was panicking, realizing what he must have done.

After asking everyone if they'd seen him, I finally found Neville. He said he'd seen Harry ten minutes before, and that Harry had said he had to go do something by himself. I cringed, because I had a strong suspicion what that was. I couldn't be sure, of course, but what else could it be? Maybe he had found a clue or thought of something that led him down another path; after all, Ron and I had gone to the Chamber without him. But I was almost sure I was right.

I thought of going after him, and I almost did. But what if I was wrong? Then I would just be walking into death, for no good reason. And even if I was right, I might be too late… and if I wasn't too late, and could find Harry, he would push me away, insist he had to do it. I doubted he would listen to me, and it would increase the chances of both of us getting killed. I decided not to mention it to Ron, either, as he'd want to rush off into the forest, I knew. With great difficulty, I restrained myself, and tried to focus on helping wounded people.

Then we saw the Dark wizards, led by Voldemort, appear at the gate, and I thought my worst fears were confirmed. Harry was dead. I felt as though the bottom had dropped out of my life. I was desperately sad, I was furious, but most of all I felt guilty, because I felt I should have stopped it. We were getting close, and I should have known that especially with Voldemort out there taunting Harry to go to the forest, he might do it. But it just hadn't occurred to me, and I was convinced that everything that had happened was my fault. In hindsight, I feel it was somewhat egocentric of me to think that, but in the pressure of the moment, that was what went through my mind.

She turned a few pages of the book, then continued:

After Neville very bravely stood up to Voldemort, and killed Nagini, I knew that Harry had walked to his death, because there was no other way Neville could have known to kill the snake. I was still horrified at what I had allowed to happen, but I knew that now all the Horcruxes were gone, so the only thing to do was to honor Harry's sacrifice and kill Voldemort, finish the job.

When Harry stood up and started to duel Voldemort, I was shocked. How had he survived? I was too entranced by the conversation between them to think about it. I found out soon after the duel, when Harry explained it in the headmaster's office. I was so proud of him, because he always tried to do what he thought was right. But though I was proud, even more I was happy, because my dear friend had survived.

As I have written, Harry and I were never interested in each other romantically. But all the same, I love him immensely. He's not a superhuman figure, and I've seen him at his best and his worst. He has his faults, just like everybody. But a more loyal friend you will never find, and he cares deeply about those close to him. He's been a close companion for seven years, and I hope, many more to come.

He never liked being called 'The Boy Who Lived.' But after unflinchingly looking death in the face a number of times, after facing the most powerful and evil Dark wizard of the century and coming out on top, I think it would not be going too far to call him, 'The Man Who Lived.' He might not like it, but it still fits.

She closed the book and put it aside. As the audience again applauded, she and Harry reached out to each other for a hug. Harry held her tightly and whispered, "Thank you. I love you, too."

"I know," she said through tears as they let go.

Harry took the book and looked up his page. "I must not be very clever," he joked, "because unlike Hermione, it never occurred to me that I was a Horcrux. Now, of course, if you look at it, it makes perfect sense, and I have no idea why I didn't see it then. But it's probably just as well that I didn't, because it would have been hard to put the idea that I was going to end up dead out of my mind." He looked at the book, and read his recollections of what he had seen in the Pensieve, of Snape's last memories. Then:

I knew I had to go out into the forest; it was so obvious that I never even questioned it. After it was all over, someone I know told me that it was stupid of me to have gone out there without even thinking about what alternatives there might have been. I couldn't totally say he was wrong, but at the time, I felt in my bones that it was the right thing to do, the only thing to do. As if it was a truth that need not be questioned. That's not to say I couldn't have been wrong, but that was how it felt.

Even though I knew I had to do it, it was no less terrifying. Anybody who thinks I wasn't scared is kidding himself. I felt like a puppet on a string, someone who had never had a shot at a real life, and now never would, as though my whole life had been planned out from the beginning and this was the conclusion. In addition to the fear, I had a moment of feeling like a five-year-old, saying 'this isn't fair.' No, life isn't fair. But it seemed extremely unfair at that moment. I went to all this trouble to try to get rid of Voldemort, and then I learn that when it happens, I won't be around to enjoy it.

Harry then read about the conversation with Neville, then looked up at him. "Sorry I lied, Neville. But I think you know why I couldn't tell you the truth."

"You mean," said Neville, "because I would have tackled you and sat on you, and shouted for help to make sure you didn't go anywhere?" A few D.A. members chuckled.

"Um… I was actually thinking, because if I tried to say it I would lose the courage to go, but yes, that works too." He read again:

Then as I walked away, I saw Ginny helping someone who'd been wounded. That was when it hit me the hardest that I wouldn't be coming back. I wanted to stop, to say something to her. If I could have had a last kiss, I might have taken it. But it came crashing down around me that I had to separate myself from this, all of it. And in that moment, I felt separated from her, as if I had broken up with her all over again, but this time for good. I had to tell myself I didn't care, even though I did. But I was dead already, and what can you do? That was that. I managed to walk on without saying anything.

After this was all over, I had a sense of not wanting to do anything, not knowing what I wanted to do with my future, be it job, relationship, or any sort of commitment to anything. It took me a long time to realize that what had happened at this point was the reason why. I'd guess that knowing you're going to die is a big psychological shock. It might have different effects on different people, but with me, the effect was that I wanted to isolate myself and avoid commitments, because part of me still felt as though I were dead. It just took some time for me to realize that I could come back to the land of the living. In writing this story, I realize that this is the point when that happened.

He put the book down, to applause, and saw tears running down Ginny's face. She stood, then he did; she walked to him and hugged him.

"I'm sorry," she whispered.

He shook his head. "Not your fault."

Wiping her eyes, she sat back down next to Neville and took his hand in hers. Harry took it as her wordless assurance to him that however bad she felt for Harry, nothing would change between her and Neville.

"Lastly," announced Hermione, "we want to read the dedications." She picked up the book and turned it to one of the first pages and read:

I, Hermione Granger, dedicate this story to: Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and my parents, who I hope and pray will read this story and understand why I did what I did.

She handed the book to Ron, who gave her a one-armed hug and kissed her on the cheek. He read:

I, Ron Weasley, dedicate this story to: Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and the Weasley family: Arthur, Molly, Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred, George, and Ginny. Every last member of my family joined this fight.

Harry took the book, and read:

I, Harry Potter, dedicate this story to: Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, and:

To Albus Dumbledore, an imperfect but deeply caring man who did the best he could with what he had.

To Severus Snape, a brave man who managed to find a reason to do the right thing.

To Kingsley Shacklebolt, who after this fight was over, took on the equally hard fight of rebuilding society in a way we can all be proud of.

To Xenophilius Lovegood, a very kind but deeply wounded man, from whom I learned that doing the right thing is often harder than it looks.

To Luna Lovegood, whose spirit is peaceful but indomitable; may she never stop believing in Crumple-Horned Snorkacks.

To Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, friends of my father's who became friends of mine, and looked after me well,

And to my parents, Lily and James Potter.

Hermione took the book back, and read once more:

We, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger, dedicate this book:

To the members of Dumbledore's Army, without whom the fight could not have been won, and who provided support when it was needed most.

To everyone, including humans, house-elves, and centaurs, who fought in the Battle of Hogwarts.

And to everyone in wizarding society who took a risk to oppose the darkness that spread over our country.

She put down the book a last time; all of the D.A. members stood, some coming forward to hug or shake hands with Harry, Hermione, or Ron. Luna, who Harry could tell had recently shed tears, hugged him tightly, saying, "Thank you for what you said about me, but even more for what you said about my father. That meant so much to me." Harry nodded and kissed her on the cheek.

He ended up accepting thanks and hugs or handshakes from every D.A. member there. Neville found him, and gave him a hug. "I'm sorry, Harry."

Harry knew what he meant. "Like I said, not your fault, not her fault. It's just life. I'll be all right. Now, I'll be relying on you, to help out with the Aurors. They'll be following your example."

Neville gave him an embarrassed grin. "I think it's more like we'll all be following your example, but I understand. Don't worry, Harry. I'll do my best. We all will."

Harry patted Neville on the shoulder. "I know."

He was about to raise his voice to ask for attention, to remind the new Aurors that they would be meeting at the Ministry at 6:00 p.m. the next day to begin the process of moving to their new, temporary home. But he saw two dozen people talking, smiling, joking, and hugging, and decided that he would wait until the party broke up naturally. For now, he thought, I'll just enjoy this.

The End

Author's note: The sequel to this story, Harry Potter and the Amulet of the Moon, has already been written and will start going up within a few days (today being August 13, 2009). As was the case with this story, it will be updated every day or two, technical issues permitting. Like this story, the next one doesn't contradict HP canon, except in that the epilogue to Deathly Hallows has been disregarded, and I consider only the books canon, not movies or interviews.

I'd like to let readers know that I now have a blog, sempriniblog(dot)blogspot(dot)com, in which I write about various issues, issues of the type I like to explore in the stories, and the latest entry is about how I came to write these stories. The post also includes links to PDF versions of all five of my stories, including this one. (I will, of course, continue to post here until the end of the story.) Feel free to go to the site and download the stories, and look at the other posts while you're at it.

Many thanks to everyone who reviewed.