A/N - There have been a whole slew of new readers for this little tale which has been lovely. Thank you for all your reviews and suggestions. I will do my best to incorporate the requests I have received for specific scenes or events.

Chapter 38

)O(

The chaos of the next few days were a sharp contrast to the peaceful air that had surrounded the cottage previously. Harry was aware of Snape's expression becoming increasingly fixed and tight as the hours went by.

Molly had decided to accompany her children so she could ensure that Severus, Harry and Tonks were truly recovering. She was still a little more reticent with Draco, but Harry saw her fussing over his bedding on a few occasions.

Harry spent the whole of the first day swimming with Ron and Neville, while the girls lounged on the beach. Severus had taught Hermione the floating charm so she could keep an eye on Harry and Ron taught him several floating techniques that helped make the whole thing less exhausting.

It was great fun and Harry saw his tan shift from a golden glow to a deep brown. Added to his weight gain, he for once looked less like the scrawny nephew of the Dursleys', and more like his father's son.

That evening, with a little prompting from Harry; Draco and the youngest Weasley son set up a chess board near the fire. Draco sat huddled in a nest of blankets in a large armchair, while Ron perched on a footstool.

Harry settled on the sofa beside Severus and opened the next text book on his list, smiling when he heard the huff of annoyance from the potions master. He knew there was no way the man could bring himself to tell Harry not to study so much. The Professor in him would probably explode if he tried.

Harry read through the advanced text slowly, keeping one eye on his best friend and the Slytherin. The game was still going two hours later which pleased Harry no end. He had promised Draco a challenge and it seemed Ron had not disappointed.

Remus appeared near midnight and quietly lifted the sleeping blond from his chair. Ron and Harry both started in surprise. Neither of them had noticed the frail boy drifting off. Remus shot Ron a warm, reassuring surprise and tucked the blankets more securely around the sleeping boy before carrying him effortlessly up the rickety stairs.

At a pointed look from Severus, both the teenagers followed quickly behind. Ron was sleeping on a mattress in the boys room and a fourth mattress lay stacked against the wall, ready for Neville's arrival the next day.

The two changed quickly, aware of Remus settling Draco into bed and resetting all the monitoring charms.

'He looks bloody awful,' Ron whispered and Harry nodded gravely.

'He's much better than he was but still...,' Harry trailed off and the redhead nodded meaningfully, understanding what had been left unsaid.

Neville was already at the breakfast table when Harry padded down the next morning and he spent the first hour filling the boy in on all his news. Ginny and Hermione appeared shortly afterwards and they all headed out to mess around on the beach.

Ron didn't appear until nearly lunchtime and informed them all solemnly that Draco was ill today and wouldn't be leaving his bed. That silenced them for a while and Ginny scowled darkly. Out of all them, she was the one who was struggling the most with the Malfoys' staying at the cottage. Considering the family's history with the Weasleys', Harry couldn't say he blamed her.

That evening they built a bonfire on the beach and Remus made then all spiced hot chocolate to take out. Wrapped in blankets, they sat around the fire and Harry told them all about the plan to try and lure Riddle to Hogwarts.

The youngsters were quiet after that. Everyone felt as if the rush towards the final battle was gathering pace. Harry didn't even want to think about what might happen if they lost. It was unimaginable.

When Severus, Remus and Narcissa joined them an hour later it was to find a very quiet bunch of children staring at the flames. Remus sat beside Harry and lay an arm on the boys shoulders.

'Are you alright? He asked softly and Harry shrugged.

'I'm just wishing we could stay here forever.'

Remus sighed and drew the teenager a little closer. 'Me too.'

'Where's Tonks?' Ginny asked, breaking the quiet and Remus answered with a smile.

'She's just checking on Draco. She will join us shortly.'

'It's getting warmer,' Severus observed, as he noted the light clothing the children were wearing. Ron had even shed his blanket and sweater.

Harry frowned. He wanted to look forward to the spring and summer that were beckoning on the horizon but found the mounting tension in his belly overriding any excitement he might feel.

He distracted himself from the worry by telling everyone about his plan for the ward stones at The Burrow. Ron and Ginny were delighted at the idea of making a joint present from all of the Weasley kids and Harry.

Ginny promised to tell the twins all about it at the first opportunity. Hermione and Neville immediately asked if they could help when it came to casting the spells on the stones.

The next few days were full of laughter and play for the teenagers, who were determined to milk every ounce of enjoyment out of the break. Molly and Arthur flooed home every evening but joined them for the evening meal each day.

As the day approached that the group would be heading back to the castle, the weather turned. Harry thought the stormy grey clouds were rather appropriate for the mood as he packed his trunk again and watched Severus helping his godson get dressed and ready to move.

The rather large group gathered in the lounge, before the fireplace and looked at each other silently. The entire Weasley family would be flooing to Hogwarts today and joining the rest of the Order as they prepared to defend the castle. Harry didn't know how the Order had leaked the 'false' information and didn't really want to. He just wanted this over with.

He stood back as the group disappeared one by one into the green flames until just he and Severus were left. He glanced at his guardian and then impulsively threw his arms around the man's waist. After a moments surprise, Severus returned the embrace, holding him tightly.

'Thanks for my holiday,' Harry muttered into the mans travelling cloak and Severus gave him a squeeze.

'You are welcome Harry. May it be the first of many.'

The teenager shuddered slightly and whispered. 'I hope so too.'

)O(

Once back in the castle, the group dispersed. The Weasleys' would be staying in Gryffindor tower, while the Malfoys' returned to their warded guest rooms. Harry was looking forward to spending a few days in his new room. The small bedroom had started to feel a bit like a second home and he liked being so close to Severus.

Harry dumped his trunk to the side of his bed alcove and moved back out into the kitchen to make some tea. He pottered around the cluttered kitchen while the Potions Master checked through his owl post and unpacked all the teaching notes he had completed.

Harry smiled as he spotted the green journal he had given Severus as a Christmas present. Already looking a little dog-eared, it also had several bright pink post-its sticking out of pages the man had marked.

Harry moved two mugs onto the table and filled a jug with milk before reaching for the teapot and biscuit tin. Severus glanced up at the display and smiled softly.

'You'll make someone a lovely wife one day Harry.'

Harry snorted. 'Very funny. I won't make tea for you again if you're going to insult me for it.'

The older man pulled out a chair and sank into it with a relieved sigh. 'Just don't upset Dobby. He does so like to make the tea.'

Harry smiled as he took a seat beside his guardian. 'Yeah, he does make good tea.' He frowned. 'I didn't see as much of him as I thought I would over the holiday.'

Severus nodded absently as he poured their drinks and dragged one of his journals over the table.

'Mmm, I think we kept him rather busy with the house so full. He did most of his work overnight so I expect he was resting during the daylight hours.'

Harry leant on the table, his hands wrapped around the warm mug as he watched his guardian thoughtfully.

'When are we meant to be dropping the wards? I mean, when are we pretending to be dropping the wards?'

Severus sighed and closed his journal, leaning back in his chair and regarding the solemn faced teenager before him.

'The information we have leaked suggests the day after tomorrow, but it would normally take three days to reset wards this extensively.'

'So if he takes the bait...'

'The Dark Lord could attack at any point in that window.'

Harry shivered and pulled his cloak around himself more snugly. He still felt as if it was up to him to face Riddle and he didn't know how it could be otherwise if he was to use the Hallows. As if reading his thoughts, Severus reached over and covered one of Harry's hands with his own, squeezing lightly.

'You are not alone in this Harry and although your part might be a large one, I have no intention of letting you face him directly.

'...but the Prophesy?' Harry questioned and the older man snorted in disgust.

'I don't care what some crackpot Prophecy says, you are a sixteen year old child. There is nothing that convinces me that it has to be you who ends a war that has been raging on and off for three decades.'

Harry nodded slowly and allowed his thoughts to calm. He wasn't sure what scared him more, the thought of facing Voldemort directly or watching people he cared about face him in his stead. The fact that he would be wielding the Hallows from the sideline terrified him. What if it didn't work and everyone he cared about was killed?

The two of them sat quietly for a while, Severus's hand still resting on his. Harry thought his guardian looked rather pale and wondered how recovered the man truly was.

'Did it hurt to come through the wards?' He asked quietly and the man grimaced.

'It wasn't pleasant but it is actually easier through the floo system. I think the fact that I'm already keyed into it means the castle recognises me. Walking through the outer wards is a different story,' he added wryly.

'That should help us a lot, shouldn't it? I mean if the Death Eaters come?'

Severus smiled. 'Yes it should; particularly if they are expecting no wards at all. Albus has speculated that it may even be fatal for someone with the mark to attempt to come through.'

Harry's eyes widened. 'The wards have really changed that much?'

Severus chuckled and took a sip of his tea. 'Mmm, whatever your DA did with their oath, it has strengthened them tenfold. The amusing thing is, that if we had purposely set wards this way then the caster could be charged with illegal magic. The fact that Hogwarts herself interpreted the oath means we are all off the hook, so to speak.'

'Well we need all the help we can get.'

Harry went to bed early that night, wanting to climb under the covers and think about everything that was coming. He left his bedroom door open and heard the outer doorbell go, followed by Remus and Tonks soft voices as they joined his guardian for a drink around the fire.

Remus stuck his head around the door to say goodnight and Harry waved at him from his little alcove cut into the stonework.

'Did you want to come to the Burrow with me tomorrow?' The man asked gently and Harry grinned.

'Yeah, that would be nice. What are you doing there?'

'Molly wants to collect some clothes for Bill and Charlie and I thought you might like to take some more of your readings for the ward stones?'

Harry smiled happily at the thought of having some distraction. 'That would be great. I might be able to get most of them in one go. Draco showed me some formulae that cuts my work right down.'

'I will pick you up after lunch then,' Remus said softly. 'Sleep well Harry.'

Remus quietly left, pulling the door almost too but leaving a small sliver of light shining through. Harry turned off his lamp and snuggled down, letting the soft murmur of the adults voices lull him to slumber.

)O(

He rose early the next day and spent the entire morning at the kitchen table, studying and preparing his project so that he was ready to collect the calculations. It was also a rather effective way of distracting himself from the Order meeting that he knew was going on in the headmasters office.

Severus had promised to tell him what was said but was adamant that he didn't want Harry knowing every little detail of their plans.

'You've enough pressure on your shoulders,' he had said fiercely and Harry had felt a warm flush in his belly at the man's protectiveness. For once he didn't mind being a little out of the loop.

Remus had joined them for lunch and then they had flooed to the Burrow with Molly, Arthur and the twins. Harry spent an hour taking his measurements and readings, while the twins distracted their parents. He walked back into the kitchen as Arthur was closing the last trunk.

'Oh there you are dear,' Molly said with a flustered smile as she pulled the strap of a large bag over her shoulder. 'I thought you'd gotten lost out there.'

Harry plastered on his most innocent expression, whilst the twins exchanged a smirk. They were both rather excited with Harry's project and had already started researching additional protective charms that could be cast on the ward stones.

Fred had spoken with his two older brothers the previous evening and they had been equally intrigued at the idea. Bill thought that he could source the stones through one of his contacts and the four of them thought they could cover the cost between them.

It would mean that Harry wouldn't have to lay out any money. His gift would be the work that he had done on the calculations. Even Ron had a few idea about creating 'witch bottles' to bury in the foundations under each stone. He and Ginny had been pouring over old charm books for the last few days of the holiday finding appropriate recipes.

They all returned to Hogwarts together and after dumping his things, Harry raced off to the tower to spend the evening with his friends. They all carefully avoided any discussion of what may be come over the next few days, instead playing games and practicing some of their charms.

Harry spent some time sitting with Bill and Charlie and getting to know the only members of the family he really didn't know. Molly and Arthur had accepted an invitation to dine with Narcissa in her rooms and this had provoked a great deal of discussion within the younger members of the family.

The older pair and Ron thought it was great that a centuries old feud was being challenged whilst Ginny and the twins were outraged that their parents were even speaking to Narcissa after everything the Malfoys had done to sabotage their Dad's career.

Harry and Hermione sat back and watched with increasing amusement as what was a sensible discussion descended into a sibling brawl. When the twins finally gave up on making their point verbally and instead grabbed Ron and gave him a noogie, Harry collapsed in laughter.

'I don't know what you're laughing at?' Ron grumbled, trying to straighten his hair. 'You haven't even said which side you are on?'

Harry shrugged good naturedly. 'This is a family matter. It's not really anything to do with me.'

The Weasleys' burst into protest all at once, leaving Harry pink cheeked and staying at the floor in pleased embarrassment.

'From what I hear,' Bill said with a smile. 'Our folks tried extremely hard to adopt you this year. If that doesn't make you family then I don't know what does.'

'Yeah, so fess up,' Fred said. 'What's your position on "Malfoy-Gate"?'

Everyone laughed at Fred's description while Harry pretended to consider the matter carefully.

'Well,' he said with a heavy pause as he scratched his chin. 'I guess I could fall on either side of this argument.' He frowned heavily. 'Although it would be a shame to have to keep my two best male friends separate.'

There was a puzzled silence in the room and Harry waited for a moment before explaining.

'Ron and Draco,' he dead-panned. The twins jaws fell open as they stared at him in horror.

'Draco!'

'The ferret! Are you barking?'

Harry kept his face neutral for as long as possible, until he accidentally made eye contact with Ron and the two of them collapsed in laughter.

Fred fell back dramatically in his seat, his hand resting atop his heart.

'Of God Harry. Don't do that to me.'

Bill and Charlie laughed in appreciation, while Ginny just scowled. She wasn't at the place yet where truces with the Malfoy's could even be suggested jokingly.

'Seriously though,' Harry added once everyone had settled down. 'Draco's been OK this last few weeks and he's still really sick. I wouldn't want to do anything to make life more difficult for him right now.'

The others considered that quietly and George answered. 'Fair enough Harry but he's still a bloody ferret.'

'Who brings a damn good game of chess,' Ron added grudgingly and with that the discussion moved onto chess and who was the better player, a title that Bill immediately claimed.

Harry relaxed back into his chair and watched his friends banter back and forth with satisfaction. This is what they were fighting for, he thought to himself. The right to disagree and hold different views; the right for safety for his family and friends and perhaps for the Malfoys' a chance to escape their past mistakes.

He wondered if this time tomorrow the world would look very different?

)O(

A/N - As ever reviews gratefully received. To all my readers on the other side of the pond, good luck for Tuesday and don't forget your decision affects the rest of the world too! We are all nervously watching.