let's pretend I put a disclaimer here, shall we?



NOTE: so, if you don't want to reread the entire last chapter as a refresher, I'll remind you that Harry battled Tom in the 'locked room', ending with: Then the Riddle form pulsed with a white light that exploded outward and Harry felt a blast of heat and cold and wetness and energy flood his body and he knew no more.



Chapter 45. The Kiss

Harry was lost in angry darkness, illuminated only by the occasional cracks of lightening.

Crack … an angel, her features a blur but her head surrounded by a halo of light, hovered overhead. Her mouth was moving, but no sound registered as the storm overtook him again.


Minerva McGonagall stood on the front steps of Castle Hogwarts, surveying the battlefield that had been, as recent as this morning, a simple schoolyard.

By all appearances the fighting was finished – but looks, she knew, could be deceiving. A wrong decision now could cost them more than stone and mortar; it could cost them lives. Flitwick's defensive moat had been a godsend, keeping the Death Eaters and most of their motley crew away from the innocent students for, despite their best efforts, the majority of the attackers never even breached the castle.

Those who had managed to get inside – what Severus had dubbed "the classic sacrificial diversions" – hadn't been too much trouble. With the help of several of the upper year students, the last of the hags had been subdued and a werewolf (albeit in her human form) was captured. Two vampires were dead, and by Merlin's grace they were the only of their kind to make it inside the castle.

Squinting, Minerva's gaze moved beyond the moat toward the forbidden forest, where she could just make out the fallen giant 'Flitwick the Mighty' (she'd already heard two of his Ravenclaw's using the name) had defeated single-handedly. Filius, apparently, had taken the damage it had done to Ravenclaw Tower as a personal offense. Pity the fools that confused size with might, she thought to herself.

Continuing her perusal of the land, she noted with no small amount of disdain that the Quidditch pitch would need several new spectator stands before the next game could be played. There were also nasty looking gouges ripped into the earth across the grounds that would need soothed over and replanted. Sadly, the grand oak that had been planted by Helga herself was nothing more than kindling now. At least nothing was on fire. She's heard rumors of some kind of winged creatures near the forest – and of course there had been that attack on the dragon preserve months before – but she couldn't find any evidence dragons had been brought to the fight. Another thing to be thankful for, she supposed.

Of course, dragons aren't the only creatures at Voldemort's disposal. He really had sent giants to a school! Not that they'd helped; Filius had made child's play of his, the Order had another sufficiently subdued, and the last one had see it's brethren fall and done a runner.

The attacking wizards, however, had done their best (or worst, she supposed was more accurate). It had been tense for a spell, no doubting that, but for some unexplained reason (for she refused to consider the obvious), shortly after calling again for Harry's surrender, that blasted Death Eater Nott had very noticeably departed. Without someone with brains leading the attack, it had quickly turned to shambles. Surely those fools had known Albus wouldn't leave his school unprotected? Oh, they'd put up a fight, but it wasn't long before they were all dead, captured, or had fled. She allowed herself a satisfied grin, remembering one particular Death Eater who had been captured trying to steal a school broom so he could fly away. He'd been dressed in a girl's Quidditch uniform at the time and had tried to complete his disguise by making his hair long, but had instead made it look like seaweed.

With a sigh, she admitted to herself there were likely students inside the castle who'd had a hand in today's attack, but those suspects were accounted for so that problem could wait for now.

By now more than an hour had passed since the last call for Harry Potter to surrender himself, yet he and his closest friends were still missing. Pomona had passed along Hermione's message about heading to the Ministry, of course, but Minerva had been hoping the lockdown had put a stop to that plan. Indeed, the Weasley duo had reportedly helped those idiotic Hufflepuffs not too long ago, keeping her hope alive.

The sound of an Irish drinking song drifting from the Great Hall pulled her from her musings. She's decide later if Finnegan should lose points for teaching the younger students such an inappropriate song or earn them for keeping the children occupied during the ordeal.

Right now, she needed to decide if it was safe to unlock the school. After all, in addition to her usual group of Gryffindors, several other students were unaccounted for. Determining if they were gone or hiding would be easier with free access to the entire school, but could she risk lowering the defenses?

She was about to turn and go inside to seek out Severus' advice when a Patronus arrived – one belonging to one of her missing Gryffindors.


Crack … Harry was sure he could feel the cold of a Dementor waiting to steal his soul, but before it could make its move more angels appeared, driving away the cold as the stormy darkness reclaimed him again.


Elred Avery was not a stupid man. He'd managed to keep himself out of Azkaban after his lord's first defeat, had found a respectable pureblood wife, and had even managed to skim a hefty amount from his boss' coffers without anyone the wiser. So how, he asked himself, had he ended up in this position?

'This position' being on his knees with his hands bound behind his back, his leader gone, and their side defeated. Victory had been so close they could taste it, for Mordred's sake! The Ministry had been in their control, Dumbledore had been effectively eliminated, and the Dark Lord's prize had waltzed right into their den and practically handed himself over.

It should have been simple. "Deal with his friends when they arrive", his Lord had told them just before entering that thrice-damned room. Then, unexpectedly, the blasted door had slammed shut … and before they could react another had opened. Only instead of the handful of school children they'd expected, they found themselves facing Aurors, Dumbledore's Stooges, and even the Minister for Magic himself.

The two sides had been evenly matched (if you counted the uppity little mudblood) but the advantage had clearly been theirs. After all, what did they care if one of their fellow Death Eaters was hit by stray spells – especially that stuck-up Malfoy-wannabe. And they had the better incentive; knowing the Dark Lord could exit that room at any moment and he would not be pleased if they were losing meant they put everything they had into their spells.

But the fight was pure chaos right from the first spell, for a dozen fighters crowded into a small, circular room was never a good idea. They'd had no space to maneuver, no place to hide, and nothing to use as a shield – unless you were willing to use your fellow fighters as shields which, of course, he had been. 'Sorry Lemke, it was nice knowin' ya.'

Spells had been near impossible to accurately aim, what with all the bodies knocking into each other as they tripped over other bodies and slipped through the dead snake's blood and carcass. It had quickly deteriorated into nothing more than a bar room brawl (not that he'd ever confess to anyone he'd ever partaken in such a Muggle thing). But of course, their strongest man in a physical fight, that beastly Greyback, was sluggish and ineffective thanks to the snake's bite, a disadvantage the traitors were quick to capitalize on.

The Death Eaters had been momentarily bolstered when Dolohov and Crumb arrived, replacing some of their fallen comrades. But Dolohov was old and sloppy and Crumb was a bleeding musician – which was fine if you wanted to dance your opponents to death but was disaster in a real fight. On top of that, a couple more Hogwarts students stumbled out of yet another door, fighting rather viciously for kids and turning the tide the other way. Bloody red-headed blood traitors.

And then the deafening sound of an explosion brought the fight to a halt. A black door – the very one his lord had entered, to be precise – was blown across the room, hitting and breaking someone's arm before smashing into a far wall. He thought it probably broke apart, but honestly couldn't say for at the very moment that the door went flying, he felt such immense pain … like he'd dipped his arm in molten lava … it was his Dark Mark, burning itself off his skin. He'd refused to look; he knew it wouldn't be pretty.

Eventually he registered the gasps and cries of the blood traitors, and looking up he spotted the smoke billowing out of a tiny room, barely larger then a lift, empty except for the two bodies on the floor. The closest one – in plain view directly in front of the door – looked like it had been simultaneously burned and drowned, its skin slimy and crispy and very black. But its robes, somehow intact and unharmed despite the fact they were still smoking, were recognizable to every Death Eater. They should be; they'd all kissed them enough. This was their lord, and he was surely dead.

Of the other body he only caught a glimpse before two girls rushed to it, one excitedly calling out, "he's breathing … he's still alive!"

Cries of the expected drivel … "he's done it" … "that's the Dark Lord" … "You Know Who's really dead?" … and who knows what else had filled the room.

And that was all it took. He'd dropped his wand, dropped to his knees, and put his hands in the air.

Most of his compatriots, at least those still standing, had been quick to join him. Only Bowles, the idiot, hadn't, choosing instead to make some derogatory remark about Potter. He's gotten a punch in the face by an angry red-haired man in return. Served the prick right, thinking he was above everyone else just because he'd managed to marry into money and had perfect teeth.

"Arthur," someone chided as the red-head shook out his hand, "you know you shouldn't tuck your thumb in. Did you break it?"

"Never mind me, are the kids alright?"

Even as he asked the question, a mediwizard rushed through the room to get to Potter while two others began looking over the rest of the crowd.

"We're fine Dad … it's Harry," a younger looking red-hair came over to say. "The medic says it's bad. Ginny's crying." Another red-hair – good lord, where they all here? – put his arm around the younger one and made some half-hearted joke about Potter always surviving.

As Avery's hands were pulled behind his back, where they were bound with magical wire, he thought back through the disastrous day and admitted to himself that this time, it was truly over. That Potter brat had actually succeeded; he'd exposed himself as a loyal Death Eater; and he had nothing to offer to keep himself out of prison. He doubted claims of Imperious would work with this Minister.

Someone had shouted "three, two, now," and when he'd looked again Potter, the mediwizard, and one of the girls were gone.

The mudblood – witch, he'd need to call her a witch – stepped away from her friends to cast a Patronus. Curious, Avery tuned out the Auror lecturing him to listen as she told the ghostly otter, "McGonagall – Voldemort is dead. Harry's hurt and the Headmaster is asleep. Both taken to St. Mungo's. Send Snape. GO!"

As the otter sprang away, Avery was pulled to his feet and found himself facing two grinning Aurors. "Imperious?" he tried.


Crack … brightness overtook Harry's senses, putting an abrupt end to the storm. Someone was smiling down at him, patting his cheek. "That's it, luv. Stay with me for one more minute and I'll let you sleep."


Someone was talking; a quiet, feminine voice and for a moment Harry thought it was his Mum again. He smiled, about to call out to her, when he realized this voice was coming, not from inside his very heart and soul, but from somewhere nearby.

As a male voice took over speaking, he decided perhaps he should investigate and forced his eyes open, involuntarily grunting from the unexpected amount of effort it took.

"Oh Harry," he heard his other dad, Albus, exclaim seconds before the man's face appeared overhead, leaning close enough that Harry could focus on it without his glasses.

"Y-yooo …" Harry trailed off, unable to say more.

"I've indeed been awakened from my forced nap," Albus happily told him, instinctively knowing what Harry was asking. "And in case you cannot tell – your deplorable eyesight being what it is – I seem to have suffered no ill-effects, aside from the loss of some excess facial hair …" he paused, stroking the fuzzy stubble that now graced his chin, "and the flare-up of an old injury to my knee. And between you and I, I blame that more on the student healer that dropped a bedpan right on my kneecap. Poor lad, nervous as a first-year Gryffindor in Professor Snape's class. No doubt he was remembering the last time I'd been in his company, when I'd discovered him orchestrating an after-hours gathering with adult libations in the prefect's bathing chamber. 'Clothing optional', I believe he'd just announced when I made my presence known."

Harry smiled at the tale, grateful Albus was here calming his nerves.

"Sorry Albus, but I need a few minutes with my patient," said the female voice from his right. He turned to look her way, blinking his eyes as he tried to recognize the face, which proved rather difficult since all he could make out was a fuzzy person-shaped stick.

Thankfully, the first thing she did was gently push glasses onto his face before running through some basic questions … "what is your name?" … "how many fingers am I holding up?" … "what year is it" … "is it ever a good idea to fight a dark wizard by yourself?" … simple, easy questions. Answering them gave him time to look around a bit, taking in the comforting pale yellow walls and bright ceiling and quickly realizing he couldn't be at Hogwarts. He wasn't worried, though; Albus was right beside him assuring him he was in good hands.

Eventually the silly questions stopped and his Healer, who he knew he should recognize but couldn't, performed several tests. Most were done with her wand but occasionally there was poking or prodding in various places using things that looked suspiciously like a salad fork and a carrot on a stick. While he occasionally felt something that earned a groan or a yelp, for the most part Harry found everything felt muted to him, as if he was wearing a dozen layers of clothes that protected him from touch.

"All done, child. I just need you to take this potion for me, then I'll leave so Albus can fill you in on the basics. I'll come by later for another check and to explain anything you don't understand." As she spoke she pushed what looked like a slightly crooked, very thick eye dropper between his lips and squeezed, his mouth instantly flooded with the feel of slimy gillyweed flavored with dirt and pepper. He gagged and tried to spit it out, but a firm hand held his mouth closed until he swallowed.

He instantly energized and, though he still felt like he was floating inside his own body, he very much wanted to get up and move around to expel some of this energy.

"Don't try to sit up, Harry," Albus cautioned, gently placing a hand on his chest. "You need to stay still as much as possible while your body rebuilds itself. Bah, those tired old healers," he said with a dismissive wave of his other hand. "They tried to tell me you were a lost cause – that you would never regain feeling below your chest – but they, unlike I, have no idea how truly extraordinary you are, Mister Potter. Something as simple as burned out nerves could not possibly keep you down. And I was right!"

Testing his guardian's words, Harry strained to move his foot, panicking when he realized he had no idea if he'd succeeded or not.

"Relax … it will take time, but you will heal. While you slept, I decided it was high time I flexed a bit of my political clout. When the Minister and I explained our displeasure with your level of care, Healer Flora, having previous success keeping you the Boy-Who-Lived, was reassigned to your care. She's become our very own miracle worker, son; she'll not rest until you are whole, of that you can be certain. The potion you just tried so valiantly to not partake has already begun the rejuvenation process."

Harry blinked, not fully understanding, but decided maybe he didn't want to understand. Tilting his head, he looked again at the bright white ceiling. "Where …"

"You injuries were quite severe, Harry," Albus explained, his worry finally showing through his happy façade. "For a short time, we feared we would lose you … you were subjected to a horrific dark curse that was doing quite enough damage on its own, and that was before the Cruciatus. But when you were caught in the magical backlash of Tom's demise, the curse morphed … it attacked muscle as well as nerves. It reached your heart which was … weakened, too weak it seemed … but clearly, you survived," he finished, giving Harry a smile that wasn't quite forced. "Hogwarts, however, is not equipped for such injuries. Minister Bluestreak ordered you moved to the St. George Privacy Wing normally reserved for important politicians and visiting dignitaries. Its location is hidden by a complex identity spell that few could even recognize, let alone outsmart. You are as safe as we can make you."

Albus gave Harry a few minutes to digest the news, calmly watching the various emotions flick across Harry's face as memories exploded across his mindscape. He was, therefore, prepared when Harry finally blurted out, "the others? … and Neville … and did I really … is he? …"

"Tom Riddle is truly, completely gone. Of this I am certain," Albus assured him, lightly touching his shoulder in a comforting gesture. Harry wiggled as best he could to encourage the contact, wishing he could sit up. "Let's see … Mister Longbottom is very much awake and, while not thrilled with the amount of schoolwork he must make up, is eager to visit. The rest of your friends are safe, as is my school, thanks in part to you and your friends' quick thinking. The school was never breeched by the Death Eaters. The hags were more interested in the pets than the students, a fact I am most thankful for, though I would appreciate if you would keep that a secret from Fawkes. By now most of the injured have long since been healed, including your cohorts Misters Thomas and Harper. Only Professor Trelawney joins you in the long-term care list, having broken nearly every bone when she tripped down three flights of stairs, caused, I am certain, by her haste to assist in the battle and not at all connected to the broken bottles of sherry found nearby.

"I'll not bore you with a rundown of injuries at the Ministry, other than assure you that Miss Granger is unharmed, Percy Weasley and Edgar Lacer have been tended, and your new friend Miss Demerest is recovering from a fit of Twizziling Twitters."

Albus stopped speaking as a nurse came by with another dropper full of potion, which Harry willingly swallowed despite its sweaty smell, followed by a sip of water. With a flick of her wand, she raised the head of his bed just enough so he could see his toes, but Harry thanked her nonetheless as he settled against his pillow, feeling slightly less vulnerable.

A sudden glance sideways told him his wand was missing, but he decided not to question its location. He feared his spell, or whatever it was he'd done, might have destroyed it. A shiver traveled up his spine as he recalled the immense power that had strummed through his body just before he'd shouted those words at his enemy.

"Are you cold," he heard Albus ask, realizing he'd closed his eyes at some point.

"A bit," he lied, feeling a bit guilty when Albus rose from his seat to bring him an extra blanket. The old man took great care to gently tuck the blanket around Harry, wrapping his feet extra tight and going so far as to lift Harry's arms to push it underneath.

"How did they capture you?" Harry blurted out, mostly to fill the silence that had settled upon them. It was, he'd realized, obscenely quiet in this private room.

"'Tis a boring tale, I'm afraid," Albus nearly sighed, although his eyes showed he didn't mind the question. "Certainly nothing as dramatic as facing vampires and hags. In true Gryffindor fashion, I allowed myself to be captured to purchase time for dozens of innocent workers to escape the building. I trust you do not mind that I borrowed your hero complex – and as you successfully managed to leave Miss Granger behind when you left to face Tom, it appears to have returned itself to you unharmed."

Harry smiled at the joke, causing Albus to smile as well.

"Granted, it was a calculated risk on my part, but I felt certain that I would not face death upon my capture. Tom would have wanted to deny me that next great adventure. I was equally certain that the end point had arrived and that you, Harry, would succeed in your quest, freeing me from my temporary prison."

Harry wanted to scream at the man for taking such a risk, but couldn't because he was right, Harry would have done the same. "And you're certain there are no side effects from the potion?"

"I promise, my boy, I have been given a clean bill of health, bruised knee cap aside. But to tell you the truth," he said as he leaned closer, his voice growing quieter, "I have noticed one side effect, though I am loath to mention it to any of these healers for fear they'd decide to poke and prod this old body beyond reason. Nothing bad," he quickly added, seeing concern on Harry's face. "I feel an awakened vitality," he impishly confessed, "as if I could take on a Mountain Troll with only my bare hands and a spoon and win, or out-fly a dragon on a Cleansweep Two. It's like I'm 75 again!"

"That's great," Harry laughed, amused by his guardian's enthusiasm. "Maybe we can fly together some time … assuming I ever fly again," he mumbled as he looked at his feet, his joy evaporating as he tried and failed to move them again.

"Time, Harry," Albus assured. "The curse has been successfully dispelled but the damage if left behind was rather extensive, particularly where it initially struck below the waist. You will, most likely, need to recondition your muscles to respond to your commands, starting small and building up to walking – and eventually flying, of course. But that comes later. First your nerves must be fully rejuvenated. That is what we are healing now. But doing so will take time – months, Harry, but doesn't that sound better than years or even decades?" He waited for Harry to nod his agreement. "Your other, minor in comparison, injuries are by and large healed, and with a bit of your famous luck the worst side effect you'll experience is jingling in your ears from the Bell Cricket legs in your potions."

"I used to think magic made everything better," Harry confessed in a small voice. "I used to think it was a wonderful thing."

"Oh, but it is a wonderful thing," Albus insisted. To prove his point, he pulled out his wand and conjured a beautiful bouquet of yellow and pink roses, which he tossed into the air. Before they could fall they became a cluster of colorful, flittering butterflies, which landed on Harry's blanket and melted into confetti. The display earned him a genuine smile from Harry.

"Think, Harry. You once re-grew all the bones in your arm in one night! Is that not wondrous?"

"But only because Lockhart made them all disappear in an instant," Harry defended, but the smile didn't leave his face.

"And isn't that a wonder? Making things disappear? Just like that," he added with a snap of his fingers. And for the first time in days, Albus' eyes started to twinkle. He was so positive, so enthusiastic in his argument that Harry couldn't help but laugh.

As Harry's laughter died down, Albus patted a confetti-covered leg. "You are alive, Harry. You survived, and isn't that a wonder all on its own? So it will take you six months or so to fully heal – what is that in the life of a wizard?"

"Er … a half year?"

"My, you must be feeling better if you can be so cheeky to your Headmaster," Albus chided. "You will heal. I'll accept nothing less from you. Why, in the short time you've been here you've already exceeded all expectations. You keep that up and you can be moved to Hogwarts soon, and with luck you will be well enough to move back to Sarag's Glen with me at the end of the school year. And if not, we shall remain at Hogwarts together."

"I hope I'm included in that invitation," announced quite possibly the most beautiful voice Harry had ever heard. With great restraint, Ginny moved around Albus until she was standing next to Harry, bent down, and wrapped him in a gentle hug. She straightened so she was leaning slightly over him, smiling down at him. "Love you, silly boy," she quietly said.

Bent over as she was, Harry was treated to a view that left him uncomfortable in his guardian's presence. He quickly averted his eyes, instead focusing on the necklace hanging above his face … and noticed her engagement ring was no longer on it.

Guessing what he was thinking, she laughed as she wiggled her left hand in front of his face, showing off her engagement ring finally in its rightful place.

"The nundu's left the nest," Albus delightedly informed him as Ginny took a seat on the bed at Harry's side, picking up his hand and holding it in hers.

"Yes, interesting story, that," Ginny devilishly grinned. "Some nitwit gave Dean the Marauder's Map and I'm afraid he caught sight of the name Ginevra Potter and, being a complete berk, mentioned it to everyone he saw: Professor McGonagall, Ron, Hermione, Susan Bones, Ron, Hagrid – and you know how he can't keep a secret, er … Sir Nicolas … did I mention Ron?"

Harry, however, hadn't heard much past the first few sentences. "Ginevra … Potter?"

Despite the face that she'd been unsuccessfully trying to get an explanation from Albus since the news had exploded, Ginny couldn't help but enjoy being able to tease Harry as payback for making her fear she would lose him. "And of course I've told everyone we didn't really elope and it's some kind of mistake but then Ron goes running around swearing that the map is never wrong and always shows the true name."

"Yes, but, Ginny … Potter?"

Together, the teens turned to Albus, who looked very much like someone had just given him a dozen of the wooliest socks every made. "As soon as I was made aware of the harassment Mrs. Potter here was suffering, I brought her to stay with me at your bedside. A wife's place is at her husband's side after all, or so I've heard."

"But … Potter?" To emphasis his question, Harry gave their joined hands a little shake.

Taking pity on Harry – and wanting some answers herself – Ginny politely asked, "Perhaps now you can give that explanation you've been promising, Headmaster?"

Settling comfortably into a chair he'd conjured, Albus smiled as he began his tale. "I first suspected the two of you had accomplished your own bit of wondrous magic when your betrothal contract was returned to me last summer marked ineligible. I managed to assure Arthur and Molly it was a clerical error, but I did privately wonder as I was quite certain everything was done correctly. I even sent Remus to Gretna Green to confirm that you had not been untruthful when you told us you had not married there. And then one day I, just as Mr. Thomas, was studying a certain map when I noticed a name that should not be there."

"Ginny Potter," Harry filled in. It seemed to be the only thing he was capable of saying right now.

"My discovery lead me to the Ministry hall of records where I made the most extraordinary discovery. The two of you," he paused to look at each in turn, "were married almost a full year ago. On July 25th, to be precise."

Ginny gave Harry's hand a light squeeze as she took the lead. "Er … what?"

"July 25th," Albus repeated, as if the date alone was explanation enough. "It was a beautiful summer day, as I recall, perfect for a wedding. Or a picnic and some flying, perhaps?"

"Picnic? Oh!" Ginny cried as things clicked into place in her mind. Harry remained quiet, but one look at his face revealed that he, too, was remembering their practice vows in the old school chapel.

"Oh, indeed!" Albus enthusiastically replied. "A picnic and a bit of flying, I believe you claimed had occupied your time that afternoon. One wonders, when you relayed the events of the day to Minerva and later myself, how a secret marriage ritual managed to slip your minds?"

"We didn't … ritual? … we just …" Harry trailed off, having no idea how to complete his sentence. He was still having a bit of trouble believing he was married – had been for almost a year.

Albus couldn't contain his laughter any longer. "You truly had no idea? Are you actually telling me that you managed to marry yourselves completely by accident? Oh my – how will the Weasley brothers take the news, I wonder?"

"But how?" Ginny pressed. "I mean, we did say some vows … but they were in jest. We were practicing. People do that all time."

Leaning slightly, Albus wiggled something out of his side pocket. As he began flipping the pages of the leather-bound book he continued. "Normal people do rehearse their vows, yes. But tell me, when the two of you exchanged pledges, were you thinking about your upcoming elopement, or were you thinking how true the words were in your hearts?"

"I was thinking how much I meant them," Harry confessed as he tried to hide a yawn, his energy boost from earlier beginning to wear off.

Albus nodded, having received the answer he expected. "And, I would guess, at some point you each touched a magical artifact," he paused, holding up the book he was searching through, "that was designed to record what it refers to as 'worshipful celebrations' taking place in its presence. Correct me if I'm mistaken, but I'm thinking you perhaps indulged in the tradition of sealing your vows with a kiss?"

"A magical kiss," Harry corrected, remembering how he'd thought that very thing as he'd kissed Ginny and felt a spark of something shoot through his very being.

"We even pronounced ourselves husband and wife," Ginny added in an embarrassed voice.

"It would seem you left nothing to chance," Albus chucked. Having found what he was looking for, he turned the book around and placed it on the bed so they could read:

Miss Ginevra Molly Weasley joined in holy matrimony to Mister Harry James Potter on the 25th of July in the year of our Lord 1997.

"Wait a minute," Harry finally squawked. "If you've known this all along, then what was up with all that preaching at Christmas about … stuff. We were already married then, so it was allowed."

Albus laughed again, watching Harry fluctuate between indignant and embarrassed. "Well, I confess, aside from concern for having grandchildren before their time … it was entirely too fun to wind you up and watch you twist in the wind. And on that note, I shall give you two not-so-newlyweds some time to yourselves whilst I check in with my school." With that, he prepared to leave by picking up the book and vanishing his chair. At the door, he turned back. "Just remember … the room may seem private, but nurses and healers come and go with little warning."

When the door clicked shut, Ginny turned and gave Harry a proper kiss. Then, shifting carefully so she was beside him on the bed, she rested her head next to his on the pillow. "I thought I'd lost you," she whispered.

"Not a chance," Harry insisted as he turned his head to give her another kiss. They stayed snuggled together, whispering soft words of love until they drifted off.

Harry was once again awakened by the sound of voices, although this time he knew it was neither his Mum or angels talking. Opening his eyes, he was able to place the face of Healer Flora, still looking remarkably like her cousin Minerva McGonagall, right down to her smirk.

"Off the bed with you, Mrs. Potter," the healer commanded as she began a series of scans, occasionally saying things to the nurse, who scribbled the words and numbers (none of which made any sense to Harry) on a parchment. She went so far as to peel back the blankets and use a few spells on Harry's feet. "Good … very good," she finally proclaimed. "Another day or two and we might be ready to let you sit up, young man."

Harry nodded.

"Gentle movements only of the arms and head. Try to keep the spine straight and don't even think about moving anything below the waist. I will not be pleased if you push yourself too soon and undo my hard work. Understood?"

"Yes Madam."

She seemed pleased with his verbal response and, after watching the nurse give Harry his potions and take care of a few other necessities, the women left the two alone again. They remained quiet for a time, each lost in thought, until Harry finally noticed he was playing with the ring on Ginny's finger.

"I'll have to get you a wedding band when I get out of here," he told her, watching to see how she reacted to his offer. Seeing her bright smile, he added, "so you're alright with us being married?" in a relieved voice.

"It's the best thing ever," she blurted out. "I mean, I was a bit shocked at first, obviously, but it's what we wanted all along. I'm certain my Mum isn't too happy being denied the chance to throw a big, fancy wedding, but honestly … I can't image the circus that would have surrounded The Victorious One's wedding. Much better this way. Plus, I have a valid excuse to hex any hussy that tries anything."

Listening, Harry was suddenly reminded of their main reason for not eloping last summer – Molly Weasley's reaction. "Is your Mum very angry?"

"She's your Mum too, now, silly boy. And I would guess more disappointed than angry, not that that's much better where she's concerned. Honestly? I haven't seen her much. As soon as word spread around the school the Headmaster saw how I was getting harassed and brought me here. Since you're in a restricted section, she hasn't been able to come here and demand to see us. I know I should just face her and get it over with, but I'm a married woman now and my husband comes first."

Harry had to laugh at the proud way Ginny called herself a 'married woman'. He was reluctant to say anything to spoil the good mood, but doubt was creeping in and he had to know. "Tell me about Hogwarts."

"Alright," she agreed as she settled herself so her head was on his shoulder. In a soft voice she spoke of comforting scared youngsters huddled in the Great Hall, watching skirmishes from third-floor windows, feeling the castle tremble without knowing the cause, and witnessing Flitwick's moment of triumph ("nothing against you, love, but he was wicked").

Then she explained figuring out Hermione's shouted words … "it's called the Come and Go room for a reason" … and grabbing Ron and practically shoving him toward the Room of Requirement, which she required to be a doorway to go to Harry's location. They'd stumbled out one of the doors in the circular room right into a chaotic battle. "There were Death Eaters fighting Aurors and – Harry, my Dad and Bill were there! – and Hermione was fighting that werewolf. Hermione, Harry! I can't believe you took her with you and not me. But we'll discuss that later. Anyway, Hermione's right there fighting beside the bleeding Minister of Magic himself and Ron and I join in and just when it seems their side is done there's this explosion and a door goes flying across the room.

"And there's smoke and the smell was awful and we see this tiny room, barely bigger than a pantry, with two bodies in it. Oh, Harry, you both looked dead! So I ran in and jumped right over him to get to you. I had to see if you were still … you know." On a roll now, she rushed to finish her story, ignoring the tears that had started to spill down her cheeks. "And then I found your pulse but it wasn't … but then the medi-wizard showed up and he worked on you for a bit before sending us here, where I was shoved into a hallway and waited and waited for most of the night until Snape finally forced me back to Hogwarts. Then the rumors about us were flying around so when the Headmaster stopped by yesterday … he had to prove to everyone he was still alive, you see, and he stayed just long enough to be seen and say something comforting and then he asked to see me and we came back here, and we've been here since."

"Don't cry, Gin. It's over now and I promise I'm done fighting the bad guys. We'll have a long, boring life together."

"I should hope so," replied Albus, who had silently slipped into the room at some point during Ginny's story. "But somehow, I have my doubts."

The three spent the rest of the evening talking about silly things, helping Albus complete a Muggle cross-word puzzle, and eating (Albus and Ginny having bread and stew while Harry was treated to watery, yellow slurry). When the nurse arrived to offer Harry a sleep aid, he only agreed to take it if Albus and Ginny promised to leave the hospital and get a good night's sleep, which they begrudgingly did. Before they were even out of the room, he was dreaming of a stag and a doe standing together on a distant hill, watching children playing in a meadow below.

** end chapter **

So … sorry for that horrible delay. Apparently in my rush to finish the story, I made a couple very major mistakes that needed to be fixed. Problem was, I couldn't figure out how to fix them without doing massive rewriting – so I finally gave up and did the rewrite. Ugh. Hopefully, I will be able to get the next (final) chapter up much quicker. Thank you so much for waiting patiently!

The secret wedding – I know some of you figured it out, but if you want to refresh your memory, it happened way back in Chapter 16. And that whole discussion about plausible deniability in Chapter 22? Now you know what secret Albus was keeping.