Chapter One – The Best and Worst of Days
Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns Harry Potter.
A/N: Dec. 20, 2011 - Merry Christmas! I really apologize for this, but I haven't been able to write as much as I'd hoped to be able to do this fall; and the next installment for 'After the War' isn't nearly ready for prime time. I've added the first chapter of the story-year that I'm working on to at least give you an idea of where this epic monstrosity is going next. In the meantime; I hope you liked the Harry Potter Christmas Carol that I posted just before Thanksgiving, and if you're looking for something new; my first book in a new series called 'The Catalyst Chronicles' was published last week. You can find out more about The Catalyst is Born through a link to the book page on my profile homepage, along with the first two books in my Heirs of the Magi series.
A/N: Harry Potter - After the War takes up the story of Harry, Ginny, their family, and friends beginning on the day after Harry defeated Lord Voldemort. While there are additional characters, this storyline is based on Canon, and follows JKR's post DH interviews and comments on what happened with H/G/R/Hr, etc. after the war, or at least how I imagine that post-war life could be. I hope you all enjoy reading it as much as I'm enjoying writing it!
Year One of Harry Potter - After the War is complete. Chapters 1-16; *YEAR TWO – Chapters 17-26*. *YEAR FOUR - Chapters 27-34 Complete May 5th, 2011. Each subsequent year of this story will be added as completed. Be patient - covering nineteen years to the epilogue may take a while! :^)
There was nothing but peaceful, velvety darkness, and he drifted along contentedly, barely even aware even of that darkness.
Ripples stirred in that soul-soothing blackness, and the happily floating mind tried to ignore the intrusion.
"Harry! Wake up!"
A not so gentle shove, and the shout brought Harry jarringly awake, and the beautiful, emptiness and dark was replaced by searing brightness and foggy disorientation as he opened his eyes, shut them again, and groped blindly for his glasses.
"Nice of you to join us finally," Ron said as he stepped away from Harry and sat on the bed next to Harry's – the one that had been his up until a year or so ago.
"What time is it?" Harry asked, sitting up in the bed and putting his glasses on. He squinted, letting his eyes adjust to the brightness, and looked at Ron.
"Quarter past eight, and about twenty-one hours since you crashed yesterday," Ron reported. "Get up and ready – most everyone is already in the Great Hall having breakfast, and I'm starving. Your bag is on the floor next to you. Hermione left it here for you."
Harry took a second to adjust to the fact that he'd been out of it for most of a day. His battle with Tom Riddle had been yesterday. "Have I missed much while I was out?"
Ron nodded. "I haven't been up that long myself, but was up for a few hours last night. In all of the confusion after you-know – er, Voldemort – died, most of the Death Eaters and their pals escaped. Minister Shacklebolt isn't happy about that at all, but apparently everyone was celebrating, and nobody was watching the Witches and Wizards we'd captured. The place was crawling with Ministry officials last night – mostly sucking up to Shacklebolt. Most of the injured have been moved to St. Mungos, with just the milder injuries still being treated in the hospital wing. There's going to be a Memorial service here the day after tomorrow. I think that's all of the highlights that I know about."
"Okay," Harry answered, climbing out of the bed. "I'm going to grab a quick shower. Why don't I meet you in the Common room in fifteen?"
Ron stood up too. "Try to make it ten, mate. I'd really like to get to the Great Hall before the food's all gone."
Harry nodded, grabbed his bag, and left for the washroom. He wondered how long it would be before he found comments like Ron's funny again. Getting moving allowed him to become acutely aware of the aches and pains that exhaustion had temporarily saved him from feeling, and as he stripped down for his shower, he could see all of the dark bruises and abrasions that he'd picked up during the battle. The hot water helped some, even with the sting of the soap on some of those cuts and abrasions. Ron might have wanted him to hurry, but he still took the time after his shower to shave and brush his hair before taking his bag back into the dorm and heading to the Common room. He stopped short and smiled when he saw Ron kissing Hermione next to the stairway to the girls' dorm.
"Should I run for cover?" he asked them. "Last time I saw you two doing that, things got a little crazy around us." Hermione jumped, stepping back from Ron, who just turned and grinned at Harry.
"Funny," he told Harry. "Get used to it, mate, 'cause I plan on kissing Hermione on a regular basis from now on."
"Good for you – for both of you," Harry said, still smiling. "Would you like to get back to that, or come with me for breakfast?"
"Am I allowed to multi-task?" Ron asked.
Hermione hugged Harry when he reached them, and then took Ron's hand. "Let's go have breakfast and find out what's going on this morning. We can find some more time for the hugging and kissing later."
Fully rested, and under the light of a new day, the damage to the school seemed so much worse than it had just a day ago, and Harry looked around, taking it all in as they walked. The halls were deserted, so Ron must have been right that everyone was in the Great Hall already. There was rubble all over the floors, and giant, gaping holes in some of the outer walls. Windows were blown out, and they crunched their way through broken glass and stone as they made their way from Gryffindor tower to the Great Hall.
"The cleanup will probably get started today," Hermione said quietly. "I think it's going to take a long time, and a lot of work to get done."
"No doubt," Ron agreed.
He and Hermione continued to talk, and Harry listened, but his thoughts were jumping around, as it seemed that everything he was seeing brought random memories to mind. It was almost overwhelming as images of Lupin, Tonks, Colin, Fred, and others replayed in his mind, memories that were both of happy and sad moments shared with them.
When they got into the Great Hall, he was embarrassed to see and hear the cheering and clapping that greeted them, and he tried to avoid eye contact with everyone even as he searched for one particular set of eyes. By the time he found them, though, there was only time for one too-brief silent look before that contact was broken by Kingsley Shacklebolt's call for the three friends to join him at a table that was, from Harry's current perspective, irritatingly far from where he really wanted to be right at that moment. Another quick glance let him catch the rueful smile, nod, and nearly imperceptible shrug that pretty much said everything he was thinking right back at him, and he smiled too as he led Ron and Hermione to where Minister Shacklebolt was now standing and waiting for them to join him.
"Harry, it's good to see you up and around again," Shacklebolt said as he shook Harry's hand and motioned for him to take a seat. He shook hands with Ron and Hermione too before they sat down next to Harry. Percy was sitting to the right of the Minister, and they had Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Neville and his Grandmother, and a number of Ministry officials sitting with them.
"How are you feeling, dear?" Mrs. Weasley asked Harry.
"A bit stiff and sore, but other than that, okay, thanks," he answered. "How are you and everyone else doing?" Her eyes became watery as she looked into the deep, emerald pools of compassion that said so much more than the words.
"I think most of us are feeling battered and bruised too," she said, wiping at her eyes, "and we're all feeling it more today than we did yesterday."
Harry nodded. "Ron said they've moved most of the seriously injured to St. Mungo's. Is there any news there?"
"The Healers expect everyone to survive, though some may not fully recover," Percy informed him in the clipped, precise tone of voice that Harry had been used to hearing from him, and quite different than the way he'd been speaking with Fred just before – he left that thought hanging, not ready to deal with it at the moment. There was a haunted look in Percy's eyes, and Harry wondered if this was how he was dealing with the loss of his brother so soon after being reunited with his family.
"Get some food and eat, dear," Mrs. Weasley told him, and Harry began filling his plate, seeing that Ron and Hermione had already done that, and Ron was already quickly emptying his plate.
"What else is going on?" he asked Minister Shacklebolt.
"Things are still a bit chaotic, but calming down somewhat," Shacklebolt answered, shaking his head. "Some of the celebrations all over the Wizarding World got a little out of hand as the word spread yesterday. The Obliviators are being run ragged trying to modify Muggle memories. It's even worse than back in eighty-one." Harry wasn't surprised at this news, but just like with the celebration at the school yesterday, it wasn't something he wanted to be a part of – it had just cost too much to be something to cheer over.
"The Ministry is a mess, and Voldemort's people there caused a lot of damage when they fled," Shacklebolt continued. "We're short-staffed in every department, and nobody seems sure who they can trust there right now."
"Again, just like last time," Mr. Weasley said sadly. "Maybe we'll do a better job cleaning up the mess this time around."
"We will," Shacklebolt said confidently; a determined smile on his face as he looked from Arthur to Harry. "I'm going to start by recruiting some help that I can trust. I wish I didn't have to do this quite so soon, but would you, Ron, Hermione, and Neville be interested in giving me a hand with that clean-up?"
"Doing what exactly?" Harry asked, looking steadily at Kingsley.
"We've lost a number or Aurors, and we have a lot of Death Eaters and their accomplices on the loose," the Minister answered. "I'd like for all of you to join the Aurors."
"None of us have the NEWTs we'd need to do that," Hermione pointed out immediately, and Shacklebolt nodded.
"True," he agreed, "but you all could do the job, and I need help right now, if you're willing."
"I'm in," Neville told Shacklebolt, and Harry looked at the determined expression on his face, and the proud one on his Grandmother's.
"Of course you are," she agreed, patting his arm.
"They're just children, Kingsley!" Mrs. Weasley protested. "Haven't they all done enough already?" Her eyes filled with tears again as she saw the look on Ron's face. "Ron – no! Please don't do this."
Ron reached across the table and took his mother's hand. "I'm sorry, Mum, but I'm with Neville on this. We're not kids anymore – if we ever were." Mrs. Weasley looked from Ron to Harry, her eyes pleading with him, and he sighed inwardly.
"I have to do this too," he told her gently. "Everything that's happened – everyone we've lost – would be for nothing if we don't finish the job, and it's really just started." He turned and looked past Ron to see Hermione now staring at him in consternation, and he smiled at her. "You know that I've wanted to be an Auror, Hermione, Neville's following in his Mum and Dad's footsteps, and Ron's in it because it'll be so much fun, but you've got other dreams, so don't feel like you have to do this because we are. There are lots of other things that you could do that I think would be even more important than this, and a way better use of the brightest Witch of our time."
Hermione looked from Harry to Ron to Neville, and Ron took her hand and squeezed it, nodding as she looked back at him for a long moment before answering Harry's comments, and Minister Shacklebolt's request. "Minister, you're only three for four," she told Kingsley. "I want to get my NEWTs first, and maybe I'll come work for the Ministry somewhere after that, but Harry's right – being an Auror isn't for me."
"Let me know when you're ready, and I'll make sure you have your pick of jobs," Kingsley assured her before turning to Harry again. "I'm going to be leaving for the Ministry shortly, and would like the three of you to come to the Ministry so I can introduce you to Gawain Robards, and let him get you started."
"He's still the Head of the Aurors?" Harry asked, and Shacklebolt nodded.
"As of yesterday," he agreed. "Let's just say that in recent months, he has been working out of the office, in the field," he added with that same serious, determined smile. When he stood up, Percy, and every other Ministry official stood too, whether they'd finished eating or not. "I have a few things to do first, so take your time finishing your food, and then we can leave for the Ministry."
Harry, Ron, and Neville all nodded their agreement, and Minister Shacklebolt moved away from the table, heading out of the Great Hall. Mrs. Weasley hadn't said anything since her protest to the Minister, and was leaning against Mr. Weasley for support.
"Well, you can say one thing for Shacklebolt, he's serious about getting at the job right away." He said, looking across the table at Ron, Hermione, and Harry.
"Every day the Death Eaters and their pals have for a head start will just make it harder to track them down," Neville suggested. "We really can't wait, even though I really wish we could."
"You boys be careful, and watch out for each other," Mr. Weasley told them.
"We will," Harry promised. He hadn't finished eating, but didn't feel like having any more, and if he was going to be leaving soon for the Ministry, there was something he needed to do first. Getting to his feet, he leaned between Ron and Hermione. "I've got something I need to do before we go. I'll meet you in the entrance hall when I'm done."
With that, he turned and headed out of the Great Hall, sure that his friends would know what he was going to take care of now. It seemed to him like every eye in the Hall was on him again, and he just focused on the open doorway, and nearly held his breath until he was in the entrance hall. There were Witches and Wizards watching him there too, but he continued on outside, then across the grounds until he reached Dumbledore's white tomb by the lake. Someone had repaired it since Voldemort's intrusion, and Harry stood next to it, closing his eyes and just taking a moment before doing what he came to do. Drawing two wands out of his pocket, he held one firmly in hand, and the other rested on the palm of his other hand, then disappeared as he returned it to the place it should have never been taken from.
"And now, with a little luck, that wand will never be used for harm again," he said quietly to himself. He turned around and started back toward the school, lost in thought until he finally noticed that someone was walking toward him. When he focused, and saw that it was Ginny, his heart kicked into overdrive.
"Ron and Hermione tell me that you, Ron, and Neville are joining the Aurors, and will be leaving for the Ministry with Shacklebolt soon," she told him without preamble when they stopped, facing each other. Her voice had an edge to it that Harry recognized very well.
"We are," he agreed, finding himself getting lost in her eyes as she locked hers on his. She had a determined look on her face that he thought was adorable, and she put a hand firmly on his chest.
"You're not going anywhere until we have a little discussion," she informed him, her eyes still locked on his.
"Okay," he agreed, that contact sending a jolt of longing through him.
"Would you like to have this discussion the hard way, or the easy way?" she asked, and Harry smiled at her.
"The easy way, if that's okay with you. I've had a tough few days, and your hard way has a tendency of involving bat-bogey hexes."
"Good choice," she said approvingly. "Then repeat after me – 'Ginny, I've been an idiot'."
Harry grinned. "Ginny, I've been an idiot."
"I should have never broken up with you last year," she prompted, her hand now more a caress than a barrier.
"I should have never broken up with you last year," he repeated dutifully.
"Please forgive me, and take me back," she continued, placing her other hand on his chest too.
Harry put his hands over hers. "Please forgive me, and take me back."
Ginny stepped closer, and put her arms around his neck, and he wrapped his around her waist. "I forgive you, Harry. Don't ever do that to me again." She pulled him close, and kissed him tenderly. When she leaned back again, he smiled.
"You forgot one thing," he told her, and Ginny smiled too.
"What did I forget?" she asked.
"I love you, Ginny," he answered, and his spirit soared as he watched her reaction, and then she was kissing him again, and he lost himself in that embrace.
"Finally!" she exulted as they stared at each other, wide-eyed and breathless. "I love you too, Harry."
"What's going on out here?" they heard Ron shout from the front doors. They didn't hear Hermione's comment, but could see her drag Ron by the arm back into the entrance hall, and were both laughing.
"You be careful," Ginny told Harry when they turned to face each other again. "When things settle down a bit, make sure to plan some time for you and me – we have a lot of catching up to do."
"I will be, and we'll definitely get to that catching up too," he promised.
They shared another long kiss, and then Ginny took his hand possessively, and they started walking back to the school. When they got into the entrance hall, Ron and Hermione were there with pretty much everyone who'd been sitting with them at breakfast. Ron was giving Harry the look, and Ginny laughed at him.
"Don't even think about saying anything," she told him firmly. "He's mine, so you can just bloody well get used to it."
Minister Shacklebolt laughed too, and smiled at Ginny and Harry. "Well then, now that's settled, I guess we can get going," he told them.
There was a round of hugs, with Harry receiving them from Mrs. Weasley, Hermione, and two, and a kiss, from Ginny, and then the group leaving for the Ministry went outside and started walking toward the gates. Harry looked back once to see a teary-eyed mother with her arm wrapped around her still fiercely exultant-looking daughter watching them go, and waved to them before turning around again as Ron put a hand on his shoulder.
"I actually thought she was coming out here to hex you after finding out we were joining the Aurors," Ron told him, and Harry laughed.
"That was option two. I picked the option where I apologized and begged her to take me back," he said quietly enough so that only Ron and Neville would hear him.
"Good choice," Neville complimented him, and he and Ron were both grinning at Harry.
"I thought so," Harry agreed.
When they were outside the gates, they all apparated to the Ministry of Magic, and were quickly in the Atrium, lining up to pass through security. Harry's arrival caused quite a stir, and many Witches and Wizards just stopped what they were doing to stare at him, while others also applauded and cheered as he and the others were quickly cleared and walked to the lifts.
"Mr. Weasley and I will take our three new Auror candidates to Auror Headquarters, and meet the rest of you in my offices shortly," Shacklebolt told the group of Ministry followers who had been around him pretty much since he had been named interim Minister of Magic.
They'd all stepped into the lift together, but when they reached level two, only five of them left the lift, while the others continued on to level one. Minister Shacklebolt led them into Auror Headquarters to one of the cubicles, where they were introduced to Gawain Robards without any preamble or small talk.
"Auror Robards, I'd like to introduce you to Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Neville Longbottom," Shacklebolt said as he shook Gawain's hand. "I've recruited them for you, and they're ready to be put to work helping us right away." He smiled at Harry. "Mr. Potter should probably stop by to take his apparition test, since, like you, he's been out in the field, so to speak, and didn't have the opportunity to take care of that last summer. Other than that, they're ready to jump in and get going."
"Good," Gawain said, shaking hands with Neville, Ron, and Harry. "We're so short-handed right now, we need all the help we can get."
"We're looking for more volunteers, Gawain, but the last thing we're going to do is advertise just how short of staff we are right now," Shacklebolt said, and Gawain nodded.
"Alright," he agreed. "I'm sure you have more important things to do, so let me take it from here with our new Auror-trainees, and you can get on with your own work."
Minister Shacklebolt nodded, and as Harry turned to watch him leave with Percy, he saw several heads duck back down below the tops of the cubicles before he turned back to face his new boss. He judged the other Wizard was a few years older than Kingsley, and had the same self-assurance and confidence as the new Minister of Magic too. That probably came after years of surviving as an Auror, since every Auror he'd met were like that. He'd watched Kingsley and Gawain talking but with just that small introduction to the man, hadn't yet formed an opinion of his new boss.
"Okay, gentlemen," he said, looking from face-to-face, "everyone here is busy right now, and we're hopping to keep up. I'll assign all of you to Auror Williamson, and you'll be working with him - at least until we get organized and can begin your training properly. Stick with him, and do exactly what he says, and you'll be fine."
He stepped out of his cubicle, and he only spent a couple of minutes to introduce them to Auror Josh Williamson, along with passing on the instructions for Williamson to start out by taking Harry for his apparition test.
"Before I take Mr. Potter for his apparition test," Williamson told his three new recruits, "let's get the two of you set up with cubicles, and you can start reviewing all of the cases we now have to work on." He led Ron and Neville along the aisle, and assigned them to two empty cubicles next to each other, waving his wand each time, and making their names appear on the blank nameplates, and making stacks of files appear on their desks with two more flicks of his wand. "Start with those files, and when Mr. Potter and I get back, we'll continue with that, working together to discuss the cases I'm currently assigned to handle." Ron and Neville had each taken seats behind their new desks, though Ron looked decidedly unenthusiastic about what was, for all intents and purposes, studying. Auror Williamson waved for Harry to follow him, and they headed toward the lifts.
"When and if we get the time, I'll try to be impressed that Harry Potter is one of my new trainee assignments, but until then, let's just pretend that you're just like any other trainee, and get on with it."
"Why don't we just do that, and completely skip the being impressed thing altogether," Harry suggested, and Williamson laughed.
"That works too," he agreed.
Auror Williamson wore a red cloak, which Harry thought was a bit odd for an Auror, since the color didn't exactly help the man blend in. He had long hair kept tied back in a ponytail, and while Harry vaguely remembered seeing him before, this was certainly the first time they'd spoken to each other. His first impression of the man was positive, and he was looking forward to finding out what they'd be working on together. It didn't take long for Harry to pass his apparition test, since he was the only one there to be tested, and the examiners practically fell over themselves to get it done for him.
"This job could get to be a lot more fun if everyone does that for you, but I have a feeling the Death Eaters aren't exactly going to be quite that cooperative."
"Probably not," Harry agreed. "They're not very happy with me at the moment."
"I wonder why?" Williamson joked.
When they got back to Auror Headquarters, Williamson led him to another empty cubicle on the other side of Neville's cubicle from Ron's, and waved him into it. "This will be your home away from home from now on," he explained, and waved his wand, changing the nameplate to read 'Auror-trainee Potter'. "This used to be Auror Tonks' cubicle," he told Harry. "I think she'd rather that you have this place instead of someone else."
"Thank-you," Harry told him as he took a moment to look around.
"You're welcome," Williamson said with a curt nod. "Let's gather up my other trainees, go back to my cubicle, and get to work. After that, we'll grab some lunch, and then my plan is to go out, do a little field work, and see if we can catch a few of the slower, dimmer criminals, since the smart, fast ones have likely all gone underground already."
Harry followed his trainer back to the other cubicle, picking up Neville and Ron on the way past. The three trainees sat down in the chairs across the desk from Williamson, and spent the next couple of hours going through cases with him. When they were finished with that, they went out, had lunch at a crowded Leaky Cauldron, and then apparated to a street around the corner from the first house that Williamson wanted to visit in his search for one of the new 'most wanted'. The four of them had all laughed when Williamson had taken down Harry's number one undesirable photo from the wall of his cubicle. The Auror had been very sure that it was the first time that any Wizard or Witch had gone from that status to Auror-trainee in all of Auror history.
Williamson led the way, but as they reached the walkway to the front door, it slammed open, and the massive form of Mr. Crabbe – Vincent's father – stepped through the doorway and onto the front steps. He had his wand drawn, and before Auror Williamson made any move, Harry, Ron, and Neville all had their wands out, and went into action. Harry threw up a massive shield in front of the four of them, while Ron and Neville sent disarming and binding spells at a now shocked-looking Crabbe, who stared at them with hate-filled eyes. He'd managed to get one killing curse off that deflected off of Harry's shield, though it probably would have missed all of them anyway.
"You're real heroes when it's four against one," he growled at them. Harry dropped his shield, and Neville went to pick up the Death Eater's wand. Williamson still hadn't even drawn his wand, but his three trainees didn't put their wands away. Harry had momentarily been surprised by their trainer's actions, or inaction, but then he was suddenly sure that Auror Williamson had been testing his trainees.
"Normally, I'd cut you some slack on the Arithmancy, since it's not really my thing either," Williamson told him, "but I'm pretty sure you were only facing three wands, and that shouldn't have been a problem for a big, strong Death Eater like you to be up against my new trainees. After all, they only joined up a few hours ago." Crabbe hadn't really taken a close look at his opponents, and now that he did, his eyes widened when he looked at Harry.
"You!" he barked at Harry. "My son is dead because of you!"
"Your son is dead because one of your idiot Death Eater buddies taught him how to create Fiendfyre, and he was caught in it when the spell got away from him," Harry told him.
"That's a lie!" Crabbe spat, and Harry shook his head.
"It's not, and since my friends and I did manage to save Draco and Gregory when we escaped the Fiendfyre, I'm sure that eventually you'll have the chance to ask them yourself." He took a hard look at the man and nodded. "You already knew that anyway. That's how you knew Vincent had died during the battle. Since I know where Draco is right now, I'll guess it was Gregory who told you."
"This little chat is fun," Williamson told them, "but we've got loads of work waiting for us, so let's get Mr. Crabbe back to the Ministry and processed so we can move on."
Returning to Auror Headquarters, the only problem they had was with the onlookers and a pair of enterprising and demanding reporters in the Atrium as they brought Crabbe through security. Harry was sure that word would have gotten around the Ministry by now about the three new Auror-trainees, but if that news hadn't reached the media yet, it certainly had now, and he groaned to himself, dreading what he was sure would be even more unwanted attention.
Williamson showed his three trainees how to process a new prisoner, and then they took him down to the dungeon level, where he was put in a holding cell to wait for his trial with the Wizengamot. When they returned to Auror Headquarters again, Harry, Ron, and Neville were put to work filling out the required reports, which Williamson then went to do too, and then they were off again, heading to the second stop of the afternoon on their trainer's list.
"There've been two other captures," he told his trainees as they walked toward the lifts, "and four fugitives have been killed today. We've been lucky so far, and have only had two injuries among the Aurors, and only one of them needed to go to St. Mungo's."
"What are we going to do with all of the prisoners?" Neville asked. "The Minister can't possibly be considering guarding Azkaban with the Dementors again."
"I haven't heard," Williamson answered. "They'll surely still use Azkaban, but I expect that from now on, there will be Witches and Wizards guarding the place like they have at all of the other Wizarding prisons. The Dementors fled after the Dark Lord was killed. They'll likely be a new problem for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures to deal with now."
"Anyone we know?" Ron asked, unconsciously asking a question he'd asked Hermione nearly every morning during their sixth year at Hogwarts when she was reading the Daily Prophet. "The other fugitives, I mean, not the Dementors."
"None of the biggies," Williamson answered. "Crabbe is the only actual Death Eater in custody so far. The others have all been Wizards who were working with them, or just taking advantage of the situation for their own crimes."
They had the same reporters bothering them when they left through the Atrium again, and there were more stares and Wizards and Witches applauding Harry. This time, once they were out of the Ministry building, they apparated to a country laneway, appearing in front of a long path that lead up to a fairly large house set back on a good-sized lot dotted with trees and gardens.
"Check for protective spells, please, Mr. Longbottom," Williamson ordered.
"They'll have already been alerted that we're here," Neville reported after a few moments. "There are several levels of shielding charms, and an anti-apparition charm will kick in if we cross onto the property."
"Good," Williamson said approvingly. "I'd say we should definitely remove them first, and then we'll immediately need our own anti-apparition shield put up. Any volunteers?"
Harry smiled grimly when both Ron and Neville looked his way, and as he turned to face the property, the other three Wizards moved a fair distance back from him. This was the first offensive spell he'd cast since repairing his wand, and he was a bit shell-shocked by the loud explosion and concussive wave of pressure that followed the destruction of those protective spells. Whether it was the wand, or something within him that had changed, that had been more and stronger than anything he'd felt before, but then he had to focus again and get the anti-apparition shield in place too before anyone could escape. When he was able to look around a moment later, the other three Wizards looked as stunned as he was feeling.
"Next time, we'll move a bit farther back," Williamson told Ron and Neville. "I'll wager that really hurt whoever was holding those spells in place. Shall we go in?"
They walked up the lane, and with Harry covering him while Ron and Neville headed around each side to cover the back, Williamson approached the front door, knocked, and loudly announced himself as an Auror. When there was no answer, he stepped back, and blasted the door open with a loudly shouted 'REDUCTO'!
He had automatically jumped to the side, and it was a good thing he had, since a red bolt of energy shot through the doorway about where his head had been a moment earlier. Harry had been just to the other side, and on the lawn at the base of the steps, so the attack was well over his head, and he fired back with quick 'Expelliarmus' and 'Incarcerous' spells. A wand shot through the doorway next, flying into Harry's waiting, outstretched hand, and they could both hear a yelp of pain. With their unseen opponent now bound by thick ropes from shoulders to ankles, Harry climbed the steps, and the two Wizards cautiously entered the house.
"Mr. Parkinson, you are under arrest," Williamson advised the bound and incredulous-looking man. "Sworn witnesses have placed both you and your wife at the Battle of Hogwarts, fighting for and with the Dark Lord. Is your wife here with you?"
The man clamped his mouth shut, and didn't answer, but Williamson had all the answer he needed when the sounds of fighting broke out at the back of the house. Harry ran in that direction, and fired a non-verbal disarming spell at one of the two Witches on each side of the back door of the house as he slid into the kitchen. When she turned around in shock to face Harry, watching her wand fly into his hand, she was hit by a body-bind spell that shot through the open doorway where a door had obviously been shorn from it's hinges.
"Pansy!" the other Witch screamed, turning and firing a killing curse toward Harry. He dove out of the way, firing a leg-lock spell as he fell and the woman's curse hit the wall behind him. Mrs. Parkinson fell too, landing next to her daughter, and reaching out to cover her protectively. "Stay away from her!" she shouted at Harry and firing another spell blindly that blew a hole in one of the kitchen cupboards.
With her back to the door, she didn't see Ron step to the doorway, and had no time to react before he quickly had her disarmed, bound, and stood grinning at Harry.
"Having fun, mate?" he asked as Harry stood up.
"Loads," Harry answered dryly. "Thanks."
"What is the meaning of this attack?" Mrs. Parkinson demanded as she stared daggers at Harry. "I'll have the lot of you arrested for this!"
Ron turned his grin on her next. "I'm sure that you all heard Auror Williamson identify himself," he reminded her. "I'm Auror-trainee Ron Weasley, ma'am, and you're under arrest for your involvement in the Battle of Hogwarts."
"Nicely done," Williamson complimented Ron as he walked into the room. "Let's help the ladies to stand, and then you'll need to release Ms. Parkinson – she's not currently wanted for anything, unless you want to have her charged for this little incident." Ron and Harry exchanged looks, and Ron shrugged.
"If we charged every Witch and Wizard who threw a spell or two at me, we'd run out of room at Azkaban," Harry joked, and Ron laughed. "I'd prefer not to have her wand at our backs until after we've left with her Mum and Dad, though."
Pansy Parkinson did not look at all grateful for the reprieve, and her face was harder and the expression even colder as she watched the four Wizards take her parents away. The commotion their arrival at the Ministry of Magic caused was even bigger than the last, and they actually had to push their way through the crowd to get to, and then through, security. It took another two hours to process their new prisoners, deliver them to the holding cells, and then fill out their reports, and by then, Williamson decided that they'd done enough for one day, and advised Harry, Ron, and Neville to meet him in the morning again at eight o'clock sharp.
When they'd gotten back to headquarters, there had been a note on Ron's desk to advise them that his and Harry's things had been moved to the Burrow, and that they should go there after they were done for the day, so when they left the Ministry of Magic, Harry and Ron apparated to the Burrow, while Neville apparated home to his Grandmother's estate.
"You've been all over the news on the WWN," Hermione told them, as Ron, and then Harry, were each crushed by hugs from Mrs. Weasley. "Three captures on your first day, not that any of us are surprised."
Once Mrs. Weasley had let Harry go, Ginny was there hugging him while Hermione took a moment to hug Ron. "You're all okay?" Ginny asked him quietly. "They said some Aurors had been injured too, but didn't say whom."
"We're all fine," he assured her. "Last I heard before we left, there were three Aurors injured, but only one of the serious enough to be admitted to St. Mungo's. I'm pretty sure we spent more time in our cubicles filling out paperwork than anything else today."
"That part of the job is going to stink," Ron groused. "I have no idea why the Ministry needs all of those stupid reports. It's a complete waste of time, and about as bad as all those assignments we had to do at school."
"Your Dad works at the Ministry, and you didn't know that?" Hermione asked, and Ron shrugged.
"Hearing Dad talk about stuff like that was usually the time I stopped listening, and hearing about it isn't nearly the same as having to do it myself now," he explained. "They never mention any of that in those adventure books about Aurors."
"I didn't know you read anything you didn't have to – other than Quidditch magazines," Ginny told her brother. She'd slipped her hand into Harry's, and he loved the feel of the contact with her again.
Ron shrugged. "I read other stuff once in a while. What's been going on at school? Anything new?"
"Nearly everyone had left the school by this afternoon, except for the professors, staff, and the Witches and Wizards still being treated in the hospital wing," Hermione told him. They all moved over to sit at the table, and Mrs. Weasley was bustling around the kitchen, working on making dinner for everyone. "We stopped in to see Andromeda Tonks on our way back here. She's having a pretty tough time right now."
"We met Teddy," Ginny told Harry quietly. "Your Godson looks just like his Mum, and he's absolutely adorable."
"I'll have to get over there to see him soon," he said, and Ginny nodded.
"We can do that," she agreed. "At the latest, we'll see them on Tuesday at the Memorial. You'll be able to go, won't you?"
Harry nodded. "I didn't ask about it, but we'll definitely be going."
"Ginny, Hermione, could you give me a hand?" Mrs. Weasley asked, and both girls got up to help with setting the table and working on their meal, though they both looked reluctant to give up sitting with their boyfriends.
They continued to talk quietly about the news of the day, and by the time dinner was ready, Mr. Weasley, Bill, and Fleur had joined them in the kitchen. There had been a few meals that Harry had been at the Burrow for where the usual noise and activity was absent, but it was different this time.
"So you've been put in charge of the Muggle Artifacts office and the Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Objects?" Mrs. Weasley asked her husband after they'd gotten around to his news, and Mr. Weasley nodded.
"Minister Shacklebolt is confident that the counterfeiting will stop soon, and we'll eventually be able to close that office anyway. We've lost a lot of good people, though, and the rest of us are all going to be busy for quite a while, I expect."
"Could there be some who are still hiding?" Hermione asked, and Mr. Weasley nodded his head.
"Maybe, but we think that most of us who were in hiding have already come back to the Ministry over the past two days," he answered. "I've heard we're maybe down to half the staff right now, or even a bit less than that."
"How are things at Gringott's?" Mrs. Weasley asked Bill and Fleur. They'd both returned to the bank earlier, and taken jobs with Gringott's again.
"Probably as chaotic as everywhere else," Bill answered.
"They are very busy with customers wanting to get to their vaults," Fleur told them. Her accent was still pretty strong, but her English had improved a lot over the past year. As he listened to her, Harry suddenly realized that Ron wasn't falling all over himself to try and impress her, a fact that he also could see Hermione was quite pleased about too.
"I checked on your vault, Harry," Bill told him, "and you'll be glad to know that it's secure, even with the damage after a certain recent incident."
Harry nodded. "That's surprising. I would think the Goblins are not very happy with me right now – especially Griphook after the sword answered Neville's need."
"Griphook has been dealt with by the Goblins," Bill advised him. "When they use that term, it unfortunately always means just one thing. By giving up the Bank's secrets to you, he did something that was unforgivable to the Goblins, regardless of his reason for doing so. He may have thought to trick you, but he wasn't able to fool them. The Minister has explained things to them about what the three of you were doing, and offered Wizarding aid for the repairs, which are already well underway. Regardless of that, though, the Goblins would never steal from any customer's vault, which was likely the other reason for Griphook's fate – not only giving up their secrets, but also helping you to steal from one of the vaults he was sworn to protect. You know first-hand how they'll fight to protect the contents of those vaults."
"Way too personally," Ron agreed fervently.
"The main point is that the Goblins aren't holding your break-in against you, and you again have access to your vault."
"I'm glad to hear that," Harry said gratefully. "Are they keeping you busy in the curse-breaking department?"
Bill nodded, his expression getting more serious. "We're getting more calls for help than we can handle right now. Even at the Ministry of Magic, we've had to deal with cursed objects and other problems that the Death Eaters and their helpers have left behind – like they hadn't caused enough harm already."
"You'll likely be even busier as the Aurors start rounding up all of those fugitives," Ron suggested. "The Parkinson's house should probably be checked out from what I saw there for sure, and Crabbe likely has a houseful of surprises too."
"We're getting regular requests from Auror Robards," Bill advised Ron. "Each case is being prioritized, and we'll get to all of them eventually." He turned his attention to his mother. "We stopped in to see George at the store on the way here. He said he'll be up and running again by tomorrow."
"So soon?" Molly asked him, and Bill nodded.
"I think it's how he's dealing with everything, Mum. It helps him to be there. Keeping busy probably does too."
"At least he's not in the thick of it like you, Charlie, Ron, and Harry are," she told them.
"Charlie and I have been in the thick of it with our jobs for years, Mum, and the only difference between today and yesterday for Ron is that now he's getting paid to fight bad guys." He grinned at Ron. "You should probably start charging him rent soon."
"Hey!" Ron sputtered, as everyone else laughed.
Hermione patted his hand. "You do have a real job now, Ron," she pointed out. "It really does seem fair to help out."
"Especially since you manage to eat about half the food around here," Ginny added, grinning at her brother.
"It's a conspiracy," Ron complained. "Mum, Dad, and I can work that out ourselves without all of your help, so let's move on. We didn't even find out what the job pays yet."
"Twelve hundred galleons a month, a Ministry broom, and a bed at St. Mungo's reserved for you," Hermione supplied, and Ron hugged her.
"That's going to be brilliant!" he said enthusiastically, hugging her again. "Well, all of it except the bed at St. Mungo's," he amended. "I wouldn't mind avoiding having to use it.
The conversation moved on, and when dinner was over, Bill and Fleur left for Shell Cottage, and after everyone else pitched in for the cleanup, they all moved into the sitting room.
"What are you going to do now?" Harry asked Hermione.
"I'll stay here until Wednesday, and then I need to go to Australia to get my parents, and reverse the memory charms I used on them," she answered. "Once I have them back home again, I'm not sure, other than getting ready to go back to Hogwarts. Just having a little time off to relax sounds pretty good right now."
"We should have taken some time off too, mate," Ron told Harry.
"That would have been nice, but there's too much work to do right now, so we'll just have to hold off on getting any holiday time for a while," Harry answered. Ginny was sitting next to him and holding his hand, like she'd been doing most of the time since he and Ron had gotten to the Burrow. "At least we can actually look forward to things like vacations, and being with our families and friends again now, even if we still have a lot of work ahead."
"Definitely," Ron agreed.
It had been just over nine months since Harry had last been in the sitting room of the Burrow, and it felt even more like home now than ever before. Mrs. Weasley turned the WWN on, and they listened to the ongoing news reports, and the current events broadcasts continued, as it had since the news about the Dark Lord's defeat broke the previous morning. There was nothing new being announced, though, so after a while, it was turned off again.
"We've got to be back at the Ministry for eight," Harry said when he realized that it was already after ten o'clock. "You and I should get to bed, Ron. We don't want to be tired when we're out in the field tomorrow."
"No you don't," Mrs. Weasley agreed. "Harry, your things are in George and Fr – er – in the same room as last summer." Her eyes had softened and were brimming with tears, and she stood up, suddenly all business. "We should all get to bed now anyway," she declared. "I'll see you in the morning. Sleep well."
With that, she hurried out of the room, and Mr. Weasley quickly stood and followed her, waving goodnight to the two couples as he left to go comfort his wife. Hermione was the next to stand, and she held out her hand to Ron.
"Walk me to my room?" she asked, and Ron nodded, stood, and followed her out of the sitting room and up to the first floor. She was staying in Bill's old room.
"Let's give them a few minutes to say goodnight to each other," Ginny suggested, turning slightly to face Harry. She put her arms around his neck, and smiled at him. "We can do our own goodnight right here while we're waiting."
Harry didn't get the chance to respond – at least not verbally, but when the sitting room came back into focus again a few minutes later, he was pretty sure that Ginny did know that he'd been all for that idea.
"I've missed you so much," he whispered as she laid her head on his shoulder and they held each other close. "Thanks for taking me back."
Ginny laughed softly, and hugged him more tightly. "You're welcome, and I missed you too."
They stayed there together for another ten minutes or so, sharing a couple more kisses, but mostly just content to hold each other. When they heard Ron moving on the stairs again, heading up toward his room, they both stood and headed upstairs too. One last goodnight kiss outside of Ginny's room, and then Harry went up to the second floor, got changed, and climbed into bed. With everything going through his mind, he thought it would take a while to get to sleep, but he actually fell asleep almost immediately after closing his eyes.
Morning seemed to come too early, and other than a pretty great hug and kiss goodbye from Ginny, the rest of the morning had been a blurred rush for Harry. He, Ron, and Mr. Weasley all went to the Ministry together, splitting up when they got to the second floor, with Ron and Harry going to Auror Headquarters, while Mr. Weasley went to the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office. They were all early, and while Harry and Ron weren't the first to get to headquarters, they were there ahead of Williamson and Neville, so they went to Harry's cubicle and sat down to wait.
"Is it just me, or are there even more pictures this morning?" Ron asked, waving at the pictures plastered all over the cubicle walls.
"There's definitely more," Harry confirmed, then grinned and reached out to pull one off the wall to his right. "Maybe we'll get to work on this one," he suggested, handing the picture to Ron, who looked at it and laughed.
"Wanted for crimes against Muggle-borns," he read before looking up at Harry again. "It's about time – long past, really. She'd better hope that the Wizengamot doesn't give her a sentence of doing all of the lines with a blood quill that she handed out to all of her students."
Harry looked at the scars on his hand and nodded. "That's for sure," he agreed. "I wouldn't wish that on anyone – even her."
"Morning," Neville said as he joined them and sat down next to Ron. "Wouldn't wish what on whom?"
"Lines with a blood quill for a sentence on Umbridge," Ron answered, handing the picture on to Neville. "For some reason, Harry's completely against the idea."
"So am I," Neville agreed. "If we did stuff like that, we'd be no better than the Death Eaters."
The three friends had another ten minutes to chat before Auror Williamson checked in with them, and then they were on the move again, picking up where they'd left off on Sunday. Their first stop was to check out a seedy flat where they had a tip that Marcus Flint was holed up. Marcus had been at Hogwarts with Harry, Ron, and Neville, so it felt a bit strange for all of them to now be going out to attempt to track him down and arrest him, but he'd been seen at the battle of Hogwarts, and was a suspected Death Eater.
When they arrived at the rundown building the flat was located in, they'd climbed the stairs to the top floor in pairs, Harry and Neville covering the stairs at one end of the hall, while Ron and Williamson covered the other end. Harry was in the lead, and had just opened the door that led from the stairs to the top floor hall when he came face-to-face with Marcus, who looked scared, and turned to flee the other way. When he saw two more Wizards at the far end of the hall, he spun to apparate away, and without thinking about it, Harry reached out, grabbing at Marcus' cloak, and apparated along with the other Wizard.
He had no idea where he was, but Harry didn't have time to worry about that, and he dove to the side and hit the ground rolling, a brilliant green streak of light flashing past him even as he threw up a shield that tossed Marcus ten feet away from him, where he hit the ground hard before rolling too and firing off another killing curse. Harry had kept moving too, and the second spell missed him widely to the left. His Expelliarmus spell blasted through the shield charm that Marcus had raised like it wasn't there at all, and both Wizards watched as the wand flashed through the air to land in Harry's hand. A body-bind spell followed, and then Harry walked over to stand in front of Marcus.
"I'm Auror-trainee Potter, Mr. Flint, and you are under arrest for your involvement in the battle of Hogwarts, and on suspicion of being a member of the Death Eaters." He grabbed the other man's upper arm, and a moment later, they were back in the dingy hallway of the seedy apartment building.
"Welcome back," Williamson told them, and Harry smiled and nodded to Ron and Neville, who both lowered their wands. "Did you have a nice trip? We're hurt that you didn't invite us to come along."
"Mr. Flint just wanted to show me around," Harry answered, handing Marcus' wand over to Williamson. "You didn't miss much."
"All evidence to the contrary," Neville joked. "You still need to improve your teamwork skills though, mate."
"Or the rest of us need to get faster," Williamson suggested. "That was quick thinking, Potter. Good job."
Williamson had warned them that chasing down all of the fugitives would get more difficult as they started to go after the stronger, smarter Death Eaters and their associates, but they made two more arrests before the end of the day on Monday, even with all of the paperwork and processing they had to do with each case. It was after seven o'clock when they'd all finished their reports for the third arrest, and they met at Williamson's desk.
"We're not working tomorrow," he told his three trainees. "The Minister has declared a day of mourning, and most of us will be attending the Memorial, and one or more of the private burials after that. We'll get back to work on Wednesday, so be ready to get started again at eight."
"Yes sir," Neville answered for all of them, and Williamson smiled.
"When it's just us, call me Josh, and we'll use first names," he told them. "I'm certainly not going to spend the next three years using that Auror-trainee title for all of you unless it's in an official capacity."
"That works for us, Josh," Ron agreed.
With that, they were dismissed, and Ron led the way to the lifts. They split up again to leave for home when they got outside of the Ministry building, and when Ron and Harry got to the Burrow, Mrs. Weasley warmed up the leftovers from dinner and fed them while she, Mr. Weasley, Hermione, and Ginny sat at the table with them and they all caught up with what had been going on during the day. Once Harry and Ron had finished eating, and they'd cleaned their own dishes, they all went into the sitting room, again listening to the news on the WWN, and talking quietly until they were all ready to go up to bed and get some sleep.
They'd had breakfast first, cleaned up, dressed in their best clothes, and had gathered in the kitchen by nine o'clock. Though the Memorial service wasn't until ten o'clock, there were going to be a lot of Wizards and Witches attending, so they left for Hogwarts early. Ginny side-along apparated with Harry, and they all walked in from the gates to where wide rows of chairs were set up near the lake, and not far from Dumbledore's tomb. There were rows of biers too, and while Harry had known how many had died in the battle, seeing them laid out like this thrust those losses front and center in his mind, and forced him to deal with the pain he'd been pushing to the side now for days.
He turned to Ginny, and she let go of his hand for a moment so she could use both of her hands to brush tears from his face, then put her arms around him and held him close for several minutes in silent comfort. When she let him go again, she wiped the tears from her own face, took his hand again, and they started walking to catch up with the others, who'd gone on ahead of them.
"There's Andromeda and Teddy," Ginny whispered, nodding her head to where Andromeda was sitting in a section that was marked 'Reserved for Family'. She led him over to her, and Andromeda stood up to greet them.
"This is a tough day to be making happy introductions," she said quietly, "but Dora and Remus would be happy that you're finally getting to meet. Harry, this is Teddy Lupin. Teddy, this is your Godfather, Harry Potter." Holding the baby out to him, Andromeda showed him how to hold his Godson properly, and there were more tears running down Harry's face as he held Teddy, and the little boy captured his Godfather's heart in that first few moments.
"It's nice to meet you Teddy," he said quietly. Teddy opened his eyes at the sound of Harry's voice, and smiled toothlessly at him. He couldn't think of anything else to say right then, and just held the baby, gently rocking him. Teddy closed his eyes again. After another five minutes or so, Harry handed Teddy back to Andromeda. There seemed to be so much more that he should say to her, but he just couldn't put what he was feeling into words – nothing that could help her with not only the loss of her daughter and son-in-law, but also a sister who'd been lost irretrievably to the dark.
"I'd like to help out with him any way that I can," he told her, and Andromeda nodded.
"We can talk about that another day," she suggested. "I'll be happy to take all of the help I can get."
She sat back down again, and Ginny led Harry off to where the Weasley family was gathering. Bill, Fleur, Charlie, and George were there now too. They all knew that Percy would be with Minister Shacklebolt, and wouldn't be sitting with them during the service. The seats were filling up quickly, but before Harry and the others could sit down, they had to work through what was almost a gauntlet of Witches and Wizards who mostly wanted to talk with, or even just touch Harry. There were others that they all stopped to say a few words with, like Dennis Creevey and his parents. By the time they were able to sit down, splitting up and sitting in two rows so they could all be a little closer together, there was only about fifteen minutes left until the service would be starting.
Ginny was sitting between Harry and her mother, with Ron and Hermione right behind them, so she and Harry turned in their seats so they could talk quietly with them while they waited for the processional that would include the Ministry officials and the Hogwarts Professors. Harry spotted Neville, who was being kept nearly as busy as Harry had been with people wanting to talk with him as he escorted his Grandmother to another section of seats where it looked like many of the Witches and Wizards who had fought in the battle had gathered.
The processional started at five minutes to ten, and Harry and Ginny both turned around to face the front, and he put his arm around her shoulders as they watched the front rows fill up with Ministry officials on both sides of the aisle, except for the front left row, which was reserved for the Professors. Interim Headmistress McGonagall and Interim Minister Shacklebolt were among the last to take their seats, and then a wizened old Wizard stepped up onto the low platform that had been set up between the rows of chairs and the biers, and standing behind a small podium. What little noise there had been quieted as he cleared his throat, and began to speak.
"Minister of Magic, Ministry officials, Hogwarts Professors, honored guests, family, and friends, we are here today to pay tribute to, and mourn the loss of our loved ones who fought and died in the Battle of Hogwarts." Harry heard soft sobs as the old Wizard paused for just a moment and looked around.
The litany that followed was meant to soothe and comfort the bereaved. Harry wouldn't remember a single word of that message, but the memories of holding Ginny as she cried softly into his shoulder, the shared looks with Ron, Hermione, and Mr. Weasley, and his own mind replaying scenes with Lupin, Tonks, Fred, and Colin would be with him, he was sure, forever.
The old Wizard then slowly read off the names of the fifty-four Wizards and Witches who were laid out on the biers, and by the time Fred's name was spoken, Harry was brushing one hand through Ginny's hair as she clung to him, her soft sobs making her whole body shake. The tears were streaming down his face too, but this time, he was determined to be strong for her, like she'd been for him at the service for Dumbledore.
Reaching the end of the list, the old Wizard stepped aside, and Kingsley Shacklebolt stepped up to the podium. Harry was pretty sure that he'd never seen tears in the eyes of any other Minister of Magic, and the fact that he did now said a lot about the man. He looked out over the large group, making eye contact with some, including Harry, for brief moments before beginning.
"So much has changed for us, and for all of the Wizarding World in just three short days," the Minister said in a clear, soothing voice that still carried so that everyone could hear him clearly. "From a brief moment where all seemed lost, to now, where the joy of victory is tempered by the high price that so many have paid to make that victory possible, it almost feels like having two different lives." He looked around again before continuing.
"While I offer my heartfelt condolences to the families of every Witch and Wizard who lost their lives during this terrible battle, and share my own sorrow with those of you who, like me, have lost dear friends, as we mourn our loved ones, we should also rejoice, for there is also much to be joyful for! We can all be certain that our family and friends are at peace in the light, which is joyous indeed, and as we move forward from here, we should be glad and thankful for the sacrifices that have given us the chance to build a better world for ourselves – one that's filled with the love and light that these heroes would have wanted for us." The Minister paused again for a moment, then wrapped up his speech.
"Today, as many of us go from here to lay our loved ones to rest, be comforted, knowing that we will see them again some day in the light. Do not just mourn what we have lost – take some time to celebrate and share the things that were best about each of them. If we remember them like that, then the love and joy they brought into our lives will never really be gone at all - they will be with us in our hearts and memories, and through each and every way that they touched our lives."
Minister Shacklebolt stepped down and returned to his seat, and the old Wizard returned to the podium, pronouncing a lengthy benediction before leading the recessional back down the aisle. Harry had returned his attention to Ginny as soon as the Minister's speech was over. She'd lifted her head from his shoulder, and he'd been gently wiping the tears from her cheeks. There was only the two of them for a moment, as they shared a silent communication. When that had happened at Dumbledore's funeral, there had been nearly unbearable pain for both of them as they faced being apart, and the likely possibility that they'd never have the chance to be together. This time, it was a shared commitment to each other, a certainty that whatever was in their future, they would face that future together.
Once the Ministry officials and Professors were all on their way, the rest of the Witches and Wizards began to stand and move out. Harry and Ginny stood when her parents did, and when they had room to move, they all stepped into the aisle, moving toward the podium, where they were joined by the rest of their family.
"We're going to the burial service for Remus and Nymphadora from here," Mr. Weasley told them. "After that, we'll meet at the Burrow for lunch, and then we'll have the service for Fred. Molly and I intend to go to the service for Severus, which is at three o'clock, and anyone else who'd like to come along are welcome to join us."
"Do you know when Colin's service will be?" Harry asked him quietly.
Mr. Weasley pulled a sheet of parchment out of his pocket, unfolded it, and scanned it quickly. "Two o'clock," he answered. "You should be able to make that one too if you'd like."
"I'll come with you," Ginny promised, squeezing Harry's hand, and Hermione and Ron both nodded.
"So will we," Hermione added.
With that decided, they all started making their way toward the school gates. The rest of the morning, and nearly all of the afternoon was filled with sorrow and many more tears as they said a final goodbye to Tonks, Remus, Fred, Colin, and then finally, Professor Snape. There were large groups of mourners at each of the first three services, but just a small group there for Professor Snape that included most of the Weasleys, Harry, Hermione, and Professors McGonagall and Slughorn.
When they returned to the Burrow after Professor Snape's service, while Mrs. Weasley, Harry, Hermione, and Fleur started working on cooking dinner, everyone else gathered around the kitchen table, and they all started telling stories about Fred and their friends. That started out quietly, the somber mood continuing, but as they went along, stories were told that brought smiles to their faces, and even some subdued laughs.
They continued to share those memories and stories throughout dinner, and then after the cleanup, it was time for Bill, Fleur, Charlie, Percy, and George to leave for their homes. There was a long round of goodbye hugs, and once they'd gone, Molly and Arthur led their remaining four kids into the sitting room, where they sat and spent another evening in quiet conversation. When Molly and Arthur decided to go up to bed, Ginny took Harry by the hand and led him out of the sitting room too, both of them wanting to let Ron and Hermione have some time alone, since she'd be leaving in the morning for Australia. She shared a long, heart-pounding kiss goodnight with him outside of her bedroom door, and then they both went off to bed, exhausted, emotionally drained, and in need of a good night of sleep.
It had only been three days, Harry thought as his mind drifted on the edge of sleep. Kingsley Shacklebolt had told them that they'd all been given a chance to build a better world for themselves, and he agreed whole-heartedly with the Minister. As he fell into a deep sleep, just as he'd earlier silently committed himself to Ginny, he now resolved that he was going to do everything in his power to help Minister Shacklebolt make that better future a reality.