Disclaimer: I own nothing of the Harry Potter characters.
Playing with Fire
Chapter One: A Broken Promise
Cool and crisp had been the last days of June. Today, unlike the rest, was warm and bright. The florist had promised they would have the best and her boast had not been an empty one.
'Only The Best', had been the theme amongst those that had been fortunate enough to be chosen to provide catering, entertainment and the like, for the wedding of the surviving two thirds of the 'Golden Trio'.
The wedding was to take place at St. Timothy's. Ron had insisted on that. He had wanted to be as close to Harry as he could be that day.
Ron would not have a best man at his side; if he couldn't have Harry, then it would be no one.
The compromise had been St. Timothy's as the chapel was next to Harry's intended gravesite.
Ah well, even the best laid plans go astray where Harry's concerned…
"You two!" Molly Weasley spat in warning, planting her fists on her hips. She was glowering at her twin sons who for all their bluster, quailed under their mother's glare.
"I'll have none of your usual shenanigans today." She warned her troublesome twins.
"Certainly not" Fred scoffed, appearing legitimately offended by her accusation.
Molly eyes softened guiltily until Fred's brother added.
"An event such as this merits our finest work. The "usual shenanigans" would never do for such an auspicious occasion as 'ikkle Ronnekins' wedding to the 'brightest witch of our age'." George chimed in winningly.
Molly's eyes narrowed dangerously as her hand drifted toward her wand. Both twins gulped nervously and took an uncertain step back.
"I'm warning you two…" she ground out between clenched teeth," do not shame your family today with any of your juvenile high jinks."
The twins shared a look of utter contempt.
"What do you take us for, woman?" George scowled.
"Juvenile high jinks, indeed?" his twin scoffed in agreement, voicing his displeasure.
"We've matured you know."
"You can expect nothing but 'adult high jinks' from us." Fred clarified.
Molly's eyes turned to slits as she brought her wand to bear.
The twins bolted, but not fast enough.
Molly caught either Fred, or was it George, with a particularly nasty stinging hex on the bum and a rather inspired shrinking charm on the britches of the other.
Molly pocketed her wand with an appreciative nod at their squealing departure.
"Hermione, please?" her mother begged.
"I won't and that's final." Hermione growled defiantly.
"You promised." Ginny reminded her.
Ginny wore a shimmering pale, yellow gown that accentuated her auburn tresses. She held her soon-to-be, sister in-laws bouquet out of reach, lest the bride shred it in one of her 'all-to-frequently' occurring tirades.
Hermione's gown was a strapless, off white, form fitting number with a modestly plunging neckline that hinted toward an alluring view of her attributes.
Ginny had reassured her that Ron's eyes would never leave hers, but she knew her brother- his eyes would never leave, well-you know.
Hermione's chestnut locks framed her reddening cheeks, falling in ringlets down her shoulders.
Her cheeks were not reddening because she was a 'blushing bride'.
"Hermione …" Her father added darkly from his place at the door.
Hermione's temper diminished at seeing the look of disapproval on her father's face.
"I…I can't.. he broke his promise." she nearly whined.
Jane Granger pursed her lips knowingly. "Did he? Has he done so? Can you be sure?"
She held Hermione's treasured necklace beckoningly toward her daughter.
It was the necklace that Harry had given her. It had been his mother's necklace. It's stones ironically matched Harry's ,Ron's and Hermione's birthstones. He'd bequeathed it to her, his note stating that the stones symbolized his and Ron's love surrounding her, (her stone rested between theirs).
Hermione rolled her eyes. "It's only a matter of time. You heard what the healers said. Harry's never going to get out of that bed. He's never going to wake up. One day he'll just die,… and then this never ending nightmare will finally end." Hermione harrumphed with a hint of despair marring her frustration.
Harry had not died when the healers had canceled the stasis spell that they assumed was the only measure still keeping him alive.
He had yet to emerge from his coma and the experts predicted he never would. Eventually, he would fade and die, or so the experts claimed.
Ron and the rest of the world seemed to believe otherwise.
Twice they had rescheduled their nuptials in the vain hope that Harry would emerge from his coma, that somehow he would cheat death again.
Six months later and nothing… well, not nothing, Harry's immense heart was failing and the stasis field could not be reapplied.
Reluctantly, even Ron agreed that they needed to move on. They should wait no longer on starting their life together.
It was, after all, what Harry would want.
Surprisingly, the press had not vilified them for their decision to proceed with their wedding, sans their 'best man'.
The world had waited with baited breath, but even it had finally accepted the inevitable… the Knight had fallen.
Only the Unspeakables had yet to abandon Harry to the fates.
Minister Bones had sacked the lot of them after they had defied her ministerial decree to return to duty.
It was her last official act as minister. The press had crucified her, apparently having received some anonymous and rather damning evidence implicating her as being responsible for Harry's having resigned his commission as an Unspeakable and abdicated his initial appointment of Knighthood. Sacking his honor guard had been the last straw as far as the Wizarding public was concerned.
Richard Granger stepped further into the room and gently took the subject of debate, (Hermione's necklace), gently from his wife's grasp and moved intently toward his daughter with an impatient sigh.
"No, daddy!" she cringed back from her advancing father.
Richard Granger continued toward her undaunted by his daughter's warning.
"I don't know about this, "Merlin", you magic folk are always swearing by, but I do know this.." his voice turned hard and his face darkened reprovingly as he advanced on his daughter. " that man would move heaven and earth for you. If there's a way, any way, he'll find it. He promised that he would sing for you at your wedding if you would honor him by wearing this necklace. He has yet to break that promise, are you going to dishonor him by breaking yours?"
Hermione's eyes went wide in shock before lowering dejectedly to the floor.
Her father was right. She once swore she'd never doubt him again, that was after the first time he had cheated death.
"I-It just seems so hopeless." she sniffled, turning and lifting her hair out of the way in defeat.
"If you can't believe in him this last time, then wear it out of respect for the dead."
Her father gently placed her treasure around her throat and closed the clasp.
A warmth spread throughout her body the moment the necklace had touched her bare skin. It reminded her of the feeling one got at returning home after a long journey.
Hermione's hand drifted to the pendent… Find a way, Harry. She begged silently
"You could be there you know? You have but to wish it so and you will return to the mortal plane." a disembodied voice chided gently.
Six months Harry had stood, caught between this world and the next. Neither paradise nor perdition showed the slightest interest in claiming his spirit. Many were the times he'd cried out to his lost loved ones, but none answered, none at all,... save one unwanted shade.
"She's wearing the necklace." Harry observed contently. "With it in place, then I've kept my promise." he added in resolution.
"What of your promises to yourself?"
Harry pulled an innocent expression.
"Deny it if you will, but, you forget; I've been in your mind many times, regrettably so, and I know of what I speak."
"Don't you have someone else you can haunt? Surely Hell's missing you by now? I wouldn't want to keep you from obtaining your well deserved reward." Harry returned pointedly.
"I deserve that." Tom Marvollo Riddle agreed without the slightest hint of denial.
"I deserve all the torments that Hell has to offer, and more, for the folly I played in life. My tormentor's await. I do not pretend to be eager to return to their ministrations, but even one such as I, knows it will bring some small comfort -making this small retribution. The hour is nigh, Harry Potter. If you are to return it must be now." Voldemort's shade pleaded with him as it had done since shortly after he'd arrived.
Harry stood at the brink of death, as he had for the past sixth months, watching, hoping that his friends would move on. It was this final concession that he had waited for. He felt he could now be at peace.
"Hermione is wearing the necklace. Her and Ron's wedding has commenced.. I am content. Let there be an end to it." Harry said with conviction.
Harry spun around at those words, immediately recognizing the voice, though he had not heard it timbre in twenty-one years. He'd waited so long to hear her voice, denied enen this small comfort until now.
"Mum?" Harry called out hopefully into the nether.
"Do this now and I shall never forgive you." a disembodied voice echoed back with dread conviction.
"Mum,.. I,… please, mum? I want to come home." Harry pleaded. His mind struggling to understand the rejection of the person he'd most wanted to rejoin.
"This is not your home. You have no place here. You are not wanted here."
"Mum?" Harry gasped in shock at his mother's reproof.
"You have not found your place, Harry. You have not found your heart. Until you do,.. You will not be welcome here." His mother's disembodied voice returned reproachfully. Her voice echoed her disappointment in him.
Harry staggered back as if struck a mortal blow. In truth he hadn't known what to expect in death,… but this?
His eyes shifted pensively to Voldemort's diminishing shade. "What happens to me if I choose to remain?"
"Hell hath no dominion over you, Harry Potter, but neither does Heaven except you. You shall be doomed to wander." Voldemort returned dispassionately
A ghost?" Harry questioned.
"A shade,… exiled to wander purgatory for all eternity. The gates of paradise shall beckon, but never open to accept you, while the torments of hell shall forever strive to garner your attention."
"If I return?" Harry asked in a trembling whisper.
"The future is not written in stone, Harry Potter. None but you and the mind of the Father of all magic can say what your future holds. Let me say but this last…Neither can live whilst the other survives." Voldemort recited from the passages of the original prophesy, before advising. "You survived, Harry Potter, now live."
Harry cast a last glance in the direction that his mother's voice had come from- nothing but silent stars answered his unspoken wish for some small comfort.
He nodded his head dejectedly. "All right. I'll return."
"So be it." Voldemort's shade accepted readily.
A mere blink of the eye later and Harry awoke gasping in his hospital bed.
Voldemort's glowing red eyes turned longingly toward twilight gates that reviled his very existence.
A green eyed, young woman shimmered into being next to his disembodied existence.
"Do you expect forgiveness?" Lily Potter asked her murderer.
"No. One act of kindness cannot outweigh an entire life of sin."
"Gratitude then?" Lily questioned scornfully. "Had he chosen to stay, he would have been welcome with open arms." she clarified.
Voldemort's eyes nodded his understanding. "My lie is but one more that my tormentors will punish me for, but I shall relish it as they do so. His return to the world is its own reward. I am content with the knowledge that I have at least redeemed myself in this small measure to my fellow man."
"I know the regrets in your heart, Tom. You wore them around yourself while you lived and let them increase your torment a thousand fold in death. I cannot forgive you for the part you played in my son's life, but I do forgive you for the taking of my life. For his return and what it means to the world and to my family,.. I thank you on our behalf."
Voldemort's glowing red eyes diminished until they held but the slightest, murky hint of their once blue color.
"Thank you, Lily Pot-terrrr…" His voice faded into the nether as he returned to his former torment.
Lilly Potter turned away with a sob.
James and Sirius would readily console and reassure her for the part she played in deceiving Harry. It was their idea that she spurn him,.. turn him away. Even Dumbledore had argued that it was possibly the one thing that would force Harry to return to mortal Earth.
None of them are going to believe that it was a lie on the part of Tom Marvollo Riddle that had sealed the deal.
She shook her head in the irony of it as she returned to her waiting loved ones.
"I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may kiss your bride." Father Quincy directed with a warm smile.
Ron and Hermione shared their first exuberant kiss as husband and wife will their family and friends broke into cheers and applause, welcoming the new couple.
The applause finally died down and the happy couple waited expectantly for the church organ to play the recessional music they'd selected for their celebratory march into married life.
A gentle breeze stirred through the gathering, filling each person with a sense of impending wonder as magic filled the air, raising gooseflesh in its passing.
Excited murmuring drifted thru the wedding guests, as a faint echo of phoenix song danced thru the air.
Something,.. Something inspirational was about to occur...
Hermione could feel her pendent pulse faintly as if it were coming to life. A soft orchestra picked up the rhythmic beating of her pendent,… Harry's voice rose from the nether to sing softly around them.
Harry always kept his promises.
"No more talk of darkness… Forget your wide eyed fears
I'm here, nothing will harm you… My words will warm and calm you.
Let me guard your freedom… Let daylight dry your tears
I'm here, with you beside you… To guard you and to guide you.
I shall love you every waking moment…Feel me in a breeze of summertime
I am part of you -for now.. and always… I promise you that all I say is true.
Remember me,.. That's all I ask of you."
*From Phantom of the Opera*
"Let me be your shelter… let me be your light
You're safe; no one will find you… Your fears are far behind you
All I want is freedom,… a world with no more night
I'm here, always beside you… to hold you and to hide you
You two will share from now… One love -One lifetime
My voice will lead you from your solitude
Say you'll share each day- each one beside you
Anywhere,.. You go,… my- love- goes- too
Remember me, that's all.. I.. ask.. of.. Youuuu"
Ron held Hermione throughout Harry's song. They shared tears and gentle touches, relishing each and every word of what they believed were Harry's last gift to them.
On cue with Harry's voice fading on the last note, bells began to chime across England.
Ron and Hermione used the crowd's awed distraction to share a private, tender kiss before starting down the aisle on their new life… together.
Hours later they shared their first dance as husband and wife. Surprisingly, Hermione had decided it was a perfect celebration. Her hand drifted often toward her glittering necklace. Her mind still held the notes of Harry's wedding gift to her and Ron. She knew it was something she would never forget, especially since she could hear Harry's voice singing softly within her mind whenever her hand made even the slightest contact with her treasured pendent.
He was with them today. He had found a way. He'd kept his promise just as he always did.
Hermione considered herself the luckiest witch alive. The man of her dreams was dancing in her arms and the love of her most treasured friend was in her heart.
"Where are you?" Ron asked gently as they glided along the dance floor. He wore a faint grin on his face as he wondered at her carefree expression.
"I'm in your arms,… where I belong." She answered with passionate conviction.
Ron's eyes fixed on hers before their lips found each other.
Their smoldering kiss earned them both cheers and many cat calls of appreciation from their many celebrants.
"I need to check on Mr. Potter." the evening nurse prompted nervously as she approached the guard in front of Harry's door.
Draco's sharp eyes scanned her curiously. "I-It's just a routine check?" The young witch stammered in reassurance.
"Jeffries" Draco nodded across the hall to one of his subordinates. The young wizard stepped forward and saluted with a fist across his heart,"Sir?"
"Mind the door whilst I accompany the nurse." Draco appreciated the man's disappointed expression, none of his juniors had been privileged to be in the room with Harry whist he lie in his coma. If Draco and Commander Hoag had anything to say about it,.. they never would.
Harry still wore the gaping wounds from his battle. All still on vivid display for the world to see. The Unspeakables would preserve his dignity, even from their own. One daring young photographer had managed to enter Harry's room, pretending to be a substitute healer.
He'd been found out, of course. Not a single snapshot had been recorded before his camera was accidentally destroyed. Commander Hoag himself, had turned the young wizard over his knee and brought the flat of his sword against the young fool's backside-many, many times.
Since that day, neither the commander nor Draco chanced Harry's personal safety to anyone but themselves. One or both would always remain in attendance if ancillary staff were checking Harry's condition.
The interim minister, Arthur Weasley, (Amelia Bones's replacement after she was sacked), had personally apologized for the folly of Amelia Bone's having relinquished the Unspeakables of their duty. He had, of course, returned them all to active duty and assured them that any and all who wished to continue guarding the Knight's comatose form, could do so with full pay and the Ministry's blessing for their noble service.
Not a one had left their post. Each maintained a twelve hour on/twelve hour off watch, day in and day out. Week after endless week they stood watch, not a single one voiced the slightest complaint.
They were proud, very proud. To them it was not a burden, but a privilege.
Draco motioned the nurse to enter the room before him. He stood behind where he could keep a watchful eye for any duplicity on her part. The door of Harry's room had just closed behind them when the nurse twisted toward Draco and gasped.."Wha..?"
The question never left her lips as the brown beam of what Draco recognized as a silent Obliviation spell struck her in the forehead and the women went slack with a blank expression on her face.
Barely a fraction of a second had passed, the spell had just struck the nurse as Draco pivoted on his back foot and his left hand shot to the hilt of his sword, his wand already coming to bear as he turned.
He'd barely mouthed the beginnings of a stunning curse or pulled a few inches of steel free from its scabbard when a vice like grip locked on both of his wrists with crushing force, halting the draw of his sword.
"Hold, Draco." A familiar voice rasped out from a throat unused to speaking.
Draco faltered in his efforts, shocked in recognition of the voice, though it was dry and raspy from lack of use.
His eyes wide in stunned disbelief as he gapped, "H-Harry?"
Harry Potter nodded his head in acknowledgement and released Draco's wrists from his vise like hold.
Draco continued gapping at the naked man standing before him. The wounds that marred his flesh were healed with only a few fresh scars to add to the rest. He looked as powerfully fit and vital as the night he'd strode out to battle the gargoyle queen, naked and unashamed he went, radiating strength and confidence.
"Harry!" Draco exclaimed excitedly, breaking out of his shock and grasping Harry by his forearms as if to make sure that he was real.
Harry nodded again. "I-I need your help." Harry rasped out from his disused throat.
"Anything." Draco returned without hesitation, before catching himself and dropping respectfully to one knee.
"My apologies, Lord Knight. Of course, my sword and my service are yours to command." he vowed formally.
Harry raised an ironic eyebrow.. Draco Malfoy kneeling to me?
If it wasn't for the memory of Voldemort's shade haunting his memory, he'd say that hell had frozen over.
"I am pleased to accept your service, Lieutenant Malfoy." Harry acknowledged his offer appreciatively, adding with a chuckle. "Take off your pants."
Draco's face paled, his eyebrows shot up to his hairline and his jaw fell in utter dread.
Harry roared in laughter at his expression. "I haven't been dead that long, Draco. Merlin, the look on your face was worth six months in a hospital bed." he guffawed.
Harry sobered after a few moments and gestured toward Draco's bottom. I'm waiting, lieutenant,.. the pants? "
Two hours later-
After an exuberant reunion with his diminutive family of elves, Harry stood stoically before a new cast tombstone that was placed beside his beloved Hedwig's.
He was dressed immaculately in a night dark suit with dark green dress shirt and black dragon hide boots polished to a high sheen. He'd decided to forgo the tie.
"I'm s-sorry, Shadow." Harry choked out, brushing tears from his eyes with the back of his hand.
The tombstone read:
Harry conjured a beautiful bouquet of white roses and placed them reverently before the gravesite, murmuring. "My beautiful girl. My Own"
He conjured an equal amount of deep red roses and placed them before Hedwig's grave. "Look after her, Hedwig. Look after each other."
Harry checked his watch, it was half past eight, Ron and Hermione's reception would be well underway. He still didn't know if he should make an impromptu visit or not. He knew everyone would be as glad to see him as he would them in return, but,.. this was his friend's special day; somehow it didn't feel right disrupting their celebration.
The only reason, (well not the only reason, if he was truthful with himself), he considered going in the first place was to prevent ruining Hermione's honeymoon. Draco wearing glamour would only fool a casual observer. Once a medi-wizard scanned Draco's form and realized that Harry Potter was not the person lying in his bed-word would spread like wild fire!
Ron and Hermione would no doubt insist on returning home to see him for themselves, Honeymoon or no.
Why does everything always have to be so damn complicated? He groused silently.
My whole life is 'damned if I do-damned if I don't'. One minute the hero, the next Voldemort's apprentice.
Voldemort! That had been a corker. It wasn't bad enough having that madmen running around in my life and in my head the first six years I spent in the wizarding world, but what did I do to deserve to have to listen to his shade drone on and on over the last six months?
Of all things- having Riddle lecture me about my responsibility to my fellow man-Sheeesh!
Take up the sword and my life is one endless conflict, don't… and I'm neglecting my duty to my fellow man. Maybe I could just continue with quidditch and music? I could donate all proceeds to charity. A lot of good can be done with that sort of money.
No. Who am I kidding? There'll always be another Dark Lord. Another damn prophesy. The 'boy who lived' will be expected to do his part. Even if I could ignore the public's expectations, could I really live with myself if I didn't do my bit?
Bloody nobility complex! He scathed silently to himself.
Harry checked his watch absently- half past nine? Have I really wasted an entire hour sitting here lamenting my lot?
Harry apparated to Godric's Hollow, choosing to forgo lightning travel. Draco's ruse had bought him a few precious hours of anonymity. Why take the chance that someone might pick up on my signature mode of travel?
He opened the cemetery gate at St. Timothy's and walked at an unhurried pace toward his parent's gravesite. He'd half expected to see his own tombstone next to theirs. Even though he'd been walking the land of the living for the last many hours, it still seemed so surreal.
Harry conjured three white roses placing one each on his parent's and Sirius's graves.
"Don't get the wrong idea." He said coolly. "I'm only doing this out of respect. I don't know what the rules are in the afterlife, but it was damn cold to leave me standing at the gates for the last six months without so much as a kind word. And who's bloody idea was it to sick Voldemort's ghost on me? That was a real pisser!"
Harry kicked a lose clump of sod at Sirius's headstone. "Don't think I don't suspect that you had a hand it that too, Padfoot." he spat contemptuously at his godfather's grave.
Harry turned his attention on his parent's tombstone, centering his attention on his mother.
"If you could finally speak to me today, or at me to be more precise, then you probably could have said something sooner, mum? You too, dad?" Harry paused, he didn't really want to say anything to his parents that he might regret, whether they could hear him or not. He suspected the former was true though.
"I-I never was afraid to die, till now." he vented his frustration. "I mean,… I always thought that at least we could all be together again, but seriously, Voldemort? Come on! What happens next time, huh? Exploding snap with Snape, or maybe,.. I know… How about Gob Stones with the gargoyle queen?" Harry complained uselessly.
He ran his fingers thru his black hair, brushing irritably over his lightning bolt curse scar that had been thoughtfully restored.
That was another kick in the pants. Heal my wounds, but in addition to all the rest, give me back that ugly damn trademark 'BOY WHO LIVED' Lightning Bolt Scar? As if I can really get away with hiding from the public eye as it is?
"I suppose I have Dumbledore to thank for giving me back the infamous scar?" he sneered bitterly. "Thanks so much, professor."
Harry paced back and forth in front of the gravesite. He was winding himself up, but right now he was just too frustrated to care.
After several minutes and another impatient glance at his watch, he spoke again to his family's silent graves. Mulling over his mother's disembodied final words before he'd returned to the mortal plane.
"Look,.. It's not that I'm not grateful for all you sacrificed for me, but,.. I don't know, Find my place- Find my heart,… what's that supposed to mean? Can't anyone just come right out with some good solid advice? Why does everything always have to be in riddles?" He tossed up his hands impatiently.
A glance at his watch: eleven o'clock. The reception would be winding down soon. If he was going to go and allay everyone's fears and curiosities, it had better be now.
He turned back to his family's graves. "Look,.. I know I'm young. I know that in time I'll figure out my place, though I'm not sure about my heart. I mean,.. I think I do, but something always seems to get in the way? I-I have to go. Mum, I can understand most of what you said, but ,.. I don't understand you saying that 'I'm not wanted'. If… if things we're reversed, I'd like to think that I wouldn't have turned you away,… at least not without seeing you first and helping you to understand? That wasn't fair, mum."
Harry turned his gaze on his father's headstone." Just so we're clear, dad,… I don't think it's very sporting that you hid behind mum's skirts and let her play the 'bad guy' either. That goes for Sirius too. Don't think I don't see some of Dumble's handiwork in all of this too. He's still a manipulative git. Voldemort… of all things?" Harry groused
Harry paused to place a kiss from his hand to all of their head stones before hurrying out of the cemetery.
He had a wedding to crash.