A/N: Thank you so much to my betas StephanieO and seekers_destiny for all of their hard work - esp for all of Steph's hard work on my comma issues.
November 3 – 9, 1997
Minerva entered the kitchen at Grimmauld Place and sank down at the large wooden table. This was the first time she'd been alone for the past two days. Tears welled up in her eyes as she thought of Albus Dumbledore.
He might have been a little too secretive and a little too certain he was always right, but he'd been her friend and mentor for over forty years and she was going to miss him dearly. The scenes from the Ministry replayed in her head once again as they had been almost constantly since it happened.
Voldemort came to the Ministry himself to free his newest followers. Between Voldemort, Bellatrix Lestrange, and a rather formidable fighter who Minerva thought was probably Lucius Malfoy, the damages and casualties had been high. For some reason the students and Snape had all been placed in the same cell and they appeared to have been waiting to be rescued.
Voldemort himself blasted through the shields of the holding cells and the Death Eaters simply used Portkeys to help the students escape. Just before he left, she'd observed Snape watching Dumbledore with a curious expression on his face. She wished she knew what he was thinking. She and Snape had always had a slightly adversarial relationship and his past had been concerning, but she trusted Dumbledore. Had he ever been on their side? Or had he managed to fool one of the greatest wizards in the world?
Of course Albus hadn't hesitated to engage Voldemort in a duel. Watching the two of them fight was both thrilling and terrifying. She was shocked to discover that Voldemort was still seeking Harry's location. Albus didn't tell him anything, of course, but it was shocking to discover the monster was still after Harry.
The two were evenly matched, but Voldemort did not fight fairly. Minerva wasn't entirely certain what happened; perhaps Voldemort thought he would not win, but whatever the reason Voldemort started firing Killing Curses into the group of people defending the Ministry.
When Voldemort targeted Madam Bones, Dumbledore managed to divert the Killing Curse and drove the attackers out of the congested area around the holding cells. Voldemort and his people headed for the atrium. Minerva wasn't sure why they didn't Portkey out, she was uncertain if Portkeys had been blocked by that time or if they had used all the Portkeys in the rescue, but whatever the reason they didn't use any.
Voldemort continued to attack and harass those defending the Ministry and even some of those hiding. Minerva was forced to watch in horror as Voldemort sent a Killing Curse towards a group of children who were visiting the Ministry that day. The children and their guide huddled near the fountain and Minerva could see the bravery of the guide trying to shield the children.
Dumbledore was already shielding several groups and when Voldemort targeted the children, Dumbledore threw himself into the path of the spell. As the great wizard fell, the atrium seemed unnaturally quiet. All other fighting ceased as they watched him fall, some watched in horror while others watched with undisguised glee. It seemed to take an unnaturally long time for him to fall, but when he landed on the ground everyone stared for a long minute. Minerva irrationally expected him to jump up, but of course he did not.
Voldemort threw back his head in laughter. Looking around the atrium, he chortled, "There lies your great defender. He is nothing more than another one of Lord Voldemort's victims!"
No one made a move to stop him as he and his entourage swept into the Floos. Minerva was not entirely certain how it happened, but one moment she was looking at him across the room and the next she was kneeling next to his body.
A sound recalled Minerva to her present surrounding. She hurried to the bathroom and washed her face and made herself more presentable. By the time she returned to the kitchen, several other Order members had arrived.
Minerva solemnly greeted everyone, grateful to Molly Weasley who had once again brought refreshments for the group. Since Dobby left, the Order's headquarters had fallen into a bit of a state of disrepair. Looking around the room, Minerva realized that almost everyone was present.
Turning to Kingsley she asked, "Do you have anything to share?"
Kingsley nodded. "We suspect that Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, and Parkinson were all in on the rescue of their children. Bellatrix was definitely there as was one of the Carrows, the brother, I think. Bellatrix was not masked and of course Voldemort himself led the raid. Scrimgeour has been in meetings with Department heads most of the past two days. He believes that Voldemort overextended himself this time. Yaxley, who was his eyes and ears at the Ministry, was killed in the assault. Many of the old Pureblood families who may have looked the other way were horrified at the carnage at the Ministry. Most of Voldemort's staunchest supporters had children involved in the attacks on Godric's Hollow and they've been afraid to show their faces at the Ministry."
Looking at Minerva he said, "Scrimgeour called an emergency session of the Wizengamot last night. Amelia Bones has been elected Chief Sorceress of the Wizengamot. She was able to pass an emergency decree absolving Harry and Ginny Potter of any responsibility to report to the Wizengamot. They are free to return home."
Ron watched as his parents followed by Bill and Fleur and the twins, filed into a row towards the front of the space that had been set aside for Professor Dumbledore's funeral. He was still in shock that Dumbledore had been killed. What were they going to do now?
He'd always assumed that it was going to be Dumbledore who brought down You-Know-Who. It only made sense, the worst Dark Wizard in centuries and the most powerful wizard in the world. If not Dumbledore, who? The press, especially Rita Skeeter, had been banging on all week about Harry. It seems the Ministry had decided that Harry was not only not a deranged murderer, but he was also somehow the 'Chosen One' who would defeat You-Know-Who and save them all. The good news was Harry and Ginny were free to return home, but no one had heard from them since the attack on Godric's Hollow.
That was another thing Ron was having trouble wrapping his head around. Draco and his pals had actually taken the Dark Mark and attacked Godric's Hollow. The day after the attack, the papers had been full of details. The number of deaths had grown to seven as two of the townspeople succumbed to their injuries. The fact that men, women, and children had been attacked was shocking. Godric's Hollow was one of the oldest and most well-known towns that housed both wizarding and Muggle families. The fact that the attack had taken place there was seen as an affront to proper wizards everywhere and even those who normally supported Voldemort, or at least looked the other way, were after the Ministry to do something.
Hermione sniffed causing Ron to look over at her. His heart turned over when he saw the tears streaming down her face. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out his handkerchief and handed it to her. She smiled and he gingerly put his arm around her shoulders. When she leaned him, he wished more than anything that he could dry her tears.
"It's so hard to believe," she whispered as everyone took their seats.
"I know," Ron replied. "My whole life he's been there as…a force between us and the dark wizards in the world. What are we going to do now?"
"I don't know," Hermione said softly.
They fell silent as the service started. It was a beautiful service that honoured Albus Dumbledore's life and his service to the wizarding world. Most of the students and professors were crying, while several of the Ministry personnel looked as though they wished they were anywhere but there. Minister Scrimgeour and Madam Bones, however, both looked upset through the service.
Ron listened to various people wax poetic about Professor Dumbledore. They praised his bravery in defeating Grindelwald and his wisdom in leading Hogwarts. Ron wondered if they actually knew the man at all. Not that Ron felt he knew Professor Dumbledore, but somehow he felt that most of the people speaking had simply read off the headmaster's chocolate frog card. He wondered what Harry thought about what had happened. Surely Harry must know, right? Why wasn't he here?
At the end of the service, Ron and Hermione approached his parents. As he hugged his parents and brothers, he was surprised at how subdued they all were.
"Have you heard from Ginny?" he quietly asked his father.
Mr Weasley shook his head. "We haven't. Your mother is quite upset. She was sure that Ginny would contact us as soon as it was announced."
"Do you know what's going to happen with Hogwarts?" Hermione asked in a low tone. "There have been all sorts of rumours flying around that the school will be closed."
"No, they are not planning to close the school," Mr Weasley asserted. "Minister Scrimgeour was quite clear on that fact. Professor McGonagall will take over as Interim Headmistress and she is spending this week interviewing for new Transfiguration and Potions Professors. I understand that she is keeping the school open for the week and will resume classes next week."
Looking at his son he asked, "Would you like to come home? You can come home for the rest of the week and return when classes resume."
After exchanging a look with Hermione, Ron said, "I want to stay here and offer my support to Professor McGonagall. I'm Head Boy and it wouldn't look right if I went home."
Arthur nodded proudly at his son. "Very well, I think that is an excellent idea. Minerva will be glad of the support." Leaning in he hugged his son and said, "I am very proud of you, son."
Ron could feel his ears turning red, but he smiled at his father. "Thank you, Dad."
The Weasleys and Hermione turned and headed towards the castle where refreshments were being served in the Great Hall. They never noticed the three people who approached the white marble monument from the other side.
Harry rested his hand on the cool marble. He still couldn't believe Dumbledore had been killed. No matter his issues with the headmaster, he'd really thought that Dumbledore would be around to help him through his upcoming fight with Voldemort.
A smaller hand slid into his and he turned to look at his wife. Even with the glamour charms she'd used, he could see her concern shining through her now blue eyes.
"Are you okay, love?"
He shrugged. "Honestly, I'm not sure. I've been so angry with him for so long. Did I make a mistake in not coming and talking to him? What if he had something important to tell me?"
"Harry, you can't tear yourself up about this," Sirius said gently. "I'm the one who insisted you have nothing to do with him. If you're going to be mad at anyone, you should be mad at me."
Harry shook his head. "No, Dad. It's not your fault. You were looking out for me. You're the only one besides Ginny who's ever done that for me." He sighed. "I'm sorry I was never able to make peace with the old man and I wish I knew what he knew, but I think we did what was right."
Leaning up Ginny kissed him on the cheek. "I'm sorry, baby."
"Let's go home, son." Sirius said as he wrapped his arm around Harry's shoulder. "We'll come back later in the week to talk to McGonagall." He glanced at his daughter-in-law. "Unless you want to talk to your parents, we could stay if you want to talk to them."
Ginny shook her head. "No, now isn't the right time."
Harry watched the children laughing in the snow. The Cambridge area had been unexpectedly blanketed in several inches of snow to the dismay of the adults and the delight of the children in the area.
A snowball slammed into the back of his head. He turned and saw his wife laughing at him. Scooping up a handful of snow he tossed a snowball back at her. With that the game was started and after pelting each other with snowballs, Harry finally called a truce when water was dripping down his jacket.
"So you are surrendering, Potter?"
"To you, every time," Harry laughed as he leaned over and kissed her. Laughing, Ginny briefly deepened the kiss before pulling back and settling into his arms.
He smiled down at her. "I always love the first snow of the year. It always seems so magical. You wake up and everything is blanketed in white."
Hooking her arm into his, they started slowly walking home. She said, "I know. I always loved waking up to a snow covered morning. Mind you, I hated running across the cold floor to get to the bathroom or down the stairs to the kitchen. Sometimes if we were lucky my dad or Bill would cast warming spells on the bathroom floor so we wouldn't freeze getting out of the shower. My mum always made sure we had buckets of hot cocoa ready. She kept a pot of it on stove and she would put warming spells on our cloaks and clothes before we went out. It was funny, she'd wait until we were ready to put our boots on and she'd put warming spells on our socks."
"That sounds nice," Harry said with a smile. "When I was little I hated cold days because there wasn't really much heat in my cupboard and of course my lovely relatives didn't let me have a blanket. As soon as they deemed me old enough I would have to shovel the walk and scrape the snow and ice off my uncle's car. I hated that because I was wearing one of Dudley's old jackets and of course it was way too big for me and I was always cold. I loved when I started at Hogwarts and the elves would heat the sheets before bedtime. It was like a miracle."
Glancing over at her husband, she was glad to see a small smile on his face. It always tore her up to hear such casual cruelness directed at him. Would it really have hurt his relatives to buy him a jacket? Her parents had always been short of money, but they would never think of making their children be cold.
"I'll have to make sure Dobby warms our sheets tonight," she said brightly. Sending a teasing look up at him she added, "I'll keep you warm and he'll warm the sheets."
"I'll take you up on that," he murmured squeezing her tightly. "Look," he gestured to a little girl attempting to make a snowman. "She's cute."
"She is," Ginny agreed. They watched her for a minute for before Ginny called out, "Do you need help?"
The little girl looked over at them and nodded. "I can't get the snow to stick together good."
Smiling Ginny kneeled down next to her. "I'm really good at getting the snow to stick together."
Together Harry and Ginny helped the little girl roll a big enough ball to make the bottom of the snowman. Paige, the little girl, was thrilled with the help.
"My brother is really mean," Paige confided. "He won't help me. He always says that I'm too little to play with."
"I completely understand," Ginny said with a smile. "I had six older brothers who all said I was too little to play with them."
"Six?" Paige seemed impressed.
"Yeah, but she's tougher than all of them," Harry laughed.
Together the three of them managed to create a decent sized snowman and Paige was thrilled. She gave both of them hugs and even though Harry was a boy, she decided that he was nice.
"That was fun," Harry said as they walked home. "I always wanted to make snowmen, but Dudley would never let me. He'd knock everything down."
"I hate your relatives," Ginny said.
He grinned at her. "It doesn't upset me anymore." He leaned over and kissed her on top of the head. "You have more than made up for everything. I can't wait until we have kids."
"Not that I want it to be anytime soon," he hastened to add. "We have lots of things to do before that happens, but when it does…I think it will be wonderful."
"I think so too," she said with a smile. "I was talking to one of the women at the gym and she was telling me how she and her husband aren't sure they want kids and if they do they only want one."
"I know I think it would be horrible not to have any siblings," Ginny agreed. "As much as I complain about my brothers they were fun and someone to play with and teach me. I always felt a bit bad for Hermione. I wondered if that's why she had problems making friends – she wasn't used to talking to other kids."
"I'd never thought of it that way," Harry said.
"The first summer she spent at the Burrow I think we overwhelmed her," Ginny said with a smile. "It was the summer before the Quidditch Cup so all of the boys were home and she made a few comments about the noise. I didn't even notice, I was just used to it, but she was a bit uncomfortable I think. I'm fairly certain that sharing a bathroom with all my brothers was very traumatising for her, but of course she would never mention that."
"Hermione was uncomfortable at the quiet, boring, staid Weasleys' house?" Harry asked teasingly. "I can't imagine that."
Ginny giggled. "I guess we are a bit overwhelming. Fleur mentioned that as well."
"I'm sure Fleur grew up in a beautiful and well maintained household," Harry said with a smile.
"I'm certain of that," Ginny laughed. "I'm sure it wouldn't dare be any other way."
"I like our house better," Harry said. He grabbed her arm as she slid on the ice. Carefully, he hooked her hand into the crook of his arm. She smiled up at him.
"Thank you, love," she smiled up at him. "I like our house too. As much as I hate the circumstances, I like us being on our own – well with your dad. He's so much cooler about everything that my parents would be." She blushed. "I can't imagine my dad just teasing me that I need to learn better silencing charms."
Harry blushed as well, but grinned at her. "I can't either."
"I was always afraid that my mum would try to…take over my house once I'd moved out. She has such a strong personality and has very strong opinions on how a household should be run. I'm sure she wouldn't like that we rely on Dobby so much. She's always a big proponent of doing everything yourself."
"I'm sure Hermione would have something to say about it too," Harry commented, "but it works for us. We're still in school and learning. Besides you work with Dobby and develop the menus and help with shopping and stuff. I think you are a perfect wife."
Ginny beamed up at him. "Thank you, love."
She pulled him down into a kiss that probably would have gotten more involved if it weren't for the giggling behind them. Opening her eyes Ginny spotted two little girls watching them and giggling. Winking at them she and Harry started walking home.
Harry opened the door to their house and as he entered he shook the snow off his hair. Ginny, who'd been right behind him, smacked him on the arm after she was sprayed with flying snow.
"I don't think the Muggles are too happy," Sirius commented as he looked up from the paper he was reading. "This poor man is going crazy trying to explain why it is snowing in November. There are all sorts of interesting diagrams and talk of currents. I don't understand any of it, but I think the poor man is just writing anything he can think of to explain the weather."
Ginny laughed as she hung her coat and other outerwear on the coat tree Dobby had set up near the door. "Do you think I should write a letter to the paper? 'Dear Sir, It's really simple. The Dementors are having their babies and causing all sorts of weather problems. Please stay indoors until the wizarding world can sort them out.'"
Harry joined in her laughter. "Somehow I don't think they'd print that letter."
As the Potters joined Sirius at the table, Dobby approached them with a pot of hot chocolate and some freshly baked scones with clotted cream and jam.
"Thank you, Dobby," Ginny said as she warmed her hands by picking up the warm mug of cocoa. "This all looks wonderful."
"Thank you, Mistress," Dobby replied before disappearing into the kitchen.
"I've heard from Minerva," Sirius told them. "She's been rather busy interviewing new professors. She invited us to the castle tomorrow. The castle is rather empty at the moment and will be over the weekend. The Hogwarts Express won't return with the rest of the students until Tuesday."
"That sounds good," Harry said. "Will we be able to search the Room of Hidden Things?"
"I believe so," Sirius said. "Minerva wants to talk to the two of you. I expect she will ask you to return to school."
Harry looked over at Ginny. They'd talked over their options and both agreed on what they wanted to do. He shook his head. "No, we don't want to go back. I appreciate the offer and I'm glad she trusts us, but I don't feel like a student anymore and I can't imagine sitting in class and writing essays with everything going on. I want to find the Diadem and go after Voldemort."
"Only after he's dead can we really begin to live our lives," Ginny agreed.
Sirius smiled at his son and daughter-in-law. "I'm glad you feel that way. I don't really trust the Ministry to keep their word. I think the only reason Scrimgeour was able to get that order passed was that everyone was so distracted by the attack and the fall out. They'll be watching him much more closely now. I'll let Minerva know she can expect us on Friday."
Harry, Ginny, and Sirius Apparated into Hogsmeade onto the grounds of the Shrieking Shack. Ginny shivered slightly at the biting wind and tightened her cloak around her. It was a cool, overcast morning, but at least it wasn't snowing.
She reached out for Harry's gloved hand and he squeezed it tightly. Today they weren't using any glamour charms or Muggle disguises, so she was a little nervous. Sirius put a hand on each of their shoulders. "Are you two ready to head up to the castle?"
Looking around Harry nodded. "Yes, I don't like to be out in public like this. I don't exactly trust this 'freedom' we've been given. I'm sure at the first hint of anything they'll revoke our freedom and we'll be wanted again."
"I don't blame you," Sirius said as they headed towards High Street. "I still get nervous in a wizarding crowd. There are people who think I bribed my way to freedom or that I performed some type of dark magic to gain my freedom. I've had people tell me they were keeping an eye on me or they don't care what the Ministry said about me, they knew I was bad news."
"Stupid sheep," Harry muttered.
Sirius laughed and gave Harry a one armed hug. "It's okay, kiddo. I've long given up understanding people."
As they started towards the castle, Ginny tugged at Harry's hand. "Can we make a stop?"
Harry looked down at her. It took a minute, before understanding flooded his face. "Sure, sweetie. That's a good idea."
It was a quiet weekday morning and there weren't many people out and about. As they walked down High Street shop clerks were seen in the front windows putting up Christmas displays.
"I can't believe it's almost Christmas," Harry said as they passed a colourful Christmas display in the windows of Honeydukes. He smiled at Ginny. "It will be our first official Christmas together."
"I know," Ginny said with a smile as she lightly hip checked him.
The front window at Gladrags was still being decorated. A younger witch who looked only a few years out of Hogwarts was setting up a display of colourful jumpers and a rather expensive looking dress.
As Harry pushed open the door, a bell sounded. Sarah looked up from the counter and her eyes lit up when she saw the three of them. "Harry, Ginny!"
Hurrying out from behind the counter, she hugged the two of them and warmly greeted Sirius. "I am so glad to see the two of you are okay." Sarah said. Glancing at Sirius she said, "I'm also happy you found them."
"Thank you so much," Harry said. "I don't know what we would have done without your help."
"You are quite welcome," Sarah replied with a satisfied smile. She looked between the young couple. "So is it true that you are married?"
Blushing slightly they both nodded. "We were married on my birthday," Ginny explained.
"Congratulations," Sarah said happily. "I wondered if the two of you were involved, you kept sneaking glances at each other but I couldn't tell."
"We weren't dating at that time," Ginny said shyly. "We started dating while we lived in Inverness."
"That's nice. You make such a lovely couple."
"Thank you," Ginny giggled after shooting a look at her blushing husband. She couldn't help herself – he really was so cute. She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. "We wanted to come and thank you."
"I'm thrilled that the Ministry has reversed its egregious error. I'm sorry it took them so long, but I'm glad that the two of you can return home," Sarah said with a smile. "How long has it been?"
"Just about a year and a half," Harry replied. Reaching into his pocket he pulled out a money bag which he emptied onto the counter. "Please take this to help anyone else who might need it. We're hoping to end it before too long, but I don't know how long that might be. I'd hate to think that someone might not be helped for a lack of funds."
"Thank you," Sarah said as she scooped the coins off the counter and into a money bag. "There are so many people who need assistance so every bit helps."
The couple stayed for a few moments and shared some of their adventures in their travels. Ginny even found a few new jumpers that she thought would be good with the bizarre weather patterns they'd been having.
They walked back through town to the Hogsmeade station and headed up towards the castle. Sirius smiled nostalgically as they made their way up the road.
"I've always loved the walk from Hogsmeade to the school."
Harry laughed. "I never had the impression that the Marauders stuck to the road all that much."
"That is quite true," Sirius laughed. "We explored a lot of the Forbidden Forest. The rat was always a bit afraid, I don't know if it's just because he was a snivelling little coward or because he was so small, but James and I loved it. James blended right in, he loved running in the forest and jumping over logs."
"I wish I could have seen him in person," Harry said wistfully. "It's great having his Animagus form as my Patronus, but I'd love to actually see him."
"The first time you saw him as Prongs was quite funny actually," Sirius said with a sad smile. "We were in the back garden. You saw how the house backs up onto woods so there was a lot of privacy. Lily was setting up a picnic dinner at the table and you were toddling all over the place. I was watching you so she could finish dinner. I forget exactly what Prongs was supposed to be doing, but all off a sudden he came galloping up to the back patio as a stag.
"Your eyes got so big as you looked at him. You kept looking between me and Lily and Prongs like you were trying to figure out what was going on. I picked you up so you could get a closer look at him. It took a minute, but you started petting him and giggling. The antlers fascinated you, I remember you running your little hand up and down the antlers."
"That's so sweet," Ginny said as she squeezed Harry's hand. "Did Harry ever realize who Prongs was?"
"I'm not sure," Sirius said after he thought about it. "Harry was never scared of Prongs or anything like that, but he never called him Daddy. Actually, he called him 'ag' because we told him that Prongs was a stag, but of course Harry couldn't say stag." Glancing over at the boy he said, "Remind me when we get home, kiddo. I think I might have a few pictures of you and James when he was transformed."
Harry smiled. "That sounds nice."
"When are the two of you going to let me teach you to be Animagi?"
Harry's eyes lit up. "You would do that?"
"Are you kidding?" Sirius asked incredulously. "I'd love to teach the two of you to become Animagi. You are both strong in Transfiguration and you pick up complex spells easily."
Ginny smiled at the look of excitement on both their faces. "It sounds like fun."
"It's actually a great way to work on complex Transfiguration spells," Sirius said excitedly. "We could work on it over the next couple of weeks. You can do the questionnaires and discover your animals."
"How does that work exactly?" Ginny asked curiously.
"There is a standard questionnaire that most students take in the end of their sixth year or beginning of their seventh. It helps you discover what animal would be the easiest or the most natural for you to transform into. Now you can actually become a different animal or even take multiple forms, but the questionnaire helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses."
"How long did it take you?" Harry asked.
"About three years," Sirius replied, "but I don't think it would take you that long. We were only twelve when we started, but the two of you are older and more powerful than we were when we started. I think the two of you could probably learn to transform before the summer."
He stopped walking for a minute and looked between the two of them. "I think it would a great way to review many of the complex spells, but I want the two of you to promise me that if you feel it's taking too much away from your other lessons you will tell me."
"We will," Harry and Ginny replied in unison. They shared a smile. Ginny said, "I've always wanted to learn to become an Animagus and honestly, learning spells with Harry is always easier for me. We help each other learn faster."
"Okay," Sirius said with a broad smile. "James would be thrilled! He always wanted to teach Lily, but by the time he was going to teach her she was pregnant so he couldn't."
When they reached the gates, Hagrid was waiting for them. He opened the gates and pulled Harry and Ginny into a big hug. Harry barely reached Hagrid's elbow while Ginny was quite a bit shorter than that.
"Harry! Ginny! I'm so glad ter see yeh," Hagrid said once he released them. He wiped some tears from his eyes. "I been worried so about yeh."
"Thanks, Hagrid," Harry said with a fond smile for his giant friend. "We're good. We've been together so that helps."
"Aye, I heard yeh got married," Hagrid shook his head in disbelief. "I can't believe you're old enough to be married." He looked over the pair of them. "Yeh look great, very happy."
Ginny coloured slightly as she smiled at her husband. "We are. We're both very happy."
Harry nodded in agreement as he smiled back at her.
"I'm glad ter hear that," Hagrid replied as the four of them started towards the castle.
"How are things at the school?" Sirius asked after exchanging greetings with Hagrid.
"Tis strange," Hagrid said. "I keep expecting ter see Professor Dumbledore to walk around the corner." Sighing he shook his head. "He was a great man, Professor Dumbledore was. Professor McGonagall is holdin' everythin' together – she's a good witch. She's been lookin' fer new professors."
"Oh that's right, you'll need a new Potions' professor," Harry said.
"Potions and Transfiguration," Hagrid corrected him. "If she's goin to be the headmistress, we'll need a new Transfiguration professor. She's also interviewing new History of Magic professors."
"That's a great idea," Ginny said. "I didn't really learn much from Binns."
"I don' think anyone did," Hagrid agreed. "He decided that 'e didn't want ter work fer a witch." Hagrid rolled his eyes showing what he thought of that opinion. "Professor McGonagall will be a great headmistress."
"I'm sure she will be," Harry agreed.
As they approached the castle, Hagrid said, "I need ter clear some o' the paths, but come visit if yeh get a chance."
Ginny reached out for Harry's hand as they entered the castle. It seemed like it had been so long since she'd been there. She knew it had only been a year and a half, but it seemed much longer. It felt like she'd been a child when she'd left and she didn't feel like a child now. She glanced up at her husband, she knew that Hogwarts was the first place he'd felt at home and he had missed it while they'd travelled. He hadn't said much over the week, but she thought perhaps he was nervous to return to the castle.
Professor McGonagall was waiting for them in the Entrance Hall. She couldn't help but smile when she saw them. "Harry, Ginny, I'm so glad to see both of you!"
With quite a bit of surprise Harry accepted a hug from the normally stern professor. She hugged Ginny and greeted Sirius as well. Stepping back she looked the two of them over again. "You two look wonderful. I can't wait to hear how you've been doing. We are going to meet in my old office."
As they started up the stairs Professor McGonagall said, "I hoped that the three of you would stay through the weekend. I've arranged guest quarters for you in Gryffindor Tower."
"That sounds good," Sirius said after glancing at the other two.
"Good," she replied. "Mr Weasley and Miss Granger are staying in the castle and I know they would love to see you. If it is acceptable to you I planned to take you to Gryffindor Tower when we're through."
"Wonderful!" Ginny said with a smile. "We've only been able to visit with Ron once since this whole nightmare began."
Professor McGonagall nodded her understanding as she pushed open her office door. Her office was in disarray as most of the shelves were empty and several boxes were stacked against the wall. "Please excuse the mess. I've been in this office for over forty years so moving to another office is taking much longer than I would have imagined."
As they sat down Harry looked over at his former Head of House and said, "I am very sorry for Professor Dumbledore's death. We may have had our differences, but he was a great wizard and he will be missed."
"Thank you for that, Mr Potter," she replied softly. "I want to say I am truly sorry for everything that has happened to you. I had no idea that horrid woman was planning to expel you and I must say I was truly shocked when Albus thought you might have had something to do with her death." She shook her head. "We had many discussions on the topic and while I'm still not entirely certain why he felt the way he did, I do know he was honestly concerned about your connection to Voldemort."
"Did Albus ever tell you anything about Harry's connection to Voldemort?" Sirius asked.
Sitting back for a moment the older witch mulled over the question. "Not that I can recall. He simply said there was a connection – that was how Harry was able to tell us about Arthur's attack. After I explained what happened with Umbridge, he voiced his concerns that Harry was susceptible to Voldemort's influence, but he never really explained why or how."
Sirius frowned. "I'd hoped he'd left more information than that. I hate that my boy has to suffer that monster's rages."
A thoughtful look crossed Professor McGonagall's face. "I have not yet seen a copy of his will, but he may have left information for Harry that I have not come across."
"Anything you find would be helpful," Harry said. "I understand that you know of the prophecy about Voldemort and me." Professor McGonagall nodded and Harry continued. "Voldemort is afraid of death and he has gone to great lengths to ensure his immortality. Are you familiar with Horcruxes?"
Frowning, the older witch shook her head. "The term sounds vaguely familiar, but I couldn't tell you what they are. It brings to mind very dark magic." Sirius explained what they were and brought her up to date on the hunt. "I'm sure Albus would not approve of us sharing this information, but I think it is important that someone outside our group know what is happening," Sirius said. "Albus was a big believer in secrets, but I discovered with great personal pain that secrets are not always a good thing."
"I appreciate the trust you've shown in me," she replied. She sighed. "I have to agree that Albus did enjoy his games and secrets much more than I. I swear that man should have been Slytherin at times." Looking at the young couple before her she said, "If I understand correctly you need to search the castle, correct?"
"Yes," Harry replied. "Dobby tells us that there is a form of the Room of Requirement known as the Room of Hidden Things. I believe that is where the lost Diadem of Ravenclaw's might be hidden. If it is alright with you, I'd like for Bill and Fleur to assist us in searching the room. My dad told me about the protections on some of the other Horcruxes and I thought a Curse Breaker would be the proper person to help us."
"That would be fine," she said. "What about Mr Ron Weasley and Miss Granger? Will you enlist their help as well?"
"I'm not sure," Harry confessed. "On the one hand I'd love to enlist their help, I've really missed them, but on the other hand I don't feel entirely comfortable with them knowing about the Horcruxes. While they are both of age, they are both still at school and are probably concentrating on schoolwork. I wouldn't like the idea that someone could use them to get at the information."
"Perhaps you could tell them you are looking for an artefact, but not the true nature of it," Professor McGonagall suggested. "You could imply that you are prevented from revealing the true nature of the artefacts. From what you've told me, Albus has removed all information about Horcruxes from the library and it is not likely Miss Granger would have come across the term anywhere else."
Harry smiled. "That's actually a good idea. I would love to get their help and spend some more time with them."
"Minerva, what do you know about Snape?" Sirius asked.
She sighed. "I've been turning this over in mind over and over again. I honestly don't know whose side he's on."
"Do you know why Albus trusted him?"
"Sometime in the spring or summer of 1981, Severus approached Albus. Something Severus told him convinced Albus that he was sincere and he worked as a spy for the last few months of the war. I was not all that convinced, but Albus was positive. Once…" she trailed off and gestured towards Harry, "Once Harry stopped Voldemort, Albus was concerned with protecting Snape."
"So he protected a monster with a dark mark, but he wouldn't do anything for Sirius?" Harry said angrily.
"I'm afraid so," Professor McGonagall said gently. "I wish I could explain everything to you, but I honestly don't understand all of his decisions. When Albus first proposed hiring Snape, I was furious. Not only was his allegiance suspect, but he was too young, he didn't have enough experience, and he was not a people person. Albus assured me that Snape would work out well and we needed to protect him from both sides."
"That worked out so well," Sirius said.
Glancing at Harry, Professor McGonagall said, "I always got the impression that it had something to do with Lily."
"My mum?" Harry looked up in surprise.
She nodded. "She and Severus knew each other before they started at Hogwarts and remained friends for their first several years."
"What?" Harry looked at the older witch in disbelief. He looked over at Sirius hoping he would deny everything she was saying, but Sirius simply nodded.
She continued, "I don't know what happened, but they had some sort of falling out towards the end of their fifth year."
"It was after the scene you saw at the end of OWLs," Sirius explained to Harry. "I know they were friends, but James and I always thought Snape wanted more."
"I believe so as well," Professor McGonagall said gently. "I believe that somehow Severus discovered James and Lily were in danger and that might be what caused him to change sides or at least appear to change sides."
Harry looked from one adult to the other hoping one of them would suddenly start laughing and say they were joking. "No, no, that's not possible."
"I've always wondered if that's why he treated you as poorly as he did," Professor McGonagall said.
"Was his job as a spy the reason he was allowed to treat me like dirt?"
The older witch winced under the young man's gaze. "I'm afraid so. I complained to Albus any number of times and he said it was important that Snape not treat you well."
"He got that right," Harry said angrily. "My first lesson he baited me – asking all kinds of questions and making fun of me for not knowing the answers. I've lost points for breathing too loudly. Why was that necessary? Because he had a crush on my mum? That's sick."
"I don't think I can say anything that will make you feel better," Professor McGonagall said after a moment as she watched the boy pace in front of her. "I know he was horrible to you and I apologize."
"Do you know that people refused to come to Hogwarts because of him? Carys wouldn't send her children here because of Snape and Binns and Dumbledore's refusal to do anything about them. She said she knew others who thought the same way."
"I did not realize that," she said quietly.
"Do you need to take a break?" Sirius broke in. Rising, he walked over to his son. "I'm sorry, I didn't think it was important or I would have mentioned it before."
Harry gazed into his dad's worried eyes and forced himself to calm down. He felt a smaller hand on his arm and turning looked at Ginny who was also looking concerned about him. Looking at the two people who formed his family, Harry slowly took a deep breath. He had no idea how he felt about Snape crushing on his mother, but he couldn't think about that now. Sirius must have realized Harry came to a decision because he reached out and pulled him into a brief hug before returning to his previous seat.
"Harry, I didn't mean to upset you," Professor McGonagall said.
"No, I'm sorry Professor," Harry said bashfully. "It's not your fault. I just…I can't imagine Snape and my mum being friends."
"Lily was a very warm and wonderful girl. She looked for the good in most people – except maybe your father when he was younger."
Sirius let out a barking laugh. "That is true. The lovely Lily certainly didn't have anything good to say about James and me for many years." He shook his head smiling. "When she first set Harry in my arms she started laughing and told me she couldn't believe she was actually entrusting her beloved son to my care."
Blushing slightly Harry smiled at the thought. Sirius looked over at him. "I think I've been remiss in not telling you as much about your mother. Remind me and I'll tell you some stories about her as well. It's always easy to tell you stories about James, but Lily was a wonderful person and in our last few years at Hogwarts and of course after Hogwarts I knew her well."
"Thanks, Dad," Harry said with a smile.
"Your parents would be thrilled to see the two of you together," Professor McGonagall said indicating Harry and Sirius.
"I'd like to think so," Sirius agreed. He sent a sly grin at his daughter-in-law. "James would be thrilled to have such a beautiful daughter-in-law."
"Oh, good heavens, congratulations on your marriage," Professor McGonagall said. "With everything else that's happened, it's slipped my mind."
"Thank you," Harry and Ginny said in unison smiling at each other.
As they finished their tea, Harry and Ginny, with assistance from Sirius, told Professor McGonagall about their wedding. They also shared an abbreviated version of their travels.
"May I ask what you plan to do about your education? It sounds like you've done an excellent job keeping up with your studies. I was so pleased to see your OWL scores."
"Thank you. I thought we would continue what we have been doing," Harry said honestly. "We need to find the last two Horcruxes and destroy them so we can get rid of Voldemort. Until we do that our lives are on hold."
"If I may make a suggestion," Professor McGonagall began, "You could stay here in our guest quarters and utilize the resources offered by Hogwarts. This would also offer some protection from the Ministry. Obviously we are not completely independent from them, but we have the distance and various levels of protection that might benefit you. Sirius, you are welcome to stay and supervise their education. I daresay that we have some resources you don't have right now."
Sirius looked over at the younger couple. "That is a very generous offer. Can we talk it over and get back to you?"
"Certainly," she replied.
"If we are to choose this option, I would like to have control over their curriculum," Sirius said as he thought it over. "I've been working with them and they are quite advanced in most of their classes. In Defence, Transfiguration, and Charms, I believe they are past NEWT level. In Runes and Potions they are at NEWT level, but I've not kept up with most of their other classes past OWL level."
"We could arrange to have them tested," Professor McGonagall said after a few moments' thought on the matter.
"Take our NEWTS?" Ginny asked in surprise.
"If you wish, we could do some preliminary testing and if you are as advanced as Sirius believes you to be, then we could arrange for you to sit your NEWTS. If not, I would be happy to work with Sirius and help supplement your education."
"I hadn't thought of that," Sirius said thoughtfully. "They could probably pass their History of Magic and Muggle Studies NEWTS without much problem. Carys emphasized History and they've lived as Muggles so they could get their NEWTS in those as well. We will talk about it and let you know our decision."
"Do you have new professors?" Harry asked curiously.
Professor McGonagall nodded. "I believe I have finally filled the three positions. I am having extensive background checks performed on all three of them and I'm keeping their identities a secret until they are actually in the castle. I don't want another switch like they pulled with Moody."
"Good idea," Sirius said approvingly. "If it is alright with you I will have Dobby take a message to Bill and Fleur."
"Of course," she replied. "Have them Floo to my office."
Ron discretely wiped his eyes as he watched his sister talking to Hermione. When he and Hermione had received a message from Professor McGonagall directing them to a door that turned out to be guest quarters he really had no idea what to expect, but seeing his sister and best mate was not at all what he expected.
"These rooms are great," Ginny was saying. "We have this nice sitting room and a fairly large bedroom and our own private bathroom. Sirius is next door to us."
"I had no idea these rooms were even here," Ron said.
"Me neither," Harry laughed. "Of course my dad knew where they were. Apparently every house has several guest rooms in addition to another whole wing on the ground floor they can use as guest rooms if necessary."
He glanced over at Hermione who was still looking stunned. Of course she hadn't seen them in over a year and they looked quite different from the last time they'd been at Hogwarts. Ginny looked like a young woman now, he wasn't exactly sure how to describe the differences, but she looked older and more assured than she had as a student.
He was glad to see she had her own Weasley red hair that she wore shoulder length. It was pulled back away from her face with some kind of fancy, sparkly thing and the back was curly. He didn't remember her ever wearing her hair like that before and thought she looked really pretty. She was wearing a dark blue jumper and jeans with black boots. One of the biggest changes was the jewellery she was wearing. Before she'd never really worn much jewellery, but now she had earrings, a sparkling necklace and bracelet, as well as her wedding rings. Overall she looked very sophisticated and put together.
Ron thought that Harry had changed more than Ginny. He was taller now, over six feet, but not quite as tall as Ron. Harry was much more filled out than Ron. While Ron hadn't kept up with the exercising and such that Harry and Sirius had started over Christmas break two years earlier, Harry obviously had. He was broad shouldered and muscular with a flat stomach that Ron rather envied. Harry was wearing a long sleeved grey shirt and jeans. With his longer hair, earring, and no glasses, Ron would have been hard pressed to pick him out of a crowd even without any type of disguise.
"So you didn't have any problems in Hogsmeade?" Ron asked after the tour of Harry and Ginny's quarters. The four of them were sitting around a small table upon which was sitting a pot of hot chocolate and a plate of éclairs
Ginny shook her head. "No, I was a bit nervous, but everyone we saw was very nice and no one threatened to report us or turn us into the Ministry or anything like that. We stopped at Gladrags and spoke to the woman who helped us escape."
"But the two of you are free, right?" Hermione asked anxiously.
Ginny nodded with a smile. "We are. Sirius has the official decree, but we are still rather nervous about the whole thing. Minister Scrimgeour was able to get it passed in the immediate chaos after Professor Dumbledore's death, but I wouldn't put it past them to change their minds or require us to show up at the Ministry."
"Mum's really upset. She expected you to be at the funeral."
Ginny shrugged. "I'm sorry she's upset, but we were at the funeral."
"What?" Hermione looked between Harry and Ginny in confusion. "Why didn't you say anything? Why all the secrecy?"
"Why? Because Voldemort is still after me," Harry said a bit harshly. "We aren't misbehaving children, we attended the funeral in disguise because we didn't know if Voldemort would have people watching the funeral or not. That's the same reason we haven't gone back to the Burrow. Gin's writing a letter to your parents and Dobby will take it to them. I'm sure the Burrow is being watched."
Hermione flushed under Harry's rebuke. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to sound like I was scolding you. I've just been so worried about you."
Harry's gaze softened. "I understand, trust me, I do, but we're making our way through it the best we know how."
"So why did McGonagall put you in here?" Ron asked looking around. "Why don't you come and stay in the dorms with us?"
"Where would we stay?" Ginny challenged him.
"Oh," Ron blushed as he thought through what he'd asked.
"Why can't you?" Hermione said. "Ginny could stay in my room and Harry could stay in his old room. Just because you are married doesn't mean you have to stay together."
"I'm not sleeping alone," Harry said firmly. "Ginny is my wife, we belong together."
Ron could tell that Hermione didn't agree, but thankfully she didn't comment further. Changing the subject he asked, "So why are you here? Not that I'm not glad to see you, but if you came here you must have had a reason."
Sitting back he watched as his sister reached out for Harry's hand. To Ron's amazement, the two of them hand an entirely silent conversation just like his parents did at times. Harry relaxed and squeezed Ginny's hand before leaning over and kissing her briefly. Ron was surprised at how much that didn't bother him.
"We have discovered some information, but I have to warn you if we share what we know you can't tell anyone. I mean this. It could be dangerous even knowing what we know. You have to be sure you want to know and can live with not knowing everything. There are some things we simply cannot tell you."
He speared his two friends with his intense green gaze. "Are you sure you want to know?"
Ron swallowed hard as he thought it over. "Yes, I will do anything I can to help."
Hermione likewise agreed. "Of course, anything we can do to help we will."
"I won't be able to answer all of your questions and you can't run to the library and suddenly start looking into immortality spells or anything like that," Harry said firmly. "The magic that Voldemort performed is some of the darkest magic there is and it's not in books that would be left in the school library."
Ron could tell she wanted to protest, but she agreed. Harry sat back in his chair slightly and Ginny scooted closer to him. Ron felt a stab of envy as he watched his sister freely offer Harry support and comfort without saying a word. He wondered if he would be able to find that kind of relationship someday.
"We have a lot to tell you," Harry said. "I guess it all begins with why Voldemort is after me to begin with." He shared the prophecy and Voldemort's attempts to get at it with the others.
"So when they are calling you the 'Chosen One' it is actually true?" Hermione asked in amazement. She shook her head in disbelief. "All of this is because of a prophecy? That's ridiculous. Prophecies are notoriously unreliable and difficult to apply in real life."
"That may be," Harry said steadily, "but nonetheless I am the one referred to in the prophecy and, more importantly, Voldemort believes I am the one. He will keep coming after me until one of us is dead. That is why he tried to kill me as a baby."
He swallowed hard. "I always wondered what happened that night. I think a lot of people assumed my parents were the targets and he tried to kill me to make a clean sweep or something. It was hard to realize that Voldemort was after me and my parents were killed because they were trying to protect me."
"Oh, Harry," Hermione was holding her hand in front of her mouth and blinking back tears. Ron rather thought that if Ginny hadn't been so close to Harry, Hermione would have been hugging him. It rather amused Ron that his little sister seemed to have intimidated Hermione.
Ron could see Hermione struggling with the idea of a prophecy being in the centre of everything. He didn't blame her; prophecies were often a load of bunk, but not always. He wondered if being brought up in the Muggle world might be working against her. He'd been brought up to believe in the power of a seer and while he hated Divination he still believed that for someone with that power it could be a powerful tool.
"So what is this 'power he knows not'?"
Harry shrugged. "We aren't exactly sure. My father left us some notes about it and I know my mum did some research as well, but we aren't entirely sure. Voldemort did a lot of things in an attempt to evade death. We know some of them worked or he wouldn't have been able to survive all those years before he regained his body."
Sitting back Ron frowned. None of this sounded good. "Do you know what he did?"
"Voldemort used different artefacts in a type of ceremony to extend his life," Harry said after a moment. "I don't really want to say exactly what he did, it's safer that way. We have found several of these artefacts, but we are still looking for two more. His diary was one of these artefacts."
Ron gasped and Harry met his eyes. "I know. Ginny was extremely strong to withstand the effects for so long."
This time it was Harry offering comfort to Ginny as he lifted her hand to his mouth and kissed it before he continued. "Riddle likes artefacts connected to the founders. I think it inflates his sense of importance. We've found and destroyed Slytherin's locket and a ring that belonged to Riddle's family. We've also found a cup that belonged to Hufflepuff. We believe that we are looking for an artefact of Ravenclaw's, probably her diadem. I believe Riddle hid it here at the school."
"That's highly unlikely," Hermione countered. "How could he hide something in the school where thousands of students have access? Where would he hide it so no one could find it?"
"I believe he hid it in a form of the Room of Requirement known as the Room of Hidden Things," Harry answered her last question. "Bill and Fleur are going to be coming to help us search. The other artefacts were protected by curses or Basilisks so we expect this will be protected as well."
"You said you are looking for two more items," Hermione commented. "What is the last one?" Her eyes widened. "What about Gryffindor's sword?"
Harry shook his head. "No, that has been checked. Gryffindor's sword is fine. Professor Dumbledore thought that Voldemort's snake, Nagini, might be the last one. He wasn't exactly sure, but Voldemort has a lot of control over the snake – even for a Parselmouth."
"Do you know where to find the snake?" Ron asked.
"We probably won't find the snake until we find him," Harry explained. "He didn't use him in the attack on Godric's Hollow so he will probably be keeping the snake close."
Ron shuddered and asked. "Can You-Know-Who make more of these things?"
Harry shook his head. "We don't think so. We believe he made six so there are six artefacts plus Riddle himself for a total of seven. Seven as you know is a powerful magical number."
"You think, you believe, you don't really know anything for sure," Hermione commented.
Harry again shook his head. "No, we don't, but this is what we think happened. Dumbledore, Sirius, and Bill all came to the same conclusion separately."
"So it's not as obscure as you made it out to be," Hermione accused.
"It is obscure and evil and difficult," Harry returned. "Bill has run across them in the course of his work, Dumbledore was just brilliant, and Sirius grew up in a very dark family. I'm not going to debate this with you. You agreed to my terms."
"Sorry," Hermione said quietly.
Accepting the apology, Harry continued, "Riddle is the first person we know of who has made so many of these artefacts. In order to make one, you must murder an innocent."
Horror showed on the faces of both Ron and Hermione. Ron shuddered. "It sounds horrible."
"The thing that scares me the most is he made his first one at sixteen," Ginny said quietly. "He was my age and trying to figure out how not to die. In the diary, he was fascinated by Harry's story. He asked me over and over how Harry had managed to survive. Of course I didn't realize at the time who I was talking to, but his intensity scared me. That was one of the reasons that I tried to get rid of the diary."
"I still can't believe we didn't see anything," Ron said ashamed of his actions of her first year. "I'm so sorry that I ignored you and didn't see what was going on."
Ginny reached out and hugged him. "That's okay. I hate what happened, but I think it's made me into the person I am today. The scared little girl I was wouldn't have made it for a year and a half on the run."
"Gin's been brilliant." Harry said proudly. "Did you hear how she rescued me from Voldemort and his Death Eaters?"
Harry launched into an enthusiastic version of his capture by Malfoy and Ginny's rescue. Ron and Hermione made a great audience with their wide eyes and gasping at the right places. Ron looked at his sister with greater respect. He couldn't imagine how he would have reacted in her place. To stay quiet and listen to the love of her life be tortured and then to rescue him like that – it was amazing.
"Wait," Hermione said, "that means you were Apparating when you were only fifteen."
Ginny giggled. "Carys, the woman we were living with, lives in a valley that suppresses magical signatures so we were able to practice magic without getting into trouble with the Ministry. She thought that we needed to learn to Apparate and drive so we had options as far as transportation."
"Ginny actually Apparated before I did," Harry said with a smile. "She doesn't like driving as much, but she can do it."
"That's not legal," Hermione said scandalized. "You could get into so much trouble."
"If we couldn't get away, we would be dead," Ginny replied calmly. "I know that legally I'm not old enough to have a driver's licence, but I can drive both a car and motorcycle. If we get trapped, we can Apparate out of there. Are you saying I shouldn't have Apparated to our safe house with Harry? Is it more important to be right or to be alive? Trust me, if Malfoy or Bellatrix had caught up with us we would both be dead. They found us soon afterwards and it was only thanks to Sirius we were able to get away."
Hermione flushed. "It just seems wrong to so casually break the law like that."
"Umbridge started it when she expelled us and tried to take our wands," Harry said. "I won't give up my wand for anyone. I didn't even know the prophecy then, but I knew that Voldemort was after me. Can you imagine what would have happened if she'd gotten her way? We would have been defenceless against Voldemort. He probably would have found us before we got out of Hogsmeade."
"It's amazing that that woman helped you," Ron said helping Hermione out. "So she knew your mum?"
Harry nodded. "My mum helped with some of the charms and things that helped us disguise ourselves and hide our magical signature. Thank Merlin Sarah agreed to help us. It was really scary that morning in Hogsmeade. There were Aurors all over the place and I'd seen Voldemort kill Umbridge the night before – like how I saw the attack on your dad."
Ron nodded. Harry continued, "We went into Gladrags really just to give me time to think. Sarah was great, she explained what was happening. At that point we didn't even know we were wanted or what had happened with the Knight Bus."
"That's great," Ron said. "I'm glad she was so willing to help."
"So what are you doing now?" Hermione asked. "Are you going to return to school?"
Harry shook his head. "No, we're going to continue our studies with my dad. Professor McGonagall mentioned that we might be able to take our NEWTs."
"Are you ready to take your NEWTs?" Hermione asked sceptically. "You just took your OWLs a few months ago. How much schooling have you actually had? I understand that you went to a Muggle school, but that wouldn't help you much."
"It helped me pass my Muggle Studies OWL," Ginny said a touch coolly. "We just took our OWLs because we weren't able to arrange it before. We've had rather advanced education in Charms, Transfiguration, Potions, and Defence against the Dark Arts. Sirius thinks we can pass our NEWTs in those subjects and maybe in Ancient Runes. We're going to do some preliminary testing to see where we are and what areas we need to focus on."
"I'd love to be able to just come back to school and play Quidditch and all, but I can't," Harry said trying to diffuse the tension between the two girls. "Voldemort is coming after me. He found me in Wales and South Africa and he was asking Dumbledore about me last week. If I re-enrolled in class how long do you think it would be before I was required to report to the Ministry or some such nonsense? I have no idea what Snape knew and what he's telling Voldemort, but you can imagine that he's causing a lot of damage."
"I still can't believe Professor Snape was working against Professor Dumbledore," Hermione said. "After all the times we suspected him and we turned out to be wrong."
"My dad said that Snape asked for Dumbledore's help in getting his little students back to the school," Ron said, still upset a week later. "Can you imagine? I noticed that Malfoy and his junior Death Eaters weren't at dinner and told Professor McGonagall about it."
"Voldemort had some kind of ceremony and inducted a bunch of new Death Eaters," Harry said pointing to his scar to indicate how he knew. "I couldn't believe how many people Voldemort recruited."
"I heard that Sirius raised the alarm," Ron said in an admiring tone of voice. "Was that from you?"
Harry and Ginny both nodded. "I saw the ceremony and they were being set free on Godric's Hollow to celebrate their accomplishments," Harry said in disgust. "They were so…excited and happy that they got to practice the spells they'd been taught. It was sick."
"The worst was the Inferi," Ginny said shuddering. "They grabbed me and it was horrible."
"That was pretty awful," Harry agreed. He grinned. "I got to deck Malfoy!"
"What?" Ron looked like Christmas had come early.
Harry explained what had happened with a satisfied smile on his face. "It was brilliant."
Ginny laughed and kissed him on the cheek. "It was pretty brilliant."
"I heard Sirius got Pettigrew," Ron said.
Harry laughed. "He did – as Padfoot. He caught a scent that he recognized and chased him. When he grabbed him, the dog kind of took over. He shook him to death."
"Good," Ron replied coolly. "Stupid rat."
"Ron!" Hermione admonished.
"What, Hermione? I'm not going to pretend I'm sad. That rat betrayed Harry's parents as well as my whole family. A Death Eater hid in my parents' house for over a decade. He could have wiped out my entire family. That doesn't even cover what he did to Harry. He deserved it."
"Well said," Ginny approved of her brother's speech. "I was a bit worried that he would get in trouble, but we've heard from Madam Bones that none of our actions will be prosecuted. She's been great. She sent us a letter explaining that Harry and I weren't required to report to the Ministry anymore and we were cleared of all suspicions and charges."
The conversation became much easier as Ron and Hermione brought Harry and Ginny up to date on everything they'd missed. Harry and Ginny were thrilled to hear about the winning Quidditch team. The afternoon passed quickly and it wasn't until much later that Ron and Hermione returned to the common room.
After Ron and Hermione left, Ginny relaxed against Harry with a smile. "I don't think Hermione approves of our plans."
"You picked up on that," Harry laughed.
"Well she wasn't really subtle."
"I'm not sure if she was more horrified about our not returning to school or breaking the law or the fact that there is a prophecy at the centre of all of this." Harry said with a smile. "Did you notice her rolling her eyes whenever I called Dad, my dad?"
"It was pretty funny," Ginny agreed. "She almost fell over when I called him my father-in-law."
"I think our marriage offends her somehow. We could just move into the dorms," Ginny repeated scornfully. "I'm not going to sleep in a dorm room without you."
"She doesn't understand," Harry said as he ran his hands down Ginny's arms and placed his hands over hers. "I don't think she's ever been in love. She just thinks we are too young." He glanced down at his wife. "When you went into the loo, she asked me if I was sorry we'd gotten married. She said that we could have waited another few months and we wouldn't have had to marry."
"What?!" Ginny looked up at him outraged at the thought. "We didn't marry for a simple convenience."
"I know that, love," Harry said soothingly. "Like I said, she doesn't understand." Leaning down he dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "She doesn't understand that you are everything to me. I wouldn't give you up for anything."
"I wouldn't give you up either," Ginny said with a tender smile. Leaning up she kissed him deeply.
When they finally broke apart, Harry grinned down at her lazily. "I think we should go check out that lovely bed in the next room."
Laughing Ginny jumped up and he followed, chasing her into the bedroom.
The next morning, Harry and Ginny headed down to the Great Hall for breakfast. As they walked, Harry reached out and took her hand. Linking their hands together he smiled. "I wanted to do that so often the last term we were here."
Ginny grinned up and him and kissed him quickly. "I would have liked that."
"It's so weird to see the castle so empty," Harry commented as they continued down the corridor.
"I know," Ginny commented. "I keep thinking we'll walk around a corner and find a group of students or something."
"Ron said there were a handful of students staying this week," Harry remarked. "I'm sure we'll see them during breakfast."
Entering the Great Hall, Harry stopped in shock. There was black bunting decorating the room instead of the normal house colours. It reminded him vividly of Cedric's death. Instead of the normal long house tables, there were the smaller tables normally used over Christmas holidays.
There were just over a dozen students already eating. From the colours of their patches, Harry could tell they represented Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw. He was unsurprised to find out that no Slytherins had stayed over.
Ginny tugged on his hand and led him to an empty table. As soon as they sat down, platters of eggs, bacon, sausage, and kippers appeared on the table followed by racks of toast and plates of warm scones. Bowls full of butter, jam, and cream arrived with the pitchers of pumpkin juice and tea pot.
"So much food," Harry said with his eyes wide. "I'd forgotten how much food they prepared here."
"Good morning, kiddo."
Harry smiled as Sirius joined them. "Good morning, Dad."
"I bet the elves piled extra food on the table for the two of you. It seems some people were otherwise occupied and skipped dinner last night," Sirius said with his eyes twinkling.
Blushing Harry laughed. "We didn't skip dinner. Dobby brought up some food last night." Smiling at Ginny he said, "We just didn't want to join everyone else."
Sirius laughed as he helped himself to some bacon and eggs. "I should have known."
Harry looked up as Ron and Hermione approached them. "Good morning, please join us."
Ron and Hermione greeted Sirius with varying degrees of warmth and sat down at the table. Harry hid a slightly nostalgic smile as he watched Ron pile food onto his plate. He glanced over at Ginny and could tell she was thinking that some things never changed.
Looking up Harry broke into a wide smile. He stood up and enveloped Madam Pomfrey in a hug. "Good morning, Madam Pomfrey."
"Good morning, Harry," she replied hugging him back. "How are you doing? Any problems with your knee?"
"No, I'm doing great," Harry said. "Thank you so much for everything."
"You are very welcome." She smiled. "Thank you for the chocolates, they were very much appreciated."
"You're welcome," Ginny said as she also hugged the woman. "It was Harry's idea, but I picked them out. We wanted to thank you for all of your help."
After the matron headed up to the staff table and Harry and Ginny had sat back down, Ron asked, "What was that all about?"
"She's been helping us," Ginny explained.
Sirius nodded. "She's been a great friend."
The fluttering of wings heralded the arrival of the owl post. Harry smiled to see Hedwig flying towards him. When she landed next to him, he offered her a piece of bacon. "Hello, girl. Are you enjoying being back at Hogwarts?"
Hedwig hooted lowly and butted her head against his hand. He automatically petted her. She seemed to enjoy the attention before sipping from Ginny's goblet. "You should go visit Hagrid while we're here," Harry said to the owl. Looking at her owner, Hedwig seemed to nod and she took off and headed towards the owlery.
"She is such a beautiful owl," Hermione commented.
"Hedwig's brilliant," Harry said. "She's the one who found me, you know. After Ginny rescued me, I was sitting in the safe house and all of a sudden I saw a flash of white. I was in bad shape and couldn't see very well, but somehow I knew it was her."
"I returned from shopping to find him curled up on the bed with Hedwig looking after him," Ginny put in with a smile. "She took me to task for the shape he was in. It was like she was telling me that I failed in my duty to look after Harry."
"She forgave you pretty quickly," Sirius said. "That is one devoted owl."
As breakfast continued, Harry was happy to note that the slight awkwardness between him and his friends was lessening each time he talked to them. He honestly wasn't surprised at Hermione's reactions. He knew she would have problems not knowing everything and he'd been pretty sure she wouldn't approve of his marriage. Knowing Hermione as he did, he was fairly sure that Hermione would eventually come to terms with everything and be a huge help to all of them.
He watched his oldest friends as he ate. Ron looked very much the same, but he was more mature and less prone to speak first. It seemed as though Ron may have finally stopped growing, but he easily topped 6'3". Hermione seemed a bit older. Harry thought she was wearing her hair a bit differently, but he wasn't entirely certain. She seemed more assured than he remembered her being. Harry had to smile at the admiring glances going back and forth between the pair of them. He wasn't sure if they were dating or not, but they were obviously very close.
Movement at the door caught Harry's eye. Grinning, he nudged his wife. Looking up Ginny's eyes lit up when she saw her oldest brother and his fiancée in the doorway. With a happy squeal, she ran over and threw herself into Bill's arms. He hugged her happily and kissed her on the cheek. Ginny hugged Fleur and led the two of the over to their table.
Everyone stood and greet the newcomers. Harry hugged both of them as did Sirius. Hermione merely nodded at the older couple while Ron hugged his brother and stared a bit at Fleur.
"Good morning everyone," Bill said as everyone sat back down. "I'm glad to see the three of you in one piece."
Helping himself to some bacon, Bill gestured to Ron and Hermione. "I trust the two of you have been brought up to speed on everything going on."
Harry nodded. "We told them everything we talked about."
"Excellent," Bill said. Grinning at the table he asked, "Is everyone ready for a treasure hunt?"