The Long Road Home, Chapter One

This story is dedicated to Maid Marian. She basically wrote a good bit of this chapter, because I couldn't get it going. More at the end.

Harry slept late his first full day back at the Burrow. When he opened his eyes at last, the angle of the sun told him that the morning was already more than half gone, but he made no move to get out of bed. He lay and stared at the orange ceiling overhead, not really wanting to get up. If he did that, there might be questions he didn't want to answer.

He still hadn't told the elder Weasleys about the consequences of the spell he'd used to banish Voldemort, but he was probably going to have to do that today. He couldn't hope to hide the fact that he no longer possessed any magical powers. No, if he got up, the twins might ask him to play Quidditch in the orchard, and he'd be obliged to tell them he could no longer fly.

He quickly pushed that idea aside. He didn't want to think about flying at the moment. He shut his eyes so he wouldn't have to watch the Chudley Cannons score yet another spectacular goal. That was something he might have liked to try himself--professional Quidditch. But that was out of the question now.

In fact, he didn't know what he would be doing with his life now that he'd finished school. He knew he couldn't live here at the Burrow indefinitely. He was supposed to be an adult now; he was supposed to be independent. He was supposed to do something useful. But what could he possibly do now?

He thought of all the gold in his Gringott's vault and wondered how many years it would last. There was rather less of it now than there had been the first time he'd laid eyes on it at the age of eleven. Seven years of Hogwarts tuition and school supplies had seen to that. And now he'd be responsible for renting a flat, putting food on the table, clothing himself…

He threw back the covers with a sigh of frustration. He might as well get up if his thoughts were going to keep betraying him like this. The room was empty as he expected it to be. Ron would have got up hours ago.

Harry hastily threw on some clothes and ran a comb through his hair without even bothering to look in the mirror. He didn't want to see his unshaven reflection staring back at him. Unconsciously he reached up and scratched at his chin. He was going to have to go into the village at some point if he was going to get rid of this beard. It was itchy; it didn't do anything for his appearance; and most of all, it was a daily reminder that he'd lost his powers.

Harry padded in the general direction of the kitchen. The house was remarkably quiet considering the number of people living there at the moment. The twins had moved back home while the village of Hogsmeade was being rebuilt, and Harry discovered yesterday on his arrival, George had brought his girlfriend, Pauline, along with him. She'd been staying in Ginny's room, but now that term was over, Ginny and Hermione were also crammed in there.

Bill was there, too, staying in Percy's old room. From what Harry could gather based on the previous night's dinner conversation, Bill wasn't sure what he'd be doing in the near future. He'd left his job at Gringott's to join the Order's forces, and while he was on leave at the moment, he could be recalled to duty at any time. It was hoped that Harry's spell had permanently dispatched Voldemort, but close watch was still being kept. Attempts were also being made to round up the remaining Death Eaters. Sirius and Remus were both involved with this, keeping a close eye out for Peter Pettigrew. Bill reckoned he still might be summoned to active duty, although that chance seemed to lessen with each day that passed.

With all these people in the house, it came as a surprise to Harry when he arrived in the kitchen to find it empty. Mr Weasley was at the Ministry, of course, but the others ought to be about somewhere. "Everyone must be outside," he said to himself. "Just as well. I'm not hungry anyway."

A noise made him halt in the middle of the kitchen. Someone was coming in, and Harry noticed he was standing in front of the fireplace, over which hung a mirror. A sudden memory struck him, one from a summer six years previous, when he'd been surprised by this very mirror telling him off for an un-tucked shirttail. It was now behaving like any mirror in the Muggle world, hanging silently and forbearing to comment on his scruffy appearance. To make matters worse, there was another witness to the mirror's silence, for Pauline had just entered the room.

Harry wasn't sure whether or not he'd imagined the look of curiosity that passed over her features, it was so fleeting. "Where is everyone?" he asked quickly, as much to fend off questions as anything.

"Good morning to you, too, although that's almost over now. To answer your question, everyone is outside. Casting wards." She didn't sound particularly pleased with him.

"Wards?" repeated Harry, alarmed. "What's happening?"

"Nothing earth-shattering. Just reporters."

Harry swore to himself. Of course it wouldn't take much brain-power to work out where he'd be staying. And now the Weasleys were going to be hounded. He should have known he couldn't stay here… He hadn't even been here twenty-four hours, and already they were after him, trying to learn all his secrets.

Pauline's manner softened slightly at Harry's reaction. "No worries. Fred and George are having quite a good time warding this place off. They've had some, well, interesting ideas about booby-trapping the place so no one we don't want here can get very close."

Harry forced himself to smile. That sort of task was right up the twins' alley. He moved towards the door.

"They ought to be finished soon," Pauline added.

The sound of the door closing was heard again, and Harry turned to see Ron and Hermione enter the kitchen.

"Harry, mate. You're up," said Ron. He sounded like he was in a much better mood than Harry was.

"Harry, did you sleep well?" asked Hermione. "We didn't want to wake you. You were sleeping so peacefully.

"Yeah, I'm still tried. I might head back up," he said. He really didn't want to be around anyone. Not even his best friends.

"No, luck there, mate," Ron joked. "Mum said you have to eat. She's been complaining all morning about how thin you are. And that beard… It's almost as bad as Bill's earring to hear her go on about it."

"I don't see why you won't let me…" Hermione began, and then she stopped as Harry and Ron both glared at her.

Harry noticed that Pauline was staring at them, and he didn't care for the expression on her face. She looked as if she sensed something was going on and was definitely trying to work out what it was. It wouldn't take her long to put two and two together. He was going to have to say something to the Weasleys tonight; there would be no avoiding it now.

"How are the wards coming, Ron?" Harry asked abruptly, hoping to turn Pauline's attention elsewhere.

"They're almost all up. Fred and George managed to cordon off the whole perimeter of the Burrow. Bill is going around checking for holes and weak areas. I told him, while he's at it, he might as well put up an insect repellent. Don't want to take any risks, do we?"

Pauline was following the conversation with obvious interest. "Pauline, can you help me up in Ginny's room?" Hermione asked her. Harry had the impression she was trying to get rid of Pauline, and he was grateful for her thoughtfulness. "It was a bit crowded last night, maybe we can expand it a bit."

Pauline's facial expression told them all that she knew what they were trying to do, but she put up no opposition. "Of course, Hermione, let's do it now."

Once confident no one else was within earshot, Harry turned to Ron. "What happened with the reporters? Did someone turn up here?"

"No, Hermione and I went into the village. She wanted to use the fellytone to call her mum and dad."

"Telephone, Ron," Harry corrected.

"I know, but that annoys Hermione so," Ron replied, his grin wide.

"How are the Grangers?"

"They're fine, settling in. The flat above their office is small. Only one bedroom, so Hermione will be staying here for a bit."

"I can see how upset you are about that," Harry teased.

"Yeah, well, it'll be a wrench for a while, but I'm sure I can handle it." Ron put his hand over his heart as he said this. "While we were in the village, we heard a racket. At first I thought it was Death Eaters, since they were wearing black cloaks. Turned out it was reporters. Hermione said they looked like a swarm of locusts. They started asking questions, and the flashes, from the cameras, were blinding us. And of course, who do you think was at the head of the lot?"

"Rita Skeeter," Harry said flatly.

"Right in one, mate. Hermione should make the front page of the Prophet tomorrow," he said, the admiration evident in his tone. "Told Skeeter off something fierce."

"How'd you get away? Did they follow you here?"

"Nah, Mum made sure we had a Portkey, you know, just in case. We made it back here fine. Everyone got to work on the wards right away."

"Thanks. I'm sorry," he said miserably.

"For what?"

Harry couldn't answer, for at that moment Mrs Weasley entered the kitchen.

"Harry, dear. How are you feeling? Are you hungry? Sit down, and I'll fix you something." Her questions come so fast that Harry didn't have a chance to reply.

"Mrs Weasley, I'm…"

"Don't go there, mate. It's a losing battle."

"You're what, dear?"

"I'm still a little tried. I don't think I could eat," he said hoping she would understand.

"Nonsense, you're tired because you haven't been eating properly. You sit down and eat, then you can go back up to your room and take a nap." It was amazing how she could manage to sound affectionate and commanding at the same time.

Grudgingly, Harry did as he was told. He did feel somewhat better after eating, but he still went back up to Ron's room for a nap.

Harry feigned sleeping several times that day. He was not up to talking to anyone, and he found himself wishing for his four-poster bed at school, so he could close the hangings and shut out the world. He'd never have that luxury again. Hermione must have suspected he was faking, and she managed to have an entire conversation with him without him uttering one response.

As the afternoon wore into the evening, Harry heard the Weasleys in the garden, setting up the tables for supper. There would be at least twelve of them at dinner tonight, since Mrs Weasley had invited Percy and Penelope to join them. It was a means of celebrating the end of school for the younger members of the family, as well as the probable end of the war. He knew they would have to eat outside. He hoped the wards would be sufficient to keep the reporters away.

Harry's thoughts drifted back to the first time he had eaten in the garden during the summer before his fourth year. Bill and Charlie had been having a table fight, while pompous Percy had been writing his now infamous cauldron bottom report. That had been before things had become really bleak, before the Tri-Wizard tournament, before Voldemort's rebirth. It had been before all the Death Eater attacks, but mostly, it had been before Charlie's death. Harry wondered how Bill was faring with that. After all, he and Charlie were the closest in age; they had also fought together in the war.

Thoughts of Charlie inevitably led to thoughts of others who had lost their lives. He'd barely even spared a thought for Professor Dumbledore, who'd taken on Voldemort first. It might never be known with any certainty, but perhaps Dumbledore had done something to weaken the Dark Lord, to make it possible for someone else to defeat him utterly. And then there were the others. Students and teachers…

Harry needed to stop these memories. It would do him no good to dwell on things, which were beyond his power to change, and it was certainly not going to help him find a way to tell the Weasleys about his lack of magical powers. He knew he had to go down there soon. He couldn't hide in Ron's room for the rest of the summer. Eventually someone other than Ron, Hermione or Ginny was going to notice he was not using magic. He was sure Pauline suspected something now; she had to be a smart girl to be responsible for running Zonko's. From something she'd mentioned last night, he realised she'd been a Ravenclaw when she was at Hogwarts. He was going to have to tell them all himself. It would not be fair to them to let them find out any other way.

He was taken from his thoughts by the sound of footsteps on the stairs.

"Harry?" a soft voice called. It was Ginny. Damn, he'd been managing to avoid her for the most part ever since he'd woken up in the hospital wing. What could she want with him after all? He was less than he'd been, and she deserved better. He didn't reply to her.

She came into the room in spite of his silence. "Harry, it's supper time. Mum wants you to come down now."

"I'll be down in a minute," he mumbled, not even bothering to turn and look at her.

"Harry, you can't shut yourself up here forever, you know."

"I KNOW!" He hadn't meant to shout at her--that had just slipped out--but perhaps it was better this way. He kept his eyes pinned to the floor. Anywhere but on her. He didn't want to see the hurt in her expression.

But then she replied, and her tone was anything but hurt. "Fine. Be that way! But if you don't come down to supper, I'll send Mum up here for you."

He turned then to see if she was really as angry as she sounded, but all he saw was her back as she left the room. He thought he heard her emit a half-strangled sound of rage in her throat, and then the sound of her stomping down the stairs echoed through the upper storeys of the house. He buried his face in his hands, whispering, "Crap!"

Several minutes later, he found himself in the Weasleys' garden. It was a cool night, and a slight breeze was blowing. He hoped someone had thought to put Silencing Charms around the Burrow too. The thought of their voices carrying out into the surrounding trees gave Harry an uneasy feeling.

As he approached, he heard Mr. Weasley and Percy giving accounts of the latest Death Eater captures. Some of the surviving Death Eaters had unmasked themselves and turned themselves in once Voldemort had disappeared, but not all of them had. The most loyal of the lot were surely looking for ways of bringing their master back to them so they could continue their reign of terror. The Ministry was most anxious to bring the rest of them in to stand trial, as well as ensuring that Voldemort was well and truly gone for good.

There were still two empty places at the table, and those were down at the end beside Ron and Hermione. Harry took one of the seats, not paying much attention to who was missing. Then Ginny came out of the house bearing a platter of food, and he realised she would be occupying the remaining place at the table… next to him. He glanced up at her reluctantly and saw that her mouth as pressed into a line, as she assessed the situation. He knew she wouldn't say anything that would cause a scene, but he noticed that as she took her seat, she moved the chair away from his.

Mrs Weasley handed Harry a plate piled high with food, and the conversation turned to the rebuilding of Hogsmeade. It was hoped that the village could be rebuilt quickly using magic to restore as many buildings as possible. Many of the residents were combining their forces in the effort to revive the village, and even outsiders had offered their help. The twins were planning on Apparating to the site the following day to see what they could do to help.

"Least we could do," said Fred.

"Yeah," agreed George. "It's our fault the village is in such a state, after all."

"You were only doing what you had to, dears," remarked Mrs Weasley. "War requires sacrifices of us all, doesn't it?"

She made a sound as if she was biting back a sob, and Harry knew she was thinking of Charlie. He shifted uncomfortably as her words hit too close to home, although she had no way of knowing it. Sneaking a glance round the table, he found both Hermione and Ron staring back at him, their expressions inscrutable. He could tell they were waiting for him to inform the family of still another sacrifice this war had required. But he maintained his silence during the most of the meal.

"The rebuilding is going to be the easy part," Pauline pointed out. "The merchants all lost stock as well, and they're going to have to replace it. We've all lost revenue in the last year with the war and the increased security. I'm not sure all the businesses in Hogsmeade will be able to come back after this. And that will make it all the harder on the rest of us…"

As the conversation continued to revolve around the war and the uncertainty as to whether it was even over yet, Harry got the impression that the Weasleys were avoiding mentioning his role in the latest battle. No one had asked him anything about his duel with Voldemort since his arrival, although he was certain they all knew about it. He knew they were waiting to him to broach the subject on his own, and he realised he ought to be grateful for their discretion. But there was something irritating about their silence as well. Was he so fragile that they had to tiptoe around him? The elder Weasleys had no idea there was even a good reason they should, after all.

But no time seemed right for him to bring it up. Even though they were discussing the war, Harry got the impression the others were generally happy. Yes, Charlie was gone--Mrs Weasley cast occasional glances towards his place at the table--but Harry knew things could have been much worse for all of them, so many more could have been killed. And it looked very much as if it was all over now. In spite of all the losses, they did have a lot to be thankful for.

Suddenly Percy's voice addressed the teenagers from the opposite end of the table. "Have any of you given any thought to the future? I could put in a word at the Ministry…"

"They haven't got all their NEWT results, yet, Perce," said Fred. "How can you expect them to know whether they've done well enough for a Ministry position or not?" He sounded very much as if not having good enough NEWT results for a Ministry position was a definite advantage.

"No, of course they haven't, but they must have an idea how they've done. I know I did, and it had nothing to do with any Divination rubbish."

Harry was surprised enough to comment. "You were the one who recommended I take Divination in the first place.

Percy shifted slightly in his seat. "I've had a change of heart on the subject."

"No offence, Perce," said Ron, "but I really don't see myself dedicating the rest of my life to cauldron bottoms." Harry felt a movement beside him as Ron winced. Hermione must have kicked him under the table.

Percy, meanwhile replied rather huffily. "I'll have you know that my cauldron report was an important advance towards an international standard. And you know we've had other issues to deal with since then."

Bill rolled his eyes. "Give it a rest, will you?"

"Well, I don't see myself sitting behind a desk for the rest of my life." Ron paused and looked sidelong at his girlfriend. "Hermione might go for it, though."

"What do you see yourself doing then?"

"Thought I might give Auror training a go…" There was another movement, as Hermione had surely kicked him again, but for a moment Harry couldn't understand why this pronouncement might earn Ron retribution from his girlfriend.

"That's lovely, dear," said Mrs Weasley brightly. "You and Harry could try that together."

Harry saw Ron and Hermione exchange an extremely uncomfortable look. "I think I'd like some more chicken," said Hermione very quickly.

Mrs Weasley looked confused for a moment before replying, "Of course, dear."

Harry could do nothing to stop the rising irritation he felt against his best friends. He now understood why Hermione had tried to shut Ron up when he'd brought up Auror training. She'd been trying to spare Harry's feelings, as if he were fragile. As if they all needed to walk on eggshells around him.

"If you're going into Auror training," Percy was going on, "you're going to have to get your Apparition tests as soon as possible. I could help you there. I feel I passed my own test so quickly because I practised every day, you know. I used every possible opportunity to Apparate that I could."

"Yeah," said Fred. "Apparating down to breakfast every morning was a bit much, don't you think?"

"The time he Apparated into the loo while I was still in there was pushing it a bit," remarked George confidentially, getting a laugh out of Bill, Fred and his father. Mrs Weasley was busy trying to look stern, but not succeeding very well. Nobody at Harry's end of the table found the turn of the conversation very funny, however, and Harry realised that it was going to become difficult for them to conceal their increasing discomfort.

Once again, Mrs Weasley brought him from his thoughts. "Harry, dear, would you like some more?"

"No, thank you, Mrs Weasley, I think I'm full," he said warily.

"Just have another helping dear. You really need to get your strength back."

"Now Molly, let the boy be," Mr. Weasley interjected. "He's looking much better already."

"Sure he does," boasted Fred.

"Well, except for the straggly beard of his," joked George.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Ron, Hermione and Ginny exchange an uncomfortable look.

"It is a bit silly, dear," remarked Mrs Weasley. "You look much better without it…"

The tension coming from Harry's end of the table was becoming more and more noticeable. "What's wrong with the four of you?" Mrs Weasley asked suddenly.

"Nothing," Ron said too quickly. "Nothing at all."

"It's all right," Harry said. "I'll have to tell them at some point. It might as well be now."

"Tell us what, dear?" asked Mrs Weasley.

Harry felt the combined weight of their gazes upon him. He suddenly did not want to see them all look upon him with shock and pity as he told them what he'd done, but he had no choice now but to go through it. Under the table he felt Ginny reach for his hand and give it a comforting squeeze. She did not let go.

He hesitated a moment, stunned at her gesture after the way he'd treated her earlier. Then he took a deep breath. "Before I tell you anything, I need to be sure that there's no possible way we can be overheard."

Hermione took the hint immediately and cast a Silencing Charm over the general area. Even if Rita Skeeter or some other reporter had managed to penetrate the wards Harry was sure his story would not appear in tomorrow's Daily Prophet.

"What I tell you now must be kept a dead secret. I do not want this to be generally known…" He met each of their eyes in turn, getting silent assurance that none of them would breathe a word of this. "Once I tell you, I will only tell one other person, and that will be Sirius. After that, I do not wish to have to repeat this ever again. "And just as he'd told Remus, Ron and Ginny in the hospital wing--was that only a few days ago? It seemed like an eternity--he told the assembled Weasleys the entire story of how the means by which Voldemort might be defeated was discovered. Here he looked at Hermione and acknowledged what it must have cost her to keep that information quiet. Then he went on to tell how he'd gone into the final confrontation with the full knowledge of what he'd be giving up.

Mrs Weasley let out an exclamation when Harry told them the reason Ron had sent for Charlie's wand. One of the twins let out a low whistle. Bill said, as if to himself, "To think it was Charlie's wand that brought about Voldemort's fall."

"We can only hope," said Mr Weasley, pride filtering into his tone.

Utter silence fell over the table like a pall as Harry completed his tale, explaining that Lucius Malfoy had tried to kill him once he lay helpless on the ground, but the talisman had saved him. He did not add that he almost wished it hadn't worked. Mrs Weasley was crying silently, while Mr Weasley patted her shoulder. The others, as predicted, bore expressions of mixed shock and pity. Harry could tell they were all overcome with questions they did not dare voice. He could easily imagine Percy wondering what Harry was planning to do with the rest of his life now that he no longer possessed any magic. Harry looked down and saw that Ginny was still holding his hand. Her grip was almost painful, but Harry welcomed it.

Mrs Weasley finally broke the silence. "Harry," she began shakily, "you will always have a home here with us. I hope you know that."

"Yes, well, thank you. But it's not as if I can get a job and actually contribute anything."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that," said Mr Weasley. "I'm certain the Ministry…"

"I don't want someone offering me a job because they've taken pity on me, all right?" Harry immediately began to blush in shame at his outburst, because he knew Mr Weasley meant well.

"I understand, Harry, but perhaps something can be worked out. No one would need to know about your situation," Mr Weasley added quickly before Harry could protest further.

"You should at least think about it, Harry, dear," said Mrs Weasley. "We don't want… Well, we don't want to lose track of you, do we?"

But Harry knew what she really meant. She meant that she didn't want to lose him at all. He knew from what she'd said at Charlie's memorial that she considered him as one of her own. He'd known it in his heart for even longer. He couldn't put a finger on when it had happened, but at some point over the years, she'd begun treating him like one of her own children.

He swallowed and nodded once. "Anyway," he said at last, breaking the silence that had fallen over the table once more, "I'm going to need to get a few Muggle things in the village tomorrow."

"Yes, of course," said Mrs Weasley, "but perhaps someone else can go in your place. If any of those reporters catch sight of you…"

Harry knew she was right. At the same time Mr Weasley perked up. "Perhaps you can use some of my collection. You're perfectly welcome, you know. You won't be needing any plugs or batteries, will you?"

Harry smiled in spite of himself. "Erm, no, actually. What I really need is a razor."

Both Mr and Mrs Weasley looked a bit happier.

The rest of the meal and the evening that followed were quite subdued after that. When it was time for Percy and Penelope to leave, Harry was quite surprised when Percy solemnly shook his hand. He was even more surprised when the twins followed suit, and they seemed perfectly serious about it. George clapped him on the shoulder and gave it a squeeze. No one knew what to say, apparently, but Harry could read the gratitude in their eyes all the same.

The others were going inside. Ginny gave him a penetrating look in passing. He could tell she was not pleased with him for his earlier behaviour, and yet there was understanding in that look, as if she knew he was trying to shut her out and why. He felt the hairs on his arms stand on end, as he realised that she was not going to stand by and allow him to do what he wanted. She would fight him tooth and nail on this.

Last to approach him was Pauline. "I'm sorry if I seemed short with you this morning," she began. Then she hesitated before going on. "I only gave up my business, and that can be rebuilt…" She never completed the thought, but Harry guessed well enough what she'd left unsaid.

A/N: Welcome to my angst-fest. I expect the beginning chapters of this will be quite difficult to read, as well as to write. This is going to be a very different story from its predecessor; it's going to have to be. The enemy in this story will be largely internal rather than an external incarnation of evil. I'm planning on using more that one point of view this time as well. This sequel would not be possible without my good friend Marian's support. She is the only person I know who can yell at me and move me to tears all in the same review. She is a wonderful person and a wonderful friend. Thanks, Marian, I love ya!