sexstories.com


Introduction:

harry potter
Chapter 39: A Busy Weekend

Note: As always, Read, Review, Enjoy!



Harry pulled quickly away from Ginny, wanting to make it look as if he hadn’t intended to get caught. Hermione opened her mouth to speak, but couldn’t find words powerful enough to express her feelings at the moment. Instead, through clenched teeth she said, "Harry Potter, you had better just stay away from me right now." She turned and walked with false calm out of the room. He let out the breath he’d been holding, glad that she hadn’t tried to kill him, because he would have let her. He collapsed on the couch, feeling drained.

"At least we won’t have to hide." Ginny said quietly as she knelt in front of him. "Better for her to find out now rather than later, right?"

Harry looked down into her hopeful face and began to despise himself all over again. "Actually, Ginny. I don’t think this is going to work out after all. That kiss just proved to me that there really wasn’t anything between us."

She stood abruptly. "What do you mean? Are you saying you didn’t feel…anything?"

"No, I didn’t. And now I’ve ruined things with Hermione, and it was all for nothing. Absolutely nothing." He hoped that had sounded as harsh as he wanted. For this to work, Ginny had to hate him too.

She paced in front of him awhile, looking angry and sad and disappointed all at the same time. Finally she turned to him and slapped him hard across the face. "I’m not nothing!" she yelled. Not knowing what else to do, she ran from the room, her tears freely flowing.

Harry tried to stand, but his legs wouldn’t work right. He decided to let himself cry, for Hermione. Even for Ginny. He had killed two birds with one stone and now, all he had to do was wait for Ron to find out what had happened. One more person to hurt, and then three of his closest friends would be safe.

After he had composed himself, Harry went in search of Fred and Draco. Once together, he led the boys out to the lake, where they could talk privately. He let them in on his plan, and told them what had happened so far. "Hermione, Ron and Ginny shouldn’t be there. Neither should Luna, and if this all plays out right, Ron will keep her from coming to Hogsmeade. Fred, you deserve to face Percy, and I wouldn’t dare be the one to stand in your way, which is why I’m letting you in on this. But you both have to help me here. You have to play along, you have to hate me too, in front of them. Malfoy, you shouldn’t have a problem there."

"Not in the least." He said showing his teeth in a way that Harry chose to believe was a genuine smile.

"I’m not happy about this," Fred said reluctantly, "but you’re right. I don’t want anything to happen to Ron or Ginny." And so the three would-be warriors resigned themselves to hurting the ones they loved, trusted and respected.

(BREAK)

Hermione walked as calmly as she could until she got to the tunnel Fred had showed her. Then she ran, finally letting the tears come. Coming to a stop in the crystal cavern, she fell to her knees and sobbed uncontrollably. She tried to erase what she had seen but it was seared into her mind.

Harry and Ginny had been wrapped around each other… it was an image she could never forget.

She didn’t know what to do or think, didn’t know who she could turn to. She had never expected Harry to hurt her so badly… there had to be a reason for this. Looking at the sparkling cold stones surrounding her, she realized they made her feel cold… and lonely. This vast emptiness of the cavern may be all well and good for Fred but this wasn’t the place for her. Getting herself under control, she wiped her face on her sleeve and smoothed her hair as best she could. Then she rose and began her return to the surface, in search of someone who could help her make sense of all this.

(BREAK)

"He did what?" Ron was incredulous. "Are you sure?"

"Of course I’m sure! I walked right in on them groping each other." Hermione paced in front of him, a ball of anger and nerves. She had grabbed him in the middle of his lunch and dragged him outside against his will. At first he’d been disgruntled, but after hearing what she had to tell him he could see why she was so agitated and instantly turned himself on to sympathetic friend mode.

"Maybe it’s not what it seems, Mione. I mean, I’ve heard the way he’s talked about you, seen the way he looks at you."

"Yeah, well maybe if it was the first time they did this behind my back I could believe it was a mistake, but it isn’t." She sat next to him and buried her head in her hands.

"What are you talking about?" He asked, completely confused.

"During Christmas break, before I got to the house, he found her crying in the parlor and she used it as an opportunity to kiss him. He told me all about it and they both said it was a mistake, but what am I supposed to think now?" She started crying again and he put his arm around her, hugging her close in comfort.

He had no idea that his sister had been so bold, Harry hadn’t told him anything about it. He felt hurt himself then, that his best friend wouldn’t have come and told him any of this. Of course, if Harry was trying to hook up with Ron’s sister in secret, he probably wouldn’t run to tell him about it. But was he? It didn’t seem right. But whatever was happening, it had put Hermione right in the crosshairs and that wasn’t right either. As he held his friend, he felt her intense misery and knew he needed to do something.

Wanting to be alone, Hermione left him to go wander the school grounds shortly after she managed to once more pull herself together. Worried for her, Ron rushed into the castle in search of Harry hoping to find out what was going on. But as he passed Moaning Myrtle’s lavatory, he heard loud sobbing and recognized it as belonging to his sister. Glancing around to be sure no one saw him going into the girls’ bathroom, he quickly opened the door and slipped in. "Ginny?" He called out softly.

"Leave me alone!" she screamed from within one of the stalls.

"You know I can’t do that, not when you’re this upset. What happened?" He walked over to her stall, but she remained silent. "Come on Ginny." He said, lightly tapping on the door.

He nearly fell over backwards when she whipped it open and glared at him with eyes swollen red from heavy tears. "I want to be alone!" she said through gritted teeth.

"Does this have to do with Harry?" he asked gently, not wanting to abandon his sister when she was this upset. What in the world was Harry doing to everyone?

Her face turned dark. "So, Hermione already ran crying to you. Well tell her that she can relax, Harry doesn’t want me."

"What are you talking about? What do you mean Harry doesn’t want you? What is going on? What did he say to you?"

"It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters, does it." She slumped down on the floor, her head hanging. "Please, just leave me alone right now. I just want to be alone."

"Okay." He said quietly as he observed her pitiful form. "I’ll be back to check on you in awhile." He promised.

"Whatever."

He left, standing in the hallway for a moment to catch his bearings. Hermione and Ginny, they were both broken with one swift action by Harry. It made his heart hurt to see the girls so upset, and so stealing himself and letting his anger drive him, Ron went in search of Harry in order to get some answers.

(BREAK)

"What the hell did you think you were doing?" Ron yelled, grabbing and throwing the book Harry was reading across their dormitory.

Harry took a deep breath. It was time for the third act. "I don’t know what you’re talking about, mate." He said with disinterest, getting up to retrieve his book.

"You broke my sister’s heart! And Hermione’s! Do you know how hard it is to deal with two crying girls?!? I should punch you in the face!" Ron yelled, following him around the room.

"Then do it if it will make you feel better, but I don’t think I did anything wrong. Ginny was there, and I was curious. It’s not my fault that Hermione chose that moment to walk in on us." He responded and moved to the window to gaze out as if he were disinterested in the conversation. Push me, he silently begged.

Ron stood behind him, mouth agape. "Not your fault?"

"I don’t see how this concerns you anyway." Harry said cruelly.

"You cheated on my best friend with my sister! That’s how this affects me! What is the matter with you? Has all the pressure finally broken something in your head?! Why are you acting like this?" He demanded.

"I really don’t feel like talking about this anymore, and I’d rather be alone, so if you wouldn’t mind closing the door on your way out." Harry turned to Ron, putting a blank bored expression on his face.

Ron crossed the room so that he was right in front of Harry, using his height to its full intimidating advantage. "The hell I will! Something is fishy here, and I really don’t care what it is at this point. But you are never to use my sister again!"

"I’ll use whoever I like, Ron. If it weren’t for me, you’d all be dead now anyway. I’ll use your sister as I see fit and let’s face it, we both know she’ll come running back every time." Ron turned angrily away. Harry didn’t have to read his mind to know what was coming and his last thought was, this is going to hurt, before Ron’s fist came flying at him.

(BREAK)

The vision came upon her quickly and when she came out of it, Luna’s felt her whole world turned upside down. It had only confirmed what her dreams had been telling her, but some event must have finally taken place to put them all on this road. Although the vision given to her was one far off in the future, it showed her and her friends as they will be when the dark times are over, and they were all happy. As long as they stayed on the right path. The only problem was that it was a future she’d never envisioned for herself, and she was sure her friends had never expected to end up the way she saw them. More than that, it confirmed her deepest fears about her relationship with Ron. She had so wanted him to be right for her, but if she was being honest, she’d begun to doubt their compatibility long before her dreams started. Should she tell them all what was in store for them?

No, she decided against telling them. After all, that future was so far off and so many things could change it. But if that was the way it ultimately had to be, then she would do her best to secretly keep them all on the right path. And as long as the future remained a happy one, she would let fate guide them all, herself included.

(BREAK)

The next month passed uncomfortably for Harry, since word had spread quickly through the school about the fighting between him and his friends. He sat alone in the back of every class, and kept his head down as other students wholly unconnected to him and his situation threw taunts. He could handle this though, all of these kids angry over what they can’t understand and taking it out on him. It was his fault after all for the way his former friends now behaved. Ginny had been well liked among her peers and kind to everyone, but now she refused to see anyone outside of class, not even her brothers. Hermione had stopped raising her hand, forcing the other students to provide answers, and deal with the ridicule that comes with being wrong. She also refused to help anyone with their homework, which was felt hardest by the Gryffindors. Many house points were lost due to late work and wrong answers in Potions. Ron was doing horribly in quidditch practice, and his performance grew worse as the game against Slytherin fast approached. In fact, Harry was surprised to realize that it was this Friday. Hogsmeade was on Saturday. It was going to be a busy weekend.

After announcing there would be no final trip to Hogsmeade to a disappointed school, Dumbledore had closed the owlery so that no one could send out word of the cancelled visit. Harry knew that this was all part of the plan, he had been meeting with the Headmaster, Fred, Draco and the other Professors three times a week, going over the details. It was simple really, they were going to ambush the Death Eater ambushers when they entered the village. Draco had said Lucius and the others were to invade the village before dawn and take Harry as soon as they saw him. Half of the professors from the school were going to hide out in town along with Tonks, Moody, Kingsley and the Aurors, as well as most of the townspeople who were staying to defend their homes. Dumbledore was to stay behind at the castle with the rest of the professors, in case there would be trouble at the school. He would only be called away if things got out of hand in Hogsmeade. Harry, hoped they wouldn’t need him; his faith in all of these adults had not been restored. He wanted to scream at them what he was giving up in order to do this, but kept it all inside instead, waiting to use it on his enemies.

(BREAK)

Hermione sat in the library with Ron and Luna as they all worked on separate essays. As had become usual in the last few weeks, she was having trouble focusing on her work and was letting her mind wander to thoughts of Harry. He’d been so cold to everyone lately, and she couldn’t understand where this sudden attitude was coming from. As Ron slammed his book shut in frustration, Hermione reminded herself that she no longer cared what was going on with Harry.

"What’s wrong?" Luna asked him.

"I’ve read this same page five times and I still couldn’t tell you what it said." Ron answered unhappily as he slumped down in his seat. Then something across the room caught his eye and he sat up very straight. "Hey, look over there, isn’t that Fred?"

"In the library?" Hermione turned to look. "He swore he’d never set foot in here."

"Well, let’s go see what’s going on." He suggested.

"I think we should just leave him alone. He seems to be in the middle of something." Luna pointed out, looking nervous.

Hermione could tell that Fred was talking to someone, but whoever it was back there, they were hidden by the massive bookshelves. "I’m sure he wouldn’t care if we went over to say hi." Her curiosity had been peaked and she wanted to know what Fred was up to. Some part of her felt certain it had something to do with Harry.

"I think he might." Luna quietly replied.

"Who cares?" Ron said, getting up and walking over to his brother. Hermione went to follow him, noting that Luna had stayed where she was. "Hey, Fred!" he called across the library.

In the midst of students shushing Ron, she noticed Fred look up in panic before glancing at whoever his companion was. And then he fled, before they could reach him. "What is he doing?"

"Come on!" Ron ran forward and she followed close on his heels, but all they managed to see was three boys running out of the library. "Was that Harry and Draco with him?" he asked incredulously.

"I’m not sure." She answered, though she knew what she had seen. What on earth would those three have to talk about?

Apparently Ron thought he knew who would have the answers. He turned and stalked back to their table where Luna was still calmly sitting. "What was that all about?" he demanded of his girlfriend.

"You’ll have to ask them." She said evasively, neither confirming nor denying that she did know something.

"I’m so tired of this Luna." Ron said, gathering his things. "I can’t handle all these secrets anymore. My friends are flailing all around me and I know that you know why."

"It’s not my place to say." She said quietly.

"It never is, is it?" Ron said in an angry whisper after a stern look from Madame Pince. "You’re always looking out for everyone else. When will it be my turn, Luna? When will you finally take my side?" And then he thundered off leaving the two girls speechless in his wake.

"I’m sorry Hermione. I’m just so sorry." Luna said with tears in her eyes.

"For what?" she asked softly, reaching out to place her hand on the girl’s shoulder in comfort.

"Everything." She answered before racing out of the library herself. Hermione sat, staring at the table and not caring if everyone was looking at her. She suddenly got even more angry with Harry. Not only had he ruined their relationship, he was inadvertently ruining Ron and Luna’s. She felt bad for the other girl, having so much responsibility on her shoulders. Although she would very much like to know what Luna was keeping secret for Harry, she agreed that it wasn’t her place to say anything. After all, the only reason she knew anything was because of her special powers, she obviously wasn’t in Harry’s confidence. But Fred was, and so was Draco apparently.

Something pricked at Hermione’s thoughts, some conversation she’d had with Harry in the recent past about those boys. But her mind was a muddled mess lately and she couldn’t make the memory come to her. With a heavy sigh, she gathered her own things and left to go find Fred. If she couldn’t make him tell her what was going on, then she might as well warn him that Ron was on a warpath to find out the truth.

(BREAK)

Finally Friday came, and Fred found that he was at a loss. For a month now, his friends and siblings had been absolutely inconsolable. Of course he agreed with Harry that Ron, Ginny, Luna and Hermione shouldn’t be going into battle. Where he disagreed was the way Harry had chosen to keep them from following. He would have come up with a different idea, but by the time he knew anything about it, Harry had already taken action. Many times since, Fred had tried to hint to the others that none of this was real, but Harry had done his job well. It seemed everyone but Luna hated him right now, although since she was the only one Harry hadn’t hurt directly that was understandable. He didn’t know what to do, and he hated seeing them all, Harry included, feeling so miserable. And when Hermione had come to him, asking questions he couldn’t give her the answers to he’d felt ten times worse. He’d taken to avoiding her and Ron, and now thankfully he only had to make it until the next day.

But as he walked to lunch, he saw Ron sitting alone on the floor just outside the Great Hall and feeling a tug on his heart, decided that being a good brother was more important than hiding Harry’s secret. "Hey, what’s up?" Fred asked, taking a seat next to him.

"I can’t play in the game tonight." Ron answered quietly.

He was surprised, figuring his brother would have taken the opportunity to jump down his throat for information. "Why not?"

"Because I’ll lose it for us. You’ve seen me at practice, I’ve lost any ability I had to play. And I don’t want to be the reason we lose to Slytherin." Ron’s voice was low and slightly monotone.

Fred was really starting to worry. "I’ll help you, alright? I’ll stay by the goal and block for you."

"You’re supposed to fly with Harry." Ron said, making a face.

"Without Cho trying to kill him up there, I think Harry can take care of himself." Fred answered, now wondering if their decision not to replace George was a good one. With McGonagall’s permission, they had all said they would leave the second beater position open and play the rest of the year one man down, out of respect to the memory of his murdered twin.

Ron was shaking his head. "Why did he do this to us Fred?"

"I don’t know." He lied. "But I’m sure it’s not what we’re all thinking. Harry always has a reason for doing the things he does." Then he told him the same cover story he’d told Hermione a few days before. "I’ve been trying to talk to him about it, I just didn’t want you guys to know. That’s why I ran from you the other day."

"And why was Malfoy there?"

"Beats me, you’ll have to ask Harry about that one. But I don’t think all this is as bad as everyone thinks. I think there’s got to be a reason for it."

"He nearly destroyed our sister! And Hermione! He’s been picking fights with me and everyone else. It’s like he and Malfoy switched places or something." Ron said with anger and a bit of concern. "And now I’m in another fight with Luna, and it’s about him. And here you are, defending him just like she is."

"I’m sure we’ll all find out what’s going on in time." Fred tried to offer. But Ron wasn’t buying.

"It’s taken too long already." He said, shaking his head. "A month we’ve all been like this! I’m not sure we can all go back to the way it used to be, even if Harry did have some stellar reason for putting us all through this."

Fred wasn’t sure what to say in answer, what comforting words he could give. But as they sat there together in the empty corridor, he certainly hoped his brother was wrong.

(BREAK)

Harry sat in the locker room, straining to hear the cheering students in the stands. There was nothing but silence. Everyone had been holding their breath all day in anticipation of this game, because of the events that took place the last two times Gryffindor took the field.

Ron and Ginny were quiet, keeping to themselves in the corner and occasionally throwing angry, hurt glances at Harry. He wanted desperately to tell them the decision he had made late last night while trying to fall asleep. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t tell anyone, he didn’t want them to try and change his mind, though he wasn’t sure anyone would care at this point. He had decided he wouldn’t be coming back next year. Not to Hogwarts, not to the Dursley’s, not to Dumbledore. He would hole himself up in Grimmauld Place, training himself, strengthening his new powers and waiting for the time to fight. He shivered in anticipation of putting this new plan into action as he followed his team out to the field.

Harry was scared to scan the crowds for Hermione’s face. He felt almost certain she wouldn’t be there, so he was surprised to see her sitting in the front row and had to catch himself before he waved to her, instead taking in her unhappy scowl. Her mind was a stone fortress and he suspected she had been practicing extra hard on how to keep him out. Harry quickly took in the rest of the crowd while the captains came forward to shake hands; everyone’s faces were filled with grim expectation. And then there was Luna, actually in the Ravenclaw section. Harry looked at her in confusion, but she was trying very hard not to meet his eyes- or look at Ron. Fred noticed where Harry was looking and as they took their places on the field he leaned over and whispered, "She and Ron had some big blowout. Rumor is, it was over you." Fred threw him a sympathetic look before the whistle blew and they both raced upwards.

The game itself was nothing out of the ordinary. With every professor in the stands and memories of past events still fresh in everyone’s minds, there were no pranksters from the Slytherin team pulling the usual antics. In fact there were very few jeers and taunts thrown out at all. Ron’s concentration was suffering terribly and after an hour of play, the only way Gryffindor could possible win was to catch the snitch. So during a timeout that was called after a foul, Ginny had Fred give up on trying to help Ron and focus his energy on keeping the path clear for Harry.

When play resumed, Fred became Harry’s shadow. After another ten minutes, he caught sight of the snitch hovering 5 feet above the ground near the Gryffindor rings. The other seeker was all the way down the field so Harry took his time and grabbed the snitch like it was the easiest thing in the world. As the team landed cheering and hugging, the stands finally went crazy in celebration of a safely played game as Harry walked off the field alone, his broom dragging behind him.

(BREAK)

"Congratulations." Luna said quietly as she came up to Ron before he made it to the locker rooms.

Ron wasn’t feeling very victorious after the performance he’d just given on the field. And with everything else he was going through, he wasn’t in the frame of mind to make up with his girlfriend either. "Why don’t you go congratulate Harry? He’s the one who won the game for us, just like always."

Luna sighed deeply. "Because I wanted to come see you."

"I’m sure." He answered bitterly.

"Ron this is getting ridiculous. I know it seems like Harry is being a very bad friend-"

"He’s being a horrible person in general!" Ron interrupted. "And here you are, once more sticking up for him."

"Because-"

"I know!" he interrupted again, feeling his anger bubble over. "I know you defend him because you keep saying there’s something else going on, but then you can’t tell me what it is. Well you know what Luna? I don’t care anymore. He and Fred and Draco have something going on, we all see it, but I just don’t care."

"Well you should!" she yelled back. "You should care enough to realize that nothing Harry has done makes any sense and therefore it can’t possibly be real!"

"Then what is it all about?" He screamed in her face. "Why did he have to tear down Ginny and Hermione? Why does he have to go around saying and doing the things he has been? Why is he turning on us all?"

"He isn’t!" she screamed back. Then she seemed to get herself under control, taking a few steps back to literally distance herself from the argument. "Look, it’s because of all this secrecy. Let me talk to him, see if I can’t get him to just come clean with everyone."

"And what if we just don’t care to hear what he has to say anymore?" Ron asked, crossing his arms.

"Then that’s your loss. Enjoy your celebration party." She said angrily as she stalked away.

(BREAK)

Nothing had made her feel as normal as flying around the field and playing Quidditch. Ginny reflected that this was perhaps because while up there concentrating on winning the game, she didn’t have time to dwell on all the things she felt were driving her insane. Harry disappeared quickly after they won, wisely choosing not to try and join in the celebration. She wanted to hate him, she really did. She just couldn’t, and now that she was once more on the ground, she didn’t feel like enjoying the Quidditch victory. She didn’t want to be around anyone at all and so quickly changing in the locker room, she snuck out while her brothers, Seamus and Parvati showered up.

She wandered the grounds of the school, her only goal to avoid everyone. Her head was hurting again, it always did lately, as she tried to piece together where things had begun to go so wrong in her life. She supposed it all began when she was eleven and under the influence of the Riddle Diary. She had been disappointed with herself, being so stupid to be swept up into something that put Harry and Ron in the position to chase after her and nearly get themselves killed in the process. Since then, she often felt her thoughts weren’t her own… not that they were Riddle’s anymore either. It was more like she felt lost, confused all the time. She didn’t know how she felt about anything, but she was tired of being so gullible. She had believed Harry as easily as she had Riddle, the whole thing made her feel like a child again. Some thing to be easily manipulated to fit into someone else’s plans. She couldn’t do it anymore, she couldn’t live like this. Something had to change and she had a feeling she was the one who needed do the changing. Had she been a stronger person, Harry never would have been able to destroy her so easily. She was the one who hadn’t been able to let go of the fantasy, she’d been the one to keep pursuing him even after he told her he wanted someone else. Her grief and sorrow had reached a high point this year after Neville and then George had died, and she had let herself be lost in the misery. But how was she supposed to climb out now when she was buried so deeply in despair?

(BREAK)

Harry sat by the lake, still in his quidditch uniform. He felt Luna before he saw her, as she came around and took a seat in front of him. He had a feeling she had known what was going on the whole time, though to be fair he hadn’t tried to shield it from her. Maybe he was still hoping there would be one person on his side. She took a deep breath before beginning in a quietly supportive voice. "You don’t have to, you know. You don’t have to do any of this. They have the right to come with you tomorrow. They have the right to know you didn’t really betray them."

"Didn’t I?" he said glumly, pulling up blades of grass so that he could look anywhere but at her. "Didn’t I betray them? Even if it was for the right reasons?"

"There’s no right reason for pushing away everyone who loves you. That’s just selfish." She hesitated. Harry knew what she had to say. He didn’t want to hear it, but he deserved it. "Harry, you may never get them back. I’ve never seen Ron or Ginny so hurt and angry. And Hermione has closed up into herself so much that even I can’t get in her head. I’ve kept your secret, without you even knowing I knew, out of respect for you, but I won’t do it anymore. I’m going to tell them about tomorrow, about Hogsmeade… about all of your plans. They have the right to decide for themselves. We all have something to lose, Harry, something much more important than our lives. We’re losing each other."

"You can’t!" He felt panicked. "Fred, Draco and I decided…"

"Bull Harry!" She yelled, rising to her feet. "You decided and they went along with it because they had no choice. You had already taken action…you should know better than to try and fool me. I’m telling them why you did this. Hopefully they’ll forgive you and we can stand strong together."

"Luna, I’m asking you not to. Please. I won’t be able to do what I have to do if I’m worried about them. And when the time comes to fight Voldemort, I won’t be able to keep my head cool if any of them…if they…if they died." He knew he was pleading, begging. But he didn’t care. She had to understand.

"That’s their risk to take, Harry." She said simply.

"I could take you to Dumbledore right now, you know. Or McGonagall. They’ll silence you with bickeross or whatever it takes, because, if you tell anyone, you’d be jeopardizing all the plans we so carefully made. You could ruin everything!" Harry leapt to his feet, his threat hanging in the air between them.

Luna, however, remained calm. "There’d still be time to bring them into the plan. You know as well as I that Dumbledore would never use a potion on a student, not a good student anyway."

"Then I’ll tell Snape." Harry crossed his arms. "As I see you forgot your wand, I’ll put you in a binding spell and bring you to him. ‘You know as well as I’," he used her own words against her, "that Snape would do it without hesitation."

Luna shook her head in disbelief. "Who are you? You certainly aren’t Harry Potter. He was never so cold." She turned to walk away, but on instinct he reached out and grabbed her arm.

"These things change people. I need to not feel right now. Understand that coldness is the only thing that will save us all." He knew, though his tone was sure and steady, that he was still pleading with her…trying to make her see his side. And she knew it too. She shook off his grip and raised a hand to his cheek.

"I understand that’s what you believe. You really would hate me forever, wouldn’t you? If I told?" She glided her fingers gently across his chin, studying his eyes. Then she wrapped him in a hug, her arms tight around his neck. He was stunned. He could feel the ice in his eyes melt softly at her display of friendship and he wrapped his arms around her waist and buried his face in her shoulder. He wanted to cry, but couldn’t. She stroked his hair, patiently letting him hold her as long as he needed. Finally, she said, "I won’t tell them Harry. Not because you’ve convinced me it’s right, and not because I’m scared of your threats. I’m keeping your secret because…" She gently let go and placed her hands on either side of his face. Then she bought his ear to her lips and whispered, "because you can’t fight destiny, Harry. And in the end, I see us all there together. I see it so clearly." She pulled back and smiled. Then she started walking away.

Harry didn’t know what to say or do or think. Without realizing he was saying anything, he shouted after her…"I don’t think I could ever hate you, Luna."

"I hope so." She called softly over her shoulder.

(BREAK)

The Gryffindors enjoyed a picnic on the pitch with their Quidditch team to celebrate their win of the house cup. Only something outrageous could affect their standing before the end of the year. Hermione sat by herself under the stands, shielded from sight by the massive wooden structure. She watched as her classmates engaged in innocent revelry while feeling like she may never be happy again. Glancing at Fred and Ron, she saw that they both were standing off by themselves trying to look like they were enjoying themselves. She didn’t know why they were bothering. She scanned the crowd and realized Ginny wasn’t there. Neither was Harry. Well, they were probably off together and she could care less. No, that was a lie. Hermione cared very much about it, she just wished she didn’t.

"Hey, fancy seeing you back here." Said a wry voice behind her.

Whipping around, she found Draco Malfoy standing behind her, staring out at their classmates. "What are you doing here?"

"Same as you I’d imagine. I’m hiding from my former friends." He sneered. But under his hardness, she saw uncertainty and maybe a bit of fear.

"They are still my friends." She answered defensively. "I didn’t betray my friends like you did." She added just to hurt him.

"Hey, I did that to help all of you." He angrily replied. "You’ll want to back off a bit Granger." He warned. "I may be on your side now but that doesn’t mean I like any of you."

"You’re a sneaky little jerk, no matter what you do." She said standing and brushing dirt from her clothes as she prepared to storm off.

"Oh yeah? As sneaky as Potter? I don’t see him out there at the party… Of course Ginny isn’t out there either. Maybe they’re off finishing what you walked in on a few weeks ago." He said with a malicious grin.

She knew he was lashing out, trying to make her feel bad. But knowing it didn’t make his words hurt any less. "If they are, it’s no longer a concern of mine." She answered stiffly. To her surprise, he softened.

"Look, I didn’t come over here to start a fight with you."

"Then why did you come over here? Why couldn’t you have just left me alone?"

"Because I felt bad for you." He admitted, once more angry as if admitting he had thought of someone else was her fault. "This whole thing with Potter, it’s gotten so out of hand, I doubt any of this is what he had planned for."

"What plan, what are you talking about?" She demanded.

"Nothing." He said sullenly, turning his back on her. "I just have been watching you all lately-"

"You’ve been watching us for years." She accused.

"Fair enough. But this last month, you all have really been falling apart and it seems, well…"

"What?" She asked impatiently. "Spit it out."

"It just seems that while you’re all hurting right now, no one seems to realize how bad it’s getting for Ginny. I mean you look and act terribly now, but I really think she feels like Potter ran her over with an emotional truck. And she seemed kind of unstable before this whole thing." He looked concerned, truly concerned, and though it threw her, Hermione wasn’t in the mood to talk about the youngest Weasley.

"Really Malfoy? You think I’m the best one to come talk to about being worried about Ginny? What do you care anyway?"

"I don’t care." He scoffed. "It just that when this all blows over and you and Potter kiss and make up, she’ll still be left out in the cold, used and thrown away. Let’s just say I can sympathize with her." He added miserably.

"Well, rest your sad little heart, Harry and I won’t be getting past this."

He looked at her in contempt. "You really do think you’re so smart, don’t you Granger. You just know everything." He grinned wickedly. "There’s so much you don’t know about this whole thing it’ll make your head spin."

"Oh, but you know all about it? Why, because you and Harry are such good friends now that he confides in you?" She laughed as if the idea were the most ridiculous thing she’d ever heard.

Draco simply grinned wider before walking away. She wanted to scream in frustration. It was so much easier when the lines were clear and she knew who the bad guys were. Draco may have decided to switch sides, but he was still the same underneath, just as she’d suspected. She didn’t take anything he’d said seriously though, figuring he was just trying to cause more trouble. And so grabbing her things, she returned to the castle, feeling even more hardened than when she’d left it that morning.

(BREAK)

Harry got ready for bed in silence that night as had become his custom. Ron never looked in his direction anymore, unless it was to glare, so naturally he was surprised to see his friend walking up to him. He sat warily on his bed, waiting to see what was going to happen. Had Luna gone back on her word in order to end the rumored fight she was having with her boyfriend?

Ron stopped right in front of him and Harry caught Dean and Seamus’s movements as they hurried out of the room to give the boys privacy. He spoke slowly and quietly. "What is going on with you, my brother and Draco?"

"What are you talking about?" Harry asked quickly.

"I see it, we all see it. You three stand around with your heads in a circle. Now I can understand you and Fred being chummy, but what the hell is going on with Draco. Is he like your new best friend? Are you replacing me with him?" Ron eyes grew dark.

"Of course not. We’re working on a project." Harry said lamely.

"Right, like I’d believe anything that comes out of your mouth these days." Ron said rolling his eyes and turning his back.

"Then why are you asking? Why are you bothering me at all?" Harry stood yelling.

"Because we need to sort this out!" Ron yelled back, turning to face him again. Then he did something that even seemed to surprise him; he pushed Harry back down. The surprise was covered quickly as Harry stared up at him in amazement. "Stay there. I’ve got one more question."

"Well?" He crossed his arms.

"Since you’re going around replacing people, who exactly are you replacing Luna with? You see, I’m having this huge fight with my girlfriend, and surprise! Like all fights going on these days, it was about you. She knows something she isn’t sharing. Is she your new Hermione, the way Draco is the new me?"

Harry forced himself to stand and laugh in Ron’s face. It hurt. "What’s it to you?" He yelled back. "You wanted Hermione from the beginning. She’s free, go get her! As for Luna…well (he prayed Luna wasn’t listening in) you’re just as crazy as she is. Why on earth would I ever want to spend more than five minutes with her? I don’t know what she thinks she knows, and I don’t know where she heard it from, but I’m sure the voices in her weird, demented head were the ones who told her. No wonder you’ve lost your mind too, with all the time you spend with her." Harry turned then, expecting to get punched again. He wanted to be punched again, because he was disgusted with himself at how easily being cruel was coming to him. He hoped this would soon be over, before he was completely taken over by this bitter creature that had obviously been lurking inside him. He turned to Ron again, waiting. But Ron was staring past Harry’s shoulder, pain and pity in his eyes. He spun around to see Hermione standing in the doorway, her face stone, her gaze icy.

"Just so you know." She said in a voice completely devoid of any sign of the girl she had been. "We can hear you two all the way in the girls’ tower. You might want to keep it down." She turned and walked out. And then Harry couldn’t help himself. It was too much, too much hurt to see her like that. He ran after her into the common room, expecting to have to battle the girls’ stairs and instead, was just in time to see the portrait close. He ran after her, listening with all his might, following her footsteps and determined to tell her everything and beg forgiveness. He would stun her tomorrow if he had to, in order to keep her from following him, but he couldn’t bear this anymore. Luna’s warning, that he may never get his friends back, was ringing in his head.

"Hermione!" He called out of breath as he followed her out into the breezy night. She stopped but didn’t turn. He ran around to face her. "I need to tell you… I need to tell you everything. The truth."

"I’m not interested." She said before stepping around him and continuing to walk to the lake.

"But it wasn’t real!" He said running after her. "I set it up, so that you and Ginny would hate me."

"Mission accomplished." She walked on.

"I wanted you to hate me so you wouldn’t want to follow me into battle!" He ran ahead of her and blocked the path. "But I can’t do it. I can’t go through with it, seeing you like this…I can’t do it."

"It’s too late, Harry." She glared him down. "You can’t just take it all back like it didn’t happen. The things you’ve said to and about people lately have made me wonder…."

"Wonder what?" he asked quietly, hanging his head.

"Wonder if this wasn’t the real you all along. How else could it come so easily?" She looked at him, hoping for a real response, hoping for something she could understand. But he had nothing to offer. Her words pierced him because he had been wondering the same thing. She looked at him a few minutes longer, took in his silence and sighed. "When you have an answer, find me." She turned to leave.

"Because I would do anything for you! To protect you, to keep you safe. That’s why it came so easily." She stopped, her back once again to him. Her mind was still a fortress and he could only hope he was getting through. "Because loving you is easy. Because in order to love you, this time I had to hurt you. Ginny is a friend. She could never be more. But I had to hurt her too, and Ron. Don’t you see, it’s all connected! We’re all connected. I can’t lose you. I’d have nothing to live for, no reason to win!" Had he gotten through? Her back was still to him. He waited, holding his breath. After a few moments she only shook her head and kept walking. Harry collapsed in a heap on the ground. He had no more strength, he had failed at everything.

(BREAK)

As soon as he entered his room, Draco felt he wasn’t alone. Pulling out his wand he turned to the corner where Crabbe and Goyle had just pulled off their invisibility cloaks. "What are you two doing here?" he demanded.

"We came to talk to you." Goyle said coming forward. "There have been rumors going around the Slytherin common room about you."

"Who cares what those idiots have to say." He snarled, though on the inside he felt nervous. These two may have been too stupid to live, but they were also very big and threatening boys, which was the main reason he’d kept them around as his lackeys. But if they chose to turn on him, they’d probably be able to kill him with their bare hands.

"Maybe you should care. They’re saying you joined Dumbledore, that you’ve been seen talking with Potter. Some are even saying that you didn’t just turn on Cho, that you’re turning on all of us." Crabbe said, stepping forward threateningly. "It’s not true, is it Draco?"

"Of course not you idiot!" He hissed out. "I’m undercover, a spy. Get it?"

"A spy?" They looked doubtful.

"Yes moron. A spy. Cho got herself caught up and so I turned on her to gain their trust. Now they let me be around to hear all sorts of things. I’ve been sneaking reports off to my father for weeks now." He wasn’t surprised by how quickly the lies came to him, only by how convincing he felt he was being.

"See, I knew it was that way it had to be." Goyle said with something like relief.

"Just keep your mouths shut about it. If you two mess this up for me I will absolutely destroy you." He said, at last finding the authority he used to have over them.

"Whatever you say Draco." Crabbe said in relief. Apparently they hadn’t been looking forward to the idea that they may have had to hurt him. It made him feel a little more secure. Of course fooling these two was a lot easier than someone with an actual working brain. Draco would just have to wait and see what came, but he knew he could never again go anywhere without his wand. There was no one on either side for him to really trust. At the moment, he was an island unto himself.

(BREAK)

The sun was just peaking over the horizon as Harry glanced out his window over Hogwart’s grounds. A light fog rolled out of the Forbidden Forest, sending imaginary figures towards the castle. Whether they were in warning or defiance, Harry couldn’t guess. He quickly and quietly got dressed and eased his way down the stairs. Fred was already waiting for him and from the look of his red eyes and sagging face, it seemed he had waited all night in the common room for dawn to break. They silently made their way to Dumbledore’s office, neither knowing what to say in the moment. Harry wished that he had the ring, that he could ask Sirius’s opinion, his parents’ opinion on how to proceed.

Malfoy was already in the office when they arrived. As the three boys sat silently receiving their last minute instructions, Harry looked out past his professors to the window. The sun was now fully visible sitting on the horizon, and he knew that the people of Hogsmeade were taking their places, preparing themselves. He listened as Draco gave his report that his contacts, the ones who didn’t know of his betrayal, had assured him that the Death Eaters were to be in the village that day. Finally they rose and began packing up, Harry feeling certain that the bad guys must already be in the village, only waiting for him to show before they apparated in. He stared at the weapons the Aurors had brought with them, they looked complicated and he realized he was happy with his own weapons. All he was bringing was his wand and his mind.

As he stepped into the coach behind Fred, Harry noticed Lupin and Tonks. They were staring grimly into each other’s eyes, their hands clasped. They quickly rested their foreheads together before separating into different coaches; Tonks with the Aurors, Lupin with the professors. Harry ached for Hermione then, in a way he never had before. In a way he didn’t know. He swallowed his doubt and took his seat as Hagrid ordered the coaches forward into battle.





A/N: Sorry once again this took so long. Next chapter: The Hogsmeade Battle.


Chapter 40: Loyalty, Defiance and War

NOTE: ACTION TIME!!! Yay!!! Read on! Review when you’re done! And absolutely enjoy!




The streets were deserted and the sun had just barely cleared the horizon. Hogsmeade was in lockdown. Everyone who had stayed to fight was hidden, waiting for the ambush. Harry walked the street alone, trying not to appear suspicious. Looking around, waiting and playing the bait, he noticed the sun hanging low, orange against the pink sky. He wanted to remember it in case things went wrong here today. In case this was the last sunrise he would see. He imagined Hermione was beside him- that they were just standing together watching the miracle of this new day. But new days were only miracles when presented with the possibility that there would be no tomorrow.

He could feel the air start to change. Someone, or more like lots of someones were about to apparate right in front of him. And then with a resounding crack there they were. They had been watching for him to appear and surrounded him, just like he thought they would. Many were faces he had never seen, and many were all too familiar, like Bellatrix, Percy and Lucius. In all there appeared to be over a hundred of them.They were all sent here for me? Harry thought to himself, almost feeling honored that Voldemort felt such a large number was necessary to take him down. He turned as Lucius stepped forward.

"No masks today?" Harry asked, waiting to give his signal.

"We don’t intend to leave any survivors. After we dispose of you, we will burn this town and everyone in it while they sleep in their beds." Lucius drew his wand, and then a thought seemed to occur to him. Harry saw the panic in his eyes and smiled.

"Took you a minute, didn’t it. To wonder why I was here early, why I was alone. I’m glad you left those masks at home. Now everyone will know who they are fighting." Harry’s wand was out and he threw up the red signal flair. Instantly they were all surrounded by more than three hundred witches and wizards, ready to defend their town with their lives.

Draco stepped up next to Harry, making his position very clear. "I’ll bet you wish you had paid more attention to me now don’t you?" He sneered at his father.

In an instant, everyone was in motion. Harry stood in the middle of the confusion, watching as Lucius approached his son, wand out. Draco hadn’t wavered. Harry gripped his own wand tighter, staying in case he was needed here. "I hoped I would see you. Traitor." Lucius growled.

"I’m not a traitor. I’m just doing what you always told me to do. I’m picking the winning side."

Lucius glared at him. Harry saw what he intended to do and was instantly in motion. He had barreled into Draco, pushing him out of the way so that the killing curse his father had just hurled at him would miss its target. They stumbled through the doorway of the nearest building and crouched down behind the counter.

"I never thought he’d actually kill you!" Harry said shocked.

"You should have." Draco answered back, clenching his teeth in pain and holding his arm.

"What happened? Did I do that?" Harry tried to see if the arm was broken or bleeding but Draco wouldn’t let go.

"It wasn’t you. It’s just that the spell didn’t completely miss." He held out his limp arm. "I can’t feel it at all from my forearm down. But it’ll be all right. Go back out there already!"

"But the spell…will it spread?" Harry asked, surprised by his concern.

"Of course not! You are as big an idiot as I thought. You go, I just need to get my bearings and I’ll go back out too." Draco said shakily.

Harry was unsure. He never thought he’d care whether Draco Malfoy lived or died. But then he thought, if Lucius would do this to his own son, what could he be doing to Fred or Lupin or Tonks? "Alright, I’m going. But be careful. It took a lot of convincing for Dumbledore to let you come with. I don’t want to lose my credibility."

"Yeah, yeah, you want the whole world to love you. Just get out of here!" Draco shoved him, though his eyes were glassy, his gaze growing far off. Harry clamped a hand on Draco’s shoulder in silent support and then before he could change his mind, he rushed back into the fray.

(BREAK)

From the moment he showed his face, Fred never took his eyes off Percy. When the fighting broke out, he instantly stunned two people who were in his way as he chased his brother through the streets, he wasn’t even sure they were both Death Eaters, so involved was he in the pursuit. "Percy! Stop!" He shouted but the other boy just kept running.

Suddenly a group of villagers appeared ahead of them and he screamed out a warning as Percy raised his wand, shouting out a spell that caused the ground to explode beneath their feet. He watched in horror as bodies fell to the ground and those still alive after the blast groaned in pain. For a moment both Weasley brothers stared in shocked horror at what one of them had done. But as the Aurors who heard the blast came running, Percy snapped out of it and with a glance over his shoulder, ran through his own destruction. Fred immediately gave chase, ignoring Kingsley’s call for him to come back.

Percy led him deeper into the battle, making it so that it would be impossible for Fred to follow uninterrupted. More and more Death Eaters tried to block his way, but he wouldn’t be deterred from his goal. Finally they reached the edge of town, where only a few people were fighting. "Stupefy!" He screamed attempting to hit his target. Percy shielded just in time, turning to shoot a spell back. Fred ducked out of the way as his brother ran past Antonin Dolohov. "Stop him from following me!" Percy instructed the large man.

Before he could shield himself, Fred was thrown back several feet, landing hard on his back. Ignoring the pain, he rolled onto his knees in time to see Percy run off. Dolohov moved to stand in front of him, blocking his view of his retreating brother. "You don’t want to be in my way." He growled out as he rose to his feet.

Dolohov laughed. "I think I do. This will be fun."

"It sure will be, for me. Let’s just do this quickly." Fred answered with a wicked grin as he and the man began to duel.

(BREAK)

As Harry walked out, the building two doors down on his left exploded. He didn’t notice. Finding Fred and Lupin were his first priorities. Walking through the battle, he took out random Death Eaters with stunners, allowing the wizards they were fighting to get the upper hand. There were already dead bodies lining the street. Luckily, it seemed they were mostly Death Eaters. They had lost maybe half their number making Harry feel hopeful. If they could subdue the last fifty, they would win. Just as the thought of victory crossed his mind, there was a loud crack and everyone turned to see around four hundred more Death Eaters apperate into the village. "You didn’t think it would be that easy, did you Potter?" Harry turned to face Bellatrix LeStrange, wand at the ready.

"Well, let’s go then. Show me how much harder it will be." He dared her.

(BREAK)

Sleep was impossible for Hermione. She had tossed and turned the whole night while dwelling on Harry’s "confession" and finally ended up pacing the floor of the common room right after sunrise. She thought she had heard people walking around, but no one was there when she came down. She tried not to think about what Harry had said, tried not to care that he wanted to make things right. Why should she? After he had promised her that there was nothing going on with Ginny and he had convinced her he loved her, after she had given him everything of her that she had to give, he’d turned it all around and ruined it in one moment. And then after letting her sink into depression for a month because of it, he had tried to feed her that lie last night- that it had all been for her. There was too much hurt, he had broken too much of her trust for her to believe that.

But it nagged at her. Harry really hadn’t wanted any of them to go fight with him. But who would go to such drastic measures? Who would hurt the people they care most about? She stopped pacing. If desperate… Harry probably would. And then it struck her, the conversation she’d been trying to remember, when he had told her that if he had it his way, only Fred and Draco would go with him. So was it all true then? Had this whole thing been a set up by Harry in an attempt to keep them safe? Those three boys had a secret for sure, why couldn’t it be that they intended to fight at Hogsmeade… but then, Dumbledore had cancelled the trip into the village.

She had to know for sure so she headed for the stairs to the boys’ rooms arguing with herself that she would talk to him, that’s all. Just talk. Just to make sure. Even if it were true that this had all been a lie, well, she’d be mad but…. Maybe she was just trying to find an excuse- because she loved him so much. Well, talking wouldn’t hurt her, and if she didn’t like what she heard, she’d just walk away.

She was halfway up the stairs before the pain hit forcing her to grab her head as she fell to the ground.

(BREAK)

Harry stumbled but managed to regain his balance. He reached up and touched his head, his fingers coming away bloody. He was tired and hurting, and his thoughts were swimming with memories of better times with Hermione and Ron, so much so that he could almost feel their presence. He shook his head trying to focus.

Bellatrix smirked. "You should have stayed home Potter, and let the adults play here. And it is playing. I could end your miserable life whenever I please."

"Then stop talking and do it!" Harry shouted. He threw another stunner at her, trying to knock her off her feet long enough to use a binding spell. She shielded just in time.

"Ooo, you’re getting quicker, Potter. I would love to just kill you now, but I have my orders. You are to be taken alive enough to talk. You and your two sniveling friends. Where are Ron and Hermione today?" She threw a spell so fast, he barely had time to dodge away. He landed hard on his shoulder.

"Sorry, you won’t be taking them. Just me." He got up and brushed himself off as he fired back a spell that knocked her off her feet. "That is if you can."

(BREAK)

The pain had only lasted a minute, but it had startled Ron so badly he had fallen out of bed. He touched his head, but there was no blood, just a phantom ache. "What the hell was that?"

"Shut up Ron!" Dean yelled from the other side of the room, throwing one of his pillows.

Figuring he just needed a drink of water to calm his nerves and get rid of all thoughts of the nightmare, he grabbed his robe and walked past Harry’s empty bed. Wait. Empty? Ron stopped for a minute, curious and strangely frightened for his friend. But then he shook his head and thought, what do I care, and went to get his water.

He almost tripped over Hermione while trying to walk down the stairs. She was holding her head, in the same spot he had felt his pain. "Hey, are you alright?" He gently took her hand away, but she wasn’t bleeding either. "What happened?" he asked intently.

"I was coming up here to try and talk to Harry about something, but then all of a sudden I was blinded by this overwhelming pain. It’s gone now though."

"Harry’s not there." He helped her to her feet. "Why would you want to talk to him anyway?"

"Something is wrong here, Ron." She was beginning to worry, he could see it in her eyes. Truthfully, he felt the same way, but it didn’t matter. Harry was a changed man, now. Changed for the worse. "I need to get his invisibility cloak." She barreled past him into the room. Ron watched as she quietly dug though Harry’s trunk until she found the cloak. He followed her all the way down to the common room. "Are you coming?"

"Coming where?" He asked.

"To see Luna. If anyone would know what is going on, she would."

Ron wanted desperately to see Luna, but she had lied to him. Lied to him for Harry. She was always keeping secrets and after months of being together, he felt he knew less about her than when they had started. Hermione was looking at him impatiently. "Alright, but I hate this thing, it hurts my knees to bend so much." He said pulling the cloak over them.

(BREAK)

Draco opened his eyes slowly. He had no idea how long he had been passed out, but he had barely held off unconsciousness long enough to send Potter away. He looked down at his wasted arm and began applying pressure along its length. Discovering the numbness had spread to just above his elbow, he stared down at his useless limb in anger. The tattoo on his forearm seemed to mock him, as if proving he hadn’t been strong enough to have the honor of bearing it the first place. The Dark Mark, the Dark Lord, Death Eaters, he despised it all. And Potter, so naïve, so willing to believe and trust, he angered Draco as well. The idiot had believed him, and valiantly run back into battle. Knowing he now owed Harry Potter his life made him almost want to sit back and let the spell spread. Knowing he now felt even the slightest bit of admiration for Harry Potter, that made him almost want to turn his wand on himself and speed up the process.

But that wouldn’t solve anything, and it would certainly be too easy for his father. And the last thing he wanted was for Lucius to win in anything. Draco knew what he had to do, in order to save his life and stop the numbness from spreading. He first found a large bottle of fire whiskey. After a large gulp, he looked around, hoping he could find a knife big enough for the job.

(BREAK)

Luna was just coming out of the Ravenclaw entrance when Ron and Hermione walked up to her. Before either had made a sound she addressed them. "You two should go back to bed."

Ron threw off the cloak and stalked up to her. "Where are you going?"

"Somewhere that I shouldn’t be. But Harry and Draco need help and I have to go."

"Help with what?" Hermione felt herself panic.

"I promised." Luna said, taking out her wand and walking away.

"You’re planning to go to Hogsmeade aren’t you? The battle is today isn’t it?" Hermione asked.

"The battle is right now." Luna finally conceded. "I have to go."

Ron ran after her and grabbed her arm. "We’re going too. Come with us so we can get dressed." He began to pull her back to Gryffindor tower.

"I can’t Ron. Let go!" She tried to pull away, but Hermione grabbed her other arm. "If you two show up, then everything Harry did and sacrificed was for nothing!" Hermione stopped short... so it was true then...

"Well, we’re going. And we’ll wake Fred and Ginny too." Ron said through clenched teeth. "Now come on!" He tried to get them all moving again.

"Fred is already there, Ron." Luna said, finally giving in and walking quickly. "If you guys are going to do this, then we have to hurry. Before our way there becomes compromised."

(BREAK)

Harry was exhausted. He had been dueling with Bellatrix for at least half an hour. This had become something just between them. Any other wizard who tried to help either one of them was stunned and sent away. Bellatrix had taunted Harry again and again to try and kill her. At this point he really wanted to, but he couldn’t bring himself to utter the curse.

"It’s because you’re too weak, Potter! That’s why I’m not scared of you!" Bellatrix laughed though she looked no better off than he did. She was bleeding from her right ear and dragging her left foot behind her. Her face was masked with dirt, sweat, and blood but underneath, she wore and expression of demented amusement. "You would never use that curse on me! Or anyone else!"

"Maybe not that one…" Harry made a great effort to raise his wand and point it directly at Bellatrix. "Crucio!" She tried to shield it, but he was just a hair quicker. She fell, screaming in agony as the unforgivable racked her body. "I’ve heard you were fond of this one LeStrange, so why don’t you enjoy it for awhile. You can think of the Longbottom family while you suffer." Harry picked up her wand, broke it in four pieces and walked away.

(BREAK)

Hermione held her breath as Ron opened the trap door slowly. They could hear what sounded like thunder from the store above them. Honeydukes was obviously the site of a major battle. Sneaking over to the basement window, Ron carefully helped her and Luna climb out but Ginny refused his assistance, insisting she didn’t need anyone’s help. Hermione let go of the annoyance she felt at having to be around the bratty girl, after all they had more serious concerns at the moment.

"We have to go this way!" Luna shouted over the noise of the fighting wizards. As she followed the others, Hermione couldn’t take her eyes off of the faces of the fallen littering the streets- so many of them still wore expressions of the agonized horror they faced in their final moments. She was relieved to at last walk into a building, where the smell of death was considerably less. That is, until she saw what Draco Malfoy was about to do.

"What the hell are you doing?" Ron yelled.

"What does it look like, moron?" Draco answered. His arm was splayed out on the table and he had a cleaver high in the air, waiting to strike.

"His father hit him with the killing curse, but Harry managed to get him out of the way. Except for his arm." Luna’s eyes were wide. She apparently had known Draco needed assistance, but even she hadn’t expected this. It made Hermione more nervous to see Luna so scared.

"And it’s slowly spreading. If I don’t cut off my arm, it’ll kill me. Now are you going to help or not?" He held the cleaver out to Ron. "Come on Weasley, I know you’re just dying to do this."

Reluctantly, Ron took the cleaver. Then Hermione saw him harden himself as he started giving orders. "Luna, find something for him to bite down on. Hermione, find something to wrap his arm in after."

They searched high and low and came up with a bunch of freshly washed, heavy linen napkins. Luna grabbed one and rolled it tight. Then standing behind Malfoy, she pulled the fabric taut so he could easily bite down. As Hermione knelt next to him ready to cover the wound, she realized that Ginny was just standing there with a look of contempt on her face. She obviously still hated Draco Malfoy, as Hermione was sure they all did, and she could only imagine the thoughts swirling in the other girl’s head at the imagery before her. After all, just a few months before she’d been the one standing over Malfoy with a knife, and it hadn’t been to save his life. Hermione allowed herself to feel pity for the girl despite her feelings about her.

But as Ron lifted the cleaver, Ginny must have seen the fear in Draco’s eyes. She walked up and took his good hand, squeezing it in comfort and Hermione saw him look at her gratefully. "You ready?" Ron asked. Before Draco could nod, he brought down the cleaver.

(BREAK)

Harry found Fred fighting Antonin Dolohov for his life. Both had lost their wands at some point during their duel and had now resorted to fist fighting. Fred, duck! Harry shouted at him with his mind. Without hesitation, Fred disentangled himself and rolled out of the way. Harry fired a stunner and then a binding at the Death Eater.

Fred walked slowly over, wiping blood from his nose. "You should have killed the bastard." He muttered, placing a hand on Harry’s shoulder so he could balance and get his bearings.

"I’m trying not to kill anyone." Harry said, putting an arm around Fred to help sturdy him. "What happened?"

"I was chasing down Percy and this moron jumped in front of me. Percy kept running and I had to fight him off."

"From where we are, there’s only one place Percy could have gone."

"The Shrieking Shack." Fred nodded, looking at him with worry. "But from there, he can get to Hogwarts."

"I can’t leave here." He said desperately.

"I know you can’t. And I know I shouldn’t." He replied with just as much desperation.

Harry tried to be hopeful. "Maybe Bill and Charlie found him."

"No, last I saw, they were helping out Mad-Eye up the road." Fred shook his head. "Well, at least he doesn’t know where the trap door is. We talked about it in front of him, but we never took him there."

Harry was trying to decide what to do when a very familiar voice resounded in his head. Harry! Look out!

(BREAK)

Ron poured out shots of fire whiskey still not quite believing what he’d just done. He watched as Hermione wrapped more of the linen napkins around the stump of Malfoy’s arm, but she was quickly running out. "I wish I knew more about healing!" She yelled in frustration as the blood continued to flow. She’d already tried every healing spell she knew, but the wound was apparently too severe.

"Hey, bleeding is good." Malfoy told her. "It means that my arm is still alive and Weasley didn’t mess up." He took the cup Ron handed him and toasting, both boys drank it down in one gulp.

"Why didn’t Harry stay to help you?" He asked grimacing as the liquid burned his throat. His gaze rested on the bloody cleaver and another shudder ran though him.

"I told him to go. I lied and said that it wasn’t going to spread, that I just needed to rest and I’d be back out there. Which is where I’m going as soon as this stops bleeding." Malfoy answered, some of the color coming back into his face… but he was still way too pale. Had he lost too much blood? Had Ron inadvertently killed the jerk while trying to save the his life?

"I think it’s almost there." Hermione said, carefully studying the mess that was once a limb. "The blood isn’t coming through the fabric anymore." She finished taping another napkin around his stump before standing and going to wash her hands in the sink behind the bar.

They needed to move, it was only a matter of time before someone discovered them there. But Harry wasn’t around to be the leader this time, there was no one to get everyone organized and tell them what to do… Ron slammed down another glass of fire whiskey. "If you’re good enough to walk, then let’s go." He said with authority, stalking back out into the fray without waiting to see if anyone would follow. Taking the first opportunity to discreetly glance behind him, he saw that they had all followed without question. Turning his attention back in front of him, he smiled in satisfied surprise.

(BREAK)

After walking around for what seemed like hours helping anyone who needed it, Hermione still hadn’t seen Harry. She refused to look for his face among the bodies littering the ground, absolutely believing that she would know if he were dead. "Hey! Where’s Ginny?" Ron asked suddenly as they finished dispatching a group of Death Eaters.

"Draco’s missing too." Luna said as they looked around.

"Who cares? My sister is out there somewhere!" Ron yelled. "How did I lose her?"

"She’s fine, she’s very capable and hopefully Malfoy is with her so she isn’t alone." Hermione tried to reassure him.

"Oh yeah, that’s the best situation here, she’s lost in battle with Malfoy. He’ll probably hand her over to save his own ass! Come on, we have to find her." Ron began running down the street.

"Them, Ron... We have to find both of them." Luna shouted as they took off after him.

But their quest was delayed as they walked past Honeydukes and saw Lupin stagger out covered in blood. He saw them and reached out his hand before collapsing in a heap. Racing over to him, Hermione knelt and rolled him over, cradling his head in her lap as the others gathered around. "Tonks…..she’s still in there with…..Kingsley. I came… for help. There’s too many…." He struggled to get out between wheezing breaths.

Without hesitation, Ron ran into the building. Hermione switched places with Luna so she could follow, but something out of the corner of her eye caught her attention. At last she’d found Harry! He was off a little distance, helping Fred walk toward the Shrieking Shack. She took three steps in their direction before spotting Bellatrix looking horribly worse for the wear as she stalked the two boys. Then the dagger glinted in the sunlight as the horrible woman raised it directly over Harry‘s back. Hermione didn’t even have time to open her mouth. With all the power she had in her, she mind shouted to him, Harry! Watch out!

As he dropped instantly and rolled out of the way, Bellatrix swung the dagger down just nicking his shoulder. Harry pushed Fred out of the way and turned to face Bellatrix with his wand raised. Hermione ran toward them her wand out as well and an incantation on her lips when Bellatrix suddenly swung around to face her, an evil grin plastered across her face. Hermione stopped a few feet short as Bellatrix took aim, ready to throw the dagger at her heart. She closed her eyes, casting a shield and waiting for the impact. Instead she heard Harry shout, loudly, angrily and passionately, "Avada Kedavra!"

Hermione wretched her eyes open and watched Bellatrix fall. Feeling relieved disbelief, she turned to Harry who was panting, tears in his eyes. "You shouldn’t have come." was all he got out before falling to his knees.




A/N: Next chapter, the rest of the battle and the aftermath. Please review!!!!

Chapter 41: End of an Era

NOTE: Hi! This one is going to be a long one that'll cover the rest of the battle and a little bit of the battle results. Read on to see who survives, who forgives and who will never be the same. Read, Review, Enjoy!



Ron had entered Honeydukes expecting the worst and finding it. Kingsley and Tonks were heavily outnumbered, but it wasn’t the amount of the enemy that seemed to matter. In this case it was the size. He ducked as a giant of a man, at least seven feet tall and built like a mountain, hurled Kingsley over his head, crashing the Auror into the wall. Looking up, he realized the massive man now had his sights set on him. This whole time, Ron had been trying to act like Harry, to be the leader. He’d liked it, feeling in charge and having everyone listen to him. But now with Ginny missing and a wand wielded by a mammoth in his face, he felt more Ron-like than ever. Swallowing the large lump in his throat, he stood on shaky legs and slowly pointed his own wand back, as if he wasn’t really sure he wanted to engage the duel.

"So, you’re the next to challenge me?" The giant man asked with a laugh. "You really want to do this little boy?"

"Not really." Ron answered honestly swallowing another large lump. He saw Kingsley rise to come and help him, but four of the Death Eater’s that had been trying to take down Tonks had gone to block his way.

"I hope you’re ready to die." The man said with an evil sneer as he raised his wand to cast. Ron shielded quickly before returning fire and quickly rolling out of the way. Seeing the enemy struggle to keep up with his quick movements, he realized he had an advantage; apparently the size and bulk of the other man slowed his actions and reflexes. He tried to concentrate on the fight, but all he could wonder was whether his sister was out there fighting for her life the way he was.

Vaguely Ron realized someone else was trying to help him with his opponent but he couldn’t see who it was around the man’s mass. But while the man’s movements may have been slow, Ron had the misfortune of finding out just how fast he was with his casting. A spell finally struck him in the side, knocking him roughly off his feet. He cried out in pain as whatever the curse thrown at him was tormented his body. Several deep gashed appeared on his body and trying to sit up, he realized he was covered in blood.

(BREAK)

Harry had to shake off the fact that he had just taken a life. Not wanting to think on anything too deeply out here, he stood and quickly surveyed the area letting his instincts drive him. Luna was cradling Lupin's head, talking softly to him as Honeyduke’s practically shook from the battle raging within it. Sending his mind in there and realizing Ron, Tonks and Kingsley were struggling right in the thick of it, Harry saw his priority. "They need help at Honeydukes...then we'll find Percy." He told the others, instantly taking charge of the situation.

He didn't look anywhere but straight ahead as he walked forward, right into the store. Sensing Fred and Hermione had followed him, he made his decisions quickly. Ron was dueling heavily with a guy at least twice his size. Tonks was cornered, three to one and Kingsley was fighting off the remaining four living Death Eaters. Everyone else was laying on the ground, dead or seriously injured. "Hermione, go help Ron. Fred, you got Tonks." Without waiting to see if they listened he made his way to Kingsley, taking out one of his adversaries by mercilessly shouting "Crucio." He stepped over the screaming man as he convulsed with pain on the floor.

(BREAK)

Hermione watched Harry use the unforgivable on the two Death Eaters. This was what he didn't want her to see him become. She felt confused, but there was no time to sort out feelings and personal issues. She had a task to accomplish. Without further thought or hesitation, she rushed to Ron's aid. He looked bad but his opponent was barely sweating. This guy was huge, almost Hagrid’s height. And he was strong and evidently had a high tolerance for pain. Everything Hermione tried to cast at him wasn't having any effect at all. However, the spell that he threw at Ron finally hit it's target and he went down crying out in pain.

In an instant the giant of a man had turned on Hermione. She dodged out of the way just in time. Ron was still groaning in the corner, his wand lying uselessly a few feet away from him. She only had herself to rely on. She rolled out of the way from the false giant's next spell and stood in the middle of the store. Glancing to her right she saw the heavy metal candy bins sitting high up on the top shelf.

"Accio bins!" She screamed, directing them with her wand. They flew at top speed toward her adversary's head. He tried to move out of the way but he was too slow and his bulk was too much. The bins struck him right in the middle of his back. There was a sickening crunch on contact, and Hermione knew that his spine had probably cracked. She felt like she was going to be sick, hearing his bones break like that. He fell hard, shattering through the wooden floorboards beneath their feet. She tried to back up, but didn't make it in time, and she and Ron fell through to the basement with the now badly injured man. She quickly threw up a shield, hoping it would be enough to save her life.

(BREAK)

"Luna?" She heard Lupin calling for her and shook her head to clear it of the sudden vision she’d received. It had been brief and so it hadn’t knocked her out completely, but it hadn’t been good. A loud crash from within Honeydukes told her that things were already starting. "Luna?" Lupin called again, more worried this time as he attempted to move to see her better.

"It’s okay, I’m here, I’m okay." She assured him forcing him to lie still.

"Has Tonks come out yet? Is she okay?" He begged to know.

"Tonks is going to be fine. She’s not the one we have to worry about, I promise." Luna answered in a quiet soothing voice.

"You saw it? You saw she was going to make it?" He demanded weakly.

She leaned down to whisper in his ear. "I promise you, Remus Lupin. You and Tonks are going to have your wedding." It seemed to make him feel better as he let himself relax a bit. And then she felt his body go limp altogether. His head was still in her lap and she could see that he was still willfully clinging to consciousness. She looked down into his eyes not liking the cloudy, far off look she found there. He needed a healer- quickly. But she hadn’t been lying, he would live to see his wedding day at the very least. There was nothing she could do but try and keep him comfortable while she waited for the events to pass that would lead her to go help Harry. Very soon the two of them were going to have to work together to save a life.

(BREAK)

Harry heard the crash, but didn't lose his focus. He hadn't wanted Ron and Hermione there, but they had come anyway and he knew they were strong and capable. He forced himself to believe that, because he couldn't allow himself to be distracted. If he died, he'd be no help to anyone. Working together, Tonks and Fred brought down their opponents. Now there were two left. With their attention divided between Kingsley and Harry, the fight went very quickly in the good guys' favor.

As soon as the danger was gone, Harry allowed himself to focus on what had happened. He leapt down through the hole, landing hard on his feet as shivers of pain ran up his legs. He immediately began shifting through the rubble, desperately searching for Hermione and Ron. He hadn’t wanted them to come, for this very reason, and his sanity was slowly leaving him the longer it took to uncover his friends. Tonks was helping Fred desperately search the far corner for Ron, the last place they had seen him before the floor collapsed. Finally, they yelled out for Harry and Kingsley's help. They had found him, and Harry rushed over, relieved to find Ron conscious. They all let him babble on about the fight while they were attending his wounds, but Harry quickly became frustrated with the story.

"Ron!" He interrupted. "Did you see where Hermione was standing when you all fell through?"

"I thought she was far enough away. She‘s not up there still?" He looked up at Harry in confusion.

"No, she's not up there, so the only other place she could be is down here. Can you just point out the general vicinity you last saw her in?" Harry took hold of Ron's shoulders, forcing him to pay close attention to what he was asking. To be honest, Harry was getting just as worried about Ron. He seemed completely dazed and he had some serious looking gashes on his arms, legs and face. The worry he felt began to pound the inside of his aching head. Wait...aching head? Harry touched a hand to his hairline and realized he was still bleeding from the wound Bellatrix had inflicted on him before. He began to wonder if it was serious. But Hermione, who was still missing under the destruction was his only priority. So he put all other thoughts aside

Ron was screwing up his face in concentration. "I think she was over there. Near the edge." He pointed, his face screwing up in pain as he lifted his arm.

"Fred, help Ron out of here. Check on Remus, I'll be out as soon as I find Hermione."

Harry pulled Tonks to her feet. "No, go check on Remus, Tonks. He probably needs to see you and know that you made it. And Kingsley, you are definitely needed elsewhere. More Death Eaters apperated in, and our numbers are falling fast." Giving him a look of uncertainty, they all left to do as he asked.

He dug wildly, finding the wasted bodies of several Death Eaters and being careful not to look at their faces. Finally he saw her foot, sticking out from under a large beam. Panic rose in his throat as he used magic to move the heavier objects surrounding her, trying to conserve his energy in case he needed it later. Unfortunately the process was taking too long and his mind was growing weary. He began desperately throwing wooden boards and debris over his shoulder, uncovering more of her body. When at last the task was done, he rolled her over and willed her to open her eyes.

She had to wake up. It was the only way. With his wounds, pains and level of exhaustion, there was no way he would be able to carry her, he wasn’t sure he had the mental strength to float her out with magic and he certainly wasn't going to leave her. He did the only thing he could think of, and it came so naturally to him, as all of his new powers seemed to that it didn‘t seem at all unusual. He sent his mind into hers, searching for any sign of consciousness.

(BREAK)

Draco fended off another Death Eater, feeling the adrenaline rushing though his veins. He and Ginny Weasley had been separated from the rest of the group, but they were holding their own, with Ginny stepping up when his arm grew tired. He began to wish he had listened to his mother and learned to wield his wand well with both hands, but then of course, he couldn’t have known he’d one day lose his arm.

As they walked, he searched desperately for his father and he thought Ginny must have known it, because when they weren't in battle, her eye was drawn to anyone with white blond hair. The battle was quickly dying down around them since the fighting had migrated up the road toward the mountain, and it appeared to him that the villagers had a slight upper hand. He and Ginny had been wandering for quite awhile, looking for the others and Lucius. They hadn't said anything to each other since leaving the store, and he was scared to break the tense silence. Ginny's hatred for him seemed to emanate from her and it was clear she’d rather be stuck with anyone else in the world. But at the same time, his newfound compassion told him she was scared for her family and her friends. "We’ll find them. They have to be around here somewhere, fighting off more attacks."

She looked at him, and quickly looked away. "Assuming they’re still alive."

"They have to be." He walked on, confident in his statement. It appeared to be enough for her. The silence settled on them again and they walked side by side, scared of each other and their circumstance.

After a short time Ginny stopped them once again, this time under a large tree. "Hold on, there’s a rock or something in my shoe and I just can’t take it anymore." She leaned against the tree and shook out her shoes as Draco took a moment to appreciate the fact that they were out of the hot sun, momentarily protected by cool shade.

He felt a shiver go up his back and turning to find out what had made him so suddenly uneasy, he saw two Death Eater’s preparing to cast at them. "Look out!" He shouted, roughly shoving Ginny out of the way as the spell hit the tree, shattering it and sending splinters screaming through the air. They landed together in a heap and he threw up a shield to protect them from the hail of sharp wooden pieces raining down on them. They rose quickly and with their backs to each other in order to see all of the enemy, they took down the three men who’d tried to get them. Once it was over, she looked at him briefly before walking away without a word. He followed her, feeling slightly irritated. After all, he’d just saved her life when she had once tried to take his; even just a smile of gratitude would have been nice.

Suddenly she stopped short. Up ahead, just outside of Honeydukes, they saw someone with bright pink, dust-filled hair kneeling in the dirt. Around her were Fred and Ron Weasley, Luna Lovegood, and a tall black man he assumed was one of the Order members Potter had told him about. The last had just stood up and run in the direction the battle had gone. Everyone else remained all huddled around something on the ground. Ginny ran off ahead of him and he struggled to catch up. His disfigured arm was throbbing and he felt nauseous but he refused to give in to these weaknesses. He would prove his strength to his father yet, even if it was from the other side of the war.

Upon approach, he realized it was Professor Lupin on the ground, and a twinge of guilt rushed down his spine. He had been mean to this man who was now laying on the ground in pain because of the followers of the Dark Lord, when all he’d been trying to do was protect his own and the village. The pink haired woman was crying softly, telling the professor that he would be okay. Draco saw him weakly smile up at her and wink.

"Where’s Harry?" Ginny asked the group after she had checked on her brothers.

Weasley, who was looking pretty bad off, was staring at the ruin that was once Honeydukes. "He’s still inside trying to find Hermione."

"No." Lovegood said quietly. "He’s found her, now he’s trying to wake her up."

"He’d better hurry." Draco said surveying the wreckage. "That place looks like it’s going to fall any minute." Before he realized what was happening, Ginny ran into the building. Her brothers looked at each other in surprise before following her in as best as their aching and injured bodies would allow. Lovegood went after them without hesitation.

Draco looked to the two adults still on the ground and then back at the shaking structure in front of him. Well, he definitely knew which was the safer choice but staying out here in the open with two people he didn’t really know definitely didn’t sound all that appealing- especially since one of them was seriously injured and therefore in no position to help. Cursing under his breath, Draco quickly hurried to catch up with Lovegood and the Weasleys.

(BREAK)

Harry looked up and saw Ron, Fred, Ginny and Draco easing themselves carefully down the wreckage that had once been the stairs to the basement and was startled to see the bloody towel covered stump that was now Draco’s arm. But before he had a chance to ask, Fred rushed to his side and grabbed his shoulder. "Harry this building could go down at any minute. We have to get you guys out of here."

"Where’s Luna?" He asked, nervously surveying the swaying building.

"I’m right here." She came forward. "She’s lost somewhere. You can’t get to her yourself." As everyone else looked at each other in confusion, Luna and Harry silently agreed to a plan. She knelt beside him and took his hand, as ready as he was to test the limits of their powers. Hopefully they were successful.

(BREAK)

Ron sat on a fallen beam. His vision had blurred on him suddenly and he felt dizzy. Fortunately it passed quickly. Once he felt okay he turned back to the others, but he had no idea what was going on. Luna and Harry were holding onto each other and placing their hands on Hermione’s temples. They hadn't spoken in a few minutes, and he was beginning to worry about the building, which was now crumbling around them.

"Guys? Maybe we should carry her out and try this outside." He tried getting their attention.

"Shut up, Ron." Fred answered, obviously fascinated by whatever was going on.

Ron sighed and turned to survey the ruined stairs. If they did wind up having to carry Hermione out, it would be very difficult to hoist her up through that hole. He made his way over and began clearing away the rubble as best he could in his condition. A few seconds later, Ginny and Fred came to help him. He heard Draco swearing to himself as he too came to help, clearing what he could with his remaining arm. They were all simply keeping busy while Harry and Luna tried to perform some kind of miraculous rescue- apparently to free Hermione from herself.

(BREAK)

There she was! Harry finally caught sight of Hermione through the fog he and Luna were walking in. She was off in the distance and lost in one of her memories. Shuffling through dense fog, he and Luna proceeded forward, not daring to let go of each other. "Hermione!" He called excitedly.

She looked back and he saw that it really was her. She had been watching her memory intently and had turned with a sad smile on her face. But her expression quickly changed to shock as she met his eyes. "Harry? Luna?! How...?"

Harry dropped Luna's hand and ran to Hermione, wrapping her in a tight hug. "We aren't sure ourselves." He pulled back so he could see her face. "Look Hermione, you have to wake up. Honeydukes is going to collapse at any minute."

"How do I do that?" she asked, now looking frightened.

Harry turned to Luna, but she could only shake her head in defeat. She didn't know either. Harry glanced around and realized they were in Hogwarts. Actually, they were standing outside the open door to the one of the girls’ lavatories and strangely familiar sounds and voices were echoing off the hallway from within. Peering inside, he saw himself and Ron as they were at age eleven while fighting with the massive and disgusting troll. An eleven-year old Hermione was hiding under the sink terrified as the two boys battled on, scared themselves. Harry watched with satisfaction as the troll finally fell, his wand in its nose and the three younger versions of themselves surrounding it.

"Harry?" His turned from the memory to see what Luna was pointing at. McGonagall, Snape, and Quierrell were running down the hallway toward the bathroom. He pulled the girls to the side, but none of the professors seemed to see them there.

Harry glared at Quierrell, wishing there was some way to just reach out and expose him right then and there But he had no idea how to do that in someone else’s memory. He looked at the Hermione and Luna, feeling helpless. And then he had an idea. It came to him almost as if someone had stood there and whispered it into his ear, which at this point Harry was willing to believe. "We need to get to Dumbledore's office. I'll bet anything he'll be able to see us."

They ran as fast as they could to the gargoyle and he began to feel the same hope in his Headmaster that he had in years past. Maybe it was seeing the younger, more naive version of himself, when a troll, quidditch and classes had been his biggest problems. They screeched to a halt in front of the stairs and the girls looked at him expectantly. He realized the issue and stared back at them despondently. "I don't have a clue as to what the password would be." No sooner had he said these words than the gargoyle moved. Though surprised, they jumped on the stairs without hesitation.

Dumbledore was sitting behind his desk, looking like he had been waiting for them. Harry rushed forward, positive that their headmaster already knew why they were there. "How do we get out of here?"

"This is a memory Harry. Hermione's memory. She needs to be the one to lead you out."

"How do I do that?" she asked impatiently. "I don't even know how I got here."

Dumbledore stood and walked around his desk to stand before Hermione. He placed a hand on her shoulder and smiled his wise knowing smile. "When your mind exhausted itself, it had to go somewhere to replenish. This has happened before to others who have successfully found their way back out, so do not be alarmed, Ms. Granger. You can do this. You picked this memory, even if you aren't aware of it. So now you must ask yourself. Why this memory?"

Hermione looked down, thinking hard, then she glanced uncertainly at Harry. "The only reason I can think of is because... well, because that's the moment Harry, Ron and I became friends."

"And have you learned everything you needed from this memory?" He asked although it seemed he already knew the answer.

"I believe that I have." She appeared embarrassed, making Harry wonder what exactly it was she was trying to find out

"Then it will be that much easier for you to leave. You must go back to your last memory. The one right before you went unconscious. When you get there, I believe Harry will know how to proceed."

He wasn't so sure and began to get nervous. "What if I don't?"

Dumbledore now turned to him. "You will, the same way you knew to come to see me, by instinct. Now you must hurry, and remember, do not let go of each other until you reach the correct memory."

"Sir? How did you know we'd be here?" Harry asked as he took Hermione and Luna's hands.

"This is now my memory, Harry. I merged it with Hermione's."

"I still don’t understand how."

"It’s very simple magic, once you understand how to really use it. After this encounter, I will have put something like a bookmark here, in my mind. The moment Hermione became unconscious, and the chain of events that led you here were put into motion, I was given a sort of life."

"So you knew we'd come to you, because we did this before?" Harry asked, confused beyond words. "So what happens. What is the outcome of all this?"

"That I cannot tell you. I am stuck here, in this place. I know nothing beyond this moment. My time here has ended." Dumbledore winked and then disappeared.

Hermione closed her eyes and suddenly the room moved and disappeared. They were still standing still, but things, memories were rushing past them. Harry caught glimpses of his and Hermione's life together at Hogwarts for the last six years and from what he saw, he liked the way she remembered him. A pang of guilt tugged his heart when he thought back to how he had acted for the past month. The things he had said to people were atrocious and the way he had treated Hermione was unthinkable. It had been for her safety, but even that hadn’t worked out right, considering where they were at that moment. But every time he saw himself in her memories he felt hope and that hope was giving him a second wind.

When everything finally stopped moving, he felt dizzy and disoriented; the girls weren’t much better off as they both swayed on their feet. Looking around he realized they were in Hogsmeade. "There." Luna pointed.

He turned and saw himself standing a little way off with Fred as Bellatrix tried to creep up on him from behind. Realizing what was about to happen, he turned toward Honeydukes unable to watch the events unfold. The real Hermione wrapped her arms around him as the memory Hermione ran forward. Even now, he could hear her yelling out a warning to him in his mind. Then he heard himself call out the killing curse and Bellatrix fall to the ground in an unmoving heap. Moments later he saw himself, Hermione and Fred walk into the building. Luna stepped forward to follow but Harry held her back.

"Wait, the less people in there, the better I think." He explained. And so they waited until he heard the floor crash through. Moments later Fred and Ron limped out of the building toward Lupin. Memory Luna stood and wrapped her arms around Ron who was unsteady on his feet as the real Luna stood next to him looking on sadly. Tonks and Kingsley came out next and Harry watched as Tonks knelt next to Lupin and heard Kingsley check in before running off. Ginny and Draco came next.

"Now we go in." He led the way, still holding the girls’ hands. He heard Ginny ask where he was and knew it was only minutes before they all ran back in. They made their way downstairs just as memory Harry had finished uncovering Hermione’s body and was trying to wake her up.

"Now what?" Luna asked the real Harry.

"I think we need to wait until you’re here too."

"How can this possibly be my memory?" Hermione asked watching the scene in front of her. "I was unconscious this whole time.

"I’m not sure. Unless all three of our memories are merging, like Dumbledore’s did, because I wasn’t outside to know what happened there, but Luna was." Harry felt frustrated. The building was starting to shake badly on its foundation as the others finally began filing into the room.

"Where’s Luna?" Memory Harry asked.

"I’m right here. She’s lost somewhere. You can’t get to her yourself." Memory Luna and Harry took each others’ hands and touched their fingers to Memory Hermione's temples.

"Now!" the real Harry shouted. He ran forward and leapt towards his body, the girls following suit.

(BREAK)

Ginny watched with morbid fascination as Harry and Luna did whatever it was they were doing. The horrible little monster growing inside of her hoped that they failed in reviving Hermione, that she stayed asleep and out of the way forever. At the same time, she was thankful for that tiny part of her that still existed, letting her know she was disgusting for thinking such things.

They finally finished clearing the debris and made the stairs as stair-like as possible. Ron sat down heavily, looking completely exhausted and she felt her heart hurt as she saw him hurting. From the corner of her eye, she saw Malfoy practically collapse in the corner as he too sat to rest. Turning slightly for a better look, she saw that he was breathing hard, his eyes were glassed over and it seemed his arm had begun to bleed again as the outermost layer of fabric slowly became stained red. She told herself she didn’t care, but the sight of him was so pitiful she had to turn away in order to remain distant to the situation. Sure she was grateful that he’d fought at her side and probably even saved her life, but gratitude could only carry her so far where Malfoy was concerned.

Fred however seemed equally concerned for their former enemy as he did Ron. "We have to get you two to a healer and fast." He said, studying them both closely.

"And what about them?" Malfoy struggled to get out through his ragged breathing.

"Well, they’ll just have to stop and try whatever they’re doing again later." Fred answered decisively.

"Give them a few more minutes. I’m fine, really." Ron gasped out.

Ginny looked from one to the other and shook her head, letting the last shred of decency she felt she had win over. "A few minutes may be too long. We have to get you guys to see someone now." She agreed with Fred.

To punctuate the urgency of their situation, the building shook again and another corner of the ceiling crashed down across the room from them. "Okay. Let’s get the hell out of here." Ron finally consented, looking scared. "Wake them up and let’s go!"

As she and Fred moved to rouse Harry and Luna, they were startled to see both their friends’ eyes pop open.

(BREAK)

Harry opened his eyes and looked down at Hermione. She was looking back at him. It had worked. He turned to check Luna, who was smiling at him in congratulations.

"We need to leave now." Fred told him with urgency, placing a hand on his shoulder.

"Whatever you say." He agreed, trying to climb to his feet. But his legs weren't working right, he couldn’t make them support his weight. Hermione and Luna helped each other up, then working together they pulled Harry to his feet. With an arm around each of their shoulders, the girls helped him climb the stairs, the others ahead of them as Fred and Ginny helped Ron and Draco. The walls were falling down around them and as hard as he tried to move quickly, Harry just couldn't find the strength. His knees felt like they were on fire with pain and he remembered the hard landing he’d suffered when jumping down to the basement to find Hermione. He had blocked out the pain then, but it was coming back fiercely now.

They all had just managed to help each other stumble clear of the building as it fell to the ground behind them in a cloud of dust and debris. "Is everyone alright?" Fred asked, checking over his brother and sister.

"I think we are." Ginny answered, looking around at everyone.

"Okay then." And with that, Fred took off running toward the Shrieking Shack.

"We have to go after him!" Harry shouted.

"Why?" Ron asked.

He froze unsure how much to disclose. He never really knew what Fred’s actions toward Percy would be, but he had a gut feeling that at this point in the battle, with his adrenaline pumping, he was going to try to kill his brother rather than capture him. He didn't want Fred to go through that. The only way to stop him would be to trust all these people, his friends. Luna had told him that she had seen them all together. Had she meant now? Or did she mean later, when he had to face Voldemort? He didn't have time to decide, Fred’s fate was hanging in the balance. "Because he's going to go kill Percy." He finally answered.

(BREAK)

Fred ran as faster than he ever had before. As soon as he’d made it out into the fresh air with reminders of the battle they were fighting all around, he had instantly forgotten everything else… his concern for Ron, his need to get Ginny away from here, his fear for them and the rest of his friends. Instead, he’d instantly become angry with himself for letting himself become so distracted. He knew Percy had gone to the Shrieking Shack, just like he knew that he and George had in the past mentioned the trap door in front of their brother. His only hope was that Percy had been unable to find the entrance and was still searching. Otherwise, who knew what kind of horror his brother could be spreading around Hogwarts. He wished he had just gone after Percy in the first, place, instead of Honeydukes. But Ron had been in the building and he had, in the moment, decided that saving Ron was more important than avenging George. He wasn’t sorry, just regretful that he had to make the decision at all.

Running into the dilapidated old house, he made immediately for the trap door where his heart dropped into his stomach… the door was open. Apparently Percy had finally found the way. Without hesitation, he made his and down into the tunnel and listening intently, he realized he could hear faint sounds just ahead of him. Percy must have just gotten down there! The dolt hadn’t been able to find the door right away! Fred felt momentary relief that he wasn’t too late and with a shout of triumphant warning, he ran full force after his traitorous brother.

(BREAK)

Approaching the house, Harry knew that Fred and Percy were already en route to Hogwarts if not there already, so he led everyone directly to the tunnel. With his knees feeling ready to shatter under him, Harry limped into the lead simply hoping they weren't too late. He crawled out of the Whomping Willow and turned to help the others.

"There they are!" Ginny shouted as she ran off in the direction of her fighting brothers.

"Ginny wait!" Ron took off after her as fast as was possible for him in his condition.

Harry kept Hermione, Luna and Draco from following. "Wait, Fred and Percy aren't watching for anyone else and they might hit someone by mistake. This isn't something that we should get in the middle of unless it's absolutely necessary." He looked off into the distance at the Weasley children. Fred and Percy were helplessly locked in dueling mode as Ron and Ginny stood helplessly on the sideline, trying to get their attention. "I think it’s a family problem now."

Hermione stood in front of Harry. "Then you should be there too. You're a part of their family Harry. Go be supportive while Luna, Malfoy and I go find Dumbledore." And with that, she grabbed Luna's hand and ran toward the castle. Malfoy shrugged before turning and following the girls, clutching his arm tightly to his chest.

Harry hobbled over to stand by Ron just as Fred shot Percy's wand from his hand. Now he was just standing there with his own wand pointing in Percy's direction, waiting. "Say something." Fred ordered. "Say something that'll make sense of what you've done. Say something that'll keep me from killing you right now in this spot."

"Fred, stop!" Ginny pleaded. "You've got him. Dad will figure out what to do!"

"No!" Fred shouted angrily. "I'm waiting Percy!"

Ron stepped up next to Fred and put a hand on his shoulder. Fred shrugged him off. "This won't bring George back." Ron said softly.

"You think I don't know that!" Fred never took his eyes off Percy. "You have three more seconds to say something worthwhile."

"What can I say little brother?" Percy asked violently. "What is it exactly that you want to hear?"

"I want to hear why. Why did you join the other side? Why you are able to sleep at night, knowing that you killed your own brother? Why you are doing this to us, to mom and dad, to Bill, Charlie and Ron?… to your only sister?… to me? Why?!" His wand never wavered and Harry began to worry that Dumbledore wouldn't make it in time.

"Why, huh. You make yourselves sound like one big happy family. Well, if you are, it's only been since I left. Don't you see Fred, I don't belong with all of you, I never did. Seven children, and I was the only forgotten one and why was that? Because I wasn't a big adventurer like Bill and Charlie. Because I wasn't a trouble maker like the terrible twins. Because I wasn't the only girl. Because I never befriended the so called savior of the wizarding world." Percy pointed at Harry. "Mother loved Harry Potter the screwed up orphan, more than me. Why should I have stayed? I was the smart one, so I made the smart move. I joined the other, more powerful side. I picked a place where I could excel and be noticed. I picked the winning side."

"That’s where you’re wrong, Mr. Weasley." Dumbledore came forward to stand between the two brothers. Fred finally dropped his wand arm, which had begun to tremble. Harry could see that he looked relieved, but there was an air of regret surrounding him as well. Harry felt for Fred then, knowing what it’s like to want to kill someone and not be able to bring yourself to do it. Of course, he reminded himself that now he also knew what it was like to make yourself kill someone.

Hermione stepped next to Harry and wrapped her arms around his waist, surprising him. As he pulled her close, he began to hope like he’s never hoped before. Hermione was in his arms again, even if it was just for this tense moment that she needed to feel close to him.

"Percy, you are not on the winning side. You've forgotten something that I tried very hard to teach you when you were here." Dumbledore lectured. "Sometimes, the head isn't smarter than the heart. What you have done is treasonous, to the wizarding world, to your alma mater and most importantly to your family. I'm afraid I'm going to have to place you under arrest."

"I think it is you who is wrong, old man. There are things that not even your spies know." He pointed to Draco. "You will not win, it is not written in the cards. That ring for instance- do you really think the Dark Lord will be there when Potter reclaims it? There is something better now. Oh he still wants the ring, but he'll just wait and just take it from his cold dead hands. And he will die, your golden boy. It has been prophesized many times over. I will leave you all with that knowledge. Goodbye." And before any of them could move, he swallowed a potion that he had somehow concealed in his hand. Seconds later, he fell down dead, leaving everyone left standing wondering how to feel about what they’d just witnessed and what was to come next.

"Coward." Fred muttered, turning away from the sight.

Harry held Hermione even tighter and studied Dumbledore closely. The headmaster seemed to close in on himself for a minute before turning to his students. "Come, someone will be along in a bit to take care of Percy. We must get you all attended to."

"No, I have to go back and help." Harry said, reluctantly letting go of Hermione and standing in front of Dumbledore.

"Hogsmeade is over Harry. I received word minutes before Hermione, Luna and Draco came to find me. The outcome was in our favor and the Death Eaters have retreated. Besides, even if the battle were still going on, you can barely stand upright. You‘ve all done your parts, now come and rest."

"Any word on my father?" Draco asked.

"Not yet. We haven’t gotten the names of the casualties or injured yet." And with that he ushered them back to the castle.

(BREAK)

"Are you okay?" Ginny asked as she sat next to Fred. They were waiting outside the infirmary for word on the others who had been injured far worse than they had.

"Are any of us?" He answered numbly. He couldn’t believe he’d just watched another of his brothers die. Now that it was all over, he realized that he really hadn’t known what he’d intended to do to Percy. He had been filled with rage over losing George, had felt like killing Percy himself. But when he’d been given the opportunity, he hadn’t taken it. It was in that moment that he’d had his wand pointed straight at his brother’s heart that he knew he didn’t have it in him. He wouldn’t have been able to handle it if he’d ended the life of one of his siblings, even Percy.

"Was he evil?" Ginny pondered aloud. He looked at his baby sister and saw how hard she was struggling. Her eyes were puffy and filled with new yet unshed tears. Throwing his arm over her shoulders, he pulled her close. She hugged him back tightly.

"No, Gin. He wasn’t evil." He answered quietly. "He was weak and let evil influence him."

"Am I evil?" She whispered.

He pulled back to look at her in shock. "Of course not! Never that Ginny, no matter what you do. Confused maybe, but never evil."

"I don’t want to end up like him." She said, looking away ashamed.

"Don’t worry. I won’t let you." He promised, leaning over to kiss her forehead. "I love you Gin. You, Ron, Bill, Charlie, you guys mean the world to me. I can’t lose any of you. I just can’t." He faltered feeling his own tears coming. This time is was her that pulled him close and offered comfort.

"I love you too." She said quietly as he fought to keep himself under control. He didn’t want to shed anymore tears for Percy.

Madame Pomfrey came out into the hallway. "You can come in and see them now. Everyone is all patched up." With a quick glance at each other, they got up and went to check on Ron.

(BREAK)

Hermione had fled the hospital wing as soon as they let her. It was too much, seeing the haggard and saddened faces of the Weasley kids. What’s more, she couldn’t face Harry. He had lain in his hospital bed staring at the ceiling and talking to no one. She was so confused over everything that had happened, she no longer knew where they stood with each other and until she could decide what she believed once she sifted through this mess, she didn’t want to be near him.

Alone in the Gryffindor common room, she stared out the window at the rest of her classmates who were outside enjoying the beautiful late afternoon. She still couldn’t believe that just that morning she’d been knee deep in battle. It seemed impossible now that she was back here where everything was normal for everyone else. She began to see what Harry was talking about, when he said that being at school didn’t feel like real life sometimes.

Resting her head against the glass she sighed out her frustration. For the first time in her life, she didn’t want to be at school. "Hermione!" She heard Luna calling to her from behind the portrait.

Slowly she left her perch at the window and made her way to the portrait. Throwing it open she saw the her friend standing there with concern in her eyes and on impulse, wanting to feel close to someone, she threw her arms around the girl who was surprised by the gesture before returning the hug. "Sorry." Hermione said, stepping away after a few moments.

"We’re all running high on emotion. I don’t mind, really." Luna replied with a friendly smile.

"Did you need something?" She would have done anything for Luna at that moment, after all, she’d just helped Harry save her from being trapped within her own mind.

"Dumbledore sent me to tell you all that he wants to see every student who went to Hogsmeade today." She paused. "I figured maybe you’d want to go tell Harry and Ron."

"I don’t want to." She said quietly.

"But maybe you need to. You can’t avoid him forever, you two still have quite a journey together before it’s over."

"What do you mean before it’s over? What are you talking about?" Hermione asked, feeling confused and a little scared by her words.

"All I mean is that you two aren’t finished with each other yet, you are still on the same path because you both need each other at this time in your lives." Luna answered mysteriously.

"You make it sound like something ominous."

"I just want everyone to be happy." Luna answered quietly. "And right now, you and Harry need each other to be happy. It may not always be that way…" she looked off for a moment, apparently lost in her own thoughts before shaking herself out of it and continuing. "I just think you should talk to each other, hear each other out about all of this. It’s not too late to fix things you know. And as long as you and Harry are at odds with each other, none of the rest of us will be able to heal because we’ll be too busy either picking sides or trying not to get involved at all."

"So if Harry and I don’t make up, the rest of our friendships are doomed?" she asked with heavy doubt.

"It’s not that simple, but yes. With you two fighting, how can any of us find peace with each other?"

"And you and Ron?" Hermione asked feeling defensive.

"Unlike you and Harry, we may have already run our course." She answered sadly.

(BREAK)

Hours later, the only ones left in the hospital wing were Harry, Ron and Draco. Harry turned to his left and asked the question he’d been wanting to ask for some time. "What happened to your arm Malfoy?"

Draco smirked in Ron’s direction. "Weasley there chopped it off and saved my life."

"I never thought that would happen." Ron mumbled. He hadn’t said a word until then, and Harry knew it was because of his presence. There was a lot of left over, prewar damage he still had to correct.

"You see, I lied to you Potter." Draco continued, either unaware or unconcerned with the tension in the room. "The spell was spreading and would have killed me. But sitting there with me wouldn’t have done any good, so I lied to you."

Hermione entered then, cutting off Harry’s reply. She looked closely at the three boys, her gaze lingering on him. "If you’re all up to it, Dumbledore wants to see all the students who went to Hogsmeade today." She said and then quickly fled. With difficulty, they rose and dressed, all three feeling the stress of their day.

Once Harry and the rest of his friends were all gathered in the Headmaster’s office they sat silently, not daring to say a word to each other. Finally, Dumbledore sighed and broke the silence. "I see a lot of stressed out faces." he said from behind his desk. "Well, let me alleviate some of your minds. I’ll start with Percy Weasley’s last words. None of you should feel guilty for what has happened." He looked to Fred, Ron and Ginny. "Percy was a very hurt and confused young man. I know for a fact that your parents loved all their children equally. They would never choose one of you over the other, and I beg of you to not make his mistake and think yourselves unloved. To the best of my knowledge, you, Bill and Charlie are the most loved children I have ever met with. And Harry, you haven’t taken the place of their son, you are a new son, one they love just as deeply. And not because you are a hero or even because you were an orphan; they love you because you came to them as a scared little boy who needed to be loved and because you brought out the best in their youngest son. They told me so many years ago. Before meeting you here, Ron," he inclined his head to Ron, who was staring at the floor not wanting to hear what was coming, "was a shy, quiet little boy with few friends. You showed him friendship, even when you were fighting with him as I sense you are now. All of the Weasley children before me have taught each other so much and have turned out to be fine young people, and that is directly because of your parents love, support and influence."

"As for Percy’s claim that a prophesy has foretold Harry’s death, we know of no such prophesy past the one I’m sure, Harry himself, has already shared with all of you. We will look into the matter, but I truly believe the claim to be nothing but lies that Voldemort has told his followers to rally their spirits. For it is easier to face a foe who is meant to die."

Harry was not eased of his fears. He was different now. He had taken a life and in doing so, he realized how easily his could be taken. Dumbledore was watching him closely, and Harry knew he was looking inside his head. No! He thought, pushing the foreign presence from his mind. For a moment, the Headmaster looked like he was caught off guard. But he continued his speech in a clear, calm and collected manner for the sake of his other students.

"Now, I believe you have been waiting long enough, Mr. Malfoy. Word has arrived on your father." Draco sat up eagerly. "He was not among the fallen. It is presumed that he had retreated with the rest and is still at large. I know this is hard news for you. And I’m sure even you are unsure what you are feeling or what news you were hoping for. I fear I do not know how to help you, only you can fight your own demons."

Draco looked down at his ruined arm and took a deep breath before he spoke. "I still think I made the right choice, even if I’m not sure I truly believe in the cause of either side. And with this," he held up his stump, "I have cut all ties with my father. This was my marked arm, the one that bound me in allegiance. It hurts, but it’s also freeing. It’s really the only decent thing my father has done for me, giving me freedom. I will not stand in the way if his death is necessary." He concluded looking around at all assembled around him. Harry actually felt a hint of admiration from his now former enemy. Though he doubted they’d ever really be friends, at least now, they were allies.

Dumbledore nodded, not in approval but in support before once more addressing the group. "I have already assembled the school and told them of the deeds done today. They know of all of your bravery and I’m sure most are grateful to you. Now I must speak privately with Harry, Ron, Hermione and Luna. You three are free to return to your dorms and get some much needed rest." He waited as Fred, Ginny and Draco filed out of the room before standing to address the remaining students. "I have heard rumors flying around the castle for over a month now. Perhaps it is time to tell me what has been going on and why four people who were once inseparable are now sitting before me, hardly able to be in the same room. Harry, would you like to start?"



A/N: Next chapter, everyone tries to mend broken fences, a wizard wedding and June 13th finally arrives.

Chapter 42: A Wizard Wedding

NOTE: This chapter will cover about a week’s worth of events, picking up right where the other left off. There are only a few more chapters after this one. At the end of this story, I will put a preview of my sequel. Please, stay with me, I will give you a great story. Writing is what I want to do for a living, and writing fanfiction and getting good reviews has given me confidence. Read, Review, Enjoy!



Harry didn’t know how to begin. He definitely didn't want to have this conversation, here and now, with Dumbledore as mediator. Everyone was looking at him expectantly, he had a lot of explaining to do, and he would. But not now, with his head pounding and legs throbbing. So he allowed himself one last impolite action. He got up and looked his headmaster directly in the eye. "In all due politeness, sir..." He moved toward the door, "I will atone for my own actions my own way. I'm not really in the mood for group therapy." And then he left.

Rather than return to the tower and his friends questioning glares, he returned to the hospital wing. Madame Pomfrey had already retired for the evening. She'd had a hard day, helping tend to all the wounded villagers. Harry found an empty bed, far in the back and went to sleep. He stayed there all through the next day as well, avoiding everyone.

It was Fred who found him Monday morning. Harry woke to find him sitting on the bed next to his, with his head hanging down. He looked absolutely defeated. Reaching for his glasses, he sat up, curious as to what had driven his friend to come find him here so early in the morning.

"Harry," Fred began before he could say anything, "they're all just as confused as you are. All they want are some answers. Ron, Hermione, even Ginny. You used them, and I let you because you were right about not wanting them to go, or I thought you were at the time. Now, I'm just not sure. Can you honestly still think you can do any of this alone? We all needed each other out there. And to be frank, with the abilities that you and Luna seem to have, I don't think any of us have to worry about the danger."

Harry sat up and put on his glasses, staring Fred down, digesting everything that was just said to him. "No. I don't think I can do this alone. But that doesn't mean I shouldn't get to choose who I want to come with me. And as for worrying about danger, you'd be a fool not to be scared." Harry sighed, and decided that being open was his best road back to his friends even Fred who he had, out of necessity, made an ally in this whole mess. "I'm scared. I'm terrified. And after a lot of thought, I know that being scared is the right thing. It will keep us safe. I know they need answers, and I know they're all hurt. But I need to make things right my own way. I don't need Dumbledore admonishing me in front of them. I don't need everyone gaining up on me. I don't need confrontation, because I'm scared that all of those things might just push me all the way over the edge, and I'll never be able to climb back out." Fred stood to give Harry a hand getting out of the bed. Harry grabbed his arm and looked Fred in the eyes. "It was unsettling to discover how easy it was to slide into this version of myself. I never want it to happen again, because that would make me just like him, manipulative, mean and someone to fear. And what if that was what I was meant to be all along?"

"You’re the only one who thinks that." Fred assured him. "They’re all mad at you right now, but deep down they know you were never meant to be anything like Voldemort, or Lucius, or even your uncle. If you had, you would have been this way all along."

"People can change, Fred."

"Not that much."

Harry gathered his things and made to leave for Gryffindor tower to clean up and change clothes. He turned to Fred. "Thanks. For everything." He said quietly.

"Right back at you." He grinned.

When Harry got up to the boys’ dormitory, he saw that Ron was in there alone and couldn't have asked for a better time to set things right. But he hung back, wondering what it was he was going to say. Just as he had decided to walk away and wait for a time when he had himself more together, Ron looked up and noticed him. There was no turning back now.

"What do you want?" Ron asked, standing and going to the nightstand. He picked up some sort of lotion.

"What's that?" Harry asked, carefully entering the room and sitting on his own bed.

"Madam Pomfrey gave it to me. For these." Ron tilted his face and bared his arms, which now only showed the faintest sign of the deep gashes he had received at Honeydukes.

"Look Ron. I know you’re mad at me. And you have every right to be. I wasn’t myself for the last few weeks."

Ron turned his back on him, sitting down. "Oh I see. This is where you apologize and try to make things right. Maybe that was you, Harry. Maybe that was you all along, I didn’t think it was, I’m still not sure I do. But god, Harry, the way you’ve been… I don’t know what to think."

"Funny, Fred and I were just talking about all of this. But I know that’s not me. Because I don’t like hurting my friends." Harry sighed and groped for the next thing to say.

"Then why did you?" Ron asked, staring at him, waiting for a real answer.

"To protect you. Too many people are dead, Ron. I just... I didn’t want you or Hermione to be among them."

"And Ginny?"

"I think I feel the worst about that. But don’t you see? She was the key to both yours and Hermione’s safety. She was the way to make you both hate me. I knew the risk, I knew you guys might never forgive me. But I had to take that risk regardless because even if you never forgive me, its better knowing that you’re somewhere in the world...alive and mad. And then you all showed up in the village anyway and you all got hurt and you all could have died. I mean, Remus and Malfoy almost did. And as much as I care about Remus...what would I do without you?"

"Don’t try to make me feel guilty for going out there, Harry. I mean it." Ron stood and faced him. "I went because I feel the same need you do. The need to stand up and fight, to not cower in the school, hiding behind Dumbledore’s robes. And you know, without you there, taking the lead, I actually felt like the leader for once. And it was empowering."

"I see." Harry looked down at the floor. "You were better off without me."

"No, not at all." Ron shook his head and his voice softened. "Harry, you were right before, when we fought in the owlery. I’m a born follower. As much as I liked feeling in charge, it was also a lot of pressure. I couldn’t even keep track of everyone. Ginny and Malfoy got lost somewhere out there, and the whole time I was fighting that guy in Honeydukes, I couldn’t stop thinking that Ginny was dead and it was my fault because I lost her and didn’t stop to try and find her. That thought took away my concentration and that very well could have killed me and Hermione if you guys hadn’t shown up at the right time. Look," He sat next to Harry. "I understand your reasoning, and if I was in your position, with no other way out, I would have probably done the same thing. But this was my sister and my best friend you hurt. And the things you said later, those things hurt too. I just...I don’t know."

"So that’s it then." Harry couldn’t keep the pain and disappointment out of his voice. "No, I mean I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but you make it sound like there’s no way back."

"I don’t know." Ron said drumming his fingers on his knee. "We’ve been through a lot together Harry. We have history. You were my first real friend. Last night, when Dumbledore was talking to all of us, I remembered what I was like before coming here. I went basically unnoticed. And then Harry Potter noticed me. The famous wizard who never even knew he was famous. And I got to wondering, if things had been different.... if you had grown up in this world and you knew your history... would we still be friends? Or would you be with all those other more popular kids?"

"That doesn’t matter Ron because things turned out this way. And I am still the person you used to know. I’m sure of it, because I wouldn’t be here trying to make things right if I had changed. It would definitely be a lot easier to let things just stand as they are. But I can’t do that. I miss you, and I sure as hell miss Hermione. I need you both. And that’s my goal. Either I can find a way to work it out with both of you, or I’ve failed."

"An admirable goal." Ron smiled.

"On Friday, Tonks and Remus are supposed to get married. The day after that, I’ll have the map to the ring. I want you to be there. I want you to come with me. I want you to be able to use the ring and talk to George and Sirius and Neville. I just, I want us to be friends."

"I want all those things too, Harry. I just.....I need to really think about everything. I never understood how hard it really was to forgive someone, but it is hard. I want to, but...."

"No, no. I understand. I really do." Harry said, thinking how hard it was for him to forgive what he viewed as Dumbledore‘s wrongs against him. "And I’ll give you space." He moved to the door. "So...." Ron turned to look at him. "Good talk?"

Ron laughed. "Yeah, good talk."

(BREAK)

Luna exited her Herbology class to find Ron waiting for her just outside the greenhouse. "I’m sorry." He said as soon as he saw her.

"I know." She said staring back at him, waiting.

"I told you once that I could accept you and your powers and then the minute I’m put to the test I broke my word." He sighed. "You think it’s hard to know what everyone is thinking, what everyone is doing… But it’s hard for me too, you know. To know that my friends are acting out of the ordinary, that they are hurt or upset and to not know why."

"Look, Ron. I know how you’re feeling and not just because I can see it." She really was touched that he was trying to make amends, but she feared it was just too late. Their time together was at an end, and the longer she let them try to stay together the more they were stepping off that path that would lead them to their ultimate happiness. But knowing that didn’t mean she felt okay about it. She really did love Ron, but should she fight fate for him and risk both of their futures? She sighed. "What I don’t know is what you want me to say."

He shook his head. "I don’t know. I’m not sure I expected anything. But after talking to Harry just now, listening to him try to apologize, it just made me think of how unfairly I was treating you."

"But will anything be different?" she asked.

"All I can do is try, Luna. I’m far from perfect."

"We all are. Perfection is overrated." She smiled.

"I don’t want to lose you Luna." He said seriously.

"You won’t." she promised. "I just can’t guarantee that I’ll be there in the way you want me to."

"What are you saying?"

But she couldn’t do it. Looking at him standing before her, so lost… she couldn’t end the relationship. Maybe it wasn’t time after all. "Nothing." She shook her head. "Nevermind. I guess I’m just being overly cryptic again."

"So… where does that leave us?" He asked, taking a tentatively hopeful step towards her.

"It leaves us right here, right now in this moment." She stepped closer to him. "Can that be enough?"

"I guess it will have to be." He said opening his arms. She stepped into his embrace, wrapping her own arms around him. Closing her eyes and burying her head in his shoulder, she let herself enjoy the feeling of comfort and love that swept over her. They stood holding each other for a long time, both fearful that once they broke apart, the magic of that moment would be gone.

(BREAK)

Harry wandered absently through the castle, not really knowing where he was going until he was standing outside Lupin's chambers. Just as he was about to knock, Tonks opened the door. "Oh, Harry. You startled me." She said, placing a hand over her heart.

"Is Remus awake?"

"Yes, and I'm sure he'd like to see you. Go on in, he's at his desk, against my advisement by the way. See if you can't talk some sense into him, will you? He needs to rest." She threw a worried glance over her shoulder before turning again to Harry, a reassuring smile on her face.

"I’ll do what I can." He said as he walked past her. Lupin was at his desk, writing furiously. Harry cleared his throat to let his friend know he was there.

"Ah, Harry." Lupin smiled. "I’ve been hearing quite a bit about you since last night. I’ve had to counsel three different people, as if I’m the expert on all things Harry Potter." Lupin sat back slightly in his chair.

"Oh, who were they?" Harry asked, taking a seat in the chair opposite Lupin’s.

"Well, they swore me to secrecy, but I’m sure that from what I’ve been told, you could very easily find out. Have you really changed that much, Harry? Have you really become that strong and fearful?"

"Fearful?" Harry hung his head. People were actually scared of him.

"Yes, fearful. But I think we are using the word in two different ways. The people who talked to me weren’t afraid of this new meaner attitude, they were scared of what could happen if you were left unchecked."

Harry thought of the to people he’d already spoken to that day, and the one he still desperately needed to find. "Fred, Ron, and Hermione right?"

"Not exactly. Try Fred, Ron and our very own Headmaster."

"Dumbledore is scared of me?" Harry was stunned.

"Very few students have ever had the ability to push his presence so far from themselves. In fact, the only other in remembrance, was Tom Riddle. Look Harry, I was told everything. From what you did to your friends and your reasoning of it, to all these new growing powers including the one where you can block even Dumbledore from your mind. I have only two questions. Why didn’t you come to me with any of this? Why didn’t you ask for my help?"

"I don’t know." Harry said quietly. "I guess I knew that you were happy for the first time in a long while. I felt that I was the last thing you needed, someone else’s kid running to you for fatherly advice."

"Harry, that’s silly and you know it. At least, you used to. Wake up, Harry! Wake up from whatever nightmare you’ve created for yourself. If you hurry, you will still have something and someone to wake up to. Trust me. You don’t want to wait too long. It was only by chance that I got my second start."

"I don’t know how."

"Admit your weakness. Promote your strengths. Know that you do not have to do anything in life completely alone. I wish I could go back with that knowledge. I can’t, so I’m giving it to you. Along with this." Harry looked up as Lupin pulled a small wooden box out of his desk. He reached out and took it, running his fingers over the carvings on the lid. "I managed a trip home last week. You were right, it was in that safe Sirius left me."

"Thank you. I just hope I don’t mess this up."

"Trust me, you’ll know how to handle it when the time is right. As for right now, I’d better go take another nap. Tonks will be furious with me if I don’t, and you never want to anger the bride less than a week before the wedding."

(BREAK)

Ginny knocked nervously on the door, wondering what she was even doing there. Malfoy answered, first looking annoyed and then surprised at who he had found outside the door to his private chambers. "What brings you here?" He asked in an overly casual manner.

"I wanted you to know two things." She answered in a strict business-like tone, trying very hard not to look at his arm, or rather, where his arm used to be.

"Oh yeah?" he raised an eyebrow and gestured her into his room. She shook her head at the invitation, feeling annoyed when he simply grinned and leaned against the doorframe, waiting for her to continue.

"First, I am grateful for what you did for me in Hogsmeade." She continued in a professional tone. She wanted to show no emotion, to just get through this as she practiced, ease her conscious a bit and be done with him for good. "To my surprise you didn’t abandon me when we got separated from the group. Though I assume that had more to do with your own fear of being out there alone."

He stood up straight, looking insulted. "Of course I didn’t want to be alone someplace where any multitude of people on both sides would like to see me dead." He answered, his voice low and dangerous. "I did also save your life you know."

"Believe me, I’m aware of the irony of that situation." She returned. "And I wanted to thank you for that. I wasn’t paying attention and if you hadn’t pushed me out of the way and shielded us, I’d probably be really hurt or really dead right now. So thank you."

"You’re welcome." He answered, looking suspicious.

"But despite all that, I don’t want any wires crossed here. We can be allies, but I still don’t want anything to do with you. I don’t care if they all change their minds about you, I don’t want to be your friend. You’ve been horrible to me and my family for years and there’s nothing you can do to make me forget it, and I certainly can’t forgive it."

"Well, thanks so much for coming to make that clear. What makes you so sure that this little conversation was even necessary? You really think your friendship is so highly prized?" He gave a little laugh. "It certainly hasn’t seemed that way lately."

She was taken aback by his harshness. But under his attack, she could see that he was really angry… and hurt. Apparently he was just responding to the biting words she had thrown at him. "That doesn’t matter. I just wanted to let you know, I don’t trust you and if I had a choice in the matter, you wouldn’t be around us at all."

"Well, that’s good, Ginny. I’m glad you were able to get that off your chest. Just let me know if I need to start hiding the kitchen knives when you’re around." He shot back before slamming the door in her face.

(BREAK)

By transfiguration class on Tuesday, Harry and Ron had improved their shaky truce to the point where they were even sitting by each other again. Harry could see the annoyance on Hermione’s face, how hurt she was that he had fixed things with Ron first. But some part of him knew that was the way it had to be- that his and Ron’s friendship had to come before his relationship with Hermione. After all… Harry thought of Ron as his family.

But by Wednesday morning, he couldn’t wait any longer. He couldn’t go one more hour without talking to her, hearing her voice, even if she would be yelling at him. He waited in his invisibility cloak outside the Great Hall, and he grabbed her as she walked by for breakfast. "Hey! …Oh. It’s you." She said turning beneath the cloak to face him.

He motioned for her to be quiet and then careful not to touch her unless by accident, he lead the way outside and down to the lake. Once there, she threw off the cloak. "Look, Harry, I can’t be late for class. We have finals next week."

Before giving her a chance to leave, he jumped right into the speech he had been practicing for two days. "Hermione, you know why I did everything I did. And some part of you must understand or forgive me, because otherwise you wouldn’t have come down here to talk to me. All I can say for myself is that hurting you is the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. And I really did believe it was for your own safety, or I would never have been able to go through with it. I can say I’m sorry a million times and mean it every time. But that’s not what you want to hear, so tell me. Tell me how to make this right again, because I don’t much like myself without you."

She was looking out over the water. "Aren’t you even a little curious?" She asked at last.

"About what?"

"About, the memory. About why I chose that one." She turned and started to walk away from him, toward the water.

He followed her. "No, actually, I know why."

She stopped and laughed, the water was lapping at her shoes. "Okay then, tell me why."

"Because that was back during a time when we all used to work together. Used to trust each other. When things were slightly easier and there were no emotions to step over." He stood next to her.

"No. I picked that memory, because that’s when I think we all three first became friends. When instinct and the bravery of children was enough to solidify any sort of relationship. I wanted to see it again, to figure out where it went wrong. How it all changed so quickly. You know what I saw?"

"What?" He asked quietly, following her gaze across the lake.

"I saw you. I saw you and Ron dive in head first to save me- someone you guys couldn’t even stand at the time. You didn’t ask questions, you didn’t stop to ask if it was right and neither of you had very much skill, but you managed it anyhow. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that I saw who we used to be, and who some of still are. Oh, Harry…" She turned to look at him. "Don’t you see? Even back then you did things without fully considering the consequences. You are a brash, rapid thinker who will look for the easiest way to get what he wants and needs."

"Hold on a minute." He took a few steps back. "If you think that hurting you and Ron was easy-"

"No." She interrupted. "I guess I’m not being very clear. My head is still kind of a mess after you and Luna went running around in there."

"Sorry."

"Harry, what I’m trying to say is that I understand that you did what you felt was right. It doesn’t matter if Ron or I don’t agree. I guess, I just… understand." She looked out over the water again.

"So where does that leave us? Is there an us? Can there ever be?" He stepped in front of her, forcing her to look at him.

"I don’t know. I want to, but could it be the same?"

Harry sighed and then took her hand. "I know I want to be with you. I’ve known it the entire time. But I understand too. I understand that you have problems with trust, so here’s what I’m going to do." He placed the wooden box that Lupin had given him in her hand. "If you want to go back to the way things were, if you even think you can, I want you to bring this back, and I want you to ask me again to marry you. I swear to you, no matter how long it takes you to decide, if you ask, my answer will be yes. And I’ll put that on your finger." He stepped back as she opened the box. Harry hadn’t looked inside. He didn’t want to see it, not until it was officially Hermione’s. "It was my mother’s engagement ring. I asked Lupin to find it for me, so…so that I could give it to you. I’ll wait Hermione. I’ll wait years if that’s what it takes. I love you." He lightly kissed her cheek before walking away. He didn’t look back, though he was hoping with his whole heart that she would call to him. She didn’t, so he kept walking.

(BREAK)

"Ginny!" Tonks called down the hallway.

She turned and was surprised to find the Auror here, in the middle of the school. "What are you doing here?"

"Looking for you." She answered with a happy smile. "I have a request, and I know it’s kind of last minute but I really hadn’t had a chance to do anything I’ve wanted for this wedding. It’s all a bit thrown together."

"Do you need help with something?" Ginny offered, though she dreaded actually helping. The last thing she wanted right now was to assist in creating the most wonderful love filled day of someone else’s life.

"Sort of. You see, we wanted all you kids in the wedding party and well, I need a maid of honor. I was hoping you could fill the position." Tonks said shyly.

Ginny was touched despite her reluctance to participate in anything happy. "Really?"

"If you wanted. I really would like you to."

"Okay. I’d love to." She answered.

"Great!" Tonks pulled her into a tight hug. "I’ll go tell Remus, and we’ll have to get your dress. I’ll be in touch with you again soon. Only a few days left you know." And then she was off in a whirlwind of excitement.

Ginny felt defeated. She knew that she had no good reason to give for refusing the request and so she was now resigned to walk down the aisle with the best man, and she knew Lupin had asked Harry to hold that distinction. She had been dreading Friday night when she was only going to be a guest, now she was down right terrified. But she had to accept the offer, to keep everyone at bay so that no one realized she was having so much trouble. She just needed time to figure herself out, but being forced into Harry’s company wasn’t going to help. How ironic that a few months ago, she would have been over the moon that Tonks asked her to do this… To keep up appearances now, she couldn’t say no. Or maybe… maybe that part of her that felt so reckless lately wanted this chance to force Harry into her company. She knew he’d taken steps to breach the rift he’d created with Ron and probably Hermione as well, whereas he hadn’t so much as looked in her direction yet. It bothered her to no end that he would reach out to the others and not her… after all, she’d been hurt by his actions as well even if she’d let it happen.

Shaking her head, she decided to skip her next class and head out to the courtyard for some fresh air. She had neither the desire nor the focus to try and learn anything. School was beyond her at the moment, what she needed was to figure out was whether or not she was losing her mind.

(BREAK)

"Well what are you going to do?" Ron asked as he looked at the ring. Hermione had just told him of Harry’s attempt to make amends with her. He couldn’t believe his friend had gone to such lengths.

"I don’t know. I believe him about everything, about why he did it. But…"

"I know." He answered glumly. He had been trying hard to work at forgiving Harry, at letting things try to be normal between them. He wanted the friendship back, but sometimes he’d find himself thinking about it all and get mad that he had to put any effort at all into this. It should be solely Harry’s responsibility to make things right.

"It won’t ever be the same, but now that we’ve all been through this, maybe things could be better." She said hopefully.

"Maybe." He didn’t want to make her feel bad. But he didn’t want her to throw away everything that kept her true to herself just so she could hang onto Harry. She was his friend too after all, and right now she needed more looking after. "But just remember, if he was able to mastermind something like this once… well, I just keep finding myself questioning what he could be capable of, you know?"

"Yeah, I know." She answered quietly. "But I really think that he wouldn’t do something like this ever again now that he’s seen what the outcome is."

"Even if we all just forgive him? What lesson will he learn if we make it easy?"

"You already started letting him back into your life!" she protested. "Why are you trying to make this so much harder for me?"

"Because I don’t have as much to lose." He shook his head sadly. "If this doesn’t work out of course I’ll be upset, but I would only lose my best friend. You lose that and a lot more."

"I just have some thinking to do, that’s all." She said crossly, taking the box with the ring from him as she stood. "I’ll see you later, I have to get to Ancient Runes." And then she left and he was alone with another hour until his next class.

Part of him was glad that Harry was starting to come around, and an even larger part liked that he had tried to make things right with him first, before Hermione. After all, from the beginning it had been the two boys, friends from the moment they sat on the train together. Everyone else, Hermione included had come to be part of their group later. Maybe that’s why there was that other part of him, who felt he’d been the most betrayed by Harry. With a sigh he got up and decided to go get some fresh air before he had to be stuffed into class, no longer wanting to be cooped up in the castle.

Once outside, he wasn’t sure he wanted to be there either. He didn’t want to be anywhere really and wished Luna were there with him. But she had back-to-back classes today and he wouldn’t get the chance to see her again until dinner. Like his situation with Harry, Ron didn’t want to lose Luna and so he had been working extra hard at forgiveness. He had told her he understood, but did he really? He had worked hard to shield his doubts from her, but he might never understand why she had kept her mouth shut and let them all suffer when she could have ratted out Harry from the beginning. As much as he loved her, he wasn’t sure their relationship could survive another secret like that being withheld. Staring down at the lake he decided to just let things happen as they would. He’d done his part to make things right as far as he was concerned.

(BREAK)

It was late Friday evening just after dinner when Draco left Snape’s office to return to his room. Since coming back to the school after Christmas break, the professor had taken over teaching duties from Dumbledore, as Draco was still forced to stay mostly in isolation to keep up appearances. It was an arrangement he’d been comfortable with, not having to sit there everyday and pretending he was still someone he no longer wanted to be just so no one would try to kill him. He didn’t trust anyone in Slytherin, and if he was being honest, he wasn’t sure he trusted anyone at all. Potter himself was capable of great cunning and deception, as he’d proved with his stupid plan to keep his friends safe. And if he could do such things to his friends, what could he ultimately do to an enemy? So being out of student view wasn’t the punishment the Headmaster had intended it to be. Especially since losing his arm. It was bad enough that the few times he was in the halls or outside this past week, everyone had stared, pointed and whispered. Unfortunately, it was something he was just going to have to get used to. Snape had just delivered devastating news. Next year, he would have to rejoin his house, his regular classes. Appearances had to be kept and his discomfort wasn’t enough to consider an alternate method. With Cho’s guilt came his exoneration of the crimes that had helped land him under house arrest. In order to keep the ministry from asking questions, they apparently had to release his files, and so no longer could they keep him secluded. Snape had assured him that it was a situation the Headmaster was working on.

While he appreciated the fact that his professor was trying to help him, he had begun to wonder why. Draco wasn’t sure what to do about Snape. He knew the man attended Death Eater meetings, that the Dark Lord held him very highly within his inner circle because of his talents and his position within the school. Did Dumbledore know? He had to, if he trusted the man to continue to look after him. He hadn’t dared breach the subject with either of them, fearing the outcome if he blew Snape’s cover. Betraying Cho had been one thing, Snape would be quite another.

A knock on the door kept him from pursuing the thought any further. Part of him thought it would be Ginny again, there to make another stand about how much she didn’t like him and didn’t want him around. It had hurt to hear her say it, but she was obviously dealing with something herself and coming to confront him was some part of it. At first he’d been angry with her, going so far out of her way to tell him she hated him. But he soon found he had a lot more patience for her than any of the others. Of course, his own guilt about the things she’d been through were a large part of that. So preparing himself for anything, he took a deep breath and opened the door.

He was disappointed to find Pansy. "Draco! I’ve been trying to come see you for days now!" she said rushing past him.

He slammed the door shut behind her, not bothering to hide his irritation. "About what?" He asked as he sat in his desk chair.

"About you! What happened to you? We all heard about Hogsmeade and a lot of people are saying you went there to fight on Potter’s side." She stared directly at his arm, making him feel uncomfortable.

"Well a lot of people should keep their mouths shut unless they know what they’re talking about." He replied indignantly. "Of course I didn’t go to fight on Potter’s side, I went to find my father. He and I have a few things to settle that don’t involve this war at all." He added, mixing truth in with his lies.

"But then why did you help them?" She asked, her big cow eyes looking at him, begging him to give her something she could understand.

He knew he had to be convincing. Dopey as she was, he needed her to try and keep the others from turning on him completely. "Can I trust you?" he asked, lowering his voice and adding a slightly seductive quality.

"Of course." She eagerly replied.

"No," he rose and went to stand before her. He reached out and took her hand, staring deeply into her eyes, "I mean, can I really trust you Pansy?"

"Yes." She answered breathlessly.

"I hope so. I need someone, I can’t keep all these secrets anymore. It’s killing me." He softened his gaze and stepped closer to her. "I would like it if you were the person I could turn to."

She seemed to melt in front of him. "I’m always here for you Draco."

He broke away, turning his back on her as if indecision were tearing him apart. In truth he really did it to keep from laughing in her face. "I have certain orders, you know. Plans that must be kept secret."

"I won’t tell anyone." She promised. "Crabbe and Goyle said you told them you were a spy."

"I am, but I also have my own quest. I went to Hogsmeade as a spy, but I also went to find my father. He was the only one I intended on turning on out there, as for Potter and the others, I was supposed to let them think I was completely on their side and then set them up to be handed over."

"So what happened?"

He turned back to her and raised his wasted arm for emphasis. "Lucius messed it all up. He tried to kill me, and would have if Potter hadn’t stepped in. As it is I lost my arm because of him."

"Oh Draco!" she cooed, stepping forward to throw her arms around him.

He quickly disentangled himself, throwing himself down in his chair in anguish, as if the display had been too emotional for him to handle rather than the reality of not wanting the girl anywhere near him. "I couldn’t do what I was sent there to do because I was busy trying to keep the spell from spreading. Had to hack off my own limb." It was bad enough he’d admitted to Potter saving his life, he didn’t want to add Weasley’s part in the whole thing. "I failed." He concluded, hanging his head in mock shame.

"No you didn’t." she said softly, kneeling next to him. "You didn’t fail, you were sabotaged. And by your own father." She shook her head. He couldn’t believe she was falling for this.

"And now everyone just thinks I’m a huge traitor." He threw in for more sympathy.

"Well they won’t for long." She promised. "I’ll find a way to set them straight."

"Thank you." He said, forcing a yawn. "Sorry, these healing herbs make me feel really tired."

"Well I’ll let you rest. You’ve been through a lot." She said, boldly reaching out to take his hand.

He squeezed it tightly before getting up and leading her to the door. "Thanks Pansy. For being the one person I can count on."

"Always." She gushed as he closed the door in her face.

Draco let out a heavy breath. He’d done what he could to try and ensure a somewhat safe existence at the school. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one who didn’t take Pansy very seriously, but he had to take what he could get. Staring at the stone walls around him, he suddenly felt trapped. Dumbledore had decided to let him keep his invisibility cloak after admitting that Pansy had stolen it. He liked that the Headmaster trusted him even to that extent. But now, he had to shatter that trust or risk losing his mind.

Throwing the cloak around himself he made his way outside and down to the lake. The moon was shining brightly, illuminating someone already standing at the edge of the water. He realized it was Ginny, dressed in a dark colored gown that appeared black in the night. Without realizing what he was doing, he threw off the cloak and approached her. "Lovely night to dress up." He said, coming to stand next to her.

"I thought I was clear when we talked." She answered stiffly.

"Hey, you don’t own the lake." He shot back. "I can come here if I want, it’s not like I was following you." Up close he could see that the dress was actually a dark blue, and it nicely accented her pale skin and fiery hair.

"Whatever." She mumbled. "I’m in the wedding." She said as if that explained why she was out here past eleven alone. All it explained was why she was in the dress.

"Oh right. Professor Lupin and that Auror woman." He’d heard them all talking about it but having not been invited he’d forgotten.

"I better get back." She turned and began walking away.

"You look good. Hope you have fun." He called after her. He didn’t know why he’d said it, but she seemed so depressed he thought hearing something nice might help a little.

She turned and looked at him suspiciously, as if waiting for the punch line of a joke. "Thanks." She said finally before turning and walking away without a second glance.

(BREAK)

"Why am I nervous? I’m not getting married!" Ron pulled anxiously at his bow tie.

"Because, being this close to the shackles of matrimony does that to people." Fred said from the couch. The boys were all in Lupin’s chambers preparing for the ceremony. Harry yawned. He hadn’t slept well the night before and his last classes today had been brutal in their preparations for exams next week. He checked his watch. 11:30 pm. In another half an hour, the ceremony would start. Having never seen a wizard wedding, he had no idea why it had to take place at midnight, and Hermione still wasn’t around to tell him. But even that fact was slowly slipping to the back of his mind. By this time tomorrow, he would have the ring.

"What is wrong with this thing!" Ron yelled, bringing Harry back to the present. He was still pulling furiously at his tie, obviously frustrated. He had been trying to get it right for nearly an hour.

"Here." Harry stood and went to help him. Ron stood still to allow assistance, but Harry could tell he was still angered by his inability to get this right.

"If it was a normal tie, I wouldn’t have a problem!" Ron said purposefully.

"I know Ron." Harry answered, stepping back to admire his handy work. In truth, it had taken Harry about 15 minutes of wrestling with his own to figure it out. Bow ties were not his specialty.

He looked at himself in the mirror. His dress robes were a deep blue, as were Ron and Fred’s. The shirt underneath and the tie were both a very light shade of sky blue. As best man, Harry was in possession of the ring and he could feel its slight weight in his pocket.

More than anything, Harry was nervous about walking down the aisle with the maid of honor. Tonks had asked Ginny to hold that distinction, and she was the only one of his friends that he hadn’t tried to make things right with, and that was because he didn’t know what to say to her. Luckily, he wouldn’t have to talk to her on the way down the aisle, but they would have to sit with each other at the reception. He was also worried about what Hermione would be thinking, watching them thrown together all night. Unfortunately, talking to Ginny and Hermione’s reaction to them together wasn’t the only part of the reception he was dreading. He would have to make a speech, and try as he might to come up with something he still had no idea what he was going to say, though he had assured Lupin the night before that he had it all ready to go. Yup, for this not being his own wedding, Harry sure had a lot to be nervous about.

Lupin came and gathered the boys in the foyer outside the Great Hall. The lawn outside was all set up for the ceremony. Dumbledore, the Weasley family, Kingsley, Mad-eye and a few of Tonks’ friends from the ministry were already out there taking their seats along with most of the Hogwarts professors. Arthur would be at the end of the long aisle, as he would be presiding over the sacred rite. To many others, it would be impressive to have the Minister of Magic himself perform the act, but it was an expected joy to all those assembled here.

Harry looked up as Ginny, Hermione and Luna walked in to join the groomsmen. Ginny’s dress was the same dark blue of the boys’ robes, and it looked absolutely perfect on her. But Harry’s eyes were instantly drawn to Hermione. She and Luna wore dresses in the light sky blue color, and it gave her lightly tan skin a luminosity Harry had never seen before. The pale purple flowers in her hands matched the ones strewn throughout her hair, which was gently flowing about her shoulders.

She met his eyes and Harry could see her smile slightly at him before turning her attention to Fred, who would be her escort down the aisle. Still Harry couldn’t move his eyes, and when she found his gaze again, her smile deepened. In the back of his head, he heard the clock strike midnight, but it wasn’t until he felt tugging at his sleeve that the spell was broken. "Harry, we have to go." Ginny said quietly, not looking at him. Harry turned his attention back to the doors and saw that Lupin was already making his way down the aisle. Ginny took his arm and he led them out into the night.

As he took his place next to Lupin, he watched the others progress down the aisle. Having been completely wrapped up in Hermione, Harry hadn’t taken much notice of Luna. But watching her now come towards him with Ron grinning idiotically next to her, he realized that she too took his breath away. The light blue dress made her blue eyes sparkle like sapphires in the bright moonlight, her long golden hair a mass of curls topped with a crown of purple flowers- she looked like some mythical goddess, fragile and ethereal. She saw him looking at her and smiled warmly, and as he returned the smile he reflected that he was lucky to have her as a friend. Then came Hermione with Fred. It hurt his heart a little to see her on the arm of someone else. But he pushed those thoughts aside, determined to be in the moment and forget all of his own crap, so he could be genuinely happy for his friend, who was grinning like an idiot as Tonks began her descent to the altar.

She was a beautiful bride. Her floor length dress was silver with stars outlined in sparkly crystals all along the low scoop neck of the bodice. Her hair was a normal chestnut brown, and pulled up high on her head in curls. Diamond stars were placed here and there in her hair, catching the light and casting a slight halo-like glow around her head. Lupin was a lucky man.

When she reached her groom, he took her hand and kissed it. "I am honored to be here," Arthur began, "an active participant in such a joyous occasion during these dark times. That these two should bring light and happiness to each other and to us, humble friends gathered here, is a miraculous gift. Let us begin by joining chalice and blade, the symbols for woman and man."

Lupin picked up the dagger on the altar before him as Tonks held out a plain chalice to Arthur, who poured wine into it. Then Tonks and Lupin turned to each other. As he stirred the contents, Arthur addressed the crowd. "Bear witness, as chalice and blade become one, so do Nymphadora Tonks and Remus Lupin." Together, the happy couple poured the contents into two wine glasses. "Separate but always one." Arthur said. That was Harry and Ginny’s cue to hand over the rings. "Rings, guarded by trustworthy friends, show to the world the power of your love and devotion." They placed the rings on each other’s fingers. Though he couldn’t see Lupin’s face, Harry knew it was as bright and radiant with love as Tonks’s was. When Arthur asked if there were any who objected, Harry felt that had someone spoke, he would have thrown them across the yard and into the lake.

At Arthur’s command, Lupin and Tonks picked up their glasses and held them out. "Drink from the cup of your husband, Nymphadora." She did so, smiling happily at Lupin as she did. "Drink from the cup of your wife, Remus." He did so. They put the glasses down and joined hands. "And now, we seal the rite, as these two before us share their first kiss as husband and wife." Harry almost had to look away from that kiss. It was filled with passion, desire and love. It made him think of what he had given up in his haste to protect Hermione.

"Friends," Arthur stepped around the altar and took Lupin and Tonks’ hands. "I present to you Mr. Remus Lupin and his wife, Mrs. Nymphadora Tonks Lupin!"





A/N: Next chapter, the reception, the map, and the ring. Please review!

Chapter 43: Map Quest

NOTE: Hello again. I bet you all thought I had given up on this story. Well I didn’t and here is my proof. I did however change what I was going to do, so I apologize for the long time it took in posting. I had to rewrite this chapter, and will probably have to rewrite the final few as well. Again I own nothing past the original ideas put forth. Read, review and enjoy!

WARNING: there is a very sappy scene that I couldn’t help but write, if you have a sweet tooth for happy, sugary writing you may like it. For those who don’t like that kind of writing (like me), I tried to make it as quick as possible.




The reception was held in a large tent that had been set up down by the lake. Harry felt out of place surrounded by the joyful faces of the guests. Of course, he couldn’t be more happy for Remus and Tonks, but his own unresolved love life was eating away at him. Hermione was sitting a table away with Ron, Fred, and Luna and he could feel the cold distance separating him from her. As people started tapping their wine glasses, Harry knew it was time for him to give his speech and the knot tightened even more in his gut. He stood with everyone else, feeling unsure, self-conscious and miserable. How could he be expected to talk about love when he had given it up so foolishly?

Lucky for him Ginny was first up and she took to the middle of the floor and held up her glass. "Professor Lupin is a kind, gentle, brave and honorable man and Tonks is unpredictable, exciting and ever changing with the tide or the moon. They fully deserve the happiness I know they bring each other. Separate they are strong, but as we have all witnessed, together they are invincible. Those of us gathered here can only dream of the love they have found with each other, a love that is sweet and pure and patient. We should all be as lucky as they are, and I don’t know about the rest of you, but I hope that someday, their luck will rub off on me. In the meantime, I stand here, a jealous observer to their joy. To Lupin and Tonks!" She raised her glass smiling and everyone gave cheers. Her smile was fake, Harry knew that. But how much of her had he destroyed in the past month, and how much was damaged already… that he didn’t know. Her thoughts were swift and solid in her mind, and they were not pleasant towards him.

He pushed that aside and nervously took his place in the middle wishing he knew what he was going to say.From the heart, Harry. He looked towards Luna who had sent him that simple message and opened his mouth before realizing he was doing so.

"I think we have all seen enough to know how horrible and evil the world can be. But someone I love once tried to tell me that life is about finding balance, that there is a reason for everything." He was now looking purposefully at Hermione, remembering her words. Her eyes never left his face. "Maybe the world needs evil so that when something as pure and good as love comes around we can recognize it and grab on to it. And for those among us smart enough to never let go of that love…. there is nothing more in the world that you could possibly need and nothing that can truly harm you because that love will stand through anything. I wish I were still as fortunate as Remus and Tonks." He paused to bite back his misery before turning to address the new husband and wife directly. "So promise me, and all of us assembled here, that you will never be so foolish as to gamble away the best thing that ever happened to you…. each other." He raised his glass and drank to his friends, everyone else following suit. Then, as the music picked up and dancing commenced, Harry snuck away, feeling like he would rather spend the rest of the night getting the sleep he needed to be prepared for the next day’s adventure.

(BREAK)

Hermione was torn. She wanted, needed to forgive Harry. The wedding, the speech, and even the wine were getting to be too much. At the same time, Ron’s words were bouncing around her head, that if they forgave him too easily he wouldn’t learn. But who were they to try and teach Harry a lesson. Dumbledore had told Percy that sometimes the head isn’t smarter than the heart and at this moment she fully understood. Despite her reservations, she wanted nothing more than to just be with Harry.

She had seen him slink away and followed at a discreet distance, trying to decide what she was going to say. Was this even the right time to say anything? He had to find the ring tomorrow and none of them knew exactly where the map would lead. Maybe this sort of thing would be too distracting. She knew was going to forgive him for kissing Ginny, for not letting her follow him to Hogsmeade and for anything else he may feel he needs to be forgiven for. Maybe she always knew she was going to. At the very least she’ll tell him she did until the forgiveness really came one day, as she was certain it would. But what she didn’t know was if it would be enough to bring them back together. She could only hope…

(BREAK)

"You want to dance?" Ron asked her shyly.

Luna was surprised. "I thought I was going to have to get you way more drunk to get a dance out of you." She said with a smile.

"Maybe I’m already there." He smiled back, putting down his wine glass and holding out his hand. She took it and as they stepped out onto the floor with Lupin, Tonks, and several other guests who had coupled up to dance, a slow melody came on. "Ah, looks like I have perfect timing." He pulled her close as they swayed to the music.

She had never been so happy and sad at the same time. She was so comfortable, so relaxed in his arms, but this was just another moment, one more time when things went right for them in the midst of everything else going wrong. She clung to him tightly, savoring this time before it was over. She knew she was treading water with him, that their time was very quickly coming to an end. They had needed each other, but now, the differences between them were becoming too great and she knew that very soon, something was going to happen that would push them away from each other, some secret she had that he would want to know. She wasn’t sure which one yet, but it was coming. All she could do was wait, enjoy the moments she had left with Ron and hope that fate really did know best.

(BREAK)

The common room was deserted, the rest of the Gryffindors not at the celebration were sleeping, resting for the exams that would take place next week. Harry felt sick to his stomach, a feeling that hadn’t really left him since he had given Hermione his mother’s ring. He stood in front of the fire, exhausted but not tired, waiting… for what he didn’t know. Until she walked in.

He turned at the sound of the portrait, knowing who was there and that she had followed him. His heart swelled and he let himself hope as he never had before. "Hermione-"

"Harry, wait." She had walked up to him and placed a hand over his mouth. "Let me get this out because I don’t know what will happen." She removed her hand and stepped back. "I know why you did what you did, and I know you thought you were doing right. I forgive you completely; for Ginny, for lying to me and Ron, and I really do understand why you felt it all necessary, that you wanted in any way to protect us, to protect me. For all I know, I will never stop loving you… but the trust. I already told you why I have trust issues, but I guess what I don’t get is why you don’t trust me. You don’t trust that I want to be with you, no matter what, regardless of whether we agree on everything or not. This thought that I will hate you if you have to kill Voldemort is silly. I saw you kill Bellatrix, because otherwise she would have gotten you or me first. I don’t love you any less. More maybe, but never less. And I would rather you kill him than the other way around. I gave you trouble about it because it scares me to think that it could go the other way." She paused to take a breath and pulled out the small box. Then she took off the ruby promise ring he had given her for Christmas and held both out.

"These are symbols, Harry. They don’t mean anything by themselves, but you have put meaning behind them. I think they mean you love me. I want them, I want you, and I want our future. But if you can’t trust me to support you, and if I can’t figure out how to get past my own issues then it’s better that I just give them back now. I’ve thought a lot about this Harry, and I know you aren’t in love with Ginny, and I know you mean it when you say that you want me and only me. I know I can hang onto to that thought this time and put everything else aside. I really believe in my heart that I trust you, with my life and my love. I guess the only question now is, can you trust me?"

He could, he trusted her now more than he ever trusted himself. So without hesitation he took the rings from her hand, knelt down in front of her and opened the box, displaying its contents. "Hermione, I’ve thought about all of this too. You are probably the only one I can place 100% of my trust in. I love you, I love everything about you, and I love how you make me feel. I am whole in a way that I never was before. Please, say you will be with me forever. Take this ring and when the time is right, marry me. I can’t promise much for sure, but I can promise that for as long as I live you will be my everything."

She smiled, tears shimmering in her eyes and her face flush in the firelight. Without warning she threw herself at him knocking them both to the floor as she covered his face, his lips with kisses. They sat up and he took the ring, a delicate silver thing with a soft yellow diamond and placed it on her finger. It was simple and elegant like her.

"I think we need a more private place…." She whispered in his ear. Grinning madly, he took her hand and led her to the Room of Requirement. Right in the middle was a large bed, surrounded by a million candles. That was all he had time to see because Hermione threw her arms around his neck and pulled his face to hers. His tie was quickly removed and he paused to smile inwardly, because what had taken him fifteen minutes to put on had been removed in seconds. The rest of their clothes quickly followed.

That night he focused on nothing but her. He tried to take it all in at once, the softness of her skin, her chocolate brown eyes heavy with lust, her lips on his skin, the smell of lilacs and sweat, the salty sweet taste of her. Their hands explored each other like they had never touched before which added a whole new level of sensuality to the experience. They were breathing heavily as one and as his lips caressed her neck he could feel her pulse quickening with his own. Minutes slipped into hours and eventually they fell into each other’s arms, exhausted but sublimely happy. Soon after, sleep overtook them and later Harry would reflect that he had never had a better night’s rest.

(BREAK)

On June 13th, many years ago, Remus Lupin took a stroll through the forbidden forest while waiting for his friends to finish their final exam. He had never been scared of the woods the way other students were, and found the place relaxing and filled with good memories from the past five years. He had played games with his friends, hidden from teachers, and even received his first kiss earlier that year among those trees.

That day, he distinctly remembered hearing the cries of a man shortly after the school clock had chimed three. He went deeper into the woods, searching for whoever was wounded, and he had to be wounded to be making those horrible sounds. After a short walk, Remus came across the person making those noises, and only by lack of a better description could he be called a man. He knelt down and leaned over the figure, trying to find the cause of his pain. At exactly 3:24pm, Remus Lupin was bitten by a crazed man/creature. Not knowing what else to do, he returned to the school, and told the nurse the he had been bitten by a wild dog.

That night, during the full moon, Remus and his three friends snuck off school grounds to visit the shrieking shack. While inside, a bit of moon hit him and the others watched in horror as he screamed in pain and agony, slowly changing into a beast of the imagination. Upon being bitten in the woods, Remus Lupin had become a werewolf.

(BREAK)

3:19:23 PM. Five minutes until Harry could hold out his key and get the map. He was standing next to the study tree by the lake, nervous, anxious, scared and hopeful. Would Voldemort show up, or was what Percy had said true? What were his worst fears and how real would they actually be? And most important to him- when he had the ring, would it work? He checked his watch again. 3:20:12 PM.

Ron and Luna were having a quiet yet serious looking discussion a few feet away out of earshot and Harry, concerned about any new fight they may be having, had to force himself not to listen in. Fred was sitting on the other side of the tree, his head hanging down, a determined and concentrated air about him, so much so that no one really wanted to disturb him.

Ginny, who Harry still hadn’t spoken to, sat near her brother looking sour. He knew she was only there because she also wanted to use the ring and felt obligated to help find it. Her thoughts otherwise were still so dark and gloomy that he felt it better to continue to hold off on trying to talk to her about what had happened.

Draco was sitting away from the group. Harry surmised that he must have somehow figured out at least one of his new powers, because Draco was purposely keeping his mind carefully blank. It immediately made him suspicious. But Harry wouldn’t worry about that now, old habits were hard to break anyway, and mistrusting Malfoy was per the usual… which was exactly why he asked him to come along. Besides, Hermione was standing next to him, her wonderfully soft hand in his, her head resting on his shoulder.

No one had been surprised when they had entered the common room that morning with their arms around each other, their dress clothes in complete disarray from having been put back on quickly. Harry guessed it had been general consensus among most of his friends and the other Gryffindors that it was only a matter of time before they were back together. However, Hermione had removed the ring and now wore it on a chain around her neck. They had decided that so few good things happened for them that they wanted to keep their engagement to themselves for awhile, to have a secret happiness that only they shared. When the time was right they would spill the news.

Shaking his head of even more pleasant thoughts about what had passed between them last night, he again checked his watch, 3:23:45 PM. "Hey guys! Fifteen seconds!" They gathered around him and he reluctantly released Hermione’s hand. At exactly 3:24:00 PM he held up the key. It glittered in the sunlight for a moment, but nothing else happened and he began to worry. So much of his peace of mind depended on that ring, this just had to work…

"Harry!" Ron pointed to the ground. There it was- the map, written into the shadows on the grass. Hermione quickly copied it down on some parchment, and at exactly 3:25:00 PM the shadowy map disappeared.

"Well?" Ginny asked impatiently as Hermione looked it over.

"It starts at the edge of the Forbidden Forest, right behind Hagrid’s hut." They ran to the spot, and letting Hermione take the lead, they began their journey. After twenty minutes, she told them all to start looking for a grouping of large boulders placed in a triangle as they needed to get on a certain pathway that ran through them. They kept their eyes peeled, adrenaline rushing in their veins. The forest was as dark and scary as ever, but their purpose kept them from noticing, and they simply lit their wands and continued onward.

Luna was the first to spot it. Following the only visible path, they were led between the formation, and eventually came to a large mountain. The top was about a mile above them and the barrier stretched further than they could see on either side. They were now deeper in the woods than any of them had been on previous adventures and figured that this must be part of the mountain range surrounding Hogsmeade.

"Um, Granger…." Draco was looking upward.

"And up we must go." Hermione answered his unspoken fear. She folded the map and handed it to Harry, which he stuffed in his pocket for safekeeping.

He then reached into the bag he had brought with and removed some rope. "I thought there might be a part of this where you’d have some difficulty." He said to Draco. After securing Malfoy in the rope, he tied one end around his waist and Fred stepped forward to take the other end. Together, Harry and Fred took the lead up the mountain, carefully testing out hand and footholds so the rest could follow safely behind him. Draco tried to help support his weight against the rope by climbing as well as he could with one arm. Hermione went next, then Ron, Luna, and Ginny. Halfway up, Harry heard a shriek and almost lost his own grip trying to make sure the others were ok. The sight that greeted him chilled his blood.

Luna was dangling away from the face of the mountain, clinging for dear life to Ginny’s hand. She had reached out and caught Luna when she’d slipped and was now struggling to hang on to her friend and her grip on the rocks at the same time. Ron and Hermione were rushing down to help, abandoning the "safe" path that Harry had laid out for them. Ron got level with Luna just as Ginny was shouting for them to hurry. She reached out her other hand and he took hold as Hermione climbed lower and grabbed her ankles. Together, they all got her safely positioned back on the wall. Once everyone signaled they were okay Harry again began climbing, though he had a vague sense that Luna had somehow been injured. He pulled himself over the top and reached down to help the others scramble up and over.

They sat to rest, panting from the exertion. Luna, was rubbing her shoulder, grimacing. "I think my shoulder dislocated." She calmly answered when Ron demanded to know if she was alright. "My foot slipped, sorry to have scared you all."

"Let me see." Hermione moved Luna’s arm and shoulder, occasionally asking if it hurt. "Ron a little help?" She instructed him to hold Luna still and after warning her that it may hurt, she popped her shoulder back into place. Other than a small gasp, she gave no indication of pain.

After allowing them to sit for a few more minutes and take a few gulps of water, Harry handed the map back to Hermione and everyone wearily got to their feet, trying to think only of the prize at the end.

"This way." Hermione instructed as she took the lead again directing them along the top of the mountain ridge toward a large outcropping a few miles down the way.

"Next time we should just bring our brooms. We could have flown all this way instead of all this walking and climbing." Ron grumbled after a few minutes.

"So from your broom you could have magically seen through all that to find the right path?" Fred asked impatiently, gesturing out to the dense trees of the forest. "It’s so thick we were barely able to see as it was."

"Besides," Luna added, "if Lily could do it, we should be able to as well." She seemed to be in good spirits despite her scare and subsequent injury. Harry once more reflected that he was glad she was his friend. He was learning a lot about the proper way to cope with life’s difficulties and dangers. From now on, he would follow her example. He would just face it, deal with it, dust himself off and move on. After the ring of course... That would be his last foray into the past. He looked at Hermione, carefully studying the map as she walked, and resolved to only think of the future from tomorrow on.

When they finally reached the outcrop, Hermione stopped them and looked outwards. There was a shallow valley starting just a few feet below them. Right in the middle, was what appeared to be the opening to a large underground cave. Jumping down, they all walked cautiously to the entrance, stopping just outside. The path seemed to steep downwards.

"This is it, Harry." She showed him the map. The cave descended into a large cavern where, according to the map there was a hole, its depths evidently unknown as they weren’t charted or noted anywhere. And that was where the directions ended. Harry now had to go down there into the unknown without any sort of guide. His apprehension grew as he stepped forward and began his downward journey, very possibly into hell. It made him uneasy that the others were following, but if they were headed for hell, then at least it would be a party.




A/N: Next time on Harry Potter and the Ring of Mykele: is the ring there? Will he get to it? Will it even work? And just what are Harry’s worst fears? Stay tuned for another exciting chapter….Next chapter title: When Fear Attacks

Chapter 44: Engulfed in Fear

NOTE: Read, review, enjoy!



The way down was heavily sloped and Harry had to struggle to keep his balance before his feet ran away with him. Finally there was a soft light and the opening to a larger cavern loomed ahead. He kept his lit wand in front of him, surprised to see that there was a soft silvery mist swirling gently around his ankles. Upon entering he stopped the others short and took a hard look around. Taking a few cautious steps forward, he saw a giant black hole in the middle of the earthy room. The chest hovered magically above the abyss, it’s treasure seemingly impossible to get at.

"Stay there a moment." He instructed, walking slowly toward the center. There had to be a trick to it, he knew… but try as he might, he couldn’t remember if the clues had somehow prepared him for this. Was he supposed to jump? Was the gaping hole an allusion?

He kicked a few rocks out and they did disappear down into the depths of who knew where. There was no sound of them hitting bottom. Carefully, he stepped up to the very edge, confident the others were keeping an eye out for anyone that may have followed them. He had no concentration for that. He needed to figure this out.

(BREAK)

Hermione was the first to see the dense fog rising from the ground. She had no sooner pointed it out to Ron, when it turned black and seemed to swallow Harry in its folds. She screamed his name as he collapsed, blanketed from view by the menacingly dark fog.

Vaguely, she was aware of the others grabbing her as she tried to run to him, her heart was beating in her ears and she heard nothing else. The fog was moving towards her quickly and everyone was pulling at her trying to make her retreat. Ron and Fred half carried her back up the tunnel and she fought them the whole way. Only once they were completely clear and in the setting sunlight did her senses return and she became fully aware of herself. She was crying, begging to go back. She fell to her knees and prayed to whoever may have heard her that Harry would be all right.

(BREAK)

Ron was bent over double, his hands on his knees, panting from the effort of forcing not only himself, but Hermione to run away from Harry when he might have needed them. Though he was finding it impossible to forgive Harry, especially with the way Ginny had been acting, he still cared about his friend.

Now, he was standing with Fred in front of the entrance in case Hermione once again tried to go back. There were only small wisps of light gray smoke coming out, and he was certain the worst part hadn’t followed them all the way. Hermione was huddled on the ground, now silently crying to herself, occasionally glaring at him and his brother. He didn’t care. Harry sure as hell would have wanted them to go, wasn’t that what the last month had shown them? Harry wanted their support, but not their blood and Ron knew he would want the same if he were ever in his friend’s shoes.

"How bad could it be if it was set up by his mother?" Draco asked a bit nervously.

"That’s a good point," Fred sat down at his entrance post. "That fog stuff was probably a spell or something…. You know a way for Harry to imagine his worst fears. The clue said he would have to, and it makes sense."

"See, he’ll be fine." Ron sat next to Hermione and threw an arm around her shoulders. It was a plausible…. No… a probable assumption. He hoped like hell it was true.

"What if he doesn’t come back out?" She asked softly.

"He will, and we’ll wait here until he does." He hugged her to him, trying to offer comfort so at least one of them could relax a bit. In total truth, he was scared for Harry. He would of course come back, but what damage could whatever he was going through cause his head? He was already broken somehow, was there more to break?

He glanced around to see how everyone else was doing. Fred was staring off into the distance, his body tense, his face lined in worry. Draco was absentmindedly pulling up blades of grass, looking nowhere in particular. Ron couldn’t imagine what he was thinking or feeling having been dragged along on this adventure and wished, not for the first time, that he had Harry or Luna’s ability to read people’s thoughts.

Gently rubbing Hermione’s shoulder, he looked over to see how Luna was fairing in all this. He was startled by her tear streaked face and the way her eyes searched the ground as if she knew the exact spot Harry fell, but he was dumbfounded when she saw him looking at her and quickly tried to hide the anguish in her eyes. He didn’t know what to think… but he knew, somehow, maybe he had startled her into accidentally "sending" him something she was thinking. He knew she wasn’t only worried about Harry. He watched her sit down and close her eyes as she fell into deep concentration. What she was doing, he had no idea, but then that was the usually the problem.

He shook his head and sought out his sister, to see how she was fairing. She was facing away from everyone obviously trying not to make things worse by showing she was just as upset as Hermione. Ron sighed, knowing it would be a long while before he could really forgive what Harry had done to his sister’s state of mind. But he could put it aside, after all she would be alright again someday when she finally decided to move on. As her older brother, he felt he should be the one to tell her that. They all just needed this first. Before any of them could move on, they needed to talk to the dead, to ask forgiveness, to say goodbye, to gain some semblance of closure.

It would happen when Harry came back. Ron had such confidence in his friend that the coming dusk couldn’t dampen his belief. It was only a matter of time before his friend emerged with the prize.

(BREAK)

Harry couldn’t see anything through the blinding light. Try as he might to shield his eyes, he could make out nothing but shapeless blobs. Very slowly climbing to his feet, he tensed, waiting for Merlin only knew what. He was sure the others weren’t around and hoped that they had left of their own free will and not because of some kind of trouble. He couldn’t hear their thoughts, or feel them anywhere nearby and began to realize that he felt very alone.

His vision began to adjust to the horrible light and he saw the chest, even now above the abyss. He peered down once more and was surprised to see the dark dense fog still swirling near the top. Suddenly solid vise like tentacles reached out and encircled his head, arms, waist, knees and ankles. He couldn’t move and he couldn’t look away. In the fog, images began to appear, horrible flashes of what very well could be things to come- that is, the gruesome deaths of everyone he cared for. Some part of his mind was whispering to him that he knew this was what he was going to face. He watched with gritted teeth, as one by one his friends met their deaths in the most horrible fashion imaginable. Hermione was of course the last, and he watched as she was torn to pieces in battle, feeling his rising anger and frustration. It seemed like hours since this had started, when would it end, what did he have to do?

Finally the images disappeared, and he was released. He closed his eyes, trying to hydrate them since he had watched it all without blinking. When he looked up, the abyss was gone and the chest was resting on the floor. He knelt beside it, and carefully pulled at the latch. It opened without incident, and there, waiting for him was the most garish piece of jewelry he had ever seen. Its band was wide with a design made from twisted gold and copper, and the gem was some kind of black stone, maybe onyx, with small amethysts clustered on the sides. It looked like it would engulf his finger if he tried to put it on. Carefully he picked it up and then quickly but thoroughly glanced around. Nothing had happened, but his gut was screaming that this had been far too easy.

He got to his feet and backed away to the exit, his prize clenched tightly in his fist. Then he turned and ran out to the others, but stopped short at the sight waiting for him at the cave entrance. Fred and Ron were slumped over on either side. Harry bent down and frantically tried to shake Ron awake. He watched as his friend’s head swayed uselessly, lifelessly on his shoulders. Harry felt stinging tears at his eyes, but refused to believe what was before him. He shook Ron harder, but those dull eyes told him that Ron was dead. It was dark out and he could neither see nor hear the others. He lit his wand, and then fell backwards, finally seeing the Weasley brothers’ grayish-blue faces. The terror, the sorrow, the anger that held his head and heart at that moment blocked out anything else. Ron couldn’t be dead, the thought was too much to bear. What had attacked them while they waited? Was it the fog? Had they been followed after all? Did Percy lie about Voldemort’s intentions?

These questions helped his focus, and as his other senses came back to him, he realized his hand was resting on something soft…fleshy….something that used to and still should be alive. He turned slowly and found Draco Malfoy, his features twisted into a silent scream of agony, the word traitor cut into the flesh of his forehead. Harry turned away quickly, feeling violently sick. Then a piercing scream broke the silence and Harry leapt to his feet, realizing the three girls were nowhere around.

Hermione! He ran towards the screams, but they stopped suddenly and Harry felt his heart drop into his stomach. He was running faster than he had ever run, his lungs burned and his legs felt like jelly. Then he tripped and fell hard to the ground. Already knowing he would find one of the girls, he looked to see who was lying there. It was Ginny, her throat slashed, lying in a pool of blood. Harry brought his hands to his face and saw they were caked in a brown redness. The blood was drying, she was killed awhile ago. He leaned forward and gently closed her eyes, before running on. If Ginny had been killed at least an hour ago, then the screams were coming from Hermione or Luna. That meant that one or both of them were still alive. Adrenaline took over and he practically flew forward, not knowing where he was or where he was going. He felt like he was trapped in his worst nightmare- only he had touched their bodies, her blood. Stumbling into a clearing, he stopped, gasping for breath, his sides burning. And there she was, lying a few feet in front of him.

"Hermione…." His legs could no longer support him and he dropped, shaking his head, refusing to believe the truth in front of his eyes. He crawled to her and felt the wetness on his face. Her eyes were filled with the terror of her last moments, her mouth was slightly open as if still trying to scream. His chest was tight and his head was scrambling to make sense of it all. Obviously she had been a victim of the killing curse, and as footsteps approached, he knew who was there.

He looked up into the sneering serpent face of Voldemort, noting Lucius and Peter behind him. Harry knew he was wandless, he knew that he was about to join his friends. He didn’t care. Without looking away from his greatest enemy, he pulled Hermione into his arms.

"Last words, Potter?" Voldemort asked, pointing his own wand at Harry,

He was going to die, and he had nothing to say. Truth be told, without his friends, without her, he didn’t care to live. This isn’t real. His mind screamed at him over and over. Voldemort was laughing, enjoying Harry’s torment.

This isn’t real! The words were getting louder in his head, and he wished Voldemort would just get it over with already. Hermione, Ron, Fred, Ginny, Draco…they were waiting for him wherever you went when you died. Then a face tore to the forefront of his thoughts. Luna. Where was she? What terrible death had she met with?

Harry, pull yourself together, this isn’t real! And it came to him. It wasn’t him thinking that, SHE was sending it. He looked down at Hermione and noticed that while, yes, he was holding her, he couldn’t actually physically feel her anymore.

"This isn’t real." He said quietly. He was trapped in his own head. In reality he was probably still down in the cavern… because Luna’s body wasn’t here, he hadn’t found her. She was somewhere else, trying to help him, and though that seemed less likely than what he was seeing now, he suddenly knew it to be true.

He looked up again. Voldemort had stopped laughing and was glaring at him. This isn’t real. Harry knew it now. Without warning, the three figures before him exploded and he was engulfed in blinding light.

When he opened his eyes, he saw that he was still in the cavern, lying where he had fallen when the fog first emerged from the abyss. Only now, there was no opening and the chest was lying on the ground, the top flipped open. As the feeling began to return to his body, he realized that his hand was clenched around something… he was holding Mykele’s ring.

(BREAK)

Ron was starting to worry about Luna. She had tears streaming down her face and she was rocking slowly back and forth. Giving Hermione one last reassuring squeeze, he went over to his girlfriend. In the wandlight, he could see her lips moving and he leaned down to try and hear what she was saying.

"This isn’t real. This isn’t real. Come on Harry. This isn’t real. Pull yourself together Harry, this isn’t real. This isn’t real." He stood upright again, feeling a mixture of relief and agitation. She was helping him, like she did at Honeydukes when Hermione was unconscious. He was glad of course, especially if Harry needed the help. But his agitation was evolving into jealousy. Why did she and Harry have to share this bond? Couldn’t he have one thing that was his alone, that he didn’t have to share with Harry?

As he chastised himself for these thoughts, Luna opened her eyes and made an announcement. "Harry is on his way back."





A/N: next chapter- they use the ring, Ron and Luna discuss some things, Luna and Harry discuss some things, final exams and Harry makes an unhappy announcement. Stay tuned for the next installment of HP and the ring of Mykele.

Chapter 45: Ghostly Revelations

NOTE: Hello! I thought I abandoned this story, but something made me think of it the other day, so I checked in and to my surprise, people were still reading it. So here is another chapter…in the spirit of trying to finish what I’ve started. Read, Review, Enjoy!



Harry scrambled up the steep incline toward the mouth of the cave, panic rising in his chest. His friends were waiting… and alive. They had to be. He repeated that over and over in his mind, all the while thinking, Is this real? Or another dream? He emerged into the fresh air and fell to his knees outside.

"Harry!" Hermione was in his arms and he felt tears of relief stream down his face. Still clutching Hermione tightly to him he reached out his other hand to Ron and pulled him down into the hug. The three of them knelt with their arms around each other, in silence, for he knew not how long.

Finally, when he felt enough assured of their realness, he released them and stood to warmly hug Fred, Ginny and even Draco saying over and over how glad he was they were alive and how real it had all seemed. Finally he turned to Luna, and taking her hands in his, he thanked her before leaning in to kiss her cheek. "I almost lost my mind back there." He told her. Turning back to the others, he was assaulted by questions.

"What happened? Are you alright?"

"Was is there? Did you get the ring?"

"Was it really bad?"

"What was going on back there, it was the mind-linking thing, wasn’t it?" this last was from Ron, to Luna.

Harry could feel the tension radiating from all his friends and instead of answering any questions, he held up the ring and asked one of his own. "Does anyone have any ideas as to how this thing is supposed to work?"

They gathered around anxiously, and Harry held his palm out, the ring resting innocently in the center of his hand. "Maybe you should try putting it on, Potter." Draco suggested in an exasperated, ‘what-an-idiot’ kind of tone.

"Be careful, Harry." Hermione warned. "Mykele may have been a genius but he was dangerous too. Remember, he killed himself by accident with an object he created."

"That just makes him a doddering old fool. The ring is probably fine." Draco urged, obviously ready to end this and go back. Harry hesitated, wondering if the ring itself could be booby-trapped.

"Want me to try it first?" Fred asked eagerly. His eyes were wide and expectant and his body was shaking slightly in anticipation of being able to speak to his brother. Harry knew the feeling and suddenly felt very confident. Last year, hell last week… maybe even last night…he would have been so eager to use the ring he wouldn’t have stopped to think of the consequences, simply thrust the ring on his finger and hoped for the best. But after all he had seen in the cave, and the certain realness that still lingered with him from his nightmare, he did stop to think. He certainly wasn’t going to let anyone else chance being the first wearer, in case it also made them the first victim. He looked at Hermione who had a far away look in her eyes as her lips moved silently. She was in that library she called a brain and scanning everything she had ever read to try and help. He looked at Ron and Luna who were standing together. After a glance at each other, they both shrugged their shoulders. So, taking a deep breath, and with no better idea forthcoming, he slipped the ring on the first finger of his left hand. Its garishness swallowed the finger to the first knuckle. He released the breath he had been holding, as did the others. Nothing was happening.

"Harry, listen." Luna instructed.

"Listen to what?" he asked impatiently.

"Just listen. The ring will tell you how to proceed, but you’re tuning it out because you are nervous. Any magical object has a voice, try to communicate with it. Let it resonate with your energy."

"Did you read that in the Quibbler?" Ginny asked sharply, not bothering to hide the nasty tone in her voice.

"Cool it Gin." Ron warned. Harry concentrated hard, thinking of Ron, Fred and even Ginny, he then focused on their brother, not knowing if it was even the right thing to do. He thought of the good times he had had with the twins and all the ways they had made him laugh. He could picture them all together at the Burrow, flying through the air. His mind was humming now and his body tingled to his toes. He was close to…to something. And then his attempt to bring George Weasley into being was interrupted by Ginny as she threw up her hands and began a tirade.

"This is ridiculous!" Ginny yelled losing her patience. "Don’t any of you see that? It’s all so stupid and silly! Magical objects have voices… this ring can let you see in the dark, be invisible and talk with the dead…oh and it also was infused with ‘wandless’ powers. Oh and Harry is a descendant of the original coven of witches and wizards, so he is coming into his own wandless powers and Luna is some kind of seer who can look into our minds and the future….oh yeah and Draco Malfoy is the one-armed good guy now." She scoffed as she glared at them all. "We traveled to the middle of the mountains to find this ugly piece of jewelry that Harry’s dead mother hid here. Now we have to listen for the ring’s voice so we can talk to poor dead George and Neville and all the others. It’s really too much. How do any of us know its true? We have been going throughout the whole year on faith alone! Faith in Harry and Lily, faith in Luna Lovegood, faith in the fact that it really is possible to talk to the dead if they aren’t already ghosts! I can’t do this!" She turned and began to stomp off.

"Ginerva Weasley!" The shout stopped her in her tracks. She slowly turned to look behind Harry, as did everyone else. They watched as the ghostly figure grew larger. Because of Ginny’s rant, none of them had noticed George Weasley taking shape behind them. "Obviously your faith was founded in something wasn’t it? Lily did hide the ring there, and Harry did lead you to it. And obviously, it worked, because here I am!" He scolded his sister.

"And a sight you are!" Fred smiled and stood to face his brother. "How is it being dead?"

"Fred!" Ron scolded.

"Relax Ronnie." George laughed. "Actually being dead is quite boring, unless I choose to look in on you lot." He motioned to Harry and the others. "You all provide a lot of amusement. But then you always have, isn’t that right, Fred?"

"That’s why I keep hanging around them."

"How’s business?"

"Diagon alley is still a success….as for Hogsmeade…well…"

"Oh I know all about that. Nice stump by the way." George turned to Malfoy, who looked like he would like nothing better than to leave.

"Uh, thanks…look I’m sorry, you know… the alley… that I couldn’t… that I didn’t…"

"Don’t worry about it. The only person to blame is that spineless, weak brother of ours. But from my understanding he did himself in…he’s not where I am though, which still makes me uncertain if I am in heaven or hell." George laughed and Fred went right along with him. Harry found himself thinking that the twins always did have the same unusual sense of humor, but to jump the span between the living and the dead to share a joke was unsettling.

"Look," George continued as the laughter between the twins faded, "I can’t stay long, being here is taking a toll on me just like it is Harry. I just want you all to know that you all need to shape up. I don’t like what I’ve been watching lately at all. I mean really, I go and die and the whole lot of you fall to pieces." He laughed, but this time he was the only one. "Seriously though, you all need to learn to let some stuff go and focus on the bigger picture, because something is coming. I don’t know what, but everyone here feels it. And let me tell you, it isn’t anything good. So get over all the drama, forgive and forget. I have to go."

"Wait! That’s it?!?" Fred cried out.

"Whoa, needy much?" George joked. "Relax, Freddie, I can come back again. As long as you guys hold onto that ring. But right now it’s starting to get a bit uncomfortable, so I can only imagine how Harry is feeling." They all turned to look at Harry, whose skin was a bright red, sweat dripping down his face. He hadn’t said anything the whole time, for fear he’d lose the grip on George, the connection felt so fragile as it was. He had so many things to say, to ask. But George had said he could come back. "Practice makes perfect, Harry!" George called out to him before saying goodbye to his siblings and gently evaporating.

Harry sucked in air, trying to catch his breath and ease his burning lungs. He first sat, then sprawled out onto the cool grass, feeling as if he had just run 5 miles. Dawn was painting the sky in bright pinks and oranges, and he knew if they didn’t head back now, they would soon be missed at the castle. Harry cringed at the thought of walking on legs that felt as if they were made of jelly. He wished desperately that they had thought ahead and brought brooms. He could picture it clearly, flying across the morning sky, triumphant with the ring safely in their possession. Once at the castle, they could use the ring again and again and again.

"Harry? Did you do this?" Ron asked in amazement.

"Do what?" he asked, opening his eyes and sitting up. Everyone was staring off towards the school, where the faint black outline of what appeared to be five brooms zoomed steadily toward them. "I don’t know." He was astonished, not having realized his powers had developed to the point where he could call things with his mind at such a distance. Or maybe it was the energy of the ring feeding his own… Either way, within minutes the boys and Ginny all had their brooms. "I guess I must have." Harry said once the Firebolt was firmly in his hand.

"I don’t care if Voldemort sent them, I’m just glad we don’t have to walk." Fred said happily, mounting his broom. Hermione climbed on behind Harry, as Luna did the same with Ron and within minutes they were all flying back to Hogwarts, lighter and happier as a group than they had been for a long time.

Harry couldn’t wait to see Sirius, and to finally, formally meet his parents. Then, of course, there was Neville and Cedric to think about. And he desperately wanted to rush to Arthur and Molly with news of their lost son. There was so much to look forward to.

(BREAK)

Fred flew through the air feeling free. Maybe the first reunion with George hadn’t been everything he was hoping, but in a way it had been more. He wasn’t sure he’d even expected the ring to work, though he’d apparently been nowhere near as agitated about it as his sister was. But when it had worked, when they had turned to find the ghostly image of his fallen twin, his heart had swelled with such hope and happiness that he felt it was one of the best moments of his life.

He was on a high, and couldn’t wait to return to the school and use the ring some more, to get a longer visit with George. From this point on, he would be glued to Harry, never letting the boy or the ring out of his sight. He’d been given back a little piece of something he thought he’d never get back at all… his gratefulness knew no bounds.

(BREAK)

Tightly gripping her broom handle, Ginny flew far ahead of the others so that they wouldn’t be able to see the tears streaking down her face. The crisp wind added a sharp sting to her eyes and she could no longer hold back what she’d been fighting for so long. Perhaps the others would mistake her crying for grief, but her deep sadness wasn’t what had finally broken the dam… it was her shame.

She’d completely lost herself back there, snapping at everyone because her frustration, anger, sadness, guilt, jealousy, and seemingly futile hopefulness had finally overwhelmed her. She was embarrassed to have shown such weakness and even more embarrassed that her dead brother had used the first moments of their reunion to scold her in front of everyone. She hated that she’d messed up, that the others had seen her lose control. Quickly wiping her eyes and pulling herself together she grounded and rushed into the castle ahead of the others, determined to work harder at hiding how miserable she really was. Now that her brothers and friends had witnessed a small moment of it though, she knew it would be a lot more difficult to achieve.

(BREAK)

Hogwarts was waking when they returned and they all had to be very sneaky to get back into their rooms unnoticed. Draco carefully slipped past the portraits to his room off Dumbledore’s office and quickly pulled off his dirty sweaty clothes, eager to wash away the grime left over from what they’d just done. He felt ripped in twenty different directions after the journey they’d taken coupled with the brief conversation they’d had with George Weasley. Suddenly he wasn’t sure where he stood on anything.

He knew that he needed to try and keep his distance from Potter and the others from then on if he wanted to keep his sanity. Too much was changing too quickly and he could no longer process it all… he already had to act so differently around so many people in order to ensure his survival… he just wasn’t sure what was true about himself anymore. He had nowhere to go, no one to turn to, nothing that wasn’t somehow connected to one powerful side of this war or the other. He was stuck in limbo between two worlds and still wasn’t sure which side he’d either be forced to choose or simply give into. He wasn’t even sure what life he wanted anymore.

He’d certainly burned too many bridges to go back to his father, but he could use the small amount of influence he had here… continue the lies he’d already told Pansy, Crabbe and Goyle and build his own student army. So many young Slytherins already hated their parents that it would be easy to turn them against the older generation and convince them of the benefits of making their own way up as a force to be reckoned with in this war. He could maintain the lifestyle he was used to surrounded by people he couldn’t care less about and who he understood completely. He wouldn’t have to worry about the silly emotions stirred up by Lucius and Voldemort as well as Potter and his ragtag group of courageous misfits.

Of course siding with Potter had its benefits, first and foremost of which was protection. People trusted each other on this side of the war, no one had to worry about being killed simply because they had displeased someone else… hell, they even had trouble killing those who had wronged them deeply. The grand naivete that was general among Dumbledore, those Order people, Potter, and his friends was amusing and disconcerting, as if they truly believed there was good in everyone and therefore the value of life was higher. Draco knew that sometimes people were just mean, or stupid, or evil, and that there was no helping them. He knew it was better to get the enemy before they had a chance to get you… the problem was that while he knew it, he’d begun to have trouble believing it. After all, since being around Potter and the others, he’d changed… And maybe it was for the better, maybe he needed to see that things could be different, that it was okay to care about people no matter how weak it could make you.

He didn’t know which life would be better, which one would make him happy or at least keep him alive. But at least he knew he had options now and luckily he’d laid the groundwork to follow either path… now he just had to figure out which battles he wanted to face and who he wanted to be.

(BREAK)

At breakfast they agreed to take an hour nap before meeting in the Room of Requirement to use the ring again. Harry suggested they all take turns trying to use it so no one got too burned out.
He’d seen himself briefly in the mirror while washing up earlier and when he’d taken in his haggard face and the dark circles under his eyes he almost hadn’t recognized the image before him.

Now as he forced himself to focus and keep up with conversation, he noticed Hermione studying him closely and realized that in addition to his appearance she could also hear the tired quiver in his voice and he saw how concerned she was for him. "Maybe you should sleep for longer. Those who need to study can and then we can meet up this afternoon, or tonight." She suggested lightly. She must have seen the flash of irritation in his eyes because she quickly added, "I mean, you have the ring forever now. You can talk to them for the rest of your life, so what’s a few more hours? And the more you rest now, the longer you’ll be able to talk to everyone tonight."

"That’s it, Hermione. Knock him out with logic." Fred quipped. "You know, Harry. If you want to sleep, and I think you should, I’d be more than happy to keep an eye on that ring for you. There's just a few things I need to discuss with Old George man to man. You know, in private. As I’m sure you’ll want to do with your parents and Sirius."

Harry’s head felt like it weighed a hundred pounds, and his eyelids were open merely by his own sheer force of will. He was reluctant to put off his reunions, and even more reluctant to give up the ring at all. But cooler heads prevailed, meaning Hermione’s, and he slipped the ring in Fred’s hand. But he did make Hermione promise not to let him sleep any longer than eight hours.

At last breakfast was ending and Harry got up to make the trek to his bed. Ron grabbed his arm stopping his departure and held up a slip of parchment that had appeared before them all. "Wait a minute, mate. Looks like someone knows we left the school."

Slumping back into his seat with a tired sigh, Harry opened his and read the brief message.

Harry Potter,
You have been in violation of Hogwart’s code of conduct. Report to the Headmaster’s Office immediately.
Albus Dumbledore
Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

He thought of just going on to his room anyway, but decided to go see Dumbledore. This was as good as time as any to get a few things straight with his former mentor. He may collapse into a deep sleep on the office floor, as tired as he felt, but better Dumbledore- and all his friends for that matter- realize that he was going to take his life into his own hands from then on out. No more Hogwarts, no more pretending there was no war, and no more living like a coddled little boy. Things were going to change.

 


A/N: Okay, that got me back into the story a bit, so now hopefully we can find a fantastic conclusion. Next up on HP and the ROM: Harry makes his announcement, news from the dead, exams, and a Weasley family reunion

Chapter 46: Conversing With the Dead

NOTE: Hi! As promised the next chapter is enclosed. Thank you for reading and thank you to those of you kind enough to write me a review/note. This is going to be a long chapter, as there are many things to wind down before the end of the story. So without further ado: Read, Review & most importantly Enjoy!



Dumbledore wore an expression of exhaustion and disappointment as he sat slumped behind his desk, looking to Harry every bit the old man he was. Again Harry felt a layer of disillusionment fade away from the man he’d once held in such high regard. "You have all left Hogwarts grounds without permission." It wasn’t a question, but a statement that leaned toward accusation.

"Before you go further, let me remove the burden of sorting out my punishment." Harry stepped forward and stared down the headmaster. "I’m leaving the school and will no longer be a student."

"Harry! You-" Harry put up a hand to silence Hermione’s protest and to halt the others who had been on the verge of speaking.

"Please, everyone listen. I won’t be taking exams and I won’t be coming back next year. While we were all fighting the last few weeks, I had a lot of time to myself and I thought about a lot of things." He paused to let his tired mind put itself in order. "I think it’s silly to sit in class and pretend everything is as it should be. I can’t do it anymore, I’ll go all the way crazy."

"Harry, you have to understand, there’s an issue of safety-" Dumbledore began but Harry cut him off with a laugh.

"Even you can’t believe this school is the stronghold you made us believe it was! Not after all that’s happened and the enemies who were allowed to secretly walk among us! Evil had the face of a pretty little Ravenclaw and none of us even suspected! And the war is at the school’s borders, hell, Percy made it onto the grounds! I won’t sit as a target and I won’t watch everyone fake normal around me. It’s too unreal, I feel like I’m always dreaming here! And then something horrible happens and true reality strikes and it’s like being plunged into the same nightmare over and over! Only each time something else goes wrong, someone else gets hurt… and going back to the dream each time is harder because it’s a bigger blow when the illusion is shattered by disaster." He paused to catch his breath, and stared hard into Dumbledore’s eyes, trying to penetrate into anything that may be behind those blue orbs.

He caught a few threads of something and used it to refuel the fire that was slowly dying within him as he made his speech. "Sirius gave me the way out. The house on Grimauld is mine, legally as well as in my own mind. I can no longer honestly call number 4 Privet Dr my home. And I wouldn’t go back there, even had you tried to force me. Everyone is of course still welcome in my house but as my guests, meaning nothing secret will go on. I must be a part of every meeting that takes place there and I will have a say in everything that happens under my roof. If those terms are unacceptable to you or anyone else, well then I suppose they will be unwelcome in my home and my life. I will not be led around anymore and I won’t go groping in the dark."

"Harry-" Dumbledore tried to reach out to him, but Harry wasn’t interested.

"I know there’s a lot you would like to talk to me about, and I’d be more than happy to sit down and have a conversation sometime in the future." He interrupted while still trying to maintain what he thought of as a mature adult attitude. "For now, I am exhausted and want nothing more than to go to bed. I would like to stay the final week and return to London on the train with everyone else. If I can’t, as I’m no longer a student, then I will leave as soon as the next commuter train from Hogsmeade is scheduled to arrive."

"That won’t be necessary." The Headmaster said carefully. "You may return on the Hogwarts Express."

"I appreciate it." He said just as carefully, realizing that in order to maintain this power struggle, he had to be strong. "Have a good morning, sir." He concluded before walking out without making further eye contact with anyone.

At last collapsing in his bed and feeling a million times lighter, he fell asleep almost at once. His last thought was the hope that Hermione remembered her promise to wake him in no longer than eight hours.

(BREAK)

After Potter walked out, they were all left in stunned silence. Even the Headmaster must have been blindsided because he let them all go without any punishment at all for going so far out of bounds. "Do you think Harry meant it?" Weasley asked as they all stood in the hallway outside the office.

"Probably." Granger said sadly. "As we all know, once he gets an idea in his head…" she didn’t have to say more after what they’d all just been through for the past month or so.

"But, he can’t just quit school." Weasley protested.

"Why not? Who’s going to stop him?" Draco asked, only half interested in the conversation. He had remained silent during the entire thing, figuring this all had very little to do with him. He’d simply been following the instructions on his note, how Dumbledore had known he’d gone with Potter and the others he had no idea.

"What do mean who’s going to stop him?" Fred demanded.

"Well, he doesn’t have parents to force him to go. He said up there that he has his own house and all and he doesn’t seem to be all that under the influence of Dumbledore. So yeah, I meant exactly what I said. Who’s going to stop him?" He shrugged. It really didn’t matter to him one way or the other what Potter did with himself.

"No one asked you." Weasley said meanly.

Draco frowned. He’d been trying really hard to get along with everyone, couldn’t they just once cut him some slack. "You’re right." He finally said before turning and walking away.

(BREAK)

"You could be a little nicer." Luna said quietly as Malfoy stalked away.

"What for?" Ron asked with annoyance.

"He was right though." Hermione interrupted their fight before it began. "No one is going to make Harry do the right thing. He certainly won’t listen to Dumbledore anymore."

"I’m sure mum and dad will have something to say about it." Fred assured her. "They were none too happy when George and I quit."

"Yeah, but our parents aren’t his parents." Ginny reminded him. "This is stupid. I’m going to bed, let me know when it’s my turn to use the ring." And without another word, she simply turned on her heels and walked away.

"I just don’t know about that girl anymore." Ron said with concern. Then he yawned widely.

"But she had a good idea. Why don’t you all hit the sack? I’m not really tired so I’ll use the ring first." Fred told them eagerly.

"Fine with me, now that we have the thing forever." Ron answered. "See you guys later." And he walked off.

Hermione glanced at Luna to see if her friend needed comfort, but apparently she had known Ron was unhappy with her. "You okay?" she asked.

"Fine." Luna replied, shaking her head. "You know, there are people Harry might listen to." She stared at the ring in Fred’s hand.

"Okay, well I’ll give it back before he wakes up." Fred answered defensively as they stared at him with amusement.

Hermione wasn’t so sure. As she headed back to her room to get some sleep herself, she felt that if anyone were to reach Harry it would be Arthur and Molly. He respected them far more than anyone else in his life, looked to them as his replacement family and they had been more in his life than his own parents. Maybe what his parents and Sirius say will get him thinking, but if anyone were to guilt Harry into going to school, it would be the Weasleys. But they weren’t here and for once, Lily and James could be.

She spent most of her day napping fitfully, waking a few hours later to a rumbling stomach that wouldn’t allow her to once more fall back asleep. Thankfully it was nearly time to wake Harry, meaning dinner wasn’t far off from that. She stretched some of the soreness from her muscles before trudging downstairs to find Fred sulking on the couch. "What’s wrong with you?" She asked, coming to stand before him.

"Here." He said as he stood and thrust the ring at her. "Make sure you warn Harry that death can turn people into stubborn morons."

Completely taken aback by his attitude, she took the ring in a confused daze. "What happened?"

"My brother thinks I’m the one with the problems!" He said as he moved toward the door. "He’s the one who’s gone! Said I’m the one who needs to get my head together, humph, he’s the one who thinks he’s some kind of damn oracle or something all of a sudden! Said he wouldn’t talk to me until I calm down… I’ll show him…" Fred’s tirade trailed off as he slammed the portrait closed behind him and made his way down the corridor to who knew where.

For a moment, Hermione felt she should follow him, make sure he was okay. But a moment of hesitation was enough to change her mind. She knew he was still so upset about George’s death and that he was carrying so many mixed emotions about Percy’s. What could she possibly say to make him feel better? She had no experience to draw on, she could only try to understand his feelings, but she’d never be able to feel them to the depth he did. So how could she then presume to tell him something so cliché as ‘it’ll get better,’ and expect to be any help at all? She felt all she would accomplish in following him would be to make things worse. Let him try to figure things out on his own for now, soon enough he’d be back home with his family and hopefully they could revive him a bit. And one day, she hoped he’d get used to seeing George the way he now had to, and could then visit with his brother without feeling the guilt and torment that probably drove whatever argument the twins had gotten into.

As that thought overwhelmed her, she began to worry about how Harry would handle seeing his lost loved ones. He may not have gotten to experience the same connection to them in life that the twins had shared, but death had been equally cruel to him when choosing it’s victims. As horrific as the sudden circumstances of George’s demise had been, Harry had been dealing with the effects of losing his parents for his whole life and had for years now been told specifically that they had died protecting him. She knew the guilt he felt over that was immeasurable and she almost wished they had never told him anything at all about it.

Hermione stared at the ugly ring, wondering if it was more of a curse than the miracle they had thought it would be. She suddenly didn’t want to give it to Harry but knowing the likely outcome of trying to withhold it, she pushed the thought aside. Besides, maybe because he wasn’t as closely connected to Lily and James, Harry would handle the reunion better than Fred had. And maybe his parents, as outside observers, could convince Harry to stay in school.

She threw back her head and groaned in frustration as she remembered his whole decision to leave school. Once Harry made up his mind to do something, there was little that could stop him, and truthfully, she could argue very little with his reasons. She knew he always struggled with being idle, always wanting to feel he was being productive. All she could do was be supportive, but at the same time, she knew she had to make him understand that she had feelings about his decisions, that they affected her now since they’d chosen to tie their lives together. She wanted what was best for Harry, always. But at some point, they both had to care about what was best for her as well. She certainly didn’t want to be so long without him, but she also didn’t want to follow his lead and quit school either. As she rose to go keep her promise and wake him, she had no idea what she was going to say, but she hoped it would be the right thing.

(BREAK)

Fred paced angrily in the courtyard, feeling his anger was too great to be cooped up in the castle. While the tension, frustration and anger still surged through him, the exact words that had caused things to go so wrong had faded. He didn’t know how he and George had begun arguing, couldn’t remember where the conversation had gone wrong. At first he had been so excited to see his brother again, but darker, guiltier feelings had overwhelmed him and perhaps he’d been unable to hide it as well as he’d wanted.

When Ron and Ginny had come to him to return the ring, he’d thought maybe they’d also have had a horrible experience, but according to Ron, it had been an awkward but drama free reunion for them. It had hurt him slightly when Ginny had ignored his obvious despair and walked right past him, but upon learning that he was the only one to screw things up with George, he hadn’t wanted to talk about it with anyone. He’d sent Ron away and continued to wait for either Hermione or Harry to wake so he could pass on the stupid ring and go be by himself.

Now having escaped outdoors, he found himself running out of fury. It was being replaced with a crushing torrent of emptiness and loss. He sat on the ground and dropped his head in his hands, feeling completely defeated. He’d finally gotten what he’d wanted, and he’d managed to ruin it. You’ll have other chances to make it right. He heard someone whisper across his mind. He looked around and found Luna standing awkwardly behind him.

"I didn’t mean to eavesdrop." She said aloud. "Your misery was actually quite loud, too much to be able to ignore."

"Yeah, well…" he trailed off, not sure whether or not he wanted her company, or anyone else’s.

"Just because our emotions can sometimes take us over doesn’t mean those closest to us can’t forgive our actions." She said carefully, aware that he wasn’t in the mood to be receptive to sympathy or an attempt at cheering up.

"How do you know it wasn’t his fault we argued?" He returned angrily.

"I don’t." She admitted.

"How could this happen? It’s not what I wanted! I didn’t want to be reunited like this!" He once more hung his head.

"Maybe the problem is that you never wanted to have to be reunited at all. Maybe you had put so much pressure on yourself, placed too much importance on this first meeting… Maybe this is the only way it could be when you have to force yourself to be excited about talking to the ghost of a person you never wanted to lose in the first place." She reached out and placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. "But at least the first time is over, you’ve gotten through it… but how successful it was depends on what perception you come away with and whether you can do it again. And always remember, at least you get the chance to see him again. Not everyone who loses their brother gets the same chance." Then with a small and strangely sad smile, she turned and walked back into the castle.

Fred lay back and looked up at the stars, turning Luna’s words over in his mind. Of course they made sense to him; in her odd way, Luna usually always made sense even when you had no idea what she was talking about. But did he agree with her? Well, yes, he had to admit that he did. He’d been looking forward to this since the moment George had been taken from him. All he could do was hope the next time he spoke to his brother, he was able to hold onto the happiness and ignore the despair of the situation. It had to be that way, because this was the only way to see George. His only alternative was not to use the ring and that was no choice at all.

(BREAK)

When Hermione gently shook him awake, Harry smiled up at her feeling rested but sore. She sat on the edge of the bed next to him, staring down at Mykele’s ring clutched tightly in her hand. Excitement bubbled up in his chest as he remembered he was minutes away from Sirius, James and Lily… until he saw the strange look in Hermione’s eyes. She had never taken the walls down in her mind, and now they towered higher than ever and were ringed in barbed wire. "How hard did you have to fight to get that back from Fred?" He asked tentatively, unsure how else to proceed.

"Not at all. Apparently he and George got into a fight and George told him that he wouldn’t talk to him until he screwed his head on right. Fred threw the ring at me and told me to let you know that death turns people into ‘stubborn morons’." She smiled slightly at the absurdity of sibling fighting spanning life and death. Then she turned serious. "Harry, you had your say back there, and now I get to have mine."

"I guess it’s only fair." He felt anxious suddenly as he settled in for a lecture.

"I’m not going to try and change your mind about anything. I wanted to get that out of the way so you don’t get all defensive and will actually listen to me." She turned the ring over in her hands staring at it the whole time. "I’m not giving you up, but I’m not giving up school either. Your best in action, well, I’m best at studies. And I like being the best at it and I want to see it through all the way."

"I never said you had to quit school too!" He protested as he sat up straight. Of course, he hadn’t really thought about how their relationship would work if he quit school, he’d never really considered any of the negative effects of his decision. Having her present him with one now, he almost felt resentful in a way.

"I know you didn’t." She sighed. "I guess I was just telling myself again. Convincing myself that I can make it through all that time without you. If you think you can do it, then I’ll be strong too. But I do think you should discuss your decision to quit before actually following through."

"Discuss with who? Not Dumbledore." Harry got up and began pulling clean clothes on, trying not to let his irritation take over.

She rose and finally held out the ring to him. "You should talk about it with Sirius. And with your parents too. I know this isn’t the future they wanted for you and if you can make them understand and they agree this is best for you then go ahead, with my full blessing. But if not, maybe you should reconsider. All I want to tell you is that someday this will all be over. And when our side wins, when you win, you’ll have to be able to do something with yourself. You’ll need a completed education to move within the wizarding world, once Voldemort is gone."

Harry took the ring and stared at it. The concept was one he hadn’t considered before, that his parents and Sirius would want him to stay in school. He gave pause to the fact that he felt he owed it to them to live whatever life they wanted for him, after sacrificing theirs so he could live. But he was resolved. After all, he was sure they wanted him to live a happy life and he was no longer happy at Hogwarts. And more than that, after all that he had gone through in his early years, he’d learned to make his own decisions based on his own instincts for a long time. If anyone had wanted to step in on his parents behalf to help shape his life, they could have done it much sooner than his eleventh birthday.

"Hermione, I haven’t had parents my whole life. And Sirius, well he was never really parental, more like one of us. Even if they demand I stay, I have no inclination to listen or obey. I raised myself, and I am perfectly capable of continuing to do so. The only thing I want to discuss with them is, well I don’t know, really." He realized he’d never thought of what he would say to any of them. The excitement of just being able to make contact had far overshadowed practical things like that.

"Isn’t that the purpose of having the ring? To finally talk to them, to ask their thoughts and advice as you were never able to before?" She asked delicately.

(BREAK)

Ginny woke up drenched in sweat. The nightmares were getting worse, flashes of dark imagery that haunted her well into her waking hours even though she couldn’t quite recall what it was that so terrified her. It was always gone the minute she opened her eyes, the memory of what she had seen, simply leaving her with feelings of guilt, horror and inadequacy. Looking at the clock, she saw that she had been released from the nightmare just in time for dinner. Her stomach growled loudly in reply to this realization.

She’d been woken only once earlier, when Ron had told her he needed help working the ring. Together they’d closed themselves up in the Room of Requirement and without much discussion, copied what they had seen Harry do. She had found that it was much harder than she’d realized to clear her mind and let it open to the possibility of this being successful. When it had worked and George appeared before them, she’d been truly amazed. The visit had been brief and left her feeling more empty than she’d expected. She and Ron had both reflected that it hadn’t brought the level of joy they thought it would and upon returning the ring to Fred, they saw that he had been even more negatively affected by his visit than they had. She’d left Ron to try and sort it out, knowing that she’d be no help at all to anyone while she was already drowning under the weight of her own problems.

Now as she rose for the second time that day, she wished she’d snuck off for a late lunch before returning to bed so that she wouldn’t have to go to dinner now. But when she took a moment to think about it, she realized she hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast the morning before. Feeling weak and a bit dizzy, she decided skipping another meal wouldn’t be in her best interest. With a heavy sigh, she made her way downstairs and was dismayed to find Ron waiting for her.

"Hey, I was about to attempt the stairs to come up there and get you. Everyone else already headed down." He said as he got up to meet her.

"I don’t exactly need an escort." She answered moodily.

"I wasn’t offering one." His voice grew agitated. "I wanted to talk to you."

"Oh yeah? What about?" She brushed past him and made her way out the portrait and down the hall.

He quickly followed. "About you blowing off Fred earlier. Did you know he and George had some kind of argument that’s really bothering him?"

"How could I know that?" she asked harshly not liking that he was basically accusing her of not caring about her brother. Of course she cared, she just didn’t want to, not right now. She didn’t want to care about anything at all.

"Maybe if you had taken a moment and sat with him. We’re all struggling with this, we could all help each other you know." He admonished her.

She stopped and turned on him. "Like you all have been so interested in helping me!" she shouted. For so long she’d felt alone, and though she knew it was partly her fault- that she’d been pushing them all away- she didn’t see why anyone was making an effort now other than her outburst and she didn’t want to think about that.

"What are you talking about?" he asked, bewildered.

"Nevermind." She answered darkly before turning to briskly walk away.

"Ginny!" He called as he loped after her, but she ignored him and walked on until she reached the brightly lit, student filled Great Hall. She felt safe with so much noise and so many witnesses. Ron would surely leave her alone now and stop trying to make her think of things she had no desire to think about.

As she sat herself between Fred and Parvati, she took a small bit of satisfaction in the frustration marring Ron’s face. He was fuming as he took the empty seat across from her next to Harry and Hermione. She spent the rest of the meal staring at her plate and pretending no one else existed.

(BREAK)

Harry had asked the others for some time alone in the Room of Requirement after dinner and they had understood completely. He appreciated that as well as the fact that no one tried to talk about what he’d said earlier that morning in Dumbledore’s office. He learned throughout the meal that all the Weasley’s had taken a turn with the ring. Apparently Fred had given it to Ron and Ginny so they could each take a turn after his now infamous and mysterious fight with George. But they’d said they had to work together to be strong enough to bring their brother into existence, and Hermione had assured them that with use they’d probably grow stronger. Harry knew he probably wouldn’t need help, but still, he was unsure whether or not he really wanted to do this alone.

Now safely tucked away in the hidden room, there was no more time for uncertainty, the moment of truth had come. He slipped the ring on his finger and closed his eyes, clearing his head of all thoughts. Sirius was the first image to cross his mind so he grabbed at it and focused. He thought of Sirius laughing, of Sirius riding Buckbeak, of Sirius talking to him through the fireplace. He let every memory he had of his godfather play through his mind, focusing on remembering what he had looked like, sounded like, and the other little particulars that made the man.

"Hello, Harry." A sadly familiar voice rang out at last.

His eyes flew open to find the very image he’d seen in his head floating in front of him, a giant specter grinning from ear to ear. "Sirius." He whispered, feeling the sting and hotness behind his eyes.

"I knew you’d find a way!" Sirius applauded him. "Old Moony came through, eh? I had been wondering if he’d remember that old adventure. If only I had remembered! We could have met James and Lily again together!"

"I don’t…I had thought about this for so long…I don’t know what to say." Harry choked out. Sirius nodded in understanding, waiting for him to go on. "I’m sorry." Was all he was able to add.

"It’s not your fault, Harry! I’m surprised at you. No one forced me to follow you kids there, I went because I was worried…and because I’m not a sit and wait kind of person."

"I know all that, I just… It doesn’t change how I feel. If I had been the sit and wait type of person, that whole thing would never have happened!"

Sirius laughed. "You’d also be a lot duller! You are who you are, Harry. No use fighting what’s inside when you’re already fighting what’s outside, right? And besides, life is always more exciting when you are an active participant. I was just too active, and not quick enough." Sirius paused before continuing in a subdued tone. "I understand you were a bit quicker with Bellatrix. How are you, now that you’ve ended a life."

Harry paused to reflect. "I had to. I know that it was either her or Hermione and I don’t regret it. To be honest, I haven’t thought much about her or what happened. Other things have kept me occupied."

"Ah, like the lovely and brainy Miss Granger? It’s not too often you find a girl who is both of those things. Seems you nearly messed that up though." Sirius looked at him disapprovingly, but didn’t make further comment of Harry’s recent actions.

"Yeah, well, I think the jury is still out on whether or not we’ll really make it past all this but I’m trying as best I can."

"I know you are. It’s a shame you have to pick up the pieces of what you yourself destroyed though, better to save the destruction you’re capable of on the enemy than use it up on your friends." Sirius said in an almost admonishing manner.

Harry lowered his head and chose not to comment on that particular piece of wisdom. "Am I to understand that wherever you are, you guys are watching us? George said something about looking in on us because we entertain him."

"Not exactly. More like a conscious knowledge of those we knew in life. It’s like a waiting room here. We’re all waiting to move on to the next life, whether it’s rebirth or the final end, whatever that may be."

"Are my mum and dad there?" He couldn’t hide the hope in his voice.

"They’re both here, and I couldn’t have been happier to see them again when I got here. But you, Harry. I’m just so glad to see you, stronger and more sure of yourself than you were at this time last year. You can win this whole thing you know." Sirius paused before carefully adding, "But you need a completed education to do so. As it is now, you just don’t know everything yet, no matter how much you think you do. Even I didn’t know it all at the end."

"Are you really advocating for me to stay in school?" He couldn’t believe Sirius of all people would cast a vote in favor of education. He hadn’t exactly been an exemplary student himself.

"No, I’m advocating that you consider every option. It’s not as simple as staying or going. You have to make sure the decisions you make are the best for you, now and in the future. Stopping your education cold is just as bad as hiding behind books and teachers. It’s up to you to find your way, but I think that maybe you should at least finish this year. Take the exams now so you can leave your options for next year open." He paused and Harry looked up. Sirius was studying him closely.

"I’ll think about it." Harry promised.

"I’m sure you will. For now you need to go rest. The more you use the ring the longer you’ll be able to converse, but right this minute, you look like you’re about to implode."

"I still have to talk to James and Lily!" Harry exclaimed in surprise. Surely he couldn’t be expected to wait even longer.

"And you will, but I know they wouldn’t want you to compromise your health to do so. You’re only one man, Harry." Sirius paused for a moment before making a request. "Would you do me a favor and bring me round Moony? I have quite a few things to talk to him about, most importantly his excellent marriage." He grinned.

"Of course." He promised as he smiled back, happy at the thought of being able to reunite the friends.

"Thank you. Take care of yourself. Until next time!" And then without any kind of flourish, he was gone.

Harry wasn’t sure if it was what he had expected, seeing Sirius again, but it had made him feel slightly more whole. Liking the feeling, he decided to hell with waiting, and tried to call on his parents. But his mind was exhausted, it wouldn’t allow him to focus. Finally stopping to take a moment and analyze himself, he realized his body was so tired and stressed out that it was shaking. Apparently, Sirius had known what he was talking about. He, Harry was only one man, but he also had two best friends.

(BREAK)

Hermione and Ron were waiting for Harry in the common room. It was late and they had the place to themselves, everyone else turning in for the night. More than anything, Hermione wished she could join them. Instead she was stuck trying to reassure Ron and finding the task an extremely difficult one. But that wasn’t her fault, simply due to the subject matter.

"Ginny is going crazy, I’m sure of it. I mean earlier this year she was already different, more… hardened. I told myself it was because of what happened at the department of mysteries. But we all went through that, and worse, and we haven’t changed that much."

"Haven’t we, Ron?" Hermione sighed. Ginny was the one person she did not want to talk about, but Ron was obviously trying to work through something. So she had put her own feelings aside and focused on her friend. But as the conversation progressed she found herself getting more irritated.

"Okay, so we’re different, but not like her. She was so sweet and innocent, and then suddenly she’s seducing Harry on the couch and being mean to everyone and talking back."

And she stabbed Draco Malfoy in the back, she thought but didn't say outloud. She and Harry hadn't told any of the Weasley's about the incident in the alley and as far as she knew, neither had Ginny or Draco. Instead of adding to his list of his sister's odd behavior she weakly stated, "Ginny is a teenage girl, Ron. She's entitled to mood swings."

"And that whole thing with Harry using her to get us mad, that really messed her up." He went on as if he didn’t hear her, which he may not have. He was focused on the puzzle that was his little sister. "I don’t know if I can ever totally forgive him for that. Have you?" He looked at her, as if she were able to forgive and forget it would make it easier for him.

"Oh, Ron. Of course I haven’t, not completely anyway. But none of us know what’s going to happen and I refuse to miss the time we may have together. I love him, it’s as simple as that. But Harry didn’t think…doesn’t think things through the whole way. He gets an idea in his head on how to get what he wants and goes for it just assuming it’ll work out, because more often than not, it does work for him. And you know what he told me today? He raised himself. He’s lived by his own wits, ideas and needs for so long, I’m not sure he’s capable of changing. He didn’t have parents to go to for advice, or to teach him things like patience. He didn’t even have anyone to love him for the first eleven years of his life."

"We knew that, Hermione." Ron got up and walked over to stare out the window.

"Yeah, we knew. But did you really think about what it meant for Harry? Because I didn’t. Can you imagine it, Ron? Growing up in a home where you are unwanted and unloved. No parents, no friends, no brothers or sisters. Think of the abuse he suffered, the life he led. And then to find out that you are someone important and that there are people who want you around, who want to be your friend, who love you. All those things he didn’t have, things that no child should ever go without. Can you imagine the feeling, when every summer you were ripped away from that place you found where you finally belong, only to be sent back to the torturous place where you were raised and to people who loathe and fear the sight of you? He raised himself, Ron, and I knew it without ever realizing it. He had to make his own decisions, find his own way through life. So ultimately, while I find it hard to forgive his plan, I can completely forgive his impulsiveness. He was doing what he thought was right, not trying to play with our lives."

Ron was quiet for a long time. She took his hand and leaned her head on his shoulder. "We’re in this till the end, the three of us."

He smiled weakly. "I guess I didn’t think about what it was like for him. I mean I did, but I didn’t, you know." He sat down, still holding her hand as she stood next to him. "I love him too." He said quietly.

"And he loves us. All of us. We just have to remember, he doesn’t have the same support system we do waiting for us outside of here. He has either a big empty house and a ring full of ghosts or a small house full of muggles who hate the sight of him."

"I don’t know what to feel, Mione. I’m so mad at him for Ginny, and so grateful to him for bringing George back to us. I love him like a brother, but I want to punch him in his face most of the time lately. He’s not acting like Harry, but then am I still acting like Ron?"

"You’re making my head hurt. Pick, forgive or don’t and move on from there. Either way you can still be there for both him and Ginny. Maybe by talking separately to them, you can make them understand each other better." She paused before adding, "but keep her away from him. If she does one more thing to try and move in on him, I’ll rip her hair out." Ron laughed at the thought of Hermione beating anyone up with her bare hands, especially someone as feisty as his sister. She laughed too, though she knew that she was completely serious.

"Hey, you guys!" Harry wildly entered the common room and ran up to them gasping for air. His face was bright red, as if he had been holding his breath for a long time. As he came to a stop in front of them, he doubled over, placing his hands on his knees and panting from the run. His whole body was shaking and covered in sweat. Hermione demanded he sit down before he fell over but he waved her off. "I was talking to Sirius and he said he had to leave because I needed to rest but I won’t put it off any longer. I have to talk to James and Lily and I need your help!"

"(BREAK)

"I still don’t think this is the greatest idea. You should take some time to refuel first."

"Noted, Hermione." Harry said as he closed the door to the Room of Requirement behind them.

Ron saw the determination in his eyes and knew there was nothing that could have stopped his friend from carrying out this plan. Apparently Hermione had been right. Once Harry got an idea in his head about getting what he wanted, there was no stopping him. They all took a seat, at her insistence, and Harry put on the ring. At his request, they each reached out to touch the ring and feed it their energy. It was the way he and Ginny had gotten it to work in order to call George and the amount of energy required had nearly wiped Ron out. He wondered how Harry even had the stamina to try again so soon. Of course, he knew his friend’s willpower was stronger than anything tested against it.

They sat and focused on the Potters. Harry swept his thoughts through theirs, so that they each saw the same images. They were nothing but flashes of pictures Harry had been shown over the years, the only way he had been able to know his parents for so long. Ron felt a sting of guilt, knowing he had his own mother and father were waiting for him at home alive and well, and full of love. Suddenly the images Harry was sending them changed and they were now watching his memories, his mind so far entangled with theirs that they were able to feel his emotions as he recalled his eleven year old self, staring wistfully into the Mirror of Erised. This time, Ron was able to see what Harry saw, the Potters standing sadly yet proudly behind their son.

And then they were somewhere Ron had never been but had heard quite a bit about. He watched in fascinated horror as Harry recalled the graveyard duel with Voldemort while Cedric’s lifeless body lay a few yards away. The ghostly images of Lily and James burst from Voldemort’s wand and Ron felt a surge of protective love run through him. He wanted more than anything for Harry to be reunited with these people- people who loved their son enough to continue protecting him long after their deaths. He focused on the faces, on the emotions racking his friend’s entire being and added whatever fuel he could to the fire building between them. Hermione had been right, regardless of whether he could ever forgive his best friend, he could still be there for him. No matter what it took out of him, he would ensure Harry got his reunion. They could sort out everything else later.

(BREAK)

Harry could feel the now familiar tingle and thought harder focusing on every moment he’d ever laid eyes on his parents or their image. Feeling an extra push of energy come from Ron, he knew they were on the verge of success and opened his eyes in time to watch his mother appear.

"Harry, my love." She said quietly as she gazed at him with eyes full of loving anguish. He wanted nothing more than to throw his arms around her and bury his head in her shoulder- to let her soothing, motherly hands ease the hair from his forehead and wipe away the horrors acquired throughout his sixteen years.

"Hi, mum." He said simply though his voice cracked, betraying the weight of his emotion at the moment.

"There’s so much to say. So much for us to talk about, but now is not the time. Your father stayed back to make it a bit easier for you, because you are burned out, Harry. You do too much, too quickly."

"I had to see you. And dad." Harry pleaded with his mother to understand.

"And we want so badly to be with you, dear. We are always with you, you know. And when you hurt, we hurt." She looked at him with green eyes, with his eyes, and he felt waves of compassion flow through him, soothing skin that was flush and stinging and his heart, which suddenly felt too big in his chest. "We have much to talk to you about, your father and I. But when we have more time, and when you are fully up to the visit."

"Whenever I want?"

"Whenever you are able, Harry." She turned to Ron and Hermione. "It is so nice to finally meet you both. I have wanted so badly to thank you for everything the pair of you have given to my son, and for everything you mean to him. We are thrilled he was able to find you." The three teenagers looked at each other and smiled. "I must leave now Harry, for your own good. But we will come to you every time you need us for as long as we are able. I love you, Harry. More than you can comprehend."

"I love you too!" Harry staggered to his feet and took trembling steps toward his mother, but she was gone and he was weak. Sinking heavily to his knees, he turned to Ron and Hermione. "That was my mum. She is wonderful." He said before simply laying down, closing his eyes and letting sleep overtake him.

(BREAK)

Ron and Hermione decided to let Harry stay where he was and get the sleep he so desperately needed. Of course Hermione had decided to go back, taking her books with her so that she could study while he rested. She hadn’t trusted that he was alright and had wanted to be close should he need care. Ron was worried too, but he was certain that after a good night’s Harry would look a million times better. How his friend would act was another thing altogether. They were never sure which Harry they would get anymore… the dark brooding one, the one running around making amends, or the one who was the same strong yet vulnerable person he’d always been.

Laying down in bed, he decided to let his mind rest on the topic of Harry, hoping the next day would continue to bring them one step closer to having things back the way they were. However, as soon as he stopped thinking of Harry, Luna popped into his head. She was a whole other problem and one that could potentially hurt him more. He felt that he loved her with everything he had, but did he? How could he love someone he wasn’t even sure he really knew? There were so many secrets around Luna and though he could claim to understand her need for secrecy, there was a part of him that would never be able to accept it. A little mystery was intriguing, but everything about Luna seemed mysterious and it was nothing but frustrating. But what could he do about it? Nothing… there was nothing he could do because they’d had this argument before and nothing had ever changed afterwards. There were so many things they had to accept about each other and he’d been trying so hard… but sometimes lately, he’d been beginning to wonder if the effort was worth it.

(BREAK)

"I never expected it to be possible!" Lupin held the ring out in his hand, having just listened to Harry and Hermione’s account of the ring’s usage thus far.

"Well, it is. And he asked that we let you speak to him. And I’m sure mum and dad will want to see you again as well." Harry smiled at him. Upon waking he had wanted to contact his parents again. "And Neville, and then Cedric." He had told Hermione who had stayed with him. It was only her insistence that he wait to get his full strength in order to talk to them all longer that forced him to abandon his plan.

"Besides," she had said, "you’ll have all week while everyone else is taking exams. And Lupin deserves a turn too." And so they had gone to his office, and found him alone. Tonks had gone on to finalize their honeymoon plans. They would be leaving after Lupin finished out the school year.

But the ring and their story, though extremely interesting, wasn’t what Lupin had been wanting to discuss with him. "Albus told me what happened." Lupin began. "Harry, you don’t need me to tell you how important it is for you to finish your education. And you don’t need to tell me how hard it is to sit and do nothing when there is so much to be done. There has to be a middle ground somewhere."

Harry smiled and gave Hermione’s hand a squeeze. "Sirius and Mione have been telling me the same thing."

"And?"

"And I don’t know what to do. But right now, I won’t change my mind."

Lupin sat behind his desk and studied him carefully. Finally he broke into a grim smile. "Well then, I guess for right now that will have to do."

Harry returned the smile and handed over the ring. Part of him wanted to stay and intrude on his visit, just to see them all again. But Hermione tugged on his sleeve and ultimately they left him alone with his privacy. It had been too long since the original Marauders were reunited and besides Hermione had made a very valid point- he had the ring forever now. And he would never let anyone keep it from him.

(BREAK)

"Are you going to talk to me now or keep avoiding me?" Ron demanded of Luna, accosting her in the hallway.

"I’m not the one avoiding anyone." She shot back, angry that he was accusing her of what he was clearly guilty of. Truthfully, she’d just been waiting for him to come to her after sensing a shift in his mood towards her. She was disappointed but not surprised that this was the way he had finally chosen to approach her. "Are you ready to just talk about whatever’s bothering you?"

"Like you don’t know." He grumbled.

"No, I don’t!" She threw her hands up in the air. "I’ve done what you asked and stayed out of your head. You’re the one who doesn’t know how to stick to his word."

"What are you talking about?"

"Every time I do something out of the ordinary, you throw a fit. So let me guess, this time you’re all upset that I helped Harry in the cavern last night."

"Of course I’m not upset about that, not like you’re thinking anyway." He answered quietly. "I’m glad you helped him get out of there. I’m just tired of being on the outside."

She had just told him the truth about staying out of his thoughts, and so she hadn’t realized that this new mood swing had less to do with her and more to do with his own feelings in inferiority. She felt herself soften as she always did when he was going through these moments of doubt. "You aren’t on the outside. It’s not just you I keep the things I know and see a secret from. I don’t tell anyone unless it’s a matter of life and death. And just because Harry and I can do things that the rest of you can’t doesn’t make us all that special, to be honest it just gives us more problems… and a lot more responsibility."

"Yeah, I’m sure it’s horrible for you both." He muttered.

"Well, because of it, you and I are always fighting. I don’t consider that a bonus." She returned, crossing her arms. "It makes everything a lot more problematic, which is why I never wanted to tell you in the first place until…"

"Until what?" He asked sharply.

Luna sighed heavily. "Until you were in a more mature place to process the information. Some time in the future when you wouldn’t let petty jealousy run you."

"That’s nice." He turned away. "That’s real nice Luna. The problem is always me isn’t it. It’s not the fact that if you had told me from the beginning, maybe I wouldn’t always be thinking about what else you’re hiding. Maybe the problem is you destroyed the trust!"

"If that’s what you want to think, fine. Whatever makes you happy." She walked away without waiting for his reply. Neither of them were in a place right now to solve anything between themselves. Besides, she didn’t see the point in trying anymore as it was becoming more obvious to her that she and Ron were at the end of their journey together.




A/N: Only a few chapters left. Look for the sequel: Harry Potter and The Coven of Warriors – Coming Soon!

A/N: Reference to Mirror of Erised from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling; reference to graveyard fight with Voldemort from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

Chapter 47: Meet the Potters

A/N: Okay, so I was writing and writing and still wasn’t getting to where I felt I could end the story. So rather than having everyone wait on me, I decided to break the chapter up into two parts. So this is the second to last chapter. Better to end on an even number anyway. As always Read Review Enjoy!




To ensure Harry wouldn’t overstrain himself, Lupin had refused to give him back the ring until after breakfast Monday morning, a plot devised with Sirius no doubt. Now, with the prize clutched in his hand and every student and professor in the school busy with exams, he ran outside and around to the far side of the lake. Seating himself comfortably on the soft grass, he put on the ring, stilled his mind and focused on his parents. The tingle came much more quickly this time and almost as soon as he saw them in his mind, he knew they had arrived.

"Hello, son." James Potter smiled down at him, a ghostly arm wrapped around Lily Potter’s shoulders. "I had hoped we’d get this chance, before we were forced to cross over."

Harry couldn’t respond over the lump that had risen so unexpectedly in his throat. These were the two people he had needed most in the world for so long, and here they were, finally right in front of him.

"Harry, we can’t stay long, and there is much to discuss." Lily floated closer to her son, he could feel the air grow colder as she approached.

"Things are beginning, my boy." James said. "Big things, that will lead to the end of this horrible war."

"What things?" Harry asked.

"We can’t say exactly, the answers are still unclear, clouded with indecision since the victory can still go either way. Even here, we don’t have all the answers. But now is the time for you to learn, Harry." Lily reached out as if to place a hand on her son’s shoulder before remembering that she was unable.

Harry felt himself grow angry, unable to touch his parents, who had never until that day been in his life. Making him angrier still, was that they were two more people telling him to stay in school.

"No, Harry." Lily had interpreted his thoughts as his emotions played across his face. "There will be time enough for conversations about whether you should finish school. What I mean right now is that you must learn of my ancestors, your ancestors, who were directly descended from the original coven of witches and wizards. Their blood courses through your veins, giving you unimaginable protection from the darker forces."

"But, I thought the power Voldemort didn’t know about was from you…" Harry was bewildered. "I thought because you gave your life…" but his memories clogged his throat and in order to hold back tears he was unable to continue his thought.

"Oh, Harry." Lily sighed, looking at her son with eyes full of sympathy.

"You’re thinking of the prophesy, and what Lily gave you as she died is part of it Harry." James took up the narrative. "Your mother’s sacrifice protected you from Voldemort then and many years after, but it is the combined blood of all of your ancestors that has kept you safe from everything else for so long. The ancient DNA passed on to you gives you the same strength, courage and determination that it gave your mother. Which is quite a bit more than the average witch or wizard. Not to mention those wandless powers she liked to flaunt in my face." He smiled. Could it be? Could these abilities passed through his bloodline be the power the prophesy claimed he had that Voldemort didn’t know about?

"I love you." Lily told her husband, smiling with joy as he complimented her. "I love you both, more than anything." She turned to Harry.

"I love you." Harry felt the words leave his mouth, words of strength he had only ever uttered to one other person with the same conviction. They were natural, as they had been with Hermione though of a different variety, and he knew he meant it with everything he was made of.

"I know. Oh Harry, my love, you are already getting tired. We must go soon but first it is very important that you find out where we come from." Lily instructed. "Find out about the original ones, and who their descendents are."

"When did you learn about them? When did you find out your mother lied about being a muggle? How long did you know you had these wandless powers?" He asked desperately.

"Those are all questions for another time." She answered evasively. "Just learn what you can and someday I’ll tell you more than you need to know."

"And practice your skill, son." James added. "With and without your wand. It’s important to know every part of who you are, and what you’re made of. Only then will you know what you are truly capable of."

"I will." Harry promised them both.

"And the next time you call us, make sure you bring that lovely young lady with you." Lily told him.

"Hermione?" Harry asked.

"Of course! We want to meet her, learn about her, if she means so much to you." James teased.

"Oh, she’s everything." Harry promised as his parents smiled.

"Until next time, my love." Lily began her good-bye.

"When we will be discussing a few things as well." James forewarned. "I love you, Harry." He added. And then they were gone, their words echoing into the vastness of the humid morning.

Harry let go of the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding. He had been so nervous to meet his parents and yet, when the time came it had flowed so naturally and without awkwardness- almost as if there had been no absence from each other at all. He stood up to stretch his legs and looked out across the lake at the school where everyone else was trapped in a classroom, and realized that he was feeling a sort of freedom- a wholeness he’d never thought he’d experience.

The entire world around him was currently at peace, no wind to rustle the leaves, no student voices ringing through the silence, even the lake was so still it looked like glass. He walked to the edge of the water and as a feeling of serenity washed over him he strode in up to his knees, watching the small ripples of his movement make their way outward. Though he knew he was tired, he couldn’t wait to use the ring again.

(BREAK)

Ron, Fred and Luna met up at the bottom of Trelawny’s tower, waiting for Ginny, who was finishing her Divination exam. They had decided to talk to her together, find out where her head was at these days. Well, actually Ron had decided and forced the other two to go along and they hadn’t been silent about their doubts that trapping the youngest Weasley and demanding she explain herself was a good idea. Even as they waited, Fred was unable to hold in a few last minute scruples. "I’m not sure having Luna around will help our cause." he shared in the silence.

"I already told you, she can do her mind thing and find out if Ginny is as really as okay as she’ll probably tell us she is." Ron wasn’t sure about her mind reading abilities at all. Hermione had taught him how to shield his mind to keep Luna and Harry from running around in there at will. But still… More than anything, he worried about what she had seen in his head before he began protecting his thoughts and he’d realized while lying awake for the last two nights, that this is what had been driving him away from her… just as much as her secrecy. He didn’t want to have to feel guilty for thoughts he’d assumed had been for him alone. But even with all that and even though they still hadn’t gotten past their last fight, he knew he still wanted to be with her. He just wished she wouldn’t make it so hard.

"You know. It’s unfair that you expect me to invade her head when you’ve made it so clear that you don’t like it when I do it to you." Luna said crossly, startling Ron out of his thoughts of her.

"She has a point. It’ll only make Ginny more mad at us for trying it at all." Fred added.

"What else are we supposed to do? Just ignore how obviously upset she is and all the ways she’s changed. I love my sister too much to let her continue to spiral downwards." He argued.

"Hey, I love her too." Fred answered defensively. "I just don’t think this is the way to reach her."

"Do either of you have a better idea?" They glanced at each other but remained silent. Ron nodded decisively. "I didn’t think so."

"Fine, but if she sees through this little ploy and asks me not to be in her mind then I won’t spy on her thoughts." Luna said.

"Whatever." He mumbled under his breath.

"Here they come." She stood, and stared nervously up at the flock of oncoming students. Ron took Fred’s offered hand and climbed to his feet with them just as the first of the fifth years began streaming downstairs, some chattering excitedly, some bemoaning what had just taken place. Ginny was the last to come down, walking alone.

She smiled thinly at the party assembled to meet her. "An escort to lunch?" She asked.

"There’s a bit of time before lunch." Ron gently took her arm and led her to an alcove under the stairs with the others right behind. "We wanted to talk to you first."

She eyed Luna with suspicion and, to his surprise, something almost like hatred. He didn’t like it one bit. "And so you brought one of the two human lie-detectors?" She sneered.

"See, I told you." Fred told him under his breath.

"I’m here because I care about you too, Ginny. We’re friends, remember? I promise to stay in my own head." Luna said earnestly. She looked hard at Ron. "And I mean it."

"What do you all want?" Ginny demanded, impatience radiating from her.

"We want to know what’s going on with you Ginny. We know Harry pushed it way too far, but you’ve been different for longer than that." Fred explained their purpose.

"Was it the department of mysteries? Or was it something else that set you off…that made you…colder?" Ron asked.

"I don’t think any of us are our normal, cheery selves anymore. Wouldn’t you agree? Well, except Harry. He has everything that he wanted now, doesn’t he? And the rest of us are left to figure out the mess he left in his wake." Ginny answered bitterly. "Yes Ron, it was the Department of Mysteries that finally shattered my rose-colored glasses, though I suppose Tom Riddle’s diary first cracked them. But good lord, leave me alone about everything else. I mean come on, you expect me to be an ostrich with my head in the sand after the year we’ve each had? Well I can’t and what’s more, I don’t know how you all are still able to after all that’s happened. From Neville who was most innocent of us all becoming one more casualty, to Cho trying to kill Harry before our eyes, to the opus that is Harry and Hermione’s relationship, to Percy betraying us all, and George, poor George only a ghost in a ring to us now. And then Draco and the alley, and Cho almost drowning us in the bathroom and then Harry…." She broke into sobs and buried her face in her hands, ending her tirade. "I can’t take it all and still smile okay!"

They had let her go on, collectively figuring it was better out than in. But Ron had been listening and was stuck on one point. What had she meant by Draco and the alley? He looked at Fred and knew he had caught the same thing but Luna was trying very hard not to meet his eyes. Of course, she knew exactly what Ginny was referring to and of course, she would probably refuse to tell him. He shoved those thoughts back, knowing his issues with Luna needed to be on the backburner right now. Ginny was what was important.

Stepping up to his sister he tried to wrap his arms around her shaking shoulders, but she shoved him away. "Just leave me alone!" She screamed as she pushed past them.

Fred made to follow but Ron stopped him, figuring it would be best if they gave her a bit of time to compose herself. "Let her go." He said before warily turning to his girlfriend. "And what exactly did she mean by that?"

"She meant she is upset and would like to be left alone-" Luna tried to walk past him.

Ron held up a hand to stop her. "You know what I mean- the thing about Draco. What do you know about it."

Luna sighed, "I’m not going to tell you, because it’s not my secret. And it’s not really just her secret either and I shouldn’t be the one to tell it." He watched as she braced herself for the fight she was sure was coming. Well, she should be sure, he thought angrily.

"Fred, will you give us some space." Ron said through clenched teeth.

Fred looked relieved to be released from witnessing what was clearly going to be uncomfortable. "Just remember the love you two." He said as he headed down the hall.

"Luna, I’m not sure how much more of this I can take." Ron said after a deep breath.

"I’m sorry." She said quietly.

He felt his anger rise. She was so calm, so resigned to whatever was going to take place. She held secrets and answers, like some mystical oracle just out of reach at the top of some treacherous mountain. How could she just stand there so accepting, so sure of herself? It wasn’t fair that he had to be a ball of tangled emotions, never knowing fully what’s going on or who is telling the truth. "This time is one time too many, Luna."

"Threaten to leave me all you want, Ron. It’s not my secret and telling you before anyone is ready will only cause a fight."

"Before anyone is ready? How many people are in on whatever this secret is? Your little ethical code doesn’t apply this time, darling, because it involves my sister and that directly affects me. I need to know, regardless of who gets mad and starts a fight."

"It’s nothing to do with you! It’s Ginny’s secret, and Draco’s, and the other two involved. And the fight will be a stupid fight over nothing, simply because the secret was kept at all!" Luna finally showed emotion. She defended her stand vehemently, at the same time pleading for him to let it go so that harmony could prevail. He felt her words and the meaning behind them- that ripping apart the hard-fought-for peace among their friends to reveal this secret wasn’t worth the destruction it would cause. He wanted to be diplomatic, to let logic and reason prevail, but he couldn’t.

"Just stay away from me for awhile, okay. I need you to leave me alone." He turned and began to walk away, but her words stopped him.

"Of, course! It always about what you need isn’t it, Ron? All of you are that way, as a matter of fact. Oh, poor me, I need to feel better, I need to know everything right now regardless of the consequences of having that knowledge, I need attention, I need help with my sister, my friends, I need to be reassured, I need, I need, I need! What about what I need every once in awhile, Ron! I need the voices in my head to stop for two seconds, I need to talk about how I feel about everything that’s happened, I need to discuss my insecurities about whether anyone really likes me since no one really shows it! When can we get to some of my needs, darling?" She stared him down. After a long silence, she laughed, startling him more than her sudden anger had. "I’m sorry. I forgot. You need me to leave you alone and here I am unloading all over you. Well, Ron, today’s your lucky day. Good-bye." She stormed off without looking back.

Ron stood by himself at the foot of the stairs and wondered how his plan to talk to his sister had gone so awry.

(BREAK)

Draco crumbled up another piece of parchment and decided to give up. He’d tried several times to craft a letter to his mother, but each time the words just never seemed right. Now with another day of testing over, he was one day closer to leaving the relative shelter of the school. He knew that Dumbledore had already written to Narcissa, relating in a very careful way what her son had been up to this year. Although he knew the Headmaster had portrayed his actions as brave and noble, Draco also knew his mother and others waiting for him back home wouldn’t quite agree. It had been more than a week since he’d been told of the letter and still Narcissa hadn’t written back. Wanting to defend himself and his decisions, he’d finally decided to pen a letter to her himself.

But the words just wouldn’t come to him. He didn’t know how to explain himself in a way that would evoke any sort of maternal emotion in Narcissa. She’d been cold and distant his whole life, though by far the nicest to him- at least among his family members. She had also stood up for him on many occasions against his father, often provoking Lucius to accuse her of babying him, including her decision to send him to Hogwarts to keep him closer to her. But since joining with his father, the only time he’d ever felt any warmth from her had been a few months earlier when he’d been laying in the hospital clinging to life, all the while refusing to reveal Ginny Weasley had been the one to put him there. Narcissa had been there with him day and night, begging him to stay, to not die. Although when it had become clear that he would do as she asked and live, it had become less about his health and more about her anger toward her husband for bringing her son somewhere so dangerous. Draco had looked at the whole experience as one more indication that his mother didn’t believe him strong enough to fight along side his father.

Well, she was right. He didn’t have the same depth to his ruthlessness as the others following the Dark Lord. But he’d already proved he had the mettle to stand up against them. Was that yet another indicator that he was now on the right path? If it was so, how could he ever explain it to his mother, who has continued to choose to stay despite her misgivings? Oh, he knew the stories of his mother and just how cunning and dangerous she could be. But he had also seen her in her less controlled moments, when she’d dared to do what many others in her situation couldn’t- show weakness by revealing there was someone she actually could care for more than herself and the cause. Although touched that he was that person to her, Draco knew better than to trust her overall natural instinct toward self-preservation. It was something passed down through both sides of his family and he’d certainly inherited the trait, though his own push toward self-preservation had led him to side with the enemy.

Throwing away one last attempt at some sort of letter, he put down his pen and decided to leave everything up to fate. If his mother wanted to reach him, she knew how. In the meantime, he had to figure out what he was going to do, where he was going to go because he knew he couldn’t go home and expect to survive the summer. He decided to go to Dumbledore and make yet another deal with the devil. What was a little more of his soul anyway?

(BREAK)

The next morning, Harry relaxed by the lake, letting the sun warm his face as he prepared to make his next long distance call. Hermione had agreed to help him research the coven when she came to stay at his house later in the summer. As to officially meeting his parents, she had been excited and even agreed that it was okay to tell them of their engagement. He detected that she was also a bit nervous at the prospect. For the first time in a long time, he felt things were going to be fine between them.

As he settled into the peacefulness of the moment, his thoughts turned to Ron who had been quiet and withdrawn since lunch the day before. He had claimed nothing was wrong, but his shield wasn’t nearly as strong as Hermione’s and Harry had caught something about Luna, Ginny and secrets. Ron was stewing in something and didn’t want to talk about it, and Harry was worried. The Weasley children were all hurting from many different wounds and he had no idea how to help them. He had hoped the ring and renewed contact with their brother would revive them, and it had worked slightly for Fred. But he could understand how it hadn’t consoled them completely. As good as it was to see George, Sirius and his parents, it wasn’t the same as having them back in the world of the living.

He shook his head to clear it. When Ron wanted to talk, he would and pushing him to do so before he was ready would only be asking for a fight. Right now he had something more important to focus on. They all had plans to meet later to call on Neville, but he had wanted to make a different call now, on his own, in private. He let all the thoughts tumbling in his head fade away and focused solely on Cedric Diggory. He thought of the Quidditch World Cup, of him dancing with Cho at the Yule Ball, of being underwater battling against the merpeople, of the maze, of his face in the instant he was killed. He thought of every moment he could remember of Cedric, but the tingle never came.

"He’s not there, Harry."

He fell over and rolled quickly pulling his wand on the owner of the voice that had knocked him out of his trance. He sighed heavily, lowering his arm and settling heavily on the ground when he recognized Luna, sitting calmly, cross-legged next to where he had been resting.

"Cedric Diggory won’t be coming to see you, he’s somewhere else in the world, by now. Reborn, or at least in the process." Luna surmised gazing up at the clouds.

"How do you know?" Harry asked, studying her carefully. Her mind was a steel fortress, but her eyes, they were wide and searching. Without consciously realizing it, he put up his own shield, hoping it was as strong as hers.

"I just do. I knew when Kane was… I guess recycled is as good a word as any. I knew when he was recycled back into the world too."

Harry’s heart stung for a moment. He had wanted to say so many things to Cedric. Had even planned it out, the apology, the promise to visit his parents, the vow to avenge him, the regret he felt. He took Luna at her word of course, and a sudden thought struck him. She had so many abilities that she just sort of accepted as part of her. Abilities completely separate from her wand. Was she really just a psychic, or…

"I don’t suppose you have a family tree lying around somewhere?" He asked without realizing he was doing so. It felt as if someone was thinking and talking for him, and had just as quickly, left him.

"Why would you ask that?" Luna stared at him. Her eyes were red-rimmed, and slightly puffy, but her face betrayed no emotion.

"Never mind that for now. What’s wrong? What happened?" He leaned toward her, waiting to learn what new malady had struck the group.

"It’s nothing really, and I wasn’t going to say anything if you didn’t ask. I just…I had kind of hoped you would ask, because I have no one else to talk to about anything. I don’t want to burden you, I just want to unburden myself a little. It’s unfair, but then I figure we’re supposed to be friends and that means it’s okay to vent to each other, but I so hate being one more thing for you to worry about." She ran out of steam.

Harry simply sat and waited. Finally, she said, "Ron and I have broken up." So that’s why Ron was sullen, he thought as he let her go on. "He doesn’t trust me because I can’t tell him everything he wants to know. He thinks just because I can know something, he should know it too. Some things I know, I’m not supposed to and so I keep them to myself."

"That seems extremely ethical and as someone who is probably among the subjects of some of those things you shouldn’t know and keep to yourself, I appreciate it."

"Ron disagrees. Especially since he found out I know something that involves Ginny."

He noted she was careful about what she had just said. She was keeping something out of it and he had a sense he was somehow involved in whatever secret she was keeping from Ron. He decided he wouldn’t pry, but his curiosity was definitely peaked. He reflected that Luna would never make it at a poker table, mind reading abilities or not. She had too many tells. "I think that if Ron was to know, Ginny should tell him." He said finally.

"That’s what I said, but again he disagrees." She sighed and closed her eyes. But she wasn’t quick enough and a few tears slid down her cheek.

"Well, I’ll tell him. You want me to talk some sense into him?" Harry asked, unsure if he and Ron were even on good enough terms for him to be able to offer advice. But as he reached out to brush away her stray tears, he realized he would do anything to make her feel better. The world just didn’t seem right when someone as positive as Luna was so upset.

"Absolutely not. You boys… always wanting to take action." She scolded with a small smile as she took his hand. "That’s not what I wanted, Harry. I just wanted someone to talk something out with."

In an effort to cheer her up a bit he straightened up and seated himself like her before pretending to throw his hair over his shoulder and in an imitation of a feminine voice said, "Okay, so let’s talk." He was rewarded with a bigger more vibrant smile.

Then she turned somber again. "It’s just that- I don’t think I want to be with him, so maybe it’s good we’ve broken up. He doesn’t accept me, and he doesn’t really pay attention to me. I mean, I know, there’s so much going on. But that doesn’t stop you and Hermione, or Lupin and Tonks. Maybe he just liked the idea of being with someone and didn’t realize that I’m not as…normal as most girls."

"Maybe, but we both know that’s not true. Ron’s oblivious to most things, but he knew what he was doing when he said he wanted to be with you."

"Yeah, me, the weird girl. You all thought it and don’t deny it. Before you all learned to block up your minds I saw quite a bit of how others saw me." Luna sighed heavily as Harry thought back to the mean things he used to think of Luna.

"We didn’t know you then… I didn’t know you then. I think your, uh, differences from everyone else is actually quite refreshing. I never know what to expect with you Luna, except that you will always do the right thing."

She waved off his words. "I’m not worried about what you think, Harry. I think I understand you better than I ever have anyone else, you are such an open book." Harry was taken aback, having been thinking something similar about her just a few minutes before. "I just worry that, without Ron, who am I?"

"What do you mean? You’re always Luna Lovegood, whether in a relationship or on your own."

"Really? Without Ron, I’m still part of the group? Or will I become someone you all turn to when you need answers, but go completely unnoticed the rest of the time." She paused as he searched for the right thing to say, and then shook her head and continued. "You see, I’m worried that I’m all alone here. That without Ron, I have no real friends."

"You have me. I’m your real friend, Luna." Harry said earnestly. And he meant it, but she was smiling sadly at him.

"No, not really I don’t have you. You won’t be here next year, which is fine if that’s really what you think is best for you. But I will be, and Ginny doesn’t talk to me anymore, might even actually hate us all. And Ron won’t talk to me, maybe he never will again. Hermione really only talks to me because of you and Ron, Fred barely knows I’m alive and he’ll be gone next year anyway. My whole house ignores me, the teachers barely know I’m present other than I date Harry Potter’s best friend, and the only person that will talk to me on any regular basis is Moaning Myrtle!" She drew her knees up to her chest and wrapped her arms around them before continuing. "I’m not looking for your pity, you know. I just… I need to know if I sound ridiculous or if you see now what I feel most every day?"

Harry moved next to her and threw his arms around her shoulders. "I can’t speak for everyone else, Luna. But you will always have me to talk to."

"Thank you." She rested her head on his shoulder before stiffening . "I’m sorry, I was so wrapped up I didn’t sense…we have an audience." She whispered.

For how long? He asked in his mind.

I don’t know. Was the reply.

They turned and looked at the study tree, waiting. Finally, Hermione came out from the other side and walked over to them. Harry was tense in anticipation of being caught in yet another intimate moment with yet another girl. The silence was heavy between the three of them as they stared at each other. Then without further hesitation, Hermione sat on the other side of Luna and threw her arms around her. Harry felt his breath release.

"You’ve saved our lives and our sanity so many times. I will always be your friend, Luna. Always." Hermione told her with confidence.

(BREAK)

Ginny walked far into the Forbidden Forest, making sure the castle was completely blocked from view. It had taken her a bit to get over the surge of emotions stirred up by her brothers when they’d accosted her the day before. But now feeling in control once more, she had decided to get rid of everything that could remind her of her poor feelings. Neville’s book, the one he had given her on the care of Bubble flowers, was one of the few things that could evoke an instant sense of guilt the moment she saw it. Draco Malfoy was another, but she couldn’t exactly go out and bury him in the woods. Not here anyway.

Later that day, they all had plans to use the ring to call up Neville, to visit him as a group. She hoped she’d make it through the reunion, but she felt taking action to quite literally bury her feelings would help. Using her wand, she made a small hole in the ground and without a second thought, threw in the book, its tiny packet of seeds still stuck in the front flap. Then she covered it, removing the offending object from her sight forever. With a sigh of satisfaction, she turned back toward the school and straightening her shoulders, prepared herself to face the rest of the world.

(BREAK)

Harry had been summoned to Dumbledore’s office. Only the small addition at the bottom of his note, a post script promising the topic of discussion was nothing academic, had led Harry to go. He entered the office to find the Headmaster seated in a comfortable looking chair beside Draco Malfoy.

"You wanted to see me, sir?" Harry asked, his curiosity peaked.

"Yes, Harry. It seems that Draco here is in the uncomfortable position of being without a safe haven for the summer. I was hoping you would be agreeable to letting him stay at your house?" The old wizard looked at him over his spectacles, daring Harry to deny this request.

Luckily, Harry had no impulse to deny. He instantly liked the idea of keeping Draco close, watching to be sure of his "transformation". But as he looked Draco over he realized the other boy was already transformed and he felt pity towards him. Malfoy had never been much impressive before, but now- their former enemy looked downright pathetic, with his wasted arm, hair in disarray and clothes hanging loosely from a much slimmer frame. "Of course Draco is welcome to stay for the summer. It’s the least I can do." He agreed, offering a thin smile.

Arrangements were quickly made, and a short while later the boys were released from the office together. "I’m on my way to meet the others, we’re going to try talking to Neville. You…wanna come?" Harry offered. He might as well get used to him being around now and why not try to be friendly if they were going to be forced in each other’s company.

"Thanks but no thanks. Longbottom probably wouldn’t show if he knew I was there. I wasn’t his biggest fan and vice versa I’m sure. But, uh, thanks. You know, for the place to stay."

Harry could tell how much it was costing Draco to put himself at the mercy of those he’d wronged in the past. He wasn’t sure he’d be able to swallow the amount of pride it would take, were their situations reversed and he needed Draco’s help. He just hoped this all worked out for the best. He looked young Malfoy over one more time. "Please, just don’t make me regret it." He politely warned him before walking away.

(BREAK)

The room of requirement was tense as they all gathered. Even Ginny had shown up to see Neville, and was sitting apart from the others. Hermione sat next to Harry and Luna, and could sense the feeling of betrayal radiating from Ron. She wasn’t worried. Whatever he and Luna were going through, and whether or not they stayed broken up was irrelevant. They would just have to learn to live with each other. Luna was important, to her and to Harry, and she wouldn’t allow the girl to be forced away.

Having reflected on why she felt so strongly in favor of Luna’s friendship, she’d realized that she wasn’t as threatened by Luna as she had thought. Never had the other girl shown any interest in Harry beyond friendship- she was unobtrusive, knew when to hover and when to leave, and she truly wanted the best for everyone. What’s more, Luna accepted everyone as they were, never passing judgement, only ever offering help and advice. Hermione found that she admired that virtue most in Luna, and wanted to learn to be more like that. Luna was a girl she could trust and that meant more than anything. Harry was always going to be her best friend, and Ron would always be the brother she never had. But she had wanted, needed someone else, someone slightly outside, someone she could trust with the things she would never be able to make clear to the boys.

Hermione closed off her stream of thought as Harry slipped on the ring and closed his eyes. She and Luna had soothed him earlier, when he had revealed to them how upset he was to not get his closure with Cedric. Now she hoped with everything she had that Neville would show, though she was unsure which was better- that he still be in the world of the dead, or that he had crossed on to somewhere else to begin anew. Harry’s face grew pink and she could feel the energy around him grow. It was working. Clearing her mind she reached out to touch the ring, helping so that the connection would be stronger. He took her hand and she smiled in her meditation. And then Neville was there.

"Hello you guys!" Neville said happily.

"Neville, old boy! How’re things?" Fred greeted him. Hermione shook her head.

"Well, it’s nice here." Neville replied uncertainly. "I miss you guys though. You’ve had a lot of adventures without me."

"Yeah, well…" Fred shuffled his feet and looked at the floor, "We tried to catch you. I’m sorry I wasn’t fast enough."

She heard Harry’s breath catch in his throat. "I’m sorry too, Neville. I was right there and you slipped past me. I did everything I could." Harry whispered the last and she gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. Neville looked between the two boys in bewilderment.

"Me too!" Ginny burst out before Neville could respond, jumping to her feet and looking up desperately where he hovered. "I tried so hard to be fast enough, and I just wasn’t! I’m so sorry." She started to cry and Ron stepped forward to comfort her but she pushed him away.

"I don’t blame you guys!" Neville said, shock evident in his voice. "You can’t have been thinking this whole time that I’m upset with any of you! You didn’t set that spell."

Ginny sobbed harder and ran from the room. Fred and Ron made to follow but Neville called them back. "Let her be right now, you guys. She needs to sort some things out. I’ve been tuning in on her and she has a lot going on right now," He looked directly at Harry, "not that it’s anyone’s fault. From what I can gather from here, poor decisions have been made all around lately."

"What is it? You die and suddenly know all?" Fred demanded. "You and George, suddenly so clever, so all knowing." Hermione felt that if Neville could blush he would have.

"I’m not so clever." He answered quietly.

"Don’t worry about Fred, mate." Ron looked angrily at his brother. "His manners are completely non existent now." Fred made a face at him in response.

"Neville!" Hermione called for his attention. "Do you want us to visit your grandmother? So that you can talk to her?" She and Harry had discussed this earlier and had decided should Neville say yes, he would go there straight from the train station on Saturday.

However, Neville thought it over and answered in the negative. "I would rather you didn’t. I’m not sure it would be good for her to see me like this, with my parents the way they are and all." He smiled. "But I’d like to see you guys again. Whenever… You know if you get bored or something."

"Of course we’ll call you to visit!" Harry promised as sweat dripped down his face. Hermione felt extremely hot herself.

"And maybe I could talk to Ginny alone some time, if she wants to?" Neville asked shyly.

"I’m sure she will." Fred agreed for his sister. Hermione wasn’t so sure. Ginny didn’t seem up to do anything lately and while she certainly wasn’t Hermione’s favorite person, she was still someone who was hurting deeply, and deserved a break from the horrors and mistakes of the past.

Shortly thereafter, they all said their goodbyes and Neville was gone. She felt as if she had run a marathon, and wondered how Harry was able to deal with so much more. His determination was so much stronger than hers and she felt jealous of him for it. Harry would always be able to do anything, once he’s decided to do it. Her resolve was always wavering, and she let her head get in the way of most things, constantly second-guessing her decisions. She twisted the engagement ring between her fingers while it hung around her neck and smiled. Taking Harry back was the only decision she’d begun to feel sure of.

(BREAK)

The rest of exam week passed quickly. It was Saturday morning in no time at all really, and Harry’s stomach was twisted up into knots. Not only could this possibly be the last time he saw Hogwarts as a student, but he was also about to start his first summer without the Dursleys. He finally felt like things were changing for him, that he was to be the master of his own destiny for the very first time. While he would much rather have Sirius there at Grimauld Place with him, he was thankful that his godfather had provided the vehicle for his freedom.

He, Hermione, Ron and Draco seated themselves in a compartment on the train. Hermione had apparently spoken to Ron the night before and he had grudgingly agreed to let Luna ride with them. But when she walked in, the two avoided each other’s gaze and she seated herself as far from him as she could get. The tension grew as none of the five of them knew what to say.

Fred finally showed up just before the train was about to leave, pushing Ginny ahead of him. "You can’t very well ride by yourself." He was telling her. She sat sullenly between her brothers and stared at the floor as the train took off at last. Ron and Hermione left to take care of their prefect duties, promising a quick return. The compartment was deathly silent.

I can’t do this, Harry! Can’t you feel them? Can you feel Ron hating me and Ginny hating you?

Luna asked him silently while she stared out the window.

I’m used to people not liking me. The tension feels comfortable, you know, familiar. Besides, at least he left you alone here for a bit, she’s still sitting there. He joked, trying to lighten at least her mood. He felt the smile in her thoughts, but her face betrayed nothing and he began to rethink inviting her to play cards.

He needed to do something. The five of them couldn’t just sit there. He looked to Fred who only shrugged his shoulders, considering it a victory that he had gotten Ginny into the compartment with them. Harry wouldn’t give up. Maybe he and Malfoy could get some kind of conversation going. "So Draco-" that was far as he got before his scar exploded in pain and he fell to the floor clutching his head desperately as the others shouted his name in a panic.





A/N: Okay, so next chapter is the last…. Next Time on HP and the ROM: The reason Harry’s scar hurts, someone resigns from Hogwarts, Hermione fights with her parents, and Harry and Draco take up as roommates as Potter Manor prepares for it’s new occupants. It’s halfway done, so look for it soon. To be followed by Harry Potter and the Coven of Warriors. See you next time! And thanks for reading!

A/N: Images of Cedric Diggory referenced from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling.

Chapter 48: The Beginning of the End

Author’s NOTE: Okay, here it is folks. The last chapter of Harry Potter and the Ring of Mykele…no tricks this time, it’s really true. It’s a long one (by necessity) so as always Read, Review, Enjoy! (summary of HP and the Coven of Warriors enclosed at the end)



The initial pain subsided quickly, leaving only the memory of the feeling. Fred and Luna helped Harry lie down on the bench seats, with Draco providing as much assistance as he could in his condition while Ginny sat through it all with her arms crossed though her eyes betrayed her concern and curiosity. Hedwig and Robin were each making noises of concern, but Harry couldn’t think of them right then, or anything else really. Even Ron and Hermione’s return was just a small blip on his radar. He was in panic mode. Something had happened, or was happening. And he was certain that whatever that something was, it was very bad for the good guys. He felt Voldemort’s happiness in that flash of intense pain, felt it stronger than he ever had before. Hermione ran a cool hand across his forehead, but he shook her away sitting up with a nauseous feeling.

"Something’s happened. Something bad." He declared, looking at Luna out of the corner of his eye. She mentally shrugged, indicating she didn’t know anything about it. It seemed that unless an event would directly affect her and those closest to her, she wouldn’t receive a vision of it.

Ginny rolled her eyes and stood with an aggrieved sigh. "Great, more vague rambling. I really can’t take this right now." She walked out. Neither of her brothers made to follow her, although Draco had taken a few steps after her. But upon seeing no one else make a move, he sat back down instead. Something tugged at Harry’s mind but he filed the feeling away to analyze later. Right then, all he could worry about was what had happened, or may still be happening. He would be stuck on the train for another two hours and felt like he would go crazy waiting that long.

"Do you have any idea what it is?" Ron asked, a mixture of excitement and tired resignation in his voice. Harry was surprised not to hear doubt. Apparently, even after all that had happened between them, Ron trusted Harry- at least in matters like this. His mind cleared a tiny bit as he focused in on his friends, but still no enlightenment on the situation was forthcoming.

Harry put his head in his hands, resting his elbows on his knees. Hermione lightly rubbed his back as Fred sat next to him and placed a hand on his shoulder. He appreciated their reassurance, but couldn’t put aside his tense agitation. He was going to be trapped with all of his questions until London. He could only hope someone there knew something because with his new powers, whether or not they were willing to tell him anything was irrelevant.

(BREAK)

It had been a very quiet, very long ride to King’s Cross station. Harry was the first off the train and Hermione watched as he instantly honed in on Arthur Weasley. The Minister was surrounded by guards- some familiar and some complete strangers. She was only half surprised that none of them made a move as he rushed to Arthur, after all Harry was one of he most recognizable faces in the wizarding world, often to his disadvantage.

"What’s happened?" He was already eagerly asking as she and the other kids, including Draco, screeched to a halt behind him. They were all waiting and staring expectantly at Mr. Weasley.

"How did you-?" Arthur began, before smiling down at Harry. "But of course, I should have known."

"What’s happened, Dad?" Fred prodded as Lupin came up behind them to join the party home.

Arthur shook his head. "Not here. We don’t want to start a panic. My presence as well as that of so many Aurors, it’s already too much attention, but I wanted to be safe." He motioned them all along, informing Luna he had assured Mr. Lovegood of her safe return by escorted guards. Luna responded that her father would be glad of the publicity that would provide. Hermione looked at her sharply after that remark as did Harry she noticed. There had been no bitterness in the girl’s tone and her face gave no indication that she was doing anything other than stating a fact. She began to feel like she couldn’t understand her new friend all over again. If it was true about Luna’s father wanting that kind of publicity and using his child’s miserable situation to get it, then Hermione knew she would feel hurt if in the same position. Apparently, Luna was not.

They were all ushered into a nondescript vehicle with tinted windows along with a majority of the Auror guards. Of course, the inside was roomy enough for at least ten more people. She settled into a seat between Harry and Fred with her entire body feeling on edge as they all tensely waited for news. Ron looked to his father with irritation as the car took off. "Well?"

"There was a dementor attack, on the village of Thorn Creek." He paused to let the information sink in before continuing with the grisly details. Hermione looked around at the others, noting surprise on the faces of some of the Aurors, letting her know that they weren’t the only ones being blindsided by the news. Mr. Weasley cleared his throat and went on. "For those of you unfamiliar with the place, it is strictly a wizarding village, cloaked by magic from the muggles. Many ministry workers live there with their families…" He paused again, emotion clogging his throat. He cleared it again. "It was quite awhile before the Dementors were chased off, until enough people could band together to…" He shook his head, remembering that his children were among his audience and that he had to be strong. "There were many victims, of all ages." He ended the report with delicacy. There was a low murmur as everyone began discussing the news among themselves.

"Any word on the Death Eaters?" Lupin asked.

"Oh they were there too." Tonks answered, her voice carrying the anger she felt over the attack.

"They were the reason it took so long to get help to the village." Kingsley added, sounding just as upset.

"So what happens now?" Harry asked loudly to be heard over the din. However, as soon as the question left his lips, the cab was instantly silent all waiting breathlessly for an answer. Hermione shifted uncomfortably in the sudden stillness.

"We formulate our next step." Arthur replied confidently.

A shiver went up Hermione’s spine as she took in the excited gleam in Harry’s eye. She’d known it was only a matter of time before his old habits kicked in and he’d want to get involved in something with the high potential of being dangerous. She hoped that whatever came of this, he’d maintain a semblance of the maturity he’d so far achieved.

(BREAK)

"Once you kids are all safely at your house Harry, I will disperse the Aurors present here and then I will gather those who make the decisions with me and will plan." Arthur said quietly as the others talked around them. Harry read between the lines of his statement- once they got rid of the security detail, the Order members would be gathering at Grimauld Place.

His emotions were in free fall. The anger over what had occurred mixed with his excitement to be included in planning with the Order, while his sadness over the loss suffered by the faceless many pushed against his relief that it hadn’t happened to anyone he cared for. He took Hermione’s hand and they rode in silence together to his very own (and first real) home. Within minutes, he was dropped off and hurried into number 12 along with Hermione, Luna, the Weasley kids, Draco, Lupin and Tonks.

Once everyone was settled, Harry went to find a place for Draco and immediately discovered that the guestroom on the third floor had converted itself into a chamber fit for a Malfoy. As he took in the dark walls and heavy curtains, the picture of Narcissa by the king size bed, the bookshelf full of spell books (on both dark and light magic), Harry began to worry about the kind of trouble Draco could conjure up while left alone in this room. But he pushed it aside and decided to go on trusting…and watching. "Well I guess this is where you’ll be staying." He said.

"Thanks." Draco mumbled. Harry left him to himself, understanding how difficult the other boy must find the situation.

The rest had all gone to their own rooms, those that were staying to unpack and the others to rest up before they had to leave later that night. Harry decided to check in on Buckbeak, knowing how the thing craved attention and rarely received it when he and the other teens were gone. He’d just bowed and settled in next to the creature when a sudden thunderous knocking shook the house. It was quickly followed by the doorbell. Harry rushed to the door, stumbling down the stairs in his excitement. He was happy that gathering the Order hadn’t taken too long, as he wanted to take immediate action against the attack Voldemort had surely arranged on Thorn Creek.

He flung open the door expecting to see Arthur, maybe even Dumbledore. Instead he was astonished to discover Hagrid filling up his doorway. "All right there, Harry?" the giant asked.

"As much as I can be. What’s going on Hagrid?" He stepped to the side, gesturing his enormous friend into the parlor.

Hagrid took a look around and whistled as they sat. "I’ve no’ been here since Sirius…well, it’s different. Tha’s all." Hagrid sat on one of the blue sofas, taking it up completely. "I quit Hogwarts, Harry. I quit bein’ the gamekeeper and decided t’would be best if I…well, better if I did no’ stay at the school when so much is happenin’ here." He looked shyly at Harry. "Thing is, well, I don’ have anywhere to live, so I was hopin’ you would let me stay here fer awhile." He couldn’t quite meet Harry’s eyes when asking. But a quick search through his mind revealed to Harry that he had no alterior motive in coming here. He was simply hoping Harry would put him up until he found a place of his own. In other words, he wasn’t Dumbledore’s spy, and Harry therefore felt pleased that he had a home to offer.

"Of course you can stay here, Hagrid. I’m sure a room will make itself available to you in no time." He wondered just how many extra rooms the house could in fact produce and went through them in his head. He had his room, and Ron and Hermione theirs, on the top floor. Next floor down held Fred, Ginny, Luna and Draco. The next held Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Lupin and Tonks, and Buckbeak. There was still a guest room on that floor, since Tonks and Lupin’s rooms magically became one, and he figured that would be Hagrid’s.

"So when do you expect to move in?" Harry asked.

Hagrid blushed. "Er…I was kinder hopin’…well, today?"

"I guess that would be alright." He agreed hesitantly. "Where are all your things."

"Outside."

"You mean you just left all your stuff outside?" Harry leapt up and ran to the door.

"It’s alrigh’ Harry! Fang’s watchin’ it all" Hagrid called after him. Harry opened the door to see two suitcases, a large blanket covering things he felt very strongly were several strange animal cages, and a very large, very slobbery dog.

(BREAK)

Draco had never felt so strangely comfortable. Although nothing about this house was familiar, he still had the sense that he’d been there before a long time ago when he was much younger. And more than that, the room made up for him felt very much like a cross between his own at home and the dorm at school. It was as if Potter’s house had gone out of it’s way to make him comfortable. Great, even inanimate objects treated people better on this side. But he had a feeling that whenever he’d been here before, it had been a completely different house and no where near as welcoming. He suddenly felt even more comfortable, knowing the house had gone through the same transformation from dark to light that he was attempting now on himself.

He began unpacking his things, hoping he wasn’t making a mistake by lowering his guard. Reminding himself that people on this side of the war were far more trustworthy wasn’t helping. He didn’t want to trust Potter yet here he was having no choice in the mater. What’s more, he knew he was expected to join them all for their stupid Order meeting, that he was expected to help them all plan and defend against those who just a few months ago had been all Draco knew. But he’d made a decision and for now he was going to stick with it.

He heard pounding at the front door and knew they had all started to arrive. He sat on his bed for a few moments to collect himself before strengthening his resolve and heading downstairs.

(BREAK)

After a quick tour of the house, Harry and Hagrid made their way to the second floor where indeed the door to the guestroom now simply read, Rubeus Hagrid. The ceiling had risen a considerable few feet to accommodate it’s tall occupant, and every bit of furniture was oversized, including the large dog bed tucked away in the corner for Fang. The color and mood of the room made Harry feel he was back in Hagid’s cottage at Hogwarts and he liked the familiarity of it. "So, I guess this is where you’ll be staying." Harry stared hard at his friend, who looked more than a little lost. "Are you sure about this Hagrid?"

"About wha’?"

Harry paused. He certainly didn’t want to be told how to live his life and didn’t want others to feel he was trying to run theirs. But he also felt Hogwarts was Hagrid’s home and it wouldn’t be the same without him. Not that he would be going back to find out…. "About leaving the school? About leaving your job?" Harry finally went on. He wouldn’t tell Hagrid what to do one way or another, but he had to be sure that whatever the giant decided would be best for himself.

"Professor Dumbledore already said tha’ my position would be waitin’ fer me." Hagrid said, beginning to unpack his rather large luggage. "Besides, it’s no’ like it was there, no’ anymore. And you jus’ never know who ter trust anymore. ‘Cept you o’ course, Harry. I trust you and you said it would be better to fight than hole up, Albus told me so. I happen ter agree." He turned to Harry, who had never thought that others would follow him away from the school. "So when’s the Order meeting? I wan’ fer a bit o’ freshening up."

He left Hagrid to himself for a few moments, wanting a bit of time alone as well. He felt guilty that his actions may have brought about this consequence. Hagrid had searched for and found a place where he belonged, and that place was Hogwarts. Finally feeling at home himself, Harry understood how hard it was to find a place where he could be comfortable and only hoped his giant friend hadn’t made a huge mistake.

The doorbell sounded and he ran down to see that Tonks and Lupin had beaten him to the door as Kingsley and Mad-eye walked in. "I didn’t expect to see you two here." Mad-eye said in surprise.

"Yeah, well priorities and all that. So much for a real honeymoon." Tonks sighed as she led the way into the parlor where Harry saw that most of the teens had already gathered. Hermione, Ron, and Fred instantly set their sights on the three Aurors, and began a conversation to try and elicit information while Luna remained where she was, sitting away from everyone and staring off into space. Only Ginny and Draco were nowhere to be seen but Harry wasn’t surprised by this. Ginny had been completely off the map lately and part of that was his fault. Therefore he hadn’t done much to try and fix the situation, fearing he’d only make whatever was wrong with her worse. With Draco on the other hand, the problem was far clearer. Yet Harry once more decided to let things be, worrying any attention he gave his former enemy would only make the other boy more uncomfortable.

The doorbell knocked him out his musings and he went to let in a pair of Order members he recognized but whose names he didn’t know. He led them into the parlor as Mad-eye was telling the teens to mind their own business and they would all get told what they needed to know, when they needed to know it. Though the Auror’s voice was gruff, Harry detected an amused smile at the corners of his mouth. Just as Ron opened his mouth to protest, a flash of light exploded from the fireplace and Molly Weasley stepped out. In her rush to grab all the children in sight and crush them against her motherly body in a tight hug, no one immediately noticed Bill and Charlie step out behind her.

"Come on, Mom, it hasn’t been that long." Fred was complaining as she pulled him down to place another kiss on his cheek.

"Just grin and bear it, little brother." Bill advised.

Harry was happy to see Molly looking and acting more like herself, despite the obvious tiredness resting on her. "Where’s Ginny?" She asked once she gathered herself a little from the reunion.

"Beats me." Ron shrugged, a note of irritation in his voice. Something about his sister was bothering him and Harry figured it had to do with whatever his friend believed Luna was keeping secret.

"Hey Gin!" Charlie called up the stairs for her.

She ran down at the sound of her brother’s voice, her face betraying the excitement she felt at seeing Charlie and Bill. She threw herself in their arms. "What are you guys doing here?"

"We came to help the Order." Bill answered as he ruffled her hair. "And to see our favorite sister of course."

"Oh. Of course." Ginny’s face fell as Molly came forward to wrap her arms around her daughter.

"How long are we staying here?" She asked as soon as she was able to pry herself away from the hug.

It’s already been too long. He heard Hermione’s thought before she realized her anger had lowered her shield. He sighed, wondering if they would ever all be normal again.

For the next hour, more order members continued to arrive, including Professor McGonagall and a few other Hogwarts teachers. Harry felt that as the host, he ought to do something about feeding all of these people. It was well past lunch already and he and his friends at least were hungry. He meandered into the kitchen, realizing this had been Molly’s domain and he had no idea where anything was or even how to begin.

"Need some help?" Hermione asked smugly. He hadn’t heard her follow him, but there she was, with Luna in tow.

"I’ve never cooked here." He admitted, thinking back to his only cooking experiences, when he had been living with the Dursleys. Of course he had nothing to fear, in this house, should his food be less than satisfactory. It was his house, and if they didn’t like what he made they could go eat elsewhere. However with the girls’ help, he managed to come up with not only food that looked delicious but enough to feed all the current occupants of the house. Everyone gathered as McGonagall transfigured the table to grow large enough to seat everyone. Even Draco came down to join in the meal.

Lunch was a chatty affair among most, broken only by the arrival of Dumbledore, Arthur and Snape. Harry looked at Draco, and was satisfied to see the shock on his face. Apparently, Snape was a very good spy. Then he realized he was feeling proud of a man he hated and snapped back to reality. They all went into the War Room, with Molly complaining the whole time that the children should be kept out. "I may not get to have a say about Harry, and maybe not even Fred anymore, but Ron and Ginny are still young. And what of the others, Arthur? Do you really think the Grangers or Mr. Lovegood want their children involved?"

"Let it rest, Molly. They are here, they are able to question and old enough to get some answers." Arthur responded as he took a seat next to Dumbledore. Harry automatically took the seat next to Mr. Weasley.

"Besides, my dad won’t care. In fact, I won’t even tell him if you want." Luna offered.

"My parents wouldn’t want me here, but oh well." Draco said quietly as he seated himself next to Snape. Harry felt a twinge of pity, but let it quickly pass. Hermione remained silent, knowing just how much her parents would object had they known. It went without saying that she wouldn’t be telling them.

"Well, shall we start?" Dumbledore asked as everyone found a place to sit or lean. The room was silent. "By now we are all aware of the attack on Thorn Creek."

"The Dementors have been out of Ministry control for a year. Why attack now?" Kingsley asked.

"Because they could." Mad-eye said simply before taking a swig from his flask.

"But why not when we were all fighting at Hogsmeade?" Kingsley pursued.

"We don’t know." Arthur answered honestly. "But we intend to find out."

"How?" Harry asked eagerly.

Dumbledore nodded to Snape, who rose before the assembly. "There is an emergency Death Eater meeting later tonight." Snape began. "Word is, the Dark Lord himself will be there, and I hope to discover something more about what he plans with the Dementors. Meanwhile I have been given a task." He paused to look from Draco to Harry. "I am to discover where Albus is hiding Draco Malfoy, who is being considered a traitor."

"And what do you plan to tell them?" Fred asked defensively, before Harry could.

"That Albus is hiding him up north." Snape replied, anger in his voice as he was forced to respond, not only to a student, but a Weasley.

"And what happens in the meantime?" Tonks inquired.

"From here," Arthur began, "some of you will be going to Thorn Creek to assist in the clean up and help aid the injured, of which there are still many."

"My brother’s family lives there, luckily they were on vacation all this week." Someone said from the back of the room. Others began murmuring of those they knew in the village and what had become of them.

Dumbledore cleared his throat. "This will be our base of operations, with Harry’s permission of course. We will meet here again tomorrow, once Severus has gone to see Voldemort. After his report, we hope to have more to go on. Meanwhile, we will all keep our ears open, and we will all move in secrecy and safety. Everyone must be with someone else when not in this house. No one here is to move outside alone, with the exception of Severus who must do just that."

"That’s right." Arthur added. "We won’t make anything easy for them." He paused to look meaningfully at the teens. "In other news, we have received word that another attack may be evident, this time in the town of Lairmore. It is another wizard town, with no muggles living in the near vicinity."

"So they are only targeting our kind?" Lupin asked. "That doesn’t seem right, considering it’s the muggles they hate so much."

"For now, that’s what they’re doing, sweetheart." Tonks said. "But how long until they make an attack on, say…London? Or until they move on to Whales?" She looked to Dumbledore.

"We are unsure of their movements. These orders to the dementors appear to be given directly by Voldemort, without word to the other Death Eaters." He told her.

Snape took up the response. "That is correct. There has been no word, as far as I know, to anyone else about the attack before it happened. I am hoping that now that it has happened, he intends to share his goal with us."

"Excuse me?" Hermione raised her hand, bringing smiles to the faces of many of the adults.

"You don’t have to raise your hand, Ms. Granger." McGonagall informed her with a smile so slight it may not have been there at all.

"Ok." Hermione brought her hand down and sat forward on her seat. "I was just wondering about the point Professor Lupin brought up. Why wizarding villages? Why not the muggles and….half muggles? They hate us so much more. Isn’t it important to note that he appears to be taking out his own kind?"

"Hitler did much the same thing in the muggle world." Luna said in a detached way, while the others familiar with muggle history were left to ponder her analogy. Suddenly, her eyes became more focused and she continued her thought. "And no one can really explain him, right? Other than self-loathing or whatever. I mean he wanted this Aryan race when he himself was all dark, right? I don’t really know much about it, and maybe he intended to change his hair color or something. But, my point is, maybe Voldemort wants the perfect wizard race and decided to start by getting rid of the unwanted wizards, the ones who oppose him. Plus it would be easier to get the muggles with fewer wizards to defend them, not to mention the fear he’s creating so that we would be less willing to go against him in the first place." She finished her thought and settled back into her own mind. Until then, Harry hadn’t even been sure she was paying attention, now he was amazed.

"You may have something there, Luna." Dumbledore said with bemusement and pride, though Harry had a strong feeling the older, wiser wizard had already come to much the same conclusion.

The meeting broke up shortly thereafter and most of the adults left to carry out the tasks assigned to them. Dumbledore had departed without a word to Harry, which he liked just fine. He wasn’t in the mood for life lessons and lectures anyway. He was too upset that nothing more could be known until the next day, after spies and information gatherers had been given time to work. Of course, his bad mood was probably intensified by the fact that Hermione would be leaving after dinner. Her parents had insisted she be home that evening, and remain there with them for most of the summer. But she had assured him that she would convince them otherwise.

They were in her room and really had meant to begin looking for information about the coven in her books. But the thought of so much time apart had instead driven them into each other’s arms and they made love as if it were the last time they would ever lay eyes, or hands, on each other. After their passions were quelled, they lingered in bed and enjoyed the intimacy of their nudity as he remembered her every curve, caress, and loving stare. He toyed with the engagement ring, dangling so delicately from her soft, smooth neck. "I wish you were going to be here tomorrow."

"You’ll just have to tell me everything I miss." She said sadly.

Although they had intended to call his parents that evening, the need to be alone with each other in the short time they had left dispelled that plan. Lily and James would just have to meet Hermione some other time. Now he wondered aloud when they would get the chance, trying to play off her sympathy.

She, of course, saw through him. "I already told you, I will be back as soon as I can. I’m sure my parents will be tired of me much more quickly than they think."

"I couldn’t imagine that." Harry replied, kissing her deeply to show he would never grow tired of her.

I could. He heard her sad thought. He pulled her close, wishing he could keep her there, that she would never have to be sent somewhere she didn’t want to be. His own experience had taught him how emotionally draining that could be.

After while, they regretfully rose from her warm bed and regained their clothing. Tonks and Lupin would be looking for Hermione soon as they were to be part of the escort to take both her and Luna home to their parents. After, Harry knew they were going on to their new home together and he couldn’t be more thrilled for the newlyweds. The last week of school had kept them separate after the wedding and now they were finally getting the chance to go home and be a married couple. But when the time finally came for them all to leave, Harry felt panic rise in his chest. He wasn’t sure he could make it in this crazy house without Hermione.

They all gathered in the parlor to say goodbye. Ron and Luna didn’t even attempt to talk to each other, barely looking in the other’s direction. Once Ron had said his goodbye to Hermione and left the room, Harry invited Luna to come stay anytime she wanted. He didn’t know what had compelled him to make the invitation, but a small part of him knew that her absence was also going to be hard on him. They’d grown so close and yet, there was so much about her he still didn’t know but wanted to understand. He knew they shared these special abilities and she was the one person he was able to talk to about all of it and that alone was reason enough for him to miss her. What’s more, she could very well be one of the coven members his mother had told him to look for. He very much hoped she’d come back to visit soon and made a mental note to talk with her about oh so many things when the opportunity presented itself.

Then they were gone, and he felt the house grow cold and empty, even with all the bodies still filling it up. But soon the Weasleys would be leaving as well, heading home to the Burrow and leaving him here in his house like he’d wanted. Suddenly he wasn’t so sure he wanted it anymore. Molly assured him they would be back soon and as if she were the one able to read his mind, she reminded him that he didn’t have to stay there, that he could come home with her. It broke his heart quite a bit to deny her anything, but he steeled himself and politely declined, listing his two guests, Draco and Hagrid, as his excuse. In truth he knew he needed to prove to himself that he really was capable of being on his own, of being in charge of his own life. He knew Molly loved him, but he also felt that by inviting him- as well as Draco and Hagrid- she was just trying to keep her house full so that perhaps George’s absence would be felt less.

Harry had discussed with Ron and Fred whether or not to tell Arthur and Molly about the ring. They had decided it would be best to hold off until they could assess their parents’ state of mind and until after the brothers discussed it with Ginny and more importantly, George himself. Although he volunteered to use the ring and ask while they were gone, Fred had insisted they wait until he could be the one to call his brother. Reading the hungry look in his eyes and recognizing the feeling in himself, Harry had agreed to hold off until Fred could return. Part of him wanted to send the ring home with them, to ensure they had the continued link to their brother. But his own selfishness won out- he couldn’t give up his own link to the ones he’d lost.

The time came and the enormous heap of luggage was stacked in the fireplace and sent off. Ginny stepped in next and without a glance back, disappeared as she demanded to be taken home. Harry and Ron parted amicably, almost like old friends, while Fred told him he’d see him soon, emphasizing the statement with a wink as they too disappeared. Harry felt a shiver down his back, wondering what the mischievous Weasley twin had planned. Bill and Charlie assured him they would be back the next morning for the meeting before heading into the fireplace.

Arthur placed a hand on Harry’s shoulder before wrapping him in a tight, brief hug. But Molly nearly suffocated him in her sorrowful goodbye all the while reminding him that he could come to the Burrow anytime. Arthur gently disentangled Harry from his wife. "We love you Harry." Molly cried as they stepped into the fireplace.

"I love you too." He said without hesitation. It was as easy as when he’d said it to his own parents.

"We’re so proud of you. Take care!" she said quickly before they disappeared, at last on their way home with their children.

Harry’s gut wrenched at her words. He hadn’t mentioned his decision to drop out of school to the elder Weasleys and after Molly’s declaration, he hoped he wouldn’t be around when the news was broken. He felt, for the first time since uttering his choice out loud, like he was letting someone down and he didn’t like the guilt oozing from his pores after she’d told him was proud of him.

Harry was left in the parlor alone. The portrait of Sirius and himself was staring down at him, mocking him with possibilities of what could have been. Deciding he needed to make a call to the other side and talk to the man himself, he ran up to his room to get the ring.





To be continued in Harry Potter and the Coven of Warriors……..coming soon!





A/N: So that’s it for this story, hoped you liked the journey we took together, and that you will continue to follow along in the upcoming story. As promised, here is the full summary of….

Harry Potter and The Coven of Warriors:
Harry discovers his ancestors’ activity within something called the Coven of Warriors, an ancient group of witches and wizards who also had extraordinary powers of their own. They had banded together to defeat their ancient foe, and Harry feels the current generation may be able to do the same with Voldemort. Meanwhile, his decision to drop out of Hogwarts is met with resistance by most everyone in his life. He is faced with a choice: return to school and finish his education or search for the 11 people who may be able to help him defeat Voldemort once and for all. For Harry the decision is easy but it is tearing the rest of the people in his life, living and dead, apart. Everything Harry does now is leading him to that final battle, but may be tearing him away from those he loves; relationships will be tested as truths and secrets are revealed, forcing everyone to face each other and themselves. Can any compromise be reached? Will Harry succeed in his quest to find and renew the Coven of Warriors and be able to complete his education? Will everyone come together or completely fall apart?
0 comments
:: Comments have been disabled on this story ::