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Chapter 22: Chapter 22: The Truth Always Comes Back
A/N: If it’s been awhile since you read the last chapter, I recommend to read the last few paragraphs to reacquaint yourself, because this chapter literally starts at the end of that final conversation.
Chapter 22: The Truth Always Comes Back
“What, reminded him of the night his parents were killed?” Luna asked with her uncomfortable knack for stating the bald truth. Ginny noticed that she was no longer staring at the corner but gazing most sincerely at Ginny. Luna grabbed her hand and Ginny squeezed it in appreciation, giving her a sad smile.
“I don’t think that was it,” Hermione said seriously. “I was with him when we visited his parents’ graves and he was, well, if not okay with it, he dealt with it rather well. He was upset naturally, seeing them for the first time, but he didn’t freak out like that.”
“Hermione, you were with him during this vision, were you not?” Ginny asked desperately.
“I think so. I could only guess what he was seeing,” Hermione said uncomfortably. “I was afraid he’d lost his mind or else gone so deeply into Voldemort’s that he could never come back. They were so close, and then you know we had the locket with us and Nagini was there too. I haven’t said so to Harry; but as I’ve thought about it, I realize that the locket may have stuck to his chest because there were so many…pieces in that room all at once. It might not have just been because she was practically choking him.”
“I never considered that. It does make sense, doesn’t it?” Ginny said thoughtfully, counting the number of Voldemort’s soul pieces present at the time mentally. She understood that Hermione had worded things carefully to avoid saying either horcruxes or soul. “Wow! It’s hard to imagine the last time those four fragments were united, isn’t it?”
“So what else happened, that might have upset him like that?” Luna asked. She and Neville had been included in the small number of people who now knew of the Horcrux Hunt that had dragged Harry, Ron and Hermione across the country.
Ginny shook her head and looked over to find Hermione doing the same. “He never told me,” they both said simultaneously.
“I thought he would have at least told you,” they said in unison again.
“Surely he needed to talk about it afterwards,” Ginny said.
Hermione replied, “If he needed to, he didn’t. I knew better than to push it with him and we were both just so depressed at the time. I couldn’t bear to force him to tell me. While he was out, all I could do was get him into one of the bunks and try to make him comfortable. I could kind of figure out what he was seeing though since he was shouting curses and things. I knew enough about the sequence of events because of what the Dementors did to him to know that it was his parents’ death he was probably witnessing. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t rouse him. I was really worried too, because Nagini had bit him and I knew that her fangs were poisonous.”
“What did you do about the venom?” Luna asked curiously.
Grimly, Hermione said, “All I could do was put some dittany on it. I didn’t dare take him to St. Mungo’s even though I knew they had an antidote for her because of Arthur. I don’t know if the dittany worked or not. I rather think that because Harry was related to her, in a way, that she wasn’t poisonous to him. As far as I’m aware, Voldemort was fed with her milk while Wormtail was taking care of him just before he got his body back. I would have to assume that Nagini’s venom would be no more poisonous than her milk, at least to Voldemort and Harry, although I can’t be certain. After Harry came to though, he seemed so uncomfortable with the thought of what he’d done while he was out of it, that I didn’t press the issue.”
“I think he said something about that. He told me that he was afraid that he’d either been cursing or else crying like the infant he’d been at the time,” Ginny said, remembering his red face as he’d told her that. “He didn’t explain the vision, and I didn’t press the matter either. Perhaps I should have, at least in private, but I assumed that in time he would tell me when he was ready to share it. I didn’t want to force him into reliving it for me, although I suppose that’s what I just did and in front of a whole load of people at that.”
“Once he’d gone back into his own body, he kept shouting about how he’d dropped the picture of…of…well, Dumbledore’s friend,” Hermione whispered, clearly not wanting to say Grindelwald’s name in present company, especially after Harry had just done so. Ginny was grateful for the slight change in subject. “I think I managed to distract him from his vision when I explained about his wand, but he never did tell me what he saw.”
“I thought he shared all of those things with you and Ron,” Ginny said. She’d always been so jealous of Ron and Hermione, who seemed to be able to get information from Harry without even trying.
“I always scolded him so much every time that he let himself into Voldemort’s mind that he usually tried to keep it from me,” Hermione said dismissively. It was obvious to Ginny that Hermione now regretted this, but accepted it as an unfortunate fact. “Even so, I don’t think he would have shared this with me or Ron, especially if he didn’t share it with you, Ginny.”
“The strange thing is that at this point, I realize that it’s unlikely that either Harry or Voldemort could have broken the connection right then. Voldemort may have been the greatest Legilmens in the world and quite good at Occlumency, but I don’t know if those rules would have applied in this case. They were both lost in a memory that had cost each of them everything. I doubt they could have disconnected before they did. It was just too powerful for both of them,” Hermione said; working it out as she spoke, based on her facial expressions.
The three fell silent as they all considered Hermione’s words. Ginny couldn’t help but be awed by the notion of something being so powerful that neither Harry nor Voldemort could control it. She became aware that Harry still hadn’t returned and felt suddenly apprehensive. Her eyes swept the room until they fell on McGonagall, a man from the original Order whose name she couldn’t remember, Hestia and Dedalus. Their eyes seemed to be fixed on her, Hermione and Luna.
“Dedalus, would you mind coming with me to check on Harry?” she asked gently, as she began to try to stand. Hermione’s hand stayed her, however.
“If he’s been gone this long, I would assume that he’s in the Atrium, at home or at Hogwarts,” Hermione advised, her voice heavy with implication.
“Are you sure? I could check the men’s room for you just in case, Ginny,” Dedalus offered.
Ginny knew the truth of Hermione’s statement the moment she heard it and no longer tried to stand, indicating to Dedalus that they shouldn’t chase after Harry.
* * *
Meanwhile, Harry ran the length of the corridor after his exodus from the office, waiting for what seemed forever for a lift. He felt his knees nearly buckle as it began to move. How could he have been so stupid? It was the only thought that passed through his mind. He blindly staggered into the Atrium, no longer aware of anything around him but for the rampant beat of his own heart. He fairly ran to Dumbledore’s portrait only to find an empty canvas. Harry beat upon it with his rage. “Albus, where are you?!!” he shouted, not caring who could hear him.
“Albus, come back!” he shrieked. He began to plead, “Please, I need you; I need you right now. Professor Dumbledore!”
His mentor did not appear and Harry felt more abandoned than he had in months. In desperation he closed his eyes and thought of home.
Harry began to spin on the spot to turn into the darkness and yet a voice called out to him; a very familiar voice; a welcome voice; one he knew. “Harry! Harry, wait!”
His pirouette stopped abruptly and he toppled over. So much for his seeker reflexes, he thought briefly. For a moment he didn’t even move. He simply stared at Albus. Harry didn’t bother to pick himself up but just slouched the few inches towards the painting, whose occupant he needed the most. Dumbledore had knelt down to be on a closer level with Harry, looking into his eyes with what Harry had always likened to as x-ray vision.
“Let’s go home,” Albus suggested.
“No, Harry, a place where we can be truly private, without the interference of others.”
“I…I probably shouldn’t leave, sir,” Harry explained, realizing belatedly that Dumbledore was referring to his own home at Grimmauld Place. “I have a job to do here and I can’t just leave.”
Harry watched as Albus looked around the room and said, “I think that at least your boss will understand; and if not him, his boss.”
At the obvious wisdom of these words Harry began to pick himself up off of the floor. “Do you want to race?” Albus asked lightly.
Harry smiled slightly as he ran to a fireplace to get to his own library, throwing Floo Powder with more vigor than he might ordinarily.
He entered the library to find Albus already in his portrait, but without the twinkle in his eyes that Harry was so accustomed to. Instead he looked as old as Harry had ever seen him.
Harry couldn’t help but roll his eyes and said, “Obviously you won.”
“The Floo Network just isn’t what it was in my day,” Dumbledore said in the same light tone, although his visage didn’t change. “I hope you aren’t angry with me for suggesting this venue. I just didn’t think it prudent to discuss whatever you wish to discuss in the middle of the Ministry.”
“And yet, the Ministry isn’t quite what it was before, so that does change things a bit,” Harry said, without any real conviction. Albus was right to suggest the change of scenery.
“Indeed, I would never have imagined Kingsley as Minister, but I must say that it suits him well. I was a bit skeptical about him to begin with, but Arthur had been very friendly with him and before I knew it, I had most of the Order clamoring to try to get him on our side. It really wasn’t all that difficult, to be honest,” Albus mused, apparently lost in his memories. “He’d been very frustrated with the way they were treating what had happened.”
Albus stopped there for a moment and looked at Harry, who had decided to let his friend continue rather than bring up his own problem. “Everything that had happened during the Tri-Wizard Tournament was almost immediately entrusted to the Auror Department. But Kingsley was one of the few that didn’t buy into it all; he kept asking Arthur for information that he wasn’t truthfully allowed to know, not being in the Order at the time.”
“He’s done a very good job so far, I believe,” Harry said, slightly distracted now.
“Yes, he was one of our greatest assets. Between him and Nymphadora we knew pretty much everything that was going on in the Auror Department and how they might react to things.”
“But I’m quite certain it isn’t Kingsley that has you upset at this point,” Albus said, bluntly.
Harry looked up at the man that he would always consider as the Headmaster of Hogwarts and realized that he was the only person that he could explain this to and make any sense. He looked away now as he gave Dumbledore every detail that he remembered of what he saw, knowing that each one was absolutely true and the last one piercing him as though it went straight through his heart. Then, Harry slowly said, “I should have known. I saw it; he made me see it; the moment when his soul entered my…my…body.”
Harry shuddered, remembering the connection between him and Voldemort. Although this was the one person he could share his shame with, he still could not meet Albus’s eyes and looked at the side wall instead. His gaze landed on the collection of supposed biographies of him, Ron, Hermione, and even Ginny, Neville and Luna. Knowing what it had cost all of them nearly made him lose his composure once again.
“I want to be sick,” Harry said vaguely. He knew that his stomach would probably hold its contents but he suddenly felt as though it might not. He forced the bile back down once again. “If I had known, things would have been so much different.”
Harry no longer felt as though he would be sick, but he knew that he couldn’t hold his emotions in check much longer either. He knew that he was so close to tears that he wouldn’t be able to stop them. Was it ironic that he had been through so much only to have failed so miserably?
“I could have handed myself over so much sooner! I would have known that I had to die. I could have killed myself or even better; let Ron or Hermione kill me,” Harry thought aloud.
Harry could see Albus’s face turn white, even in his portrait. “You would never have forced your best friends to take on such a fate. And if that had happened, Harry, we would be discussing this in a far different place,” Albus said seriously.
“Maybe we should be,” Harry mumbled, no more comforted now than he had been upon his discovery. He didn’t know if he could ever look Ginny, the love of his life, in the eyes again without feeling total shame at his ineptitude.
He thought that he’d become well acclimated to his situation and how things had worked out. He had known that his regret for those who had been lost and those who had been left behind would never truly leave him, but this new knowledge seemed to dislodge any sense of peace, any sense of acceptance. He’d learned what it meant to feel despair over the years as he lost more and more people that he cared about, but now it seemed to be a chasm; a deep abyss into which he was falling with no hope of recovery.
Perhaps he should be dead. It was meant to happen. He didn’t think he could live with himself any longer. Harry gripped his wand tightly, aiming it at his own temple, closing his eyes.
A very frightened, yet quiet, voice broke Harry’s concentration. “Harry, don’t do anything impetuous. Think about Ginny. Think about how she would feel if you left her.”
Harry dared to open his eyes although he didn’t lower his wand. What could Albus have to say about Ginny that would make a difference? Wasn’t Harry fully responsible for Fred’s death? He could have died himself so much earlier so as to have prevented any more deaths. He was the cause of her pain. He saw it so often, as she looked at George or if she found a joke particularly amusing and seemed to think that Fred ought to have been there enjoying it as well. How could he aid in raising Teddy, knowing all the while that he had caused his parents’ deaths as surely as if he’d used the killing curse on them? The child would naturally be horrified by his godfather’s actions if he only knew.
“I know how angry Ginny was when you pretended to be dead, so how do you think she’d feel if you really died, Harry,” Albus said plainly, trying to pull Harry out of his own thoughts.
Harry stopped for a moment and remembered her fury at him. He grimaced and said, “She’d be pretty mad.”
“And dying now wouldn’t change anything that’s happened.”
Albus was right; it would make no difference now, except that he wouldn’t have to deal with the consequences of his actions, or in this case inaction. Harry felt his arm lower until it fell into his lap, the wand now pointed at the carpet.
He opened his eyes looked back up at the portrait over the hearth from the vantage point of his desk and gave Albus his attention.
Albus held his hands out in supplication and said, “So let’s play this game of ‘what if’ of yours.”
“Let’s say that you were the one to understand what had happened at that moment,” he continued. He didn’t wait for a response, quite out of character for him. But Dumbledore seemed to want this discussion to be over as quickly as possible. “You would have likely continued hunting Voldemort, guessing that, like Nagini, you would have to be the last to go. I’m assuming that you now understand why I did not tell you that you must give your life in order for Voldemort to be killed?”
Harry nodded his head and vaguely said, “I probably wouldn’t have been able to do it. Much of my inspiration was the idea of living with Voldemort gone. If I’d known for certain that I would die I might have given up.”
“Yes, yes,” Albus said encouragingly. “Now, I can assume you would have allowed the connection between you and Voldemort to continue until he had given you all of the information that you needed.”
Harry thought back to when he had figured out where the diadem was. It was after the battle had begun, after the first ultimatum that Voldemort had given them.
Many still would have died, including those he’d been close to, he realized. He would have held onto Voldemort until the very last second just as he had originally.
“Or you would have panicked when he gave you the time limit,” Albus said, seeming to read his mind, breaking Harry out of his thoughts. “You might have killed yourself or else forced Ron or Hermione to kill you just as you suggested earlier.”
Harry didn’t see a particular problem with this and said, “But I would have lived anyway if Voldemort was still alive.”
He could see Albus give Harry a very stern look; a look Harry was rather unaccustomed to seeing directed at him from this man.
“Harry, you’re not thinking clearly. You know exactly what I said to Severus about how you had to sacrifice yourself.”
“It had to be by Voldemort’s hand; it was essential,” Harry recalled.
“Yes, if you’d been killed by anyone besides Voldemort you would have died just as any other person. It was only by his hand that you were protected. Now, on the rare occasion when you shared Voldemort’s spirit you always fought it; so if you had killed yourself, I believe you would have truly died. You would have been sacrificing yourself, yes. But if you killed yourself it would have been your own hand, not his. You would have slain yourself with your own soul and not with Voldemort’s piece of soul inside you in any way active. In that case I would have to assume that your choice would have been the usual; either ghost or death.”
Anger flared in Harry’s chest and he rose from his seat in a fury. “What would it matter?!! What would it matter if it saved all of those lives? How does my life mean more than the others? You sacrificed how many people just to keep me alive!” Harry shouted in accusation. He refused to look away from Albus’s calm visage and willed him to look at least guilty. This was the way Albus had acted after Sirius had been killed and it infuriated Harry just as much now as it had then. He grabbed a small trinket that was on the desk and threw it across the room, with all his might, where it smashed through the long window on the other side.
“I hate my life! I hate being the one to have to fix everything! I hate everyone thanking me because every time they do I just feel worse! I want to just shout at all of them and tell them they’re wrong!” Harry continued to scream, pulling at his hair and nearly running as he paced the length of the library as quickly as his legs would carry him.
“How could the lives of fifty-five good people mean less than my one life?” Harry asked, pleading with his old mentor. He didn’t want to deal with any of this anymore.
“I never said that it did, nor will you ever hear me say it,” Albus replied.
“You did though! You said that your blood wasn’t as important as mine.”
“Indeed, I did, when we were trying to retrieve the locket. Not only is a young person’s blood always more important than that of someone who has already lived a long life, but yours in particular has been valuable due to your mother’s sacrifice. Her love lives in your veins and more importantly in your heart. It always shall,” said Albus. Harry felt his anger deflate as he sank back behind the desk once more.
“I have come to understand that it was McGonagall, Kingsley and Slughorn dueling Voldemort before you intervened,” Albus continued. With Harry’s nod he said, “And yet they couldn’t kill him and he couldn’t kill them.”
Albus paused for a moment and asked, “When you went to your death, what did you expect to happen afterwards?”
The question caught Harry off-guard for a moment as he considered it. “Well, I assumed Ron or Hermione would take care of it all,” he said, remembering his thoughts as he walked to his death.
“Could they have done it?” Albus asked. “Minerva, Kingsley and Horace are all very powerful as well as skilled and could probably kill someone if they truly wished to. It would be safe to say that they were dueling Voldemort with the intent to kill him. But they were unsuccessful. Think about why that might be.”
Harry thought about why he had decided to return to the world of the living and remembered the notion that Voldemort would be vanquished permanently from these people’s lives. He’d believed since then that he was returning for Ginny, but as he thought about it he wondered if it was more than that. He looked at the portrait of Albus Dumbledore and then remembered how he had seen him at King’s Cross as well as his parting words. He’d told Ron the other day that he’d returned to save every life, not just those that he felt personally attached to, and realized that he hadn’t actually believed his own words. As far as he was concerned, he’d been wholly selfish in all of his actions. But if the prophecy was to be taken seriously, and he supposed it must, then it was Harry who needed to slay Voldemort. At that point Harry was the only one alive who didn’t have an intense fear of Voldemort as the others did. He thought this might be the reason that it had to be him and no other. He then remembered the notion of Voldemort being truly defeated just before he made his decision to live. Perhaps he hadn’t been quite as selfish as he’d thought.
Albus seemed to realize that Harry’s thoughts had run their course and said, “So let’s see what would have happened if Voldemort had figured it out.”
Harry looked up and it became immediately apparent to him that not only hadn’t he noticed this event, but that Voldemort hadn’t either. Harry stood and walked around the library as he considered it. “I would have to assume that he would have stopped trying to kill me. After all, he would have known that he’d be killing a part of himself.”
“Indeed, which would have made your survival all the more difficult,” Albus said. “He might have tried harder to get you to join him…”
Harry shook his head and added, “I doubt it; I think he knew that he could never get me to join his ranks and he would never have trusted me. I’d have to say his next course of action would have been to try to imprison me so that he could keep his horcrux safe from harm.”
“And what do you think would be the result of such an action? How would your friends have reacted?”
Realization set in and Harry whispered, dejectedly, “They would have moved heaven and earth to get to me.”
“Indeed, and many more would likely have been killed in the process. Despite the fact that many died in the Battle of Hogwarts, because they had what little protection remained of the castle and the awesome power of the professors that worked there, there were probably many fewer casualties than there might have been in a different location.”
They sat in silence for a few moments before Albus spoke again. “For the most part, you behaved and acted exactly as I would have wished you to. Even if lives might have been saved by your earlier realization of the fact that you acted as a horcrux for Voldemort, I don’t think that you should feel bad for not recognizing that moment for what it was. While I have a great deal of respect for your intellect and your abilities at deduction, Voldemort was quite a bit smarter and certainly more experienced, especially in the area of horcruxes. If he didn’t figure it out, you shouldn’t feel bad that you didn’t either. In the end, it is my opinion that everything worked out as well as it possibly could have.”
Harry felt a weight lift off of his chest as these words sank in and he slumped into his chair in exhaustion. He wiped angrily at the tears that he hadn’t even realized had fallen during their discussion.
He looked at his friend, said, “Thank you,” and threw some powder into the flames that would take him back to the Ministry of Magic.
Harry paused a moment after removing the protective spells from the door before reluctantly pulling it open. He hadn’t remembered putting the spells up, but realized that Hermione must have taken care of it in his absence. Luckily she hadn’t used any new ones or else he would have felt even more foolish, having to knock. He tried to empty his mind of all emotion as Snape had long ago taught him. He hoped that it would prevent him from appearing shame-faced as he was wont to do at the moment.
Upon crossing the threshold he was nearly knocked back through it by the force of a large quantity of bright red hair. She whispered into his chest, “I’m so sorry, Harry. I should never have done something so horrible to you!”
“It’s okay, Gin,” he said gruffly, putting his arms around her. “It’s not your fault.”
She shook her head but raised her eyes to meet his. He kissed her on the mouth lingeringly. “You know I love you, right?”
“Of course; I love you too, Harry,” she said with an air of confusion.
“Thank you,” he said, looking into those deep brown eyes that he could easily lose himself within.
“For what?” she asked.
“Thank you for being you; for being the wonderful person that you are. Thank you for loving me so much and thank you for making my life something worthwhile. I only wish I deserved such a wonderful witch like you,” he said softly, kissing her again. He neither cared that there was an audience nor that it included his former professor as well as a good number of his new coworkers. He just allowed himself to be lost in her warm embrace. When he pulled back from her he was happy to see that he had left her completely bemused. He led her back to their seats and watched as Hermione moved over to give him room. She placed a light hand on his sleeve and he nodded to let her know that everything would be okay.
Harry looked up to find that Albus Dumbledore now sat in the painting that had previously been a blank canvas. “What are you doing here?” Harry asked exasperatedly. “Do you feel the need to guard me now?”
“Forgive me, Harry. At least your so-called guard is visible this time,” Albus said; the twinkle in his eye present once more. Harry lifted his eyes to the ceiling in silent supplication for patience and wondered if Albus was referring to the Order following him around or Albus himself tailing him while Harry was in school. He knew that Albus had kept a very close eye on all of Harry’s actions as he grew up, occasionally resorting to following him and his friends while invisible. Albus continued, “Indulge an old man?”
Harry sighed, knowing that he couldn’t truthfully refuse his mentor, and replied, “I’m just worried you’ll be a bit of a distraction.”
“I won’t say a word, Harry, unless you ask me to. In all reality, though, you have long since passed the point where you need my advice for your decision-making. Indeed, you have made decisions that I probably would have disagreed with and yet were ultimately for the best of the Wizarding World. Perhaps you shouldn’t ask for my advice after all,” Albus said, smiling widely. Harry guessed that this was a reference to Harry allowing the connection with Voldemort to continue so that he could use the information to his advantage. It was heartening to know that Dumbledore supported the decisions he’d made.
Harry gave a grunt of laughter and smiled back. He looked at Hermione then and said, “So I’m sorry to say that I can’t be absolutely certain of Voldemort’s first stop. I would guess it was Albania though. It’s the only thing that makes any sense.”
She seemed to gulp as she asked, “When exactly did you break away from him?”
“It was shortly after he found the picture that I dropped in Bathilda’s bedroom. I can describe those last few moments if you like,” Harry said. Hermione gave a small jerk of the head in assent, but her eyes indicated that she was afraid of the answer. Harry let himself become immersed in that portion of the vision and said, “The pain was so intense, although from what I can’t be sure. All he could think was that he needed to get away from it, to get as far away from the boy as he could. He was…he was screaming and I was terrified of being caught there with him.”
Harry pulled himself back together and looked at his friend, whose face had gone white. “Harry, you were the boy not Voldemort!” she growled.
“Well, obviously,” Harry said, knowing full well that he was blushing to the roots of his hair.
“But you were just talking as though you were Voldemort,” she said so softly that he barely heard the words.
“Sorry; it was from his point of view; I forgot about that. Actually, I’m still curious as to which of us was in pain,” Harry mused, silently cursing himself for not using the correct pronouns and hoping to distract her from his slip.
Hermione did not speak but opened Secrets of the Darkest Art and pointed to a paragraph describing what would happen if the body was destroyed once one had made a horcrux.
“You’re still carrying this around?” Harry asked her rhetorically, but read the passage nonetheless. “So the pain was probably his, which I would have shared at that point. I figured it had to be something like that since the killing curse is painless.”
Harry absently rubbed the lightning bolt scar through which he would have felt Voldemort’s pain and fear. “Anyway, as I was saying, he just wanted to get as far away as possible. I think he would have gone straight to that forest in Albania, where he was relatively comfortable and able to put me out of his mind temporarily. He hated…well, you know, the uh…crying. It reminded him too much of the orphanage.”
“Even if you’re correct, and I’d have to assume that you are, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we’ll find Death Eaters there,” Hermione said, taking a deep breath as though to begin a diatribe against the expedition.
Ginny interrupted however, saying, “Harry, you aren’t embarrassed about having cried that night, are you? You were just a baby; you shouldn’t be ashamed of something you did back then.”
“Well, it is rather embarrassing, you know. It’s a bit humiliating to know that I cried like a baby during our first confrontation. I mean, I can kind of see why I might have been frightened when he came close. He was just curious about me, but I guess he looked pretty scary to a little kid. Even so, it’s not so much how I reacted as a child than I did as an adult that I find ridiculous,” Harry said, looking at Hermione now for help.
“Harry, you were just shouting curses and things; you didn’t cry like a baby, if that’s what you’re wanting to know,” Hermione said quietly. He gave her a curt nod.
“Even if you had, it’s not like you would have had any control at that point. Even Voldemort couldn’t pull out of that nightmare and was dragging you along with him,” Ginny said softly. “I think we should talk about Albania another time though. This isn’t going to go anywhere right now with it coming back to Voldemort over and over again.”
Harry was surprised by the rush of relief her words brought to him and could see Hermione’s silent assent. Had they discussed this in his absence?
“Okay, so what do you two plan on shopping for on Saturday?” Harry asked seizing the chance to change the subject. Ginny and Hermione were planning an all-day trip through muggle London while Harry’s aunt and cousin would be visiting.
They both stared at him blankly and laughed. “I guess we hadn’t really given it much thought,” said Hermione lightly. “What do you think, Ginny?”
Ginny gave them a wicked grin and said, “Wedding stuff? Maybe we could go see a modiste about my gown and look at some bridesmaid outfits as well. Luna, would you like to join us since you’re in the wedding party?”
“I’d love to,” Luna said brightly.
“I also want to go to a men’s clothing store because you are woefully in need of some new muggle clothes, Harry,” Ginny added. “I think I ought to pick everything out for you though. No offense, but your taste is really quite atrocious.”
Harry bristled at that and said, “Hey, my muggle clothes are all hand-me-downs from Dudley. My aunt picked them out and I certainly agree that she had horrible taste. The only items that are mine are the ones that your mother gave me.”
“You really never got a chance to get your own clothes, Harry?” Hermione asked suspiciously.
“Nope; the only opportunity would have been the summer I blew up Aunt Marge and Fudge made me promise him that I wouldn’t leave Diagon Alley. I could have gone while I was in Ottery St. Catchpole, but again, I had to promise not to leave the grounds.”
“Hmmm…would you prefer to do your own shopping then? I was rather pleased with the robes you purchased. Maybe your taste isn’t so bad as I thought,” Ginny said weakly.
Harry shrugged. “I don’t care. I’m sure whatever you pick will be fine. It might be nice to have some clothes that fit properly.”
She laughed and said, “I’ll probably pick up some new things for Teddy as well, while we’re out. Speaking of Teddy, I wanted to talk to you about his room, Harry. I think he ought to be on our floor so that he’s close by, but that leaves us with only a few choices.”
Hermione shifted uncomfortably and said, “Well, I suppose I could go to one of the other floors, since I was the one that took the other room next to yours.”
“You can have my room, Hermione. It’s up on the fourth floor. It’s a bit cramped, but I really haven’t used it since guard duty was no longer necessary after the battle in the Department of Mysteries,” Dedalus offered.
“I think that’s actually Percy’s room now, but he doesn’t really use it either,” Hermione said, seeming to consider the possibility.
“You know, you could just move back into Ron’s room, where you belong,” Harry suggested.
“That’s not going to happen any time soon, Harry, so leave it alone,” Hermione said fiercely.
Harry rolled his eyes and blew out a frustrated breath. “Yeah, well, I don’t know about Ginny, but I only remember hearing one door open last night. What if you go up to the fourth floor and find that you need comforting in the middle of the night?”
Hermione flushed, but said nothing and simply crossed her arms in front of her chest. Ginny smirked as though holding back a laugh and said, “It doesn’t really matter, because as long as it’s okay with Harry, Teddy can sleep in Sirius’s old bedroom.”
“That’s a great idea. I think it sounds marvelous. He’ll be right across the hall from us if he needs us,” Harry replied enthusiastically. “It would bring him a little closer to Sirius!”
Hermione looked skeptical and said, “Do you really think it’s appropriate for a kid?”
“Maybe all those half-naked muggle girls on motorbikes isn’t such a good idea,” Harry said, catching on to what Hermione meant. “I mean it was one thing when I was sleeping in there during the You-Know-What Hunt, but Teddy’s a bit too young for all that.”
He looked quickly at Ginny to see if she was jealous about this revelation. She smiled instead and said, “As long as you were only looking, Harry.”
“I think I spent more time looking at the photo of the Marauders and my mother’s letter than the girls, if it’s any comfort,” Harry said with a laugh; it was perfectly true, as he thought about it.
“Oh it’s a great comfort,” she replied very seriously, but Harry knew she was just teasing him. “It’s not a problem anymore though, because Kreacher and I have figured out a way to cover them up, since we can’t remove the permanent sticking charms. If Teddy decides he likes motorbikes and girls in bikinis when he’s older he can take down the paper I intend to put up. How much gold do you think would be okay to spend on his room, Harry?”
“I haven’t a clue. I’ve never decorated a room before. Just spend as much as you want,” Harry said with a shrug.
“Maybe I’d better get some more gold out of the vault just in case,” Ginny said, biting her lip nervously. Harry knew she was still somewhat hesitant to spend as much as she liked and was still unaccustomed to being able to do so.
“You could always just write out notes for your purchases, as long as you’re in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade,” Harry suggested. “And I hope that both of you remember you should spend as much gold as you want. That’s what it’s there for.”
“You’d better give her written authorization to open lines of credit though, because people might not be aware that she has full access to your accounts,” said Hermione.
Harry pulled over a piece of parchment and poised a quill over it. He looked at Hermione, for help as to what to write, who rolled her eyes and took the quill. She wrote out a short message and told Harry to sign it.
Harry looked down at his watch and found that their lunch hour was nearly over. “Well, we’d all better get back to work here if we want to get home at a decent time,” he said.
He asked Ginny and Luna if they could stay awhile and help him with the Carrows. He didn’t think that there could be anyone besides Hogwarts students, who’d had daily contact with the two Death Eaters, who could take care of that file better. After Hermione had removed the large table and replaced the desks, they all settled back down to their tasks, Ginny and Luna joining Harry and Hermione at the front desk.
“Harry, I think there are some more problems in Bellatrix’s file than first meet the eye,” Hermione finally said. She pointed to a number of sightings and reports of Bellatrix’s activities. “I’m quite certain she was in Azkaban along with Lucius and the rest of them during this period. Yet the file indicates that she was really quite active.”
“Nah, she wasn’t in the Department of Mysteries when Dumbledore put the Anti-Disapparition Jinx on Lucius and the other Death Eaters. I chased her into the Atrium to try to punish her for killing Sirius. She Apparated away with Voldemort just as everyone else was arriving,” Harry explained. She nodded in acceptance.
“And what’s all of this about, anyway?” Hermione asked, removing a sheaf of parchment. It had a number of dates on it along with signatures next to each one.
“I think this has to be her Azkaban file because here’s the trial date and a report of that,” he said, glancing through it. He recognized the trial transcript from Dumbledore’s memories of it. He grabbed the parchment however and approached Eleanor, asking her what the dates and signatures were for.
“Well, this is supposed to indicate if someone visited her while she was in prison, but this is unbelievable. It’s rare for anyone to be allowed a visit even once, let alone all of these times. It seems to be the same person as well, so it must have been someone really high up in the Ministry,” she said. “I’m sorry to say I don’t recognize the signature though.”
Harry walked back to his seat completely flummoxed about the situation. Hermione frowned and said, “I can’t imagine that Narcissa or Lucius would have gone to see her, and that should be easy enough to verify. Rodolphus and Rabastan were there with her. Sirius was there as well and I’m quite sure neither he nor Andromeda would have gone near her with a ten-foot pole, if it was at all avoidable. Who else would have gone to see her?”
“Voldemort might have, but he wouldn’t have bothered with procedures,” Harry said, looking at the signature.
“Well, that’s something we’ll want to investigate, Harry. The person would obviously have been at least a Voldemort-sympathizer if not a Death Eater. This was a very clever ruse, as well. We can’t read the handwriting and the person may have even been using an alias. Perhaps it’s not the person’s signature at all.”
Harry still wrote a quick note to Draco to ask his mother if she knew anything about this mystery. He doubted this would make any sort of difference to their investigations, but it wouldn’t hurt to be thorough. He thought he might try to get in to see Rodolphus as well to interrogate him. He went back to his own work, listening half-heartedly to Ginny and Luna arguing over a minor detail in Alecto Carrow’s file and smiling to himself as Hermione opened Kreacher’s copy of Wizarding Nobility to verify a fact. He continued to answer the questions that now came in a steady stream from the Aurors around the room. They seemed to have become more comfortable in Harry’s presence. He’d been nervous about this first assignment, not quite knowing what to expect. He’d thought that the other Aurors might resent him and although some of them seemed to still be harboring some ill-feelings, most had taken his direction and leadership well.
Harry reluctantly pulled out one of the last few files that he hadn’t yet gone through, finding himself face-to-face with a picture of the hook-nosed professor he’d hated for so long. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Ginny hand Luna her quill to take over the writing and put her hand in the crook of his arm, clenching her fingers around the inside of his elbow comfortingly.
Speaking in a whisper, he said, “I don’t know what to do with him. If I write everything I know then everyone will understand, but I’ll be betraying his trust in me. If I leave stuff out then that could cause problems as well.”
“Only you can make that decision,” she reminded him just as softly. On an almost daily basis now, she asked him to explain what had happened when he’d seen Snape’s memories. She’d come up with reason after reason for why he should share it with her. His response never changed. He couldn’t help but admire not only her tenacity but her unending patience with him.
He glanced briefly up at the portrait that Dumbledore was borrowing, but Albus was fast asleep in its frame. Harry thought it was just as well, since he agreed with Ginny that the decision should be his. Dumbledore had nearly told Harry everything, but had given in to the promise that he’d given Snape to never reveal his secrets. This above all else, made Harry begin to waiver in the decision he’d made to himself to keep a silence on the matter as well. He had done his best to make it clear that Snape had not killed Dumbledore, but had simply helped him to face death honorably and quickly. But maybe he shouldn’t follow Dumbledore’s pattern of keeping secrets. By not revealing Snape’s secrets, he was denying Severus Snape his rightful place at Hogwarts. Harry didn’t know how to make the right choice anymore.
The room was so quiet that there were quite a few jumps when someone knocked on the door. Harry walked over, wondering if Kingsley had sent someone else to him. He was surprised to find Kingsley himself, Arthur and Gawain all standing on the other side, smiles on their faces.
“We thought we’d come to check on your progress, Auror Potter, if you don’t mind,” Kingsley said in an officious tone.
“Not at all, Minister Shacklebolt, feel free to come on in,” Harry said, stepping back to allow them entrance. He showed them the piles of completed files and ones to be fixed, the latter of which was still a bit larger and didn’t include those that were being worked on at the present.
Kingsley leaned in, pretending to look at the files, and whispered, “Are you okay, Harry?”
At Harry’s adamant response that he was fine, Kingsley continued, “Harry, we are well aware that you were desperate to talk to Dumbledore earlier. I just ask that you tell us what is bothering you.”
As Harry looked into Kingsley’s eyes, he understood that he and Arthur hadn’t really come to see how he was doing with the files, but to see if he was okay.
“I’m sorry,” Harry whispered back. “Everything is alright. It’s a bit complicated, but it was just…personal. It doesn’t really have much to do with anything that’s going on.”
Harry had tried to keep his voice even and steady, but he knew that Kingsley understood that there was more to it than Harry was letting on. “I’ll try to explain things better at the next meeting but I really can’t right now.”
Kingsley nodded appreciatively and flipped through a few of the files. Much louder, he said, “Excellent, Ha…er…Auror Potter, I’m quite pleased.”
“I probably ought to thank you for suggesting the additions to the group. They’ve been extremely helpful,” Harry said, indicating the Order members he’d sent and following Kingsley’s example of pretense.
“I’m glad, and I can see that you’ve done some recruiting of your own. It’s good to see you, Miss Weasley, Miss Lovegood,” Kingsley replied good-naturedly.
They both blushed slightly at being addressed thusly, but quickly recovered to gaze back at him benignly. “Actually, sir, I was just wondering if I might send out a few more invitations tonight. I wanted to see if the rest of the Order might be able to come as well as Dumbledore’s Army,” Harry requested.
“Whoever and whatever you need to complete the task is fine, Harry. I would imagine Hogwarts students to be highly useful when dealing with certain Death Eaters. I’m sorry I didn’t think of it sooner. Well, I suppose Arthur and I had better be off. I think Head Auror Robards wished to have a few words with your group,” Kingsley said, shaking hands with Harry, Hermione, Ginny and Luna.
Arthur did the same, kissing his daughter on the cheek, patting Harry and Hermione’s shoulders and giving them all a knowing grin. His eyes lingered on Harry for a moment and his grin turned to a look of concern, but seemed to decide not to address it. Arthur sighed and said, “I’ll see you kids over the weekend, I’m sure.”
Robards simply asked that a few select Aurors take turns meeting with him in his office and told Harry that once they were done with their work on Friday that they could all go home, no matter the time. Harry couldn’t help but hope they’d be done quickly, which might be possible with the additional help, so that they could leave early.
Harry had nearly forgotten that there would be a forum for the Wizengamot today and found himself thankful for the planner that Hermione had given to him for his birthday when it reminded him about it. She smiled proudly at the little book as he stood to address the room. “I have to go down to the Wizengamot Administration Services for a short while. If anyone needs help please feel free to ask Miss Granger.”
Ginny looked up at him and pleaded, “Do you really have to go now?”
He sighed and realized he would like nothing better than to sit there beside her. “Werewolves, Ginny; of course I have to go. I have to see what I can do to reverse the damage done by Umbridge. Even if it weren’t for Teddy, I’d do it for Remus and for others like him.”
“Of course,” she said, forcing a smile to her lips.
He gave Ginny a quick kiss and patted Luna’s shoulder. Eleanor too had risen and met him at the door. He’d nearly pulled it open when Hermione called out, “Harry, do you want that research I did for you?”
She began rummaging through her bag looking for it. “Oh, just point it over here,” Harry said and she complied. “Accio Hermione’s werewolf research.”
It popped to the top of the bag but didn’t move any further so Hermione had to pull rather hard to get it out. She threw it towards him, directing it with her wand, into his waiting hand.
“What would I do without you, Hermione?” he asked playfully.
“I’m sure I don’t know, Harry,” she said wryly.
He smiled mischievously and said, “Oh, I’d probably be dead about a hundred times over and failed school miserably. You know you love taking care of Ron and me.”
She narrowed her eyes at him and then sighed in defeat. “That surely must be the only explanation.”
Ginny then said, “Oh, Harry, I’ll probably be gone by the time you get back. I’ve got an appointment with the cabinet-makers in Diagon Alley about the furniture for Teddy. I’m going to Floo to George’s and Mum is meeting me there. Do you think that’ll be okay? I’m sure we could get George or Ron to come with us if you don’t feel we’ll be safe enough just the two of us.”
Harry was unbelievably touched that she thought to ask and smiled at her. “No, I think Mum is plenty of security, don’t you? Besides, George and Ron would probably be pretty bored sitting there while you shopped.”
He walked back over to her and pulled her out of her seat and into his arms, kissing her soundly. “I believe you’ve just made my day.”
He released her, letting her drop back into her chair. Ginny beamed at him as he left. She thought she could practically feel the love emanating from him across the room as he held her gaze briefly. She expected to see Hermione smiling as well, but instead she seemed pensive.
“He’s really rather easy to please most of the time, isn’t he?” Ginny said happily.
“I don’t know if what you’re doing is such a good idea, Ginny,” Hermione said sadly. “I’ve been worried about him this past week. I feel like he’s getting more and more paranoid.”
“Really? I think he’s gotten much better. Besides, I can understand his apprehension. I’m sure there are plenty of Death Eaters that want revenge and what better way than to attack his friends and family,” Ginny said.
“I know, but I’m not sure if going along with his tight security rules is the best way. I keep expecting him to start checking food for poison or carrying a hip flask of pumpkin juice on him. If you stop telling him that you’re self-sufficient and can take care of yourself then he’s just going to get worse,” Hermione said uncertainly.
“Nonsense, Hermione, and you talk as though you or Ron is any better. You may think that I have eyes only for Harry, but I’m pretty observant. All three of you act as though the war is still in full-fledge,” Ginny calmly replied.
“We do no such thing!” Hermione replied heatedly. “We wouldn’t even be here if the war wasn’t over! We know it’s over and we’re quite grateful for it, thank you very much!”
“Really? One would never guess that you believed it to look at you. You still hang onto that bag as though you’re afraid someone might take it. I’m still in absolute shock that you let Harry and Ron have it the other day,” Ginny said, waving a hand at Hermione’s beaded purse. Hermione clutched it to her side, but Ginny ripped it off of her arm.
“Hey, I need that,” Hermione complained. Ginny gave her a withering look that forestalled any possible retort.
“I’m sure you do. Let’s see what we’ve got,” Ginny said, beginning to pull out objects with a sort of vengeance. “I’m sure you need a tent when we have a perfectly nice house to live in. Here, we have spare clothes for Harry and Ron; that’s useful. A portrait; I can’t imagine what you might use that for.”
“I’ll have you know that that portrait is how we knew that you were okay after breaking into Snape’s office,” Hermione said defensively. “Plus, Harry and Ron used the tent and were quite grateful for the clean clothes the other day.”
“Mmhmm…and what do we have here? These look a lot like the books that you stole from Dumbledore’s office that have magic so evil in them that Dumbledore took them off the shelves of the Hogwarts Library. Does that sound about right? I wonder what you might need those for while helping house-elves.”
“Ginny, don’t open those,” Hermione said fearfully, grabbing them, looking furtively around the room and snatching the bag. She pulled it so fast across the desk though that it tipped, a ridiculous number of objects spilling onto the desk. “Help me, help me!”
Ginny scrambled to pick things up, now appalled at her own behavior. Parchment littered the desk along with an assortment of strange things. She held a locket in her hands for a moment. “Hermione, this is broken. Why are you keeping it?” she asked.
Hermione’s eyes went wide and she plucked it from Ginny’s fingers. “It’s supposed to be broken,” Hermione snapped, tossing it into her bag.
“Wait, that looked familiar. It’s the one that was in the drawing room cupboard, isn’t it?” Ginny asked.
“Of course it is; didn’t Harry tell you about Regulus getting to it before he and Dumbledore did?” Hermione asked. It dawned on Ginny then that it wasn’t just any locket, but Slytherin’s; the one that Voldemort had used for a horcrux.
Luna leaned down and retrieved a few fragments that were barely held together that looked like a crown. She looked at it in surprise and said, “Ravenclaw’s diadem! I wonder why it’s all burnt.”
“Fiendfyre,” Ginny muttered, taking it from Luna to examine it. She recognized the tar-like substance that still clung to it from when Harry had rescued her from the Chamber of Secrets and shown her the dead diary. She shivered involuntarily and tried to concentrate on the fact that it wasn’t an evil object anymore. “It was really quite lovely. Do you think it still works?”
“I doubt it,” Hermione said, putting her hand out for it.
“Why not, Hermione? The stone worked afterwards,” Ginny pointed out. “What I don’t understand is why you still have all of these.”
“I’m not entirely certain what to do with them, to be honest. Originally we were hanging onto them so that Voldemort wouldn’t know we had them, but obviously that’s no longer necessary. I suppose we ought to bury them or something,” Hermione said.
“Considering that is a relic of a Hogwarts’ founder, don’t you think you’d be better to give it back to the school?” Professor McGonagall said loudly from the other side of the room.
Hermione bit her lip and looked at Professor Dumbledore’s portrait where he was still sleeping. “Albus, do you think it would be okay to do that?” Hermione called out.
He stirred and looked at her. “I assume you were listening?” she asked.
“I apologize but I seem to have drifted off, Hermione. What seems to be the trouble?” he replied.
She looked guilty and said, “I’m sorry. I’m rather tired as well.”
He laughed heartily and said, “Don’t worry about it. Why don’t you tell me what’s going on?”
“Would it be okay to give these former…well…You-Know-Whats back to the school?”
“I think you should make that decision between the three of you before you make a sweeping conclusion,” Dumbledore replied. “You might also want to check with their rightful owners first though.”
Hermione’s eyes narrowed in thought and she asked, “Do you mean that we should ask Hepzibah’s family for their permission?”
“Indeed, we must remember that the locket was purchased through honest transactions and that she had proper ownership, based on inheritance, of the cup. The Smith family should be contacted regarding those items. As for the diadem, as far as I’m aware there were no descendants of Rowena besides Helena, who obviously stole her mother’s diadem and died without issue. It would be up to you as to what you wish to do with it,” Dumbledore explained.
Hermione looked thoughtful for a moment and said, “So is Zacharias one of her descendants?”
“I believe he is a distant nephew. I’m sure you wouldn’t have any trouble in that regard and I don’t see why the objects shouldn’t be reunited at Hogwarts even if they are in rather poor condition.”
Hermione looked decidedly guilty and said, “Sorry about that, sir.”
“There’s nothing to be sorry about. You did what was necessary. The fault for their deplorable state lies with Voldemort and him alone,” he reminded her. She looked directly into his eyes before nodding. Then she pulled out a small cup and gazed upon the collection of founders’ objects in front of her.
Sighing, Hermione said, “So long as it’s okay with Harry and Ron, I’d be happy to get rid of these things. I’m afraid you can’t even read the ‘S’ on the locket anymore though. Ron really hit it hard with the sword so the windows are completely broken as well. The diadem is badly burned, but you can still see the eagle on it. The cup is probably in the best shape; I wasn’t all that forceful with the fang.”
She put them, along with the rest of the junk that had spilled, away and fixed Ginny with a pointed stare. “Just because I still carry my bag around with me doesn’t mean that I’m turning into Moody. In fact, most of the things in here I’ve used on occasion since the war ended,” Hermione explained.
“I don’t think you’re turning into Mad-Eye, Hermione. What I’m trying to point out is that it’s going to take time for everyone to adjust to the idea of peace. I understand how you feel. It takes everything I have every day to let Harry out of my sight for even a few moments. I know he won’t leave me again, but I can’t seem to convey that to my frightened heart,” Ginny said, taking a deep breath. “Harry hasn’t known true security and safety for over seventeen years. I’ll be damned if I won’t help him in the best way I think possible. If it means being overcautious then so be it. If it means helping him get through his nightmares then I’ll do it. If it means going to the ends of the earth and back to heal his heart then that’s fine with me. I don’t care, Hermione. I’ll do anything for him. I’ve loved him nearly all my life and more so in the last few years than I ever thought possible to love another human being.”
Ginny slumped back in her chair, exhausted from her speech. “Of course you do; I would never have helped you if I didn’t think you were completely right for each other. But you both ought to be thinking about what it’s going to be like when you’re apart for nine months while you’re at school, Ginny. I dread the idea of you being heartbroken when you can’t see each other every minute of the day,” Hermione said gently.
“I know. We’re aware of the situation,” Ginny said, although truthfully she preferred not to think about it. “We’ll deal with it when the time comes. That’s why we intend to spend as much time together until then.”
Apparently Hermione took the hint and sat in silence as she returned to her work, the beaded bag slung over her shoulder once again, in its proper spot. Ginny wasn’t sure what to expect when she saw Harry later. When he’d returned his eyes had been tinged with red and his face pale. Whatever had happened earlier had upset him greatly and had alarmed Dumbledore enough to follow him around.
* * *
Harry trudged back to the office silently with Eleanor by his side.
“I understand how you feel, Harry, but you must realize that these forums nearly always turn out this way. I almost never even go to them anymore, but I thought I ought to accompany you to your first one,” she said, in a voice meant to comfort him.
He knew that it wasn’t the end of everything but he couldn’t help the frustration that filled him. He was, however, grateful for her presence. He’d wanted to stop by his desk for his magenta robes, but she had explained that they were generally only worn for large proceedings such as trials or major votes. Harry quickly went through the notes that Hermione had made for him while they were waiting for others to arrive and found that he didn’t have much to go on for what he wanted to do except for his own experiences with werewolves. Hermione’s research had only seemed to reinforce the deluded opinion of the greater Wizarding community that viewed werewolves as a threat and most of the people in the forum agreed with the laws that Umbridge had passed. Harry had thought previously that she’d somehow forced these strictures through, but he had to admit now that it was unlikely. The Wizengamot seemed to embrace them wholeheartedly and were reluctant to change them. The Chief Warlock had surprisingly backed Harry’s views and allowed him a surprising amount of latitude, letting Harry explain everything he knew about Lupin, including Lupin’s mission to live amongst the werewolves.
Harry, along with Ginny and all of their friends had discussed the werewolf situation quite a bit over the summer. Harry wanted to propose an idea whereby the Wolfsbane Potion would be made accessible to all werewolves who wanted it, rather than making it an expensive potion available only by prescription from a healer at St. Mungo’s. Unfortunately this idea was not met well by the Wizengamot forum, most of the witches and wizards pointing out that not only would the cost be outrageous but that there would still be too many werewolves that wouldn’t be willing to use the potion. Harry fought back by saying that in his experience, werewolves generally didn’t wish to attack people and so many might be amenable to the prospect of being safe during the time of their transformations.
All of Harry’s arguments and insightful statements were met by utter contempt and disbelief. He even got the impression that many of them simply thought him naïve to be so trusting of such dangerous creatures. Harry almost laughed as they approached the door to the File-Task Force, wondering if he was now following in Hagrid’s footsteps. It wasn’t nearly the disturbing notion he thought it ought to have been. As they entered he found Hermione surrounded by a number of Aurors with questions. She was diligently trying to handle each one in turn.
“Beulah, Oscar and Dominic, why don’t you go and talk to Professor McGonagall about your problem,” Harry said, sending them over to her. Then he turned his attention to a few of the others, quickly dispatching them with new files as Hermione finished dealing with a question from Raleigh.
She looked at him expectantly as he sat beside her. “I need your help, Hermione,” he said softly so as not to attract the attention of those near them.
“What do you think I’m trying to do?” she whispered back with an annoyed tone.
He shook his head and clarified, “I know. I’m thankful for your help today and tomorrow, but I have two other favors to ask of you.”
Her brow creased in concern and she urged him to continue. “Firstly, I need you to alter your career path somewhat.”
“Harry, I still don’t want to be an Auror,” she replied shaking her head vehemently.
“No,” he agreed, “I don’t even want you to leave Magical Creatures; I just want you to move into the section that deals with werewolves.”
He outlined what had happened during the forum and she paled visibly when he explained that they were even talking about attacking people, like Bill and Teddy, with werewolf contamination. “Well, I could probably just add it to my duties for the House-Elf Relocation division since I usually get that work done long before lunch,” Hermione said.
“Good, because we have some time to get this sorted out. I want you to try to find me some werewolves who would like to live normal lives within the Wizarding World instead of on the fringes of society.”
“No problem, Harry,” she said with a look of determination. Harry knew that look and felt much more confident, knowing that she was on the case. “What was your other favor?”
“Ah, well, I’d like you to help me find a suitable apology gift for Ginny,” he said, whispering so softly that she had to lean in to hear him.
“But she isn’t mad at you. You haven’t done anything to warrant her ire,” Hermione pointed out.
“Not yet, but when I explain everything later she’s going to be furious with me, I just know it,” Harry said dejectedly.
“Oh, Harry, if you and Ron could just behave yourselves you wouldn’t have to keep wheedling your way back into our good graces, you know.”
“I realize that! I didn’t mean to; it just sort of happened,” Harry said angrily.
He pleaded over and over again until she finally said, “Oh, alright, I’ll go with you!”
They worked in companionable silence for the remainder of the afternoon and Hermione advised everyone to start packing up, stuffing all of the files into her bag before they left.
Harry was still pondering the pile of unanswered post that still sat on his desk as they arrived in the Atrium. Noticing the sign for the cafeteria, he had a sudden inspiration and dragged Hermione over to the nearly-empty Canteen. He was in luck as he found Stan Shunpike mopping the floor.
“Stan!” Harry said in greeting.
“Harry, how are ya?” Stan responded with a grin.
Harry decided to just spill out his plan. “What would you say to working for me?”
Stan stood stock still, the mop falling to the floor with a clang. “Work for you?” Stan repeated dumbly.
“Well, I can understand if you’d prefer to stay here, but I could really use your help.”
“Uh, no, I don’t want to stay here at all, but I don’t know what I could do to help you. I don’t know nothing about catching Dark Wizards or nothing,” Stan said skeptically, but there was a look of hope on his face.
“I don’t need help catching Dark Wizards, but I do need help with the press and stuff. You were really great yesterday, and if you don’t mind, maybe you could help with my correspondence,” Harry said. Stan stood in quiet contemplation for a few moments, so Harry added, “I’ll pay you more than you’re making right now, I promise.”
“I make seven galleons a week,” Stan said weakly, as though feeling this would be too much.
Harry felt indignant, remembering that Dumbledore had offered Dobby ten galleons a week to work in the kitchens at Hogwarts. “I’ll pay you twenty galleons a week, but that will include a promise to keep your silence as well as allowing me to help you once a week to fight against Confundus Charms.”
Stan looked as though he had just won a lottery and stammered, “I-I-I, w-w-w-well, I-I-I, okay. Do you want me to start now?”
“No, but can I send you a message later about where and when to meet me tomorrow morning?” Harry asked.
Stan didn’t seem capable of any further speech at that moment and just nodded his agreement.
“Great, thanks!” Harry said, smiling happily.
Hermione gave him a look that said she approved of his generosity towards Stan as they left, suggesting they stop in the Post Service to see if they could find out any information about how Harry’s letters were being handled. Hermione then ran back into the cafeteria quickly, to avoid Stan’s obvious awe of Harry’s job-offer, to tell him to meet them at the Post Service the next day at 7:30 a.m.
“If I’m going to help you find a suitable gift for Ginny, perhaps you ought to tell me what you did so I’ll know just how angry she’ll be,” Hermione said as they made their way back into the Atrium.
“Okay,” Harry replied, resignedly, grabbing her hand and turning on the spot. He was pleased to see that his destination had been precise enough to take them to the front porch of the Shrieking Shack. He didn’t want to chance running into Ginny in Diagon Alley and so had chosen Hogsmeade.
It was a bit of a trek to get down to the gates leading to the main street, so Harry began walking that way as he gave Hermione a detailed explanation of what he’d felt and done earlier that day. He knew it was difficult for her to not interrupt, but she managed somehow. Hermione automatically performed the complex spells necessary to throw open the fence at the end of the path. He saved the part about not wanting to live anymore until last and stopped her before they entered the street before finishing his tale.
She turned to him in horror once he’d poured his heart out, throwing her arms around him, whimpering.
“Oh, Harry!” she exclaimed, tears apparent in her voice. “I don’t think she’ll be mad at you, but she’s going to be terribly upset. I can’t believe you even came down to that point.”
He let her soak his robes as he patted her on the back. “I’m not going anywhere, honestly.”
“I know, it’s just…” she broke off, unable to articulate what she wished to say.
Harry could hear sounds that were awfully close by and noticed that the street in front of them was packed with witches and wizards, many of whom were gazing at Harry and Hermione strangely.
“They probably think we’re mad, having come from the Shrieking Shack,” Harry said, in an attempt to add some levity to the situation.
She gave a bleak laugh and pulled away. “Oh, I’m being so silly,” she said with a watery smile. She wiped her eyes and pointed her wand at his shoulder which dried instantly. “Come on.”
They began to cross the street, heading to the jewelry shop where Harry had gotten Ginny’s birthday present but were accosted almost immediately upon leaving the premises of the Shrieking Shack. People were converging on them in a rather frightening manner, all shouting different things, and they could hear cameras clicking madly.
“Quickly,” Harry said, grabbing Hermione’s hand and dashing along. The throng of people seemed to divide at his approach and they just barely managed to get into the jewelry shop.
A/N: As always, I'm very appreciative of all reviews. I'm just glad that all of you are able to take this journey with me. Some of you may note that there a few more hints in this chapter....