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Chapter 22: Chapter Twenty Two
Harry blew air out through his lips as he admired the large, red steam train sitting stationary to his right. Steam was billowing from its funnel every few minutes as the magnificent train geared up to leave; an indication it was just as eager to get up to Hogsmeade Village station as most of the students boarding it.
Platform 9 ¾ was a hive of activity. Everywhere Harry looked there were people. Young, first years, looking around anxiously yet excitedly, their arms full with pet cages or food for the trip, bidding their parents a teary goodbye. Older students were greeting their friends, hugging, exchanging gossip from their months apart and looking at one another to see what changes puberty had given them over the summer. Adults were waving to their children, ushering them onto the train with smiles that didn't quite reach their eyes, chatting with friends but all the while having one eye scouting around nervously for any danger.
He put his hands in his pockets as he looked around wistfully. He wanted to be going back to Hogwarts as much as everyone else did. Hogwarts had been his home for so long it felf weird to be standing on the platform without taking the nest, ritualistic step. Already life seemed rather incomplete without the ancient castle. But, then again Hogwarts was a symbol of the innocence in them all. Not going back to Hogwarts was testimony that he didn’t have that blissful innocence anymore. He’d outgrown it, and it was both empowering and depressing to realize such a fact. Hogwarts was too cramped, too crowded and too small for him now. He needed to be out in the real world, out of the educational play-pen he’d been stuck in for the past six years so he could do what he had to do and do it properly.
The train whistle blew, jolting Harry out of his thoughts. He looked at his watch and saw it was ten to eleven, almost time to leave. With one final look at the Hogwarts Express, Harry looked away, pushed his longing aside and looked around at the family closest to him.
There was no other way to say it - Ginny was being smothered. Mrs. Weasley had her arms around Ginny’s middle in a tight, bone-crushing hug, and Ginny was looking around with pleading eyes, begging for any sort of assistnace from anyone. A bright red flush was creeping up her face at the looks she was getting from her friends already on the train.
“Now, Ginny, do you have everything?’ said Mrs. Weasley, looking as if she were going to burst into tears at any moment. ‘Have you got everything? Is there anything you need?”
“Some oxygen would be nice.’
Mr. Weasley laughed and grabbed his wife by the shoulders. “Molly, let the poor girl go. She’s going to be late and I haven’t had my third hug yet.”
“Oh, yes, of course dear.”
Harry smiled as Ginny embraced her father warmly. Good-byes like these seemed to be more emotional than they had been the year before. He wasn’t sure, but he had a feeling a small part of it (besides the obvious) was that it was because Ginny was, for the first time in probably fifteen years, going to be the only Weasley in the entire school. Harry expected this reaction from Mr. and Mrs. Weasley; it couldn’t have been easy for them to let their youngest child and only daughter go off to school half way across the country, let alone by herself, while the rest of them stayed close. The old feeling of Hogwarts being the safest place for children had all but disintegrated.
Ron, who had been standing next to him, looked at him. “You alright?”
“What? Yeah, no, I’m fine.’ Said Harry, nodding as he watched Mrs. Weasley grab Ginny again in their fourth hug. ‘Just thinking about…stuff.”
“Stuff, yeah. I like stuff."
Harry watched as Ginny gave her mother a kiss on the cheek, smiled and then handed her father the large trunk at her feet. “It just seems a bit…strange, is all.”
Ron nodded but didn’t say anymore and Harry was grateful for the silence. This was one of the things about Ron he was especially fond of - knowing when to shut up.
Ginny made her way over to Hermione. The two girls smiled at one another and embraced warmly, holding one another in that tight, secure way that only good friends or sisters would do. Hermione stroked Ginny’s long, flaming locks with her fingers and murmured something in Ginny’s ear. Ginny nodded, gave Hermione one final squeeze and pulled back. The two girls stayed connected at the hip, holding one another’s forearms and smiled at one another. Hermione said something else that Harry couldn’t make out, and Ginny laughed, leant forward and gave Hermione a kiss on the cheek.
The two girls let one another go. Ginny looked over at Ron, smiled at him happily and moved over to him, standing on tip-toe to wrap her arms around his shoulders in a hug. Ron bent down and wrapped his arms around her middle, picked her up and squeezed her like a toddler with his new teddy bear. Ginny laughed and hit him in the arm playfully until he set her on her feet again.
“Gee, I bet I’ll miss you doing that to me every night before I go to bed.’ She laughed sarcastically.
“Not my fault you’re so bloody light. You want hugs, you get consequences.”
“Ron, it’s a hug, not an indictable offence.’
“It is when it’s in public.’ Said Ron, looking around nervously.
Ginny snorted, rolled her eyes and gave him one last peck on the cheek. “Take care of yourself, big brother. Don’t go running a muck without me here to supervise.’
Ron shook his head. “Wouldn’t dream of it, Gin.”
She smiled, gave Ron a wink…and then turned to Harry.
Harry stiffened awkwardly, not knowing how he should carry out his farewell ritual. Should he hug her? Or would that imply something he didn’t want to insinuate? Should he shake her hand? Or would she be offended by his blasé-ness? Should he open with a joke? Should he promise to write? Should he just run in the opposite direction? He didn’t have any time to decide, for a split second after looking at him she was in front of him, looking up at him expectantly.
Hermione cleared her throat, reached over and tugged on Ron’s sleeve. “Come on, let’s go talk to Neville.”
As the two of them walked off to give them privacy, Ginny slipped her hands in her back pockets and looked over at the train. “So…this is it.”
Harry nodded stupidly. “Yep.”
“We won’t be seeing one another for four months.”
Ginny laughed disbelievingly and shook her head. “And here I was thinking I was saving the best goodbye to last.”
“No, don’t think that…I’m sorry.’ He said, trying to get her to look at him. ‘It’s just that being here…watching you get on that train…”
“You could be coming back too, you know.’ She said, giving him a look. ‘You could have done all your hero work at Hogwarts with…us.’ She said, adverting her eyes.
Harry shook his head. “There’s too many distractions at Hogwarts. If I thought I could do all this and still be up there you know I would in a heartbeat. But…I just don’t think…”
Ginny smiled and put a hand on his arm. “It’s alright, Harry. You don’t have to explain it to me. Far be it from me to debate the work ethics and conditions of The Chosen One.”
“Yes, really.’ She laughed. ‘It’s going to be strange, going to school without you guys there. I don’t know how to be at Hogwarts without any of you there with me. It’s like taking a huge chunk of the fun out of the place.”
Harry smiled and ruffled his hair. “Who knows, maybe you’ll actually have a relatively normal year this year. What, with me not there to cause chaos and school scandals and house rivalry and threaten people’s lives and all.”
Ginny laughed. “It’s going to be boring this year then! What’s life without a little chaos?”
Harry smiled. He loved the way she looked at things; with the glass half full. Other people would have been collapsing with relief at the thought of him not coming back. Since day one he had done nothing but attract evil and danger to the school; so much so he had begun to wonder if he was some sort of jinx. He knew that a lot of people (teachers, parents and students just to name a few) would be glad he wasn’t coming back, thus eliminating some of the threat of danger upon Hogwarts. But Ginny seemed sad at the loss of excitement, as if trips to the Department of Mysteries and tackling Death Eaters that had snuck into the school were the reason she got out of bed in the morning.
She pursed her lips and exhaled slowly. “It feels so weird, gearing up to get onto this train without you.”
“It was going to happen eventually,’ he said, ‘its just happening a year early.”
“Doesn’t make it any easier.’
The whistle of the train blew again, signaling everyone to start boarding Ginny and Harry looked around as parents began ushering their children on board hurriedly, kissing and hugging farewell.
Ginny turned back to face him. For a moment they just looked at one another, both caught in another of their indecisive moments, before Harry did the only thing that made sense; he opened up his arms. Ginny frowned in relief and wrapped her arms around his middle, pressing her cheek into the crook of his neck and inhaling his scent. Harry closed his arms around her and held her close, resting his cheek on the top of her head. He could feel eyes on him and guessed that people everywhere were no doubt watching, but he didn’t care. He had her in his arms, even if it were only a few more moments, and that was all that mattered. .
“I’ll miss you.’ She said, snuggling into him.
“I’ll miss you too.’ He said, rubbing her back.
He knew they shouldn’t be this close. He knew that it was like taking one step forward and two steps back in their ‘break-up’, but nothing seemed more important at that moment. She was leaving for school, and he wasn’t going to see her again for months. That was agony, break-up or no break-up.
He rubbed her arms and pulled back, giving her a smile. ‘But I’ll see you at Christmas, and we’ll be writing to one another.”
Ginny tried to smile. “Still isn’t the same.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Ginny!’ called Mrs. Weasley suddenly. Harry and Ginny broke apart, and looked around to see Mrs. Weasley beckoning furiously.
Ginny nodded in recognition and turned back to Harry. “I have to go.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“I wish I didn’t.”
“Yeah, I know that too. But Hogwarts is the safest place for you now.”
“Yeah,’ she smiled, taking his hands in hers, ‘I know.”
“Ginny, hurry up!”
“Yeah, alright, Mum!’ called Ginny over her shoulder. She sighed impatiently and looked back at Harry. ‘Take care of yourself, will you? The last thing I need is to read about you having a mental breakdown on the cover of the Daily Prophet.”
Harry smiled and nodded. “I promise. And don’t you worry about everything here, alright? Just keep focused on your studies and those Quidditch games, Captain.”
Ginny rolled her eyes. “Oh please, the only reason I got that position was because you and Ron weren’t coming back.”
“Regardless of how you got it, you deserve it.’
“The only problem now is to find a seeker with even half the amount of talent you possess in your little finger.”
“You’ll find someone.”
“Yeah, like Arthur found the Holy Grail.”
“Ginny!” called Mrs. Weasley over the whistle of the train.
The train blew out another gush of steam, ready to depart. In a flurry of panic, Ginny grabbed Harry’s face in her hands, pulled him down and planted a kiss smack on his lips. Harry’s eyes widened in surprise, but just as his mind screamed at him to respond she broke away. Panting, she gave him an intense look, and in a whirl of red hair she spun on her heel, ran up the platform and jumped into the train, slamming the door shut behind her.
The train lurched, sent out another billowing puff of steam and then began to move. In a daze, Harry pushed his way through the crowd of people waving the train off to the front, running along side the train as it picked up speed. He ran right along side it, watching the silhouette of red hair through the window as it made its way down the corridors, looking for a compartment. He skidded to a halt as he ran out of platform and waved as the train rolled away, and continued to wave until it had disappeared around the corner and out of sight.
He let his hand flop down and sighed, watching the space where the train had been long after it had disappeared. He slouched and put his hands in his pockets, feeling very pouty all of a sudden. It was like knowing there was a party happening but not being invited to it; he felt as though he were being left out of all the fun. That all his friends were off to some glorious fun park of some sorts to have a wonderful time and he was forced to stay home, do his homework and save the world.
Hermione sidled up beside him but he didn’t look at her, just kept his eyes on the horizon. She smiled and folded her arms over her chest. “You know, I seem to remember a certain young, red-headed girl running along side the train like that when she was little, waving farewell to her one and only true love as he rode off into the sunset.”
“Do you even know how to shut up?”
“Not that I'm aware of.”
Harry smirked at her.
“Come on, you,’ she laughed, grabbing his arm, ‘let’s go get some lunch.”
Harry flopped down in the chair with an inward grunt of relief. He slouched, stretched his feet out and rubbed his forehead, feeling tired from some inexplicable reason. After leaving Kings Cross, the three of them had decided to find a place in London to have lunch. After about twenty minutes of walking around and Ron and Hermione arguing over the best place, Harry had finally told them both to shut up, shut his eyes and pointed randomly. They’d finally managed to agree on a small little café near Trafalgar Square where they could sit outside and enjoy the warm weather.
Ron sat down at the little square table to Harry’s left, and Hermione slung her jacket over the chair on Harry’s right.
“Right, what do you two want?’ she asked.
“Something big, beefy and hot.’ Said Ron, his eyes widening.
“I don’t think they sell Pamela Anderson here, Ron, but I’ll enquire.’ Said Hermione. ‘Harry, what about you?”
Harry smiled at Ron’s expression and shrugged. “I don’t know…whatever you’re having.”
“What if you don’t like what I’m having?’
“Then you’ll be having second servings.’ .
Hermione rolled her eyes, grabbed her purse and made her way inside to order their food.
Ron let out a loud, dramatic sigh and linked his hands behind his head. “Some morning, eh?’
“Yeah,’ said Harry nodding absentmindedly, ‘some morning.”
“I think Mum was ready to pack herself in Ginny’s suitcase with the way she was fretting.’ Laughed Ron, shaking his head. ‘She was like that on Bill’s last ever train ride, and Charlie’s as well. I don’t think she saw the need to fuss over the rest of us though thank Merlin! Did you see the looks Ginny was getting? Ha! I’m glad I wasn’t in her position this morning.”
Harry smiled and looked out into the busy streets of London. “Yeah, me too.”
Ron smirked at him. “I saw that goodbye you gave her. Seemed a little less platonic than I had been expecting.”
“What of it?” said Harry quickly.
“Nothing! Just…wondering if maybe you were changing your mind about her, is all.”
“My mind will never change about her.’ Harry tapped his fingers moodily on the table. ‘That’s the sodding problem.”
Hermione walked back out of the shop again, carrying a food tray baring three bottles of lemonade, two chicken and salad rolls and one very large slice of Shepards Pie.
“Here we are – healthy choices. I would have gotten you one, Ron, but I knew I wouldn’t hear the end of it if I came back with a quiche instead of good, hearty amount of steak.”
“Shut your nagging and just give me my food, will you?’ said Ron, waving his hands impatiently. ‘I’m going to decompose sitting here.”
“You’re already decomposing.’ said Hermione, laying his plate in front of him.
Harry sat up as Hermione handed him his roll, gave her a smile and dug into it. He wasn’t really fussed with what he ate; it was just an excuse not to talk. Putting food in his mouth gave him a plausible reason to stay quiet and let his mind wander. All he had to do was smile and nod at the appropriate times as Hermione and Ron discussed the events of the day so far.
He really should be used to this feeling, he mused as he chewed idly on his roll. All his life he’d felt that stinging tug of loss as he watched one person leave after the other. When he was little, about five, he had found a little bird under Aunt Petunia’s Agapanthus bush while playing with his toy soldiers. He’d taken it inside; put it in a spare shoebox he kept his socks in under the stairs and looked after it without anyone being any the wiser. It had been only a chick, obviously starved, for it never made any noise, and Harry had loved it instantly. He had fed it crumbs from every meal he was given, given it drops of water from his juice cups and kept it warm underneath the small light globe that hung from the ceiling. But, as the chick grew older and stronger it began to make its presence known, and Uncle Vernon had discovered it one morning while walking past Harry’s cupboard on his way out the door to work. Despite Harry’s tearful protests, Uncle Vernon had taken the bird and thrown it out the window. Harry had watched in horror as the bird flapped its wings sloppily but, luckily enough, flew off into the street without so much as a backward glance.
“If I ever catch you with something like that ever again, boy, I’ll flay you within an inch of your life!’ his Uncle had bellowed, locking Harry back in his cupboard. Harry had cried for the rest of that day, mourning the loss of his first ever friend.
At school, a few of the other children had initially been brave enough to start a friendship with Harry, but were soon scared off by Dudley’s looming presence and impending threat of a whack in the face if anyone were ever caught in the same company of him. At such a young age, Harry hadn’t known whether to be depressed for being so alone, or angry for people not finding it in themselves to stand up to his buffoon of a cousin.
And then, of course, there were the more recent departures. Watching Sirius leave on Buckbeak in his third year only after just finding out the truth, watching Remus, the only other connection he had had to his father, leave not a day later, Cedric being killed in fourth year, Sirius being killed in fifth year, Dumbledore being killed in June, Ginny leaving just over an hour ago…
Harry sat back in his seat, clutching his bottle of lemonade tightly in his hand. It seemed his whole life had been one long, endless string of loss. From his parents at a time when he couldn’t even remember, right up to Ginny that morning. He’d watched people walk in and out of his life as casually as people were walking in and out of the small café to his right. It just wasn’t good enough. When was it going to end? When was he going to be able to feel safe and secure about the people he loved sticking around until he was old and grey?
Harry looked up at his two best friends, feeling another wave of reckless determination take hold of him. He knew the answer.
“…think you’d be happy not to be getting homework.’ Ron was saying, looking at Hermione in disbelief. ‘Isn’t researching the Founders and Horcruxes and Voldemort enough work for you? You want more stuff to stress over, do you?”
“All I’m saying is that it’s going to be strange not having to work to deadlines anymore.’ Said Hermione, giving Ron a look. ‘No more essays, no more late nights at the library, no more stressing over grades…”
“Yeah,’ said Ron happily, leaning back in his seat with a dreamy expression, ‘its going to be heaven not having to worry about any of that anymore.”
“You never worried about any of it in the first place.’ Smiled Hermione.
Ron scoffed in mock indignation. “How dare you! Don’t you know my day isn’t complete without at least three hours of research and revision?”
“Well, then, I’ll have to find more books on the Founders for you to read then, wont I?’ said Hermione with a smirk. ‘I can’t very well let your days go by without meaning or purpose.”
“Oh, I hope your joking.’ Said Ron, looking scared.
“Of course I am. Cant you tell when I’m joking by now?”
“No, I can’t. See, it happens so rarely it takes me a moment to figure out what it is you’re actually doing.”
Hermione threw him a look. “Well, who can get a witty comment in edgewise when you’re throwing around sarcasm like a hot potato all the time.”
“Don’t be jealous of my gift, Hermione. Sometimes it can be a curse.”
“So can a Babbling Charm – something I think you were given at the hospital by a drunk nurse-in-training.”
“And what did the nurse do to you? A Solemnity Charm?”
“My nurses were Muggles you half-wit.”
“I want you guys to move in with me.”
Ron and Hermione both looked around as Harry’s soft comment suddenly cut through the conversation like a whip. He was looking into his lap, cradling his lemonade bottle on his left knee while the other bounced up and down under the table. Hermione and Ron exchanged a glance.
“Harry…’ Hermione started.
Harry looked up at them over the top of his glasses. “Yes, Hermione, I’m completely serious. I want you two to move in with me.”
Ron looked at Harry in humorous surprise. “What brought this up then?”
“Well, you guys are over all the time anyway.’ Said Harry, sitting up a little. ‘Makes sense, doesn’t it? This way we can all just…be together. Like at school.”
Hermione and Ron exchanged another look, and Harry knew that they were silently wondering what had really caused this sudden decision. But Harry didn’t care; he just wanted them living with him. He wanted it official – the three of them together.
Ron laughed and sat back in his seat. “Well, I’m in. Considering you have a room for me, of course.”
Harry grinned, barely able to contain his happiness. “You know I do.”
“Your Mum won’t mind?”
“Are you kidding? Of course she’ll mind!’ Laughed Ron. ‘She’ll probably go ballistic when I tell her. But it’s not up to her now. I’m a grown man, of age, and if I want to move out of the house I bloody well will.”
Harry smiled, but felt a little reluctant. “Are you sure? I don’t want to come in-between you and your Mum…”
“She’ll get over it.’ Laughed Ron, giving Harry a reassuring look. 'Besides, not like she won't be coming over all the time anyway, what with Order meetings and all."
Harry nodded, mentally ticked that off his list, and looked at his other best friend. “Hermione? What about you?”
But Hermione didn’t look as eager as Ron. She was biting her lip, looking at Harry nervously as if afraid he was about to yell at her. Harry didn’t miss her reluctance, and felt disappointment begin to overshadow his excitement.
He nodded knowingly. “You’re not going to.”
“Oh, Harry, its not that I don’t want to…’ she said, her tone pleading for understanding. ‘It’s just difficult. Complicated.”
“How is it complicated?’ asked Ron. ‘You just said you wanted to.”
“And I do.’ Said Hermione earnestly. ‘I just…I don’t think I should at the moment. Its not the right place for me.”
Harry frowned. “Are you worried about safety? Because no-one knows where to find Grimmauld Place but us…”
“No, it’s not my safety…it’s my parents.’ said Hermione softly. ‘They have no protection against magic, and if they ever get tangled up in anything because of me…’ she trailed off and ran her fingers through her bushy locks.
Ron and Harry exchanged a look. Hermione never really brought the topic up and, until now, they honestly (and selfishly) hadn’t thought about what Hermione must have been going through. Both their families could defend themselves from any Death Eater attacks, but Hermione parents were muggles with not a drop of magic in their blood. If they were to get caught up in the middle…
Harry caught Hermione’s eye with a determined look. “You know we would never let anything happen to them, Hermione.”
“Yes, I know.’ Said Hermione, giving him a small smile. ‘But all the same…just for now…I think I should be with them.”
Ron gave her a supportive smile. “We understand.”
“Do you?’ she said, looking utterly relieved.
“Sure we do.’ Said Harry. ‘Just know that my door is open to you anytime of the day or night. Don’t knock, just come over. What’s mine is yours and so on and so forth.”
Hermione smiled at both boys, her eyes welling up. “Oh, you two…’
“Aww, now, don’t start with the water-works.’ Said Ron, throwing a napkin at her. ‘Or we’ll be glad you decided not to move in with us.”
“With compassion like that, it’s a wonder I didn’t, isn’t it?’ said Hermione sarcastically.
Harry smiled, feeling much more satisfied that he had at least cemented one of their fates in his mind.
Lily took the stairs two at a time, not even looking up from her large book. She knew the layout of the house so well now she felt she could navigate its halls in the dead of night. It was a little disturbing to know that she could walk the halls of Sirius’s old house as confidently as she could her own childhood home, but as quikly as the thought popped into her head she pushed it out again.
She walked up the hall toward Harry’s room, turning the page of her book as she approached his door. “Hey, Harry, have you read this book on Giants? It’s amazing! Did you know that in the late fifteen hundreds three clans of Giants had overrun the south island of New Zealand? It took one thousand witches and wizards to banish them and get back control of the…oh.’
She stopped at the bedroom two doors up from her own to see the door wide open and Harry inside, casting charm after charm around the room. He was standing in the middle of the room, waving his wand around like an orchestra conductor organizing his musicians. The curtains opened and flapped, ridding themselves of dust, a broom swept itself across the floor, the bed was making itself, books were staking themselves on the shelves, a duster was dusting every inch of the room…Lily had to bite back a smile as the scene reminded her of that bit in that cartoon movie The Sword In The Stone where Merlin was packing all his things in a single suitcase.
“What are you doing?’ she laughed, shutting her book around her finger.
Harry looked at her over his shoulder. “Oh, er…just cleaning up a bit.”
“What in heaven’s name for? We don’t even use this room!”
“We do now.”
Harry opened his mouth to answer, but something over her shoulder caught his eye and he smiled. Lily frowned and looked around just as a large frame carrying four large rolls of paper under his arms squeezed past her into the room.
“Oh, sorry, Mrs. Potter!’ laughed Ron, giving her a passing smile.
“Careful with that one.’ Laughed Harry, stepping aside to let Ron pass. ‘She’s a valuable piece of furniture.”
Lily just watched as Ron climbed up onto the bed and began putting up his Chudley Cannon posters. She felt very out of the loop suddenly. “Er…am I missing something here? What’s going on?”
Ron looked around at her, and then frowned at Harry. “You didn’t tell her? You idiot! You said you’d tell her!”
“I didn’t get around to it!’ said Harry defensively.
“Tell me what?’ cried Lily.
Harry gave Ron’s glare a look and then smiled at his mother. “Ron’s moving in with us.”
Lily’s eyes widened and she looked at Ron, smiling at his anxious expression. “Oh, I see!”
“Is that alright?’ said Ron quickly. ‘I mean, if it’s not alright by you…’
“No, of course it alright honey, don’t be silly.’ She laughed, giving him a reassuring smile. ‘It’s just a surprise, is all! Harry, you didn’t even give me any warning! If you had said you were going to ask him I would have done all this for you this morning.”
Ron laughed and walked back out of the room as Harry ceased his spells. “It was a spare of the moment thing actually. It just kind of…slipped out.”
Lily smiled at him. “Are you feeling protective?’
“So what if I am?’ said Harry quickly, looking away to hide his blush.
“Nothing! Its cute. You're cute.”
"I'm not cute, I'm very... rugged and manly."
Ron came back into the room with a large box in his arms and a smile on his face. “I can’t believe I’m actually going to be sleeping in a room without a ghoul rattling the pipes above me. Oh, excuse me, Mrs. Potter.”
“As long as my snoring doesn’t bother you I think you’ll be fine in here.’ Said Lily, stepping aside to let him past. ‘And it’s ‘Lily’.”
“Okay, Mrs. Potter.” Smiled Ron, putting the box down.
“Harry Potter Sir!”
Harry only had a second to register what the sound had been before he was sent crashing to the floor by something small throwing itself at him, hitting him square in the midriff. Harry let out a cry as he landed hard on the floorboards. He tried to suck in breath, but something had him in a tight grip around the middle.
“Harry, what on earth…’ cried Lily, looking down at him in alarm. ‘What’s going on? Who is that?’
Harry ignored both his mother’s frantic questions and Ron’s but-gusting laughter and half-grinned, half grimaced down at the thing hugging him. “Hello Dobby.”
The little house elf looked up at Harry with wide red eyes, his bottom lip trembling on the verge of tears. “Oh, Harry Potter, is it true what Dobby has heard? Tell Dobby they are lies!”
“Well, that all depends on what you’ve heard.’ Said Harry, throwing Ron a look to make him shut up. ‘If it’s that stupid rumor about me having secret affairs with Bellatrix Lestrange to gain inside information on Voldemort, then…’
“Oh, no, Sir!’ cried Dobby, looking horrified. ‘Dobby has heard from the other House Elves that Harry Potter is not returning to Hogwarts!”
Harry cleared his throat, looking at Dobby nervously in anticipation of what the House Elf’s reaction would be once he found out that this wasn’t just a rumor. “Listen, how about you let me get up and I’ll tell you what’s happening. But only if you promise me not to let anyone else know!’
“Oh, of course not, Sir! Dobby keeps Harry Potter’s secrets!’
Dobby climbed off Harry and, with a wince, Harry got to his feet. He rubbed his backside where he had fell and sat down on the bed with a grunt. Dobby stood there in front of him, twisting his hands anxiously with an expression of awe and excitement on his face.
Harry sighed and ruffled his hair. “So…you noticed I wasn’t at dinner then?’
“Dobby was helping set out the plates, and Dobby didn’t see Harry Potter anywhere.’ Dobby said softly, scratching his bat-like ears. ‘Dobby started to wonder if perhaps Harry Potter was still stuck on the train like last year, or was taking another car to school…but then Harry Potter didn’t come in at all! Dobby had to come…to see if Harry Potter was alright…’
“See?’ chuckled Ron, waving a hand at Dobby. ‘Someone noticed your big boofhead missing!”
Harry threw Ron a look. “Dobby, you remember Ron.”
Dobby gave Ron a low, sweeping bow. “Dobby does, Sir. Harry Potter’s Wheezy…the thing Harry Potter would miss the most…at the bottom of the lake!”
“Hmmm…should have left him down there.’ Muttered Harry, glaring at Ron’s smirk. Ron was just having too much fun for his liking. He looked back at Dobby, but Dobby wasn’t looking at Harry or Ron anymore.
“Hello, miss.’ Said Dobby, looking at Lily with curious eyes.
Lily gave him a small smile. “Hello.”
“Er…Dobby, this is…a cousin of Ron’s.’ lied Harry quickly. ‘She’s just visiting for a while. I’m letting her stay with me.”
Dobby smiled at Lily and gave her another bow. “Pleasure to meet a friend of Harry Potter’s, miss!”
Lily smiled; fascinated to finally be able to meet the famous House Elf that had both put Harry in and gotten Harry out of danger. “You too, Dobby."
Harry let out a small breath of relief. He’d been afraid that Dobby would suspect foul play, but obviously the little Elf trusted Harry enough to take his word as gospel.
“So, Dobby…’ said Harry, beckoning his little friend over again. ‘How was the opening feast?”
Dobby’s smile vanished and his ears drooped. “Oh, it was most sad, Harry Potter. Everyone is missing Professor Dumbledore. Harry Potter was not the only person missing from the feast tonight.”
“Who else wasn’t there?’ asked Ron.
“Older students, Master Wheezy. They is not wanting to come back. Dobby did not see his old Master Malfoy either.”
“No, you wouldn’t.’ said Harry darkly.
Lily sat down beside Harry. “Who’s teaching Defense against the Dark Arts this year?”
Dobby brightened up and, to Harry’s confusion, beamed at Ron. “Professor Wheezy! He will make a good Professor, Dobby thinks!”
Ron frowned at Dobby. “What?”
“Professor Wheezy!’ said Dobby, beaming again. ‘He has said to Dobby that Dobby may help in classes sometimes! Dobby is most glad to help in any way.”
“Which Wheezy, Dobby?’ asked Ron frantically.
Dobby’s smile faltered. “William Wheezy…with the long hair like his sister…with the earring like his wife…’
Ron’s eyes widened. “Bill?”
“Bill’s teaching Defense?’
“My brother, Bill?’ said Ron, looking panicky and outraged.
“You didn’t know?’ asked Harry incredulously.
“No, I bloody-well didn’t know!’ said Ron, looking at Dobby as if trying to tell if the little creature was yanking his chain or not. ‘He didn’t tell any of us that! Did he tell you guys?”
Lily and Harry shook their heads.
Ron sighed and shakily ran his hands through his hair. “Merlin’s ghost…’
“I’ll get you some tea.’ Said Lily, getting to her feet.
“I don’t know if tea is the best solution here.’ whispered Harry, grabbing her hand. ‘And on his first night here…’
“Hey, if he’s going to be living here, he’s going to do as the Potter’s do.’ Said Lily, taking her hand back. ‘He’s in my care now, and I’ll calm him however I see fit.”
Harry shook his head at her. “You’re such a good parent…giving kids tea and alcohol instead of words of encouragement…’
“They’re already polishing my award.’ Said Lily. And with that, she gave Harry’s cheek a soft stroke and left the room.
Harry looked at Ron. He had his head in his hands and his shoulders were sagged. Harry understood what Ron was thinking. He didn’t like to think of anyone he cared about in that job either; ever since he’d learnt of what Voldemort had done to the position, he held it in very low regard. All in that position had either lost their memory, gone insane, gone missing, been fired or died. Not the best track record. He could only imagine what was going through Ron’s head now. For Bill to be in that job was one thing, but for him to go into it without telling any of his family…
“Has Dobby said something wrong, Harry Potter?’ said Dobby, looking nervous.
“Oh, er…no, Dobby, it’s alright.’ Said Harry, looking down at the elf. He gave Ron one last look and then turned his attention back to the creature in front of him. ‘Okay Dobby, tell me everything that’s going on.”
Lily watched from the doorway, her arms folded over her chest and a smile on her face as she looked upon her husband and son on the floor. James was on his back, lifting Harry up over his head like an airplane, waving him around playfully as Harry giggled his head off, his bright green eyes wide with delight.
“And here comes Potter! He’s flying up the pitch, he’s got the Quaffle!’ laughed James, making the swishing noises of flying as he maneuvered Harry above him. ‘He swerves left…he swerves right…he goes for the shot…he scores! Harry Potter, star chaser of the Gryffindor team scores his tenth goal for the match! And the crowd goes wild! AHHH!”
Harry giggled madly as James twisted him from side to side, tickling his chubby little sides. James laughed, brought Harry down and kissed him madly on the neck, blowing and play-biting as Harry continued to squeal in delight.
Lily loved watching them play together. Harry simply adored James and almost nothing seemed to make him happier than being in his father arms. James would always have time to play with him, never too busy or too tired. It was a different pastime every time the two of them got together. Today it was Quidditch; yesterday it was dragon bubbles from the end of James’s wand, the day before it was Harry riding around the backyard on the back of a Stag. She wandered what tomorrow would bring. Another day of giggles and happiness; something they could not get enough of in these dark times.
“Oh, Lils!’ cried James, sitting up as he spotted his wife in the doorway.
“I’m sorry; I didn’t mean to interrupt this fine display of masculinity.’ She smiled, coming into the room properly. ‘Enjoying another male bonding session I see.”
James laughed, cradled Harry to his chest and got to his feet. “Yeah, I thought we’d have a quick one before we had to leave.”
Lily frowned. “Leave?”
“Yeah. Did you want to say good-bye to him quickly?’ asked James, pushing his glasses back up the ridge of his nose. He looked at Harry, grabbed his little wrist and made Harry wave. ‘Say bye to Mummy.”
“Where are you going?’ asked Lily, taking another step forward.
But James took another step back, his normally joyful expression suddenly going serious. “I have to take him.”
“Take him? Take him where?’
“To our Lord.’ Said James. He cradled Harry against him more tightly, looking at Lily as if she were an approaching enemy. ‘You can’t stop it.”
Lily frowned, beginning to panic. “Our Lord? James, what the hell are you on about?’
“He wants us to see him, Lily.’ Said James, taking another step backward. ‘He wants us to go to him.”
“James, this isn’t funny anymore.’ Said Lily angrily. ‘Give Harry to me.”
James backed up a little more from her outstretched arms, tightening his grip on Harry possessively. “You can’t stop it, Lily. It’s his destiny. It’s our destiny.”
Lily was begining feeling faint with panic. The room around her was growing darker, James and Harry were fading…fading into the darkness…she could barely see them…
“James?’ she cried, trying to move. Her feet were planted to the floor.
“I’m sorry, Lily.’ Said James, his voice an echoing whisper. ‘The Dark Lord wants him. The Dark Lord needs him.”
“James! James, don’t go! Don’t leave me here! James! JAMES!”
“JAMES!” screamed Lily, sitting bolt upright.
She looked around madly, feeling confused and disorientated, her skin covered in a thin sheet of sweat as she breathed heavily. The bedroom was dark and silent; streams of silver moonlight were filtering through the curtains. Her bedcovers were pooled in her lap and strands of red hair were sticking to her sweaty brow. She panted, her heart beating madly against her ribcage.
Panicked, Lily threw the covers off her, leapt up out of bed and bolted from the room. She ran up the hall to the fourth door on the right, pushed the door inward and stopped dead.
Harry was lying in bed, his right leg and arm hanging loosely off the side of the mattress and his mouth wide open. His pajama top had ridden up in his sleep, exposing his belly and his covers were kicked off and pooled in a bunch at his feet. The room was silent, save for his light snores and Lily’s heavy breathing.
Lily let out a sigh of relief and slumped against the doorframe, putting a hand to her heart. He’s alright, she thought madly, trying to calm down. He’s okay…just a dream…just a nightmare…
Tentatively, she walked into the room right up to his beside. She hugged herself and smiled down at him as he slept. Without his glasses on he looked even more like James. His black, tousled hair lay over the white pillow like a split ink stain. He had the same cheekbones, the same jaw, the same ears…it was eerie, like looking at a ghost.
Hesitantly, she reached out her hand and let it hover just centimeters from his face. She motioned her hand down his cheek, over his shoulders and along his arm. She wanted to reach out and touch him, but didn’t dare wake him. He had so few nights of restful sleep; it seemed cruel to disturb his peaceful slumber just for a moment of tactile reassurance. She put her fore and middle finger to her lips, blew him a small kiss and then backed out of the room, shutting the door behind her with a soft ‘click’.
She went back to her room in something of a daze, feeling a heavy weight sitting on her chest. She stood in the middle of her room for a long moment, looking around but not really seeing. She looked at the bed, finding it empty. No James on his side of the bed, snoring his head off, muttering in his sleep about Quidditch, or reaching out for her to hold her close against or, or leaning over to kiss her and touch her in the only way he knew how. Lily’s bottom lip trembled and she let out a sigh of sadness, surrendering herself to her grief. She missed him so much. It hurt like a burning hole in her heart that nothing could put out or fill. Nothing but him – the one thing in the world she couldn’t have.
Lily crossed to her wardrobe and pulled the doors open. She pushed the clothes aside and moved inside to grab out something from in the corner, right at the back. She pulled it out and stepped out of the wardrobe, crossing over to her bed. She sat down in the middle of the mattress and unfolded the shirt in her arms. It was a brown, long sleeved shirt with frayed cuffs and creases in the arms where the sleeves had been constantly rolled up to the elbow. It was the first ever shirt Lily had bought James. She had given it to him on their first ever Christmas as a couple and he’d never worn any other piece of clothing more – he’d even worn it under his dress robes at their wedding. She’d found it back at their old house at Godric’s Hollow, stuffed in the clothes hamper in their room, still waiting after sixteen years to be put into the wash. She didn’t think she should feel guilty for going back to the derelict house they used to call home to find something of his. She’d just wanted something of his so badly…something that was just his…
Lily let out a sob as tears began to run down her cheeks. Not having the energy to bottle up her grief anymore, she hugged the shirt tightly to her, letting the shirt soak up her tears like James would soak up her grief with a hug. She lay down on the bed and snuggled up under the covers, laying the shirt out on the extra pillow beside her. She put an arm around the pillow and held it tightly, inhaling the tiniest scent of aftershave of James’s shirt, letting it comfort her. Letting it give her a moment where she could pretend that James was still there with her