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A Time to Live by ladymblack
Chapter 16 : Chapter 16: First Day
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 26

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Chapter 16: The First Day

As Ron lifted Hermione he scowled at Seamus and said, “I saw how much you gave her!  She’s never had more than one dose of firewhiskey before.”

“Sorry, mate, I just wanted to make sure she had a good time,” Seamus said in a small voice.

“I think everyone’s had enough, Seamus,” Harry said reaching out for the bottle. He didn’t hesitate to put it into Harry’s waiting hand.

“I’d better put her in bed,” Ron said, looking down at the sleeping form in his arms.

Harry checked his watch, turned to the room at large and said, “Curfew’s in ten minutes, so I’ll expect this room to be cleared by then.”

He set a charm so that he would know whether or not this order had been obeyed and left the room with his friends.

Morning seemed to come too soon to Harry and Ginny, both of whom had drunk a few shots of firewhiskey the previous evening.  Harry was quite glad that he hadn’t had to go back to the common room to kick everyone out.  It would seem that they all took him at his word.  Harry and Ginny had just pulled on their weekend clothes and closed their trunks when they heard a knock on the door.

Sharing a confused look with Harry, Ginny said, “Come in.”

Ron entered; looking distinctly disheveled, and said, “Ginny, could you come help me with Hermione?  I can’t get her out of bed and I still need to get her dressed before we can go up to McGonagall’s office.”

She shared a smirk with Harry before following her brother out of the room.  Harry couldn’t help but laugh as he descended the stairs to the Gryffindor common room.

“Morning,” Neville grumbled from a sofa, stifling a yawn.  “So, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about the Sword of Gryffindor.”

“What about it?” Harry said in confusion.

“Well, I know that Dumbledore gave it to you in his will, but I pulled it out of the Sorting Hat.  I thought we ought to decide between us what to do with it,” Neville explained, pulling the sword out from under the robes he was wearing.

“Albus only put that in his will so that I would know what it was for.  I don’t think anyone can actually inherit it.  If someone needed it, it would be taken from your hands and be given to that worthy Gryffindor.  It’s entirely up to you at this point.  You’re the last person to wield the sword.  I think you should just give it to Minerva to place back into its case, to be honest,” Harry suggested.

Neville nodded his agreement and they both turned to watch Ron and Ginny helping an unsteady Hermione down her staircase, Ron’s feet lifted off of the ground slightly.

“I don’t want to go home right now.  I just want to sleep, Ron,” Hermione mumbled.

“We’ve got to go home.  We’re in trouble, remember?” Ron said quietly and she groaned in response.

The five students met up with their coconspirator, on their way to the Headmistress’s office, who also looked a little worse for wear. 

“So I was wondering if you could give me some advice,” Neville said to Harry.  “I know you went out with Parvati…”

“Unless you count the disastrous half-date we had going to the Yule ball together, I’ve never gone out with her,” Harry said.

“Yeah, but I thought you might know how best to break up with her.  I just don’t think I can take her much longer.  She’s a little too high-strung for me,” Neville said with a pleading look.

“I’m not the best person to ask.  I’ve never broken up with anyone,” Harry told him.

Ginny cleared her throat and stopped walking.  “Excuse me?”

Harry rolled his eyes slightly and said, “Breaking up with you doesn’t count, Gin.  I didn’t want to break up with you, I just had to.”

She looked at him closely as all of the others stopped around them.  Her eyes narrowed and she said, “So it wasn’t difficult to do?  It didn’t break my heart?”

“Of course it was difficult to do!  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life; giving up the person who gave me everything; giving up my one sense of normalcy.  If I’d had more sense, I might have realized that I was giving you up because I loved you too much to further endanger you.  I never wanted to break your heart.  You know that,” Harry said.

“I know, but that doesn’t mean that you didn’t break it, Harry,” she replied, looking pained as though remembering the emotions she’d felt at the time.

“I’m sorry, Ginny.  Do you think you’ll ever be able to forgive me for it?” he asked quietly.

She smiled slightly at that and said coyly, “Oh, I don’t know.  Someday I’ll forgive you, maybe when you’re…oh I don’t know….about fifty?”

Harry’s spirits lifted and he laughed.  “Well, at least I’ll have something to look forward to in my old age.”

“Now, as to Neville’s problem,” Ginny said, bringing the conversation back to its original intention.  “I think you should just tell her that you aren’t right for each other.  You were brought together during a time of great stress and upheaval.  She may already be thinking the same thing anyway.”

“Maybe,” Neville responded, looking thoughtful as they approached the gargoyle and gave it the password to allow them entrance.

Ron held Hermione tightly as the stairs revolved, bringing them face-to-face with Minerva McGonagall.  Her lips were pursed tightly, telling them that she was either aware of their party the previous evening or was still remembering their stunt at dinner.  She didn’t say a word, but just peered at up at them from her desk.

“Professor, I wanted to hand over the sword to you,” Neville said, approaching her with the relic clasped gently in his hands as he presented it to her.

“Thank you, Neville.  I shall put it back where it belongs,” she said crisply, accepting the sword and putting it into its case on the wall.  They all looked at it fondly for a few moments.  Minerva turned around and said, “Well, Harry, here is the portrait that you asked to be commissioned.”

Harry picked up the wrapped parcel and shrank it down so that it would fit into his jeans pocket.  He smiled at the portrait of Albus Dumbledore behind the Headmistress’s desk, who winked at Harry and smiled at his former students.

“Harry, I know that you didn’t want to reconnect either house with the Floo, so I’ll be sending you to Luna’s.  Neville, you can go straight home to your grandmother’s,” Minerva told them, indicating her fireplace.

Neville said, “I’ll let you all know what I’m doing once I figure everything out,” as he stepped into the flames.

Ron helped Hermione into the fireplace and was quickly followed by Luna and Ginny. 

Harry turned back for a moment and said, “Minerva?”  He paused a moment, as he waited for her to look at him.  “I’m sorry about what I did yesterday.  I really wouldn’t have hurt them.  Can you forgive me for scaring you?”

She sighed and said, “I know, Harry.  I’ll forgive you if you’ll forgive me for even accusing you of such a thing.”

“Of course.  Take care of yourself, Minerva,” Harry said.

She gave him a rare smile and said, “You too, Harry.  Please be careful.  Don’t forget to write.”

He smiled back at her before following the others.  He landed neatly in the Lovegood kitchen to find Luna and Ginny already preparing some breakfast for all of them.  Ron had deposited Hermione onto a couch in the sitting room and was sitting at the table expectantly.  Xenophilius was hovering over Luna, trying to help her. 

“Just sit down, Daddy, I’ve got it all taken care of,” Luna said, her voice surprisingly sharp and her father obeyed her.

Harry asked if he could do anything and the ladies set him to placing dishes and cutlery on the table.

“Did everyone have a good summer at school?” Xenophilius asked.

“Yes, Daddy, we had a marvelous time.  Ginny was voted to head the D.A., and I’m to be her Vice-President.  Isn’t that wonderful?  I’m so excited.”

“You were pretty much already in that position, Luna, while we were all away last year,” Ron said.

“I suppose so, but it’ll be different now that we’re not in the middle of a war with Death Eaters at the school,” Ginny pointed out.  “You know, we should have invited Neville to join us for breakfast.”

Harry shrugged and walked over to the fireplace, shouting, “Longbottom Estate.”

He could see into a large ornate sitting room.  Neville walked up with a concerned look on his face.  “Is there something wrong?”

“Not at all.  Ginny and Luna are making breakfast.  Care to join us?” Harry asked.

“Love to,” Neville responded with an air of relief and Harry pulled out of the fireplace to allow Neville to enter the kitchen.

“Is everything okay at home?” Harry asked.

Neville shook his head with dismay and said, “My gran’s furious over the sword.”

“But you couldn’t have kept it forever,” Ron said, taking in the conversation.

“You try to tell her that, Ron.  She seems to think that because I pulled it out of the hat it’s mine to keep.  I tried to explain, but it’s useless.  After the battle she kept making me bring it down into the sitting room to show to her friends.  It was a bit annoying, really,” Neville said.

They all had an enjoyable laugh as Luna and Ginny began to bring dishes to the table.  Once the group had finished their repast, Ron went to wake up Hermione and they all left for their respective homes.

Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione entered the kitchen of the Burrow as quietly as possible, but it was already full.

Arthur and Percy sat at the table while Molly and Andromeda were standing by the stove talking quietly.  They all looked over as the young people came in.

“What are you doing here?” Arthur asked, scratching his head.

“Well, see, Professor McGonagall thought it might be best if we took the Floo home….so we’ve been at Luna’s…” Ginny said brightly, hoping that they hadn’t already been informed that this was due to punishment.

“Well, that’s good.  We won’t have to fight the crowds at King’s Cross again,” Molly said with relief.  “Sit down, and I’ll get you something to eat.”

Not wishing to hurt her feelings, Harry immediately sat at the table and was quickly joined by the others.

“Come on, ‘Mione, just a little bit of toast,” Ron wheedled to Hermione who had her head on his shoulder.  He tried to push the toast into her mouth but she batted at his hand.

“Is she alright?” Molly asked, running over to place the back of her hand on Hermione’s forehead.

“She’s fine, Mum, uh, she’s just really tired,” Ron said, obviously not wishing to tell his mother about the party they’d been involved in nor that Hermione had accidentally gotten blitzed.

Harry heard a wail and immediately stood to answer it.  Ginny looked at him pointedly and said, “Bring him down quickly.”

Harry climbed the familiar stairs to his godson’s room and pushed the door open.  He found Teddy gabbing away in baby-talk and his arms swinging in the air from inside his crib.

“Hey, Ted,” Harry said, lifting the baby.  As an unpleasant scent reached his nose he said, “Well, I guess we know why you were crying.”

He laughed as he quickly changed Teddy’s nappy, telling him all about the prank they’d pulled.  “There we are, all better,” Harry said, picking up the newly clean baby.

“Da-da-da-da,” Teddy said as he gazed intently into Harry’s face.

Harry stopped in mid-step and looked at his godson, feeling his heart contract painfully.  “No, Teddy, I’m Harry.  I’m…I’m not Dad,” Harry told him, wondering how many times he might have to try to explain this to the boy as he grew up.

Harry felt weighted down as he descended the stairs, cuddling Teddy tightly.  The child didn’t seem to be upset at all though and continued to gurgle contentedly, playing with his godfather’s hand.

As Harry retook his seat between Ginny and Hermione, Ginny immediately held her arms out to Teddy who giggled happy at the welcomed sight.  Hermione was asleep once again, as she leaned into Ron’s shoulder.

“Do you think you could hang on to her for a second?  I’ll go see if George left any of that potion in his room.  Do you want some?” Ron asked.  Harry and Ginny shook their heads as it seemed breakfast had revived them well enough.  Ron gently nudged Hermione’s head onto Harry’s shoulder, whose arm went around his friend to keep her from falling.  Ron returned a few moments later and shook Hermione slightly.

“Oh!  Don’t do that, Ron,” she said in a pitiful tone.

“Come on, drink this.  You’ll feel better, I promise,” he said, tipping the contents of a vial down her throat.

A few minutes later she declared that she was starving and a confused Molly quickly fixed her a plate of food.

“Remind me to kill Seamus the next time I see him,” Hermione declared, her mouth full of egg.

They all laughed and Ron said, “Don’t worry, I’ve already promised to kill him myself.”

“Thank you, Ronald, that was surprisingly thoughtful,” Hermione said with a smirk.

George came bounding through the door with a mischievous grin on his face.  “So, what’s going on?  Are you lot being punished for what you did yesterday?  I couldn’t believe it when Mum said you’d taken the Floo home instead of the train!”

Molly, Arthur, Percy and Andromeda all looked at George questioningly while Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny all closed their eyes in anticipation of the expected tirade.  Molly rounded on her youngest children.  “And what exactly did you do yesterday that might warrant punishment?”

Ron glared at his brother and said, “Thanks, George!”

George sat down at the table, helping himself to food with a satisfied grin on his face as he leaned back to enjoy the fireworks.  Meanwhile, Ron was trying to explain the prank they’d pulled the day before.  This didn’t stop Molly from yelling at them, by any means.

Finally Hermione said, “You know, in all of our time there, we never even got to pull a harmless prank.  We were too busy worrying about fighting against Voldemort.  I think that we deserved to go out with a…BANG.”

“Besides,” Harry said, “Minerva’s already forgiven us.  She was going to send us home this way anyhow.”

They spent the afternoon playing Quidditch in the orchard and goofing around with Teddy, enjoying the summer weather.  In the evening everyone sat down to figure out how best to get Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes reopened the following day.  They hadn’t been able to set a schedule since Ron still didn’t know what days he would be at the Ministry, so it was decided that Ginny would work with George (until she went back to school) as much as possible as she was the only one without a full-time job.  By the time Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione Apparated back to Grimmauld Place it had gotten late and exhaustion had set in.

They had all agreed to meet in Diagon Alley at six the following morning.  The street was pretty much deserted as they approached the shop, Harry and Ron walking with George between them.

George turned to Ron and, shaking his head, said, “I can’t do this.  I really can’t.  You do it.  I…I’ve gotta go home.”

“No, you can do this.  You need to do this,” Ron insisted, putting a hand on his brother’s arm.  George closed his eyes as though it might be easier that way.  Harry aimed his wand at the door and used the incantation that Percy had told them they’d need to open it.

Most of the shelves seemed to be in pretty good order, however there were very few Skiving Snackboxes left and all of the Defense Against the Dark Arts products were completely gone.  George was in his element as he showed everyone how to begin replenishing stock.  Molly, Bill and Charlie (both of whom had taken the morning off from work), had agreed to help out and were working just as hard as anyone. 

Alicia walked into the shop, not even looking at anyone, and straight through to the stockroom where George was setting up a few cauldrons to start on the Skiving Snackboxes.  He looked up at her, glared and turned back to what he’d been doing.  She took no notice of this and shut the door behind her.

Angelina then entered and looked at the closed stockroom door.  “I take it Alicia’s already here?” she asked cautiously.

“Yes, I don’t understand what’s been going on,” Molly confessed.

“Things haven’t been going very well with them, since, well, you know, since the battle,” Angelina responded uncomfortably.  It had been common knowledge that George and Alicia had been going out for over a year.

Everyone in the room shared a look before Molly began rummaging through some junk under the counter.

“Looking for one of these, Mum?” Ginny asked, unable to hide her amusement as she handed her mother an Extendable Ear.

It was unnecessary to eavesdrop however as the door to the stockroom opened once again and Alicia stood there with fury on her face.  She turned to George and shouted, “Fine.  It’s over then.  I hope you’re happier with your misery than you were with me.”

She slammed the door so that the entire wall shook and a few products fell to the floor.  Harry and Ron both made to go talk to George, but Angelina held up a hand.  “I’ll take care of George,” she said, “in a moment.”

She stalked up to Alicia and demanded, “What have you done to him now?”

“Me?” Alicia sneered.  “I think a better question would be what has he done to himself or what has he done to me?”

“You know what I mean.  And this isn’t about you, it’s about George,” Angelina retorted, her face inches away from Alicia’s as she glared into the other girl’s eyes.  “He needs you to be understanding right now.  You need to stop badgering him.”

“What do you know of it?  For the last four months I have done everything in my power to help him.  He doesn’t want anyone’s help.  He wants to wallow in grief for the rest of his life.  Well, that’s fine with me.  I’m done with him,” Alicia whispered, although she might have shouted for the amount of venom that dripped from her tongue.

“He just needs time, Alicia.  You can’t expect him to suddenly forget everything.”

“Look, I don’t even know who that man is anymore.  He’s certainly not the George I fell in love with.”

Angelina gave her a look of disgust and shook her head in disbelief.  “Of course he’s not himself.  Can’t you try to imagine how he must be feeling right now?”

“Oh, and I suppose you know my boyfriend better than I do.  Well, Miss George-Weasley-expert, what is he feeling?” Alicia asked with intense sarcasm, folding her arms across her chest and giving Angelina a fake look of anticipation.

Angelina rolled her eyes and said, “I’m not pretending to be an expert about George.  I certainly don’t know him as well as I knew…as I knew...F-Fred, but I can tell you what Fred would have felt if the situation were reversed.”

Angelina paused to take a deep breath as she tried to keep her composure.  She finally said fiercely, “Fred would have felt as though he were suddenly alone in the world, as though he’d lost a piece of his soul along with George.  He would have wondered how he could make it through each day looking in the mirror and seeing George looking back at him…”

She broke off and continued in a choked voice, “That’s how Fred would have felt, and I’m sure that that’s how George feels right now.”

“Well, it’s not my problem anymore, to be perfectly honest,” Alicia told her with disdain.  “He just dumped me for about the tenth time and I accepted.  If you know him so well and care for him so much why don’t you let him take up where Fred left off with you?”

Angelina looked as though she’d been hit in the face with a heavy blow.  “That was completely uncalled for.”

Alicia shrugged and said, “I know you’ve been visiting him at his brother’s house rather frequently.”

“We all have, because we all care about him!  I go because I’m his friend and I understand the pain he’s going through.  Unlike you, I’ve been going there to help him, not make him feel worse about himself.”

With that Alicia turned on her heal and exited the shop.  Angelina took another deep breath, wiped at her eye and quietly opened the door to the stockroom, leaving it ajar.  George was still standing in the middle of the room facing one of the cauldrons in the back, but seemed to be simply staring at the wall.

“George?” she whispered.

He jumped and turned around.  He smiled slightly and said, “Angelina, what are you doing here?!!  I thought you said you were going home to France yesterday.” 

“I changed my mind,” she responded, taking a few tentative steps forward.  “I’d rather stay in England.”

George’s mouth hung open for a moment and then an enormous grin broke onto his face.  “Really?”

“Really,” she said.

As they all saw George’s smile, they realized that in the last few months they hadn’t seen a true smile on George’s face; one that hadn’t been forced or contrived.  This smile radiated happiness.

George approached her a bit and asked, “What made you change your mind?”

“Hmm, I suppose you did,” she said.  He seemed to look thoughtful for a moment, but she walked right up to him then and said, “I mean that I thought about what you said.  This is my home and I realized that you needed me.”

“But I think that I need you too, George.  I should never have gone to France in the first place,” she said on a sob.

His arms came around her and he said, “I know, Angie.  It’s okay.  I’m just glad you’re staying.  That’s all that matters now.”

Molly waved her wand at the door, and it shut almost silently.  Most everyone stood there with jaws dropped.

Ron gave a nervous chuckle and said, “Well, I don’t suppose any of us really guessed that one.”

Moments later, George came out to see how everyone was doing and gave new instructions to those who had finished their tasks.  The shop was finally ready to open by ten and there was already a line of Hogwarts students, past and present, waiting to stock up on their favorite pranks.  Once it seemed as though things were in hand, Bill and Percy both left for work.  But everyone else was still kept busy helping customers and trying to keep products on the shelves.

In the afternoon, Harry slipped out of the shop.  He made his way towards Ollivander’s, with his head down to avoid recognition.  He couldn’t help but notice that Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlor had been boarded up and the sign taken down; and he thought about Florean’s help with his History of Magic homework during the summer he’d stayed at the Leaky Cauldron.  Harry then vividly remembered his first visit to the wandmaker’s so many years ago as he crossed the threshold.

“Mr. Ollivander?” Harry called.

“Mr. Potter!” Ollivander said in surprise as he walked up to his counter.  Then his brow furrowed and he asked fearfully, “Is everything alright?”

“Oh, yes, everything’s just fine.”

“Is there something wrong with the wand I made for you?  If so, I’d be happy to make a new one.”


“No, there’s nothing wrong with the wand.  At least, I don’t think there is.  But that’s not what I came here for.  I came to ask a favor of you.”

“Anything, dear boy,” Ollivander said, as though this were obvious.

“Well, I was hoping you might consent to make a new wand for Draco Malfoy.  Even though I gave him his old wand back, he doesn’t seem to be comfortable with it.”

Ollivander looked displeased by the request and so Harry added, “You were there for a long time.  You know he didn’t have much choice in his actions and that he regretted them.  I’d feel better if he had a wand that worked for him.  He’s bound to be targeted now since he’s betrayed quite a few Death Eaters.”

Ollivander seemed to consider Harry for a few minutes and finally said, “If that is what you wish, Mr. Potter, then I will be happy to oblige.  Tell Mr. Malfoy that he is welcome here.  However, do not bother to ask me to make a wand for Lucius Malfoy.  That simply will not happen no matter how much you plead.”

Harry shook his head and said, “No, I’ll only ask you to make a wand for Draco.  Thank you.”

Harry gripped Ollivander’s hand before heading back to the joke shop.  Ron and Hermione both left as well for a brief stint into Gringotts to set up an account.  Although Hermione had made it clear the night before that she would no longer be sharing a room with Ron, she seemed to accept that there were things they would need to share in for the present.  Harry had already written out the authorization for the funds to be transferred from his account to the new one for Ron and Hermione.  His attention wandered however, watching a small boy looking at the display of fireworks kits.  Harry walked over to the boy, who couldn’t have been more than seven or eight years old.

“Do you need some help?” Harry asked him kindly.

The boy looked up in surprise and said in a wistful voice, “No, I don’t need any help.”

“You like fireworks?” Harry said, trying to find out if this was a sale or not, as he was told to do.

The boy looked up and enthusiastically nodded his head in response.  “I love fireworks!  Who wouldn’t?”


“Who wouldn’t indeed, so which pack do you think you might like the best?” Harry asked, gauging the boy’s response.

“It doesn’t really matter,” the boy said dejectedly.  “I can’t get even the smallest kit.”

“Mum won’t let you?” Harry asked knowingly.

“Well, I don’t know about that,” the little boy said in a sad tone.  “Mummy was killed a year ago, but Daddy hasn’t worked in ages.  He said we couldn’t buy anything today, but I could come in and look if I wanted to.”

Harry’s heart went out to the little boy as he pointed at his father, who was looking interestedly at some of the daydream charms in the WonderWitch section of the shop.  Harry turned back to the boy and pulled some gold out of his robes, handing it to him.  “Look, I think you should get this package here.  You can turn the fireworks into whatever animals take your fancy and even change their colors if you like.”

The boy looked at the galleons sitting in his hand and then at Harry with excitement.  “Really?” he asked, with glee.

Harry said quietly, “Yeah, but this will be our little secret, okay?”

The boy just nodded his head solemnly to indicate agreement and ran to the counter with the gold and the set of fireworks Harry had recommended.  Harry walked into the back room to see if Angelina needed any more help with Skiving Snackboxes, the project she’d taken over so that George could manage everything else.

Meanwhile in the store-proper, Ginny smiled as she took Harry’s gold from the little boy to pay for the fireworks, trying not to laugh at the absurdity of the situation.  The boy’s father caught up with him at that point.

“Aidan, what are you doing?!!” the man scolded.

The little boy looked worried but said, “Daddy, look!  I got us some fireworks.  Wait til you see them!  They’ll be great!”

The man looked around for a moment and asked in a whisper, “Where did you get the money for such a thing?”

“I had enough money, Daddy, I swear,” the boy said.

“Where from?  Did you steal that money?”

“No, a….a man gave it to me,” the boy pleaded.

“Gave it to you?  No one just hands a child money, Aidan.  Where did you get that money from?  Did you find it on the floor?” the man asked.  He seemed extremely agitated.  “Did you take it out of someone’s pocket?  Because if you did, Aidan, that’s called stealing and that’s not right!”

“I didn’t steal it,” the boy said, on the verge of tears.

“Harry?” Ginny called, concerned about how the exchange was going. 

He peeked his head out of the stockroom door to look at her.  He was a bit wary of the look on her face and said, “Yes, dear?”

“You’d better explain to this man, Harry.  He thinks his son stole money,” she told him.

“Bloody Hell,” Harry muttered as he made his way to the counter, to find the father and son still arguing.  He approached the father and said, “I’m sorry, sir.  I gave your son the money to pay for the sparklers.  I just thought he’d enjoy them.  I didn’t mean to get him in trouble.

The man looked at Harry and then backed away as though in terror.

“I’m Harry, by the way, what’s your name?” Harry said.

“Of…of course you are!  I’m…um…I’m umm,” the man said.

“My daddy’s name is Aaron Smith and I’m Aidan” the little boy said, looking up at Harry with neither fear nor awe.

“It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Smith,” Harry said, extending a hand and a warm smile.

The man took it, looking as though all of his dreams had come true.  “I-I-I just don’t believe it.  Why would you give my boy money for a few pranks?  We’re nobody!”

Harry frowned, “What do you mean?  I could tell he would really enjoy the fireworks, so I lent him some money to pay for them.”

The man still seemed very flustered and then said, “Please, you have to take these back, we can’t accept this sort of charity.”

“It’s not charity, Mr. Smith,” Harry said, watching as the little boy’s face fell at the thought of leaving the fireworks behind.  “Can I talk to you for a second?”

Harry turned to Ginny and said, “Why don’t you take Aidan to look at the Pygmy Puffs?”

She nodded and took Aidan’s hand over to the cage of brightly colored animals.

Harry spoke directly to Aaron, once Aidan was out of earshot and said, “Look, I know what it’s like to be in your son’s position.  I also know that to you it’s charity, but to him it’s something that will make him happy for awhile and lighten his world.  I assume you fell on hard times during the war?”

“Yes, we did,” Aaron confessed.  “My wife, Belinda, disappeared late last summer because she was trying to help others to escape.  It’s been…difficult for Aidan and me to move on.”

Harry thought he understood better now, why the father had been looking at the daydream charms and said, “I know.”

Aaron looked up and said, “Of course you do!  I’m sorry to have brought it up at all.”

The man looked uncomfortable again and Harry wanted to put the man at ease.  “Don’t be sorry.  All I ask is that you let your son enjoy his fireworks, and perhaps let him get a Pygmy Puff.”

Harry said this smilingly as Aidan had found a green Pygmy Puff that was particularly fond of him.  Ginny looked up at Harry as she played with the boy and the animal.

“I’m quite sure that a large bag of food for the animal comes with purchase, but I’ll double check with the owner,” Harry said.  He pretended to think for a moment before saying, “Yeah, it definitely does.”

This seemed to break some of the tension and Aaron laughed and said, “I don’t think I ever stopped to wonder whether or not you were a nice person, Mr. Potter, but you certainly are.  You are a very good person.”

Harry blew shortly through his nose and said, “I don’t know about that, but I do have one request of you.”

The man looked anxious and said, “Anything, sir, anything!”

“Do you think my girlfriend and I could come over to watch the fireworks with you and Aidan?” Harry asked, still watching the interaction from across the room.

“I-I-I think that can be arranged,” Aaron said faintly, looking as though he might be ill at the thought of Harry Potter coming into his home.

Harry looked at him pointedly and said, “It’ll be informal.  I just ask that you don’t tell anyone that we’re coming.”

Aaron shook his head and said, “No, of course not, sir.  We won’t tell a soul.  I’m terribly sorry that my son didn’t recognize you earlier.”

“Don’t be, because it’s nice to talk to normal people, Mr. Smith,” Harry said.  “So, I think I’ll go to pack up everything for Aidan and you can send me an owl, maybe sometime next week, when you think you want to put on that firework display.”

Harry didn’t give the man an opportunity to make a decision and just walked over to where Ginny was playing with Aidan and the Pygmy Puffs.  After making sure that Aidan had chosen the one he wanted, Harry packed everything up and included two of the daydream charms in the bag.  Harry explained to Aidan that these were special things for his father and to only give them to him once they were home.  Aidan seemed to understand and gave Harry a conspiratorial grin.  The father and son finally left the shop with smiles on their faces.

“That was really nice of you, Harry,” Ginny said proudly.

Harry shrugged and said, “I guess so.  These are some of the people that would refuse the help of the fund set up for them.”

She could see where his mind was going, towards what might have happened had things been different, and pushed him instead over to some young Hogwarts students who needed help selecting Skiving Snackboxes.

They had decided to close the shop at five that evening even though it had usually stayed open until eight.  Everyone went back to Grimmauld Place where Kreacher had a sumptuous dinner waiting for them.  They spent the evening quietly and still marveling over the young Dobby who had Kreacher’s features.  Winky was not present and Kreacher confessed to Harry that her mood had not yet improved with Dobby’s birth, as they both had obviously hoped.  Harry was concerned that this could be detrimental to Dobby, but Kreacher insisted that he would not let it be so.  Harry told Kreacher to let him know if anything out of the ordinary happened and whether or not something needed to be done about the situation.  Kreacher didn’t hesitate to agree.

Morning once again came too soon for the new workers for the Ministry of Magic as Harry, Ron and Hermione all got up early to get ready.  Ginny and George both left at the break of dawn to continue trying to replenish the diminished stock at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.  Harry, Ron and Hermione had all gotten some standard day robes the previous day and donned them before heading down for breakfast.

“Here, Master Harry,” Kreacher said, shoveling a pile of fried eggs, bacon, biscuits and pancakes onto Harry’s plate.

“Uh, Kreacher, we’re going to have lunch, you know,” Harry reminded the elf.

“Yes, sir, but what if lunch is late.  Master mustn’t be hungry.  Eat, eat,” he intoned in his bull-frog voice.

Harry knew better than to argue, and hoped that this was only a temporary reaction of Kreacher’s.  The elf had become accustomed to Harry going to the Ministry every day in the beginning of the summer.  But he supposed that while he, Ginny, Ron and Hermione had been at school, Kreacher had gotten used to them being safe there.  Indeed, Kreacher looked particularly nervous and his hand shook as he poured coffee and tea for Ron and Hermione respectively.

“Is there anything wrong, Kreacher?” Hermione asked.

“No, of course not, Miss,” Kreacher said, but his demeanor said the opposite.

“We’re going to be working there now.  It’ll be okay,” she said, very kindly.

“Yes, Ma’am,” Kreacher said, his tone indicating that he was simply agreeing because he was supposed to.

Harry, Ron and Hermione shared a look as they dove into the breakfast Kreacher had so carefully prepared for them.  He made sure they all looked perfect as he bowed them out the door, giving them words of warning.

“Moody could’ve taken notes from Kreacher,” Harry mused as they stood on the front steps of Grimmauld Place to Apparate to the Ministry, since their house was no longer connected to the Floo Network.

“So, um, now what?” Ron asked, as they appeared in the Atrium.  Harry and Hermione shrugged their shoulders.

“I guess we should have asked what to do today.  I mean, it’s not like we haven’t been here before, but they never said where to go or anything, did they?” Harry said, looking around.  “Well, I’m assuming we have to have our wands weighed anyhow, so let’s do that while we figure out what to do.”

They approached the desk and Hermione told the man sitting there, “We’re supposed to begin work today, but no one’s told us where we should go.  Would you have any suggestions?”

Ron interrupted and said, “Maybe we should just go up to Kingsley’s office, or Dad’s?  They would be able to tell us what to do.”

The man’s eyes widened as he began to take in the trio’s faces in recognition.  Hermione retorted to Ron, “We can’t bother them with something as trivial as this.”

“Why not?  He’s my father and Kingsley wouldn’t mind,” he snapped right back at her.

“I’d rather not bother them with this either.  Look, why don’t we just head to the Auror Department and find Robards,” Harry suggested.

“But I’m not working with you two, remember?” Hermione said desperately.

“Well, who’s your boss, Hermione?” Ron asked her.

“I’m not certain,” she replied.

Harry turned to the man at the desk and asked, “Is the head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures still Amos Diggory?”

“Yes, Mr. Potter, yes he is.  So, you won’t be heading down to the courtrooms this morning?” the man said.  Harry shook his head in denial.

“Alright, so let’s get into a lift and we’ll head to our departments from there,” Ron said nervously before catching sight of his brother.  “Percy!”

Percy was already walking towards them and said, “Don’t worry, Eric.  I’ll take care of them.  Come along, you three.  We’re meeting Dad and Kingsley in the Minister’s office this morning.  Sorry we forgot to tell you that last night.”

He escorted the trio up to the appropriate floor and right into Kingsley’s office where he was sitting with Arthur, Head Auror Robards and Mr. Diggory.

“Good morning,” Kingsley said with a smile at the sight of his three young friends.

“We were a bit lost,” Ron said in apology.

“That’s alright, Ron.  We realized our error rather quickly.  You’ll be receiving tours of the Ministry later on.  I’m sure you remember Gawain Robards and Amos Diggory,” Arthur said, indicating the two wizards who both nodded at their new charges.

“Do you always greet new recruits this way, or just us?” Harry asked warily.

Kingsley laughed, with a roll of his eyes, and said, “Of course not, Harry.  That would be ridiculous.  However, this is a slightly different circumstance as new employees generally have to go through extensive background checks and there’s a lengthy application process.  We are obviously going to skip all of that.  We need you and Ron in the Auror Department immediately and I’m sure that Hermione would like to get started as quickly as possible as well.  As the Minister of Magic I am able to vouch for the fact that you are trustworthy and able to perform your duties.”

“Our N.E.W.T.s should be coming sometime soon, Kingsley, if that would put your mind at ease,” Hermione said.

“And I’m sure you all did admirably on your exams.  We’re not particularly concerned about that, but we’d rather you didn’t spread that around,” he told her.  “That’s why we wanted to meet with you here first.  Amos, did you have any specific questions for Miss Granger?”

“Yes, but I think we can wait until later for that.  May I take her down to my office now?” he asked.  When Kingsley nodded, Amos stood and held the door open for Hermione.

She turned back with a bit of a fearful look on her face.  Harry and Ron both waved at her.  “Good luck,” the three whispered to each other.

Amos looked at Hermione kindly and said, “Don’t worry, you’ll all be meeting back up here for lunch.”

Her look of relief was obvious as she proceeded out the door.

“Well, that’s that, then.  Shall we head out as well?  We’ll want to get your oral exams taken care of this morning and I’ll be introducing you to everyone,” Robards said, rising as well.  “We’ll see all of you later,” he told the Minister, Arthur and Percy, before ushering Harry and Ron out the door.

As they got in the lift, Robards asked, “Nervous?”

“A bit,” Ron said.  “We’re just not entirely certain of what to expect, Auror Robards.”

“You’ll be starting right at the beginning today, so there’s nothing to worry about.  Everyone in the department calls me Gawain, and I shall expect you two to do the same,” he told them.  They both just nodded in response.  As they stepped into the Auror Department, they could see a number of witches and wizards sitting at desks.  They all looked up to see the new arrivals.  Gawain called out, “Full department meeting in the conference room in five minutes.”

He continued right through to the other side of the room and into the conference room, indicating seats to Harry and Ron.  They sat down not without a small amount of trepidation.  The room seemed to be circular with one long desk, around the perimeter, and empty space in the middle.  It had a high ceiling, reminding Harry vaguely of the courtrooms at the bottom of the Ministry. As the Aurors filed into the room Gawain introduced each of them.  Some seemed familiar and others were complete strangers.  Harry and Ron wondered if they’d be expected to memorize each person’s name, but as their names were sown onto their robes, perhaps it wouldn’t be as difficult as it appeared.

Once everyone was assembled Gawain rose and said, “As I have discussed with many of you over the past few months, Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley will be joining our department now that they’ve completed their education.  As you are aware, they are responsible for defeat of Voldemort as well as the capture of quite a few Death Eaters since Voldemort’s downfall.  I thought we’d have a brief department meeting before we get started with them.  Are there any questions?”

“I’ve got one.  How come they don’t have to go through the same training as the rest of us?” one surly wizard asked.

“Because, Arnold, the two men sitting before you have been in ‘training,’ as you call it, for the past seven years.  They will, of course, have to pass the same exams that you did in order to be fully accepted into the department,” Gawain addressed the man, whose surname Harry thought might have been Savage.  “Why don’t we take each of the usual training courses and discuss them.  First would of course be combat.  Considering their experience I think this one should be fairly obvious, but I’ll open the floor to debate.”

“So how many times have you faced dark wizards?” one woman asked.

Harry and Ron both blinked stupidly back at her.  “What do you mean, ‘how many times?’  We’d probably be here all day if we listed every person we’ve ever fought,” Ron finally said incredulously.

She didn’t look fazed however and said, “Well, okay then, so it’s rumored you faced Voldemort a few times, could you tell us about that?”

“Whoa!  I’ve never faced Voldemort.  That was Harry’s job,” Ron said.  Then he looked as though he was in deep thought and turned to Harry.  “Just how many times did you face him?”

Harry shrugged and said, “I never really bothered to count, Ron.”

Now the woman looked shocked and said, “You don’t remember how many times you’ve faced Voldemort?”

“Well, I remember each time I was in the same room with him, but…” Harry said.  Did they really expect him to do this?  Was he to list and explain each interaction with Voldemort?

“Might it be easier to ask him how many times he dueled Voldemort or how many killing curses he survived?” Ron asked, in an attempt to help.  The woman shrugged helplessly as though she didn’t know if this was what she wished to ask.

Harry looked at her then and said, “I dueled him twice, and I survived two killing curses.”

Ron protested, “You survived more killing curses than that, and you dueled him more than twice.”

“Not really, Ron, the only times I dueled him were in the graveyard and the last time when he died.  And only two of his killing curses actually hit me,” Harry reminded him.

Ron rolled his eyes, half-amused, and said, “You’re the only one who could say only two killing curses hit him.”

Although there were quite a few confused expressions on the faces in front of them, the woman continued on and said, “Okay, well, I suppose we’ll just have to wait to see you two in combat as it would seem your experience is indeed extensive.  Now, Mr. Weasley, I would like you to explain exactly what you were up to last year.”

Ron looked at Harry and receiving a nod to reveal the information that they’d all agreed was safe, opened his mouth to respond.  The woman beat him however and shouted, “I asked you, Mr. Weasley, not Mr. Potter.”

“I realize that, but as this is Harry’s responsibility I needed to make sure it was okay to share these details,” Ron explained.  He didn’t bother to wait for any encouragement before saying, “There were certain objects that Voldemort had created to ensure that he couldn’t be killed.  We spent the last year tracking them down and destroying them.  That’s why were gone so long.”

“Exactly what were these objects?” she asked.

“I’m not able to divulge that information.  We’re under strict orders to keep that to ourselves.”

She bristled visibly and said, “If you wish to join this department, then you need to understand that you can’t just keep secrets whenever you wish to.  Exactly whose orders are you under, anyway?”

“Albus Dumbledore’s, ma’am,” Ron said.

She looked skeptical and said, “Well, he’s dead.  There’s no need to follow his orders any longer.”

Harry and Ron both stiffened in anger.  “Just because he’s dead, doesn’t mean that we should stop obeying him!” Ron said with a sneer.  Quills were working fast and furiously across parchment.  Ron didn’t seem to be paying attention and continued to fume.  His ears began to turn red, which was certainly a sign of trouble.

“Here at the Ministry, we follow the orders of our leaders, our living leaders, not our dead ones.”

“Well, that’s pretty stupid then,” Ron shouted.  “Maybe if you followed the orders of those who had the Wizarding World’s best interests at heart, things would have been different.  Instead, you chose to follow Death Eaters’ orders.”

Then very sarcastically he said, “That’s so much better.  Let’s all just do what the Death Eaters say to do because they happen to be alive and our good leaders are all dead.  That’s brilliant.”

Harry had half-expected everyone to be outraged at this, but they all seemed to be extremely calm even if they were all writing quite a bit.  Were they trying to get him and Ron riled?  It would seem so as the woman sent yet another inflammatory question at Ron.  As their legs were visible under the table, Harry wasn’t sure how he could get Ron’s attention.  Then he remembered some of his more recent lessons with Albus.  Harry surreptitiously moved his hand towards his pocket and could his feel his wand beneath the fabric.  He had only one choice if he was to warn Ron that the Aurors were trying to get them angry.  But he’d never tried using an Unforgivable Curse with neither contact with his wand nor aiming it at his subject.  It was worth a shot however and he knew he was successful when he felt the tingling of warmth reach his fingers.

Ron calmed immediately.  He looked at Harry questioningly, as though to ask if Harry was the one putting him under the curse.  Harry nodded briefly and then implanted the notion he wanted to convey into Ron’s mind.  Ron raised his eyebrows and Harry knew his task to be complete.  Ron just gave a curt nod.

Harry, who’d only been half-listening to the conversation, said, “Ron can’t give you any more information on that subject.”


“Because he doesn’t know what these objects are or because he refuses?” she asked.

“He certainly knows, since virtually every conversation he, Hermione and I had over the last year or so concerned these objects.  However, that’s as much as we are willing to give.  Although it is under Albus’s orders that we are acting, I should point out that the Minister is fully aware of our mission and agrees with us.  You are welcome to question him about it.  He can tell you anything he likes,” Harry told her.

This seemed to finally put an end to that discussion.  Harry and Ron passed quite a bit of time answering questions regarding specific battle techniques as the Aurors realized that they needed to be more exact in their wording.

“Alright, so I think that will do for our discussion on dueling.  The next item is stealth.  This entire department was devoted to the capture of Harry Potter and his friends last year and we were unable to find them.  I should say that they cover that matter rather well, wouldn’t you?”

Ron moved slightly in his seat and said, “Uh, Gawain?  I think you should remember that we were caught quite a few times last year.”

He looked taken aback and said, “You were?  How?  When?”


“Well, we were nearly caught when…” Ron began, but stopped abruptly.

Harry didn’t know if it mattered much anymore and so finished his sentence, “when we snuck into the Ministry last year.”

No one said anything so Ron continued, “Then I was caught by a group of Snatchers, but managed to escape.  Meanwhile, Harry and Hermione were caught by Voldemort himself on Christmas Eve.” 

“How did you escape?” someone asked, in a quiet tone.

“Well, we were actually caught by Nagini but we jumped out of a window and Hermione Apparated us out of there before we could hit the ground.  I couldn’t have done much, with Voldemort and Nagini there.  My scar was killing me and Voldemort was getting furious at the time,” Harry explained.

Ron cleared his throat and said, “So, they got out of that one.  Then we were nearly caught by Death Eaters when we went to see Xenophilius Lovegood because he turned us in, attempting to retrieve his daughter.  After that we were caught by a group of Snatchers when Harry accidentally said Voldemort’s name and the taboo was still in effect.”

Every set of eyes were glued to Ron and Harry.  Gawain finally said, “But you escaped that as well, right?”

Ron looked at Harry with a different expression on his face and said softly, “No, we were rescued.  We probably wouldn’t have gotten out of there on our own, even after we overcame Wormtail.”

A curious witch asked, “Who rescued you?”

Harry closed his eyes briefly, not wanting to discuss this any further.  Ron saved him the trouble of answering as he looked down at his clasped fingers and said, “We were saved by Dobby, a friend of Harry’s.”

“Who’s Dobby?” Gawain asked; his confusion apparent.

“Dobby was the house elf that Harry freed from the Malfoys all of those years ago,” Ron said sadly.

The man named Arnold Savage said, “See?  I told you, Gawain, they’re nutters, the both of them.  They’re still coming up with crazy stories.  A house elf friends with a wizard?  It’s completely absurd!”

Ron said, “And why exactly is it absurd?  We can be friends with house elves if we want to.  Dobby was one of Harry’s most loyal friends, certainly more loyal than the Ministry ever was to him!”

“Even if this ridiculous story of yours is true, aren’t you a bit ashamed to have been saved by a house elf, of all creatures?” Arnold sneered back.

Harry’s blood, which had already begun to boil, raced in his ears.  “Of course we aren’t ashamed!  Not only was he loyal, but he was brave!  How could you even think that?” Ron asked with a look of disgust on his face.  “House elves have a magnificent magic that is all their own.  I’m sorry you aren’t able to see that.  They even fought at the Battle of Hogwarts, so I would think that they should have your respect!” 

Harry tugged on the sleeve of his friend’s robes in an attempt to calm him.  Ron said, “Sorry, Harry, guess I’ve been hanging out with Hermione for too long.  But she’s right, you know.”

Harry couldn’t quite say anything.  He had suddenly remembered making Dobby promise not to try to save his life ever again just after he’d freed him from Lucius.  He wasn’t sure if he should feel happy or sad that the elf had chosen to disobey that order.

“Would it be possible for us to see this house elf you’re talking about?” Gawain asked.

Harry looked at Ron, whose face was now stricken.  Harry clenched his fist on the tabletop.  Ron looked down at his own hands and said, “He’s….he’s buried at my brother’s house.  He was killed, by B-B-Bellatrix as we Apparated out of there.  You can see the grave if you like.  Harry made a headstone for Dobby.”

Gawain said quietly, “Well, we’ll be testing you on stealth tomorrow anyhow.  I still think that you did extremely well last year, regardless of the close calls you had.  Not many wizards could successfully escape from Death Eaters and Voldemort and live to tell the tale.”

Harry didn’t hear much else that Gawain said and could feel Ron place a hand on his sleeve.

“Harry?” Ron asked tentatively.  He sighed and said, “Harry, now is not the time to go feeling guilty about Dobby.”

Harry scowled at his friend.  Ron then said, “Dobby was happy in those last moments, as he lay in your arms.  He would never have chosen any other way to go.  He died having rescued his hero.  It’s not your fault.”

Harry felt enraged once more and said, “Ron, regardless of what you say, all of their deaths are my fault.  You can’t just make the guilt go away because you feel like it.”

“I know, but now isn’t the right time.  If you want, when we get home, we’ll go over to Bill and Fleur’s to see him.  We’ll have dinner with them and we’ll visit Dobby’s grave, alright?” Ron offered.

Harry gave a slight smile and nodded.

One woman, looking at the exchange between the two young men, said “I think there’s something you ought to know about this department.  You can’t go feeling guilty for every casualty that happens.  If you feel fully responsible each time someone is killed or hurt you’ll never make it.  It would kill you.”

Harry tried to school his expression as he looked at the young woman; he tried to read her name from across the room.  Constance couldn’t be that much older than Tonks had been; which didn’t make things any easier.  Harry felt angry again, the pain of Dobby’s death leaving his head.  What could she possibly know about it?  How could she understand how he might feel?

Ron stood up beside him and Harry could see his not only his ears turning red again, but his entire visage.  “Excuse me?  You must be joking!  Were you even involved in this war at all?” Ron asked in shock.

She looked quite affronted by this accusation, but that didn’t stop Ron from continuing in a cold tone, “Do you have any idea what it might be like to live under a prophecy?  Any clue as to what it might mean to be involved in the movement against Voldemort?  I would guess not, based on what you just said.”

“Of course I was against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!” the woman said indignantly.  “How dare you suggest otherwise?”


“And yet you’re telling us that we shouldn’t be involved emotionally with the war,” Ron said.  “It’s one thing to be opposed to him and quite another to actually be a part of the group dedicated to getting rid of him.  I have no idea what it might be like to be Harry, but I know what it feels like to be his friend.  I know what it feels like to know that he must either kill or be killed, because that is what the prophecy said.  Harry, Hermione and I lived in fear for two years with that fact over our heads.  We were the ones given the responsibility of destroying the objects that Voldemort had created to protect himself.  We hid ourselves, knowing that others out there were dying and our families might also be destroyed.  We made mistakes….enormous mistakes.  That’s something we’ll have to live with for the rest of our lives.  If we’d done things differently, the outcome might have been different.  If we’d simply followed Harry’s instincts, many lives might have been saved.

Ron looked defeated at that, his face drawn.  Harry knew that Ron was referring to the diadem and said, “We don’t know that it would have saved any lives, and it might have endangered the rest of the students if we’d gone for that one earlier than we did.”

“Perhaps,” Ron said, staring off blankly. 

Then the woman rolled her eyes and said, “Well, that’s all fine and good, but you can’t allow your love for people to overrule you.  Such emotion is what eventually gets people killed.”

Harry’s blood began to boil again, but it would seem that Ron had once again beaten him to the punch.  “Excuse me?” Ron repeated in a furious tone.  He looked down at Harry and asked incredulously, “Can you believe what she just said?  ‘Love isn’t something that we should allow ourselves to feel?’ I guess you shouldn’t have loved everyone so much, Harry.  You shouldn’t have let your love lead you to die to save everyone.”

Ron then leaned over the tabletop and glared harshly at the woman.  He said, “Love is the reason that we are all here today and not dead or still under the rule of Voldemort.”

There was a ripple of derisive laughter from a few while others looked on in wonder.  Ron scowled at those laughing before continuing with awe, “You really have no idea.”

Harry, trying to bring Ron back to their present conversation, said, “No, they don’t, Ron.”

“Well, they should,” Ron said harshly, not looking at Harry but scanning the room.  Ron then addressed the woman again and said, “We weren’t done.  We hadn’t completed our task yet.  We still needed to destroy three things before we could finish Voldemort.  So, that’s why the battle took place.”

His voice cracked as he said, “We lost so many people in that battle that we couldn’t prevent.  We and we alone were responsible for what happened.  We were the only ones that knew that truth.  We were the only ones with the knowledge of how to defeat him.  We lost too many loved ones, too many…”

Ron pulled himself back up to his full height and said in soft voice, “Do you know why Voldemort is no longer with us?  Do you know why he’s dead?  Harry learned that in order for Voldemort to be killed, he himself had to die.  Harry did it.  He let Voldemort kill him so that you and I could live a better life, so that we could live in peace.  Harry then had a choice of whether to live or die.  He obviously chose to live so that Voldemort could be defeated once and for all.  You see, Harry really did have power that ‘the Dark Lord’ knew not.  Harry was able to love.  You can scoff all you want.  I, for one, am thankful everyday that he is that powerful and that he can love so….so….selflessly…”

Harry looked at his friend’s anger on his behalf and found himself in awe of the things he’d just said.  Ron swallowed, closing his eyes.  Then with a disgusted look on his face, he sneered at her and snarled.  “And you are so ungrateful that you would say that love isn’t an emotion that we should feel?  You should be on your knees with gratitude for everything he’s done for you.  Why on earth he made the choices he did for such as you, I’ll never know!”

Harry was in shock.  Had his ears betrayed him? 

“Ron, sit down,” Harry said quietly, with that ring of authority, so rare in his voice, now resounding through the quiet, cavernous room.

Ron sat down with alacrity and said, “I didn’t mean that quite the way it sounded…”

Harry glared him into silence and could feel the stillness that covered the room as he continued, “I…I can’t believe I just heard you say that.  You know full well that I don’t want anyone’s gratitude.  I didn’t have any choice in what I did and I would prefer to just live in peace.”

“But that’s really neither here nor there,” Harry said.  He pushed Ron’s chair so that he could look his friend in the face.  “I tried to die only because it was what had to happen.  Yes, your sister was the last image to cross my mind as Voldemort hit me with the killing curse, but I think it was only a natural reaction on my part.  I remembered the best part of my life as it was about to end.”

Harry paused to breathe, but still felt as though every person in the room was holding his or her breath.  “When I chose to live, I did so not just for your…for our family, but for every family.  I did it for every person, so that no more souls would be torn and destroyed.

“Every life is important, every single one.  Every soul is SO important that it is worth any amount of pain or grief.”

Harry paused again and asked, “You know full well that I gave Voldemort…Voldemort…the chance to redeem himself.  Why did I do that?’

Ron swallowed awkwardly and said, “I’m sorry, Harry, I forgot myself.  You’re right.  You were probably the only person capable of showing Voldemort mercy, and…I have to admit, I still don’t understand it fully.  I mean, would you really have let him live?”

Harry almost laughed at this.  “Let him live?  You know full well the consequences of trying to put yourself back together.  Hermione explained all of it right in your room at your parents’ house.  If he’d felt even an ounce of the pain he’d caused it would have killed him,” Harry said.

The room was still silent and the woman that had been interrogating Ron looked deeply troubled.  She said, “I’m really sorry, Mr. Potter, I didn’t mean to demean what you did for everyone.  I really am very grateful that you did everything you did.”

“Please don’t be, it isn’t necessary,” Harry responded.

“I’m just sorry I said what I did.  It’s…hard when people don’t understand what Harry’s been through,” Ron said, his apology quite obviously sincere.  The woman nodded appreciatively.

No one seemed to move, until Gawain looked down at his watch and said, “Dear me, it’s after noon.  Let’s leave it here then.  I’m sure Hermione is waiting for the two of you up in the Minister’s office, so why don’t you go to lunch.  Meet us back here in one hour for your physical exam.”

Harry and Ron, still somewhat self-conscious since the outburst, carefully got out of their chairs and left the room.  Everyone else had remained seated as they watched the young men depart.

The moment they were out of earshot, Ron said, “Blimey, do you think George will let me work for him full-time?”

“What for?  You don’t want to be an Auror anymore?” Harry asked.

“Well, course I do, but after basically telling a woman that she wasn’t worthy of living do you honestly think they’ll let me in?  I mean, I don’t know how you kept your cool, but I totally lost it.”

“That’s what they were looking for, Ron.  I think that even though you said that, you made some good points otherwise.  They wouldn’t have told us to come back for the physical exam if we’d failed, would they?”

Ron still looked apprehensive as they got into a lift that would take them to Kingsley’s office.

A/N: I need to know whether or not the interpretive information is appreciated or not.  Personally, I find it interesting as I watch our characters figure everything out.  In our own world, there are still debates going on as to how things worked, especially in the last few chapters.  To me, how our hero comes to terms with everything is particularly important.  I'm also curious to see how everyone winds up with their intended 'mates.' 

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