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A Time to Live by ladymblack
Chapter 21 : Chapter 21: Making Promises
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7


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Chapter 21: Making Promises

The lift doors opened; the Trio finding both Arthur and Kingsley standing in the Atrium awaiting them.

“I’m dragging Kingsley along with us for dinner,” Arthur told them.

“Excellent!” said Harry and Ron, grinning mischievously and earning themselves an elbow in the ribs from Hermione, who stood between them.  They both grimaced as the five of them turned to Apparate.

Landing in the lane leading to the Burrow, they all began walking towards the crooked house.

“So, it’s a rather clever murder-plot you have going here, Kingsley,” Harry said in a sharp tone, the moment they’d crossed through the boundary into the safety of the Fidelius Charm.

Kingsley cocked a brow at Harry, trying to hide a look of amusement.  “What on earth are you talking about?”

“Well, are you trying to kill us from overwork or looking for a reason to fire us?” Ron added.

Kingsley gave up his pretense and laughed outright.  “I assume this is about my request to have the Auror Department files repaired by this weekend?” he asked.

“Two days!  You gave us two days to get everything right!  Have you lost your mind?” Harry said angrily, not caring that it was the Minister he was speaking to.

“I’m sure you’ll do just fine,” Kingsley insisted, in a tone that brooked no argument.  Harry and Ron simply exchanged a look of utter incredulity mixed with indignation.  Kingsley’s attitude didn’t seem to invite any dissension.

Approaching the house, they could see tables laid out on the lawn.  Molly, who had just been putting platters along the tables, looked up at them with a smile.

“So, we decided to finally stop working and take a respite?” she asked them.  She shook her head slightly and indicated for them all to be seated.

Harry began to take a step forward but his foot stopped in midair as he caught a glimpse of his fiery-haired witch.  Ginny’s glare seemed to have stopped him in his tracks.  Harry was forcibly reminded of a Basilisk and wondered if he’d actually been petrified to the spot.  He thought it ironic that although he dreaded making her angry, he found her completely beautiful and irresistible in all her fury.  Never-the-less, he couldn’t help but be quite terrified of her.

Before moving any further, Harry said at large, “Sorry we’re late; we didn’t realize the time until Hermione came to collect us.”

Ginny’s glare did not lessen at all with his announcement, but actually seemed to intensify, if that were possible.  Taking a gamble, Harry added, “Kingsley gave us a rather insurmountable task and we just got caught up trying to complete it.”

The gamble worked slightly as Ginny turned her venom towards the Minister of Magic, who seemed to take pity on Harry and accepted the blame, inclining his head slightly at her and assuming a look of guilt.

Harry breathed a sigh of relief and took his seat beside Ginny.  He brought her attention back to him however as he leaned over to kiss her in greeting.  She seemed somewhat mollified, as she muttered, “You could have at least sent a Patronus or something.”

She didn’t seem to want to meet Harry’s eyes now and looked sullenly down at her plate.  “I’m sorry, Ginny.  If I’d realized the time we would have just left.  I would have told you if I’d known, I promise,” he told her.

“You frightened me, Harry,” she said, still not looking at him.  She got up abruptly and began to follow her mother into the house, presumably to lend her assistance.

“Wow, you’re quite lucky, mate.  I thought for sure she would hex you into next week,” Ron said quietly, out of the corner of his mouth.

“I haven’t ruled it out yet!” Ginny retorted before the front door slammed behind her.

“Thanks, Ron,” Harry said sarcastically.  He turned to greet Neville and Luna who were seated on the other side of the table.

Neville looked simply intrigued at the exchange and asked, “So what were you doing that took so long?”

Harry and Ron were about to launch into an explanation before they realized that they ought to pass the security parchment around the table for everyone’s signatures.  Molly and Ginny both returned with the remaining dishes to be served and signed as well.  Harry and Ron then gave them a synopsis of what they’d been doing since lunch.

Molly wanted every detail of what they’d done since she’d last seen them at the joke shop and fussed over their new robes, looking immensely proud.  They all filled her in with what they could, but much of it was classified information, especially in regards to their examinations.  Harry, Ron and Hermione all thanked Molly and Arthur profusely for the wonderful photo collages that now graced their cubicles at the Ministry.

“I wanted to let all of you know that Arthur and I finally have the Floo Network Authority back under control with a trustworthy witch at its head.  We have created a new high-level security system that will allow only certain persons to enter into specific fireplaces,” Kingsley informed them during a break in the conversation.

“So we’ll be able to use the Floo again, without fear of unwanted visitors?” Ginny asked enthusiastically.

Arthur nodded at his youngest child and added, “It should be up and running for all of us by tomorrow morning.  I thought that for now we would limit it to the Order.”

Everyone seemed to breathe a sigh of relief, especially since this would make it much easier to circumvent having to leave their respective properties in order to Apparate from place to place.

Harry then addressed Ginny, Luna and Neville and asked tentatively, “So everything went okay this afternoon?”

“Yeah, Mr. Lovegood needed some help, so we finished a few things over there before we left.  In fact, since my expedition isn’t starting until sometime in October I told Mr. Lovegood that I’d be happy to work on the Quibbler with him until then.  I wasn’t entirely sure if I was ready to take two people by Side-Along Apparition though, so I thought it might be better if we just walked through town.  There weren’t any problems,” Neville said.  Harry nodded his thanks.

“Yes, Daddy is most appreciative for your assistance, Neville, especially since I’ll be busy with Apparition lessons the next few weeks,” Luna chimed in.

They talked about the Quibbler for a short while before Andromeda said, “I think that it’s about time for Teddy and me to be leaving, particularly now that we’ll be able to use the fireplace for travel.  I was hoping to have all of our things moved back to our cottage this weekend.”

“Oh, no, there’s no reason to leave, is there, Andromeda?” Molly said, looking stricken.  “You’re more than welcome to stay here as long as you like.”

“Indeed, it’s rather nice to have you and the little one here.  It’ll be entirely too quiet around this place,” Arthur said, in a pleading voice.

“Don’t get me wrong,” Andromeda said, looking from Molly to Arthur and then to Harry and Ginny.  “I really do appreciate everything you’ve done for us, but I wish to go home.  I miss my own place and I think that it would be appropriate for Teddy to grow up where his mother did…and where his parents lived while they were married.”

Silence met her announcement.  Harry looked at Ginny and could see that her earlier anger at him had temporarily abated, although he could also see that he ought to be certain of its return at a more appropriate time.  They shared a moment of silent communication before Harry said, “We’ll all help you get settled back into your home, Andromeda.  I hope you don’t mind if we make sure that all of the protective spells are in proper place.  I also think we ought to make your property Unplottable and set up a Fidelius Charm.”

“Would you be the Secret-Keeper, Harry?” Andromeda asked hopefully.

Harry felt a bit taken aback but agreed with a nod.  Conversation turned to the files that were supposed to be fixed by Friday afternoon, details being thrown about the table in a frenzy.  Hermione grabbed a quill, ink and parchment, taking notes on the discussion.

She sighed as there was a lull in the conversation.  “I just wish that I could be there tomorrow.  It would make things so much easier,” Hermione mused.

“I think that can be arranged, if you like,” Kingsley said.  Harry looked at the Minister with great appreciation.  Kingsley continued, “I’ll let Amos know that you’ll be with Harry for Thursday and Friday.  I made it be known to Harry that he may use any and all resources that he deems necessary to complete this assignment.  You would certainly be helpful to the File Task-Force.”

His eyes twinkled as he called the group by the name that Harry had used, causing Ron to roll his eyes.

Harry knew that he needed to mend this small breach with Ginny and watched her for a few moments as she played with Teddy in her lap.  She had finished eating and was now in the process of trying to move things out of Teddy’s reach as he tried to grab anything he could get his hands on.  Left without any toys, he started to play with an errant lock of her hair, clenching and unclenching his small fists around it.

Harry slowly and cautiously put an arm over the back of her chair, taking one of Teddy’s hands into his own.  Ginny turned to Harry for practically the first time since she’d stopped glaring at him before they’d begun dinner.  The smile she’d had for Teddy’s playfulness slid from her face.  She looked down at him briefly before returning her gaze back up to Harry.  She took a deep breath and held it for a moment before letting it out quickly.  She said, “Listen, Harry…”

He interrupted her by quickly kissing her on the lips.  Her words were lost and yet hung in the air.  Harry said, “I know.  We both sort of screwed up today, didn’t we?  I want to explain a little bit better, but I don’t know if this is the place for it.  Do you want to go for a bit of a fly after dessert and we can talk about it?”

Her visage shone with pleasure at the thought of getting back out onto her broom and she nodded her agreement.  She only then seemed to notice that his arm was around her and leaned slightly into him, inclining her head against his shoulder.  Harry moved his arm to pull her closer and then, with his right hand, he pulled Teddy onto his own lap.  The little boy squealed in delight at the change and looked up at his godfather, his hair going from flaming red to black faster than the flight of a Snitch.  The homemade ice cream that Molly had worked on that afternoon appeared before them, everyone delighting in the luscious confection.

Teddy babbled to Harry, who still had his eyes on Ginny.  Harry replied, “Yes, that’s right.  She’s the most beautiful woman in all of England, isn’t she?  Perhaps the world?”

Teddy giggled and babbled some more in response, causing Ginny to join in with a laugh of her own as she looked from Teddy to Harry.  Teddy was still looking at Harry as he babbled on, “Da…da…da…”

Harry and Ginny’s smiles disappeared almost immediately as they looked at Teddy with despair.  Harry drew a long breath and said, “No, Teddy, I’m not your daddy.  I’m Harry.”

He could see similar looks of pain on Ron and Hermione’s faces, mirrored on Neville and Luna’s as well.  But there was an uproar of laughter from the older people at the table.

“Oh, Harry!” Molly exclaimed, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes.  “Everyone and everything is Da-Da.”

Harry’s confusion must have shown because Andromeda said, “That’s usually the first phrase a baby learns.  He’ll use it constantly, and referring to just about anything.  Then he’ll go on to Ma-Ma.  It’s just a natural progression.”

Harry’s heart seemed to start beating at a slightly more normal pace and it was only then that he realized its accelerated rate.  He nodded and looked down at Teddy once again, holding him a little bit closer.  “Good job, Teddy!” Harry told him, praising him profusely for taking what was obviously a very big step in his growth.

“You know, Harry,” Molly began, drawing his attention back to her.  “I know that you wanted Teddy to just call you and Ginny by your names, but we’ve been giving this quite a bit of thought.  We were thinking that maybe he should refer to you by something other than your first names.  It’s almost too informal for a child his age.”

“But, I think I would feel a bit strange,” Harry tried to explain.  “I mean, I always just called my godfather Sirius.  He would never have expected me to call him ‘Dad’ or ‘Uncle’ or something.”

Remembering Molly’s disapproval of Sirius’s method of “parenting” when it came to Harry, he quickly amended, “Not that that’s necessarily the best way….but I mean…well…it’s just that I don’t want Teddy to grow up thinking I’m his father.”

Harry paused for breath and said, “What I mean to say is that, while I think it’s great that everyone in the family has accepted Teddy like a nephew, of sorts, I want him to know that he has a different role with me.”







He wasn’t sure if he’d explained that right, especially since he didn’t fully understand it himself. 

Kingsley was the one to offer some insight, saying, “I think you might have found things different if you’d known Sirius from a younger age.  If he hadn’t gone to Azkaban, he might have raised you or at least had a larger part in your upbringing.  I doubt that he would have simply invited you to call him Sirius at that point.  I recall one discussion between him and Remus about a weekend they had spent at your parents’ house after you’d been born.  Your parents had dubbed them Uncle Sirius and Uncle Remus, even if that wasn’t how you referred to them in later years.”

Harry looked at Kingsley in surprise, but then realized that Sirius and Remus had probably reminisced about their younger years during the time when the Order was residing at 12 Grimmauld Place.  He fleetingly wished that he could have been a fly on the wall at the time, to have heard their banter.  It didn’t change his feelings however.  Harry wasn’t sure why, but he didn’t want to simply be another “uncle” to Teddy.  He didn’t want the Weasley family, who had unconditionally accepted Teddy into their fold, to give up their titles of “aunt” and “uncle” either.  He knew too, that Arthur and Molly were referred to as Grandpa Arthur and Grandma Molly.  He thought it entirely appropriate.

Neville seemed to take a great leap before he addressed Harry, “You know, I don’t ever remember being confused as a kid.  I only remember calling my grandmother Gran.  I don’t think I ever called her ‘mum.’  I suppose I might have when I was really little, but I’ll bet she corrected me quickly enough.  I don’t really know, although I could ask her, I suppose.  Do you remember thinking your aunt was your mother, Harry?”

Harry gave a rather sinister laugh as he recalled what little he could of his childhood.  “No, they made it quite obvious that I wasn’t their kid.  I remember asking as soon as I could where my mother was, but my aunt wasn’t all that helpful.”

“Then again, I can’t imagine anyone wanting my Aunt Petunia as a mother; even her own son has obviously changed his mind about how he views her,” Harry said, not really wishing to dwell on the years when he had been so completely disconnected from the world to which he belonged.  He thought instead of the child in his arms, who would also know that his parents were gone.  He didn’t know how to proceed.  He didn’t know what would be best for Teddy.

Molly seemed to sense the indecision in Harry and pulled his attention to her once again.  She looked straight into his eyes as she said, “I think that perhaps he could call you ‘Papa Harry’ and ‘Mama Ginny’ while he’s growing up.  It will give you a distinction from the rest and yet be a title of respect.  When he’s older you can decide how he should address you together.”

Harry peered down to Ginny, whose head still rested on his shoulder.  She looked up at him questioningly.  Her gaze told him that this decision would lay with him and him alone.  Harry smiled at Molly and said, “I think that’s a great idea, Mum.”

There were a few chuckles at that and Harry thought that perhaps now would be the best time for a leisurely flight with Ginny.  Hermione seemed to sense this and turned to Harry to accept Teddy.  There was a bit of laughter when Teddy’s hair turned brown and bushy in response.

“Hey, how about a quick Quidd…” Ron started to say, trying to get up from his seat.

But Hermione beat him in speed, pulling him back into his seat and giving him a quelling look.

“But, I’d like to fly too…ouch!” Ron exclaimed.  It wasn’t readily discernable what had happened to him, but he seemed to be rubbing his leg under the table.

“You should help me look after Teddy,” Hermione said calmly.

Ron looked at her incredulously.  “There are like ten people here to look after him!” he said.  “Ow! Stop doing that!”

It was clear to all that she’d kicked him again and Ginny seemed to take some pity, saying, “Could you just give us some time?  You can join us in like an hour or so.”

“Oh, alright,” Ron said, looking confused.  Then comprehension dawned on his face and he said, “Oh!  Right...”

Ginny took Harry’s hand and half-dragged him to the broom shed.  Extracting their brooms, Ginny tossed Harry’s to him and wiggled her eyebrows.  “Race you to the paddock?”

“You’re on!” he replied, throwing a leg over his broom and pushing off from the ground.  Not waiting for a signal that the game had begun, he had a marginal lead on her.  He looked back to see her eyes almost closed with exhilaration.  Forgetting about their supposed race, Harry pushed his broom into a loop-de-loop, almost doubling back toward her.  She countered, diving away from him and pulling up just as he got near.  Harry could hear Ginny laughing delightedly while she gained the lead.  He leaned down so that he was almost flat with the broomstick beneath him and caught up to her, so that he was bumping her arm.

She looked over and raised one eyebrow at him.  “Don’t even think about it, Potter!” she shouted as she shot in another direction.  They were only several feet from the paddock, still nose and nose.  She had gone into another dive and Harry followed her.  He noticed a rather nice patch of leaves ahead them, no doubt having been raked into a pile by Arthur’s wand.  Harry aimed his wand at them, adding a cushioning charm to them.  He then dove off his broom towards Ginny.  She looked up at him in horror, no longer paying any attention to what she was doing.  Ginny screamed as Harry pulled her from her broom along with him, using his momentum to push them into the leaves he’d charmed.

“Dammit, Harry!” she exclaimed once they’d landed, with surprising grace, on the pile of leaves.  Then she started to laugh, her heart racing with adrenaline.  She looked at his face, which was flushed with excitement, and lightly punched him in the shoulder.  “I thought you’d lost control of your broom, you idiot!”

She gathered her surroundings and Harry could see that she understood his intention.  Then she looked a bit worried and said, “What about our brooms?”

“They’ll be waiting for us.  There’s really no breeze to speak of, so I’m sure they just dropped to the ground,” Harry said.

Ginny was lying on top of Harry, as he’d also used his own body to cushion her landing, in case his spells and the leaves hadn’t completely done their job.  They had, however, and Harry found his position to be entirely comfortable.  He looked up at Ginny, who now gazed down at him with utter amusement.  He pulled her head down so that he could kiss her much more soundly than he had earlier.  She couldn’t seem to resist as he deepened it, letting her arms grasp him more tightly.

Could he possibly be trying to kiss the anger out of her?  If he was, he was likely to succeed, Ginny thought briefly.  Everything had been so jumbled and confused during the past few weeks.  There had been exams and the end of the semester party.  Then they’d both been working almost non-stop for the entire week.  There had been little time for anything save sleep in the evenings.  They hadn’t gotten home until late the previous night, despite the fact that there hadn’t been any pressing engagements.

Ginny gave up any urge to rail at Harry for his high-handed behavior to simply revel in the sensations induced by his roaming hands.  She let all of her anger dispel and disappear for the time being, engaging in some roaming of her own.

“I’ve missed you so much, Harry,” she said, almost desperately after some very heated snogging.

“Me too,” Harry said, somewhat raggedly.  He rolled Ginny over onto her back and looked at her with hungry eyes.  “Why do you think I wanted some time with you by myself?  By the time we get home, we could well be too tired to do what we’d like.  But now…here…”

She cut him off, pulling him closer and smothering him with kisses.  Harry let her have her way and let himself revel in the wonderful feel of being in her arms.  All unsaid apologies seemed to be relayed in every kiss, in every caress.  They knew that no matter what problem might bring them to anger would also bring them to love and that each problem was borne of love itself.  Before they could go any further, Harry pulled the Invisibility Cloak out of his robes and threw it over them.  Harry knew, instinctively, that it would hide what he needed it to.  After all, there was no telling when Ron would start looking for them, regardless of how much Hermione tried to restrain him.

A while later, Harry lay with his head nestled into the crook of Ginny’s neck, his eyes lightly closed as he traced a pattern along her other side with his fingertips.

His voice was heavy and somewhat cracked when he said, “I suppose we ought to talk about everything that’s happened today.”

Ginny’s eyes fluttered open and she turned her head to look into his eyes.  She nodded and said, “Listen, Harry, I know that you just want to make sure that I’m safe, but you need to understand that I can take care of myself.”

Harry nodded.  Then he shook his head and said, “It’s not that, Gin.”

He wasn’t sure how to convey some of the fears that lingered inside him.  She seemed to view his pause as reluctance to tell her the truth and she said, rather severely, “Harry, you need to tell me what you’re thinking.”

“I know I do, Gin, I’m just not sure what to tell you or how,” Harry said honestly.  At her look of confusion and then anger, he immediately amended, “I guess I need to figure out what exactly I’m thinking myself before I can possibly explain it to you.”

She seemed to soften with those words and gave him a look of such love that he thought he might just understand it all now.  He tried to speak, but the words caught in his throat.  He closed his eyes for a moment to try to gather his thoughts into some coherency, since looking at her tended to drive out all sane thoughts.  He finally said, quietly and softly, “I don’t know what I would do without you, Ginny.  I love you more than I thought was even possible.”

He chanced a peek and Ginny looked for a moment as though she were going to say something, but stopped.  Harry tried to gather his thoughts once more and said, even more quietly than before, “But everyone I’ve ever loved or who has loved me is gone.  I..I… I’m afraid of the day when you’ll be taken from me as well, I suppose.”

Harry closed his eyes, knowing that he had just completely bared his soul to her.  He’d said it so fast that he wondered if she’d even understood it. He had hoped that he would be able to keep some of these fears that continued to haunt him from marring her, from disturbing her.  But, in the end, he knew that he had to tell her.

Ginny felt her heart tear.  She had been furious with him earlier for not trusting her.

But it was more than that to him; it seemed to have very little to do with trust. His entire life had revolved around a death threat.  Even though Voldemort was gone she knew that the man still invaded Harry’s dreams.  She knew what to look for if those dreams were reality; how Hermione and especially Ron had explained what Harry was like when he had shared Voldemort’s mind.  They weren’t those kinds of visions, but Harry insisted that he needed to have the dreams because that was how one moved on and how the mind figured everything out for itself.  It seemed so much more obvious to her now.  She’d been almost frightened the other day when he’d found out about her trek into Muggle London in search of magazines.  She’d never seen him more furious.  Hermione had told her later that she hadn’t seen him in such a rage since their fifth year when Harry’s own frustration would coincide with Voldemort’s and that Harry was then impossible to deal with, yelling at anyone around him.  Ginny could see now though, that this was not the same sort of anger.  This was fear, almost plain and simple.  He feared the day that she would be torn from him.

She didn’t know how to reassure him; she almost laughed.  Wasn’t she angry with him?  Yes, but she knew she needed to deal with his fear before they could even touch any petty problems that she had.  She nodded inwardly.  Everything Harry did came from his beliefs and his innate sense of what was right and what was good.  She knew she couldn’t eternally stand the coddling and limitations that he might like to use to ensure her safety, but perhaps she could wean him off of some of them over time.  He was still fearful, especially after the recent attack at the Burrow, she surmised.  Ginny thought about that for a moment and realized that he probably had a point.  She’d forgotten about it too quickly, too summarily.

“I’m sorry if I was too…blasé about coming here.  I should have realized that just Luna and me walking home by ourselves wouldn’t be a safe situation,” Ginny began.  But she realized that it didn’t really address the true issue at hand.  “I’ll make you a promise if you’ll make me one in return, Harry.”

His eyes snapped open, looking up into the chocolate brown ones he thought he might like to lose himself in.  He nodded.

“I can’t promise not to die,” Ginny said bluntly.  “No one can promise that, but I can assure you that I plan to lead a long and healthy life.  I can also tell you that I’ll try to be as careful as I can, because I know that we’ll have a wonderful marriage and some great kids and I wouldn’t want to miss out on all of that because of a misjudgment or accident.”

Harry smiled at her, almost reluctantly, accepting her declaration.  She smiled back and said, “But you have to promise the same thing.  I was really worried this afternoon.  I knew, in my heart of hearts, that you were probably just stuck at the Ministry working, but….”







Harry looked at her with worry for a moment and said, “I know, and I’m really sorry about that.  I…I…I would have told you if I’d known I would be late coming home.” 

She nodded and knew that they had come back to their comfortable place together.  She relished the few moments while his head just lingered on her shoulder and pulled him slightly closer.  Something about the last few days just made her want to feel as close to him as she possibly could.  She knew that he felt the same way as he seemed to hold her tighter.

There was a whizzing of brooms above them and they could see Ron and Neville flying into the paddock.  They swung around, obviously looking for Harry and Ginny.

“Where do you suppose they went?” Neville asked, flying around the perimeter.

“Dunno, but they’ve got to be here somewhere,” Ron said, flying in the opposite direction a few feet higher.

“I guess this is the end to our little interlude,” Ginny said, summoning hers and Harry’s brooms.  They both easily soared into the air, entering the paddock from different sides of the trees.

“Were you looking for me, dear brother?” Ginny asked as she gained Ron’s height.

He was so shocked that he nearly lost his seat, but recovered quickly enough.  Ron sounded stern when he said, “Where the hell were you?”

“In the trees, Ron; don’t freak out so much!” Ginny said lightly, looking over to Hermione, who was on one of their older brooms.  Hermione looked as though she might be sick, but held onto the broom with a death-grip.  She smiled at Ginny knowingly.  Ginny returned it to let her know that she was quite appreciative of the time that Hermione had forced Ron to give her and Harry.

They played a quick three-aside Quidditch match with Harry, Hermione and Neville on one side and Ron, Luna and Ginny on the other.  Ron’s team won marginally, due mostly to Ginny’s scoring ability against Neville’s keeping.  Hermione seemed to take enormous pride when she managed to hang onto the apple she was holding and get it through Ron’s waiting arms. 

As they were heading back to the house, Harry applauded her loudly, “See, Hermione?  We’ll make a Quidditch player of you yet.”

“I still think I’d rather watch and let the rest of you do all of the work, to be honest,” she replied.  She looked a bit pale, her hands trembling on the broom she held.  She sped up however, to come between Harry and Ginny, whispering, “You both realize that you’re covered in leaves, right?”

Harry looked over to find a few leaves still stuck in Ginny’s hair and Ginny started to brush those that were clinging to the back of Harry’s robes, laughing delightedly.  Hermione helped out, clearly hoping to get the job done before Ron could take notice.  Luckily most of them had been blown away during their game.  Harry found himself thankful that Ron wasn’t always the most observant person he knew, or else he might be in for quite a bit of ribbing, if not worse.

Once the evidence of their romp in the glade had been disposed of, Harry put his arm around Ginny as they walked back to the house, where everyone was still sitting outside enjoying the end of the summer.  He pondered the possibility that the luck that had allowed him to live might have also allowed him to have the best witch in the world for a mate.

As that thought formulated he knew he needed to ask, “Ginny, could you cast a Patronus for me?”

She looked at him for a moment before she understood his request.  She smiled widely as she let the doe out of her wand.  It was dark out now, but the Patronus lit up the night like lightning, illuminating everything around them.

She let the Patronus hang in the air as they retook their seats at the table, pulling over cups of tea.

Harry remembered why he was a bit wary about bringing up the subject of Patronuses at all and deliberated about how he would ask.

He was saved from asking the question when Ginny said, “I don’t know, Harry.”

His gaze had not moved to anyone else and he waited for her to continue.  Ginny looked at Harry closer, and said, in an unsure voice, “I don’t know when it happened.  I don’t know when my Patronus changed.”

Harry looked down the table briefly to see that Ron and Hermione had taken their previous seats as well.  Ron looked at his sister with very obvious curiosity.

“Your Patronus changed?” Arthur asked his only daughter.

Suddenly Ginny looked uncomfortable.

“I taught you to produce a Patronus last summer. It was the doe I see now,” Arthur said, his eyes deep in concentration.

“Well, no, Dad, actually Harry taught me the Patronus Charm almost three years ago,” she said.

Arthur’s face showed some shock and hurt before he said, “So you let me think that I was teaching you the spell?”

Harry’s hand tightened slightly on Ginny’s knee, lending his support.  Ginny said, “It seemed so important to you.  Harry had taught me to produce a Patronus, yes.  But he didn’t teach me how to make it talk.”

Harry could tell that she was trying to give her father some credit for having taught her a different use for a Patronus other than the obvious.  Then Ginny started to almost laugh and, turning to Harry, said, “You know, I kept trying to come up with things that had happened with my boyfriend Michael to make my Patronus when you were teaching us.  But it just didn’t seem to work.  Then you came over to help me, and I remembered the first time I’d ever seen you, there on Platform 9 ¾, and I finally succeeded in producing a Patronus.”

Harry knew he was blushing furiously, remembering how stupid he must have looked that day, not having any idea of what he was doing.  He looked around to find that everyone else was looking on the memory fondly, either having been there or having been told the tale.

“So, how do you not know when it changed?” Hermione finally asked, clearly having not forgotten the beginning of the conversation.

“Well, after the wedding and you lot disappeared,” Ginny said, with much less resentment than she might have had previously, “Dad insisted that we needed to make sure that our family security was total and absolute.  He wanted me to be able to communicate to him and mum that I was okay even when I was at school.  I was only to use the Patronus in the case of an emergency in which case they would come for me immediately and get me out.  We knew that I would have little to no communication with them once I was at school.  There was no way they could send me messages except in code, which we did, of course.

The only time I used the Patronus was when they kidnapped Luna, but by the time everyone got there, they’d already taken her.”

They all shivered as they watched the Silver Trio share looks of remorse for things they couldn’t control.

Ginny smiled and said, “I knew that you were okay then, Harry.  I thought that if I could still produce the Patronus that you were alive.”

Kingsley asked, “So what was your Patronus before it changed?”

“It was a mare, wasn’t it?” Hermione asked, then seemed to think she’d spoken out of turn and added, “Well, I was watching when Harry coaxed it out of you.”

Harry remembered the moment well himself.  Ginny had been so adept at the spells that he’d taught her but for that one.  He’d stood beside her, encouraging her until she’d finally gotten it right.

“So you’re not mad at me about it?” Harry asked quietly to Ginny.

She gave a snort of laughter before regaining a more dignified manner.  “Why on earth would I be mad?” she asked.  “It just seemed to cement everything that seemed right to me.”

Harry felt himself breathe a sigh of relief and nearly lost his composure at the thought.  “But I missed you so much last year, why wouldn’t my Patronus change as well?  Why is mine not a stallion now?”

Surely if it worked in one direction, it would work in the other as well.  That was the only explanation Harry could come up with.

Molly looked at the two of them and said, “In the rare instance where a Patronus changes, the one to change will be the weaker one.”

Ginny frowned and said, “So my Patronus was weak before it changed to…to…be the equivalent of Harry’s?”

“Not at all,” Kingsley said, in his low and soothing voice. “It doesn’t mean that the person whose Patronus changes is weaker, just that their reason for producing it is weaker.”

Kingsley eyed Harry very closely and asked, “What does your Patronus represent to you?”

Harry thought this a rather ridiculous and obvious question.  He didn’t need to think before saying, “It’s my father.”

Kingsley nodded and said, “Exactly; your Patronus takes its shape and form in a way that will never change.  To you, it’s your father’s spirit and guidance that makes that Patronus possible.”

He then turned to Ginny and asked, “Why do you think your original Patronus was a mare instead of a doe?”

She looked thoughtful for a moment and said, “Well, I’d always wanted to have a horse when I was a little girl, but we really couldn’t afford one, so….I think that was probably why my Patronus was a mare.”

Harry could almost feel her turn her head in his direction.  They held each other’s eyes for a moment and Harry could see the understanding in her eyes. 

He couldn’t help but feel a bit hurt that she hadn’t thought to tell him.  He wasn’t sure how to ask her, but the question must have been told in his eyes.

“I meant to tell you, Harry, but then everything seemed to fight against me telling you.  Then I began to worry that you would be upset by it; you did tell me enough about why Snape sent you the doe Patronus, that I was worried,” Ginny said, looking at him tentatively.

Harry could feel himself getting angry.  How many other things had they all held from him, hoping to spare his feelings?  He could see the same guilty looks from most of the people around the table.

Harry stood up and addressed the group at large.  “I need to know what’s going on.  I need to know when my closest friends and the people I think of as family have concerns.”

He thought of the things that his best friends had said recently.  He turned to Ron and Hermione angrily and said, “I need to know that you are feeling the same emotions that I am; that you feel the same sort of responsibility that I do.

Harry felt his hands move up to his head, pulling at his own hair.  He looked at Ron and Hermione again and could see their concern as they too rose from their seats.

“You two especially know how much I’ve always hated it when things were kept from me.  You watched my anger and frustration with Dumbledore over all the secrecy.  I’m not so fragile that I’ll break if you tell me something that I might not like to hear.  I’d like to think I’m a bit stronger than that.  You’re the ones that always told me to keep you informed, but now you’re keeping things from me.”

“I know how both of you feel about a lot of things,” Harry went on, not really even knowing where he was going with this.  He looked at both of them pointedly asked, “Do you feel guilty for the Battle of Hogwarts?”

Ron and Hermione, who both had held Harry’s gaze relentlessly, let their eyes fall to the ground.

No one spoke, no one moved.  Hermione finally said, “How do you do it, Harry?”

Harry moved the few steps to meet them and, putting a hand on each of their shoulders, said, “This is why you need Albus’s help as much as I do.  He understands and has been through this as no one else has.”

Harry watched Hermione cling to Ron as though if she let go he might disappear as she remembered everything they’d all been through.  Harry reiterated, “We cannot change anything we did.  We did the best we could.  We were called on to do things that no man should be asked to do.  We did it though; and against great odds.” 

Harry looked at his two best friends.  He’d known them from the first. They were everything magical to him.  He knew that everything they’d done for him was for the same reasons that he had.  They believed that good would triumph over evil.  They’d accepted the losses and persevered.   Had they, though?  Had they accepted the losses?

Finally Harry said, “It’s okay to feel bad about everything.”

He could see Hermione fall into Ron with sobs that wracked her body.  He just pulled her even closer, burying his face in her hair, presumably hiding his own tears.

Harry didn’t dare to look at anyone and kept his gaze to his own hands in front of him as he sat down.  He didn’t want to see the accusing glares for letting Hermione and Ron break down like that.

Ginny could see Harry’s guilt at what he had just done, but she knew that it had probably been for the best of all of them.  She had seen her brother and her best friend being nearly swallowed whole by their preoccupation with past events.  They hid it well, but she knew them better than most.  Perhaps now Ron and Hermione would not only take advantage of the presence of Albus Dumbledore, who seemed to spend more time at their house than at the school and the Ministry combined, but that they would also take advantage of their love for each other.  For, despite Hermione’s insistence that she no longer felt that way about Ron, Ginny knew that Hermione was lying through her teeth.  It was evident every time there were problems and she automatically leaned on Ron for support.

Ginny could see the overwhelming effect she herself had had on Harry.  She knew she wasn’t entirely responsible for the changes that had been wrought within him, but she knew that she could calm him in a way that no one else could.  If that was her only purpose in the world, then she would accept it.  She felt Harry sitting stiffly at her side.  She would worry about him later and make everything right for him.

She looked over at her parents who were concentrating on Ron and Hermione and noticed that they weren’t the only ones.  Andromeda, Luna and Neville all looked on with concern as well.

Ron was the first to speak, saying, “I think perhaps we ought to go home, ‘Mione.”

She nodded into his shoulder and he waved very briefly to everyone as he steered her towards the edge of the property so that he could Apparate them home.

Harry made to follow them but Ginny held his arm more tightly.  She shook her head at him and said, “Let them be.  Whether they go to the library or one of their rooms, let’s give them some time.”

Harry nodded and barely paid any attention to those around him as they hurriedly discussed other matters, clearly trying to forget what had just happened.  When Ginny finally decided that it was appropriate for them to leave they said their good-byes and once again found themselves on the front steps of their house.  Creeping quietly up the stairs to their room they could see that there were still lights on in the library and shared a knowing look.







 


The following morning, Harry walked into the Auror Department with Hermione by his side.

“Does it feel weird, coming here without Ron?” she asked, not acknowledging the events of the previous evening.

“Not really,” Harry said, with a shrug. He looked at her and said, “Ron’s not here, but you are…that’s pretty normal.  If one of you isn’t around, the other always is, right?”

She returned his smirk as they approached his cubicle. 

“What is all of that?” she asked, taking in all of the letters that seemed to be piled on his desk.

Harry began to pick a few of them up.  Apparently the fact that he was working for the Aurors had leaked since most of them were addressed to him at the Auror Department.  He said, “See?  I told you we shouldn’t have responded.  Look at this, it’s insane!”

Hermione looked contrite and said, “I’m sorry, Harry, I really thought that if they had a response they wouldn’t keep bothering you. But, in all honesty, there’s no way I can keep up with all of this.”

She looked at Harry apologetically and said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded.”

“Don’t worry about it, Hermione.  I don’t expect you to be my secretary,” Harry replied.

“But, it’s obvious that you need someone to deal with this sort of thing,” Hermione said.  Harry just nodded his agreement, yet not having any real insight as to who might be able to fill that role.

Harry headed to the office they’d been working in.  Hermione followed him without question.  It seemed as though everyone was awaiting their arrival to start working.  They all sat at the desks that had been assigned to them the day before, but they seemed to stop at their arrival.

Harry had a sudden thought and said, “This is Hermione Granger.  You can keep working.”

The movement in the room accelerated and Hermione seemed to be trying to hide a smile.  Harry noticed that the seat behind the desk at the front of the room had been left empty and so moved to sit behind it.  Hermione took the seat beside him, where he had sat the day before.  She began by pulling out a few books from her beaded bag and looked at Harry expectantly.

“Well, what are you working on, Harry?” she asked.

Harry suddenly felt a bit apprehensive.  He had Bellatrix’s file in front of him.  The images that he’d created in his mind of her torture of Hermione flashed before his eyes.    He moved the file away instinctively, hiding it as best he could, trying to shove it under the desk.  He looked down at another file before him and started to speak, before she moved with remarkable speed, snatching it from his fingers.

“Ah, dear Bella,” Hermione said, as she read the file’s title.

Harry grimaced and said, “Hermione, you don’t have to deal with this.”

She gave him a withering look and said, “Nonsense, Harry, I would be more than happy to help fix this file.”

Harry could see that spark in Hermione that he had long ago learned to respect.  He looked at her expectantly.  She could feel his gaze and said, “Shouldn’t you start on the next file?”

When Harry still didn’t move, she said “I can handle Bellatrix.  Honestly, I have a great deal more horror of her for torturing Neville’s parents and killing Sirius and Dora than I do for the little torture she gave me.”

Hermione spoke so matter-of-factly, as though she hadn’t nearly joined Neville’s parents.  Harry had always held Hermione in great esteem, she was the sister that he’d never had, and he couldn’t ever be more proud of her.  He should have known that her strength would continue on even once Riddle was dead, although he’d wondered.  She wanted to distance herself from the Death Eaters, yet she hadn’t paused for even a moment to join him in fixing the files so that he and Ron could catch them. 

Harry spent the next hour talking with the groups that were dedicated to certain Death Eaters.  Some of them had completed their tasks and so Harry gave them new assignments. 

It still bothered him about the number of red areas that plagued most of the files.  This meant that there were still a lot of gaping holes in the information they needed.  He had originally hoped that gaining access to the Auror files would be beneficial, but he thought he ought to have known better.  Dumbledore never relied on the Auror Department, even when it was at its best.  Harry could understand that now.  They seemed to rely on brute force more than anything, and even that didn’t seem to be as well honed as one might expect.

He was lost in his own musings when there was a knock at the door.  Harry indicated for everyone to be silent, and a hush fell over the room as no one wished to be cursed.  Harry looked back at Hermione, who looked quite satisfied.  Removing the charms from the door, Harry wrenched it open.  His feeling of annoyance that they would be disturbed was immediately overtaken by absolute fear.  There could only be one reason for Minerva McGonagall to chase him down at the Ministry.  Harry’s heart beat rampantly in his chest as he asked, “What’s wrong?  We’ll go right now!”

Minerva seemed to read his expression and said firmly, “Everyone’s okay, don’t worry.”

Harry let out the breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding and angrily said, “So what the hell are you doing here?”

“Don’t you need help fixing the files?  Kingsley sent us,” said a woman.  Harry looked beyond Minerva then, to find Hestia, who had spoken, Dedalus Diggle and Elphias Doge.

“Of course he needs our help,” Elphias said, pushing his way through.

Harry stopped him with his wand.  Harry looked at him suspiciously and said, “Where did you see me last summer?”

Elphias seemed to understand the reason for interrogation and said pleasantly, “I saw you at the wedding of Bill and Fleur; a match, by the way, that was encouraged by Albus himself, I believe.  You were disguised as a Weasley cousin; Barny, I think you called yourself.”

“Thank you.  If you could go sign in with Hermione, please,” Harry said, allowing him entrance into the room.  Harry then looked at Headmistress McGonagall.  “What sort of treat did Professor Dumbledore offer you the night that I was left at my aunt’s house?”

“A lemon drop,” she said, her brows knitted in thought. She too began to walk into the room but stopped to whisper into his ear, “How on earth did you know that?”

“I have my sources,” Harry said, with a smile.  He could have laughed; it was so perfectly amusing to have stumped her.  He moved on to the other two people in front of him.

He looked at Dedalus and asked, “Where did you first see me in person?”

Dedalus looked a bit flustered but said, “I saw you in a shop when you were about nine and I bowed to you, taking off my hat in gratitude.”

He repeated the movement as Harry had remembered it.  He had dreamt about it so many times when he was a child, wondering who the man could possibly be, that he knew that no one could have imitated it so well.

Harry now looked at Hestia and asked, “What did my cousin say and what did my aunt do that infuriated you?”

Hestia huffed for a moment and said, “He said you weren’t a waste of space; you said that was like saying ‘I love you,’ then your aunt hugged him as though he’d done something heroic.  Don’t get me wrong, I think I understand your aunt and cousin better now, but, at the time I couldn’t believe anyone who knew you could treat you like that.”

Harry waved her into the room, where she too greeted Hermione and added her name to the ever-growing list.  He could see that Minerva had already taken care of creating a new desk for them to work at.  He watched for a moment as the four of them got situated at their station.  They all looked at him for direction.

He had two options available to him.  He could put them to the same tasks that he had the others working on and get to the goal faster, or he could utilize their knowledge of the first war and insider information of the second to fill in a lot of the blanks.  Harry made a split-second decision to have them add what they could rather than have them do the grunt-work that the rest were basically doing.

Harry walked up to the foursome and said very quietly, “I need you to take care of the things in red.”

Harry felt a bit ashamed of himself that they’d not taken the time to research some of these people over the summer, but knew that it was very important to get it taken care of as quickly as possible now.

“What are the things in red?” Hestia asked.

“Unfortunately, there are things that we don’t know are real or not, so we’re just going on what we know,” Harry said with an apology in his voice.  “I understand if you don’t know the answers either, but, really you can probably give us a much better picture of things.”

Minerva looked up at Harry and said, “We will give you everything we can.”

Harry nodded, knowing that her word was her bond and that she would do everything possible to help him, just as she always had for as long as he’d known her.

Harry returned to his desk and looked around the room to find eyes hastily resuming to their work and barely restrained himself from rolling his eyes at the blatant curiosity.  He himself continued going through each file.  It was, for the most part, quiet in the room but for groups quietly discussing the business at hand or people coming up to him with questions.  The one exception was the addition sitting at the new table in front of Harry and Hermione.

Elphias, Minerva, Hestia and Dedalus were all caught up in what seemed to be some gossip concerning some old friends of theirs.  Harry did his best to try to block them out, but he kept catching snippets of their conversation.  After about half an hour he gave up, especially as he could see others around the room paying more attention to Minerva’s discussion than their own.  Harry marched over to them with his arms folded across his chest.  He tried to put the sternest look on his face that he could muster, although he had a strange urge to laugh at the situation.

Their voices all stopped abruptly as Harry loomed over them, taking note of what they were working on.  He asked, “So, what exactly does Brock Freeman have to do with Rabastan Lestrange?”

Dedalus cleared his throat and looked up at Harry apologetically and said, “Um, nothing that I’m aware of.”

“Harry, we can do more than one thing at a time,” Minerva said, indicating that she’d already transformed a great deal of the items on the file in front of her into black.

“I’m sure you can, McGonagall, but your conversation is having a distracting influence on everyone,” Harry pointed out.  Minerva didn’t look even slightly abashed at this statement, but cocked a brow at his brazen use of her surname. Then he had a sudden notion.  “You’re trying to teach me a lesson aren’t you?  Are you showing me what it was like trying to teach me or my father and Sirius?”

She blinked up at him for a moment and he thought that perhaps he’d been mistaken.  Harry said, “I’m already well aware of how much they were a pain in the arse when they were in school, so you really don’t have to imitate them to impress the point to me.”

“Harry…excuse me…Auror Potter, I’m sorry if we were disturbing everyone.  We didn’t realize that we were being quite so loud.  But, I don’t know where you got this idea that James and Sirius were difficult students.  They were quite a pleasure to teach,” Minerva said firmly.  She had put emphasis on the ‘Auror Potter’ part, clearly indicating that she was giving the deference that was his due in the present situation.

“And great fun once they joined up after school,” Dedalus recalled fondly, with a big smile.  He seemed to be wistfully lost in happy memories.

Harry was quite shocked and said, “I think you’ve romanticized things a bit, Minerva.  I know exactly what they were like while they were in school.  Even if it hadn’t been for all of those detentions for Snape rewriting their detention files with Filch, I also saw his memories of them a few times.  I would imagine they were impossible in classes.”

“Oh, that’s nonsense, Potter.  I can’t believe that you would take Snape’s word over mine about what your father was like when he was in school.  The Marauders might have been a bit…high-spirited, but they were great kids in the end…well, most of them anyway,” Minerva said quickly, thoroughly irritated now, looking at Harry with concern in her eyes.

“I know they turned out okay,” Harry said, as though this were completely obvious.  “I doubt I’d even be here if they hadn’t. And I knew Sirius and Remus, didn’t I?  But I’m not taking Snape’s word about how they were in school.  I’m taking what I actually saw through his memories; untampered memories, I might add.  Besides, Sirius and Remus fully admitted to me that they were a bunch of arrogant toe-rags, as my mother put it.”

“You shouldn’t remember them that way, Harry!” Hestia admonished.

Harry rolled his eyes and said, “I don’t; I’m just not pretending like they were saints in school.”

“Anyway, if you could either cut out the gossip or at least keep the volume down, it would be greatly appreciated,” Harry said matter-of-factly, dismissing the topic.

He turned back to the front of the room, where Hermione was hunched over the desk with her head in her arms.  Her shoulders were heaving and it was obvious that she was trying not to laugh too loudly.  He sat down beside her and looked back at the foursome that Kingsley had sent to assist him.

He saw Minerva struggling not to laugh aloud, her mouth was shut so tight and her eyes crinkled in the corners.  “It’s okay to laugh you know; we won’t all die of shock,” he told her.  This seemed to be the last straw for her and she let out a great booming roar.  The Aurors in the room all looked as though they might just die of shock after all.  As Harry thought about it, he realized that probably most, if not all of them, had been taught by this stern woman while they were in school.  It was a side of her that was rarely displayed and usually only in private; not something for her students to see.

“Oh, Harry!  If you ever get tired of this Auror business, remember that there’s a job waiting for you at Hogwarts.  I have the feeling you’d make an excellent teacher,” Minerva said, wiping the tears from her eyes as she tried to regain her senses.

Hermione had recovered by that point and said proudly, “He’s already been a teacher, and he was indeed quite good.  I didn’t even have to draw up his lesson plans for him or anything.  He did it all himself.  Besides, I think it’s a testament to his teaching abilities that of all the students he taught only two of them were lost in the battle.”

Harry knew that she was referring to the deaths of Fred and Colin.  But as Harry thought about it he remembered that Fred hadn’t been killed in a duel and that Colin had actually thrown himself in front of a curse that was meant for Ginny, sending him over the wall of the castle.  Besides that though, he also recalled that the Order, and Lupin in particular, had been quite adamant about trying to protect the students around them.  He didn’t feel it was necessary to dwell on any of that at this point though and found that of all the things he had done over the years that educating the D.A. was one achievement that he was extremely proud of.  He smiled and said to Hermione, “It was your idea in the first place though.  I would never have come up with that part on my own.”

She blushed slightly and shook her shoulders to indicate that she didn’t feel this was a very large contribution.

“I don’t know how I seem to forget about that part of Dumbledore’s Army sometimes,” Minerva replied, finally having sobered.  She looked at Harry then and asked, “Are you sure you won’t change your mind?”

It was clear that she mostly remembered Dumbledore’s Army as being a force fighting against the heads of Hogwarts that didn’t belong there.  Harry tried to dismiss the fact that Snape had deserved to be there just as much as she did, because he didn’t have a good enough reason for her to accept him.  He pushed Snape from his mind once again.

She had asked him a few times over the summer if he’d like to take over the Defense Against the Dark Arts position once his education was completed.  He nodded and said, “I’m quite sure.  I still have work here to do, but I’ll definitely keep it in mind for the future.  It was a lot of fun teaching the D.A.”

She gave him the same disappointed look that he had received each time that they’d had this discussion.  She sighed and said, “I won’t press you about it again, Harry.  I know that you and Ron have wanted to be Aurors for quite a long time and that you feel it’s your responsibility to track down what remains of V-Voldemort’s followers.  I wouldn’t have encouraged you in your ambition if I hadn’t thought you would make an excellent Auror.”

“Too bad we couldn’t see the look on Umbridge’s face if she knew,” Harry said with a sigh.

She smiled as she turned her gaze to Rabastan Lestrange’s file and went back to work.  Harry wasn’t sure if they’d continued with their gossip.  But as he could no longer hear conversation completely unrelated to the topic at hand he didn’t particularly care, especially when they continually sent files flying toward him that had little to no red markings on them.  He decided that he couldn’t be angry with Kingsley any longer and would have to actually thank him later.

Everyone was doing so well, in fact, that Harry was reluctant to stop for lunch.  He went and asked some of his team members how to go about ordering food for them, then sent a message down to the Department of Magical Transportation to inform Ginny and Luna of the change in plans.  So it was that a short time elapsed before Ginny’s Patronus soared through the door and cantered up to Harry.

It spoke in her clear voice, “Uh, I think we found your desk, but you don’t seem to be around.  Where should we go now?”

Harry strode to the door and wrenched it open.  He crossed the Auror Department to find Luna sitting in his seat and Ginny perched on his desk.  After kissing Ginny and greeting Luna, he held an arm out to indicate the direction to the office they were using.

By the time they had arrived and Harry had replaced the sealing charms on the door, the room had been transformed so that one large circular table had replaced the desks.  Trays of sandwiches and flagons of pumpkin juice were floating about the room.

“Harry, I know that you would have liked to keep on working, but I really thought everyone needed at least a short break,” Hermione said, waving a hand to the three seats beside her for Harry, Ginny and Luna.

Harry sighed and sat in the chair next to Hermione, who was still laboring over the file in front of her.  Ginny smirked and clasped Harry’s hand under the table.  He could see that all conversation in the room had ceased and that there were a number of frowns and confused looks being sent in Ginny and Luna’s direction.

“It’s okay to talk in front of them; they’re already on the list,” Harry told them.

If he thought that this would have a calming effect, he was sadly mistaken.  Many looked simply outraged at his statement and there were some mutinous rumblings around the room.

Raleigh scowled and said, in a carrying voice, “So, we’re all required to keep absolute silence but the high and mighty Harry Potter can bend the rules to tell his girlfriend everything?  I mean, it’s one thing for Miss Granger to be here since she was a part of the Trio.  The rest that showed up today were all appointed by the Minister.”

Harry held his temper as best he could and cleared his throat.  “The Minister approved of including my fiancée, Luna and Neville in the group.  They fought from their posts at Hogwarts all last year and have very valuable knowledge of certain Death Eaters.”

The room seemed to settle down somewhat at that point.  Hermione gave Harry a wry look and said, “I don’t seem to remember Kingsley approving of anything, Harry.”

“Well, he didn’t say anything against it when they signed, did he?  So I would take that to mean that he agreed,” Harry said.

“He wouldn’t object though, would he?  It’s clear that he views this as an Order matter, in which case he has no jurisdiction.  That decision would lie with you and you alone,” she replied gently.

“That’s right; you’re the boss, Harry.  Don’t forget that,” Elphias said.

“Here, here!” cried Dedalus with an approving nod of his head.  Harry laughed along with the rest of Order members, reluctantly accepting his role in the matter.  As he looked around the room, he could see the ease fill back into it.

Conversations resumed, although it was clear that many eyes in the room remained curiously fixed on Harry and Ginny.

“So, how’d the lesson go this morning?” Harry asked them.

Luna seemed to be staring off into space, but replied, “Not too bad; no splinching today though.”

Ginny looked thoroughly frustrated as she said, “Nothing happened.  I’ve considered giving up and just letting you Apparate us everywhere.”

Harry squeezed her hand and said, “You’re expecting too much too fast.  It takes awhile to learn.  At least you won’t have to try to take someone by Side-Along Apparition immediately after you finally get it.  Actually, come to think of it, maybe that’s what you need…some sort of situation that would require you to get it right.”

“Oh, Harry, that’s ridiculous.  I took you and Ron by Side-Along Apparition, not the other way around,” Hermione interjected with a smug look.

Harry blinked in confusion before turning to her.  “You didn’t come with Albus and me to the cave; you were tailing Snape, remember?”

Now it was Hermione’s turn to look confused and she said, “Didn’t Dumbledore take you?”

“Well, he Apparated us there; but I had to Apparate us home,” Harry said calmly.

She looked outraged and said, fiercely, “Harry, that’s horrible!  You didn’t have your license and you weren’t even of age yet!”

Harry couldn’t help but be amused.  Only Hermione could be so upset about such things.  Incredulously he said, “Do you honestly think he would have taken me with him if he didn’t intend to let me use magic?  He didn’t care about the damned decree.  It was more important to get the job done and besides; he had to take someone that was underage or else an elf or something.  Should he have taken Dobby or Winky or a different student?”

She seemed somewhat mollified but said, “Oh, of course not, Harry.  It’s simply awful that Kreacher had to go there twice, let alone putting another elf through that.  Even so, what if it’d gone wrong?  You could have splinched him or something!”

“Well, I didn’t really have much of a choice, did I?  It was either that or leave him there while I went for help.  And since Snape was the only person who could help that would’ve been a problem because you know he wouldn’t have come willingly with me.  Besides I wouldn’t have even known where to take him.  I didn’t really know where we were.  It doesn’t really matter I suppose, because there was no way I was going to leave him, not with an angry horde of Inferi not too far away and Albus near death.  I doubt I would have splinched him, anyhow.  I don’t think I’ve ever concentrated so hard on a destination in my entire life.”

“I didn’t even drop him until we’d landed,” Harry said, remembering the horrible scene aloud.

“You dropped Dumbledore?” Ginny asked, torn between amusement and horror.

“Well, he sort of slid from my grasp.  It didn’t really matter because obviously we had to fly up to the school when we saw the Dark Mark,” Harry replied, turning to face her.  “What I’m trying to say is, maybe we could come up with a way for you to feel some sort of urgency to learn Apparition.”

She seemed to be considering the idea when Hermione said, “Not everyone is able to learn knew spells on the spur of the moment, especially when faced with a dangerous situation.”

“I think she’s right, Harry.  On the occasions when I’ve been in a tough spot I’ve always fallen back to spells I know best.  I think you’re the exception not the rule,” Ginny agreed.

“Hmmm, perhaps that’s true.  I guess I tend to do that too sometimes; with Voldemort anyway.  Actually, I only ever used one spell against him and it worked both times,” Harry mused.

“Yes, well you’re the only person I know of, Harry, that first produced a Patronus when faced with a hundred Dementors or learned a Summoning Charm just to defeat a dragon,” Luna said dreamily, not taking her eyes from the far corner of the room where she seemed to be studying something visible only to her.

Harry shared an amused look with Hermione and Ginny, both over Luna’s statement as well as her apparent attentiveness.  Hermione suddenly turned serious and said, “You know, I thought we ought to discuss your ideas about Albania, Harry.  I know that you are convinced of finding Death Eaters there, but I’m just not so sure.  Maybe it ought to be good to talk it over with a large group like this.”

Harry knew that she completely disapproved of his suggestion to hunt down Death Eaters in a foreign country.  Glancing at Ginny told him that she still wasn’t thrilled with the idea, although she agreed that it had merit.

Ginny sighed resignedly and said, “Harry, are you sure that’s where he spent nearly all of his time in exile?  You told me that you had seen the night that he was thrown from his body; did he show you where he went from there?”

Harry cast his mind for a moment, trying to remember.  He’d only told her that he’d seen it, but had refused to make himself relive it in the telling.  He mumbled, “Let me think a second.”

He closed his eyes and forced himself back into the memory that Voldemort had shared with him of killing Harry’s parents.  He found himself surprised at how clear it was.  He’d noticed that as he concentrated on some of the visions he’d had while connected to Voldemort that many of them seemed to be vague memories and images even though he knew they’d been as vivid as his own thoughts at one point.  He supposed this was due to the fact that his soul was no longer linked to Voldemort’s; so, just as the emotions that weren’t his had begun to fade so too did the visions.  He wasn’t sure if this one was different because of its significance to Harry or because he and Voldemort had been so inextricably connected during the time they’d shared the memory.

He wished he could shut his eyes in his mind as his mother fell to the floor.  He could almost feel the thud of her body hitting the carpet and was unable to prevent the shutter that ran through his body.  Ginny squeezed his hand and used her other to rub his shoulder.

He remembered Voldemort’s pain as he’d cursed Harry as though it was his own and could feel himself wince with the thought, accidentally letting out a small groan. 

Ginny squeezed his hand again and whispered, “Did it hurt, Harry?”

“Pain beyond pain,” Harry mumbled, not really recognizing where he was or who he was even with while he was lost in the horrid vision in his mind.

Whose pain was it that he remembered?  He couldn’t honestly say.  He remembered thinking at the time that it didn’t really matter because they were one in the same at that moment.  It was nearly impossible to define where Voldemort’s soul stopped and Harry’s started.  He followed Voldemort’s spirit as it entered Harry’s body and recalled Voldemort thinking that he “was the boy.”  Those three words echoed over and over in Harry’s mind, creating a mantra he couldn’t break.

How could he have missed that?  It had been the moment in time when he had become a sort of Horcrux for Voldemort.  He thought about what had happened next.  Voldemort had found the picture of Grindelwald and Harry had partially gone back into his own body.  This had distracted both of them from the moment when Harry had become host to Voldemort’s soul fragment.  He considered what this might have meant if he, Harry, had recognized it for what it was at the time.  But no, he’d blocked it from his mind and instead become obsessed with what Dumbledore had done and his relationship with Grindelwald.  Instead of concentrating on his job of destroying Voldemort, he’d been selfish and all too ready to blame Dumbledore for his troubles and woes.  He could feel his face heat up in embarrassment at the thought.  He could have prevented so much if he’d known this one fact just a little bit sooner, he thought.  He threw his glasses onto the table before him and covered his face with his hands, unable to look at anyone in the room.  He heard a tinkle as the glass shattered and then the unmistakable sound of a zap that told him Hermione had, likely out of instinct, repaired them as she had so many times before.

A wave of nausea swept through him.  He took two long, deep breaths to try to fight down the bile now rising in his throat.

He also felt an anger that he had thought long dormant as he considered the situation.  He growled, “Grindelwald, Grindelwald, it all comes down to him.  I’m the worst sort of fool.”

He thought of everything that had happened after the encounter in Godric’s Hollow and wondered if he could somehow reconcile himself to all of it.  He finally muttered, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Without even picking up his glasses, he rose to flee the room.  He could barely make out the door across the room, but made his way toward it.  A warm hand grabbed his arm and steered him purposefully.  A brief glance told him that it was probably Hermione.  She said not a word, but forced his glasses onto his face and let him out the door.

Ginny watched him leave with more apprehension than she thought possible.  Hermione now slid into the seat that Harry had just vacated and put an arm around her, aiming her wand at the door to use the spells she assumed Harry had.

“How could I have just done that to him, Hermione?” Ginny whispered.


A/N: I have to thank all of my readers that are sticking with me through this journey, especially as it is a long one.  I also wish to thank those who leave me reviews.  I love to hear whether people enjoy certain sections or if they don’t; and especially why.  It gives me an idea of how to proceed, many times.  The story itself will not, however, change; but reviews often give me insight into what to add.  I have decided to stop trying to predict what I’m going to do, because I don’t think I’ve ever been correct in my assumptions.  The story has taken on a life of its own, and while that is a good thing, it sometimes leads me to lose control of it.  I apologize profusely for the delay in getting this chapter out, but it gave me a great deal of trouble and I had “real life” trying to get in the way.  I had to write most of the next chapter before I could be confident with this one, so that also played a big part in my delays as well.  With that said, the next one should not take nearly so long.

 


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A Time to Live: Chapter 21: Making Promises

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