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A Time to Live by ladymblack
Chapter 32 : Chapter 32: Duel at the Ministry
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 28


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Chapter 32: Duel at the Ministry

 

Once all of the votes were received, Malfada read out the results.  “The Ministry will provide funding for the Wolfsbane potion in full,” she began.  Harry wouldn’t have minded the dent in his account, but he was truly shocked that enough people had voted for full payment rather than the half or none that were the other options.

 

Malfada went on, “Werewolves will be allowed to take on any entry-level position and to advance as any other wizard.  They will not, however, be able to occupy any position of authority.”

 

There was a laundry list of other incidentals, most of which had passed; such as shopkeepers not being allowed to turn someone away due to their affliction.

 

Harry’s smile conveyed the results as the people that had been waiting were invited back into the courtroom.  Hermione caught it immediately and returned a triumphant grin back to him.  Relief washed through the werewolves visibly.  They’d been given a reprieve that they hadn’t quite expected.  Harry looked at the young Aidan, who understood enough to know that his mother was safe.

 

“It’s getting rather close to lunchtime.  Shall we break for now?” Malfada suggested once the cheers had gone down.

 

“I’ll head up to the Auror Department and get Ron.  He’ll want to know what happened,” Harry said to Hermione once he’d descended the steps to the main floor.  She responded by rolling her eyes and turning to talk to the werewolves.

 

Kurt Reichgard clasped Harry around the shoulders just in time for a picture for the Daily Prophet that would be released shortly with the outcome of the proposal, a special edition that would be out just after lunch.  Reichgard held his hand out to shake Harry’s.  He obliged and Reichgard said, “I didn’t think you would be able to come up with enough evidence, but I’m glad that you did.”

 

Harry just nodded and expressed the need to get back to his job.  He could hear and feel the click of cameras on his back as he made his way to the stairwell.

 

He finally reached the Auror Department.  Ron was delighted when Harry explained everything, but his disappointment that Hermione hadn’t joined them was palpable.

 

It didn’t abate and was obvious when they met her for lunch.  Hermione had waited until they’d already sat down before choosing her seat, on the side of Harry opposite from Ron.  Nonetheless they continued to throw each other insults.

 

Unwilling to deal with them, Harry busied himself with a conversation with the other Aurors.  He walked back up to his desk afterwards since there was still some time before the next trial.

 

They’d finally gotten around to Rabastan Lestrange and Yaxley, both of whom had been interred in Azkaban temporarily.  Harry vaguely greeted the people he’d just seen a few hours ago and went over in his mind what things he would like to say if it became necessary for each of the defendants, pouring himself a mug of coffee before heading to his seat.

 

He found it unnecessary to add anything to the testimony against Lestrange and watched as the prisoner was removed from the room so that the court could deliberate.  He nearly missed the vote when a familiar-looking owl landed on his knee, but threw his hand up in the air just in time to help make sure Lestrange got a lifetime sentence in Azkaban.  It wasn’t entirely necessary since very few members of the Wizengamot voted against this.

 

Harry pulled off the note tied to the owl’s leg and it hooted feebly, looking at Harry dolefully.

 

Harry,

 

I thought you ought to know that I read the Prophet this afternoon.  The wizard next to you in the photo (he looks to be the Chief Warlock) is the bloke that Voldemort met in secret last year.

 

Draco

 

P.S.- When do you think I’ll be able to get out of here?  It’s really rather boring.

 

Leave it to Draco to be worried about when he could leave the safe house rather than Death Eaters, Harry thought.  His heart was pounding.  He didn’t dare look back at Kurt Reichgard, who was directly behind him, a few rows up.  Instead he examined Draco’s owl.  Reminded of Hedwig being injured on a similar journey he wrote out a note and asked the owl to take it to Hermione.  She would be able to sort him out, or at least get him to the proper place for healing.

 

Draco,

 

I think that your owl may have been intercepted on his way here.  I’ve sent him to Hermione for now.  To be sure that it really was you that wrote the previous letter, please tell me where and when we first met.  So that you know it is I who sends this to you, I used the Sectumsempra Curse on you in Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom.  You should recognize Fawkes as well for further identification.

 

For clarification, the Chief Warlock for the Wizengamot Kurt Reichgard is the Death Eater that no one knew about?

 

Harry

 

Although he quietly called for Fawkes, the appearance of the brightly colored phoenix still brought unwanted attention to Harry.  As a diversion he told those nearest him that Ginny had a question for him, bringing knowing smiles from some of the witches and wizards.  Luckily owls occasionally swooped in and out of the courtroom so he didn’t worry too much about it.

 

Yaxley had already been brought in and seated in the chained chair by the time that Draco’s reply came.

 

Harry,

 

I first met you before we started first year at Madam Malkin’s.  That’s definitely him.  Is our security compromised?  Should I take my mother somewhere else?

 

Draco

 

Harry wrote out one more note, this time to Ron, saying that Dominic ought to go check on the Malfoys and asking Ron to bring a few more Aurors down to the courtroom for added security.  Harry also warned to use extreme caution due to the possible interception of Malfoy’s owl.  He glanced down once Fawkes had gone to find that Yaxley kept looking up at him.  Then it occurred to him that Yaxley was probably trying to get Reichgard’s attention, not his, since he sat not too far back from Harry.  Perhaps he could get a confession out of him now?  Harry felt the telltale signs of the Imperius Curse upon him once again, but he fought it, throwing it out of his mind angrily.

 

Mme. Hopkirk was still asking questions, but Harry managed to catch her eye.  “We haven’t gotten to your bit yet, Auror Potter,” she said, looking at him in confusion.

 

“I know, but it’s only just occurred to me that we may have been asking him the wrong questions,” Harry said apologetically.

 

She shrugged to indicate that she didn’t have a problem with the change in procedure.  Harry rose from his seat and waited until he’d gotten to the bottom of the steps before speaking.  He stood directly in front of Yaxley and bent over somewhat to get closer to his face.  He cowered, clearly afraid that Harry was about to attack him.

 

But Harry was determined right now to forget about Yaxley’s past transgressions to try to get what he wanted out of him.  Looking him in the eye he said, “Who are you trying to communicate with in here?”

 

Harry stepped back a few paces so that the others’ could see Yaxley’s facial expression, which went from bewildered to suspicious and then to fear as his eyes flickered in Reichgard’s direction.  He gulped audibly and growled, “I was working on Greyback’s orders.”

 

Letting out a guffaw of amusement, Harry narrowed his gaze and said, “We’re to believe that you would sink so low as to obey a werewolf?  I find that interesting, considering the fact that he didn’t even have full Death Eater status.  I know now who was giving you your instructions, but maybe we’ll go a bit easier on you if you name him.”

 

Yaxley looked around wildly, as though expecting someone to come to his rescue.  When no one did he shook his head violently.

 

“Perhaps you need a reminder?” Harry asked.  He turned around with his arms folded across his chest, holding his wand tightly.  He said, “May I ask you a question, Chief Warlock Reichgard?”

 

Reichgard stood and regarded Harry with a carefully veiled expression.  “Of course, Mr. Potter.  What’s your question?”

 

Harry let his mind open slightly to see what the man would do.  As Harry felt the Imperius Curse settle upon him, Harry shook his head and said, “Haven’t you noticed that you aren’t having any success Imperiusing me?”

 

He let his mind open even more, looking into Reichgard’s narrowed eyes.  Within moments his suspicions were correct and he could feel the gentle probing of Legilimency being used on his brain.

 

Harry whipped out his wand and pointed it at the Chief Warlock.  “Protego!”

 

As the Legilimency was turned back on its creator Harry could see a swirl of images.  Harry saw a younger Reichgard watching Frank and Alice Longbottom being tortured.  Then he saw Bellatrix sitting next to Reichgard with a manic and feral look in her eyes.  There were two infants on a doorstep and a few more images flashing that Harry couldn’t distinguish.  It all stopped abruptly and Harry knew his shield had been broken, tenuous as it had been to begin with.

 

“ENOUGH!” Reichgard shouted.  Harry pulled back out of the man’s mind and barely had time to put up an Impediment Jinx.  It just managed to meet the stunning spell that Reichgard sent, quickly enough to slow it down.  Harry felt his body hit the wall with a thud as his head snapped back, but he was able to maintain consciousness thanks to the Impediment Jinx.  Harry walked forward before addressing his opponent again.  He blinked to clear his watering eyes.  There was an uproar in the room as nearly everyone had gotten to his or her feet.

 

“What’s going on here, Harry?” Kingsley demanded, at a loss.

 

Not quite answering the Minister’s question, Harry raised his wand in dueling stance and said to Reichgard instead, “What does Bellatrix have to do with any of this?”

 

“I don’t know what you mean, Potter,” Reichgard growled between gritted teeth.

 

“There’s only one way for that memory to be in your mind and now I’ve got it,” Harry replied with satisfaction.

 

Reichgard looked panicked.  There was no reply but Harry saw the wand rising once more and Reichgard’s mouth opening.  Knowing what the spell would be he made to throw himself to the ground just as he heard those fateful words.  “Avada Kedavra!”

 

Harry vaguely felt his nose crack and his mouth filled with the acrid taste of blood.  Knowing he had only moments before the curse was performed again he waved his wand in Reichgard’s direction and swept it across as Albus had taught him over the summer.  Harry heard the whooshing noise and what sounded a bit like thunder.  After the white hot light had shot through the room there were a number of shrieks and the sound of wood cracking under strain.

 

“RON!” Harry shouted, knowing he was going to need back-up and the Aurors being sent down were the only ones who would have a clue as to what was going on.  He gained his feet and ran towards the section of seats he ordinarily sat in.  The benches were in poor condition, but some of the back seats, along with their occupants had disappeared completely.  Those who had been sitting towards the front of where Harry’s spell hit were luckier and they seemed to awaken quickly.  “Expelliarmus!” Harry said, his wand aimed at his opponent, spitting blood as he spoke. 

 

He hit Reichgard with the strongest stunning spell he could muster.  As it came into contact with him, Reichgard’s body began to fly up towards those seats that remained behind him, from the impact of the blow.  Wizards and witches around him scrambled to get out of the way.  Recognizing his mistake, Harry used Levicorpus to lift Reichgard away from the others.  He moved the Chief Warlock’s body to the aisle, but was loathe to let him down.  Could he bind the man while levitating him?  Harry flipped the man a few times conjuring ropes that wrapped around Reichgard tightly.  Harry lowered him none-too-gently to the ground at his own feet.  As Harry looked around at all of the court he asked, “Is everyone okay?  Sorry about that, I didn’t have enough time to react.”

 

Nearly everyone else in the room, that hadn’t been stunned, looked as though they’d been petrified in their places.  Only Kingsley and a handful of others were standing with their wands in a combative stance.  Harry wondered why no one had come to his aid, and realized that none of them had known what had been going on nor had they had any time to react to the situation.

 

Harry was surprised at the steadiness of his hand as he began to repair the damage he’d caused to the benches and helped to retrieve those wizards who had fallen along with the back few rows.  Portkeys were made and the injured sent to St. Mungo’s.

 

When Harry turned around he found nearly his entire Auror team standing in the doorway with raised wands.  They looked as though they’d been through a tornado.  Eleanor, who sat a few seats behind Harry, had been knocked out by Harry’s spell once again but had been revived and was now busy helping the others in their section.

 

Ron was looking down at Yaxley when he said, “I can’t believe you killed him, Harry.”

 

Harry joined Ron, who was prodding Yaxley’s shoulder with his wand.  “Good, because I didn’t kill him,” he replied, indignantly.

 

“I think he was caught in the crossfire,” said Kingsley, approaching the gathering around the dead Death Eater.

 

“Care to explain what happened, Harry?” asked Ron, his mouth twitching as though he might laugh.

 

“I’d like to hear that explanation myself,” Kingsley said with a frown, sounding exasperated.

 

“Weren’t you here?”  Ron looked confused.

 

Harry quickly went through the details of what had happened.  “Eventually you’re going to run out of lives, you know,” said Ron once Harry was done.

 

Since there wasn’t a need to respond Harry said nothing.  Kingsley accepted everything with a nod, looking at the Aurors grouped around them.

 

“It looks like you broke your nose,” Ron commented, pointing at Harry’s face.  “I can fix it, I think.”

 

Harry briefly thought of Lockhart’s similar comment after the Quidditch match during his second year and having to take Skele-Gro afterwards.  Then again, he definitely trusted Ron’s spells a great deal more than their former Defense Against the Dark Arts professor’s.  With a quick “Episkey!” Harry felt his nose with his hand and smiled.

 

“Thanks,” said Harry.  It was only then that he fully realized that Ron looked a bit disheveled as well.  “What happened to you?”

 

“You were right.  They’d been tipped off and were ready for us, but we caught about fifteen in the Auror Department that were apparently in his pay,” Ron said, nodding toward Reichgard.  “They tried to stop us leaving.”

 

Harry had a horrible image of the situation but Ron laughed and said, “We had them, no problem.  It could have been bad. We were missing Robards and Savage, but Dawlish caught on quickly enough to what was happening in the main office.  He might be awful at fighting Confundus Charms, but he’s dead useful in a fight.”

 

“Don’t be so modest, Ron,” Beulah chided him.

 

Ron looked at his partner in surprise, but she continued unheeded, “Ron had nearly everything under control and everyone fighting in right form before Dawlish even opened his door.”

 

Blood rushed so fast to Ron’s so face that he couldn’t say too much and did a bit of spluttering.  “I didn’t really do anything…”

 

Sensing Ron’s discomfort, Harry turned away from him and aimed his wand at Reichgard, muttering, “Rennervate.”

 

Once Reichgard’s eyes opened, Harry quietly asked, “Who were those children?”

 

Reichgard laughed viciously and said, “You’ll never know, Potter.  I’ll have my revenge on you yet.”

 

Recognizing a lost cause when he saw one, Harry rolled his eyes gave Reichgard his back.  “Does anyone here have a Pensieve?”

 

Latimer replied, “I think Robards has one in his office.  Why?”

 

Harry conjured a small vial and placed a memory in it.  He explained, “I got this from Reichgard when he tried to use Legilmency against me a few minutes ago.  There were some strange images in there.  We should check it out as soon as possible.”

 

“How did you manage that?” Latimer asked, scratching his head, but accepting the vial anyhow.

 

“Shield charm again?” Ron asked.  Harry just nodded slowly.  “Well, we’d better take this one into custody.  I can explain what Harry did to get the memory, I think.”

 

“Right,” Latimer said, turning to the Aurors and indicating for them to escort the inert form of Reichgard and remove the body of Yaxley.

 

“You okay, Harry?  I’ll see you in a bit,” Ron said, clapping his friend on the back.

 

Harry nodded again and went back to his seat, vaguely noting that they’d been fully repaired while he was talking to Ron.  He willed himself to look away from any of the people who he’d injured while trying to capture Reichgard.  Harry rubbed his head, hoping to dispel the pounding that had set in and wondered what would happen next.

 

Then Arthur barreled through the door and demanded, “I just ran into Ron in the lift.  What’s going on here?”

 

Kingsley waved him over to his seat and told Arthur he would explain everything later.

 

Mme. Hopkirk cleared her throat and said, “So, is there anyone here that doesn’t wish to kick Kurt Reichgard off of the Wizengamot?”

 

Not a single hand went into the air.  “Very well, I think, then, that we should open discussion for acceptance of what the podium suggested a few months ago.  Minister?” Mme. Hopkirk said, looking over to Kingsley.

 

“You are aware of my opinion on that matter, Malfada, but I’d be happy to repeat it.  I voted for Harry.  I think he’s an enormous asset to this institution.  I also think he’s the best qualified to lead it.  Ask him what you like,” said Kingsley.  It was known that he and Harry were on a first-name-basis and that they’d been friends for a few years.  So it seemed obvious that for Kingsley to extol Harry’s abilities he might appear biased.

 

A man in the third row stood and asked, “Did he really have you under the Imperius Curse, Mr. Potter?”

 

“Well, I kept feeling that strange sensation, but it’s not like Legilmency, right?  Eye-contact isn’t necessary, so I couldn’t figure out where it was coming from,” Harry replied, unsure of what sort of response they were looking for.  All he could do was tell them the truth.

 

“So, what was he making you do?” one woman asked.

 

“He was trying to make me leave.  We never quite got past that point, so I don’t know what else he intended,” Harry said, cursing himself for not trying to follow the instructions if only to find out more information.

 

“You can throw off the Imperius Curse then?” another man asked.

 

Harry explained his experience during fourth year and its subsequent uses.

 

Another person wanted to know what the shield charm was for.

 

“Professor Snape tried to teach me Occlumency a few years ago and I was pretty lousy at it then.  But I tried the shield charm against him once and so I saw his thoughts instead of him seeing mine.  I just thought if I gave Reichgard the opportunity to get into my mind he would try to and he did,” Harry told them.

 

“I don’t have any questions for Mr. Potter,” said Elphias Doge, importantly.  Heads turned his way as he addressed the room at large.  “But I would like to say that Albus Dumbledore always spoke very highly of the boy…excuse me, the man sitting before us.  He also used to say that those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it.  We can see the value in that statement as we appreciate our new Minister of Magic.  Much like Shacklebolt, Harry bears the mantle of responsibility well.  He never wavers from his convictions nor shrinks away from his duties to others.  We couldn’t possibly hope for a better leader.”

 

There was silence following this statement and Mme. Hopkirk quietly asked if there were any more questions before saying, “Let’s vote again then.”

 

Harry looked around and asked confusedly, “What exactly are we voting on?”

 

“I’m sorry, Harry, but you don’t get a vote on this,” Kingsley said, his tone unwillingly patronizing.  As he spoke, the podium, upon which Harry had originally placed his wand, turned blue.

 

Kingsley stood then, to face Harry, and said, “The Wizengamot has approved you as the new Chief Warlock.  Do you accept?”

 

Harry felt dumbfounded and, rubbing his head again, thought perhaps he had misheard.  “That’s what all of these questions were about?” Harry asked, appalled.  He continued, “So because I can fight the Imperius Curse and employ Occlumency you want me to lead a group I’m just beginning to learn about?”

 

Harry thought that perhaps their brains had all been addled, knowing that his own mind didn’t seem quite right at the moment.  Mme. Hopkirk answered him and said, “Do you know the function of the podium, Harry?”

 

When he shook his head slowly she continued, “When a wizard places his wand on the podium it will register his power first with an array of colors.  Red is the most powerful and also indicates a high level of integrity.  Generally speaking, that wizard is asked to become Chief Warlock.  If that doesn’t happen then we elect one of our members to take the position.  As Kingsley told you, that podium has not turned red since Dumbledore joined us all of those years ago.  Ultimately we should have asked you at that time to take over Reichgard’s place.  I think that many didn’t vote for you to take that position due to your age and the fact that they didn’t really know you well enough, even if you have seen more than most grown wizards ever do.  So they voted to allow you to take the seat designated to you instead.  That’s why it turned green.  It would seem that there is a majority of our number who now wish for you to take the position that you deserve as the podium has turned blue.”

 

Harry closed his eyes as he tried to process her words through the headache that seemed to be getting worse by the minute.

 

“I don’t think I can make such a decision right now.  This is something that I need to think about and discuss with my family.  I also promised my fiancée I wouldn’t do anything major without consulting her after everything that happened last year.  I’d be in pretty big trouble if I just accepted this offer automatically,” he finally said.

 

“I was under the impression that you didn’t have any living family members left,” Mme. Hopkirk said, her confusion apparent.

 

“Well, the Weasleys have accepted me as one of their own.  I consider them to be my family now,” Harry told her.

 

“Harry, I think I can safely say that Ginny would expect you to accept this position,” Arthur said, turning to face Harry.

 

“And I think she’ll hex me into next week for not consulting her first,” Harry said not untruthfully, causing a few people to snicker appreciatively.

 

“She was already aware that this might happen.  I explained it to her a few months ago.”

 

Harry felt annoyed now and said angrily, “So why wasn’t this explained to me?”

 

Kingsley closed his eyes as though expecting the response and asked, “What would you have done if we’d told you?”

 

“I don’t know, but I probably wouldn’t have joined in the first place.  I don’t want this kind of responsibility.  I’m not…”

 

Kingsley cut him off and looked at him sharply, saying, “That is precisely why we didn’t tell you.  I know you pretty well by now, Harry.  Before you make any more objections, I should remind you that everyone here has now seen what you are capable of personally.”

 

“I need to talk to you and Dad in private for a few minutes,” Harry said desperately as he struggled to get to his feet.  He fought not to sway as his head swam and he carefully made his way down the steps.  He led Kingsley and Arthur to a corner of the room and threw a Muffliato Charm around them to keep anyone from listening in on their conversation.

 

“I hadn’t originally intended to tell you this, but I think you need to know now.  My holly wand didn’t just imbibe some of the power of the Elder Wand; it is the Elder Wand now.  Not only that, but I still don’t even have complete control over it.  You saw what I did back there; I couldn’t get it to do what I wanted it to do.  When I hurt all of those people, that’s not exactly what was supposed to happen.  I can’t do this.  I’m not ready for it,” Harry told them with a worried expression.

 

They both had gasped at Harry’s confession but recovered quickly.  “Look, Harry, this only partially has to with your power.  The rest of it is about you as a person.  We need you,” Kingsley said, unable to keep a plea out of his voice.

 

“Do you think we might be able to give him the night to think it over?  He may be right about Ginny and it’s obvious he’s exhausted,” Arthur suggested.

 

“That sounds good.  We’ll all talk about it later, alright?” Kingsley said, Harry sagging with relief that he didn’t have to make that decision immediately.  Kingsley looked at his watch and said, “Harry, you’d better get up to the conference room because the meeting there will be starting in a few minutes.  I’ll prepare a statement for the Prophet regarding the events here.  Arthur, you deliver our agreement to the Wizengamot, and we’ll meet up with Harry when we’re done.”

 

“Oh, Kingsley, can’t we do it another day?  My head is pounding and I really just want to go home,” Harry pleaded, cursing himself for feeling so weak and exhausted.

 

“Harry, we can’t put this off any longer and everyone will already be on their way.  I’m sorry,” Kingsley told Harry apologetically.

 

Harry just turned and left the room to head for the conference room without a word, ignoring both Kingsley and Arthur’s calls to him.  He could tell that they weren’t about to change their minds about the conference and figured to just get it over and done with.  Harry climbed the stairs slowly.  He couldn’t remember any battle he’d been involved in that had exhausted him as much as this one.  He finally reached the top of the stairs and looked straight at the lift, willing himself not to look at the door that led to the Department of Mysteries behind him.  It finally arrived, with no other passengers, and he got in thankfully.

 

As Harry entered the designated room, he could see people milling around.  A platform had been set up with a long table and four chairs in the center facing out toward the crowd.  Ginny was standing behind it and Ron was approaching her.  Harry made his way over to them and pulled Ginny into his arms.  He kissed her on the mouth, but she pulled away almost immediately and exclaimed, “Harry, what happened to you?  Why are you covered in blood?”

 

Harry looked at her mouth that now had a reddish stain and then felt his own face.  As he pulled his hand away, he turned to Ron.  He said, “You didn’t think to clean me up when you fixed my nose?”

 

“Sorry, mate, I figured you knew you had blood all over your face.  That generally happens,” Ron said matter-of-factly and Harry swatted him on the arm, noticing that Ron had taken the time to smarten himself up before the meeting.

 

“What happened to your nose?” Ginny asked, concern etched on her face.

 

“He broke it when he hit the ground during a duel,” Ron said with a bit of a chuckle.

 

“HARRY JAMES POTTER, how dare you lie to me?!!  You said that you weren’t going into the field today!  You said that you were just going to the Wizengamot!” Ginny screamed, exploding with anger.  Silence engulfed the room at her outburst and Harry put a hand out onto one of the chairs to steady himself as his head felt as if it were about to split in two at the noise.

 

“Please, whatever you do, Ginny, please don’t shout.  My head is killing me.  I did go to the Wizengamot today.  Things didn’t work out the way they were supposed to.  I had to dive to the ground to avoid a curse.  I’m sorry,” Harry told her softly with his eyes closed tightly.

 

“Why didn’t you say something, Ron?” Ginny asked her brother in a hurt voice.

 

“I’m sorry, Ginny, I didn’t have a chance.  I just got here, remember?” Ron replied.

 

“I’d better clean you off, before everyone starts taking pictures of your bloody face,” said Ginny as she began siphoning off blood, but it was too late as cameras were already clicking away.  Hermione had overheard the conversation as she’d walked up and began to help Ginny’s cleaning process.

 

“You look awful, Harry,” Hermione said.  “What was all that about healing Draco’s owl?  What happened to him?”

 

“It’s a long story, Hermione.  I’ll tell you later, okay?” Harry asked as he simply allowed the women to work.

 

She nodded and said, “We’d better hurry.  Molly will probably be here soon and she’ll have kittens if she sees Harry like this.”  Both women sped up their spells as much as possible.

 

“Who would have guessed it?  The Chosen One, beaten up by a floor?” Ron said, snickering.

 

Harry was reluctantly amused and then said, “Please, don’t make me laugh.  It hurts right now.”

 

“Honestly, Harry, I don’t know how I’m going to handle all of these injuries.  I thought we wouldn’t have to worry so much, what with Voldemort gone,” Ginny said, with a catch in her voice as she and Hermione stood back, their work complete.

 

“Don’t worry, Ginny.  I have no intention of ending up like Mad-Eye.  No more ugly scars, I promise,” Harry told her gently.

 

“Oh, Harry, your scars aren’t ugly.  They’re actually quite, well you know, I think they’re a bit of a turn on.  It’s all down to your bravery, isn’t it?” Ginny said seductively, placing her hand on his chest where she knew the newest scars lay beneath his robes.

 

He pulled her close to him and kissed her passionately, momentarily oblivious to the audience.  There was a roar in the room as the cameras began snapping wildly again.  They drew apart and Ginny said ruefully, “Well, I guess we know what the picture for the front page of the Prophet will be tomorrow morning.”

 

“It could be worse.  Let’s get this thing going,” said Harry airily.  The four took their seats.  Harry sat with Ron at his right, Ginny on his left and Hermione on Ginny’s other side.  He pointed his wand at his throat to get everyone’s attention as the din in the room had increased and said, “We’re ready for your questions.  Before we begin, however, I want to make sure that everyone is aware that we will not answer any questions about You-Know-Who, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named or the Dark Lord.  He called himself Lord Voldemort although he was born Tom Riddle.  A wise wizard once told me that fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself.  Let’s take those words to heart.  So, if you don’t feel comfortable with Voldemort then please call him Riddle.  My last request is that you wait until you’re called on to speak.  We’ll try to get to everyone.”

 

Harry winced at the volume of his own voice and hoped that maybe his friends could field as many of the questions as possible.  He noticed Molly, Arthur and Kingsley enter the room and take seats to the side of the room.  Looking around it was obvious that some of their classmates had scattered themselves around inconspicuously, although Luna and Neville were in the front row, both with notepads and quills in hand.  The presumably represented “The Quibbler.”  Harry quieted his voice and pointed at a reporter who had his hand up.

 

“Is it true that you can speak Parseltongue?” the man asked.

 

Harry turned to Ron, who took the cue and said, “He used to, but now that Voldemort’s dead, he’s lost that ability.  There’s a rather long explanation for that, and I don’t think we have enough time to discuss that today.  That will be something people can read about in his book.  Next?”

 

“Is it true that you are engaged, Mr. Potter?  I think most of the female wizarding population is very interested to know if you’re available,” one female reporter said, looking extremely eager.

 

Harry smiled at this one and turned to Ginny to allow her to answer.  She too had a grin on her face and said, “We plan to get married next summer.  He’s mine, so all of those witches who might like to set their sights on him are a bit too late.”

 

Rita Skeeter said gleefully, “So was he cheating on Miss Granger with you then?”

 

Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione all rolled their eyes.  “I’m only going to say this once.  Hermione has never been my girlfriend.  She’s one of my best friends and is like a sister to me.  That is all,” Harry told Rita.

 

Rita opened her mouth to ask another question, but stopped as Hermione stood, trembling with fury.  She placed her hands on the table and leaned over it, glaring at Rita.  “Are you sure you want to ask any more questions, Rita?” Hermione asked angrily, her eyes narrowed menacingly.

 

Rita’s mouth open and closed a few times, like a fish out of water.  Everyone in the room looked back and forth between the two women; all wondering how these two witches might do battle.

 

“I’m still of a mind to do something about the horrible things you said about Albus Dumbledore last year, but I won’t if you leave this room right now and never say another word about Harry or any of his friends and family,” said Hermione threateningly.  Rita glowered at her briefly and then fled the room as quickly as she could.

 

Hermione sat back down, satisfied.  Harry, Ginny and Ron shared a look of amusement that must have been contagious as Hermione began to smile as well.

 

“Next question, please,” Hermione said, holding back laughter.

 

“I think we’re all wondering if you could explain exactly what a horcrux is,” another man asked.

 

This was the last question they’d been expecting.  Ginny, Ron and Hermione’s heads all whipped around to look at Harry.  He could see the looks of horror and shock on their faces.  None of them was able to react and Harry gulped uncomfortably.

 

Ron recovered first and shouted, “We know nothing, absolutely nothing about horcruxes!”

 

Hermione laughed derisively and said nastily, “Oh, Ronald, don’t be ridiculous.  No one’s going to believe that bilge!”

 

“Well…” Ron spluttered, just as angrily.

 

“Please, you two, you’ve been having a go at each other constantly.  I just need you to help me here, not argue.  Could you be friends just for the rest of the day?  And, sorry, Ron, but you sounded just like Slughorn in that altered memory.  Albus and I didn’t believe it then, and they’re not going to believe us now,” Harry said.  He pulled his glasses off and squeezed the bridge of his nose as he tried to think clearly through the haze.  He wasn’t sure how a headache could have moved into his chest, but there was pain stabbing his heart with incredible regularity.  The fatigue that had plagued him recently seemed worse today and he felt as though morning had been days ago instead of hours.

 

“Yes, Harry, you’re right,” said Hermione softly in an obedient tone, pulling him out of his reverie.

 

“Sorry, mate, won’t happen again,” Ron agreed.

 

“You know, Harry,” Ginny said, placing a gentle hand on his arm, “I think you should tell them the truth.  Who better to explain it than you?  You can tell them how they work, how they’re not infallible and what happens to a soul once someone’s created a horcrux.  You can tell them about the deformed baby you saw in King’s Cross.”

 

“Maybe you’re right,” Harry said.  He held Ginny’s hand beneath the table and leaned against her slightly before launching into a brief explanation of what a horcrux was.  “Are there any questions about that part?” he asked the crowd.

 

“How exactly do you make a…a…a hor-hor-horcrux?” one person asked.

 

“You mean, what is the spell?  That’s not something we learned, and certainly if we had, we wouldn’t be divulging that sort of information.  It hadn’t originally been our intention to ever tell anyone about these horcruxes, but I agree with Ginny that we should explain everything about them now.  Our concentration was on destroying them, so that’s what we studied,” Harry told them and began to explain how Voldemort had created numerous horcruxes and how he had unwittingly left a portion of his soul behind inside Harry. 

 

He then said, “There is something that needs to be understood about a horcrux.  It is an abomination and against everything that is good.  It goes against nature itself.  The soul is meant to remain whole and untarnished, not to be split into pieces as though it were of no greater importance than a pie.  There is also no going back, once the horcrux is destroyed and you are dead.  When I found out that a piece of Voldemort’s soul was in me, which was, by the way, how I was able to speak Parseltongue and no longer can, I knew that in order for it to be destroyed I would have to die.  There was no other choice if I wanted him to be killed once and for all.  So I let him kill me in the Forbidden Forest.  After he hit me with the killing curse I went to a sort of in-between place, a sort of limbo, I guess you could say.  With me was this deformed ugly baby that was crying.  Albus Dumbledore was able to meet me at this quote ‘crossing-over’ to talk to me before I could move on.  He told me that there was no help for the deformed baby.  I asked Albus if my soul was now truly my own and no longer connected to Voldemort’s.  Albus looked down at the deformed baby and agreed that I was alone now.  So that bit of Voldemort’s soul could do nothing.  It couldn’t move forward into the afterlife nor could it move backward to join the other pieces of soul here on earth.  It was simply stuck, and that’s the destiny that awaits the person who decides to tear their soul by making horcruxes.  I might point out that even though Voldemort made seven horcruxes, we were able to find and destroy all of them.  It took awhile, but that is also a possibility if one makes a horcrux.”

 

There was a stunned silence before someone asked in a hushed tone, “So how is it that you’re here and not dead?”

 

“Ah, I’m kind of glad you asked that.  Voldemort, ignorant as usual, took my blood to regenerate his body.  That’s how I knew he was back.  I was there.  But as long as my blood still lived in him it was up to me.  I could have died, if I’d wanted to.  I decided to return because I knew that Voldemort was still alive and not an easy person to defeat.  I also knew some things that he didn’t and I hoped to use them to fool him into trying to kill me again,” Harry said.

 

The reverent silence still remained over the room.  A woman towards the back asked, “Did you use the Elder Wand to defeat him?  Are you now the master of that wand?”

 

Harry closed his eyes in defeat and said, “Hermione?  What do you think?”

 

“You may as well tell them the truth, Harry.  You all but just admitted it right now, anyway.  Besides, I don’t think that they’re going to let up on it,” she told him, biting her lip as though she were in agony.

 

“Yes, I used the fact that I was the master of the Elder Wand in order to defeat Voldemort.  But it’s gone now, and I won’t be divulging where it is, so don’t bother to ask,” Harry said with a ring of authority.

 

“So what wand are you using now then?” the woman asked.

 

Harry pulled his wand out of his robes and said, “The same holly wand that I bought from Ollivander before I started school.”

 

Whispers and mutterings abounded in the room at this pronouncement.  Hermione cleared her throat meaningfully a few times, slowly regaining their attention.  “Before anyone gets any strange ideas about this, I think I ought to explain why Harry did what he did.  He was always much more fond of his own wand and had no desire to wield a wand that had been the cause of so much death and destruction in the world.  One of his greatest strengths has been and always will be his ability to make sacrifices for the good of us all.  Giving up the world’s most powerful wand was probably not the easiest thing to do, but he did it for our protection,” she said firmly.

 

There was some scrambling after this, during which most of the journalists there were flipping through papers or else quietly contemplating what they’d heard.  Harry wondered if perhaps they were nearing the end of the interview and looked forward to the comfortable bed he knew awaited him at Grimmauld Place.

 

The mutterings heard now bespoke Harry’s unfailing sense of honor and humility. 

 

There was one man near the front who clearly didn’t agree with this assessment and stood, speaking out of turn.  “He doesn’t always protect everyone.  My son was only fourteen and he was killed in the battle that was fought to buy Potter time,” he shouted angrily, waving arm around the room.  Then he looked directly at Harry and his face was lined with untold grief.  His voice shook with not only anger, but also a soul-deep hurt.  “He was just a child.  How could you have let him fight in your name?”

 

“What was your son’s name, sir?” asked Ginny gently.

 

“Ulric Sinclair, miss, but that’s really not my point,” he replied impatiently.

 

Looks of horror and guilt passed over Ginny’s face as she caught Neville and Luna’s gazes.  Harry couldn’t help but assume that Ulric Sinclair had been one of their new recruits this past year.

 

Neville squared his shoulders and stood up to speak to the father.  “Sir, we did evacuate the students that were underage as well as any who didn’t wish to fight and Professor Slughorn can attest to that since he led it.  However, he was unable to stop some of the younger students from sneaking back into the castle.  There were many, likely including your son.”

 

“He would not have gone against the authorities.  He was a good boy,” the man insisted, looking pain-stricken.

 

A few rows back Denis Creevey stood atop his chair, although it didn’t add much to his height.  He spoke loudly enough to be heard though.  “He snuck back in with my brother and me.  There were a lot of us.  We’d joined Dumbledore’s Army to fight against Voldemort and decided that Harry needed us.  My brother Colin was killed as well.  But his death is not in vain as long as we remember his actions and intentions.  Your son is just as much of a hero, sir.”

 

This did not mollify the father as intended.  Instead he turned his rage upon Harry once more.  “It was you!  You incited these…these children to fight in your name!  Why couldn’t you work faster?  You might as well have killed them yourself.  You’re no better than He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!” he shouted, spittle flying through the air with every few words.

 

There was an uproar around the room.  Ron and Hermione stood up quickly, nearly knocking their seats over in their haste. Ginny, who had been holding Harry’s hand beneath the table squeezed it reassuringly, whispered frantically, “Don’t you listen to him, Harry!”

 

“He’s just a nutter,” Ron muttered angrily, out of the corner of his mouth while he continued to shout about Harry’s actions and care for everyone.

 

“How dare you even suggest such a thing?” cried Hermione, echoing Ron’s thoughts at the top of her lungs.

 

Similar phrases were cursing through the crowd.  Harry remained seated, dazed by what was now happening.  What had started as a dull pain in his chest become so acute that he wondered why his ribs didn’t burst.  It seemed to be radiating now so that every nerve was pulsating painfully.  The sound was also pounding through his ears so that he thought his brain would cleave down the middle.  Finally, knowing he had no chance of shouting them all down, he raised his wand and let out red sparks that permeated the room. 

 

Now silence reigned as he waved everyone back into their seats and his voice sounded weary as he said, “Mr. Sinclair, I believe I owe you an apology.  No one wishes more than I that things had gone differently.  I made mistakes, for I am only human.  Unfortunately, due to the task I was charged with, these mistakes had horrendous consequences.  I do, however, take full responsibility for your son’s death.  I cannot tell you how sorry I am.”

 

“Oh, Harry, you cannot allow them to blame you for what happened,” Ginny chided quietly, privately wondering at the consequences of such a statement.

 

“No, let them place the blame where it belongs,” he whispered back, feeling his strength ebbing away.  Faces started to flash before his eyes; the ones belonging to those he’d been unable to save.  He tried to stop it, but without success.  His body was in agony now.  He’d been leaning heavily on Ginny for the last fifteen minutes or so and felt himself sagging more deeply into the crook of her shoulder.

 

He barely heard Ginny when, in a panicky voice, she said, “Ron, help me!”

 

She hadn’t expected Harry’s full weight to descend on her and knew she could only hold him up for a moment more.  But Ron’s arm was immediately pulling Harry back into a sitting position; his chin dropped to his chest as he tried to crouch into himself.  Ginny’s heart almost stopped when Harry groaned and pleaded, “Hermione, make it stop!”

 

The table disappeared and Hermione appeared in front of them, leaning down to Harry who clutched at his chest.

 

She had her wand out and pointed at him.  “Harry, what’s wrong?”

 

“Don’t know…it hurts…” he said, as though gasping for air, now using Ron for support.

 

“Neville, Luna!” Ginny cried in desperation, but her call was unnecessary since most of the D.A. had already gotten out of their seats.

 

“You need to tell me where, Harry,” encouraged Hermione.

 

“Everywhere….Cruciatus Curse,” he managed to say.

 

“What?  Someone has you under the Cruciatus Curse?” she asked incredulously, standing up and aiming her wand toward the crowd.  Neville and Luna apparently heard her and were standing in front of them, giving silent orders to the rest of their friends in the room.  No one else seemed able to approach the dais, although Ginny vaguely saw her mother making her way over and felt vastly comforted by it.

 

“I think he’s trying to say it feels like the Cruciatus Curse,” said Ginny, looking back down at Harry and thinking of his last statement.  He simply nodded and then winced as though scalded.

 

Hermione’s wand severed his magenta robes, revealing nothing upon his chest to suggest a new wound.

 

“Please, just make it stop,” Harry begged brokenly.

 

“I…I…” Hermione whimpered, looking around.  Ginny guessed she was trying to locate Lavender or Parvati, both of whom knew more about healing than they did.  But the D.A. had scattered around the room, making sure that no one had their wands aimed up at the dais.

 

Knowing he couldn’t hang on much longer Harry grabbed Ginny’s hand and said, “I’m sorry,” his voice surprisingly strong.  Harry’s other hand, which had been lying limp moved up to his forehead before he fully collapsed into Ron.

 

“No!” Ginny shrieked, feeling hysteria for the first time in her life.  She looked at Hermione in horror, her own feelings reflected upon Hermione’s face.

 

“What’s happened to him?  Harry!  Harry, wake up!” Ron was shouting, his terror palpable.  He began shaking Harry and slapped him around the face a few times to no avail.

 

“We…we’ve got to get him to St. Mungo’s.  There’s nothing else for it,” said Hermione breathlessly.  Her eyes found Kingsley, whose wand was already waving around the room and muttering under his breath, presumably removing any Anti-Disapparition Jinxes.  He nodded at her.

 

It took Ron a few moments to get upright, Harry in his arms like a baby.  “Why couldn’t he have chosen to do this before the summer, when he was all wasted away?” Ron groaned.

 

“Hold him tightly.  I don’t want him to splinch,” whispered Hermione.

 

“I’ve got him.  Just do it,” Ron replied, his face going red from exertion.  But his grip tightened slightly, regardless.

 

Hermione spread her arms wide to encompass both wizards.  With a bang like a shot from a cannon, the Golden Trio disappeared and was followed a moment later by the Minister of Magic.

 

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Ginny cried to her parents who had finally reached the dais. Without waiting and without thought Ginny entered into the darkness of Apparition, knowing that it would work for she had never focused on a destination so hard in all her life.  She’d never Apparated so far before and found herself unsure for a moment until she remembered her destination and concentrated on it so fiercely that she knew she would be successful.

 

She looked around, once she felt firm ground beneath her feet, to find Ron standing with Hermione, her head buried in his shoulder.  He held out his other arm and Ginny ran into her brother’s embrace gratefully.

 

“Where’d they take him?” she asked, looking up at him as their parents appeared as well.

 

“Come on, they told us where we could sit.  We waited for you to join us,” Ron said shakily.

 

He led Ginny and Hermione from the room with Molly and Arthur trailing behind.  They could hear pops as the media had entered the foyer as well. 

 

As they approached the ward they were looking for they could hear Kingsley shouting, “I am the Minister of Magic, and you will open up!”

 

Ginny couldn’t ever remember hearing him so angry before.  The door flew open at his demand and he disappeared behind the door.

 

Ron sat down, pulling Hermione and Ginny into seats beside him.  He covered his face with his hands, leaning his elbows on his knees, and said, “This is all my fault.”

 

“How is this your fault?” Molly asked.  “What could be wrong with him?  What was that Kingsley was saying about Harry hitting his head?”

 

They all looked at Ron for an answer.  “I don’t know the whole story.  I just know that he had to duel Reichgard.  But it’s my fault for not double-checking that Harry was okay afterwards.  He told me he was fine after I fixed his nose, and I just believed him.  I should have known better,” Ron said dejectedly, as he sat back up, trying to understand what was going on.

 

“Yes, we know that he’ll pretend he’s okay even if he isn’t,” Hermione said softly.

 

“If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s Kingsley’s and mine,” Arthur said.  Ginny felt mutinous against her own father even though she’d never thought it possible.  But he continued, “Harry told us that his head hurt and he just wanted to go home.  But we thought that he wanted to get out of the press conference again, so we ignored it.  In my defense, though, I didn’t even know that he’d hit his head.  I’d better notify the rest of the family.”

 

With that Arthur produced four Patronuses and sent them off.  Ginny didn’t know what her next action should be and so sat trembling accepting Ron’s warm courage. 

 

George and Percy were the first to arrive.

 

“What’s going on?” George asked, in a frightened tone.

 

“We don’t know exactly.  In fact, none of us were even there when it all happened,” Arthur told them as they sat down.  Ron explained what little he was aware of.

 

Kingsley finally came out of the room looking careworn.  He told them, “They’re tending to him right now.  I told them what I knew.  I…I’m so sorry.  I should have known better.  Harry doesn’t usually complain about things and….I guess I just wasn’t thinking straight.  You should be able to go in and see him soon.  They called Madam Pomfrey over, as she’s tended to his wounds more often than anyone else.”

 

Kingsley sank into a chair and stared down at the floor.  Arthur walked over and put a hand on Kingsley’s shoulder.  “I knew him even better than you did and should have known something was wrong as well,” Arthur told his friend.

 

At that point some of the reporters had managed to get past the security in the foyer and entered the waiting room with guards chasing them.

 

Ginny stood and glared at them.  She said, in a quiet but deadly tone, “Get out of here now!  You have no right to be here!  These waiting rooms are for friends and family only.  You are neither of those.  Get out!”

 

When none of them moved she pulled out her wand.  Kingsley rose then as well and said in his soothing voice, “Ginny, I’ll take care of this, okay?”

 

She looked at him and lowered her wand.  Near to breaking down she sat and turned her face into her mother’s shoulder, whose arm came around her comfortingly.

 

“Look, I promise that we’ll keep everyone informed of what’s going on here, but I have to ask you to remain in the foyer.  She’s right.  This waiting room is for friends and family,” Kingsley told the reporters, indicating the door.  They knew when they were defeated and exited the room, many looking back with faces full of concern.

 

Ginny was sobbing softly at that point and said, “I yelled at him, Mum.  I yelled at him for lying to me this morning, but he didn’t lie to me, not really.”

 

“He’ll be fine, dear.  You’ll see.  I’m sure he understood,” Molly said, her voice shaking horribly.

 

“He would have let you know if he’d been angry with you, Ginny,” Hermione told her friend, patting her shoulder.  “He’s not one to hide his displeasure.  You know that.  Sometimes you have to yell at Harry, because it’s the only way to get through to him.  You know that too.”

 

“But he didn’t deserve to have me yell at him.  And I hurt him when I yelled.  It must have been the noise.  He winced when he amplified his voice too,” she said sadly.

 

“What could possibly be taking this long?” Ron asked, his frustration obvious.  No one had an answer for him.

 

A short while later, although to Ginny it felt more like a few years later, Madam Pomfrey opened the door.  Automatically, it seemed, she looked immediately for Ron and Hermione.  Upon finding them she walked up to them and said, “He cracked his skull pretty badly and I’ve mended that.  But there is something else wrong and we haven’t yet been able to figure out what it might be.  At this point I will allow two at a time in his room.”

 

Ron and Hermione looked at each other and said simultaneously, “You go in with Ginny.”

 

“No, Hermione, you go.  I’ll wait here for now.  I know you’re worried,” Ron told her, his eyes belying his words.

 

“No, Ron, you’re just as worried as I am,” she replied, with a trembling voice.

 

“Madam Pomfrey…Poppy…please can the three of us go in?  He needs all three of us,” Ginny pleaded with the healer.

 

Madam Pomfrey looked at the three fearful faces and nodded.  She followed them into Harry’s room where two healers were standing in a corner talking quietly.

 

Ginny ran to Harry’s side, Ron and Hermione approaching cautiously behind her.  Harry’s head was bound once again in bandages, much as it had after the Quidditch match when McLaggan had hit him with a beater’s bat.  They’d completely stripped him down, leaving only a sheet draped across his middle for modesty’s sake.  Ginny grabbed Harry’s hand and held it as tightly as she could, perhaps hoping to transfer some of her own energy into him.  She felt Ron’s hand descend on her shoulder and watched as his other landed on Harry’s shoulder.  Hermione grabbed Ginny’s free hand in hers and was patting it absently.

 

One of the healers approached the foursome from the other side of Harry’s bed.  “Do any of you know why he may be calling out for Albus?” the healer asked.

 

Madam Pomfrey said, “You don’t think he means Albus Dumbledore, do you?”

 

Almost as if in response, Harry muttered, “Albus, I screwed up.  It didn’t work right.  All injured…all dead…”  Harry fell silent once again, not waking.

 

“You don’t think he’s at…at…” Ginny couldn’t complete the horrible thought that had crossed her mind.

 

Ron finished it for her and said stiffly, “King’s Cross?”

 

“No, Harry, no!” Ginny cried, agony dripping in her voice.  She threw her head onto Harry’s bare chest, her tears soaking his skin.  “Harry, come back.  Don’t take the train, Harry.  We need you here.  I need you here.”

 

Hermione’s grip on Ginny’s hand became painful, but neither seemed to be aware of it.  Ron and Hermione both began to voice their pleas to Harry as well, while the healers looked at them in confusion.

 

Madam Pomfrey stepped closer to them and said, “You know then, I take it, why he’s trying to talk to Albus.”

 

Ron almost choked on his words as he said, “When Harry d-d-died, he saw Dumbledore at the point of his crossing-over.  That’s why we’re…afraid…that he might….”

 

Ron broke off, unable to voice his fear.  “I was only joking earlier, Harry, honestly.  I didn’t truly mean that you’d been beaten by a floor.  It was just a joke,” Ron pled.  “You can’t leave now, not now that you finally have your life to live without Voldemort.”

 

Ron pulled his sister’s shoulders back to lift her off of Harry’s chest, and let her lean into him.  “There’s nothing we can do, Ginny, if he’s decided to go on.  We’ve given him all the help we can,” he told her dejectedly.  Hermione put her arms around both Ron and Ginny, placing her head on Ron’s shoulder as she too succumbed to heart-wrenching sobs.

 

A/N: I’ve noted in some of my responses to reviews that I didn’t wish to submit this chapter without having the next installment ready, and I’m sure you can see why.  Before I start getting death threats, I would like to remind everyone that this is a 19-years story to fill in the gaps.  So please recall the Epilogue before you go crazy!  I know that I will probably not be able to write another whole book (although we’ll see about it) and so this is not the end of A Time to Live.  What would have been the first few chapters of the next book will actually complete this one.  I decided to go against my original wish to have this be followed almost immediately by the next chapter, but perhaps having this out there (and getting my fix of reviews, it really is an addiction) will act like a spur under the saddle and get me going.  With that said I hope everyone enjoyed my latest chapter and look forward to discussing it in the reviews!

 


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