“Leave us a friend, ‘cause livin’ life is lonely;"
-Alberta Cross, “Old Man Chicago,” Broken Side of Time (Ark Recordings/ATO Records, 2009)
They had moved Harry to Lucius’ Chamber so he could recover in peace and quiet. The Death Eaters in the newly-christened Ministry had been locked into the cells in the Auror Department, where Hermione had taken singular pleasure in having Umbridge roughly tossed into the cell headfirst. This drew cheers from the recently-released prisoners who awaited their turn to be transformed into Inferi.
“How is he?” Maxime asked.
Ginny exhaled heavily, “He’s fine. Just sleeping.” She gazed at her love as he slept, always keeping the link open so she could drive away anything that might disturb his slumber, which up to this point had been peaceful. “No nightmares, thank Merlin.” Ron and Hermione sat on a love seat near her, Ronnie curled up in their laps. He’d fallen asleep not long after he’d asked if Uncle Harry would be all right. His mother assured him that he would be.
From the link through the Talisman, all of them had realized what the Grandparents had told Ronnie. Hermione was sad, but pleased. He had the right to know…
Harry stirred and began to wake. His first conscious thought was of Ginny, as their link lay wide-open. Turning, he opened bleary eyes and squinted up at her. Gently, she set his glasses on his face for him.
“How long was I asleep?”
Hermione answered, “Just a few hours.”
Ginny very softly rested her hand on his chest. “Everything’s fine, love.”
“Had us worried, mate,” Ron said with grim relief and a shade of his cockeyed grin.
Hermione frowned. “We thought we’d lost you to him.”
“I remember being engulfed by his soul. It was worse than the last time he possessed me, worse than all the times I’d descended into his mind before.” Harry shuddered. “How did you pull me out?”
Maxime sat on the edge of his bed. “Hermione and I have talked about it. Shall I?”
Hermione nodded, with a small smile.
Maxime continued, “It was Ronnie. Actually, it was all of you.” She nodded to Hermione, Ron and Ginny. “The Talisman is very old magic. Despite all the work that Hermione’s done on it, there’s still so much we don’t know.” She rested her hand on his, “But, this is what we think:
The heart of blood-protection is always loving sacrifice. The sacrifices made by the Harry and Ron from this reality were significant. While they didn’t create a blood-protection against Voldemort, they still evoked very powerful magics. And yes, Harry, your mother’s blood-protection still ran through Voldemort’s veins as well as this reality’s version of you and that was key. But the Talisman was imbued with the blood of three noble sacrifices: One, your mother’s, was directly channeled at Voldemort and the other two were indirectly created by him. Finally, with Hermione’s blood, the Talisman was imbued with the strong ties of love and friendship you three share. But even though the Talisman combined all of these elements it still lacked something vitally important.”
“Ginny,” Harry said breathlessly, as he turned to his fiancée, who smiled tearfully back.
Maxime nodded. “Yes. Ginny’s love for you, Harry. That was what was missing. With Ronnie and the Talisman as the catalyst, it was able to call on all of that love and sacrifice. Once it combined with Ginny’s link with you, it allowed her to reach you.”
Harry’s eyes fell on his fiancée and then his friends. There was simply too much to be said with words. He was met with watery smiles. “I…”
“No need to say it, brother.” Ron rested his hand on Harry’s shoulder as Ginny squeezed his hand. Hermione fixed him with a solemn look.
Harry took a deep breath. “The Talisman destroyed a Horcrux, too. That is, Ronnie did.” Harry told them how Ronnie's eyes had remained locked on Riddle and about the jet of light that consumed the ruby on the hilt of Gryffindor's Sword.
Hermione was shocked. "I can't believe he made another one."
Harry shook his head. “I'm sure Dumbledore would be just as surprised. He was certain Riddle wouldn't risk creating another."
The words escaped Ron's mouth before he could stop them. "Seems Dumbledore didn't get anything right in this reality."
Harry stifled a frown as he continued. "I'm sure Ronnie's focus on Tom had to trigger the magic, but I'm still at a loss as to how the Talisman destoyed it." He looked to Hermione.
"Fiendfyre," she answered.
"What?" Harry, Ron and Ginny all asked.
Hermione bit her lip as she thought. "The legends surrounding the Talisman claim it was forged in Fiendfyre. I never believed them - nothing can exist in that inferno..." She trailed off, unable to continue, until Ron placed a consoling arm around her. At his touch, she managed to finish. "The legends must be true. My best guess is that the Talisman still had some essence of the Fiendfyre within it and that Ronnie, even unwittingly, was able to channel it." She looked lovingly upon the small boy curled up in her lap, and hugged him, gently.
His strength returning, Harry swung his legs over the side of the bed.
“Careful.” Ginny’s voice was full of concern.
“I’m better. I am.” Slowly, Harry stood. “What about the Imperium?”
“Ministry,” Ginny corrected.
Harry arched an eyebrow.
Ron smiled, although Harry noticed there seemed to be some pain behind it. “Hermione’s the new Interim Minister of Magic, mate.”
Harry laughed. “I knew it would happen sooner or later. But this soon?”
Hermione dropped her gaze. “I’ve put Marietta in charge of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. It turns out she was the leader of the resistance. She kept it such a closely-guarded secret, not even Smith knew.” Hermione almost regretted that she was responsible for the jinx that had scarred Marietta for so long. It had taken more than a year before the word "Sneak" had finally faded from her forehead.
Harry smiled. “Good. The regime’s collapsed, then?”
Hermione nodded. “The French are helping us sort things out. But we’ve got lots of work ahead of us.”
Ron fixed Harry with a small smile. “There’s more. That German git Smith was dueling? Turns out he’s the German Chancellor’s son. Soon as he heard Riddle was dead and his son was our prisoner, he sued for peace. The war’s all but over in France.”
“Brilliant,” Harry said.
Maxime interjected, “With the Statute of Secrecy all but gone and northern France in ruins, it’s not going to be a simple matter of rebuilding our world, but the worst appears to be over.”
“One thing at time. We’re alive and Riddle isn’t. That’s enough,” Harry sighed.
Ron tensed at Harry’s words. Hermione looked askance at her fiancé, whose head fell slightly. She knew in an instant what he was thinking. We’re alive. But Fred isn’t. In either reality.
“What is it?” Harry asked, concern filling his voice.
“Fred, mate,” Ron bit out through clenched teeth.
“What about Fred?”
Seeing Ron couldn’t go on, Hermione finished for him. “Inferius. He and Dennis both.”
Harry seethed, “Riddle! That bastard…”
Ginny, who had already heard the tale, began to tear up again, but the flash of anger from her fiancé pulled her up short and made her bury her own outrage. “Don’t Harry. Don’t.” She forced a wave of love through the bond. “It’s over now. Let it go.”
Harry sighed as he nodded. “I saw some of Riddle’s memories.” Harry relayed Creevey’s horrible end.
“Git,” Ron spat.
Harry’s brow furrowed. “Mate, he did it to see his brother again; he was promised Riddle would use the Resurrection Stone to bring Colin back.” Harry gripped Ginny’s hand tightly, calming himself. “After everything he must’ve gone through, after everything everyone in this reality’s been through, I’m finding it very hard to be judgmental, for the most part…” he trailed off.
Realization dawned on Ron’s face. “You saw Riddle’s talk with the ghost-you, didn’t you?”
Harry gave Ron a sad smile as he nodded.
Maxime raised an eyebrow. “Hermione told me how you believe the blood-protection and your double’s choice not to return made our reality unstable.”
Again, Harry nodded. “Yes. But, there’s more to it than that. More to it than just a choice…It’s difficult to explain.”
Ron shot Harry a look.
Harry shook his head. “Just let the other me in rest in peace. But know this: He deserves that statue at Dover. Bellatrix killing him instead of Riddle bollixed things up; his decision to go wasn’t completely his own. But even though he didn’t come back, he refused to completely cross over, until much later.”
Hermione asked, “A ghost?”
“No, something else -- a guardian. I don’t quite understand it; but his presence was still here trying to protect you. In the end, it was the other Ron’s sacrifice that saved you, but the other me played a small role from beyond the grave…I was too hard on him.”
Maxime eyed the Quartet. “I’ll let you have some time alone.” She rose and walked to the door. “Thank you. Thank you all.”
Ronnie began to stir in his parents’ laps; the Talisman still hanging around his neck. Harry noticed, for the first time, that the gem had changed to a diamond -- clear, sharp, and full of fire-- no longer the color of blood.
Hermione looked down at it, and her sleeping son. Then her eyes rose sadly to Ron, Harry and Ginny.
Ginny choked back a sob. “It’s time. Isn’t it?”
Hermione nodded as a silent tear streaked down her face. “Yes.” She stood and placed the boy in Ron’s arms as she took off her armor. “Can’t be wearing this now.”
Ronnie asked, “Mummy?”
“Are they going away?”
She smiled as she tried to suppress the tears. “Yes. Yes they are.”
“Mummy, can I…?” The boy looked at the trio.
“You want to say goodbye, dear?”
The boy nodded and Ron reluctantly set him down. As soon as he did, Ronnie flung himself at Ginny and Harry. “Bye, Aunt Ginny and Uncle Harry.”
“Goodbye sweetheart,” Ginny said through her tears, hugging the little boy.
“Mind your mum,” Harry said ruffling his hair. “You’ve been a brave young man today. We’re very proud of you.” Then he took the boy in his arms and hugged him, tearfully, as he whispered, “Thank you.”
Ronnie smiled and turned that shade of beetroot-red only a Weasley could produce as Harry set him back down. Then the boy turned to Ron with what Hermione was certain were a slew of questions in his eyes. When Ronnie glanced back at his mother, she nodded through her tears.
Ronnie uttered a single word as he looked up at the tall redhead: “Daddy.”
Ron’s heart nearly broke as he scooped the boy into a tight and reassuring hug, not unlike the many his own father had given him when he was small. “Take care, son. I love you.”
Ginny and Hermione’s eyes locked, as the tears streamed down their faces.
“I’ll miss you.” Ginny hugged her tightly.
“You too,” Hermione sniffed. “I’ll miss our talks.”
“Remember what I said? No matter where we all end up …” She couldn’t finish.
“I’ll always remember.” They hugged again.
Harry was next. “I love you ‘Mione,” he said through his tears, hugging her. “I always have. You’ll be a wonderful Minister. This world’s in good hands.”
“I love you too, Harry. Hard as this is, I’m just glad I got to see you again…and say goodbye.” Hermione wiped the tears from her cheeks as she turned to Ron.
Their eyes locked, but before either of them could say anything, she took his hand and covered it with her own. Looking down, he saw she’d placed the Resurrection Stone in his palm. He quickly looked back up at her, overcome.
Harry wasn’t sure what his brother would do. He could see Ron hesitate, his face awash in emotions. “‘Mione…I’m so sorry. I love you so much. And here I am, leaving you again. I just…I have to go. I…Oh gods, I…”
She placed a finger on his lips and shook her head. “Don’t. I know you don’t belong here. I know why you have to leave. But if you say too much, the part of me that goes back with you will smack you silly.” She laughed through her tears. Ron tried to join in. Then he pulled her into his arms and, slowly, pressed his lips to hers. She tilted her head as her lips parted, burying her hands in his hair.
Very reluctantly, they broke apart. She breathed, “I love you,” and then stepped back, her eyes never leaving his. She took the Talisman from Ronnie’s neck and placed it around Ron’s. The Quartet joined hands in a circle.
Choking back her tears, Hermione whispered, “Think of a better place.”
Ginny awoke to the call of the seagulls. As her eyes opened and focused, she took in the breathtakingly-clear blue sky. Slowly, she rose up on her elbows, clearing her head as she got her bearings.
She looked to her right and saw the only man she’d ever loved.
“Harry?” She rolled over into the crook of his shoulder, leaning over him. She brushed his unruly locks from his forehead. “Love?”
Harry’s eyes fluttered open, dazzled by the sunlight and the gorgeous redhead whose eyes were filled only with love for him. He smiled. “Ginny.” He didn’t get a chance to say more as she covered his mouth in a passionate kiss. Harry dug his hand into her fiery locks.
“We’re home,” Ginny said breathlessly, breaking the kiss.
“Home,” Harry sighed.
To their left Ron and Hermione began to stir. Ron sat up, resting his arms on his knees and shaking his head. One hand drifted to his chest; the Talisman was gone. With a sigh of resignation, he gently cradled Hermione in his arms. “Love?”
Hermione’s eyes opened and she blinked a few times so her eyes could adjust to the light. “Ron?” Her smile was full of love and contentment as she drank him in.
Then she slapped him. Hard.
“What...?” Ron asked, shocked.
Hermione cut across him. “Ronald Bilius Weasley, don’t you even try to find the nerve to ask what that was for.” Then she pulled him into a deep kiss.
Ginny and Harry burst into laughter.
“Yeah, she’s back,” Harry chuckled.
‘Mione collapsed into the loveseat when the Talisman had sent the Quartet home. But it’s left something behind…. Her eyes fluttered open to see her very concerned son looking up at her.
“Are you ok?” He eyed the Talisman that had appeared around his mother’s neck as it throbbed. Twice.
‘Mione took a deep breath, “I’m fine, dear.” She pressed him into a hug as she wiped the last tears from her eyes. How do I tell him?
Slowly, the boy smiled in obvious relief. “They went home?”
Clearing her head, ‘Mione nodded.
“Are you still sad?” Ronnie asked.
‘Mione had to give the question some thought. “A little, dear. But, things will be better for us now.” Then she smiled, “I missed you so much.” She hugged him again as the world stopped spinning. “Did you like it at the Burrow?”
“Mummy, it was brilliant!”
“You know, the house is still here.” The Death Eaters had left the Burrow intact as bait in the hope that ‘Mione would go to ground. “I was thinking we might live there. Would you like that?”
The boy’s smile was a mile wide, “YES!”
“Me too,” ‘Mione smiled tearfully.
“I’d get to play with the Gnomes every day, just like I did when I was there with Nana....”
Hermione couldn’t help but laugh as Ronnie began to regale her with tales of life at the Burrow, de-Gnoming the garden and playing with the Weasleys, her parents, Teddy and Uncle George, in particular. I’ll never really be without Ron; not as long as I have this darling, mischievous child and...
“…and Nana’s biscuits were the best!” Then, slowly, the little boy’s face clouded over. “But she never answered my question.”
“What question, dear?”
“I asked her if I’d get to go to Hogwarts.”
‘Mione fixed him with a determined smile, “You will.” Then she hesitated before continuing, “And so will your brother and sister.”
Ronnie cocked his head at his mother. She smiled as she began to explain to her son that the two of them wouldn’t be alone anymore.
‘Mione had awoken knowing instantly that the Talisman had ensured that one last wrong had been righted -- the Burrow would be filled with Weasleys again.
She was pregnant. With twins.
The Talisman wouldn’t split them. Sensical; they’re needed here. ‘Mione shook her head in wonder. Fate’s tool… She was sure that the other Hermione didn’t know -- how could she? The Talisman hadn’t seen fit to make this fact known to her until after her Doppelganger returned to her home reality.
Ronnie wasn’t sure at first what to say after his mother finished explaining about his new siblings. But, the first question on his mind was probably the most obvious. “What’re their names?”
‘Mione’s eyebrows shot up; she spoke almost without thinking, “George Frederick and Ginevra Luna.”
“After Uncle George and Aunt Ginny?”
“And Grandpa George, too. Do you like that?”
The boy nodded as his father’s lopsided grin covered his face.
“Good. I do too. Now, we’ve a lot of work to do. But, as soon as we can, we’ll need to take a short trip.”
“Where’re we going?”
‘Mione smiled. Just before Harry had awoken, Maxime had told her the news she had so longed to hear. “Australia, dear. That’s where we’ll find Nana Kathy and Grandpa George.”
Ron and Harry had returned to their beach chairs, letting the sun dry them from their dip in the sea. Bill and Fleur had decided to extend their trip, allowing the Quartet to, at long last, have their well-deserved vacation.
Ron handed a bottle to Harry, as he dug his feet into the sand.
“What’s this?” asked Harry.
“A Muggle Ale. I thought we could use something with a little more kick than butterbeer today. You especially, since George has banned you from Triple W’s until you replace his broom.”
Harry smiled, “Cheers,” then he downed half of his bottle in one gulp. “I guess we better go easy on these though. It’s not Firewhisky, but its not pumpkin juice either.”
“Today, I don’t care.” Ron downed his in one long pull and grabbed two more out of the cooler.
“You will if you give the brightest witch of our age, the Right Honorable Undersecretary to the Minister for Magical Law Enforcement, also known as our boss, any other reason to -- what was the phrase -- smack you silly.”
Ron smiled and chuckled a bit.
Harry turned serious. “Everything’s good now with you two?”
The redhead nodded. “Real good…’Mione’s memories were powerful, but Hermione’s strong, mate. She was finally able to separate ‘Mione’s memories from her own last night. And…she understands.”
Harry rested his arm on Ron’s shoulder as he fixed his brother with a concerned look. “You know ‘Mione and Ronnie are gonna be alright?”
Ron hung his head for a moment. Then he cocked his chin at Harry, with a half-smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I do.” For a reason Ron couldn’t put his finger on, he was at peace. Deep down, some part of him just seemed to know that they had managed to leave things better than they were and not make them worse.
Harry stared off to where the girls were, once again, collecting shells by the shoreline. “I sent Kingsley an owl this morning -- told him we were back.”
Ron dreaded having to do a briefing now. “I hope you told him we quit,” he said, taking a long pull from his second ale as he collapsed back into his beach chair.
“I told him we were dead.”
Ron looked up with a start. Then he caught Harry’s wry smile and spewed ale all over the beach. “Git! I was drinking that!” he coughed. “Not funny.”
Then they both started to laugh. With all the stress they'd been under, the sudden rush of mirth hit them as if a dam had burst. Before long, both he and Ron were guffawing so uncontrollably the girls took notice. Hermione shot them both a mock-scornful smirk from beneath the straw beach hat she was wearing, while Ginny cocked an eyebrow at them, resting her hand on her hip. Harry waved them off before they became too suspicious.
Catching his breath, Harry continued. “I gave him the basics and Hermione took care of writing up most of the fine points. But I told him we weren’t gonna be back for another two weeks and…”
“If he owls us, we’ll quit,” Ron finished.
“Right in one.”
“It’s over, now,” Ron said with conviction.
Harry frowned. “I don’t know if it will ever really be over. There’ll always be something else.”
Ron shot Harry a look.
Harry shrugged. “Something I kind of figured out. It’s not gonna be all domestic disputes and shoplifters. Isn’t the life we chose.”
“Choices again, eh?”
Harry chortled, “Something like that, yeah.”
A calm silence filled the air.
Ron looked over at his best mate. “What about you? You okay?”
Harry frowned at the question as he looked out over the beach. But then his eye caught the beautiful form of his bikini-clad fiancée. She waved and shot him one of the smiles she kept only for him.
“Yes, brother.” Then he finally smiled. “I’m in love.”