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Chapter 1 : Where to from here?
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Beside him he could hear Ron snoring gently. Soon the sun would filter through the curtains and wake him but until then Harry wanted to be alone. Today was the last day at Hogwarts, Professor McGonagall having called an early end to the school term. She had cancelled exams, but instead of the usual euphoria that would have followed that announcement, most students had looked about with hollow eyes, uncaring. The memorial service that had been held the previous day had drained them all of any emotion. There were so many dead. The mourning families, and those involved in the battle had stayed in the castle after the services, but most would be leaving today.
The Hogwarts Express would depart in a few hours, but Harry still didn’t know where he would be taking it to. A part of him just wanted to stay at school, at Hogwarts- the only real home he had ever had. Another part of him – the part that could only see the faces of Lupin; Tonks; Fred; Colin Creevy staring at him from the crumbling walls - that part felt as if he would never be able to return here again.
Mrs. Weasley had told Harry he was welcome to stay at The Burrow for as long as he liked, but Harry had seen the emptiness in her eyes. The Weasley family had lost a son and Harry felt he would be intruding on their grief at this point in time to visit them. He couldn’t bear the guilt. Besides, he wasn’t sure how he felt about seeing Ginny again. This past week had been so strange, all the visitors; the cleaning up; parents turning up; the memorial service for everyone who had given their lives to defend Hogwarts. To defend him.
The horror of what had happened hadn’t left any room in Harry’s mind for Ginny and the two of them had barely spoken all week. It wasn’t just Ginny though, it was everything. Try as he might, Harry couldn’t shake the feeling that this was his fault. The whole castle had been torn apart in a battle to protect him. Little Teddy was an orphan now – because of him. And Harry, well Harry had lost not just his parents; but then his God-parent Sirius Black; Dumbledore; and finally his last remaining link to his past, Remus Lupin.
Harry had never felt more alone.
A movement at the door caught Harry’s attention. A bushy head poked its way around the door as it opened noiselessly.
“Hermione!” whispered Harry “What are you doing?” Around him Neville, Dean and Seamus were still asleep in their four-poster beds.
“Shh!” she whispered back “Wake Ron and come on before everyone else wakes up”
Waiting till after she had she shut the door, Harry pulled on his robes, prodding the still-sleeping Ron, who snorted loudly.
“Wassamadda?” he mumbled
“Come on Ron, Hermione’s waiting”
At that Ron sat straight up “Hermione?” he said, suddenly wide awake. “Where?”
“Shhh. Downstairs, come on!” Ron scrambled out of bed and down into the Gryffindor Common Room, where Hermione silently led them out the portrait-hole and down the ruined castle steps towards Hagrid’s house.
“Hagrid said we could all have breakfast with him this morning. I think he wants to say goodbye” explained Hermione as they made their way through the hunks of large stone to Hagrid’s cottage. The earth underneath them bore the scars of the recent battle. Blast marks still scorched the ground and the stone from toppling gargoyles and crumbling ramparts of the castle littered the ground.
Ron groaned. “Great. Treacle Toffee for breakfast. It’ll be enough to fracture anyone’s teeth! Couldn’t we have met him AFTER breakfast? ”
“It’s all right Ron” said Hermione rolling her eyes “Kreacher is bringing food for us all. I organised it last night.”
Ron stopped walking for a moment, thunderstruck, then suddenly caught up to Hermione, falling in beside her. “You’re the best Hermione, you know that right?”
Hermione’s cheeks went pink, and she glanced up at Ron with a look Harry didn’t quite understand. Harry trailed behind them trying not to feel left out, and thought that at least Kreacher would be bound to bring enough food to satisfy even Grawp.
“Uh, Hermione” he said, a sudden dread filling him. “Will Grawp be there?”
Hermione shook her head. “Hagrid said he was more comfortable up in the mountains behind Hogwarts. He’s not far, but he likes his space. Hagrid goes up most days to see him.”
Harry couldn’t help but be relieved. Hagrid’s half-brother was alright, really. As long as you didn’t have to watch him eat, that is. Harry’s stomach turned at the recent memory of Grawp swallowing a still mooing cow.
They arrived at Hagrid’s to find the table loaded with kippers, hot buttered toast, bacon, eggs, muffins, pancakes, and freshly squeezed pumpkin juice. There was even a plate of what looked like Hagrid sized rock cakes.
“Wicked!” said Ron, grabbing a plate and immediately shovelling food onto it, “Kreacher has outdone himself!”
“All righ’ you lot, help yehselves” said Hagrid, a bit unneccesarily as he sat down at the table himself.
“How are you going Hagrid?”Hermione deliberately turned away from the sight of Ron behaving like a human vacuum cleaner while Harry grinned. It was comforting to thing that however great the new understanding between his two friends was, some things would never change.
“Im alrigh’.” Hagrid said heavily, “this las’ weeks bin a bit much really, but I’m alrigh’. Still got meh family an’ thats all tha’ matters really, inn’t?”
Hermione looked slightly guilty as she avoided Hagrids’ eyes and suddenly found something fascinating on her plate. Watching her, Harry realised that in the last week Hermione hadn’t even mentioned her parents once, or the fact that she could now safely reverse their memory charms.
“When are you going to Australia to get your family, Hermione?” Harry asked, feeling slightly ashamed that he hadn’t asked before.
Ron paused for a moment with his eating and turned to Hermione in surprise. His mouth was too full to say anything so he gestured towards her with his fork to encourage her to answer, which resulted in eggs spilling over the ground. Fang leapt up to devour the mess, slobbering happily over the floor.
Hermione looked a little uncomfortable. “Well, I have been trying to decide whether or not I even should get my parents. You see they’re perfectly happy in Australia, and have forgotten they have a daughter and…” she trailed off, looking distinctly miserable.
Hagrid stared at her. “Hermione, there’s no question of whether yeh get yeh parents back. They’re yeh parents! They’ll be missin’ yeh, whether they know it or not. Yeh’ll be missin’ them to I’ll bet. Family is all yeh got, yeh got ter take care of it.”
Harry tried not to think of his family – but the image of the Dursleys rose before him and he grimaced. They were still in hiding, in a ministry safe house, with assumed names.
“But they are HAPPY Hagrid. When they remember they’ll worry. And they’ll never be a part of the wizarding world; and they’ll be horrified that I changed their memories and they will always be wondering if I’ve done it again and…I just think that sometimes it is better for them to remain happy in their ignorance, that’s all.” Harry looked at her, a little surprised.
“Tha’s not fair on them or you Hermione. You know better’n that. A smar’ girl like you an’ all.”
Hagrid looked at Hermione, his eyes pleading and Ron nodded earnestly in agreement with his mouth full again. Hermione looked around at them both, and then looked at Harry, who avoided her gaze. Now it was his turn to find his toast fascinating all of a sudden. He could feel her eyes still on him as she finally sighed and said “I suppose you are right, Hagrid.”
“So yeh’ll be going then?”
“Yes. I’ll head to Australia today.” Hermione sighed, but Harry thought she looked perhaps a little happier than she had done moments ago.
Hagrid appeared mollified and looked around the table. “Righ’. Tha’s settled then. Well.” He picked up a piece of bacon and tossed it to Fang who gulped it down enthusiastically, drool hanging from the corners of his mouth.
“Well, I guess what I really got yeh down here today to ask what yeh planning on doin nex’ year. ‘Afore yeh leave an’ all.” said Hagrid, as he passed a plate of muffins to Hermione.
“Mmmpff” mumbled Ron through a mouthful of bacon and eggs.
Hagrid ignored him, looking hard at Hermione and Harry. “Yeh know the school is bein’ reconstructed an’ McGonagall will be head mistress next year. Those tha’ didn’t get their N.E.W.T.s are welcome back o’course.”
Hermione, Ron and Harry looked at each other. Ron, his mouth full gave a kind of non-committal shrug and nodded. Harry looked blank.
Hagrid frowned. He turned and addressed Hermione directly “I know yeh bin gettin’ a lot of owls. No use denyin’ it. I know fer a fact Hermione that Gringotts Code Breakers have offered yeh an Honorary position, even if yeh don’ finish school. Then the Muggle Liaison Office, wantin’ yeh to come and improve Muggle relations for ‘em. An’ the Witches Convention wantin’ yeh as a representative of Witches for England in the International Intellectual Committee. An’ the Wizangamot askin’ for yeh to represent the youth o’ Britain. An’ the res’.”
Harry stared at her. He had had no idea Hermione had received all those offers. Of course, he, Harry had also received a few offers that he hadn’t shared with anyone too.
“What!” choked Ron, hastily swallowing his entire mouthful in his shock, “Why didn’t you tell us? I thought- ” Ron’s ears were starting to turn pink, and he looked indignant as if the news of Hermione’s offers was a personal insult “that you were coming to stay at the Burrow, then coming back to Hogwarts with us! You didn’t say you were off to join Gringotts! And the Wizengamot!” Ron’s appetite won out over his indignation and he shovelled some more eggs into his mouth, the offended look on his face spoilt by his bulging cheeks. “Mffblim-ey!” he said through the eggs.
Hermione flushed “Well I’m not joining Gringotts” she said. “If I were to leave Hogwarts, it would be for something really meaningful. But I’m not: At least, not if you’re both coming back as well.” Ron’s ears turned pink.
Harry noticed she didn’t say anything about the Wizengamot. Hermione continued talking though, before he had a chance to ask. “But I didn’t know you were coming back, Ron. You never said. And I just couldn’t face coming back alone. Not after… not after...” she broke off, putting her face in her hands.
Ron stared at her for a second, and then jumped to his feet, wiping his greasy hands on his robes as he came to her side of the table to put an awkward arm around her. “It’s all right” he said. Harry watched, amused as the all-new-sensitive Ron tried to comfort Hermione by clumsily patting her hair. “Of course we’re coming back. How am I supposed to get a job if you don’t make sure I get through my N.E.W.Ts? Harry’ll be there too, won’t you Harry?” He looked to Harry in a slightly panicky way as Hermione started sniffling into his shoulder, which almost made Harry laugh.
Hagrid grunted at the two of them and turned his bearded face to Harry. “Will yeh Harry? I heard yeh were getting’ a few owls yehself.”
“What?” said Ron, his panic turning to disbelief as he continued awkwardly patting Hermione on the head.
Harry snorted. “I’m not going to act as poster boy for the ministry” he said shortly.
“Tha’s not they were offerin’ yeh,” said Hagrid, and before Harry could think of how to stop him, he continued “I heard they were offering yeh streamlined entry into the Aurors. Didn’t yeh say once tha’s what yeh always wanted to do?”
“What!” said Ron again, forgetting in his disbelief to continue patting Hermione’s head. “What about me? Why didn’t I get streamlined entry?”
“Oh Harry, that’s wonderful” exclaimed Hermione, tears still drying on her face as she looked up. “Of course you’ll take it won’t you?”
Harry said nothing. Truth be told, he didn’t know where he was going when he got off the Hogwarts Express today, let alone next year. He didn’t have a home to go to. Of course, number twelve, Grimmauld Place was his, but Harry didn’t feel he could return to that empty house alone. Harry wondered briefly whether Kreacher would be there, or whether he would remain at Hogwarts. Regardless, with Hedwig gone, Hermione and Ron so cozy, the Weasley family so recently bereaved and then the Dursleys - well who knew where they were – Harry felt as if he had been set adrift in the world, alone. Harry supposed he would have to let the Dursleys know it was safe to come out of hiding. It might even be nice to see them again – if only because they would be the only people he knew who wouldn’t be deeply grieving. There had been so much loss that Harry just felt a desperate need to escape all the grief. But live with the Dursleys again? Never. For a moment, the idea of Hogwarts next year seemed safe, normal. He, Hermione and Ron would return to Hogwarts, and take their N.E.W.T exams, just as if they were normal students. Neville had said he was repeating the year too. It would be just like old times.
Only it wouldn’t be like old times. For one thing, they would be in the same year as Ginny. Harry’s stomach twisted nervously at the thought. Could he really go back to being treated like a schoolkid by the teachers? Could he really face coming back to Hogwarts with all the memories he had here?
“I – uh – haven’t decided” he said finally. Which wasn’t true: he had decided one thing. He would not be working for the ministry, streamlined Auror entry or not. He had had enough of the ministry’s lies, and rules, and mistakes to last him forever. Besides the ministry was currently in such a shambles they didn’t even HAVE a minister for magic at this point in time. Well, Kingsley Shacklebolt was filling in, Harry supposed, but nothing seemed established yet.
Hagrid hadn’t mentioned the other offers Harry had received. Durmstrang had written and offered him position on the school advisory board to help improve the Dark Arts Defense program. The Daily Prophet wanted him as their front page newsreader, announcing the headlines every issue. ‘Magical Moments’, the largest wizarding film production company wanted him starring in their next production. It seemed everybody wanted a piece of Harry Potter, The Boy Who Couldn’t Die at this point in time. They all thought he would make them a fortune. Even the Irish Quidditch team had offered him position as seeker for the up and coming World Cup series next year, and had asked him to train with them in the pre-season. Harry wasn’t sure if it was because of his skill as a seeker, but he suspected that it was more likely to be simply because he was famous.
That was another dream Harry had once had before the prophecy, before he had known what it would take to stop Voldemort – he had once dreamed of flying seeker for an international Quidditch team. Now, the idea of leaving everyone he knew behind and moving to Ireland to play Quidditch just seemed so pointless somehow. It didn’t matter where Harry went, he would be alone. And what was the point in winning Quidditch World Cups if the only people around you were strangers?
Harry noticed that Hagrid Ron and Hermione were all exchanging glances.
“Um, Harry, is everything ok?” asked Hermione carefully.
For some reason that irked Harry. He dropped his toast and pushed back from the table abruptly. “Fine. Er- I have to go. I’ll see you all later then”
As he left, he could make out the indistinct sounds of Hermione’s worried voice as she started whispering.
Unable to face going back to the castle just yet, Harry headed out to the Quidditch pitch where the torn clods of seared earth marred the once-smooth green lawns. This would take all summer to bring to rights. Harry gazed at what had once been a beautiful stadium with soaring stands – a scene that now looked like somewhere a bomb had gone off. His eyes caught on saw a red-head figure standing alone under the broken, unstable stands. His heart race quickened even as he slowed his steps.
Should he go and speak with her? Suddenly she looked up, noticing him. They stood looking across the pitch at one another, each waiting for the other to do something.
Harry didn’t move, didn’t know what to do. There was so much to say to her, and now would be the perfect time to do it, only where would he begin? The minutes stretched out but all Harry could do was stand and look at her across the Quidditch pitch. Ginny stood waiting, staring right back at him at him. She was waiting for him to do something, say something, Harry was sure of it. After what seemed like an age, Ginny’s shoulders fell and she turned to head towards the castle. Harry was not sure, but he suspected she was crying.
Harry wanted to chase after her. He wanted to say something, to do something, to fix everything somehow. He hadn’t spoken to her since the battle - since she had lost her brother - and he couldn’t bring himself to try. The pain was all too recent, and it was his fault.
He headed to the lake, even more unwilling than before to head back into the castle. He knew he had to pack his trunk and get ready to leave, but he didn’t want to risk seeing Ginny again. The lake at least looked relatively unmarred by the recent battle. Its tranquil waters this morning rippled only occasionally as a Grindylow flitted to the surface. Or perhaps it was the giant squid.
To his surprise he found another red-headed figure standing at the edge of the lake, staring across the expanse of water. It was Bill Weasley, who had stayed after the battle to help prepare for the memorials, and would be leaving today on the Hogwarts Express along with the other families and students still remaining.
“Hi Harry” he said.
“Hi,” said Harry, unsure whether to leave or not. It seemed all the Weasleys were still in a state of shock, which was not pleasant to be around. George was the worst, occasionally muttering to himself or going off in fits of laughter, and at other times staring into space with hollow empty eyes. Mrs. Weasley wasn’t much better though, she hadn’t stopped crying and had instead started cooking copious amounts of food through her tears. She had nearly caused a riot in the kitchens at what the elves had seen as an affront to their service and it had taken Professor Flitwick and Professor McGonagall combined to smooth over the whole affair. Now Mrs. Weasley had been given a small corner in the castle kitchens where she could cry and cook in peace. Her food (so Harry had been told) was kept for Grawp – the only person able to digest her once-delectable creations.
Bill on the other hand, despite his grief, had seemed to keep it together a little. Perhaps because he still had Fleur. Perhaps because he was part werewolf though, thought Harry with dark humour. So what was he doing out by the lake staring off into the distance so early in the morning?
“I’ve been thinking,” he said, reading Harrys’ mind “About what happens next. Fleur wants to stay with Mum for a month or so to help out,” Bill grimaced, pulling the scars on his face as he did so, “but I just don’t think I can handle living at home at the moment.” Harry was a little surprised. He had assumed they would be going back to Shell Cottage. Bill continued to think out loud, while Harry just stayed where he was, not sure he wanted to be hearing all this. “I can see Fleur’s point though – Mum needs the help – and I’m glad they’re finally getting along so well, but...
Bill trailed off then started again staring out at the glassy surface of the lake, “I just can’t face it Harry, you know. I don’t want to be here and be reminded. I want to get out of here, you know? Clear my head. So I’ve been trying to work out what to do now.”
“Yeah” said Harry gloomily. “Me too.”
Bill glanced over at him. “Yeah, well, that was one of the things I’ve been thinking about too,” said Bill. “I heard they want to make you an Auror.”
“Yeah” said Harry “But I don’t want it. Not like this.” He shrugged, unable to explain further.
Bill nodded slowly.
“Well then that answers that. See the thing is, they’ve found another tomb. It’s not in Egypt this time it’s in Peru – a new cave they think belonged to the ancient Incas under a temple to their Sun-God. They want to send a team of curse-breakers as soon as possible and they’ve asked me to go.”
“Oh” said Harry.
Bill continued “I’m really keen. We could do with the money, and it would get me out of here. They usually send only one or two people initially to assess and disarm the majority of the curses, before sending in an entire team to finish off and clear out the rest of the tomb. Most tombs only take a month or so to break completely, but Fleur doesn’t want me to go alone. Not after all this” Bill gestured to the castle with a hopeless wave of his hand, “You know though, I want to go. Fleur would be happy to stay here with mum, and look after her, and I would only be gone a month.”
Harry could hear the pleading note in his voice, and understood the temptation to just up and leave everyone. It was the same problem Harry faced – stay and be reminded and pulled down with everyone else’s grief; or run away, escape, take a total change of scenery and learn to start living again. It sounded like Bill had an escape ready made for him. Harry wished momentarily that he had a job which required overseas trips at convenient times.
Bills next words made Harry wonder if Bill could read his mind.
“It seems perfect, but Fleur doesn’t want me going alone, doesn’t want to worry about me. So I was wondering how you would feel about coming with me?”
“Me?” asked Harry stupidly.
“Yeah, you. See, Fleur thinks you’re invincible since the whole Voldemort thing,” Harry snorted and Bill grinned sheepishly. “Yeah I know. And she’s not the only one. But the point is if you came with me Fleur would stop worrying. Fleur will be happier looking after mum right now, but I need to keep moving and get back to work. I need to keep my mind occupied Harry, I can’t think about…” his voice broke off and Harry stared off in the distance, pretending not to notice as Bill wiped his face then continued in a more normal voice “You’d be doing me a real favour Harry. And if you don’t have any other plans it might be exactly what you need too. Get your head together, you know? Thinking space.”
Harrys mind seemed slow and stupid. Go off to Peru, breaking into ancient caves with Bill. Just for a month. Then he could make a decision about returning to Hogwarts. It would give him time away too – from Ginny, from everything. Suddenly a gear clicked. It would be perfect.
“I’m in” he said to Bill. And then he grinned, his face feeling like it might split from the unaccustomed expression.
Bill looked at him for a moment and then a grin cracked his own face “Deal” he said, holding out his hand. Harry shook it then Bill said “Come on, we’d better get inside and get packed. We leave next week so I’ve got a lot to fill you in on.”
Harry followed him inside. He would visit the Dursleys and make sure they were released from protective custody first, but then he would leave the country. Wouldn’t the Dursleys be pleased?
A/N Have edited this chapter several times. If reviewing, I would love your feed back on chapter length (along with all the usuals eg character consistency, writing style, setting the scene, etc)! thanks for reading!
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