Harry landed in a heap with the others, and only Dumbledore managed to stay on his feet. They were in a dark, overgrown garden, and there appeared to be ruins near the wall by the lane. Harry got to his feet and pulled Graínne and Ginny up from the ground, but his eyes were on the ruins. There was something about this place, it was vaguely familiar....
It couldn’t be memory, he told himself, looking around. If he had been here at all, it was not amid ruins. He would have remembered ruins. Dumbledore bent and whispered in his ear, "Memorize this, Harry. Harry Potter lives at Godric’s Hollow, Lancashire."
Harry said it over to himself, staring at the ruins. Amid the broken foundations, a large house began squeezing outward and upward. It was made of stone, and the downstairs windows shone with warm yellow light. Harry began walking toward it, as Dumbledore whispered to the others.
He opened the door and went into the entrance hall. It was curiously bare, although it did have a row of pegs, and a summer-weight cloak hung on one of them, faded green. As the others came in and looked around, Harry turned to Dumbledore and waited while he closed and locked the door. He continued to wait while each was restored to their natural state from Disillusionment.
"Welcome home, Harry," said Dumbledore at last, turning to him.
"You mean welcome to another secret prison?" Harry’s voice was hard and bitter.
The others froze, shocked.
"No," he answered slowly. "If you wish it, I will remove the Fidelius Charm."
"Perhaps the Professor has an explanation?" asked Graínne, a note of pleading in her voice. "Where are we, and what do you mean, Harry lives here?"
"This is Godric’s Hollow, where Harry was born. It is the property owned by the Potters when they were killed. Naturally it passed to Harry, where a new house was built upon reaching his majority, a place for him to live if he wished to leave his relatives. It is not meant as a prison at all. Quite the contrary, it is a retreat to which you may come when threatened. James and Lily arranged all this soon after you were born, Harry, in case something happened to them or to the house."
"But he knows where it is," Harry pointed out sharply.
"No, he knows where the town is, and where the house used to stand where James and Lily lived, but he does not know about this one. That Charm was undone. This one is new. And since I will never tell him where you are, you are quite safe here."
"So if You-Know-Who was to show up and walk by, he couldn’t see it?" Ginny asked, peering out the sidelight beside the door.
"How can Harry live here? He’s never lived by himself," Hermione pointed out.
"He’ll need help, of course, at first, but Harry’s a very responsible young man. He’s shouldered much of the burden of keeping a house already, and been trained by an exacting task master."
"But why are they here? I’m glad they are, but why haven’t they been sent to their own homes?"
"In Graínne’s case, she is in nearly as much danger as you, and it was here or headquarters. Even from seeing only this room, I’m sure you can tell that this is much more congenial than Grimmauld Place. We presumed you’d like to visit longer with your friends, as well, since they have only been around today." Dumbledore gestured to the house behind Harry. "Would you like to look around?"
"Why weren’t we sent here this afternoon?"
"It wasn’t finished yet. The house could only get started when you reached your majority, and then I had to perform the Fidelius Charm on it after it was finished."
"It was built by magic?"
"And a few wizards in the construction business, whose memories have all been modified."
Harry was feeling belligerent, still, but it was occurring to him how comforting it was to have a home to go to that Dursleys weren’t in, to have a place to live after school, a place that could be made to reflect his ideas of comfort and homeliness, a place where his enemy could not find him. He gave a little nod and turned and went through the hall door.
It opened into a wide passage, in which there were five more doors, two on each side and one at the end, and a set of stairs going up on the right hand side of the passage. The four side doors were open, and lights were lit in each room beyond. The fifth door was straight ahead, and he reckoned it would lead outside into the back garden. Harry peered around the corner into the first one on the left, where there was a sitting room that might be nice with a few more sticks of furniture. There was a cheerful fire on the hearth, a sofa and chair, a writing desk with a straight chair to go with it, a low table for tea, and not much else, not even a rug. But it was inviting, somehow.
The room on the right was a formal dining room, although it too was barely furnished. It had a long table and some chairs, a passage to the kitchen, a dresser to hold some dishes and cloths, and that was all. The furniture was nice-looking, if sparse. The table was set, though there was no tablecloth, dinner for ten, it seemed. There was a door in the far left corner, near the outside wall, which Harry assumed was a cupboard or a pass-through to the kitchen. They could smell hints of a lovely tea in the making. His friends were now making noises of approval as they discovered the amenities.
The back room on the left hand was a study, with many bookshelves, all empty. There was a big, old-fashioned library table in the center, a comfortable armchair and hassock by the western window, a cheerful fire in the grate, a locking roll-top desk in the corner, and a lot more room for furniture. Harry imagined a squashy sofa before the fireplace.
The room across the hall was the kitchen.
It was the best furnished of the rooms they had seen so far, with a long table, several chairs, a dish dresser, a big stove, plenty of storage, lots of counter space, a large cheerful fireplace, and a sofa and several rocking chairs around the fire. Here they were greeted by Mrs. Weasley, Winky, and Dobby, who had been preparing a late lunch.
"Harry Potter sir!" squealed Dobby, streaking across the room to hug him. Mrs. Weasley hugged Ginny, Ron and Hermione first, then Harry and Graínne. Winky waved at them shyly.
"We thought we’d come make it comfortable," said Mrs. Weasley. "Unlike headquarters, there’s a bit of property to go with the house, and you can get outside some. If you don’t mind, Harry, I’ll be chaperoning, along with Morag Cameron occasionally, when she’s available."
"I don’t mind," he said automatically. It seemed good to have someone to guide him through what was becoming more and more bewildering with every step.
"Good," said Ginny practically. "None of us would be allowed to stay if you did."
"We’ve brought the remains of your birthday feast up to stock the larder, and filled in the gaps a bit, since you’ll be entertaining a large house party for the next four weeks. Ooh, that’ll be Mad-Eye and Remus with the luggage. You can each grab a trunk and see the upstairs."
"Sounds like work to me," muttered Ron to Harry, who smiled distractedly.
They had rung a nice-sounding doorbell, and come straight in, propelling a large pile of trunks before them. The luggage landed with much clunking on the hall floor while Moody locked up again and Remus Lupin greeted them. Mad-Eye looked around at Harry and smiled grimly. "Well, lad?"
"Will it do?"
"It seems very nice," he said guardedly.
Moody looked at Dumbledore questioningly.
"We have many things to discuss," was all Dumbledore said. "If you will all take your things upstairs, Mrs. Weasley has arranged your rooms. You’ll be able to tell where you belong, I’m sure."
Harry, who still had his sword case in hand and his new satchel on his shoulder, took out his wand and levitated all the trunks, guiding them through the door. He conducted them up the stairs into the upper hall, where he set them down against a bare stretch of wall. Seeing a chandelier above, he muttered "Lumos," at it, and it lit up with warm yellow light. Five doors opened off this hall, too, although the fifth was behind him instead of in front of him, the bathroom. Another, smaller set of stairs went off to the next level straight ahead of them, starting on the left side of the corridor and bending outward toward the back garden at a landing. He went through the nearest door and lit the light, but it already had a suitcase on its bed, a wide bed for two, and a bathroom of its own.
"Mum and Dad," said Ron, spying the case.
Next door was a room with bunk beds and another single bed. It had a couple of straight chairs and a long, low dresser with a large mirror on it. "This will be our room," said Hermione, coming in and peering into the cupboard.
"How’d you know?" Ron asked, looking around.
"Three beds, three girls. Two boys. Deductive reasoning."
"Cheers," said Ron, going out to find the boys’ room while Harry gallantly brought the girls’ trunks in for them.
The room directly across was empty of everything, an echoing space without even a rug. The room across from Mrs. Weasley had two single beds, a tall dresser, and a mirror on the wall by the door. Harry brought their trunks in and looked around. As he was thinking about whether he’d keep this room as his own indefinitely, there was a tapping on the window, and Hedwig lit on the sill, peering in.
He hurried to open the window for her, petting her fondly. "I was wondering where you’d gone, and if you’d find us. Everything’s okay?"
She hooted softly, walking up his arm to his shoulder and perching there close by his ear.
"This is a bit of all right," said Ron, looking around.
"It’s great, but what am I ever going to do with it?"
"Get married and have kids, I guess," said Ron seriously.
Harry laughed suddenly. He was only just seventeen, it seemed ludicrous to be a householder when he hadn’t finished school yet. "I’m going upstairs. Here you are, Hedwig," he added, putting her cage on top of the dresser where she could perch. "I’ll leave the window open for you to go hunt, if you like." And with that, he went out into the hall.
Curiosity about the upper level brought the girls out, as well, and the five of them explored the dormered rooms, six of them, each with a single window. The bath was at the top of the stairs, and three empty rooms on each side, and a seventh empty room opposite the bath. It had an unfinished feel to it, as if it had been made for another time. The views from the windows were likely very nice, but all was dark outside.
In the distance below, they heard the doorbell ring again. They all went to find out who had come.
"Goodness," said Mr. Weasley as they came thundering down the stairs. "Some things never change. Hello, children, are you all settled?"
"Distributed, anyway," said Ginny cheerfully, hugging him.
"Tea’s ready," called Mrs. Weasley.
They sat down in the dining room, although Harry thought he would have liked to eat in the kitchen better. Mrs. Weasley pressed him into the chair at the head of the table, where he rather thought Dumbledore would sit. Dumbledore, however, sat at his right hand. Food was passed, but Harry did not eat. He had grown serious again.
"Do you have any questions?" Dumbledore asked gently.
"Who’s paying for all this?"
"It’s all paid. A provision of your parents’ wills, made at the time of your birth, which was during the first war against Voldemort. It was paid long ago."
"How in the world am I going to afford to run a house? I haven’t got a job, I’m going to have three more years of school if I get accepted--" He stopped, unable to find adequate words.
"Welcome to adulthood," said Remus with a little smile. "No one’s trying to force you into anything, Harry. This is the place your parents prepared for you. If you don’t want it, sell it."
Mrs. Weasley looked as though she wanted to say something, and bit her lip.
"You should get a good price for it," said Moody gruffly, sniffing a sausage. "It’s an historic piece of land, and the house is a fine one, built just like they built ‘em a hundred years ago."
"What do you mean, historic?" asked Graínne.
"The Potter family is an old one, and descended from even older lines," said Dumbledore calmly. "Dilys Derwent was one of your progenitors, Harry, as well as a host of other famous people."
"Legend has it that Godric’s Hollow is where Gryffindor himself came from," said Lupin with a different sort of smile. "Hence the name. James always said that there wasn’t any proof, of course, from that long ago, but he couldn’t find any evidence to the contrary, either. And the very first documentation of ownership of the property puts it squarely in the hands of your proven ancestors."
"You mean Harry might be descended from Godric Gryffindor?" asked Hermione in awe.
"So might you," Harry pointed out. "There’s no way to know."
"Indeed," said Dumbledore, "none at all. There is sufficient honor, however, in the documented family line to make the property quite valuable, should you decide to sell it. As it is, there is no outstanding debt to pay, and unlike Muggles, you have no property taxes. My suggestion to you is that you wait to decide the matter until some of the questions surrounding your future are answered."
"The house can be closed while you attend school, however much longer that may be," said Mr. Weasley, "or you may ask someone to stay here and keep the place for you."
"I’ll wait to decide about it," said Harry after a moment, and the adults around the table relaxed.
"It’s loads better than headquarters," said Ron thoughtfully. "And we can go outside?"
"Yes, there are grounds, which are also protected by the Charm," said Dumbledore with a smile. "About forty acres."
"Wow," said Hermione softly.
"You could have horses," Graínne added, and then laughed at herself. "I am such a kid!"
They all laughed with her, and suddenly Harry felt a little better. This was not going to be so bad after all, and he could see that eventually it would be very good. A home of his own.
They discovered a screened porch on the west side of the house, opening through French windows off the parlor, shaded on one side by vines. The garden beyond was unruly but smelled sweet with flowers. Harry and Graínne went out to walk there later, when Mrs. Weasley was beginning to hint that it was time for bed. They found a small summerhouse there, smelling of new wood but with roses vining up its pillars as if they had always grown there. The benches lacked cushion, which was probably a good thing, but Harry was content to talk anyway.
"What do you think?" she asked him bluntly.
"I hardly know what to think," he admitted, looking around at the darkened garden. "It’s peaceful here, have you noticed?"
"Yes, I have. What do you think of the house?"
"It’s more than I ever imagined having."
She smiled, he could tell, even in the dark. "I wonder where in England we are."
"Me too. Lancashire is a big county. We’ll have to ask. What do you think?"
"I think it’s great, Harry."
"Could you live here, eventually?"
"Eventually, I could live anywhere, if you were there."
He smiled, and a knot of the anxiety in his stomach untied itself. "I feel the same way," he murmured, and settled back to kiss her thoroughly. It had been a most delightful birthday, all told.