On The Verge Of Happy Endings by WrenWinterSong
Summary: After the battle but before all was well, those left in the wake of the Battle of Hogwarts struggle to find their lives again.

This story follows Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville, Luna, and Draco in a series of one-shots that capture their coming to terms with all they've done and all the things done to them. With such choatic early years, normal seems just as out of reach as it did a year ago. But all will find they still have a place in this new Wizarding World, though some may fight it. Happy endings may or may not exist, but this could be the preface to a happy beginning.
Categories: Post-Hogwarts Characters: None
Warnings: Mild Profanity, Pottermore Spoilers, Sexual Situations, Substance Abuse
Series: None
Chapters: 8 Completed: Yes Word count: 38418 Read: 22422 Published: 08/08/15 Updated: 01/24/16

1. after by WrenWinterSong

2. gone by WrenWinterSong

3. time by WrenWinterSong

4. wait by WrenWinterSong

5. new by WrenWinterSong

6. understand by WrenWinterSong

7. same by WrenWinterSong

8. ends by WrenWinterSong

after by WrenWinterSong
Author's Notes:
A huge chocolate-covered thank you to my wonderful beta Vicki! She helped me take this simple idea and make it into a real story. This fic would not be half as good without her suggestions and encouragements. I will never say thanks enough.

Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live.
Norman Cousins

2 May 1998

Harry first noticed that his scar didn’t hurt.

There were plenty of other spots on his body that ached and stung, but his forehead was not one of them. The lightning mark was numb, no prickling reminder of the scar he could only see in a mirror. He would be foolish to say that he missed that feeling - ‘miss’ wasn’t the right word - but he felt as if he were no longer whole, as if the scar that had defined his life no longer existed.

Was it still there? He thought of asking Ron or Hermione, but a large part of him didn’t want to know the answer, didn’t want to know which answer to hope for.

If it was still there, it would remain there forever, no getting rid of it now. There would be a constant remainder of Voldemort, Tom Riddle, that Harry would never escape. It would glare at him from every reflective surface, the ghost of these dark times that were finally coming to an end.

Ron and Hermione were a few paces behind him, none of them talking now that Harry and explained exactly what had happened after Snape’s death. They seemed to still be a tad confused - honestly, Harry still was as well - but knew better than to push the subject. They knew everything he knew, and if they wanted to think about and talk about it, they could do so without him. He didn’t want to think because every time he did…

His mind flashed back to the end of his fourth year, dueling Voldemort over Tom Riddle Sr’s grave. He knew what he was thinking was illogical because it was the Deathly Hallows that saved him and he hadn’t even known they existed when he was fourteen, but he couldn’t help wishing he could go back to that time and let Voldemort use the Avada Kedavra curse on him. He wanted to make the events of tonight happen in that past night, minus all the deaths. He wanted Voldemort to kill the Horcrux inside him back then, he wanted Dumbledore to tell him the whole truth, and he wanted to destroy every last Horcrux before the end of his fifth year.

Mostly, he wanted all of those people who died because he took three years too long to kill Voldemort to still be alive.

When his thoughts reached this point, the faces started flashing by, blurring together in their quick succession: Sirius with Dumbledore’s long white beard, Cedric with Tonk’s bubblegum pink hair, Fred with Moody’s spinning magical eye.

Harry forced the thoughts away, feeling himself sway in his walk.

Ron cleared his throat, giving Harry something else to concentrate on. He struggled a moment for something to say then settled on, –I’ve never seen theses halls so empty.”

–Everyone must be in the Great Hall,” Hermione said, pausing a moment as if waiting for Harry to join. He had no intention of adding to the painfully normal small talk, so she went on, adding words upon words as if she were afraid to stop. –Or they could be going home by now. There will be a lot of celebrations today, once the news starts spreading. Last time Voldemort fell, the Ministry could barely assert the Statute of Secrecy, especially with Minister Bagnold encouraging the outrageous parties. Now that he’s actually dead, I can only imagine what the Ministry and Kingsley will have to clean up. I bet everyone will be taking advantage of the lack of law enforcement while the Ministry pulls itself back together.” She took a deep breath as if to continue filling up the silence but then found nothing more of importance to say.

Harry’s blurry mind only retained about half of what she had said. He was too distracted by the distress he felt not retuning to the Great Hall, thinking of all the mourning families and fifty dead bodies. Every living person in that room would look at him as if he could fix this too.

–D’you know it’s a Quidditch World Cup year?” Ron said, ripping Harry from his thoughts again.

–Are they sill having it?” Hermione asked, evidently no longer waiting for Harry to speak.

–Yeah, it’s gonna be in Japan this year. Charlie’s told me all about it. He says Romania might actually make it to the finals.”

–Are they, uh… a good team?”

–Not particularly. They’ve had issues with being accused of Dark magic for a long time. Charlie says this is the first decent team they’ve put together in two hundred years. ‘Course, he only knows because he’s friends with their Keeper.”

–I never thought about the rest of the world carrying on,” Hermione said, her voice quieter than when she was trying to force conversation. –It makes sense, though, that the world didn’t stop just because our country was in disarray.”

The conversation ceased, which both pleased and panicked Harry. The small-talk, an attempt at trying to make their lives normal again, irritated him as if each spoken word were a mermaid’s screech, but even that was better than being left in the quiet that made it much too easy for the questions in his mind to start up again.

How could he have let another child become an orphan because of Voldemort? Especially Teddy, the child he was supposed to care for as his own?

Would Lavender Brown survive? He assumed she was still being attended to, that she was still alive to be worried about, but the possibility of her already being dead was just as likely.

Oh, but Aberforth Dumbledore. His face gave Harry a twisted sense of pleasure. He looked forwards to marching into the Hog’s head and saying, –I told you so.”

But then the image of Fred’s broken body surfaced, and Harry lost the brief moment of triumph. He had let down all of the Weasleys, he’d let down Ginny, whose heart he broke to keep her safe. How had he ever expected that to work?

–Harry?” Hermione asked, breaking through the overlapping images of Ginny that formed a picture of her with smiling eyes and a wailing mouth.

–Hmm?” he answered, unable to force his mind away from the pictures of memories to search for words.

She stalled for a moment, adjusting her wand in her pocket and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She looked the best of them; just as dirty and scraped up but more awake and aware. She said, –We understand if you don’t want to talk, but… if there’s anything else you’d like to discuss that’s not Quidditch or Riddle-–

–It’s over,” Harry interrupted. –What else is there to say?”

Hermione looked stunned at the simple but true words while Ron nodded in agreement. It was enough for them not to attempt to engage him in conversation anymore. Instead, he could half-listen, enough to keep the disturbing thoughts from his head without becoming irritated at their nonchalance. At least they were discussing Hermione’s parents, who she wanted to wait a bit before finding, so all the Death Eaters would be captured and her parents could be completely safe, and not the Horcruxes or Hallows or Voldemort.

They reached the portrait of the Fat Lady a moment after, not having any time to worry about knowing the password. She thanked them profusely for all they had done to keep Hogwarts safe and swung open before any of them could become too flustered at the compliments.

Harry headed straight towards the boys’ dormitories, not noticing he had left behind his friends until he had nearly reached the top. He turned around to see Ron at the bottom of the stairs, tugging Hermione by the hand towards him while she stood half a meter away, glancing between the staircase and the one she had used for the last seven years.

–I don’t think anyone cares where you sleep at this point,” Harry said, a slight briskness to his voice that showed a glimpse of the chaos of emotions inside him. He continued up the stairs after Hermione nodded, finding that only the first year dorms were open and heading inside.

A plate of sandwiches and a bottle of pumpkin juice sat on a table near the center of the room, and that was all Harry could concentrate on in that moment. He ate like he had never eaten before, taking bite after bite with little time to chew. It might have been the fact that he’d been living on mushrooms and berries for the past year, but the cheese and meats and bread were the best of their kind that he had ever eaten. Two of the sandwiches were gone before Ron and Hermione entered the room and joined him in his gluttony.

For the first time he could remember, he ate more than Ron, who retreated to the middle of the three beds after just three sandwiches and a swallow of juice.

Hermione disappeared into the loo, and Harry heard the shower water running a moment later. He debated whether he should take a shower himself as he changed into the red and gold pajamas folded on his bed. Ron had already changed, climbed into bed, and fallen asleep by the time Hermione returned and Harry finished off the last sandwich, feeling as if one part of him could burst while the other still groaned with emptiness.

Hermione offered him a kind smile, and though he thought he returned it, moving the corners of his lips, he thought later that they must have pulled out instead of up since her smile fell.

He left the room, taking notice of Hermione curled in bed with a book on her lap and Ron snoring so loudly he didn’t know how she could read. Then he closed the door on them.

Leaning against the wood, he took a deep breath and closed his eyes, trying to take in the first private moment he had had since what seemed like a lifetime. And it had been a lifetime, had it not?

Since he’d been a baby, he’d always had a piece of Voldemort inside him, a presence that hung in his mind like a dark cloud that he had never noticed until it was gone. All those times he rushed to anger, when he refused to listen to anyone but his own gut feelings, when nothing seemed as important as the one thing he could think of, the obsessiveness, the short-temper, the wave of pleasure when he felt a surge of power that always scared him. Now what scared him most was that those traits were still there, still part of his personality.

An idea drifted into his mind as he stood up. He closed his eyes and summoned up that part of himself that he had never understood, could never explain, and imagined a snake in front of him. He opened his mouth, thinking of a simple greeting to the figment, but when he opened his mouth, no hissing came out.

That’s when the wall in his mind that kept his feelings at bay for the past year collapsed.

The tears of loss poured from his mind as he thought of everyone he had failed to protect and all that he no longer had. He had gotten everything he thought he wanted, did what everyone wanted him to do, but at what cost?

What was he left with now? His entire future had led up to this day, to this sunrise, and now he had nothing, Any future that he dared to think of had always started with this, the end of the war, the beginning of a peaceful life. But now all he could see was an empty black hole.

He had spent his entire life preparing to defeat Voldemort, and now that he had, the world wouldn’t need him anymore. They were safe. They would forget about him after a few months. He could escape the attention he’d always despised, and yet he already missed it. They had looked at him for answers, and now they would look at him with gratitude for a task he never asked for, one he would have willingly given to someone else, one that he had fumbled with for years and never quite knew what he was doing. He walked along the path formed from their corpses, for the greater good.

Harry looked down at his hands that were as empty as his being.

He thought he could be this great hero then fade out, but he didn’t feel heroic. He felt nothing. He felt lost. Dumbledore and Snape and so many others had set up a path for him to walk. On his own, he would have died in the Chamber of Secrets with no phoenix tears to save him.

How could Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen one, ever expect to have a normal, quiet life?


Wakefulness came too soon.

Despite closing all the curtains, the afternoon sunshine barged passed the fabric to spread across the bed and cause the entire thing to glow red. Harry squinted into the scarlet rays, half of his heart comforted by the familiar sight of a late Hogwarts morning and the other racing as the hue recalled memories of blood and rubies scattered across the floor. When he closed his eyes, the light shone across his eyelids so all he could see was red. There was no escape.

He brushed the curtains aside and found Hermione sitting at a small dining table on one of three chairs that hadn’t been there earlier. There were an assortment of pastries arranged on a platter, one of which was blueberry and being picked apart as Hermione plucked tiny pieces into her mouth as she continued to read her book.

She looked up as his feet thumped the floor, then said, –Good morning. Care for some breakfast?”

He shrugged as he took a seat across from her, placing the nearest pastry in front of him but not taking a bite. Whatever hunger had seized him earlier was gone.

–Almost everyone has gone home,” Hermione said as if Harry had asked, though as soon as she brought it up, he did begin to wonder what had happened after the three of them had retreated to Gryffindor Tower.

–Even the Weasleys?” he asked.

–Yes. Mr. Weasley left a message with Professor McGonagall that we can Floo there when we’re ready. The fireplace in the staff room has been connected to the Network. And Fred’s funeral is tomorrow at nine,” she added in a quieter voice. She poured a glass of orange juice as she talked, then slid it across the table to him. Apparently she wasn’t going to let him go with an empty stomach, so he sipped as little as possible. –We also received a letter from Kingsley,” she said, striking Harry’s attention. –He wants to meet with us at the Three Broomsticks at one.”

Fantastic, more war talk. His life would forever revolve around the war, wouldn’t it? –What time is it now?”

–Half past eleven,” she said glancing towards the center bed where Ron still slept, his long limbs hanging off the sides and sun not seeming to bother him a bit. –I’ll work on waking him up if you want to take a shower.”

–Sure.” He nodded, not feeling as if he were having this conversation. The morning felt like a dream, a pleasant one he was tentative to enjoy. There were no more Horcruxes to find, no Dark Lord to kill. The only things on his to-do list today were meeting Kingsley and going to the Burrow. It would be a rather boring day.

As he stood up, Hermione returned to her book, her bent neck reminding Harry of all the times he had seen her enthralled by a book. The sight was so familiar it hurt. –How do you do it?” he asked, jarring her out of her reading.

–Do what?”

–Act so… normal?” He wanted so much to fall back into his old self like she did, but he couldn’t remember what his old self had done. Go to classes? Play Quidditch? Worry about Voldemort? He could no longer do any of those things.

–I don’t know,” she said hesitantly, squinting her eyes as she thought of a better answer. Then her eyes fell on Ron’s bed and her expression cleared. –I do it for him. He’s taking Fred’s death rather hard. I can’t afford to fall apart right now. Besides,” she added, –it’s over, right? We can have the lives we always wanted now.”

But Harry had never thought to want another life. He had been so sure that he would die, he didn’t want to torture himself with thoughts of a future he would never see. And here he was scrambling for a reason to go on when Ginny had lost a someone she loved too. Should he be trying to be strong for Ginny like Hermione was for Ron? Was he failing her before they even got back together, if they even got back together?

That sent a stabbing pain through his chest. Would Ginny still want him after all that had happened? How selfish was he to assume they would pick up from where they left off when Fred’s death was so new.

He grabbed the towel and clean clothes that Hermione had set out for him and rushed to the loo, a rush of emotion breaking through his mind again. He managed to turn on the scolding hot water and hurry into the steam before the tears started again.


Harry, Ron, and Hermione stood outside the Three Broomsticks, peeking in the windows and wincing at the sight of the crowd inside. They were a few minutes early for the meeting with Kingsley and stalled outside, not wanting to spend those five or so minutes crowded around celebrating witches and wizards who just might have the nerve to ask for an autograph.

Luckily, Harry had suggested they use the Invisibility Cloak as they walked through Hogsmeade, though they could still hear everyone passing along stories about the battle, each one more elaborate than the last. Who the hell started the rumor that lightning had flashed from the sky and struck Voldemort?

The trio gathered beneath a window and stayed away from the main entrance of the pub as people came out and in. It was as if each time a body squeezed into the pub, another one was forced out.

–Kingsley couldn’t think of a more private place to meet?” Ron muttered, glaring at the rowdy crowd through the window.

–I thought it suited just fine,” a deep voice said from somewhere to their right, startling all three of them. –If you came around the back, you’d find I arranged a more secluded spot.”

Although Harry couldn’t see him, he sensed Kingsley walking away, hearing something that sounded like the fluttering of robes. He led the way to the back of the pub where Madame Rosmerta was holding open the door. Kingsley appeared beside her, his wand pointed at the top of his head. She started, holding a hand to her chest, and said, –Oh there you are Kingsley. Where are the others?”

–I imagine just over there,” he said, pointing towards the general area where the trio stood, though a little to the left.

Harry tugged the cloak off of himself and his friends, and Rosmerta smiled as she ushered them into the back room, the walls shuddering from the main room. –You can go on up stairs,” she said, nodding towards a rickety stair case. –There’s tea and biscuits on the table.”

–Thank you, Rosmerta,” Kingsley said before leading the trio up the steps. They entered what looked like a small living room, and Harry assumed this was Madame Rosmerta’s flat. As promised, tea and biscuits waited for them around a square table that they all settled around.

–I know this past day has been hard for all of you, but I fear I have more to ask of the three of you if you would hear me out,” Kingsley said as soon as they were seated. He wasted little time with pleasantries, and Harry appreciated that. He wanted this business out of the way so he could go to the Burrow and return to his sulking. –But we have one more guest to wait on.”

Harry crossed his arms and sunk in his chair, staring at the staircase and urging someone to appear. Sitting still hurt more than running for his life.

–I think we all know what this is about,” Hermione said. Both Harry and Ron raised an eyebrow at her. –Or at least I do.”

–Not surprising,” Kingsly said. –And your decision.”

–I think it best I decline.”

–Understandably so.”

Harry and Ron moved their heads from one to other as Kingsley and Hermione spoke, trying to piece together what they were talking about. Harry gave up and turned his head back to the stairs. The sooner this fifth person arrived, the sooner he would know.

–I would like to discuss something else with you,” Hermione said, her confidence slipping away as her eyes turned downcast.

–Ah,” Kingsley said. –Anything to do with your parents?”

Hermione’s head shot up and she gasped. –You know about my parents?”

–A small bit. After the three of you disappeared when the Ministry fell, I personally went to your house to offer your parents our best protection. How surprised I was to learn they’d moved to Australia.”

Hermione’s cheeks turned pink, either from embarrassment or sadness. Kingsley continued, –When you want same aid travelling there, I will do all I can to help.” She smiled at the Minister, thanking him for his understanding with the glistening in her eyes.

Footsteps echoed up the staircase, and everyone turned to watch a dark blond head appear from the floor below. –Sorry I’m late,” Neville said as he walked towards them.

–No matter. Have a seat,” Kingsley said, summoning another chair to the table so Neville could sit beside Harry. –Now, to the business at hand.

–All of you have shown immense bravery and skill, not just last night but throughout this whole year. You showed more talent and ability than most adults twice and thrice your age. You have fought dark wizards with valiance and survived with experiences that have made all of you outstanding duelers.

–As you all are aware, there are a number of Death Eaters that are still alive and roaming, and they must be captured before they can bring any more harm. The Auror department has lost some of its own, both from and to the Death Eaters.

–I know this is a sudden offer after everything you four have been through, but I would not ask this if it were not of the utmost necessity.” He paused, obviously still torn about the question he was about to ask. –I would like to offer all of you a position in the Auror department.”

Harry’s heartbeat quickened to a familiar pace, as if his pulse had slowed during the time of rest and finally had the motivation to beat properly again. It was all he could do not to leap up and Apparate to the Ministry right at that moment.

Kingsley continued. –You would have the authority to capture known and suspected Death Eaters, using lethal means if there is no other way. It would only be for the next couple months, until the Ministry has a better handle on the destruction that Tom Riddle has left in his wake. After that, we can begin discussing a more permanent place in the department, if you would like. Normally, we would require you return to Hogwarts and complete your N.E.W.T.’s, but I believe exceptions can be made in your cases.”

–When do we start?” Harry asked, unable to keep a hold on his impatience any longer.

Kingsley gave him a half smile, half grimace. –In time,” he said, and Harry felt his rush of excitement fly away. –You all could do with a few days of rest. Now, I do not need an answer from any of you today,” he said, mostly to the others. Harry glanced at each of them, wandering how any of them could say no. Ron looked almost as happy as Harry, but Neville, though a tentative smile on his face, had fear in his eyes. Then there was Hermione, who had already declined. He couldn’t understand why. She didn’t want to find her parents until after all the Death Eaters were captured anyways. Wouldn’t it make sense to help that process along?

–I will meet with you all tomorrow to discuss the details,” Kingsley said. –Take the time to come to a decision. There will be complete understanding if you chose not to accept.”

–Will we begin tomorrow then?” Harry pressed, not yet satisfied. If he could join the Aurors right that second, he would.

–Harry,” Kingsley said, a mix of firmness and concern in his tone. –You have been fighting against the most powerful dark wizard in centuries for many years. Take a day to rest.” He kept his eyes connected with Harry’s for a moment more, then stood from the table. –I believe that is all. I wish I could stay longer, but duty calls. Until tomorrow.” With a nod of his head, he walked down the stairs and disappeared.

Harry thought he was shaking but refused to look down at his hands. Who was Kingsley to tell him what he needed to do? He had been the one fighting Lord Voldemort. He was the only one who could know how to come back from that.

As the frustration rushed through his veins, he silently cursed himself. Wasn’t this anger supposed to disappear with the Horcrux? This wasn’t him, not the real him. But the more he tried to push it the way, the more his muscles tensed.

–Harry?” Hermione started, but he stood up before she could say anymore. He hurried down the stairs, unable to sit still any longer. He didn’t want to relax. He wanted to fight.
End Notes:
Hope you enjoyed the chapter! Reviews are always seen with a smile and replied to in a hurry. :)
gone by WrenWinterSong

All the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.
Havelock Ellis

2 May 1998

Ron did not even think to be concerned about Harry disappearing, but that was why Hermione was the smart one and not him. She gave Ron a single concerned look before they both rushed down the stairs along the same path Harry took, but even with his long legs, Ron caught up too late to stop him from turning on the spot and Apparating away.

–How could he be so reckless?” Hermione yelled into the empty air.

Ron still had a hand out-stretched. He had been so close, and if the thought of Splinching didn’t send pain down the scar on his shoulder, he would have grabbed Harry’s shoulder.

–Should we go looking for him?” Neville asked, jogging over.

–Have you any idea where to look?” Hermione asked shrilly. Neville took a step back and ducked his head, looking like a scolded child. Hermione pinched the bridge of her nose, her eyes squeezed shut as she thought. After a deep breath, she muttered, –I’m sorry, Neville, that was rude of me. I’m sure Harry will come back soon enough. Come on, I’ll buy you a butterbeer.”

–So we’re not looking for him?” Ron asked with disbelief as Hermione started to walk back towards the Three Broomsticks. Ron kept his eyes on the spot where Harry had disappeared as if the grass would tell him where Harry was.

Hermione turned back around, coming closer to him so she could talk in a quiet voice. –We have no idea where he went, but I’m sure he’ll come back when he’s ready. I think he just needs some time alone, to find himself again, then he’ll turn up.”

–And if he gets killed in the mean time?” Ron didn’t know he feared this outcome till the words reached his ears, but then they hit him like a flying hippogriff. Hermione was smart, she had to have put together that Harry wanted something, someone, to fight, and hunting down a Death Eater would be the perfect plan for that.

–He won’t.”

But he could. –I’ve already lost one brother. I won’t lose another,” Ron said, turning away from Hermione and walking towards the spot where Harry had Apparated. Maybe if he turned in the exact same spot, he’d land in the same place.


The sound of his name broke through his blind determination, taking him back to the last time he had walked away from Hermione and she had called after him. It stopped him so fast he nearly tripped. He would not be the person the Horcrux had made him to be.

She hurried to stand in front of him, blocking his path but also looking into his eyes. Her lips quivered as she seemed to search for what to say. –There are a few places we can look.”


–I suppose it’s worth at least trying to find him,” she sighed.

Later on, it turned out not to be completely worth it. After Apparating to any place that popped into Hermione’s head - Godric’s Hallow, Malfoy Manor, the woods where the Snatchers had found them - Ron felt so nauseous he could no longer stand. Neville had left after only a few stops, needing to get home before his gran worried, but Ron and Hermione never separated. They’d checked every spot twice before Ron finally admitted Hermione was right and that Apparating all across Britain was no way to find Harry.

He sat down on the curb outside the Muggle pub that they had gone to after Bill and Fleur’s wedding, the last destination they could handle. He leaned forward to put his head between his knees, hoping that would stop his brain from spinning in his skull. –I’m never Apparating again,” he muttered as Hermione took a seat beside him and placed a hand on his back. She seemed to be faring better, her face a bit flushed but at least she could stand.

–Just one more time to Hogwarts,” she said. He groaned.

When he no longer felt like he would lose his lunch if he opened his eyes, Ron sat up so he could look out at the street. –I don’t want to go home,” he said after a long pause.

Hermione nodded, her hand rubbing circles into his back. –I understand,” she said before he even thought about how to explain how much he didn’t wanted to see the place that held so many memories or see his mother and father milling about for something else to do but think of Fred.

–I don’t want it to ever be tomorrow,” he added, thinking of the letter that his mother had left for him, letting him know that a private family funeral would be held tomorrow morning in the same graveyard that his Uncles Fabian and Gideon were buried in and that a larger gathering would happen at the Burrow later on. ‘A celebration of his life,’ the letter had said. He cringed at the idea of having to act celebratory at his brother’s funeral.

–You’re not going to accept Kingsley’s offer, are you?” he asked, desperate for a change in subject.

–No.” Hermione’s hand disappeared from his shoulder.

–Why not?”

–It’s an amazing opportunity, it really is, but it’s just not for me.” She tucked her hands into her lap before continuing. –For you and Harry and Neville, it’s what you’ve always wanted, but I never wanted to be an Auror. I want to make changes in the Ministry, to revise laws and speak up for Muggle-borns like me. That’s where I belong.”

–But can’t you transfer?” Ron said, grabbing her hand as he searched for a way to bring her with him into the Auror department. –A year or two and you can switch to law, right?”

–I need to go back to school. I have to pass my N.E.W.T.’s or no one will take me seriously. And McGonagall could use my help restoring Hogwarts this summer; I discussed the matter with her this morning. Besides, I’m tired of the fighting and the dueling. I’m not even that good—–

–Bollocks, you’re amazing.”

–It’s not my strong point. I only got an E in my Defense Against the Dark Arts O.W.L.”

–So did I.”

–That’s not the point. The point is… I just can’t do it anymore.” She sighed and looked away, turning her gaze to the street. –I’d like a semi-peaceful life and I don’t want to hunt dark wizards anymore. I’m not sure I want you to be either.”

–What? Why?”

Ron hadn’t thought the question would do any harm, but Hermione suddenly burst into tears. A couple people who’d been ignoring them before now watched Hermione and sent accusatory glares at Ron. With both hands, he tried to wipe away her tears, but they streamed too quickly for him to keep up. –Hermione—–

She cut him off in a rush of words. –We just made it through this battle alive, which is a miracle, and we shouldn’t be risking that. There are still very dangerous wizards out there, they could still… they could still hurt you. I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about that anymore, but now I’m terrified again.”

–I’m coming back, okay? I promise.” As her tears slowed, he took one of his hands away from her face to grasped her hand. –Hell, we made it past Voldemort. I don’t think a couple of Death Eaters will be a problem.” He didn’t think that any of those words would help, but he felt relieved when her tears slowed.

–Are you sure you want to do this?” she asked.

–Yes.” He didn’t know how to explain how grateful he was for the offer, so he didn’t try to. He knew it was a mix of having a future plan and having one that included something none of his brothers ever had. He’d never had much of a future planned, never bothering to look at job options, thinking he’d never live long enough to be concerned about such things. And now, here was a career path being handed to him, no decision-making needed. On top of that, it was as an Auror. He’d never considered that as an option before - his marks would never be good enough for that - and now that it was a feasible plan, he wanted it more than anything. He would be part of the Ministry, doing something brave and just. He could finally be the person he saw in the Mirror of Erised when he was eleven. He couldn’t put into words how much he wanted Hermione to see him as that person, someone to be proud of, someone worthy to be with her.

–You don’t have to if you don’t want to,” Hermione said, practically repeating herself. Was it really so important to her that he not do it? As important as he felt it was for her to take the offer?

–Hermione, I want to do this,” he said, noticing the distance that had crept up between them. Their shoulders were no longer pressed together and their hands were between their legs. Merlin, were they fighting?

–I thought I could be fine with this,” Hermione said quietly. –But Harry’s already gone off to do something stupid, and I don’t think any of us are in a state of mind to be making decisions that will affect the rest of our lives so soon after everything that’s happened. And, frankly, I’m scared for you.”

–And Harry? Neville?” The words were out before Ron could think about them. Dammit, was he really still worried about being inferior to his best friend? He supposed so because he kept going. –Are you going to try and stop them too?”

–It’s different with them!” She shut her mouth as a few passing people jerked their heads to look over at them again. She continued in a quieter voice, –I’m not dating either of them. I’m dating you, so yes, I’m a bit more concerned about you coming home than I am about them.”

–Well, don’t be concerned,” he grumbled, not having the will to say anything more that might cause a full-blown fight.

–Look,” Hermione said, seeming to want to try to make things right since neither of them were satisfied with the discussion. –I’m worried about all of you. How could I not be? And this has nothing to do with how well you can duel or defend yourself,” she added when he opened his mouth to interrupt. –I’ve fought alongside you, I know you are far from defenseless with a wand. But you are going back into a dangerous situation—”

–That’s the point!” Ron said, noticing his raised voice a moment too late. He waited for the strangers on the street to look away before continuing. –It’s exciting and dangerous and better than running back to Hogwarts to hide till it’s over.”

–Hide?” she asked, her voice low and more threatening than her yelling had been. He should have chosen his words more carefully. –Going back to the place we’ve spent the better part of six years to help rebuild it is hiding? Running away?”

–Not for you,” Ron said, loud in his desperation but no longer caring who looked at them. –You don’t have anything to run away from. You… you don’t have a dead brother.” He stood up from the curb and walked towards the alley that they had Apparated into. He thought about Apparating home to avoid this conversation, but he knew that doing so would only make him miss Fred more. He slumped against the wall and stared down at the floor.

Hermione walked towards him and stopped to stand just a few feet away, close enough that they could still talk privately but also giving him space. –Is that why you’re going?” she asked after a moment of silence.

He hesitated to admit it, continuing to stare at the ground. –I can’t go back. It’s not just that corridor that gets me, it’s everywhere. They… Fred… was a part of everything in Hogwarts: the common room, the Great Hall, the Quidditch fields. It was hard enough sixth year when they were no longer there, but somehow knowing I could just nip down to Diagon Alley to visit them made it different. There is no Hogwarts without them… him.” He hated how much he struggled to talk about Fred without bunching him into ‘them.’ –And I can’t just sit around the Burrow all summer,” he added. –That’d be worse.”

Hermione nodded, taking a few steps closer so their shoulders were brushing again. –Is that the only reason?”

–You make it sound like it’s a bad reason.”

–It’s not the best,” she admitted.

–But it’s why I need to do this,” he said, his voice firm and with no doubt. He knew there was no other way to make it through this Fred-less summer. –I overheard Professor McGonagall talking to Mum, you know, right after it happened,” he continued, feeling like he had to defend his reasoning since running away from grief didn’t sound like a sane or reasonable explanation. –None of us were in particularly good shape, but Mum lost her fight completely. I dunno what she was planning to do, probably nothing, but then Professor McGonagall told her she had to keep fighting, that we couldn’t win without her and that, after we won, she had to keep living. For him. For Fred. Then she did Bellatrix in, so I figure it must be pretty good advice.” He tried to smile and chuckle at his humor, but all he could manage was a grimace.

Hermione smiled up at him, though, a glint of happiness in her eyes that he knew was not in his own. –Those are wise words,” she said. She took his hands, giving them a squeeze. He looked up to see her reach a hand and wipe at his cheek. The action confused him until he realized his vision was a bit blurry and that his skin was moist with tears. –And a person has to be extraordinarily strong in order to live out those words, like you are.”

A wave of self-pride washed through him, and he felt his lips tug into a real smile. It faded quickly as he remembered he was also crying. –I don’t feel that strong.”

–Strength doesn’t mean it’s easy,” she said while shaking her head. –But to face the thing that hurts rather than deny it or ignore it or shut down because of it, to go on not ignoring it but accepting it, that’s strength.” Her hand drifted to his shoulder, rubbing it in comfort since she knew her words could only do so much. His eyes were far from dry, but the feel of her soft finger tips caressing his skin helped stop his eyes from leaking. She added, –I don’t think I’d be able to do it.”

–Sure you would,” he said, not hesitating a moment in his answer. –You’d be doing a lot better than me.”

–I wouldn’t.” She shook her head, her hand drifting away so Ron caught it in his own, holding on tight. –I’ve never lost anyone that close to me. It’s always just been me and my parents. My grandparents never spend a lot of time with us: one pair travels too much and the others are too old and too far away. My dad’s an only child and my mother’s older sister moved to France a long time ago, never married or had kids, so I don’t even have an extended family to worry over.” Ron couldn’t look away, taking in all this new information. How could he not know this stuff? They were best friends, dating now, and he had never thought to ask if she had any aunts or uncles. Ron wasn’t particularly close with his, so he never considered it a topic of conversation. He couldn’t help but feel sorry for little kid Hermione, all by herself, no one to spend time with. Ron had no idea what that was like. –I don’t know what I would do if my parents died. Definitely not become an Auror. I don’t think I’d even leave my room.”

–You’d probably be reading,” he teased, his free hand wandering up her arm, sliding over the sleeve of her shirt, and resting against her neck. He wasn’t sure what compelled him to do so, but it felt right.

Neither of them turned away from looking into each other’s eyes, the words for describing grief impossible to explain. It was silence. It was this. Being sad, being not okay, but being okay that with every passing second, living became easier and easier.

Although he never stopped staring into her dark brown eyes, he felt his thoughts drifting away towards tomorrow. There had to be something he could do to help him prepare for, not only Fred’s funeral, but the public brunch afterwards. He thought to ask Hermione, but he doubted she had read a book on this exact predictment: How To Attend Your Brother’s Public Funeral When You’re Borderline Famous And Have To Be Happy That The Worst Battle Of Your Life Is Over.

Hermione left him to his own mind, stepping forward to rest her head against his chest and holding his hand between them, against her heart. He dropped his arm over her shoulders, keeping her close but not quite holding her. He knew that if he let himself give into the embrace, he’d lose what little control he had over his emotions and start sobbing like a child. He rather not act like such a twat after she told him how strong he was. He’d rather not prove her wrong today, she’d see soon enough.

–Suppose we have to go back home sometime,” he said, contradicting his own words as he wrapped his other arm around her waist and held her to him. He felt her lips smile against his shirt as she bunched the fabric in her hand.

–We should go to Hogwarts first,” she mumbled, her words barely audible. –Let Professor McGonagall know we’re leaving. She’s probably worried now that we’ve been gone so long.”

Ron tried to ignore the sensations that rushed though him when her lips moved against his chest. It reminded him that they had yet to kiss that day. Well, he supposed that technically their chaste celebratory kiss at sunrise counted, but they’d slept since then so did it really? It might have sounded silly to some, but the last chapter in Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches (Step Thirteen: How To Be A Keeper and Keep Her) had a section about keeping relationships alive by kissing every day. Although he didn’t want to, he thought of Lavender and how their lack of snogging had led to the end of their relationship. It might have been the other way around, but the point was the same: he didn’t want anything like that to happen to him and Hermione.

Besides, he thought, he had yet to kiss her. Both previous times, she’d made the first move, and that was not a precedent he was content with.

–Just one thing before we go,” he said, pulling away just enough to properly bring her close again, leaning down to bring their lips together. Her hands wound around his neck, using the leverage to balance herself on her tip-toes and bring them closer than Ron thought possible. Every centimeter of her front was pressed against his, her hips against his thighs, his chest against her breasts. One hand vise-like around her waist and the other lost in her mane of curls, Ron wasn’t sure they would ever leave the dark alley, especially with Hermione’s hold on him. He thought she might be thinking the same as him: when they returned to the Burrow, moments like this would be rare. When would they next get a completely private moment? He planned on enjoying this one, to burn it into his memory, so he could recall these feelings when he was at the Ministry and she was at Hogwarts.

His back hit the wall of the of the alley at the same time his hand slid up the back of her shirt, mostly accidental. He didn’t know what was or wasn’t allowed with Hermione. With Lavender, everything had been okay, but Hermione was far from Lavender. She didn’t protest or hex him, so he guessed she was all right with the skin-to-skin contact. He felt his mind getting lost in the motion of her lips against his tongue — where the hell had she learned to kiss like that? — when the thought of Lavender pulled him out of the moment.

Lavender was dead. The only girlfriend he had ever had, the only other girl he had ever kissed, was dead. It wasn’t the most pleasant thought to have while kissing one’s current girlfriend.

He cursed into her mouth, causing her to take a step back and stare at him as if she’d accidentally stabbed him. –What’s wrong? Did I do something?”

–No, no, it wasn’t you,” he said quickly, finding his voice weak and his lips loose-feeling. He also noticed the ache in his neck of bending down and the stinging at the small of his back from rubbing against the rough concrete wall. –It’s just… I try to enjoy something and two seconds later, a dead person’s face is all I can think about.”

–I know what you mean,” she said, relaxing her hold around his neck but not letting go. He took her lead and kept his arms around her, his left hand still under her shirt, but it no longer carried a sexual charge up his arm and into his spine. Instead, the warm skin beneath his fingers was a comfort, an anchor to the moment.

–It’s supposed to get better though,” she said, leaning her head against his chest again so her frizzy hair stuck to his wet lips.

–Did you read that somewhere?” he asked with a tone of hopefulness. Maybe she would know exactly what to do.

–No,” she said. –It’s just what everyone else says, so maybe it’s true.”

Ron sighed. –I’d rather a statistic.”

Hermione chuckled, her bobbing shoulders feeling odd in his arms but left him wanting to make her laugh again. –I don’t have all the answers,” she said.

–You do most of the time.” He paused, looking up to see the sun high in the sky. After so many months of camping, he’d developed the skill of telling time just by the sun, or about so. He figured it was nearing three o’clock. They’d been searching for Harry for almost two hours. Both Mum and Professor McGonagall had to be wondering where the three of them had gotten off to, and now he would have to return without Harry.

A pang of failure shot through his chest. Only he could lose the Chosen One.

–Don’t know what I’m gonna tell Mum about Harry,” he mused.

–I don’t think we have to tell her the whole story,” Hermione suggested. –No need to worry her. Or Ginny.”

–Right.” He’d barely thought about Harry and Ginny and if they would get back together. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that. On one hand, he didn’t want her dating anyone, but on the other, if she had to date someone, why not the most decent guy Ron knew? –D’you think—–

–Yes,” Hermione said before he could finish. –Maybe not right away, but in time.”

–Yeah, sure.” He started untangling himself from Hermione, his entire body feeling colder without her so close. –I think my stomach’s settled enough to handle one more Apparition.”

–And a Floo.”

–Don’t remind me.”

Hermione held out her hand, and Ron hesitated a moment before taking it. The chaste touch seemed so much more intimate than any snogging, and he couldn’t quite explain why. Perhaps it was because they always seemed to hold hands when one of them needed a tangible tie to reality or because he’d never held hands with anyone besides his mum for an extended period of time. Whatever it was, a different sort of charge rushed through him when he took her hand in his own.

–We have to think of the exact same place,” she said as she took her wand out of her pocket. –Same place where we left?” He nodded at her suggestion. –And we have to turn at the exact same time. On the count of three.”

–Is that really necessary?” He felt like a child going on a Side-Along.

–I don’t want to risk any Splinching,” she said quietly, knowing the effect that word had on him.

–Okay, fine, on three.”

Hermione smiled, then counted. They disappeared with two simultaneous pops.
End Notes:
Let me know your thoughts on the chapter in a review :) Next chapter will be up soon. Another big thank you to Vicki, who suffered through a huge hardship and still managed to read over this chapter in record time. And a shoutout to Jenny for reviewing my first chapter!
time by WrenWinterSong

There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.

3 May 1998

Ginny hated this waiting around. She’d waited up all night for Harry to come back. Despite Ron and Hermione’s insistences that he had stayed behind at Hogwarts to –recollect his thoughts” and –spend some time alone after all that had happened,” Ginny knew better. The git had gone off on his own to do Merlin-knows-what that would most likely be dangerous and stupid.

She sat in the chair between the front door and the fireplace so she would be close enough to hex him whether he walked in or came by Floo. She hadn’t expected to be staring at the mantel, then the door knob, then the firewood, then the window for hours and hours. But dinner had come and gone, everyone else was in bed, and the sun was rising. She hadn’t planned to sleep at all, but she grabbed a blanket to drape her shoulders just in case. Turned out she didn’t need it after all. She should have known. With Fred’s funeral coming closer and closer, she needed the extra hours to pretend everything was still okay.

When she heard footsteps on the stairs, she laid her head against her arms on the table and closed her eyes, not wanting to be seen as too obsessive and acting like her first year self again.

She waited for whoever it was to hit the squeaky floorboard at the entrance of the kitchen before popping her head up. –Oh, morning, Mum.” She stretched up her arms and squeezed out a yawn while her mother gave her a sad, pitying look. She despised that look, and it sent a rush of anger from her brain to the tips of her toes.

–Ginny, have you been down here all night?” Mum asked, shaking her head in displeasure since she already knew the answer. –I’ll put on some tea. It might help you get a couple of hours sleep. It’s only six.”

And the funeral was at nine. For Mum to say that, though, would be for her to admit someone was dead, and that that someone was Fred, and everyone in the family was careful not to voice that out loud.

Mum set the cup in front of her too fast for her to not have used magic, which was strange, but she’d put the tea in Ginny’s favorite mug – simple, white, with a blue silhouette of a horse – and sat in her normal spot, which Ginny happened to be sitting diagonal from. Ginny couldn’t understand why her mother was giving her a look that said, –Are you okay?” Both of them knew neither of them were okay, or ever would be again. The world would forever be split into the time before Fred’s death and after.

Ginny couldn’t understand why, out of seven siblings, Death had taken one of the twins.

Mum stared down at her tea while Ginny contemplated saying something other than the thing that was on both their minds. What did they used to talk about before Fred died? Ginny couldn’t remember.

–If you don’t want to go today,” her mother said before Ginny could think of anything, –I would understand.”

–What’re you talking about?” Ginny couldn’t believe her mother was really saying what she thought she was saying.

Mum hesitated. –When my brothers died, I didn’t attend the funeral.” She kept her eyes on her tea as she talked. –You were expected to be born any day when it happened, but it was no excuse. In all honesty, I just couldn’t bear to be there. They were the strongest men I had ever known, and if they could be killed, I felt that none of us were safe. I didn’t let the boys out of the house for months afterwards, even after Voldemort disappeared. I had convinced myself that it was more important that I stay home and take care of the boys than to go to my own brothers’ funeral. Which is why I wouldn’t be disappointed in any of you if you decided not to come.”

–Maybe you wouldn’t, but I’d be pissed,” Ginny said, standing from the table. –I’ll be there and everyone else better be too.”

Mum sighed. –Please don’t be upset with George if he doesn’t show up today.”

–Not show up? Did he say he wasn’t coming?”

–He didn't say that he was.” Mum’s voice was completely defeated, but Ginny only felt angrier. Would George really skip out on Fred’s funeral? Sure, he’d been acting strange and distant and not at all his usual self since they got home – he’d even stayed in his old room instead of going back to his flat – but to just not show up at all to the funeral?

–I’m feeling tired,” she muttered, not wanting to discuss the matter anymore. She felt guilty arguing with her mother on the day of Fred’s funeral, but how could she be so accepting of one of her kids completely avoiding the fact that he was dead?

When she got to her room, the idea of lying in bed was unbearable. Instead, she spent the time unpacking her trunk, a task she normally put off for weeks. She even organized her last quills and bits of parchment on her unused desk. Then she set on the task of picking out clothes for the day.

What was appropriate to wear to a brother’s funeral? Something black, right? But as her eyes searched the clothes in her closet, she realized she owned nothing in that color besides a ratty jumper. How dressed up was she supposed to be anyways? Her only dress robes were the ones she wore to the Yule Ball, and they were much too colorful and bright for today. Plenty of sundresses caught her eyes, but they were all pink and green and blue, nothing dull, nothing colorless.

Who made up the stupid rule that one had to wear black to a funeral anyways? Hadn’t Fred always said he wanted his funeral to be fun, with fireworks and dancing and fun?

Had anyone planned that stuff?

Ginny thought back to last night when they set up the tent and sent out invitations. Her mother had planned a quiet brunch, nothing more. No band. No games. No fun. She would have hoped George had secret plans to crash the gathering, but she also hoped that if he had plans, he would have involved her in them.

She yanked off a dress that hung in the very back of her closet. It was a hideously conservative white garment that Great Aunt Muriel had brought her after she finished her O.W.L.’s last year. She’d never worn the ugly thing with its puffy cap sleeves and lace collar, and she had thought about taking a pair of scissors to it on more than one occasion. Now she was glad she didn’t.

She pulled it over her head and tugged the fabric down, groaning when it hung off her frame too loosely. What size did Muriel think she was?

But then the fabric tightened around her shoulders and waist, so by the time Ginny made it to her mirror, the dress fit perfectly. Or almost perfectly. It was one of those one-size-fits-all dresses that Ginny hated because the hems were always cut too long and yet were the only part of the dress that didn’t tailor itself to the wearer. The end of the dress hit her in the center of her calves, making her appear even shorter than she already was. On a normal day, she would have burned the garment, but today, she didn’t feel like returning to her closet for a second try.

She still had plenty of time to kill, so she dared to wander back downstairs, thankful not to run into anyone. It was close enough to nine that everyone else was probably in their rooms getting ready.

In the kitchen, her tea still sat on the table, steaming from a Warming Charm. She decided not to let it go to waste and downed the whole thing before a flash of green caused her to spit most of it back up in surprise.

Harry stepped out of the chimney.

–Where have you been?” she shouted, standing up and missing the table as she set the cup down so it shattered on the floor.

Her gaze must have conveyed her anger because Harry looked ready to step back into the fireplace and disappear. –I’ve, uh, been around… places…”

Ginny rolled her eyes, but then she caught the sight of blood dripping from his left temple. –And you’re bleeding. Brilliant.” She grabbed a dish towel from the sink as she stormed over to him, then placed the towel against the cut. She was surprised that he let her.

She knew what he could be like when he got self-righteous and rash &ndasd; memories of the Department of Mysterious came to mind – but he wasn’t acting like that person right now. He was the exact opposite: calm, composed, content.

–What happened to you out there?” she asked.

He shrugged, not looking at her and keeping his hands deep in his pockets. –Turns out finding Death Eaters isn’t all that easy.”

–Which is why we have Aurors.” She finished dabbing at the side of his face, the cut revealed to be minuscule now that it wasn’t covered in blood. –And they want your help. So why go out alone?”

–I needed to do something,” he said, taking a step away from her. –I don’t know how to explain, but my… destiny, the reason my parents and Sirius and Snape and Dumbledore and everyone died, was done, over with, and it just didn’t feel like enough. You’d think going after Voldemort for over three years would be more than enough, but it felt too easy.”

–You’re completely mad, you know that, right?” Ginny took a seat, the rush of adrenaline from Harry’s surprise entrance waning. –What made you come back?”

Harry stayed standing, his back half turned on her. –After I realized I wasn’t going to find any Death Eaters just wandering about, I blasted a couple rocks until one came back at me.” He gestured to the cut on his temple. –I guess I feel… better.” He made a face as he said the word, like it tasted wrong on his lips. –I’ll be trying to make it up to everyone who died for me for the rest of my life, but I realized that I could either stay out there and find a Death Eater and probably get killed, or I could come back, accept Kingsley’s offer, and do some good for the world.”

–Don’t sound wise or anything,” Ginny muttered. –You’re making the rest of us look bad.”

–Sorry.” He rubbed the back of his neck, a habit Ginny recognized as Ron’s. She decided she needed to separate them once in a while before Harry started sprouting red hair and freckles.

She stood up, putting on the tea kettle before asking if he wanted any. As the water boiled, she bent to pick up the pieces of her mug, but Harry mumbled something and the cup repaired itself and the tea disappeared. She looked over to see his wand out. –I can clean up my messes myself, thank you,” she snapped.

–I’d ask what was wrong, but I already know.”

–Do you?” she growled, turning to face him. –Because you seem unable to understand that other people can feel loss and guilt too. You’re not special.”

Harry took a step back as if she had slapped him. Merlin, was she going to have a venomous tongue all day?

She rubbed her face with her hands, trying to stop herself from spitting out something else rude and insulting. –I don’t know why I keep doing that. I yelled at Mum this morning. Now you. What’s wrong with me?”

–Nothing,” he said, taking a step closing but still keeping the table between them. –It’s okay.”

–It’s not okay.” She threw her hands up. –If I’m sitting still, I’m fine. I feel okay. But then I start doing things or go near someone, and it’s like something inside me just… argh!” She bent her fingers like claws over a sphere, trying to express how it felt when that surge of energy gripped her chest so she acted like an animal with a thorn in its foot. –Then all I want to do is punch something.”

–Sounds about right,” Harry said, which was far from what Ginny expected.

–Right?” she asked incredulously.

–Do you remember Dumbledore’s office?”

She clenched her jaw at the tangent and resisted the urge to hex him. –Yes,” she hissed through her teeth.

He seemed to sense the dangerous ground he was walking on and hurried to make his point. –I may have broken a fair few of those little machines and objects he had in there after Sirius died. –

Ginny blinked at him, not yet willing to admit that he was right, that was exactly what she felt like doing. Smashing a lot of precious magical objects? That’d make her feel loads better.

Without prompting, he kept going. –I felt so guilty leading everyone into that trap, leading Sirius to his death. It was a useless battle, nothing good came out of it. It was a bad decision on my part, and I take full responsibility for it. But I can’t be angry forever. Nothing can change what happened, but the guilt’s still there.”

That word hit Ginny hard. –That’s what it is. Guilt.”

Harry nodded. –Survivor’s guilt.”

–No.” She cut him off as something clicked in her mind that hadn’t before. A fresh wave of guilt-turned-anger washed over her as she said, –It’s more than that. It’s guilt for getting someone you loved killed.”

–Ginny,” Harry said, stepping around the table so nothing stood between them. –You didn’t get Fred killed.”

–Yes, I did.” It was her turn to turn her back to him, unable to watch his reaction. –After I left the Room of Requirement, I jumped into the first fight I could find. I thought I could handle it, but this Death Eater disarmed and cornered me in two seconds. I would have been killed if Fred hadn’t thrown a Stinging Hex at him and drew him away. I didn’t think anything of it, I just got back up, found my wand, and went looking for another duel. And then I heard the wall collapse in the direction he went…” Her voice broke on the last sentence, surprising her. Since when was she a crying girl? –If I had only just stayed in the Room like you told me.”

His hand reached for her arm, but she pulled away. –Fred died because of me,” she mumbled, feeling tears in her eyes but refusing to let them slip out. –He would have been somewhere else if he hadn’t stopped to save me.”

She heard Harry sigh behind her, probably looking for something to say but nothing he could say would erase the fact that she got her brother killed.

What happened to her plans to romance him as soon as he showed up, to make him still want her? Those plans had gone to the hippogriffs. She felt Harry step closer to her, watched his shadow grow larger, and he said, –Ginny––

–You should go change,” she stated, remembering that the funeral would be happening soon and that Harry wouldn’t dare miss it.

He nodded and left the room, leaving Ginny to collapse into her chair. The tea kettle whistled, making her jump. She’d forgotten about the boiling water. She quickly shut it off when she heard someone walk into the room. –Mind pouring me one?” Charlie asked.

–Do it yourself.” She marched out of the kitchen and into the back garden, making sure to keep her back to Charlie. She needed to be alone. Who knew what else she’d say?

A warm breeze blew through the bushes, but instead of comforting Ginny, it only pissed her off more. What right did the day have to be sunny and bright? It was supposed to be gray and raining. It was not a day for sunshine.

After only a few minutes, large white carriages pulled by winged horses arrived in the garden as her family trickled out of the house, every last one of them wearing black. When Bill and Fleur arrived, Ginny was glad to see Fleur wearing silver robes, the first time she could recall being happy to see her sister-in-law. She chose to ride in their carriage. Charlie made to follow but seemed to think better of it and went into Ron, Harry, and Hermione’s instead.

George did not emerge from the house with the rest of the family, and the carriages only waited a few minutes before taking off without him.

The ride to the cemetery took minutes, and the carriages landed with a thump a few minutes later in a clearing that was bordered on three sides by trees. The fourth side held a tall silver fence with a gate decorated with phoenixes, some bursting into flames and others hatching. The doors creaked open when they approached.

Ginny couldn’t help but stare at the gravestones as they walked passed them, keeping to the end of the group so she could walk as slow as she liked. Each family stone was grander than the last, from moving etchings to shape-shifting statues. Some seemed to have grown upwards in the years while other moved outwards. The most unnerving part were the surnames.

Prewett. Abbott. Longbottom. Black. They were all old pure-blood family names as far as Ginny could see. There was even a white marble Malfoy monument. Did every old Wizarding family bury their dead here? In this little town where the closest pure-blood family was the blood-traitor Weasleys? How had that happened?

Ginny thought back to her conversation with Mum, wondering if perhaps she had chosen to build the Burrow here to be close to her brothers.

The other gravestones dwarfed the Weasleys', which was half a meter in height and lined the fence. No glamour or charms, just name after name after name, the dates of each person’s birth and death underneath that. No one even had an epitaph.

They crowded around the end of the long stone to the place where Fred’s name and dates were now etched. The coffin had already been set into the ground and buried, new grass sprouting up on the fresh dirt. The wizard who officiated Dumbledore’s funeral and Bill’s wedding stood next to it. Merlin, did the Wizarding world only have one official?

Ginny didn’t listen to him, standing far enough away to be able to ignore his words but still give the appearance she cared to hear them. As she concentrated on listening to the wind and the birds, anything but the official, her vision blurred at the edges and she couldn’t focus on one thing for long before everything went fuzzy. She felt like she’d stuck her head into a Floo fire so that her mind was somewhere far away while the rest of her body stood at the fireplace. Sweat beaded along her forehead and her pulse pounded in her ears. She thought she might vomit and, if she didn’t, faint.

Time seemed to stop and speed up at the same time, making her feel like she’d be stuck in that moment of almost consciousness forever until Bill put an arm around her shoulders and guided her back through the cemetery, feeling like the funeral had only lasted a second. She didn’t think she’d be able to walk, but her feet barely faltered on the smooth tiled path.

As they piled back into the carriages, she overheard Bill mention they had very little time before guests would start arriving for the brunch. Had the funeral really lasted an hour? Now that she had snapped out of whatever that… trance had been, it felt like they’d only just arrived at the cemetery and were already leaving. She tried not to let the thought of losing time bother her.

Instead, she concentrated on watching the tops of the trees as they flew back home, then busied herself with bringing out the dishes that her mother had cooked the night before. When the buffet table was set, she glanced around for another task to keep herself busy, seeing Hermione and Fleur decorating with fairy lights, Ron and Harry in a deep discussion that most likely revolved around his disappearance yesterday, her brothers casting Warming Charms on the food so it smelt fresh again… but not all her brothers were there.

–Where’s George?” she asked her dad, who’d been filling mugs with coffee and tea.

–He said he’d be back soon,” he said, pouring out the last bit from his pot.

–He’s gone? When did he leave? Before the funeral?”

Dad hesitated long enough for Ginny to realize he didn’t know when George had left. –He promised to be back.” Dad patted her shoulder but worry glinted in his eyes.

She didn’t have time to ask how George had promised when no one had been there when he disappeared because that’s when the crowds arrived.

Her father’s face fell as the herd of people walked into the back garden, chatting amongst themselves. Some of them looked to be genuine, clad in black and carrying gifts, but most were carrying less welcoming things: parchment, quills, cameras, Prophets. A lot of younger kids hurried to crowd around Harry and Ron. They were quickly followed by a group of reporters.

–This isn’t good,” Dad muttered, taking a moment to gather himself before marching towards the crowd, but more stopped him, begging for a statement.

Ginny couldn’t even think about helping her father before a wave of reporters overwhelmed her and cornered her against a table. They were rattling off questions too fast for her to catch the entirety of any one.

–I don’t have comments for any of you, so sod off,” she growled, trying to push through them. Either they didn’t hear her or didn’t care, because they packed together tighter so she had no hopes for leaving and continued chattering at her.

She felt her cheeks turn red with rage, the fight-or-flight response that she recognized from battle heightening her senses so she could hear the next question as clear as if the reporter had yelled it in her ear: –What is your current relationship with Harry Potter?”

–My brother just died and you want to know about my bloody love life?” She grabbed her wand from her pocket and, before she knew it, the reporter was shouting as he tried to stop the bats flying out of his nose. Merlin, it felt good to hex somebody.

She’d just raised her wand to jinx the next reporter when someone behind her snatched the wand from her hand. –Ginevra, what do you think you are doing?” Mum yelled. She grabbed Ginny’s arm and pushed their way through the sea of reporters, most of them stepping out of the way at the sight of Mum’s face. –Doing magic outside of school, hexing strangers at your brother’s brunch. I’d like to curse whoever taught you that horrid bogey spell.”

–It was Fred, and if you care to curse him, you know where he’s buried.”

She regretted the words as soon as she heard them come out her mouth.

Mum halted in her storming walk, going completely still as if someone had used a Freezing Charm on her. Her grip on Ginny’a arm didn’t loosen or else she would have run for it. Ginny expected the worst. She waited for her mother to lock her in her room for eternity or send her away to Muriel’s for the summer or snap her wand in half.

Instead, Mum let go of Ginny’s arm, dropped the wand, and walked away. It was worse.

Ginny cursed under her breath, thinking that if there was ever a time to apologize it was now, but what was she supposed to say sorry for? Sorry for not being happy to publicly celebrate Fred’s death? Sorry for being upset every time his name came up? Sorry that she would never be okay that he was gone like everyone else seemed to be?

There were shouts and grumbles from behind her, so she turned to see Kingsley Shacklebolt along with Bill, Charlie, and Percy, ushering all the reporters and autograph-seekers out of the garden, her father placing charms around the perimeter to keep anyone else unwanted out. The rest of the guests shook their heads and muttered amongst themselves, showing disgust, but as Ginny got closer, she heard all of them talking about Harry anyway. Merlin, she hated his famous arse at times.

But at least the event calmed down. People collected food and sat around, though they seemed to be taking turns talking to the famous trio. After a while, she noticed them disappearing, first Ron then Hermione, then Harry. She saw him sneak into the Burrow when no one else was watching.

Mum never reappeared.

Ginny sat on the ground away from the tent, averting her eyes from the dozens of pictures of the twins. With George who-knows-where, it felt like a mourning for both of them.

Until George announced his arrival with a bang, one so loud and unexpected that it had Ginny on her feet with her wand out in a second.

Fireworks flew into the garden at the same time everything went black. It must have been some version of Peruvian Instant Darkness powder since Ginny could see nothing but the fireworks.

A pair of winged horses led the herd of sparkling animals. Foxes and otters played around the shadowy legs of the guests. Ginny heard the laughter as the little mammals tumbled over each other and begged with big yellow eyes. She barely noticed the dozen or so lions emerging from the border of the garden until one stood beside her, the thousands of shimmering lights creating a perfect picture of sleek fur and smart eyes.

Swans soared down from what Ginny thought was the roof of the Burrow, shooing away the otters and foxes. The lions took off for the center of the garden as the flying horses and swans collided in a giant explosion of white and red and yellow light, leaving behind an image of Fred. He smiled down at the guests and, perhaps she imagined it, looked straight at her and winked before his face split into a laugh as the lions roared the image away.

The darkness lifted with loud applause to reveal George standing on a table in front of the crowd, bowing dramatically. Ginny couldn’t be sure, but she thought she saw an expertly hidden bottle behind his back. She only saw it for a moment before he jumped down from the table and, with a flick of his wand, a radio that hadn’t been in the tent before the show blasted an up-beat Hippe and Daughters song that Ginny would have loved to dance to if she weren’t shaking so horribly. She sprinted to the side of the house to get out of sight.

The same feeling of panic that had come over her at the grave sight poured over her again, weakening her knees until she gave in and sat back on the ground, gulping for air. On the grass, her head cleared itself and her chest untightened, so it wasn’t long before she could breath again.

She stayed in the shadows of the house, not willing to see anyone, not guests, not family, not Harry. Ginny hoped she could wait the party out, but then a pair of legs nearly stumbled over her.

–Oi!” George called as he tripped, catching himself at the last moment. His stance was wobbly and Ginny wondered just how plastered he was. –Now there’s m’favorite sister. Didya enjoy the show?” He clumsily took a seat next to her, no longer hiding his bottle but offering it to her.

She ignored his question and took the Butterbeer bottle, sniffing at it since she highly suspected the contents weren’t Butterbeer. It felt like she’d shoved an ice cube up her nose. –What is that?” she asked with disgust.

–Black Ice Vodka, and if it disgusts you so much, I’ll take it back.” He snatched it back and took a long swallow of the substance.

Ginny studied him a moment. He had on his favorite dragon hide suit, but the fabric was ruffled and his shirt untucked and he smelt so strongly of the vodka she was surprised his sweat wasn’t black. –You seem better,” she muttered.

–Nah, just drunker.” He grinned at her crookedly. –Turns out alcohol helps with this sort of thing.”

–Well it was good of you to do it anyway,” she said grumpily, not yet ready for her brother to sell her on the joys of drinking away sorrows. –Fr-… he would’ve appreciated you crashing in and making this an actual party.”

–I didn’t do it for that son of a bitch.” Ginny jumped at his words. No one had said a bad thing about Fred since he died. It was one of those unspoken rules. –I don’t owe anything to that git. He’s the one who up and died on me. I did this so those people out there remember that I’m still here.” He pointed towards the tent, eyeing the few people that he could see around the corner with a threatening glare. Ginny craned her neck to look as well, noticing that George had been burnt out of every picture hanging around the tent. –Those bastards are gonna know I’m still alive.”

George shoved himself off the ground and sauntered back towards the tent, hooking his arm through Angelina Johnson’s as he went. Ginny watched him spin her around in time with the bagpipes and guitars, feeling calmer than she had all day. At least she wasn’t the only one pissed at Fred.

And she was mad at him. Forget feeling guilty, he’d been the idiot who taunted that Death Eater into following him down the corridor instead of Stunning him.

The wind blew against her face again, stronger than it had been this morning. Her hair whipped over her face and tangled itself in the splintered edges of the wall. But this time, it felt more like an earnest apology.

–Okay, fine, you’re forgiven,” she said.

The breeze picked up more forcefully this time, violently whipping her hair into her face. She cursed herself for thinking that her brother was communicating her with the wind, but when she turned her head to gain control of her mane of hair, she saw Mum bustling about the tables. Ginny wondered if her disappearance had brought about Mum’s reappearance, but then the wind blew fiercely again. –Alright, alright, I’m going,” she said, standing up and brushing the dirt from her dress. She’d accepted one apology, but now, she had to offer up her own.
End Notes:
This was my favorite chapter to write, and I hope you liked it! Another big thank you to Vicki for being a wonderful beta!
wait by WrenWinterSong

Success is the result of perfection, hard work, leaning from failure, loyalty, and persistence.
Colin Powell

4 May 1998

Hermione felt too queasy to eat much of a breakfast, though the spread Mrs. Weasley set out smelt wonderful. She meticulously spread jam on her toast, her strokes slow as she concentrated on watching Ron across the table. They’d talked about the Assistant Auror position again and again, and though she’d accepted that he would be leaving for the Ministry that morning, she was far from happy about it.

Yesterday, hiding inside while everyone else went out to join in on the celebration George had started, Hermione had tried not to think about the issue and just be a comfort for Ron, but he’d noticed her tense movements and wouldn’t stop worrying about it. Only her determination not to start an argument stopped them from fighting again. She refused to be the nagging, controlling girlfriend that she realized she could easily turn into, so she’d talked herself into shutting up and accepting that fact that Ron would be part of the Auror department.

At least she wasn’t the only one worrying.

–Make sure you eat enough,” Mrs. Weasley said, sliding another omelette onto Ron’s plate. –You’ve got a long day today.”

–We’re just going over procedures today, Mum,” Ron said as Mrs. Weasley started filling up Harry’s plate again. –We’re not going to be doing anything but sitting around the office.”

–It’s your first full day of work,” Mrs. Weasley tutted. –Who knows how late you’ll be to dinner. You both need at least one proper meal today.”

Ron rolled his eyes, glancing at his watch. –Mum, we really have to go. Kingsley wants to meet with us at his office at eight thirty before we go to the Auror Department.”

–Yes, yes, all right,” Mrs. Weasley said, relenting. –I suppose you do have to walk outside your father’s protection spells in order to Apparate.” She summoned the boys’ dishes to the sink, then straightened out the wrinkles in their shirts as they stood up. Ron only rolled his eyes in protest, perhaps unwilling to give his mother too much grief right now.

Mrs. Weasley insisted on walking them out, so Hermione volunteered to go as well. Ron smiled tentatively at her. She must have been better at playing the supportive girlfriend role than she thought.

As they made their way through the front door, Harry asked Mrs. Weasley about Hogwarts and Professor McGonagall’s plans to rebuild it, slowing Mrs. Weasley down and giving her and Ron plenty of space. While Hermione wasn’t exactly keen on being alone with him before he left for a job she disagreed with, Ron seemed more than happy to quicken their pace and isolate themselves.

–A real miracle that she’s finally letting us go,” Ron muttered as they walked out of earshot. –It’s not like we’re gonna be gone long. We’ll be home for dinner.”

–She’s worried,” Hermione said. –Understandably so.”

–You’re not still upset with me, are you?” He looked down at her with big pleading eyes.

Hermione sighed. –I guess since you’ll be in the office all day going over paperwork…”

–So you aren’t mad at me anymore?” he asked hopefully.

–Yes. No. Just a little.”

He grinned at her stumbling words. –I’ll take the first answer.”

She smiled at him, still wishing he would change his mind but not pushing it. After his sullenness yesterday, she had to admit it was nice to see him smiling. They paused at the edge of the front garden where the protection charms ended. Before Harry and Mrs. Weasley got too close, Hermione hugged him and creased his shirt as she buried her head as close as she could to him. His arms held her close and made her wish that if she could only hold on to him tight enough, he would stay with her.

As Harry and Mrs. Weasley approached, she took a step back from him, though kept her hands on his chest. His smile shifted into a more serious, nervous, line. –Well, be careful, you know, at Hogwarts.”

–I think I’ll be just fine,” she answered with a smile, trying not to get caught up in the awkwardness of the goodbye. There were so many firsts as a couple: first kiss, first cry, first goodbye. Sometimes she forgot they’d only been dating a few days until another first snuck up on them.

–I dunno. I hear a lot of weird shit happens up there.” He grinned, and Hermione was happy to hear him joking, even if it did involved a little language.

–I think it might have something to do with that Harry Potter. You’ll be dealing with the trouble that follows him today, not me.” Even though he smiled at her light-heartedness and took her head in her hands for a a quick kiss, Hermione couldn’t stop worrying about exactly the kind of trouble that might find Harry today.

Luckily, Ron had enough sense to break off the kiss before his mother got too close, but Hermione still avoided her eyes as she hugged Harry goodbye and wished him good luck. She had no idea how Mrs. Weasley felt about her new relationship with her youngest son, and until she figured it out, Hermione was going to be careful not to overstep her boundaries. She only touched Ron’s hand again as she actually said goodbye.

After he’d Disapparated, she already missed him.

–You’ve been taking care of them for a long time,” Mrs. Weasley said.

–I suppose so,” she agreed.

–And you understand my worries.”

–Yes, mostly definitely.”

Hermione thought that might be all of the conversation as Mrs. Weasley turned and led the way back across the garden, but then she asked, –But you decided not to go with them?”

Hermione was taken back a bit by the question but answered honestly. –I’ve decided to go back to Hogwarts to help rebuild it. I feel that’s where I belong this summer since I plan on retuning next year to finish my N.E.W.T.’s.”

Mrs. Weasley nodded. –The decision does fit you, dear. Do you think Ron and Harry will go back?”

–I don’t know,” Hermione said, feeling lost by the question she’d been asking herself. –Kingsley mentioned permanent positions after this summer but… they don’t have to take them.” She knew her words were true, but she also knew there was no way they wouldn’t take Kingsley up on the offer.

–I’m sorry that I tried to delay you three leaving last summer,” Mrs. Weasley blurted out, once again surprising Hermione with the sudden change in topic. The older witch must have noticed the bewilderment on her face because she explained, –I just had a thought about how to keep Ron and Harry here as long as possible and reminded myself of that week. You left with so little preparation and that was my fault.” She sniffled. –I tried not to do that to them again this morning, but it was harder than I thought it would be.”

–It’s okay,” Hermione said lamely, not sure what else to say. She had been annoyed with Mrs. Weasley when she’d kept them so busy with wedding preparations last year that Hermione had had to plan everything by herself, but who was she to pass blame when she would have been glad to let Mrs. Weasley delay the boys’ leaving this morning.

–I just worry so much,” Mrs. Weasley said in a small voice.

–That’s natural,” Hermione said, remembering her mother and father’s own worries whenever she left for another year at Hogwarts. Part of being a parent was the worrying. Besides, Hermione fretted about Ron and Harry far more than she would ever let them know. She added, –I do too.”

That seemed to comfort Mrs. Weasley, or at least helped her relax. –And what will you do after Hogwarts is repaired?” she asked, and Hermione was thankful for her more familiar cheerful tone. –It won’t take all summer. Will you return to your parents’ home? Will you visit them beforehand? They must be worried sick about you.”

–Actually,” Hermione said, knowing she had to tell Mrs. Weasley about her parents before she and Ron went to Australia but not having planned for that moment to come so soon, –I’ll have to do some travelling to bring them back.”

–Bring them back?” Mrs. Weasley asked. –Are they in hiding somewhere?”

–Um, yes. In Australia…”

–Australia?” Mrs. Weasley gasped.

Hermione struggled to explain, not ready to go through all the details yet, already feeling close to tears just mentioning how far away her parents were. –To keep them safe from the Death Eaters. England was no longer safe for Muggles, and I wanted them as far from the war as possible. I thought it best that only I know where they were, just in case. The less people who knew, the less likely the Death Eaters would be able to find out where they had gone.”

–Of course, yes,” Mrs. Weasley said, taking in the confession better than Hermione had expected. –I’ll do all I can to help you fetch them when the time comes.”

–Thank you. I appreciate any help I can get.”

Mrs. Weasley held open the front door for her, then followed her inside. Hermione started walking away, preparing to make sure Ginny was awake and dressed, but Mrs. Weasley spoke again. –And you always have a home here, even when they are back in England.”

Hermione turned around and smiled at Mrs. Weasley, glad to have another person who knew even a bit of the truth. She felt closer to Ron’s mother than she ever had before and even thought about telling her how Ron planned on going to Australia with her. She thought better of it at the last second, though, knowing that was a conversation Ron would have to have with his mother on his own.

Luckily, Ginny came into the kitchen at that moment and Mrs. Weasley’s attention turned to breakfast. Hermione took her seat again and found herself even less hungry than she had been before. She put on a show of fiddling with her food, but she only had to pretend for a few moments before Mrs. Weasley grabbed a mug of hot tea and said she wanted to check on George before he left.

Hermione wiped her hands on a napkin and looked over at Ginny, who looked much better and more rested than she had yesterday. She at least had much more of an appetite than Hermione did.

–Now, explain why I’m going to Hogwarts with you all?” Ginny asked. –I can’t even do magic. How much help will I be?”

–Well, technically, you’ll be at school,” Hermione said.

Ginny's face lit up. –That’s true. And no Ministry officials came to arrest me for hexing the reporter yesterday. Maybe they stopped caring about underage magic.”

–More likely they’ve got other things to worry about,” Hermione suggested, but Ginny waved it away. When she left the table to get changed, she practically skipped out of the room.

Unfortunately, Professor McGonagall did not condone underage magic, even given the circumstances.

After arriving at Hogwarts with Ginny, Mrs. Weasley, and Charlie and gathering on the grounds, Professor McGonagall had explained to all the volunteers her plan of dividing up sections of the castle for groups headed by a professor or Ministry employee, then aptly reminded everyone that no underage magic was allowed. Hermione had to listen to Ginny’s grumbling about manual labor as they were assigned to work with Professor Sinistra, Susan Bones, and Hannah Abbott.

Their walk to their assigned classrooms on the first floor was short but quiet, making their task seem more ominous than it was. Hermione glanced at each of the women, trying to figure out why she felt a sudden wave of doom. Ginny had transformed into her first year self as soon as they entered Hogwarts: head bent so her hair blocked her face, sluggish walk, arms wrapped around herself as if she were eternally cold. Coming to Hogwarts probably wasn’t the best place for her to get her mind off of Fred.

Hannah and Susan shared similarly haunted looks. Hermione had spent a decent part of last night reading old Prophets instead of sleeping, checking to see which deaths she had missed throughout the year. Susan’s father had been one of them, which at the time hadn’t surprised Hermione – it was no secret the Death Eaters targeted the Bones family – but seeing Susan now, Hermione wished she’d had more sympathetic thoughts at the time. All Susan had left now was her mother who, if she was as unstable as the rumors suggested, didn’t offer much support.

Hannah had lost her mother almost a year ago, but she didn’t seem to be any better than when she’d first found out. Hermione recalled from previous conversations that Hannah had developed a strained relationship with her father and younger non-magical brother since the loss. Her father had sworn off magic, blaming his magical ties for the death of his wife, and hadn’t wanted Hannah to return for the second half of her sixth year. From the distress lining her face, Hermione guessed the situation hadn’t improved.

When they finally reached the classroom, Hermione’s sadness only increased. The desks were turned over and piled in a line across the room, resembling a barricade. She could imagine the Death Eaters forcing their way inside while the people behind the desks tried to fend them off.

They hadn’t been successful. She could tell by the gaping hole in the very center of the barricade. The Death Eaters had won this small battle.

Professor Sinistra suggested she, Hermione, and Ginny stay there while Susan and Hannah worked on their next room, explaining that the classrooms were small enough that five people would only get in each other’s ways. After everyone agreed, Professor Sinistra escorted Susan and Hannah to their classroom, leaving Hermione and Ginny to the task at hand.

Hermione concentrated on the windows, using a delicate Repairing Spell since anything more powerful would only shatter the glass more. Ginny hauled the less damaged desks and chairs to their rightful positions. A few minutes later, Professor Sinistra returned to mend the open wall, stepping outside where most of the shattered pieces were.

Hermione felt hopeful that the day would be as uneventful as she’d hoped when she heard Ginny gasp. Hermione turned away from her finished window to see Ginny holding a black leather book in her shaking hands.

–What is it?” Hermione asked, walking towards her, but Ginny didn’t answer. She threw the book across the room and covered her ears with her hands.

She muttered over and over again, –It’s not real. It’s not real.”

Hermione hurried to inspect the book, readying to call for Professor Sinistra at any moment, but as soon as she approached it, the book split in two and grew in height. Then her parents were standing in front of her.

–Who are you?” Mum asked in her fake kind voice that she often used with patients or strangers.

Somewhere in her mind, Hermione knew her parents weren’t really in front of her and that this was just a boggart, but she hadn’t seen them in so long. She was overwhelmed with the urge to hug them, even if they were fake.

–I’m your daughter, Hermione.”

–Daughter?” Dad asked, chuckling at the idea. –We haven’t got a daughter. You must be confused.”

–No, it’s true.” She didn’t understand her compulsion to make the illusion understand but she couldn’t stop herself from going on. –You don’t remember because I used memory enchantment on you, but as soon as I undo it––

–Enchantment? What are you on about?” Dad asked.

–Perhaps she’s telling the truth, dear,” Mum said, looking at Hermione like she almost recognized her.

–Well even if she is, we’ll be happier without a daughter like that.” Her father’s words took the breath from Hermione’s lungs. –Why would we want to be involved with a girl who curses her own parents and sends them away? No, I think we’ll be much better off how we are right now: childless.”

Hermione tried to push away her distress to think of something to make the situation funny, but all her thoughts could come up with were failure, failure, failure.

Something swooped down over her parents, and they disappeared.

Hermione wiped at the tears in her eyes, clearing her vision to see Ginny holding down a box over the boggart, gripping it tightly as it jerked around. –Who needs a wand, eh?” Ginny said with a proud grin.

Hermione didn’t know what to say, still stunned from the boggart’s words, when Professor Sinistra stepped inside through the much smaller hole in the wall. –How is everything in here, girls?” She stopped when her eyes found them. –Is everything all right?” she asked as she hurried over. –What did you put under that box?”

–Just a boggart, Professor,” Hermione said, putting on her prefect voice to hide her shot nerves. She couldn’t even handle a boggart and Kingsley had wanted her to be an Assistant Auror?

–I’ll handle this.” Professor Sinistra flicked her wand so the box turned over but sealed itself before the boggart could escape. –You can assist Miss Bones and Miss Abbott in the other room. You’ve done a wonderful job in here. I’ll just finish up.” Hermione took the cue and led Ginny out.

As they walked through the corridor, Professor McGonagall rounded the corner in front of them. –I was hoping to run into you,” she said as she walked towards them. –Miss Granger, I’d like a word with you if you can leave your team for a few minutes.”

–Yes, of course,” Hermione said, exchanging a look with Ginny before following Professor McGonagall to the Great Hall. She paused in the doorway, taken back by how nice it looked. The tables had been set back up and even the enchanted ceiling reflected a bright blue sky. –It looks wonderful,” she said as Professor McGonagall took a seat at what would normally be the Ravenclaw table, and Hermione took the seat across from her.

–It was our top priority," Professor McGonagall explained. –If parents visit, we want them to see the progress we’ve made. We need all the help we can get in convincing students to come back next year. A battle scene isn’t exactly what parents look for in a school.”

–But with Voldemort gone, there’s nothing more for parents to fear.”

–Oh, there’s always a new danger waiting to be uncovered.” Professor McGonagall gave Hermione a knowing look. –It was often you and your friends who found it.”

Hermione felt a blush flush her cheeks. –To be honest, Professor, it seemed that the trouble always found us.”

Professor McGonagall smiled. –Yes, so it seemed. I do hope that trend will discontinue in the coming year, if you do choose to return.”

–I would like it to,” Hermione said. –How possible is it for me to return next year?”

–Oh, it’s very possible.” Professor McGonagall summoned a piece of parchment and a quill from the front staff table. –It is exactly what I’d like to discuss with you. I’m assuming you’d like to take up all of your previous lessons?” Hermione nodded, and Professor McGonagall made a quick note. –Now, the last time we spoke, you expressed interest in Magical Law. Is that still a goal of yours?”

–Now more than ever,” Hermione answered, remembering her visit to the Ministry disguised as Mafalda Hopkirk. She’d do anything to make the changes she wanted.

–I’ve also heard rumors about a certain Elfish Rights movement that was behind the collection of hats that frightened a number of our own house-elves.”

Hermione’s cheeks reddened more. –Yes, that was me. I saw the way Barty Crouch Sr abused poor Winky and perhaps I got a bit carried away. I’ve learned that house-elves are happy to work, but I still want them to have the right to be paid and receive holidays and other workers’ rights.”

Professor McGonagall nodded, listening to her points. –I believe, with a passion like that, it best you look into working with the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures after graduation.”

–But I don’t want to control any of them,” Hermione said, scared her words had been misunderstood. –I want to help them.”

–It has been my experience,” Professor McGonagall said in a calm voice, –that in order to bring about new ideas, you must first live and understand the old ways, or else no one will listen to you.”

Hermione nodded in understanding, not liking the idea of working under those who abused house-elves and werewolves and centaurs, but seeing that she would have to, as Professor McGonagall said, understand the old laws to learn how to convince others to change them. –But how can I find work in that department without a Care of Magical Creatures N.E.W.T.?”

–A perfect segue to my next proposal.” Professor McGonagall folded her hands on the table, putting the quill and parchment to the side. –The rule on taking the N.E.W.T. exam in any subject is simply that one must have a passing O.W.L. We keep that loophole well hidden since advising any student to take an exam they are ill-prepared for would be reckless, but as the top student in your class, I’ve made the executive decision to make this rule known to you. It is your choice what you would like to do with the information.” Her eyes glinted behind her spectacles, already knowing what Hermione wanted to do.

–Would I be able to take the seventh year N.E.W.T. class?” she asked, knowing she would need the hands on experience in order to pass the exam at the end of the year.

–Naturally, and with supplementation with Hagrid, I don’t believe it will take you long to catch up with the others.”

–Thank you, Professor,” Hermione said, not sure she could say that enough to express how grateful she was to her Head of House.

–Don’t thank me yet,” Professor McGonagall said. –You will have to drop Ancient Runes.”

–That’s fine,” Hermione said quickly, willing to give up almost anything to accept the exception Professor McGonagall was making for her.

Professor McGonagall nodded, seemingly to hide a smile as she grabbed her parchment and quill to make another note. –We do have one last order of business to take care of,” she said, her expression tightening into a more serious face. –Kingsley asked I discuss the matter of your parents with you.” Hermione’s heart jumped in surprise, not expecting the conversation to turn to her parents. –He would like to talk to you personally, but with the Ministry as it is, he regrets having to pass on the responsibility to me for the time being.”

Hermione swallowed, any happiness she felt about her change in school lessons ebbing away as the emotions from seeing her boggart surfaced again. She took a deep breath, then nodded, signaling to Professor McGonagall that she was ready to talk.

–What exactly did you do to their memories?” Professor McGonagall asked, tapping her quill with her wand so it stood up on the parchment to take notes. –Take your time answering. I know it must be difficult to talk about them.”

Hermione didn’t take time to think. She opened her mouth and started talking, hoping to get everything that Professor McGonagall and Kingsley needed to know out in one go. –Last summer, I put a memory charm on them so they thought their names were Wendell and Monica Wilkins. It also made them believe they desired to go to Australia more than anything else in the world. They also forgot they had a daughter.” She couldn’t bring herself to say –they forgot about me.”

–They moved to Australia soon after I went to stay with the Weasleys. I don’t know where exactly. I didn’t want to know in case someone tried to use Legilimency on me to find them. I also hid all of my things and any photos of myself in my room and Disillusioned the door so no one would know it was there. I’ve no idea if the house sold or how I’ll deal with that if it is, but I plan on working out a more definite plan as the summer goes on.”

As her mouth rattled off the story, her mind wandered to different thoughts to keep away the emotions attached to her spoken words. She would have to collaborate with Kingsley to set up intentional portkeys, if portkeys could travel that far. Would she and Ron have to take a boat or a plane at some point? She didn’t think he would be too fond of that idea.

–That is very impressive spell work,” Professor McGonagall said, looking genuinely impressed and not the least bit mad at Hermione for doing something that had to be illegal. –Though finding them after all this time will be difficult. Kingsley will have to work with the Australian Ministry. Perhaps they can help locate them before you arrive. Will you be going alone?”

–Um, no,” Hermione said, feeling herself blush. She tried to push it away, wanting to come off as confident and mature, but she was unable to look Professor McGonagall in the eye. –Ron will be coming with me.”

–I expected as much,” Professor McGonagall said, and Hermione could have sworn her flash of a smile was rather smug. –Can I also expect he and Mr. Potter to stay with the Auror department and not return to Hogwarts in the fall?”

–It’s hard to say,” Hermione said, not yet willing to admit that Ron would be staying with the Aurors permanently after the summer. She could delude herself with the idea that he would go back to Hogwarts with her in autumn for a little while longer. Professor McGonagall seemed less willing to pretend otherwise, though. She seemed surprised at Hermione’s answer but didn’t push the topic.

She gathered the parchment in front of her and said, –I believe that is all. Kingsley or I will be in contact with you again in a few weeks to discuss Australia more.” Hermione didn’t miss that Professor McGonagall referred to the trip as –Australia” rather then –her parents.”

Hermione stood, about to walk away when Professor McGonagall added, –And watch out for Miss Weasley, Bones, and Abbot, will you? They could all use some borrowed strength.” Hermione nodded, not sure what else to say. She would never tell anyone her strength was quickly draining.
End Notes:
Thank you to everyone who has read and reviewed the story so far!
new by WrenWinterSong

Forgiveness says you are given another chance to make a new beginning.
Desmond Tutu

4 May 1998

–Do you see me as an evil man?” Luna’s father asked, as casually as if he had been asking what the weather was outside.

–Of course not,” Luna said, –unless compared to, perhaps, a month-old fawn. However, in comparison to Voldemort or to any of his Death Eaters, not at all.”

–I do try to find comfort in that,” he said as he finished off the last of his tea and Luna finished the last of her toast. Their late breakfasting was due to her father sleeping in till noon this morning after a late night in the Leaky Cauldron’s bar while Luna had returned a letter to Professor McGonagall to inform her that she would arrive at Hogwarts some time that day, perhaps with her father or possibly without. He feared running into Harry, Ron, or Hermione, so had avoided making a decision. Even though she had given him her forgiveness when he explained all that had happened, she knew it was not her forgiveness that he needed.

He glanced out the window, pondering his next sentence. –But do you see my decision to help those dark people as wrong?”

–Choices can’t always be easily categorized into wrong and right,” Luna said, tapping her finger along her glass of juice as she thought more about her father’s question. –Setting up that trap for Harry and the others was probably not a conventionally right to do, but saving your daughter’s life is not conventionally wrong.”

–So I did the right thing?”

–The Death Eaters finding Harry was one of the steps that led to the present, and most would say that any decision that helped defeat Voldemort was a right one.”

–But if Harry had failed because of me? If Voldemort had not been defeated because of the trap I helped set up?”

–Then, I suppose, a majority of witches and wizards would see the choice as a step in Voldemort’s winning and see the decision as wrong,” Luna said. Her father slumped in his chair. –Though I find the present world difficult enough to understand without also peeking into the infinite universes of ‘what if.’”

He patted Luna’s arm but still did not look at her. Since meeting her father at the Leaky Cauldron the previous day, Luna could tell he was no longer quite the same man. He put on a good front, but there was a haunted quality to his pale eyes, as if he could not take in the sun after so many weeks in the darkness of Azkaban.

She glanced at the clock on the wall when she finished her juice and watched the shorter hand reach the one. If she wanted to be of any help, she knew she had to leave soon. –Are you sure you won’t come? I’m positive McGonagall would appreciate the help.”

–I fear I’d be rather useless. You know my repairing spells are rubbish.” Luna couldn’t counter him since, yes, as far as fixing spells went, Daddy’s were not the best. –Besides,” he continued in a more light-hearted tone, –I need to be looking for a more permanent home for us.”

–Won’t many people be looking for houses right now?” she asked, remembering all of the families that were staying at the Leaky Cauldron.

–They haven't got the Anmores on their side," Daddy said, lifting up the small bottle of dark powder that hung around his neck. –When you wear evidence of your most recent tragedy, you’re more likely to attract them.” Luna realized the black dust must have been ashes from their home.

–Aren’t there are other families who would need the luck more?” Luna asked. –Mrs. Weasley offered us a place at the Burrow when our stay here ends.”

–I’d hate to impose,” Daddy said, not leaving room for discussion.

–Okay, then,” she said, stacking up her dishes and standing up from the table. –I’ll be leaving and will see you some time tonight.” Daddy kept his gaze downcast and simply nodded as she went to the fireplace. She took her time gathering a handful of Floo powder from the bag she’d bought yesterday, stalling in case her father changed his mind at the last minute. However, she managed to tie up the bag, step into the fireplace, and whiz off to Hogwarts without her father moving from his seat.

Stepping out of the fireplace, Luna saw she had landed in the staff room — apparently it was still the only room in Hogwarts with a chimney connected to the Floo Network — but the room looked different from two days ago. Instead of being cluttered with overturned chairs and tables, the room was empty except for an owl perch. The tiny brown and gold speckled owl flew off the perch and out into the corridor as soon as Luna stepped into the room. Her curiosity had her following its path until she hit what felt like a solid wall at the doorway. It bounced her back a couple of steps, and Luna realized the room had been secured. With Hogwarts connected to the Floo Network, anyone with a fireplace and some powder could get into the school. The spell felt like a simple Imperturbable Charm, but Luna thought it must be something far more complex, especially since the owl had no difficulty crossing the barrier.

Thinking of the owl, Luna realized the creature must have acted as an alarm for any visitors that came through the fireplace. She heard footsteps coming down the hall, and Luna looked at the doorway as Professor Flitwick appeared, the owl perched on his shoulder. He hesitated a moment as he peeked into the room then smiled widely when he saw her. –Luna, we've been expecting you,” he said, walking through the enchanted doorway but stopped as if he’d remembered something. –Oh, but, standard procedure... let me see…” He tapped his wand against his cheek as he thought. –Hmmm, what was the first charm I ever taught your class?”

–Wingardium Leviosa,” Luna answered.

–And what did I have you practice on during our first class?”

–An enlarged pigeon down feather,” she said, remembering how she had asked since she wanted to know what bird had feathers so large and white and fluffy.

–Good, good, I’m happy to see y—– Flitwick started to say but spluttered as the owl took off from his shoulder and tickled the professor’s nose with the tip of its wing. Luna smiled as the owl returned to its perch and hooted as if in mocking as Flitwick rubbed the feathers out of his beard, muttering about misbehaving birds.

He cleared his throat as he tried to regain his dignity. –Well then, well then, come along. We’ve just taken a break for lunch.”

Luna started to follow Professor Flitwick out of the room but put out a hand when she reached the barrier. Sure enough, it was still as solid as a wall. –Professor,” she called, and he turned around and jumped in his hurry to get back to her.

–Oh, my apologies, my apologies,” he muttered as he scurried back. –Completely forgot.” He waved his wand in a complicated motion in front of her, and Luna felt the faint warmth of magic slide over her. –There we are,” he said, leading the way down the corridor, now that Luna could walk through the doorway. –Can’t be too careful. The chimney is secured too; it’s a one-way Floo until the hours between six and eight tonight. Minerva spent last night finishing up the plans with Kingsley. It is nice to be working with the Ministry again. Less tension, less strain.” He drifted off as they walked through the Great Hall doors, and Luna stopped to take in the refurbished room.

Black Hogwarts banners hung around the room with hundreds of candles lighting the Hall. The four House tables and the staff table were set up in their usual spots and filled with people.

The biggest difference was who was crowding the tables. She spotted almost every member of the Hogwarts staff and other people that she recognized from the Battle, those she thought she overheard being called the Order of the Phoenix. There were shop owners from Hogsmeade that she’d seen only in passing and Ministry workers that she’d only seen in the Prophet. Many faces she did not recognize, so she made her way over to the far table where most of Dumbledore’s Army sat, along with a menagerie of other students, some graduated and some not.

As she approached the table, the after-lunch chatter died down and many people stood up to welcome her. Eddie Carmichael and Cho Chang, two Ravenclaw students who had graduated the year before, congratulated her on helping Harry find the diadem. Katie Bell introduced her to a tall broad man named Oliver Wood, who was apparently a rather famous up-and-coming reserve Keeper for Puddlemere United. Lisa Turpin gave her a hug, though Luna couldn’t recall ever having more than two conversations with her, and Terry Boot shook her hand as if she were a celebrity. Well, he sort of shook her hand. His right one was mummified in bandages and Luna was cautious of squeezing while his other arm was wrapped up in a sling, the cast of which looked too short to hold his entire arm. Padma Patil waved to her from across the table, her dark skin covered in what looked like burns that had turned her skin a vibrant purple. Her twin sister was nowhere in sight, and neither was Lavender Brown.

And then there was Ginny, tugging Luna into a hug, and Hermione who hugged her less ferociously. –We’re so glad you’re here,” Ginny said, her brown eyes glinting with happiness. –Doesn’t this place look great?” She swept her arms around to indicate the entire room.

–A bit less interesting than before but, yes, much cleaner,” Luna said.

The Hall quieted as the older adults headed out and McGonagall approached their table. –With the castle searched for curses, I think it fine for all of you to go into the corridors without an escort. Please be wary of any lingering dark magic and don’t do anything stupid.” McGonagall stared them down with her beady gaze until she was satisfied that no one would dare make a reckless choice while about the castle.

–Also, Hagrid has asked for some assistance on the grounds, tasks pertaining to the Forbidden Forest, if I have any volunteers.” She looked around the group, keeping her face stoic but her eyes searching for someone to step up.

–We can go, Professor,” Hermione said, motioning towards herself, Ginny, and Luna, who both nodded in agreement.

–Us too!” someone called from the back of the group. Luna turned her head to see Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan shoving their way to the front. The two tall boys stood behind them, Seamus grinning down at Ginny, trying and failing to catch her attention. From what Luna remembered of their time in the Room of Requirement her fourth year, Seamus could be quite the flirt. His sandy hair must have been infested with Engouementises.

–Very well,” McGonagall said, waving for the rest of the students and former students to leave. –Thank you,” she muttered between pursed lips.

As everyone left the table, Luna watched them break off into smaller groups of three or four, most of which were holding hands or hugging or engaging in some sort of embrace. There were a lot of relationships coming out of the comfort of surviving a war.

–I’ll escort you to Hagrid’s hut,” McGonagall said, leading their way out of the Great Hall.

–Do we really need an escort?” Ginny said, then jammed her lips shut in a harsh pucker, seeming to forget for a moment whom she was talking to.

McGonagall gave her a side glance but did not scold her. –I do believe it for the best,” she simply said. –It will give me a chance to properly introduce you to to the freelance Beast Consultant that’s been working with Hagrid all day.”

She led them out of the castle and down towards Hagrid’s hut. Ginny slowed her pace as she kept glancing back up at the castle’s front doors, as if she were deciphering a complex ancient rune. –Did you see who Susan Bones was with?” she asked at last.

Luna nodded, remembering seeing the girl with dark red hair sitting solemnly next to Cormac McLaggen.

–Must we start gossiping already?” Hermione said, picking up her pace. –You’re as bad as Rita Skeeter.”

–Ew, don’t compare me to her,” Ginny said with a sickened look. –I just found it interesting, that’s all.”

Seamus popped up beside them and added, –Talkin’ about Bones and McLaggen?”

Hermione continued walking as if she hadn’t heard, and Luna suspected that she had already seen the two together and didn’t want to talk about it.

–Yeah,” Ginny said to Seamus. –Quite odd. What do you think, Luna?”

Luna shrugged and said, –They look like they had plenty of Entincellies flying between them, but really, I don’t know either of them well.”

Ginny agreed — it was rare for her to disagree with Luna — but Seamus had cocked an eyebrow at them. –The hell are en-ten-chell-whatevers?”

–Etincellies,” Luna repeated so they all could hear the correct pronunciation. –They’re really small insect-like creatures that are made from the connection when two people are attracted to each other. They like warm places, so they normally settle inside the two people, which causes tingling feelings from their wings. Some people call it ‘butterflies in the stomach’ but they aren’t butterflies, they’re Etincellies.”

No one spoke after the explanation. Seamus looked caught between believing and not, Hermione seemed to be biting her tongue behind her closed lips, but Ginny smiled, bemused that no one besides herself could take Luna’s words as more than just nonsense. That was one reason Luna liked having Ginny as a best friend.

–McLaggen did come back to help fight,” Dean said, not commenting on the little creatures. After spending so much time together, he treated her like he treated everyone else and Luna appreciated having him as a friend as well. –Maybe he’s not quite the pompous jerk he was in school.”

–He’s only been gone a year,” Ginny countered. –I doubt he’s changed that much.” The bitterness in her voice made obvious she still had a grudge against him for losing them their match against Hufflepuff.

As they walked down the grounds, Luna spotted Hagrid carrying two large crates in each of his raised arms. The boxes blocked his view of his surrounding, so he didn’t know they were approaching until he was about to plow into them.

–Rubeus,” McGonagall called, –I’ve brought the help you asked for.”

–Huh?” Hagrid said, turning so suddenly that McGonagall had to duck to avoid being beheaded by one of his crates. –Oh, Minerva, didn’ see yeh there. Oh, yeh brough’ help with yeh. Hello there.”

–Yes, they’ve volunteered to help you and Scamander,” McGonagall explained, eyeing the crates as if she expected them to topple over at any second.

–Thanks,” Hagrid said. –These five’ll be enough, I thin’. C’mon, then.” He nodded his head towards the Forbidden Forest, and they followed with just a touch of reluctance.

Professor McGonagall walked with them as they came to the edge of the forest. Luna pondered a set of markers that lined the forest.

–Are you building a fence, Hagrid?” Hermione asked, making the same observations as Luna.

–As a matter o’ fact, we are,” he said, dropping his crates with a thunderous crash. –Nothin’ tha’ll keep anythin’ out tha’ wants to come in, but sum o’ the creatures need remindin’ of where they aren’ allowed t’go.”

Luna peeked inside the crate Hagrid had just put down and noticed that it was filled with wooden stakes and wire string. Like Hagrid had said, it would be nothing that a centaur or Acromantula couldn’t break through.

McGonagall took a step closer to the forest, peering through the trees. –Where did that Scamander boy disappear to?” she asked.

–Look up, Professor!” someone called from above, and Luna, along with everyone else, stretched their necks back to see a man lounging in the tree branches. He was shaded in the shadow of the tree’s leaves, but Luna had already decided that she liked him. Anyone who sat in a tree, especially one in the Forbidden Forest, had a good heart. Inimas were known to take residence in trees, especially ones near a lake with a giant squid, and they only allowed those with pure intentions to climb into the branches with them. She thought she spotted one of the leaf-like creatures drift down as Scamander jostled the branches on his way down. He jumped the last meter and landed on the ground in front of Professor McGonagall. –What can I do for you?” he asked with a beaming grin.

He couldn’t have been much older than Luna, maybe in his early twenties, but his wide hazel eyes held a gleam of someone who still thought of themselves as seventeen. He had the scruffy beginnings of a beard, the most grown in parts connecting to his hairline and outlined his jaw while his cheeks and upper lip still remained more patchy than not. Freckles dotted the bridge of his nose and a scar marred the corner of his left eyes, cutting across his cheek. His light brown hair was pulled back into the smallest of ponytails that was almost completely covered by the leather band that secured it. She imagined that hair would barely pass his ears if he let it down, especially if it was as curly as it seemed.

–I’ve brought some students who have volunteered to assist you and Rubeus,” McGonagall explained, stepping aside so he could have a proper view of the five of them. –This is Rolf Scamander,” she said, addressing them, then giving him each of their names.

When McGonagall finished, Hermione stepped up and asked, –Are you at all related to Newt Scamander?”

–Ah, yes, good ol’ Grandpa Newt,” Scamander said, glancing up at the bright sky as if he expected his grandfather to come soaring down on the back of a dragon. –What I’d give to travel like he did in his glory days. Now that’s the life I always wanted.”

–Mr. Scamander works with the Ministry’s Care and Regulation of Magical Creatures department,” McGonagall explained.

–More of an office job than I woulda liked, but the pay keeps the wife happy,” he said, walking over to one of Hagrid’s crates and pulling out slabs of wood.

–I didn' know yeh was married, Rolf,” Hagrid said as he finished unloading the other crate.

–Well, not quite, but I’m trying. I have to save up a whole lotta Galleons to get that girl the ring she wants. I’ve already learned any stone but a diamond won’t work, especially not tourmaline,” Scamander said, and Luna got the idea that he’d presented his girlfriend with a variety of alternative rings that she’d turned down for something more traditional. The observation stuck with her longer than normal since Scamander didn’t exactly strike her as ‘traditional’. He hadn’t even shook their hands upon meeting them.

–Did she also go to Hogwarts?” McGonagall asked, waving her wand so that the rest of the wood and wires and nails flew out of the crate and landed neatly beside it.

Scamander nodded his head in gratitude. –That she did. Sylvia Fawcett, Ravenclaw.”

The name brought up an image in Luna’s mind of a petite girl with black curls that had been four years ahead of Luna. She’d made wonderful banners for each Quidditch game and made cute little birthday cards for every single Ravenclaw each year. Luna had kept all three of hers, though she suspected they had been destroyed along with everything else in her house.

–Oh, yes, I remember her,” McGonagall said. –She took a job at St. Mungo’s, didn’t she? Working with the children?”

–Yep, they’ve got a terrific day care there for any sick parents who check in and don’t have anyone else to take care of the little ones. Plus, she visits with the younger patients when she’s got the time.”

–We better get to work,” Hagrid said, cutting Scamander off. –This’ll take more then a couple o’minutes.”

–Yes, very well, I’ll leave you to it,” McGonagall said before she returned to the castle.

Luna turned her attention to Scamander as he cleared his throat. –The easiest way to get this fence up, believe it or not, is the simple Muggle way. Getting stakes in the ground with a wand can be rather tricky and, if not done a hundred percent right, might make the whole bloody things fall to pieces.

–Now, wherever there’s a marker, pull it up, put one of these little darlings in its place.” He patted one of the pieces of wood that were much taller than the markers. –Pack in some dirt around it, maybe use a Sticking Charm or two, then we can string up this wire between the posts. Nothin’ too fancy or sturdy. We’re not trying to keep anything out, just wanting them to stumble a bit, maybe stop and think again about getting too close to the castle.”

Everyone nodded and began their work. Seamus tried to take one of the wooden stakes from Ginny, trying to be a gentleman, but she threatened him with a string of nasty-sounding jinxes before grabbing the stake back from him and marching in the direction of the nearest marker. Dean patted him on the back as Seamus stared in amazement at some of the suggestions Ginny had for where he could put that stake.

Before Luna could even look in the crate, she heard someone running towards them. She looked up to see her father hurrying down the small hill with a mad smile on his face. He skidded to a stop right in front of her and grabbed her shoulders in his hands. –I am sincerely sorry for not coming with you this morning, and I hope my being here now is enough of an apology,” he said in a rush, still breathing heavily from his sprint across the grounds.

She lifted her hands to touch his. –Of course it is. I’m glad you decided to come.”

–It took a lot of thinking on my part, but now that I’m here, I see where I fit in. So many damaged portraits, torn from spells and covered in muck, and I just so happen to be quite skilled at repairing paintings! Your mother, she loved to paint, but she was always so careless with the canvases afterward, I had to learn to fix them or else risk losing them forever.”

Luna smiled at the memory of her mother, seeing her flit from easel to cauldron as little Luna sat on a stool and watched her mother spritz in another spring of lavender, then grab her brush to add another stroke to the portrait. She stopped the memory before it could explode, but she still felt a wave of surprise, fear, and grief surge through her chest like it had that day.

–I knew you’d be useful here,” she said, patting her father’s hands.

He couldn’t seem to stop smiling as he said, –I suppose that I need to return then. I’ll see you soon.” He squeezed her shoulders one last time before running back up to the castle.

Luna smiled after him, then returned to the job at hand, following Hermione to the edge of the forest near the front gate to begin stringing the wire between the posts. Scamander and Hagrid had already gotten a few stakes settled in, and they fell into their roles: Luna pulling the wire and Hermione following and casting charms that would keep it in place.

Scamander and Hagrid met Ginny, Seamus, and Dean in the middle of putting in the stakes, so Luna and Hermione continue without interruption. When they reached the end of the fence-in-progress and attached the end of the wire to the wall that surrounded Hogwarts, Hermione looked up and gasped at something emerging from the forest. Luna’s eyes quickly found the source of her surprise. A small golden foal grazed in the less woody edge of the forest, looking up only when Hermione whispered a quiet, –Wow.”

Both of them took a step back, recognizing the little creature. Once they were far enough away, Hermione said in a hushed voice, –It’s a baby unicorn. They’re seldom far away from their parents. They’re peaceful creatures, but if a mother thinks we're too close to her offspring, she will use her horn in defense.”

Luna knew everything that Hermione said, but let her have the moment, knowing how much Hermione liked to explain things. They kept still as they watched the foal watching them, its big black eyes glistening with curiosity. After a few minutes, Luna and Hermione exchanged glances as they realized no parents were coming to claim the foal.

–What do we do if its mother never shows up?” Hermione asked. –Unicorns are known to be familiar with others of their kind in the area, though they never form a definite herd. Studying them is rather difficult, but there are some reported cases of unicorns caring for a lost foal until it is reunited with its parents. An adult will also adopt orphaned foals. But this one won’t find any adults this close to the castle. Perhaps Hagrid or Scamander will have an idea,” she finished, having answered her own question without any input from Luna. She walked away slowly, not wanting to spook the foal, but quickened her pace once she was a safe distance away.

Luna took a few steps towards the half a fence then sat down underneath the single wire. The foal stared at her as she settled in the grass, then took its own tentative steps in her direction. It stopped a few feet away, still staring and deciding if it should run back into the forest. It relaxed after a few seconds and inched closer. It paused, then moved again and repeated this until it stood right in front of her. It stared Luna down just a little longer, then lay in the grass at her feet.

She simply smiled at the foal and brushed a hand through its mane.

After a few peaceful minutes, Ginny ran over to her side, startling the foal awake. Hermione and Scamander were just coming into view, but Ginny was more interesting to watch as she stared at the golden foal. –That’s the most precious thing I’ve ever seen,” she said, kneeling and holding out a hand towards the foal. It sniffed her fingers before nuzzling them. She let out a quiet squeak of excitement.

Scamander walked up to Luna’s other side, squatting down and putting his hands on his knees for support. –He looks healthy enough,” he said as he studied the foal, who had not taken notice of his appearance, too blissful from Ginny scratching behind its ears. –Must not’ve been separated from his mum for long.”

–What can we do for him?” Hermione asked, appearing beside Scamander and watching the foal with tender eyes. Luna bet she would take it home if she could.

–We can build him a paddock by Hagrid’s for now. He’s already got Dean and Seamus on it. It’ll keep this little boy safe till his mum figures out where he’s gone. Hagrid’ll let him out as soon as another unicorn comes by.” Scamander reached across Luna to pet the foal’s neck, and it finally took notice of his presence. It jumped back a little but approached again as Luna held out a hand towards it. –Seems to’ve taken liking to you, Miss Luna,” Scamander said. –Ever think about going into the business of Creatures?”

–I have thought about it,” she said. –I would love to travel and discover new creatures, creatures that people don’t believe exist.”

–Oh, yes, like the Crumple-Horned Snorkack?” he asked.

Luna was speechless with surprise, a reaction she was not used to. –Yes,” she said tentatively, waiting for the part where he laughed and said someone had told him to say that as a joke. –You’ve heard of them?”

–A true magi-zoologist follows every lead he’s given,” he said. –I’ve read about them in your father’s magazine.”

Luna mirrored Scamander’s smile and thought she felt some of those Etincellies flying between them.

A shouting in the distance caused all of them to stand and look towards the castle, where Professor McGonagall was running towards them, her face the opposite of what Luna’s father had been. –Scamander!” she yelled as she held her robes away from her feet so she didn’t trip over them. –Come quick!”

He was in front of Professor McGonagall before Luna had even realized he had left her side.

Professor McGonagall handed him a piece of parchment and muttered words to him before he nodded and loped towards the castle. McGonagall put a hand to her chest, breathing heavily. Hermione muttered a spell at a tree stump so it expanded into a lounge chair, then assisted Professor McGonagall to the seat.

–Thank you, Miss Granger,” she said as she plopped into the cushions. –I believe that hill gave me more momentum than I was prepared for.”

–Professor,” Hermione said tentatively, glancing up towards the castle than back to McGonagall, –is everything all right?”

–I’m afraid not,” Professor McGonagall said, dabbing her forehead with a handkerchief despite her eyes becoming watery. –Ms. Fawcett has been taken hostage by Death Eaters.”
End Notes:
This is my favorite chapter so far, so I hope you liked it too! And if you did enjoy it (or even if you didn't) a review is always much appreciated :)
understand by WrenWinterSong

The love of a parent for a child is continuous and transcends heartbreak and disappointment. It exceed concern for life itself.
James E. Faust

4 May 1998

Neville had seen so much gruesome death, but the formality and casualness of Nancy O’Dell’s murder stabbed a fresh hole in his being, one that all the other bodies could not reach.

According to Proudfoot, the Auror whose desk Neville, Harry, and Ron had been crowded around all day, no incidents had occurred since the Battle of Hogwarts. Most Death Eaters that had escaped were easily found and brought in, but then a large barn owl had landed on Proudfoot’s desk and shattered that peace. The Aurors ran off, telling the three boys to stay put until further instruction.

Harry paced, Ron dog-eared parchment, and Neville sat still. They had discussed leaving the department and finding someone who would let them know what was going on and what they should be doing, but then one of them, usually Neville, would mention Proudfoot’s instructions not to go anywhere and they ended up sighing and looking around the empty room again.

After a half hour of waiting, the door of the Auror department burst open and the room filled with every Auror in the Ministry. Harry stepped out of the way, having landed himself in the center of the sea of desks in his restless pacing, as the Aurors marched to their desks and began scribbling furiously with their quills. Proudfoot returned to his seat, and Harry rushed over to where he belonged. –What happened?” he asked in a hushed tone before he even tucked in his chair.

–Walden Macnair took Sylvia Fawcett hostage in Diagon Alley. We were able talk him into letting her go, but then he killed Fawcett’s friend, Nancy O’Dell, before we could stop him,” Proudfoot said mechanically as he waved his wand. A filing cabinet banged open and a folder flew out and onto Proudfoot’s desk.

Recognition dawned on Harry’s face, but Neville was still having trouble recalling those three people. The most contact he’d had with the Death Eaters was during the Department of Mysteries scuffle and the Battle of Hogwarts, but there were so many there and no time to ask them each their name before they dueled. And Sylvia Fawcett, Fawcett, Fawcett… the name rang enough bells in Neville’s memory that he knew she had attended Hogwarts, but just as a face was shimmering into his mind, surrounded by straight fair hair and large dark eyes, a photo landed on Proudfoot’s desk of a girl with curly black hair and light gray eyes. As for Nancy O’Dell, he saw in her profile that she had gone to Hogwarts a few years ahead of himself, she was even a Gryffindor, but he did not recognize her rosy cheeks and golden hair at all.

And now she was dead.

Neville watched Proudfoot put together the murder file as the Auror explained what he was doing without ever looking away from his task. –Every case has its own folder with a number. Any dark wizard’s file has their case numbers listed along with a brief summary. With a case like this, with two dozen witnesses, half of which are Aurors, it’s open and shut in less than an hour.” More and more papers sailed from the other Aurors’ desks and into the folder as Proudfoot wrote out his own witness report. As each of the Aurors finished their own report, they left the room, off to the next case with little thought to Nancy O’Dell.

–This file will contain anything specific to this case,” Proudfoot continued. –All witness reports and other evidence, any victims and their profiles, all spells used by the suspect and the Aurors, the status of the suspects.”

Another Auror walked into the office space with a thin stack of papers that he placed inside the folder. –They all say the same thing,” he said before leaving the room again.

Proudfoot nodded before continuing. –Normally, everyone on the case would read all the witness reports, but in a case like this, one pair of eyes is usually enough. Savage is a trusted and experienced Auror. He’d have mentioned any inconsistencies.”

The door opened again to let in the Head of the Auror Department, Williamson, whom Neville, Harry, and Ron had met briefly that morning. He approached Proudfoot’s desk just as Proudfoot dotted his last sentence.

–Everything’s in order,” Proudfoot said as he set the last piece of parchment on top of the folder and handed it to Williamson. –Just needs your signature.”

Williamson nodded and signed, seeming to have not read the words on the parchment at all. He returned the folder to Proudfoot and turned to leave. –Going to tell the family,” he said in a rough but not at all sympathetic voice. Neville wondered how many deaths you had to witness before it just became part of the job.

Proudfoot sent the folder back into the cabinet, which closed with a bang, and sent another paper toward a cabinet on the opposite wall marked with a ‘Dark Wizards’ sign.

–For each case,” Proudfoot continued, –the department decides on a leading suspect, someone we swear is the culprit. It’s not necessarily our decision on who goes to Azkaban and who doesn’t, but if the suspect decides against a hearing, our decision is final. The Wizengamot can always override us in a hearing though, which is why most dark wizards who are accused of crimes go for a hearing no matter the evidence against them, just for the chance of the Wizengamot dropping the charges.”

Neville thought about how smooth the process of this case went, everyone knowing their job and doing it without hesitation, without emotion. He recalled Proudfoot saying how they were rather short staffed at the moment since a lot of the ex-Aurors were on trials of their own for aiding Death Eaters, most notably the old Head, Dawlish. Neville could now see why this department had been so easily corrupted. These were men and women whose job it was to capture Dark Wizards, no matter what evils they witnessed on the way. After so much time, they had to become immune to the most gruesome of acts. Overall, a lot of the older Aurors had been stripped of their job, leaving behind a young group of Aurors who still had some sense of morality to them, and even they went about as if hostages and deaths were just a normal part of their day.

How could Neville ever fit into a place like this? If he had just witnessed a murder, he would have to vomit out all of his guilt at not being able to save that person before even thinking about it again. And then having to write out everything he saw? It would take him days, not minutes, to push through his feelings and write it all down. He knew he was going to fail at this job before he had even started.

–Now then, the Minster has arranged a meeting with all three of you at three o’clock, and I believe we’ve covered all we can for today.” He gathered three thick manuals that had been sitting at the edge of his desk since that morning and handed one to each of them. –These cover everything we went over today, probably in more detail than I did, so it would be helpful to at least skim them over while you're home. Tomorrow, you’ll be assisting in the field.”

Neville felt his stomach drop. So soon? He had been too honored by the position to turn it down, and maybe a little excited to be doing more than sitting at home with his grandmother, but he had thought they would at least have to do a week’s worth of training before they were let loose. Kingsley had not been joking when he told them he thought they were trained enough from the war.

–I’ll escort you to the Minister’s office,” Proudfoot said, standing up and gesturing for them to follow. He led them into the nearest lift and travelled to Level One. When the doors opened, Neville looked around at the floor, which was much smaller than any of the other levels he had been to. The corridor was not so much a corridor but a small room of its own with a secretary at her desk in the very center. The right wall contained a door for the office of the Senior Undersecretary and the left a door for the Junior Assistant to the Minister. The far wall had a small red door that had ‘Advisor to the Minister of Magic’ in silver lettering on the door, but it was dwarfed next to the large wooden door that said ‘Minister of Magic’ in impressive gold letters.

–Good afternoon, Glyhemia,” Proudfoot said as he approached the secretary desk. –I’ve brought Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, and Neville Longbottom for their appointment with the Minister.”

Glyhemia picked up a clipboard and read down it with her quill in hand. She checked something off, then looked over at the three boys, then back to her clipboard. –You’re two minutes late,” she said as she set the clipboard down and stood from her desk.

–It was my fault. I kept them longer than I should,” Proudfoot said, a tone of sarcasm in his voice.

Glyhemia shot him a glare, then ushered the three boys towards the Minster’s door. –See you tomorrow, boys!” Proudfoot called to them before going back to the elevator.

The secretary knocked on the door and opened it just a crack. –Your three o’clock is here, Minister,” she said through the small opening.

–Good, let them in,” Kingsley said from somewhere inside. Glyhemia opened the door for them and closed it as soon as they stepped inside.

Kingsley was standing in the middle of the room waiting for them. –Come, sit,” he said, gesturing to the three chairs that sat in front of his rather intimidating desk. The wood was black and gleaming and embellished with gold, but just the size of the desk made Neville nervous. It stretched from nearly one end of the room to the other.

As they took their seats, Kingsley poured them each a cup of water, then sat down behind his desk. –I wanted to take the chance to ask how the day went,” he said. –I am no longer directly involved in the department, but I want to make sure the three of you are treated as you should. Was everyone respectful? Kind? Some of the Aurors can be a bit abrasive at times.”

–They were great,” Harry said. –All of them, really. Proudfoot spent most of the day explaining laws and regulations and said we’d be out there with the other Aurors tomorrow.”

–Very good,” Kingsley said. –But only as long as all three of you feel prepared. I have enough confidence in your abilities to waive the normal training, but if you’d like to have more time to train, I can grant that for you. The dueling as an Auror, even an assisting one, can be rather vigorous.”

Neville was about to nod his head and ask for the extra training, but then he thought back to the last year and everything he had accomplished. He had never felt so proud to be his parents’ son. Where had all the confidence gone? He’d only spent a day with Harry and Ron and already he was feeling less capable than he had in months.

–I think we can handle it,” he said, speaking before he realized the words were coming out of his mouth.

If Harry and Ron were surprised by his conviction, neither of them showed it. They both nodded and agreed, Ron saying, –After this year, taking on a couple Death Eaters every day will be like a holiday.”

Neville chuckled at the comment, feeling his anxiety wane. The Auror manual in his hands no longer felt so heavy. He was going to be an Auror, like his mum, like his dad. This was his opportunity to prove himself to be their son. He wouldn’t let anything stall the moment.

–Very well,” Kingsley said with a proud smile. –I feel the Auror department will be nothing but improved with you three in it, even if you do decided to only stay temporarily.”

All three boys relaxed in their chairs at Kingsley’s note of confidence, but Neville glanced at the black and white clock on the left wall. It was nearly three thirty. He knew he still had plenty of time to make it to St. Mungo’s to visit with his parents, but he still worried about not having enough time to tell them everything about his first day as an Assistant Auror.

–I’ll be sure to check in with you, if not together than separately, some time tomorrow,” Kingsley said. –Aurors can get a little carried away with their job and forget that not everyone has been in the department for years, so always speak up if you feel you are being left behind.” He stood up and led them to the door. –I can have Glyhemia escort you to the Atrium if you wish.”

–I think we can manage to find it on our own,” Harry said.

–Very well, I’ll see you boys tomorrow.” Kingsley shook each of their hands as they filed out into the corridor.

After the office door closed, Glyhemia whipped her head around to watch the boys with a steely gaze as they walked towards the lift. –Afternoon,” they each muttered with a nod as they passed her desk. Her eyes didn’t leave them until the lift doors had closed.

–Good thing the Aurors are more pleasant than that secretary,” Ron said, leaning against the wall in a more casual manner than he had all day. With just the three of them in the lift, they all relaxed, slouching their backs and shoving their hands into their pockets. They had adopted a proper stance in front of the Aurors that they could finally let go of.

–Except that Williamson,” Harry said. –I don’t think I saw him crack a smile all day.”

–I doubt we’ll ever really see him much, being the Head of the department and all,” Ron said. –He won’t have time to deal with us newbies.”

–I feel bad about Nancy O’Dell and Sylvia Fawcett,” Neville cut in, unable to shake the death from his mind.

Harry and Ron’s smiles disappeared at the reminder, and they looked solemnly at the floor. –It’s hard to remember there’re still Death Eaters out there,” Ron said. –Felt like it all kinda ended when Riddle died.”

–But it didn’t, did it?” Harry said. –That’s why we’re here.”

–Right,” Ron said, shuffling his feet.

The rest of the lift ride was quiet. When the doors opened again, there was too much of a crowd for them to talk and be heard. Ministry workers were coming and going so quickly that the people only seemed to appear for a second before disappearing into a Floo or behind a lift door. The flow of the crowd was slowed because of the construction on the fountain in the center of the atrium. The entire thing had been removed, but a group of artistic-looking witches and wizards were constructing a new one. So far, it just looked like a lump of gold, but Neville could see them bending and molding the shapeless blob with their wands so that it moved like clay.

As they reached the fireplaces, Ron stopped and turned to Neville. –I nearly forgot, but Mum asked me to invite you round for dinner. Your grandmother too. If you want.”

–I’ll ask Gran,” Neville said, –though she hasn’t been in lately. She’s spending a lot of time with the rest of the family, celebrating. My family can be a bit… rowdy at times.”

–Haven’t you been celebrating with them?” Harry asked.

–I’m not one for their kind of parties,” Neville mumbled, fearful of being judged as the scared, quiet boy who hid in the dorm room when the common room became too much after a winning Quidditch game, but Harry and Ron nodded in understanding.

–Well, see you tomorrow then,” Harry said, patting Neville on the back before heading into the fireplace. Ron disappeared after him, and Neville took a moment before leaving, remembering something he had forgot yesterday. He meant to drop by Sugarplum’s Sweets Shop in Diagon Alley to buy some Droobles Best Blowing Gum, but it was a Sunday and the shop would be closed.

Neville had been unable to visit his parents all year. He had been planning for this day since the end of the Battle, even more so after Kingsley offered him the Assistant Auror job. And while he was more excited than anything to tell them he was following in their footsteps, he knew his mother would be more interested in the Droobles gum that he planned on having, like he always had.

Gran hated that he supplied his mother with Droobles. She had despised Alice’s constant chewing, or so she told Neville, and how she used to pop it behind her teeth. Neville didn’t know if she still had the habit, or if she even chewed the gum at all. Whenever he visited, she was never chewing a piece, and he knew that the Healers there were strict on his parents’ diets. He didn’t even know if he was allowed to give his mother the gum or if the Healers let him as an exception. But his mother returned a wrapper to him every time he visited, so the gum had to go somewhere.

Neville stepped into the fireplace and flew off to his home. He stepped out into the small living room and looked around for any sign of his gran, but she probably hadn’t been expecting him to come back before dinner time. His gran wasn’t one to hang about the house.

He went to his room first, rustling through the drawers and the closet, fishing through pockets. Then he moved to the kitchen, rummaging in cupboards in the desperate hope that he’d spy a glint of pink. He knew before he started that his efforts were useless. He would just have to go to St. Mungo’s empty-handed.

The walk to the front of St. Mungo’s took only a few minutes, though the path had become a lot more exciting. The London streets were bustling with witches and wizards in robes, some stumbling around in a firewhiskey stupor and others waving around their wands like sparklers. A man in neon green robes grabbed Neville’s shoulder. –Haven’t you heard, my boy? He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is dead. For good, this time. You should not be frowning, the dark times are behind us!” He clapped Neville on the shoulder once more before bustling over to a pair of Muggles who looked quite bewildered.

Neville didn’t know whether he should intervene or not, but then he saw a wary Obliviator following a few steps behind. He started approaching Neville and, thinking quickly, he pulled his wand out from his pocket, held it up for the Obliviator to see, then remembered that there were Muggles around and pocketed it quickly. The Obliviator nodded his head and hurried passed Neville. He thought about offering his help, he was an Auror now after all, but he didn’t think an overjoyed, loose-lipped wizard counted as dark.

He continued down the sidewalk into a less populated area and approached the glass front of the department store. He looked around for anyone watching but, as normal, the few people milling about were too absorbed in their own business to pay attention to his.

Stepping through the secret entrance, he stopped as he took in the empty reception room. He could hear the Welcome Witch flipping through her magazine from across the room. Never, in all the years he had visited the hospital, had the place been this empty.

As Neville walked up the stairs, he could hear bustling and muttering behind the closed door, which only became louder when he reached the Fourth Floor. Of course most of the patients would have suffered spell damage, like in the first war, like his parents. He brushed away the thought and concentrated on reaching the Janus Thickey Ward.

Healer Dayley greeted him on her way out with a large smile that Neville returned as best he could. He preferred Healer Dayley to her predecessor, Healer Strout, who had had a casual way about her and never seemed entirely competent. Healer Dayley, at least a decade younger, fit into her role with much more confidence and ease. Neville could go to her for anything.

–The waiting room is rather empty,” Neville said, hoping for an explanation.

–We’re taking in a lot of emergencies,” Healer Dayley explained, which made sense. Emergencies wouldn't be waiting. –There’s been a lot of dark magic going around. We’ve lost so many.” She kept her composure even as her voice wavered. –I wish I could stay and chat, but I must go.” She patted Neville on the shoulder and rushed off.

Neville went into the ward, looking at the bare walls. He thought they would have put up some festive decorations, but then he wondered if anyone had bothered to tell these patients about the final fall of Voldemort or if they even knew that there had been a war happening at all.

Gilderoy Lockhart snored from his bed, possibly from a Sleeping Draught to keep him from wandering about the hospital with Healer Dayley too busy to babysit him. Agnes Parker looked up from her bed as Neville passed, then buried her fur-covered head beneath her pillow with a soft whine. He thought of her son, who he had only run into once, and hoped that he visited her at least as often as he visited his own parents.

In the back corner of the ward, his parents were both sat in their beds. His father didn’t notice his presence and continued scribbling nonsense symbols on a piece of parchment that he leaned against his legs. Neville often found his father desperately writing out what the Healers figured were letters since when Healer Strout tried introducing them to their old owl, Gwen, his father had thrown an entire pile of parchment at her and attempted to shove a rolled up letter into the owl’s mouth. Of course, that was one of the stories that his gran had told him, so he couldn’t be sure how much truth there was to it. Neville could hardly imagine his father getting out of bed let alone holding down a full grown owl and forcing its beak open.

Neville tried to read the scribbles on the parchment, but he doubted that even a skilled code breaker could decipher the meaning. Instead of frustrating himself with the task of understanding his father’s ink scratchings, he turned to his mother, whose eyes stared at the far wall but didn’t focus on anything in particular.

He walked across her line of vision, having to wave a hand in front of her eyes a few times before she blinked rapidly and turned her dark brown eyes on her son. –Hi, Mum,” Neville said, sitting in the chair that sat beside her bed.

As usual, his mother’s reactions were slowed, her eyes following his movements a few seconds after he moved. A hesitant smile graced her face half a minute after his greeting, her eyes losing some of their cloudiness and glimmering clear with a hint of recognition. She held out her small hand towards him, palm up in expectation.

Guilt squeezed Neville’s chest and, though he tried to swallow it down, it squeezed itself up his throat and choked him. –I’m sorry,” he said thickly. –I don’t have any today.”

His mother didn’t understand his words and kept her hand out, prepared to wait like that for hours until Neville handed her the little pink candy that he always gave her.

Healer Strout had explained to him once that, although complex thoughts were beyond his parents, routine and traditions could help them make connections. She had been the one to suggest he bring something with him or wear the same thing every time he visited, so even if his parents didn’t know that he was their son, they would be able to recognize him as the boy who visited them often. At seven years old, Neville only had a single Droobles gum with him at the time, a special treat from his gran because it was his birthday. He hadn’t wanted to give up his candy to the strange woman in front of him, but as soon as his mother spied the candy, she held out her hand until Neville gave up the special gift.

And here he was, ten years later, without the one thing he had to feel connected to her.

As the seconds ticked by, his mother continued staring at him, glancing down at her hand every once in a while as if to check if the gum had appeared yet. The guilt kept pushing itself into Neville’s lungs and forced tears from his eyes. The one thing he had managed to remember for over a decade, and now, when he was supposed to feel more accomplished than ever, he had let down the most important person of all.

In desperation, Neville grabbed her hand, hoping it would be enough to replace the gum. –I’m an Auror now, Mum. Aren’t you proud?” he said, hoping for some kind of reaction, some kind of acknowledgement that this was what his mum had wanted from him. Instead, she looked down at his hand curiously, cocking her head as if trying to figure out how the hand would become the gum she so desired.

His head felt too heavy with the need to have a different past, a different path for his parents, one where they could hug him and kiss him and tell him how proud they were that he was growing up to be just like them. He leaned down until his forehead crashed into the bedsheets beside his mother. –It doesn’t matter,” he mumbled. –I could sell socks or become Minister of Magic, you wouldn’t know the difference.”

He clung to his mother’s hand and buried his face into her side, craving for her understanding, for her healing, but nothing happened.

Then he felt a hand on his head. He thought it must be Healer Dayley coming to check on him, but when he lifted his head, he saw his father standing on the other side of his mother’s bed, one hand patting the back of Neville’s hair and the other holding out a silver, triangle-shaped pendant. No, it wasn’t a triangle, it was a silver ‘A’… an Auror badge. The name [i]Frank Longbottom[/i] was scrolled along the bottom.

With a shaky hand, Neville reached towards the badge, unsure if his father was actually doing what Neville thought. His fingers gripped the silver ‘A’, and his father let go. Neville couldn’t concentrate on the badge, though. He was too focused on his father, who had never been so lucid. Most times when Neville visited, his father ignored his existence, too engrossed in his letter-writing. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had looked into his father’s hazel eyes. Neville hadn’t even realized the badge had slipped from his fingers until his mother took her hand out of his and held up the ‘A’.

Neville watched her take in the badge, then she was rummaging in her night stand, leaving her husband’s badge on the sheets. Neville’s mouth hung open, never seeing his mother move with such speed and determination before.

After dropping quills and pictures and handfuls of Droobles wrappers on the ground, she finally pulled out a badge that was identical to Neville’s father’s except for the name at the bottom.

She stared at it for a long time, and as the minutes passed, Neville thought she might look at it for the rest of her life, but then she turned her gaze back to her son. With slow, unsteady hands, his mum pinned the badge to his shirt, poking him a few times in the chest before she got it secured. Then his father grabbed up his own pin and, reaching across the bed, clipped it on the other side. The little A’s hung sideways on the fabric, but it didn’t matter. Neville had never felt this close to understanding his parents, to having them understand him.

It was almost like a real conversation but better, because they were his parents and he was their son, and no one could communicate how proud they were like Frank and Alice Longbottom.
End Notes:
Hope everyone is enjoying the story so far. Only two more chapters to go! As always, reviews are greatly appreciated :)
same by WrenWinterSong

When we are no longer able to change a situation - we are challenged to change ourselves.
Viktor E. Frankl

10 May 1998

Draco Malfoy watched his foot tapping on the black tiled ground, his mother and father sitting on either side of him. He tried not to think about his magically bound wrists or the charmed wall that could be seen through on one side.

Merlin, what was taking so long? After being rushed into the Ministry and thrown into an interrogation room, Draco had expected an Auror to come in as soon as they were seated, but instead, they had been left alone.

–They can’t keep us waiting here forever,” Father muttered, but, Draco thought, what authority did he have to complain anymore?

The room was bare. No clock or window to mark the passing of time. All they had were the table and the chairs and a pitcher of water none of them could pour into cups. Draco felt that he would go mad if they made them wait any longer. Perhaps that was the point.

The door creaked open. Draco wanted to say that it was about time, but his voice died in his throat as he recognized the tall black man that walked into the room.

–Minister!” Father exclaimed in surprise. He regained composure and set his mouth back into a straight line. He continued in a smooth voice, –Have we really been accused of some action so dark that the Minister of Magic himself must address it?”

–It is not what you have done that brings me here,” Minister Shacklebolt said, taking the chair across the table and setting down a slim pile of parchment. –It is who spoke on your behalf that interests me most.”

–And who would speak in our favor?” Father growled.

–We will get to that soon enough,” Shacklebolt said, straightening the papers and glancing down at the first page. –There are a few formalities that we must follow. Now, the charges against the accused—–

–Is this our trial?” Father scoffed. –In an interrogation room? With you as our only judge? By law, we have a right to trial by the Wizengamot.” He pounded both of his fists on the table, shaking the rickety thing.

Shacklebolt raised his hand towards Father. –If you would let me explain.” Father glared at the Minister but sat back in his seat to let Shacklebolt go on. –Because of the number of Death Eaters currently in custody, it would take far too long for each and every one to stand before the entire Wizengamot, and frankly, we haven’t enough space for all of them here with Azkaban being… refurbished. We’ve dealt with the most severe cases first—”

–Severe cases?” Father said. –And we didn’t count amongst those?” Draco could tell his father was trying not to sound hopeful, but the prospect of not going to Azkaban was too great to hide.

–Obviously not,” Shacklebolt said. –Though we have kept an eye on your Manor this past week in case you tried to flee.”

–And we didn’t,” Father said. Of course, the family had noticed the Aurors walking around their property—they hadn’t really been subtle about the watch—but Draco suspected that his father was pleading for their lives, making it sound like the Malfoys had waited patiently for the Aurors to come rather than cowered inside the Manor.

–Considering none of you are in possession of wands at the moment, I think it would have been miraculous if you fled,” Shacklebolt said. Father refused to look dispirited, but Draco could see it in his eyes.

–The Wizengamot,” the minister continued, –is also much smaller than it used to be. We had to dismiss many corrupt members.” His dark eyes glared at Father. –Only high profile cases go before the entire Wizengamot, but for charges such as these, seven members will observe.”

–Only seven?” Father scoffed.

–Nearly half of the entire Wizengamot, yes,” Shacklebolt said pointedly.

Draco couldn’t stop his eyes from bulging in surprise at the information. Nearly half? That meant there were only about twenty members, at most. What had happened to the other thirty-some?

–Very well then,” Father said. –Carry on.”

Shacklebolt glared at Father, not liking him trying to shift the power dynamic, but picked up the parchment in front of him and said in a deep, clear voice, –Draco Malfoy.”

Draco’s heart sank to his feet. Mother’s hands shot out of her lap and gripped the sleeve of Draco’s shirt. –Must the boy be first?” Father asked, trying to assert his authority, but his tone held a hint of pleading.

–I believe it best,” Kingsly said. –Now, Draco Malfoy, you have been accused of being a Death Eater. We can clear up this charge quickly if you will roll up the sleeve of your left arm, but know that you are free to refuse.”

–The Dark Lord is dead,” Father cut in. –The Dark Marks disappeared with him.”

Shacklebolt shot him a withering look. –We’ve seen enough Death Eaters this week to know that,” he said. –But we’ve also found that the mark leaves behind a distinctive scar. Now, Draco, if you please.”

Draco set his hands on the table and mumbled, –I can’t. They’re still bound.”

–Of course,” Shacklebolt said, waving his wand over Draco’s wrists. The constricting feeling disappeared, leaving Draco’s hands tingling but free.

He couldn’t relish in the freedom for long. He looked up and saw Shacklebolt staring down at him with a gaze that was not to be kept waiting. Draco laid his left arm across the table, palm up, and rolled the sleeve with his right hand. A thin bandage was wrapped around his forearm and, as he unraveled it, he had the fleeting hope that the scar would be gone.

But the bandage fell away and it was still there.

Along the skin where the Dark Mark had once been, there was a bright pink scar. Even though he didn’t look at it, Draco knew the lightning bolt could be seen clearly against his pale skin

When Shacklebolt nodded, Draco rushed to cover it back up with his bandage.

–I think that’s all the evidence we need,” Shacklebolt said, clearing his throat. –Next is a charge for smuggling convicted Death Eaters into Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in 1997. Do you confess to having done this?”

Before he could answer, his father cut in again. –Is anyone writing this down? Where is the scribe? If I find reason to have this case reviewed and there is no scribe—"

–The scribe is with the Wizengamot members,” Shacklebolt said impatiently. –Draco, yes or no, did you help convicted Death Eaters into Hogwarts?”


–Draco,” his father hissed. –Never admit to anything.”

He ignored his father and continued looking at Shacklebolt, preparing himself for the next accusation.

–Did you attempt to murder Albus Dumbledore, late Headmaster of Hogwarts, three times, unsuccessfully, leading to the use of the Imperius Curse on Christina Rosmerta, the cursing of Katherine Bell, and the poisoning of Ronald Weasley?” Shacklebolt asked.

–Do not answer,” Father muttered under his breathe. Draco would have given him a scathing look since no matter how low he whispered, Shacklebolt would hear, but it was Father. He couldn’t.

–Yes,” he answered.

–And,” Shacklebolt continued, –did you use the Cruciatus Curse on convicted Death Eater Thorfinn Rowle.”

–Yes,” Draco said before his father could speak.

–Draco, what are you doing?” Father growled. –You might as well be signing your lifelong sentence to Azkaban yourself.”

–He wouldn’t ask if didn’t already know the answer,” Draco muttered back without looking at his father. Shacklebolt shrugged at the comment, not saying anything more about it, but Draco’s defiant words were enough to silence Father.

–Just one last question,” Shacklebolt said. –What do you know about the death of Vincent Crabbe?”

–Crabbe?” Draco asked in surprise, not expecting his death to be blamed on him as well. –What do you need know about him?”

–You were friends at school, yes?” Shacklebolt asked, and Draco nodded, though ‘friend’ wouldn’t have been the word he would use. Crabbe and Goyle had been helpful to him, yes, but never quite ‘friends.’ Now that he thought of it, Draco wasn’t sure he had any friends.

–His father is a Death Eater,” Shacklebolt stated. –And witnesses at the Battle of Hogwarts say you and your family were… not as committed to fighting with the Death Eaters as you once were. Is that a true statement?”

Draco thought back on the chaos of the final battle, of trying to stay in the other Death Eater’s good graces but being shoved out of the way and left behind. –Yes, you could say that,” he said.

–He died in a Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement. Who cast the spell that started the fire?” Shacklebolt asked.

Draco would have thought Potter or Weasley would have cleared this up by now, being Aurors and all, with a front page in the Daily Prophet to prove it. They knew, didn’t they? Perhaps, for once, someone wasn’t taking Potter on his word and wanted Draco to confirm it.

And to lie? To make Potter seem the fool, for once in his blasted life?

–Crabbe did it,” Draco said after a long, silent minute. As much as he would love to counter Potter’s word, he saw where lying and manipulating got you. He’d watched where it took Father.

Shacklebolt nodded, returning his gaze to the parchment. –It seems that’s everything, but before I ask the Wizengamot to make a decision on whether the charges should stand as you’ve confessed to them, I have a written statement from an influential someone who has chosen to speak for you.” He extracted a piece of parchment from the bottom of the pile, folded and sealed with wax. With a flick of his wand, the seal broke and the parchment straightened, floating above the table on its own.

Then a familiar voice echoed through the room, a voice that caused Draco’s lip to curl in an automatic response but also caused his chest to tighten and his stomach to grow nauseous.

–I, Harry Potter, propose that all charges against Malfoy be… oh, right… against Draco Malfoy be dropped.” It was odd hearing the forced formality in Potter’s voice but satisfying to hear him stumble on it. –He was only involved with the Death Eaters because of his dad and… oh, uh, his dad, Lucius Malfoy. He also had been threatened directly by Voldemort, er, otherwise known as Tom Riddle. I believe he did what he had to do to survive, nothing more, and does not deserve to be sent to Azkaban.”

Draco didn’t think he could sink any farther in his seat, but thankfully that was the end of it. The paper folded itself back on the table, the wax re-sealing as if it had never been broken.

The silence laid over them in a tense fog. Draco glanced at his father, saw his jaw quivering, and looked toward his mother. Her thin lips were no longer shaking and she seemed calm, like the proud mother who had raised Draco.

–What now?” Draco asked, breaking through the quiet.

–Would you like anyone else to speak for you?” Shacklebolt asked.

–No,” Draco said with a shake of his head, though not because he didn’t want someone else to but because no one else would.

–Then the Wizengamot will vote on their decisions,” Shacklebolt said. –All in favor of dropping all charges against Draco Malfoy?” He addressed the question to the parchment in his hands, not giving away which wall the Wizengamot members stood behind.

Draco waited for Shacklebolt to say or do something more, but the Minster also seemed to be waiting for something. He understood that whatever they were waiting for would determine Draco’s fate, and he was torn between wanting the Wizengamot to hurry up with their decision and to take all the time in the world.

When he felt he couldn’t take the tension any long, someone knocked on the door. Shacklebolt stood and opened it. Draco couldn’t see who it was, but he watched a hand give Shacklebolt a piece of parchment, one that seemed to bear all seven of their signatures. Shacklebolt thanked the person, closed the door, and returned to his seat.

–Draco Malfoy,” Shacklebolt said as he read the words on the parchment, –all changes against you have been dropped.”

Draco sat up, his hands, though no longer bound, glued to the table as he restrained himself from grabbing the parchment to read it for himself. He was no longer a criminal. He wouldn’t go to Azkaban. He was a free man.

Without a pause, Shacklebolt placed the parchment to the side and turned his attention to Mother. –Narcissa Malfoy, the charges against you are as followes—–

–Wait,” Draco interrupted. –That’s it?”

–Yes, Mr. Malfoy,” Shacklebolt said tersely. –That is all. You are free to go, if you wish.”

–But what am I supposed to do now?” Draco didn’t know why he was asking the Minister of Magic this question, but all of his ambitions had been tied in with Voldemort and being a Death Eater. Now that was gone.

–I suggest taking your N.E.W.T. exams. I believe they have been rescheduled for August. That gives you over three months to revise on your school subjects. After that, take whatever opportunity comes your way,” Kingsly said with a stern glare. Draco nodded, his mind looking into the future but still having trouble visualizing this new world without the Dark Mark, without the Dark Lord, without fear, but also without power.

–Now, Mrs. Malfoy,” Shacklebolt said as if Draco hadn’t interrupted at all, –did you shelter convicted Death Eaters in your home known as Malfoy Manor when Charity Burbage was murdered and Hermione Granger was tortured?”

Mother swallowed loudly before opening her mouth, seeming to fight against everything she had once believed in to cooperate with the Minister. –Yes, I did.” Father didn’t say anything, but he sighed as if the sound could make his wife stop talking. She ignored him.

Shacklebolt nodded and ruffled through his papers to find one that looked identical to the folded parchment that had spoken in Potter's voice. –Someone has spoken for you as well, Mrs. Malfoy,” Shacklebolt said. He tapped the parchment with his wand so it opened as neatly as the last, and Draco held in a groan when the voice was again Potter’s.

–During the Battle of Hogwarts on May 2nd 1998, I, Harry Potter, had been cursed by Tom Riddle with a spell meant to kill me.” Potter sounded much more confident speaking up for Mother than for Draco, and he tried not to let that bother him. –When Tom Riddle asked Narcissa Malfoy to check if I was dead, she lied and told him that I was. I propose all charges against her be lifted. If she had not covered for me, I would not be alive.”

–And Lord Voldemort would be,” Shacklebolt added. If that last part was so important, why hadn’t Potter said it himself, Draco wondered. Oh, that’s right, he’d forgotten how Potter posed as a humble, selfless Gryffindor. Merlin forbid he take credit for the one thing he was good for. No, he had to make it sound like his little friends would have finished the job if he died along the way. Git.

He heard a sniffling next to him, and Draco glanced as inconspicuously as possible to see a few tears falling down his mother’s face. She refused to wipe them away and ignored them as they dripped off her chin.

Draco didn't know what to do. He hadn’t seen his mother cry since she sent him off to Hogwarts his first year. What was the proper thing to do when one’s mother was in tears? Make whatever was upsetting her go away?

–Can we move on?” he said, but Mother took one of his hands in both of her bound ones.

With a deep breath, she looked back at Shacklebolt and said in a clear voice that hid her crying well, –Why did the Potter boy speak for us? Did he tell you? We’ve a right to know his motives.”

–Motives?” Shacklebolt said with an incredulous look. –I think Harry Potter simply didn’t think you two deserve to be imprisoned for the rest of your lives.”

–Two?” Father asked, the smallest hint of fear in his question. –Do you not mean three?”

–I meant two,” Shacklebolt said. –Harry only spoke for your wife and son, not for you.” Father’s gaze dropped, the first time since they had been thrown into the interrogation room. –But,” Shacklebolt continued, –he did suggest that, out of all the Death Eaters, you might be the one most willing to talk.”

–Talk? And what makes you think I know anything?” Father said, trying to regain control. –I wasn’t exactly the Dark Lord’s favorite by the end of the war.”

–I suggest you hope you know more than your think,” Shacklebolt warned, –or you could be spending your next two lifetimes in Azkaban.”

That was enough to wipe the smug grin off Father’s face.

–Now, if you don’t mind, I’d like the Wizengamot to make their decision. All in favor of dropping the charges against Narcissa Malfoy?”

Again they waited for a member of the Wizengamot to come to the door, parchment in hand. Shacklebolt summoned it this time, his patience obviously spent after spending so much time with Father. He glanced down at the ink writing and said, –Mrs. Malfoy, all charges against you have been dropped.”

Mother did not show any sign of surprise or gratitude this time. Instead she nodded as if that were the answer she had been expecting. Shacklebolt vanished the magical bounds around her wrists, and she stretched out her long fingers. –May my son and I leave now?” she asked.

–Leave?” Father shouted. –Do you really dare leave me behind? After all I did to protect our family?”

–And you did a marvelous job protecting us,” Mother said, not looking at her raging husband. –Going to Azkaban, being the reason the Dark Lord wanted our son dead, giving him free reign in our home—"

–Would you have liked me to have said no?” Father scoffed. –We all would have been dead within the hour if I had denied the Dark Lord. Our family survived, didn’t we?”

–Not all of us,” Mother said under her breath. Draco barely heard the words, and he wondered if he had been meant to hear them. He doubted Father or Shacklebolt had heard them at all. He thought about what she said, though, trying to figure out who she meant.

She couldn’t possibly mean Andromeda’s husband or daughter, could she? As far as Draco knew, she’d never even met them.

Did she mean Bellatrix… her sister? Since he was little, he’d been unable to connect Bellatrix Lestrange as belonging to his family, being his mother’s sister, being the ‘Auntie Bella’ that his mother referenced in stories of the past.

Draco could not contemplate long because his mother spoke again. –Minister Shacklebolt? Are my son and I free to leave?”

Shacklebolt nodded, his gaze still settled on Father, seeming to be waiting for the opportunity to petrify him. –Of course,” he said.

Mother rose from her chair, and Draco hastened to do the same, not wanting to be left behind with Father and Shacklebolt. He wasn’t sure which one scared him more. –We’’ll be waiting for you at home,” Mother said as she walked passed Father to the door. –Whenever you arrive,” she added as she strolled out.

Draco chanced a glance at Father, who glowered at him, a challenge in his eyes. How long would Shacklebolt keep his father under questioning? How much information would satisfy this new Minister? What wrath would he face when Father did eventually come back home?

He closed the door after himself, taking long strides to catch up to his mother.

They walked through a cramped dark corridor, not seeing any sign of the Wizengamot members, but there were a number of doors that they could’ve been behind. Mother glided across the floor as if she had been there a thousand times.

Draco began feeling that it really was over. Not just the war, but the fear and anxiety that came with it. For once in his life, he felt that he had nothing to prove.

That feeling lasted all of two seconds.

As Draco and his mother walked up five small steps and entered a better lit and wider corridor, Draco made the mistake of looking to his right. The wall along that side had one long window across it, just at eye level and only wide enough for him to see the far side of the room. But even that was too much.

Huddled around one desk, pouring over important looking notes, were the three newest Assistant Aurors.

Harry Potter looked up as if sensing his presence, a feeling Draco had had before. Potter always seemed to know when he was around and enjoyed poking his nose into his private business. But there was no suspicion or contempt in those green eyes now. Instead, he was reminded of a time seven years ago, when little naive eleven-year old Draco met not-yet-so-famous, not-yet-an-egocentric-arse Potter. Back then, Draco had thought he would graduate with money pouring from his pockets and take after his father, swaying the Minister to his will, and perhaps playing a bit of Quidditch on the side, letting the League teams fight over who would have the best Seeker in the country. Potter stole that future and took it as his own, except he turned down every team that approached him and worked alongside the new Minister and kept secret exactly how much money he had hidden in his Gringotts vault.

And here was Draco Malfoy, with absolutely no clue how to navigate this new world, same as eleven-year-old Harry Potter on his first day at Hogwarts. Draco had offered his hand to Potter then, and now, Potter raised a hand to him, a cordial wave across a room and behind a window, but a gesture of acknowledgement all the same.

It felt like a fresh start and repeating history at the same time.

Draco continued walking, ignoring Potter and his sidekicks, Weasley and Longbottom. What did Potter expect him to do? Grovel at his feet, thanking him for setting his mother and himself free? No, Potter wouldn’t expect that. He would expect Draco to ignore him, and if he weren’t so exhausted from the interrogation, he might’ve thought of something unexpected to do just to prove Potter wrong for once in his damned life.

Instead, he followed his mother out of the Auror department and into the lift.

The pair stood in the back, not looking at any of the Ministry workers crowded inside the space. Some of them stared, some looked away, but no one was unpleasant. If only the same could be said about entering the Atrium.

Draco felt every pair of eyes watching his mother and him march through the crowd and heard whisper after whisper.

”Are those the Malfoys?”

–Heard the Minister ‘imself brought ‘em in this mornin.’”

–He’s a Death Eater, you know.”

–It won’t be long till we see both of them in Azkaban.”

Draco whipped his head around to face the direction the last voice came from. –You have no idea what you’re talking about!” he yelled, not even sure if he was shouting at the right wizard.

Everyone in the Atrium stopped to stare at Draco, some with wide frightened eyes while others sniggered. He wanted to curse all of them, but he still didn’t have a wand. Why did he still not have a damn wand?

A hand gripped his arm and pulled him towards the Floo fireplaces. Draco surfaced from the fog of his rage long enough to see his mother lead him to the nearest fireplace and tug him inside the green flames. He muttered his home under his breath and shot up through the network. He stumbled out of the black marble fireplace at home, colliding with the dining room table. He righted himself, and the chair he tripped over, just as Mother stepped out of the green flames.

For a moment, she said nothing, just looked down her sharp nose at him, a mixture of discipline and pity in her eyes. Draco hated both.

–Draco, we no longer have the luxury of respect,” she said in a quiet voice. –We must be very careful if we are ever going to be a respected name again.”

–It’s not fair,” Draco said, aware of the child-like whine to his voice that only fed his frustration. –We still have money, we’re still Purebloods, we shouldn’t have to pretend to go along with the Muggle-hugging.”

–The Wizarding World is changing,” Mother said. –We must change with it.” She touched her hand to his cheek, but Draco turned away. He stormed through room after room and out the back door. There was only one object that he felt as close to as his wand.

He flung open the doors of the garden shed, though it was less of a shed and more of a mausoleum, smooth and white and towering. Draco walked straight to the back wall where a dozen broom-sticks were lined up. He grabbed his old Nimbus 2001, the broom that had got him on the Quidditch team. Even though he’d only ridden it that year and bought a Nimbus 1500 the next year, he still felt more connected to this model than any other broom he owned.

Rushing out, he straddled the broom and kicked off, soaring into the bright afternoon sky.

The estate was large enough to keep Draco occupied for nearly an hour, but he found no matter how fast he flew or how many maneuvers he concentrated on, his mind kept returning to dread. How would he survive in a world that no longer wanted his money, no longer respected his name, no longer cared about his pure heritage?

He landed hard on the ground, not slowing his momentum until he slammed into the grass, banging his knees as they buckled. The end of his broomstick stuck in the ground and sent him catapulting into a berry bush. Something cracked.

Draco righted himself but stayed inside the bush, too frightened to come out and face what he had done. He squeezed his eyes closed so he couldn’t even see between the leaves.

Cursing himself for being such a child, he finally burst out of the twigs and snatched the two halves of the broom from the ground.

There were places he could take the broomstick to be fixed, but who the hell would help a Malfoy, no matter what price he offered to pay? Merlin, would he ever get used to people turning him away at his surname instead of tumbling over themselves to help him?

Covered in dirt, Draco marched into the house and up to his room, not thinking of the whereabouts of either of his parents. He slammed the door to his room and shoved the broken broom underneath his bed. He never wanted to see it again.

Alone in his confined space that once seemed so large, he looked around for something more to do, some other task to occupy his mind, something to set his ambition on, but there was nothing.

A tapping at the window sent relief through him, and Draco sprinted to open it and let in a little brown owl. The minuscule thing landed with a thud on the floor, unable to move any more with the package attached to its tiny foot. The creature was a sad excuse for an owl, though Draco felt a flicker of recognition that he couldn’t place.

He untied the package from the struggling bird, and it flew up to the ceiling as soon as it was free. Draco ignored the flighty thing as it zoomed out the window and searched the package for a note. He found one on its underside, but all it said was his name.

It was a suspicious circumstance to say the least, but what else did Draco have to lose?

The cheap packaging ripped off easily and drifted to the ground as he flung it away. The box was cardboard and painted black, nothing like the wood and velvet containers he was used to seeing. He ignored the cheapness and popped off the lid.

He stared in shock at what was inside the box. It couldn’t be real, couldn’t be what he thought it was.

His hand shook as Draco reached into the box and picked up his wand, gazing at the cream-colored wood and inspecting it for any nicks. After being in Potter’s possession, he expected it to be irreparably damaged, but the wand was just has he remembered it. It felt warm in his hand, but he feared it would never be the same, would never again be loyal to him. Then he spied another note tucked in the corner of the box. He unfolded the parchment and read the words that were better than any he had read or heard in days.

With my death, the wand is again loyal to its original owner. Apparently, wands don’t care if you come back to life. H.P.
End Notes:
Only one chapter left to go! I love hearing everyone's thoughts, so leave a review if you can :)
ends by WrenWinterSong

It would be wonderful to think that the future is unknown and sort of surprising.
Alan Rickman

20 August 1998

Draco tripped and fell as he Apparated outside of Hogwarts, not yet accustomed to the strangling feeling. As his palms hit the dew-covered ground and stained them brown, he glanced around for witnesses, but no one else had arrived that early. He picked himself up and retreated to the shadows of the gate, hood pulled up to hide his identity, a habit he’d developed over the summer.

Since his family’s interrogation, Draco had devoted all of his time to studying, not going outside of the Manor if he could help it. Father spent most of his time out, either at the Ministry talking his way out of Azkaban with Minister Shacklebolt and Head Auror Williamson or reconnecting with any Knight of Walpurgis that hadn’t been swept into being a Death Eater. He clung to anyone with influence that would be seen with him. As for Mother, she’d dismissed their house-elves and started practicing household spells that were only now improving. She spent most evenings at the dining table writing letters to her last living sister, though. Draco saw her incinerate most of them and doubted she would ever send one.

Others began to pop up on the lawn, some pulling books out of their pockets and reading by the dawn sun. Those taking the O.W.L.’s arrived in carriages a few minutes later. Both exams would be held during the same days, instead of the usual schedule of the N.E.W.T.s being held a week later.

The gates creaked open, allowing Draco to lose himself in the crowd. He stuck to the outskirts and hunched his shoulders to diminish his height. Professor McGonagall stood in front of the doors of the Great Hall, silencing everyone with one stern look.

–For the written part of your Charms examinations,” she explained, –all those taking the O.W.L.s will sit to the right and those taking N.E.W.T.s to the left. The O.W.L. students will be dismissed first for a short break in the Entrance Hall that will end when the N.E.W.T. exams are finished. At that time, the O.W.L. students will be escorted to the grounds for the practical portion of their exam while the N.E.W.T. students take their break, then proceed to their own practical exams. Carriages will be waiting to return to Hogsmeade, and licensed students are free to Apparate when they are finished. Good luck.”

She allowed them into the Great Hall, and Draco took a seat in the back of the N.E.W.T. section, ignoring the other students even as Blaise Zabini raised an eyebrow at his hood and Seamus Finnegan bumped his shoulder.

Draco popped the lid off his ink and wet his quill, preparing to write as soon as his parchment flew to his desk. He had done more than enough studying, but he needed all the N.E.W.T.s he could if he wanted a job that would further his newest ambition: distancing himself from Father, dark magic, and the Malfoy convention of being a jobless millionaire.

Professor McGonagall sent the exams to their desks. Draco had his quill to paper before she could say, –Begin.”

1 September 1998

–And you’re sure this place is safe?” Ron asked as he followed Harry down the stairs of number twelve Grimmauld Place. –And clean?”

–I’ve been going through the place all month with Savage, so I hope so,” Harry said. –And Kreacher cleans long after I tell him to stop.”

–He’s staying here then? What’s Hermione think of that?”

–Considering he got the master bedroom, I think she’s fine with my keeping him. He’d rather be paid in family heirlooms than Galleons anyway.” Harry opened the drawing room door, revealing its final transformation to a comfortable living room with two overstuffed sofas and new wallpaper covering the Black Family Tree.

Ron slumped into the nearest couch, stretching his legs to rest on the coffee table. –Forget the bedroom, I’ll just move in here.”

–Closer to the kitchen,” Harry remarked, but Ron was too relaxed to agree. He closed his eyes but heard Harry take the other couch. –It’s been weeks since we’ve last talked.”

–Yeah,” Ron agreed. He and Hermione had only returned to England a week ago, and they’d spent that time fixing up her parents’ abandoned house. He reunited with his family at King’s Cross as they showed off Ginny, then dropped by the Burrow to pack a trunk to start his move into Grimmauld Place. He only had a week before they resumed their Assistant Auror jobs and started their training tests to become fully qualified. –Well,” he said, feeling he had to talk since he hadn’t seen Harry in ages but not knowing what exactly to say.

Things had been off at King’s Cross, or so he noticed after Hermione pointed out that Harry and Ginny weren’t acknowledging each other. Ron had expected them to be back together in no time, but they’d only shaken hands as Ginny left. He wanted to ask what had happened while he’d been in Australia but instead said, –Angelina’s the new starting Chaser for the Wimbourne Wasps.”

–I still keep up with Quidditch, thanks,” Harry said. –I was going to ask how Australia was.”

–Utter disaster,” Ron groaned. –We set up dozens of international Portkeys, suffered through a Muggle cruise ship, and searched all over the bloody country to find her parents not in Australia.” Ron threw his hands up in the air and heard Harry chuckle. Ron didn’t know how the story could be entertaining; he was sure Harry had heard it through Ginny, who heard it through Hermione, but if Harry and Ginny weren’t talking anymore, perhaps Harry hadn’t yet heard about the experience. –So we asked around and found out they moved back to Europe. Apparently, they felt like they were missing something in Australia. They kept the house but started travelling all across Asia and Europe, hoping to feel better.” His voice quivered as he remembered the glimmer of desperation and failure in Hermione’s eyes as they took a ship back to the mainland continents.

–So where’d they end up?” Harry asked.

–Bloody France,” Ron exclaimed, forcing his mood to lighten. –Two blocks from Hermione’s Auntie Jean.”

Harry’s chuckling burst into contagious laughter that dragged Ron into the giddiness as well. After nearly a month of travel and uncertainty, it was good to be in a home with his best mate, a butterbeer, a steady job, and plans to visit his girlfriend for her birthday. He didn’t think he would ever get used to the blissfulness of facing death and coming out with the perfect life.

5 March 1999

Luna tugged off a glove to pet Ctesias the unicorn, earning an appreciative whinny. He’d grown since he first moved into the paddock behind Hagrid’s hut, his chin now brushing her forehead instead of her stomach, but he still acted as young as ever, spending most of his time running through the snow piles and neighing at anyone who passed by.

Rolf Scamander had aged him at about a year when they first found him, too young to be on his own, so Ctesias became the the seventh years’ Care of Magical Creatures project until he was old enough to be released. It just so happened that the only seventh year N.E.W.T. students Hagrid had were herself, Ginny, and Hermione. They tried to plan a schedule so no one had to clean up after Ctesias alone, but today, Ginny had to go to the Quidditch pitch right after classes for a grueling practice and Hermione had pleaded for the time to catch up on the school work that she had some how gotten behind on, though, she insisted, it had nothing to do with Ron’s recent visit. Luna didn’t mind the alone time with the unicorn. She felt things went smoother when Ginny wasn’t there trying to ride him and Hermione trying to stand him still so she could study him.

Ctesias’s head jerked towards the end of his paddock that disappeared into the Forbidden Forest and chased after the sound that Luna couldn’t hear. She turned to gather her shovel and rake to start cleaning out Ctesias’s stable but jumped when she saw that Rolf Scamander had appeared behind her.

–Luna Lovegood,” he said with a smile. –I was told I could find you down here.”

–Hello, Rolf,” she said, his first name slipping out naturally despite her not having seen him since the day they first met. He had changed quite a bit. His hair was cut, his chin clean-shaven, and his clothes were fitted and unwrinkled. –What’s wrong? You don’t look like yourself.”

–Ah, well…” He rubbed the back of his neck, his gaze going towards the place Ctesias had disappeared. –I s’pose I’m still recovering from trying to be someone else. Y’know, trying to save a relationship, but Sylvia and I broke up anyways.”

–Oh,” Luna said, not surprised. When Rolf had talked about her, Sylvia Fawcett had seemed posh and traditional, the exact opposite of Rolf, but there seemed to be more than just that. –What happened?”

–It’s funny, really, she left me ‘cause she wanted to travel.” He chuckled, not degrading to himself or disrespectful to Sylvia but generally finding humor in the irony. –I stayed here to be with her, and she left to see the world. I guess near-death experiences can do that.”

–Why didn’t you go with her?”

–Oh, she wanted to travel to all these great cities. Not my thing. But I get to plan that world-wide expedition I’ve always wanted, and that’s the reason I’m here.” Luna thought she could see where the conversation was going but didn’t want to get her hopes up. Rolf leaned against the fence, his posture casual but his voice all seriousness. –Let me ask you, Luna. Still want to find new creatures no one else believes in?”

2 May 1999

Ginny thought the first anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts was going wonderfully. The castle was decorated in bright House colors, the music catchy, and the food better than any she’d had all year. Ginny would have been happy to join the dancing and cut into Percy’s dance with his new girlfriend, Audrey Midgen—Head of Percy’s department; the Prophet had loved that story—but Ginny stood beside the door of the Great Hall, scanning the crowd for Harry Potter.

After standing through McGonagall’s welcoming speech, then Kingsley’s address of the Ministry’s changing laws, then Harry’s words on the memorial statue near the entrance of the school, Ginny had been more than ready to grab her glass of champagne and do some real celebrating. Instead, Harry had grumbled to her about how he hated the statue since it only honored those who died in the battle, which didn’t include Sirius or Cedric or even Dumbledore. He’d wandered off after that, and since no one else seemed concerned, Ginny felt responsible for finding him again. It shouldn’t have been her responsibility. It wasn't like she was his girlfriend.

She spotted him shuffling through the crowd, his face a bit green as he wandered towards where she was standing.

–You look like you need some air,” she said.

–Yeah,” he admitted. –Come to the Quidditch pitch with me?”

Ginny nodded, trying not to show her surprise at the request as she followed him out. The grounds were full of current students enjoying the warm day off, and Harry waved politely at those who stared or pointed but kept their pace brisk. They walked across the rest of the grounds, through the changing rooms, and out on the Quidditch field.

Despite there being a handful of people lounging in the stands, their voices didn’t carry down and made Ginny feel alone with Harry. It was no longer a familiar setting. They’d only seen each other a handful of times throughout the year and they’d done a good job of avoiding each other until today.

Harry stuck to the shadows from the stands, glancing up at the people sitting in them. –Slughorn said Gwenog Jones’ll be at the next game?”

–Yes, she is,” Ginny said, tugging her lips down over her smile. When Harry looked curiously at her lack of reaction, she explained, –I’ve been working on my composed face. For when I meet her. I don’t want to be one of those fans.”

–Right,” Harry said with a slight smile but turned his attention away again.

Ginny huffed. –Are we going to make light conversation all day or are we going to talk about how we shagged and have spent the last nine months pretending it never happened?”

Harry said nothing, just raked a hand through his hair, so Ginny added, –If you don’t want to get back together, could you tell me? Because I’ve got loads of other blokes I could be dating, but I’m not because I’m waiting for you, which I should’ve learned not to do by now.”

Harry sighed as he took a seat on the bench. –It’s complicated.”

–I’d say.” Ginny sat next to him, feeling closer to a real answer than she had in months. –You can start with why you stopped talking to me for a month. Were you trying to break up with me again?”

–Sort of.” He leaned his arms on his knees and kept his voice low. –Someone threatened you in an anonymous letter to me right after the Daily Prophet wrote that story about us.”

Ginny waited for him to go on, not seeing it as big of a problems as he seemed to. –And?”

He straightened so he could look at her. –It’s never going to be safe to date me.”

–Obviously,” she said. –You’re always going to have enemies. You’re Harry Potter. You’ll just have to find a girl who can take care of herself.”

She hoped her teasing smile would lighten the mood, but he muttered, –Moody and Sirius could take care of themselves, too.”

–You can’t live in fear of the people you care about dying forever. You’ll end up caring for no one and living a horribly lonely life,” Ginny said, her frustration forcing her to stand up. –But I’m not going to try to convince you to date me again. It’s useless. I think I’ll just go ask Seamus Finnegan to dance and forget about all this.”

She stormed away, Harry calling after for her to wait, and made it halfway through the changing rooms before he caught her arm and spun her around. His mouth crashed into hers as he grabbed her waist and she clung to the front of his robes. When they broke apart, she breathed, –That’s better.”

He shook his head at her. –This is may be the most selfish thing I’ve ever done.”

–You deserve to be a bit selfish.” She brushed her fingers along his cheek. –Besides, I’d like a life that’s a bit dangerous.”

–Well, that I can give you,” he said with a chuckle.

–Good.” She leaned in for another kiss before pulling away again. –This better not be a repeat of last summer,” she said, poking him in the chest.

–No,” he said quickly. –I promise never to break up with you again.”

Ginny smiled, thinking of all the years they had together if he kept his word. She never planned on breaking up with him either.

–I’ll hold you to that for the rest of your life.”

–I wouldn’t expect anything less.”

6 June 1999

Hermione turned the page of her Defense Against the Dark Arts book beneath the table, balancing the thick volume on her crossed knees. The N.E.W.T. exams were still two weeks away, but the E she received in her O.W.L. still haunted her. Along with cramming two years of Care of Magical Creatures knowledge into one, she worried she would never have the marks she needed to make it into the Ministry.

The stress helped her block out the festive music and chatter of the wedding reception. She’d paid all her attention to George and Angelina’s ceremony in order to justify sitting in a table near the back of the reception tent, tying up her hair, and revising as inconspicuously as she could manage.

–Hermione Granger,” a strong, feminine voice said from her left. Hermione tore her eyes away from the book to see Audrey Midgen, Head of the Department of Magical Transportation, looking down at her with her unnerving golden hazel eyes. –That’s not a book hidden underneath the tablecloth, is it?”

Hermione shut the book with a loud clap as Audrey took a seat beside her. –Just a bit of light reading between songs,” she said with a forced smile, hoping to pacify Audrey and return to her revising.

Audrey gave her a knowing grin that made obvious she wasn’t fooled.

Even after seeing Audrey side-by-side with her sister, Eloise, Hermione was still surprised to see the younger’s face in her older sister, minus the acne. They shared the same round face and straight brown hair, but Audrey managed to be the picture of beauty while Eloise paled in comparison.

–You won’t have any trouble making it into the Ministry,” Audrey said. –Staying in without losing all hope in humanity? Maybe not. But if you stick to your beliefs, kid, you just might do great things.”

Hermione smiled, the words striking something inside her. Audrey’s face was so young that she often forgot she was Charlie’s age and had been in the Ministry nine years. If anyone could give advice on being a young ambitious woman in the the Ministry of Magic, it was Audrey.

–So you think it’s okay for me to revise right now?” Hermione asked. –Sticking to my beliefs?”

Audrey chuckled and rolled her eyes. –You better go into Law with an ability to twist words like that. But do you want to know what I think? I think you should enjoy the fun times you have when you’re young and free. You’re about to sell your soul to the Ministry, my dear. You should dance with your man while you’ve got the time.” She patted Hermione’s shoulder as she stood and sauntered over to the wedding party table where the Weasleys sat. She grabbed Percy’s hand and dragged him to the dance floor. Hermione giggled as Audrey moved with grace while Percy fumbled around her.

If she wanted to be like Audrey Midgen, the time to start was now.

She leapt from her chair and hurried to where Ron sat. She grabbed his hand and said between giggles, –Come dance with me!”

It took a moment for Ron to get over his bewilderment, but then he took her other hand and twirled her around. Still in motion, Hermione tugged the band from her hair to let the curls fall free, colliding back into Ron. His laughter made her forget all about the book she left behind.

11 July 1999

Neville leaned against the bar of the Leaky Cauldron as Tom filled another tray with an assortment of liquor and his friends carried their laughter all the way to him. When he’d last checked his watch, it had been midnight and Ginny had brought over their previous round of drinks. He dreaded going to the St. Mungo’s Greenhouses in just a few hours to take notes on the growth of one of his experimental hybrids.

Everyone was pushing against the bar for their last round of the night, so he barely noticed the short blonde girl next to him until—he hated to admit it—his peripheral vision could see down her shirt. He felt obligated to look at her face now that he’d seen more than enough of her breasts and felt his entire face go pink when he recognized her as Hannah Abbott.

He felt he should say something and grew more and more uncomfortable the longer he waited. Finally, he stuttered out a couple words. –Uh, Hannah, hi.”

Her shoulders tensed before she looked over her shoulder at him, but then her mouth spread into a relieved smile. –Oh, Neville! What are you doing here?” She gave him a quick hug, which proved difficult as they had to avoid knocking over anyone’s drink with an elbow.

–We’re giving Luna a going away party,” he explained, motioning to the table where Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and Dean sat. –She’s leaving for a magizoological trip tomorrow. Why are you here?”

He hadn’t meant to sound so accusatory—he just wanted to be polite—but her face reddened. –Oh, um, I was…” Her struggle for words was interrupted by Tom.

–Here you go, Abbott.” He set down a shot filled with black liquor and a bag that clinked as it hit the wood. –The usual. And your tray’s ready when you are,” he added to Neville before walking away.

Hannah snatched up the bag. –I work here,” she muttered. –As a barmaid, until I finish Healer training. Tom gives me a discount on my room.”

–You’re living here?”

She took a deep breath before explaining. –My dad kicked me out. After Mum died, he gave up magic, snapped his wand. He said it was his magical heritage that killed her. He didn’t want me to go back to Hogwarts, but Susan—you remember Susan Bones, she’s training to be an Auror now—convinced me to finish school without his support. After graduation, I tried to go home, but he wouldn’t let me in unless I gave up magic too. I stayed with Susan for a while, but her mum’s practically mad, so I couldn’t stay. I can’t afford a flat right now, so Tom gave me the job and a cheap place to stay.

–And that,” she added, nodding towards the shot of Black Ice Vodka, –is stress management.”

–And that helps?” It could have been his distaste for too much alcohol, but he never understood how drinking could help someone calm their nerves.

–Helps me forget Ernie.”

The name sent a pang through Neville’s chest, remembering seeing her crying over the body of her best friend in the Great Hall.

He though of letting her have the shot, but when she grabbed the glass, he grabbed her wrist. She stared at him, not angry but on the verge, then shoved it to his chest. –Fine. You drink it.”

–You can give it up that easy?” he asked skeptically.

–No.” She shrugged. –I have a bottle of that and one of firewhiskey in my room. One swallow won’t mean anything in an hour.”

Neville kept her gaze, trying an intimidation maneuver from his Auror days that he never quite mastered. Instead, an idea came to him.

He and Hannah had never been close at Hogwarts, keeping their distance in case their oddities and anxiety doubled by being near each other, but he felt a connection in their easy conversation that contradicted the fact that they hadn’t talked in over a year.

–You should move into my flat.”

–What?” Hannah asked in bewilderment.

–I have more than enough room and you can keep your job here and when you start work as a Healer, you can look for another place. One not above a bar.” He didn’t have to mention that there would be no alcohol in the flat. He could see from her face that she knew that.

–I’ll think on it,” she said. –But only if I pay half the rent.”

–Sure,” Neville agreed.

–Okay,” she said, her face looking a bit less shadowed than it had earlier. She gave him a genuine smile. –It was good to see you.”

20 August 1999

–Can I leave now?” Harry asked Healer Jamison as the middle-aged man placed a glass of water on the nightstand.

–Not yet, Mr. Potter,” he said with a tint of amusement. He was used to having Harry in his care and was deaf to his complaints. –We need to keep you for a few more hours in case there are any side-affects from that vase.”

Harry slouched against the wall, refusing to lie down like the Healers had asked him to over a dozen times since he arrived at St. Mungo’s with a purple flower vase stuck to his hand and an unknown goo melting off the glass and covering his skin. Not once had he gotten hit by a stray curse, but he always ended up touching the one cursed object on a scene. It had become a running joke in the Auror Department… and on the Artifact Accidents floor at St Mungo’s.

–I’ll contact Ms. Weasley to escort you home?” Jamison asked.

–I can go home by myself. I’m fine.”

–You injured your wand hand. I think it best to have Ginny help you home.”

–Fine,” Harry mumbled. –Just make sure you wait till after her practice is over.” Jamison nodded and left the room.

Harry reached for the glass of water, wanting something to do, but he couldn’t grasp it with his bandaged fingers. He groaned. The skin of his arm no longer felt like a thousand needles were stabbing it, but after the Healers had frozen the goop then melted it off, his skin was so raw that it needed ten different salves to heal, three of which to help with the pain. Harry hated not being able to feel one of his limbs, especially the one he needed to hold his wand, and cursed at himself for being so stupid.

Someone knocked on the door of his private room, which was more to keep other patients calm than for any other reason, and before Harry could stand to open it, Andromeda Black walked in, Teddy scuttling out in front of her. He wobbled as he hurried to Harry’s bed, not quite having the hang of running yet.

–‘Arry!” Teddy shouted as he tried to climb up the bed. Andromeda lifted him up so he could settle himself beside Harry, his hair changing from turquoise to black as he copied Harry’s looks, a habit he’d picked up in the last month.

–I’m sorry, Andromeda,” Harry said, remembering he was supposed to watch Teddy that night, like he did every Friday. Saturdays were his only days off, so Teddy often spent the night on Fridays. –I should have had someone tell you where I was.”

–Oh, we figured it out rather quickly,” she said with a snigger as she took a seat. –We thought we’d visit since the usual plans will have to be cancelled.”

–What? No, no, I’m fine.”

Andromeda raised a skeptical eyebrow. –He’s becoming quite the adventurer.”

–Ron can help keep an eye on him,” Harry said, though that seemed to do nothing to convince her. –I’ll invite Ginny over.” The eyebrow didn’t budge. –And Hermione.”

Andromeda sighed. –Very well. I suppose with all four of you there, he can’t get into too much trouble.” She leaned down to Teddy. –You’re going to be staying with Harry after all.”

–Stay? ‘Arry? Yay!” Teddy yelled in excitement and hugged Harry tight around the waist. Harry chuckled as he hugged his godson back, his mood lightening more and more as he thought about what the evening would hold.

He had never felt happier.
End Notes:
Thank you to everyone and anyone who read this entire story, and a thank you to Vicki for beta-ing most of the chapters. Hope you enjoyed it and hope to see your comments in a review :)
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