A proper family home is better called a nest. It comes together in bits and pieces, snatches of outside life collected and deposited within by the various members of the flock. Some are mere twigs, the rudimentary necessities of everyday life: tables, toothbrushes, mugs hastily selected at Tesco because Mum remembered we were running short. Others are more like the jewels stolen by magpies: carefully arranged flowers in cut-glass vases, gleaming and ancient silver candelabra, heads of beasts above the fireplace. A few family treasures are neither: very often glittering only to those who have collected them, these take hold and give the home its distinctive character, regaling newcomers with tales of great familial triumph and warning outsiders of the queer personalities that might value such oddities.
The Diggorys of Shuttlesworth, for example, threaded every corner of their home with stems from the tails of boys’ Quidditch brooms, notes of commendation by the chapter leader of the local Bonny Badger Infant Wizard scout troop, and endless photos of a handsome young man no older than seventeen. The Edgecombes of Doublefizz Drive piled tables with cosmetic potions recipes and books on skin restoration, and replaced the hallway mirrors with chalkboards upon which Mrs. Edgecombe lovingly inscribed, every morning, ‘You’ll always be beautiful to me.’
The Malfoys, who resided often – but not always – in a vast Wiltshire manor, kept peacocks and bloodstained books and traditional goblin-made halberds; and also a number of magical portraits to adorn their cold, shining walls, pride of place always given to those of a sour blond boy with a pointed face, each year (save this last one) lovingly preserved anew in fine robes and a sporting, lordly pose.
The Weasleys of Ottery St. Catchpole scattered the nest with bits of genuine Egyptian mummy, adverts for a new joke shop, head boy badges, ancient and tottery broomsticks, dragon scales, useless plugs and round-peg sockets, bits of knitting in every color and variety, and scrapbooks full of moving photographs. The photographs’ captions: Our Ginny’s First Bit of Magic, Our Ginny & Our Bill With Aunt Muriel, Our Ginny in Her Dress Robes, Our Ginny & Our Ron in Maroon Jumpers, Our Ginny’s Tonsils Removed, Our Ginny & the Twins Trying to Wake Scabbers, Our Ginny Gives Dad a Hug, Our Ginny Crying Because I Said Quidditch was Awfully Dangerous & Have Told Charlie a Dozen Times to Leave the Younger Ones Out of It, Our Percy Reads Our Ginny Hogwarts: A History, Our Ginny Falling Asleep Because Our Percy Insists on Reading Her Hogwarts: A History. Presumably the nest also contained a genuine Our Ginny, though following the last battle everything within was shrouded in grief and it became difficult to find Our Anyone, every Weasley having taken to flying in and out at odd times to avoid each other. Seeing each other required speaking of or thinking about That Was Our Fred. This individual was nowhere to be found in person, though he did manage to wave at them from the pages of the scrapbook bound in black.
Harry Potter had a photo album and a cloak.
Once, he also had a firebolt and a vial of silvery memories and a letter from his finest Defense professor. The firebolt was smashed; the memories dutifully handed over to the Ministry as testimony and from there directly to the Headmistress, who had recently succeeded the memory-maker at his post; and the letter it did not seem right to keep, especially when one considered little Teddy Lupin growing to manhood with no idea of what his father was like. Harry Potter had been like that until the year he received the photo album.
He flipped through the album, which was something he did often, initially to comfort himself and then later more and more because it was routine (families worked like this, with security and love leaching into boredom and then back again; this was not a family, but only snapshots of one; but this would have to suffice), and pointed out first his father, here, and then his pretty mother, here, and also Lupin and Sirius who everyone had known, but who – just in case Ron, Hermione, or Ginny could not recognize them looking so young and carefree – were here and here.
The photos were a visual aid. They were discussing the resurrection stone. It did not resurrect. It only brought up shades. Two of the shades had been Harry’s mother and father, who he supposed might have threaded their nest with pictures of Our Harry if only they hadn’t been murdered first.
“Bet they would’ve been first-rate,” Ron said loyally. “Bet we all would’ve loved them.”
“Thanks,” Harry said.
Then talk turned to the whereabouts of the stone and why on earth Harry had dropped it in the forest—
“Harry, anyone could comb the forest for a distinctive stone with the extremely well-known symbol of the Deathly Hallows on it,” said Hermione. “A stone that you made famous. Rita Skeeter’s already threatening to write a whole book about it!”
The stone was then duly summoned. Ginny noted that she appreciated Harry’s time-and-energy-saving accio but rather hoped that the stone had not smacked into anyone on its way to Gryffindor Tower. Plans for a foolproof hideaway were discussed. Hermione’s research indicated that such a powerful artifact could cause madness and ought to be hidden away. Dumbledore’s tomb was suggested and vetoed because it already contained the Elder Wand, and Ron felt that two of the three Deathly Hallows in one place was a strategic error designed to make life easier for future Dark Lords and also that Harry needed to realize that Dumbledore’s tomb was not a rubbish bin.
Next suggestion: Snape’s tomb. Harry felt this was a fitting complement to giving Dumbledore the wand, and also neatly echoed the fact that Snape had faithfully loved his dead, pretty mother and resurrected her memory within him all his life, etc., etc., poetic whatnot that he felt but couldn’t verbalize well because he wasn’t really a poetic fellow and also because this was Snape and his Mum. Hermione thought that was beautiful, but really Harry, Snape’s tomb wasn’t even built yet. Also Ron thought tombs were still not rubbish bins, c’mon people, have some respect for the magically deceased, what would Mum say. Also Ginny worried that this would resurrect Snape’s shade, and no one wanted that to happen.
“What could you even say to Snape?” Ginny said. “I guess I would tell him I never guessed he wasn’t completely evil. Fooled us all.”
“Think that was just him,” said Ron. “Just his way. Merlin bless.”
Gringotts was considered.
“Harry, you know how easy it is to break into Gringotts,” said Hermione.
“Actually,” said Ron, “It was pretty hard. If I recall correctly.”
Ginny noted that if the trio had done it, at least a few others probably could as well. Bill could, or any of his coworkers. And, magical persons being all power and no common sense and often excess reserves of cruelty (Ginny’s outlook on humanity had been sorely tested this past year; any photos of her taken during this period would have to be captioned: Our Ginny Evades Torture by Hexing People Indiscriminately), it would be best to hide the stone someplace so terrible that no one would ever want to retrieve it, someplace where even getting the stone wouldn’t be worth it. Her only experience with such places taught her that usually they were crawling with Death Eaters, though. Hermione said yes, so that wouldn’t do and also that Azkaban was out because there was madness enough there and anyway it was long overdue for prison reform.
When it seemed as though all possible options had been exhausted, the group summoned Kreacher, who was a house-elf and therefore custom-designed to work through exhaustion. Kreacher might have been counted among the adornments of Harry’s house – legally, he belonged to Harry – only that did not seem right because house-elves had thoughts and dreams and could be heroic like any other living being, and so considering him an adornment of the nest would have been very callous indeed. (What’s more, Kreacher believed himself the last remnant of a greater, more glittering nest than had ever existed before and would ever exist again. He privately-if-silently objected to being collected for any lesser nests; he and Harry had a sort of tacit agreement about this.)
After being shown and explained to about the resurrection stone, Kreacher said that perhaps he knew what to do. Perhaps.
Kreacher could not find a truly awful place because he kept to a strict code that meant he’d iron his ears before ever entering a Muggle dwelling. But he did know a very secret, very terrible place. A place that crawled with death and venom. In fact the worst place in the world from his perspective, and most assuredly a place that no one ever entered without ultimately regretting it. Perhaps the stone was meant to go there.
He would deposit the stone within and later seal the entrance with elf magic. This was so that Kreacher’s acts could not be undone. They could find no fault with this plan. The stone was turned over to Kreacher. Harry did not think about it again for a week.
This was the week in which all those missing Muggles from the fifties later appeared. They’d been cursed by Voldemort, they raved about drowning and thirsting for flesh, they were clearly mad or worse, and they’d been released, the Prophet said, by the Dark Lord’s demise at the hands of Harry Potter. The Prophet made sure to add that it had certainly taken Harry Potter long enough and that he had been off camping while the wizarding world suffered terribly in his absence and that it really needn’t have escalated to a battle at Hogwarts if only callous Potter had just done his death-defying trick properly the first time.
The new Minister made an official statement as well (the Prophet labeled this act ‘more of Shacklebolt’s characteristic ineptitude,’ which surprised many who knew the man, who was in fact quite capable). He thanked the public for all of their understanding as the Ministry took time to situate innumerable traumatized persons whom the wizarding world could not in good conscience just abandon.
“How dreadful,” said Ginny.
“I hope their skill sets translate to the modern world,” said Hermione. “Surely some of them know how to type, but just imagine what they’ll do when they encounter cordless telephones! They’ll be as bad as wizards are.”
“Or Muggles when they see their first talking mirror,” Ron said. “To be fair.”
They did not note the rest of the article. They did not trust the Prophet, and this was a pity because the article was one of Rita Skeeter’s best, about seventy-five percent accurate, an achievement for her and for wizarding reporting overall as in general the abysmal state of magical journalism meant that the news was only ever guaranteed to be about five percent correct. Probably Skeeter deserved some kind of journalistic prize. No one was to give her one for this, which was really quite a shame.
The rest of the paper was full of death notices and persons asking about missing Muggle-born friends, and the recent glut of children infected with lycanthropy, and the likelihood that several Death Eaters were still at large. The whole thing seemed designed to remind you that you needed comforting after this past year, and Ron wasn’t asking for any comfort because he rather thought someone ought to check on George, and Hermione wasn’t asking because she needed to plan how best to recover her parents from Australia, and Ginny wasn’t asking because someone had to help Luna Lovegood settle back in with her dad.
Well naturally Harry wanted comfort more than anything. He flipped through his photo album: familial comfort at his fingertips. How one got it anywhere else he really did not know. Then, unaccustomed to comfortably lazing about with family, he put the album aside and went to check on Grimmauld Place.
This was—well. He supposed it was his house.
It was an awful house. It was dusty and it was falling down around him and it was full of doxies and it had this horrible screaming portrait and the shade of the old Headmaster would appear and leave one breathless with fright as soon as the front door was opened. It was the least comforting house in London. How any family could ever have resided there was a mystery; that Harry did not just abandon the place was a testament to his lack of familiarity with proper family pursuits.
He had never had a house or a home or a nest. He had a somewhat morbid photo album. That was all. He greatly desired something beyond that, but it must be said that anyone who could make for themselves a cosy family unit would have happily ceded Grimmauld Place to Kreacher and the doxies. Harry could not make a cosy family unit by himself, as of yet he could only borrow the Weasleys for a while and they were going through a rough patch, and anyway he had a certain fluency with and fondness for things that, like Grimmauld Place, were strange and peculiar and unwanted.
Harry Apparated inside. The shade was gone. The quiet gloom seemed almost comforting to him. Here was where Tonks used to knock over the umbrella stand, and here was where Moody would stomp to and fro, and here was where Fred and George had tested their extendable ears. Here was the entirely cheerless room once occupied by his deeply tragic, slightly deranged, and very-much-dead godfather.
Well, it was a strange nest and gave a strange sort of comfort, but Harry’s people had stayed here once. It had its merits. Harry flopped down on the bed and closed his eyes. There was the ghostly creak of a door behind him. Everything creaked here and was musty and oppressive, and reminded one of things that could lurk behind curtains and in cupboards and of horrible figures that could floo in at any moment to try and kill one without warning. Harry was accustomed to this; like the photo album, it possessed a certain morbid attraction.
Creak, creak, went the door.
The young hero was unmoved and supposed it was Kreacher. He asked for another sandwich and thanked the house elf immediately afterwards because he had a mental image of Hermione Granger chastising him otherwise.
“I’m told this house was many things in my absence,” said a quite conversational voice, a voice that was definitely not Kreacher’s, “But a restaurant was not one of them.”
Harry stood up and whipped out his wand. For someone desirous of life’s placid home comforts, he was in fact very quick with spells and always awaited a fight with grim fortitude and foolhardiness and very little unease. The photos of his parents he now faced with a kind of dutiful sadness that had long faded away; they were wounds that he had bandaged over, and could no longer trouble or provoke him. But he seemed almost excited at the prospect of a duel, of potential new wounds inflicted by a horrible, unexpected figure.
But the unexpected figure leaning against the doorsill did not look interested in dueling or doling out wounds. In fact, he did not look interested in very much at all.
“You are Harry Potter. Pleased to meet you,” he said. His manner of speech was almost-laughably posh and his voice quite deep. He reminded Harry of someone. Harry did not immediately know whom.
“I’m…I suppose to you it’s R.A.B. Kreacher told me,” here he waved a pale hand at something indistinct on the wall opposite, “About your finding my note. Also disposing of the locket. It’s so good of you to get that done. And this whole business with the resurrection stone: it was a treat to find myself regenerated. Thanks so much.”
Harry put his wand down. He did not say, “You’re welcome.” He was too shocked to form the words.
After a moment, Regulus Black yawned and said, not unkindly, “Are you going to vacate my house, then?”