I. 12 May 1998
It took less time than Harry had expected to get word out about Snape. People wanted answers, or they wanted their curiosity satisfied. One way or another, within ten days the Ministry, reconstituting its higher offices from the remnants of the Order, gave Harry permission to make the arrangements.
“Put the grave near Dumbledore’s, if you can manage it,” he told Hagrid.
“‘Course I can manage it,” Hagrid said.
“Ye’ll be wantin’ ter give him a big stone, like the Headmaster’s?”
Harry shook his head. “No, I don’t think...” He was about to say I don’t think Snape would’ve liked it, but he had no idea what Snape would have liked. “Something small seems - I don’t know, better.”
The burial was a small affair as well, attended by the staff and a few members of the Order. Draco and Narcissa Malfoy stood at some remove, as if waiting for a gesture of the opprobrium that was, by now, mostly directed at others. Harry was glad that the Weasleys, sequestered in mourning, had declined to attend; whatever punishment Narcissa had earned, it would have been too much to demand that she maintain a polite distance from the person who had killed her sister the week before.
The Malfoys looked drawn and cast their faces down, although Narcissa took her son’s arm as Professor McGonagall delivered the eulogy. Harry was grateful that the task had not fallen to him. He could not say that Snape had not deserved what happened to him, but he felt a great sorrow that he could not describe. He was not sure what to do now, and Luna and Hermione, sitting on either side of him, offered little guidance, beside Hermione’s conjuring of a funereal bouquet.
In the end, he asked for a moment alone as they all departed, and knelt by the marker. The stone was cool and gritty to the touch, almost sharp at the edges of the inscription:
SEVERUS TOBIAS SNAPE
b. 9 Jan. 1960
d. 2 May 1998
‘Cineri gloria sera venit.’
Harry found that he wanted, absurdly, to say something, as if Snape could hear it and be comforted. He thought instead of all the times in Potions class when he had cast about for any answer he could think of, wishing he had the choice of not giving one, and he thought now that silence would have to do.
II. 26 June 1998
It seemed a bit strange to Harry to be the one accompanying Hermione to retrieve her parents, but it was, as Kingsley - Minister Shacklebolt - had said, the sensible thing to do. The summer would be filled with nothing but funerals and cleaning up, tasks from which, he insisted, Harry would best recuse himself. “You’ve had a long few years,” the Minister had said, “and you’d best have a spot of rest from all this before training starts in autumn.”
Surges of guilt struck him at times, for being away from everyone and everything at such a time, but Hermione wouldn’t hear of his returning early. “The Minister’s absolutely right, you’d only exhaust yourself,” she insisted. “And besides, I need you here in case we run into trouble. I’m rubbish in a duel.” Left unspoken was the need to give the Weasleys time and space to mourn among themselves, undisturbed by well-intentioned sympathy from those who hadn’t taken Fred’s existence as a given for as long as he’d been alive. Harry did not want to intrude on their grief.
So he and Hermione took the Grangers along a popular itinerary of scenic Australia, Hermione gradually lifting the charms she’d placed on them. Harry received near-daily correspondence about the situation in Britain, but otherwise he and Hermione, as far as possible, avoided distinguishing themselves amongst the tourists. Harry felt it got easier when, having been surprised by an errant snake, he found himself unable to talk to it. “Go away,” he said, in English, and the snake did not budge from its place on a picnic bench. He tried again, and ventured close to other snakes as well, before he was confident that the Parseltongue was gone.
“Oh, but you’ll miss that, it’s so useful,” Hermione fretted, to which Harry laughed: “Trust me, snakes and I haven’t got much to talk about. I’m glad to have it gone.” And he was.
So they went along, taking in modern architecture and strange landscape, shorelines and desert scrub unlike any terrain that Harry had known. “I can’t believe I’m really sitting on a strand that’s got kangaroos on it,” Hermione said one afternoon, as she lounged in the sun on Pebbly Beach.
“What d’you mean, you can’t believe it?”
“I mean, here we are at the shore - and there are kangaroos here! Look at the way they hop!”
“Um, Hermione, you have seen - you know, things that are a bit more impressive than kangaroos.”“Yes, but I’ve never seen actual kangaroos before. Although some of these are wallabies. I’ve wanted to since I was three years old.” She gave Harry a sidelong glance. “Do you ever think about - just not going back?”
“Maybe. But really to wizards and magic and everything else. If you’d never got your Hogwarts letter, or anything else.” She looked out over the water. “It might be simpler to live as a Muggle. Safer, anyway, at least for Mum and Dad...”
Harry, who was all too grateful to have left his Muggle life behind, thought it over for a few minutes. “It would be lots easier,” he admitted. “Probably safer, even now. But... it wouldn’t work, Hermione. It could never last.”
“I know it couldn’t.”
“It’s not who we are. It isn’t what we are. You could try to live as a Muggle, but... it would fall apart, Hermione. It wouldn’t be you.”
“Of course it would,” she said. “It’s just... sometimes I can’t help but imagine if things were different.”
“Would you want them to be?”
“Not really,” she said. “I mean, I suppose if you offered me a really powerful Time-Turner and memory charm... I wouldn’t take it, no, but I’d always wonder if perhaps I should have.” Then she shook her hair. “Lucky thing you can’t offer it, then. Come on, let’s have a swim.”
III. 8 August 1998
Harry had a fairly good idea of what his birthday celebration would look like in Britain, and so made a point of remaining in Australia through the end of July. He allowed the Grangers to take him to a fancy restaurant in Sydney and received a number of owls, including one forwarded by the Ministry on Dudley’s behalf. That, he thought, was the most surprising thing that had happened on his birthday since he’d turned eleven. With Hermione’s help, he managed to compose a reply.
He left Australia only when a full week had since passed since his birthday. He arrived at the Burrow just in time for Ginny’s. Having reached seventeen, she’d decided to go up for Quidditch tryouts rather than return to school. Harry was grateful to have missed, very narrowly, the row that Ginny’s announcement provoked. Mrs Weasley had hardly begun to recover from Fred’s death - nor, perhaps, from the shock of becoming a killer - but she was Molly Weasley nonetheless, and Harry could imagine all too well how things had unfolded.
As it was, the Burrow was tense, and shrouded in a somberness. The Weasleys, and George especially, seemed to haunt their own house like ghosts. As quickly as he could, Harry excused himself and found Ginny storming along the fields. “I’m not going back there,” she said determinedly, as if it were Harry trying to persuade her. “To Hogwarts. I’m not. After the diary and everything last year, and then Fred - ” and she burst into the tears she had been fighting back.
Harry’s own tears had all dried up, or else hadn’t come yet. He could think of nothing to say that might dry Ginny’s. “Well, you don’t have to go back,” he managed at last. “And you’re a magnificent Chaser, you know that.”
Ginny nodded against his shoulder. “Fred - Fred and George taught me - ” and she descended into sobs once more, while Harry stroked her hair.
When she’d finished crying, Harry conjured cold water for her to splash on her face. “Do you want a cup of tea as well?”
“No, thanks,” she said, with the barest hint of a smile. They sat there in comfortable silence for quite a long time, watching the stars appear. Eventually she said, “Harry? Do you still want - us...”
“Are you mad? Blimey, Ginny, of course I do! I mean, if...”
She gave another tiny smile, which was quickly replaced with a more serious expression. “So do I. But - no more playing the hero with me, all right?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean keeping away from me, keeping things away from me, for my own protection. Deciding for me what is and isn’t safe.” Harry wanted to interject, but Ginny went on: “I’m of age now. You gave Ron and Hermione their moment to turn, and you gave me mine. I think we can only be together if you realize I won’t take it either.”
“You’ve got to mean that, Harry. You were almost eighteen when you walked into the forest to let Voldemort kill you. When the same thing happened to me, I was eleven.” Ginny did not have to say the rest: And I knew less than you did, and I had no one along the way. Still she went on: “And I wasn’t on holiday while you were looking for horcruxes last year. It wasn’t all laughs trying to hide first-years from having to learn Dark magic, or getting used for curse practice.”
She had not spoken much of any of these things, but Harry could guess more than he liked. He could not defend himself to her. Instead, he only nodded and took her hand. “Right,” he said, “if we’re together, we’re in everything together. And if I start to play the hero with you, you hex me so that I’ll sneeze live bats for a month.”
“At least. But Ginny... it’s got to go both ways, you know. You can’t keep from telling me things because you think I’ll be - upset, or angry, or because you think they’ll make me want to play the hero. Your job’s just to hex me if I do.”
Ginny gave a moment’s thought as well. “So we tell each other... everything we can tell, past and present.”
“Agreed,” Harry said. They sealed it not with a handshake but with a kiss that went on for longer than Harry suspected was traditional. He had no inclination to complain.
IV. 27 October 1998
Malfoy Manor was beginning to get overgrown and dusty when the DMLE finally got round to surveying it. They’d had it heavily warded and under guard for months, but with the Malfoys being held, it wasn’t a high priority. “You reckon it’ll be as bad as Grimmauld Place?” Ron asked.
“No, Malfoy was always socially acceptable, he’ll have locked some things away. Git probably doesn’t even know all he has, he didn’t know Riddle’s diary for what it was, did he? What’s in the stipulation?”
Ron flicked through the pages in his dossier. “About a million specified things that the DMLE picked up, then ‘other Dark artifacts, nature and quantity unspecified’ for us. Same for all three, and they haven’t been allowed to speak, either. Pity, because if they’d just left something off, we could’ve sent them to Azkaban.”
“Figures, though, doesn’t? They squeal on everyone else and save their own skin. Honestly, it had to be someone, and they’re probably the least threat of the whole lot.”
“S’pose so,” Ron said unhappily.
Harry himself was not thrilled by the arrangement, but he’d known it was inevitable. As it was, the Malfoys stood to lose their house and goods - Voldemort having expended their fortune - recompensing the harms they’d confessed, and had cells reserved in Azkaban should any more come to light. But Harry felt quite certain that they must have additional resources hidden somewhere, as he was that they’d been scrupulous in recounting as many of their crimes as could ever be proven - clever of them to lose their wands, he thought angrily.
But he could not allow the feeling to distract him. There was too much to do. The grounds and manor were old and massive, known to hold more harmful things than could be tallied. There was little hidden in plain sight, which did not surprise Harry. Lucius Malfoy was cunning, not bold. But there was a great deal to be turned up. Neville located a patch Black Mercy concealed amidst the tirlis, and in the potion brewery were jars that held what looked like parts taken from corpses - or, worse, more recent victims. At one point Parvati cooed at a pair of baby sloths carried by Mrs Longbottom, who snapped, “Keep away, it’s Jugson and Rowle, I’ll need cages - ” which Parvati hastened to conjure.
For his part, Harry proved adept at finding hidden books and concealed objects. In the first morning alone, he turned up some frightening-looking masks that whispered in seductive tones, along a cache of jewelry that was likely there instead of Gringott’s because it carried active curses. In the library, glamour-disguised and camouflaged by the merely nasty books, there were heavily annotated copies of Deathe Stopper’d, A Pure-Blood’s Guide to Restricted Arts, and Runes as Darke as Night. “You’ve got a knack for searches, Potter,” Savage said, gruffly approving.
“Makes up for being rubbish at Occlumency, then?” Ron joked.
“Nothing could make up for it, he’s worse than Nymphadora Tonks.”
The day’s searching left them all tired, Ron to the point of asking whether they might not Apparate back instead of going by rail. “Of course not!” Savage snapped. “How d’you think you’ll learn to blend among Muggles if you can’t do it half asleep?”
Ron looked more than half asleep as he searched for his rail ticket, Harry thought, and finally he just handed Ron ten quid for a new one. “What’s got you like this?” he asked.
“Late nights at the shop,” Ron said, stifling a yawn. “George is having trouble with magic, but helping out... I don’t mind it, but let’s face it, I haven’t got the same knack as Fred.
Harry did not know what to say at that, and was a bit sorry he had asked. “Well, you can sleep on the train, I’ll wake you in London,” he said.
“No problem.” But though Ron’s eyes closed as soon as they’d taken their seats, Harry doubted that he slept.
V. 25 December 1998
Holding Christmas at the Burrow was more than Molly Weasley felt she was up to so soon after... so soon after Fred had died, Harry forced himself to think. He did not blame her. Being on his own for the holiday would certainly be preferable to any of the Christmases he’d spent with the Dursleys.
He did not get the chance to test his hypothesis. Andromeda Tonks invited him instead, and Harry resigned himself to the impending indignity of getting himself up as Father Christmas for a baby who would not understand the goings-on. Perhaps Teddy would enjoy grabbing tiny fistfuls of temporary beard - or stuff them into his mouth, as he did with nearly everything these days. It had taken Harry little practice to become adept at preparing a bottle or changing a nappy with the flick of a wand, but there seemed to be no means, magical or otherwise, to prevent the boy from trying to eat chess pieces, or from slipping out of grasp in his bath.
Come Christmas morning, Harry was unsurprised to find that Mrs Weasley had also broken the tradition of jumpers. Perhaps she would have kept it if the twins had not always received ones with their initials, and delighted in switching them. Fleur had, however, bought in France a wine-coloured one with a golden bear on the front. Harry had no sooner wrestled the jumper onto Teddy than his godson’s hair turned a brilliantly clashing, near-fluorescent shade of blue. Andromeda burst into tears, and Harry did not have to ask why.
He spent the remainder of Christmas Day looking after Teddy or, while his godson had his nap, reading and answering post that had arrived earlier. Along with the expected greetings, it included a card from Dudley, wishing Harry holiday cheer and asking if they might have tea together in the new year. Not knowing what else to do, Harry sent belated greetings and agreed that they might do. There had also appeared at his bedside a wrapped parcel from Kreacher, containing a hairball that had been spat up by Filch’s cat. Harry supposed it was an improvement on maggots.
Andromeda was feeling up to a bit of celebrating once again by dinnertime, and she produced a splendid meal. Harry was not sure if the mulled wine he had brought - Madame Rosmerta’s; whatever else he might owe Aberforth Dumbledore, Harry could not stand what he brewed - would be to her taste, but Andromeda seemed to like it well enough. They exchanged gifts afterwards. Harry’s present was, he thought, one of the most useful he’d ever received: Essential Spells for the Wizarding Home, personally autographed by Alruna Aiskew. “You’ll find it’s gently used,” Andromeda said. “It was the first thing I ever bought with money that wasn’t given me by the Black family.”
“Tonks - er, Nymphadora said something once, that you were brilliant with household spells.”
“I made it my business to do,” Andromeda said, with a tight smile. “Imagine, a daughter of the Blacks doing an elf’s work! ...Of course, Nymphadora was hopeless.”
Harry took her hand in his. “Thank you, Mrs Tonks.”
“Don’t thank me yet, Mr Potter. Just keep yourself in one piece so you can give Teddy a bit of extra help with them in time.”
“I’ll do my best. I’m in one piece to give him his present, anyway.” Harry had chosen a toy broom for him, and for Andromeda a tea set. Tonks had broken her old one so often that it no longer took Reparo, but Andromeda, tidy though she was, refused to discard it.
After Teddy was asleep, Andromeda put tea on, and Harry sat with her by the fireplace, lost in memories of Christmases past. His own parents had at least witnessed his first Christmas, his first birthday, but Tonks and Lupin had been denied even that. The thought was so bitter that Harry could hardly stand it. He did not let it overcome him, though. If there was nothing else he could do, he could remember the first ten Christmases of his life and do everything in his power to make sure Teddy’s at least were happier.
VI. 19 February 1999
Harry checked the address of the tea shop on Broomhouse Road against the one he’d written down before going inside. It did not look like the kind of place Dudley would invite company. But, Harry supposed, it looked very much like the sort of tea shop Aunt Petunia would prefer, and that was probably Dudley’s only metric for choosing an acceptable meeting place.
Before he could think on it further, he made out the figure of his cousin waving at him in a corner and went in. They shook hands awkwardly and for several minutes sat reading the tea list with more attention than it really warranted. Once the waitress came over, though, they had to order and give up their menus, which left them with nothing to preoccupy them until their tea arrived.
Dudley cleared his throat. “So. You - got through everything all right, then?”
“Well enough. You?”
“Bit of a dull year, but fine besides.”
A dull year sounded pleasant to Harry, all things considered, but he doubted Dudley had enjoyed it. “How’d you keep from going spare?”
“Your wi- erm, they set up a television, and a gym.” Dudley leaned closer. “Fit a bit more equipment into half a basement than you’d expect, I’ll tell you.”
“I’ll bet,” Harry grinned. “You haven’t gone back to Smeltings, I take it?”
“No, I don’t miss the place. I was never much of one for school, was I?”
The honest answer was no, but Harry merely shrugged. “So. Er. Well, are you working, or...”
“Employment training. I’m going to become a fitness coach,” Dudley said proudly.
Harry felt a genuine smile tug at his mouth. “That’s great, Dudley. It’ll suit you well, that.”
“Hope so.” Dudley seemed at a loss for what to say next, as did Harry. Their tea arrived, which provided another temporary distraction. An idea seemed to strike Dudley, and he looked up and said, “So. What do wi- er, what do you lot do for exercise, then?”
Harry glanced around and satisfied himself that no Muggles were within a few yards of them. He cast a wordless Muffliatojust to be safe. “Doing magic uses energy, and there’s a lot more walking to Appari- er, there’s more walking day-to-day.” Harry decided to save the more arcane details for another conversation. “A lot of people do sport as well, and for some jobs there’s physical training.”
“Including mine. Law enforcement.”
Dudley looked to be thinking the whole thing over for a minute. “Law enforcement, like inspector’s work?”
“Something like that.”
“Sounds about right for you,” Dudley said, cracking a smile. “What’s it like?”
“Being an Auror?”
“Is that what they’re called?”
“Yeah. The training keeps me pretty busy, but I like it that way.”
“Go on,” Dudley said hesitantly, “you know, if you’re allowed - ”
“I can tell you some stuff, yeah,” Harry said. He thought of how best to begin. “There’s a lot of physical stuff. I mean, even with magic, you need to be quick. Agile.” And to fight your way out of a tight spot even if you got disarmed; Harry had sustained more bruises than he could count in hand-to-hand, and he was the best one at it, too. Without thinking of it, though, he added, “I like the way it wears me out a bit. Helps me sleep a lot better than it would otherwise, I’ll tell you.”
“You have trouble sleeping, then?” asked Dudley.
Harry was taken aback by this bit of keenness. It wasn’t a matter he often discussed, but he supposed Dudley wouldn't start gossip about this sign of the Chosen One’s touching sensitivity - or dangerous instability. “I’ve seen some things,” he said. “Makes sleeping hard.” He suspected Ginny’s enthusiasm for the punishing regime of professional-level training had a similar origin. The two of them were about evenly matched at arm wrestling now, although Harry wouldn’t challenge the Harpies’ Beaters if his life depended on it.
Dudley seemed to pick up on Harry’s discomfort, because he faked a cough badly and said, “So. There’s the training, and what else?”
Dudley listened to a few of the tamer anecdotes with apparent interest, and Harry kept on with them. He was surprised when he saw that nearly three-quarters of an hour had passed. “Blimey, Dudley, sorry to keep you,” he said. “Probably bored the pants off you as well, didn’t I?”
“Not really. And after all that we went on about Smeltings... Anyway, I’ll tell you about the new models of rowing machine next time, how’s that?”
“Sounds brilliant,” Harry said. He didn’t mean it in the least, but was surprised to realize that he’d agreed, more or less, to there being a next time. It wasn’t the strangest event of his life, but as something to owl Ginny about while the Harpies traveled, he thought it would still rate.
VII. 1 April 1999
George Weasley made no plans to celebrate his birthday, as he had done - as he and Fred had done - every year since they turned three, and no one agreed how to manage it. Charlie returned his mother’s owl with a suggestion to ignore it altogether - “It’s what I’d want; everything else seems worse” - but Percy thought they should acknowledge the occasion, if nothing else, to give some consolation to Mrs Weasley. Bill and Fleur thought they might as well go all out, if it came to that; Ginny and Arthur suggested a family dinner. Ron and Molly changed their minds every other moment.
They compromised, in the end, on a modest party at the Burrow, with close family and friends invited, and Harry quickly became of the opinion that even that had been a mistake. There was a tense, sepulchral air about the whole thing. George feigned delight in gifts that, Harry was sure, he would have really enjoyed sharing with Fred. After the first round of Ogden’s, people offered toasts to George, or to Fred’s memory, that became increasingly awkward, until Mrs Weasley, obviously close to tears, rushed to bring out the cake well ahead of schedule.
The crowd dwindled quickly after that, and soon the only ones left in the garden were the three youngest Weasleys, along with Harry, Hermione, and Angelina Johnson, who had spent a good deal of time with George in the last eleven months. George poured another round of champagne and raised his glass unsteadily. “Well, here’s to another fucking horrible year,” he said. “Let’s hope it doesn’t go by as slowly as the last one, unlikely as it is.” And he downed his glass in one gulp.
The rest of them shared an uncomfortable glance and sipped at their own drinks, not knowing what else to do. After a tense silence, Hermione cleared her throat and said, “How’s the shop, then?”
George let out a mirthless laugh. “Oh, the shop,” he said, and poured himself more firewhiskey. “Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes. The one thing Fred would want me to carry on with, and I can’t do it.”
“Can’t do it?”
“Hasn’t ickle Ronniekins told you, Hermione? He does all the magic himself now.”
“Now, that’s not true - ” Ron protested.
“Right, Bill helps out, and the girls when they’re not travelling.” He slung one arm around Angelina and the other around Ginny. “It’s a good thing everyone’s taken a sudden interest in Muggle things as well, or I’d be out of business. I’m about as much of a laugh as Percy.” There was another tense silence, and then George spoke again too loudly, his speech slurred: “But on the bright side, if Mum had to lose a son, at least it’s the one she won’t miss, isn’t that right? Perfect fucking Percy back in the bosom of the family, and all it cost was the one least like him. What’s to complain about, am I right?”
There was another, much more uneasy glance between the rest of them, although Ron and Ginny appeared less shocked. Surely George was being unfair - for all the grief the twins, and Fred especially, had given Molly, there was no doubt that she loved them. But no one dared to contradict George in the mood he was in.
George refilled all their glasses again. “To fucking Percy!” he shouted, and, having downed the drink in one gulp, threw his glass against a stone. It shattered loudly, but no one tried to repair it.
VIII. 2 July 1999
Hogwarts had not yet been restored to its former glory when Harry returned to attend the Leaving Feast: there were structures yet to be rebuilt, columns still unrestored, damaged portraits and closed hallways. But it was functioning, at any rate, and an effort had clearly been taken to make the place look as festive as was appropriate.
It felt strange to Harry to be back, with so much changed and so many eyes on him. He had wanted to avoid the event altogether, not least so as not to steal away for himself the attention that belonged to the leaving students - never Colin, never Cedric Diggory - but Hermione would not hear of it. So Harry accepted Slughorn’s invitation to a drinks reception a few days prior to the feast itself and constantly reminded himself that Hogwarts was no longer his home. He took his breakfasts at the Gryffindor table, joining students who were not quite his peers in eating toast and boiled tomatoes that Dobby should have had a part in preparing.
He focused as much as he could on the staff table, where Minerva McGongall, whose face was at once drawn and happy, sat at the head seat with the bearing of a well-loved queen. Professor Sprout, now Deputy Head, was at her right hand. There were other changes as well. Wilhemina Grubbly-Plank was at the table, McGonagall having persuaded Hagrid that restoring the order of the Forbidden Forest was a full-time job that left no room for other occupations. “Can’t say as I mind much,” Hagrid had confessed over a round at the Leaky Cauldron, “wasn’t much suited to teaching, to tell yer the truth.” Looking less pleased with her conditions of employment was Sybil Trelawney, who appeared to have made a habit of dining in the Great Hall so as to remind everyone of her presence as a teacher. Harry guessed that McGonagall’s willingness to keep her on for her own safety did not translate into any newfound professional respect. Trelawney always sat at the end opposite Hagrid with an affronted look. Harry wondered how long her determination would hold.
Slughorn, though, was as much himself as ever. At his reception he greeted everyone genially and fussed over the food, which looked enough to give gout to an entire Quidditch team. “Ginny asked me to say hello for her, Professor,” Harry said when Slughorn labouriously made his way to Harry’s side. “She can’t bring herself to come back here yet, none of her family can.”
“Quite understandable, the poor girl,” Slughorn agreed. “Do return her greetings for me. Incidentally, Gwenog Jones has got me box seats this season, so if you’d like to see her matches in a bit more comfort, just say the word.”
“Really?” Harry asked. He had been attending when he could under his Invisibility Cloak, in order to watch undisturbed. Both he and Ginny were getting sick of the arrangement.
“Indeed!” Slughorn exclaimed. “You may have to wrestle Minerva for the second of them, but I expect she’ll yield her claim on occasion.”
“That’s really thoughtful of both of you. Thanks, Professor.”
“Quite welcome, my dear boy.”
Harry was spared further offers of largesse by the arrival of the other guests. Slughorn seized on Hermione’s parents immediately - “You must be the Grangers! I understand you’re physicians of teeth?” Harry dared not make eye contact with Hermione. Instead, he made to freshen up the drinks as Slughorn went on, “Frightfully challenging work, I imagine; your daughter certainly got her brains from somewhere! I’ve never had the pleasure of recommending a better candidate to the Magical Creatures department!”
Hermione ducked her head to hide her grin. “Well, Kingsley Shacklebolt’s doing quite a good job at turning the Ministry into someplace I’m not ashamed to work.”
“And with passion to match the brains!” Slughorn effused. “Her History paper on the role of house elves was most interesting, raised a number of points I confess had completely escaped me, Clementius Cornfoot at the Magical Policy Review is very favourable to publishing it...”
Harry did his best to escape from view and avoid being paraded as a trophy as Slughorn greeted other parents in the same fashion. He seemed surprised at Xenophilius Lovegood’s absence. “Did I omit his name from the invitation?” he asked Luna, sounding stricken.
“No, we were both invited, but Daddy said it’s a perfect day for Chorflebane, and he couldn’t bear to waste it.”
“Ah. I see.”
“He’s making an excuse for wanting to avoid Harry and Hermione, of course, but he might really find Chorflebane. It blooms a little after the solstice.”
“How delightful, although I’m sure we all miss Xerxes,” Slughorn said. “I’ve been able to speak on Miss Lovegood’s behalf with Aislin Quirke, the magizoologist. Come this winter, she’ll be joining her for an apprenticeship, and I expect she’ll do very well.”
“I expect she will too,” Harry agreed, but he felt a surge of guilt at Luna’s being deprived of her father’s escort. He was not happy with Xenophilius Lovegood himself, but what he had realized eighteen months ago was now far clearer: sacrificing a stranger’s child for one’s own was the easiest decision in the world. If he, Harry, were now faced with sparing either Teddy or some anonymous infant - he could not contemplate what it would cost him, refusing to decide.
Though he did his best to make polite conversation, that uncomfortable thought was with Harry all through the reception. He limited his mead carefully in the hope of escaping early, but Slughorn, his face flushed, cornered him before he could do so. “Harry, lad!” he said, as if seeing him for the first time that evening. “I’ve undertaken a bit of a project lately, organizing my old papers, and I happened across a few assignments that were written by your mother. Perhaps you might like to have them?”
“My mum’s papers?” Harry repeated, startled. “You’ve held onto them?”
“Indeed I have, although I’ll confess I should have had them in better order. I keep copies of the best essays I receive, very useful for instruction, all the more so when the fruit of our labour at potions is so often ephemeral.”
“I’d love to see them. That’s really kind of you, Professor.”
“Think nothing of it, my dear boy. Lily was truly one of my favourite students, and her son...” He patted Harry on the shoulder. “Stay on a bit once the crowd disperses, and I’ll bring them out for you. I’m sure you’ll enjoy them.”
“I’m sure I will do,” Harry said, sincerely. He was not without a sense of anticipated grief, about to see one more facet of a life that had been snuffed out for him. His mother had scarcely been older than he now was himself. Sometimes it brought him peace to know that the men who had caused her death had met their end and would cause no more, but at other times it seemed that Lily would never rest.
Lily. Not simply his mother, a figure longed for but never known, but someone who had sat at Slughorn’s lectern and made notes with her oldest friend and splashed potions on her robes. He had an urge to keep whatever Slughorn gave him to himself for awhile, but an even stronger one to share it with Ginny. There was not much time left before the party was scheduled to conclude, but Harry found himself both in a better temper than he had been and more impatient for its end.
IX. 3 October 1999
Sirius Black’s motorbike was Harry’s preferred method of transport now that he’d got the knack of it. Mrs Weasley, however, frowned at the sight of it as much as her husband smiled, so Harry more often used the Floo network to pay them a visit. It was more comfortable than Apparating, but also a bit messier, which meant that Apparating was sometimes necessary. By now he could usually land within a few metres of his target, although he sometimes wound up in the vegetable patch instead of outside the gate.
He landed exactly where he’d meant to on an unannounced week-end call, finding Molly Weasley was launching another assault on the gnome population. “Why hello, Harry dear,” she said. “What brings you here?”
“Thought I’d say hello to my favourite witch and wizard,” he offered, trying to recover his balance.
“And what a fine afternoon you’ve picked,” Mrs Weasley said, “probably the last good week-end for the year, isn’t it? Arthur, Harry’s come by! Would you like a cup of tea?”
“That’d be lovely, thanks.”
Tea and biscuits were on the garden table with the flick of her wand. “Thanks, Mrs Weasley,” he said, pouring her a cup. He glanced around the garden. “Erm - the tomatoes are doing beautifully.”
Mrs Weasley looked puzzled. “We picked the last tomatoes a month ago.” Before Harry could think what to say, she continued, “We’re always happy to see you here, Harry, but I don’t expect you’d wear dress robes to visit on a lark.”
He swallowed heavily, wondering if he should have fought another round combing his hair beforehand. Andromeda Tonks had helped him choose the robes, and Harry saw that Teddy had dribbled on one cuff. “Not exactly,” he admitted, covering the cuff with his opposite hand.. “No, I was - It’s just that - I’ve - ”
Mr Weasley gave a sad little smile, and when he spoke, softly and knowingly, it was to his wife. “Mollywobbles. My love.” He put a hand on her arm. “He’s here about Ginny.”
“I - I am, sir,” Harry said.
At this confirmation, Mr Weasley burst into tears. “Little Ginevra,” he said. “So quickly... Once - there was a time - I thought she’d be my baby girl just a little longer...”
Looking to Mrs Weasley, Harry pressed on with the words he’d rehearsed: “I’d like to ask Ginny to marry me, and I want to know if I would have your blessing.”
“Such a gentlemen, coming to ask us about it,” Mrs Weasley said, dabbing at her eyes. She squeezed her husband’s hand and exchanged a look with him. “But you must - you must know, dear, what a foolish question that is?”
X. 18 January 2003
Being an Auror, Harry had known going in, sometimes meant facing horrors that no one would want to imagine, making decisions and compromises that no one would ever want to make. All that he could cope with well enough, and had to do for the lack of an alternative. What he liked least about his job was the paperwork, which had him perennially badgering George Weasley to invent a Quick-Quotes Quill for forms. Thus far he had had little success.
A particularly nasty round of formalities could sometimes require a devoted weekend to complete. Harry had reached the limits of his tolerance for one on a rainy Saturday evening when the Harpies were traveling. He sat down by the fire with the latest Quidditch Weekly and a cup of tea. The cat promptly settled on the back of his chair. It was a slow week for Quidditch news, and the featured interview with the Chudley Cannons’ Keeper was, in Harry’s view, a waste of newsprint. The appearance of Ron’s head in the fireplace was a welcome surprise. “Good to see you, mate!” Harry said, clapping Ron on the back as he stepped out of the Floo grate. “How was Australia?”
“Not at all bad. The Grangers are keeping well, and Charlie got us into the Opaleye reserve where Luna’s working right now. She’s just identified a sort of miniature lizard that lives around their lairs and eats the bugs that get into their scales.”
Ron nodded. “I’m a little less brilliant at the moment. Six international Portkeys have done nothing for my stomach, let me tell you.”
“A drop of brandy’ll fix that,” Harry said, offering a glass whose contents Ron downed at a gulp. The thought of six Portkeys made Harry suddenly grateful that he’d been able to spend the day on something as pleasant as paperwork. “Before I hear all about Australia - ”
“You’ve been, everyone’s keeping well, not much to say - ”
“Good then, the news here is that Neville’s taken a position at Hogwarts.”
Ron grinned. “I’d heard a rumour. Doesn’t surprise me; teaching Herbology, I take it?”
“Right. McGongall’s stepping down to be Chief Enchantress full-time - ”
“Good for the Wizengamot, anyway.”
“Sprout’s taking over, she’ll do well. Sinistra’s the new Deputy Head.”
Ron nodded. “Wise choice, that. And what a teacher Neville will be. Not that he isn’t a good Auror, mind, but Herbology’s more his passion, isn’t it?”
“He said as much, yes. And Robards is keeping him on as a liaison with privileges, for dangerous plants and the like.”
Ron grinned. “Let me guess: Robards threatened to hex him inside out if he didn’t agree to that at least.”
“Him and Fay Dunbar, they work so well together. I think Neville would’ve been persuaded by less, but... he’s done what he joined up to do, he told me.”
“S’pose he has, now that the Auror Office is past emergency retention,” Ron agreed.
Harry nodded, glad for the accomplishments that had made possible the return to normal status. Most of the Death Eaters who’d escaped from Hogwarts were by now in Azkaban. The few others seemed scattered, or else cowed into submission. The Lestrange brothers were in the ground. Neville had confided to Harry that having been able to whisper as much to his uncomprehending parents had given him some peace. That peace seemed to translate into an ability, after years of grief at the state of their lingering, to feel a measure of relief when they’d later passed away. Harry had helped to shoulder both their coffins.
“Good thing Neville will still have privileges,” Harry said. “I don’t begrudge him Hogwarts, but honestly, I like working with him too much not to want him at hand.”
Ron nodded but looked almost absent. Harry supposed it was only natural for Ron’s mind to be a bit out of sorts at the moment, but there was something heavy in his face. Harry gave Ron a questioning look, at which Ron sighed and looked back at the fire. Harry felt something gnawing at the pit of his stomach, but he did not press Ron to speak. Ron poked at the fire a few times and leaned forward as if to better watch the flames. After a minute he sighed heavily and said, “I’m leaving too.”
“I’m leaving the Aurors.”
Harry was stunned. “You can’t be. You’ve always - you’re - Ron - ”
“And nobody’s using Polyjuice Potion or Imperius, before you ask.”
“You’re joking, then.”
“No, I’m not.”
“This isn’t funny, Ron.”
“Never said it was.”
“You’ve been spending all that time with George and Lee - ”
“Yeah, and that’s why I’m leaving.”
“Because Lee’s spending a bit of time on his broadcast?”
“No, I’d have decided the same even if he’d taken more hours.”
Harry blinked rapidly. “I don’t understand.”
“Hermione said you might not.”
“Oh, so you’ve spoken to Hermione, then?”
“Yes, Harry. I’ve spoken with my wife,” Ron said angrily, causing the cat to bolt from the room. “Look - why don’t you pour drinks and let me explain.”
Harry could do nothing but assent. “I hope Berry Ocky Rot is all right.”
“You’re the one who likes what all the birds drink. Ginny’ll have firewhiskey stashed somewhere.”
“Fine, but you’re replenishing it before she gets home.”
Harry’s mind swirled as he fixed the drinks. It seemed impossible: Ron, leaving the Aurors. He struggled to imagine such a thing, and he said as much as he sat down. “It’s all you’ve wanted to be since, what, fourth year?”
“Something like that,” Ron agreed, sipping his whiskey. “Thing is, however long I’d wanted to be an Auror - well, I’d justbeen the twins’ little brother since the day I was born. Fred’s little brother.”
Harry said nothing.
“And now - it’s not the same anymore. I mean, out of the whole family, I was always closest to Fred and George, and now Fred’s gone and George - well, he’s even more someone else, you know.”
“I do know.”
“George and Lee put together... on the best days they’re like one of the twins. And most days aren’t the best ones.”
“What can you do to change that?”
“Nothing, really,” Ron said. “But with Fred gone... It’s like this, all right? I’ve always taken for granted living in England, say. Never occurred to me it would be any other way. And then imagine waking up one day and finding yourself in Peru or something, and knowing you could never go back.” Ron looked at his hands. “The only time I feel like I’m home again is when I’m working with George. And maybe he doesn’t need it quite as much, but...” Ron shrugged. “You know. That’s how it is.”
Harry could think of nothing to contradict Ron, could not even fully comprehend him, and so he said, “The Aurors really need you, Ron.” He hated the note of pleading in his voice.
But Ron shook his head. “You don’t need me, Harry. Neville’s as good an Auror as I am, and you don’t really need him. And like you said,” he added, “People need to have a laugh sometimes.”
Harry keenly remembered telling the twins that, at a moment when he thought that he would never laugh again. The shock he now felt was less, but still enough to freshen the old one in his mind. “What’ll I do without you?”
“Get by just fine, I expect. You and Parvati are great together. And besides,” he added, forcing a grin as he refilled their glasses, “not only am I your best mate, I’m family. You can’t get rid of me no matter how hard you try.”
XI. 19 April 2003
It was the nastiest kind of early morning when Harry received an emergency summons that had him Apparating before he was even properly awake. He managed to avoid splinching and found himself in what seemed to a Muggle district of Truro; it might have been pleasant in different weather. The address was easily located by the police perimeter that had been set up and the crowd that had gathered round it despite the hour and the rain. Harassed-looking constables were trying to disperse them. “Oi! You from the Serious Organised Crime Agency?” one of them called to Harry.
“That’s right,” he said, producing the identification he carried for such occasions. “What can you tell me?”
“Nothing, I’ve been out here, haven’t I? Get back, all of you!” he roared at the crowd.
Harry made his way into the two-storey building, which consisted of a flat above a shop. The upper corridor was heavy with a combined scent of incense and perfume that was somehow familiar to Harry. He could imagine the place being hazy and dim most of the time, with the incense and perhaps some candles kept burning. There were shards and slivers of crystal on the floor of the flat itself, and Harry cast a quick Cushioning charm on his shoes before entering. On a low table inside were Tarot cards arranged in what Harry thought was a Tectactrys. The spread was nearly undisturbed, in contrast to a desk and drawers that had clearly been gone through in haste.
He had barely stepped towards the desk when a faint ping! announced Parvati’s Apparating into the secured zone. She did not greet Harry but glanced first at the card table. Absently she turned over the Premise card: the Five of Pentacles. She ran a finger along its edge. “Seems like ages ago that I was impressed by this,” she said, sounding both wistful and angry. “But it hasn’t really been that long, has it?”
“It’s been a few years,” Harry said, trying to sound non-committal. “Landlord gave me a copy of the lease,” Parvati went on, as if she had not heard Harry. “The tenant’s listed as Delphine Penprase, but look at the signature.”
Harry did. Like the scent in the corridor, it seemed vaguely familiar, but he could not place it. “Do you know who she is?”
Parvati bit her lip. “Sybil Trelawney.”
Harry felt as though a cold wave had hit him. “You’re sure?”
“Sure enough. We owled at Christmas. I won’t know until I’ve seen...”
“The police said - we need to look in the bedroom,” Harry said. “Want me to do it?”
“We’ll both need a look,” Parvati pointed out, and took a deep breath. “Let’s have done with it, then.”
Harry followed her with the certainty that whatever he saw would haunt him for a long time to come.
He was right: the sight did haunt him for months, accompanied by a kind of echo that one more person had died because of him, because of him and Snape. The one with the power to defeat the Dark Lord... Ginny tried everything to bring him right, and even Robards told him to let it rest, but Harry could not. Instead, he redoubled the search for Death Eaters who’d escaped apprehension, and he followed every lead, every hint, every instinct. He vowed to do so for as long as it took to bear fruit.
It was high in his mind when he and Parvati finally had a bit of luck, more or less. Harry’s heart was still racing from an energetic duel with a masked opponent who had fled into an old coalhouse in Newcastle, probably expecting that it would be empty. But loud music and bursts of light were pouring forth from it; Harry threw up an anti-Apparition ward before their quarry, whoever he was, could flee, and sent for reinforcement. Parvati added a couple of charms to lock the site, then Switched their robes with an odd form of Muggle dress. “Come on, the DMLE are slower than flobberworms, let’s go in before he starts murdering people,” she said.
Every level of the coalhouse was packed with people, all of them sweating heavily and wearing clothes as ridiculous as the constricting trousers and mesh-like shirt that Harry found himself in. The music, while probably no worse than what Dudley had listened to in his teens, assaulted Harry with its sheer volume, and the artificial smoke and bright flashing lights made it difficult to scan the crowd effectively. He spotted the target eventually, though, the mask that he still wore glaring in the flashes of light. “Can you get his wand?” Parvati shouted in Harry’s ear.
Harry tried but had no success. “Too many people between us,” he shouted back, “we’ll have to get closer, how I don’t know.”
Parvati grinned. “Dance.”
But Parvati was already moving, a whirl of bangles and bright cloth, twirling her glowing stick of a wand as she moved. Harry groaned; he had required a great deal of instruction and practice just to manage a simple waltz at his own wedding.
But he saw that what most of the people were doing was not dancing so much as gyrating in a way that Harry did not fancy doing with strangers. There was nothing for it, though. Feeling more than a little foolish, he pushed his way into the teeming crowd. It was slow going, getting through. That was for the best; if he and Parvati moved too quickly, they would be easy to spot. If their target had tried to Apparate again, as he probably had, he would know that he had not got this far cleanly.
Harry stood on his toes and tried to keep the ugly mask in sight as he writhed clumsily with whoever was nearest at hand. A scantily clad girl latched onto him rather more tightly than he appreciated and, with a sly grin, poured a tiny vial of liquid onto a blotter’s sheet. She looked at Harry straight on, her eyes unfocused and strange-looking. He moved away as best he could. The girl reached out as if grabbing for a sleeve, and Harry was suddenly grateful to Parvati for conjuring him a shirt that had none. There would be no call for Obliviators, he thought; most people seemed be impairing their memories and perception quite of their own accord. That was another cause for gratitude. He gritted his teeth as a glitter-painted girl pawed at him and someone else grabbed his arse.
Finally, he closed in on their target and got Parvati in his line of sight again. One glance at her showed that she had seen the same thing he had: the masked man had drawn his want, to which he affixed a long, thick metallic hook. If Harry had disarmed him, he likely would have maimed anyone within the wand’s arc. The man had expected it, then - had expected Harry. The Death Eaters think it is your signature move, and I urge you not to let it become so! Harry still wasn’t going to blast people out of the way, but he didn’t doubt that his opponent would.
He exchanged another glance with Parvati. The glamours that she had placed on their wands dissolved as they both drew them for a duel.
Harry had no concept of how much time had passed when he stumbled out of the Floo grate into Ron and Hermione’s sitting room, upsetting the grille. A minute later Hermione turned up. “Harry? What are you doing here?” She rubbed her eyes and yawned. “What are you wearing?”
Harry suddenly realized that he was still in his rave clothes. Hermione had on a lilac dressing gown not unlike the one she’d worn at Hogwarts. “Harry, what’s happened?” she asked.
Harry tried to speak but could not. Hermione went pale. “Has something happened? Has someone...” She looked on the verge of collapsing, and Harry remembered that Ron was not home tonight, was away with George for business... “Who’s died?” she whispered, looking as if she were staring death itself in the face.
Harry laughed involuntarily, and the sound was obscene to him. Twenty years ago Sirius Black had laughed amidst the rubble... He sank onto the floor. Sirius Black, for whom he’d but a headstone next to his parents’, not half a mile from where Hermione now lived... Hermione, who wondered who had died...
“Postumus Prewett,” he said shortly.
“Molly’s cousin? What’s happened, I don’t understand - ”
“He’s dead, Hermione,” Harry reiterated. “I killed him.”
Hermione clapped a hand to her mouth and then sat down beside him. “What - ”
“Robards has the memory, I just gave it to him. There was a charm on his wand, Parvati got him down, and then - ”
Hermione conjured a bucket just as Harry began retching. Light streaked the sky before he had finished. He was vaguely aware of Hermione’s sending off an owl, and he wondered if it was to Molly. More likely it was not, and she would find out from the morning Prophet... He remembered that the greatest regret he had, still, was his misplaced decision to spare a man’s life, and how little that fact now seemed to mean.
He leaned back against the couch and accepted the fortified tea that Hermione foisted on him. “You always knew it would happen eventually,” she said quietly. “That one day you wouldn’t have the time, or the choice...”
“I was angry. I was so angry.” Your soul is entirely your own. And Postumus Prewett was still as stone, spilt blood clotting on the floor, eyes still open.
Hermione got down on the floor beside him. “It’ll be all right, Harry,” she said, stroking his hair. “It’s all right,” she repeated, and her voice was one that she might have used to croon a baby to sleep.
XII. 8 February 2004
A train pulled into the rail station at Wittering-by-Sea at half two on a dreary Sunday, and Dudley stepped onto the platform, which was all but empty. No other passengers disembarked. Harry, though, was distracted and did not notice his cousin until Dudley called out to him: “Harry Potter! Is that you, or did I get off at the wrong place?”
“Sorry, Big D. Good to see you,” Harry said, shaking himself to attention. He could see how Dudley had nearly missed the station; there wasn’t much to it, although it was all the village needed.
There was something he was supposed to ask, he was forgetting... “How do you like married life so far?” he asked, remembering that Dudley had got married just before Christmas, to a woman he’d met at a fitness conference in Swansea. Ginny’d sent a gift; she might remember what the woman’s name was. Harry thought about it for a minute. “How’s Catrin?”
“She’s fine, we both are.”
“Glad to hear it. Ought to meet her, I suppose.”
“I suppose so, yeah,” Dudley agreed. Harry gestured toward his motorbike. “We live west of the village; it’s a bit out of the way.”
It was a twenty-minute ride without the use of magical adaptations, and the wind slashed at Harry’s face, and he supposed Dudley’s as well. Even so, Dudley had the presence of mind for a double take when they came to the front garden. “I didn’t know you’d taken Lupin Cottage so literally.”
“There are a lot of them,” Harry conceded. Teddy had suggested the name when Harry and Ginny bought the place. The plants themselves were a housewarming gift from Neville, who had put in a rather huge variety. Two years later, they were flourishing to the point of overtaking the broom shed.
Once inside the house, Dudley looked around the place intently, as if searching for evidence of wizardry. He wouldn’t find much, Harry thought; the owl was asleep this time of day, and Ginny had put Freezing Charms on the display photos, preferring as she did the look of still ones. Even the well-worn copy of French Magic for English Kitchens bore what could easily be a Muggle title, although a thumbing through would give it away.
“Ginny’s gone out then?”
“She’s getting a potion for stomach upsets,” Harry said, feeling foolish; he had forgotten that they’d planned for Ginny to be there. He fussed with the kettle and dropped one of the cups, then botched a simple Reparo. He swore loudly. “What’s got into you?” Dudley asked.
Harry considered what he should say. There would be a proper time for it, not long from now despite how long it seemed, and of all the people to confide in, Dudley - but then, Dudley would not let slip anything that might get back to Ginny, and Harry was bursting to tell someone...
“We’ve just found out Ginny’s pregnant,” he blurted out.
“Really. Mind you, I can’t believe it either. I mean, we’ve been trying for it, but... Somehow it doesn’t seem real yet.”
“Well, congratulations, Harry. You must be over the moon.”
“We are, thanks. And I’m a bit terrified.”
“I know the feeling.”
“Right, it’s as if -- wait, what?”
Dudley grinned sheepishly. “Odd time to tell you, I suppose, but Cadi’s pregnant too.”
“I haven’t got that quick a sense of humour.”
Harry sat in silence for a moment, trying to imagine it: Dudley, a father. He could not get his mind around the concept. But continued silence would be rude, and he managed to say, “Congratulations, Dudley. That’s great news.”
“Thanks.” He raised his teacup. “To cousins.”
“To cousins,” Harry agreed. He was strongly tempted to Switch the tea with Ogden’s Old, but he might not survive if Ginny came home to find him drunk. “Perhaps they’ll share a birthday, even.”
“That’s not likely, we’re due in a month’s time.”
“But you only just - oh.”
Dudley grinned sheepishly. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a blessing, even if we were a bit surprised. Just makes it hard to time the announcements. I suppose most people might put off the wedding, but her family are Methodist, they wouldn’t have it.”
“How did Vernon and Petunia take it?” Harry asked, before he could stop himself.
“Oh, first they blamed Cadi for falling pregnant, but by now they’ve taken up against the Powells for being backward. Of course, Mum wants to buy us some cot and pram that the Duke of Westminster couldn’t afford, keeps trying to start a row with Cadi over not taking it.” Dudley drank the last of his tea and for a minute stared at the large hands that he’d finally grown into. “I’ll be honest, I’m scared shitless by the whole thing, but what’s worst is thinking I’ll end up treating the kid the way Dad and Mum...”
“I don’t think there’s much chance your kid will get treated like I did.”
At that, Dudley looked up. “No, never. But - what if I wind up being the same as they were to me?”
Harry was silent for a long while, hardly knowing what to think or say. Had it been only a few years ago that it would have been impossible for either one of them to think of such a question? “If the thought’s got you worried, I think you can pretty well avoid it,” he ventured at last.
“Do you really think so?”
Harry turned the question over in his mind. “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but yes. I really do.” Dudley not only to be a father, but even, perhaps, not a bad father: Harry was not sure how many more impossible things he could believe before tomorrow’s breakfast. “The kids will have to play together.”
“What do magic kids play?”
Miniature broomsticks and wizards’ chess were right out, Harry supposed, but there would be no shortage of other opportunities for them. “Tag and that sort of game, and mine will play football," Harry said. "It's still England, they can’t grow up without football.”
“That they can’t."
“And Cluedo indoors, when the weather’s bad.”
“I vote for Jenga, I’m rubbish at Cluedo.”
“I know you are,” Harry said, and he grinned at the prospect of watching Dudley’s children beat him.
XIII. 22 February 2006
The Jarvey’s Hat in Diagon Alley was a shabby little place, and its cooking was no better than its upkeep. It was, however, reliably quiet - Harry was unsure as to how it remained in business - and Hermione was keen to avoid premature encounters with any of the reporters who had crowded outside the Oak Chamber. Evidently, however, none considered the potential story pressing enough to venture here for their belated lunch hour.
It took some doing, but Harry eventually caught the notice of the barman to take their order. Hermione’s consisted only of toast. “Nerves, then, or is it stomach trouble?” Harry asked sympathetically. After seven months, even Hermione’s billowing official robes did not conceal her pregnancy.
But Hermione shook her head. “No, that’s loads better recently. I just don’t trust this lot to make anything else.” She scanned over some papers that she had brought with her. “I do wonder if I ought to have mentioned the 1826 amendment to the Convention on International Traffic with Extraordinary Species when Tiberius Ogden asked about clause ten of the Wizarding Property Succession Statute, just then it didn’t seem to the point, but thinking of it now - ”
Harry worked to suppress a grin. “Relax, Hermione. You were brilliant.”
“Do you really think so? Slughorn seemed like he was sympathetic, but I wonder if I’ve really convinced him or if it’s just that he’s got a soft spot for me.”
Harry was privately confident that Slughorn’s prejudices were far less likely to have been dissipated by reason than temporarily eclipsed by his affection for Hermione, with whom he had taken to discussing baby names. Aloud, though, he said, “Doesn’t much matter, does it? What the house elves need are protections, not the proper sentiments.”
“What they need are rights, Harry.”
“Yes, I know, but there’s no way of getting everything through at once. And this really is an important step toward it.”
“If the Wizengamot accept the legislation.”
“I think they will. You’ve done a marvelous job - ”
Hermione blushed. “The whole thing is just so obvious.”
“And there’s precedent, after all. The Board of Governors let McGonagall free the Hogwarts elves, didn’t they?”
“They did that as a favour to you, Harry. You’d just defeated You-Know-Who - ”
“We just had, Hermione.”
“ - and they weren’t about to say no to anything you asked, were they? This is different.”
“Three of those Governors are now at the Wizengamot,” Harry reminded her.
Further conversation was postponed by the arrival of burnt toast and a soggy plowman’s. “Go on and eat yours, you can’t help anything if you faint now,” Harry said.
“What about you?”
Harry looked at his plate. “Think I’ll risk fainting.”
“Well, distract me while I eat... Do you mind if I take your apple and onion?”
“Go right ahead... Erm, Neville broke it off with Edwina Runcorn.”
“Thank goodness. I don’t know why he ever started dating her.”
Harry decided not enlighten her. “We’ve all made bad decisions. Anyway, I don’t think they’ll be as friendly as he and Luna’ve been.”
“No one’s as friendly as those two, they like each other too much to have any bad feelings. She’ll probably have him as man of honour or some such if she ever gets married.”
“And he’ll be thrilled to do it, is the mad thing. Although if you’re keeping a record of amicable partings, you’ll have to add Dudley and Catrin.”
“Oh, are they divorcing?” Hermione said. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“They don’t seem too upset, they’re moving into different halves of a commonhold. It’ll be better for the kids that way.”
“Aren’t the kids two and one?”
“Yeah, they are. Apparently Catrin thinks it’s better she and Dudley split up on good terms now and stay friends, rather than stay together and get unhappy in front of them.”
“I suppose so,” Hermione said, sounding doubtful.
Harry shrugged. “I didn’t ask for details. We’ll see how it goes.”
Before Hermione could say more, a bell sounded from within her handbag. “Oh, they’ll have the decision!” she cried. Harry rushed to help her up before she could attempt to jump up on her own. “How long has it been? Apparently it’s a bad sign if they call you back too soon, if only I’d read up more on the Magical Homesteads Act...”
Harry let her go on as they walked back to the Ministry. He had learnt by now that it was her way of managing the stress. But as they walked into the Oak Chamber, he risked a glance at McGongall, who was as regal as ever and whose face revealed nothing. Slughorn, though, met his eye with a merry look, and Harry knew that Hermione had won the day.
XIV. 27 August 2006
Harry had thought that he’d be more prepared for the tinyness of a newborn baby after the first time round, but holding his second son in his arms, he was hardly less conscious of the boy’s utter helplessness than he had been of James’ or Teddy's. But there the child was: ten fingers, ten toes, and, Harry glimpsed momentarily, bright green eyes.
The baby fussed to have his nappy changed, to be given a bottle, and Harry tended to him before Ginny could stir, hoping to catch another glimpse of his eyes. He had expected them to be the same slate blue as all babies’ seemed to be. Perhaps his own eyes had played a trick on him? But Harry knew, even before he could think about it, that they had not.
You remember Lily Evans’s eyes, I am sure?
All the names Ginny liked were long since taken by siblings and cousins, so the choice was up to Harry.
Albus - they both liked Albus - slept as soundly as his mother did, overjoyed and exhausted from bringing him into the world. Harry did not sleep at all.
He was silent when Ginny stirred and asked for the baby, silent as she whispered to him, silent as he lay him back in his cot. It was only when Ginny looked at Harry nervously, as if questioning his silence, that he said, “About the middle name.”
“What about it?”
“He’s got green eyes.”
“Just like his father.”
“Like his grandmother.”
“Albus Lilius, then?”
Harry shook his head. “Albus Severus.”
“Severus?” If Ginny had been less tired, Harry was sure, she would have shouted.
Like a pig for slaughter. “He died for my mother.”
“He got your mum killed!”
“Yes, he did.” What will you give me in return?
“You hated Snape!”
“I still hate him.” He probably always would do.
“Neville’s to be godfather, he still hates him!”
“It’ll be all right.”
There was a shocked look on Ginny’s face; he had not made her understand. Harry thought of the only time in his life that he had touched Severus Snape, not understanding why he was doing so. It had been, perhaps, the most necessary act of his life. He barely saw his wife and newborn son; the room before him was subsumed into another one, closed off and wet with red and silver.
Take it... take it... look... at... me.
Ginny squeezed his hand. “I’ll think about it.”
XV. 11 January 2008
Blending in amongst Muggles was natural for Harry, but keeping up could be a bit of work. It was easy enough to go to the cinema occasionally and take the Sunday Independent in a post office box. Driving a car took a bit more doing, but Harry had grown used to it. Robards had taken to hinting about a mobile telephone. So far Harry had resisted, but he doubted he would be able to hold out on the issue indefinitely. He’d agreed to take over as Head Auror when Robards retired, which meant that he was supposed to lead the way in such things. Nonetheless, Harry thought a telephone in the house was perfectly sufficient, and disliked the way Muggle pedestrians increasingly seemed to have mobile ones attached to their ears.
Electronic post, though, Harry found he didn’t mind, even if it had been some trouble to learn at first. Using it meant going to the town library more frequently, which Harry found he didn’t mind; the Dursleys had never taken him to the one in Little Whinging. He established a habit of borrowing Muggle fairy stories for the children, and Ginny occasionally asked for books about football.
He got an armful of books on the requisite subjects and sat down to read his owl-less correspondence. Winnie Dursley was becoming increasingly confident on her tricycle, Harry learned, and David was refusing to eat any food that wasn’t orange. Mrs. Figg’s rheumatism was troubling her in the current weather, but she had a welcome distraction from her troubles in Ruffles’ rapidly maturing litter. Harry groaned at that. Ginny had been making noises lately about finding a companion for Mr. Dandelion, who had usurped Harry’s armchair. Doubtless Harry would now be expected to present one of the new kittens, and perhaps to relinquish his pillow or his desk.
Harry composed his replies and returned the computer to the library’s screen. He was about to get up when a notice caught his eye: “NEW: Search General Register indices, 1836-1945.”
Instinctively, without being quite conscious of what he was doing, he sought out the librarian on duty, a smiling middle-aged woman whose desk placard identified her as Mrs. Gill. She pulled up a chair beside Harry’s. “What’s the name, then?”
Harry’s heart sank a bit. He had not thought this through well. “The thing is, she died at an unwed mothers’ home, I don’t think she gave her real one.” Mrs. Gill gave Harry a stern look that reminded him a bit of Madam Pince. “It’ll have been in the old borough of Wandsworth. She died in 1926.” He did not say in the last hour, when she might have lived. Mrs. Gill tapped at the keyboard, and again without knowing what he was saying, Harry went on, “It might be under Mary P.”
That was enough to lead Harry to a common burial done eighty years before, marked by columns of names embossed on a plaque in letters almost too small to make out. Harry knelt on the muddy ground in order read it and found Voldemort’s mother reduced to nothing more than the name Mary Plinge embossed above a large “1927.”
Harry could hardly explain even to himself why he found so intolerable that final slight to pitiful Merope, who had never wanted anything so badly as to disappear. But it ate away at him, and finally Hermione had tracked down the cemetery warden and vicar, for whom Harry elaborated on the story he had told Mrs. Gill.
That was close enough to the truth, Harry thought as he blinked against an early March rain that only the vicar did not seem to mind. Hermione and Ron shot him questioning looks, meaning, Harry thought, less Was this worth it? than Why do you want this, again? Only they were there with him and Ginny to watch the vicar dedicate the stone: Merope Gaunt Riddle, 1909-1926.
Harry hadn’t been known it in January, but Hermione was pregnant. Ginny thought she might be as well.
Harry shivered, although the rain was not particularly cold. Mrs. Hull’s story had been an abstraction to him when he was sixteen, an abstraction to all of them. Now, though, it was real, but Harry alone knew the face and voice of a woman had felt contractions come fast and bled out the afterbirth and kept bleeding, who would not or could not replenish the blood.
He pulled Ginny close to him, hardly caring that it meant unbalancing the umbrella. Ginny is fine, you and Ginny both wanted three. He wondered if Merope had dreamt, while Tom was still with her, of having further children. Did she want there to be siblings for the child she was carrying, or was brotherhood something Morfin had spoilt for her completely?
He would never know; nobody would. Most likely Merope would have wanted to disappear completely, to register in the world not even a tiny, mistaken name on a list that no one would ever read. Harry was doing a disservice to her, perhaps, even in this. That did not make him regret it, though; he had discovered that there was no more justice in desires than in how they were attained. He would allow himself the balm of a spray of peonies resting on graven words that would outlast them:
Cast a cold eye
on life, on death.
Horseman, pass by.
XVI. 23 May 2009
Harry was surprised an ordinary letter from Dudley in with the rest of his Muggle post on at the end of May. Traditional correspondence between them was now largely reserved for holiday greetings, for which there was no occasion now. Harry took the letter home and checked it carefully for jinxes. “Wha’s that?” Albus asked him, pointing.
“I think it’s a letter from your Uncle Dudley.”
“Duddey!” Albus squealed, in a rather higher pitch of excitement than Harry’s ears appreciated. He doubted Albus even remembered who Dudley was. For that matter, even Harry wasn’t sure of the handwriting. It might belong to Gabrielle’s husband, or to Viktor Krum.
But neither of them were likely to send a letter through the Muggle post in England, Harry reminded himself. After completing a trace for powdered poisons, of which there proved to be none, he opened the envelope cautiously. Inside it he found a single sheet of plain paper, dated a couple of days earlier, bearing a few lines of Dudley’s boxy scrawl:
Greetings to the family. I hope you’re all enjoying springtime, etc.
I thought I should let you know that Dad passed away at Easter time. I didn’t want you to feel you had to come to the funeral. Still, it seemed you’d want to be told, other than in person at next month’s tea.
In receiving this news, Harry felt only emptiness, a void of feeling: no sense of triumph, no regret. Uncle Vernon’s death, he found over the ensuing days, meant no more or less to him than did a stranger’s in the Independent, or than Dolores Umbridge’s suicide in Azkaban the year before. He was grateful to have been spared the obligations of mourning.
He nevertheless arranged for his next day off to coincide with Dudley’s and met his cousin at a park near his commonhold. Dudley was easy to find, as the park nearest his commonhold was all but empty on a Tuesday morning. Surprising himself, he hugged Dudley at once. “Hiya, Big D.”
“Hullo, Harry,” Dudley said, sounding rueful. “Thanks for coming by.”
“Anytime... Dudley, I’m sorry.” Dudley nodded in acknowledgment. “D’you want to - tell me anything, or just not talk about it - ”
“Not much to tell. The doctors had been at him for years. Said he’d prove them wrong, and then he went and drove on the left in Mallorca on holiday.” He scuffed his feet on the ground. “Mum’s coping as well as you’d expect.”
Harry let it lie at that. The last time he had seen Petunia was eleven years ago, when he said “Severus Snape is dead now” and turned away before he could see her expression change. Petunia had made a few small overtures of reconciliation in the past years, but Harry had rebuffed them and would continue to do so. He could not bring himself now to care how his aunt was doing.
Still, she was Dudley’s mother, and that had to count in some way. “Shall I - send flowers or something?” he asked awkwardly.
“If you’d like. I don’t see much need.”
Harry didn’t see much need either, but he only replied with a shrug. “I’m rubbish with flowers anyway. Ginny’ll tell you.”
“I’m sure she will.”
“Why don’t you come by and meet Lily this weekend?” Harry asked suddenly, not knowing what prompted it. “A walk along the strand might do you good.” It often did for Harry, anyway; he had chosen Lupin Cottage partly for its proximity to the ocean.
Dudley shifted uncomfortably. “I don’t know - perhaps I shouldn’t - ”
“Albus was asking to see you, you know,” Harry interrupted.
“Well, he’s learnt your name. It’s close enough.”
“Really?” Dudley looked more pleased than Harry had expected. “I’ll come by, then. Saturday tea?”
“Saturday tea it is,” Harry agreed. Uncle Vernon had refused to drink chai masala: “Rubbish that’s been mucked about with by foreigners who couldn’t make a simple cup of tea,” if memory served him. He resolved to offer it at the week-end, fairly certain that Dudley wouldn’t mind.
XVII. 19 August 2009
Diagon Alley held no more novelty for Teddy Lupin at eleven than Little Whinging’s high street had for Harry. The weeks after Hogwarts letters were sent out were always a crush, and Teddy already had work robes and a cat. He was proud to use his mother’s old books; they’d simply sent via owl for the ones that had changed from Tonks’ curriculum.
But Harry took him to buy his wand. He waited for a day that Ron and George assured him was likely to be a quiet one and brought Teddy to Ollivander’s, half hoping that the old man would have left the shop in the care of his apprentice. There he had no luck: Mr. Ollivander, looking more wizened than ever, was perched behind the counter, poring over old records. He looked up at the bell, though, and put the book away. “Mr. Potter. What brings you here today?”
Harry suppressed a grimace. He’d wanted to avoid that kind of attention, not to have this day for Teddy be overshadowed by his, Harry’s, fame. He motioned Teddy toward the counter. “Mr. Ollivander, I’d like you to meet my godson, Theodore Lupin.”
“Mr. Lupin,” Ollivander said, shaking hands as sewing tapes unfurled themselves to take Teddy’s measurements. “Yes. I don’t recall selling your mother a wand - I believe she found an heirloom that suited her well - but your father’s, that was willow and unicorn hair, nine and a half inches, not too yielding.”
“Grandmother’s kept it,” Teddy said. Tonks’ had not been recovered after the battle. “I’ve brought it to try, if you don’t mind.”
Mr. Ollivander looked as if he did mind, but at a glance from Harry schooled his expression into a pleasant one. “Not in the slightest. Bring it here, let’s see - still springy, is it?”
“Well, give it a wave, let’s see.” Teddy obliged him, and the wand produced a flash of light. “Hmm, not bad, you’d do well to keep that, see if you grow into it...”
They went through a number of new wands with no great success, Ollivander shaking his head and muttering. Teddy grew increasingly impatient, until the point that, between wands, his appearance changed without his intending it - one instant he was Teddy Lupin, the very image of his father at eleven had Remus had his health, and the next he had white-blonde hair and Tonks’ nose. Mr. Ollivander tsk-tsked and said, “Good gracious, why didn’t you mention you had your mother’s ability? That makes it much easier...”
Fifteen minutes later, Teddy left Ollivander’s the bearer of his own wand: ten and a quarter inches, solid, birch with Veela hair at the core - “temperamental, yes, but I’ve taken to using it occasionally, does well for a few.” With that settled, Harry, feeling something akin to duty, took Teddy to the ice-cream parlour and felt a fresh sting at the memory of Florean Fortescue and the fact that still no one knew what had become of him.
For Teddy’s sake, Harry pushed the thought aside as he paid for the ice creams - a sundae for his godson, and considerably smaller indulgences for himself and for George Weasley, who had joined them. “Done any mischief with the new wand yet?” George asked.
“No, I’m waiting until it can be a surprise.”
“Good thinking,” George said approvingly. “Do yourself proud at it. I want Fred and Roxanne to have a strong role model. Oh, and incidentally,” he added, dropping his voice to a stage whisper, “if you can see your way round to getting put in Hufflepuff, I could make it very profitable for you.”
“Who’ll make it profitable if I’m in Gryffindor?” Teddy said eagerly.
“Cunning and ambitious, I should have bet on Slytherin!”
“The Hat will enjoy having you to sort out,” Harry said, “whatever it decides. Don’t get into a state about it. Especially not when you’re worn out from trying a million wands.”
Teddy shrugged and continued eating his sundae. “Mr. Ollivander said it’s worth holding onto my dad’s to grow into,” he told George around a mouthful of whipped cream and chocolate sauce, sounding optimistic.
“Wouldn’t surprise me in the least,” George said. “Of course, you might just skip the whole wand bit and go straight to wandless magic. Your dad was brilliant at it.”
“Really. I remember working with him in the Order - he was incredible, I’d never seen anything like it. Fred would always say he’d have to teach us once the war was over, and there’d be no end to what we could do.” A dark look settled over George’s face for a moment. When he shook it off, he went on, “As for you, young man, I expect you’ll have to teach me how to do something about the missing ear. Bloody boring with just the scar, I’d like to grow an extendable one in its place, or perhaps an elephant one, what do you think?”
“Definitely an elephant one,” Teddy said. “Extendable’s too easy, you can do more than that.”
“Look at you, sounding like McGonagall already,” said George.
“Or Hermione,” George agreed. “Do us a favour, Teddy? Don’t take after her too much, if you make prefect you’ll be bored to tears.”
“I’ll try and get in a bit of trouble,” Teddy promised, and he smiled as broadly as he had all day.
XVIII. 18 June 2011
Snowdonia was beautiful in summer, and Harry, visiting for the first time, cursed himself for not having gone when Ginny was in Holyhead daily. The Powells vacationed here every year, Dudley had told him, and Harry instantly knew the reason. Even from the visitors’ entrance there was a good view of the Massif. He half-envied Catrin, who was hiking properly with a friend, but he was glad enough just to be in a play area ten minutes’ walk from the car park. Ginny would like it, he thought; she was in Holyhead, where the Harpies had just announced Angelina Johnson-Weasley’s appointment as assistant coach. He’d suggest Angelina take advantage of the nearby scenery as well.
Just now, though, he was content to watch Lily digging determinedly with a stick at a patch of pebbly dirt under the bench. Dudley was refereeing a dispute about tag that had broken out amidst the older four children. “What have you found there, Lily?” Harry asked.
“I’m being a Niffler.”
“Looking for gold?”
She shook her head. “Worms.”
“I think it’s a bit dry for worms there.”
“But I’m looking for them.”
Harry smiled as she went on digging. Soon enough Dudley joined him, having resolved the quarrel. “Why is it,” Dudley asked, “that I can do 10K without breaking a sweat, and the kids can wear me out inside ten minutes?”
“I’ve wondered that myself,” Harry replied, hoping against all probability that Dudley was too tired to resume comparing the minutiae of their training regimes. His mind was on what Lily had said: Nifflers. Without Harry’s noticing it happen, James and Winnie had passed the age where mentions of magic would be dismissed as the products of ordinary imagination. He did not want to deprive the children of their cousins, or his of Muggle contacts, and was not sure what to do. He would have to talk it over with Ginny.
Lily pulled at Harry’s shirt, shaking him from his thoughts. “I want to go on the see-saw.”
Harry glanced over to the apparatus. Several children were currently pushing at each other to access it, their parents admonishing in what Harry felt confident guessing was an exasperated tone of Welsh. “After they’ve had their turn, all right?”
“I want to go on it now.”
“Yes, but you remember about sharing, and waiting turns.”
Lily nodded glumly and went back to her digging. “Sometimes I hate saying no to them,” Harry admitted to Dudley. “I hate it when I’ve got to punish them.”
“I know what you mean,” Dudley said. “God knows I don’t want to repeat Mum and Dad’s mistakes, but... it’s the worst part of the whole thing, isn’t it? Cadi says I still want to be too soft.”
Harry nodded in sympathy. He and Ginny had plenty of talks about that sort of thing, and they would no doubt have more. Albus was easier than James in that respect, quiet and eager to please, but the example of Percy’s upbringing made Ginny nervous about taking it for granted.
“Anyway, they’re much less trouble at crèche and at school than I ever was, so I reckon we’ve done all right,” Dudley said. “Winnie’s marks aren’t bad. I think she’s got her mum’s brains.”
“You and Catrin get on so well, why’d you get a divorce?” Harry asked. The words were out of his mouth before he knew what he was saying, and he was instantly mortified. “Dudley, I’m sorry, that just slipped out. It’s none of my business.”
But Dudley shook his head and surprised Harry greatly by saying, “No, it’s all right. Sharing a commonhold, you were bound to wonder.”
“Doesn’t mean I ought to have asked.”
“You’re not the first who has,” Dudley said. For several moments he looked over the meadow to the older children, who were running in circles and squealing at the top of their voices. “Cadi’s gay,” he said quietly.
“Oh!” That explained a great deal, then. “So when you got mar- sorry, that’s none of my business either.”
Dudley shrugged again. “We never told Dad. You can imagine how he’d have taken it.”
Harry refrained from noting that Dudley had once not only shared his father’s views, and backed them up with his fists. He did not ask about Petunia. “The Powells have taken a while, but they’ve come round.”
“Good,” Harry said, with an abstract sense that it was indeed so.
Dudley shuffled his feet a bit. “So?”
“Well, do your lot even have gay people, for starters?”
“Yes, same as yours.”
“And are you friends with any of them?” Dudley said, his voice taking on a note of challenge.
“My son’s named after one of them,” Harry said, feeling a bit resentful. “Albus Dumbledore. He was the greatest wizard I’ve ever known.”
“What, that nutter with the white beard who set the drinks on us?”
“That’s the one.” He supposed Dudley would have remembered. “And just among the in-laws I get on with, there’s- ”
“Harry, where’s Lily?” Dudley said suddenly.
Harry felt his heart skip a beat. Lily. She was no longer at his feet.
He stood up, everything else gone from his mind. “Lily!” he called out desperately. “Lily Luna Potter!” There was no reply. “Watch the others,” he said to Dudley, “I’m - ”
“She’s there.” Dudley didn’t sound reassured, but Harry looked where he pointed -
and there was Lily, going up and down on the seesaw. The other families had departed, and there was no one to push her. Even alone, she was laughing with pleasure.
“Lily!” Harry raced over to her, and the see-saw stopped completely with Lily seated three-quarters of the way up. “Daddy, I’m up here!” she said, her voice high-pitched with excitement.
Harry could not catch his breath. Lily was safe, she would not be hurt - and yet a thousand awful possibilities were still running through Harry’s mind, and he could not credit that none would happen. Lily might still realize that she shouldn’t be where she was, that it was impossible, and fall or panic - “I know you’re up high, sweetheart,” Harry said. “Why don’t you come down now?”
“I don’t want to come down.”
“Come down and Daddy will get you an ice cream,” he pleaded, aware of how like Petunia Dursley he sounded and caring not one whit.
Lily appeared to consider this for a moment and then nodded her head. Slowly the see-saw balanced downward, and soon as Harry was able, he scooped her into his arms and kissed her head. “I love you, Lily. That’s the most important thing, okay? Mummy and I love you.”
“I love you too, Daddy!” Lily said, giggling, and Harry realized that he was trembling. He did not want to let Lily go. Without turning around he said, “Dudley. In my wallet - just get whatever Muggle money’s there and get her an ice cream. Get all of them ice cream.”
“Where’s your wallet?” Dudley said, sounding reluctant.
“It’s in my pocket, just fish the damn thing out and don’t ask questions!”
“You can owe me for the ice cream, how’s that?”
“Fine, just go!”
Ten minutes later, all five children were enthusiastically gobbling ice cream; Catrin and Ginny would be unhappy, but Harry did not care. He sat on the bench, still trying to catch his breath, as they chattered to each other obliviously; Harry did not want to blink in case they vanished. “Mind telling me what all this is?” Dudley asked quietly.
“Lily did magic.”
“I figured that.”
“She’s never done before, sometimes kids get scared - and she was gone, just for a second - ”
“Right, but get hold of yourself.”
“I can’t - ”
“You can if you don’t want five panicking children and two mothers out for blood. Take a deep breath and count to ten.”
Feeling slightly murderous himself, Harry complied. He had barely exhaled when Dudley said, “Again,” and then, “Right, just keep doing that until I tell you to stop.”
Harry carried with it in spite of himself, grasping for calmness. James had toddled onto a toy broom first, and Albus Vanished mashed vegetables, but something like this - nothing like this. This must be how the Evanses had felt, watching his mother go higher and higher, go impossibly high, on the swings.
He burst out laughing suddenly, earning a strange look from Dudley. “Lily’s doing magic,” he wheezed between peals. “Little Lily’s starting to do magic, and scared her father halfway to death.” Tears were running down his cheeks, and he could not imagine when he would be able to stop laughing.
XIX. 5 September 2013
The Leaky Cauldron had never looked so welcome to Harry as it did after completing a three-week stay in St. Mungo’s. He would’ve welcomed even a grimy chair and a warm pint of Fishy Green Ale at the Hog’s Head, and could’ve cried for gratitude when Hannah Abbot led him instead to a private corner of the garden. “I expect Neville will be along soon enough, would you like something in the meantime?”
“Just a gillywater, thanks.” Harry settled into his chair and looked round the garden. For years it had amounted to little more than a tangled patch of weeds, liberally decorated with chipped mugs and the like, but Hannah had set it in order nicely. Culinary herbs and ornamental flowers spilled out of their boxes, and Harry recognized not only star grass and alihotsy but also, impressively, dittany growing in a small plot. Then, Hannah had always been good at Herbology, although, like Neville, she’d always given herself too little credit in her other subjects. The Leaky Cauldron was the gateway and the border between Muggle and Magical London, and Harry was glad that it was Hannah who was guarding it.
Neville arrived about fifteen minutes after Harry, looking rumpled and slightly out of breath. “Harry! Sorry, mate, lost track of the day and time, almost forgot about meeting you!”
Harry barely suppressed a grin. “It’s quite all right. Doing well, I hope?”
“I am, thanks. And you...”
“Still greenish, I know.”
Neville punched his arm. “Some Auror you are, earning your first stay in St. Mungo’s with dragon pox!”
“I’ll never live down the shame. Picked a good time, didn’t I?”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Neville said, with a half-grimace.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you start off calling me in with three people on holiday and two in the hospital - ”
“How are they, then?”
“Fay’s home, she’ll be back at work, next week.”
Neville shook his head. “He’s on bed rest until the antlers have shrunk. Anyway, guess who wound up in an incident before your pustules had burst?”
“I don’t know, who?” Harry could think of any number of possibilities. “
“You’d have had to stand down anyway. Conflicting interests.” Harry was no less perplexed, and Neville, seeing it, said, “Here’s a clue: ‘Mrs Potter has so far avoided the rotundity that some readers may remember her mother attained. Instead, the Harpies’ former star chaser has retained her boyish physique even after bearing three children, one of them certainly her husband’s.’”
Harry groaned. “Rita Skeeter? What happened?”
“She’s alive, first off. It turns out she’s an illegal Animagus - which it would seem was an open secret in some circles?”
“Erm, I suppose so,” Harry conceded uncomfortably. “It’s a bit of a long story.”
“And don’t I know it! Apparently she hadn’t used it in years, though.”
“I bet she hadn’t.”
“Right. Evidently she’s been hard up for scoops lately, so she went back to that, took to hanging round the Hog’s Head.”
“Easy to blend in there, wouldn’t it be? And with that clientele...”
“That’s what she was thinking. Got in a few big stories, too, before she landed on the wrong goat.”
“You’ll believe me when you face the paperwork. Aberforth swears up and down he didn’t know, and no one can prove him wrong, so that’s that.” Neville took a large mouthful of ale. “It’ll be a good while before she’s any shape to go back to work.”
“The Prophet will find someone equally vile to fill in.”
“So far it’s been Balaam Smith. Meanwhile, Stan Shunpike and Mundungus Fletcher both took your absence for an opportunity to get up to stupider things than usual and try to tell me that they had a special status with you.”
“Yeah, ‘key misplaced’ next time either one of them winds up in Azkaban.”
“That’s more or less what I told them.”
“So all in all, I’ve ruined your summer holiday?”
“Cold-plate revenge on me for suggesting you accept the Head Auror job.”
“No, that’s all right most of the time. I mean, it’s not perfect, but nothing is. Especially not my timing,” he added.
“I’d say it’s pretty good, all things considered,” Neville said.
“Well, I still owe you for this, never mind the wages.”
Neville grinned. “If you really want to pay me back, I’ll be needing a best man next summer.”
Harry swallowed his gillywater the wrong way and coughed violently, sending sparks into the nearby plants. Neville doused them with a stronger Aguamenti than was perhaps warranted. “Hannah’s got the ring on a chain round her neck, I’m surprised she didn’t show it to you,” he said, apparently oblivious to the water and potting soil that were leaking onto his robes.
“She probably wanted to let you tell me,” Harry wheezed as he caught his breath. “Congratulations, Neville! That’s the best news I’ve heard in years.”
“If you learn to breathe properly, it’ll be even better,” Neville said, but he was grinning from ear to ear.
XX. 30 March 2015
I don’t need a cloak to become invisible.
The memory was as clear as if Harry were still in that hidden room instead of his own attic. It spun itself into a large, perfect drop of silver at the end of his wand, and he deposited it carefully into the Pensieve.
Harry had been practicing at it for months, finding it more frustrating than Occlumency at first, but gradually improving. At first he merely found it easier to be overlooked in crowds, and then to evade the notice of those who weren’t particularly expecting to see him. Then he began to conceal himself more effectively on assignments, until finally, in recent weeks, he’d found himself able to replicate Dumbledore’s feat of so long ago.
He wished for a portrait of Dumbledore, for the chance to tell him of the accomplishment - or, rather, he wished he could somehow tell the very man, a sort of wish he hadn’t felt so intensely in many years. Perhaps he would ask to look in on the Heads of School at his next visit to Hogwarts.
The memories swirled, and Harry set the Pensieve back in its place, grateful that there was no mirror of treacherous honesty to reveal his heart. Such a thing could not tempt him to pine away before it, not now, but there were memories and desires he was not ready to look in the face tonight. He wondered if it would show him something else now, or if his vision would have only grown more crowded after twenty-five years.
He felt only a little more ready for the next task, but he sat on the newly-cleaned floor and rested his fingers for a moment on his jeans pocket, where he kept a Muggle wallet. He had memorized the still photograph from his parents’ wedding, and he closed his eye to fix it in his mind. “Thanks, Dad,” he whispered.
The Invisibility Cloak was cool and soft under his fingers, and Harry was tempted once more not to do this, to keep it close at hand. But he had made up his mind, and he only let his fingers linger for a moment before spreading it out and folding it with more care than he had his own wedding robe. Then he set it in a box and sealed it. The Hallow had served him in its time: and now it was over. That was how it had always happened, as far as Harry could determine, although many of the cloak’s owners had used it all their lives. Passed down from father to son, mother to daughter... But Harry could not, would not, choose between his sons. When the time was right, the cloak would go to Lily.
Harry placed the box under half a dozen Wards and Seals and left it near the Pensieve. Then he locked the attic door behind him, banishing thoughts of the cloak from his mind.
XXI. 1 September 2017
Harry was still blinking rapidly when the last of the steam from the Hogwarts Express dissipated. If Albus was unhappy at Hogwarts, Harry resolved, he could make his education a day one. Even if not, he could come home at weekends as much as he liked.
“Can’t I switch places with Albus, Daddy?” Lily asked. “I really want to go to Hogwarts.”
“No, you’ve got to wait your turn, just like everyone,” Harry said.
“Tell you what, Lils,” said Ron. “Why don’t you come along with Hugo and me, and we’ll have a day at the shop?”
“Please, Mummy, can I?” Lily asked.
Ginny exchanged a look with Harry, who really would have preferred to spend the day at home with his daughter. The Potters had already spent the previous afternoon wandering Diagon Alley before retiring to the Leaky Cauldron for the night. Still, a shop day was in a class of its own, and Harry knew Lily would resent being denied her cousin’s company this day.
“Yes, you may,” Ginny said, handing Lily a bit of pocket money. “Promise you’ll behave yourself.”
“Dinner at the Chomping Cabbage at half seven?” Hermione suggested.
“Provided you’ll let it be our treat,” Ginny said. “You’re following these two through Diagon Alley all day, I insist.”
Hermione looked ready to object, but Ginny set her hands on her hips, and Ron said, “Okay, I promise!” before she could hex him. “Oi! Teddy! Half-seven at the Chomping Cabbage?” he called out.
“Sounds lovely, thanks!” Teddy said, rushing past to return to work. The children quickly dragged Ron and Hermione in his wake.
Ginny grasped Harry’s lapels and pulled him down for a kiss. “I miss them already too,” she said. “We’ll do a Hogsmeade weekend end of month for James’ birthday, how’s that?”
“Come on, let’s go home the Muggle way.”
Harry got them down the Victoria line and onto a southbound train. They travelled in silence, watching the landscape transform from suburban to industrial to countryside. They walked home from the rail station in Wittering-by-Sea, not speaking much or needing to, pausing occasionally to gather blackberries.
At home, they improvised a game of one-on-one garden Quidditch. Harry had to admit to himself that he occasionally enjoyed being free of the children’s complaints about fairness, which inevitably arose from whichever of them lost. They stowed the brooms and Quaffles as rainclouds moved in, then retreated indoors and skipped tea in favour of making love. They lay in bed for a long while afterwards, as they were so rarely at liberty to do, and Harry found himself drifting off until he was roused by a rapping at the window. “Shall I get that?” asked Ginny.
“No, I’ll get up before I fall asleep.”
Harry threw on his dressing gown and opened the window to admit a tiny owl with long feathers fringing its orange eyes. He gave it an Owl Treat and unfurled the scroll from its leg. “What is it?” Ginny asked.
“It’s from Lorcan and Lysander,” Harry said, grinning at the absurd image of toddlers wielding quills, “invite us to the wedding of their parents - ”
“Finally!” Ginny laughed. “I wondered when they’d get round to it.”
“ - at Moon Frog Cottage, three o’clock Michaelmas. The favour of a reply is requested.”
“Send it, then, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“A Lovegood wedding ought to be something,” Harry agreed, and sent the owl off again with a hastily written response. He made to return his seal to its secured drawer, and did a double take when he opened it. “Gin, you haven’t needed anything from my desk, have you?”
“A quill last week.”
“Nothing from the drawers, then?”
“You’re quite sure?”
Harry stared at the drawer. “Damn.”
“What is it?”
“It appears that James Sirius - ” mentally Harry supplied a few epithets that he did not normally apply to his son - “has nicked the Marauder’s Map.”
Ginny came up behind him and examined the drawer herself, tapping at it with her wand. “He really has, then,” she said. “Will he know how to use it?”
“He’ll figure it out, if George hasn’t told him already.”
“I’m sure he has... Oh, I don’t know which one of them to murder first.”
“You don’t sound entirely murderous,” Harry said. Ginny’s lips twitched, and he went on, “James can’t be allowed to think that actions won’t bring consequences.”
“No, and we can’t let this one go,” Ginny agreed. “It’s just - he’s living up to his namesakes, isn’t he?”
Harry laughed. “I suppose it’d be a disappointment if he didn’t, at that. Although that’s not going in the Howler.”
“We can send one tomorrow,” Ginny said, and gave Harry a quick kiss. “Come on, get dressed so we can get to dinner.”