Chapter 1: Initiative
Wednesday, July 31, 1996
From the moment he left Kings Cross with his family, a haze of grief had descended upon Harry once more. This time, it was not one of anger at the fates, nor desperation to see his godfather again. No, this time it was a cold and brittle numbness. There was a hollow ache inside him now, whenever he thought of Sirius, and the world felt dull and grey.
The only relief Harry felt from his state of apathy was when he would find himself suddenly sobbing into his pillow, face pressed in tightly so that nobody could hear. Sometimes, when he could cry no more, his tears continued still. Slow and silent, they traced down an expression unmoved.
It was more than a month later when Harry finally began to emerge from his depression. He had spent the thirty-first of July (his birthday), ignoring the gifts received by owl, and instead dwelling in the knowledge that there was one person he would never receive a gift from again.
As evening fell however, and he stared out his window at the night sky thinking on the better times with Sirius, he spotted his reflection in the glass and gave a start. He was smiling. True, it was a small smile, all tentative and fragile edges. But, it was a smile nonetheless.
His emotions began doing a rollercoaster. Guilt at smiling, happiness that he could, anger that he was happy… For a teenager who had spent so many weeks now feeling little more than nothingness and grief, the sudden flood of returning emotions was overwhelming.
Through his turmoil, he had staggered over to his bed and collapsed there, sitting on the edge and burying his face into the palms of his hands. Taking deep breaths to get a hold of himself he looked about, as if for the first time that summer, and was less than pleased by what he saw.
His room was a mess. Everything lay where it had been left when he arrived. And, with the exceptions of his trunk (which was opened and closed when retrieving clothing from within, whenever Aunt Petunia forced him to shower and change), his bed (where he had spent most of his time laying listlessly), and the bright presents on his dresser (which were newly arrived) everything had a fine layer of dust over it. Had he really been such a zombie for the past weeks?
The answer was of course obvious. Yes, he had. And he felt guilty again. Not this time for smiling, but rather for wasting so much time. If the events at end of term should have taught him anything, it was that he was unprepared. And with the prophecy stating that everyone was depending on him, unprepared was something he couldn't afford to be. He needed to pull himself together.
Determination filling him, he stood abruptly. Resolve etched into his features, he pondered what to do first. The answer came to him in a most unpleasant manner. The combination of his new self awareness, and recent abrupt movements, brought to his notice the fact that both the room and he himself smelled absolutely foul. He tried to think back to his last shower he'd taken. It was a while ago, so he suspected his aunt had simply grown tired of bothering with him.
Wrinkling his nose he grabbed some clothes from his trunk. Then, after pushing open his window and leaving his door wide so that air could circulate, he headed for the bathroom. There, he spent a good forty minutes scrubbing his self clean, washing his hair, and brushing his teeth. Dressed in clean clothes, he then marched downstairs to the living room where his family was eating dinner.
The squeaks of surprise and strange expressions ranging from shock to nervousness were rather amusing. The first was easily explainable, since this was the first time he had emerged willingly from his room since arriving. The nervousness though took him a moment to explain. Then he remembered the rather dramatic send-off the Order members had given him at Kings Cross, and the intimidating warnings they had issued with regard to his treatment. He stifled a smile at the memory.
"Hello," he greeted neutrally.
His long unused voice came out scratchy and hoarse. He stepped out to the kitchen, poured himself a glass of water at the sink. Returning to the living room, he took a sip and cleared his throat before trying again.
"Hello," he said, more clearly this time. "I was hoping to get some dinner."
Dudley stared at him nervously, Vernon looked suspicious and Petunia pursed her lips.
"There's a tray on the bench in the kitchen. I was going to bring it up to you after, like I have been all summer," his aunt informed him stiffly. "Not, that you have shown any appreciation for that. You've barely been touching any of the food I bring you."
Harry stared at her in for a moment. Was that concern he could hear in her voice? No, surely not. Dismissing the thought as ridiculous, he nodded and left for the kitchen. There, he fetched his tray from the counter and headed upstairs. Entering his room he took a deep breath. It was a bit dusty still, but the stale scent that had permeated the air earlier had blessedly faded.
Sitting at his desk, he took a bite of his dinner – a generous serving of roast chicken and vegetables. The moment the food touched his tongue he realised he was ravenous. Very quickly the entire meal was gone, along with the glass of water. He popped back downstairs requesting more, and after giving him an assessing look Aunt Petunia filled his tray back up.
Back in his room, slowly working his way through his second meal, Harry took the opportunity to finally open the gifts that had arrived just after midnight that morning.
From Ron he had received a box of Honeydukes chocolates, and from Hermione, a heavy book entitled Everything You Need To Know About The NEWTs. Hagrid had sent him a card, and a tin of toffees. Mrs Weasley had, unsurprisingly, also sent food; a jar of chocolate chip biscuits. The twins – according to their card – had sent a selection of items from their joke shop with stern instructions to have fun and cause chaos.
Next up, there were gifts from Ginny, Neville and Luna. A book on defence; a seedpod for a plant that, when mature and prompted to grown around a doorframe, could paralyse home invaders; and an empty box which apparently contained a Snormiggler (an invisible creature which ate sadness), were received from each of the three respectively. Additionally, several of the other DA members had sent him cards or short letters wishing him a happy day.
Finished with the presents, he next moved on to the small mountain of letters he had received but never read. He opened one with bright green lettering first. It turned out to be from Dumbledore.
I fear I write with unpleasant news. Due to the state of the world at present, I believe it would be best that you remain safely at Privet Drive for the remainder of your holidays.
Please do not, however, think that I have been deaf to your discontent at being 'locked up' at the Dursley home. In exchange for your prolonged stay, I have been able to adjust the wards to extend much further than simply the house. Most of your local neighbourhood, including the park is now secure, so feel free to wander.
Also, should you but request it, I would be more than willing to speak to Mrs Weasley to arrange for your friends to visit you sometimes. Perhaps even often. I am sure they would be amenable.
As I had promised, I will no longer be keeping secrets from you. Along that vein, I will freely say that you have one Order member guarding you at all times. Also, they have been asked to answer any questions you pose about the war effort freely and honestly, since I cannot in good conscience risk writing all such information in a letter.
Lastly, I give you my deepest sympathies once again for the loss of your godfather. I am sure you care not to hear this just now, but when you are ready his affairs must be seen to. I believe that you are the primary beneficiary of his will.
If you would prefer, I can attend the reading in your stead and inform you of the details at a later date. Please let me know your preference.
Your most humble servant,
Setting the letter aside slowly, he considered the contents. He was a little annoyed that he had to stay here all break, but understood Dumbledore's reasoning. Additionally, the extension of the ward lines and the offers of visitors were wonderful compensation (though honestly, he wasn't in any state to enjoy taking advantage the latter at this time). He was very grateful too that the headmaster was keeping to his promise of no secrets as best as he could.
Then there was the subject of the will reading. He didn't want Sirius's money, but perhaps there might be other trinkets and mementos of his godfather's that he might like to have. Tears prickling his eyes, he turned to the rest of the correspondences.
There were several letters from Ron and Hermione, both of whom were staying at the Burrow. These letters grew increasingly worried as time had passed without response. Another one, from Ginny, expressed that he had better start replying to his best friends soon, because if he didn't put an end to their annoying worrying he was risking a Bat-Bogey Hex.
A rather surprising invitation from Neville was unearthed from the pile next. It asked whether he would care to spend some time at the Longbottom home during the holidays. And finally, there was an oddly disjointed letter from Luna who was in Sweden with her father. They had yet to locate the Crumple Horned Snorkack, but remained hopeful. He smiled at this last letter, before fetching ink and parchment from his trunk to write some hopefully reassuring responses.
Sorry, for not writing sooner. I've been in a bit of a state. Don't worry though, I'm feeling better now – or at least a well as can be expected.
Thanks for the chocolates, I'm sure I'll enjoy them. Also, can you say thank you to you mum from me for the biscuits.
Did you see what Hermione got me? A hugely thick book about NEWTs. Can you believe she's worrying about them already? But that's Hermione for you.
I assure you that I'm not in trouble, so please stop worrying. I'm sorry for not replying but I've not felt up to it till now.
Thank you for the book. It looks very useful, though I expect by the time I manage to read it all, NEWTs will have come and gone. I'm joking! Seriously though, it looks very… detailed.
If I don't write to you after this, please don't start worrying again. I have it on good authority that a certain someone will be Bat-Bogey Hexing me if you do.
I've replied, I've replied! That means there's no need to resort to painful and unpleasant curses.
I received your gift. It looks very interesting, and I'm sure I'll get plenty of use from it. Thank you.
I'm sorry I didn't reply sooner. With everything that happened, and losing Sirius, I've not been up to doing much of anything.
Thank you for the invitation to stay at your house over the holidays. If Dumbledore hadn't decided I should stay here behind the wards all summer I would definitely agreed. As it is though, I won't even be spending time at Ron's house this break.
Thanks as well for the gift. You'll have to give me some pointers about how to grow this plant when I see you next. It sounds rather interesting.
Thank you for the birthday present. I couldn't actually see it (unsurprisingly since you said it's invisible), but since receiving it this morning I have been feeling a lot better. I think it might have actually worked.
I'm sorry you haven't found your Crumple Horned Snorkack yet, and hope you do soon.
P.S. In response to your questions, my favourite socks are dark blue, and no I have never felt the need to brew an earwax soup. Now, why exactly did you need to know that?
Fred and George,
I've received your gift, but to be frank am a bit afraid to open it just yet. Think I'll wait till I'm back at Hogwarts. At least then Madam Pomfrey will be on hand to reverse any pranks you might have set on the box.
I'll try my best to put the contents to use. I'm sure Ron and I could have some fun with it, so long as Hermione doesn't find out. She's a bit scary when she gets mad.
Thanks for the toffees. I've not had a chance to try any yet but I'm sure they'll be great.
I hope you and Grawp are doing well.
Sealing each of the letters in an individual envelope, he gave Hedwig instructions and then sent her on her way. The owl gave an approving hoot and took off, seeming glad that he was doing better and also appreciative of something to do.
Forking the last of the peas off his plate, Harry then pushed his chair back and got to his feet. He had something else important to do tonight. Heading downstairs he passed the living room, ignoring the glances from the Dursley who were now watching television, and headed for the front door. Stepping outside, he shut it behind him and looked about.
"Hello?" he called quietly, wandering down towards the sidewal. "I'd like to speak to my Order guard."
A tug on his sleeve from an invisible hand led him around the side of the house where they wouldn't be seen or overheard. Then, with a swishing of material, an invisibility cloak was pushed aside to reveal a redheaded man with a fang earring and long hair, worn in a ponytail.
"Hi Bill," he greeted the man, who looked as cool as ever.
"Hello Harry. How've you been?"
Judging by the concerned look in the man's eye, he suspected his efforts to keep his grief private had failed. He wondered if the entire Order knew that he'd been a wreck all holidays, and shifted uncomfortably.
"Good," he said but received a sceptical look in return, and so admitted, "Well, not good. But I'm feeling a lot better now."
"You look it." The redhead nodded, scanning him assessing. "But I hope for your sake you put some weight on before my mother sees you next. She'll see you're too skinny."
Harry winced. He knew he he'd not been eating well but hadn't realised it was physically obvious. He could already imagine the suffocating fussing Mrs Weasley would subject him too if she saw him looking 'underfed'. He loved her and all, but Ron's mum was a bit much sometimes.
"Yeah," he hastily agreed. "I'll have to do something about that."
"Good. Now, what did you want to speak to me about? Your guards are under orders from Dumbledore himself that we tell you everything you want to know." Bill gave him a curious look. "Impressive that. How did you manage it?"
Harry's expression darkened. "Let's just say that if he had told me what and where you were all guarding last year, things at the end of term might have gone differently."
Wisely, Bill simply nodded. The younger man bit his lip and took a deep breath. He was here to get something done, not to sink back into depression.
"I need you to take a message to Dumbledore for me."
"Too important to risk with owl mail?" Bill asked and he nodded. "What do you need me to tell him then?"
"Can you tell him I want training?"
"Training?" the Weasley son asked, raising an eyebrow. "What for? And what in specifically?"
"I don't know," he answered only the second question, brow furrowing. "Duelling, defence… anything that might be helpful."
"Helpful with…?" Bill fished, but Harry shook his head.
"He'll know what I mean. Just, tell him it's important. And that I want to start within a week. And if he can't help me…" His expression darkened at the though that Dumbledore might continue to hold him back, but then cleared as he assured himself things had changed. "Well, I'll find training from someone else, regardless of the risk. But I don't think that'll be a problem."
"Right…" the elder man trailed off.
Before more could be said between them, a popping sound was heard out on the street. Stepping defensively in front of Harry, who threw him an annoyed glance at the action, Bill raised his wand and cast as spell. The sound of an owl hooting a pattern – three times, then twice, then three times again – sounded out. There was a pause before another series of hoots – again, three times, twice, then three times – sounded out from where the Apparition noise had originated. Bill relaxed.
"It's Diggle. He's on guard duty starting now, which mean's I'm off."
"Right," said Harry, dragging his attention way from the seemingly empty street, and thinking to ask, "Hey, before you go, how'd the both of you manage to have invisibility cloaks anyway? I thought they were really rare."
"Oh, they are. But the Order has managed to get hold of a few. Moody probably owns more than the whole Order combined but he's a bit paranoid about lending more than one or two out at a time."
The redhead held a hand out, and the brunette reciprocated.
"I've got to go, but I'll get your message to Dumbledore right away," he said, shaking the teen's hand. "Nice seeing you again."
"Yeah, you too," Harry nodded, then something occurred to him. "Oh, and could you also tell Dumbledore for me that I'd like to take him up on the offer to look after S-sirius," his voice wavered, but he continued, "Sirius's affairs."
"Sure." Bill nodded.
His hand was released. Then Bill then re-donned his invisibility cloak and, with a 'pop', Disapparated away.
Chapter 2: Teachers
Wednesday, July 31, 1996
Appearing with a 'pop' on the sidewalk of a rundown neighbourhood, Bill Weasley focussed on the space between houses number eleven and thirteen, and watched as number twelve Grimmauld Place appeared as if from nowhere. Stepping up to the door, the tapped it with his wand. The clattering of locks disengaging sounded loudly, before the door creaked open. He entered the house and relocked the entrance behind him.
Removing his invisibility cloak, the redhead strode quietly down the long entry hall, approaching a door near the far end. Raising a tentative hand toward the door he watched it hit an invisible barrier before making contact. As expected, there was an Imperturbable Charm on the door. And, if the conspicuous absence of his younger siblings attempting to listen in was any clue, they had figured that out too.
He stepped back and raised his wand.
Charm successfully dispelled, he turned the handle, opening the door to a set of narrow stone stairs. Closing it behind him he recast the charm and descended to the kitchen.
Reaching the room, he found Mad-Eye Moody staring at him. No doubt the wizard had been following his progress since the moment he Apparated onto the doorstep. He nodded respectfully to retired Auror and received a brief nod in response before the man turned his attention elsewhere.
The rest of the room was filled with numerous witches and wizards of various ages and appearances. The meeting had apparently already started, as at the moment Professor Snape was making his report to the Order.
"Bill. Sit down, sit down," his mum ordered quietly, appearing at his elbow. "Here, have some stew."
He let her lead him to a seat beside Tonks and fill a bowl with a delicious smelling concoction, noticing that several others about the table had had his mother's cooking pressed upon them also.
"Thanks mum," he said and kissed her on the cheek.
She gave him a fond look and shuffled away.
"It's good," Tonks muttered from beside him, swallowing a spoonful from her own bowl.
"My mother made it," he replied with a slight grin. "Course it's good."
As he dug into his meal, he listened peripherally to Snape's comments that Voldemort was planning to utilise Mountain Trolls. He had never liked the man and, as with most of the people in the room, only trusted him because he had Dumbledore's backing. Still, he couldn't deny the Slytherin usually had the most interesting, useful and current information on the War front.
As always Snape left once he had made his report and the rest of the group immediately seemed more cheerful for it. Dumbledore stood up next.
"Before I call up the next speaker," the old man said, "William, do you have anything to report?"
"Just that Harry was up and about," the curse breaker replied calmly, ignoring the murmurs from the crowd. "And I have a message for you from him. I reckon it can wait till after the meeting though. I don't know whether it should be private or not."
A few Order members objected but Dumbledore hushed them all.
"Very well," the old wizard agreed with a nod.
"How was he though Bill?" his mother blurted out. "You can tell us that at least."
"He's looking a lot better," he replied honestly. "And I'm pretty sure I heard him asking for seconds for dinner from his Aunt, so he's eating well enough."
It was an unspoken agreement in the Order to portray Harry's situation in the best possible light when in the presence of Molly Weasley. The first night a guard had reported overhearing Harry refuse food, and that they thought they'd heard him crying, she had kicked up a huge fuss, and been near unbearable to live around till she calmed down.
So, rather than announce their observations during the meetings, the guards instead reported privately to Dumbledore any worrying behaviour they happened to notice. Honestly though, they noticed very little. Harry had not been leaving the house or even, most suspected, his bedroom. And since the Order was not going to stoop to spying on the grieving teen, information on the young man's state was limited. Judging by what he had seen earlier that night, Bill suspected Harry had been eating very little and sleeping fitfully at best.
"That is wonderful to hear," the headmaster replied to his comments, looking honestly relieved. "And now, onto the next order of business…"
It was a little more than an hour later. The meeting was adjourned and people were getting up to head home.
"If Alastor, Nymphadora and Emmeline could please remain behind?"
Bill smirked as Tonks, halfway out of her seat, growled in annoyance at the form of address and glared at the headmaster as she sat back down. For his part, Dumbledore gave her a mildly surprised look at the vocalisation, then a breezy smile as if he had no idea why she would be irritated with him.
Eventually the last of the people filed out, his mother being gently nudged along by his father. No doubt she wanted to stay to hear Harry's message. Bill however had no intention of mentioning in front of her that Harry wanted training. He could just imagine the outrage she would express at one of her 'children' being taught to fight, and her refusal to allow it. She could be very stubborn when she wanted to.
"But Bill is Molly was objecting.
"We can talk to him in the morning dear. He'll be here for breakfast. Won't you son?"
"Sure dad." He nodded, giving his mother a reassuring smile. "I don't start work till nine."
And then they were gone.
As Moody checked the wards and protections on the door, Dumbledore took a seat at the head of the table. Emmeline Vance a stately older woman who worked at St Mungo's remained in her seat across from him and Tonks, and Moody once the latter was satisfied with the spells hovered near the foot of the table.
"Well," Dumbledore said, breaking the silence, "you had a message from Harry?"
"I did," he conceded, giving the other three present a pointed glance. "Are you sure you don't want to hear it alone first, in case you want it kept private?"
"Good lad, thinking of security," Mad-Eye growled. "Trust no one. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!"
Everyone in the Order was well used to this refrain from the retired Auror by now, and so none of those present jumped in surprise any longer. Truthfully, they barely reacted at all.
"It is fine William," the headmaster assured him. "If the message is what I suspect, then I would be speaking to these three soon enough anyway."
"Okay," he said with a confused frown, before relating the messages as accurately as he could recall.
Reactions were varying. Dumbledore merely nodded seriously, as if this was what he expected. Vance remained watchful but outwardly neutral. Tonks expressed that the request was understandable, given the trouble Harry consistently found himself in. And Moody began objecting most strenuously to the idea of Harry finding training elsewhere, 'regardless of the risk'.
"Please Alastor, there is no need to worry. I fully intend to grant this request of Harry's, so there will be no need for him to take hazardous actions."
"Good," Moody nodded, settling down. "I can see why he needs training, if he's going to keep ending up in scraps with dark wizards. We're hardly likely to refuse him though, so there's no reason for him to threaten doing something so stupid and dangerous."
"And as Bill said, Harry seemed to realise that the threat was unnecessary. And his instinct to make it in the first place was not without reason," Dumbledore sighed, looking quite old. "I have made some rather large mistakes with Harry, by holding things back. It is unsurprising that he considered, however briefly, the possibility I would refuse his request."
An awkward silence followed with the others shifting uncomfortably, unsure how to react to their leader's obvious show of regret. Finally, Moody spoke up.
"We're all human. Mistakes are inevitable," the man said gruffly. "The important thing is to learn from them and strategise better in future."
"This is quite true." The old wizard nodded, straightening and looking brighter. "Now then, Harry will need trainers. This is where you four come in."
"Four?" Bill asked in confusion.
Moody and Tonks were reasonable, or even the headmaster himself. The first two were trained Aurors and Dumbledore was… well he was Dumbledore. But the man seemed to be indicating not only the two Aurors, but also Bill and Vance. What purpose could they two be in training Harry to fight? He'd done alright in defence at school, with an EE on his NEWT, but that was nowhere near comparable to Auror training. As for Emmeline, she was a healer, not a fighter.
"Yes, you four."
The elderly wizard's words were said sagely, but the twinkle in his eye gave away his amusement at their confusion. Though, not all of them seemed as lost as he was. Moody was glancing measuring between him and Vance and nodding slowly.
"Boy could do with learning some Medimagic," he said as he looked to Vance. "Field medicine at the least. I've never had the knack for it myself."
Moody then glanced down at his scarred body with its missing appendages and chunks of flesh, a rueful look on his face.
"That's why you look like something out of a horror film?" Tonks blurted, then flushed red as her eyes went wide. "I- I mean. It's just that- well, I always thought you just had the bad luck for getting hit by the curses that prevent healing."
Looking cautiously between the current Auror, whose hair now matched her flushed cheeks, and the retired Auror who was favouring her with a glare, Bill considered backing away from the line of fire. Fortunately Moody broke the tension by giving a snort, somewhere between amused and derisive, and deigned to answer her question.
"No lass I'm just crap at them," he admitted. "Best I can manage in an emergency is a Cauterisation Charm, which of course buggers up any chance of re-growing things."
Indomitable as always, and assured her frankly scary mentor did not take offence, Tonks was back to her cheerful self.
"Okay, I understand Vance," Bill spoke up, with a nod in the other woman's direction, "but why me? I'm perfectly willing to help of course, but I don't see what use I'd be."
"Why my dear boy, I should think it obvious, given your profession," Dumbledore replied. "You will be training Harry in warding, and any of the more exotic spells you have picked up in your travels, that you believe he could benefit from knowing. I need not remind any of you that Harry remains a particular target of Voldemort," everyone suppressed winces, "And so he could use every advantage he can get."
"Never underestimate the value of good warding in defence," Moody agreed gruffly. "It might not be practical during a duel, but if you have time to prepare beforehand, some of them wards can be lethal."
The freckled man nodded, understanding his purpose. Already his mind was whirring over which wards to teach Harry he would start out with the easier ones of course and a few obscure spells which he thought could be helpful to the boy hero.
"So, if we are all agreed?" The headmaster paused for them all to nod. "Wonderful. I believe you are all free on Saturday. So perhaps you should go home, get some rest, make some preparations over the next couple of days, and meet at Privet Drive at ten o'clock three days hence."
"You won't be joining us Albus?" Vance asked.
"No, dear Emmeline. I'm afraid I'm rather busy; Cornelius has once more taken to owling me several times a day." He sighed. "But at least he is at last acknowledging the threat. No, I am sure you can manage without me. But please, do send Harry my well wishes. And assure him that I will indeed take care off Sirius's affairs."
"Course we will Professor," Tonks reassured him.
The meeting broke up after that, all five going their separate ways.
Saturday, August 3, 1996
It had been three days since Harry sent Bill off with his message to Dumbledore. And two days since the headmaster had written him a letter, promising his request for training was being arranged, and to expect his teachers to arrive on Saturday at ten o'clock. Today was that day, and he was currently sitting at his window, watching the street below and anxiously waiting for sign of his visitors.
At promptly ten on the dot, a chorus of popping sounds echoed not from outside but rather from behind him. Harry spun around to find four additions to his bedroom, and his eyes widened in surprise at who had come.
Mad-Eye Moody's false eye was whizzing about suspiciously as the man prodded at Hedwig's cage with his wand. Tonks was grinning cheerfully, hair shifting to aquamarine. Bill Weasley was relaxing against his wardrobe, arms crossed loosely over his chest. And an imposing witch he thought was called Vince, who he recognised from the Order, was inspecting him critically.
"Wotcher Harry!" the Metamorphmagus chirped. "How you doing?"
"Hi Tonks. I'm alright," he replied. "Hi again Bill. Hello Professor Moody. And Vince, is it?"
"Vance," corrected the witch, whose brown hair was greying at the temples. "Emmeline Vance. You may address me as Healer Vance. Dumbledore sends his greeting."
"Morning Potter. And don't call me professor," the scarred ex-Auror ordered. "You know better'n most I didn't teach a single class. Just Moody or Mad-Eye'll do."
"Yes sir- I mean Moody."
"You look good Harry," Bill said. "Much better than when I last saw you."
"Thanks," he said awkwardly. "I've been doing better. Got most of my summer homework done even."
"Well, let's get down to business," Mad-Eye declared.
When it became clear there was not enough seating for everyone present, extra chairs were conjured. Soon everyone was comfortable, Harry himself perched upon his bed.
"So you're all here to teach me then?" he asked them all.
"Yep." Tonks nodded. "Mad-Eye and me are gonna train you up in duelling and such. Emmeline is going to cover field Medimagic. And Bill here-"
"Has been so impressed by all the stories Ron's told us about your adventures, that I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to spend more time with you," the Weasley son teased, giving him a wink.
Harry blushed a bit at the praise, but Moody rolled his eyes at the redhead.
"Weasley," the ex-Auror explained, "will be showing you some warding, and whatever else he can think of that'd be useful."
Harry considered all this. The benefit of duelling was obvious, but the other two…
"Why Medimagic and warding?"
"Medimagic can be of use in numerous situations, Mr Potter, both on the battlefield and in the wake of it," Healer Vance told him, sounding affronted that he would question its use.
"The basics are standard Auror training lad," Moody said. "In case you need to patch yourself up in an emergency so you can keep fighting."
"And it is all well and good to survive the battle, but the effort is somewhat wasted on the injured if they die in the aftermath due to lack of medical attention," Vance pointed out.
Harry nodded, hoping his expression conveyed his understanding. It seemed it did as the Healer sniffed once, and relaxed. He felt a bit silly for not having realised the advantages of Medimagic training in the first place. Not wanting to make the same mistake twice, he considered how warding might be of use.
"And I suppose," he said slowly, thinking aloud, "that there's all sorts of uses for wards. Probably not so much during a battle, but if you had warning beforehand you could prepare. Or if you had to go into hiding, or wanted to secure a home."
"Exactly," Bill said approvingly. "And there's countless types of wards for every possible situation. A good warder can even improvise and create one to suit."
"There's a lot of people could do with learning a thing or two about warding," Moody observed. "Given the current climate, most people's homes are far too unprotected."
"It's getting better through, since Amelia took over," Tonks said.
"I read about that in the Daily Prophet," Harry said, leaning forward. "That Amelia Bones is the new Minister. I've been doing some catch-up reading. I generally don't pay much attention to what that rag says, but I figured they'd have the Minister's identity right at least."
"And they're saying you and Dumbledore aren't delusional and senile after all," the Auror said, sounding upbeat.
"No, we're 'lone voices of truth in dark times'," Harry recited, "or some such rot."
"They're finally getting the score on Fudge right too," Bill added. "He's now a publicly declared coward, who endangered us all by sticking his head in the stand. Not surprising he was voted out, now they're printing some truth in the Prophet."
"So is Minister Bones any good then?"
"She's already increased the budget to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement."
"Which means we can recruit more Aurors," the Metamorphmagus said.
"She's got her head on straight, Bones does," Moody growled approvingly. "Made Shacklebolt the new head of the DMLE. Started Auror patrols of Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade."
"And she's getting basic warding and defence information out to the public," Bill added.
Vance didn't say anything but she did nod approvingly. Harry got he impression the woman preferred to keep silent unless necessary.
"So, this training I'll be doing," he asked, wondering. "How will I be able to get around the underage restrictions?"
"Bit late to be asking now boy," Moody barked. "The magic we four've used would've set off the Trace already."
"It's how the Ministry tracks underage magic," Tonks explained. "It's a charm they put on you when you start Hogwarts that breaks when you turn seventeen. It alerts the Improper Use of Magic Office at the Ministry whenever magical is performed in the vicinity of an underage witch or wizard."
"In the vicinity? So they can't tell who actually did it?" he asked and received a negative reply. "Well that explains why I got a warning before second year, when Dobby was here floating a cake," he said, but then something occurred to him. "But wait, what about children in magical families. They don't get in trouble when their parents use magic, do they?"
"No, the charm tells what spell was used, and where," Bill told him. "If it was used in a magical area, or a magical household, then no warning gets sent."
"So how do they tell when those kids have used underage magic?"
"They can't. They just expect the parents to keep an eye on their children."
The outraged expression on Harry's face made Tonks giggle, albeit sympathetically, and her hair turn yellow.
"I bet Malfoy's parents probably let him do magic at home."
"Probably," Bill agreed. "But it'll work to our advantage too, because we've made it official record that there's going to be witches and wizards on and around Private Drive, which makes it temporarily a magical area."
"So I won't be caught if I use magic?" he asked excitedly, as realisation dawned.
At the nods of agreement, he grinned widely and, just for fun, set off a rainbow of sparks. He quickly stopped however as this sudden display of magic seemed to set Mad-Eye one edge not an advisable activity.
"What about the where?" Harry inquired. "Where will I be training?"
"I believe Headmaster Dumbledore has warded the local park," Healer Vance said. "No Muggles will wander in, nor notice any happening within its confines."
"So!" Tonks cried, jumping to her feet. "What say we head over and get started, huh?"
The others soon agreed.
Chapter 3: Training
Sunday, September 1, 1996
"Ladies first," Bill said flirtatiously, gesturing toward the barrier between platforms nine and ten. "None of that age before beauty rubbish."
"You calling me beautiful Bill?" Tonks asked, fluttering her eyelashes.
"You're a vision," he replied in a serious tone.
Harry smiled at the interaction between the two, knowing this was a game for them. He recalled over the holidays, his reaction to spying Bill chatting up an attractive Muggle woman who had been jogging past the park where they'd been training. He'd been immediately worried that Tonks would be upset. After all, from the teasing and banter he regularly witnessed between the two, he'd come to the conclusion that they were an item. Or an almost-item at the least.
When he confronted Bill however, he was quickly informed that the teasing was just that teasing and not anything serious for either of them. Tonks, who had overheard the conversation, agreed with Bill's claims, saying the redhead was just a terrible flirt.
Of course Harry's understanding soon turned to embarrassment when Bill asked if he'd never had anyone play-flirt with him before. When Harry had honestly answered no, Bill had said he'd have to change that, giving him a wink as Tonks nodded agreement, giving him a once over. Both actions had made him blush in embarrassment, and stutter excuses that they should get back to training.
"A vision? Well, who am I to argue with that?" Tonks laughed, skipping forward to disappearing through the barrier.
Bill then turned to Harry.
"You next gorgeous, and I'll follow along."
He was proud of himself for barely blushing at all at the compliment, merely smiling and stepping through onto platform nine and three quarters. Under the teasing attentions of Bill and Tonks he had become a bit better adjusted to the casual flirting. It was, he admitted, more self preservation than anything else. Since he'd spent so much time with the pair, what with all his training, it had been a case of 'get used to it' or else spend half the summer the colour of a tomato.
Shaking his head as Bill appeared behind him, his mind went back to his summer and the training he'd received. He recalled his first lesson, with Tonks and Moody.
After finishing explanations in his bedroom, the group of witches and wizards had trooped down to the warded park. Once there Bill and Healer Vance had stepped back allowing Moody and Tonks to take the lead first.
"Now," Moody announced in his usual gruff tone, "as we said, Tonks and I'll be your duelling instructors."
"Can I ask," Harry inquired curiously, "why I need two teachers for this?"
"Simple lad. Tonks here will be your duelling partner if and until you get good enough to duel me. As things stand, I'd flatten you in short order; you wouldn't last two seconds against me."
That seemed a bit discouraging, but Harry had to admit that Moody was probably right. He was a legendary Auror after all; the bane of dark wizards in his day.
"Now," Moody continued, "to start off I need to gauge your skill level. Best way to do that is some practice duelling. Tonks!" He gestured her toward Harry. "Get over there. I want you two a goodly distance apart, wands drawn and ready to cast."
"Aye-aye, Captain." She saluted, skipping over to her place.
As he gripped his wand, looking across the field at Tonks who sent him a grin, Harry was feeling cautiously optimistic.
"On three, two, one," Moody counted down, "DUEL!"
Half a minute later, as Harry was revived and his wand returned, he realised his optimism was misplaced. Tonks might not look like much but she could out-duel him without too much trouble. He still had a long way to go. Fortunately for his ego, Tonks was actually complimentary.
"Wow Harry," she said, "I didn't expect you to last that long. I'm a fully qualified Auror after all, and the training for that's nothing to sniff at. It's pretty impressive you managed to keep me on my toes for any time at all."
Moody nodded. "By all rights she should have had you down in seconds."
He wasn't sure whether to be discouraged by their low expectations or encouraged by the fact that they seemed impressed. He might well be the best Defence student of his year at Hogwarts, but it was quickly becoming apparent to Harry that he had nothing on a trained Auror. He supposed he should just be grateful that he exceeded expectations and had two such skilled trainers to help him improve.
Harry was jolted from his thoughts by Tonks plastering herself to his side, linking her arm through his and looking up at him, batting unnaturally elongated lashes and pouting swollen lips. He stared at her confused for a moment before Bill spoke up.
"Well," the redhead asked teasingly, "aren't you going to give the lady a kiss goodbye?"
Tonks batted her eyelashes further, puckering her lips slightly, as if in anticipation. Biting his tongue, Harry drew on every reserve of composure he'd managed to build up since the duo had started teasing him. Then, instead of blushing and getting flustered, he took the Metamorphmagus's arm from his, bowed over her hand and chivalrously brushed a kiss across her knuckles, looking up at her adoringly from beneath his lowered lashes.
"My Lady," he whispered huskily or as close to huskily as his voice could manage.
Tonks was shocked at his response and for a moment she gaped at him, hair cycling through an array of colours. Bill laughed loudly, squeezing Harry's shoulder.
"Well done," he congratulated. "I think you win that round. You're finally learning."
"Aww," Tonks cooed, regaining control of her wits. "Our little apprentice of flirtation is all growed up."
Harry just grinned at the pair.
"What can I say? I had good teachers," he responded.
"Flatterer," Tonks said, slapping his arm lightly. "Now get on the train you. It's about to leave."
Looking around he realised for the first time just how close they were cutting it. That made sense though the less time he was in the open, the less risk. Looking around the platform he spotted Mrs Weasley hustling one of her children (Harry didn't know which; only spotted the red hair) onto the train. She looked up then and caught sight of him, quickly hurrying over.
"Bill dear. And Tonks it's good to see too. And Harry, there you are. I've been looking for you everywhere. I worried you might be late," she said, giving him a quick hug. "You had a good summer I hope?"
"Productive." He shrugged, shying away from her measuring expression.
"Harry, you better get on the train before it leaves without you," Bill said as the train whistle sounded, saving him from Molly's mothering.
Harry sent the older boy a thankful look and then focussed on hauling his trunk aboard. Boarded and standing at the door, he looked at the three faces before him.
"It was good seeing you again Mrs Weasley-"
"It's Molly dear."
"Molly," he corrected awkwardly. "Well I better go." He looked at the other two. "I'll see you guys soon then?" he asked, since his training was to continue at school.
"You betcha," Tonks chirped.
"Can't keep us away green eyes," Bill nodded with a smile.
Molly looked confused, but none of them filled her in. His training sessions weren't common knowledge yet.
Just then there was one last whistle before the train gave a lurch.
"Bye!" Tonks said waving.
"Your friends are two compartments up," Molly hurried to tell him.
"See you soon," called Bill.
Then the train was pulling away from the station and he shut the door. Through the window he could see Bill and Molly standing in place waving, whilst Tonks skipped down the platform, trying to keep up. He laughed at her efforts, waving back, and soon the train picked up speed and platform nine and three quarters was left behind.
Grabbing his trunk he began dragging it down the train. Two cars down he stopped and opened the compartment door.
"Harry, mate!" Ron greeted him. "Get in here."
He smiled, glad to see his friends again, and entered the compartment, Ron and Neville standing up to take his trunk and heave it up into the luggage rack overhead. He took a seat opposite Hermione and Luna, and once they were done Ron and Neville sat down on either side of him. It was almost the whole ministry crew together again. The only one missing was…
"Where's Ginny?" he asked and Ron scowled.
"She's with Dean," Hermione answered him. "And stop sulking Ron. She's fifteen. Old enough to have a boyfriend."
"But it's Dean."
"I thought you liked Dean," Neville said. "I mean you two have never argued or anything."
"I did like Dean." Ron nodded. "Till the rat started dating my baby sister."
"She's not a baby Ronald," Hermione scolded.
Harry rolled his eyes and tuned out the habitual bickering. His gaze landed on Luna
"Hello Harry," she greeted him dreamily. "I hope you've not been too terribly sad about your godfather being dead and all."
From anyone else that would have sounded cold and uncaring. Fortunately Harry knew Luna well enough by now to know that she was just rather blunt at times. She was also very honest so he knew that when she said she hoped he'd not been too sad, she meant just that. Ignoring the sudden silence of the compartment he smiled softly at her.
"I was a bit of a mess that the beginning of summer," he admitted. "But I woke up around my birthday and I've been feeling better ever since, though I still miss him, and I still feel guilty."
"Oh Harry," Hermione breathed. "You do know it wasn't your fault don't you?"
Harry winced and looked away from her. Desperately, he sought a way to change the subject.
"So, I've been training this summer."
It worked. Immediately his friends were asking questions. Well, except for Luna, but she did look very curious. Before he could answer any of them the compartment door slid open.
"What's with the racket?" Ginny asked, taking a seat beside Luna. "I could hear you lot from the corridor."
Wincing, Harry immediately raised his wand and cast a privacy charm on the compartment. Hermione raised a questioning eyebrow at his actions.
"Part of my training was with Moody. I've had 'constant vigilance' drummed into my brain all summer," he explained,'Always use privacy charms when having private conversations, not matter that they seem innocuous; you never know who might be listening and what information might prove useful to an enemy'," he quoted in a mimicry of Moody's gruff tone.
"Training?" Ginny asked. "Is that what you did this summer?"
He nodded. "I just told the others. That's what the fuss was all about."
"And was this training the reason you wrote to us so little after those letters on your birthday?" Hermione questioned him, clearly disapproving at his lack of contact.
"Yeah," Ron added in an offended tone. "Dumbledore had mentioned us maybe visiting you, but when I asked Mum about it she said you weren't interested."
Harry sighed but quickly hurried to explain. He was glad to see his best friends after so long, but Hermione could be so nagging sometimes and Ron's feelings were so easily bruised.
"There's a war going on guys," he said tersely, "and like it or not I seem to be a major target. I had to focus on my training. I'm sorry I didn't pay as much attention to you all as I maybe should have, but learning all I could seemed more important."
The pair was reluctantly appeased at his explanation. Silence followed for a moment.
"Purple knickers!" Luna suddenly spouted and they all looked at her strangely.
"What?" Ron questioned, baffled.
"The silence was awkward. I decided to break it."
"By saying purple… you know."
"Knickers?" she repeated and Ron flushed, carefully not looking in Hermione's direction.
"Yeah. Why that?"
"Why not?" was her Luna-logical reply.
Ron had no counterargument. Still, her efforts had worked as the awkwardness was dissipated. Harry looked over at Ginny.
"I thought you were riding with Dean. Are things alright with you two?"
She shrugged. "We like each other and all but it's just casual. We're not joined at the hip or anything. I said I wanted to ride with you guys and he was fine with that."
Ron looked pleased to hear his sister's relationship was not too serious.
"So Harry," Neville asked, "what was your training like?"
The others perked up, eager to hear what he had to say.
"Well, I had four trainers. First were Moody and Tonks for duelling and combat. Well, that and general paranoia."
"Yeah, from Moody. You know'constant vigilance'if it seems to good to be true then it probably is'if anything can go wrong, it will'be alert; someone is always watching'. Those sort of things."
Ron, Neville and Ginny found the Moody quotes amusing. Hermione seemed torn between taking notes (Mad Eye had sort of been a teacher after all, so his advice should be given due respect) and disapproving of the ex-Auror's pessimism. Luna just looked vaguely intrigued.
"Who else was teaching you?" Hermione questioned.
"There were two others. Bill-"
"Bill?" Ron interrupted. "My brother Bill?" Harry nodded. "That git he never said!"
"Honestly Ron. He was probably told to keep silent," Hermione interjected.
Harry nodded. "Not even your mum knows."
"And thank goodness for that," said Ginny. "If she knew one of the 'children' were training to fight she would've chucked a fit."
Ron shuddered and nodded, obviously agreeing.
"So what did Bill teach you then?"
"He covered warding and a few rare spells he'd picked up over the place. He knows some really cool ones."
Ginny grinned. "I know. Where do you think I learnt my famous Bat Bogey Hex? That little gem was in graffitied in Incan script on some ruins he was sent to check out in Peru."
Harry grinned in return. Bill really did know some interesting spells. And that was to say nothing of his skill with wards. Though he specialised in curse breaking, and thus the dismantling of spells and wards, he was also very adept at putting them up as well. Harry had enjoyed learning from him.
They had started with simple things like privacy wards, before moving onto the more common basic wards like fire repelling lines, and eventually got into more complex spells like intention based wards. His mind drifted to a particularly interesting lesson he'd had with the redhead.
Harry made his way down Privet Drive, feeling particularly eager. Bill had said last lesson that they were going to be doing something interesting today. As he finally reached the park he spotted Bill sitting at the picnic tables. His curiosity was roused by the sight of a small shed-like building nearby. It was a wooden structure about as tall as he was with a single door.
"What's that for?" he asked, as he came to a halt before his teacher.
"This," Bill said, gesturing expansively toward the shed, "is the home of Mr Pumpkin."
Harry blinked, "What?"
"I've decided we've done enough theory and practice castings by now to know your strengths and weaknesses. You'll never have the mathematical mind for the Arithmancy required for breaking curses or bringing down wards, but you seem to instinctively understand how to put them up," Bill explained, critiquing Harry's performance in his lessons thus far, "so I've decided it's time now to put it all into practice."
Harry, beginning to get an idea, looked toward the shed again.
"You mean…" He gestured at the building and the other man nodded.
"Yep. Your job today is to ward this 'home' to protect the 'occupant'," at this he hopped up from his seat and opened the door to reveal the orange vegetable occupant, "Mr Pumpkin."
Harry was a bit shocked. After all, they'd not done much casting yet excepting to gauge his current skills. He hadn't expected his first full on practical lesson to be so involved and told Bill so. The redhead just shrugged.
"I think it's best to just jump in feet first."
"Do or drown?" he asked and Bill rolled his eyes.
"Well it's not all that dramatic it's only Mr Pumpkin on the line after all but yeah, I guess so. Now, I'm going to cast a ward of silence around myself and turn around so I'll have no idea what defences you put up. You start warding then tap me on the shoulder when you're ready and I'll try to get at Mr Pumpkin."
"Does it have to be called Mr Pumpkin?" Harry asked with an amused smile at the continued use of the name.
"Why, it look like a 'Miss' to you?"
"Not particularly. It just isn't very creative, is it?"
"It's that or Miss Cucurbita."
"What's cucurbita mean?"
"It's Latin for pumpkin," he said and Harry huffed a laugh.
"Nah, let's stick to the first one."
Once Bill had spun around and cast the silence ward, Harry turned his attention to Mr Pumpkin's abode. As he stared at the building, he remembered an idea he'd been thinking about during his warding study. Raising his wand, he decided to start with the basics: anti-Apparition and anti-Portkey wards. But then he laced a delicate, almost unnoticeable spell between the two. It was tricky casting and nothing he'd ever tried before. To be honest he hadn't even known it was really possible, but Bill said he had an instinctive understanding and it seemed right. The real test would come when Bill brought them down.
Twenty minutes later he tapped the curse breaker on the shoulder and the redhead turned his attention to the warded building. Harry was a bit depressed at how easily Bill began to dismantle the protections he'd set up. He held his breath as the other wizard stripped the spells away one at a time till he reached the anti-Apparition and anti-Portkey wards. Just as Bill released the pair, a frown creased his brow.
"Wait, what is he began but was too late. "Gah!"
Harry let loose a whoop of laughter. He looked up at Bill who was looking quite surprised and rather soggy, having been hit by a sudden spray of water, and laughed some more. Well, until the redhead turned his wand on him and said "Aguamenti", that is. He spluttered and wiped the water from his face before glaring up at the older man who was grinning unrepentantly.
"Tsk, tsk, Harry," he chided. "What would Mad Eye say at you being caught off guard like that. Constant vigilance!" he barked then grinned again. "That was brilliant though Harry. How'd you think to thread a water charm hidden in between the other two? I wasn't planning to teach you about hidden trigger wards for a while yet."
Harry shrugged. "It was just an idea I had; hiding a spell between some others. I figured the water spell was a good one because it's…" He struggled to explain. "It's 'basic' somehow."
Bill nodded, "Yeah, it's a first level elemental charm. Simple, uncomplicated and low power, and so not really noticeable, especially hidden by the more complex anti-Apparition and anti-Portkey wards. Under normal circumstances I would probably have caught it, but I was lazy because I underestimated you. Really, that was brilliant of you. Most wizards wouldn't think something like that up on their own. You really do have a knack for this stuff."
Harry tried not to make his pleasure too obvious, but like flying, it seemed he'd found something he was naturally good at. Oh sure, he was the best in his age group in defence, but that wasn't natural talent so much as practice and necessity. He couldn't wait to learn more.
"Well, who was your last teacher then?"
Coming back to himself at the sound of Ron's question, Harry shook his head and answered.
"She's the woman in the Order who always wears a shawl, isn't she?" Hermione said, recalling the witch. "Very formal looking. And isn't she a healer?"
Harry nodded. "Yeah. Dumbledore figured it might be a good idea to learn some Medimagic too."
"Why?" Ron asked and it was Luna who answered.
"Imagine if someone you love was injured and died before you could get them medical attention," the girl said, sadness in her voice. "Wouldn't you wish you could have helped them?"
Harry remembered her telling how her mother had died whilst experimenting with spells when Luna was only nine. He suddenly had a strong suspicion that Luna had been with Mrs Lovegood as she died, and that the feeling of being unable to help haunted her. He sent Luna a sympathetic smile and she gave him a grateful look before her gaze went unfocussed and dreamy once more.
He thought back to his lessons with Healer Vance. The training had not been as intriguing as warding, nor elicited the need to excel in him that duelling did. And he was most certainly not a natural. Still, he had worked hard despite that, remembering the injuries his friends had sported at the Department of Mysteries Battle. He had worked hard in all areas of training in fact, and his effort and focus had paid of as he learnt at a rate that impressed all four of his tutors.
From there followed more questions about his training. Moody had rubbed off on him a bit however, as he recalled the man warning him to 'never reveal the extent of your abilities unless absolutely necessary'. And so he kept his explanations brief and light on details, though it clearly annoyed Hermione who as always wanted to know everything. Eventually he changed the topic, asking the others how their own holidays were. Luna promptly piped up regaling them with the tale of her Snorkack hunting and the rest of the train ride passed amicably.
Chapter 4: Loyalties
Friday, September 6, 1996
It was the end of the first week of classes, and Harry's first lesson with Bill since he'd returned to school. Before September first they'd all agreed on a schedule. Reluctantly he'd had to admit that with school work and homework it wasn't reasonable to expect him to be able to handle extra lessons every day. So instead, he had duelling and combat on Monday evenings, Medimagic on Wednesday evenings, and warding and specialty spells on Friday evenings.
Currently it was Friday and Harry and Bill were seated on comfy beanbags in the Room Of Requirement. There was a little model house on the floor between them which the younger had warded and the older was now inspecting.
"So, how's school been?" Bill asked absentmindedly, more focussed on deactivating a rather embarrassing trap ward that would have vanished all his body hair.
"Okay for the most part, but the new defence teacher is more boring than Binns. We do practical work at least but it's not really anything challenging. Oh, and Snape's been a nightmare."
"More so than usual?"
Harry nodded. "I only got an Exceeds Expectations on my O.W.L. for potions, and Snape usually only accepts Outstanding grade students. Dumbledore made him lower the grade. He said it was because with the war and all we need as many qualified Potioneers as possible."
"Sound about right," Bill agreed, focussing on carefully unweaving a tangle of spells he'd carefully knotted together in groups of three to make them more stable and holding. "We'll need Brewers. Not to mention potions is a required subject for Mediwizards and Healers."
"Yeah, Healer Vance told me that. I thought my lessons with her were doomed to failure till I finally opened my O.W.L. results and saw my grade. I mean I didn't think it was enough for Snape's class at the time, but it at least meant I wasn't as terrible at it as I thought. Good enough to follow Healer Vance's instructions at least." He sighed as Bill unweaved the last of the tangled wards. "Anyways, Snape seems dead certain that the real reason he has to accept EE students is favouritism for the boy-who-lived, so he's decided to make my life as unpleasant as possible."
"You're not getting detentions are you?" Bill asked in concern. "You don't really have time for them."
"No, thankfully. Dumbledore had to inform him about my extra lessons, which Moody was pissed about, because you know how little he trusts Snape. He insisted Dumbledore get an oath of silence from the greasy git about it, which I'm glad for; I don't really trust him either. Anyway, once he had let Snape in on about my training, he explained that because of it my schedule's just too full for detentions. So instead he's taking a sadistic pleasure in draining the Gryffindor points hourglass dry," he said and then there was silence for a time before he asked, "So, how am I doing?" in reference to his warding of the model house.
"Brilliant as always. A lesser curse breaker might have had difficulty unweaving those trio tied spells. You did them nice and tight. And a few of those hidden trigger wards were very subtle. Even some decent curse breakers could have been caught up by them. Although, that hair removal curse was a bit blatant."
"I couldn't think of a complex enough ward with a similar feel to it that would hide it well."
"Hmm, there's a nasty curse that rips off toenails that has a similar structure," Bill said thoughtfully. "So why did you put it in there? You had to have known I'd see it?"
"Well probably. I've only gotten you twice since the first time. I know you'd almost certainly see the spell." He shrugged and grinned cheekily. "But all the same, I figured it was worth casting on the off chance you did miss it. It would have been quite entertaining."
Bill mock glared. "Brat. Bald isn't the best look on me." Then his expression shifted to a leer. "Then again, the curse would have removed hair all over. Perhaps you just like your men hairless in those delicate places, hmm? Is that what you were trying to tell me Harry?"
Despite the leaps and bounds he'd made over summer in handling Bill and Tonks' flirting, that innuendo was more than a bit much for Harry's composure. He promptly blushed a bright red and spluttered out denials. Bill laughed at his reaction and leaned forward to ruffle his hair.
"Sorry Harry. That was a bit much, wasn't it?" Then his hand trailed down to touch fingers to the boy's reddened cheeks. "But you blush very prettily."
This of course only prompted Harry to blush further, before batting the hand away.
"I blush very prettily? I'm not a bloody girl Bill," he mock growled.
"I dunno; you're very small."
"Oh shut up."
Bill laughed again.
Sunday, September 8, 1996
Homework all having been finished on Saturday, Harry and his friends except for Ginny, who was spending time with her boyfriend were taking the time to relax on the lawn of Hogwarts by the lake. Luna had suggested a picnic lunch and while Ron had at first objected, claiming picnics were for pansies, even he had to admit it had been a good idea. They all lazed about quite happily now, throwing pieces of bread to the giant squid. It was a rare moment of peace given how tense the atmosphere at Hogwarts had been thus far, what with attacks going on in the world at large and students worried for their families.
Harry was lying on his back, twirling a piece of grass between his fingers as he stared up at the clouds. As nice as this was he was starting to feel a bit guilty. So much of the fate of the war rested on his shoulders and a large part of him felt he should not be resting till Voldemort was defeated. In fact, he was just concocting an excuse to leave his friends and sneak off to the Room of Requirement for some solo duelling practice, when the sound of several approaching footsteps drew his attention.
Sitting up he turned around to find a group of students standing a few feet away from them. They were mostly in his year, and ranged from Gryffindor to Ravenclaw to Hufflepuff. His friends, noticing the newcomers also, turned their attention that way too. Hermione Harry noted had a knowing look on her face, and Neville looked like he suspected the reason for the visit also.
"Hello?" he said, half greeting half questioning as the group stared at him.
There was something about the particular selection of students present that niggled at the back of his mind, but he couldn't quite figure it out.
After a pause the group nudged one of their number forward. It was Susan Bones and she was obviously the chosen spokesperson.
"Hi Harry," she greeted with a nervous smile. "Umm, we've all been talking, and we were wondering, were planning to restart the D.A.? We'd all like it if you did."
"What? Why?" Harry asked, blinking in surprise, realising finally that all the students in the group were former D.A. members.
"Oh Harry, isn't it obvious?" said Hermione, who was not at all surprised by the request. "With the war now in the open it's even more crucial that we know how to defend ourselves."
Susan nodded. "Aunty Amelia was very pleased with my Defence scores. It's never been my best subject before last year. When I explained the group and all the practical experience I've gotten she thought it was a brilliant idea. Times are dangerous after all, and while she wouldn't encourage me looking for trouble, she feels better knowing I've more chance of looking after myself if it finds me."
"Please say we'll keep practicing Harry," piped up Colin Creevey from the middle of the group.
Harry was torn as the students his friends included all stared at him with hopeful and expectant faces. On the one hand, he saw their point. They could only benefit from continuing the D.A. On the other hand, his schedule was already very full. He wasn't sure he would be able to dedicate the proper amount of time and effort to the group. Perhaps he should talk to his trainers about it and see what they said.
"No promises, but I'll think on it," he said. "Give me a few days."
Monday, September 9, 1996
Harry's next training session was Monday evening with Mad Eye Moody. He informed Harry that Tonks was on Auror duty that night so it would only be the two of them. The first thing they did was go over the spells they'd learnt last lesson and then he taught Harry several new ones and explained situations where they could be used to best advantage.
The teen was particularly impressed with one called the Flashbang Jinx (incantation 'Micosono') that worked much like a stun grenade, expelling blinding light and an incredibly loud explosion-like noise. Somehow the light and noise only affected the targets and not the caster. It would be very useful for distracting or temporarily incapacitating Death Eaters.
Once Harry had a good enough handle on the spells that he could perfect them on his own time, Moody ordered him to draw his wand and prepare to duel. To make it a more even match, the ex-Auror duelled with his left hand. The fight was fast paced and brutal and lasted only about forty seconds. Nevertheless, despite his defeat, Harry felt pleased and proud of his efforts. His performance was a definite improvement to the first time he'd fought against Moody like this. That duel had lasted exactly two seconds, much to his embarrassment.
When Moody revived him he lay where he'd fallen, breath panting from the exertion. He kept his wand ready in case Moody decided to hit him with a surprise attack, as the wizard was occasionally wont to do.'Constant vigilance' really was a motto to live by, at least when Moody was your trainer.) No aggressive moods were made however, so he decided to take the moment to breach the topic of the D.A.
"Sir, I was hoping to get some advice."
Moody stared at him questioningly.
"What about lad?"
Harry explained about the D.A. and how his former students had approached him about restarting it.
"And I'm not sure what to do. I don't know whether I'll have time, what with training and all. But I feel guilty saying no."
Moody sat contemplating for a moment before responding.
"I say you do it."
"Really?" he asked surprised. "You don't think I'll be too busy?"
"Nah; consider it practice. It can never hurt to brush up on your basics. It keeps your skills fresh. And you can learn a lot about your own abilities while teaching others. Besides, with the war those kids really need the training," he said firmly. "No, your question shouldn't have been whether to agree to teach them. Rather you should've been asking advice on security."
"Security?" Harry asked, though he wasn't entirely surprised that was where the ex-Auror's mind had led.
"Security," he repeated firmly. "If you're wanting to use this room to teach them in, they'll have to pass muster first, before I let them in on the secret."
"What secret? They already know about the Room of Requirement. We used it last year."
"I know. But it's been put under Fidelius since then, hasn't it?" Moody said, to Harry's obvious surprise. "Didn't mention that, did I? Well I'm secret keeper."
Harry was still shocked. Moody being the secret keeper explained things though. Now that he knew, he recalled that the scarred wizard had been rather specific in his directions to the room when he led him to his first at-school training session last Monday. Moody of course knew he had used the room before, but despite that Harry hadn't thought to wonder about the level of detail.
"But you're willing to tell them so we can use it again?" he asked, a little surprised that the paranoid wizard would willingly open their training room up to so many people like that.
"Partially," Moody grunted. "There's ways to give out the secret on a conditional basis. Say you plan your little D.A. classes for a certain day at a certain time well then, that will be the only time they can find the room."
"Really? I didn't realise the charm could do that."
"One of Dumbledore's little modifications," he explained. "Still, that won't be the only precautions we'll have to take. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" he yelled and Harry barely managed not to jump. "We'll have to make sure they're on the right side first."
Saturday, September 14, 1996
Moody had requested and few days to set everything up. When first he'd begun detailing security measures, the paranoid former Auror listed such methods as Veritaserum testing, oath taking and secrecy bindings. Whilst Harry was uncertain about some of those, it was nothing to the man's next suggestion. He had to drawn the line somewhere, and kidnap interrogations seemed the place to do it, though it had taken his most adamant and persuasive arguments to dissuade Mad Eye.
Harry had passed on to the former D.A. members with the exception of the betrayer Marietta Edgecombe that the first meeting of the year would be held on Saturday afternoon in the deserted music hall on the third floor. (Moody had understandably said that he wouldn't reveal the Room of Requirement to them till after they passed his tests.)
That day was today and so, after lunch, students began filtering from the Great Hall toward the third floor. As they arrived, Harry directed everyone to help themselves to the refreshment table that was set up. By one o'clock, everyone was present and, standing by the entrance as he was, only he heard the click and then squelch as the invisible Moody locked and sealed the door.
"If everyone could take a seat in a circle on the floor," he asked and everyone did, eager to get started. "Now firstly, I want to apologise for the deception, but the pumpkin juice at the refreshments table was spelled and spiked."
There were cries of confusion and unease.
"Harry?" Hermione asked demandingly. "What do you mean?"
"Well, it was spelled so that everyone would drink some. And it was laced with Aleksi's Truth Potion," he said and immediately there was an uproar, "Calm down! Everyone just calm down! Hermione, can you explain to everyone what that potion does?"
"Invented by Finnish wizard Aleksi Nikula in 1927," Hermione automatically responded, in her textbook lecturing tone. "Aleksi's Truth Potion, unlike the better known truth serum Veritaserum, is not ministry controlled. This is because it does not force the drinker to tell the truth, only prevents them from being able to lie."
At her words most of the group calmed down, no doubt relieved that they couldn't be forced to reveal embarrassing secrets.
"Why did you lace our drinks Harry?" Susan Bones spoke up and others murmured their agreement.
"Simple. Last time the D.A. was betrayed by one of our own. We can't risk that happening again."
"But it's not like we need to keep it a secret this time," said Justin Finch-Fletchley from a spot almost opposite Harry. "Umbridge isn't around to ban clubs anymore."
Harry opened his mouth to respond when there was a chorus of surprised gasps. Following the line of everyone's gaze he looked behind him to see that Mad Eye had removed his invisibility cloak.
"You should never reveal the extent of your abilities unless absolutely necessary," Moody barked. "Especially to enemies. They're more likely to underestimate you if they don't realise what you're capable of. Are you all willing to risk revealing your skills to the Death Eaters if one of your number is dark?"
The scarred wizard stared piercingly at the circle of teens, his one blue eye spinning crazily about, pinning students with suspicious stares. Needless to say it was a very intimidating sight and they were all reluctant to disagree with him. Finally someone mustered the courage to break the silence.
"What about you Potter?" Zacharias Smith demanded accusingly. "Are we all expected to submit to this while you go potion free?"
Only a few expressed agreement but none outright objected, leading Harry to believe they all felt somewhat the same. He nodded.
"No, you're right. If you all have to tell the truth, so should I. Zacharias, why don't you bring me a cup?"
Everyone watched in silence as the Hufflepuff boy got to his feet and filled a cup with the spiked pumpkin juice, then handed it to Harry before retaking his seat. Everyone watched with bated breath as he raised the cup to his lips and, without hesitation, downed the whole thing. Immediately the atmosphere cleared as people relaxed. They obviously felt more comfortable and less cornered at knowing Harry was affected the same as them.
"Now, we go around the circle and you all state your full name and deny any loyalty to the Dark Lord Voldemort," Moody ordered. "Potter, you start."
"My name is Harry James Potter," Harry said confidently, "and I am not loyal to Voldemort."
Most of the room flinched at his speaking of the feared name. Hermione seated to his left shot him a look to show that she was still displeased at having been left out of his little potions surprise, but gamely followed all the same.
"My name is Hermione Jean Granger and I hold no allegiance for the Dark Lord Voldemort."
"I'm Ron," the redhead on Hermione's left spoke next. "Ronald Bilius Weasley. I'm not and never will be loyal to You-Know-Who."
"Too vague Weasley," Moody rebuked, "You could be imagining anyone as you say that."
Ron paled then sighed.
"Fine then. I'm not loyal to V-Voldemort."
The declarations continued around the circle without incident till they reached Lavender Brown. She and Parvati beside her, both flighty witches, were looking distinctly nervous at all the speaking of Voldemort's name. Even Padma on the other side of her sister looked a little uncomfortable.
"Do I really have to say that?" she asked nervously. "I mean can't I just say 'The Dark Lord You-Know-Who'?"
Moody, taking her nerves for evasion, was glaring sharply at her, fingering his wand.
"Just say it girl," he ordered. "Or do you have something to hide then?"
"Of course not!" she exclaimed indignantly. "Fine then. My name is Lavender Abigail Brown and I am not loyal to- to She shivered then took a deep breath, visibly bracing herself. "I am not loyal to Voldemort."
She flinched slightly as she said the name but remained poised, her glare at Mad Eye practically screaming 'see, I told you so'.
"Alright lass, alright. You next then," he pointed at Parvati who was looking as nervous as her friend had.
"I am Parvati Nisha Patil," she said, uneasily, "and I am not loyal to V-V- You-Know-Who."
Moody growled and Lavender nudged her friend encouragingly.
"It's okay Parv," she said. "It's just like the Waxing Spell. All that worry then it only hurts for a second and it's over." She frowned and corrected. "Not that saying the name hurts. It's just a little scary is all."
A few eyes rolled at her typically ditzy comments, but Parvati was not to be convinced. This of course only made Mad Eye more suspicious. Beside Harry, Hermione sighed in exasperation.
"Honestly Parvati. You're a Gryffindor, for Merlin's sake. Just say it."
Most of the attention shifted to Hermione as she spoke, and that was when it happened.
"Fumidus!" yelled a feminine voice, taking advantage of the distraction
Harry spun quickly in that direction, drawing his wand. He had a moment to see Padma Patil with wand extended before smoke filled the room. There was the sound of running footsteps behind the general ruckus as Harry quickly raised his wand casting "Evanesco". Hearing him, others caught onto the idea and began doing the same.
As several students cast the Vanishing Spell, there were two flashes of red light in the fog coming from where he knew Moody had been stood. When finally the smoke cleared, it was to the sight of Mad Eye looming over the stunned forms of the Patil twins, fallen to the floor halfway to the door to which they had been heading, no doubt to escape.
Everyone just sat there stunned for a long moment, before Lavender finally broke the silence.
"P-Parvati?" she asked shakily. "But, I don't understand. Why did they- why would she-?"
"I think it's fairly obvious that they're dark girl," Moody stated baldly.
She flinched, shaking her head and muttering denials. Everyone else watched on morbidly.
"No, she can't be. Parvati's been my best friend for five years. I'd know."
"One way to know for sure."
As Moody bound the girls and withdrew from his cloak a vial of clear liquid, nobody moved to object, merely crowded around the scene. Soon both girls had been dosed and he revived them. They came to with blank expressions, as one would expect of someone under Veritaserum.
"Starting from the left, state your names," the ex-Auror growled.
"Padma Avanti Patil."
"Parvati Nisha Patil."
"Are you loyal to the Dark Lord Voldemort?"
"Yes," both intoned
Lavender sobbed and Neville, a look of compassion on his face, stepped forward to lay a supportive hand on her shoulder. Ginny mirrored him on the girl's other side.
"Are you a marked Death Eater?"
"No," the pair denied.
"Marked students are too easily caught," the twins explained in a monotone. "We will be marked upon completion of our schooling."
"And you wish to be marked by Voldemort? You're loyal to the dark cause?"
The Patils were then stunned once more, pending handing over to the Aurors. The rest of the students returned to the circle to solemnly complete the declarations, with no further mishaps. After that magical oaths were made by all to never willingly serve Voldemort, and everyone submitted to secrecy spells regarding the D.A., binding until such a time as Voldemort was defeated.
Harry had expected some objection about over the top methods at these measures, but it seemed the bleak revelation of two potential Death Eaters in their midst and them being two students whom none would have suspected was enough to sober everyone and forestall any complaints.
Chapter 5: Whelmed
Friday, October 18, 1996
The Patil twins were handed over to the Aurors by Moody following the dramatic D.A. gathering. There they were questioned and, when it was revealed they were not yet marked and had not yet committed any crime, the Aurors were forced to release them. Naturally, with the revelation of their true allegiances they did not return to the school, but things were gloomy at Hogwarts for sometime thereafter.
Everyone had difficulty comprehending that the pair had been dark all along. Lavender was of course hit particularly hard; she and Parvati had been inseparable since first year. It was disconcerting to see the way the formerly ditzy and cheerful witch was now so grim, not to mention determined when it came to her D.A. efforts.
Of course, the Patil controversy was not the only source of gloom within Hogwarts walls. Time continued to pass and tensions were ever on the rise as war escalated in the outside world. Attacks occurred almost daily and the death toll steadily mounted. Students lived in dread of receiving a black letter, the colour a sign of a notification of death.
For Harry, the mood was overwhelming. People were dying and all he could think was that it was his job to defeat Voldemort and end this war, and he hadn't done it yet. His guilt was heavy and he felt useless. He was constantly asking Dumbledore to let him go out on Order missions, to no avail. The elderly wizard was adamant that he wasn't to risk himself unnecessarily.
The need to do something however was nothing to the pressure put on him by his fellow students. More and more it seemed as though they were all looking to him for answers, and more importantly, to make everything better. But he didn't know how.
None could deny that he'd coped remarkably well under the circumstances, especially for an emotional teenage boy. It was a miracle he hadn't gone insane from the expectations. The pressure just kept building and building however, and so none could truly hold it against him that he finally cracked, especially given the form that the final straw came in.
It was a Friday evening in mid October and the school was sitting down to dinner. As an owl winged its way into the hall, everyone held their breath. Mail arriving outside the usual morning delivery could only mean one thing. Sure enough, clutched in the bird's talons was a black letter. Breaths were held as the bird swooped overhead, and two thirds of the school relaxed as the bird focussed in on the Gryffindor table. Finally, with a descending dive, the bird landed on the table before a little blonde first year girl. Pale faced, she reached out and untied the letter with shaky hands, read it once over, and then started to sob loudly.
A group of nearby seventh year girls tried to comfort the child to little effect. Up at the head table McGonagall had seen the events and quickly made her way toward her distraught student.
"Come Miss Lane," she said softly, reaching the girl's side. "Walk with me."
The girl stumbled from her seat, steadied by her head of house's hand on her shoulder, which steered her toward the doors of the Great Hall. As she walked she hiccupped and wept, clinging to Professor McGonagall's robes. They were halfway to the doors when it happened. The girl looked up as they walked past Harry and his friends and stumbled to a halt.
"Miss Lane?" McGonagall asked, but the student's attention was elsewhere.
Before anyone could do anything, the girl threw herself at Harry.
"Why didn't you save them?" she yelled, grabbing at his shirt and trying to shake him. "Mummy and daddy are gone. Why didn't you save them?"
McGonagall hushed the girl, pulling her away until she collapsed, keening in grief. When she could not be moved she picked the young one up, settled her on her hip, and strode from the room.
In his seat, Harry sat staring at the retreating figures. The image of the tiny little first year girl, wide blue eyes filled with tears, begging him to explain, tore at him. The hall remained silent, waiting on his reaction.
"Harry?" Hermione tentatively reached for him.
The moment she touched him he jerked away, and the emotions he we was holding back flooded him. He gasped, eyes wide, looking about wildly.
"I he stuttered, avoiding his friends gazes. "I have to go."
Then, before they could object, he jumped to his feet and fled the hall. He ran and ran and ran, not sure where he was going. When he finally came back to himself he could tell by the dust on the stone floor that he was in one of the long unused sections of the castle. Reaching out to the nearest door, he turned the handle and stumbled into an abandoned classroom.
It was two hours later when he was finally found. Bill entered the room to find him curled tightly into a ball, tucked under a desk in the far corner. Tears had been streaming silently down his face for some time but his expression was blank as he stared ahead at a wall. The eldest Weasley son took one look at him and the next thing Harry knew, the redhead had dropped to his hands and knees and crawled under the desk with him, pulling Harry into his lap so that they would both fit. Then, as he tucked the dark haired boy's head beneath his chin, Harry let out a stifled sob.
"It's okay Harry," he murmured soothingly, running one hand through his hair as the other rubbed his back. "Just let it out."
At Bill's words Harry finally broke down completely. And all the while, Bill just held him close and rocked him gently, letting him cry himself out. Sometime later his tears tapered off till he was slumped red eyed and wearily against the older wizard's chest. He seemed lighter somehow, and felt like he might drift right off to sleep.
"Bill?" He asked, voice stuffy and congested. "How'd you find me?"
"I asked Dumbledore. He asked the portraits which way you went."
"How'd you know to look?"
"When you didn't turn up for our lesson I wondered where you were. I asked the headmaster and he explained what happened."
"Sorry. For missing the lesson, I mean."
"Don't worry. It's fine," he said, threading his fingers through Harry's hair in a way that made the boy sigh and his eyes drift shut. "I know we're blokes and we're not supposed to talk about these things, but I think that's rubbish. So why don't you tell me how you're feeling. Might help."
Harry remained silent for a long moment. Did he really want to open up and spew his feelings out like that? He really wasn't the sort to confide in someone about such things. He didn't want to seem weak or needy (a consequence of his upbringing with the Dursleys no doubt), but… well, it wasn't like he hadn't already let down his barriers around Bill. Merlin, he'd just cried himself out in the man's arms, in his lap. He blushed a little as he realised the situation, but didn't move.
"She asked me why didn't I save them," he whispered finally. "Her family, that is. And I just felt… I dunno, that maybe she's right to ask."
"How do you figure that?"
"Well they died because of the Death Eaters. And the Death Eaters are out killing people because of Voldemort. And Voldemort's still around because of me. Because I haven't defeated him yet. People are dying because I haven't done my job."
"Your job? Harry, defeating him that's not your job," he objected.
The younger wizard hesitated. Dumbledore hadn't exactly forbidden him from telling anyone, but Harry realised the knowledge wasn't meant for the general public.
"Can you keep a secret?" he finally asked in a whisper.
A grip on his chin forced his face upwards and blue eyes stared consideringly into his own green orbs. He made an effort to put all seriousness into his expression and finally Bill nodded.
"Yes, I can," he said simply and Harry swallowed before taking a breath.
"The prophecy from the Department of Mysteries that the Order was guarding? It went like this: The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches …," he began to recite, "Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies … And the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not … And either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives … The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies."
Bill just stared at him, then brushed fingertips over his lightning bolt scar, causing him to shiver.
"'Mark him as his equal'," he muttered, then "Your birthday is the last day of July… 'as the seventh month dies'." He took a deep breath before releasing it. "I'm guessing your parents 'defied' You-Know-Who three times?"
Harry nodded silently.
"Merlin Harry," he swore, "that's a fucking mountain of a task."
Harry snorted at the unexpected profanity.
"Yeah," he agreed, "pretty much."
"Well no wonder you lost it for a bit there. I'd have been tearing my hair out by now."
"I just want to get out there and do something. How am I supposed to defeat Voldemort from behind Hogwarts walls?"
"Harry," he said seriously, "I don't think you're ready." Then, as the boy looked set to object, he said, "No, just listen. The prophecy, it talks about a 'power the Dark Lord knows not', right?" he asked and Harry nodded. "Well have you figured out what it is yet?"
"Well, Dumbledore says it's love or something." He wrinkled his nose. "But I don't know. I can't exactly hug him to death."
"So that's a no then. Well what happens if you go and face him, and because you've not figured out this power, you lose. That leaves everyone else pretty screwed, doesn't it?" he pointed out calmly. "Really, your responsibility right now isn't to defeat him, it's to figure out how. And I take it the training is your way of trying to do so?"
Harry bit his lip and nodded. He hated to admit it but Bill was right. His responsibility right now should be to 'figure out how'. He latched onto that. He wasn't ready to face Voldemort yet, but he was preparing. That counted for something right?
"Come on Harry," Bill nudged. "It's getting beyond cramped under this desk. Besides it's late. You should probably be heading up to Gryffindor tower by now."
He climbed out of the redhead's lap and crawled out from under the desk, the other wizard following. As then they stood there facing one another. Harry shifted awkwardly on his feet, fiddling with the sleeve of his robes. Bill just stood silently, waiting for him to say whatever it was he wanted to say.
"Thank you," he finally blurted out. "For coming to find me and- well just everything. Thanks."
Then he made and abortive move to hug Bill, before realising what he was about to do and holding back. The redhead caught the movement however and swept forward, pulling him into a firm embrace.
"Anytime Harry," he said, smiling warmly as they separated. "Now get on back to your dorm."
Thursday, October 31, 1996
That night started a tradition of sorts for the pair. Every evening before training, they would meet up in that same classroom and sit together on the floor (though they had abandoned the cover of the desk as it really was too cramped). While there, they would talk about everything and nothing, and Bill would convince Harry to open up and share his fears and pains so that he could try to sooth them away with understanding and insightful logic. Eventually, he would even share things about himself in return. It was a very healing time for the boy hero who really was not a boy any longer so much as a young man and the two grew even closer.
It was also strange time; Ron and Hermione had been his best friends for so long, that it took him by surprise to find how much closer a friendship could be. But the fact of the matter was that with Bill things were so much more comfortable. He felt at ease opening himself up to the older wizard in a way that he never had with the first two friends. He found himself sharing things that he'd previously kept bottled inside because he didn't want to deal with Hermione's well meaning but discomforting prying or Ron's awkwardness and tactless moments.
That is not to say that all was well with the boy-who-lived's heart and mind. No, indeed not, for the nightmare visions of Voldemort's nefarious activities had yet to stop. There had been a calm after the Battle of the Department of Mysteries. But that was because, Dumbledore explained, Voldemort had been weakened by his possession of Harry and thus out of commission for a time. Soon enough though, they started again. They never gave him any crucial information; Voldemort was wise enough to employ Occlumency unless he actually wanted Harry to see what he was up to. And those visions he did share were all the same; attacks and tortures and death and misery. It was enough to make anyone despair, and he often woke crying from the nightmares.
Harry tried his best to ignore the dreams, but things reached a head on the night of October thirty-first. He felt uneasy all throughout the day, as one waiting for the knife to fall. After all, he had rarely had an uneventful Halloween in the wizarding world. When he was one, Voldemort attacked and his parents died; when he was eleven, a troll was let into the school and he, Hermione and Ron almost died; at twelve Ginny, possessed by diary Riddle, perpetrated her first Basilisk attack on Filch's cat; in third year, Sirius gave them all a good scare by attacking the portrait of the Fat Lady; and at fourteen, Harry's name was drawn from the Goblet of fire. Only last year had it been a quiet day, if you could consider any day under Umbridge's reign quiet, but he knew better than to hope that his bad luck wouldn't resume this year.
And so, as morning turned toward afternoon turned toward evening, he only became more and more tense. Finally it was time to head to bed. Harry slipped under the covers of his four poster feeling conflicted. His instincts told him something bad had still to occur, whilst logic told him the day was over, and he had made it through unscathed. He eventually drifted off to a restless sleep.
Three hours later Harry woke the entire dorm with his screaming and crying and thrashing about. Ron raced to his bedside.
"Harry! Wake up!" he yelled, shaking him urgently.
Harry jerked to wakefulness with a stifled scream and stared blearily at his four roommates who were crowded around his bed looking very worried indeed.
"Merlin Harry," Seamus whispered. "What the hell was that? Another one of your vision thingies?"
He nodded dumbly. The fact that he got dreams from Voldemort was open knowledge amongst these boys (it was a bit hard to keep his nightmares secret when they shared a room) but they didn't spread it around. Still, it was rare that they got as bad as they had tonight.
"Harry?" Neville asked in concern as he remained silent. "Will you be okay? Should we fetch a teacher or someone?"
He shook his head, "No, no point now. It's all done. Voldemort" they flinched, "was just sending me today's highlights. 'S Halloween, you know. He decided to throw a party for the anniversary of my parents' deaths." He rubbed his hands over his face and his voice was muffled through his palms. "I don't thank him for it. Wasn't my sort of party. Too much blood and screaming."
The others paled at his words and shifted awkwardly, unsure what to do.
"Harry Ron started but he interrupted.
"Go to bed guys. There's nothing we can do. I'll talk to Dumbledore in the morning."
Friday, November 1, 1996
"Harry, what brings you to my office today?" Dumbledore greeted him cheerfully as he entered the room. "Lemon drop?"
"Hello headmaster. And no, thank you," he greeted the man and declined the sweet as he took a seat. "I'm afraid it's not good news. Voldemort sent me a vision last night."
"Oh?" the aged wizards gaze sharpened. "Anything we can turn to our advantage?"
"No," Harry said faintly, closing his eyes tightly as memories of his terrible dreams flooded his mind.
"Harry?" Dumbledore rose from his chair and rounded his desk, laying a hand on the boy's shoulder. "Are you not well?"
"The- the visions Voldemort sent me…"
And then he went on to explain just what they had been about, giving only enough detail so that the headmaster could understand how terrible it had been. Unlike last night, he was now dry eyed at what he had seen. Instead of feeling sad and hopeless he just felt terribly angry. How could Voldemort be such a monster? He clenched his fists tightly where they rested by his sides.
Dumbledore was grim and bleak as he listened, his compassionate gaze conveying that he understood and Harry need not be more specific. He took the seat beside Harry and folded his hands in his lap, looking very old.
"I feel a failure, that I cannot think of a solution to this my boy. There is no advantage in you sharing this connection with Voldemort; not now that he knows of it and guards against it. And to be perfectly honest," he shook his head, "I don't believe I could ask you to maintain it even if there were advantage to be had. It is a terrible burden upon you, especially when you are already carrying such a heavy load."
"It's alright headmaster. You tried, getting Snape to teach me Occlumency and all," he said but winced at the memory of the painful lessons. "It's my fault. I didn't practice. Maybe I should try it again?"
But Dumbledore shook his head. "No, I think not. I have spoken to Severus about your lessons with him and even considering your less than enthusiastic efforts, you should have made some progress. We can only conclude that you are naturally unsuited to the art. It happens sometimes and in such cases further teaching could do more harm then good."
"Then there's nothing that can be done?" Harry asked desperately and the older wizard sighed, before looking thoughtful.
"I can only think Harry, to ask others for suggestions and advice. I may have accumulated much knowledge in my many years, but I readily confess I do not know everything. With your permission I would like to share the situation with your four trainers. Would that be alright?"
"Very good. Perhaps they will have some insights that could help."
Wednesday, November 6, 1996
"Good evening Mr Potter," he was greeted as he entered the Room Of Requirement.
"Good evening Healer Vance," he replied in kind.
The room was set up like an infirmary, all bright and white, with a hospital bed in one corner and medicinal potions and texts on shelves all about the room. In another corner there was set up a potions workstation, and near the door there was a sitting area. Vance gestured him to one of the stiff armchairs there and he took a seat.
"I have something off topic to explain to you, before we get to training today," she said in her usual formal tones.
"Headmaster Dumbledore has spoken to us about your visions," she explained, "and after some consideration, I have a possible solution."
Harry's eyes went wide and he straightened in his seat. A possible solution? A possible end to these terrible nightmares?
"What is it?" he asked eagerly.
"Have you ever heard of dream-catchers, Mr Potter?"
"It sounds familiar, but I'm not sure," he said, frowning.
"I first read about them in Medimagic Journal. It was a small article, in the mental heath chapters, and it spoke of a Native American magical device made traditionally of sinew strands woven in a web about a small rounded frame of willow. Hanging from the frame are various feathers and beads." She shook her head with pursed lips. "It all sounds very woolly and questionable, and I don't confess to any knowledge of just how it functions, but these devices can quite literally 'capture' dark dreams. Originally they were hung over the beds of children to protect them from bad dreams, but the journal article wrote that some healers had adapted them for use in cases with witches and wizards who had gone through a traumatic event. Dream-catchers were used to keep the nightmares at bay."
"And you think this will keep away my Voldemort visions?" he asked, fascinated and hopeful.
"I cannot say for certain, but I believe it's worth trying. I've asked a colleague of mine in America to acquire one for me," she said, before standing from her chair abruptly. "Now, I believe we were to work on brewing the Blood-Replenishing Potion."
It was a week before the dream-catcher made its way into Harry's hands, and in the meantime his dreams had continued, albeit none so horrific as those on Halloween. At first sight of the device he thought that it didn't seem very magical. All the same though, he set it up, hanging from his bed canopy so that it dangled above his head, and then drifted off to sleep.
When he awoke the next morning his attention had been drawn to a silvery light. Looking up in shock he'd discovered that the web of strings were coated with a silvery substance. It was just as Healer Vance had told him nightmare memories clung to the net, waiting to be removed.
There were two ways of doing this. The first, disposing of the dream, was to shake the dream-catcher so that the silvery matter came loose and dissipated in the air. The second method was to use your wand to draw it in strands from the web, like the silvery filaments of memory Harry had seen Dumbledore pull from his temple. These could then be either preserved in a vial or put into a Pensieve for viewing.
Of course, since he needed to be sure it was a Voldemort vision that was captured, and not a regular nightmare, he had teased the dream memories into a vial and promptly made his way to the headmaster's office. There Dumbledore had him deposit the strands into his Pensieve which he tapped to project the contents in the air above.
As both stared at the vision of a family of Muggles murdered in outer London, their reactions were split between sadness and anger at the needless deaths, and happiness and relief that Harry would no longer have to experience the emotionally and physically painful visions from Voldemort firsthand.
Chapter 6: Progress
Saturday, February 15, 1997
The rest of the year passed by, with school and training and teaching the D.A. Christmas break came and Harry joined the Weasleys and Hermione at Grimmauld Place. At first it was painful being stuck in a house that reminded him so vividly of Sirius, for all that his godfather hated the place. And indeed, up until he returned to Hogwarts, little things would unexpectedly remind him of the man, both good memories and bad.
Despite this he was glad he decided to go. It was nice to catch up with Remus. The man clearly missed his friend dearly, but to Harry's surprise a certain Metamorphmagus seemed set on making sure the old wolf didn't wallow. When he first outright asked Tonks if he and Remus were dating, she'd flushed bright red with hair to match and denied his suspicions.
To his delight, he managed to trump Tonks in almost all of their flirting matches during the holiday, by simply turning his comments onto the topic of her and Remus (though of course Bill was often around to tease and embarrass him extra to make up for it). Privately he wished her luck in her wooing of the werewolf. He didn't think the feelings were one sided; he'd noticed the way Remus's eyes seemed to drift to her more often than not.
Before too long it was back to Hogwarts and the now usual routine. Harry's training was going very well, his abilities growing in leaps and bounds. He was also quite pleased with the progress of his D.A. students. Although none of them had been in real combat recently, he felt confident that if necessary, they would prove to be more than capable of defending themselves and others.
This belief was put to the test in February during the Valentine's Hogsmeade weekend. Harry and his friends had agreed to go together, none having a romantic other (Ginny had split amicably from Dean and was single once more). They were all bar one waiting near the Hogwarts front doors, ignoring the suspicious glares of Filch.
"I wonder what's taking Neville so long," Harry wondered aloud.
"Yeah, I want to go to Honeydukes before all the good stuff's taken," groused Ron.
"He won't be long," Ginny said with a grin and a knowing tone.
Before Harry could question her about it, their missing member appeared. But to Harry's surprise he wasn't alone. He was walking down the staircase side by side with Lavender Brown. The pair were chatting, seemingly caught up in their conversation, and as Lavender let out a laugh Harry reflected that it was the happiest he'd seen her since Parvati had left Hogwarts.
"Oh, hi guys," Neville said as they reached the group. "Sorry I'm late. I invited Lavender along with us. I hope that's okay."
"I can meet up with someone else if it's a problem," the curly blonde haired witch said nervously.
"Don't be silly," Hermione immediately assured her. "You're more than welcome."
Hermione had an expression of understanding and Luna was staring between the pair with a dreamy smile.
"Unless you and Neville wanted to go alone," Ginny said cheekily causing boy in question to blush.
"Come on," Ron huffed, annoyed at the delays. "Let's go."
It wasn't till an hour later, as the group wandered down the main street of Hogsmeade, that Harry finally realised what his three female friends had already understood. The way Neville and Lavender always walked so close together, that they bent their heads towards one another to speak, the way that Neville occasionally reverted to his old shy self, and the fact that Lavender looked happier than she had been for a long while. It was all fairly obvious now that he thought about it. As Ginny engaged Lavender in a talk about hair charms, Luna adding odd comments here and there, whilst Hermione rolled her eyes and turned her attention to Ron, Harry lagged behind a little to talk to Neville.
"I didn't know you and Lavender were dating," he said quietly, and the other boy promptly blushed bright red and began shaking his head.
"I- wha- I mean, no!" he yelled then quietened when the others looked back at them. "We aren't dating," the flustered boy denied. "We're just friends."
Harry was sceptical but didn't press. Perhaps he was mistaken. He wasn't really very perceptive about these sorts of things. Still, it was a surprise even to know the pair were friends, though their interaction all day had certainly spoke of a familiarity.
"When did that happen?" he asked, referring to the friendship.
"After what happened with the Patil's. Lavender just really needed someone to talk to, and I'm a good listener. And since we seemed to get along well, we just kept meeting up together."
Before the conversation could go any further there was a chorus of popping noises and then screams. Harry's eyes widened in alarm. Death Eaters were attacking Hogsmeade.
Immediately, Harry went for his wand, Neville copying his actions. He quickly raised a shield as a jet of grey light headed toward them, recognising it as a bone breaking curse. Unfortunately the curse gave time for three masked attackers to convene on their position and they were separated from Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna and Lavender who hurried ahead to defend a group of elderly wizards who were walking by up near the owl office.
"It's Potter," one of the three attackers crowed. "Oh, the praise we'll get from the master for taking you down."
And then the battle was on. It was three on two, but the Death Eaters weren't the most highly trained. The two boys cursed and shielded and dived and dodged. Harry, the strongest offensively, had soon brought down one of the masked men with a Reducto. Neville meanwhile, a solid defensive dueller, focussed on defending the pair of them, leaving Harry free to attack. In this the Death Eaters' seemingly limited repertoire proved advantageous. At first Harry, with his extra training, was the only one of the pair to know which shields blocked which curses. Neville paid close attention to his castings however, and was soon blocking most every curse that came their way. Just then a fleeing villager bumped into the remaining two enemies. The distraction was just what was needed and Neville and Harry cast simultaneous Stunners, bringing them down.
"Lavender and the others," Neville huffed. "We need to make sure they're alright."
They hurried down the street, taking down a lone Death Eater as they went. They also ran into Susan Bones and Justin Finch-Fletchley as they ran, who joined their numbers. Finally as they neared Honeydukes they heard familiar voices crying out spells.
"They're pinned down inside Honeydukes," Harry said.
There were no less than seven Death Eaters attacking the building and those trapped within. As one sent a curse which ripped through the front of the shop, they all winced.
"We need to take them out and defend the store."
"There's something I can do," Neville said, a look of determination overcoming his face. "You three attack them from behind. I need the distraction."
"But Neville, it's too-"
"Lavender's in there," he hissed.
Then, before they could object further, he edged forward toward the storefront. He didn't look set to stop either, and Harry knew he needed to get that distraction going before Neville tried whatever he planned without waiting for them to do their part.
"Come on guys," he addressed Susan and Justin. "Get ready. I have a spell in mind. It should give us a few seconds of open fire."
The three rounded behind the Death Eaters and without pausing to second-guess himself, Harry stepped forward and raised his wand.
"Micosono!" he yelled, knowing silent casting wouldn't be powerful enough for this spell.
The Flashbang Jinx exploded at the seven Death Eaters, blinding and deafening them, and they all cringed visibly, crying out in pain. Even as he, Susan and Justin began flinging jinxes, hexes and curses at the disabled attackers, he could see Neville beyond them, running toward Honeydukes.
"Is he mad?" Justin yelled from beside him. "What's he think he's doing?"
Harry was of the same opinion. The young wizard had put himself clear in the open, and the effects of the Flashbang Jinx would wear off at any moment. In fact… the Death Eaters began to regain control of their senses and started defending themselves. Harry prayed that the three of them could draw their attention for long enough, but it was not to be. One of the masked attackers suddenly spotted Neville and spun around.
"Avada Kedavra!" they cried.
Everything seemed to go in slow motion. Harry's heart skipped a beat and he heard a scream. Lavender, he realised peripherally; his friends were peering through the windows, no doubt having wondered why the barrage had stopped. But he paid that fact little notice, because a familiar jet of green light was careening towards Neville.
Rather than duck or dodge, as he prayed he would, Harry watched as Neville did something entirely expected. He whirled to face the oncoming curse, bracing his wand forward.
"Fossa Obex!" Neville bellowed.
One second the young wizard was just standing there, the curse approaching, and the next there was a great ripping sound and earth was flying. The Trench Shield! Neville Longbottom had just cast the Trench Shield a very advanced and powerful spell which quite literally tore a trench into the earth. Harry gaped for a moment, rather impressed, before mentally smacking himself for getting distracted and resuming the fight.
Dodging a Crucio and casting back a Finger Breaking Hex, he realised just what Neville's plan had been. With the way the Trench Shield piled dirt up high on the front side, it shielded Honeydukes from attack. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Luna and Lavender, along with two other D.A. members who had been in the store (Terry Boot and Anthony Goldstein), appeared to have taken advantage of that fact to sneak out of the store, because the next thing Harry knew they were popping up behind the wall, casting spells at their attackers before ducking back behind cover.
Before too long the group of Death Eaters had only two still standing. Two jets of light from off to the left caught them by surprise and both went down. Harry spun in that direction and was relieved to see a pair of wizards wearing the trademark red uniform of the Aurors. Reinforcements had arrived.
Death Eaters neutralised, the pair continued up the street, no doubt to search out further attackers. From what Harry could see however, the fighting was pretty much over.
As those that had been caught in Honeydukes clambered over and around the trench, a voice called out to him.
"Potter!" it said, and he spun to see Moody and Tonks approaching
"Wotcher Harry," Tonks greeted, staring wide eyed at the hole in the earth. "Merlin's frilly white knickers, is that what I think it is?"
"It's a Trench Shield," Moody said, looking appreciatively at the results of the spell. "I'd say it was your work Potter, but you don't looked drained enough to have cast that little number."
"It was Neville." He pointed to his friend as he spoke. The tired looking boy was fussing over a cut on Lavender's cheek.
"It was just from the glass window shattering," she said, though she clung to his arm.
"Longbottom?" Moody asked, drawing Neville's attention. "Alice and Frank's boy?"
"Er, yes sir," the boy in question replied, and Moody gave him an assessing look.
"That was a heavy bit of spell work you did. Ever consider becoming an Auror?"
Neville was flustered and flattered by the undeniably impressed tone of the ex-Auror's voice. He deserved the praise though; the young wizard had really come into his own compared to his formerly fumbling attitude.
Beside Neville, Lavender had a slight rosiness to her cheeks as she looked up at her friend. Admiration was in her gaze and a proud smile on her face. To himself, Harry reflected that even if the relationship between the two was merely friendship before today, if Lavender had her way it would be more than that soon enough.
After checking to make sure his friends were all fine and well (the only injuries, through fortune, were those caused by flying debris) Harry looked around seeing that D.A. members up and down the street were converging on their position, wands still drawn and speaking about how they'd fought and defended Hogsmeade and it's inhabitants. He felt a swell of pride at their efforts. They'd been learning so well and at this, the first test of their skills, they'd excelled.
As he looked around again, Harry spotted something strange and realised that Neville and Lavender weren't the only couple in the making today. He watched subtly as Ron stood before Hermione, gripping her upper arms and looking her over worriedly.
"I'm fine Ron, really," she tried to reassure him.
"That nasty orange hex only missed you by a hair, Mione."
She nodded grimly. "Organ Liquefaction Curse. You could tell by the sickly orange colouring and the sparks of yellow," she lectured but Ron wasn't listening, having paled at her first words.
"Organ… liquefaction…" he muttered. "You could have died. Could have died and I'd never've…"
"Ron?" She leaned closer to him, concern painted on her features. "Are you okay?"
The next thing anyone knew Ron's face had taken on a strange expression and he leaned forward, pressing his lips to hers. There was a moment when Hermione seemingly didn't know how to respond. Ron started to draw back though, and she burst into action, pulling him back in, and then the two were kissing like their lives depended on it.
It was wolf whistling and cheering that broke the moment. The pair broke apart to see that everyone had turned to watch the scene. Hermione hid her face in Ron's chest, whilst the freckled boy turned an unflattering shade of red.
"Good job big brother," Ginny called, grinning widely.
"Oh, yes," Luna said, a romantic smile on her face as she looked at the couple. "It was far past time that you two stopped acting like fools and admitted you fancy the pants off one another."
There was much agreement from the crowd, to the pair's further embarrassment. Despite that though they had smiles on their faces. Until that is they turned to Harry, as if to gauge his reaction. That was understandable; they'd been very much a trio up till now, even with Neville, Ginny and Luna recently added to their group. Harry couldn't bring himself to be anything other than pleased for them however, and grinned.
"Like Luna said, it's about time," he told them and they broke into smiles once more.
It wasn't till the next day later that the final reports came in. The Death Eater attack on Hogsmeade had done considerable property damage. Despite all being in the thick of the battle, none of Harry's students perished, though several were injured. And, thanks to their efforts, the overall death toll amounted to only two students and seven villagers. Any deaths were terrible news of course, but everyone knew that it could have been far worse.
Friday, April 11, 1997
Two months later, Harry stood in the Room of Requirement, panting from exertion but feeling much calmed from before. A lot of the tension he had been carrying had drained away.
When first he had appeared in the classroom for their usual pre- training get together, Harry had been terse and tense. Bill had calmly set about extracting an explanation to his behaviour and Harry soon explained that the increase of attacks with Voldemort personally present had him worried and angry.
"Right," Bill nodded, grabbing his hand and dragging him from the room. "Come on."
The redhead ignored his objections and questions, leading him toward the Room of Requirement. Harry had stood bemused as his friend paced before the wall three times till a door appeared.
"After you," he gestured, and Harry stepped inside.
The room that greeted him was nothing like he might have expected. One wall was lined with glasses, crockery and porcelain knickknacks of all types. On the opposite side of the room hung bats in various shapes and sizes; cricket bats, baseball bats, lengths of pipe and all sorts. In the centre of the room was a stand of some sort, and then, directly across from the door, there was a long blank stretch of stone wall.
"What are we doing here?" he asked Bill.
"Stress relief," the man replied succinctly, before explaining. "You need to get rid of all that tension before you explode. And I figure this is the safest way to do it."
"I still don't understand."
"Smashing stuff, Harry. Grab something breakable and start chucking it at the wall. Or if you want, set it on the stand, grab a bat and take a swing."
Harry stood there, feeling uncertain.
"Um, isn't this a bit dangerous?"
"Not at all." Bill shook his head. "I was very specific about the wards I 'required'. No one's going to get hurt from this."
After some prodding, Harry finally gave in. Feeling foolish he picked up a large dinner plate then reared back and hurled it at the wall. As it smashed into little pieces, he stood in shock. Merlin but that had felt good. The next thing he knew, he was grabbing crockery left right and centre. Chucking it at the wall or else setting it on the stand and trying out the bats. As he reigned down destruction, Bill encouraged him to say what he was thinking and feeling and soon he was yelling and swearing about how mad Voldemort made him, and how sick and twisted he was, and how he just wanted it to be over.
"And how the hell," he screamed, "am I supposed to defeat him with love! Huh? Can you tell me that Dumbledore? But nooo, he's all eye-twinkly and, 'the answer will come, my boy'. That's no bloody help!"
Eventually he'd run out of things to break and now he was stood panting. A bat hung from one hand and he was a little surprised when Bill approached him. He'd just gone a bit barmy and he was sure his eyes were still rather wild, but the man just slung an arm around his shoulders, casual as you please. Harry dropped the bat, leaning into his side.
And suddenly he was laughing, a little bit hysterically and with a wide grin on his face. Bill smiled down at him and nodded, leading him from the room. He stood propped up against the corridor wall as the redhead paced, requesting a new room, and a few seconds later he was led into their usual training room, only instead of two beanbags against the wall there was one large one. Bill immediately dropped into it tugging him down beside him. He ended up pressed close to the man and curled into his side, still laughing a little.
"See?" The older wizard nudged him. "You just needed to let it all out. That was good, right?"
"Yeah." He nodded, laughter finally tapering off. "More than a little mad probably, but yeah, it was good. I feel a lot better," he said then looked up teasingly at his friend. "So Doctor Weasley, was that a medically approved therapy?"
"Doctor? Oh, you mean a Muggle Healer. Well yes, most certainly. 'Smashing stuff' is a magically proven effective method of stress relief," he said pompously and Harry snorted.
"You're so full of it." Then he sighed. "Some of the things I said though."
"Don't worry, I've heard worse language. And I promise not to tell mum. She'd wash your mouth out with a soap spell."
He winced. "Er, thanks. But that's not what I meant." Then he explained, "I was talking about what I said about Dumbledore and the 'power of love' thing. I didn't really realise till I started raving, but I think that's what's been bothering me the most. It's not like I can love Voldemort to death."
"Funny that, at work I've been de- cursing this old spell book, and cataloguing spells found in it. One of them was called 'Love's Gift' or maybe 'Love's Power'. The translation is a bit sketchy."
Harry straightened up suddenly, looking at Bill with eager eyes.
"A spell called 'Love's Power'? Bill, what if that's what I've been looking for?"
At his reaction, the eldest Weasley son paused, looking hesitant. His words had obviously been meant as no more that a passing comment. He'd plainly not expected Harry to latch onto it like that. And indeed, the younger wizard was latching on, a look of desperate hope on his face.
"Look Harry, don't get your hopes up," he cautioned. "It's an old spell and it needs a lot of work. We don't even really knew what it does." He paused then and adopted a teasing air. "Honestly, 'Love's Power'? It could be an 'adult spell', if you know what I mean."
But Harry was not to be dissuaded, and didn't even blush, let alone get distracted.
"Bill, please. I don't have any other leads. Can we at least try?"
He sighed. "Alright, fine. I'll see what I can do, and bring the info tomorrow. Can you meet me here at about eleven o'clock?"
"No problem." He nodded rapidly. "I'll be there. Thank you Bill."
Tuesday, May 6, 1997
Bill turned up the next day, as promised, and they began working on the spell. It was not an easy task by any means, and they started meeting every Saturday and Tuesday, in addition to their usual Friday meetings, in order to work on it more, though progress was minimal. It wasn't till early May that Bill finally put his foot down.
"Urg," the redhead groaned, throwing down his quill.
"Bill?" Harry asked pleadingly.
He knew that this seemed to be going nowhere, but he needed the other man's encouragement to keep him going. That was not to be however.
"This is pointless Harry. We're getting nowhere, and you're stretched way to thin."
"No, I'm fine!" he tried to defend.
"No, you're not. You have school work, homework, Quidditch, combat training with Moody and Tonks, Medimagic training with Vance, warding training with me, planning lessons and teaching the D.A., and now this as well. It's too much."
Harry sighed. "I've go to try. And what little we've managed so far seems promising."
"Look Harry, I'm not suggesting we abandon it altogether, I'm just saying that maybe this is too big a job for the two of us."
"What are you suggesting then?"
"I think we should bring this to the Order. Their whole purpose is to combat You- Know-Who and his forces, and if this spell could help you bring him down… well I think they'd be willing to work on it."
But Harry was far less certain. He was sure the Order would be a big help, but the fact of the matter was that he didn't know them all well enough to know if they were trustworthy. And that was to say nothing of…
"Snape," he said with distaste.
"Yeah, I don't trust him." He shook his head decisively. "No, we can't take this spell to the Order."
"I have another idea though," he interrupted and Bill gestured that he continue. "We take it to the D.A. instead."
It seemed like the perfect solution to him, but Bill was unsure.
"Harry, they're just students. I'm not sure if that's best."
Harry, defensive of what he felt were 'his people' immediately disagreed.
"I really think they could make some progress on it. There's some brilliantly intelligent witches and wizards in the group. Hermione of course, and Luna, and Susan Bones and Anthony Goldstein. That's not to mention the twins."
"Fred and George?" Bill asked, surprised.
"But they left school. What are they doing in the group?"
"They mentioned over Christmas that they missed the D.A. and wished they could brush up on their defence skills. I mentioned it to Moody, he vetted them, and they were happy to be joining back up. They come to school every Sunday for the class."
Eventually, with a little more convincing, Harry managed to get Bill to agree to at least let the D.A. give the spell a try. When the project was explained to them, and he confessed that he thought it would help him defeat Voldemort (strangely, no one was surprised at his implied assertion that he intended to be the one to take the Dark Lord down), the entire D.A. proved quite enthusiastic. They were all determined to help, and before he and Bill knew it, the students had agreed to devote themselves to the spell research, not a single one grumbling about the fact that it would eat into their free time.
Chapter 7: Realising
Wednesday, July 30 Thursday, July 31, 1997
In less than two months it was the end of Harry's sixth year and he returned to the Dursley's once more. As he prepared to leave Hogwarts, he was surprised to realise that he expected to miss Bill immensely. They'd become quite close and he was not looking forward to going so long without seeing him whilst he stayed with his relatives.
And so was that Harry was delighted when, the first day of holidays, the man turned up to spend the evening with him. Dudley's second bedroom was not nearly as cosy as their classroom which, in addition to the added security wards, had been magically improved upon for comfort during its weeks of use but Harry hardly cared. He was just glad the curse-breaker was going to keep visiting as he'd become a fast friend. And that was honestly all the young hero thought it was. Friendship. That perspective was irrevocably altered however on the eve and day of his seventeenth birthday.
The eldest Weasley brother had turned up on the evening of the thirtieth, laden with presents.
"Hey Bill," Harry greeted him happily when he Apparated into the room. "Sit down. Here, put those on the desk."
"Hi Harry. Decent haul you have this year."
"Yeah," Harry said, looking at the presents with awe (even after all these years at Hogwarts it still stunned him to receive gifts). "How come you're delivering them? Normally they all owl in at midnight."
"Well, Errol's getting on a bit so Mum asked if I could bring hers with me when I dropped by. We were in the kitchen at headquarters at the time, and everyone else thought it was a good idea more secure than owl mail you see. So next thing I new I was being tasked by Ron, Hermione, Remus, Tonks, Moody, Vance and even Dumbledore."
"Dumbledore got me something?" he asked, surprised, and reached toward the pile of gifts.
"Hey, no opening till your birthday," Bill tsk'ed, slapping his hands away.
"But it's only a few hours away." He pouted, but Bill held firm.
"It doesn't matter. You have to wait."
Harry sighed but backed down, retreating to his bed where they both sat facing one another, one at the head of the bed and the other at the foot. He wiggled his leg as Bill's fingers tapped a rhythm on his ankle which rested by the older wizard's side.
"How was training today? You had Medimagic with Vance, right?"
"Yep. We're working on medical stasis spells."
"Really?" Bill raised an impressed eyebrow. "That's pretty advanced."
"And hard. Believe me, I know. I'm just glad she had us practicing on transfigured rats first, rather than live people."
"For safety she said, and she was justified. My first attempt melted the 'patient', the second one petrified it, and somehow the third one set the rat on fire. It's not funny! I got it right eventually. Stop laughing!" he ordered, crossing his arms and feeling embarrassed. "Humph, I'd like to see you do better."
"Sorry," Bill finally apologised. "It's just that when you get a spell wrong you really do it in style."
"Okay, I'll stop now."
Not wanting to discuss his less than stellar training session any further, he changed the subject.
"So, what's new on the war front?" he asked and the older wizard sobered.
"Mostly just the usual: attacks almost daily, with the Aurors and the Order managing to prevent some, but not others. There is one big bit of news though. There was a change in leadership in the giant clans the old leader was killed. And not by someone bigger and uglier like usual. The new leader Ogog is smart more than anything. He courted allies in the clan to back his takeover. It's very advanced strategy for giants."
"They're normally 'bash, kill', and 'me bigger, me better', aren't they?"
Bill nodded. "Not terribly flattering, but pretty accurate. Anyway, Hagrid and Olympe made contact with Ogog, and managed to secure the giants' neutrality."
"That's good, right?"
"Yeah. Since the Death Eaters were first to send out envoys to them, there was some worry that they'd win them over. We may not have convinced them to join our side but it's a load off everyone's minds to know they're not going to You-Know-Who's either."
"Yeah," Harry said, remembering his fright at first meeting Hagrid's massive half-brother Grawp. "We really don't want to be facing giants in battle."
"Oh, I almost forgot," Bill said suddenly. "You owe me a thank you."
It was some time later. Bill was still seated at the head of the bed, albeit slumped down, head resting against a cushion set against the headboard, one leg tucked up and the other dangling off the side of the bed. Harry meanwhile, ever restless, had shifted around so that he lay sideways at the foot of the bed. His legs hung off one side and his head off the other, as the mattress really wasn't wide enough for his position.
"I do?" he asked. "What for?"
Bill shifted slightly reaching into his back pants pocket. As he did so his extended leg swung backward and forward a bit, and Harry batted at it playfully, trying to catch it by the heel.
"Ah, here we go," the redhead announced, and he looked over to see the man holding what looked like a photograph. "Got it from the twins, who confiscated it from Colin Creevey." Bill paused and tilted his head to one side. "I won't imagine what Creevey was doing with it. Still, disturbing as that is, it's not as worrying as what Fred and George had planned."
"What?" he asked, confused at what could be so worrisome. "It's probably a photo right? Colin's forever taking photographs, particularly of me. Especially when he first got to Hogwarts. He must have a ton of pictures of my mug by now." He shrugged. "Why's this one more disturbing that the usual?"
"Well," Bill drawled slowly.
Their was such a hidden wealth of meaning in that tone that Harry heaved himself into up into a sitting position, view switching dizzyingly from upside-down to right-side-up as he did so.
"Well what?" he asked, quite curious now.
"The twin's were thinking of printing up posters of the picture to sell. I don't think they were entirely serious but they could've made a mint from it, so I figured better safe than sorry. As I said, you owe me many and profuse thanks."
"Damn it Bill, just tell me already," he demanded.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I present," the other wizard said dramatically, waving the picture about with a smirk on his face, "exclusive photographic imagery, of the one and only boy-who-lived, au naturel."
Harry's jaw dropped. "Wait, you don't mean he squeaked, but Bill's smirk just got wider. "Give me that!"
He reached out to grab the photo but the redhead held it away from him. Harry leaned further forwards.
"Nope, I think I'll just hold onto it. Maybe the twins had the right idea."
"Bill, I'm serious!" Harry shouted.
Still the redhead would not hand over the picture and a scuffled ensued. Harry dived for it, landing half on top of Bill who let out an 'oomph', but managed to hold his hand back above his head, beyond Harry's reach. The younger wizard scrambled upright then, into a seated position, braced one hand on the body beneath him and leapt for the photo. He managed to tear it from Bill's grasp, landing back with a thump that once again stole the redhead's breath.
Turning his prize over in his hand, Harry finally got a look at the photograph, and squawked in indignation. A part of him had been hoping it was all a joke, but there it was, in full colour; Harry Potter standing naked under the Quidditch changing room showers. He supposed it could have been worse. At least it wasn't a frontal shot… okay, no, he was kidding himself. He was in no way okay with this.
"Colin that git I'll kill him! No, even better than that, I'll transfigure his camera into a snake. He loves that thing, and he's terrified of reptiles." He nodded, a vengeful expression on his face. "Yes, that's what I'll do."
There was no response from Bill and he realised the older wizard had been silent for a bit too long. He looked down and blinked in surprise at what he saw. There was an odd look on the redhead's face.
"Bill?" he asked.
But then, suddenly, he realised the position they were in. Bill was laid out flat on his bed and he was sat, straddling his hips. Bill's hands had fallen to rest on his upper thighs, and his own free hand was pressed against a bare, toned abdomen, when his friend's shirt had rucked up.
This all catalogued, he promptly turned a bright red, let out a 'meep' and scrambled backwards, hopping off the bed. Once he was halfway across the room, he spun around. Bill was still lying there, still with that strange expression as he stared after him. After a moment though it cleared and he straightened up into a cross-legged position. Harry used the excuse of hiding the confiscated photo to turn away, tucking it into his trunk. Then he turned back and an awkward silence ensued.
"So," he said, wincing at the 'desperate to appear normal and failing miserably' tone to his voice, "how about them Cannon's?"
"Merlin, don't tell me Ron's converted you to a Chudley Cannon's fan," Bill said.
Harry sighed in relief that his friend was taking the subject changer that he offered. He assured the redhead that he was not a Cannon's fan, but rather leaned toward the Falmouth Falcons because their motto'Let us win, but if we cannot win, let us break a few heads rather amused him. From there they segued into a lively debate about who was promising for the League competition and Harry relaxed, reassured that that strange moment was forgotten.
"What do you want to do after Hogwarts?"
Conversation had switched from Quidditch through a number of other topics. Harry had finally returned to the bed, though he and Bill remained cross-legged at opposite ends this time.
"After Hogwarts?" Harry asked. "I don't know."
"Didn't you have careers advice fifth year? What did you tell McGonagall?"
"I said I was interested in being an Auror."
"Well, from what I've seen of your duelling and combat sessions and what Tonks and Moody have said about your skill, I think you'd definitely be good at it."
"Maybe…" He trailed off and Bill looked at him questioningly.
"What is it?" he prodded.
"It's just… well sometimes I wonder if I'll even live long enough to find out," he confessed in a rush.
He waited then for Bill to either get angry at him for thinking so negatively, or pitying toward him for his situation, or perhaps offer false platitudes that everything would work out. Those were the sort of responses Ron and Hermione would give. None of them helped. But Bill surprised him by taking none of those routes.
"Maybe you won't," he said looking a bit distressed beneath his usual calm, and surprising Harry with his honesty. "But there's this Muggle saying I've heard of'he who does not hope to win has already lost'. And Harry, neither you nor any of us can afford to lose this war. It won't be easy and odds are against you, but you have so many people behind you, and I really think if you try hard enough you can do it. So you need to keep those fears controlled and focus on more productive thoughts, like winning and all you have to fight for."
Harry just stared, taking in what he had said. Bill knew him very well for how short an amount of time they'd been friends. Everything he said was exactly what he needed to hear, but at the same time he knew the other wizard wasn't just saying it just because it was what he wanted to hear. No, Bill believed what he was saying, and as he sat there Harry took the advice in and assimilated it. He was right. There was too much riding on this war. He needed to focus on winning, not dwell on pessimistic 'what ifs'.
"Yeah," he finally spoke, "you're right."
"Good," Bill said heartily. "Now in the spirit of what I said, and focussing on the positive, let's assume you're going to survive this war intact and kick You-Know-Who's pasty white arse," Harry snorted incredulously at this but the redhead continued unabated. "And then after that you'll have a life to live. What are you going to do with it? Aside from the whole 'what if you don't survive' thing, was there any other reason you don't want to be an Auror anymore?"
Harry considered it.
"I guess that I feel like, so much of my life's been about fighting to survive. Maybe, if At Bill's pointed look he corrected himself. "When when I finally defeat Voldemort, I don't think I'll want to become an Auror, only to have to fight some more."
"You want some peace," Bill said understandingly.
"Does that make me a coward?" he asked guiltily, but the other man shook his head.
"No," he said firmly. "It definitely doesn't. I think a lot people will be wanting peace once it's all over. So… is there anything else that interests you, if you've decided against being an Auror?"
"I'm not sure. I've never really thought about it," Harry said, tilting his head to one side as he considered. "The two things I like most I suppose are flying and He paused, throwing his companion a look. "Well just recently, since you've started teaching me, warding's become a favourite too."
Bill smiled. "You're definitely a natural warder."
"And flyer. It was instinct from the first time I got on a broom."
"So, Ward Caster or Quidditch Player then?"
"Maybe." He shrugged. "But like I said, I'm a natural at both, so I'm not sure if they'd be challenging enough. I wouldn't want to get bored."
"Well you've still got a whole year of Hogwarts left. You've plenty of time to think of some other job that you'd enjoy," Bill assured him, then looked toward his wrist before starting in surprise. "Merlin, look at the time. It's just past eleven. You'll probably be wanting to go to sleep by now."
But Harry shook his head.
"I can't go to sleep yet, it's my birthday soon," he said, and at Bill's confusion explained, "It's a tradition I've had since… oh ages really. I always stay up the night before my birthday to watch the clock turn over at midnight. Celebrate being another year older and all that."
Bill glanced down at his watch, then at the electronic alarm clock nearby on the drawers.
"Well, why don't I wait up with you? Keep you company?"
"Sure." Harry smiled. "I'd like that."
It was nearing midnight and Bill and Harry had changed positions once more. Side-by-side on the carpet they sat, leaning against the rickety bed with shoulders and arms brushing, and watching the alarm clock. The only light came from the red glowing numbers on the clock, and the moon outside the window. Conversation had become quiet and light-hearted and Harry found himself resting his head on his companion's shoulder as he grew tired.
"One minute," Harry whispered.
They sat staring until finally, with a barely audible click, the clock switched from eleven fifty-nine to midnight morn. Bill shifted beside him then, and wrapped an arm around Harry's waist. He pulled him into a hug and the younger wizard went willingly.
"Happy birthday," the redhead whispered in his ear.
As they pulled apart Harry tilted his head upwards from where it still rested on the strong shoulder, intending to express his thanks. Before he could do more than open his mouth however he paused, frozen in place as he gazed at the soft expression on his friend's moonlit face. And then, without pausing to think on his actions, he discarded his words and instead leant further forward and pressed his lips to Bill's.
It was soft and chaste, just a whisper of a kiss really, and all too soon it was over. Harry was wide eyed in surprise at his own actions, and doubts were beginning to crash down upon him as Bill said nothing, just stared down at him with an uncertain, thoughtful gaze. And then the arm was withdrawing from around him and the redhead was pulling away.
"It's late," he said, voice neutral. "I should go and let you get some sleep."
"Bill he tried to object, though what he planned to do or say beyond that he didn't know.
"I'll see you later Harry."
And then, with the soft 'pop' of Apparition, he was gone.
Harry was still sat staring when the tapping startled. It took him a moment to realise it was owls at his window probably birthday messages from Luna and Neville and he got to his feet on autopilot to let them in. Mechanically he divested the birds of their mail, fed them a few owl treats, let them sip at Hedwig's water bowl, and then sent them on their way. He then put the gifts and letters down on his desk, and abruptly froze.
"I kissed Bill," he said in shock. "Bill, Ron's oldest brother. Brother as in a boy. Or a man really. I kissed a guy."
He waited for self-disgust to rise, but it just wasn't happening. It didn't feel wrong at all. He thought of Bill then; tall and toned, handsome features, cool dress sense, elegant long-fingered hands, easy smile and soothing voice. He definitely felt attraction. And still it didn't seem wrong. Well, he thought, I guess I'm gay then. Or rather, he amended, remembering his crush on Cho, bisexual. And surprisingly, he was okay with it.
Before he could become too excited about that, he remembered one depressing fact.
"I kissed him… and he left."
And just like that his mood plummeted. Oh god, what had he been thinking? He didn't know whether Bill liked him that way, or if the man even liked guys like that at all. Bill had become his best friend. He understood him in ways not even Ron and Hermione did, and there was no one he felt more comfortable with. He could open up to the redheaded man, share his fears, become vulnerable… something he'd never really felt safe enough to do with anyone else. And then he had just gone and kissed him, without thinking through the consequences. What if, he wondered despairingly (hesitating to say it even in his thoughts), what if he'd ruined their friendship for good?
Fears whirring about his mind, he walked over to his bed and dropped onto the mattress, curling up in a ball atop the covers. Slowly he drifted off to sleep, but with his worries it was far from restful.
"Merlin, what was I thinking?" Bill muttered to himself, his composure having broken the moment he Apparated away. "And alright, he was the one that started it, but I didn't exactly object. But his lips were so soft and- no! I should not be thinking like that."
The eldest Weasley son was pacing back and forth in his room at Grimmauld Place (the Weasleys having moved in last year, not feeling security at the Burrow adequate). The door was locked and the room silence warded. This whole situation was messing with his equilibrium and he didn't need to make a show for everyone of him losing his cool. He plopped down in the tattered armchair in the corner of the room, sitting bent forward with elbows on knees and hands cradling his head. His fingers slid through his hair and he tugged at it with frustration.
"Let's just say it," he said. "I kissed Harry. Or Harry kissed me. We kissed. Harry, your baby brother's best friend, who's just a child, you pervert," he accused himself before sighing and shaking his head. "Okay, no, he's seventeen; of age by any wizarding standards. Alright, it was only a few seconds into his birthday that the kiss happened, but he was already seventeen. And Harry's mature for his age. He'd have to be of course, what with everything he's gone through and that task that's on his shoulders."
He sighed again, this time tinged with frustration, crossed his arms over his chest and slumped in his chair, head tilted back to stare at the cobwebbed ceiling. There was sadness and a little anger in his last words. It just wasn't fair that Harry was so burdened. He was a good kid he winced and corrected himself guy, if they'd kissed and he was contemplating it all, then he couldn't think of him as a kid. He was a good guy and deserved better. Bill had faith that he'd pull through for everyone though. It was rare that he'd seen someone who could be so determined. So long as Harry turned that determination to winning and surviving, which Bill thought he would after their talk a few hours earlier, then it should all work out. Hopefully.
But he was getting off track. Harry and the kiss. It certainly didn't bother him that Harry was a boy, rather than a girl. He'd had male and female lovers both. It had shocked his family the first time he introduced them to a boyfriend, but they'd been accepting in the end, so he wasn't worried about his family's reactions. So what was worrying him here? It was a nice kiss. A little sweet and innocent, but definitely nice. Maybe it was Harry then?
He thought of the young man. Messy ebony locks that you just itched to run your fingers through, gorgeously vivid emerald eyes, soft pink lips, pale skin, a lean almost delicate figure, but toned from Quidditch, and he added, remembering that photograph he really did have the most lovely arse. And personality wise, he was kind, modest, brave and loyal. He had a bit of a guilt complex at times though and could be stubborn and reckless, but nobody was perfect. And he was already practically one of the family; his parents loved Harry. He was a good conversationalist too or perhaps the two of them just clicked well; they could talk for hours without running out of subjects to discuss. But in contrast, they could also sit together in silence and not have it become awkward at all. He was also a delight to tease. He blushed beautifully.
"Okay…" He blinked, going back over all his thoughts. "Okay, I'm definitely attracted to him then, and not just on a superficial level. And given the fact that he was the one to initiate the kiss, he's probably attracted to me. So what's the problem?"
He considered that for a long moment, but nothing came to mind. He started to smile. Harry was a gorgeous, kind, engaging wizard who he connected well with and was likely interested in him. Ignoring the age gap which really, given how long wizard-kind lived was not that terribly much, he was just about perfect for him. He grinned a little stupidly, but with an air of determination. Right, first things first, he needed to get some sleep. Then there was an Order meeting at four o'clock. But after that…
"Watch out Harry Potter. Here I come."
Harry had slept fitfully but late, and woken up at a quarter past nine. As he laid there he recalled all that had happened that morning. He gnawed at his lip as his worries returned worries that he'd ruined the best friendship he'd ever had.
Eventually he dragged himself from bed and headed downstairs for some breakfast before closeting himself back upstairs in his room. Nothing else to do, and wanting the distraction, he opened his birthday gifts. Hermione had sent him a book called A Guide to Magical Careers. Ron had also sent a book surprisingly, but that was explained by the title: Quidditch Through the Ages.
Neville had sent him a very nice set of duelling robes (a gift Moody would probably approve of) and Luna had made him a rather colourful necklace of butterbeer corks, feathers and bits of tin, which she promised would ward off the Wrackspurts. From Ginny he received a rather ingenious potion which apparently, would cause his face to develop fuzzily in any photographs taken of him. 'For when the paparazzi gets too much' she said, and though he was thankful for such a thoughtful and ingenious gift, he couldn't help wishing remembering that damn picture Colin had taken that it protected his more 'private' areas instead.
From the adults, Mrs Weasley had sent him a decadent chocolate cake and Mr Wesley had reminded him that as he was now of age, he was free to do magic, sending along a little pamphlet entitled The Responsibilities of the Wand-Free Wizard. That reminder had sent a little thrill through him, as he'd quite forgotten, but he promised himself to read the booklet and act responsibly. He didn't want to end up on trial again after all.
Then there was the gift from Professor Dumbledore. He'd gasped in shock and disbelief as he peeled away the sparkling rainbow coloured wrapping paper to reveal a Pensieve. True, it was smaller than the headmaster's the little stone bowl could be cradled in one hand, and would apparently only hold a single memory at a time but still… a Pensieve. They were very rare and he was in awe that Dumbledore would find one for him.
After that he expected the gift from Remus and Tonks (he'd smiled knowingly at the fact they'd done a combination gift how couply) to seem rather mundane. He was proven wrong however, when he opened it up to reveal a delicate necklace with a beautifully detailed golden stag pendent. Remus explained it had been James's gift to his mother on their first marriage anniversary. Tonks' addition to the gift had been a strip of thin leather, with protection runes embossed along the length. Her note said to thread the stag on the leather instead of the fine gold chain, so that he could wear the pendant and still look manly.
The next two gifts were from Moody and Emmeline Vance. Moody had sent him an Auror standard wand holster. Made of dragon hide and imbued with anti summoning charms, fire protection and curse resistance, it was quite the practical gift. From Healer Vance he received his second potion. It was a recent medical development, called the Oculus Clarus Potion. When taken it would work over a period of two weeks to correct deficiencies in vision. Excited, he swallowed it down at once, eagerly anticipating the day soon when he would not have to wear his glasses any longer.
The last gift, which he'd hesitated to open, was of course the one from Bill. It was thick, square and heavy and when he'd eventually opened it, he gaped in surprise. The leather bound book was titled simply Warding by T. Wendergill, but Harry knew it for what it was. This was considered the most comprehensive guide to warding in the wizarding world. It cost a small fortune and was very hard to come by; it was restricted sale to only Master Warders. Usually the only others to acquire it were Apprentice Warders, as gifts from their Master. How Bill had managed to find a copy boggled the mind, but Harry loved it.
After opening his gifts, Harry tried to distract himself further. He picked up Warding first, but after about five minutes put it down. It was a fascinating read but it reminded him constantly of Bill, which reminded him of the kiss, which made him worry again something he was trying to avoid. So then he moved onto the Pensieve.
After going over a few of his more exciting memories (and had the Basilisk really been that big?) he found himself returning to the topic he was trying not to think on. No matter that he told himself not to dwell, he spent the next few hours reliving his memories of Bill from last night and this morning. First into the bowl was the odd 'moment' they'd had when he managed to steal the photograph from the redhead. After seven views he was almost certainly not quite sure that was attraction on Bill's features. And then he watched the kiss over and over. Still short. Still chaste. And still sent Bill running. Really, watching it repeatedly was not helping him in anyway, but he couldn't help himself.
Eventually he dragged himself away from the Pensieve, making sure to stuff his memories back in his head, so nobody could accidentally stumble upon them. He then tried flicking through Hermione's book (A Guide to Magical Careers), but even that reminded him of Bill, and the conversation they'd had about what he wanted to do after Hogwarts. Which of course reminded him of the kiss that happened later. This in turn renewed his worry. Really, it was getting a bit ridiculous.
Next he opened up Quidditch Through the Ages, and through sheer will and bloody mindedness alone, managed to avoid thinking about the conversation he and Bill had shared last night about the League competition. A not so small miracle that, really.
He lost track of time then, pausing in his reading only to head downstairs for food when he got hungry at around half two. But then it was back upstairs and diving back into Ron's book. He was almost halfway through it and reflected that this was probably the longest he'd ever read for without needing information for homework, but anything to distract him was worth his turning bookish like Hermione.
It was six o'clock when the silence was broken by a soft 'pop'. Startled he looked up to see Bill standing in the middle of his bedroom. He came back, his mind cried out in relief, he came back. But then he saw the set expression on the redhead's face and started to worry. What did that mean? Was he mad? Was he just here to reject him, or officially end their friendship? He didn't know how to react. But then, after several agonising seconds of suspense, the redhead strode toward him determinedly, took his face in his hands, and kissed him.
Harry, stunned still, did nothing but stand there wide-eyed until the older man finally began to pull away. The instant he spied the disappointed expression on his face he snapped out of his shock. Realising that Bill thought he wasn't interested in continuing where last night left off, and deciding abruptly that he most certainly was, he reached upward and pulled the freckled face back down, pressing their lips together once more.
The kiss started off soft and chaste, just like their first, but before too long it deepened, wet and warm. Bill's fingers thread through his raven hair even as his own clasped behind the redhead's neck. He moaned as a tongue swiped at his lip and let his jaw fall open slightly, and then Bill was there, exploring his mouth with his tongue.
Eventually they both pulled back, needing air. They remained leaning into one another, Bill bent down and he on tiptoe, foreheads pressed together. Both were breathing heavily, puffs of air playing across one another's lips. Their eyes, which had been closed, somehow both opened simultaneously with slow, heavy lidded blinks.
"I was so scared when you left," Harry whispered, breathing still short. "Thought it meant you thought it was a mistake." He shook his head. "Well after I was done freaking out that is."
Bill laughed, gazing at him softly, rubbing his thumb tenderly across the younger wizard's jaw.
"Nah. Just had to do some 'freaking out' of my own. Besides," he said, eyes turning mischievous and gaze leering, "after getting an eyeful of that photo, how could I resist? You have a very fanciable arse Harry. All nicely rounded but a bit firm at the same time."
Harry squeaked and ducked his blushing face forward into the crook of the redhead's shoulder.
"'Fanciable' isn't a word," he said, because he was sure it was all he could manage to say without lighting up on the spot from the heat of his cheeks.
Bill chuckled at his predicament. Harry, a bit indignant that the man was finding his embarrassment amusing, drew on every reserve of composure he had to give another somewhat cooler reply, to make up for that first pedantic one.
"It's the Quidditch," he said, aiming for and almost managing a nonchalant tone.
"Oh, is that it?" Bill said, thankfully not calling him on the fact that despite his attempted at unaffectedness, his warm face was still pressed against the taller wizard's neck. "Well, we must be duly grateful for the sport of wizards then."
Harry rolled his eyes then pulled back to look at Bill's face once more. After a few moments, uncertainty started to worry at him. What did this mean? What if Bill was just interested in a snog or something?
"What?" the older wizard asked, running his thumb over his jaw again, before tracing it across his bottom lip. "What's wrong?"
"What- I mean He blushed, "What is this? What are we?"
"Hmm," Bill hummed. "Well I think, that I'm yours, if you want me. So long as you're mine. How's that sound?"
"Yeah," he smiled, part shy, part delighted. "Yeah, that sounds good."
Chapter 8: Passions
August December, 1997
The months that followed were as close to perfect for the boy-who-lived as anything he recalled experiencing. Perhaps it was discourteous to him to be so deliriously happy, when all around the war raged. He couldn't seem to help himself though, being in first flush of such a wonderful relationship. Others had noticed his newfound lightness as well and whilst confused at first, they were mostly relieved that he seemed to be less stressed and strained.
His training continued to advance and his trainers continued to be impressed with his progress. He and Tonks were now almost equal fighters, duels between them splitting wins fifty-fifty. He was excelling rapidly in warding. So much so in fact, that Bill said he'd soon run out of things to teach him. The redhead even suggested that he was good enough to be apprenticed to a Master Warder, if he so wished. As for Medimagic, it continued to be a challenge, but one that he was happy to face. He'd already become Gryffindor Tower's unofficial Mediwizard. Students came to him for minor cuts, scrapes, bruises and anything else not serious enough to justify travelling all the way to the Hospital Wing. It reassured him to know that if his friends were hurt in battle, he wouldn't be useless to them.
The D.A. also continued to meet, and Harry was proud of the progress they were making. Stand out duellers included: Neville, who was a defensive powerhouse; Hermione, whose spell repertoire seemed endless; Luna, who was so agile she looked like she was dancing as she dodged curses and hexes; Susan Bones, who was very strategic minded and freely incorporated illusions and concealment charms to outsmart her attackers; Fred and George, whose teamwork was outstanding, and whose pranking style of combat could disconcert even the most composed of opponents; and surprisingly Lavender, who after Parvati left had become determined to learn all she could, and was actually rather scarily brutal in her offensive spells.
Defence teachings aside, the D.A. also continued to work dedicatedly on the 'Love's Power' spell. They were actually making some progress and the spell's effects looked promising.
"Well," Hermione had told him one day, "I know you were worried the spell might be something else entirely, but we're certain it's not a- you know, an adult spell."
"What?" He gaped. "I was not worried about- who said I was worried about that?"
"Bill", she'd replied, confused at his reaction.
"Oh, I'll kill him. I was not worried about that."
Hermione didn't seem certain she believed him, and only the witch's assurances that she was the only one the redhead had confessed Harry's 'concerns' to, stopped him from carrying out his avowed murder. Though he did happily manage to catch Bill with a hidden ward their next lesson, which turned him bright pink for twenty-four hours. He felt much better after that.
Saturday, December 20, 1997
The relationship between he and Bill continued to flourish and develop, though still in secret because neither were willing to share the other just yet. Before Bill, the extent of Harry's experience had been a single awkward kiss from Cho, but the older man never pressed, willing to let Harry take things at his own pace. And whenever Harry wanted to take a step forward, the redhead was there to guide him, eager and gentle and never making Harry feel lesser for his inexperience.
It was a Friday evening in late December that their physical relationship finally reached the ultimate level. Harry and Bill had met up early in their classroom as usual. Before too long, conversation had turned to kisses and wandering hands. Things were getting hot and heavy when Bill suddenly pulled back, much to Harry's displeasure.
But the redhead just got to his feet and pulled Harry up too.
"Come on," he said, entwining their fingers and tugging the younger wizard from the room.
He followed as Bill led them up the Room of Requirement, and paced three times till a door appeared. The redhead opened it up and pulled Harry inside. He had but a moment to see a bedroom with a large, decadent looking bed, but then Bill was pulling him into another kiss and he lost himself.
Harry grasped desperately at the front of Bill's shirt as the other man's mouth attacked his, again and again. Long fingered hands were threaded through his hair, tilting his head to just the right angle. Finally, just when he was worried that oxygen was becoming an issue, those wonderful lips dragged away from his, trailing across his jaw line and then down his throat, to the crook of which where they began to lick and suckle.
"You'll leave a mark," he said but his protest rather was weakened by his breathless panting and moaning.
"Good," Bill murmured and he could feel the redhead's lips pull into a smirk against his neck.
The hands released his hair and trailed down his back, pressing him close to the older wizard's body, and he could feel a hardness to match his own pressing into his stomach. Harry released his grip to tug open the buttons on Bill's shirt, and then ran his hands wantonly across the newly bared chest.
The next moment he was stumbling, his boyfriend dragging them across the room till the older man was backed up beside the door. The redhead took advantage of his new position to bend his knees, leaning back to let the wall balance his weight. Then hands were grasping Harry's hips, pulling his closer and up, with his legs straddling one of Bill's own. He gasped, throwing his head back, and rocked his hips. The new position pressed his erection to Bill's thigh, the pressure taunting and not quite enough.
"Bill," he pleaded.
"Do you want me Harry?" the man asked huskily, mouth trailing upwards now, till he nipped at the younger wizard's earlobe.
"Yes," he hissed.
"How far? How far d'you want this to go? How much do you want tonight?"
"All. Everything." He could only manage single-word sentences.
Then, to his distress, Bill was pulling back, and he moaned in objection. But the redhead just nudged his face with his till he was looking into his blue eyes. Bill's pupils were wide and dark and his skin flushed and Harry was sure he looked the same.
"Are you sure? I know you've never… And this isn't exactly…"
"Merlin Bill," he said, somehow managing some coherency. "I'm not some girl. I don't need flowers and wine and music and, and poetry and all that crap."
"Poetry?" The other man chuckled.
"You know, soppy girl stuff."
"But it is your first time-"
"And that only matters to girls."
"Bullshit. Even for guys, you always look back and remember your first time as something significant. It's one of those rights of passage."
"Maybe. But I don't need you to set a cutesy, romantic scene for it."
"Then what do you need?"
Harry looked him deep in the eyes.
"You," he said softly. "Just you."
Bill's gaze softened and he leaned forward, pressing a gentle kiss to his lips. Then he pulled back and a laughing light entered his eyes.
"And you said you weren't a girl. 'You, just you could you be any more sappy?"
"Oh, shut up and kiss me."
"As you wish."
And then they were kissing and touching and feeling. They stumbled their way to the bed, tumbling down onto the blanketed covers, and clothing melted away until there was nothing but pleasure. The never did get to training that night.
Sunday, December 21, 1997
Harry awoke slowly, feeling snug and sated. There was a hand tracing pleasantly up and down his spine in lazy swipes from base to tip. He hummed in approval, arching his back into the pleasant feeling. The hand stopped, flattening at the curve of his spine, warm and solid.
"Good morning," a familiar voice spoke, making him smile.
"G'morning," he mumbled in return, voice husky from sleep.
He was lying naked beneath the covers of the bed, half lying across Bill who was equally bare. One of his legs and most of his upper body were thrown over the other man, and his head was pillowed on a firm chest.
"How are you?"
He shifted a bit and then winced.
"A little," he said. "Not too bad."
The bed shifted then, as though Bill were reaching for something off to the side.
"Here," the redhead said, and a potions vial came into view.
He reached up to take the vial, recognising it as a pain potion.
"Were'd you get this?" He turned to look up at Bill, raising a suggestive eyebrow. "Mr Weasley," he said with a faux scandalised tone, "did you plan last night?"
"No," he the man said, though an amused smile quirked his lips. "I left to get it an hour ago when I woke up."
"Oh, I didn't notice you leave."
"I know; you were pretty deeply asleep. You just snuggled right back up when I came back."
"I do not snuggle," he objected, uncorking the vial with his teeth and swallowing the potion. "That sounds so unmanly."
"Apologies lovely," Bill smiled, taking the vial and putting it back on the bedside table. "I meant to say you 'nestled' against me."
"Better I suppose," he sniffed, but couldn't stop the smile on his lips he was just too happy.
A hand reached under his chin tilting his head up and a soft kiss was pressed to his lips.
"Hmm, what was that for?"
"Just because I love you," Bill replied, and Harry froze. "What?"
"You love me?" he asked, voice strange.
"I thought it was rather obvious even if I've never said it before. Is it really that surprising?"
"No- I mean yes- I mean He bit his lip and looked away. "No one's ever said that before."
He looked back up to see Bill's eyes darken.
"You know," the redhead stated in a seemingly casual tone, "I really don't like your relatives, and hope that when they die they burn in a fiery hell of eternal torment."
Harry snorted in amusement, relaxing.
"Thanks, I think." Then he tucked his head back down on Bill's chest, gathered his courage and murmured. "And you know, I love you too."
He couldn't see but he could almost feel Bill's smile.
"Good," was all he said, and resumed tracing up and down his back.
They lay there in silence for a while till suddenly, Bill lightly slapped his rear. He made an indignant sound looking up with wide eyes. Bill just smiled, not looking at all guilty.
"Come on," he said. "You'd better get up. You have a D.A. lesson to prepare for this afternoon last one before holidays. And you'll have to start packing your trunk for the train back to London tomorrow."
"No," he moaned, and burrowed further into the redhead. "Don't wanna go yet."
"You have to."
He huffed and sighed, and then tried pouting, but all that did was earn him a kiss and then another order to get up and dressed.
"Fine," he finally relented.
He rolled over out of bed, then stood up and stretched. As he bent over to pick up his pants there was a moan from behind him. He spun around to see that Bill had been staring rather intently at his rear, and blushed, just now realising he was naked and on display.
"Stop it," he said, hurriedly yanking on his pants and reaching for his trousers.
"Staring. It's creepy."
"Well I have said that you've a really nice arse. It's hard not to stare."
Harry just scowled to cover his embarrassed but pleased smile at the compliment, yanking his shirt over his head, then pulling on his robe. He headed for the door before pausing and doubling back for one last kiss.
"Hmm," he hummed in pleasure, finally pulling back. "Okay, I'm going now. I'll see you at Grimmauld on Monday."
"I'll see you then. And in the meantime," Bill said, then lowered his tone till it was dark and sultry, ripe with innuendo, "think about me."
Harry flushed, spun around and hurried from the room, Bill's husky chuckles echoing behind him.
Sunday, December 28, 1997
"Ahh!" Harry screamed.
Immediately his hand clapped over his eyes and he spun around, fleeing the room. The door slammed shut behind him and he just stood the corridor, not lowering his hand, focussed on trying to scrub the mental images from his mind. After a few seconds, during which he heard hurried rustling from within the library behind him, he heard the door open.
"Ah, Harry?" a male voice said quietly. "You can come in now."
He shook his head. "I don't know that that's a good idea."
There was a huff of breath.
"Just come in, would you?"
Keeping his eyes closed he turned and used his hands to guide him back into the room, closing the door behind him and leaning back against it.
"You can open your eyes Harry." A feminine voice this time. "We're decent."
Hesitantly, he lifted his lids one at a time. He sighed in relief as he saw Tonks, her face blushing and hair red to match, sitting on the worn leather lounge. Remus was standing by her side, also looking vaguely embarrassed. The most important aspect of the scene however, was that both were fully clothed.
"We're sorry about that," Remus said.
"Sorry? Sorry?" Harry repeated, peripherally aware that his voice was a half register too high. "Remus, I've just seen much more of you and Tonks that I have ever wanted to. I think I'll need to bleach my brain to get rid of the mental images." He shuddered. "And you're sorry?"
"Yes, well. We forgot the locking charms."
Just as he was about to go off on another rant, this one along the lines of 'my god I'll need therapy, and you two better be paying for it', he stopped and his jaw dropped. He looked between the two, who were confused at his change in behaviour, and a smile spread over his face.
"You two are together!" he said cheerfully, grinning even wider at the bashful looks they threw one another. "Finally, this is brilliant." He looked at Tonks. "I knew you were after him and he was secretly interested. Did it take much to convince him?"
"He led me on a merry chase," she chirped happily, "but I caught him in the end."
"But how do you keep him caught? Oh wait, he is a werewolf and so partially canine." He grinned teasingly. "Is there a collar involved perhaps?"
As Harry took in the reactions of the pair before him, he reflected that Tonks and Bill had really been a bad influence on him when it came to teasing. Tonks was clearly amused by his comment, though Remus frowned chidingly at him. Until that is, the Metamorphmagus's laughter changed to considering looks. That had Remus looking a tad worried and Harry biting back laughter of his own.
"You know," Harry continued, "I have a joke about wolves and doggy style, but," he bit his lip uncertainly even as he snickered, "I don't know that I'm brave enough to make it."
Remus turned to him then, expression stern but with a hint of something 'Marauder-ish' in his eye that put the younger wizard immediately on edge.
"I think it better you don't cub," he said. "Or else I may just have to mention your own lover when everyone gathers for lunch in an hour."
Tonks' jaw dropped. "Our little Harry has a lover?" she exclaimed incredulously, then demanded, "Who?"
"I- wha Harry spluttered then tried to deny it. "I do not!"
"Yes, you do," Remus said with such calm and certainly that he admitted defeated.
"How did you know?"
"Being a werewolf means more than a monthly transformation. My senses are also heightened."
"I don't get it? You His eyes went wide as it suddenly clicked. "Wait, you can smell it?"
Harry's mortified expression caused the pair to chuckle, Remus with a smirk on his face. Tonks still looked eager to know just who this mystery lover was.
"So, will you keep the jokes to yourself, young Harry? And what you walked in on as well. We're not ready to go public either."
Harry hastily agreed. He kept their secret, Remus kept his and Bill's. A fair trade. Besides, he really wanted to get out of there, before he thought more on the fact that Remus could smell everything he and Bill did to each other. He shivered. Talk about an invasion of privacy.
Wednesday, March 11, 1998
Harry was in the room of requirement, practicing a spell that could preserve severed limbs till a Healer could reattach then, when the message came. A bright silvery phoenix flew through the wall, coming to a halt before Healer Vance.
"Emmeline, there's been an attack on Hogsmeade," Dumbledore's voice sounded, "The battle is over, but there are many wounded and St Mungo's is at capacity. I've asked Poppy to head down once she's gathered enough potions, but if you could head down now and get things set up, it would be much appreciated."
Immediately Vance rose to her feet, picking up the bulky healer's bag she brought to every lesson. She turned toward the door before hesitating and giving Harry a considering look. Finally she nodded.
"Up Mr Potter, and follow me." Then she strode from the room, Harry hurrying to follow.
"Healer Vance?" he asked. "Why am I following?"
"Because you're a good student Mr Potter, and I expect I will need all the help with the wounded I can get."
He gaped. "You're bringing me along to help with the healing?" he asked disbelievingly as they descended into the entrance hall.
"Yes," was all she said.
The rest of the journey went in silence. They pushed through the entrance door of Hogwarts and out into the sunshine, then strode toward the gates at a brisk pace, almost a jog. Within ten minutes they reached the edges of Hogsmeade and made their way to the main square. Once there, Vance wasted no time in waving her wand and conjuring a great white tent. She cast various spell which Harry knew where to sanitise the area and ward out dirt and disease. Inside she conjured up low pallets, before returning to the front of the tent. There, she waved her wand once more, and a sign appeared up near the canopy of a crossed wand and bone; the symbol of healing.
The moment the villagers spotted and recognised the sign they began approaching, bringing forth the wounded. Most of the critically injured people had been taken to St Mungo's, but there were still quite a few needing medical attention.
"Alright Mr Potter," Vance said crisply, "you attend to any cuts, bruises or broken bones clean breaks only mind, leave anything more complex alone."
And then the villagers were upon them, and the healing started. All the simple injuries were directed to him, whist the more complex ones complicated breaks, internal injuries, burns and such were attended to by Healer Vance, as well as Madam Pomfrey when she finally arrived. Eventually he was entirely immersed his healing. Mend that cut, salve that bruise, spell that bone, a comforting word here, stern orders no to overexert there. A comforting smile for the children and sometimes a lollypop went a long way. Occasionally he was even called to Healer Vance's side to help with more complex procedures, and before he knew it hours had passed and the wounded were almost all seen to.
Waving his wand so that the wound in a young wizard's calf knitted together, Harry sent the man (the last in line) on his way. He then stood up, blinking as he stared around the healing tent at all the patients who remained abed, some of whom he had helped, and felt a rush of pleasure. With the war there was always so much death and dying, and now here he was, helping people; healing hurts and saving lives. There was that rush of pleasure again, and he realised something quite suddenly. He had found his calling.
Like he had told Bill some months ago, he'd considered being an Auror, but ultimately didn't think he'd want to keep fighting once he finally took out Voldemort. And he was a natural at Quidditch and warding, but that meant it wouldn't always be a challenge. But healing was. A challenge, that is to say. He was in no way a natural at the subject, but rather had to work hard for it. And being able to heal and help was… it was a bit of a buzz really. He grinned widely, ignoring the strange looks he got (he was surrounded by the wounded after all hardly the place for levity). Yes, he now knew what he wanted to do with his life. He couldn't wait to tell Bill.
Chapter 9: Culminate
Sunday, June 21, 1998
Things continued to be wonderful between Harry and Bill; a dream world in the midst of the war. They were still keeping their relationship to themselves (the only ones who knew were Remus and Tonks, after the werewolf asked permission to tell her, not liking having to keep secrets from his mate) but both Harry and Bill were happy for it to remain a secret. Oh, things were not perfect. They had their occasional disagreements and spats, and Harry was at first made quite insecure to realise that even when in a committed relationship, Bill still flirted outrageously with anyone good looking.
When he'd finally got the courage to explain how he felt, the older wizard had told him that no matter who he flirted with Harry was the only one he wanted. He reassured him of this fact with in depth physical demonstrations, many times over. By the end of it Harry was thoroughly satisfied, and his worry over the flirting for the most part abated. Not that he didn't get jealous occasionally, but Bill just found it cute when Harry glared at the object of his flirtations, pressing himself up to the redhead to stake his claim.
Good things however rarely last, as Harry should have known from experience, and he was brought harshly down to earth when the war came to its inevitable climax. It was a clear June afternoon, almost exactly two years since Sirius had died, and Harry's class was finally graduating from Hogwarts. It was a semi-sombre affair, given the atmosphere of the world at present. The feelings of those in attendance were a mixture of pride at the students having finished Hogwarts, and sadness for those who were no longer there, either to see the their children graduate or graduate themselves.
"Oh, I'm so proud of you three," Mrs Weasley said, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. "All grown up and graduating Hogwarts."
Harry smiled awkwardly at the woman's tears. Beside him, Ron was looking embarrassed at the fuss, which was not helped when his mother pulled him into a suffocating hug. When he was released he returned to his girlfriend's side, wrapping a supportive arm around her waist. Hermione had convinced her parents to flee England during the last Christmas holidays. They were currently living in an undisclosed location under assumed names until Hermione sent word that it was safe for them to return. Though she knew it was for the best, Hermione was clearly missing not having her parents there to witness her graduation.
"There, there dear," Mr Weasley comforted his wife.
Harry was standing in a veritable sea of redheads. All the Weasley family was present for the event except for Percy, who still hadn't reconciled with the family and didn't look set to anytime soon. Also present were Remus and Tonks. The pair had been quite flattered when Harry, not at all interested in inviting the Dursleys, had extended his 'family invitations' to them instead.
"Aww," Tonks said, getting in on the embarrass-the-students bandwagon by ruffling his hair. "Widdle Hawwy's all growed up."
"Tonks!" he objected.
The others all just laughed, particular Ron who was glad to see someone else being fussed over.
A warm hand clasped his shoulder and he looked up at Remus's wistful face.
"Your parents would be proud of you Harry. So would Sirius," he said simply.
And then Harry was holding back tears, only not, because almost crying would be far too girly. He just had something in his eye was all. Remus gave him and understanding look, squeezed his shoulder one last time and released him.
"Attention everyone!" called Dumbledore's voice called across the lawn with a Sonorus Spell. "Would guests please be seated, and would the graduates line up alphabetically beside the stage."
Harry, Ron and Hermione said their goodbyes and they parted ways, wading through the crowds towards the stage. Halfway there, Harry was surprised by a hand slipping into his own, tugging him in a different direction. He relaxed when he realised it was Bill, but threw a glance toward his other two friends, to see that they hadn't noticed his absence yet. He let Bill lead him across the lawn over to the cover of a shady tree nearer to the lake.
"What is it Bill?" he asked. "I need to hurry over there before the ceremony starts."
"It'll take awhile for everyone to get settled. We've got a few moments."
"But what did you- oomph!"
The breath left him abruptly as Bill hauled him up and proceeded to kiss the daylights out of him. When he was finally released, he was sure his expression was dreamy, because the redhead smirked, looking pleased with himself. After a few seconds though, those blue eyes softened, and hands gently cupped his jaw.
"When this ceremony is over, you and I need to talk."
"Yeah, I've something to tell you. And something to give you." He patted his robe pocket.
"Ooh, graduation present?" Harry asked, reaching toward the pocket, wondering what was inside, but his hands were batted away. "Hey!" he said, then frowned. "What's the news though? Good or bad?"
"Good I hope." Then Bill kissed him again.
"Oh," Harry said dazedly.
And then with a last peck, Bill pushed him in the direction of the stage, whilst the redhead headed for the rows of conjured seats that were set up on the lawn. Reluctantly Harry separated, and within minutes he had reached where the crowd of seventh years were gathering.
"Harry, where did you get to?" Hermione asked when he reached their side.
"Blimey Harry, you look like you've just been well snogged," Ron blurted.
"What?" he spluttered.
"No, he's right Harry. Flushed cheeks, red swollen lips, and you're hair's messier than even normal," Hermione listed off her observations logically. "You look like you've just been properly kissed."
He hesitated for a moment, wondering how to act, and finally settled for a wide, happy grin.
"Well, maybe I was," he said.
Immediately his two friends were ravenous with curiosity.
"Really?" Hermione asked.
"Are you serious?" Ron questioned.
"Who was it?"
"How was it?
"No, never mind that Ron. He looks quite pleased so it was obviously good."
"Is she someone we know?"
"Someone in our year? What house?"
"Guys, guys," Harry interrupted, laughing and raising his hands. "We really need to start lining up now. They're starting soon."
"Oh no you don't Harry Potter," Hermione rebuked. "Don't you even try that on… oh darn, they really are. Fine, but don't think we won't be getting answers from you later."
"Too right mate," Ron agreed. "Even if you have to tie you down and Rictusempra the information out of you."
They began to turn away when Hermione suddenly gasped and turned back to Harry.
"Oh, I almost forgot. Harry, we have news about she looked around then leaned in close to whisper, "the spell."
"The 'Love's Power' spell?" Harry asked eagerly.
"Yes, the D.A.'s been having marathon sessions working on it daily for the last two weeks, since most of us are graduating and won't be able to get together as much anymore. Oh and it's just amazing Harry, we've-"
"Students," McGonagall's voice sounded strictly. "Hurry up now! Line up please. No dawdling."
"Oh, sorry Harry," Hermione said, already heading toward the front of the line. "I'll tell you after the ceremony."
"Hermione," he tried to object. "You can't get me curious like that and just leave me hanging."
"Sorry Harry," Hermione said, "Later, I promise."
And the she was gone.
"Ron?" he asked, spinning to his other friend.
Ron however raised his hands defensively and started backing toward the end of the forming line.
"No way mate. You want me to steal Hermione's thunder? She'd murder me, even if I am her boyfriend. Actually, being her boyfriend might just make it worse."
And then he was gone, leave Harry standing between Pansy Parkinson and Zacharias Smith, feeling unbearably curious.
Silence fell over the crowd as Dumbledore ascended the stage and approached the podium.
"Good morning ladywitches and gentlewizards," the old wizards greeted, arms wide. "It is a pleasure to have you all here today, to celebrate this joyous occasion. Yet another group of young men and women have passed for the last time through these hallowed halls as students of Hogwarts School…"
Harry listened only vaguely to the speech. It was nothing terribly interesting, just welcoming the guests, praising the students, bidding all well. He almost wished the headmaster would throw in a 'nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak' just for old times sake, and to liven things up.
"And now ladies and gentlemen, I give you this year's Head Boy and Head Girl, Anthony Goldstein and Hermione Granger."
There was polite applause as the two students in question separated from the line and stepped onto the stage.
"Good morning parents, siblings, family, friends and guests," Hermione spoke. "My name is Hermione Granger."
"And my name," the Head Boy added, "is Anthony Goldstein. We thank you for joining us in celebrating the graduation of we, the class of nineteen ninety-eight. As we all know these are troubled times. And so we should all look for joy where it is to be found."
"But we should also," Hermione took over, "take the time to respectfully remember those lost. Four of our number most tragically are no longer among us to see this day. I ask that we all spare a moment to remember them, and send our love and sympathies to their families who will not see them graduate with us today…"
As Hermione and Anthony continued to speak, Harry noted that in her tally of those students no longer present, she included neither of the Patil twins who, it had been heard, had died participating in an attack on Diagon Alley. He was sure that he wasn't the only one to notice the omission, but no one seemed bothered by it.
Looking around he spotted Malfoy two places up, beyond Parkinson and Nott. He frowned at the look on the boy's face. There was the expected disgust and envy as he stared at the two on the stage (rumour had it the blonde Slytherin had thrown an unholy fit when he discovered he wasn't chosen as Head Boy), but also on his face, was expectation. Perhaps he was just excited to be graduating, Harry considered. He discreetly looked up and down the line. The rest of the Slytherins were acting slightly off too, as were Ravenclaw Stephen Cornfoot and Hufflepuff Megan Jones.
"…as we go out into the world, as fully qualified witches and wizards," Hermione was finishing proudly, "to forge bright and promising futures."
Harry was distracted from his worry by the crowd bursting into enthusiastic applause. He joined in, sending Hermione a thumbs up for the speech as she and Anthony left the stage to retake their places in line.
Dumbledore returned to the podium and Professor McGonagall moved to stand behind and to the right of him, beside a table on which a pile of labelled, beribboned scrolls sat waiting.
"Ahem, yes, a most inspirational speech from our Head Students," the headmaster said, smiling and clapping himself. "And now, with your leave, we shall move onto the presentation of the graduation scrolls."
The crowd quietened down and Dumbledore pulled a long scroll from his robes, unrolling it and peering at the top of the list through his half moon spectacles.
"First up," he said, "please congratulate, Miss Hannah Abbott."
The crowned cheered as a pink faced girl stepped onto the stage, happily accepting the scroll the Deputy Headmistress handed to her, before turning to the crowd, curtseying and continuing off the other side of the stage. Susan Bones was called up next, then Terry Boot and so on. The students all followed Hannah's lead, but for the boys who bowed rather than curtseyed.
"Hermione Granger," was called and she accepted her scroll with a wide, bright smile, not even glaring at Fred and George who were whistling loudly.
As the line grew shorter, Harry noticed, the students he had spotted before grew tenser. Not only that, but his scar was prickling. That he knew was not a good sign. There were so many witches and wizards here today. Many ministry employees had taken the day off to watch their children graduate. Even Minister Bones was here, to see her niece Susan. What if even now Voldemort was taking advantage of the distraction to attack the Ministry of Magic?
"Miss Pansy Parkinson," Dumbledore read out.
The prickling of his scar grew into a distracting sharp pain, but he grit his teeth and ignored it, knowing he was next.
"Mr Harry Potter," the headmaster called.
The applause was the most enthusiastic so far. Fans, Harry thought with distaste, though a great deal of the noise, he realised, was coming from the Weasley twins and Tonks, who were cheering and wolf whistling, even more madly than they had done for Hermione.
As reached for his scroll he looked out at the audience. The Weasleys, Tonks and Remus were all grinning. His return smile widened at the look of pride and love he spotted on Bill's face.
"Congratulations, Mr Potter," McGonagall said, with a rare smile.
He nodded, accepting his scroll, then turned to bow to the audience…
"Ah yes, congratulations Harry Potter," a sibilant voice echoed across the field from beyond the seated guests…
…and then there was chaos.
Harry took one glance at the army that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere, headed by Voldemort himself, and dropped instantly to the floorboards, rolling hurriedly off the stage. Spell fire impacted the spot where he'd stood not seconds ago, shattering the wood and sending splinters everywhere.
He had a moment to mentally roll his eyes at Voldemort, waiting for him to be called up before attacking the madman would have to play to the dramatic when over the screams of the crowd he heard McGonagall utter a profane sounding Gaelic word. A glance in her direction showed a deep cut marring her cheek, but before he could worry about her further Dumbledore had raised a shield and was rushing them both off the easily targetable area of the stage.
Looking around, he quickly took in the situation. Death Eaters were casting curses left right and centre, attacking the assembled crowd. Most of the guests were screaming and running, though there were growing numbers beginning to fight back.
A curse whizzing from close by missed him by a fraction of an inch, and he dodged, spun and returned fire, sending Pansy Parkinson flying. He realised that the students who were acting so strangely before (anticipating the attack, he now understood) were now attacking him and all the non-dark students nearby.
As he duelled Cornfoot, the noticed the D.A. had also realised the situation and was turning their attention to the traitorous students. Across the other side of the stage, where he had been lined up, he saw Ron, Dean and Zacharias taking on Zabini. Within five minutes the traitors were disarmed and disabled, and the D.A. turned their attention to the Death Eater army, most of them hurrying into the fray in search of their families to defend.
Harry dove into the fight himself, dodging spells, throwing curses, shielding bystanders and encouraging those still panicking to take up arms and defend themselves. He wasn't sure how long this continued of for however, when he suddenly found himself facing six Death Eaters at once, and began to worry for himself instead, even as he desperately fought back.
"Diffindo!" cried a voice from behind him and one of his attackers fell.
Looking around he was surprised and relieved to find Moody had joined him.
"Eyes on the battle lad!" he yelled. "Or have I taught you nothing?"
Immediately his focus snapped back, deflecting a Bludgeoning Hex, dodging a Crucio and following up with an Incendio. The pair of them fought, back to back, and the enemies fell one by one till the fight was three on two. Just as he felled the man he was duelling, Moody yelled from behind him.
"Die you scum, Bombarda! That's what you get for not having CONSTANT VIG-"
The familiar refrain cut off mid word and he spun to see Moody sprawled out on the grass, his neck slashed wide open. He wanted to go to his side, see if there was anything he could do. He knew better though his teacher was dead. Besides, Moody would come back from the afterlife to kill Harry personally if he let himself be distracted from the battle.
"Diffindo!" he cried, cutting down the last of their attackers.
He wanted to break down, but now was not the time to grieve, and so he moved on.
The next half hour went by in a blur. He was vaguely aware that at some stage the Aurors had arrived, but the numbers were still mostly even due to the guests and students that had managed to flee Hogwarts grounds.
The battle was nothing like his training sessions. Even the attack on last year's Valentines weekend was short and tame by comparison. The fight here and now was greater in both scale and viciousness. It was utter chaos as coloured lights and the sounds of screams filled the air. The fields of Hogwarts were littered with the dead and dying, and there was nothing to be done but step over them and continue fighting.
He saw familiar faces from the D.A. and the Order every now and then, but the tide of the battle would always push him away before he could reach them. He was grimly aware however, that he hadn't seen Bill yet, and that worried him. Of course as the saying went, speak of the devil and he shall appear.
"Reducto!" cried an unfamiliar voice.
In the split second it took the curse to be incanted Harry panicked, seeing the Death Eater from the corner of his eye, and realising he was too close to dodge. He braced himself for impact and then… he went flying as a taller form in blue robes tackled him from the spell's path. He and the man both rolled to their knees, sending simultaneous Stunning Spells at the wizard who had attacked him.
"Bill!" he greeted, relief in his voice, taking advantage of their position crouched behind the stage to speak. "I was wondering where you'd gotten to. I was worried"
"You were worried? Who's the trouble magnet between us love? I was the worried one."
"Okay, you win. Let's get back out there."
It seemed to happen in an instant. One moment they were stepping out into the open, and the next a cutting curse whizzed past. With a wet slicing sound and then a thump, Bill's left arm fell to the grass, and then there was red everywhere.
"Arg!" the redhead screamed in pain, clutching above the bloody stump.
Harry's reaction was automatic. In seconds he had cast the Preservation Charm for separated limbs on the fallen arm and another spell on what little was left attached to Bill, to stop him from bleeding to death. Unfortunately fate was a bitch and so no sooner had he calmed, thinking the situation under control, than a dreaded voice sounded out.
"Ah, there you are Potter," Voldemort greeted from twelve feet away, absentmindedly sending a Killing Curse at a middle aged witch who stumbled across the open space between them. "And what is this? A friend of yours? And just look at his condition. Perhaps I should put him out of his misery?"
"NO!" Harry yelled, diving forward.
But it was too late, for the curse that left Voldemort's wand thundered across the distance between them and struck Bill directly in the chest. It exploded against the redhead with a wet crunching sound, sending a spray of blood everywhere and throwing him backwards. Involuntarily, Harry screamed, before snapping into action once more.
"Subsisto Corpus!" he cast desperately.
Bill's damaged body gained a glassy appearance signalling the spell was properly cast. Harry did not relax however. For one, he hadn't had a chance to inspect the damage to his love's chest. There was so much blood; he could already be beyond help. Secondly, Voldemort was still standing there, armed and dangerous.
"A successful Stasis Spell? Bravo boy. I had no idea you'd aspirations as a Healer. Of course, that will not help you defeat me. Come Harry, let us dance."
And then a sickly brown curse was barrelling his way. He dodged and returned fire and the duel was on. Slowly he edged away from Bill's supine form. He didn't want to risk him in the crossfire. The fighting was quick and deadly and the crowd retreated from the pair of them, leaving them a wide circle in which to duel.
Despite himself, his thoughts continually strayed to the fallen redhead. How dare Voldemort hurt him, he would think as he ducked and cast and rolled. Hadn't he taken enough from Harry? He didn't think he would survive if he lost Bill. Each time he these thoughts entered his mind anger and determination would fill him and he fought back with renewed vigour. But even so, he was tiring.
Hermione raised a shield, reflecting back a curse at a Death Eater, who went down with a scream. Even as she fought, Ron by her side, she noticed the shift in the atmosphere that signalled something was happening. Powerful magic was in the air. She looked about searching for the cause. There, was that Dumbledore? But one glance at the old man showed he was not the cause. The headmaster was shielding a group of young children from a mass attack, with the help of Molly Weasley and a group of others, predominantly mothers, she noted. So then what… and then there was a gap in the crowd and she spotted the source. Harry and Voldemort were duelling.
"Ron," she gasped. "Harry's fighting Voldemort."
The redhead paled and the two fought their way over till they had a clear view of the duel. She gawped at the sight. It really was spectacular. She'd always know Harry was a better fighter than any of them, but even she had underestimated his talent. The power, the skill, the speed and agility both opponents showed was breathtaking. She also noted however, that Harry was flagging. And she wasn't the only one.
"He's getting tired," Ron said to her, sounding worried, as they both took down the Death Eater that crept up behind them.
"I know Ron. We need to do the spell."
"The 'Love's Power' spell."
"What?" he yelled. "Are you mad? We've never even practiced."
"We don't have a choice," she hissed back. "Look, there's Susan, Hannah and Justin. And over there are Fred and George. You head for your brothers and tell them. Get them to spread the word. I'll tell Susan's group."
Reluctantly Ron agreed and they separated. In the next ten minutes, like Chinese whispers, the message was spread, and the D.A. began gathering around the edges of the great battle taking place between Harry and Voldemort. When Ron returned to her side she took a bracing breath.
"Okay I think that's everyone. I said I'd go first as the signal to start casting," she said, voice nervous.
Ron grabbed her free hand and squeezed.
"You can do it Mione," he said, the utter faith in his voice giving her confidence. "I know you can."
She nodded then frowned in concentration and raised her wand, focussing on Harry and all the love she felt for him.
"Grate Donatus Ex Dilectio!" she intoned.
A slight wave of weakness overcame her as white light left her wand and connected with Harry. Focussed solely on Voldemort as her friend was, he had not the chance to dodge. As it struck he paused, a look of shock on his face. Fortunately, the Dark Lord halted too, confused by the spectacle. And then more and more voices from the D.A. were crying out the 'Love's Power' incantation, their spells hitting Harry one by one from all around, and an expression of wonder grew on the teen wizard's face.
One second Harry was dodging a Crucio and the next, he was hit with a spell from the crowd. He had but a moment to pause in shock and curse himself for not being more alert when yet more spells came sailing towards him from all directions. There no way to dodge and he braced himself for pain, but instead he felt something entirely different. Power.
With each beam of pure white light that hit him, power flooded into him. But that was not all. The bursts of power were infused with emotions. The emotions filled him, and he knew instinctively that they belonged to the D.A. who were casting the spells. The feelings varied from burst to burst, but above all, they spoke of love. Love of every variety, from admiration, to awe, to respect, to loyalty, to gratitude, to faith, to friendship even a bit of lust from some. The emotions buoyed him, and he found himself drawing on strength of will he hadn't even known he had. Really, it was as effecting as phoenix song.
Opening his eyes, he turned them toward his nemesis, unaware that they were aglow with power.
"What is this?" Voldemort screamed.
Harry knew from the tension in the snake-like voice that Riddle sensed some of what was happening. Enough to be worried.
Harry stared across the field at his enemy and strangely felt no fear. Here was Voldemort, the most powerful Dark Lord on Earth. But compared to Harry in that moment, resonating with the love and power of his friends, Voldemort was nothing he was tiny.
"This," Harry said, voice echoing oddly, "is your end." And he extended his arm, pure power gathering at the tip of his wand. "Goodbye Tom Marvolo Riddle."
And then the magic exploded from his holly and phoenix feather wand and charged across the distance between them. It shattered Voldemort's hastily conjured shield and impacted him directly over the heart. A terrible scream echoed from the Dark Lord as more and more power barrelled into him, until finally the sound weakened and tapered off. Harry lowered his wand and stared at the fallen corpse of the man who had ruined so many lives, and felt nothing but relief. Then his eyes rolled to the back of his head, and he slipped into unconsciousness.
Chapter 10: Aftermath
Monday, June 22, 1998
Harry awoke to a white ceiling and the smell of antiseptic and immediately knew he was in hospital. He looked around the familiar room, recognising it as one of the private wards off the Hogwarts infirmary. Trying to move he found himself feeling weak. He pushed back his blankets, sluggishly sat up, then tentatively dropped one foot to the stone floor, preparing to stand up.
"Mr Potter," Poppy scolded, bustling through the door, "get back in that bed this instant."
"Madame Pomfrey," he said, caving to her demand. "How'd you know I was up?" Then, remembering from his Medimagic training, answered for himself. "Alert ward, to tell you when I woke up."
"Precisely," she said, withdrawing her wand and began casting diagnostics.
He frowned at the results. His training was not advanced enough to tell much past that he was exhausted.
"Well?" he asked when she finally stopped. "What's wrong with me?"
"You're recovering from magical saturation."
"Yes, you were quite literally saturated in magical power. The levels were off the charts. And the human body can only handle so much power. Fortunately you managed to take down You-Know-Who before your body shut down in self defence and began purging the excess magic. Your levels are almost back to normal now."
"So why do I feel so weak?"
"As I said, it is not natural for a human being to hold so much magic. It was a strain on your body. Admittedly you are one of the more powerful wizards and can hold more than most, but still; it was far too much even for you. You remained unconscious for over a day, but with rest and relaxation, you should be well within the next few days."
He began to nod, when suddenly a memory from the battle flooded his mind.
"Bill!" he exclaimed, throwing back the covers once more.
"Mr Potter, be still."
But he wouldn't listen. In seconds he was on his feet and heading to the door.
"I'm fine, just tired. You said so yourself. Where's Bill Weasley? Is he okay?"
She tried again to convince him to return to bed but he pinned her with such a determined glare that even she queen of her domain as she usually was relented to his demands. She did grasp his arm though, to halt him while she explained.
"His family requested he stay here at the Hogwarts infirmary, so he is actually out in the main ward. You would be there too but I had to move you; reporters were trying to break in to get an interview, as if you were up to it," She rolled her eyes, then sobered, returning to the topic of Bill. "As for Mr Weasley, he was hit with two critical spells: a Cutting Curse and a Blasting Curse. His arm as you know had been severed, but we were able to reattach it and I hear we have you to thank for the Preservation Charm on the severed limb. Very nicely done. As for the second curse, there was considerable damage to his chest area, including vital organs." She shook her head. "It was a mess and again, it was only your quick reaction with the Stasis Spell that let him survive."
"But he is alive?" he asked and she nodded hesitantly. "What, what is it? You did fix the damage to his chest right? He's going to live, isn't he?"
"It took the Healers the better part of three hours, but yes, his chest was reconstructed and repaired. Of a miracle, lingering damage will even be minimal, though he has some bad scarring."
Harry shook his head. He didn't care if Bill looked like Frankenstein's monster so long as he survived.
"So then what's the problem?"
"The curse was such a shock to his system. He should have died. You know how a wizard's magic reacts in such situations."
Harry paled but nodded. "Healer Vance mentioned it once. It protects the mind and soul, by withdrawing consciousness so it doesn't have to suffer the death." He took a deep breath before releasing it, "Bill's not regaining consciousness then?"
It was more statement than question, but she nodded all the same.
"Not yet. He's currently in a coma."
"I need to go sit with him," he said hoarsely.
Then, before she could object, he was out the door. He ignored the awe filled looks of the strangers in the infirmary, searching out red hair.
"The curtained bed second down on the left," Pomfrey said from his elbow, before striding away to tend to other patients.
He approached the area in question, pausing before pressing through the part in the curtain. He held his breath as he entered. The Weasley family and Hermione were gathered around the bed, on which… he bit his lip against tears at the sight. Bill was laying there looking pale and still. He wore no shirt, exposing the thick bandages wrapped around his chest and arm. A wave of dizziness washed over him when he spotted a smear of blood on the prone wizard's neck that had been missed.
"Harry you're awake!" Hermione cried, flinging herself at him. "I would have been by your bedside but Madame Pomfrey said you were okay but for exhaustion. She also had to lock your doors. Reporters have been trying to get in."
"It's fine Hermione," he assured her, voice a bit choked as she withdrew to her boyfriend's embrace.
"Oh Harry," cried Mrs Weasley tearfully, stepping forward next to pull him into a hug. "We owe you so much. The Healers told us if not for you and the spells you cast, Bill wouldn't still be with us."
"It was nothing," he said. "How is he?"
"No change I'm afraid," said Mr Weasley, sounding graver than Harry'd ever heard. "But we remain hopeful."
Molly returned to her seat at the bedside, and the rest of the Weasleys came forward to embrace him, whispering thanks. As the last pulled back there was a cleared throat from behind him. Harry spun around to see Dumbledore, still wearing yesterday's torn and dirtied robes, and with his nose a little more crooked than he remembered, but otherwise whole.
"I apologise for intruding, but if I could have a few words with Harry," he asked, and Harry looked toward Bill, torn, and the headmaster reassured him. "We shan't be long, my boy."
A few seconds later, the two had returned to Harry's own hospital room. Harry sat on the edge of his bed and Dumbledore conjured a chintz armchair. The old wizard sat silently, rubbing his nose.
"Sir, are you alright?"
"Oh, fine, fine. I must merely get used to the new shape is all." He gestured at his face.
"It doesn't look any worse than before," Harry responded before realising what he's said. "I mean, it was crooked before and it's crooked now, just differently," he hurried to explain, flustered. "Not that it's bad. Or was bad."
Dumbledore chucked, rubbing his nose one last time before threading his hands together in his lap.
"Never fear dear boy, no offence is taken." He sighed then and looked serious. "Let me be the first to say Harry, thank you. Thank you for ridding the world of the evil that was Voldemort. We all owe you a great debt."
"Oh," he said scratching his ear awkward, feeling proud at the praise despite himself. "It was nothing."
"It certainly was not, but I shall not embarrass by dwelling on the topic further. I will say however, that I wish I could have been more help in your great duel."
"No sir," Harry shook his head immediately. "I saw you, through the crowds. You were defending a group of children at the time. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that."
"Thank you." Dumbledore nodded and smiled. "Everyone is of course overjoyed at your victory. And I must say, the parties and celebrations are just as grand as seventeen years ago."
The words were said cheerfully, but at hearing them, something terrible occurred to Harry.
"Sir, what if He hesitated, as if afraid speaking his thought aloud might make it real. "What if he's not really dead? Like last time. What if he comes back again?"
"No, my boy," Dumbledore assured him seriously, "he is gone, for good."
"But how can you be sure?"
"His body, for one."
"Yes, when you first banished him, he left no body behind. Merely robes and a wand."
"You said 'for one'."
"Ah, indeed how perceptive of you to notice." He paused then, considering.
"I had not been idle Harry, the many years following Voldemort's first fall. I had in fact spent a great deal of time researching Voldemort's past and discovering the methods by which he survived what should have been certain death. He had bragged you see, on several occasions, that he had instituted safeguards safeguards that would ward him from death. And then, when no body of his was found at your home, I suspected."
"But I thought he was a spirit. Are you saying he just walked away?"
"No, but the body was gone, and the robe and wand lying on the ground as though he had disappeared without them. He had found a method you see, by which he could sacrifice his body, his physical form, in exchange for a spirit existence to stave off death."
"But how? How did he do that?" he asked curiously.
Dumbledore shook his head, looking more sober and serious than Harry had ever seen. There was nary a trace of twinkle in his eye as he replied.
"I will not speak on such diabolical things. Suffice it to say, that it was through rituals and magics both dark and terrible," he said gravely and Harry shivered. "But as truly unpleasant as my research was I did discover the very rituals and spells he used. They were not designed to hold once they had achieved their purpose."
"But," he hated to be contrary, but Harry needed to be very sure, "couldn't he have cast those spells again when he got a new body?"
"Most fortunately, no. Those magics were designed to work only on a human form. And with the resurrection ritual Voldemort used…"
"He was no longer human?"
There was silence again then. Harry waited for the headmaster to ask him about the method he used to defeat Voldemort, but no such question was forthcoming. Perhaps he'd already questioned the D.A.? Before he could ask though, Dumbledore suddenly stood.
"Well, I will let you return to your beau's side."
"Thank you si He halted mid word, looking at the headmaster wide eyed. "Professor Dumbledore?" he asked squeakily.
"Oh my boy," the older wizard chuckled, "I have known for quite some time of your romance. There is almost nothing that goes on in my school that I am unaware of."
Harry suddenly blushed at the implications of that.
"Nothing?" he asked, strangled, and Dumbledore laughed more heartily.
"Goodness gracious, I of course do not infringe upon intimate privacies."
"Oh," Harry said, relief obvious in his voice.
"Now go; rejoin the Weasley family," he said.
"Thank you sir," Harry nodded, stood and headed for the door.
As he reached for the handle however, the headmaster spoke once more.
"And Harry," he said, voice serious, "I wish your William a speedy recovery."
He bit his lip. "Thank you," he said waveringly, and exited the room.
Harry did indeed return to Bill's bedside, fetching for himself a chair to sit on, squeezing it in among the others at the end of the bed. As the hours wore on, one by one the Weasleys parted to go seek out some sleep. When finally Hermione led a nodding Ron away, throwing Harry a curious glance that he was yet to leave himself, only Mr and Mrs Weasley remained.
"Come on dear," Mr Weasley said. "There's nothing we can do at the moment. Let's follow the other children's example and get some rest. We can come back in the morning."
"But Arthur," she immediately objected, "we can't just leave him alone."
"I'll stay Mrs Weasley," Harry found himself offering, since there was no way he was leaving Bill's side.
"It's Molly dear, and you need to rest yourself."
"I was asleep for over a day Molly. I don't see myself dozing off again anytime soon," he said, and at her uncertainty added, "If I really need to, the private room I was in is free, but apart from that I won't leave his side till one of the family comes back."
And not even then, he added silently.
"Thank you Harry," Arthur said. "That sounds like a wonderful idea, doesn't it Molly?"
"I'm not sure," she hesitated but then a yawn overtook her, and she conceded defeat. "Oh very well. But be sure to rest if you need it Harry dear."
"I promise," he said.
And then they were gone, disappearing through the curtains, leaving him and Bill alone. He moved from his chair to the one Mrs Weasley had occupied, at the head of the bed, and took Bill's hand gently in one of his own, tracing across the back of the long elegant fingers. After some minutes he reached out to brush his hand across his lover's face his brow, his lidded eyes, his cheeks, nose, lips and chin. He leaned close, mouth hovering over Bill's ear.
"You have to get better, you hear me? I need you," he said, voice breaking over the words. "I need you."
And then he lowered his head to the mattress by Bill's hip and before he knew it, despite his earlier claims that he'd gotten quite enough rest already, he was falling asleep.
Tuesday, June 23, 1998
When Harry woke next early morning sunlight was just beginning to filter through the hospital wing windows, and there were voices murmuring beside him. They quietened as he sat up and stretched, rubbing at the blanket creases in his cheek from where his head had rested on Bill's bed. Looking over he saw that Neville and Lavender had pulled up seats beside him. He blinked in surprise at the fresh, painful looking scar that now graced the other wizard's face, from temple to jaw.
"Hello Harry," the young man said softly.
"Neville, are you okay?" he asked guiltily. "I can't believe I didn't think to ask how everyone was."
"Don't worry about it," he said, fingering the scar. "It's healing. It'll leave a permanent scar the Healers say, but there's no real damage."
"It's fine Harry, really," Lavender interrupted him. "Battle wounds can be very sexy." She gave her boyfriend a sultry look.
"Lavender!" he spluttered.
The witch just smiled at her boyfriend from beneath lowered lashes, flustering him further before finally having mercy and turning away.
"Besides Harry," she said, giving a knowing sort of smile, "I think you had something more important to be worrying about. Or rather someone."
She glanced meaningfully at Bill as she spoke. He sat stunned for a moment, shocked by her words.
"How did you He paused to look at Neville who seemed surprised but not bothered. "How'd you know?"
She laughed then, a light sound that was really quite pretty. A fact her boyfriend was well aware of, Harry observed, hiding a smile at seeing the entranced expression on the fair haired wizard's face.
"Oh Harry, I spent most of my early years at Hogwarts as the resident gossip queen," she explained. "You don't get that title without being observant. Especially about relationships."
"How long have you two been together?" Neville asked softly.
The other wizard seemed both happy and sad for him. No doubt pleased Harry had found someone, but worried that that someone was currently less than well.
"Almost a year," he admitted, glancing at Bill and realising he had been holding his lover's hand all through the conversation. "We figured it out on my birthday. Well, that is to say that I kissed him, he left and we both freaked out privately, then he came back and kissed me, and we finally admitted there was something there." He smiled in remembrance before changing the subject. "You two were brilliant out there by the way. I saw you fighting together and you were amazing. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Neville you're a brilliant defensive dueller while Lavender you're powerfully offensively. You complement each other perfectly in a fight."
The pair grinned, and Neville flushed with pleasure at the compliment.
"Actually," the blonde wizard said, "you're not the first to say that."
"Oh, tell him Neville," Lavender prodded, almost bouncing in her seat with a grin on her face.
"What?" Harry asked. "What is it?"
"Apparently," Neville said, "some of the Aurors saw us fighting as well and were…"
"Impressed Nev," Lavender provided. "They were very impressed."
"Yeah, that." And the young man blushed just remembering the Aurors' reactions. "And one of those was Kingsley Shacklebolt. You know the Head of the DMLE," he said and Harry nodded. "And, well, we've both been offered guaranteed positions with the Auror Corp training program when it starts in two months. And he wants us to be partners."
"Really? That's fantastic!" Harry smiled at their proud looks but asked, "Does he know you're together though?"
"I think so."
"And it's still okay for you to work together?"
"Of course, why wouldn't it be?"
"It's a Muggle thing Nev," Lavender provided, understanding since she was a half Muggle herself. "In their armed forces and a lot of dangerous jobs you're not supposed to work with anyone you're in a relationship with."
"Well that's strange," was all the Auror-to-be said.
"Hey Lavender," Harry said suddenly, remembering something, "didn't I hear you mention something awhile back about starting your own fashion label though?"
The blonde's lips tightened until Neville reached for her hand and squeezed gently. She sighed and relaxed, shaking her head sadly.
"That was mine and Parvati's dream. We were going to do it together. I don't think I would want to do it now, alone, with all the memories of the betrayal."
"Oh," Harry said awkwardly. "Well, congratulations then, on the Auror thing. You both deserve it."
"Thanks Harry," Neville said, then stood and clasped a hand on the green-eyed wizard's shoulder. "We're going to head off for breakfast. I really hope Bill gets better soon."
"Owl us if you need anything," Lavender said, standing also. "Anything at all."
"Thanks, both of you," he said, meaning it, before returning his attention to Bill.
Ten minutes later he was interrupted once more, this time by the arrival of a moony eyed blonde.
"Hello Harry," Luna greeted him.
"Luna," he said, then remembering Neville's scar asked, "Are you alright? Any injuries from the battle?"
"Quite alright. Although Daddy took a nasty curse to the knee," she said, voice a little quivery. "He's still in St Mungo's."
He looked at her with concern. He knew how much Luna's father meant to her, especially since she'd lost her mother already.
"Will he be alright?"
"They had to take his leg," she said in a little girl voice.
Awash with sympathy, he released Bill's hand to pull her into a hug. She clung to him for a long moment before pulling back, a teary but grateful smile on her lips.
"We mustn't embrace to long, lest your lovely, freckled, gentleman suitor awakes and gets the wrong idea," she said and he gave a surprised burst of laughter.
"Honestly, we kept it secret so long and just today three people have told me they know."
She just smiled dreamily.
"I have to return to daddy now. Thank you for being my friend. I hope your boyfriend returns to you soon."
"Thanks," he said. "You take care Luna." And soon she too was gone.
The Weasleys tricked in one by one over the next few hours until all were gathered once more around Bill's bed. Madame Pomfrey bustled in at one stage to check on her two patients. Bill had no change but she pronounced Harry healing, though not as quickly as she'd liked. She questioned him and when he admitted he'd not eaten breakfast he was berated by both she and Mrs Weasley. It was not an experience he would ever care to repeat and when the infirmary assigned house-elf popped in with a meal for him, he ate meekly.
The day passed slowly, and soon it was night once more. He had not left the bedside even once, going so far as to call on Dobby for further meals and casting on himself the rather embarrassing spells designed for use in relieving patients incapable of making their way to the lavatory. The Weasleys all seemed a little bewildered by his dedication. Eventually he admitted to all who didn't know that Bill had been one of his trainers, and added that when he had his breakdown early back in sixth year, it had been Bill who found him and made sure he was alright, and that the redhead had been a close friend and confidant ever since.
Wednesday, June 24, 1998
When he woke the next morning, having slept in the chair by the bed once more, his mood plummeted to see that Bill still had yet to awaken. He had been in a coma for almost three days. When the Weasleys and Hermione returned to the eldest son's bedside they were disturbed to find Harry was now refusing to communicate with anyone. He simply held Bill's hand and sat staring at him.
Mrs Weasley attempted to get him to leave for some 'proper rest, in a bed', to no avail. When the rest of the family retreated for lunch in the Great Hall downstairs, Ron and Hermione remained, worried for their friend. They managed to prod him into eating only a little, and Hermione, in a surprising fit of motherliness, pulled out a handkerchief and wiped clean a speck of blood from a superficial scrape on his face which no one had had the courage to tell him lingered from the battle on Sunday.
After that the pair sat, speaking to each other quietly, but in the silence of the ward he heard them all the same.
"Why is he so determined to stay here?" Ron asked, concern and frustration colouring his voice.
"Oh Ron, don't you see?" Hermione whispered tearfully. "He's been studying under his trainers for nearly two years. That's a long time to get attached. He lost Moody the man died right at his back I hear. And now Bill's in such dire condition. Of course he needs to be there. He's afraid he'll lose another mentor."
Had things not been so dim, he would have snorted. Hermione, so clever, and yet she'd completely misinterpreted the situation.
Thursday, June 25, 1998
Harry noted absently that Ron, Hermione and the twins didn't appear till later on the next day. Hermione alone stayed with him once more when the others left for lunch.
"Harry," Hermione said softly.
He didn't respond, but she remained sat at his side all the same.
"You may have noticed Ron and I were gone most of the morning. We had a D.A. meeting," she explained, "and all we members have been talking and we came to a decision.
"It was Neville's idea actually, but we all supported it. The 'Love's Power' spell, it's dangerous. In the wrong hands… in the wrong hands it could do so much damage. We've all made magically binding oaths, to never reveal the specifics of the spell to anyone outside the D.A. We considered and decided one person should be free of the oath though, in case some circumstance crops up where the fate of the world rests on new people learning to perform it or some such. We intended it to be you."
She paused, but Harry made no comment, and so she continued on.
"Of course, we then realised there were people at the battle who heard and saw us cast the spell, so I spoke to Dumbledore. He said we'd made a very wise and mature decision. He agreed with my plan. I had him cast a Fidelius Charm on the details of the spell; the wand movements and incantation.
"You're probably wondering why you can still remember us incanting the spell during the battle if it's Secreted. It's because we made you the Secret Keeper Harry. I needed your blood for the spell; that's why I wiped your face with the handkerchief last time I was here. I know I should have told you. I hope you're not too angry with me," she paused but again he remained silent. "Oh Harry, come back to us."
The Weasleys returned soon after, and Harry felt a little guilty to see that their worries were not only for Bill but him also. He remained silent despite this however, maintaining his vigil.
When first the hand twitched in his, he thought he'd imagined it. Then it twitched again and he moved for the first time in days, jumping to his feet. The screeching of his chair flying back sounded loudly in the quiet of the hospital wing and immediately everyone's attention was on him.
"Harry?" someone asked hesitantly.
"He moved," he spoke, breaking his silence.
There was a moment of shock and then they all crowded around. The twins were sent to fetch Madam Pomfrey but the rest hovered by the bed, calling out to Bill, questioning could hear them, asking him to come back to them.
"Out of the way," Poppy ordered bustling through the privacy curtain, wand drawn and soon began casting diagnostic spells.
Harry's breath caught as he interpreted some of what he read, particularly the mind activity stats. He was definitely awakening. Madam Pomfrey soon spoke confirming his thoughts and there was much excitement. She told them to speak to him, to encourage him to return.
"Bill, wake up dear," Mrs Weasley said. "Wake up Silly-Billy."
Under other circumstances Harry would have snickered at the newly discovered nickname. Instead he mentally catalogued it away for future teasing purposes when the situation was not so grim.
"Son, come on now," Mr Weasley joined in. "Come back to us."
The others all spoke up and the bedridden man stirred but didn't awaken. Harry licked his lips before speaking.
"Bill," he said, leaning close. "Wake up. Please Bill, wake up. For me?"
And then, with a low moan, Bill's eyes fluttered open, and he stared blearily at the crowd above him.
"Well hello," he murmured, voice husky with disuse, "What's with the audience?"
"Oh Bill!" Mrs Weasley cried, reaching out to pet her son's red hair. "My baby, you're alright."
"I understand you're all glad to have him back, but I need you all to back away so I can check how he is," Poppy said.
Reluctantly they withdrew, all but for Harry. He refused to relinquish Bill's hand and instead moved to the side so as not to be in the way. Madam Pomfrey gave him a stern look before glancing at their joined hands, when a sudden expression of realisation overtook her features, to be replaced by understanding. Then, much to his surprise, she favoured him with a sympathetic look and went about her work.
They all stayed silent as Poppy did her thing; casting spells, asking a million questions, and then explaining to Bill his injuries and coma.
"This one," she gestured at Harry, "hasn't left your side for a moment. It's been a trial just getting him to look after himself."
Bill, who had paled at news of his coma, instead turned worried at word of Harry's vigil. Harry blushed as a look of concern was turned towards him, and wondered if he was the only one who saw the love hidden behind those eyes.
Eventually, after yet more questions, Madam Pomfrey pronounced he was recovering quite well, and stepped back. At once the Weasleys clamoured around once more, but to their surprise, Bill held up a halting hand and they went quiet.
"Before you all welcome me back," he said, "there's something I need to do." Then he patted his chest with his free hand, frowning at the bandages. "Where'd my robes go?"
"They were… shredded by the- the curse dear," Mrs Weasley explained haltingly. "They were beyond repair. I imagine they were thrown away."
Bill's eyes widened with alarm at that, until Poppy stepped forward.
"Before you start to fret, which is not," the Mediwitch said as she gave him a stern glare, "good for your recovery, you should know that we checked the pockets first."
"Oh good," he sighed in relief. "Where is it then?"
Madam Pomfrey stepped over to the drawers by the bed and withdrew something from within, though no one could quite see what it was. As she stealthily handed it to her patient, she threw a questioning glance between Bill and Harry. The redhead's eyes widened but he nodded, and a rare smile touched the woman's face.
"What is it Bill?" Molly asked, but he ignored her, focussing instead on the wizard by his side.
"I was planning on giving you this after the graduation ceremony," he said to Harry and the others watched on with curious expressions.
"My graduation present," he remembered suddenly from when Bill had pulled him aside before he went to line up, and blushed as he recalled the kiss.
"Sort of," Bill said, then shook his head to clear a lock of hair from his face. "When I imagined it I didn't think I'd give it to you lying injured in a hospital bed with the whole family watching but… well if this has taught my nothing it's that life's fragile and I'm certainly not going to waste time. That is to say…"
"Bill?" he asked.
He was confused by the ramblings from the normally concise redhead. Was Bill nervous?
And then a small dark box was pressed toward him, and he reached out with his free hand to accept it. Not willing to release Bill's hand, he opened the box one handed and then paused. He stared at the contents within, eyes a little wide, and lips parted with surprise.
"Bill?" he whispered.
"I know we've only been together for a year or so, but I don't need anymore time to think about it. You're the one for me Harry. Please, agree to marry me?"
There were gasps of surprise from behind him, and a choking sound from Ron. He knew that the Weasleys and Hermione were suddenly putting all the pieces together, and were shocked with the picture that was becoming revealed to them. He also realised belatedly that Poppy must have already figured it out, having seen the box as well as Harry and Bill's concern for one another.
"What is going on?" Mrs Weasley asked, voice faint with surprise.
But Harry acknowledged none of them, too distracted by the gorgeous, nervous man waiting in front of him. He glanced once more at the opened box with two identical bands resting inside on a bed of velvet. They were traditional wizarding marriage rings, made of gold and engraved with the bonding runes along the circumference. The runes would be imbued with magic during the ceremony, but for now they were inert. Staring at the bands, a smile slipped over Harry's face. With shaky hands he reached in and withdrew one from the box and shifted his grip on Bill's hand.
"Yes," he said, voice choked and full of emotion, as he reverently slipped the ring on Bill's fourth finger. "Yes I would love to marry you."
Bill's face just lit up with love and pleasure. He smiled and reached into the box and plucked out the second ring, then drew Harry's left hand toward him. The redhead caressed the palm and along the fingers, before gently sliding the band onto his ring finger. Then he raised the hand to his mouth and pressed his lips to the back.
"Thank you," he whispered. "You won't regret it. I love you."
"Of course I won't," Harry whispered in return. "And I love you."
And then Bill was drawing him forward and into a deep, tender kiss and the world faded away. It could have been anything from seconds to hours later when he finally he drew back, the sound of awkwardly shuffling feet interrupting them. They just stared into one another's eyes for a long moment before glancing over at their audience one smugly pleased Mediwitch and eight flabbergasted others. The pair waited nervously for their reactions. Would they be accepting?
"Bill is the mysterious witch, or I should say wizard, who gave you a proper snogging before the ceremony?" Ron broke the silence with his usual tact.
Hermione automatically elbowed her boyfriend in reprimand, Ron yelped and glared at her, and the others broke their silence with questions and congratulations. The happy couple relaxed and a wide grin broke out on Harry's face. It was all going to be okay. Better than okay, he amended, glancing at his ring. Voldemort was gone and the beautiful man by his side was all his.
Chapter 11: Epilogue
Once Bill was fully healed from his injuries, Harry applied to St Mungo's. With references from both Healer Vance and Madame Pomfrey, he was quickly accepted. He breezed through training, loving the work and thriving on the challenge it presented. He went on to achieve not merely a Mediwizard accreditation, but rather became a fully certified Healer. Bill, having originally intended to transfer back to Egypt when the war was over, easily changed his mind. There was no way he would be separated from his fiancé after all. Instead he remained based in Britain, though he was occasionally sent overseas by Gringotts for short day jobs.
Harry and Bill married after a year long engagement, and bought up a house with a decent sized tract of land, ten minutes from the Burrow near Ottery St Catchpole. They lived there mostly alone, but for frequent visits from family and friends, until one day seven years after their marriage when a baby came into their lives. Only a few days old, the little boy was rushed to St Mungo's after being rescued by Aurors. He was dying from the effects of a halted dark ritual in which his parents had planned to sacrifice him for an increase in magical power. After working feverishly for nearly two days straight, Harry managed to save the child, but fell in love in the process. As soon as the babe was stable he spoke to Bill and the two arranged to adopt the week old boy. They named their son Sirius Arthur Potter-Weasley, but he mostly went by 'Siri', and he was loved and adored by his fathers.
Ron and Hermione didn't marry until almost nine years after graduating Hogwarts (a decade after they first started dating). Hermione, finally fed up with Ron's aborted attempts to propose (he always chickened out at the last second) eventually got tired of waiting. She bought the rings and did the proposing herself. The Weasley siblings never let their brother live it down. Hermione fell pregnant two years after the wedding and gave birth to a daughter, Rose who grew to be polite, charming, and astonishingly clever. They also had two other children, twin boys, Antipholus and Dromio. Much to Hermione's despair they took not after their elder sister, but rather their uncles Fred and George, carrying on the fine tradition of mischief and mayhem.
Career-wise, Hermione headed straight for a Ministry job after graduation, dedicating herself to furthering her S.P.E.W. crusade. It took her six years and along the way even she – stubborn as she was – had to concede that the everyday house-elf did not want outright freedom. Eventually though she managed to secure wages and safe conditions for the elves all across magical Britain, as well as institute protection laws with harsh punishments for those who mistreated the servant race. Those six years were not easy however, and once she had achieved her goals, Ron managed to convince her to find a less stressful and 'more fun' vocation. Professional researcher and fact checker for a publishing house wasn't quite what he had in mind, but it suited Hermione to a tee, and she was quite happy.
As for Ron, he drifted from job to job after graduation, having difficulty finding his niche. Eventually however, Harry, tired of the Hermione's complaining about her boyfriend's lack of direction, bought up the Chudley Cannons and appointed Ron as the manager. The youngest Weasley son was shocked and at first reluctant, but eventually he gave in. To everyone's surprise, he took to the job like a fish to water. He excelled as manager, bringing club profits to an all time high, and helping elevate the formerly feeble team to the top five of the League.
Lavender Brown and Neville Longbottom – who would marry five years after graduation – joined up with the Aurors right away, under the mentorship of the head of the DMLE himself, Kingsley Shacklebolt. The man's support was not misplaced, as the duo excelled in their jobs, breaking several records during their three year training period, to say nothing of their achievements as fully qualified Aurors. Eventually though, in their forties, Lavender fell pregnant, and both chose to retire to focus on family. Their first child, Aaron Frank, was born strong and healthy. Two years later Lilac Alice followed, but it was a hard pregnancy and they sadly agreed the girl would be their last. To support themselves Neville opened up his own greenhouses, supplying high quality potions ingredients. One of the greenhouses however, at the request of his wife, was dedicated to strictly decorative plants. She put them to good use, starting a florist business that grew an impressive reputation, catering to all the classiest events.
Luna Lovegood went to work for the Quibbler. Her father had requested a peg leg rather than a magical prosthetic to replace the limb he lost at the Battle of Hogwarts. Once released from the hospital, he bought an eye patch and a parrot to sit on his shoulder, which he taught to say 'avast, me hearties', 'shiver me timbers' and 'walk the plank'. Unfortunately, whilst in keeping with his new 'pirate persona' the leg made travel in the wild less than practical. And so, Luna took over his position as chief travelling correspondent for the paper. She spent the rest of her life travelling to far off places, searching out strange and obscure animals and mysteries. Eventually she met a peculiar Norwegian man named Odd Larsen who was fascinated with her work and joined her on her travels. They married after a whirlwind romance and remained together the rest of their lives, though they would have no children.
Ginny, upon completing Hogwarts, went on to become a Chaser for the Holyhead Harpies, the only all-female Quidditch team in the League. The Harpies won no less than three championships during her tenure, the last under her captainship. When finally she left the sport, she was hired on as the senior Quidditch correspondent for the Daily Prophet. Even retired, she continued to be wildly popular with the fans, especially the wizards. She went through boyfriends like they were going out of style and, much to her mother's despair, would never settled down with one man and raise a family. Despite this however, she was quite happy with her lot, satisfied with doting on her nieces and nephews.
The Weasley twins, to the great surprise of everyone, formed a triad relationship with none other than Susan Bones, who they had secretly gotten to know quite well during the D.A. Rumour had it the 'you better treat her right' speech they got from her aunt (Minister Amelia Bones) had them more cowed than Molly Weasley's lectures ever had. This was possibly because their mother had never threatened to castrate them. The triad had four children all up: Wanda, Wade, Willow and Wendell Weasley. Which child belonged to which father was a mystery not even the parents were ever certain of.
As for Tonks and Remus, the Auror eventually finagled the old wolf into a wedding ceremony. The couple were deliriously happy together and went on to have a son they named Teddy James. The baby boy was born with bright blue hair and – to Remus's unending happiness – the only signs of the Lycanthropy Curse were the boy's taste for extra rare stake and his moodiness around the full moon.
And so did they all live… mostly… happily ever after.