A/N: Harry sixth year, after OotP. H/G, R/Hr, PG-13 rating.
* * *
Harry Potter was angry.
He was lying on his bed at the Dursleys', staring at the ceiling. He wasn't exactly certain why he was angry, but his mood was reflected by the dim shadows created by the gray sunlight seeping through his window. A summer storm had swept through the town, and was only now beginning to wane as the sun set.
Harry spent a lot of his time away from the Dursleys', aimlessly walking through the town, or sitting in the park reading his Defense Against the Dark Arts books. The latter had become an obsession to him, a distraction to the torments of thinking about the events of the previous year. At the beginning of summer, he had owled Professor Dumbledore and asked to borrow some N.E.W.T. level textbooks. The Professor had graciously sent him a variety of books.
He would sit for hours reviewing spells and planning lessons for his D.A. classes, which he intended to resume once the new school year started. He was certain Dumbledore would give permission for the D.A. to continue, and he wanted to be prepared.
He also wanted to prepare himself. The fact of the matter was that while he performed better in the battle last year than he had done in his fourth year, there was still a lot of luck involved. It was a miracle that no one else had been killed. That thought led inevitably to the one casualty of the battle: his godfather, Sirius.
Harry swung his legs over the bed, and got up, frustrated. He began pacing the room, trying to work off his excess energy.
He felt alternately numb and angry. At first, he simply couldn't believe Sirius was really gone. Having spent so little time with him, it almost seemed like he was away somewhere, as usual. Sirius represented a link to his parents, and now yet another link was severed just when Harry was getting used to the idea of having him in his life. He didn't open himself up easily, and it cut him very deeply for someone to leave him so suddenly.
Not only had he led everyone into a trap, but he also felt useless in the battle once he was there. He felt he should have been better prepared. I must learn more, he thought determinedly. The thought had sustained him through the summer, becoming a mantra for him. He knew he would never be the bookworm that Hermione was, and he would never have her breadth of knowledge. But he knew that in this one area, he could do well.
I have to do well, he thought desperately.
He had paced for several minutes when the loud voice of his uncle shouted up the stairs, "Boy! Up there! Cease that infernal noise!" The warnings of the Aurors at the end of last year had made the Dursleys much more tolerable, but not any more friendly.
Harry sighed, and threw himself into a chair at his desk. He guiltily looked over to the large stack of unanswered letters from Ron and Hermione. They appeared to be trying to make up for last year, as they made a supreme effort to tell him as much as possible about what was going on. The letters helped him to feel in contact with the wizard world, but it wasn't the same as being there.
He drew a sheet of parchment, intending to write a letter. His head was filled with thoughts, but nothing seemed to flow from his brain through his hand and onto the paper. He'd tried to write back, but his rare letters tended to be short and to the point. He simply didn't have much to write about, and, even if he had the words, he didn't want to talk about what he was feeling.
More for amusement than anything, he picked up his quill and began writing.
Dear Ron and Hermione,
I forgot to tell you! Trelawney prophesized before I was born that I have to kill Voldemort or die trying. That's why he killed my parents and tried to kill me. Hope you're enjoying your summer!
Well, it had seemed like an amusing idea before he actually wrote it. He crumpled up the paper and threw it in the rubbish bin.
The prophecy weighed heavily upon his mind. It said that he held some sort of power that Voldemort didn't, but if he did, he didn't know what it was or how to use it. Why couldn't Dumbledore just tell him what he was supposed to do? Harry dropped his head into his hands in despair.
How could the responsibility of defeating one of the most evil wizards in history be placed on the shoulders of an unremarkable boy such as himself? Who decided this? How is it possible to do anything except fail?I can't even defeat a bunch of Death Eaters, he thought. If the Aurors hadn't swooped in when they did… well, so far he had been lucky. I have that going for me, I guess, he thought with a trace of amusement, which lasted until he thought of those who hadn't been so lucky.
The truth was that Harry felt like a fraud. What bloody power? He felt a small amount of confidence in his abilities in Defense classes. But what does that prove? he thought miserably. Lots of people are good at defense. He knew he could never defeat Mad-Eye Moody in a duel, much less Dumbledore. And if Dumbledore felt he couldn't defeat Voldemort himself…
Harry sighed. He pulled a few letters from his stack and began to read.
Ron's letters were always entertaining, and his updates on the professional Quidditch teams were welcome. Harry wished he could get out his Firebolt and do some practice flying. He desperately missed playing Quidditch, particularly since his "lifetime" ban had been instituted last year.
Hermione, of course, suspected what he was feeling. She dropped a lot of hints that she wanted him to write to her about his thoughts. Harry was tempted to try and write some of it down but couldn't escape the feeling that no one could really understand.
How can anyone understand what it's like to get your godfather, one of your last links to your family, killed through your own stupidity? How can anyone understand what it's like to fight personal battles with Voldemort? he thought moodily.
Well, there is one person who knows something about that, he reflected. He thought back to last year when he had wondered whether he was being possessed.
"Well, that was a bit stupid of you," Ginny had said angrily, "seeing as you don't know anyone but me who's been possessed by You-Know-Who, and I can tell you how it feels." Why hadn't he seen the obvious? He felt a new stab of guilt. She was absolutely right, and what did it say about him that he had forgotten what had happened to her?
Harry‘s mood grew worse.
* * *
Ginny Weasley stood in the kitchen of the Burrow, humming happily to herself. It had been a glorious day, and she had spent much of it reading a sappy novel underneath a tree, for which she felt a bit of guilty pleasure. For a change, the weather hadn't been too hot, and a light breeze brought a scent of wildflowers from the fields that grew nearby.
She was helping her mother prepare dinner. The Burrow was rather empty these days, with only Ron, her mum and her dad in residence. There wasn't much to prepare, but she still enjoyed keeping busy. Her mum bustled nearby, casting an occasional cooking spell as the pots, pans and utensils diligently did their work. Ginny pulled out plates and began to set the table.
She glanced at the calendar on the wall. July 24th. There was one more week until Harry's birthday. She wondered if he would have to spend yet another lonely birthday with the Dursleys. It was so unfair that Harry, who had done so much for so many, had to live with those awful people. She wondered what he was doing right at that moment. Probably trying to evade some new Dursley torture, she thought.
"Mum, has Professor Dumbledore said when Harry will be able to leave the Dursleys'?" Ginny asked.
Molly Weasley looked up from her work and smiled at her. "No, dear, not that I'm aware of. His birthday is coming up, isn't it? Perhaps I should ask if he could come here. One would imagine his 16th birthday should be spent among his real family."
Ginny felt a stab of irritation at her mother's smile, as if she was making implications. Doesn't the world know that I'm over him? Didn't I make it clear last year that I'm not mooning over him anymore? she thought, annoyed.
At the same time, she felt pride that her mother considered her family to be Harry's real family. She hadn't understood until recently that her mother was taking a great risk by embracing Harry so openly. It would be so easy to distance her family from Harry in order to keep them safe. Her mother had a tendency to be overprotective, which normally irritated Ginny to no end. The fact that she had that trait, yet could risk such a danger made it all the more remarkable.
What would I do in her place? Ginny wondered. It was hard to imagine having a family of her own, but would she so willingly embrace someone who was essentially a stranger? Would she put her family at risk to give love to a boy who had never known it? The courage and generosity of spirit that her mum and dad had shown was amazing to her.
True, Harry was Ron's best friend. Ron was just as stubborn as any Weasley, and it wasn't as if her mum could have forbidden Ron to be friends with Harry without a huge row. Mum knew that Ron and Harry had grown close their first year. But she still didn't have to invite Harry back to the Burrow, or give her love as willingly as she gave it to Harry.
I'd like to think I would do the same thing, Ginny thought. Unbidden, an image came to her of a large family, like her own. She imagined herself looking in pride over her children as they played happily. They would live in a house just like the Burrow.
She smiled to herself. Well, perhaps a little nicer, she thought. She loved the Burrow, even with all its flaws – the creaky staircase, the walls and floors that always seemed a bit off from level. What the house lacked in structure, it more than made up for in character and love. Still, it would be nice if the doors closed a bit more solidly, and the windows opened without sticking quite so much. She didn't want anything ostentatious; she only wanted a bit more, well, reliability.
As she reflected upon her future home and family, she noticed that many of her children in her mind's eye had black, untidy hair. I am NOT going to think about THAT. It's never going to happen, she thought, and forcefully pushed the image out of her mind.
* * *
The next day, Harry walked up the path to the Dursleys' front door, after a good day of reading in the park. He had learned some valuable spells that should serve him very well at his next encounter with Death Eaters, and he fully expected there would be a next encounter. He felt in a good mood for a change, and hoped that nothing at the Dursleys' would spoil his good, productive day.
Walking through the door, he immediately received a glare from Dudley. He appeared to be considering something, and then his piggish face actually smiled. Harry immediately stopped and seriously considered running back out the door. Dudley's smile set off klaxons ringing in his head.
"Oh Father, Harry is home. I thought you'd like to know," Dudley said sneeringly.
"Oh, is he now? Thank you, my boy," said Uncle Vernon, cheerfully. Too cheerfully.
If Harry was considering running before, he was in a full panic now. This could mean nothing good. He glanced around the room, considering his escape routes. Uncle Vernon had moved between him and the door.
"Boy, you've done nothing around here this summer. Nothing. Except run off who knows where. And after all we've done for you all these years! Well, boy, this laziness is going to stop." Uncle Vernon rubbed his hands together in glee. "I have just the solution to cure you of this little problem."
Harry spotted an open window. He began to calculate the exact trajectory that it would take for him to dive through the window, but finally decided the plan was impractical. There were rose bushes below that window. Harry sighed. There was nothing to do except wait for the bad news.
"There is a summer job opening down at the drill plant. It's an opening for a teenage boy. I specifically insisted that you be given this… opportunity." Uncle Vernon was almost dancing with pleasure.
Harry felt his temper rise. "Remember what my friends told you at the end of last year."
But Uncle Vernon was unbowed at this. "Ah yes, your friends. I don't recall them stating that I couldn't put you to work. Are you going to write to them and tell them you're too good for a summer job? Too good to work and help around the house? Too good to earn your keep?"
Harry seethed. "So what is this job?"
Uncle Vernon smiled, a frightening sight. "Oh, it's a simple job. Any idiotic boy could do it. I expect that you will be perfectly qualified."
Harry said nothing. He just wanted the awful truth to be revealed.
"Your job will be to clean the smelting pots," Uncle Vernon said with a huge grin.
Harry waited, somewhat confused. "That's it?"
Uncle Vernon just smirked. "Let me lay out the cleaning procedure, boy. First, the smelting pots are six feet high, in a room filled with molten steel. It's hot, boy, very hot. Second, the pots get a buildup of carbon steel that has to be removed using a very large, very heavy grinding tool. Third, you have to wear toxic waste gear while you're cleaning. I think this little job will teach you some respect and responsibility." Uncle Vernon and Dudley guffawed loudly and grinned at each other.
Harry's anger began to rise to dangerous levels. I know some lovely curses, now, a little voice piped up inside his head. Wouldn't it be oh-so-wonderful to get some practice in, after all the theory this summer? Harry pushed back his anger, and fought for control over himself. Now was not the time to fight this battle. However, there was no way he was reporting to this so-called summer job.
As Harry fought his internal struggle, Hedwig flew down the stairs with a message.
"What's that ruddy bird doing flying in my house? Boy, you'll pay for this!" Uncle Vernon's face had taken on a purplish cast.
Hedwig dropped the letter into Harry's waiting hands. Harry was surprised at Hedwig's behavior; normally the owl knew not to provoke the Dursleys. This note must be important, he thought nervously. Please, please, please, don't let it be more bad news.
Harry nervously opened the letter, and began to read. His face grew incredulous, and then a wide grin broke out.
Vernon narrowed his eyes at Harry, and spat out, "Well, boy? What is it?"
"Oh, nothing much, really," said Harry, grinning even wider. "Only that I've been invited to stay the rest of the summer at the Weasleys', where I will spend my birthday."
"Oh, you think so, do you, boy?" Uncle Vernon's voice grew low and dangerous. "I don't think so. I promised my foreman a boy to scrub pots, and you will report to work… tomorrow."
Harry's voice grew equally cold. "And exactly how will you explain that I'm not here, ready to go, when they come calling to pick me up? When they come calling tomorrow, as a matter of fact? I'm certain my friend Mad-Eye will be displeased if I'm not here. Very displeased. You remember Mad-Eye, don't you?"
Vernon's face dissolved from anger into fear. "You and your freak friends. Not an ounce of responsibility among the lot of you."
Harry suddenly lost his caution. He was leaving anyway. His voice grew loud. "Yes, that's me. An irresponsible boy, who just happened to fight off a couple of Dementors and saved your lovely little Duddiekins last year."
"Saved him, did you, boy? And perhaps you would care to explain why these so-called Dementors attacked him in the first place? Of course, it has nothing to do with your freakish nature," he finished sarcastically.
The accusation burned Harry, and what made it infinitely worse was that it was true. Dudley wouldn't have been attacked if it weren't for Harry. He didn't care for Dudley, but Uncle Vernon had hit him where it stung the most. People around Harry got hurt.
Harry, feeling the turn of conversation was pushing him much too close to losing control, turned, stalked up the stairs and closed himself in his room.
* * *
"What's wrong with me?" he asked himself, as he loudly smacked his fist into his hand.
Ron Weasley was frustrated.
He was sitting in his room, gazing out the window as he watched the sun begin to sink toward the horizon. His stomach gave a growl as he waited for the evening meal to be ready. His eyes fell upon a letter on his writing desk… a letter from Hermione.
He grabbed Hermione's letter and read it again. He grinned as he read about her adventures as she traveled Europe with her parents. She described visiting several cathedrals in Venice ("Oh Ron, they are so fascinating and filled with history! The muggles have no idea how much magic was used to construct them!"), and went on and on about the many other places she visited. The style was so typical of Hermione that he imagined her voice as he read.
He suddenly shook himself, and realized that he had just read the letter 15 minutes ago.
"What the bloody hell is wrong with me?" He asked himself the question, yet a part of him knew the answer. "Oh, bugger," he whispered to himself. He threw the letter on the desk, and walked over to his shelves. His eyes fell on a certain action figure that had taken a lot of abuse lately: a Viktor Krum action figure.
He lunged at the six-inch Krum and grabbed him tightly. He brought him up to his eye level, and stared at him with a malevolent gaze.
"Viktor Bloody Krum. What does she see in you? You're a grouchy git. Yeah, you're older. Yeah, you're an international Quidditch star. You're still a grouchy GIT!" He violently threw Krum to the floor and stalked back to the desk. He began to reach for Hermione's letter once again but forcibly pulled his hand back.
"I'm not going to do it," he told himself quietly. "I'm going nutters. Barking mad. What the bloody hell is wrong with me?"
He yanked open his desk drawer and pulled out a photograph. Hermione looked at him from the Gryffindor common room and waved at him. The photo-Hermione pointed at her book and made scratching motions with her quill on a piece of parchment. She winked and beamed as if to say, "Homework done today means later you can play!"
Ron laid the photo on the desk and sat with his chin resting on his arms, watching the photo. His thoughts wandered as he watched her lean over the parchment, writing an endless essay. Her bushy, brown hair fell over her arm as she concentrated on her work, and Ron watched, mesmerized. He idly wondered what her hair felt like.
Ron abruptly pushed himself away from the desk and buried his face in his hands. "What does this mean? What does this bloody mean?" He raised his head, and finally voiced the thought that he had been avoiding. His face took on a look of horror.
"Could it be that I… fancy her?" he said morosely. "Oh, sod it." He simply couldn't avoid the thought any longer. But then another thought came to him, even as the long denied idea began to settle in.
He began pacing the room, as if he were planning a major war offensive. "OK, hypothetically speaking, let's say I fancy a certain girl. What do I do about it? She fancies Viktor Bloody Krum," Ron said, as he shot another glare at the sullen action figure lying in the corner.
"Why would she be interested in someone like me, anyway? I'm not smart like her. I'm not going to be the ruddy Minister of Magic someday." His pacing transformed into angry stomping. "I'll probably be some ruddy clerk in a forgotten department. What exactly do I have to offer her over Viktor Bloody Krum, International Quidditch Star and Grouchy Bloody Git?"
He suddenly stopped his pacing, balled his hands into fists, and began beating on his head. "And what the bloody hell is wrong with me? Why am I even thinking about this?"
"Hungry! Right, then. That's the answer. No one can think clearly when he's bloody starving to death."
Ron threw open his door, and stalked down to the kitchen.
* * *
Harry soared through the night air, the wind whipping his hair about his face. A full moon was high overhead, providing a bright glow on the ground far below. The air was slightly cool, and he felt exhilarated as the animal he was riding upon swooped and dove.
He noticed that the animal appeared to be invisible, since he had a clear view of the ground. He could feel hard bone and lean muscle below his hands, so he was certain it was an animal. The answer came to him – he was riding a thestral.
A joyful feeling rose in his heart. He couldn't see the thestral! Cedric and Sirius must still be alive. Somehow it all never happened. Their deaths no longer stained his soul.
The thestral streaked toward a large city. Harry's joy became fear as he realized they were heading toward the Ministry of Magic. The thestral landed, and Harry dismounted, his fear increasing. He didn't know why, but he knew he had to get down to the Department of Mysteries as soon as possible.
He went into the telephone booth and tried to remember the right numbers to press. He started to panic as his memory failed him. In desperation, he exited the booth, pulled his wand and launched a spell at the booth. It blew apart, leaving a hole in the ground. He stepped over the hole, and the magic lift brought him down into the Ministry.
Down empty corridors and stairs he ran, his panic increasing. His scar gave a sharp pain as he realized that his friends were in the Death Chamber, and they were in great danger. He spotted the door.
"Not so fast, Potter," said Umbridge, appearing in front of the door. "I need a sacrifice."
"I don't have time for this! Get out of my way!" said Harry frantically.
Umbridge grew wider and taller, a mountain of flesh before him. She held out a pen with a vicious smile. "A blood sacrifice, Potter."
"Fine! Anything!" Harry grabbed the pen, and looked about wildly for some parchment.
"No parchment, what a shame. Well, I'm certain you'll think of something."
Harry knew what he had to do. He took the pen, and began writing "I must not tell lies" on his forearm. His hand and arm flamed with pain as he wrote the words, the pen slicing the words into his limb like a dagger. Blood ran in rivulets down his arm.
"More, Potter," Umbridge said greedily.
He ran out of space on his left arm, so he switched hands and wrote lefty on his right arm. The words were distorted, but Umbridge didn't seem to mind.
"All right, Potter. I think you've learned your lesson." She stepped aside.
Harry ran into the room, searching madly for his friends. He noticed a group of people at the end of the chamber, and ran toward them. He felt an indescribable joy as he spotted Ron and Hermione. They smiled at him, and he also saw Ginny, Neville and Luna. He looked in wonderment as he also saw Cedric, Sirius and his parents standing alongside. Everyone that had been killed because of him was safe. He hadn't failed them.
He winced as his scar flared in pain, and then felt an icy chill behind him. He whirled around and saw that Lord Voldemort had apparated into the chamber, his cold eyes staring unmercifully at the group. Harry backed up, trying to stand between Voldemort and his friends.
"Well, well, Potter. I had come for you, but I see everyone is here. How nice that you brought them to me. It saves me a lot of time," he said, with high-pitched laughter.
Harry pulled his wand and launched several powerful stunner spells. He was certain they were powerful as he strangely felt a recoil of his wand, but Voldemort flicked the spells out of the air with his finger.
Voldemort laughed. "Dumbledore must be so proud of you, Potter," he said sarcastically. He then smiled evilly. "Let us play a game."
Voldemort waved his wand, and the scene changed to a familiar graveyard, where Harry had fought after the Triwizard Tournament. His friends and family were lined up in front of a series of open graves. They tried to move but appeared to be trapped by invisible cages. The bright light of the moon gave their faces a pale, washed-out appearance, and they all looked at him in fear.
"Can you reach them, Potter, before I launch a spell? If you reach them, you can save them," Voldemort said, clearly amused. He pointed his wand at Hermione, and she screamed, "Harry! Help me!" Harry began to run, but a bolt of green light shot from Voldemort's wand, hitting her in the chest. She fell backward into the grave, dead.
"No!" Harry screamed. His friends and family began yelling for his help.
"I find I like this game, Potter." He pointed his wand at Ginny. "Avada Kedavra!"
Harry tried to reach her in time, but his feet were leaden and he moved agonizingly slowly. Ginny appeared to fall in slow motion, her eyes blank. The cacophony of cries for his help scorched his ears.
"Avada Kedavra! Avada Kedavra!" Ron and Luna fell as Voldemort picked them off one by one. Harry watched helplessly, trying to make his feet move as Voldemort finished off Sirius and Neville. Finally, only his mother and father were left, and Harry could sense the disappointment from them.
"Harry, we sacrificed ourselves for you," James said, "and this is all you can manage? Did we die just so you could kill everyone around you?"
"A bit slow, aren't you, Potter?" asked Voldemort mockingly. "No wonder everyone dies around you. Don't you care about your friends and family? Don't you love them? And what did your love do for them? Avada Kedavra! Avada Kedavra!"
James and Lily's lifeless bodies crumpled into their graves. Harry dropped to his knees, blood still running down his arms, surrounded by the dead who seemed to send waves of accusations at him…
* * *
Harry's eyes opened. His heart was racing, and his body was drenched in a cold sweat. He was disoriented and slowly realized he was still in his room at the Dursleys'. He touched his arms, and, to his relief, they were dry.
He staggered out of bed, still shaken by the vivid dream. He glanced at the clock and saw it was 4am. He walked over and sat next to his window and watched the moon. His heart was still pounding in his chest. His nightmares had mercifully started to ebb lately, but certainly not tonight.
He was wide awake and needed something to calm him. He sighed and decided to pull out a textbook, Modern Dark Arts Defense. He read for several minutes, but his thoughts kept wandering back to the dream and the fact that he was finally leaving later that morning.
He desperately wanted to see his friends, but was afraid they would want to talk about the events of last year, and how he felt about them. He knew he needed to tell Ron and Hermione about the prophecy, but he was dreading that conversation. He could just imagine the looks of worry and pity that they would bestow on him, the looks that they always gave him. The worry and pity were because they cared about him, but it still irritated him, and he didn't want to deal with it. Just another day in the life of Harry Potter, with everyone trying to kill me, he thought sarcastically, no sense making a fuss about it.
Well, Potter, do you want to stay here at the Dursleys', or do you want to face your friends? Is it that hard of a decision? He grinned to himself. He didn't care if Fred and George had a gauntlet of Wheezes that he had to run to get there; he was going, no matter what.
He continued reading, the hours passing quickly as he studied the book while making an occasional note in his notebook. Looking up at the clock again, he saw it was 7:30am. The Weasley's were due to arrive at 9am.
After taking a leisurely shower, Harry began to pack his trunk. He hadn't been downstairs yet. He was dreading a confrontation with the Dursleys and wanted to get out of the house with a minimum of fuss. Uncle Vernon had probably already left for the office, which only left Aunt Petunia and Dudley.
At ten minutes before the appointed time, Harry brought his trunk and Hedwig downstairs. The house seemed very quiet, and he realized that all of the Dursleys had apparently decided to leave before anyone showed up. Well, that makes it easier, he thought.
A knock came at the front door. Harry walked over and opened up the door to see Mr. Weasley and Ron standing on the doorstep. Mr. Weasley peered around the door, glancing about suspiciously.
"Don't worry, they're gone. Come on in," Harry said.
Mr. Weasley relaxed, and smiled as he walked through the door. "Harry, my boy! Excellent to see you."
Ron walked through the front door. "Harry, mate!"
"Ron!" Before he knew what he was doing, Harry embraced his friend. They broke away awkwardly.
Ron grinned at him. "Er, yeah. Harry, you're my best mate, but you're going to have to learn some self-control. I know I'm spectacularly handsome and all, but people will talk."
Harry felt a bit embarrassed at his outburst but was too overjoyed to be leaving the Dursleys to care. He just grinned back.
"How are we getting back to the Burrow?" Harry asked Mr. Weasley, who had picked up a cheap calculator and was pushing the buttons with great interest. He had wondered if they were going to fly on brooms to the Weasleys' the same way he had gone to Grimmauld Place the year before.
"Dumbledore has some security concerns, as a matter of fact. He's arranged for a special portkey to take us to the Burrow directly," said Mr. Weasley distractedly.
Harry turned to Ron. "When do we leave?"
"Dad? Dad? Dad!" Ron finally yelled at his father.
"What?" Arthur had been inspecting a ballpoint pen, clicking the end to open and close it, over and over. "Oh, yes, quite right, time to go!"
"You can keep that pen, Mr. Weasley, if you like," said Harry.
"Really? I couldn't. Can I?" Mr. Weasley looked absolutely delighted.
"Yes. It's a ballpoint pen. They're very common and not valuable at all."
"Indeed, indeed. Very interesting. Perhaps you could demonstrate it… later…. Right, then. Well, boys, time to go," Mr. Weasley said, as he slipped the pen into his robes. "Get ready to touch the portkey here… where did I put it now? Ah! Here it is." Mr. Weasley pulled out a small, silver box. "Grab hold of the trunk… got Hedwig, there? Good, good, everyone touch the portkey together. On three: one, two, three!"
Harry felt the jerk behind his navel, always an unpleasant experience, and landed safely in the Weasleys' living room. Ginny was seated on the couch, and she smiled at Harry as he appeared. Mrs. Weasley walked over to Harry and gave him a huge hug.
"Welcome, Harry! We're so glad that Dumbledore allowed you to come here for your birthday!"
"Thanks, Mrs. Weasley. You don't know how glad I am to be here." Harry grinned at her.
"I think I might have an idea. Look at how skinny you are! Those Dursleys!" she said darkly. "Well, you must be starving. Look at you! I have breakfast cooking. It will be ready soon." She turned and glared at Ron. "Ron! Don't just stand there! Help your father take Harry's trunk up to his room!" With that, Mrs. Weasley headed to the kitchen.
"Hi, Harry!" said Ginny brightly, getting up off the couch.
Ron grabbed a handle of Harry's trunk and started walking with Mr. Weasley up the stairs. "Mum says you can stay in Fred and George's old room, although I'd be nervous about that, myself. Never know what those two gits might have left in there."
Harry turned his attention to Ginny. "Hi, Ginny! Have you been enjoying your summer?"
"I have, though it's been pretty quiet." She leaned forward mischievously. "Except for a certain brother of mine, who hasn't been all that quiet," she giggled.
"What do you mean?" asked Harry.
"You should see what happens whenever a letter from Hermione arrives. First he shuts himself in his room to read it. Then I hear him stomping around up there, until he decides to come out and be moody down here. Every so often I catch him pulling one of the letters out of his pocket."
Harry grinned at her. "So it's finally happening."
"And how. He's got it bad. It's about time."
"Come to think of it, what are Hermione's plans? Is she going to come here at some point?" Harry asked.
"She'll be here for your party."
"Party? What party?" Harry was stunned at this news.
Ginny smiled at him. "Your birthday party, silly."
"A birthday party? For me?"
"No mate, a party for the Acromantula." Ron suddenly burst back into the room. "Who do you think? Can't have a birthday without a party, right? Expect a crowd of people to come. Ever since mum got the word that you could come here, she's been planning up a storm. Best prepare yourself. She's been looking for extra motherly duties since the nest emptied."
Ron patted his stomach. "And the best part of you being here is that we're guaranteed she will cook up a lot of extra food. Can't have you turn into the ‘boy-who-starved.' What would the Daily Prophet say?"
Ginny rolled her eyes. "Great Merlin, don't you ever think about anything other than eating?"
"I'm a growing boy, I'll have you know. I've grown another quarter-inch since the end of term. I need food!"
"On second thought, my mistake. There is something else you think about," Ginny said with a smirk.
"Ginny…" Ron said warningly, his face growing red.
"What, Ron? Did you have something in mind?" she asked innocently.
Ron said nothing but looked even more menacingly at Ginny.
"Ron, I was only going to say that you thought a lot about Quidditch. Am I wrong about that?" Ginny said, sneaking a glance at Harry.
Harry, for his part, was trying desperately not to laugh. Ron's face was priceless.
Mrs. Weasley called out from the kitchen, "Breakfast is ready!"
Ron's face broke in relief at the change in subject, and he moved quickly toward the kitchen. "Let's eat! I'm starving!"
Harry and Ginny followed more slowly, snickering at each other.
"You're so evil," he whispered to her.
Ginny raised her eyebrows at him. "Am I, Mr. Potter? You're the expert on fighting evil, so I suppose you should know."
He held up his hands. "I'm not fighting you. I don't want the same treatment. I know when I've met my match."
They entered the kitchen, and Harry was stunned by the spread of food on the table, particularly compared to the rather sparse portions doled out at the Dursley's. He grabbed a plate and started loading up. The smell was driving him mad, as he realized he hadn't eaten since yesterday's lunch.
"All right, Harry?" asked Mrs. Weasley.
Harry looked about the room, taking in the Burrow. Arthur Weasley was busy clicking his new pen, under the disapproving gaze of his wife; his friends were enthusiastically digging into their food; and the morning sunshine was streaming through the windows, casting a bright glow on everything. "Yes, thank you. Everything is brilliant."
* * *
The large, ornate room was dimly lit, and a shadowy figure sat at a desk. A side effect of his magically enhanced eyes was that he was sensitive to bright light. He could tolerate it if necessary, but he preferred the dark. Piles of parchment were spread over the desk, with page upon page of spell formulas neatly written across them.
He heard a small knock at his door. "Enter," he said.
A skinny figure peeked in and shuffled over to the desk. "Master, Mr. Wellensteller is here to see you."
Lord Voldemort looked up from his work and gazed coldly at the miserable figure before him. "Show him in, Wormtail."
Voldemort rose from his desk, and walked toward a silver tea set placed on a beautiful oak table in the office. He seemed to glide rather than walk, his fine robes billowing in the air.
As he poured two cups of tea, Wormtail returned with a short, balding man. He was rather portly, and from behind he might almost seem jovial. This initial appearance was shattered upon looking into his face. His fleshy, fair-skinned face featured beady eyes as black as tar pits, which appeared to blink much less than normal.
The man bowed deeply. "My Great Lord, I am honored to present myself."
"Welcome, Mr. Wellensteller. Please join me for a cup of tea," said Voldemort. "You may leave, Wormtail."
As Wormtail quickly slinked away, Wellensteller shuffled nervously over to the table. He placed a parcel wrapped in fine silk on the table and lifted the teacup. The cup shook in his hand slightly as he took a small sip.
Voldemort shifted his gaze from Wellensteller to the parcel. "Have you completed my commission?"
"Yes, my lord." Wellensteller seemed to grow more confident as the subject moved to the business at hand. "It is my masterpiece, my greatest work."
He reached down, and gently pulled the strings of a slipknot. The silk wrapping fell away, revealing a long box. "The core is the finest Chimaera heartstring, which I carefully matched to your magical signature for maximum power. The wood is yew, fourteen and one-quarter inches. My gift to you, my lord."
Wellensteller backed away, sweeping his arm in a presentation flourish. Voldemort took his place and gazed at the gift. His long, bony fingers reached out and stroked the beautiful mahogany box, which was inscribed with ancient symbols of the dark arts. He cradled it in his pale, white hands and slowly lifted the lid. A wand, stained very dark, almost black, gleamed in the dim light.
"Excellent, Mr. Wellensteller. My compliments. This wand was created for a very special purpose, you know." Wellensteller shivered and unconsciously took another step back. "It is intended for a very specific mission, one that my regular wand is unsuited for."
Voldemort's eyes ran the length of the wand, admiring the perfect sculpting of the wood. His eyes settled on a small engraving at the base of the wand, inlaid in gold. The engraving was an inscription that he had specifically ordered, written in an old-fashioned calligraphy. Lord Voldemort's face twisted into a chilling smile as he read the words.
The inscription read, "Harry James Potter, Son of James, Son of Lily."
A/N: Thanks to my beta Delylah for an excellent job. Please review!