The first thing that Harry noticed when he arrived at the Burrow was how the tension, which had been ever present with him throughout his stay with the Dursleys, seemed to lessen almost immediately. It was wonderful the way staying with the Weasleys allowed him to forget… things. Following Mr Weasley into the house, he and Ron stopped to rest his trunk and Hedwig's cage near the front door before tackling the stairs up to Ron's room.
"I'll let Molly know you're here," Mr Weasley told Harry before heading toward the kitchen.
"What have you got in your trunk, Harry?" Ron asked. "I was going to ask before but I thought I had better wait until Dad wasn't with us. If I didn't know better I'd say it was all of Hermione's books; it's about the same weight." Harry watched Ron heft the trunk for a second to check his guess before putting it back down with a nod of affirmation.
Harry laughed. "You almost got that right. They're my books actually."
He could see Ron struggling to come up with something to say to this surprise announcement when they heard a loud thundering coming down the stairs. "Later," Ron said quickly as they turned to see who was coming.
"Fred, George, it's great to see you!" Harry exclaimed upon seeing the twins emerge from the stairwell. "But how come you aren't at the shop?"
One of the twins, Harry was pretty sure it was George, gave him a conspiratorial wink before answering. "Had to shut up early, didn't we?"
"Yeah," Fred added, before leaning in confidentially. "Mum wanted us all here for a 'Welcome back to the Burrow' dinner for you. She even made Percy leave work early." Ron's frequent letters while Harry had been at Privet Drive had included information that Percy had returned to his family. He was not, however, welcomed back with universal open arms. Several members of the family, Ron included, still viewed him with a certain level of suspicion.
"Where are the others?" Ron asked them.
"Percy's up in his room finishing some paperwork, Mum's in the kitchen organising the food, I think I just saw Dad go in to help, and everyone else is down in the field playing Quidditch."
"Hermione is coming over tomorrow," Ron added, apparently for Harry's benefit – although he was already well aware of this. Hermione had written to tell him, and Ron had mentioned it a few times in passing on the trip. It seemed he wasn't the only one to have been made well aware of the information though.
"Thanks for letting us know, Ron..." George started.
"...For the thousandth time this week." The twins shook with silent laughter at Ron's affronted expression before Fred got back to the subject at hand. "Anyway, the field and Quidditch. That's where we're going now that you two are here."
"Bet you're looking forward to playing Quidditch again. I know Fred and I were relieved to have our Quidditch Bans lifted. Got an official copy from the Wizengamot a couple of days ago; wasn't mentioned in the Prophet though. Guess even the co-owners of the most successful new shop in Diagon Alley aren't as interesting as others we could mention."
Harry was mildly surprised to hear that the Quidditch bans had been lifted before he recalled the parchment stashed at the bottom of his trunk. It had arrived more than a couple of days ago though. He hadn't been getting the Daily Prophet either. After the last year he really didn't see any use in renewing his subscription. From the way the twins and Ron were looking at him, as well as from past experience, he knew without a doubt that it was he whose Quidditch ban retraction had made the papers.
"Who did it?" Harry asked. "Who got the bans lifted?"
"Who do you think? McGonagall started the push for it to be removed: couldn't keep the Gryffindor star seeker grounded now, could she? And what with Harry Potter being flavour of the month again, the whole wizarding world backed her up. Didn't hurt that Dumbledore has been reinstated as Chief Warlock either. According to Dad, the vote was unanimous… first time in centuries that all the members of the Wizengamot have been able to agree."
"It was all in the Prophet. They did a daily update on the whole thing for a week. Don't you read the paper?"
Harry snorted in derision, and they all seemed to understand.
"Well, anyway, hurry up Harry, got to take advantage of the afternoon. And if we're not out of the house soon, Mum'll give us chores. I can't wait to get back on my Cleansweep. It's still the best broom in the family, although with the money Fred and George are raking in, I wouldn't be surprised if they get a couple of really good, new brooms themselves." Ron seemed to be barely able to hold in his enthusiasm at the thought. "Maybe even Firebolts! They're still the best brooms on the market."
Harry instantly thought of his Firebolt, still locked up at school. He supposed that McGonagall or Dumbledore would have let him have it back, but hadn't felt up to asking, not to mention that he still didn't think that he could so much as look at Dumbledore. He hadn't been sure that he could even look at the international standard broomstick without being reminded of his godfather in a way he wasn't prepared for, and so it had been left behind when he had boarded the Hogwarts express.
Harry noticed Ron giving him an odd look and quickly whipped on a grin. "Sounds like fun."
"Brilliant! I know you haven't got a broom with you, Harry," Ron told him. "Don't worry though. We've got just the thing in the broomshed."
After stowing Harry's things in Ron's still lurid orange room, the four boys trooped noisily back down the stairs – Harry tried to lighten his step as he passed the closed door to Percy's room, but Fred, seeing him, shook his head and shouted "Silencing Charm! He can't hear a thing."
"Fred!" Mrs Weasley's voice emanated from the kitchen in a warning tone.
"George!" Fred shouted back while his twin sniggered behind him - and through the house. They passed Mrs Weasley in the kitchen, and were held up several minutes while she pointedly scolded the twins and greeted Harry as enthusiastically as ever. She looked as though she wanted to give Harry a big hug but refrained for some reason.
"Just look at you," she said, fussing over Harry. "Don't those Muggles know how to feed a growing boy?" She pursed her lips in annoyance. Harry looked down at himself. He didn't look noticeably thinner than usual – and he certainly hadn't been starving this summer. He felt a small smidgeon of annoyance at his friends' mother; she didn't ever seem to see Harry as capable, didn't seem to realise that he was nearly sixteen. He pushed it away guiltily, she had taken him in again, and she meant well.
When they finally escaped the house they headed straight for the broomshed. The twins opened the plain wooden doors with a flourish and Ron led the way over to where a broom was concealed beneath a red cloth. He gestured for Harry to take it. Harry pulled the cloth off and caught sight of the broom underneath. It was his Firebolt. It had been cleaned up and polished, removing all traces of its enforced stay under lock and key. Harry wasn't sure what to do. On one hand he knew that Ron and the twins expected him to take the broom and go play Quidditch with them. On the other hand, he wasn't sure he would ever be able to ride it again without being compelled to think of Sirius.
"It arrived two days ago," Ron told him expectantly. "We cleaned it up all ready for you coming over. So let's go play Quidditch."
"Tell you what, Ron," he said. "Want to swap? You can use my Firebolt for the game and I'll borrow your Cleansweep. It's only fair, considering the work you put into fixing it back up for me."
Ron didn't appear to suspect Harry of ulterior motives and enthusiastically swapped brooms, before leading the way to the field.
As they approached the field, Harry caught sight of three figures swooping along just below the canopy level of the surrounding trees. All had the distinctive red hair of the Weasleys. Bill, easily the tallest of the lot with his lanky build, spotted them approaching first and yelled out a "hullo" before turning his broom and coming to meet them. Harry saw that Mrs Weasley still hadn't managed to convince him to cut his hair or stop wearing an earring, although the dragon tooth was gone, replaced by a gold earring in the shape of a phoenix. The phoenix fluttered its golden wings to keep its position under Bill's ear as he came to a quick stop next to Ron.
Following quickly in Bill's wake was a shorter, more solidly built Weasley. Harry hadn't seen Charlie since the Triwizard Tournament, and was surprised to notice that he didn't seem to have any sign of burns. He wondered how long Charlie had been away from the dragons he usually worked with in Romania. Charlie shot Harry a grin as he dove into an almost-vertical dive, pulling up just short of the ground in front of Harry and hopping lightly off his broom.
"Nice move," Harry complimented him as he shook the proffered hand in greeting; more evidence that Charlie had been away from dragons for a while presented itself, as, although his hands were as callused as ever, blisters were in short supply.
"Good to see you again Harry, with you here maybe we can have something resembling a game of Quidditch," Charlie said. "I've been wanting to test my old Seeker skills against the Gryffindor star Seeker for a while now, ever since I saw you flying against the Hungarian Horntail."
But Harry only absently heard the last part of what Charlie was saying as he had just got a proper look at the final Weasley joining them from the air. It was Ginny. And just seeing her approach jolted something inside Harry. He tried to fight it, but could feel the blood drain from his face as the memory surged and took him over. Pain. Unimaginable pain, fear and the violent cold which came after it. He started to unconsciously shake and the next thing he knew he was on the ground.
"Is it your scar again, Harry?" He heard a worried voice asking him. Ron's long nose came into focus above Harry.
Harry stood up carefully, ignoring the protesting Weasleys crowded around him and said, quite clearly, "I think I'll go lie down for a bit,' before tearing back to the Burrow as though his life depended on it.
Shall I shut up now?
A/N: Thanks to Jner for the betaing. If anyone's read the original version of this, they'll be able to see the amazing difference the help has made.