A/N: This story started out as a minor bunny that I tried to put to paper in order to prevent it from growing in my imagination as a smutty little bunny has done (that one grew from a single dirty little scene to a full blown novel length story, complete with a compelling, at least I think it's compelling, plot and more than a couple smutty scenes), however it still grew into a 23K word story. I hope any of you that deem to read it will enjoy it.
Many thanks to Kalarien for her beta efforts as well as Shannon and Helen who see it first.
July 31, 1997
The clash of battle rang across the wide field, wizards, both Dark and Light, dueled with no quarter asked and none given. In the center of it all, two stood apart, encased in a golden cage, their wands and their wills locked in mortal combat. Suddenly, there was a blinding flash of light and a concussive wave spread out from the exploding cage. When the smoke cleared, only one remained standing, his splintered wand smoldering in his hands. Harry Potter looked around vacantly as if he were shocked to still be alive. Silence reigned as Death Eaters, realizing that their leader had fallen and wouldn't get up, either surrendered or, if they still had the energy, Apparated away to try and escape.
All save one.
Draco Malfoy, the Dark mark still healing on his arm from his initiation just two days ago, took in the ruin that was his chosen future. He had sided with his father and Voldemort and now they were defeated. He was defeated. He looked at the bedraggled, skinny, worthless excuse of a half-blood that had caused this and knew he had but one choice left: revenge. Before anyone could make a move to stop him, he raised his wand and cast the killing curse at the one person who had foiled him at his every turn.
Suddenly, the surrounding Light wizards and witches flew into action. Bolts of magical energy in every color of the rainbow flashed across the open field, all aiming towards a single point, a single enemy. All for naught. That one green flash flew out in the opposite direction and towards a skinny lad with a mass of unkempt black hair.
It was too late, no one could intervene and Harry seemed too exhausted to move as the curse sailed towards him. Suddenly, in a streak of scarlet and gold, Fawkes flew in from behind, but even he could not knock Harry out of the way in time. At the same second that the Phoenix crashed into Harry's back the curse struck him in the chest. There was a blinding flash of fire as boy and Phoenix were incinerated together.
Members of the Order of the Phoenix swarmed to where moments ago there stood The Boy Who Lived and saw that now there was nothing left but ash. Moments later, a single voice speaking in quiet astonishment brought chaos to silence. "My word," was all Albus Dumbledore had to say to get everyone's complete attention, as he raised in his gnarled hands a squalling newborn infant.
* * * * *
October 31, 1998
It was nearly midnight when a terrified scream rent through the small cottage near the usually quiet village of Ottery St. Catchpole. Hermione flew from her chair by the fire to the nursery where she scooped up the crying toddler and held him in her arms, trying with every fiber of her being to comfort him.
"Blimey, but that little guy can scream," said Ron Weasley through a yawn. "I was just falling asleep."
"Oh, do be quiet, Ron," Hermione chastised her husband. "It's not like this is any sort of surprise."
"But he's always been such a good baby. He's never had any sort of nightmares before."
"Oh really, Ron," Hermione said, clearly vexed. "Don't you even know what day this is?"
"O'course, I do! It's Hallo... oh."
"Yes," she said, shaking her head in frustration, "it's Halloween. It was seventeen years ago today that it all started."
"D'ya think he's remembering... it?" Ron asked in quiet astonishment.
"I don't really know, but the Headmaster warned us that there may still be some link to his past memories."
"Bloody hell, things never go easy for Harry, do they?"
* * * * *
March 31, 2002
"Mummy," the small boy said as he crawled into bed with his parents, "I had a bad dream. Can I sleep with you and Daddy?"
"Of course you can, sweetie," the young woman answered sleepily. "What did you dream about? Were those mean people there again?"
The little boy nodded silently and snuggled close to his mother's bosom, the gentle rhythm of her heartbeat calming him. "They're always there. They were yelling at me for tracking mud into the house. It wasn't even me that did it, it was Duddy."
Hermione rocked the boy in what was fast becoming a nightly ritual. "It was just a dream, Harry. Those people can't hurt you. You're safe here with us."
Young Harry Potter snuggled in closer, drawing strength and comfort from the love he felt in his mother's arms.
"Why do I have a different name than you and Daddy?"
Hermione bit her lip in thought for a moment, she had known this moment was coming and had been expecting this question since the day she had insisted on taking Harry in, but now, when finally faced with it, all her clever answers flew from her memory.
"Well, you don't actually look like a Hermione, now do you?" she said flippantly, stalling for time.
The boy chuckled and said, "No, silly, my last name. You and Daddy are Weasleys and my name is Potter. Why?"
"Have any of the other children at the Little Wizards Playcenter said anything to you about it?"
Harry burrowed in closer to the only mother he had ever known. "Well, sometimes they call me names."
"Like what?" she asked, afraid of the answer.
"Like 'The-Boy-Who-Lived-Again'. Why do I have to be different?"
"Well sweetie, do you remember how we talked about how babies are made?"
"You mean like the one growing in Auntie Fleur's tummy?"
Hermione nodded. "Well, some babies are made and some... some very special babies are chosen."
Hermione sat and explained the idea of adoption until the young boy fell asleep in her arms.
* * * * *
July 22, 2008
Hermione awoke in the small hours of the morning, as she often did, knowing that he was downstairs, sitting in front of the dying embers of the fire. Again. She drew on her dressing gown and softly padded down the stairs. Just as she had known, the small mop of impossibly tousled black hair was just visible above the back of the couch facing the fireplace. She walked around and took her usual place beside the boy and reached out and took his hand.
"Want to talk about it?" she asked gently.
"Am I going to have a choice?"
"Like I ever do," Harry said quietly and snuggled over under his adoptive mother's arm. "It was Dudley's birthday. They went to the zoo and had to take me with them. We were in the reptile house and this snake, I think it was a boa constrictor, started talking to me." Hermione had heard this story before, over a decade and a half ago, but she didn't interrupt. She understood that his telling was more important than her listening. "Suddenly, Dudley hit me and knocked me over. I got angry and I reckon I made the glass vanish. The snake got loose and chased Dudley away. Uncle Vernon was really angry. He said he was going to lock me in my cupboard for a week this time."
Hermione hugged her son tightly, trying to give him all the comfort she could. "You know that in the morning, we'll all be going into London to do your school shopping?" she said in an attempt to change his mood.
Young Harry brightened at this; he was excited by the idea of going away to Hogwarts. "Will Grandfather Albus be there?"
"He said he would, sweetie. I think he is looking forward to your starting Hogwarts even more than you are."
Hermione, however, wasn't looking forward to it in the least. She had spent most of the last decade helping her best friend grow up, trying to give him all the love that he deserved. Trying to give him the childhood that he hadn't had the first time around.
When he had begun to have the nightmares, on the anniversary of Voldemort's murdering his real parents, she had immediately contacted Albus Dumbledore. Over time, as Harry had grown and gained the ability to articulate his dreams, they had learned that he was regaining the memories of his past life, one day at a time. There had been many arguments over what to do. One particularly greasy Potions Master stated that Harry ought to be obliviated entirely and sent to St. Mungo's. Hermione's response blasted him through the wall and halfway down the corridor.
It was finally decided to let fate take its course. Hermione and Ron, with large amounts of help from Dumbledore, began the process of teaching Harry who he was. Explaining as much as the young boy could understand what had happened and that he was regaining memories of his earlier life. Slowly he came to understand what was happening, how he was reliving things that had happened years ago to an earlier version of himself. His nights were often troubled as these memories came back to him in his sleep but, thanks to the unflagging love of his adoptive parents and extended family, Harry had as happy a childhood as could be.
Now it was almost time for him to go away to Hogwarts and Hermione was worried. She had sat with him most nights, letting and often pushing him into speaking about his dreams, about his other life. The other Harry had rarely spoken of it, instead becoming withdrawn and morose when the memories of his childhood overtook him. She was determined that this time would be different. By making him talk she was teaching him to cope. By sharing his pain, and even being as prepared as she was she was surprised at how often they both had wept over his treatment, his burdens were that much lighter. But at Hogwarts, who would be there to listen? Who would force him to remain open and not close himself off to the world as he had done before?
* * * * *
September 1, 2008
The crowded platform at King's Cross brought back a flood of happy memories to Ron and Hermione as they followed Harry, pushing his laden trolley, towards the gleaming scarlet locomotive the headed the Hogwarts Express.
"Giselle! Giselle!" he called as he ran forward. Hermione easily saw above the crowd the long ponytail, once bright red but now fading slightly with grey, of Bill Weasley. Beside him stood the still elegant and hauntingly beautiful quarter-veela Fleur. In front of them, pushing a trolley of her own, was their daughter Giselle, their eldest child and Harry's best friend. Her strawberry blonde hair spoke of her Weasley heritage but the beauty that shone from just beneath the surface, like a rosebud awaiting the right time to bloom, was all from her mother. The two cousins immediately crashed their trolleys together sending an avalanche of trunks and parcels flying pell-mell. As one, the two turned their faces up to the frowning group of parents with looks of chagrin until, unable to control themselves a second longer, they collapsed in fits of giggles.
"Oh Harry!" the girl crowed. "I can hardly wait to get to Hogwarts, can you?"
"No! It's going to be brill!" Then, leaning close, he whispered conspiratorially, "Uncle Fred and George already told me how to get into the kitchens."
Giselle grinned and whispered back, "And they gave a whole box of new wheezes. They just made me promise to prank the Slytherins most of all."
Harry looked at her, suddenly serious. "You don't think that... that we might... get sorted there, do you?"
Giselle looked aghast. "I hope not! How do we get sorted anyway? Your Dad told me that we had to wrestle a troll!"
Harry waved a hand in dismissal. "Don't worry, Gee. Just bat your eyes at it and the thing will faint dead away. They'll make you headmaster." Giselle blushed, even at only eleven, the charms she inherited from her Veela ancestors could not be denied.
"Well, come along you lot, let's get you settled on the train before it pulls out without you," Bill said, taking charge of the scene. "Have you got the lunches that Gram fixed you?" Both youngsters pulled bulging paper sacks from the pile of rubble that still surrounded them. Bill shook his head in amazement. "I swear! There's enough food there to feed even you, Ron!"
"Nah," Ron said in disgust, "I already checked. It's corned beef."
As the adults all laughed, Giselle snorted, "I happen to like Grammy's corned beef."
"I like everything Grammy cooks!" Harry added, "Except wax beans."
Bill smiled down at them. "You'd think that, after two full generations of Weasley children refusing to eat them, Mum would learn not to cook those revolving things anymore."
"Ah, but they are so good for you, Bill," Fleur said in response. "They make your hair soft and shiny. Perhaps I will fix a big bowlful of them for dinner tonight."
Bill just shook his head. "You can if you want to, just don't ask me to clean them up when the kids throw them all over the floor."
"Speaking of that, where are the rest of the kids?" Hermione asked.
"Molly is watching them," Fleur answered with a smile. "It was the only way to get her to stop fixing food for these two to eat on the train."
Ron wiped a faux tear from his eye. "Ah, the first of a whole new generation of Weasleys going away to Hogwarts," he said mistily.
"But not the last, God save it," Hermione finished.
A short while later, as the train steamed away from the station, Ron slipped his arm around his wife's shoulder, consoling her as she sniffed and wiped her eyes.
"I'm gonna miss the little guy," he said quietly.
"This is going to be so strange," Hermione sighed.
"I know dear, but we both knew that this day would come."
"Yes, but still, my son is going off to school and I have no idea who is going to come back." Ron looked down at her in confusion. Hermione saw this and shook her head. "Even after all these years, Ron, you can still be so dense sometimes. The little boy who just left us was our son. He has no memories of us as anything but his parents. But tonight, when he goes to sleep in Gryffindor Tower for the first time, think about what he is going to dream about."
"He's going to remember his first trip on the train, when he meets us for the first time."
"Yes, from now on everything will change, we'll no longer be just his parents, we'll be his friends also. When he comes home next, will he be little Harry, the baby I nursed and whose nappies I changed, or is he going to be Harry, the boy who rescued me from that troll on Halloween?"
"Hey!" Ron said indignantly, "I was there too, if you'll recall."
"I remember, Ron, as well as you do," she said, giving him a brief kiss to mollify him. "But Harry doesn't, at least not yet. Soon he will and how will that change how he sees us? How he feels about us?"
"He'll still love us, Hermione; he always will. Just like we'll always love him. You worry too much, that's always been you problem," he said teasingly.
"He's my baby, Ron, and I may never see him again." Tears had now begun to roll down her cheeks.
"But maybe we will get to see our friend again. Haven't you missed him?"
Hermione had to nod in agreement. "Yes, I have, but still... this is going to be strange."
* * * * *
Dear Mum and Dad,
I just thought I'd start a letter to you before I go to bed to let you know how things went. Obviously I got here just fine since I'm writing this. Giselle is quite put out with you, Dad. She honestly believed that she would have to wrestle a troll at the sorting; evidently Uncles Freorge told her the same story. Grandfather Albus told me about the hat when we went shopping but I thought I'd let her find out for herself. Luckily she's too mad at you to realize that I wasn't scared in the least. She got sorted into Hufflepuff and I went into Slytherin. It's not too bad down here in the dungeons, although the water dripping off the stalactites keeps soaking this letter as I write it. Giselle should be happy though, I noticed a bunch of the older fellows really eying her when she went over to their table.
Only joking! :) We're both in Gryffindor, of course. It was sort of funny though. When I put the hat on it seemed to be expecting me, I reckon Grandfather Albus had already had a chat with it. It told me not to bother arguing with it this time and shouted out "GRYFFINDOR" straight away. I suppose I'll know what it was talking about tomorrow.
I'm kind of tired now, it's been a long day, but I'm not sure if I want to go to sleep or not. I mean, tonight I'll be remembering what happened the last time. I'm really excited to be meeting you and Dad for the first time but it's scary too. So I guess what I'm trying to say is that... well, I love you Mum, and you too Dad. And I just wanted to thank you for being my folks. OK? I just thought that I ought to tell you that.
I reckon I'll go to bed now. Good night.
P.S. I really do love you, Mum.
Hermione wiped the tears from her cheeks and whispered, "I love you too, sweetie." After folding the letter up and placing it neatly back into its envelope for Ron to read when he finally woke up, Hermione reached for the second letter, clearly labeled "#2".
Well, I managed to sleep through the night so I guess things weren't so bad. Actually, it was rather fun getting to meet all of you again. Mum, put the letter down now, the next part is just for Dad. You were right, Dad. She was a bossy Know-it-all, even back then. I mean really! "Doing Magic? All right, let's see then." Already acting like a bloody professor and she hadn't even taken a single class yet! And Dad, if Mum did read this, do the smart thing for a change, just look sad and say, "Yes dear, I'm sorry." All right Mum, you can start reading again now.
When I got up this morning (Did I mention that I slept all the way through the night?) Giselle was already waiting for me in the common room. Did you ask her to keep an eye on me, Mum? We're sitting at breakfast now, waiting for our class schedules to be passed out. Just got mine. Auntie Nym says 'Wotcher' by the way. Potions first thing! Aargh! What a way to start life at Hogwarts!
The parchment now became smudged and wrinkled as if someone had almost ripped it.
Sorry about the mess, but just as we were leaving breakfast some pointy-faced git by the name of Draco Fitzmalfoy Parkinson (as if he would need a name like that for anyone to tell exactly who HE was) tried to grab it out of my hand. Just as he started in though, Auntie Nym turns around and catches him. She docked 5 points from Slytherin and gave him detention.
We just finished Potions, what a PRAT! He starts right in on me, just like you warned me, Dad. I answered his questions about Wolfsbane, again just like you warned me, then said that my Godfather was a werewolf so it was kinda easy. He docked Gryffindor 10 points because I "abused my familial relation with a member of the staff". Can you believe it???
I'm in Transfiguration now, waiting for class to start. Auntie Nym just tripped on her way up to the board so I guess I'll close for now.
I'll write again soon. I miss you and love you both.
P.S. In my dream last night, I remembered something. Who was Percy? At King's Cross, Grammy acted like he was just another of her kids. Is he a cousin or something? I've never met him. Did he die in the war? How come nobody ever talks about him? And there was a girl there too. She was also with Grammy and was obviously a Weasley. She told me "Good luck" when we went through the barrier, Dad. Who is she?
"At least we're still 'Mum and Dad'," Ron said lightly, trying to alleviate his wife's fears. Hermione turned and gave him a deadly glare, making Ron gulp and mumble, "Yes dear, I'm sorry."
Hermione's eyes turned suddenly sad and she asked, "Whatever are we going to tell him?"
* * * * *
Dear Mum and Dad;
Things are going well here at school, except for Potions that is. And my dreams haven't been bad either so you can stop worrying Mum. The memories all seem to be good ones, except for Potions that is. What a greasy GIT! Every class I get yelled at, and usually lose points too, all because I don't already know the lesson, then the next night I dream the exact same lesson and get yelled at all over again! It's like that stupid prat can't even be bothered to change his lesson plans from one year to the next. I swear, it's been seventeen years and he is following the exact same syllabus! If I could change my classes so that I have Potions on Wednesdays instead of Mondays I'd know all the answers. Or else if I could only move my dreams up a couple of days... Hey! That gives me an idea! I need to talk to Gee about this but I think it could work. Don't worry Mum, I won't do anything dangerous, and don't worry Dad 'cause it WILL BE FUN! And if it works, I'll have that greasy git over a barrel of flobberworms!
Anyways, I have been talking a lot with Grandfather Albus, excuse me Headmaster Emeritus Albus Dumbledore, Chief Mugwump, Head Cook and Bottle Washer blah blah blah blah blah (the Headmistress can be a bit strict about titles sometimes, I think she wraps her bun a little too tight in the morning), about my dreams and stuff. I mean everything's going fine so why is everyone pestering me to talk all the time? But then again, when the dreams turn back into nightmares I guess it will be good to have someone to talk to. I really miss you sometimes, Mum.
One of my dorm-mates, I don't think I've talked about him much, is named Jimmy Wood. Mum, you think Dad and me are big on Quidditch? You ought to see this guy! His Dad, Oliver - remember him Dad? - is the trainer for Puddlemere United. Well, the other day he starts in on the Cannons. He says that the only reason they're not all a bunch of has-beens is that they never were in the first place. I punched him right in the nose. Don't blow a gasket Mum, Gee cleaned the blood off his robes right away and then turned on the charm. In a couple minutes he couldn't even remember what color a Quaffle was! Having a Veela around sure comes in handy sometimes.
We had our first flying lessons yesterday. Madam Hooch says I haven't lost my touch. She said she's looking forward to my trying out for the house team next year. Those school brooms sure leave a lot to be desired though. I wish I had my Firebolt here! Speaking of the Gryffindor team. I'm not sure if I should try out next year or not. The current Seeker is a fifth year so I couldn't try for that spot for a couple more years. They will be needing a Chaser next year though. Remember how you said my first Dad was a Chaser, Dad? Maybe I'll try that then. I don't know, I guess I have a bit of time before I have to decide, huh?
Well, I want to go find Giselle so we can work on that idea, so I'll close here.
Hermione put down the letter and looked up at her husband. She scowled when she saw how he was grinning broadly.
"FIGHTING!" she screamed. "Over Quidditch!"
"No dear," Ron said, trying to calm her. "Not over Quidditch, over the Cannons. It's a totally different thing."
"Gads! Will you never grow up?"
"I might grow old but I'll never grow up!" he replied saucily.
Hermione shook her head in frustration. "And if we get an owl from Minerva over this stunt he's planning with Giselle... well, let me just warn you that you had best not encourage this sort of behavior in the future."
* * * * *
I'm sending this to you because I don't think that Mum would appreciate the news. WE DID IT!!! It was absolutely brilliant. It's so great when a plan comes together! Gee and I managed to prank half of Slytherin House and get one over on that slimy Professor Snape at the same time.
Giselle was brilliant! We snuck down to the dungeons last Friday. The upper-class Slytherins were just getting out of class. I was hiding under my Invisibility Cloak (don't tell Mum but Grandfather Albus gave it back to me) and Giselle had an arm full of papers. Well, the snakes came pouring out of class and ploughed right into her and the parchments all went flying. Oh, this is so great! She turns on them with this big pouty face and really turns on the Veela charms. The guys start falling all over themselves to pick up her stuff, then pretty soon they are fighting each other to see who would get to give them back to her. By the time Snape comes out into the hall, Gee is hiding under the cloak with me and we sneak into his office. While he is out in the hall lecturing his students on proper behavior, we are in his office doing this neat parchment charm that Uncle Moony taught us. We switched this week's potion with one from the end of the term in his lesson plans. This week will be the usual torture but by next week I'll be dreaming the lessons before we have them!
If Mum starts getting suspicious, tell her that we are going to be making a Gryffindor Potions Study Guide with all the unfair questions that Snape always asks so that future generations of Gryffindors aren't subjected to his biased teaching. That should keep her calm. And we might just do it too.
* * * * *
Dear Mum and Dad,
Things here are still going well. I'm doing OK in all my classes, especially since I have to sit through them twice, once awake and once asleep. Last night, while remembering a History of Magic lecture, I could swear that I fell asleep WHILE I WAS ASLEEP! Even Potions is OK; it seems that Snape has never even noticed the switch in his lesson plans and so I've been prepared for him. He seems to think that I've gotten hold of Mum's old class notes and I'm revising from them. You don't still have them, do you Mum? They'd come in really handy.
It seems that Gryffindor is out of the running for the Quidditch Cup. We lost to Ravenclaw pretty badly. Jimmy is screaming that the team needs to practice more. I guess the apple didn't fall far from THAT tree, huh? He's planning on trying out for the team next year too. If he makes it I think I might just quit before I even start.
Something queer happened the other day. I reckon that Grandfather Albus arranged for me to have the same dorm now that we had the last time. I've even got the same bed. I'll admit that it does come in handy when I wake up from a dream. I wander out to the loo or to get a drink of water and I don't have to think about which room I'm in or even which time. It would be rather embarrassing to climb into bed with some bloke from another year in the middle of the night! Speaking of that. Jimmy found something on my bed the other night. There was a heart carved into the backside of the headboard. (Mum, don't ask how we got to looking back there. It's a long story and you probably wouldn't understand anyway.) There were some initials carved in it too. They were HP & GW. Jimmy thinks that I have a crush on Giselle but I didn't carve that there. At least not this time through. I can't think of any girl I knew then with the initials GW. Please Dad, tell me I wasn't a poof and I didn't have a crush on Uncle George!
P.S. I came across the name Percy Weasley on a plaque listing all the old Headboys the other day so I know he is a relative. Who is he?
P.P.S. Mum, don't ask me how I came to be so familiar with the plaques in the Trophy Room, it involves Peeves, some fireworks, and a big bowl of treacle pudding on the Slytherin Table, directly in front of that Parkinson git.
* * * * *
June 22, 2009
Hermione stood nervously worrying at her lower lip while the Hogwarts Express slowed to a stop amid a cloud of acrid steam. Ron looked down at his wife, amazed that he still found this nervous habit of hers so adorable. Standing next to them were Bill and Fleur, waiting to pick up Giselle.
"Don't worry, love," he said quietly. "Everything will be just fine. You'll see."
"But who is he going to be?"
Ron rested a strong hand on her shoulder and said, "He'll be both, just like he always was. The only question is: how much of each?"
At last, the train started disgorging its load of students. The air was filled was the excited cries of greetings as children flew into the arms of their parents. Harry and Giselle left the train together and began to walk across the platform. Giselle saw her parents first and ran to greet them. She was engulfed in her mother's embrace when she gazed back over her shoulder at Harry with a worried look.
Hermione was distressed to see the familiar pensive look on Harry's face as he came closer. She could see that he was considering something. She couldn't help but know what it was. She gave him a tentative smile, lowered herself to one knee and held her arms wide. He hesitated only a moment before he ran the rest of the way and wrapped his arms around her. After a long hug, Harry pulled back and embraced his father quickly. After letting him go, Harry stood straight and looked the two of them directly in the eyes.
"You guys got hurt because of me," he said quietly. "I'm sorry. I reckon I got you both hurt a lot."
Ron stooped down to meet his gaze levelly. "No, Harry. We got hurt, yes, all of us did, but we were fighting the good fight. You didn't get us hurt; you just led us into the battles."
Hermione could see that this was something that Harry couldn't yet understand. In the past he never truly understood. She promised herself that she would make sure that he understood now.
* * * * *
July 31, 2009
Brightly colored balloons festooned the back garden of the small cottage, a flashing banner reading "Happy Birthday Harry" was hung across the doorway so that people had to duck underneath it to go through. The yard was crowded with well-wishers and family and seemed overjoyed with it all.
He sat at a wooden table, surrounded by torn shreds of wrapping paper and opened boxes. His hair was bright purple and he occasionally coughed up bits of fire, thanks to a not-quite-thoroughly-enough tested gift from Fred and George. The smile on his face went from one ear to the other. His family and friends were gathered around him laughing and he couldn't possibly imagine feeling any happier.
Soon the cake was served and the party began to wind down. Giselle, who was sitting next to him with small singe marks marring the luster of her hair, turned to him said, "Harry, can I ask you a question?"
"Sure Gee," he answered without hesitation.
Giselle took in a deep breathe and asked the thing that had been tugging at her for years, "What's it like?"
The surrounding grownups all gasped but Harry looked at her as if he didn't know what she was asking.
"Wha's what like?"
"Your dreams... Are they really like dreams or what?"
Harry's smile disappeared and Hermione began to move in as if to sweep him away but Ron held her back with a gentle hand on her arm. Giselle began to blush and stammer until Harry spoke up.
"No, it's all right, really. I guess most of you have been wondering anyways." He sighed once then began. "It's really quite strange. It's not like I'm dreaming, it's like I'm reliving it all. I wake up in the morning sometimes and I don't know when I am. Is it now or is it then? Were they just dreams, or is this?" He looked at the group gathered around him. It seemed that none of them understood. "It's like I had two yesterdays. I mean, Gee, what were you doing yesterday?"
Giselle shrugged, "Mum and I went shopping. We got this new dress." She held up her once bright blue dress, now hopelessly stained by smoke from the twins' gift.
"Well, I had two yesterdays. In one of them I was here de-gnoming the garden and trimming the hedge while Mum burned the cake in the kitchen then flooed Grammy to see if she could still bake one in time for the party."
Everyone turned to the flustered Hermione who stammered, "I've never been that good at baking." A few people laughed until Harry began speaking again.
"But I was also there, locked up in my bedroom on Privet Drive. There were bars on the windows and Hedwig was locked in her cage as well. Aunt Petunia pushed a chunk of moldy cheese and a heel of bread through the catflap around noon and I split it with Hedwig. I spent the whole day lying on my cot wondering why no one had sent me any letters. I felt so alone, so forgotten, like I didn't matter to anyone."
In a thrice Hermione had him in an embrace. Looking over her arm Harry could see Grandfather Albus ducking his head, and wiping at his eyes under his spectacles.
"We hadn't forgotten you, sweetie. We were all worried about you and couldn't understand why you weren't returning any of our letters. Remember, Dobby was stopping them."
Harry pushed himself away and brushed down his shirt to straighten it. "I know, I know all that, Mum. I've heard the stories. Dobby was still trapped at the Malfoys and he was stopping all my mail because he wanted to keep me from going back to school, 'cause he knew that they were planning something. And I know that in a couple of days Ron and Fred and George will be coming to break me out and take me to the Burrow. I know that now, but last night... last night all I knew was that I was all alone. And that's all I'll know tonight when I go back there."
Hermione pulled him back into her embrace and Harry felt her tears soak through his hair. He clung to her tightly for a moment until the calm reassuring voice of Albus Dumbledore began to come through to him.
"Harry, Harry," he said. Harry looked up and saw such tremendous sadness in those ancient eyes that for a second he knew that the old wizard understood everything. "Harry, I am so sorry for the pain you have endured. I have made many mistakes in the past but none that I regret more than those I have made with you."
Harry smiled gently up and said, "There's no need to apologize, Grandfather. I know you meant well. I'm not angry with you."
"But you should be, Harry, and in a few more years you will be."
* * * * *
August 10, 2009
When Harry came down to breakfast with a sullen look on his face, Hermione knew that it wasn't going to be a pleasant day. Every day for the last week he had been coming down with a broad smile on his face thanks to his dreaming of his first visit to the Burrow and Hermione had been waiting for this moment, this confrontation ever since.
"Morning, Harry," she said sweetly. "Would you like eggs or porridge this morning?"
"I want to know," he answered in a sulk.
"Know what, pumpkin?" she asked while trying to divert his attention with a rack of warm raisin toast.
"What happened to them?" Hermione placed the toast on the table in front of him and added a dish of butter and pot of jam. Harry wouldn't be distracted, however. "What happened to Ginny and Percy?"
"I really don't know," she said, trying to sound casual rather than frightened, which was what she was; she was frightened of her own son.
"Don't give me that! You know what happened to them, Hermione. Everyone knows! I deserve to know as well."
Hermione put on her best affronted Molly Weasley expression and turned around. "I will not be spoken to in that manner, young man!"
"Then stop lying to me!"
Hermione was shocked at the power of his anger. Never before had he been this angry with her, not since his other life. "I'm not lying to you, Harry," she squeaked.
"No, but you're as good as. You're deliberately hiding the truth!"
Tears were beginning to roll down her cheeks as she struggled to answer. "I thought Albus had convinced you that you should wait until..."
"Until what?" Harry screamed. "Until I hear it on the wireless? Until I read about it in some book somewhere like I get to learn about the rest of my life? Don't I deserve to know what happens? Don't I deserve to hear the truth from my family instead of a bunch of strangers?"
Unable to face his anger and yet still unable to tell him the truth, Hermione fled from the kitchen and upstairs, nearly knocking over a stumbling Ron in the process. Thoroughly put off by his wife's tears, Ron entered the kitchen just in time to watch Harry hurl a bowl of porridge against the wall in fury.
"What's going on here?" he shouted, trying to take control of the situation from the distraught adolescent.
Harry wasn't about to give in however. "What's going on is that I'm sick and tired of being treated to a heaping pile of dung every time I ask a question!"
"What are you talking about, Harry? Why is your Mum crying?"
"I want to know, Ron." Harry's voice was cold in his anger and his determination. "I want to know what happened to Percy and Ginny."
"Is that what this is all about?" Ron screamed. "Is that why you made your mother cry? Did you force this on her?"
"Force this on HER? I'm the one being forced here! I'm being forced to relive hell and no one will tell me why!" Harry rounded the table and stalked up to his father like an angry lion. "What happened to them, Ron? What happened to Percy and Ginny, your brother and sister? Did I kill them? Was it because of me?"
Ron was too furious to understand the pain in Harry's voice; he only saw the tears on the face of his wife, the woman who had dedicated her life to raising this ungrateful brat. Didn't he realize how much it hurt them all to talk about this? Or even to just think about it?
"That's none of your business!" he shouted.
"IT'S ALL MY BUSINESS!" Harry screamed in response. "What happened to them?"
"HE WAS A DEATH EATER, ALL RIGHT! MY OWN BROTHER WAS A STINKING, MURDERING DEATH EATER! AND HE'S THE ONE WHO KILLED..." Unable to finish, Ron stormed out of the house as Harry collapsed against the wall.
Two hours later, a defeated young Harry slowly made his way up the stairs. With a tentative hand he rapped on his parents' bedroom door.
"Hermi... Mum?" he said quietly. "Are you in there, Mum?"
There was no answer but a rustle of cloth told him that she was there. He carefully pushed open the door and crept in. Hermione was lying on her stomach on the bed. Her face was turned away from him but Harry didn't have to see it to know she was still crying. Quietly, he approached and sat on the edge of the bed.
"I'm... I'm sorry, Mum. I didn't mean to make you cry. I just... I just get so angry sometimes that there's so much about my life that other people know that I don't." Hermione only sniffed into her sleeve in response. "I'm sorry. I reckon I'm a pretty rotten son. I don't deserve..."
Before he could finish Hermione had grabbed him into a tearful embrace. "No! Don't ever think that, sweetie; don't ever think that you don't deserve every happiness. We're a family, Harry. That means that we fight sometimes. It happens in every family, but it doesn't mean that we don't love each other."
"Even if I make you cry?" Harry asked uncertainly.
Hermione nodded. "Even if we make each other cry sometimes." She reached over and placed her hands on his cheeks, holding him still and directing him to look her straight in the eyes. "I love you, Harry," she said with conviction. "You are my son, and I will always love you." She took a deep breath and then grinned with a touch of uncertainty. "And you're my best friend, and I will always love you for that too. I know that it's hard for you, not remembering so much of your own life, but it will all come back in time. You just have to be patient."
Harry grinned back at her. "That's a lot easier said than done sometimes."
Hermione pulled him into a strong hug that he returned gladly. "Yes, I know. Patience has never been one of your strong suits. But please try."
Harry pulled back from his mother's hug and stammered, "But look what I've done. I made you cry and now Dad is all hacked off with me. I'm nothing but trouble."
"No, Harry, you're not! It's not you. It's just that all this is so difficult." She pulled back slightly and took a firm hold of his hands. "I know you're angry and that you think that we are holding things back, but you have to try to understand. The things that happened, it was all so painful for us. Even now it hurts so much to talk about some things that we just can't. Please try to understand. I know how hard it is but please try to be patient. You will remember in time." She again wrapped her arms around her son, holding him to her as if he might disappear any second.
"OK, Mum, I'll try. And I promise I'll never bring it up again." He gladly returned her embrace. "But what are we gonna do about Dad? He was really chuffed."
Hermione gave a tearful chuckle and said, "Oh, Harry, don't you know your father by now? The way to his heart is through his stomach. We'll go down and cook his favorite dinner, and make sure there's plenty of it. He'll come home all nervous and worried but by about halfway through the roasted potatoes he'll have forgotten that anything had happened."
Harry returned her grin cautiously then stood. Still holding her hand he pulled her downstairs to begin the cooking.
* * * * *
September 1, 2010
Ron and Hermione walked a few steps behind Harry as he pushed his trolley towards the barrier leading to Platform 9 ¾ to begin his third year. It had been a good summer, especially the last three weeks when Harry dreamt of spending time at Diagon Alley. Hermione hadn't realized how heavily his relations with others weighed upon him until she saw him coming down the stairs in the morning after spending the night reliving the time he was staying in the Leaky Cauldron all by himself.
"Are you certain you've remembered all your things, sweetie?" she asked before he could disappear through to the platform itself.
"Yes, Mum. I've got everything," Harry answered with the indulgent tone of a child addressing a particularly dim parent.
"Even your Ancient Runes text?" she asked pointedly.
Harry's shoulders drooped as he returned her look with one of lessening patience. "Yes, even that one. Really, I don't see why I couldn't just take Divination again, like I did last time."
Now it was Hermione's turn to lose some patience. "Because, Harry, as we've discussed innumerable times this summer, that class is absolute rubbish. I won't have you wasting your time in it. Besides, I think you could do with a bit of a challenge in at least one of your classes. You can't get by forever just remembering what you did the last time. I still think you ought to be taking Arithmancy as well."
"But Muuuummmm," Harry whinged, "I've got to take Care of Magical Creatures. I promised Hagrid."
"I know, but that is no reason for you to neglect your education. You have a marvelous opportunity here to really expand your horizons and I am disappointed that you aren't taking full advantage of it by taking more classes."
"Oh com'on, Luv," Ron put in, "let the bloke take it easy. He's earned a bit of an easy ride, and it's not like he isn't taking any courses."
Hermione bristled, turning to face Ron. "He has been taking it easy. He's not on holiday at school you know, he ought to be learning as much as he can."
Harry took the opportunity of his parents bickering to slip through the barrier unnoticed.
"Aw, just let him have some fun, Hermione."
"No, dear, he went through enough the last time, and he has to relive it all again. Let him take it easy when he can," Ron countered.
"But he can use his studies as a way to relax and take his mind off things."
"No, dear, that's what you do. Let Harry find his own way."
Hermione looked at her husband, opened her mouth to speak, but finally swallowed whatever it was she was going to say and nodded.
Harry had made it across the barrier and into a carriage with Giselle. His trunk was all stowed and he reckoned he was home free when Hermione's voice cut through the noise on the platform like a hex.
"HARRY JAMES POTTER!!!" she called. "How dare you think you can just sneak away like that!"
Harry slunk down in his seat in a vain attempt to disappear. Hermione threw open the door to the compartment and caught sight of Giselle grinning like a Weasley and pointing to where Harry sat hidden under his cloak. Hermione ripped the cloak away and gave him an embarrassingly huge hug.
"Aw Muuum, do ya have to do that in public?"
Hermione ginned down at him and replied, "The next time you try to sneak off like that I'll pull out a big pink hankie and wipe your nose for you. Then I'll wail at the top of my voice how my 'widdle Harrykins is growing up soooo fast'!"
"You wouldn't!" Harry cried in shock.
"Just try me and see, Harry Potter."
Ron poked his head through the doorway and said, "You know that she would, mate. We were a bad influence on her." The two exchanged knowing smiles then Ron continued, "You sure you're all set?"
"You know what to expect, right?" Ron said hesitantly.
Harry answered easily, "Yeah, everybody's worried about Sirius Black, trying to keep him away. Uncle Moony is teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts, Snape's a prat, Whomping Willow to the Shrieking Shack. No big deal. Nobody gets killed... this year."
"There's still the Dementors," Hermione warned.
Harry's face darkened at this reminder. "Yeah, there's them... but I'll be learning to cast a Patronus after Christmas!"
"Please be careful, Harry?" Hermione asked again, worry evident on her face.
Harry embraced her again. "Don't worry, I will, Mum."
Ron clapped him lightly on the back but Harry gave him a quick hug anyway.
Ron and Hermione left and Harry turned to see Giselle holding a hand over her mouth to stifle her laughter.
"And you weren't a whole lot of help there, Gee!"
Giselle's answer was cutoff by a drawling voice from behind them.
"So, little baby Potty had to give his Mummy a big good-bye kiss?"
Harry turned to see Draco Parkinson standing in the corridor. "Stuff it, Darkinson," he said acidly. "It's not like anybody misses you when you leave. Your mum is probably at the Leaky Cauldron already. Having a congratulatory drink and saying 'Good riddance to bad rubbish'."
"Don't you dare talk about my mother!" Draco hissed. He reached for his wand but Harry just shut the door in his face.
* * * * *
June 28, 2012
Amid the crowd of parents and family awaiting the arrival of the Hogwarts Express at Kings Cross there stood two couples, both Weasleys. Ron and Hermione were chatting with Bill and Fleur about simple things to cover up their anxiety over how their children had faired in school that term. Hermione was particularly nervous as Harry hadn't come home for Christmas this year, a first for him. He had chosen to stay at the castle for the holiday and Giselle had asked to stay with him.
Harry's previous fourth year had marked the return of Voldemort and his witnessing the murder of Cedric Diggory. Hermione was worried how Harry would be handling remembering these instances, worries that were only slightly eased by an owl from Albus Dumbledore stating that he was doing better than expected thanks to some fortuitous but unforeseen circumstances. As usual, the former headmaster had neglected to say what those circumstances were exactly. Hermione was beginning to understand some of the frustrations the old Harry had felt towards the elderly Professor.
With a piercing squeal of iron brakes on steel wheels, the train came to a halt and the children began to pile off. As the crowd thinned, Hermione made out Harry climbing down and Giselle coming immediately after. Always the gentleman, Harry turned and assisted the girl on the final, tall step down to the platform proper. The two made their way to their waiting parents when Hermione was shocked to notice that they were holding hands. Her mouth fell completely open when, just before they let go to greet their families, Giselle leaned in and gave Harry a brief kiss… on the lips. Hermione's eyes were round as saucers but Fleur smiled knowingly as she mouthed to Hermione that they would talk later.
As it turned out, later was in three days when the Weasley clan gathered to celebrate nothing in particular at Bill and Fleur's home. Nearly a dozen children were playing a ground Quidditch scrimmage, using training brooms that couldn't fly higher than a meter above the grass. Harry and Giselle were shouting encouragement to their cousins when a look and nod from Hermione told Harry to come inside for a chat. Giselle looked at him with a grin and patted his hand in reassurance.
When Harry entered the lounge, he noticed that a single armchair was sitting in the center of the room. Flanking it were two settees, Ron and Hermione in one and Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur in the other. With a gulp, Harry entered the room and sat in the chair as he had seen the accused due in Grandfather Albus' Pensieve when they faced the Wizengamot.
"So Harry," Bill began casually, "is there anything you would like to tell us?"
Harry shrugged noncommittally.
"Perhaps about what we saw at the station a few days ago?" Bill continued.
Harry shrugged again, hoping that if he ignored the questions long enough they would just stop asking them.
"Harry," Fleur said softly, "we do not object to your seeing Giselle."
"We don't exactly approve of it either," Bill added quickly. Fleur gave him a look that caused him to sit back on the couch and keep any further comments to himself.
"Harry, are you and Giselle seeing each other?"
Harry shrugged yet again but his head also nodded ever so slightly.
Hermione leaned forward now and spoke. "Harry, we can't understand a shrug. Are you and Giselle dating or not?"
Harry looked at the floor as if it held the secrets of the universe. "Uh, yeah, I suppose," he said softly.
"You suppose?" Hermione began but Fleur stopped her with a hand on her knee.
Fleur leaned in closer and continued in her soft, soothing voice, "Harry, when did it start?"
Harry looked at his aunt with a shy grin. "I suppose it started around the Yule Ball."
"You took her to the dance?"
"No, not really."
"You took another girl and Giselle became jealous?" she asked although she didn't seem to believe it.
"No!" Harry said adamantly. "I wasn't figuring on going at all."
"You didn't ask anyone?"
"I'm surprised none of the girls asked you," Hermione said. "Several did the last time."
Harry nodded at this. "Yeah, I remembered, and a few asked again this time, just not me." The adults all seemed confused so Harry went on. "Some girls, a couple I didn't even know, asked The-Boy-Who-Lived-Again but none of them seemed to want to go with me. There was this one girl who I thought was asking me. She was a Hufflepuff."
"What happened, sweetie?" Hermione asked in the quiet voice she had used when he was a child to get him to open up about his nightmares.
"Well, we were talking one night in the library," Harry said almost too softly to be heard, "and she asked me about the scar I used to have. I told her it was gone and that I didn't have it anymore. She asked if I could somehow put it back for the ball, so that everyone would be able to see it when we danced." Sharp intakes of breath from Hermione and Fleur told how they understood what this meant. Harry shrugged again. "So I sort of told her that the Giant Squid had a really cool scar and if she wanted to see one she could just go jump in the lake!" The snickers from Ron and Bill were quickly stifled by looks from their wives.
"And?" Hermione prodded gently.
"And so I decided that I wasn't going to go. I figured I would just sit in my room and study."
Harry shook his head for a second and looked at them pleadingly. "You gotta understand that it's really tough for Giselle," he explained.
"How so?" Hermione asked.
"It's just hard, you know? She finds a fellow and she starts to like him and then..." Harry took a deep breath before continuing. "And then when she's talking to him all that Veela stuff just starts to come out. She can't help it, it just happens." Fleur was nodding with a vaguely sad expression. "Then the guy just turns to mush." Harry shook his head sadly. "I mean, how can you like somebody when they spend all their time trying to kiss your shoes? Pretty soon she gets fed up and tells them to shove off. It's like nobody can get past that she's part-Veela to see how great she really is."
"Yes," Fleur said sadly. "That is the curse of the Veela. We can make almost any man fall in love with us, but what we truly want... what we need is a man who is strong enough not to. Someone who instead chooses to love us in spite of our charms." Bill leaned forward and gently rubbed his wife's shoulder. She gazed back at him with a look that had Ron's eyes glazed over until Hermione elbowed him in the ribs. "But what about the dance?" Fleur urged gently.
"Well, I guess she got tired of how things were working out: Her liking some bloke and him turning into a blithering idiot. I reckon she figured to try things a different way. She started going around the castle turning on the charm whenever she came upon a group of guys. She was dazzling everybody hoping to find somebody who wasn't. Once she found someone who didn't come apart when she looked at him, she tried to convince herself that she liked him."
"And who was it?" Bill asked.
"Draco Parkinson." Harry scrubbed his hands through his hair in a gesture that Hermione and Ron knew all too well. "They went to the dance together and I was sitting up in my dorm. All my mates were at the dance so I was alone. I suddenly got this funny feeling that something was wrong, so I got out the Marauder's Map and looked to see.
"I figured that maybe they had fought or he was dancing with some other girl and she was chuffed. Well, I didn't find them in the Great Hall so I started looking. I finally spotted the two of them in one of the Charms classrooms. I knew something was up if they were there while the dance was just starting -you all know how Gee loves to dance- so I took off to see what it was." Harry was looking at the floor again, afraid of how they would react to what he was saying.
"Well, I got there and there was a silencing charm up and the door was magically locked. I opened it anyways and went in." Harry scrubbed at his hair a bit more. "You could see that they were fighting. Draco had ripped her dress." At the starts from Bill and Fleur Harry continued quickly. "He didn't rip it much... I mean you couldn't see anything, or anything. Just one of the straps was torn and hanging a bit. Gee was struggling with him and he pulled back his hand like he was going to hit her."
Bill sat forward in his seat, fury written across his face. Ron was not far behind him.
"And so you stopped him, Harry?" Fleur said, barely managing to maintain her calm and quiet tones. Harry nodded.
"You hexed him good?" Ron asked with approval but he was startled by Harry's reply.
"No, I didn't hex him."
"No, I didn't. It didn't seem... personal enough. So I hit him."
"You hit him?" Hermione said, her pride that Harry would defend Giselle momentarily overcome by her shock that Harry would engage in a brawl.
"Yeah," Harry mumbled, "a couple of times."
"You hit him a couple of times?" Hermione's shock was increasing.
Harry's head snapped up and his green eyes blazed with a ferocity that had made full Death Eaters quake. "He was gonna hurt Gee! She's family! Nobody... NOBODY hurts my family. So, yeah, I hit him!"
Ron couldn't help but smirk with pride at what Harry had done. "A coupla times," he said.
"Yeah," Harry replied to the floor, quiet again as the anger drained away, "or a coupla dozen."
Ron snorted and Fleur dropped to her knees in front of Harry. She took his chin in her hand and kissed him lightly on each cheek. "Thank you, Harry," she whispered. "Thank you for protecting my little girl." She sat back and asked, "What happened then?"
Harry seemed embarrassed. "Well, she was kinda upset, and she was crying - she was really looking forward to the dance, and I just couldn't disappoint her. Well, she healed up my knuckles, and patched the knees of my trousers..."
"The knees of your trousers?"
"Yeah, where they got ripped on his teeth," Harry said in explanation. "Then I summoned some robes from my room while Gee fixed her dress, and we went to the dance." Harry smiled shyly. "She's a really good dancer."
"And that's when you started seeing each other?" Fleur asked and Harry nodded in response.
"And what happened to Draco?" Hermione asked.
"I suppose he came to sometime later that night 'cause some Ravenclaws found him in the hallway when they were going to breakfast the next morning. He spent a week and a half in hospital." Harry gave Ron an almost feral grin. "He took his Christmas dinner through a straw."
"He didn't say anything about who did that to him?"
Harry chuckled a little. "Well, you see, Gee went to visit him one night, before his jaw healed fully and got unwired. She explained to him some of the hexes that her Dad, 'Gringotts' top curse-breaker', had taught her. He never said a word." Now it was Bill's turn to chuckle.
Fleur leaned forward and looked directly at Harry. It suddenly seemed to him that she had gone kind of soft around the edges, that her eyes were sparkling, and her hair looked like it was being blown by a breeze that only existed for her. Harry felt himself getting lost in her eyes when he suddenly shook his head free. He scrunched up his face crossly and said, "What are you trying to pull here, Fleur?"
Fleur grinned at him, not the least bit abashed at being caught out trying to sway him with her Veela powers. "Just checking, Harry. You have a very strong will." She sat back on the settee. "Well, Harry, as I said before, we have no objections to the two of you seeing each other. I know that you are an honorable young man and you have proven that you can be trusted. Now your cousins are outside playing... all of your cousins. Why don't you go and join them, eh?"
Harry didn't need to be told twice and he fled the interrogation as quickly as he could without out and out running. The adults watched with a mixture of expressions ranging from wistfulness to stunned amazement.
Fleur shook her head slightly, "He does have an incredibly strong will."
Bill was still trying to clear his head from the effects of Fleur's stunt a moment before. "Yeah, you really turned it on there and he saw right through it. But do you really approve of this? They're cousins after all."
"Oh, Bill," Fleur scoffed, "they share no blood relation and I think it will be good for both of them."
"How so?" Hermione asked.
"Harry needs someone... someone to be closer than just a friend. He is coming up to a very trying time, remember, and he will need to have someone he can talk to, someone he can lean on."
"He's got us, hasn't he?" Ron protested. "And Dumbledore's always talking to him."
Fleur and Hermione shook their heads in amazement; men could be so thick sometimes. "He needs someone a bit softer than Albus, I think, Ron."
"But what about Giselle?" Bill asked. "I don't want her to get hurt."
"Harry would never hurt our little girl, dear," Fleur reassured him.
"But what if she really falls for him? He might not intend for her to get hurt but..."
"Not to worry, Cheri, Giselle realizes that his heart belongs to another, even if he does not."
* * * * *
Nov 7, 2013
The fire in the common room crackled cheerily as Giselle pulled Harry's arm around her shoulder and snuggled into him comfortably. It was a Hogsmeade weekend and almost everyone else in the house was at the village enjoying themselves. Harry basked in the warmth of the fire and the reassuring presence of the beautiful young woman beside him. Their relationship had changed over the last several months. Neither had done anything deliberate to cool things off, they had simply come to understand it more. They were still as close as ever, perhaps even closer now that any insecurities over their relationship had disappeared. They were still affectionate, hugging and cuddling together without any reluctance and kissing each other easily, but the sexual tensions were no longer there. They loved each other deeply but neither was in love with the other. Closer than cousins, or even siblings, they shared a bond like the twins did, as deep as it was unspoken.
Giselle snuggled down a bit further. "You've been quiet all day. Expecting a rough night?"
Harry shook his head slowly. "Naw, at least I don't have any reason to expect one. Just the same old thing."
"You haven't told her yet?" Again, Harry shook his head. "You really ought to."
This was the thing that Harry really liked about talking to Giselle about his dream-life. Everyone else spoke of it as if it was the past. He reckoned that for them it was. Their advice always amounted to the same thing. Try to relax and be patient. It was as if they thought he was spending his nights going to the cinema and watching a bad movie. Like he could just sit through it and wait for it to end. Gee understood though. She understood that he wasn't watching his old life, or remembering it. He was reliving it and all the torments it entailed were just as real now as they had been then. She gave him advice on what to do, as if he actually could take action in the dreams, like it was real and not just something he had to watch.
"I know you think that, Gee, but I can't."
"Why ever not? Just tell her, silly. She might feel the same way about you."
"That's the problem, I think she does."
"Why is that a problem?" Giselle pulled him closer to take the sting out of the question; Harry didn't like to be pushed and she didn't want to make him feel that he was.
"You know the prophesy... what it says I have to do. I can't tell her how I feel with that hanging over my head."
"But if she feels the same way, maybe she can help you. At the very least, you could have some time together. I know that if I were in her shoes I would rather have something, no matter how brief, than always wonder about what might have been."
"Yeah, and maybe she feels the same way but that doesn't matter." Giselle gave him a puzzled look. Harry thought for a moment before he spoke again. "You don't know, Gee. You've never seen him." She was about to interrupt but Harry didn't let her. "I know you've heard the stories and you've read the books. So have I and I'm telling you that they just can't convey how bad he really is. I've seen him, watched him duel. I know that there's no way I can stand up to him."
"But you obviously found a way, didn't you?"
"I know," Harry said with exasperation. "I know that now, even if I don't know how I did it. But when I'm there, I... I just haven't got a clue."
"And what does this have to do with Ginny and your not telling her how you feel?"
"Don't you see? I can't see anyway that I can beat him. The prophesy only says that one of us has to die."
"So you think that you're not going to be the one to survive?" Harry nodded glumly. "That's all the more reason to tell her. You have to enjoy what you can, Harry, especially if you might not have long together."
"No." Harry shook his head adamantly. "I can't do that."
"Why not?" She was pleading with him as if it was her heart that was at risk and not some girl she had never met.
"Because I have to face him... face Voldemort. And when I do, I have to be ready to die in order to kill him." He looked into her eyes, begging her to understand. "How could I be able to throw away my life like that if she felt the same way about me... if she loved me? As long as I don't know how she feels I can do it. I mean my life's crap anyways, I have nothing to live for so why not throw it all away on some fool's quest that I can't possibly complete. As long as it doesn't matter, I can give it all up, but if I really wanted to live, if I had something to live for, then I couldn't face him."
Giselle sat up and planted a kiss on his forehead. "And you did face him. You faced him and somehow you beat him."
"But what happened to her? Nobody will tell me what happened to her. What if she died protecting me like my parents and Sirius did? Or what if I killed her, what if I sacrificed her in order to beat him? I couldn't live with that. Maybe that's why no one will tell me what happened? They know I'm responsible for her death."
"Oh, Harry," Giselle rushed to reassure him. "I know you couldn't have done that."
"No, you don't, Gee. You hope I couldn't... that I didn't, but you don't know, and everyone who does won't tell me."
The two of them sat cuddled in front of the fire for the rest of the afternoon, Harry dozed lightly, gathering his strength for the coming night. As the clock on the mantle began to chime half six, Giselle sat up with a start.
"What's up, Gee, gotta date?" The sudden blush that rose on her cheeks told him that he had hit the mark. "You do! Don't try to fool me. Who's the lucky bloke?"
Giselle smiled shyly and replied, "It's Gabe Anderson from Hufflepuff."
"You mean Gibraltar? Their keeper?" Giselle nodded. "That guy is HUGE!"
"Yes, he is rather large, isn't he?" she answered with a bit of a leer.
"Are you kidding? He can guard all three hoops and not move his broom!" Then Harry's face took on a concerned look. "Can he, you know, stand up?"
Giselle shrugged her shoulders and said, "I don't know. I hope so. I've talked to him a couple of times in the hall, and we did study together in the Library for a couple hours on Wednesday. He seemed to hold up OK." The blush returned to her cheeks as she finished, "He asked me if I'd like to take a stroll around the lake this evening after dinner."
"I dunno, Gee, it gets dark awful early this time of year."
She slapped him on the arm and left to get ready. In spite of his teasing, Harry was thrilled that Gee might have finally found a guy who could tolerate her Veela nature well enough to actually speak to her. He hoped this worked out. He knew how hard it was on her not to have a boyfriend when all her roommates were dating every weekend.
* * * * *
December 20, 2013
Harry lay in his bed trying to fall asleep but knowing it wasn't going to work. Everyone else in the house had gone to the Yule Ball. Giselle had gone with Gibraltar, they had dated a couple of times in the last month and he seemed to be dealing with her charms all right. Harry knew that Gee was taking it really easy on him and he seemed to be coping well. Several girls had asked The-Boy-Who-Lived-Again but Harry had said no to all of them. There was only one girl he wanted to ask, he wanted to ask her more than anything in the world, he just didn't know where she was. He knew when she was but that didn't help.
Back then the dance had been two days ago. Then as now, Harry hadn't gone. Ginny did though. She went with that prat Smith. Harry had been at breakfast when he had walked up to the Gryffindor table and asked Ginny if she would go with him. She shot Harry a pleading look but, coward that he was, he had looked away. He was staring at his toast when he barely heard her say yes.
Harry had spent the evening staring at the fire in the common room, just as he had so often lately. When Ginny had returned, earlier than anyone else in the house, she had looked so sad, as if her heart had been broken. She looked at Harry sitting there and fled up to her dorm. Harry went the other way. He took his Firebolt out into the night and spent the entire night flying. He spent hours doing incredibly reckless stunts, hoping against hope that he would plough himself into the ground, praying to die there, cold and alone, hidden under the snow until spring.
His brain fuzzy with fatigue, Harry looked up from his bed at something standing there; a figure stood in the moonlight, a woman. She was wearing a long emerald green gown with gold thread spun through it, highlighting the red color of her hair. Could it be?
"Ginny...?" he asked, his voice tight with fear. Suddenly, he shook his head, realizing when he was. "Gee? Is that you?" Harry was shocked at the grief written across her face.
"He didn't hurt you, did he, Gee?" Harry asked with sudden alarm. Giselle shook her head and Harry breathed a sigh of relief. Then it struck him. "Oh no, he couldn't take it, could he?"
Giselle's chin began to tremble and, combined with the glistening of her eyes, it made Harry's heart melt.
"Hang on a sec, Gee." With a wave of his wand, Harry summoned an old Chudley Cannons tee shirt from his wardrobe. He handed it up to her and she pulled it on over her dress. Her head popping out of the neck knocked her hair askew and even Harry had to admit that it made her look tragic and completely adorable. She didn't push her arms through the sleeves though. Instead, she pulled the hem of the shirt down over her hips and then began to squirm. It must be some sort of feminine secret ritual, Harry thought to himself, handed down from mother to daughter through the ages, as she undid her dress underneath the shirt and shimmied it down her body to puddle on the floor at her feet. Undressed now, she poked her arms through the sleeves of the shirt and gave Harry a look.
"It had to be orange?" she asked with a small hint of humor poking through her sorrow.
"Oh? You're getting choosy now?" Harry responded as he scooched over and pulled the covers back. Giselle climbed into the bed as Harry drew the curtains and cast a silencing charm then she snuggled close to him for warmth. Harry wrapped his arms around her and pulled her even closer. "You want to talk about it?"
Giselle drew in a deep breath and shrugged with a sigh. "It was all going so perfectly," she began. "I should have known something was going to go wrong. We had danced a few times..."
"He didn't step on your feet, did he?" Harry quipped. "Big as he is he woulda squashed them flat!"
Giselle giggled lightly and said, "No, that's your job, silly. Gabe is actually quite light on his feet. You could learn a few things from him."
"But do you think he's the type of fellow who would want to dance with me?"
Giselle threw her elbow softly into his ribs to stop the jokes before continuing. "After the dance, he walked me back to the tower. Then he asked if I wanted to go look at the stars for awhile and we headed up to the Astronomy Tower instead." Harry just held her and let her tell her story. "When we got there, he took me into his arms. They were so strong and everything was so romantic. I knew he was going to kiss me, and I just couldn't stop it."
"He didn't take it well?"
Giselle shook her head into his pillow. "He just stood there staring at me, like I was some kind of display at the zoo. His mouth was hanging open and he was drooling."
Giselle sniffled and Harry knew to not tease her anymore but he also knew he had to think of something to cheer her up. "He actually drooled. I... I just ran. I ran all the way back here." She began to weep softly and Harry held her tightly as she had held him so many times last year. His heart broke for this poor girl who wanted nothing more than to have a boyfriend like all the other girls. Who prayed every night to just be treated like a normal girl.
After a few minutes she was able to calm herself. When she spoke it was in a whisper so soft that Harry could barely hear it. "Why can't I be like the other girls? Why can't I just go and snog some fellow silly then cuddle up with him and have all sorts of randy thoughts?"
"Hey!" Harry said, feigning insult in an attempt to lighten her mood. "What am I? Chopped Kneazle?"
She took his bait and turned onto her back to look at him. "And just what would you do with my randy thoughts if I did have them, hmm?" she said with a saucy smirk.
Harry half-rolled on top of her, trying to think of a witty comeback when he looked into her eyes. They were a soft hazel with hints of brown at the pupil. They looked up at him, wide and trusting. All thought left him as he lowered himself down and softly kissed her. The kiss was gentle and tender and not at all platonic. Giselle's arms encircled his waist and drew him deeper into the kiss. Harry went gladly.
It had been months since he had tasted her mouth like this and he now felt with every fiber of his being how much he had missed it. He pressed himself into the kiss, rolling completely on top of her, his arms clutching at her back. Her legs parted slightly as he pressed his weight down. Without thinking Giselle drew her knees up, allowing him to slide further and deeper between them. Harry's hand began caressing her breasts, gently kneading their firmness. Of their own volition, her legs wrapped around him, trapping him there with her.
Harry felt his desire build as the kiss endured. He tasted her again. Felt the warmth of her tongue toying with his, the soft caress of her breath on his cheek. He couldn't break the kiss and he felt that even to try would be to pull out a part of his very soul.
Desire built into something more: into need. Desperate need filled them both as they wrestled to become one. Only a thin layer of cotton separated him from her and he felt the overwhelming desire to tear the offending cloth away, to remove the last barrier that separated them, to join with her and never again be alone.
As his need continued to grow, his hunger to consume him, he wondered for a moment if this is what Remus felt during the full of the moon. To be consumed by hunger, by need, by a fiery, wanton lust to have what is denied. He pressed his hips against hers and felt the fire within her as he knew she must feel what burned within him. He wanted her, he needed her, and now he would have her.
With a wrench, Harry broke the kiss. He opened his eyes, his breath coming in ragged pants. Beneath him Giselle was in the same state. Their pulses raced in tandem. Control just a hair's breath from being lost. She closed her eyes and Harry pressed his forehead to hers softly. As the minutes passed, their heartbeats slowed to an almost normal level. Breathing deeply, Harry rolled onto his side and Giselle did likewise, spooning herself against him, striving for as much physical contact as was possible.
A few minutes later, Giselle rubbed her head against Harry's bicep in advance of speaking. "Harry?" she whispered.
"Hmm," was all he could reply.
"Thank you." Harry answered by squeezing her to him and nuzzling the back of her head with his nose. The gesture was tender and loving, but both knew that the moment had now passed. "It's just so hard sometimes, Harry," she continued. "I have to keep everything, every feeling bottled up so tightly that at times I feel like I'm going to explode. Sometimes I need to just... to just let it all out."
Harry squeezed her again. "It's not like it was a horrific chore for me, you know."
Giselle sighed. "Harry? Do you ever wish that things could have gone differently... for us?"
Harry thought for a moment, deliberating his answer, but in the end he knew he would have to tell her the truth. He could do nothing less. "Yes, quite a lot in fact." He drew a deep breath. "It certainly would make things simpler for the both of us."
"But when do things ever go simply for the great and mighty Harry Potter?"
Harry nodded ruefully. "You, too. D'you think you ought to be heading back to your room?"
Giselle shook her head. "Can't I stay here with you, just for tonight... please?"
Harry pulled her close in answer and soon they were drifting off to sleep; Giselle to put away what had been a long and difficult day, and Harry to begin one.
* * * * *
The pair awoke early the next morning, just as the stars to the east began to fade into dawn. Giselle ensured that Harry was all right after his night's dreams and then slipped out of bed and back to her own dorm, careful not to wake any of her roommates. Harry tried to go back to sleep but soon realized it was futile. He quietly showered and then made his way down for an early breakfast.
The students were going home for the Christmas hols today and Harry knew from experience that things would soon become chaotic. He cherished the peace that still filled the castle while he had the chance. He turned into the Entrance Hall to head towards breakfast when he heard footfalls coming up from behind him.
"Harry! Harry Potter!" he heard a deep voice call. This can't be good, he thought to himself as he stopped and turned around. From up the corridor where the Hufflepuff dorms were came Gibraltar Anderson. Harry briefly wondered if this was going to end in just a brawl or perhaps something worse. The huge badger looked at him with an expression Harry couldn't recognize. "Can I talk to you for a sec?" he asked.
"Sure," Harry said while looking for escape routes.
"Uh, it's about Giselle."
The usually imposing Hufflepuff looked decidedly uncomfortable about talking, but his brows furrowed with determination. "Are the two of you involved?" he asked finally.
Harry moved over and sat down at the foot of a flight of stairs. Gabe followed and sat as well. Harry looked over into his enormous chest. The bloke reminded him of the weightlifters he had seen once on the telly. They were competing to see who was the world's strongest man by racing while pulling loaded lorries behind them and doing things like flipping cars over onto their backs. Harry wondered for a moment how far this guy could throw him, if he took the notion into his mind to do so. Harry scooted up a step to look him in the eyes when he spoke.
"No, we're not. She my best friend, even more than that to tell the truth, but we aren't dating."
"But you were?" Gabe was blushing as he spoke and Harry began to relax, understanding that this wasn't going to end in a fight after all.
"Yeah, we dated all last year but we realized that it just wasn't right so we cooled things off."
"Is she seeing anybody else?"
Harry shook his head. "Nope, no one, except that is for the couple of dates she had with you."
Harry could see that he wanted to talk more but he just couldn't find a way to start. Harry had a lot of personal experience with that so he just did what his Mum used to do for him when he couldn't get started.
"So how did things go last night?" he asked quietly, as if he didn't already know the answer.
"I thought things were going well. I mean, we danced a lot during the ball. She's a really good dancer."
"Yeah, I know," Harry said with a grin, "and then what happened?"
"Well, I was walking her back to Gryffindor and I asked..."
He was obviously a bit shy about talking about this so Harry nudged him along. "You asked her to go look at the stars?"
Gabe blushed even more but he nodded. "Yeah, I did. But when we got there something happened."
"I don't rightly remember. I mean, I remember some of it. I put my arms around her waist..." He hesitated again and Harry had to chuckle at the sight of this huge gorilla of a fellow being afraid to say this to him.
"It's all right, you know. Gee's a big girl and able to make her own choices. Plus she is more than able to defend herself if a bloke gets fresh. Her dad is Gringotts' top curse-breaker, you know. He's taught her things that make my skin crawl just to think about." Harry gave a fake shudder; it wouldn't hurt to just make sure that this guy knew not to try to push things.
Gabe shrugged uncomfortably and stumbled on. "Well, I was going to try to kiss her. I thought that she was OK with it. She was smiling and all. Then I looked in her eyes and I saw just how pretty she was. It was like everything was a bit fuzzy, but in a good way, you know? I felt kinda light headed and a bit goofy. I couldn't do anything but just look at her. Suddenly, I saw that she was crying. I tried to ask what was wrong but by the time I could talk she had run away." He shook his head sadly. "What did I do wrong?"
Harry grinned at the image of Gibraltar, the Rock of Hufflepuff, standing in the Astronomy Tower, staring at little Gee and drooling like he had just been Kissed. "Gabe, you do know that Gee is part-Veela, don't you?"
"Yeah, all the guys are always talking about the kinds of powers she has. How she can make a guy do almost anything she wants. But we had spent time together before and nothing like this happened. She never had any real effect on me before. Well, aside from the obvious... She's just so pretty. Is that what happened, was she doing something to me to make me look foolish?"
He looked confused, as if he was trying to decide whether or not to be angry with her. Harry knew he had to handle this carefully. "No, not really. She really likes you, Gabe, and that doesn't happen for her very often. Being part-Veela isn't something she can turn on and off, like a charm. That's not how it works. When she was spending time with you before, revising in the Library and such, she was trying really hard not to feel anything."
"What?" Gabe said bewildered.
"You see, Gabe," Harry continued, "when she feels something for a bloke... when she's attracted to him, that's when those Veela charms start coming out. Her feelings sort of trigger them. The more she likes a guy the stronger the effect. When she was with you in the Library, she was working hard to control her feelings, but last night at the dance, she was having such a good time that she couldn't help herself."
"But things were going great at the dance. I wasn't acting like a prat there."
"Yeah, they were, but then you went to the Tower, the prime snogging spot in the whole school. She liked you, you seemed to like her. You were going to kiss her and she wanted you to. She just couldn't stop herself from feeling attracted to you - don't ask me why ya big lug - and so she also couldn't stop those powers from coming out."
"Let me get this straight: I like her; she likes me; we wanted to kiss; so therefore she turned me into a complete berk?"
Harry grinned at him. "Well, the usual term she uses for guys in that position is 'blithering idiot' but you're close enough."
Gabe opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it, then he opened it again, only to close it once more. He shook his head before dropping it into his hands.
"Look, Gabe, it's sort of like riding a new broom. When you take off for the very first time you take it slow, trying to get he feel for it. The wind is in your face and everything feels just brilliant. So you start going a bit faster and things get even better. All the worries and problems that cloud your mind just sort of fall behind you, like you're out racing them. You feel wonderful and so you go even faster. The faster you go the better you feel so you want to go faster yet. But then you're going too fast and you lose control. Things seem to be going great, right up to the point you crash and burn.
"The trick is to realize when you are pushing your limits. You speed up gradually but then, as soon as you feel control beginning to slip away, you have to back off. Gradually, you get comfortable with things and you can push the limit again. You keep pushing and backing off, then pushing again, and before you know it you're flying that broom right to its limit and not yours. You see what I mean?"
Gabe just sort of looked at him and said, "Harry, I'm a Keeper not a Seeker. You may fly that way but I don't."
Harry chuckled. "Well, you do now, or at least you will if you want to keep dating Gee." Harry looked at the other boy closely. "That is assuming you do still want to date her?"
Gabe's head was back in his hands. "What difference does it make what I want. Like you said, she thinks I'm a blithering idiot. I blew it."
Harry shook his head. "Naw, I don't think so. I'm not saying that she wasn't disappointed in how things turned out last night, she was, but I think she could be convinced to give you another chance."
Gabe looked up with a small glint of hope in his eyes. "You really think so? How could I manage that?"
Harry thought for a moment before coming up with a plan. "You're going home for the hols, right?" Gabe nodded. "Great, so this is what you do. Take the first carriage you can manage down to the station and wait there. Better yet, go to Hagrid and tell him that I told you to get there first thing so that you can surprise Gee. He'll get you down there even if he has to carry you on his back. Gee and I will be taking one of the last carriages..." Gabe looked about to question this. "Look, she's a girl so she's always late. Trust me on this.
"Anyways, when we get down there, just walk up to Gee and tell her that you're sorry for how things turned out. Admit that you were a berk and ask her to give you another chance when we all get back next term. Then, before she really turns on the charm you can escape into the train before she melts your brain again."
"I get you: take it slow and be ready to back off if things start to get too fuzzy?"
"Exactly! If you mind yourself, you could be back up in the Astronomy Tower by Valentines."
Gabe now had a huge smirk on his face. He slapped his knee and stood up to go to breakfast. Harry climbed up a step so that he could look him straight in the eye. "But Gabe, let me make sure we get one thing perfectly clear." Harry jabbed a finger into the larger boy's chest for emphasis. "I love Giselle like a sister, even more. If you ever do anything to hurt her, I'll make you pay."
Now Gabriel Anderson, nicknamed Gibraltar by everyone for his size and strength, had grown up hearing the tales of Harry Potter, The-Boy-Who-Lived-Again. How he had defeated Voldemort, how he was supposed to be the most powerful wizard in the world, more powerful even than old Dumbledore himself. Gabe had looked forward to going to school with this larger-than-life superhero, but when he finally did come to school and met the boy-wonder, he had been rather disappointed. Harry Potter was only of average height, he didn't tower over anybody, he was only slightly above average in his studies, and a lot of the Ravenclaws were much cleverer than he was. Harry was really good at Quidditch, flying as Chaser and then as Seeker as soon as he could. He was even good enough to maybe go professional some day, but that was all. Nothing really to live up to all the legends. He had concluded that it was all a bunch of hype. That was until today. Gabe had almost laughed when Harry mounted a stair to be able to look him in the eye, but when he did... It was like looking at a Veela except that he didn't enjoy it, not one little bit. When he saw those green eyes close off and turn hard, Gabe could have sworn that he felt the power just radiating out of Harry. More power than he had ever felt before. Instead of feeling giddy, his knees started to wobble as his insides turned to jelly, and Gabe Anderson knew right there and then that he never wanted to make an enemy of Harry Potter.
A few hours later, Harry and Gee dismounted one of the last carriages at the station. True to his word, Gabe had been waiting there since he had finished breakfast. Harry saw him begin to make his way towards them. With a smirk, Harry tossed the picnic basket of food he was carrying - Dobby was as bad as Grammy when it came to making sure that he and Giselle had enough to last the long ride home- at Gee.
"There, catch!" he said, saving his warning until after she had almost dropped it. Gee turned to give him a pinch then she walked straight into the brick wall that was Gibraltar's chest. The only reason she didn't fall on her arse was that Gabe reached out and caught her around the waist. Harry snatched back the basket and continued towards the train, leaving Gee staring openmouthed at Gabe's shirtfront.
As he reached the train, Harry turned back to see that Gee was now staring up at Gabe's face rather than his shirt and he was looking down, watching the toe of his shoe scuff against the concrete deck of the platform. Gee turned to Harry and gave him a beaming smile. What happened next made Harry burst out laughing. Just as Gee turned her face back to Gabe, he bent down and gave her a quick kiss. Gee blushed a full Weasley crimson while the towering Gabe scampered, actually scampered, onto the last car of the train like a squirrel that had just nicked an acorn.
* * * * *
August 1, 2014
Hermione sat at her kitchen table, fretting over a cold cup of tea and an equally cold breakfast. She had never been this nervous before, not even when preparing for her N.E.W.T.s. She had been prepared then but there was nothing she could do to prepare for this. Upstairs, her best friend and her son were reliving the final battle between the Order of the Phoenix and Lord Voldemort's Death Eaters. Harry was likely locked in his duel with Voldemort himself as she sat there staring into the dregs at the bottom of her teacup as if she was that ditz Sibyll Trelawney. He was fighting for his life, for everyone's lives really, and there was nothing she could do but to sit here in an empty kitchen.
It didn't help that she already knew how the fight ends. That the forces of the light win and Voldemort is finally and absolutely destroyed. In fact, that left her with an even thornier issue. How would Harry react? He would finally remember everything. All of his questions would be answered, save one. He would come down those stairs soon and face her. Would he be happy that he had lived or angry that even in victory he had been punished? Would he be grateful for being given a second chance or would he hate her and the rest of the world for the 17 years of his life that he had lost? Would she and he ever be able to rebuild the friendship that was the cornerstone of her life, just as important to her as her marriage to and love of Ron? Or perhaps, now that the dreams were over and his past life was nothing but a memory, would he leave it all behind? And what would that mean for Ginny? Harry had always hated the baggage that had come with that life. Would he take the opportunity to leave it all behind and move forward? Would he want to be her friend again, or would he be content to simply be her son? Which did she want? Did she want her son or did she want her friend back?
In the end it didn't matter what she wanted, the choice wasn't hers. Harry would come through that door and then he would select which path he would follow.
A noise from upstairs made her jump. He was awake. She knew his routine well enough to know that he would shower and dress before coming down to breakfast. She had only about 15 more minutes to wait and wonder. Fifteen short minutes before her life was radically and permanently changed. But would that change be for the better or the worse? She stared into her cup debating the possibilities until his footfalls on the stairs reminded her that the breakfast she had so carefully prepared was now stone cold and inedible.
"Morning, Harry," she said trying to sound chipper. The look on his face told her that her efforts were wasted. She didn't know how she expected him to look when he came down but the confusion that she saw written there was the last thing she would have guessed.
Ten years of helping him deal with the nightmares of the Dursleys and six summers more had taught her how to make him talk, but right now Hermione Weasley, reputedly one of the cleverest witches of the age, didn't know if she wanted to listen. Harry sat down opposite her at the table and pushed the plate of cold eggs aside.
"I need to say something to you," he began.
"Should I get your fa... Ron? Should he be here too?" she stammered in reply.
Harry shook his head. "No, I'll talk with him later, I suppose. I want to say this to you first."
Hermione clasped her hands together in her lap to try to control their shaking. Harry looked deeply into her eyes for a moment.
"I want to say thank you."
Hermione gasped with relief, she now knew that no matter what else happened they could deal with it. Whether as family or as friends, they could deal with anything. "You don't have to say that, Harry."
"Yes, I do, Hermione... Mum. You and Ron didn't have to take me in but you did."
"Well, what else could we do? Do you really think we could send you back to those Dursleys again?"
Harry snorted his disgust. "No, but there were plenty of alternatives. You didn't have to do it."
Hermione smiled at him. "We wanted to do it, Harry. I wanted to do it. When I saw Professor Dumbledore lift you out of the ashes, just a newborn babe, I knew that this was a second chance for you, and I intended to make the most of it. I swore to myself that I would give you all the love that you had lost when he took your first family. I promised you and I promised myself to make up for all those wrongs that you didn't deserve."
"But you never wronged me and it wasn't your responsibility to fix them."
"No, Harry, it wasn't my responsibility, it was my privilege. You've given me so much happiness over the years, watching you grow and helping you become who you are again. That wasn't a chore, it was a joy."
"Still," Harry said hesitantly, "it means a lot that you would do that for me, that you would give up so much..."
"Harry," she interrupted, "we didn't give up anything. Our lives, Ron's and mine, have been wonderful. I wouldn't change a thing, and I hope you feel the same way."
"I do, Mum, it's been great," Harry hesitated for a moment. "Well, it would have been nice if I could have grown up with my first Mum and Dad, if I could have some memories of my life with them. And if I had my druthers, I suppose I would rather not have been hit with that Avada Kedavra from Malfoy. But given all of that... I couldn't have asked for better."
Harry stepped around the table and towards Hermione. She was on her feet as well and they embraced with such heartfelt joy that they both had tears on their cheeks.
"I love you, Harry."
"I love you too, Mum."
A voice from the doorway brought them out of their reverie. "What's all this then? Am I going to have to pry you two apart?" Ron said as he sat at the table. He took some eggs and pulled a face when he tasted them. Both Harry and Hermione laughed at his reaction.
"Some things never change," Hermione said as she wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her dressing gown.
"So what were you two talking about that the both got so worked up?"
Harry turned to him and replied, "I was just saying thank you. And I want to thank you as well for everything you've done for me."
Ron looked over at Harry, easily seeing both his best friend from school and the boy he helped raise. "No problem, mate. You were worth it." Harry gave him a strong hug that he returned in kind. "So, now you remember everything?"
Harry returned to his seat before answering. "Well, I remember everything up to getting hit with that last curse, but there's still a lot that I don't know."
"Like what?" Ron asked cautiously.
"Well," Harry said, "let's start with you two. What happened after the battle? When did you get together? The last thing I remember the both of you were still in complete denial." Harry looked over and both Ron and Hermione were blushing a deep red.
"Com' on now, Harry. We weren't that bad," Hermione blurted out.
Harry chuckled. "Oh yes, you were. There was a pool going in the tower and I want to know who won."
Hermione looked shocked that people would bet on her and Ron's relationship but Ron gave an embarrassed chuckle. "It was Ginny. She bet that we would kiss within 15 minutes of Voldemort getting his." Hermione now looked thoroughly scandalized. "It was ten," Ron finished.
Harry was grinning. "So you got together right away; did you get married right after that?"
"Of course not!" Hermione scolded. "We had to finish school first."
"Speaking of that: How did seventh year go? Did you make Head Girl, Mum?"
Ron was strangely silent while Hermione answered. "Yes, I was named Head Girl but I turned it down."
"WHAT?" Harry shouted. "You were aiming for that since the first day you stepped off the train! How could you turn it down?"
"I was aiming to be named Head Girl, and I was," Hermione explained with satisfaction. "After that, I was perfectly happy to turn the workload over to Padma Patil. I was a bit occupied at that time anyway." Harry looked at her quizzically. Hermione continued, "Well, you were only a couple of months old and you took up quite a bit of my time."
"You don't mean," Harry was filled with guilt as he spoke, "that you left school? You didn't even finish because of me?"
Hermione was quick to ease his fears. "No, no, Harry, that's not it at all! I made arrangements with Dumbledore to be a day student. I did have to drop a couple of classes though."
"Yeah, she cut herself all the way down to an insane workload from an unbelievably barking mad one," Ron put in.
Hermione swatted him. "But I still managed to get the highest N.E.W.T. score for the year and finished with top honors," she bragged.
Harry sighed with relief. "How did you work it all out?"
"Well, I moved into the Burrow. Grammy would watch you during the day, sometimes Fleur would have you for the day to play with Giselle. You two were best mates from the moment she was born. I'd Floo to school for classes and then come home at night to take care of you and study. It really wasn't that difficult."
Harry just looked at her, knowing that it must have indeed been very difficult. His heart swelled with pride and gratitude for what she had accomplished.
"And what about you, Ron?"
"He got Head Boy," Hermione said with a smirk.
"Yup, and Quidditch Captain, just like in the mirror," he said. "But as the year progressed, I started spending more and more time back at the Burrow. I'd come home with Hermione three, four times a week to help out."
"Or to get underfoot," Hermione cut in.
"We got married less than a month after finishing," Ron added.
"Oh yeah, a real whirlwind courtship?" Harry asked.
"As whirlwind as you can get with a baby coming along on dates with you," Ron joshed, trying to sound put out.
"Oh really, Ron," Hermione snapped. "Don't you believe a word of it, Harry. It wasn't that bad. Your mum and Fleur were more than happy to watch Harry for a bit on weekends so we could go out! We had a marvelous courtship and the wedding was lovely. Ginny made a beautiful Maid of Honor."
"And who was the Best Man? Bill?"
Ron looked shocked. "Bill? Why would you think that? There's only one person in the world we'd want to stand up with us."
"Who?" Harry asked.
"Why you, of course, you great git!" Ron exclaimed as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. Hermione quickly dashed out of the room and returned with a photo album. She opened it to a full page shot of the bridal party, Hermione in a flowing formal robe of the purest white, Ron standing a bit too stiffly in his black robes. Next to them was Ginny in a delicious yellow gown that complimented both her creamy skin and vibrant hair. She was holding in her arms a squirming baby Harry dressed in a black robe to match the groom.
"Admit it though, luv, he did give us quite a scare during the ceremony," Ron quipped. Hermione laughed at the memory.
"What are you two on about?" Harry asked.
"Well," Ron said chuckling, "just as the minister got to the part about 'does anyone here know of any just reason why these two should not be joined' you started to bawl and holler. People all thought it was some kinda sign until Hermione here figured out that you had just filled your nappy and wanted a new one!"
Hermione smiled widely. "So there I was, all decked out in my white wedding dress, changing your nappies and nursing you in a side room before we could get on with the ceremony."
"Couldn't Grammy have taken care of that for you? I mean you were kind of busy," Harry said.
Ron blushed and Hermione choked on her tea. "Harry, I think Grammy was a bit old to be doing that."
"What do you mean? She should have been more than capable of handling a nappy and a bottle, right?"
Hermione colored slightly. "Harry, you weren't bottle fed."
Now it was Harry's turn to blush crimson. "You don't mean...?"
"It is the natural thing, after all. It provides more complete nutrition and there are many other health benefits to breast feeding," Hermione instructed. "All it took was a simple potion to let my milk down the first time."
Harry couldn't look at her. He dropped his eyes until he realized that he was now staring at her chest. He flushed even hotter and turned towards Ron. "You mean she...? And in the middle of your wedding?"
"Yup," Ron said, trying to sound jealous rather than amused. "You spent more quality time with my girlfriend's chest than I did!"
Hermione huffed in response. "A deficiency you've more than made up for in the interim, Ronald."
Harry threw his hands over his ears. "Aarg! Too much information!" Hermione and Ron burst out laughing.
As their amusement rolled over him, Harry found himself looking down at the picture of Ginny. He lightly traced his fingers over her waving portrait. "What happened to her? I mean, she obviously survived the war so where is she?"
"Oh, Harry," Hermione began.
Harry looked up at her pleading. "I've got to know. What happened? It'll be all right if she met somebody. Is that what happened, she fell for some other bloke and moved away? That would be OK, as long as she's happy, I mean. I just have to know."
Hermione shook her head sadly. "Harry, it's just not our story to tell."
"Maybe you should talk to Molly."
Harry nodded his head with determination. "Yeah, there's something else I need to talk to her about anyways."
"Harry, you're not going to bring up... him, are you?" Ron asked, starting to get angry.
"There're things you don't know. Things aren't what you think, Ron."
"NO!" Ron screamed. "I refuse to allow you to bring it up. Especially to Mum! It nearly killed her when it happened! She still hasn't really gotten over it. I won't allow it!"
Hermione nodded her head and moved slightly towards Ron in support, but there was a hint of fear in her eyes. She remembered what Harry had been like when cornered and he likely felt backed into one now.
"Ron, you don't understand. She has to know the truth," Harry started to explain.
"SHE DOES KNOW IT! WE ALL KNOW THE TRUTH! WE WERE THERE! WE SAW HIM!" Hermione hadn't seen Ron this angry in years, in truth it was only the topic of Percy and his betrayal that could bring out this much fury, even 17 years later. She wanted to stop the argument but didn't know how.
Harry, on the other hand, grew as cold as ice. This was the dangerous Harry, Hermione recognized, the Harry she hadn't seen since that final battle, the Harry who was likely the most powerful wizard in Britain if not the world. He turned his frigid glare onto Ron. "The truth will be heard, Ron. All of it."
"Harry," Hermione pleaded in a last ditch effort to head off the confrontation, "maybe if you told us first. Maybe we could judge whether or not Grammy should hear it?"
Harry shook his head implacably. "No, she has to know the truth and I have to be the one to tell it."
Ron stood up, his face livid with rage. He meant to physically restrain Harry if he had to, but Harry would have none of it. With a soft *pop* he Dissapparated. Ron's arms grabbed nothing but empty air.
"Why did you ever teach him to do that?" he hollered at her in impotent fury.
"But I didn't!" Hermione said in her own defense. "He's not old enough to do that!"
Ron sighed in defeat. "Yes, you did. You taught us all how to do it in sixth year, remember? He obviously does."
Now it was Hermione's turn to sigh; she had thought it wise for all them to learn to Apparate after the fiasco at the Department of Mysteries and so she had spent that entire summer researching the topic and when term began she taught them all how.
"Com'on Hermione, let's see if we can still head this off."
"But Ron, what if he does know something we don't."
Ron just shook his head as he went upstairs to get dressed.
Harry appeared in the kitchen of the Burrow with hardly any sound. Molly Weasley stood at the cooker, listlessly stirring something in a frying pan. Again, Harry couldn't help but notice the change in the woman from the Mrs. Weasley he had known in his previous life. She had been full of life and energy, a dynamo in human form caring for and protecting her children. Harry was lucky, he knew, to be included in that group. The woman standing before him was little more than a husk. She still went through her daily tasks, but gone was the energy, the smile, the open heart. She acted almost as an automaton, taking no joy in her life. It was as if she was already dead and now was just waiting for the clockwork of her body to wind down. The war had destroyed all that she was; no, Harry corrected himself, it was the final battle, the first moments of that battle has done this to her. When she had watched her son cast the killing curse on his father, her husband.
Harry had relived the scene last night. The opening waves of Death Eaters were arriving outside Hogsmeade and the Order of the Phoenix stood waiting. Dozens of black robed figures came out of the early morning fog and advanced in a rough line. Suddenly, one of them dropped his hood. In the soft light it was easy the see the shock of bright red hair that marked him. It was Percy Weasley. Arthur stepped out, ahead of everyone. He tried to talk to him. He tried to tell him that he didn't have to do this. He could come back. Mistakes had been made but he would be forgiven. He was family and nothing was more important than that. Percy had just laughed and as Arthur stood, thinking of some new argument he might use to try to save his son, Percy had cast the Avada Kedavra. Percy continued to laugh as Arthur fell to the ground, his eyes wide open in mute surprise. It was Charlie who recovered first. Screaming with rage he had charged Percy. He was engulfed by the Death Eaters and quickly killed as well, but not before taking five of them, including Percy, with him. Then the battle began in earnest, not ending until Harry destroyed Voldemort. Molly had spent the entire battle huddled over the cooling body of her husband, protecting it from being disturbed by either side. Afterwards, Fred and George held her as she wailed. Bill escorted his father's body while Ron took Charlie's. Hermione followed next, the infant Harry swaddled in her arms, with a crushed Ginny at the end of the sad procession. Percy's body was left in the dust.
"Uh... Gram?" Harry said cautiously.
Molly Weasley turned around, a ghost of a smile that never reached her eyes on her lips. "Harry dear," she cooed. "What are you doing here this early? I would've thought you'd be taking a bit of a lie in after..." She stopped to draw a deep breath before continuing, "the night you must have had." Harry looked at the dark bags under her eyes and knew that she had had an even rougher night of dreams than he had. He crossed the room and hugged her. She returned it briefly than swatted him with her dishrag. "Have you had any breakfast yet, dear? You're still a growing boy, you know."
"No, not really, Gram," Harry said. "But there's something we need to talk about first. It's about what happened last night."
Molly turned to look at him with eyes drenched in years of mourning. "Harry," she said hesitantly, "I don't think I have the strength to."
At that moment Ron and Hermione appeared with twin *cracks* and rushed across the room. Hermione grabbed Harry by the arm as Ron went to his mother.
"No, Harry," he said fiercely.
"Please, Grammy, you have to listen to me. You have to," Harry pleaded. "You have to understand."
"I've spent the last seventeen years trying to understand what happened. I just don't think I have the strength to try anymore." Ron held her by the shoulders and began to guide her out of the room. He shot a glare at Harry to tell him that this was not over yet.
"Please! Just listen to me. I know you think you know what happened, but you don't. You have to listen."
"No, Harry!" Ron shouted. "It's over, just let it be."
"Please, Grammy! Trust me, just this one time. Please, listen to me."
Molly looked over her shoulder at her first grandchild. He might not be hers by blood but she had claimed him years ago. She had loved him and had faith in him when it seemed the whole world had turned against him. And he was her last hope. She nodded. Ron made as if to speak but she stopped him with a hand on his arm. "All right, Harry. I've always had faith in you. I'll listen to what you have to say."
Harry sighed in relief and gratitude. He had won the first battle and now came the hard part: telling them the truth.
"I know what you all saw that day," he began as they sat around the ancient yet well-scrubbed kitchen table. "I saw it, too. But that wasn't what really happened. It was a lie."
"Harry, what are you talking about?" Hermione asked, not understanding where Harry was coming from.
"Grammy," Harry said, taking her hands in his. "Your son did not murder your husband."
Ron started angrily but Harry silenced him with a glare. "I know what we all saw and what we thought, but for the last year, as I've been remembering other things, it just stopped making sense."
"What are you on about, Harry. P... Percy was a filthy De..."
"NO!" Harry said coldly. "Percy was not a Death Eater."
"Then what was he?" Ron spat. "A Girl Scout?"
"No, Ron," Harry answered calmly. "Percy was a spy. He was a spy inside the Death Eaters and he had been sending us information for more than a year."
"But Harry," Molly said, "if that were true then Albus would have told us years ago."
"Dumbledore couldn't tell you because he didn't know. Percy wasn't Dumbledore's spy... He was mine." His statement was met with stunned silence. Harry looked at their faces, seeing a mixture of anger and disbelief on Ron's but a glimmer of hope in Molly's eyes.
"How could that be?" she asked.
"Percy came to me, the summer after fifth year, after Fudge was forced to admit that Voldemort had returned."
"Harry," Hermione interrupted, "you were being watched constantly by the Order that summer. Someone would have noticed Percy showing up and made note of it. People would have been called."
"Yeah, if they had noticed, that is. Remember, Percy was a right clever bloke, Head Boy and all. He managed to sneak into my room under the Invisibility Cloak that was confiscated from Sturgis Podmore when he was arrested earlier that year." Hermione nodded in admission that it was possible while Molly clung to his hands like a lifeline. "He apologized for the things he had said about me, and the things he wrote in that letter, Ron. He admitted that he had been totally wrong and a complete fool."
"Then why didn't he come home?" Molly begged.
Harry looked at her sadly. "That's what I told him to do. I told him that you all would forgive him and welcome him back, but he said that he didn't deserve your forgiveness. He said he had to redeem himself for what he had done. He was already being recruited by some of the other Death Eaters and he said he was going to become a spy."
"Then why didn't Albus know about it?"
"Because they had told Percy that Dumbledore was a fool and that the Order was already infiltrated with a spy very close to him." Everyone frowned at this reminder of the traitor within the Order. Podmore had spent almost a year with the Dementors, a year when they were already in negotiations with Voldemort; more than enough time to drive a man insane. That combined with a subtle application of the Imperious by Lucius Malfoy and he had become the perfect mole. "If Dumbledore knew Percy was a spy then Voldemort would know as well, and that would be the end of it. So Percy began to spy for me. He said he wanted to prove to me that he trusted me completely. I was his only point of contact. He would send me notes secretly and I would pass the information to Dumbledore telling him that I had seen it in my visions."
"No," Ron said, shaking his head is disbelief. His entire view of his older brother was being torn apart right before his eyes. He couldn't have been so wrong for so long, he just couldn't. Yet he was.
Harry would have thought it impossible but Molly was squeezing his hands even tighter. Her voice quavered as she spoke. "But then why...?"
Harry looked directly at her now so that she could see the truth in his words. "That wasn't Percy. It was Rudolfus LeStrange under Polyjuice."
"How?" Molly asked.
"The night before the attack, Percy was sending me a message when he was caught." Harry hesitated to tell her what happened next but then he realized that the truth, however horrible, was better than the lie she had been living with for years. "While I was dueling with Voldemort, our wands locked and then our minds locked together as well. I saw his memories of what happened. After they found out about Percy, Voldemort killed him. Then he took some of his blood to be used in a Polyjuice potion. He... he thought it would be amusing to have us think that we were fighting Percy... that he was fighting us. When Arthur stepped forward to talk to him, LeStrange saw an opportunity to deal us a serious blow right from the start. And it worked."
"You mean..." Molly almost couldn't believe what she was hearing. Ron had released her and was being held by Hermione while tears streamed down both their faces. "He wasn't...?"
"No, Percy was never a Death Eater, he was a hero."
Harry nodded sadly. "Yes, Tom killed him, but Percy..." Harry's voice caught in his throat. He struggled to swallow and finally he was able to utter, "He died well. He died a Gryffindor. He... he died a Weasley."
Molly finally broke down completely. Tears of grief mixed with those of relief. Her sons were dead, and her husband too, but none of them had ever betrayed their family. Now she could freely mourn them, without guilt or shame for any of them. They were her family and deserved all of her love. Ron, Hermione, and Harry all wrapped their arms around her, returning to her some of the support that she had given them all their lives. Many minutes later, Molly looked up from their embrace and whispered, "Thank you, Harry."
"You're welcome, Grammy, and I'll be going down to the Ministry to get them to see the truth as well."
"Oh, Harry, they won't listen. They're so pig-headed, even with Fudge gone; they won't admit they made a mistake. It's enough that we know the truth."
"No!" Harry nearly shouted. "He deserves to be remembered as a hero, not a traitor! It's bad enough that Sirius never got the recognition he deserved. I won't see Percy treated the same way. He deserves the Order of Merlin and by Dumbledore, I'm going to see that he gets it! He trusted me and I will not betray that trust."
Molly engulfed Harry in a hug that made it hard to breathe. He finally resorted to batting at her arms to gain her attention and she released him. She was blushing madly and had a glint in her eye that Harry had only seen in his dreams.
"Oh, just look at me standing around dithering when you lot must be starving," she gushed. She turned to the cooker and whipped out her wand. Pans began to fly as she prepared fresh food.
"Molly, you really don't need to, we've already..." Hermione began but Ron shushed her with an elbow.
Harry grinned; some things never changed and one of them was Ron's appetite. Harry remembered how he would grouse every time Hermione would try to drag him away from the Gryffindor table before a meal was fully over. He was about to make a joke when he realized that that was 16 years ago. Harry sat heavily while he tried to get his mind around the gap in time between where he was and where they were in their lives. He had missed so much. He was still a child while they were adults. They had grown up and he was suddenly afraid that they had grown away as well. Had he lost his friends, he wondered? But in return he had gained parents. He looked over at Ron and Hermione. They were sitting together across the table from him and Harry felt the distance acutely. He shook his head; there was no need to dwell on what could not be changed. They were his friends and they were his family, and he would just have to learn to deal with it. After all, what other choice did he have?
Grammy placed piles of hotcakes and bangers on the table and Ron dove in. Hermione looked over with a grimace as he shoveled the food into his mouth.
"You do realize that those sausages are already dead, don't you?" she told him in a stage whisper. "It's not going to escape if you slow down long enough to actually taste it." Ron rolled his eyes in a way that said he had heard it all before.
Harry watched as Molly put a pot of tea on the table and sat to join them. Like a plant being watered after a long drought, she seemed to be growing fuller by the second and color returned to her face. There was still the grief in her eyes, but the burden of it had been lessened as if her memories no longer caused her pain.
Harry chewed slowly; he dreaded having to ask his next question so soon. She had just begun to accept the truth about Percy and his role in the war and he didn't want to destroy that, but he had to know the truth in return. They owed him that much.
Harry was pushing the last remains of his hotcakes around his plate as he tried to gather his courage to speak. He hated to take the risk of ruining his grandmother's mood. She had been so sad for so long that he didn't want to risk spoiling her happiness, but he had to know what happened to Ginny. It was as if she simply disappeared from the face of the earth sometime after Ron and Hermione got married. He pushed his plate aside and looked up at Molly. She returned his look with a beaming smile on her face and Harry prayed that it would not be the last one he ever saw there.
"Grammy," he began hesitantly. He saw Hermione stiffen beside him but Ron still seemed focused on his breakfast. "I have to ask you something."
"Go on, Harry," she replied. "You can ask for anything I have."
Harry swallowed then steeled his resolve. "I want to know what happened to Ginny."
Molly's face fell and the moisture in her eyes seemed to grow. "Oh," was all she said.
"I know she survived the war, and she was at Mum and Dad's wedding. What happened to her after that? Was she...?"
Now they had Ron's attention as well; Harry spared him a look and was somewhat surprised to see that he wasn't furious as he had been. He seemed more nervous, almost frightened.
"It's a hard thing to say," Molly started.
"But I need to know," Harry insisted.
Molly nodded and said, "And you deserve to know. You do. Just give me a moment to gather my thoughts." She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, dabbing at them with a napkin. "You have to understand that Ginny cared for you very much, Harry. She had for a long time. And she was so afraid that you didn't return her feelings."
Harry cringed. "But I did," he said softly. "I... I did. I just couldn't let her know, not with Voldemort and the prophecy hanging over my head."
"I know, Harry dear, and I think she did as well. She never gave up hope, especially during that last year of the war. She wanted so much to give you some sort of comfort but you just wouldn't let her. More than anything that cut her to the core."
Harry now wiped at his own eyes. "I know. I know. I just couldn't. There was so much... so many people were depending on me to do the impossible. I just couldn't."
Molly reached a hand across the table and grasped one of his, giving him support this time rather than needing it from him. "I understand, Harry, and I think... I think she did too. She was just holding on, waiting for it all to be over." She took another deep breath. "And then it was. Voldemort was dead, the war was over."
Harry nodded in understanding. "And I was just a baby again."
Molly nodded sadly. "And Ginny was furious. There was finally nothing in the way."
"Except for 17 years."
"Ginny still wouldn't give up hope. All that summer she did nothing but pester Dumbledore about finding a way to get you back. She wanted to try all sorts of things. Time turners that would move you forward, spells to take her back. But nothing would help. Then school started again."
Hermione laid her hand on top of Molly and Harry's. She took up the story. "All that year she was still trying. Every moment she wasn't in class she was in the library researching time and aging magics. She even hounded Dumbledore into giving her a blanket pass into the Restricted Section so that she could look there too. There was nothing. Then Ron and I were finished. We came home and began to plan our wedding. For a time Ginny seemed to move on, to accept that there was no way to reverse what had happened to you. She helped plan the wedding and everything. I thought that she had finally let go, or at least resigned herself to waiting until you grew again."
Harry shook his head. "But what would a beautiful woman like Ginny would turn out to be want with a kid like me, eh?"
Molly spoke again, "More likely she was thinking 'What would a handsome young man like you are growing into want with a woman old enough to be your mother'?"
"But Hermione's still as pretty as she was in school!" Harry blurted out without thinking.
Hermione blushed and Ron chirped, "Too right there, mate!"
"But you're not a girl, Harry," Molly pointed out. "Ginny was terrified of watching you grow up and fall in love with someone else."
"Like Gee," Harry whispered.
Molly's eyes grew stern. "Now, Harry," she scolded, "no one faults you for your friendship with Giselle. You are both wonderful young people and we would have never tolerated anyone trying to prevent you from finding happiness."
"Remember Harry," Hermione reminded him. "Even back then you both dated other people. No one wanted to force any type of relationship on either one of you."
Harry nodded, remembering Cho, Michael Corner, Dean, and even that one time with Zack Smith. "But where is she now? Did she give up on me and find someone else? Please tell me that she is happy somewhere." Molly looked at her hands, still clutching his. Hermione drew a shuddering breath but said nothing. Suddenly Harry's heart plummeted in his chest. "She didn't.... No, I can't believe that she would... kill herself."
"Oh no, Harry! Ginny would never do anything like that. She was far too strong to just throw her life away like that."
"Then what happened? Where is she?"
For some reason Molly looked towards the stairs before speaking; Harry followed her gaze but saw nothing but the steps leading upstairs.
Hermione began to speak again, "Towards the end of the summer, you were fully on solid food and Ron and I slipped off for a week for a delayed honeymoon. We left you with Ginny; she insisted that she could care for you and Grammy and Fleur were here to help."
"She never let you out of her sight for the entire time," Molly commented. "She left nothing for Fleur or me to do. She absolutely doted on you."
"When we got back, Ginny seemed different, as if she were resigned to something. We thought she was ready to go back to Hogwarts... but we were wrong."
Harry looked around at the three of them. He loved them all but he was ready to strangle someone if they didn't start giving him a straight answer. "Where is she?" he growled.
"Harry," Hermione asked in a small voice, "what would you get if you were to mix powdered root of Asphodel with an infusion of Wormwood?"
Harry was completely bewildered. That was one of Snape's stock questions for First Years in their first Potions class. "You get a..." The answer struck him like a blow to the chest, driving the wind from his lungs.
"You get a sleeping potion so strong it is called The Draught of Living Death," Hermione answered.
Harry didn't stop to look at any of them; he bolted from the kitchen and raced up the stairs. The others followed as quickly as they could and they caught up to him as he stood outside of the door to Ginny's bedroom.
Harry grabbed the doorknob but the door was locked, physically and magically. Molly was reaching into her apron for her wand but Harry just placed his open palm against the wooden door. A strange glow flowed from his hand and the door swung inward. Harry stumbled into the room and the others halted on the threshold.
Hermione spoke softly, barely above a whisper, "The actual potion is a bit more complicated than that. I suppose she came across the formula while searching the library."
Harry stared down at the figure lying on the bed. Vibrant red hair spread out in a halo around her face. A ray of sunlight slanted in through the window, illuminating a few dancing motes of dust in the air and shining on the translucent skin of her face. She looked just as she had in the photograph Harry had seen just this morning. She wore the same yellow dress with her hands carefully folded across her stomach. Harry could count the freckles that dotted her cheekbones. She had always hated them but Harry found them lovely.
"I come and visit with her every day," Molly said from behind them. "We have nice long chats about everything and anything."
"But surely there's an antidote?" Harry pleaded. She had lived in his dreams for years, now here she was, right in front of him but she was the one who was dreaming. Harry's mind swam. Was this all a dream? Was he still asleep somewhere and dreaming this whole thing? Harry suddenly felt a sickening notion take root in his head. This was all a dream, he was still a final battle and Voldemort had somehow forced him to dream this entire thing to torment him. Now, after seventeen years, he had found Ginny again only to have her sleeping. Any second now, he expected to hear Voldemort's high, cold laugh just before he killed him. This had to be a nightmare. Fate couldn't be this cruel.
"Just like in the fairy tales, mate," he heard Ron speak. "There's only one way to break the spell."
Harry's mind went back to a Muggle movie he had watched years ago. It was a cartoon based on the tale of Snow White. He had also read the tales, the fairy tales of Snow White and Rose Red. Rose red, Harry thought. He looked down at the lips gently closed in a soft sort of half-smile on Ginny's face. They were a dusky red color, like a morning rose. He reached out a hand to gently touch her cheek. It was warm and soft under his fingers. According to the tale, there was only one way to awaken the sleeping princess. True love's first kiss.
Slowly Harry bent his head down. His breath danced across her cheeks and ruffled a few stray tendrils of hair. He could see each delicate eyelash on her closed lids. He drew in a breath and held it. He closed his eyes and leaned down further. As gentle as the wings of a butterfly, his lips touched hers and Harry felt a spark pass through him and into her. He sat up again and watched, not daring to breathe for fear of ruining the magic. For a moment nothing happened, Harry was about to weep with loss when he saw it. Her eyelids fluttered for a moment then opened.
Harry released the breath he had been holding as he heard the gasps from behind him. Ginny looked around for a moment, her eyes unfocused until she saw him. A smile spread across her lips and she said in a gentle whisper, "Harry?"