"Another day of painful tears, Endless hours, hollow fears. I shall not rest, I will not bide, Until you're safe, by my side."
M. Weasley ~ "Not Again"
Molly Weasley stared sightlessly out of the window, her eyes glazed as she wrung her hands absently. She paid no attention to her haggard, tear stained reflection, and didn't spare the beautiful summer's day a second glance. The forget-me-not blue sky beyond the glass seemed monotone to her eyes. What should have been a bright new world was nothing more than stifling. It was another day that settled around her like a shroud.
She was so lost in her own thoughts and despair that only the thick, choking smell of the bacon burning brought her back to the Burrow with a start. She looked around, disorientated, before giving a sigh of frustration and annoyance and waving her wand tip at the pan, rescuing the rashers from cremation.
With a shuddering sigh she wiped another tear from her cheek and thrust her hands into the pockets of her apron, shaking her head to herself. She mustn't let the others see her like this. She couldn't be the one to show her grief, not when they had enough between them to fill the whole world. Someone had to remain an anchor to reality, or the whole family would just sink deeper and deeper into darkness.
All because Harry was gone.
The kitchen door squeaked on its hinges and she looked up to see her husband trudge in, followed by Bill and Charlie. All the Weasleys were blessed with the fair skin that accompanied red hair, but now their fair complexion did nothing to hide the shadows under their eyes. Even Charlie, tanned from a life outside, looked as though he'd been punched in each eye.
'Nothing?' Molly asked, a mixture of desperate hope and terrible dread in her voice.
'Not a sign,' Arthur sighed. 'Wherever he went, or wherever his body was taken, we can't find it.'
'That doesn't mean he's dead, Arthur.'
Her husband sighed and raked a hand through his thinning hair. 'There was a lot of blood on the ground, Molly. Ron, Hermione, and even Ginny think that he would have died within minutes.'
'But there is still hope!'
'How long will that hope last? Is it enough to keep you going for the rest of your life? Dearest,' he took her hands before pulling her into his arms, 'It's been three weeks now. We knew – we feared we weren't all going to get through this. I wish, I wish so much that it hadn't been him, but we should concentrate on those that are right in front of us. Ron and Ginny need you now, and I'm sure Hermione will be over every day, once her parents feel she has recovered suitably to travel.'
Molly sobbed softly, burying her head in her husband's shoulder as Bill and Charlie stood awkwardly, their heads bowed. 'I – I thought maybe it would be a happy ending.' Even to her own ears her voice sounded childish. To think that a war could end happily was as foolish as chasing a rainbow, but she had dared to hope that those caught up in the very middle of it all would make it out alive.
She had lost Percy, and that had been hard because there were so many things left unsaid. She had never told him that she was proud of him, even in the face of his arrogance, and she had never told him that despite what he had done, she loved him as only a mother could. With Harry, who wasn't even her own, there was so much there had never been time for. She had never told him that she thought he was the strongest young man she had ever known. She had never told him that there was always a place for him in her family, if he wanted it. She had never impressed upon him to call her Molly, rather than Mrs Weasley.
She had never realised how much things meant to him. Everything she had ever knitted for him was folded neatly in his trunk, even the first jumper she had ever made him for Christmas, despite the fact that it couldn't possibly fit. Now, he was gone.
'Of all the people who could have died he should not have been one of them!'
The sentence ended on a note of despair, and she clutched her hand to her mouth, letting the tears drip from her chin and onto her husband's robes. Arthur rocked her softly, his own eyes bright as he whispered soft, unintelligible comfort to her. Upstairs there was the sound of movement, and Molly glanced up at the low ceiling. 'They shouldn't be out of bed.'
'They can't stay there forever, Mum,' Bill said softly, listening as two pairs of footsteps thundered down the stairs.
Ron burst through the kitchen door with Ginny at his heels. His face was pale and his eyes were wide with fear. He slowed to a halt as he noticed the tears on his mother's face, and the grim defeat that etched his father's expression. Automatically he moved a bit closer to Ginny, as though offering her comfort by his physical presence. Her eyes were bloodshot and her hair dishevelled, as though she had tossed and turned in her sleep.
'He's dead?' Her voice was a tiny whisper, and Charlie grasped her shaking hands in his own.
'Ron, Ginny,' Arthur began, 'we haven't found anything yet.' He rubbed his hand up and down Molly's back absently. 'I think that, perhaps, it's time to stop looking and accept the truth. Harry was killed in the battle. Where his body went I don't know, but the two of you said yourselves that the extent of his injuries was - '
'Horrific,' Ron muttered, his eyes unfocused as he stared into an image of the past. His hand rubbed absently across his stomach, where Voldemort had slashed Harry with the sword of Gryffindor, bringing the youth to his knees. It was the last thing Ron had seen. Harry on the ground in front of the Dark Lord, kneeling in the golden mist of magic that had risen like a tide, hiding the pair from view.
'Harry was – is – special. If there is anyone who can survive something like that, it's him. We can't give up on him, Dad. If you won't look for him then I will!'
'Ron, you've only just got out of hospital,' Charlie pointed out. 'You know they said to stay in bed for a few more days.'
'They kept us in there for nothing,' Ron muttered, anger darkening his voice. 'There was nothing wrong with any of us except for a couple of scrapes.'
'You were in shock.'
'For one day! They kept me in there for three weeks!'
'You remember what the nurse said, Ron,' Molly whispered, her throat tight with tears. 'There were clear signs on your body that you'd had no pulse and hadn't been breathing for a good ten minutes at some point during the fight. She said it should have left you with terrible brain damage that would take months in St. Mungo's to heal.'
'But I'm fine!'
'But you were dead!'
Ron stood still for a few moments, taking deep breaths as though resisting the urge to shout at them all. When he spoke it was in a flat voice. 'Harry saved me. Hermione and I were in the Astronomy Tower when the castle collapsed. Hermione got out somehow, but I didn't. I don't know how he did it, but he must have saved me.' He paused, fixing his dad with an angry look. 'And now you want me to give up on him?'
'But we don't have a clue where to look. He could be anywhere in the world!' Bill stated, turning his back and grabbing one of the maps that lay abandoned on the kitchen floor. 'We've been guessing randomly, but there's no hope. We've tried thinking of all the places familiar to him that he might have gone. From Grimmauld Place to Godric's Hollow to Privet Drive… He's nowhere.'
'You're just not looking hard enough,' Ginny stated.
She lifted her chin defiantly as Charlie began to protest, and went to Bill's side, staring critically at the map. 'Harry was a Muggle for the first eleven years of his life. If he were hurt as a Muggle, where would he go?'
'Hospital? But which one? There's thousands in this country alone!' Bill thumped the map with the back of his hand, shutting his eyes and bowing his head.
Molly pulled away from Arthur and put the kettle on with a flick of her wand, before getting down mugs by hand. Behind her she heard the fire roar to life and turned to look as the orange flames roared up the chimney. Hermione's face appeared, her cheeks wet with tears. She addressed someone over her shoulder, telling them that she felt fine, before looking right at Molly.
'Mrs Weasley, can I come over and talk to you, all of you? It's important.'
'Of course, dear, and call me Molly. You don't have to wait for an invitation to come over.'
The fire turned green and sparks scattered onto the hearth like falling stars, where they died against the cold stone. Genie lifted her head and flicked her ears before moving away from the fireplace. Ron moved closer to the grate, grabbing Hermione's hand as she stumbled into the kitchen. Molly smiled as her youngest son moved closer to the girl he loved, his hands at her waist as he asked her if she was all right, his voice thick with concern.
'I'm fine, Ron. Better than fine.' She smiled, cuffing at her tears with embarrassment. 'I know something about Harry.'
'What?' Ginny demanded, looking up from the map. 'Do you know where he is? Have you found him?'
'No, but I know one thing. It's incredible, and wonderful!' She took a deep breath and sighed. 'I'd better start from the beginning, or you won't even begin to believe me.'
She swept her bushy hair out of her face, ignoring its tangles as she sat in the chair that Ron offered her. Her left hand was clenched into a tight fist around something small, and Molly felt her heart catch in her throat, worry and hope battling fitfully in her chest as Hermione spoke.
'Professor Snape came to my house about an hour ago. He looked, for the first time I can remember, like he was happy about something. He'd been searching the school, or what's left of it, looking for this.' She opened her hand and held up a tiny vial full of dazzling silver light. It swirled in its confines, clinging lovingly to the glass as Hermione's shaking hand made the potion ripple.
'It's the potion Harry mixed with Snape. Do you remember? It's called Calem Potentia.'
Ron nodded, his eyes thoughtful. 'It was supposed to be green, but something made the one Harry and I mixed get silver stars. It didn't look like that though.'
'That's because Harry hadn't matured into what he was going to be. Now he has. I'll bet anything that the very second Voldemort wounded him he reached maturity; maybe that was even the trigger. That's what the magic was about. You remember the gold fog? Professor Snape thinks that it was an enormous spell that Harry created.'
'Only Cerebrals can create spells, and they're born not made.' Charlie stated, clinging to the one fact that had stopped them truly believing what Harry was becoming.
'There are always exceptions, and we've seen Harry create spells!' Hermione motioned to Ron and Ginny. 'I don't know quite how it happened, and maybe we never will, but this potion proves it. Harry is a Cerebral! They're the only beings left that can make this potion do this!'
'But they're immortal which means -' Ron's eyes widened as realisation hit. 'Which means he can't be dead! He's not dead!'
'Exactly!' Hermione beamed, her eyes flashing triumphantly. 'Professor Snape said that if Harry had died then the potion would be rendered useless. Harry's blood was used, and any potion mixed with living fluids or tissue becomes inactive on the donor's death. If Harry was dead this would be black. He's alive, wherever he is.' She swallowed hard, and closed her fist around the vial again, her knuckles whitening as she looked at the people around her.
The room was silent as every occupant dared to hope that what she was saying could be true.
'Are you really sure of this, Hermione?' Ginny asked, her voice quiet, as though she didn't dare to believe the evidence.
'As sure as I can be. Professor Snape was very definite. He's with the Order now, searching the Muggle hospitals.'
'Why not St. Mungo's?'
'Because if Harry'd turned up in a magical hospital we'd know about it by now,' Hermione stated, taking a deep, calming breath. Her cheeks were flushed with excitement, relief and happiness, and Molly pressed a hand to her chest, feeling the same emotions begin to wash away the chill of despair.
'Professor Snape asked me to tell you because he thought you'd listen to me, and he wanted me to ask you to help with the search. This,' she gestured with her fist, indicating the vial, 'is the most solid evidence we've got, and it's the best indicator of Harry's health.'
Molly paused for a moment, her eyes closed as her heart soared. Abruptly she sprang into action, taking off her apron and looking around her with wide eyes. 'Arthur, we'll need Muggle clothes. I know you've got some somewhere in that shed of yours!'
'Then get them, hurry! Bill, Charlie, go and get Fred and George and take them to the Leaky Cauldron. Ask Tom if we can use one of his private parlours or whatever he calls them. We'll be there as soon as we can. Ron and Ginny, go and get dressed, and make sure you've taken your tablets. Hermione, dear, can you see if you can get the Order together in the Leaky Cauldron for me? If we rush off willy-nilly we'll end up searching every hospital twice.'
'You believe it then?' Charlie asked, his voice tight. 'You think he made it out alive?'
'If there is even the tiniest chance that he's alive, then I will look for him. After Percy -' Her voice cracked with intense emotion. 'We took him for dead, perhaps because we felt our relationship was beyond repair, but because of our assumptions he spent ten months in Voldemort's clutches before he really died. We could have saved him. I'll not make the same mistake twice, Charlie. I won't leave a member of this family for dead.' She urged him to his feet, before standing on tiptoe and kissing his cheek. 'Now go and get your brothers. Please, dear?'
The two eldest Weasleys Apparated away leaving Ron and Ginny to rush upstairs. Ginny was sobbing openly, overcome with happiness, and for a moment Molly felt horror grasp her tight. What if Hermione was wrong? What if it turned out that Harry hadn't survived? She tried not to think of the devastation it would cause. Hope could be a terrible thing, building you up to breaking point, where you could almost scream in euphoria, but hope was fragile, and so easily destroyed.
She shook her head to herself, taking the paint smattered overalls that her husband offered her. It was no way to be thinking. They'd search, and they'd keep on searching for however long it took. 'Don't you need to go to work, Arthur?' she asked, following his lead and putting the overalls on on top of her robes.
'No, Amelia Bones is doing a great job. I think I'll recommend her for the post of Minister, once things have settled down. I can't stay Acting Minister forever.'
Molly pushed at her robes, not caring that they bunched at her hips, making her look ridiculous. 'If you're sure, dear.'
'You don't mind?'
She looked up in surprise and smiled at her husband as their two youngest children rushed back into the room, Ron getting the buttons of his shirt in the wrong button holes and Ginny offering a hairbrush to Hermione.
'Of course not. Now, can you help Ron? I'll just check the Floo powder.'
Ginny was rubbing her tears away and gave her mum a brilliant smile. 'Do you think we're being silly?' she asked, pulling a blue jumper over her head. Molly shook her head, recalling the autumn she had spent knitting it for her blossoming daughter. 'No dear, you've been offered a happy ending when you thought everything was lost. Just – just remember he's changed, somehow. He might not be the same Harry you fell in love with.'
'I don't care. I really don't care. If he's alive I can be happy. It's right that he's alive. He can't have spent his whole childhood fighting against something, and then be taken away as soon as he's free again. That's not how it should go.'
'I know, dear.' Molly threw the powder in the fire, and ushered her daughter through. Arthur followed, and Molly was about to step into the grate when she heard Hermione say something that made her pause.
'If he's immortal though, he'll be here forever. He'll have to see everyone he loves die, one by one.' She had obviously intended only Ron to hear, and Molly hastened through the fire, stepping onto the floor of the Leaky Cauldron without so much as a stumble. She had once been able to travel by fireplace with four screaming children in arm, at least. Travelling by herself was no problem.
The euphoria was fading, replaced with anxiety as she realised that even if Harry was alive there would be things to cope with. An immortal life with those you loved was wonderful, but one without them was nothing but desolate. She smiled as Hermione and Ron stepped into the room, both looking worried.
'Let's find him first. The future is ahead, but Harry could be home by dinnertime.' She smiled at the thought of the young man sitting at the kitchen table, eating shyly and listening intently to the conversation around him, as he had always done.
'This way, Mrs Weasley. I've got to say I'm curious about all the excitement. I've never seen Mr Moody look so enthusiastic.'
'Oh, it's nothing really, Tom. Just a bit of a get together,' Molly lied, aware of the patrons that regarded her with interest.
The bartender nodded and ushered them through to one of the back rooms. It was already crowded, with the older members of the Order sitting around the table, pouring over maps of the country. Fred and George were talking exuberantly by the unlit fireplace, while Tonks couldn't stand still and was quite literally bouncing from foot to foot. Remus stood in the corner, silent but smiling. He waved at Molly, and gestured for Ron and Hermione to come over.
Molly shut the door behind her and sighed as people continued to chatter enthusiastically. Clearly everyone found it hard to believe that after three weeks Harry could be alive.
It was Hagrid who called the room to attention, his booming voice cutting across the conversation. 'Are we going ter get started? Harry's waiting fer us somewhere!'
'All right, Hagrid,' Professor Flitwick squeaked from where he sat on a chair. 'I think Mr Moody has been formulating some kind of plan.'
'It's more been Tonks than me,' Mood growled, his magical eye roving around in its socket as his real one focused on the map. 'According to her, hospital density is greatest in the city areas. We've circled London, Birmingham, Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow for our initial search. Those who can't Apparate yet, for whatever reason,' he pointed a gnarled finger at Ron, Hermione and Ginny, 'will search London.' He waved a hand to stem a comment from Hermione. 'And I know that you can't Apparate because teaching was suspended during the war. Molly will be helping, because she can Apparate to the edges of the city, since London is so big.'
He hesitated, rasping his hand across his stubble. 'Arthur, Fred and George, you take Birmingham, and Tonks and Remus will take Manchester. Flitwick and I will cover Glasgow, and Bill and Charlie can take Edinburgh, but try to behave at least slightly Scottish. You've got the hair for it at least.'
'What about me?' Hagrid demanded, a scowl on his face.
'You're going to stay here,' Moody stated, his scarred lips twisting into a smile. 'There's a chance that Potter might make his own way back, and if he's in London than there's every chance he'll have the sense to come here, especially if he's in no state to Apparate. That and we'll be interviewing Muggles, so everyone will have to be discreet. No wands, no magic and no wizarding slang.'
'I s'pose I'm not exactly discreet,' Hagrid mumbled, looking at the table, his face disappointed.
He dug a hand in his pocket and pulled out a small object, which he set on the table. 'I foun' that in my hut last night. It's Harry's clock, like the one Professor Dumbledore used ter have. I only foun' it 'cause it were tickin'.'
Ginny reached out and picked up the small timepiece. It was made of a dark oak and no bigger than the length of her hand from wrist to fingertip. Molly watched as her daughter frowned at the face. 'Hagrid, it's got no hands.'
'It hasn' since You-Know-Who got ter him the first time. Hasn't ticked since Godric's Hollow either, until now. I thought maybe it was significan' or somethin'.' Hagrid looked uncertain for a minute, before Professor Snape spoke softly.
'It could be important, but if Mr Potter is really what we have all concluded, if he really is a Cerebral,' Snape's lip curled at the thought, 'then the clock will tick forever, and the lack of hands could symbolise a lifetime without limits. The only inconsistency is that the hands fell off at least fifteen years before Mr Potter began to show signs of being something out of the ordinary.'
'That's not true, Severus,' Remus said, taking the clock and putting it on the mantelpiece above the fire. 'Harry has been extraordinary from that night. It was that Halloween that showed the world how special he was, when he survived the Killing Curse that had slain everyone before him.' Snape opened his mouth to speak, but Remus cut him off. 'We can discuss it later, but right now I want to find Harry. You can come to Manchester with us, Snape, but don't scare the Muggles.'
Molly smiled at the disgusted expression on the Potion Master's face as he Apparated away, following Remus and Tonks into the north of the country. The others departed in twos and threes, leaving her, Ron, Hermione and Ginny to bid Hagrid goodbye and walk through the smoky pub and onto Charing Cross Road.
Muggles parted around them, their heads bent against the wind of the stormy summer's day. The sun had disappeared, and the brilliant blue sky was filling with rain laden clouds. They went about their business unconcerned and oblivious to the other world that was only a hair's breadth from their own. In Molly's opinion, oblivious was the best way for Muggles to be, but she still felt a twinge of nerves at the thought of having to be among them for hours, possibly days, while she helped search for Harry.
Hermione had pulled a small book from her pocket. It was tatty and dog-eared, and declared itself to be an A-Z of London city. She flicked through the pages and gave a sigh. 'If we split up we can do this a lot quicker.'
'I don't want you three wandering around on your own. I know you're adults, but it's not safe here,' Molly stated, shaking her head as Ron protested. 'No, stick together. I'll Apparate to the edge.' She peered over Hermione's shoulder at the map, trying to make sense of the symbols.
'The H's are hospitals.' Hermione pulled a small notepad from her pocket and scribbled some names onto it. 'These are the hospitals around the edges, Mrs Weasley. We'll go down this side of the river and up the other, since most of the hospitals are downstream.'
'All right, take care.' She kissed them all quickly and gave Ginny an extra hug. 'Good luck, and go back to the Leaky Cauldron at six, whether you've finished looking or not.'
'But it's hopeless. There are so many!' Ron groaned, turning the pages of the little map book.
'We've got to start somewhere.' Hermione sighed, taking the book from him and walking down the pavement, waving goodbye to Molly as Ron and Ginny rushed to keep up.
The older woman drew in a deep breath and drew back into the shadows before Apparating to the first hospital on the list, intent on bringing Harry home.
Hagrid looked up from the map, his eyes staring sightlessly at the barefaced clock above the fireplace. He was sure he'd been sitting there for hours. He'd knitted some more of his balaclava, since the old one was going in holes, and had paced fretfully, taking reports back from the others as they Apparated in and away again, looking more and more depressed each time. The map was covered in red ink, crossing out one hospital after another.
With a sigh of irritation he squinted out the window, noticing that the sun was already dipping towards the horizon. Lunch had been hours ago, and so had his last flagon of ale. He grabbed the tankard and shuffled out into the main part of the pub, his eyes downcast.
Tom handed him a drink and plonked a massive shepherd's pie in front of the half-giant. 'Cheer up, Hagrid. There was a guy in here the other night, wanted to know if anyone wanted a Nundu cub.'
'Probably just a cat with spots painted on it,' Hagrid rumbled, smiling as Tom laughed and grinned his toothless grin.
'You're probably right. I take it you haven't had any luck finding who you're looking for?'
'No, not yet. Now don't go fishing fer infermation, Tom. I can't tell yeh.'
'I think I've guessed already, and I wouldn't give up yet. I've got a funny feeling that he'll turn up soon enough.'
'Hasn't turned up in three weeks though. Yer'd think if he could walk he'd 'ave walked home by now.'
'You never know, he could be on his way right now. He might be just about to come through that door.'
Behind him the entranceway opened quietly, and Hagrid turned around to face it, his eyebrows raised. An elderly wizard hobbled into the gloom, waving at his cronies before taking his seat by the fire.
'Yeh had me goin' then, Tom. I thought yeh'd gone all mystic on me!'
Tom chuckled. 'All right, maybe not. Divination was never my strength anyway, but you never know, Hagrid, that's what I'm saying.'
Hagrid tucked into his meal, trying to cling to his slippery optimism. Tom could be right, but doubt was a nagging, corrosive thing that gnawed at his belief. He tried not to think of people's faces if it turned out Harry was nowhere to be found. He tried not to think of Ron and Hermione without their best friend, and Ginny without her boyfriend. He winced at the thought of Molly, who would have lost another son, in every manner but blood, and he tried desperately not to recall an eleven year old boy, wide eyed and amazed at the world that he, Hagrid, was showing to him.
The man shook his shaggy head to himself, shovelling the pie into his mouth without much thought. He hardly tasted it on his tongue as he thought of the past and how quickly Harry had grown up. Too quick in his opinion. By the time the lad was fourteen he'd been able to cast a Patronus and had grown used to hearing the moment of his parents' death. Hagrid could remember Remus, ashen faced and trembling, telling him about talking to Harry, about what the boy saw and heard when the scabbed horrors of the Dementors got too close to him.
And then, a year later it had begun. He'd witnessed a death and the rebirth of Voldemort in one night and had survived. Sirius had fallen through the veil almost precisely a year later, and then, Hagrid realised, was the precise moment that childhood had faded away, leaving the boy to act like a man, even if he wasn't ready.
'He grew up too quick,' Hagrid muttered to himself, looking up at Tom, but not really seeing him there. 'He never even 'ad the chance to be a kid, really. Not with those stupid Dursleys, and not at school either.'
'Maybe he can do that now, then,' Tom grinned again. 'Get a tattoo, play the field, catch his youth while he still can.'
Hagrid shook his head again. 'Not like 'im is it? Playing the field? He'll 'ave to 'ave changed a fair bit fer that to happen. An' he's already got a tattoo.'
The giant finished off his dinner and mopped up the gravy with a slice of bread before nursing his ale. 'Whatever he ends up bein', he'll still be Harry. We just 'ave to find 'im first. Moody reckons he might make 'is own way back, but what if he's hurt?'
'So it is Harry, then?' Tom said, his voice low.
'I shouldn' 'ave told you that,' Hagrid muttered.
'I'd guessed anyway, Hagrid. You really think he's alive, though? Blimey.' Tom's eyes became unfocused. 'He's a real hero. Think of all the money the Ministry'll give him in gratitude. Think of the fame he'll have.'
'E's not the kind to want it, Tom. You know that.'
Hagrid sighed and peered into his tankard. The ale tasted flat and dull, and he knew it had nothing to do with the state of Tom's barrels. Anxiety did funny things to the senses, sharpening some and deadening others. He rubbed a hand up the back of his neck and shivered. The sixth sense was what Muggles called it. He'd always thought it odd that, despite their serious myopia towards anything magical, Muggles could still sense ghosts, power, and what they termed as the "paranormal". He vaguely wondered what was causing the hairs on his arms to stand on end. It could be a ghost. The Leaky Cauldron had at least three, but they were quite chatty, and liked to sit with the patrons. This was something different, like the feeling before a storm. This was charged.
Tom ran a hand across his bald head and frowned. 'I feel a bit odd,' he grumbled. 'Sorta itchy.'
'Probably a storm brewin',' Hagrid stated, stroking his beard and feeling the static crackle. 'Bit of rain'll clear the air. Might warm things up a bit 'n all.'
'Funny storm,' Tom muttered quietly, his eyes peering out of the window, towards the entrance to Diagon Alley. Hagrid followed his gaze and frowned. It looked like the bricks in the wall were rippling, as though they were drawn towards something, but at the same time being held in place by forces too strong to break.
A sound like a finger drawn around the rim of a wine glass dragged his eyes to the shelves of liquor bottles behind the bar. One by one each was developing a thin sweat on the glass, as though the contents had rapidly chilled. Tom wrapped the bar cloth around his hand and picked up a bottle, tipping it up. Nothing fell out. The alcohol inside was completely frozen, yet the room was comfortably warm.
'What the bloody hell is going on?' Tom swore, his eyes darting around the gloomy interior of the pub. 'They have caught all the Death Eaters, right?'
'O' course,' Hagrid mumbled, not sounding entirely sure. 'It's probably just – just -'
Tom looked towards the door, and Hagrid followed his gaze. There was a moment of utter quiet as everyone in the bar fell quiet, each turning to watch the old oak door.
After a moment the handle turned slowly, as though the hand behind it was hesitant and having second thoughts. Hagrid found he was holding his breath and his heart was thudding painfully in his chest. The door moved inwards slowly, and the person paused, intimidated and unsure.
Hagrid felt the grin spread across his face. The youth's dark hair was sticking up at all angles, but there were flashes of white at the temples. The lightning bolt scar was clearly visible, vivid red against a white band about an inch wide that went across his forehead. The eyes, though, hadn't changed. They were still the same brilliant green, set off by a shadow of stubble across the young man's chin. It took a moment before he recognised Hagrid, and then the smile could have lit up the room.
Harry was alive, and he'd found his way back.
'Harry! Harry Potter!' Hagrid felt tears of happiness welling up in his eyes, and wiped them aside hastily.
'Hey, Hagrid!' The young man slipped inside the pub, shutting the door and working his way through the gawking crowd, towards the man who sat at the bar. The first thing Hagrid noticed was that, despite looking shy, frightened and confused, he walked as though he owned the world. Before there had always been hesitance in the boy's stride, but now there was none of that.
He didn't think twice before pulling Harry into a bear hug and chuckled as Harry squeezed back. 'We thought yeh were dead yeh daft bugger!'
Harry pulled back and grinned up at him. 'So did I. I'm still not quite sure how I'm not.'
'Are yeh all right? Yer not hurt?'
'Nothing serious.' Harry glanced around the room nervously and murmured, 'Why is everyone staring at me?'
Hagrid chuckled quietly and leaned closer. 'Yer a hero, Harry. Yeh saved 'em. Now, let's get yeh out of here, before someone gets the reporters.'
Tom sniffed loudly and cuffed tears from his eyes looking slightly ashamed of himself for being overcome with emotion. He bent down and pulled a hefty looking club out from under the bar and gave them a wink. 'Good to have you back, Mr Potter. I can't begin to say – I mean – thank you for what you did.' He chuckled to himself and shook his head. 'Thank you isn't enough, but it's all I can say. Get him into the parlour, Hagrid. I'll keep people out until you can get out of here.'
Abruptly, as though a spell had broken, the room erupted. The old man by the fire gave a hearty cheer and other people picked it up until the room was full of noise. People patted Harry on the back and shook his hand. A young witch kissed him soundly and hugged him tight, while several of the older women kept shaking his hand. Behind the bar the alcohol thawed again, making the bottles ping and chime musically, mixing with the babble of excited conversation.
Hagrid put a hand on the Harry's back and forced his way through the crowd, steering Harry away. The young man looked a bit shell-shocked, and Hagrid couldn't help but chuckle. 'Yer thought you were famous before? That was nothin', Harry. We'd better make a quick exit, before the wimmin start rippin' yer clothes off.'
Harry grinned, but with a hint of trepidation, and Hagrid sniffed hard, trying to stop the tears from coming back. He took a deep breath and nodded to himself as he made his way towards the parlour. This was how it should be. This was a proper happy ending.
Harry tried to stop his knees from shaking and get a grip. He'd known people would be happy to see him, but he'd never expected this. They acted as though he was a hero, as though it was him, and him alone who'd saved them. Hagrid was still standing behind him, guiding him gently as Tom held people back, declaring drinks were on the house.
He felt a surge of panic, and the uncertainty he'd felt at the door came flooding back. People had thought he'd been dead. What if they'd grieved? What if they'd got over it?
He made a sound of alarm in the back of his throat, and felt Hagrid falter behind him. 'Harry, are yeh all right?'
'I – I don't think I should do this.'
'I shouldn't go back. It'll upset people!'
Hagrid pulled the young man off to the side of the passageway, into a doorway. 'Upset people? Do they seem upset to you?' He jerked his thumb back towards the main pub, where champagne was being sprayed over the crowd. 'Yeh gave these people the world back, and they thought yeh'd given your life fer them. And that was great, in a horrible way. Now yeh've given them more than the world: yeh've given them the world with you in it. Yer not dead. The price the papers 'ave been babbling about is a lot less than people thought.'
'People still died!'
'But you didn't. And if you don't give a Centaur's arse about those people you give one about yer family. An' don't say yer family are dead, cos I know you know better than that. Yeh've got a family that's bigger than blood, by a long way.'
'But - ' Harry swallowed, feeling his stomach roll and the stitches in his abdomen stretch painfully. 'I hurt them.'
'Bollocks. Voldemort hurt them. You're healin' 'em. As soon as you walk,' he pointed to a door at the end of the corridor, 'through that, you've really come home. That's what yeh want, isn't it? Yeh want ter find out if they survived or not.'
'What?' Harry demanded, his voice brimming with doubt and the threat of rage. Hagrid stepped back, as though alarmed, his dark eyes wide. 'What do you mean if they survived or not? They did, didn't they?'
Hagrid took a deep breath and gestured with his hand 'Why don't you find out?'
Harry fixed the half giant with a look, trying to read the expression on the man's face. All he could see was the stubbornness, and the determination to prove that he, Harry, wasn't making a mistake by coming back. He swept past, his heart hammering in his chest as he felt his stitches pulling painfully. He slowed his pace a bit, trying not to limp obviously. The pain killers from the hospital were starting to wear off, and his body was weak and exhausted.
He was aware of Hagrid right behind him, and got the feeling that he'd noticed his discomfort, and was ready to catch him in case he collapsed. Harry swallowed a wave of nausea and stopped at the door, feeling himself begin to shake again. He took a deep breath and noticed the door wasn't shut properly. He could hear voices inside. Tonks was arguing with someone, saying something about the city of Bath only having one hospital. Someone sighed, and Snape's clipped tones carried to his ears.
'You are not thinking logically, Miss Tonks. It isn't surprising that you failed Potions miserably.'
'Be quiet, Snivellus.'
'Tonks -' That was Remus with a gentle warning, laced with the barest hint of laughter. Harry grinned to himself, and put a hand on the door, pushing it open slowly.
Snape was standing by the fireplace, glaring moodily at a small clock with no hands. It was ticking softly, and Harry realised that it was beating one tick to two of his heartbeats. Tonks had a large quill in her hand. It was loaded with red ink, and she was putting crosses on a map exuberantly. 'We've got to be getting closer. I mean, it's a process of elimination, right Remus? Remus?'
Harry looked at the middle-aged man, meeting the silver gaze with a smile. The last of the Marauders had frozen when he'd seen who stood in the doorway, and Harry was shocked to see the shine of tears in the man's eyes. In one swift movement Remus had moved towards him, hugging him tight. His embrace was that of a father finding his son again, and Harry felt tears of relief and happiness sting his eyes.
The sudden movement caused Snape and Tonks to look up, and vaguely Harry heard Hagrid laughing at the looks on their faces. He heard Snape make an irritated sound of surprise, and Tonks squeal with joy, but none of it mattered, because he realised Hagrid was right. He was home, and that was the most important thing.
Remus squeezed him tight, then pushed him back as a slight complaint of pain escaped Harry's lips. 'Are you hurt? Ron and Hermione said you were sliced across the stomach.'
'I was. I woke up in Charing Cross Hospital this morning.' Harry grinned as Tonks gave a groan of annoyance.
'We've been looking in places like Glasgow! Stupid Moody and his inward spiral search pattern. That hospital is just up the road!'
'Did Ron and Hermione find you?' Remus asked, his hands still on Harry's shoulders. The red marks of the silver chains that had held him captive a few weeks ago were still visible around his wrists.
'No, I discharged myself and came here. Ron and Hermione are ok?'
'They will be once they know you're here.' Tonks shook her head and pushed Remus aside, giving Harry a hug and kissing him on the cheek. 'I – I can't believe it. You're really ok!'
'I told you he would be,' Snape said coldly, but with a trace of smug satisfaction in his voice. 'Do you need medical assistance, Mr Potter?'
'Yes,' Hagrid answered, before Harry got a chance. 'Don' yeh look at me like tha'. I saw yeh limping.'
'I'm fine.' As soon as the words escaped his lips he heard the four adults sigh, and grinned. 'Honestly, I've got stitches. I just need something to help with the pain.'
'What, Muggle stitches, like Arthur had in his leg?' Tonks asked, her face paling.
'Yes, er, maybe a few more than that though.' Harry saw the grim look on Remus' face and held up his hands. 'I want to see the others, and make sure they're ok!'
'They're all fine, and they're not being held together by string,' Remus said gravely. 'Let's just get you to the hospital and get you checked out. There is no way I'm losing you because of Muggle medical practices.'
Harry sighed and nodded his agreement. He was feeling ill and shaken, and realised that he'd quite like to lie down. Hagrid grabbed his elbow as he stumbled slightly and Tonks took his hand. 'Remus, can you let the others know that he's ok, and where he'll be?'
The man looked doubtfully at Harry. 'Will you be all right without me?'
'Of course. I'm fine, just a bit tired. Don't worry, I'm not going to disappear again.'
Tonks and Hagrid steered Harry carefully towards to fireplace. 'All right Harry, we're going to Floo. Ok?'
Harry winced. 'Can't I Apparate?'
'Can you promise me that you can Apparate and not leave those stitches in you behind?' Tonks asked, giving him a doubtful look that made him sigh. He had, after all, not been trained to Apparate. He'd acquired the ability after being trapped in Pettigrew's body a year ago.
'Fine. Floo powder then.'
He took a handful and threw it in the fire, before looking over his shoulder, unwilling to leave Remus so soon. 'Do I just need to say St Mungo's?'
'Say "St Mungo's, Lavender Ward." It's a private ward, and you won't get gawped at as much. We'll be right behind you.'
Harry faced the fire and stepped into the flames, speaking clearly. He felt the fire whisk him away and breathed in the hot air through his nose. The magic seemed to be acting strangely. Rather than feeling as though his face was being slapped it felt like soft silk against his skin. His fingertips felt hot and he realised that his lips were framing syllables, casting spells as though the magic in him was automatically trying to ease his journey.
He opened his eyes and saw that the flames had gone from green to blue, turning purple and black towards the edges. They undulated softly and parted, revealing the unmistakable sight of a sanitary ward. The fire pushed him gently, but didn't pitch him to the floor as usual, and he was glad to maintain his dignity for once.
He stepped onto the linoleum floor and moved to the side, holding one hand protectively across his painful stomach. Tonks stepped out behind him and turned to look back at the flames. 'Did you do that?' she asked, moving aside as Hagrid shuffled out, almost bent double so as not to get stuck up the chimney.
'I didn't mean to. I don't understand what's going on.'
Tonks looked like she wanted to ask more questions, but Hagrid interrupted, leading Harry through the quiet ward towards a desk. The Sister was scribbling in her book, paying no attention to the new arrivals. Hagrid cleared his throat and the woman sighed. 'We don't take direct admissions onto this ward. You'll have to go via the reception desk, rather than the fireplace.'
She glanced up, and up again as Hagrid loomed over her, his pink umbrella clutched in his hand. Harry smiled to himself despite his discomfort. Hagrid wasn't threatening the woman, but she looked like she thought he might eat her. Her gaze went past the half-giant, perhaps in the hope that if she didn't look at him, then he'd go away. When she saw him, Tonks at his side, fussing like a big sister, she gave a cry of amazement and dropped her quill, smattering ink across the page. 'Mr Potter!' She stood up and rushed to his side, her hands out to support him if necessary. 'Merlin! If I'd known – If I'd realised – The world thinks you're dead!'
'Well he's not, but he could use some help,' Tonks said, her voice scathing. The nurse gave her a look that suggested she wouldn't take any flack from a witch twenty years her junior, but she helped Harry to a nearby bed, talking all the while.
'I want to thank you, from the bottom of my heart, Mr Potter. My sister was killed in Birmingham, and I thought it would never end. Thank you.'
Harry didn't know what to say, but was spared from answering when the Sister continued. 'What hurts? We'll get you on your feet again in no time.'
'I've got stitches in my stomach. I was in a Muggle hospital.'
'But their medicine is rudimentary, almost barbaric!' The sister shook her head before gesturing with her hand. 'Take your T-shirt off, and we'll take a look.' She went to draw the curtains around the bed, but Hagrid stood inside.
'Fer security reasons. No offence, Ma'am, but you could be a Death Eater in disguise.'
The nurse scowled, but nodded and Hagrid leaned around the curtain, instructing Tonks to go and wait for the rest of the Order in reception. The witch said something that sounded rude to Harry, but Hagrid just chuckled, before turning his attention back to Harry.
The nurse had helped him remove the T-shirt and now removed the bandages with a swipe of her wand, causing the cotton swathes to fall away, revealing a row of neat stitches going diagonally downwards from his right side to just above his left hip. The skin looked red and harassed and Harry shuddered to think what would happen if the sewing fell apart.
The Sister took one look and picked up a small metal disc. She tapped it with her wand and said, 'Augustus Pye to Lavender Ward immediately.' She put the device into her pocket and smiled, but there was a tiny trace of horror in her expression. 'Augustus is our lead Healer when dealing with Muggle remedies. I think he'll know the best course of action. How long were you in hospital for, Mr Potter?'
'Three weeks I think. They seemed to think I'd been there a while.'
'Unconscious?' The nurse demanded, taking her wand and running it carefully a few inches above his skin.
'You must have lost a great deal of blood.' She glanced at the inside of his elbows and the back of his hands, noticing the bruises where the intra-venous lines had been. Harry saw Hagrid follow the woman's gaze and wince. In fact, the man looked almost nauseous.
'I'm fine really. I just need to take the tablets they gave me, and rest.'
'I'm surprised they let you go at all.'
'Um, they didn't, actually.'
The Sister looked up from her second inspection of his stitches and muttered, 'You discharged yourself, in this condition?' Her tone implied that what he had done was not only stupid, but almost sacrilegious to the dogma of any medical establishment.
'I had to. I had to get home.' Harry touched the stitches gingerly with one finger, feeling the bumps of skin and thread. He could sense that the wound had healed deeper down. The sword blade should have cleaved him in two, and he wondered how many hours the surgeons had spent stitching his insides back together.
At that moment a young man swept the curtains aside and dropped the clipboard he'd been holding. His eyes were wide with recognition, and his lips moved wordlessly. The nurse sighed and said, 'Yes Pye, it's Harry Potter. Now what do you think of this?' She pointed to the stitches and, after a moment of silence Pye shook his head and gave his professional opinion.
'Best left alone, Ms Dunhelm. These stitches have been in a while, and it looks like it was a deep wound. Further down the tissue will have healed, but it won't have the correct tension. If we take those out now, the wound will split again with any heavy lifting, possibly revealing the body cavity. In a couple of weeks we could risk it, but it'll leave a long, flat scar. Not that scars are bad, I just don't know if you want another one, Mr Potter.'
The man smiled nervously, as though battling with himself. 'I don't suppose you could just sign this could you?'
'Pye!' nurse Dunhelm scolded, as Harry scrawled his signature on the form, thinking that he'd sign a thousand autographs if they'd just give him something to take the pain away.
'Thanks, um, but about the stitches…' The man ran a finger along them, as Harry had done, and pressed his hands on either side of the wound, making Harry hiss in pain. 'At this late stage the best we can do is accelerate the healing, give you something for the pain, and suggest plenty of rest.' He followed the line of the wound around to Harry's side, wincing as the depth of the initial blow became apparent. 'It looks like you were eviscerated.'
Hagrid made a choking sound, and Harry glanced at him. He looked like he wanted to be sick, and the Sister obviously thought the same thing, as she handed him a bed pan. Hagrid held the bowl close, but managed to speak through gritted teeth. 'That's not what I think it is, is it?'
'Well, in a traditional sense it means the entrails have been removed, but what I mean in this case is that they would have been cleaved. They must have filled you with antibiotics, Mr Potter. To be honest I'm amazed you didn't die initially, but the fact you survived complications as well is, well, miraculous!'
Harry smiled weakly, and the Sister flicked her wand at a cupboard, Summoning bandages. She wrapped the wound up gently, shaking her head as she did so. 'I'm sorry we can't do more for you, Mr Potter, especially after what you've done for us. But Pye knows what he's talking about. Using magic when Muggle remedies have been implemented can have funny side effects. We can give you a bottle of potion though. If you take it every twelve hours it should keep you comfortable. Do you have somewhere to stay?'
'Yes, I think so.' Harry smiled again, accepting a small dose of vivid blue potion from Pye.
'I'd try not to eat anything too dense or fibrous. Your gut's probably a bit fragile. Stick to soup for a while,' the mediwizard advised.
Harry swallowed the dose, and for a second he felt heat prickle like sweat across his forehead. The two medical staff and Hagrid stared at his forehead, but Harry gave a sigh of relief as the pain was swept away instantly. The Sister looked like she was about to say something, but a commotion from beyond the curtains caught her attention.
'Honestly, people are trying to recuperate in here!' She and Pye went to calm the disturbance, and Hagrid helped Harry put his T-shirt back on.
'Are yeh all right?' Hagrid asked, 'Yeh scar was shining, like real lightnin'.'
Harry raised his hand to his forehead, feeling the familiar line on his forehead. 'I feel normal, although I think that's one thing I'll never be. Not now anyway.'
'Yeh know what, I don't think that matters. Yer still Harry.' Hagrid cocked his head to one side, and listened, making Harry pause. He could hear familiar voices, arguing with the nurse. He gave a sigh as the voices became more indignant, and he stood up and drew the curtains aside.
Ron and Hermione were arguing with the medical staff, both flushed in the face. Ginny hung back, scowling and turning to look over her shoulder, as though waiting for someone. She looked back towards the nurse, and must have noticed him from the corner of her eye. Her head snapped around, and without a second's thought she ducked passed Augustus Pye and ran towards him, throwing herself into his arms.
He hugged her as tight as he could, burying his face in her hair as she sobbed into his shoulder, shaking with elation as the grief and fear dissolved away. He could hear voices, but they may as well have been in another world. This felt so right, and for a moment he trembled at the thought of what could have been. He felt like choking as the emotions in the room overwhelmed him, not just from Ginny, but from those who hovered in the doorway, barely believing what they saw.
The soul resonance had been one of the first signs of magical development that he had noticed, and because it had had longer to develop, it was devastatingly strong. Every nuance of feeling was like a painting that could be read by his own mood. It left him trembling to think that he could ever have thought twice about coming back to them.
Ginny pulled back slightly, looking up into his face. Her cheeks were blotchy red and her eyes bloodshot. Her hair was coming out of its ponytail and sticking to her face, and he brushed it aside carefully. 'I'm so glad you're alive,' he whispered, 'I thought maybe you hadn't made it.'
'I was almost sure you hadn't,' Ginny gasped, her breath hitching painfully. 'How did you – how did you do it, whatever you did?'
Harry shook his head and pressed a kiss to the crown of her head, looking up as Hermione touched the skin of his arm. Tears were pouring down her face, and she was shaking her head to herself, as though she couldn't decide whether to hit him or hug him.
'You're really alive?' she asked, as though she doubted the evidence of her own eyes.
'Of course, did you really think Voldemort would kill me?'
'Yes! No! I – It's just there was so much blood!' She sobbed hard and Harry pulled her into his other arm, shushing her in alarm. 'I thought you'd left us! What would Ron have done without you?' She thumped her palm on his shoulder, and Harry looked up to see Ron looking at the ceiling, his eyes a bit bright.
'Girls, they're bloody emotional,' Ron said, a grin on his face as he blinked the tears away and put a hand on Harry's shoulder. 'Welcome back, mate. If you ever scare me like that again, I'll throttle you myself.'
'Thanks, Ron. Believe me, I'm not going to do that again.'
Molly Weasley was standing in the doorway, her hand pressed to her mouth and a tearful smile just visible around her fingertips. She cleared her throat and walked towards him, moving Ginny gently to one side and hugging him close. It was a mother's embrace, one filled with gentle, nurturing love. She held him as though scared he would break, or vanish, and he held her back, relaxing properly for the first time since he'd woken up in Charing Cross Hospital.
She pulled back and stood on tiptoe, pressing a kiss to the scar on his forehead before smiling at Hagrid, who was crying quietly into a big handkerchief. 'Hagrid, the others will be on their way to the Burrow. You're invited if you want to come.' She turned to Harry and smiled, stroking his cheek maternally. 'Harry dear, you need rest after all you've been through. Everyone will be at the Burrow and will probably want to talk to you, but if you feel ill, or tired, just say so, and I'll make them leave you be.'
'Yes, Mrs Weasley.'
'Call me Molly, dear. Please call me Molly. Now, let's get you home.'
Harry put his arm around Ginny's waist and walked close to Hermione and Ron, smiling to himself as Hagrid brought up the rear. There were questions to answer, and puzzles to solve, but they could wait. A happy ending didn't have to last forever, as long as it lasted for now.
A/N: My undying gratitude to Anka, my beta reader, for guiding this story into legible prose rather than a tangle of ideas and events. My thanks to everyone who has read what I've had to write, and I hope that this story has made an impression on you, however small.
There may be more, but it won't be until after the release of Half Blood Prince. As long as people are happy to read what I have to write, I'll keep going.