Fleur and Bill were sharing a last dance before they left for their honeymoon. They stared into one another's eyes, completely lost to the few remaining guests who were chatting idly as the party wound down.
Harry watched from afar, occasionally watching Tonks - her hair once again bubblegum pink - leading Lupin in a furious foxtrot. But he resolutely ignored the other redhead still on the dance floor, his hands clasped in front of him as he leaned on the fence that marked where the Burrow ended and the rest of the world began.
"We can't possibly have everything we'll need," Hermione said, checking her backpack for the fourth time. "We've forgotten something, I know it."
"Then we've forgotten it," Harry said. "Where's Ron?"
"He said something about needing a rope. And putting stuff in our beds so that no-one will know we're gone yet."
"Good. I hadn't thought of that."
"It was Ginny's idea."
Harry turned on his friend, and she took a half-step back before adding, "I could hardly keep it secret, Harry. I've spent the last three days packing and trying to work out what we might need."
He nodded. "What did she say?"
"Nothing much. Just that she was glad that you weren't going alone."
He nodded again. "Where's Ron's pack?"
Hermione waved her wand and the last of the unseasonably brown leaves blew away from the small dip in the ground that had held their belongings since before the sun had risen that morning.
Harry reached down and tried to lift it. "It's heavy," he grunted.
"That's because you're a Seeker, not a Keeper," Ron said, trotting up to them. "Bill and Fleur are gone," he added, as he unwound a long rope from around his waist. "I told Mum that we'd take a walk in the paddock and be in bed by midnight. Dad's made her go to bed now – she's exhausted after today. I think he knows," Ron said, without much feeling.
"Does anyone not know?" Harry asked, somewhat irritably.
"Probably not. Half the family's hinted at one point or another, and I don't think Fred and George opening an account at their shop for me is something they're doing out of the goodness of their hearts. Besides, they'll all know tomorrow when they find the note we left."
"Shall we go?" Hermione asked, hefting her pack onto her back. She was almost bent double under its weight, until Ron reached out and righted her.
"Everything but the kitchen sink," he muttered, as he hauled his own pack onto his shoulders with a grunt of effort.
"You're hardly travelling light," Hermione retorted. Harry shifted his own pack to try and find a comfortable spot for it. None of them were travelling light. None of them knew when they'd have a chance to restock.
"Godric's Hollow, then?" Ron asked. Harry nodded. Automatically, he envisaged a solid stone wall, the first step of building Occlumency defences, according to a book on the subject that Hermione had discovered. They had decided that they would need every advantage in their quest, and they absolutely could not risk Voldemort spying on them while they searched for the fragments of his soul – even if he had avoided using the link they shared since the battle in the Ministry.
"Yeah," Harry said. "We'll start there, and then..."
They linked arms. Harry wondered fleetingly if they'd have to continue Side-Along-Apparition, or if he'd have the chance to get his licence at some point, as Ron had done a few days after returning to the Burrow. It didn't seem likely, he thought as his chest constricted and the familiar and unpleasant sensation of Apparition washed over him.
A single chime marked the half-hour as they reappeared in the middle of a small village. Harry squinted at his surroundings, remembering a similar arrival in another small village a year before, when Dumbledore had brought him to meet Professor Slughorn.
His heart tightened in his chest. Without Dumbledore, he was unsure about what lay ahead. The kindly old man had given the wizarding world hope, and without him it was scarcely possible to believe that Voldemort could be defeated. The Daily Prophet carried news almost every day of more and more brazen attacks. The former Minister for Magic, Cornelius Fudge, was missing and presumed dead after his family estate was razed to the ground. Platform Nine-And-Three-Quarters at Kings Cross station had been closed off amidst rumours that the bodies of dozens of dead Muggles had been found there. No one knew if the Hogwarts Express would run from Kings Cross on September the first.
Harry frowned. No one knew if Hogwarts would reopen on September the first. So many families had fled Britain already that some felt that it was scarcely worth it. Without Dumbledore, it barely seemed safe in any case.
"Do you... do you recognise anything?" Hermione asked. "I know it sounds silly, but..."
"No, no I don't," Harry said. "I don't really remember anything, except for the green flash. Maybe because of Pettigrew being our Secret Keeper?"
"It's possible, I suppose," Hermione said.
"Well, what do you think of the place?" Ron asked.
Harry had to admit that he was disappointed by Godric's Hollow. They were standing unnoticed in the town square, underneath an old and somewhat decrepit clock tower that looked as though it would fall down if the clock chimed too many more times. The only sign of life was in a grubby looking pub across the street. Every shop on both sides of the street was hidden behind heavy metal shutters, and Harry noticed that several appeared to have been long abandoned, for they were missing signs and their shutters were heavily plastered with flyers and posters advertising old films and long-ago dance parties.
"Excuse me, sir," Hermione said, stopping an elderly man who was being dragged along by a large dog. Harry eyed it carefully. It looked a bit too much like his Aunt Marge's bulldog, Gripper.
"Yes, young lady?" the man asked, struggling to hold back the dog. "Sit," he barked. The dog ignored him, and growled at Harry. "Watch yourself, lad. He doesn't take kindly to strangers."
Harry shuffled backward, thinking that it would be a poor start to their travels if the dog savaged him.
"Could you tell us where the graveyard is, please?" Hermione asked.
The old man gave them a distasteful look.
"Another party up there, is there?" he asked. "And the way you're packed, I suppose it's a long one."
"I told you that you brought too much," Ron said, under his breath.
"Ron, please," Hermione said.
"My parents," Harry said, before his friends started arguing. "They're buried there. We're travelling around the country, and as we were close by, we thought we'd stop and see their graves."
"Oh," the man said, faintly abashed. "Well then, it's down the end of the street, and then second left and third right. What's your name, son? Would I have known your parents?"
"Probably not. They only lived here a short time, about fifteen years ago."
"Oh! They weren't, I mean..." the old man peered curiously at Harry. "There was an explosion. A young couple, they said, hadn't lived there long."
"Yes," Harry said, heavily. "That sounds about right."
"A black day," the old man went on, apparently not noticing Harry's discomfort. "This town hasn't been the same since then. There are some who say that it's cursed," he added, with a hint of pleasure. He seemed to be warming to his topic, as though it were a favourite one of his. "This town's dying, sure enough. The council keep trying to get it working again, but no one wants to move here. Hah, been trying to sell our house for ten years, me and my wife, but no one will buy it. We've watched this old place go from a fine old village to-" he gestured at the street with a wave of his arm "-this. Very sad. Was a wonderful place, only a few years ago."
"Well, thank you very much," Hermione said. The old man nodded and, with his dog seeming to realise that his exercise could continue, resumed being dragged through the town.
"Can magic do that?" Harry asked. "Affect a place like this?"
"I don't know," Hermione said. "I've never heard of it before, but I suppose that it could be possible."
"Dad used to say sometimes that when he went on raids that he could tell when there was Dark stuff about, just by the way a place felt," Ron said quietly, as they made their way along the street. "Something as bad as what happened to your parents, well, it'd leave a mark. Never heard of it affecting a town before, but it was pretty bad what happened to them."
Harry was beginning to wonder if they'd made a mistake by starting their journey with a trip to see his parent's grave. The night seemed to grow darker the further they walked from the centre of the town. Streetlights were sporadic and, as they turned onto the road where the graveyard was located, didn't work. Harry wondered if someone had used a Put-outer on them.
"Here," Ron said, crossing the road. He stopped beside a tall, wrought iron gate set into a high wall. Beyond the gate Harry could make out a few pale gravestones before the dark swallowed the graveyard up.
"Wands out?" Hermione asked, her voice slightly higher than normal.
All three drew their wands. Ron pushed the gate open and held it for Harry and Hermione to follow him through. As he closed the gate, they lit the tips of their wands, but it seemed to make little difference. The light barely penetrated the blackness.
Harry shivered. He glanced back over his shoulder. Barely visible in the gloom was an open space in between two small cottages. Harry wondered what it was. Peering closer, he could just make out in the gloom that the grass was brown and withered, as though someone had poured weedkiller on it.
And then it hit him. It wasn't an empty plot of land. It was a vacant site, where a house had once stood. It was the land where his parent's had hidden to try and save themselves - and me, he thought - from Voldemort.
"Did Remus say where your parents were buried?" Hermione asked, interrupting his train of thought.
"Over by the west wall," Harry said, pointing to their left, and glad to be moving away from the site, although their destination could hardly be said to be more cheerful.
"Look at this," Ron said. He was looking at a gravestone, his wandlight illuminating the lettering. "Thomas and Margaret Becker. Died 31st October 1982. Loving parents, taken too soon. Must be coincidence, right?"
"Maybe not," Hermione said. She had walked a little further on, and was staring at a larger headstone. "Phillip and Catherine Jenkins. Beloved parents of Jason and Oliver. Departed this vale aged twenty-eight on October 31st 1992."
Harry didn't say anything. He was staring at another headstone, one less than a year old, which also commemorated the deaths of two young parents.
"Let's find mine," he said, shortly.
The grave of James and Lily Potter was marked with a simple black headstone, with James' and Lily's names inscribed in gold. Harry knew that Remus had paid for the headstone. The simple reminder had been all that he could afford.
Dark moss had clung to the stone, partially obscuring the wording. Ron cast a scouring charm on it, and the gold lettering glinted slightly in the wandlight.
"James and Lily Potter, died October 31st 1981, survived by Harry James. You are loved, you are missed. Rest in peace."
He stared at the wording, trying to imagine his parents' lives, what they had done to inspire the inscription.
"There's more." Hermione's voice interrupted his train of thought.
"Here," she pointed with her light. More lettering, half-hidden behind the long grass, was just visible.
"Diffindo," Ron said. The glass split and the severed blades fell to the ground. Harry stared at the letters that were revealed.
"A person's life is only the core of their existence," he read aloud. "For as long as a person's influence is felt, they still live. For as long as the memory of them raises a smile, they still live. For as long as they are loved, they still live."
He looked at his friends.
"It's time to go," he said.
To be continued...
(Author's Note: Yes, there's six weeks 'til Deathly Hallows gets released. Yes, I intend to put up a full story in that time. No, it won't be thirty chapters long like other stories of mine have been – not unless it really gets away from me. I'm aiming for around twelve chapters, which should mean updates twice a week. Thanks to Aggiebell for betaing for me – and thanks in advance for all your reviews *hint, hint*. Enjoy!)