Author's Notes: Thanks go once again to Hollow Godric and LadyChi for beta-reading this piece.
Timeline Note: This story is set three weeks after The Battle's Done.
Life seemed to have started moving again around him again. Hermione had been released from the hospital and found a job working under Mrs. Antonia Poole, a wizarding barrister who was sympathetic to her views on the status of house-elves. Ron had surprised them by announcing casually one day at lunch that he'd been accepted into the physical therapist program at St. Mungo's. Ginny, facing her N.E.W.T year, had taken to spending her mornings revising then blowing off steam in the afternoons playing Quidditch. The reporters had mostly given up after a month of ‘no comments' from him and some embarrassingly failed attempts to breach the Burrow's wards, which was a relief.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had refused to accept any money for room and board, arguing "What's one more in this house?" Harry appreciated the generosity, but he was determined not to be a freeloader during his stay. They didn't notice or at least didn't call him on it when he made smaller purchases to help out, and now that he was fit again they could hardly object to him doing chores just as Ron and Ginny did.
It might not be a prank worthy of the twins or display Ron's skill at strategy, but it did put a small smirk on his face as he weeded the vegetable garden. He'd tried using a charm to do it, mostly because he could now without getting in trouble with the Improper Use of Magic office, but he wasn't experienced enough with it yet to not leave roots behind. The Muggle way was surer, and also good exercise for his healing shoulder.
He accumulated another pile of greenery, then Banished it into the rubbish bin. He spotted two forms, one about chin-height to the other, approaching from a slight distance as he was tucking his wand back into his pants pocket. After a moment he recognized them as Ron and Hermione, holding hands and walking a bit closer than necessary.
Harry stood and dusted his hands off, then greeted them once they were in proper earshot.
"We'd thought you might be out here, Harry," Hermione said. "Have you completed that application for Auror training?"
"It's done, but I…"
She rolled her eyes at him. "Don't worry, I'm sure you'll be accepted. How could you not be?"
"I, er, I haven't actually owled it in."
"Why not?!" Hermione and Ron said in disbelieving unison. "You've wanted to be one for years," Hermione added.
"Every time I try I stop Hedwig before she takes off; it's making her a bit cross." He sighed. "I've just been thinking maybe I want to do something different."
Ron gave him a slightly puzzled look. "Like what?"
Harry glanced back at the vegetable patch, then down at the ground. "Something where I wouldn't be fighting for the rest of my life."
There was a long pause. "I can definitely understand that, Harry…" Hermione said. "Anyone would."
Ron nodded. "You could always play Quidditch – you were being recruited pretty heavily at the end of school." Harry could almost see the image of himself in Chudley Cannon robes holding the World Cup form in Ron's mind.
"Ron, he doesn't need to decide now," Hermione said, exasperated.
"I didn't say he did, I was just bringing it up as an option."
"Harry was near the top of our class. I think he can to better than that… "
"Why don't we head back to the house?" Harry interrupted. "I was about ready to go in anyway." There had been improvements since Ron and Hermione had become a couple; their quarrels now ended in make-up snogging instead of slammed doors. That didn't mean, however, he was any more interested in listening to them argue until they got they got to that point.
Hermione gave him a brief, sheepish look. "Sure. Let's go, then."
As they made their way to the Burrow the conversation turned to mutual friends, a topic that wouldn't have drawn attention in the middle of Muggle London if it hadn't also brought up terms like ‘Obliviator' and ‘Ministry of Magic'.
"It's still going to be a while before Remus can leave the hospital," Harry said, knowing his disappointment was obvious. "He's allowed to take a turn around the corridors, but he tires so quickly."
"Still, it's something of a miracle he's survived at all," Hermione said, her expression sympathetic.
He half-heartedly kicked a rock in the path aside. "Right, and I'm grateful for that, believe me. I'd just like to see him healthy…"
"Teaching again, if he wants to…" Ron said.
"Preferably settled in the same neighborhood as you…" Hermione continued.
Harry shook his head, and grinned. Ron had definitely been a bad influence. "Would those be bad things?"
"Of course not," Ron said brightly, opening the back door of the house. They entered, Harry closing the door behind them. He heard quick footfalls on the stairs, and then a few moments later Ginny appeared, a slightly manic energy about her.
"Do any of you remember the creature the Patronus Charm can be used against, besides Dementors? I'm revising Defence Against the Dark Arts…"
"Lethifolds," Hermione answered.
"Right, of course, Lethifolds." Ginny paused a moment, as though repeating it to herself, then sighed. "I think I'm ready for a break."
"Looks like it," Ron said, eying her with concern.
"How about a change of scenery?" Hermione said. "We could have a picnic lunch in that little spot in Hogsmeade, now that we've all got our Apparition licenses."
That idea appealed to all of them, especially Ginny, who'd got her license only two weeks before. Ron and Hermione moved to take care of the food while Ginny went to tidy the books and parchments she'd left out. Harry, for his part, made his way up to the top of the stairs to wash up and change his shirt before they left.
* * *
The lunch was quite tasty, which in Ginny's opinion was something of a surprise since Ron had helped prepare it. As a girl she'd had to help their mother with the cooking and had learned the basics through that, but her brothers had always been banished from the kitchen except to eat or clean up. It was one of the areas in which their mother remained staunchly old-fashioned.
"What a lovely day it's turned out to be," Hermione said, pouring herself more Butterbeer. Ginny had to agree. The summer had been mild so far, keeping the plants green and making it very pleasant to be outdoors. Even Hermione had been affected, acting as relaxed as Ginny had ever seen her.
"It's kind of odd to see you without books, though," Ginny teased her friend.
"Don't let her fool you," Ron cut in. "She's memorized practically every law about house elves, werewolves, merpeople, centaurs… ow!" the last in response to a smack to his upper arm from Hermione.
"Yes, which is why I'd prefer to relax just now."
Ginny stifled a giggle and lay back on the picnic blanket, which had been Transfigured from an old placemat. "Can't say I blame her, Ron…"
"Me either," Harry said, the image of innocence.
Ron gave them each a mock glare for their entirely unhelpful comments, and then took the last of the ham sandwiches in revenge.
* * *
Later, they strolled through the residential section of Hogsmeade, an area none of them had seen much of during weekend visits while at school. Ron and Hermione had trailed behind after a few minutes. Ginny wasn't surprised, as it had been a few days since they'd seen each other.
"Oh, that's a sweet place," she commented, spotting a cozy grey stone cottage set well back from the road. Ivy trailed up the walls and onto the roof, and two or three large oak trees stood on the property, providing welcome shade.
She felt Harry slow to a stop beside her. "It is… it could use a little work though."
"Yes, I wonder why the owners haven't kept it up." Her family might not have had a lot of money to make improvements – though their situation was better now her father had been promoted – but now that they were all grown, or nearly so, it was rare that tasks just requiring a little time and elbow grease were neglected.
"Looks like maybe they can't," Harry replied, gesturing toward a small sign that read ‘Hogsmeade Realty', and a smaller one atop it proclaiming ‘For Sale'.
She'd known him six years, more than enough time to learn his moods and expressions, and at the moment he was displaying the kind of restrained alertness she'd noted in Quidditch matches when he'd seen the Snitch but didn't want to tip the other side's Seeker off. "Harry… are you thinking of buying this place?" He shot her a surprised look, to which she gave an enigmatic smile. Yes, marvel at the mystery that is the female mind.
"Er… sort of."
Ginny had grown used to having him nearby. They'd been in separate dormitories, of course, but there had been Quidditch, and meals, and evenings in the common room. Still, she would be returning to Hogwarts in a month. He wouldn't, and neither would Ron or Hermione, so what did it matter to her if he lived at the Burrow or in Hogsmeade? "It would be a nice place for you; it's about the right size for one person. But, you do know you're welcome to stay with us as long as you want, right?"
Harry nodded, and started them walking again. "The thing that surprised me most when I first visited the Burrow was that everyone basically liked me. I'd never been in a place like that before."
The stories Ginny had been told about him as a child had always ended with his first defeat of Voldemort and had never really mentioned what had happened to him after. She'd imagined he'd gone to live in a fine house with people who loved him, even if they weren't his parents. It had only seemed fitting. The reality, she'd learned from Ron's stories, was very different and had quickly made him human – though no less heroic – in her eyes. "I can see that with the Dursleys, but what about at Hogwarts?"
"I was certainly happier than I'd been..." Harry said. "I had friends, and I felt like I belonged in the wizarding world. There were the Snapes and Malfoys to deal with there, though."
That she could understand. She'd never been a fan of Draco, who'd continued to make his insulting remarks even after joining their side, and as for Snape… well, she was a Gryffindor. He'd never singled her out particularly, but he'd been sure to notice if anyone from her House made a potion that wasn't quite the proper shade of orange or accidentally put in an extra rat spleen. When his real loyalties had been discovered Voldemort had tortured him, perhaps for hours, before he'd seen fit to kill him. Snape might not have been a pleasant man, but he hadn't deserved that.
"Are you all right?" Harry asked.
"Yes… just thinking a bit."
"I mean… with everything," he said awkwardly. "We haven't talked much about it."
Oh. "I'm fine. Really."
He gave her a brief, searching look. "Well, if you do want to talk..."
"…I'll head for the room at the top of the stairs," she assured him. They walked for another few moments in silence. "You were right to not tell me where we could be overheard."
"I didn't want to put you in danger."
She blinked at him. "Harry, I fought. Every member of my family who could joined the Order. It's not as though I kept a low profile," she said, annoyed at still being protected, then moved on. "What I meant is that by keeping it quiet you've allowed me to choose who knows and when, instead of it turning into material for the front page of the Prophet. Of course, they'd probably get it wrong and claim we were going out besides."
He gave a grin. "Well, there was a time –"
"Don't finish that sentence. I've got an embarrassing story or two about you too and several really good hexes," she bantered back.
"I'm not arguing with that," he said solemnly. "I've seen your Bat-Bogey Hex in action."
She couldn't help but laugh. "Well, now we've got that straight…"
Harry's hair had moved as they walked to reveal part of his scar which, she noted, didn't look so angry and red as it had during the war. Without really thinking about it, she lifted a hand to brush the rest of his fringe aside for a better look. "I just noticed - your scar looks better." Their eyes met, just for a moment. "Sorry…" She withdrew her hand.
"I didn't mind, don't worry about it," he said. "I'm going to go by the Dursleys' tomorrow… there are some things I've left there and ought to get before they just toss them out."
"Would you want me to go with you?" She was almost certain she could resist the urge to hex his relatives.
"Not that I think they'd try anything, but it would be nice to have someone watching my back," he admitted.
Part of him, she realized, had never stopped being the ten year old the Dursleys could mistreat with impunity. "They'll certainly be surprised to see you, all grown up." A mischievous look flickered briefly over his face at her description. "Mostly, anyway."
* * *
It took Mrs. Weasley a heartbeat to recover when they Apparated back to the Burrow, the resulting sound startling even for witches and wizards, but then her usual smile was back in place. "Did you have a nice time in Hogsmeade, dears? A letter arrived for you, Harry. It's on the kitchen table."
"Thanks," he said, and went into the kitchen to get it while Hermione assured Mrs. Weasley that yes, they'd had a fine time and Ron set the picnic basket on the floor. Harry was a bit surprised to receive any mail when his closest friends were present and he had no subscriptions to any papers or magazines, but expected it was from Neville or another of his school friends he hadn't seen since their leaving ceremony.
He rubbed at his scar out of habit, and remembered Ginny's touch. Their conversation while walking around Hogsmeade had been the most personal they'd had since he'd told her about her about the spell. There had been awkward moments, but not the standoffishness or condemnation he'd feared.
An envelope with dark blue ink in a precise hand he didn't recognize lay on the table, addressed to Mr. Harry Potter. Curious, he opened the letter and began to read.
I received a letter from Professor Dumbledore recently, which was marked to send after his death. There was also a mention of the sad event in our paper here, and I was sorry to have it confirmed. He was a truly great wizard, and I'm sure a valuable mentor to you.
My name is Deborah Kadym, and I was a friend of your mother's.
He managed to sit in one of the mismatched kitchen chairs without falling off it in distraction.
I was a friend of your mother's. We've met before but I sincerely doubt you would remember, as you were only a baby at the time. It's difficult to know what to say after so long except that I had my reasons, good or bad, for staying away and I hope you will accept that.
The letter explained that while you'd learned much about your father through Sirius and Remus, there was no one to give you an equivalent perspective on Lily. I met her when we were both Sorted into Gryffindor and became instant friends in the way only children away from home can. We remained so until her death a decade later.
There are certain confidences (hers and the Order's) I must still keep, and obviously things only she could tell you about her life, but I will do my best to answer your questions.
Please direct your owl to:
Mrs. Deborah Simms-Kadym
Portland, OR USA
Harry read it over several times, and thought it an odd, short letter to write after seventeen years, if it was genuine. Could it be a hoax then, or some kind of trap? The top Death Eaters were in Azkaban or dead, putting a rather large wrench in the organization's workings, but it would be naïve to think Voldemort didn't still have followers roaming free.
He refolded the parchment carefully and stuffed it back into the envelope. It was a bit unsettling to realize how little he knew of his mother – he'd have to go to Remus to learn whether or not there had even been a witch named Deborah in their year.
Mrs. Weasley bustled in, and was a bit surprised to see Harry still at the table. "You were so quiet I thought you'd slipped past me. The others have gone upstairs."
"All right…" He stood, holding the letter.
"What did that owl say, if you don't mind my asking?" She opened a cupboard and began to survey the contents.
"I'm not sure," Harry said. "I'm really not sure."
* * *
Remus's face remained impassive as he looked over the letter the next morning. "Well, Harry… your mother did have a close friend, a Gryffindor in our year, named Deborah Simms, and whoever wrote this is presenting themselves as her. That could be the truth, or you could simply be dealing with someone clever enough to do their research."
"What do you remember of her? Deborah Simms I mean."
Remus didn't respond for a long moment, waiting for an anxious-looking witch in dark blue robes to pass by the little alcove they'd found to talk in.
"She was very intelligent, but… a bit immoderate emotionally. I didn't know her very well until we left school. She was a member of the original Order - not really suited for the front lines, but as a mediwitch she was very useful when one of us needed to be healed outside official channels. A few days after your parents' death she left England, and I haven't heard mention of her since."
"It's just strange that she'd leave that way, when people thought Voldemort was gone." He couldn't understand why someone who'd had the courage to be part of the fight, even at a remove, would flee as soon as it was over.
"She had nothing to keep her here, Harry," Remus said, in a tone meant to close the subject. He handed Harry back the letter, which he put in the pocket of his robes. "Be cautious. Send an owl back but say nothing about yourself – or Voldemort's defeat - someone couldn't just as easily find out from a book or the Daily Prophet."
Harry nodded; he'd received similar advice from the Weasleys and Hermione though Ginny had understandably, given her experience with Tom Riddle's diary, been extremely wary of any mysterious correspondents. "Thanks. I ought to be going; I told Ginny I'd be back before eleven, then we'd head to the Dursleys."
"I'd have thought Ron would be the one to accompany you." Remus's face showed only mild curiosity, but Harry had the distinct feeling he was being teased somehow. He decided to take that as a good sign. Remus hadn't had much energy for humor.
"Ginny offered and, well, it's not that he's actually done anything, but Ron has a bit of a history with my relatives. He was there when the twins pulled bars off my window the summer before second year, and when they left a Ton-Tongue Toffee for Dudley to find, then there was an incident last summer involving a puffskein…"
"Oh, dear," Remus said, a corner of his mouth twitching.
"Right, while the Dursleys don't know who Ginny is except perhaps that she's a Weasley. The three of us talked last night and decided it'd be best to not deliberately antagonize them. I just want to get my things and leave."
"Fair enough, Harry. Good luck."
* * *
Harry and Ginny Apparated into the neglected park on Magnolia Road, reasoning rightly that there would be no Muggles present. Harry had chosen to make a subtle statement by wearing a pair of jeans that fit properly and a new shirt, and Ginny had followed his lead by wearing jeans with a nice peach jumper. One of the privileges of being the only girl was that while she didn't often have new things, they at least hadn't previously been worn by her brothers.
"We need to go over the fence there to get out," Harry said, adjusting the knapsack on his shoulder and pointing at a thoroughly ugly fence a bit over waist-height. It wouldn't have done much to contain young witches or wizards, but Ginny supposed it worked with Muggle children or it wouldn't have been put in.
As they drew closer, Harry took a running step and vaulted over the fence. It didn't look particularly difficult… a hand on the top rail, then send the legs over on one side. She got up some momentum and tried it, managing to get herself over the fence even if she wasn't as practiced as Harry. She landed on the other side of the fence with a little laugh at her success. "I haven't done that before. So, which way now?"
"Left for a bit till we get to Magnolia Crescent."
As they walked to Magnolia Crescent, then turned from there onto Privet Drive, Ginny couldn't help but think Harry had grown up in a very odd place. Every one of the plain brick houses looked identical to her, and they were far too close together. Only the daring addition of red flowers to a garden or a toy left out on the perfectly kept lawn gave any hint of who lived inside.
"If I'd grown up here I would have gone completely crackers long before I got my Hogwarts letter."
He chuckled just once. "Believe me, I've wondered how I managed not to. Here's the house; it looks like Uncle Vernon has a new company car. I expect Dudley crashed the last one…"
They made their way up the walk, and Ginny had to stifle a giggle when she thought of how anyone watching would assume they were Muggles – not related to each other, clearly, but perhaps friends visiting during the summer holiday.
Harry rang the doorbell – Muggles really did have ingenious ways to get around not being able to use magic – and waited. The door opened a moment later, revealing a thin blonde woman with an unpleasant scowl on her face Ginny recognized as Harry's aunt.
"Hello, Aunt Petunia. This is Ginny Weasley."
Ginny smiled. "It's a pleasure, Mrs. Dursley." She just wasn't going to mention what kind.
The courtesy just seemed to nettle Harry's aunt further, as her face became even more pinched. "Well, come in then."
Ginny had rarely felt more unwelcome, but she stepped inside after Harry. The house's interior didn't seem to show any more personality than the exterior had.
"Don't try stealing anything," Mrs. Dursley warned before she stalked out of the entry in disgust muttering about Harry "bringing that unnatural girl." Ginny could almost have found that amusing, since what was more natural to a witch than magic, but it bothered her that Harry's aunt, so often described as careful about appearances, would feel free to insult a stranger over it.
"I'm sorry about that…" Harry said, quietly.
Ginny waved off the apology. "We've both been called worse, and to our faces. Let's just get to work."
They headed upstairs to what had been Harry's room. It held a desk, bed, and wardrobe – none of which were as nice as the furniture she'd seen downstairs – but otherwise it appeared almost empty.
Once they got to work, however, Ginny found there had actually been a lot of small items tucked away, most of which Harry decided to bin.
"What about this, Harry?" she said a few minutes later, holding up an unused pencil she'd fished out of the back of a desk drawer.
He glanced over. "I've got plenty of writing stuff, but do you think your dad would like it?"
It was Muggle-made, and probably less likely to get her father in trouble with her mum than something mechanical, so… "Probably. Are there any, I don't know, family photographs or things like that you want to take?"
He finished checking through the drawers in the wardrobe before answering. "No. I've got that album from Hagrid."
She remembered the album, and that there was only a page or two left empty now that Harry had finished adding photos taken during his years at Hogwarts. Hmm.
She put the pencil in the knapsack, alongside the other things Harry had decided to keep, among them a set of toy soldiers she hoped he would hide away from the twins, who would feel compelled to ‘liven them up a bit', and a drawing he'd made of Hogwarts Castle.
* * *
Finally, after every drawer and shelf had been checked, as well as under the bed, Harry and Ginny headed back downstairs. Harry found Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia in the living room trying very hard to ignore the fact that there were a witch and wizard in the house. His aunt had softened slightly toward him over the last few years, but there was still no question that his presence in their tidy home was not appreciated.
"Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, we're going."
"Go, then," Uncle Vernon said irritably, not looking up from his newspaper. He was as big a man as ever, Harry noted, and seemed wedged into his armchair.
Aunt Petunia glanced over at her husband and stood. "I'll see them out." This was unusual, but as it got them out of the room Uncle Vernon made no objection.
She hurried them to the door, but no further. "What has been happening with Voldemort?" Aunt Petunia said in a harsh whisper.
Harry regarded her coolly. "I find this a very interesting time to ask that, but to answer your question he was destroyed a month ago. There's no need to worry that I'll turn up on your doorstep again."
"Don't be short with me," she sniffed.
There didn't seem to be any point in continuing the conversation. He glanced over at Ginny, who had gone quiet at the mention of Voldemort, then back at his aunt. "Goodbye. I hope you all stay well." He opened the door to let Ginny go through first, and had taken a step to exit himself when Aunt Petunia spoke again.
"Why couldn't you just be normal?" she said, bitterness in each syllable.
"I like the life I've got better. If you ever manage to understand that, let me know." He stepped out into the comparatively free air, where Ginny stood waiting on the step.
Aunt Petunia shut the door behind him without a goodbye, but without the parting shot he'd expected either.
"Let's go home," Ginny said, setting a hand on his shoulder.