Disclaimer: The wonderful world of Harry Potter was created by and belongs to J.K. Rowling. I am merely an ink-stained wretch playing with her toys.
Harry awoke to darkness several hours after the dinner ended. He was once more lying in Fred's old bed. He heard soft snores nearby and could barely make out the lump that was George lying in the bed on the other side of the room.
Harry's head ached slightly and his mouth was dry. He suspected he'd drunk a bit more Firewhisky than was good for him. Then again, everyone around the dinner table had probably drunk a bit more than normal.
A feeling of warmth washed over Harry as he remembered the toasts and laughter that had echoed through the back garden as the Weasley family recounted the good times they'd shared with Fred. Harry fervently hoped that his words would help ease their pain in some small way. Apparently it had worked with Ginny, who had pulled him into a darkened corner of the garden as the dinner broke up and covered his face with soft kisses. Harry's grin widened as he recalled watching Ron and Hermione slip towards the wooded glen near the makeshift Quidditch pitch.
The smile faded as Harry realized he now faced perhaps the most difficult week of his life. The war was over, and it was time to say goodbye to those who had laid down their lives that others might live – starting with Remus and Tonks.
Harry's heart clinched as he thought of attending their funeral later that day. A small part of him wanted to run away and hide – to pretend that they and so many others hadn't embarked early on the next great adventure. He took some comfort from the knowledge that someday he'd see those loved ones again, but their absence now still caused his soul to ache.
Harry tossed and turned for several minutes but finally gave up trying to get back to sleep. He rose quietly, retrieved a pair of jeans and t-shirt from the chest of drawers and headed to the bathroom for a long, hot shower. Twenty minutes later, he padded downstairs, carefully avoiding the squeakiest stairs. He paused by Ginny's bedroom and considered cracking the door for a peek but decided against it.
He made his way to the kitchen, hoping a hot cup of tea would soothe his headache and put him back to rights. He was surprised to find a couple of candles burning and Ginny huddled in one of the chairs at the table, her hands wrapped around a mug. She glanced up as he entered and flashed him a weary smile.
"Hey," she said softly.
Harry smiled back. "What are you doing up so early?" he asked, taking a chair beside her.
Ginny took a sip from her cup before answering. "I couldn't sleep. You?"
Harry nodded. "The same." He reached over and gently rubbed her back as they fell into silence. Harry noticed they'd been doing that a lot since he'd recovered from the battle. He wondered if there were things he should be saying to her, but Ginny wasn't pushing him to talk. She seemed to treasure these moments of quiet companionship as much as he did. It was one of the things he appreciated about her.
"Would you like some tea?" Ginny asked, finally breaking the silence. Harry nodded. Ginny picked up her wand from the table and silently summoned a cup. She then pointed her wand at the teapot, which immediately filled Harry's mug with steaming brown liquid before topping off Ginny's cup. "Sugar?" she asked, again pointing the wand and making the sugar bowl and a teaspoon zoom over the table.
Harry stared at her before picking up the spoon and sweetening his tea. "You still have a few weeks left before your birthday, you know," he said with a trace of amusement in his voice. "Hoping for a communiqué from dear old Mafalda Hopkirk?"
Ginny merely rolled her eyes. "You've been in the wizarding world for what – almost seven years now?" she asked. "And you still haven't figured out that the Ministry mostly relies on parents to monitor their children? Besides, I imagine they've got more important things to worry about right now than a little out-of-bounds magic by the last underage Weasley."
Harry smiled and leaned over and kissed her before taking a sip of his tea. They sat quietly for several minutes before Harry leaned back in his hard wooden chair and stretched. "Fancy finding some place a bit more comfortable?" he asked.
Wordlessly, Ginny took his hand and led him to the sitting room. They settled on the couch, slipping easily into each other's arms. Ginny took another swallow of tea and stared across the room. "Sickle for your thoughts," she said softly.
Harry sighed. "I just can't believe they're gone. When we were fighting, when everything was spinning out of control, there wasn't time to really feel the pain. Now… I don't know. There's nothing to do, and all I can think of is the ones who didn't make it.
"I also keep thinking about Teddy. No one should have to grow up without their parents," he said, his voice suddenly shaking. Ginny hugged Harry tightly as his words trailed off.
"Did you know that Remus and Tonks asked me to stand as Teddy's godfather?" Harry asked.
Ginny nodded. "Tonks told me about it just before…." Ginny let the words die, not wanting to remember that awful night at Hogwarts, but knowing that in a few hours they would all have to accept the finality of Tonks' death.
Ginny gazed into Harry's eyes, and her heart broke at the pain she saw there.
"I swear, if I don't do anything else, I'm going to be the best godfather I can possibly be," Harry said determinedly. "I'm going to make sure he has everything. I'm going to buy him his first broom and teach him to play Quidditch. I'll see him off on the Hogwarts Express every year. I'm going to be there whenever he needs me. I just hope… that I'm up to the job."
Ginny cupped Harry's face in her hands, softly caressing his cheek with her thumb. "You'll make a wonderful godfather, Harry. I can feel it."
Harry smiled and gently squeezed her. "And you'll make a wonderful god-"
He stopped short. He couldn't believe what he'd nearly said. It sounded as if he was presuming that Ginny… that she wanted to and would marry him. Harry half expected to see anger in her eyes at his presumptuousness, but instead they sparkled and her mouth quivered slightly. She didn't speak, but instead laced her arms around him, laid her cheek on his chest and let out a contented sigh.
Harry took a deep breath and put his arms around Ginny. He thought about the past year, of all the evenings he'd spent staring at her dot on the Marauders Map while wishing for her comforting presence. Something was building inside him now that he was with her again. Never before could he have imagined the deep need that stirred his heart every time he saw her or even thought of her. This had to be more than mere infatuation.
Was this real love? He silently cursed his confusion and self-doubt, wishing he'd already mustered the courage to tell Ginny how he felt about her. He felt Ginny's body relax as he idly ran his hands through her hair, and eventually her breathing became deep and regular. Harry smiled and shifted slightly, settling his head against the couch cushions, his own eyes slowly drifting closed.
Harry awoke some time later to a loud creak and the sound of approaching footsteps. Panic overtook him as he realized he was entwined on a sofa with the only Weasley daughter. Images of her brothers closing in on him flashed through his head. The fear increased as Molly Weasley padded past the sitting room doorway.
Please let her keep walking.
But the footsteps halted, and Mrs. Weasley backed up and stared through the doorway. Harry managed a weak smile. "Good morning, Mrs. Weasley."
A range of emotions swiftly crossed her features – shock, disapproval at the potential impropriety of her unmarried daughter sleeping in a man's arms, and finally, understanding. Molly stepped into the living room and approached the couch. Harry unwillingly looked into her face and saw perhaps a hint of a smile and compassion in her eyes.
There was silence, and finally Molly spoke. "Having trouble sleeping, Harry?" she asked quietly. Harry shifted slightly, causing Ginny to stir.
"I think we both did, Mrs. Weasley," he replied. "Look, I just want you to know, nothing happened. I would never, er…. And I, uh, I know Ginny wouldn't…"
Mrs. Weasley shook her head. "I trust both of you, Harry. Not that it isn't a bit of shock, but you really are adults now, however much I wish I could still treat you as my children." She paused, and her eyes misted a bit. "But you're not children anymore, are you? Voldemort saw to that."
Harry stared back at her, trying to communicate the sorrow he felt over events of the last few years. "Yes, he did. I'm sorry. I wish things could have been different."
"Wishing won't make it so, Harry," Mrs. Weasley replied, heaving a loud sigh.
Ginny stretched lazily and slowly opened her eyes, gasping when she realized her mother was standing over them. "Mum, this isn't, uh… We just dozed off…"
Mrs. Weasley smiled, but a steely glint appeared in her eye. "It's okay, Ginevra. I trust you both. Just don't make a habit of it… at least not yet."
Ginny and Harry both blushed deeply. "You two need to get a move on," Mrs. Weasley said. "I'm going to get breakfast started. Everybody needs to eat and then get ready. The time to leave for Remus' and Nymphadora's service will be here before we know it."
The two teens sat up. A thought suddenly occurred to Harry. "I'd like to go early," he said. "I want to go see Mrs. Tonks and Teddy. I need to talk to her and find out what I can do for them."
Mrs. Weasley nodded and smiled sadly. "Nymphadora told me they were going to ask you to stand as godfather. I'm glad they did. They chose well."
Harry turned to Ginny. "Want to come with me?" he asked.
Ginny blinked at him. "Uh… sure, if you want me to," she replied. "Okay with you, Mum?"
Mrs. Weasley nodded. "That would be fine, dear. At some point today, I'd like to spend some time with Andromeda myself, see if I can do anything to help her. Well, you two start getting ready, and I'll go see about breakfast."
Mrs. Weasley headed toward the kitchen. Ginny nestled herself against Harry's chest. "If you want to go see Teddy alone, I'll understand. He is your godson, after all."
Harry pulled her back slightly so he could look her in the eye. "I'd really like for you to come with me, if you want to," he replied. He paused, took a deep breath and continued before his courage could fail him. "I think it's important for you to get to know Teddy now. You're going to play a very important role in his future… if you're interested, that is."
Ginny gazed at Harry, her eyes shining before she pulled him to her for a kiss. Harry was just moving to deepen the kiss when a commotion from the kitchen interrupted them.
"Really, Kreacher," Mrs. Weasley huffed. "I appreciate the help, but I can take care of breakfast. Why don't you…"
A croaking, bullfrog-like voice cut her off. "Master Harry has asked Kreacher to help Miss Molly. Kreacher delights in serving his master, oh yes. Kreacher will be making breakfast for master and his family, and Miss Molly will please be taking a seat and waiting for Kreacher to bring her the morning tea."
Ginny shook her head and rolled her eyes at Harry, who was now grinning from ear to ear. "Come on," he said, rising and pulling her with him. "We'd better go referee."
They walked into the kitchen to find a disgruntled Molly sitting at the table, while Kreacher moved about cheerfully – either unaware or uncaring at the distress he had caused her. "Good morning, Master Harry," he said with a low bow, Regulus' locket nearly scraping the floor.
"Good morning, Kreacher," Harry replied. "Thank you for taking care of breakfast." He and Ginny sat down at the table next Molly, who appeared bursting to speak but had apparently decided against it.
In short order, Kreacher had supplied them not only with tea, but eggs, sausage and toast. Just as they were about to begin eating, Mr. Weasley and Percy walked into the kitchen, both clad in somber black dress robes.
Mr. Weasley spoke to Harry and Ginny before walking over and kissing Mrs. Weasley.
"Good morning, Mother," Percy said. He then turned to Harry and Ginny and put on a bright smile. "Good morning, Harry, Ginny."
Harry had noticed that since their return to the Burrow, Percy had gone out of his way to be especially nice to him. Harry supposed Percy was attempting to make up for his abominable behavior over the past couple years. Try as he might, Harry really couldn't bring himself to remain angry at Percy, instead feeling glad that the older man had finally come to his senses and reconciled with his family.
"Morning, Perc," replied Ginny.
"Morning," Harry said.
"Aren't you two going to stay for breakfast?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
Mr. Weasley shook his head and grabbed a couple of slices of toast. "No time," he replied. "There's a ton of stuff to take care of at the Ministry this morning. We'll see you in a little while at the service."
Mr. Weasley kissed Molly again and headed for the door. Percy pecked his mother on the cheek, nodded to Ginny and Harry, and then followed his father out the door. Harry smiled inwardly, noting the look of pleasure on Mrs. Weasley's face as she watched her husband sling his arm around Percy's shoulders before they Disapparated.
The rest of the Weasley family – Charlie, George, Ron and Hermione – soon wandered into the kitchen in varying degrees of alertness. As the group was tucking into the breakfast, there was a knock on the door. Mrs. Weasley rose and opened the door. "Kingsley! Come in!" she exclaimed, wrapping the Acting Minister of Magic in a tight hug.
A chorus of welcomes greeted Kingsley as he walked across the kitchen and took a seat at the crowded table. He smiled broadly, his ivory teeth contrasting with his dark skin. "Breakfast, Kingsley?" Molly asked.
Kingsley paused and then nodded. "Yes, please." In an instant, Kreacher zoomed over to the table bearing a plate heaped with eggs and sausages. A look of shock crossed Kingsley's face as he accepted the plate from the once-dour house-elf. "It's a long story," said Harry, in answer to Kingsley's unspoken question. "I'll fill you in later."
Kingsley nodded before digging in. "I take it everybody here has had the chance to get some rest. Are Arthur and Percy here?"
Molly shook her head. "They've already left for the Ministry. Said they had things to do before the service today."
Kingsley sighed. "There's a lot of damage down there that needs to be undone. It's going to be months before we put it all to rights. I suppose we should just be grateful it's not even worse." He looked at Harry, Ron and Hermione. "I'm pleased to see that you three are apparently recovering. How are you feeling?"
Harry glanced at his two best friends. "I think we're good," he replied. "So when does the Wizengamot meet, and what are they going to do?"
"They'll convene next week," Kingsley said. "And that's part of the reason I came by. I have been told that they likely will elect me to a full term as Minister."
A chorus of cheers went up. Kingsley smiled but raised his hand for silence. "We need to wait for the vote before we start celebrating." His gaze returned to Harry, Ron and Hermione. "Assuming it happens, I need some help from the three of you. I'm going to set up an advisory council to offer ideas on reforming the Ministry and rebuilding our world. I'd like for all three of you to serve on it."
Ron, Hermione and Harry exchanged startled glances. As he did almost every time he was asked to serve the Ministry, Harry visibly tensed and unconsciously rubbed the back of his right hand. Ginny reached over and began caressing the scars. None of this was lost on Kingsley.
"I know that, given past events, you don't have any reason to trust the Ministry," he said, looking deep into Harry's eyes. "But I'm not Fudge. This isn't some sort of publicity stunt. I really am interested in your ideas. That's why I'm asking Ron and Hermione to serve as well."
He paused, his gaze now taking in Ginny as well as the other three teens. "And I can promise you this – this task will not take over your lives. I've already discussed it with Minerva McGonagall, and we both agree that the four of you need plenty of time in the coming year to take care of other, more personal matters."
Ron's ears colored and Hermione suddenly stared at the tablecloth, while Ginny's face now matched her hair. Harry felt his own face redden, even as he broke into a smile. "We'll do it, then," he said, glancing at Ron and Hermione, who nodded.
Kingsley bowed his head slightly. "Thank you. And now I have some good news for you," he said, turning to Hermione. "The Australian Ministry of Magic has located your parents. They're safe and apparently living quite happily in Sydney."
Hermione let out a squeal of joy before racing around the table to embrace Kingsley. "Thank you, thank you," she said, her voice suddenly growing husky.
Kingsley gently patted her back. "It is the least we could do," he replied. "I'm sorry you had to take such drastic measures to keep your family safe, though it was an ingenious solution. Minerva was right – you really are the cleverest witch in your year."
Hermione flushed with pleasure and returned to sit next to Ron, who wrapped an arm around her shoulders. "We're getting the travel papers ready," Kingsley continued. "Whenever you're ready, you can leave for Australia."
"Make it two sets of travel papers," Ron suddenly blurted.
Hermione turned to Ron. "You don't have come," she said. "I'll be fine. I'm sure there are things your mum needs help with."
But Ron shook his head adamantly. "It took us this long to get everything worked out between us." He swallowed hard and stuttered a bit. "And I-I don't want to be apart from you ever again." He planted a quick kiss on Hermione's cheek.
Charlie let out a loud wolf whistle, while George broke into applause. "Nice one, little brother," George said. "Glad to see you finally got your head out of…"
"George!" Mrs. Weasley said severely.
"… the sand," George finished. "What did you think I was going to say, Mum?" Laughter broke out around the table.
Kingsley turned to Harry. "I need to talk to you about a couple of other things," he said. "When the Wizengamot convenes, there is going to be a unanimous vote to award you the Order of Merlin, First Class. Given the horrific nature of recent events, there is also tremendous clamoring for some kind of public presentation ceremony."
Harry started to protest, but Kingsley shook his head. "I know it's not in your nature to seek the spotlight, but I hope you'll make an exception this time. An event like this could help us start healing a lot of the cracks in our society."
Harry ran his hands through his hair and sighed loudly. Ginny quietly began rubbing his back. "Look," Harry said at last. "I didn't do this alone. There are a lot of other people who deserve recognition."
"You're right," Kingsley replied. "But it was by your hand that the Dark Lord was vanquished. That makes you a hero, whether you like it or not."
Harry opened his mouth to speak, but Ron cut him off. "C'mon, Harry," he said. "You've earned this. You're a great wizard and a pretty decent bloke. Give everybody a chance to say thanks."
Harry felt a wave of emotion swelling in his chest as he stared at his best friend – a courageous friend he had too – often overshadowed. Harry turned back to Kingsley. "I'll do it on two conditions," he said.
"Name them," Kingsley replied.
"I'll do one ceremony," Harry said. "I'm not interested in traveling up and down the country repeating this show for everyone."
"Agreed," Kingsley said without hesitation. "And the second condition?"
"There are a lot of other folks who deserve the Order of Merlin as well, starting with Ron and Hermione," Harry replied. "I want all of them to be honored at this ceremony. And I want special recognition at this event to everybody who fought in the battle at Hogwarts."
Kingsley smiled broadly. "I don't think it should be too difficult to get that award for anybody you want to have it. Why don't you draw up a list?"
"I need a quill and some parchment," Harry muttered, starting to rise from the table.
Ginny rolled her eyes, pulled out her wand and Summoned the writing materials for him.
"Ginevra Molly Weasley," Mrs. Weasley hissed fiercely. "You know better than that! Performing underage magic, and in front of the Minister. I've a good mind to…"
But Kingsley merely shook his head. "I must be going temporarily blind. I didn't see anything, Molly," he said, throwing a quick grin and a wink at Ginny. His words seemed to mollify Mrs. Weasley somewhat, but she still shot a death glare at her daughter.
Harry grinned to himself, dipped the quill in the ink bottle and began writing out a list of people he felt deserved special recognition at the ceremony: Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Molly Weasley, Arthur Weasley, Ginny Weasley, Fred and George Weasley, Bill Weasley, Charlie Weasley, Percy Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, Remus Lupin, Nymphadora Tonks, Colin Creevey…
Harry continued scratching away, the list growing steadily longer as the others continued to chat. He felt a nudge from Ginny and realized Kingsley was addressing him again.
"There's one more favor I need to ask of you. Actually all four of you," Kingsley said, gesturing to the teens. "The trials of the Death Eaters and Ministry officials who took advantage of the recent situation will start in a few weeks. The first up is Dolores Umbridge. We need testimony about not only what she did at the Ministry but about her tenure at Hogwarts. I hope we can count on you to supply us with some of those details."
Harry's mouth twisted into a grim smile. "I wouldn't miss it," he said.
Kingsley nodded. "I'd also like for you to testify at the trial of the Malfoys. I've already heard some of the details about the evening you spent at Malfoy Manor." He then turned to Ginny. "And, Ginny, we're lining up as many students as possible to give us details about the Carrows' activities at Hogwarts. We could really use some testimony from you." Ginny paled slightly but nodded.
Kingsley pulled out his watch. "I've got to head to the office before the service," he said. "Got your list finished, Harry?"
Harry handed him the sheet of parchment. Kingsley glanced at it, smiling as he did so. "Severus for the Order of Merlin?"
Harry swallowed uncomfortably. He still felt terribly conflicted about his late professor. He hadn't liked Snape, but the man had given his life for the cause. "Yeah, well I…" Harry said, the words trailing off.
"I've been to the headmaster's office and had a long chat with Albus' portrait," Kingsley said. "He filled me in on all of the details." He paused and started intently at Harry. "I've also taken a look at those memories Snape left you. Harry, what you went through, what you decided to do… There is no way any of us can ever begin to repay…"
Harry cut him off. "I did what I had to do," he said, not wanting to delve into this. "I did what I know anybody sitting around this table would have done."
Kingsley acknowledged Harry's wish. He sighed and shook his head. "Anyway, I misjudged Severus. I wish things could have turned out differently."
He reached into his pocket and retrieved a bottle filled with swirling silvery thoughts, which he handed to Harry. "I didn't know whether you wanted these, but I brought them to you just in case."
Harry stared in wonder at the bottle as he took it. "Thanks," he said numbly.
Kingsley rose. "I really do have to go. I'll see all of you at the service. Thanks for the breakfast, Molly."
Mrs. Weasley walked him out of the kitchen. As she did so, George rose from the table. "I've got some errands to run in Diagon Alley before the funeral," he said. "Fancy coming with me, Charlie?"
"Sure," Charlie replied, and they headed to the door.
"Where are you two off to?" Mrs. Weasley asked.
"Got to take care of few things, Mum," George replied, kissing her cheek before stepping out the door. "We'll be back soon."
"Well see that you are," Mrs. Weasley called after them. "Remember, the service is at 11 o'clock. Don't be late!"
"Toodles," George replied before he and Charlie both vanished with a crack.
Mrs. Weasley returned to the kitchen table. "Look sharp," she told the four teens. "You need to get cleaned up. We do not want to be late for this."
Hermione and Ron immediately headed upstairs. Harry turned to Ginny and squeezed her hand. "I'll meet you back down here shortly, and we'll go see Mrs. Tonks."
About twenty minutes later, Harry sat in the kitchen waiting for Ginny. The dress robes that had been so uncomfortable at Bill and Fleur's wedding fit much better on his normal body. At last he heard footsteps on the stairs and looked up. He sucked in a deep breath as Ginny entered the kitchen.
Even in plain black robes she looked stunning to Harry. Her beautiful hair hung down her back in twin plaits and she had also applied traces of Muggle makeup to her face. Her skin seemed to glow in the morning light. Harry was mesmerized.
Ginny giggled, stepped up to him and closed his gaping mouth. "All right there, Harry?" she asked. Harry nodded dumbly, causing her to burst into laughter again.
"Okay, fish face, let's get a move on, if you want to spend some time with Teddy and Mrs. Tonks."
Harry shook himself out of his reverie, kissed her on the cheek and took her hand. They exited the kitchen and stepped outside the back gate. They turned on the spot, passed through suffocating darkness and suddenly were standing in front of a quaint country cottage with a white picket fence.
Harry's previous memories of the place weren't pleasant – that dreadful night when the Order had evacuated him from Privet Drive. The night of Hedwig's death. The night that George had given his ear in Harry's defense, and Mad-Eye had given his life. Forcing those memories to the back of his mind, Harry gripped Ginny's hand and walked through the gate and up to the front door.
He raised his hand to knock and then hesitated. Did Mrs. Tonks want to see him? Did she lie in bed at night cursing him for not moving faster to end Voldemort's bloody reign of terror?
Ginny seemed to know what Harry was thinking and gently squeezed his arm. "I'm sure she'll be pleased to see you," she said. "None of what happened was your fault, Harry. You did the best you could. Everybody knows that."
Harry gazed at Ginny in amazement, wondering how she had read him so easily. Trying his best to believe her words, he knocked gently on the door. After a moment, it opened.
The tragedies of the past year had taken a noticeable toll on Andromeda Tonks. Grey streaks now laced her dark hair, and lines had appeared around her eyes. She broke into a warm smile when she recognized her visitor. "I thought you would come sooner or later," she said.
Harry wasn't sure what to say. "Mrs. Tonks…" But she cut him off by pulling him into a hug. "It's Andromeda," she said softly, beginning to tremble. "And I'm so glad you're here."
Harry put his arms around her in return. After a moment, she pulled back and wiped her eyes. "Come in, Harry," she said. She then grasped Ginny's hand. "And you must belong to Molly and Arthur." Ginny smiled and nodded.
Andromeda led them through the quiet, neatly furnished house toward the kitchen. She motioned for them to have a seat at the table before beginning to prepare a pot of tea. "Teddy's sleeping," she said as she bustled about, "though I daresay he'll wake up for a feeding soon. I know you're anxious to see him."
She placed a tray with a tea service on the table and sat down next to Harry before pouring a cup of tea for him and Ginny. Harry sipped his tea in silence for a moment, unsure how to proceed. Finally he put down his cup and simply spoke from the heart.
"I'm so sorry about Ted and Dora and Remus," he said. He cringed inwardly as a look of pain swept over Andromeda's face and she shut her eyes. Ginny reached across Harry, took Andromeda's hand and squeezed gently. The older woman opened her tear-filled eyes and attempted to smile.
Harry plunged on, speaking as much for himself as for Andromeda. "I wish things had turned out better. Dora was a great friend. She… she fought bravely for what she believed in, and I'm so proud she was my friend. I-I know their marriage might have been a bit of a shock for you, but I hope you know that she loved Remus with all her heart, and that he truly loved her in return."
Andromeda swallowed hard. "Nymphadora was the light of my life," she whispered. "She had a way about her that made people glad whenever she walked into a room. Sh-she was the most stubborn, exasperating person I ever knew, and when she decided on something she wanted, she got it one way or another."
Andromeda paused and took a couple of deep breaths. "Poor Remus," she said. "He always thought that Ted and I didn't approve of his marrying Nymphadora. I'm not going to lie, we worried about her safety whenever he transformed, but we really did think of him as a son. He was a good man."
Harry's eyes began to burn, and he too reached over and took Andromeda's hand. "Harry, do you think you could say a few words at the service," Andromeda asked, "after Kingsley speaks?"
Harry nodded silently, struggling for control. "Did you know they asked me to stand as Teddy's godfather?" he asked after a few moments.
Andromeda nodded. "They couldn't have made a better choice," she said softly. Her kind words gave Harry strength. "Andromeda," he said, "I-I'm new at this sort of thing, but I'll do anything I can to help you. If you need for me to take…"
"No!" Andromeda said fiercely, and Harry recoiled, fearing he had mortally offended her. Her face softened after a moment, and this time she reached for Harry's hand. "I didn't mean it that way, but Teddy's all I've got left. I-I've got to do this, but I want your help."
Harry nodded. "Anything," he replied. "If you need money, I'll be happy to…" Andromeda shook her head. "I think we'll be okay on that front," she replied. "But Teddy's going to need a father figure. He's going to need someone like you to help show him the way. He'll need someone who can share memories of his father."
"I'll always be here for him and for you," Harry said firmly. "I want to give him all of the things I never had when I was a kid. Any time you need something, I want you to call me… call us." He looked pointedly at Ginny.
A look of peace came over Andromeda's face. "Thank you," she whispered. "You don't know how much hearing that means to me."
A loud wail from the back of the house interrupted their conversation. Andromeda wiped the tears from her eyes and smiled as she rose from the table. "I'll be right back," she said. "It's time for the two of you to meet your godson." Ginny's eyes widened and her face reddened noticeably as Andromeda swept toward Teddy's bedroom.
Ginny turned to Harry and saw that he was watching her – the expression on his face a mix of longing and concern. "Gin," he said softly. "I hope you don't think that I presume… I mean, that is to say…"
But Ginny silenced him by placing a finger on his lips. "I know, Harry," she said, gazing at him with great tenderness. "You're such a great, noble prat that you would never presume to know what I want, but I can, and more than anything, I want to be right here."
Harry gulped and gazed into her lovely brown eyes. The reverie was shattered an instant later by another loud cry as Andromeda returned bearing a squirming pink baby with a headful of a dark hair that almost perfectly matched hers. She walked over to the table and slipped Teddy into Harry's arms before beginning to prepare a bottle.
Teddy continued to wail, and Harry felt panic starting to envelop him. Ginny smiled and shook her head. "No, no, Harry, like this," she said, repositioning Teddy so that his head was cradled in the crook of Harry's arm. But the cries didn't cease, if anything growing louder.
Andromeda handed Harry the warm bottle. He slipped it into Teddy's mouth, and a blissful silence descended as the baby sucked greedily. Andromeda smiled. "If you two can take care of him for a few minutes, I'm going to go get ready for the service." Harry and Ginny both smiled and nodded.
Harry watched in amazement as Teddy swiftly drained the bottle. "Put him up on your shoulder, Harry," Ginny said suddenly.
Harry stared at her. "Huh?"
"You need to burp him," Ginny replied. "Put him up on your shoulder and pat his back." Hesitantly, Harry did as he was told. A moment later he was rewarded with a soft burp and immediately felt a gush of warm liquid on the shoulder of his dress robes.
"Oh, gross!" Harry exclaimed.
Ginny giggled. "Looks like you need to develop some parenting skills Mr. Potter," she said, pulling out her wand. "Here, I'll take care of it for you. Scourgify." Instantly, the mess was gone, and Harry lowered Teddy back to the crook of his arm. He stared into his godson's eyes, and was stunned when they turned emerald green.
For several minutes, he sat silently, simply enjoying the weight and warmth of the child in his arms. At last he looked up at Ginny, and slowly held out Teddy to her. Ginny smiled and took him, sitting down next to Harry and gently rocking the baby back and forth as Harry slipped his arm around her shoulders. Teddy gurgled contentedly, yawned and closed his eyes.
How much time passed was impossible to say. Eventually, Andromeda returned to the kitchen, clad in a set of old-fashioned black dress robes. Her eyes were more bloodshot than when she'd left, but she managed another smile. "Both of you seem to have a nice touch with him," she said. "We'd better be off."
Together Harry and Ginny helped her tuck Teddy in an antique pram, and they set off for the churchyard where Dora and Remus would be laid to rest.
After walking for about fifteen minutes, they entered the graveyard and quickly found the seats reserved for the mourners. All of the Weasleys were present, as was most of the Order – including Professor McGonagall, Kingsley and Hagrid. Molly Weasley came forward and put an arm around Andromeda's shoulders, while Harry and Ginny took seats near Ron and Hermione.
Before them, a pair of mahogany caskets hung suspended over freshly dug graves. The reality of loss crashed upon Harry, and his vision blurred for a moment. As he struggled for control, he felt Ginny slip her arm around him. He leaned against her, drawing solace from her quiet strength.
Harry took a deep breath, glanced around and was appalled to see a large group of reporters present, though he noted with satisfaction that several Aurors were keeping them well away from the mourners. An angry-sounding hiss made him glance over at Hermione. She had a look of utmost fury on her face.
"What's wrong?" Harry asked, leaning across Ron to speak.
Hermione's teeth ground together. "That, that woman has the gall to show up here today," she snarled.
Harry followed Hermione's gaze, his eyes coming rest on a blond witch clad in flamboyant magenta robes and sucking on an acid-green quill. It was Rita Skeeter in all her glory. Harry felt his own blood begin to boil. "What does she want?" he spat angrily.
"Isn't it obvious?" Hermione replied, her eyes narrowing. "She's here because Kingsley has deigned to attend and speak at the funeral of a known werewolf. I'll bet anything she cranks out an article questioning his judgment. Just what he needs right before the Wizengamot vote on his confirmation as Minister."
At that moment, a somber-looking minister stepped to the front of the audience and cleared his throat. He began to speak, droning in a mellifluous voice about love and sacrifice, the dawning of a bright new age and the hope of resurrection. Harry found his thoughts drifting back to his own use of the Resurrection Stone, and his heart warmed at the memory of the healthy, happy Remus who had appeared.
He was so wrapped up in his thoughts, he didn't notice for a moment that minister had taken a seat and that Kingsley had risen and begun to speak.
"Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks were heroes in every sense of the word," he said. "They were fiercely loyal to their family and friends and would have crawled over broken glass to help any one of them.
"For most of his life, Remus suffered terribly due to his lycanthropy – not only the painful transformations every month, but shunning by most of society. Yet he never grew bitter. He never turned to the Dark side, like Fenrir Greyback. Remember that always – that it is our choices that make us who we are, not our bloodlines or even an affliction over which we have no control."
Harry felt as though his heart might burst with joy when he heard those words, and he flashed a wide smile at Kingsley, who nodded before continuing.
"Dora Tonks was one of the best Aurors I've ever seen in my long career. She was tough and smart as a whip, and her loss is a great blow to magical law enforcement. She brought her own, shall we say, unique flare to everything she did. She was also a very loving person, and she didn't let prejudice stop her from marrying the man she loved."
Kingsley paused and looked down for a moment, then raised his face to the crowd. "Remember them always," he said. "Remember the sacrifice they both made for us, and for their child, Teddy. Don't let this sacrifice be in vain. Ask yourselves every day, what have I done to make the world a better place?"
Kingsley sat down. Harry rose and slowly made his way to stand before the group of mourners.
"Remus Lupin was one of my dad's best friends," he said after a moment. "He was loyal, he was noble, he was courageous. He was the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher I ever had. I owe him my life a hundred times over for teaching me to cast the Patronus Charm. He never flinched from risking his life to fight Voldemort, and he should be remembered as the truest of heroes. I'm proud to be able to call him not only a mentor, but a friend."
Harry paused and shot a pointed look at Rita Skeeter, who merely arched an eyebrow in return, her Quick-Quotes Quill scurrying across a long piece of parchment.
"Dora Tonks was a great friend. I wish I had got to spend more time with her during the few short years that I knew her. She always knew how to make me laugh and forget my troubles, even if it was only for a little while. And she was the kind of person Professor Dumbledore treasured most – always ready to spread a little more love in the world. She loved Remus and didn't think twice about marrying him, regardless of what anyone else thought."
Harry paused, swallowed very hard and looked straight at Andromeda, who tightly held the sleeping Teddy. "I know Dora would have made a great mother, and Remus a great dad. Of all the honors I may ever receive in my life, the greatest will always be having Remus and Tonks ask me to stand as Teddy's godfather."
His heart too full to say anymore, Harry quickly returned to his seat. Ginny immediately took his hand.
Now the minister had stepped forward again. He raised his wand, and the caskets gently sank into the graves. He flicked his wand again, and piles of earth rose and filled the holes. Finally, a set of marble slabs rose, hovered for an instant and then came to rest on the smooth earthen mounds. After a moment of silence, the mourners began to disburse.
Hermione shot out of her chair and made a bee-line for Kingsley. Ginny, Ron and Harry watched as she elbowed her way through a group of people lined up to talk to him. She grabbed the dark-skinned Auror's arm and began whispering rapidly in his ear.
The teens' attention to her actions was interrupted as Hagrid lumbered over to them. Tears still glittered in his eyes, but his mouth was curving in a delighted smile at the sight of them. "Well, yeh all made it!" he cried. He threw his massive arms around the three young people, causing their knees to buckle. "I'm jest so glad yeh're alright."
"How are you, Hagrid?" Harry asked, awkwardly patting the half-giant's arm. "We were worried about you when Aragog's kin carried you off that night."
"T'weren't nothin'," Hagrid said, blushing. "Yeh're the one that gave us all a real scare, 'Arry. Pretendin' you was dead."
Harry shook his head and smiled. "Sorry about that," he said. "How are things at Hogwarts?"
"Passable," Hagrid replied. "Work's underway on the castle. Still a lot o' cleanin' up ter do. Yer know they're gonna reopen the school this autumn. And McGonagall's gonna be in charge. Hope I'll be seein' all of yeh. They're gonna invite back anyone who missed out last year. Mum's the word, though. Tha's not official yet."
Harry's soul warmed at this bit of news, especially at the look of anticipation Ginny was throwing his way. His mind had just begun wandering to thoughts of exploring the school's nooks and crannies with her, when Hagrid's voice brought him back to the present. "Yeh all need ter come for tea soon," he was saying.
Harry and Ron exchanged grins. "That would be brilliant," Ron said. "We'll do it soon after…" His voice wavered. "… After we've put everyone to rest."
Hagrid's face fell at these words, and he suddenly drew Ron and Ginny to him. "I'm sorry 'bout Fred," he said, tears starting to trickle into his tangled beard. "He was a good boy. Best Beater I ever saw on the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch."
"You'll be at the service tomorrow, won't you Hagrid?" Ginny asked, smiling weakly.
"O' course," Hagrid replied. "Wouldn't miss it fer nothin' Yer mum and dad are fine folks."
The clearing of a throat interrupted the conversation. Harry turned and found himself facing Professor McGonagall. "Good afternoon," she said quietly. "Hagrid, I wondered if I might have a brief word with these young people."
"O' course, Perfesser," Hagrid said. "I best be headin' back to the school. Lot's of work to do. See yeh all tomorrow." He wandered off.
The teens then turned back to McGonagall. "I trust that all three of you and Miss Granger are at least somewhat recovered from the events of the past few days?" she asked, her eyes lingering especially on Harry. The group nodded.
"Good," McGonagall continued. "After we've had a bit more time to mourn, I wish to speak with all four of you about your futures. As you may know, plans are underway for Hogwarts to reopen in the autumn, and I do hope – Mr. Potter and Mr. Weasley – that the two of you, along with Miss Granger, will see fit to return and complete you magical education."
Harry had been thinking on this matter since discussing it with the others at the Burrow. Going back to Hogwarts would offer him a relatively carefree period to spend with his friends, as well as giving him another year to figure out what he really wanted to do with his life. At the same time, he wasn't sure he wanted to be bothered with the grind of classes and preparation for NEWTs. This indecisiveness frustrated him. He'd spent the last several years wishing for control of his life, and now he didn't know what to do with it.
He groaned inwardly. In some ways, things had been simpler when he had a mission laid out in front of him… That train of thought suddenly brought an urgent realization. His mission wasn't yet complete. Hidden in a drawer at the Burrow was the Elder Wand. He needed to get it back into Dumbledore's tomb before it fell into the wrong hands.
"Professor," he said suddenly. "Can you let us into Hogwarts?"
A look of pleased surprise crossed the old witch's face. "I'm glad to hear that you want to come back Mr. Potter. Frankly, I thought I might have a difficult time persuading you of the benefits…"
"No, no. Not for the school year," Harry said impatiently. "I mean, can you let us onto the grounds tonight?"
McGonagall stared at him in amazement. "Whatever for?" she asked.
Harry hesitated and lowered his voice. "There's something important that I need to do. Something that will help ensure that we never have to face another Tom Riddle."
McGonagall's face paled at these words. "What on earth could you possibly have left to do? Riddle is dead and gone, I assure you. We have already disposed of his body."
Harry shook his head. "I'm not talking about Riddle himself. There's… an object, a powerful object that needs to be sealed away, so that it can never tempt another Dark wizard. I can't really say anymore than that. The less you know the better. I discussed this the other morning with Dumbledore's portrait, and he agreed that this… thing should be laid to rest."
McGonagall gazed at him for a moment. "Very well, Mr. Potter. I suppose if we can't trust your judgment, there is no hope for any of us. I shall meet you at the Hogwarts gate at nine o'clock, then."
Harry heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Professor," he said. "Ron and Hermione will be with me… and so will Ginny." He turned and gave Ginny a questioning look. She nodded.
McGonagall smiled slightly at this display of affection before becoming businesslike again. "I shall see you all tonight. And Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, please consider the other topic we discussed. Good day."
McGonagall turned and strode away briskly. "What topic?" asked a voice behind the three teens. They turned and saw Hermione approaching them.
"McGonagall wants us to come back to Hogwarts for seventh year," Ron replied. "Said she'd be by in a few days to discuss it with us further."
Hermione positively glowed at this news. "That's wonderful," she squealed, causing Ron to roll his eyes.
"Why'd you run off so suddenly?" Ron asked. "What were you talking to Kingsley about?"
A satisfied smirk appeared on Hermione's face. "Oh, I was just putting a bug in his ear about a certain unregistered Animagus we have the misfortune to know."
Grins lit up Harry's, Ginny's and Ron's faces as Hermione continued. "Suffice to say, I don't think Rita's going to be filing a story on Remus and Tonks' funeral."
"Excellent," Harry replied, patting Hermione on the back before Ron drew her into a hug. Harry leaned close to Hermione and lowered his voice. "I'm going to Hogwarts tonight to put the Elder Wand back in the tomb. It would mean a lot if you came with me." Hermione nodded. "Of course, Harry," she replied.
The four teens then wandered over to the rest of the Weasley family. Molly seemed to be speaking sternly to Andromeda.
"…. and there's no need to argue. You don't need to be alone today. Bring Teddy and come to the Burrow for lunch. There's going to be plenty of food, and I'm sure we can find a quiet room where you can lay him down for a nap."
Andromeda hesitated, then gave in. "All right. I suppose Teddy really will need to get to know all of you, since you're the family of his godfather." She suddenly threw a sharp look at Harry and Ginny. "And I imagine the bonds are going to get a lot thicker before all is said and done." Harry and Ginny blushed, while Hermione smiled quietly. Charlie and George both made gagging noises.
"All right you lot," Mrs. Weasley said with mock exasperation. "Get back to the house and start setting up for lunch. See if Kreacher needs any help. I'll walk Andromeda home so she can drop off the pram, and we'll Floo back to the Burrow."
Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione grabbed hands and Disapparated back to the Burrow, where they busied themselves helping Kreacher with lunch preparations. Charlie and George arrived moments later, as did Bill and Fleur. Mr. Weasley and Percy showed up as well, under orders from Kingsley to take the afternoon off.
Finally the kitchen fireplace roared with green flames, and out stepped Mrs. Weasley, followed by Andromeda, who was clutching Teddy. To the dismay of the men-folk, all thoughts of food were immediately forgotten as the women huddled around Andromeda and began cooing over the baby.
Harry was amazed by the power Teddy held over the women. "We're both doomed, you realize that don't you?" Harry muttered to Ron, surprised at his own boldness in revealing his designs for the youngest Weasley.
If Ron was bothered by the prospect of Ginny as wife and mother, he didn't show it. Instead, he was gazing at Hermione, who, after a moment of initial panic, was now rocking Teddy in her arms and whispering nonsensical words to him. "You said it, mate," Ron replied with a sigh.
Finally Charlie could bear it no longer. "Oi!" he cried. "Some of us are starving here!" Mrs. Weasley shot him an irritated look, but immediately began dishing out food. The kitchen was too small to hold the crowd, forcing people to grab plates and wander to the parlor, the porch or any other spot with an available seat.
The afternoon passed enjoyably for everyone. All of the Weasley brothers and Harry headed to the paddock for a game of Quidditch, with Mr. Weasley tagging along to play referee. Harry tried to entice Ginny into playing, but she was completely under the sway of the baby fever that had infected the rest of the women in the house.
After a couple of hours of hard play, the boys descended from the sky and headed back to the house. A thought suddenly struck Harry. He turned to Mr. Weasley. "Do you need us to do anything to help get ready for Fred's… I mean, for tomorrow?"
Mr. Weasley's face fell at the mention of the next day's unpleasant duty, but he held his shoulders high. "No," he said. "Bill, Charlie and Percy have already prepared the grave site, and George and I have taken care of most of the arrangements for the service. We'll be holding it tomorrow evening, by the way, instead of in the morning."
Both Ron and Harry arched their eyebrows at this. "Why?" asked Ron.
"You'll see," George replied mysteriously.
Silence settled over the seven men as they entered the house. The mood immediately brightened as they watched the ladies laughing and playing with Teddy. Harry even took another opportunity to hold him. Andromeda's face looked much less lined as she watched her grandson gurgle with delight and suddenly change his hair from brown to jet black.
At last, the afternoon shadows began to lengthen, and Andromeda and Teddy prepared to depart. Harry stood by the fireplace to see them off. He planted a gentle kiss on Teddy's forehead. He then turned to Andromeda. "I'll come by to visit in a couple of days," he said.
The older woman smiled and hugged him. "I look forward to it. I'm so glad Dora and Remus chose you. I meant it when I said they couldn't have picked a better man." Harry swallowed hard and patted her back. Then she stepped into the dancing green flames and was gone with a whoosh. An ache stirred in Harry's chest, but was quickly relieved as Ginny planted a kiss on his cheek and led him back to the parlor.
Most of the family was lounging on the chairs or on the sofa. Ron and Hermione had begun an intense game of chess. Hermione looked up as Harry and Ginny approached. "What time are we leaving tonight?" she asked, and then immediately cringed, realizing Mr. and Mrs. Weasley didn't yet know about their planned excursion.
"Going? Going where?" Mrs. Weasley asked sharply.
Harry turned to his surrogate parents. "There's one final task Ron, Hermione and I have to carry out. It's nothing dangerous," he said very fast as Mrs. Weasley looked ready to protest. "It's just sort of a loose end we need to tie up. I promised Dumbledore I'd take care of this one last thing. And I've asked Ginny to go with us."
Mrs. Weasley's face flushed. "And when were you planning on informing us of this little clandestine mission? Ginny is not going anywhere. She's not of age. And you three have no business running around in the dead of night doing who knows what."
"Please, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said quietly but firmly. "I can't tell you what we've got to do, but I promise you it's nothing dangerous. I would never do anything to put Ginny in harm's way. It will only take a few hours. We'll leave after sunset and can be back by midnight."
Mrs. Weasley opened her mouth to speak again, but Mr. Weasley interrupted her. "Molly, Ginny will be of age in a few weeks. She held her own in the battle at Hogwarts. Besides, if she's not safe with Harry, she's not safe anywhere."
Mrs. Weasley's mouth snapped shut, and Harry could see a conflict raging within her – the desire to mother her children, including him, versus the realization that they were all adults in stature, if not age. Finally a forced smile appeared on her lips. "Yes, yes… I suppose so." She turned to the four teens. "All right. Do what you need to do, but I want you back here by midnight!"
Mr. Weasley smiled fondly at his wife for a moment before turning to Harry. "Well, Harry, I must say this doesn't seem like a particularly romantic first date, but to each his own." Bill guffawed loudly. Ginny giggled, and Harry blushed.
Harry stood nervously in Fred and George's room. The last rays of the sun had vanished over the horizon. He stuffed his Invisibility Cloak under his robe. From the back of the chest of drawers, he took the Elder Wand and unwrapped it from the t-shirt in which he'd hidden it. He then placed it in the Mokeskin pouch, which he hung around his neck.
He descended the stairs to the sitting room, where his three companions were waiting for him, as were Mr. and Mrs. Weasley. "Ready?" Harry asked the other teens. All three nodded and rose.
Mrs. Weasley looked up from her knitting. "Good luck," she said. "See you at midnight." Ginny and Ron both rolled their eyes.
Harry simply smiled. "Thanks, Mrs. Weasley. We'll be back on time."
The four teens then stepped through the front door and down from the porch. A nearly full moon shone brightly above them. They walked silently to the gate and stepped beyond the protective wards. Harry pulled the Invisibility Cloak from under his robes.
"Blimey, Harry," Ron said. "That thing will barely cover you and me and Hermione. I don't see how we're going to fit Ginny under it too."
Harry grinned. "I doubt anyone will spot our ankles. Anyway, this is really just a precaution. We don't want anyone trying to undo our work." He flung the Cloak over himself and the others. The four teens squeezed together as tightly as they could and joined hands. "I'll do it, on the count of three," Harry said. "One, two, three…"
They turned on the spot. There was the expected but-still-unpleasant squeezing sensation, and suddenly they were standing before the main gate of Hogwarts. "Everyone all right?" Harry whispered. The other three nodded quietly.
The trees on either side of the road cast deep shadows all around them. In the distance, they could see the turrets of Hogwarts gleaming dully in the moonlight. Scarcely a sound could be heard. "Now what?" asked Hermione.
"We wait," Harry replied. "Professor McGonagall should be here soon."
And sure enough, a figure emerged from the gloom a few moments later, picking its way along the path by the light of a shielded lantern. Harry swept the Cloak off of himself and his companions and stuffed it under his robes.
"Good evening," Professor McGonagall said as she opened the gate and ushered them inside. She then closed it behind them. "Now, Mr. Potter, I trust you're ready to carry out this mysterious errand?"
Harry nodded. "Thanks for letting us in, Professor. I'm sorry I can't tell you exactly what we're doing, but I think you'll be safer this way."
McGonagall stared affectionately at Harry for a moment. "Is there anything else I can do to help you?"
"Nothing right now, Professor," Harry replied. "Once we've done this, can we simply let ourselves out?"
Professor McGonagall nodded and started to walk back to the castle. "If I can be of no further service, I shall bid you good luck and good night."
"Good night, Prof… No, wait!" Harry said. "There is one other thing you can do. Tell Dumbledore's portrait that I've put it back. He'll understand."
Professor McGonagall arched an eyebrow at this cryptic message. "Very well. I shall see you all tomorrow. Good night."
"Good night, Professor," the four teens chorused. They stood motionless until the headmistress was out of sight, and then Harry swept the Cloak back over them.
Slowly, awkwardly, they made their way around the edge of the lake and toward the marble crypt that shone in the moonlight. They stopped a short distance from the tomb. Harry reached into his pouch and withdrew the Elder Wand. He hesitated, unsure how to proceed.
Finally, he pointed the wand at the tomb and thought, Diffindo. With a grinding noise, the sarcophagus split down the middle and the two halves neatly slid apart. The long, thin figure lay exposed before them. Voldemort hadn't bothered to re-wrap the shroud after taking the Elder Wand.
Harry pulled the Cloak off of himself and the others. Slowly, hesitantly, he approached the table on which Dumbledore's body lay. His hand trembled slightly as he raised the wand. "Lumos."
The wand tip flared and Harry stepped closer, committing to memory the waxy, sunken features before him; smiling at the half-moon spectacles still perched upon the crooked nose. Hermione, Ginny and Ron had all hung back slightly, as if to avoid intruding on Harry's moment of reflection. Harry glanced back at them. "It's all right," he said softly. "There's nothing to fear from a body."
The others approached and stood beside him. Harry felt he should say something but couldn't get any words past the lump in his throat. Hermione let out a muffled sob, and Ron reached out to comfort her.
Harry extinguished the wand and gently placed it back in Dumbledore's cold hands. The others joined him in carefully re-wrapping the body. At last, Harry tenderly drew the shroud across the sleeping face and stepped back from the tomb. He pulled out his wand. "I think I'm going to need some help on this," he said quietly.
The three other teens pulled out their wands as well. "Reparo," they said softly together. The two halves of the sarcophagus moved back together and resealed with a loud clunk.
The four friends stood silently for several minutes, each lost in his or her own memories. Finally, Harry pulled out the Invisibility Cloak and threw it across all of them. "Let's get out of here," he said softly.
Slowly they made their way back to main gate. It opened with a slight squeak, and now they were standing on the Hogsmeade road.
Harry pulled his three friends to him and held them for a moment. Then they grasped hands, turned on the spot and headed for home.
A/N: Whew! I thought I'd never get this one finished. The more I do this, the greater grows my admiration for JKR. My apologies for taking so long to update. Work and various other commitments have cut deeply into my writing time. I hope both the length and substance of this chapter will satisfy – at least temporarily – those of you who have been kind enough to read.
I owe a huge thanks to Melindaleo and The Seeker, both of whom kindly pre-betaed the story and offered ideas about action flow and characterization. And, of course, all praise goes to my kind and patient beta, Arnel, who ensures that I stay firmly within canon and helps loads by adding the Britishisms I normally miss. Incidentally, if you haven't had a chance, check out Arnel's latest work, "Trying to Understand." It's a real treat for Hermione fans everywhere.
And thanks again to all of you who've taken the time to read and especially to review. Your kind words have really inspired me. Hopefully, Part 4 will arrive much sooner than this installment, as a large chunk of it is already complete.