A/N – While all the other chapters alternated between Harry and Ginny’s POV, this one blends them both as they begin their new life together.
They’d arrived in the Carpathian Mountain Dragon Reserve by International Portkey at half ten that morning. Supposedly, gaining an International Portkey was most difficult, but Ron, Hermione and Ginny had persuaded Harry to request one, anyway. Harry was the only one of the four who wasn’t certain of the outcome.
The witch in the Department of Magical Transportation was so star-struck when Harry walked into her office, she would’ve paid him for the Portkey had he asked. Blushing, Harry neglected to share any of the details, but Owen was more than happy to needle him over what happened. Regardless, they’d obtained the Portkey — and Harry also had an invitation to a home-cooked meal at the witch’s flat. Ginny was less than delighted by that detail.
Charlie had warned them that summers in Romania were hot, but none of them were prepared for just how hot it actually was once they arrived. They’d all begun to sweat before they’d unpacked, and the witch at the welcome centre adamantly instructed them all to cast Sunblock Charms on their pale English skin.
Charlie had lodged the four of them in a small visitor cabin with massive screened-in windows which allowed a breeze, if there was any to be had. It also allowed them to hear the roars of the many dragons lodged throughout the mountain reserve. The cabin had two spacious bedrooms, and Charlie had conveniently left before they’d agreed on sleeping arrangements.
Both rooms had high ceilings with fans in the rafters, and delicate lace curtains covering the windows. With a quick spell, Harry put the two twin beds together and sealed them into a larger one. Hermione did the same in the room she and Ron shared. The only difference between the two rooms was that the one Ginny and Harry were in was decorated in blue, while Ron and Hermione’s was a pastel green with floral pillows. Ron had grumbled a bit, but Harry claimed he’d earned first pick by arranging the Portkey.
The centre room was a sitting area with two couches facing one another, and a coffee table between them. They were situated in front of a very large fireplace that would have been far more appealing in the winter months than it was during the heat of the summer. There was a kettle to boil water, and a small tea service next to the fireplace, but otherwise, meals were shared in a large building at the bottom of the hill that Charlie referred to as the community house.
A particularly loud, screeching roar seemed to rattle the entire cabin, forcefully reminding them all that they were, in fact, on a dragon reserve. Harry walked over to the front windows, his eyes scanning for any sight of the source of the noise, but the cabin was located well away from the dragon encampments. Charlie had told them there were protective enchantments surrounding the entire camp, shielding it from both flame and the occasional rampaging dragon.
Hermione, in particular, had looked immensely relieved upon hearing this. The evidence of fresh burns along one of Charlie’s forearms led them all to believe this was a very good idea.
“Okay, we’re unpacked. Now can we go out and see the dragons?” Harry asked eagerly, forcefully reminding Ginny of a younger Harry, excited about a treehouse. He was bouncing on the balls of his feet as he craned his neck to look outside, causing her to smile fondly.
“We should all have something to drink first. It’s really hot outside,” Hermione said, pouring them all glasses of dandelion juice from a pitcher bewitched with a Cooling Charm.
“Hagrid wants us to give his love to Norberta,” Ginny said. “We should ask Charlie to see her first.”
“I brought a camera to send him pictures,” Hermione said, patting a bag that was slung over her shoulder.
“Charlie said to meet him in the community house when we were ready,” Ron said, and they all knew he was more eager to check out the food than the dragons.
They quickly finished their juice and took a walk down to the large, elongated building that Charlie had indicated. Once inside the dim interior, they easily spotted him sitting at a table with a bunch of other muscular blokes who were all sporting various cuts and burns. The smoke was heavy around the table, and Charlie quickly doused a cigarette when he spotted them.
“Don’t let Mum see that,” Ginny said, raising her eyebrows.
Charlie looked affronted. “I’m not stupid. Why do you think Bill and I go out to see Dad’s shed so often when we’re home?”
“I thought he had Firewhisky stashed in there,” Ginny said, surprised.
“That, too,” Charlie replied, shrugging. “You’re all unpacked, then? I’m surprised Mum didn’t give you a harder time about coming. I didn’t think she trusted me as a chaperone.”
“Yeah, well, that was before we found our secret weapon,” Ginny said, bouncing on her toes. Leaving on holiday really had gone far easier than she’d expected.
Charlie frowned, looking perplexed. “What secret weapon?” he asked.
“Victoire,” Ginny answered promptly. “Since she was born, Mum’s been over the moon. Mrs. Delacour went home a fortnight ago, so she’s the only help, and Victoire is very fussy. Mum’s in her element.”
“Fleur must be thrilled,” Charlie said, fighting a laugh.
“Actually, she seems happy for the help,” Ginny said honestly.
“Not to mention she can take a kip when Mum’s there,” Ron said, helping himself to a slice of bread in a basket at the centre of the table.
“I thought you’d be Apparating, so I didn’t have a lot planned for today. International Apparition is usually exhausting,” Charlie explained.
“Well, the Portkey worked great, although I was looking forward to meeting Inga in Germany,” Ginny said, smirking impishly.
Charlie looked alarmed. “What?”
“Who’s Inga?” Ron asked.
“Charlie’s girlfriend,” Ginny replied smugly.
Charlie’s ears turned red as he scowled. “I’ve told you repeatedly. She’s not my girlfriend.”
“Oh. Right. You just sleep with her when you’re passing through. You’ve been home quite a bit this past year, though, so you’ve been seeing a lot of her,” Ginny replied, unconcerned by Charlie’s darkening features. “Though, I suppose there’s not any more of her that you could see.”
At the look of mounting aggravation on Charlie’s face, both Harry and Ron took a step back, and Hermione looked caught between anxiety and humour.
“Ginny,” Charlie growled warningly.
“We thought we’d like to see Norberta. Hagrid wanted us to say hello,” Harry said, stepping forward again and putting his arm around Ginny. He knew she was just teasing, and he usually enjoyed watching her wind her brothers up, but at the moment, Charlie looked alarmingly big. Sometimes, he thought Ginny didn’t realize how exasperated she managed to make them all.
Ginny, of course, knew exactly what she was doing and delighted in it. She ducked out from under Harry’s arm and smirked at her brother.
Charlie looked at Harry blankly for a moment, as if he’s forgotten he was there. Sending another dark scowl Ginny’s way, he said, “Yeah, all right. She’s nesting at the moment though, so she won’t let you get too close.”
“We don’t need to get too close,” Hermione said, looking positively faint.
“I have another dragon I want to show you first,” Charlie said absently, oblivious to Hermione’s alarm. “We’ll stop at the supply shed. You’ll all have to wear dragon hide gloves, and I’ll apply some anti-burn charms to your clothing.”
“Our clothing? What about us?” Ron asked, looking as alarmed as Hermione.
Charlie frowned. “I assume you can all cast Shield Charms, right?” he asked.
Hermione made a small, whimpering noise.
Charlie led them across the dusty camp to a shed surrounded by climbing vines. He pushed open the screen door and approached the witch at the desk.
“Hey, Tayza. What’s news?” he asked easily, picking up a form and checking off the various items they needed. “My brother and sister and their friends are here to see some dragons.”
Tayza didn’t look up from her charts. She had short, grey hair and a strong, square chin. She didn’t look like the type of witch you wanted to cross. Harry was most grateful to Charlie for not mentioning his name, and he hung to the back to avoid Tayza’s gaze.
“Hello, Charlie’s family and friends. You know where everything is, take what you need but be certain to log it all out,” she said vaguely.
“Right,” Charlie said, already pulling a few things off the shelves.
Tayza finally looked up. “I mean it, Charlie. I won’t know to send a search party if I don’t know something is missing.”
“Do you often have to send search parties?” Hermione asked, paling.
“Tayza — have I ever gone missing?” Charlie asked, half-insulted.
Tayza crossed her arms. “No, but you have skipped recording items on occasion, and don’t think I don’t know it.”
“I’m wounded. I know better than to hack you off,” Charlie said, grinning impishly.
“There’s a good lad,” she replied absently. “Charlie, did you order more potion ingredients, by the way?”
“Potions?” Charlie asked blankly.
“I meant to. We used a lot during hatching season. A few salesmen are here restocking several of the ones we’re low on,” Tayza said.
“Wasn’t me,” Charlie said shrugging. “But I never look a gift horse in the mouth. We’re going out to Liberty’s pen.”
This time, Tayza looked up quickly, her mouth opened slightly. “With newbies?” she asked, looking rather alarmed.
“Special circumstances,” Charlie said, grinning. He ushered the others out the door before Tayza could protest any further.
“Er, Charlie. Why did she look so alarmed by this idea?” Harry asked, feeling apprehensive. The back of his neck was prickling.
“You’ll see,” Charlie replied with a grin.
“I never realized how alike you and Hagrid are,” Ron said, grumbling and shaking his head.
Nevertheless, they followed Charlie for what felt like a mile along a rocky, hilly path. The green stretched on for ages, and the smell of pine was heavy in the air. Several of the trees around the perimeter had burn marks on them, reminding them all that they were surrounded by extremely dangerous beasts. When at last they reached a small, wooden fence, Charlie stopped, his eyes scanning the area in front of him.
Harry ran his hand along the fence. It was flimsy and the wood was splintering. Certainly, it wasn’t strong enough to contain a dragon, and he wondered what purpose it served.
“It’s Charmed,” Charlie said simply. “It gives off the odour of bat bile. We’ve found the dragons avoid it.”
Harry made a face. “I can’t imagine why.”
“What are we looking for?” Ginny asked after completely scanning the apparently empty pen.
“There she is,” Charlie said fondly, looking up.
They all followed his gaze and watched the graceful descent of a magnificent dragon. Its enormous wingspan cast a shadow over their faces as it soared overhead before turning and landing several meters away. The ground beneath their feet shook when the giant beast touched down, folding its massive wings. They all grasped the fence to remain steady.
Upon examining the impressive creature that had landed in front of them, they could plainly see that it was an older dragon, with shiny, pinkish scales, and a great horned head. Its eyes were glazed and opaque-looking.
“Oh, my. Is that—?” Hermione asked, gasping.
“It is,” Charlie replied, beaming. “She looks much better now that she’s away from the goblins, doesn’t she?”
“That’s the one we rode?” Ron asked, eyes wide. “Blimey, that’s much bigger than I remember. Er… should we be this close?”
“We’ve already been closer,” Harry said, awestruck at the size of the beast.
“She’ll avoid the fence. She doesn’t like humans at all. We have to Stun her in order to do anything for her. She’s partially blind, but all her other senses are so acute that it’s hard to sneak up on her,” Charlie said as they all watched the dragon.
Harry recalled the scarring on her face from the last time he’d seen her, although she appeared stronger and more vibrant than when she’d been imprisoned underground.
“I can’t really blame her for not trusting anyone,” Harry said, remembering the way the dragon had trembled at the sound of the Clankers.
“No,” Charlie said sadly. “We found her in Poland and brought her here, but she’s settled in quite well. She still avoids the other dragons, but she’ll roar at them, and I think it’s a way of greeting one another. Ukrainian Ironbellies traditionally have trouble ascending quickly due to their immense weight, and she appears content not to stray too far. We named her Liberty after her escape, reckoned it was appropriate.”
“I think it’s brilliant,” Hermione said, smiling rather fondly at the dragon who had settled on the ground.
“Better than Potter’s Pride, anyway,” Charlie said grinning at Harry’s horrified expression. “Several of the blokes here voted for that one.”
“I think she’s much happier as Liberty,” Harry said approaching the fence and leaning over it to stare at the great beast.
As he rested his elbows on the fence, the dragon suddenly turned her head, her milky eyes roaming as her nostrils flared. She let out a giant roar, and flames burst from her mouth, scorching some of the ground as she stood suddenly and took several lurching steps toward them.
Charlie flung his arms out, pulling Ginny and Hermione back. “Stand back,” he said sharply. “She’s never approached us before, and although dragons avoid the fence, the flames can still scorch it.”
Ron took Hermione’s arm and dragged her back several more steps. Harry remained against the fence, watching her intently. It wasn’t that he didn’t feel scared — he did — but he felt as compelled to stare into her eyes as she appeared to do to his.
“Come away, Harry,” Ginny whispered urgently, wanting to run forward and grab him. Charlie wouldn’t let go of her, however. “Charlie, get off.”
Charlie ignored her. “I’d recommend backing up slowly, mate. I don’t know what she’s going to do.”
The dragon hadn’t moved, however. She continued to stare at Harry, slight wisps of smoke spiralling up from her nostrils and dissipating in the air. Other Draconologists had begun appearing around the encampment, watching the dragon with fascinated expressions. A silent warning had alerted them all of the dragon’s proximity to the fence. They gathered around Charlie and the others, watching, waiting to see what the dragon, who’d thus far avoided their presence, would do.
Slowly, gently, Harry raised his arm, stretching it into the air above the fence, his fingers trembling. The dragon seemed to hesitate, then, ever-so-slowly, she unfurled her massive wings and hesitantly stretched one towards him, stopping just before his fingers could touch her.
“Hey, girl,” Harry whispered softly. “I’m glad you found a home, too.”
The dragon blinked her milky eyes and extended her wing that much further so that Harry could now touch it. It wrapped around his back, causing sharp intakes of breath from the others. Still, the dragon didn’t attack, and she didn’t attempt to draw Harry forward near her mouth. Horrified, Ginny couldn’t look away from the massive teeth protruding from the dragon’s jaw and far closer to Harry’s vulnerable flesh than she was comfortable seeing. Harry tentatively petted the wing, smiling gently and lowering his head to rest against it. After a brief moment, the dragon pulled her wing back and looked towards the air. She took several thundering steps away, causing the entire area to shake before taking to the air once again, gliding toward the distant lakes.
“Harry, I think she knows you freed her,” Hermione said, gasping.
“That was bloody brilliant,” Charlie said, sounding awestruck. “She’s never even attempted contact with any of us, except to try and incinerate us on occasion.”
He said the last bit so nonchalantly that Ginny did a double take.
“Did you ever consider a career with magical creatures?” one of the Draconologists asked Harry seriously.
“Yeah, that Hungarian Horntail didn’t eat you, either, mate,” Ron said, still looking rather pale.
“It tried,” Harry conceded fairly. His insides were twisted, though not in a bad way. He wished all these people would go back to whatever they were doing and stop staring at him so he could examine his feelings properly.
Ginny slipped her hand into his, squeezing it reassuringly. When he looked down at her, she quirked her eyebrow in a very Mrs. Weasley-ishfasion. “You cannot get a dragon as a pet.”
Harry grinned, dropping a kiss on top of her head. “Bet Hagrid would let me keep it with him.”
“You talk to Hagrid about it, then,” Ginny said, grinning, “but it’s not coming to the house with the rest of us.”
For the next few days, they spent their time visiting the various dragons, watching the juvenile dragons attempt their first flights, and generally exploring the area. They spent nights in the community house listening to wild stories told by the Draconologists, and they made certain to take a dip in the lake every day. It was peaceful and relaxing, the first proper holiday Harry had ever had — other than the unplanned fortnight he’d spent in Diagon Alley during his third year — and he thoroughly enjoyed it.
He and Ginny managed loads of time to simply be together, whether swimming or taking long strolls, or placing several locking charms on their bedroom door to ensure some privacy. They’d both brought their brooms so Ginny could keep up with her training, but the area where it was safe to fly was limited. They couldn’t have free range as the dragons did, and although Harry thought it might be fun to race a dragon, Charlie had insisted it was out of the question. Ginny became quite fond of some of the hatchlings, so they tended to rise early in order to assist with the morning feedings.
On this particular morning toward the end of their holiday, Charlie had sent a Patronus about a problem with some agitated dragons, so he was unable to meet them. They decided to forego the feedings altogether and simply have a lie in. Harry was still asleep, lying on his stomach and snoring slightly while Ginny had snuggled next to him, tracing lazy circles on his bare back. He twitched every once in a while if her fingers strayed too close to his waist. She made note of that particular ticklish spot.
Dust motes were visible in the sunlight streaming in from the dual windows on the side of their room. Even the fan spinning above them wasn’t giving any relief to the warmth spreading across the room. The Cooling Charm they’d cast the previous evening had obviously warn off. Ginny’s wand lay on the bedside table, but to reach it, she would have to move and that seemed like entirely too much effort.
Still, the warmth was getting uncomfortable, so she knew their time was limited. The tale of Liberty’s connection with Harry had spread far and wide across the encampment, and often Draconologists frequently approached him to discuss it. Harry had visited Liberty’s pen several more times, but the dragon hadn’t shown any further recognition.
Ginny didn’t know what Charlie had planned for them today, but she assumed his situation with the dragons would wrap-up soon. Two of the juveniles that shared a pen had been restless and agitated for the past several days. Yesterday, they’d burned down part of the structure that had been built to offer them shelter from the rain. She was curious what they’d done today.
Giving it up as a lost cause, Ginny sat up, stretching sinuously and reaching for her wand. She cast another Cooling Charm, but feared she’d waited too long and it would take time for it to fully make a difference. Harry rolled over, blinking at her owlishly without his glasses.
“Morning,” she said, giggling at the ruffled state of his hair.
“Could be better,” he said, grinning wolfishly as he stretched.
Ginny rolled her eyes. “Nope. You’ve slept in too long, and it’s entirely too hot. Besides, isn’t that the reason you’re so tired, anyway?”
Harry pouted. “I never get tired of you.”
She leaned over and pecked his nose. “Good answer. We’ve just about missed breakfast, so hurry up and shower so we can grab a bite before they close to get ready for lunch.”
“You’re hungry? I’m shocked,” Harry said dryly.
“You’re not hungry? I’m equally shocked,” Ginny shot back. Harry might’ve been accepted into the Weasley family as one of their own, but he definitely didn’t share their appetites.
Giggling at the sour expression on his face, she leaned over to kiss him. With Seeker-like reflexes, he pulled her into his arms and flipped her over in order to greet her with the kind of kiss that always caused a fluttering feeling in her belly. Breakfast would have to wait a bit longer.
After they’d showered and dressed, they managed to grab what was left in the community house. There was no sign of Ron and Hermione, and no message from Charlie that he’d returned, so they took their brooms for a flight. It was a hot and sticky day, and even the breeze from the speeding brooms wasn’t enough to cool them down. Once they landed, Ginny said she’d return the brooms to their cabin and see if Ron and Hermione were there while Harry went to check if they’d gone for lunch.
When she reached their cabin, Ginny found it eerily still. Nothing seemed out of place, and the doors to both bedrooms were wide open, so it was readily apparent that Ron and Hermione weren’t there. Still, Ginny felt uneasy. She quickly stashed the brooms in her room, but before she could turn back around, a large hand closed over her mouth, and she felt the unmistakable jab of a wand tip in her back.
Panic flooded her veins as she reached for her own wand, but she felt it snatched from her pocket. It was this movement that alerted her that there was more than one assailant for the hands holding her hadn’t moved. Her arms were pinned behind her back, so she lifted her feet in the air and tried to get in a good kick. She missed, instead knocking a vase to the floor, shattering it.
“Took you long enough to get here,” a gruff voice snarled. “I’ve been waiting for you to show your pretty head for hours.”
Ginny didn’t think, she reacted instinctively, sinking her teeth deeply into the hand covering her face.
The wizard yelped, snatching his hand away with a howl. Before she even had time to draw a breath to shout however, another voice growled, “Stupefy!” and she knew no more.
Harry entered the community house and scanned the tables for Ron and Hermione, but he quickly deduced they weren’t there. Although several of the Draconologists called out to him to join them, with a wave of his hand he went back outside. He’d barely taken three steps when Charlie caught up to him, looking alarmed.
“There you are. Where’s Ginny?” he asked, and by the tone of his voice, Harry knew something was amiss.
“She’s back at the cabin. Why, what’s wrong?” he asked, both of them falling into stride as they headed in the direction of the guest cabins.
“I went out to the juvenile pen again, and they were in a state. It took a while to settle them, and we tried to Stun them in order to do some examinations to see if there was some sort of malady spreading among them. Once we were inside the pen, however, we found evidence of intruders,” Charlie said grimly.
“Intruders?” Harry asked blankly, staring at Charlie with wide eyes. He couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to enter a pen of live dragons.
“Yeah. Don’t ask me how, but once we discovered it, a few other pieces fell into place. Missing food, a few oddities around camp, and Tayza’s comment about a couple of sales reps delivering potion supplies. No one else saw them, and there is no record of when they left,” Charlie said.
“Why would there be intruders at a dragon reserve?” Harry asked, frowning.
“I can’t be certain, but the black market does a hefty business in illegal dragon products. Getting juvenile hides or heartstrings is illegal, but that doesn’t mean no one tries,” Charlie said, his ears growing very red.
“Have any of the dragons been hurt?” Harry asked. He hadn’t heard about anything of the sort while he’d been there.
“That’s the part that doesn’t makes sense. They’ve certainly been agitated, but we can’t readily see any injuries, and examinations take some time. The agitation could simply be because of the intruder’s presence, but since you are all high-profile guests, I’d like to keep close tabs on you.”
“You think this has something to do with us?” Harry asked sharply.
Charlie shrugged. “Dunno. It’s possible,” he said, as they both quickened their stride.
They reached the cabin, and Harry hurried inside, calling Ginny’s name. He was greeted with silence, but his eyes were glued to the smashed vase inside the door of the room he and Ginny shared. The blood pounded in his ears as his heart sank into his gut. He licked his suddenly dry lips as he leaned over and picked up a shattered piece of the ceramic. It was sharp enough to draw blood from one of his fingers.
“Harry?” Charlie asked tensely.
A rage he hadn’t felt since before the Battle filled his soul. He’d let his guard down, and he should know better. Pieces were suddenly clicking into place, things he should’ve noticed before. He gave one last look across the room. The bed they’d shared that morning was still rumpled and unmade.
“They have her. Where are the potion ingredients stored?” he asked tersely.
“Who has her? What do you know?” Charlie demanded, striding across the cabin and checking Ron and Hermione’s empty room.
Harry quickly cast a revealing spell, but as expected, there was no one else there. “They’ll have a book on Blood Magic, and I’d wager there is a spell or potion in there that let them control the juvenile dragons. I’m going to send a Patronus to the Ministry, but I’m not certain how long it will take them to get reinforcements here. Gather as many Draconologists as you can and meet in the community house. These people will need somewhere secluded and enclosed where they can hide and brew a potion.”
Charlie nodded. “I’ll gather everyone together.”
Ginny’s eyes fluttered open, her head pounding, and her body felt absurdly stiff and sore. She blinked several times trying to shift into a more comfortable position, but she found her hands were bound to a post behind her with rope rather than by a spell. Ron and Hermione were beside her, both in the same position, and she blinked at them in confusion. There was a wooden half-wall from a pen surrounding them, and from her position on the floor, she couldn’t see anything on the other side of the wall. When Ginny tried to ask what happened, she found she’d been Silenced, and no sound uttered from her lips.
A sense of panic began to rise within her, and her heart pounded furiously in her chest. Headache forgotten, she frantically tried to free herself from the rope. Hermione’s eyes also shared the panic Ginny felt, although every few moments, she watched as Hermione calmed herself, shutting her eyes and moving her lips as if silently uttering a spell. Ginny would bet she was attempting to cast the counter spell, although she couldn’t see their wands anywhere. As far as she knew, Hermione had never accomplished wandless magic, and she imagined that would’ve caused an uproar at Hogwarts if she’d succeeded.
They were being held in a rundown, wooden structure with hay strewn across the floor and various pens along the perimeter. It definitely smelled like animals had been kept here, although she couldn’t see a trace of any now. It reminded her of a run-down version of the clinic where Charlie had shown her they examined new hatchlings.
Ron kept twisting his arms, attempting to release his bindings, and she could easily detect his building frustration by the shade of his ears. Looking at his arms, she could see he’d drawn blood trying to escape, and it dripped from his bound wrists onto the floor. Ginny could feel that her own wrists were already rubbed raw.
Footsteps entering the dim interior alerted them all that they were no longer alone, and they all looked around sharply, bodies tensing.
A wizard with a long, twisted face and matted grey hair that he wore pulled back in a long ponytail came into their line of vision, scowling fiercely at all of them. Ginny recognized him as a Death Eater. She knew his face, but she couldn’t place the name. Hermione tensed instantly, pulling away and curling in on herself. She, obviously, knew who he was.
The wizard waved his hand, causing Ginny to brace herself, but as far as she could tell, nothing happened. She soon realized what he’d done however, when she heard Ron shout, “What the hell do you want?”
The wizard smirked cruelly, sneering down at them. “All in good time, you filthy blood traitor,” he spat. “I have something I need to do, and you’re the key to helping me do it. I’m—”
“I know who you are, Dolohov, and I’m not planning on helping you with anything,” Ron snarled, still struggling with his bindings so that blood spattered all over the hay beneath him.
“That’s right. Your mother is a Prewett, is she not? The Prewett family and I go way back,” Dolohov said, his eyes glittering.
“If you mean killing them off, then yeah, I suppose you do. I heard you killed my Uncle Gideon with a spell in the back. Couldn’t face him like a man, could you?” Ron asked, sneering.
Colour rose on Dolohov’s face, and his voice shook as he snarled, “Shut it. He deserved what he got, and you have no idea of what you speak.”
Judging by Dolohov’s mounting agitation, Ginny suspected that Ron had hit the nail on the head. She wondered how he’d known that. Mum rarely talked about her brothers, but she supposed Bill and Charlie were old enough to remember, and they might have shared it with the others. Typical of them all not to clue her in.
“The war’s over, Dolohov, and you tossers lost. What’s this all about?” Ron asked scathingly.
Dolohov’s face shone with fanaticism as he licked his lips in anticipation. “My master returned once before, and I’m going to see that he does again. I won’t leave him unaided this time. I know the spell he used, and I only need one more ingredient.”
“You’re mad,” Ron said, now looking alarmed rather than derisive.
Ginny twisted fiercely, desperate to gain her freedom. This bloke was mad, and even if he did know the spell Voldemort used to regain his body, he didn’t know about the Horcruxes. There was no Horcrux to tether Voldemort to life, so what did he possibly think he’d use to bring him back?
She stared across the floor at Hermione and could see her putting the pieces together, too. She hoped Ron would, as well, and ask the right questions without giving anything away.
“Mad, am I? Only I managed to avoid capture like the rest of his followers. Only I thought to obtain the spellbook needed. My master will not be doomed to a half-life again. I have two of the crucial ingredients, and the third will be here shortly, once he realizes I have you,” Dolohov said triumphantly.
“You’re after Harry,” Ron blurted.
“Of course I am. His blood is crucial to the potion. My Master is brilliant, but everyone has a tragic weakness, and Potter is his. I couldn’t care less about Potter other than to use him for what I need. I also know that Potter’s weakness is his attachment to his friends. That, I can use.”
“So, we’re the bait?” Ron asked, gritting his teeth.
“Exactly,” he said, grinning evilly. Once again he lifted his wand, pointing it back in the direction from which he’d come. He Summoned a huge stone cauldron that skidded into the room and stopped in front of the three of them bound on the floor. It was black and covered in soot, and it was big enough to contain a full-grown man. Liquid was sloshing inside, and some of it spilled over the sides as the cauldron was moved. Ginny felt a chill run down her spine.
“It’s not going to work,” Ron said faintly, looking repulsed.
“Of course it’ll work. It has once already,” Dolohov replied smugly.
“But… but… What are you going to use from him?” Ron asked plaintively.
“The potion calls for three ingredients. Bone, which I stole from the graveyard in Little Hangleton; flesh, which will be supplied; and blood. That’s where Mr. Potter comes in. All three ingredients are chosen specifically for my Master. The Dark Lord will return.”
“How?” Ron demanded, exasperated. “Didn’t you listen to the whole story? Wormtail also had some sort of ugly baby-like thing that houses his… his… him... without a body,” Ron said, catching himself before he’d said Voldemort’s soul.
Obviously, the Death Eaters had shared the story of his rebirth, but they didn’t have all the details. Voldemort wouldn’t have admitted how truly helpless he was, and he’d probably forbidden Wormtail from saying too much. What would happen when the three ingredients were placed into the cauldron without a Horcrux? Would anything happen? What would these Death Eaters do when it failed?
And how much of Harry’s blood did they plan to take?
Harry stalked around the empty Potions lab irritably. Although they’d found evidence that potions were missing, the lab was empty, and it looked as if it had been for some time. A preliminary search of the camp had shown no sign of Ginny, Ron or Hermione, so Harry could only assume they were together somewhere. The reserve itself was entirely too vast to accomplish any kind of search quickly, and the longer it took, the more the gaping hole that had formed in Harry’s insides seemed to grow.
He had to find them.
“Are there any other enclosures, perhaps ones nearby, but not within the camp?” Harry asked, knowing that these Death Eaters would need seclusion. If it was the same ones who’d killed Agnes Heatherton, they had the book on Blood Magic, and they weren’t afraid to kill if things got messy.
“What about the old nursery?” Charlie asked suddenly, his eyebrows rising to his hairline.
“Pardon?” Harry asked blankly.
“We built the new nursery where we inspect the condition of all new hatchlings and document their statistics right here in camp. We used to do it in a small shed out in the reserve that’s enchanted with fire-protection charms. Taking hatchlings from their nests is risky business, and we need to be close if the Stunning Spells wear off the mama dragons before we’re ready. That was before we realized Portkeys worked on the little ones, so we can bring them back to camp no problem.”
“Where is this shed?” Harry asked, already moving toward the door.
“I can show you. Part of it has collapsed, but a good portion is still standing. I’ll give you fair warning — it’s near camp, but it’s out in the main reserve, so I can’t guarantee your protection,” Charlie said solemnly.
As if dragons were going to stop him from helping his friends — his family. “Understood. Let’s go.”
“Harry—” Charlie said warningly.
“If I’m right, the others are already out there, and we’re wasting time,” he said, eyes flashing. “I’m going.”
Charlie nodded. “All right, I’m going with you. Let me send a Patronus to the others to let them know where we’re going.”
“Tell them not to get too close. We don’t want to alert them we’re onto them,” Harry said uneasily. Visions of the last time he’d been lured somewhere secluded in order to brew this potion flickered through his mind. He couldn’t allow any of the others to become a spare.
Charlie Side-Along Apparated him to a spot in a rocky stretch of the mountains. While there was cover where they appeared, the rundown shack was isolated, one half already collapsed. Harry couldn’t see any movement inside. He and Charlie cast Disillusionment Charms over themselves as they scurried across the open area to the shed. As soon as they approached the outside, he could hear voices, one unmistakably Ron’s, shouting, “This is never going to work.”
Harry whispered to Charlie to stay behind him as they crouched low, entering the structure. Still Disillusioned, they’d made it nearly to a back room before a shrill, bleating noise filled the air. A Sneakoscope on the floor covered by hay was spinning madly.
Everything happened at once. A wizard appeared around the corner of a half wall, and two other wizards suddenly appeared from somewhere in the back, all pointing their wands at Harry and Charlie. Harry recognized both Dolohov and Yaxley, but the other young, pock-mocked wizard was unknown. His hand shook as his eyes scanned the area wildly, and Harry knew the young wizard felt he was in over his head.
“Where is he?” he asked, his voice high and panicked.
“He’s Disillusioned, but he’s here,” Dolohov said, grinning. His eyes glittered malevolently before he snarled, “Avada Kedavra,”
The jet of green light sped toward them, the rushing sound filling Harry’s ears as his mind flashed back to a grave yard and Cedric’s empty eyes staring up at him. Harry slammed his body into Charlie, knocking him sideways and into a charred post. Charlie’s head hit with a resounding slam, and he crumpled to the floor, his Disillusionment Charm fading.
The Killing Curse hit the wall behind them, completely shattering what was left of it, and letting sunlight fill the dim room. Harry crouched next to an unconscious Charlie, aiming his own wand. As he formed the Curse in his mind, Dolohov had released Ron from his bindings and held him with one arm around the throat and his other pointing his wand at Ron’s temple.
“The Sneakoscope warned us that you weren’t alone, Potter, but as you can see, I provided my own spares,” Dolohov said, grinning. He then spoke to Yaxley and the other, younger wizard. “Should Potter cast so much as a Tickling Jinx toward me, kill this one.” He pulled his arm tighter around Ron’s throat, making Ron gag although he didn’t struggle, telling Harry he was Petrified.
“Now, Potter, kindly remove the Disillusionment Charm and join us. You are our honoured guest, after all,” Dolohov said.
Harry’s mind worked furiously. He couldn’t see Hermione and Ginny, but they could easily be behind the half wall where Ron had been. When Dolohov jabbed his wand further into Ron’s neck, Harry knew there was no choice. He removed the charm, at last becoming visible to the others. Not wanting to be Disarmed, he dropped his own wand to his feet, and it was the only sound audible as it rolled several inches away.
“Very good, Potter. Now come this way, slowly,” Dolohov purred.
Harry took the two steps forward around the half-wall, and he walked into one of his nightmares. A giant, stone cauldron was placed in the centre of the area, Ginny and Hermione were bound on the floor in front of it, both looking panicked but unharmed.
Ginny knew Harry would never risk Ron, but she was devastated to see Harry give himself up. This couldn’t be happening. With renewed effort, she once again struggled furtively against the rope binding her.
“Okay, so you have me. Now let them go,” Harry said, trying to sound forceful and sure despite the gnawing panic in his belly. That cauldron was unnerving him.
“I don’t think so. You’re so much more cooperative with spares,” Dolohov said smoothly. With a flick of his wand, fire erupted beneath the cauldron, and Harry had to suppress a shudder. He knew this potion would heat quickly, its diamond-like top layer would start bubbling in a matter of minutes.
“Exactly what are you expecting to happen?” Harry asked, stalling for time. They were so busy watching him and his reactions that no one had Summoned his wand, and it still lay on the floor only feet away.
“I think you know what’s going to happen, Potter,” Dolohov said triumphantly.
“No, I really don’t. Obviously, you expect to bring back Voldemort, but you can’t. No spell can reawaken the dead,” Harry said calmly.
The others all shuddered at the sound of the name, and Dolohov grew agitated. “It worked before, and you know it.”
“It worked because he wasn’t dead before, you dunderhead. This spell returned him to a body — wasn’t really his body though, was it? It was a snake-like monstrosity,” Harry said musingly.
Harry rolled his eyes mockingly. “Of course, I dare. Haven’t we been through this all before? Voldemort is dead — so you can stop flinching when I say his name. Nothing is going to happen. Go on, try it. Voldemort! Voldemort! Voldemort!”
Dolohov was incensed. He briefly removed the wand from Ron’s neck to aim it at Harry and shouted, “Crucio!”
The spell happened so quick and so fast, Harry couldn’t dodge it without risking any of the others. The pain was excruciating, and he dropped to the floor, howling in pain. It seemed to take forever for the curse to be lifted, and when it was, Harry lay panting the floor, his throat raw.
He could see the horrified expression of concern on Ron’s face, but what tugged at his hurting heart more was the glazed expressions on both Hermione and Ginny’s faces. He could tell from experience that they were both experiencing flashbacks. Of all of them, only Ron had never experienced the horror of the Cruciatus. He hoped he could keep it that way.
Shaking, he moved his arms beneath him and unsteadily raised up, needing to use the half-wall to stand.
“I will not tolerate disrespect to the Dark Lord,” Dolohov said, pulling himself together.
“Then, we’re going to be here awhile,” Harry quipped, “because I don’t respect him. And he’s dead.”
Despite the fact Ron was Petrified, Harry could nearly hear him groan. Both Ginny and Hermione looked faint with worry, fearing Harry’s sass was going to get him killed.
“Enough!” Dolohov growled, and his face took on a fanatical gleam. “It’s ready.”
The crackling fire beneath the cauldron had heated the contents so that steam rose in spiralling wisps and sparks flew from the surface of the potion.
Harry’s stomach felt hollow, the memories of the last time far too close to the surface, and he fought to keep his hands steady. The others were depending on him.
“Yaxley!” Dolohov bellowed.
Yaxley moved forward, his face showing distaste as he carried over the writhing form of a huge, hissing snake, and he dropped it unceremoniously into the cauldron.
So, this is what they were using for Voldemort. They didn’t understand the role Nagini had really played. Harry knew with a sinking feeling of hollow dread that this was not going to end well.
The snake writhed and hissed within the cauldron, but the sides were too deep and smooth to allow it to escape. Harry suddenly felt sympathy for the snake.
Dolohov solemnly raised his wand. “Bone of the father, unknowingly given, you will renew your son.” From the pocket of his robe, he removed several bone fragments and sprinkled them into the cauldron.
Harry assumed that Dolohov must’ve raided the grave of Tom Riddle, Sr. once again. Many of the Death Eaters had been there that night. Its location wouldn’t be difficult to find. Thankfully, Kingsley had buried Voldemort in an unmarked grave. He wondered what these Death Eaters would think if they’d known how close they’d actually been to their fallen master.
Dolohov frowned at the potion. “It’s supposed to turn blue,” he muttered, more to himself than his audience. Harry held his breath, knowing exactly why it wasn’t working.
The youngest of the three shuffled forward, his blonde hair hanging in his petrified eyes. His face was exceptionally pale, and it was clear to see he was debating making a run for it.
“You are a servant of the Dark Lord and must display your loyalty. You will be rewarded above all others when our Master returns,” Dolohov promised.
“Don’t listen to him. He won’t be returning. He’s dead, and you’ll have to live without your hand — providing you don’t bleed to death first,” Harry said imploring.
“Why don’t you do it?” Levine asked, whining.
Dolohov sneered. “Because I have already proven my loyalty. Both Yaxley and I are already two of his most loyal. You must prove your worth.” He raised his wand before Levine could protest any further. Whimpering and shaking, Levine removed a sharp dagger from his robes and clutched it desperately.
“Flesh of the servant, willingly given, you will revive your master.”
With a scream of desperation, Levine raised the dagger in the air and brought it down with sickening quickness. The others all slammed their eyes shut, but the scream that pierced their skulls shook the meagre timbers surrounding them. Something sloshed into the potion.
When Harry opened his eyes, Levine was huddled on the ground, crying piteously, but his cohorts ignored him. The flashbacks were attacking Harry’s mind fast and furiously, and he found his legs were shaking as they tried to support his weight.
The colour of the potion remained stubbornly clear, and he could see the fear and frustration now blatant on Dolohov’s face.
“It’s not going to work because Voldemort is dead,” Harry repeated.
“Shut it,” Yaxley roared, striking Harry’s face so hard he staggered into the half wall. Blood dripped from his lip as he looked back at them defiantly. Somehow, he knew that trickle of blood coming from his wounded lip wouldn’t be enough to satisfy them.
“Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken, you will resurrect your foe,” Dolohov said, jerking his head at Yaxley, who took the dagger from the whimpering Levine and approached Harry warily.
Feeling apprehensive, Harry fought to keep his face neutral. He’d informed the Ministry, and Charlie had sent a Patronus to the other Draconologists. Help had to arrive soon. Harry’s wand remained on the floor, but he couldn’t attempt retrieving it while Dolohov had a grip on Ron — and Dolohov appeared to know that Harry wouldn’t do anything to risk the lives of the others.
Yaxley grasped Harry’s arm, slicing the dagger down his forearm in a jagged motion. Harry hissed in pain, jerking his arm as the dagger cut into him.
Ginny watched the pain flicker across Harry’s face, and shuddered at the ugly cut that began to drip blood down his arm. Obviously, Dolohov didn’t care if he hit an artery and Harry bled to death in the process. He had what he wanted now.
Yaxley bodily dragged Harry to the cauldron and held his bleeding arm over it so that copious amounts of blood splashed into the liquid below. Once satisfied, he shoved Harry back against the half wall and backed away. Harry bent his arm, cradling it to his body as he attempted to staunch the flow of blood.
Dolohov looked at the potion expectantly, and they all waited for several moments that seemed suspended in time, the only sound being the harsh panting of Levine, who still lay curled up on the floor.
Dolohov’s jubilant face fell comically as he stared at the still-bubbling — and still clear — liquid in the cauldron. The sounds of the snake had stilled, and Harry could only assume it had been killed.
“Where is he? What’s happening?” Yaxley asked at last, still staring slack-jawed at the simmering potion.
“I— it— I don’t know!” Dolohov howled in frustration. “I followed the directions exactly. It should’ve worked. It should be green, and the Dark Lord should’ve risen. I brewed it correctly.”
“Except that Voldemort is dead,” Harry said weakly.
“Shut it, Potter. You did this! What have you done?” Dolohov demanded, looking deranged.
“Perhaps Levine isn’t a worthy servant. Perhaps it has to be you since you brewed the potion,” Yaxley ventured.
“Shut it, Yaxley or I’ll put you into the potion. Levine is a servant, that’s not the problem. It has something to do with Potter,” Dolohov snarled, wrapping his arm tightly around Ron’s neck so that Ron’s eyes bulged. Again, he aimed his wand at Harry, “Crucio!”
Harry dropped to his knees, howling in pain. He felt as if daggers were piercing every inch of his skin as he rolled on the floor in agony. He twisted his head to and fro, and the blood from his pierced arm smeared across the floor.
Again, Ginny desperately strained against the rope binding her, but it wouldn’t give. “Harry!” she yelled, only dimly aware that she’d broken through the Silencing Spell. If only they’d bound her with a spell rather than this ruddy rope.
“Let me go, you worthless pillock,” she shouted. “Harry! Harry!”
The sudden sound of her panicked voice startled Dolohov, and he dropped the torture spell, turning toward her.
During Dolohov’s moment of distraction and still panting with pain, Harry turned his head to the side and noticed that Charlie was awake. Harry wordlessly Summoned his wand and concealed it beneath his hand. He had rolled to the side and was struggling to regain his footing when a tremendous screech rent the air. The walls of the dilapidated structure rattled with the intensity as the sound of flapping wings thundered throughout the shed.
The earth shook as a massive beast landed next to the gaping hole in the structure that Dolohov’s failed Killing Curse had caused. Liberty stood there, flapping her wings and bellowing into the sky. Drawing back her great horned head, she appeared to take a huge breath before letting loose a stream of blazing hot fire. Realizing what she was about to do a moment before she did it, Harry used his wand to knock Ron out of a stunned Dolohov’s slackened grip. He felt the heat of the fire blaze over him, singeing the hair on the back of his head. It connected with the stunned and terrified Dolohov, who erupted into flames.
Yaxley scrambled backwards and scurried crab-like across the floor. Only the cauldron survived the path of the dragon’s fire. Desperately, Harry tried to think of a way of getting all the others out of the way before the dragon breathed again, but it was impossible to reach them all, and there was no way to choose. He’d rather sacrifice himself. He rose to his feet and turned to face the dragon, attempting to draw its flames away from the others.
“Hey, Liberty,” he said shakily.
“What are you doing? Get out of the way,” Ginny screeched.
Miraculously, however, the dragon didn’t draw another breath. Instead, she spread her giant wings and took to the sky. Once again, Liberty had saved them.
Scrambling to his feet, Charlie grabbed Yaxley and quickly bound him while Harry crawled over to where Ginny and Hermione were huddled on the floor. Using his left hand, he released the ropes holding them with his wand. The spells holding Ron and Silencing Hermione had been lifted as soon as Dolohov had been incinerated.
“Harry, your arm,” Ginny said, pressing her hand onto his bleeding flesh.
“Are you all right?” they both asked at the same time.
Drawing her into his good arm, he kissed her, burying his head in her hair. It smelled like smoke rather than the usual flowery scent, but at the moment, he didn’t care.
Sounds of others began filling the shed as the reinforcements had finally arrived, and Charlie directed them all to remove Yaxley and an incredibly-pale Levine.
“I didn’t know what he’d do when he realized that potion would never work,” Hermione said, clutching Ron’s shirt and choking back a sob. “I kept trying to wordlessly undo the spells, but he took our wands.”
“I know,” Ron said, patting her back a bit awkwardly. He turned toward Harry, and his voice was shaky, “You kept trying to enrage him, mate.”
Harry nodded. “I’m so weary of this shite, and I couldn’t get to all of you.”
Ginny grasped his chin between her thumb and forefinger. “Will you stop putting yourself in harm’s way, already? We can all take care of ourselves.”
“You were tied to posts on the floor,” Harry said incredulously. “He had a wand to Ron’s throat and said he’d be killed if I made any sudden moves. I had to do something.”
“I’d say taking several rounds of the Cruciatus and jumping in front of a dragon is above the call, mate,” Ron said sheepishly. “I never want to see that curse again.”
“For a moment, I was back at Malfoy manor,” Hermione whispered.
“I know. I’m sorry,” Harry said sincerely.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, Harry, you can’t possibly blame yourself for that one,” Hermione said, her mood changing so quickly it nearly gave Harry a kink in his neck.
“I think we all had our share of flashbacks tonight,” Ginny said softly, shuddering at the memories of the Carrows that had plagued her all evening.
“But we’re all here, and we’re all fine. Again. I suppose we just weren’t meant to have boring, ordinary lives,” Ron said, shaking his head.
“I could go for a bit of boring, actually,” Harry said earnestly.
“Who are you kidding? You wouldn’t like it for long — and neither would I, so just get that thought right out of your head,” Ginny said, rolling her eyes. As if he would be happy behind a desk or counting in a bank every day.
“I think I’ve had enough of the dragon reserve. Who’s up for going home a couple days early, not telling anyone, and just eating take away and being boring for a few days?” Hermione said longingly.
Three other hands instantly rose in the air.
They returned to their cabin in order to change and pack their belongings, but they were able to reactivate the Portkey and return to London that afternoon. The Ministry took Yaxley and Levine into custody, and Ron, Hermione and Ginny’s wands had all been located and returned to their owners. Charlie insisted the talk around camp was that Liberty should’ve been named Potter’s Pride, after all. Harry ignored this, but said he’d like to make a donation to the Reserve to help pay for her care.
They spent the next few days holed up in Grimmauld Place and doing absolutely nothing but relaxing and being boring — as Ron called it. Each couple spent their evenings sharing private time, but the days were spent lounging in the sitting area. On the final day of holiday, the day before Hermione was to begin work at the Ministry and Ginny was to check into training camp, they’d ordered a large quantity of pizza — Ron’s new favourite Muggle discovery — and shared it in the kitchen with George and Angelina.
“So, then Oliver ends up taking the other witch home instead,” George said, completing a story of what had happened when George and Angelina had spent an evening with some of their old Hogwarts Quidditch team. They all sat around the counter, Angelina’s feet resting in George’s lap.
“What did Katie do?” Ginny asked, half-laughing.
“She hexed him, of course,” Angelina replied.
“Good thing it’s the off season. I can’t imagine he’s going to be able to sit on a broom comfortably for quite some time,” George said, wincing.
They all shared a laugh, although both Ron and Harry cringed slightly.
“Oliver said it’ll be interesting when the Harpies play Puddlemere. He’s never been on a team opposite a Weasley before,” Angelina said.
“Well, my time never overlapped his, anyway, but from what I’ve heard about him from you lot, I’m certain he’ll get over it,” Ginny replied.
“He will,” George, Angelina and Harry all said in unison, causing them all to laugh.
“I can’t believe my baby sister leaves for Quidditch camp tomorrow. You’ll get me tickets to your games, right?” Ron asked.
“Who will you cheer for when we play the Cannons?” Ginny asked, arching her brow.
Ron froze, a slice of pizza only inches from his mouth. “Er…”
“I think that’s asking a bit much from him, Ginny. You should give all your tickets to the Cannons games to George and me,” Harry said, grinning.
“What?” Ron yelped, dropping his pizza. “That’s not funny, Harry.”
“Never mind funny, it’s bloody brilliant,” George said, nodding eagerly.
“Don’t forget me. I want to go, too, but I want to see the match against Puddlemere,” Angelina said.
“I do, too,” George and Harry said simultaneously, grinning at one another.
“Wait! But… but… I do get to go see the Cannons, right?” Ron asked, his pizza still lying upside down on the counter in front of him. Hermione shook her head and finally picked it up.
“You lot best wait to see how many tickets I actually get. I’m on the reserve team, so I don’t know if they even allot us any free tickets,” Ginny said.
“You’re on the reserve team for now,” Harry said. “Once they see you play, you won’t be there for long.”
Ginny stared at him blankly for a moment, then continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted. “And this one,” she said, jerking her thumb at Harry, “gets a ticket to all the games automatically.”
“Hey!” Ron said. “I’m your brother.”
“And what am I? The next-door neighbour?” George asked sarcastically.
“Boyfriends get priority,” Angelina said simply.
“Especially if they’re Harry,” Hermione added.
“Not when it comes to the Cannons, though,” Ron said, grumbling and taking his pizza back from Hermione.
“How are you two going to handle the separation?” Angelina asked curiously. “You’ve been connected at the hip since Ginny returned from school.”
“Oi!” Ron bellowed. “I’m sitting right here, trying to eat!”
“I really didn’t need that image in my head, Ang,” George said, scowling at his pizza but taking a bite anyway.”
“Oh, when has anything ever turned you off food?” Hermione demanded.
Harry grinned. “She’s going to training camp, not Azkaban.”
“But, they make her live with the team,” Ron said, looking as if he liked the idea very much.
“Right, but we’re not locked up. We’re allowed to hit the local pubs in the evenings,” Ginny said. She’d already put a lot of thought into this. The team tended to socialize as a group, but that didn’t mean she couldn’t let Harry know where they’d be.
“Besides,” Harry said, grinning impishly, “I am an Auror, you know. I might have to do an occasional inspection to ensure the team’s safety.”
Hermione shook her head. “You’re both going to get in so much trouble.”
Harry and Ginny turned to look at one another before grinning and chorusing, “It’ll be worth it.”
The banter continued around the counter as the pizza was consumed. Harry leaned over and kissed Ginny’s head, feeling amazingly content and incredibly fond of these people he called family. It had taken nearly twenty years, but he’d finally found a home, a place he was always happy to be. Life after the war still had some tricky spots to manoeuver, but with this group by his side — and he was certain they always would be — he knew he’d manage it. Scars or not, he was a survivor.
Ginny leaned into his embrace, seeing the happiness on her boyfriend’s face, and her heart swelled. At long last, she didn’t feel like an extra or a tag-along as she had most of her life. She belonged. She was no longer running to try and keep up with her brothers — and sometimes, they were running to keep up with her.
Life was good, and all was well.
A/N: Well, there you go! At the time I was writing, it felt like such a relief to finish, but now I wish I’d dragged the Romanian visit out a bit. Ah well, fodder for later, I suppose! So, tell me what you thought…
Once again, I have several people to thank whose efforts contributed to this story being finished. Sherry, my beta, is a bright spot who always makes me think. Arnel, who is a treasure trove of canon knowledge. Ryan, who talks me through every scenario and makes me think how different characters would respond to things. And, finally, Sue, my own personal cheerleader who gives me a hint on which sections are working. Thanks, you all!