He blearily opened his eyes and saw that he was lying on a sofa in an unfamiliar, lamp-lit sitting room. A fair-haired, big-bellied man was watching Harry anxiously, next to a familiar brown-eyed, bushy-haired witch, who was holding his hand and looking at him, relief obvious in her eyes. Harry could see dry tearstains on her cheeks.
“How are you feeling?” She quietly asked.
Harry managed a weak smile. “I’m alright. I’m not dead, so I’d call that an accomplishment.”
Hermione gave a small smile of her own. “This is Tonks’s father, Ted. I explained everything that’s happened. He told us that Voldemort disappeared because he couldn’t get within one hundred yards of this place. The Portkey leaves in four minutes.”
Harry nodded his thanks and looked at Ted. “Hello, Mr. Tonks.”
The man shook his hand and said, “Hello, Harry. Do you still have a fever?”
Harry was about to reply when a woman came up behind Ted and put a cold wet cloth on his forehead. At first, a pang of fear came across him, but once he saw the light brown hair and eyes that didn’t have a manic gleam in them, he relaxed and came to the conclusion that this was Bellatrix’s sister. Hermione must have seen the small terror in his mind, as she gently squeezed his hand.
“I’m Andromeda,” the woman said, “but we don’t have time to talk. You two have a Portkey to catch.”
Harry and Hermione nodded, and Harry got up and followed Hermione and Andromeda along a short hallway and into a bedroom, never letting go of Hermione’s hand.
“There you go, son. That’s the Portkey.” Mr. Tonks was pointing to a small, silver-backed hairbrush lying on the dressing table.
“Thank you,” Harry said to them as he and Hermione placed a finger on the Portkey.
They waited a few more seconds, before the hairbrush glowed bright blue, and a familiar jerk behind the navel following.
A few seconds later, Harry and Hermione’s feet hit the ground hard and they fell on their knees in the backyard of the Burrow. He heard screams. Harry quickly stood up and dropped the hairbrush. He helped Hermione get to her feet as well before Mrs. Weasley and Ginny ran down the steps by the back door.
“Harry? You are the real Harry? What happened? Where are the others?” cried Mrs. Weasley.
“No one else is back?” Hermione asked, swaying slightly, but the fear was clearly heard in her voice.
“The Death Eaters were waiting for us,” Harry told her, “We were surrounded the moment we took off – they knew it was tonight – Snape probably knew – I don’t know what happened to anyone else, and then Voldemort showed up. How many Portkeys showed up already?”
“Two,” she said shakily. “Ron and Tonks should have been here first.” She said, looking at the rusty oil can, as if afraid to point at it.
Ginny was pale for a second before she spoke. “Dad and Fred were supposed to show up with that shoe.” She pointed to it on the ground. “But I thought Hermione—”
Her question was interrupted by a flash of blue light in the darkness, larger and brighter, until Lupin and George appeared, spinning, then falling. Harry immediately knew that something was wrong. Lupin was supporting George, who was unconscious and whose face was covered in blood. Harry let go of Hermione’s hand, ran forward and grabbed George by the legs. Together, he and Lupin carried George into the house and through the kitchen to the living-room, where they laid him on the sofa, Molly, Ginny, and Hermione following. A lamplight fell across George’s head. Ginny and Hermione gasped as Harry held his stomach, hoping nothing will leave it; one of George’s ears was missing.
Before Harry could ask a question, Lupin grabbed his and Hermione’s arms and dragged them into the kitchen.
Lupin approached Harry first. “What creature sat in the corner the first time that Harry Potter visited my office at Hogwarts?” he said, giving Harry a small shake. “Answer me!”
“A grindylow in a tank, wasn’t it?”
Lupin released Harry and turned to Hermione, who obviously expected this, as she was waiting patiently for her question. “Tell me something only Hermione Granger knows.”
“I used a time-turner in third year, I helped Harry and Ron save Sirius, my patronus is an otter, and I detest Divination.” She answered immediately. Lupin looked at Harry for confirmation.
Harry grinned and nodded. “‘Cause no one believes in prophesies and the grim.”
Hermione grinned back and then a look of seriousness crossed her face. “Someone betrayed us,” she began, “and Snape didn’t know about it,” she added as Harry opened his mouth to speak.
Harry sighed. “They knew exactly when we were going to leave,” he mused, “and the only person I know that would even think of betraying us is Mundungus. I’m just glad that Voldemort caught up with us at the end. I couldn’t have handled him if it was any sooner.”
“Voldemort caught up with you?” Remus asked, his back against the wall of the kitchen, leaning slightly. “What happened? How did you get away?”
And Harry explained how he sent a nonverbal stunner at a Death Eater, which must have tipped the other one off. He fell back and then Voldemort came a minute later, flying without any support. Hermione told about how Harry’s wand raised and shot golden fire out of his hand, destroying Voldemort’s wand. She explained how Voldemort got another wand and shot the green curse at them, and Harry’s quick thinking after that.
Remus stared at Harry in awe. “How did you do that?”
“Too much adrenaline and luck,” Harry said.
“And agility,” Hermione continued, “and strength, and bravery, and brains and…”
“Okay, okay, I get it!” Harry said, more embarrassed with each praise. He decided to change the subject. “Will George be okay?”
“He’ll be okay, but it’s been cursed off.”
Harry only knew of one dark cutting curse, which made him become more furious at the hook nosed greasy git known by some as Snivellus Snape.
He was about to voice his thoughts before he heard scuffling in the yard. Lupin dived for the back door while Harry and Hermione sprinted into the yard.
Two figures appeared in the yard, and Harry instinctively knew who the first figure was. He ran over to Hagrid and hugged him before Remus got there. He couldn’t hear what Kingsley said to Remus, when Hagrid boomed, “Harry, yer still alright!”
“I can see you’re still alive too, Hagrid,” he said as Hermione ran over to Hagrid’s other side and hugged him.
Harry heard the great baritone of Kingsley yell, “But somebody betrayed us! They knew, they knew it was tonight!”
“So it seems,” replied Lupin, “but apparently they did not realize that there would be seven Harrys.”
“Small comfort!” snarled Kingsley. “Who else is back?”
“Only Harry, Hermione, George, and me.”
“What happened to you?” Lupin asked Kingsley.
“Followed by five, injured one, might’ve killed two,” Kingsley reeled off, “and Hagrid knocked a couple off their brooms. We saw You-Know-Who as well, he joined the chase halfway through but vanished pretty quickly. Remus, he can—”
“Fly,” supplied Harry. “I saw him too; he came after Hermione and me.”
“So that’s why he left, to follow you!” said Kingsley, “I couldn’t understand why he’d vanished. But what made him change targets?”
“Disguised as Mundungus, I sent a nonverbal stunner at a Death Eater.”
“Well I probably would’ve done the same thing, but I certainly wouldn’t have lived if I actually had to confront him. I’ll ask how you two escaped later.”
Hagrid looked around. “Where’s George? I ‘adn’t seen im!”
Harry and Hermione finally let go of the half-giant as Hermione quietly said, “He’s lost an ear.”
Shacklebolt’s eyes widened. “He what?” He spoke, his baritone voice raising slightly.
“I think it was done by Snape if the curse was Sectumsempra,” Harry said.
Remus scowled. “You’re right. He lost his hood during the chase. Sectumsempra was always a specialty of Snape’s. I wish I could say I’d paid him back in kind, but it was all I could do to keep George on the broom after he was injured, he was losing so much blood.”
Harry finally remembered something that George didn’t show up with, and a tear fell from his eye as he already knew the answer to the question that he already knew the answer to. He needed to ask, at least. For her sake.
“Remus,” he said shakily. Hermione notice his eyes were now filled with tears and walked over to him. She put slipped her hand in Harry’s as he asked, with his head down, “Where’s Hedwig?” Hermione gasped. She had forgotten about Hedwig.
Remus immediately dropped his head in shame. He was hoping that Harry would ask a little later, after everyone arrived. “When—” he started hesitantly, realizing how close Harry was to his familiar, “When George’s ear was cut off, he tried to cover the place where his ear was, forgetting what he was holding. The cage smacked against his head, and he screamed, and threw the cage in pain, and I guess, frustration. Then we both heard a screech and realized what he did. He tried to make me steer the broom down to catch her, but unfortunately, the other five Death Eaters heard the screech too, and they all…” he stopped and looked up at Harry, who’s face was tear-filled as he landed on his knees, still holding Hermione’s hand. Hermione kneeled down on one knee and put her arm around him. She, too, had tears streaking down her face at the thought of five Death Eaters shooting the dreaded green curse at the beautiful snowy owl.
Hagrid started bawling. He pulled out a handkerchief that rivals a tablecloth and wiped his eyes. They were in silence, mourning the loss of Harry’s familiar, the white amber-eyed angel who’s been with him since his life changed completely. Harry slowly stood up after the elongated moment of silence and they quietly walked back into the house to keep his mind off of his best animal friend and first ever friend, now dead. He walked into the sitting room, where Mrs. Weasley and Ginny were still tending to George. Mrs. Weasley had staunched his bleeding now, and by the lamplight Harry saw a clean gaping hole where George’s ear had been.
“H-how is he?” Harry asked hesitantly.
Mrs. Weasley looked around and said, “I can’t make it grow back, not when it’s been removed by Dark Magic. But it could’ve been so much worse…He’s alive.”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “Thank God.”
“Did I hear someone else in the yard?” Ginny asked, eyeing Harry and Hermione suspiciously.
“Hagrid and Kingsley just got here,” said Hermione, thinking why Ginny was looking at them like that.
“That’s good,” Ginny whispered as she looked at them for a few more seconds for seemingly no reason, then turned away to look at her brother. Harry and Hermione were about to walk to a couch before they heard a loud crash from the kitchen.
“I’ll prove who I am, Kingsley, after I’ve seen my son, now back off if you know what’s good for you!”
Harry had never heard Mr. Weasley shout like that before. He understood his pain, as he himself would have jumped on a broom and sped off at the slightest chance of Hedwig being alive. He burst into the living room, his bald patch gleaming with sweat, his spectacles askew, Fred right behind him, both pale but uninjured.
“Arthur!” sobbed Mrs. Weasley. “Oh thank goodness!”
“How is he?” They both asked frantically, then their eyes set on the palest figure in the room.
Mr. Weasley dropped to his knees beside George. For the first time since Harry had known him, Fred seemed to be lost for words. He gaped over the back of the sofa at his twin’s wound as if he could not believe what he was seeing.
Perhaps roused by the sound of Fred and their father’s arrival, George stirred.
“How do you feel, Georgie?” whispered Mrs. Weasley.
George’s fingers groped for the side of his head. “Saintlike,” he murmured.
“What’s wrong with him?” croaked Fred, looking terrified. “Is his mind affected?”
“Saintlike,” repeated George, opening his eyes and looking up at his brother. “You see… I’m holy. Holey, Fred, geddit?”
Mrs. Weasley sobbed harder than ever. Colour flooded Fred’s pale face. “Pathetic,” he told George. “Pathetic! With the whole wide world of ear-related humour before you, you go for holey?”
“Ah well,” said George, grinning at his tearful mother. “You’ll be able to tell us apart now, anyway, Mum.” He looked around and his eyes set on Harry. “I…I’m sorry, Harry,” He said as his face dropped. “I didn’t know what happened…I wasn’t thinking straight…I—”
“It’s not your fault,” Harry said as he walked over to George. “If I should blame anyone, it’s Snape.”
“Why is George apologizing for getting his ear cut off to you?” Mrs. Weasley asked curiously, and Harry could sense a bit of anger in her voice.
Harry whispered silently, “Hedwig’s dead.”
The entire room gasped at that information, and Harry and Hermione left the kitchen and went outside, not wanting to see their reactions.
When they were walking, Hermione squeezed his hand and asked, “Are you alright, Harry?”
“As good as I can be, I guess,” Harry said softly. Hermione leaned her head on his shoulder and wrapped her other hand around his elbow. She knew that he only needed comfort at the moment. She would happily give it to him.
Kingsley was striding backward and forward, glancing up at the sky every time he turned. Harry was reminded of Uncle Vernon pacing the living room. Hagrid and Lupin stood gazing upward in silence. None of them looked around when Harry and Hermione joined their silent vigil.
The minutes stretched into what might as well have been years. The slightest breath of wind made them all jump and turn toward the whispering bush or tree in the hope that one of the missing Order members or Ron might leap unscathed from its leaves…and then a broom materialized directly above them and streaked toward the ground.
“It’s them!” Hermione whispered in a thankful breath.
Tonks landed in a long skid that sent earth and pebbles everywhere. “Remus!” Tonks cried as she staggered off the broom into Remus’s arms as Ron tripped dazedly toward Harry and Hermione.
“You’re okay,” he mumbled as Harry and Hermione broke apart and ran to him. Hermione gave Ron a loose hug as Harry patted his back.
“I was worried,” Hermione said as she pulled back from her hug. She then hit him on the shoulder. “Try scaring people like that again, Death Eaters won’t be who you’ll need to worry about.”
Ron smirked, but it didn’t quite reach his eyes. “Thanks for being worried for me.”
“Ron was great,” said Tonks warmly, relinquishing her hold on Lupin. “Wonderful. Stunned one of the Death Eaters, straight to the head, and when you’re aiming at a moving target from a flying broom—”
“Really?” Harry asked in surprise as Hermione smiled a satisfied smile.
“Always the tone of surprise,” he said a little grumpily. “Are we the last back?”
“We’re still waiting for…” Harry counted off with his fingers, “…Bill, Fleur, Mad-Eye, and Mundungus. So why didn’t you two come with the Portkey?”
“Bellatrix,” said Tonks. “She wants me quite as much as she wants Harry. She tried very hard to kill me. I just wish I’d got her, I owe Bellatrix. But we definitely injured Rodolphus. Then we got to Ron’s Auntie Muriel’s and we missed our Portkey and she was fussing over us. So anyway, what happened to you lot?” She asked as she turned to Harry, Hermione, and Kingsley.
Harry and Hermione told them what happened to them as they stared wide-eyed at their story, except Lupin, but he was grinning like mad at Harry. Ginny joined them halfway through and they all gasped when they heard what Harry did at the end.
They were quiet for a moment after Kingsley finished, before he broke the silence. “I’m going to have to get back to Downing Street; I should have been there an hour ago. “Let me know when they’re back. And Harry,” he said with a small smile, “Dumbledore and Mad-Eye would be proud.” He turned and walked beyond the boundaries as everyone heard a small pop of apparition.
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley came outside to see their youngest son, running faster to go hug them.
“Ronald, what took you? We thought you were dead!”
Ron’s explanation was cut short by a Thestral that flew into sight, Its great wings flapping, making it look like a unicorn in the night without a horn. The Thestral landed a few feet in front of them. Bill and Fleur slid from its back, tired, but no fresh marks were seen.
“Bill! Thank God,” Mrs. Weasley cried as she ran towards Bill, who was frowning. “Thank God!” She gave him a crushing hug that he didn’t return. He seemed empty for a moment before he looked straight at his father and spoke in a cold, empty voice.
Nobody spoke, nobody moved. Harry felt as though something inside him was falling, falling through the earth, leaving him forever. He thought of Moody as a mentor, almost. He was never taught by Moody, but he had the feeling earlier that night that Moody would think of him his apprentice—if given the chance.
“We saw it,” said Bill. Fleur nodded, tear tracks glittering on her cheeks in the light from the kitchen window. “It happened just after we broke out of the circle: Mad-Eye and Dung were close by us, they were heading north too. Voldemort—he can fly—went straight for them. Dung panicked, I heard him cry out, Mad-Eye tried to stop him, but he Disapparated. Voldemort’s curse hit Mad-Eye full in the face, he fell backward off his broom and – there was nothing we could do, nothing, we had half a dozen of them on our own tail…”
Bill’s voice broke.
“Of course you couldn’t have done anything,” Lupin said shakily. They all stood looking at each other. Harry could not quite comprehend it. Mad-Eye dead; it couldn’t be…Mad-Eye, so tough, so brave, the consummate survivor…
At last it seemed to dawn on everyone, though nobody said it, that there was no point of waiting in the yard anymore, and in silence they followed Mr. And Mrs. Weasley back to the Burrow. Hermione got closer to Harry and could see the emptiness in his emerald eyes, the shade somehow duller. She wordlessly and tenderly wrapped her fingers around his arm and pulled herself closer to him. Harry felt a teardrop trickling down his arm and put his arm around Hermione to pull her closer.
They walked through the kitchen and into the living room, where Fred was laughing and George was forcing a chuckle.
“What’s wrong?” said George, scanning their faces as they entered, “What’s happened? Who’s—?”
“Mad-Eye,” said Mr. Weasley, “Dead.”
The twins’ grins turned to grimaces of shock. Nobody seemed to know what to do. Tonks was crying silently into a handkerchief: She had been close to Mad-Eye, Harry knew, his favorite and his protégée at the Ministry of Magic. Hagrid, who had sat down on the floor in the corner where he had most space, was dabbing at his eyes with his tablecloth-sized handkerchief.
Bill walked over to the sideboard and pulled out a bottle of fire-whisky and some glasses.
“Here,” he said, and with a wave of his wand, he sent twelve full glasses soaring through the room to each of them, holding the thirteenth aloft.
“Mad-Eye,” they all said, and drank. Hermione grudgingly let go of Harry to drink her own.
“Mad-Eye,” echoed Hagrid, a little late, with a hiccup. The Firewhiskey seared Harry’s throat. It seemed to burn feeling back into him, dispelling the numbness and sense of unreality firing him with something that was like courage.
“So, what I suspected was right? I mean Mundungus did disappear,” said Harry, his voice a little louder than usual.
The atmosphere changed at once. Everybody looked tense, watching Harry, hearing the venom in his voice at that statement. Both wanted him to go on, it seemed to Harry, and slightly afraid of what they might hear.
“I know what you’re thinking,” said Bill, “and I wondered that too, on the way back here, because they seemed to be expecting us, didn’t they? But Mundungus can’t have betrayed us. They didn’t know there would be seven Harry’s, that confused them the moment we appeared, and in case you haven’t been told, it was Mundungus who suggested that little bit of skullduggery. Why wouldn’t he have told them the essential point? I think Dung panicked, it’s as simple as that. He didn’t want to come in the first place, but Mad-Eye made him, and Voldemort went straight for them. It was enough to make anyone panic.”
“You-Know-Who acted exactly as Mad-Eye expected him to,” sniffed Tonks. “Mad-Eye said he’d expect the real Harry to be with the toughest, most skilled Aurors. He chased Mad-Eye first, and when Mundungus gave them away he switched to Kingsley—”
“Yes, and zat eez all very good,” snapped Fleur, “but still eet does not explain ‘ow zey know we were moving ‘Arry tonight, does eet? Somebody must ‘ave been careless. Somebody let slip ze date to an outsider. It is ze only explanation for zem knowing ze date but not ze ‘ole plan.”
She glared around at them all, tear tracks still etched on her beautiful face, silently daring any of them to contradict her. Nobody did. The only sound to break the silence was that of Hagrid hiccupping from behind his handkerchief. Harry glanced at Hagrid, whom he loved, whom he trusted, who had once been tricked into giving Voldemort crucial information in exchange for a dragon’s egg…
“No,” Harry said aloud, and they all looked at him, surprised: his loud voice seemed to not fit him. Harry would have to change that. “I mean…if somebody made a mistake,” Harry went on, “and let something slip, I know they didn’t mean to do it. It’s not their fault,” he repeated, again a little louder than he would usually have spoken. “We’ve got to trust each other. I trust all of you; I don’t think anyone in this room would ever sell me to Voldemort.” Harry saw Remus shaking his head slowly. Harry thought he knew why. “I don’t believe that there is a Pettigrew here, because you all did this dangerous mission. Did Peter ever do something like that?” he asked, looking in Remus’s general direction.
More silence followed his words, except for Remus shaking his head somberly, his neck scratching against his collar. They were all looking at him; Harry felt a little hot again, and drank some more firewhisky for something to do. As he drank, he thought of Mad-Eye. Mad-Eye had always been scathing about Dumbledore’s willingness to trust people. Harry figured that as long as he continued constant vigilance, he could trust anyone he wanted to, but he couldn’t let his guard down around anyone either.
“Well said, Harry,” said Fred unexpectedly.
“Year, ‘ear, ‘ear,” said George, with half a glance at Fred, the corner of whose mouth twitched.
“Well said, Harry,” Hermione said quietly, smiling a little that warmed his stomach more than the firewhisky did.
Remus turned to Bill and said, “There’s work to do. I can ask Kingsley whether—”
“No,” said Bill at once, “I’ll do it, I’ll come.”
“Where are you going?” said Tonks and Fleur together.
“Mad-Eye’s body,” said Lupin. “We need to recover it.”
“Can’t it—?” began Mrs. Weasley with an appealing look at Bill.
“Wait?” Bill interrupted with an appalled look at his mother. “Not unless you’d rather the Death Eaters took it?”
“Unless they already took it, at least the eye,” Harry said. “It doesn’t hurt to check. I’d join you, but I have a feeling that no one here will let me.”
Lupin smiled at his surrogate son and said, “We wouldn’t let you come with us.” Bill and Lupin bid their good-byes and left.
The rest of them dropped into chairs, except Harry and Hermione, who leaned on the wall. Hermione tried to start a conversation with a question that she had been wanting to ask for ages. “Harry, how did you blast that flame at Voldemort?” The room shuddered at the name.
Harry sighed while he felt a twinge in his scar. “I honestly don’t know. I was almost unconscious. I think the wand moved on it’s own towards him. I didn’t even notice my hand move until the fire came out of my wand.”
Hermione was in confusion. Wands don’t act like that and they never had the history of acting like that. Hermione decided not to voice her concerns, and to give Harry a chance to explain. “Do you know how that happened?”
“If I had to guess, I’d say it was because I have his brother wand,” he said.
The room gasped at this statement. Harry just realized that he never told them about the connection. He may as well say the rest. “We both have a phoenix feather core wand,” he said as his scar was still burning, “but it came from the same phoenix, Dumbledore’s familiar, Fawkes.”
The whole room gawked stupidly at him. His scar flared even more. He put his hand on his forehead, hiding his hand from his finger, which was delicately tracing is scar with his finger so Hermione could easily see and no one else. He heard a sharp intake of breath from Hermione as he slowly walked out of the sitting room, her following, conjuring a dry cloth.
As Harry and Hermione walked outside, he heard Hermione muttering “Aguamenti” and light trickling of water. Hermione handed him a now wet cloth and said, “It won’t subside the pain a lot, but—”
Whatever she said was lost to him as his scar flared at its peak. He clutched at his forehead and closed his eyes, hearing a voice that was by now, very familiar to Harry.
“You told me the problem would be solved by using another’s wand!”
And into his mind’s eye burst the vision of an emaciated old man lying in rags upon a stone floor, screaming, a horrible drawn-out scream, a scream of unendurable agony…
“No! No! I beg you, I beg you…”
“You lied to Lord Voldemort, Ollivander!”
“I did not…I swear I did not…”
“You sought to help Potter, to help him escape me!”
“I swear I did not…I believed a different wand would work…”
“Explain, then, what happened. Lucius’s wand is destroyed!”
“I cannot understand…the connection…exists only…between your two wands…”
“Please…I beg you…”
And Harry saw his white hand raise his wand and felt Voldemort’s surge of vicious anger, saw the frail old main on the floor writhe in agony—
Suddenly, he flashed out of the vision as fast as he had entered it. His eyes opened and looked up, noticing that he was shaking against two figures he was leaning on who he recognized a few seconds later as Ron and Hermione, the latter’s arm around his waist, holding him tightly. His scar was still tingling, and a damp cloth was folded and placed on his forehead by Ron, who was applying pressure to it.
“Are you all right, Harry?” Hermione asked with a quiver, her eyes leaking.
He looked over to Hermione and tried to form a small smile, but couldn’t, seeing her tear-streaked face. He said, “Yeah, better than Ollivander at least. He’s being tortured by Voldemort right now.”
“How do you know, mate?” Ron asked curiously.
“The scar,” Harry explained in two words. “Anyway, Voldemort knows about the brother wands, now. He’s trying to get Ollivander to talk right now. I think that was Lucius’s wand I destroyed. He thought that if he used another wand, there’d be no surprises.” He gave a feeble grin. “He was wrong, it seems.”
Hermione held him even tighter and led him back into the house. “I thought he couldn’t enter your head anymore.” She whispered frantically.
“Hermione, I don’t think he used Legilimency on me. He’s supposed to be a master Occlumens, yet I can easily read his mind. I think he sent the vision through my scar, on accident, I’m sure. He does that when he gets a powerful feeling.”
“I’m going to look that up,” Hermione replied with a determined look, “but he’s taking over the Ministry, the newspapers and half the Wizarding world! Don’t let him inside your head if you can fight it!”
Harry agreed with a silent nod as they walked back into the house in silence.
The shock of losing Mad-Eye and Hedwig hung over the house in the days that followed; Harry kept expecting to see him stumping in through the back door like the other Order members, who passed in and out to relay news, and occasionally remind people of his mantra of constant vigilance. Harry felt that nothing but action would lessen his feelings of guilt and grief for Mad-Eye Moody and that he ought to set out on his mission to find and destroy Horcruxes as soon as possible.
When he voiced this concern with Ron at breakfast when they were the only two at the table, Ron replied, “Well, you can’t do anything about the” – he mouthed the word Horcruxes – “till you’re seventeen. You’ve still got the Trace on you. And we can plan here as well as anywhere, can’t we? Or,” he dropped his voice to a whisper, “d’you reckon you already know where the You-Know-Whats are?”
“No, but I have an idea of where one might be,” Harry admitted. “I’m not telling anyone incase I’m wrong, though.”
Ron seemed to accept that answer. “I think Hermione’s been doing a bit of research,” he said a moment later. “She’s been going non-stop since she got here. Couldn’t even talk to me unless she says ‘hey’ and ‘good night’. Ron muttered something that sounded a lot like ‘mental’.
Harry silently made a note to ask her not to overstress. “Well, the Trace will break on the thirty-first,” Harry mused, “So we’ll only have to stay here for four, wait, five days. Then we can leave, right after the wedding. Is Mrs. Weasley asking questions?”
“All day, every day” Ron said with a sigh, “until you showed up. She’ll try you next, so brace yourself. Dad and Lupin’ve both asked as well, but when we said Dumbledore told you not to tell anyone except us, they dropped it. Not Mum, though. She’s determined.”
Harry expected Ron to say this, and Harry prepared for it, mentally countering every question she might and will throw at him. Ron’s prediction came true within hours. Shortly before lunch, Mrs. Weasley detached Harry from the others by asking him to help identify a lone man’s sock that she thought might have come out of his bag. Once she had him cornered in the tiny scullery off the kitchen, she started.
“Ron and Hermione seem to think that the three of you are dropping out of Hogwarts,” she began in a light, casual tone.
“Yes, we are, Mrs. Weasley,” Harry easily said, focusing his eyes on Molly’s brown ones.
“May I ask why you are abandoning your education?” said Mrs. Weasley.
“Dumbledore left me a job to do, and Hermione and Ron wanted to help,” he replied, not breaking eye contact with her.
“What sort of ‘stuff’?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Well, frankly, I think Arthur and I have a right to know, and I’m sure Mr. And Mrs. Granger would agree!” said Mrs. Weasley.
Harry smirked. “Actually, Mrs. Weasley, Hermione’s parents respect her privacy, and I thought you would, too. If you don’t want Ron to go, then it’s not my choice. Technically, since Ron’s of age, shouldn’t he be the one to decide to tell you or not?” In truth, the picture Hermione already told him about her plans when he was still at the Dursleys, and Hermione confirmed that they were already done when he brought it up that morning. Hermione had altered her parents’ memories and, at the moment, they were residing in Australia.
He took another look at the sock. “And I don’t support Puddlemere United,” He said as he left the gaping woman and went back up to his room before she could say another word.
From that moment on, Mrs. Weasley kept them all busy with wedding preparations. Harry knew immediately that she was just trying to separate them, but he was one step ahead. He kept his cloak in his pocket while doing the preparations, and thanks to the many years of chores he had to do all of his life, it only took him half the time than the others to do his load of the work. When he was done, he’d place on the cloak and help out either Hermione or Ron (mostly Hermione) and talk to them for about ten minutes, then return to the place he was working for Mrs. Weasley to walk in and give him another assignment.
“Harry, how are you working this fast?” Hermione asked him the third time he visited her.
“I just pretend that Mrs. Weasley would hit me in the back of the head with a frying pan if I didn’t finish quickly enough,” He said absently. He just realized what he said when Hermione gasped and fumbled the box of Fireworks that she confiscated from Fred and George’s room on Mrs. Weasley’s orders. Thankfully, she didn’t drop it.
“W-why would you think that?” Hermione asked, knowing and fearing the answer.
“Umm…” Harry tried to think fast, trying to get a way out of this one. Then he sighed. He knew that she would find a way to get him to tell her anyway, and besides; she knew him well enough to know when he was telling a lie. “Well, I guess it’s because it always worked at the Dursleys.”
Hermione turned her head away from Harry for a moment, and Harry swore he could hear a sniffle. After about a minute of standing there, she asked, “I hope she gave them a good screaming.” No one could mistake the venom in her voice.
“Well, you had a good rant ready, but my rant took up too much time. Sorry,” He mumbled to her. And that’s what he gets for telling the truth.
Hermione immediately softened. “Harry, I don’t care who yelled at the Dursleys. I just wanted them to get yelled at. I’m glad you did, considering you were the one that was raised by them.”
Harry chuckled. That was close to what P. ‘Mione said. Before he could say anything, Hermione said, “but the next time I cross paths with them, they’ll wish they stayed at Number Four. Voldemort’s more merciful.”
Harry chuckled at Hermione until he realized that she was serious.
For the first time in his life, Harry felt sorry for the Dursleys.
After two days of this, Harry was getting irritated, so he started preparing everything in sight; de-gnoming, cooking, cutlery cleaning, and any other nonsense that she would usually ask for. By the pace that he was going, he could guess that he could be done by the morning of his birthday.
“I think Mum thinks that if she can stop the three of you getting together and planning, she’ll be able to delay you leaving,” Ginny told Harry in an undertone, as they laid the table for dinner on the third night of his stay.
“It won’t work,” said Harry confidently, not giving her eye contact. “We’re still leaving. Even Mrs. Weasley can’t stand up against Hermione Granger’s schedules.”
Ginny smirked a little and looked up at Harry, who was quickly placing the utensils on the table. She knew that he had been avoiding her ever since he broke up with her; however, in her mind, it meant their relationship was on hiatus. For some reason, or was it her imagination, that he and Hermione had spent an awful lot of time together lately. She knew that Granger was absolutely no match for her, but she also knew that she had little to no time until he left. A boy has needs and will be desperate for the closest girl near him after a while, meaning Hermione. She would make sure to give him something to remember her by…
Meanwhile, Harry was contemplating in his mind as why he didn’t think of Ginny any more than a friend. Ginny is right here, right here in front of her. He could, at any time, go around the table to hold her… to kiss her… he knew she wanted him to… but oddly, he had no desire to do so. It almost disgusted him. Hermione had really gotten to him, he realized. The thought that came in his mind about three and a half weeks ago was still fresh in his mind. He couldn’t see anything in Ginny except the little sister of his best friend who screamed at the top of her lungs that she saw Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived, at the train station so long ago…
Ginny slightly jumped and Harry snapped out of his thoughts as the door opened, and Mr. Weasley, Kingsley, and Bill walked in.
They were often joined by other Order members for dinner now, because the Burrow had replaced number twelve, Grimmauld Place as the headquarters. Mr. Weasley had explained that after the death of Dumbledore, their Secret-Keeper, each of the people to whom Dumbledore had confided Grimmauld Place’s location had become a Secret-Keeper in turn.
“And as there are around twenty of us,” Mr. Weasley said, “that greatly dilutes the power of the Fidelius Charm. Twenty times as many opportunities for the Death Eaters to get the secret out of somebody. We can’t expect it to hold much longer.”
“But surely Snape will have told the Death Eaters the address by now?” asked Harry.
“Well, Mad-Eye set up a couple of curses against Snape in case he turns up there again. We hope they’ll be strong enough both to keep him out and to bind his tongue if he tries to talk about the place, but we can’t be sure. It would have been insane to keep using the place as headquarters now that its protection has become so shaky.”
The kitchen was so crowded that evening it was difficult to maneuver knives and forks. Harry found himself crammed beside Ginny and Hermione. He didn’t know whether he was uncomfortable or very comfortable.
He decided to stick on ‘moderately comfortable’ as he asked, “No news about Mad-Eye?”
“Nothing,” replied Bill. “The Daily Prophet hasn’t said a word about him dying or about finding the body, but that doesn’t mean much. It’s keeping a lot quiet these days.”
“And they still haven’t called a hearing about all the underage magic I used escaping the Death Eaters?” Harry called across the table to Mr. Weasley, who shook his head. “Because they don’t want me to tell the world Voldemort attacked me, right?” Harry grinned.
“I think so. Scrimgeour doesn’t want to admit that You-Know-Who is as powerful as he is, nor that Azkaban’s seen a mass breakout.”
“Yeah, why tell the public the truth?” said Harry, clenching his knife so tightly that the faint scars on the back of his right hand stood out, white against his skin: I must not tell lies.
“Isn’t anyone at the Ministry prepared to stand up to him?” asked Ron angrily.
“Of course, Ron, but people are terrified,” Mr. Weasley replied, “terrified that they will be next to disappear, their children the next to be attacked! There are nasty rumors going around; I for one don’t believe the Muggle Studies professor at Hogwarts resigned. She hasn’t been seen for weeks now. Meanwhile Scrimgeour remains shut up in his office all day; I just hope he’s working on a plan.”
“We must decide ‘ow you will be disguised, ‘Arry,” said Fleur, once everyone had pudding. Harry nodded. He really didn’t want to be seen at the wedding. “Of course,” Fleur continued, “none ov our guests are Death Eaters, but we cannot guarontee zat zey will not let something slip after zey ‘ave ‘ad champagne.”
Harry gave Fleur a look that meant ‘I know who you’re still blaming.’ Fleur flinched and looked away.
“Yes, good point,” said Mrs. Weasley from the top of the table where she sat, reading spectacles perched on the end of her nose, scanning an immense list of jobs that she had scribbled on a very long piece of parchment. “Now, Ron, have you cleaned out your room yet?”
“No, mum.” Ron said, boredom in his voice, although Harry could see a small smile that Mrs. Weasley didn’t notice.
“Then you’ll need to do that,” Mrs. Weasley tutted. “And Harry, dear, I need you to help Arthur much out the chickens, and Hermione, I’d be ever so grateful if you’d change the sheets for Monsieur and Madame Delacour; you know they’re arriving at eleven tomorrow morning.”
But as it turned out, there was very little to do for the chickens. “There’s no need to, er, mention it to Molly,” Mr. Weasley told Harry, blocking his access to the coop, “but, er, Muriel sent me most of what was left of Sirius’s bike and, er, I’m hiding—that’s to say, keeping—it in here. Fantastic stuff: There’s an exhaust gaskin, as I believe it’s called, the most magnificent battery, and it’ll be a great opportunity to find out how brakes work. I’m going to try and put it all back together again when Molly’s not—I mean, when I’ve got time.”
They walked into the coup, and after a few minutes, Harry broke the silence that was occasionally disturbed by the occasional cluck.
“Mr. Weasley,” Harry asked slowly, not knowing if he could go through with this.
“Yes, Harry?” Mr. Weasley asked, abandoning the chickens for a moment, hearing the hesitancy in Harry’s voice.
“Er, would it be alright if I… borrowed the motorcycle?”
Mr. Weasley furrowed his brow at the young man in front of him. “Harry, you can have it if you want. I’m sure you would need it for wherever you three are going, and I’m sure Sirius would give it to you. And, I think, if I’m correct, that you were to obtain this when you were seventeen, anyway. No matter, I was going to give this to you right before you guys leave.”
“Thanks, Mr. Weasley,” Harry said sincerely.
“Now, Harry, I also have something to ask of you.” Now, it was the red-head’s turn to fidget.
“Yes?” Harry asked.
“Please…please keep my daughter safe, Harry. She’s my only daughter, and I—”
“She’s not coming with us, Mr. Weasley,” Harry said sternly, not showing any regret in his voice.
“Oh thank Merlin,” he said as he visibly deflated for a moment before he looked at Harry again, curiosity shown in his eyes. “Well, then it’s just you, Hermione and Ron?”
“Yes, Mr. Weasley.”
“Why isn’t Ginny coming with you? Aren’t you two a couple now?” Harry was glad to hear that Arthur was completely curious. He wasn’t sure what reaction he was going to show after this next statement.
“I, er, broke up with her, sir.”
Arthur showed no surprise which, in turn, surprised Harry. Arthur noticed, and chuckled. “I’m sorry, Harry, but I can’t say I didn’t see this coming. I see you remember when I told you never to go for looks alone. I may be speaking ill of my own daughter, but remember, she liked you as the Boy Who Lived first and always. I’ve heard countless times that you don’t like the fame and privileges of the Boy Who Lived, and I’m sure that you want to be with someone who doesn’t think of you like that. She thought of you as only that since she was four. I don’t think she ever knew the difference…unlike the rest of us, of course!
“Don’t worry, I’m not mad about your decision to break up with her. However, I don’t think Molly should know yet. Maybe after you two leave I’ll tell her, so it wouldn’t be uncomfortable for you. Ginny hasn’t told anyone, so she must still think…well, you know.”
“Thank you so much, Mr. Weasley,” Harry said sincerely. He did not know an Ex’s father could be so nice to him.
“Please Harry, it’s Arthur. You’ll be of age tomorrow, so there’s no point of still calling me that.”
“Er…okay, Arthur.” To say that it would be weird sensation would be a major understatement.
“Now, hopefully you’ll make the right choice on a girl. Just because you’re in a war, doesn’t mean you can’t have a plan beyond it.” And with that, he moved back to the chickens. And while Harry was feeding one, he could’ve sworn that he heard Arthur say, “I just hope Ron can accept it.”
When they returned to the house, Mrs. Weasley was nowhere to be seen, so Harry slipped upstairs to Ron’s attic bedroom.
“I’m almost done, I’m—! Oh, it’s you,” Ron said in relief, as Harry entered the room. Ron lay back down on the bed, which he had evidently just vacated, telling by the wrinkles. The entire room had been cleaned and straightened out by Harry two days ago, knowing that Mrs. Weasley would tell Ron to do it sooner or later. The only sign of a mess was a pile of clothes at the end of the bed, intentionally put there by Harry in case he needed to look like he was cleaning by picking up some clothes in the pile. He also changed the sheets for the guest room yesterday which was why Hermione was sitting in the far corner of the room with Crookshanks at her feet, sorting books into two enormous piles. The fluffy ginger cat trotted over to Harry and walked between and around his legs, tickling them.
“Hi, Harry,” Hermione said as she watched Crookshanks and Harry, smiling.
Harry carefully walked over to the corner where Hermione was vacating, careful not to step on Crookshanks, and sat down next to the books. “Hey,” he said, looking over at the books. He noticed some of them were his own, including (he had to hold back a laugh) Hogwarts, A History. “Where are those Horcrux books you told me about?”
Hermione looked at Harry quizzically—she didn’t talk to him about that yet. Then realization dawned on her when Harry softly patted his pocket. She rummaged for a moment and then extracted from the pile a large volume, bound in faded black leather. She looked a little nauseated and held it as gingerly as if it were something that was recently deceased.
“This is the one that gives explicit instructions on how to make a Horcrux.” She said as she handed it to Harry. “Secrets of the Darkest Art – it’s a horrible book, really awful, full of evil magic. I wonder when Dumbledore removed it from the library…if he didn’t do it until he was Headmaster, I bet Voldemort got all the instructions he needed from here.”
“When did you get that book?” Ron asked curiously.
Hermione shrugged. “After his funeral, I said, ‘Accio Horcrux books’ and they just flew to me into the girls’ dormitory. I was desperate for answers.”
Harry flipped through the book. “These are some really dark and gruesome curses,” he said, wide-eyed. “And I bet Voldemort knows all of these.” He finally found the section on Horcruxes. “It also says that your soul will become extremely unstable even if you make one Horcrux. I do remember Dumbledore saying that he’s above ‘usual evil’. The only way for the soul to be put back together is to…feel sorry for what you’ve done? I know for a fact that we’ll be doing this the hard way.” Ron and Hermione chuckled at this. “The way to destroy a Horcrux—he tenderly flipped through the pages, “—is to use something so destructive that it can’t repair itself. Like Basilisk venom, apparently. I wonder if the Killing Curse would work. Of course we won’t use the curse,” he added quickly, seeing Hermione about to reprimand him “but it was just a thought.” He looked back down to read the next few paragraphs. “And a Horcrux is very vulnerable if it is in an object that can easily be destroyed, like a diary if Ginny just threw it in the fire.” He said, not noticing Ron pale.
“I wonder how Dumbledore destroyed the ring, though?” Harry quietly asked. “There was a crack in it. It had to be a really powerful spell.”
Ron and Hermione were in thought for a few seconds before Ron gave up and broke the silence. “Oh yeah, Harry, I forgot to show you something!” He stood up and said, “C’mon.”
“What is it?” Harry asked, handing the book back to Hermione and following Ron out of the room onto the tiny landing.
“Descendo,” muttered Ron, pointing his wand at the low ceiling. A hatch opened right over their heads and a ladder slid down to their feet. A horrible, half-sucking, half-moaning sound came out of the square hole, along with an unpleasant smell like open drains.
“This is where your ghoul lives?” Harry asked curiously, who had never actually met the creature that sometimes disrupted the silence of the Burrow aside from loud bangs from the twins’ room.
“Yeah,” said Ron, climbing the ladder. “Come and have a look at him.”
Harry followed Ron up the few short steps into the tiny attic space. His head and shoulders were in the room before he caught sight of the creature curled up a few feet from him, fast asleep in the gloom with its large mouth wide open.
“But it…it looks…are you disguising the ghoul to look like you?” he asked after he looked over the body. It was human in shape and size, and was wearing an old pair of Ron’s pajamas. He was also sure that ghouls were generally rather slimy and bald, rather than distinctly have red hair and covered in angry purple blisters. “Is that some kind of disease for people to catch if they get too close? Or at least pretend, because you let me be this close.”
“How the bloody hell did you figure all that?” Ron asked incredulously as he climbed back down the ladder, Harry following, which Ron returned to the ceiling, and rejoined Hermione, who was still sorting books.
“Well, I guessed it. It was obvious from the fact that it had red hair and your pajamas.” Harry said.
“Okay…yeah, that’s exactly what I was planning,” Ron said. Hermione smiled to herself as she kept sorting through the pile. “Once we’ve left, the ghoul’s going to come and live down here in my room,” said Ron. “I think he’s really looking forward to it—well, it’s hard to tell, because all he can do is moan and drool—but he nods a lot when you mention it. Anyway, he’s going to be me with spattergroit. Good, eh?”
“Well, I don’t know what spattergroit is, but I’m guessin’ that the side-effect is purple blisters and that it’s really contagious. It must be a pretty bad disease if you think no one’s gonna go near him.”
Ron stared at him in shock while Hermione raised an eyebrow at him. Even she didn’t know what spattergroit was until Ron told her. She had to remember to study up on Wizarding first aid potions and spells.
They were interrupted when the door banged open, Hermione shrieked and dropped Secrets of the Darkest Art; Crookshanks streaked under the bed, hissing indignantly; Ron rushed over to the foot of the bed, skidded on the pile of clothes, and hit his head on the ground wall; and Harry instinctively pulled his wand out of his front pocket and pointed it at a steaming Mrs. Weasley. Sighing, he put his wand in his pocket, but he did catch her flinch.
“I’m so sorry to break up this cozy little gathering,” she said, her voice trembling. “I’m sure you all need your rest…but there are wedding presents stacked in my room that need sorting out and I was under the impression that you had agreed to help.”
“Oh…we’re sorry,” Hermione said as she calmly got to her feet and carefully extracted herself from the books, looking in Harry’s direction, who gave a small smirk. His hand was hidden from Mrs. Weasley as pointed out three fingers. She gave a small nod and a smile as she left with Mrs. Weasley.
Ron was confused about the entire exchange. “What was that about?” He asked when she was out of earshot.
Harry simply padded over to where Hermione sat and carefully looked over the books. When he finally understood the order Hermione placed them in, he started picking up the books and added them to the pile, hoping he was placing them in the right order. A few seconds later, he answered.
“I sorted the presents last night, all night. She’s coming back in three minutes.”
The Delacours arrived the following morning at eleven o’ clock. Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were feeling quite resentful toward Fleur’s family by this time; and it was with ill grace that Ron stumped back upstairs to put on matching socks, and Harry attempted to flatten his hair. Once they had all been deemed smart enough, they trooped out into the sunny backyard to await the visitors.
“Maman!” cried Fleur, rushing forward to embrace her. “Papa!”
Monsieur Delacour bounced towards Mrs. Weasley on high-heeled boots, and kissed her twice on each cheek, leaving her flustered.
“You ‘ave been so much trouble,” he said in a deep voice. “Fleur tells us you ‘ave been working very ‘ard.”
“Oh, it’s been nothing, nothing!” trilled Mrs. Weasley. “No trouble at all!”
Ron relieved his feelings by aiming a kick at a gnome who was peering out from behind one of the new Flutterby bushes.
“Dear lady!” said Monsieur Delacour, still holding Mrs. Weasley’s hand between his own two plump ones and beaming. “We are most honored at the approaching union of our two families! Let me present my wife, Apolline.”
Madame Delacour glided forward and stooped to kiss Mrs. Weasley too. “Enchantée,” she said. “Your ‘usband ‘as been telling us such amusing stories!”
Mr. Weasley laughed, but was cut short by Mrs. Weasley’s glare, then took the look of a man who had just visited a morgue.
“And, of course, you ‘ave met my leetle daughter, Gabrielle!” said Monsieur Delacour. Gabrielle was Fleur in miniature; eleven years old, with waist-length hair of pure, silvery blonde, she gave Mrs. Weasley a dazzling smile and hugged her, then threw Harry a glowing look, batting her eyelashes. Ginny cleared her throat loudly. Hermione looked around in the garden, pretending not to see what had happened.
The Delacours, it soon transpired, were helpful, pleasant guests. They were pleased with everything and keen to assist with the preparations for the wedding. Monsieur Delacour pronounced everything from the seating plan to the bridesmaids’ shoes (“Charmant!”). Madame Delacour was most accomplished at household spells and had the oven properly cleaned in a trice; Gabrielle followed her elder sister around, trying to assist in any way she could and jabbering away in rapid French.
On the downside, the Burrow was not built to accommodate so many people. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley were now sleeping in the sitting room, having shouted down Monsieur and Madame Delacour’s protests and insisted they take their bedroom. Gabrielle was sleeping with Fleur in Percy’s old room, and Bill would be sharing with Charlie, his best man, once Charlie arrived from Romania. Opportunities to make plans together became virtually nonexistent, and it was in desperation that Harry, Ron and Hermione took to volunteering to feed the chickens just to escape the overcrowded house.
“But she still won’t leave us alone!” snarled Ron, and their second attempt at a meeting in the yard was foiled by the appearance of Mrs. Weasley carrying a large basket of laundry in her arms.
“Oh, good, you’ve fed the chickens,” she called as she approached them. “We’d better shut them away again before the men arrive tomorrow…to put up the tent for the wedding,” she explained, pausing to lean against the henhouse. She looked exhausted. “Millamant’s Magic Marquees…they’re very good. Bill’s escorting them…You’d better stay inside while they’re here, Harry. I must say it does complicate organizing a wedding, having all these security spells around the place.”
“I’m sorry,” said Harry humbly.
“Oh, don’t be silly, dear!” said Mrs. Weasley at once. “I didn’t mean—well, your safety’s much more important! Actually, I’ve been wanting to ask you how you want to celebrate your birthday, Harry. Seventeen, after all, it’s an important day…”
“I don’t want a fuss,” said Harry quickly, trying to loosen the additional strain this would put on them all, even though Mrs. Weasley was adding onto it. “Really, Mrs. Weasley, just a normal dinner would be fine! It’s the day before the wedding!”
“Oh, well, if you’re sure, dear. I’ll invite Remus and Tonks, shall I? And how about Hagrid?”
“That’d be great,” Harry smiled. “But please, don’t go to loads of trouble.”
She looked at him, a long, searching look, then smiled a little sadly, straightened up, and walked away. Harry watched as she waved her wand near the washing line, and the damp clothes rose into the air to hang themselves up.
“If she was already worried about the wedding and the birthday party, why is she adding on the stress by hassling us?” Harry grumbled.
“That’s Mrs. Weasley,” Hermione groaned, “an overprotective mother. I’m sorry, Ron, but she is tiring us out. I can’t wait until we leave!”
Author’s Note: Please review. Next chapter, Harry’s birthday, a visit from the Minister, and the wedding of Bill and Fleur Weasley.