lundi 11 février 2008

chapter 2

welcoming arms that he’d have to avoid — but he couldn’t stop his own
feet from hurrying to find out.

Ron pulled the door open, and they stepped into the chaos that was the
Burrow. There were boxes and stacks of paper everywhere. Robes hung
inside clothes bags from hooks on the ceiling, and Harry could make out
a line of high-heeled shoes resting on the windowsill. Gaily wrapped
packages were piled in every spare bit of space in the room, which
admittedly hadn’t been generous to begin with. Voices could be heard
shouting from upstairs, as well as in the kitchen.

The sudden vibration from a small explosion in another room knocked
Hermione into Harry’s shoulder, and he barely caught the both of them
before they tumbled to the floor.

"Bloody hell," Ron said, craning his neck to see if there was any
Harry set Hermione back on her feet just as Mrs. Weasley began shouting
at Fred.

"Welcome home," Ron said, grinning sheepishly.

A wide, delighted grin spread across Harry’s face. "Can’t think of any
place I’d rather be," he said honestly.

"Come on," Hermione said, grabbing each of them by the hand. "Let’s see
what that was and if your mum needs any help cleaning it up."

Hermione pulled them into the kitchen, where they found a frazzled-
looking Mrs. Weasley using her wand both to cut vegetables and stir
several pots, while simultaneously berating the twins for their
careless antics.

Bill sat calmly at the table, shuffling through what appeared to be a
list of names, while Charlie Weasley sat across from him with a
somewhat dazed expression on his face. Sitting next to Charlie was the
reason for his dazed look — Fleur was instructing him on the proper
pace to keep as he walked down the aisle.

Harry wasn’t certain if Charlie’s blank look was because of the topic
or just Fleur in general. Ron still reacted the same way to the
beautiful part-Veela. Hermione stiffened next to him and scowled at
both Charlie and Fleur. Hermione had never warmed up to the French
girl, and Harry wondered how Ginny was faring with her future sister-
in-law. Ginny hadn’t liked Fleur any better than Hermione did.

Harry’s gaze lingered for a moment on Bill’s scarred face. The wounds
inflicted by Fenrir Greyback were plainly visible and still looked
quite painful. On Bill, though, they somehow gave him a rugged, manly
sort of look. While Harry thought his own scar just drew unwanted
attention, like the star attraction in a freak show; Bill’s gave the
older man an aura of mystery. Bill appeared to be someone in control of
the situation, and the scars added a bit of daring to his story.

Hermione had apparently been struck dumb by the lack of order in the
kitchen and hung back slightly in the doorway, while Ron simply slipped
into his customary seat at the table and tried to remain unnoticed.
Harry wasn’t quick enough to follow suit.

"’Arry!" Fleur shrieked, gracefully moving away from Charlie and
towards Harry. She took him in her arms and kissed him on each cheek.
"I am zo ‘appy to ‘ave you here."

Fleur’s shout had alerted the rest of the Weasley family to their
arrival, and Harry shifted uncomfortably beneath all the attention.

"Hi, Fleur. Hello, everyone," he mumbled, feeling the heat rise to his

"Oh! You’re all here," Mrs. Weasley cried, rushing over to crush Ron in
her embrace before pulling back to look him over carefully. Finding no
apparent cause for concern, she turned around and treated Harry and
then Hermione to the same treatment.
"We’re here, and we’re fine, Mum. Nothing to get so worked up about,"
Ron grumbled, wiping his face of his mother’s kisses.

Harry pulled away slightly and stood with his back against the wall as
Ron greeted the rest of his family. He scanned the room yet again,
cursing his traitorous heart for its pathetic hopefulness. How was his
resolve ever to hold if he’d trade the world for the mere sight of her
at the first chance he got? His breath caught in his throat as Ginny
came down the stairs and stopped at the bottom, her eyes taking in the
happy welcome.

She looked like an angel as she floated down the stairs, and Harry
thought his heart would burst from simply seeing her again. The morning
sun streaming in from the kitchen window lit her hair with a fiery
brilliance that Harry longed to run his fingers through. Her hair had
always been so sinfully soft, and he loved to touch it.

Time lost all meaning and, for a brief moment, he was back at Hogwarts,
and she was still his. He knew he was staring, but he couldn’t seem to
drag his eyes away. It took all the force of will he possessed not to
cross the room and take her in his arms. Suddenly and for a moment that
seemed to last an eternity, nothing and no one else mattered to him.

Her eyes locked on his, and while time stood still their fierce gazes
raked over one another as if each were committing every detail to
memory to reexamine on lonely nights apart.

Dear God, she’s beautiful.

Gripping the amulet in his pocket fiercely, Harry forced himself to
breathe and drag his eyes away. That was exactly why he had to stay
away from Ginny. He was powerless against her charm, but there were
things that had to be done, and he had to be the one to do them.

If anyone else had noticed his brief lapse of resolve, they didn’t say
anything, although he was certain he could feel the heat from
Hermione’s stare on the back of his neck.

Ginny entered the room and walked towards Ron, gently nudging him on
the shoulder. "Welcome home, Ron. I’m so glad you managed to get here
in time to do some of these chores. The family that works together
shares in the joy together," she said in a singsong voice.

"Great," Ron grumbled, pulling an apple off the table and biting into

"Hi, Harry. Hi, Hermione," Ginny said brightly.

Harry’s heart nearly broke in two. Leave it to Ginny to act as if
nothing had changed and there wasn’t this huge wall of tension between
them. He was certain she sounded casual to everyone else in the room,
but he could hear the strain in her voice…and he knew he was the one
who had placed it there.

He tried to open his mouth and return the greeting, but he couldn’t
form the words. When did she become such a skilled actress?
"Hello, Ginny," Hermione said. "Thanks for sending me those books. They
were just what I needed, and they really came in handy."

Harry’s head shot up, his eyes flickering between the two girls. He’d
had no idea Hermione had been in contact with Ginny, or that Ginny had
been helping. Damn! So much for keeping her out of it.

"How did everything go with the Muggles?" Mrs. Weasley asked. "They
didn’t give you any trouble, did they?"

"Nothing we couldn’t handle," Ron replied with a self-satisfied smirk,
"and they’ll be finding little reminders of our stay for years to

Fred and George grinned maniacally. "Ooh, do tell. It sounds like our
ickle Ronniekins has been paying attention all along," Fred said,
wiping an imaginary tear from his eye.

"It’s so gratifying to see all our hard work come to its fruition,"
George replied, sighing heavily.

"Oh, sit down and finish making those arrangements for the
international portkeys. If the guests have any trouble getting here on
the big day, I’m going to hold you both fully responsible," Mrs.
Weasley snapped.

"Never fear, Mother, dear. All the guests will arrive safely and
promptly in time to see our dear eldest brother tie the shackle around
his leg," Fred said, batting his eyelashes dramatically.

"What do you mean wiz zis shackle buziness?" Fleur asked, frowning.
"You two should be zo lucky to find zomeone willing to zettle down wiz
ze likes of you."

"Exactly!" Mrs. Weasley jumped right in. "That’s exactly what I’ve been
telling them for years, Fleur dear. Maybe they’ll meet some nice
friends of yours at the wedding."

"Ho, ho," George said, grinning. "We’ll take that as our mission. To
meet and talk with each one of Fleur’s single friends who comes to the

"Oh, pleaze. My friends are completely out of your league, little men,"
Fleur replied dismissively, causing Bill and Charlie to howl with

"Seriously though, boys. Ron, Harry…did everything go all right at
Privet Drive? Harry, did you move all your belongings out?" Mrs.
Weasley asked kindly.

"Yeah, we got it all," Ron answered. "Harry’s seen the last of that
place, and good riddance. Those Muggles are mental. He’s just a
homeless, orphan waif now, mum, so I suppose we’ll have to take him
Ron grinned at Harry when he said it, but the sudden realization hit
Harry like a punch to the gut.

He was homeless.

Realistically, he knew that he’d always have a spot at the Weasleys’,
there for the asking, but the fact remained that he was truly on his
own. He really didn’t belong anywhere. Not that he’d ever really
belonged at the Dursleys, either, but at least it was an address. A
place to hang his hat, as it were.

As if sensing his sudden unease, Ginny placed her warm hand on Harry’s
forearm and gave it a reassuring squeeze. "Don’t worry, Harry," she
whispered. "You’ll always belong here, no matter what else has

Harry raised his eyes to meet hers and was nearly lost in their depth.
How did she know? She’d always been able to see through whatever it was
he was feeling and get to the heart of things.

Damn, this will be harder than I’d even anticipated.

He nodded slightly and saw the brief flash of pain in her eyes before
she covered it up again. Smiling brightly, she turned her attention to
Hermione and began chatting about bridesmaid dresses. Her dismissal
allowed Harry to breathe again, but the pit he felt in his stomach
would make eating impossible. He felt nauseous and needed to regroup.
He hated feeling so wrong-footed and uncertain about everything.

"Of course, I suppose you could always go to Grimmauld Place," Ron
said, oblivious to the startled and aggravated looks he was receiving
from the rest of his family. "You do own that now, don’t you, Harry?"

Harry’s insides went cold. He’d forgotten about Grimmauld Place, but it
would never be home. "Yeah," he said, finally finding his voice. "I’m
going to go put my trunk up in your room. I’ll take yours up, too."

He grabbed all the shrunken trunks from Hermione and nearly sprinted
from the room. He knew they’d all be talking about him, but he didn’t
care. He couldn’t stay there with her so close for one minute longer.
He needed to breathe. And he’d thought it was bad at the Dursleys’.
Somehow, he suspected that this would be the longest week of his life.

It wasn’t until he’d reached the brightness of Ron’s orange room that
he remembered he couldn’t use magic to enlarge the trunks. He left both
Ron and Hermione’s miniature trunks on Ron’s bed and sat down on the
camp bed with his own. He’d stayed in Fred and George’s old room when
he was here last summer, but he suspected that with so many people
staying at the Burrow for the wedding, he’d be bunking with Ron. That’s
what he’d done last Christmas when they’d had a crowd.

He stretched out on the camp bed and let his thoughts drift to the
previous Christmas. Things had been so much simpler then. He grinned as
he remembered the sweetheart necklace that Lavender had sent to Ron. He
wondered what his friend had done with it. Chucked it out the window of
the Gryffindor dormitory, most likely.
He relaxed and allowed his mind to wander as he drifted off to sleep.
He really hadn’t slept well the previous night and was feeling quite
drained. He wasn’t certain how long he’d dozed, but he awoke to
Hermione sitting on his bed, making a "Harumff" sound.

Harry jerked and looked around wildly.

"Sorry, Harry," Hermione said. "Mrs. Weasley put Ron to work with the
twins, but I couldn’t stand listening to them for one more minute. They
can be so insufferably condescending sometimes."

Harry shook his head and tried to clear it. "Yeah," he mumbled.

"Are you all right?" Hermione asked, glancing at him from the corner of
her eye.

Harry shrugged.

"Ginny looks good," Hermione ventured, letting her sentence hang in the
open. Harry refused to respond.

Hermione huffed but continued prodding. "Fleur is driving her crazy
with these wedding plans. Ginny says she’s done nothing but attend
engagements and make plans for this wedding and will be just as happy
when it’s over and done. She hates the dress robes she has to wear.
Says they’re made for a ten-year old. I’m supposed to help her with
them tonight."

Harry fought the smile that threatened to crack his impassive
expression. He could just imagine Ginny’s tirades against wearing
anything that would make her look younger than she was. She hated being
treated like a child.

"Why are you telling me this, Hermione?" he asked.

Hermione shrugged. "I thought you’d want to know, since you avoided
talking with her at all."

Harry frowned. "I-I- I didn’t avoid talking…I just–"

"Just what?"

"I just didn’t know what to say," Harry whispered.

Hermione smiled sadly. "She misses you, Harry, and I know you miss her.
No matter how well you think you’re hiding it."

Harry swallowed against the thickness in his throat. "It’s even harder
than I thought it would be."

"Harry, if Professor Dumbledore said this great power you possess is
love, do you really think it’s a good idea to be pushing her away?"
Hermione asked, picking at a loose thread on the blanket on Harry’s

Harry stiffened, closing off his emotions. "It has to be this way,
Hermione. I won’t put her in danger."

"She’s already in danger, Harry. We all are. Didn’t you see the hands
on that clock downstairs? Ginny’s hand is still pointed to Mortal
Peril, whether you’re with her or not. I think she could help us."


"Harry– "

"Don’t push it, Hermione. I can’t let her die because of me, and I
don’t want her to have to watch if it’s me that’s going to go," Harry
said, refusing too look at her.

"Don’t say that," Hermione hissed, grabbing him around the waist and
hugging him fiercely. "Don’t even think it. We can’t lose you, Harry."

"Don’t be stupid, Hermione," Harry said, finally looking at her
directly. "We both know it’s a very real possibility. Look at what
happened to Dumbledore’s hand while he was after these things. This
isn’t a game, and I’m not nearly the wizard he was. It’s more than
likely I’m going to die, but so help me God, I’m taking him with me
when I do."

"Don’t!" Hermione pleaded, her voice choked.

"Hermione," Harry said gently, hating the tears that were streaming
down her cheeks. He never did well with crying girls. "Let’s just take
this one step at a time. It’s the only way I’m able to keep going
forward. Ginny is a distraction — a very pleasant distraction — that I
can’t afford."

"Then you at least enjoy yourself at this wedding. Dance with her,
drink and be merry and have a good snog if that’s what you want to do,"
Hermione said, crossing her arms across her chest.



"I can’t believe you, of all people, just said that," Harry replied,
unable to contain his laughter.

She shrugged. "If you don’t, you’ll have no right to complain if
someone else does."

"What does that mean?" Harry asked warily. The beast within his chest
that had curled up in misery at the end of term suddenly raised its
head and breathed fire.

"Well, Ginny told me that the two groomsmen are Charlie and Fleur’s
cousin, Jean-Luc. Fleur has been making no secret of the fact that she
wants to pair Ginny up with Jean-Luc," Hermione said, her nose slightly
in the air.

"What? What does Ginny think about this?" Harry asked indignantly. His
monster was snarling. No prancing Frenchman was getting anywhere near
his Ginny without her permission.

Unless…Harry’s insides suddenly went cold. What if Ginny wanted the
attention? He felt the beast whimper and curl its tail inward.

"Oh, Harry. You know Ginny. She won’t be pushed into doing anything she
doesn’t want to do, especially by Fleur. But she’s hurting, too,
and…well…Ginny has been known to be spiteful on occasion," Hermione
said, somewhat apologetically.

Harry’s heart constricted so tightly that he thought he might
asphyxiate himself. He clenched his fists, knowing there was nothing he
could do. He’d brought this on himself, and if he thought a girl like
Ginny wouldn’t have a string of other suitors waiting in line, then he
was being foolish. He felt as if all the air had been let out of his

Harry shut his eyes, his head slumping forward.

"It gets worse," Hermione said, shifting as she made herself more

He opened his eyes wearily. "How could it possibly get any worse,
Hermione? Unless you’re about to tell me there is some wizarding custom
that all the attendants in a bridal party have to snog each other in
front of witnesses, as well."

Hermione sniggered. "Actually, this concerns you. Ginny said that Fleur
plans on having you entertain Gabrielle during the reception."

Harry blinked several times, nonplussed. "Huh?"

"You know, her little sister?"

"I know who she is Hermione, but isn’t she around ten?" Harry asked.

"Eleven, actually. I wonder if she’ll be starting at Beauxbatons in
September. I read that other wizarding schools–"


"What? Oh…right, Gabrielle."

"Eleven. Do I really come off as being that desperate?" Harry asked,

Hermione giggled. "Of course not, Harry, but evidently Gabrielle has
had a major crush on you since the Second Task. Fleur wants to make her
dream come true by having you be her dance partner."

"Great. I don’t suppose it occurred to her to ask me how I felt about
this?" Harry asked, feeling nettled

"You know how it is with Fleur. How other people feel about anything
has never been one of her top priorities," Hermione said, sniffling
Harry rubbed his forehead roughly. He could feel a headache beginning
in his temples. "Well, she can forget it. I’m not jumping because Fleur
says jump."

Hermione snorted. "Oh, ho. Now you sound just like Ginny. Besides,
Harry, you can get as angry as you want. We all know you’ll never hurt
that little girl’s feelings. So, if you really don’t want to spend the
evening as her escort, I suggest you get it straightened out with Fleur

"Oh, I can see that conversation. I know it’s your wedding day and all,
but I really don’t want to child-mind your sister, so please make other
arrangements. As if I’m not already high on the list of cads to the
Weasleys, anyway," Harry said, rolling his eyes dramatically.

"No one thinks you’re a cad, Harry. Although Fred and George do find
the idea of you being Gabrielle’s date highly amusing," Hermione
replied, sniggering.

"I’ll just bet they do. Did Ginny have any other little bombshells to
drop, or is that enough for one day?" Harry asked, in a right foul mood

"Other than her complete misery of being apart from you, you mean?"
Hermione asked, blinking innocently.

"Hermione," Harry said, irritated.

"Okay, okay. She did say she thinks there is something dodgy going on
at Grimmauld Place. Her mum has been very secretive about it, of
course, but the Order seems to have come into a lot of information
recently. She’s heard fragments of several conversations about a guest
staying there."

"A guest at Grimmauld Place? Who do you suppose it could be?" Harry
asked, leaning forward with interest.

"I don’t know, Harry. Why don’t you ask? It is your house, after all,"
Hermione said, frowning slightly.

"Yeah. Yeah, it’s my house. If I want to know who is staying there,
they should tell me. I have every right to know," Harry said, warming
to the idea

"Of course you do, but since when has that ever stopped them?"

Harry set his mouth grimly. "Well, that all changes now."

"I know you don’t want to tell the Order about the Horcruxes, Harry,
but don’t alienate them, either. There might come a time when we need
their help. You know you can trust Remus and Professor McGonagall and
all the Weasleys, at least," Hermione said.

Harry knew that Hermione’s first instinct was always to go to someone
in a position of authority, but Harry felt that if Dumbledore hadn’t
told the Order about the Horcruxes then there must have been a reason.
He wasn’t about to second-guess that decision.

"I’ll work with the Order, but I’m not telling them anything about our
mission. They had no problem stringing me along for the past few years;
let’s see how they enjoy having the shoe on the other foot."

Hermione frowned and bit the corner of her lip but didn’t argue with
him for once.

"Don’t worry, Hermione. If Dumbledore didn’t tell them, he must have
had a good reason."

This seemed to make Hermione feel better about the situation. "Let’s go
downstairs and see about dinner. Ron should be done with his work by
now and will be wondering where we’ve gone.

"You go on down. I’m going to take a shower, and I’ll meet you in the

"Harry — "

"I just need a few minutes to steady myself before seeing her, all
right, Hermione?" he said, looking at his feet.

"I wish it didn’t have to be this way," Hermione said quietly.

"I do, too. Believe me; I do, too."

When Harry came downstairs a good while later, he headed straight for
the kitchen, certain he’d find a crowd of Weasleys there. What he
hadn’t anticipated was hearing the low murmur of voices coming from the
sitting room as he walked past. The sound of his own name caught his
attention, and he stopped to hear what was being said.

He had to squint against the dimness of the room, but he could just
make out Ron and Hermione sitting on the couch at the far end of the
room and speaking in hushed tones. Ron had his arm draped casually over
the back of the couch, and Hermione was nestled in the crook. They were
stuffing little gift boxes with chocolates — for the wedding, Harry
assumed — but it looked as if they were eating more than they were
packaging. Harry had to grin, watching them.

"So, he’s upset, and she’s upset. How is that different from anyone
else in this bloody house? Someone is always upset." Ron said, scowling

"It’s more than being upset, Ron. They’re both miserable, and I don’t
know what to do about it," Hermione replied, gently swiping a bit of
chocolate from Ron’s mouth with her finger.

"Maybe it isn’t up to you to do something," Ron said, his voice

"I know you think he’s right to keep her out of it, Ron…but what if
he’s wrong?" Hermione said, resting her head on the back of the couch.

"What do you mean? How is trying to keep her safe wrong?" Ron asked,

"Because she’s not safe, no matter what he does. And he might be the
one who’s in more danger without her. You saw how happy he was when
they were together. How long has it been since you’ve seen Harry that
way? Even his marks improved."

Ron shrugged. "Not everything is about marks, Hermione."

"I didn’t say it was," she snapped, sounding a little hurt. "Ron, don’t
you see what’s going on?"


"Harry’s had a tough life, and not many things have truly gone right
for him. Ginny is just about the best thing that ever happened to him.
She made him happy, and he’s willing to give her and all that up in
order to rid the world of Voldemort so all the rest of us can be safe.

"Ginny has loved Harry since before she even knew what love was. She
stood on the sidelines and watched him struggle, even moving on herself
rather than forcing her feelings on him. When they finally came
together and acknowledged their feelings for each other, it was like
every dream Ginny ever had coming true. Now, she’s willingly giving him
and all her dreams up, because she knows the rest of our lives depend
on his success, and he’d never be able to live with himself if he
didn’t try.

"Don’t you see? They are so alike it’s painful. It’s like that
Christmas story," Hermione cried.

Ron wore a stunned expression. "What?"

"You know, that old Christmas story about the man who wanted to buy a
present for his wife, and he sold the only thing of value he owned —
his father’s pocket watch — to buy her a hair clip for her long
beautiful hair. Meanwhile, the wife cut her hair and sold it in order
to earn enough money to buy a gold chain for the man’s watch.

"It’s beautiful and so romantic in a bittersweet sort of way," Hermione
said, smiling sadly.

"You mean they both ended up with a present they couldn’t use?" Ron
asked, horrified.

"Oh, Ron. That’s not the point," Hermione snapped. "They ended up with
each other."

Harry pulled back sharply and blindly stumbled for the kitchen. He sat
down on a stool, breathing heavily. Was that what he and Ginny were
doing? Each one sacrificing what was most important to them for the
greater good? And would both of them end up with nothing in the end?

He had never wanted to make Ginny suffer. He put his head down and ran
his fingers through his hair.

I don’t know.
He’d never considered it as any sort of noble act; he just wanted to
keep her safe. Harry was beginning to think there was no way to do


He looked up to find Mrs. Weasley standing in the doorway. She was
looking at him with concern over finding him sitting alone in the dark.

"Are you all right, dear?" she asked kindly.

"Yes, Mrs. Weasley. I’m fine."

"Well, I suppose you’d say that even if you weren’t fine."

Harry grinned sheepishly. "Guilty as charged."

Mrs. Weasley poured a glass of cold pumpkin juice and placed in front
of him. She sat down in the seat next to him and took his hand in her
own. "The one thing in this world that always seems to be in short
supply is love, yet it’s the one thing that grows and multiplies the
most when shared. We should never throw away a chance to have more of
it in our lives. "

Harry looked up into Mrs. Weasley’s eyes and found only warmth and
compassion there. He felt his own eyes fill and blinked furiously in
order to hold back the tears that suddenly wanted to fall. "I’m just
trying to do what’s right, Mrs. Weasley."

"I know you are, dear," she said gently, rising up from the table and
kissing him on the head. "She knows it, too."

Harry nodded silently as Mrs. Weasley pushed a piece of warm bread into
his hands. "That should hold you until dinner. We’ll be eating out in
the garden tonight. There will be more room out there. Be a love and go
ahead and start setting the table for me, would you, dear?"

As soon as he went outside, Harry knew he’d been set up. Ginny was
already there, placing napkins next to each of the plates. Harry
gathered the silverware and began helping her to set the table.

"Let me guess — Mum sent you out here?" she asked without raising her
eyes from the table. The low, husky quality in her voice sent a shiver
up his spine.

"Yeah," he replied.

They worked in silence for a few moments, working in tandem to set each
place setting. Finally, Harry couldn’t take the strained silence
anymore. "It’s good to see you, Ginny."

"Is it?" Ginny asked dully.

Harry swallowed. "You have no idea."
"Why did you allow Ron and Hermione to go with you? They’re going with
you again, aren’t they? When you go off to do the thing you’re going to
do," Ginny said, turning to face him and placing her hands on her hips.


"You said you had things to do alone now. Ron and Hermione being with
you isn’t actually alone."

"No. They never listen to me."

"Maybe I shouldn’t have listened, either," Ginny said, her eyes
glistening brightly.

"Ginny– "

"No. I shouldn’t have said that. I know you’re only doing what you have
to do, and I know it isn’t any easier on you. That doesn’t always
help," she said, her shoulders slumping.

"I know," he replied, his heart aching. She was absolutely right, but
he had no idea what he could say to make it better for her, aside from
the one thing she wanted to hear. And that was the one thing he
couldn’t — shouldn’t — do.

"So, what happens now? With us, I mean. Do we just go on and pretend
nothing has ever changed?" Ginny asked.

"I dunno. Can you do that? ‘Cause I really don’t think I can," Harry
said honestly.

Ginny shrugged her shoulders. "I’ll do what I have to do."

"You always do," he said, trying to smile.

"Yeah. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck."

Harry snorted. "No. It does that."

They were interrupted by the arrival of the rest of the Weasley clan,
along with Fleur, Hermione, and Ekaterina, Charlie’s Romanian
girlfriend. She had long, straight dark hair that hung well below her
waist and dark eyes that appeared to study them all intently. She was
as opposite to Fleur in coloring as she could be, yet equally

"You are Harry Potter," she said in a thick accent, reaching out to
shake his hand.

"Yes, I am," Harry said, lowering his eyes.

"I am honored to meet you. I have heard stories of you since I was a
little girl," she said.

Harry felt his face burn, and he longed to be anywhere else. He noticed
Ginny biting the inside of her cheek to keep from laughing.
"Come on, Katia. You’re embarrassing the kid. Leave him alone," Charlie
said, chuckling and tugging on his girlfriend’s hand.

Ginny giggled. "You’ve never got used to that, have you?"

Harry shrugged. "I wish just once someone would say, ‘Hullo, Harry.
Nice to meet you,’ and leave it at that."

Ginny grinned and stuck out her hand. "Hullo, Harry. Nice to meet you."

"Ha, ha."

"Oh, ‘Arry. ‘E iz still zo ‘umble," Fleur said, increasing Harry’s
embarrassment. "’Ee weel ‘ave all ze girls lining up to dance wiz ‘im
at ze reception."

"As long as he saves one for me," Ginny said, and Harry could hear the
hard edge in her voice. She was challenging him.

"I can do that," he said, locking his eyes on hers and raising an

"But, Ginny. Don’t go promising all your dances before ze wedding.
Jean-Luc is zo anxious to meet you. You may find yourself wishing you
had a free dance card," Fleur said, waggling her finely arched

"I think I can manage my own dance partners, thank you, Fleur," Ginny
said through gritted teeth.

"But of course you can," Fleur replied, waving her hand dismissively.
"I just zink you will be pleazed when you meet ‘im."

"I’m certain I’ll be happy to meet all your family, Fleur," Ginny said

Harry had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep from bursting into
laughter. She sounded so sincere, yet he could hear the snide quality
in her voice. His inner monster was dancing an intricate waltz with the
knowledge that she wasn’t going to let herself be set up with Jean-Luc.
Harry hated his name just on principle.

Of course, that same monster had been snarling in fury just moments ago
when Fleur had been attempting to play matchmaker for his Ginny.

He had to stop thinking like that. She wasn’t his Ginny anymore.

"Fleur, my love, you have to stop worrying about everyone else’s dance
partners," Bill said, wrapping his arms around Fleur’s waist and
nuzzling her neck. "You only have to think about sharing all your
dances with me."

Fleur’s eyes softened as she turned to rub her nose against Bill’s.
Harry turned away in embarrassment and walked towards the other end of
the table.
"They’re sicky sweet, aren’t they? I hope they cool off after they’ve
had a honeymoon," Ginny said, wrinkling her nose. "Maybe regular
shagging will help."


"What? Come on, Harry. They’ve been living here with Mum, who has
impropriety detectors hooked up in every room. All that sexual tension
has to be released somewhere," Ginny said.

Harry didn’t know if she was joking or not, and he stared at her
uncertainly. "Er."

"Oh, I’ll be so happy when this wedding is finally over," she

He didn’t know what possessed him, but he couldn’t stop the words from
coming out. "Yeah, and maybe you and Jean-Luc will hit it off
splendidly and dance the night away. You’d better keep your mum’s
detectors in mind then."

He knew he was in trouble before the words had even finished leaving
his mouth.

"Don’t worry, I know my way around them," Ginny said, her voice rising
angrily. "What’s it to you, anyway? The idea is to not let anyone know
there was ever anything between us, right? Maybe kicking up my heels
with a handsome Frenchman is a good way to get that rumor moving."

"Wouldn’t know. Why don’t you try it?" Harry replied, his own anger

"Maybe I will," Ginny snapped, her eyes suspiciously bright.



Harry turned on his heel and stomped away from the table. He knew his
and Ginny’s raised voices had attracted the attention of several of the
others, but he didn’t really care at the moment. He stopped at the
front of the Burrow and took several deep breaths. None of the Dursleys
had managed to get this much of a rise out of him in the entire
fortnight he’d spent there. How did she manage to do it three times in
the space of a few short hours?

Damn, she can get under my skin.

Harry noticed a fat little garden gnome munching on one of Mrs.
Weasley’s prize rose bushes right out in the open without even making
an attempt at concealment. With his Seeker reflexes, Harry’s hand shot
out and grabbed the little gnome around its middle. Winding up and
releasing some of his anger and frustration as he did, Harry flung the
creature and watched as it sailed over the fence, screaming all the

That felt good.

Harry began searching for gnomes in earnest and releasing some of his
pent up frustration by cleaning them out of the garden. He wasn’t
certain how long he’d been there — long enough to work up quite a sweat
— when Ron joined him. His ears were a deep magenta, and he was a
scowling fiercely.

Harry silently handed him a struggling gnome. Ron looked at the ugly
little creature for a moment without saying a word, then, with a snarl,
he tossed it well past the garden gate.

"Nice one," Harry said appreciatively.

They tossed a few more gnomes in silence before Harry finally asked.
"What set you off?"

"Have you seen the guest list for this wedding?" Ron asked, tossing
another gnome.

"Er, yeah, Ron. It was the first thing I did when I got here," Harry
said sarcastically. "How was I supposed to have seen the guest list?
Why? What’s wrong with the guest list?"

"Turns out you and Fleur aren’t the only former Tri-wizard champions
who will be attending," Ron said, viciously swinging a gnome in the


"Viktor Krum, Harry. Vicky was invited, and he responded that of course
he’d be here and looked forward to catching up with old friends. I’ll
just bet I know who he’s really looking forward to catching," Ron spat.

"Ron. Fleur and Viktor competed together in a grueling competition. We
bonded in a weird sort of way. It only makes sense that we’d all be
here together when one gets married," Harry said, not quite believing
he was actually saying it.

"Cedric won’t be here," Ron said testily.

Harry flinched.

"Sorry," Ron said quickly. "It’s not your fault. It just hacks me off."

"Yeah, I noticed."

"You’re one to talk. I saw you go storming out of the back garden.
Ginny looked like she was about to cry," Ron said, crossing his arms
across his chest.

Harry flinched again. If he’d felt bad before, he felt ruddy awful now.
Maybe letting Ron and his brothers clobber him would help.

"Don’t worry. She’ll be all right; Mum will see to it. A few of my
brothers might be ready to hex you, though, so I’d watch your back,"
Ron said.
Harry looked at Ron with some apprehension. He raised an eyebrow but
didn’t voice the question.

"No, I’m not angry with you. You’re just as upset as she is; you just
hide it better. Hermione told me," Ron said, smirking.

"Remind me to tell Hermione I owe her one," Harry said, tossing another

"You’ll work it out. Both you and Ginny are more resilient than most
people are. You’re more resilient than me, anyway. Hermione told me
that, too. It’ll all work out in the end, though; I’m certain of it.
Maybe we can hex Vicky and Jean-Lucifer into fancying each other," Ron
said, only half-joking.

"Maybe Jean-Lucifer is just what Ginny needs," Harry said despondently,
unable to resist using Ron’s nickname.

"Don’t be stupid. What Ginny needs is you, same as you need her. I know
my little sister, Harry. She didn’t spend how many years waiting for
you only to give up now that you’re finally paying attention. Ginny’s
way more tenacious than that," Ron said, shaking his head.

Harry smiled, feeling a little better.

"What’s going on between you and Hermione, Ron? Are you together or
not?" Harry asked, not entirely certain he wanted to know. Still, Ron
had made him feel better; he should at least try to do the same.

Ron was quiet for a few minutes. "I think so. I mean…we never actually
said anything, but…after Dumbledore’s funeral…it just all sort of
clicked, you know? We didn’t have to say anything."

"Er, Ron. I think maybe you do have to say something. This is Hermione
we’re talking about. She likes words," Harry said, grimacing.

"You think?" Ron asked, looking dumbfounded.

"Yeah, I do," Harry replied confidently.

"Bloody Hell."

Harry snorted. "After all this time, you’d think we would have figured
out what we’re doing."

"You’d think so, wouldn’t you?" Ron asked, handing Harry another gnome.



Chapter Four

Until Death Do Us Part

The day of the wedding dawned bright and glorious. Harry was awoken at
what felt to him to be an ungodly hour by the chirping of birds. The
sun streaming in from the cracks of the blinds in Ron’s attic bedroom
pierced his skull with a fierce, unforgiving intensity. The ruddy
twittering was driving him mad.

Harry had been to his first stag party the previous evening, and even
the sobering charm that Mrs. Weasley had performed on them all before
ushering them off to bed hadn’t stopped the pounding of his head this
morning. He had a vague feeling of unease, but he wasn’t certain if it
was only due to the nauseating headache.

It had been one of the strangest weeks in Harry’s life, and that was
saying something. The Burrow – a hub for chaos and activity under
normal circumstances – was the center of operations for the upcoming
nuptials. If Mrs. Weasley had appeared frazzled to Harry over the
previous years while working with the Order, it was nothing to her
state while preparing this wedding.

The Delacour family had arrived two days ago with more trunks and
belongings than a small army should rightfully own. The ceremony itself
was to take place in the meadow where Harry had played Quidditch with
Ron and his family on many occasions. Therefore, the Delacour family
took over the other side of the garden, where they had erected a large
tent surrounded by lush flowerbeds.

Harry had never seen anything quite like it, even at the Quidditch
World Cup. The tent was more like a castle – with peaks and turrets –
and bore the French flag on the top. The area surrounding the tent
blossomed with an array of exotic plants and flowers, and a small
fountain appeared in a newly formed pond.

If Mrs. Weasley was stressed, it was nothing compared to the state of
Mrs. Delacour. Harry had yet to hear her speak in anything but a shout,
and he’d noticed Mr. Delacour liberally filling her tea with some oak-
matured mead on more than one occasion.

Bill and Fleur appeared oblivious to all the fuss and merely floated in
and out of the chaos with the sappiest expressions upon their faces.
Fleur had moved out of the Burrow, where she’d been staying, and in
with her own family, leaving Ginny, Hermione and Ekaterina sharing one
room. Harry supposed that Ginny liked Ekaterina better than Fleur,
because the tautness in her face had lessened considerably after the
French girl’s departure.

Since their blow up in the back garden nearly a week ago, the tension
between Ginny and him had been so thick it could be cut with a knife.
They had taken great pains either to act overly civil to one another or
to avoid each other entirely. Ginny again proved her accomplished
acting ability by easily pretending that nothing was wrong, treating
Harry as no more and no less than Ron’s visiting friend. She was civil,
polite and frustratingly distant. It was only on brief, rare occasions
that Harry thought he caught a glimmer of something in her eyes, but
when he looked closely, it was gone.

Harry, on the other hand, was failing miserably at playing along. He
couldn’t just close off his feelings and pretend there was nothing
wrong, no matter how hard he tried, and the effort was making him
increasingly bad-tempered. It occurred to him that while he had failed
dismally at mastering Occlumency during his fifth year, Ginny would
probably be very good at it.

The presence of Jean-Luc Delacour certainly hadn’t helped matters.
Suave and debonair, Jean-Luc was everything Harry wasn’t. He was only a
year older, but he somehow managed to appear vastly more sophisticated.
He had dark hair that he wore slicked back and robes that not only fit
impeccably, but also were made of the finest material.

It gave Harry a new determination to go shopping for some Muggle
clothes of his very own and in his own size for the first time in his

Jean-Luc had kissed Ginny’s hand when he first met her, and always
seemed to know the right thing to say or had some witty response to
everything said to him.

Harry felt as if he were tongue-tied in comparison.

All the women in the house were fawning over Jean-Luc, and Harry had
memories of being back in fourth year and trying to compete against
Cedric to get a date to the Yule Ball. The only consolation was that
none of the other Weasley brothers cared much for Jean-Luc, either. Ron
acted out overly exaggerated imitations of his prancing ways, and Harry
suspected the twins were devising a major prank.

Couldn’t happen to a nicer bloke, Harry thought savagely.

Despite her brothers’ obvious disapproval – or maybe because of it –
Ginny appeared quite enamoured with the dashing Frenchman. Every time
Harry saw her, she was with him, laughing at his stupid jokes or
listening intently to whatever it was he had to say. Harry had seen her
take his arm on several occasions, and he appeared to take every
opportunity to place his ruddy hands upon her waist.

The monster in Harry’s chest had been roaring with such intensity that
Harry was shocked no one else could hear it. He’d been in a right foul
mood, and most of the Weasleys had been giving him a wide berth because
of it. The only one who apparently wasn’t bothered at all by his foul
disposition was Gabrielle Delacour. She’d become Harry’s shadow,
following him nearly everywhere and helping him with whichever task
Mrs. Weasley or Mrs. Delacour assigned to him.

Gabrielle chatted incessantly as they worked, and Harry hadn’t yet
found a way to disengage himself from her presence. She followed him,
laughed at nothing, and then blushed the deepest shade of Weasley red
if he happened to answer one of her endless questions. He remembered
when Ginny had a crush on him, back in his second year, but that had
been different somehow. Ginny had never been this annoying.

It was as if he were assigned Colin Creevey as a Potions partner, only
with more giggling. The only slight positive to the whole situation was
that Fleur had stopped pushing Harry to entertain Gabrielle. It was as
if ever since Harry and Ginny’s shouting match in the back garden,
Fleur had a new pet project. She purposely arranged tasks and insisted
that both he and Ginny needed to work on them together.
Harry would have been eternally grateful to her if the circumstances
been different, but spending time with Ginny while she was acting
coolly polite and detached was nearly driving him to distraction.

Hence the reason he’d imbibed so much at the stag party the previous

It had started innocently enough. Charlie had gathered all the Weasley
brothers (minus Percy), Harry, Jean-Luc, Mr. Weasley and Mr. Delacour,
and they had Apparated to a private room at the Leaky Cauldron. Remus,
Mad-Eye Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt and several other members of the
Order had met them there, along with some of Bill’s co-workers and old

Harry had taken a seat with Ron in a corner, somewhat distanced from
the rest of the crowd. He’d been happy enough with his cold Butterbeer
when Charlie approached their table with a bottle of Firewhiskey and
added a shot to his and Ron’s drinks. Harry hadn’t yet tried the
legendary drink and was quite keen to oblige. It burned going down, and
he spluttered and coughed until he got used to it.

He’d only intended on trying it and leaving it at that, but he’d ended
up taking a fair share of ribbing over being the only bloke there still
underage. He felt he had something to prove, particularly to Jean-
Lucifer, whom the alcohol didn’t appear to be affecting at all.

He had soon found it very difficult to string words together clearly –
more difficult even than he normally did – and he wasn’t quite certain
how he’d got back to the Burrow at the end of the night.

Which was how he’d ended up lying here on the camp bed in Ron’s
sickeningly orange room, trying to decide if he had the energy to cast
a Reducto spell on the sun.

“Bloody hell,” Ron groaned from beneath the covers on his bed.

Harry tried to sit up but ended up falling back onto his pillow and
swearing. “I am never drinking Firewhiskey again as long as I live,” he
moaned. “Whose brilliant idea was that, anyway?”

“I think it was yours, mate,” Ron replied, and his voice sounded
abnormally loud in the stillness of the room.

“Good morning, boys,” Hermione’s voice trilled as she pushed open the
door and entered Ron’s room, grinning merrily. Both boys cringed and
pulled away.

“Oh, it’s a perfect day for a wedding. Mrs. Weasley has breakfast
ready. Come on, get up. The guests will be arriving soon, and you need
to be dressed in order to greet them.”

“Hermione,” Ron groaned, rolling over and pulling the covers up over
his head. “It’s only the crack of dawn.”

“Nonsense,” Hermione said, pulling the covers off him completely and
then turning and doing the same to Harry. “It’s almost ten o’clock.
Everyone else is up and has been for quite some time. Ginny, Fleur and
Gabrielle have already left to have their hair done.”

“Left where?” Harry asked, suddenly interested. He grabbed his blanket
back from Hermione to cover his bare chest.

“Oh. They Apparated to some cousin of Fleur’s in London. Ron, your
mother is going to be up here in a minute if you don’t get up,”
Hermione said.

“My head,” Ron moaned.

“Oh!” Hermione said, starting. She pulled two phials from the pocket of
her dressing gown. “Here. Your mum said to give these to you to help
clear your heads.”

Harry took the phial eagerly and downed the contents, wincing at the
taste. His mind cleared instantly, and the throbbing in his temples

“Why didn’t you say that bit first?” he asked irritably. Now that he
could think, he realized he still had that distinctly uneasy feeling.
He suspected it had something to do with his hangover, along with his
apprehension over having to spend the day watching Jean-Luc fawning
over Ginny. Still, the prickling on the back of his neck caused him
some concern. He’d have to remain alert. He wasn’t about to let
anything spoil this wedding for the Weasleys.


Several hours later, Harry found himself dressed in his stylish gray
dress robes and helping Ron and the twins escort guests to their seats
out in the meadow. Rows and rows of white chairs were set up in a
semicircle around a white gazebo adorned with more white roses than
Harry had ever seen. Aunt Petunia would have been beside herself at the
lushness of the blooms.

Viktor Krum’s arrival caused Ron’s eyes to narrow and his ears to grow
red, despite the fact that Viktor arrived with a stunning blonde beauty
on his arm. Harry hurried over to greet them and escort them to their
seats before Ron could make a scene. Viktor did ask about Hermione, but
Harry chose not to mention that fact to Ron.

When the wedding began, Harry went to take a seat towards the back of
all the rows, but Ron grabbed him and dragged him to sit with him and
Hermione in one of the rows reserved for all the Weasleys. Harry felt
oddly touched.

He honestly didn’t remember much of the ceremony after Ginny walked
down the aisle. Gabrielle had walked down first, wearing gold dress
robes with a bit of a ruffle and lacing up the front. The sleeves
rested on her shoulders, and she wore a gold shawl draped across the
top. Her golden curls were piled heavily atop her head, and even Harry
had to admit she looked thoroughly charming.

Ginny followed next, and Harry felt his mouth go dry. He couldn’t even
manage to swallow. The gold robes, while pretty on Gabrielle, looked
stunning on Ginny. They appeared to hug every curve, and Harry would
have been hard pressed to drag his eyes away if Voldemort had chosen
that moment to attack. Her hair was curled softly and piled into an
intricate pattern of plaits atop her head with thin wisps surrounding
her face. She’d tied the shawl more closely around her than Gabrielle
had done, but even with it there Harry could tell the sleeves on the
robes bared her shoulders completely.

She was stunning, and he was lost.

The ceremony commenced, and he supposed Bill and Fleur had said their I
do’s at some point. Honestly, however, Harry hadn’t been aware of
anything else but the shine of the sun on Ginny’s fiery hair, and the
pink lipstick she wore on her softly smiling lips. He watched several
times in fascination as Ginny’s small tongue darted out to moisten
them, making the lipstick shine.

Before he knew what was happening, Bill and Fleur were kissing one
another, and small white doves flew from all the trees surrounding the

“Now, let’s get this party started,” Fred said, slapping George on the

“Right, brother mine. We promised to dance with each and every one of
Fleur’s friends. I, for one, took that promise as a personal oath,”
George replied.

Harry rolled his eyes and followed them to the area where tents had
been set up holding tables of food and drink. He took a seat with Ron
and Hermione and wasn’t surprised to find Gabrielle at his elbow almost

“Oh, there iz an empty zeat right next to me, ‘Arry,” the young girl
said eagerly, patting the chair beside her.

Gritting his teeth and ignoring Ron’s snigger, Harry sat down. Ron and
Hermione sat across from him, looking extremely cozy. Fred and George
were up and already instructing the band by the dance floor in the
middle of the tent.

Bill and Fleur were seated at a table for two at the front of the tent,
with Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and Mr. and Mrs. Delacour occupying a table
to their right. Harry sat with the other Weasley siblings and Gabrielle
at a table on the left of the happy couple. Harry looked up in time to
see Ginny and Jean-Luc taking the remaining seats at his table.

Harry’s eyes locked on Ginny’s for a moment as she sat down, and he was
unable to pull them away. She was wearing make-up on her eyes that made
them look kind of smoky and unbelievably sexy. He didn’t remember ever
seeing her wearing more than lipstick at school.

“Let me pour you zome of zis wine, Ginny,” Jean-Luc said, and it
sounded like he was caressing her name.

Harry’s beast snarled crossly.
“Thank you, Jean-Luc,” Ginny replied sweetly.

Scowling, Harry took a liberal drink of his own wine.

Despite all the delectable food that was offered, the dinner dragged
excruciatingly slow for Harry. Between Gabrielle’s hints about how much
she wanted to dance and Jean-Luc’s constant attentiveness to Ginny,
Harry was ready to leap on his Firebolt and dive bomb the whole affair.

The only upside was the wine that had made him pleasantly warm. He’d
quickly forgotten his promise of just that morning never to imbibe
again. Even a hangover would feel better than the way he felt at the

When he finished his dessert, he thought he’d managed to make it
through the evening. He’d planned on slipping away from the festivities
quietly and making it an early night. They were leaving for Godric’s
Hollow in the morning, and he wanted to be well rested.

That plan changed when Jean-Luc asked Ginny to dance. She nodded
brightly and turned around. Looking directly into Harry’s eyes with
something he thought looked like a challenge, she allowed the shawl
that she’d been wearing to drop from her shoulders.

Harry gulped as his mouth went dry. He felt as if all the air in his
lungs had been forced out of him. The neckline of Ginny’s dress
suddenly appeared much lower than the modest cut of Gabrielle’s, and
Ginny’s bosom looked as if it were barely being contained. Her robes no
longer looked as if they had been made for a little girl at all.

Harry’s jaw dropped open, and he wasn’t even been aware of it until
Hermione elbowed him sharply in the ribs. Ginny’s eyes sparkled with

Jean-Luc, of course, handled the situation with much more grace than
Harry had managed. He leaned over and whispered something in Ginny’s
ear, causing her to blush and look toward her feet. In doing so, she
missed the appreciative look the Frenchman cast down her cleavage.

Harry didn’t miss it, however, and jumped to his feet.

Once again, it was Hermione who held him back. “Don’t make a scene,
Harry,” she hissed.

Harry glared at her. “Did you see where he was looking?” he demanded

“Yes. The same place you were looking. Honestly, Harry. It’s called a
push-up bra,” Hermione said, her cheeks turning pink.

“What the bloody hell has Ginny done to herself?” Ron demanded, finally
finding his voice after Ginny and Jean-Luc had walked onto the dance
floor. “That…that doesn’t look like my baby sister, and I don’t want
all these blokes looking at that.”

“Would you lower your voice,” Hermione snapped. “Ginny wanted something
to make her dress robes look less childlike, so I told her what to get.
It’s a Muggle thing, and it’s designed to take what you’ve got and…push
it all up a bit.”

“A bit?” Ron demanded furiously.

“Never mind your sister, Ron. She can take care of herself. Besides,
she’s only dancing amidst the presence of her entire family. Speaking
of dancing, I believe you promised me one,” Hermione said, raising an

Ron gulped but held out his hand and escorted her onto the floor, still
throwing murderous glances towards Ginny and Jean-Luc.

Scowling, Harry turned on his heel and stormed away from the table.
While Charlie was watching Ginny closely, Ekaterina was smiling
knowingly at Harry, and he couldn’t stand it. He saw Remus standing
with Tonks near one of the bars and walked over to join them.

“Wotcher, Harry,” Tonks said. She was wearing bright fuchsia robes with
a hair color to match. Harry was happy to see that both her
Metamorphmagus abilities as well as her relationship with Remus
appeared to be back on track. The couple was nearly beaming. Despite
the sting he felt from the mess his own relationship with Ginny had
become, he was pleased the fates appeared to be smiling on his former

“Hi, Tonks. Hello, Remus,” Harry said, shaking the older man’s hand.

“What’s the matter, kid? You look like you just lost your best friend,”
Tonks said with concern.

Harry shrugged. “I’m all right.”

Remus’s eyes scanned the dance floor and came to rest on the glittering
figure in gold with the fiery red hair. “Ah. I see,” he said, before
handing Harry a shot of Firewhiskey.

Harry raised his eyebrow.

“Sirius always said it helped to take the edge off,” Remus said,
raising his own glass. He and Harry clinked their glasses together
before tipping back the shots.

“How are things going at headquarters?” Harry asked once his eyes had
stopped streaming.

He noticed the furtive glance that passed between the two Order members
before Tonks answered. “Busy. There has been a lot happening.”

“Like what?” Harry demanded. “I know someone’s staying there that
you’re protecting.”

The last statement was merely a shot in the dark, but it appeared to
hit its mark. “Not here, Harry,” Remus said, speaking in a low voice.
“We can talk about it another time in a more secure location.”
As he spoke with Remus and Tonks, Harry’s eyes kept glancing
surreptitiously at the dance floor. He watched as Ginny danced with
several partners in addition to Jean-Luc, although he appeared at her
side more often than not. She looked as if she were having the time of
her life. He hadn’t known she could dance so well. If it weren’t for
the fact that Jean-Luc was out there with her, he would have enjoyed
watching her.

The monster in his chest was screaming at him to go out there and ask
her to dance, but he held back. He couldn’t do that. If he went near
her now, he’d be lost, and he knew it. It was better for her and all
involved if he kept his distance and allowed her to move on with her

He just wished it didn’t have to hurt so much.

As Tonks turned to speak with someone from the Ministry, Remus leaned
over to speak softly in Harry’s ear. “If she won’t leave your thoughts
even when you try to keep her away, perhaps the answer lies in keeping
her closer to your heart.”

Harry sighed, still staring at Ginny as she danced. “I wish it were
that simple.”

“Sometimes it is,” Remus said mildly.

“It’s too dangerous right now, and I don’t want to see her hurt,” Harry
replied, the standard answer suddenly sounding weak even to his own

‘Ah, I see. That old mistress Nobility appears to run strong in your
family, Harry. Your father went through a stage of wanting to protect
your mother, too. He didn’t want her involved in the Order or fighting
Voldemort, but he finally came around and allowed her to be herself. He
realized that he fell in love with that feisty, stand-up-for-what-she-
believed-in girl, and then he asked her to change. That wasn’t really
fair to either of them,” Remus said, taking another drink.

“Is that what I’m doing?” Harry asked, shocked. He’d never quite looked
at it that way. Of course his parents had both been involved in the
fight against Voldemort. The prophecy had said they’d defied him three
times. His mother was in the Order, the same as his father, yet he’d
still tried to protect her when Voldemort had first arrived at Godric’s
Hollow. How had he reconciled the two such opposing desires?

“It would be highly unfair if Ginny locks away her true personality in
order to support your quest, only to have you fall out of love with her
because she’s no longer the same girl with whom you fell in love in the
first place,” Remus said.

“That would never happen,” Harry stated firmly.

“I feel like a hypocrite giving you this advice, Harry, considering my
actions of the past year,” Remus said, wincing. “But take it from a man
who knows where you’re coming from, you’re much stronger and a more
able wizard with her than without her.”
Harry sipped his wine, mulling over Remus’s words. Hadn’t he said
himself that he’d never felt stronger than that brief time he and Ginny
were together? Hadn’t his own parents decided that living and loving
were worth all the risk?

“Come on, Harry. Let’s dust off your dancing shoes,” Tonks said,
grabbing his hand and dragging him onto the floor. He danced with
Tonks, Mrs. Weasley, Hermione and even Fleur before insisting he needed
a break.

A disturbance near the entrance of the tent caught his attention, and
he walked over to investigate. Fred and George stood there with arms
akimbo, glaring at Percy, who was standing at the entrance, looking
extremely uncomfortable. With him stood the Minister of Magic, dressed
in his finery and bearing gifts. Harry was reminded of a similar scene
this past Christmas.

“What are you doing here, Percy?” Ron demanded, storming across the
tent and stopping within inches of his elder brother.

“I was invited,” Percy said, lifting his nose and adjusting his

“Yeah, and you didn’t reply,” Fred spat.

“Mum had a good cry over it, as I recall,” George said.

“Unfortunately, my busy schedule didn’t allow my prompt response, and I
do apologize for my ill manners,” Percy said stiffly. “I’ve come to
deliver a gift to my eldest brother, so if you’ll excuse me...”

“Mr. Potter,” Rufus Scrimgeour said before Harry could slip away. “I
wondered if we might have a word while Percy here discusses a private
matter with his family.”

“Harry is family,” Ron snarled. “More so than this sod,” he said,
jerking his head in Percy’s direction.

“Percy? Is that you?” Mrs. Weasley cried, interrupting them all. “Oh!
You did come; I knew you would. Come over and see the newlyweds. Bill
will be so happy to see you.”

As Mrs. Weasley led Percy away, Scrimgeour stared pointedly at Harry.
“A word, Mr. Potter?”

Harry crossed his arms across his chest but didn’t move away from Ron
and the twins. “We have to stop meeting like this, Minister. I suppose
old habits are hard to break.”

A flicker of annoyance crossed Scrimgeour’s face. “Things are dismal,
as I’m certain you are aware. Now that some time has passed since Albus
Dumbledore’s death, I’m wondering if you’ve taken the time to
reconsider my proposition?”

“Your proposition?”
“About Ministry protection, Harry. I’m certain you’ve read the reports
of Muggle casualties. Just last week there was another attack in Diagon
Alley, where several shops were destroyed.”

“I’m aware of them. What are you doing about them?” Harry asked.

“The Ministry is doing everything within its power—”

“Released Stan Shunpike yet?”

“That is not going to get us anywhere,” Rufus Scrimgeour said, his
voice rising slightly.

“No, what’s not getting us anywhere is your refusal to accept that I’m
not going to be your poster boy,” Harry said, snarling. “If you want my
approval for the way things are being done at the Ministry, then earn
it. Start doing what needs to be done. Skip these useless handbooks on
how to protect yourself and start teaching people something useful.
Teach them how to cast a Patronus, or how to deflect the Inferi. Stop
terrorizing people you know are innocent just to make it look like
you’re doing something.

“You can start with questioning those former suspected Death Eaters who
claimed to be under the Imperius. Hell, any Death Eater worth his salt
knows to claim he was acting under the Imperius, and you’ll release
him. The fact that Stan Shunpike never thought to claim it should tell
you he’s no Death Eater.”

“This is getting us nowhere,” Scrimgeour said irritably.

“No, and I can see from your refusal to accept some cold hard truths
that it’s not going to. You might have once wanted to help people when
you first became an Auror, but now you’re just like Fudge, more
concerned with politics and public perceptions. That isn’t the kind of
leader we need in this climate, Minister. So, you go right ahead and do
what you’ve got to do, while I’m going to go and actually get something
done,” Harry said, fuming.

“Exactly what is it you think you’re going to be doing?” Scrimgeour
asked suspiciously.

“Oh, a little of this, a little of that,” Harry replied, shrugging his

“You know what Albus Dumbledore was doing before he died, and I intend
to find out,” Scrimgeour accused, his eyes narrowing dangerously.

“As I said,” Harry replied with dead calm, “you do what you have to do.
Right now, I have a wedding to enjoy, and your presence is neither
needed nor wanted here.” With that, Harry walked away from a
spluttering and very angry Minister of Magic, Ron following closely in
his wake. Harry was amused to see Fred and George remain behind to
escort Scrimgeour from the tent.

“Whoa, Harry,” Ron said, grinning appreciatively. “You just dismissed
the Minister of Magic. I’m glad Hermione didn’t hear that, though. She
would have started hyperventilating.”

Harry smiled. “Are you two having a good time?”

“Yeah, we are,” Ron said, watching Hermione chatting with Viktor Krum.

Harry tensed, waiting for the explosion. “Ron.”

“She came here with me. She wants to be with me,” Ron said firmly,
keeping his eyes fixed on Hermione as she walked across the dance

He could hear that slight measure of uncertainty still in Ron’s voice.
Deciding to tease a bit, he asked sharply, “Did you get a nice look at
her bum?”

Ron jumped. “What? I- I- I didn’t.”

Harry couldn’t hold the stern face any longer. “You did so! I just
watched you. You can’t take the mickey out of me anymore about Ginny
unless you want to get it back about Hermione. She’s the closest thing
I’ve got to a sister, you know.”

“Sod off. Don’t let her hear you say that, either, or she’ll cry all
over you. We all know how well you handle crying girls,” Ron said,
elbowing Harry in the ribs.

Harry shoved Ron’s shoulder. “Git.”

“Would you like to dance, ‘Arry?” Gabrielle asked. She’d walked up
behind them without his noticing.

Harry groaned inwardly, while Ron sniggered.

“I’d be honored, Gabrielle,” he said gallantly, causing the young girl
to beam. He glared at Ron as he led Gabrielle onto the dance floor. As
the music played, he caught sight of Ginny, once again dancing with
Jean-Luc, and had to grit his teeth in frustration. He tried to steer
Gabrielle away from where Ginny and Jean-Luc were dancing, finding it
unbearable to watch her. Somehow, however, every few steps Gabrielle
managed to maneuver them nearly next to the chatting couple. He knew he
was the one who was supposed to be leading, but he’d never quite got
the hang of the steps.

Just as they came alongside Ginny and Jean-Luc, the music changed into
a slower song, and the couples surrounding them pulled each other

“I zink it iz time to switch partners,” Gabrielle said, shocking both
Harry and Jean-Luc. She let go of Harry and wrapped her arms around her
cousin. She said something in French as the two began to dance.

Harry and Ginny were left staring at one another.

“So, are you going to ask me to dance, or what?” Ginny asked, raising a
finely arched eyebrow. Harry could read the challenge in her eyes. She
was daring him to walk away.
Damn it all to hell, but he couldn’t do it.

“Would you care to dance with me, Ginny?” he asked hoarsely, licking
his suddenly dry lips. A thin sheen of sweat formed on his upper lip as
got a better look at the neckline of Ginny’s dress. His eyes wouldn’t
behave and kept trying to look down.

Ginny’s eyes softened as she put her small, warm hand within his own.
He wrapped his other arm around her waist and pulled her firmly against
him, inhaling the sweet, flowery scent he remembered so well.

He forgot about his feet and counting the steps and simply allowed
himself to be swept away in the moment, loving having her body pressed
against his. He ran his hand along the silky material of the dress
robes on her back and hissed involuntarily when he reached the bare
skin near her shoulders.

“You look lovely,” he whispered.

“Merlin’s Beard, Harry. Was that a compliment?” she asked, laughter
dancing in her eyes.

His eyes dipped to the cleavage that seemed to be fighting its
constraints, and he swallowed heavily. He could now feel the sweat
rolling down his back. “I suppose it was.”

Ginny smiled gently and leaned in to rest her head on Harry’s shoulder.
He shut his eyes and placed his cheek against the softness of her hair.
He had no idea how long they stood there, simply swaying to the music;
he just knew this was where he wanted to be. When Ginny finally looked
up and into his eyes, he was mesmerized by the play of lights on her
face. He leaned over slowly and her lips parted, but before he kissed
her he glanced around the room.

He suddenly realized they were the only ones still on the dance floor.
The band had taken a break, and there were several people watching with
watery eyes as the two of them swayed back and forth to phantom music.

Harry pulled back sharply, his eyes darting wildly. Ginny giggled and
hid her face against his arm. Grabbing her hand, he pulled her off the
dance floor, stopping only to grab a glass of wine for each of them,
and outside of the tent into the warm summer air. The meadow was lit
with hundreds of floating candles, and several other guests had come
outside to enjoy the slight breeze.

Harry kept ahold of Ginny’s hand as they walked across the meadow and
stopped by the pond that the Weasley children often used as a swimming
hole. Ginny leaned her back against a big old oak tree and placed both
glasses on the ground.

“Are you going to finish what you started, Harry?” she asked.

Harry knew she meant the almost-kiss on the dance floor, but his head
kept screaming that she was talking about so much more. If he did it,
if he leaned over and kissed her now, he didn’t think his resolve was
strong enough to let him walk away again.
“Ginny,” he whispered, his eyes once again displaying a will of their
own and dipping to the ample display of cleavage.

“Harry!” Ginny said, stamping her foot. “My eyes are up this way.”

“Sorry,” Harry mumbled, heat rising to his cheeks.

Ginny folded her arms across her chest crossly. “You should be.”

“You were the one who put it on to make…those…pop out at me,” Harry
said, waving his hand in the direction of her chest. “You must have
wanted them to be noticed. You can’t get angry with me for noticing.”

“I did want you to notice…but I wanted you to notice the whole
package,” Ginny replied, stamping her foot again. “I wore make-up and
stockings on my legs. I have a new hair style…not just the boobs.”

“I can’t help it; I like the boobs. I like the whole thing. That dress
is snug in places where school robes just aren’t,” Harry said

Ginny’s anger began to melt, and her shoulders started to shake with
laughter. “How much of that wine have you had to drink, Harry?”

Harry grinned sheepishly. “Enough not to care what I’m saying.”

Ginny wrapped her arms around his neck and began playing with the bit
of hair at the nape of his neck. “So, you like the robes, then?” she
whispered, sending a shiver of pleasure up his spine.

“I like the robes,” he groaned before crushing her body to him and
kissing her firmly. It was some time later before they came up for air,
both panting heavily.

“I missed that,” Harry said.

“Me, too,” Ginny replied. “What happens now, Harry?”

“No clue,” Harry responded truthfully. “I really don’t think there is a
person under that tent that doesn’t know exactly how much I care about
you…except maybe Jean-Lucifer…so what’s the point in denying it?”

“Jean-Lucifer!” Ginny gasped, giggling. “He’s an idiot.”

“Yeah. I think so, too,” Harry responded, thrilled to hear it. He took
her in his arms and kissed her again.

When they broke apart, Ginny brushed the fringe from his forehead and
rested her own against his. “We’ll work it out, Harry, and we’ll work
it out together. For tonight, let’s just enjoy the rest of the wedding,

“Yes. I’m finally going to take Hermione’s advice and go back inside
that tent, dance with my girlfriend, and even snog a bit if the mood
hits me.”

“Hermione told you that?”

“Can you believe it? She practically insisted, but I was too busy being
noble to listen,” Harry said, smirking. “Who’d have thought all it
would take was some gold dress robes and a push-up bra.”

“The dress robes were more an act of rebellion, really,” Ginny said,
sighing. She held tightly to Harry’s hand as they walked back towards
the tent, as if afraid to let him go. “They can stuff me into it,
despite the fact that it’s designed for someone who is eleven, but the
fact remains that I’m not eleven. I’m not a little girl anymore, and my
body is going to burst out of it.”

“It’s bursting just fine,” Harry said cheekily.

Ginny smacked him on the arm. “Prat. It’s only an illusion, you know.
Once the bra comes off, everything settles right back down where it

Harry grinned. “That’s okay. I always looked; I just didn’t get caught
as much.”

Ginny giggled and hugged him around the waist. He wrapped his arm
around her, and they entered the tent. Jean-Luc immediately made a
beeline towards them.

“Zere you are, Ginny. I have been looking everywhere for you,” he said,
looking slightly irritated.

“No time to chat now, Jean-Luc,” Harry said, handing him their empty
glasses. “I promised my girlfriend the next dance.”

He swung Ginny onto the dance floor, completely ignoring the stunned
expression on the Frenchman’s face.

Ginny laughed fully, and Harry realized for the first time that he
hadn’t heard that real laugh of Ginny’s since he’d arrived at the
Burrow. It was like music to his ears. Out of the corner of his eye, he
saw Gabrielle watching them with a sad smile. When she noticed Harry
watching her, she raised her chin and smiled bravely. Harry smiled
back, mouthing the words, ‘Thank you.’ She truly had given him the
shove he needed. Gabrielle straightened her posture and winked before
blending into the crowd.

They danced to several more songs, completely oblivious to the fond
stares they were receiving from some of the other guests and ignoring
anyone – the twins in particular – who tried to interrupt them. As the
night began to wear down, some of the guests began to depart, leaving
more empty space on the dance floor.

When some loud bangs were heard from outside the tent, Harry thought
Fred and George had ignored their mother’s warnings about not bringing
any Weasley Whiz Bangs to the affair. It was only after the screaming
started that he realized something was terribly wrong.

The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as he spun toward the
entrance. Ginny was right beside him with her wand already drawn.
“Stay beside me,” he hissed, beginning to walk towards the tent
opening. He cursed himself for becoming so involved in the drama of his
personal life that he’d completely ignored that feeling of unease that
had plagued him this morning.

His eyes scanned the room quickly, but he couldn’t see Ron or Hermione
anywhere. As he reached the tent’s entrance, he immediately knew what
was happening, despite the fact that several members of the Order were
glancing around wildly with their wands drawn, searching for the cause
of the disturbance.

There had been many wards placed around the Burrow, not only to protect
the Weasleys, but also due to the fact that Harry had been staying
there. Additional wards had been placed in preparation for this
wedding, and while they kept the Death Eaters outside the perimeter,
they had no effect on Dementors.

Harry could already hear his mother’s distant screaming in his head as
he strode outside the tent.

“Anyone who can cast a Patronus, do it now,” he bellowed. “We’ve got
Dementors coming from that direction,” he said, raising his wand
towards the other side of the meadow. “Expecto Patronum.”

Prongs leapt from his wand and charged toward the tree line.
Immediately, he could see several other Patronuses following in that
direction, as well. Ginny’s tiger erupted from her wand a moment later.

“Are you certain, Harry?” Kingsley Shacklebolt asked, trying to herd
some of the screaming guests away from the tent and back to the
Apparition point. In their panic, some of the guests were running right
toward the Dementors.

“I’m certain,” Harry replied grimly.

“How do you know? I don’t see any of them.” Kingsley said.

“Trust him,” Ginny replied, looking pale and strained. “He’s right. I
can hear it now, too.”

Sirius’s voice entered Harry’s mind, growing clearer by the second.

“There,” he said, pointed at a spot in the trees. Several of the
hooded, black-cloaked figures were emerging onto the meadow, and their
numbers appeared to be growing at an alarming rate.

Harry cast another Patronus and shouted at Mrs. Weasley, who had just
emerged from the tent, her face a mixture of fear and rage. “Mrs.
Weasley, get anyone who can’t cast a Patronus back to the Apparition
point and get them out of here. Arrange some portkeys to go to
headquarters for anyone who can’t Apparate. Who is the new Secret

“Minerva,” Mrs. Weasley said. She appeared slightly stunned, and
Harry’s heart lurched in sympathy. She’d worked so hard for this
“But, Harry, we can’t send them there; it’s supposed to be secret,” she
said nervously.

“As long as it’s under the Fidelius Charm no one can tell its location,
anyway. Besides, it’s my house, and I like the idea of it being used as
a place to house refugees,” Harry said, directing Prongs towards
another Dementor.


“Mrs. Weasley, there’s no time. We have to get everyone out of here.”
Harry suspected that Mrs. Weasley’s arguments had more to do with
whoever the Order was hiding at Grimmauld Place, rather than a concern
for headquarters. In normal circumstances, she most likely would have
demanded the evacuees be sent there.

“You’re right; I’m on it. Ginny, you come with me,” Mrs. Weasley said,
squaring her shoulders.

“No, Mum,” Ginny said. Her voice trembled slightly, but her eyes were

“Ginny, this is no time to argue,” Mrs. Weasley said, grabbing her
daughter by the arm.

Ginny pulled away from her grasp. “Exactly. I can cast a Patronus, Mum.
I’m needed here.”

Mrs. Weasley’s resolve wavered. She looked indecisive for a moment
before a Dementor appeared directly beside her.

“Expecto Patronum,” Ginny bellowed, and her tiger mowed down her
mother’s attacker. “Go now, Mum.”

Mrs. Weasley looked one more time at Ginny and Harry with despairing
eyes before turning and hurrying toward the house.

A loud, clanging sound filled the night air, reverberating across the
open meadow.

“What was that?” Harry shouted, glancing around wildly.

“I think it’s the wards coming down,” Ginny replied grimly.

“Great. Have they started clearing any of those people out yet?” Harry
shouted over the noise of the battle now taking place.

Ginny looked over towards the direction of the house, squinting her
eyes to see. “Some. A lot of people have had a bit to drink so they’re
arguing. Some are just panicking. I can see Mum and Professor
McGonagall trying to move everyone. The crowd has thinned some, but not
a lot.”

Flames could now be seen around the perimeter, and the scent of smoke
was rapidly filling the air. Harry stared around hopelessly. He could
see various Order members on the front line, trying to hold back the
Dementors. Several of the soul-sucking demons had breached the line and
were moving toward the tent. He could see the Death Eaters, as well.
Their masked shapes were creeping from the shadows and casting spells
to weaken the wards, Harry assumed.

Squinting his eyes to try and see through the smoke, he could tell that
even the Patronuses were weakening the wards. It wouldn’t hold much
longer. The members of the Order looked tired and drained.

He could see Fleur, her beautiful white wedding robes streaked with
dirt and Auntie Muriels’s tiara askew on her head, standing firm and
firing off her butterfly Patronus as she covered Bill. Bill was hunched
down and waving his wand in intricate patterns. Harry assumed he was
attempting to strengthen the wards.

Staring desperately at the chaos around him, it occurred to Harry that
he still hadn’t seen either Ron or Hermione, and the feeling of
hopelessness began to build in his chest.

Where are they? And how am I going to stop this from happening?
Chapter Five

And Life Goes On

An unearthly fog covered the length of the Weasley meadow, where only
moments before a celebration of life had been taking place. The
floating candles had all been extinguished by the cold, damp fog that
always accompanied the presence of Dementors. Shouts and muffled grunts
mixed with the sounds of rapid spellfire as those guests who had chosen
to stay and fight attempted to hold back the approaching Dementors.
Death Eaters could be seen gathering along the edge of the forest,
casting a barrage of spells and further weakening the already strained

Harry was cold and feeling slightly dizzy from the intensity of the
memories flashing through his mind. His teeth chattered as he moved
quickly toward the crouched figures of Fleur and Bill, Ginny’s hand
held firmly in his own. He could feel her small body trembling, and he
knew the Dementors were affecting her as badly as they were him.

"What are you doing ‘ere, ‘Arry?" Fleur hissed, directing her butterfly
Patronus toward the direction Harry had just sent Prongs. Her beautiful
white wedding robes were smeared with dirt and mud, and one sleeve
looked as if it had been singed. "If zose Death Eaters do get in, zey
will come right for you. You should evacuate now."

"I’m not leaving," Harry said firmly, his eyes locked with Bill’s. This
was as much his home as any other place he’d ever stayed, and he would
not leave it without a fight. He saw a look of acceptance and
understanding flash on Bill’s scarred face, and he was grateful for it.

Finally, someone who wouldn’t treat him as if he were a child.

Bill nodded, and Fleur apparently took this as reason enough to cease
her demands. Auntie Muriel’s tiara remained perched on her head,
shimmering as the lights from various spells illuminated it. The
thought rose unbidden in Harry’s mind that it was Ginny’s right to wear
that one day, and he’d see to it that she got the chance.

"What are you trying to do?" he asked.

Bill sighed heavily, and Harry was struck by how strained and exhausted
the eldest Weasley sibling appeared. The scars lining his face stood
out starkly against the paleness of his skin. "The wards around the
Burrow are failing. That loud clanging sound and the flickering lights
that appear every few seconds are indications that the wards are about
to collapse. I’m trying to strengthen them, but I don’t know if I can."

"Strengthen them how?" Harry asked.

"I designed the framework for these wards by using strength from the
positive emotions that I feel for the Burrow," Bill said, and Harry
could easily envision him as a Professor of Ancient Runes. "The wards
are capable of being strengthened by transferring power from a witch or
wizard connected to the place within the boundaries. I reckoned that
one of us would always be here in case of an attack and could use our
emotions to power it. I hadn’t expected the sheer number of spells
being cast in each direction, however. The Burrow has always been
crowded, but not this crowded."

"So, anyone who feels strongly about the Burrow could do it?" Harry
asked, furrowing his brow.

"Anyone who feels positively about it, yes. It takes a lot of power,
Harry, which is why I can’t even stand up right now," Bill warned. "I
don’t think I have the strength to hold them up much longer."

Fleur placed her hand protectively on Bill’s shoulder.

"What if we try to do it together?" Harry asked, and now he felt
Ginny’s hand on his own shoulder.

Bill looked at Harry uncertainly, his eyes flicking back and forth
between his sister and Harry. Harry though he appeared vaguely
uncomfortable, but he couldn’t dwell on that now.

"Look, I love this place as if it were my own, and you said yourself
that what you’re doing now isn’t going to work," Harry said with a hint
of annoyance.

"I don’t have time to teach you all the spells and wand movements in a
few seconds, Harry, but I think I can continue casting them by using
your strength and transferring it to the wards," Bill said
contemplatively. "Head to that hill over there and climb to the top;
that way, we can cover the whole area. On my signal, you have to
project all the positive emotion and anything good you feel about this
place into your thoughts. I’ll take it from there. Make certain to have
some cover, though, as this will leave you feeling very drained."

"I want to help, too. I’ll go with you," Ginny said immediately, her
eyes glinting with determination.
"No. Stay and help Fleur cover Bill; he’s more exposed here, and we
can’t lose more than one Patronus while I’m up there," Harry replied,
knowing she’d hate the answer.

Ginny frowned and stared back and forth between Harry and Bill, lying
on the ground. Finally, she looked out across the meadow at the
pitifully few Patronuses struggling to hold back the surging Dementors.
Nodding, she squared her shoulders and whispered, "Be careful," before
kissing him fiercely.

"You, too," Harry replied, squeezing her hand once.

He turned, crouching down low and running behind some of the others, as
he moved carefully toward the small hill that Bill had indicated. He
stumbled several times as waves of Dementor-inspired memories crashed
over him. By the time he’d climbed the hill and reached the right spot,
he was panting from exertion.

He could barely distinguish Bill and Ginny through the smoke, but thank
Merlin for that red hair; he could spot it anywhere. He’d also been
able to spot the twins standing near the perimeter with Tonks, her wolf
Patronus signaling their position. He wished he could see Remus, but
that search would have to wait.

When Bill sent red sparks into the air, Harry shut his eyes and
channeled every positive thought and memory he had about the Burrow
into the front of his mind. He had many to choose from and started
focusing on memories of the Burrow connected with all that lived there.

He remembered the wonder and awe he’d felt as a twelve-year old coming
to stay here for the first time. He’d learned so much that summer, not
only about the wizarding world, but also about how it felt to really be
a part of a family. He’d experienced how it felt to belong and not
simply be cast aside as a nuisance.

He remembered the smell of freshly baked scones, roasted chicken,
treacle tart, steak and kidney pie and all his other favorite foods
that Mrs. Weasley had quickly discovered and always served in ample
supply. He remembered the feeling of pleasure he’d felt that first time
she’d washed and darned his socks right along with Ron’s and her other
children’s. She’d folded them and put them back in his trunk, and he’d
sat there in slack-jawed amazement for a full minute until Ron had
asked him what was wrong. Aunt Petunia had usually just given him the
socks once Dudley poked holes in them; Mrs. Weasley had actually mended
them for him.

Harry took a deep, steadying breath and continued focusing on his

He remembered Mr. Weasley’s shed, full of more electrical sockets than
anyone could ever need in a lifetime, and the elder man’s open glee
over sharing his discoveries. He remembered not only being asked his
opinion for the first time, but also actually feeling as if his answer

Harry’s legs shook as he stumbled but managed to remain upright.
He remembered Quidditch matches in the meadow, tossing gnomes in the
garden, and the camaraderie of a slap on the back from a group of
redheads that had treated him as another brother, rather than the freak
in the cupboard. He had laughed here, really laughed and enjoyed the
summers for the first time in his young life.

Harry’s legs finally gave out, and he stumbled to the ground, panting
heavily. He was tired, and his head ached, but he pushed the positive
memories through and battled against those the Dementors tried to force
to the front.

He remembered the face of the prettiest girl he’d ever seen smiling at
him warmly in greeting, her eyes alight with such warmth, compassion
and downright orneriness he thought he could drown in their depth. He
remembered kissing her barely an hour before, and the feeling that he
could do anything as long as she remained in his arms.

Harry needed his arms to support his weight now, yet still he pushed
the memories and emotions forward.

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