Harry Potter and the 8th Year Summary: POSTDH.

How will the fallout affect our heroes? Are they done being heroes? And what happens to finally bring peace into Harry's life... Harry Potter and the 8th Year "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" -Albus Dumbledore, pg. 723, HP and the DH Aftermath Harry made his way out of the office and quickly as his legs would take him. Unfortunately, that was not a very rapid speed. The trip back up to Gryffindor tower took a lot longer than one would have expected. Ron and Hermione were trailing behind him the entire time, worrisome faces etching their happy demeanor; but at the same time, elation filled the whole of their hearts. Voldemort had been defeated. Bellatrix Lestrange, Fenrir Greyback, and Antonin Dolohov were all captured, accounted for, and not going anywhere. Harry finally made it to the portrait of the Fat Lady and remembered that he had not been at Hogwarts all year. He not only knew what the password was right now, but hadn't heard any of the passwords. Ron and Hermione were again right behind him, but they didn't know any better than he did. "Any ideas?" Ron said. "Wait for someone, I guess." Harry responded very simply. The three of them stood there for a minute before they heard sobbing coming from somewhere very near them. After a few seconds' search, they realized that the noise was coming from the portrait itself. "Er, is something wrong?" The Fat Lady sneezed into an overlarge handkerchief a few times before responding. "Wrong? Is something wrong?" She blew her nose again. "Of course nothing is wrong. From what I saw in the castle last night, from what I've heard from other people this morning, and the fact that you three are standing in front of me completely whole; nothing is wrong!" "Why are you crying, then?" The blunt axe, or Ron, spoke first. "Harry Potter, you will never need payment, password, or protection, to enter a room that I protect." She said, nodding her head forcefully downward at the end. Normally, there would have been a joke from Ron or Harry about the Fat Lady protecting some very rich woman's vault at Gringott's, but after everything that had happened to them, not just over the past year but their entire lives, it wasn't necessary; not today, at least. "You may enter." The portrait swung open, and the three friends all walked inside to an old, yet familiar site. 'I'm home.' Even through visiting Godric's Hollow and other places that had major significance to Harry, he still felt the way he had earlier that day. 'He and Voldemort and Snape, the abandoned boys, had all found home here.' The common room greeted him like a nighttime blanket. It was circular, with warm colors, warm fires, comfortable chairs and couches, inviting message boards, and most importantly, his friends. "Hey, Harry." Someone said. There were things he had always come to terms with during his life, but nothing had manifested itself more than that lonely walk into the forest to face a certain death. Of course, later he would find out that it was all part of a more ingenious plan, however, at the time, Harry was able to see his old professor, his godfather, his father, and his mother. They were all there to comfort him in his time of need. He felt like he was fighting, and dying, for them. He wasn't dying for Ron, Hermione, or Ginny. He wasn't dying for Neville, Luna, or Minerva. At the time, however, he did not know his ultimate fate. He didn't know that Voldemort's seventh piece of soul, his last Horcrux, not only lay inside him, but would also be his protection. There were many different things going on last night, in the Forbidden Forest, that Harry may never understand, but the most important thing was that the Killing Curse had not killed him again. He had heard Albus' explanation, but all he comprehended was that there was a part of Tom Riddle inside of him, and that was the portion that took the brunt of the curse this time, instead of his mother. Harry had been protected, in short, by his ability to love. He always thought it was closer to his ability to grieve, but when he was walking into that forest, it was not to grieve for others or even fear or mourn for them. He walked into that forest because he knew it was right, not easy.

He could have run away with Ginny, Ron, and Hermione all the way to Australia, as his friend's parents had done. Voldemort would have taken forever to even touch their lives there. He could have been selfish and made his own life however he wanted it to be, but that was not going through his head after he had seen Snape's memories. He loved his mother even more. "Harry?" There was a questioning voice now, but Harry was still lost in his own thoughts. Lily was not only an uncommonly gifted witch, as many had said, but she also saw the best in people, like Albus. She and Snape had grown up near each other, and she had befriended the awkward, pale, spying boy. She wished they had been in the same house. What if Snape had been a Gryffindor? Would everything have been the same? Probably not, but that wasn't the point. Snape made his choices! His ability rivaled Voldemort's. His background was similar to both Harry Potter and Tom Riddle, and he seemed to spend half of his life on either side of the fence. However, when it came down to it, Harry's mother had shown Snape exactly what it meant to be a wizard, a person, a free human being: something that perhaps only Dobby's grave could possibly convey. Harry smiled at himself when these thoughts ran through his brain. He felt like he had met enough people, enough items, enough spells, and enough trouble for many lifetimes. However, if he had to be honest, would Beedle the Bard have complained. He smiled again. "Harry?" The same questioning voice spoke. He smiled again. "Are you ok, mate?" The diction told him who it was this time. "I'm ok, Ron." He started to spin, not quickly, but just rotating his feet enough to take in the whole of the common room. By now, he had no idea how long he had stood there, most of the remaining Gryffindors had made their way back up here. Everyone was looking at him. He could feel it. All eyes were drilling into his head from whatever angle they were coming from. He didn't care. For once in his life, Harry felt as if everything was going to be ok. It sounded, even in his own head, to be quite contrived, but it was the truth. He knew that he would wake up tomorrow, and that his friends would be ok. There were still losses, and they were very close, and he would have to deal with that, but for right now, he was home, safe, content, and surrounded by friends. Where else would he want to be? "Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end…" -Semisonic, "Closing Time" The Mourning After Harry had gone straight up to bed. He hadn't talked to anyone after entering the common room the night before. He hadn't wanted to talk to anyone. There were probably some people who thought this strange, but Harry knew, and rather hoped, that his closest friends would understand. Of course, they couldn't. Voldemort had been right about a few things during the Battle of Hogwarts. All the people, all the bodies, and all the families that had been torn apart, bruised, and broken for nearly three decades were ultimately broken for Harry. That was a burden he had dealt with a little bit at a time over his life. He had watched Cedric, Sirius, Albus, and Severus all fall in front of him, for him. Now, however, he needed a good night's rest. He felt like he lying down on his bed after a long day's work. In reality, he was finally falling to bed for the first time in his life. Sleep took him quickly. There was no one else in the room. He could faintly hear a party going on in the common room. It was nothing extravagant, as friends had fallen that day, but a celebration of life nonetheless. It wasn't terribly difficult to block out the distraction. Harry had become quite adept with things such as silencing charms and protective wards (with much thanks to Hermione). Apparently silencing charms wear off when you want some sleep. Harry wasn't angry about being awoken, but once he found his glasses, he looked at his watch and realized that it was four in the morning. Rolling over, a handsome photo album slid off his stomach onto his bed. Retrieving it, he flipped it over to see a picture of

Lily and the Marauders. They had been with him the most during that walk into the forest. Even Pettigrew. Harry's musings about Snape over the last day had made him realize that Dumbledore was right. Everyone deserved a second chance. There were some like Voldemort and Bellatrix that would never even accept, or lie to get, a second chance. However, on the whole, when faced when what is right and true in this world, Harry had seen that decent people never chose what was easy. Pulling his curtains back, he slowly got out of bed. After cracking his window slightly to tempt a breeze, he saw he was still dressed in his robes from the day before. He slipped into his shoes and made his way for the common room. There were people everywhere, but they were all asleep. There were students passed out on every couch, chair, love seat, and comfortable stretch of wall. Harry smiled one of the biggest smiles he could remember. His gaze fell onto two people in particular. In the corner, next to the fireplace, with pillows surrounding their bodies for more comfort, were Ron and Hermione. Each had two fingers still clinging to the other's hands. Ron was snoring softly and Hermione seemed to be grinning, even in sleep. Harry thought about what would happen if they awoke right now, and got an idea. After grabbing his Invisibility Cloak from his room, he exited the tower and made his way through the castle. Their was no one in the halls, which had been cleaned up somewhat by the teachers and house elves, but still bore signs of a mighty struggle mere hours before. He walked slowly, taking in the place that was his home. He didn't need to talk about anything that had happened to him. He needed to be there for others to talk to him about what occurred in their lives. That could wait. His feet took him to places without him even realizing it. He strayed into a door before seeing a bathroom without urinals, and after seeing where he was, was a little disappointed not to see Myrtle. He would make a left and see a place he had once been forbidden to go because a giant, three-headed dog. Glancing up another corridor, he remembered seeing the odd picture of a petrified boy and a 'dead' ghost. After traversing the courtyard, which was being bathed in pale, yet crisp moonlight, he saw the place that Sirius had lifted off with Buckbeak. His memories came flooding back. But this time, they all had purpose, and he smiled again. Another turn and there was the spot that Cedric had offered his advice about the second task. Yet another, and he could plainly see in his mind where Fred and George had left a bit of their swamp. He smiled again. Fred was gone. But he smiled again. Finally, he made his way down to the front gate, which was thrown open as an invitation to any who needed to see their children (or Voldemort's dead body). Harry exited the castle and saw a strip of wall that he and Ginny had once enjoyed fifteen minutes at. That seemed like a lifetime ago. His footsteps took him towards Hagrid's Hut, which he was pleased to see was in good condition, and that the smells wafting from its chimney meant that its occupant had cooked the night before. Hagrid was still here. Harry had always had a nagging feeling that Voldemort has always taunted him about his friends' deaths. As if dangling another life in front of him would somehow make Harry want to give up. Voldemort didn't understand at all. Intimidating a boy, a man, like Harry Potter meant that you were tickling a sleeping dragon, then poking a rising dragon, then asking it to duel. Harry laughed again. Tom Riddle knew so much about Hogwarts, except its motto. He made his way toward the lake, seeing the faintest hint of dawn approaching. A speck of pink at the center of a semicircle of lightest blue signified the onset of a new day. Harry took a seat at the edge of the water, under the beech tree he had visited so many times, and stared out over the lake, which looked more like silk rippling in the light wind. His mind began to wander again. Everyone was safe. McGonagall had assured anyone at Hogwarts that the rest of the Death Eaters were being rounded up, etc., etc., etc. The only thing that mattered to Harry was that no one had to fear walking around the grounds anymore. If something was good enough for Hogwarts, that was good enough for him. He had realized, over the past year, that certain objects do certain things to certain people. The history of wandlore was something he had never really considered, but it turned out to be most crucial. Harry felt that the brick, stone, glass, and wood of Hogwarts were the same. This place had given so much to so many, without any need for acknowledgement. It had given Harry challenges, privileges, memories, friends: a home. He had no idea how long he had sat there until a pebble of orange crept over the distant mountaintops. He put up his hand to shield his eyes from the light, and in so doing, the cloak slipped off his head and down his back. He didn't really mind anymore. He had come to terms with everything that was important to him at the moment. Or so he thought. Not even minutes later, someone else was striding down the lawn, making a beeline for the only other person awake, the only person outside, the only other person in her world.

""How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on? When in your heart you begin to understand…there is no going back. There are some wounds that go too deep…" -J.R.R. Tolkein New Plans He heard the swish of a cloak across the dewy grass. He could smell the flowery scent in the air. He didn't move a muscle, making sure this was not a dream. His arms were still wrapped around his knees, his eyes making a parallel stare across the lake to the other bank, where Sirius had fallen once… He assumed that she would speak first. "Hey." It was soft. Quiet. It had a finality, and yet the sound seemed to vibrate continuously through the still morning air. Harry kept hearing the single word over and over again until finally a hand rested on his shoulder. He moved his right hand from around him knee and placed it on her hand, squeezing ever-so delicately, rubbing the top with his thumb. "Hey." His response was much quicker, not lingering on his tongue, but meant to travel to its destination quickly and sincerely. "Mind if I sit down?" She asked. Harry didn't even turn his head. He chuckled silently, inclining his head diagonally downward, showing her where she should sit to his left against the tree. She took his right hand in both of her own and began rubbing it softly, trying to entice the blood flow that apparently wasn't there. Harry didn't mind at all. "So, what now?" She asked. Straightforward. This was why Ginny was Ginny. "I don't know yet. What do you think?" Unselfish. She smiled, this was why Harry was Harry. "Not right now," she began, "I mean, there are still things that my family needs to deal with, but –" Harry cut her off. "I know, Gin." He finally turned his head toward her to see that she had been staring at him the entire time. He smiled slightly and received a strange reaction from her. Her eyes looked sad and her right hand covered her mouth as she shook her head warmly at Harry. "What's wrong?" She grinned a little before saying, "absolutely nothing, Harry. You just hadn't looked at me in awhile. It made me," she paused, "well, I don't know exactly." "It's ok, Gin." He left his right hand in hers and put his left arm around her, pulling her close, allowing her head to rest in his chest as the sunrise slowly exploded over the mountains finally. Harry didn't know if he should just sit there and admire this beauty along with Ginny, or finally go back inside, finally face the others who suffered, and finally deal with what he was avoiding out here, under the tree, next to his Ginny. He squeezed her shoulder and her simultaneously and jerked his head, indicating they should rise and go back inside for breakfast. She smiled and stood up first, extending both hands, which he took, and pulled him up from his position. They walked hand-in-hand back to the front doors, through the entrance hall, and into the Great Hall, where a surprisingly large number of people were already sitting down for breakfast. A myriad of memories flooded into Harry's brain, as they tended to do now that he was back at Hogwarts. He thought about how many house elves (who had already helped defend the castle) had to get up early and do extra work. He then thought about Hermione and S.P.E.W. He then thought about Ron's tactless attitude towards it, and then ultimately his compliment, making Hermione kiss him hard in the middle of a raging battle. He smiled again. The Great Hall was almost half-full, and like the night before, there was no house separation. Students and families were all sitting mixed together, here and there, talking in low voices. To Harry, they seemed sad and mournful, and yet accepting and hopeful. He saw a little open space at the last table, the Gryffindor table. Harry didn't want to continue the house rivalry, but he would always be more comfortable at the table than any other. Ginny noticed where he was looking and led him over to the seats they had shared at the end of her fifth year. Breakfast was enjoyable. Ron and Hermione joined them half an hour later. They were holding hands. Everyone noticed. Ron looked the same he always had, ready to dig in to whatever was about to pop in front of him, but Hermione, though dressed in her muggle clothing, had a smile plastered to her face reminiscent of the Yule Ball nearly three and half years ago.

As always, Ginny was going to get straight to the point. "So, I talked to McGonagall last night for a second while Mum and Dad…" everyone knew she was talking about taking care of Fred's body, "anyways, the school is reopening and everything is going to go back to normal. Well, as normal as it can be. She wanted me to ask the three of you if…" Harry hadn't really thought about it yet. It was one of those wishful dreams while they were moving from one wilderness to another, trying to remember what they were fighting for, trying to remember the pieces of their old lives. Harry was about to try and answer, but Hermione beat him to it. "She wants us to come back for our seventh year?" Her eyes lit up like Harry had never seen. The prospect of defeating Voldemort seemed only to be worth it if more studying was allowed afterwards. "Of course we're doing it!" She looked at Harry and Ron, both of whom looked interested, but not nearly as excited. "I mean, I just assumed that we would finish school." She trailed off, the excitement seeping out of her slowly. "I'll be wherever you are, Hermione." Ron was playing his part well. Apparently that book really helped him, Harry mused for a split second before the two of them began kissing softly. "I think I might be sick." Ginny said in a tone that both reproachful of their behavior but happy for their situation. "Anyways, what do you think, Harry?" "I think I have a lot of thinking to do in the next couple days, and I will most definitely add that to the list." He tried to say something that would not lead the conversation into any new directions. After a few moments silence, he figured he did pretty well. The four of them went back to talking about other things: the weather, the repairs to the castle, the weather, people like Teddy Lupin, and the weather for instance. After breakfast, Harry had the idea that they should help the teachers and house elves with putting the castle back together. Most of the dangerous, boulder-sized, problems had already been taken care of, but the truth of the matter was that these four had spent more time in more places on more occasions than any other student in the school. The fact that they were more powerful than everyone else didn't hurt either. McGonagall had told everyone that they could stay at Hogwarts as long as they wanted to, and that the school would indeed open next year to those who wished to return. Harry obviously wanted to stay. There was nothing at the Dursleys that he needed. He hadn't bought a flat or anything, and the thought of staying at Grimmauld was repulsive. Hermione had to get her parents back from Australia and back into dentistry, which took up most of her time the following week. Ron and Ginny, meanwhile, both went back to the Burrow. Molly and Arthur wanted them there, and they wanted to make preparations for Fred's memorial service. Harry stayed in Gryffindor Tower the entire week, and finally made plans to go to Diagon Alley. It was another one of those items, like his wand, that he never wanted to replace, but the truth of the matter was that Hedwig was gone, and he needed an owl. He hadn't heard from Ginny, but he understood why. The entire Weasley family was owling people all over the country for the preparations and invitations for the funeral. He ate, flew, walked around, ate, cleaned, ate, and slept. That was about it. Boredom had set in. The funeral was in three days, but he wanted to talk to Ginny before then. So finally, when Saturday morning came around, Harry walked out onto the grounds, past the newly reconstructed winged boars, turned on a dime and Disapparated to the door outside the Leaky Cauldron. "You're my satellite. You're riding with me tonight… Always the first star that I find. You're my satellite." -Guster The Snowy Daughter Harry was actually a little apprehensive to see people outside the students and teachers at Hogwarts. He remembered the first time he entered this establishment six years ago. He didn't know if he would be able to bear the onslaught from fans. Then, of course, he chastised himself for being arrogant and boastful. However, he needed an owl, and it wasn't as if obstacles stopped him from doing what needed to be done in the past. He slowly pushed open the door, one hand in his pocket caressing his invisibility cloak, wishing to use it, but knowing he shouldn't. He received the reaction he expected. The bar was almost full of people still swapping stories, mourning over a pint, or simply taking their weekend time to revel in the freedom of a world without Voldemort. Within a couple seconds, though, the pub became quite silent, heads began to turn, and finally Tom spoke up. "Mr. Potter!" scrambling from behind the bar, "What can I do for you today?"

"Hi, Tom." Harry moved towards the bar, trying not to pay attention to scores of eyes piercing all sides of his untidy hair. "Er, how are you doing?" "Perfect, of course!" He looked like a schoolboy. "Business is booming again, all thanks to you!" He looked like he wanted to shake his hand, but Harry wasn't offering. Harry looked around and saw two people approaching him. He recognized both. "Easy now, Doris, Dedalus. Give him some space." Harry was appreciative of Tom, but at the same time wondered if everyone in the world was going to make sure that no one spoke to him without permission. Harry decided to be polite, though. Tom had just saved him from two conversations he really didn't feel like having. "Can I get one butterbeer, please?" Harry began reaching into his pocket when Tom slammed his hand down on the bar. "Your money is no good here, Mr. Potter!" "No, no, I want to pay." He continued rummaging for the correct amount of sickles to leave a tip. "And you can call me Harry. Everyone does." After a couple more minutes of back and forth, Harry finally convinced Tom to take the money but could get him to keep the tip. He sipped his drink slowly, not even finishing before making his way to the back of the pub and through the archway into Diagon Alley. Harry smiled. He watched as far as could down the twisting road as it ran out of site towards Gringott's, even though he couldn't see it. There were witches and wizards and children running around in the sunlight from shop to shop, pressing their noses against glass or playing with animals on porches. Harry could see that Ollivander's was open once more. A little farther down, he made a mental note to stop by Florean Fortescue's ice cream parlor the next time he came to this place. As she passed the apothecary and Flourish and Blotts, he finally found Eyelop's Owl Emporium. Upon entering, he noticed that everyone, like the people in the streets, were too busy to have the reaction of those in the pub. "How can I help you, dear?" The witch behind the counter asked when he walked in. Harry noticed her do a double-take up to his forehead and was relieved that she didn't say anything. "Er, I need an owl." That's all that came into his brain. "I understand, Mr. Potter, is there a particular –" But just at that moment, an owl had been brought from the back in an ornate cage. It wasn't as large as before, but as it came closer and closer, Harry started to stumble a bit. "Hedwig?" The owl didn't respond, but the witch behind the counter did. "Excuse me?" "Sorry, trick of the light. I used to own an owl that looked just like that one." "I'm sorry, dear, but this one has been around for about six years. She's too expensive for most people, so we have yet to sell her." Harry's interest was now peaked. "Why?" "Not many people have that many galleons." She said plainly. "No, I mean, why is she so expensive?" "She's a pure Snowy. Mother and Father. Her father died, but her mother got sold apparently. The wizard that ran the place before me told me he had sold it to the largest wizard he had ever seen. What is it dear?" Harry's face had lit up. "Mr. Potter, is something wrong?" "I'll take her!" If he couldn't have his Hedwig, he would take her daughter. They had the same sympathetic eyes, and when she hooted, it reminded Harry of when Hedwig was his only friend in the world. He remembered when he found out about Sirius. His parents were dead, but the next best thing was available. Now, if he couldn't have Hedwig, he could have her daughter, it was perfect! "What do I owe you?" "Mr. Potter, she will cost you a hundred fifty galleons." She looked at him, unsure of what to say. "Ok, let me go to Gringott's, and I'll be right back." He tore out of the shop and through the street, splitting pairs of people as he sprinted, some of them holding hands. He didn't care. There was something important to him and he was going to make it happen.

Upon entering the great bank, the goblins were a little apprehensive. "Oh, sorry." He approached the counter where there was an open teller. "Here's my key." He was ready to get down there. The goblin stared at him for awhile before finally summoning another goblin, who took Harry to his vault and back. With an incredibly full money bag, he began rushing back to Eyelop's, hoping that no one had bought the Snowy Daughter. However, there was something he should have expected, but didn't, halfway along the road. He turned to his right and saw black curtains on the windows of a store that should have been bursting with color. Weasley's Wizard Wheezes will be closed until further notice. As much as we would like to keep your business, if you are in need of supplies, we suggest you visit Zonko's Joke Shop in the Hogsmeade Village. We have appreciated your patronage for almost two years, and if we reopen, it will only be to serve you. Thank You…WWW. The sign was the only thing not black on any of the walls or windows. Harry understood. George felt like this place was for both of them, not just him. If his travels took him to the Weasley family anytime soon, he wondered whether he would discuss the matter with George. Walking a little slower now with his head staring at his shoes, Harry finally reached the emporium. "Ah, welcome back, Mr. Potter." "Hello." The witch gave him a strange glance, as if she knew something had happened to him but made nothing of it. "Are you still interested in –" "Yes, please." The semblance of a smile returned to his face. At once, he caught his reflection in a mirror, and he forgot where he was or what he was doing. His face… He was supposed to be seventeen years old. He was supposed to be a care-free teenager. His eyes… His mother eyes still shone behind his glasses. He had just seen her a little over a week ago. His hair… He had just seen his dad, and Sirius, and Remus. What was going to become of Teddy? His scar… He hadn't felt a thing. He couldn't get rid of it, but he actually wanted to keep it. It reminded daily of what was sacrificed so that he might enjoy this day, and hopefully, many more to come. "Mr. Potter?" "I'm sorry." He moved back to the counter, where the beautiful owl was waiting for him in a cage, but something was wrong. "Hold on." Harry put a hand up to the shopkeeper and slowly moved towards the cage. "It's ok, girl." He moved the raised hand down to the latch and opened the cage. "Don't worry." He was speaking to the owl and witch. The owl sat in the cage, fluttered her wings slightly, then turned her head at Harry, as if to say, 'Really?' "Come here." Harry put out his arm, and the owl instantly flew and perched on it. "Hello." The owl hooted. It wasn't affectionate or angry, just a hoot. "Ok. Will you follow me back to my home?" Another hoot, but this one definitely sounded like Hedwig agreeing with him. "Ok. Let's go." He walked through the crowd, through the Leaky Cauldron, avoiding everyone again, and Disapparated to outside the Hogwarts grounds. He made his way into the castle, up to the tower, and into his dormitory. He put the cage he had bought from the store on the table and opened the door, but the owl wouldn't go inside.

The bird never left his arm. "It is the unknown we fear, when we look upon darkness and death, nothing more." -Albus Dumbledore Before the Funeral Harry had yet to name his new owl. He remembered that he had been reading his History of Magic by Bathilda Bagshot when the name Hedwig came across his eyes. However, no bolt of inspiration had touched down, so he waited. The strange thing was that his new owl was already just as loyal and obedient as Hedwig had been, but with a bit of the same temper as well. He had made a trip down to Hogsmeade and bought a nice supply of assorted owl treats and, any chance he got, brought up some of the rarer food that had been served for dinner. There were so few people at Hogwarts right now (several teachers and only a dozen or so students), that dinner was a very lonely experience for Harry, and he began to think about when he needed to leave the comfortable surroundings of the castle and face the reality of his situation. He had owled Ginny three times already. The notes were short, but in her third response (some of them the same day, his new owl was very fast) she spoke about the Weasleys wanting him to come to the Burrow. Fred's funeral was only two days away. Therefore, after lunch, Harry began to pack his bag, making a mental note of a trip he would have to take, even if he didn't want to. After making his way down to the grounds, he waved to Minerva before setting the bag and cage down on the ground. With a flick of his wand, they were sent ahead of him to the Burrow. A second later, he spun on the spot, and after opening his eyes, found himself on a street he thought he would never visit again. There were houses up and down on both sides that looked the exact same as the ones on their left and right. They had perfectly manicured lawns, nicely landscaped hedges, and impeccably clean windows. The cleanest of all had to be Number 4. Slowly, begrudgingly, he began walking up to the front door and knocked after a few moments hesitation. It sounded like an elephant was approaching on the other side of the door. It opened and Vernon Dursley spoke in an incredulous voice. "What the devil are you doing here?" He spoke softly. "I was wondering if my things were still here?" He hadn't forgotten the other pile he had made, almost a year ago. "I left a great deal here, and I was wondering if I could get it?" Harry wasn't trying to force the situation. He was making no movements inside. The two men seemed to hang in silence until finally– "Harry, please come in!" Petunia whined in a shrilly, partially annoying tone. "Er." Harry did as he was told. He didn't want to stay very long, so he refused his Aunt's offers of something to eat or drink and a place to sit down. Dudley wasn't home. Harry was slightly disappointed. He would have wanted to see if the handshake a year ago was a fluke, but then he remembered why he was here and then found that he didn't care very much. Without another word, he rushed upstairs, found his old trunk and all his belongings exactly as he had left them. With a flick of his wand, they were inside his trunk, it closed, and he sent that, too, to the Burrow. After walking downstairs, he noticed that Vernon was back in the kitchen, but Petunia was waiting for him expectantly, bouncing up and down, as if to say something brutally important. Harry waited there, allowing her to say what she needed, but no words came. She just continued to vibrate with anxiety. After what felt like ten minutes, Harry turned to the door, exited, and Disapparated to the end of a lane that headed towards the most welcoming sight in the world. He saw a dirty lane, Wellington boots, chickens running around like…well, and of course the house that appeared as if magic's wildest imagination had been unleashed on this plot in Ottery St. Catchpole. The lawns were dirty, but Harry didn't care. The garden had been recently cultivated, and the gnomes were taking advantage of the naturally made holes. He walked slowly, looking to his right and noticing the sloping lawn that headed toward the lake behind their house. He had swam in that lake one summer. He smiled. Apparently, his appearance was not a secret because within about twenty yards of the front door, it burst open and expelled Mrs. Weasley's flailing arms and body. "Harry, dear!" She threw her arms around his neck, almost knocking him over. Harry never minded the attention. He knew now that Molly just wanted to be the mother figure that he had never had. "Hello." "Come in, come in." Harry was led inside. "All your things have been put into your room." "MY room?"

"Of course. Um, Ginny is in her room. Ron has his room. Percy is back in his flat. So, you get to have his room to yourself." Harry could hear her hesitancy as she spoke. She was glossing over the fact that George wasn't sharing a room with Fred anymore. Also, Harry had to assume that George was staying at the Burrow, and not in the flat over the shop as it wasn't open anymore. "Er, how is everybody?" He immediately regretted his question, and the look on his face must have shown it. "It's ok, Harry. I understand. The service is tomorrow. I think it hasn't really sunk in for some people." "I just –" "Harry! What did I just say? Now, we're going to have dinner here in a couple hours. Everyone is out right now getting supplies for the service. I'll call you down when everyone returns." "Thank you, Mrs. Weasley." "Call me Molly. See you later, Harry." He walked upstairs into the room he knew to be Percy's. It was almost completely bare. It appeared as if it had been cleaned, someone had stayed for a week, and then it was cleaned again. Harry guessed that unpacking was really the only thing he had to do, and so he took out his wand, flicked it twice, and watched his work. His clothing zoomed out of his trunk and bag into the drawers and closet while his belongings all floated delicately onto the bed. Admiring his handiwork, he realized he had absolutely nothing to do. So he just sat on his bed and thought about tomorrow. Hopefully the owls wouldn't show up during the service. He hadn't thought about it at the time. He also dreaded their arrival for another reason. Who knew if the Weasleys would even accept? Who knew how Ginny would react? Would it be obvious? He accidentally fell asleep, but was awoken merely an hour later, though it felt like less, with the opening and closing of doors multiple times. Harry got out of bed and made his downstairs to meet the people he cared about most. He smiled again. "I didn't want to smell…Your hair, your scent, the way you felt. I didn't want to hear…My friends, my hurt, my only fears. I didn't want to sense…Anything that you might have missed." -Jeff Baker, "Senses" Life…Celebrated "Harry!" He couldn't tell how many people were yelling his name, but the number three sounded right. Once he got untangled from the hugs and yelling that he was NOT ready for, the faces of Ron, Hermione, and Ginny all swam into view. He could hear, more than see, George and Arthur talking in the background. After a couple more seconds, Bill, Charlie, and Percy all walked in the back door. Each of the new arrivals were all laden down with enumerable sacks and bags. Harry backed up to allow them to sort themselves out. Ron and Hermione ran upstairs instantly to deposit their items while Molly, Arthur, Bill, and Charlie remained in the kitchen to begin dividing all their purchases. Ginny gave him a confused look before heading upstairs herself. George remained as somber as the last time Harry had seen him, but there a twinge of happiness in his stoic face. Spending more than a week straight with the Weasleys would cheer anyone up, but the service was the next day. Perhaps the reality was setting in. It certainly was for Harry. He could only imagine what the remaining twin was going through. He could only imagine what the remaining family members everywhere were going through. Once the family had gotten squared away, Harry noticed that the kitchen was full again, and the smells of Molly's cooking were wafting through the still, summer night. Just as Ginny was a sight for sore eyes, the aromas now encircling his mind brought everything flooding back. It was backward. His sensory responses that he equated to Ginny reminded him of Amortentia. He smiled again.

Half way through the cooking, half way through setting up the tables outside, a moment came that stopped Harry in his tracks. Ginny had just finished laying down silverware (still unable to use magic) when she turned around quickly, her hair dancing to one side of her face. She put up a hand to tame it again when Harry looked at her. The plates he was levitating fell a few inches before he realized he had lost control. She noticed. Harry grinned and put his head down a fraction, never taking his eyes off of her. She seemed more embarrassed. Once Harry got all the plates down in their places, he and Ginny were standing next to each other, alone, for the first time since walking back from the lake together. "Hey." "Ginny." He said plainly. She was about to say something, but he stopped her with a touch on her arm. "Listen, I think I understand what you guys are going through, and I just want you to know that we'll talk and everything after," he paused, "everything is done." She looked like she wanted to interrupt with one comment but had to change her mind. After resetting her mouth, "Just make sure that we sit next to each other." She winked as she walked away. The rest of the setup had no more events to speak of, and finally, the family and Harry were all seated around a long table outside under the stars. As always, there were triple helpings of everything. Harry focused on the treacle tart, which Ginny, hands clasped beneath the table, made a few well-placed comments about. All the conversation seemed very mundane, but a few choice words brought Harry out of his daydreaming with Ginny, "…Quidditch World Cup." "WHAT?" Harry spoke, a little too loudly. "Harry? You ok?" "Mrs. Wea–Molly, I'm fine." He shook his hair. "Charlie, what did you just say?" "Oh, I just don't Ireland is going to be as good at this year's cup. First of all, they play well during the summer, and the tournament got moved back this year for obvious reasons. Secondly, Mullet and Lynch were both lost." Charlie stopped there. "Oh." "What is it, son?" "Nothing, Arthur. I just forgot that the World Cup would be this year. I guess I've forgotten a lot about the world." He spoke the second part to himself mostly, accidentally allowing it to escape his mouth as well. Ginny's hand clasped a little harder, but still gentle. He sighed heavily and got up from the table. "Thank you for the incredible meal, Molly. I'm going to head up to bed." He made his way quickly to house and up to bed. A little too quickly. He didn't notice the three owls descending on the dinner party. He placed the most powerful silencing and imperturbable charms on his door. A little too powerful. He couldn't hear the people trying to get his attention. He knew he shouldn't feel sorry for himself. He had just been around those who had suffered loss, but after Voldemort fell, Harry felt like the whole of his life had just happened yesterday. As if Fred died each day. How would the Weasleys feel then? The one bonus was that he had learned how to shut down feelings for so long, that he shuffled everything to the side, and sleep took him. He awoke the next morning to knocking on his door. Hermione had undoubtedly taken another go at the door in the morning. "Harry, please wake up. We want to say thank you." What? Now, there was a conversation going on outside that had nothing to do with Harry. "Hermione, stop, give him some space." "Ginny, I just don't think he should shut himself up like this." "Funny how you're not letting HIM make that decision." "Ginny! Ron, what do you think about this?"

He must have paused before answering. "Um, I think you're both right. Harry needs to talk as soon as possible," Hermione made some kind of noise, "but only when he's ready." Ginny made a similar noise. Harry smiled. He threw on some clothes and opened the door. There was no one there. When he entered the kitchen, however, Molly nearly tackled him. Once she let him go, he saw that she was holding three bags, which were jingling very noisily. "Harry James Potter, you take these back to Gringott's right now!" "Er, I can't?" "Harry, mate, Bill lives here. He works for Gringott's. That's not going to work. Although, I'm not complaining." "Ron Weasley! You will not accept this money." "Yes he will!" Harry was surprised at himself. He had raised his voice without realizing. "I'm sorry. I sent those to Ron, Hermione, and Ginny because I wanted to." Mrs. Weasley tried to protest, but Harry stopped her. "No, listen. Now that this is over, I want my friends, the people I care about, to be happy. This isn't charity. It's a payment, a reward, a gift, or whatever you want to call it." "Thank you, Harry." "GINERVA!" "What?" The rest of the morning was rather touchy. Eventually, Arthur convinced Molly to allow the kids to keep the generous gift from Harry. After that, the service had to be set up. Everyone moved and worked in relative silence. Harry felt, again, that he had done more damage by being around than good. Ron and Hermione gave encouraging looks, and Ginny tried to cheer him up, but the older Weasleys, it seemed to Harry, were being colder than usual. As if he was trying to steal this day from them. The backyard set up was elegant yet simple. Mournful. Respectful. There were about thirty black chairs set up like a wedding ceremony. At the front and center, a podium rose to chest-height, and surrounding the chairs there were four poles on the right, four on the left, and one behind the podium. Black drapes began at the top of each pole and ruffled freely in the wind. Many guests arrived. The Delacour family, Lee Jordan and his mother (his father died in the war), Minerva and Flitwick, Neville and Luna, Hagrid and Grawp, Verity from WWW, and others Harry didn't know. There was music coming from the drapes themselves, a Ministry official spoke about those whose "pass on," but it meant nothing to Harry. After a time, the official asked the guests if anyone wanted to say a few words. Molly was sobbing with Arthur comforting her. George, too, was inconsolable. After staring at the fact that no one was going to speak, Harry stood up and made his way to the podium. He was surrounded by friends. He wasn't worried what anyone was going to think. He looked at Ginny, and began. "I just feel like something should be said. Fred's heart might not be beating. His blood might not be flowing, but he will never be gone as long as there are those who remember him. We will remember him every time we tell a story, walk into Diagon Alley, or see a firework. Dumbledore once told me that those we love never truly leave us. We recall them most clearly when we are in need of them." He paused to remember Dumbledore for a moment. "There is no way to replace Fred Weasley, but there are ways to continue what he has begun. Molly and Arthur, if I didn't know better, you're about to get a daughter-in-law added to your family. George, you know that anyone here will help you with the shop." He could feel more eyes on him now. He saw that some of the guests had looked up at him with tear-stained eyes. "Everyone here has lost someone close to them. We've lost friends, siblings, children, and parents… They died, however, for something that they believed in: for people that they cared about. Fred died so that we might live. He gave his life so that the laughter would continue…" Harry kept trying to talk. He felt like there were so many things that he wanted to explain to people, but every time he tried to continue, he faltered, and ultimately sat back down next to Ginny. The service lasted only a little longer, and then the chairs and drapes were instantly transformed into what looked like, to Harry, a tropical bar. It wasn't extravagant, but the colors were a nice homage to their departed friend. At first, people drank slowly. No one wanted to stand on ceremony. No one wanted to be disrespectful.

After a couple hours, though, people began to remember. Stories were flying, imitations were being attempted, and embarrassing moments were being shared. All of these experiences made the attendees remember and share about everyone else who had been lost. Tonks changing her nose into a pig snout. Mad-Eye being crazy…in general. Lavender thrashing around with whoever she was snogging at the time. It became a celebration of life, and Harry couldn't be happier. Choruses of "Odo the Hero" rang through the air, which had become comfortably chilly. Music has come from somewhere, and people were dancing. Molly and Arthur looked like a pair of teenagers. Minerva and Monsieur Delacour were probably the only ones still being formal, and even that was a stretch. All the time, Harry and Ginny sat along the edge, admiring their friends, feeling content and calm, sitting underneath a beautiful moon at peace. They stayed on that bench for hours, arm in arm, heads on shoulders…together. "Would you want me when I'm not myself? Wait it out while I am someone else? And I, in time, will come around…I always do for you." -John Mayer Against Logic, the Muggle Way Very few people woke up the next morning feeling chipper, but Harry and Ginny were two of them. They awoke around nine, went downstairs, and gladly helped Molly with the cooking for breakfast. More than half of the party had gone home after the reception, but the Burrow was bursting at the seams still. Of those who stayed: Hagrid and Grawp had slept outside, Bill and Fleur on one couch, with Neville and Luna on another. Soon, the rooms were thick with the smell of toast and bacon, eggs and coffee. Within a half hour, the kitchen table was full of hungry people. As Harry and Ginny were passing out plates full of food, they noticed that people were missing. This was difficult to realize as they were cooking, but now they saw that their best friends were not at the table. They smiled at each other, imagining Ron and Hermione lying in a single bed upstairs, unnoticed by the world. As breakfast drew to a close, however, Molly and Arthur seemed to see what they saw as well. Harry made a quick gesture to Ginny, and ran up to Ron's room. He could hear Ginny explaining to her mother that Harry was going to check on their friends as he knocked on Ron's door. There was no answer, but the door creaked open an inch. Hoping he wasn't going to see what he thought he might see, he entered the room to find something much worse: he was gone. After a quick check of all the other rooms, it was certain that Hermione was gone, too. Harry went back to Ron's room. He was going to check the closet, the bathroom, and anywhere else he might be hiding. However, upon reentering the room, the only thing that he saw was a little note set on his bedside table, written in very sharp handwriting. Harry, I assume that you will find this before anyone else. Ron and I saw that you and Ginny weren't drinking as much as anyone else, and I hope that this is the case. Ronald and I have decided to elope. I didn't even know, but he had taken part of the money you left him and bought an engagement ring yesterday while we were setting up for the service. He proposed last night! Harry smiled so widely, he thought his mouth might touch his ears. We wanted to go somewhere that no one would be able to track us down, and we're pretty sure that you are the only one that will know about this place, so please don't tell anyone. There is a muggle city in the States that gets people like us all the time… At that moment, someone else entered the room. Harry hastily made to stow the letter away from the intruder, but he saw that it was Ginny. He beckoned her closer to read the letter with him. …As I can assume, Ginny has come looking for you at this point. "Wow, she's good." Ginny laughed. Anyways, to cross the Atlantic, we would have to set an International Portkey, which strangely enough, takes longer than getting a ticket for a Muggle Airplane. Therefore, by the time you read this, we have already gone to Gringott's, exchanged some of the money you gave me into muggle money, and hopped a plane (Mr. Weasley will be so jealous) to New York. After that, we can Apparate to Las Vegas. Harry, I know you and Ginny can take care of this better than anyone, so please try to keep Mrs. Weasley calm, and we will back tomorrow morning (we do want to share our Wedding Night alone). With love,

Hermione (and Ron) P.S. The next time you see me, call me Mrs. Weasley, HA! The handwriting changed into an untidy scrawl. P.P.S. Please don't call her that, mate. Harry and Ginny turned to each other half-laughing, half-shocked. Hermione had apparently put a Self-Destruct Charm on the letter, for it vanished two seconds later. The fact that their friends were getting married settled in, though, and the two of them awkwardly rejoined the rest of the family downstairs. "What happened? Where's my baby?" Molly was frantic. "It's ok, Molly. I guess my speech last night made an impact." He spoke the words without thinking. "I mean, Ron and Hermione are fine. They left a note…" "What did it say?" "It vanished right after we read it. You just have to trust me. They will be back tomorrow, around noon I think." He was guessing a lie-in would be in order. It took awhile, a couple stiff drinks, and a lot of comfort from Arthur to slow Molly's breathing. The worrying didn't stop, but at least she was seated and still. The rest of the day was spent cleaning the yard, taking care of Mrs. Weasley, seeing everyone else off back to their own homes, and taking care of Mrs. Weasley. Finally, when Bill, Charlie, and Percy had left, along with anyone whose last name was not Potter or Weasley, the house felt strangely empty again. Arthur stayed in his room comforting his wife, and George was sitting in his own room trying to deal with everything that had happened by setting up a new business model for the shop. This left Harry and Ginny completely alone. He didn't mind this, but the fact was that he had not yet worked out exactly how he wanted to go about his situation with Ginny. Harry mentioned taking a trip to Diagon Alley, so that Ginny could buy herself something with the money Harry had given her, but Ginny wanted him to do something first. "C'mon, Harry. Your owl has to have a name. Are you going to call it 'you' its entire life?" She was just taking the piss out of him, but he wanted this name to be special. It was Hedwig's child. "I know." He paused for a second. "Ginny? What was Fred's middle name?" "Septimus, why?" Harry didn't say anything. "It's our grandfather's name." "Ok." Harry paused, he needed a female name. "What was your grandmother's name?" "Cedrella. That's George's middle name." Harry left the room. Ginny was following at a slower pace, so that when Harry had already opened the cage, and the owl had already rested on his arm, she was just striding into the room. "Your name is…" he was about to say it, but the owl flew off his arm and turned to face Harry, flapping her wings to stay perfectly stationary, a few feet from Harry's eyes. "…Cedrella." The owl hooted very affectionately, she was glad to finally have been named by her master. "That's very nice of you, Harry." "I can call you Ced for short." Harry thought he had killed two birds with one stone. After feeling bad about the metaphor for a second, he relished in the fact that his memory of Cedric Diggory would live on in his new owl, also. The owl hooted again. "You want to go hunting?" Another hoot. "Ok, here you go." He opened the window of the room, and Cedrella zoomed out into the twilight. He smiled. "Harry." Ginny stepped up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder. Just like beneath the tree, he covered her hand with one of his own. "Let's go sit somewhere." "Ok." He didn't really hear himself say that. He felt himself being led out of the room, down to the kitchen, and out the back door. The sun was setting properly now as the two of them walked slowly down the sloping lawn towards the tiny lake, though Harry thought it was a pond, that lay behind the Burrow. He felt like he had gotten a lot off his chest in the last couple days. He had socialized, given gifts, given encouragement, and yet, the one thing that was eluding him was the most important thing in his life.

He didn't know what to do. Ginny obviously still liked him. She always wanted to be alone with him, touching his shoulder, his hand, and his arm. She seemed genuinely concerned whenever Harry got that look on his face, and she seemed genuinely happy whenever he got that smile around his face. Harry still liked her. Liked? If he had to be honest with himself, if he had never had to leave her at Hogwarts, and if they had had the last year together, they would probably be headed down the aisle themselves. But that hadn't happened. Would she love him? He had used an Unforgivable Curse three times in less than a minute while at Gringott's. Even though it was Voldemort, he had basically killed someone. Even though it was not a bad thing, he had been dead. He knew what part of the afterlife looked like. Would anyone accept him as normal after that? The thing that was getting the most was still seeing his parents and their friends as he walked into the forest: into death. He felt like he would be dishonoring their memory by deciding to live for something in the present, instead of those he had lost in the past. He had to be honest with the way he was feeling at the time. Would Ginny understand that he walked into Voldemort's wand for Lily, not her? For James, not Ron? For Fred, not George? For Lupin and Sirius, not Hermione? They sat there, just sat there. Everything felt so perfect. It felt so comfortable. Nothing could touch them while they were alone and together. Was that enough for love? Was that enough to begin anew? "Your subtleties, they strangle me…I can't explain myself at all. And all the wants, and all the needs…All I don't want to need at all." -All-American Rejects July To be expected, Ron and Hermione returned the next day to an explosion in the kitchen. Molly went from happy to furious to confused to questioning, and then back to elated in less than ten minutes. The Grangers and Weasley brothers visited the house again so that the newlyweds could show off their rings, the morning-after glow, etc. This meant two things. First of all, the house was too crowded for Harry and Ginny to make any headway. Secondly, no one cared about anything but making Ron's and Hermione's plans for them. Molly and Arthur began forcing the two of them to look for a place to live and some means of making money. However, as Ron pointed out quickly, they wouldn't need to. They were going back to Hogwarts for school, they were going to visit for the holidays anyways, so they really didn't need a place to stay until they graduated. That was when they would be getting jobs anyway. Strangely enough, that argument only last five minutes or so, towards the end of the month. Once the family realized what the date was, Harry began to become more and more secluded. His birthday was approaching. It was two days away. He had heard Molly talking about an extravagant, sumptuous affair, but he wanted only his friends. Even Ginny attempted to voice his concerns to her stubborn mother, but to no avail. Thankfully, the day before, Cedrella soared gracefully into the kitchen during lunch and delivered a note that would save Harry. Harry, If it is convenient, I am inviting yourself, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger to Hogwarts tomorrow, the 31st to discuss the specifics of your return to school. We will obviously discussing sleeping arrangements, classes, and N.E.W.T.'s, but there will be one other subject that the four of you, Ginny Weasley included, will need to look into. Yours in fellowship, Minerva McGonagall P.S. Normally, you would be receiving your booklists and so on at this point of the summer, but clearly we need to have our little meeting first.

"Thanks, Ced." He rubbed her feathers and let her fly back outside. He turned to Ron and Hermione and showed them the note. They read quickly, and turned their heads sharply. Harry expected to see their heads turning towards him, but the reflex went towards Molly. Harry shook his head. He could not believe that Molly was still trying to plan something for his birthday that would somehow be put off by a short meeting at Hogwarts. Hermione noticed her slipup before Ron did and instantly began talking about the letter. "Have you even thought about what classes you're going to take?" "No." Harry answered truthfully. He hadn't given it much thought. Did he still want to be an Auror? No. Did he want to work for the Ministry at all? No. Did it matter what classes he took? Apparently not. "I guess I'll stay with the same classes I'm already taking." Ginny made a soft noise when he said that. After looking at her though, Harry swore he must have imagined it. Dinner that night was a subdued affair, as was breakfast the next morning. Harry wasn't packing anything, he wasn't going on a long trip, but he felt like he should dress appropriately. After entering his room, he found his Hogwarts robes and pulled them over his muggle clothing around eleven. He joined Ron and Hermione outside the house, waved goodbye to Ginny and her parents, and turned on the spot. The trio walked up the path towards the school. Ron and Hermione hadn't been there as recently as Harry, and her giddiness was apparent. Ron had to keep a hand on her back just to keep her from yelping and hopping like an insane jackrabbit. Minerva met them at the front gates, led them up to her office, and sat down behind the desk. Harry made a quick glance over her head to see a twinkle of blue behind half-moon spectacles trying his best to act as thought he was not paying any attention to the action in front of him. In fact, the rest of the portraits were doing an even worse job of pretending than Albus, but where Harry Potter was concerned, Dumbledore was always the only one able to keep an objective view. He had surmised sacrificing Harry for "the greater good" almost twenty years ago without telling anyone except Severus Snape. Stop thinking about that. He had to give himself little reminders like that every once in awhile. "Good morning. Now, the easiest thing to get out of the way is classes. Do any of you want to discontinue any of the classes you took last year?" Harry looked around, all three of them were looking back and forth at each other and shaking their heads. They were in a handful of classes together already. "No, ma'am." "Not really." "No, Professor." She looked satisfied. "Very well, as to the living arrangements…" She paused for a few moments after beginning. "Mr. Potter, you will join the rising seventh years, is that acceptable?" "Yes, ma'am, I mean, it's not going to be crowded, is it?" "No, Harry…Mr. Potter. There are only four Gryffindor seventh years. One was lost…" She paused again. "Ok. That's fine." He felt he was done. "Now, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley." It sounded so strange. So strange! "First of all, Mrs. Weasley, you have been offered the Head Girl position if you are agreeable." She squeaked more than said anything. McGonagall took it as a 'yes,' though, and moved on. The Head Boy will be Terry Boot. He is a Ravenclaw, and perhaps you have spent some time with him before." She was referring to the D.A. The trio murmured in agreement. "Now, I assume the two of you would like to sleep in the same room. The Heads have a room that they normally use as an office for their duties." Ron's ears perked up, but Hermione looked worried. "Mr. Boot, however, has graciously offered to do his work out of his dormitory as long as he has access to the private bathroom." Harry stifled a chuckle. Guys didn't need much. "Therefore, we can convert the study into a bedroom for the two of you. It will not be any luxurious, but I believe it will fit your needs. Mr. Weasley, please make sure that you do not take advantage of this situation and lead your wife astray during the year." "Of course not, Professor!" He said that a little loudly, but it was more to halt the discussion than anything.

"Very well. I trust that the three of you will all take school as seriously," she looked at Hermione, "or more so," she stared at the boys, "as you have in the past. If you do, you will scrape enough N.E.W.T.'s. I am confident of that." "Thank you, Professor." Hermione piped up. "Now, there is one more thing. I don't know if you have heard, but Kingsley is trying his best to put everything back to normal now that You-Know-Who is gone as last. The Quidditch World Cup, though delayed, is going ahead. Well, the other event that traditionally occurs every four years is –" Ron must have been paying attention. "TRIWIZARD TOUNRNAMENT?" Harry paid attention properly for the first time as well. "Yes, Mr. Weasley." She waited for him to calm down. "It will be held at Beauxbatons Academy this year. Durmstrang was invited, but declined the offer. Therefore, the tournament will be a two-versustwo style setup with one school winning. Also, one of the champions, whether on the losing or winning team, will be crowned the individual winner of the TriWizard Cup based on individual performances during the tasks." "Wicked." Ron was on the edge of his seat. Hermione looked apprehensive. She probably wouldn't let Ron try and compete unless completely necessary. Harry wasn't particularly interested. He had won before. However, it was two-on-two, and Harry couldn't help but imagine himself and Ginny holding up the trophy together, bringing it back to Hogwarts where it clearly belonged. Afterward, Minerva showed Ron and Hermione to the Head Room. Harry waited in the Entrance Hall. He was staring around the marble, the staircase leading up to the Great Hall, and the one leading down to the lake. How long ago was he stepping out of one of those tiny boats into a world he never knew existed? Following a Giant? People gawping at his forehead? A hat telling him to go to Slytherin? Stop it! Think about Ginny. Think about telling her the news. Just then, Harry heard commotion coming from what seemed to be the Great Hall. Assuming that he had a minute or two to poke around, he strode up the stairs and opened the door. It was almost pitch black. Outside, it was noon. This didn't make sense. After taking a couple steps inside, he heard "SURPRISE!" All the lanterns became lit, and sunlight pierced the windows of the castle. The enchanted ceiling, too, reflected the sunlight from outside. Harry was happy at the thoughtfulness from his friends, but he still wished it had just been a few people. However, once he saw all of them, the decorations, and the time and effort that had put in, he appreciated it nonetheless. The group was basically composed of the same group that attended Fred's service, without the Delacours but with more students. The Patil twins, Ernie McMillan and others from the D.A. were in attendance. Harry had the sneaking suspicion that Hermione and Ginny had a lot to do with it. He was disappointed again to think that Ginny would believe he wanted something like this. However, he looked around the room again and saw that it was ok. Hagrid was in tears while Grawp was playing with the twenty-foot high trees they had apparently brought in from the forest. They were adorned with tinsel, not Christmas-like, but festive. After shaking many hands, having repetitive conversations, and basically wanting to sit down, a small hand wrapped around his own. "Hey." She spoke in that same lingering way. It felt as if it was echoing, but not traveling far. It was quiet, but remained in his ears. He smiled again. "Hey." "Wanna sit down?" "Of course." She led him to a round table that, now that he was paying attention, looked just like one from the Yule Ball. In fact, the Great Hall had six round tables, all seating about six or seven people. There was another long table, on top of which sat more presents than Harry had ever seen (save Dudley's eleventh). "Wow." "I know. I'm sorry if it's too much. Mum couldn't help herself." "It's ok." She understood. That was enough for now. Once everyone was settled in, lunch was served, and then it was time for presents. Harry was a little uneasy about having to open twenty gifts in front of a bunch of people. However, most of them were very harmless. The students and teachers all got him books, sweets, toys, and coupons to Hogsmeade stores. Molly and Arthur got him a new school bag. Ginny told him quietly that it looked handsome on him. George gave him a letter, but told him not to open it until he got back to the Burrow.

He had specifically told Ron and Hermione not to get him anything, but what he did receive was fine with him. It was a moving picture of Ron and Hermione in front of a quaint, white-washed chapel in Las Vegas. He had never seen Hermione smile so grandly. The last present, obviously, was from Ginny. She had stolen it from the table during some of the other gift-grabbing, and handed it to Harry under the table to open whenever he wanted. He silently thanked her because she had to endure Molly's stare from another table. Her mother clearly knew that she had kept her gift a secret. The rest of the party went well. It only lasted a couple hours, no one made any speeches, and Harry felt as if he had spent just the right amount of time around these people as was necessary. He was back at the Burrow in no time, but he took absolutely no time to get outside and sit down by the lake, his letter from George and small box from Ginny still in his pockets. He sat down, arms around his knees, and waited for what was inevitable. She walked up two minutes later. "I know someday you'll have a beautiful life. I know you'll be a star… In somebody else's sky, but why? Why? Why can't it be? Can it be mine?" -Pearl Jam She Comes of Age She sat down next to him like she always did. She didn't say much, like always. Neither did he. He pulled George's letter out first. "Do you know what this says?" "I have an idea." She didn't grin. She wasn't trying to be secretive or teasing, and Harry appreciated it all the more. He slowly edged the envelope open to reveal a piece of parchment. It was only a third the size of a normal sheet and only contained a single sentence. Harry, I figure if we closed, I would have to give you the thousand galleons back, so Lee is going to help me out from now on. Thank you for everything Harry, Forge Harry loved the way he signed it. It was like he was keeping that part of Fred alongside himself from this day forward, and that part would also help power the best idea in all of Diagon Alley! After the thoughtfulness of George's letter had sunk in, Harry had to resign himself to opening the other gift. He didn't seriously believe that she would have left him alone tonight, but all the same, he felt like the pressure would be on his reaction to her gift and not the gift itself. "It's ok, Harry, there's not an Exploding Charm on it." She joked, but only half smiled, as if she was just trying to break the tension, but not really meaning it. "Ok." He peeled off the little piece of wrapping paper to reveal a small jewelry box. He was confused. He never wore jewelry. He gave her a quizzical look before returning his attention to the now open box. He gasped quietly. "Gin." He didn't know what to say. There were two rings inside. They were simple, yet elegant. Pure gold, round with beveled edges all around, they just sat there, shingled one of top of the other. "Um, I wrote to your Aunt awhile ago, and she sent these to me." He looked up at her to see she was nervous. "I knew you weren't selfish enough to ask for things that are rightfully yours, but these are two things that you have to have." She paused while Harry made no response except staring back down at the rings. "I just thought that –" "Ginny." He interrupted and stared at her again. "This is amazing." At that moment, however, she released her hand from his shoulder and began to walk away. "What? Where are you going?" If anyone in the world was going to be around him right now, it would be her. He wanted to know what she was thinking. How long had she planned this? Why did she feel the need to make it a birthday gift? Would the smaller one fit on her finger? Well, that last question was a little forward, Harry thought. "This isn't my place right now. That gift was for you and your parents." Her nervous was ebbing, and the confidence that he cherished was bubbling to the surface again. "You deserve some time alone with those." She walked off as he dropped the rings out

of the box into his palm, the male ring resting on the female. He had no idea what time it was, what day it was, what month it was, or what year it was. He was staring at the rings and thinking about every little memory of which his parents had been a part. At first, it was a blinding green light and a flying motorcycle, but that was quickly replaced by a young boy sitting in front of a mirror in the dark, waving as two people in a crowd of many relatives smiled back at him. He saw their faces saving him in a dark graveyard. He remembered them walking beside him through a dark forest into certain death. He wanted to be with them. With Ron and Hermione already beginning their hunt for a house after Hogwarts, jobs after graduation, and the new arrangements at school, no one noticed that Harry was practically robotic for the next week. However, during breakfast one morning, a conversation broke him out of his stoic stupor, "…her birthday is in three days. I mean, she comes of age. I think that is important enough." Arthur continued. "All our other kids were at school for their seventeenth birthday, and Harry's was, well, there were other things going on." Ginny's birthday was the eleventh. How could he have forgotten? However, his thoughts were interrupted as his two best friends burst through the door. They had wanted to let everyone know how close they were to closing up on a flat in London. "We got a great deal. They'll hold it for us if we put down a down payment, and it's close to everything. As long as we have jobs lined up before we graduate, there should be no problem!" "Hermione, slow down and catch your breath." He gave her a quick peck on the cheek which made Harry and Ginny cringe. It wasn't disgusting that they kissed, but it always reminded them that somehow Ron had gotten married at the age of eighteen. "Mate, um, I ran by the Ministry and talked to someone in the Special Underage Department." Harry had no idea what that meant. "And?" "Well, they told me, since they know I know you well, that Madame Pomfrey has been taking care of Ted Lupin for the last couple months." Harry had a better idea now. "Anyways, as Godfather, he is legally your responsibility. They know that you're still in school, so they don't expect anything right now, but he can't stay at Hogwarts once school opens in a few weeks, so they need to know what you want to do with him." "Er, I mean…" He had no idea. "Might I make a suggestion, Harry?" Arthur spoke up. "Of course." "If Molly is agreeable, we would be more than happy to look after him until you graduate. In fact, it might be better to have an experienced mother and father before Teddy is left to a "Sirius-like" godfather figure." He said the last part with a smile, and Harry understood it was in good fun. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny even started laughing as stories of Sirius and Snuffles began ringing through the Burrow so loudly, Harry was sure people across the Channel could hear them. He smiled. The next day, Harry and Arthur took a trip to the Ministry, with a quick stop at Hogsmeade, and signed all the paperwork involved in the temporary "adoption" of Ted Lupin. The matter took no time at all. In the aftermath of Voldemort's downfall, the world had obviously welcomed Harry Potter, The-Boy-who-Lived (twice), back with open arms. There wasn't as bad of a celebrity note in peoples' voices as Harry thought there could have been, but the standard double-take to his scar and back continued to flourish. When he got back to the Burrow, he found it almost completely empty. The only inhabitant was Cedrella who, Harry noticed for the first time, seemed to be floating in mid-air in her cage, as if lying down on some invisible pillow. The door was open. Harry always left her free to fly around if she wanted to, and the loyalty between the two of them had been the subject of many interested discussions with various visitors to the Burrow. The Weasley family, a few Aurors, and the new Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebot, even noted that he had never seen such a relationship between a wizard and an owl after such a short period of time. Harry was reminded painfully, during one visit from Dedalus Diggle, that Nagini seemed to react to Voldemort in the same way, but Harry repeated to himself that he couldn't speak owl-tongue or anything. When he noticed this strange phenomenon, he merely credited it to his extraordinary bird. "Hey, Ced. You feeling ok?" She hooted. Turning herself, in midair, upright. Now, she appeared to be levitating herself until she slowly lowered her body down onto the perch and tilted her head at Harry, plainly saying 'huh?'

Harry didn't mention this to anyone when the family showed up that night. Apparently Molly had decided to make it a family affair only. Harry learned that they had been shopping all day, which served two purposes. It gave Ginny something special to wear on her birthday, and also it was an early present from her parents to take a little shopping spree at Madame Malkin's. Ginny gave him a little look before leading her mother up to her room to make sure all the new outfits were put up properly. Later in the evening, dinner was relatively quiet. Harry thought that maybe the family knew something about tomorrow that he didn't because it was as if no one wanted to ruin anything tonight that might happen tomorrow. And tomorrow came. The sun rose beautifully in between roaming clouds the next day, and the breeze that fluttered throughout the countryside made this typically hot day absolutely gorgeous. Harry awoke first, stole down to the broom shed, and pulled out Ginny's Comet 260. He flew and flew and flew. He had no idea how long he had been flying around until he finally zoomed back by the house and hearing someone calling him down. Upon hovering closer to the ground to talk to Molly, he saw that everyone was rummaging around in the kitchen preparing the birthday lunch for Ginny. After taking a quick shower and changing, he grabbed her gift he had gotten in Hogsmeade the other day, flicked his wand (wrapping appeared and stuck), and made his way down to join the rest. He saw the entire family waiting and watching the stairway. "Er?" "It's not Ginny. Hurry up, Harry, we want to see her come down the stairs in her new dress." Charlie hissed. "What?" "It's traditional. If possible, a woman who comes of age has to 'present' herself to her family on that day." Bill added. "Ok." Harry took up his spot among the family and waited. What happened next almost stopped Harry's heart. "You can say what you mean, but it won't change a thing I'm sick of the secrets… Stood on the edge, tied to a noose You came along, and you cut me loose…" -Coldplay Coming Back Harry's first, foolish thought was a beautiful heliopath, that fire guardian that Luna thought Cornelius Fudge owned. However, it was the colors, which seemed to be changing. Harry couldn't understand what was going on. Ginny's hair was straight and sleek, half down her back and half flowing down over her right shoulder blade and down her front. Molly had magically applied makeup. Or was she? Harry had only seen her wear it once or twice. It wasn't a lot, though, because to be honest, she didn't need it, but whatever her mother did had definitely made an impression. Harry had no idea he was fumbling with the rings in his pocket, and Ginny's gift. Her dress appeared to be changing color as she walked. It went from a moonlit yellow, to pale gold, and finally to a deep, piercing burnt orange color that almost perfectly matched her hair. Harry thought he was dreaming. The thin straps faded imperceptibly into her skin, and the dress flowed effortlessly over her body, accentuating the good, covering everything, and stopping right above her ankles, showing off beautiful strapped, high-heels. The entire ensemble had taken a short, tomboyish girl and made her into an elegant, stunning woman: the Fiery Daughter. As she walked, it seemed to Harry, she was glowing. He could only describe her as radiant and powerful, yet altogether serene and heavenly.

"Harry, your jaw." Ron whispered in his ears. Harry had forgotten that there were other people in the room. After swallowing difficultly, shaking his head a little, and suppressing a grin, he turned with the rest of the family and headed outside. Before they got to the table, a wizard Apparated at their side, wearing a bag and holding a camera. "Photos! Photos!" Harry didn't know what he was supposed to do, so he just stood off to the side. He was glad to see that he was doing the right thing. This was obviously a family affair. After several pictures of Ginny standing alone, next to a tree, down by the lake, sitting spread out on the lawn, she and the photographer joined her parents for several more pictures of just the three of them. The process repeated with just Molly and Ginny, then Arthur and Ginny, then Ginny and each of her brothers separately, then the family all together. The whole process took forever, and he even took pictures of Ginny and Hermione together; Harry started to feel very lonely. He didn't have a family. He was alone. He didn't want to be here. He wanted to see James and Lily. He wasn't angry or disappointed not to be asked to be in the photos, but he wished that he could have been posing next to his grown-up sister, then with her and his parents, while his sister had a smile on her face to rival Ginny's right now. He took a seat on one of the chairs that had been setup around the lunch table, clasped his hands together, resting his forearms on his knees, and staring at the ground. He vaguely thought that a gnome hole had been below him, years and years ago. "And do we have an escort this afternoon?" The photographer asked. "Well…" Harry, still comparing blades of grass, heard Molly's questioning voice angle in his direction. Slowly, he lifted and turned his head to face the source of the sound to see the entire party staring at him. "What?" Harry was honestly asking the question. "Oh, Harry, dear, come here." Molly rushed over, grabbed his arm, and led him towards Ginny. He started to pray that he wouldn't trip. "Here you are, sir. Where would you like to do the photos?" "Mmm." He began to revolve on the spot, quickly scouting possible locations before turning back to Mrs. Weasley and saying, "I believe I have an idea. The sunlight is casting fascinating shadows through that tree down there by the pond." "Lake." Ron sputtered. "Excuse me, son?" The photographer asked. "Nothing." Hermione had just given Ron a sharp shot to the ribcage and answered for him. "Very well, if you two would follow me." Harry started walking, but looked back over his shoulder to notice that the family was staying perfectly still. In fact, as he worked to keep up with the excited Ginny, he saw that the Weasleys were now retreating back into the house. "Why are they–?" Ginny cut him off. "Tradition, Harry." She said, still looking at their destination. "All you have to do is stand there and look handsome. Do you think you can fake it?" She smiled. Harry melted. He had no idea how long the pictures took. He didn't know how many were taken. He didn't know how he was being asked to pose. He thought time was standing still. She had hooked her arm into his, stared up at him, and smiled. That one moment lasted in Harry's mind for, as he would find out later from Ron, almost thirty minutes while the photographer did his work. After Harry somehow walked back to the house, gathered the family, and went back outside to sit down for the lunch that Molly was done preparing, they all sat down, and Harry's world came back into focus. "Thank you for cooking, Molly, again." "You're so very welcome, Harry. You're too kind to mention anything. Thank you for agreeing to be Ginny's escort for this." "Oh, it wasn't a problem at all." He assumed it wasn't. He didn't really remember any of it. After animated conversation and four courses, Harry had put his utensils down, and Ginny had found his hand under the table. The ambiguity of their relationship starting eating away at Harry.

The upcoming year held nothing daunting for him. His classes and N.E.W.T.'s were going to be difficult, but not strenuous. He had done enough practically, and studied enough for seven years that they would not pose a problem. He wasn't taking any classes with Trelawney, Binns, or Snape, so his marks would do nothing but improve. He had already decided that he would not be submitting his name for the TriWizard Tournament, and he had all but decided not to play Quidditch this year either. There was no threat from Voldemort, and for the most part, his friends were still all around him. However, he decided to live in the moment, just this once. After lunch, Ron and Hermione left to go back on their hunts for jobs and houses. Bill, Charlie, and Percy all went back to work, and George left to meet up with Lee Jordan to discuss business and the possible reopening of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes within the month (apparently they wanted Hogwarts students to be able to stop by before school started). "You wanna go for a walk?" Harry asked Ginny. "Yeah." They left her parents in the living room, awaiting the arrival of Ted Lupin from Hogwarts. Harry and Ginny had discarded their shoes, making her a good head shorter than Harry again, but still looking breathtaking. "I ate too much. I zink I will not feet into my robes!" Her imitation of Fleur put Harry in stitches. They laughed about some of the people they had met in their travels: from her own brother Ron, to Lockhart and Trelawney, to Fleur and Krum. "Harry?" "Yeah?" "Do you want to sit down at the tree? I mean, I can't believe the photographer picked that spot, and I don't want it stop being special. I mean, not special, but –" "I know, Gin. It is special, and that just made it more so." "Thanks, Harry." They arrived at their destination and sat down like they always did. Harry put his back against the trunk while she sat beside him, resting her arm on his leg and her head in his chest. Harry dug around in his pockets and found her gift. He didn't pull it out, though. He was beginning to have the same fears of accepting her gift. Gryffindor courage, however, took over. "Here you go, Gin." He handed her the small package, and she opened it quickly, flicking her wand so that the wrapping paper went flying. "Already using magic, huh?" "Of course." She said with a mischievous grin. "Oh, Harry." When she slid the top off the box, she saw what was sitting inside. Harry had gotten her an ornate pendant on the end of a simple silver chain. The pendant was in the shape of an upside down triangle. The border was polished silver with three tiny diamonds at each corner. In the middle was a triangular cut ruby. "I didn't want to taint the gift at all, but it basically contains tons of enchantments, both from the store and from my own making." "What kinds of enchantments?" She asked, though Harry thought he could hear getting choked up. "Well, er, it's not that I don't trust you or anything, but they all have something to do with safety." "Oh, I know, Harry!" She rotated across his body and hugged him. They stayed like that until Harry felt his shoulder becoming slightly damp. "Gin?" She pulled away, and he could see the remnants of tears. "What's wrong?" "Nothing. Today has been so perfect, and it just got better, and I don't know what to think anymore!" Harry's heart broke. "I'm sorry, Gin. I didn't mean to –" "Shut up, Harry." "What?" "Shut up. Don't speak. Be quiet." "Ok." She righted herself and placed her face eye-level with his, only a foot apart. "You know that I love you, right?"

She had never said that to him. It didn't faze him, though. "I love you, too, Gin." It rolled off his tongue without any hesitation or hindrance. "Then why aren't we together?" Her crying had completely stopped. She was completely serious, yet caring at the same time. All of his thoughts that he had been wrestling with came to the forefront at this point. He remembered the walk to the forest. How could he explain it to her? It would break his heart, spirit, mind, and soul to admit to her that he had walked right passed her. "I just won't be able to be tell you everything. I'm pretty sure that trust, honesty, openness, and all of that stuff is the most important thing…right?" He wanted her to agree with him so badly. "You're absolutely right, Harry." Thank Merlin! "That is completely correct in any normal relationship." Wait a second… "If you think that anyone else in the history of the wizarding world has a past like we do, then you're crazy!" He smiled. "I love you. You love me. It was no accident that you met my family when you needed help to get on the train. It was no accident that you saved my life the next year. It was no accident that I joined the D.A." He smiled again, but it was mingled with sadness as he put his head down a bit. "It was no accident that we were both possessed by Voldemort." She paused. "I also think, and I might be wrong, that something put me at the edge of that forest as you walked by in your cloak." Her eyes tried to get his to meet hers. Finally, Harry found her eyes, and they looked hungry for his validation. He nodded. "I knew it! You walked right past me. You walked, alone, to face Voldemort." "Gin." "No, stop. You don't have to tell me why or what or how you got out of that forest alive. I'm sure you had to see or experience things that the rest of us can only imagine in our nightmares. Just tell me why you walked past me." She paused again. "Please." "I had accepted death." It sounded worse when he said it. "I wanted more than anything to reveal myself. I hoped that you would keep me from doing what I was about to do." "I definitely would have stopped you!" The tears were beginning to build again in her eyes. "We wouldn't be sitting here now if you had." "What does that mean, Harry? I know you can't talk about it, but please! Please talk to me." "You won't love me anymore if I do. I made a decision to leave you, Ron, Hermione, and everyone else. How can you trust me after that?" "BECAUSE HE'S GONE! You will never have to make that decision ever again!" Her hands were carefully on his shoulders. Her eyes were boring into his. He could feel her inside his mind. It wasn't Legillimency, it was need. He understood what she was trying to say. He saw where the conversation was going to end. He had already made up his mind that they would not leave this tree without holding hands at the very least. He wanted to be with her all the time. He needed to be with her all the time. "I know." "Ok. So if you never have to feel that way again, would you ever leave me?" Wow. "Obviously not." She took a deep breath. "Then why aren't we together?" "I don't know. I guess I just thought you will leave me whenever you find out about all the things I had to do between Bill's wedding and Voldemort's fall." "Look at me. No, really look at me. Harry." He looked into her eyes, drowning in the color brown. "I hope you will tell me someday about all those things. If you don't, I will completely understand."

"What?" "I don't know how you became the person you are. We've only heard rumors about how you grew up with the Dursleys, and I'm pretty sure no one knows how bad your life was there! Ron and Hermione can't even talk about the things you've told them about your life! They weren't even there half the time! I don't even know what happened in the Chamber!" Her voice was raised, but not in anger. "They don't know what Quirrel was like! They don't know what the tournament and graveyard were like! They don't know what fighting Voldemort is like! No one living does! From what you've told me, you basically tried to commit –" she faltered, "suicide to save your friends! There's only one person we know that did that! Your mum!" The last two words broke him. He looked down at the ground and felt a single tear begin trailing down his face. He felt her hand on his cheek and her thumb tracing the tear back up to his eye. She pulled his face up, they looked at each other and very slowly, very softly, they kissed. There was no tongue, their lips didn't move, and it became very wet. They broke apart after a bit and cried into each other. Harry could feel his entire life, as Ginny had just summed it up, flowing out of him. Her entire life was flowing right back. The two of them, destined to be together since a day on a platform seven years ago, shared themselves. She brought him back from the edge he had been skirting his whole life. She had always been on the edge with him, trying to grasp him, trying to bring him back. It was incredibly sad and incredibly joyful at the same time. It was pure. It was perfect. It was love. Why do you weep? What are these tears upon your face? Soon you will see…All of your fears will pass away. Safe in my arms, you're only sleeping…What can you see on the horizon?" -Annie Lennox The Last Train, the New Language They hadn't kissed again. The Weasleys hadn't interrupted. They were left alone with nothing but the wind and the water. Harry couldn't stop smiling through his tears. Ginny was doing the same, but with a slightly more concerned look on her face. The two of them laughed together about how silly they must look. They talked about everything. They talked about nothing. They spoke about all the things in between. It was, to Harry, the best afternoon ever. But of course, all good things must come to an end, or at least be put on hold until later. Ron and Hermione joined Harry, Ginny, and her parents for dinner that night. Assuming that everyone could see what he was feeling, he appreciated that no one was making a big deal about he and Ginny. They were holding hands under the table, like always, but Harry had quickly become the life of the table. "No way, mate!" Ron had gone a little red in the face while still trying to speak through a mouthful of food. "Burping those slugs was way worse than Lockhart removing your arm bones!" "Ronald!" Hermione mimed some movement to indicate that he should eat first and talk second. "Yeah, yeah, Hermione. You're still sticking up for him after all these years. I'm surprised you didn't get his autograph at St. Mungo's!" Harry couldn't remember a time that he had spoken about past experiences, whether good or bad, which such a carefree attitude. Ginny squeezed his hand a little. Harry smiled. He thought she was just reminding him that she was still there. He did feel a little bad for her. After all, most of the things that had happened to Harry were with Ron and Hermione, not Ginny. "I still wish I could have been in Umbridge's office when the four of you escaped the Inquisitorial Squad." "I know! That must have been really quick thinking." Hermione said with a slight note of sarcasm. "Getting Crabbe and Goyle, I mean, wow!" There was another roar of laughter as Ron tried to plead his case, claiming that he was only a fifth year at the time while Ginny described her Bat-Bogey Hex in immense detail, not leaving out that she took down Malfoy, while being only a fourth year herself. She looked sideways at Harry and thanked him silently for what he could only assume was involving her in a conversation that had taken a serious tangent away from her.

Whenever the conversation came to a lull, whether at the table on this night, or anytime over the next couple weeks, Ron and Hermione would give knowing looks to their friends as if to say, 'Are you going to tell us or not?' Harry was inclined to the latter. He was definitely not ashamed of Ginny, but their lives, and the past few months, had dictated a level of secrecy, or at least privacy, when it came to their own happiness. With only two nights left before the return to Hogwarts, Harry sat Ginny down in the living room (after everyone else had departed for home or sleep). "Gin?" "Yeah, Harry?" "How, er, discreet do you want to be at Hogwarts?" "Not at all!" She started poking him in the ribs and mockingly flailing her tongue through the air, pretending to rip her clothes off. "Ha ha, very funny. I'm serious." "I know you are. It's really up to you. Mum's still having a rough time beating off all the owls that come with interview requests for you. She actually sent a Howler to the Prophet." "Wow." "Yeah. I understand if you want to keep your private life private." "I wish I could go to the Astronomy Tower, say 'sonorus' and tell the entire countryside how I feel." "Oh, Harry." She kissed him quickly. "I just don't want you to have to be stared at, Gin." "What?" "I'm not bragging! You might as well have your own scar on your forehead if you start dating me. The girls gossiped about it all the time two years ago, and that was before we got rid of Tom." "Well, Harry. You just pretty much summed up why I like you, and why I don't care." Harry was confused. "Let me explain. You just said we got rid of Tom. Um, you did that. No, stop." He was trying to interrupt. "You always think about other people. This time, however, you're caring about how other people are going to react. You shouldn't! Who cares if Rita Skeeter writes an article about how happy we look? Then, a couple months later, she will write something about how we're breaking up. After that, she will write the article about our engagement, our possible postponement, beautiful wedding, false marital discord, first child, etc., etc." "Wow." "What?" "You think about all of that, don't you?" "Of course I do. Why wouldn't I? I love you." "I love you, too, but I always thought of Hermione being the type of girl to have everything planned out." "I think part of growing up is realizing what you really want out of life. Hermione ELOPED! Who saw that coming?" "And you've always been the fiery, unpredictable one…" Harry was catching on. "Very good." "In reality, though, you want a big wedding, all the traditions…I understand." "That was way too quick, Harry. Are you sure you're a guy?" "Well, we haven't gotten that far, but if you really need proof." He pretended to rip his clothes off this time. The two of them fell to the couch in laughter and fell asleep minutes later, only to wake in the morning to a soft cough from Molly.

"It's ok, Harry. I can see two fully-clothed, happy people." "Thanks, Molly. I'll just go upstairs and change." "Good idea." She smiled and watched him go up the stairs before stirring her daughter. Harry changed quickly, trying to get back down to see Ginny, but she was already gone as well. Resigning himself to packing, he trudged back to his room, grabbed his trunk and new schoolbag, and stared around his room and open closet. He couldn't believe how much stuff he had. There were clothes, wizard and muggle alike, everywhere. His picture frames and photo album lay on his bedside table. His new Firebolt 3 (recently purchased on a trip to Diagon Alley that Ron had insisted upon for the upcoming year), Invisibility Cloak, Marauder's Map, and the tiny sack they had used last year all went to the top of his school bag. Inside the little bag were stuffed his parents' rings and nothing else. After a moment, he took the sack out of his bag, and put it back around his neck. He cleaned out Cedrella's cage and waited for her return. The rest of his school materials and birthday gifts went on top of the clothing inside his trunk, and for the first time in his life, Harry Potter felt kind of normal. He had just packed a good amount of possessions (still miles short of anyone else) into his luggage in order to go to a boarding school. He had a girlfriend who he was madly in love with. There was going to be a family to see him off to the station, and Harry had to admit how lucky he was to meet Ron on the train. The Weasleys always thought it was lucky for them that Harry saved their lives, but they had no idea how much they had done for him over the past seven years. That day passed very slowly. Ron and Hermione were in the house again, and the four students couldn't wait to go back to school, but it was definitely Ginny that was the least excited. "You alright?" Harry asked. "Yeah. I guess I just haven't quite figured out what you three are going through. I mean, when we get back, you guys are just going to pick up right where –" "Ha! Are you insane?" Harry's laughter was not received well. "No, Gin, look at me! It would take wild hippogriffs to drag me away from you! There's not going to be some mystery or plot that involves us! All four of us will hang out together. We will hang out with the Quidditch Team that you will be the star of! We'll see everyone around the common room, Great Hall, lessons, and free time! We're going to have a normal year. Think about all those times the three of us were shut up in the library, being chased by Dementors, or playing the strangest game of chess ever! None of that is going to happen this year!" "Thanks, Harry." "My pleasure!" After that, she warmed up to the idea and began speaking animatedly as usual. Harry had already packed, so after dinner when the other three had to do just that, he retreated to his room and talked to Ced for a couple hours. Hours? Upon realizing how long it had been, he turned to his owl, "Have you been talking to me?" She hooted a couple times, but Harry clearly understood it to mean 'Obviously, aren't you smart?' "Hey! I'm smart!" "That's what I thought!" "Ok, that time I didn't hear hooting. You were just speaking English!" "No, I'm still hooting. You just understand me!" "Have you ever spoken to anyone else like this?" "No, you are the first, Harry." "You know my name?" "Well, I have been listening, y'know."

"Wow. Ok, er, is this normal?" "No." "Well, you were expensive, and you are my old owl's daughter. Maybe there's some kind of connection there." Harry did not need a mystery to solve. Harry did not need a mystery to solve. Harry did not need a mystery to solve. He repeated it to himself over and over again. "Perhaps. However, you seem a little more intelligent than your speech indicates, and I think you know that there is something else going on here. I certainly assume that there is. When you entered the shop where I was kept for those many years, I could not wait to fly to your arm. You were staring into a mirror, deep in thought, and I knew you to be my new master. I know not how." "Ok. This is gonna take some time to digest. Er, how much have you been paying attention to?" "In this house? Well, I am to assume that you have found your mate. These people are not your family. You are the Harry Potter that the people in the shop always talk about. If this is all true, then I am very honored to serve you." This was sounding a little too much like a house-elf for his liking. "Look, Cedrella. That's all true except for all the master-servant stuff. I really liked your mum. She was my only friend for months at a time, and I see you as a friend, too. It's just really nice that you can deliver mail for me, too." Harry laughed a little, and the owl seemed to bounce up and down a bit, too. Just then, there was a knock on the door. Ginny entered looking very happy. "What was that song you were humming, Harry?" "What?" He asked, now extremely worried. "I came upstairs to see you, and when I got to your door, I heard you making noise like you were just humming the sounds of a song." Oh my God! I was hooting! I can speak OwlTongue, or whatever! "Oh, nothing. Muggle music, y'know? I picked up a couple things living with the Dursleys." "Ok, it sounded beautiful. Well, I just wanted to say goodnight. I'll see you in the morning." "Goodnight, Gin." They kissed for awhile, finally broke apart, and made for their beds. "Well, Ced. I'll see you in the morning, too." "That was English, but I will see you tomorrow, Harry." Ginny had already gotten her license, so everyone Apparated to straight to King's Cross. The trunks and everything still had to be pushed through the barrier. As Harry was walking alongside Ginny, he thought briefly about the last time he was here. He wasn't actually here, but that was a moment, the most personal moment, that he felt he could never tell her, but that he should. He remembered Voldemort's baby-like body that was struggling to survive in the brightly-lit building. He had been seated a table with Dumbledore discussing the past, death, and the few things that were left to do. As Harry passed through the barrier, he felt like he was truly leaving everything behind him for the first time. On the other side, the scarlet steam engine was waiting under a partly cloudy, but brisk, early autumn morning. Everyone climbed aboard after a short farewell to Molly and Arthur. People stared as the four of them found a compartment before Hermione went up to the Head carriage. Harry didn't mind. Ron didn't ask any questions as Harry and Ginny sat there holding hands. The trolley came by, Hermione returned, first years were huddled in compartments, fifth years were running around making noise, and everything felt so right as the train stuttered to a stop under pure starlight in Hogsmeade station. The foursome got out, looked around, and smiled. "Firs' Years! Firs' Years over here! C'mon, we got ter get ter the boats!" "I walk around my room not thinking, was sinking in this box. I blame myself for being too much like somebody else. I never thought I would forget this hate…" -Our Lady Peace

Settled In The thestrals nodded to Harry. Then they nodded to nearly every seventh year student. So many of them had been involved in the war, that nearly half the class could see the creatures. Most of them jumped back into a friend. That friend explained the situation, and comprehension then dawned on a dozen faces. The carriages made their way, as they always did, away from the village and towards the school. The front gates were once again flanked by winged boars, and the walk through the Entrance Hall and into the Great Hall filled Harry with an unidentifiable feeling. It wasn't butterflies. It wasn't warmth. He felt full all of the sudden, like he had just eaten, was still hungry, and needed to sit down all at the same time. He thought something must be wrong, but he didn't feel sick or sad. Once everyone had found their seats (after staring at Ron, Hermione, and Harry for a second), all those feelings disappeared. Harry smiled at himself and chuckled. He was home, but he hadn't realized how homesick he was until he saw the floating candles, long house tables, and a couple hundred or so witches and wizards in black robes with silver fastenings. Harry sat still and stared forward. He focused on the hand intertwined with his underneath the table instead. However, after only a minute or two, the doors opened again and a walrus of a man was leading a scared single-file line of first years up between the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables. Once Professor Slughorn reached his destination, he conjured a three-legged stool, placed the Sorting Hat on top, and stepped around to address the students at large. "When I call your name, sit on the stool and put the Hat on your head. Adams, Dane!" The Sorting began. Harry didn't recognize any family names, and he was thankful for it. The only thing he wanted to think about this year was what any seventh year would. He was going to try to do well on his N.E.W.T.'s, have fun with his friends, and make sure that Ginny was constantly happy. He clapped when the rest of his table started clapping, signaling the arrival of a new Gryffindor. They ate a magnificent meal. Harry brought up to his friends the memory of the house elves helping in the Battle of Hogwarts. Everyone silently nodded their heads before Harry mentioned, more quietly, that the four of them should go down to the kitchens sometime and really thank them. "We should get them more representation –" "Hermione! That's not what he meant." Ron cut his wife off before S.P.E.W. could be restarted during the Welcoming Feast. The Great Hall suddenly became very silent, and upon looking up at the Head Table, Harry noticed that Professor McGonagall, looking a tab more worn than usual, had risen from her chair. "Welcome to another year at Hogwarts! As most of you will know, I am not one for long speeches. Mr. Filch's list of banned products remains on his office door. The Forbidden Forest is off limits to all students at all times. I will be looking to the new Head Boy Terry Boot and the new Head Girl Hermione Granger to make sure that all daily rules and regulations are followed. However, this year will be very different from last. Hogsmeade has been reopened to third years and above." A murmur ran around the room as students, mostly girls, discussed this new development. The foursome didn't budge much. "Also, Hogwarts has been charged with one other need this year. We have to send two students, a boy and girl, to the TriWizard Tournament." There was no murmur this time, more of an uproar. As Fred and George Weasley had done four years ago, there were many "You've got to be kidding!" calls that rang out. Again, already knowing this, the foursome didn't move much, but they were forced to react after a minute or so. The entire Hall had looked in their direction. Apparently, the students assumed that Harry or Ron would be the chosen boy, and that Ginny or Hermione would be the chosen girl. Obviously, there were some rumblings at other tables as to who would enter their own names. Stories of the Goblet of Fire must have reached many homes and ears over the years, and Harry wondered how the champions would be chosen this time around. "The are major differences this year. Obviously the fact that two champions will be chosen from Hogwarts is different, on principle. Also, the tournament will be held at all three participating schools." Harry whispered to the others. Minerva hadn't mentioned that over the summer. "Thirdly, Durmstrang will not be competing, but in their ongoing need to spread their culture throughout the world, an American school, the Colonial Establishment, will be the last participating school." The murmuring continued, as did McGonagall. "The tournament will have two different winners. Firstly, all six contestants will be vying for the TriWizard Cup. However, each pair will be competing against the other two for the TriSchool Cup. Be advised!" Her voice raised. "These tasks, as always, are extremely dangerous. Therefore, no one should take this lightly. Also, as before, students from sixth and seventh year only, will be allowed to submit their names. Now, off to bed. Chop, Chop!" There couldn't be more buzzing in the Great Hall as all the students filed out. Hermione and Ron left their friends at the th ird staircase to make their way to the private room. Harry and Ginny waited to follow a group of fifth years up to the dormitory. Again, they were stared at, but this time it might have been the clear energy between the two of them. They weren't holding hands out in the open, but they were shoulder to shoulder. After getting the password from someone ('summertime'), they automatically turned towards the huge chair next to the fire. However, but not completely to Ginny's surprise, there were already two people in it. She quickly whispered about the sixth year boy and fifth year girl getting together last year. "It was so sweet, Harry. Her mom died. She was a wreck. She couldn't even get through classes. Madame Pomfrey couldn't do anything to help her. Minerva could only hope. Then, Tristan just kind of…happened." "Sometimes it takes that." Harry said, more to himself, than to Ginny.

"Yeah. Well, you want to find somewhere else?" At that moment, Tristan and his girlfriend looked up. "Oh, did you guys want this spot?" Ginny spoke first. "No, Delia, it's ok. Harry didn't know." "Seriously, Harry. If you want to sit here, that's fine." "No, er, Tristan? It's yours." He turned away to look for a couch or something. As he spun all the way around, he saw the two students getting up. "What are you doing?" "You deserve it." Harry immediately regretted even coming back to school. "No!" A little louder than he wanted. "I mean, I just want to be a kid…for once." He turned towards the stairway, Ginny was calling quietly after him, and the rest of the common room began to buzz. At the first step of the stairs, he revolved on the spot. Ginny had followed him as closely as she could, and the rest of the students were staring up at him. "I'm sorry. Most of you have been in school with me for a few years before. I just hope that everyone understands that I want to have a normal life now." "We get it, Harry." Colin Creevey spoke up with a shiny P on his robes. "Yeah." His brother Dennis chimed in as well. After a few seconds, most of the common room had agreed. Ginny still looked worried. She was about to speak when a sound from behind her met his ears. "Harry? Um, I'm Delia. I know what you mean. Well, no one knows what you mean, really. I mean, I'm n ot sure what I mean." She didn't sound stupid, just nervous and disorganized. "Ok." She gathered herself. "It's ok, Delia. Listen. I am just a seventh year student. I will not be entering the TriWizard Tournament. I do not want to play Quidditch this year. I just want to do well on my N.E.W.T.'s, watch one of the tasks, cheer for Gryffindor to win every Cup there is, and graduate." Without waiting for anyone to say anything, he turned away from his fellow Gryffindors, away from Ginny, and walked silently up to his new room. He found his bed, opened up Cedrella's cage, and let her fly out of the open window he just propped ajar. However, she flew out of the cage and onto the bed, snuggling up next to Harry. "Thanks, Ced." "You seemed distressed. I am here to comfort you in anyway you need." "Thanks, Ced. Let's just try to get some sleep." Sleep came. Amazingly. Harry couldn't believe the next time he was waking up was to slight sunlight creeping through stained glass on the nearest window. Seeing that he hadn't even changed clothes, he got out of bed, grabbed everything he would need for a shower, and headed out of the dormitory before anyone else. After letting the water fall over him for almost an hour, he felt as if he had washed away part of the dirt and feelings he had experienced recently. Definitely feeling better, he got partially redressed in the bathroom and made his way back up to the dorm before heading down for breakfast. As Harry passed through one of the secret passageways that opened up into the Charms Corridor, he saw it, clearly written along the walls, giving him a déjà vu that he never wanted to relive: There is a symmetry to the purity of Blood, And sometimes a cleansing comes about like the Flood. It always has to exist from ender to starter, For every Three Brothers, there must be Three Daughters. Harry stopped dead. Once again, he was going to be found somewhere that he shouldn't. He decided to fix his past mistakes, though. He turned to his right, pulled out his wand and sent a Patronus straight to Minerva. All at once, he was consumed by it. The last time he had seen words spread across a Hogwarts wall, Ginny was almost lost. He had tried to forget it. He thought it had died with Voldemort. He thought he had flushed his system clean of it.

It was back. It was hate. He hated the person who wrote this. Whoever it was. "Painted room...can't deny there's something wrong... Don't call me daughter, not fit to. The picture kept will remind me. Don't call me daughter, not fit to. The picture kept will remind me. Don't call me..." -Pearl Jam The Tale of the Three Daughters "Potter!" Minerva had thankfully found him first. He was still standing there, memorizing the writing. "Let's go see the headmaster." He was confused for a second, but appreciated the fact that she still considered Dumbledore's portrait to be the rightful master of the school to which he had given so much. Harry's first thought was to send a Patronus to Ginny, or maybe even Ron and Hermione, but he had vowed, the second he saw the writing, that whatever it was, he was not going to get any of his loved ones involved. They took the familiar path past the gargoyles, up the winding stair and through the oak doors. Harry made to sit in the chair he always sat in, and Minerva took her seat behind the desk. However, before he could even sit, a small cough sounded in the circular room followed by the appearance of a man in half-moon spectacles. "Hello, Professor." "Harry, please. Albus will do sufficiently, and much more socially." He added with a wink. "Yes, Albus." Minerva interrupted. "There is something we need to discuss." "Harry, Tom Riddle has been vanquished, you have yet to receive your course schedule, and already something has happened?" "Yes, sir." Harry was still shaking. As always, Dumbledore's calmness was not as soothing as others might think. "There was something written on the wall of the Charms corridor." "Minerva?" "It has been cleaned already. We have taken your advice to keep any future mystery solvers at bay." Harry again took offense. They were speaking as if he, Ron, and Hermione had been juvenile delinquents, instead of saving the stone, Ginny, Sirius, seeing Voldemort return, etc. "Thank you. Now what exactly was written?" Harry's mind went into overdrive. He had stared at it enough to have it memorized. "There is a symmetry to the purity of Blood, and sometimes a cleansing comes about like the Flood. It always has to exist from ender to starter. For every Three Brothers, there must be Three Daughters." "Impressive memory, Harry." "I was standing there for awhile." Harry looked down at the ground before continuing. "Wait! How would you know I was right?" Dumbledore smiled. "It was rumored there was a corresponding story. Beedle the Bard never wrote about it, but legend speaks of the Three Daughters." "Albus?" Minerva looked worried. He didn't look at her. He looked at Harry. "I had no idea that it was true." "Sir, if you didn't know, then who in this school would have ANY idea?" "An excellent question. One that I do not have the answer to."

Harry's rage from earlier was threatening to overflow. "So, Albus," sarcasm oozing from his tongue as he rose out of his seat, "does that mean that you do have an answer, but I have to figure it out on my own? Or wait! I got it! There's someone that I hate that is actually going to help me out at the very end? Oh no! Now I see! AM I GOING TO HAVE TO DIE AGAIN! Or should I rip apart your office?" "Harry, please calm down." Minerva spoke softly. Harry thought he had defeated these demons. Ginny had brought him back from this place. Hadn't she? "Albus, why would Harry think he had to die again? Like when he was one?" "No, Minerva," the sarcasm returned, "like die again! I've survived the Killing Curse twice. And while we're at it, I've repelled it twice, too!" "Minerva, would you please excuse yourself for a few minutes. Harry will send you a Patronus when we are done." "Will I?" "Yes, you will." Minerva left as Albus was saying this. When the door closed, he continued, "You have always responded to the truth, being rightfully angry, with the correct decisions." "Ok, fine. What DO you know?" Harry's pulse was slowing, he was no longer shaking, and he did need answers. "As any good pureblood wizards would, the three brothers felt the need to augment their own story. Thus, the myth of the three daughters. Much research has been done on the subject, and nowhere in history were there found to be any sisters to match what the legend told." "But you believe it?" "I am open to almost anything after the life I have led. Now, I am going to assume that the writing was in four lines?" "Yes, sir." He said, not caring how he knew that. "I believe the simplest explanation will come forth if we examine each line separately." Harry sat back down to listen. "There is a symmetry to the purity of Blood…" "Purebloods." Harry nodded his head, his curiosity taking over once more. "Yes, Harry, but that is not the important component of the legend. The word choice was said to be what the Peverells held in esteem. 'Purity' itself was the operative word used for this one sentence. The most pure Hallow was the Cloak of Invisibility. While the stone seemed the least powerful, its purpose was perhaps the most dangerous, the illusion of love, much like the Mirror of Erised, driving people mad, or Priori Incantatem, forcing one to relive past spells. Therefore, there must be a corresponding 'pure daughter,' and the belief was that Ignotus actually used the words, 'pure as snow'." "Ok." Harry reassured him that he was following. "The second sentence: And sometimes a cleansing must come about like the Flood." "Like the Bible tale?" "Most likely an allusion to the story only. I can see in your eyes that you are skeptical, perhaps because of your own experience with the afterlife?" Harry said nothing. "Very well, the operative word here being 'cleansing'. Purebloods believed, as even I once did, that muggles, squibs, muggle-borns, and the like should be controlled for the "greater good" of Wizardkind." "Yeah, we all read Rita's articles." "Quite. Well, Antioch believed, as I did, that the Elder Wand would be used for such a purpose, and that the instrument would be something like a plague. Fire scorching the Earth that was deemed unworthy. His actual words, according to myth, were 'a consuming fire'." "Ok. One daughter is pure as snow, and one is a consuming fire." Harry was keeping score. "Yes. The third line: It always has to exist from ender to starter. The operative word here is 'exist.' The Resurrection Stone was literally a part of the Earth, a symbol for all existence. Cadmus' words according to myth, a relic of his religious childhood, were 'existence is but ashes to ashes and dust to dust'."

"Like the stone?" "Correct. A piece of Earth contains, in some way, the remains of ancient life." Harry's investigative skills were stellar for an eighteen-year old, and it began to show. "So, there's a Daughter to do with snow, one to do with fire, and one to do with dust?" "Or ashes, but yes. You were always acute at summations, Harry." "Thank you, sir. Sorry for earlier." "It was, it is, and it always be, quite understandable. You have had a childhood that none will ever rival. You are an amazing man today. If you had come across this term while reading, I would have discouraged your curiosity, much like Hallows or Horcruxes. However, someone may be trying to find the three daughters, and it would do well to stop them." "What happens if you are the master of the Three Daughters?" Harry was waiting on pins and needles now. "Just as the Hallows would allow you to master death, the Daughters will allow you to master life. I can see in your eyes that this news does not trouble you." "Who cares if someone wants people to live?" "No, Harry. As you have no doubt encountered, death is not as powerful as people believe it to be. You have seen your parents three times since they died. They spoke to you as well. You spoke to me before, and you speak to me now." "Death is just the next great adventure." Harry practically whispered to himself. "Thank you for heeding some of the things I said, Harry. It makes an old man, and a professor, very proud of you." "You're welcome?" Harry grinned for a moment. "So what would they be able to do?" "Death is infinite once you have crossed over. The Hallows simply prevented or forced people to make the journey. Life, on the other hand, is finite. You can only live a certain amount of time, even the Flamels learned that. The master of life can not only send someone to death," Harry knew what was coming and couldn't believe Voldemort had never tried it. To be honest, he hadn't known about the Hallows either. "He or she can extend their own life, indefinitely, and in whatever state they see fit." Harry was already shaking his head. "I don't believe this." "Very few do. Many people, muggles and wizards alike, have searched far and wide for something most famously known as The Fountain of Youth. Immortality without aging is an idea that draws powerfully on human weakness." "I know." "Could you send that Patronus now, Harry." "Yes, sir." "Harry?" "Yes, Albus." "Thank you. Oh, and good luck with your N.E.W.T. classes and new teachers." "Thank you, sir." His trip back to the common room didn't take long at all. He glanced at his watch, remembering the Prewetts for a second, and noticed he still had time for a spot of breakfast, but needed his school things first. He noticed that none of his friends were there, but there was a note left for him telling him to hurry (making sure he got his schedule). After grabbing his bag, he raced down to the Great Hall in a matter of moments, joined Ron, Hermione, and Ginny at the table, and began to eat quickly.

"Here's your schedule." Ron spoke up. "So? Where were you? McGonagall looks white in the face! What's going on, Harry?" He stared at his food, cleared his throat, and grabbed Ginny's hand. "You guys are not going to believe this." "When I look back on my ordinary, ordinary life… I see so much magic, though I missed it at the time." -Jamie Cullum N.E.W.T. Classes "Wait, Harry, before you tell us, look up at the staff table! Who are those people?" Hermione was, of course, worried about her education. Harry never knew the names of some of her teachers. Professor Vector was the only professor's name he knew in those other classes she took. Now that he was properly paying attention to the Head Table, he noticed that there were two wizards on McGonagall's left that he didn't recognize, along with a witch a couple more seats down. He noticed all the others. Slughorn, Sprout, and Flitwick were still here. Hagrid, Sinistra, and Trelawney all sat together at the right end of the table. Before he could get a chance to ask them if they knew any of the newcomers, he saw Minerva get up from her chair, conjure up a stack of parchments, and hand them to Professor Slughorn. The Potions Master made his way down the rows, handing out the schedules. When he got to the foursome, he stopped for moment, gave Harry an admiring, yet concerned look, and moved on. "I'm so glad I have less classes this year!" "Ronald! I can't believe you dropped a class!" "It's ok, Hermione. I don't much fancy working for the Ministry, so I don't need to be an Auror." "Cheers." Harry agreed, wishing he had dropped a class or two. "What are you taking this year?" He peered over to look at Ron's schedule. "Defense, Charms, Transfiguration, and Potions. Nothing more, nothing less." He looked very proud of himself. "I still can't believe you. I'm taking seven classes, and you're only taking four!" Hermione did not look so proud. "Hey, someone's gotta take care of the room, make very romantic plans all the time –" "Yeah. Playing Quidditch, eating, and sleeping are all very romantic." Hermione retorted, but not as seriously as she used to. The two of them looked at each other, smiled, and almost started snuggling right at the table. Ginny then spoke up. "My classes weren't too bad last year, I mean, with the Carrows walking around all the time. I'm still taking five, though. I can't believe I'm in class with Ron, but I'm still in Herbology, though." "We have the same schedule!" Harry was a little too ecstatic. Noticing his own glee, he dropped his demeanor a tad, remembering why he was so somber to begin with. Ginny grabbed his hand. "I have an idea. How about the four of us have dinner out on the lawn tonight. We can nick some food from the kitchens, say hi to the house elves, and go sit under the stars. It looks like it's going to be a beautiful night, and Harry can tell us about whatever happened to him this morning." Harry smiled. Ginny's plan sounded perfect. Luckily, Harry had an open period before a double Defense class. As always, the only person who had to go to class was Hermione, who headed off to Arithmancy. Therefore, the other three made their way back to the common room to relax. Upon arriving, they once again realized that Harry and Ron really didn't know anyone. As such, everyone looked at them like conquering heroes, and Harry felt like he was going to have to live up to something that people had created in their minds. And as he had so many times the last couple days, he repeated to himself, "Focus on your N.E.W.T.'s. Focus on Ginny. Focus on your N.E.W.T.'s. Focus on Ginny." He said his mantra until he found himself in his dormitory. Unbidden, the Three Daughters crept back into his troubled mind. However, before anything solid could form, Cedrella spoke up.

"Is Ginny your Lady?" "Huh? Oh, hi Ced. Yes, she is." "What is troubling you?" "I just want to be normal." He checked to make sure no one was coming up. "It looks like that's not going to happen this year." "Why is that?" "Unless you know who or where the Three Daughters are, then I have a bad feeling about the next several months." "The witch at the shop I was kept spoke of it in whispers." "WHAT?" Harry hadn't been paying the correct amount of attention until now. "She knows about it?" "I am only an owl. I have no idea what its importance is. However, I was always kept in the back, as I was priced too high. Sometimes, she would be using her fire to speak to a wizard, and a young one by the sound of it." "Thanks, Ced! I mean. I'm not any closer, but at least I can ask someone." At that moment, three things happened: Harry gave a final hoot, Cedrella responded in kind, and Ron came up the stairs. "What were you doing, mate?" Knowing what he meant, Harry quickly answered. "Oh, just humming a muggle song. I think it's stuck in my head because I was doing the same thing the other day when Ginny walked in." "Oh." Ron rummaged around the room, not searching for anything, but simply acclimating himself again to his old dormitory before setting off back to his own private room. Harry had come to a conclusion of sorts about this new mystery. Gone were the days of operating completely alone. Granted, he assumed there were certain things he was going to have to do on his own, or at least keep secret to himself, but now he was not going to sit there putting only himself and his friends in harm's way. He conjured parchment and quill from thin air and sat down to write. Dear Kingsley, I'm not sure if you even receive post this way now that you are Minister. However, I need to ask you for advice and help. There is a situation here at Hogwarts, and Minerva will probably be getting in touch with you regardless, and we need your help. I want you to write me back, confirming that it is you writing, and we will go from there. Thank you for your time. In fellowship, Harry "So, you up for a delivery?" "Yes, Harry." Cedrella popped out of her cage, which was never closed, grabbed the envelope out of his hand without hesitation or waiting for an address to be written on it, and stood on the perch staring. "Where am I going?" "Kingsley Shacklebot. He's the Minister of Magic. I'm not really sure how you do that, but try your best." "I will succeed." Harry thought that this pronouncement was a little much, but appreciated the confidence and dedication nonetheless. With yet another task done on yet another first day of school, Harry lied down on his bed, allowing his new problems to wash over him without the threat of an angry outburst or emotional upheaval. However, upon opening his eyes, realizing he had dozed off, and checking his watch, he scrambled out of bed, grabbed his schoolbag and raced down the stairs only to run into Ginny. "Whoa, slow down. It's ok. I was just coming up to get you." She was rubbing his arm and smiling. "Ready for your first Defense class?"

"As ready as I'll ever be." They both started howling. Harry rarely made jokes these days, and when he did, it was almost always something concerning the recent fall of Voldemort or the celebrity status that went along with it. After they turned into the ir third corridor, Harry saw Ron waiting against the wall, and Hermione appearing seconds later. She jumped into his arms, kissed for a second, then made off towards class hand-in-hand. Harry smiled. The four of them took seats at two side-by-side tables. As Harry looked around the room, again noticing people who were Ginny's friends and not his, he saw that there were more students than he remembered. Before he could ask Ginny about it, get anything out of his bag, or get comfortable in his chair, the door to the office opened and in strode a man who, Harry thought, belonged in front of a camera or on a Quidditch Pitch. He was dressed in midnight blue robes that seemed to have just been bought off the rack. His hair looked like Sirius had worn his in his youth. It looked completely intentional and yet strands fell like they were growing of their own accord. He wasn't a large or built man, but his stature, gait, smiling, and winking made him seem like a man who had more confidence than was ever necessary. "Hello, class." WHAT? Harry thought in his mind, but some of his classmates made audible responses, Ron's being the loudest. He's American? Harry looked around to see what other people thought, but it seemed that most of the female students had been confounded or imperiused. "I will take your faces to mean that you were not expecting this at all." "You're a yank!" Ron said. "Well spotted. My name is Julius MacDonald. I was born near Leicester, but my family moved to the states when I was very young. I grew up in a city called Dallas, but attended the Colonial Establishment in Roswell. I wish I could tell you stories about what the muggles think we're doing out there, but now is not the time for such joking." "Yeah? When is the time for that?" Ron, sarcastically, was definitely not impressed with the new teacher. "Well, Mr. Weasley, I find that test years are the toughest, and every once and awhile we will have hours to have fun. If I can't keep you sane, y'all won't do as well on your tests. Oh, but we still raise our hands if we wanna speak in class." He added. Harry and Ginny started smirking. His accent wasn't that "wild, wild west" kind that Harry had seen on television, but some of the words he said were new. After about twenty minutes of introduction and overview, Professor MacDonald went steamrolling right into the curriculum. The class was going to be separated into six projects. The first five being solo projects, and the final one, due weeks before their N.E.W.T.'s, would be a group effort. After taking notes, about nothing to do with Defense and everything to do project-making, the bell rang, and the foursome made their bewildered way down to the dungeons. "Oho! Harry, m'boy, it's good to see you again." Slughorn clapped him on the shoulder and made his way back to the desk while they found themselves a table that fit them all. Harry, like he always did, glanced around the room first and saw that this might have been the most difficult class for this particular year. There were only eleven students (all of whom were in Defense just before), including Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but Slughorn didn't seem to notice. Throughout the class, he lectured as if speaking to a grand hall of hundreds of listeners. The students found out that this class would be project-based as well. The odd thing was that neither teacher had explained what the projects actually entailed. After lunch and another break, they left Ron in the common room and headed down to Herbology. There was a sign posted that stated the class would be held in Greenhouse Six. Harry opened the door first to see Professor Sprout, in her usual dung-stained clothing, pouring over some pots at her private table. However, and he realized he had stopped when Ginny ran into the back of him, there was another person standing at the table. "Neville?" "Harry! I was so glad to see that you three were going for your N.E.W.T.'s!" "What are you doing here?" "Well, I didn't exactly have a full year last year, so I have to do a little private tutoring with McGonagall, and then I get to take my tests around Halloween. In the meantime, though, I'm Professor Sprout's Teaching Assistant!" "Whoa! You have a job. Congratulations, Nev." "Thanks, Ginny. Yeah, she's retiring at the end of the year. Turns out most of the staff was sticking around just until You-KnowWho was gone, but a few of them said that they wanted to teach you guys as well." "This is weird." Harry stated the obvious before taking his place between Hermione and Ginny. Again, the class was going to be project-based. Sprout, however, at least explained why.

"N.E.W.T. level classes prepare you for the next step in the magical world. Your classes, therefore, are more practical. Classes such as Defense, Potions, and Herbology will be entirely practical, with minimal essays and tests, if not none. Charms, Transfiguration, Runes, Arithmancy, and others will still be theoretical." With his first day done, Harry wanted nothing more than to crash into his bed. He did exactly that. With Ginny in his arms the whole time. After a few hours, though, they had to wake up for dinner. Cedrella did them one better. Around seven, Harry heard tapping on the window and let her in, taking the letter from her claws. "Thanks, Ced." "That was English. I see that you have been working on separating the two?" Harry just nodded. A response, in English or Owl, was not smart with someone else paying attention. "It's from Kingsley!" "You know how many people get personal correspondence from the Minister? Without the seal or anything?" "I don't know." "I love you, Harry." He didn't understand. Instead, he opened the letter and read silently, not letting Ginny see it either. Harry, You lived with Snuffles for much less than time than you should have done. I hope that is sufficient. (It is, thought Harry). Now, you are correct, Minerva contacted me about the writing on the wall. She also told me that she has no idea what it means, but that you and a certain portrait have a few thoughts. I do not want you to feel the need to disclose everything. You owe nothing to anyone in this world, or the next. However, you did ask for help, and I will be here, at the Ministry, whenever you are in need of it. In fellowship, Kingsley p.s. I hate all that official title stuff. I appreciate you using my name. "So? When's the picnic?" Harry was smiling. "Your every word is full of doubt. I've never had a way 'til now to let it out… If this is how it's got to be, I will never speak freely." -Juliana Theory Quidditch Harry and Ginny started walking down towards the kitchens arm-in-arm. Not as many students roamed the halls at night for fear of Filch and Mrs. Norris. The foursome, however, had agreed quite quickly that the two patrollers of the corridors didn't bother them much. After tickling the pear, dealing with house elves that were far too excited to receive thanks from the famous wizards, and finally leaving with more food than any of them would ever eat, they made for the front doors. Halfway there though, after reaching the top of a staircase, they found Ron and Hermione embraced in a manner Molly and Arthur might not be too comfortable with, married or not. "Ahem." Ginny quietly spoke. Their friends were red in the face, their hair was a little frazzled, and their faces seemed to say that they had forgotten completely, for the moment, about the picnic the four of them were supposed to have. Harry and Ginny motioned wordlessly, without making too much eye contact, for them to follow. Once outside, they found a spot down by the lake, under the beech tree, and conjured all the necessities. Harry and Ginny quickly sat down on one corner of the blanket and began unraveling all the food from their separate containers. However, Ron and Hermione just stood there staring.

"Ok, mate, you haven't come out and told us yet, but it is pretty obvious, even to me." Ron's eyes were boring into Harry's in a way that reminded him of Snape's Occlumency lessons. "Ronald! You act like we've discussed it or something! Listen, the two of you are more than welcome to do whatever you want without us prying." Harry turned to Ginny, who was wearing a mischievous expression before responding. "You're right, Hermione." Ron looked hurt. "And so are you, Ron." "What?" Harry took up here. "It happened on her birthday." "We know." Hermione seemed shocked she had said it. "What?" Harry was amazed. "Oh, c'mon, Harry. I'm sure it was written all over our faces. I know Hermione kept pestering me about it without saying anything." "I didn't notice right away, mate, but you seem happier." With that, the other couple sat down as well, and they all began eating. During one of the longer silences, though, Harry spoke up. "Ok, so there is a problem at Hogwarts." The other three put their food down, wiped their faces, and started listening more intently than Hermione's most attentive class. "Ron, you and Hermione will understand more than Ginny right now, but try not to interrupt." He took a deep breath. "There is a corresponding myth to the Three Brothers concerning the Three Daughters." "What?" Hermione yelped, Ron scolded her for talking, and Harry continued. "In the same way that the Hallows could control death, these Daughters, and whoever masters them, can control life. Dumbledore and I talked about it, and trust me, this is worse. Now, I got a little bit of background up in Minerva's office, and I think I already have one person I can get more information from, but for right now, I don't want anyone to talk about this," he looked at Ron, "research," he looked at Hermione, "or worry about me." He inclined his head towards Ginny at the end. "Understand?" "So why did you just tell us?" "You asked me earlier, and I said I would." Their faces were not comforting. "Look, I already wrote a letter to Kingsley about it. I'm not going to do this alone if I don't have to, ok?" Their faces looked a little less distressed now, and Harry took that as a cue to begin eating again. "So, Harry, you're not going to tell us anything else?" Hermione wasn't going to let this go, and he should have realized that before agreeing on the spot to this revelation. "I know how you guys think. Every time I want to do something alone, you say that you will come with me no matter what." He wasn't done, but Ron seemed to think so. "So if you know all that, why are trying to hide things from us this time?" "I don't know." He looked at Ginny and squeezed her hand. "How about this? Let me talk to Kingsley, Minerva, and this other person first, and then once all of those avenues have been exhausted, I will be more than happy to tell you everything." "That sounds fair." Ginny said with a finality to return the friends to, well, friendly conversation about their first day back. To be honest with himself, Harry did enjoy the picnic, as most of the rest of their evening was spent making fun of what would happen if Filch really did have a problem with any of them wandering the corridors or grounds at night. Naturally, they began wondering about what their own Marauder-like adventures would have been like. The next day, Harry attended Charms and Transfiguration to find that these classes would indeed be a little more theoretical than his others, but nonetheless, challenging. He also met after class, upon her request, with Professor Olivia Terseaux, McGonagall's replacement. She was French, a testament to the nobility of Hogwarts that two new teachers were from countries other than Harry's native England. Hermione actually burrowed through Hogwarts, A History to find if any other teachers had been foreign, and she found that there were none. The new teacher, however, had a couple attributes that always made Harry laugh. First of all, she was, on the surface, a mix between Umbridge and Lockhart. Bubbly and annoying, yet different somehow. Harry couldn't quite put his finger on it, but she didn't bother him nearly as much as the other two had. The other problem was that she

was attractive for her age. The male students, quick to make jokes about her being a mother also, were rather subdued in class, hoping to make a good impression with the woman (rumors flying about her possible veela heritage didn't matter, in Ginny's opinion). During their break times, when Harry and Ginny weren't enjoying each other's company, Harry found his way back into his old habits. He poured over Snape's potions book (noting not to use anything without thinking it through), Ron and he played chess and discussed Quidditch (tryouts were quickly approaching), and classes were going better than he could have ever expected. It seemed that during their times in and out of school, the foursome had more practical experience than most students who had ever entered these halls. Charms, though theoretical, was based on actual wand movements and feelings necessary to cast spells. Transfiguration was all about study and confidence: two things which did not elude Harry in the slightest. All in all, September faded rapidly, and the day that Ron had been pestering him about was upon them. Jimmy Peakes had been given the captaincy in Harry's absence only because Ginny had flat-out refused the position from McGonagall, and he called Quidditch tryouts to be held on October 1st, allowing everyone to settle back into school before dealing with sports (a savvy move in Harry's opinion). "I just think that other people need to be given the chance to play, Ron." "Other people? You need to be given the chance to play! Aren't you always moping around about having a normal year?" "Yeah, but…" "So? That settles it! You're coming out for tryouts! They start at ten, so get a good breakfast in you!" "Well, at least I'm not nervous. Pass the toast, please." There were many other Gryffindors who were not so keen on attempting to digest kippers and eggs and bacon. Harry looked up and down the table to see that almost half the students, second years to seventh years, were just staring at empty plates. Thankfully, time did not slow down as it has a habit of doing when you want to get done with a task. Instead, Harry found himself on the pitch, his broom practically vibrating in his hand, and the need to get back up in the air descended upon once again on this chilly, yet sunny morning. He threw a leg over one side and merely thought about kicking off from the ground when the broom responded in kind. The newer Firebolt definitely had some added features, Harry assumed, and he had done about twenty-five laps without realizing it before he finally looked back to the ground to observe a strange scene. There were a few dozen students, most with brooms, staring (and gaping, in some cases) at Harry's flight. A few of them appeared to want to go back inside, but couldn't move for some reason. Harry smiled. He saw Peakes walking down towards the pitch with Ron and Ginny, all three looking excited when the Captain and Beater yelled at him. "Hey Potter! Catch!" Out of nowhere, Peakes had released a snitch into the air. Harry could tell right away that it wasn't a fast one, but the natural need to catch the golden ball on silver, fluttering wings overtook him instantly. He only trailed it for thirty seconds before returning to the ground and handing the ball back to Peakes. "Ok. Anyone here for the Seeker position might as well just go home." The group started laughing. "That's what I thought. Harry, um, someone let slip in the common room that you would be coming down for the team this year, and so no one bothered showing up for that position. You can sit in the stands, or judge the rest of the team along with me and Ginny." "I just want to be in the air." "Ok." Tryouts turned out to be almost a complete waste of time. Harry hadn't thought about it, but the entire team from two years ago was still here, save Katie Bell. Ginny and Demelza still worked together spectacularly. Peakes was obviously returning, and his friend and fellow Beater, Coote, would be rejoining the team as well. Only two students other than Ron came out for Keeper tryouts, and Harry's friend was on point the whole time. The good thing that came out of the morning, besides the addition of Melissa Arney as the third Chaser, was that Peakes picked an entire reserve team. The fact was that four people were graduating this year, and Gryffindor's chances to put out a decent squad next year depended on people practicing this year. Harry, who always felt relaxed and fulfilled after a hard practice, wished he had been put through the paces a bit more. However, another task in his life was done. He and his friends were happy, and even Hermione allowed the three of them to discuss the upcoming season for almost fifteen minutes without interrupting with schoolwork once. Now, Harry had to turn his attention to something he should have done a long time ago. After a few more conversations with Cedrella about the witch in the shop, he had her schedule and habits down to a science, and had picked this afternoon to visit the shop and ask her what she knew about the Three Daughters. It felt strange to Harry to have to work out a mystery without the hint of Malfoy on his tail.

He left the castle without letting anyone know where he was going. It was much easier than telling his friends that he was leaving, but then having to come up with some lie that Ginny and Hermione would be able to see through without a problem. After leaving the grounds and apparating to the Leaky Cauldron, Harry began something that he knew would not end well. This was the first step towards the Three Daughters. "Where will I be? When will I see? What are these questions….haunting me?" -Jeff Baker "Don't Think" The Master of Death "Ah," the witch behind the counter at Eyelop's didn't look very pleased. She had returned from the back room at the exact time that she always did on Saturdays. "Mr. Potter. What can I do for you today?" "You just finished your inventory?" "Yes, sir. Very astute of you." "Well then, ma'am, I believe that you will be closing for the rest of the day." Harry said very matter-of-factly. "Anything for Harry Potter." She pointed her wand at the front windows, which went dark instantly. "Would you like to join me for a drink?" Mad-Eye Moody's face, sipping from his hip flask, swam into Harry's mind. "Very well." He followed her into the back room, then off through another door which led to a kind of sitting room. She went to grab two drinks, but Harry stopped her. "Listen, I just need to ask you what you know about the Three Daughters." "Whose daughters?" "Do not lie to me, please. I am trying to be civil about this." Harry was caressing his wand in his pants pocket. "I heard a rumor awhile back about –" "Stop." Harry put his hand up. "Maybe I need to ask these questions to let you know that I'm serious." He motioned for her to sit down, while he stood above her, looking more intimidating. "The young wizard that you talk to by Floo," he pointed to the right, "in that fireplace. Who is he?" "How do you know?" She now looked worried. "That is not the point. Who is he?" Harry repeated. "My nephew." "And what is your name?" "Why would you want to know that?" "It would be a lot easier for me to find out who your nephew is if I knew who you were to begin with." "My name is Anastasia." Harry waited, but the woman did not divulge her surname. "And your last name?" "I still don't see why any of this is of importance to you." "I have my reasons. They are important. If that is not enough for you, I'm sure the Ministry would be more than happy to investigate this matter for me. Kingsley actually owled me the other day. Would you like to see his letter?" He acted as if he was

rummaging through his robes for parchment. Harry rarely used his own fame for any kind of persuasion, persecution, or personal gain. However, at the present time, he was more worried about this problem becoming a panic that could easily be avoided. "Brown." Harry paused slightly before listening again. "My last name is Brown." She did bear some resemblance to his former classmate, but Harry didn't want to jump to any conclusions that would waste his time, energy, and the safety of others. "And?" "I'm not saying anything else." She started fidgeting. Her hands were rubbing back and forth, tapping the table, and Harry could see that sweat beads were forming as well. This was one of those situations to let the silence impact the questioned. He paced slowly, studying her face, and he could swear he saw the conclusion forming. "Look, I want to do the right thing, but he made me swear not to tell anyone. I really think he would hurt my family." "Who?" "I'm not saying anything else." The process began again. "He was so charming at the beginning, but then…Well, I'm frightened for the safety of those I love. Can't you understand that?" "More than you'll ever know." It sounded like another Tom Riddle. Charming, yet scary. "Please, Miss Brown, you have to tell me who it is." "I cannot." Frustrated, Harry blurted out the next words that came into his mind, not really expecting an answer. "Then what do you know about the Three Daughters, at the very least?" "Well, I suppose that couldn't hurt." She launched into an explanation of the old myths and legends surrounding the Peverell Brothers which Harry already knew, however, he knew better than to cut her off at any point. She was glancing at the door every few minutes, and Harry assured her his protection charms were more than capable of keeping her safe. She continued on to claim that Ignotus and Cadmus, weary of their brother's obsession and destruction with the Elder Wand, placed spells into their own Hallows. These spells would bring about the corresponding Daughters whenever the true Master of Death appeared. According to her, the Daughters had approached because Harry had been the master of all three Hallows at once. "How would you know all of this?" "The story has been passed down to me throughout the generations. I don't know if you realize it, but many people in the Great Hall heard your conversation with He-who-must-not-be-Named." "He's dead. Call him Voldemort." "You are correct. He is dead. You are the Master of Death. Therefore, the Daughters have been identified." Harry wasn't as skeptical as some might be. What had Dumbledore told him? He had Tom had experienced areas of magic that no one, including the headmaster himself, had ever ventured towards. Harry's acceptance of this was quick. "You think you, or this boy, know who the Daughters are?" "Not necessarily 'who,' but yes, I know what one of them is." "And?" Harry's patience was inversely proportional to his acceptance. "You have one." "WHAT?" "The Daughters were meant to have one quality that they all shared. In order to be the Master of Life, one would have to possess items with this quality." "What quality?" "They have to be rare."

"Rare? That's it?" "Do the terms 'very rare' or 'extremely rare' suit you better?" Harry smiled slightly before continuing. "Very well, which Daughter do I already have?" "Your owl." "Cedrella?" "I did not know what you called her, but I assure you, a pure Snowy Owl comes along once every thousand or so years. According to myth, Rowena Ravenclaw owned one." "Ok." He remembered Dumbledore's words. Pure as snow. "No one knows of the transaction between us. Your owl refused to be taken out of the back room since her birth there many years ago. She began to fly to the front when you entered the shop." She paused. "No one knows of the transaction because no one knows that owl exists. The price was completely arbitrary." "Ok." Harry was trying to soak all of this in. After a couple minutes of temptation to use Legillimency or Veritaserum to find out who her contact was, Harry decided to leave the shop and try to wrap his mind around everything he had just learned. She had to be assuming that Harry had mastered the Hallows. Many rumors would fly about the Elder Wand, and it was common knowledge among enough people that Harry owned an Invisibility Cloak that served him well. However, no one really saw him with the Resurrection Stone. In any event, Harry was inclined to believe this story, and the deep breath he took as he closed his eyes and Disapparated told the tale of his own heart and mind. He was grateful to see the winged boars, as always, as he walked back up to the castle just in time to get a shower and change before dinner. You're all I need. You're all I dream. You're all I've always wanted. Another night with her...but I'm always wanting you…" -Blink 182 Much Understanding After a short meeting in the chamber, the professors left Harry and Hermione to pursue their own exploits in a certain red-and-gold common room, however, Harry had been left with a bit of 'advice.' "Watch after her, Potter." Minerva looked serious. "She doesn't know about the factors now facing her." This was a little ominous for Harry's taste, but he understood in the main that Minerva was just concerned about Hermione's temperament throughout the duration of the tournament. "So. Champion, huh?" "Oh, Harry, please! This is about BOTH of us! We have to win the TriSchool Cup! For Hogwarts! For Gryffindor!" Harry smiled. She sounded like an advert or a pep talk, except the only people she would be convincing were herself and Harry. "You need to focus, Hermione." She looked excited. "But not the way you are used to." "What do you mean?" "These tasks, the first of which is in about a month, are not about memorizing spells and studying textbooks." "I know, Harry."

It looked like she was about to launch into some explanation, but he cut her off. "No, Hermione, you don't understand. Do you remember all those nights we spent trying to figure out how to breathe underwater? Yeah? We never even thought about flying during the first task. The third task was only 'easy' because Crouch, Jr. was patrolling." "Harry, you sound like you did when we were forming the D.A." "I know! I knew what each of the three tasks were beforehand last time. Without any kind of Voldemort or Karkaroff conspiracies this time, I think we're going to be completely in the dark." "Ah." Comprehension hit her full in the face. With that, the two of them slowly made their way back to the common room. They didn't speak much. Harry wasn't nearly as nervous as Hermione looked, but inside, he knew better. Another new sensation for Hermione was walking through the portrait hole to tumultuous applause. "YES!" "Nice going!" "You guys are gonna kill the other teams!" Everyone had nothing but nice things to say. There was no drama between the classmates. Everyone obviously wanted Hogwarts to win the other Cup, but this was so much more special. Both of the Champions were Gryffindors, and Harry had to be impressed with Hermione's earlier words being spot on. "Congratulations, mate, and everything, but –" Harry was worried Ron might be jealous again, but surely that wasn't the case. "I think I'm going to comfort my wife instead." Ron pointed. Harry laughed. Hermione was over in the other corner with some adoring (new) fans, but her face was looking a little green. Harry and Ginny decided to spend the entire night curled up on the couch in front of the fire (October's chill had predicted a cold November) allowing the rest of the house to come over and interview them in turn. "We're so happy that Harry is competing!" Ginny was glowing again. Harry could have sworn that her robes were on fire, but apparently no one noticed, and he wrote it off to being madly in love in the witch sitting next to him. "Of course I will go and see the tasks! McGonagall could not find enough chains in the dungeons to keep me here!" "She has chains?" A scared third year asked. "She has dungeons?" A terrified fifth year added. The two of them laughed at the ignorance, not their faults, of the lower years. It was strange, sometimes, to think that the foursome had plumbed the depths of the castle more than any student before them, even Tom Riddle. There were times that they would be eating breakfast and overhear a group of students talking about myths and legends about the country, the wizarding world, or the school, and try their best not to laugh. They were so old. However, thanks to school, the next night made them feel young again. McGonagall made sure of that. "The rest of the panel has convened at the two remaining schools and chosen their Champions as well. For information's sake, the representatives from Beauxbatons Academy are Marcel Bourdain and Gabrielle Delacour." A few people put two and two together in realizing that Fleur's sister had been chosen. Harry and his friends looked at each other confused. None of them had realized that she was as old as she was. Harry had always assumed she was so young as to not receive notice, but upon hearing the talk up and down the table realized she was fifteen now, and more than capable of competing in such an event. "The representatives from the Colonial Establishment will be Jeff Baker and Allison Hartley. And, as you may or may not already know, the first task will take place December 15th at Beauxbatons." Of course, this meant nothing to the student body at Hogwarts. The Americans never warranted any notice. In fact, the Quidditch Cup Final was being held in a city called St. Louis, a place no one here had ever heard of, but that the Americans had sworn would be just as extravagant as any Cup final in recent memory. After the last two contestants were named, the conversation quickly shifted to the World Cup. Harry could hear two Gryffindors, sounding very much like Dean and Seamus, arguing over the differences between Quidditch and Football. "You've never heard of the F.A. Cup? Are you serious?" As if this was base treason. "No. I'm your best friend, Nigel! Are you seriously telling me you've never been to an International Quidditch game?"

Much of the discussion for the rest of the night centered back around the Cup Final, but the foursome were deep in discussion about the upcoming first task. All of them were desperate for a Gryffindor, they meant Hogwarts, victory. "I've already tried to tell Hermione that we're not going to be cheating this time around. We really don't have any idea what's coming, but she won't listen." "I AM listening, but I still think that hard work and planning are the key to any of these tasks." "Right, because that helped me so much last time." The uproar from the foursome and the eavesdroppers could be heard an ocean away, and it may have been this commotion that forced everyone else to finally see that their food was gone and it was time for bed. The next few days and incidentally, the next few weeks, consisted of nothing but Harry and Hermione shut up in the Library studying everything from Alohamora to Avada Kedavra. Harry got through his classes without a problem. His first Potions project with Ginny went perfectly, and Minerva herself came down to witness their Transfiguration project which yielded an entire muggle airplane on the Hogwarts' grounds. Herbology and Charms, though less difficult were still satisfactory, and of course, his Defense work was impeccable. Professor MacDonald, who wanted to be called "Mac," actually commented weekly on Harry's ability to make himself feel a little obsolete. "Why aren't you teaching this class, Potter?" "He already did." A few people, members of the D.A. would speak up. "And he was the best teacher that Dumbledore couldn't find!" Harry didn't appreciate the shots at Albus, but understood what they meant. In reality, however, he couldn't ignore them. Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, or 'Professor,' was the smartest creature Harry would ever know. He had never given time to understand how his mentor had learned Mermish, been so omnipotent without a Marauder's Map, or been so kind after such family tragedy. He had never really gone out of his way to get to know the man who knew more about human nature, about wizard nature, than any man before him. "And any man after him." Harry said aloud while thinking. Thankfully, he was alone in the Library studying at the time. When he really sat down, alone, and thought about Albus, only four words came to mind. They were the same words that he thought of at his funeral. 'Nitwit, Blubber, Oddment, and Tweak' didn't satisfy anyone else's sense of closure, but they were the only words that could describe this great man. Rita Skeeter had done her best, against Bathilda Bagshot and Elphias Doge's wishes, to somehow smear the man in controversy, but he lived on despite that. Dumbledore would always be the beacon of light, of hope, of a second chance, to all who deserved it. Harry laughed about the prospect of trying to describe Dumbledore. He felt sorry for the authors who had to somehow summarize in a certain amount of words the greatness that was his mentor. He had known, twenty years before, that this was exactly how things were supposed to be. He had said the right words to the right people. He had divulged the right information at the right time, and he had trusted in those who had no right to be trusted, in order to make the world a better place. Can you imagine lying to someone their entire life just to make your dead relatives proud of you? Dumbledore had done everything with regards to Harry to make Ariana smile down upon him. Can you imagine loving a student like a grandchild only to see him walk into the death you had provided for him? Dumbledore had done everything with regards to Harry's own happiness. Whether he knew it or not, Albus had guaranteed Ginny's happiness with Harry! Whether he knew it or not, Fred's death guaranteed George's future! Whether he knew it or not, Dobby had become the martyr for a Elf-rights movement that was currently sweeping the nation. He did know. He did know. Harry was astonished every time he thought about it. Dumbledore knew, AT THE CORE, more about Wizardkind, than anyone before him. He understood the difference between Tom Riddle and Harry Potter. He understood the difference between ability and choice! Albus Percival Wulfric Brain Dumbledore understood! He understood! After the announcement of the first task by Minerva one night, Harry began to understand. "The first task will test the Champions in terms of Teamwork, Logic, and finding the Best Solution, to a given problem. This first task, as everyone already knows, will be held at the Beauxbatons Academy. Travel arrangements have already been made for the Champions, but anyone wishing to attend should contact their Head of House immediately."

He, and Hermione, were stuck in the Library once again. The two of them, frequently accompanied by Ron and Ginny, were doing their best to study up on ANYTHING and EVERYTHING, however searching the most obscure at the same time. It didn't matter. Harry wanted to be around Ginny, now more than ever. He was spending every night with Hermione, for a good reason, but still pining for his love, his everything, his life. If truth be told, Harry was not worried at all about the first task. It was supposed to be about all the things that Hermione was brilliant at! Logic? Solutions? He wasn't worried. However, as December 15th drew closer and closer, he began to feel that familiar feeling of dread and excitement. He felt hungry yet nauseous. He wanted to be completely alone, yet in the arms of another. He wanted to do well. He wanted to make her proud. But he didn't know. No one knew. She was the Fiery Daughter. She would be proud of him. She would be beside him. She would never leave him. That was the problem. Cedrella was already important. The Three Daughters were important. Would he be able to go on? Would he be able to complete the first task? Could he deal with Ginny's importance? He began to understand. "No way November, we'll say our good-byes…" -John Mayer (this song will get used a couple times, haha) A Short Conversation How he understood, he didn't know. Not for the first time in his life had Harry realized something without any evidence. There were times when standing up and using a useless Disarming Spell was the right thing to do. There were times, even as young as eleven, that he simply knew what had to be done to get a key into a door or stop a professor from stealing a stone. For some reason, after a wild explanation, he had trusted Sirius and Remus in a haunted building. Some things just naturally hit him like a ton of bricks, and his understanding of Ginny's, now current, situation was like any other. He could see her walking towards him in that new dress. He remembered seeing her glow momentarily, while simultaneously jogging his memory about wizarding families and certain rare occurrences. Harry didn't know exactly what it was, but his next stop was most definitely to the Headmaster's office. "Harry, do you feel alright?" It was Ginny's voice. He was still in class! He had drifted off for what seemed like an hour, only to realize that he was still sitting right in his seat, right after the comment a D.A. member made to Professor MacDonald. "What? Yeah, I'm fine." "Fine?" She didn't look convinced. "I thought you weren't going to use that word as a euphemism for 'horrible' anymore?" "I'll just…I'll tell you later…once I know what's going on." "Ok, Harry." She gave him another quizzical look and returned to taking notes in class. After the bell rang, he quickly made for the common room to deposit his books, determined to make it back to Minerva's office as quickly as possible. After avoiding a few puzzled looks through the halls, he found himself, once again, in front of the stone gargoyles. "Er…" As before, the gargoyles sprang aside of their own accord, and as before, Harry was appreciative. After climbing the stairs, he knocked on the oak door. "Come in." "Um, professor." Harry wasn't sure how to begin. "Mr. Potter, I should say Harry, we have discussed this." Minerva was behind the desk, rummaging through paperwork. Harry thought about this for a second. He had never seen Albus doing this kind of work whenever he came by his office. Of course, he rarely showed up during normal office hours.

"I need to talk to Albus." Instantly, he looked towards the portrait and noticed that his old mentor was asleep. "You might find that difficult at the moment." She replied. "I don't care!" He said with a force that shook the office. "Mr. Potter!" "Speak to me!" He yelled. "Harry…" A sleepy, almost dying, voice responded. "Professor…Albus." He corrected himself. "You are in need of my assistance?" "Yes." "May I ask why?" "Er, Minerva, will you leave us for a moment?" She inclined quickly, exited the room, and didn't return. "I already know what two of the Daughters are." "You think it wise to tell me? I was under the impression that your trust in me was waning." "Of course it isn't. I just get angry sometimes, and I –" "It is ok, Harry. Continue." "First of all, you cannot, under any circumstances, tell anyone about this, ok?" Albus nodded. "Ok, I bought Hedwig's daughter, a pure Snowy Owl." "I see." "And," he couldn't believe he was saying it, "I know Ginny is the consuming fire." "I see." "Well?" Harry was a tad annoyed at the headmaster's lack of conclusion after these enormous revelations. "What do you think?" "My opinion? You are probably right. Your instincts have always been rather good." "And?" "Your patience, not so much." Albus put up a hand in the portrait before Harry retorted. "However, I must assume that you have evidence that these two Daughters would be so closely connected to you." "I am the Master of Death." "Ah." Comprehension dawned on the old man's face. "Even though you have not performed any magic of the like?" "What?" "Merely possessing the three Hallows simultaneously has made you the Master?" "Er, I guess." Confusion now set in. However, there was more important information. "Also, the reason I have come to these conclusions was the testimony of one of the TriWizard judges."

"I never put much stock into coincidences either, Harry." "What do I do now?" "The most important thing? I think, from the new tone in your voice, you have grown in ways that have nothing to do with school or occupation." "Er…" "If you have found something, or someone, that you genuinely care about…" he paused, "you will do what you must to keep it content, nurtured, and secure." Harry wasn't sure why he was saying this, but it flowed naturally. "You lived your life for Ariana, I know that." "Thank you, Harry." "You're welcome, Albus." Harry left the room after receiving a small nod from the half-moon spectacled portrait. Once Minerva had passed him and shut the door, Harry couldn't help but hear what came next. "Albus, what is the boy into now?" "First of all, that man has the courage to change what he can and the strength to accept what he cannot." "And second?" "If he gains wisdom to discern between the two, Ginny Weasley, and many others, will have more abundant lives." "Another…day, has come and gone away… In Paris and Rome, but I wanna go home…" -Michael Buble La Première Tâche The next morning, and indeed, the next several mornings, Ginny pestered, in a manner that did not altogether bother Harry, about his conversation with Albus. "I will tell you, I promise." He felt he had told her that twenty times. Worse, if it was possible, were Ron and Hermione, who he had to endure even more. "Hermione, stop! Yes! It's about the Three Daughters, but right now, nothing is wrong, so leave me alone about it!" To be honest, Harry was a little on edge at the moment. Quidditch was taking up much of his time. His classes, though difficult for most, definitely left the Trio a little annoyed at times. They had all completed projects in multiple classes with top marks, garnering threatening looks from the other seventh years. Ron made a bigger deal about it than the others until Hermione notified the group that the other students felt as if Ginny was cheating. "Why?" Harry snorted one afternoon. Hermione sighed knowingly before answering. "They all think that Ginny is getting an unfair advantage by hanging out, and studying, with us." "That's stupid." Ron answered over a snack, but only Ginny saw Harry's look change. "What is it?" "They would rather have gone through what we went through? To get good marks?" The hate was bubbling up again. An uncomfortable silence settled, and when Hermione didn't have anything to say, she turned to Ginny, who was also speechless. Ron took the lead. "Look, Harry." "It's alright." He said, getting up from the couch in the common room, and heading upstairs. "I'm gonna get some more reading done for the tournament."

"Find me when you're done?" Ginny asked, but Harry was already on the staircase. The first task was approaching fast. Although Quidditch took up much of his time, the truth of the matter was that the first game against Slytherin wasn't until after the first task. Furthermore, the Slytherin Quidditch Team, decimated by the arrest of many of their parents, and subsequently, their own punishment, was not going to be much of a challenge for the impressive Gryffindor squad. That night, the destination was a familiar spot. Harry and Hermione were still spending far too much time in the library, and as Harry had said, there was no sinister plot to give them hints this time. "Hermione, listen, how did Krum and Fleur figure out the egg was Mersong?" "Well, I suppose they came across it somewhere." "Have we come across it?" "No." The color was draining in her face. "See?" "We've researched so much, though. Logically, the other contestants cannot possibly have more experience than we do, right?" "Sure." "And they cannot possibly be as old as us?" "Sure." "And they have never had to work together like we have before?" "Sure." "So we DO have the advantage." "At least this first one is about logic and teamwork." "There you go! That's the spirit." Hermione sounded like a cheerleader, and Harry did not miss the fact that she didn't look like she believed herself in the slightest. Therefore, when he awoke the next morning to the new alarm clock Hermione had gotten him, he couldn't help but feel a little resentful. The day was upon them, and for some reason, he was not at all happy with his own teammate. He was not allowed to research the Daughters at all, spend time with Ginny, or even speak to Albus. Nonetheless, he got up, showered, dressed quickly, and was one of the first down for breakfast that morning. "That's good, Harry. We need all the strength we have." Hermione's encouragement arrived a half hour later. "It has nothing to do with that, remember?" He had told her how once everything starts, it's just your instinct, and you don't really think about the meal you had several hours before. Throughout meals and classes that day, every student in the school was voicing their support. This, Harry continually thought to himself, was a nice change of pace from the last time he felt like his stomach was squirming. Visions of dragons followed him everywhere he went. If not, he might have noticed a skinny, pale sixth year making strange glances at him. However, as it tended to, time sped up to a remarkable rate, and McGonagall was addressing the student body at dinner. "We all just want to wish Mr. Potter and Mrs. Weasley all the best tonight." Everyone cheered so much that Harry, and apparently Hermione as well, was instantly full and ready to leave. When the time came, the couples took a minute for themselves. Harry made sure that he and Ginny were well away from the other pair be fore speaking. "You have had so much on your mind these last couple weeks."

"I know, Gin, I'm sorry." "It's ok. Just promise that we'll talk after the task and Quidditch match?" "We will." He nodded. "Harry?" She raised her eyebrows. "I promise." They both smiled, kissed, and then let go. Both couples had decided to only attend the Hogwarts task. Admittedly, if the pair were Ron and Ginny, the entire Weasley family, including Muriel and anyone else, would have been in France in a heartbeat. As it was, Harry and Hermione walked outside the grounds, endured a long farewell from Hagrid, and Apparated to the Ministry, where an International Portkey had been set up for their travels. The standard gawking ensued, but Harry was happy to see that the Ministry itself looked much more homely than the last time he had seen it. He made a mental note to congratulate Kingsley on that point, and send him an update. This thought took him to Cedrella, and then back to the Daughters. In fact, Hermione noticed and scolded him all the way to the building they were now approaching under the purple dusk that has descended. Harry stopped for a moment, seized by that nagging feeling that someone was watching him. Hermione didn't even notice until she was a good ten yards closer to the entrance. After rotating on the spot a few times, he finally rejoined her and took in the sight before them. There was no one. Literally, as they made their way through the double doors, they felt as if they had entered a mixture between a school and prison. Harry's dealings with Fleur had led him to believe that the French wizards took great pride in making everything look glamorous, even at the cost of overdoing everything. Finally, after passing through a short corridor, they saw what looked like a gymnasium through a distant window. However, the second they looked at it, it vanished. Harry thought this was strange, but magic was rarely normal. Hermione saw floating arrows that were following alongside the pair, guiding them to the task. Another corridor, still no sign of life, and then another corridor, until finally, a witch with a clipboard came around the corner in an obvious state. "Are you ze Eenglish?" "Yes, we are." Hermione responded after nudging Harry forward with her. "Zis way, please." After a quick explanation, in which the witch was slipping from English to French every two seconds, they surmised that this entire place was under a Secret-Keeper to keep anything from happening this time around. When they walked through another door, they saw that there were only seven other people in the room. They recognized three of them. "Mr. Potter. Mrs. Weasley." "MRS.?" Gabrielle squealed. "You married Ronald?" Harry noted that her accent was not nearly as thick as before. It seemed that Fleur's younger sister wanted to socialize, but Madame Maxime, Kingsley, and another wizard began clearing their throats. Finally, the witch that had guided them looked around, gave a quick nod, and then left the room. Kingsley spoke to the group. "Welcome to your first task. Let me first congratulate all of you on being selected." Harry took his first glance at the others and began to take in their appearance, before Kingsley continued, breaking off his would-be introductions. "Tonight will not be dangerous in the physical sense if you find the best solution, so do not be frightened. The task is simple. Get out of the gym." Silence fell while the Champions absorbed their challenge. "And?" The American wizard asked in a fashion that made Harry think he was a little too arrogant for his own good. "You will take only your wands inside. Remember, you are all being scored individually, but your team must complete the task in order to gain points. The only information you have is that you have all seen this place before." Another brutal silence.

"Good luck." Kingsley beckoned Harry and Hermione to the opposite wall, where they now saw three doors. Madame Maxime led Gabrielle and Marcel to the door just adjacent, and the American wizard led his Champions to a door on the other side of that one. All three opened their doors to show utter darkness, and the Champions stepped inside. The door closed behind Harry and Hermione with a resounding thud, and all was black. "This isn't normal." "Of course it isn't Harry. It's magically dark. Ok…" He couldn't see her, even though she was mere inches from him, but he could tell her mind was already churning. "Er, Hermione?" "Yes?" "Never mind. Lumos!" Nothing happened. "Incendio!" Nothing happened. "Harry! Stop! The darkness is clearly part of the task. Hold my hand so that we don't accidentally get separated." "Ok. Now what?" He felt like he was back in class with her, waiting for the right answer. "I don't know." Harry's confidence fell quickly, while fear began creeping in. "Stay still, though. Let's think this out first." "Let's? Like us?" "Of course! We have to use teamwork and logic to find the best solution to this." "We need to get out Hermione." "I know. Now, we need to figure out what they have told us. We have all seen this place before." "How in the world did they put us in a place where six people from three countries have all already been to?" "Well done! That's the point!" "What?" Harry didn't understand what he had just said. "Have you ever been outside Britain before tonight?" "No." "Do you think that the Americans have been anywhere like Hogwarts or Diagon Alley?" "Probably not." "Ok, so where have we all been?" She trailed off. She seemed annoyed that her predicament. Harry felt the same. Give him twelve Dementors and a Sphinx, and they would already be done. "Where have we all been…is it more of a metaphor for something..." She trailed off again. Harry responded with an air of annoyance. "We're all stuck in this gym!" "That's it! Here! We saw a gym that went dark when we walked in! What if the other teams saw the same thing?" "Ok." The fact that he had to come up with the answer didn't help his confidence. "Do you remember anything?" "No. A tree maybe?" At that moment, they could hear, far in the distance, a yell of frustration. Harry hoped it was the American wizard who had been so smug earlier. "I don't remember a tree."

"Do we have to talk this out? Why not try to start moving around?" "Kingsley also told us that it wouldn't be dangerous physically…it must be a mental thing." Harry could picture Ron saying, "this IS mental!" "…but no, we shouldn't move around. We have to remember!" "You're the one with the memory!" Harry, keeping one hand in Hermione's, started coming up with any spell that provided light, much to the sighs of his partner. "Stop. We need to work together." "I know, I'm sorry." The darkness seemed to be closing in around him. He completely understood the frustrated scream earlier and was doing everything he could to keep those feelings at bay. Harry's eyes were actually becoming more and more comfortable in the darkness as he calmed down. "Ok, what else is going on here?" "I don't know." "Just say what you're thinking." "Ok." He took a deep breath, gratified that Hermione's death grip on his hand was looser now, and started talking. "We Apparated to that spot right outside the building, walked inside, the gym was at the end of the hall, then I guess we walked all the way around it." "Ok…" Hermione must have been nodding. "…Then we went through that door, which disappeared apparently–" "That's it!" She interrupted. "There's no doors." "So how do we get out?" "You remember a tree? Maybe we need to start thinking three-dimensionally." "Ok." Harry's confusion changed from the problem in front of them to the fact that he had figured out something Hermione couldn't. After that, magic took over. Hermione spouted out spell after spell to absolutely no effect. It felt like an hour, but Harry assumed that the darkness was playing tricks on his mind. He would ask Hermione to move around occasionally, but that only managed to get her to grip his hand harder. Eventually, she gave in to Harry's request, but the second they moved, the air around them seemed to contract. He felt like an invisible force was pressing all over his body. After a few attempts though, they both realized that Hermione's earlier suspicions may have been true. Once again, the screams from earlier were becoming a little more understandable. Harry then decided that talking out the problem might be a good idea again. "Ok, you said something earlier about three dimensions?" "What? Oh yeah. Well, I don't know what magic would help us." Harry was getting tired of doing nothing. "Mostrum Exitus!" Instantly, but only for a split second, what seemed like a ceiling appeared over head. "The Show Spell?" "Let's start easy." Harry repeated the spell, but this time Hermione noticed that directly above them, an opening in the 'ceiling' appeared as well.

"Do it again, Harry." He obliged and saw the same thing. "What do you think?" "I think we need to go up." Harry nodded and placed himself underneath the opening. Hermione cast the spell as he was ready to jump, but when he did, the ceiling seemed to raise. "Wait! We're supposed to work together…" she paused "…oh! Put me on your shoulders!" "What?" Harry was surprised to say the least. "Oh, quit trying to be all noble, let's get out of here!" Harry obeyed and the two of them, with many difficulties, finally figured out how to do this blindly. The second that he stood back up with her on his shoulders, though, she screamed. "YES!" "What is it?" As far as he could see, nothing had changed. "I can see the top of the tree! And there's a hole in the roof!" He looked up again, "Hermione, I can't see anything." "Don't worry." The next moment, the weight on his shoulders was gone and Hermione's feet were knocking against his arms. "Hermione?" She didn't answer. Seconds passed. "Wingardium Leviosa!" "Ah!" Harry was being lifted off the ground, but the instant he was level with the 'ceiling,' it was as if a light had been turned on inside the gym. There was a tree growing in the middle, he could see hard floor everywhere, and he felt much calmer. "Wow." "I know, let's go!" She started running, and he started following, but as they approached the tree, finally feeling like they were doing the right thing, another invisible barrier stopped them in their tracks. "What now?" "Hold on." "Oh, you've got to be kidding me!" Hermione saw what he saw. There was a slip of paper falling back and forth to the ground in front of them. Once Harry picked it up, before he could even read the writing, a table appeared with four objects placed on top. The whole thing was covered in the most brilliant glass he had ever seen. Hermione snatched the paper out of his hand and started reading. "It's a riddle!" "Figures. Well, do your thing." "I'm not sure I know the answer Harry." "What?" He was stunned. "Do you need time to work it out, because we just lost that luxury." He said, pointing to a spot a third of the way around the tree. The American pair had just gotten to the second floor, a piece of paper was falling in front of them, and their own table was materializing. "No, look at this, Harry." Before you are some items of special significance. Behind you is a room with nasty circumstance. Choose correctly and you may climb the tree. Choose correctly and you will certainly be free.

Incorrectly, and you shall definitely return To a place that now crushes and burns. There are no hints, there are no clues. But use your mind and talent, to find the missing truth. "Er…" His mind began reeling. After staring blankly at the paper for another minute, he finally tore his eyes away to look at the objects: A stone, a wand, a cloak, and a book. "What do you think the–" She interrupted. "I have no idea what I'm supposed to choose between a book, a quill, parchment, and a quaffle." "What? That's not what I see." Of course, another part of the task. The annoyance returned. "Well, I honestly have no idea. What is the missing truth? If something was missing, why would it be on the table?" The questions continued like that until a spark sounded in the distance, the American table disappeared, and the wizard's yells of pain could be heard from the first floor. "They chose poorly." "To see you when I wake up is a gift I didn't think could be real. To know that you feel the same as I do is a three-fold utopian dream. You do something to me that I can't explain. So would I be out of line if I said…? I miss you." -Incubus Julius MacDonald "Can we NOT choose poorly please?" "Hermione, calm down. On both floors, we've heard them yell because they made a quick decision. We'll work this out, too." Harry was surprised by his own words. Harry instantly knew what his first three objects meant. They were replicas of the Hallows. He also knew that both he and Hermione had a book. They described them to each other and found that they were the same. "Ugh. Missing truth…missing truth…" Harry, for once, was confident that he was way ahead of his friend. She was thinking about a missing truth sitting in front of her. His own life had proceeded in a way that his reactions to questions were a little grander than others. If someone asked why the sky was blue, he would instantly start thinking about origins of the universe, not light refraction. In this case, Hermione was thinking about 'a' missing truth, but Harry was thinking about 'the' missing truth. What truth, what concept, what idea is always missing? What do humans miss? They miss things and people that are gone. That didn't help him. The resurrection stone was like that, but not exactly. He hadn't really known his parents. Well, what he was missing right now was Ginny. Was it that easy? He missed love? That wasn't it. Harry sighed heavily, closed his eyes, and opened them shaking his head. Humans don't technically miss being with loved ones. It's about missing all the feelings.

He missed the security. He missed the butterflies in his stomach. Albus had always said that it was people's choices, not their abilities, that made them who they were. If someone were to break down all the attributes of a certain person, there would definitely be another person in the world that shared those same attributes. However, the experiences and growth made Ginny the woman she was. It had made him the man that he was. He laughed to himself. Again, he was certain that there was another orphan, living with their abusive relatives, wearing glasses who probably would never have to kill a gigantic snake. He missed the way she looked at him, and it had only been a few hours. He missed smelling her hair and made a mental note to do it first thing. He missed the peace he felt when he was around her. Realizing that the sooner he got out of this task, the sooner he would see her again, he snapped himself out of his own thoughts to hear that Hermione was still muttering to herself. Looking back at the table, he surveyed the items again. No item brought him peace. He looked back at the objects and for the first time, studied the table itself. It was simple. It did its job. It held up the other items. It supported them. "I got it!" He glanced back at the paper and saw no mention of choosing one of the four items. "It's about support! Peace! Love! I know it sounds corny, but it's gotta be!" "Harry? What do you mean?" "It's the table! We choose the table." He was speaking to the glass case. For a moment, nothing happened. As long as they weren't being hurled back down to the first floor, Harry wasn't too disappointed. Then, suddenly, the glass dissolved away, the tree turned into a staircase, and the duo could see the roof exit above them. They crossed the distance in no time to find Ron and Ginny standing on the roof along with Kingsley, Madame Maxime, and the American. "Well done. You have come in second place as a team." That instant, the American team materialized on the roof, the young wizard still cursing the task. "And the Americans have come in third." Hermione was completely disappointed, but once Ron took her aside, she calmed down. "Well done, Harry!" Ginny threw her arms around him. "Ahem." Kingsley cleared his voice again. "Congratulations to Beauxbatons on the victory. You pick up three points for the TriSchool Cup, while Hogwarts receives two, and the Establishment has one." The American stepped forward. "Individually, Miss Delacour receives six points, Mister Potter receives five, Mrs. Weasley receives four, Mister Bourdain receives three, Miss Hartley receives two, and Mister Baker receives one point. One would hope that the American students will actually make this competition interesting." He took his students away utterly dejected. "Let's go." Ginny wanted to leave. "Hey, stop for a sec." "What's wrong?" She stopped, turned to face him, and looked at him slightly worried. "Nothing. I just missed you." "Harry Potter! Quit trying to be a charmer! Let's go, you must be starving!" He didn't really about food, but once she said that, he was hungry! They both Apparated back to the ministry, then back to Hogsmeade. Kingsley said it would be alright if they stopped by the Hog's Head, and it was worth it. "Harry! How are all of you doing? Staying out of trouble?" "Er, of course, Mr. Dumbledore." "Call me Abe. I bet my brother never let you call him Albus?" "Actually–" Ron spoke until a shot to his ribcage from his wife ended his response. The four of them had dinner at the pub. It was a lot better than they had expected from the old look of the place. Abe confessed that culinary magic was somewhat of a specialty of his, but Harry made sure he didn't say anything that would contradict how much he loved Molly's cooking.

After an hour, and three rounds of butterbeer, the group headed back to the castle. Harry was feeling like he could sleep for days. A full stomach and exhausted mind had left him feeling like he had just finished three Quidditch practices. Ron and Hermione went off to their room, while he and Ginny got on the couch in front of the fire. They talked about nothing important, and Harry was grateful. He would deal with Quidditch and the Daughters another day. For now, he was happy that she knew not to mention anything. He was happy. He was at peace… Therefore, as to be expected, he was rather confused when he found Cedrella softly pecking at his hand only two hours later, a letter in her mouth. Mr. Potter, If it's ok, I would like to speak to you ASAP. I am rather friendly with the American president, not the muggle one, and he told me something about your task this evening. Also, I would like to discuss two other matters that are not entirely related to school either. Your owl seems highly intelligent. She flew into my office just as I was sitting down to write this letter. Therefore, we can add that to the list as well. In fellowship, Mac Glancing at his watch, knowing that his professor must be awake, he decided to get this over with. He laughed softly, noticing that he and Ginny had fallen asleep on the couch. Then he stood there and looked at her for a few seconds before Ced spoke. 'You must go, Harry.' "Thanks, Ced. If there's anyway you can get her to bed…?" 'Of course.' Harry nodded to her and left. His feet naturally took him to the office he had visited so many times, but before he could take in any of his surroundings, Professor MacDonald spoke, "Ah, Harry. Please sit down." "Thank you, sir." "But, you're chasing the ghost of a good thing. Haunting yourself as the real thing. It's getting away from you again… While you're chasing ghosts…" -Dashboard …From Chairs to Bleachers "What!" Harry was blown away. "Well, I guess we should start a little bit before that." He motioned to the chair. "I believe I offered you a seat?" "Sorry, sir." "It's alright." He sat down behind his own desk which was strewn with papers and maps, quills and instruments. Of all the offices he had been in, this one resembled Dumbledore's the most. It was neat, but not as bad as Umbridge's. It was interesting, but not as many creatures as Lupin had. It was a little intimidating, but not as bad as Snape's office. There were pictures of himself, but nothing that came close to Lockhart's narcissism. All in all, it would seem that Albus had realized that moderation in many subjects had its advantages. "Admiring my office?" Apparently he could read minds the same way, too. "Er, yeah, sorry." "It's alright. Actually, if I allowed you time to look around, you would probably learn about what I am about to tell you."

"And what is that?" Impatience had not left Harry quite yet. "What do you know about the wizarding history of my country?" He had to be honest. "Nothing." "Don't worry, I don't mind. The only people in America that have any kind of history are the natives, but over the years, they have been driven and herded into certain areas like cattle, and much the same way that you-know-who would have dealt with muggles." The mention of his old nemesis was one of the only things that could peak his interest lately, besides the tournament and Ginny. "Ok." "The Native Americans, we call them Indians…well, Columbus kind of screwed up a long time ago…Anyways, the Indian wizards were very strange for one particular reason." "What was that?" "They never harnessed the power of wands." "What? They never used wands?" "No. They believed that the wood from the tree was just as important as parts of their own bodies. To use the wood, or a phoenix tail, or a unicorn tail, or anything like that was against nature." "So what did they eat? Air? I mean, they couldn't kill an animal, then, right?" "Actually, they believed in what we would call an equilibrium. They only killed what they had to in order to survive. It was very difficult, before European settlement, to find a fat Indian." He chuckled for a moment. "Besides, what part of wizarding history has made absolute sense to you, Harry?" "Good point." He thought of battles and squabbles that had nothing to do with anything important. "Good. Now, one piece of knowledge that was imparted to the Indians was the ability to divine information from the burning of certain plants and minerals." "Imparted?" "They feel that God, in whatever form they understand him, taught them to become one with the earth and a bunch of other stuff that we can't get into." He brushed aside an obviously important topic. "Ok." "Now, there is only one other magical creature that has abilities even close to the Indians. Can you guess?" He was way ahead of him. "Centaurs." "Nice! Yes, the centaurs, during their travels, have somehow gained this knowledge as well. I haven't visited the forest yet myself, but I hear that they are concerned with knowing everything, but telling humans nothing." "That sounds about right." "I see that you have had dealings with them?" "Something like that." Harry was failing to see where this was going. He was a little more interested in how Mac knew about the Three Daughters. "Ok…well, I spent quite a few summers with Indians. Dallas is pretty close to a state in America that has tons of them left." Harry was starting to feel like he was listening to Professor Binns lecture. "They took me in, gave me a name that I will never repeat to anyone, and taught me a lot about elemental magic."

"Elemental magic?" "The same way that potion ingredients interact to magically create different effects, the burning and fanning of certain natural elements can be interpreted by those who have studied." "Right, that's what the centaurs told us, but I couldn't see anything." Harry was becoming annoyed again. "It is difficult. Now, along with divination, they are also very interested in numbers within the magical community." "Like Arithmancy?" "No, like actual numbers. You have most likely come across a few yourself. The number 3, the number 7, the number 12, do any of those ring any bells?" "Yeah." Harry quickly remembered hallows, Horcruxes, and uses of dragon blood. "Now, if you put all of these interests together, you can only come up with one thing: The Three Daughters." "Whoa. How do you come to that conclusion?" Harry wasn't a mere student anymore. He felt like he could voice his disbelief whenever it suited him. "Indians believe that magic runs throughout every living thing, they have an uncanny to see the future but do nothing about it, and they are obsessed with numerical coincidence." Harry started putting two and two together, or in this case, three. "They knew this was going to happen?" "Not in so many words, but when I would spend time with them during summers, I would hear the older, wiser chiefs speak about it in low whispers. These mutterings became more and more pronounced in recent years until finally," he paused, "they stopped." "What?" "One of the chiefs had a little too much to drink one night and told me that the Master of Death had approached. When I asked some of the elders about it the next day, they looked at me angrily, kept themselves in their studies for days, and then never spoke of the Daughters again." "And now you want to know what I know about them?" "That is why I came to Hogwarts." Harry immediately became a little weary at that announcement. It sounded, in Mac's voice, like he was hunting the Daughters, determined to become Master of Life himself, something Harry never even wanted. The odd thing was that the woman in the Emporium and Cedrella had both spoken of a young boy who knew about the Daughters. To cap everything off, Dumbledore hadn't known about the story, and Harry wasn't sure what to do next. "Well, I'm sorry, I just heard the story from an old witch once. It sounded kinda far-fetched." He was hoping this would be enough to assuage the professor, but eighteen years experience of trying to lie to people told him that Mac would only try harder from now on. Therefore, as Harry left to return to the Common Room, hoping Ginny was still lying on the couch, he began looking over his shoulder, and indeed, would continue to do so for weeks to come. After finding that Ginny had gone up to bed, Harry did the same and tried to get a little sleep before being awoken by a spirited Ron. "What are you doing, Ron?" "Get up! The game starts in an hour!" Of course…Quidditch, Harry smiled. "Tell me everything you know about the Three Daughters." "…When it comes to December…it's obvious why

No one wants to be alone at Christmas time…" -John Mayer Another Term Gone "I'm up! I'm up! Stop poking me!" Ron, finally convinced that his friend was awake, left the room so Harry could get dressed. His broom and entire uniform were in the locker room already, so after a quick shower, he headed downstairs to a warming sight. "Hey." That was all she said. They walked hand-in-hand through the castle as students wished him good luck in the match, girls looked jealously at Ginny, and first years ran away rather frightened. Apparently, as Ginny informed him, people were not actually scared of him, but when you defeat Voldemort twice, others assume you have the power to kill them by looking at them a certain way. As they brushed their way outside and down the sloping lawn, Harry reminded himself that he had to talk to Hagrid sometime soon. But taking a left towards the pitch, he squeezed her hand tighter and led her into the changing rooms. He went his way and she went hers, and Harry was left to sit by himself (the rest of the team was already changed) and ponder the last couple days. He had gotten through another TriWizard task. Admittedly, it was not nearly as difficult as anything he had faced in the past, but he gained confidence from it nonetheless. Strangely enough, and he was being completely honest with himself, the TriSchool Cup was much more important. He didn't need a thousand galleons of prize money or any more glory. He just wanted to do something for the school that had done so much for him. Hogwarts, once again as Snape and Voldemort had realized, was more of a home for wizards like them and it ought to be treated as such. He had passed by the trophy case earlier that week and looked at some of the things he had been a part of. The Quidditch Cup plaque from his third year caught his eye first. He remembered how he could have produced the best Patronus at that moment if need be. He remembered that Sirius had come to watch one of his matches that year. He remembered that he used to like Cho. There were so many things that had changed for h im in his life. Most people experience change like that once in any given area, but Harry's life had resembled more of a roller coaster ride. He had never known love until he saw Sirius's face. However, that was taken away from him. He had never had a crush, but then that was taken away as well by Cedric. Then, within a year, even Cedric was taken away from him: a true competitor. Dumbledore always said that people should do what is right, not what is easy. Harry couldn't agree more. Everything he had fought for in his life had been worth it. Everything he had tried his best to skirt past, had not. Sometimes, when it got quiet enough, he would start wrestling with himself to find the Resurrection Stone again. He wanted so badly to talk to parents. He had Ginny of course, but nothing could replace those minutes in the forest. It would be so easy to succumb to its temptation, but in his heart, he was beginning to understand what Albus said those years before. He didn't want to play Quidditch this year, he didn't want to compete in the TriWizard, and he just wanted to be a normal eighteen year old for once. However, as life tends to do, Ginny came along and made him see that just because being a spectator this year would be easy, didn't make it the right thing to do. Being a spectator in the game of life was never the right thing to do. Harry looked around and saw that he was now fully dressed, though not aware how that happened. He grabbed his broom, walked through the door and the rest of the team fell silent. They all, including Ron and Ginny, stood up and nodded to him which he returned slightly. After a quick talk from Peakes about one of the new Slytherin players, they all walked out onto the pitch. It was not normal, though. The team would usually be buzzing with excitement, but the Gryffindors seemed to be subdued, and Harry noticed. "Hey. Everyone in for a second." He gathered the group around them before they had reached the screams from the crowd. "Take a second." The team looked confused. "Here. Everyone hold hands in the circle for a moment." They were definitely confused now. Ron even whispered in his ear. "Mate, what are you doing?" Harry responded by grabbing his friend's hand, something to two of them had never done. "I just want to dedicate the three games we play this year to those who came before us. Their own mark has been left on this team, and as long as you keep them with you during the year, we've already won." He looked around at his teammates, besides Ginny, they all looked so young in his eyes. "Play hard. Play for Gryffindor. But play for those who have suffered before. Play for Katie Bell. Play for Mad-Eye Moody. Play for Fred Weasley." Play for James Potter, he thought. The team took a collective heavy sigh, but when they looked up, their heads were held a little higher. "See? We've already won…" They all walked hand-in-hand, as he and Ginny had done earlier, out on the field. Hundreds of pairs of hands were clapping, hundreds of pairs of eyes were watching, but the team could feel only themselves.

The match only lasted fifteen minutes, and even in the Slytherin Seeker had gotten to the Snitch first, the lions still would have won 210-180. There was a party in the Common Room after the match. Most of the younger students were taking their first sips of butterbeer, and everyone was smiling. There was no gossip, no animosity, no struggles in this room. Harry sat on the sixth step on the staircase in order to look over the event. He could see everyone, all the laughter, and all the support. Ginny joined him and sat down. "Hey." It was all she said. She took his hand in her own and placed it over her heart. Harry could feel it beating very slowly. What had he expected? Her heart to be racing at the merest contact with him? He found he liked this better. It was the same serenity that he had needed during the first task. It was the peace of being together. They turned their heads and kissed quickly, garnering a few cat calls and wolf whistles from their classmates. Harry smiled and stood up. "A toast!" The common room was instantly quiet. "Earlier, the team and I spoke of the past. Now, cheers to the future. To Jimmy Peakes, the Gryffindor Captain!" "Peakes!" The room roared. "To Demelza Robbins!" "Dem!" It roared again. "To Melissa Arney!" "Mellie!" It roared a third time. As it did, Ron got up and joined them on the stairs as Harry continued. "To the Cooter!" "Cooter!" The room exploded in laughter. Coote's nickname had never been his favorite, but enough happiness and alcohol will make anything funny. Harry, feeling he had done his part, started to sit down with his friend and girlfriend. They were quickly joined by Hermione who jokingly told Harry that she was surprised with how mature that speech was. The four of them began laughing when the room when quiet again. The four other teammates had come together in the middle of the room. Standing directly in the line of the fireplace, they looked formidable as their silhouettes danced on the walls. Peakes quietly spoke for the group, who were all raising their glasses. "To Ginny Weasley, the fiercest Chaser there ever will be." "Ginny." Her name was repeated simply. "To Ron Weasley. The Keeper who will always be our king." "Ron." Again. "And to Harry Potter. We know you don't want anything like this, and I'm sure you haven't yet, but we wanted to take this time to say something." Harry was shocked. He had never heard Peakes speak from the heart. "We could care less if you hadn't caught the Snitch today. What you have done, well, what the four of you have done, has kept families safe. It has allowed people to live. It has even inspired some to love." Harry put up his hand to stop this. He looked at Peakes, nodded slightly and pursed his lips together to show that nothing more needed to be said. "To Harry." No one said his name. They just raised their glasses and nodded. The common room was completely silent. No one knew what to do. Slowly the party started up again, but the foursome didn't want to interrupt everyone else's fun, so they decided to go outside again. After pushing Mrs. Norris, and even Filch aside at the front gate, they passed by the winged boars and took a seat, after Ginny conjured the biggest blanket he had ever seen, on the grass. No one spoke. The stars were veiled behind slow-moving clouds. However, it was unseasonably warm, perfectly comfortable, and nothing needed to be said. The next few weeks zoomed by. Harry was completely proficient in OwlTongue, Mac hadn't made any more inquiries into the Daughters, and Harry still hadn't noticed the pale, skinny boy lurking in the corridors. He visited Dumbledore's portrait a couple times to discuss certain matters, but for the most part, he was simply studying for his winter exams. He and Ginny spent their free time speechless. They were sure they had a lot to say, but lying down in the quiet of the grass, or in front of the soothing effects of the fireplace was all they needed.

Harry, and the rest, could hardly believe that they were leaving Hogwarts again. It felt like they had just gotten there. The summer had been so filled that the school year seemed diminished. All Harry knew was that he would be graduating in six months and needed to start figuring out what he needed to do after school. However, a nice long vacation at the Burrow would be a welcome procrastination for that aspect of his life. The students arrived on Ottery St. Catchpole a few days before the 25th and Molly put them right to work. Ron and Hermione were going to be sharing a room, so Percy's old room had to be magically enlarged to accommodate two people. Harry stayed in Fred and George's old room, and Ginny, much to her surprise, had not been moved. Understandably, no one wanted to be in Ron's room while the ghoul was still angry about impersonating Ron for a whole year with spattergoit. After the house had been cleaned, decorated, and expanded, everyone was supposed to go to Diagon Alley on Christmas Eve to do their shopping. Harry pointed out that it might be crowded, but Arthur assured him that the Ministry was doing something about that this year. Therefore, when they all Apparated to the Leaky Cauldron and went to the back to tap the bricks, Harry was expecting to see all of Britain doing last minute shopping. However, what he saw blew him away. "Wow…" "I sing for joy at the work of your hand. Forever I'll love you, forever I'll stand! Nothing compares to the promise I have... In you…" -Unknown Christmas Eve Diagon Alley was enormous. The lane was three times as wide as it was when Hagrid first brought him here. The shops were all adorned with snow, whether real or fake, wreaths, and garland. Harry remembered seeing Christmas cards with villages and squares that looked just like this. There were no words to describe it. Witches and wizards were walking up and down the street, without a care in the world. He remembered when he had come here to find the Lestrange vault, and friends were talking in whispers, huddled close together, and scared for their own lives. Now, there was a free exchange of communication, no one was labored with any worries or concerns. He could see some people hiding their purchases, obviously speaking with friends for whom they were shopping. Others were animatedly diving into bags to find that perfect gift they had bought for someone special. He smiled. Sometimes, it's hard to remember why you go through so much pain. It's hard to see the light when so much darkness has surrounded you. The amazing thing, Harry found, was that the smallest of sparks can extinguish the dark. It had only taken a few students, a few children, to stand up to the Carrows at Hogwarts. It had only taken a dozen wizards to fight the good fight. And ultimately, three Gryffindors had done something no one thought possible. During the lonely nights in tents and forests, Harry would try his best not to remember the good times with Ginny. However, those small memories and moments were exactly why he was alone, why he was being strong for so many others. He had to sacrifice what he wanted at the time. And not because he knew how good it was going to be. Harry had no idea what the future held, but he knew what he was doing was right. He could see himself, an older man, giving advice to teenagers, and them not believing one word. He smiled. The world was a better place. He had to stay away from Ginny for over a year to make it happen, but it was a better place. He had seen Mad-Eye and Dobby and Fred and countless others fall in front of him, but that was not the problem now. He had learned at a very young age that those you love can be taken from you at any time. His parents and their friends were with him at the lowest point in his life and they said they were so proud of him! Harry loved that feeling, knew it was true, and never wanted it to leave. At that moment, that very moment, he finally let go of the memories. He looked up into the sky, said a silent farewell to his parents, and made up his mind as to what the next right thing was to do. That's why he turned and sent a Patronus to Hagrid, hoping he would get it soon. Obviously, during his thoughts, the rest of the Weasley clan had raced off into the shops to begin the madness that was shopping, except one.

"Hey." She put her hand on his shoulder and smiled up at him. "Are you ok?" "I'm perfect." "Wow. Who are you? And what have you done with Harry?" He chuckled. "I'm serious. Everything is going to be ok, Ginny." "That's what we've been trying to tell you for years, honey." "No. That's what you have been trying to help me to see." He took her face in his hands and kissed her. "I love you." "I love you, too. So much. Are you sure everything is ok?" "Of course it is. Look around!" He threw his hand in a horizontal arc, making sure not to miss pointing at a single witch or wizard. "C'mon. Let's catch up with your family." They walked slowly, hands intertwined, not really trying to catch up, but going from store to store, allowing the other person the privacy to shop if they needed it, and an opinion about others if it was requested. Harry lost count how many times he had kissed her (once per store sounded about right) and was impressed that he had gotten anything done. However, after a couple hours, he had gotten every gift but one. The rest of the family finally reunited and got a spot of dinner at the Leaky Cauldron before calling it a night. "I'll be back at the Burrow soon. I just have to stop off at Hogwarts first." Harry announced to the group as they were getting up from the table. "Why, mate?" Ron tried to say, with a little pudding still left in his mouth. "Ronald, not while you're eating!" The newlyweds fought over nothing important, ever. "I just have to drop off some papers that Kingsley wants for Minerva. It will only take a second." He was lying through his teeth and had a strange suspicion that Ginny knew. However, he didn't make any direct eye contact with her as she was in deep conversation with her mother at the time. After sending his things back to his room at the Burrow (with secrecy spells to keep anyone from looking), he Disapparated to Hogsmeade, but instead of turning to the castle, he took a left towards the village. After only a few minutes' time, he found the store he was looking for. "Ah, Mr. Potter, how are you today?" "I'm good. Did Hagrid get in touch with you?" "No, but I assume this is your owl?" "Ced! Hey, what are you doing here?" "First of all, that was English, well done! Also, your gamekeeper contacted me at the new house we are staying at and told me to bring this note here." Harry scanned it quickly, and was relieved that Hagrid had clearly not thought this odd at all. "Ahem, Mr. Potter, I have the selection right here." He motioned towards an ornate case of rings. "Alright…" In the end, he had found what he was looking for, and now he was on a quest to regain his courage. This was tested quickly, as upon returning to the Burrow, he found that Bill, Charlie, and Percy were back for the night. He really needed the smallest audience possible for this, but hey, he thought, this is what I get for not having a plan. After a quick nightcap, all the Weasleys started to go to bed. Things got a little hairy as Harry suddenly realized that the while Percy was taking Ron's old room, that left Bill and Charlie on the sofas, leaving nowhere private in the whole house. As fate would have it, this actually inspired a brilliant idea for Harry's lack of planning. "Hey, Gin." He grabbed her just as she was about to ascend the staircase. "Wanna go for a walk?"

"Harry, it's bloody freezing outside!" "I know, but we can do magic, y'know?" They both laughed, grabbed coats, and went into the back. "What is this all about, Harry?" "Nothing." "You're acting so weird, you're horrible at surprises, and you're an even worse liar! C'mon, just tell me." "Well, see, that's the thing." He cast shield charms, warming charms, and privacy spells around the area they had just stopped at. Ginny looked up and saw the tree. "I have no idea how to do this." He dropped his head a tad. He was finding it hard to stare at her for the moment. "Do what…?" Looking up, he saw her face had turned from excitement to honest, but concerned, curiosity. "Well. Ok." He was taking deep breaths, but no inspiration was coming. "Listen, I…" Now he couldn't take his gaze away from her. It was like the strongest magnet in the world was holding him in this fixed position. "Let's just sit down for a moment." He pointed to the base of the tree and immediately regretted his decision. She was supposed to be standing! Well, he thought, might as well sit down now, idiot! "Look, I've been thinking a lot recently." "Harry Potter. Shut up! I have NEVER seen you like this. What is wrong? Just tell me! You know nothing you could say could be bad news!" She was half-laughing and half-sad, and Harry felt like an ass. "No, no! I know that! That's what I wanted to tell you!" "What?" Bugger! She knows! Harry wasn't sure how he knew, or how she knew, or he knew she knew, but one thing was certain. That hard, blazing look she had when they first kissed was back in her face, and Harry liked it, it made him confident, it made him start speaking again. "Ginny, there are so many ways and so many words that could describe what I feel for you–" She cut him off. "Just shut up and do it!" "What?" He was stunned. "Well, I mean, I'm pretty sure. You're fumbling with something in your pocket. You're practically stuttering." "Wow. Worst surprise ever, huh?" "I told you!" She cried the last words out. "I love you so much, Harry!" These were barely audible through the crying. "No, sweetie! I love you, too. Stop crying, I'm so sorry." He forgot why they were out here. "I'm bad at this, I know. Just look at me." And that she did. The tears were still on her cheek, but the look was back and she was kissing him like there was no tomorrow. They finally broke apart, heaving, but after a few moments staring into each other's eyes, smiles broke out and they were on the verge of laughing. "Still not normal?" Harry asked. "Well, let's see." She sniffled one last time and wiped her face. Putting her hand out, she started ticking off fingers. "We met when we were ten and eleven, and you didn't know who you were." The thumb. "You saved my life a year later, very normal for a twelve year old." The pointer. "It took five years total before we finally kissed." Middle finger. "After that, we only dated for about five weeks!" Ring finger. " Then we broke up for noble reasons and didn't speak for almost a year!" Pinky. "Sound about right?" "Yeah." He laughed, then frowned. "I'm so sorry, Gin." She grabbed his arm whose hand was still in his pocket. "I wouldn't have it any other way!" She pulled his arm out, and his hand was still clutched around the ring. No one was looking at his hand, though, their eyes never left each other. Ginny started smiling as he could feel her take the ring out of his hand.

"Ginny." That was all he said. She smiled and backed up a few inches. "Harry James Potter. You have vanquished dark wizards and stolen my heart." She started crying again. "But," another sniffle, "I will always be there if there is anything you ever need." She knelt down on one knee. "Will you," she completely burst into tears. "Hey, hey, hey." He knelt down in front of her, their faces level again. He took the ring back out of her hand. He stroked the hair out of her face and wiped away as many tears as he could find. She looked at him again. "You know how I feel. You know about our past." He started choking up. "You know me!" She laughed a little and the smile returned. "Ginerva Molly Weasley..." Harry felt a calm that could not be described wash over his entire body. "…will you marry me?" "O….of…..of…..cour…Course!" She tackled him. The cold from the outside never touched them. It never had. It never would. "Many attempts to occupy the mind in order to silence the heart are, In principle, only delays, and in turn, accidentally set aside the truth, Which may be difficult to accept, no matter how beautiful it may be… Conversely, attempts to occupy the mind in order to cultivate the heart, Are, in principle, completely edifying, and in turn, intentionally search For the truth, which is always comforting and right, no matter how hard…" -Jeff Baker The Weasley Brothers They kissed. They made love right under the tree. Harry, after the first few moments, cast more secrecy and warming charms just in case. It felt like they were together for hours. However, even after they had gotten dressed, conjured a blanket, and lay there for awhile after, upon reentering the house, they saw that a few people were still inside around the kitchen table. "Wondered where you two had gone." Bill spoke first. Harry got incredibly scared. "Gin, c'mere. I was trying to tell Charlie about that time when you were six…" "Percy! I said I believed you! She is of age now, I really don't need a Bat-Bogey Hex waiting for me when I wake up in the morning!" The three oldest brothers. All of them, in Harry's mind, were there to kill him for what had just taken place, and sure enough, after a few moments of awkward silence, Bill noticed her left hand. "GINNY!" "Shhh! Wake up the whole house, will ya?" Percy was on his feet to match Bill. "What are you on about?" "Look." Charlie had cottoned on, too. He pointed to her hand, which she quickly put into her pocket.

"What?" "Percy." Ginny spoke, for the first time, softly. She took her hand back out and rested it on her chest. "Ginny!" "Who's waking the house now?" Harry wasn't really sure who was talking, but the fact of the matter was that the three oldest protectors of Ginny Weasley were now standing in front of him, a mere hour removed from their engagement and, oh no, he thought, other things. He wanted to speak, to make them understand, but his tongue was curiously frozen at the moment. He and Ginny were still standing on one side of the room, but the brothers were now all up from the table and moving slowly towards them. This was not the happy euphoria he had dreamed about during lazy days in the library. He instinctively grasped her hand, not realizing that was the worst thing he could have done. "What do you think you're doing Potter?" Charlie. His reflexes took over and he responded. "I love her." "We know that! What do you think you're doing?" Percy. He spoke again. "We know what we're doing." "Ok." Bill. Both Harry and Ginny stared at him. He was calm, understanding. Perhaps this was because he too had proposed at one point in his life, perhaps it was because he was the oldest, but nevertheless, Harry appreciated a word that wasn't negative, no matter how innocuous it was. "Listen." Ginny let go of his hand stepped forward a bit. "Either the three of you sit down and listen to us, or we are not having this conversation until tomorrow morning when the rest of the family can find out." "You WANT mum to know?" Percy was vexed. "Fine. Either you sit down and listen, or you are forbidden to say anything until Harry and I feel like letting anyone else know!" The three of them, and Harry too, were struck dumb. Strong, confident women always had a certain ability to make strong men feel subdued. Harry smiled. He turned to his left just to look at her, admire her, and be thankful she was there. The truth of the matter was they had not discussed this as much as was likely necessary. Harry always thought that two people had to date forever, get to know everything about each other and their families, and all of that before even discussing the matter with other people. Neither of them had sought counsel from parents or elders. In fact, the only people he really had to talk to were Ginny's parents, and he instantly regretted not asking her father first. He had heard that was tradition and courteous, not having his own parents, and now this romantic idea that he had just surprised everyone was waning quickly. "Gin?" "Wait, Harry!" Charlie looked murderous. "O…k." That's all he could think of to say. Wasn't he supposed to be strong enough to handle this? "Ok. All three of you!" Ginny had spoken again and taken hold of Harry's hand with her right one, while raising her left hand into the air. "See this?" They all generally murmured. "This means that Harry and I love each other, respect each other, and want to spend the rest of our lives with each other!" Harry hadn't said any of those things to her earlier, but he found that he not only agreed, but was incredibly excited at the prospect. He squeezed her hand for encouragement. "Ok, Gin." Bill, again, was the calmest one. He sat down back in his seat at the table. Charlie and Percy took their cues and followed suit. "I have to apologize." She didn't say anything, and so neither, did Harry. "The first word out of our mouths should have been 'Congratulations!'"

"Thanks, Bill." Ginny instantly smiled and ran over to her oldest brother. After a quick hug, they reverted to their slightly agitated states. "And Harry," Bill's attention turned towards him, "congratulations to you as well. We already know you'll take good care of her." "Yeah, Gin, Harry, that's great." Charlie spoke next, then Percy. "Yeah, you two, wow." "Thanks." Harry was relieved. Still, he had a sneaking suspicion that he really shouldn't be speaking at all. "Thank you." Ginny was back in control, and back to holding hands. "Now, when we tell other people, you three will act surprised." They all nodded. "You will not tell anyone until then." Her voice raised a little, but again, they nodded. "And finally, you will not tell Mum!" Harry was worried she might wake someone up, but literally nothing was stirring, not even a house elf. Again, the brothers nodded, shook Harry's hand, hugged their sister, and made their way to bed. As Bill and Charlie were settling on the couches, Bill spoke. "Oh, and make sure you sleep in separate beds tonight." He smiled while the new fiancées chuckled quietly. And then it set in. He, Harry Potter, was engaged. To Ginny Weasley. It actually felt like a dream. He had no idea where he was walking, where he was, whose hand he was holding, or anything. He was just focusing on not falling down. They parted at the doorway to her room, and he found himself standing alone in Percy's old room. He knew he was breathing. He knew he was smiling. He did not know much more. Suddenly, he woke up from his dream and realized that he was not with his love. Instantly disappointed, he made his way to his door and prepared to open it, in the hopes that Ginny was standing in her room in a similar state. However, he quickly thought that perhaps he should respect the boundaries that Bill had alluded to earlier. He felt like he was trapped in an invisible net that was keeping him from moving towards Ginny or towards his bed. It was agony and joy, hope and consolation, but altogether calm and wonderful. He could not make an incorrect decision at this moment, and ultimately, he thought about what was best for Ginny. He didn't want Molly to kill her. Or him. Therefore, he resigned himself to sleeping for the night. After hours of lying in the dark, trying to turn his brain off, he finally drifted off to sleep. Obviously, and after eventually slipping into real dreams full of beaches and lazy days with Ginny, he was rudely awakened by Cedrella. "Mmm, what is it?" He said sleepily. "I believe that this may be important. The Minister was most intent on sending me on this day of relaxation." "It's from Kingsley?" Harry couldn't believe, but if he had to be honest, of course this would happen. What am I gonna tell Ginny? He thought. "Ok. Let's have a look at the letter." "Looking at you through the glass Don't know how much time has passed. Oh God, it feels like forever, but no one ever tells you That forever feels like home, sitting all alone Inside you head..." -Stoned Sour

Entering The Room Harry got dressed quickly, his eyes still unfocused from the remnants of sleep, his mind still cluttered with everything that had happened last night, and his heart aching for just one minute with Ginny. However, and no matter what he had told his friends, he was not going to involve them in something dangerous, now more than ever. "Ced, stay here, ok?" She hooted. "If ANYTHING happens to Ginny, you come find me, ok? I'll be at the Ministry probably." She hooted again. Harry grabbed his cloak and wand, stowed them inside his robes and Apparated directly to the Ministry's main floor. Feeling as if he was doing something proactive and productive had driven him to act so quickly so early in the morning, but now that he was here, Harry realized he had never been to Kingsley's office. After finding the first official looking employee and asking them for help, he was directed to the lift elevator when he heard a booming voice behind him. "Harry." Kingsley had come up right behind him. "Minister." Harry bowed his head a tad, but smiled while doing it. "Come." They walked together, garnering stares from almost every witch and wizard inside the massive building. After countless corridors and even more doors, they finally stopped at a door that looked all too familiar. "Wait. Why are we here?" It was a black door at the end of a dark corridor. Harry's thoughts, as they had been since he awoke, were still at the Burrow, with Ginny. He didn't realize where he was standing. Kingsley, however, wasn't paying attention. He waved his hand in front of the door, and Harry heard a series of clicking noises coming from within the door. "We have had to heighten security since a group of students broke in here a couple years ago." "But what are we doing here?" "In time, Harry." That pronouncement sounded way too much like something Dumbledore would say, and needless to point out, that frightened Harry a bit. They were now standing in the circular room staring at almost a dozen doors, two of which still showed the faint markings of a red "X." (Harry had to remember to compliment Hermione's spell-casting when he saw her) The moment the door shut, the room spun, but Kingsley did not seem preoccupied. Instead, he walked directly to a door a little off center to the left. "Wait. Kingsley, I'm not going anywhere until you tell me what we are doing." The Minister breathed deeply and turned to face Harry. "There is a certain room which has remained locked for many years. Dumbledore and I have discussed this room many times in the past few months, and it would seem that you lost a knife to its lock once." He pointed to the handle, and Harry could see what looked like a burn mark that had healed around the keyhole. Suddenly, though he was sure the lighting had not changed, the room felt a bit darker, or at the very least, more foreboding. "It's the Love Room, isn't it?" "Very astute. You and Dumbledore discussed the matter, too?" "Yes." Harry said, in a very melancholy tone. The room seemed to be echoing his own feelings in a strange, sick way. He quickly began to remember everything he had ever been told about love, but found that his mind once again strayed back to his fiancé, possibly lying in her bed still. Was she sleeping? If she was sleeping, was she dreaming? If she was dreaming, was she dreaming of him? "Potter!" Kingsley raised his voice, but not quite to a yell. Harry paid attention again. "This room has remained locked not only for protection from others, but also through its own magic. The Department of Mysteries had always been scolded for not opening the room by wizards and witches higher up. They felt that the Unspeakables were merely hoarding a great power that the rest of the Ministry should have access to, and not guarding the terrible possibilities that would certainly come if the room were to be opened." "Terrible possibilities?" Harry remembered what Dumbledore had said about Love.

"Yes, Harry. Can you not think of a love that caused horrible anguish?" Harry was quickly reminded of a couple fifth years who had broken up a couple weeks ago. Kingsley, just as Snape had always seemed to do, was reading his mind. "I do not speak of the trivial matters of infatuation, but actual love of something. Can you remember anything like that?" His first thought was all the mistakes Dumbledore had made regarding his sister, the Resurrection Stone, and even Harry. However, he was reminded, peculiarly, of something Slughorn once said, and he spoke it aloud. "When you have seen as much of life as I have, you will not underestimate the power of obsessive love." "I'm impressed." Harry had momentarily forgotten he was there. He may have spoken out loud, but it was most definitely more for his own benefit than anyone else's. "Are there any particular instances?" Harry didn't have to search his brain long. Being male, he obviously pictured a woman first. He pictured someone so desperately in love they were willing to manipulate another's life. He thought of Merope Gaunt. No matter how romantic or idealistic her motivations were, the bottom line was that she had magically controlled a human being to the point of marrying her and conceiving a child. The rest of the story was nothing short of 'terrible power.' However, he next thought of another woman who must have been so in love, she was willing to do anything for another. He thought of Bellatrix Lestrange. She was not in love with Voldemort, and honestly, who could be? However, his presence and the seduction of the power he promised was more than enough to ensnare the mind of a gifted witch from the noble house of Black. Her stark contrast, to her sister in looks and her cousin in morality, was nothing compared to the deranged notion that Tom Riddle somehow loved her in return. That he would value her service to him above all others and reward her in kind was not a foreign concept, even Umbridge sought similar ends from Fudge. However, Harry finally saw what Slughorn had said that day. Love, if tainted and impure, if dedicated yet dependent, and if complete yet corrupted, was only an obsession. He had read once, in a Bible tale, that if a man does not love himself, he cannot love his wife. He saw that in Bellatrix. He saw that in Merope. He even saw it in Petunia. There were people who were so incomplete inside, that they couldn't even see what they had fallen in love with. The concept of the "better half" was exactly that. Two people, even two ideals, come together because they are, on their own, powerful and complete forces, but are brought together to form something that was destined, and meant, to be. When a person finds someone that makes them whole, it's not because they themselves are inadequate (or only half of what they could be), it is because they are exactly what they should be. The love that binds, that passes all understanding, simply fuses two whole beings into one amazing display of the most incredible, awesome force in the Universe. Harry wished he had said these thoughts to Ginny. Humans get nervous, though, and he was not going to beat himself up about it. However, the point was made in his mind. He didn't obsess over Ginny Weasley. He loved her. He didn't need her, but he missed her. He was a man, whole and complete, by himself, but he was even better with her. The ultimate display of obsessive love was, of course, Lord Voldemort's love of power. He even told Harry that there was no such thing as 'good and evil, only power.' But that was the problem. Power, by itself, does not make anyone better. Power corrupts, it distorts, and ultimately it cripples. Dictators always fall eventually. Tom Riddle fell in love with something that couldn't make him better, only worse. He obsessed over something that would, in time, be his downfall. Harry felt old. He was not smiling. However, the room seemed to be lightening a bit, and he felt his mood slowly increase with it. Finally, he turned to Kingsley and spoke. "I can think of a few." He laughed inside. "Quite. Well, as I said, the room guards itself as well." "It keeps people out?" "Precisely. However, last night, an Unspeakable, who for all intents and purposes does not exist, woke me to tell me that the sensory spell he has on this door went off." "Ok." Harry didn't think he wanted to hear what came next. "That is the first time it has happened in a thousand years." He was expecting something like that, but something didn't compute. "A thousand years? How long has there been a Ministry?" "Since then. The Ministry was built around this room." Silence fell like it only could in those circumstances where one could feel the world fall out from beneath them. "And now it's open?"

"Not yet. There are enchantments to break." "And you've already done that, right?" Harry was now officially worried. "Not yet. I thought I would seek help first." "And you've gotten help, right?" The door began to vibrate and change color. "Not yet. He hasn't agreed to help me." "And he's joining us soon, right?" It now looked a deep shade of purple. "Not quite. He is already in this room." "And he is going to show himself?" A few clicks sounded from the lock. "Not quite. He's you." "You want me to help you break into a room that only opened itself last night, hasn't been open for a thousand years, and holds the most powerful in the world? Did I get that right?" Harry stared at the door as it slowly creaked open. "Not quite. We don't know what the enchantments are." "What do you mean?" The door vanished in a wisp of smoke to be replaced by silver glass. "Godric and Salazar could never agree on what to write down…" He missed Ginny.

"I was with you in the valley…and up upon that hill… So take just one more step in front of you… For I am with you still…with you still!" -NeedToBreathe The Love Room The silver glass just remained there; unmoving, unchanged, but to Harry, unopened. He turned back to Kingsley. "Slytherin and Gryffindor? They built this thing together?" "Yes, Hogwarts had been built already. Not to the standards it is today, as many additions have been made over the years, but the basics were done. Being a little cleverer than most, they also realized that a government should be put into place. Wizards and witches were beginning to learn how to live peacefully away from Muggles, but more importantly, they were multiplying, rapidly." The door gave a slight quiver and then rested again. "So Hogwarts was built, the Love Room was discovered, and the Ministry was created all in a few years?" "First of all, it was more of an Aristocracy at that point, but yes, all of those events took place over a fifteen-year period." "Great." Harry always thought that Professor Binns was the worst teacher he had, and now he knew that to be correct. "So, Kingsley, I get the feeling that when Dumbledore said that certain people had 'studied' the room, he didn't mean anything inside of it." "Correct. We have nothing but legend and myth to go off of. But sometimes, legends do have the facts pretty well documented." Harry got a vision of entering the Chamber of Secrets, and thought he might have another go with a Basilisk before doing this. "Are you agreeing to help me?"

"Obviously I am, but why am I the right person for this? Where are all the Unspeakables who DO research this room?" At that point, the glass began to take the form of the Pensieve substance. He couldn't help but study it, always trying to ascertain the difference between solid wind and liquid clouds, however, the color began to change. "What is happening?" "Every time we make mention of the room, it appears to change. This is one of the enchantments facing us. Salazar and Godric did agree on this point." "So what are we doing about it?" "The room needs payment." Harry was tired of having experiences like this. Dumbledore's blood in Voldemort's Cave was ludicrous enough. "Nothing drastic I assure you, only that one who understands Love may enter." "Ok, so if I understand I can walk in?" "Not quite. Watch." Kingsley made strange movements with his wand and other hand simultaneously. After a few moments, the door shined bright, blinding Harry from seeing anything beyond the door and the Minister. He looked towards Kingsley and saw that he was speaking, but Harry couldn't hear him. "Kingsley!" He yelled but got no response. "Kingsley!" Again, but this time he realized that this was all part of the protection. He waited. However, less than a minute later, Kingsley's body rose in the air several inches and began floating towards the lit door until finally he was passing through it, and then he was gone. The light, too, had faded. "Kingsley!" He yelled a third time, but this attempt yielded an answer. "It's ok, Harry. The Room told me that it would wait for you. Now do exactly as I tell you." Harry started listening to the complicated instructions he was receiving from what he could only assume was a healthy Shacklebolt talking to him from inside the Room. After repeating the process, Harry felt an incredible energy surround him, and the bright light was back. Then, as if from the walls, a voice sounded. "What is your name?" The sound echoed in his mind. "Harry Potter." "Very well." The voice spoke again, but then began clearing its throat and sighing, and it sounded very familiar to Harry. Finally, it continued, but the voice had changed completely. "Harry." It was Ginny's voice. "Ginny?" "For the purposes of this, yes, I am Ginny Weasley." Harry's heart rate slowed. "I'm not real, but this is the way the Room works." "Ok," Harry found he didn't care why. "You only need to answer one question to enter." "Ok." He now felt eager. "Think about it, Harry. The consequences of a wrong answer are not pleasant." "Ok…" Now he felt a little worried. "Very well. What do you want more than anything?" She paused. "Before you answer, you must know that I can tell if you are lying in order to gain access." She paused again. "Also, if your answer is satisfactory, you will find your friend instantly." "Ok." Harry didn't have to think much. He wanted to marry Ginny! However, her warning played in his head again. More than anything? He thought about all of his motivations for walking into the forest. He was doing that for his parents to be proud. He had played Quidditch because he thought it would make his dad proud. However, they had told him, in the forest, that they were already proud of him. He had wanted Ginny to be proud of him, but their connection went deeper than that. Nothing would change that. More than anything? He thought and thought, but finally, he remembered looking at Ginny after he proposed. He wanted that look to never go away. He wanted her to be safe. He wanted her to be happy. But what he really wanted was for her to be proud of herself. Hopefully, that

meant spending a long life with him, but regardless, he wanted her to continue to grow, to continue to become the witch he knew she was going to be. He understood what the voice was truly asking. What is love? Harry, feeling older and older by the second, realized that love was caring about someone enough to keep them safe, but not shielding them from the world. Love was wanting someone by your side all the time, but being happy for all the things they do while apart. It was holding them up when they're about to fall, but trusting them long before that. Love is putting hope in another, but persevering with them no matter what. "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always hopes, always perseveres." -I Corinthians 13:4-7 "I want Ginny to love and be loved all the days of her life." "Even if it is not by your hand?" He gulped, blinked a few times, and answered solemnly. "Yes." He felt his body become light as a feather and move through what seemed to be a cloud of mist. He remembered light rains and how comfortable to water was. However, a moment later, he felt the ground beneath him and he appeared to be heavy again. "Welcome, Harry." "Kingsley." He nodded before looking around him. The sight before his eyes was strange. He wasn't sure what he had expected, but the room was less than grand. They were standing on weathered granite that stretched across the floor from wall to wall to wall. Harry saw that it was in the shape of a triangle, with a sliver of the brightest light he had ever seen softly bathing the room with a comfortable glow. The walls themselves were white, reflecting the small sources of light, while the ceiling matched the floor beneath them. However, there were seven small fountains of the purest water Harry had ever seen. The water was coming up from a single spout of polished silver while the base of the fountains seemed to be made of diamonds. They were spaced evenly in a circle around the middle of the room. "I believe that only two enchantments guarded this place." "What?" Harry only half-heard what he said. "It appears that the Room opened for a reason of its own, and that test was the only thing needed to enter." "But I thought you said that Gryffindor and Sly–" He cut him off. "I only said that was all that was written. Sometimes, if there is only one step of a solution written down, there is only one step to the problem." Harry nodded and looked back towards the middle where a larger fountain stood. It was the same as the smaller ones; perfectly symmetric, with glistening diamonds and shining silver, and that same pure water. "Why water?" "I don't think it's water." "What?" "What do you think would be kept in a place called the Love Room?" It hit Harry like a hippogriff. Love potion? "That's it? A potion?" "Dumbledore told you that this room contained a force stronger than anything else on earth. Do you really think that liquid is just a potion?" Harry thought about it. He realized what he had said earlier and thought about how horrible things could be. What if someone got their hands on this and fed it to every witch on the planet? What if it was used to manipulate? To control? "Let's just leave it here!" Harry wanted to leave. "Why? The door has opened for a reason. It must be so that we can remove some of the potion."

Harry was worried now. He didn't need a potion for anything, and after what he had been through, he was pretty sure no one else needed it either. "Kingsley, stop. Fudge would have taken this out of here. Voldemort would have! We can't!" However, the look in the Minister's eyes began to change. He was looking at the fountain lustfully and slowly started moving towards it. Harry grabbed his hand. "Look at me!" "Let go, Potter!" "No! Look at me! Why do you need this?" "It will bring her back!" "WHAT?" "My wife, Potter! My wife! He killed her years ago, and now magic has given me my reprieve, it has given me the chance to bring her back." His eyes look maniacal. "No! Nothing can bring back the dead! Trust me!" Harry was yelling and trying to pull him back, but nothing was working. He pulled out his wand. "Kingsley, stop!" He aimed at his chest. "You will not attack the Minister of Magic!" "Dumbledore would! If you could only see how angry you are right now! Dumbledore almost ruined his life because of a rock! Men wasted away in front of the Mirror of Erised! This is something that should not be done! Kingsley, please! Don't make me do this!" Kingsley made a slight motion for his wand, but Harry saw him and re-aimed. "Don't." His voice softer. "Please." "I have to take this chance." "I know it seems like the obvious thing to do, but it isn't! She has passed on. She's on her own adventure. Death is not the end, Kingsley, please. If you manage to bring her back, it will only be a shadow and a ghost. It won't be her. It won't be the same person you lost. It will drive you mad, please!" "How do you know?" "I've seen my parents three times." "What?" "Please. I beg of you. Let's leave this place. You can talk to Dumbledore. Tell him what you have seen and what you plan to do. Please." Harry was sweating, but no longer worried. He saw the comprehension dawning on the wizard's face. Harry thought if he lost Ginny, and there was a way to bring her back, he would travel the world trying to find it, but he knew better. "How can you ask me to do this?" "I'm not asking you to do anything right now. I just want you to stop and think about this. Ask Albus about it." Slowly, Kingsley walked away, passed Harry, and back through the doorway. After he saw his body dissolve through the smoke, Harry turned to face the fountain again, and faltered. He had to know what this was. He had to show Dumbledore. This was not a coincidence. Kingsley was right about that. However, this wasn't about him, it was about Harry. It was about the Master of Death. It was about the Three Daughters, and he wasn't about to stop protecting Ginny! He conjured a bottle instantly, drew close to the fountain, and siphoned a portion inside before corking it shut. He placed every concealment and containment charm he could think of on the bottle before stowing it in his robes. He then exited, too. The trip back through the Ministry was completely silent, and Harry didn't remove his hand from the wand in his pocket. The door had sealed itself again, and Kingsley had actually stood in front of it long enough to attempt to open it once more but with no success. He hardly even waved farewell to Harry at the lifts before returning to his work and allowing Harry to leave once again for the Burrow. After Disapparating, he clutched the bottle in his robes, tried to pull himself together a bit, and made his way for the back door before being greeted by Ginny: who was running across the lawn towards him, her arms opened wide. "A page is turned by the wind to a boy in curly grin

With a world to conquer at the age of ten But as history unfolds and the storybook is told He finds salvation, but not at the hands of man." -Bebo Norman Family and Friends "Harry!" He just noticed, after taking a quick look at Ginny, that the sun was already on its way down. He looked down at his watch, saw that it was almost two in the afternoon, and felt horrible immediately. "Where have you been? I've been so worried." "Kingsley sent me a message late last night, or early this morning, I'm not really sure, but I've been at the Ministry all day." "Ok." She never looked accusatory or angry, and after speaking again, her face returned to its loving and caring appearance. "You do know," she pulled the pendant out from under her shirt, "that I'm allowed to worry about your safety, too?" Harry smiled. He nodded slightly, closed the difference between them, and hugged her tight. "I'm so sorry. It feels like last night was a lifetime ago. I didn't want to spend the next day," he paused, trying to find the right words without giving away what had happened, "well, working." He gave a hollow laugh, that she returned just as half-heartedly. However, they both seemed not to care at the moment. They hugged once again, stared out over the treetops towards the fading winter sunlight, and walked hand-in-hand back into the house. Harry felt so calm that he was not thinking about the one thing that he should have at that moment. "Hello, Harry." Molly's voice sounded curt and electronic. Oh, no! He couldn't believe it. Obviously, they would know by now. He didn't want Ginny to take the ring off, and he was sure that the older brothers could only hold out under their mother's stares for so long. After looking casually away from Molly, he noticed that the entire family was here, including Ron and Hermione. The only people smiling were Bill, and Harry's two best friends. Arthur was cowering in the corner, clearly allowing his wife a clear field. "Hello." He felt like he was back in front of Bill, trying to explain himself, but finding speech difficult. "We have already spoken with Ginny about this." She hates me! She hates me! Harry's mind was now full of insane scenarios involving grabbing Ginny, escaping on a broomstick, and possible relocation to somewhere in southeast Asia. "She seems to think that the two of you wanted to keep this a secret." "Mum!" Ginny tried to rebuke, but another glance from her mother silenced her as well. Harry wanted so badly to steal a glance at his fiancé, but his eyes were being held inside a beam that ended with his, he hoped, future mother-in-law's eyes. "Mrs. Weasley…" "Harry Potter. First of all, I asked you to call me Molly a long time ago." "Sorry, Molly, I just…" "Second of all, though I am disappointed in you for not discussing this with myself or Arthur, I understand." What did that mean? Harry's mind was now filled with the possibility that Molly was some kind of diabolical genius, luring him into a false sense of security before trapping him into saying something he didn't mean before cursing him into oblivion. "Ok." That was all he could come up with. The truth, though difficult sometimes, had always served him well when dealing with people who cared about him. "Were you worried about what we might think?" "No." The trap was coming… "Did you make this decision lightly?"

"No." Why couldn't he make himself turn and look at Ginny? "Had you and Ginny discussed the matter beforehand?" "Well, we had kind of, er, gone through a lot of 'what if' moments, y'know?" He felt very unsettled by his own response. "Very well." She clasped her hands together and paced two steps to the left and right a few times before returning to her previous spot next to the long breakfast table, one hand on the top of the nearest chair. "Bill, would you take your brothers and Hermione outside for a bit?" The silence was unbearable, but after a few small sounds emanated from Ron and Percy, the family all went outside before Molly waved her wand, locking the doors, shutting the windows, and (though he didn't know how he knew) placing imperturbable and secrecy charms on the room. Arthur walked up next to his wife and spoke for the first time. "Harry…" "Yes?" He now felt trapped. His heart was racing, his palms felt wet and clammy, and he wished he was wearing about half as much clothing right now. "Not having grown up with a proper family," he paused, looked down, and found Harry's eyes again, "well, we're not sure how you turned out like you did. However, there are some things you probably never knew how to go about doing. I imagine this is one of them. The only problem is that this is the biggest one for a parent of a young woman." This sounded a lot more like a conversation to Harry, and he felt himself relax…a little. "Yes, sir." "Ok." Arthur took a deep breath. "What are your intentions towards Ginny?" "Er…" What does 'intentions' mean? "I love her." "We know that Harry." He smiled. "That is a question the father must ask. We have to know, though we trust you, that you are the right person, right now, for our daughter. Especially with two people so young." "Ok." "Would you like it rephrased?" "Yes, sir." "Ok. Convince me that I can 'give away' my daughter to another man." Harry thought he might faint. There was no answer to that question. "Sir, er, Arthur, I don't even know how to start doing that." "Well, then tell me what you do know." The feeling that this was a loving conversation settled in again. "I love her. I know I'm not perfect, but I know we're perfect for each other! I care so much about her that when things are the darkest, she is the light. Actually, I…" he faltered. He didn't want to tell them what he was about to say. He didn't want to tell anyone. He didn't even want to tell Ginny. Not want to tell Ginny? That's not right. "…when I was in the forest, and Tom was about to, well…" he faltered again, but regained himself quickly, "…my last thought before I thought it was over was Ginny's kiss." "Ok…" Arthur looked a little shocked. Whatever he thought he was going to hear today in this kitchen, Harry's retelling of his last moments before Voldemort's downfall was probably not it. Harry was strengthened. His eyes finally left the Weasley parents and turned, along with his face, towards Ginny. He mouthed 'I love you' before squeezing her hand, feeling the ring, and turning back. "No one knows more than I do that she can take care of herself. I'm not here to tell you than I am going to protect her no matter what, or keep her from harm, or anything like that. I am going to let her be her own woman. I will support her in anything she wants to do, and I know that she loves me the same way! And that's the best part!" He could already feel himself beginning to ramble, but found that he didn't care. "I can't even explain it! We're always going to protect each other without hindering each other! We're going to go through amazing things together, and we'll probably see some tough moments, too. But we're going to do it together!" "Harry, I…"

He cut Arthur off. He wanted to say everything he should have told her. "You asked me what I know! I will always provide for her. She will not go hungry for food or devotion. She will not thirst for water or encouragement. She will never suffocate from lack of air, or lack of love. What else, I mean, I will always be faithful, always true, always honest! I have gotten to this point in my life because of everyone around me, and everyone before me, and now I want to shower all of that love onto someone else." There was silence before he continued. "I love her, and I know, I KNOW, in my heart, that it will never fade, never waver, and never stop, even after death." The silence now was that of amazement. No one had anything to say, least of all Harry, who felt like he had just dueled for an hour. He felt drained and exhausted, but within seconds, the silence was broken. He looked at Molly and saw tears in her eyes. She was sniffling, though still looking powerful. Then, his heart broke. Ginny was staring away from him, apparently ashamed of her tears. He walked slowly around the front of her, lowered his head in front of hers, and with a concerned look which included the slightest of smiles, he raised her head back up. He mouthed the three words again, she closed her eyes, and he kissed both of them clean before turning around once more to face the parents. "Harry, I don't know what to say." Arthur was never as emotional. "We were just hoping you weren't doing anything immature." "Harry James Potter!" Molly was now crying through a smile. "If you had told me that the boy I met on that platform, asking how to get on the train…I mean…(sniffle)…ahem." She coughed a couple more tears before straightening herself up as much as possible. "I would have been proud to call you my son from that very moment." Harry grabbed Ginny's hand and started walking across the room. He led her to her parents, and stepped back as Molly took her daughter into her arms, and the two women, who Harry had seen at their most powerful moments before, were now crying into each other's arms. Harry shook Arthur's hand in a silent, solemn manner before hugging the now free Ginny. Arthur and Molly also hugged. The entire exchange was quiet and calm. Harry wouldn't have it any other way. The celebration, the yelling and screaming, and the congratulations had been going on inside his own head for months now. After that, the siblings and Hermione were allowed back in, and everyone congratulated the two of them, though none of them seemed the least bit surprised. Ginny and Hermione went off on their own for a couple minutes to do 'girly stuff' as Ron put it. All the brothers had nice things to say while still joking about killing Harry the second something bad happened to Ginny. All in all, Harry was very happy, though dreadfully tired, with everything that had happened that day. He stole a few moments to go up to his room and hide the bottle of potion in the tiny sack. This time, however, he placed the most powerful charm he could think of on the sack so that none, including his fiancé, would be able to reveal the contents. On his way back down, and for some strange reason, everything hit him all at once, and it had nothing to do with his engagement. MacDonald was interested in the Three Daughters. The TriWizard judge had already known about it and spoken to her 'nephew' about it. Cedrella and Ginny were two of the Daughters. He had the tournament and the mystery to get through along with Quidditch and N.E.W.T.s. And now he had to figure out what 'terrible force' he was hiding in his room. He had to talk to Dumbledore as soon as possible. That, apparently, wasn't going to be possible until school started, though, because the whole family had taken up a challenge that had never been extended to them. When Harry finally rejoined the 'party,' he found that everyone was in deep, yet animated, conversation about the planning of the wedding, and how Ginny would be the most beautiful bride in the most beautiful ceremony the wizarding world had ever seen. Harry found that he was not much dispensed to talking about such things, and wished the Weasleys would propose a family Quidditch game. However, most of the family couldn't stop talking about the ring. "Where did you get it?" "Way to make me look bad, mate!" "It really is beautiful, Harry." They were all huddled around Ginny, who seemed to be taking a lot of pleasure in extending her left hand out into the air for all to see. There, on her finger, rested the ring. It was a thin, silver band of course with a circular setting in the middle. Around the edges sat seven tiny diamonds that sparkled brilliantly off the fading sunlight. In the middle, and set higher in a square setting, was a larger diamond which magically held eight miniscule rubies at each corner. Harry hadn't had long to search when he was in the store. He saw the seven diamonds representing her family, and told the jeweler to take the larger diamond off another ring, set it on top and fasten the rubies. The cost was incredible of course, but Harry didn't care. He had the money, and what else would he rather spend it on?

After another couple looks from everyone, though, the planning actually started! Molly, Ginny, and Hermione sat together at a table talking about flowers and place settings, dress robes and guest lists, and who knows what else. Harry knew that he cared about all of that because he wanted the wedding to be just as special as Ginny deserved, but he knew that the women wanted this task more than anything, so he let them be for the moment. Instead, he and Ron talked about being the first married men in their year, the older brothers joked about not following in Bill's footsteps like these youngsters, and Arthur walked among his sons with pride etched all over his face. There was time for pictures and an amazing meal. There was time for hugs and kisses. There was time for laughter and tears. Harry smiled. He felt like there was time for everything. He couldn't wait to live in a house with her, go on vacations together, and even teach their children how to fly. But just at that moment, he realized that there wasn't always going to be time. MacDonald was interested in the Three Daughters. The TriWizard judge had already known about it and spoken to her 'nephew' about it. Cedrella and Ginny were two of the Daughters. He had the tournament and the mystery to get through along with Quidditch and N.E.W.T.s. And now he had to figure out what 'terrible force' he was hiding in his room. He had to talk to Dumbledore before these thoughts became some haunting mantra that he carried with him everywhere he went. And even before that, he had to tell his friends, and his fiancé, exactly what was going on. He decided to tell them everything that had happened with the Daughters and Kingsley, but he would definitely leave out the fact that he was now the sole owner of whatever was in that bottle upstairs. Therefore, after the drinks that followed dinner, he called the other three over, while waving goodbye to the rest of the family, and took a deep breath. "Ok, I have a lot to tell you guys…" His friends waited for the news. "You've got magic inside your finger tipsIts leaking out all over my skinEvery time that I get close to youYour making me weak with the way youLook through those eyes…" -Colbie Caillat The Otseptine Harry didn't take long in explaining all the situations. There were moments when it looked like Hermione wanted to interrupt, Ron wanted to puke, or Ginny wanted him to stop, but he silenced all of these objections and continued up to the moment he had siphoned the potion into the bottle. "And then we left. Kingsley went back to his office, I Disapparated back here, and then now we're talking." Harry felt, like he always did when he told a long story, that some kind of personal poison had been removed from his body. However, he was used to Dumbledore nodding and not probing the matter anymore, and this was not going to be the case today. "You left that stuff there?" Ron was incredulous. "Harry! After the Hallows, how could you not tell us about everything you found?" Hermione was, as always, a bit more concerned. Ginny sat there, unmoving, unflinching, and the group turned to look at her, Harry finally looking at her last. "Say something." Harry spoke more softly than ever. "Did you know about this when you gave me my birthday gift?" "No." He was going to let her ask questions, and of course respond with nothing but the truth. He had heard an old saying from somewhere…'keep your yes's yes and your no's no.' "Ok, well, do you have any idea what the third daughter is?" "No. The only thing we know is that is has something to do with the earth."

"Ok." Ginny's face didn't change. The group was deathly silent. No one spoke. Harry did the only thing he could think of. He slowly reached out his left hand and grasped hers. "Well, what are we going to do find the third Daughter when we get back to school?" Hermione was looking forward, but Harry (and Ginny, too by her eyes) was looking backward. Now that he had told her about how important she was, all he could think of was the past. He remembered days by the lake, nights by the fire, and even taking classes together. He could see Quidditch matches and warm trees in her eyes. Ron spoke next. "First of all, we can't tell anyone else about this." Harry spoke mechanically. "Dumbledore knows about most of it, and I think McGonagall might know a bit, too." "And Kingsley?" "Well, I told him about everything I knew at the beginning of the year, but I don't want him involved anymore." "That's probably a good idea." Hermione pronounced. After that, she must have taken Ron back to their room, because Harry stole a glance away from Ginny five minutes later and his friends were gone. He didn't mind really. He just wanted her to say something. He knew that if they talked it out, together, then they would be able to come up with the best course of action, together. "Gin." She put her hand up to stop him. He obeyed. He wasn't trying to push anything. The fact of the matter was the next couple weeks at the Burrow would be spent planning for a future wedding, but besides that, they would have all the time in the world to discuss anything, and everything, else. "Just promise me something." "Of course." "If it came down to me and – " He cut her off. There was no way she was going to make him do anything like that. "Stop. That's not going to happen." He gripped her hands a little tighter. "It might. If you had thrown the cloak off in the forest, I would have stopped you, and where would we be now?" She had a point, but he wasn't going to concede it. "Gin, that was Voldemort. That was Horcruxes and Hallows, blood protection and the elder wand." He stared as resolutely as he could into her eyes. "Remember what you said to me? He's gone! WE are never going to have to make those kinds of decisions. Whoever this person is, they aren't going to win. I can promise you that." "Ok." Tears started welling up in her eyes. She stifled the emotions, wiped her own face dry, and faced him with that blazing look once more. "I would die for my family." "Gin…" "I would. I would even sacrifice myself if it saved thousands." "Gin…" "I would die for you, too, Harry, and please listen to me. "'No greater love hath that than a man give up his life for another.' It's an old bible verse my mom used to read to us to explain the bond of family. Well, you and I are starting a new family, right?" "I love you." He could feel the emotions welling up, too. Neither of them wanted to sit there sobbing. They wanted to be strong for each other, show each other that nothing could break them, to show the world. "I love you, too." They went to bed. They couldn't sleep together because they were still under Molly's roof and respected that. However, any chance they got, they used. It felt like they needed to be reminded of the physical connection they shared, not just the emotional and spiritual. There was a bit of a party on New Years' Eve, but Harry only enjoyed the fact that it was apparently an important thing to have someone to share with, and he was more than happy with his kiss at midnight. Ginny spent her days with Molly and Hermione, while the boys made massive improvements to the house. Magical power had been growing nationwide, as the Minister had been quick to point out

some months before, since Voldemort's downfall, and this was no more evident than in the surviving pureblood families who didn't bear any tattoos on their left forearms. There was an entire addition made to the house, the third floor had literally been moved to the side of the first floor. It was sad saying goodbye to the Ghoul, but as Ron put it, 'it had to be done.' Meanwhile, above the moved section, a second addition to the second floor was made to hold a new master bedroom. This meant that Molly and Arthur's room (after the wall had been magically torn down and reset) connected with the kitchen, allowing an extension of the table to fit nearly twenty people comfortably. After everyday, Arthur would stand back and admire the handiwork done my his sons and future son-in-law. Also, after everyday, the family would allow the engaged couple to spend their time privately. Again, it was very physical, but also edifying in the sense that Harry felt he was finally getting to find out all the little things that had been kept from him due to extenuating circumstances. He had never known her favorite colors, dream vacation locales, secret ambitions as a healer, and the stout resolution to have less than seven children. "Ha! You know Hermione will pop out like twelve after all her posturing to become the most powerful muggle-born ever." Harry was in stitches. They laughed more than they had in a long time. Harry wondered, and asked if his suspicions were correct, about the fact that Ginny may have known something was wrong for a long time and not said anything. She confirmed it, apologized, and the two of them resolved never to hide anything from each other. Harry immediately felt guilty. No one had ventured into the tiny sack upstairs, holding the potion. Harry hadn't dared touch it. His first order of business was visiting with Dumbledore, and when he wasn't with his future bride, he thought of nothing else. His other friends were actually working on researching the final Daughter, even though, as Harry tried to explain, the other two Daughters literally fell into his lap. "Well, what else have you, um, acquired lately that could have something to do with the earth?" Harry turned scarlet for a split second but subdued the feeling. The potion? No way. After passing that question off skillfully, they returned to more additions to the house. Even though they had changed a great deal about the house, it still held the old charm the Burrow would never relinquish. Harry felt happier and happier every time he was able to purchase supplies for the Weasleys. The first conversation had not been easy, though. "I want to do this. You have always been my family, and soon, it will be official. I really want to do this." "Harry, we simply cannot accept this." "Well, what if this was the Potter's gift to the wedding?" "Um…" Once again, the Weasley parents were not prepared for something he had said. However, a few smiles later, the first enchantments had been placed. Finally, on an uncharacteristically warm morning in the middle of January, the time had come for their return to school. After a quick apparition to Hogsmeade, Harry and Ron graciously used magic to float the girls' trunks ahead of their own, trying to drag them a little to nick an unsuspecting Mrs. Norris or annoy one of the sleeping portraits. "Boys." The two girls half laughed, half shrugged, all the while sighing and rolling their eyes. "I gotta talk to Dumbledore. I'll see you after the feast." "Ok." She pecked him. "I love you." "Love you, too." He waited for everyone to leave the dormitory before opening the sack, placing the bottle of potion inside his own robes, and making off for the Headmistress' office. The gargoyles allowed him access, and the oak knocker acted of its own accord, revealing Minerva behind her desk along with two other people that Harry did not want to see. "Hello, Harry." "Mr. Potter." While Professor MacDonald's greeting was cordial, Kingsley's certainly wasn't, and Harry couldn't' help but notice the 'sleeping' portrait behind the desk shuffle a bit. "Hello."

"Well, thank you for stopping by and bringing this to my attention. It will, of course, be dealt with." The two men exited the room, both taking an extremely long look, or rather longer than Harry would have liked, at the student before departing. "Sit down, Harry." McGonagall dropped the official tone once the door was closed. "What was that about?" "They seem to think that you might be causing problems again. The strange thing, and you will enjoy this, is that this year at school, everyone in the wizarding world believes you to be a hero and a savior, and therefore, any 'political' action against you is most unwise by any witch or wizard." Harry would have preferred Fudge or Umbridge having to recant all their allegations, but this would have to do. "I was wondering if I could speak to Albus." "Of course, should I leave?" She was not being mean-spirited. In fact, it sounded just like Arthur would when the girls would need a room for planning. "I don't know. What do you think?" He turned his face and voice to the portrait who 'suddenly' awoke and answered. "Based on the recent conversation in this office…" "I hate it when you're actually awake!" Minerva wasn't completely surprised. "…I would surmise that you have seen something most eighteen year-olds do not." "Yes, sir." "Well, do you think I know something about it?" "Definitely." "Would you ask anyone else about it?" "Of course not." "Very well, if privacy is important, Minerva can respect that. And do not make that face, Harry, she is a mature woman who is more than capable of humility and patience. Many thanks, headmistress." "I told you not to call me that. It still sounds strange." She noted before exiting. "Well, you have my undivided attention, Harry. I assume you did not have a very uneventful break?" "Of course not. One day this will all end, right?" "Life does not slow down and speed up at your convenience. In fact, it has a nasty habit of doing the opposite." Harry couldn't agree more, but that wasn't the necessary topic for discussion. "I have something." He reached into his robes and pulled out the seemingly innocuous bottle that appeared to hold nothing but water. "Do you know what this is?" "I'm assuming it's not something as basic as water, or as trivial as Veritaserum?" "No, sir." "Well, if memory serves," it usually does with you, Harry thought, "then you are holding something you shouldn't." "What it's called?" "The Otseptine."

"The?" "Yes. And I am glad you picked up on the fact that a potion had 'The' in front of it. The realms of magic which you and Voldemort ventured into are almost certainly never to be tested again. If there was a 'second prize' in that category, you are holding it." "What is it?" He knew the answer already. "The most powerful potion ever known. Perhaps it came the gods, perhaps it was given by the earth itself, no one knows. However, when the room opened to Millicent Bagnold, then the current Minister, in 1980, she summoned me much like Kingsley summoned you. However, I was in an important meeting with someone, and so they joined me." "Who was it?" "In a minute. The important thing is that Millicent's memory of that occurrence was erased immediately thereafter, just as Kingsley's was an hour ago." "What?" "Yes, Harry. Humans, you and myself included, cannot be trusted with this." "Why not?" "You saw the reaction that Mr. Weasley had to Amortentia? Well, think if he could react to a potion in a real and true way?" "I don't understand." Again, he already did, but he needed to hear it. "True, unconditional, powerful, and undying love. It has the ability to move a mountain or quiet a storm." "You make it sound like the drinker would be omnipotent." "Not the drinker, but yes." "What?" Harry was not ready for that. "It is a simple transference spell, but the caster has the power over that which has absorbed The Otseptine." "Why…?" Harry was laughing a bit. "The name?" Harry nodded. "It's Aramaic in basis. A dead language. This is a dead myth besides you and I's knowledge of it." "Why does everything happen in the UK?" "Ah, youth sees things so much simpler than age. That is not an insult," perhaps he could see frustration mounting in Harry's eyes, "but merely a comment on something most would overlook. Perhaps magic decides to make its stands in certain locations, within certain families, and of course, it could always be something bigger." Albus raised his eyebrow at the end. "God?" "Aramaic was a language used by certain cultures thousands of years ago, and it is only proper that something with this power would be attributed, and named, in that language." Harry couldn't believe he was asking the most powerful wizard ever this next question. "Do you believe in God?" "I was always hoping that one of my pupils, and you in particular, was going to ask me that." He sat up straighter inside the portrait, took off his half-moon spectacles to reveal many ancient lines under his eyes, making him look older and wiser than ever before. Harry took a seat behind the desk, where Albus used to sit. "Yes, I do." "How? After all the things you could do? After all the things you had seen?"

"I saw many powerful occurrences, but nothing compared to things that you see everyday." Harry tried to think of ordinary things. "Remember, how often is coincidence actually coincidence?" "Never!" Harry laughed the word out. His own experience had taught him that. "What do you supposed the odds are that millions of perfect spheres, each weighing trillions of tons, would take up their places in the sky and space to provide the perfect balance for at least one of those spheres to spawn life?" "Bad." "Quite. Now take that, and what do you think the odds of that big sphere, of gas and rock, spawning life in such a manner that it evolved into the trillions of different species of life on this planet? "Bad." "Take just one of those species, and the universe allowed it to obtain reason, contemplate its own existence, and even begin to study its own part in the universe, not to mention the incredible complexity of human anatomy and behavior." "I see." "Yes. I believe in something much bigger than I can even comprehend. Again, when the finite is made infinite, there is much misunderstanding and deadly consequences. Only when the infinite fixes the finite can order be restored." "Whoa." This was way too much. "I have no idea what, or who, this being this. However, I always believed something else was keeping everything together. If it didn't exist, I would not have put much stock in the return of a setting sun, or the rain season replenishing the arid land." "We're born magical." "Very astute. You know that magic seems to have a genetic attribute, but there are the Hermione Weasleys of the world…" Harry smiled. "I need to destroy this." "Possibly. However, I believe you to be capable of keeping yourself from using it unless completely necessary," he gave him a knowing look, "and also, it may have been used before." "By who?" "The other person with me that day. I cannot deny he was a powerful wizard, and certainly obsessed with the concept of love." "Who was it?" "Someone I trusted implicitly." No way. "Someone whose trust was well-founded in the end." This is not happening. "Someone who could have snuck some potion, though only drops from my immediate inspection of his person. If the potion was used by him, I have not yet seen the consequences, but as we have just discussed, power does not necessarily mean grandeur." "Don't tell me…" "Yes, Harry. It was Severus Snape." "One: You gotta take it kind of slowly. Two: You gotta hurry up and make your move…" -Blue October Another Task Approaches

A thousand thoughts raced through Harry's mind as he walked back to the common room. In fact, these thoughts, which seemed more and more far-fetched, crept into his already cluttered mind over the next few weeks. What could Snape have done? Did he do anything? Was he already the honorable man at that point that Harry knew he became? Would he really try to use the potion on Lily? Had Voldemort found the potion? Did Harry have some of the Otseptine in his own blood? There were times in which Harry would curse Dumbledore for keeping information from him again. However, this 'new' Harry, or at least the more mature version, also knew that he never asked his headmaster how he learned Mermish or researched the twelve uses of Dragon Blood. No, in the end, sometimes you just have to ask questions, no one is obliged to give you answers to questions you don't yet have. January seemed to race by. Harry was hounded by his friends constantly. Quidditch practices were going badly. Harry even snapped at Hermione repeatedly when she would hassle him about studying for the second task, which was rapidly approaching. Classes were still proving easy for the foursome, but even then Harry was always trying to get a read on Professor MacDonald, searching the library and Prophet for someone who could be Anastasia Brown's nephew (contacting Lavender had proven no other relatives), and generally trying to listen to the mundane and learn the useless in the slim hope that something might spark a lead in one area of his life. The truth was that Harry Potter and his friends were pretty talented at solving mysteries, but this year was becoming a bit much. Harry's worry when leaving the Ministry a month ago had become a reality. MacDonald…Anastasia…Ginny…Cedrella…Otseptine…MacDonald…Anastasia… He thought about nothing else. The only positive was that his thoughts would drift in Ginny's direction often enough to keep him sane. Ron and Hermione had become even busier, also. The truth was there were only a few months before they would have to take jobs, find a house, and start their lives. Other seventh years were feeling the same pressures, but Harry and Ginny weren't. As everyone knew, and his friends pointed out in jest, Harry still had plenty of money, could afford a flat without a problem, and would have every employer in Britain vying for his services after school. Harry, like always, had the same amount of problems as any young wizard…they were just different. Instead of finding a house, he had to find the Third Daughter. Instead of studying for N.E.W.T.s, he had to keep himself and Hermione safe during the tournament. Instead of worrying about a job, he had to worry about, well, everyone. The hardest part were the times when Ginny would be hanging out with her friends, Ron and Hermione would be together, and he was left alone in his dormitory surrounded by books. The first occasion, only a week after his talk with Dumbledore, he had thrown two texts clear across the room, shattering a few picture frames of one of his fellows roommates. A hundred apologies, a couple 'Reparo' spells, and a handshake later, all was well, but Harry beat himself up about his momentary loss of temper. The problem was that they continued. Problems brewed frustration, frustration created contempt, contempt spawned fear, and fear bred hate. He remembered how he first felt, after staring at the writing on the wall, and cursed whoever was behind this. The fact was his hate had not died with Voldemort. There were always going to be people looking for the easy way out, searching for quicker ways to make money, and demagogues insisting on gaining power. Harry began to accept that. He began to accept that the world was not going to change, because deep down, people were evil. Most wizards and witches, and muggles alike, did not search for immortality because of disbelief, lack of resources, or fear of consequences. But there were some, and very few, who were unfettered by these restrictions. Dumbledore and Grindelwald were two of those people, and Voldemort as well. Harry, too, had the opportunity to follow such a path, but he too rejected it. Two men desired immortality, and two men fled from it. Those were not comforting statistics. The fact that, given the chance, half (or more) of the wizarding world would have used to Hallows to truly master Death, would have sought battle with the Elder Wand, and would spray the Otseptine at any given moment was not reassuring to Harry. Adolescence was also creeping into the fold. He felt like he needed to be around Ginny every second of everyday, but the older, wiser part of him knew that to love her was to love all the things she did on her own as well, and to be happy for her. Hormones made him pine for his love, but also smile at the thought of her Bat-Bogey Hex and spot-on impressions of professors. One afternoon, when he was studying by the fire in the Common Room, subduing frustration, his fiancé walked in. She was looking as beautiful as ever, in common weekend robes and her hair in a ponytail, and being trailed by a few girls gawking at her ring. "Harry, I think a few more girls would like you to propose to them." She said with a mischievous smile on her face. They had talked about whether or not she should wear it at Hogwarts. Harry obviously stated that she may be in greater danger if someone knew, but she pointed out that Harry may have been the last person to figure out that they were going to be together for the rest of their lives. Also, she had told him encouragingly, that she never took the pendant off either, and that when in doubt, Harry, Hermione, Ron, or the D.A. was never too far away.

Ultimately, they had decided not to hide their engagement. After all, it was a joyous thing, the Weasleys were making plans up and down Britain, the Prophet had jumped the story in mid-January, and well, it wasn't really a secret. "Hey, Gin." He replied, scooting over on the big chair to allow her room to sit next to him. "Hey." How did one word make him forget everything? She plopped down next to him, causing them both to shift in the chair. A quick kiss later, they were arranged like always. He was sitting diagonally, her legs were over his, and the fire warmed them both to the core. "How was the show?" "Oh you know Slughorn. He just wanted to show off all the junk his celebrity friends send him." "So you had fun?" She allowed the smile she was trying to hide to show. "Of course! You should see some of this stuff! It's so rare! Original tickets from the first Quidditch World Cup in 1473! He's got some kind of centaur diving leaf that I didn't really understand or pay attention to, and of course all the letters and gifts from his 'friends.' I still don't know why you don't want to come to these parties. They're way better than a couple years ago." "I don't want to become another trophy." Harry said quickly, but with a slight smile. "I'm just kidding. I know. If I were you, I probably wouldn't go either. But being your fiancé, Slughorn asks about you constantly, and so it gives me a chance to talk about you, which I love!" "Shut up!" The tickling began, and Harry's carefully organized notes about magical creatures. "Oh, I'm sorry!" She helped him, along with her wand, clean up the mess quickly. "You're starting to look like Hermione a bit. I mean, you are feeling ok, right?" "Ha ha ha." He said slowly and sarcastically. "The judges told us that creatures would be a major part in the second task which," he paused for a second and turned to face her properly, "is in only a week! So I would appreciate less Hermione references, and more 'Go Harry' comments, thank you very much." They both started laughing, put Harry's things back in order, and then settled back onto the chair to watch the embers slowly burn in the fireplace. They held hands for hours, only separating during the walk down to, and from, dinner. Afterwards, most of the students went off to bed, but they wanted to spend time together, so they stayed where they were, holding hands, playing with the ring on her finger, and just being together. It felt like the summer again. They were talking about everything, nothing, and anything. Ginny would make small references to the overwhelming tasks, not including the Tournament, ahead of him, and Harry felt surprisingly better each time he told her what he was thinking about, worrying about, and hoping for. "I just wish I knew how this was going to end…" Harry said at one point, more to himself than anything. "I know." She stroked his hair and looked at him in a very maternal fashion. "In a way, though, you already do know…" She trailed off, waiting for him to look at her with a questioning face, which he did. "It's going to end with you doing your best." "Ginny…" He appreciated the kind words, but they sounded so blindly believed that the effect wasn't grasped. "No, I'm serious. Listen, no matter what happens in the future, what do you know? Without a doubt?" "I love you." It was the first thing he thought of. "That's very sweet, but I mean about all these things happening to you." She looked at him like she wanted him to think for a second before answering. "And I love you, too." He did indeed think for about a minute before replying. "Er, I am going to do my best." "And…"

"I'm going to keep my friends safe." "And…" "I'm not going to quit." "Ok." She kissed him on the forehead. "Then everything else is going to happen the way it should." "Yeah." He sat there and stared at the dying fire. It was selfish, and backwards, to think he could fix every problem, have every luxury, and still grow into a man. It was through the events of his life that he had become who he was. His own experience with time travel a few years ago had already taught him something he was just realizing. "Dumbledore once told me that even a little choice we make is so complex that predicting the future of anything is impossible." "He was probably right." "He was. And it's not only impossible, but wrong, and arrogant, and stupid." He chuckled slightly. "Wow." "I'm serious. I love you Ginny. I can't wait for our wedding," he looked off to the side with a smile for a second, "because Hermione will make sure it's perfect, ha," he got serious again, "but I'm not going to say, with absolute certainty, that it will happen. But if we get to May 29th, then…" He had been thinking about it off and on for a few weeks, and realized he would get some kind of reaction. "Harry James Potter!" She used his middle name, this was usually a good sign. "Is that the date?" "Yeah." He just wanted her to react before saying anything. "Ok," she got deathly serious, "I don't want you to be sad or anything, but that day…" "I know. I just thought we could replace it with the anniversary of something a little brighter." "Y'know? A part of me knew, right then, when I woke up in the Chamber, Riddle was gone, and you were lying there…" "I wish I had known then." He again felt like a few years had been wasted. "Me too!" They laughed again, hugged, she cried, and he comforted. "But then things would have been different, and I like the way things have turned out so far…" "Yeah, no predicting the future…" They fell asleep in each other's arms in that big chair that night. Hermione woke them up in the morning, let them know that it was February 1st, and that meant only five days until the second task. The couple wasn't sure what this had to do with them sleeping in the Common Room, but nevertheless the next week proved to be a hectic nightmare of classes and studying for the second task until finally the day had arrived for them to travel to America. "We're going to come and watch this time!" Ginny was ecstatic. "Yeah, mate, so don't get second again!" "Ronald!" "I'm sorry, sweetie, um, no matter what place you get, you're still the prettiest witch I know?" He said it like a question, and Harry and Ginny immediately started laughing. "That's better." The Weasleys kissed, the engaged couple laughed even harder, and they all turned to say goodbye. "Hang on. Why aren't you coming with us now?" "Oh, the task isn't for three days."

"What?" Hermione was confused this time. "Apparently the Americans enjoy celebrating these things. You won't be at the task until Sunday afternoon." Harry remembered that it was Friday afternoon now, and shook it off for the moment. After a few more personal goodbyes, the two couples detached their other halves, and joined McGonagall on the front lawns. "Good luck, you two. A representative will be waiting for you at the Ministry, then after your apparition to the States, another gentlemen will Side-Along Apparate you to the festivities." "Er, ok." Harry would have liked to have been told earlier, but as Hermione said moments later, spontaneous events are sometimes the most fun. Harry's idea of fun involved a fire, comfortable chair, and red hair in his fingers. "Alright, let's go." A couple hours later, and after far too much travelling in Harry's mind, they both arrived in Roswell, New Mexico where the American contestants were standing waiting. A quick glance around a room; that housed a full bar, music platform, and disco lights, showed Harry that the French were already here, along with several dozen others. They had Apparated into a party! "Welcome to America. Grab a drink and have a good time." They watched as the American contestant, whose name they couldn't remember, walked away shouting. "Allison! Hey, they're here! What drinking game were we supposed to show them?" Harry looked at Hermione, they both look confused, but apparently these wizards enjoyed the spontaneous as much as she did, so they should probably blend in. "You wanna grab a drink?" "Sounds good." The American guy had returned. "So, have y'all ever heard of Wand Pong?" "He sought her ever, wandering far…Where leaves of years were thickly strewn, By light of moon and ray of star…In frosty heavens shivering. Her mantle glinted in the moon…As on a hill-top high and far She danced, and at her feet was strewn…A mist of silver quivering." -Tolkien's 'Song of Beren and Luthien' Watching and Waiting Harry and Hermione quickly learned that a triangle of goblets filled with butterbeer or firewhiskey were placed at opposite ends of a narrow table. They also found that the contents of the goblets (half beer and half whiskey) switched from cup to cup of their own accord. When the other team, the Americans, would successfully guide their ball, using his or her wand, into one of the goblets, Harry or Hermione would have to drink it. On his third turn, Harry swore he had charmed the ball correctly, but it had gone off its path. Immediately, he realized that Jeff Baker (they had learned the names again) had played a little defense to keep the ball out of the goblet. Slightly angry, Harry got the American to admit that defense was allowed, and shortly thereafter, Harry and Hermione being extremely powerful, the Hogwarts team had one the first round. And the second. And the third. And finally, after the fourth round, in which the Hogwarts team were the only people still making sense of their words, the rest of the party refused to play anymore. "That's not fair! He's – hic – freakin' Harry – hic – Potter!" Baker was pissed, and pissed. Thankfully, his partner Allison Hartley, had come to calm him down. Harry was sure he saw something more than teammates in the two Americans, but whenever he tried to mention it to Hermione that night, she wasn't listening. "I miss Ron!" She yelled this once or twice. "OK? I miss him! Are you happy?" She was drunk. "I miss Ginny, too. It's ok to miss the people you love." Hermione's demeanor suddenly changed. "Aw, Harry." She started smiling. "I'm so happy for you." She started sniffling a bit. "If anyone deserves love, it's you." With the last words, she tried to toast his drink, missed, and instead spilled her drink all over his shirt.

"I think you're done." "No I'm not. I'm the responsible one!" These words took a solid minute to come out coherently, and Harry decided to cheat, just this once. "Petrificus Totalus!" A few of the other guests looked at him for second, then told him they had done the same to their friends after a rough night, and bade him a goodnight's rest. Harry laughed the whole way to his room. Again, it was a strange sight. He was levitating and moving a body, still grasping a now empty drink, through a lobby, while asking someone where they were sleeping, and into a bedroom with two beds. After lifting the jinx when she was parallel over the bed, he waited to see if she would awake again. After a couple minutes, he decided it was safe to fall asleep himself. He, too, was tired from travelling and drinking, and found that sleep grabbed him quickly, sending him into a dream filled clear liquids and Ginny wearing white, but he remembered none of it. The next day, he woke up to Hermione buzzing around the now sunlit room. "You're chipper." "I know! I don't really remember a whole lot from the end of the night, but maybe I just needed a really good rest, y'know?" "Wow." Harry said to himself, rubbing his own eyes. "So? Is this trip going to be nothing but surprises?" "No. Here's the itinerary." Harry took the piece of paper from her and read: February 3rd – Welcoming Party February 4th – Champions' Lunch – School Dinner (both optional) February 5th – The Second Task – 12p.m. "So we just sit around and eat all day?" "We don't have to. We're allowed to leave the compound if we want to." Hermione looked excited. "What is it?" "We can Apparate anywhere!" "Anywhere? What does that mean?" Harry was worried his friend had gone off the deep end. "Like anywhere in the American wizarding world. The Salem Institute and Washington's Academy are free to Apparate to." "What?" He didn't understand a word of that. "I read all about the States before we came here. Sometimes, it costs money to Apparate." "Ok." "And there are two other schools here. We could go see them if you want." Harry hadn't really thought about it. He was under the assumption that the task was going to begin last night. However, now that he was confronted with these travel possibilities, he found he didn't care very much. He preferred to rest in this surprisingly comfortable bed, try not to think about memories of Snape or future troubles with the Daughters. His own mind held enough characters and plot lines that he felt he didn't need to venture into unknown parts of an unknown country in order to acquire more. "I don't think so, Hermione. You go, though." He didn't want to dampen her mood. "Well I don't want to go by myself." He failed.

"Come on. Just because I don't wanna go, doesn't mean that you can't still." Now he was trying to fix it. "I know, but it just wouldn't be as much fun if I wasn't going somewhere with someone I knew. I wish Ron was here." Harry now felt horrible. He felt like he was abandoning his friend, but his thoughts were quickly interrupted with the best of news. Two faint pops signaled the arrival of the two people that would help the British champions the most. "Ginny!" Harry hopped out of bed. "Ron!" Hermione raced from the other side of the room. "What are you guys doing here?" Harry asked after a quick hug and kiss. "Families are allowed to watch, y'know?" Ron's retort showed that he didn't want to talk. He and Hermione suddenly walked handin-hand out of the room. "Hey, Harry. How are you holding up?" He was momentarily floored. She seemed to know that he was going through a lot at the moment, even during a time in which he was on vacation and competing in the most prestigious tournament in the world. "I'm ok. You?" "I'm ok. We didn't get much research done last night, so nothing has really changed." She was still trying to help with the mystery. "Thanks." They embraced again, teamed up in placing charms on the windows and doors, and made love. It seemed like hours later, they were both catching their breaths. "It's only been a day?" Harry breathed out. Ginny laughed. They laid there for the rest of the night. They talked about what might be coming in the task for only a few minutes. Ginny made fun of Harry for worrying, assuming that he had again seen more magical creatures than any student in the world. They joked about being called students, and then went back to the standby: the wedding. "Hermione and mum are definitely doing more about it than I am, but I only made three requests that absolutely have to be adhered to." "What three?" "I'm not telling you! Well, I guess I can tell you one of them." "Ok." Harry was still lying still on the bed next to her, but inside he was shaking. He couldn't believe how excited he was, but he couldn't let that on. "Well, the two I can't tell you about are the dress and the official." "Ok." He wasn't going to push it. "But the third?" "Oh, well, I'll just wait until after the task to tell you. I don't want to be the reason you can't concentrate…" She said the last few words in a whisper in his ear. Harry was slightly wound up, but he had no idea what it could be. He couldn't be called an expert, but he assumed this was some more of that female power that never went the other way. He could tell her he had a surprise, and not only would Ginny not think about it, but she would somehow weasel the information out of him before the surprise could happen. The Weasleys and Grangers arrived later that night, the entire group had dinner at a Mexican restaurant, and Harry was not alone in thinking that he had never tried food so good. The two families had decided not to go to the function, and wondered if that was some kind of blatant disregard for American custom, but the time together made all those thoughts vanish as quickly as they came. However, the end of the meal also meant that Ginny was going back to stay with her family, along with Ron, leaving the champions to try their best to sleep that night, which did not go well for Harry. All night he had dreams, again that he did not remember, that included daughters of kings, exploding water, and overbearing teachers wandering from one side of his mind to the other. Ultimately, as it always does, morning came quickly.

"Harry?" Hermione was standing at the foot of his bed, a wearisome look etched on her face. "What time is it?" He said groggily, taking in the morning light from the windows. "Early." "Ok." He grabbed his glasses, put them on, and spotted his wand on the end table. "Anything more specific?" "Two hours until the task." "Ok, well, do you think we need to do anything?" "I don't know. You're the expert. I mean, we were kind thrown into that first task, but your last tournament was all about last minute stuff, and maybe we've studied too much, and I just don't know if we've done enough, and – " "HERMIONE!" Harry interrupted as politely as he could. "I'm sorry." She was still breathing heavily, trying to bring her world back into focus. "It's ok. We're ok. We're prepared. Now I'm gonna take a shower. You gonna be ok?" "Yeah." After breakfast and a quick 'hello' to the Weasleys and Grangers, they walked down towards a stadium on the edge of the grounds that would have seated at least twenty thousand people. Indeed, from the noise coming from it, Harry thought there might be twenty thousand people there. But of course, as the time got closer and closer, Harry's stomach turned into a tornado while his mind began to race as well. MacDonald was interested in the Three Daughters. The TriWizard judge had already known about it and spoken to her 'nephew' about it. Cedrella and Ginny were two of the Daughters. He had the tournament and the mystery to get through along with Quidditch and N.E.W.T.s. What, if anything, had Snape done with his vial of The Otseptine? Harry didn't know if it his head or his stomach hurt more. He was sure his heart was intact, though, a vision of Ginny laughing at a table with her friends kept popping into his head. He hadn't heard anything anyone was saying to him, and miraculously, found himself standing in a group, along with the other five champions, and who he could only presume to be the American President of Magic. "Welcome to the Second Task." Too much silence. Harry was beginning to hate any silence that didn't involve Ginny. "As you know, this will test your abilities with Magical Creatures. However, you will not be working as a team." "What?" Jeff Baker had spoken first. Allison had to calm him down a bit, saying that he would be fine. Harry wasn't sure how these two had been picked out of everyone at their school, maybe it was a random drawing? "Yes…well. We have selected two native beasts from each competing country. No doubt you have run across each of these animals either in your studies or in person, however, it gives this task a little flair. Each contestant will be given a different combination of beasts. There are six different possibilities since you must face one beast from each country. No two combinations will be the same, but you will all share sufficient obstacles that the scoring will be level." "Oh." Jeff seemed ok with the math involved. Allison rolled her eyes. Strangely, the French duo had remained completely silent and still while Hermione seemed to be studying every word. Harry then thought of his own appearance and he guessed that everyone else was trying to figure out why he was looking around all the time. "Now, if you could all reach into this bag," which he conjured that second, "and choose a number. Ladies first of course." Hermione reached in and grabbed a number 3. Allison grabbed a 2. Gabrielle grabbed a 5. "Very nice. Now the gentlemen…" Jeff reached quickly this time, pulling the number 1. He groaned audibly. Marcel, with some trepidation, grabbed the number 4. Harry looked around again, with a slight grin and shaking his head. The Number 6. He would be going last. Just like the first task years ago with the dragons, he was going to have to listen to everyone else's triumphs or tragedies before stepping into face his own danger. "Of course you will all stay here 'til you're called. Good luck to everyone. The task is simple: Reach the end of the course in exactly ten minutes." Harry was very confused. They were supposed to finish whatever they were doing in exactly ten minutes? So if you finished quickly, meaning you dealt with the task effectively, you would be docked points? No one else seemed to disappointed at the news, and Harry resorted to sitting down on a nearby bench, just now taking in the fact that they were in some kind of beautiful locker room.

The floor was carpeted, each locker was more of a walk-in closet, and there were WWN in every locker. The walls were pristine, and the benches comfortable, at least for him. As he looked around the room, he saw that everyone else had taken a seat, but all seemed to be awkwardly attempting to find the right way to sit. Jeff Baker walked out the door, and as Harry had feared, it was exactly like the Dragons. There was faint screaming that seeped through the walls and stone of the stadium while a booming voice that sounded oddly familiar sang out the commentary with, in Harry's opinion, very inappropriate words like 'dangerously' and 'near miss.' After about fifteen minutes, which seemed strange, Allison Hartley was called, and Harry decided to time this one. In a little over ten minutes, the next name was called: she had done well. He gave Hermione his most reassuring nod before she too exited. He didn't want to time her. He was positive she would go over the task in excruciating detail later. Nevertheless, another one down, and now it was Marcel's turn. The moment he left, Gabrielle got up from where she was sitting and joined Harry. "Hello, Harry." "Hey." That churning feeling returned in his stomach. "I was so pleased to hear about you and Ginny. I'm so happy for you." Her face didn't match her words. Before he could even say thank you, he responded. "What's wrong?" "Marcel. I just hope he's safe." "He will be." He said confidently before returning to his questioning. "Are you and he…?" "Yes. But sometimes I get the feeling that he just likes me for my looks." "That's impossible. You're smart, you're a TriWizard champion, and you must work well together from the results of the first task!" "Thank you. You are very sweet." She inched closer to him. "Um, so how long have you two been dating?" "Almost a year now." She looked like she was going to cry. "Are you sure you're alright?" Confusion replaced pity. "Yes. I just want to go home. He is so different during the tasks. I think he thinks he needs to beat everyone else , including me, to show he is a man." Harry laughed, then regretted doing it. "It's ok. You should see him when we're alone, probably like you and Ginny. It's just when he's around other people…" "I know. My friend Ron always acts stupid when other people are around, like he has to prove how cool he is to everyone else, like he wants to show us that he deserves Hermione." "Yes! That's it!" He laughed again. "We're just guys! That's what we do. We think that there's no way the person we love could keep loving us unless we continue to impress them." Harry, once again, felt like someone else was speaking through him, someone much wiser. "We forget that they probably love us as much as we love them. We forget that we should sometimes just focus on us, and quit treating the girl like a trophy, even though that's not how we feel." He sighed. "Gabrielle, we forget that they love us no matter what, and they just want us to be happy." She hugged him like he had only been hugged a few times. He remembered Molly had almost suffocated him once, and of course, Ginny's hug after the Quidditch match, before their first kiss. After that, she calmed down, they traded stories about stupid things they had done in the name of love, and Harry felt like he had done a good thing. She actually looked really confident when she waved after hearing her own name called, and Harry secretly wished he was that confident. He timed her. Exactly ten minutes! Where was his hug? Where was his stable friend he could confide in? Where was Ginny? "Harry Potter!" He tried to shrug everything off, but instead, everything flooded back. When the bright light hit his eyes, he squinted and saw a large black fence resembling the hedges from four years ago. There was someone standing at what must be the entrance beckoning him forward. "Good luck Mr. Potter." A door opened, and Harry stepped inside.

The first thing he noticed was a scoreboard, magically counting down the time he had left. He saw '9:58…9:57…' sprawled on the opposite wall which was about thirty yards away. He looked to his left and right and saw he was in a kind of square room. There was a door at the other end, slightly below and to the right of the timer, and standing right in front of the door with a menacing look was an enormous hippogriff. It must have been fifty percent bigger than Buckbeak and much angrier. Harry reached for his wand, but instincts took him over just before he wielded it. The hippogriff began slowly walking towards him, and he was instantly reminded of wild animals stalking their prey on some African grassland. Harry did the only thing that made sense to do. He put his hands by his sides, tried not to look intimidating (not very hard in his slightly weary state), and slowly bowed to the animal. When he raised his head a few seconds later, he saw that the creature had stopped walking and its head was cocked diagonally to the side. It appeared to be thinking. However, after a few more seconds, it slowly bowed as well, and Harry, against his better wishes, approached the hippogriff with the intentional idea of petting it. After a few strokes, he wanted to somehow convey that he really wanted to walk to the door without interference, but how do you speak to a hippogriff? "Can I use that door?" The beast swung its head around sharply, narrowly missing Harry's face. It seemed to survey the door for a few more seconds before turning back to face its problem. With a slow nod of its head, Harry began walking forward while the hippogriff moved gracefully to the side. Just as he reached for the handle, feeling that the first creature had gone smoothly, he saw he had still used two whole minutes getting by it! The next creature, in a carbon copy of the 'room' before, was a unicorn foal. Harry was confused at first, but then he just stood there taking in the beautiful gold fur and remembering everything Hagrid and Professor Grubbly-Plank had ever taught them. Nothing useful was coming to mind, though. It's a unicorn. I'm not supposed to attack it! Is this even a challenge? Then, suddenly, another unicorn, fully-grown and irate, materialized behind the foal. "Whoa!" Harry regretted saying anything, because the second he did, the mother (or father, Harry didn't know) galloped in front of its child. "No, no. I don't mean you any harm!" Harry left his wand in his pocket, against everything Mad-Eye had ever told him, and put both his hands to his side, trying to show that he wasn't a threat to her or her child. The unicorn walked right up to him, its horn a little low for Harry's comfort, but he resolutely stayed still, not giving into the temptation to jinx the unicorn into oblivion. The animal raised its head a tad when it got nearer and walked all the way around, behind, and to the side of Harry, smelling and rubbing along his clothing. Harry thanked his lucky stars he couldn't hear the commentary, because regardless of the intelligence of his actions, the announcer was sure to be giving words of danger at this point. After checking him out, the unicorn returned to its foal's side and shook out its beautiful, almost flowing, mane. Just as Harry was about to talk to this creature, as absurd as it sounded in his own head, the two unicorns vanished, leaving another scoreboard to tell him he had used another two minutes in this room. What was going on? He walked gingerly to the door and opened it. He hadn't really done anything yet. He opened the next door and saw another strange sight. He was standing in the third room, and just like its predecessors, it was about thirty yards square with a scoreboard showing '5:45…5:44…5:43….' In the very middle, however, was an enormous cage full of tiny, blue-speckled birds. There must have been at least a hundred. All of them appeared to be screaming at the top of their lungs, however, no sound was being made. At the moment, a small table appeared in front of him, with a goblet filled with a teal, watery-looking substance. Harry looked from the birds to the potion and back to the birds without moving. Now his wand was out. This was new to him. Just as he was about to make a decision as to his next course of action, the cage opened enough to allow one bird to escape before shutting again. The bird flew no more than five feet before it seemed to hit an invisible barrier and let out a scream of every sound Harry could imagine. He clasped his hands over his ears, but through the muffled noises, he distinctly heard a man shouting, the grinding of gears, and what sounded like singing. The next second, the bird's mouth closed and it fell to the ground, unmistakably dead. Harry was officially freaking out. Would something happen to him if he walked close to the cage? He would have to in order to reach the last door. Did the potion prevent him from making those noises? He didn't know what to do. He started hearing a lot of voices inside his own head, though. Hermione was telling him to think it through logically. Ron was telling him to kill the birds and blast apart the cage. Mad-Eye was telling him not to drink the potion. It all confused him. What if I did nothing again? Even though it was the craziest notion yet, he was definitely disposed to letting these creatures be. He looked over at the clock, as another bird flew out, shrieked, and died, '3:23…3:22…3:21…' He had time. He could try walking, it certainly wouldn't kill him, and if it didn't work, he would try some kind of action. All he knew is that he wasn't going to drink something he had never seen before. Once again resolute, he walked right past the mighty cage. His heart started beating faster and faster, but eventually, he was standing right next to the door with the clock ticking audibly next to him, '2:15…2:14…2:13…' He shook his head, closed his eyes tight and opened them again, and even spun on the spot to make sure this was happening. All he had to do was wait? And so he did. The clock was ticking down, '0:07…0:06…0:05…,' and when it hit 0:01, he opened the door, and walked through it. The rooms behind him disappeared, and he heard Ludo Bagman shouting, "Potter has done it! Our last two champions join Miss Hartley as the only three with a perfect score!" Feeling a little happier, he joined the other contestants, where the Frenchman from the first task was tallying up the scores. "Now, it's six points apiece for Miss Hartley, Miss Delacour, and Mister Potter. Three points for Mister Bourdain. Two points for Mister Baker. And finally, one point for Mrs. Weasley." Everyone did some quick math to realize that Gabrielle was in first with 12 points.

Harry had 11. Allison had 8. Marcel had 7. Hermione had 5. And Jeff had 4. "Once again, though, Beauxbatons receives 3 points for the TriSchool Cup, Hogwarts receives two, and the Establishment receives one." More quick math showed that the French now had six points, Harry and Hermione had four, while the Americans had two. Hogwarts would have to get first place in the last task, and the French had to lose to Jeff and Allison…that didn't seem likely. Afterwards, the champions met with their fans, which for Harry meant unwinding with Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. Of course, for his encouragement and her success, Gabrielle felt it appropriate to give him a kiss on the cheek before departing, causing Ginny and Marcel to give looks that were a little less loving than usual. And, as expected, Hermione burst into her apology. "Ah! I had the Jobberknoll, too!" Harry learned that they were the birds. "But I drank the stupid potion. I forgot that their feathers are used for Forgetfulness Potions! I raced for the door right after. I finished the course in 5 minutes!" "Why did you drink it?" "Why would they put something there was meant to DETER you from winning?" "Like a bloody hippogriff?" "Ah!" She stormed off into Ron's arms, leaving Harry laughing along with Ginny. Ludo Bagman caught up with them before they could safely get back to their room. "Harry, well done!" "Thanks, sir." "Don't call me sir! You know me better than that!" "Got a wager on this tournament?" "No, no. Learned my lesson, ha!" "Ok, then." They shrugged him off before running into someone else. "Harry!" "Professor MacDonald." Harry nodded his head a tad. "Well done." "Thank you, sir, but I really would like to get back and change so we can Apparate back home." "Of course, see you back at school." "You're so popular!" Ginny said sarcastically. "You should have seen me when I was ten!" Harry joked back. Ginny squeezed his hand while they walked back to Harry's room to gather his things (Ginny had brought hers with her). "By the way, well done, honey." She kissed him on the lips, possibly as a reminder. But it didn't matter to Harry. He was done with another task. It was much easier than he thought, and Ginny had called him 'honey.' He was definitely never going to get used to that, but he couldn't wait to spend the next hundred years seeing if he would. "Because maybe…you're gonna be the one that saves me. And after all….you're my wonderwall." -Oasis The Second Message

"So what was the surprise you were going to tell me about?" Harry had asked the question as they were walking back up the grounds towards the castle after the task, and hadn't thought it would be a big deal. However, Ginny's response was a whisper in his ear of something about the wedding night which he would never repeat to anyone else ever again. It was strange how an innocuous question could produce such an incredible answer. Of course, that got him thinking, for once, about something that everyone thought about, instead of the end of the world or the rise of darkness. "What are you thinking about?" Ginny had noticed. "Us." He had answered quickly. It was the first thing that popped into his head, and it was the partial truth. "You're so sweet." She kissed him and made her way to the library. She had told him how she needed to get a little studying in before going to bed, leaving Harry to walk alone up to his own dormitory. In fact, he was thinking about love. No matter how hard he tried, he needed to convince himself that he was doing the right thing. How do you know someone is the one? It was so much easier when there was a problem in front of him. He needed to find the Horcruxes, so he did everything to accomplish that goal. This was so much different. There was no right answer, there was no 'Exceeds Expectations,' and there was nothing and no one that could tell him he was right, even if there was a right answer. In the end, he felt an obligation to prove it to himself. This was all academic, of course. He loved Ginny. He knew he wanted to be there when things were going badly, not just when they were going perfectly. There was no Shangri-La. He already understood that. Even Dumbledore's life was far from perfect, and so that didn't bother him. Right in front of him, in the present, he had to deal with Ginny being one of the Daughters, and instead of shrinking away from the problem and running, he would rather be right next to her if, or when, anything happened to her. He knew his friends liked her. He knew her family loved him. And if James and Lily were alive, they would fall in love with Ginny, too. So what was the problem? "Harry!" He went into these thoughts again and again, and when his name was called from the door leaving the Defense room, he realized he was doing it again. "C'mon. It's treacle tart day for lunch!" Ginny waited as he gathered his thoughts and his things before joining her for lunch. Harry looked around the Great Hall, taking in all the happy faces. Since no one else knew about the Daughters, and nothing suspicious had happened all year, all the students were enjoying a weekend between tests. Harry found that, after all, he wasn't very hungry, even if it was his favorite dessert, and decided to leave the Hall early. Ginny accompanied him, leaving Ron and Hermione at the table. After a few corridors and one secret passageway, the couple stopped. They were just talking about mundane things, a couple wedding issues, and Ron's appetite when Ginny's hand grabbed Harry's wrist, bringing the two of them to a stop. I scrawled first to provide information, But my eyes have not seen the panic of a nation. No matter where loyalties lied before, A blanket, a cover, or a secret was no more. Now you have had a half of a year To prepare and to hold your loved ones so dear. However, as it happens, from time to time There must be an addition: a middle to the rhyme. So here is my message. One must take heed. Protect what you want, but remember what you need. Just as important, accept what you must!

For there is a thin line between love and trust. Eventually, though we run into fate. Hand over the Daughters, before it's too late… Harry remembered a spell he had learned from Hermione to copy words with his wand. He was intent not to let anyone see what was written, as before, and so he performed the charm quickly, unsure if Ginny had even finished. "Let's go." "Where are we going?" "To talk to Dumbledore." He grabbed her hand and walked briskly past the gargoyles and up the stairs to the oak knockers. After a couple taps, a voice answered. "Yes?" It was Minerva. "It's Harry." He looked at his fiancé and thought quickly about what the message had said. "And Ginny is here, too." "Very well." The doors creaked open with an almost linguistic sound. Harry thought sometimes that the castle itself could speak. The gargoyles and the Fat Lady certainly acted differently, and it seemed from time to time, that the very walls and stone which he protected so readily were possibly more alive than he thought. However, there were more important matters. "Are you awake?" All three of them looked at Dumbledore's portrait. "Of course." Ginny chuckled quietly. Harry looked at her instantly, but realized that it must have been humorous to anyone seeing it for the first time. "There's another message." Harry got straight to the point a lot these days. "What?" Minerva spoke, but she could also tell that everyone else was remaining calm. "Who else has seen it?" "No one." Harry answered curtly. "You made sure of that, Harry?" "Yes, sir." "Very well." The portrait surveyed the scene before him again. "Do you think Minerva should stay in the room?" "What?" It was Ginny's turn to be surprised. Dumbledore was asking a student if a teacher should leave the room. "No, sir. She should stay. This affects her students, and the headmaster," he paused, "or headmistress, should know about it." "Thank you, Harry." Dumbledore smiled. Minerva looked relieved, and Ginny was still a little stunned. "Very well. Harry, if you could proceed?" "Ok." He turned to an edge of the circular office that was not covered in shelves of strange instruments and conjured an enormous white sheet that stretched from the floor to well above their heads. "Here we go." With another flick of his wand, the words from the wall were splashed upon the sheet exactly as they had appeared before. Harry and Ginny waited as their professors read an d possibly re-read the writing on the wall. "Interesting." Harry had learned that a calm response from Albus like that was actually a sign for confidence, not concern. Minerva apparently hadn't learned that particular lesson yet. "What does it mean?" Her voice was slightly higher than normal, and Ginny even furrowed her brow when she turned to look at the headmistress. "It means we have to wait." Dumbledore said plainly.

"What?" Harry was not as calm. "The first thing to gleam from that message is the fact that we can expect a third message." The group caught on quickly. "But why even write that? What's the point of giving us a bunch of warnings and yet saying that nothing is going to happen until a third message appears?" Ginny said quickly, sounding like Hermione. Of course, Dumbledore had to respond with an ominous comment. "The message never said that nothing was going to happen." A silence fell in the group, and Harry was now certain that silence was almost always a negative response to any question, comment, or event. "Ok, I'm sorry, but is there any way we could go through the message like last time? Bit by bit?" "Yes, Harry. We can." Minerva and Ginny seemed ok with that announcement. "The first couple lines simply mean that the perpetrator is disappointed that there is not a panic." "Thank Merlin…" Harry said under his breath. "We will skip the next couplet for now and move on to the third," he paused to let everyone look at the writing again, "which again looks simple in the fact that roughly six months have now passed since the first message." "Ok…" Harry was doing his best to show Dumbledore that he was paying attention when in his heart, he knew that his old headmaster needed no such reassurance. "The fourth couplet is what we have already discussed, the fact that this is the middle, or second of three, message." He paused again, and Harry saw him make eye contact this time. "The fifth and sixth couplets are the most interesting, though possibly not alarming." "What do you mean, Albus?" Minerva seemed to have regained her power of speech. "Just as 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder,' this person may set different stock to different aspects of life. The terms 'want' and 'need' apply differently to every human being on the planet. Therefore, what are we to assume from this message?" "Well, everyone should always focus on what they need, not necessarily what they want. It's like you said a long time, 'what's right, not what's easy.'" "Thank you, Harry. However, as the author notes, there are semantic differences at work here. Let's look at the difference between love and trust, since that is the one comparison given by this person. Can you think of anyone that trusts another completely, yet doesn't love them?" "No." "No." "No." All three answered quickly, but quietly. "What about soldiers in battle? They have been trained in a certain manner so that every member of their team trusts the other completely. If there was no trust about orders, or watching one another's backs, men would die. However, these men do not love each other in the true sense of the word, they are merely dependent on one another for survival." "More like Bellatrix…" Harry was again disappointed in his inability to keep his thoughts to himself. "Yes, Harry. She trusted Voldemort implicitly, and it would seem to have been to the point of love, but this was much more closely related to the kind of obsessive love that Horace mentioned once." Dumbledore paused again. "You must remember that simply because someone says they love, or 'appears' to be in love, does not mean that it is true, or lasting." Harry gripped his fiancé's hand a little tighter, letting her know that none of that had to do with them. "Ok, so what about these little differences?" "Well, the author of these notes seems to want to draw lines, force you into making decisions, and ultimately choose between the two possibilities before you."

"What do you mean?" "I have no idea what is in store for you, but one thing is certain," the silence fell again, "you will perform magnificently." "What?" Minerva's reaction was the loudest. "Remember Harry, it is our choices…not our abilities…" Without another word, Dumbledore's face vanished from the portrait and did not return. "Where'd he go? Come back!" Harry rushed to it, but enough time in the magical world had taught him that his friend, and mentor, was gone until he decided to return himself. "C'mon, Harry." Ginny was pulling at him softly, and he obliged. "He'll be back, and we can ask him about the other lines then, ok?" Harry was impressed, as always, with his Ginny. She knew that he just wanted answers. Albus had skipped over a couple lines and not mentioned the last two (even though Harry didn't need any answers there). They returned to the dormitory to find a worrie d Ron and Hermione. "It's alright. We just had to talk to McGonagall and Dumbledore." "Has anything happened?" Hermione looked worried. "Yes, there was another message, and I'm going to let Ginny tell you about it this time because I'm a little tired of all of this retelling." They gave him harsh looks. "I'm sorry. I really am. I know I'm being unfair, but I just have to take a break from this stuff sometimes." He rubbed his forehead out of habit. His scar never hurt anymore, and there was no way it was ever going to. Voldemort was gone and never coming back, but it was much more than the connection now. It reminded him daily of the past and he truthfully didn't mind it at all anymore. "I'm gonna skive off defense, too. I don't wanna deal with Mac right now." Harry knew that if Mac had anything to do with the message that now would be a great opportunity to find out, but he was being honest when he told his friends that he needed a break. His brain felt like it was being consumed by itself, like he had assimilated too much information, and that some of it must be purged for his own good. He didn't like the feeling, and wondered if there was a chance he would lose memories of Ginny along the way. However, the moment his head hit his bed, sleep took him, and in fact, he didn't awake until later that night. "Harry?" He stirred at the sound of his name and grabbed his glasses of the bedside table. "We brought you some dinner, mate." "Thanks, Ron. What time is it?" "Late. Ginny and Hermione reckoned you needed a good long nap, so I didn't protest too much, even thought dinner was really good tonight." Harry smiled. "Thanks, Ron." He slowly got to the edge of his bed, his legs dangling over it to the ground, and began eating when Ginny entered. "Hey." "Hey." She kneeled down in front of him, took his plate and set it aside, and then took his hands in her own. "I'm not afraid." "What?" "I'm not afraid of this anymore. I know everything is going to be ok…" she took a second to compose herself, "…in the end." "Ginny." He brought her up next to him and kissed her forehead. "Don't talk like that. All that 'want' and 'need' stuff is not because I'm going to have to decide the fate of your life." "I hope it doesn't, but even if it does, it's ok. I'm not scared." She had the blazing look he always needed to see whenever times got tough like this, and it strengthened him. "I'm not gonna lose you. That's a promise." "What ever happened to not predicting the future?" "I'm not going to. But more often than you think, what you need IS what you want." He kissed her. "It's ok to want something so badly that you need it. We fought that whole war with Voldemort because we wanted a safe life. Is that wrong?"

"Of course not." She smiled and stroked the side of his head, brushing hair around his ear. "Of course not." "I thought I was being selfish when I wanted to be with you, but the truth is that we both want each other, and we both need each other, and when we get the opportunity on May 29th, we're going to show the rest of the world that our 'wants' and 'needs' are totally justified." Harry found that he was smiling wider than usual, but that tears were forming in his eyes. He could feel them, didn't want them to fall, and tried to turn away before she caught the side of his face again with her hand and turned him back towards her eyes. "I love you, Harry." "I love you, too." They lied in his bed all night, literally. When they awoke in the morning, they made for Minerva's office, but Albus still wasn't there, and the headmistress had no idea when he would be returning. With that, they made their way to their classes. February was flying by without incident, but Dumbledore still hadn't returned to his portrait. They couldn't go to Kingsley for help because he was still mad at Harry, and most of the Order, who could check a lot of other wizarding buildings, were either retired or dead. But, as Ron constantly reminded them, nothing had happened, everyone was safe, and since the four of them were no closer to finding the third Daughter, Dumbledore's input was actually not necessary at the moment. The important thing in Ron's mind was the upcoming Quidditch match with Ravenclaw. "I practically forgot." Harry had admitted one afternoon. "How could you forget? We practice all the bloody time!" Harry was laughing hysterically at his friend's red face and bulging forehead veins. "I don't know. Quidditch just became more of a hobby than anything. It's been something to take my mind off of everything else going on." "Still…" Ron was incredulous. "You are married, y'know? Surely there are more important things going on in your life than Quidditch?" Ron thought for a split second. "Mmmmm? No! There aren't!" "Well I can definitely see what Hermione sees in him!" Ginny had been listening privately behind a statue the whole time and was now joining Harry in laughing so loudly the portraits in the hall around them were laughing, too. "Shut up! The both of you! You'll see! When you get married, you'll be begging for things like Quidditch!" Ron walked away in a little more of a fuss than was necessary, and the couple left standing there discussed it and were sure that he wasn't being completely serious, and in fact, was probably running off to find his wife to cuddle. "See, do you know what the best part about all of that was?" Harry asked, his head held high and his arm cocked out to the side for Ginny's hand to rest on. "What?" "We will never have that problem. At least, I will never sound like that." "Aw, Harry, you're so sweet." "I know! Because you LIKE Quidditch!" "Ah! You did not just say that!" She started firing hexes at him, laughing all the while, up and down the halls. Harry and Ginny had been known to do this recently as a way of relieving stress. The faculty let them get up to these shenanigans, owing to the fact that neither got hurt, the castle was somehow resistant to any damage, and their wasn't a shred of malignant intent. Their "duel" took them outside this time, and when one of Harry's jinxes went astray and set Hagrid's roof on fire, they called it quits, and went to repair the damage. "I'm so sorry, Hagrid! Ginny is a hell of a dodger!" "It's a'right! You put it back together, right?"

"Of course." "Then no harm done. Want a spot of tea?" "Sure." They both walked inside the hut and stopped on a dime. "What are you doing here?" Harry's hand never left his wand. It would seem that old problems never really left. "I am here to help." Replied Lucius Malfoy. "The symmetry, it's killing me, and waiting for 'eventually.' All my actions, their reactions, searching for the correct fashion To do the things I want to do, waiting on a sign from you… In the morning dew." -Jeff Baker "Quarter Century" Reptomore and Repent "I'm sure that you've shown someone, somewhere how sorry you are for all the people you've killed, but you'll understand when I tell you to go to hell." "Harry." "No. I'm serious. He wants to help? The first time that I survived from Voldemort," Harry paused, knowing what was going to happen, "you'll notice he still flinches," he paused again for it to sink in, "he told everyone he had nothing to do with anything, and now that Voldemort has fallen again, he's saying he wants to help." "Mr. Potter…" Lucius tried to begin speaking in that soft, condescending tone he was famous for, but Harry cut him off again. "He isn't even in Azkaban! Hagrid spent months there for no reason! Twice!" Harry could feel his own pulse, his heart racing, and ultimately realized that Dumbledore, though not in the room, would not want him losing his cool in this situation. Therefore, he calmed himself, and his voice, before continuing. "And you helped put him in there. In this very room." "Which is why I wanted to be here to apologize. Hagrid has my wand. I mean no harm." "Fine." With that, Harry and Ginny took a seat on the enormous chair in the corner while Hagrid and Lucius were still sitting around the table, sharing some tea that Harry hoped was brewed by his friend and not the Death Eater. "So are you offering any proof? Or are we going on your word?" "Both." Harry was not expecting this answer, but he assumed he should have. Lucius Malfoy had committed unspeakable acts of violence and violation, but he was not a stupid man. As it happened so often, Harry had about a thousand thoughts race through his head all at once. He started remembering the visions he had of Death Eaters. He remembered the fear in their eyes, he saw them shaking, and he could hear their voices trembling on some cold, misty air. Avery being punished, Rockwood being pumped for information, and the circle of wizards in the graveyard cowering as their newly-reborn master appeared to them. But it never seemed to affect Lucius as much. "…So, if you show the headmistress the vials…" He was still talking, and Harry was only catching snippets of the conversation, wishing that Albus could be in this room with him. He kept making mental notes. Vials. Check. "…and of course, my wife and son…" Draco. Check. "…and obviously, my vault will have almost free access…" Gold. Who cares. Harry was only focusing on two other things, though: holding Ginny's hand and keeping an eye on Lucius' hands. Harry laughed that safety had become such a large concern in his life, but when he thought about it, his loved ones and best friends were probably the most prepared witches and wizards in all of Britain. His grip instantly loosened, so never leaving, and his eyes began

to wander around Hagrid's hut. He took immense joy in seeing all the strange things hanging and scurrying around this tiny place. There were still the unicorn hairs that Slughorn had coveted. Fang still rested his head neatly at his master's feet. There were pots and pans everywhere, looking down on different droppings of animals that Hagrid had caught for food (whether for himself or a new 'pet'). Harry felt himself smile and decided to interrupt the conversation. "How do you feel about being in this house?" He emphasized the last word, probably more than was necessary. "Ashamed." Wow, had he really repented? "Ok." Harry made a movement as if to say, 'go on,' and he drifted back into his own thoughts. Well, he thought, what would I need to see to forgive someone? And the answer came to him instantly, but did not put him anymore at ease. Snape's memories. The problem was that there wasn't another wizard alive like Dumbledore whose presence would verify that someone was trustworthy. His mentor had made mistakes, but they were not due to betrayal of trust, simply horrible timing and skilled Death Eaters. Quirrell had Voldemort in his head, literally. Lockhart was an idiot. Moody turned out to be a Death Eater, but his other hires (though more controversial) were spot on. Hagrid, Lupin, Slughorn, Trelawney, and Snape were all questionable from the start, but Albus had known better. Harry wished he had that kind of ability to simply sense when someone was truly sorry, truly remorseful, but he didn't, so he would have to resort to drastic measures. He heard the conversation coming to an end, and so he spoke up again. "So you have vials of what exactly?" "I would prefer if–" "Well, I would demand that you do what I say, and I don't mean that arrogantly, but I'm deathly sure that Minerva will agree with me." "Very well." He took a deep breath. "I brought the most powerful truth potion I possess, two memories, and one other thing that must be discussed in private." He withdrew from his robes, which were not nearly as immaculate as they once were, four corked bottles of liquid. Harry could see that he was telling the truth. One was a completely clear liquid which Harry first foolishly thought could be Otseptine, but there was no way. Two others were filled with that substance that he could still, even after years of experience with it, not define as cloud or smoke or wind or water. The fourth was a deep forest green and seemed to be moving inside the bottle much like the memories. "Ok, so should we go up to her office?" "Thank you, Mr. Potter." "Listen, if you're really on our side and everything, then you're going to start realizing that I'm just an eighteen year-old, ok? Death Eaters were driven to believe that I was some kind of Anti-Voldemort, like we shared the same magical power, but that isn't it. I'm all for the formality in conversations, but when it's just us, I'm gonna call you Lucius, so you might as well call me Harry." "Thank you, Harry." "I haven't said I believe you yet." He nodded slightly downwards to show the blond-haired man that he was still gripping his wand inside his own robes. Lucius nodded and led the way out of the hut and into the castle. "Ginny, will you go get Professor Slughorn and bring him up to McGonagall's?" "Sure." She pecked him on the cheek, took another look at the possible new ally, and started off in another direction at a jog. Harry forgot momentarily what he was doing as he watched her hair dance behind her, but at that moment, a cool breeze swept over the lawn, reminding him of his query. "I was not aware that you and Horace were so close." "We're not." "Ah." "I want him to test your vials."

"Oh." Malfoy didn't look as if the news disturbed him, but he was definitely disappointed, as if his mere presence inside the Hogwarts grounds was tantamount to a full confession and leniency from the Wizengamot. Hagrid left the two of them at the entrance and returned down the sloping lawn. The silence between Lucius and Harry was a roar. The tension was the thickest of fogs. But the stunned look on Malfoy's face when the gargoyles sprang to the side was priceless. Harry said nothing immediately, but nodded to the statues, which nodded back, and then turned to Lucius as if to say, what? It happens all the time. After knocking on the door, he heard Minerva's voice. "Come in, Harry." "You just assume it's me?" He said with a coy smile. For some reason, it seemed important to him to show Lucius that he and the headmistress were on much closer terms than they actually were. This was a complete departure from his old relationship with Albus, which was made out to be much more distant than it actually was, seeing as the Prophet and Fudge were making them out to be criminal friends. "I have actually taken time over the past couple weeks to install a few new charms in this office. I can't wait to show…" she paused as she saw his companion. Harry knew she was about to mention the fact that Albus had been gone from all his wizarding portraits in Britain, and they didn't know where he was. "…other people." "Like what?" Trying to keep the conversation going, Harry spoke quicker than normal. "A form of the Secrecy Sensor that tells me when people pass the gargoyles without a password." "Impressive." Lucius spoke, to his own surprise as much as anyone's. This brutally awkward moment was saved when there were a couple more knocks on the door, and Ginny entered trailing Professor Slughorn. "What're you doing here? You know I use you as an example of what a Slytherin shouldn't be?" "Horace, that's enough. Perhaps Harry can explain?" Minerva invited the four of them to sit after conjuring some comfortable chairs. They all sat down, and Harry and Ginny proceeded to recount the recent conversation in Hagrid's hut. "Very well." "So why am I here?" Slughorn looked more and more like that old armchair whenever he got utterly confused. "I want you to test the potions and verify the contents." "Ok." He scratched his head for a moment. "I'll be right back." He returned in a few minutes carrying a tray of tiny tubes which were already filled with different colored potions, though most of them were clear. When he reentered the room, Lucius presented the vials again and placed them on the desk. "Oh, ho!" Harry knew this wasn't a good sign. Either there was something that Horace wanted to sell, collect, or run away from. "What is it?" "I don't think I need to test anything." "Why not?" Harry wanted to be sure. "I mean, sorry Harry, I am going to test them, but I can tell you what they are right now." "Just do the tests first, then tell me." Harry wanted to show Lucius that he didn't waste time, people trusted him, and that he was thorough. "Ok." He would drop some of the liquid from some of the tiny tubes into each potion, and instantly it would either begin to smoke, change color, change consistency, or simply shoot a few small sparks. In any event, he was done in about three minutes. "Now would you like me to tell you?" "Yes." "The first bottle is Veritaserum." "Ok…" "And it's probably more powerful than anything Snape ever brewed." "Ok." Harry was a little worried, but ready to move on.

"It was the Dark Lord's own." "Stop!" Harry demanded. "You don't talk yet, ok?" He waited for Lucius to nod before returning his attention and the floor to Slughorn. "The next two are memories. We can view them in a Pensieve, or just display them here." "Not yet. And the fourth?" The Potions Master looked at the Death Eater, and Harry could think of very few instances when someone's face looked more serious. "It's Reptomore." "What?" "A potion which…" "Stop." Harry cut Lucius off again. "I wanna hear it from you," pointing to Horace. "Reptomore. It's basically the potion version of Avada Kedavra." "What do you mean? The potion version?" "In the same way that the Killing Curse renders any life form it strikes dead, this potion kills any life form that drinks it, touches it, even breathes enough of it." "Ok. It's a poison." Harry was ready to pack up. "No, Harry. You don't understand. This potion is a mixture of the most powerful snake venoms, the most powerful unicorn blood, the most powerful dragon heartstrings, the most powerful of a few more things, and then you have to add powerfully negative emotions and memories, and then finally kill someone with the potion nearby while saying an incantation. Don't even get me started on the brewing process!" "So what does that mean?" "You don't have to spill this on someone. They don't have to drink it. You can fly into the air over Diagon Alley, break the bottle in the air, and it would probably kill anyone walking the streets below." Harry was fully paying attention. "The strangest thing, however, is that this substance also kills any other 'living' substance." "What do you mean?" "The only reason it doesn't eat through this glass is because the glass is so far removed from its living origins. Glass is basically refined sand, which is the dust of shells and plants, which have been dead for thousands of years. However, if this were housed in a leather sack, or the palm of your hand, it would destroy whatever it touched." "Ok. So it kills things that were recently alive…again?" "No, it destroys anything that has a residual trace of life, including food, plants, living organisms, other potions that have formerly organic ingredients," Slughorn kept listing things off that this potion could kill, but Harry was already done listening. This Reptomore could kill the Otseptine? Did the Otseptine have organic parts? Even if it did, was the power of love strong enough to overcome the power of pure evil? Would Dumbledore's belief, which was becoming Harry's, actually keep Harry from destroying the Otseptine? "…and basically anything else." "Ok. Well, leave all of this here for right now. We need to discuss everything that has happened," Harry couldn't give two owl droppings what Lucius Malfoy was doing anymore, "and we will all meet again back here tomorrow afternoon, agreed?" "Agreed." Horace seemed like he just wanted to leave the room. "Agreed." Minerva looked the same. "Until tomorrow." Malfoy was still calm and exited the room with the grace he may never lose, but with a nod that Harry assumed was respectful.

"What was that, Harry? You look like you've seen a ghost." Minerva looked frightened. "What is it, Harry?" Ginny looked concerned. "A vision? The Daughters?" "No, nothing like that. I just have to think." "Harry Potter! What are you doing? You're not going to do anything alone anymore, remember?" He took a deep breath, and turned to both women. "There's a difference between doing something by yourself, and doing it alone." "What?" Ginny looked worried now. "I just have to figure this out by myself, but not alone." He said the last few words while staring through Ginny's eyes, into her very body. He wanted to somehow assure her that he wasn't going to make any decisions without help, but he couldn't let her know about the Otseptine. It was too much. Dumbledore had been tempted by the stone, Kingsley had been tempted by the potion, and Harry was not going to go down those same paths. He instantly remembered how he had 'said goodbye' finally to his parents, that day in Diagon Alley that he decided to marry Ginny, and realized that he truly had let them go. He struggled quietly with the possibility of bringing them back. Maybe with the potion, the Mirror of Erised, the Resurrection Stone, Harry, and Albus combined, they could come up with something, but then he would remember that all he had to do was open a photo album or produce a Patronus to find his parents inside himself! The whole situation was tempting, but Harry Potter had received better advice and experience on the subject than any other human being on the planet, and he was not going to allow someone else to be tempted by that which he had already overcome. "I love you, Ginny." They were at the portrait hole. "I love you, too." "I promise to tell you what's going on eventually." "I know." "I just wish Albus was here." They stepped through the portrait hole, which opened of its own accord as always, when Ron's voice was screaming through the common room. "…I mean, besides UMBRIDGE! Who would really attack centaurs? And did you hear? The International Confederation of Wizards was just about to vote on giving them representation since the house elves have some now!" "RON!" "Harry." "What's going on?" "Firenze just told a few of the teachers…the centaur herd was attacked today in the forest." "What does that mean?" Ginny asked, and the collective common room breath inhaled, everyone looked at Harry, and everyone realized that this was not normal, this was not a coincidence, and this was not a good thing. "Our hearts were on display for all to see. I can't believe this is happening to me, and I raised my hand as if to show that I was yours, that I was so yours for the taking, I'm still so yours for the taking, that's when I felt the wind picked up, I grabbed the rail while choking up these words to say, and then you kissed me. Yeah, I knew it from the start. So my arms are opened wide, and your head is on my stomach, and we're trying so hard not to fall asleep, but here we are, on this 18th floor balcony…and I'll try to sleep, to keep you in my dreams…so I can bring you home with me…" -Blue October Albus' Absence

Harry just wished that he could talk to Dumbledore, or even Kingsley at this point, but so far, all of the letters that he sent with Cedrella (which were fewer and fewer recently, owing to her importance) to the Ministry went unanswered. It was a Saturday afternoon, Harry had already had his Quidditch practice for the day, and Ginny was spending some time with her friends doing 'girl stuff' as she put it to Harry. "Trust me, you will not have fun." She had said earlier. "Don't worry. I'm ok with not hanging out with giggling girls all day, even if you're there." He said the last few words with a coy smile which obviously garnered a punch in the arm from Ginny. So as she was somewhere in the castle doing who-knew-what, Harry was left to walk around the grounds. It was a chilly day for early March, but having just exercised, Harry felt fine. He also joked to himself that he was so happy with Ginny in his life and too preoccupied with everything else going on that he wouldn't be able to notice the cold regardless. With Dumbledore's absence, Harry had started paying more and more attention to his surroundings, as if the departure from his portrait was more vital than his departure from his body. And odd things were happening. For the last week, he had definitely noticed a tall, skinny 6th year not exactly following him around, but ending up in the same rooms most of the time. He wore Ravenclaw robes and never approached Harry, but shrunk away whenever Harry approached him. A few times whenever he tried to follow him, he would inevitably run into Mac, get cornered into a conversation which always threatened to turn towards the Daughters, but Harry was proficient in weaseling out of dialogue by now, and never got pulled into the discussion. The potions were still resting in Minerva's office, and Harry was sure it seemed that she had aged a little more in the past two years than he had previously seen. To add to everything, a messenger visited Hogwarts bringing news for Harry and Hermione in the middle of dinner one night. The entire school stopped what they were doing to watch as a large man strode right into the Great Hall, dropped off two envelopes for the champions, didn't say a word, and left. "Don't open it honey!" Ron shrieked quickly. "I think I'll be fine." Harry answered, to raucous laughter. After that, the mood and tension lifted a tad, and Hermione opened her letter first. "It's just about the third task!" She hit Ron on the arm. "Oh? What does it say?" He replied. There was nothing really significant. After Harry had opened his letter, he saw that it was simply to remind them that the third task would be taking place on May 24th on the Hogwarts Grounds. Harry thought this was odd. They were hosting the final task, why would a messenger be necessary. However, after asking Minerva about it, she reassured them that it was completely normal. The TriWizard tournament actually had its own governing body, and they felt it was the best way to keep impartiality and structure during the proceedings. "May 24th?" Ginny said quickly, and a little higher pitched than normal. "I know…" Harry hung his head a little, too. "What is it?" Ron said through a mouthful of food. "It's just that the wedding is the 29th, and…" "What? Did you tell us that?" Ron was freaking out. "I think so…" Harry really wasn't sure. "You did. At least, Ginny told the two of us while you were off on one of your walks." Hermione calmly answered. "Oh. Thanks, Gin." "Yeah, I remember that!" Ron was trying to recover from clearly forgetting something as important as the fact that he had been told the date of his only sister's wedding.

All in all, the last week had been strange, but not altogether horrible. There was no news about who attacked the centaurs. The Ministry had been contacted, Hagrid was furious, and Minerva had to assure the Ministry (and some parents) that Hogwarts was in no danger. This attack was specific to the forest, and there was actually no trace of magic. "What? Someone tried to punch the centaurs?" Harry was incredulous during the briefing in the headmistress' office. "Not exactly, but yes, we found no magical trace on the trees, ground, or the fallen creatures." "Ok. So do you have any ideas about who would do something like that? I mean, Dark Wizards are notorious for their hatred of everything to do with muggles, so there's no way they would use non-magical weapons." The room looked a little stunned, but the most prominent reaction was on the face of McGonagall. "What?" "That's just really insightful. It sounds like something Albus would say." "I wish he was here." Harry was definitely prone to thinking out loud in the headmaster's office. He felt comfortable here more than any other place in the castle besides his own common room. "How long has it been now?" Ginny asked. She was now a full part of all news about the Daughters or anything suspicious going on around the school. "Two weeks and five days." Harry answered a little too quickly. "So you have no idea where he could have gone?" "No. And I have said before, his other portraits are being monitored." "Do people ever completely disappear?" "No. As you can tell, after awhile, the portraits quit paying attention to very much and end up sleeping all the time." Ginny laughed, and it momentarily reminded Harry that there was happiness in the world. He felt like he was back into the life he thought he had passed. Instantly, he remembered that feeling when he first saw the writing on the wall. He hated, and it was a righteous anger, that someone felt the need to do all these things when the only way to truly be happy wasn't immortality or gold, but the soft hand and precious fingers that can be intertwined with your own. At that very moment, all three heads turned. There was something that sounded like an explosion in the castle, but muffled by all the twisting corridors and walls. "What was that?" "Harry!" Minerva was frightened and Ginny was yelling at him. "Stop!" He was already racing out of the office and down the steps, past a few statues and turning, trying to think of exactly where it could have come from. He wasn't sure how he knew, but it definitely seemed like it had come from the Charms Corridor, and he was there in under a minute to find Flitwick on the ground, unconscious. "Professor!" He didn't move. Harry started looking around and noticed there was a large chunk missing from the nearest wall. It was a circular blast, about six or seven feet in diameter and a couple inches deep. However, it was much higher than tiny Flitwick could ever hope to be, so he must not have been the target. "Ennervate!" The professor coughed a couple times before trying to sit up. "Where…" "It's ok, don't move. I'm gonna help you. Expecto Patronum!" Harry stood up and sent a message to Madame Pomfrey to come down and tend to Flitwick. He just hoped she understood what Prongs was bound to tell her. "Did you see anything happen? Just blink once for no. Twice for yes." He blinked. Then he blinked again. "Did you see who it was?" He blinked twice.

"Ok." Harry was trying to think of a yes or no question, but he wanted to know specifically who it was. "Was it a wizard?" Two blinks. "Was it a student?" One blink. Ginny was now at his side, but he motioned for her to remain quiet for a moment. "Was it a teacher?" Two blinks. "Was it Professor MacDonald?" It was Harry's first suspicion if not Lucius, that weird 6th year, or Anastasia Brown. Two blinks. Harry got up from the body as Pomfrey arrived. He started looking around to see if there was anymore damage, but it appeared to be an attack on the professor himself, or maybe just trying to scare him. After a few seconds look over, and multiple wand movements, she spoke. "He needs St. Mungo's. His ears are badly damaged and I can't fix the curse that was used, and also I think that there is some kind of progressive jinx at work here." "Progressive?" "It works over time. It looks like his brain is slowly deteriorating." "You can see that?" Harry was impressed. "Later, Harry." Ginny had always had an interest in Healing, and apparently she knew more about this particular injury than Harry did. "Ok, well, get him to St. Mungo's. Obviously!" Harry and Ginny escorted and helped Pomfrey onto the grounds, where she Apparated Flitwick away. "What was that all about?" "It was Mac, Ginny. He was wondering about three Daughters, and now he's attacked Flitwick. We need to search the castle for him." They met back up with McGonagall who had been joined by Slughorn and Professor Terseaux. Ron and Hermione also got a patronus from Ginny telling them to meet in the headmistress' office. "He's gone." McGonagall stated. "Damnit!" Harry wanted to punch something, but he had to subdue those emotions for the moment. "Horace, take Pomona and Hagrid and start working on getting the exterior of the castle to recognize MacDonald and deny him entry by any means necessary. Olivia, take Mr. and Mrs. Weasley around the interior and do the same. I trust you know they are quite capable." She nodded. "Also, I want a headcount of the students to make sure that no one else is missing." "We'll meet up with you two in a little while." Ginny assured them of answers. Once everyone had left the room, Minerva continued. "Harry, Ginny, the three of us are returning to the Charms Corridor." They nodded, but Harry led the way back down, his wand in his hand, dangling off his right hip. "Just as I feared." McGonagall looked grave. "What is it?" Ginny asked. "Let's return to my office first." They did exactly that and were back in the office in a couple minutes. "I kept it from the Prophet, but there was magic used in the forest, and I didn't tell the two of you before so that you wouldn't run in there trying to solve the mystery." "Whoa!" Harry got angry. Dumbledore had done this to him forever, and he had made it plainly clear that he was sick of it, and it wasn't even necessary to begin with. "The point is!" She interjected quickly and glared at Harry to silence him. "The point is that the same circular damage was found deep in the forest, between the Centaurs home grounds and a willow that houses who knows what." Harry knew. Aragog's descendants. "There's a bunch of acromantula offspring." "What?" "I didn't tell you before because I don't care what you think either!"

"Harry!" Ginny was furious at her fiancé, and to be honest, Harry was angry at himself for blowing up like that, but he wasn't fixing the problem yet. Whenever he felt like this, he could always have a go at Snape, Umbridge, yell at Dumbledore, or something, but now he felt the need to vent. "Yeah, you should really talk to Hagrid about what happens to his monsters after he's done with them. You're probably lucky there's not a pack of Norwegian Ridgebacks in the skies above Hogwarts!" "What?" Minerva looked shocked, but she didn't press the issue. Harry's rant appeared to be over, and he started pacing back and forth, stroking his wand, trying his hardest to think. "Ok, Mac attacks the centaurs for some reason, he obsessed with the Daughters, and somehow Flitwick gets in the way…" He kept thinking and thinking and thinking, as fast as he could, trying to remember everything he had ever had to figure out before, but no brain wave was coming to him. He tried to think about conversations he had had with Albus in this very office, or adventures he had had with Ron and Hermione, but nothing came to him. "…there's gotta be a connection." "There is," Ginny spoke strongly, "Hogwarts." "What?" Harry looked at her and instantly started breathing slower. "You, Flitwick, the forest, and the centaurs. I mean, there aren't centaur herds running around all over the place, y'know? Hogwarts has the largest single pack of them. They're really rare!" Ginny was confident, and it helped Harry. "Rare…" He was thinking out loud again. "Rare…Do they have anything to do with the earth? Or dirt? Or ashes?" "What?" Both women didn't understand, and Harry assumed they would make the connection, but his mind was working too quickly to respond. He sat down behind the desk, leaned forward, closed his eyes, and put his forefinger and thumb to the bridge of his nose. He felt like he was thinking at a mile a minute, yet it was taking hours to come to any plausible solution. The truth was that it only lasted a few seconds before someone else spoke. "What did I miss?" Harry's head whipped around to see half-moon spectacles staring back at him from the portrait. "Do centaurs have anything to do with the earth?" "You clearly haven't asked Hermione yet." Albus was far too calm. "No, I haven't. Why?" "I'm sure her reading would have come across this, but they are actually born from the soil." Harry needed to get to the forest. "Some people believe that time is like a predator, and it's stalking you to your death. Some would say that time is more of a friend, and it's walking beside you, guiding you. Some would say that time is an illusion, and that it's not sequential. Good doesn't beget good, nor bad to bad. Evil men get away with murder while good men are punished for their deeds. Over thousands of years, men have died for different things (God, country, oil, honor, etc.), and the passage of time has seemingly had no effect, no change on the human condition. BUT I believe it to be something different…Time is there at our side as a gauge. It seems to slow down and stand still around what lasts forever, and reminds you what is only temporary and fleeting. Time eventually shows us all what is right and ours. It heals our wounds, it cultivates our fields. It is unflinching and truthful, and I appreciate its presence, now more than ever." -Jeff Baker Another Room Of course, Harry wasn't allowed to go to the forest just yet. "Stephen Marron is missing!" Hermione was yelling, with Ron and Professor Terseaux in her wake. "Who is that?" "A 6th year Ravenclaw." Ron responded. "And get this, he's one of only three students in the remedial Defense program this year. So he wouldn't even be in Mac's classes. I mean, what could he have possibly had against the kid?" Ron sounded furious.

"I guess I will be filled in later…" Albus chuckled, and it brought Harry back to his senses about rushing off anywhere. The herd had been attacked, a teacher was attacked, another missing, and a student was gone, too. Rushing into anything would be a mistake, and he was thankful he had learned at least that over his life. "Sorry, Al – Professor Dumbledore." Harry then turned back to the rest of the group. "Is there anything else to report?" "The castle is secure, and the count is accurate." Hermione was taking the lead. "Ok. Well, Professor Terseaux, could you meet up with Professors Slughorn and Sprout to double-check anything we may have forgotten and then tend to your own students. In Filius's absence, you will be the Head of Ravenclaw House, and take over the Charms classes. I will take Transfiguration, and hopefully some of the older students might be able to help with Defense for the time being." Minerva made those decisions quickly, but Harry was not keen on having a D.A. of a few hundred students. Nevertheless, she left to find the others while the foursome and McGonagall remained in the office. "So where have you been?" Harry wasn't going to waste time. "Later, Harry." "No. You're not doing this anymore, remember? I have shown you that I can be trusted with information. You're going to tell me." Harry made sure not to raise his voice too much. "I am. And I am going to tell you this very afternoon, but not now." "What?" "I have to apologize to you, Minerva, and to you three," he turned towards Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, "but this is something which Harry and I must discuss alone." "That's fine." "What?" "Ron!" Apparently, Ginny was ok with it, Ron was not, and Hermione was only worried about keeping her husband calm enough to think. "Thank you. Now, does anything else need my attention?" Harry tried to rack his brain, but there really wasn't anything. He didn't know why Flitwick had been attacked, Albus already knew about the centaur herd, and Harry definitely wasn't going to mention the Otseptine, which no one knew about. Instantly, he became grateful that Albus wanted to talk alone. "I don't think so. You guys got anything?" "No." They all agreed. "Very well, may I speak with Harry alone, then, please?" "I'll be in the common room if you need me." Ginny pecked him on the cheek and left immediately. This was a good thing because Ron didn't look like he wanted to leave, but Ginny's quick departure inspired Hermione and Minerva to start walking, too, and therefore, Ron was obliged to follow. "How are you, Harry?" "I'm ok. I am. I just want this all to be over. I want to skip ahead to the part where we all 'live happily ever after' or whatever, y'know?" "I know exactly what you mean. However, would you have traded all of your woes and injuries over the past eighteen years if it meant that you wouldn't be exactly where you're standing right now, the ghost of a kiss on your cheek from the woman you love?" Harry was floored. "No." He said surprised. He had thought about all of that before, but he had never heard someone else say it. It actually made him to smile to think that he truly wouldn't trade those things. He had seen people die in front of him and because of him, but he would go through it all again to end up happy with Ginny.

"See? You must always have your sights set on achieving a goal. You will never grow without doing that. However, the steps along the way, though tedious and painful sometimes, make reaching those goals so much sweeter. I do not believe in sayings like 'It's not the destination, but the journey.' I also do not believe in 'It's not the journey, but the destination.'" He chuckled. "It's both, and it's neither." "Strangely enough, I think I understand." "If you can keep a balance between those two things, and indeed most things, in your life, then you will lead a happy and fruitful existence that even the Flamels would be jealous of." "Thank you, sir…for everything." "You're welcome Harry. As I may not have communicated to you before today, it has been a pleasure and a privilege to watch you grow. And selfishly, to think that I had something to do with it." He raised his eyebrows as if to feign arrogance. Harry smiled. "But we're not here today to be nostalgic." "No, sir." All the thoughts flooded back. "You know the centaur herd was attacked." "Yes." "Flitwick was attacked, also. He's at St. Mungo's." "Ok." "Professor MacDonald attacked Flitwick, and we suspect him of being behind the attack of the centaurs." "Good distinction." "Also, Lucius Malfoy came to the castle offering his allegiance and repentance. We questioned him under the strongest Veritaserum on the planet, and he seemed genuine. He also showed us memories of the last year with Voldemort staying at his house. Let's just say he did not have a very pleasant life, and his wife and Draco were constantly being threatened with death." "I trust your judgment. If you think he is trustworthy, then he is a powerful wizard who can give you insight into the mind of a Dark Wizard better than most." "Yes, sir." "Next?" "Besides the Truth Potion and the memories, he brought a vial of Reptomore." Harry waited for a reaction. He didn't want to reveal his feelings about it. "And you want to use it to destroy the Otseptine?" "I hate when you do that!" Snape and Albus had always been able to read minds, regardless of what Legillimency really was. "I'm sorry to say that will not work." "Otseptine doesn't have any organic elements?" Harry had given it some thought over the past few days. "Actually, I believe it does. To be honest, no one knows what it is made up of." "Then why can't…" "Because potions and animals and humans and plants and everything else that Reptomore can destroy have to do with life and death. Even potions that deal with mood or memory are based on the laws of breathing, brain activity, and so on. Otseptine is pure."

"Pure?" "You can see the effects of potions, even if you don't know they are there." "Ok." "However, even the most powerful wizards in the world cannot detect something so powerful right in front of them when it comes from a pure, unconditional love." "My mum?" "Exactly. You repelled the Avada Kedavra curse. That is supposed to be impossible. Shouldn't Voldemort have been able to detect it? Especially in an infant?" "Ok." "The Otseptine itself has all the characteristics of love, it has simply taken a tangible form. You cannot destroy it, in the conventional sense. Love is the same. You can hide it, and hope no one knows about it. Love is the same. You can use it, and either terrible or amazing consequences can occur. Love is the same." "Just like I left the Resurrection Stone in the forest?" "Precisely!" Albus was happy. "The Sorcerer's Stone was easily destroyed. The Resurrection Stone killed me, for all intents and purposes. Amortentia is incredibly easy to destroy. In fact, it will spoil itself if left unused. The Otseptine is forever." "Because true love is forever?" "Exactly. The Love Room door asked me a question about someone I loved at the time, and my answer, paraphrased of course, was that I only wanted the other person to be happy." "But if you could do anything to help them, you always would?" "Yes." Harry remembered being asked the same thing. He had thought about how even if he wasn't the one for Ginny, he would want nothing but the best for her, nothing but happiness, and nothing but love. It gave him hope and joy for the future. No matter what happened, whether time was limited or he had immortality ahead of him, it didn't matter, he would love Ginny Weasley. He wanted to continue being lost in these thoughts, but there were other matters to attend to. "What is it, Harry?" "Those two lines of the message meant something about allowing people like Lucius into the fold?" "Very astute." "The third Daughter is probably a centaur?" "That seems logical." "I need to figure out who this missing student is?" "Also logical." "And I have a really bad feeling a lot of bad things are going to happen in a short space of time." "Why is that?" "The third task and my wedding are only five days apart at the end of May." "Congratulations! And yes, it would seem to be your fate, Harry." He smiled in the portrait which gave Harry strength.

"So where did you go when you left your portrait?" "King's Cross." There was silence, and Albus winked at him. "Have a good night, Harry." "Thank you, sir." Harry left and walked around the castle for hours. He wanted to be with Ginny right now more than anything, but he needed to be alone to think first. He traveled through all the corridors where so many things had happened, and as it occurred to him before, he began remembering again. There was the wall where he split Cedric's bad open to talk to him. He looked out a window and saw where two fireworks had collided and seemingly mated. After another turn, he saw the hallway that Ginny had guarded while they were in Umbridge's office. Finally, his legs taking them where they wanted to go, he came to a blank stretch of wall he had thought about so many times. Instantly, he looked left and right, and then jumped in his own shoes. The wall was forming into an old wooden door. Behind him was the statue signifying that he had once again run into the Room of Requirement. When he looked back, the door was completely formed, and he walked up to it. Taking a deep breath, he turned the handle which felt oddly familiar, opened it a tad, and took a few glances around the room. The next second, he was slamming the door shut and racing towards the common room. When he arrived, out of breath, Ginny was waiting for him on the sofa. "Harry, are you ok?" "Yes. You gotta come with me!" And Harry raced back to the Room of Requirement, Ginny holding onto his outstretched hand as best she could. "Where are we going?" "You'll see." "…One second in the past….it lasts! The same as one in the future…to sooth her! But there's a much more precious second The one that changes both, is in the present…" -Jeff Baker Disappointment and Discovery "C'mon!" "Harry, why do we have to go so fast? Will it be gone when we get there? Whatever it is!" Ginny was out of breath. She had been resting while Harry was talking to Dumbledore. Harry thought about it. "Well, no, it will still be there." He hoped. He didn't know what he was thinking about when the door first opened. Would it be there? "Where?" "The Room of Requirement." "Oh, ok!" Ginny seemed to be reassured by his comment. As if the fact that it wasn't some phantom or moving object made it more stable somehow, more real. However, upon approaching the stretch of wall opposite the statue, Harry found it to be bare once again. "No way!"

"Well, just think about what you were thinking about and it will open." Harry stood there, concentrating like he had only a few times before in his life, attempting to will the old wooden door into existence. "It's ok." Ginny was stroking his back with her fingertips. Harry didn't want to feel calm right now. He wanted the stupid door to appear! "It'll come back." "No! It has to be now! You have to see this! What if it never returns?" "What was it?" He tried to speak, and he could feel his mouth moving, but no words were coming out. Ginny and he looked back and forth at each other, first with disbelieving faces, then defeated ones. Harry rolled his eyes a couple times, looked away from the wall. "I can't talk about it?" "It would seem that way." Harry was hurt that the castle was denying him from showing her the room or at least describing it. Ginny could tell, too. "It's ok." She tried to give him a hug, but he shrugged it off. "Sorry." She then shrunk away, walking away slowly. "Gin!" He caught up with her in a few large bounds. "I'm sorry. That was…" he was shaking his head as his chin came to rest on his chest. "…I shouldn't have done that." "It's ok." She raised his head back up to see her. "The room must have been incredible! But the castle isn't going anywhere." "Thanks." He hugged her hard, then left one arm around her shoulder as they walked back to the common room. "I just wish I could tell you and show you." "Harry." They made a right into a secret passageway where she stopped walking and leaned against a wall. "There are so many things that I always want to tell you, to show you, and to make you feel." She pulled him close to her and kissed him. "But I'm pretty sure that's one of the best parts about being in love." She kissed him again. "Little touches and glances in the present…" another kiss, slower this time, "…only get better and better with time!" Harry heard what she was saying, but all he could think about was his hands in her hair and the feel of her lips on his. He remembered what that kiss under the tree had felt like. They were so sad at the time. He remembered all the tears, but he could feel her lips against his, really feel them. He thought about the tearful kiss Cho had given him, and it didn't feel the same at all. There were times when Harry and Ginny were together when it felt like his face was melting into her mouth, that one kiss could solve the world's problems, and everything else just faded away. And Ginny was saying now that it only got better? That made sense. It was almost like there was nothing physical about that aspect of their lives. Granted, there were definitely times when it seemed a lot more carnal than others, but for the most part, Harry and Ginny's times together were full of love and happiness. Sometimes they would even laugh about a certain rendezvous later that day, but never cheapen it the way others seemed to. He could remember guys talking making out with someone, and it sounded like they were proud of a Quidditch performance or something. Even Ginny had been the subject of some of those bragging sessions a few years back. Harry always laughed when he thought about that because of a conversation he had had with her a few weeks ago… "So what were you doing dating all those blokes?" "Getting ready for you!" She tried to kiss him. "I'm serious!" He said, half-laughing, half-avoiding her fists, but altogether smiling. "So am I. Remember when I told you that Hermione told me to loosen up a bit, be myself, maybe date some guys?" "Yeah…" Harry wasn't sure if he wanted to hear about that. "She was right. If I had sat around moping all day about how you didn't like me, we never would have been together." "What?" "It's hard to fall in love with someone who looks like Moaning Myrtle! You guys even made fun of Cho crying all the time!"

"Good point. But we're meant to be together! It would have happened." "Harry, listen to me. Just because something is meant to be…" she took a deep breath, "doesn't mean that it will just happen." "Ok." "I still had to become the girl you feel in love with," she tossed her hair in an un-Ginny moment, "and you had to kiss me after the Quidditch match." "I get it." "Do you? Because if you believe that we would be this in love, this engaged, and this perfect for each other if I had never started speaking up around you, then you're crazy." "Whoa." Harry was floored, as usual, by Ginny. He never really thought about the fact that even if some things are meant to happen, they still have to happen. There has to be action taken. …He snapped out of his daydream as they entered the portrait hole. "What were you thinking about?" Ginny asked. "You." He wasn't trying to be sweet, it was just the first thing that popped into his head, but apparently Ginny appreciated it. She gave him a little peck before steering him towards the table in front of the fire. "What is this?" "You may not have noticed us before, but we were sitting here working when you decided to abduct Ginny for Merlin knows what reason!" Hermione was organizing dozens of pieces of parchment on the table. "Yeah mate, you gave us a right scare! What did you guys do anyways?" "Nothing." "Like I believe that!" "He's telling the truth, Ron." She looked at Harry, trying to see if she could be more specific, and he nodded. "The Room of Requirement opened for Harry, and he wanted to show me what it was, but he couldn't, and for some reason, he can't talk about it either." "Seriously?" "Yeah." Harry answered in the saddest voice he could come up with. He wasn't really that broken up about it, though sad nonetheless, he just wanted to make Ron feel bad for his own entertainment. "I'm sorry." Mission accomplished. "It's ok. I'm sure it'll open up again." "Yeah." "So what is all this?" He was pointing at all the paper strewn about. "Basically everything Hermione knows about centaurs…which is a lot!" Ron would always be impressed by his wife's wealth of knowledge. "Nice! What have you figured out?" "Not much. We figured after everything that had happened, the whole third Daughter thing, and the fact that you would be too busy talking to Dumbledore about the end of the world, that we should get started. Then you decided to scare the wits out of us!" After a few moments laughter, the four of them got down to business. They tried to figure out how a centaur could be seen as a female. "They're born from the soil!" Hermione began. "I've only ever met males." Harry added.

"They don't even seem to have a feminine side, much less feminine counterparts." Ron joked. "Well, is there anyway to ask them?" "I don't think so. Ever since the Grawp incident, they won't even let Hagrid into the forest." "Incident? Harry, that's putting it nicely." "Hermione, listen, that's not the important thing here." "Why don't we just ask Dumbledore?" "He would have told me." "No, he wouldn't, Harry! He's held information from you your entire life. Why would he change now?" "First of all, we were just talking about that, and I know he wasn't lying to me. Secondly, I have gotten to the point where I realize that everything he has ever done has had my best interest at heart. I need to start trusting him, and so should you." "Anything else?" "Yeah, the centaurs can't use magic. We're more powerful than them, even the whole herd, right Hermione?" "Definitely." "Well, we're just gonna have to make Hagrid mad and threaten them. Remember, they're not the nicest creatures in the world. They wanted to kill me and Hermione a few years ago." "You think that's right?" Ginny spoke softly. "No. It's not easy, either." "Then what is it?" "Necessary." Harry's one word resounded around the group a few times before anyone spoke, but the rest of the conversation was about waiting for the right moment to approach the centaurs, what needs to be said, etc. Ron and Hermione then left for their private room, leaving Harry and Ginny on the couch. "What do you think?" "I think you're taking my advice finally. Sometimes, even after you've thought things through, the only thing to do is take action." "Thanks. You're creating a Ginny-Hermione-Harry hybrid wizard!" "No, you just continue to grow. And that will keep happening for the rest of your life I hope!" "Thanks, Gin." They fell asleep on the couch, like they always did, and the next few weeks brought nothing but classes and research. April was closing in fast, and the foursome was no nearer to finding what they needed about centaurs, but on a positive note, there were no attacks, no danger, and Harry wasn't voicing his opinions about the looming danger. He could just feel everything that was slowly closing in around his own life. Quidditch, the third task, and his wedding were all most likely going to coincide with another message from the mystery villain, finding another Daughter, using the Otseptine, and avoiding the Reptomore. There were times, again, that Harry felt like he was standing on an island. There were great, tidal waves approaching from four or five sides, and even though they were most certainly going to crash down upon him, he continued to believe that he would not only survive, but somehow protect the rest of the island from destruction as well. The looming shadows created by the waves, and the wind that inevitably picks up on the shore were seen and felt by everyone, but no one knew what they meant.

Harry knew. He thought Ginny knew. Ron and Hermione probably knew. However, he didn't want them to put themselves in front of the waves. His "saving people thing" was coming back to the forefront. Therefore, he found himself, around dusk on a late-March day, telling his friends he needed to stop by and talk to Albus, but actually pulling his Invisibility Cloak out of his robes, pulling out a piece of parchment and saying, 'I solemnly swear I am up to no good,' and trooping off into the forest. He could see a number of dots in the forest, all of them moving in a circle around two dots labeled 'Magorian' and 'Bane.' He walked deeper and deeper into the forest, and he could see his own dot now only a few hundred feet from a clearing where the centaurs must be. He looked back down at the map and noticed that there was actually a third dot in the circle with Magorian and Bane. It was labeled Praetoria, and it wasn't moving at all. "Midnight, lock al the doors, and turn out the lights Feels like the end of the world, this Sunday night… The volume's down, blue lights are dancing around. Somehow, I can't seem to find…the quiet inside…my mind…" -John Mayer The Godson Harry stared and stared. He knew that the centaurs, though respectful creatures, were not the nicest of beasts. Praetoria still wasn't moving, and Magorian and Bane were still circling around her. Now that Harry was closer, he could see more and more, only fifty feet away. There were at least a dozen of them, just sitting there watching as two enormous centaurs were pacing around a crumpled figure in the center. Harry wanted to do something. He needed to help the centaur, and he had truly forgotten why. This was a poor, defenseless animal about to be attacked by ferocious executioners. "Why all the waiting, Magorian?" A deep voice bellowed in the forest. "The flame and fume must be given their time to act." "But if the stars have said…" "Silence!" Harry wasn't sure what was going on, but apparently Magorian was in control, and waiting. He strained his eyes to try to find the burning plants. He remembered his very short teachings on the subject, and wasn't sure what he was looking for, but at the very least, he could report back. "She will NOT die tonight!" There was a kind of growl that came from the circle. It didn't sound like horses or humans, but it also didn't sound menacing, and the fact that Praetoria was apparently not in any danger right now, Harry's mind began to right itself. He remembered that he was deep in the Forbidden Forest a stone's throw away from creatures that would trample him without a second thought, and decided to leave. However, at that moment, someone else appeared and Harry's heart skipped a beat. "You should not be here, Harry Potter." Underneath his Invisibility Cloak, he was confused. However, Firenze continued. "Your shoes leave very distinct impressions in the mud." The centaur pointed down, Harry could imagine what he meant, and he slowly turned on the spot to exit. Now whispering, he added, "On my back, perhaps?" Harry took a little longer than he should have to think about this. Firenze had always been helpful, but not necessarily trustworthy. However, if he had wanted to turn Harry over to the centaurs, he would have done it by now, so Harry slowly got up onto his back, remembering the last time he had done this, and they silently exited the Forest. "How were you so quiet?" "If you spend enough time anywhere, you learn the spots that make noise. I'm sure there is a certain tile or floorboard that you know of that creates more noise than others." Harry laughed, remembering the creaking stair step at Number 4. "I leave you here, Harry Potter, but I must warn you not to go looking for the herd again. We are all incredibly grateful for what you have done, but that does not change the fact that the centaurs are a guarded and proud race, still avoiding magic…" "Ok." He really didn't care about tonight. He was sure he needed to talk to Praetoria, but she wasn't dying tonight, so there was really no harm done. As long as he could get to her before Magorian did, and maybe figure out what they were trying to divine in the forest…

All these thoughts brought him back to the common room…where he should have known what was coming. "Where did you go?" Hermione was incredulous as always as she and Ron both got to their feet, leaving Ginny on the couch. "Is everything alright, mate?" He turned to the third person, still sitting on the couch, who was saying nothing. He wished she would say something, anything. "Everything is fine. Why?" He had learned by now not to try and lie to his friends, but for some reason, it was the first thing that popped into his head. "We looked out the window and there was this strange green smoke over the tops of the trees, so we sent a Patronus to Minerva to tell you about it." Harry knew what was coming. "She sent one back saying that you weren't in the office." "Were you in the forest?" Ron and Hermione continued the back and forth, while Ginny remained silent. "Yes, I was." "What was that green smoke?" Hermione wanted to be educated, even when she was trying to make a point. "I don't know, but the centaurs were trying to divine something about another centaur." "What?" Ron's questions were a little more vague. "Her name is Praetoria. Magorian and Bane were walking around her body while the other centaurs were standing in a circle around the three of them. Finally, Magorian said that they wouldn't kill her tonight." "What? What night ARE they going to kill her?" "It's ok, Hermione. I got the feeling that this wouldn't happen right away. I mean, between the stars, the flame, the fume, and the inherent disagreement between them, they won't make a decision for awhile." "Maybe they know Praetoria is one of the Daughters?" Ginny finally spoke. Ron and Hermione got silent. This was strange to Harry because that's the only thing he was thinking about since he returned from the forest. What were the odds that Firenze would know he was in there? Two centaurs would be deciding the fate of another? "I think they do." Harry's gaze didn't move from Ginny's eyes. He just wanted to figure out what she was thinking, and he wanted her to see the truth, and at least an apology, in his own eyes. They continued looking at each other even as Hermione said, "Ron, let's go." Apparently, she knew they needed to be alone. "Say something." Harry just wanted to know what she wanted to know. He wanted her to ask him a question so he could answer. He knew this wasn't the right way to go about things, but he didn't know how to apologize. "Please." "Listen, I know why you did what you did. That doesn't mean it was the right thing to do, and it doesn't mean that I'm happy about it. But I understand, Harry." "By myself, but not alone…" "That second part means that you talk to me." She beckoned him to join her on the couch, and he obliged, taking her hand into his and intertwining their fingers. "If you let me inside about these things, of course, I'm going to want to help you. I'm gonna wanna," she paused searching for a word. She was looking off to the side, half-smiling, half-angry that she couldn't find the word, "fix every problem you have, y'know? You would tell me what's wrong, and I would try to fix it." "Yeah." "But that's not what I will do. I will talk things out with you, support decisions you make, and be here if anything goes wrong." "I know." "BUT you have to talk to me before any of that other stuff can happen."

"I'm sorry." "It's ok. You've been handed a terrible burden. However, as I grow, I start remembering things that I would have done differently. If you had revealed yourself outside the forest before you went to Voldemort, I would have stopped you." "Gin…" Harry didn't want her to cry. "But now, I just want you to know that you can tell me what you have to do, and I will kiss you, hold you, and tell you how I will be right there for you no matter what." "I love you." They sat there on the couch, like they always did, just wrapped up together, giving each other random kisses which always felt like the first one of the night. Just before they were about to get up from the couch and go to bed on the last night of March, Ginny responded. "I love you, too." Harry kissed her one last time before going to his dorm where Cedrella was waiting for him as always. "Hey, Ced." "Harry, I have a note from the summer family, we must get to St. Mungo's as soon as possible." "Why?" "Teddy Lupin is not well." Harry instantly got back out of bed and grabbed his wand. For a second, he wanted to hit himself. He had just had a conversation about not running off into things by himself, but should he really bother Ginny with this? In the end, he couldn't do this to her. He sent her a Patronus, hoping that no one in the girls' dormitory would freak out. Luckily, less than a minute later, after Harry had gathered his things into his robes, Ginny was outside on the staircase landing. He gave her a quick explanation. "It's ok, Harry. This is your family." She smiled. "Take care of Teddy." She kissed him goodbye, again. After a run outside of the grounds, and a rapid apparation, Harry quickly followed a few other wizards inside of St. Mungo's. "Teddy Lupin?" He yelled at the witch working at the desk. "Can't you read the – Harry Potter?" "Yes, what room is Ted Lupin in?" "Um," she scrambled in some paper, "4th Floor. Dai Llewellyn ward." "Animal attack?" "They don't know…" So Harry rushed up to the elevator and got out on the fourth floor, ran down the hallway to the room where his Godson was being kept, and saw a few people there he knew and many he didn't. "There he is!" "Potter! It's Potter!" "The Prophet wants to know what has happened Potter, and you better be able to explain it. An attack on a defenseless child, and now another attack here at the hospital with signs of yet another attack from your own school." Rita Skeeter, the ever-present beetle, knew more than Harry did. "Well, Potter? What do you have to say about all of this?" "Er…" "So I'll sit and pray for her to call me there… I'll burn that bridge 1000 times on the cross I bear! Just to wonder if you're listening from that soapbox in the sky

To finally realize my price! Was it you or I?" -Seven Mary Three Most Unlikely Source "Everyone else out!" Harry yelled, after a moment's thought, and pointed at the door. "Except you!" He then pointed at Skeeter, but this time with his wand. She stopped dead in her tracks, and Harry was thankful to see that she would cower to something, even if it was the threat of violence. Once the rest of the crowd had left and all the normal charms had been placed on the door, Harry checked to see if Teddy was ok. He was breathing, looked peaceful, and if Harry had seen him at the Burrow, he would have thought he was sleeping. "Now," turning back to Skeeter, "you're going to tell me how you find out everything you know! And don't tell me it's by turning into a beetle!" His wand never left his hand. "Well, Mr. Potter, it would seem that you resigned yourself to violence after all. I knew it would happen eventually. Even your mentor had a change of heart around this age…" "Don't! This isn't about anything except that boy lying there!" Harry smiled a little inside…He felt like Sirius. Teddy had been born to parents who fought Voldemort and died. He was left as an orphan, with a young Godfather, who shouldn't have too much say in his life right now. Then, as he looked at Rita, he felt much, much older than Sirius had ever been. He would not be able to create a Marauder's Map or become an Animagus, but everything he had seen had made Harry Potter many times more mature than Sirius Black had ever been. "Now…" "You want to know how I get my stories?" "Yes." Harry saw the tip of a quill begin fluttering at her lower back. "Accio Quick-Quotes Quill!" "Ah!" "Now…" "Fine!" She summoned a chair and sat down. "I know you're hoping for some incredible secret and everything, but you're too young to understand how the real world works." "Educate me…" "The Prophet simply reports on subjects that will help it to sell." "Ok." "And the average witches and wizards in the street want to hear about the more famous, or infamous, wizards in the world." "Why." "Who knows? I sure don't. But I don't care either! My Gringott's vault grows when there is celebrity news and shrinks when there isn't." "That's pathetic." Harry was a little disappointed in his fellow wizards. Albus Dumbledore's name had been dragged through the mud, and for what? Increased circulation? He would have preferred to have been left alone. Harry wished he could be left alone, too. "That's possible, but the point of all of this is that people that do know something about famous or powerful people like to talk to reporters about it." "Like talking behind people's backs…" "Yes. Gossip, even when it's true, is fun to talk about." "Ok, back to where we started. How do you know everything you know?" Harry could feel his wand lowering, but not all the way. "Are you conceding everything about the Hall of Prophecy now? We never got confirmation on that."

"Yes, it exists. Yes, there was a prophecy. But no, just because there is a prophecy in there, doesn't mean that it comes true." "Excellent stuff." She started looking around for something to write with. "Um…" "You'll have to try to remember. And trust me, you misquote me and it will not be very comfortable for you." "Ok. Well, I was trying to make a point earlier. There are wizards everywhere that have enough experience to know about money, law, the Ministry, whatever." She crossed her legs looking more lady-like than she ever had before. Harry thought it made her look like one of those statues that model clothing in a muggle store. "Anyways, there are so many inside sources, some are even paid, and so many nosy people, that the truth does eventually get found out." "I'm sure blackmail doesn't hurt either." "Well, only as a last resort…" She couldn't even hide her glee. Harry thought blackmail might actually be her first course of action. "In this case, just as everyone had a good idea that you were the 'Chosen One,' this whole 'Master of Death' thing has started catching on." "WHAT?" "Well, it hasn't garnered too much front page attention yet, but an Unspeakable came out with the knowledge a few weeks ago, circulation is showing that people think that's the only way an infant, or even a seventeen-year old, would be able to defeat Hewho-must-not-be-Named." "He's dead. Show some backbone." "Whatever." Rita was sounding more and more like Lavender Brown. It would seem that when Skeeter isn't in control, the whole veneer is shattered. "The point is that now that you have defeated him, and you just admitted to me that the prophecy didn't matter, then there must be something else." Harry was lost in his own thoughts for a moment, and Rita must have noticed. "You don't look worried about yourself." "Huh?" "In my time, I have learned to read people," she seemed to be surveying him, "but you seem," she tapped her long fingernails on her perfectly made-up face, "to be worried about him," she inclined her head towards Teddy's bed, "and not yourself," her eyes went wide as Harry turned his gaze back to the reporter, "…because you are the Master of Death! The rumors are true! Again!" She looked surprised and overjoyed at the same time. Harry remembered when he thought her quill would explode if she knew about the twin wand cores, and this was something close. "And?" "There have been so many whispers and conspiracy theories…I have spent so many nights on the window sills of dingy taverns…Do you have any idea how many people speak about mythical wands and rocks?" "No. And you will not tell them the truth either." Harry was starting to get worried. Rita had a lean and hungry look in her eyes. She had the Boy-who-Lived with quotes about being the Master of Death, possibly being in possession of a powerful wand, and Harry didn't like how her mind must be working right now. "It is my job to do so!" She was scrambling, but regaining her composure. "I would not do anything to you to keep you from completing your school work." "Yes you would!" "Perhaps, but only in a venture to uphold my own oaths and occupations." "Oaths?" She was pacing back and forth, as if to try to get out of the room. "Don't do it, Rita." "What?" She tried to look innocent. "I threatened the Minister the same way." He raised his wand again, and pointed it at her chest. "This wouldn't be as difficult." "You won't attack me. The Minister is refusing to help you these days, and now you could definitely use my help."

"Your help?" "You think I've told you everything?" "Tell me." Harry's grip on his wand tightened, his mind was focused with hatred, and sparks actually emitted from his wand temporarily. "Um…" She now looked scared, and Harry liked it. Hatred was coursing through his veins. He knew that he shouldn't feel this way, but everything came to the front of his mind, and nothing was willing to replace those feelings. He thought about Ginny being in trouble, his mother being tempted with some kind of potion from Snape, and Teddy, the newest orphan in this world, lying there unable to protect himself. "…the rest of the story. I've heard many of these theories, and there is an ending to these beginnings." "What did you just say?" He was momentarily jarred from his anger. "That's what this guy said. Something about endings and beginnings. Or something like that." "Who was he?" He took another step towards her, his wand unmoving. "Tell me! NOW!" "Just a kid, couldn't have been more than sixteen!" There was even more fear in her voice. "What's his NAME?" "I don't know." He began waving his wand backward. "Marron! MARRON! That's his name. Don't attack me, Potter!" "What else? Tell me!" He as shouting and vibrating, and he couldn't stop it. It felt like a freight train that could only be slowed down with time, or a violent collision. "And I could have sworn he had some Polyjuice! That's all I know, I swear!" "When was this?" The anger subsided a bit. "A week ago, maybe a week and a half." Harry's breathing began slowing. His chest was heaving up and down less and less until he finally remembered that he had his wand trained on her heart. He could see that she was genuinely scared. "Thank you." He stepped to the side, never lowering his wand, to show her the way out. "Before you leave, do not tell anyone what you know," he finally stowed his wand in his robes, "or I will kill you." He found himself back at Hogwarts, and in the common room, in less than a minute. He told his friends, Ginny first, about everything that had happened. There had been another circular hole put in a wall near Teddy. He had been attacked while in Diagon Alley. The Weasleys, having no children to support, were actually rather wealthy now and had hired a witch to watch Teddy during the days. This was the first day she had left the Burrow with the orphan, and this had happened. And Harry, as he told his friends, did not think that was a coincidence. "What do we do now?" Ginny asked. "I don't know." "Well, do really believe her?" Ron asked. "Yeah, I do." He hadn't been very specific about how he got all the information out of Skeeter. "Well, I think there is one thing that is pretty probable." Hermione had been doing her normal sitting and thinking routine throughout the conversation. "What?" Harry looked back up at her. He had been focusing on Ginny most of the time. "Well, you said that that woman, Anastasia Brown said she had been talking to her 'nephew' even though she doesn't have one?" "Right." He remembered the afternoon at Eyelop's like it was yesterday.

"And Professor MacDonald and Stephen Marron both disappeared at the same time?" "Right." Harry wasn't seeing the connection. "Well…" She started drumming her fingers on the table in between the foursome. The fire started crackling louder. "What is it?" "Either Marron or MacDonald is impersonating the other. The real one, whoever is the impostor, is either dead or kidnapped, and Stephen Marron is related to the Brown woman." "How, er, where did all that come from?" Ron was confused. Harry and Ginny seemed to be trying to work things out in their head, but they let Hermione continue. "Marron is French for Brown, so maybe there is a relationship." "Ok." "And the fact that they disappeared at the same time could mean that they are the same person. Marron didn't take any classes with MacDonald, so if the schedules could accommodate, it would be easy for the two of them to never have to be in the same place at the same time." "Ok." Harry was following. "So we just have to figure out who is the perpetrator, Marron impersonating a professor, or an American impersonating a student." Silence followed for the rest of the evening, as everyone, as Harry could only assume, was trying to come up with explanations and motivations to explain Hermione's theory. These musings went on for a couple weeks. However, with the new workload of teaching the Defense class on their hands, the foursome got less and less time to dwell on these matters. Harry was all for skiving off his duties at Hogwarts to make sure nothing else happened, but as Ginny reminded him, they were trying their best to have at least one normal year together. Harry appreciated her sense of humor, but he also remembered that he would not let someone or something disrupt the life he was trying to build with her. As the Easter Holidays approached, Harry made a decision he truly did not want to make, but it seemed the best thing to do. "Is it ok if I stay at the Burrow over the break?" "Of course, Harry. You know you could have just Apparated to tell us." He was talking to Molly in the common room fire. "I know. I'm just trying to be a good little student, y'know?" They both laughed. "Oh, and I got your letter from a few days ago. Teddy is fine. We're keeping him here at the house now. He'll be so happy to see you in two days when all four of you come home!" Molly was more than excited about the prospect of the foursome coming home for Easter break, and it showed. Harry always appreciated her motherly attitude towards him, and that was the reason he ultimately agreed with Ginny to stay at the Burrow. He didn't want to bring any unnecessary danger to their family, but after a few minutes of scolding from the Weasleys, Hermione included, he finally thought it best. Therefore, the next day, when everyone was packing up enough clothing for the week, Harry was startled to get a note held in Cedrella's claws. "What is it, Ced?" "Mister Malfoy has returned to the castle. He is with the headmistress now, and though he knows you are on vacation now, he sent me with a note." "Thanks, Ced." Harry dreaded opening it, but when the parchment was unfolded, it revealed only five words… Praetoria is in trouble, Lucius

Praetoria "Malfoy." "Potter." "What is it?" "We have been talking with Firenze, and he seems to believe that the herd is going to sacrifice Praetoria tonight." McGonagall interjected. "What are we waiting for?" "What do you mean?" Lucius was as calculating as ever. "We've got to save her." Harry just now looked to Albus' portrait. He wanted his input, but he saw that he was gone again. "Where did he go this time?" "We don't know. But Harry, do you realize what you are saying?" "What?" "It sounds to the headmistress," Lucius' slippery voice was definitely back, "as if you want her to survive. You want to keep her for yourself. Perhaps you have an idea about how to use her better?" Lucius was accusing him of wanting to gather the Three Daughters together. "WHAT? You're insane." "A juvenile retort." "Shut it." He turned back to Minerva. "How about I don't want a herd of centaurs to kill an innocent creature? How about if it were your daughter, you would want someone to protect her?" "Very well." Lucius answered in her place. "Shall we go?" "Yes. Minerva, stay here, if Albus comes back, let him know what we're doing." "Yes, Harry." "Let's go." The two of them walked out of the office and down the corridors. "Accio Marauder's Map!" Lucius looked at him strangely, but continued walking. Therefore, a few hallways later, when a piece of parchment came zooming through the air and into Harry's hand, he was not fazed at all. Harry stopped for a second, let him walk ahead, and bent low over the map and whispered, "I solemnly swear I am up to no good." He caught up quickly and kept an eye on the map. He searched off the grounds and into the forest and saw that the herd was back to divining. "What do you see on that map?" "People." "And centaurs?" "Same thing." "Very well." The two of them were now outside the castle and walking a bit quicker down the sloping lawn. Harry felt inside his robes for the Invisibility Cloak that lived on his clothing at all times now. He felt bad about not telling his friends where he was going, so he turned and spoke to the air, "Expecto Patronum." "And that was…?"

"A message to Minerva." He was telling her to tell Ginny that he would meet up with her at the Burrow when he got the chance. He also asked her to apologize to her about what he was doing. He knew that he had gone off on his own once again without talking to her. "So do you have a plan, Potter?" "Keep them from killing her." "Good plan." Again, they walked in silence. They were now in the forest, and Harry could see the dots much clearer now. The herd circled around Magorian by himself this time, Bane with the others, and Praetoria in the middle. They were deeper and deeper in the forest now and could no longer see the green smoke that had been rising up through the trees just like before. Harry could feel that familiar darkness that the trees created, even in late afternoon like now, that not only blotted out the sun, but made your very bones feel icy. He remembered walking around a cavernous expanse, and ultimately having to dip his hand into the icy water. The Inferi chill crept us his arm, causing him to take his wand out of his robes, alerting Lucius to some problem. "What is it, Potter?" "Nothing. Just being prepared." He was telling the truth, just not the whole truth. "Where now?" "Er," he looked back down at the map, "we're headed straight for them, we should hear them any second." Sure enough, they walked around a giant tree trunk to see a faint greenish glow in the distance, sliced by the tall trunks and shadows in front of them. The light made the trees look like cell bars, incarcerating some kind of murky evil. "Quiet." Harry knew to be quiet. He didn't need Malfoy's advice on that one. If he had to be honest, he would prefer to be here alone, under his Cloak, but he was standing next to an experienced wizard, but all the while hoping there wouldn't be any Dark Magic involved tonight. Another clearing, another group of trees, and then finally the forest opened into a small circular area devoid of trees. There was dirt all over the ground, and the centaurs' hooves were kicking the dust up all around them. Magorian was there, in the middle, and Harry could see Praetoria. She was tiny. "Potter." Lucius said in the lowest whisper, Harry could barely believe he could hear him. "Yeah." He responded in kind, but before Malfoy could say anything, Magorian broke the silence. "…We have done this for the prescribed amount of time. Twenty-one days have passed!" They must have been doing this for awhile, Harry thought. "We have all read the stars for years now. The passing of the great wizards, the coming of the Master, and the spirals in the fume have all been read correctly." "The fume! The fume, Magorian!" "Bane! We have discussed this. The color of the smoke is immaterial at this point. As we all say, the stars have been read incorrectly before. The boy survived. However, this is not our decision to make! We are destined to follow the signs of the celestial beings." "You admit you could be wrong, but you are going to act anyways? In terms of a life?" "It is a female! This is the way it has always been. They have always lived only to produce life, and if Praetoria is barren to the earth, she will become nothing more than a mule for the wizards!" "They don't know…" Harry whispered aloud what he was thinking. They don't know she's a Daughter! "Ask the herd!" Hooves started pounding around the circle, the female stirred momentarily, and Magorian seemed to understand the pounding of the earth.

"Thank you, my brethren. It is not to us to change the ways of our ancestors. As we have tried to prove to the wizards, we are a proud and ancient race who do not succumb to the trivial whims of a few outspoken members!" Harry was starting to get anxious. He needed to do something now. He didn't see any quivers or arrows, but a centaur could certainly trample something to death. "You wish to intervene?" Lucius asked. "Yeah." "Therefore, in accordance with the ways of our people, we shall sacrifice this female to the stars this night." "She's a FOAL!" Harry darted out from the trees yelling. "You do not harm the innocent!" Every centaur head turned, but not a single one moved. All the eyes were trained on Harry's wand. No matter how amplified their voices were, or how hard they could beat their chests, Harry, and Lucius' wand as it appeared next to Harry's, were now deadly impending dangers to the herd. "Why must you wizards involve yourself in our ways? Haven't you done enough damage?" "That wasn't us! Haven't you learned that there are wizards that DON'T hate centaurs?" "It does not matter. You use your magic to threaten and instill fear. You use it to cram creatures into tiny, hidden corners of your lands." "I'm using magic right now to save a LIFE!" Harry was yelling. "I just don't want you to hurt Praetoria!" "You know her name? How long have you been spying? Researching?" "None. We just heard you reference her name tonight. We were taking a stroll through your lovely forest." Lucius tried to act calmer than Harry. "Liar." There was a general murmur of disinterest in what Lucius had just said. "Why are you here? You are the Potter boy! You have entered our forest many times. You have thrown yourself willingly into our lives with no reciprocity from us!" "I didn't throw myself into your lives! I had to come to the forest several times. You guys just happened to be there sometimes!" "HA!" "I'm serious. If you had come out of the forest, you would get nothing harmful from me! Or my friends! Albus Dumbledore never hurt you! You were at his funeral! You showed him respect!" "You are comparing yourself to one of the great wizards?" Bane spoke. "No! But he is a friend of mine." "Is?" Bane asked. "Yes." After that declaration, a few centaurs seemed to subdue a bit, but Magorian was still breathing hard, his chest rising and falling, and fire dwelling in his eyes. "It is of no consequence. We set ourselves against those whose set themselves against the stars!" Harry could see that a few of the centaurs were ready, if not itching, to fight. "We will use no magic if you give us the Daughter." He didn't mean to say that, but he continued. "If not, we'll use magic against you, the herd, and even kill her with magic! How would the stars feel about that? A human cursing a centaur sacrifice?" Magorian stepped in front of the Earth Daughter. "Then violence is your choice!" "It isn't our choice. We want to walk out of here, without any harm done, with a creature that you are willing to kill. What is the problem?" Lucius tried logic again, but apparently he had never dealt with centaurs before. If it didn't have to do with Jupiter or Alpha Centauri, they weren't listening to anything but strength. "You know this to be true! Therefore, it is you, having this knowledge already, that have chosen violence!" Magorian looked around. "FIGHT!"

"Stupefy! Protego!" Harry had stunned Magorian and cast a shield around Praetoria in one movement. "Impedimenta! Petrificus Totalus!" Two more centaurs were down. He looked to the right, and saw that Lucius had taken out a half dozen with one curse. Hoping that it wasn't anything dark or permanent, he made his move towards Praetoria. "It's ok. You're gonna be fine." She was even smaller than he thought. He thought about picking her up, and carrying her back to the castle. However, he wanted his wand at the ready. "Mobilicorpus!" She was injured, perhaps from being restrained, so Harry levitated her while Malfoy rotated on the spot in front of them, keeping a weary eye for any attackers. Centaurs wouldn't be the problem, seeing as they had just dropped the whole herd in less than a minute. Being able to move much faster on the way out, it took much less time than the way in. Once on the edge of the forest, they stopped and released to levitation. "Can you walk?" "Yes." Her voice was very high-pitched, but cute, almost like a baby girl. "Hi, 'Arry!" Hagrid had come out of his hut. "Malfoy." "It's ok, Hagrid. We just had to go in there to get this centaur. The herd was going to kill her." "Ruddy stargazers! Well, do yer need anything 'Arry? Cuppa tea?" "No, thank you though Hagrid." "Potter…" "I know, let's go Lucius." The three of them walked back into the castle and up to Minerva's office. Harry couldn't believe he had left Ginny to do something dangerous again. Although looking back, it wasn't very dangerous, and it didn't take long. "Harry." "Minerva. Did they get the message?" "Yes. All three Weasleys are back at the Burrow awaiting your return." "Well, I have done my part. I will leave you here." "Thank you, Mr. Malfoy." He just nodded back to Harry before exiting. "Minerva, this is Praetoria." Thankfully, the students were gone, because a centaur walking through the school may have seemed strange to most. "Nice to meet you." She turned back to Harry. "What now?" "We need to keep her safe. Here, hopefully, and under the care of Firenze." "Good point." "But make sure that he is ok with it. Use Veritaserum if you have to in order to find out if he is still observing the herd's ways because he might decide to sacrifice her anyways." "I understand, Harry." "Thanks. I'll see you later, Praetoria, ok?" "Ok. Thank you." Harry smiled at her. She looked so innocent. It reminded her, not because Ginny was innocent, of his fiancé for some reason. He wanted to see her. And he was done with another task. Praetoria was safe. Ginny was safe. And… Upon entering his dorm, he saw Cedrella's cage was on his bed, laying on its side. There was a single feather on the window sill, and Harry was sure, looking at that window sill, who it was that would do something so foolish.

"I…don't get…many things right the first time… In fact…I am told…that a lot…" -Ben Folds A Needed Reminder Harry never made it to the Burrow. He spent the next four days researching Animagi, the American Aurors, and sending school owls all over the country trying to see if he could figure out which person was actually missing, MacDonald or Marron. He didn't tell anyone about Cedrella. But an owl that very first night from Ginny asking him where he was forced the issue. He sent the same owl back to the Burrow: Ginny, I can't say everything I want to in this letter, but I need to stay here over the holidays. If you need to talk, and of course I would understand that and not oppose it, we can meet here. Also, if you need to bring other people with you, that would be alright. I'm so sorry about disappearing on you again, but you'll know everything when you get here. I cannot apologize enough for doing something again without talking to you, but I hope that you know now that I will never do that again unless completely necessary. I want to tell you all these things in person, but again, I would understand if Molly and Arthur won't allow it. I hope I'll see you very soon. I love you. I always will. Harry Ginny, Ron, and Hermione had arrived very early that fifth morning, and the foursome took up their seats around the beech tree. April had become quite the beautiful month. "That's great!" Hermione was happy about hearing that they had rescued Praetoria from the centaur herd, and that she was now living in classroom 11 with Firenze. "Oh, and the Weasleys think we're out for breakfast." "What is it, Harry?" Ginny asked. "Ced's gone." "Your owl? I assumed it could do magic right back." Ron uttered, which earned him a poke in the ribs from his wife. "What? I'm pretty sure she and Harry are closer than him and Ginny, and I've never seen an owl move so quickly. Plus, it's a Daughter!" "He's right. I thought about it, too. I thought that maybe she'd be able to defend herself." Harry was dejected. He had now failed to protect Hedwig and her daughter in less than two years. "So what have you been up to?" Ginny asked another question. "Sending owls around the country." "Why?" "I wanna see if I can get a read on who the impostor is. I've been replicating the Ministry seal from some of the letters I've gotten over the years, and it definitely looks fake to anyone paying attention, but I mean, who would?" "What did the messages say?" "I sent a tax form to MacDonald's address in the States. Something about living in a British wizarding country meant that the host country had to make a small donation. I figure if he's not getting back home and dealing with his mail as much then he has more important things on his mind." "And Marron?" "It's not him."

"How do you know?" "He can't be the mastermind. He has to be the kidnapped one." "Why?" "Because Teddy was in St. Mungo's for an animal attack. The castle was made to recognize MacDonald and Marron, so I thought back to the last person who got into the castle undetected." "Sirius…" "Yeah. So whoever this is, they're probably an Animagus, powerful, and skilled in secrecy. Even Tom Riddle would have been caught for something like this by Albus." "Well…" Hermione was skeptical. "What?" "He opened the Chamber and killed a student." "Yeah, but Albus knew the whole time. Even Riddle's memory showed that." "And…" "What?" "You're not as powerful as Albus." "Well, Lucius and Minerva don't know either. I'm pretty sure the three of us would know what was going on, and like I said, they have to be an Animagus, and I don't see anyone else coming up with theories…" His voice was rising slightly. He just got so angry about all these foolish people in the world that were worried about things other than Quidditch and smiling. "I'm sorry." He took a couple deep breaths. "This whole thing is just starting to get to me." "It's ok, Harry." "Yeah, mate, don't worry about it. We've gotten used to it." "It's not ok!" He was almost yelling. "It was supposed to end with Voldemort! Then it was supposed to end when we found Praetoria! Now Ced's gone! What next!" No one wanted to voice what Harry was thinking. Ginny. "I know that you guys will always be ready to help me," he turned to Ron, "but what if it meant you had to lose Hermione?" He turned to Hermione, "what if it meant you had to lose Ron?" "WHAT IF I LOSE YOU!" Ginny screamed and stormed towards the lake. "How many times do I have to lose you?" She yelled back over her shoulder. "Hold on a second." Harry told Ron and Hermione. He felt awful. He was being selfish again. That's not it. It wasn't being selfish, it was just not trusting her as much as he should. He wanted to keep her from harm, but he also never wanted her to have to make any tough decisions again. That seemed so noble and chivalric in his head, but when it played out in front of him, he realized that he was just treating her like a little girl, incapable of making her own distinctions. He saw her standing by the lake, her arms must have been folded because he could only see her elbows at the midpoint in her back, and he stopped. He put his head down and just kept thinking. He didn't want to approach her without something to say. He thought back to the question the Love Room had asked him. He wanted her to be happy. That wasn't love! Maybe the room was jus testing him up until that point in his life… He didn't trust her to see the good in him because he wasn't willing to let her go. Ginny was easily the most powerful teenage witch he knew. She was more than capable of taking care of herself, she could take care of Harry probably. So that couldn't be it. She was beautiful, gorgeous, and amazingly stunning. Harry always got tired of trying to invent new adjectives to describe her. Why did he want to protect her? He didn't want to treat her like some object in need of protecting! Why did he worry that he would lose her? He knew she would never leave him! How could he cause her this pain?

"I don't know." He said it out loud accidentally. As he raised his head out of his hands, he felt the dampness left behind by the beginning of tears. He opened his eyes again to see that she had turned around. The sunrise was exploding over the opposite bank of the lake, sending an orange line across the water and ending, though seemingly beginning, at Ginny's back. "What don't you know?" She seemed to be grinning behind a crying face. "How I could cause you pain…" Why was she always worried about him? Why were they always worried about each other? Why couldn't they just live? "Everyone hurts the ones they love. They just learn to love better and better." "I would never hurt you intentionally!" "I know!" She chuckled momentarily. "I wouldn't have accepted your proposal if I thought you would." She chuckled a couple more times. It put Harry at ease. "But you have to understand what I'm going to say next." "Ok." He was ready. "I'm serious, Harry. Don't just hear me, don't just listen, I need you to open yourself up to what I'm about to say." "Ok…" He answered much softer and longer this time. "It's ok to make mistakes." "Gin…" "And you are GOING to make more of them!" He didn't respond. "You don't have to be perfect! I'm not going to be perfect! I'm sorry, but it's just not going to happen." "Gin…" "Both of us have done nothing but break rules and push boundaries our entire lives. If that changed, things between us would become stagnant. People disagree, even fiancés, even spouses!" "I know." "No you don't! You didn't have a family. You think when our parents would row at us, it was cute and nice, and it was like going to the zoo and observing something, but that's how it is! My mum and dad get in arguments every week. Recently, it's been about me getting married, but still!" "I never treated your family…" She kept cutting him off. "I know you didn't. You didn't know what a family is. You've never gotten to see your parents." That wasn't true, but he wasn't going to tell her about all of that just yet. "It's ok for you to hurt your arm, as long as I'm there to make fun of you for falling." Harry smiled. "It's ok for you to put your life in danger for the people you love, but you have to realize that the people you love want to put their lives in danger for you, too! Pride is no reason to leave your family. And we are your family now…" Harry cried. The last words, even though he knew they were true, in fact, all her words were true; he had never seen them portrayed like this. He loved Ginny so much, and he knew that it would take at least three lifetimes to show her exactly how much. But that's what she was trying to say. Nothing is perfect, nothing is ever made completely correct, but you try your damndest from today until death making it as perfect as it can be. "And remember, Harry, what you told me once?" "What?" He had to gulp first. "You were trying to propose, and you said that I knew you."

"Yeah." "I do know you. And you know me. We're not going to happy unless we're fighting for people who can't fight for themselves, but that's what you need to know about me. That I am going to be your family. That Ron and Hermione have been your family for seven years now. And families don't let one member go out on their own. The Dursleys do that!" "Yeah." He laughed through the last of his tears. "I love you, Gin." "I love you, too." They kissed quickly. "No more running off on your own. If you do, I'll get Fred to haunt you!" "Deal." He chuckled through the wetness again. "I love you so much." He shook his head slightly back and forth, amazed at the goddess standing in front of him. Today, she was the goddess of wisdom, but everyday brought something new, and he wouldn't have it any other way. "I love you so much, Harry." They walked hand-in-hand back to Ron and Hermione, who were visibly annoyed by these seasonal arguments Harry and Ginny seemed to have. "Well? Did you two figure out what to do next?" "Er, Ron, we're getting married." "I meant about Cedrella! Seriously, mate," he lowered his voice to a whisper closer to Harry's ears, "you're making me look bad in the love column, saying all that serious tosh!" "Sorry, Ron. I don't know what to tell you." "How hard can it be to find a pure snowy owl. Someone must be talking about it!" Ginny said. "You know one person that wouldn't stop talking if she saw one." Harry said right back. "Rita Skeeter…" Hermione answered, leaving Ron dumbfounded as usual. Harry felt a lot better than he had five days ago. He always just needed to talk to Ginny about things and then everything went back to normal. No, they got even better! The foursome walked back outside the grounds so that the Weasleys could Disapparate. Before they did, though, they all agreed to start keeping tabs on Skeeter. With that taken care of for now, the only other thing that Harry had been thinking about for five days crept back into the front of his mind… Otseptine, Snape, Reptomore…Otseptine, Snape, Reptomore… The students would return three days later. And with the Holidays over, the castle was a bustle once again. However, it didn't take long for something to interrupt Harry's routine. He was awaken early on Monday morning by a screaming Ron. "Wake up! Wake up!" "What is it, Ron?" Harry mumbled, fumbling for his glasses. "She's having a press conference!" "…I awoke today, suddenly nothing happened But in my dreams, I slew the dragon…" -Colin Hay Words and Warning Within minutes, the four of them had sent multiple Patronuses to Minerva, telling her they would be skiving off classes this morning, and they were running down the sloping lawn, past the statues of winged boars, and outside the grounds to Apparate. "Where are we going?" Harry asked.

"The Ministry." Ron replied. "Great…" Harry trailed off as he grabbed Ginny's hand to Apparate. They didn't need each other's help, but it was nice to know that they would end up in the same spot. Plus, holding her hand was never a chore for Harry. The four of them appeared inside the building itself. Harry much preferred this to using the visitor's entrance even if he enjoyed the fact that 6-2-4-4-2, the combination for the phone booth, spelled M-A-G-I-C. "Now where…" He trailed off again because his question that he was ready with the second they got there was answered for him instantly. "Whoa…" Ron sputtered. "So I'm guessing your dad told you about this?" "Yep." Arthur would have spotted this the second he arrived at work today. The main hallway after the security gate was packed with people. The golden atrium glittered magnificently in the background. As he peered around his entire body, he saw that the Floo gates had been covered so that people who came out didn't spray ash everywhere. Someone must have put a silencing charm on the lifts and the gates because Harry could not hear any of the normal hustle and bustle that normally went along with a Monday morning at the Ministry of Magic. Instead, there was a raised platform close to the end of the hall with a podium set in the middle. The whole thing looked like it had been planned for awhile, but poorly. It appeared as if the Ministry building itself was ready for the press conference, but the press conference itself wasn't ready for anyone. Harry chuckled, and Ron asked him why. "Anytime Skeeter even seems ridiculous is ok with me." The rest of the group laughed as well for only a few seconds before a hush fell over the crowd. The sudden silence, as it always did, seemed more like an alarm to Harry. As such, as the wizards quieted, Harry began looking around the people for the first time. He saw Kingsley standing on the corner of the platform, surveying the scene. Harry moved a little to the right to see, and detest, Umbridge. He moved a little to the left to see, and laugh, Stan Shunpike. The idea that the former Knight Bus employee was given a nice 'settlement' for being obviously wrongfully imprisoned as a suspect in Death Eater activity made Harry smile a bit. The point, after searching the rest of the crowd, was that everyone seemed to be here. Harry noticed dozens of wizards with Ministry badges pinned to their robes, a few Diagon Alley proprietors like Florean and Ollivander, and turning around, he saw that Minerva had even showed up. Harry wanted to ask her who was still at the castle, but at that moment, there was a ringing that reverberated from the walls themselves, and Rita Skeeter approached the podium from the other side of the platform as if she was accepting her election to the post of Minster. What were these people expecting? "Welcome. It's always nice to see people respond at such short notice," Rita was more at home in front of a camera than she was behind one, "especially when the news is so important." "What have you found, Skeeter!" The crowd was already shouting questions. Harry could see some wizards near the front with Prophet signs in their hats. Reporters were actually reporting on other reporters. Why not just put it in the next edition of the paper? Or write another book? What was going on? "Please, please. There will be time for questions later." She righted herself to her puffed up demeanor. "The matter at hand cannot wait." The grumbling ceased. "The wizarding public has once again been denied information that could affect their children. Other people believe themselves to be the moral barometer of a nation!" She began shouting. "There are those that claim to know better than an entire wizarding community!" Some people were beginning to mumble in agreement. "And yet, there is a threat in this very country, this very city, and perhaps in this very room!" "That was a bit much." Harry leaned to Ron and said quietly, but not quietly enough. No one had reacted to that last sentence like Harry thought they would. In fact, the cavernous hallway had become strangely silent, and he was sure some people started whispering his name. "Who among you can deny that your lives would have been different if you had known what Albus Dumbledore knew? Who among you can honestly say that you have been informed these past four years?" Harry chuckled. Four years? More like eight. "No more!" "YEAH!" There was an actual uproar from the crowd this time. "You've got to be kidding me." Harry was staring directly at Rita. He told her what would happen if she spoke. How could she not take him seriously? "Harry…"

"Mate?" "Harry. You ok?" His friends were talking to him, but the roars from the crowd were reverberating in his head. The image of Skeeter standing up there, the person would tried to ruin Albus' reputation, and the injustice of the whole thing welled up inside of him. He slipped his hand into his robes and pulled out his wand, keeping it at his side as she spoke again. "There is a threat!" She shouted one more time, but as she did, her face crossed the crowd and her eyes fell onto Harry. She stopped abruptly as he slowly pulled his wand from his side to rest vertically on his chest. "A th-threat!" She stuttered. "A threat…um…to us all!" She stammered. Harry decided to confront her. He wasn't afraid of anyone. He had been told before how an attack against Harry Potter didn't make much sense politically at this point, so he had no problem brushing past people up to the platform. Journalists and onlookers were first annoyed and angry that someone was pushing them out of the way, but once they turned their heads and saw who it was, they started writing down what was happening and doing their best to get a question out, but with no success. Just before he reached the steps to the platform, he saw Lucius out of the corner of his eye and could have sworn that the ex-Death Eater winked at him. "Please. Continue…" Harry waved a hand out to the crowd, baiting her to finish her story. "Um…" she covered the magical microphone, "you wouldn't dare." She was staring at the wand in his fingers. "I would." He stared back at her. He could feel Ginny's strength right now for some reason, and it forced him to suppress a smile. "Harry Potter!" "What do you have to say?" "Do you know what she is talking about?" The reporters were shouting incoherently after that, as if they honestly believed that Harry or Skeeter could understand a single word coming from their mouths. Harry decided again, something he didn't really enjoy doing, to use his celebrity. He raised one hand, palm towards the crowd, and there was silence after many of the wizards and witches told their friends to be silent as well. "What are you doing?" Harry spoke softly so that only Rita could hear him. "Staying famous." "At the cost of death?" He tried to glare at her more seriously than he had ever looked before. "You wouldn't really." "You know I would." He turned to the crowd and whispered one last sentence to her. "Watch this." The crowd was silent. Harry drank up the quiet for a second before unleashing the simplest bombshell in the world. "Voldemort." The onlookers collectively gasped for air, as did Rita. "What was that?" She asked. "Be honest with yourselves! Did you want to know everything going on with Voldemort?" They gasped again. "You cannot bear to hear his name, even when he is dead!" The murmuring was back. "It's ok. The public can be informed without knowing everything. There are things happening all the time that no one knows about. And they could affect you. But they don't!" The murmurs turned into yelling, but Harry quieted the crowd again. "Do you know what goes on in the Department of Mysteries? Are any of your friends Unspeakables? There are those in the Ministry and those outside of government who will always have this country's best interest at heart. As long as you can tell the difference, you'll be able to discern what information you should listen to," he then turned to Skeeter, "and who you shouldn't waste a single breath on." "Which side are you?" A reporter yelled. "I'm not on a side. However, if I were you, I wouldn't listen to people like Fudge or Rita Skeeter. I would listen to people like Kingsley Shacklebot," he said despite himself, "and Lucius Malfoy." "What news was she talking about? Obviously you know!" Another reporter shouted.

"It is nothing. It is a rumor. Even Rita would admit that she doesn't know anything for certain. Now please, go back to your lives. Go back to work. Take care of your children. They deserve your attention, not this gossip columnist!" There was a little clapping while Harry Vanished the podium and microphone, effectively taking away anything Rita felt would give her power. "The story will come out." "No. It won't." Lucius came up from behind her and grabbed her arm. "Let's have some lunch , Rita. You and me, and Harry." Ron, Hermione, and Ginny ran up at this point. "Ah, let's go ahead and make it five on one." "Hermione." Harry nodded to her a pre-arranged signal. The next second, there was a glass jar and a beetle thrashing around in it. Lucius was holding the bottle. "Animagus? Filthy reporter." The group laughed and returned to the castle with the glass jar. The second they were all back in the headmistress' office, Harry noticed that Albus was still out of his portrait, but Minerva had returned ahead of them. "Could you put a ward up for anti-transformation?" Lucius looked at Harry. "I don't even know how to do that. Hermione?" "Harry…" She said shaking her head. He would have felt bad about not knowing that spell, except Ron and Ginny were behind her shrugging their shoulders, clearly saying they had no idea either. "Very good. Now, Mrs. Weasley, would you like to do the honors?" Lucius handed her the bottle. "Thank you." She looked at him strangely for a second. She was, after all, a mudblood. Why was he acting so nicely to her? Harry didn't mind, but he could tell that Hermione wasn't totally convinced about his repentance. Nevertheless, a moment later, the reporter was back, and the bottle was gone. "I never!" She was angry. "Yeah you have. She did that to you a few years ago." Ron noted. "Little boy! If I – " "Excuse me?" Ron was confused. "We're at Hogwarts. That's Lucius Malfoy. That's Professor McGonagall. That's Harry Potter. Oh, and Hermione Granger and Ginny Weasley…yeah, you're not in any position to threaten anyone, especially me." "Wow, Ronald." Hermione looked dough-eyed. "Anyways…" Harry interrupted. "Right. What do you know Skeeter?" Minerva asked. "Nothing. I already told Potter everything." "He doesn't believe you." The professor was running this interrogation. "And you believe him?" "Of course. And most definitely more than I believe you." "Well, he's just a boy! He wants attention!" "Stop. If you don't think that Harry had my fullest confidence, do you honestly think he would be allowed to do the things he has done today? More importantly, he has Albus Dumbledore's fullest confidence, which puts him on levels of trust higher than you'll ever see, much less attain." "Doesn't change that he's eighteen." Rita laughed at him. "Listen to me. Unless a stint in Azkaban seems like a good idea for your near future, I would start talking."

"You're not serious." Harry walked up behind her, his wand stuck in her back. "There is an easier way." He was smiling. He wasn't seriously going to kill her now that he had everyone around him and she was trapped, but using the fear to get his way felt good. "Fine. Just like I told the boy," she emphasized the last word, "I saw the Marron kid with some Polyjuice talking about the Master of Death approaching." "What else?" Minerva prodded. "That's it." "How did you know about the myth in the first place?" Lucius joined the conversation, in a calm, slow, calculating voice. "Guy came around asking about Potter a couple years ago." "Who was he?" "I don't know. German accent I think, maybe Polish, I'm not real sure. He had a cloak and a hood, y'know. Most of them do." She glared at Lucius at the end. "What did he ask?" "It wasn't what he asked. It was all the things he would say under his breath whenever I would tell him something. He was paying me a good sum of money, so I didn't mind spilling what I knew." "Was it the truth?" Harry asked. "Actually, it was. I know, I was impressed myself." She said with a smile. "And?" "After that conversation, I started looking into all the tiny things he had mentioned. Most of it led me to all the horrible things Dumbledore did – " "Don't even think about going there." Harry shook his head calmly as he jabbed his wand into the side of her ribs. "Anyways, the rest of it…well, let's just say I had to read a lot of old, filthy, dusty books." "What books?" Harry was interested, even though Hermione was actually bouncing up and down a bit. "Yeah, right, Potter." He had given up anyways. "Fine. Lucius?" Harry asked. "Yes?" "Do you have anyone that can tail her? All the time? The second she even thinks about telling someone what she thinks she knows, you show up and…um…stop it?" "I have some old friends…" The look on Rita's face was priceless. He thought he heard Hermione squeak. With that, they 'let her go,' and Lucius left the school behind her, apparently to begin the trailing. "What did all of that mean?" "I don't know." Harry was thinking about Cedrella's safety. "What else do we know?" They were back in the common room while almost the whole school was in class, where they should have been. "The owls we have been sending to MacDonald and Marron's actual addresses have been coming back perfectly on time."

"You think that means something?" Harry could tell they had something more to say on the subject. "Too perfect. Even Hermione admitted it." Ron said. "So what does that mean?" "Someone is making a regular schedule, trying to be in two places, maybe not at once, but as often as possible." Hermione said. "Wait. You think it's a third person?" "We don't know, Harry." Ginny spoke finally, resting a hand on his shoulder. "But whenever you run off, we start spouting off crazy ideas in our heads, so when something looks possible, we latch on to it." Harry felt bad, but the other three were smiling. And so it continued for weeks. They would brainstorm and send owls to everyone they thought could help, but nothing new was coming to them. There wasn't a hint of Cedrella, no attempts were made to retrieve Praetoria, whether by the centaurs or anyone else, but when May 1st hit, a huge reality hit Harry like he never had thought possible. I'm getting married this month. Before that wonderful date, which Hermione and Molly had not relented on planning, even though Fleur was trying to offer far too much help, he would have to endure a Quidditch match and the third task, all the while dealing with the Daughters. The worst part about it was every night before he went to sleep, with Ginny in his arms sometimes, the last thought that ran through his mind was always the same, and he wished he knew why. Otseptine, Snape, Reptomore… I'm getting married! He tried to change the thought process, but it never worked. All he could do was focus as much as possible and hope for the best. However, even those attempts were tested, one week into a beautiful month of May, by more writing on the walls. Harry was walking to class early one morning when he turned a corner and saw it as plain as day: I feel like the moon, my patience is waning… She looks like the sun, my eyes are straining… To see the beauty in the Fiery One. I have taken one, but have left another… Surprised at the lack of hate from the brother… Who has the love of the Fiery One. I've watched from afar, I've stolen from close… Just look to the past, I'm right under your nose… If not, I shall takethe Fiery One. So in the end, I continue to dream… Of Praetoria, of immortality… And a long life with the Fiery One. Hatred didn't even begin to describe how he felt. This was a direct shot. He wanted to be with Ginny! That would not happen! He wanted to scream, and apparently, he did. He could hear people running towards the corridor. Therefore, he cast the charm to copy the words to look at later. Then he ran the opposite direction after wiping the wall clean. He ran straight for the common room to find Ginny, to make sure she was ok, but before he got there, Minerva stopped him. "Albus is back in his portrait! I thought you would want to know." "Not now!"

"Potter! Harry! What is it?" He ran and ran and ran, faster than he ever had before…He ran to find Ginny…He ran into his room…she wasn't there! He ran back into the common room. He needed a seventh year to run up there. "Hey, hey, can you go get Ginny for me? Please!" "You ok, Harry?" "Yes, I'm fine. Now, please!" He was yelling. He didn't really feel bad. He had to know that she was still here, that she hadn't been kidnapped. He waited for what seemed like a year until finally the girls came back down the stairs, and following in her wake, was Ginny. "What is it? I was having a lie-in, you knew I wanted one…" She said sleepily. His heart lifted. She was fine. He could feel his own heart beating so quickly from the running and worrying. "Well, I just wanted to make sure…never mind…er, can you get dressed though? We need to talk to someone…" He didn't want to mention Albus' name, but he didn't want to seem weird by stuttering. "Sure thing. Let me get dressed." She disappeared back into her dormitory. Harry sat down on the couch. He couldn't believe the feeling he had just had. He felt so empty inside. He felt like the reason he could run so quickly was because for a moment Ginny wasn't inside him anymore. He felt like he had lost that part of his life that made him complete. He didn't ever want that to happen. He wanted her to hide more than ever. He didn't want, whoever it was, to get her. She was all that mattered. I'm getting married…He kept telling himself, as if every second that he didn't tell himself saw the possibility begin to fade. He hated whoever was doing this. He started feeling like he had before the first task four years ago. His life had only been a preparation for May 29th, and as long as that day came, everything else would work out the way it was supposed to. "Ok, let's go." And they went to Albus' portrait, and for some reason, Harry felt like it would be the last time. "…Please tell me…not to go…" Down Time "Come in." They entered. "Ah, Harry, I was so worried for a second." Minerva spoke as she walked out from behind her desk to welcome them into the office like a scheduled appointment. Once they had sat down, she returned to her seat, and turned to look at Albus. "Hello, Harry." "Same place?" "Yes. Now, what did you want to discuss with me?" The old mentor spoke as calmly as ever. "The last message was just posted." He said grimly. Albus pointed towards the wall with the least hangings. "If you please." Harry waved his wand and pasted the words up onto the wall. "Is this why you look so frightened?" He hated looking scared, but if Albus said he appeared scared, then he only hoped that he was doing a better job hiding it from the others. "You thought that perhaps Miss Weasley had been taken." "Wouldn't be the first time." Harry said underneath his breath. "There are certain similarities between this and the Chamber." "Yeah." He said; his head still tilted downward. "Harry?" "Yes." Albus didn't respond so he raised his head to see what had happened and all he could see was the piercing blue eyes coming from the painting across the room. "Sorry." "As always, it is quite alright."

"So any ideas?" "Well, first of all, the meter in the rhyme changed dramatically." "What?" Harry was confused. "The structure looks different. Two lines, then one, two lines, then one. And always, the third line has to do with the Fiery Daughter. Whoever the culprit is has thought this entire thing out for a very long time." "You have no idea." Harry and Ginny launched into explanations concerning everything that had happened since the last time they spoke. Everything from Rita, the possibility of Polyjuice, of a third person, and everything else. At the end, they were hoping for Albus to put all of that information together like a muggle calculator and spit out some amazing answer. His response, therefore, was a little strange. "…And yet, through everything that has occurred, you did not mention the impending wedding?" "Sorry. There has been a lot on our minds." "Again, Harry, you need not apologize. However, I would advise you to focus on that hand in your own." He looked down and saw that Ginny was tracing her thumb over the top of his hand, and he instantly felt awful. "I'm sorry." He whispered to Ginny. "Stop. It's ok. You've been right there with me for several weeks going over some of the plans that Hermione and mum are putting together. I just don't know how you're getting through your N.E.W.T. classes so easily." "Excellent." Albus was watching the two of them smile. It seemed for a moment that they were just a couple dealing with the usual trappings of life in a loving manner instead of worrying about deadly consequences and sinister plots. "And just three weeks away. It still makes me smile to know the two of you are going to take that most beautiful of steps." "Ok, ok, let's not get all emotional here." Minerva spat quickly, and Harry was sure she had suddenly conjured a handkerchief, wiped her eyes, and vanished it, but he said nothing. Harry and Ginny went back into their speculations about everything, and Albus once again waited to listen to all of the theories. "I believe that all of you are completely prepared for whatever may occur. And Harry, as you know just as well as anyone, knowing even the slightest bit of information about a problem gives you an enormous edge." He winked before setting his glasses on an end table inside the portrait, signaling the end of the conversation. "Thanks." Harry said sincerely before exiting with his fiancé. I'm getting married! He kept trying to remind himself about it, not that he needed the reminder, he thought about Ginny every second of everyday, but he wanted to focus on that subject instead of the rest of his life. "You know that I love you for all the other things you're doing in your life, too?" Ginny said out of nowhere. "What?" "I love you for all the things that make me smile, but I love you for all the things that make me worry, too. I love all of you, even the horribly annoying stuff." She poked him in the ribs after that last comment and they spent the rest of the day playing in the common room, but not speaking as much as usual. Another week passed with no word, of anything, and Harry's life was starting to feel cramped. There were less than twenty days until his wedding, and he and Ginny were apparating back to the Burrow whenever they got the opportunity. Molly Weasley had actually become quite the staple of the Gryffindor common room owing to the fact that her head popped into the fire several times a day. The Quidditch Final, which was so low on Harry's priorities that it annoyed Ron on a daily basis, was this Saturday, and Harry couldn't even remember the last time he had spoken to Peakes, much less practiced with a live Snitch. Of course, Hermione and Ginny, and Ron to some extent, completely understood and pardoned this seemingly strange behavior. There were simply too many things on his mind, and he focused all his efforts on compartmentalizing his now hectic life. There had definitely been months like this before where it seemed that a week for Harry could fill a grown man's entire life, but this time was different. Ginny was a target. He knew she was a target, and it made everything that much worse. He carried the Marauder's Map and his Invisibility Cloak with him wherever he went. The tiny collapsible sack that carried the most important items on their hunt for the

Horcruxes now contained his parents' rings, the vial of Otseptine, and half the vial of Reptomore. He had thought about it for weeks now, and decided to leave some of it in Minerva's office for safekeeping, but he wanted to have some of it on hand for all the worstcase scenarios that travelled through his mind on a daily basis. When he wasn't researching possible locations for the 'unknown' third culprit, getting his projects done for school, or spending every other waking moment with Ginny, Harry would check in on Praetoria, who was quickly becoming the talk of the castle. "She's so cute." Young girls would say when they 'accidentally' passed by Firenze's ground floor classroom. "I didn't know there were centaurs that weren't scary. And we have two!" Uninformed boys would say. "If the only two you've met are nice, maybe a lot of them are!" Hermione would retort. Harry didn't mind any of these daily battles. It made him smile to think that something like S.P.E.W. still mattered to Hermione. When he could finally squeeze in enough time to see her, Prae, as she was now called, was happy to see him. "Harry Potter!" "Hey Prae." "You don't look as sad as normal." She was far too direct. "Thanks." He wanted to change to a happy subject, as if that would confirm her observations. "I'm getting married in a couple weeks." "I know. Miss Ginny has talked to me about it. I'm sorry I won't be able to attend." "I'm sorry there's no honeymoon." He said softly, rolling his eyes. "What?" "Nothing." Harry had spoken under his breath. He didn't want to explain a wedding night to a young centaur female. Although, it did give him a frightening insight into talking about sex with his own daughter…if that ever happened… "What are you thinking about?" Ginny caught up with him on the way back to the common room. "Oh," he snapped out of it. He had seen himself talking to a young girl…named Lily…"nothing, just waiting for all of this to be over." "Liar." "What?" "It's ok. We'll eventually have to talk about all that stuff." "What stuff?" "You've got that 'far off' look in your eyes. You're thinking about the future." "I hate you sometimes." "Well, I hate you too!" And the tickling began. And continued. And continued until Harry made a comment about wanting his own private room like Ron had. "Harry Potter! I never!" Her voice dripped of sarcasm. "Whatever. So what do you want to do tonight?" "Absolutely nothing." "Sounds perfect…" And the two of them drifted off to sleep on the couch in front of the fire. No one ever bothered them when this happened. Everyone respected, even if they envied, Harry and Ginny, and no one was ever going to try to pick a fight or get on their bad side. They awoke the next morning completely content. And the next morning. And the morning after that.

In fact, another two weeks had passed without a hint of anything. Harry missed Cedrella and worried about her all the time, but there were just too many facts that he had to take into account before doing anything about it. First of all, whoever wanted the Daughters, needed all three. There was no reason to harm Ced. Second of all, he had discussed it with his friends and decided that he was not going to go off and live in tents in forests in order to figure this whole thing out. He was no going to intentionally separate himself from the people he loved. There was no danger at Hogwarts with MacDonald and Marron being gone, he checked the Marauder's Map all the time just in case, and he was simply more focused on enjoying life, doing well in classes, and preparing for his wedding which was now only a week away. He and Ginny had been using the school owls more than any students in the history of the school. Again, it pained him that he was not using Cedrella for these things (he knew she would be honored to deliver these particular pieces of post), but nevertheless, people had to be invited, plans had to be made, and preparations had to be overseen. Ginny was trying her best not to be another "neurotic bride" as she put it, but Harry could see that she was beginning to worry about everything. "It's going to be perfect. The flowers will be perfect. The seating will be perfect. The food will be perfect. The ceremony will be perfect. The reception will be perfect." Harry kept repeating all these things to her constantly with no complaint. He didn't mind imagining Ginny walking towards him at all, so it was hardly a pain to tell her about it. "I know. I just want this to be…" "Perfect?" "Yeah." She smiled and laughed. The 29th fell on a Saturday, which was a blessing. It meant that all of Ginny's friends from school would be able to attend as well as most of Harry's friends who already had jobs. "And I won't be able to see you." "I know!" She was excited about this. They had talked about all the traditions that they wanted to observe, and one of them was the groom not seeing the bride before the ceremony began. The fact that it was on a weekend would make this a lot easier. Ginny would be going home on Friday night, only four days away as Ron kept reminding Harry, and then Molly would send him an owl on Saturday morning telling him it was ok for him to come to the Burrow. "I just can't believe it. I start shaking sometimes." He admitted to her whenever someone would make reference to a certain detail or date. "I know. It's so exciting, but I'm so anxious, and it makes me happy, and scares the crap out of me all at the same time!" "Thank Merlin." He felt the same way. It was nice to know she did, too. As always, it wasn't difficult at all to see their lives together, to see their future, but for some reason, it was terrifying to think of the moment itself. Harry assumed the confusion was all part of the process and so the only person he was mentioning it to was Ginny, frightened that the Weasley family would curse him for getting cold feet. Which was why, one afternoon, when the two of them were walking back from class, Harry did not freak out the way he should have. They were taking one of their 'long routes' back to the common room that they had grown accustomed to lately. This route took them onto the seventh floor corridor before taking a secret passageway through a tapestry back to Gryffindor tower. "What are you thinking about?" Ginny asked. "Just all the things that have happened here. I pass certain halls and doors, and I just get all of these flashbacks to events of the last eight years." "Harry?" "I know, I know, it's weird, but I just–" She cut him off. "No. Look." She pointed across his body to the wall. An old wooden door had appeared. Harry immediately turned to face her with a look of shock on his face. "Is it?" "It has to be! I had almost forgotten about it!" "Well?" She made a movement asking him to open it.

"Ok." He grabbed her hand with his left while putting his right over the knob. He looked back at her one more time before turning it and opening the door. "A page is turned in this world…to reveal a little girl With a heart that's bigger as it is unfurled… By the language in her soul, it's teaching her to grow With the careful cover of love that will not fail…" -Bebo Norman Past, Present, and Future "Harry?" "Yes?" He was worried what she would think. He was worried that she would think he was strange to require this from the room. "Is this the same as before?" "Yes." His eyes never left her. He wanted her to speak. He wanted her to give her opinion, and sooner than later. "I…I – I don't even know what to say…" She wasn't exactly speechless, but pretty close. "I know. I wanted you to see it so long ago. I never knew what I was thinking about when it first opened." "The past?" She was staring around the room still. He was staring at her still. "I guess." "And you think this is showing the future?" "Just a possibility. Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing that can show you the true future." "What do you mean?" She was still staring off, as if she were only partially paying attention to him. She slowly started putting one foot in front of the other, and Harry followed, still talking to her. "I've seen things that try to show me what will happen to me, what I truly want, and what I love, and believe me, it's more about the spirit behind the magic, not the magic itself." "Ok…" She wasn't paying attention. All Harry wanted her to realize was that it didn't have to be exactly like this. It was only showing them something that could happen, but it would only happen because they loved each other. That was all that mattered. She finally turned her head to face his. "Why aren't you looking around?" "I just wanted to see your reactions." "Well. How's this?" She jumped onto his chest and wrapped her arms around his neck. "That'll work." They stayed there, in each other's arms, standing and kissing, and eventually they separated to explore the room. "I love this." She walked around and Harry finally admired the room he had seen in his dreams. It was a nursery. The strange thing was that it had clearly been used before, and was now on its second occupant. There was writing on one of the walls that bore the name 'Teddy' over and over again, but it appeared as if someone had begun to clean it up and then been stopped halfway through. Along the same wall, there were pictures of two people, a man and a woman, holding an infant, then another one of the same two people walking with a child of three or four. There was another picture that showed a man holding a young boy on a broomstick with a woman in the background shaking her head while smiling.

"It's us." She said. "I know." On the other side of the room was a crib. There were initials over the head that read 'JSP' and everything was a mixture of color. There were beautiful reds and golds and greens and silvers and blues and yellows and greys adorning the entire room. A tiny broomstick, no bigger than Harry's arm was laying on an end table next to the crib along with a letter from Hogwarts and pictures of a woman bringing home a newborn. "You look so handsome." "You look so happy in these." Harry, incapable of taking a compliment, quickly shifted the focus back to Ginny. His fiancé looked like she was lost in a dream, dancing through some dewy meadow, without a care in the world. He had never seen this side of Ginny Weasley. She just kept grabbing the objects in the room and spinning around all the walls. Harry remembered old muggle films of people dancing in the streets, and she looked a lot like that, though slower and more graceful. Harry decided it would be ok to take a look around himself, and so he went over the crib and looked inside to see a little baby boy. "Hello, James." "…da…da…" "Not yet…" Harry could feel himself getting choked up. He hadn't seen that there was a child inside the room the first time he was here. And it had said a word. It had called him 'dada.' He tried to keep himself from showing the emotion to Ginny. He didn't want her to be caught up in this room. Even though he was more than happy to stay here forever, to talk to his future child, and possibly see a grown-up Teddy walk in any minute, he knew this was another place like the Mirror of Erised, like Amortentia, and every other false magical hope that people had been given. If you wanted to make a future like this, then you should get started doing it! Harry thought. However, he knew better, and he wasn't going to cut this short for anyone, including Ginny and himself. "Gin…" "Yes?" She turned to face him with tears running down her own cheeks. She was holding a picture of their first day home with James. Hermione must have taken it. Ron could be seen trying to sneak into the background to keep Teddy from roaming in front of the Potters. "What are you thinking?" She started crying completely. "I am so in love with you." Every word took a second to get out, but Harry smiled just the same, tears now falling from his own eyes. "C'mere." He took her hand, set the picture down, and led her back to the crib. He looked out the window for a split second to see the Godric's Hollow graveyard in the distance. However, his attention was inside the room right now. "Oh." She quickly inhaled, and then let it out in short spurts. "Harry." "It's ok. Say hi." She looked at the initials at the head of the crib. "James?" Harry nodded. "Hello sweetie." She reached inside the crib and picked him up. "Oh my god, Harry." She moved closer to him and kissed him, James resting in between their shoulders, still being held by Ginny. They spent at least an hour playing with James on the floor of the nursery. He was already so good at standing, though he couldn't walk. He already recognized them, he knew his own name, and just before they left, he cried out "…ma…ma…" "Harry, can't we stay for a second?" "No, Gin. C'mon. It'll be ok." He wrapped his arms around her and led her back out of the room. The door closed and immediately disappeared. "But what if it doesn't open again?" "It will." Harry assured her, kissing the hair on the top of her head. "How do you know?"

"'Cause one day we'll be at our real home, opening that door to see our son every single day." "Harry." "I know. It wasn't real, though. But it can be if we want it to. We can see the real James one day…" "I love you so much." "I love you, too. Now, c'mon, we need to leave." She agreed in the end, but it wasn't easy. She wanted to go back, and so did Harry a little, but again, he knew enough to know that it would drive both of them crazy, they would begin to dwell on dreams and forget to live. The next day, they both talked about it again, and Ginny saw the logic, didn't cry as much, and agreed to make Harry the happiest man on earth, to which he replied to her with the same promise. They skipped their morning classes and spent the time together. After all, it was now Thursday, and they wouldn't be spending any time together the next day, as Ginny would be at the Burrow making all the final arrangements for the wedding. After afternoon classes, Ron and Hermione met up with them to go down to dinner, and of course, Hermione had to see right through them. "What is it?" "Yeah, you guys seem weird today." "It's nothing. We just both had a dream about the future, and it was nice to think about for a day, so we had a lazy day, y'know?" Harry didn't want to share those moments with anyone just yet. Instead, he grabbed her hand and squeezed it tight underneath the Slytherin table in the Great Hall. The students were now sitting wherever they felt comfortable, and Harry and his friends were trying their best to be role models in this case. "Well, um, Ginny, if it's ok, I need to show you something up in the common room really quick. I think someone might be planning something for your wedding reception or something." Hermione was speaking rapidly! "I mean, I just found it lying around, so I thought you may want to take a look at it." "Breathe, Hermione." Harry laughed as he spoke. "Seriously. Um, let's go check it out. I'll be right back, Harry." "Ok." They kissed, and Harry and Ron were left to watch the girls walk out of the Great Hall and back to the common room. "FERULA!"Ron's wand was out and the spell had been cast before Harry had even had another thought. "What are you doing?" "You're not getting out of this, Potter!" "What the hell, Ron?" The ropes had him bound, and he couldn't move. This was not normal behavior from his best friend, and worry was officially setting in. The next moment, Peakes and Coote had appeared. "Mobilicorpus!" Harry now had the strange sensation of not being able to move, but seeing himself floating through the air horizontally. It would have been funny if he hadn't been scared out of his wits. "Ron, seriously! This isn't funny! What the hell is going on?" People in the Great Hall, though there were few of them, were all applauding. Harry didn't understand. Strange notions of Ron being a secret Death Eater, or the Quidditch team being angry he caught the Snitch too quickly in their match two weeks ago were flooding his mind, but now all the students were clapping at his misfortune? Just as he was being levitated out of the Hall, Ron came to his side and spoke. "Welcome to your last night as a single man!" "Please forgive me if I act a little strange…For I know not what I do…

Feels like lightning running through my veins…every time I look at you…" -David Gray The Final Task Harry woke up the next morning feeling more tired than he ever had before. He had the beginnings of a headache, no recollection of the last couple hours before going to sleep, and an insane need to eat anything he could get his hands on. Thankfully, as he would find out later, there was a pitcher of water on his end table next to his glasses. After putting them on, he conjured a goblet, filled it with the water, and drank two of half goblets before laying back down on his bed cursing Ron and Seamus for what he could only imagine had happened last night. He kept waking up, taking an enormous gulp of water, and falling back to sleep, laughing at himself each time he awoke again to remember he had done this a few times already. Finally, around eleven, reality set in. The third task was tonight (A/N: obviously, I changed the timeline per the note at the beginning of the chapter) and he at least wanted to be awake for it, even if he didn't feel as good as he normally did. "Oh, you're awake!" Ron was a little too chipper. "Sorry about all the firewhiskey, but who knows when Ginny will let you have a night like that ever again, right mate?" "Ron. You knew I had the task today." "I know, but honestly, besides the fact that you're up a lot later than you normally would be, do you feel that much worse?" He had a point. Harry had always heard about people feeling sick to their stomach, needing to vomit, being dizzy, and a host of other conditions that needed serious magic to fix the next day, but he actually felt fine, owing much of that to his own physical fitness and youth. "I didn't do anything stupid did I?" "No, we took your wand away pretty early in the night, and you were actually yelling about how you didn't want special treatment, even though there were quite a few people interested in the fact that you were about to be officially off the market." "Ron!" He wasn't angry, just disappointed that his friend would think this was a good idea. "It's ok. You were professing your love for Ginny less than half way through the bottle. Nothing bad happened." "Ok." "So what do you think the task is gonna be like?" This was Ron. He always tried to remind him about all the normal things in his life, even if they were, in themselves, not normal. "No idea. They didn't really tell us. I do hope it's another team event like the first task, though. I liked competing with someone, being alone just sucks." "I hear ya. Hermione is at the Burrow with Ginny. She insists on helping with the final wedding plans even though she has to compete tonight. I mean the French and Americans are already at the castle! But she'll be around in a couple hours, and I think she said something about Ginny coming out to watch the task, but not saying hi." Harry smiled. "Ok." "You two are weird. All these traditions. I can't believe you don't want to be around her all the time. And you're not gonna see her when you win the TriWizard Cup? For the second time!" "Of course I wanna be with her all the time, but that's not the important thing right now. It's all about balance, Ron, didn't that book tell you about all of that?" "Well, Hermione and I came to an agreement awhile ago. We said that she would make all the minor decisions, and I would make all the major ones." "How's that working out?" "Hermione says there haven't been any major decisions yet."

"Nice work, Ron." "Anyways, back to you, um, you wanna go get something to eat?" "Definitely." They went down to the Great Hall, and Harry couldn't remember the last time the two of them had walked down for lunch by themselves. He would have to make time, after being married, to hang out with Ron without the girls so that this didn't happen again. Lunch was actually a very subdued affair. Ron was probably more nervous for Hermione than Harry was for himself. Also, no one really bothered him while he ate. The one strange thing, and Harry noticed it quickly, was that the other champions were sitt ing by themselves. Their representatives and teachers weren't even with them. So Harry decided to leave Ron with some of the younger Hogwarts' students and join them. "Hey." "Hello." Gabrielle spoke first. "How's it goin' man?" Jeff spoke second. Harry waited for anyone else to speak, but apparently Allison and Marcel were busy shaking their heads at their partners. Again, it was a very soft, quiet atmosphere. The rest of the students and families (many people had come to visit the school to watch this evening, and Minerva had made a whole weekend out of it) were keeping to themselves, and so were the champions. Harry tried to make forced conversation on a couple occasions, but to no avail. Therefore, a few minutes after the food was gone, Hermione's arrival placed him squarely in the apparently solemn mood of everyone else. "Hey, Harry." Hermione hugged him. "Hey, Hermione. Ready for tonight?" "Of course, but you first, how are you feeling?" "I feel fine, honestly. Your husband took good care of me last night." "Fantastic, I was ever so worried about it, and Ginny was a wreck. She wants to see you so much, and I have to tell you that she is going to look so beautiful tomorrow, and…" Harry had the feeling that she was getting choked up, but Hermione rarely showed these kinds of emotions. "You ok?" "Of course I am, just looking forward to tomorrow." "Well, how about we focus on tonight, so that we can show up tomorrow in one piece?" "Right…" And it began again. Hermione and Harry made for the library, and started going over all the random spells and enchantments that might be necessary or waiting for them tonight. Another quick hour reviewing things they already knew, and then another hour or researching, and Harry was already feeling like he would rather take his N.E.W.T.s than go through all of this. All he wanted to do was hold Ginny's hand for a few minutes before the task. However, that was not to be. Hermione's watch alarm sounded, signaling the onset of the six o'clock hour, and their time to head onto the grounds. This was unusual, because no one had been allowed to go out onto the grounds the entire day. The windows and doors had been magically boarded up as to keep the nosier students from looking out across the sloping lawn and black lake. Minerva had of course told them this a couple days ago. "It will be a lot like the third task before, Harry, but you won't know what's coming this time." She had told them with an extremely grave look on her face. Harry chuckled to himself as they approached the front doors. He wanted to assure her that there wasn't an Auror, who was really a Death Eater, patrolling a maze making sure he won so that would be transported to a graveyard to be used in a rebirthing potion

and then duel. In his head, it sounded ridiculous, and he was actually impressed with Voldemort's planning abilities. Hermione nudged him in the side to bring him back to reality when they had found a line waiting in front of them. "Champions only, please." Filch was barking signals that the students, naturally, were not paying any heed to. "Arggh, what is wrong wiz zees students?" Marcel was complaining, but he was being allowed to push his way to the front. Harry laughed again, and the Hogwarts kids noticed he was there. After that, the whole process got easier. He and Hermione made their way next to Jeff and Allison, while Marcel was hoarding a spot in the crowd for Gabrielle. "Very well, the rest of the students will remain in the castle for now." A tremendous 'boo' rang out. "And the champions will follow me onto the grounds." Harry was looking at his feet, making sure not to tread on the champions in front of him, when it appeared to him that the lights had gone out on the entire world. The sky was gone, he couldn't see in front of his face, and he could only partially make out Hermione's presence next to him. "Everyone still with me?" Filch was laughing. "I can see still, so it's ok." He must have been enjoying torturing them. "Stop moving and hold hands. We need to have everyone stick together until it starts." "Until what starts?" It sounded like Marcel. "The task, ya moron! Why do you think we're here?" The voice angled in a different direction. "How is he beating me in this?" That was definitely Jeff. "It's ok, Argus. I will take them from here." "Professor?" "Yes. To the six of you, it's Professor McGonagall. An enchantment has been placed on the six of you to keep you in darkness until the appropriate time. Do not worry, the enchantment also allows you all to walk down the lawn towards the arena without falling or any other injury." "Arena?" Harry asked. "Yes, Mr. Potter." She put a little more emphasis on his name to remind him to be formal in this setting. They walked in silence for another five minutes. Harry could tell that he was not the only one walking slowly. Hermione kept bumping up against him, keeping him from doing little stupid experiments like trying to see his hand in front of his face, or extending his arms like a muggle zombie film. Finally, he could hear distant sounds, and a few moments later, it could only be one thing. "Will they be able to see us?" "Yes. The students and judges will be watching over the event. We will be able to monitor the entire proceeding, but you will not be able to see us." "That's fine." Harry said under his breath, and he was being honest. The last time something like this took place, one of the champions was put under the Imperius Curse and started attacking other people. Apparently, with everyone watching, that kind of behavior would be deterred. "Here we are." The footsteps ceased. "Now, before everything begins, you need to know one thing: Unforgivable and dangerous curses are impossible. Now, listen for a moment." A voice, magically amplified, sounded from somewhere while the champions took in those last words, sounding a lot like Ludo Bagman. "Welcome to the third task. First, the TriSchool standings: Beauxbatons is in first with six points, Hogwarts has four, and the Establishment has two. The TriWizard standings: Miss Gabrielle Delacour has twelve points. Mister Harry Potter has eleven. Miss Allison Hartley has eight. Mister Marcel Bourdain has seven. Mrs. Hermione Weasley has five. And Mister Jeff Baker has five." There was a roar of applause from the crowd after the points were announced. Harry had a funny feeling that it had nothing to do with the actual placement of the points and champions, but the simple fact that the end of the competition was about to commence. "In a few moments, the champions will be sent to their beginning positions, and both the crowd and competitors will receive the instructions." "Positions?" "Instructions?" Some of the champions were already asking questions, sadly though, one of them was Hermione. "Sent?"

"It's ok, Hermione. They're not going to hurt us. We're probably just being split up at first." "Ok." She was breathing hard. "And then we'll get the instructions, and then go from there, ok?" "Ok…thanks, Harry." "No problem. We're a team, remember?" "Yeah." She grabbed his hand and squeezed it. Harry smiled. He immediately thought about Ginny, but then smiled at himself. Even when all the pressure was on him to achieve this individual accolade, he would rather be with Ginny in the stands. The resounding voice returned. "Let the task…BEGIN!" Harry felt the familiar jerk behind his navel. It wasn't a portkey, but a moment later, there was light all around him, he was most definitely inside some kind of structure, and Hermione was still with him. He looked all around. It looked like a muggle office building, but with nothing surrounding them except concrete. Before Hermione could make any kind of comment, there was a faint pop in front of them, and a piece of parchment appeared. They held it out in front of them together, and Harry read aloud: You've all been placed at opposite ends Of an arena full of competition There are walls and doors, halls and floors, But don't be amazed, this is certainly no maze. You can split up, or you can work together, But know this: the game won't last forever. The task is simple: outlast the other five… Attack or defend, but you must survive "The other five?" Hermione asked. Harry laughed. "Are you gonna attack me now? Or wait until we've taken out the other two teams?" At that very second, there was a yell from somewhere, but Harry couldn't tell who it was, or if it was even a problem. "Wait! Let's think for a second." "About what?" "The points!" Harry set the parchment aside and thought for a moment. "Ok, you and Jeff can't win the individual cup, right? I mean, if they give out points from 1 to 6, then you two can't win." "Yeah, you're right. I actually thought about that beforehand." Hermione seemed saddened at saying it out loud. "Ok. And the Americans can't win the school cup, right?" "Right." She was cottoning on. "So, we've got to assume that Jeff will sacrifice himself for Allison to take out Gabrielle, because that helps her the most." "I'm impressed, Harry." "Don't stop me, this doesn't happen often." He chuckled. "You can't win, so the only thing you should be worried about is winning for Hogwarts, right?"

"Right." "So the other teams have to assume that you won't attack me until the end." The booming voice sounded again. "And now, the SWITCH!" "What the!" Before Harry could finish his sentence, he was transported to another part of the same building. The walls and floors looked the exact same, but in a different configuration. It would seem that the parchment wasn't lying. The only problem was that he was now standing next the Gabrielle Delacour. "Hello." Her hand was holding a wand at her side, while Harry's wand was in the same position. "Hey." He was nervous. It looked like a muggle standoff in those old western films. "You got the paper?" "Yeah. And now you and I are stuck next to each other…" Harry was trying to think quickly. Should he just attack her and try to find Hermione? Who was Hermione paired with? What was she thinking? Should he even consider Hermione as an ally anymore? Should he just try to survive like the parchment said? "What do you think?" He settled on diplomacy for a start. "I don't know. If you lose first, I'm almost guaranteed both cups." Her wand seemed to be vibrating. "Don't even think about it!" Harry's wand was at her chest before she knew what had happened. "What are you going to do?" Her eyes looked like they did before the second task. They appeared to be a strange mixture between fear and flirtatious. Harry didn't know why this was a problem. Just stun her and find Hermione! Gabrielle kept her wand down. Why am I feeling pity because I got my wand up faster? The next moment, the booming voice sounded again. "Jeff Baker has been ELIMINATED!" Harry flinched for some reason, and during that slight hesitation, he saw Gabrielle raise her wand in time to duck out of the way of the curse that emitted from her wand. "Ah!" He ran behind a wall, then another, then another, until he was sure he would be able to hear her approaching, if she did. "I didn't attack you!" He was yelling at no one. If anything, he was giving away his position, so he decided not to speak anymore, and do some more thinking in his head. Jeff is out. Two things could have happened. Hermione got placed next to him and didn't wait like I did! Or Marcel got placed next to him and eliminated him. Well…I have to guess one...50/50 shot… I'm going to guess Hermione. They put me with a female champion, so the switch was probably like that…Marcel with Allison, Hermione with Jeff. Ok…so Hermione is by herself while Marcel and Allison are figuring something out. Find Hermione! You need an ally! "How am I gonna find Hermione?" He said quietly, and the solution came quickly. "Expecto Patronum!" He sent her a message telling her to meet him at the most southwest corner of the arena. She would remember the Point Me charm she had taught him years ago, and he had to choose one corner of the arena and hope no one else was there. He kept moving, slowly but surely, through the arena, trying to listen for the faintest movement, all the while sending himself towards the southwest. After only a couple minutes, he found himself in a corner, and assumed that he had actually found his destination. He waited…and waited…until finally, he heard footsteps. He didn't know if it was her or not, so he didn't want to say anything, but she was much more trusting apparently. "Harry. Are you there? It's me." "What did you tell Ginny to get her away from the Great Hall last night?" "Someone had left something lying around about the reception." He stepped out from the corner he was crouched in to greet his friend. "You took out Baker?" "Yeah, right away. What happened to you?" "They put me with Gabrielle." "You didn't stun her?"

"Hey! I know! I messed up! Can we figure this out now?" They started thinking again, both out loud and silently, until finally Hermione spoke. "Ok, well, if we take out the two Beauxbatons champions first, then it's over!" She was coming to conclusions as she said it. "We would tie for the TriSchool Cup and you would win the TriWizard!" Harry started doing quick math in his head. She was right. Even if he went out next, he would beat Delacour and Hartley by one, and they would be tied overall for the schools. "Ok, so what should we–" "Oh, Gabrielle Delacour is ELIMINATED!" A short pause. "And Marcel Bourdain is ELMINATED!" "What?" Harry said, but the booming voice continued. "A BRILLIANT move! Simply brilliant! As you can all see, the specifics don't matter anymore. Miss Hartley with an absolutely incredible strategy and it pays off." "Ok, let's go. We should be able to take her." "Definitely." They both looked very confident, and Hermione was even a few minutes, they realized they had no idea what they were doing. Every time they had ever snuck around in order to find something, they knew where they were going, or at least had a general idea. This was a 360-degree world. Allison could be lurking anywhere, but as they had figured out before, it didn't really matter. Harry, however, wanted to win. Natural competitive drive drove him to want to win. After a couple more minutes, he could sense that someone was coming close. It was more of that practical experience coming to the forefront. There were always times in h is life when he felt like he was being watched, someone was close, or he was in danger. Therefore, he put out his hand and stopped Hermione. Squinting his eyes as if to see better, he peered down one concrete hall then down around another until finally he spotted a shadow on the ground. Noticing it, he looked down at his own, and saw that it was against the wall behind him, so was Hermione's, out of sight. The shadow must have been coming from around the next left turn, so he decided to go behind it and surprise Hartley. Hermione followed him, crouched low behind him. "Any movement, stunners at the ready, ok?" He whispered. "Yeah." She whispered back. He led the way around an abandoned room, instead of walking through it without anything to block themselves. Once they got to the other side, he saw that whatever had made the shadow must have left this hallway. "Where…" "Harry!" Hermione pushed him down and dove sideways across the hallway as Harry turned around to see why she had yelled. A bright red light hit on her side as she went down in a crumple. "Petrificus Totalus!" Harry responded, Hartley was too slow, and she was frozen. "Hermione Weasley has been ELIMINATED!" "Wait, why didn't you call Allison's name, too?" Harry spoke to the sky, but there was nothing there but light. "Ah, forget it." He walked up to the fallen champion as Hermione's body dissolved at his side. He had to assume she was being taken somewhere. He picked up Hartley's wand which was surprisingly heavy. It reminded him of wands made from Elder trees. The strange thing whenever he saw an attractive girl, and Allison was most definitely that, was that he felt absolutely no feelings for that person, except one. He would look at her short brown hair which matched her chocolate, brown eyes (much like Ginny's), and only think about one thing. Would my daughter look like this? If this was my daughter, would I remember how to handle this situation? It made him smile to think about. He laughed about how other guys have problems with cheating, which he definitely didn't, and laughed about how old he felt, thinking about fatherhood. That scene in the nursery with Ginny was definitely not to be repeated anytime in the near future. "Finite Incantatem!" She instantly unfroze and stumbled forward a couple steps before gathering herself. "Oh." She said, taking in her new situation, "well done." "You haven't been eliminated, though, for some reason, apparently I need to stun you or incapacitate you in some other way."

"Ok. Well, the points don't matter anymore, I just wanted to win." "Me, too." Harry was having a pleasant conversation. It was strange, but he didn't feel the need to do her any harm. He had both wands, she would have done something wandlessly by now if she could, and so he decided to ask her about things. "So what did you do to the French? The announcer made it sound good." "Right when we got switched, I bound Marcel but left him awake making noise, so when little Gabrielle came running, she went right for him on the ground, then I stunned her, untied him, and stunned him." "Nice! I would have done the same thing for Ginny." "Who's Ginny?" "Never mind. Let's get out of here." "Whoa! You're gonna stun me now?" "In the leg?" Harry raised an eyebrow. "Sure." She laughed. "Stupefy!" His aim was true, striking her in the calf, but knocking her out nonetheless. He didn't want to do any damage hitting her in the head or the chest. Instantly, he felt his own body dissolving, and then re-materializing somewhere else. "Where am–" "Harry!" Hermione leapt into his arms, which almost knocked him over before composing himself, shouting. "You won! We're tied! They won't tell us what the tie-breaker is!" "Why are you excited about that last one?" "I don't know!" She was just shouting still. It made Harry laugh, but then he instantly started looking around the crowd, which was assembled in a massive bleacher section off the side of the Quidditch Pitch, for Ginny, but he couldn't see her. He just hoped that she had attended. "Attention!" The booming voice was back, and Harry could see that it was Ludo Bagman. "Can we have everyone's attention please?" The crowd silenced itself. "As many of you have deduced, we have a bit of a problem, but first, we can present one of the trophies now. Mr. Potter, if you would join me up here?" Harry obliged, and made his way onto the bleachers and up to a little luxury box that had been put at the top. In the middle of the table, shining much brighter than it should, was the TriWizard Trophy. He couldn't really hear the clapping, he couldn't hear the uproars from the Gryffindors or Hagrid, he couldn't hear anything. There were only two things going through his mind: why couldn't Ginny be there? And should he touch that Cup? "Congratulations, Mr. Potter!" Harry waited, and when Bagman picked it up and handed it to him, Harry thought it was safe to take. When he did, it was a feeling he couldn't describe. Bagman said a bunch of words, and Harry was pretty sure that he was asked to say something as well, but all he remembered was being presented with 1000 galleons (which he instantly sent to the Burrow), and then the crowd dying down again for another announcement. "Very well, to the problem at hand. The first ever TriSchool Cup has ended in a tie! This was not an unforeseen event, however, and there is a protocol already in place." The crowd was literally on the collective edge of its seat as Bagman paused for dramatic effect. "The tie will be broken on the 24th of June when the…" he paused again, "…Fourth Task will take place!" "Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease. Where there are tongues, they will be stilled. Where there is knowledge, it will pass away… But when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part. Then I shall know fully, even as I am known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love." -1st Corinthians 13:8-13 The Wedding Harry fell asleep quickly that night after a small celebration in the Gryffindor common room in which the other students used the Third Task as an excuse to get rowdy for the evening. As it should have been, Harry awoke the next morning around 4. He wanted to just go back to sleep and then head to the Burrow when he received the owl from Molly, but his mind was racing in a thousand different directions. He started thinking about all the clothing he had packed and re-packed the night before. He wanted to send school owls to all the groomsmen to make sure they knew what day it was. He thought about seeing Ginny finally walking down the aisle, which caused his insides to do back flips. After those feelings subsided, he wanted to pace back and forth and recite all the things he wanted to say. He thought about how his life was going to change. But every couple minutes, he smiled and laughed at himself. Why was he worrying? Neither himself, nor Ginny, were going to let anything ruin this day. It could rain on the ceremony and the food could be awful (Molly would certainly not let any of that happen), and still he and Ginny would be smiling the entire time, enjoying this day with their friends and family. He rolled over to see the note that Bagman had given him, noting the date, June 24th, of the fourth task, and reminding him that it was only to be the French and British competing, as if Harry needed reminding. He smiled and tried to get comfortable, looking at his watch reading 5:00 am. Remembering he was a wizard, he put a weak Restful Charm on himself, and found himself awaking again a few hours later. "Man…" He started rubbing his eyes behind his glasses to get out the final remnants of sleep before heading to the shower. He got dressed in the same kind of clothes he would wear during holidays and make his way down the Great Hall for breakfast, still a little anxious about when Errol might show up. Since it was a Saturday, most people were sleeping in, so there was hardly anyone or anything to distract him while having breakfast. Once he was done, though, he realized he was running out of things to do. All his friends were either at the Burrow or probably at their own homes getting dressed. Most importantly, he wouldn't see Ginny for hours. He just wished he had someone to talk to, and the second he had that thought, he raced as fast as he could to the headmistress' office. "Hello?" He said into the large doors. "Harry?" "Yes." "Come in." The door clicked a couple times before opening to him. McGonagall was sitting behind her desk going over some paperwork, which again always looked strange to Harry since he had never seen Albus doing anything like this, which immediately reminded him why he was here. "I was wondering if I could talk to Albus?" "Something wrong?" "No. It's just a personal thing, y'know?" "I understand. You know that everything is going to be ok. I was actually finishing up here before I head home to get prepared for the event." "Thanks." Harry pursed his lips and nodded his head, trying to find pockets to put his hands in. He just felt like he was on display, and he was eleven years old again. "I will see you later." She exited. "Bye." He turned around to face the portrait, which he had been sure to check the moment he arrived, making sure that its inhabitant was present. "Professor?"

"Yes, Harry?" He 'woke up.' "I just needed someone to talk to right now. I just can't sit around anymore." "Anxious? Nervous?" "I have no idea." Harry laughed. "Excellent." Harry was a little surprised at the response. "You are confused about how you are feeling." "Yeah." "That's because this is one of those rare occurrences when what is about to happen to you will happen only once. It has never happened to you before, and it will never happen again." "Ok…" Harry was still confused. "If you were calm, or knew how to act, I would be worried that you didn't realize how special today will be." Harry nodded. "Now, when you think about it, when you're truly honest with yourself, you might be nervous every second until the moment she walks towards you." "Yeah." "But then when she does…" Harry started staring off into space. "…can you see that?" "Yeah…" He felt completely calm. There were butterflies in his stomach, a smile on his face, but everything seemed to be at peace, and time slowed down in the visual in his mind. He didn't know he was doing it, but he took a very deep breath and exhaled as he opened his eyes. "How do you feel?" Albus asked. "Happy." He said simply. The old man in the portrait smiled. "You will get nervous again, and then happy, and then anxious later, and then happy again. Today will be a rollercoaster for you and your bride, but every time you think about the moments after she appears, you'll remember the confidence you have in your own love for her." "Thanks." "…and her love for you, Harry. Remember, you don't have to think that only you can make everything better. She loves you, too. She's more than willing to help you get through anything, too." "I know. I mean, I forget sometimes, but I know." "And if I do say so myself, you found a witch that is not only willing, but incredibly able as well." "Thanks, Albus." "It has always been my privilege to watch you grow, Harry, and I am sorry I won't be able to see this day," Harry felt bad all of the sudden, "but remember, you don't have to find a portrait to find my advice…" And with that, he disappeared out of his portrait. Harry was slightly saddened again, but he knew what he was referring to. He found his dad (whom he never even knew) inside himself when he saved Sirius, and he could recall Albus' piercing blue eyes whenever he needed to. Once again, Harry kicked himself for not asking a personal question of his old mentor. He wondered if Dumbledore had ever been married, but for some reason, he didn't see him doing something like that. Within minutes, Harry was back in his dormitory, putting his clothes together when he fell asleep due to the fact that he got no sleep the night before. He awoke hours later when there was a tap on the window. "Hey, Errol," he opened the window and brought the owl inside, "good news?" He looked down and saw extremely hasty writing.

Harry, I am sorry for making you wait so long, but everything is ready for you to arrive. The groomsmen will be gathering in a room that has been constructed for today. It's located near the back of the house outside of the kitchen. When you arrive (DO NOT ENTER THE HOUSE), walk around the right to the back, you will see the aisle and chairs and everything, and to the left of that will be the magically portable room. We'll know you've arrived when you Apparate, and Ron will be waiting for you at the room. Ok, I'm so happy right now I can't even write. See you soon Harry, Molly Harry's heart seemed to restart and beat like it never had before. He read the letter four times to make sure he didn't make any mistakes when he travelled, but upon finishing the letter for the last time, he realized that all he was doing was apparating and walking around a house. Laughing at himself, he calmed down again, grabbed his bag with his clothing, and turned to Errol. "You wanna fly back, or go with me?" The owl's eyes got wide and looked like Christmas had come early. Harry took that to mean that Errol would not mind side-along apparition. So, with that, they both made their way down the staircases, out of the castle, a few people waved at him, and down the sloping lawn for the last time as a single man. Another strange thought came to Harry at that point. He didn't know why people made such a big deal about being 'single,' 'dating,' 'married,' or any other label people placed on others. Today felt more like a public notice to show everyone what Ginny meant to him, and what he meant to Ginny. He just wanted to be with her. Forever. Marriage, and the wedding, were just the beautiful ways to show the world what he wanted to yell from the tallest tower on a daily basis. He smiled once again before concentrating as he never had before on the three D's. The next moment, he felt himself smelling the flowery scent coming from the garden of the Burrow, which looked much different than it had before. He let Errol fly off his shoulder, and took a look around as he walked. There was an enormous white tent about a hundred yards from the house towards the lake which he couldn't see inside of. It seemed like rose petals of all different colors were fluttering in the wind without ever falling or flying away. The air simply looked, and smelled, like a flowered storm. Several more steps, and he was finally seeing the ceremony place. There were only a couple dozen white chairs on either side of the aisle, which was a beautiful fabric laid down on the ground. If Harry had to guess the color, he would say that it was a sparkling beige, but that couldn't be it. How could a light brown be so vibrant? Perhaps it was an earthy gold, or a slightly bejeweled yellow? Regardless, it was gorgeous, and it contrasted against the light colors of the whites and flowers that surrounded the entire setting. There was a simple white arch at the beginning of the aisle where the wedding party and Ginny would walk through, and there was another twin arch standing behind the slightly raised area for the bride and groom that was also adorned with yellow, pink, and red roses, just as Ginny and he had wanted. It seemed to hold the entire area together with symmetry and simplicity, which Harry appreciated. Walking around some more, he finally looked at what Molly had referred to in her letter. There was an addition to the house that looked like a muggle garage, and indeed, Ron was standing outside of it, looking more cleaned up than Harry could ever remember. "Hey, Ron." "Hey, mate!" He was a little too excited. Harry still assumed that the Weasley family would, in some way, still want to threaten him with ritualistic mutilation if anything EVER happened to their baby sister. "How are you feeling? Weird, isn't it? I mean, before my wedding, I was freaking out!" "Ron, stop. That doesn't help. But thanks, though." "Oh, yeah, sorry. Anyways, let's get in here and get you dressed." "I think I can manage." Harry was smiling. He walked through an opening that probably used to have a door to see some of his other friends. "Thanks for coming, guys." "Wouldn't miss it." Neville said. He looked like he wanted to give Harry a hug or something, but he sidestepped him gracefully to shake the next hand. "Ron was saying something about bridesmaids…" Dean said with a wink. "Hey, Harry. Thanks again, for everything." George said. They hugged, and Harry appreciated that other people would even think about being in his wedding as some kind of privilege.

"So, I actually like all the muggle-style stuff the two of you came up with." Ron said. "Yeah, it's just so elegant." Harry couldn't believe he just said that word out loud to a bunch of guys. "Dad was talking about how it was a great statement for wizard-muggle relations." Ron paused for effect. "But then Mum reminded him that only our friends were ever going to see it." They all started laughing. Harry looked down at his watch. "Well, we've got an hour…" "Yeah, we need to get dressed." Ron agreed. About ten minutes later, Harry walked out of his little closed off area fully dressed in a tuxedo. The black shoes, pants, and jacket were almost shining from the magical charms he had placed upon them. His black shirt had never been worn, and Ron agreed that the white tie, not bowtie, was a good decision. The other groomsmen were also dressed the same way as Harry except they were wearing white shirts and black ties. None of them complained about not wearing robes, and actually agreed once again that sometimes wizards could be old fashioned. Harry laughed, and checked his appearance in the mirror one more time before taking a seat on a nearby chair. "You nervous?" Arthur had entered. "I'm ok. How is Ginny?" She was all he was thinking about. "She doesn't want to wait for the official or the music." "Ok." Harry chuckled. He had heard about brides getting cold feet and worrying, but he knew Ginny would be too strong for that. "And she looks great, Harry. You two have put together quite the event." "Hey, your wife and Hermione had more to do with it than I did." "Ah, Harry, you don't understand women," the Weasley dad laughed, "but you'll have plenty of dinners and holidays to learn." Harry was a little startled by this pronouncement, but shook it off as a joke meant to lighten the mood. The groomsmen were actually passing a bottle of firewhiskey slowly so that when the hour was up, each had had a couple drinks. Harry just hoped none of them would make a scene, but after speaking to all of them, he wasn't worried. With that, Arthur left to take his place with Ginny, as Molly entered with the bridesmaids. "Oh, don't all of you look so handsome!" She had already been crying, Harry could tell. "Anyways, it's very simple. When you hear the music, Dean will take Katie up the aisle and take their places at the edges of the front. George will take Angelina next and do the same. Then Neville and Demelza, followed finally by Ron and Hermione. Harry will, of course, be standing at the top with the official already." Harry was appreciative again that Katie Bell, Demelza Robbins, and Angelina Johnson had all consented to come. Angelina wasn't as big a sacrifice when Ron admitted to him that she and George were starting to spend a lot of time together. Harry smiled. "Ok." "You ready?" Molly asked. "Yeah." What else was he going to say? He smiled again and followed her out of the room to see that all the chairs were now occupied. Harry saw that there was no band or anything, so the music would most likely be magical, but there wasn't yet an official looking Ministry employee standing at the end of the aisle in front of him. He wondered about it, but wasn't worried. As he looked around the seats, he nodded to as many people as he could. Minerva, Flitwick, and Slughorn were all sitting together admiring the scenery. Some of Ginny's school friends that Harry had only just started to get to know this year were sitting in a pack together as well. Others, however, were sprinkled around on both sides. Several D.A. members, old Quidditch teammates, and Ginny's extended family filled in the rest of the back rows. As Harry made his way closer to the front, he saw that the rest of the Weasleys were sitting in the front row on the left, some of the Delacours were in attendance, and Harry looked over the side of the chairs to see Hagrid standing there. He walked past the chairs and around to give him a hug. He could remember his first warm meal in the hut on the rock by the sea, his first trip to Diagon Alley, and even Hagrid carrying his body out of the forest. The two of them remained hugging for a few seconds before Harry started worrying about giant teardrops falling on his hair and tux. Everyone looked at them, and most people

smiled. The people here were all decent wizards and witches who would know exactly how much Hagrid had meant to Harry during his life. When he walked back across the front row, he was happy to see that his one wish had been honored. The two front row aisle seats were left open. It's where Harry's parents would have sat. It didn't make him sad. He just wanted them to know that he was building a new Potter family that they would have loved. He wanted them to be able to take those seats, in whatever unseen form, to see how Ginny makes him happy. As he approached the top, a podium appeared in the middle of the raised part. Harry didn't know about this part of the ceremony, but he assumed it was ok'd by Ginny, which was fine with him. The next second, to Harry's surprise, a wall appeared behind the podium with a single nail sticking out of it. Harry could only think of one thing you would do with a nail in a wall, and he thought he couldn't believe Ginny had figured out a way to get him here… However, lost in his own thoughts, he hadn't realized that the crowd had hushed, Molly had taken one of the two open seats on the other side of the aisle, and music had begun sounding for the air itself. It was beautiful orchestral music that brought in the pairs of the wedding party, culminating with Ron and Hermione both smiling unnecessarily largely at Harry as they took their places. Harry was now officially as nervous and anxious as he had ever been. And at that very moment, a soft cough issued from over his right shoulder, and he turned to see a portrait now hung on the wall behind the podium. "Thanks." "It's my honor." Albus whispered back to him then tilted his head back down the aisle to help Harry pay attention. And pay attention he did, because now Ginny was standing there with her father next to her, but Harry couldn't see him. Harry couldn't see anyone else. He couldn't hear anything. He didn't know if he was breathing. He assumed he was just smiling in a dumb fashion. She was wearing the strapless white dress that they had looked at months ago. In the front, it stopped perfectly on the ground at her toes, and in the back, it had a train that went on for several feet. Harry couldn't see her shoes, but could tell that she wasn't much taller than usual. For a split second, he couldn't wait to lean down to kiss her, but he had to suppress that particular desire right now. She was wearing a small, simple yet elegant dark golden bow around her waist that matched so well it looked like it might have been made of her own hair. Her veil was over his face, but he could see her perfectly; she was smiling. The veil was connected to a simple wreath of leaves that were intertwined with lilies and white roses Harry thought it took about four months for her to walk up to him, but finally, Albus asked, "Who is giving this woman away?" "I am." Arthur answered. He kissed her on the cheek, shook Harry's hand, and took his seat next to an already crying Molly Weasley. She stepped up as Hermione took her train in her arms. "Welcome to…" Albus began talking. Harry had no idea what he was saying. He and Ginny were lightly holding hands, staring at each other, mouthing the words 'I love you' to each other a couple times a minute. Harry would be snapped out of his dreamlike state every few minutes as Albus would say things like, "…Harry and Ginny have always…" and "…love is not about a union, but the communion of…" or the most important interruption to his state of mind, "…they will now perform their own vows before the official vows." Albus' face, unnoticed by Harry, turned to Ginny first. "Miss Weasley." She took a deep breath. "Harry…" She smiled, which made Harry smile. He couldn't believe this was actually happening. He just wanted to hug her right now, but he didn't want to screw up the ceremony. He just kept smiling until she finally composed herself to speak. "Harry. I love you." He mouthed the words back to her again which made her smile as she continued to speak. "I always have and I always will." She was glowing. "Professor Dumbledore will ask us to repeat the words that describe a lifelong commitment, but it's so much more than that." Harry smiled even bigger, if that was possible. "It's you and me, y'know? When we're together, it seems like nothing can touch us. And nothing can! I know that, so deeply and profoundly, in my very soul." Her lips were starting to tremble, and it made Harry start to choke up, too. "You already know everything I'm going to say, but this is a public declaration, in front of anyone, of how I feel. I pledge myself to you and only you, now and forever, and it's not just my fidelity, but my heart, my mind, and my soul." Harry was definitely starting to lose it. "I love you. And that will never falter, never fade, and never fail." She stopped talking. Again, Harry wasn't looking, but Albus turned in the portrait to face him. Eventually, it took Ginny laughing a little and making her eyes big for Harry to realize that it was his turn to speak. "Ginny…" He smiled, she started getting choked up, and it made him want to grab her again and hold her, but he steadied himself, and started talking again. "Ginny. I love you. I always have and I always will." She was still glowing, and he completely forgot all the things he had been practicing for the last few days. He was just staring at her, he couldn't see anyone else, and he began speaking from the heart. "Listen, when I thought about getting married, I looked at all the married couples that I knew, and I tried to find something that they all had in common." He paused. "But I couldn't." He said, shrugging his shoulders and smiling dumbly. "Everyone has their own experience, their own story, and everyone acts differently around each other. I came to realize that there isn't a blueprint for love. There's not a checklist of things you have to have before you know who the right person is for you." Ginny was paying attention like Harry had never seen before. She looked like she hungered for what he was going to say. "So then how did I know?" He asked her rhetorically. "Everything that has happened to me in my life has shown me that there is always

something much bigger at work than we think. I don't know what that power, or being, is, but I know that it placed you on that platform when I was eleven." He could see the tears forming again in her eyes, and for some strange reason, he liked it. "The same thing made Tom Riddle choose you for me to save. And the same thing made me kiss you that day two years ago." Harry smiled as she did the same. She reached underneath the veil to wipe away two tears that had travelled from the corner of her eye down her cheek. "I know. I KNOW," he put a fist into his chest, "that I love you. There have been obstacles in our way before, and we have blown through them all. There will be more obstacles in the future, and we will blow through them, too. I love you, I want to spend the rest of my life. No, I will spend the rest of my life with you." He could hear faint crying in the crowd now. He then realized that he should stop talking and decided that her words were beautiful. "I pledge my heart, my mind, and my soul to you, and only you, now and forever. I love you." "Ginny, repeat after me…" Albus started talking again, but Harry wasn't listening. He could hear Ginny repeating the words, but it's not what he heard. He heard her saying that she loved him, she would never leave him, and he knew it was true. "Harry, repeat after me…" The process began again, and Harry was mechanically repeating the words that he was hearing without knowing it. "The rings?" Albus said after the vows were done. Ron stepped around Harry and placed them in Harry's and Ginny's hands. There was more recitation of words, and Harry and Ginny placed his parents' rings on each other. "By the power vested in me by the Ministry of Magic, and by the privilege given to me by these people," Harry turned to the portrait and smiled, "it is my great honor to pronounce you husband and wife." He paused. "You may kiss the bride." Harry lifted her veil slowly and looked into her eyes. He didn't kiss her right away though, probably because he didn't want this moment to end. She looked worried though, like she was trying to figure out what he was thinking, so he decided to speak. "I love you." He whispered those three words one last time before placing his hands on her cheeks, closing his eyes, and bringing his lips to hers. It was slow and soft, and seemed to last for a lifetime. After that, they were led back down the aisle, hand in hand, and back into the room that the groomsmen had occupied earlier. The room had changed, but not by much. Most importantly, there was an oversized armchair in the corner that sat in while the attendees went into the tent to prepare for the reception of the newlyweds. "I love you, too." Ginny said, as rested on Harry's lap, her arms around his neck. They kissed again, and after several minutes, Arthur came in, and told them they were expected to appear now. "Are you ready to introduce yourself as my wife?" Harry asked with a laugh. "For the rest of my life." They kissed again, and walked out of the room, to present themselves to the party, and to the world… "So be still my love…open up your heart, let the light shine in… Don't you understand? I already have a plan… I'm waiting for my real life to begin…" -Colin Hay Just For One Night Harry couldn't remember a time he had smiled so much for so long. The reception went off without a hitch. Molly had prepared several courses, kept warm magically, which had satisfied even Hagrid's hunger. Eventually, the party got into full swing, but Harry bowed out of the dancing after his first dance. To be honest, he couldn't even remember the dance. He had simply made sure that he didn't step on her toes, or keep his eyes off of Ginny. He did remember dipping her once, to a grand applause and a shocked look from his bride. At one point, Gabrielle had approached to wish them congratulations, and for the first time, Ginny blushed. "Mister and Mrs. Potter." She curtsied in front of them. "Whoa." Ginny smiled and turned to Harry. "I love it!" "Yeah? You don't find it weird coming from people younger than us?" "Of course I do." She put her hands on his chest and stood on her tiptoes right up in his face, "but I love being called Mrs. Potter…" Harry had to suppress the urge, for what felt like the hundredth time, to scoop her up and go somewhere private. Instead, he just smiled, hugged her again, kissed her again, told her he loved her again, and felt that amazing feeling that he felt on a daily basis. As the night wore on, the professors left first, and after that, age became the determining factor. The older began turning in as the younger celebrated the union of their two friends. There were extravagant toasts from Ron, hilarious jokes from George, timely snippy comments from the girls, and it always came back to everyone looking at the newlyweds, cuddled together wherever they were.

Harry's hands never left her waist. Ginny's hands never left his neck. Finally, Harry saw that the party was over, and the magical cleaners they had hired were starting to pack everything up. Therefore, he took Ginny by the hand and led her out of the tent and down towards the lake until she saw where they were going. She squeezed his hand a little tighter, kissed his cheek once again and then she shivered for the first time. "Here," he took off his jacket, "take this." He put it around her bare shoulders, leaving her arms free underneath. "Thanks, Harry." He sat down against the trunk of the tree and spread his legs, looking up at his wife, who was brilliantly silhouetted against the piercing moonlight bouncing off the lake. She sat down, her back to his chest, in between his legs and let her head drop back onto his shoulder. He kissed her hair and wrapped his arms around her stomach. "I love you." "I love you, too." At that moment, he had a strange sensation, almost "out-of-body" where he could see the two of them sitting there as from a few feet away. He could see the warm embrace, the beautiful dress, the handsome tux, and the calm looks on both of their faces, and he took a deep breath. He smiled. "You know I made the moon shine like that tonight?" "Did you now?" He could feel her chuckle. "Oh yeah," he laughed a little too, "I had to pull some strings, but I figured you deserved it." "Well, I do." With that, she moved away from him, turned around to face him and sat back down, their legs wrapped around each other and their faces only inches apart. "I'd rather look at something else, though." They kissed. It began just as sweet and tender as all the others had today, but within minutes, it became something so much more. It felt like he needed this kiss to show her how much he loved her, and it appeared that she was trying to do the same thing. After awhile, he had to catch his breath, and placing his hands on her cheeks, he spoke, "I promised you a proper honeymoon once we graduated, but do you wanna get out of here?" "What did you have in mind?" "A couple weeks ago, I got a temporary international apparition for tonight." She lit up. "Anywhere we want to go." "Do you trust me?" She said with a mischievous grin. "Most of the time…" he smiled as he said it. "Ok, come here." She got to her feet and pulled him up. "Expecto Patronum!" "A message?" "To my parents. Letting them know that we're headed back to Hogwarts." She winked. "Ok, well, Mrs. Potter, where to?" "Hold on." She extended her hand, which he took, preparing for the strange sensation of being forced through a tube. She spun on the spot, as he tried to do the same, and a second later, he found himself breathing in the scent of the ocean, and hearing waves crash along the shore. "Wow." "I thought, just for one night, that we could forget about the past, forget about our cares, and just be together." "I love you." Harry looked to his left and to his right, and there was no one on the beach, wherever they were. The bright moonlight was bathing this part of the earth, too, and Harry could see his wife perfectly. They conjured a blanket to lay on, made love, talked

about eventually raising a family, made love again, smiled and said 'I love you,' then laid there holding one another for hours. Finally, he felt himself drifting off to sleep and knew that couldn't be a very good idea. "Gin?" "Mmmff." She was asleep. Harry smiled and scratched her back as they had fallen back on the blanket with her head on his chest. "We gotta wake up." "No. Stay here. So comfy." It was the cutest mumbling he had ever heard. He didn't want to spoil this night at all, but the fact was they had to go somewhere. So, with another soft nudge, he finally got her completely awake. "I know. Ok, do you want to go back to Hogwarts?" She said begrudgingly, but nicely. "Sure. There's always the common room couch." She sleepily giggled again before standing up. Harry vanished the blanket and took her hand. "Here we go…" He spun on the spot, and instantly they felt the familiar air and smell of the Hogwarts grounds. After a short walk up the sloping lawns and through the castle itself, they were indeed inside the common room, but still dressed in their wedding attire. "Er, do you mind if…" "Of course. I wouldn't want someone walking down and seeing me in this dress. That would be weird." They both laughed, took about two minutes to change, and met back on the couch in front of the fire. Again, Harry held her in his arms, felt the familiar feeling of calm wash over every inch of body, soothing every muscle, and making him forget that they had a month of school left, another task, and still no answers about the Daughters. He forgot the fact was that Cedrella had been missing for awhile now, and it felt like she was just another thing that had only been in Harry's life for a short time, to provide a bit more help, before meeting some different end. He definitely wasn't worrying about Reptomore or Otseptine. The last day had made Harry forget he had been harping over and over again in his mind on the only strange piece of information that Rita had provided: the German accent. Therefore, when he awoke alone in his own bed the next morning, all the thoughts that had been delayed during the euphoria of the wedding and its aftermath came rushing back in full force. He wanted to wake up Ginny and kiss her and finally be able to act like the couple they had been for several months now, but he didn't want to bother her, and strangely enough, he needed Albus for this. After a quick shower, he got dressed and headed straight for Minerva's office, hoping that he would be there. "Hello, Harry." The portrait responded the moment he entered. "Minerva is gone at the moment." "Oh, er, ok. How are you doing?" "I'm fine. The life of a painting is less eventful." He smiled. "Right, sorry. Er, I have a question." "Just the one?" "Well, for now, I mean, you know what I mean." "Quite. What is it, Harry, that could take you from a lazy Sunday morning with your new bride?" "I just can't quit thinking about everything else, y'know? Is that normal?" "It is very normal. Your life changes, certainly, when you get married, but that does not necessarily mean that other things are any less important than they were before. In your case especially, Ginny is at the heart of the matter. It is very normal." "Thank you." He needed to hear that, and it reminded him again why he was here. "So the only thing Rita said to us that was different, and I really didn't even catch it at the time, was that the person with the Polyjuice might have had a German accent." "And this feels like that one piece of the puzzle that would make everything else fit just right?" "Something like that." Harry started speaking faster. "I mean, they're not going to kill Cedrella, they have some kind of infatuation with Ginny, they were impersonating MacDonald and that Marron kid. I'm pretty sure they might be an Animagus, because of the animal attack on Teddy. Praetoria is still safe here in the castle with Firenze. There hasn't been anything strange going on during the tournament, or Quidditch, there was nothing at the wedding, and I just feel like I'm sitting around waiting for something bad to happen. There is a point where if Hermione can't find the answer in a book, there is cause for concern." "But I hear you have become quite the studious one yourself."

"Kind of. But research is different." "An excellent distinction. As to your other points, I think the main thing to remember is that you are thinking about all these things. You are not overlooking something as trivial or small, and you are still concerned with nothing but the welfare of others, and not some personal goal, vendetta, or financial gain." "Thanks." "You're welcome. Now, as to your question?" "Do you know anyone that could have been associated with Grindelwald?" This question had been nagging at him for awhile. "There are not many wizards and witches alive who were around during Gellert and I's time." "I know, but is there anyone who could have…" "Harry." He put a hand up inside the painting. "I understand what you mean. I am referring to the fact that perhaps the connection is not generational. Someone perhaps closer to your own age who would know about these myths." "Did he have any children? Grandchildren?" "Well, Harry. I'm not certain. But the Gellert I knew did not seem like the kind of person to procreate," the old headmaster paused to think, "much like Voldemort, you would agree?" "Yeah." Harry didn't understand his hesitation at that answer, but went ahead anyways. "So no one related to him?" "I don't think so. But you are not my grandson. Voldemort was ultimately defeated because he didn't fathom that a boy could find out his secrets." "And he didn't know how much you were teaching me…" Harry was already way ahead of him, and he really thought that he didn't want to hear what Dumbledore had to say. At the time, he and Grindelwald were easily the most powerful wizards in the world. Harry had seen and learned so much about magic at such a young age, mostly because of Albus, so he didn't want to come to the same conclusion that he could see his old mentor arriving at. "Correct, so perhaps Grindelwald had a young apprentice as well…" "…And it's a strange condition, a life in prison You got me out of my head, don't know what I came from…" -Pete Yorn Nurmengard Harry had gone straight back to the common room where Ginny, still glowing in Harry's opinion, was waiting for him on the couch in front of the fire. She had all of their schoolwork laid out perfectly on the coffee table, and she smiled seeing the look on Harry's face. "I love you." "I know. So let's get some stuff done so we can continue to do whatever the hell we want to during the week…" She had that mischievous look, but she was talking about studying. Harry loved how she could make him feel so many different things all at the same time. He joined her on the couch, and gave her a kiss that lasted a little too long. "What is it?" "I just wanted to kiss you." "I know you, Harry. What's wrong?" And so he began explaining about how he and Albus both believed that Grindelwald may have trained someone, or at least imparted his knowledge to, that could have passed the wisdom to someone else around their age. She wasn't worried, mentioned that Hermione might be able to research something about that now that she had somewhere to look, and eventually, she put him at ease, and they started to work on their studies. "Thanks, Gin."

"Don't mention it. I gotta take care of you sometimes…" She kissed his cheek and returned her attention to the nasty Defense project that was due at the end of the month. It was always strange whenever Harry thought about what month it was. June? How was it already June? It felt like Ginny's birthday was last week, the engagement was a few days ago, and the wedding was still going on. Well, he thought, that last part wouldn't be so bad. They were making good process on their work when their friends finally sauntered in looking very proud of themselves. "Hey, mate. How's married life treating you?" Ron looked extremely tired, but happy all the same. "Not bad. We're doing homework, so it hasn't really sunk in yet." Harry smiled, Ginny laughed, and Hermione had to stick Ron in the ribs to keep him from retorting. "I don't want to make a big deal about it because I'm pretty sure Hermione will eventually have more money than all three of us combined, but it won't be too hard to find jobs and a house for me and Ginny after this year, so we're just kind of enjoying this last month at school, y'know?" "That's wonderful. I'm so happy for you two." "Thanks, Herms." Ginny said with a wry smile. "RONALD!" "Ginny, how could you do that?" Ron's face now matched his hair color as he and Hermione walked into the corner of the common room. Ginny then whispered to Harry, "Part of Ron's inebriation last night included him slipping a few pet names. I would tell you what Hermione calls him, but I don't want to make you sick." "Thank you very much." Harry was on the verge of laughing, but he didn't want to anger his friend anymore. Within a minute, the other married couple was walking back over to the table. "So, Hermione, if you're up for it, I've got something for you to look into." "What is it?" She lit up. Ron had to suppress laughter at his own wife's indescribable ability to find so much joy in work. "I basically want to know everything I can about Gellert Grindelwald." "The wizard Dumbledore was friends with?" "And defeated. I just need to know who he could have been in close contact with during his life, other than Albus." "I'm on it!" With that, she grabbed Ron's wrist, though he looked as if he wanted to stay in the room with them, and led him out the portrait hole and assumedly to the library. Left alone, they once again got mountains of piles of work done until the common room started filling up with people who finally got down to breakfast. Everyone was congratulating them on the wedding, a few people were sniggering like Romilda Vane, which made Ginny hold on a little tighter, but Harry appreciated it nonetheless. The rest of the day, even though they went looking for her in the library, Harry and Ginny didn't see Hermione at all. Ron, who of course would not be trying to get any work done, was most likely being roped into the research as well. Therefore, as they snuggled in Harry's bed, holding each other like they always had, Harry thought that their first day as husband and wife had gone off pretty easily. When he related these thoughts to Ginny, she made jokes first to lighten the mood, but the sweet sayings and trustworthy statements followed quickly, making Harry smile, confident in the fact that he had certainly found the person for him. They awoke the next day with cat calls and wolf whistles from their fellow Gryffindors who watched them walk out of the seventh years' dormitory just minutes before they had to be in class. After quick showers and dressings, they met up again and booked it to Transfiguration, where they finally saw Hermione again and tried to ask her about Grindelwald. McGonagall, however, having taken over for Terseaux months ago, was still not to be tested early in the morning. As such, the foursome had to wait until after the bell rung signaling the end of class, to meet up to speak. "What did you find?" Harry asked quickly, as they made their way across the courtyard. "Practically nothing." She didn't look disappointed, though. "Ok, so why do you look so happy about it?" "I have a feeling a little trip is in our future." Harry saw Ron shake his head as if he knew what she was saying and didn't like it much. "Ok…to where?"

As always, Hermione couldn't just answer straight away. "Well, think about it. Dumbledore defeated him in 1945, and then after that, he was in prison the whole time until what you saw in Voldemort's mind last year." "Yeah, Tom killed him." Harry couldn't see how this was good. "Well? There's only one place to look, then…" She wanted someone to answer the 'question' she had posed. "So where's the prison?" Ginny replied. "What?" Harry turned to her. "It sounds like we have to do a little on-site investigating. Right, Hermione?" "My thoughts exactly!" "And why is she so excited about this?" Harry asked Ron. "It's a wizarding monument that few get to see, fewer to get to enter, and even fewer that get to do it as free people." It sounded like something Hermione had said that Ron had memorized. "I know! No one is allowed in Nurmengard! They would let us, though…I think…" She faltered a tad, making Harry a little nervous, but the truth was that she was probably right. They spent the next hour figuring out what they needed to do to get there, what they would do when they got there, and what exactly they were looking for. After the list was made, Hermione shrunk the parchment and asked Harry to keep it in his magical pouch. He agreed, the foursome went back for a second round of class, and finally met down by the beech tree next to the lake. The truth of the matter was that the weather was gorgeous. Harry couldn't remember a crisp June day with a slight breeze like this at Hogwarts, and Ginny's idea to enjoy it was a brilliant one. They decided, together, that they should wait for the weekend for this 'trip.' There would be less workers at the prison itself (which they all hoped was not guarded by dementors) and they wouldn't cause any suspicion by leaving the castle during the week for no apparent reason. The rest of the classes that week, therefore, passed by more slowly than Harry could ever recall classes passing. They would all check their watches too often, check and re-check their apparition schedule for Friday night, and remind everyone about the time they needed to meet. Finally, the time came on Friday afternoon to leave. The four of them all met on the grounds, walked the short pathway towards Hogsmeade and stopped once they were beyond the gates. "Well…side-along?" Harry asked. "Two at a time?" Hermione added. "Sure." Ginny responded. "Sure." Ron said. "Here we go." Harry took her hand in his left, while gripping the Invisibility Cloak in his right pocket, and turned on the spot. "Oh, man!" Ron yelled. They all regretted their decision immediately. They were certain they were in the right spot because they had been so focused on their destination for the last week, but no one thought about the weather being different, or how dark it would be east of them. "Hermione!" "Hold on!" They were all yelling because it was slightly difficult to see each other in the darkness, and to make matters worse, there was a howling wind and driving rain. All four of them had their arms over their faces, trying to huddle together to talk. In a single moment, all Harry could hear was Hermione yelling something, and a flash of a wand flying in front of his face. Suddenly, they were all holding muggle umbrellas, but they were slightly heavier than normal ones, and Harry appreciated Hermione conjuring something that could withstand the wind as well. Also, everything sounded a little softer than it had seconds before. "What did you do?" "Conjuring and silencing charms." She said matter-of-factly. "You can silence the wind?" Ron was impressed.

"No, of course not. But you can silence a small area. It's almost like using a bubble-head charm to breathe underwater. I just wanted to be able to hear you three." "Whatever, nice work." Harry didn't care. Now that they were a little calmer, the four of them looked to the north to see a very imposing sight, which Harry had seen once before in Voldemort's mind. It was a rectangular, towering, jet-black building that reached into the very rain, and clouds, itself. The roar of the wind seemed to avoid the building, as if touching it would somehow be toxic to the air. The rain even battered off of the prison as if some invisible barrier wouldn't allow something as natural and filthy as water to share its space. Harry didn't want to move. He was always impressed by what wizards could create, and the darker side, like the prison that Grindelwald would create himself, was amazing, even if it was twisted. As they finally began walking up the sharp pebbled road, Harry eyes went even further skyward to see a single tower that rose above the black mass. There wasn't a single window, a single opening, and Harry wondered how he would feel once he stepped inside a place so obviously full of malice and malevolence. The prison grew taller and taller until finally his neck was craned directly upwards, as the foursome reached the door. He then looked ahead to see Ron using the enormous obsidian knocker. Boom, boom, boom! The knocking seemed to reverberate throughout the stone structure and then return to their own ears ten times as loud. The next moment, all four of them could feel the sensation that came next. It felt like the door was reaching out with an invisible sheet and wiping them with it. It felt like something was making its way from his head all the down his robes to his feet. Harry recovered from the resounding noise and strange scan just in time to see the writing above the wall change from German to English: For the Greater Good Harry remembered everything that had been said about Dumbledore and Grindelwald's plan to eradicate the muggles. Obviously, Albus had learned his lesson, but Harry took a bit of savage pride in the fact that Gellert Grindelwald had been imprisoned in this very place for over fifty years for the 'greater good' of wizarding kind. Of course now, he almost wished that Voldemort hadn't killed him so they could question him, but that was neither here nor there. Suddenly, the doors opened, and Harry was surprised by how large they were. Looking back once again out into the pitch black darkness and pouring rain, Harry then found Ginny's hand, held onto it, and entered the prison behind his other friends. Feeling a little more worried than he thought he would when enterin g Nurmengard, they all reassured each other. Harry, still remembering the foreboding and forbidding feeling this structure gave him, he walked in front of his friends a few paces before all four of them drew their wands and pointed them at the figure that had suddenly appeared. "…To the future, the undiscovered country…" -Shakespeare October 31st, 1981 "Who are you?" Harry yelled. His voice echoed off the walls, giving this place an even more drastic presence. Training his wand even sharper on the man's chest, he repeated his question. "WHO ARE YOU?" Harry didn't take his eyes off the newcomer. He was wearing a thick, black traveling cloak with his hood up. The contrast from the lightning outside hitting this dark character was a little frightening but Harry knew his friends would to look him for leadership, so he never moved his eyes or his wand. Finally, Ron said what the others must have been thinking. "What are we doing, Harry?" "Hold on." He whispered back. He felt like he was back in the Department of Mysteries, leading his friends into complete uncertainty, while standing firm against unknown attackers. "Answer my question." "That is not a good idea." He finally spoke. It was definitely a German accent. Why wasn't Harry just stunning him where he stood? Had Albus' preaching about second chances and mercy actually gotten through to him? Harry could feel his wand dropping a bit, but he caught himself and raised it back to aim at the man's chest. "Show yourself. Step out of the shadows." Harry always though that if you could get people to talk, it was better than nothing. "Very well." Again, a thick German accent spoke into the night through the cracking thunder and slashing light. A moment later, he took two steps forwards as the moonlight began illuminating the figure from the ground up. "Is this better?" Harry was instantly confused. He was, indeed, a young man, but with features and a build that made him look and sound much older. "How old are you?" Harry accidentally spoke aloud.

"Twenty years." The scars on his face reminded Harry of Mad-Eye, and after answering the question, his mouth twisted into a wry smile that made Harry think this guy had been into a few too many battles in a young life himself. "Why do you ask?" "Just popped into my mind." "Thinking out loud? Well, it is often the easiest way to find out what you are wondering about." That sounded way too much like something Albus would say to be a coincidence. "So why is it not a good idea for me to know who you are." "Only my opinion. I assume you have come here for information on the famous former inmate." He saw all their looks of surprise. "That is the only reason anyone from the UK would visit this place. In fact, I'm sure you are aware that someone did exactly that a year ago." "Voldemort." "You speak the name?" He stepped a few feet closer. Harry clinched his now lowered wand once again. "Yes. I speak it." Harry was completely confused. He was talking as if in awe of this man before him, who only had a couple years age on himself. Why should he be worried. Voldemort hadn't scared him anymore than this. "Now answer one of my questions…who are you?" "My name?" "That's a start." Ginny spoke for the first time. Her fiery impatience was getting the best of her. Perhaps she could sense Harry's own feelings and began to become concerned. "Very well." He lowered his hood to reveal a mop of hair so dirty and oily it actually maintained a sort of ominous shine to it, as if to give its owner both an elegant and experienced look simultaneously. "My name is Albert Speer." This meant nothing to the foursome. "Well, my full name is Albert Wulfric Speer. I had to maintain at least one other family name apparently." "Albus…" Harry was speaking without intent again. "So who are you?" "I'm glad you understand that you can ask that question many times and receive a different answer each time, even though all may be truthful." Again, it sounded like something his old mentor would have said. And now this guy shared one of his middle names? "Your former headmaster met some very unsavory characters in his travels into eastern Europe. One of those was Grindelwald himself, but there were others. My great-grandfather, for example, was a wizard who worked side-by-side with one of the most evil muggles of all time. Ashamed of everything he had done, he didn't even try to escape once captured by the muggle Americans. There were Hit Wizards in attendance at the Nuremberg trials, of course, just to make sure, but if you follow someone like Hitler or Voldemort long enough, you'll eventually see the error of your own ways." Hermione came to the rescue and gave everyone else a quick history lesson. Harry didn't need it as much as Ron and Ginny, but it was helpful anyways. "But where does Albus…" "The Speers were, as you call it, a pureblood family from centuries past. My understanding is that his mother, Kendra, had not been completely truthful about her," he paused, " 'haughty' as one of your reporters put it?" he paused again, "time before settling down with Percival Dumbledore." "What?" Ron was, as always, a little slower on the uptake. "Your headmaster's mother had been married once before. To my great-great-grandfather." "But what does that have to do with anything?" "Albus Dumbledore, as you well know, was an incredible man. Between the time he graduated school and went back in order to teach, he learned as much about his family as he could. He felt as if he had burned too many bridges with his only brother, his sister and mother had died, and his father was in prison. He became obsessed, after Gellert's imprisonment, to find people close to him that would not turn away. I believe he was extremely close even to you?" He looked at Harry with that scarred face that had become less and less frightening, and more and more comforting. Albert had clearly gone through a similar childhood as Harry, and empathy was the only viable response to such a realization. "Yes. We still are."

"Well, as you can imagine, when he put together the first marriage of his mother, he started searching for his 'half family.' He contacted me after I began attending Durmstrang. I didn't want to hear anything about his views of 'love' and 'sacrifice,' but something had already happened that made me change my ways." "What was it?" Hermione asked the obvious question. As always, she felt like she was being taught about history and needed to memorize everything. "Voldemort tried to recruit my parents. He came one night, when I was still an infant, and tortured my father, who finally gave in, thinking his sacrifice would save his family. He then turned to my mother, who covered me." Harry had instant flashbacks to his own story. This sounded eerily similar. His compassion grew once again for his newfound contemporary. "She cursed my father for joining an evil man and spat in Voldemort's face." "Wow." Ron was impressed apparently. "He told her he would kill me if she didn't join. She refused, he trained his wand onto me, and she jumped in front of the curse. After that, he always used the threat of killing me as a motivation for my father to serve him." Harry could see all the parallels, and felt frustrated with Albus once again for concealing information from him. "What happened to him?" "He died. I was brought up in an orphanage before attending school. Dumbledore found me during school, showed me the memories he had extracted from my father before his death, and I immediately felt remorse for my infatuation with the Dark Arts." "Why didn't you come to Hogwarts?" "Dumbledore thought it would have been too obvious to Voldemort, if he ever returned. And besides, there was already another story circulating of a similar event that made me stay away from that school, though I stayed in contact with Albus." "The night my parents died?" Harry asked plainly. "Yes. Dumbledore is a strange man, but I think he knew that you and I would meet one day. It was under his suggestion that I should come to Nurmengard and tend to the prison. He knew you would come here eventually. I think he wanted me to tell you that story." "But why?" "I'm not sure. But I have thought about this meeting for many years, and especially since Voldemort's downfall. I should congratulate you, but I see you are distressed by something even more fearsome than a Dark Wizard." "I am." "It is not my place to ask. However, I received a letter from Dumbledore almost three years ago telling me that I should tell you that very story, in case we ever met. I have done my part in this tale. I must return to my duties." "Which are?" Ron retorted. "My scars should show you that tending to the prison is no easy feat. If we just kept wizards and witches in here now, it would be easy, but the creatures can be a handful, too." Ron looked as if he wanted to go inside and see all the rare, dangerous animals that Hagrid would dream of owning as pets, but Hermione held him back. "Can you three wait outside for a second?" Harry turned to Hermione, Ron, and Ginny. They all nodded, and he turned back to Albert. "Why do you think we were meant to meet?" "Our stories are similar, but in beginning only. I would ask Albus about it if you are able." Harry nodded. "Good luck. And if you ever need help, a Patronus will find me." He slowly retreated, without turning, back into the darkness as if death awaited him. Harry was ok to leave. He already knew what he wanted to ask the old headmaster. He already knew what that story had meant. He already knew how much he wanted to yell and scream at the old man. He already knew he wanted to yell at himself. How could he have thought he was the only one? How could he have thought that Lily was the only one? "Harry, what is it?" Ginny looked worried. Harry assumed he wasn't hiding his emotions very well. "Nothing, we need to go back to the castle."

"But shouldn't we–" "NOW, Hermione!" Harry was growing more and more furious. He yanked Ginny's hand much harder than he should have and spun on the spot, reveling in the crisp summer air of the Hogwarts grounds. Harry could still feel the hurt and anguish inside of him. None of his friends, even Ginny, could understand what he was going through right now. He left the other three and sprinted to the front doors. He didn't look back once as he blasted into the castle, ran up flights of stairs and through a few secret passageways, and finally jumped between the gargoyles that were doing their best to spring aside. A few seconds later (not bothering to knock) he was inside the office and staring past a frightened Minerva to the portrait over her left shoulder. "Harry!" "WAKE UP!" He yelled at Albus. "Harry. What is it?" "I'm sorry!" He was still using a raised voice. "But I need to talk to him alone and I need you to keep Hermione, Ron, and Ginny from coming in here." "Very well." She eased out of the room as if Harry would attack her if she moved too quickly. "Why do you always do this to me?" "What are you referring to?" The half-moon spectacles twinkled as they always did, even inside the portrait. "The night my parents died! You know what really happened!" "You've finally spoken to Albert?" "LIKE THAT! What the hell! Why do I have to figure out everything on my own when someone I thought cared about me could have just told me?" "How much do you assume you know now?" "A LOT!" Harry's chest was rising and falling, he could feel his heart beating rapidly, and his voice was only just starting to calm down. "So I think you owe me. I'm going to ask you questions, and you HAVE to tell me the truth!" "That is fair." "How did I survive the Killing Curse?" "Straight to the point? Well, and I'm being completely honest right now, Harry, I only have a theory." "Is it one of those theories that always turns out to be right?" He replied with a sarcastic tone. "As always, I can only offer my wisdom and ideas." "Ok, so you think you're right, which pretty much means that you are. So let's start at the beginning…why didn't you tell me how I really survived that night?" "If I had told you, especially at an early age, you would have gone looking for the same power that saved you, and you might have tried to use it to perform illicit and dangerous magic involving love, the dead, and immortality." "You're talking about temptation?" "Correct." "So you thought I would make bad decisions if you had told me the truth?" Harry was finally using a calm voice. "I never wanted to change your perception of that night. I wanted you to cling to your parents' love, to the idea that there were things worth fighting for in this world, no matter how bad it got for you personally."

"But even if that were true, I still would have loved my parents. I found out how mean my dad was to Snape and other people when they were in school, and I still loved him." "I know Harry. But let's imagine that conversation after you had kept Quirrel from the stone…" Harry closed his eyes and put himself mentally back into the hospital wing, bandages adorning his body and presents decorating the foot of his bed. He could see how young he looked, smiled for a second, and then remembered the intimidating presence of Albus striding into the room and dismissing Madame Pomfrey. He opened his eyes again and looked at the portrait. "Ok." "You asked me how you survived when you were a baby and I told you your mother sacrificed herself for you." "Yeah…" "Let's assume we deviate from the past at that point. Let's say I told you that one of your teachers was in love with your mother for most of her life. Let's say that I told you he may have been in possession of the most powerful potion in the world. Let's say I told you that I thought he may have used it on your mother for an unknown reason. And let's say that I thought that was the reason you survived." "I wouldn't have been able to handle any of that." Harry was being honest. "You can see now, though? Husbands, wives, and parents have sacrificed themselves for their loved ones for centuries, even millennia. Why then have their sacrifices not yielded similar results?" Harry was thinking about what he had first thought when he left Albert earlier. Other mothers had tried to protect their children, and Voldemort had killed their children, too. If he had gone after Neville that night instead of himself, even if Mrs. Longbottom had done something, Neville would have died. Harry didn't survive because his mother sacrificed herself for him, there was someth ing else going on. "The Otseptine…" "Yes, Harry. That is my theory. You are the only person to survive the Killing Curse. The second time was because of the strange bond between you and Voldemort, his unintentional Horcrux, and even the Elder Wand. The first time however, was the Otseptine's power to seal the enchantment of sacrifice in a much more powerful way. The same way the Dursleys house only protected you because of your mother's blood AND sacrifice, you survived Avada Kedavra because the Otseptine was in conjunction with the sacrifice." "I can't believe it." "I know that you can. But only after all that you have seen, after all you have accomplished, and after everything you have learned. This moment was when you could handle the truth, not before. I know you have asked me to tell you everything on more than one occasion, but you must understand that I have never done anything without your best interests at heart, and as we have discussed before, I have admittedly been wrong to do so before." "Do you think that's why Snape gave her some of the potion?" "Actually, no. I think he thought it would bring them together, and take her away from James." "That sounds like Merope Gaunt enchanting Tom Riddle, Sr." "EXACTLY!" Albus was pleased. "People like Snape and Merope, and indeed all who have become truly cynical in this world, are actually the most hopelessly romantic. They dream of something that seems impossible, because the world has given them no reason to believe in themselves and their own worth." "That's so sad." Harry was getting choked up. He always hated not knowing just how important Snape had been in his life. "You must remember that Snape sacrificed his own feelings for your mother, and in doing so he used the Otseptine instead. He even tried to get Voldemort to spare her. That offered her the opportunity to sacrifice herself." "Too many have sacrificed themselves for me..." He was thinking out loud yet again. "There is a biblical verse, Harry…'No greater love hath that than a man give up his life for another.' Indeed, the greatest sacrifice in history was, if you believe, God sacrificing his own son to save others from an eternal death. Snape and others gave up many things to arm you to defeat Voldemort, so that in turn, you could save others from a mortal death."

"Whoa…" Harry was starting to break down a bit. "I am truly sorry to have changed your perception of that night, Harry." "It's ok. I just never even allowed myself to think that your explanation wasn't the truth." He sniffled a little and wiped his nose on his robes. "When the cynical make that turn away from despair and towards hope…When a moment comes that breaks them to the very core, then and only then can they be truly happy with themselves and find happiness with another. Snape's remorse over your mother's death allowed him to protect you all those years. Merope's remorse allowed her to stay alive to birth her son, knowing deep down the effort would kill her." "How did you live knowing all of these things?" Harry thought that all that knowledge would make him break down on a daily basis. "The more I experienced, as we have discussed before, the more I valued each day." "Yeah." "Always remember Harry," he paused, "there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom." "You're worried about me now…" He could feel Albus' eyes piercing his own. "You will be inclined to use that vial you have hidden away somewhere, and I must implore you to see that no one, not even me, can even begin to guess at the consequences of your actions." "But it will protect Ginny! The Otseptine could save her life!" "You don't know that. Snape actually saved your life by giving it to Lily." "Sometimes I hate magic." "That is one of the wisest things you have ever said." "What?" "When you can discern between a power that corrupts and a power that saves, you will be truly wise. 'Magic is Might' was an incredibly uninformed propaganda that cost lives. Wisdom is might. Mercy and compassion are weapons. Trust and faith are the strongest castles a man can build." And Harry finally understood. "You of all people know Harry, that everything happens for a reason, even if you can't see it. Have faith that everything will work out exactly as it is supposed to, and your sacrifices in the here and now will always bear loving fruit." "Thank you, Albus." "It is my pleasure, Harry. And now, I'm happy to tell you," he smiled, "that you will not ever have to accuse me of lying to you ever again." Harry nodded and left. He walked slowly down the stairs and off towards the common room. When he got through the portrait hole, he assumed he would find Ginny waiting for him on the couch, but upon arrival, he saw that Ron and Hermione were there too, and they were clearly waiting for him. "What's up?" "Someone is trying to sell Cedrella!" "And even if I say…it'll be alright! Still I hear you say you want to end your life!

Now and again we try to just stay alive! Maybe we'll turn it all around 'Cause it's not too late, it's never too late…" -3 Days Grace Bargaining "What?" Harry replied. "Yeah. It was in the Evening Prophet. Look." Ron thrust the paper at him which was already opened to the third page. There was a small picture of a hooded figure with a snowy owl perched, rather angrily, on its shoulder. Harry read the captions quickly to see that the person was claiming to have a pure snowy owl in their possession which they would be willing to auction off to the highest bidder, along with numerous other objects that were to be auctioned at the same time. Harry re-read parts of it a few times before setting it down on the coffee table and taking a seat in the armchair by the fire. He did some more quick thinking before speaking. "It's gotta be a trap." "We know." Hermione retorted quickly. Harry was a little surprised at first, but apparently they were just waiting for him to catch up with their own logic. "The question is what do we do about it?" "Well…" Harry's mind, still fresh from revelations about sacrifice and love, potions and death, went back into overdrive. "The person that has her won't kill her. He needs all three daughters. And he won't sell it either. Why even have the auction? What if someone shows up willing to pay a huge sum of money for her? Would he actually give her to him? Make some money and then kill the buyer the next day?" "He could do that for awhile…" Hermione seemed worried. "That's the point. He knows that I won't let that happen…" Harry's inner monologue was escaping his lips again. "We." Ginny spoke softly. "What?" Harry snapped. "We won't let that happen, remember?" "Of course, sorry, I was just thinking out loud." He shook off the momentary guilt and returned to planning. "So, at least we know it's a trap. Praetoria isn't going anywhere, so he can't get his hands on her without attacking Hogwarts again. That means that he assumes that Ginny will come with me to get Cedrella…" The foursome all looked around at each other. Were they really discussing Ginny's safety? "Maybe she should just…" "No, Hermione. I'm not hiding!" Ginny's fire was threatening to explode. "We all keep reminding each other about how we're in this together and we're willing to do whatever it takes to keep each other safe. Everyone hold up your left hand." Confused, everyone in the room did as she asked. "Those little strips of metal around your fourth finger mean that we support each other." "There's a difference between protection and – " Harry tried to interrupt, but was interrupted himself. "Don't say it Harry! Mr. 'I wanted to kill myself for my friends, but no one is allowed to do that for me!' How many times do I have to tell you that fighting by your side for what we both believe in is the only way to do things? There will be no hiding, no sheltering." Hagrid's words came back to him. 'What will come will come, and we'll meet it when it does.' "Gin. I'm not going to ask you, and I'm not going to stop you either, ok?" "Then it's settled, we're all going." Harry breathed a heavy sigh before speaking. "So when and where is this thing?"

"Tomorrow. Diagon Alley." Ron said with a kind of ominous finality. They all slept badly that night, but no one worse than Harry. He had horrible images of Ginny's body lying in the Chamber of Secrets or hearing her screams from some unknown dungeon, filled with chains and shadows. Multiple times he awoke with a cold sweat, reminiscent of his nightmares about Voldemort. In fact, this felt like events he had gone through before. Whenever a dangerous task was approaching, or a certain meeting with Voldemort came near, Harry always imagined the worse-case scenario, never the best-case. It was just human nature to think about how horribly wrong things could go, and sometimes Harry even thought that thinking like that was the reason things did end up that way. Nevertheless, the sun rose on a crisp, June day, and the foursome got showered and dressed before meeting up for breakfast, which was a subdued affair. They had no plan. The only preparations they had made were that Ron and Hermione would stick together and keep an eye out for any accomplices while Harry and Ginny moved through the crowd slowly to get to the evil man behind this plot. Harry, of course, brought one item with him that the others didn't know about. He was not going to let anything happen to her. After their meal ended in total silence, they walked up to the staff table, told Professor McGonagall that they had to leave for the day, and then walked back down past the house tables, being stared at by everyone, and exiting the castle. They walked down the sloping lawns, still in silence, until they had reached the gates to the grounds, turned on the spot, and found themselves standing outside of the Leaky Cauldron. Once there was the hustle and bustle of the city around them, they seemed to remember that speaking was allowed. Ron made a quick joke, once inside the bar, about a passing hag, which garnered laughs from the other three, returning them to some sense of normalcy. A few steps later, however, once they were through the alleyway and under the arch, they saw that Diagon Alley had even changed for the occasion. It was still the bright, twisting road that reminded Harry of all the good in the wizarding world, but this time there was a definite air of excitement and anxiety hanging over the crowded front doors and narrow street. After a few more minutes of walking through the crowds, they saw that a platform had been set up very near the Prophet's branch office. And there, in the middle of the platform, was a cage holding Cedrella. Harry looked to the others to make sure none of them were going to move to quickly (because he wanted to do exactly that). Instead, he pointed with two fingers at Hermione, signaling them to start taking up their positions to find an accomplice. "Everything's going to be ok, Harry." Ginny squeezed his hand a little harder than usual. "I know." He said confidently, but there was something different in her eyes when he looked at her. "Are you alright?" "I'm fine." He saw it again. She looked like she was resigned to a certain fate, but Harry couldn't understand why. "Let's just finish this." "Ok." After a few more moments, the crowds began to converge even more heavily on the area in front of the platform, and a man was soon striding up the steps on the left side to greet them all. "Welcome! Ever since the Minister enacted his tax program of donation and auction this past fall, wizards and witches have come from far and wide to raise money for the rebuilding effort since the fall of You-Know-Who." "They still can't say his name…" Harry muttered. "As you may or may not be aware, the Ministry has raised over a million galleons from the campaign, and many of the oldest wizarding establishments have been restored to their former beauty." This was definitely not their guy. It was just some Ministry spokesperson. "And here to introduce some of our generous contributors today is none other than one of the most giving men in our nation, Lucius Malfoy!" There was a grand applause for the former Death Eater, but Harry and Ginny were still keeping their eyes on everything BUT the auction. However, when he stole a glance at his new ally, he could see that Lucius was looking directly at him, and then the blonde wizard did something peculiar. He began nodding his eyebrows and eyeballs in different directions as if to tell Harry to look out all around him. He appreciated the gesture, and hoped if something did happen, that Lucius would help out. "Thank you, Mr. Murphy," Lucius paused at his name, possibly because he was a muggle-born and there were some habits that were hard to break, "and thank you to all who have turned out. This is sure to be one of the greater days of the ongoing auctions. There will be several items up for bid today, and we hope by the end of it to have raised enough money to finally get St. Mungo's back in perfect order!" There was another tremendous round of applause for the quick speech, at which time, Lucius got down from the platform and walked straight towards Harry. Up until then, no one had noticed that the Boy-who-Lived was even in the crowd, but now all eyes had been trained on him and the wealthy Malfoy next to him. There were a few attempts at pictures, but Lucius raised his hand which calmed the would be photographers from claiming their prize. "Nice speech."

"Thank you, the shorter the better. You think the man will be here with the owl?" "I have no idea. But it smells like a trap, and I figured I'd show up, see if I can catch the guy without anything else happening." At that point, Lucius grabbed his arm lightly and moved him slightly to one side, so that Ginny would now be able to hear them. "Do you think it wise to have brought her?" "No, I don't, but trust me, don't get her started. You'll need that St. Mungo's refit if you do." "Very well." The cold, drawling voice returned at this point, but he gave Harry a nod of confidence that he would help in any way that he could, and then he too made his way back into the crowd in order to search for any possible wrongdoers. Harry's attention now went back to the platform, where the Ministry spokesperson was now bandying on about generous donations and worthy causes; none of which concerned Harry at the moment. He instead looked at his wife, and saw that she was now more concentrated than ever. He squeezed her hand, as if reminding her that he wouldn't let anything happen to her, but just returned his gesture with a squeeze of her own, as if to say, 'don't worry about me.' It scared Harry half to death. Putting off a just a bad sign, or maybe he was looking for the worst-case scenario again, he redoubled his efforts to find someone who looked German. He had definitely settled on that fact. It had to be someone who had had some kind of contact with Grindelwald. The only other attribute they had to go off of was that he was an Animagus, in Harry's opinion, and so the four of them were on the look out for any animals behaving like humans (like Sirius had always had a knack for doing). And so it began, there were a number of items up for bid before Cedrella, who appeared to be the last 'item' on the list, and Harry was starting to grow complacent. The auctions went on and on with haughty and exclusive looking people bidding thousands and thousands of galleons on things they would never use and only look at a few times in the rest of their lives. And the tedium was starting to wear on his senses as well. Every few seconds, he could swear that he heard the grumble of a large animal or the swish of a clandestine cloak. He was jerking his head every which way every few seconds, and finally Ginny had to remind him that the person was going to have to show themselves sooner or later. "All the previous owners have come up to the platform when their item is being bid on, so we'll get to see him." Harry wanted to agree, but he was sure to send someone else in his place, as to not draw Harry's attention to him (or draw the wrath of his wand, either). Finally, after almost an hour, the auction was coming to a close. "And now, possibly the RAREST item we have seen all year, a pure snowy owl!" The crowd roared, but Harry wasn't looking ahead, he was looking around for something, anything to make him suspicious. It was the first time in his life that he wanted to find a problem, that he needed to be in trouble, and it was all to save an owl he didn't know less than a year ago. Shaking off that particular thought, he looked sideways at Ginny, who was starting to walk forward very slowly. "Gin? What is it?" She wasn't responding. Her eyes were squinting, as if something in her distant vision would become clearer to her. He started walking after her. "What is it? Talk to me!" He wasn't shouting because he didn't want to draw attention to himself, but he was worried nonetheless. She seemed to be drifting forward of her own accord, and she would never disregard him if he needed her. Something was wrong. Finally, she turned around and looked him in the eyes. It was the second time in that Alley that he was scared. Her eyes looked dejected and empty, as if she had given up on something. He saw her take her wand out of her pocket, holding it at her side, and then she turned and walked towards the front again. Harry vaguely heard the announcer say, "…Mr. Wulfric has always been a contributor…" but he was more interested in what was making his wife act so strangely. She must be under a spell, he thought. Finally, throwing caution to the wind, he cried for help. "Ron! Hermione!" He spotted his friends hanging on a lamppost outside the Prophet building. They saw him instantly, and he pointed at Ginny. They sprang off their perch and started pushing through the crowd as Harry did the same. Now he could hear the bidding beginning, and he was pleased to hear Lucius' voice among some of the others. Fighting through another group of tightly packed witches, he saw what she was looking at. There was a man, almost completely hooded except for a pair of starkly yellow eyes set against the shadows of his own face. Harry had enough experience with dark wizards to know that this was not a coincidence. Whoever this man was, he was the true thief of Cedrella, the true enemy of Harry's world, and the person drawing his wife, his love, away from Harry and towards himself. "NO!" Harry's yell startled the crowd. People began hushing and looking around for the source of the noise. "Harry Potter!" "Harry Potter?"

"What's he doing?" There were shouts and whispers alike coming from all around him, but he paid them no heed. He was only trying, desperately to move people out of the way, but the second everyone saw that he was there, the crowd moved in around him even worse. He decided that drastic times called for drastic measures. Pulling his wand high in the air, many of the patrons around him immediately hit the ground in fear of what he might do. "Ginny!" After a few more seconds, that seemed to last a week, the crowd at the front of the platform had parted enough for him to see Ginny standing in an open area, only several yards away from the hooded man with the yellow eyes. "Give us the owl." Ginny said calmly. Harry could see that Ron and Hermione had finally gotten to the edge of this strange showdown. He gave them both knowing looks not to do anything. Harry himself didn't know what he was going to do. Ginny seemed to be acting rationally, even if not normally. "No." The man replied with the hint of a hiss in his voice. He sounded old, definitely the accent they were looking for, but when he replied to Ginny's demand, three other hooded wizards came into view and stood in front of him. Harry took that as a cue to stop being secretive. He walked out into the open area, gesturing Ron and Hermione to do the same so that there were now four wizards on each side, all with wands drawn, only Ginny and the hooded man had their wands by their sides. "Gin…" Harry whispered, trying to elicit some reaction. "It's ok, Harry." She turned back to the man and slowly raised her wand to her own temple. "Ginny!" Hermione squeaked. Harry thought he could feel his heart disappear from his chest. "Give us the owl, or you will never be able to have me." She stood up straight, and Harry was not the only one who could feel the power emanating from her body. Harry could see her glowing the way he had only once before, and he didn't know what to do. "You would sacrifice yourself?" "Of course. I have something worth dying for. I assume that you don't, or you wouldn't be trying to do this." Ginny said confidently. "The problem is," he drew a raspy breath, "that no one, on either side, wants to see you die. It puts you in a strange bargaining position." "The only thing you need to worry about is how you will never be able to have all Three Daughters." Perhaps Ginny shouldn't have been talking about this in front of so many people (though most had retreated to inside the shops), but Harry didn't care about secrecy right now. Instead, he looked towards Ron and Hermione and mouthed a few words to them. They seemed to understand, and Harry prepared himself for the dumbest thing he had ever done. "You act as if a life with me would be some kind of prison. I would treat you the way you deserve to be treated. The seventh of seven, the Fiery Daughter. You are a princess among subjects. Even now, you can feel your power flowing through you. Why not explore those abilities and push the boundaries of magic farther than even Dumbledore or Voldemort?" Ginny faltered for a second. It wasn't like she was contemplating his proposal, more like she wanted to respond correctly. "I don't love you. I don't want to be with you." "Those things can be learned…or taught." "No, they can't." Ginny's anger was starting to surface, and it scared Harry again. The next moment, he signaled Ron and Hermione and everything went haywire. "Stupefy! Stupefy!" "Expelliarmus!" "Reducto! Accio Cedrella!" "Avada Kedavra! Sectusempra!" "Stupefy!"

There were more and more spells being yelled into the air than Harry could count, but all he knew was that he was holding Cedrella in his arms. Ron was tending to a wounded Hermione, but she seemed to be ok, while Lucius Malfoy was walking around where the others had been standing. After a bit of dust and smoke cleared, Harry could see that the three 'bodyguards' were all dead, but that the yellow-eyed man was gone. And then, he felt like his stomach was sinking through his body, he began looking for Ginny. "Ginny?" He spun on the spot, looking for any sign of her. "Ginny!" Harry cried out, falling to his knees. Even Ron looked up for a moment, dumbfounded. "GINNY!" And he crumpled to the ground, his mind completely blank. "Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city." -Proverbs 16:32 Wulfric Speer "Hello, Harry Potter." It was that same voice from the street! But where am I? Harry thought. "Hello. What's going on?" "I'm inside your mind. Rumor had it that this was not one of your stronger areas of magic. In fact, I knew you were attacking moments before you did. My associates were not so quick as I, and they fell, but rest assured that your friends have already removed the owl back to your school." "Where's Ginny?" Harry yelled in his own mind. "She is safe. She is right next to me." Harry started thinking about what was going on, and got a visual of Ginny being beside someone, and a thought came to him. "Wait. Eye contact is necessary for this to be happening. You're still in Diagon Alley." "Not necessarily. You and the Dark Lord never needed eye contact." "But you and I have never been through anything like that. Where are you? Coward! Show yourself to me!" Harry was furious. He could feel that this man was still close by. "Let us speak like gentlemen, Harry. The honor of battle was lost many generations ago, but the chivalry has survived by the smallest of margins…let us speak like the warriors of old…" "Ok. Where are you?" Harry calmed his voice. "Across the Alley, under an Invisibility Cloak. Your wife is stunned but very much alive. Now, answer one of my questions: What would you give up for Ginny?" "Everything." He answered too quickly. It was simply the first thing that came to his mind, but he realized instantly that he had given up his negotiating position by putting such a high value on her. "You would give up the other two daughters? Your friends? Your future family? You would give up everything?" "No." He corrected himself. "Much better. Anyone who thinks that way has suffered the weakness of love without any of its strengths." "Don't talk to me about Ginny and I! We love each other, we always will, and nothing you can say or do will change that!"

"Fine." "My turn to ask a question: What do you want?" "Straight to the point? Very well. I want Cedrella and Praetoria. I want you to stop with this foolish and noble quest to deny others their own quest for immortality. Who are you to decide what others are allowed to do with their lives? Who appointed you as Guardian of the Wizarding Public? I am not looking for power or the subjection of an entire people. I am not a monster or a warlord. So I ask you again, who are you to decide what I do with my life? Who made you the judge, jury, and executioner?" "I'm not any of those things. You just see me that way because I'm standing in the way of your own personal goals. I don't police everyone, but I will stand in the way of anyone that tries to keep me away from Ginny, away from love, and away from the person that makes me better than I am." "Nice excuse." "I'm serious. If I truly wanted to save Ginny forever, I would have killed the owl or the centaur! You would have no reason to want Ginny after one of the other Daughters were dead." "Good point. And why haven't you?" "I'm not gonna kill someone who is innocent. You on the other hand…" "Don't make threats you can't keep, otherwise I would never believe you again." "Why don't you come out of hiding and we'll see how idle that threat was?" "Not yet. Soon perhaps, but not now." And with that, Harry felt as if his brain was pulled forward in his head and then snapped back. The next second, he was opening his eyes to find himself kneeling over in the middle of Diagon Alley, the bright sun shining down upon him, and Ron and Hermione rushing over to him, yelling something incoherent to the surrounding onlookers. Before he could move, he heard a loud Pop! And then looked around, knowing that Ginny had just been Apparated away with her captor. "How do you track an Apparation?" He was speaking weakly to Hermione, who had just come fully into focus. "What?" "Someone just Apparated from right over there!" He pointed towards the steps leading to the Prophet offices. "How do you follow them?" "We can't anymore. If we had known when it happened." "It JUST happened!" Harry was yelling again. "It's ok, mate. We'll find her! He won't hurt her! I promise." Ron was trying to calm him down, but nothing would work right now. Finally, they calmed him down enough to Apparate back to Hogwarts, where he would get a chance to talk to Albus if he wanted to. The trip back was a blur to Harry, he didn't remember any of it, and indeed, it seemed like he had been taken back completely under the power of someone else. And once they were in the common room, it happened. Harry broke down in tears. He banished all the students from the room, threatening them with death or worse if they didn't leave him alone. He didn't know it, but Ron and Hermione did a good job of corralling all the frightened students up to the dormitories. Harry just couldn't believe that there was a possibility that he would never talk to her again. He just wanted to tell her that he loved her, that he was thinking about her, and that he would still be there for her whenever they got to see each other again. He was being honest with himself, and he really didn't need to hear that she loved him, he just didn't want her to feel alone. He just wished he could be a fly on the wall of whatever room she was being held in that would tell her how much Harry Potter loved her. And then, for the first time in his life, Harry started to pray. He didn't know who he was praying to, or why he was doing it, but he just needed to ask someone, or something, bigger than him for help. He prayed for only one thing: her safety. He didn't want to seem selfish about him seeing her again, and he found himself repeating the same words over and over, '…keep her safe…keep her safe…keep her safe…' He left the common room and returned to the Room of Requirement, where the nursery was waiting for him. He knew it was a horrible idea, but he just needed to remind himself why he was going through all these horrible times. There was so much suffering

in his life, and indeed the world, that so many had become cynical and evil. Harry learned more and more everyday that certain events and suffering always had a greater purpose, even if that purpose was solely to make a man stronger or more prepared for future suffering. As he sat on the ground, watching baby James crawl slowly around the room that he and Ginny had certainly decorated together, his eyes begun to well up with tears. Was this future still possible? Would it all start dissolving around him the second that something happened to Ginny? He fought these fears, wiped his face clean, and took James into his arms. They sat up against the crib, slowly rocking back and forth until both father and son were snoring quietly. An onlooker would most definitely have commented that this was one of the most serene moments they had ever witnessed in the midst of such atrocious tragedy. He awoke the next day still in the Nursery. Assuming, but hopefully not arrogantly, that his friends were worried about him, he decided to head straight back to the common room where, indeed, Ron and Hermione were waiting for him, and only half as hysterical as he thought he would find them. "Someone wants to talk to you in McGonagall's office." Ron said plainly. "Albus?" Harry replied. "No, someone else. I think you better go see him." Hermione interjected with her own soft touch. "We're both so sorry, Harry." She added as he left the room once again and made the familiar trip up to the headmaster's office. "Hello, Harry." The drawling voice of Lucius Malfoy greeted him, and for the first time in his life, he was relieved to hear it. His wife, Narcissa, was also in attendance, though looking timid. "Lucius." It was still strange to call him that, but since first names showed a little respect in these places, Harry went with it. "What did you want to talk to me about?" "First of all, I am impressed with your ability to hide within the castle. I believe there were three separate patrols including Minerva and myself looking for you yesterday." "What else?" Impatience was creeping into the mix. "I don't know what happened to you after the skirmish, but unless I'm mistaken, someone broke into your mind." "Yeah…" Harry felt ashamed and exposed simultaneously. He didn't want other people to think he was weak, as Snape once had. "Did he tell you his name?" "No." "It is Wulfric Speer." He said as if everyone should have known that. "Whoa, wait a minute." Harry's dealings with coincidence were becoming a bit dramatic. He had Albus' middle name, Albert's last name, and the same name as some Nazi wizard? "Yes. And Mr. and Mrs. Weasley notified me that you met his son recently." What? "No, Albert told us his father died…" Harry trailed off. Albus told Albert that his father had died. Had he done it again? "I can see from your eyes that you are working out a truth that was hidden from you. Before you release yourself into a teenager's tantrum, let me assure you that Albus Dumbledore's lack of information sharing is the only reason that all of us are standing here today. If he had a reason to deceive this young man, as he has deceived you in the past, I would realize that it was probably the right thing to do." Harry agreed, begrudgingly. He wanted to lash out as Lucius had hinted at, but he had just spent the last day understanding why certain misdeeds to good people were completely and utterly necessary to the survival and happiness of others. "Ok, I assume the yellow eyes gave it away?" "After the Dark Lord's red eyes, they are most definitely a memorable trait."

"I know…" Harry agreed whole-heartedly. "But he seemed way too old to be Albert's dad. I mean, he's only twenty, and…" "The effects of prolonged use of the Polyjuice Potion." Lucius cut him off. Harry was starting to appreciate his knowledge on the subject of Dark Arts. It was definitely an asset. "You might ask yourself why someone wouldn't simply masquerade as another all the time in order to remain anonymous or break into a bank vault…" Harry didn't miss the snide comment, "…it is because use of the Polyjuice Potion, just like Felix Felicis or Amortentia, will always affect the user in a negative way if not taken sparingly." Harry remembered Slughorn's warning, 'too much of a good thing…' "So, how do you know him?" "Did Albert not tell you? He worked for the Dark Lord. We didn't all know each other, but my house was used on several occasions for meetings, and when I was introduced to him, I never forgot." "So what else do you know about him?" "Assuming he believes most of the Dark Lord's followers to be in prison or dead, he will most likely be using one of our old hideouts as a base of operations here in the UK, since he has needed to be on site for most of the year, attending and teaching classes, and plotting burglary attempts." "Harry," Narcissa finally spoke, "forgive my husband's cold speech. We will find this man. I promise." She looked like a mother in mourning, as if she had lost something yesterday, not Harry. "I'm always grateful that you told me about my son…" Harry didn't want to think about the Battle of Hogwarts, so he turned back to Lucius. "Ok…" Harry was waiting for him to say more, "…so where do you think he is?" "The last undiscovered stronghold of the Dark Lord's reign." Lucius was clearly pausing for dramatic effect. There was no reason to keep this information. "And it's where, I am certain, he is holding your wife." "And…?" Harry asked again, but Minerva intervened for the temporarily tongue-tied ex-Death Eater. "Harry." He turned to her, still impatiently thinking about all the time they were wasting when they could be setting out to this location and saving Ginny. "They call it the 'Maison de Mort." Narcissa translated. "The House of Death." And Minerva finished it off. "It's also called Voldemort's Castle." "…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I shall fear no evil, for you are with me…" -Psalms 23:4 Voldemort's Castle Harry went back to his room after the meeting with the Malfoys. Lucius has told him that attacking the castle today would be foolish due to the natural barriers to entry made by the owner's state of mind. Wulfric would certainly be on the alert less and less as time went by. Harry had countered this argument by saying that Ginny might be hurt, but Lucius agreed that waiting only one more day would be the prudent thing to do, and that he wouldn't go with Harry if he refused. Resigned that Lucius' knowledge of the castle would be paramount in a rescue attempt, he folded to that one demand and returned to his bed. He tried so desperately to turn his brain off, but images of Ginny danced and fell through his mind of their own accord. He constantly saw flashes of his wife's mangled body and the sound of her blood-curdling screams. After several hours of horrible sleep in which he was awake for the majority of the time, he finally got out of bed and dressed very expertly. He knew he was going to be visiting Voldemort's Castle, and he was going to arm himself to the teeth. He slipped the vial of Otseptine into his cloak's left pocket while placing the vial of Reptomore in his right pocket. His wand was stowed, not in his clothing, but clinched in his right hand. He still couldn't believe that he had sat around an entire night, but as he reassured himself over and over again, he didn't know where he was going, and if Lucius was refusing to go then Harry couldn't do anything about it. He just missed Ginny. He wanted to talk to her. Therefore, once he was up and dressed, he made quickly for Minerva's office where Albus' portrait, once again, was empty. However, Malfoy was already there, and to Harry's disappointment, Ron and Hermione. "What are you two doing here?"

"Harry, please. This time it's not just about being with you 'til the end. It's about Ginny. She's Ron's sister, my best friend, and your wife. We all care." Hermione was incredibly calm. Harry could still feel himself vibrating with a mixture of anxiety and rage. "Ok, well, let's get this show on the road. Lucius?" He turned to Malfoy. "Very well. If you three are ready…" "We are!" Harry responded quickly. "…Then follow me." They all left the office in complete silence. It continued through the castle and the grounds until they all held hands as a group. Lucius turned on the spot, and the three of them Side-Along Apparated with him into a very different terrain. There was no grass. There were no trees or mountains. There was no relief from the flat earth stretching in every direction. There was a tan dirt underneath their feet and it seemed to be the only thing to look at for miles around except for the only man-made object in the area. They were probably a few minutes of walking away from the structure, which made sense to Harry, because Voldemort was certain to have applied an Anti-Apparation ward around his castle. After the initial inspection of the surrounding area, the four of them finally took in the castle itself. It appeared that Tom Riddle wanted his own stronghold to be a sort of anti-Hogwarts. Whereas Nurmengard gained its entrants' fears through sheer height and darkness, Voldemort had been much more deliberate in his approach here. "He built it himself with the help of the Knights of Walpurgis, the forerunners to the Death Eaters." Lucius commented as they all continued walking along. Harry was waiting for the sign that he knew was going to come eventually. He also knew he shouldn't act before then… Hogwarts Castle had many turrets and towers and halls and corridors that were all of different height, different length, and sometimes different color. There were different parts of the grounds that housed Quidditch pitches and greenhouses, but here there was nothing but the castle. The dirt around it appeared like an old battlefield where the ground itself had been a part of some great destructive force. Even the castle, now that they were getting closer, looked like burnt pieces of charcoal had been fused together and made strong again. The entire landscape and architecture gave this place an air of death and destruction. The building itself was perfectly geometric. There was no dynamic to this place, no array of colors and styles. There were three ramparts and the three vertices of this triangular cylinder which stood no more than five or six stories tall. However, as if he felt obliged to add them, there were a few pieces on the front wall that had an obvious significance. Harry first thought foolishly of old gargoyles like the ones that guarded Albus' office and adorned old Renaissance period buildings. He remembered reading about them being sculpted there as protection from evil spirits, even though they themselves seemed to harbor ancient and magical torment inside. There were two of these sculptures above the front entrance. Each must have been ten feet tall hanging about twenty feet off the ground and as Harry recalled the snakes in the Chamber of Secrets, these 'things' seemed to be alive. With grotesque wings and undulating bodies that were neither reptilian or bird-like, the two protectors eyes were set with a bright yellow stone that was not as dark as gold but not as light as canaries, but altogether shimmering and frightening. Harry looked at the others as Lucius calmly raised his wand (whose ever wand it was), and muttered something underneath his own breath. Harry took offense to Malfoy keeping things from them until the two gargoyles sprung to life, surveyed the four of them, and then returned to their perches, and unless Harry was mistaken, they seemed to be a little calmer, though still again, than before. "Ok, they have granted us access." "They?" Ron was incredulous. "Voldemort's charms on this place were very strong, even with his death. There is an almost certain chance that Speer will not have been able to change much of the magic of this place, much the same as Hogwarts would not simply turn itself over to a new headmaster on a whim." "That's reassuring? That Voldemort is still in control?" Ron was still questioning him. "Yes." Harry answered. "If you know what's coming, it's much easier to control the situation." "Impressive, Potter." Lucius hissed. "Shut up. Let's just get on with it." His forgiveness of the ex-Death Eater had definitely been put on hold until Ginny's safe return.

After that quick snap, the four of them walked up to the front doors and pushed them open. There was no spell, no trap, and no feat of strength necessary to enter this castle, but Harry had expected this. The cave which he and Albus had visited was not guarded very well until you got to the potion guarding his Horcrux. Harry, therefore, assumed that this would be the case inside the castle itself. Tom Riddle always placed much more importance on single areas or single ideas instead of looking to balance his defenses and indeed his own life. Once the four of them were inside, the doors slammed shut behind them, plunging them into semi-darkness. "Lumos!" All four of them said simultaneously. Instantly, they could see around the entrance chamber. Harry was trying his best to concentrate on something other than Ginny in pain, still waiting for the signal from his wand, and hoping that he would be able to find secret entrances the same way Albus could. Of course, he thought, Lucius probably knows most of the secrets, at least enough to help. Harry, with the hall now illuminated, looked to his right and saw a corridor lead off for about fifty yards. He then looked to his left and saw a matching hallway. As much as he didn't want to say the words that came to him in that moment, they had no other choice. "Let's split up." "No, Harry. He's not going to do anything to her. He needs her alive, and so we should stick together and find her as a group, much stronger than on our own." Hermione objected to the plan, but seemed to be working out some problem she had been given about the castle at the same time. "Harry is right." Lucius answered. "This castle is a maze to any unwanted visitors. And I'm not talking about a physical maze." He added seeing Ron's mouth opening. "The corridors themselves shift as you walk along them. One second you'll be walking west and without even knowing it, the entire corridor will swap locations with another. The only way to defeat the maze is to keep in contact somehow. I have already asked Mrs. Weasley to bring something along for that very purpose." He then nodded at Hermione who began rummaging around her cloak. Two seconds later, her hand emerged holding four gold coins. She began explaining at once. "The Protean Charm on these coins has changed to provide instantaneous site-to-site Apparation within the castle." "Normally, this place would not allow such magic, but some of its potency will have diminished since the Dark Lord's death. Therefore, upon finding the entrance to the main chamber, tap the coin with your wand, and the other three people will join you instantly." "How do we know we found the right spot?" Ron asked. "You'll know." He hissed once again. "Ok, well, let's get on with it." Harry was ready to proceed, feeling much better about this mission than he thought he would. "Yes, Mr. Potter and myself will take the right while you two take the left…" Lucius started. "Ok…" Ron seemed hesitant, but questioning his wife's magical abilities right now was probably the worst idea in the world, and if he was honest with himself, he would rather be with her and not worrying about her instead. With that, Harry watched as Ron and Hermione turned their wands to light the hallway to his left and disappear into the darkness of the castle. Revolving on the spot to face Lucius and the corridor to the right, he began walking forward. "Wait, Harry." "What is it?" He was somewhere between anxiety, excitement, and impatience. "I don't know what you think about me, but I do know this place better than anyone else, and if the time comes for me to have to do something I would rather not, I don't want you to stop me." "Ok…" Harry's mind, which was focusing on Ginny again, didn't really comprehend the possible magnitude of Lucius' statement. "Let's go." "Very well." He replied. The Pendant So there he was, walking down a pitch-black corridor, his wand illuminating only several feet in front of him, while his companion Lucius Malfoy's wand was doing the same for him. "It just did it again."

Malfoy had made that comment three times already, and this time, Harry was actually paying attention. The corridor had just shifted again, and he noticed the momentary feeling of a Portkey without his body moving an inch. The fact of the matter was that they had been walking around these halls for almost half an hour now, and for all Harry knew, they had set off an enumerable amount of secrecy sensors that would alert Speer to their presence at a moment's notice. "Ok. We need to stop doing this." "Doing what?" Malfoy asked. "Just walking around." He paused and thought for a second. "There has to be a way to predict these changes and figure out a way to not end up in the entrance chamber over and over again." The truth was that they had met up with Ron and Hermione during one of their shifts. "And what exactly do you propose?" "Think back to the four times this has happened…does anything occur right before the change?" The two of them sat there thinking, though no one could tell in the semi-darkness, about their troubles so far. And in that instant, Harry's wand jerked of its own accord from down by his side to slightly left of in front of him. "What was that?" Lucius asked, seeing the light from his wand change direction do suddenly. "It's Ginny!" The charms were working. Harry couldn't believe the magic he had used so many months ago was actually working. "She's that way." "That leads into a wall." "I know, but maybe if we do this fast enough, we won't have to worry about the random switches. We'll know what door we're looking for, what hall we need to go down, maybe even find a secret passageway. C'mon!" And Harry tore off into the darkness with Lucius struggling to keep up. He ran around one corner, then past another. At one point, he realized that the geometry was actually going to help him where it may have confused others. His wand suddenly pointed straight into a wall at 90 degrees. He started thinking out loud. "Most people would go around…take two lefts or two rights to get all the way around…but there's no way…" Lucius finally caught up. "What is it?" He was out of breath. Granted, Harry had at least twenty-five years on him, so it was to be expected. "She's this way, and the entrance has to be here." Harry started feeling the walls instinctively, trying to mimic Dumbledore's actions in the cave. "Somewhere around here." "What are you looking for?" "Shhh." He didn't mean to be rude, it was just the first thing that came to him. Harry could feel his hand being literally drawn to a certain spot on the wall, and decided that if it had worked once before, it may work again. He conjured a knife from thin air, much to the surprise of Malfoy, quickly rolled up his own sleeve, and made a quick incision below his elbow. "Potter!" "It's ok." He stowed the knife in his robes thinking it wouldn't hurt just in case, and then placed his other hand over the now bleeding wound. Once his hand was sufficiently covered in blood, he began rubbing it all over the wall he was facing, not sure of the exact point he should be doing this. "Oh, you may need to also…" He added to Lucius. "And the others?" "Oh yeah!" Harry pulled out his coin and tapped his wand to it in the same instant that the wall in front of him opened into an archway eerily similar to that of Diagon Alley. Not pausing to think about how important that first trip was to Tom Riddle and the fact that he would utilize the same arch here, Harry waited for only moments before Ron and Hermione showed up before walking through. The only problem was that the second he was through the arch, it sealed itself again, and after waiting for almost a minute, it appeared no one else was going to be allowed through. Harry could have sworn he heard fists banging on the wall behind him, but he was sure he was just imagining it. Giving up hope that others would be able to join him for the last part of this journey, he walked forward through a very narrow, even darker passageway before he saw a door in front of him. Once he reached it, he could see that there was a carved snake with imbedded emerald eyes, and he thought for a second that Parseltongue would be necessary to enter, but even Riddle had said that he and Harry were the only Parselmouths to exist since Slytherin himself.

Throwing any caution to the wind, he uttered the words 'open up' in snake language, but nothing happened. Shaking his head back and forth a few times, he realized that he was giving this man, this petty criminal in his mind, too much credit. Instead, he reached for the handle, which felt far too cold to the touch, and turned it. The second he caused any movement to the knob, however, it began opening of its own accord. The door slowly creaked open with the sounds that accompanied the frightening muggle holidays. And when it was thrown completely open, the sight he had nightmares about met his own eyes. "Harry…" Ginny spoke with a raspy, almost dying, voice. "Gin." It was all he could say. He looked around the room quickly out of habit and saw that it was lit by a single lantern in the corner that illuminated a small mirror on the wall. This is where Rookwood was questioned and where Avery was punished…He pushed those memories aside quickly and focused on the important aspects of the situation. Speer was standing behind Ginny with his wand to the back of her head. Ginny was standing in front of him, whimpering slightly, but looking as defiant as ever. "Potter, I would not take another step if I were you." Wulfric spoke. The hatred returned. And Harry most definitely took a step forward. However, in that instant, his wand disappeared. He looked around, thrashing his head from side to side, but when he looked up, he saw that Speer's wand had vanished as well. "I told you not to do that." "Fine! I'll kill you with my bare hands!" He made to move forward again, but stopped when his enemy spoke. "As you can see, your wife is still in front of me. Without my wand, why wouldn't she run to you?" He paused to let the information sink into Harry's mind. He realized it was a good question, and decided to discuss it. "Our bodies our bound, Potter." "Bound?" "The second my heart stops beating, so will hers. The second my blood stops flowing, so will hers. The second my brain stops functioning, so will hers. The second my soul departs," he paused again, "so will hers." "LIAR!" Harry could feel a righteous anger flowing through his body like never before. He wanted to rage at the pathetic excuse for a human being in front of him and tear him limb from limb. "Fiery Daughter," he was talking to her in a low tone, like a lover. "Why don't you walk to your husband? Why don't you take refuge in his arms?" Ginny starting weeping a little. "You see, Potter? She will not move. The Dark Lord created the vanishing sensor for this very reason. He knew that his wandless abilities were unmatched, and therefore, he would fear no man while in this room." "So?" "I still fear you. I am an old man now. The work with the Polyjuice Potion this year has been difficult for my body. Impersonating a teacher and a student both at school and during holidays while not arousing suspicions as to my own absences has been difficult. Albert believes me dead, and yet I sense you two have met." "We have. He told me all about how you were too weak to stand up to Voldemort!" Harry's anger was boiling to the surface. He could see tears slowly leaking down Ginny's cheeks. He simultaneously wanted to comfort her and kill Speer. "Quite. Your own parents chose a heroic death, much like mister Malfoy would have if you had given him the chance." "What?" Harry assumed he was taunting him. "You only found this place on his information, I'm sure. I'm also certain he was waiting outside these walls to enter, to sacrifice himself for you three. You see…one of the Dark Lord's wards on this room was that he who entered the room could only save those he loved outside the room by dying for them. This ensured complete loyalty." "You think Lucius was coming in here to save the rest of us?" "The ultimate act of penance! His family has dishonored Wizardkind while praising 'Magic if Might' at the same time. The only way for his wife and budding dark son would be to help the great Harry Potter." "Well, that didn't happen. I'm here now!"

"Yes you are…and in quite the predicament. If you kill me, your wife dies. If you kill us both, your friends outside the room die. Ah, if you only understood the power of Dark Magic!" He raised his voice for the first time, and it made Harry feel safer. He always knew a powerful person whenever they were calm enough to be confident, undaunted by the surrounding elements and situations. Instantly, he thought of the man who knew more about magic and human behavior than any other. Albus would know what to do, and he had already told Harry what to do, but Harry didn't know it 'til now. "I've said this to someone before, and they ended up dead. I hope you will choose another path." "What is it?" "Try for some remorse. Become something better than what you are. All you have to do is act on the things that you believe in, and your life will follow the path that has been laid out for you." "Remorse? HA! That will not bring my wife back to me! The Daughters will!" "No they won't. There is no magic that can truly reawaken the dead." "FOOL! What do you know of magic!" Speer was yelling vehemently now. "I have experienced too much of it to begin to act as if I know all of its secrets. My experience, like that of Dumbledore before me, has taught me that magic and the world are so much bigger and uncontrollable than we could ever fathom. "Youth! You presume to be wise, but it is only foolishness!" Ginny's whimpers brought Harry back. He already knew what he was going to do. He knew that he had armed himself with things that Wulfric Speer had never contemplated before. "I will give you one last chance." And faith began to drive his actions now. "You're giving me an ultimatum! Are you serious?" Harry slowly moved his hand to his cloak. "Please, just let her go, and I will let you live." His fingers grasped the vial he knew would fix everything. "What? You have a secret in your pocket? Nothing can stop this, Potter! NOTHING!" He was crying the last few words, much like a dying man accepting his fate. The next moment, faith itself moved Harry's body. He clinched the vial of Reptomore and threw it directly at Ginny Weasley… Time stood still. They looked at each other. Said I love you one last time, and waited for the end. …In the next split second, the pendant that Harry had given her for her birthday, that had guided him to her this very day, flew out of the neckline of her shirt and met the vial head on. There was a tremendous crash as the glass exploded and the deadly potion was sent splashing into the air. As Harry watched, he thought he had made a huge mistake, that the potion would hit her and kill her, but in the next, an invisible cocoon was wrapped around her body, the potion seemed to fall like hitting an umbrella and spill out onto the floor and anything else it touched. Including Speer. His wailing echoed off the walls a dozen times as his body began melting. The potion ate at his skin, his bones, and the rest of his body until there was no more. Ginny didn't move an inch as the potion seemed to boil on the ground, eating the ancient remains of the dead that had fallen at that very spot in the past until there was nothing. Smoke surrounded her body as the Reptomore finished its task, Ginny uncurled from the protective posture she had taken, and the two of them looked at each other, realizing that Speer was gone forever. They crossed the room in a heartbeat and embraced in a similar fashion to the Gryffindor Cup win two years before. "I love you." "I love you." Who knew who said it first? Who cared? They were together again. "I'm so sorry, Ginny." "It's ok. I knew you'd find me. I knew you'd come for me." She was crying, and it made Harry start crying too. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." Harry continued to say through his own tears until nothing else mattered. "It's ok. Let's get out of here sweetie."

"Ok." He paused and separated himself, his arms still wrapped around her. "I love you." "I love you, too." She pressed herself against him once again. Through everything she had been through, he could still smell the flowery scent she always had. They were still together, still married, still themselves. They always would be. "I love you Ginny." His tears were flowing now. "I know." Her tears were falling to the ground. "…It is finished…" -John 19:30 The Master of Life The two of them walked out of the main chamber together, hand-in-hand, to meet with Lucius and Ron and Hermione. Malfoy definitely had a look of disappointment that he had not done what he had come there to do, but Harry appreciated the gesture all the same. He would be telling the wizarding world about his honest change, even though few would believe him at first. Harry conjured a blanket for Ginny, who was still shaking from the events of the past couple days, and the four of them slowly but surely got back out of the castle, outside the anti-Apparation ward, and back to the Hogwarts grounds. A short walk later, they split up. Lucius returned home, Ron and Hermione left Harry to tend to Ginny's emotional wounds, and the newlyweds stayed outside. "I just figured you didn't wanna talk to people or anything right now." "Thank you, Harry." She put her head on his shoulder and they walked down the sloping lawns to the beech tree that had become so special. Harry could still see his dad playing with a snitch in front of Wormtail, showing off for Lily, but he was going to use these moments to comfort and strengthen the one person who provided him with his own comfort and strength. They sat down against the trunk of the tree, Ginny's back in his Harry's chest, for hours in complete solitude. He thought for a second that Ron and Hermione may have gone straight to Minerva and asked that no one go onto the grounds today, and he appreciated his friendships all the more. As he sat there, drifting in and out of sleep, he not only thought about Ginny, who was his entire world, but also everything else in his life. He thought about sharing sweets with Ron on that first trip on the Hogwarts' Express. He thought about defending Hermione against a mountain troll. He thought about Parseltongue, a Dueling Club, the Chamber of Secrets, purebloods, and the four founders. He thought about Sirius, Azkaban, Hagrid's innocence, and his parents' friends. He thought about Barty Crouch, house elves, and graveyards. He thought about the Ministry of Magic, prophecies, the Order of the Phoenix, and Grimmauld Place. He thought about Horace Slughorn, powerful potions, the D.A., and the wisest person he would ever know. He thought about his parents, the night they died, and the two open seats at his wedding… Even though there were terrible and haunting memories in his past, everything came back to the present. He knew that he would not trade a single moment in the main chamber of Voldemort's Castle or a dream about kissing Ginny while she was dating Dean Thomas for EVERYTHING that had happened since then. In spite, or perhaps because, of everything that had happened in Harry's life, he had become the person he was today. He was with the person he was with today. He had the friends that he had today. He was always going to remember the past, appreciate the present, and hold out hope for the future. There was no other way to live. Eventually, Ginny began stirring once more. Apparently she was sleeping even more than Harry was against that tree trunk, and it was time for the both of them to rejoin the rest of their classmates inside the castle. They got up, hugged again, and walked the familiar steps back to the gates, up the staircases (taking no shortcuts), and through the portrait hole into the common room where a host of students were waiting for them. No one cheered. No one tried to press themselves upon the couple. It was merely a collective salutation. A communal show of affection, gratification, and support. The Gryffindor house had stayed inside the common room, not taking advantage of the lovely weather, and welcomed Harry and Ginny back with silence and admiration. Harry couldn't think of anything to say. He saw Ron standing in the corner, hugging Hermione close, and nodded to him in appreciation of everything they had done, not only in the past eight years, but more importantly the last eight hours. Everyone gave completely silent head nods and hand shakes before retiring to their own dormitories, leaving the foursome alone in front of the fire once again. "Thank you." Harry said simply, curling up with Ginny in the huge armchair while Ron and Hermione took the couch. "Thank you, Harry." His friends said simultaneously. "Thank you for being you." Ron added.

After that, the rest of the night was spent retelling the fun times they had all had together, from Umbridge to Luna, from Fred to Flitwick, and from Dobby to Dumbledore. Amazingly, the rest of the house had respected their wishes the entire night, and the four of them all went to sleep in the common room that night. When Harry awoke the next morning, it was to find people trying to pass by them as quietly as possible while he silently gestured to them that it was ok that they needed to go to class. He smiled as he looked around the room each time another students passed by, hoping that their time inside these walls would be just as joyous as his had been. He remembered nothing but the good times now, nothing but the positive, while still acknowledging the suffering and pain. It was a Friday, and the four of them all took the day off. They actually persuaded Hermione to borrow a broom and go flying around the Quidditch pitch for an hour before she finally put a stop to that. She insisted that no one should know how horrible she was at something, even if you couldn't learn it out of a book. Minerva visited them in the common room to check up, and they assured her that everything was ok, but eventually reality set back in, and of course, Hermione was the one to remind them of their daily obligations, or in this case, their powerful ones. "So what are you going to do, Harry?" "About what?" He didn't really understand. He was playing a game of chess with Ron, while getting very sweet yet undeserved compliments from Ginny. "About the Daughters?" The foursome went silent. It seemed as if the chessmen were even paying attention. "What do you mean?" "You're going to have to deal with this. After the Battle of Hogwarts, you destroyed the Elder Wand and forgot about the Resurrection Stone, but something has to be done about the Daughters, or else someone else might try to take them from you." "Hermione!" Ginny squeaked, but not seriously, she just didn't wanna have to deal with this anymore than Harry did. "I know. I've thought about it. And I can only come to two conclusions." Sadly, at that very moment, Cedrella flew down the stairs to join them. Harry wished she would not hoot at him. "And they are?" She insisted. "The only options are hiding or sacrificing, and I think all of us have had enough of the latter." "Agreed." Ron and Ginny said in unison. "There is another option." Ron added. "What?" Hermione asked, as if this had nothing to do with Harry, and it was more of an academic question. "Harry is now the Master of Life, or whatever." He paused to make sure no one would hex him. "He can use the Daughters if he wants to." "Ronald!" Hermione screeched. "Ron, seriously, you know I don't want to. The thought of being like Nicolas Flamel just scares me." "And that Perenelle didn't seem like a looker to me." Ginny added with a wry smile. "I know, I'm just sayin'…" Ron trailed off. "Harry, if I could interject…" Cedrella hooted. "Did the owl just say something?" Hermione was way too perceptive, and Harry decided to speak English just in case. "Yes?" "I would be willing to do whatever it took to ensure the safety of my friends and my master." "Ced, we're not gonna do anything like that."

"Very well, but that was a very specific response. You've got a few people looking at you in a strange way now, so you're going to have to deal with this one way or another." Harry looked around and saw that his friends were indeed looking incredulous. "What?" "Are you talking to you owl like conversationally?" Hermione asked. Ron looked a lot like Crabbe or Goyle, while Ginny was concerned as always. "Ok, I'm sorry that I didn't wanna freak you guys out about this. I was trying to date you," he nodded at Ginny, "and date your sister," he nodded at Ron, "and not scare the wits out of you," he nodded at Hermione. "The humming! You were speaking in owl speak or whatever!" Ron yelled. "Yeah. I'm sorry." Ginny looked disappointed that he would keep something from her, but he figured that he could fix it right away. "Ok, Ced. Can you just fly away as far as you can so there is no way of this happening again?" "Where would you have me go, Harry?" "I don't know, some place nice that's on the other side of the globe?" "I have heard, from some of the other creatures, about New Zealand." "It's nice?" "Apparently." "Well, ok, have fun in New Zealand. And at the first sign of trouble, fly back here, ok?" "New Zealand?" Ron asked. "Yes. That's where she is going to live now." Harry explained. "Ok, well, watch out for the kangaroos." Ron joked. "That's Australia." Hermione corrected. "Whatever." They all burst out laughing as Harry had a heartfelt goodbye with his owl, wondering if he would ever have an owl he could call his own again. At any rate, Cedrella, the Snowy Daughter, flew out the window and off towards an unknown land, never to be seen again. "Well, I guess the only thing we have to worry about now is the Fourth Task…" Hermione added with a mischievous grin. "And I won't let go until you tell me." "…Yeah, she's the balance beam and I keep Falling all around her fairy tale…" -Blue October The Fourth Task "So do you ever wanna move?" Ginny asked Harry quietly as they sat underneath a warm June day. "Never…" He responded, half asleep, half completely serious. "What are you thinking about?" "Absolutely nothing, just being here right now." She answered, turning her head to look back at the man holding her in his arms.

Harry and Ginny had been doing this all week long. Minerva let them skip classes whenever they felt like it, Ron and Hermione were giving them all the space they needed, and even their teachers were sending them N.E.W.T. review materials to peruse at their own convenience. It felt like, for the first time, they had absolutely no responsibilities. Yes, they had exams approaching, Harry had the Fourth Task coming up in the next week, but for the here and now, the only thing that was important was spending time together and healing after the ordeal of the past week. "You know that I will never let that happen to you ever again." Harry would say. "You know that I put my own wand to my own head." Ginny would respond. "Just like I did with Voldemort?" He was trying to invoke a reaction. "Just like your mum did." She always knew what to say. "I had faith, Harry. I just knew I was doing the right thing, even if the people who love me thought something different." "But Gin…" "No, I'm serious. You threw that potion directly at my head. The pendant jumped out and blocked it. It wasn't some ancient magic or untested realm of power. It was just you and me. You gave me something more important than a birthday gift that day." "What?" "I can't believe, after everything you've been through and everything the two of us have said…" she paused, "Just because there is magic involved that is unbelievable to other people or unforeseen by the people involved, doesn't mean that the heart of the matter has changed." "We love each other." "Exactly! I'm sure other people have tried to sacrifice themselves for their loved ones and failed, but none of them were ever put in the same position as your mum or me. We both love you, present tense, and we always will. The only difference is that you have been given special gifts AND special curses. If it weren't for your past, you would never have been in the situations you have been in, but you also wouldn't have come out on top in those situations if not for your past." "Gin…" He already understood. He didn't need her to continue. "Something special happened the night your mum saved you." She didn't know about the Otseptine, a vial of which was still hidden amongst Harry's possessions. "Something special happened the other day, too. But the point is that the only way those things could occur is if the two people involved had a love so deep, and so powerful, that it could overcome the extraordinary circumstances placed before them." And finally, they could rest, having talked through the horrible atrocities in their lives. There was a reason for everything, even if no one could see it at the time…. ….As it happened, the Fourth Task came and went. A week later, over a hundred thousand wizards from multiple countries were all gathered to witness Harry Potter and Hermione Granger triumph over the Beauxbatons team for the first ever TriSchool Cup. In the end, Harry's performance in the Third Task vaulted him over Gabrielle Delacour for the TriWizard Cup, with a lot of logical help from Hermione in the last task. She helped their team reason their way through numerous obstacles, including the opposing team, on their way to victory. The de facto win was, in large part, due to his friend's genius, and his acceptance speech noted it at least a dozen times. The important thing was that another event was over and done with in his life. He could once again attempt to focus on things that held more significance, or at least, more personal meaning. "Gin!" He yelled as he as running up the corridor to catch her. "Hey, Harry. Aren't you supposed to be in that photo shoot for the Witch Weekly ad for the next issue?" "Haha." He said sarcastically. "Actually, we've just finished, I Apparated back as soon as I was done with something else." "What else?" "I don't wanna tell you."

"What do you mean?" "I'd rather just show you! Can you break away from the library for a few minutes?" The two of them had been studying for their N.E.W.T.s furiously over the past fortnight, and Harry was not going to spoil her chances of getting that internship with the Healers at St. Mungo's. "Um, sure." She said, a little disbelieving that Harry Potter could have an actual surprise planned. "Ok, come with me." He dragged her out of the castle and down the steps and past the winged boars until they were outside the grounds. "You ready?" "Well, since I don't know what we're doing…um, I'm as ready as I'll ever be." Harry laughed, and in the next instant, turned on a dime, grabbing hold of her hand. He could hear her squeak a little as she didn't realize that apparation was in their near future, but the next squeak that emanated from her mouth was one of delight. "Harry! What are we doing here?" He did not think that she would be so skeptical. His only thought was that she would be hysterical over how beautiful the view of the French Riviera was, and the fact that they were there would make her forget any kind of reason or logic. "What?" "Don't mess with me. This isn't some little vacation! We have our tests in two days. You wouldn't have brought me here without a damn good reason!" Harry would never get tired of how fiery she was, a Daughter or not, and decided to tell her right away before her feistiness got out of hand. "You wanna vacation here whenever you want?" "What?" She was looking out over the horizon of the Mediterranean, but he was staring straight into her eyes, seeing the reaction on her face, this girl that had never been given so much as a new book, was now gazing at a future she never thought possible, even with him. "What did you do?" "I understood what my own fourth task was," he paused as she looked at him with a quizzical look, "and I acted on the challenge." "I honestly have no idea what you're talking about." "Trust me, I'm not smart enough to act like I planned all of this, or anything that has happened to us over the past year, but now that I can see the past, I figure four things were expected of me…" He put out his hand, much like she had the night they had gotten engaged. "And?" "One," he ticked off his pinky finger, "get back together with you." She stepped back from him for a moment, trying to figure out where this was going. "Two," he ticked off the ring finger, "ask you to marry me." She started looking around, as if expecting to see some surprise party Apparate to their side this very instant. "Three," he ticked off his middle finger, leaving one finger up, "show the world how much you mean to me by getting married." She put her hands to her mouth. "And four," putting down his pointer, revealing a strong hand, "buy a home." "A home?" She stuttered. "HERE?" "No." He smiled, knowing that all this suspense was killing her. "I put a down payment, with my TriWizard winnings, on a new hidden wizarding settlement that is going to be built here in the next several months." Her eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "But I figured it was a good way to tell you that I not only bought the rights to my parents' home in Godric's Hollow," she smiled widely, "and not only did I get a magical cleaning crew to finally restore Grimmauld Place," she moved back a couple steps, "but I also bought a plot of land in Ottery St. Catchpole that is yours to do with it whatever you please." He smiled, waiting for her reaction, and moments later she jumped the small distance between the two of them and leapt into his arms, half weeping, half laughing. "I love you." "Technically you love my parents and Sirius for providing the money." "You're the one who did these things with the money! AHH!" He spun her around as they kissed and hugged throughout the exchange. He was trying to ask her where she wanted to live ultimately, but there apparently wasn't time for that in the spontaneous celebration of her good fortune. In the end, Harry didn't care. Ginny was happy. That was worth a hundred houses and a million galleons.

"Now I did say that I would only delay your studying for a few minutes…" "I know!" She looked like she was wrestling with the notion of staying on the beach or returning to the library, as if a moment on the cold sand and her entire career were somehow comparable. "Give me a few days to figure all of this out?" "Of course, we'll always make decisions together." They kissed, Apparated back to Hogwarts, and got back down to studying for tests that would only prove that which everyone in the wizarding world already knew: these two were incredibly talented, incredibly gifted, incredibly experienced, and meant for each other. "When I was young, I knew everything…Now I'm guilt-stricken, sobbing, with my head on the floor… For the life of me, I cannot remember what made us think that we were wise and we'd never compromise…" -The Verve Pipe Graduation Even though they spent the next two days attempting to pour over book after book and as many of Hermione's meticulous notes as they could, no one in seventh year, and especially the foursome with all their experience, could wait for the impending confirmation of all they had worked so hard to achieve over the past eight years. Harry remembered how the castle behaved during these times when he had taken his O.W.L.s three years before, and there was no difference now. The fifth and seventh years were all huddled up in the library whenever they weren't studying while the rest of the school was enjoying the beautiful weather that seemed to accompany the newfound freedom the wizarding world had yet to experience in a June since Voldemort's fall. "This is so weird." Ron commented, as they waited outside the Great Hall to take their tests. "I know." Hermione added. "It just seems like it's finally over." "Yeah…" Harry agreed. Even though he had made his peace with everything that had ever happened here, and even though he was already moving on with his life, he knew that this place would always be more of a home to him than to any of his friends. For the last time in his life, he thought about the forgotten boys…Tom Riddle…Severus Snape…Harry Potter…and how their last moments in the castle were taking the tests he was about to take. Harry had never thought about the history of what he was doing. He never thought that he was doing the exact same thing Albus had done over a century ago. And it all made it very strange for him. Minerva called their names to enter the testing facility one by one, but he didn't hear any of it. He didn't truly remember his own experience in the practical, or theoretical, portions of the tests. All he could think was that there were only a few more meals in his home. There were seconds where he would get angry at the others for being a part of something that was much more special, and much more selfish, for him than for them. He would lash out at random thoughts in his mind for betraying his true feelings of the future and the past. The truth was that he was never going to live here again. He hadn't had to deal with that fact last year because honestly he never thought that three seventeen-year old wizards were going to defeat Voldemort. To be honest, he was just doing what Albus had told him to do. But now, staring his scores in the face, he was forced to deal with the reality of the situation. Hogwarts, his home, his mentor, and his friend, was about to be taken away from him. Luckily for Harry, though, it was not going to be a singular event like the N.E.W.T. testing that took him away from the comfort of the castle. Thankfully, they received their scores within 24 hours, knew if they were graduating or not (which the foursome most certainly was), and had an entire ceremony to let these thoughts dwell and fester until there was only thing left to do… …That would have to wait, though. As several dozen students gathered on the lawn, that had housed Dumbledore's funeral, to receive their commencement address from their headmistress, Harry wished he could have sat alone. Ginny was right there next to him, hand-in-hand and dressed in all-white dress robes along with the rest of the graduating class, helping him with what she already knew was going on in his mind. "It's ok, Harry. I understand! The Dursleys were awful to you. Hogwarts is your home…you don't wanna leave…but it's ok...we'll get through this together….I promise…" She had done such an admirable job of trying to cheer him up, but the fact of the matter was that the only people who knew what he was going through were dead. For a moment, he felt like slapping himself for being so sad right now. He must not have been the only person who felt this attached to the school, but the truth was, as he looked around at his fellow classmates, no one else in the crowd knew what he was going through. As they filed into their seats, by surname, he was separated from Ginny for the rest of the

ceremony. Harry took his assigned seat, among the two sections, music began playing from the air around them, and he waited for someone to begin speaking, which Minerva did, moments later. "Welcome graduates! Welcome families! Welcome friends! This is always a special occasion for those who have toiled and fought for seven years of grueling education at the world's finest institution." She paused for applause which came as if everyone knew they were supposed to clap at that moment. "Many of you, students included, may have witnessed these proceedings in the past in which Professor Dumbledore would say certain words to inspire each and every one of you to go out into the wizarding world with confidence and pride, but I am unable to resound that call." She paused again, but not for applause. She needed to compose herself, and apparently change what she had planned to say. "We had this very same ceremony last year under the veil of triumph and loss…" Harry didn't want her to talk about the war. He didn't want her to talk about the battle. "However, nothing the Carrows and Voldemort can do can shake the foundations of a place so rooted in history and good. Nothing can shake the stone and tapestries that every student comes to know and trust. And nothing can shake the teachings, nothing can shake the experience, and nothing can take asunder what a millennia of teachers have fought so hard to build!" She yelled, and Harry expected silence, but after a moment, another round of applause came. He looked around the seats to find Ginny looking back at him through a forest of heads. He smiled, she smiled, and they both looked back at the podium on the raised platform. "It is with that understanding that I am truly honored to bestow these proceedings on these young men and women of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry!" There was a pause while another round of applause went up from the crowd. "Arney, Melissa!" Harry's Quidditch teammate was the first summoned to the dais to receive her graduation certificate. Minerva called out a number of more names before Harry recognized anyone. "Granger, Hermione!" He saw Ron's wife walk up between the seats and receive her parchment with a smile wide enough to part the Black Lake. At this point, Harry looked back across the rows to see Ginny still smiling at him, sitting next to Ron. He laughed at himself for not realizing that the two Weasleys would inevitably be placed next to each other, and then appreciated McGonagall for calling Hermione as Granger rather than Weasley to avoid awkward questions from any uninformed patrons. However, it was finally time. "Potter, Harry!" Minerva practically screamed his name to avoid confusion during the following uproar from the crowd. He got up from his chair, walked down the row and then up the vacant aisle until he was traversing the strange steps onto the dais. "Thank you." He said sincerely to Minerva. "Thank you." She replied in earnest. Harry took his parchment without even looking at it, walked past the photographer taking photos of the recent graduates, and found his seat once again amongst his classmates. "Robbins, Demelza!" Another familiar name interrupted his own thoughts. Only minutes later, Ron and Ginny were walking up to receive their own parchments, and Harry's smile couldn't be wider if he tried. He could hear Bill and Molly yelling in the background, but didn't pay it much heed. Ron, being the final graduate, ended the commencement address. "And now, to the 1999 class, the last of the millennium, of Hogwarts, I say 'Congratulations and may your fortunes be rich!'" There was an uproar from the audience. Families moved around to find their loved ones while friends remained on the outside, respectful of the moment. Harry and Ginny found each other quickly and embraced, but Ginny could sense something was wrong. "What is it?" "I just need to do something." "Ok." She paused to touch his cheek. "I'll be right here." "It may be longer than that. I'll send you a Patronus, ok?" "Ok. I love you." "I love you, too." He kissed her cheek and walked away from all the celebration. Even though he knew that he would be welcomed back whenever he felt like it, Harry Potter knew that there was one more person he needed to see, one more conversation he had to have, and one more face he must look upon, before he left the place that had become his home, his refuge, his comfort and strength, over the past eight years of his life… "Turning back for home, you know I'm feeling so alone, I can't believe… Climbing on the stair, I turn around to see you smiling there in front of me…" -David Gray Albus' Final Piece of Advice

Harry walked slowly up the lawns, hoping that no one would stop him. He just wanted to be alone for a second with the only person that was there to witness his entire growth inside these grounds and under these ceilings. As it was, everyone was outside for the commencement, so the castle seemed just as empty as it had during the summer. He thought about how much had happened since then. Cedrella and Praetoria… The Three Daughters… The TriWizard Tournament… Ron and Hermione… N.E.W.T.s…. He and Ginny…. He started smiling, not as sad suddenly, but in the next moment he found himself standing in front of the gargoyles guarding the steps up to the headmaster's office. For possibly the last time, they bowed and moved out of the way, allowing Harry to take the familiar walk up to the door with the oak knocker. Before he could even attempt to knock, however, the doors opened of their own volition. The office presented itself to him, appearing the exact same as it always did. There were silver instruments whirring and spinning in place, occasionally giving off faint wisps of smoke while Fawkes perch, which was never removed, still stood next to the desk that Harry had looked over at his old mentor on countless occasions. He slowly walked up to it and took his standard seat, waiting for the portrait to 'wake up.' Harry put his head in his hands, still wearing his graduation robes, feeling a little foolish about this idea at the moment, wishing that Albus would show up quickly. "Hello, Harry." He even sounded a bit weaker than the last time they spoke. "And may I assume that congratulations are in order as well?" "Yeah." He didn't respond very loudly and couldn't understand why he had just gotten so sad. His first idea was that everything was coming to an end, but he had been dealing with that for awhile now. "I'm not really sure what to say, but I just knew I had to come here and talk to you before I left." "You have already packed?" "Yeah." His head was still down, and the melancholy was washing over him completely. "How is your wife doing?" Ginny! "She's good. I love that we graduated together," he chuckled slightly, "she says that she's gonna tell people that I got held back at some point, and hold it over me at dinner parties or something." "And how are Ron and Hermione?" "I appreciate what you're doing, Albus." "What am I doing?" "Getting me to talk." Harry finally looked up. "Actually, I was just trying to get you to look me in the eyes." "Sorry. It's just that I never thought I would be back here again, after another year of all of this crap, y'know?" "I understand." "I guess I just assumed that all of this would end someday and I would be happy and dull and normal." "Do you want to be normal?" Albus asked sincerely.

"You know what I mean." Harry smiled. "Faith and hope are the most vital of all human conditions, Harry. However, one must always have the courage to act on those feelings. If you always believed that you and Ginny would be together, but then you just sat back and hoped that it would happen, it probably wouldn't. You have to be willing to do something about it." "And I did." "Correct, which confirms that your faith was not misplaced. Although a belief or an ideal can sometimes only be begotten from some sort of blind faith, if there are no actions that come from that belief, it is not true. Some call it bearing fruit, as if coming from a tree of belief." "Y'know, one day, you and I are gonna talk about the weather or Quidditch, ok?" "That's a deal. Are you feeling a little better?" "Yes. Thanks, Albus." His eyes fell again. "Harry, listen. There is a time to wait, a time to believe, a time to act, a time to back away, and a time to be still. But there is no recipe for how much of each. There is no perfect balance for these things." "Tell me about it." "But if you strive everyday to find that balance, you will awake every morning excited about your day, you will go to sleep feeling fulfilled with the time spent, and you will be able to shower love onto the people you wish." Harry opened his eyes fully again. "How long did it take you?" "I'm still working on it, Harry. I always will be." Albus paused and adjusted his glasses in the painting. The old headmaster winked one last time behind his half-moon spectacles before returning to his feigned sleep. Harry took that to mean an end to the conversation, and finally got up from his chair and headed for the door. His feet took him out of the office and back down the steps automatically, his face didn't move from staring down at the floor. If he hadn't walked these halls a thousand times before, he probably would have gotten lost or run into something, but amazingly, nothing stopped his exit from the castle until he found himself hopping over the missing stair, and then looking at a smiling face that had apparently joined him in the castle. "Hey." "Hey." Harry smiled back. "Everything alright?" "Better." "You get all the closure and everything?" She said, as they were now wrapping their arms around each others' waists. "Yeah." "Ok, well, you wanna go turn one of those houses into a home?" "More than anything." They walked arm-in-arm back onto the grounds to meet up with some of the Weasleys before they made their way to look at the house when Ginny leaned in quickly and added, "oh, and everyone has been asking us the same question." "What is that?" Harry asked, smiling down at her. "What are you going to do now?" "I don't know yet, but I'll figure it out…" They kissed and joined Ron and Hermione to celebrate the end of their time at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.

THE END

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