Reign O'er Me by cts
FeatureSummary: A sixth year fic that explores what might happen if Harry moves past the angst and starts to put his life together and has a few things break his way for a change.
Categories: Harry Potter Characters: None
Genres: Action, Adventure, Drama
Warnings: Lemon (sex)
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 3 Completed: No Word count: 18952 Read: 19487 Published: 28 Jan 2009 Updated: 14 Mar 2011

1. Prologue: Circles by cts

2. Chapter 01: How Can You Do It Alone? by cts

3. Chapter 2 - Pure and Easy by cts

Prologue: Circles by cts

Prologue - Circles
The Living Legend


Time will tell if these dreams are nearly fact
Don't know why I left, I'm coming back
Coming on back to you

- Circles, The Who




Minerva McGonagall stood before the mighty castle doors, watching as the carriages carrying the students to Hogsmeade Station passed through the Hogwarts gates. Watching the carriages move along the track toward the wizarding village of Hogsmeade, she wondered how many of the departing students would return, how many would be allowed to return, and worse, how many would be capable of returning. As the last carriage cleared the gates, she sighed softly and shifted, allowing her cane to support more of her weight. In front of the students, McGonagall had passed off the cane as if it was little more than a concession to an overzealous Madam Pomfrey (certainly something most who had visited the hospital wing would accept without question), but she still found it necessary at times - not that she would ever willingly admit such a thing.

Suddenly, there was a flash of light and a loud popping sound; McGonagall turned quickly, dropping the cane and freeing her wand. Facing her from the base of the steps, a slight man stood, wearing a gray cloak and gently gripping the tail-feathers of a Phoenix, which with a flap of its wings, settled on his shoulder. Taking note of McGonagall’s stance and ready wand, he glanced at the bird and observed, “Pymander, I never thought that I would have lived long enough to stand at the doors of Hogwarts and have a daughter of clan MacGregor point a wand at me.”

“Pro… Professor Flamel? Nicholas?” McGonagall stared with cat-like intensity, not quite able to accept what her eyes were reporting. His irreverent look and remark confirmed his identity beyond any reasonable doubt; the phoenix on his shoulder removed any lingering chance of polyjuice or other deception. McGonagall lowered her wand. “But… how did you? The… the wards?” It then occurred to her that she had seen Dumbledore do the same thing.

The man moved lightly up the steps to McGonagall and grinned. Reaching out, he pulled McGonagall into a hug that she readily returned. “Minerva, my dear, how wonderful to see you, too. It has been far, far too long.” He paused and glanced about them as if ensuring no one might overhear their conversation. “Now, as for the wards, I helped cast many of them, and they have never as much as slowed Pymander down. He was good enough to spare me the walk from the gate.”

“And you, Nicholas… from what Albus said… about the stone… I didn’t… expect….”

Flamel’s grin grew wider. “Oh, come now, Minerva, you know full well that rumors of my death have been premature more than once before. And I suppose it’s just as well that I’ve arrived after the students have all left; otherwise, the whispers would already be spreading through the castle about my favorite dour Scot showing a crack in her armor.”

McGonagall felt the unaccustomed rush of blood into her cheeks. “I dare say the rumors would have run far wilder when some of them - and mind you, they would - figured out who you were from the portraits around the school. You’re hardly traveling incognito, Nicholas.”

“That’s true, though the timing of my arrival was no accident.” Flamel leaned down and picked up the cane and handed it to McGonagall.

“Thank you, but really, I don’t need that silly thing - it’s just to keep Poppy….”

Flamel grinned widely. “Save it for the students, Minerva. Most of them see through it as clearly as I do; they merely have better manners. I know what happened, and I know that one doesn’t recover that quickly from being stunned as you were, even when one has the advantage of relative youth.” He paused, and his expression became serious. “I’m afraid, however, I must confess that my arrival here is more than a social call. Where might I find Brian?”

“You’re the only one who calls him that, you know,” McGonagall said with a slightly disapproving look.

“My dear, Perenelle and I are among the very few who could possibly remember that was what everyone called him before he passed through these very doors for the first time. While I wouldn’t expect one still so young to understand such things, I suppose I have become rather set in my ways,” Flamel replied.

“Most likely Albus will be in your… I mean, his office.” Minerva turned to re-enter the castle; Flamel moved past, opened the door, and held it as she entered, then followed her inside. “Nicholas, will you tell me what brings you back just this particular moment?”

Flamel stopped and peered intently into McGonagall’s eyes for a few moments and sighed. “In all truth, Minerva, I should have perhaps seen him well before this.” He looked thoughtful as he continued. “You know, of course, that my involvement with Brian Dumbledore is not unlike his involvement with young Harry Potter. Brian has done many great things, but, just like me many years ago, he has become so caught up in the forest that he has lost sight of the trees. He needs, perhaps, to recall how it was for him at the point where Harry is now.” Flamel lowered his voice. “Perhaps his old professor still has another lesson or two to pass along.” The smile flared again. “At least, I dare say I shall attempt to pass it along more gently than Godric did.”

“Gryffindor himself?” McGonagall was not quite able to completely suppress the surprise or the awe that name evoked. “I had no idea….”

“Well, I certainly wouldn’t have used that particular tone after he’d finished telling me just how many kinds of duffer I was, though of course, he was right. He almost always was.” Flamel paused, thoughtful. “And yes, Godric Gryffindor was my mentor, as Merlin Ambrosius was his. It would seem,” he paused again, as if searching for words, “all of us have… even Merlin, as he once admitted, needed to be reminded that at some point, we must eventually pass the torch to a new generation.”

Flamel began moving forward again and falling into step beside him, McGonagall commented, “I suppose there’s no need to show you the way.”

“Yes, but good company makes the walk seem much shorter,” Flamel replied. “You are head of Gryffindor House. What do you make of young Potter?”

“Potter is… complex.” McGonagall gathered her thoughts. “Academically, he’s gifted, even brilliant at times, but rarely applies himself anywhere remotely close to his ability; thus, he often struggles with theory, but has innate ability with the practical application that in the end places him near the top of his class. And the boy is powerful, not only more so than his peers, but more than many adult wizards. He was able to cast a Patronus as a third year. His bravery has been proven time after time; he cares greatly about his friends, and he would willingly sacrifice himself for them.”

She paused, thinking. “He’s a superb flyer: he was the first 1st year to make the house teams in over a hundred years. He thinks rules are at best suggestions; he’s rather introverted, and has only a few close friends, but he has leadership skills and has risen to the challenge when needed. This past year, I’m afraid he’s been very frustrated, very angry, and even fragile at times. He feels… very alone. He was raised by the most horrible sort of Muggles; he had no knowledge of our world at all until he received his Hogwarts letter; he feels personally responsible for each person who’s harmed by Voldemort, and the recent debacle at the ministry….”

Flamel nodded, indicating he was familiar with the particulars as McGonagall continued, “I am… concerned for him and for the enormity of the burden he must carry.” She motioned with her hands, taking in all of Hogwarts. “We are all concerned: the staff, and the Order… and his friends.”

As they neared the gargoyle blocking the doorway leading to the headmaster’s office, the guardian sprang aside as Severus Snape exited, obviously in foul humor. As he approached, McGonagall said, “Nicholas, allow me to present….”

“You must be Severus Snape, the Potions professor, are you not?” Flamel gave Snape a questioning look.

“Sir, you have me at a disadvantage,” Snape snarled, making it clear he wasn’t interested in exchanging pleasantries.

“Forgive me,” Flamel replied. “I am Nicholas Flamel. Brian - your headmaster - has spoken to me of you - he clearly seems to feel you have the skills to eventually become a master of the arts of alchemy, or potions, as they now call the great art….”

Snape sputtered something incoherent, his respect for a living legend barely winning out over a burning desire to hex this old man who had suggested he was other than at the pinnacle of his profession. Flamel smiled patronizingly at him, McGonagall struggled and almost succeeded in keeping a straight face, and they resumed walking toward the gargoyle, leaving Snape to continue on his way. Pymander, still perched on Flamel’s shoulder, gave a single trilling note and the gargoyle sprang aside at once.

“Minerva, I thank you for walking all this way with me and keeping an old man company. I would have insisted on finding my own way had I not known the staff quarters would have eventually taken you in this direction, and really, that is where you should be. Please consider: right now, you have no classes to teach, no papers to mark, no lessons to prepare… find yourself a comfortable chair and footstool, put your feet up, and rest and heal while you can. Your skills, I’m afraid, will be sorely needed soon, and you need to be at your best.”

McGonagall had hoped to sit with Flamel and Dumbledore, but she accepted the dismissal and nodded. “Perhaps I shall. Will I see you again, Nicholas?”

He smiled enigmatically. “I rather suspect you might. But there is much which Brian and I must discuss.” He took McGonagall’s hand, kissed it, and saying, “Until then, Minerva,” he moved past the gargoyle and onto the spiral stairs.

Flamel rode the stairs upwards until they reached the headmaster’s office. Then he moved to the door and knocked.

“Come in,” Dumbledore answered.

Flamel entered the office and gently closed the door and stood before the desk where Albus Dumbledore was holding what appeared to be a collection of broken parts. Dumbledore muttered, “Reparo,” and the parts assembled into a silvery device that began clicking quietly as he set it upon the desk. Fawkes and Pymander trilled to each other, and Pymander spread his wings and joined Fawkes on his perch.

Dumbledore looked up at his visitor, and, recognizing him, seemed to sag back into his seat. “There are not many who can approach this office without my knowing of their approach; yet I am not surprised to see you here, my friend. In fact, I think that in some way I knew you would come, and I wanted to clean this up,” Dumbledore pointed at several still broken devices scattered around the room, “before you arrived.”

“Ah, Brian, my boy, how history does repeat itself, does it not?”

“Nicholas, I fear I have made a muddle of things….”

“Fear not, my friend, nothing as yet is lost; besides, I can hardly fault you for the same sort of failures I have made. You can hardly have forgotten the night Gryffindor made his way here. I can now tell you the rest of that story, and unlike Godric, I am not held to a single day and night abroad; I am here, and I can help.” Flamel paused, looking thoughtful. “And, if the form holds true, some day you shall have the other side of this conversation with young Harry.”

“Please teach me, sir.” Dumbledore repeated the first words he had said to the legendary wizard many decades before.

“Maid, matron and crone are the traditional symbols of the great cycle; youth, father and patriarch perhaps would be a better fit… or no, not patriarch; perhaps uncle. Yes, perhaps uncle indeed….”

“I’m not sure I follow, Nicholas.”

“Consider, Brian, you have been the authority figure in Harry’s life since his return to the magical world; if he were just a normal youth, there would be the same sort of issues any boy his age has. But Harry is hardly a normal lad, and while his training and his moral formation have been excellent, he lacks the confidence and certainty he must have. Add to that the rebellion that every youth goes through and the isolation he now feels, and worse, thinks necessary, and you have the makings of a problem.”

“Certainly, withholding as much as I did has not helped his confidence,” Dumbledore said thoughtfully.

“True, and while that’s a factor, it may not be the root cause.”

Dumbledore waited, and after a few moments, Flamel continued. “I have watched the boy as he has grown: tell me, have you noticed when he seems the most complete, the most secure, the most whole?”

Dumbledore sat thoughtfully for a minute, and then replied, “I would have to say when he’s in the care of Molly and Arthur Weasley.”

“Exactly. There he has two people - one in particular - who see their roles as his advocates, his protectors, who put nothing else, even their own natural children or the good of our kind, ahead of his well-being. That, sadly, has been lacking anywhere else he has been. Even Minerva refers to his guardians as the most horrible sort of Muggles; there is no advocate for him under their care. Even here, under your care, he is but one priority among many. What, perhaps, I could offer is a grandfather-like - after all, I am one of his forbears in at least two different lines, if not more - or favorite uncle figure who has the bona fides to say he’s been there, knows the score, has dealt with a dark figure or two, and can provide the indulgence that you cannot, having to balance between your roles as Harry’s mentor and as the leader of the light side.”

Dumbledore sat deep in thought for several minutes and then said, “This indeed seems a solution better than any other I have considered. How do you propose to move forward?”

“I find I have missed being at Hogwarts more than any other part of my life,” Flamel replied. “I understand that you have found it difficult to fill the Defense Against the Dark Arts position….”

“Indeed,” Dumbledore replied. “Though not for lack of an applicant….”

“You mean your Potions professor?”

“Yes. He has long sought the position, but I dare not place him any closer to the dark than the path he already must trace.”

Flamel grinned. “Then you might consider another old Potions master for the position. Perhaps I might also give your current Potions teacher the benefit of my experience as well….”

“That would be a gift beyond my wildest dreams, Nicholas, to have one of your skills teach Defense during these dark times. Severus, however… might be… perhaps a tad resistant to the idea he needs instruction.”

“So I gathered.”

“But there’s more to your offer than just a sudden desire to help the boy and to take up teaching again.” Dumbledore’s comment wasn’t just an observation.

“That’s true. I’m quite worried about the boy’s having enough time to be ready - he will not have the years you did before the first time you took on Grindelwald. He needs time. Perhaps if I’d said something sooner….”

Dumbledore sighed. “It’s not as if I didn’t know. I even told myself repeatedly not to fall into that trap….”

Flamel interrupted, “What’s done is done. I’m not fond of tampering with the past. We must buy the boy the time he needs and minimize the time needed as much as possible.” He smiled fondly at Dumbledore. “I am no longer concerned, as I once was, about needing to stay in the background as I did when you emerged as the next champion. The wizarding world has almost forgotten my name, in no small part due to your history teacher’s obsession with goblin wars. But those days are done, my boy. I am unsure either of us can do what must be done, but together, we have a better chance. It appears that the guardianship must pass soon, but the new guardian is not ready.”

Dumbledore nodded slowly. “The word of your return by itself may buy some time.”

“Perhaps, but we cannot rely on that alone being enough,” Flamel stated. “Another thing we might do is….”

Dumbledore leaned forward and listened carefully as Flamel continued.

Chapter 01: How Can You Do It Alone? by cts


Chapter 1 - How Can You Do It Alone?

Do it alone, how can you do it alone,
I need your help, so I can do it by myself.
Do it alone, don't have to breathe down a phone
I ain't got a clue, 'bout the things that you do
But how...can you do it alone.

How can you do it.
How can you do it without any help
How can you do it all by yourself.

- How Can You Do It Alone, The Who




The Dursleys were strangely quiet on the ride home from King’s Cross Station. Uncle Vernon seemed to focus on his driving, not even glancing once at Harry in the mirror, though Harry noticed his face was still quite red and the vein in his temple still pulsed. Dudley had developed an interest in the scenery passing by his window. For once, he was keeping to his half of the back seat and not crowding Harry, even with Hedwig’s cage between them. Aunt Petunia glanced at Harry several times, and once or twice she looked like she was about to say something but obviously thought better of it and returned her attention to the road ahead. It was the least stressful car trip Harry could remember taking with the Dursleys.

Upon arriving back at Number Four Privet Drive, Dudley muttered something and headed quickly down Privet Drive and Aunt Petunia immediately disappeared inside the house. Vernon wordlessly opened the boot, carefully avoided looking at Harry, and then followed Petunia inside, leaving Harry to move his belongings to his room by himself. Harry first carried Hedwig and her cage up to his room and then returned to the car to collect his trunk. He carefully maneuvered the heavy trunk through the door, up the stairs, and into the room just far enough to allow the door to close. He dropped onto his bed, tired, but still feeling a warm glow from the unexpected concern his friends had shown for him at King’s Cross station. A short time later, Harry was sleeping soundly, a smile occasionally flickering across his face. The ethereal, trilling notes of Phoenix song echoed through his dreams.

The next morning, Harry woke to an insistent tapping on his window. He fumbled briefly for his glasses, sat up, and spotted a large owl outside the window. Quickly getting up before anyone else could become aware of the owl’s presence, Harry opened the window. The owl flew in, perched regally on the footboard of the bed and stiffly presented a leg with a message attached. Harry was about to untie the message when he paused, recognizing the expensive parchment and wax seal of the Ministry for Magic. He stared at it for several moments, thinking that nothing good had ever come for him from the Ministry, and it was a bit early for OWL results. The owl, growing impatient, flapped its wings; Harry muttered an apology, removed the parchment, and the owl immediately spread its wings and departed through the window, not even pausing for a sip from Hedwig’s dish.

With a sigh, Harry sat on the bed and opened the letter, which was written in the perfect script of an Official Pronouncements Quill:


MINISTRY FOR MAGIC
Department for Magical Law Enforcement
Improper Use of Magic Office




Dear Mr. Potter:

Given the special circumstances of your history with You-Know-Who and based on the recommendation of Professor Albus Dumbledore, you are hereby granted a waiver of the Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery.

You should understand this unusual action has been taken both in the interests of your safety and to allow your education, under the supervision of the Hogwarts Faculty, to continue over the summer months. Please note that all provisions of the International Confederation of Wizards' Statute of Secrecy remain in full effect and that any abuse of this highly unusual privilege will result in its immediate revocation.

Professor Dumbledore will contact you shortly regarding the details of your summer tuition.

Hoping you are well,
Yours sincerely,

Mafalda Hopkirk
Improper Use of Magic Office
Ministry for Magic

Below, a short note was scrawled:

PS - That was an impressive bit you did at the Ministry. I got a glimpse of You-Know-Who himself and now have no doubt you’ve been telling the truth all along.

Harry read the note through once, shook his head as if to make sure he wasn’t dreaming, and read it again, unable to believe his good fortune. He could use magic! And even better, it looked as if this summer he’d at least have some contact with the magical world. Even lessons with Severus Snape, Harry grudgingly admitted to himself, would be better than sitting here, isolated, alone, and with no idea of what was happening in his world.

After re-reading the letter again, Harry noticed the clock, which read 9:08. He had fallen asleep not long after arriving back at Privet Drive and had actually slept through the night. He felt rested and strangely, his aunt or uncle had not woken him up to prepare breakfast or some other menial chore. Somewhat puzzled, Harry took a change of clothes from his trunk and took a long, hot shower. Again, to his surprise, there were no shouted demands that he stop wasting hot water. After drying off and dressing, Harry strolled back to his room to find another letter waiting. There wasn’t much doubt about whom this one was from, this time without even so much as a glance at the parchment. Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix, was perched on the back of the uncomfortable straight chair in front of Harry’s desk.

“Hi, Fawkes,” Harry greeted the phoenix, who answered with a single trilling note. Harry took the letter from the magical bird and opened it to find Dumbledore’s narrow handwriting:


HOGWARTS SCHOOL
of WITCHCRAFT and WIZARDRY
***
Headmaster: Albus Dumbledore
(Order of Merlin, First Class, Grand Sorc., Chf. Warlock,
Supreme Mugwump, International Confed. of Wizards)



Dear Harry,

By now you should have had a letter from Mafalda Hopkirk at the Ministry telling you that you have been granted permission to use magic this summer. Mr. Ronald Weasley, Miss Granger and Miss Weasley have been granted permission as well, and Remus Lupin will be contacting all of you about some special tuition I have arranged for all of you this summer. Miss Lovegood and Mr. Longbottom were invited as well, but as you may know, both already had plans for travel outside the country this summer.

I should stress that while your permission to use magic is not restricted to your training and practice, I would encourage you to be cautious and careful in using it. You will undoubtedly be watched and held to a higher standard than an adult wizard. In particular, please be careful that you do not allow your relatives to goad you into doing something foolish. I have full faith that you will not abuse this privilege and have assured the Ministry of my confidence that there will not be any problems. Cornelius Fudge in particular required a certain amount of arm-twisting, but in the end, he felt it was better to resolve my concerns than to have them explored in detail with Rita Skeeter, whom you remember from your fourth year and recent interview.

Speaking of the Ministry, I am also pleased to tell you that Sirius Black has been officially cleared of all charges and will be awarded the Order of Merlin, First Class. Numerous witnesses, including captured Death Eaters under Veritaserum, have confirmed that Peter Pettigrew is alive and framed Sirius. As with your use of magic, the Minister felt that it was better he address my concerns in this matter rather than involve other parties. While you might well feel this is too little, too late at this point, Sirius was a brave and fearless soul who deserves to be remembered as the hero he is, not as a fugitive and felon.

While it is important that you stay with your aunt and uncle for at least the first part of the summer, there is not a sufficiently good reason for you to have to be alone during this time. Thus, if you will indulge me an old Arabian proverb: “If Mohammad cannot go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Mohammad.” While there are perhaps some disadvantages to having regular travel to and from your location, I see now that there are far, far greater disadvantages in isolating you from your friends. Perhaps you can find it in your heart to forgive an old man - for whom months seem to pass in the blink of an eye - who had forgotten how long they could drag on at your age, particularly in the absence of other distractions.

I have made arrangements with Mrs. Figg so that your initial training will take place at her house and have set up arrangements for your friends to be able to travel there as well. If your Aunt and Uncle do not object, there is no reason they may not visit you at Number Four, Privet Drive as well, as long as all of you stay within the bounds of the wards. Remus Lupin will explain this in more detail.

I realize that our parting at the close of term did not end on the most positive of notes; however, I hope you can find it in yourself to forgive the mistakes of an old man and will meet me part way in rebuilding a working relationship. If you are willing, I would like to meet with you several times over the summer months. I expect you still have many unanswered questions, and I shall endeavor to answer these and make amends for my previous errors. Please be careful this summer, and do not hesitate to owl me if you have any questions or concerns.

Yours,
Albus Dumbledore


Harry began to smile as he started Dumbledore’s letter, and his smile continued to widen as he read Dumbledore’s description of his dealings with the Minister for Magic. Harry suspected that the arm-twisting Dumbledore described with Fudge had come quite close to leaving the Minister’s arm fractured in several places; he would certainly be exceedingly careful not to do anything that would embarrass Dumbledore - or result in the loss of his new privileges.

Harry’s smile faded as he read what Dumbledore had written about Sirius. He felt pangs of guilt welling up, remembering the unused mirror and thinking of how differently things might have been if the pardon had come earlier, or he’d worked harder at Occlumency, or had checked before storming off to the Ministry, or if... Still, Harry was pleased that the Ministry had finally accepted that Wormtail was alive and that Sirius was innocent. He whispered softly, “Sirius, I’m sorry it took so long, but at least now your name is clear.”

As he read the last paragraph, memories of the meeting in Dumbledore’s office came flooding back into Harry’s thoughts. After all that, Dumbledore was apologizing to him? More than that, apologizing twice in one letter? Harry rather guiltily remembered Dumbledore’s broken possessions strewn across the floor of his office and realized that, in all fairness, some mending of fences was necessary from his side as well.

Harry’s reflections were interrupted by the arrival of yet another letter, this time delivered by a friendly brown post owl. Unlike the Ministry bird, this owl cheerfully accepted an owl treat and a drink from Hedwig’s dish before flying away.

This message was a quick note from Remus Lupin:

Dear Harry,

Please meet me at Mrs. Figg’s house this afternoon at 2:00 p.m. Mrs. Figg will have already spoken to your aunt.

Looking forward to seeing you,

Remus Lupin


“Well, I certainly don’t feel very isolated this morning,” Harry said to himself as he collected his wand, cast a quick spell to make his bed, levitated his trunk to the far side of the room to its usual summer place, then headed down the stairs, hoping to obtain a bit of breakfast without too much of a fight.

To Harry’s surprise, there was no sign of his relatives on the lower floor of the house, and an even stranger sight awaited him in the kitchen. A plate had been set on the table; it was laden with several rolls and two strips of bacon, along with a note written in Aunt Petunia’s crooked hand:


Harry,

Dudley and I will be out today. Your breakfast is on the table and there are makings for sandwiches for lunch in the refrigerator. Mrs. Figg has asked for your help moving some boxes this afternoon; you should be at her house at 2:00 p.m. Stay out of trouble.

P. D.


Harry began to wonder if he was dreaming or had perhaps crossed into another universe, like people sometimes did on that old American TV program The Twilight Zone. Breakfast made and out and waiting for him; food left for him for lunch... this was unprecedented. Maybe the Dursleys had taken Moody, Tonks and the Weasleys much more seriously that he had thought. Perhaps the prospect of Mad-Eye Moody clanking down their street and standing at the door, in broad daylight, in full view of the neighbors, was as unsettling to the Dursleys as the old Auror’s approach had been years before to Death Eaters fleeing justice.

Harry ate a leisurely breakfast, supplemented by several glasses of milk, drunk more to test the limits of his refrigerator privileges than to satisfy thirst. Then, with a flick of his wand, the dishes rose from the table and made their way to the sink, where a few other plates and glasses were stacked from his relatives’ earlier breakfast. Harry looked thoughtful for a second and then swished his wand, and the dishes began to wash and dry themselves and float to their accustomed places. With a few more flicks and swishes of the wand, the appliances gleamed, and the floor appeared freshly waxed. One good turn deserves another, Harry thought, even if it was the Dursleys. Besides, he’d rarely had an excuse to use the practical household charms he had been taught over the past few years.

Returning to his room, Harry started to unpack his trunk, moving clothes to his wardrobe and drawers, his school supplies to his desk, and other items to his hiding place under the loose floorboard. Making frequent use of his wand, Harry began arranging his things and found his attention drawn to one of the few items remaining from those Dudley had dumped in the room when it was his second bedroom. His trunk still only partially unpacked, Harry pointed his wand at the broken TV and said, “Reparo,” and watched as the cracks vanished from the broken picture tube. Smiling, Harry levitated it atop his dresser, plugged it in, and turned it on. It had been far too quiet all morning.

Harry spent the rest of the morning alternating between reading various books as he unpacked them and finding excuses to use his wand. He left the bathroom gleaming like the kitchen. His room was the neatest it had ever been, and several broken items had been repaired. A little after one p.m., Harry went downstairs, made sandwiches, then returned upstairs to eat and continue reading until it was time to leave for Mrs. Figg’s. As two o’clock approached, Harry set his book aside, slipped his feet into his trainers, and walked briskly to Wisteria Walk.

Harry walked to the door and rang the bell; moments later the door was opened by Remus Lupin. “Hello, Harry,” he said.

“Hi, Professor,” Harry replied. “It’s good to see you again. Are you here about the lessons?”

“It’s good to see you, too, Harry” Lupin answered. “And, yes, the lessons are one of the things we need to talk about. I knew that Professor Dumbledore was working to set them up, but not all of the details had been worked out when I saw you yesterday.”

“Professor Dumbledore did say in his letter,” Harry remarked, “that he did have to twist Fudge’s arm.”

Lupin grinned. “Professor Dumbledore can be quite persuasive, of course; however, he was not the only one twisting the Minister’s arm in this particular case.” Harry looked puzzled, but Lupin continued, “My guess is that Cornelius Fudge decided that he’d rather remain in office with Dumbledore pulling the strings than to have the Professor lead a public push to oust him. Fudge certainly caved in fast enough when they mentioned their next meeting was with Rita Skeeter and that they needed certain issues resolved so the public could be reassured that things were now proceeding in a positive direction.”

“I’d have loved to have seen that.”

“Perhaps you will yet,” Lupin replied. “I expect you will at least hear about it in some detail from someone who did.” Lupin then looked concerned. “Harry, did Professor Dumbledore mention Sirius in his letter?”

“He said that he had been cleared,” Harry answered bitterly, forgetting the question of who had taken on the Minister for Magic with Professor Dumbledore, the smile vanishing from his face. “Not that it does much good now.”

“Not entirely,” Lupin said. “I understand there are some issues with the Black family estate where this was rather important. Among other things, it ensures that the will Sirius left will be followed; if that had not have happened, Twelve Grimmauld Place might have ended up going to the Malfoys, which would not have been a good thing for the Order.”

“A will?” Harry asked.

“Yes, a will. Sirius spent quite a bit of time on the details the last few months; I don’t know a lot of the details, but I do know that you figured in it a great deal. There will be a formal reading of the will in a few days, quite possibly at Gringotts. You and I will both need to attend, but I don’t know any more details than that yet.”

Harry started to say something, but his voice broke, and he was forced to blink back tears. Lupin awkwardly wrapped an arm around his shoulder and said, “I miss him, too. In some ways, I feel as if I’m all alone in the world now.”

Harry pulled back a bit, looked at Lupin and softly said, “Yeah, I suppose I know how that feels.”

“I do have something for you from him,” Lupin said, looking appraisingly at Harry. “I debated about giving this to you now instead of in a few more days, but I think it’s time.” Lupin pulled a letter from his robes and handed it to Harry. Nodding at one of Mrs. Figg’s sofas, Lupin said, “Go ahead and read it if you want. There are several more things we need to talk about, but I’m in no hurry,” which was not quite true, but he had no intention of letting Harry out of his sight until he knew how Harry would handle this letter.

Dear Harry,

If you’re reading this, my number finally came up, and I’m dead. Not that I haven’t been living on borrowed time for years now; though after spending the last several months locked inside this wretched house, shuffling off this mortal coil doesn’t seem like such a bad a thing after all. I’d like to think that I went out in a blaze of glory, saving a lot of lives and taking dozens of Death Eaters with me - starting with Peter. There’s also a very good chance that I’ll have bought it because I finally ignored Dumbledore and took “foolish chances” or did something stupid, but it’s not easy sitting here watching everyone else come and go as they please and even harder when there are important things that they are doing while I sit here pretending to be useful with whatever make-work Dumbledore sends my way. I don’t think he has a clue how much fun sitting around being useless isn’t. I was never a good wallflower, Harry; my first choice has always been to try and be the life of the party, but I’d rather make a fool of myself (and I did, once or twice) than to miss out on the action. I’ve had more than enough of being on the sidelines.

I don’t have a lot of regrets that aren’t old news; the biggest one is thinking you might actually read this instead of me throwing it on the fire in after I write the next one in the series. Yes, I did say series. So far, three of these letters have made their way to the fire, which most likely says more about just how much time I have on my hands right now that I’m trying to fill as opposed to having anything important to say. Still, I want to keep something of my promise to James that I’d look after you should something happen; so far that promise hasn’t been kept very well, though we’ve managed to have a few good moments. If I end up where James is - and I very much hope that I do - I am not looking forward to explaining how you ended up with the Dursleys.

One thing you should be sure of - James and Lily must be incredibly proud of you: I see so much of them in you. You’ve got the best qualities of both. You have James’s strength, Lily’s compassion, and their combined courage and heart. Did I mention how proud I am of you? And that James picked me to be your godfather?

Now, since I’m gone, there are some things I want you to do. These are important and, of course, the Very Last Things I’ll ever ask of you (ok, that’s a cheap shot to play the guilt card, but I think it’s important enough that I’ll use whatever means I can, foul or fair), and I expect you to do them no matter what. You’ve kicked Voldemort’s arse three times now; these should be easy compared to that.

1. I can only hope that I’ll go out in style after saving the world and taking as many Death Eaters as possible with me, but no matter what happened, even if I tripped over my shoelace and fell, IT’S NOT YOUR FAULT. You are NOT to say it, think it, or in any other way consider it YOUR FAULT. Even if I died protecting you, this was MY choice, and in fact, I can’t think of anything that would give my death more meaning. Maybe then, at least, I could look James in the eye. Everything I’ve done and I’m doing is by choice (other than hiding here at Dumbledore’s insistence); I could just as easily have left for America or Australia, but this is where I wanted to be, and this is where I choose to be, and this - trying to look out for you - is what I wanted to do. One of the Muggle musical groups I listen to have a song that goes “I want to die before I get old”… well, that’s me. I’d rather go doing something important than growing old and feeble. Have the decency to honor that, and instead of moping about wringing your hands, get your act together. Don’t say it, don’t think it, and especially don’t believe ANY of this is your fault for even one second EVER again. It's just like saying “You-Know-Who” instead of “Voldemort.” Every time you do, you give him a better chance of winning. Blaming yourself for something that is NOT your fault is the ONE and ONLY thing you could do that would disappoint me. Are we clear on this point?

1. While we’re on the subject of Fault, NONE of what Riddle has done is your fault. Get over it. Wallowing in self-pity won’t solve anything; it won’t bring back James and Lily; it won’t bring back Cedric, and it won’t even make you feel better. It will, however, distract you from what’s important and what needs to be done. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. And you’re tough, Harry; you’re the toughest kid I’ve ever known, and I’ve run with some pretty distinguished company. Remember what I said above…when you give in to guilt and let that distract you and overwhelm you, it helps Voldemort.

1. It’s important that you get your act together, and soon, because in the end, it looks as if you’ll be stuck with dealing with Voldemort. If Dumbledore hasn’t explained this yet, keep after him until he does. It’s important. Yes, I know the whole story, most of it directly from James, and so far, I’ve let Dumbledore convince me that it was better to wait. From what’s happened this year, I’m growing increasingly convinced this was a mistake and had decided that if necessary I’d lay the whole thing out for you as soon as this term ended, with or without Dumbledore’s approval. Do not let him put you off or make excuses. Enlist Remus Lupin or Molly Weasley to help if you need to.

1. Listen to Dumbledore, but don’t follow him on blind faith. He has grand plans and has wheels turning within wheels, but sometimes he forgets that he’s dealing with people who have lives and needs of their own... and feelings too. I think he has your best interests at heart, but it’s been a very long time since he was your age, and he sometimes doesn’t realize how these things seem when you’re dealing with it every day. Follow your head and your heart, and if that means telling Dumbledore to sod off, do it. And in particular, tell him to sod off - loudly and clearly - if he doesn’t lay his cards on the table. Remind him you’re not a mushroom. He’ll understand exactly what you mean, and if you don’t, tell him I told you to ask him to explain it to you in the exact same words as I did to him. In fact, ask him anyway, even if you do know what it means, and cross your fingers that we are able to watch in the Great Beyond.

1. Don’t hesitate to ask for advice. If you’re not sure about something, seek out Lupin. Of all the Marauders, he was the most levelheaded, and he has your interests at heart. Molly Weasley also cares for and is concerned about you and will stand up to anyone and anything to defend her cubs - and bless her, that includes you - even to Albus Dumbledore. Hermione also has a very good head on her shoulders, and Ron, while headstrong and stubborn, may not always get it right the first time around, but he usually gets to the right answer in the end. Ginny Weasley also cares for you a great deal, and you could do far worse then to open up a bit more with her. And just between you and me, (this part is enchanted for your eyes only) if you feel even the slightest thing for her, say something, Harry. If you wait too long, you may have the rest of your life - and I hope it’s longer than Dumbledore’s - to regret it. Take it from someone who knows first hand: it is much better to make a fool of yourself than to mark time the rest of your life, wondering what would have happened if you had taken a chance. Sometimes it turns out what you’ve been looking for everywhere has actually been right there at hand all along. Anyway, enough of that. If you’re not sure about something or anything, talk to one, or even better, several of these people. All of them care about you deeply and will give you their best.

1. Stop pushing your friends away. You may think you’re protecting them, but you’re not. You’re doing the worst thing possible for them - and for you. You’re putting them in harm’s way - because they are loyal and will follow anyway – all you accomplish is getting everything disorganized. Ever hear of “Divide and Conquer?” Well, Voldemort wrote that book, and when you try to go it alone, you play right into his hand. But more importantly - your friends are your strength - Dumbledore can explain this in more detail; make sure that he does – you cannot possibly do what has to be done all alone. We’re at war. Your friends are not weak, helpless, innocent bystanders who need to be protected. Like you, they are warriors in their own right, and this is their fight, too. Not all of them can contribute the same things, nor can anyone take your place; however, they all have their roles. You cannot and should not try to deny them the chance to defend all that is important to them and to protect the things that they love. This is war; in war, people get hurt and die. The survivors keep slogging on until the end. The important thing is to win, and cash in Voldemort’s chips for good. As in KILL that lousy Son of a Bitch DEAD. Not Murder, Harry. Kill. Or to use a word the American cinema is fond of, Terminate. Even a wizard lawyer will tell you that murder is the unlawful taking of a life. And this isn’t murder, Harry, it’s not unlawful, you’re enforcing the law. Killing Voldemort is removing a rabid, drooling mad dog to protect society. It’s not a pleasant job, but somebody’s got to take out the rubbish. In this fight, different people will have different roles depending on their strengths and abilities, including you. You can’t possibly do the whole thing alone. Some will go wand to wand with Death Eaters; some will make the wands, tend the wounded, prepare the food… and some will help take care of you, act as your seconds and lieutenants and helpers, and make sure that you can focus on the things you can uniquely do. Reach out to Ron, Hermione and Ginny and for Merlin’s sake, don’t push them away; you cannot succeed alone and isolated. If you do manage to push them away, Voldemort has already won.

2. Have some fun. Live a little; hell, live a lot. Pull some pranks, visit the Astronomy Tower (and I’m not talking about for class or for the view), and live in a world that’s worth saving.

I mean every one of those things, Harry. I expect you to do them, every last one. Yeah, it’s all on your shoulders; it’s not fair; it sucks, and you’re stuck with it - so keep your chin up, let your friends help, and make this the kind of world you want to live in. James and Lily love you; I love you. You will not let us down. The time for worry is over; the time for doubt is over; put your doubts and the guilt aside, and start preparing.

I will see you again on the other side. But I want that to be a long, long, long time from now. Know that I am with you always.

Sirius


Lupin carefully watched Harry’s face as he opened the letter and began to read. Tears began to pool in Harry’s eyes as he scanned the parchment, but he seemed almost unaware of them, other than the need to blink frequently to be able to keep reading. As Harry read, Lupin noticed subtle changes in Harry’s posture; his shoulders squared, and something seemed to be forming in Harry’s eyes.

Harry finished the letter and wordlessly handed it to Lupin. Though no tears had fallen, they no longer pooled in Harry’s eyes; instead, there was a set and gleam there that startled Lupin. I know that look well, Remus Lupin thought to himself, remembering the handful of times he saw the same look of absolute determination and will etched into James’ face. There was no doubt, no hesitation, no obstacle too large, no punishment too severe, no risk too great, or anything else Lupin had found that would turn James from his goal when whatever was running through his mind painted that particular look on his features.

Lupin turned to the letter and read quickly. By the time he was finished, he was forced to blink back tears as well. He raised his eyes to Harry’s; Harry’s expression was unchanged. Lupin slowly nodded. “I’ve never, ever understood it. Not for one second. Sirius was perhaps the biggest troublemaker Hogwarts has ever known and he always lived for the moment. He lived fast, played hard, would rather pull off a good prank than eat when he was hungry or sleep when he was dead on his feet, but when it mattered, when it really, really mattered, he always managed to find exactly the right words.” Harry nodded, not quite trusting himself to speak. Lupin continued, “Sirius, wherever you are, you old cur, bless you. I don’t know how you did it, but you found the right words again. What you wrote was exactly what Harry needed. Bless you, Sirius.”

They sat in a companionable silence for several minutes, and then Harry asked, “You did say there were several other things we needed to talk about?”

Lupin replied, “That’s true. I believe Professor Dumbledore mentioned that he would be arranging some lessons for both you and some of your friends?”

“Yes, though he didn’t go into any details,” Harry answered.

“If you and the others are agreeable, Professor Dumbledore felt it would be useful for you and those who accompanied you to the Ministry to keep up your Defense against the Dark Arts practice over the summer. You will be training with the new Dark Arts teacher and perhaps with others as well, as the summer goes along. You will have some one-on-one instruction, but all of you will train at least three days a week.”

Harry asked, “Are you the new Dark Arts professor?”

Lupin shook his head, and replied, “No, though you might say I’m the assistant. I’ll be conducting the classes for the first to fourth years. But I’ll be working with you this summer.”

“That’s great,” Harry said. “I just wish you were doing our classes. You were the best Defense professor we’ve had.”

“I don’t think you’ll be too disappointed after you meet the professor, Harry. He’s quite a bit more qualified than I am.”

“After Umbridge, having Lockhart back would be an improvement. Can you tell me who the new professor is?”

Lupin shook his head and said, “You’ll meet him tomorrow; I’d rather not take a chance of jogging anything he might have planned, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Is there any reason you couldn’t meet at ten tomorrow morning?”

“Ten? I’d have to check my calendar first. You know how busy I am in the holidays,” Harry replied, laughing. “No, ten’s fine.”

“Excellent. When you come over, just open the door and come in. It’s been charmed to open for you. Mrs. Figg will be away for the next several weeks but has very kindly made her house available to the Order.” Harry had wondered about that; he had not seen or heard Mrs. Figg or any of her many cats since entering the house.

Lupin continued, “There will be other members of the Order about from time to time. Bill and Charlie Weasley and Tonks will be staying here most nights; others may as well. The house is on the Floo network and is enchanted so that only a very few people can access this fireplace, including Ron, Hermione and Ginny.”

“Will they all be coming tomorrow?” Harry asked eagerly.

“No, tomorrow you’ll meet the new Professor, and if you have no objections, Professor Dumbledore would like to see you for a few minutes as well.”

Harry swallowed guiltily, and said, “I…I… well, I er… I don’t really have any objections.”

Lupin asked, “You look uncomfortable, Harry?”

“My last meeting with Professor Dumbledore wasn’t, er, well, a very good one.” Harry sighed while Lupin smiled knowingly. “I owe him a pretty big apology, and I may need to replace some of his stuff.”

“I wouldn’t worry too much, Harry; Professor Dumbledore has shown nothing but concern for you, but clearing the air certainly wouldn’t hurt.” Clearing the air would be good for both of them, Lupin thought. Strange as it seemed, Dumbledore was as worried about this meeting as Harry, though he concealed it better - but not to the point where Lupin’s enhanced senses couldn’t detect his nervousness. “Two more things, and I must be off. First, I mentioned there would be a reading of Sirius’ will in the next few days; I’ll have details in a day or two, but on that day, you should reckon on traveling with me and several Order members, most likely to Gringotts, for the reading and paper work.” Seeing Harry’s face fall, Lupin continued, “Harry, keep in mind this is what Sirius wanted, and if you refuse to be his heir, the Malfoys are next in line, and they are among the last people Sirius would want to have anything of his.”

Harry nodded his acceptance, and Lupin continued, “And finally, Molly Weasley said to tell you that she hoped their little talk with the Dursleys did some good….”

Harry interrupted, “This morning, breakfast was laid out for me, and Aunt Petunia left a note saying there were sandwich makings in the refrigerator; I even got to have a lie-in; that’s a pretty big change.”

Lupin smiled. “Anyway, Molly said she was going to make certain you got some decent meals this summer, and was going to send Ginny over with a picnic basket for the two of you at about six.” Lupin’s smile grew wicked. “But if you’d rather have me tell Molly that everything is fine and the Dursleys are feeding you properly….” Not that Lupin had any intention of doing that; he’d worked too hard to set this up. In fulfilling one of the requests in the letter Sirius had left for him, Lupin had dropped a subtle hint here, made a suggestion there, and made certain Ron would be safely occupied this evening. Frankly, Lupin didn’t see it – but as Sirius had rather pointedly reminded him, he had been wrong about James and Lily, too. Besides, a visit from a friend would still be good for Harry; a new paradigm was now in place, and there was no better way to reinforce that.

“No! Don’t do that. I’d much rather have Mrs. Weasley’s cooking,” Harry insisted.

“Not to mention some more agreeable company, eh?” Lupin asked innocently as Harry blushed; maybe Sirius had known what he was talking about after all. “Very well; I must be off. Ginny will meet you here around six. See you tomorrow, Harry.”

“Thanks, Professor,” Harry replied as Lupin Disapparated.

Harry started to pick up Sirius’ letter again, then hesitated. It might be better to go and leave a note for the Dursleys now, while they were all hopefully still out. He didn’t want to risk running into them or worse, have them come looking for him and find him here alone or with Ginny - and Mrs. Figg nowhere to be found.

Harry walked quickly back to Privet Drive, scribbled out a quick note, and left it on the table before quickly trotting back to Mrs. Figg’s house. It wouldn’t do to get spotted and questioned by his aunt as she drove home, either. Harry reached the house on Wisteria Walk without seeing any sign of his relatives; as Lupin had said, the door opened for him. He entered and closed it firmly. He settled on the sofa and picked up the letter.

Harry read through the parchment several times, but kept returning to what Sirius had written about Ginny. He thought back over the last year: how she had stepped up to the seeker position after Umbridge sacked him and had been a big part of Gryffindor winning the house cup. How she had unquestioningly supported his efforts, like the time he had used the fireplace in Umbridge’s office. How she had insisted on going with them to the Ministry, and how bravely she had handled herself there. As one of the twins had said, size certainly was no indication of power. Or courage. Or determination. Or spirit.

Their relationship had changed, particularly over the last year. There was little evidence of the crush that used to send Ginny running away or that made her blush when he looked in her direction as it had during his second year. Now she seemed comfortable and confident - perhaps even relaxed - in his company. And of all his friends, she was the only one who had experienced anything remotely close to what he had; she alone had any idea what it was like to face or to have been possessed by Voldemort. And, because of this, if he were honest with himself, she probably understood him better than any of his other friends, even Ron and Hermione. She was the only one who could break him out of the worst of his moods or halt an angry rant with a few well-chosen words.

Then there was the Chamber. As he recalled the events of that day, it was almost as if he could still hear Fawkes’ quavering cry. They had never really talked about it, not really, but it had made a pretty big impact on both of them. And what was it that Dumbledore had said his third year? Though he had not been talking about Ginny or what had happened deep beneath Hogwarts, he had said something about when one wizard saves another’s life that it creates a deep magical bond between them.

Did Ginny still feel anything for him, he wondered. She had dated other guys, most recently Michael Comer, and on the train she had said she “had chosen” Dean Thomas, whatever that meant. Harry had a pretty good idea she had been more interested in pulling Ron’s chain – or getting him to back off – than dating Dean; she had certainly succeeded in changing the subject. And then there had been the time this spring when Madam Pince had chased them from the library, when Ginny had given him the chocolate Easter egg Molly had sent. She had said that he really seemed to be down and had asked if he were okay, and suggested he talk to Cho. He remembered how she had watched him carefully as he had made it clear he had no interest in doing that. And when he’d told her he wanted to talk to Sirius, she had encouraged him, and said that they, the two of them, could find a way to do it, that anything was possible if you had enough nerve.

Sirius had said that Ginny cared for him a great deal and her actions certainly showed that, but was there more? The whole thing with Cho had been a fiasco from their first date; the smart thing to do would be to forget about the whole dating thing altogether… but to do so would be to leave yet another hole in his life. He already knew, just from the furtive looks he occasionally saw Ron and Hermione exchange that there was something that missing… that he wanted. But being with him might not be the safest thing either. But wouldn’t that also apply to his friends? And Sirius said trying to keep his friends at a safe distance – whatever that was – was the worst thing he could do for both. Wouldn’t that imply… if there were someone he cared about… even more so?

Sirius had written, “…if you feel even the slightest thing for her, say something.” Did he? She was certainly a friend, after the last year, a very good friend. Of course, he regarded the entire Weasley family that way, though Percy was certainly being a major git at the moment. Ginny was the little sister of one of his best friends – Harry hoped Ron still felt that way – but would that really be so bad? The Weasleys already treated him like family… but how would they feel about them being together? Had Ron actually encouraged Ginny to see him in that light on the train home? Had Sirius been encouraging him in this letter?

Harry read what Sirius had written again, then settled back and closed his eyes to think. Cho was pretty, but things would have never worked between them; they were just too… different. Cho had been “safe” in a way – with her in Ravenclaw, the amount of time they could spend together had been limited – it then occurred to Harry that considering this a plus didn’t say very much for them as a couple. Besides the initial attraction, there hadn’t been anything else; everything had gone downhill from there. Something he had heard somewhere ran through his mind: that wanting is often better than having.

There was supposedly an old saying that differences attract, but similarities endure. Certainly there were things he and Ginny had in common that he had with no one else. She could get through to him when even Ron and Hermione couldn’t. She was brave, daring, kind, fiercely independent, had a sense of humor – and she didn’t humor or coddle or patronize him, but played it straight. She could be a lot of fun, more than a little of the twins had rubbed off on her. And she was attractive, not just pretty like Cho, but on a deeper level that surpassed just physical looks. “Sometimes it turns out what you’ve been looking for everywhere has actually been right there at hand all along,” Sirius had said in his letter. Sirius was right; Ginny had been there since the very first day he had truly entered the wizarding world. Yes, if he were honest with himself, in his heart of hearts, he did feel… something for Ginny.

But why had it taken him so long to realize it? No, dammit… he could at least be honest with himself. Why had it taken so long to admit it?

The past few months certainly hadn’t been a very good time, but that wasn’t really a good excuse. The crush? Not really. He hadn’t known how to handle it at the time; thanks to the Dursleys, he was still playing catch-up in a lot of social situations. Ron? Harry considered Ron to be his first and one of his two best friends, in some ways he was worried how Ron would react if he knew Harry had feelings for Ginny; his remark and glance on the Hogwarts Express notwithstanding. Harry knew how protective Ron was of Ginny; he had listened to Ron fuss, fume and threaten the untimely end of every boy she’d dated; at least the ones that he’d known about. For that matter, all of Ginny’s brothers were very protective of her, even the twins. If he were to make his feelings known, how would that change his relationship with the Weasleys? Was it even seemly for a Gryffindor to be thinking along these lines?

But was that really it? Harry sighed heavily; his conscience had learned way too much from Hermione of late. But Sirius had seen it too. “If you wait too long, you may have the rest of your life… to regret it.” And that’s what he had been doing. Waiting. Waiting until Voldemort was dealt with, which had the added advantage of possibly rendering the whole messy dating question moot. No more Harry, no more problem… but not a very Gryffindor solution. And then, again, if a question was never asked, then a positive answer was always a possibility. A “No” removed all doubt. As long as it wasn’t no, there was still hope… or was there? Ginny wasn’t waiting, not any more. She was getting on with her life. Was it already too late? Would it be worth risking their friendship, and Ron’s friendship and all the Weasleys’ to take a chance that there might be something more? But Sirius had pointed out the risks of not taking that chance, too - the picture he had painted didn’t seem very attractive. And Sirius said he was talking from first hand knowledge - Harry wondered what it was his godfather had waited too long to do.

Sirius had said over and over he couldn’t do it alone. And that he needed his friends. Would saying something put their friendship at risk if she no longer felt anything for him? Or, was the risk really in not saying anything, as Sirius had said. Another thought occurred to him. Sirius had made it clear his last request to Harry was to do the things he’d listed in the letter. What he had said about Ginny was conditional - that if he felt something for her, to say something. He had already admitted to himself that he did feel something… the condition had been met. Why did everything always have to be so complicated?

Harry glanced at the clock on the mantel. He had more than an hour to go before Ginny’s arrival. He settled back to read the letter again, still pondering what he should say or do.

Chapter 2 - Pure and Easy by cts


Chapter 2 - Pure and Easy

There once was a note, pureand easy,
Playing so free, like a breath rippling by.
The note is eternal, I hear it, it sees me,
Forever we blend it, forever we die.

- Pure and Easy, The Who




Ginny Weasley stood in her room at the Burrow wrapped in a fluffy towel. She had just showered and was sorting through her t-shirt collection, trying to decide on something suitable for her upcoming visit to Harry. She finally decided on a black t-shirt with the Gryffindor Quidditch mascot on the front – a lion in red and gold robes holding a snitch – and tossed it on her bed. Quidditch was certainly something that they both liked, and also a subtle reminder that she could hold her own. Earlier that day, Ginny had made a pair of cutoffs from some old jeans that she was now too tall to wear; the newly minted shorts were also lying on the bed. It had been tempting to wear a top with buttons that she could have rolled up and tied, but the cutoffs by themselves were pushing what she could get past her mother. She then reached into the top drawer for her undergarments. Pulling them from the drawer, she started the motion of throwing them on the bed and then hesitated, looking thoughtfully at one of the items she held. She looked carefully at the t-shirt for a moment, made a decision, and returned a lacy garment to the drawer.

She dressed, dried her hair with a spell, and then carefully arranged it in a fashion she hoped would look casually windblown – or at least unarranged. She glanced at the clock, then picked up a letter from her bedside table and read it for at least the twentieth time since Remus Lupin had given it to her at King’s Cross station.


Dear Ginny,

If you’re reading this, it either means I’ve managed to get myself killed, or maybe if I’m lucky we’re all sitting around laughing at the things I did to stay occupied at Grimmauld Place before Voldemort was dealt with. While I hope it’s the latter, the other possibility seems rather likely given that both the Ministry and the Death Eaters are looking for me, and I’ve growing increasingly frustrated sitting here doing nothing while everyone else is free to come and go and actually do something worthwhile.

I enjoyed the times we spent getting to know each other last summer in Grimmauld Place; while I wouldn’t wish being stuck there on anyone (myself included), it was good having your company. In some ways, we were both the odd ones out, with Ron and Hermione spending most of their time fencing around each other and everyone else occupied with Order business or other things; if nothing else, that left us a quite a bit of time to talk, enough that I feel I know you well enough to presume to ask for your help should something happen to me.

This is one of five letters I keep writing and updating; the others are to Remus Lupin, your brother Ron, Hermione, and of course Harry. There’re mostly about Harry: I’m quite worried about him and his state of mind right now, and if something does happen to me, I want to make sure he’s okay. Lupin is like a brother to me and would look after Harry for me even if he were not concerned as much as I am about Harry’s welfare; however, Harry doesn’t seem to be inclined to listen to any adult at the moment, which comes naturally enough for anyone his age, even without the abuse he’s taken from many of the adults in his life.

You may be aware that I have a certain degree of skill with the enchantment of parchments; this letter will be visible only to you in its true form, and should you choose at some point to share it with him, to Harry. Anyone else will see nothing other than a bit of meaningless chatter unless it’s unlocked; Harry will be able to figure out how to unlock it should the need arise.

It seems that most of the people in the wizarding world expect Albus Dumbledore to deal with Voldemort; however, that does not seem to be how things are ordained to play out. There was a prophecy made before Harry was born that, given subsequent events, leaves little doubt that Harry is the only one who can defeat Voldemort. The prophecy says, “The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies... and the Dark Lord will mark him as equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives... the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…." There is essentially no doubt this is Harry; while there was another boy born at the right time, Voldemort removed all doubt when he left the scar on Harry’s forehead. I know the details only because James told me before he and Lily were killed. I’m not sure if anyone else other than Albus Dumbledore is aware of the prophecy; even though Professor Trelawney gave it, she has no memory of it. I have pushed Dumbledore to tell Harry the whole truth, and in my letter to Harry I’ve told him that Dumbledore needs to lay his cards on the table but no more. It’s not something I want him to find out from a letter; especially if there’s any chance he might read it while he’s alone.

I hate to dump this burden on you, but you’re my fallback to make sure Harry knows the truth. I love Lupin like a brother and would trust him with my life a thousand times over, but he agrees with Dumbledore about trying to shield Harry from everything until he’s older. Hermione likewise might decide to delay if she sees he’s still as mixed up as at the time of writing and Ron will follow her lead. So I’m putting it all on you: if Dumbledore has not come clean by the end of the school year, make sure Harry knows the truth.

I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re wondering, “Why me?” on reading this. There are several reasons: one is that if nothing else, I’ve found you to be honest, brutally at times, and perhaps of all of Harry’s friends, the least tolerant of any sort of pretense or deception. Another is that it is clear to me just how deeply you care about him, and if necessary you will be able to find the right time and place and will have the best chance of being able to reach him.

Both you and Harry are at an age where relationships are uncomfortable and uncertain territory. While matters of the heart are notoriously complex, I would encourage you to follow yours. Do not be discouraged, and remember that inexperience is not the same thing as a lack of interest. Something worth having is worth fighting for, Ginny. Keep in mind Harry has both lacked role models and has suffered at the hands of those who should have nurtured and cared for him. I suppose what I’m saying is that in Harry’s case, some of the tried and true approaches may not work, particularly since Harry has apparently decided that the best thing he can do for his friends is to push them as far away as possible, so there is no chance of them getting hurt. Whether you and Harry are close friends or should become more, I beg you and Ron and Hermione not to allow him to push you away. I would not ask such a thing if each of you had not made it clear beyond all doubt that you intended to be there with him, with or without his blessing. What you may not know is that what Dumbledore believes will give Harry the power to defeat Voldemort is his love…his heart…his capacity to care - and these virtues need to be nurtured and grown as much, or perhaps even more than his magic. The prophecy does not say that Harry will defeat Voldemort; it says that one will defeat the other. I want Harry to have every advantage, and he won’t have a chance isolated, alone and angry. Again, I find I am unfairly placing the greatest share of the burden you, Ginny, and in perfect honesty, I’m not entirely sure why - only this, and nothing else, feels right. Perhaps James has been whispering in my dreams; I certainly still miss him.

Again, I’m sorry for the burden I’m laying on you in this letter, but I do not trust Albus Dumbledore to balance the needs of the wizarding world versus the needs of Harry. I hope you won’t think too unkindly of an old dog, whose greatest fear is leaving his task undone and having to explain to James and Lily the complete mess that he’s made of things.

Take care of my godson, Ginny, and of yourself as well. You have a wonderful family, and mere words cannot express my appreciation for all that all of you have done for Harry. I hope to see you again one day on the other side, and I hope that’s a long, long, long time from now.

Love,

Sirius


“Ginny!” Molly Weasley called from the kitchen.

“Coming, Mum!” Ginny quickly folded the letter twice and placed it in a pocket. She left her room, carefully closing the door behind her, and lightly padded down the stairs and joined her mother in the kitchen.

Molly turned to her youngest as she covered a basket with a cloth. “I’ve got everything packed up; it’s almost time for you to floo to Mrs. Figg’s and meet Harry. I’ve fixed several of his favorites; try to encourage him to eat well and do what you can cheer him a bit and get his mind off… things...”

Molly’s eyes narrowed as she took in the expanse of bare skin that started at Ginny’s trainers and ran the full length of her legs to a very cut-off pair of cutoffs. Ginny had grown a few inches since Christmas, and all of it seemed to have been in her legs. Then Molly took note of the other unusual omission in her daughter’s apparel. She almost started a lecture then and there, but abruptly stopped herself, as the memory of Ginny’s ashen face, just after she had been rescued from the Chamber, flashed before her eyes. Then she thought about the discussion that had taken place around her kitchen table the day before.

Albus Dumbledore and Nicholas Flamel had arrived at the Burrow after their meeting with Cornelius Fudge. Remus Lupin had joined them a few minutes later. Molly had been quite surprised to hear Dumbledore’s admission of error; she had thought the old wizard – maybe not practically perfect, but perhaps… almost infallible. She became increasingly concerned about Harry as Dumbledore described his mental state and their last encounter. Then Flamel had turned toward him and insisted, “This is his family. You must tell them the whole story.”

Dumbledore returned Flamel’s gaze for a moment before slowly nodding. He told them the tale of how Sybill Trelawney had given the prophecy to him years before. He then filled in many of the details they had not heard before, including how Voldemort’s efforts to obtain the full prophecy had led Harry and his friends to the Ministry. Molly had been shaken to her core listening to this story, though she had tried not to let it show. She had always thought of Harry as a victim – an incredibly brave and resourceful victim – who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. But – if what Dumbledore said was true – it was Harry Potter and not Albus Dumbledore who was ultimately fated to challenge Voldemort. The fate of her family – no, of their entire world - apparently rested in the hands of this quiet, unassuming lad.

As Molly had pondered these revelations, the conversation had continued about Harry and the plans for his summer. She was mostly pleased with the arrangements that had made, but would have preferred that Harry had been allowed to come directly to the Burrow from the train. Then Lupin had suggested this picnic as one way to both provide moral support and make it less obvious they were keeping a close eye on him.

As she stared at her daughter, Molly now found herself questioning how much Ginny really knew. Even though she and Ron had been sent upstairs while they had talked, that had not always prevented them from finding out in the past - and who could even begin to guess at what the twins might have come up with since last summer. Molly wondered if Ginny had had a hand in Lupin’s suggestion – and in the twins’ conveniently drafting Ron this afternoon.

Molly finally became aware that Ginny was watching her carefully. Ginny certainly noticed her earlier appraisal and her stance suggested she was expecting and prepared for an argument. I’m just going to let her wonder, Molly decided, as Ginny cautiously asked, “Okay, anything else, Mum?”

Molly smiled indulgently at her daughter. “No, dear, run along and have a good time. And give my love to Harry.” Thinking that given the circumstances, she’d have probably let Ginny go wearing a Muggle swimsuit – even one of those stringy things the girls were said to wear on French beaches - if there were a chance it would lift Harry’s spirits. Or if there was a chance… but maybe that was what this was really all about. Ginny was becoming a lovely young woman, and in those shorts – if there was a spark of life left anywhere within the Boy Who Lived, she couldn’t see how he could fail to notice. Molly knew that her daughter still had feelings for Harry, but she had begun to fear that Ginny really had given up. But this – it looked like Ginny was finally making a play for Harry – a serious, abandon-all-subtlety, I-mean-business play – there wasn’t really any other explanation she could think of - and damned if she’d interfere with that. Even though it was one of the oldest plays in the book… Of course, there was good reason that it was one of the oldest plays – it occasionally worked. While she loved Harry dearly, he was even denser than her son Ron when it came to relating to the opposite sex. Maybe something this simple and direct would get his attention long enough to see that Ginny was more than just Ron’s baby sister… and that she was growing up.

“Okay, Mum.” It was obvious to Molly that Ginny did not intend to linger and give her a chance to change her mind. She picked up the basket, moved quickly toward the fireplace, and took a pinch of floo powder and threw it onto the fire. Then she said “Arabella Figg’s” and wasted no time stepping into the green flame. Just before the flame took her, Molly said quietly, “Good luck, Ginny.” As the flames died, her smile faded into worry and she added, “And may all your hopes and dreams come true.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Harry stood as Ginny stumbled out of the fireplace, and, grasping her arm – the one holding the picnic basket - steadied her until she had regained her balance. Ginny smiled at him as she watched for a reaction through her long lashes. “Hi, Harry. How’s your summer so far?”

“Hi, Ginny,” Harry replied, a little distractedly as he took in the long, slender legs emerging from her cutoffs. Ginny was almost his height, he realized - when had her legs grown so incredibly long? “So far, it’s been completely unexpected. After Moody and Lupin and your parents warned off the Dursleys, they said nothing on the way home; I fell asleep not long after we got home, slept in until I woke up, then this morning I found I had permission to use magic, found breakfast on the table and the Dursleys had left for the day but left me something for lunch and I saw Professor Lupin this afternoon, and he’ll be back at Hogwarts next year, and we’re all to have some defense training, and best of all, even if I’m stuck here, it looks as if you and Ron and Hermione will be able to come here…”

Harry was interrupted by Ginny’s laughter. “You’re gushing, Harry.”

Coloring slightly, Harry realized he had been babbling; most of his attention had been elsewhere. He nodded and sheepishly said, “I reckon that means it’s a better than average start, eh?”

“It sounds like it,” Ginny agreed, who seemed rather smugly pleased with where Harry’s attention had been focused. “You also look a lot better than you did on the train. Sounds like a good night’s rest was just what you needed. Hey, are you hungry? I think Mum packed enough that even Ron could get several meals from what’s in the basket.”

“Then there must be enough in there to last the two of us a week. I’m ready whenever you are. I had sandwiches for lunch, but that was hours ago. Professor Lupin offered to tell your Mum the Dursleys were feeding me, but I told him not to. I’d much rather have your Mum’s cooking.”

“How about some company?” she asked shyly as he led the way to the kitchen.

“That’s the same thing Lupin asked me,” Harry answered, wondering just how much of this was being choreographed from behind the scenes. Well, if it got Ginny here – looking like this, a voice from somewhere added – they could plot all they wanted… at least as long as they didn’t stop. He continued, “and to be honest, if I had to pick between the two, the company would win hands down. Actually I’m a little surprised Ron didn’t come along.” They entered the kitchen, and Ginny began unpacking the basket, setting out meat pies, two bottles of butterbeer, and several other bowls charmed to keep their contents warm. Harry found plates and silverware and set the table. They sat, and Harry flicked his wand, lighting a pair of candles.

“Oh, I’m sure he would have wanted to, but Fred and George grabbed him this afternoon to help them set up something in their shop in Diagon Alley.” From Ginny’s tone, it sounded as if she thought Harry had been disappointed Ron had not come, while Harry’s unspoken thoughts had been more along the lines he was really, really glad Ron hadn’t come along and messed this up - which he would have as soon as he noticed where Harry’s eyes kept drifting. Thankfully Ginny didn’t seem to be aware of the effect those shorts were having on him.

“That reminds me; Mum found out about where the twins got the money to set up shop. It seems one of them left some parchment on the kitchen table where they were working their sums, and it showed one thousand Galleons coming from an investor. When she tried to pin them down on it, Ron told her that it was you. He may not be going much of anywhere for a day or two after spending the afternoon with them.” Ginny looked at him, waiting for a reaction.

Harry swallowed, and asked, “Is she really angry?”

“Was it really you?”

Harry sighed; that was all he needed, Mrs. Weasley upset with him. “Yes, the one thousand Galleons were the prize from the Tri-Wizard tournament a year ago. I didn’t want it; I didn’t feel like I had deserved it. Is your Mum still upset?”

“Well, I expect you’re going to hear about it sooner or later - most likely later. Right now, Mum’s awfully worried about you, so much that just a few minutes later she was making excuses for you, saying you were too kind hearted for your own good and that Fred and George had taken advantage of you. Then she yelled at Ron for not saying something earlier. But I reckon it was a good thing you weren’t at the Burrow when she found out.”

Harry frowned, and a worried look flickered across Ginny’s face. Harry looked down for a moment, and finally said, “I suppose she and everyone else has a good reason to be worried. It’s a wonder I wasn’t expelled; I get kicked off the team; I just about get the lot of you….”

“Harry, nobody takes anything that Umbridge cow did seriously. Dad said the paperwork is already working its way through the ministry unraveling all of the educational decrees, and Dumbledore will overturn the ban; you’ll see,” Ginny interrupted. “You’ll be back as Seeker, and I can try out for Chaser.”

Harry continued, “I lead all of you on a fool’s errand where Sirius gets killed; all of you get hurt; Dumbledore has to save the day….”

“Harry, that’s not your fault….”

“You know, that’s what Sirius said.” Something changed in Harry’s expression. The guilt that had been building in his eyes suddenly vanished. “He left me a letter that Professor Lupin gave me a few hours ago; he made it clear that the last thing he was ever asking me to do was not to consider any of this my fault, but to get my act together and… well, get on with things. That whether or not I liked it, I was stuck dealing with Voldemort, so I might as well stop feeling sorry for myself and get on with it. And I am… trying… but it’s not easy.”

Ginny seemed to be watching him very closely. “Sirius was right, you know. Did he say anything else?”

“Well, Sirius said to stop pushing everyone away, that this was a war and everyone had their part to do. And that when I tried to keep you and Ron and Hermione safe, even through I was trying to protect you, I was actually putting all of you in harm's way because you’d just follow anyway. Sirius said that I needed your friendship because that was the source of whatever it is that would let me take on Voldemort.” Harry glanced at Ginny, who nodded for him to continue.

“Sirius told me that Dumbledore had been holding out on me, that I should tell him to sod off if he didn’t come clean. But he already had. Dumbledore told me the whole thing, Ginny, after the Ministry, after I’d smashed up his office.”

Ginny asked hesitantly, “You smashed…He told you about… Trelawney… the prophecy she made… a real one, before… before you were born?”

“How… how could you possibly have known that?” Harry looked at her, stunned. “Dumbledore said after the record was destroyed at the Ministry, no one else knew.”

Ginny looked down, seemingly troubled by his response. “Harry, Sirius left a letter for me, too. In it, he said that your father had told him about the prophecy years ago. He had been pushing Dumbledore to tell you and was afraid he wouldn’t. He told me, in his letter, to make sure you knew the truth if Dumbledore hadn’t told you by the end of the school year.”

Harry sagged in his chair. “Sirius shouldn’t have done that; knowing that puts you at greater risk…” He looked up at her, meeting her eyes. “But I’m glad you know. It… it makes it easier, somehow. I didn’t know how I could keep that from everyone - anyone who knows that is at greater risk – though I suppose I’m not supposed to look at it like that any more. If you and Ron and Hermione were smart, you’d get as far away as possible from me.”

“I’m a Gryffindor, Harry. I don’t run away from my friends when the chips are down. Sirius said that he didn’t tell Professor Lupin or Ron or Hermione. He wasn’t sure they would tell you; he was afraid they’d try to shield you. He said I’d been brutally honest with him…”

“Ginny….” Harry hesitated. “You know I have to kill Voldemort… doesn’t that bother you? That I’ll be no better than he….”

“NO!” She cut him off. “You are not in any way, shape or form like Voldemort, Harry! Not even slightly. You’re protecting the wizarding world. What you have to do may not be pleasant, but all the other choices are much worse.”

“Sirius said pretty much the same thing, that this wasn’t murder; he said it was like killing a mad dog before someone was bitten.” Even if Sirius had told her how to answer that question, hearing Ginny validate what Sirius had said with such intensity and conviction really meant a lot to him. Looking in her eyes again, he tried to find out. He asked, grinning, “Did Sirius ask you to go over all these points with me and repeat them over and over until they took?”

“No, silly. Well, he did say it was important not to let you try and push us away and that he’d written letters to Ron, Hermione, Professor Lupin, and you.”

“His letter to me, Ginny…. I don’t know how to describe it. I felt so… so different after reading it. Suddenly, it was as if all the doubt was fading, all the guilt was gone…. And he told me the one thing I’ve been thinking I had to do - the one thing I didn’t want to do, and what’s been tearing me up inside - to distance myself from everyone I cared about to protect them - was the worst thing I could do. And that if I did it, I couldn’t possibly win against Voldemort.”

“Harry, we’ve tried to tell you that for a long time," Ginny said softly. "I’ve said it before. I will follow where you lead. If you leave me behind, I’ll still follow. This isn’t your private little war. We’re all in this together, and it’s me, and my family, and my whole world that Voldemort’s threatening.”

“No, Ginny, that’s not what I want.” Ginny looked at him angrily. “Wait, Ginny, please, hear me out.” Harry had raised his hands, as if preparing to defend himself.

“How… how can you say that to me? How can you keep pushing me away after… after what you just said? You admitted that you had no chance… alone… and… and none of us do without you! Didn’t the Ministry mean anything?” There was both anger and anguish in her voice; Harry had no doubt she was ready to really let him have it… but even so, she was still giving him a chance to explain.

“Ginny, I don’t want you following me. There’s no one else I’d rather have with me… at my back… beside me… but not following me.”

“What… what are you saying, Harry?” The anger in her voice had lessened, but the anguish was undiminished. Harry suddenly remembered all the times that he - or Ron or on occasion even Hermione - had excluded her or pushed her away. Ginny had no doubt been expecting to hear the litany she had always heard from them – that she was too young, or too small, or wasn’t involved, or that it was too dangerous, or she couldn’t keep up, or even that she was a girl. Ron had said that to Ginny once, and Harry had never seen her angrier than she had been then – though a few moments ago had been close.

He again met her eyes; confusion had replaced the anger. Harry lowered his hands and said firmly, “Not following me, not tagging along, Ginny, but together, with me, by my side. Sirius was right; I can’t do this...” His voice broke then, but Harry continued after a moment, “I can’t possibly do this alone, Ginny. I was a basket case most all of last year; there’s no way that I can ever face Voldemort… like that… and win. And if I don’t win, Voldemort does. Dumbledore saved the day at the Ministry, but all he did was buy time. I have to do this…. And I need your help. Otherwise, what Sirius did… it won’t matter. But I… can’t… do it… alone….” Harry’s voice trailed off.

Ginny spoke softly, a different emotion now shining in her expressive eyes as she took Harry’s hand into hers. “Harry… you have never had to do any of this alone. You may be fated ultimately to deal with Voldemort, but you won’t do it alone. I will be there with you, beside you, at your side, at your back, or anywhere else you need me to be.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “To the gallows-foot – and after.” She hesitated a moment and added, with just a hint of doubt in her voice, “Ron and Hermione feel the same way, you know. We’ve all told you that you’re stuck with us.”

Harry looked down but did not release her hand. He said, “I’ve treated you all pretty shabbily, haven’t I?” When Ginny didn’t answer, Harry continued, “I’m sorry, Ginny. All of you deserved better. Especially you.”

“That doesn’t matter now, Harry. What matters is what we do from here.” She smiled then, and said in a playful tone, “I was supposed to make sure you ate and try to cheer you up. You know, if I take this much food back with me, Mum will be here to force feed you within the hour.”

“Well we can’t very well have that, can we?” Harry laughed… but he also wanted a moment to think over what Ginny had said. He had tried to gauge how she might react if he “said something” as Sirius had put it. He’d skirted around the edges… but she kept bringing Ron and Hermione back into it. Was she warning him to back off, or making it clear they were no more than friends? That wasn’t what he had seen… what he thought he had seen… in her eyes.

The next few minutes were quiet, other than the sounds of knives and forks clicking against the plates. Though there was no conversation during the meal, their eyes frequently met. After they finished, Ginny did end up returning most of the food to the basket but said laughingly that Molly might have to be reminded not to judge Harry by Ron’s standards, but enough was gone that she wouldn’t worry too much.

Using their wands, they cleaned up and moved back to the living room where they settled on opposite ends of the sofa Lupin and Harry had occupied earlier. Harry’s letter was lying nearby. Ginny motioned to it, and Harry nodded; she picked up the letter and read. Several minutes passed before Ginny looked up and said, “Sirius said a lot of the things we’ve all tried to say for a long time, Harry. He was right, you know. About everything.”

“That’s what Lupin said, too,” Harry said slowly. “He said that Sirius was the biggest troublemaker there ever was, but somehow, when he needed to, he always came up with the right words.”

“Are you going to do everything he asked, Harry?” Ginny queried.

“I’m going to try. I don’t see a lot of other choices, actually.”

“Not any other good ones. I think it’s all good advice.” She looked at him pointedly and continued, “All of it, Harry.”

Harry looked at Ginny, certain there was something that he was missing. He thought back over the letter that he had read and re-read while waiting for her to arrive. She hadn’t seen the lines Sirius had hidden, “…if you feel even the slightest thing for her, say something, Harry.” Or… had she? The letter said was enchanted for his eyes only… could Sirius… would Sirius… as Harry thought about it, he became increasingly suspicious that one other person could read the entire letter - and she was sitting across from him. That would be exactly the sort of thing Sirius would do. He felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach; he needed time to sort this out. Had Ginny seen those lines?

Sirius’ warning, “…if you wait too long, you may have the rest of your life… to regret it” kept running through Harry’s head. He might have already waited too long. Harry took a deep breath and looked at Ginny sitting across from him, her hair looking casually windblown as it cascaded like a mane over her shoulders; deep expressive brown eyes, a slender figure, and legs – long, smooth, incredible legs - that seemed to go on forever, now tucked beside her as she had curled up on the other side of the sofa. “I’m a Gryffindor, dammit, why am I so hesitant?” he thought to himself and then realized he knew the answer. What he did now – whichever choice he made – could potentially change… everything.

She sat beside him, waiting quietly, her expression yielding few clues. If he took this step, it might not be possible to turn back the clock. Cho had been a crush, but ultimately, it had been a casual thing - there would be nothing the least bit casual about being with Ginny. Damn Sirius and his parchments and his pranks – but somehow, this did feel… that it was… right. If Dumbledore’s maxim meant anything – maybe it was the right thing to do – because it sure as hell wasn’t easy. Harry finally swore under his breath and gathered his resolve. “Bugger it, Sirius, you are a dog. A rotten, stinking, no good, flea-bitten, mangy cur.”

Ginny responded, “What did you say, Harry?” trying unsuccessfully to keep the disappointment out of her voice.

“Ginny… there’s one thing that frightens me even more than losing to Voldemort. Sirius said in his letter it was better to make a fool of yourself than spend the rest of your life wondering.” She waited, frozen, still. Harry continued, “I’m not going to take that chance any longer; the only reason I would even hesitate is it risks one of the things I value more than anything else in the world, Ginny, and that’s your friendship.”

“Harry… there’s nothing you could…” Ginny whispered softly.

Harry held up his hand, stopping her. “Ginny, I do care about you… maybe more than just as a friend. When I said earlier I wanted you with me… beside me… I meant exactly what I said… that I wanted you beside me. That I’d like to… maybe be with… you… Do you… do you have any… feelings… left for me?” His voice dropped so low she could barely make out the words. “Or did I take too long?”

“Harry,” Ginny said, savoring his name.

In that one word, he had her answer. To Harry it sounded as if she had set his name to phoenix song -as if a phoenix had warbled as she spoke, blending with Ginny’s voice and underscoring the emotions that now threatened to overwhelmed him – though even Fawkes in full voice had never lifted his spirits as hearing Ginny say his name the way she just had.

Ginny, however, hadn’t stopped there. “When I first saw you at King’s Cross, when you and Ron were leaving for your first year, I felt… it… even then. Then you saved me my first year. I already owe you a life debt. But I thought you never noticed me… that to you, I was nothing more than Ron’s annoying little sister. All I ever seemed to succeed in doing was embarrassing you. I did wait for a while - but eventually, I said I’d given up. Not because my feelings had changed, but because if you ever did feel something for me, I wanted it to be real, not out of obligation. And if I… I was not the one, at least I… could give you a chance at finding happiness.

“I dated other boys, several of them; most of them were okay but all of them were distractions - none of them were you. I was trying to prove to everybody – including you - that I was over you, but no matter what I did, there was at least one person who I never convinced, who knew it was all a lie: me.

“Besides, how could someone like you be interested in… in a nobody like me? My family is so poor even a church mouse would turn up its nose at the Burrow, and my father isn’t exactly a mover and shaker at the Ministry. I’m loud, pushy, not very ladylike - and moody. I’m not pretty and curved like Lavender or even in the same league as Cho; I’m skinny and bony… and flat. I’m a tomboy with scabs on my knees and elbows. What could you possibly see in me?

“You carry the whole weight of our world on your shoulders, Harry…even more than I could have ever imagined before reading Sirius’ letter,” Ginny continued. “I would just drag you down…”

Harry had been looking at Ginny with growing incredulity but he had to stop her there. “You would never drag me down. I agree - you and Cho aren’t in the same league; she’ll never hold a candle to you. And you’re not shallow like Lavender at all; you’re tall and slender and beautiful… and what’s in your family’s vault at Gringotts isn’t the least bit important to me; but if it is to you, you can have every last Galleon, Sickle and Knut in mine. You have no idea how rich you are in your family. There’s so much love there, your Mum even had a little left over for me.”

He smiled at her, a radiant care- and worry-free smile and then asked, “Does this mean… that maybe it wasn’t too late?” Harry knew the answer; he just wanted to hear her say it again.

Ginny seemed to understand and willingly played along. “No, it wasn’t too late. Maybe it was close, but Dean will just have to wonder. Harry, I fell for you the first time I saw you, and nothing has ever changed that.”

Harry had to know how close to the edge he had been. “Did you see… in Sirius’ letter?”

“You mean the part that was supposed to be just to you?” She smiled wickedly. “Yes. I only hope Sirius could see that his last prank was a smashing success.”

“I couldn’t take that chance. If you had seen it, and I’d said nothing… it might have been too late.”

“I told you I thought it was all good advice,” she whispered, moving across the sofa, and taking his hand. “You don’t know how many times I’ve dreamed about you finally noticing me… wanting to be with me… the other half of my dream has finally come true….”

“The other half?”

“At the Ministry,” she replied, “fighting against Voldemort - with you.”

That did remind Harry of some of the practical considerations. “Do I dare show my face at the Burrow?”

Ginny replied thoughtfully, “Well, Ron’s not going to be very happy about it…”

“I thought he was actually encouraging you to think about me.”

“Only because he thought you wouldn’t be interested – and if the off chance you were, well, at least you don’t have quite the reputation that Dean does. No, Ron probably had some idea I still felt something for you. You would be better than Dean, and better still as long as you weren’t interested, but your returning my feelings will scare the living daylights out of him. Eventually Hermione will get through to him that I’m hardly going to live alone and be an old maid aunt to their children, and of everyone I could be with, he’ll finally concede you’re the least objectionable… but he’d be a lot happier if we’d just put everything on hold until we’re both twenty-five or maybe thirty.

“Let’s see… the rest of the family. The twins will be merciless with their teasing… but for all that, supportive. And it keeps the business all in the family. Percy… well, Percy’s not around. Charlie will be pleased, he really thinks a lot of you, and so does Bill. If anything Bill will ask what took so long. Of all my brothers, he understands me the best and knows this is exactly what I wanted. Dad will take a day or three get used to it; his baby is growing up and he knows enough to know this one’s serious. But it’s Mum who will be the biggest problem.”

“She’s going to be upset with me, eh?”

“Upset? Are you kidding? This has been what she’s hoped for all along. I think I heard her wishing me luck as I entered the Floo. She’s going to be unbearable. She’ll want to start planning the wedding.” Her voice took on a seductive tone. “Harry, have you noticed anything different about what I’m wearing? Besides the shorts?” Harry looked blank; Ginny sighed and said, “Hermione is right; you and Ron are both completely clueless. Let me spell it out for you. Do you notice anything I’m NOT wearing?”

Harry looked puzzled for a moment; there weren’t really a lot of options… socks probably didn’t count; could she possibly mean…? His hand traced down her back and found no sign of an undergarment; unsure of what to say, he nodded. Ginny continued, “Mum noticed that, too, and I don’t think she was really thrilled about how high I cut these shorts. I was expecting either a long lecture or maybe a screaming match, followed by a order to change clothes, but she said nothing but run along and have a good time.” She grinned wickedly. “Now, the way I figure it, that means one of two things… she was so worried about you, she let me get away with anything that might help cheer you up, or she thought that a chance of us getting together was worth turning a blind eye for once… since what I had been doing wasn’t working maybe she was willing for me to try something else, even something a little extreme. But my feelings are hurt that you didn’t notice.”

Harry somehow came up with the right answer. “Ginny…uh… I hadn’t gotten that far up… yet. Your legs… they’re incredible.”

Ginny responded by moving closer and raising her lips to his.

Harry’s mind reeled; time seemed simultaneously to stand still and flow rapidly past. At some point Ginny had broken away for a moment but only to reposition herself on his lap and wrap her arms around him; then Harry fell back into the temporal vortex as time stood still and ages flowed past…

As the world - wizarding and Muggle - marks time, perhaps an hour had passed. No words were exchanged; later, both Harry and Ginny would remark separately that they would have believed moments or millennia had passed. Their rapture was finally broken when an orange flame flared, then the fireplace flashed green and Nymphadora Tonks stumbled out. Harry and Ginny broke their kiss and looked toward the fireplace, but neither moved, Ginny sitting in Harry’s lap, their arms wrapped around each other.

“Er… ah, wotcher, Harry, Ginny, uh, sorry, sorry, didn’t mean to interrupt, uh…”

Ginny gracefully untangled her arms from around Harry, stood briefly, and then settled beside him on the sofa. As she sat, their fingers intertwined. To Tonks' surprise, neither of them showed the slightest sign of embarrassment. Ginny, Tonks could maybe understand, since she wasn’t really all that much older than Ginny – not anywhere close to Arthur and Molly’s generation - and the word was that Ginny had dated several at Hogwarts. But Harry… who blushed when a pretty girl as much as smiled at him? And how different he now looked from just a day ago, when she had seen him at King’s Cross.

“Hi, Tonks. It’s okay; I have to get back to the Burrow soon, anyway.”

“Er, I hadn’t heard….” Tonks searched for the right words. “Are you two an item now?”

Harry looked surprised at the question for a second or so; he and Ginny glanced at each other and answered together, “Yes!”

“Well, Harry, I have to say having a girlfriend seems to agree with you; you look quite different than you did getting off the train.”

“A lot has happened just since this morning, Tonks. I’m not sure where to begin….”

“Don’t worry about it now,” Tonks replied. “I’m coming off shift and would be fast asleep in minutes if I even got near one of those chairs. Why don’t I just head on upstairs and let you lot get back to… er, actually, Bill will be staying here tonight, so you might want to….”

“Thanks, Tonks, but I’ve got to head home shortly, or more Weasleys may be coming through that fireplace than just Bill,” Ginny said with a smile. She stood and walked toward the kitchen and returned a moment later, the basket on her arm. She took a pinch of floo powder, and then turned toward Harry. “Good night, Harry.”

Harry stood and took two steps toward her, then faltered, suddenly clutching his forehead, his hands covering the scar. He crumpled soundlessly to the floor, his hands clamped to his forehead.

Ginny dropped the basket and started toward Harry, but Tonks grabbed her arm and held her back. Her other hand was working some sort of small device, into which she shouted, “Dumbledore! McGonagall! Bill! It’s Harry; he’s collapsed at Arabella’s.”
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