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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Fifteen

FIFTEEN SECONDS

Amelia Bones shifted uncomfortably in the low-backed chair behind the Grangers’ desk. “Sit, Arthur,” she said.

“You look pinched.  Shall I conjure a different chair for you?” Mr. Weasley asked.

“Seating arrangements are the least of my concerns,” sighed Madam Bones. “In other circumstances, we would dispense with the formalities.  However –”

Both turned to face the door, distracted by insistent rapping.  A frustrated voice called out, “Amelia, I demand to be present!”

Madam Bones waved her wand, and the door to the Grangers’ study opened.  Red-faced and frowning, Cornelius Fudge barged into the room.  “I am the Minister for Magic, whether or not you find that convenient!” he bellowed.  “If I wish to participate in an enquiry, then I shall participate!”

“Minister, may I remind you that I am appointed and serve at the pleasure of the Wizengamot,” Madam Bones said coolly.  “The separation between the Office of the Minister and the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was not made lightly…” After a pause calculated to make her opponent wither, she added, “…given the rampant abuses that followed the last conflict with Voldemort.”

Fudge’s ears tinged red.  He sought an outlet for his anger, and lit into Mr. Weasley.  “You would be in the middle of this – wouldn’t you, Weasley?  I believe it may be appropriate for you to join Dumbledore’s other lackeys on suspension, pending a full enquiry into your professional conduct!”

Mr. Weasley’s expression remained implacable.  “It seems that two of the three parties present are presently engaged in professional conduct, at any rate,” he said evenly.

Fudge jabbed a finger toward Mr. Weasley, but Madam Bones cut him off before he could speak.  “Minister, we are questioning more than twenty witnesses.  We have taken seven Death Eaters alive.  There are injuries to address.  We have more than thirty Obliviators canvassing the area –”

“Why do you think that I arrived here so quickly?  We wouldn’t turn out such resources if a Hungarian Horntail landed atop Buckingham Palace!” Fudge thundered. 

Madam Bones became positively icy.  “My point, Minister, is that you are intruding in the middle of an active investigation.  You have already accosted and potentially tainted two witnesses –”

“If you mean Potter and Weasley’s boy, they’re not witnesses!  They’re the prime offender and his accomplice!”  Fudge blustered.  He turned to Mr. Weasley, and sneered, “Unauthorized underage magic, Weasley – and curses, no less.  I look forward to snapping your boy’s wand in two.  Lest you forget –”

“This discussion is at an end, Minister,” pronounced Madam Bones.  “Leave or I shall have you removed.”

“You'd do well to remember that you have a conflict of interest in all of this, Amelia. I won't be able to protect you if this goes awry; it'll all lay at your feet,” Fudge warned. “I have friends – powerful friends amongst the Wizengamot. You'd best remember that as well.”

Mr. Weasley stood.  “Tell me, Minister – would those be the friends who backed Umbridge last year and are now in disgrace?” he asked. “Would you share these friends in common with Lucius Malfoy?  Lucius was here, by the way, in full Death Eater regalia.  I wonder how that will play in the Daily Prophet ?”

Fudge gibbered, “You… impossible… lies, I tell you… Malfoy couldn’t have… slander!  They’d never even consider… unreliable witnesses, all of you… keep in mind for whom you work, Weasley!”

“I was under the impression that I was no longer working for you, Minister,” Mr. Weasley said calmly.

“Suspension, Weasley – I was referring to a temporary suspension, of course… while we get the facts straight…” back-pedalled Fudge.

Mr. Weasley smiled.  “Thank Merlin for the inheritance,” he said.  “I believe that the time has come when I can be of greater service outside of government.  Minister, it has for the most part been a pleasure.”

“You can’t…” Fudge gasped.

“I can,” Mr. Weasley said, with the air of a man lightened, “and I shan’t go quietly.”

“Much as I enjoy Ministry politics, I have witnesses to question,” Madam Bones frowned.  “Minister, I shall ask you once more to leave.  I shall not ask again.”

“I’ll be outside, then, checking on the progress of the Obliviators,” Fudge said imperiously.  “I expect an update the very moment that your enquiry is concluded.”  He shook his head as though children and fools surrounded him.

Madam Bones called out “Colloportus” before Fudge was completely through the door; the squelch was accompanied by the unmistakeable sound of stumbling.

“Are you certain about this?” she asked Mr. Weasley quietly.

“Today’s events were… clarifying,” he answered.  “There’s enough to be done, without kowtowing to that… that… sodding bumbler!”

Madam Bones smiled faintly.  “My heart be still – you very nearly cursed!” she teased.

“Sorry,” he murmured.  “It’s been a cursing sort of day.”    

“I should say so,” Madam Bones said. “I have a number of people to interview and many, many questions about all of this before I meet with Harry. What are we going to do about the boy, Arthur? The situations he finds himself in...”  She sat ramrod-straight in the office chair, and took out a Quick Quill.  “Let’s begin, shall we?”


Ron fumed at the two Aurors who led him into the Grangers’ study.  “I swear – if you think you’re taking Harry to Azkaban, I’ll … I’ll … I don’t know what I’ll do, but you’ll never forget it – I promise you that!”    

Madam Bones smiled.  “I’ll be sure to take note that Harry has loyal friends.  Sit down, Mister Weasley.  No one has said anything about Azkaban, and no one will.  I’m simply attempting to reconcile the different witness accounts.”

“My name is Ron, ma’am,” said Ron, looking around nervously.

“Of course it is,” Madam Bones said.  “Please take a seat, Ron.”


“It happened so fast,” Mrs. Weasley said.  “I was in shock, really.  One instant, Harry was sitting at the far end of the table.  The next, he was standing at the near end, with his hands around Pettigrew’s throat.”

“You’re certain that it was Pettigrew, Molly?” asked Madam Bones.

“Deadly certain,” Mrs. Weasley answered firmly.


“The whole thing took a while to unfold.  Which interval are you looking for, ma’am?” Tonks asked.

Madam Bones clarified, “Beginning with Harry still seated, and ending when the last Death Eater fell.”

Tonks counted on her fingers, her lips moving wordlessly.  “Fifteen seconds, at the outside,” she concluded.


“No, ma’am, I know for a fact that he didn’t have a wand,” Ginny said meekly.

“How do you know that, precisely?” Madam Bones asked.

“Harry’s wand is hard to miss, even in a pile.  I saw them take Harry’s wand from him, while he was still unconscious.  One of them put all of our wands in that bag, the bag I saw the Aurors holding –”

“Do you know which Death Eater took the wands, Ginny?”

“I think V-Voldemort called him Mulciber,” Ginny said after a pause.

“So, you know that Harry didn’t have his own wand,” Madam Bones concluded.  “How do you know that he didn’t have another wand?”


“He used his fists, Amelia – I swear it,” Shacklebolt maintained.

“How much did you actually see, Kingsley?” Madam Bones asked.  “You had a poor vantage point.”

“More than enough,” Shacklebolt insisted.  “When I arrived, Pettigrew was torturing Miss Granger…”

Madam Bones’ eyes narrowed.  “How do you know that it was Peter Pettigrew – you never met him, did you?  I need you to be very certain about this.  The Ministry’s official position remains that Pettigrew died a hero, whether or not we know better.”

“We did overlap in school – I was four years ahead of him – but I didn’t become truly familiar with his face until I was assigned to search for Sirius Black.  I had a picture of the man on my office wall for two years,” Shacklebolt explained.  “He looks older now, to be sure, and his hair has thinned, but… I know who I saw.”


“I told everyone to resist,” Mr. Weasley said.  “They were going to kill us all – there was little doubt of that.”

“Were you aware that Harry was no longer bound?”  Madam Bones asked.

“I don’t believe he was free at that point,” Mr. Weasley recalled.  “I saw Dobby – that’s Harry’s house-elf – a few moments later.  Dobby also freed Tonks before… you know, before everything went to pieces.”


“Dobby will answer your questions, as best as he is able,” Dobby said carefully.

“Thank you, Dobby.  I’ve never known a free house-elf.  You serve Harry of your own accord, then?”  Madam Bones asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” Dobby said proudly.  “Harry Potter is the greatest person Dobby has ever known.  He is kind, he is brave, and he made Dobby free…” Dobby sniffed loudly, his enormous eyes watering.  “Dobby would do anything to protect Harry Potter.”

Madam Bones considered this carefully.  “I see that you would, Dobby.  Did Harry kill those Death Eaters, or did you kill them?” she asked.

Dobby said sadly, “Harry Potter killed the Death Eaters, as far as Dobby could see.  Dobby was struck by a curse from He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, after Dobby had struck his former master…”

Madam Bones’ eyes widened slightly.  “Are you referring to Lucius Malfoy?”

Dobby nodded.  “That… person who was once my master moved toward Miss Granger.  Dobby defended Miss Granger.  Miss Granger is very important to Harry Potter.”

Madam Bones looked at him curiously.  “In what manner?”

“Miss Granger is Harry Potter’s closest friend…” Dobby said.  The house elf looked around the room carefully and nervously, as though he feared being overheard, and then whispered, “…and perhaps more.”  He seized a book from the Grangers’ desk, and cracked himself in the head once.  “Bad Dobby!  Surely Dobby is not supposed to say that,” he squeaked.


“I was pretty woozy, ma’am,” Fred said by way of qualification.

Madam Bones nodded.  “I understand that, Fred.  If you’re not up to this…”

Fred sat up straighter.  “I’d like to do this now.  Anything that I can do for Harry, I’ll do.”

“What did you see?” she asked.

“I saw Harry Apparate the length of the table,” he said.  “I thought I was hallucinating.  Besides, he went from sitting and facing one way, to standing and facing the other way.  If I tried that, at best I’d end up on my arse… urgh – sorry, ma’am.”

“I’ve heard worse,” Madam Bones said.  “What else did you see?”

“He picked up the first Death Eater, the one who was killing Hermione, and tossed him down the table,” explained Fred.  “That’s when I was sure that I was hallucinating.  I mean, Harry mustn't be ten stone soaking wet; how could he throw a grown wizard like that?”

Madam Bones withdrew a photograph from a file folder.  “Is this the man that you saw?”

Fred looked closely at the photograph.  “If the nasty bugger would just hold still…” Fred flicked the back of the photo with his middle finger, and the man in the picture stopped and scowled at him.  “He looked older than this, but I think this is a picture of him.”


“Harry couldn’t have Apparated,” Bill Weasley said firmly.

“Everyone says he moved instantly from one end of the table to the other,” Madam Bones observed.

“I understand that,” said Bill.  “I saw the same phenomenon.  What I’m telling you is that it couldn’t have been Apparation.”

“You’re terribly insistent,” Madam Bones said.  “Why are you so certain?”

Bill explained, “You must have heard about the splinching in the yard.  Dumbledore, Shacklebolt and I laboured over the anti-Apparation wards on this property.  There is no chance that Harry Apparated… by that look, I assume that you already know something.”

Madam Bones held up a parchment.  “From Mafalda Hopkirk,” she told him.  “Harry doesn’t have an Apparation license; if he had Apparated, the Improper Use Office would have picked it up.  You’re right – he didn’t Apparate.”


Madam Bones carefully took in Hermione’s face – the red-rimmed eyes set in hollows, the obvious fatigue.  Mrs. Granger hovered, holding her daughter’s hand.  Mr. Granger stood near the door, hands in fists at his sides.

“Mr. Granger, I assure you that this is not an adversarial process,” Madam Bones offered.

“We’ll see about that, won’t we?” he growled.  “That madman out there calling himself the Minister for Magic threatened me.  He said that Cordelia and I should have our memories erased!”

“Minister Fudge has no authority whatever in these matters; I do, and no one will be erasing anything,” Madam Bones assured him.

“I want you people out of our house,” Mr. Granger snarled.

“Sir, I assure you that we will leave just as soon as I have reconciled today’s events with the evidence,” Madam Bones said calmly.  “We are also attempting to repair the damage done to your home…”

Mr. Granger scowled, but said nothing.  Mrs. Granger sighed, “It’s not that we’re ungrateful for the repair efforts.  The events today are crystal clear in our minds.  We just want to set about attending to our daughter’s welfare.  She’s been hurt terribly, and no one seems to care about that.”

Madam Bones ambled from behind the desk, and knelt down in front of Hermione.  The obviously motherly gesture caused Mrs. Granger to release her grip on Hermione slightly. She took Hermione’s free hand, and said, “I want to start by telling you how very sorry I am.  There is absolutely no doubt that Voldemort forced himself into your mind.  That is a very serious offence – virtually Unforgivable, in fact.”

“It wasn’t the first time,” Hermione whispered without looking up.

Madam Bones raised an eyebrow.  “Pardon?”

“He entered a dream,” whispered Hermione.

“Would you tell me about that?” Madam Bones asked.

Hermione looked to her mother and father, and then to Madam Bones, and shook her head slowly from side to side.


“You were upstairs when the attack began?” asked Madam Bones.

“Yes, ma’am,” said Ron.  “Harry decided to defend the stairs, and I went with him.”

Madam Bones wrinkled her nose.  “What did your mother have to say about that?”

“She was none too pleased, I can tell you,” Ron told her.  “We checked the front room, at the base of the stairs, and returned up the stairs just before the Death Eaters.”

Madam Bones said, “That is consistent with the physical evidence.  What led the two of you back up the stairs, then?”

Ron shrugged.  “The Death Eaters drew our force into the yard.  Our King – er,  I mean Harry – was left exposed.  I figured they were staging a minority attack, and I was right.”

“You’re a chess player?”  Madam Bones asked.

“Yes, ma’am.  It’s too bad that I was playing in two dimensions,” Ron explained.

“I’m sorry?”

“I was playing in two dimensions,” repeated Ron.  “I never counted on them coming through the ceiling.”

Madam Bones smiled faintly.  “I wouldn’t fret – that was a good observation on your part, Ron.  Now then… your mother laid out the scene in the safe room.  Tell me, did you do anything to assist Harry in opening the door?”

“No, ma’am.”  Ron looked at her questioningly.

“What you’re saying is that Harry blew a heavily warded door to pieces by casting a punching spell,” Madam Bones confirmed.  “Where did you learn a piercing curse, by the way?”

Ron lowered his eyes.  “Erm… Harry cast that one on a Death Eater in the bedroom.”

“Ah, yes, that would be… Travers – the one that he tossed bodily through a warded window.”  Madam Bones jotted notes on parchment.  “After that, Harry took off on that rather interesting motorbike?”

Ron gritted his teeth at the mention.  “Yes, ma’am,” he acknowledged.

“Thank Merlin it’s not a Muggle artefact,” she said.  “We’re left with one less thing to be addressed.”


“So you were pinned down in the tree, then,” Madam Bones observed.

“Yes, ma’am,” Tonks admitted nervously.

“A questionable strategy, Tonks.  You couldn’t Apparate from the location, and you had no broom,” Madam Bones said.  “How many Death Eaters were you able to take from there?”

“I took down two, and kept three more distracted from Arthur and Bill Weasley for a time,” offered Tonks.

“At this point, Harry comes in?” asked Madam Bones.

Tonks talked with her hands.  “He brings that motorbike swooping over the top of the house, see?  Now, this is the second time he does that.  The first time, he dropped two Death Eaters off the roof and laid down cover for the Weasleys and me.  By this time, I’m the last one standing in the yard.  Harry shouts ‘Percutio!’ –”

Tonks’ recovered wand was concealed in her sleeve.  The resulting spell pierced a neat hole through a lampshade.

Madam Bones flinched, and instantly cast a defensive shield.  “Tonks, you’re a menace,” she growled.

Tonks grinned sheepishly.  “Sorry, ma’am,” she murmured, and instinctively placed her hands behind her back.

“Continue,” ordered Madam Bones as she repaired the lampshade.

“Yes, ma’am.  Harry started casting that… particular spell, over and over,” Tonks explained.  “Blood and bits were everywhere.  I don’t think he ever saw the Death Eater that dropped him off the motorbike.  After that, they were on me in a few seconds – it seemed as though they were everywhere.”

“Where would Harry have picked up such a nasty curse?” Madam Bones asked.  “It’s not as if he would learn that at Hogwarts.”

“He has a scary library at his house, for one,” Tonks answered.  “Kingsley’s been training him up, but they just started a few days ago.”


“How long were you observing the events?” Madam Bones asked.

Shacklebolt didn’t hesitate.  “No more than forty seconds, from the time I had a sightline until the time that Potter completed his defence –”

“You keep referring to it as a defence, rather than an attack,” Madam Bones observed.

“I call it what it was,” Shacklebolt said.  “I had a wand, and I still spent better than twenty-five seconds simply evaluating the room.  From a search-and-rescue perspective, it was a nightmare.  You had Voldemort and eight Death Eaters, with eleven hostages, in a constrained space with two doors, three windows and ample furniture for cover.  I figured that it would require three Aurors to take the room, and I estimated four or five friendly casualties.  I assumed that Miss Granger was a certain casualty.  Harry had no wand that I could see, and had a house-elf for help.  What he did, he did in no more than fifteen seconds.  It may have been only ten, from the time he threw Pettigrew until the end of it.”

“You’re impressed,” Madam Bones noted.

“I saw him jump from point to point twice today, once through his own defensive spell and once inside a warded house.  What he’s doing isn’t Apparation – I don’t know what it is.  Most of his spells and charms are excessively powerful; thankfully, it seems that no one has ever told him that.  He performed some truly exceptional wandless magic three days ago.  And in that dining room… I tell you, he took that room like an angry Hit Wizard,” Shacklebolt said.  “I don’t know whether to be impressed or terrified.” 


“Did you find it frightening?” asked Madam Bones.

“I’ve seen my share of horrors, Madam Bones,” Bill said.  “Spend a few days opening cursed tombs, and you’ll understand.  Frankly, watching them use Dumbledore’s curse to torture Hermione was more frightening than anything Harry did.”

Madam Bones frowned.  “I understand your concern, but… are you positive about the nature of that spell?  I shan’t be making unfounded accusations.”

Bill sighed.  “I’ve gone over it, and over it again, ma’am.  It’s a Latinized derivative of the Egyptian servant-binding curse.  The old servant binds are still classified as Unforgivable by the Egyptian Directorate.”

“Why is it a derivative?  How was it materially changed from the original curse?” Madam Bones asked.

“In this case, I think it was supposed to limit the binding to a specific thought or secret,” Bill explained.  “If he’d just cast the curse, perhaps it might not have turned out badly.  Harry described an additional runic component, I’m afraid, that was applied to both he and Hermione.”

“Albus bound her to Harry?” thundered Madam Bones.

“The intention was to bind Harry’s secret within her, I imagine, but I believe that he missed the mark,” grumbled Bill.

“You don’t think that the runes somehow looped the curse, do you?  Merlin… it could be unbreakable,” Madam Bones speculated.

“There is no such thing as an unbreakable curse,” Bill said flatly.  “I have a different concern.  The purpose of runic elements or the use of glyphs in ancient Egyptian curses is chiefly punitive.  In the servant-binding curse, the principle is to make each violation of the bind more severe.  If this curse isn’t lifted from her very soon, I’m concerned that there might be permanent effects.  Depending upon the particular runic elements, those effects could range from memory loss to a permanent darkening of her aspect.”

“This is inexcusable,” fumed Madam Bones.  “Albus will explain himself.”

“He’ll say that Harry’s protection must be assured at any cost,” Bill offered.

Madam Bones frowned.  “Then he will be wrong”.   


“He’s in shock, to be certain,” Lupin said.

“That would be reasonable,” Madam Bones determined.  “He can be in shock as long as he wishes, provided that he represents no harm to himself or others.  This brings me back to my question, Mr. Lupin.”

“I don’t believe that he’s suicidal,” Lupin allowed.  “I’m not an expert, of course.”

“You know I must ask this – is he a danger to others?” asked Madam Bones.

Lupin hesitated slightly.  “Again, I don’t believe that he is.  When I arrived, he was just standing there in a daze.  I saw only the aftermath, however.  It’s hard for me to imagine a circumstance that would take Harry to that place, other than the threat of imminent death.”

Madam Bones nodded.  “I’ve assumed from the start that it was self-defence.”

Lupin said, “Defence – not self-defence.  Harry would be much more inclined to anger in the face of imminent threat to others than to himself.”

“Do you believe that he requires more supervision – a guardian, perhaps?” asked Madam Bones.

“I think he’s been under terrible strain for the last two months,” Lupin answered.  “He needs a light at the end of the tunnel.  He needs friends, not guardians.”

“On this, we agree,” Madam Bones said. “I'd welcome your ideas about how to go forward.”


“What – you think Harry wants to off himself?  You must be joking,” said Ron.

Madam Bones said, “My concerns are serious.  If there is a chance that he will harm himself, then I am required to intervene.”

“Am I worried about him?  Of course I am.  He’s really broken up about the whole thing.  Am I going to hide the knives?  No,” Ron said emphatically.

“That’s good to hear –” Madam Bones began.

“I’m much more worried about Hermione,” Ron insisted. 


Hermione relaxed slightly, once her parents left the room at her insistence.

“What is it that you wanted to tell me, Hermione?” Madam Bones asked.  Hermione proceeded to explain the shared dream, in emotionless and nearly clinical terms. 

Madam Bones carefully elicited the essentials, and the identities of all the dream’s participants.  “Have you discussed this with Harry?” she asked.

“No,” Hermione sniffed.  “I mean, he knows… but I can’t.”

“May I ask why?  He didn’t… violate you in some way, did he?”

Hermione’s eyes widened.  She snapped bitterly, “No!  Harry would never do that!  You know who violated whom!”  She paused and struggled, and then added, “I just wanted… ma’am, have you ever done anything in a dream that you wouldn’t necessarily do in real life?”

Madam Bones nodded knowingly.  “Doesn’t that make it even more important that you discuss the experience with him?”

“I can’t,” Hermione insisted, her eyes downcast.

“Of course you can,” Madam Bones offered.

“You didn’t see what he did to those people… it was like…  like he became someone else.  Voldemort said… he said that would happen,” she said, wavering between anger and sadness and barely skirting the edge of crying.  “I don’t know how Harry could… he just kept going… I wanted them to… I wanted them to hurt, I wanted to... to hurt them...”

“You wanted to kill them, I imagine,” said Madam Bones. “I would have, in your place.”

“Maybe... maybe I did want that, but I never… there was… there was so much blood… blood everywhere... it was all over him and he was screaming...”  Hermione stopped, and Madam Bones waited patiently. 

“You need to talk to someone.  Through my department, we have… services that are made available to Aurors after particularly grisly episodes.  It would be no bother to extend these services to you,” Madam Bones gently offered.  “It is all very discreet.  I clearly understand the stigma –”

Hermione cut her off.  “Thank you for the offer,” she said flatly.    

Madam Bones asked, “Is there anything else about today’s events that you feel I should know, before I speak to Harry?”

“No,” Hermione mouthed, as her resolve faded and tears began to fall.


“What are we going to do about this, Amelia?” Dumbledore asked.

We will not be doing anything,” Madam Bones said.  “This is out of your hands.  You could consider atonement for what you have done to Miss Granger.”

Dumbledore said evenly, “She accepted her role in protecting Harry.”

“You abdicated your role in protecting her,” accused Madam Bones.  “As a Hogwarts Governor, I shall remind you that you bear an equal responsibility for all the students in your care.”

“I misjudged the safeguard,” Dumbledore admitted, “but I do not believe that young Mr. Weasley has accurately assessed the problem.”

Madam Bones eyed him warily.  “Explain yourself, Albus.  I haven’t the time for riddles and incomplete truths.”

“I instructed Hermione to clear her mind of all thoughts save the secret to be guarded, but I fear that I may have overestimated her ability to comply,” Dumbledore explained.  “I fear that she labours under multiple safeguards, of which she is unaware.”

“Bill Weasley wants the curse broken, and I agree wholeheartedly,” Madam Bones said.

Dumbledore stroked his beard.  “That may be a complicated request, if I prove correct in my assessment.”

Madam Bones set her jaw.  “You misunderstand me, Albus.  It is not a request.  Shall I tell Fudge that his nemesis is now dabbling in foreign Unforgivables?”

Dumbledore’s eyes flickered for a moment, but his face betrayed nothing.  “I hardly think that you will choose any course of action that strengthens the Minister’s position.  I do wish he would remember from time to time that he will eventually be going to war with Voldemort, and not me.”

Madam Bones stood and stretched.  “It’s time that I speak to Harry.”

“I agree,” Dumbledore said, remaining in the armchair that he had conjured.  “He needs to be put at ease.”

“I doubt that he will find ease today, or any time soon,” Madam Bones pointed out.  “Surely you realise what will happen when word of these events reaches the rest of the Governors?  I don’t need abilities in Divination to foresee another very lengthy meeting.”

Dumbledore sighed.  “I have very little left with which to bargain, on that account.  Where will you stand?”

“I don’t believe for a moment that he would intentionally harm anyone, not without serious provocation,” said Madam Bones.  “Still… Albus, I’m not a fool – though lately you insist upon treating me as one.  It’s not as though I lack an understanding of what he means to us all.  Do you honestly think that I want to toss Harry to the wolves?  I'll stand by him through all of it. Even if he hadn't been treated so shabbily last year, family honour would demand nothing less.  However, I expect to be in the minority when the Governors convene – and we will surely convene.”

Dumbledore sighed heavily, and requested of her, “Will you assist me in the exploration of contingencies, on his behalf?” 

Madam Bones nodded in acknowledgement, and then added, “On your way out, would you please send him in and ask Mr. Lupin to come as well?”

Dumbledore raised an eyebrow, hesitated, and then stood.  With a flick and a swish, the armchair disappeared and Dumbledore ambled to the door of the study.

He turned.  “Amelia, I do believe that I should at the very least…”

She scowled at him.  “Apologise to Miss Granger – and her parents – and make preparations to remove that curse?  Excellent ideas, all.”


It had been made clear to Harry that he was not permitted to leave.  Madam Bones, who had arrived shortly after Fudge and taken command of the scene, was in possession of Harry’s wand.  From time to time, he spied an Auror checking on him.  For the most part, everyone gave him a wide berth. 

He paced out in the yard for a time, walking from the porch to the far wall and back again.  The furniture on the porch had long since been repaired; Ministry personnel had moved on to the roof.   Harry sat in the grass and watched them work, framed against the evening sun; one shingle after another popped into the proper place.  He spotted Hermione peering at him from her bedroom window, drawn and almost ghostly, and then she was gone.  Madam Bones was – interviewing? interrogating? – everyone, one at a time, and it seemed to take forever. 

“Excuse me, Mr. Potter?” came a voice from behind him.  It was one of the investigators from the Ministry.

Harry stood.  “Yes, sir?”

The investigator was nervous and almost deferential, which puzzled Harry.  “Well, you see… it’s just that… there’s a question about your motorbike.  It isn’t…?”

Harry didn’t follow.  “I don’t understand.  It isn’t what, exactly?”

The investigator wrung his hands.  “A Muggle artefact such as that could complicate matters… surely you must be aware…”

Harry nodded, and led the investigator to the fallen Bonneville.  Three of the investigator’s colleagues were huddled around.  Harry heard one mutter, “The scratch-proofing alone would be a Class One offence.”

“If you’ll pardon me,” Harry said, as he righted the bike and grasped the handlebars.  A moment later, the Ministry investigators goggled at the dual sawhorses.

“It’s a broom, more or less,” Harry explained.  “Devlin Whitehorn made it himself.  I’m certain he could answer any questions that you might have.”

“No, no… erm… we wouldn’t want to bother Mr. Whitehorn, I’m sure,” the first investigator assured him.  “Um… thank you for clearing that up.  Terribly sorry … no intention of making any accusations, of course…”  His colleagues joined in a chorus of ‘Oh, no’, ‘absolutely not’ and other denials.

Harry frowned.  “Is there anything else?” he asked, with an edge to his voice.

“Nothing else, Mr. Potter,” one investigator blurted out; he was matched by crescendos of ‘Not a thing’ and ‘We’re finished here’ that were capped by a brassy fanfare of ‘You can go now’.

Even they’re frightened of me, Harry thought.  As he walked away from the Bonneville and trod over the roots of the tree that Tonks had climbed, he looked down.  The grass was crushed down where the three Death Eaters had fallen, and tinted red in rolling swaths like a macabre watercolour.  Harry averted his eyes.  They should be frightened, he thought.

A young wizard in a fashionable cloak raced from the side yard toward the porch.  “Minister!  Minister!  I apologize for being tardy.  The meeting on importation tariffs ran very long.  I’m prepared to take notes, sir.”  Harry turned, and felt his blood boil at the very sight of Percy Weasley.  He hadn’t noticed that Fudge was sitting at one of the high-backed benches on the porch.

“That won’t be necessary.  Madam Bones has everything in hand,” Fudge spat.

“Madam Bones… but, sir!  If Potter’s involved, shouldn’t you be leading the enquiry?” Percy asked brightly.

“Shut up, Weasley,” Fudge said.  “Now, what position did the Turks take on a secondary fee schedule…?” 

There was no way into the house without passing within view of the benches.  Oh, well – didn’t want to go inside, anyway, Harry thought.

Ron walked out of the house onto the porch, in hushed conversation with Bill.  Bill looked up at the benches.  From Harry’s vantage, he couldn’t see Percy – but Bill clearly could.

“Why, look who’s here,” Bill snarled.  “Come to gloat, have you?  Hoping to shed a few crocodile tears over a dead family member, were you?  Sorry to disappoint.”

Percy jumped to his feet.  “Maybe you people will finally come to reason.  Everything I’ve maintained about Potter has borne out, hasn’t it?  What has he got himself into this time?”

Ron started to rush Percy, but was held back by Bill.  “He saved us all from Voldemort, you arse!” Ron shouted.  “Of course, you weren’t with us.  You’re too busy with your important friends and your important job to have a family anymore!”

Fudge chose that moment to come into view.  “Good evening, gentlemen,” he oozed.  “Is there a problem here?”

Bill said curtly, “Good evening, Minister.  This is a family affair, not Ministry business.”

“It looked to me as though my assistant was about to be assaulted,” Fudge observed.  “That would make it my business, I believe.”

Fred came out of the house.  “I thought I heard a pretentious git out here.  It’s positively cracking to see you, Percy.”  Percy nodded stiffly in recognition.

“Perhaps you would excuse us, Minister?” Bill said evenly.  “It’s been quite some time since we’ve had occasion to speak to our brother.”

Fudge crossed his arms.  “Perhaps my assistant and I should retire inside the house.”

Fred’s eyes narrowed.  “Which brother haven’t we spoken to recently, Bill?  I only see you and Ron… ah, you must mean Harry.  Oy, Harry!”  Fred waved at Harry, and Harry wished that he weren’t standing in the open.

Percy snapped, “Always the comedian, Fred.  I see none of you have learned a thing.”

Bill advanced on Percy quickly enough to startle Fudge.  “You’ve taught us quite a lot, Percy.  Where were you when Dad lay dying at St. Mungo’s last winter?  It’s a miracle that he survived – and it was largely thanks to Harry, by the way.  What about when Ron was injured at the Ministry?  No sign of you – not even an owl post, for Merlin’s sake!  Fred has a point.  Harry’s become more of a brother to us than you.”

Fudge raised an eyebrow.  “You never visited your father in hospital?  Or your brother?”

Percy showed hints of fear.  “But, Minister!  You said…”

Fudge looked sternly at Percy.  “I said that your family was exercising poor judgment in allying themselves with Potter, and that you should distance yourself from their choice.  I stand by that advice.  I never told you to abandon your duties as a son and a brother, Weasley.  Bad form… bad form!”

Percy begged, “Minister… please…”

Fudge turned to Bill.  “I believe you’re correct, gentlemen: This is a family matter. If you’ll excuse me?”  With that, Fudge quickly strode into the house and closed the French door.

Bill’s wand was out before the catch on the French door clicked.  “Sit!” he ordered.  The force in his voice was such that Harry took a seat on the grass, almost as quickly as Percy retreated to the bench. 

Bill began to deliver what could only be described as an in-person Howler.  “You arrogant twit!  It’s practically a matter of luck that you have any family left to insult… except for Charlie, of course, but even you’re smart enough to know that he’d cheerfully feed you to the dragons!  The Aurors were here almost an hour ago.  If you were any kind of brother, you would have been here with them!  But no – where’s dear Percy?  Sitting in a trade mission meeting, or some such rot!  I’m sure your only regret was that you nearly lost the opportunity to kiss up to your boss!  What kind of ghoul have you become?  You come here not to see how your mother or father or brothers or sister fared –

“Sister?” Percy asked quietly.

“Yes – sister.  You have one, in case you didn’t remember.  Her name is Ginny, and she was a few seconds from being killed along with the rest of us!  Fred’s the family standard bearer – he almost managed to get himself killed twice today.  After they took the Burrow, he came here, and –”

“Took the Burrow?” Percy asked in disbelief.

Bill looked at Fred.  “Do you think that he has difficulty hearing me?”

Fred shrugged.  “Maybe he’s been in government too long – I’m sure that’s what Dad would say.”

“Look at what you gain by association with Potter,” Percy retorted.  “Your lives are in danger, and now you’ve lost the few possessions that the family had.”

“You mean you haven’t heard?” Fred asked.

Percy cocked his head to one side.  “Heard what?”

“About the inheritance,” Fred answered.

When Percy remained blank, Bill explained smugly, “We were each left twenty thousand Galleons.”

Percy’s eyes lit, and Fred added, “Not you, you thick prat.  Sirius did leave you something in his will -”

“Sirius Black?” Percy gasped.

“No, I meant Sirius Sappington... of course it was Sirius Black,” Bill snapped. “I’ll have to send you the rubber Galleon, but I'd be pleased to administer the kick in the arse.”

Percy sank, and Bill glowered, “Greedy… self-serving… and cowardly.  The Sorting Hat did a number on you, didn’t it?  If it weren’t for the hair and the freckles, I’d believe that you were accidentally switched at birth.  I’m sure you’re right at home with Fudge and his friends.  Lucius Malfoy was here along with his boss, by the way – complete with mask and Dark Mark.”

Percy babbled, “Wha… but Mr. Malfoy was… it couldn’t have been…”

The French door opened, and one of the Aurors leaned out.  “Bill Weasley?  Madam Bones will see you now.”

Bill scowled.  “Pity – I was so looking forward to personally demonstrating some interesting things that I picked up from a Salish shaman.  Keep a wide berth, Percy; pray that you don’t see me in passing.”  He stomped into the house.       

Percy turned to Fred.  “Look… I –”

Fred cut him off.  “Stow it.  You had your chances to mend things.  When you weren’t there for Ron in June… that was the last straw for me.  We’re through.”

“Ron?” Percy ventured.

“Has anyone told you what happened to me in the Department of Mysteries, Percy?” Ron asked.

Percy stammered, “Well… I know you were injured, of course… that there was an attack… it appeared that, erm… uh, You-Know-Who was present, perhaps… and… uh… Ginny was there… not badly hurt, thank Merlin…”

“I was attacked by brains,” Ron said.  “They’re called cognivores.  They feed on your thoughts, and they give you back visions of death – my death, everybody’s death.”  His voice changed to sound more like Trelawney’s eerie trill.  “All I must do is touch, and it is revealed,” he warbled.

Everybody’s death? Harry wondered.  He never said that!

Fred searched Ron’s face, saw a kernel of truth, and said, “Bloody hell… is that what’s been eating at you?  I didn’t… Ron, I’m so sorry.”

Percy drew himself up.  “I know fiction when I hear it,” he insisted.

In his misty voice, Ron continued, “All I must do is touch, Percy.  Do not resist!”

Percy twitched, and stepped backward.  “That’s quite enough, Ron.”

“I don’t think he’s playing,” Fred said.  “You don’t know what he’s been like.  He’s been to St. Mungo’s, and they couldn’t help.”

Percy’s eyes widened.  “Stay away from me,” he insisted.

“Do not resist,” Ron whispered.  He lashed out and grabbed Percy’s arm.  He twitched, and his eyes rolled back.  He released Percy’s arm as though shocked, and dropped to the porch. 

“What?  What was it?  What did you see?” Percy demanded, his voice quavering.

Ron said in a chilling monotone, “She will betray you to him.  She will betray you, Percy, and that will be the end of it.”

Percy squeaked, “Excuse me… I have to… I’m sure that the Minister… excuse me…”  He dashed to the door and scurried into the house.

Ron lay there quietly.  Harry jumped up from the grass, and ran to Ron’s side.  His eyes were closed.  Fred hovered over them both.

“Is he gone yet?” Ron asked quietly.

Harry said, “Sure, he’s gone…”

Fred cut in, “Who’s ‘she’ and who’s ‘he’?  And what’s ‘the end of it’?”

Ron opened his eyes, and smiled broadly.  “How should I know?  I hope he has nightmares for a month, the wanker!”

Fred burst into hysterics, rolling on the porch.  “Ooooh… unbelievable… that’s classic!” he moaned.

Harry whispered to Ron, “Did you really see other people’s deaths?”

Ron shook his head, and whispered in return, “Only mine.  I just couldn’t resist – he deserved that.” Harry smiled a little, despite himself – he had to admit that it was a spanking good and well-deserved prank.

Ron sat up, and clapped Harry on the shoulder.  “There’s a smile,” he said.  “Happy to see it, mate.”

Fred ruffled Ron’s hair.  “I wish my brother George were here,” he laughed.  “I’ll be telling this one for years!”

The more that Ron and Fred carried on, the more that Harry’s unease grew.  Ron was behaving like himself for the first time all summer, precisely because he’d acknowledged what the cognivores had done to him.  It seemed as though he had warmed to the idea of dying; he wore his old sense of humour like an overcoat atop something newer and darker.  Harry didn’t like that thought in the slightest, and felt a strong impulse to escape.           

Harry awkwardly excused himself, and returned to pacing in the yard.  After a time, he perched atop the wall at the rear of the yard and watched the shadows lengthen.  Others came and went from the porch – Tonks, Hestia Jones, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.  He saw Dumbledore once.  Aurors, Obliviators and investigators continued to swarm over the house and surrounding area.  The world had apparently reached an agreement with Harry, a mutual pact – you ignore me, I ignore you.  No one on the porch acknowledged Harry, and he chose to sit quietly.  There was movement in Hermione’s window, and then nothing.

A solitary figure crossed the yard, lit here and there by waning orange light.  Harry couldn’t tell that it was Lupin until the figure was almost upon him.

“Would you tolerate some company?” Lupin asked.

Harry inclined his head indifferently.  Lupin took that as affirmation, and clambered up to sit next to Harry atop the wall.

“The house looks as if nothing happened,” Lupin said.  “We know better, of course.”

 “What did you see?” Harry asked quietly.

“Blood, sadness, fear, guilt… all the sorts of things one sees in times like these,” Lupin gently replied.

“Did you see what… what I…?” Harry asked.

Lupin set his hand on Harry’s shoulder.  “Only the aftermath,” he answered.

“Good,” whispered Harry. 

A dozen or so Aurors remained – Harry assumed that they were probably protection against a repeat visit.  He watched three of them pacing the walk just beyond the wall, menacingly eyeing each passing auto and pedestrian.  “How many people had their memories modified today, do you suppose?” he asked.

Lupin sighed.  “Scores, I should imagine.  It was quite a display.”

“I wonder if it’s worth it, all the secrecy – all of this,” Harry mused.

Lupin said, “You know perfectly well what would happen if we were found out.  The Muggles would try to exterminate us.  Those of us so inclined would retaliate.  In the end, only the very worst of both our kinds would survive.  It would make their Second World War look like a parlour game… and Voldemort would win.  There might not be anything left worth winning, depending upon your point of view – but he would win.”

“Perhaps that’s his plan,” Harry speculated.

Lupin shuddered.  “Be sure to practice Occlumency, Harry.  That’s not an idea that I care to share with him.”

Harry asked the question that he didn’t want to ask.  “What’s happening in there?”

“Amelia Bones was with Hermione when I came outside, for the second time at least,” Lupin told him.  “I’ll give her credit – her reputation for thoroughness is well earned. She has a reputation as a fair jurist and a brilliant mind.  I also have it on reliable authority that she tacitly supported Umbridge’s anti-werewolf initiatives.  I’m not exactly looking forward to this: I expect she’ll spend her time castigating me for my involvement in your life, or some such thing.”

“How much longer, do you think?” Harry asked.

“I believe she’s talked to everyone save me and Dumbledore,” Lupin answered.

They sat silently.  Lupin shifted as if to speak several times, and then said nothing.

Two Aurors crossed the lawn.  “Mr. Lupin, Madam Bones requests your presence,” one called out.

Lupin slid off the wall.  He stopped, and faced Harry.  “Give yourself time,” he said.  “We’ll talk again later.”

After what seemed like a suitable delay, Harry crossed the yard to the empty porch and sat on one of the high-backed benches.  It felt like the right place to wait his turn.

“May we join you?”  Mrs. Weasley gazed down at him.  Ron was with her.  The look on her face was painfully kind, Harry thought.  He decided against turning them away, and gestured toward the other bench.

Mrs. Weasley took the opposite bench, but Ron sat beside him.  She said, “If you’re worried about lasting consequences from this afternoon, Harry, you can set aside your worries.  Amelia was clear on that point.  If it weren’t for Fudge, I’d suspect that the Order of Merlin was a possibility.”

“I wouldn’t accept it,” Harry said flatly.

“I wouldn’t take anything from him either,” Ron barked.  “Fudge treated you and me like criminals – he as much as called you a lunatic.”

Harry said, “I wouldn’t accept it from anyone.  I just want to forget it, all of it… but I can’t… it’s right there…”  He bit down hard on his lower lip, unwilling to say more.

Mrs. Weasley reached across the table to take Harry’s hand.  “Harry, at some point you have to let this out.  Not just this afternoon, dear, but the rest as well.  It’s eating a hole right through you.”

“I let it all out today.  You saw the result,” Harry said coldly.

“Yes, I did,” Mrs. Weasley acknowledged.  “They would have killed us without a second thought.  You saved ten lives.  Three of the boys, and Ginny… he would have killed them… and Arthur… just like the b-b-boggart and my d-dreams…”

Ron paled.  “A boggart… I remember that you were going to have Moody check for a boggart, last summer at Grimmauld Place…”  Mrs. Weasley stiffened, and shot Ron a sharp glare that clearly stated his place.

When she regained her composure, she spoke slowly and carefully.  “When you… did what you did, the only thing I remember thinking was that I was going to lose a son.  Shame on me for not treating you that way, particularly this summer.  Sirius was right – shame on us.”

Harry struggled to respond.  A small part of him still bridled at her interest in matching him with Ginny – he hoped that was in the past now – but she was still the closest thing to a mum that Harry had ever known.  “You’ve treated me as a part of your family,” Harry said at last.  “There’s a stack of handmade Christmas jumpers to prove it.”

Mrs. Weasley smiled.  “You kept your jumpers,” she said wistfully.  “They weren’t much, but they were what we could give.”

“They were enough,” Harry said.  He looked about impatiently.

“You’ve nothing to fret about with this enquiry, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley insisted.

Harry began, “I just want it to be finished.  I want to go…”  He stopped the instant that he looked at Ron, and remembered that the Burrow had been sacked.  “Goodness!  I should have asked Dobby to make up the guest rooms – what have I been thinking?  Surely you all need a place to stay –”

Mrs. Weasley gently rested her hand on Harry’s arm.  “We’ve been looking into that already.  I’ve spoken to Remus and briefly to Cordelia.  Arthur, Ginny and I will stay here tonight; I just can’t leave the Grangers without help.  Remus has already arranged rooms for Bill, Fred and Ron.  I believe that Dobby’s already returned to Grimmauld Place.”

“You can make good on that drink you promised me,” Ron whispered with a smirk.

Lupin returned to the porch.  Harry looked at him expectantly.  Ron moved to sit beside his mother, and Lupin settled onto the bench in his place.

“The matter seems largely settled,” Lupin told him.  “There are some lingering concerns about you and your welfare, but your legal status renders them moot.”

“What do you mean?” Harry asked.

Lupin hesitated.  “Harry… Madam Bones seems concerned as to whether you might do anything rash.  It hasn’t gone without notice that you’re a bit withdrawn – not that you haven’t every right to be, under the circumstances –”

“Withdrawn?  Everyone’s been steering clear of me!  Even the bloody Aurors are skittish!” Harry boomed.

Lupin frowned.  “You’ve been known to hold yourself to an unattainable standard now and again.  Some concern has been expressed that you might do yourself harm.”

Harry gaped at him.  “That’s rot, and you know it,” he scoffed.

“I do know it, and I told Madam Bones as much,” Lupin said.  “I told her that you need a light at the end of the tunnel, and certainly not guardians and Ministry personnel prowling every minute of the day.”

Harry carefully regarded him.  “You said that?”

“I did,” Lupin answered.

“Who expressed the concern, then?  Was it Dumbledore?” Harry asked.

“I don’t know,” replied Lupin.  “What would cause you to think that?”

“He wouldn’t want his weapon damaged, now would he?” Harry fumed.

Mrs. Weasley asked, “Isn’t that a bit harsh, Harry?  Dumbledore has never demonstrated anything but care toward you.”

Harry fought the urge to shout, and won.  “I question that this summer,” he said, carefully enunciating each word.  Mrs. Weasley fidgeted.

“He’s not at all pleased about your… mass disclosure,” Lupin informed him.

Harry grumbled, “Heard about that, did you?  I’m glad that it’s out.”

“It’s out, all right,” Lupin agreed.  “There’s a decent chance that Voldemort now knows, I imagine.”

“Good,” Harry said flatly.  “He’ll focus on me, then.”

Lupin shook his head in frustration.  “He’ll focus on whatever is required to achieve his objectives, whatever that may be.  That is the only certainty, Harry.  You can’t direct his focus.”

Harry immediately thought of one way that he might, but remained silent.

Ron motioned to Harry with a subtle roll of his eyes, and Harry understood.  It was the sort of gesture that only close friends share.  Harry stood.  “Excuse me,” he said, and stalked off into the yard.  Ron followed shortly afterward.

“Mum means well,” Ron said.

“I know,” sighed Harry.

Ron stammered, “Madam Bones, she asked me whether… you know… if you might off yourself.”

“What did you say?” Harry asked.

Ron answered quickly, “I said I wouldn’t bother to lock away the knives.”  Harry snorted.

“Do you really think that’s all you are to Dumbledore – the ultimate weapon, or something?” Ron asked.

“I don’t understand him,” Harry said.  “He seemed so genuinely concerned about Hermione, the night that she found out about the prophecy… but he was perfectly willing to use a curse that could kill her, as far as I can see.”

“Bill’s surely angry about it,” Ron allowed.  “He explained it to me and Ginny – nasty business, that.  I don’t understand why she agreed to it in the first place.  What did you have to say about it?”

Harry shook his head.  “I thought it was a bad idea from the start.  I didn’t want to tell her anything – she guessed that I knew the full prophecy, and started pressing.  I tried to stop her, but she asked Dumbledore for this safeguard.”

Ron frowned.  “She’s been acting strangely since Sirius’ will was read.  I still wonder exactly what he wrote to her.”

“You were right that night,” Harry admitted.  “You shouldn’t have signed, and she shouldn’t have signed.  Dumbledore destroyed her parchment – did you know that?”

Ron’s eyes widened.  “You’re kidding!  She agreed to that?”

Harry nodded.  “He said it was moot anyway, since she’s not of age.”

“Did you see it – the parchment, I mean?” Ron asked.

Harry blushed slightly.  “I did.”

Ron stopped walking.  “I have to know – what did it say?”

Harry weighed his request.  It stood to reason that the parchment had at least fed the row between Ron and Hermione, and at least part of it was bound to come out sooner or later.  “It had a number of things in it – I think they all did.  She was supposed to break at least one rule a month at Hogwarts –”

Ron’s eyes lit up.  “She agreed to that?”

“Well, it did say that the rule could be minor…”  Harry trailed off.

“What?” Ron asked.

Harry said, “I was just waiting to see if I’d be hexed.”

“We were both there that night,” Ron reasoned.  “I suppose we’re in the clear.”

Harry cleared his throat.  “Right, then.  Anyway, there was the bit about the rule… Oh, you’ll love this.  She was supposed to help me find and keep true love.”

Ron gaped at him.  “What the bloody hell does that mean?”

Harry shrugged.  “She seems to think she’s supposed to be my matchmaker.  Apparently she has lists, charts… a scoring system…”

Ron cringed.  “A scoring system – that figures, doesn’t it.  You’re in for a trial, mate…” He stopped.  “What is it?  There’s something else, isn’t there?”

Harry frowned.  Ron knew him too well.  “It also said that she wouldn’t forsake me, even if there was a… a terrible price… and… and she didn’t… she didn’t forsake me, no matter what… but now…”  He turned away from Ron.  He could feel his reserve slipping, and that was the last thing he wanted.  Ron’s hand clenched his shoulder.

“I need to know what’s going on between the two of you.  I think you owe me that much,” Ron said, his voice cracking.

Harry turned around, prepared to tear into Ron for his presumption.  As soon as he met Ron’s eyes, the anger was gone.  “Do you love her?” he asked Ron.

Ron took a step back, startled – almost frightened by the question, Harry thought.  “I… I don’t… you know I’ve had feelings… I should have asked her to the Yule Ball before that wanker Krum.  This is about what happened at the party, right?”  Harry looked down at his feet.

“I just needed to know where she stood,” Ron continued.  “I needed to know.  I’m not afraid to die, you see?  It took me a while to realise that, but I’m not.  I just don’t want to be… anyway, she made me understand what I’m looking for.  She’s my friend, she’s been my friend for a long time, and of course I love her.  You do, too.  But Lavender… Harry, you don’t know…”  He looked at Harry curiously.  “At least, I don’t think you know.  I suppose that I don’t know if you know – you know?”

Harry chuckled, “I don’t know, Ron – do I?”

“All right… all right… that was a mess, wasn’t it?” Ron admitted.  “Look, with Lavender there are no strings whatever.  She listened to me, I was there for her, we had great fun, and that’s the end of it unless we both decide otherwise.  I’m beginning to appreciate Bill’s outlook on life, you know?”  He added nervously, “Can you imagine what being with Hermione would really be like?  I mean, could anything be more complicated?”

Harry said quietly, “She’s afraid of me now.”

“I think everyone was afraid,” Ron ventured.  “It certainly seemed like we were done for.”

“She flinched,” Harry said.  “I reached out to her, and she flinched.”

“You were soaked in blood,” Ron reminded him.

“She should be afraid of me,” Harry whispered.

“I’m not afraid of you,” Ron said.

“Thanks,” Harry said, his eyes downcast.

Lupin strode toward them.  “Harry, Madam Bones is asking for us,” he said.

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