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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Author Notes:

YoR the First was begun in the late summer of 2003, less than two months after the release of Order of the Phoenix.  For those who entered the HP fandom more recently, you may be unaware that at one time Blaise Zabini's gender was a matter of uncertainty.  Because I attended grade school with an Italian girl named Blaise, I fell on the female side of the debate.  Of course, that has since been proven wrong.  As a result, I have gone with Daphne Greengrass in Zabini's place for purposes of YoR Redux.

Cheers,
Mike [FP]

Chapter Thirteen

 

GUESS WHO'S COMING TO DINNER?

 

You actually made the Yorkshire pudding with your hands, Harry?” Arthur Weasley asked.

Harry absently drew his fork through the food on his plate. “I picked up some useful skills from Aunt Petunia,” he said darkly.

Mr. Granger turned to Bill Weasley. “More wine, Bill?” he asked.

Hermione held out a glass. “Please,” she replied.

Mrs. Granger flashed Hermione a disingenuous smile. “You know the rule, Hermione,” she said. “One glass with dinner until you’re of age. Of course, moderation is always best no matter one’s age. Don’t you agree, Thomas?”

Mr. Granger topped Bill’s glass with the remaining merlot, and turned to what Harry reckoned was his third glass of cabernet. “Certainly… yes, of course,” he said.

“You don’t want to be miserable all night,” Mrs. Granger advised Mr. Granger; he formed a subtle scowl that went as quickly as it came, and helped himself to more carrots and peas.

Bill sipped the merlot. “Very pleasant,” he said. “It reminds me of a particular table wine... can't remember which one, though.”

Molly Weasley’s brow furrowed. “I wasn’t aware that you had a fondness for Muggle drinks,” she said.

Bill said, “When I travelled for Gringotts, Mum, it wasn't unusual for me to be the only wizard within a hundred miles or more. The Muggles I met along the way usually took wine with dinner. I rather enjoyed it, truthfully.”

“You’re well-travelled then?” Mrs. Granger asked.

“Every continent excepting Antarctica,” Bill said proudly. “Not much call for curse-breaking there, you can imagine.”

“If you could go anywhere – right this instant – where would you go?” Tonks piped up.

“There are so many places…” Bill began. “This instant? Canada, I imagine – British Columbia, if you’re at all familiar. I was partial to Chile as well; spent over three months there… and New Zealand – the south island, in particular. Of course, they’re in mid-winter now… I see the merlot came from there. No wonder it was familiar?”

Ron looked at Harry, and his eyes narrowed. “I suppose Harry made the wine, as well,” he sneered.

Hermione’s eyes burned at Ron. “He chose the vineyard and the varietal,” she snapped, and added “prat” under her breath.

Ginny took her eyes off of Harry – for what felt to Harry like the first time since the Weasleys had arrived – and frowned at Ron and Hermione. “Stop it,” she demanded.

Mrs. Granger broke the uneasy silence that followed. “Molly, would you care to help me with dessert?” she asked.

A flash of the old Ron broke through. “Dessert, eh?” he said excitedly, and quickly added, “Er… it was a fine dinner, Mrs. Granger.”

Mrs. Granger smiled in acknowledgement. “Thank you, Ron. You’re up for pumpkin pie, then?”

Ron grimaced. “Erm… is there more than one choice?” he asked tentatively.

“Ronald Weasley! Mind your manners, please!” Mrs. Weasley barked.

Mrs. Granger flushed slightly. “I’m sorry, Ron,” she said. “I’m certain we can scrape up something. With all the pumpkin juice around here this summer, I simply assumed that… well, I’ll find something.”

Mrs. Weasley managed her own disingenuous smile. Her eyes bore into Ron, even as she spoke to Mrs. Granger. “That won’t be necessary, Cordelia. Ron will make due with the same dessert as the rest of us. I fear our good fortune may be going to his head.”

Ron crossed his arms. He wore a new jacket, fashioned from the same iridescent material as Fred and George favoured but mostly grey in colour, and a sleek black turtleneck tucked into his denims. Harry had already decided that the new wardrobe made Ron look older – in fact, it made him look a great deal like Bill. Of course, Ron omitted the fang earring and ponytail; his life would be an unending Howler if he did that, Harry surmised.

Hermione offered, “You must admit that pumpkin is out of season. Even the juice is a little off in the summer.” Ron relaxed his posture a bit.

Sensing that Ron required a defence, Harry added, “Pumpkin pie’s fine, of course, but Hermione’s right. It is a fall dish, isn’t it?”

Mrs. Weasley’s forced smile fell and she said in clipped tones, “Perhaps I failed to make myself clear. Everyone will make due with the same dessert.”

Mr. Weasley offered, “One might expect Ginny to be… averse to pie, Molly.”

Ginny snapped, “Dad!” Bill chuckled, and Mrs. Weasley rolled her eyes. Ron covered his mouth to stifle a snort.

“I believe there’s a story here,” Tonks observed.

Ginny clenched her jaw. “Fine,” she muttered. “I tried my hand at baking, and it went something less than well.”

Ron chortled. “Burned an apple pie to a crisp,” he blurted between snorts. “Then there was the treacle…” He burst into shaking laughter.

“It wasn’t funny,” Ginny moaned. “I had to paint the kitchen, even after the scouring spells.”

Harry successfully fought the urge to laugh, but Hermione failed. She laughed until tears formed, and she dabbed at her eyes. “Oh, I’m sorry, Ginny,” she managed.

Mrs. Weasley looked at Ginny indulgently. “I’ll put out a piece for you, dear – just in case you change your mind,” she said.

Mrs. Granger placed a dessert plate with a slice of pumpkin pie before Harry. Mrs. Weasley set bowls of whipping cream on each end of the dining room table.

Harry looked at the slice of pie. Under other circumstances, he would have politely declined. He eyed the whipping cream, reached for the serving spoon and ladled a copious amount onto the pie.

Ron forced down a bite, and did a poor job of concealing his dislike. Ginny stared at her piece for a time and then doused it with whipping cream.

Harry looked up, just in time to see Hermione drop spoonful after spoonful of whipping cream onto her plate. She returned the serving spoon, took a forkful of pie, immersed it in the pile of the whipping cream, and ate it. Then she giggled.

“What’s funny, then?” Mr. Granger asked.

“Nothing, Dad,” she chuckled.

Mrs. Granger looked suspicious. “Hermione, you’re giggling like a schoolgirl. We don’t giggle,” she observed.

“It’s nothing, Mother,” Hermione insisted. “I just had, erm, a few things on my mind.” She ate a forkful of whipping cream without any pie at all, caught Harry’s eye, and then blushed.

Impossible, Harry thought. It has to be the wine. He took a slow calming breath. I must be red as the Gryffindor crest, he realised.

He pushed back from the table abruptly. “Excuse me,” he said quickly, and dashed into the kitchen. He turned on the cold-water tap and splashed his face. He braced himself against the counter and let the cool droplets fall.

Tonks followed Harry through the door. “Everything all right in here?” she asked. When he didn’t answer, she added, “Is it the wine getting to you, or the company?”

Harry said hurriedly, “It must be the wine – I’m not accustomed.”

Tonks put her hand on his shoulder. “Not very fun watching Hermione going spare, is it? She’s had moments like this all summer, but…” She sighed. “Harry, I know you’re not going to like this, but it’s been far worse since she started sorting through the Black’s library. Do you think she may have stumbled across something worse than that cursed book?”

It’s the safeguard – it must be, Harry thought. “She’s cautious enough,” Harry ventured.

“I worry about her,” Tonks said. “I will say that her parents have adjusted rather well. A month ago, Cordelia would have popped a seam over that business with the pie. She’s become more relaxed around us, thankfully. I like Tom; he reminds me of my dad.”

“How red was I?” Harry asked quietly. “When… erm… when Hermione was going on about the whipping cream? How red was I?”

“How red were you? I don’t know… I didn’t notice, I suppose,” Tonks answered. “Why would you be red…?” Her brow furrowed.

“I had this dream, you see, and when she started giggling… and then she said she had a few things in mind… just promise me that you’ll keep this to yourself,” Harry said in a forced whisper.

Tonks’ eyes bulged. “You’re having dreams involving Hermione and whipping cream?” she whispered back. “Gods! Does she know?”

Not about Hermione and whipping cream!” Harry spluttered. “It was just a very real dream, and… and I’d almost swear that we shared it.”

Tonks became very serious. “I hope that’s not the case. Shared dreams are an ill omen,” she said, too loudly for Harry’s taste.

Ron’s voice rang out. “Tonks, you sound like Trelawney.” He affected the Divination teacher’s reedy voice, and intoned, “In the seventh month, when Jupiter and Mercury are in conjunction, an ill wind shall seek out Harry Potter and it shall muss his hair terribly – oh, the woe and weal!”

Harry laughed. Finally! – that sounds like Ron, he thought. “Read any good tea leaves lately, then?” he asked jokingly, before it occurred to him that Ron wasn’t smiling.

“I don’t need tea leaves, just my eyes. Try this one on, Harry,” Ron snarled. “In the eighth month, when Venus is besieged by Saturn and Mars, the Princess did laugh at the whipping cream, the Prince did panic, and the Fool… well, he was just a fool, wasn’t he?”

Harry’s hackles rose, despite himself. “I didn’t think you bought into Divination, Ron – just into Lavender Brown’s knickers,” he sneered.

Ron strode purposefully toward Harry, and Tonks stepped backward toward the door to the dining room. “Well, boys, it appears that you have some catching up to do… old times, and all that… I think I’ll just, erm… Bill? Could you, uh…?”

“I’ve had enough of everyone’s sniggering,” Ron said darkly. “She was there for me, which is more than I can say for either of you. I don’t regret it, not for one moment.”

“Perhaps you should have spent one moment considering Hermione?” Harry asked with venom in his voice. “You have it out with her, and not an hour later you’re shagging away with someone else… and of all people it had to be Lavender Brown, didn’t it? For Merlin’s sake, Ron…”

Ron lashed out and roughly shoved Harry back against the counter. “What?” he snarled. “Spit it out, you wanker! She must be a ruddy tart because she was interested in me – is that it? I suppose I’m not good enough for the bloody ice maiden… wait, I have it! She has a thing for Seekers, doesn’t she? And I thought she didn’t care for Quidditch! That explains everythinglike why she led me on and put me off for two effing years. Do you know the best part – do you? At long last, Harry, you weren’t first in line for something.” He paused for emphasis, and added with an evil grin, “How does it feel to pick up Viktor Krum’s seconds?”

Harry tossed Ron against the island, and balled his fists. “We’re finishedjust as soon as I use you for a punching bag,” he warned.

Bill breezed into the kitchen, and abruptly put one arm around Harry’s shoulders and the other around Ron. “Let’s all take a nice stroll, shall we?” he commanded, and drove them forward with surprising strength toward the French door that led out to the yard.

Bill shoved Ron through the door first, and sent him sprawling onto the porch. Harry reacted quickly, but not quickly enough. Bill tripped him, and knocked him flat onto the porch as well. Bill closed the door behind him as if nothing had happened, and then turned on them. “I can’t decide which one of you is the bigger arse!” he boomed. In one motion, he had both Harry and Ron’s wands.

Harry sat up and reached toward Bill, who gripped the wands tightly and growled, “If you even think of summoning your wand, I swear that I’ll conjure a rope. We’ve read the same book, you and I – remember? Number twelve, I think… and I will enjoy it.” Harry quickly settled on discretion and sat on his hands.

Bill glared at Ron. “Youyou should never have left the dining room. You went after Harry because you wanted to provoke him. You had no reason, and you had no right!”

Ron argued, “It’s his fault – he got in my way, and he knew it! He has a problem with Lavender and me? Where did they go straight away, then?”

Harry seethed, “I was put on probation at school, in case you haven’t heard or didn’t care. Getting shagged was the last thing on my mind, I can assure you!”

We weren’t shagging!Ron shouted. “As for the probation thing, I wouldn’t worry about that. Dumbledore will bail you out of trouble; wouldn’t want his prize pupil to stumble, would he? Anything for the saviour of the bloody universe!”

Silencio!Bill screeched. Ron and Harry continued to yell at one another for a moment, until it was obvious that nothing could be heard.

Five years!” Bill ranted. “Five years of friendship, and the two of you have let it come to this? Harry, you just had to stir the cauldron, didn’t you? You didn’t think I heard you? The neighbours across the lane heard about Lavender Brown’s knickers, you twit! You’re concerned with Hermione’s feelings? If you gave a tinker’s damn about her feelings, then you would have kept your fool mouth closed! Ron, I do hope that you’re satisfied – you managed to call her an ice maiden and accuse her of shagging both Viktor Krum and Harry, all in one sitting! Bloody brilliant! But it gets better, doesn’t it? Both of her parents were listening in – you must feel like you just caught the effing Snitch! Mum and Dad must be so bloody proud! Git… prat… wanker… none of them quite capture my love at this moment! I’d rather sit down for roast dinner with Percy than look at you! At least I was able to spare Dad the humiliation of dragging you out here!”

Ron’s eyes bulged, and his lower lip twitched. Harry wanted to slink off into the yard, but the thought of a conjured rope kept him in place.

Bill turned on Harry. “As for you,” he snarled, “I’d grade your opening attempts at adulthood a resounding D… come to think of it, you’re not even managing Dreadful. You know what Ron’s been through, and I know that you feel responsible for it. Why in Merlin’s name do you not make allowances, then? He’s not the same person anymore, Harry, and there’s nothing to be done about that. Are you going to be the kind of man who gives up on friends when it suits you? If you’re going to manage your affairs based solely upon your own convenience, then please be loud and clear. I’ll be the first in line to quit on you! And you, Ron – did you hear one word that Harry told us? You’re not the only one who… och, the hell with it!”

He crossed his arms. “Stand up – both of you!” he ordered. Neither Harry nor Ron chose to object.

“Right, then,” Bill said. “Which one of you plans to throw the first swing?”

Harry eyed Ron warily. For his part, Ron looked as though the very life had been wrung out of him.

Go on!” Bill exhorted them. “Beat the bloody hell out of one another! That was the plan, right?”

Ron stuck his hands in his pockets, and peered intently at his shoes. Harry slowly shook his head from side to side.

Do you think you’re capable of speech, without cocking it up?” Bill asked. “I’ll take your shuffling around as ‘yes’. Here’s my plan, then. Hestia Jones is going to… have either of you met Hestia? Oy, Hestia!”

A black-haired witch resolved chameleon-like from the wall at the back of the yard, and waved. Harry vaguely remembered her – she had been part of the Advance Guard when he had left the Dursleys the year prior.

Bill raised his voice. “Hestia is going to keep an eye on you. I’m going to release the silencing spell. You can talk things through, you can knock each other senseless, you can hex each other to the moon… at this point, I don’t give a care either way. Whatever you choose to do, don’t share it with the neighbours. Hestia, feel free to have St. Mungo’s collect any survivors.”

Hestia sniggered and waved. “Right-o, Bill,” she called out.

“I’m allowing you a few minutes, before I return to survey the damage. Perhaps the afternoon can still be salvaged,” Bill grumbled. He dropped their wands on the porch, and flicked his own wand once as he passed through the French door. Harry rubbed at his throat, and cleared it audibly.

“Ron… I…I haven’t the slightest idea how to fix this,” Harry admitted as he picked up the two wands.

Ron blurted in frustration, “I hate feeling this way!”

On one corner of the porch were two benches with high backs, facing either other across a low table. Harry set Ron’s wand on the table, and sat down on one of the benches. “It was simple in the beginning, wasn’t it?” he said. “Answer the letter, and get to King’s Cross on time. We spent the day eating chocolate frogs, and just like that we were there.”

Ron laughed grimly. He looked at the bench opposite Harry. “Anyone sitting there?” he asked, pointing at the bench. Harry shook his head, and Ron sat down.

He extended his hand to Harry. “Ron Weasley,” he said. “I’m Fred and George’s brother. Are you really Harry Potter? I thought it might be one of Fred and George’s jokes, you know.”

Harry chuckled. “I’m afraid so,” he said, as he drew back his bangs to reveal the scar. “You might want to find another seat while you have the chance.”

“I’ll stay here for now,” Ron said. “I heard you went to live with Muggles. Are they all right, then?”

Harry answered, “Well, my uncle’s an arse, but my aunt can be tolerable, and my cousin will grow on you… literally. He’s huge.”

Ron smiled, and reached inside his jacket. “Anything off the cart?” he asked, and took two Chocolate Frogs from a pocket.

Harry shook his head. “Carry those around regularly, do you?” he laughed.

Ron shrugged. “I didn’t expect dessert, so I brought my own. Remember how Hermione’s parents would send all that sugarless claptrap? Have you been in the guest bath, by the way? They have spare toothbrushes set out in little boxes, and these odd little spools of white thread.” He shook his head, bemused, and handed a Chocolate Frog to Harry.

Ron unwrapped his Chocolate Frog and glanced at the card. He groaned, and set it face up on the table. “Agrippa – wouldn’t you know it? I would have killed for that card a few years ago. Which did you get?”

Harry managed a wry smile. “Dumbledore,” he said. “Want it?”

“Naw, I really don’t collect anymore. Besides, I must have two dozen of him,” Ron told Harry.

“One is more than enough,” Harry observed. “Any pets? I have a snowy owl.”

Ron scowled, “Just this damn rat named Scabbers.” Harry cringed, and wondered how could had slipped his mind. Ron took a bite of his frog, and added, “If I’d had any idea what a rat he really was, I would have fed him to the nearest Kneazle before we boarded the train.”

Harry asked, “So what’s your Quidditch team?”

“Chudley Cannons,” Ron said proudly. “You?”

“Cannons, of course,” Harry said quickly. “Things can only improve.”

Ron smiled. “Codswallop,” he said. “You look like a Puddlemere man to me.”

“Nope – Cannons all the way,” Harry insisted. “I always pull for the downtrodden.”

“Ouch,” Ron pouted.

The French door opened, and Ron quickly pocketed his wand. Ginny carefully passed through as though she feared an ambush. “No sign of the enemy,” she mocked. “It looks safe to proceed.”

“Funny,” Hermione said flatly, and followed Ginny onto the porch.

“I think the train’s getting crowded,” Ron said, “and since when did 10 year olds get a ticket?”

Ginny smiled curiously. “How many times did Harry strike you in the head, exactly?” she asked.

“We were just riding the Express to Hogwarts,” Harry explained. “Ron was introducing me to Chocolate Frogs, and I was telling him that I’m the Cannons’ biggest fan.”

Liar,” Ginny said. “What team do you pull for, anyway? You’re not a Puddlemere man, are you?”

“Shall we sing the Cannons anthem, Ron?” Harry asked.

“Absolutely,” Ron agreed, “provided that you don’t mangle the words. Can it wait, though? I want to toss Scabbers under the wheels first.”

“I’ll gladly help with that,” Hermione said.

Ginny smiled wickedly. She curtsied and extended a hand to Harry. “Hullo. Obviously you’re Harry Potter. I’m Ginny Weasley, and I’m not actually here until next September. May I?” Harry gestured to the benches.

Ginny sat next to him. “I have a tendency to knock over and break things when you’re around, in case my brother hasn’t told you. Some people think that I have a tendency toward questionable judgment –”

Harry sat up with a start. “I’m sorry? What did you say?” he asked.

You would have to catch that bit, wouldn’t you? I said that I have a tendency toward questionable judgment,” Ginny groaned. She stopped and searched his face. “Are you all right? You have this odd look about you.”

Harry shook it off. “Sorry, it was just… the phrase struck me funny, that’s all.”

Ginny smiled. “No worries,” she said. “Oh, by the way? I’m going to be possessed by the most evil wizard in the world, and a basilisk will bite you when you save me. I just thought I should apologise in advance.” Ron gasped and Hermione looked at her in horror.

Harry said, “I’m sure it all turns out in the end, so I’ll forgive you. Just promise me one thing – no kissing!” He burst out laughing as Ginny’s cheeks pinked, and Ron followed suit.

Hermione looked Harry up and down, and then extended her hand. “You’re Harry Potter, of course. I know all about you,” she said very fast. “You’re in Modern Magical History; Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century; Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts; let’s see… you reputedly have your own chapter in the new revision of Hogwarts: a History; you’re in roughly every other issue of the Daily Prophet – oh! We mustn’t forget Teen Witch Weekly –”

Ron saw the immediate queasiness on Harry’s face and cut in, “Someone wants to forget it.”

Hermione didn’t miss a beat. “…and we mustn’t leave aside this people-saving thing of yours. Did I mention that you have a knack for disrupting things – you know, exams…? Quidditch matches…? Evil plots…? Sunday dinners…? I’m Hermione Granger, by the way.” She turned to Ron. “And who are you?”

“Ron Weasley,” Ron said with a smirk.

Ah, yes – I’ve heard about you,” Hermione said. “Look, I only came out here because some of the people on the train are behaving very childishly. You’ve got chocolate on your nose, by the way – did you know that?” Ron quickly reached for his nose and Hermione giggled at him.

He shot her a mock-scowl. “Your mum’s right – you’re not a giggler,” he said. “What gives?”

Hermione sat down next to Ron. “I don’t know. I used to be; it was a nervous habit. My mother seems to have conveniently forgotten. This whole summer has been a reprise of my life as a ten year old.”

“I’m sorry,” Ron said.

“It’s not your fault,” Hermione assured him. “I never expected to be stuck here like this.” She looked at Harry, and added, “It must have been awful for you, stuck at the Dursleys. I always knew, but I never understood – not really.”

That’s not what I meant,” Ron said. “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. I… dragged you into my problems, and it wasn’t right.”

Hermione closed her eyes. “I forgive you,” she said after a long pause. “The rest will take some time.” Ron smiled faintly. He appeared to relax – for the first time all summer, Harry suspected.

Harry quietly cast a series of overlapping silencing charms all around the benches. He watched, until he was certain that the porch was thoroughly covered and that none of his friends had noticed. I hope this isn’t a mistake, he thought. Gryffindors go forward.

Harry said, “Ron, can I ask you something?”

“Why not?” Ron replied.

“I’m just curious – how are you going to die?” Harry asked casually.

Ron snorted and shook his head. “On your ruddy motorbike, of all things –” He stopped, and froze in mute shock. Ginny screamed. It was a shrill inhuman scream, and it was something that Harry had failed to thoroughly contemplate. Because of the multiple charms, Ginny’s screams rebounded loudly and startled her into silence.

“That was subtle,” Hermione said disapprovingly.

Ron babbled. “How did you… wha… I never… you didn’t talk to Lavender, did you…? I mean, with all the name-calling…”

Ginny sat very still, her face drained of colour. “Die?she asked in a child’s voice.

“Lavender knows?” Harry asked.

“No one’s going to die. We’re essentially talking about Divination, after all,” Hermione assured Ginny. She changed benches and wrapped her arm around Ginny’s shoulders.

Die?” Ginny wept. “Did those… those things tell you that?”

“I don’t understand how you knew,” Ron said, his voice almost ghostly.

We found a book in the library at Grimmauld Place,” Harry explained. “It had a page on the brains, Ron. They’re called cognivores, apparently.” So much for not cocking things up, he thought as he watched Ron’s expression oscillate between anger and terror.

Bill came out the French door, followed by Tonks. He said, “I see everyone’s still alive… hullo, I didn’t expect to see…” He squinted, and looked carefully around the porch. “You’ve built a silent space,” he said. “That’s seventh-year work, at the very least – impressive.”

“They didn’t teach us that when I was in school,” Tonks said. “I picked it up later.”

“Hiding the shouting, are you?” Bill asked with a smile. He drew closer and took in Ron’s expression; his smile quickly melted away.

Harry motioned to Ginny, and flicked his wand here and there. “Have a seat,” he said grimly. Tonks sat on the end of the table, and Bill immediately went to Ginny. Harry began flicking his wand again.

“Where did you pick that up, anyway?” Tonks asked him.

Harry put away his wand. “Dumbledore did it at the party. I don’t know how… I felt it, and it occurred to me how he might have done it. It’s a good thing I didn’t vanish the porch, I suppose.”

Ginny clung to Bill as if she were drowning. Harry couldn’t understand anything she said – it was all buried deep within sobs. Bill turned his head toward Harry. “I take it that you were right, in the library?” he confirmed. Harry nodded.

Tonks said to Ron, “I’m sorry, Ron. We hoped otherwise, truly we did.”

Ron asked anxiously, “Who else knows about this?”

Hermione answered, “Remus saw the book, but he doesn’t know what you saw. We were only surmising, after all. My parents saw the book as well.”

Panic rose in Ron’s voice. “They wouldn’t tell my parents… would they? Mum’s wound tightly as it is.”

“They understand that it’s a matter between you and your family; I’m certain of it,” Hermione said.

“It’s between you and me, as far as I’m concerned,” Bill assured Ron. “Mum wouldn’t handle it well, and Dad has enough on his mind at present. Charlie doesn’t need to know, the twins can’t keep their mouths shut, and Percy… well… you know.”

“It’s very, very questionable,” Hermione insisted. “Visions are dodgy at the outset, never mind the possible intent of these creatures.”

“What did the book say about them?” Ron asked.

“Ron, perhaps we should take this a step at a time –” Bill began.

“What did the book say?” Ron demanded.

“It’s not good,” Harry told him. “Are you sure…?”

“What did it say? Tell me,” Ron pleaded.

Hermione suggested, “Bill may have a point, you know.” Ron and Harry both glared at her.

I can’t keep track of all the secrets anymore,” Harry said. He turned to Ron. “They’re called Cognivorus cado… cado…

Hermione rolled her eyes. “They’re called Cognivorum cadogansis, after Sir Cadogan. Apparently, he was believed to have killed them all. Clearly, that wasn’t the case.”

“Sir Cadogan… Sir Cadogan… Wasn’t that the crusader bloke who filled in for the Fat Lady – ‘tally ho’ and that rot?” Ron asked. When Hermione nodded, he added, “Struck me as a braggart, that one.”

Harry continued, “According to the book, cognivores feed on thoughts and they leave visions of the future.”

Hermione corrected him, “No, victims are beset with visions of the future.” When Harry looked at her askance, she snipped, “It’s a significant difference. It implies the potential for false visions.”

“Fair enough,” Harry acknowledged. “These things went on a rampage a hundred years ago. They attacked seventy people. Half of them died, and the other half…” He couldn’t make himself finish the thought.

The other half what?” Ron asked impatiently.

The other half went mad,” Hermione said. Before Ron could respond, she hastily added, “Of course, the book said over seventy people were attacked, and only thirty-four ended up at St. Mungo’s. That means some of the victims may have been unaffected.”

Ron began to laugh in staccato heaves. Harry and the others all watched him cautiously. He spluttered, “When I said I thought I might be going mad… I wasn’t entirely serious, you know.”

Harry spoke slowly, assembling his thoughts as he talked. “Maybe – just maybe – they went mad because they couldn’t handle what they thought they saw, not because of anything actually done to them.”

“The deaths may have been self-fulfilling prophecy,” Bill agreed hopefully.

There’s a word I don’t care to hear again soon – prophecy,” Ron fumed. “Answer me this, O high priestess of the library; if Divination is so flimsy, then why was that sodding prophecy so important?”

Hermione gasped and shuddered. She started to speak, but only guttural sounds emerged. Harry immediately moved toward her.

“What?” Ron said, a guilty look spreading across his face. “What did I do? All I did was ask about the prophecy; it’s not –”

Stop!” Harry shouted. “Can’t you see what you’re doing to her? Don’t say another word!” He pulled her to him. “It’s safe, I promise. It’s safe,” he repeated himself over and over.

“Can’t… it’s not right… have to… tell Professor… D-Dumbledore,” Hermione managed; her voice quavered as she shook.

Tonks moved to take Hermione’s hand. “What’s happening to you? What can we do?”

“I’m putting an end to this,” Harry said. “Ron, I told you there would be no more secrets. Listen, all of you. Can I trust you?”

Everyone sat mute, caught up in Hermione’s writhing.

Can I trust you?” Harry repeated. “Dumbledore believes this is a life-or-death matter. Can I trust you?

“I told you that I can keep a secret,” Ron replied.

“The Order is sworn to protect you,” Bill said. “You have my word.”

“Likewise,” said Tonks.

Ginny nodded nervously.

“Hermione was willing to guard this secret with her life,” Harry said. “If any of you betray us, I swear that I’ll kill you myself.” Hermione looked up at him, her eyes wide with surprise.

He looked around for assent once more. “I won’t let you die to protect this from our own friends, for Merlin’s sake,” he told Hermione.

Hermione quavered, “Not dying… just… not right… are you… sure… you…?” She shuddered, and Harry’s hand tingled.

He spoke the prophecy – all of it. “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. The Dark Lord will mark him as his 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.” Moments after he finished, Hermione’s body relaxed.

“How did you know…?” she began weakly.

“I didn’t know if it would help,” Harry admitted. “I took a chance. Dumbledore said you would only be able to speak of the prophecy in front of people who already knew it.”

Ron and Ginny stared slack-jawed at Harry, and Bill took on a pensive expression.

Tonks said, “Sweet Merlin… you’re the Defender. It makes sense, when I think about it, but… you’re the Defender.”

“The ‘Defender’? What are you talking about?” Harry asked.

The central purpose of the Order of the Phoenix is to protect and support the Defender of the Light – the person who is fated to vanquish Voldemort,” Bill explained. “The secondary purpose is to protect the lives of those whom Voldemort and the Death Eaters have marked for destruction. That obviously includes you, Harry; and Hermione as well. Dumbledore’s always maintained that the identity of the Defender was unknown. Frankly, most of us assumed that it was him, and he was just being modest.” He turned to Ron and then Ginny. “If Mum finds out you know that, or anything else about the Order, she’ll serve all of us for roast dinner – understood?”

Ron stared at the table, his face cradled in his hands. Harry watched him as his fingers flicked to and fro. “Playing chess, are you?” he asked.

“‘Either must die at the hand of the other’… ‘neither can live while the other survives’… ‘power the Dark Lord knows not’… what a puzzle,” Ron muttered. He looked up at Harry, and then sat up abruptly. “‘Either must die at the hand of the other’ – think of the implications. If he doesn’t kill you, will you be immortal? Is it impossible for someone or something else to kill you? If you were to walk in front of the Knight Bus tomorrow, would it just bounce off you or something? So… he can’t order someone to kill you, can he? He has to dirty his own hands – or does he? What does it mean to use one’s hands? Can he be killed using a wand, or does it have to be done with the hands… could it mean wandless magic? ‘Neither can live while the other survives’ – what in the wide world of Quidditch does that mean? With him it makes a bit of sense, you having offed him and all. You can’t live? That makes no sense at all – you look alive to me… if you were undead, I think we would have caught on by now. ‘Power the Dark Lord knows not’ – now that’s interesting. You can kill him with a spell he’s unfamiliar with, perhaps? It’s all a great puzzle.”

Ginny gaped at him. “That was impressive!”

Hermione stirred and turned to look at Ron. “Nicely done,” she said. “That gives us something to work with.”

Bill patted him on the shoulder, and Tonks raised both thumbs in salute. Ron looked questioningly at Harry.

“Good show, mate,” Harry said. Ron visibly relaxed.

“V-Voldemort doesn’t know Harry has the power to kill him – is that the big secret?” Ginny asked nervously.

Hermione sat up slowly, stretched gingerly, and mouthed ‘thank you’ to Harry. She said, “Voldemort doesn’t know that he has to come after Harry himself, and he doesn’t know that he can’t live as long as Harry survives. We need to keep him in the dark as long as possible. You can surely see that Harry’s life may depend on it.” Ginny paled.

Harry asked, “Does anyone have a problem with the idea that I have to kill him?” He raised his own hand, and was met with a chorus of ‘nos.

Would anyone feel differently if they had to do it?” Harry asked.

Ron said, “I’d blast him to ashes, and then burn the ashes. I wouldn’t give it a single thought.”

Bill said, “He’s earned it.”

“It’s war,” shrugged Tonks. “People die.”

Ginny squeezed Harry’s hand. “No one in his or her right mind would ever blame you,” she said. “We’ll all be there for you afterward.” She looked pointedly at Ron, and added, “All of us.”

Bill said to Ginny and Ron, “I hate to break this up, but we should all get back inside; it’s the civilised thing to do.” He turned to Hermione. “It’s obvious that something was done to you, relating to this prophecy – a safeguard or binding of some kind? I need to know more about it; I’d like to help.” Finally, he shook Harry’s hand. “We’re sworn to support and protect you, Harry. It’s… it’s an honour, strange as that may sound to you. You may want to get used to that sentiment.”

Ron said, “We’ll be right there. I have a few things yet to clear up with Harry.” When Hermione hesitated, he added, “Alone. Don’t fret; there’s no punching involved.”

Harry held back until the French door closed. “What is it?”

Ron said calmly, “You don’t expect to live, do you?”

Harry couldn’t bring himself to lie. “No, not really.”

“Neither do I,” said Ron.

“I’ll take him with me, though,” Harry promised.

“I expect that you will,” Ron told him, “and I intend to help you, whether you like it or not.”

Harry asked nervously, “Have you… did you see something that…?”

“Two things that I saw have already happened this summer – that’s how I know it’s real,” Ron whispered. He looked around furtively, as if he were afraid of being heard. “Most of it is hazy now. All that damn Oblivious Unction did was to muddle things. Some of it's clear – the motorbike, for one. You’re there; so is Hermione, I think, and someone else – a blonde who I can’t recognise. I saw myself in a mirror, near the end. I don’t look a lot older than now. It’s coming, Harry – it’s coming soon.” He leaned in close to Harry’s ear. “They think I’m already mad, you know; I overheard them at St. Mungo’s. They couldn’t bring themselves to tell me. Thank you for that much.”

“You’re not mad. I don’t know if what you saw is real, but you’re not mad,” Harry said.

“You may be the only one with that opinion,” Ron fumed.

“So… we go down together, then?” Harry asked.

Ron paused, and appeared to mull over the idea. “I could live with that,” he decided.

Harry didn’t think Ron was mad, but he knew that it was possible. He was certain at first that Ron was paranoid; the furtive glances, the whispering – it all pointed in that direction. After a few minutes back inside the house, he had changed his mind somewhat. Mr. and Mr. Weasley behaved as though neither wanted to be the first to call out “Snap!” He began to wonder if Hermione had misjudged her parents, and if anything had actually been shared between them and the Weasleys. Tonks was on uneasy ground with both Ron and Harry. She seemed to be moving in a room filled with breakables, although in her case that was often a reasonable assumption. Ginny’s countenance cried out ‘stiff upper lip’, but Harry could see it in her eyes – the impulse to cry out, barely suppressed. He felt badly for heaping Ron’s condition and the truth of the prophecy upon her in the space of five minutes. Considering that, he concluded that she was the picture of grace. As for Ron, if he wasn’t precisely relaxed, he at least seemed relieved. He moved easily, despite the rustling and nervousness around him. He was gentle and attentive with Ginny – clearly worried about her, and not just about what she might do or say. Harry was certain that she’d earned that from Ron after the last few weeks.

Hermione and Bill huddled in the front room and spoke in hushed tones, she on one end of a settee and he in a plush armchair. Hermione waved him over, and Harry broke off from Mr. Granger. Harry sat next to Hermione; she appeared anxious.

Bill said quietly, “Harry, I need you to tell me anything that you can remember about the safeguard cast on Hermione – anything at all.”

“I’m a bit hazy on that entire evening, as you can imagine,” Hermione explained.

Harry nodded. “Dumbledore said it was a variation on an old spell. There was quite a bit of wand work involved, and some runes on her hand and mine, and then a long incantation… arcanum se astringo dum something, and then a variation on the same. Then he said tutela, and I thought he was going to force his wand right through Hermione’s chest.”

Bill raised an eyebrow. He reached out for Harry’s hand. “Runes? May I?” Harry allowed him to look, and he came away with a scowl. “I imagine it was dum dolor, Harry,” he said. “Please tell me the rest wasn’t something along the lines of arcanum se astringo donec nex?Harry felt a chill on the back of his neck.

“Was she ill following the casting of the… er, was she ill afterward?” Bill asked.

“She was terribly cold,” Harry answered. “I could scarcely warm her.”

“But you could – you could warm her?” Bill said. He turned to Hermione. “You’re not cold now, are you?”

“I feel all right. Casting of the what?” Hermione asked.

“I’m sorry?” said Bill.

Casting of the what?” she repeated. “You started to ask if I was ill following the casting of the… something. Why did you stop?”

Bill didn’t answer. “Does your hand hurt when Hermione is out of sorts?”

“It tingles, I think, but it doesn’t really hurt,” Harry answered suspiciously.

“Did Dumbledore say where he learned this?” asked Bill.

“From someone at the Department of Mysteries, I think,” Harry replied after a pause.

Hermione agreed. “He’s right. I do remember that much. Look, Bill, I agreed to this.”

The growing alarm on Bill’s face prompted Harry to add, “He did say that the charm wasn’t evil, and couldn’t cause any lasting harm.”

Bill frowned. “He does like to emphasize the difference between dark and evil. As I said before, I would trust Dumbledore with my life. Nonetheless, I can’t accept… surely he had to realise what he was undertaking.”

Hermione appeared impassive. Harry snapped, “What was he doing, then? Did he lie to us?”

“He mislead you, at any rate. I respectfully disagree with his interpretation of lasting harm,” Bill fumed. “I can’t fathom what he was thinking, casting a barely-legal variation of an ancient Unforgivable on a schoolgirl. He’s going to explain himself to me and to the Order if I have anything to say about it. I intend to break this curse, and I’ll damn well know who provided the runes.”

“You shouldn’t interfere,” Hermione said. “He had his reasons.”

Harry seethed. “He cursed you,” he said. “I can’t believe that he cursed you.”

“I was the weak link in the chain,” she said distantly. “He did what was necessary.”

Harry desperately clutched her shoulders with his hands. His voice shook. “Is everyone losing their minds around here? Hermione, have you gone stark – barking – mad?”

There was sudden pounding at the front door. Bill jumped up from the armchair, and flicked his wand. A small portion of the oaken door was rendered transparent, to reveal Lupin and Fred Weasley standing on the other side.

“You’ll have to teach me that one,” Harry said, impressed. “That’s dead useful…” He went silent the instant that he spotted the gashes on Fred’s head and the long rips across his shirt.

Bill shouted, “Dad!” and flung open the door. He quickly ushered Lupin and Fred into the front room, slammed the door, and called out, “Colloportus!” He looked to Harry and Hermione, and shouted, “Get up - now!” The moment that they stood, the settee flung itself across the room and landed directly in front of the door.

Mr. Weasley ran into the front room. “Fred! What… who did this?”

Death Eaters...” Fred panted. “They - they stormed the Burrow.”

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