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Fics begun in 2003 (post-OOTP)

Chapter Eighteen

THERE'S NO PLACE LIKE HOME

Harry stood on Hermione's roof and balanced against the dormer while Ron continued to tap lightly on her window.  He could vaguely hear music, and he could see two figures through the pulled sheers, one in bed and one in a chair.  There was movement.  Someone stopped just behind the sheers, and looked cautiously through them. 

“Any sign of her?” Harry asked. 

Ron grimaced at him. “It’s just Ginny.  Can’t you hear the bloody violin?” he said, much more loudly than Harry liked.  He shook his head, rapped hard on the window, and said in full voice, “Oy, Hermione!”

Harry shushed Ron, who waved him off just as Hermione raised the sheers. She stood there in a dressing gown, hands on hips. After she shook her head at Ron for a long while, she opened the window.

“Ron Weasley, you are a complete nutter,” she said.  “Get in here before you fall off the roof.”

“I brought a friend – do you mind?” Ron asked.

“Is it Lavender Brown?” Hermione snapped.

Ron harrumphed.  “You’re not starting on that, are you?  Perhaps we should leave…?”

“Get in here, before we wake the entire house – and the neighbourhood in the bargain,” said Hermione. As Ron clambered through the window, she added hesitantly, “You too, Harry.”

Harry clambered around from the side of the dormer. Hermione had walked away from the window, and he watched her for a moment. Her arms were crossed rather too tightly. She jumped at the sound of his feet landing against the bedroom floor, but didn’t turn to face him. 

Ginny sat in a rocking chair in the far corner, clad in light jumper and denims, violin in hand.  She gave a tired wave.  “I was beginning to wonder if you’d ever show up here,” she croaked. The strain showed on her face; Wormtail had obviously squeezed harder than Harry had ever imagined.

Harry looked to Ron, and spluttered, “Wha… did you…?”

Ron shook his head fervently. “Not a word, mate, not a word.” He gave Harry a nudge. “Are you going to cast some silencing charms, then, or do we just stare at each other all night?”

Harry withdrew his wand, and blanketed the room.

Hermione looked at a clock hung on the wall. “It’s a quarter to one. I can’t believe Professor Lupin let you do this.”

“He didn’t exactly let us,” Ron said proudly. “We’re on the lam.”

Hermione looked at Ron blankly for a moment, and then her eyes bugged. “You’re what?”

“On the lam – newly escaped,” Ron chuckled.  “We’d had enough of Azkaban, so I thought I’d break Harry free, and –”

Hermione gasped sharply. “Don’t you… don’t even joke about that, Ron! It’s not funny, not at all!”

Ron fidgeted. “Erm… right, I won’t joke about escaping. I didn’t mean to wind you up…”

Hermione lit into him.  “Your parents are sleeping two rooms away, and your sister’s sitting a few feet away.  Strange choice of destination for a jailbreak, isn’t it?” 

“I’m not returning to Grimmauld Place,” Harry said.  “I thought you should know before I left.  I didn’t want –”

Hermione fumed.  “Didn’t want what, Harry?  Didn’t want me to worry?  Didn’t want to give me a fright?  It’s a bit late on both counts!”

Harry frowned.  “This was a mistake.  I’m sorry to trouble you.”  He started for the window.

Hermione said quickly, “I didn’t ask you to leave.”

“You didn’t ask me to stay, either,” Harry snapped. The rest rushed out of him.  “I’m sorry I frightened you so badly.  Should I have just sat there?  Is that what you wanted?  Did you want to die?”

“You’re out of line, Harry,” Ron warned.

Harry glared at him.  “Stay out of this.”

Ron stepped between Harry and Hermione.  He sneered, “What are you going to do about it, Harry – are you going to hit me?”  Hermione covered her mouth with her hands, and she shook.

Harry felt as if the wind had been knocked out of him.  “I don’t want to fight with either of you. Hermione, I disappeared on you once this summer, and I didn’t want to do it twice.  I just wanted to see that you were all right, before I left.  I should go.  Ron, come or stay – whatever.”  He started for the window a second time. 

“I’m not all right,” Hermione said.  “I… I don’t know if… if I’ll ever be all right.”  Harry turned and moved toward her, but she waved him off.  Her jaw twitched, and her face coursed with a rush of pain and anger. 

She shouted, “You don’t know what he did!  You don’t know what he took from me!  He took everything!”  Tears ran down her face.  Harry moved closer, and she waved him off again.

 “I might know more than you think,” Harry said.  “He’s been running around in my head for five years.  I wanted to stop him, but I didn’t know how.  You don’t know how it felt to watch… what they were doing to you… it was… it was…” He closed his eyes, and fought back the images.

“It was the most awful thing he’s ever seen,” Ron said.  “I know, because I felt the same way.  I wanted to kill all of them for hurting you.  I didn’t know that Harry could actually do it.”

“Harry… I…” Hermione began. 

His reserve broke.  He took her hand, and tried to draw her to him, but she whipped her hand free. 

“Dumbledore was right to curse me; I was the weak link… I was weak!” she cried. “And when I saw you… there was so much… so much blood, and I – I – I just couldn’t… I couldn’t understand how… I was on my knees and he was… he wouldn’t stop, and I couldn’t… and you were watching, and – and then you were… you were choking him, and then the blood, it was everywhere – I never thought… I don’t know what I expected… it was exactly like he… oh God, I’m so sorry…” She cried until she shook.  Harry stood there, and felt as useless as he’d ever felt.

After a time, she looked up at him with red face and dampened eyes, and then quickly looked away. He said quietly, “You were right to be afraid; I’m afraid of myself.  I don’t know how I’m doing any of these things.  When we were chasing Wormtail, I summoned Ginny.”  He looked to Ginny.  “I summoned you! I don’t know what’s happening to me.”  Ginny’s eyes moistened.

Hermione wiped at her eyes with the backs of her hands.  “It… it has to be good, right?  Somehow this has to be good.  Maybe… maybe this will help you to defeat Voldemort.  We’ll figure it out somehow, Harry.”  She looked to Ron.  “We’ll figure it out together.”

“I’m back on your good side, then?” Ron asked.

Tears still trailed from Hermione’s eyes.  “It’s a wonder you’re alive, and on anyone’s side,” she sniffed.  “What on Earth were you thinking?”  Ginny snorted at that.

“About halfway down, I was thinking that this wasn’t the smartest thing I’d ever done,” Ron said seriously.

Hermione managed to look reproachful.  “So, you thought you’d compound that by running off in the middle of the night – clever.”

Ron frowned.  “Harry asked, and I said yes.  I’ve done enough crying and moping for a lifetime this summer.  A lot of things seem clearer now.  I’m willing to fight for my friends and my family, and I’m willing to die for them.  I would rather have been splattered against the ground than let that monster Wormtail make off with my sister.  I would rather have died fighting than let you be killed.  Harry asked me, and that’s worth a bit of heat from Mum and Dad.”

Hermione fumbled for a tissue.  “You would have died for me?” she asked quietly.

“Without a second thought,” Ron insisted.  “So would Harry. For Merlin’s sake, he charged half a dozen Death Eaters with his bare hands!  You were ready to be killed rather than give up on Harry.  I’d like to think you would have done the same for me.  We really are friends to the end, right?”

Hermione looked to Harry, who shrugged.  “I’ve already asked who he is, and what he’s done with Ron,” he said.  Ron grinned at them both.

“Where do you go from here, then?” Hermione asked.

“I thought that we should look in on Luna,” Harry said.

Hermione lowered her eyes.  “Ginny’s been communicating with George.  I feel… I haven’t treated her the way that she deserves to be treated.  Don’t misunderstand – I certainly haven’t been like the Ravenclaws, stealing her things and the like.  I’ve mocked her, though.  I’ve treated her as poorly as everyone has.  I hope that she’d be open to an apology on my part.”

Ron sighed.  “I was cruel to her, the last time that she talked to me.  She was trying to be nice to me, and I was really cruel.  At least you’ve been decent to her, Harry.”

“If she hadn’t sent that note, we would have been caught surprised by the Death Eaters,” Hermione observed.  “I expect that they would have killed everyone immediately, except for Harry and me.”  She looked to Ginny.  “You’ve always known Luna for who she really is, haven’t you?”

“All anyone had to do was talk to her,” Ginny said with effort.

“It was a good thing she was drawn into the dream, wasn’t it?  She recognised what was happening, when we didn’t,” Harry said.

“Harry, about the dream…” Hermione began.

“I’m fine with it,” Harry said hastily.  “Are you?”

“No,” Hermione said firmly.  Harry’s stomach rumbled and he tried to maintain a neutral expression.

Ron jumped in, to Harry’s delight.  “Much as I hate to break this up, Harry, do you want to make Ottery St. Catchpole before sunrise?”

Ginny stood and put her violin in its case.  “Been fancying a ride on that Nimbus,” Ginny croaked.  “Better company this time.”

Ron raised an eyebrow.  “What in the devil are you talking about?”

“Coming with you,” Ginny managed, “or should I bang on Mum’s door?”

“Why do you want to come?” Ron demanded, in the tone that older brothers reserve for younger sisters who tag along.  Hermione frowned at him.

“To see my friend,” Ginny said.

Ron sighed.  “Can’t argue with that, I suppose.”

Hermione summoned her most determined look – the look that warned Harry and Ron against any argument.  “I’m coming with you,” she repeated, “as far as Luna’s.  I want to make things right.  It’s the least I can do.  I just need a minute to pull myself together.  Wait outside, would you?  Go on – shoo!”  She herded them to the window, nudged both Harry and Ron out, closed the window, and drew the heavy drapes.

Five minutes later, Ginny leant out the window. She looked to be very much on edge, Harry thought. “We’ll meet you on the patio,” she said.

Harry set down the Bonnie next to the high-backed benches. He looked warily at the shadows that draped most of the yard. Reflected moonlight glinted off the grass, and for a moment Harry thought he saw bloody streaks beneath the tree. Ridiculous, he assured himself, the people from the Ministry would never have let that by.

Ginny came out first, in a heavier jumper and a raincoat. Hermione had also changed into a heavy jumper and denims, as well as a heavy waistcoat – a lesson learned from the last motorbike ride, Harry presumed.  Harry took their small travelling bags, reduced them, and dropped them into his saddlebag.  Ginny had attached a long strap to the violin case; it was slung over one shoulder and across her body.

Hermione looked hesitantly at the Bonnie. “Erm… maybe I should take a broom. You have yours here, Ginny – don’t you?”

“A broom? Have you gone ‘round the twist?” Ron gasped. “You couldn’t manage Ginny’s broom three hundred yards, let alone three hundred miles! Just get on the back of the motorbike, and… oh.”

Sweet Merlin – even RON caught it, Harry thought as he looked into Hermione’s eyes and his stomach sank. It was painfully obvious that her problem was not with the motorbike but with its owner.

Harry took out his trunk, enlarged it, brought out his Nimbus, and repacked the saddlebags. He forced a smile and told Ginny, “You take Hermione on the Bonnie, and I’ll ride this.”

Ginny’s eyes were saucers. “I don’t know… I mean, it’s really fast, and… do you think I can…?”

Harry nodded. “Yes, I think you can handle it. It’s really quite simple, and I know you won’t overdo it with Hermione riding pillion – will you?”

Ginny quickly shook her head. “No, no, of course not! Gods, Fred and George will have kittens when I tell them!”

Ron quickly handed his helmet to Hermione. “The two of you should have these,” he offered.

“Thank you,” she said quietly. She looked to Harry, “I’m sorry…”

“So am I,” Harry returned. He quickly gave the permission incantation that would allow Ginny to ride without him.

Ron smirked, “Let’s get on our way, before Hermione has a fit and leaves a note or something.”

“Oh, I already did that,” Hermione said.  “Short and to the point – ‘Mother and Dad: Ginny and I left with Harry and Ron.  Be back soon.  Love, Hermione.’  I slid it under their door.”

“You didn’t… you did!” shrieked Ron.  He nearly dove onto his broom, and shoved off hard from the patio. Hermione took the pillion position on the Bonneville, and Harry lagged behind to be sure that Ginny could manage.

It was a long ride, made longer by the lateness of the hour. They flew as high as the last time that Ron and Harry had flown, and Harry wondered if that had occurred to Ron.  Ron flew close to Harry, and proceeded to sing at the top of his lungs. Even Harry knew he was terribly off-key, and the singing lost its novelty very quickly.  It might have been different if the songs were familiar; Harry didn’t recognize a single one.  Maybe he is singing well, if it’s wizarding music, he thought.

Hermione sat far back from Ginny, at first.  After an hour or so, Harry noticed that she was slumping forward a bit; Harry wondered if it was out of fatigue, or simply for need of a windbreak.  A few minutes later, he saw her trembling.

He hollered to Ron, “We need to set down for a bit.  Let’s make for that roadway.” Ron darted to one side until he was inches from Ginny, flashed her some rapid-fire hand signals, and then shot toward the earth.

Ron and Harry came to the ground behind some trees adjacent to the narrow country lane.  Ginny set down, and pulled to a stop on the shoulder.  Hermione was obviously exhausted and very windblown. 

Harry swung around to face her.  “Are you all right?  We’ll stop here a while, if you like.”

She pulled off her helmet, squinted at him, and made futile attempts to brush her hair back.  “I wasn’t prepared for the wind,” she sniffled.

“Is that all?” Harry asked cautiously, hopeful of avoiding open wounds.

“I’m just so tired,” Hermione yawned.

Harry didn’t believe that was all, but doubted that he was prepared to hear the truth – whatever that might be.  “You probably should have stayed behind,” he said, “but I’m glad that you’re here.”

Ron stepped out from the trees.  He held his helmet in one hand.  After a cautious look up and down the lane, he crept to the motorbike. “Hermione, you look a mess!” he exclaimed.

“Ron, you’re a prat,” she shot back.

“She does have a point,” Harry offered.

Ron snorted.  “There you go, taking her side.  Some things never change, eh?”

Hermione managed a weary smile.  “It warms my heart to hear the two of you bickering.”

Ron crossed his arms and shuddered. “It’s bracing up there, isn’t it? I admit it, though – I sort of like the wind whipping at me.”

“Good thing, now that you’ve taken up skydiving,” Harry retorted.  “I wish you hadn’t taken up singing.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow.  “You were singing?” she asked Ron.

“Like an angel,” Ron insisted.  “I could be on the WWN.”

“Precisely the problem,” Harry grumbled.

You weren’t singing, were you?” Hermione asked Harry.

“Not a chance; I couldn’t possibly compete with Ron,” Harry answered. 

“You don’t want to switch to a broom, do you – maybe ride with Ron?” Ginny asked Hermione. 

“I… I feel more secure where I am,” Hermione said. 

Ginny said, “Look, the bike is smashing, but it’s not an easy ride. Harry, I’m sorry but I have to switch off. Hermione…”

“It’s fine,” Hermione whispered. Harry reluctantly mounted the bike, and even more reluctantly put on the helmet.

“The Lovegoods live in the village, on the green,” Ron said to Harry.  “I’ll set down in the gardens; it’s a short walk for us from there.  You two can ride in, I suppose.  Look for the Quibbler sign, and we’ll meet you there.”  He looked around carefully once more, and sat atop his Nimbus.  Ginny settled in on Harry’s broom, and impulsively shouted, “Race you!”  She quickly climbed away and disappeared. Ron shrugged and tore off after her. 

Hermione latched onto Harry tightly.  Harry said, “I won’t put you through that,” and slowly drifted up into the dark and clear night.

“Thank you,” she said, so quiet that he could barely hear.

“Ginny should know better,” Harry said.

There was a lengthy pause, before Hermione said, “That’s not what I meant.”

“You’re welcome,” Harry offered, hoping to forestall the inevitable.  It seemed to work, because she nestled into him and her breathing became slow and even.  Harry rode at a gentle speed and took no chances.  He made no effort to rouse her until they were rolling along the carriageway into Ottery St. Catchpole.

“Hermione?  Hermione, do you hear me?” Harry said.

“Unnh…wha… erm, must have dozed off,” Hermione murmured.  She yawned, and asked, “Where are we?”

“The village is just beyond the next rise,” Harry said.  “How do you feel?”

“Horrible,” Hermione admitted.  “You?”

Harry blinked hard.  He was sore, and his eyes were tired.  “I’m holding up.  It’s good that we’re arriving soon.”

Ottery St. Catchpole was silent and empty at half past four in the morning.  The shop fronts surrounding the village green were all dark, except for two – a bakery and The Quibbler.  The front door opened, and Ron peered out as they pulled up.  Rather than risk being seen reducing the motorbike, Harry used the Unbreakable Chain and Lock to lash it to a light post, and took the saddlebags with him.

The front room of the shop was dominated by an enormous piece of noisy, churning machinery.  Most of the rest of the room was empty, except for a few shelves cluttered with stacks of papers and small boxes, a rack of tools and other curiosities, several enormous rolls of newsprint, and a modest pile of debris pushed into one corner.  Harry saw a pair of feet jutting from beneath the machine.

Ron wore a heavy apron over his clothes, and his hands were streaked black with oil. He called out, “Mr. Lovegood, they’re here!”

There was a clunk! followed by loud cursing.  Mr. Lovegood slid from beneath the machine and descended upon them in a flurry of handshakes, flecks of oil spattering everywhere.  He wore grease-stained coveralls and a dark cap with a bill on the front, emblazoned with a stylised N and Y stitched in white.  Gauze wrapping stuck out from beneath the cap, and Harry remembered something about a head wound.  “Harry!  What a great pleasure!  And you must be Hermione Granger – Luna speaks fondly of you.  I’m Oddment Lovegood.  People call me Odd.”

“Is that so?” Hermione said with a faint grin.

“Erm, what is that thing?” Harry asked, pointing at the clanking machine.

Mr. Lovegood wiped his hands on a towel.  Harry couldn’t see the point – the towel was as dirty as his hands.  “It’s a printing press, of course.  It was a little dodgy before, but thanks to those Death Eater bastards… pardon the language.  It’s funny how things work out, you know?  If Ron hadn’t come along tonight, I’d have had no chance of getting this week’s Quibbler out.  Everyone’s been wonderful, really.  George Weasley’s been looking after Luna for two days, and Rita Skeeter helped with the typesetting…”

“How can you be in the open this way?” Hermione asked.  “Hasn’t the Ministry confronted you?”

Mr. Lovegood appeared puzzled.  “Whatever for?  The Quibbler is England’s leading weekly for the dog show trade.”

Harry spluttered, “Excuse me?

“The dog show trade,” Mr. Lovegood repeated.  “The Quibbler produces a perfectly respectable weekly paper for people who show dogs.  I also print handbills, signs, brochures, and invitations – whatever is needed, more or less.  As for the rest… let’s just say that an understanding was reached.”

Hermione cleared her throat, and said uncertainly, “May I ask, sir… why?”

“Why live among Muggles, or why dog shows?” Mr. Lovegood asked.

Hermione giggled, taking Harry completely by surprise.  “Both, I suppose,” she said.

Mr. Lovegood answered, “To the first, I find that I prefer the company – though I’m happy to have all of you here, of course.  To the second… I like dogs.”

Ron picked up one of the newsprint rolls.  “Are we ready, then?”

Mr. Lovegood barked instructions.  “Hoist it up there just like I showed you, Ron.  Mind the feeders… remember to keep your fingers back… I don’t want to trouble Pomfrey again… that’s it.  Now pull the blue lever – perfect – and set the valves.  You remember the rest?”

“Cross my fingers and cover my head?” Ron confirmed.

“After you drop the switch, of course,” Mr. Lovegood said.

Ron grasped a large handle and pulled downward; Harry saw that Ron had indeed crossed the fingers of his other hand.  Everyone took several steps back as the large machine shook and shuddered and filled the room with pops and clunks and squeaks.  After a few anxious minutes – and a few strategic swings with a large wrench on Mr. Lovegood’s part – printed papers began appearing at the far end of the press. 

“Success!” Mr. Lovegood cried out.  He dashed over to Ron and clapped him on the back.  “You have the touch, my boy!”

Ron beamed.  “My dad will be so jealous,” he said.

Mr. Lovegood grinned sheepishly.  “You know… your dad’s been up a time or two to poke about.  He… well… he lacks a certain grasp when it comes to Muggle machinery.  He means well, of course.” 

The glass panes of the front door banged and rattled. An owl was battering the door.

Mr. Lovegood fished out a pair of small wire-rimmed glasses.  They reminded Harry of the glasses Sirius wore when he recorded his will.  “Ah, that must be the Prophet.  Shall we sample the competition, then?” 

He opened the door, paid the owl, and held up the rolled newspaper.  He held it up to his line of sight, peered down the length, and then rocked it in one hand as though he were weighing it.  “Cutting costs already, I see.  Feel the thinner paper?  The ink smudges to the touch, as well,” he said.  He sniffed his fingertips, and continued, “Plant-based ink, probably soy.  They’re obviously using commercial presses.  I’ll wager they’re running it along with the Daily Mirror.  Shall we?”

Harry, Hermione and Ron all huddled around as Mr. Lovegood unfurled the Daily Prophet atop a cluttered worktable.

“This new format must be sending some of the society crowd to their graves,” Mr. Lovegood said; he added under his breath, “Good riddance.”

The Daily Prophet had always reminded Harry of the daily that Uncle Vernon read each morning – very formal, very small print, very few pictures.  The paper before them was a very colourful tabloid.  It took a moment for the headlines to sink in, at which time Harry contemplated whether he should faint or explode.

BLOODY HARRY’ DISMISSED FROM HOGWARTS! the enormous headline screamed.  It was positioned over the top of a half-page photo of Harry, apparently taken shortly after he and Ron had rescued Ginny.  He looked windblown and angry.  In one corner was an inset box, which read:

EXTRA COVERAGE INSIDE:

        Fudge’s flip-flops – a sign of rough political waters ahead?

        Aurors goggle over Potter pal Ron Weasley’s daring ‘Death Drop’

        Does the daring daylight assault signal a new wave of Death Eater activity?

Ron grinned from ear to ear.  “Do you see that?  I made the Aurors goggle,” he said proudly.

Hermione looked at Harry, her eyes wide.  “Dismissed?  You were dismissed? Why didn’t you say anything? I can’t believe that Professor Dumbledore would ever –”

“He didn’t,” Harry said flatly.  “The Board of Governors ordered him to toss me.”

Hermione erupted.  “But they can’t!  We’ll fight this, Harry.  A well-calculated campaign can rouse public opinion!  They’ll regret this!”

“Dumbledore has a plan,” Harry said.  “Everything will work out, I promise.”

Ron added, “Don’t get your knickers in a twist, Hermione.  He’ll be there in the fall.”  Hermione threw the Daily Prophet at him.   

Mr. Lovegood grunted.  He snatched a copy of the Quibbler from the end of the press, and set it next to the Prophet.  “And now for something completely different,” he said smugly.

The Quibbler’s headline read VOLDEMORT’S ATTACK FOILED; POTTER DISMISSED, with a subheading that said, “At least 7 Death Eaters killed in attack on prominent Muggle-born student; Potter rewarded for bravery with dismissal from Hogwarts”.  The lead article, under Rita Skeeter’s by-line, was entitled “Harry Potter’s Dark Day… In His Own Words”.  The headline below the fold read “Fudge Attacks Potter for Fighting Death Eaters, Insults Muggle-borns”.  On page two, a large article was entitled “For Love of a Sister: Why Ron Weasley Took the Death Drop”, which was also under Skeeter’s by-line.  Ron smiled at the sight of that headline, and Harry wondered why Ron had decided to talk to Skeeter.  Below that, Odd Lovegood’s own column asked, “Does Voldemort control the Hogwarts Board of Governors?”  On page three were articles about nargle infestation and a Stubby Boardman sighting in Greater Hangleton – curiously, Harry found that they lifted his spirits a bit.

Hermione said, “I have to admit that the Quibbler is clearly the better paper.” 

Ron flipped back to the front page.  “I can’t believe you printed his name,” he said, seemingly in awe.

Mr. Lovegood said sternly, “If my daughter can say it, why can’t grown wizards and witches do the same?  Every time we print ‘You-Know-Who’ or ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’, we lend him power.  If his name is Voldemort, then I intend to use it.”

Harry said darkly, “His name is Tom Riddle, not Voldemort – and certainly not Lord Voldemort.”

Mr. Lovegood asked excitedly, “Did you say ‘Tom Riddle’?”  He pulled a battered and chewed pencil from his coveralls, and scribbled on the front of the freshly printed Quibbler.

“There’s something that you have over him, Harry,” Ron laughed.  “Now he’s messing with a real Lord.” 

Hermione didn’t seem to hear Ron over the clatter of the press, but Mr. Lovegood did.  “Rita told me about that – congratulations, milord,” he said, and bowed with a mock flourish.  Hermione looked up abruptly.

“It’s not mentioned in here, is it?” Harry asked.

Mr. Lovegood answered, “We agreed to hold that aside.  She felt that we should wait until the end of September, for some reason.”

Hermione shouted over the din, “What in Merlin’s name are you going on about?  What do you mean, ‘milord’?”

Harry went to his saddlebags, which he had set by the door.  He found the letter from Sirius and the note from MacLeish, and thrust them into Hermione’s hands.  She began with the letter.  Her lip quivered as she read it, and Harry couldn’t fathom why.  She quickly read both sides of the note, and her brow wrinkled in confusion.

Harry waited and waited.  “I wasn’t trying to hide it from you.  Say something, please?” he finally said.

“She insisted on seeing who was down here,” Ginny croaked from the stairs.  “I could use some help here!”

“I knew that I heard talking,” Luna called out in a very weak voice.

“Luna!  Gods, you shouldn’t be up and about!” Mr. Lovegood exclaimed. 

Luna saw Harry, Ron and Hermione, and said calmly, “This is an unexpected pleasure,” just as she lurched to one side and draped against Ginny.  Hermione dropped the letter and the note, and rushed up the stairs. 

There was no question that Luna had been badly hurt.  Her lower lip was split, and her left cheek deeply bruised.  She had two severe black eyes.  She stood awkwardly, leant slightly to one side; Harry wondered if her ribs had been cracked or broken.  He chose not to imagine the state she’d been in before Madam Pomfrey had seen her.  At some point, she had cut her hair very short; the mix of dirty blond and lighter coloured tips looked like something Tonks would favour.

Hermione said firmly, “You’re bleeding.  We need to help you back up the stairs.”

Luna attempted to turn around on her own, and wobbled dangerously.  Hermione caught her at the shoulders, and ordered, “You just mind your feet.  I’ll steady you from this side, and Ginny has the other side.”

Luna acquiesced but said nothing.  Ron and Harry started up the stairs, but Hermione commanded, “Wait downstairs – we’ll need a few minutes to change these dressings.”

“Can I get you anything?” Ron called to Luna.  “Some juice, something to eat?”

“Apology accepted,” Luna said without turning back.  Ron looked at her strangely, but said nothing.  The press let out a terrible grinding sound, and Mr. Lovegood whacked it soundly with his wrench.

Hermione fetched Ron and Harry fifteen minutes later.  She stopped them at the top of the stairs.  “She’s very tired.  She wants to see you both, though I’d prefer it if she’d just sleep.  I… I contacted Madam Pomfrey.  There are half a dozen potions, and I wanted to get them straight.  I thought about waking George, but he’s surely exhausted.  Luna definitely shouldn’t have survived.  Madam Pomfrey kept her here for fear of Flooing her to Hogwarts.”

“Why not call St. Mungo’s?” Harry asked.  “Surely they know how to deal with that sort of thing.”

“Mr. Lovegood wouldn’t allow it,” Hermione frowned.  “He has issues with St. Mungo’s, apparently.”

“Is she going to get well?” Ron asked nervously.

Hermione answered, “Madam Pomfrey insists that the worst is past.  I’m presuming, however, that neither of you will talk her to death.  Five minutes, understood?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Ron said, and Hermione groaned.

The door at the top of the stairs opened into a cluttered open room with a small kitchen, a hearth, and a sitting area.  There was a narrow hallway off the end of the room.  Luna lay on the couch, heavily propped with pillows.  The table before the couch was strewn with books.  Ginny sat on a wooden dining chair.  She played a slow, gentle tune on her violin, and Luna smiled with one side of her mouth.

Luna saw them standing there, and turned.  Ginny stopped playing.  “Hello, Harry.  Hello, Ronald.  I’m pleased to see that you’re both intact,” Luna said matter-of-factly.  There was an odd sort of rattle to her voice.

Ron cringed at the sound of his given name.  He knelt before the couch, and awkwardly took Luna’s hand.  “I’m sorry to see you like this.  Does it hurt?”

Luna rolled her eyes.  “Only when you state the obvious,” she said.

Ron grimaced.  “Quite a lot, then.”

Luna started to laugh, but coughed instead and winced.  “I’d take that juice now, if you’re so inclined,” she told Ron.  Ron rose, and Harry took his place.

Harry could scarcely look at her.  He felt sad and guilty and angrier by the moment.  “Why?” he asked.  “Why would anyone do this to another…?”  Visions of six dead Death Eaters ran through his mind, and he couldn’t finish asking the question.

Luna answered, “Because this is what they do… who knows, really?  Why does it matter?”

“You’re my friend,” Harry said.  “I’m tired of my friends being hurt because of me.”

“As far as I am aware, the solar system rotates around the sun – not around Harry Potter,” Luna chided him.  “Sometimes we see things, and sometimes we become caught up in events, but in the end we all choose our fate.”

Harry stiffened.  “I wish that were true.”

“You know the prophecy, then,” Luna said.

“Wha… how could…?” Harry spluttered.

Luna explained.  “It’s a logical conclusion, given the events of the last few weeks as I understand them.  Based upon your reaction just now, I presume that I’m correct.”  Hermione smiled at her.

“You deserve to know,” Harry said.  “Do you want to hear it?”

“Only if you wish to share the knowledge,” Luna answered.  “I take it that Hermione, Ginny and Ronald have already heard?”

Ron brought a glass of pumpkin juice.  “Telling the prophecy, are you?”

“Yes,” said Harry.

Ron handed Luna the glass.  “Good,” he said.  “I’d say she’s earned the right to hear it.”

Harry waited until she sipped and swallowed, imagining the pain that a choking fit might cause.  He took the glass, set it on the table, and recited the prophecy.  Luna pursed her lips while he spoke.

When he finished, she nodded, and said, “That explains rather a lot, doesn’t it?”

Harry goggled at her.  “That’s it?  Nothing more?”

“Not at the moment,” Luna said.  “Thank you for telling me, Harry – your confidence in me is appreciated... is that why you all came here?”

“I really believed that it was just a dream,” Harry said.  “If you hadn’t sent that note -”

“There were at least fifteen of them.  If they’d surprised us…” Ron added.

“The rest of us would be dead, and Voldemort would have Harry,” Hermione summed up.

“I’m your friend,” Ginny croaked.  “Friends look after one another.  You certainly did that for us.”

Luna blushed slightly, and fiddled with a chain of butterbeer caps resting in her hands.  “You should be thanking Ronald’s brothers.  I don’t know how Alfred understood what I was trying to tell him – thank Merlin that he did.  I couldn’t really speak; George had to use one of those amusing candies of theirs to hold my throat closed.”  Harry hadn’t noticed the heavy dressings around Luna’s throat. 

Ron paled, but demanded, “I want to know everything about the attack.  How many were there?  Did you recognize any of them?  And where in the bloody hell are the Aurors, anyway?  Why is there no protection here?”

Luna shrank slightly into the pillows.  “There were three of them; two men who I didn’t recognise and Bellatrix Lestrange.”  Harry’s temples throbbed at the name. 

She went on, “Daddy never stood a chance.  He was leant over the press when they came in.  They stunned him and he cut his head on the machinery.  I went for my wand, and stunned both of the men before I was disarmed.  Lestrange said that she was going to enjoy punishing me.  She said that she was going to make me pay for casting my lot with all of you.”

With a ferocity that Harry would never have associated with Luna Lovegood, she added, “I wouldn’t give her the satisfaction.  She tore at me with curses, and I wouldn’t cry out.  She put me in a body bind and beat me, and I wouldn’t give in to her.  So she did this.”  Her fingers traced the dressings around her neck.

“It must have been iugulo,” Harry seethed.  “I ran across it in one of the books at Grimmauld Place.”  Luna nodded slowly.

Hermione moved in next to Harry, and put her hand on Luna’s shoulder.  “It’s a miracle that you didn’t bleed out entirely,” she said.  Ginny sat silently, deathly pale.

“Where are the Aurors?” Ron repeated.

“Daddy didn’t want the Ministry involved,” Luna said.  “Professor Dumbledore was here with Madam Pomfrey.  That fellow with the gold earring – Shacklebolt? – he was here for a time.  Then Professor Lupin came, and they left.  Professor Flitwick was here for a long while, I think.  The next thing I remember clearly was Rita Skeeter talking to Daddy.  That’s how we found out what had happened with Harry and Voldemort… and Ronald’s impulsiveness, of course.”

Harry said, “Luna, you’re going to… you’re going to hear things about me, about what I did.  I hope that you don’t –”

Luna had closed her eyes, and settled deeply into the pillows.  She firmly cut him off.  “I know that you’ve been dismissed.  I know that they’re wrong and you’re right.  Some of them are fools, and some others are simply evil.  There are too many fools, and too many evil people, aren’t there?  Remember this, Harry – no one who matters will ever stand against you.”  Harry squeezed her hand firmly, and swallowed hard. 

Hermione said, “You need to rest.  I’ll be here when you wake, I promise.  You’re one of us now, Luna.  Like it or not, you’re one of us.  We won’t leave you alone again – someone will always be here for you.”

“I’m here to stay, obviously,” Ginny added.  “It’s time that we spell George.”

“There’s no need to overcompensate, but I appreciate the company,” Luna said quietly.  She opened her eyes, and looked at Hermione.  “When you told me that Harry and Ronald were running off, I assumed that you were going with them.”

“I told them I was coming here,” Hermione said. 

“What do you think, Ron?  Catch a nap here, and then move on?” Harry asked.

“Erm… we need to talk,” Ron said, and he headed for the stairs.

By the time Harry and Ron reached the print shop below, Ron was positively fidgeting.

“I’m not forcing you to go,” Harry said.

“I’ll feel guilty standing you up, but I’ll feel guiltier standing up my family.  We flew over the Burrow, on our way into the village,” Ron explained.  “I don’t know what we’re going to do, Harry.  I knew it was bad, but to actually see it… Mum and Dad are going to need all of us, I think.”

“I could stay, if it would help,” Harry asked.

Ron shook his head.  “You should go,” he said. 

Harry sighed.  “Will you come up, before the summer’s out?”

“Send an owl in a week or two and I’m as good as there, mate,” Ron promised.  “You are going to catch some sleep first, aren’t you?  I’m about ready to drop, myself.”  Despite that, Ron set to helping Mr. Lovegood again. 

Harry sat quietly on the stairs for a long while, before he climbed the stairs to peek into the living area.  Luna was asleep on the couch.  She looked more peaceful than Harry would have expected; she seemed so small and fragile, but she was stronger than he ever could have imagined.  Hermione was asleep in an adjacent chair.  Her brow was furrowed and she was stirring, but seemed asleep.  Harry knew that Hermione was happiest when there was a purpose or a cause at hand; Luna would provide her with that for a time, provided that Hermione didn’t drive her mad first.  He hoped that Ginny might be able to keep the peace, if it came to that. He hoped that Hermione would stop hurting. He sat in the chair next to Hermione at half past five, and closed his eyes. 

 

August 7

It was a quarter past nine. Both the flat above and the shop below were quiet.  Ron was asleep on the floor beside the couch.  Luna and Hermione were still asleep as well, and Harry assumed that Mr. Lovegood was in his bedroom.  The door to the second bedroom was cracked, and Harry saw George lying face down on Luna’s bed.  He made his way down the stairs. 

Ginny sat on the bottom step.  “Good morning,” she said.  There were dark circles under her eyes.  The violin case was in her lap.

“Did you get any sleep at all?” he asked.

“A little,” she answered.

“Liar,” Harry teased.  Her eyes widened, and she appeared hurt.  “I didn't mean it that way,” he quickly added.

“You’re ready to leave.  Don’t let me stand in your way,” she said morosely.

Harry sat next to her.  “How long has it been since you’ve had a full night’s sleep?” he asked.

Ginny clasped her hands together and stretched her arms.  “Sometime in June, I suppose,” she answered under her breath.

“Smashing summer, isn’t it?” Harry observed.  “Look… the other night… I’m just glad I got to you in time.”

“You should have let me fall,” Ginny said, her eyes fixed on the violin case.

Harry felt a nervous chill run through him.  “You don’t mean that,” he insisted, but part of him suddenly suspected what was wrong.

“Voldemort got at us through me, didn’t he?” Ginny asked.

Harry desperately wanted to tell her that it was impossible, that she was certainly free of Riddle, that he and only he was responsible for letting Voldemort in.  He couldn’t.  “I don’t know,” he answered.

“What if it’s me?” she whispered.  “Wormtail said that… he said I was to be spared.  Why would Voldemort spare me?”

“He told me it was in payment for services rendered,” Harry admitted to her, his voice choking on the words.  “I assume he was talking about what happened in the Chamber of Secrets.”

Ginny began to cry.  Harry sat beside her, and wrapped an arm around her as a brother would.  She leant into him and held him in a way that she would never hold one of her brothers.  He didn’t know what to do, but he didn’t push her away.

“I just sat here so that I could say good-bye,” she sobbed.  “I know that I need to stay away from you, as far away as I can manage.  I… I shouldn’t know anything… I can’t be told anything.”  She pulled away from him, wiped at her face, and added fiercely, “Do you understand?  Not anything!”

Harry brushed her bangs away from her eyes, and wiped away a streaking tear.  “Last year, you told me what it felt like to be possessed by him.  Do you feel as though you’ve been possessed again?” he asked.

She hesitated, and her jaw worked from side to side as she contemplated.  “No… no, I haven’t felt that.  I haven’t felt like myself, either.  Sometimes… sometimes it feels like someone else is looking through my eyes.  Have you ever felt that?”

Harry said carefully, “I’ve felt something like that.  Perhaps the diary left you something, some kind of connection… like the one he has with me.  I can block him now, most of the time; you'd need to learn how.”

After a long pause, Ginny looked at him with something like hope in her eyes.  “I suppose that could be possible,” she ventured.  “I hadn’t thought of it that way.”

“Do you feel like someone’s there all the time?” Harry asked.

“Not all the time.  Do you know when it’s best?  When I play this,” she said, patting the violin case.  “Maybe he doesn’t like my music.”

Harry smiled.  “He has poor taste, then – just like Ron.” 

Ginny looked away, in a shy gesture that would have been commonplace for her just a few weeks earlier.  “You… you like it when I play?”

“You’re very good,” Harry said.  “At least, I think so.  I suppose I don’t really know anything, but it certainly sounds very good to me.”

Ginny stood up, and walked to the front door.  She strolled outside and sat down on the public bench in front of the Quibbler, along the High Street.  She took out her violin, and began to play.  Harry picked up the letter and the note from the shop floor, and put them in his saddlebags.  He took out Ron’s bag and then Ginny and Hermione’s things, enlarged them, and left them near the door before he joined Ginny outside. Her playing became more and more energetic.  Passers-by slowed to watch and listen.  Harry sat beside her.  When she finished whatever piece she had called from her memory, a half dozen onlookers applauded.

“See? You must be very good,” Harry said.

“It’s amazing, Harry.  It feels so good to play,” Ginny said.  “It’s as if I were meant to do it, somehow.  When I start, I really don’t want to stop.”

“Then don’t stop,” Harry encouraged her.

She looked at the violin, and then at Harry, and sighed.  “When I play, I feel like… like maybe I’m who I was meant to be… finally.  I understand what it must be like for you, to be the Boy-Who-Lived.  Do you know why I have so few friends?  Do you know that Hermione was the only Gryffindor girl who talked to me for almost a year? Do you know that you’re not the only one who screams in the night? I’m the Girl-Who-Was-Possessed, Harry.”

“I suppose that I don’t really know you,” Harry admitted.  “I should fix that, you know?  Look… you should talk about this with Dumbledore.  Even if you were the way in, there may be a solution.” 

Ginny nodded vigorously.  “I’ll Owl him.  I promise.”

Harry stood, and so did she.  She hugged him tightly; he wished it felt a little more sisterly.  “Thank you,” she said softly in his ear.  “Thank you for not quitting on me.”

“I wouldn’t do that to you.  It’s not just Ron and Hermione and me anymore,” Harry said.  “It’s all of us now – you, and Luna, and Neville too.  The trip to the Ministry sealed it, I think – we’re all together now, whatever may come.”  He gently disengaged.  “I’ll see you in the fall,” he said, and headed to the Bonneville.  He felt her watching him, but no one else paid him any mind as he rode slowly toward the carriageway that led north.

 


 

St. Ebb was completely overrun with automobiles and tourists on foot.  It wasn’t at all what Harry had expected of a small fishing village.  Harry had to carefully weave and dodge, as he made his way through.  The High Street ran for just a few blocks; it faced the sea, like everything else in the village.  The tourists looked at him with curiosity, or unmasked lust for his motorbike in a case or two.  The few people who looked to be local watched him with expressions that ranged from disinterest to scorn.  He rushed into a haberdashery, purchased a few sundries, and sought some general directions.  As he described the tower house, the tone of the elderly proprietor shifted from tolerant to unpleasant.  Harry figured that the man was fed up with tourists – he had heard at least half a dozen ridiculous questions while standing on line.  He listened carefully to the directions – the proprietor’s brogue was thick and harsh, and he seemed in a hurry to show Harry out. 

Half a mile beyond the village, a girl walking along the edge of the roadway stopped and watched him pass.  She looked to be about his age, he thought, with longish dark hair and bright eyes.  She had a nice shape and a pleasant face, he decided - a pleasant and somehow familiar face.  Her expression was one of puzzlement, almost surprise.  As he passed, he began to believe that she might have been one of the watchers back in the shop district.  She couldn’t possibly have walked that far that quickly, he thought.  He sped up, and paid close attention to his surroundings.  He rode in a wide circle along different country lanes for half an hour, until he was satisfied that he wasn’t being followed.

A rutted lane joined the carriageway about five miles south of St. Ebb, which ran for the better part of a mile toward the sea.  The trees that lined the lane at uneven intervals were the only visible foliage larger than a bush.  The tower house was poised at the end of the lane.  It stood fully five stories high, in an “L” shape.  The roof was steeply pitched and adorned with turrets.  The property formed a high promontory. From the drive in front of the entry, Harry could look left and see St. Ebb in the distance.  Bercliffe was apparently a place name and little more; he couldn’t see a single substantial structure between the tower and the village.  Ahead and to the right, he could look down toward the low cliffs and the sea below.  At last he understood what Sirius meant about the stacks.  Two rock spires, carved by the twin forces of wind and water, erupted from the water a quarter-mile apart.

At least, Harry found an entryway that breached the wall around the tower. Harry stood there for quite some time, keys in hand.  The massive oaken door was painted black.  It had the same silver serpent knocker as the house on Grimmauld Place.  The stone trim that framed the door was carved to resemble intertwined snakes.  He couldn’t shake the feeling that he was exchanging one prison for another, however well appointed.  He fished out the scrap of parchment with the directions to the bothy, and looked toward the southernmost of the two stacks.  In a moment, he could make out a low log-and-stone structure with a reddish roof that stood near the cliffs.  He looked around cautiously before he reduced the Bonneville, settled it inside one of the saddlebags, and set off toward the bothy.

The heights of the promontory appeared flat from the tower house, but were in fact rolling.  He followed a low stone wall, pierced here and there by wooden posts that bore an electric line.  As he drew closer, he crossed muddy ruts that led from the lane toward the bothy.  They were deep grooves, from a good-sized vehicle.  A hundred feet from the front door, Harry felt a familiar energy brush past him; he immediately recognised the sensation as having come from a ward.  He saw haphazard stacks of rocks and stones here and there, and understood Sirius’ admonition that they should be left alone.  It looked as though the wards were positioned to provide an ample private yard.  He tried all three keys before successfully opening the door.

Harry walked into an open living space that appeared to take up half the structure.  A compact kitchen dominated the far side of the space.  To the right, the entire wall was taken up with loaded shelves.  There was a wood stove in the centre.  A settee, two chairs and a low table sat between the stove and the wall with the shelves.  A dining table with four chairs sat opposite the stove.  To the left, a narrow hall led past a bath with water closet and a small mechanical space to a bedroom.  A very large bed overpowered the modest bedroom.  There was barely room for a small writing desk and an armoire.  A hatch in the bedroom ceiling opened to reveal a sliding ladder.  A very clean and mostly empty attic ran the length of the bothy.  There were a few boxes stacked in the far corner.  The rooms were decorated in oranges and blues – they were clean but very dated, Harry thought.

A wax-sealed envelope sat on the small kitchen counter.  Harry fumbled with it while he perused the wall of shelves.  The shelves were filled with books and records.  Harry assumed that the massive silver metal box labelled “Marantz” was a stereo, though he’d not seen one quite so large before.  There was a phonograph atop the box.  Large speakers hung in the corners of the room.  His eyes ran past a heavy-looking box next to the wood stove, and he remembered to place his wand and the saddlebags inside.  There was a single folded piece of parchment inside the envelope.

August 3

Dear Mr. Potter:

Per Mr. Black’s instructions, I have engaged some Muggles to assure that the secondary building is prepared for occupancy.  Some necessaries were replaced – I have no idea which or for what purpose.  I cannot imagine why Mr. Black would have chosen to live in the manner of a Muggle, or why you might choose the same.  However, he was most insistent in his instructions.  As I am unable to see or even locate the building in question, I do hope that the Muggles performed adequately.  I found their services excessively expensive and their manner quite rude. 

In my opinion, the main house is a more satisfactory environment by any measure.  At such time as you may decide, I will be happy to have this building leased to Muggles, outfitted for livestock, or dedicated to some other suitable purpose.  You may owl me at your convenience, or I can be reached via Floo from the main house.

Respectfully,

Dedalus Diggle, Esq.   

“I don’t care for your attitude – not one bit,” Harry said aloud.  There was no food to speak of; he made a mental note to dash back into the village.  He turned to the shelves again, and began to read book spines and record jackets.  There was a milk crate set on the shelf beneath the phonograph, which held an assortment of records.  He recognised two of the records from Uncle Vernon’s modest collection: one by the Beatles and another by the Bee Gees.  He carefully put the Beatles album onto the phonograph’s spindle, lowered the tone arm, and experimented with the silver stereo until music poured from the speakers.

It took Harry a while to figure out how to enlarge his trunks and boxes.  Ultimately, he had to do it outside the wards and drag them back to the bothy.  By the time he had listened to both sides of Yellow Submarine, he had managed to hang his two punching bags from an exposed beam, and had set up his weights.  He made it through two songs from the Bee Gee’s album, before deciding that they were nearly as screechy as the Weird Sisters.

He thumbed through the records in the milk crate.  To Harry, the records were another example of how little he really knew about Sirius.  He imagined Sirius sitting in that very room, listening to the Beatles whilst writing with a quill on parchment.  Harry was unfamiliar with most of the names on the jackets – Talking Heads, Steppenwolf, Peaches and Herb, Billy Joel, Blondie, Peter Gabriel, Rod Stewart.  One record was by The Police, who Harry had at least heard of.  The name Jimi Hendrix was vaguely familiar to him, as was Pink Floyd. 

The last record was entitled Can’t Get Enough, by a very large man with long thick hair called Barry White.  The song titles seemed dubious to Harry – “love” seemed to be in every one of them.  Curious, he put the record on the phonograph and proceeded to unpack his trunk.  The singer had a terribly deep voice, and at one point in the second track he stopped singing and began to talk suggestively.  Harry listened to the words for a moment, and felt himself blushing.  It was obvious what Barry White couldn’t get enough of, and both the jacket and the record were quite well worn.  Harry thought back to Sirius’ letter – “lusting after Muggle women”, he had said.  Whitehorn did say he would have a woman on each arm, Harry thought, and what did Remus call this place – a ‘pad’?  The thought of a young Sirius shagging to the sounds of Barry White left Harry rolling on the floor with laughter.

When he recovered, he took the Barry White record off the phonograph, and stuffed it randomly onto one of the shelves.  He replaced it with the record by Steppenwolf – it seemed appropriate to listen to a wolf, he thought.  Unlike the previous record, Harry had absolutely no trouble at all imagining Sirius listening to “Born to Be Wild” at maximum volume.  In fact, he had difficulty getting the song out of his head all the way back to St. Ebb.  He picked up a few sundries and some perishables, and quickly returned to the bothy.

Harry ate and listened to two more records.  He finished unpacking and put away his remaining personal effects.  He went through the stretching routing that Dudley had taught him, and progressively worked away the stiffness that came from several hours on the Bonneville.  From there, he moved into a light free-weight routine.  Instead of calming him, the work brought his mind squarely back to the events of the last several days.  By the end of the routine, he was more than ready for the bags.

He put on the elastic hand wraps, and pulled on his boxing gloves.  He worked the speed bag for a long while, just as Dudley had shown him.  He felt raw, as though the slightest scratch would bring forth waves of frustration and rage.  He switched to the heavy bag, hitting it hard.

Pound.  Why does everyone have to be hurt because of me?  Pound-pound.  Some friend I am.  Pound-pound-pound.  If I were a real friend, I would have stayed to help the Weasleys.  Pound-pound.  I drag poor Ron to the Ministry, and he comes home with nightmares and a death wish.  He couldn’t think of the Ministry without seeing Bellatrix Lestrange, and now he couldn’t think about Bellatrix Lestrange without seeing Luna.  Who would have guessed she was that strong?  Pound-pound-pound. 

He saw Hermione, promising to protect the prophecy and then screaming in agony.  I hurt everyone that I love – everyone!  I hope her father listened to me.  They should go away, as far away as they can.  Pound-pound-pound-pound.  Even the Aurors were frightened of him, he remembered.  They should all be afraid.  It’s dangerous to be close to me.  Pound-pound.  If the Death Eaters don’t get you, maybe I will.  Pound-pound-pound.  I might tear you apart with my bare hands.  Pound-pound.  I can’t love anyone.  Pound-pound-pound.  Even if it was safe, I don’t know how.  Pound-pound.  Hermione had a point – what if this has something to do with how I might kill Voldemort?  Pound-pound-pound.  I have to control it!  Pound-pound-POUND-pound-pound.  Dumbledore must know what’s happening to me.  Pound-POUND-pound-pound.  He’s just not telling me.  Pound-pound-POUND.  If he knows I’m going to die, I wish he’d just tell me.  Pound-pound-pound.  He can’t know that.  Pound-pound.  Luna was right – she has to be right.  Pound-pound-pound.  We choose our fate.  Pound-POUND-POUND.  I choose to live!  POUND-POUND. 

He saw Dumbledore, fending off Voldemort at the Ministry.  He knew that Dumbledore was the key, whether he liked it or not.  Dumbledore has to show me how – he must know!  POUND-pound-pound.  I’m going to kill Voldemort.  POUND-POUND-POUND.  I’ll show Dumbledore.  POUND-pound-pound-pound.  I’ll show all of them.  POUND-pound.  I’ll kill Voldemort and Wormtail and Lucius Malfoy and Bellatrix Lestrange and every last one of them, if I have to.  POUND-POUND-POUND.  Nothing else matters now.  POUND-pound-pound.  I have two years to learn it all, everything I need.  POUND-pound-pound-POUND.  I can figure out love and friends and life later.  POUND-pound-pound.  Sirius lived without love for twelve years, and he was a hound.  POUND-POUND-pound.  Remus has been alone for most of his life.  POUND-pound-pound-POUND.  Dumbledore’s probably been alone for a hundred years.  Pound-POUND-pound-pound.  If they could manage it, then so can I.  Pound-pound-POUND.  I can do this.  Pound-pound.  Damn it, I can do this.  Pound.  How am I going to do this?  Pound.  Who am I trying to fool?  Pound.  I don’t want to be alone, not all the time. 

Harry lowered his hands.  He looked up at the ceiling, and shouted, “All right, Mum!  All right, Dad!  This is when you’re supposed to magically appear and tell me what to do next!  You’re supposed to tell me that this is all going to work out somehow!  You can come any time now – I’m waiting!”

He stripped off the boxing gloves, and threw them across the room.  “Come on, Sirius!  You wanted to be my guardian!  Tell me what to do!  Where do I start?”  He waited.  No apparitions appeared, no ghostly presences, no voices – nothing at all.  He hadn’t expected any, but would have welcomed them just the same. 

He went into the bedroom.  He had hung the framed picture of Hermione next to the armoire.  “You’d tell me what to do,” he said to the picture, “but I probably wouldn’t like it.”  Hermione’s presence had been the greatest certainty in his life for five years.  Now everything felt as though it were falling apart around him.  He wondered whether there were any certainties left.

Harry tried to sleep for some time, but sleep wouldn’t come.  It wasn’t that the bed was uncomfortable, or that the room was stuffy.  He got up from the bed, took Hermione’s picture off the wall, and set it face-down atop the armoire.  I’m sorry, but I need you out of my head for a while, he thought.  That left Ginny and Luna, much to Harry’s chagrin.  Thinking about Ginny made him nervous and left him unsettled, and thinking about Luna made him sad and left him upset. 

He sat up in the bed, and clutched his knees to his chest.  “I need a little Muggleness in my life,” he said aloud.  He grabbed his pillow and a throw, and carried them to the living area.  He put a stack of Sirius’ records on the phonograph, curled up on the settee under the throw, and just listened.  He found himself thinking about the girl with the dark hair at the edge of the village, and he wondered if she was in fact a Muggle.  He wondered what she might be doing – whether she was sleeping – and wondered what she liked and disliked, and who her friends were, and what hope and dreams she might have.  He imagined that all of it might be fairly mundane, and he decided that mundane likes, dislikes, hopes and dreams sounded very pleasant indeed.  Thoughts of perfectly ordinary aspirations led him into sleep now and again, until the sky had lightened from black to midnight blue.     

Harry rubbed at his bleary eyes and slipped on his trainers.  He looked around the living area.  It wasn’t perfect, but it felt right.  He’d had places to live, to be sure – the Dursleys’ house, Grimmauld Place, the Burrow from time to time, Hogwarts.  Hogwarts had been home to him, but that felt broken now in some fashion.  The bothy just felt right, he decided.

He walked briskly toward the cliffs.  There was a narrow switchback that led him to the expanse of beach below.  He stretched his legs, and then began to run back and forth along the beach.  He hadn’t run in nine days, and it felt good.  The sky continued to lighten, until it matched the dusky blue of the rolling sea.  A thin line of darkness split the sea and the sky, shifting from midnight blue to brownish to deep red to crimson.  A growing spectrum of oranges and yellows emerged between the blue sky and the crimson dividing line.  Harry stopped running, and watched. 

A single point in the crimson line grew brighter and brighter, and Harry was sure that the sun would emerge in that very spot – it was certain, he knew.  He was afraid to blink for fear that he would miss the moment, but it lagged as though the sea was unwilling to give up the sun to the sky.  Just as the bright spot in the crimson and orange line turned to blinding white, a thin green line burst along the whole of the horizon – and then it was gone, and the sun had arrived.  The sun overcame the green flash and banished the night.  He drank in the salt air and felt the burnt orange glow of the morning sun on his face.  He felt the breeze ripple his shirt, and he listened to the churning of the water. 

The cold tide rushed over his feet.  He was awash in certainties – the power of the wind and the water, the daily victory of light over dark.  A more personal certainty broke through the surface, and he smiled.  He closed his eyes and gave it voice, with two words offered up to the sky.

“I’m home.”

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