Harry & Hermione
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MattD12027 - Harry Potter and the Eternal Right
Chapter 13 - The Precipice
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and all related plot events and characters are the property of JK Rowling.
Summary: PostHogwarts. Harry must deal with the horrors of war, and in doing so he will embrace his heritage and leave a lasting legacy on the world.
Chapter 13: The Precipice
Harry continued to watch the sun for a few minutes, losing himself in the beauty, before a soft noise made him turn around. Helen was exiting her room, rubbing her eyes a bit blearily. She was dressed in her running outfit, and Harry had to suppress a smile. Even on this day of all days, she wanted to continue to run. He was impressed by her drive and had relented after only a couple minutes—after all, it was her day, so she would dictate some of the things they did and did not do. She noticed Harry, gave him a quick smile, and started for the exit of the suite. Harry bemusedly followed.
Their runs had gotten slightly longer and faster as the month of July had passed, and even though Helen was still running only about half the time that Harry was, they both were much more aerobically fit. They weren't winded as easily doing simple tasks, and the muscles in their legs had started showing a little definition—Harry more so than Helen, of course. As the sun valiantly clawed a little higher in the early hour, they set out across the grounds at a decent pace, stopping only once to stretch. Helen broke off after a half hour and stretched on the stone steps; once she had done that she produced her scimitar and worked on some moves as Harry finished his second half hour.
They rarely spoke during their morning workouts, but both found it to be quite peaceful. They had company if they wanted to say anything, but each thought it was nice just to have someone to exercise with. It was a time when they could sort out their thoughts, set goals for the day, and reflect on what they'd already accomplished.
Harry did a last lap of the grounds at a near sprint, and when he pulled up in front of the steps, he had to place his hands behind his head to catch his breath. A month of running did him a lot of good, but he'd be damned if he was ever a sprinter. The longer distances suited him much better.
"Little tired?" Helen asked cheekily, as she bounced from foot to foot, stabbing an invisible foe with practiced ease.
Harry chuckled softly through his gasps for air, and pulled out his own wand. He incanted the change, and the Crusader sword came into view. As his breathing settled, he cocked his head toward Helen, who paused for a second and then nodded.
She moved several paces away, turned to face him, and leapt into action before he had a chance to collect his thoughts. Metal met metal as Harry parried her initial blow, and he reacted barely in time to parry her second. The blades still had the dulling charms on them, so the best he would get was a bruise, but it still wasn't something he was looking forward to. At the rate she was moving, though, it wouldn't be long before he got just that.
She had grown and toned a little during the past month, and the skill at which she flourished her scimitar was an indication of that. Harry had to work overtime to move the Crusader blade fast enough to keep up with her, and his arms were screaming in protest after only a little more than a minute.
Helen ducked and swung the scimitar at his knees, to which he angled his blade down to block, but she changed the direction of the blow at the last second. Harry had to bend backwards at the middle in order to avoid it, but he overextended himself, and was soon on his bum on the grass; when he raised his eyes, they met the point of the scimitar and the smirking face of Helen.
"Come on, Daddy, you let yourself get beat by a little girl?"
Harry huffed an affronted noise and said, "Well, how can I help it if the little girl is twice as fast as I am?"
Helen lowered her sword. "Were you really trying as hard as you could?" All playfulness was gone from her voice.
Harry was surprised for a second at the sudden shift in her tone, but then said, "Of course. Would I lie to you?"
In a blur of movement, Helen spun around and had the sword-tip leveled at the side of Harry's head. Helen smiled again, this time at Harry's wide-open eyes.
"Just making sure," she said, and dropped the sword again. It took a few more seconds for Harry's bewildered brain to process what had just happened, and when it did, he just threw back his head and let out a laugh.
"You're too fast for your own good, Helen," he said, as they started up the steps into the castle. His expression sobered a bit. "Just remember, try not to get too cocky. If you can keep that in mind, then I don't think you'll ever have a problem."
"Reverto," she said, as she nodded. The scimitar changed back into the shape of her wand. "I know, Daddy."
Harry noticed a brief shadow pass over her face as they passed the threshold into the castle. "What is it, Helen?"
She stopped and looked up at him, leaning casually back against the stone wall. "Well…I heard something when you were still in school. It's kinda been bothering me ever since."
Harry wondered at her evasiveness; she was usually much more direct than this vague and circular direction she was approaching in. "Ok…what is it?"
"Someone was talking about…Draco Malfoy, I think it was…and how he had an irreversible heart condition." Harry was going to say something, but she hadn't finished yet. He let her continue. "They said that it was caused from magic, and that it was irreversible because no one knew the specific counter for it."
Harry nodded. He knew all of this. "So what's bothering you about it, Helen?"
"Mum's sickness isn't magical, is it?"
Harry shook his head solemnly. "No, honey, it's not."
"But her problem is basically the same as the magical one, right?"
He thought about it for a second; the two conditions were remarkably similar. "I suppose so…but why do you want to know?"
"If we found the counter…if we found the magical counter, could it help the non-magical condition?"
Time stopped for a moment as Helen's words penetrated Harry's brain. It was an innocent question, based off the gleaned knowledge and innocent musings of a six-year-old, but it ignited in Harry something he hadn't felt in a long time—he felt the faint and unmistakable stirrings of hope.
"I'm not sure, Helen…" he drawled out, brain working. "But I suppose it's possible." Harry gave her an odd look. Why hadn't he ever thought of that?
She wasn't finished, however, and the slightly pained look on her face indicated that. "There is one more thing, Daddy." She paused for a moment, looking into his eyes. She must have seen reassurance or some other similar sentiment, because she took a deep breath and continued.
"I also heard someone talking about what you did on the night the Death Eaters came to Hogwarts. That thing you did…with their hearts…could you do the opposite of that?"
With Helen looking expectantly at him, Harry closed his eyes for a moment and sighed. She had now broached two subjects he hadn't really wanted to talk to her about, and she'd somehow connected both back to Ginny. But again, he was also wondering why he'd never thought of the possibility. She was clearly intuitive and sharp, but as Harry had proven many times in the past, he was a veritable tactical genius. Ron had the strategy, but Harry could make quick, decisive actions that almost always lead to a positive conclusion. He should have thought of these things before—before his six-year-old psuedo-daughter did.
Harry must have remained silent for much longer than he thought or had intended, because a hand on his arm caused him to open his eyes. Helen was looking up at him with some concern and perhaps a touch of fear in her eyes. Harry reached down and picked her up, smiling slightly at her. Her expression relaxed, but not all the way, as Harry's face soon sobered a bit.
"I don't really even know what I did that night, Helen. It was caused by…hatred; a hatred so powerful that I never want to feel something like that again. I hate killing…even those that deserve it…and I also could be a danger to those I love." He looked into her eyes. "Like you."
She smiled and pecked his cheek. "I know you would never hurt me, Daddy. And I know you probably don't want to talk about it, but what did you do exactly?"
Harry started walking in the direction of the stairs as he mulled over his answer. He wasn't sure how much he should say, but then he remembered a promise he once made to himself: he would be as truthful as possible unless he absolutely could not avoid lying.
"I killed them, Helen. I caused their hearts to explode." Harry winced at the directness of his statement, but Helen seemed to take it in stride.
She nodded a tiny bit. "That's what I heard, but I just wanted to make sure that it was the truth." She was silent for a moment; the only noise was the echo of Harry's footsteps as he moved along the wide, empty corridor. "Do you know how you did it?"
Harry shook his head. "Not exactly, no. I wasn't even thinking about it. It was almost like accidental magic—you know what that is, right?"
"Yup. Sometimes our bodies just do magic."
"Well…yes," Harry said, smiling slightly at her statement. Every once in awhile her age did shine through. "It's more than that, though. It's a lack of conscious intent. It's basically where our subconscious shows up."
Helen indicated that she understood, so Harry continued. "The thing that scares me about what I did, Helen, is that it was my subconscious. I wasn't trying to kill them all, but I clearly wanted to. That's the only explanation for the way my magic lashed out." His voice grew quiet toward the end, as if really vocalizing it for the first time scared him. And he guessed it did, because he wasn't sure how Helen would react.
But, in true 'Helen' fashion, she just smiled slightly and hugged him, before leaning back and saying, "You did what you had to, Daddy."
Harry was about to respond, but Helen put a finger to his lips when she saw this. She obviously had more to say. "I brought all this up because I was wondering if this related to Mum's heart at all? You're magic hurt their hearts, so couldn't it heal hers?"
For the second time almost as many minutes, Harry had a flash of feeling that felt foreign. Helen's words had again caused some hope to trickle into his being. He knew that it was probably a bad thing, and that in the wrong situations hope could be the worst of things; however, he couldn't ignore the meaning of her words, and that perhaps she had some valid points.
"You know, Helen, you amaze me." She cocked her head to the side slightly. "How did you get so smart?"
A corner of her lip lifted and she just shrugged. "Because I'm around you so much?"
Harry couldn't help but burst into laughter at her answer-in-a-question, because it most definitely wasn't true. "That's really funny, because you're definitely wrong there! Maybe if you hung around with Hermione more…" but he trailed off when his brain latched onto the images of Hermione and Ron.
Helen noticed the sudden silence, and looked at Harry's face. He had a faraway look in his eyes, as if he was remembering something, and it seemed like he wasn't really focusing on anything. She sensed the strange feeling of loss that would come from him at random times, but she had never really known or seen the bond that Harry had with Hermione and Ron, and couldn't really place that loss. She did recognize that, whenever they came up in conversation, Harry would become distant and very quiet.
She didn't say anything, though, because she noticed his gaze clearing. She didn't want him to close up on her. He shook his head very lightly and smiled at her. "Uh, well, anyways," he started, "you definitely have some ideas. I'll talk to Albus about them later on." He stopped in front of the portrait to their suite, and his smile lit up in a huge grin. "For now, though, let's celebrate our birthdays!"
After waking Ginny and some showers, the three of them headed for the Great Hall to get a spot of breakfast. They met Dumbledore there, who was also eating, and shared harmless banter to pass the time. The main focus of the conversation was what they were going to do that day, but Harry refrained from telling explicitly what he had planned.
The trio remained in a playful mood as they exited the castle via Floo, but Helen and Ginny were surprised when Harry led them from the Leaky Cauldron into Muggle London, rather than in the opposite direction to Diagon Alley.
Harry hailed a taxi, which was a new experience for both Ginny and Helen, and he just laughed at their wonder of public transportation. The Wizarding World had its own version—the Knight Bus and the Floo network to some extent—but it was not nearly as extensive or varied as Muggle means. Since Ginny and Helen had never really been past the doorstep of non-magical London, they both stared out the window at the new sights. Harry took it all in, happy that his first real gift to Helen (and he supposed Ginny as well) was working out as well as it was.
The girls were very confused when Harry directed the taxi driver to stop in front of a large building with a huge black-and-white checkered flag over the door, but didn't ask any questions as they were instead staring in awe at the automatic door. When Harry walked up to the door and it slid open, Ginny did a double take because she hadn't felt or seen any magic—and that was surely the only explanation for it. She asked Harry about it, but he gave her some confusing explanation about eklektricity and how it made Muggle technology work like magic.
She was very bewildered, and the feeling only increased when her and Helen stepped through the doors. They were confronted with a low rumbling noise and the busy sight of a full queue. There was a model of something hanging from the ceiling that looked similar to the taxicab they had been in, but it was different at the same time. And…there was that rumbling noise again—it sounded a lot like someone racing by on a broom, but there was something much more mechanical about it.
Harry guided them into the queue and was obviously pretty excited about what they were going to be doing, but he wouldn't tell Ginny or Helen what it was. As they moved up further and further, Helen thought she saw flashes of something through the door behind the ticket booth, but was unclear as to what the thing moving by was. It was obvious to her that it was what was creating the rumbling noise, because it would grow very loud just before it passed the door, and then fade again after. Finally, they reached the booth, and Harry bought him and Ginny 'Unlimited Rides'; for Helen, he got something called 'Unlimited Ride-Along'.
Harry grabbed one of both their hands, and like an eager eight-year-old, quickly lead them through the door into the vast space beyond. He had to pull Helen and Ginny along as they naturally wanted to stop and take in the new sights, but he couldn't wait for that. It was all too exciting.
They had entered a vast arena; there were many go-karts traveling around a lengthy course, which was set up between myriad rubber tires. The noise was almost deafening at first, but they quickly adjusted to the throaty roar of the small but powerful engines of the little cars. A race was in progress, and the people who were driving the karts were smiling and laughing, all the while jockeying for the best position and place. Helen and Ginny continued to take in what was happening as Harry lead them over the to the queue for the karts. Once there, he finally noticed their shocked expressions, and set out to explain to them what they were seeing.
He told them about the concept of driving, such as what the person in the taxicab had done to get them there, and how it wasn't too complicated. There was steering, acceleration, and braking, and everything else came after the basics were mastered. Thankfully, as this was a closed go-kart track, the basics were all they would really need. After having grasped the concept of it, Ginny and Helen were very excited to get into a kart and onto the track.
Helen was disappointed at first when Harry informed her she was too young to do any actual driving, but her face quickly changed into a grin when Harry whispered that he'd let her steer some. Their turn came, and Harry showed Ginny how to properly sit and belt herself in, and then did the same for him and Helen. Just before the light changed from red to green, he reminded Ginny of which pedal was which. She just stuck her tongue out at him and floored it when the light changed.
Harry had to suppress a grin at her seemingly natural affinity for speed—which he should have knew was there, with her being a chaser and all—and floored his own kart to catch up to her. Helen squealed in delight as the accelerative forces pressed her back into her seat, and cheered Harry on as he passed a couple of other drivers in his bid to catch back up to Ginny. After some not-so-careful maneuvering around a particularly bothersome young boy, he was finally side-by-side with his fiancé. They shared a quick glance, in which Ginny's expression changed to a feral grin. She swung wide and then abruptly cut in front of Harry around a hairpin turn, almost forcing him to stop.
Not wanting to be beat (especially by a girl!), he never took his foot off the gas and instead used the lack in momentum to take the corner much sharper than he would have. He shot out from the apex of the turn like a rocket, and was soon passing Ginny, much to her chagrin. They battled it out for the rest of the run, clearly the two front-runners, but in the end, Harry made a costly mistake. He assumed that he had won, and started to take the corners sloppily, allowing Ginny to catch and overtake him. He was slightly disappointed, but accrued a feral grin of his own as he pointed to the 'Unlimited' part of their tickets.
For the rest of the morning, Harry and Ginny duked it out on the kart track, and it was pretty even. Harry let Helen steer about half of the times, only working the pedals, and surprisingly most of the times he won were when she was controlling the wheel. She seemed to instinctually know to take the tangents as best she could, and was unafraid to be assertive. She cut an older fellow off, who gave Harry a dirty look; when he noticed that it was actually Helen steering, however, he just started laughing and almost drove straight into a tire. Helen didn't notice, though, because she was concentrating on getting past Ginny.
Harry noticed that the tip of her tongue stuck slightly out of the corner of her mouth when she was focusing really hard, and smiled at how her nose scrunched up a bit when she saw an opening. Harry pressed the pedal to the floor a bit earlier than normal coming out from a hairpin, but it paid off. He may have slid to the outside a bit, but the edge he gained over Ginny with the slight speed difference was enough for him and Helen to be victorious. Helen had once again been at the helm for that entire race.
As the morning drew on, not once did Harry think of things that were troubling him. No heart problems…no strife between friends…no training worries. Ginny, Helen, and himself were truly enjoying the exciting atmosphere on the racetrack, and, if only for a short while, they all let the outside world fall away. It was only much later that, in bed that night, Harry would realize just how much a slight diversion could do for someone's spirits.
He and the others tended to get wrapped up in all of their own little problems and world, and they forget about the whole world that's out there. Racing around that track, weaving in and out of other racers, watching as Ginny and Helen battled with each other, he subconsciously and maybe even unconsciously came to see that there was more to life than training and power and Hogwarts. There was so much of the world he hadn't seen, and so much that he never would see, but he made a vow then and there, lying in bed staring at the ceiling, that he would take Helen at least to see and experience all the things he wished he could have.
But, as things were, they were exiting the go-kart arena, and he was still hours from that realization. Harry hailed another cab, and it whisked them away to a catered lunch in a fancy Muggle restaurant. Helen and Ginny were still chattering away about their driving experience, and the meal passed pleasantly. Ginny tried to look at the bill when it was delivered, but Harry playfully snatched it away before she or Helen could read the rather staggering amount of pounds it came to. Not that it mattered in Harry's case, though; he would most likely never have a problem with money for the rest of his life. He was still awed by the vast size of the Potter family fortune, to which he had just in the past few weeks been made aware of. He was even more impressed, although he felt slightly guilty about it, that he had been the sole beneficiary of Sirius. He had long gotten over his guilt about his Godfather's death, but the fact that Sirius loved and trusted him enough to leave the Black family fortune to Harry—and only Harry—came as a surprise. He only wished he'd realized Sirius' and his feelings sooner.
From the restaurant, he took them toward the outskirts of London, and ultimately stopped at a large entertainment park. He led them through a building, bought another set of tickets for them, and then had them pick out a weird sort of metal shaft. The end of it was flattened and elongated for which, Harry explained, was useful to send the small ball—a golf ball, he called it—toward the hole in the ground. The sport of miniature golf was a weird concept, but since Harry had more or less been exposed to it since birth, he had never questioned its existence.
Helen and Ginny, on the other hand, were more than confused at first, but quickly took to the rather pointless but still fun task of hitting the little divoted ball into a hole. The various props that went with theme, which were based on the Muggle caricature of magic, especially delighted Helen; she giggled when the ball was snatched up and spit back out at her by an ugly woman with a long, crooked, wart-covered nose. The thing cackled evilly at Helen, who just whacked it once with her club as she passed by. Ginny and Harry amused themselves by observing just how skewed the Muggle view on magic was, and were both soundly trounced by Helen according to the final score.
Harry denied letting Helen win vehemently to the fiery little girl, who just shook her head and started back into the building. He and Ginny shared a look, which said they had indeed both let her win, and smiled. They linked arms as they followed their young charge—although both had privately been calling her 'their daughter' almost exclusively for some time—into the building, and returned their clubs.
Then, even though he knew he would probably regret it, he took both girls back into the heart of the city, to the shopping district. Sure enough, Ginny and Helen veritably ran from store to store, squealing and giggling here and there as he expected they would. Much to his surprise, though, he found a few things that greatly interested him, and was not very bored with the whole experience. Ginny, from a poor family, and Helen, with no real childhood, had not really had the opportunity to splurge for themselves, so Harry thought it would be a nice addition to a great day.
He told them they could spend freely, but they only bought a few things. Harry's gift for Helen was waiting back in the castle, as was Helen's for Harry, so the items they purchased were more along the lines of Muggle things they normally wouldn't get the chance to. Harry bought himself an pre-loaded mp3 player, even though he was not sure if it would work at Hogwarts or not; Ginny bought a fancy little alarm clock that could run off either batteries or electricity, which she liked the shape of and thought it would be practical; Helen picked out a Muggle mathematics textbook, of all things, to satisfy her seemingly insatiable need for knowledge.
The shadows lengthened slowly as the afternoon wore on, and Harry checked his watch as they left yet another clothing store. Seeing that it was about time, he led them down the street to a huge building with a sign that read 'Odeon Cineplex 18' on the outside. He started to explain the concept of film to the two of them, but they both cut him off saying they knew what it was, even though they'd never seen any. Harry had bought a Muggle newspaper earlier in the week to see what was playing, what would be appropriate for Helen, and what they all might like. The only thing that fit those categories was an American animated film, from a company called Disney. The film was called Mulan, and was supposedly a great adventure story.
He bought the three of them tickets and refreshments, and they made their way down the cavernous hallway toward the theatre. Since Ginny and Helen had never been in a film auditorium before, they did not immediately grasp the concept of being quiet, and Harry had to rather directly state that it was very rude to whisper after receiving quite a few dirty looks.
The filmed turned out to be quite enjoyable, and all three of them genuinely liked it. Some of the parts were a bit more violent than Harry was expecting, but they didn't detract from the overall innocence of it. Ginny and Helen really like the music; Harry really liked the cinematography, even though it was animated and he didn't know that was what it was called. They left the cinema satisfied and content.
The sun was just dipping below the western horizon as they entered the Leaky Cauldron. When Harry led them past the fireplace, Harry was expecting Helen to ask why they weren't Flooing back, but she must have remembered that the Floos from the castle were all one way. After successfully triple Apparating once again, they soon found themselves in the comfortable familiarity of their suite.
"Wow," said Helen, from her favorite armchair by the fireplace. "That was one of the best days of my life." Ginny nodded in agreement, and Harry smiled happily. He had set out to make this day memorable for Helen, Ginny, and himself, and it seemed like he had done just that.
"Ok, I think it's time for gifts!" announced Harry as he jumped up from the couch. After a moment's disappearance into his and Ginny's room, he reemerged with a long rectangular package in his hand. Helen got the idea, and was soon coming back from her own room with a package. Ginny retrieved hers for the both of them from under the windowsill, where it had been for a few days.
"I think I'll go first," said Ginny. She took the smaller package and handed it to Helen, who eagerly tore into it. Through the flurry of torn gift-wrap, Harry heard a soft squeal and was soon able to see why: Ginny had gotten Helen her very own copy of a Muggle fairly tale she was fond of talking about. Helen admired the gold-embossed letters on the cover, which read Cinderella. She probably first heard it at the Orphanage, and it had stuck with her since.
"Ah, what a lovely gift, Ginny," he whispered into her ear. He then picked up his own gift for Helen and passed it to her. Helen eyed the long box for a moment, and then tore into it in much the same way she had with the other gift. Her squeal was a bit louder this time—she had a triumphant look on her face as she pulled the brand new, personalized Firebolt from the box. It was still the fastest broom on the market, even after more than four years, and Harry knew she would love one.
"I'm glad you like it, Helen, but just promise me one thing." She looked up at him. "Don't ever fly alone, or at least not for awhile, alright?" She merely nodded and gingerly set the broom down next to the chair. Then, without warning, she leapt up and onto the couch, embracing both Harry and Ginny as best as she could.
Her voice quavered slightly as she said, "This has been the best birthday I've ever had." When she leaned back, there were faint tear streaks on her cheeks, but she laughed and brushed them away, bounding back over to her chair. She got her gift for Harry and plopped it into his lap. He let out a small oomph, as it was much heavier than it looked, and glared mildly at Ginny when she chuckled at him.
He saw that Helen was waiting, getting more and more nervous by the second, so he ripped open the wrapping paper. He smiled immediately upon seeing what it was, and laughed inwardly at the practicality of Helen. She had gotten him a thick book entitled Teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts. It was apparently written by a few Aurors, each of a different nationality, and included the best of each of their individual knowledge. He looked at Helen and pulled her into a hug, thanking her. She kissed his cheek and stepped back; she was eager to see what Ginny had gotten him.
Ginny's package was slightly larger than Helen's, but it wasn't as heavy. He unwrapped it and opened the box inside, and what he pulled out caused a small lump to form in his throat. It was a jumper—one that he recognized as a Weasley trademark—with his initials HJP on the front. The jumper itself was black, and the letters were a deep emerald green. He knew Ginny had made it, and he also knew that it was far more meaningful than a simple jumper ought to be because of their history. He looked into her eyes and mouthed thank you, and she nodded and smiled.
"Oh man, I'm knackered," Ginny said. Helen nodded in agreement.
"Yeah, me too. This has been a great day, but it sure was tiring!"
"Why don't we all head to bed then?" Harry put in. No one had any complaints, and they all said their goodnights as they made their way to their rooms. Just as Harry was about to change out of his clothes, however, he remembered that he wanted to have a discussion with Dumbledore.
"Um, actually, I need to go see Dumbledore for a little while." Ginny nodded as she slipped between the sheets.
"That's fine," she said, through a yawn. "I'll probably be asleep by the time you get back."
"Alright," Harry said, and leaned down to kiss her on the cheek. "Goodnight, love."
"Night," she said, and watched him through tired, half-lidded eyes as he left their room.
The Gargoyle sprung aside and the stairs revolved upward just ahead of Harry's arrival, so the Headmaster was either expecting him or knew he was coming.
"Yes, Harry?" Dumbledore asked as the young wizard stepped through the door.
Harry smiled as he sat down across from his mentor. "Helen made some rather…astute observations this morning and I'm here to see if they hold any water."
Dumbledore nodded. "Before you do that, though, how did today go?" he asked.
"Just fine; in fact, it went really well. Helen and Ginny had a great time and so did I. Muggles don't have magic, but they have some things magic could never accomplish. I'm glad I decided to take them out into non-magical London for the day."
"I see…and how did they do at the driving?" His blue eyes twinkled brightly as he asked.
Harry let out a soft laugh. "Seemed like Helen and Ginny had a friendly little competition going on by the end. It's too bad wizards don't drive," he said with a playful smile.
"Indeed." There was a momentary pause. "Now, what was it you wanted to ask me about?"
"Well, Helen saw some parallels between Ginny, Draco, and the Death Eaters I killed that I really hadn't thought about." Dumbledore indicated his interest with a raised eyebrow. "Draco's heart condition was essentially the same as Ginny's, except that his was magical and hers isn't, right?"
Dumbledore nodded. "So it stands to reason that if there were a counter curse for whatever was afflicting Draco, it could perhaps help Ginny?"
"It would be logical, yes…but, Harry, you must know that anything is a long shot—"
"Yes, yes, I know," Harry interrupted. "I know the whole spiel about not getting my hopes up and all that, but shouldn't we at least try something. The doctors, both magical and Muggle, have basically written her off as a lost cause."
Dumbledore was silent for a moment. "I hate to be blunt, Harry, but that is essentially what she is." Harry met his eyes, but otherwise did not respond. He knew that the Headmaster's words were accurate, but it still haunted him that basically nothing could be done. Fate was cruel.
"I know that," he said quietly. "But there was something else." Harry looked up at Dumbledore once again. "I destroyed thirty men's hearts, correct?" Dumbledore nodded. "So what's to prevent me from doing the opposite with Ginny's?"
Dumbledore let out a long, slow sigh, and leaned back in his chair, rubbing his eyes. He stayed in that position for a moment before removing his hands and raising his eyes to Harry. "Again, logic would dictate that it is possible, but there are two things that I see which would stop you."
"The first thing is what if something went wrong? What if you use too much power, or overcorrected, or just did it wrong? What would happen to Ginny? Would she be worse off? Would she be in excruciating pain? How do you know that you can account for everything?" Harry was silent.
"And that's the other thing. Her malady is rooted deeply in her genetic makeup and chromosomal structure, from what I understand. Simply 'fixing' her heart probably wouldn't solve the issue—it might only delay the inevitable." Harry's face dropped more and more as Dumbledore continued, and Dumbledore noticed.
"Look Harry, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there comes a time when you face the choice between what is right and what is easy." Harry looked up sharply, a strong sense of déjà vu forcing his motions.
"Yes…yes…I know I have told you that before, but I think it is even more relevant now. For all intents and purposes, Ginny has a terminal illness. If, and I do mean if, we do come across some sort of solution, then it has to Ginny's choice, and no one else's. She would have to know the risks and make an informed decision. You have to think of her, Harry, more than yourself, and I know it's hard, but your choice must be in her best interest, not your own."
Harry breathed in deeply for a moment, clearing his clouded mind. Dumbledore was right, of course, as he always was, but he felt so useless. It killed him that he couldn't solve the problem, and that he was basically watching his beloved Ginny die.
"Will you at least consider what I've said?" Harry finally asked.
Dumbledore's age shown through in that moment, and for the first time in awhile, Harry remembered that the man was over a century and a half old.
"For you, Harry, yes." Harry got up to leave, having said all that he could have or wanted to. Dumbledore's voice stopped him as he turned. "I make no promises, though." Harry nodded, looking back, and started for the door. His Headmaster's voice stopped him for a second time just as he reached it.
"It might be time for you to start really accepting things, Harry," he said quietly. Harry bowed his head, but otherwise made no acknowledgement. He left and strode down the stairs past the Gargoyle, beginning his long, lonely trek back to the suite, with nothing but his thoughts to occupy him.
Harry Potter was usually a calm person, but at the moment, he was as nervous as he'd ever been. It was for more than one thing, too. A bead of sweat trickled slowly down his forehead as he scanned the small crowd in front of him. He was standing in the Great Hall, at an altar Dumbledore had conjured up for this occasion. He was dressed in the wedding dress robes Ginny had picked out for him, twiddling the fringe of one of the pockets absentmindedly as he continued scanning the people.
That was one of the reasons he was nervous—he was about to get married, and it was in front of people. He loved Ginny. About that there was no question whatsoever. He knew he wanted to be fully committed to her, but it was still a big step. He knew Ginny felt the same way, and in some ways, it made him more nervous. Would he be a good husband? Could he love her as much he wanted to? How would their relationship with Helen change when it became official? The questions were swirling around his brain as his eyes finished their sweep, coming to rest on a head of fiery red hair near him.
That was the other reason he was nervous: Ron. Ron had agreed to be his best man, but it was very apparent to Harry that things were not good between them. Ron had barely spoken a word since he and Hermione had arrived, and the things he had said were monosyllabic and sour. Hermione was even more taciturn, and Harry was trying to figure how and when would be the best time to corner the both of them and start to straighten things out.
Looking at it now, he couldn't figure out when things had gotten in such a way. Ron had always been there and Hermione, especially, had always been receptive of what Harry had to say. The fight that he and Hermione had wasn't pleasant, but mere words shouldn't have ruined such a strong bond between the three of them. Harry was nervous because it seemed like there was something more going on than what he knew, and he was afraid that it would all blow up in their faces.
This was all weighing on his mind, not to mention the fact that he was now waiting for his bride to come down the aisle, led by the oldest Weasley. Bill was standing in for Arthur as the person to hand her off. His eyes stole toward Fred, George, and Charlie, who were all sitting near the front of the small number of seats. They had nothing but good things to say to Harry, even though there was a tangible sadness about Ginny. They had avoided the topic of her condition, so Harry did not bring it up. He hadn't had a chance to talk to Bill yet, and Ron wasn't in the mood to say much of anything these days.
Movement caught his eye, as well as a flash of color, and his attention was drawn toward the back of the Hall. The doors had opened and standing there was Ginny. His breath caught in his throat—she was beautiful. Her slender frame of 5'8" was normally accentuated nicely by her curves, and the wedding dress wasn't bashful, so she looked positively stunning. She had a small tiara made of white lilies, which were quite appropriate in Harry's eyes, and her hair was raised into a graceful bun. Single rivulets of ruby red fell on either side of her face, framing it,
She smiled a little bashfully when she noticed Harry's gaze, and then the music started up. Wizarding weddings were very similar to Muggle ones, in that certain choice music was still played, but magic was used to accomplish some things Muggles couldn't. For instance, there was no organ. Dumbledore simply conjured the song and it was playing on the air by itself. Ginny and Bill started up the aisle toward the altar, a little haltingly at first, but more and more steadily as they drew closer. Harry's whole world drew into the beautiful woman in white approaching, so he didn't notice the slight tightening of Ron's face beside him.
When Ginny and Bill reached the front row, he leaned down and pecked her on the cheek, whispering something in her ear. She blushed and lightly shoved him away, and turned toward Harry. Her brown eyes were already sparkling with unshed tears, and Harry knew it was only a matter of time before she, and probably he as well, were crying. Hermione left her seat and came to stand next to Ginny as she stopped across from Harry. She and him turned to face each other.
Dumbledore smiled, raising his hands to begin things. "Blessed is this day upon which two young people decide to express and share with us their deep love for and bond with each other." He paused, taking in the small gathering with his eyes. "Harry James Potter and Ginevra Molly Weasley wish to join in marriage today; if there are any objections, speak now, or unto forever hold your peace."
Silence reigned supreme, as no one in their right mind would dare interrupt Harry Potter's wedding. A few people shifted slightly, including the red-headed young wizard and bushy-haired young witch on the altar, but other than that, nothing.
"Wonderful. Now, Harry, please take Ginny's hand in yours, and repeat after me. 'I, Harry James Potter, take Ginevra Molly Weasley to be my lawfully wedded wife.'"
Harry looked directly into Ginny's eyes. "I, Harry James Potter, take Ginevra Molly Weasley to be my lawfully wedded wife."
"'To have and to hold, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.'"
Green eyes were locked singularly onto brown, and the world around fell away. "To have and to hold, in sickness and in health, till death do us part."
Dumbledore's gaze shifted onto Ron, who slowly produced a ring. The Headmaster inclined his head to Harry, and Ron held it out. He eventually had to nudge Harry, because Harry wasn't paying much attention to his surroundings. Harry took the ring from Ron and, as he did so, he looked at his face. Ron should have been happy, but there was no smile there.
Dumbledore continued. "'With this ring, I pledge my undying support and love for you.'"
Harry held Ginny's slender hand in his and slid the ring on her long, elegant finger. "With this ring, I pledge my undying support and love for you." Ginny bit her lip as it trembled slightly. Harry squeezed her slightly shaking hands.
Dumbledore's attention shifted to Ginny as he said, "Ginny, please repeat after me. 'I, Ginevra Molly Weasley, take Harry James Potter to be my lawfully wedded husband.'"
In a very quiet voice, Ginny repeated the words. There was a slight tremor in her voice. "I, Ginevra Molly Weasley, take Harry James Potter to be my lawfully wedded husband."
"'To have and to hold, in sickness and in health, till death do us part.'"
Ginny sniffled and smiled as a single tear dropped down her cheek. "To have and to hold, in sickness and in health, till death do us part." Harry distantly heard a few other sniffles coming from the direction of the audience, but it was only a passing recognition. Ginny was gripping his hand like a lifeline now.
Hermione needed no prompting from Dumbledore, and produced the ring. Ginny took it from her with a soft smile as a tear slid down the other cheek.
"'With this ring, I pledge my undying support and love for you.'"
She took Harry's hand in hers and positioned the ring at the end of his hand, pausing slightly. "With this ring, I pledge my undying support and love for you." The ring slid home.
Dumbledore smiled, and again raised his hands in a sweeping gesture. "Harry James Potter and Ginevra Weasley Potter, I now pronounce you husband and wife." Two more tears slipped down Ginny's cheeks, and a similar one left a wet streak on Harry's own. "You may kiss your bride, Harry."
Heads leaned toward each other, eyes closed, and lips met in the sealing act of their bond. They didn't notice it because the other's lips were the focus of their entire universe, but there was a magical backlash as they kissed. The crowd saw it, though, and recoiled slightly from the whipcrack nature of it. It was harmless, but it was intimidating.
Two ribbons of magical energy—one emerald green and the other ruby red—arced out over the audience and then snapped back in, wrapping around the bride and the groom. They twirled tighter and tighter, getting brighter and brighter, and finally fading as Harry and Ginny leaned back from each other. Dumbledore started clapping, which was mirrored by everyone, with one or two noticeably less enthusiastic about it. Dumbledore saw it, but chose not to say anything to Harry or Ginny, for fear of ruining the moment.
Ginny wiped the wetness from her eyes and leaned into Harry as they made their way down the aisle. She was where she'd always wanted to be—in the arms of her husband, Harry Potter.
The reception turned out to be a roaring success, and Harry and Ginny honestly enjoyed themselves. After a brief interlude, in which Dumbledore had turned the Great Hall from a wedding décor to one more suitable for the reception, the festivities resumed. The House Elves provided magnificent food, and the atmosphere was very relaxed as people ate, drank, and danced themselves into the night.
Harry surprised Ginny by being a fairly adept dancer, and they spent most of the evening on the dance floor, entertaining themselves and their guests. Through all of the fun, they both forgot about their problems; Harry still hadn't spoken to Ron and Hermione about what he really wanted to and Ginny hadn't thought of her heart in hours.
Harry focused on the radiantly smiling face of Ginny as they twirled. The background faded into a blur of colors, and all he could see was the laughter in Ginny's eyes. Today had turned out to be one of the best days of his life, and he was glad that he had shared it with her. All of his previous nervousness had faded, and now he was just looking forward to his time with her.
The song ended and they stopped, walking off the dance floor to their table. Dumbledore, Ron, Hermione, Professors McGonagall and Flitwick, Hagrid, and Helen were sitting there. Most looked up and smiled at the new couple, who were engrossed in themselves. Harry sat down and Ginny plopped into his lap, wrapping her arms around him. They both missed the slight flinch from Ron.
"So, was this up to your standards, Harry?" Dumbledore asked.
Harry chuckled slightly as he responded. "I love your rhetorical questions, Albus."
Dumbledore's eyes twinkled and he chuckled as well, taking that as enough of an answer. He was ecstatic that Harry and Ginny had finally found some true happiness, and that they had finally sealed the strength of their relationship. As Headmaster of Hogwarts, there was very little that he missed that went on in the school, so he had known from very early on that Ginny Weasley—now Ginny Potter—was in love with Harry. He had observed how the bond had grown over the years, with a lot of help from what Harry had done in the Chamber of Secrets, but he'd also noticed some peculiar qualities about it. For a while, it was completely one-sided; it always seemed like a much more mature type of feeling than adolescents exhibited. When Harry had finally opened his eyes and seen it, there was a tangible sense of 'coming together', because that was the only way Dumbledore knew how to describe it.
The air, or perhaps the magic, in the castle seemed to settle a bit, and things were a little less chaotic. Add to that the ending of the war, and there had been a certain harmony in Harry's life, although clouded with recent events, since then. However, as usual, he couldn't help but notice a tension that had been building for at least a few weeks now. It had not gotten past him that Harry's closest friends, Ron and Hermione, had only visited the castle twice during the month of July. It was atypical for two reasons: one being that the three of them had an extraordinary friendship, and the second being that Ginny had a terminal illness. He would have expected Ron to be with her more, as well as Hermione, but it seemed to be the contrary. The older Weasley's had all been to see Harry and Ginny several more times than their younger brother, and Charlie had even refrained from returning to Romania.
By themselves, the pieces of the puzzle didn't add up to much, but taken together, Dumbledore felt that something was about to snap. They were all standing on the edge of a precipice, and a small nudge could send them either way—plunging over the edge, or safely away from it.
Dumbledore watched as Harry and Ginny were once again focused on nothing but each other. His gaze shifted to the left, where Ron and Hermione were sitting. She had a hand on his forearm, and the knuckles were white with strain. Ron had a mutinous look on his face; Hermione's was almost pleading. Ron wrenched his arm away and stood up, gathering his things. Hermione seemed to be reluctant as she followed suit, and both started to walk away from the table.
Harry started as he realized the table now had two less occupants. His eyes quickly scanned the room, and he saw who he was looking for. Ron and Hermione were halfway to the door of the Hall.
"Babe," he whispered. "Let me up. I have to go do something. I'll be right back." Ginny gave him a knowing look, and directed her gaze over his shoulder at the two retreating backs as she stood. Harry went after them, and Ginny sat back at the table, mulling over the day.
It had been wonderful, there was no doubt about that, but there was something wrong with it all. Ron and Hermione had barely spoken, and she was slightly angry with them for being so distant on her wedding day, of all things. She felt that things were coming to a head, and she hoped her wedding night wouldn't be completely ruined.
The door of the Great Hall clanged shut behind Harry as he exited, startling Ron and Hermione into turning around. Ron's eyes instantly clouded when he saw Harry, and Harry noticed the firm grip with which she was holding his arm.
"Uhh…hey guys…I was wondering if we could talk?" Harry asked hopefully. Hermione's eyes instantly brightened, but Ron's only got darker.
"What could you possibly want to talk about?" Harry recoiled from the venom in the redhead's voice. He had never heard it directed at himself before.
Harry faltered. "Err…well, I want to talk about us—the three of us."
There was a silence for a moment, in which Harry noticed a slightly pleading look with which Hermione was looking at Ron, but Ron was intently focused on Harry. He started to take a step toward him, but Hermione's grip on his arm held him in place.
"Since when have we been 'the three of us'?" he asked. Hermione closed her eyes briefly, as if to draw upon some inner strength.
Harry answered the only way he knew. "Since that first day on the Hogwarts Express, Ron."
This seemed to cause a pause in Ron for a moment, but he quickly recovered. "It seems to me, Harry, that that ended awhile ago."
Harry felt like he'd been slapped. Awhile ago? His fight with Hermione wasn't that long ago, only a few months, and in the grand scheme of things, it really wasn't that big of a deal.
"What are you on about, Ron?" It seemed to be the wrong thing to say, though, as Ron's face grew red.
"'What am I on about', he asks," Ron repeated, laughing mirthlessly to himself. "How about my family, Harry."
Now Harry was really confused. This was not going at all how he had intended. "Your…family? Ron?"
"Yes, my family, Harry! How can you be so thick about things?"
It was Harry's turn to grow slightly red, as his own ire grew. "What the hell are you talking about? Obviously this is about more than the words Hermione and I had, but I'm at a loss, here."
Ron snorted, as if in disdain, and glanced at Hermione. The look on her face, which was of a slight fear, again caused him a momentary pause. It only lasted a few seconds, though, because when his eyes shifted back to Harry, the anger was back.
"Let me explain it for you, then, Mr. Boy-Who-Lived." Harry winced at the moniker, because whenever Ron used it in that tone, it meant bad things. "We Weasley's, we're a tight family. We always have been. Mum and Dad raised us to depend on each other, and because there were so many of us, we were very close. To an outsider, we probably looked like a ragtag bunch, but we knew that we fit well together." The words continued to flow from Ron's mouth, and Harry instantly knew that he had been stewing on this for a long time. It wasn't a prepared speech, but it was articulate and to the point, and that was something that Ron normally lacked.
"Growing up, before Hogwarts, you were the hero of the Wizarding World. Everyone placed you on a pedestal, and talked about you like you were some sort of god. I wanted to meet you because you were a celebrity, and it turns out that I didn't even know that I had met you at first. Talk about the ultimate irony, eh?" Ron trailed off for a moment, as if thinking about the past. He then shook his head and his face grew hard.
"We became fast friends, and soon Hermione joined us. We were inseparable and we worked well as a team—she was the brains, you were the tactician, and I was the strategist. We were almost unstoppable. Eventually even Voldemort fell before us." He paused again, and his gaze zeroed in on Harry's. "Or rather, you. It's been more and more apparent since that day, but I think in some ways I always knew. It's always been about you, Harry, and you couldn't care about what happens to anyone else."
Whoa, wait a minute. That was absolutely dead wrong, and Harry made to interrupt. "Now wait—"
Ron overrode him, however. "No, I don't want to hear it, Harry. I should have seen it a long time ago, but I didn't, and now it's cost me most of my family. My parents, who you were there to save, died because we knew you. Bellatrix never would have gone to the Burrow that night if the Weasley name weren't synonymous with 'Harry Potter'.
"I know you know what it's like to be parentless, but I don't think you know what it's really like to lose them. You were only a baby when it happened…I'd known mine for close to 18 years."
This time Harry's interruption was loud enough to achieve its goal. "How can you say that, Ron? You know the memory of that night haunts me—how many times have I woken you up by my screaming?"
"No, it's not! At least I went to the Burrow that night, Ron. I know I was too late, but at least I got Bellatrix. I avenged your parents for you. You talk to me about loss? I think I felt the loss of Arthur and Molly just as much as you did!"
Ron's face twitched and a vein, reminiscent of Vernon, started throbbing in his forehead. His voice was a low, guttural growl. "Don't ever speak to me about my parents again. And what about Ginny? She's dying, Harry, and you've taken her away."
Harry was stunned. Ron wasn't that thick, was he? "I've…taken her away? You could have visited the castle at any point, Ron; the door is always open here. Ginny would have welcomed you, too. She thought that something was wrong, that you were angry with her or something, because you'd only been to see her twice." Harry tried to calm his breathing. "How could you do that to her? When she needs you most, you aren't there for her?"
Ron's face contorted and he shook with rage, but with some obvious effort, he controlled it. His voice was dangerously quiet. "No, but you were, Harry. And that's it, isn't it? I've always been second best to you—to her, and to my whole family."
Not jealousy again. "That's rubbish, and you know it."
"No, it's not. My brothers aren't speaking to me anymore, because I refuse to speak to you. You know what that says to me? You're more important to them, more important than their own flesh and blood." Ron took a deep breath. "You've ruined my family, Harry."
Harry's tight control snapped, and the words were out of his mouth before he could stop them. "You ruined it yourself, Ron."
Ron got a feral look on his face, sputtered for a moment, and wrenched his arm from Hermione's grasp. She grabbed again, but missed, and just watched with horror in her eyes as Ron advanced on Harry. He drew back his fist and slammed it into Harry's jaw, sending him flying off his feet. He landed hard on his bum.
Harry absently rubbed his jaw as he stared up at Ron with wonder. Ron had just slugged him in the face.
Ron's voice was very quiet as he spoke again. "I seem to remember something that you said, many years back. I think it was 'You and Hermione were the first real friends I had'." Ron shook his head and turned around. He spoke again as Harry stared at the wall that was the redhead's back. "No more, Harry. No more." He walked away. Hermione gave Harry one last, long look, before turning away slowly and following Ron out of the doors into the starry night. Harry didn't say a word as he watched them go.