Questions and Answers


Story Summary:
What happens when the past collides with the present and threatens to cast the Potters' and Weasleys' lives into disarray...

Chapter 85 - Sharper Than a Serpent's Tongue


April 2022

Al fingered the letter from the English Quidditch team. They wrote to him every so often, exhorting him to come out for a trial. He never showed them to his parents. They had made their feelings clear the summer after his third year. The World Cup was scheduled for late August, and he still had a chance to play with the team. He knew the rules. They could make changes to their Reserves and starting side until July tenth. The twenty teams that would compete for the coveted eight quarter final slots would begin play. The English team had offered to train with him during the weekends at school until the summer holidays. Then, he could train with them daily. There was a trial on Monday. He could do it. Harry and Ginny left them alone during the day while they were at work and it would be so easy to slip out of the house in the morning. He would return before either of his parents came home from work.

It was all so easy. Except for one thing.

As an underage wizard, he needed both of his parents' signatures on his trial paperwork. But he had a plan. The Scottish team, coached by none other than his parents' old friend Oliver Wood, was scheduled to come the last month of the term and teach flying techniques and training exercises they used. They did have to have their parents sign a release form, and Albus had separately obtained both Harry and Ginny's signatures that evening. With separate quills that were still on their desks. It was an easy spell that people used to when they had to sign a great many things. Albus had marked the quills his parents used, tweaking off a few barbs as he turned from the desk. He eased from his bed and crept to the door, opening it a little. His parents' bedroom door was shut firmly, as was Lily's. James' was ajar and his lamp was still lit. Al shrugged. He could just tell James he was peckish and wanted an apple. It was certainly plausible. James often woke up in the middle of the night wanting a little something to tide him over until breakfast.

Al stole down the stairs and crept into the room Harry and Ginny used as an office. 'Lumos,' Al whispered, sweeping the narrow beam of light over the small cup on his mother's desk that held her quills. Al easily found the one she'd used on his form and plucked it out. 'Priori noma,' he breathed, pointing his wand at the quill. Elated, he watched as it floated to the parchment he spread over the desk and neatly wrote Ginny's round, looping formal signature - Ginevra M. Potter - complete with the flourish she employed on the final "A" in her first name. Thrilled, Al replaced the quill, and quietly darted to his father's desk. He repeated the procedure, glowing with pride as the quill scrawled Harry J. Potter across the line meant for Harry to sign.

He'd outsmarted them all.


Al walked into the kitchen Monday morning, surprising his parents, who were lingering over a last cup of tea before they left for work. 'You're up early,' Harry commented.

'I'd be awake at school,' Al managed to point out without sounding surly.

'Just thought you'd want to have a bit of a lie-in,' Harry countered, keeping a rein on his temper. It always seemed to rise to the surface around Al lately.

'Got O.W.L.s coming up,' Al reminded Harry.

'I'm aware of that,' Harry sighed. 'Hungry?'


'There's porridge, if you want it,' Ginny told him.

'Thank you,' Al said stiffly, retrieving a bowl and ladling porridge into it. He took it to the table, at sat at his usual place. Ginny had already poured him a glass of orange juice and Harry's wand hovered over a cup.

'Tea or cocoa?' Harry asked.


Harry blinked. It seemed like yesterday that Al would have asked for cocoa. God, he grew up and I wasn't looking... He tapped the cup, and strong, hot tea flowed into it. 'Do you have plans for today?'

Al shrugged, adding sugar and milk to his porridge. 'Nothing much. I might go see Scorpius later.'

'That's fine,' Harry said quickly, not wanting to engage in an argument with Al over the wisdom of visiting the Malfoy mansion.

'Harry, we're going to be late,' Ginny warned. Harry swept his wand at his and Ginny's dishes and they flew to the sink and began to wash themselves. 'If you do go to Wiltshire, mind you behave for Mrs. Malfoy,' she said to Al, as she swung her bag to her shoulder. Al said nothing, but glowered at her. Ginny's jaw clenched a little, as she bit back an angry retort. Harry grabbed her arm and steered her out into the back garden before she could actually say anything.

Al shoveled his porridge in his mouth and ate his breakfast as quickly as he could, hoping to leave before James or Lily woke up. He heard the distinct pop of his parents' Apparition and sagged a little in relief. He'd gotten through the hard part. Now if he could just Floo to Exmoor and complete the trial without alerting either of his siblings...

'What are you doing up?' James mumbled, shuffling into the warm kitchen.

Shite. 'Going to Scorpius' to study,' Al said hastily. It wouldn't arouse suspicion.

'Mmm.' James yawned and grabbed a bowl. 'Mum and Dad go to work already?'

'Just left.'

'So that's what woke me up...' James dumped porridge into his bowl and carried it to the table. 'You all right? You look nervous.'

'I'm fine.' Al finished his tea and washed his dishes. 'See you later.' He all but ran into the sitting room, grabbing his broom from the cupboard under the stairs where he'd hidden it last night, and grabbed a large handful of Floo powder. 'Exmoor Field,' he said softly, throwing the Floo powder into the fireplace. He stepped into the swirling flames, before James could come investigate.


Ginny set her cup down. 'Train goes back to Hogwarts day after tomorrow, you know,' she said genially to her children.

'That's not really news, Mum,' James snorted into his cereal.

'You're right. It's not. But I'd rather have your things packed and ready to go after lunch tomorrow afternoon, since your grandmother wants to have everyone over for dinner before you lot go back to school. So I hoped we'd at least get your laundry done today.'

'Is that a hint?' Al muttered.

'Yes, it was,' Ginny replied smoothly.

'Why didn't you just say so?' Al said under his breath, sliding out of his seat. 'Could just come out and tell us you want our laundry in the scullery when we came down for breakfast...'

'Albus!' Harry said sharply.


'Don't speak to your mother like that,' Harry said coolly.

'Fine.' Al turned to Ginny. 'You don't have to drop hints, you know. You could have just said for us to bring out things down when you woke us up,' he said in a pointed, yet sullen voice directly to Ginny.

'I meant the tone of voice,' Harry growled.

'Let it go, Harry,' Ginny murmured, laying a hand on his arm, and gesturing for Al to go upstairs.

Harry's gaze swiveled from his youngest son's retreating back to his wife. 'He cheeked you,' he said indignantly.

'He's fifteen,' Ginny said with a shrug. 'Not like either of us didn't do the same. I'd rather not make a big to-do over it.'

'Mum? Can I go to Diagon Alley later?' Lily asked quickly. 'My potions kit is low...'

'I'll take you into London with me when I leave for work,' Harry told Lily, attempting to keep his tone light. 'You can spend the day with me, or you can try to swindle your uncle George into paying you to keep an eye on the counter.' Harry checked his watch. 'I'm leaving in ten minutes.'

'Okay.' Lily skipped from the kitchen.

James pushed his chair back and carried his empty bowl to the sink. 'I'm working the afternoon shift at the Hytners' pub,' he reminded his parents. 'Falmouth's hosting an exhibition between Ireland and Scotland's teams tonight and Izzy said Maya and I could sit with her and the other scouts.'

'What time will you be home?' Harry asked.

'One in the morning?' James asked hopefully.

'Try eleven,' Harry shot back.


Harry tilted his chair back on its rear legs, contemplating James. 'Midnight,' he agreed. 'One minute past and you're grounded the first week of summer hols.'

James grinned. They both knew he'd be in the house well before midnight. The one time he'd missed his curfew, he'd been an hour late, and Harry had followed through and confined him to the house for the rest of the Christmas holiday last year. 'All right, then.' He sauntered toward the kitchen door. 'I'll even study for my exams until I have to leave,' he said brightly, trying to dodge the swat his mother aimed at his bottom.

'Cheeky monkey,' Ginny murmured.

The kitchen door swung open, and Al sauntered in with an armload of laundry that he deposited in a basket just inside the scullery. 'I'm going flying,' he announced with the air of one who didn't expect his intentions to be questioned, as he strolled out the back door, letting it slam shut behind him.

'Sure, you can go flying,' Harry muttered. 'Don't bother to ask if your mother or I have anything for you to do here...'

'That's why he does it,' Ginny chided gently, moving toward Al's laundry to sort it while she waited for Lily and James to bring theirs down. 'Because you talk like that all the time.' Out of long habit, she searched the pockets of his jeans and trousers, making sure broken quills, scraps of parchment, or Owl Treats weren't stashed in them. One of the pockets crinkled loudly, and Ginny withdrew a much-folded, dark-blue envelope, with a stylized red lion's head on the front left corner. 'What on earth...?' she breathed, setting it on the table and smoothing out the creases. It was a letter addressed to Al from the English Quidditch team. Heart pounding in trepidation, Ginny slid the parchment from the envelope and scanned the letter inside. 'Oh, dear God...'

'Gin?' Harry stood inside the doorframe. 'Are you all right? You're pale as a ghost...'

Ginny shook her head, holding out the letter in a trembling hand. Harry took it from her with a questioning frown and glanced idly at it, his eyes widening.

23 April 2022

Dear Al,

I can't tell you how excited I am to welcome you to England's World Cup Quidditch team. Your flying yesterday was superb. I hope you're able to play on the starting side for us. We'll contact Headmaster Shacklebolt and organize practice sessions with you until the school term ends.

Please sign the enclosed contract and return it by owl as soon as possible. Again, I cannot express how pleased I am you came to the trial.


Justin Frye

Captain, English Quidditch Team

'He must have forged our signatures for the tryout,' Harry said in a low, dangerous voice. His fingers convulsed around the parchment, crumpling the letter. 'They had to have known it was a forgery, wouldn't they?'

'You'd think...' Ginny braced her hands on the table, her head bowed. 'But they might have been willing to look the other way when he showed up at the tryout.'

'He hasn't signed a contract yet,' Harry maintained. 'And he's still underage, so we have to sign, as well.'

'He may very well have,' Ginny said tiredly, pointing to the bottom of the letter. Harry hadn't made it down that far. 'They sent it with the letter... It was just Tuesday... It's magically binding, too. All Quidditch contracts are...'

'No, it's not,' Harry insisted. 'He's underage and can't sign anything of the sort without us.'

'If our signatures were on the try-out from, then it's considered tacit parental approval of said try-out,' Ginny said wearily, rubbing the bridge of her nose. 'Don't try to argue with me on the ins and outs of Quidditch business. Furthermore, it's so rare to sign someone underage; the protocol is hopelessly out of date. It probably wasn't even charmed to check for forgeries.'

'That's bloody unethical!' Harry seethed. 'I'll go talk to Hermione. She's bound to know a way out...'

'Let's wait,' Ginny said softly. 'We'll talk to Albus tonight after dinner.' She tugged the letter from Harry's hand and slipped it back into the envelope, then put it in her own pocket.

'I think we're past talking,' Harry said coldly. 'And how did this get past you?'

'I beg your pardon?' Ginny asked, offended.

'You're the Quidditch editor, for Merlin's sake,' Harry seethed. 'How did this story get by you?'

'Because the story won't be ready until tomorrow morning,' Ginny replied, keeping a grip on her temper. Harry wasn't angry with her, she reasoned, he was just angry. 'It's going in Sunday's paper. So even if we hadn't found this,' she waved the envelope in a short, jerky arc, 'the earliest I would have known would be tomorrow.'

Lily skidded into the scullery, dumping her clothes in the basket. 'Ready!' she sang, the looked at her parents' tense faces, eyes darting from Ginny to Harry. 'I'll just go wait in the garden, then, shall I?' she stammered, backing out and fleeing to the garden.

'I'll take Lily to go to the shop,' Harry muttered. 'Then I'm going to have a word with the captain of the English team.'


Harry strode into the offices of the English Quidditch team located at Exmoor Field. 'I want to see Justin Frye,' he stated flatly.

'And you are?' the bored receptionist intoned, filing her fingernails.

'Harry Potter.'

The witch paused in her activity, holding her hand out to examine the shape of her nails. 'The trials were Monday.'

'I know,' Harry ground out. 'My underage son, Albus, was here for the trial, without the knowledge of either me or my wife.' He brandished the letter from Albus' jeans. 'We did not give him permission to attend the trial.'

The witch switched the file to the other hand and began filing the edge of her thumbnail. 'Just a mo...' She used her elbow to hit a glittery button on her desk. 'Oi. Justin, there's some bloke here to see you about the trial on Monday.'

'Is it a reporter?'


'Did you bother to ask?' Justin's exasperation was evident.

'Yeah. Says he's Albus' father. Whoever that is...'

'Oh. In that case, send him back.'

The witch motioned with the nail file over her shoulder. 'That way. Last door on the left.'

Harry nodded and struck off down a long corridor, anger building the further he walked. By the time he got to the captain's office, he was hanging on to his sanity with his fingernails. 'Have you lost your bleeding mind?' he roared, slamming Al's letter on the desk.

Justin had the grace to look confused. 'What do you mean?'

'Did you even bother to check for forgeries?' Harry thundered.

'Actually, we did, Mr. Potter. The signatures are genuine. Would you like to see his trial form?'

'I would,' Harry said grimly, drawing his wand. He was going to check the signatures for himself. Justin opened a drawer and removed a thick file. Harry saw Al's name scrawled on the tab, and one brow rose at the amount of information they had on his son. Justin flipped it open and handed Harry the form. Harry squinted at the signatures at the bottom, color draining from his face. They were accurate. There were too many small details in them to be forgeries. The way Ginny curved the final downstroke of the M in her middle initial so it nearly underlined Potter. The way he connected the J of his middle initial to the P of Potter. The large capital letters and almost illegible lowercase letters of his signature. Ginny's near-copperplate hand that he was certain she hadn't taught the children to use. Nonetheless, he waved his wand over the parchment. 'Priori incantatum,' he murmured. One ghostly quill outlined Ginny's signature, then another his. However Al had obtained the signatures, they were undoubtedly real, albeit copies. However, it was good enough for the English Quidditch team. 'I won't allow it,' Harry insisted hoarsely. 'I'll take it to the Wizengamot if I have to.'

'He's already signed the contract. Surely you know it's damn near impossible to break it.'

'You accepted it under false pretenses,' Harry retorted.

Justin's mouth twitched. 'As did the Goblet of Fire in the Triwizard for you.'

'I had nothing to do with that!'

'Regardless, it still bound you to compete. As does Al's contract.'

Harry stiffened. 'Fine,' he hissed. 'Bloody fine. But don't for a moment believe I'm through with this. I will do everything I can, pull every string I can, call in every favor I've got so my underage son doesn't play on the starting side.' Harry spun on one heel and began to stalk from the office. 'And believe me, I will do everything I can,' he spat.


Lily and James exchanged nervous glances across the table. Harry hadn't said a word the entire meal. Normally, he asked them loads of questions about their day and inquired after their homework. Today, he was uncharacteristically silent. Brooding. Eyes downcast on the dinner he barely touched and spent most of the time pushing peas across the plate, before mashing them into green smudges. James cleared his throat. 'May I please have the salt?' he asked hoarsely.

Ginny nudged the salt toward him, and James picked it up, using the opportunity to signal Lily. He gestured toward her plate, then tapped his thumb over his watch. Lily frowned in confusion, and James sighed. -Eat faster... he mouthed. Lily nodded and began to shovel the rest of her dinner into her mouth.

'Do you have somewhere to be?' Ginny tried to say lightly.

'No...' Lily replied through a mouthful of lamb chops

'Slow down and chew.' Ginny tried to pick up her glass of water, but her hand trembled. It didn't go unnoticed by Harry, who laid his fork down and pushed his plate away, folding his hands on the table.

'Lily, James, could you two go upstairs?' Harry asked, his tone mild, but they knew better than to argue with him. Both Lily and James scrambled from the table, James throwing one last look over his shoulder. He grabbed Lily's hand and dragged her into his bedroom.

'Ow,' Lily protested mildly. 'Why are we going into your room?'

'Dad's going to start shouting,' James warned.

'How do you know?'

'He was quiet. Too quiet...' Just as the words escaped, James felt a slightly suffocating silence blossom from the ground floor. 'Oh, blimey... here it comes...' Unconsciously, his arm snaked around Lily's skinny shoulders.

Harry studied Al over the rims of his glasses. Al stared back at him, in undisguised insolence. Harry pulled the creased envelope from his shirt pocket and threw it on the table. 'This is yours, I presume?'

Al looked wildly from Harry to Ginny. 'Where did you get this?'

'It was in your jeans,' Ginny told him gently. 'You didn't check the pockets before you brought them down for me to wash this morning.'

Al snatched it off the table. 'Did you read it?' he demanded.

'Of course I did,' Ginny scoffed. 'We made it very clear to the English team that you weren't going to play with them two years ago. They have no business writing to you at this time.'

'That's a violation of my privacy,' Al huffed.

'You don't have privacy,' Harry hissed. 'You're underage and still living in my house.' Harry leaned forward, bracing his elbows on the table. 'Besides, we weren't pawing through your things.'

'Al, darling, you know how your father and I feel about you playing for England,' Ginny beseeched. 'We still don't think you're ready. In fact, we'd like you to -' Whatever Ginny was going to say was lost in the surge of fury from Al.

'It's a magically binding contract!' Al raged. 'You can't make me back out of it!'

'You're underage and committed fraud in the process,' Harry corrected coldly.

'It's done,' Al pronounced. 'Why don't you ask her,' he hissed, pointing to Ginny, 'since she knows more about it than you do?'

'How did you do it?' Harry roared, slamming his fist on the table. Ginny moved behind him, and laid a placating hand on his arm. The muscles nearly vibrated with tension.

'You think I'm going to tell you?' Al shouted. 'If you're so good at being an Auror, why don't you know how I did it, eh?

Harry's face paled and the muscles under Ginny's hand bunched. His arm swung back, and Ginny's hand moved to his wrist, gripping it in warning.

The silence was deafening. 'You ought to have been in Slytherin,' Harry said, in a voice so heavy with disillusionment, it nearly hung in the air. Harry turned on his heel and walked out of the kitchen, into the back garden, closing the door without a sound.

Al waited for the expected explosion from his mother, but she merely regarded him with the same stillness as his father. He winced as her soft voice carried over the expanse of the kitchen. 'I've never been more disappointed in you than I am now, Albus,' she said, her face taut with the pain of saying such a thing to her son. 'Go upstairs.' She paused and took a shaky breath. 'Now.'

For once, Al didn't argue with her.

James stood at the top of the stairs, still clutching Lily's hand. 'What the hell was that about?' he demanded.

Al snorted. 'You'll find out soon enough,' he said archly, and strode purposefully into his bedroom, slamming the door behind him. Lily jumped a little at the unexpected noise.

'Why is he behaving like such a wanker?' Lily asked softly.

James shook his head slowly. 'I don't know. I can guess...'

'Try me.'

'Because he wants it, and Mum and Dad are determined to not let him have it yet. But he wants it now, thank you.'

'How did he forge their names?'

'He didn't.' James dropped to the top riser, cradling his head in his hands. 'You do realize that this means anything you and I want to do, we have to be aboveboard.'

'You think Mum and Dad won't trust us anymore?'

'No. But I think they'll be much more suspicious of what we're doing.'

'I wish Izzy hadn't told him about it,' Lily complained.

'It's not Izzy's fault,' James corrected. 'If she hadn't said something, he'd have found out anyway. This is all Al's doing. He let it get to his head.' He squeezed Lily's hand. 'Come on. Let's get our things packed up. Give Mum one less thing to worry about, yeah?'


Loud knocks echoed through the flat. Hermione glanced at the clock on the night table in consternation. 'Who on earth...? It's nearly midnight.'

Ron swung his feet to the floor and pulled on his jeans. 'Might be Harry.' He offered no further explanation. Harry's grim visage when he dropped Lily off at the shop that morning had been a rather visible signal that something was amiss. 'Maybe he went on a bender.'

'Harry hasn't been on a bender in ages,' Hermione said. The knocked boomed through the flat once more, making her frown

'True,' Ron allowed. 'But, as you say, there is a precedent.' He zipped the jeans and his tense face softened as he took in Hermione's worried face. 'If he's arseholed, I'll Stun him and put him extra room to sleep it off. Don't worry.' He brushed Hermione's hair from her face and kissed her - just brushing his mouth over hers.

He opened the door of the flat, to Harry standing on the stoop, shivering, soaked to his skin in the pouring rain. 'Blimey,' he said by way of a greeting.

'C-c-c-can I stay here...?' Harry stammered, teeth chattering with cold.

Ron stepped back and Summoned a dry towel from the bathroom, and handed it to Harry. 'Row with Gin?'

Harry paused in the act of toweling off his hair and glanced at Ron. 'Haven't had a row with Gin bad enough to sleep elsewhere since before James was born... It's Albus...'

'Hang on,' Ron interrupted. 'I'll get you some dry things, tell Hermione you've not been drinking your way through London, and we can talk it out.' He pushed Harry in the general direction of the bathroom. 'Go on and get out of those wet clothes. I'll leave some dry pajamas and a shirt outside the door, and make us some tea.'

'Tea, huh?'

Ron grinned fleetingly. It was an old joke between them. 'It's what my mum does.'

Harry pointed his wand at his boots, untying the laces and pulled his feet from them with an unpleasant squelching sound. 'Well, if Molly does it...' He headed for the bathroom, yanking off his wet jumper and shirt, shivering even harder than before, as the air hit his exposed skin. He draped them over the radiator to dry and wriggled a little at a time from the wet jeans, the denim clinging stubbornly to him, taking his socks as well. Once those joined the rest of his clothes on the radiator, he pulled off his boxers and swiftly dried them. Ron might be his oldest friend, but even Harry had limits. They didn't extend to wearing his boxers. He opened the door a little, and grabbed the soft flannel of Ron's pajama bottoms and a comfortably worn Chudley Cannons t-shirt. Ron had even added a pair of thick, white socks to the pile. Harry cast a Warming charm on them and slipped them on, wondering why he still shivered, even though he was warm and dry.

He padded into the kitchen, where Ron busied himself with a teapot and large mugs, arranging a selection of biscuits on a plate. Harry took a seat at the table and accepted the steaming mug Ron handed him, cupping both hands around it, while tremors ran through his body. Ron set the plate of biscuits on the table between them and took one nibbling the edges. 'So...?'

'Al somehow copied mine and Gin's signatures on the form that would allow him to participate in the trial for England's World Cup team,' he said in a low voice.

'Probably a Priori noma,' Ron mused.

'A what?' Harry's brow furrowed in bemusement. He lifted the mug to his lips and began to drink the strong tea.

'Priori noma,' Ron repeated. 'You don't trust things like Dictation quills, so I don't expect you'd have much use for that spell.' Ron sipped his tea. 'If you sign something manually, you can use the spell on that quill for, oh, a day or so. It'll write what you just wrote with it. People who have to sign lots of things tend to use it. George and I use it to sign off on inventory lists and the like.'

'Oh, bloody hell,' Harry breathed. 'Sunday night... he had me sign a permission form for a class. He must have gotten Ginny to sign it some other time. Done it after we went to work... He even handed me a quill from the collection on my desk. Broke the tip, and tripped over himself to apologize for it. Told him not to worry and let it go. That must be how he knew which one to use...'

'I doubt that's what's worrying you,' Ron said.

'He made the team. I'm not sure if he'll start or be a Reserve, but he's going to play for England, regardless of how Gin and I feel.'

'Merlin's bollocks,' Ron whispered. 'But he has to sign a contract, doesn't he?'

'Already done,' Harry said flatly. 'And because it looked as if Gin and I approved his participation in the trial, he didn't need us to sign the contract.'

'And there's no getting out of it,' Ron stated. Harry shook his head. 'And what else is bothering you?'

'I lost my temper,' Harry admitted shamefacedly. 'Like Vernon,' he added in an even lower voice, nearly shrinking into himself. 'I almost hit him, then told him he should have been in Slytherin...'

'We all say things we don't mean in anger,' Ron cajoled. 'God knows I've been guilty of that on more than one occasion.'

'But did you ever strike either of your children?'

'Can't say I have,' Ron said. 'But neither did you.'

'But I wanted to.' Harry's voice broke with anguish. 'I wanted to smack the bloody smirk off his face so badly. The only thing that stopped me was Gin. She held my hand back. If she hadn't been there...' Harry's voice caught and he quickly looked away, biting the inside of his cheek. In control of his emotions once more, he added, 'I haven't felt that out of control since Voldemort...' He looked down into his mug, and gulped more of the warm tea to hide the trembling of his chin.

'But you didn't.'

'I'm a horrible father,' Harry said mournfully.

'No, you're not.'

Harry swayed from side to side. 'No... If I'd been a good father, I'd have realized what you lot were up to that game when England first tried to recruit him and put a stop to it. I might have let him play with England, so they could pound some sense into him, but it was my bloody need to pretend I'm not who I am that kept me from doing that. I let things slide between us. I let the wall stay, because it was easier than trying to break it down...' This time he broke down in earnest. 'Where did I go wrong with him, Ron?'

Ron had no answer. Helplessly, he rubbed a slow circle between Harry's shaking shoulder blades, waiting for the Sleeping draught he'd put in Harry's tea to take effect. Harry leaned forward until his cheek rested against the table. He blinked slowly, sooty lashes veiling the bright green eyes. 'You're a good father, mate,' Ron said softly. 'You always have been. Remember when Percy stopped talking to us?' Harry nodded muzzily. 'Nobody ever accused Dad of being a bad father. Maybe Al'll have to lose everything to realize what he's done...' Ron hoped it wouldn't come to that. Harry shuddered, and his eyes closed one last time. Ron carefully levitated him to the spare room, tucking him into bed like he was a small child, feeling woefully inadequate to the task of comforting his friend and brother. Inhaling deeply, he pulled out his wand, and struggled to find a happy memory. Harry's musings on Voldemort still fresh in his mind, Ron zeroed in on the image of Hermione kissing him during the battle. He stepped into the sitting room, clinging to that memory, and whispered, 'Expecto patronum.' His Jack Russell terrier Patronus shot from his wand. 'Harry's here and sleeping,' he told it. 'Go find Ginny and let her know...'


Rain pelted the windows of the ivy-covered house in Somerset, lashing the slate roof. Inside, a small figure huddled on a sofa, staring into the glowing coals on the hearth, as if she expected someone to appear there. Ginny wrapped the old afghan more firmly around her shoulders and let her head fall back against the sofa. Harry had been gone for hours. After Albus had gone up to his room, she'd gone after Harry, but he had disappeared in the fog-shrouded rain. She searched the cemetery, where she had known him to brood for hours with the memories - what he had of them - of his parents, but to no avail. She even ventured to the other side of the valley, to his parents' house. The pond in the woods behind the house. His broom was still in the broomshed. Ginny was growing frantic, but she stayed outwardly calm, her state of mind only betrayed by the incessant jiggling of one foot.

Silver light filled the dark sitting room, and Ron's Patronus trotted to the sofa. Relieved Harry was safe, Ginny let herself replay the terrible scene in the kitchen. She crammed the edge of the afghan into her mouth and burst into tears.