Albus Dumbledore Severus Snape
Multiple Eras
Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire Order of the Phoenix
Published: 10/14/2004
Updated: 11/05/2004
Words: 419,861
Chapters: 24
Hits: 157,499

Harry Potter and the Veil of Mystery


Story Summary:
Suddenly with a higher profile after being proved right about Voldemort's return, Harry's use of Voldemort's name around Hogwarts gains popularity. It also attracts Voldemort's attention in the form of a series of attacks, and Harry soon finds that he is shouldering a burden even greater than the prophecy--the likelihood that Sirius's fate could come to his friends, who will stop at nothing to protect him.

Chapter 22

Chapter Summary:
Impulsive as usual, Harry makes a decision that will change his life; as the end of the year draws near, he takes up a new subject, and wonders how he will get through the events foretold by the most recent prophecy.

Chapter 22

The Joining of Hands

As May ended and June began, Harry felt as though it was his most fulfilling yet trying time ever at Hogwarts. He was happily in love, and all other aspects of his life were positive except one. Dumbledore's impending death hung over him like a shadow much of the time; he felt free of it mainly when in the presence of Ginny, Fawkes, or Dumbledore himself.

To Harry's great pleasure, Dumbledore had suggested that Harry and Ginny join him for a regular dinner on Sunday nights. They had to be discreet, however, as while Harry having dinner with Dumbledore was fine since he was a teacher, it could not get around the school that Ginny was as well, since having dinner with the headmaster could be considered special treatment. Harry's other four friends knew, of course, and were happy for them that they got to do it.

He had not told Ginny of the latest prophecy, or of the confrontation-Harry assumed it would be one, anyway-that would happen in early summer. He knew she would worry uselessly, and he didn't even know for sure that he would be involved. He assumed he would be, but the prophecy had not said it specifically, just that he would 'later' have the opportunity to defeat Voldemort. Hermione's plea that he not sacrifice himself for her suggested he would be there as well, but he didn't think she knew much more that he did, so she may have been guessing, he felt. He wondered how much, if anything, she had shared with Neville

After Auror training on the second Saturday of June, Harry met Ginny and they went to Harry's office. Harry had scheduled a fireplace call with Archibald Dentus, and while Ginny would not participate in the talk, as Harry's head would be in the fireplace, she wanted to be with him and hold his hand while he talked. "I want to be with all of you, but I'll take what parts of you I can get," she joked.

Harry found that Dentus was in his living room waiting for him. "Hello, Harry, good to see you. How have you been doing? Very busy, as usual?"

"Yes, I'm afraid so," he answered. "Sometimes it seems like if I could stay awake all twenty-four hours it might be enough, but as it is..."

"I understand, you have quite a few burdens, and one responsibility which is very pleasant, but requires time and attention as well. Speaking of which, how are things with you and Ginny?"

"Really good, thanks," Harry said. "I still get the feeling sometimes when people look at us that they think we're overdoing it, or can't really be this committed to each other this young. But I try not to let it bother me."

"Good idea, Harry," Dentus agreed. "Only you can really know what's going on. I've always been especially close to my wife; in fact, I welcomed quitting my Ministry job two years ago because it meant I was able to spend more time with her."

"I was wondering, Archibald, now that the Ministry's gotten onto the right track about Voldemort, did you consider rejoining?"

Dentus chuckled. "It isn't the kind of thing that you can just leave and rejoin," he explained. "I had a position of a certain level of authority and influence, and when I left, someone else took that position. Such positions are highly coveted within the Ministry, and for me to get it back would mean someone would have to vacate it, which is highly unlikely. But it's all right, I'm content as I am. Interestingly, I have almost as much influence as I did before I left, partly because I'm respected and listened to by high-level Ministry people, and partly because of the circumstances under which I left."

"You mean, because you turned out to be right," Harry said.

"Exactly. That counts for a lot in politics. Well, there's really only one thing I can tell you that would interest you: some people at the Ministry are talking about the idea of suspending the issuing of new Apparation licenses until the ARA has expired. Their public argument is that we don't need to be giving licenses to people who aren't going to be allowed to Apparate anyway, and that as they're young, they'll just be tempted to Apparate in violation of the ARA."

"But they might need to for emergencies," Harry said.

Dentus half-shrugged. "The problem with that argument is that the most likely emergency need for it would be a Death Eater attack, and they always put down anti-Disapparation fields before they attack, so it's not going to do them any good anyway. And really, that's true. The other most likely genuine emergency would be a serious health problem, but that's very uncommon among seventeen-year-olds, and most people in serious condition don't have enough strength to Disapparate anyway."

"I really don't like this," said Harry. "But you knew that, that's why you told me."

"I suspected you wouldn't be happy," Dentus agreed. "But I'd be curious to know your reasons."

Harry thought for a few seconds; as he did, he gripped Ginny's hand, and felt her grip his in return. It was easy to forget sometimes when you talked through a fireplace that you weren't really where the other person was. "I can't think of a... logical argument against it, not yet, but I think that continuing to issue the licenses would be a way of saying, 'this is only temporary, we'll stop this as soon as we can,' but stopping giving them seems like a step towards making the situation more permanent. I know people would claim it wasn't, but it just seems that way."

Dentus nodded. "You may not know much about politics, but you have good intuition. Yes, that's my problem with it as well. I don't have a 'logical' argument against it either, but I don't like the direction it points in. The problem is, it's hard to gather opposition to a proposed regulation that you simply don't like the smell of; you have to have better reasons than that. They can also say that it improves the Ministry's manpower situation; with fewer people giving unnecessary licenses, there would be more people who can do things to fight against Voldemort. The problem is, the reality is that it won't happen that way; the extra manpower will probably get taken by whichever part of the Ministry has the most influence at the time. But again, you can't make an argument based on things you know but others can easily deny, even though they know it's true as well."

Harry smiled to make clear that what he was about to say wasn't directed at Dentus personally. "You know, sometimes it's depressing to talk to you about this, Archibald. All I do is learn things about human nature that I'd rather not know."

Dentus chuckled. "Maybe we should talk about women, then, or some other more pleasant topic. I do know what you mean, Harry. I remember what I said the first time we met, that I felt like I had told you there was no Santa Claus. I'm helping you get rid of your innocence, at least one facet of it, and innocence is sweet. I mean, I thought it was cute, how innocent you were. But for you, right now, innocence could be dangerous, so there we are. But don't be too discouraged. In some ways, politics is the arena in which we see people at their worst, which means that in general, they aren't that bad, and many are very good."

"Why is it that people are at their worst in politics?" Harry wondered. "Is it that hard to find good people to be in politics? I mean, you were."

"Thank you for the compliment, Harry. But note the word 'were.' The kind of reasons I left for are exactly why many good people don't get involved with it in the first place. They see too many things happen that disgust them, and they can't do too much about it. Also, politicians are rewarded for behaving selfishly. They get to stay in office if they do what's popular, as opposed to what's right. It's up to the people to decide what's popular, so politicians are only as effective as the people are in deciding what's popular.

"Also, in the Ministry itself- excuse me just a minute, Harry." Dentus turned in his chair, looked at his hand, and spoke quietly for a few seconds. He turned back to Harry. "Sorry. I was saying, within the Ministry itself, people are rewarded for careerism, for going along with the leadership whether they think it's right or not. Not to speak ill of the dead, but Percy Weasley was an excellent example of this. Contrarily, Arthur Weasley, a good man who would do the right thing, is content to stay in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office because he has no interest in the infighting and moral compromises necessary to achieve a position of influence. Anyway, careerism tends to get everyone pulling the same way even if it's the wrong way, as we saw last year. I could go on, but I've probably depressed you enough for one day."

As Dentus talked, Harry felt Ginny let go of his hand, then hold his wrist in one hand while gently caressing his hand with her other one, occasionally stopping to kiss the back of his hand. He almost smiled, but managed not to, and tried to focus harder on what Dentus was saying while enjoying what Ginny was doing. He wondered if she was having some fun with him, deliberately trying to distract him.

"Well, I guess it's better that I know this kind of thing," Harry said reluctantly. "About the licenses, do you think I should say something publicly about it?"

Dentus shook his head slightly. "I'd say, only if you feel especially strongly about it. The problem is, the more you speak, the less an impact you'll have every time you do. Getting the ARA through was a good time to do that; we've seen it's helped save lives, and it might not have happened without you. You want to save speaking publicly for issues that are very important. This one is annoying, but not that important, and hard to fight against. Also, it might look like you're mainly thinking of your Hogwarts friends."

Harry wanted to say something publicly, but he recognized that Dentus was right. "Okay, that makes sense," he agreed. "Excuse me, but... were you speaking into your hand just then?"

"Yes, Harry, to my wife. Why?"

"How does that work? I've never seen anyone speak into their hand before."

Dentus looked surprised. "Sometimes I forget you didn't grow up in the wizarding world, and I guess there aren't that many married Hogwarts professors anyway. It's a way for married couples to stay in close touch with each other, though not many people have it done anymore. It was done a lot more a few hundred years ago. When it's done, it's part of the marriage ceremony, and it's called the Joining of Hands. Someone-very few wizards or witches know how to do this anymore-casts a complicated spell over the couple, and the result of it is that they can communicate with each other anytime, as you just saw me do. By willing it to happen, I can see my wife's face in my hand, and I can talk to her, at whatever distance."

Harry was surprised he had never heard of this; obviously, the Weasleys didn't have this. "That sounds really convenient. Why isn't it done much anymore?"

Dentus looked at Harry with a shrewd expression. "I see I've piqued your interest. It's not done much because it more or less went out of style, and there are potential problems. First of all, it's irreversible; if you ever separate from that person, they're still in your palm if you choose, and you're in theirs if they choose. A lot of popular fiction has been written where people get this done and end up breaking up tragically, and then the Joining haunts them for the rest of their lives, their former partner obsessively checks on them, and so forth. There were also a few real-life situations where the Joining ended badly for prominent people, so it was a combination of things that caused it to lose popularity. Also, this can't be confirmed, but some people who had it done whose partners died said that their hands ached for the rest of their lives. Maybe it's just a legend, I don't know. I suppose my wife or I will find out someday." The look on Dentus's face suggested to Harry that Dentus hoped that he and his wife would die at the same time.

"Why did you have it done, if it's not that common?"

"I guess we were both romantic types, and we were very much in love. Still are, of course, though that's always different when you get older. I think it's considered a grand romantic gesture, maybe even a bit overblown to some people. A lot of people think it's not necessary, that they can always be together by Apparating, so there's no point in being able to communicate this way. My wife and I just liked the way it made us feel connected. I see from your expression that it's something that interests you."

Harry nodded. "It sounds great," he said enthusiastically. "Is it something that Professor Dumbledore can do?"

Dentus chuckled. "Yes, he can. I think a lot of people go to him when they want it done; it's best to have it done by as strong a wizard as possible. But it's done when people get married, and you won't be able to do that for some time." He paused, thinking, then said, "Harry, has Professor Dumbledore talked to you recently about his... future plans?"

Harry's expression changed instantly to one of sadness, and he nodded. "I assume you mean, because of Fawkes choosing me..."

Dentus nodded somberly. "I wanted to be careful, because I didn't know what he had told you. I'm sorry, I know this must be hard for you, because of how close you are to him. I mentioned it because I wanted to know if you understood that he wouldn't be around long enough to do it. There are others who can do it, of course. But you need to understand, if you're going to think about it, that it's a really serious thing to do. Like I said, it's irreversible, and it's probably better not to do it if you have any privacy issues; the other person can see you, only your face, anytime they want. You can know if she does, you can feel a mild tingling in your hand anytime she looks at you in her hand. That's how I knew my wife wanted to talk to me just now. But many people think it's an unacceptable intrusion on their privacy. As I said, though, you have plenty of time before you can get married, so you can research it and think about it."

"You sound like you really want me to be cautious, Archibald... are you saying you wouldn't recommend it?"

"No, Harry, I would just say that it's not for everyone. If I sound cautious, it's because you seem pretty enamored of the idea on the face of it, and I just want you to think about it seriously, see the possible negatives as well. You strike me as the type who would go running off and doing this because it sounded good, and I mean that as a compliment."

"Thank you. It does sound good... I'm mainly concerned about the effect on her if I died, which is not exactly impossible. Well, I'll think about it. So, you said there was nothing else that I especially needed to know about?"

"No, just the usual infighting, which I could tell you about for hours and would bore you silly, though some people would find it fascinating. It doesn't interest me that much at this point, to tell you the truth, but I do like to know what's going on."

"Better you than me," Harry joked, and they both chuckled.

Dentus looked at Harry a bit more seriously and said, "I do want to say one thing, Harry. You complimented me earlier, and I appreciate it, but I don't want you to have a wrong impression. I do think I'm a good person, hopefully better than most, but I have done things in my career that I'm not proud of. Not that I've had anyone killed or anything," he added, smiling for a moment, "but small things, mostly. Things that seem defensible at the time, but when you look back on them, you see that you should have done things differently. I've done things that damaged the careers of a few people that I thought were bad, and bad for the Ministry... they were, in fact, but I'm still not happy with myself in retrospect." His face reflected his discomfort. "One way to put it is that I've done things that Albus would never have done. That's a high standard to aspire to, but a good one. It is true that most people who reach the level that I did have done worse things; my sins are minor by comparison. But I think you have this image of me as being... I don't know, pure, maybe. I just thought you should know. There are shades of gray in almost everything, and everyone."

Harry slowly nodded; he felt respect for Dentus for telling him that. He was a little surprised, but knew he shouldn't be. "I understand, and I appreciate your telling me that. I may be only sixteen, but there are a few things I wish I had done differently, too."

Dentus nodded his understanding. "I have to imagine that's the case with everyone. Who knows, maybe even Albus." Harry wondered whether that was the case.

They talked for a few more minutes, then Harry left the fireplace. He looked at Ginny for a few seconds, imagining being able to look at his hand and see her any time; now it seemed especially appealing. "What?" she asked.

He didn't want to suggest it to her, or bring it up, until he was sure he wanted to do it, for fear of how she would feel if he brought it up but then decided not to. "Nothing," he said. "Just happy to look at you." She beamed at him, as she did a lot, he thought. "I really enjoyed what you were doing," he added, taking her hand and doing to her what she had done to him.

She smiled. "I'm glad... oh, that does feel nice. Actually, I was kind of afraid I might be distracting you, but I couldn't help myself."

He returned the smile. "It did, but it was all right. I'm glad you did it."

"Did he tell you anything interesting?" she asked. He told her about the idea of suspending the issuing of licenses. She said, "Ron's not going to be happy if that happens, you know how he's been looking forward to Apparating. He'll know he can't do it yet even if he does get a license, but it'll be important to him just to have the license."

"I know," agreed Harry, "but unfortunately, I can't argue against it for a reason like that. Archibald thinks it's best that I don't fight it at all, and he may be right. C'mon, let's go get some dinner."

After dinner, Harry and the others had their usual Saturday evening session on using the energy of love. After over two months, he felt that everyone was making some progress, but he wasn't sure how much. The others all said they felt it was a good thing to do, though, and wanted to continue. Harry tried not to be impatient at the lack of visible progress, as he had no idea how long it would take, or even if it could be done.

Later, all except Pansy were together doing their homework in the Gryffindor common room. "Sometimes I feel like I can never get caught up with all this stuff," grumbled Ron as he worked on a History of Magic essay.

"I know what you mean," agreed Neville. "Even Hermione's having trouble getting it all done." Hermione looked up at him sharply. Neville didn't notice, but Harry and Ron did.

"What, is that something you don't want us to know?" asked Ron. "Don't worry, Hermione, we still think you're as strong with schoolwork as Harry is as a wizard."

She rolled her eyes. "It's not like I need you to think of me a certain way, Ron. It's just that... I hadn't noticed that I looked like that. I didn't think it was anything anybody could tell."

Neville shrugged. "Maybe only someone who spends a lot of time with you would notice. Sorry, I didn't think my saying that would bother you."

"It doesn't, Neville, really. I was just surprised. Oh, Neville, Harry, you're going to be ready to retake your Astronomy O.W.L.s, right?"

Neville and Harry looked at each other blankly. "When did this happen?" asked Harry.

Hermione tried to avoid rolling her eyes again. "It's been up on the bulletin board for a week now. Am I the only one who reads it?"

"Probably," said Ron offhandedly. "Have you ever learned anything worth knowing from it?"

"Yes, Ron. I learned when the Astronomy O.W.L. re-test is. Or, I would have learned if I hadn't already known. Professor McGonagall had me put it up on the board. You know, as part of my prefect duties. You remember prefect duties, don't you, Ron?"

Ron adopted an obviously put-on expression of surprise. "Oh, that's right, I'm a prefect! Have I missed anything important?"

Unimpressed, she replied, "Nothing that you would consider important, anyway. I think Professor McGonagall got used to the idea that I would do all the stuff that both of us would normally do."

"Are you not happy about that, or just giving me a hard time?" he asked. "I thought you liked doing stuff like that. You never complained about it before."

"I'm giving you a hard time, mostly, but it occurs to me now that I should have insisted that you do your share the whole time. I suppose it's my fault. Now that my schedule has gotten really tight, it's annoying."

Ron shrugged. "Then I'll do the stuff. Just let me know which stuff you want me to do. Why's your schedule any worse than usual, anyway?"

"It's the end of the year, Ron. You know, exams? Which reminds me, Harry, what are you going to do for exams for your students?"

Harry had thought about it. "I wanted to do what Remus did with us, the obstacle course, but I realized I couldn't, because I didn't teach the same stuff as he did, you know, the hinkypinks and stuff. So, it's basically going to be simple, I'll give them ten minutes apiece alone, and try to figure out how well they can do the stuff they've been taught. I just have to decide whether to take points off for people who obviously know how to do something, but just can't do it very well."

"Be nice to them," said Neville, with a small smile. "That used to be me, after all."

Harry shook his head. "Seems like a long time ago, Neville. I forget you were like that."

"I never do," Neville said quietly. "Especially how it changed."

A little embarrassed, Harry said, "I really think you give me more credit for that than I deserve, Neville, but thank you anyway."

"I'm the one in a position to know, Harry. You'd better stop being embarrassed about it. So just accept my gratitude and shut up."

The others raised their eyebrows and chuckled. Smiling-it was always amusing when Neville tried to be authoritative-Harry said, "Yes, sir," and saluted.

Puzzled, Neville asked, "What was that you just did?"

"Well, it was just a regular-" He looked at Hermione, who nodded. "Wizards don't do that, Harry." She explained to the rest of them.

"Ah, I see," said Neville. "I thought you might have been giving me a rude gesture. Not something you'd normally do, so I was wondering."

"I've been a wizard for six years now, and I still do Muggle stuff like that without knowing... I wonder if I'll still be when I'm forty. Anyway, yeah, I'm not going to give them a written test. All I care about is whether they can do the stuff, which I told them at the beginning of the term. Of course, this put the fifth years at a disadvantage, since they have to take O.W.L.s, but I'd rather they could defend themselves better, even if they do less well on the written sections. Sorry, Ginny."

She looked up from her parchment. "You know I'm not bothered, Harry. I think I'll do fine anyway, and you've reminded us of that in class several times, and told us to look in our books for the information. I don't think anybody minds. I think we'll do better than usual anyway. I mean, look what happened to you guys last year who'd been in the D.A. This year, with you teaching, it's been like a big D.A. Nobody doesn't care about what they're doing, and they're happy with what you've taught."

"Well, you're biased, though," he said humorously.

Her expression told him that his attempt at humor had missed badly. "Do you think I would lie to you, or say something like that just because of how I feel about you? Don't you-"

"I was kidding, Ginny," he said, sighing. "Of course I don't think that. I know you wouldn't lie to me."

She looked at him, seemingly trying to decide whether to be annoyed at him or not. "It's just irritating the way you relentlessly brush off compliments. I mean what I say, and it's not because I love you. It makes me feel like I shouldn't bother, because you always argue, you never just accept it. But I want to do it, because it's the truth. I want you to know how I see you."

My keen sense of intuition is telling me that I shouldn't argue with her about this, Harry thought wryly. "I know, Ginny. You know I have a problem with this. I'll work on it. I don't want to upset you."

"Why is Harry the one who has to work on it?" asked Ron.

"Because, Ron, the alternative is that Ginny stops complimenting him," explained Hermione. "I don't think he really wants that."

"I wouldn't think so," said Neville. "I'll take all the compliments I can get." He looked meaningfully at Hermione.

She smiled. "You're so sweet," she said.

He smiled and looked at Harry. "See? Just enjoy it, Harry."

Harry chuckled. "I know, I'll try. And no, Ginny, I don't want you to stop complimenting me. I like it, even if I'm embarrassed by it. Who knows, maybe I'm embarrassed because I like it."

"I should be more tolerant," she said, looking at him sympathetically. "You had no praise at all for eleven years, then a lot after that, especially this year. Sometimes I forget how you spent the first eleven years of your life. But like Neville said, I bet you don't."

"For longer periods these days, I don't think of it," he said. "That reminds me, I need to write to Aunt Petunia and tell them I'm not coming back this summer. I keep putting it off, and I don't want them showing up at King's Cross. Maybe I should do it now, before I forget totally." He took out a new piece of parchment.

"Anyway, Neville, Harry," said Hermione, "the Astronomy re-test is on Friday the twenty-ninth, at nine p.m. So you shouldn't forget to study for that, too."

"How did that end up working?" asked Harry. "Not everyone has to do it, I guess?"

"No, they let us do it where only the ones who want to have to take it, thank goodness," she replied. "Of course, that's only fair."

Harry thought about what to write, and decided to make it as short as possible. He wrote: Dear Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia, I just wanted to let you know that you needn't come get me at King's Cross this year. I'm going to be staying at the Burrow, the Weasleys' house, from now on when I'm not at Hogwarts. Please say hello to Dudley for me. Sincerely, Harry.

At Hermione's request, Harry read it to the others. After he finished, she said, "I would say it's kind of dry and unfriendly, but they really don't deserve any better, considering how they were to you."

"I didn't want to pretend I'd miss them, because I don't think they'd bother pretending either," Harry agreed.

"Speaking of Dudley," asked Ron, "do you think he's in any special danger from Malfoy? Now that Malfoy's out of here and roaming around?"

"I don't think so," said Harry. "He's still got that sensor, but I should ask the Aurors about that. Maybe I can get them to give me something that would recognize the signal, too. I should probably be there if someone attacks him."

The others exchanged dismayed looks. Neville said, "Good idea, Harry, because that's what we want, you running into dangerous situations that could be dealt with by Aurors." The others were clearly surprised by Neville's sarcasm, but agreed with the sentiment. Neville had an eyebrow raised at Harry, daring Harry to contradict him.

Harry met Neville's eyes. "He is my cousin, Neville, and while he's not my favorite person in the world, it's because of me that he's in any danger. I feel like I should be sure to be around in that kind of situation."

"But the Death Eaters might guess that, Harry, and attack him to draw you there, like Malfoy used Ginny to lure you into the Chamber. You shouldn't be going anyplace they'd expect you to go. You really should let the Aurors do it." The others nodded, concerned that Harry would ignore Neville's advice.

"He's right, Harry, you really shouldn't," agreed Hermione.

"I agree with Hermione, Harry, and you know how seldom that happens," said Ron, to everyone's amusement except Hermione's.

"But Dumbledore said Voldemort doesn't think to go after people like family members," pointed out Harry.

"No, Harry, that's not quite right," argued Hermione. "What you told us he said was that Voldemort doesn't do that for the purposes of creating terror. If he wants to intimidate someone, he'll just threaten or hurt them, he'd figure it's far more effective. But he clearly does do such things if he thinks they'll cause a clear, direct reaction that benefits him. Last year, when he knew how close you were to Sirius, he sent you those images knowing it would get you to come. He doesn't know that you and Dudley aren't that close, he might assume you are, and that it would work as well. I know how stubborn you are, Harry, but you have to see my point."

Harry sighed, frustrated. "I have mentioned, haven't I, that I hate it when you're right?"

"Once or twice," she affirmed, with a small smile.

"All right, I won't try to get the Aurors to let me help if that happens. Come to think of it, they might not have let me anyway."

"That's true, they're pretty smart," commented Neville. They got back to their homework, as Harry wondered how he was going to find the time to study for the Astronomy O.W.L., and whether he even should. What was he going to need an Astronomy O.W.L. for, anyway?

Harry woke the next morning at six o'clock, unusually early for a Sunday. He didn't go back to sleep because of the content of his last dream of the night; it was another one involving Dumbledore. Dumbledore was talking to him, but it was as though it was from a great distance, and Harry could barely make out what he was saying. Harry's best guess was that it was something to the effect that he shouldn't worry, that everything would be all right. I wish that were true, he thought.

He would have gone to breakfast, but he wanted to wait for the others, especially Ginny. So he went to the common room and chatted with some people who had gotten up early, and ten minutes later, Hermione came out of her dormitory. Remembering an idea he'd had yesterday, he asked her if she'd help him research something in the library later. She said, "Sure, I'll probably be spending most of my time there today anyway, except for the Neville hour. I try really hard to set aside an hour a day for him. I wish it could be more, but sometimes it's tough to do even that much."

"Same thing with me and Ginny," he agreed. "Fortunately, I don't have to work quite as hard on homework as you do. Because of Auror training, today's my only free day, and I definitely want some time with Ginny."

"Then you shall have it," said Ginny from behind as she ran a hand through his hair affectionately. "It's nice to hear you talking about me when you think I'm not there. Especially when you're saying nice things about me."

He turned, smiled, and mouthed 'I love you' to her, which she did in return. The three of them talked until Ron and Neville came down almost a half hour later. After breakfast, Hermione and Neville went off to the library, while Ron, Harry, and Ginny decided to have a fly. To Harry's surprise, Pansy joined them, saying she'd never really taken the time to fly, and that she'd like to try it. They flew slowly and easily at first to help Pansy acclimate, then flew as fast as she could keep up with. After a while Harry and Ron raced on their Firebolts, while the girls watched with amusement; Harry thought he heard Pansy make a comment about men being competitive as they passed once.

Afterwards, Harry headed to the library, letting Ron and Ginny assume it was something to do with schoolwork. He found Hermione with several books spread out in front of her, as usual. "Oh, Harry, that's right, you wanted my help with something. What was it?"

"Are you familiar with something called the Joining of Hands?" he asked.

"Sure. It's not talked about in our usual texts, but it's mentioned in some of the outside reading I've-" She broke off and eyed him curiously. "You want to do it, don't you? That's why you're asking."

"I'm thinking about it," he replied. "I only found out about it yesterday, and it sounds like something I'd like to do. I want to know more about it before I even talk about it with Ginny. But yes, I'm interested in doing it."

She smiled. "That's so like you, Harry. I should have guessed that you'd be a total romantic once you fell in love. You don't do anything halfway, if you think it's important. Okay, let's go look for some books on it."

As Harry expected, she quickly found several books mentioning the subject, and wizarding wedding customs in general. They started looking through them, and a half hour later, they talked about what they'd found. They had confirmed everything Dentus had said about it, and found a few new bits of information, such as that when the two people spoke to each other, the one listening heard the voice in their head, not out loud. They found no information about negative effects, and Harry discovered that his mind was made up. "I'm going to ask her," he told Hermione.

"Why am I not surprised," she said. Then, more seriously, she asked, "Are you doing this because she's insecure about losing you? Because, since this is irreversible, it's a way of committing to her more strongly?"

He thought for a minute, and said, "Not exactly, though that's a really good thing about it. It's mainly that it'll be very convenient, and I like the idea that I can see her any time I want. I suppose it's also the case that I like the symbolism of it, and it could help with her insecurity. But I'd want to do it anyway. And thanks for helping me with this, I know you're really busy."

"I always have time for a friend who's thinking about a major life decision," she said humorously. "Good luck." He thanked her, and left.

Harry and Ginny were going to head out to their favorite couples' spot after lunch, but had to wait for a half hour because two Ravenclaw seventh years were already there. Ginny wanted to go as soon as they saw the Ravenclaws leave the spot, but Harry wanted to wait for them to return to the castle, so they wouldn't pass them on the way. She chided him for caring, especially since the Ravenclaws were doing just the same thing she and he would be.

Harry waited until they had been there for about fifteen minutes, then brought the subject up. "Do you know about a marriage custom called the Joining of Hands?"

"Not much, just a little. Only because Mum has a friend who had it done, she told me about it once. Why?"

Harry wondered if Ginny wasn't as quick to catch on as Hermione, or if she didn't want to reach the same conclusion for fear she might be wrong and look bad. "I was thinking... I'd like us to do it."

She looked at him as if scrutinizing his eyes carefully for any hints of doubt. "Are you serious? You know it's permanent, right?"

"I know," he said, looking into her eyes. "I want to do it."

She gave him a brilliant smile and melted into his arms. "Of course I want to. I even daydreamed about this once, I imagined looking into my palm and seeing you, I can't believe you want to. It's funny, in a way it's like you're asking me to marry you. You know this is done at weddings, right?"

"I know, but you know how I feel about this. I want to be with you for the rest of my life, so I just assumed we'd get married. I just haven't asked because we're still way too young."

She kissed him on the cheek a few times, then held him again. "I almost don't know what to say. Sometimes when I think of how you feel about me, I think about how the first years feel about you. You have a hard time accepting it, and so do I. You really don't care that I'll be able to see you anytime I want by looking at my hand?"

He shook his head. "I think it'll be great."

"Of course, it won't be for a long time until we can do this, either," she pointed out.

"No," he said. "I want to do this now."

She was startled. "Now? We can't do it now, like you said, we're too young to get married! Much as I'd love to..."

"Hermione was helping me research it earlier," he said. "It's usually done as part of a wedding ceremony, but there's no law that says it has to be; it can be done anytime. As for our ages, I can do it since I'm of age. You can do it if you have your parents' permission."

"I think they'd give it," she said, smiling cautiously. "Mum would want to, and Dad wouldn't argue, he'd probably be okay too. It would be great to have it now, but I'd always pictured it as part of a wedding ceremony. I'm curious, why do you want to do it now especially?"

"I heard that it's best if the strongest wizard possible performs the spell. Dumbledore knows it, he's done it before. I want him to be the one to do it."

Her expression became somber. "And he's not going to be able to be there at our wedding..." She nodded. "I understand. Yes, Harry, I want to do it. I'm so amazed and excited that you want to, I can't believe it. How soon can we talk to Mum and Dad?"

"I was thinking... after we're finished here, we'll go to Dumbledore and ask him for permission to talk to your parents, we can use Fawkes. If they say yes, then we'll ask him at dinner tonight."

She looked at him, even more in love than before, hard as that was for him to imagine. "I adore you, Harry. I just feel so... I don't have words for what I want to say. You've made me very, very happy." She kissed him passionately, with an energy she never had before. He lost himself in the feeling, thinking of nothing else.

Dumbledore gave his permission for Harry and Ginny to visit the Weasleys, and Molly excitedly gave her permission before asking Arthur, which amused him. "I see it's not necessary for me to say anything, but I'll just say that even if I didn't approve, I would never say no, because I can see how strongly you two feel about it. I do approve, in any case. I assume you've thought this through?"

Arthur was clearly not totally reassured to know that Harry had thought about it for only a day, and Ginny for an hour, but after asking them some questions, he was satisfied that they sufficiently knew what they were getting into to have it done. They all talked for a half hour or so more, then Harry and Ginny returned to Hogwarts.

They spent the rest of the afternoon studying, then took Fawkes to Dumbledore's quarters to have their Sunday dinner with him. They talked about Dumbledore's career, and Ginny asked questions about his wife. After they had finished eating, Harry remembered something he had wanted to ask about. As he started to speak, Harry caught himself as he was about to say 'Sir...' Dumbledore had requested that both Harry and Ginny simply call him Albus at the dinners, since they were there as friends, not headmaster, teacher, and student. It had been hard for Harry to get used to, and even harder for Ginny.

"Albus, I wanted to mention these dreams I've been having... seems like I'm always dreaming about something, last year it was from Voldemort, then recently the Veil, and now... for a few weeks, ever since I found out, you've appeared in my dreams maybe three or four times a week. Nothing really happens in them, I just see your face, it's all very vague. A few times I barely remembered the dream at all, and I only noticed it because it's happened several times. Do you think it means anything?"

Dumbledore considered. "Well, the obvious interpretation would be that it may be part of the process of your adjusting to my departure. Our minds operate on both conscious and unconscious levels, and each one may do things differently. You had no particular impressions from anything in the dreams?"

"In the one this morning, it seemed like you were trying to tell me not to worry, that everything would be all right, but I couldn't tell for sure. When I woke up, all I could think was, everything would be all right if you weren't leaving, but I knew that wasn't going to happen. Do you think I'm just dreaming that because I want it to be the case?"

"Dreams are so subjective that it is difficult to say. It is not impossible, of course. One possibility, more spiritually based, is that your spirit knows that there is nothing to worry about, that our spirits will meet again, as yours will with Sirius and your parents. You do not have the context to understand this properly in your physical form, so you are given assurances which you cannot help but find vague."

"So, you think we have spirits?" asked Ginny.

"Yes, Ginny, I do. I have not had a spiritual encounter personally with someone who has passed beyond the physical realm, but I have talked to many who have. My talent as a Legilimens was not required to know that these mystics are genuine, compassionate, and highly spiritually developed. They describe communication with those who have passed away, contact with spiritual beings, and an understanding of the nature of the universe which we in the physical realm cannot fully comprehend."

"Why couldn't we comprehend it?" Harry wondered.

"Because our minds are not equipped to, and our language lacks the concepts required. To make an analogy, we have five senses, and even those do not accept all the information they could. There are sounds we cannot hear, colors we cannot see. Dogs can smell things we cannot. We are equipped to live in our physical world; our bodies are tools that enable us to do so. But it is not so strange to think that in other realms, there are types of sensory input, ideas, or information which we could not process, lacking the proper senses or frame of reference to do so."

"Is that the kind of thing that ghosts can understand, since they're not physical anymore?" asked Ginny.

"I don't think so," answered Harry before Dumbledore did. "I talked to Nick about Sirius after he died, I was hoping he would come back a ghost, but Nick said he wouldn't. He said that ghosts are mainly there because they're afraid to move on to whatever's next, they like the comfort and familiarity of their surroundings. So I'd guess they wouldn't know that kind of stuff."

"Harry is right, though perhaps Nick is being too hard on himself," said Dumbledore. "It may be better to say that they are drawn here, that they feel they still have something to do or resolve. Granted, some stay for less high-minded reasons, such as Myrtle, who wished to haunt those who had mocked her, and has become ensconced in a despair of her own making. She seems terribly sad, but she is comfortable. But yes, ghosts have no greater spiritual insight than do the still living."

"Just as an example, Albus, I'm wondering... what will happen to Myrtle, eventually? Will she just stay at Hogwarts, in that toilet, forever?"

"No, Harry, she will not, nor will any ghost. They will move on when they feel ready to do so. For some it may take a few days; for others, five hundred years, but it really does not matter. We all do what we do at our own pace. Myrtle will eventually feel bored or restless, and will choose to move on."

"So, then, what happens after they, after we, move on? You said I would see you, Sirius, and my parents again?"

"Yes, you will. Time works differently in the nonphysical realms, so it is not as though your parents will have to wait for, say, seventy years to commune with you. To them it will seem as though no time has passed. We take the idea of time for granted, but it has relevance only to us."

Now Harry was confused. "How can there be any place where there's no such thing as time? Everything we do takes time, and even if we were existing as spirits, wouldn't we still be thinking, and wouldn't that take time?"

"In a sense, yes," Dumbledore explained, "but in a sense, no. Think about how we measure time, by the movement of the planets, of physical objects in the universe. In the spiritual realm, there are no physical objects, so how would time be measured? In the nonphysical realm, things may feel as if they take time, but they do not; everything happens at the same time. I know this is difficult to comprehend, as it starts to reach the conceptual constraints our physicality imposes on us.

"But to answer your question about what happens after we move on, the answer is, we do what we choose. Many may return to the physical realm; this is what is called reincarnation. We have new bodies, a new identity, but the same spirit. Some may stay in the nonphysical realm, or move on to other physical realms. The concept of infinity is another that our minds are not equipped to handle well, but there is an infinite number of realities of which we may choose to experience, and an infinite amount of time for us to do it in. Our spirits are eternal, they can never die. Our bodies die, but they are meant to, so that we may have a variety of experience. That is why I am not disturbed about leaving. I know that, as your dream said, it will be all right."

Harry was silent, not knowing what to say. Finally he said, "It's funny... if someone else, one of these mystics, maybe, had told me this, I would have thought that it was an interesting theory, and maybe it was true, but we couldn't know, or at least I couldn't know. But you telling me is more like, it must be true, since Albus said it was."

Dumbledore chuckled. "I appreciate the compliment, but there are many sources of accurate information; it is simply a matter of recognizing them. Legilimency is a help in such matters, though most people learn in time to distinguish those who understand what they are talking about from those who do not. Still, Harry, that does bring up something I wished to discuss with you. Before I depart, I would like to teach you Legilimency, or at least, start the process. You could get by without it, but it is a highly useful skill to have. I am confident that you can be well along the road in learning it by the time I must go. I know it is another imposition on your already limited free time, but-"

"Albus, you know there's nothing I'd rather do than spend my limited free time with you, even if it was just to watch the sunset. I'd really like to learn it, also. It would really help me in dealing with Ministry types. Even with Archibald's help, I still feel lost sometimes."

"Yes, it would be beneficial in that regard in particular. Let us say, then, we should set aside forty-five minutes a day for the purpose. Is there a particular time of day that suits you?"

Harry had started to think about it when Ginny spoke. "He can see you at four o'clock, after his last class, every weekday." Harry looked at her sharply; that was their usual time to spend alone, either taking a walk outside or in the couples' places. Ginny looked back forcefully with a look that said 'Don't argue with me.' Harry looked resigned and nodded.

Dumbledore looked at Ginny fondly. "It is very generous of you, Ginny, to sacrifice your time with Harry, which I know is precious to you."

"We can find other time," she said, giving Harry a loving look. "Even if it's not too long, the important thing is that I know he wants to."

"Oh, that reminds me," said Harry. "Speaking of spending time together, there's something we'd like to ask you to do."

Dumbledore nodded. "Yes, I know what it is, Harry. I will do it." To Harry's startled look, Dumbledore continued, "Archibald contacted me later last night and told me of your conversation. He said he felt it was even money that you would be asking me to perform the Joining of Hands for you within the next twenty-four hours. I do not gamble, as he knows, but I would not have taken him up on it even if I did. In any case, I assumed that you went to Arthur and Molly earlier to seek their permission for Ginny, and were granted it. It would please me greatly to do as you ask."

Harry smiled. "I guess I should have somehow expected you'd know. I'm really glad you'll do it, Albus. It means a lot to me that it's you, to both of us. For some reason, I'm almost surprised that you agreed without giving me some warning; both Archibald and Arthur did, just to make sure I wasn't running rashly into something I wasn't ready for, or didn't understand."

"I am confident that you are doing it for the right reasons, so I am not concerned. I had it done myself, and it was never anything but pleasant. I am sure it will be so for you. When would you like me to do it?"

"We'd like you to do it now, if you wouldn't mind," said Ginny. "But we have to get my parents here. Mum said that her only condition for saying yes was that they got to be there when it was done. We should also get the other four," she said to Harry.

He agreed. "I'll get out the map, find out where they are, then go get them. I kind of wish I had your dog spell, that would be much better."

"Then you should use it, Harry. Mine is really quite simple. Just visualize the dog, and instruct it what to do. Then summon it, and it will go off and find the person in question."

Harry decided that his dog would be silver, and that it would be slightly larger, medium-sized, and shaggy; he had always liked long-haired dogs. He saw it in his mind, asked it to find Hermione, and lead her back to where he was. He also decided to specifically ask it to behave affectionately. Then he summoned it, and it shimmered into existence. It barked once, then went running off.

Ginny smiled with delight. "It's so cute! Harry, we should get a real dog like that someday."

"Then we will," he agreed. He felt more partial to dogs than cats; he wondered if it was because Sirius had been a dog. He focused on Ron's dog next; it went running off as well. Harry chuckled to himself. "What's so funny?" asked Ginny.

"That one was for Ron. I asked it to be extra-affectionate to him when it found him."

Ginny laughed, imagining what would happen. Harry summoned two more, one for Neville and one for Pansy. A few minutes later, there was a knock on the door of Dumbledore's quarters, and all four of his friends entered.

"That didn't look like his dog, Harry," said Hermione. "Did you do that?"

"Professor Dumbledore taught me how to do it," he said. The others looked impressed.

"It's really cute," said Hermione. "Did you make Ron's different on purpose?"

Grinning, Harry nodded. Hermione, Neville, and Pansy broke up laughing. Ron smiled tolerantly at Harry, giving him a friendly shove to the shoulder.

"I wasn't there, but I ran into them on the way, they told me what happened," said Pansy, still chuckling. "Apparently it plowed Ron over, licking his face and barely letting him up. It sounded hilarious."

"The three of us were in the common room," said Neville. "Hermione's came first, she figured out that it was probably from you. It was affectionate, but in a more normal way. The whole common room was watching, it was so unusual. Then Ron's came in, practically attacked him, and everybody was laughing really hard. It was great."

"Leave it to you, mate, to use a new spell and have a go at me at the same time," said Ron.

"He did it to me, too," pointed out Hermione. "Remember the class where we started on silent spells?"

Ron chuckled. "Ah, yes, that was good. So, were you just practicing the spell? Or did you want us here particularly?"

Harry looked at Hermione. "You didn't tell them?"

"I thought you should be the ones to do it. I was so happy when I saw the dog, I knew what it meant."

Holding Ginny around the waist, Harry said, "Ginny and I have decided to have the Joining of Hands done." Ron's eyebrows shot up, Pansy smiled, and Neville looked blank. Hermione explained it to Neville.

"That's great, you two," enthused Pansy.

"But why did you call us down here?" asked Ron. "You won't be doing it until you get married, there was nothing urgent."

"We're going to do it now, Ron," said Ginny to her brother. "Professor Dumbledore is going to do it, in the next ten minutes or so." Ron and Pansy were gaping.

"It was important to us that Professor Dumbledore be the one to do it," explained Harry. The others nodded, understanding what he meant. Turning to Dumbledore, he asked, "Should I use Fawkes to go get Arthur and Molly, or can I just ask Fawkes to do it himself?"

Fawkes disappeared. "It appears that you just did," said an amused Dumbledore. A few seconds later Arthur and Molly appeared, holding Fawkes's tail.

"Harry, Ginny, are you ready?" asked Dumbledore. They took a step toward him and said they were. "You must each now decide which hand you would like it to be," said Dumbledore.

"I hadn't thought of that," admitted Harry. He held each hand in front of his face to see which seemed better. "I guess I'll take the left, in case I want to be holding my wand at the same time." Ginny decided the same thing.

"Most people who are right-handed choose the left, and vice versa," said Dumbledore. "You should hold hands with your left hands, then. Please stand facing each other, Harry, a bit to the right, so you can comfortably hold each other's left hands." Harry felt a bit tense; not nervous, but he understood the importance of the occasion. He knew it was a turning point in his life, as falling in love with her had been. He was happy, and wanted to appreciate the moment.

Harry had read that there was no prescribed reading or speech that the one doing the spell was supposed to say, like in a wedding ceremony. He wondered if Dumbledore would say anything in particular.

"Harry, Ginny... I have performed this spell many times, and this is the first one that was not part of a wedding ceremony. Yet in a way, it is the ceremony itself. Part of the reason you do this is for the practical value of having a simple, easy way to communicate with the person with whom you would most like to communicate. But part of the reason is your desire to affirm to each other and your loved ones your intention to spend the rest of your lives together. Vows can be rescinded; this cannot.

"When I am asked to do this, if I am not acquainted with the couple, I interview them first, using my talent as a Legilimens. If I sense that they do not have a strong enough bond, or are getting married for inappropriate reasons, I decline to perform the spell. Though you two will be questioned for doing this at such a young age, rarely have I felt a bond as strong as yours. Both of you feel love in abundant quantity, you are friends, you know each other well, and you are determined that your relationship and your love will endure. This is the last time I will perform this spell, and it is an honor and a privilege that it be for the two of you, about whom I care so very much."

Harry felt himself tearing up, and was sure others there, especially Hermione, were as well. He gripped Ginny's hand a bit more tightly, and she his.

Dumbledore did not say an incantation, but waved his wand around them twice in a circle over their heads, once around their hands, then tapped their joined hands in such a way that the tip of the wand touched both their hands at the same time.

"The Joining is complete," he said. "You will now see in your hands the love that you see in each other's eyes, and feel in your hearts." They immediately looked at their left hands. Harry saw Ginny's face; her expression was rapturous, and he knew it was because she was seeing him in her hand. While he knew that at any given time she would look normal, or bored, he also knew that she would feel the tingling they both felt in their hands now, know that he was looking at her, and smile.

They looked up from their hands at almost the same time, wearing nearly identical expressions of love and happiness. Then they kissed, and their friends clapped and cheered. Harry stepped forward and hugged Dumbledore. "Thank you, Albus," he said, fighting off tears. "It was my pleasure, Harry," Dumbledore responded, letting Harry go and getting a hug from Ginny. Then Molly hugged him, after which Arthur did too, for the first time. He then hugged all his friends, and they him, enthusiastically. "It was like you got married," said Ron as he hugged Harry. "That was how it felt," Harry said. "We just cheated on the age thing." Ron laughed and patted Harry on the back. "I'm thrilled, mate." He went to hug Hermione, who said, "It was wonderful, Harry, I'm so happy for you," then whispered, "Ron and Pansy were holding hands while Dumbledore was talking." Harry laughed, and let go of her. Having finished hugging everyone, he looked at his hand, which showed Ginny's face as she hugged Neville. She looked over at him, a loving and amused expression on her face as she felt her hand tingle.

He thought about the wedding he would no doubt have in two or three years. If he and Ginny permitted it to be so, Harry knew it would be a huge event, over which much hoopla would be made, which anyone in the wizarding world would want to attend. He knew that what he had just experienced would always be much more meaningful and precious in his memory. Then Ginny came up to him, gave him a quick kiss, and stayed with him as they talked to their friends for another half hour before leaving Dumbledore's quarters.

The six of them walked back to Gryffindor Tower, chatting happily; Pansy stayed with them until they reached the portrait hole. In the common room, they told the astounded Gryffindors what had happened; it had to be explained to many of them. They fielded the expected questions, such as whether they were too young, and accepted congratulations. A few asked to look at their hands while they looked at each other, but Harry knew from his reading that only the people themselves could see each other in their hands. Finally, he and the other four were left to themselves.

"I suppose," said Neville, "that for you, the best part of this is that you get to talk to each other even from your beds. That'll be pretty neat."

"Yes, that's an extra bonus," Ginny agreed. "The nice thing about doing it now is that if we had done it when we got married, we wouldn't have needed it so much. Because of the lack of privacy, now is when it'll be the most useful. But as far as the beds go, we can, but we have to stop when Harry does his Occlumency exercises. If I look at him while he does that, it'll distract him, and I'm afraid that if I do it after, it might make the Occlumency less effective. So we have to stop at a certain point."

"You would anyway, of course, just to get to sleep," pointed out Hermione. "Otherwise, you'd have a situation where, say, she's almost asleep, he looks at her, and it distracts her just enough so she can't get to sleep. So I'd imagine that for any Joined couple that weren't sleeping in the same bed, there would have to be a time at which they agreed to stop looking."

"Do you think it would wake you up, if I looked at you before you woke up?" asked Ginny.

"I don't know, I doubt it," Harry said. "The tingling isn't very strong, and I think I'm not what you'd call a light sleeper."

Ginny grinned. "That's another one of those things I'm looking forward to finding out." They all chuckled. "But I have to wait a few more years, unfortunately."

"So, am I going to hear you talking to her late at night?" asked Ron, who to Harry's surprise was not suggesting by his tone that it would be a problem.

"I don't think so," answered Hermione. "The information I read said that when the couple talks to each other, the one talking can do it in the barest whisper, and as long as it's audible, the other person will hear it fine. So I doubt it'll get through the curtains on the beds."

They talked for a while longer, and it was time to go to bed. They said good night, and Harry wondered if the others were especially watching him say goodnight to Ginny, as they would expect them to look especially happy that for them, it was not really goodnight.

Harry changed into his nightclothes and climbed into bed. He picked up Reborn From the Ashes, read it for about ten minutes, then looked at his hand. He saw Ginny talking, and he saw her smile as she felt him look at her. It was obvious that she was talking to her dormitory-mates, so Harry waited until she finished what she was saying, then whispered, "No hurry, just let me know when you're done talking to them. I love you." She smiled again as she listened to another girl talking. Harry thought about putting his hand down, but he decided to just lie there and keep watching. He knew he probably wouldn't do this much after the first few days, but it felt good right then, so he just wanted to enjoy it. He watched her talk, but couldn't hear what she was saying; it seemed that for him to hear her, she had to be talking to him.

About ten minutes later, he saw her get up and move to her own bed. At least he imagined by looking at her face that that was what she was doing, only her face showed in his hand, nothing in her background. Now she was concentrating; he imagined that she was pulling back the curtains of her bed, then changing into her nightclothes. He assumed that her robe would go over her head at some point, but he never saw it; he guessed that he would only see her face, nothing else, and that even if she wore a mask he would still see her face. Finally, he felt his hand tingle as she looked at him.

"Have you been looking at me all this time?" he heard her ask in his head. "I can't be that interesting."

"Well, all I know is I'm very interested in you," he answered in as low a whisper as he could manage. She smiled as he added, "It's also the newness of it, of course. I probably won't look at you for so long when you're doing something else all the time. I still will sometimes, though, I imagine. Were they asking you questions?"

"Yes, they're being nice about it. They know this means I'm more or less married, and they know that they shouldn't expect me to join them that much anymore. They just wanted to know what I thought about this, why I did it, that sort of thing."

"Why did you tell them you did it?" he asked, curious.

"First, I said, this extremely desirable man is offering to chain himself to me, who am I to say no?" she said with a grin. Harry chuckled. "But they asked more seriously, and I just told them that I'm totally in love with you and I want to be close to you in whatever way I can, and that we're both hopeless romantics. They were impressed by that, and even more impressed that this was your idea. You know, of course I was joking about the chain comment, but I'm sure that this will help the next time I get an insecurity attack. That had to be somewhere in your mind when you were thinking of this."

"Yes, but like I told Hermione, I would've done this anyway," he said. "It's so great to be able to do this, what we're doing. I don't know why more people don't do it. I wanted to ask your parents why they didn't, but I thought it might be rude, so I didn't."

"Yes, we do have to be careful about acting like other people should do this, or like they're not so committed if they don't," Ginny agreed. "I can understand why some people wouldn't want to do this. There's a huge amount of trust involved, because you're giving away so much of your privacy."

"But wouldn't you have to totally trust someone anyway, to be married to them?" Harry asked.

"I suppose so, but I think for this, it's even more so. Or you could say, there are greater risks in the other person abuses it. Can you imagine what would happen if one of the people just started talking to the other person all the time, even when it wasn't wanted? You could drive a person crazy, it'd be this voice they could never get out of their head."

"When I researched it with Hermione, what we read mentioned situations like that," said Harry. "Archibald said it was a common subject for tragic popular fiction, which I can believe; there's all kinds of possibilities."

"Well, let's hope I don't get unbalanced and start talking to you all the time," she joked.

He smiled. "I'm not worried about that. He paused, then said, "I really love you. Funny, I feel like I say that too much sometimes, way more than I think most people say it."

"You can never say that too much," she said emphatically. "And besides, we can't know how much other people say it, since it's usually something people say when they're alone. My parents could say it ten times a day and I'd never know. They don't seem like they do, but you know what I mean. Don't ever feel like you're saying it too much. I promise you, that's not possible."

He nodded. "I just had a strange thought... if a year ago someone had shown me how I am now, I would've thought they were being stupid. I've changed so much, and the strange thing is, it wouldn't have happened if it wasn't for Voldemort."

"I think it would have happened anyway, just not as soon." Ginny answered. "You found this love within yourself, but that meant it was always there, it just needed a reason to come out. It would have come out when you fell in love; you just had a chance to get comfortable with it before that happened. But I see what you mean, you might not have been so unreserved about it. The Voldemort thing made you totally embrace it, because you felt like you had to."

"I did have to, believe me," he replied. "I barely got past those dreams in September. That reminds me... when I looked at you in the Chamber, and realized that I was in love with you, I also realized that you had looked at me like that once before, on the morning of the fourth dream, when you kissed me on the cheek. Do you remember that?"

"Vividly," she answered. "I was a little worried, because I thought it was obvious, like I had just revealed myself or something. I felt like I had told you I was in love with you without saying the words. I knew I couldn't say the words, because of how you felt about having a girlfriend. But I thought you might have known, and I worried that you knew but didn't feel the same way. Thank goodness I was wrong."

"No, I didn't get it from that," he said. "I knew that look meant something, I just didn't know what. But now I think a part of me did know, but refused to recognize it because I was so scared. I guess it just had to take some more time before I felt like I was ready."

They spent a while longer talking about how they fell in love and what they were thinking along the way. Finally, a half hour later than usual, they stopped talking so Harry could do his Occlumency before he slept. They signed off by saying 'I love you,' which Harry felt sure would be the way they would do that every night. He did his Occlumency practice, and was asleep soon after that. He dreamed, and there was Dumbledore again, saying that everything would be all right, a bit more clearly this time. When he woke up, he again barely remembered it.

They had decided the night before to, as a test, look at the other one as soon as they got up, so that one would see the other sleeping, and see whether it woke them up. Harry felt the mild tingling as soon as he woke, and looked at his hand to see Ginny's smiling face. He smiled back at her and asked, "How long have you been looking?"

"About ten minutes," she said. "It's safe to say that it doesn't wake you up, anyway. It was nice to watch you sleep, you looked very peaceful."

"I'll have to try to wake up earlier than you sometime soon, so I can see how you look," he replied. They didn't talk to each other on their hands for very long, because they would be able to talk in person soon.

Pansy joined the other five earlier than usual, eating with them instead of joining them after she ate. "I guess this means you want a report," said Ginny as they sat down. Pansy nodded. "It was really nice," Ginny continued. "It was what I imagine it's like when you're married, you can lie down in bed together and talk to each other, really relaxed. Except for not being able to touch him, that is. But you're lying down, you're going to sleep soon, but you can talk, you can see him. It's wonderful." Her face and smile made the last words unnecessary, Harry thought.

He and Ginny answered questions about it through most of breakfast, and talked about how it would affect them in their classes. "I'll bet," Ginny said, "that now all my teachers will be on the lookout for me looking into my hand. I'll have to be careful."

"Well, you can look anytime you want, as far as I'm concerned," said Harry. "If I'm teaching, I won't be able to respond, of course, but that doesn't mean you can't look, or tell me something quick if you want to."

"I'll try not to talk to you, that could be a bit distracting. But I might look."

"But you can see him all the time anyway," pointed out Ron. "What's the point of looking when you can't even talk to him?"

The girls all looked amused that he would ask the question. "I know that looking at Harry doesn't have the same appeal for you that it does for me, Ron, but-"

"You know what I mean," said Ron, rolling his eyes.

"I know. Just having fun. I think it's something about being in love, when you look, you don't just see the other person, you see their love for you. I don't know if I can explain it more than that. It just feels really good." Harry thought that was a good enough explanation.

A little later, as he walked into his morning class, he was surprised to get a round of applause from his first years. He looked at them quizzically; Helen looked a little annoyed at his being dense, and said, "It's because you got married, Professor."

"Well, not exactly, but-"

"Close enough," she interrupted, then looked embarrassed, realizing what she'd done; the students knew they weren't supposed to interrupt professors. "Sorry, sir," she said, to chuckles from Harry and the other students. "But Pansy told us all about it when she got back last night. It sounded like a wedding. I know it's not really, but she said in a way it's even more than that. You can't take back what you did."

"Why did you do that, sir?" asked David Septus.

"Because he's really brave," joked Hedrick, prompting Augustina to throw a quill at him, to general laughter.

"Because he loves her," said Helen, pointedly, to Hedrick.

"Yes, of course that's true," said Harry, "but lots of people who love each other don't have this done, and it doesn't mean they love each other any less. I guess it's just different for different people; some would be comfortable with this, some wouldn't be." Just as he finished the sentence, he felt his hand tingle. He thought they might be interested to know, since they were asking about it, so he told them. "Talk to her!" urged Helen, and the others seemed interested for him to as well. He looked at his hand and spoke in a normal tone so his students could hear what he was saying.

"You're in class, how is it you can look at me? You can answer, my students wanted me to answer you."

He listened to her answer, then said to the class, "She's in Herbology and they're looking at plants, so she can talk a little." To her, he said, "I bet Professor Sprout will know, she'll say something to me later. By the way, Hedrick said he thinks the reason I did this is that I'm really brave." He glanced up and grinned at Hedrick, who now looked embarrassed as the class roared its laughter.

"That'll teach you," said Augustina.

Harry listened for the answer. Looking at Hedrick, he said, "She laughed, and she said, 'Tell him I agree with him.'" Now Hedrick smiled as the rest laughed. "I'd better get back to my class now," he said to her, and put down his hand. He had to spend another ten minutes answering questions about the Joining before he could get on with his class.

In the staff room later, he got another round of applause when he walked in. Embarrassed, he accepted their congratulations. "Definitely the youngest married couple we've ever had at Hogwarts," commented Flitwick. "And yes, I know it's not a legal marriage, but it's a marriage all the same. You just got around the laws."

"What I wonder is, is this going to inspire other younger couples to do the some thing," said Professor Vector. "We could see a surge in this kind of thing, once it becomes known that you did it."

Harry raised his eyebrows. "I'd hate to think that somebody would do this just because I did."

"People now say 'Voldemort' just because you did," pointed out Flitwick.

"But that's different," argued Harry. "We have to be able to say his name to fight him. People don't have to be able to talk to each other on their hands."

"No, but it's what it represents," responded Flitwick. "It means that you're so in love that you'll brush aside any risks, and do what your heart tells you to do even though you don't have to, when the prudent thing would be to wait. Romantics will swoon over it, and regular people will give it a thought where they might not have before. It's also a strong endorsement of the idea of commitment. But then, you probably didn't think about how it would look to anybody but you and Ginny, did you?" Harry shook his head. "Well, if this picks up in the next few years, we'll know why," Flitwick concluded.

"I think it's wonderful, Harry," said Sprout. "But you will tell your beloved not to talk to you any more from my class, won't you?"

Harry smiled as the teachers chuckled. "I don't think she'll do it again," he said. "It's just so new, I suppose."

"If I see you so much as look at your palm in Potions, Professor, for whatever reason," said Snape, "I will give Miss Weasley a detention."

Harry chuckled, as he had no intention of coming close to that with Snape around, but McGonagall bristled. "That would be absolutely inappropriate, Professor," she reprimanded him. "You should not penalize one student for the conduct of another."

"He did, earlier this year," Snape pointed out, referring to the Snackboxes.

"He's right about that," Harry conceded. "Of course, I didn't goad her into it, like that time. But obviously he's not serious, Professor," he said to McGonagall. To Snape's sharp glance, he quickly amended, "I mean, I don't doubt that he would do it, but he knows I'm not going to do that. I'm on my best behavior in his class."

"Really," commented Flitwick dryly. "And what sort of behavior do the rest of us get from you?"

Harry thought for a minute. "My normal behavior, I guess."

Flitwick chuckled. "I suppose that will do." They talked more about his situation and his impulsive nature, eventually moving off of him as a topic of conversation. Harry reminded himself to be careful about looking anywhere near his hand in Potions.

The next few days and weeks, as usual, passed quickly. Harry found Legilimency very difficult at first, but started to get a feeling for it after the third lesson, which Dumbledore assured him was rapid progress. Harry felt it was because Dumbledore was such a good teacher. He wondered how much of it was because of the close relationship they had; neither had any reservations about opening his mind to the other, which Harry felt helped him to learn faster. In the seventh lesson, he finally was able to slip into Dumbledore's mind and see images, which were all of love. Harry was very pleased at the breakthrough, but wondered why he and Dumbledore saw such images when they visited each other's minds, but last year with Snape, it had only been images of pain and embarrassment.

"It all depends on the state of mind of the Legilimens," Dumbledore explained. "Professor Snape's state of hostility toward you was reflected in how he used the skill, and it summoned images consistent with that. It could be argued that he did so because such images will give the one studying extra incentive to shut the invader out, but such extreme measures are not necessary, as was proven later with you. Keeping out a friendly mind and a hostile mind are two different things, but a better approach is to learn the easier one first, then the more difficult one."

"So if I practiced with anyone else, their images would be ones of love, the same way," Harry guessed.

Dumbledore nodded. "If they were not, it would mean that you harbored hostility toward that person, and certainly should not be practicing with them. I was going to mention, Harry, that I think it would be advisable for you to practice this with one of your friends, if they are willing. It would assist you greatly, but I do have one caution: it should not be Ginny with whom you practice. I am not suggesting that you would accidentally see something either of you would find objectionable, but it is best not to do that with someone with whom one has an intimate relationship."

Harry doubted there was anything in his memory that he wouldn't want Ginny to see, and thought the reverse was probably true as well, but he could see the reason for it as a general principle. "I understand," he said. "I'll ask someone else." Even though he didn't know who it would be as he started speaking, in a few seconds it was clear to him who he would ask.

After the session, he went to the library and sat next to the ever-present Hermione. He explained what had happened in his lesson with Dumbledore, and what Dumbledore had recommended. She nodded, saying, "Yes, I can really see what problems could arise. I assume you're here because you want to practice with me."

He nodded. "You're the perfect person. I can't use Ginny, and Ron might do it but he'd be mortified. Pansy or Neville would be possible, but neither of them studied Occlumency like you did before the beginning of the year. You could make me work harder to get in, and help me get better faster. But, and I mean this, I don't want you to do it if you're not comfortable. I mean, when Dumbledore did it with me, it was just images of love, not like with Snape, nothing I'd be embarrassed to have a friend see. I assume it would be the same with you. But, again-"

"All right, Harry," she said, amused. "I appreciate your concern, but like you said, I'm sure it'll be fine. Yes, I'll help you. When would you like to do it?"

"Would now be okay? I just finished the lesson with Dumbledore, it would be fresher in my mind."

"Yes, okay," she agreed. "Probably I could use a break anyway. Your office?"

"Yeah, that's the best place. I'll tell Ginny while you're getting your books together." He held up his hand, and her face appeared. He saw her smile, then his hand tingled. "How was the Legilimency lesson?" she asked.

"Really good, I made kind of a breakthrough," he said quietly, but not a whisper; he didn't mind if Hermione heard. "He suggested I practice with someone else, but that it not be you. He said there can be problems if couples do that."

He saw her nod. "Probably there wouldn't be a problem, but it makes sense. Hermione, right?"

"Not too tough to figure that out, I see. Yeah, we're going to my office. I'll let you know when we're done." He saw her blow him a kiss, and chuckled. "I love you," he said, now whispering, and put down his hand.

Having collected her books, Hermione got up and walked with him out of the library. "Just curious, Harry, were you whispering so I couldn't hear you, or so anyone else couldn't?"

"Anyone else," he said. "It doesn't embarrass you that we do that, does it?"

"Of course not, Harry, this is me," she said, as if he needn't have asked. "You're thinking of Ron. You know I think it's wonderful that you do that, I would always encourage you."

"Just making sure. No, I didn't think I needed to bother keeping my voice down that low. Still getting used to the Joining, I don't want to do anything to look stupid. I don't mind looking stupid in front of you, of course." He looked at Hermione, then continued, "You know, I really appreciate that about you, that I can trust you like that, and be so comfortable around you. I might be embarrassed about something, but I know you'd always be nice about it."

"Thank you, Harry, that means a lot to me. And while we're on the subject of appreciation, I wanted to thank you for the fact that you and Ginny haven't asked me or Neville if we wanted to be Joined too, or suggested that we do it. Not that it would have been terrible if you had, but it just shows you're being sensitive."

"'Sensitive' isn't one of the compliments I've heard a lot," he joked, "but I was able to figure that one out. It would just seem rude and arrogant to think everyone else should do what we did. Even though we decided to do it fast, I know it's a big thing."

"It did make us think about it, of course," she said. "We talked about it, and it probably made us talk about our future sooner than we would have. We know it's still really early for that, and we know we don't have to decide whether we want to be together for the rest of our lives just because you did. I don't think either of us feels any pressure. We're happy with how things are now, and we graduate in another year, so there's no hurry. I could definitely imagine marrying him, and I think, I hope, he feels the same way about me. I don't want to put too much pressure on him. But if we did decide to get married, I could imagine it as something I'd be interested in doing. You two certainly seem happy with it so far."

"Seems that way," he agreed. "I guess you can see what happens with us, see if there are any problems or not."

She chuckled as they entered his office. "I certainly hope there aren't. I don't think there will be." She put her bag on the floor. "Okay, so should I try to resist it, or just let you get in if you can?"

"I think it's better if you don't resist at first. I just now got to the point where I could get into his mind, and that was without him resisting. If you resisted, I might not be able to do anything at all." She nodded, and they started. He tried to penetrate her mind as Dumbledore had shown him, but he had lost the feeling for it that he'd had with Dumbledore a while ago. He tried for ten minutes, apologizing once for keeping her from her studying, which amused her. Finally, he was successful; trying to enter her mind, he saw a series of images. She was about five years old, obviously just having cried, being comforted by her mother. She was in one of the couples' places, telling Neville she loved him, then kissing him. She was hugging Harry in his dormitory the morning after the fifth Voldemort dream, him telling her how much he appreciated her help. She was hugging her father, who appeared to have just returned from a trip, at age nine. She was lying in her dormitory bed, hugging Crookshanks. Harry withdrew from her mind.

"Finally," he said.

"Harry, to be able to do that after only seven days of study is really impressive. You should be proud."

He was gratified to hear her say so. "I suppose I am, I guess I'm just not patient with myself. I know it's a very complicated skill. I feel like it's this tiny crack in your mind that I can get in through, and it's really hard to find. But now I sort of have it, I think I could do it again. Now I want you to resist, to use what you learned about Occlumency in August."

"Okay, give me a minute to concentrate," she said. She closed her eyes for a few seconds, and said, "Okay, go ahead." He cast the spell again, searching for the spot he'd just found. It was elusive, but he concentrated... there it was. He started in, but was stopped. He felt a kind of barrier that he didn't know how to get past. He tried for a few seconds, then felt the effort of trying becoming too much, his concentration fading. He withdrew.

"I found my way in that time, but you blocked me," he said. "I'll try again in a minute, just keep doing what you did." After a minute, he cast the spell again. He found his way in, he was blocked. He poked and prodded around, looking for a way past the barrier. He would not try to break through by force; not only would it be an aggressive act, but he worried that it might provoke the kind of memories Snape had provoked in him, a chance he refused to take. He kept probing... and suddenly he saw her holding him, telling him she loved him, the first time anyone had ever told him that. He saw her hugging Ron in the Great Hall after he'd read her card, her whispering that she loved him, him whispering 'I love you, too' back to her. He saw her and Neville sitting on a bed, reaching over to kiss each other, naked from the waist up-

He recoiled, breaking the connection so fast that it was almost a physical sensation. He looked at her, mortified. "Hermione, I'm so sorry, I had no idea-"

She cut him off with a look. "It's not your fault, Harry. I wanted to help you, it's a chance I took. I was hoping that wouldn't come up, but it's not the end of the world. I know you didn't want to see it, don't feel like you did something wrong."

He felt like she should be angry with him. "I would never have asked, believe me, if I'd known that was there. How in the world-never mind, I shouldn't be asking that..." He trailed off in further embarrassment.

She smiled a little, embarrassed for him more than for herself. "You thought we wouldn't have had enough privacy for anything like that. It was over Easter vacation, at the Burrow when their parents weren't home. Ginny arranged it and stood guard for us." She paused, then asked, "Are you angry with me for letting you do that, knowing you could find that?"

His eyebrows raised in surprise at the thought. "Of course not! I just feel terrible for violating your privacy. Look, I'll try this with Pansy-"

"You know you can't do that, Harry, you're not thinking," she cut him off. "She would do it if she had to, she cares for you that much, but think about who's involved in a lot of her memories." Harry immediately understood Hermione's point; he knew that no memories of love of Pansy's would feature Malfoy, but memories of him would be bound to come up from time to time if Harry practiced with her. "Not to mention," added Hermione, "that she's ashamed of a lot of her past, and you could conceivably see anything. It would be really difficult for her."

He nodded solemnly. "I didn't think of that," he admitted.

"You would have, if you weren't trying so hard to think of someone else to do it besides me, because you're embarrassed at what you saw," she observed. "But I'm the person to do this with, you said so yourself. Ron would make a terrible candidate, you can't with Ginny, and Neville has the same memory I do. This skill could be important, and you only have a little time while Dumbledore's still around. You'll have to practice with someone after he's gone. Who? It has to be me. Don't feel bad. I'm a little embarrassed that you saw that, but I'll deal with it. You dealt with embarrassment, over love, to fight Voldemort. I can deal with this, to help you."

His emotional reaction was subsiding, and he was able to think more rationally; he could see the sense in what she said. He still felt bad, however, but he felt proud that she would do that for him. "I feel like I'm more embarrassed at what I saw than you are."

"It was a shock to you, you had no idea. I knew it was there, so I was prepared for the idea that it could show up. I decided to risk it, you didn't. I thought of warning you, but then you would have insisted on not doing it, and I didn't want that. It really is important that you learn this. Now, let's continue, okay?"

His eyes widened. "Are you sure? Is there anything-"

She looked amused at his concern. "No, that was the only time. But when summer comes, we might have to think of something else; I'm hoping things will happen that will be too great a risk for you to see."

"We can use the Pensieve," he said. "We should have used it this time."

She raised her eyebrows. "That's true," she said. "I guess I've always thought of it as a way of seeing someone else's memories. I've never seen it used for the purpose of hiding a memory, so I didn't think of it."

"Snape did it last year. Before each session, he would take out a memory and put it in there. C'mon, let's go get it."

She looked impatient. "We don't need it now. You've already seen the memory, it would be pointless."

"But if we continue, I might see it again. This way, I won't."

Exasperated, she said, "Harry, think! It's in your memory now, you can see it any time you want to. Not that you'd want to especially, but you know what I mean. It's there. It would be an utterly pointless waste of time to spend ten or fifteen minutes every time we practice this just to hide a memory you already have. Don't you think?"

Again, he couldn't argue. "Yes, that makes sense."

"Also, let me ask you something," she continued. "You've practiced this with Professor Dumbledore, you trying to get into his mind, him not resisting. Did he put any memories into the Pensieve before you did that?"

"No, he didn't," Harry admitted.

"I didn't think so," she responded. "Why not? Because he loves you, respects you, and trusts you. He figures that if you see anything that might embarrass him, you'll be an adult about it, you won't respect him less, it'll be all right. Of course we all have our privacy, it's important. But Harry, this is a very intimate thing we're doing, you have to keep that in mind. I would only do it with someone I felt very, very close to. I think everyone has things, some down deep, that they wouldn't want anyone else seeing. By doing this with you, I basically said that I trust you with whatever's in there. If you want to respect that, you can do it by accepting that, and letting me be the judge of what I'll risk you seeing and what I won't. How about it?"

"Now I'm embarrassed, but for a different reason," he said. "I'm sorry, I probably just made this worse for you by acting this way. If you say it's all right, I should just accept that. At least one of us is acting like an adult."

She shook her head tolerantly. "You were shocked, Harry, it's understandable. It's all right now. Are you all right to continue?"

He nodded, wanting to be as mature about it as she was, and feeling he could barely manage. He tried to calm himself. She trusts you, he thought, she wants you to just accept it and move on. He focused on love, and soon he felt normal again. "Okay, I'm ready. You should try to resist every time from now on." She closed her eyes, and said she was ready. They practiced for another twenty minutes, and he felt that it was very helpful; he was getting more and more familiar with what he needed to do. He recognized that only practice could help him improve, and it was definitely going to take more practice than he could do in the remaining time with Dumbledore. She was right, he needed her help.

After they finished, he said, "Hermione, I want to thank you... for doing this, and for the trust it shows you have in me. I didn't understand it properly when I asked you to do this, but I really appreciate it."

"You would do it for me, Harry," she said confidently. "In fact, in a way, you have. You've shown us stuff in the Pensieve that I think is more personal than what you saw, just personal in a different way. You trusted me, you trusted us with that. You would risk whatever embarrassment you thought was necessary to help me. But I'm glad you appreciate it. Do you want to do this again tomorrow, after your lesson with Dumbledore?"

"Yes, thanks. I really feel like I'm making progress, and that'll help. By the way, I feel like I need to know... are you going to tell Neville about this? About what I saw?"

"I thought about that... I won't go out of my way to tell him, but if he asks, or it's a situation where I'd have to lie to avoid it, then I'll tell him, I wouldn't lie to him. I don't know how uncomfortable he'd be. Knowing the purpose, I think he'd understand why I risked it. He loves you too, you know. He'd be embarrassed, but he'd be all right. And that reminds me, you should feel free to tell Ginny. I don't want her saying 'how'd it go with Hermione?' and you saying 'fine' and her knowing from your eyes and your face that it wasn't fine."

"I hadn't thought about what I would tell her," he said. "I could just tell her it's something that would violate your privacy if I told her what it was. She'd accept that."

"That's true," she agreed, "But she's the one who set it up, I think she more or less knows what happened. By the way, I assume you never found out what Snape was hiding in the Pensieve last year, did you?"

Speaking of not lying, he thought... "Actually, I did. He got called out of the room, and I couldn't resist, and looked in. He came back and caught me, was furious, and told me not to come back. That was why I stopped taking Occlumency lessons last year."

Surprised, she looked like she was trying to rein in annoyance. "So, you lied to me last year! You said you'd gotten the basics down well enough! Why didn't you tell us?"

"It's because of what I saw," he admitted, the memory causing his mood to dampen. "You would have wanted to know what it was, and I really didn't want to tell you."

"Why not? Can you tell me now what it was?"

"I won't tell you the details, but they aren't important anyway. The gist of it is that it was a memory of when Snape was a fifth year at Hogwarts. It was an incident in which... my father and Sirius tormented him, humiliated him." He looked at her, still haunted by the memory. "My father acted like an arrogant jerk, like a bully. He was full of himself, and went after Snape for no good reason, just he felt like it. I had always been proud of him, of what people had told me about him. But I was ashamed after seeing that."

Compassion in her eyes, she said, "I'm sorry, Harry, that must have been really difficult. I can see why you didn't want to tell us. But I'm sure your father wasn't always like that, I've heard lots about how good he was, too. I'm sure those aren't just stories."

"I talked to Sirius and Remus in this fireplace soon after that, with the help of Fred and George's diversions. Sirius told me that yes, they were jerks, but they grew out of it, and that Snape gave as good as he got, which I believe. It made me feel a little better. But it also made me think of how Dumbledore is always so nice to everyone, even people who don't deserve it, always forgiving, feeling people can change when it seems unlikely. If I met someone like my father was then, I wouldn't give him the time of day, I'd write him off. But everyone says he became a really good person, so I'd have made a wrong judgment, kind of. It does make it seem that Dumbledore is right to feel like he does."

She put a hand on his shoulder. "Dumbledore is right about a lot of things," she said. "Come on, let's go back to Gryffindor Tower."

In the last week of June, Harry counted down the days with great trepidation. Summer had arrived, and so he knew that the events that the chess prophecy, as he had come to think of it, had referred to could happen at any time. He felt he had internalized the idea of Dumbledore leaving-he refused to use the word 'dying' in his mind, he told himself, because Dumbledore wanted Harry to think of him as 'elsewhere'-as much as he could, but he still knew he would be devastated when it happened. Like the Hogsmeade deaths, no amount of rational consideration could take away the pain he would feel.

Part of him wanted to talk about it with Hermione, ask her if she felt nervous too, but he didn't because he didn't want to make her think about it more than she had to. He didn't know if he would be a part of what happened, but she knew she would, and the idea had clearly scared her. He couldn't talk to the others, because he didn't want to tell them about the prophecy. He took emotional refuge in being with Ginny, talking to her in his hand at night. She lifted his spirits, and he hated to think of having to get through this time without her.

His Legilimency training was going even better; he could now enter his non-resisting training partner's mind at will. Dumbledore was now working with him on the hardest part of Legilimency: looking for memories and emotions that revealed lies without the person being any the wiser. It took a great deal of finesse, Harry was learning, and he wondered if he would ever manage it. Dumbledore assured him that he would eventually master it, which encouraged him to keep at it energetically.

In Thursday's lesson, in addition to the practice, Dumbledore gave him a short lecture on what he referred to as the etiquette of Legilimency. "When you know that someone is lying, you should not say or suggest that you know the person is lying. People lie all the time, about large things and small, and you would alienate everyone you knew in short order if you did so. Simply appear to accept what they say, though you need not act as if you believe the lie. Generally, it is also better to avoid mentioning that you are a Legilimens at all; you may want to avoid any mention of it in public or the press. As of now, only your friends know that you have studied it. People may behave uncomfortably around you if they know you have the skill."

"So," Harry mused, "that was why, at Malfoy's hearing last summer, he wasn't penalized for whatever lies he told in his testimony, even though you knew most of what he said were lies."

"Yes, of course. The purpose of Legilimency is not to catch people in lies, or expose their lies, but simply to inform you of them so you can react appropriately. A few of my friends on the Wizengamot knew that I was a Legilimens, but they knew that I would not reveal what I knew of Malfoy's, or anyone's, testimony that I knew to be untrue. While highly accurate, Legilimency is subjective, and cannot be used for such purposes. It is also best not to reveal the lies of others to anybody but your closest friends, and even then, only for good reason. Mastering Legilimency would allow one to become an excellent gossip, but obviously that would be a poor use of the skill. One must use considerable discretion.

"You must also be careful to avoid using it when dealing with Ginny in particular. Not that there is any special reason to think she would lie to you anyway, but it is common for married couples to lie to each other about small things, or convey lies of omission. Perhaps she might lie about something to avoid aggravating you or worrying you needlessly. For example, I assume you have not told her of the most recent prophecy. Since you suspect that you will be involved in whatever happens, if you told her, she would worry greatly until it happened. Partly for that reason, you do not tell her. If she were a Legilimens, and used her skill on you, she would know you were committing a lie of omission. Using it on your life partner simply causes too many complications. Sometimes you may find yourself doing so unconsciously, however; what is more important is that you not do it deliberately."

"Do you ever use it unconsciously?"

"Yes, quite often. Also, one can reach a point where, after sufficient practice spotting lies using Legilimency, one can spot them almost as well without the use of Legilimency. One comes to associate certain facial expressions, mannerisms, body movements, and so forth with dissembling. They range from subtle to obvious, depending on the person. But, yes, one does reach the point where one detects lies using Legilimency without being consciously aware of it."

"Well, I hope I get to the point where I can do that," said Harry. "I know, you've said a few times that I will, and I do believe you. It just seems daunting at times, it's so difficult."

"That is very understandable, Harry. I myself did not master the skill until I was in my early twenties. I would have waited somewhat to teach it to you if I had more time. Fortunately, your now-formidable magical power makes it less difficult for you to master than it otherwise would be. Speaking of your power, I wished to ask how your lessons with your friends on the energy of love are proceeding."

"It's hard to say," said Harry. "Hermione and Neville especially say they feel like they're making progress, but it's hard to tell, of course. I guess we'll know if they start exhibiting unusually strong power or something. The Aurors will be keeping an eye on Neville on Saturdays, see if he starts changing in any way. But even if it's not helping their magic, they all like it and are happy to be doing it."

"Then that is an excellent end in itself," agreed Dumbledore. "We seem to be finished for the day, Harry, unless there is something else you would like to discuss."

"Not really... well, I was going to mention those dreams again, but I'm not sure there's more you could say. I'm still having them, not every night, but many nights. It's almost as though they're getting clearer, more focused. The message is stronger, more understandable, still the same one, that everything will be all right." Humorously, he added, "Sometimes I feel bad that if my spirit is going to all this trouble to reassure me, it isn't having the effect it should. You're still leaving, probably really soon now. Do you think it just means that in whatever confrontation there is, that will turn out all right?"

"That is certainly a possibility, Harry," said Dumbledore. "I would not be surprised if that were true, but again, it is impossible to know. No doubt retrospect will give you more information."

Harry nodded. "I guess it's nothing I should worry about. After all, in the dream, you keep telling me not to worry, it would be funny to worry about that. It's just unusual to have a dream that persistent, at least one that wasn't sent by Voldemort. Anyway, no, I don't think there was anything else. I'm looking forward to your lesson tomorrow."

The next day at lunch, Hermione reminded him that the O.W.L. re-test was that night. He nodded, amused, since she had reminded him of it for each of the last three nights as well. He had studied it the night before, but mainly so he could tell her he had, and partly because Ginny was studying it as well. Her O.W.L.s were coming up soon, though hers would all be next week, because the one-week break in classes due to the Hogsmeade deaths meant that classes would continue into the first week of July. Hermione then started to quiz Neville on which stars were in which constellations, her tone suggesting that she wasn't convinced that he had studied enough. Harry and Ginny exchanged a glance, and Harry remembered their conversation in his office on the day of the last Quidditch match.

As they ate, Hermione asked Ginny if she was worried about her O.W.L.s. "No, not really," Ginny casually answered. "I have a feeling I'm not going to need them much." Hermione frowned slightly but didn't say anything; Ginny laughed. "I'm just teasing you, Hermione," she said. "I do take them seriously, but what I said is true, at the same time. I don't know what I'll do once I'm out of Hogwarts, exactly. Remember, Professor McGonagall wasn't exactly amused when I told her on Career Day that my career plan was to be Mrs. Harry Potter." Harry and Ron chuckled, remembering their laughter when she told them about that after it happened. Not every fifth year was brave enough to make jokes to McGonagall. "But you know Harry and I think we'll want a family, and that takes more than enough time. The question is how many kids; I don't know if I can manage what Mum did. Harry's not bothered about it, says that however many I think I can manage without going crazy is okay. So we'll see."

Harry looked up. "I don't think those were my exact words," he said, aware that she wasn't serious. "I don't know if we need seven, but I do want kids."

"I'm curious, Harry, why do you think you feel so strongly about it?" asked Neville. "I mean, I have no idea what I'll want."

"I'm not sure, but I think it has to do with my own childhood. I never got to have the kind of experiences and feelings before age eleven that most kids did. Christmas, birthdays, cold evenings around the fire, that sort of thing. I never felt the love and togetherness of a family, not until I spent time with the Weasleys. I want to be able to experience it from the parent's side if I couldn't as a child. I want to be part of a normal, loving family." Looking up at Ginny, he added, "I think I've made a good start on it already." She gave him a very happy look.

"Funny, when you say that, it makes me feel like I was lucky," said Ron, "but I never felt like I was when I was a kid. Not that I felt unlucky, except for the hand-me-downs, but I guess I took for granted the things you're talking about. They felt good at the time, but it never occurred to me that some people didn't have them. And Ginny felt hard put because she didn't have a sister." To her indignant look, he added, "Come on, how many times did I hear you say that you wished you had a sister? A lot, for sure."

"I just said that when I was mad at you," she retorted. "So, yes, a lot." The others chuckled. "Right now I feel like I want us to have four, two of each. Preferably two boys first, then two girls, because girls mature faster than boys." She smirked at Ron, who rolled his eyes.

While she was talking, Pansy had sat down, having finished her lunch with the Slytherins. "What if you keep having boys, though? Are you going to do what the Weasleys did, just keep on going until you get a girl?"

"What makes you say that's what they did?" asked Ron defensively. Harry wondered if Ron was defensive because if that was what had happened, it meant that when he was born his parents had been hoping for a girl.

"No particular reason, Ron, that's just what it looks like," said Pansy. "Is it true? Did you ever ask your parents?"

"They just said that they wanted every child they got, and they were very happy about everything that happened," said Ginny. "In other words, they won't say. I guess I can understand why, though. I wouldn't want to say to my kids, I wanted this one but not that one, or I wanted something different than what happened. Mum did say once, 'All you want when it happens is for them to be healthy,' which I can believe."

"So, how did the conversation get around to what kids Harry and Ginny are going to have?" asked Pansy. Ginny explained, and Pansy said, "Yeah, I'm not sure what I'm going to do, either. Looks like the Mrs. Harry Potter job is taken."

"Yes, it was a highly sought-after position," agreed Ginny. "There's some danger, but it's very rewarding, not to mention, permanent." Harry smiled, happy to have made her so happy. I just wish there wasn't the danger, he thought.

After he finished eating, he decided to see Dumbledore quickly. He walked into the office to see Snape standing opposite Dumbledore's desk. "I'm sorry, sir, I can come back later, it isn't urgent."

"It is all right, Harry, go ahead," said Dumbledore.

"I was just going to mention that dream I had again, it was a little different last night. Maybe I'm dwelling on this too much, but it's pretty unusual, the whole set of them. Anyway, you were saying what you usually say, but there was more, I just couldn't hear it. Like a whisper, almost like the original message was at first. But there was another thing different about it; I saw a few faces, very vague... a man and a woman, and another man. I couldn't recognize them, except one. It was you," he said, looking at Snape, who looked startled. "At least I think it was you, it looked like you, but there was one difference. You were smiling, a warm smile. You looked really genuinely happy." Which was very strange, Harry did not add, though it was clear anyway.

"Very interesting, Harry," said Dumbledore. "Do you have any speculation on what it could mean, Severus?"

"No, Headmaster," said Snape stiffly. It was clear to Harry that he had made Snape uncomfortable; maybe it was reminding him that he never seemed happy, Harry thought.

"Well, perhaps you will in the near future," said Dumbledore. "Harry's dreams seem to be getting clearer as time goes on."

"Does that mean you think they're significant, sir?"

"It would not surprise me," responded Dumbledore. "Dreams can be significant in many ways. Even if their significance does not extend beyond you, they may still be considered significant. Still, I would not-"

There was a knock on the door, and McGonagall and a nervous Hermione walked in. "Professor Dumbledore, I have just received information that concerns Miss Granger." Turning to Hermione, she continued, "Your parents were involved in an auto accident on their way to work this morning. They are injured, but will recover."

McGonagall's last words didn't seem to soothe Hermione, who looked anguished. "This is because of me, I can't believe they did this," she lamented. Harry couldn't tell if the 'they' referred to her parents or not.

"I am very sorry, Hermione," said Dumbledore. "Normally, in a case such as this, it would be expected that you would go directly to the hospital to see them."

She slowly nodded. "I know, sir. I'll have to go back to my dormitory and change into Muggle clothes. Do you know which hospital it is, Professor?" she asked McGonagall.

"Wait a minute, should she really be doing this?" asked Harry. "I mean, what if this is..." He stopped, remembering the prophecy. "This is it, isn't it?" he asked, with a chilling realization. "The chess game? This was done to get you out of Hogwarts?" She nodded, looking very afraid and very determined.

"She must go, Harry," said Dumbledore. "She knows what must be done. But there is something you can do for her first. Hermione, take out your wand. Harry, please apply an Adhesion Charm." Harry did so, knowing he had been asked because his magical power had become so strong; only a stronger wizard than him would now be able to dislodge Hermione's wand from her hand against her will. It would only be a small help, though; she would still not have a chance against Death Eaters.

"I'm going with her," said Harry. "I'll make sure-"

"You can't go, Harry," Hermione said, looking like she wished he could. "I don't think it'll work right if you do. I have to go alone."

"But they're going to grab you!" he almost shouted. "They'll probably be waiting at the hospital!"

"Yes, Harry, they will," she said. "But remember, the rook isn't the one that gets sacrificed." She glanced at Dumbledore, her concern for him overtaking her concern for her parents or herself. "I'll be all right. But remember what I said, the night we were with him." She took a step toward the door, then turned and quickly walked to Dumbledore and hugged him tightly, then just as quickly left, followed by McGonagall.

Harry looked at Dumbledore, his emotions churning. "I would ask you some questions, but I have a feeling you wouldn't answer them."

Dumbledore nodded. "I am sorry, Harry, but you must not know more than you do. I know it is very difficult, but there is nothing to do now. We must wait for events to transpire, and react to them. You may want to consider making efforts to calm and relax yourself. You may find it particularly useful."

Harry got the feeling that Dumbledore wanted to talk to Snape alone, but hadn't said so yet. "Yes, sir. I'll go back to my dormitory until it's time for your class to start."

He headed back to Gryffindor Tower, trying to calm himself. He still didn't know if he would be involved or not; what Dumbledore had said suggested to him that he would, but maybe it was just a good idea to be calm in general whether he was involved or not. He turned the last corner near the portrait hole, and saw Hermione, in a sweater, blouse, and pants, exit behind McGonagall. Impulsively, Harry ran up to her and hugged her. She hugged him back and kissed him on the cheek. "I'll be okay, Harry. I'll see you soon." She walked off after McGonagall toward the castle entrance.

Harry went into his dormitory, which was empty, and lay on his bed. Fawkes appeared and started singing, and he tried to focus on love. He could only think of Hermione at first, however. He tried to tell himself that it was all for a reason, that it would help defeat Voldemort. He just wished there was another way, one where this didn't have to happen, where Dumbledore didn't have to leave. He closed his eyes, concentrated on Fawkes' song, and focused on love again, more successfully this time.

He arrived in Dumbledore's class a few minutes before it started and took his usual seat behind Hermione, except that she wasn't there. Neville, who sat next to her at the front, turned to Harry. "Do you know what happened to her?" he asked. "McGonagall just asked her to come with her, and we haven't seen her since."

"Her parents were in a car accident," Harry said, trying to keep his greater concerns out of his voice. "They're going to be okay, though. She went to visit them in the hospital."

"That's too bad," said Neville, concerned. "I'm glad they'll be okay, though." Harry nodded, envying Neville his ignorance of the situation.

Dumbledore walked in, and conversation quieted, as usual. He explained to the class why Hermione was not there, then proceeded with a lecture. For the first time ever in Dumbledore's class, Harry found that he was having a hard time concentrating on what Dumbledore was saying. He tried to focus on Dumbledore, but his attention kept wavering. He can probably tell, Harry thought, and he'd forgive me, saying it was understandable.

A half-hour into the lecture, Harry found his attention drifting again. Suddenly, in his mind's eye, he could see the Department of Mysteries, the room with the Veil of Mystery. The image lasted less than a second, but he could clearly see Voldemort holding Hermione by what looked like the back of her neck, with Hermione in obvious pain and distress. At the same instant, pain flared in his scar, though nowhere near as strongly as it had at other times he had gotten such images. It was still rather painful, and he winced and bowed his head, touching his scar.

"What has happened, Harry?" Dumbledore asked, stepping over to him. Fawkes burst into view and started singing.

"I just got an image..." He couldn't help but glance at Neville apologetically before continuing. "Voldemort, in the room with the Veil of Mystery. He's got Hermione."

Harry could see startled glances from his classmates, and a horrified look on Neville's face; Ron looked shocked as well. "Was there anything else?" asked Dumbledore.

"Yes... the image was very quick, but I'm sure I saw one thing. He was making this gesture, like this," he said, demonstrating the gesture used to beckon someone. "I think it means he wants me to come, like he's going to kill her if I don't."

The class gasped, and Dumbledore nodded. "He wants both of us to come, Harry," he said. "You must go first. I must do a few things, and I will be along in a moment." Harry stood, nodding. He found that he was much less worried about facing Voldemort than he was about what would happen to Dumbledore. How could he lose to Voldemort, be killed by him? How would that help them?

Neville leaped to his feet. "I'm going, too," he insisted. Clearly he was not going to take no for an answer, but Harry knew he would have to.

"You can't go, Neville," said Harry sadly. "I'm sorry."

"You said that last year, but we came with you anyway," Neville argued, determination etched into his face. "I'm coming this time, too, Harry, I have to. I love her, I have to help."

"I am very sorry, Neville, but Voldemort wishes that Harry and I come, no one else," said Dumbledore, looking at Neville compassionately. "If you come, he will simply kill you." Harry saw the class watching, entranced, with expressions ranging from alarmed to terrified.

"I don't care! I-"

"She would care, Neville!" shouted Harry. "She needs you, but to stay here, not to go get killed." Neville said nothing, but glared at Harry. Fawkes continued to sing.

Harry faced Dumbledore, tears coming to his eyes. "Sir, I-"

"Harry, you must focus on your task now," said Dumbledore. "Come from the same place you did in your dreams, and it will be all right. Do not worry about me. I am doing what I wish."

Harry focused, with great effort, and looked into Dumbledore's eyes. The love he saw there almost made him cry, and gave him strength, at the same time. Having totally forgotten that there was still a class there, Harry hugged Dumbledore. "I love you, Albus," he said.

"I love you too," answered Dumbledore, who broke the embrace, then kissed Harry's forehead. "An old wizarding custom, it will be explained to you later. I will be with you, but you must go now."

Fawkes was in the air, tail feathers sticking out. Harry looked confused. "I can Apparate there, he knows that."

"He thinks it best that you use him; you should not argue with him. He will be back for me, do not worry."

Harry nodded, grasping Fawkes's tail feathers. As he felt Fawkes start to lift off, out of the corner of his eye he saw Neville lunge for him, as Hermione had leaped on him when he had gone to aid Pansy. Ron, leaping to intercept Neville, was the last thing Harry saw before he and Fawkes disappeared.

Author notes: In Chapter 23: The confrontation, and the consequences.