All Tangled Up Like Balls of String


Story Summary:
He sets his bag down on the bed and lets himself, for just a minute, feel the most lost he's ever felt in his entire life. -- The summer following the war, Harry learns how to live a normal life.

Chapter 01


Disclaimer: It all belongs to JK Rowling. I'm not making any money from writing/distributing this.

A note on canon: I'm a firm believer that canon does not include author interviews; if it's not in the source material (in this case, the books), then I don't believe it's canon. Interviews are nice addition to the story, but the information given is not set in stone. As such, I've basically ignoring anything and everything JKR's had to say about these characters and their lives after the war and inferred some things based on facts given in the epilogue. Everything else is from my imagination.

Story notes: Since the first sentence of this qualifies as a drabble, I feel it's only fair that I warn for blatant abuse of parentheses and the word 'and' and my apparently inability to say anything in a straight-forward fashion. Also, I've not read a lot of post-DH fic (I actually fell out of the online fandom not long after HBP came out because I was just sick of the 'ship wars, though I never strayed from Harry Potter itself), so I hope I'm not treading on anybody's toes with the plot. For all I know, it's a cliché, but it wouldn't leave me alone until I got it down on the page, so to speak.

The title comes from "Light on a Hill" by Margot & the Nuclear So and So's.

* * *

After all is said and done and Harry's been given a clean bill of health by Madam Pomfrey (who insists on examining him herself, despite the number of healers at Hogwarts from St. Mungo's; after seven years of misfortunes, Harry is used to her and her brand of medicine and would have no one else touch him anyway), he surprises everyone who knows him by collecting his few remaining possessions (living on the run for a year had managed to whittle down his worldly possessions to a handful of items) and moving into the guestroom of Andromeda Tonks's London home.

"You know you're welcome at the Burrow, mate," Ron tells him in front of the fire at the Three Broomsticks (which is the only active Floo point in all of Hogsmeade for the foreseeable future), but Harry can't go back there, not now, maybe not ever (though he probably will at some point that he can't even think about right now, a point when Fred's death won't be all he can think about whenever he sees red hair).

"I know," is all that Harry can get out before he feels his voice starting to crack, with grief or anger or despair or any other the other million emotions he's feeling right now, he isn't certain which.

"It's just," Ron continues, not cottoning on to the fact that Harry doesn't want to talk anymore, let alone about this, "Mum's worried that you think you're not welcome unless you're invited, but you know you're always welcome, right? You're like family. I'm sure Mum likes you better than she likes me sometimes."

And Harry does know he's welcome. The Weasleys are the family he never had the opportunity to have and he loves them (even though he can't bring himself to actually say the words out loud) more than anyone could possibly ever understand.

"I'm sure that's not true," Hermione says and Harry jumps because he hadn't heard her walk up (and wouldn't Moody be ashamed of him if he'd managed to survive the war). Her hair's been pulled back into a tight braid and she's wearing someone's borrowed jumper and she doesn't even look like Hermione anymore that it takes him a second to connect her voice to her face. She slips into her new place next to Ron, her hands wrapped around his arm, and turns to face Harry. "There's no changing your mind, is there?"

Harry shakes his head, his fists clenching at his sides when he sees how red and sunken Hermione's eyes are compared to the rest of her too-pale face. "I have to go," he says, not caring anymore that his voice is rough. "I can't explain it because I don't understand it myself, but I can't--" He cuts himself off, not sure what he was going to say but knowing he can't say it.

Hermione disentangles herself from Ron and Harry's ready when she throws her arms around his neck and buries her face in his shoulder (but he's not ready for how different it feels when her hair isn't covering his face and getting in his mouth and up his nose with every breath he tries to take). He squeezes his eyes shut and hugs her just as tightly as she's hugging him because he's done with taking things for granted and that includes Hermione's sometimes overwhelming displays of emotion, no matter how embarrassed they make him feel.

"You'll write," she says into his shirt and it's not a question, but he nods anyway, not that she can see. "And we'll see you on your birthday. And we'll come visit you in London if you want, but you'll have to let us know because we're no better at reading your mind now than we've ever been."

Harry nods again when Hermione finally lets go of him before Ron pulls him in a quick, back-slapping embrace. Ron's face is red (and Harry is sure that his is, too, if the heat in his cheeks is any indication), but he doesn't look overly embarrassed, so Harry tries to act normally.

"Tell your Mum thanks for me," Harry says, glancing down at the small bag on the floor at his feet which contains a few changes of clothes (Neville had donated most of what Harry now calls his wardrobe) and a handful of books (including, but not limited to, Quidditch Through the Ages and Hogwarts: A History, all from the Hogwarts library). "She can plan my birthday, if it'll make her feel any better."

All three of them smile and for a moment, it almost feels like old times, before the war heated up, when they could still pretend to be children. But the moment doesn't last long and Harry, suddenly unwilling to prolong this goodbye any longer, mutters, "So I'll see you later, yeah?" before taking a pinch of Floo powder from the pot on the mantle and stepping into the fireplace.

The last things he sees before the green flames obscure his vision are Hermione's bloodshot eyes locked onto his and then he's spinning, whirling, careening out of control through the Floo network. After what feels like forever, he finds himself stumbling out of Andromeda's fireplace and tripping over his own feet (feeling so much like Nymphadora Tonks that his chest starts to ache) and landing with his face pressed against the rough carpet covering the drawing room floor, his glasses cutting painfully into his cheeks.

There's a burst of childish laughter and Harry realizes that Andromeda and Teddy must have been waiting for him and he feels his cheeks burn in embarrassment; he's fought against Death Eaters, survived Hagrid's classes, and defeated the Dark Lord, but still manages to fall on his face while exiting the Floo. He summons his Gryffindor courage and turns his head slightly, the embroidered hem of violet robes coming into view.

"Hello, Harry," Andromeda says as Harry rallies and pushes himself to his feet. He's only ever spoken to Andromeda through the Floo, so he's surprised to notice that she's shorter than he is (which is a miracle, or a curse, depending on how one looks at it, since he's not exactly what one would call tall, or even average in height). She's got Teddy (who's hair is currently the same shade of violet as Andromeda's robes) propped on her right hip; she reaches for Harry with her left hand, pulling him into a sort of half-hug. Teddy yanks at Harry's shirt before he's pulled away by his grandmother.

Oh, God, Harry thinks, his eyes locking on the infant in front of him (who's part of the reason Harry decided to come stay with Andromeda instead of sucking it up and staying at the Burrow). It's the first time he's seen the boy in person. He's got Remus's nose and Tonks's ears and that's just an unfortunate bit of genetics, that is. This is my godson. Oh, God.

Andromeda's hand is grasping Harry's forearm, gently tugging him forward and that's when he realizes that she's walking and trying to get him to follow and he's certain he's never been as inattentive before in his entire life as he's been today. "I thought you'd like to settle in before lunch," Andromeda says, steering Harry out of the drawing room and towards the stairs set against the wall in the hall. "If you're feeling up to it, we can go into town tomorrow and get you some things, clothes and the like. There are some basics in the bathroom," and here she lets go of him to gesture to the first door on the left, "but I didn't want to presume on some things."

"Tomorrow would be great," Harry says just to say something. He gets the feeling, though, that Andromeda's not expecting him to be chatty and is speaking more to fill the silence than to hold an actual conversation (which is something her daughter used to do, making it easier for Harry to see her as Tonks's mother, besides the obvious physical similarities). "If you don't mind going into Muggle London, that is. I'm not sure I'm ready to face Diagon Alley yet." He pauses as he thinks about the fragments of his old wand (the one that saved his life more times than he can count) and about the Elder Wand, safe in Dumbledore's tomb back at Hogwarts. "I will need to get to Ollivander's soon, though. I need a new wand."

Andromeda nods as she pushes open a door at the end of the hall and gestures Harry through. He's glancing about his new room (bed, chest of drawers, wardrobe, small writing desk and chair, and two windows set in adjoining walls) when Andromeda says, "I'm not certain Ollivander's is open quite yet, but I'll send him an owl and see if he can get you in early. Avoid the crowds and all that."

Harry's grateful for Andromeda's thoughtfulness, but he doesn't know how to express that gratitude. His friends have always known (at least he hopes they know; he couldn't stand it if everyone thought he was an ungrateful bastard) and he doesn't have any practice saying 'thank you' except in a shallow, perfunctory way. Very, very rarely has he said it and actually meant it.

But he has to try, so he says, "Thank you," and tries to meet Andromeda's eyes, but she's looking out the window, a slightly vacant look on her face, bouncing Teddy on her hip, who is gumming madly on his fist. Andromeda nods.

"I'll leave you to get settled," she says, turning towards the door, still not meeting Harry's eyes, and he wishes he knew why she won't look at him since it would make future interactions with her more pleasant and easier to understand. "There'll be lunch waiting when you're ready."

And then she's gone and Harry's alone in his new generic bedroom, missing the Gryffindor pendants he used to keep up at the Dursleys's (more as an act of defiance than out of any House pride), the smell of Hedwig's cage when he left the cleaning of it off for too long, even the dust and decay of Grimmauld Place.

He sets his bag down on the bed and lets himself, for just a minute, feel the most lost he's ever felt in his entire life.

* * *

Dear Ginny,

Please don't burn this letter before you read it. I know you must hate me. I just want to say I'm sorry. For everything. I'm sorry I left without saying goodbye. I'm sorry I didn't trust you enough to tell you what I was doing this past year, though I'd like to share the blame with Dumbledore since he's the one who ordered me not to tell. I'm sorry you've had to suffer so much because of the war.

I hope someday you can forgive me and that we can still be friends when that day comes.


What Harry didn't write (what he wanted to write but thought would only make Ginny angrier at him than she already was) was: I miss how you were always able to make me feel ridiculous about being so angry. I miss how you could always make me smile even when that was the last thing I wanted to do. I just plain miss you. Please forgive me.

* * *

Harry's never been around an infant before, so living in the same house as Teddy takes some getting used to. For the most part, Teddy seems to be an agreeable baby and really only fusses when he's hungry or needs his nappy changed or if he thinks he's being ignored. He very rarely gets up in the night and even then, Andromeda's the one who takes care of the midnight fussing. Harry's beginning to think that he can help take care of an infant with no problem.

And then Teddy gets colic.

"Doesn't he ever stop crying?" Ron asks on his and Hermione's first visit to London that summer, a few weeks after their goodbye in Hogsmeade. Harry's pacing back and forth in the kitchen, bouncing slightly, trying to calm Teddy. Andromeda's upstairs with a silencing charm placed around her bedroom, trying to make up for all the extra sleep she's lost lately. Hermione is fixing tea.

"Not very often," Harry answers, giving Teddy his finger to chew on, which hurts a bit more than Harry would have expected, seeing as Teddy's got no teeth (but it doesn't hurt as much as most of Harry's Quidditch injuries or being tortured, so he ignores the little bit of pain for the most part). Teddy's hair slowly fades from the same shade of red as his flushed face to black as he calms down.

"You're very good with him," Hermione says and then gasps as she turns and sees Harry holding the baby, her eyes going wide. She's silent for a long moment while Harry and Ron (and Teddy) stare at her in confusion. "I'm sorry. It's just that Teddy looks a lot like you right now," she finally says, gesturing vaguely with one hand. "You reminded me of one of your photos of your dad holding you when you were a baby."

Harry's not surprised. Andromeda's remarked on the similarity before and all Harry can think is that the baby's been morphing to look like Harry, bit by bit, and it makes Harry sad. Remus's nose has been replaced, for the most part, with the nose Harry inherited from his father. When Teddy's calm, his hair tends to stray to black, more often than not, though Andromeda has black hair, too, so that's not too unusual. But Harry doesn't want the baby to look like him. He wants the baby to look like Remus and Tonks and Andromeda and Sirius and his actual family, not an interloper like Harry.

But he can't say that, so he simply says, "I know," and steps around Hermione to make Teddy a bottle.

* * *

Dear Neville,

That's great news, mate! You've always been an ace at Herbology, so it's really no surprise, but I'm still happy for you. Are you thinking about teaching, then, when your internship's over? From what I've heard, I think you'd be great at it. You'll have to let me know how it all goes.

I'm still trying to decide what I'm going to do. For now, Teddy's keeping me busy and Andromeda's not exactly letting me just lounge around the house, ha ha. But I'm enjoying it, and I guess that's all that really matters, right?

In case Mrs. Weasley forgets, I just wanted to let you know that you're expected to be at the Burrow for my birthday. And yours, too, if you want. Wouldn't it be great to have a joint party? Just let Mrs. Weasley know if you're interested.

At any rate, I've got to go. Andromeda's insisting it's time to teach me how to make her 'famous' spaghetti sauce. Have a good rest of the summer and I'll see you at the end of the month.

Your Friend,


* * *

The second week of July, Harry's called into the Ministry to account for his actions over the last year and to give testimony about the battle at Hogwarts. Minister Shacklebolt wants to start holding trials as soon as September, but needs to know who should be charged with what before anything is done and that's where Harry comes in. He tells Kingsley that he'll tell the whole wizarding world what happened at Hogwarts, but if the Minister wants to know about the year as a whole, it'll have to be in private. Harry's not willing to let just anyone hear about the horcruxes (at least not more than was heard while he and Voldemort fought and goaded one another on in the Great Hall at the end); there's too much risk involved in letting the general public (or even just select Ministry officials) learn too much about them.

It's the first time Harry's been seen out an about in the wizarding world since he left Hogwarts and he almost wishes he'd accepted Andromeda's offer of company today, but he couldn't stand subjecting her and Teddy to the attention of the media and everyone else with eyes. He isn't too proud, though, to refuse to enter the Ministry without Ron and Hermione by his side.

If anything, the stares have gotten worse since he's gone into his self-imposed exile from the wizarding world. He's heard the rumors, of course, that he's gone mad and is locked up in St. Mungo's or that he's run away to America to live out his life as a Muggle (because everyone knows that wizarding culture is practically nonexistent over there) or that he actually died fighting Voldemort and that his ghost has been spotted haunting the Forbidden Forest. He never would have thought that people would believe the stories, but he shouldn't be surprised; it's not like people haven't believed just about anything about him before.

Harry spends all morning in front of the Wizengamot, answering question after question, many of them repeats, as if those asking are trying to catch him up in a lie (which is completely possible; it wouldn't be the first time, after all). He tells them about Snape's death and the memory given to him before that happened (though he leaves out any mention of his mother), about Narcissa's lie to Voldemort that saved Harry's life (despite the fact that she didn't do it for Harry, but for her son), about pretending to be dead because it was the only way for him to get back into Hogwarts and try to defeat Voldemort.

He leaves out any mention of the Hallows. Some things, he think, are better left believed to be nothing more than a children's story.

He can't give an adequate explanation as to why Voldemort's killing curse in the Forest didn't kill him because he doesn't know the answer. He's spent hour upon hour thinking about it, wondering why he survived, why they both survived, but he can't come up with anything. He's made his peace with the fact that he'll never know the answer, but the Wizengamot hasn't and they spend almost an hour on this point alone. Harry's exhausted by the time he's dismissed and everyone breaks for lunch.

After a short lunch with Ron and Hermione, Harry is led into the Minister's office while his friends are escorted back before the Wizengamot to give their own testimony of the battle and to account for their own actions during the fighting. Kingsley gestures him to sit in the overstuffed armchair in front of his large desk (which is covered almost completely in parchment and what looks like dozens of books).

Kingsley looks exhausted, Harry thinks, even more than he did the last time he saw him, at Hogwarts (where everyone looked to be on the brink of collapse after endless hours of fighting, which makes Kingsley's appearance now all the more shocking). Harry's sure that if Kingsley stopped shaving his head, the hair that grew back in would be mostly grey.

"What's with the chair?" Harry asks, settling into his seat. "It looks a little out of place."

"I thought you'd like to be comfortable, since I've no doubt the chair you were in all morning was quite hard," Kingsley tells him, pulling out a stack of clean parchment and setting it in the middle of his desk. He taps his wand to a quill, mutters a charm, and stands it, point up, on the parchment. "Transcription," he says before he leans back in his chair. "As much as I understand the need to keep this quiet, I still need a written record of what you were doing this past year. Any information that I deem to be too dangerous to release will never leave this office."

Harry nods. He trusts Kingsley (has before and would again trust Kingsley with his life); Harry knows that no one will hear about horcruxes or Hallows from either of them.

And so Harry begins speaking. He starts with his private lessons with Dumbledore, nearly two years ago now, about what he learned about Tom Riddle's past. Kingsley listens intently, his eyes rarely leaving Harry's face; Harry's eyes, for the most part, follow the path of transcription quill across parchment, watching his words bleed onto the page. The only time he meets Kingsley's gaze is when the other man asks a question that Harry has to answer directly. This doesn't happen often.

Kingsley has Harry pause as he's speaking about their capture and detainment at Malfoy manor; the Minister flicks his wand at the door, which flies open to admit a man bearing a tray of sandwiches and a carafe of water and only then does Harry realize he's famished. A look at his watch shows that it's much later than he'd thought; he'd become so caught up in his tale that he'd completely lost track of time.

Three sandwiches and two glasses of water later, Kingsley prompts Harry to continue. It's harder to go on, now, to tell Kingsley of listening to Hermione be tortured, of not being able to do anything to save her. He feels almost as helpless now, just retelling the tale, as he did then.

He makes it all the way until Hogwarts before Kingsley speaks again. "I take it you did not tell the Wizengamot the entire truth this morning?" Kingsley has every right to sound angry and accusing, but he the only thing Harry can hear in his voice is curiosity and maybe a bit of mild rebuke.

"You understand why, right?" Harry asks. "I'm not going to be in trouble, am I?"

"No, you're not in trouble," Kingsley says, just the corner of his mouth pulling up into a smile. "I do understand and I applaud your discretion. You will, however, tell me the complete truth." It's not a question.

"Of course." Harry's not sure what the consequences of lying to Kingsley would be, but he's got no doubt they'd be bad. Not that he'd ever dream about lying about this; it was the lying and the omission of truth that kept the war going as long as it did and he's of no mind to continue the trend.

Harry's yawning by the time he gets to being carried back to the castle by Hagrid. This day has been exhausting, but worth it at the same time. He'll never have to go over all of it at once ever again (and if someone asks him to, he'll politely tell them to fuck off and look up the transcripts from today because there's no way he's ever doing this again). A glance at his watch shows that it's closing in on midnight.

"Do you need me to finish?" Harry asks, trying to smother a yawn with his hand. "There were dozens of people who saw what happened next. I can't tell you anything more about it than anyone else could."

"I think you've done enough for now," Kingsley tells him, plucking the quill from the stack of parchment and binning it (Harry's sure its point is completely destroyed by now). "Thank you for coming in today, Harry. I'll contact you if I have any more questions or need any further clarification."

And if that isn't a dismissal, then Harry doesn't know what is. His exhaustion only really hits him once he's on his feet; he sways a little and has to grasp the back of his chair to keep from falling on his face.

"You're not planning to Apparate, are you?" Kingsley asks, glancing over the top of the reading glasses he's perched on the end of his nose in order to look over the thick stack of parchment generated from this afternoon.


"Use mine." It's an order and Harry's not incline to disobey (which may or may not be a miracle worthy of a named holiday and celebration). He stumbles only slightly as he passes into the Floo antechamber off Kingsley's office. The green flames are blinding after the relative dimness of the office.

The drawing room is dark and Harry's trying to blink away spots in his vision when a lamp in the hall flares to life. Andromeda's got her dressing gown cinched tight around her waist, but she obviously hasn't been to bed yet as her hair's still neatly curled (and if she'd been in bed, her hair would be tousled and frizzy and she'd resembled Hermione a bit more).

"Come on, Harry." With hand on his wrist, she leads him upstairs and to his room, like she had the first day he'd been here (only now the walls aren't bare, but covered in framed photos of his parents, his friends, Sirius, Remus and Tonks, the Weasleys, even one of Harry, Andromeda, and Teddy that was taken not long after Harry moved in). "You need to get some sleep; you've had a long day."

"Andromeda?" She turns in the doorway, her hand on the frame, her eyes meeting his. "Thank you. For everything."

"You're welcome, Harry." She smiles, just a little. "Now go to bed. You're exhausted."

* * *

Professor McGonagall,

Thank you for your letter and for the opportunity to return to Hogwarts, but I have to decline. I've decided on private tutoring for my NEWTs, which I still plan on taking next June, if that offers still stands. I still plan on applying to the Auror academy and will be studying the subjects required. Will I need to register for the exams separately or is that something that can be done through Hogwarts?

I would appreciate any information you can share with me. Thanks for taking the time to help me with this.


Harry Potter

* * *

The banner hanging seemingly unsupported across the garden reads 'Happy Birthday Neville & Harry!' and Harry's almost obscenely happy that Mrs. Weasley put Neville's name first because he's just sick and tired of everything being about him (and it's about time that people paid Neville some attention because he deserves it).

It's a relatively small gathering, as such things go when Mrs. Weasley is in charge of the planning. Most of the Weasleys are here, of course (Charlie's already returned to Romania and his dragons and Percy's claimed a prior engagement, though Harry just thinks that's an excuse because he doesn't feel comfortable around his family yet), Neville is chatting with Luna, Hermione and Ginny are cooing over Teddy (who's clinging to Andromeda, clearly not comfortable with all the attention from strangers), and Harry's sure he saw Neville's gran earlier, speaking to Mr. Weasley.

"How are you, dear?" Mrs. Weasley asks, sitting in the empty chair next to Harry and patting his hand. "Enjoying your birthday?"

"Yeah, thanks," he answers. "It's a lovely party."

"It was no trouble." Harry can see her hand twitch in her lap and he knows that she wants to try to smooth his hair down, even though they both know it's futile. He laughs a little when he feels her hand on the back of his head a moment later.

"I don't know why you keep trying," he says, feeling incredibly fond of Mrs. Weasley. "We both know my hair will win every time."

Whatever Mrs. Weasley may have been thinking about saying is interrupted by Ron calling out, "Oi, Neville! Harry! Presents!" and she laughs instead, propelling him towards the presents with a gentle push.

The rest of the afternoon passes by in a blur of presents, cake, wonderful food, and a huge fireworks show orchestrated by Ron and George at twilight (which makes Teddy scream in fright and it's an apologetic Andromeda who leaves early, laden down with leftovers and some of Harry's presents shrunk down to fit comfortably in her handbag).

It's fully dark when Ginny approaches Harry (who's perched on the wall that surrounds the garden, watching the stars twinkle to life; Sirius seems to be extraordinarily bright tonight). He's spent all afternoon trying to avoid her; he's apologized (even if he took the coward's way out and did it in a letter and not in person) and it's her decision now as to whether or not she wants to speak to him.

"I wanted to le to let you know that I got your letter last month," she tells him, sitting cross-legged on the ground, back against the wall, a few feet from Harry. "I was going to reply, but I was angry, not completely at you, and I didn't want to take that all out on you. It would have been unfair."

Harry doesn't know what to say, so he doesn't say anything at all. Hermione told him last week that Ginny hadn't spoken to her about Harry or the war at all, and Harry's under the impression that Ginny's been holding all this in for a long time and he's willing to be silent if that means Ginny will talk about it. He knows the dangers of bottling everything up inside and he doesn't want to see Ginny get angry like he'd been (and still is, sometimes, when he thinks about how things could have been different if he'd just known more of what was going on).

"I'm still angry at you, but I think I'm starting to forgive you," she says after a moment. Harry's watching the top of her head and almost wants her to look up and meet his eyes, but he's scared that if she does, they'll do something stupid that they'll both regret later (although Harry's not sure if they'd end up kissing or shouting, or which one would be worse at this point). "I still want to be your friend, but I'm not sure if I can trust you anymore. I can't be friends with you if I can't trust you."

He wants to tell her that she can trust him now, but he knows she won't just take him at his word. Ginny's not like that; she needs more than words. She needs proof.

Harry can give her that proof.

"How much have Ron and Hermione told you about what we were doing?" he asks.

"Not much," she says, finally looking up at Harry. Her eyes are very dark and Harry feels his chest clench. He's missed her so much. "They said it wasn't their story to tell, that you'd talk about it when you felt like talking about it and not a minute before. Hermione warned me not to push you."

"You're not pushing me," Harry reassures her, hopping down from the wall and sitting next to Ginny on the ground, his knee touching hers. "I was just trying to protect you, you know. I thought that the less you knew at the time, the less I thought about you, the less I tried to care about you, the safer you'd be. I didn't realize until after everything was over how stupid I was."

"I'm glad you realize you were being an idiot about it," Ginny says with a smile, leaning over and nudging his shoulder with hers, "because that means I can save my energy by not trying to beat that into your head."

Harry laughs and nudges her back. "I'm glad, too, because I'm not sure I'd survive that encounter."

They're quiet for a moment and Harry's just enjoying being around Ginny again, with no fear, no expectations, just friendship.

"Are you ever going to tell me what happened?" she asks, her voice quiet and serious and Harry know she's asking about more than just his year on the run. She's asking about Voldemort and the Forest and his running away to live with Andromeda.

"Yes," he tells her, "but not tonight." He's having a hard time meeting her eyes, but at the same time, he can't bring himself to look away. He doesn't want her to think he's being anything but truthful and Ginny knows he can't lie while meeting someone's eyes (damned inconvenient at times, but useful now, when he's trying to regain her trust).

"Okay," she says and then she leans her head against the wall, looking up at the sky. Harry's heart jumps in his chest when he feels her hand on his. "I never hated you, you know. I don't think I could ever hate you."

Harry has to swallow the lump in his throat before he can speak. "I'm glad. I don't think I could stand it if you hated me."

They sit in silence for a long time, their eyes on the stars, Ginny's hand in his, listening to the wind stir the long grass on the other side of the fence. Harry's almost surprised at how content he feels right now, how Ginny's always been able to make him feel content, even when life's been less than stellar. He's not sure he ever wants this moment to end.

But all moments end and this one ends with Ginny yawning and saying "I'm going to head up to bed now. Mum's insisting on an early start tomorrow." She presses a gentle kiss to Harry's cheek before standing and brushing herself off. "You're coming to my birthday, right?"

"I wouldn't miss it," Harry says, gazing up at her from where he remains sitting. "Goodnight, Ginny."

"G'night, Harry." Her hand is on his head, her fingers weaving through his hair and Harry has to suppress the desire to purr like a kitten. "Don't stay out here too late, alright?"

Harry nods and then Ginny's gone, barely a shadow in the darkness of the garden. He watches her until she disappears into the Burrow then stands to follow her and make his goodbyes and give his thanks to Mrs. Weasley again before Apparating home.

* * *

Dear Luna,

It was great to see you at Ginny's birthday. I just wish we'd had more time to catch up, but everything was pretty crazy, wasn't it? I was glad to hear that you're getting on better with your dad. You shouldn't blame him for what he tried to do to during the war. He was just doing his best to protect you.

That's not why I'm writing, though. I spoke to Professor McGonagall and the new Defense professor (I'm not going to tell you who because I think you'd prefer to be surprised) and they both agreed to keep Dumbledore's Army as an official student organization. Ginny's going to be asked to lead it, but she doesn't know yet, so please don't tell her. It's just that I know you've always been one of the strongest supporters of the D.A. and I thought you'd be interested in knowing that it's going to continue on.

I'll be at King's Cross on the first to see Hermione and Ginny off on the train. Maybe I'll see you there? I hope you enjoy the rest of your summer.

Your friend,


* * *

Platform Nine and Three-Quarters is as busy as Harry's ever seen it; all the parents who'd pulled their children out of Hogwarts over the past few years seem to have all decided that it's finally safe to send their children off to school again and Harry sees a lot familiar faces mixed in with students and parents he doesn't recognize. Several of his former classmates have decided to return for a second seventh year, including Dean Thomas, Padma Patil (but not Parvati, who Harry heard had an internship at the Ministry in Muggle Relations), Justin Finch-Fletchley, and nearly all the rest of the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws from their year.

There are no Slytherins from his year that Harry can see; last he heard, there were charges pending against Malfoy and Goyle and that they were banned from re-entering the school. The rest of them must have decided on private tutoring or decided they could get by without taking their NEWTs.

"It's going to be so strange to be at Hogwarts without you two," Hermione is saying, wringing her hands. She's already changed into her school robes, her Head Girl badge glinting in the sunlight (Harry'd been proud, but not surprised, when she showed him the shiny gold badge on a visit to London earlier in the month). "We've been together for so long; it'll be strange not seeing you both every day."

"You'll be so busy studying, you won't even notice we're not there," Ron says, clearly trying to reassure her. "And you'll be home for Christmas. We've been apart for nearly as long over summer holidays and we've all been all right."

"Oh, I know." Now Hermione's bouncing on her toes and Harry's not sure if she's nervous or scared (or knows the answer to one of Snape's ridiculously precise questions). "I'm just worrying for nothing."

"'Course you are," Ron says, slinging an arm around Hermione's shoulders and tucking her against his side. "But you wouldn't be you if you didn't worry." Harry can see Hermione relax against Ron and it still surprises him that his two best friends are this comfortable around each other and with their new relationship so soon (despite the fact that things've been building up to this for at least three years, probably closer to four at this point). Ron presses a kiss to the top of Hermione's head and Harry, feeling like he's witnessed something he shouldn't have, looks away.

He catches Ginny's eye and laughs when she rolls her eyes, her head tilted to indicate Ron and Hermione. Harry smiles and wraps an arm around her, tugging her to his side like Ron had done with Hermione. Ginny laughs outright at this.

"Something funny, Weasley?" Harry asks, craning his neck to look at Ginny. She really is beautiful when she's smiling, he thinks. She shakes her head and Harry feels her arm around his waist and he smiles even wider.

"Think you and Ron'll be all right without Hermione here to boss you around?" Ginny asks, poking him gently in the side.

"Think you'll be all right with Hermione there to boss you around?" Harry returns, tugging on her ponytail.

"I think we'll be just fine."

"Oh, but you haven't experienced Hermione when she's dead set on aceing all her exams," Harry says. "You tell me again that you'll be fine once you've got Hermione's comprehensive schedule of your life, including every class, study session, and break for the loo, laid out in all its color-coded glory."

"But she wouldn't go that far, would she?" Ginny meets Harry's eye and apparently sees the truth there because she says, sounding utterly depressed, "Who am I trying to kid? Of course she would."

Harry's saved from responding by Mrs. Weasley calling out, "Ginny! Hermione! It's almost eleven!" Ginny gasps and jumps a little before throwing her arms around Harry in a proper hug, squeezing him tight.

"Promise you'll write?" she asks.

"Of course," Harry tells her. "If you get me the Quidditch schedule, I'll even try to make it to some of your matches."

"You'd better." And then Ginny's gone, pulling Ron into a hug while Harry finds himself with an armful of Hermione (whose hair is almost completely covering his face, making it hard for him to breathe; this is what was missing all those months ago at the Three Broomsticks).

"Promise me you'll try not to study yourself to death," Harry says, suddenly worried that Hermione will work herself too hard without him and Ron there to distract and relax her. "Go to Hogsmeade on the weekends and go watch Ginny play Quidditch and try to limit yourself to ten library books at a time. Please?"

"I'll try," Hermione says and it sounds like she's crying (which really wouldn't surprise Harry all that much). "You and Ron look after each other, all right? I'll be home at Christmas and I'm sure I'll hear about any mischief you two might get up to."

"We'll be good," Harry promises with a smile. He pulls out of Hermione's arms and turns her around, propelling her forward with a push to her shoulders. "Now go on, before you miss the train."

All too soon, the train is pulling away with a whistle and part of Harry wishes he was on the train, headed off to school once again, but the greater part of him knows that he's right where he's supposed to be. He's learned all he can from Hogwarts, even if his formal education isn't yet complete, and he's not meant to go back as a student, not now, not ever. He's supposed to be in London, helping to raise his godson, learning how to live without the shadow of Voldemort looming over everything he does.

The platform is almost empty when Ron turns to him and says, "Okay there, Harry?"

"Yeah," Harry answers. "Never better."

the end