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Chapter 27: And He Almost Deserved It (Year 6)
(A/N: BYOT, and I disclaim one quoted line near the middle of the chapter. Also, please read the bottom author's note for exciting news!)
Chapter 27: And He Almost Deserved It
Harry leaned against the foot of one of the pillars of Sanctuary, watching his yearmates file past him from the harbor cavern entrance. The baffled, shocked looks on people's faces as they whispered together told him the news of the losses in Hogsmeade had already made the rounds.
I only wish we had some way to send ungarbled messages as fast as gossip gets around this school…
Behind him, Hermione sat quietly, her hands folded in her lap, her eyes roving over the small crowd, ticking off names against the list Harry knew she had in her head. Luna was rubbing the base of her left ring finger, her face abstracted as she stared at a spot high on the wall to her right. Meghan's eyes still glistened, but she'd sniffled back her tears and come obediently out of Letha's arms when Neville's glance at his watch upstairs in the Den had reminded Harry this night wasn't, couldn't be, over yet.
No matter how much we wish it was.
Without being told, the yearmates had sorted themselves out by House as they'd done a year ago tonight, each group standing at a compass point, a few last whispers dying away into quiet. The night was clear and starry overhead, a waning crescent moon lending a feeble illumination to the Hogwarts crest over Harry's shoulder.
Across from him, under the darkened silhouette of the castle, a door in one of the pillars opened, and Ron and Ginny stepped out, hand in hand. They glanced around, exchanged a few words, then squeezed hands and let go, Ron starting along the edge of the cavern towards the somber group of Gryffindors, Ginny moving without hesitation towards its center. Harry pushed off the wall to join her there, and they met in the middle of Sanctuary, clasping hands for a moment, love, comfort, grief eddying in their shared scent.
"Let me?" Ginny mouthed, her eyes darting back and forth. Harry nodded and squeezed her hands once, then backed away a step or two, silently ceding the floor to his mate.
If she's got an idea how to start this, so much the better.
Ginny began to pace a small circle, bringing her around to face each House in turn. "We stand here tonight," she said when she had completed one circuit, "to honor the keeping of a promise."
The words, spoken quietly but with passion, resounded clearly off Sanctuary's walls, dropping one by one into the thick silence as she continued to walk. "That promise was made a year ago, in this place, by those of us who are here tonight, and by others."
She swallowed once, her eyes gleamed bright, but her voice, though hoarse, was steady. "By others who are not here tonight, who cannot be here—but that is not because they broke their given word. They are not here because they kept the promise they had made, and kept it beyond anything we could have asked of them."
She paused in her walk, facing the northwest corner of the cavern, looking between Ravenclaws and Slytherins. "Amanda Smythe died tonight because she spoke the truth to Lord Voldemort," she said, infusing the title with scorn. "She refused to pander to his absurd fantasy that because he is the Heir of Salazar Slytherin, he has a right to claim all Slytherins as part of his twisted cause." She swept her hand around to indicate Blaise, Graham, Selena, and Artemis. "You, our yearmates, who have used your desire for greatness to bring this Sanctuary from an idea to a reality, you are the truth of Slytherin House. We claim you as our own, and what is ours, we defend. As Amanda did, tonight." She lifted her face to the stars. "We will not forget."
"We will not forget," rumbled the response from the yearmates, soft, tentative, overlapping, but gaining paradoxical strength for all its uncertainty.
"George Weasley, my brother, died tonight." Ginny returned to her walk, though her voice had thickened and her eyes half-shut against tears. "He was fighting for the same reason this Sanctuary was built. To defend the innocent against senseless destruction and death. We will not forget."
"We will not forget," echoed the yearmates, more strongly, more together. Harry felt Wolf's soft growl of approval in the back of his mind.
"Draco Black, my Pridemate. My friend." Ginny stopped facing the Gryffindors this time, sweeping her eyes slowly across them. "He was on a mission tonight with two other members of this year, a mission which will help us win the war. And when they returned to Hogsmeade and discovered the battle in progress there, he made the choice that the successful completion of that mission mattered more than his life, more than his freedom. He deliberately allowed himself to be captured, so that his teammates could reach safety with their objective." Her hands, at her sides, clenched into fists. "We will not forget."
"We will not forget." The response rang off the walls, fierce, clipped, together.
"No, we will not forget." Ginny lifted her fists, squaring her shoulders, turning in place to include the whole year in her final words. "What we will do instead is fight . In their names, and in our own. In the names of everyone ever killed, ever wounded, ever left behind to grieve. In their names we will fight this war, and in their names we will win !"
The wordless shout of approval shook the very ceiling with its power.
Harry stepped up beside Ginny, trading quick smiles with her as she took the place he'd vacated. "Please raise your right hand," he said, leading by example. "Have you, students of Hogwarts gathered here, kept your sworn oath to show good fellowship in word and deed to each other since a year ago today, the first of May?"
"We have," came the answer, sure and fast.
"Have you kept your oath to work with the other members of this fellowship on the task we began that night, the task of creating this Sanctuary?"
"Have you kept your oath to never knowingly betray this fellowship to anyone who intends it harm, and to guard with all your might against doing so unknowingly?"
"So we spoke, so we intended." Harry glanced up at the stars and wondered which of the Founders might be listening now. "And so we have now done." He lowered his hand. "The year is over."
"Is that it, then?" asked Susan Bones after a few moments of murmuring among the yearmates. "The spell's broken?"
"Should be." Harry moved a few paces closer to her. "Why not try it?"
Susan drew her wand and pointed it at him. " Aperio sanguinis! "
A half-hearted little tingle ran down Harry's arms, but no light appeared around him, purple, blue, or red. "That would seem to be a yes," he said, and against all odds, found a smile coming to his face. "Looks like we did something right. Thank you, everyone."
The sudden round of applause made him jump, which movement added laughter to the mix of noise echoing and reechoing inside the main cavern of Sanctuary.
The quiet sound of rock grating against rock went unnoticed.
Sirius looked up at the ceiling of the Hogwarts Den's main room. "Correct me if I'm wrong," he said to Aletha, pointing at the large hole in its center, "but that wasn't there before."
"You're not wrong." Aletha half-closed her eyes, concentrating. "Sanctuary," she said after a few moments, opening her eyes again. "It goes to Sanctuary. Which probably means somebody spoke the password there without realizing it."
"Hmm." Sirius walked over to stand under the hole and peered up into it. "Think I should give it a go?"
Aletha chuckled a little. "Are you just asking because you think it will be fun to ride the big fast slide?"
"Hey, the importance of fun should never be underrated. But I've actually got a reason this time." Sirius glanced towards the red bedroom, into which Remus had carried Danger when it became apparent her unexpected nap was going to last a while. "We took a hard hit tonight, Letha. Harder on the cubs, I think, especially the older ones. They were there . And I'm about as proud of them as I could possibly be, given how well they stood up to it, but once it really hits home what happened tonight, it's going to be bad."
"And you want to be sure someone's nearby for them when it starts." Aletha got to her feet. "I'll start getting the place ready, then, shall I?"
Harry heaved a sigh as Blaise and Colleen, the last two yearmates who were not also Pride, disappeared into the passage leading up to the fourth floor mirror. "Splitting the difference between their dorms, I guess," he said. "Or maybe they know a couple passages that start near there."
"Does it matter?" Hermione had her eyes shut, her fingers twisted tightly in her lap. "I don't want to stay here right now. I want…I don't know what I want. Except for this whole night to have been a bad dream, maybe."
Ron touched her shoulder. "Come on," he said when she opened her eyes, holding out his hand. "I'll walk you back to the Den."
"Short walk." Neville pointed across Sanctuary. "Look who's here."
"Dadfoot!" Meghan bolted across the cavern towards her father. "Dadfoot, we did it, the spell's broken, nobody can ever use it again—"
"Can't keep that girl down," Harry murmured to himself as Ron and Hermione followed where Meghan had led. Luna had slipped out with the rest of the year, bound on some errand of her own, about which Harry was sure he ought to be more curious than he was, but all his curiosity, like his energy, seemed to have been sapped away by the competing emotions of the night.
We did it. We finished the year, we built Sanctuary, we broke the spell. And it only cost us two lives—three, Draco might as well be dead as captured, I'm pretty sure he'd prefer it—and I'm supposed to get married in a few hours, but how are we supposed to go on with it when—
"Don't you even think about it, Harry Potter."
"Bwuh?" said Harry intelligently, yanked out of his thoughts by Ginny's furious voice. She was standing nose to nose with him, staring him down, and a back corner of his mind noted that her freckles almost glowed when she was angry.
"Don't you even think about postponing the wedding, or canceling it. I am not going to let the Death Eaters win that way. You know perfectly well what Draco would say about it, or George—" Ginny gulped once, but temper won out over tears. "We're fighting this war so that people like us can have their lives, aren't we? And what are we if we're not 'people like us'? Our enemies don't get to dictate what I do, not even this much of it, and I am going to be your wife before this day is over, Harry James Potter, or else!"
"Yes, ma'am." Harry had intended the words to come out jokingly, jauntily, but instead they just sounded weary and worn. "Ginny, I'm sorry, I don't mean—"
"No, I'm sorry. I shouldn't be pushing." Ginny closed the half-step distance between them, sliding her arms around him. "Harry, if you can't go through with it today, if you don't want to, tell me so. I just thought—"
"You thought right." Harry held her against him, breathing her scent, treasuring her shape and her strength. "And you are right. We shouldn't let them mess with us that way. I just… I'm tired, Gin, I'm so tired right now, but I can't sleep, if I sleep, I'll dream, and you know what that's going to be like…"
"Nothing says you can't rest, though. And you need rest." Ginny tipped her head back and kissed him on the cheek. "Go on with Mr. Padfoot, he's waiting for you. We'll take care of things until you're back up and running."
"Are you sure?" Harry looked down at her, guilt niggling around the edges of his vast relief. "You didn't exactly get off free on the night—"
Ginny's eyes sheened over, but she shook her head. "I had my time falling apart already," she said, managing a little, sad smile. "So did Mum. We'll both have more, that's how it works, but this needs doing now. So we'll do it." She tightened her arms around him once, then released him and pushed him gently in Padfoot's direction, near the other end of Sanctuary. "You've been the strong one long enough tonight, Harry. Go get what you need. We'll manage until you get back."
Harry thought for a moment about objecting again, but his feet seemed to have minds of their own, as they were already carrying him towards Padfoot, and it was less bother just to let the rest of his body go along for the ride. He was rounding the side of one of the undecorated pillars of Sanctuary, seeing the unlit fireplace which had materialized there, with a hole in the carvings to its right—he was sliding through a tunnel he'd never seen before, but one which bore a striking resemblance to several others he used on a regular basis—he was tumbling out of the ceiling of the main room of the Hogwarts Den, even with a padded floor, this was going to hurt—
" Wingardium Leviosa, " said Letha's calm voice, and Harry felt himself caught by her spell and wafted to one side of the spot where he would have landed, the magic setting him gently down atop a pile of cushions. "Who's after you?"
"Hermione, I think Hermione. Could be Pearl." Harry glanced around at the mounds of pillows and blankets which had appeared since he'd left for Sanctuary, the familiar-looking pajamas piled near the door to the red bedroom, the small stack of books sitting outside the library, and felt a wash of mingled thankfulness and pain so strong his throat closed on it.
It's a den-night. We're going to have a den-night. Because we're Pack, and that's what we do, what we need, when we're hurt.
Even when having it hurts a little itself, because one of the people who should be here, won't.
Setting these thoughts aside, he got to his feet and started across the room to collect his pajamas, skirting the floor below the hole, where Letha was just levitating Hermione to the same soft landing spot she'd used a few moments before for Harry himself. "Where's Danger and Moony?" he asked, picking up his own nightwear and draping it over his arm, then scooping up Hermione's as well. "Did they get called out for something?"
"Not exactly." Letha still had her eyes on the hole in the ceiling, but the tone in her voice made Harry look at her sharply. His Pack-mum didn't play pranks as often as Padfoot or Moony, or even Danger, but when she did, she went all-out.
What's she planning—or did she already do it?
Tossing Hermione's nightgown at her, he ducked into the bathroom to change. By the time he came out, buttoning his pajama top, Meghan and Padfoot had both arrived, and the hole in the Den's ceiling had sealed itself again.
"The password from Sanctuary is the same as the one from the Room of Requirement," Meghan told him, spreading out her armful of books in front of Padfoot. "'Thank you, everyone.' Because it leads to the main room, where everyone can be."
"Thank you, First Mate Obvious." Harry grinned at Meghan's baffled look. "Well, you're not the Captain, are you? You just hang around him a lot."
"Ooooohhh—" Meghan stuck out her tongue at him, making Hermione stifle a giggle in her hand, and for one instant the world was the way it ought to be.
I know it won't last, but that's all the more reason we need it now.
The door to the red bedroom opened, and Moony came in, already dressed in his own pajamas. "Is everyone ready out here?" he inquired, leaving the door ajar. Past him, Harry could see Danger curled up on the bed, one of her hands outstretched as though she were holding onto something.
Or is that someone?
"Ready for what?" Harry asked out loud, sitting down beside Padfoot, who had selected a book with a painting of a ship on its front cover. "Starting den, or something else?"
"There is that." Moony took a seat by the wall, a small, satisfied smile on his face. "But we thought, since it's such a special night, that we ought to have a special sort of den. Go back to our beginnings, as it were, before we move on."
Under her breath, Letha began to hum. Harry tried to listen, to catch the tune, but found himself yawning too hard to hear it.
But I know I know it. It's something important, something that's ours, something that matters to us—
The walls of the Hogwarts Den blurred around him as he recognized the song. It was his own lullaby, the one Letha had written for him just after he'd been born, before there had ever been such a thing as a Pack or a Pride, or a Den, any of the Dens.
But they're not taking us that far back, I don't think. He might not be a dreamsculptor himself, but Harry recognized the feeling of a dreamscape being built around him. Unless I'm wrong—
Walls, ceiling, floor solidified around him. He was sitting in a room he hadn't seen with his waking eyes for nearly ten years.
I'm not wrong.
Nor was he alone. Even as Harry watched, his Packmates materialized around him, sounds of surprise and pleasure filling the air as one by one they recognized the setting of this dream.
"It's the den room." Hermione looked around in awe, her eyes shining. "The very first den room we ever had, the one at the London Den. The only thing missing is—"
She broke off with a gasp as she saw the person standing in the small hallway which led from the kitchen and front room.
"Am I late?" asked Draco, smiling at his twin.
Harry dropped back a step or two, simultaneously clearing a path for Hermione and Meghan to charge at Draco and bringing himself closer to Moony. "Is this safe?" he murmured, sitting down. "I know Fox didn't want the Mark, but he's still got it, and if Voldemort can trace it—"
"Into a dream filled with, and powered by, the very thing he understands least in the world?" Moony returned in the same soft tone, watching his daughter and goddaughter clinging tightly to their brother, who returned the favor unabashed. "I find it unlikely. But even should he try, we're covered." He flicked his eyes upwards. "By someone who, shall we say, outranks Mr. Riddle in a certain area in which he takes great pride."
Takes great pride—but what Voldemort's proudest of is being the Heir of Slytherin, so that must mean—
"He owes us, Draco in particular, something of a debt at the moment, and giving us this night is how he's chosen to pay it," Moony added. "But we'll cover that when it comes time for stories. Meanwhile…" He caught Padfoot's eye and nodded, as the girls and Draco found themselves a nook near the fireplace. Harry made his way across the floor to join them, squeezing Draco's hand tight in passing.
"Be welcome, all, to this den-night," said Padfoot formally, as Danger slipped in through the archway hidden in the wall and sat down beside Moony. "We are Pack now. Pack together."
"Pack forever," answered seven voices in chorus.
"Who will tell a story?" Danger took up her words. "Who will remind us of what it means to be Pack?"
"I think you have the most important one," said Letha, looking pointedly from Danger to Draco and back again. "Care to explain how you're pulling this one off?"
Draco sighed. "It's complicated," he began.
"When isn't it?" Padfoot chuckled. "You know the drill, Fox. Words of one syllable wherever possible."
"Right." Draco twisted a bit of his pajama top between his fingers. "Well, I suppose it starts with Amanda, and who and what she really was…"
Luna stepped out of the fire just in time to stop her father from stepping into it.
"Sweetheart!" Gerald caught his daughter into a tight hug. "I'd only just heard, I was on my way to Hogwarts to find you—oh, love, I'm so sorry, Draco and George and your friend Amanda, all in one night—"
"It's going to be all right, Daddy." Luna held onto her father for a moment, then released him and looked earnestly into his face. "At least I think it is. But I need your help."
"Anything I can do, love. You know that."
"Can we go up on the roof?" Luna looked around at the comfortable clutter with which she'd grown up. "I want to see the sky."
"I understand Amanda much better now," Luna began when father and daughter were settled together on the small, weatherproof loveseat Gerald kept on the flat roof of the Landing Zone. "She really was Alex Slytherin's daughter, you know. Salazar Slytherin's granddaughter."
Gerald frowned. "Wouldn't that have made her nearly a thousand years old?"
"It did, and it didn't." Luna tucked her legs up under her. "You see, she lived her life back then, and it looked as if she died normally. Only she didn't. She couldn't, because her family was cursed when she was a little girl, and when she was about my age, the curse forced her to make a terrible choice. She could save her brother, or she could save the boy she was going to marry. Or she could have saved them both, but doing that would have killed her. And she only had a split second to decide."
"What did she choose?" Gerald asked quietly.
"She saved herself and her love. Which meant her brother died." Luna rubbed a hand along the crescent moon scar on the inside of her left arm. "And that tore her soul apart, so even when her body died, she couldn't go on. But she wasn't quite a ghost either. She still had another chance, a chance to try again and make things right. All she needed was a body, a living body without any soul inside it." Her hands sketched a human outline in the air. "She found one around the time I was a baby, from a little Muggle girl who'd died but had her heart started again. Muggles can do that when people have accidents, you know, and sometimes they're quick enough that the soul hasn't left the body when they do it, so the person can live again. But this little girl's soul had already gone on."
"So Amanda could have the body for her own without anyone being harmed by it." Gerald nodded. "Was she attracted to Draco because he was like the boy she'd loved when she lived the first time, then? I think you told me they're related somehow."
"Yes, that's exactly why." Luna leaned her head against her father's shoulder. "And that boy, Dafydd, he stayed near the world as well, and he was able to use Draco to speak to Amanda. To tell her what she needed to know, how to turn the curse and heal her soul after all this time. But it couldn't have happened if Draco hadn't been who he is. If it weren't for the Pack."
"They do seem to help people a great deal," Gerald agreed. "But it's sounding to me like Amanda's story is over now, love. What is it you need my help with?"
"Amanda's story is over." Luna looked up at the waning moon. "But someone else's isn't. Her Heir, now that it's safe for her to have one again, with the curse turned away from her line." She glanced back at her father, smiling at the mingled shock and delight on his face. "I know who her Heir's going to be, Daddy, and that's the person who'll need your help. But we have to set it up just right, so nobody finds out about it too soon…"
"Whoa, whoa, whoa." Sirius made a time-out gesture in the air. "Artifacts that can pass on a bloodline? Since when?"
Harry coughed, drawing people's eyes. "Look familiar?" he said, dangling his pendants in the air, a tiny gold locket hanging outside the four medallions.
"All right, point," Sirius conceded. "But you and Moony made that thing to order, right there and then. Consent on both sides, blood freely given—"
"Amanda would have consented to give her blood, if she was the one making the artifact," said Meghan, curled against Draco's hip. "And didn't you say," she craned her neck to look up at Draco, "that there had to be consent from the person who takes the artifact, or it won't work?"
Draco nodded. "They have to fully understand what they're doing, and consciously consent to it," he said. "And they can't have any strong reservations. Little doubts and worries are fine, but if they don't actually want to be adopted into the bloodline, it won't take on them."
"So that's why Alex said we'd find an Heir of his, even though his line died out." Hermione shook her head in wonder. "Because his Heir doesn't exist yet—not as the Heir, I mean," she added. "The person who will be the Heir exists, whoever they are. But they haven't found Amanda's artifacts, or used them." She frowned doubtfully. "Have they?"
"No," said Danger and Draco in chorus, then grinned at each other. Draco inclined his head, yielding the floor, and Danger continued. "There are a lot of things about this whole situation Alex and Anne weren't allowed to tell us, but that was one they could. The artifacts haven't been used, and a good thing, too. If they had been, before tonight, the curse would have gone active on the new bloodline just like it was on the old one. But because they hadn't been, Amanda was able to use the traces of the curse that lingered on her soul to make her the willing sacrifice that turned it away. And, just for a bonus, she was finally able to forgive herself for her brother's death and heal the damage it did to her soul."
"So she'll be able to go on." Remus nodded. "I'm glad of that, for her sake and for her parents'." He glanced across at Draco. "Her story cuts a bit close to home just now."
"It…might not be as bad as we're all thinking," Draco said slowly. "Still nothing I'm looking forward to, mind, but one of the other things they were able to tell us, Alex and Anne, was that there's still some lingering protective magic around me. Not enough to keep this from happening in the first place, obviously, but I'll take whatever I can get." He squeezed Hermione's hand, smiling at her. "Very much including tonight."
"And on that note, all in favor of setting aside business for the time being?" said Letha, and ceremoniously counted raised hands. "Eight for, none against. Motion carried. Sirius, if you would?"
"Right." Sirius opened up the book he'd selected in the Hogwarts Den, which Danger had faithfully reproduced in her dreamworld, and leaned back against the wall while the rest of the Pack disposed themselves for listening, letting the familiar sights and sounds lull him for a few precious moments into believing this night was entirely ordinary.
Because we never prize the ordinary enough, not until it's gone.
Taking a deep breath, he began to read.
"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb…"
Harry stood outside one of the rooms on the lower level of the Astronomy Tower, already in his dress robes, his hair as tidy as it ever got. Through the window on the opposite wall of the landing, he could see the sky just starting to brighten.
"Here goes nothing," he muttered, and knocked.
Luna answered the door, her simple gown and the small bunch of roses she held both matching the dark red beads in the triangle of silver links she wore across the back of her right hand. "Come in, Harry," she said, stepping aside.
"What, no argument?" Harry slipped past her into the room, nodding to Professor Dumbledore, who was standing to his left, watching the two people by the window on the Tower's other side. "I thought you'd quote me that old thing about not seeing the bride before the ceremony on the wedding day…"
He stopped in place as the full effect of what Dumbledore was looking at finally got through to his brain. "I. Er. Wow."
"That's Harry for 'you look fantastic'," Neville informed Ginny, brushing a finger along the outer curve of a rose. "There. Now they'll stay just like they are through the ceremony."
"Thanks, Captain." Ginny kissed her fingertips and tapped Neville on the cheek with them, then faced Harry, lifting the bouquet she held in her hands to chest level. "What do you think?" she asked softly, as Neville stepped past Luna and started up the stairs towards the Tower's top.
Harry wasn't sure he could complete a coherent thought, much less a sentence. A crown of roses lay atop Ginny's hair, which flowed sleek and shining over her shoulders, robed in some rich, smooth fabric the color of cream. The dress was caught in at the waist by a belt of twisted gold and silver, matching both her pendants, which lay above the gently curving neckline, and the earrings he'd given her himself. The bouquet in her hand, like the crown on her head, was the warm golden pink of the roses Neville had bred especially for this day.
"How am I supposed to remember what to say?" he finally managed to ask.
Ginny frowned. "Why wouldn't you?"
"Because." Harry moved a little to one side, getting a new angle on the vision, as Luna shut the door at the sound of voices from outside. "The only thing I can think of is how beautiful you are."
"I. Er." Ginny blushed, the color starting just above the neckline of her dress and flowing upwards to her face. "Wow."
Luna was regarding the door with a thoughtful expression. "I'd thought Muggles needed special spells to come to Hogwarts," she remarked.
"They do," said Professor Dumbledore, smiling faintly. "In this circumstance, a spell I was happy to provide. The bride, after all, should rule on her wedding day." He inclined his head to Ginny.
"Who—" Harry cut himself off. "Crystal," he said with certainty. "You asked Crystal to come."
"Yes, I did." Ginny began to bristle. "And if you're going to make a fuss about it—"
"I was going to say I'm glad you thought of it," Harry interrupted her. "If anyone deserves to be here today, she does."
Ginny subsided. "I need to calm down, don't I?" she asked, shaking her head. "I'm sorry. I guess I've just got last-minute nerves."
"Last-minute nerves? You?" Harry loaded his tone with incredulity. "You're only getting married. Before you're even sixteen, mind you. What could there possibly be to get nervous about in that?"
"Nothing," said Ginny with a smile, tucking her bouquet into the crook of one arm. "Because every time I start getting nervous, I think about who I'm getting married to . And that takes all the nerves away." She snapped her fingers. "Just like that."
Harry felt himself flush in his turn. "You asked to see me, Professor?" he said, turning a little desperately to Dumbledore. "Here, before the ceremony?"
"I did, Harry, for two reasons. Firstly, to congratulate you on your success last night, and to give you my deepest sympathies for what it cost." Dumbledore's eyes were unusually grave behind his half-moon spectacles. "I will not insult you by saying I understand what you feel, but I thank you for being able to make that choice."
Not trusting himself to speak, Harry only nodded. Getting thanked for leaving my brother behind…can this day get any more messed up?
"Secondly, I wished to give you my gifts a bit early." Dumbledore dipped his hand into his pocket and came out with two small items, gleaming gold twined around matte black. "One for each of you, to be worn on the chain with your pendants. If you will."
"Of course, Professor." Ginny held out her bouquet to Luna, who came to collect it, and joined Harry in front of Dumbledore, each of them accepting a tiny, heart-shaped cage made of twisted gold wire, in which resided—
"A rock?" Harry said doubtfully, peering through the wire. "Or, no." He looked over at Ginny's. "It's half a rock. Half for each of us. Because…we're putting our lives together? We won't be whole without each other?"
"Half a rock is still a rock." Ginny traced the jagged surface of her stone with a finger, inserted through the twists of wire. "But there's a design on it. And that won't be whole unless we put ours together."
Harry turned his little cage over to see the markings Ginny meant. "It looks like it would be a circle inside a triangle," he said, trying to visualize the two halves placed side by side. "And the whole stone would be circular too, but flat."
"Indeed it would," said Dumbledore with another of his faint smiles. "The circle, as you know, symbolizes both eternity and completion. In this context, the length of the love I wish you may hold for one another, and what I hope you will bring to each other's lives. The triangle, by contrast, is to remind you not to become too caught up in one another, for two lines, no matter how they are joined, will collapse onto one another without the bracing of a third."
"Thank you, sir." Harry extracted his pendants from under his robes and slid the loop at the top of his wire cage onto the chain, on the other side of the medallions from his blood-bond locket. "We'll remember."
"Though with the Pride, the Pack, and my family around, I don't think we'll have too much time to get obsessed with each other," Ginny added, slipping her own cage onto her chain. "Not to mention that little thing called a war."
"True enough, true enough. I merely found it an appropriate wish to give one of the best-suited couples it has ever been my pleasure to join in wedlock." Dumbledore smiled at them both, and at Luna, who was gazing at his gifts in open fascination. "Shall we proceed upstairs, then, and begin the ceremony?"
Harry glanced at Ginny. "Last chance to back out," he murmured.
"Not for all the gold in Gringotts." Ginny lifted her nose. "I saw you first. That means you're mine."
"I saw him nearly as soon," Luna pointed out, opening the door for them. "But you always did like him better. Except when you didn't."
"That was just because I knew he was lying to me." Ginny treated Harry to a cold brown glare. "You're not allowed to do that anymore. You know that, right? It's against the marriage rules."
Harry fought with himself for several seconds and lost. "Yes, dear," he said in the most submissive voice he could muster.
The guests at the top of the Astronomy Tower turned towards the stairs in confusion as loud peals of laughter echoed out onto the roof.
Standing near the back of the bride's side, Crystal smiled wanly. "I'm glad they can still be happy," she said, almost to herself. "Everybody ought to be happy on their wedding day."
Percy, standing beside her, opened his mouth, then closed it again.
Some things were better left unsaid.
In a manor house far from Hogwarts School, a pale-blond young wizard lay atop the covers of a broad bed, curled up around four small, knotted socks. His eyes darted back and forth under their closed lids.
He'd promised his brother to stand as best man for his wedding, and captured by Death Eaters or not, that was exactly what he intended to do.
The words, Harry discovered, weren't too hard to remember after all.
"Today," he said, holding Ginny's hand in his, "I promise you everything. Everything I have, everything I am, and everything I will be, because everything I have is better when you share it with me. Today, I promise you love and faith, hope and joy, because you deserve a lifetime filled with those things. Today, I promise not to hide it from you when I am sad or troubled, angry or upset, because I know you will help me work it out. Today, Ginevra Molly Weasley, I, Harry James Potter, take you to be my wedded wife." Carefully, he slid the slender gold band onto her finger. "For as long as we both shall live."
Ginny drew a long breath, her eyes shifting for one instant off Harry's face to the empty space behind him where Draco should have stood, where, Harry had a strong suspicion, his brother's dream-form was standing. Certainly Luna, holding both Ginny's bouquet and her own, kept glancing at the spot with one of her serene little Seer smiles, and Hermione, standing beside Moony and Danger on the groom's side, was dabbing at her eyes every time she looked that way.
Maybe he couldn't hand me the ring, but he's here. It'll do.
It'll have to do.
"Today, I promise you all of me," Ginny began. "All that I own, all that I do, and all that I am planning, because all that I do is better when you do it with me. Today, I promise you happiness and hope, fidelity and love, because that is what you always ought to have. Today, I promise to bring you my problems while they are still small, because I know you can help me stop them from growing any larger. Today, Harry James Potter, I, Ginevra Molly Weasley, take you to be my wedded husband." Her fingers were cool, but steady, as she guided the ring to its proper place on Harry's hand. "For as long as we both shall live."
"Very good," said Dumbledore softly beside them. "Your wands, then."
Harry drew his wand and touched its tip to Ginny's, Dumbledore placing his own perpendicular to their two. "As you have spoken, as you intend it, so let it be done," said the Headmaster formally. "From this day forth, where once there were two, let now there be one."
A bright flash of light burst from the conjunction of the three wands, sending a wave of gasps and exclamations through the small crowd.
"Ladies and gentlemen," said Dumbledore, lowering his wand. "I give you Mr. and Mrs. Harry and Ginny Potter." He glanced at Harry, his eyes twinkling, as Pack, Pride, and Weasleys began to cheer. "Do you need further instruction?" he inquired under the cover of the noise.
"No, sir." Harry released his wand, returning it to its place up his sleeve, and looked at Ginny—at his wife .
"Mrs. Ginny Potter," he said under his breath, seeing her eyes start to glisten, feeling an answering heat in his own. "Has anybody told you you're beautiful lately?"
"No one's ever told Mrs. Ginny Potter she's beautiful." Ginny smiled, even as her eyes threatened to overflow. "I guess that makes you the first."
"I'll take that." Harry drew Ginny close and lowered his lips to hers as the cheering redoubled.
Professor Dumbledore discreetly turned away as a single tear flowed down the conjoined line of the newlyweds' faces.
Behind Ginny, Luna blew a kiss of her own to the place beyond Harry.
Draco startled awake as the door of his room creaked open, and hastily shoved the sockball into his pocket, hoping his movement was covered by the act of sitting up. "Yes?" he said, as politely as he could manage, which wasn't much.
"Good morning, my son," said Lucius coolly, surveying him from the doorway. "I trust you slept well, here in your proper home at last."
"Tolerably." Draco glanced around the long-deserted room. "Though I can't say I love what you've done with the place."
"Ah, but you will." Lucius smiled, and a chill ran down Draco's spine. "After what I have planned for this morning, my son, you will. And in a few weeks' time, when I am entirely sure that my work has taken full effect, you will be the means of bringing under my Master's control every last member of your beloved Pack ." His smile broadened as Draco stared at him in confusion. "Come, walk with me, and I shall explain…"
(A/N: Dun dun dun.
If you're a bit confused about Amanda's plotline still, you may want to read the one-shot called "Anne's Story". And yes, Anne is something of a self-insert, but this is pretty much the extent of her involvement with the main storyline. She'll be around a couple more times, but only as an observer. The plot remains where it always has, with the Pack and Pride.
Now, to good news for anyone who wants more Anne originals: my short story collection, Cat Tales , is complete and will be available on Amazon and Smashwords for $3.99 within 24 hours of this chapter going live! Other e-book retailers may take up to a month, for which I do apologize, but that's out of my control, and it will get there eventually, I promise.
If you prefer paper books to e-books, you can buy straight from the source at CreateSpace for $8.99, or you can order a signed copy at my Etsy site for $7.50—and in an Anne B. Walsh first, there's a code in the back matter of both the paper and e-book versions of Cat Tales that will get you 30% off any future purchase of $10 or more from my Etsy store!
Thank you, as always, for reading, and I'm going to try to get back on the weekly schedule for DV chapters. Send me lots of nice reviews, and buy Cat Tales if you can, and that's more likely to happen!)
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