It would be wonderful to think that the future is unknown and sort of surprising.
20 August 1998
Draco tripped and fell as he Apparated outside of Hogwarts, not yet accustomed to the strangling feeling. As his palms hit the dew-covered ground and stained them brown, he glanced around for witnesses, but no one else had arrived that early. He picked himself up and retreated to the shadows of the gate, hood pulled up to hide his identity, a habit he’d developed over the summer.
Since his family’s interrogation, Draco had devoted all of his time to studying, not going outside of the Manor if he could help it. Father spent most of his time out, either at the Ministry talking his way out of Azkaban with Minister Shacklebolt and Head Auror Williamson or reconnecting with any Knight of Walpurgis that hadn’t been swept into being a Death Eater. He clung to anyone with influence that would be seen with him. As for Mother, she’d dismissed their house-elves and started practicing household spells that were only now improving. She spent most evenings at the dining table writing letters to her last living sister, though. Draco saw her incinerate most of them and doubted she would ever send one.
Others began to pop up on the lawn, some pulling books out of their pockets and reading by the dawn sun. Those taking the O.W.L.’s arrived in carriages a few minutes later. Both exams would be held during the same days, instead of the usual schedule of the N.E.W.T.s being held a week later.
The gates creaked open, allowing Draco to lose himself in the crowd. He stuck to the outskirts and hunched his shoulders to diminish his height. Professor McGonagall stood in front of the doors of the Great Hall, silencing everyone with one stern look.
“For the written part of your Charms examinations,” she explained, “all those taking the O.W.L.s will sit to the right and those taking N.E.W.T.s to the left. The O.W.L. students will be dismissed first for a short break in the Entrance Hall that will end when the N.E.W.T. exams are finished. At that time, the O.W.L. students will be escorted to the grounds for the practical portion of their exam while the N.E.W.T. students take their break, then proceed to their own practical exams. Carriages will be waiting to return to Hogsmeade, and licensed students are free to Apparate when they are finished. Good luck.”
She allowed them into the Great Hall, and Draco took a seat in the back of the N.E.W.T. section, ignoring the other students even as Blaise Zabini raised an eyebrow at his hood and Seamus Finnegan bumped his shoulder.
Draco popped the lid off his ink and wet his quill, preparing to write as soon as his parchment flew to his desk. He had done more than enough studying, but he needed all the N.E.W.T.s he could if he wanted a job that would further his newest ambition: distancing himself from Father, dark magic, and the Malfoy convention of being a jobless millionaire.
Professor McGonagall sent the exams to their desks. Draco had his quill to paper before she could say, “Begin.”
1 September 1998
“And you’re sure this place is safe?” Ron asked as he followed Harry down the stairs of number twelve Grimmauld Place. “And clean?”
“I’ve been going through the place all month with Savage, so I hope so,” Harry said. “And Kreacher cleans long after I tell him to stop.”
“He’s staying here then? What’s Hermione think of that?”
“Considering he got the master bedroom, I think she’s fine with my keeping him. He’d rather be paid in family heirlooms than Galleons anyway.” Harry opened the drawing room door, revealing its final transformation to a comfortable living room with two overstuffed sofas and new wallpaper covering the Black Family Tree.
Ron slumped into the nearest couch, stretching his legs to rest on the coffee table. “Forget the bedroom, I’ll just move in here.”
“Closer to the kitchen,” Harry remarked, but Ron was too relaxed to agree. He closed his eyes but heard Harry take the other couch. “It’s been weeks since we’ve last talked.”
“Yeah,” Ron agreed. He and Hermione had only returned to England a week ago, and they’d spent that time fixing up her parents’ abandoned house. He reunited with his family at King’s Cross as they showed off Ginny, then dropped by the Burrow to pack a trunk to start his move into Grimmauld Place. He only had a week before they resumed their Assistant Auror jobs and started their training tests to become fully qualified. “Well,” he said, feeling he had to talk since he hadn’t seen Harry in ages but not knowing what exactly to say.
Things had been off at King’s Cross, or so he noticed after Hermione pointed out that Harry and Ginny weren’t acknowledging each other. Ron had expected them to be back together in no time, but they’d only shaken hands as Ginny left. He wanted to ask what had happened while he’d been in Australia but instead said, “Angelina’s the new starting Chaser for the Wimbourne Wasps.”
“I still keep up with Quidditch, thanks,” Harry said. “I was going to ask how Australia was.”
“Utter disaster,” Ron groaned. “We set up dozens of international Portkeys, suffered through a Muggle cruise ship, and searched all over the bloody country to find her parents not in Australia.” Ron threw his hands up in the air and heard Harry chuckle. Ron didn’t know how the story could be entertaining; he was sure Harry had heard it through Ginny, who heard it through Hermione, but if Harry and Ginny weren’t talking anymore, perhaps Harry hadn’t yet heard about the experience. “So we asked around and found out they moved back to Europe. Apparently, they felt like they were missing something in Australia. They kept the house but started travelling all across Asia and Europe, hoping to feel better.” His voice quivered as he remembered the glimmer of desperation and failure in Hermione’s eyes as they took a ship back to the mainland continents.
“So where’d they end up?” Harry asked.
“Bloody France,” Ron exclaimed, forcing his mood to lighten. “Two blocks from Hermione’s Auntie Jean.”
Harry’s chuckling burst into contagious laughter that dragged Ron into the giddiness as well. After nearly a month of travel and uncertainty, it was good to be in a home with his best mate, a butterbeer, a steady job, and plans to visit his girlfriend for her birthday. He didn’t think he would ever get used to the blissfulness of facing death and coming out with the perfect life.
5 March 1999
Luna tugged off a glove to pet Ctesias the unicorn, earning an appreciative whinny. He’d grown since he first moved into the paddock behind Hagrid’s hut, his chin now brushing her forehead instead of her stomach, but he still acted as young as ever, spending most of his time running through the snow piles and neighing at anyone who passed by.
Rolf Scamander had aged him at about a year when they first found him, too young to be on his own, so Ctesias became the the seventh years’ Care of Magical Creatures project until he was old enough to be released. It just so happened that the only seventh year N.E.W.T. students Hagrid had were herself, Ginny, and Hermione. They tried to plan a schedule so no one had to clean up after Ctesias alone, but today, Ginny had to go to the Quidditch pitch right after classes for a grueling practice and Hermione had pleaded for the time to catch up on the school work that she had some how gotten behind on, though, she insisted, it had nothing to do with Ron’s recent visit. Luna didn’t mind the alone time with the unicorn. She felt things went smoother when Ginny wasn’t there trying to ride him and Hermione trying to stand him still so she could study him.
Ctesias’s head jerked towards the end of his paddock that disappeared into the Forbidden Forest and chased after the sound that Luna couldn’t hear. She turned to gather her shovel and rake to start cleaning out Ctesias’s stable but jumped when she saw that Rolf Scamander had appeared behind her.
“Luna Lovegood,” he said with a smile. “I was told I could find you down here.”
“Hello, Rolf,” she said, his first name slipping out naturally despite her not having seen him since the day they first met. He had changed quite a bit. His hair was cut, his chin clean-shaven, and his clothes were fitted and unwrinkled. “What’s wrong? You don’t look like yourself.”
“Ah, well…” He rubbed the back of his neck, his gaze going towards the place Ctesias had disappeared. “I s’pose I’m still recovering from trying to be someone else. Y’know, trying to save a relationship, but Sylvia and I broke up anyways.”
“Oh,” Luna said, not surprised. When Rolf had talked about her, Sylvia Fawcett had seemed posh and traditional, the exact opposite of Rolf, but there seemed to be more than just that. “What happened?”
“It’s funny, really, she left me ‘cause she wanted to travel.” He chuckled, not degrading to himself or disrespectful to Sylvia but generally finding humor in the irony. “I stayed here to be with her, and she left to see the world. I guess near-death experiences can do that.”
“Why didn’t you go with her?”
“Oh, she wanted to travel to all these great cities. Not my thing. But I get to plan that world-wide expedition I’ve always wanted, and that’s the reason I’m here.” Luna thought she could see where the conversation was going but didn’t want to get her hopes up. Rolf leaned against the fence, his posture casual but his voice all seriousness. “Let me ask you, Luna. Still want to find new creatures no one else believes in?”
2 May 1999
Ginny thought the first anniversary of the Battle of Hogwarts was going wonderfully. The castle was decorated in bright House colors, the music catchy, and the food better than any she’d had all year. Ginny would have been happy to join the dancing and cut into Percy’s dance with his new girlfriend, Audrey Midgen—Head of Percy’s department; the Prophet had loved that story—but Ginny stood beside the door of the Great Hall, scanning the crowd for Harry Potter.
After standing through McGonagall’s welcoming speech, then Kingsley’s address of the Ministry’s changing laws, then Harry’s words on the memorial statue near the entrance of the school, Ginny had been more than ready to grab her glass of champagne and do some real celebrating. Instead, Harry had grumbled to her about how he hated the statue since it only honored those who died in the battle, which didn’t include Sirius or Cedric or even Dumbledore. He’d wandered off after that, and since no one else seemed concerned, Ginny felt responsible for finding him again. It shouldn’t have been her responsibility. It wasn't like she was his girlfriend.
She spotted him shuffling through the crowd, his face a bit green as he wandered towards where she was standing.
“You look like you need some air,” she said.
“Yeah,” he admitted. “Come to the Quidditch pitch with me?”
Ginny nodded, trying not to show her surprise at the request as she followed him out. The grounds were full of current students enjoying the warm day off, and Harry waved politely at those who stared or pointed but kept their pace brisk. They walked across the rest of the grounds, through the changing rooms, and out on the Quidditch field.
Despite there being a handful of people lounging in the stands, their voices didn’t carry down and made Ginny feel alone with Harry. It was no longer a familiar setting. They’d only seen each other a handful of times throughout the year and they’d done a good job of avoiding each other until today.
Harry stuck to the shadows from the stands, glancing up at the people sitting in them. “Slughorn said Gwenog Jones’ll be at the next game?”
“Yes, she is,” Ginny said, tugging her lips down over her smile. When Harry looked curiously at her lack of reaction, she explained, “I’ve been working on my composed face. For when I meet her. I don’t want to be one of those fans.”
“Right,” Harry said with a slight smile but turned his attention away again.
Ginny huffed. “Are we going to make light conversation all day or are we going to talk about how we shagged and have spent the last nine months pretending it never happened?”
Harry said nothing, just raked a hand through his hair, so Ginny added, “If you don’t want to get back together, could you tell me? Because I’ve got loads of other blokes I could be dating, but I’m not because I’m waiting for you, which I should’ve learned not to do by now.”
Harry sighed as he took a seat on the bench. “It’s complicated.”
“I’d say.” Ginny sat next to him, feeling closer to a real answer than she had in months. “You can start with why you stopped talking to me for a month. Were you trying to break up with me again?”
“Sort of.” He leaned his arms on his knees and kept his voice low. “Someone threatened you in an anonymous letter to me right after the Daily Prophet wrote that story about us.”
Ginny waited for him to go on, not seeing it as big of a problems as he seemed to. “And?”
He straightened so he could look at her. “It’s never going to be safe to date me.”
“Obviously,” she said. “You’re always going to have enemies. You’re Harry Potter. You’ll just have to find a girl who can take care of herself.”
She hoped her teasing smile would lighten the mood, but he muttered, “Moody and Sirius could take care of themselves, too.”
“You can’t live in fear of the people you care about dying forever. You’ll end up caring for no one and living a horribly lonely life,” Ginny said, her frustration forcing her to stand up. “But I’m not going to try to convince you to date me again. It’s useless. I think I’ll just go ask Seamus Finnegan to dance and forget about all this.”
She stormed away, Harry calling after for her to wait, and made it halfway through the changing rooms before he caught her arm and spun her around. His mouth crashed into hers as he grabbed her waist and she clung to the front of his robes. When they broke apart, she breathed, “That’s better.”
He shook his head at her. “This is may be the most selfish thing I’ve ever done.”
“You deserve to be a bit selfish.” She brushed her fingers along his cheek. “Besides, I’d like a life that’s a bit dangerous.”
“Well, that I can give you,” he said with a chuckle.
“Good.” She leaned in for another kiss before pulling away again. “This better not be a repeat of last summer,” she said, poking him in the chest.
“No,” he said quickly. “I promise never to break up with you again.”
Ginny smiled, thinking of all the years they had together if he kept his word. She never planned on breaking up with him either.
“I’ll hold you to that for the rest of your life.”
“I wouldn’t expect anything less.”
6 June 1999
Hermione turned the page of her Defense Against the Dark Arts book beneath the table, balancing the thick volume on her crossed knees. The N.E.W.T. exams were still two weeks away, but the E she received in her O.W.L. still haunted her. Along with cramming two years of Care of Magical Creatures knowledge into one, she worried she would never have the marks she needed to make it into the Ministry.
The stress helped her block out the festive music and chatter of the wedding reception. She’d paid all her attention to George and Angelina’s ceremony in order to justify sitting in a table near the back of the reception tent, tying up her hair, and revising as inconspicuously as she could manage.
“Hermione Granger,” a strong, feminine voice said from her left. Hermione tore her eyes away from the book to see Audrey Midgen, Head of the Department of Magical Transportation, looking down at her with her unnerving golden hazel eyes. “That’s not a book hidden underneath the tablecloth, is it?”
Hermione shut the book with a loud clap as Audrey took a seat beside her. “Just a bit of light reading between songs,” she said with a forced smile, hoping to pacify Audrey and return to her revising.
Audrey gave her a knowing grin that made obvious she wasn’t fooled.
Even after seeing Audrey side-by-side with her sister, Eloise, Hermione was still surprised to see the younger’s face in her older sister, minus the acne. They shared the same round face and straight brown hair, but Audrey managed to be the picture of beauty while Eloise paled in comparison.
“You won’t have any trouble making it into the Ministry,” Audrey said. “Staying in without losing all hope in humanity? Maybe not. But if you stick to your beliefs, kid, you just might do great things.”
Hermione smiled, the words striking something inside her. Audrey’s face was so young that she often forgot she was Charlie’s age and had been in the Ministry nine years. If anyone could give advice on being a young ambitious woman in the the Ministry of Magic, it was Audrey.
“So you think it’s okay for me to revise right now?” Hermione asked. “Sticking to my beliefs?”
Audrey chuckled and rolled her eyes. “You better go into Law with an ability to twist words like that. But do you want to know what I think? I think you should enjoy the fun times you have when you’re young and free. You’re about to sell your soul to the Ministry, my dear. You should dance with your man while you’ve got the time.” She patted Hermione’s shoulder as she stood and sauntered over to the wedding party table where the Weasleys sat. She grabbed Percy’s hand and dragged him to the dance floor. Hermione giggled as Audrey moved with grace while Percy fumbled around her.
If she wanted to be like Audrey Midgen, the time to start was now.
She leapt from her chair and hurried to where Ron sat. She grabbed his hand and said between giggles, “Come dance with me!”
It took a moment for Ron to get over his bewilderment, but then he took her other hand and twirled her around. Still in motion, Hermione tugged the band from her hair to let the curls fall free, colliding back into Ron. His laughter made her forget all about the book she left behind.
11 July 1999
Neville leaned against the bar of the Leaky Cauldron as Tom filled another tray with an assortment of liquor and his friends carried their laughter all the way to him. When he’d last checked his watch, it had been midnight and Ginny had brought over their previous round of drinks. He dreaded going to the St. Mungo’s Greenhouses in just a few hours to take notes on the growth of one of his experimental hybrids.
Everyone was pushing against the bar for their last round of the night, so he barely noticed the short blonde girl next to him until—he hated to admit it—his peripheral vision could see down her shirt. He felt obligated to look at her face now that he’d seen more than enough of her breasts and felt his entire face go pink when he recognized her as Hannah Abbott.
He felt he should say something and grew more and more uncomfortable the longer he waited. Finally, he stuttered out a couple words. “Uh, Hannah, hi.”
Her shoulders tensed before she looked over her shoulder at him, but then her mouth spread into a relieved smile. “Oh, Neville! What are you doing here?” She gave him a quick hug, which proved difficult as they had to avoid knocking over anyone’s drink with an elbow.
“We’re giving Luna a going away party,” he explained, motioning to the table where Harry, Ginny, Ron, Hermione, and Dean sat. “She’s leaving for a magizoological trip tomorrow. Why are you here?”
He hadn’t meant to sound so accusatory—he just wanted to be polite—but her face reddened. “Oh, um, I was…” Her struggle for words was interrupted by Tom.
“Here you go, Abbott.” He set down a shot filled with black liquor and a bag that clinked as it hit the wood. “The usual. And your tray’s ready when you are,” he added to Neville before walking away.
Hannah snatched up the bag. “I work here,” she muttered. “As a barmaid, until I finish Healer training. Tom gives me a discount on my room.”
“You’re living here?”
She took a deep breath before explaining. “My dad kicked me out. After Mum died, he gave up magic, snapped his wand. He said it was his magical heritage that killed her. He didn’t want me to go back to Hogwarts, but Susan—you remember Susan Bones, she’s training to be an Auror now—convinced me to finish school without his support. After graduation, I tried to go home, but he wouldn’t let me in unless I gave up magic too. I stayed with Susan for a while, but her mum’s practically mad, so I couldn’t stay. I can’t afford a flat right now, so Tom gave me the job and a cheap place to stay.
“And that,” she added, nodding towards the shot of Black Ice Vodka, “is stress management.”
“And that helps?” It could have been his distaste for too much alcohol, but he never understood how drinking could help someone calm their nerves.
“Helps me forget Ernie.”
The name sent a pang through Neville’s chest, remembering seeing her crying over the body of her best friend in the Great Hall.
He though of letting her have the shot, but when she grabbed the glass, he grabbed her wrist. She stared at him, not angry but on the verge, then shoved it to his chest. “Fine. You drink it.”
“You can give it up that easy?” he asked skeptically.
“No.” She shrugged. “I have a bottle of that and one of firewhiskey in my room. One swallow won’t mean anything in an hour.”
Neville kept her gaze, trying an intimidation maneuver from his Auror days that he never quite mastered. Instead, an idea came to him.
He and Hannah had never been close at Hogwarts, keeping their distance in case their oddities and anxiety doubled by being near each other, but he felt a connection in their easy conversation that contradicted the fact that they hadn’t talked in over a year.
“You should move into my flat.”
“What?” Hannah asked in bewilderment.
“I have more than enough room and you can keep your job here and when you start work as a Healer, you can look for another place. One not above a bar.” He didn’t have to mention that there would be no alcohol in the flat. He could see from her face that she knew that.
“I’ll think on it,” she said. “But only if I pay half the rent.”
“Sure,” Neville agreed.
“Okay,” she said, her face looking a bit less shadowed than it had earlier. She gave him a genuine smile. “It was good to see you.”
20 August 1999
“Can I leave now?” Harry asked Healer Jamison as the middle-aged man placed a glass of water on the nightstand.
“Not yet, Mr. Potter,” he said with a tint of amusement. He was used to having Harry in his care and was deaf to his complaints. “We need to keep you for a few more hours in case there are any side-affects from that vase.”
Harry slouched against the wall, refusing to lie down like the Healers had asked him to over a dozen times since he arrived at St. Mungo’s with a purple flower vase stuck to his hand and an unknown goo melting off the glass and covering his skin. Not once had he gotten hit by a stray curse, but he always ended up touching the one cursed object on a scene. It had become a running joke in the Auror Department… and on the Artifact Accidents floor at St Mungo’s.
“I’ll contact Ms. Weasley to escort you home?” Jamison asked.
“I can go home by myself. I’m fine.”
“You injured your wand hand. I think it best to have Ginny help you home.”
“Fine,” Harry mumbled. “Just make sure you wait till after her practice is over.” Jamison nodded and left the room.
Harry reached for the glass of water, wanting something to do, but he couldn’t grasp it with his bandaged fingers. He groaned. The skin of his arm no longer felt like a thousand needles were stabbing it, but after the Healers had frozen the goop then melted it off, his skin was so raw that it needed ten different salves to heal, three of which to help with the pain. Harry hated not being able to feel one of his limbs, especially the one he needed to hold his wand, and cursed at himself for being so stupid.
Someone knocked on the door of his private room, which was more to keep other patients calm than for any other reason, and before Harry could stand to open it, Andromeda Black walked in, Teddy scuttling out in front of her. He wobbled as he hurried to Harry’s bed, not quite having the hang of running yet.
“‘Arry!” Teddy shouted as he tried to climb up the bed. Andromeda lifted him up so he could settle himself beside Harry, his hair changing from turquoise to black as he copied Harry’s looks, a habit he’d picked up in the last month.
“I’m sorry, Andromeda,” Harry said, remembering he was supposed to watch Teddy that night, like he did every Friday. Saturdays were his only days off, so Teddy often spent the night on Fridays. “I should have had someone tell you where I was.”
“Oh, we figured it out rather quickly,” she said with a snigger as she took a seat. “We thought we’d visit since the usual plans will have to be cancelled.”
“What? No, no, I’m fine.”
Andromeda raised a skeptical eyebrow. “He’s becoming quite the adventurer.”
“Ron can help keep an eye on him,” Harry said, though that seemed to do nothing to convince her. “I’ll invite Ginny over.” The eyebrow didn’t budge. “And Hermione.”
Andromeda sighed. “Very well. I suppose with all four of you there, he can’t get into too much trouble.” She leaned down to Teddy. “You’re going to be staying with Harry after all.”
“Stay? ‘Arry? Yay!” Teddy yelled in excitement and hugged Harry tight around the waist. Harry chuckled as he hugged his godson back, his mood lightening more and more as he thought about what the evening would hold.
He had never felt happier.
Chapter Endnotes: Thank you to everyone and anyone who read this entire story, and a thank you to Vicki for beta-ing most of the chapters. Hope you enjoyed it and hope to see your comments in a review :)