Chapter Forty-Nine: The Road Ahead
The news of Isabis's betrayal of Snape spread through the school like wild-fire. Whether they had put two and two together, or somebody had told the rest of the school what was revealed in Dumbledore's office, Harry didn't know, but by the time breakfast was beginning next morning, everybody seemed to know. The fact that Snape had been so thoroughly humiliated was the dream of most students, but by a woman... it was the sort of thing that you just couldn't make up.
The entire school seemed ecstatic about what had happened. It was like the ultimate gossip. When Isabis had arrived at the castle, there had been interested, but then, everybody knew Snape would take no nonsense about her. Now, he had been stripped bare and labelled a complete fool, not by Voldemort, or Death Eaters, or students, but a woman.
As Snape entered the Great Hall on the Thursday morning, everybody went quiet, looked away, and started up whispered conversations with their neighbours. At the Gryffindor table, Harry was pretending that he couldn't hear the many people around him muttering about his magical guardian.
"You see? That's what he's about really," said a second year three seats down from Harry. "Everybody thinks he's really scary, but he's just a lovesick idiot. Look at him." The knot of people around the boy glanced up at the staff table, and snickered. Snape was sitting toying with a bowl of soup, a very sour look on his face indeed. The second year grinned and continued. "We've got Potions second thing. Wonder what he's going to be like."
"Probably all wet," said a girl opposite him. "Just-dumped-syndrome. You know."
Harry had the strongest urge to nudge Ron in the ribs, and make him put the whole group of second years on detention. Of course, he knew he couldn't. Ron would want to know why he was suddenly sticking up for Snape, and he knew that the last thing Snape needed was Harry blabbing all about the guardian bond.
Snape suddenly looked up from his soup, directly at the table of Gryffindors, his dark eyes fixing on Harry. Harry looked back for a moment, then turned to his hash browns, suddenly completely not hungry. He wondered what Potions that day would be like. He and Draco were in the dungeons with Snape last thing, while Ron and Hermione did History of Magic with Binns. He couldn't really predict what Snape would be like. He didn't expect that things would be any different to normal.
Lessons started, and he and Ron trailed off across the grounds to Care of Magical Creatures. Sneezy was sitting comfortably in one of the pockets of Ron's bag, nibbling nonchalantly on a bit of bacon Ron had discarded from breakfast. Hagrid greeted them all at the doors of his cabin, and took them around to one of the spare vegetable patches. He'd placed little mugs of water around the rim of the patch, and a herd of opsittops were already hard at work. They were working in teams to build a sort of village, by moulding the dirt into a shape, and patting it with the water. Harry and Ron let Sneezy down, and he scampered away, making a noise like a duck on helium, waving his little arms joyfully.
After an hour, Ron left for Transfiguration, and Hermione arrived from Muggle Studies. She was delighted by the opsittops’ work, and handed out peanuts to all of them. They had an enjoyable lesson with the opsittop village, and at the end, Harry scooped Sneezy up and put him into his top pocket. Sneezy gave an annoyed huff, and an irritable, "No!", which Harry ignored. He was going to murder whoever had taught Sneezy that word. He and Hermione then made their way up the sloping lawns to the entrance hall.
They were just passing through the doors when a large group of Hufflepuff third years came up from the dungeons. All of them were smirking. A blonde boy at the front said, chuckling, "He's lost it, completely. Couldn't control a flobberworm. Didn't even bother shouting at us."
Harry's eyes narrowed. As he passed the Hufflepuff boy, he 'accidently' bumped into him and nearly knocked him over. "Oh, sorry," said Harry, vaguely, not bothering to glance back and see whether he had actually fallen.
Hermione was watching him suspiciously as they made their way up the marble staircase. "What was that for?" she asked, frowning.
"What was what for?" he said, perfectly innocently.
"You did that on purpose," she said, with another frown. "Whatever did he do to you?"
"It was an accident," said Harry, in his most airy tone. "He should have been watching where he was going. Come on... I want to get my Transfiguration text book before break runs out. What have you got next?"
"Potions," said Hermione. She looked thoughtful. "I wonder whether what everybody's saying is true... that Snape can't be bothered keeping control anymore."
"I bet they're imagining it," said Harry.
"Mmm... probably," she said, idly. "It doesn't seem like Snape to just give up on his control after losing something he never had, does it?"
Harry shook his head. They got their text books from the common room, dropped Sneezy off to have a nap in one of the plantpots, just as the bell went. Harry hurried off to Transfiguration, and Hermione went to Potions. She looked a bit worried.
Transfiguration simply crawled by. Harry wasn't sure whether it was just a boring lesson, or whether he was subconsciously itching to hear what Snape had been like teaching Hermione. He was praying that she didn't come back to him and report that Snape really had stopped bothering. It just didn't seem like Snape. Also, it was very un-nerving to Harry to think that just a year ago, he would have been screaming for joy if Snape had no longer cared about discipline in his classroom, yet now, he was mentally praying that Snape hadn't just given up.
Luckily, when he went into the Great Hall for lunch and sat opposite Hermione, she didn't seem to have any such news. Though there was an odd expression on her face that made Harry wonder. "So," he said, trying to sound casual, shovelling chicken nuggets onto his plate, as Draco and Ron joined them. "How was Potions?"
Hermione frowned slightly into her chicken nuggets for a moment, then said, "It was... very awkward. Very uncomfortable."
"What do you mean?" asked Harry.
Hermione glanced up at him. "I saw a girl I know from Chess Club this morning. She's in seventh year, doing her NEWTs, and she took Potions. She said it was the same in her class too..." She toyed with a chicken nugget for a moment, then carried on. "All the students who have taken Potions at NEWT level at least tolerate Snape in some shape or form, or want to learn Potions. Everybody else is required by law to do it."
"So..." said Harry, slowly.
"Snape is... odd," said Hermione.
"And it's taken you six years to realise this?" said Ron.
She shook her head. "No, you don't understand... he's just... not bothered. As though he just doesn't really give a damn. But in the fifth year downwards, everybody is forced to do Potions, and so they hate him. They're the ones taking advantage of him and turning his class into mayhem, saying he can't control them."
"But what about our year? NEWT classes?" said Harry, with wide eyes.
"We all just sat in silence," said Hermione. She looked quite frightened. "And it wasn't like usual silence. It was a really, really, awkward silence. He just told us to copy out of the text book, and we did, and nobody said a word all lesson..." She sighed. "It's really weird, Harry."
Harry raised his eyebrows. He couldn't quite understand what Hermione meant, though he had Potions after lunch, and he could find out for himself then. He ate his lunch quickly, as he wasn't really hungry, and was one of the first people waiting outside the dungeon room in which they had Potions. Draco followed behind him idly.
"I really don't see what all the fuss is about," he was drawling. "Give it a few days and this will all die down. It usually does. The students will get bored and move onto the next thing, and Snape will recapture himself. Trust me."
"You'd better be right," said Harry.
"Am I ever wrong?"
"There's a first time for everything."
It was a few more minutes before the door of the dungeon opened, and Snape called them in idly. Harry and Draco entered the classroom first. Snape was sitting at his desk. He looked just as Hermione had described him... odd.
"Text books in the corner," he said, very quietly, but the whole class was silent and picked up every word. "Page 267. Copy and complete... questions at the end. If anybody finishes, go onto page 268."
They got their text books without a single word. For some reason, the thought of speaking was suddenly terrifying, even for Harry. He and Draco sat on the front row, just in front of Snape's desk, got out parchment, quill and ink, then started to copy, in silence.
An hour went past. Harry didn't even know it was an hour until he glanced up at the silver and emerald clock behind Snape's desk, and he was surprised. The time hadn't exactly flown by, but the silence had lulled him into a rhythm of writing and reading. The bell went just as he noticed the clock, and the students that were due to go for another lesson just got up, packed their bags in silence, and moved out.
For a few minutes, the only people in the classroom were Snape, Harry, Draco, and a group of Ravenclaw girls on the back row. Snape sat back in his chair idly, glancing around at them all. His eyes fell on Harry. Harry tried to keep his gaze held by pointedly widening his eyes. Snape raised an eyebrow, glanced down, and picked up his quill. Harry frowned. He wanted to at least try and ask Snape what was wrong by telepathy, or legilimency, but he didn't need to, as he realised. On his parchment, Snape had written, "Didn't the muggles ever teach you not to stare?"
Harry picked up his quill, and idly wrote at the bottom of his parchment, "If they did, I didn't listen. I want to talk to you.", then moved his elbow, in mock thought, making sure Snape could see it while his arm blocked Draco's view.
Snape's frowned at this. He wrote, smoothly, "Why?", and flashed the paper in Harry's line of sight.
Harry dipped his quill back in his ink, and crossed out his previous 'I want to talk to you', and replaced it with, "You need to talk to me."
At Snape's little snort, Draco looked up in surprise. He glanced at Snape, then at Harry, and turned back to his book. Harry's eyes travelled back to Snape's parchment, as Snape wrote, "I do not. MY business is MY business."
"I owe you a favour," Harry wrote back. His page was now covered in upside down notes. "Remember. I can't tell anybody. It's the whole secret trust thingy. And you NEED to talk to somebody. Ask Madam Pomfrey, it's dangerous bottling up stress."
Snape frowned at that last message, and growled, "I am NOT stressed, Potter." It was a few moments before he realised he'd said it out loud. Draco was staring at him in amazement. Harry was staring at him too. Snape glared at Draco. "Did I say to stop writing, Malfoy?" he snapped.
Draco shot back to his work quickly, burying his head into the book and almost hiding from view. Harry showed Snape his new message, scrawled across the bottom of his work. "At least let me help in someway. Even if you don't want to talk. There must be something I can do."
Snape thought about that for a moment, and then silently dipped his quill in his ink pot, and wrote out a little list of bullet-points. "1. You are not my mother. 2. There is nothing you can do for me. 3. I am not 16, stop sending me little messages as though I am."
Harry frowned at this, and picked up his quill to write something back, when he checked that last sentence again. "I am not 16". Harry wondered about something, his quill lingering over the page, twirling carefully in mid-air. After a moment, the most perfect idea came so suddenly to mind Harry felt almost as though he hadn't thought of it himself. He glanced at Snape. Would it be enough to cheer him up?
He turned over his paper, and wrote at the bottom, "Be free at 9 PM". He moved his hand so that Snape could see. The Potions master glanced at it, and his frown deepened even further. After a moment, he gave a sigh, and wrote, "Fine," on his paper, in a very irritable sort of way.
Harry then started to work again, and Snape went back to his marking, though unseen by the professor, Harry started on another letter, but this time, it was not to Snape, but to somebody else. It read, "I need a big big big favour. Can you be in the entrance hall of Hogwarts for 9 PM tonight? It's really important. Thanks. Harry Potter."
"Sneezy, be quiet."
There was quiet for a while, and then again, Sneezy piped up in the pockets of Harry's robes. "Harry!"
"Shush!" Harry hissed.
It was nine o' clock. Harry was on his way to the entrance hall, to meet his visitor. He'd sent the letter with Hedwig right after school finished, and the reply came pretty soon afterwards, so at five to nine, Harry had told Ron and Hermione he was going to have a shower in the bathrooms just down the hall. They hadn't seen this as suspicion, mainly because the Gryffindor bathroom was full. Sneezy, of course, had complained loudly until Harry brought him along.
He turned around a corner, and found himself at the marble staircase, descending it quickly. Sneezy was jigging up and down in his pocket with accompanying squeaks of, "NO!" and "Bad!", but Harry didn't have time for him. His visitor was in the entrance hall waiting.
"Hiya," he said, breathlessly, as he stepped off the bottom of the stairs.
Bill Weasley smiled down at him, absent-mindedly brushing a lock of hair behind his ear. "Hey, Harry... so, how come you wanted to see me?"
"I need a favour," said Harry. "There's a curse that I want you to break for me. For somebody who could really use a moral booster."
"What sort of curse?" asked Bill. "If it's anything really serious, I might not be able to help..."
"No, it was something put on as a joke," said Harry. "Quite a few years ago. It's just a little thing. Come on, I told him to be ready at nine o' clock..."
Bill, smiling bemusedly, followed Harry down the corridor leading to the dungeons. Sneezy was whistling a Christmas carol merrily as they went. "It's a good job I was in the country," said Bill, idly. "I came over to see Mum and Dad... Percy's funeral is going to be just after the year ends, and I figured they'd need some help to get over everything."
Harry glanced up at Bill, and asked, "Did you get on with Percy?"
Bill paused, and grimaced a little, clearly torn between giving his opinion, and giving respect. "Um... I tolerated Percy. He always annoyed me as a kid though, and he grew up to be a snootty little know-it-all too. When I was made a prefect, and then head boy, he always annoyed me for months because of it. Telling me he was going to do it too. You know what I mean? He was still my brother though... I think it's hit the whole family hard."
Harry nodded. "Yeah, I do... but he was good at heart though, wasn't he?"
"He was," said Bill, nodding, a hollow expression in his eyes. "I'm glad he and my parents made up before he died though... I know Mum feels better for it."
They were now outside Snape's office door. Harry took a few deep breaths to steady his nerves, then knocked curtly on the wood, and stepped back. There was movement from inside, and the unmistakable chink of glass on wood. A few moments later, the door swung open, and Snape glared down at him coldly. His eyes were liquid amber. Apparently he had a few serenity candles in there.
"Potter, I have no idea of what it is you hope to achieve, but - " He had noticed Bill. He looked up at the eldest Weasley child with a raised eyebrow, looking mildly surprised. "Ah, if it isn't the only Weasley I could ever abide."
"It's nice to see you again, Professor," said Bill, with a little smile.
"And what, may I ask, brings you to my door?" asked Snape. Harry was amazed. He didn't think Snape could ever be courteous to a Weasley.
"Actually, I'm not sure myself," said Bill, looking down at Harry, still smiling. "Harry just told me he wanted a favour."
Harry turned his gaze onto Snape's placid amber eyes, and then he said, "I thought of something I know will cheer you up. And it's not a woman, but it's something."
"Potter," Snape snarled. "I do not need a woman."
"That's the spirit," said Harry, brightly. He smiled at Snape. Snape looked faintly frightened by the undaunted beam on Harry's face. "I'm going to give you an opportunity."
Snape frowned. "And what sort of an opportunity would that be?" he said, suspiciously.
"The opportunity to humiliate me in front of the school," said Harry.
"Potter, I have the opportunity to do such a thing every single day of my life," said Snape, coldly. "Believe me, I do not need your permission."
"Just trust me," said Harry. He turned to Bill with a smile, and muttered something in his ear.
Bill listened, and when Harry was done, he glanced up at Snape and smiled. "Butter-fingers hex?"
Snape instantly flushed red around his jaw, and he turned to Harry, his teeth bared. "Potter! What the devil do you think you're - "
"Hold out your arm," said Bill, as he drew his wand from up his sleeve, his brown eyes twinkling. Harry stood back to watch. He really hoped this worked.
Snape glared at Bill angrily. "Why?"
"Just humour me, Professor," said Bill, in a very placid, soothing sort of tone.
Snape glared at him for a moment more, and then hesitantly stretched out his wrist, watching Bill with narrowed eyes. Bill smiled. He took Snape's arm in his hand and pulled up his sleeve, tracing the tip of his wand up and down the veins and muttering to himself. Harry realised he was biting his lip almost painfully hard.
A glow started on the tip of Bill's wand, and he began to murmur a sort of chant under his breath, still searching Snape's arm. Snape looked still heavily suspicious of all this. He glanced up at Harry with an angry expression, but Harry just smiled, as Bill's wand suddenly flashed with a gentle wave of soft amber light that lit the corridor. A light wind blew from the mouth of the dungeons and rushed by them all. Harry was just in time to see something black seeping out of the point on Snape's arm where Bill's wand touched it, and then it was whipped away in the winds, like a sheet of material. It tumbled and rolled into the air, then was gone, sweeping away, into the entrance hall, out through the doors and up into the sky.
The breeze died out, and Bill smiled at Snape, stepping back. Snape was staring at Bill as though he'd just torn out his liver and eaten it. Harry grinned, and said, "Professor Snape, catch!", and from out of his pocket, he threw a bottle of ink straight at Snape.
Snape's eyes widened as the ink sailed towards him, and by instinct, his hand shot out to snatch it up. Nearly a year ago, when Harry had thrown a marble to Snape, he had missed it. But this time, Snape's long fingers curled around the ink and held it fast.
The expression on Snape's face was something that Harry would never forget. He was staring, open-mouthed and shocked at the ink bottle clasped in his hand, as though he'd never seen a more amazing sight. He turned his hand over, curled his fist, and then practiced by throwing the ink gently in the air. He caught it again, perfectly.
Bill grinned. "Nice catch."
Snape looked up at him, still amazed, and finding no words, he turned to Harry. "Potter... I - " he began, but Harry cut him off.
"Don't," he said, with a smile. "I repaid my debt for all the times you helped me... you don't need to say thankyou." He turned to Bill, and said, "Come on and see Ron and Ginny, they'll probably want to know how you're doing. Ron's dyed his hair, have you seen?"
And with that, he lead Bill out of the dungeon corridor, and away. As he turned the corner towards the marble staircase, he allowed himself a glance back. He caught a brief glimpse of Snape tossing the ink bottle in the air, catching it again. And then he smiled, a proper smile, the sort of smile that made Harry feel it was all worth it. Harry grinned.
Harry had Potions the next day, second thing, while Draco had it first. He passed Draco as he was heading down the dungeon corridor to Snape's classroom.
"How was it?" asked Harry, hopefully.
Draco looked at him. There was a smirk playing at his lips. "He's back," Draco said simply, before he walked away, heading for his next lesson.
Harry and the rest of the class queued up outside the room. Everybody was debating in whispers what Snape would be like. A minute or so later, the door opened, and Snape's voice came out. "In!" he barked. Everybody jumped and scurried in without a word.
Snape was up on his feet, not sitting behind his desk, and the ingredients of a very complex looking potion was on the board.
"Get in, sit down, bags in the corner, get your cauldrons from the store cupboard and start," he ordered over his shoulder. Everybody practically ran to their seats, clattered down in them and started unpacking as though it was a race. Snape drew his wand from up his sleeve and announced, "Scindo boomslang skin!"
There was a rushing noise as the boomslang skin he had piled in a heap at the back of the room zoomed into the air, handing itself out equally to every student.
Snape banged his palms on his desk and gripped the edge menacingly, bringing an instant end to the noise. "Do not waste the boomslang skin. It is incredibly difficult to extract and if you ruin your piece, you will not get another and I will have no second thoughts about giving you a T. Hurry up! We have a potion to make!"
Everybody leapt up out of their seats and went sprinting for the ingredients at the back of the room. There was a mad scramble for gillyweed and shredded lettuce, then they all ran back to their seats and clattered down, starting to cut ingredients without another word. Snape's thin lips curled in a greasy smirk.
Everybody finished their potion that lesson. The chance was that fright was spurring them onwards. Snape was truly back, and with gusto, it seemed, so absolutely nobody wanted to have to explain to him why their potion was incomplete.
The moment that Harry finished, he took a glass canister from the side and ladled some in. He glanced up at Snape. The Potions master was marking essays so quickly and aggressively there was practically smoke pouring from his quill.
"Professor?" he called, and then he threw the canister, hoping against hope that he didn't miss and have his bleaching solution turn Snape blonde.
Snape didn't even look up from his essays. He shot out a hand and caught the canister perfectly, dropped it into his marking box, and started writing again before his quill had even had time to fall.
Harry made his way back to his desk and started to pack away. After a moment, he murmured, out of the corner of his mouth, "Good catch, sir."
Snape glanced up at him, then back at his essays. There was a hint of a smirk on his lips. "Terrible throw, Potter, but I suppose it is because of your meddling that I still managed to compensate for that."
"I suppose so," said Harry, with another grin.
The remaining few weeks passed in a whirl for Harry, and it only seemed to last a day or so, before the last lesson of the last day came, and his sixth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was over. That evening in the Great Hall, Dumbledore announced that the house cup tournament had been cancelled in a mark of respect to all those that had fallen, and again, he repeated the outcome of the Staff vs. Students Quidditch match. The staff team, with Snape as Seeker, had beaten the Bright Sparks by just ten points, thanks to Snape's catch of the Snitch. And Harry knew nobody would believe him, but he had purposely avoided the Snitch when he saw it near the staff goal posts. It was worth it to give Snape a little dignity back. The students now thought of him as, "better than Potter at Quidditch", and this, apparently, commanded a lot of respect.
The atmosphere during the feast was subdued. Everybody in the hall knew somebody who had died, and of course, it was hard to end the year when they had begun with their friends by their sides. Harry felt oddly as though things weren't supposed to be this way, as though there was still something left to be explained.
Though as Dumbledore only could, once everybody finished eating, the headmaster stood up and raised his arms for quiet. Every face in the hall turned to him, and at last, perhaps there would be the closure they all badly needed.
"The last few weeks, I know, have been confusing for you all," said Dumbledore. "You have taken lessons without your classmates, had dinner without your friends, finished the year without some of your families. Though I will remind you what I told you on the morning after this whole atrocity... the dead are now buried, and I know for a fact that many family funerals have been going on. I have attended a few of them to represent Hogwarts. Though I beg you all to remember, every time you feel sad for your lost friends, that their bodies may have been buried, but their memory will leave on as a beacon of hope against Voldemort. The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time, and that is how we can handle it."
He sat down to a great amount of applause and cheering. He then smiled, picked up his goblet, and announced, "To the future!"
Everybody raised their goblets and echoed his cry. It was a moment Harry would remember for a long time. The school was still a little battered, and the grounds would never quite be the same again, but at least the healing process inside could begin.
He, Ron, Hermione, Draco, Neville, Luna and Ginny all packed their bags that night, and the next morning, the carriages arrived at the steps to take them all back to the Hogwarts Express, and home. Harry knew he would miss the great castle dearly, and couldn't wait to return for his last year, but he also knew he would have a lot of fun over the holidays, for the first time in his life. He never had to see the Dursleys ever again.
The journey back to King's Cross was a pretty uneventful one. Ron managed to finally get hold of the Quidditch cards he needed for a full set, by trading the Umbridge issue of The Truth with one of the Ravenclaws for the staff team.
"McGonagall was a wicked Chaser," said Ron, flipping through his new cards eagerly. "Look, 85 out of 100. That's nearly as good as Ginny."
"Flitwick was good though too," said Hermione, drawing out the card. She was the only one allowed to touch Ron's cards, and even then, he kept a close eye on her. "And whoever would have suspected Professor Sinistra was so good at throwing?"
"Oh, she can throw pretty well," said Draco. "I remember the day one of the idiots in my Astronomy class broke a telescope. I never knew she could throw a piece of chalk that far."
"Hooch as the Beater was brilliant though," said Ginny. She smiled. "Even if she did accidentally break my ankle. I'm sure she didn't mean it though."
"I'm amazed that Snape managed to get the Snitch before Harry though," said Ron. He held up the two cards, comparing. "Look. Snape's an 89 for catching, but Harry's 95." Ron grinned. "You didn't lose on purpose by any chance, did you?"
"Of course I didn't," said Harry, grinning back. "It was just luck."
They all chuckled, and Neville held out a bag of Bertie Botts Beans to everybody. "Does anybody want one?"
"Yeah, thanks Neville," said Harry. He took a few gratefully along with everybody else.
Neville smiled, and then turned to the dark figure sitting hunched up in the corner with a very nervous little smile. "Um... d-do you want one, Professor?"
Snape glared at him over his thick book, and said, sourly, "No thankyou, Longbottom."
They all hid their grins, as Ron started up a debate with Malfoy over who was the better goalkeeper, Lupin or him. Harry glanced at Snape and smiled. It was going to be one hell of a summer.
When the train pulled in at King's Cross, they all got out on the platform, and said goodbye to each other. Hermione went off with her parents, chattering avidly about her year, and Neville was lead away by his grandmother. Luna's father was standing by one of the bins, reading a muggle newspaper upside down, and the two of them went off talking about blooblo worms. Whatever they were.
Mr and Mrs Weasley, Bill, Charlie, Mad-Eye Moody, Lupin and Tonks were all waiting for them with wide smiles on their faces. Ron, Ginny and Harry were hugged by all the Weasleys, but when Mr Weasley turned to Draco, he stiffened up. Mrs Weasley looked over, and said, "Oh, hello... who's this, Ron?"
"This boy," Moody growled, clapping a hand on Draco's shoulder. "Is the bravest Slytherin I have ever seen. I've been trying to get him the Order of Merlin for months now, and give me a while, damn it all, I'll manage it."
Draco tried not to look too pleased. He extended his hand to Mrs Weasley politely. "Malfoy, Madam. Draco Malfoy."
She raised her eyebrows. Harry, sensing some awkwardness here, stepped in. "Draco's an orphan, Aunt Molly. I've said he can stay with me over the summer until he finds somewhere to stay... it's that or an orphanage." He gave her a pleading look.
Mad-Eye Moody was on his side. His gnarled hand was still curled around Draco's shoulder, and he growled, "I'm vouching for this boy, Molly. He's certainly won my trust. He was a great help in the battle, saved countless lives, and Dumbledore's supportive of him too."
She considered him for a moment, then smiled warmly, and took Draco's hand, shaking. "Of course you can stay with us, dear... a friend of Ron and Harry's, are you?"
Draco smiled a little. "I believe so."
"He is not my friend," Ron muttered from behind Harry, though nobody heard him.
Mr Weasley had noticed Professor Snape standing behind all the children. He smiled, and offered him a hand. "Ah, Severus... you are staying with us, this summer? Good, good..."
"Indeed," said Snape, dryly, shaking hands. The sarcasm was wasted on Mr Weasley, who just beamed at him.
"Oh, Harry, dear," said Mrs Weasley, suddenly. "A letter arrived at Grimmauld Place this morning for you... Hedwig brought it. I thought I'd bring it along in case it's important."
She handed Harry a white envelope. Curiously, he took it, and turned it over, slitting it open. He pulled out the note. The St Mungo's emblem was stamped at the top. Fearing the worst, Harry began to read.
"What is it?" asked Ron, peering around him. "What does it say? Is it about - "
"Kainda," whispered Harry.
"What does it say?" asked Ron, worriedly, checking Harry's impression carefully.
Harry finished reading. He folded up the letter, silently, and put it away in the envelope. He then turned to his cousin, and took a deep breath. Ron began, "Oh... Harry... I'm sorry, mate..."
But then he saw that a grin was spreading over Harry's face. Next second, Harry had given a whoop of joy, starting to dance. "She's alive! Ron, she's alive, she's getting better, look!"
He thrust the letter at Ron, still dancing and hugging Ginny. When Ron read it, he grabbed Harry in a brotherly embrace as well, grinning. "Two weeks until you can visit! Harry, that's great! Mum, we can go to St Mungo's in two weeks, can't we? Malfoy, get in here, Harry needs a hug!"
Draco looked reluctantly for a moment, and then hugged Harry rather briefly. "Congratulations," he said, with a smile.
Harry was grinning so hard it made his face hurt. Kainda was alive, and starting to get better, showing signs of recovery. It was two weeks until he could go and visit, but suddenly, two weeks seemed like moments. She was going to make it, through her own courage and strength. Blaise hadn't beaten her. She was alive.
As everybody made their way out of the station into London, heading for the car park, Harry felt like skipping to Grimmauld Place. He wasn't going back to the Dursleys, Kainda was alive, he had the whole summer ahead of him, and Voldemort's debut had been crushed in its tracks. He glanced around at all his family, his friends, his guardian, feeling odd bubbles of happiness brimming inside him.
The war might have begun, and dark times might be ahead, but it was 1-0 to Dumbledore and the ministry. The phoenix had taken flight, and Harry Potter was proud to say that he was alive.
The road ahead would be gloomy and murky, of course, but...
That's another story.
*~*~*~*~* THE END *~*~*~*~*
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