This is the first in a post-Hogwarts trilogy. I apologize for killing
off certain characters, but it wouldnít have worked so well if theyíd
still been around.
No sooner had Ron stepped into his childhood home then his mother
was upon him. "Lord, dears, look at you, you're soaked through . . . "
She relieved them of cloaks and bundles alike, clucking. "It's still snowing
out there, then?"
"Like the bloody dickens," Ron confirmed, shaking his head to dislodge
the small cap of snow that had settled on his hair in the short walk.
"Language, Ron," Hermione and his mother said at the same
He laughed and reached over to flick the snow off Hermione's head,
too. One of the nice things about their closer relationship was the freedom
to do things like that. Every last Weasley was an instinctive nurterer,
and Hermione often proved to be the perfect nurteree.
"Happy Christmas, Mrs. Weasley," his girlfriend said, leaning down
to kiss his mother on the cheek. "Where is everyone?"
"Around and about," his mother said. "They'll be in soon enough when
I get Christmas dinner properly on the table, see if they won't." She
took firm hold of her youngest son's arm and said in a low, intense voice,
"Ron, have you heard anything from Harry?"
Ron had to shake his head. "Nothing, Mum. I would have owled you
the moment I did."
"Still? When was the last one?"
"November," Hermione said. "From Japan."
"Japan!" Mrs Weasley heaved a sigh and shooed them further
into the kitchen. "What can the poor boy be doing with himself in Japan,
I'd like to know . . . "
It hardly surprised Ron to hear his best friend being spoken of as
a poor boy. Harry had defeated Voldemort, left Hogwarts, and passed
his eighteenth birthday in the past year, and Ron's mum would still call
him a poor boy. He shook his head and set to the potatoes as instructed.
Natural nurterers, indeed.
But Ron had to admit that he was worried, too. Midway through the
summer, Hedwig had appeared at his window in the night, a short note tied
to her leg. Ron, I'm going to travel for a little bit. Don't worry
about me. Harry.
Stunned and dumbfounded, he'd Apparated at once to the flat Harry
had rented at the beginning of May, to find it already tidied and vacant,
with Muggle money in an envelope on the table for the landlady. Hermione
had been already there, as taken aback as he by Harry's sudden Disapparition.
After a full night of furious discussion, a scathing letter had been sent
off with Pig. Harry, what d'you think you're playing at? Where'd you
go? And why in bloody hell didn't you take me with you?
Pig had been sent back from Harry with a reply that said, I'm
ALL RIGHT. I've got money, I know where I'm going and what I'm doing.
DON'T WORRY ABOUT ME. I need to travel for a little while.
Ron had been been a Kneazleís whisker from charging off to the Continent
to look for his best friend, but Hermione had stepped in. Sheíd noted
that Harry had been through a lot in the past year--the death of Dumbledore,
Sirius, and Remus, the taxing battle with Voldemort, and the tidying-up
business afterwards. It was only logical that he might wish to get away
for a little bit.
"Get away from us?" Ron had howled furiously.
"He'll come back to us, you know he always does," Hermione had told
him. "And in the meantime, Ron Weasley, you aren't to pester him, do you
hear me? I honestly think he needs this."
"If you go after him, I'll hex you six ways to Sunday, I promise
Ron had too much experience with Hermione, both as friend and as
beloved, not to realize she meant it. So he'd settled for leaping on Hedwig
as soon as one of Harry's infrequent and not-too-informative letters came,
sending grumbling, insult-filled letters of his own back at much more
regular intervals, and attempting to discern Harry's position from the
clues he dropped in each letter.
To his dismay, Harry had just wandered further and further with each
missive. From France to Germany, down to Spain to Italy to Africa to the
Middle East to China, up to Russia, and the last he'd heard, Japan . .
. and that had been a month and a half ago . . .
"Oi, how many people are we feeding, anyway?"
Ron blinked at his brother's voice, and then looked down at his bowl.
It was piled high with more potatoes than an army could mash. "Just us,"
he said flippantly, trying not to betray to Fred that he'd lost track
of his peeling. "Reckon it'll be enough?"
"P'raps," George said dryly, appearing over Ron's other shoulder.
He lowered his voice. "Anything from Harry?"
"Not since November," Ron repeated.
"Arr . . . Mum's having--"
"Kittenfits, I know." Ron grumbled. "Damn bloody Harry anyway."
"Even Charlie's letter didn't settle her down." Harry had dropped
in on Charlie in Romania early on in his wanderings. No sooner had he
left than Charlie, knowing his mother, had fired off a long letter detailing
the minutiae of Harry's health and well being. It was hard to say whether
it had done Mrs. Weasleyís worries more harm than good.
"Ginny's got it worse, you know," Fred remarked. "She never says
anything, but Mum must dosed her with Pepperup Potion three times since
she came home for the holidays. She about took Mum's head off when she
heard there'd been three letters nobody'd told her about."
Ron frowned. "She's not still hung up on him, is she?"
"Oh, no," Fred mocked. "Just like you're not over the moon about
Ron felt his ears go a little red, but he retorted, "Kept quiet about
it, hasn't she?"
"Do you blame her? With brothers like you?" Hermione needled, coming
up behind them. "Fred, George, your mum wants some help with the turkey."
One by one, the Weasleys were routed into the kitchen and drafted
to help with the feast. The kitchen began to fill with voices and energy,
and the smells of Christmas dinner.
Ron kept a sharp eye on his little sister, but she didn't seem to
be too much quieter than her regular self. He shook his head. Fred and
George were just mad, that was all there was to it.
Most of the food was ready to eat by now, but not yet on the table,
and Ron's mum had gone into full battle mode. "George, don't pick
at the turkey, go get your father to carve it . . . Fred, the pudding,
quickly . . . Ginny, do something with all those potatoes, I'm sure there's
a bowl about . . . who could that be at the door . . . oh, Ron, get that,
do . . ."
Ron ducked around his father and pulled open the front door, expecting
some Weasley relative, come for the feast. But there was neither red hair
nor freckles on the tall, somber-eyed young man who stood outside, so
thickly dusted with snow that it took Ron several seconds to recognize
At Ron's outburst, the kitchen was plunged into utter silence, as
everyone stared at the door. After a moment, Harry said hesitantly, "I--I
was just in the neighborhood," he hefted the rucksack he'd slung over
one shoulder, "and I thought I'd drop off your gifts."
Ron seized his free hand and pulled him into the warmth of the kitchen,
thumping him on the shoulder so hard that snow showered to the floor.
"Whyn't you tell me you were back in England, mate?"
Harry was destined not to answer, for Hermione had flung aside her
stack of napkins and thrown her arms around him. "Oh, Harry, we've been
Scarcely had she released him ("Oh, get off him, do, Hermione, he
doesn't bloody want you sniffling all over him,") then the twins
were upon him, pounding his back and ruffling his hair. "The prodigal
boy returns at last!"
Ron's mum shouldered her blood sons aside to get to her adopted one.
"Come in, come in, don't be standing there in that draft--Ron, honestly,
close the door, did I raise you in a barn? Heavens, Harry, you're
all over snow," she fussed, unfastening his cloak and giving it a healthy
shake before handing it to Fred with orders to hang it up. She had to
stand on tiptoes to brush the remainder of the snow out of Harry's hair.
"Lord, it must be--terribly cold out--there . . ." She trailed off as
the white beneath her hands didn't brush off.
Harry ducked his head and ran his hands through his wild hair. "I'm
afraid that's permanent, Mrs. Weasley."
And so it was, Ron saw--scattered here and there in the familiar
bird's-nest were tufts of pure white. There weren't many, but there didn't
have to be--against the deep black, they showed up like angel wings.
There was a funny little silence, and then his mum said brightly,
"So they are, my mistake . . ."
His dad moved forward to greet Harry. "I am glad you're back in Britain,
Harry--Hermione's quite right, we've been terribly worried . . ."
"I was all right, really, Mr. Weasley." Harry looked around the kitchen,
and Ron followed his gaze to the one person who hadn't greeted him yet.
"Hello, Ginny," Harry said.
She cleared her throat, but her voice still sounded tight and funny.
"Hello, Harry. Happy Christmas."
Maybe the twins weren't daft, after all . . .
After a moment, Harry looked away and lowered his rucksack to the
ground. "I brought presents."
Ron snapped back to himself, tucking uncomfortable speculations into
the back of his mind. "Just chuck it in the other room, mate, we're about
to sit down."
Harry stepped back. "I can leave . . ."
Ron goggled at him. "Leave, what are you on about?"
"Leave, indeed! Oh, no--sit, sit--George, bring an extra chair would
"But--are you sure you have enough?" Harry asked as a chair was produced.
"You do know which house you're in, Harry?" Ron asked, nudging
him towards his seat. "Come on, we've got enough to feed us all 'til Easter."
Ron wasnít exaggerating at all. They had the turkey, his potatoes, stuffing,
Yorkshire pudding . . . the list went on and on.
"Tell me, Harry, whereíve you been?" Mrs. Weasley asked,
passing him a plate piled so high that gravity was offended. "Ron
says his last owl was from Japan, but you surely didnít spend a month
and a half there . . ."
"No," Harry said, looking at his loaded plate with some
dismay. "Um. I went to Australia for a little after that, but I spent
most of December in the States."
"Really! What on earth did you do with yourself there?"
Harry shrugged, absently peeling the bacon off an angel-on-horseback.
"Oh . . . this and that . . . how are you, Mrs. Weasley?" He
looked around. "Youíve built on your kitchen."
"Oh, that was Arthur--"
"I used all Muggle tools," Ronís dad said proudly, as Ron
groaned. Dad had just stopped talking about this a few weeks ago.
"Just did a few simple spells to keep the water out, sort of thing.
Now we can seat all of us in here if we need to, and more besides."
"And we will," George put in. "Fred didnít tell you
his news, Harry."
Harry looked enquiring, and Fredís ears turned pink. "Angelina
said yes," he said, grinning broadly.
"No, did she?" Harryís smile flickered over his face and
through his eyes. "Congratulations!"
"Thanks. Weíre getting married in the summer--here, probably.
You are coming for it?"
"I wouldnít miss it. Thatís wonderful."
"Yeah, I can see it now," George smirked. "Theyíll
be popping out Chasers by the next March--April at the latest."
Fredís ears went pinker, but he gave his twin a good-natured thump
on the head. "Oh, and speaking of babies--"
"Percy," Ron jumped in, grinning broadly. "He and
Pen are going to have their own little prefect in April."
"Oh, thatís right--they were married right before I--left, werenít
They had, and looking back, Ron realized that Harry had been silent
and distant at that wedding, as everyone around him laughed and danced,
as much celebrating the defeat of Voldemort as the couple who had just
A week later, Hedwig had tapped on his window in the middle of the
night, signalling the start of Harryís odyssey.
"Right quick, wasnít he?" George snickered, still on subject
of Percyís impending fatherhood.
"Yeah, never knew Perce had it in him," Fred laughed.
"Well he is a Weasley--"
"Hear that, Hermione? Thatís what youíve got to look forward
to . . ."
Ron could feel his cheeks flaming. "Shut it, you . . ."
"Hush, all of you," Mrs. Weasley scolded. She turned to
Harry. "Percy and Penny are at her parentsí for tonight, but theyíll
be here in the morning."
"Itíll be the first grandchild, wonít it, Mrs. Weasley?"
She acknowledged it, beaming. "Well, you know, Charlie and Bill
still havenít gotten themselves a girl, either of them--"
"Theyíd better get a move on," George said. "Look
at Ron, he got his girl in fifth year . . . beat all of us . . ."
All right, that tore it . . . but Hermione reached over under the
table and grabbed Ronís knee, giving him a significant look. Donít,
youíre at the table. Reluctantly, he put down the roll heíd been about
to chuck at Georgeís head.
Harry looked at them, his eyes laughing like theyíd used to, and
Ronís embarrassment faded. He could resent nothing that made Harry laugh
"Aww, look, isnít that sweet, Fred?"
"Just like an old married couple, George."
"Hermione," Harry said quickly, as Hermione grabbed the
roll basket out of Ronís reach, "Iíve got a message for you. I was
in Bulgaria for a bit at the end of the summer and ran into Viktor Krum."
"Did you? How is he?"
"Very well--heís teaching at Durmstrang. He sends you his love.
And Ron," Harry added swiftly, "he sends you his absolute
reassurance of the platonic nature of that love."
Ron had to laugh along with the others. "Whatís he teaching
at Durmstrang, then? Quidditch? Lucky little gits, those--"
"Oh, no--Defense Against the Dark Arts."
"Heís quite good at teaching, too--I sat in on a class--"
"You were at Durmstrang?" Ron asked incredulously. He remembered
Karkaroff being so secretive during the Triwizard Tournament, scolding
Krum for letting even hints of the Eastern European school drop.
"Only for a few days. I ran into Krum in Bulgaria, and he invited
me there to speak to one or two of his advanced classes--"
Hermioneís face lit. "Oh, how was that? Where there a lot of
them? Did you have to have a translator, or did they understand English?"
Harryís cheeks went pink. "A translator, and a Sonorus
spell for both of us . . . He pulled a fast one on me--Ďone or two of
his advanced classesí turned out to be the entire school. They had to
put me in the Quidditch stadium."
Knowing full well Harryís distaste for public displays, everyone
at the table burst out laughing again.
Harry, though now red as a beet, laughed a little too. "I was
never so embarrassed in all my life--felt like Gilderoy Lockhart in the
middle of all that mess . . . Aside from that, Durmstrang was really nice,
if a bit chilly weather."
"Really?" Hermione said, frowning. Ron mentally agreed
with her--he, too, remembered Krum talking about how much better he liked
it at Hogwarts.
"I was thinking the same thing, Hermione," Harry said,
"but I think itís become a different place since Karkaroff and his
sort left." The shadows were back in Harryís eyes and face now. "A
lot of the teachers are quite young--our age, almost. Krum said many of
the old ones joined--or rejoined--the Death Eaters during the war."
And they were probably dead or in Azkaban now, Ron realized. There
was silence for a moment, and then he said in a loud cheerful voice, "I
hope you got to play some Quidditch against him, mate."
The shadows fled. "I did--just an informal match, Seeker against
"Yeah? Donít keep me waiting! Who won?"
"I did, and it took me three solid hours. It was a complete
fluke--pulled the Wronksi Feint on him and when I pulled up, it was right
there, a hundred feet above my bloody head." He shook his head, smiling
wryly. Then, as if to deflect all the attention from himself, he turned
to Ginny. "Youíre still playing Chaser, arenít you?"
She nodded, and her voice was steady enough as she elaborated, "Weíve
got a little third year girl playing Seeker for us now--Myra Creevey."
"Oh--Colin and Dennisís sister?"
"Mhm. Sheís pretty good, but she could use training."
"How did you do against Slytherin?"
"We beat them."
"They steamrollered them," Ron said proudly.
"We were lucky," Ginny said.
"You were bloody brilliant!" Ron turned to Harry. "Lucky,
she says, with a new Keeper and a new Seeker, now that you and Iíve left,
and a new Captain, and they beat Slytherinís team--seven hulking
great brutes--by two hundred points. Ask her who the new Captain is--go
Harry asked obediently, "Whoís the new Captain, Ginny?"
Ginny gave a one-shouldered shrug and ducked her head. "Me."
Harryís face almost split from his smile. "Oh, well done--"
and he started asking after the rest of the team.
His story about Bulgaria proved to be his last and only one of the
evening. He shrugged off the rest of their questions about his travels,
preferring instead to catch up on gossip of home, including Seamus and
Lavenderís having moved in together--"Not as if it were a surprise,"
Hermione said, "Seamus is her entire life--"
"His mumís having kittenfits," Ron said. "Theyíre
Catholic, you know."
"And I donít blame her in the least," Mrs. Weasley opined.
"Religion doesnít have a thing to do with it. Any child of mine
who did that sort of thing--"
"I think itís sweet," Ginny said. "They want to be
"Well, then, they can just get married, canít they . . ."
"I donít think Seamus wants to be married so young," Ron
said. "I mean, theyíre our age . . . eighteen . . ."
"And Lavender nearly lost him about five or six times during
the war," Ginny added.
"Oh, yes--she was an absolute wreck every single time--"
"Yeah, he was always in the thick of everything . . . barking
mad Irishman," Ron said. Seamus had taken an awful lot of
chances during the war, skating horribly close to the edge of death every
time--but Harry had taken more, and skated closer.
And Ginny had not been a wreck, but mere fragments, held together
by white-knuckled willpower. And at the very last, when the war had come
to Hogwarts itself, sheíd walked through what must have been hell on earth
to get to Harry when he needed her.
"She wanted him any way she could get him, thatís all,"
his sister said now, still speaking of Lavender. "I donít blame her
in the least."
Ron looked at his sister, passing George the buns. At the neckline
of her jumper, pulled by the motion, the barest hint of a silvery pink
scar showed, and then disappeared. Sheíd earned it in the Battle of Hogwarts,
and it cut from her collarbone nearly down to the middle of her ribs on
her left side. Ron swallowed hard at the memory of Harry walking out of
the smoke and fire with Ginny bleeding in his arms, saying in a flat voice,
"Heís gone. Voldemortís done."
Even now it made him shiver, and it also made him wonder if his little
sister would go with Harry--if he asked her.
His mum was still vocalising disapproval of the Seamus-and-Lavender
solution. "Iím sure her mother isnít any too pleased--"
A rather rhetorical question too, Ron decided, shaking his head at
himself. Even if Harry did ask her, and she did say yes, Mum would kill
"Yes, but Mum, times are very different now," Ron said,
still peering at his sister. "Itís not the same as it was."
Ginny gave him a questioning look and put a piece of turkey in her
mouth. Ron shook his head and turned his attention to his own food. There
was no use brooding over mights and maybes, and possible relationships.
Right now he had other things to worry about--like Harry himself.
* * *
"Eurgh," Harry said, wrinkling his nose at the pyjamas
he pulled out of his pack. "I think I last washed these in Texas."
"You can borrow some of mine," Ron said, chucking a pair
at him. They had been a present for his last birthday, from the twins,
and they had pink teddy bears all over.
Harry chucked them back. "No thanks!"
Ron laughed and caught them before they hit the floor. Tapping
them with his wand, he said, "Novo vestitum!" and the
pattern changed to one of Golden Snitches. "Itís something the twins
sell," he explained, sending them sailing across the room for the
Harry looked at them in admiration. "Nice job."
"Oh, yeah, theyíve been turning out all sorts of mad things,"
Ron said, shrugging into his own pyjamas--black-and-white stripes that
made him look like a Quidditch referee. "Foodís the least of it,
believe me, mate."
A few moments later, there was a knock on the door, and when Ron
called out, "Come on in, weíll be decent in a mo," it was Hermione
who poked her head through.
"Very funny," she said, and came in. She was bundled in
long nightgown, slippers, and her wrapper, and her hair had been temporarily
tamed into a braid. Crossing the room, she gave Harry another hard hug.
"We havenít had a proper chance to talk all evening," she said
briskly. "How are you?"
He gave her a baffled look. "Iím fine," he said.
Hermione looked at Ron, and he looked back, seeing his own thoughts
reflected in her eyes. No, heís not. She bit her lip.
Ron got to his feet. With Hermione here, he could finally ask the
question that had been plaguing his mind all evening--all year, in fact.
"Whyíd you leave, Harry?"
Harry looked from Hermione to Ron, and back again, and then ducked
his head. Pulling his glasses off and starting to polish them on the Golden
Snitches, he said in a casual voice, "Well, Iíve never travelled,
you know--thought Iíd see the world for a bit. Itís been interesting--Iíve
seen a lot, and--"
"Harry," Hermione said. "Stop that. This is
us, Ron and Hermione."
"Now quit messing about and tell us whatís really going on,"
Ron ordered, crossing his arms.
Harry looked at them for a long moment, without his glasses. His
face looked naked and vulnerable. Then he put them on, hooking the earpieces
carefully around his ears before finally saying very softly, "I donít
"I donít know!" he burst out.
Ron started to say--what? he didnít know--but Hermione shot him a
quick, quelling look, and he fell silent.
Harry slumped against the window frame, looking out into the yard,
at the still-falling snow. "Iíve been like this ever since--well,
The defeat of Voldemort, Ron filled in mentally. The strange thing
was that Harry, who had always been so insistent on saying the Dark Lordís
name when the whole world was still pussyfooting around with "You-Know-Who",
avoided it now that everyone else felt free enough to speak the syllables.
Harryís voice was absent, as if he didnít even know quite what he
was saying. "I feel--like a boat without an anchor, or a kite without
a string. I feel like Iíve fallen off my broomstick and havenít hit the
ground yet, and I donít know when I will." He closed his eyes. "I
donít know who I am anymore."
"Donít be daft," Ron said impatiently. "Youíre Harry
Potter, thatís all."
Harryís eyes opened and swung round to him. "Yes," he said
bitterly. "Iím Harry Potter--Iím the Boy Who Lived. And you know--thatís
all. I feel all hollowed out now that heís gone. All right--yes
I do know who I am--the problem is that I donít know why I am."
He ran his hand through his hair, so that the mad white tufts flashed
for an instant and then subsided. "And I have this horrible fear
that Iíll discover that he was the only reason I existed at all."
"Oh, Harry," Hermione said softly. "No, no, no. Thatís
He looked at her, then, his eyes hidden by the glint of his glasses.
"Are you sure of that?"
"Donít be daft," Ron said again. "Díyou want
us to tell you who you are?"
Harryís mouth twisted, and his voice was unHarryishly sardonic. "Yes,
will you? Iíd love to know."
"Fine, then." Ron pointed at him. "Youíre Harry Potter."
"Weíve established that."
"Shut up a minute and let me talk. Youíre terrible at potions,
fair-to-middling at chess, and the best bloody Seeker Iíve ever seen.
Youíve got a house-elfís head for alcohol--three butterbeers put you under
the table. Youíre ridiculously loyal--once you love somebody, youíll stick
by them forever. If someone needs help, youíre there, even if it kills
you. Youíre the eternal friend of the underdog."
"Youíre not too terribly concerned with rules," Hermione
added. "But on the other hand, youíve got a sense of fair play thatís
incredibly stubborn--and then a sense of responsibility that tries to
take punishment for everything and credit for nothing."
"Yeah," Ron said. "Could someone explain that
one to me?" Harryís lips quirked, reluctantly, and Ron felt a surge
of relief. He was reachable, after all. He picked up where Hermione had
left off. "Harry, youíre not just the Boy Who Lived. Youíre
you. Youíre Harry. Youíre my best friend--and dammit, Iíve missed
"Me, too," Hermione said. "Oh, me too."
Harryís voice was muffled. "Iíve missed you, too."
Ron almost fell over in his relief. Maybe that had been his greatest
fear in all the six months Harry had been gone--that heíd lost his best
friend to whatever beast was on his back, forcing him to wander through
the world on his solitary way. But he hadnít. Harry was in there somewhere.
Hermione had been right--he just needed to work himself out.
* * *
By the time theyíd talked themselves hoarse, the moon had set, and
Ronís clock read 3 am.
Hermione finally put an end to it. "Itís Boxing Day already,"
she said, climbing off Ronís bed and making a futile attempt to smooth
down her hair. Her braid (with Ronís assistance; he loved playing with
her hair) had long ago given up the field of battle. "Ginny must
be wondering where I am."
"Sheís probably asleep by now," Ron said.
"As we should be. Harry, how long were you traveling today?"
Harry thought about it. "I Apparated from Maine to London, and
then out here . . ."
"Where is Maine?" Ron asked. Geography, especially
geography of anywhere besides England, had never been his strong point.
"On the eastern coast of the United States," Harry replied,
stretching his arms over his head.
Hermione was horrified. "Harry! You did a long-distance Apparition
and then another mid-distance one? For heavenís sake! Donít you know anything
about the dangers of Apparition--you could have been splinched if youíd
gotten too tired, and long-distance ones are so--"
"Iím used to it," Harry mumbled, his eyes already
drooping closed behind his glasses. "I Apparate all the time--you
didnít think I was flying all over the world, did you?"
Ron and Hermione looked at each other, and Ron thought, Truthfully,
yes. Harryís Apparition score, while not abysmal, had certainly not
been up to the level of Hermioneís. But then, Hermione had broken a three-hundred-year-old
record in the Apparition exam.
He said, "But you took your Firebolt."
"I took Hedwig too," Harry said. "Habit."
Something was troubling Hermione--Ron could see it in the way she
toyed with her hair. "Youíre--going to leave again, arenít you, Harry?"
There was a little silence, and Harry said, "Yes."
Hermione gave a little sigh, and Ron mentally agreed with her. It
wasnít as much of a surprise as it should have been. "You will
visit more often," he said.
"At least write!"
"Iíll do that."
Hermione said then, "But why, Harry? What can you still be looking
There was another silence, longer, and Harryís voice, when he spoke,
sounded a little surprised, as if heíd only just realized it himself.
"I think . . . home."