East Winds (Part One)
Neville was thankful when the Healers offered them an office adjacent to the lobby. It was the perfect excuse to break free from his Gran's embrace. He loved her and knew she was hurting, but so was he and he did not feel like crying. Harry, Hermione and Sirius were going to wait in the lobby for them; however both he and his Gran nearly demanded that they join them. They had come to be with him and he was glad.
Sirius helped his Gran into a chair as half way into the room she suddenly forgot how to walk. Neville took a seat next to her; bile creeping into his throat once more.
"Aug, how long have you been here?" asked Sirius, taking a seat opposite them; Harry and Hermione sitting down next to Neville.
"I would say only fifteen minutes or so, but it feels like hours." sniffed Gran. "No need to tell you what has happened."
"I only fully understood a few minutes ago, to be honest." said Sirius, staring at the floor. "Would it be possible to say goodbye before –"
Sirius was clearly too choked up to continue.
"I wish you could." sobbed Gran. "Unfortunately, the bastards didn't – oh Sirius – they burnt them alive!"
"NO!" growled Sirius, pulling at his hair with both hands and looking as if in physical pain.
Hermione threw her hands over her mouth and nose; her horror shining through her eyes. Harry's face mirrored what Neville felt; pure rage and the growing desire to kill.
Gran finally regained control after several minutes, blurting out, "H-How did you know to come?"
"How did we know, Gran?" repeated Neville, standing up; his voice shaking as his rage boiled over. "I knew because a witch called Alecto used her dying breath to torture me! Her sick pleasure came from telling me that her brother and that bitch Bellatrix had finished the job they started fourteen years ago! But now she's dead. I had my chance to kill Bellatrix tonight, but the bitch got away! I won't rest till she's dead, Gran! I won't rest until their all dead!"
Neville's Gran rose from her chair and made to hug him again, but he shrugged her off. He didn't want to be cuddled or made to feel better; he wanted revenge. He turned and left the office, making his way into an empty waiting room; his anger boiling. He wasn't going to cry or go soft. All his life he had been treated as a squib. Harry had helped him find the confidence to be more and he had finally found favour in his Gran's eyes. 'This was something no bitch or her bastard master was going to take from him.'
"Neville." said Harry from behind him.
Neville said nothing as he turned to face him.
"Neville, I don't know what –" began Harry.
"It's okay, Harry." interrupted Neville. "You don't have to say anything – no one does."
"I don't know what you're feeling even though I feel like I should." said Harry. "I don't remember my parents. The only memory I have of them is something distant and terrible. I'm very sorry. This is my fault."
"It's not your fault, Harry." retorted Neville, his hands almost shaking with rage. "Those bastards made their choices and now I've made mine!"
"Don't let the hate consume you, Neville." said Sirius, walking in behind Harry. "I let hate and vengeance blind my judgment once. It cost me thirteen years in Azkaban."
"No offense, but it cost you because Pettigrew got away." said Neville darkly. "I won't let Bellatrix escape again."
"Peter's escape isn't what cost me." retorted Sirius. "It was the fact that I turned my back on those that loved me when they told me to wait. In my pursuit of revenge I nearly threw away everything."
"They must pay!" shouted Neville.
"I agree." said Sirius coldly. "They will pay for this tenfold – as long as we do it together. Your parents were my friends, and while the life they lived here" Sirius motioned with his hands, signifying the hospital "was less than desirable – what was done tonight was beyond inhuman. The animals that did this will fall at our hands."
Neville understood what Sirius was saying; he wasn't alone.
"Now," continued Sirius, placing one hand on Harry's shoulder and one hand on Neville's "your Gran needs us to be strong. The last thing she needs is for us to be plotting retribution in front of her. This will only make her worry about losing you as well."
"Actually – Sirius," Sirius, Harry and Neville spun round to see Neville's Gran and Hermione standing in the doorway to the waiting room "I don't think you know me as well as you think."
"Well, um –" mumbled Sirius, his mouth agape.
"No need to insult my intelligence" continued Gran "by attempting to convince me that there is no talk of retribution amongst you three." A smile broke her tear stained face. "For Merlin's sake, there's a Potter, Black, and Longbottom in the same room and on the same side. Of course there is talk of retaliation."
"We meant no disrespect, Aug." said Sirius, waving a hand in surrender. "I was just making sure that your grandson does not make the same mistake that I did."
"No apologies necessary." said Gran. "I have been preparing Neville and myself for the passing of his parents for a long time. I lost my son and daughter years ago, and while that does not ease the pain of the loss, it does help the grieving. What has caused the outrage that we feel here tonight is not their death, but the fact that they were murdered – and the disgusting way that it was done!"
Neville felt a tear betray him; landing on his right cheek as he looked at the determination, heartbreak and ferocity on his Gran's face. His Gran was a strong witch and a leader in her own right, as Head of the Longbottom House. He was proud to be her grandson and he was proud to be called the son of Frank and Alice Longbottom.
Sirius was able to calm Neville's Gran, who had worked herself up into another fit, and the five of them sat down in the waiting room together. Sirius began talking of the "golden days" as he called them; rehashing old memories of better times with Neville's and Harry's parents. Gran began to chuckle and claimed several white hairs to what he referred to as the "golden days". It was amazing to Neville how listening to these stories made him feel better. The way Sirius told them, he felt almost as if he could see Sirius' memories.
"There's no need to stay here, Aug." said Sirius softly, nearly an hour later. "Why don't you and Neville come with us, back to my place in London. It's no Longbottom Manor, but you won't have to be alone."
"Alone?" repeated Gran, a smile breaking her face once more. "Have you forgotten all those guests you had me invite tonight for a dinner party?"
"What?" exclaimed Harry, looking dumbfounded. "You mean they're still there?"
"Of course, dear boy." replied Gran. "Amelia and I were caught away urgently. We told them to stay inside where it was safe until we returned." She then turned back to Sirius. "Thank you for coming here tonight and for your kind offer; however Neville and I must return home. We will see to it that everyone has a safe place to stay until the Ministry is able to come to grips with what has transpired tonight. We must also tend to family matters."
Neville's eyes dropped to the floor. The thought of his parent's funeral bothered him. His Gran was right. They had been preparing for the loss of his parents for quite some time now. Their health had been deteriorating over the last few years, but to lose them this way was hard to accept – and he wouldn't.
"If you need anything Nev, please let us know." said Harry, placing a hand on Neville's shoulder.
"Thanks." mumbled Neville.
"Mr Potter." said Gran, gaining Harry's attention. "The Longbottom family stands with the Potters – always. You have our complete support in whatever you decide to do from here out."
"Decide to do?" repeated Harry.
"If you stand with the Ministry, then we will stand with them as well." said Gran. "If the Ministry attempt to politicize this war and you choose to stand alone – well, you won't be."
Neville understood what his Gran was saying. Forget any prophecies. Forget Boy-Who-Lived. Forget it all. If none of these things existed, Neville would still stand with Harry because of who Harry was. Harry and Hermione had just faced off with the Dark Lord, nearly died and had barely a chance to breathe a sigh of relief before running off with him to St Mungo's. He had tried to get them to stay behind and check on Hermione's parents instead, but they would hear none of it. That moment, he vowed to himself that he would never let Harry or Hermione down – no matter what.
Sirius placed a hand on Harry and Hermione's shoulders and they stood to leave.
"Harry." said Neville, making his mind up as Harry turned back to face him. "There's something you need to know."
"Hagrid?" asked Bill, furrowing his brow.
Hagrid turned to look at Bill, a weak smile faulting the moment he laid eyes on Bill's face.
"Hagrid!" bellowed Bill, brandishing his wand. "Where is my brother Charlie?!"
"Ch-Charlie?" repeated Hagrid. "H-How should I – uh, I mean –"
"You were with him before he disappeared!" roared Bill, pointing his wand at Hagrid's chest. "Now he and Tonks keep popping up in the middle of chaos! Where is he and who is he bloody working for?!"
Hagrid took hold of his walking staff and stood to face Bill; a new found determination in his eyes. Ron gripped his wand inside his robes as he watched while sitting up in his bed. The thought of having to defend himself, or anyone else for that matter, from Hagrid had never crossed his mind before. Hagrid wasn't the kind to hurt anything. 'He was the kind of guy that gave hugs to dragons!'
"No more of this!" shouted Madam Pomfrey weakly.
"I know not where your brother is, Weasley." growled Hagrid defiantly; ignoring the matron. "When talks with the giant colonies went bad, he helped me and Olympe to disappear with me brother Grawp. Before Charlie left, he mentioned something about being headed for a valley and that he was going to help Harry."
"Weasley, is it?" retorted Bill coldly. "Where did you get the new walking staff? Seems to have some pretty interesting Rune patterns."
"It was a gift from Olympe – if it's any of yer business." replied Hagrid fiercely. "She felt that if I be determined to return to this bloody hell I call 'ome, I should be able to defend me self. Make no mistake. The only reason I be here is for Harry and for this school."
"If that is true, Hagrid, then we are on the same side." said Bill firmly.
"If that be true?" retorted Hagrid darkly. "When in all the yers that you have known me, have I ever lied to you?"
"He speaks the truth, brother."
Bill spun around, Fleur shrieked and Ron nearly fell out of his bed at the sight of Charlie standing in the doorway to the hospital wing. The twins were, for the first time in forever, speechless.
"Should I hug you or should I curse you?" asked Bill, his wand pointed at Charlie's chest as Bill advanced slowly towards him.
"Not the reunion that I imagined, but the fact that you haven't cursed me yet gives me hope." said Charlie smirking.
"Then what did you imagine, Charlie?" asked Bill through gritted teeth.
"Let's just settle down." said Fred, stepping between them.
"Before we have a repeat of the duel of Margaret." said George, joining his twin.
"Or was it Francine?"
"Shut it! Both of you!" hissed Bill, shoving the twins aside. "He nearly killed me with a dragon barely a month ago and now he expects a warm welcome?"
"Thought you were looking for me?" retorted Charlie.
"I was." said Bill coldly. "Now, I'm deciding what to do with you!"
"Do not overstate yourself, dear brother." said Charlie smirking more. "I didn't come here to hurt you. As for the dragon, it was merely a diversion. If you could not handle having such a powerful force lying beneath your feet, then you should not have it. Remember, I told you that, years ago."
"You sent it after Harry!" shouted Bill, his wand snapping to Charlie's face.
"Stand down, the lot of you!" said Cassie firmly. "There will be no duelling in here!"
"No Bill, I didn't." replied Charlie calmly, ignoring Cassie. "As most dragons do, being creatures of magic, they seek out the strongest danger and attempt to dominate it. Harry was simply sensed by the dragon as the only one that could prevent it from escaping."
Ron attempted to get out of bed; however Mary Blanchard, a sixth year Ravenclaw, forced him to sit back down.
"So it was you that let loose the dragon at Gringotts." interjected Hagrid, now standing behind Bill and sounding shocked. "I read about it in the Prophet. You could have killed everyone in there."
"I admit now, that it wasn't the best idea I've ever had, but I was not left with much choice." sighed Charlie. "I would not consider some of Harry's decisions tonight to have been the best, but they got the job done."
"Where have you been?" asked Fred.
"And who are you working for, Charlie?" asked George.
"This isn't like you." said the twins in unison.
"Where's Tonks?" asked Ron, concerned by her absence and avoiding the real question.
"My brothers," smirked Charlie "I know you have questions, and I will answer them – just not here, not now."
"You think you're leaving?" asked Bill coldly.
"I wish to speak with Harry and the Alliance." continued Charlie, ignoring Bill's question. "At that time, I will answer your questions. Leave a note in my old room at the Burrow when you're ready to meet, identifying when and where."
"You're not leaving." growled Bill.
"Course not, brother!" laughed Charlie. "I would have to be here to leave here!"
The twins took hold of Charlie's shoulders, but jumped back as the figure before them morphed into a small mockingbird – which took flight and flew out the door; Ron stared blankly at the doors to the hospital wing; unable to fathom what he just witnessed.
"Goblin magic." hissed Bill through gritted teeth.
Harry breathed hard as he stared at the Wellington boot in the middle of the room; his heart pounding in his chest. The moment had arrived at last. The moment that he had been working towards ever since Hermione confided in him about her parents. This was the moment to reunite the Granger family.
He should be happy. He should be ecstatic that he had helped the woman he loved get her parents back. He should be overjoyed that they faced down Lord Voldemort and walked away to tell the tale once more. However, Harry James Potter could not feel happy. He had just left his friend, Neville Longbottom, grieving the loss of his parents in St Mungo's Hospital. He had just found out that somehow Ron's sister Ginny had joined the Death Eaters; whether by force or by choice, he did not know. He had just found out that during the attack on Hogwarts, Dolores Umbridge had escaped.
Now, Harry had to put all this aside and face Hermione's parents. He pondered what he was going to say to them. 'Hello Mr and Mrs Granger. My name is Harry Potter. I'm the reason that you were abducted. Sorry 'bout that. By the way, is it okay if I'm dating your daughter while placing her in terrible danger?' He covered his face with his hands as he tried to figure out what to say.
Harry lowered his hands to see Hermione; concern etched into her face.
"I'll be alright." He lied. "How 'bout you?"
"Is it strange that I'm nervous to see them?" asked Hermione.
"No." said Harry softly. "You have to be wondering what they're going to say."
"I'm more worried about what they might do." said Hermione, playing with her fingernails. "I've done my best over the years to convince them that I would be safe while at school. Now –"
"They would have never been abducted or in any danger if you hadn't ever met me." interrupted Harry.
"You don't know that!" retorted Hermione, grabbing his hands. "You cannot blame yourself for the actions of a mad man!"
"He's not just a mad man." scoffed Harry. "He's the darkest wizard in history, and if it wasn't for me Hermione, you wouldn't even be on his radar."
"How do you know?" asked Hermione, releasing his hands and folding her arms. "I can be very irritating sometimes and it's not like me to remain quiet."
"I know that your chances increased a thousand percent, simply by knowing me." replied Harry.
"That's the part where you were supposed to tell her that she's not the slightest bit irritating."
Harry spun around and glared at his godfather who stood smirking in the doorway to the library. The old Marauder could be quite annoying sometimes, especially when he was right.
"I was letting it slide Sirius," said Hermione "being that Harry was in one of his noble moods."
Harry spun back around in shock to see that Hermione was holding back a giggle. At that, Harry broke into laughter and was joined by Hermione and Sirius. It was the first time he had felt a bit of relief since they had left Hogsmeade. He wiped his face to regain his composure before looking over at Hermione and muttering, "Prat".
"Ah, the sounds of true love." sighed Sirius mockingly, earning him a punch in the arm from Harry.
"Enough of that." said Sirius winking at them. "Time to go see your mum and dad, Hermione."
Hermione sighed as she nodded and smiled. Sirius withdrew his wand and smiled mischievously.
"On the count of three then." continued Sirius.
Harry and Hermione reached out and touched the boot that sat before them on the table. Sirius reached over and touched it with his free hand and placed the tip of his wand on the mouth of the boot and muttered, "Portus".
Immediately, Harry felt the uncomfortable feeling of being hooked just behind the navel once more as the three of them spun off into nothingness; the ground leaving from beneath their feet. Moments later, his feet slammed down onto hardwood floors and the familiar cottage spun into view.
"Hello there, Harry – Hermione." said Luna casually while sitting on the couch, reading her father's magazine as though it was just another day.
"Hey Luna." said Harry, looking around. "Where is everyone?"
"Lavender and Hermione's parents are upstairs resting and Cassie… oh there she is now." said Luna dreamily.
Harry, Hermione, and Sirius turned around to see Cassie McGonagall close the front door to the cottage.
"Sirius!" said Cassie smiling as she hurried over to greet him.
Sirius pulled her into a tight embrace before giving her a gentle kiss.
"Miss me?" asked Sirius playfully.
"No," replied Cassie smirking "but I'm glad you're back in one piece. Now," Cassie turned to Harry and Hermione, one arm still wrapped around Sirius' waist "you two aren't here to see this old mutt make a scene." A warm smile covered her face. "They're upstairs in the first bedroom waiting on you."
"You go on up." said Harry, turning to face Hermione. "I'll wait for you here."
"Nothin' doing, Mr Potter." said Hermione smirking. "They'll want to meet you. I mean, you did just help save their lives."
Harry stood there, trying to think of a good excuse that didn't sound lame.
"Please." said Hermione, taking hold of his hand.
"Okay." said Harry, unable to say no to the look on her face.
As they made their way up the stairs, Harry glanced back to see his godfather smirking as he watched them disappear up the staircase. The old Marauder was enjoying this and he made a mental note to get him for it later. As they approached the top of the staircase, his mind began to race through all the possible ways that this could go wrong. He had just faced the darkest wizard in history, but two unarmed Muggles scared him to his bones.
When they reached the first bedroom, they found the door shut. Hermione knocked softly and waited. A soft female voice replied, "Come in." Harry could feel Hermione's excitement at the sound of her mother's voice as she opened the door.
Mr Granger was sitting in an armchair next to the bed while Mrs Granger was sitting up in the bed; her legs covered by a blanket. They both looked tired and weary; their clothes dirty and torn in places. Harry was imagining the conditions in which they had been living over the last month or so and it sickened him.
"MUM! DAD!" exclaimed Hermione, releasing Harry's hand and running to her mother's open arms.
Mr Granger's eyes told Harry that he had not missed his daughter holding Harry's hand. He smiled at Harry before pushing himself to his feet and embracing Hermione and her mother.
"Oh my darling girl." sobbed Mrs Granger. "I thought I'd never see you again."
Harry thought about slipping back out into the hallway, but he wasn't quick enough.
"Mum – Dad," said Hermione, turning within their parent's arms "this is Harry Potter. It was his plan that helped rescue you."
Hermione reached out her hand for Harry to come to her. Harry slowly made his way to them, but he dared not take her hand. Hermione's mother reached out and grabbed Harry by the arm, pulling him past Hermione and into a Hermione-ish hug. She whispered, "Thank you" into his ear before releasing him.
"So, this is the famous Harry Potter." said Mr Granger, extending his hand to Harry.
"Hello, sir." said Harry, trying not to sound terrified. "Please, call me Harry."
Mr Granger was about the same height as Sirius and currently resembled Harry's godfather, shortly after his escape from Azkaban; only his eyes were not sunken and dark. This thought angered Harry, and it must have showed as he shook hands.
"It's alright, lad." said Mr Granger, placing a hand on Harry's shoulder. "We're all okay now, thanks to you."
"I'm sorry Mr Granger, but it's not." sighed Harry. "If it wasn't for me -"
"Harry," interrupted Hermione "I've already told you that this wasn't your fault. Why won't you -"
Hermione's father raised his hand towards her and she fell silent; biting at her lower lip.
"I know that look..." said Mr Granger, staring at Harry "I've seen it before. I used to see it in the mirror every morning. It's the look of a survivor."
"A survivor?" repeated Harry, frowning up at Mr Granger.
"You survive, even though you feel as though you shouldn't." said Mr Granger kindly. "It's what happens when you fight a war unwillingly - not sure what you're doing or how to win. You blame yourself every time someone gets hurt or dies. You wish you could take their place."
Mrs Granger cleared her throat.
"Yes, well... now's not the time." continued Mr Granger smiling, to Harry's utter relief. "We'll shelf this discussion for another day, young man. Right now is the time to celebrate a reunion I didn't believe would ever come."
Mr and Mrs Granger hugged Hermione again. Harry could tell that if it was left up to Hermione and her mum, they would never let each other go. When they finally broke apart, Hermione slid up beside her mother on the bed and Mr Ganger sat back down in the arm chair. Harry rubbed the back of his neck, wondering what was the best way to excuse himself to allow the Granger family some privacy.
"You're going nowhere." said Hermione, smirking.
"Uh… what?" muttered Harry, staring at Hermione. It was the only response he could come up with.
"She knows you too well, Harry." smirked Mr Granger.
"Come, have a seat on the bed." said Mrs Granger, smiling warmly.
"No offense, Mrs Granger," said Harry "but I think I'd prefer a chair."
Harry withdrew his wand, pointed it at a nearby table and closed his eyes to concentrate as he cast the spell. Almost instantly, the table transformed into another cushioned arm chair. Harry slid it over next to Mr Granger and took a seat.
"That may have been nothing in the Wizarding world, Harry," said Mr Granger, looking impressed "but to this old Muggle, that was pretty amazing."
"Muggle?" repeated Hermione. "Dad, you've never called yourself that before."
"After being called it over and over again," interjected Mrs Granger "you become accustomed whether you like it or not."
"It was the nicest thing we were called." huffed Mr Granger.
"What did they do to you? Were you at Malfoy Manor the entire time? Did they hurt you? Did they feed you? –"
'And there she goes!' mused Harry to himself. Mr Granger was shaking his head as Hermione blistered them for ten minutes straight with question after question in true Hermione fashion; her mother, the only one able to keep up. Mr Granger glanced over at Harry and chuckled when Harry shrugged nervously. When she finally drew breath, Mrs Granger placed a hand on her arm and Hermione burst into tears, burrowing her head into her mother's shoulder. Harry started to stand up, but Mr Granger patted him on the shoulder; smiling as to say… leave them be.
Once Hermione regained control, she and her mother shared details of the past month. Hermione told of how Harry had rallied their friends to the cause and had developed the plan that, in the end, led to their safe return. Her mother told of their imprisonment at Malfoy Manor and of the mental torture they had to endure. Harry and Mr Granger sat quietly, speaking only on occasion, both content to allow mother and daughter to control the conversation.
An hour later, Mr Granger broke up the reunion, so that everyone could get some rest. Hermione transfigured Harry's chair into a cot, so that she would be able to stay with her parents.
"In the morning we can talk more," said Mr Granger, ushering Harry out of the room "while we get something good to eat. I haven't had coffee in over a month!"
"My husband, the dramatic." chuckled Mrs Granger.
"Goodnight, Harry." said Hermione, smiling softly.
"Goodnight." replied Harry, returning her smile then walking out of the room.
When he turned around, he was shocked to see Mr Granger standing behind him in the hallway.
"I just wanted to say… thank you." said Mr Granger, placing a hand on Harry's shoulder. "I also wanted to apologize for coming on too strong in there concerning your feelings. If you ever wish to talk, I'm more than happy to listen."
"Um… okay." replied Harry, smiling.
Mr Granger patted his shoulder then went back into the bedroom and shut the door. Harry made his way downstairs to find Sirius waiting for him on the sofa. He patted the cushion next to him for Harry to have a seat. He didn't mind, for at that moment he had no desire to sleep.
"Hell of night, hey lad?" sighed Sirius, turning to face Harry.
"Everyone else turned in for the night?" asked Harry.
"Yeah, though I don't believe that anyone will be sleeping much tonight - not without help, at least." replied Sirius. "Too hard to come down after… well you know."
Harry noticed that the table next to them held a bottle of fire whiskey and two glasses.
"Did you and um, Cassie have a celebratory drink before she went to bed?" asked Harry.
"Nope." replied Sirius, reaching around to collect the bottle and the glasses. "She headed back to Hogwarts to check on her aunt. These are for us."
Sirius handed one of the glasses to Harry then poured himself and Harry a glass full each.
"Figured you might need something of the general persuasion after a night like this." continued Sirius. "Not that I promote underage drinking or anything, but if experience ages a person then you're about fifty."
Sirius downed his glass and Harry did the same. He felt the heat rise through his body as the amber liquid made its way to his stomach. When the sensation reached his ears, he reached up and rubbed them with his free hand without thinking.
"You'll get used to the feeling." said Sirius, smirking at his godson.
"So," said Harry, feeling that alcohol and exhaustion probably wasn't a good combination "if experience makes me fifty, then how old does that make you?"
"Oh… about two hundred, I'd say!" barked Sirius, before covering his mouth to muffle his laugh. "Not that it matters. Besides Hermione and her parents, Luna and Lavender are the only other ones in the cottage and they took a sleeping draft."
"Figured you or somebody would have tried to force me to drink one." said Harry, as Sirius poured him another glass.
"Why force you to take a sleeping draft when I can tempt you with fire whiskey!" chuckled Sirius. "Besides, the moment James asked me to be your godfather I knew that it would my responsibility to teach you the proper uses of whiskey." Sirius sniffed, staring at his glass. "Merlin... if I could go back in time. Take a good hard look around lad, 'cause nights like tonight are the ones you never forget."
"I thought that was what this was for." said Harry, taking another sip and feeling it warm his chest. "To help us forget nights like tonight."
"No lad." sighed Sirius. "It only helps us through the night until morning. Then it beats us like a scorned woman."
Harry choked on his sip and Sirius barked again with laughter.
"So... is this what winning a battle feels like?" asked Harry.
"Tell me, how do you feel?" retorted Sirius.
"I dunno." replied Harry. "I mean, I'm just so angry over Neville's parents. I thought that seeing Hermione reunited with her parents would help, but it didn't. I just can't get the look on Neville's face out of my head."
Sirius sighed as he took another drink from his glass. "Wish I could make it go away, lad. Wish I could tell you that all you've seen so far is as bad as it gets. But I wouldn't be much of a godfather if I did." Sirius took a deep breath. "Harry this is a war, not a fight. You cannot hold yourself accountable for every death. In war, there is death. The only way to survive war is to latch hold of every positive moment and build on them. If you dwell upon the negatives, you will never survive."
"So is that all there is to hope for? To be a survivor?" asked Harry, thinking of what Mr Granger called him.
"No Harry." replied Sirius. "It's the starting point. Healing takes time, and for these scars there is no potion or spell."
"So how did you heal while in Azkaban?" asked Harry, his eyes feeling strange.
"I didn't." sighed Sirius. "Surviving Azkaban was like surviving a war... a never ending war that most lost. The last year or so has been recovery time for me. I've finally been able to deal with the ghosts that haunted me from the last Wizarding war."
"Just in time to start all over again." huffed Harry, emotions overwhelming him.
"That is not your fault, so stop blaming yourself." said Sirius firmly. "You didn't bring Voldemort back. If someone hadn't just sat back and waited for his return, knowing full well that he was still alive, then there wouldn't be another war to fight!"
Sirius' eyes were full of fire and Harry could hear the contempt in his godfather's voice.
"You think Dumbledore should have hunted him down?" asked Harry, blinking more than normal.
"He'd done a lot more good in the world by putting an end to the bloody bastard than he did while waiting!" growled Sirius. "Instead, he was too busy scheming and building his master plan around a baby and a prophecy rather than do what he should have done to begin with. Never would get his hands dirty unless there was no other choice."
"So what happens next?" asked Harry, taking a sip of whiskey and feeling the need to change the subject.
"Well, I suppose that for the next few days we'll keep a close eye on where the dust settles." replied Sirius, his eyes softening.
"Shouldn't we be planning our next move?" asked Harry. "I mean, I guarantee that Voldemort is."
"First, we need to see what the Ministry's new stand will be before we move forward." said Sirius, stretching out a little on the couch. "There's no way they'll be able to sit on this - too many witnesses this time."
"Then what?" pressed Harry, taking another sip.
"I'm no Seer Harry, but I'm sure that the Ministry will try to ease tensions by assuring everyone that they're working hard to find old Voldy." smirked Sirius. "Then they'll appoint Minerva as the permanent Headmistress of Hogwarts while pretending that Umbitch never existed."
"You t-t-think they'll keep H-Hogwarts open?" asked Harry in disbelief; his speech starting to slur.
"Absolutely!" replied Sirius. "The masses must be made to feel safe while the Wizengamot paces behind closed doors."
"That's that's that's -" stumbled Harry.
"That's enough for the night." chuckled Sirius, standing up and stretching. "Forgot to tell you - first one out sleeps on the couch. See you in the morning, lad."
The last thing Harry remembered was hearing his godfather laughing as he left the room.
Two Days Later…
Harry was sitting on a couch in the sitting room of number twelve Grimmauld Place, waiting for Hermione to arrive and staring at the morning copy of the Prophet. The last two days had been a whirlwind of surprises. Sirius referred to them as, "The east winds of change".
The morning following the incident at the Ministry, the Prophet had run a full page article with the headline, 'YOU-KNOW-WHO HAS RETURNED!'. The article cited many rumors surrounding the battle within the Ministry. Included were the sightings of 'International Forces' aiding Harry Potter and his 'Alliance' which consisted of Hogwarts students and adult Wizards as they battled 'You-Know-Who and his Forces of Darkness'.
The following day, the Prophet ran a complete Special Edition dedicated to Voldemort's return and what the Ministry was going to do. The headline of the edition made their stand crystal clear; 'AMELIA BONES: NEW INTERIM MINISTER OF MAGIC!'. In a landmark decision, the entire Wizengamot had entered a unanimous vote of 'No Confidence' against Cornelius Fudge. Another unanimous vote saw the election of the first witch to ever be appointed Minister of Magic; interim or not.
Madam Bones had immediately called a press conference. There, as reported by the Prophet, she laid out her firm resolve to round up all suspected Death Eaters and start 'closing the walls' in around Voldemort's operation. She vowed to bring in Voldemort 'by whatever means necessary' and to 'not wait for the Death Eaters to strike first'.
Within the same edition, the Prophet interviewed numerous witches and wizards from around Britain. Many in London told their accounts of what they had witnessed the night of the Ministry battle. One anonymous witness claimed to work inside the Department of Ministries and 'watched in awe and horror' as the ceiling collapsed before him. He went on to give account of the 'paralyzing battle between Harry Potter and You-Know-Who' that 'unfolded before his eyes'. He described Harry as 'wielding the powers of Merlin'. Harry begged Sirius for more fire whiskey after reading that particular section.
Amongst all the sensationalism, nothing was mentioned of Dumbledore's condition or the attack on Hogwarts. The only statement about the school was to inform everyone that Hogwarts would be closed until Halloween for 'strengthening and security'. The Ministry urged the magical community to not be swayed from their 'normal activities', but to simply 'be more cautious'.
Harry had also been informed by Bill that Charlie had requested an audience with him and the Alliance. He wasn't sure what he thought about Charlie's request; however he and Tonks had been a real help at the Ministry. Ron had filled him and Hermione in on the Hogwarts battle and the surprise return of Hagrid. Harry had already heard from Cassie, but allowed his friend to tell his version; knowing that it was helping him to not think about his mother and sister.
Harry was just finishing the front page of that morning's edition of the Prophet when Hermione's father entered the room and sat down next to him. He and Mr Granger had merely chatted over the last couple of days; however judging by Mr Granger's demeanour this morning, he was there to talk about something serious. For a moment, Harry forgot how to breathe.
"Travelling by portkey is not a mode of transportation that I ever thought I'd be using." said Mr Granger casually. "Truth is, I just learnt what it was. I'm sure that Hermione has mentioned it in the past, but I really truly only understand about a fourth of what she says most of the time anyway."
"D-Did you just arrive?" asked Harry, cursing himself internally for stuttering.
"Yes we did." replied Mr Granger, pretending not to have noticed Harry's nervous response. "A Madam Bones would like to meet with us to discuss our stay at Malfoy Manor. Your godfather was gracious enough to facilitate the meeting place."
"You don't have to meet with her." said Harry bluntly. "I mean, that is if you're still recovering."
"We'll be fine, Harry." chuckled Mr Granger. "Hermione's mother and I have been through Scotland Yard interrogations before."
"What for?" asked Harry, his curiosity peaked.
"The time they thought that we were hiding illegal pyro devices in our shed." replied Mr Granger, laughing. "It was actually Hermione and a bit of accidental magic. She caused the water that was spraying her from the outside spicket to shoot up into the air and explode like massive fireworks. We weren't home at the time and the neighbors reported us. Hermione was staying with the sitter and had slipped outside to play. She was seven at the time."
"The first time I experienced accidental magic," said Harry, thinking about his own bouts with accidental magic. "I was running from some bullies and wound up on the roof of the school. Another time I let loose a python at the zoo; by accident, of course."
"Hermione has told me that you've lived a tough life." said Mr Granger. "Not too fond of the things I've heard of this aunt and uncle of yours."
"No worries now." said Harry assuringly. "My godfather is now my rightful guardian and I won't be returning to Privet Drive ever again."
"He's a good man, your godfather." said Mr Granger. "Hard to imagine that all of Britain once feared him."
"He won't admit it, but I think the old Marauder enjoyed it in an odd sort of way." Mused Harry.
"No surprise, really." said Mr Granger. "Sounds like a few mates I served with."
"So, um, you were in the military?" asked Harry.
"Yes Harry, I was." replied Mr Granger. "I joined for an education, but got far more than I bloody bargained for - Afghanistan."
Mr Granger was now staring through Harry, making him feel very uncomfortable.
"This Voldemort - he hunts you as though you are a threat to him." continued Mr Granger and Harry nodded. "Hermione has told us that he tried to kill you when you were only a baby and failed, but you paid the ultimate price. Now, he is back and willing to do anything to get to you."
"That's why he abducted you." sighed Harry. "He wanted to use Hermione to get to me."
"And you fought back." said Mr Granger. "You returned a blow for a blow. You rallied an impressive group to your aide."
"Hermione did as much as I did, sir." retorted Harry quickly. "We did it together."
"You came to my daughter's aide." said Mr Granger firmly. "I won't ever forget that. I owe you my life, and so does my wife."
"Just glad to help." said Harry quietly.
"So... about Hermione." said Mr Granger, crossing his legs.
Harry suddenly felt like the temperature in the room raised 40 degrees.
"W-What about her, sir?" asked Harry, merely glancing at Mr Granger now.
"Last year I realized that things were changing again in Hermione's life." said Mr Granger, his tone becoming even and low. "Previously, I had convinced myself that the biggest change in her life happened the day we met Professor McGonagall. I believed foolishly, as fathers do, that somehow I could keep my little girl from growing up too fast despite her differences from us. Then, we received a letter from her, telling us all about the Yule Ball."
Harry's insides tightened as his mind drifted back to seeing Hermione with Krum. He remembered passing off his feelings as sympathy for Ron.
"I was honestly surprised when she told us who she was going with." continued Mr Granger. "I would have laid a hundred pounds down on it being you."
"Me?" repeated Harry, looking confused. "Why? I mean, we were... um are... um –"
"I know." chuckled Mr Granger. "Matter of fact, I knew before she told me. Her mum was wagering it would be another year before you and Hermione figured it out."
Harry felt as though his face was on fire. 'Keep it together', thought Harry frantically. 'You'd be dead by now if he suspected…'
"It's okay, Harry." said Mr Granger, patting him on the shoulder. "I won't do you in for liking my daughter. To be perfectly honest, I'm relieved that it's you and not your friend."
Harry looked up at Mr Granger, his eyes wide; eyebrows raised.
"Don't get me wrong," continued Mr Granger "I'm sure he's a nice chap, but the number of times that he's made her cry… well, that would never do."
Harry was glad that Ron was back at the cottage with Luna instead of at Grimmauld Place. If looks could kill…
At that moment, Hermione walked into the room. "Everything okay in here?"