Some things happen a little differently thanks to Harry's new confidence...
The next month at the Weasleys' house passed rather quickly. Upon his arrival, many joyous greetings were shared, including the patented Molly Weasley bear hug. After that, their lives consisted of almost nothing but wedding preparations. Rooms were cleaned multiple times, numerous cake samples were tasted, endless hours of shopping were done, and Fleur's parents had arrived not long before the wedding was to take place. The men of the house found themselves hard-pressed to keep up with the women's seemingly endless amounts of energy, but Harry found himself glad for the return to normalcy. His brief trip to the Netherworld seemed further and further away every day, and while the work was exhausting and seemed never-ending, it was a relief to be away from the misfortune that had always followed him.
Harry knew that he was merely delaying the inevitable. He knew that he would soon have to leave and track down the remainder of Voldemort's Horcruxes, and that he was endangering everyone in the Burrow with his mere presence. But damned if he didn't feel like he deserved to be a little selfish for once, and enjoy what little time he had left as a normal teenager before he had to live up to his name as The Chosen One.
And so, it was with a light heart that he approached his 17th birthday. His night had been plagued with yet another vision of Voldemort's travels, and of a man named Gregorovitch, but his morning had been much more pleasurable. Finally able to use magic, Harry had sent Ron's possessions flying around the room with glee, before receiving his best friend's present. A book.
"A book, Ron?"
"Well, this isn't your average book, Harry. Fred and George have assured me that Twelve Fail-Safe Ways to Charm Witches is absolute gold. Hell, I wish I would've had it last year to help me get rid of Lavender."
Harry looked skeptically at the book. The chapters all seemed to be things that were common-sense when it came to dealing with women, but Harry reasoned that not many people were prone to the usage of common-sense in every day scenarios. Least of all Ron. Nevertheless, he thanked Ron for his present, leaving it in the room as he walked downstairs to accept Birthday congratulations from everyone in the house. His presents were all wonderful, if not all practical for the quest he was about to undertake, but as Hermione and Ron took them upstairs to pack, a soft voice spoke from behind him.
"Harry, will you come here for a minute?"
Ron marched downstairs, through the still-crowded kitchen and into the yard, and Harry kept pace with him all the way, Hermione trotting along behind them looking scared.
Once he reached the seclusion of the freshly mow lawn, Ron rounded on Harry. "You ditched her! What're you doing now, messing her around?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Ron, of course I'm not messing her around," said Harry, as Hermione caught up with them.
But Ron held up a hand to silence her.
"She was really cut up when you ended it—"
"So was I. You know why I stopped it, and it wasn't because I wanted to."
"Yeah, but you go snogging her now and she's just going to get her hopes up again—"
"I'm not the one who snogged her, she dragged me into her room and practically molested me!" Harry yelled. And this was true, as Harry had hardly done anything after Ginny had led her into his room.
"You didn't seem to mind all that much," growled Ron.
And this was also true. Even if Harry had not initiated the contact, he couldn't say he hadn't enjoyed it thoroughly. But he wasn't about to let the glowering Ron know that. "Look, I promise I won't let it happen again," said Harry harshly. "Okay?"
Ron seemed half resentful and half sheepish, but muttered a quiet, "Fine," before walking away, leaving Harry and Hermione alone in the garden.
She looked at him sadly, asking, "Do you really love her?"
Harry was taken aback by her sudden question, as Hermione hardly asked him questions about his relationship with Ginny. He stared into her brown eyes for a moment, then turned away. "I honestly don't know, Hermione." He felt a number of conflicting emotions flow through him. "We only ever dated for a few short months, and before that I had only just recently had feelings for her. I don't even know where they came from sometimes, especially since we never really associated before then, unless you count the D.A." He threw his head back, staring up at the cloudless sky. "I suppose my life can never be easy, huh?"
Suddenly, he felt a pair of arms grasp around his stomach, as Hermione hugged him. "You know I'll always be here for you, right?"
"Of course I know, Hermione. You've always been here for me." He turned around, giving Hermione a brief, but tight, hug. She looked up at him, a spark of hope in her eye.
"I wanted to tell you something else, Harry."
Before she could finish her thought, however, they were interrupted by the appearance of Charlie Weasley, causing a massive outpouring of Weasleys to greet him. He and Hermione were separated in the rush, and he decided he would talk later with her about it.
The rest of the day was not nearly as interesting as the beginning had been, and after Mrs. Weasley forcibly chopped Charlie's long hair mostly off, they began preparing for Harry's Birthday dinner, which forced them all to eat outside as they had many more people than the Burrow's kitchen could possibly handle. The food was delicious as usual, but the real kicker came moments before the party started as Mr. Weasley arrived with the Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour. He had arrived to convey upon Harry, Ron, and Hermione the contents of Albus Dumbledore's will, including his Deluminator, a copy of a children's book, and the first Golden Snitch that Harry had ever caught. He left rather huffily afterwards, and the party recommenced.
As Harry lay awake in his bed after the day's events, unable to sleep. The wedding was the next day, a day that he should have looked forward to immensely. But all he felt was a dark sense of foreboding looming over the house. And that never meant good news.
Meanwhile, in the Netherworld, things were looking bleak. The Dark Tower had not yet seen fit to lead the Minions to a new possible Overlord, and even fighting amongst each other did nothing to raise their spirits.
Gnarl himself was frustrated with the Tower, and had taken to kicking the Throne when he became particularly angry with the Netherworld's incompliance. Though the Throne remained empty, the Tower still acted as if it had an Overlord at its helm. He sagged in hopelessness, hoping that something would happen soon. But first, he had to relieve all this anger somehow, looking for a Brown Minion to punt out into the lava. Depressed though they may have been, one thing was always certain:
Being Evil was fun.
Being Evil is most definitely fun. And next chapter, something will happen to draw Harry back into the forces of darkness. What is it? I'm sure as hell not gonna tell you! But you're more than welcome to speculate in a review, which I love!