Categories > Books > Harry Potter > The Darkest Hour

Conversations

by Ham 0 Reviews

Sixth Year!PostOOtp Its Harry's sixth year at Hogwarts and he has to make some hard decisions in order to survive. But will these decisions help him or make him weaker? Martial arts, dueling, anima...

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Romance - Characters: Dumbledore, Ginny, Harry, Hermione, Neville, Ron, Voldemort - Warnings: [!] [V] - Published: 2007/04/16 - Updated: 2007/04/16 - 7847 words

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Title: The Darkest Hour (14)

Author name: Ham

Summary: Harry is back in Privet Drive just a few days after the happenings in the Department of Mysteries. He is struggling to cope with his loss and the immense burden placed on him. He suddenly finds it very hard to go on - To find a reason to live. Will his task break his spirit? After all he is just a sixteen year old...

He knows that he must fight. Knows that he has to win at all costs. But he knows that if he even is to have a slim chance of defeating Voldemort he will need to make some hard decisions. Decisions that would hurt him and those close to him.

But will Harry be able to take the hard road back when he finally realizes that his decisions only made him weaker? That they took away his only reason to live. His only reason to fight.

DISCLAIMER: No I don't own Harry Potter. I just write fanfics for fun and make absolutely no money out of it. It all belongs to the great JK Rowling

This chapter is dedicated to two very special people - Tricia and Charles.

Thanks go to my Beta - MuggleMomma (Tricia), my proof reader Melinda (Melindaleo) and my second beta - Rachael (rdprice29) and my britpicker - Sharon. You guys rock!!!! Also thanks go to all my readers for being so patient.


~~~*~

Chapter 14 - Conversations

~~~*~



Lunch was a very silent affair. Ron and Harry were eating quickly and had their eyes fixed solely on their food. Hermione, on the other hand, was giving them anxious looks and pushing food around her plate. She had no appetite left after what had happened upstairs with Harry.

Ginny was too preoccupied with her thoughts to do much talking either. She wondered whether Harry would be upset with her for invading his Pensieve. Would he believe her when she told him it was a mistake?

She had gotten to understand Harry more in the past hour than she had in all the years spent with him, had gotten a brief glimpse into what made him into the person he was. Many of the answers were in that Pensieve. Anger was slowly building up to a dangerous peak within her, and it was all she could do to stop herself from getting up and going after the Dursleys and using some of the more painful curses on them. Along with the anger was a deep sadness that the boy she loved had gone through so much. Her mind was a cauldron of strong emotions.

Molly, too, was silent. She observed the youngsters and made her own conclusions. She guessed that Ron had not taken too well to the idea of Harry being allowed into the Order when he wasn't. She also guessed that Harry had probably not gotten over the shock of what had been revealed in today's meeting yet. She didn't blame him. All of the Order had been shell shocked by it. Even Dumbledore had been taken by surprise for Merlin's sake, and that was as rare as Snape singing Christmas carols.

If Ginny was angry, then Molly's anger was at volcanic peaks. Her mind was filled with the images she had seen in the Pensieve, images where the Dursleys had mistreated Harry so horribly.

Perhaps it was time to call a Weasley family meeting.

She also felt a deep feeling of helplessness. Helplessness that she couldn't help her black-haired son. She hated to sit and watch as he took on burdens that no sixteen-year-old should have to deal with. She was ready to do just about anything to keep him safe and living as a normal teenager, but she knew that nothing short of killing Voldemort would be of any help to Harry.

She sighed, and noticing that Harry's plate was empty, quickly refilled it again, totally ignoring his muttered protests.

After lunch Molly quickly shooed the youngsters out of the kitchen, refusing Ginny and Hermione's help to clean up. She rightly guessed that they would want to spend some time with Harry since they had not seen him all summer.

Harry quickly got up and made his way back to his room. He wanted some time alone to think. The Order meeting, the fight with Ron and finding Ginny inside his Pensieve, all in the space of half a day, was a bit too much for him and he wanted to sort his thoughts out.

But it was not to be.

He was just opening his room door when he felt a hand on his shoulder. His first instinct was to grab the hand of the person and send him sailing over his shoulder with a particularly nasty Aikido throw, but fortunately he resisted this impulse. He turned around to see that the hand belonged to Ron.

Ron's face was red with embarrassment and he was trying very hard to try and meet Harry's eyes.

"Harry... I need... look mate, we need to talk. I said a few things earlier that I didn't mean. I... sorry... we need to sort this out."

The last thing Harry wanted right now was to talk but he realized that coming up to him had probably been very hard for Ron and he didn't have the heart to turn him away. Besides, he too wanted to resolve the argument with Ron as soon as possible. Over the years he had learned the hard way that the more Ron stewed the more upset he got.

The sound of footsteps distracted Harry from his thoughts and he looked up to see Hermione and Ginny joining them.

Harry sighed. "Very well, come on in. I guess we do need to talk."

The four of them filed into the room and the first thing Harry did was to head over to his dresser, pick up his Pensieve, and put it away into his trunk. This action of his was not lost on Ron and Hermione, who exchanged a significant look.

Ron turned to Harry. "Look, I didn't mean many of the things I said...or at least the way I said them. It's just that the whole summer has been really trying on me. You don't know how worried we were, and it didn't help that you hardly told us anything. What's changed, Harry? We used to talk about everything. In all the years we have never kept any secrets between us. Why now?"

"Ron, it's nothing like that," Harry protested. "I am not trying to keep things from you. There are things that I will tell you but there are some secrets that are not mine to tell. I also know that you want to fight and join the Order, but now is not the time for that."

He sighed and walked over to the window, knowing he was lying through his teeth. He was hiding something from them...something very big - the prophecy.

"You know, that night at the Ministry we nearly played right into Voldemort's hands. We'd have died if it wasn't for the Order and Dumbledore. I have been thinking about it since then, actually not thought about too much else, and I realized that we cannot afford to play by his rules anymore. He is just waiting for us to make a mistake right now. If we fight him now we'll all die and he knows this. We need to be totally prepared before we jump into any fight. I plan to teach you most of what I have learned, but I don't want you guys taking unnecessary risks. Joining the Order is an unnecessary risk."

"But that's our choice to make, Harry, not yours," Ginny protested.

"Yes, it is your choice," Harry conceded. "But you know what? Right now you guys are no help to the Order, and that's the simple truth."

"Well, if you had included us in the training we would have been," Ron said sullenly.

"No, Ron, you wouldn't be. If you think that I'm ready to take on Death Eaters now, you are way off the mark. That fact was proven when I nearly got killed yesterday. If it hadn't been for Dumbledore, I would have died. I am just in the Order to get information on Voldemort so the next time something happens I am aware of everything and can act accordingly."

Hermione opened her mouth to say something but Harry raised his hand to stop her.

"Hermione, the stupidest thing we did that day was leaving Hogwarts. As long as we were at Hogwarts, we were safe. It was only when we were lured out that we were in danger. Not listening to you that day cost me dearly. Now that Dumbledore is back Hogwarts is safer than ever. But Voldemort knows a way to lure me out now, and it's you guys. If one of you were to be captured it would be all over. I would hand myself over to him and he knows it."

"Of course you wouldn't!" Hermione shrieked. "You are never to bargain your life for ours, Harry. None of us would ever stand for it."

Harry shook his head. "No, I can't do that, Hermione. I know that if you or Ron had to trade your lives to save mine, you'd do it. Don't ask me not to do the same. Look, right now we are not ready, we need to be smart and stay out of trouble till we are ready. For once let's just try and have a school year where we aren't nearly killed."

Harry's heart was heavy as he said this. For the first time in so many years of friendship he was lying to his friends. He knew that someday they would learn the truth and would probably hate him for it, but he consoled himself by thinking that he was doing this because he had to try and keep them out of danger. Nobody else was going to die because of him. He wouldn't allow Voldemort to claim anyone else.

Ginny sighed. "Ok, Harry, I guess this discussion is pointless anyway, since there is no force on earth that would make Mum agree to allow us to join the Order. I guess we'll just have to hold you to your promise of teaching us everything you learned. But remember this, if you think for one second that you are going to go charging into trouble and leave us behind, you can think again."

Harry nodded and turned to Ron.

Ron had a most disgruntled look on his face as he stared at his best friend. Harry returned the gaze unflinchingly.

Five years of such a close friendship, going through life and death situations every year and supporting each other through everything had formed a very strong bond between the two boys. Ron's eyes held a hundred questions, but he saw that Harry could not, or would not, answer them. He sighed in defeat and shrugged, grinning ruefully. This little action cleared all the bad air, and suddenly everything between them was all right again.

"Ok, so tell us what you can about today's meeting already! The suspense is killing me," Ron said excitedly.

So Harry told them all about Snape being used by Voldemort all through the past year. Ron was fuming by the end.

"That absolute prick! Why'd you have to go and save him, mate? I bet he didn't even thank you for saving his miserable arse."

"Ron! Language!" Hermione shrieked.

Harry shrugged. "I don't know, mate. You have never had the Cruciatus curse cast on you so you don't know the pain. Believe me, no one deserves that."

Ron muttered something under his breath that sounded a lot like 'Snape sure as hell deserves it,' but otherwise he didn't argue.

They spent the rest of the afternoon talking and Harry told them about his summer in a bit more detail. Ginny and Hermione shared a long look when Harry mentioned Pat, but they too were very eager to meet her and the boys after hearing so much about them. Ron and Ginny took turns telling them about the pranks the twins had played on Percy.

"They've been really mean to him ever since he came back," Ginny said with a smile. "The day after he came and apologized, they put a whole pack of rainbow chews in his shepherd's pie."

"Rainbow chews?" Harry asked curiously.

"Yeah, your skin turns into one of the colours in the rainbow and the colour keeps changing every hour or so," Ron grinned. "Percy had to go to office with indigo hued skin. Looked a real sight."

"That was better than the time they put U-No-Poo in his pumpkin juice," Ginny said with a wicked grin.

Ron snorted and screwed up his face to try and control his mirth, but it was no use, for a second later he was rolling on the bed shaking with laughter. "Oh, that was something!" He finally managed to gasp out, lifting his head up slightly off the mattress. "He was sitting in the toilet for ages and then Tonks comes in and had to use the loo. She waited for him to come out for more than half an hour, and all the while there are all these 'noises' coming from inside. Finally she lost it and screamed at him 'Oi, Weatherby! Get your rocks off in the bedroom. I need to use the loo.' Five seconds later the door opens and Percy comes out. You should have seen his face, it was literally burning up. You could have roasted chestnuts on it." And with saying this he again exploded into laughter.

Harry burst out laughing and Ginny joined him after a second. Hermione looked at them disapprovingly but she too couldn't stop the smile from creeping across her face.

"Yeah, but he's changed a lot," Ginny said with a smile. "He even laughed about it later."

"So what's he doing nowadays?" Harry asked when he had finally stopped laughing.

"Well he's still stuck in Centaur Liaisons," Ron shrugged. "Dad is set on not helping him out of that mess."

Harry nodded and stored the information for later.


~~~*~


Bill and Harry sat across from one another on twin couches. Between them was a low coffee table that held four goblets and a jug of chilled pumpkin juice.

They were sitting in the parlour of No. 12 Grimmauld Place, and the previously unused room had been totally changed.

The old green carpeting had been completely stripped and the hardwood flooring underneath had been given a thorough polishing. Two sofas and couches sat facing each other creating a rough rectangle in the centre of the room, the coffee table right in the middle. They had been completely reupholstered in silk in a lovely navy and cream pinstriped pattern.

The walls, which had been dull, crumbly and had paint peeling of them, had been replastered and painted with a pleasant light beige colour.

In a corner of the room stood a liquor cabinet and an antique glass display case that held all the Black family china and silverware. All that remained of it, anyway. These had gone through a thorough testing by Dobby and Winky for any hexes and curses. Many pieces had had to be thrown away. Both the glass display case and the liquor cabinet had been polished, shined and varnished to within an inch of their lives and gleamed brightly.

Several knit rugs lay around the room on the floor and gave the room a cozy look. There was a small fireplace situated behind Harry's couch and this too had been given a thorough scrubbing. This had not been an easy task, even for the house-elves, as the fireplace had been covered in a decade of soot that Kreacher had never bothered to clean. It was too small to floo from but was large enough to talk through and to warm the room.

Overall the room was now a very pleasant place to sit and relax, receive visitors or conduct business.

Bill poured two goblets of pumpkin juice and handed one to Harry.

"Are you really sure about this?" Bill asked with a frown. "I feel as if I should be stopping you from doing this as your manager."

"Bill, this is something I want to do, ok?" Harry said calmly. "I know it's probably a big risk, but the truth is that while those two might be the biggest goof-offs I have ever seen, they have a real spark of brilliance hidden inside them. I think all they need is an opportunity and someone to keep an eye on them, and somehow I just have a good feeling about this."

Bill sighed. "I have this bad feeling that by 'someone,' you mean me."

Harry grinned. "Yep. The votes are in and you're the best man for the job."

Bill gave Harry a dirty look. "What votes are these? And how come I don't get to vote?"

Harry shrugged. "Hey, this isn't a democracy, you know. Only my vote counts."

Bill was about to retort when the door opened and the twins came in. At least they thought it was the twins, as their bodies were hidden behind large cartons that they were carrying.

They dropped the aforesaid cartons on a sofa and collapsed on the opposite one.

"Be a sport and pour us a glass of that juice will you, Harry, mate?" Fred said, wiping the sweat from his forehead.

"Yeah, it's been a long day," George said, leaning back into the plush sofa.

A minute later both of them were gulping down the icy liquid that Harry had handed them.

"What's in the cartons?" Bill asked curiously.

"All in good time, Billy boy," George said with a grin.

"Yeah, patience is a virtue, you know," Fred put in.

"It's a virtue everybody in the family lost since the moment you two learned how to crawl," Bill retorted.

"Yeah, c'mon guys," Harry pleaded. "I'd like to know what's in there too."

"Shall we show them, Gred?"

"Well, Forge, ordinarily I'd say lets make them suffer a bit more... but since Harry's our partner..."

"Right you are. Besides it's all for ickle Harrikins anyway, so we might as well show him."

"Erm... guys whatever's in there isn't going to blow up the house, will it?" Harry asked cautiously.

"Well, it does have the capability to," Fred said with an evil smile.

"But it depends upon the user," George said reassuringly.

Bill groaned loudly.

Fred and George had opened each of the boxes while they were talking and Fred removed something bright, fluorescent green from inside one of the boxes. George imitated his action and put down another similar one right next to it.

Harry bent forward hesitantly to have a better look at it and had a big shock when he realized what the objects were. They were loudspeakers!

Fred pulled out a bright orange coloured music system from another carton and he and George plugged the speakers into it. Harry noticed that there were no wires to attach the system to an electric power source and wondered how the contraption worked.

"I think you'll like what we have done here," George said as he switched on the system.

Harry watched with astonished eyes as the system started. Fred removed a CD from inside a carton and popped it in.

A second later a song started playing which Harry immediately recognized as 'November Rain,' a popular number by Guns 'n' Roses.

"How does the system work?" Harry asked, voicing his amazement. "I mean you haven't plugged it into any electrical source. Is it running on batteries then?"

"Ask us no questions," Fred said with a smirk.

"And we'll tell you no lies," George finished as he cranked up the volume.

"We enhanced the volume in the system," Fred said, tapping his feet to the music.

"Yeah, the old capacity was too low."

Harry glanced at the speakers and judged them to be around the 2000w capability...which was plenty loud in itself without any need for enhancements.

"Just how much enhancement are we talking here?" Harry asked cautiously.

"Well... let's just say it wouldn't be a good idea to play it full blast in the Gryffindor common room," George said with a wink.

"Ok, time to show you the other features," Fred said rubbing his hands in glee. He turned a large knob clockwise and then pressed a silver button. A tiny shockwave passed over the four of them and subsided. He then cranked up the volume even more till Harry felt the whole room was shaking with the sound.

"It's too loud, Fred. Turn it down a little," Harry said shielding his ears.

"What's that you said, Harry, mate?" Fred asked loudly.

"I said turn down the volume a bit. Your Mum will throw a fit if she hears all this racket," Harry yelled.

Fred and George grinned.

"Take two steps back and see," George bellowed.

Harry looked at George in bewilderment, wondering what they were up to, but he took two steps back nonetheless. What happened then stunned him totally. He couldn't hear the sound of the system! He took two steps forward and immediately the sound hit him like a wave again.

Fred turned down the volume and turned to Harry, a huge grin on his face.

"What the bloody hell was that?" Harry asked excitedly.

"That was a little something we put inside to allow you to listen to music however loudly you want to, whenever you want to."

"You see, you set the distance you want the sound waves to travel with this knob here and press this silver button here. So suppose you select a distance of five feet... well, a sound barrier will be put five feet all around the system and no sound will be heard outside it," Fred explained.

"You could have a party in Gryffindor tower and play the music full blast and no one would ever be the wiser," George said with a wink.

"The system now also includes a built in wizard wireless," Fred said, pointing out a knob.

Harry stared at the system and then at the twins, excitement bubbling up within him. He was very impressed with what the twins had done. He chanced a look at Bill and saw that he was equally impressed.

"Guys... wow! Just wow! I don't know what to say... It's fantastic. I really love it. Thank you very much."

Fred waved the thanks away. "Don't mention it, mate."

"Yeah, it was actually pretty fun building it. I can see why Dad enjoys tinkering around with all the electronic stuff so much."

"Now, was there any reason why you wanted to see us today?" Fred asked curiously, glancing at Bill.

Harry cleared his throat. "Well, there is one thing... Bill, would you like to do the honours?"

Bill nodded and looked at the twins. "Ok, guys, listen up. Harry is now a fifty percent partner in your shop and he thinks that it has great potential, but we both agree that right now it's not running very well and if things are not taken care of soon the shop might close down."

"Hey...business is just down," Fred protested.

"It will pick up in a few days when the Hogwarts shopping crowd comes in," George said, agreeing with his twin.

"That's not the point," Bill said, shaking his head. "The point is that while you guys might have a real talent for inventing pranks, you have absolutely no clue how to run a shop. You don't know how to advertise, promote or handle the customers. The loud and flashy antics you have going on are ok for now, but they'll get stale after a while. You need to have a constantly new theme, need to advertise, and most of all need to have someone competent run your financial affairs."

Fred and George looked highly mutinous and glared at Bill.

Bill ignored them and went on. "So... we decided that expanding the whole operation and bringing in competent people to run the business would be the solution. It would also leave you two jokers with free time to invent more...pranks."

"Oh, you decided, did you?" Fred asked threateningly.

"And what gives you the right to make such decisions about our shop?" George growled.

"I own fifty percent of 3W," Harry said in a calm voice. "Since Bill is my manager I guess I gave him the right to do this."

Fred and George jerked their heads around and stared at Harry.

"You?" George asked.

"... asked him to do all this?" Fred finished.

"Yes," Harry said simply, "but I suggest you let Bill finish."

"Yes, as I was saying...we decided it was high time something was done about it. So, and this goes against every one of my instincts, this is what we propose," Bill said, handing the twins a large legal contract.

They took it reluctantly and started reading it. A second or two later they both peeked up from over the top of the document with amazed looks on their faces and stared at Harry and Bill, both of whom wore large smiles on their faces. They put their heads back down and continued reading.

Five minutes later, for the first time in known history, Fred and George were speechless with shock.

"You...you..." Fred mumbled.

"You bought Zonko's?" George choked out almost worshipfully.

"We bought Zonko's," Harry said with a smile.

Fred and George looked at each other and then proceeded to goggle at Harry like goldfish.

"Now, listen," Bill said, interrupting them. "The Zonko's at Hogsmeade will run itself with its current staff until we are able to bring in our own people. It will start carrying 3W products as of now. They also have shops in Paris and New York and those will be run by the current staff until we are ready to take over. We will start introducing 3W products there very soon."

Fred and George nodded slowly, their eyes beginning to shine at the prospect.

"Next, we are going to start an advertising campaign to let the public know about the takeover. Over the next few months we will be making several changes, the smallest of which will be introducing a new mail order catalog. We are also going to hire people who know how to run a shop and give them charge, leaving you two free to invent."

Fred and George looked at each other for a second. "Listen, we're okay with bringing in people to help out, but we still want a say in how the shop will be run," Fred said adamantly.

"You are the part owners, you will have a major say," Bill said impatiently. "But since you are partners with Harry, he has a major say in everything as well."

George nodded. "I guess that's fair."

"Look, guys," Harry said suddenly. "There is another reason why you might not be able to pay attention to how the shop is run."

"And what may that be?" Fred asked quietly.

Harry took a deep breath. "I need a favor from you guys. It has nothing to do with this deal. It will go through regardless. You guys are free to turn me down."

"Just spit it out, mate," George said, leaning forward curiously.

"I would like you two to return to Hogwarts to finish your NEWTs," Harry said slowly.

There was a moment of silence and then the twins shouted almost at once.

"Mum put you up to this, didn't she?" Fred yelled angrily.

"Come on, Harry, what good can another year at Hogwarts or taking the NEWTS possibly do?" George said in an equally angry tone.

Harry sighed. "No, this has nothing to do with your mother."

"Then what, Harry?" Fred asked in a little calmer voice.

"You guys are right in the middle of this war because of your family's position. Your dad is very important in the Ministry, Bill and Charlie are Order members, Ron is my best friend, and now you are my business partners. We could just as well paint a target on your foreheads. Sooner or later you will be attacked because you are easy targets. And to be quite frank, you guys are not up to repelling any such attack yet," Harry said urgently.

"Hey, we can take on the Death Munchers any day," Fred said angrily.

"Yeah, when they come we will have a few nasty surprises planned for them," George said with a vicious grin.

"You will be no match for them. I taught you guys and I know what you are capable of," Harry said, shaking his head wearily. "Everything isn't a joke, guys. You have had a whole host of bad teachers ever since you started Hogwarts. Quirrel, for two years, Lockhart, and then that toad Umbridge. The only two saving graces were the fake Moody and Moony, but that's not enough, not nearly enough."

Fred groaned. "What do you think we can learn in one year that we couldn't in six and a half?"

"Plenty! The DA is going to be an official school club this year and Dumbledore has promised that this years DADA professor will be good. I just need you guys to give me this one year."

The twins did not look very convinced.

Harry closed his eyes. "Look, there is another reason. I don't know how safe Hogwarts is going to be this year. I know it's supposed to be very safe but it's been broken into before and most probably can be broken into again. If anything goes down, I could use people who I can trust there to help. I also need someone to look out for Ron, Hermione and Ginny. They are the ones in most danger."

Fred and George exchanged another long look with each other and nodded slowly.

"Ok, we'll do it," Fred said quietly.

"Thank you," Harry said in a relieved voice.

Bill and the twins exchanged significant glances.

"Ok," Bill said breaking in. "The shares of the new company will be split seventy five - twenty five. Seventy five percent for Harry, twenty five percent to you. Twenty five percent of the shares will be sold back to you at the rate of two percent interest whenever you have the necessary capital." Bill looked up. "Is this agreeable to you?"

"Agreeable?" Fred snorted.

"Give us the bloody quill and show us where to sign," George yelled excitedly.

Bill reluctantly took out a bottle of ink and a quill and handed it to the twins and showed them where to sign. They lost no time in affixing their signature to the lengthy legal document. Harry was next and he too signed quickly where Bill showed him.

"Ok, now let's get to the..."Bill started.

"Bill, there is just one thing I want to say and then I will leave you three to it," Harry said interrupting them.

All three turned to him expectantly.

"After seeing the results of the music system, I think that it might be a good idea to start a section featuring electronic items for sale to the public. It is sure to be a big hit," Harry said eagerly.

Bill closed his eyes and looked to be pondering over the suggestion.

"I think it will be successful, Harry... but do you really want to take a risk?"

"Yes, I do. If you guys are agreeable, that is," Harry said turning to the twins.

Fred and George looked amazed that he would even ask such a question. "Of course we are," they said in unison.

"Great, then I guess I'll leave you guys to discuss business. I have a few things to do," Harry said getting up slowly from his couch.

"You... you don't want to stay for the rest of it?" Bill asked surprised.

Harry smiled and shook his head. "I know you guys will do a good job. Besides, I know absolutely nothing about running a shop."

Harry turned to the twins and grinned.

Harry...mate..." Fred said hesitantly.

"Don't, just... don't," Harry said softly, stopping the thanks that he knew that were coming. "I did it because you guys deserved it. It isn't a favor."

Saying that, he walked out of the room, leaving the three Weasley brothers alone.

George shook his head. "You know, when he asked for a favor, I thought it would actually be something for himself."

"Yeah, the guy is either too good to be true or mental," Fred said fervently.

"You two, listen up, and listen good," Bill said quietly. "The family owes a lot to Harry, and I mean a LOT. He saved Ginny, saved Dad and saved my life too, by giving himself up to the Death Eaters. By my reckoning we owe him about three life debts... and that only begins to scratch the surface. I have always been very tolerant of your jokes, but screw up this time and I will really make you regret it. You got it?"

Fred and George nodded silently.

"Hey, we like to mess around but you know better than to think we would mess up such an opportunity," George said uneasily.

"Yeah, we owe Harry big time. Without him there would be no Weasley's Wizard Wheezes. We'd probably be stuck at the Ministry in a boring desk job," Fred said in a horrified whisper.

"Now there's a scary thought," Bill said with a grin.


~~~*~


It was past midnight, and everybody was asleep in No. 12 Grimmauld Place, or at least they ought to have been. Lights burned brightly in two rooms, however, the bedroom of Harry Potter, and the kitchen.

Arthur, Remus, Tonks, Bill, Charlie, Fred and George all sat around the kitchen table looking at Molly expectantly.

"I have called you here tonight to discuss what is to be done about Harry's relatives," Molly said in a grim voice.

"What do you mean, Mum?" Fred asked curiously.

Molly was silent for a second and opened her mouth to speak, but before any words could come out her face crumpled and she covered it with her hands. Even now, after so many hours, remembering those memories left her shaken. She had immersed herself in work all day to keep from remembering any of it, but now it had become too much for her to take. The dam had finally broken.

Arthur rubbed her back comfortingly as she wiped the tears from her eyes.

"Let's just say he was pretty badly abused as a kid, guys," Charlie said quietly.

The twins nodded, their faces hardening. They remembered all too well the bars on the window and cat flap on Harry's bedroom door.

"Right," Molly said shakily, her voice still sounding a bit emotional. "The Ministry and Dumbledore might not do anything, but I'm not going to sit back and let them get away with it."

"Molly, we can make a complaint to the Ministry. They will take action against them," Tonks said hesitantly.

Molly made a disgusted sound. "They can't do anything. You know as well as I do that since his relatives are Muggles the Ministry cannot interfere. The matter will go to the Muggle authorities and they might weasel out of any actual punishment at all, as they have no actual proof of the abuse. Harry would have to testify against them and he'll never do that."

Tonks ran a weary hand through her spiky green hair as she acknowledged Molly's point. Harry would hate coming into the limelight and testifying against his relatives... and if word ever leaked out about the abuse the reporters would have a field day. She could just imagine the headlines: BOY-WHO-LIVED ABUSED BY MUGGLE RELATIVES.

"Arthur, can you make sure that Privet Drive is not being monitored tomorrow night?" Molly asked her husband.

Arthur nodded slowly. "Yes, I believe I could pull a few strings."

"Good. Now we have to decide what we are going to do," Molly said, an ominous quality in her voice that bore no good for the Dursleys.

"Well, we have some particularly nasty products that we wanted to try out. We were saving them for the Death Munchers, but I guess Harry's relatives are fair game," George said thoughtfully.

"Maybe I can introduce them to a particularly 'friendly' Hungarian Horntail that we have back in Romania. I doubt anybody would miss them," Charlie offered.

"I wouldn't mind trying out a few nasty hexes I learned during Auror training," Tonks said eagerly. "I bet Remus knows a fair many too."

"No, none of these are any good," Remus said, shaking his head. "If Harry ever found out we had done any of this, he would never forgive us. Hexing them or pranking them is not the answer, and while it is nice to think of feeding them to a dragon it really won't work out."

"Not to mention that such a thing would come under cruelty to animals," Fred quipped.

"I think I may know of something that might suit the purpose," Bill said thoughtfully. "It's called the 'Curse of Nefertiti.'"

"What's that?" Tonks asked, leaning forward in interest.

"Well, it was invented during the reign of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti," Bill said slowly. "It's a highly complex curse to cast and the more the people, the more the power behind it. The curse is highly complex in the way it works. It's almost as if it has a mind of its own. The simplest way to put it is that it will make the victim of the curse experience things that will make him realize how he has wronged others. So, supposing I were to starve you and the curse were put on me, I might not be able to get any food to eat despite my best efforts and would have to sleep on an empty stomach until the curse can be broken. Suppose I were to punish an innocent without just cause, It might happen that I could get accused and punished for a lot of things that I didn't do. Now, I say 'might happen', because you can't really predict how the curse will behave in any given situation. It will react differently to different people. The only thing that you will know for certain is that it will punish the person for his crimes in a manner that will make them realize and suffer for their sins."

"How can the curse be broken?" Arthur asked.

"Once cast, it is almost unbreakable. The only thing that ends it is when the person it is cast upon is genuinely sorry for all he did. If you get upset at the person you have wronged and blame him for your predicament it only gets worse. You have to realize your fault and want to make amends for it, and only then will it end. Most people cannot bring themselves to do this and so the curse never ends for them."

"It's perfect, Bill," Molly said with a bitter smile on her face. "Maybe this will make them learn just how badly they have treated Harry."

"Yes, I must agree that it suits our purposes admirably well," Remus said, nodding his head in agreement.

"Do you know how the curse is cast?" Charlie asked.

"Yes, I was very fascinated when I heard about it and made it a bit of a research project, and the eight of us are more than enough to make it work."

"The nine of us," said a voice from the door.

Everybody jerked around to see a very determined Ginny Weasley standing by the open door. She was dressed in her nightgown and carrying a long piece of flesh-coloured string.


~~~*~


It was very late at night, around four-thirty or so. Harry supposed that he could call it insanely early in the morning if he so pleased. He had just woken up from another one of his nightmares after a bare hour of sleep.

He rubbed his eyes tiredly and walked downstairs, hoping to get a cup of tea from the kitchen before tackling his Arithmancy books.

Upon reaching the kitchen, he quickly spotted the kettle and went to fill it with water. He was just about to put the kettle on the stove when a small hand tapped him on the shoulder.

His training kicked in instinctively and a second later he was holding his wand to the neck of a very surprised Ginny Weasley.

"Merlin, Ginny!" Harry growled in frustration as he put away his wand. "Don't ever do that."

Ginny was too shocked to say much at first, but slowly anger rose within her. He had some nerve! She was the one who was nearly hexed into next Tuesday and he had the gall to snap at her!

She opened her mouth to yell at him, and tell him exactly how many types of a prat he was, when she noticed the dark circles under his eyes and the way his body was stooped with weariness. Her face softened immediately.

"Here, let me make that for you," she said, taking the kettle from his hands and gently pushing him towards a chair.

"You don't have to..." Harry started.

"I know I don't have to," Ginny said cutting him off. "But since I know where everything is better than you, and I'm here, I might as well do it."

She quickly put the kettle on the stove and went about getting out the tea leaves and mugs.

"How come you're up so late?" she asked him casually as she went about her work.

"Couldn't sleep," Harry said shortly.

He observed her moving gracefully around the kitchen, the dying fire casting a glow on her fiery hair and bringing out all its highlights - ginger, auburn, orange, copper. Her skin was pale and milky, marred only by the odd scattering of freckles. He also couldn't help but notice that somewhere down the line she had grown up and begun to develop a really curvaceous figure.

He dragged his thoughts away from where his thoughts were heading and wondered what had brought them on. Was he losing his mind because of lack of sleep? Because for a minute he had been viewing Ron's little sister in a very different way than he ever had before... as if he thought she was beautiful... well, she was very beautiful ... but ... Arghhhh! Forget it Potter...just forget it... it's just the lack of sleep.

She was Ron's little sister. She was dating Dean Thomas. Conclusion - no thoughts other than purely brotherly thoughts about her.

He was brought out of his internal monologue when Ginny set a mug of tea before him and sat down on the chair opposite him with her mug.

"Thanks," Harry said with a smile.

Ginny laughed. "It's no big deal, Harry, just a cup of tea."

A warm feeling spread through Harry's chest at hearing her laugh. She had a very nice laugh. Funny how he had never noticed it before.

"So what are you doing up?" Harry asked, taking a sip of the hot tea.

Her smile dropped away and she shrugged. "Nightmares. I get them every now and then. I heard some noise from downstairs and thought that I might as well get up."

Harry looked at her in concern. "I didn't know you had nightmares. Have you had a problem with them for long?"

"Well, they started after my first year," Ginny said softly. "It was the same ones... Tom dragging me down to the chamber, the basilisk... they had stopped for a while but every now and then I get a few."

What she didn't tell him was that all her recent nightmares had nothing to do with the chamber. They were about a black haired, green-eyed boy lying broken and bleeding on the ground, his life force draining away. The nightmares left her shaken to her very core, fear stabbing through her heart like a cold dagger.

Harry covered her small hand with his. "I haven't been a very good friend to you, have I?"

"Oh, stop it, Harry," Ginny said, shaking her head vigorously. "You had too many things on your plate to have to deal with my little problems. They mean nothing."

"They do not mean nothing," Harry said firmly, "and I may have had my hands full but that does not excuse my behavior. I was never there when you needed me."

"Harry, you saved my life. You were there when I needed you the most. Nobody can ever accuse you of not being there for me," Ginny said with a gentle smile.

"Look, I'd like us to be friends, Ginny. There's a lot I don't know about you and I want to change that."

Ginny smiled brightly. "I'd like that too, Harry."

They were silent for a moment and sipping their tea as they looked at each other. A pleasant silence hung between them and there was no need for either of them to speak.

Finally Ginny broke the silence. "Are you upset about finding me inside your Pensieve? It wasn't intentional, you know."

Harry was silent for a moment and then he shrugged. "It's all right."

"Do you hate them?" Ginny asked hesitantly.

Harry was silent as he pondered her question. Did he hate the Dursleys?

"Maybe once upon a time I did hate them," he said quietly, his voice a mere whisper. "But now there are so many other bigger things to worry about that I really don't have too much time to think about them. They just don't matter to me at all. They're just a minor nuisance that I have to deal with." He sighed. "I told you, Ginny, it's all in the past. Don't let any of it bother you."

Saying that, he drained his cup and wishing her goodnight trudged back up to his room.

Ginny watched him go, a wave of sorrow welling up inside her. She hated that he had gone through so much that the monstrous deeds of his relatives didn't matter to him anymore.

But she would get revenge, oh yes!

Molly at first had refused to even consider her going, listing any number of reasons that she could absolutely not come along.

Ginny had stood her ground and shot all her arguments down.

It looked like it was going to become a full-fledged shouting match when her father had stepped in and taken her side.

Usually Arthur Weasley never went against his wife's wishes, but he saw the fire in her eyes, the hurt, the need for vengeance, and most of all, the love she felt for Harry. He could see that this was one thing she needed to do.

So he had taken Molly aside and had a whispered argument with her, and her mother had very reluctantly agreed. Ginny had never loved her father more than at that moment.

Nobody messed with her Harry and got away with it.


~~~*~
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