A NEW LIFE BEGINS
Several days after Harry's return to consciousness, a delegation of Ministry wizards turned up at his bedside. Harry's initial irritation turned to outright seething anger as he recognized Dolores Umbridge in the throng. Only a remembered admonition from Francois DePais to "never live on the precipice of revenge driven anger" kept him from lashing out at the assembled group. Mastering his anger, he waited to see what the Minister had to say.
"Harry my boy, it is so good to see you are recovering from your ordeal." Scrimgeour's tone was one of forced friendliness. "I see you have well-wishers and admirers from around the world," he said motioning to the mound of cards and letters filling an entire corner of the room.
Suddenly Harry saw the situation from Scrimgeour's point of view. The Ministry would be shamed by the revelation that a group of teenagers had succeeded where the Ministry had failed for years. He also saw how often his plans had been at odds with the Ministry.
"These people don't really need to be here. They could have taken all credit and let me fight a losing battle in the Daily Prophet. I have nothing to lose by maintaining a civil attitude and just listening." Harry grew a bit in the thought. Accordingly he nodded silently for Scrimgeour to continue.
"Harry I would like to extend the thanks of a grateful wizarding world...and this from the muggle Minister, although I've no idea what it's about." Scrimgeour gave Harry a huge key on a plaque. "Thank you for what you and your D.A. accomplished. In ridding us of..." Scrimgeour cleared his throat before continuing, "...Voldemort. You have placed upon us a debt that we can never truly repay. I know you have missed a year of school, technically, you have a final year before you graduate, but I would like to offer you a training position as a Ministry Auror. We can begin as soon as you feel well enough to leave hospital." Scrimgeour smiled a hesitant, twitching smile, and awaited a response.
Harry mulled the words while formulating a response. "No thank you Minister," he said in a determinedly neutral voice. "I don't want you to think I am dismissing the opportunity out of hand, but I don't see the Ministry as the career path I once envisioned." Harry's gaze flicked to Dolores Umbridge as he spoke.
"I see," said Scrimgeour, noting the glance at Umbridge. "I know that we have not always seen eye-to-eye, but I wish you could believe that I have always acted out of my concern for the wizarding world."
"I wish I could believe that too," said Harry, his voice controlled but his eyes giving away his impatience and sarcasm.
"I just had a thought," said Scrimgeour brightening a bit. "You could teach the Aurors some of the tactics you used to defeat Voldemort, finish out your holiday, so to speak. Then when you go back to school on the first of August you could finish your final year at Hogwarts with a dual purpose..." Scrimgeour paused to let the statement hang for just the right effect, "...you could finish your course studies and you could teach."
"Do you mean the Ministry would let me reintroduce the D.A. as a student organization? A chance to teach real Defence Against the Dark Arts? Or would the Ministry be constantly looking over my shoulder, regulating everything I would be allowed to teach?" Harry's skepticism was not so well hidden as he once again glanced at Umbridge.
"No. No, that's not what I meant." Scrimgeour straightened himself to his full height. His mane of hair and jowly face reinforced his aging leonine resemblance. "You misunderstand me. I am offering you a teaching position at Hogwarts. I am sure that the Hogwarts Board of Governors would support my proposal for you to become the youngest ever Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher. A full-time position."
Scrimgeour's gaze locked meaningfully on Umbridge. She worked herself to the front of the group and stood at Harry's bedside. Speaking to the ground between her tiny feet she began, "Mr. Potter, I need to offer you an apology. I was wrong in the way I treated you. I was wrong in the draconian methods I used against you and your classmates. I was wrong about you and your motivations. I am sorry for the things I put you through during my tenure as a teacher at Hogwarts. I wish there was away to undo the damage I caused at Hogwarts. I know I can't, but I needed you to know how sorry I am."
Harry couldn't remember hearing a statement with so many "I's in it. Inwardly he struggled with the decision to deride the apology. He had nearly conquered the impulse when Scrimgeour began anew. "Dolores' apology is sincere. She is not here as a Ministry toady to just curry favor with you. She was released as a Ministry employee after the completion of an investigation of methods she used during her stint at Hogwarts."
As Harry had always imagined Dolores Umbridge as a huge flaccid toad, and Scrimgeour's choice of the word toady caused him to snort uncontrollably.
Unabashed, Scrimgeour continued, "A few years teaching at Hogwarts and you might be well situated to take the position of Headmaster. From there it's only a small step to the Ministry of Magic's top job. I won't be here forever. As a matter of a fact, I would much rather be out tracking down dark wizards than dealing with a myriad of Ministry political problems. You could have a bright future ahead of you. You have public support and popularity. And most of all you have the personal convictions that are so important when wielding public trust."
"That's a lot to think about," said Harry. He considered his Godfather Sirius Black's admonition... "The world isn't divided into good people and Death Eaters."
"Dolores," he said (and he watched for reaction to his familiar use of her first name), "I could spend the rest of my life detesting you, but it would be to no purpose. It would simply use me up. Instead, I choose to forgive you. You have a long way to go to atone for the scars you have caused, but let the healing begin here."
Harry held out his hand toward Umbridge. She stared at his hand in disbelief. A strangely muffled gurgle escaped Umbridge's throat and she turned and fled from the hospital room. Harry lowered his hand.
"Well you did your part to salve the wound. It's her loss to not accept closure," said Scrimgeour. "I stand by my earlier offer. In fact after witnessing what just transpired, I'm more convinced than ever, that you have what it takes to rise past significant differences and achieve what you will. Don't be hasty in your decision. Get healthy first. I've even heard rumors of an upcoming wedding. Take your time to sort things out. Call on me anytime, I'll never be too busy to see you. I sincerely thank you for your service to the wizarding world."
Scrimgeour shook Harry's hand briefly and then filed toward the door with his entourage. Stopping abruptly, he turned back to Harry. "I thought you might like to know, we released Stan Shunpike." Without further comment they left the room.
As the room cleared, Harry noticed a thin redheaded young man dallying behind the departing group. Ron, who had remained at the head of Harry's bed during the Ministry visit, moved into a protective position between Harry and his brother Percy. Ron bristled at Percy's presence.
"What do you want," asked Ron aggressively.
Harry looked between Ron and Percy and laughed. "I guess it's full time we let the cat out of the bag, isn't it Percy?"
"I was afraid you might have been killed or that your ordeal might have damaged your memory. I dreaded trying to make amends to my family without your support," Percy's words came out in a tumble, as if they had been long stored under great pressure.
"Ron," Harry began, "Do you recall when I dodged back into the Room of Requirement after one of our training sessions and when I came back out you asked if I had seen a ghost?"
"I remember. I thought you looked different when you came out. What of it?" said Ron still eyeing Percy suspiciously.
"I was different when I came back out of the room. The "something I had to do" was go back in time and convince Percy to act as a family rebel. Percy was very reluctant because he saw how much it would affect his relationship, not only with your mum and dad, but with brothers and sister. He was concerned he wouldn't be able to pull off the ruse. You see I begged him to distance himself from your family to be able to pass misinformation to the Ministry. He watched for evidence of Voldemort's influence from inside the Ministry. He couldn't have done it if he had kept close ties to your family. He has played a terrible act these past few years to aid our fight against Voldemort. In the end, that was what convinced him to endure the personal sacrifice, his dedication to bringing down Voldemort. He played the entire scam on his own, without any emotional support."
Harry had just finished his explanation when a flurry of robes seemed to shoot from the hospital doorway and inundate Percy. Mrs. Weasley's caterwauling drowned her garbled words. It was fully five minutes before she had gained enough composure to speak coherently. "Oh, Percy! I heard from the doorway what Harry said about you. You were so brave. You had a harder task than any of the rest of us. We had friends and family. We had each other for support. How can we ever show you how much we love you for your sacrifice?"
Percy blushed and then laughed, "How about some of your onion soup?"
The rest of the Weasley family filed in to find Ron and Percy and Mrs. Weasley in a tight embrace. The rush of emotion nearly knocked Percy over, and the rush of Fred and George did knock him over.
Harry remained in his bed, forgotten, but reveling in the outpouring of pent up familial emotion for Percy's plight and return. While explanations were given, while notes were compared, while everyone's part in the drama was fully expounded, Harry drifted off to a peaceful sleep.
After several more days of rest and reminiscence, Harry felt well enough to walk around St.Mungo's. He visited Gilderoy Lockhart on the fourth floor, managing to break away after an hour of explaining what had become of Lockhart's favorite wand, and only then with a sheaf of signed photographs.
He was enthralled by Hagrid's visit. The half-giant thanked Harry for his encouragement and support in going back to become a graduated wizard, then he told a vivid tale of Grawp fighting off the giants Voldemort had coerced into demolishing the countryside. Hagrid's beard twitched as he told of Grawp pelting the invading giants with stones flung from bent trees. "I can't imagine where 'e learnt ter be so accurate with 'is aimin'." said Hagrid in awe of his half-brother's abilities. " 'e went toe-ter-toe with Golgomath an'..." Hagrid wiped a tear from his eye with the back of his enormous hand, "... an' 'e showed that big bully 'e was no one ter trifle with. The last I saw of Golgomoth, 'e was 'ightailin' it ter the mountains, leavin' a scarlet trail behind 'im. I don' think 'ell be back anytime soon."
Mr. and Mrs. Weasley related their view of the dust up with the giants quite reluctantly. They explained how the Order of the Phoenix members had concentrated on one giant at a time but they were losing the battle until Charlie arrived with Capricio. With Capricio's huge presence, they began to hold their own against the giants, and when McGonagall and Hagrid arrived with Grawp the tide turned in favor of the Order. "After that," said Mr. Weasley modestly, "it was an ordinary matter of repairing damage, modifying muggles' memories and seeing to it that the giants didn't return."
"Yeah, I see how simple it must have been," said Harry, wry humor in each word. "Listening to your tale, I think the D.A. had the easier task." Everyone laughed.
Ginny was almost constantly at Harry's bedside, leaving only to bathe or to take care of what she called "very pressing details."
Charlie was the longest away. When he finally had time to talk to Harry, he waxed poetic about Capricio's role in the defeat of the giants. "That dragon was fantastic, Harry," raptured Charlie. "It was as if he could read my mind. Without him, I think the giants would have pounded the Order to powder and rampaged into the cities before Hagrid could have gotten there with Grawp. As it was, we stopped them well outside any heavily populated area. I just can't say enough about Capricio."
"Speaking of Capricio," said Harry in a conspiratorially low voice, "do you think you could smuggle him into the hospital? I would dearly love to see him."
Charlie's countenance fell. "Harry there's something I have to tell you."
Harry's stomach dropped. "Capricio's all right isn't he? He isn't hurt, is he? I mean, he is a dragon after all." Harry held his breath waiting for Charlie's answer.
"It's actually the fact that he is a dragon that caused the problem. You see, after the battle I took him back with me to Romania to avoid problems with the Ministry of Magic. You were unconscious, so I didn't really have recourse. I have dispensation to study dragons and that latitude gives me opportunity to transport dragons where others couldn't. The mistake I made was allowing Capricio near the other dragons in my conflagration."
"Your what?" questioned Ron.
"A group of dragons is called a conflagration," explained Charlie in response to Ron's inquiry.
"The other dragon's didn't attack Capricio did they? He hasn't been hurt has he?" Harry's questions were panic driven.
"No. He hasn't been hurt. He can more than hold his own against other dragons. The problem is...well the problem is that Capricio has found himself a girlfriend in my conflagration. I can't seem to separate them. When I asked Capricio if he wanted to come visit you, he seemed disinterested. I'm afraid he may never actually be your dragon again." Charlie ended in an embarrassed silence.
Ginny seized the moment and took Harry's hand. "Ah, young love," said Ginny in a mock theatrical tone, as she examined the scars crisscrossing the back of Harry's hand.
"Young love my broomstick," retorted Harry. "Capricio is well over a thousand years old."
"Then don't you think it's about time he got on with the business of life," asked Ginny flatly. "That brings up a subject I've been holding off until you were well enough to decide."
At this, all the others in the room made hasty excuses for immediate departure. In a matter of moments Harry and Ginny were alone.
Ginny seemed to pale before she continued and Harry braced himself for the worst. "You have changed considerably. You have been gone inside time for over a year and unconscious for nearly that long again. If your feelings for me have changed, I want you to tell me so. I release you from any obligation your prior words may have carried."
Even though her words implied a parting of the ways, she did not release his hand.
Harry's recollections flew over the experiences of his remembered last year. He smiled at Ginny. "There is no doubt in my mind that if it weren't for the sustaining thought of being with you again, I would have given up a dozen times," he said truthfully. "But if you feel I have changed too much, I will understand." Harry's own words cut him to the core, but he knew he had to give Ginny unfettered choice.
"Oh Harry," said Ginny as tears filled her brown eyes. "When I saw your reaction after Winky was killed by Voldemort, I realized how much of your emotional self you had wrapped up in the cause of defeating him. You have changed and I didn't want you to feel trapped by our earlier plans. You are a great wizard Harry. I don't want to hold you back. You heard what Scrimgeour said about your future. I might be in the way of your opportunities."
Harry sat bolt upright in the hospital bed. "I don't know if I can live up to your expectations."
"I have no demands of you Harry. I know how focused you become when you are on a quest." Ginny smiled valiantly. "I'm not trying to back away from you. I just want you to be happy. After all you've been through, you deserve some happiness."
"Then it appears we are of the same mind. I love you and I intend to spend the rest of my life with you if you will have me. Especially after the choices I've made that placed you down the list of my priorities. Let's start fresh today and never look back. I will if you will."
Ginny squeezed Harry's hand more intently. "How about if we start almost a year ago? You had your birthday while you were unconscious. All of Dumbledore's possessions are now legally yours."
"Lupin showed me your list of instructions. A lot has come of that list. He and Neville went back to the destroyed factory and recovered the adamant crucible. With the benefit of your bequest, they are in business together producing "Maneo Canis Lupis Elixir." Werewolves have been...I hesitate to use the word...flocking, to get the potion. They will be set for life. Neville gained so much confidence, he's asked Luna to marry him. Ron has been quiet about it, but with your endowment, he has started a protective clothing line called Unicorn Jumpers. It's all the rage. The Weasley unicorn on the collar has become a status symbol. He and Hermione will do well. Your gift to my parents was received, albeit grudgingly, and it has made a huge difference in their lives. Dobby has even settled at the Burrow. Your scholarship allowed Hagrid to go back to school. It was some experience to have classes with him. Kreatcher has put his whole heart and soul into Grimmauld Place for his "young master." You won't believe how it has been cleaned out and brightened up. You won't recognize the place..." Ginny trailed off. She sniffed and began again, "Lupin gave me descriptions and locations of your inherited properties. While you were... while we weren't sure if you would..." Ginny's voice broke as she began to sob.
"Here now, none of that," said Harry as he squeezed Ginny's hand. "I'm going to be just fine. Clear the water-works away and finish what you started to say. Please."
"I never lost faith that you would recover," Ginny said as she dried her eyes. "I went back to Hogwarts reluctantly. I didn't want to leave your side. Mum finally forced me go. She said that way I'd be closer to finishing school when you were well. I wasn't worried about you being left alone. You had visitors almost constantly...the G2, the Order, Kreacher, Dobby, the entire D.A., Hogwarts staff and students, house elves, representatives of a dozen races and countries...cute witches trying to get a glimpse of the Chosen One. The hospital staff agreed to alert me immediately when you came 'round. Headmistress McGonagall made arrangements to allow me to leave Hogwarts at a moment's notice. It all worked out well. Ron and Hermione have graduated. I have passed my apparition tests. I'm seventeen now. I was just unsure about our future."
Harry let the words sink in but did not break Ginny's flood of emotion.
"Anyway, after Lupin gave me the locations of the...of your...house and villa; I asked him to take me there. They are lovely. I have spent a bit of time cleaning and preparing them for your return to health. I finished the estate in Glen just this morning. The villa in France didn't really need much attention because a pair of dedicated house elves keep it maintained. Anyway..." she said putting away her handkerchief, "they are absolutely ready for you."
"How about for us? If I remember correctly, my biggest mistake was letting you out of my sight when you and Ron decided to work out two wedding's worth of plans." Harry stopped as he saw the shadow of more tears in Ginny's eyes.
"I'm sorry," he said immediately. "Let me say that a little differently. I don't plan on letting you very far out of my sight. I don't want to risk losing you ever again."
"Then put on some clothes," said Ginny with renewed vigor in her voice. "We've got to get you some new dress robes for Ron and Hermione's wedding next week. Maybe we could make it a double wedding. And we've got homes to explore."
"A home and plans," said Harry smiling broadly. "Planning means there's hope for a future. And speaking of dress robes, I've got some suits I'd like you to meet."