Consciousness rippled gently as a mirrored pond struck by a single raindrop. Sound, foreign yet fleetingly familiar, rapped for attention. Scents crashed, subtle cachets attempting to weave together a textile of fragile memories. A tingle of possibilities traveled apace down long unused nerve fibers. Light flashed in torrents and waves against translucent eyelids. Microscopic grey cells joined disparate chemicals and energy and produced a single thought..."I am alive!"

Harry Potter stirred.

"Quick! Contact the others, it looks like he's coming around!"

Harry could hear a cacophony of sounds. He attempted to move and was overcome by waves of nausea. He tried to move his arms, his head, a foot, a toe, even a finger; and he found his muscles unwilling or unable to obey. He tried to open his eyes but the light was needles stabbing into his brain. He shut them more tightly out of reflex. Sounds became more distinct; a chair scraping the floor, the rustle of cloth, unintelligible whispers. The sounds of a curtain being drawn was followed by a lessening of the light assaulting his senses. He felt a small warm hand slip into his. The grip was light and reassuring. A squeeze. An involuntary shiver coursed though his body. A soft whisper, "Harry can you hear me?"

Once again the attempt to move was rewarded by surging nausea.

"Don't try to move," said a disembodied voice.

The voice was familiar. Why? Who? As small pieces began to reassemble in a recognizable manner, Harry thought he could place the voice. There was something he had to do. He had to do it right now! It was a matter of life and existence. He struggled and was sapped by the urge to vomit. He felt helpless in the face of absolute need to act and his inability to remember what needed to be done.

The soft reassuring voice again. "Harry don't struggle. Everything is fine."

Unable to do anything else, he took the voice as truth and relaxed. Slowly sifting senses he felt the soft warm presence of a comfortable bed. He could feel the continued pressure holding his hand.

"Do you think he's alert enough to drink a bit of this?" queried a voice also edging on familiarity.

"Give me a bit in a spoon," said the soft voice as the warm hand was withdrawn from his.

Harry felt the hard surface of a spoon touch his lips. A drop or two of a liquid seeped into his mouth. His heart seemed to speed up. He worked the liquid with a swollen tongue and tried to swallow. His throat refused him compliance.

"A drop or two of water maybe?" suggested another voice.

Harry had the absurd idea cross his mind that this voice was taller that the previous voice. "How can a voice be taller?" mocked his brain.

"Only a drop or two. He doesn't seem able to swallow yet," said the soft voice.

A spoon was once again pressed gently against his parched lips. A single drop of water slipped into his mouth. Harry tried coaxing it around his mouth but it escaped his tongue and in a single splash it dripped against the back of his throat. Reflex took over and he choked. He was unable to breathe. Something was preventing even the merest amount of air from traversing the passage into his lungs. His newly awakened senses were sharp enough to tell him unequivocally, "You are dying!"

A rushing of sound. Colored lights bursting behind closed eyelids. Another voice, a different voice, "Anapneo!"

The blockage cleared. Life-giving oxygen clawed its way into his lungs. As the panic subsided, he became aware that the air contained the scent of flowers. Memory stirred. Adrenaline washed through his body, as effective as an ennervation spell. "Ginny!" But then a counter-voice mocked him. "How could it be Ginny?" Dismay replaced anticipation.

"That was a close thing!" said the tall voice.

"I saw Slughorn use the spell in a Slug-club meeting. I'll have to thank Belby."

Harry concentrated his whole being on his eyelids. They felt like lead. So heavy. So hard to move. More focus. A flicker of subdued light. Closed eyes. Struggle, concentrate. Finally defeated by the persistent mental demand, Harry's eyes curtained opened. Shapes. People crowded close. A cascade of long red hair. The splash of warm tears on his face. Arms around his neck. The scent of flowers strong in the embrace.

"Ginny!" said Harry croakily. "I thought I'd lost you."

"It will take more than an egomaniacal Dark Lord, insane scheming subterfuge, death spells, and a collapsed building to get rid of me," said Ginny with a smile and a wink.

Ginny's smile and winning manner did more for Harry than any potion ever created. Muscles ached, but obeyed, as he fought to sit up in his bed. Ginny spooned another small dollop of water into his mouth. His throat initially resisted but finally acquiesced to the demand. Over the next week, as Harry regained his strength, the story came out. Indeed, he realized, he could have done nothing except listen; his strength failing him completely for hours at a time.

Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny compared notes and viewpoints of the series of events leading to the fall of Lord Voldemort.

Ron and Ginny explained how Fane had blindsided them while they were walking toward their paddock. How Fane, under an invisibility cloak, had subdued them, turned them over to a disillusioned Death Eater and then apparated back to the Burrow.

"Apparently Peeves couldn't see through either the disillusionment charm or the invisibility cloak and only saw Ron and me fighting. When I yelled at him for help, he sure got out of there fast," explained Ginny. "My attention was on Peeves for only an instant, but a spell got through my defences and knocked me out. The next thing I remember was Harry disapparating to the Burrow and then heading to Hogwarts. I struggled with Fane because he wanted to disapparate, and I had heard Harry say to stay at the Burrow. Fane forced the apparition and I nearly killed him when we materialized back at the mill at Spinner's End. I was still weak, he hit me with some kind of confundus charm or I would have warned you lot not to trust him."

Ron listened raptly to Ginny's story and then told of the torture he had endured, how the unicorn hair in his jumper had protected him enough to help him through the ordeal, but he continued, "I never want to do anything like that again if I have a choice. Harry, I was actually disappointed when you came back to the mill. I was truly hoping you wouldn't, because Voldemort showed me what he intended to do to you. I hoped you had used the time to marshal some help; from the D.A., the Order, the Ministry, from anywhere. When Voldemort threw me out of the room, I landed hard in the alley. I must have been knocked unconscious, but when I came to, I tried to reissue the summons for the D.A. I couldn't get Dumbledore's Chocolate Frog card to respond, so I apparated to Colin Creevey's. The apparition almost did me in as weak as I was, but Colin used his D.A. ring and a protean charm to round up all the available members of the D.A. We arrived just as Snape dragged you and Hermione into the alley."

"Your timing was impeccable, Ronald," said Hermione. "Without the additional help, I don't think Harry and I could have gotten out of Snape's magic spheres." Hermione gave Ron an appreciative kiss and continued, "When Snape bowled past the D.A. and the magic collided, I thought we were all dead. The protective shields that the D.A. had conjured to keep Snape in the alley saved our lives initially. Ron even contorted himself to protect me with his shield when my sphere evaporated." This time a prolonged kiss caused Harry and Ginny to turn away out of embarrassment.

"You saved my life! I will repay you most generously." The look in Hermione's eyes caused Ron to blush scarlet.

"Inside the mill, we were still pinned against the walls and left to wonder what was going on outside," said Ginny. "By then, there had been quite a discussion among the D.A. We kept track as we fought in banded trios and we had only succeeded in destroying about half of the Death Eater's wands in the prior battles. Lucius Malfoy was still in possession of his wand and he was our most pressing concern aside from Snape. Suddenly the walls cracked and crumbled. Most of us were sent crashing to the floor still connected to pieces of wall. Then a weird thing happened. Draco Malfoy and his mother started to coerce Lucius Malfoy. We had seen Draco fighting his father earlier and we all thought it was a ploy. It seemed to good to be true. When Draco and Narcissa told Lucius that if he didn't submit they would join together and defeat him, he kind of slumped forward in his bonds and sobbed. I was more than a little skeptical. When we were suddenly released from the spells holding us to the walls, Draco and Narcissa held to their word. They went after Lucius and in a flash they had his wand. When the other Death Eaters saw Lucius surrender, all the fight seemed to drain out of them. Fred and George gathered all the wands and bound the Death Eaters. We had just headed from the remains of the building when we saw a brilliant flash of light from the direction of the cemetery. The building began to fall apart around us. We quickly secured the bound Death Eaters and rushed out to help you and Hermione. What we saw when we emerged from the wreckage was amazing. Snape was gone. The D.A. members were scurrying out from under an immense pile of broken building hovering several feet above their heads. When we looked behind us we saw that the entire building was being supported magically. Without the magic we would have all been crushed as the building collapsed. I wasn't sure who was performing such a huge hovering charm until I saw you lying in the dirt. Your face was screwed up in the most intense concentration I have ever seen. It was as if you were putting your whole being into the magic. The last person had just cleared the floating rubble when you collapsed. The great blocks of stone and twisted steel fell crashing to the ground where we had just been. When I got to you, I thought you were dead. You weren't breathing and I couldn't find any heartbeat. I knew no wizard aid and I felt so helpless there looking at your motionless form. I broke and cried. Can you believe it? After all we had endured, when you needed me the most all I could do was cry."

Ashamed, Ginny made to let go of Harry's hand.

"After all you have been through for me," said Harry, holding Ginny's hand tightly, "your tears are very dear to me," said Harry. "We'll don' t keep me in suspense. Did I die?"

Taken aback by the irreverent comment, Ginny considered Harry and then snorted. Between the comment and the snort, a round of laughter began, and soon all were wiping tears of mirth from long-dry eyes.

Hermione was the first to gain composure, and hiccuping slightly, continued the narrative, "As soon as we realized what you had put into the hovering charm, everyone rushed to your side. Kreacher did something none of us had ever seen. He closed his great huge eyes and stood there muttering about his noble master. Dobby hurried over and then, with a couple of loud pops, the two house elves Voldemort had thrown from the room appeared. The four of them surrounded you and joined hands. They summoned some kind of clear liquid and when they covered you with it, the five of you just disappeared. There was instant pandemonium. We didn't know what had become of you or where you had gone. Almost at that exact time, Ministry wizards began to materialize. Apparently the Ministry had finally detected the immense magic in use and had come to investigate. Scrimgeour had us all taken into custody and started to sort things out."

"Yeah," said Ron, "it was about then that mum and dad showed up. They had been badly knocked about in the battle against the giants, but despite their injuries they were so insistent, that the Minister gave in and released everyone except the Death Eaters. When we saw how seriously they had been hurt, we came straight to St. Mungo's. When we arrived, the welcome witch didn't realize that mum and dad were to be patients and said she supposed that we had come to visit Harry Potter. We were all surprised, and after we got a healer to treat mum and dad, we asked if you were actually there. The welcome witch said you had been dropped off by a quartet of elves and that you were being attended to. They wouldn't let us see you for a bit and when they allowed us in your room, you didn't look good. You hovered on the edge of life for nearly nine months."

"What!" Harry exclaimed, sitting up in his bed. "How long have I been here?"

"All told, you have been in hospital for nearly a year," said Ron almost apologetically. "Mum and dad got out ages ago. The staff sorted out their broken bones and other injuries in short order. They wanted to stay here by your side but you were so long coming 'round that they had to be getting on with some of their other responsibilities. They should be here any time. I sent them a message through Dumbledore's Chocolate Frog card."

Harry sat straight up in bed and was violently sick. "A year! Dumbledore! I forgot Dumbledore! I have to get back to Hogwarts immediately. I took Dumbledore's Porcrux from its frame. If it's not put back immediately, we could lose Dumbledore. Get my clothes!"

Ginny cleaned Harry up and said reassuringly, "That's all taken care of Harry. When Ron couldn't use Dumbledore's card to alert the D.A., he guessed what it meant. As soon as we were sure you were being seen to, the D.A. went to Hogwarts. We found the broom you had abandoned at the edge of the forest, and going in relays, we all went to the Headmaster's office. The broom let us in the back of the tower. We combined our knowledge and broke your sealing spell on the orb containing Dumbledore's Porcrux. Together, the D.A. managed to put Dumbledore back in his portrait. See for yourself."

She handed him a Chocolate Frog card. There was Albus Dumbledore beaming up from the picture. "Well done Harry," said the small portrait. "And I do not just mean defeating Voldemort. Although, that was no small accomplishment! Well done in teaching and using the resources you had at hand. A new generation of potent witches and wizards will blossom from your leadership and tutelage. It turns out that you were also correct in your assertion that Voldemort would be so consumed with eradicating what was left of me that he would not inspect closely what he was destroying."

"Thank you for your trust in me," said Harry. "I know that you have always given me opportunity to test myself against the challenges of the world."

"It is my experience that over-protection weakens rather than strengthens. That trust enables rather than endangers. That opportunity to decide for one's self builds self confidence rather than failure. You have proved my points. Thank you Harry Potter." Dumbledore's portrait fell silent.

« Chapter 57 - Spinner's End   Chapter 59 - A New Life Begins »


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