AYNIL: Chapter Two: Journey To Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters

Harry, Ron and Hermione were walking back up to the castle to finish packing. Professor McGonagall had said that students would be boarding the Hogwarts Express to return home an hour after Dumbledore’s funeral. As it was now over there was only a matter of time before they were going to be heading to Hogsmeade station to begin their trek home.

“So . . . ” Ron started, breaking the silence for the first time since reminding Harry about returning to the Burrow during the summer. “Bill and Fleur’s wedding, that should be a laugh, eh?” He had fixed a smile on his face, obviously hoping to inject a happy note into what had so far been a very somber and depressing morning.

Hermione shot him a disapproving look. “I don’t think that this is the time for jokes.”

“I was just –” Ron started, but was cut off by Professor McGonagall, who was striding over to where Harry, Ron and Hermione were standing.

“Potter, a word please,” she said in her usual brisk manner.

“We need to have a quick word before you leave.”

“About what?” Harry asked eyeing her skeptically. Sure she was about to ask where he and Dumbledore had gone, Harry readied himself for another refusal.

Professor McGonagall had not been pleased when he refused to tell her where he and Dumbledore had gone the night of the headmaster’s death. At the time he was sure that she would not leave it there. When she hadn’t asked again Harry had been shocked. As he was going to be returning to the Dursleys that very day, this was McGonagall’s last chance to question him. Harry, apart from being asked by Dumbledore not to repeat what they had talked about, was not up to giving anyone a report of his headmaster’s ante mortem activities.

“Well, Professor Dumbledore left us some instructions regarding your . . . er. . . living arrangements,” McGonagall explained.

Harry stared at her, unable to keep the look of surprise from his face. Living arrangements? This was the last topic that he had thought of discussing with his head of house. Not only did this have nothing to do with the last journey Dumbledore had taken away from the school, it was about a matter he thought had been settled months ago. The headmaster had made it perfectly clear to the Dursleys the previous July that Harry was going to return one more time. Harry, though loathing the fact that he had to return at all, had no plans of disobeying Dumbledore’s wishes. McGonagall broaching the topic indicated that Dumbledore had not enlightened anyone else on the conversation..

“Well, Dumbledore seemed to think it wise for you to return to your aunt and uncle’s this summer,” McGonagall sniffed. She didn’t seem keen on the idea.

Harry was starting to feel stupid, as he was still able to do little but stare at her. He was in a state of shock similar to when he discovered that Mrs. Figg, his batty, cat obsessed neighbor in Little Whinging, had known about the wizarding world. Before him stood McGonagall, always stern and formal, showing contempt for people Harry had not even been aware that she knew. It was now obvious that Dumbledore had not told her why it was important for Harry to return to Privet Drive. If he had, she would surely be making more of an effort to argue her position.

“He left recommendations that you return there for at least a few weeks,” Professor McGonagall continued, a little more crisply, sounding almost back to her normal self, while Harry still said nothing. “So we – that is the Order – think it wise to stick to this plan. After that, the Weasleys would like to have you return to the Burrow,” she finished. Gone was the momentary compassion that she had displayed. The stern demeanor so familiar to Harry was back. She now seemed ready to argue her point should Harry show an unwillingness to cooperate.

“I know I have to go back to the Dursleys,” Harry said. “Professor Dumbledore made them aware of that last year when –” he stopped abruptly. Harry found it surprisingly hard to talk about the visit the headmaster had made to Privet Drive. There was nothing really untoward or secretive in the fact that he had come to get Harry the previous July. It was just too painful to think of that night, especially in light of what he now knew. Dumbledore had appeared and it had been the first sight Harry had of his withered hand, remnant of the destruction of one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes.

“Ah . . . well . . . good,” Professor McGonagall looked shocked for the briefest time, then she sighed. “Well Potter carry on with what you were doing. Remember the train is leaving within the hour. I must get back.” She waved her hand in the direction of the mourners that were starting to mill around the White Tomb encasing Dumbledore’s body. The headmistress gave a curt nod to Ron and Hermione and then set off down to the lake again. Before she had taken more than two-dozen steps she turned and called after Harry, “Dear me, I almost forgot.”

She walked back to the three teenagers. “Obviously, your security is of the utmost importance to us, Harry,” she gave him another small smile, her eyes full of compassion again. “There are going to be members of the Order waiting for you when you get off the train in London. To make sure that we minimize the chance of something happening to you, we would ask that you please wait until all of the other students have exited the train, and the platform is nearly clear before stepping off yourself. Naturally, you should not be alone whilst on the train either, just in case. I would therefore recommend that you let the others in your compartment know, and have them wait with you.” She turned her head and gave a quick acknowledging bow to Ron and Hermione.

“OK,” Harry said slowly and uncertainly. Why did they want him to stay on the train until everyone else was gone? Surely, if someone were going to try and attack him when he got onto the platform, he would be an easier target with less people around. He opened his mouth to make this very comment when it occurred to him that the Order was probably thinking Voldemort might not be quite ready to try something so blatant. If he did have something planned, it was likely to be more covert, thus the less people around, the easier it could be foiled.

“”Minerva,” a male voice called. McGonagall turned to see who had spoken. Harry, Ron and Hermione looked over her shoulder, squinting against the glare that the sun was casting on the lake. They could see Rufus Scrimgeour walking up to the castle. The minister wore a small smile on his face. He wasn’t looking at the headmistress, but at Harry again.

“Professor, are we done here?” Harry asked quickly. He had already had one conversation with Scrimgeour that day and was not keen on having another. The minister was apparently not ready to give up on the idea of convincing Harry to be the ministry’s new poster boy. He had thought that he had made it abundantly clear that he was not interested when they had talked earlier.

Professor McGonagall said that they were indeed finished their conversation and added quietly that they should “leave now.”

Feeling a wave of gratitude that the headmistress had yet again allowed him to avoid the minister of magic, Harry turned and walked quickly back up to the castle, with Ron and Hermione following him.

“The nerve of him. Doesn’t he take no for an answer?” Hermione asked furiously as some of the conversation between the minister and headmistress was carried to them. Scrimgeour was asking why they were rushing off. McGonagall’s terse reply that they needed to pack also carried on the air to their ears.

“Apparently not,” Ron said angrily.

“Let’s just go and make sure we’ve got everything packed,” Harry said wearily. This had already been a long and exhausting day, and it was barely noon. They still had the train journey to contend with.

Far fewer students were taking the Hogwarts Express home than had journeyed to the school in September. A team of Aurors supervised the boarding of the train, causing it to be more orderly and expedient than ever before. Gone were the loud raucous laughter and end of term jubilation. The students were somber, and subdued. The whispers of conversation that were taking place seemed oddly forced.

Harry was glad, for one of the few times in his life, to be leaving the school. He was going to miss the castle, but the past few days had just been too heart wrenching. No matter where he had goon, the topic of conversation was all about the events of the night Dumbledore had died. Harry, once again found that he was being deluged with requests for details about what happened. On the rare occasion when he found himself alone, Harry seemed to be somewhere that reminded him of the headmaster. His recollection of the conversation Dumbledore had with the merchieftainess during the triwizard tournament wasn’t an isolated incident.. The school just wasn’t the same without Dumbledore.

Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Luna and Ginny took a compartment together. When they were all seated Hermione tried to engage them in a little conversation. Ron, for his part tried to lighten the mood by telling Harry, and the others, that his father had alerted the Improper Use of Magic office that he and Hermione were going to be staying at Privet Drive with Harry, so they would be able to perform magic. Ron had a wide smile on his face.

“I can’t wait to see your cousin’s reaction Harry,” Ron said, letting out a hearty guffaw. Hermione shot him a warning look. “Well, come on Hermione. You can’t tell me that the great bullying git doesn’t deserve it!”

“That’s not the point,” she hissed. “Ron, you know perfectly well that we shouldn’t use magic to bully people. That would make us no better than the Death Eaters.”

Ron, who had stifled his laughter quickly under Hermione’s glowering looks, gazed abashed at her, and then at Harry as though checking to make sure that he hadn’t overstepped his bounds.

“C’mon Hermione. It’s not like we’re actually going to do anything to him. But it would be good just to do simple spells in front of him and watch his reaction.” Ron looked at Harry. “Won’t it?” He asked uncertainly.

“Suppose so,” Harry said, shrugging. Taunting Dudley had long ago lost its appeal. In fact, he hadn’t done so since the night the Dementors f had appeared in Little Whinging

Necessary though it may be, he was not looking forward to returning to Privet Drive, especially under the circumstances. The last time that he had been there was the night that Dumbledore had come to get him. Yet another place that he had memories of the now deceased headmaster. Then there was the fact that he was returning two weeks earlier than he ought to have done, something the Dursleys were surely going to be angry about. Add to that the fact that Harry was not coming back alone, Ron and Hermione were going to be there with him and an explosion would be more inevitable than lighting a stick of dynamite. Harry’s one solace was that after the two weeks that he was obliged to stay with his aunt and uncle he could leave, and would never have to return again.

The Hogwarts Express started to slowly move. It seemed as reluctant to begin this journey as Harry was. He could not help but feel a little despondent over what he was going to. He was leaving the place that had felt most like home to go back to relatives that could not care whether he lived or died, and die he might. Though he dreaded beginning the search for the Horcruxes, Harry knew it was what he had to do. He couldn’t just let this war go on when he had the key to defeating the most feared wizard ever. He had to give his all to this search, no matter how much he dreaded the inevitable meeting with Voldemort

When the train had started to move, the little conversation that Hermione had been able to start ceased. The six friends settled into their own thoughts or activities. Luna was reading the latest edition of the Quibbler, as was her pastime of choice during the train journey. Neville was reading a book Professor Sprout had given him; Ron was searching his pockets for something to eat. Hermione was torn between trying to read a large tome that she had pulled from her trunk, and shooting disgruntled looks at Ron, who was sitting beside her and kept elbowing her while he dug in his pockets. Ginny, Harry noticed, had her legs drawn up to her, her arms wrapped around them and her head was resting on her knees. It looked like she was sleeping.

Looking away from Ginny quickly, Harry leaned his head against the window and watched as the train made its way south. Unconsciously, his hand closed around the locket that he kept in his pocket. Despite Hermione’s repeated trips to the library, they were no closer to determining who R.A.B was. Until they could ascertain his, or her, identity, they were unlikely to have much chance of finding the real Horcrux.

Harry pulled the locket out of his pocket and started at it. It was significantly different from the one that he had seen in the pensieve. How could he have not noticed it right away? There was a simple answer, Harry told himself. He had been more worried about the effects that awful potion had on Dumbledore, the inferi attack, getting back to Hogsmeade, and everything that had happened at Hogwarts to care about the details on the locket.

After all that they had gone through to get the Horcrux, they had failed. The thought left Harry with a bitter taste in his mouth. Dumbledore had drunk the potion unnecessarily. This was a big part of the reason he was dead. Had he not ingested the potion he would have been able to fend off both Draco and Snape. The battle Harry had witnessed between Voldemort and Dumbledore left him with no doubt about that.

“Harry, what’s that?” Neville asked, causing Harry’s thoughts to return to the present.

“Nothing,” Harry said quickly, stowing the locket back in his pocket. “Just something I picked up.” He turned his attention back to the scenes that were now speeding past them.

“Sorry Harry. I didn’t mean to pry,” Neville apologized.

“You didn’t. I just don’t want to talk about it,” Harry replied, still quietly. What had he been thinking pulling out the locket? It would lead to questions, and the last thing that Harry wanted was for more people to know that he had this locket. Dumbledore had said only to tell Ron and Hermione about the Horcruxes, after all. This surely meant that he should avoid awkward questions like where he got weird artifacts.

Harry surveyed the compartment again. Ron and Hermione, noticing what he had held in his hands, were looking at him questioningly. Neville and Luna had returned to their reading, but Ginny had lifted her head and was looking at him curiously.. When Harry chanced a glance at her, he thought it looked like she had seen the locket and was trying to place it. When their eyes met, Harry was sure she knew what he had. But how could she? She didn’t know about the Horcruxes after all.

“Harry can we have a word outside please?” Hermione said. She looked like she was going to give him a telling off.

“Hermione just leave it,” Ron said, as Harry sighed and started to get up. “We’ll talk about this later,” he added. To both Harry and Ron’s amazement Hermione said “fine,” and went back to her book. Though she did still look put out.

It was nearly dark when the train finally arrived at King’s Cross. The crowd on the platform was much smaller than usual and all seemed apprehensive. They were shifting uncomfortably and casting wary glances at the other waiting people. As students started to disembark, the platform began to empty, quicker than it had ever done before. Within fifteen minutes the last of the students and their parents were gone.

Neville and Luna were the first to leave the compartment, followed quickly by Ron and Hermione. They had barely stepped into the corridor when Ginny put her hand on Harry’s arm to stop him leaving.

“Why do you still have that locket? The one you took from Dumbledore that night?”” she asked softly, without preamble.

So she had recognized it. Harry wasn’t aware that she had seen it that night. He remembered putting it in his pocket. But he must have done it on the way to the castle.

“I can’t tell you,” Harry said more curtly than he had intended.. The words were barely out of his mouth when he knew that he should not have been so blunt.

“Why not?” Ginny asked crossing her arms and narrowing her eyes, looking extraordinarily like her mother.

“It’s not something that I can discuss,” Harry tried to explain. He wasn’t looking at her, but hoped she would be able to hear the sorrow he felt for snapping before.

“This has something to do with those lessons you were having with Dumbledore and where you went the night he died,” Ginny said astutely. It was not a question. “And why you said that we can’t be together.”

Harry stared at her for a minute before he could find words to speak. How did she always know?

“I can’t discuss this with you,” he finally managed to say again. “Look we’ve got to go, everyone’s going to worry.” Harry started to drag his trunk to one of the exits so he could get it onto the platform.

He was in the corridor when she spoke again.

“Harry I know why you’re doing this . . . ending things. You should know that it’s not going to work.”

“What d’you mean?” Harry asked spinning around to look at her. Before she could answer a familiar voice called through the open train door.

“Harry?” it was Remus Lupin. “Are you in there?”

“Yes, we’re coming,” Harry called back. He looked at Ginny, “Let’s go.” He waited for her to go in front of him.

On the platform waited a group of people. In addition to Lupin were Mrs. Weasley and five of her six sons (Percy was predictably not there), Tonks and Mad-Eye Moody, who had been joined by Hermione. Luna and her father Disapparated just as Harry poked his head out of the train, and Neville called out his goodbye as he and Mrs. Longbottom disappeared through the barrier.

Mrs. Weasley, who had been hugging Ron and Hermione tightly a moment before, ran over to Harry and Ginny and pulled each into a bone-crushing hug. From the ruffled looks of Ron and Hermione, she had hugged them just as tightly.

“What took you two so long?” she asked when she finally released the pair of them.

“We were talking,” Ginny said in a disgruntled way. It was not clear whether she was annoyed at her mother for the rib-cracking embrace or Harry for walking out on their conversation. “And we’re not quite finished.”

“Yes we are.”

“No, we’re not. Mum we’ll be right back.” Ginny grabbed Harry by the arm, she pulled him away from the others. When they were sufficiently far enough away so as to be out of earshot she let go.

“Ginny what do you mean you don’t think its going to work?” Harry asked, as though they hadn’t just been nearly suffocated. He kept his head down as he talked.

“I know that you think you’re doing the right thing and I don’t want to make this harder for you, but you do realize that breaking up isn’t going to keep me safe,” she said. “Too many people know. I’ll be surprised if Snape hasn’t already told Voldemort about us.”

“But we aren’t together now.” It was a feeble argument, Harry knew. But he had thought about it and decided that he would rather take the chance of staying away from her in the hopes of keeping her safe. It was hard. He wanted to be with her so much, but he knew that doing so would mean she was in certain danger.

“Do you really think that’s going to matter? You said it yourself; Voldemort went after me just because I was your best friend’s sister. What’s to stop him from doing something like that again, just on the off chance that you broke up with me for a stupid noble reason?” Ginny asked. She had stepped a little closer to Harry so that she came into his view, even though he was still resolutely looking at the ground. “And how is he even going to know we’re not together anymore? It’s not like we’ve taken out ads about it.”

“But the way things are now . . . you’re safer.” Harry stated, still not able to meet her eyes. This was exactly why he had walked away from her at the lake after Dumbledore’s funeral. He knew that the more she pressed, the more difficult it would be to stick to his decision. The worst thing was he knew she was right. But he had lost too many people in his life to take even the smallest chances where Ginny was concerned.

“And what about Ron and Hermione?” It wasn’t accusatory of angry, but more of a pleading question. “They’re going with you to . . . do whatever it is that you’re doing. Everyone knows that they’re your friends. Won’t they be in even more danger than I would? I mean, I’m not asking to go with you or anything.”

Harry finally lifted his head and looked directly at her.

“That’s different.”

“How so?”

“They know what’s involved,” Harry said. He inwardly groaned at his word choice. The truth was that he hadn’t intended for Ron and Hermione to be involved either, but they made their choice, knowing more or less what was involved. At least they knew as much about what was coming as Harry did, and far more than Ginny.

“So tell me too.” Their eyes met. Harry could see the pleading tone that he had heard in her voice was also evident in her eyes. “I want to help.”

“I can’t tell you. Dumbledore didn’t want me to tell anyone else,” Harry explained. He knew if there were anyone else that he would tell it would be Ginny. Not because she had any special prowess at destroying Horcruxes, but she had almost died because of one of them. If there was anyone else that had a right to know, it was Ginny. And, Harry thought, if there were someone else that he would like to have with him, it would be her.

Voldemort was causing enough havoc in the magical world already. He didn’t need an excuse to do any more damage, or murder anyone else. If it got out that anyone knew about the Horcruxes, their lives would surely be forfeit. While Harry was grateful that Ron and Hermione were willing to risk their lives to help him, he couldn’t allow anyone else to do that, least of all the person that had been his best source of comfort. No, Ginny was in enough danger already, given the nature of her relationship with Harry. He knew that things were for the best this way. She could stay at the Burrow, away from him, and maybe she would be out of Voldemort’s clutches.

“But –” Ginny started again.

“No, Ginny, I’m really, really sorry…” Harry trailed off. He stood there looking at her for another minute. Then he sighed. “It’s better this way, for now.” He backed away a few steps. It was taking every ounce of strength that he had to walk away again. He had no doubts about what he was doing anymore, but was finding it harder to do than he thought. “I have to go,” he said, seeing that Lupin, Mad-Eye, Ron and Hermione were waiting for him at the barrier.

Ginny nodded. She was again wearing a resigned expression. It was the same one she had worn earlier when Harry first told her they needed to stop seeing each other.

Harry took a few more steps backward and was just about to turn around to grab his trunk when Ginny threw her arms around him. He was going to pull away and ask her what the hell she thought she was doing, but couldn’t seem to muster the strength to do it. Without thinking about it, he put his arms around her.

Before he could wrap his mind around the fact that he was doing the stupidest thing imaginable given what they had just talked about, Harry was kissing her. They had been so engrossed in their conversation that they had forgotten that almost every member of her family was merely feet away. Harry and Ginny were brought back to their senses when several voices shouted, “oi.”

Slightly embarrassed, they stepped away from each other.

“What’s this?” Mrs. Weasley’s shocked voice carried over to them.

“Oh no! Now she’s going to start,” Ginny muttered, rolling her eyes “I’m going to be subjected to an interrogation.” Harry, though berating himself for what he had just done, couldn’t help but smile at her actions.

“Harry, come on,” Ron called. Harry turned to look at the group waiting by the barrier. They were all wearing bemused expressions.

“I’ve got to go,” He said rapidly, “bye Ginny.” He grabbed his trunk. Their eyes met one last time. They both understood that despite what had just happened nothing had changed, they were not together.

“Bye, Harry,” Ginny said, giving him a little smile, that didn’t quite reach her eyes..

With immense effort, Harry turned and started walking over to the barrier that would take him back to the Muggle world, dragging his trunk behind him. For the second time in less than twelve hours Harry Potter walked away from Ginny Weasley.

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