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An 11" wand made of holly touched the parchment. Light of touch but firm of purpose, the hand that guided the wand placed it where it had been dozens of times before.

"Neither can live while the other survives."

Only three people knew to use these words…

From one corner of the large parchment, a thin black line began to trace its way along the surface. Green eyes watched intently as the parchment revealed all that it had to offer. Words, seemingly drifting into consciousness as they emerged from nowhere, were connected by hand-drawn lines placed with careful thought but not with care.

As headings such as "Hogwarts", "Order of the Phoenix", and "DA" appeared, Harry's mind wandered as much as his eyes. While it seemed like so much was going on, Harry knew the wizarding world would soon be enveloped in turmoil that would crescendo from the current levels into a virtual cacophony of fury.

In just a few months, the battle between good and evil had accelerated. Lord Voldemort had become even more bold, sending his Death Eaters on missions to places that could not yet have been anticipated. Voldemort himself seemed to have become equally active if the disappearance of Fudge was an indicator. Spies of The Order were actively trying to substantiate every morsel of information that could be gleaned from every tidbit overheard or gathered.

Harry told himself to focus. He had assumed the role of 'leader', not by the actions of others but by his own. No one, not by age or experience or knowledge, could deny Harry's right for resolution. 'Revenge' would be no less accurate a description, revenge for Harry's parents, for Dumbledore, for countless others. For all the arguments that could be posited against his active role, this is where circumstances had led. Harry would move from this point, and everyone, from Ron and Hermione to The Order to the DA, would follow. It was a matter of necessity; it was a matter of respect.

Ignoring all the headings that deserved attention, Harry once again, as he always did, brought his formidable attentions to "Horcruxes." 'Seven,' he told himself for the hundredth time.

One, the diary. For all the mayhem it had caused during Harry's second year, most especially the near-death of Ginny, it was now destroyed as was one incarnation of Voldemort himself. Harry's plunging the tooth of the basilisk into the diary was a momentary inspiration for which Harry had no real explanation, yet he could not deny the appropriateness and effectiveness of the action. However, the nagging thought remained that each horcrux might have a similar incarnation associated with it. There was no way to know just yet, but Harry and everyone else could only hope that such was not the case.

Two, the ring. Dumbledore had destroyed it with the apparent sacrifice of his hand and likely his life essence itself.

Three, the locket. Much had been lost in the recovery of its shocking replacement, and much mystery was still attached to the disappearance of the original. However, Harry and The Order had an excellent idea as to its location, and the authentic locket would soon follow the ring into oblivion.

Four, the cup. The subject of much rumor, some fact, and an enormous amount of conjecture, its location was a mystery at the moment.

Five and six were complete mysteries. Resources were being expended, more than some thought prudent, to discover their true nature and present location. Harry was of the opinion that too much effort could never be enough if it meant the destruction of the horcruxes and Voldemort along with them.

Seven must surely be the last portion of Voldemort's soul; the one that still resides in his reanimated body. That could only be effectively dealt with when the other six were destroyed, clearing the way for Voldemort's final demise. This was one of those concepts that was as clear as day when conceived but would be the devil to put into action. The irony of that thought was not lost on Harry as Voldemort could well be considered the Devil himself.

With a blink of the eyes and a snap of the head, Harry cleared his mind and tried to guide it to more pleasant thoughts. Those green eyes once again moved but this time with purpose and forethought. He first looked at the name 'Hermione', and he knew that somewhere, most likely still in the comfort of her home, she was poring over book after book after book. Given an assignment, Harry knew of no one who was as studious and tenacious as Hermione when it came to academics. For now, she was trying to surmise all connections between the known horcruxes. She excelled at this work, but it was by no means her only strength. To underestimate her sheer magical powers as a witch would be any opponent's last mistake. Harry couldn't help but smile at that thought, having benefited as much as anyone from the "cleverest witch of her age". But Harry was wrong, for at that moment Hermione was running a brush through her hair, smiling as she looked in the mirror. Harry next looked at 'Ron', his best friend, and his smile broadened even wider.

No words could properly describe the value that Harry put on Ron's friendship and the feelings that he had towards him. Harry knew that, and just the knowledge that Ron was there was all the reassurance that any best friend could want. At that, Harry knew it was time for his last full night's sleep at 4 Privet Drive.

Harry lifted his wand and gently touched it to the War Parchment. In a voice of calm resolve, Harry said "for Lily and James," and all that the parchment contained slipped into invisibility. Harry rolled up the parchment and laid it in his trunk. He hopped off his bed and went to Hedwig's cage. He opened it, and she fluttered onto his arm.

Green eyes stared into yellow eyes as they nuzzled each other. Harry could no more imagine life without Hedwig as he could without Ron, Hermione, or Ginny. He walked the beautiful white owl to the window and launched her into the night. As she soared off into the night, Harry's heart soared with her. Such moments, brief as they were these days, were so very valuable. Harry knew all too well that tomorrow was promised to no one. It was sad that one so young must learn that lesson, so Harry had come to savor every uplifting moment that he could. Not only had he grown, but he had matured beyond his years - a fact not lost on Dumbledore even in Harry's first year. With that, he hopped back onto the small twin bed next the old night table and lamp and turned the light off.

Back at the Burrow, Ron was rummaging through his closet for his dress robes. As he pulled them out, he noticed his old and very dreadful hand-me-down frilled robes he would sooner be tortured over than wear again. He smiled, still marveling at the fit of uncharacteristic generosity and civility that had prompted Fred and George to buy Ron these dashing new robes two years ago. One more look at the old robes, and Ron realized that he really didn't care why they did it. All that mattered was that he had them.

At that same instant, Harry smiled as he drifted off to sleep.

The first ray of sunshine shot its way through the dusty old blinds, creating a taut beam of golden light that attached itself to the closet door across the room. Though silent, it announced the new day as it always did to those who looked upon the morning rays as things you hang your hopes on.

Harry's eyes shot open as the beam entered the room. Full of anticipation, Harry reacted instantly to the quiet singular grandeur of the day's first arrival.

Jumping out of bed, Harry pulled the blinds up to see the Ministry vehicle patiently waiting for him on the street below. Standing alongside the driver was the auror on protective detail. While relations with Rufus Scrimgeour were strained at best, the Ministry knew what was at stake. Begrudgingly, Harry would be given added protection until Lord Voldemort was destroyed. With equal reluctance, Harry accepted it on a part-time basis. In what seemed like one beat of the heart, Harry was showered, packed, and in the car on his way to the Burrow.

Thanks to a little magic not unlike what Harry had seen on the Knight Bus, the car soon pulled over the hill and within sight of the Burrow. Harry caught his breath as the beloved Burrow had been transformed from the frumpy old home of the Weasley's into the centerpiece of a resplendent medieval scene complete with open tents, banners and carriages. Hedwig hooted her approval.

Nary a head save for one turned as Harry entered the crowded bustling kitchen. Harry's presence was felt instantly. It was the kind of feeling people have when so deeply 'connected' with another living soul. Ginny turned and their eyes guided each other into open arms. Mrs. Weasley, as mothers do, immediately felt their embrace. At her reaction, all the room turned to Harry and Ginny. Flustered by all the hellos and a million questions, Harry smiled, shook a few hands and begged off to Ron's room. After all, he said, there are more important matters at hand.

Harry burst through the door, prompting Ron to rise up from the edge of his bed. They shared a best friend's hug, a manly kind of hug - the kind that speaks of commitment, of shared danger, of an undying trust. The young men were at that point now. Although it had always been such, their friendship had now crystallized with maturity tempered by all they had seen, all they had done. Reassurance was no longer a matter of words, and both were grateful.

They chatted away as they distractedly cleaned themselves up. Hours later, having breathlessly discussed all the issues of the wizarding community, they finally donned their dress robes. By the time they hit the bottom stair and had bounded into the kitchen, many of the people had made their way to the large open tent. Only Mrs. Weasley and Mme. Delacour were in the house. They were on mother duty, and nothing in the world would dissuade them from their last-minute attentions to Fleur and Bill. In fact, no one with any modicum of sense would dare interfere.

In the large open tent, Harry and Ron saw many familiar faces as they approached their seats in the front row: friends and faculty from Hogwarts, The Order, distant relatives of Ron's, and many Beauxbatons friends of Fleur's. The Veela present practically stopped Ron in his tracks, and Harry reached back with a smile and a tug to keep him moving along. The Ministry was also well-represented, and every auror present was there for pleasure and business both. Looking ahead to the front row, Harry spied Ginny and sat himself in the seat next to her. Ron slipped in next to Hermione and gave her a warm smile that was returned in kind. Harry felt sure that red ears were hidden beneath that cascade of curls. The world was indeed changing, and some of it for the better.

Bagpipes signaled the beginning of the processional, and those in attendance ceased their anxious buzz. All heads turned to the end of the aisle. First, Charlie Weasley and Gabrielle Delacour, as Best Man and Maid of Honor, came down the aisle arm-in-arm. No one found the differences in age or height anything less than 'simply charming,' as the whispers once again increased. Next down the aisle, Bill and Mrs. Weasley walked slowly. Looking at Mrs. Weasley, it was impossible to get past the smile of pure joy that radiated her intense love for her eldest. Bill, for his part, walked with equal pride, not only for the mother who had his arm but also for the man he was. And on this one day, that mother would not even notice the long red ponytail braided with bones and teeth, origins unknown or unspoken.

Next came Fleur and her father. She was the quintessential beautiful bride, dressed in a simple satin white gown with her neck adorned by a single strand of blue aquamarines, chosen in homage to the water and all that it meant to her. Her fine blonde hair was in two braids wrapped around her head, making her look for all the world like a goddess wearing olive branches. And who could say that she wasn't? Bill, who now took her hand from her father's, felt deep in his heart that she was indeed that goddess, and he was the luckiest man in the world.

Once the ceremony actually began, Harry and Ron found it most difficult to concentrate on the proceedings, and both fidgeted. Hermione and Ginny looked at them, then at each other and rolled their eyes as if saying, 'Boys!' Some things never change.

As the vows were exchanged, Harry found his attention once again back on the bride and groom. The Minister, in his final official act of the ceremony, had Bill and Fleur turn to all the celebrants as he said, "Relatives and friends, I present to you Mr. and Mrs. William Weasley. May their love and devotion serve as an unwavering beacon of hope in these troubled times." In that instant, as if every witch and wizard had bent their combined wills to make it happen, the setting sun dipped below the edge of the tent, sending a sheet of red light across the wedding party. The red light made Bill's red hair look lighter and Fleur's golden hair distinctly redder as they took on nearly the same tint.

Everyone from the most cynical old warrior to the most innocent of children held their collective breath, for it was the most sublime of moments, the kind that dreams are made of.

Late into the night, many revelers were dancing to hypnotic songs spun by a chorus of Veela. Harry danced slowly with Ginny held close, her head resting against his shoulder as they luxuriated in all their senses had to offer. Harry's hand felt as if it had been made to curl around Ginny's waist, and it fully assented in its own way. Over her head, Harry could see Ron and Hermione dancing, as well. He smiled, his heart so glad to see that they had finally gone beyond the immature bickering that had characterized the tentative early years of their 'courtship.'

As Harry and Ginny slowly rotated around the floor, following no particular orbit other than what they felt was right for their universe, Ginny began to talk about recent dreams. These were not just any dreams but ones concerning her First Year and her days intertwined with Voldemort. Harry held her closer, reassuring her with the warmth of his touch.

Feeling her angst, Harry gave his lip an empathetic bite. He had not wanted to broach this subject with Ginny if he could have avoided it, and that made the bite just a little bit more poignant. One does not always choose the moments for things to occur, Harry thought to himself, so he took a deep breath and stepped onto the path where he had clearly never wanted to take her. Harry gently pulled Ginny's shoulders away so he could look into her eyes. "I know how these dreams must be upsetting you," he offered. "Even in my waking hours the connection with Voldemort brought me terror and pain. But I have been thinking about them of late, trying to fathom if we can somehow turn them to our purpose. I have an idea…"

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© Copyright 2006, Jeff Starr