Third Time's a Soul Bond?

BY : Wilde_Guess
Category: Harry Potter > Slash - Male/Male > Harry/Ron
Dragon prints: 3645
Disclaimer: I do not own the Harry Potter franchise, nor the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

Chapter 5, "Parabellum, Institutionem uitae salvifici" where Ron settles an old debt…

Celebrating the start of a new year is exciting, no matter your age. It is, however, much less expensive and hangover inducing when you are nine, going on ten. I did have a little alcohol, but it was hot sake, rather than Champagne, and even then, I only shared two tokkuri with Pandora and Dad. Had she not been treating me to sushi, she probably wouldn't have allowed me even that.

But, all was happiness and cheer. The Lovegoods had us Weasleys over for New Years. Xenophilius went on to whomever would listen about his mysterious magical animals (far more of which being real than many realized.) Pandora and Mum compared notes on child rearing and cooking; and amazingly enough, spell creation. Dad amused Ginny, Luna, and me with stories about illegally or improperly enchanted Muggle items, or Muggle items that were lawfully enchanted, but had "escaped" wizarding custody and made it back to the Muggles before the enchantments were removed, with often humorous consequences. A claw-foot self-bubble-bathing tub made it all the way from Weymouth to Winchester on clawed feet before anyone realized that it had "escaped."

I also learned why the UK banned Magic Carpets. Prior to World War II, they were actually perfectly legal. The trouble was, unlike with a broom that actually requires a wizard or witch to fly, and not even a Squib could fly them; Magic Carpets even work for Muggles.

While both the Wizengamot and the Muggle government could deal with the Baronet who took his family routinely between Bramley and Brixton on his 24 foot Tabriz, the scatter-brained Air Raid Warden with the sawed-off scatter gun who became the first Aerial Ace of World War II over the skies of London without benefit of an aeroplane was just a little too much. The Ministry instantly banned all new importations, and all "grandfathered" rugs were removed from the UK no later than 1953.

Ginny and Luna took turns trying the various sushi rolls and making faces as they ate each one. I casually ate, and sipped my saucers sparingly. I was only nine, after all, and if I had actually 'drank my fill,' I would have been one sad and sick little boy come the morrow! So I savoured what my body and my parent's conscious would allow me to drink, savoured the food, and helped ring in the new year of 1990.

§§§

My first day back at Ollivander's was the third of January, which was a Wednesday. Since returning to work the previous September, I continued doing a range of jobs, from cleaning the shop, to making new wands without any supervision other than having the finished product tested, to evaluation and reconditioning work. I also started learning the laws that governed wand-crafters, and the ins and outs of actually running a wand shop.

Firstly, few countries actually had a native wand-crafting shop. The skill just wasn't that common. Also, not everyone had the skill, desire, and unique magical requirements to do the job.

Secondly, every county subsidized their wand-crafters somehow, without outright nationalizing their shop. In the case of the UK, Master Garrick could file for a "loss-lead" with the Ministry every year, should sales not provide a sufficient income to live and operate on. The shop building was exempt from any and every possible form of taxation. Also, every knut brought in to the shop was free of any taxes of any kind. Any income paid to workers at a wand shop was also tax-free. Finally, though it could be a pain to document so we seldom did so for our own purchases, everything bought by a wand-crafter in the grade of apprentice or above was exempt from all taxes.

There were more "inducements" to enter the Craft, but you actually had to be able to make and refurbish wands to become a wand maker! The next nearest shop to Ollivander's was in Nice. The biggest reason that Maison d' Chapron was in business was that British laws forbid wand sales to "non-humans," regardless of nationality! Thus, if you had any Veela blood, and your family name was not Malfoy, you bought from Chapron. They made a nice wand, and they were the only shop in the world, at least at that time, that would even think of Veela-hair cores. But, our wands were better, so we got more than a fair bit of trade from Western and Central Europe, where we "brushed up" against the "natural" territory of Dom Grigorovich. Ollivapaolo d' Italia in Livorno was also fair competition; they were also distantly related to the Ollivanders. And, with that, I just named EVERY shop that has ever made a wand in Western and Central Europe, ranging as far East as the steppes of far-central Russia.

So, take a craft that very few have the slightest capacity to enter. Add that the product made can last for centuries if cared for, but can break with a frightening ease if not. Add to that that your population won't really be your population without one. Finally throw in that the half-percent of the population that do not need this product likely does not include you, and there you have it.

You make damned sure that this "unique item" is cheap enough for the masses, while also making damned sure that the only people on the face of the earth that can make them for you feel like princes, and never truly want. Thus, a nine-year-old apprentice earns wages that are fully half that of his mid-level bureaucrat Dad, who only seemed poor because he couldn't be bought, and insisted on having as many children as his wife wanted to bear.

Believe me, if Mum wanted fourteen kids, she would have had them. If Ignatius had lived, she would have had eight, and if Ginny's birth had been easier, she might have had more anyway. However, Ginny wasn't the hardiest infant in the ward, and Mum had already lost one. Being told that Ginny, who didn't leave St. Mungo's for a week and a half, was the hardiest child she would have from then on, shut her down with a quickness. No mother wants to bury her children.

I also learned that the Hawthorne blank (remember it? Ferret's wand?) still became a wand. Master Garrick actually performed a purification ritual on the blank, before finishing it; saving the shavings only after the purification ritual. On the 'down' side, I couldn't mess with the Ferret's wand. On the 'up' side, I couldn't mess with the Ferret's wand and trash the reputation of Master Garrick's shop. That's why Master Garrick was Master Garrick, and I only made two galleons per hour, at the ancient age of nine.

January of 1990 was also when I started to first truly hear the voices. Yeah, you are probably thinking I went bonkers after having lived three lives, having had my favourite Mum rip the skin off of my arse, literally, with a battery-acid and brass-fanged magic belt using my own blood as a core, rounded up with a generous helping of that Mum literally kissing my arse better in full view of all of her other kids. But no, I was not losing it; I was gaining it!

And no, the "it" wasn't insanity; "it" was actually hearing the voices of the wands. A true wand-crafter can actually "speak," for lack of a better term, to their creations, and occasionally the creations of other wand-crafters. That is the biggest thing that made Master Garrick Master Garrick. He could actually hear the voices of the wands that he crafted and healed – and now I was starting to hear them, too!

But January led to February, and February led to a painful settling of old karmic debts.

§§§

It was Wednesday, February 14th, 1990. The day was crisp, and unusually clear. The temperature as I delivered the eggs and Muggle newspapers was a balmy 1 degree Celsius. I was just digging in to the breakfast Mum made. Lucky Boy at that time insisted on eating food that was sticking out of my mouth. Since he was my familiar… Anyway, whilst dining on a tin of kippers with my familiar, a rasher of streaky bacon, and a dish Mum found in my cooking textbooks called a "Denver Omelette," I had a feeling. Pandora Lovegood would either live or die today, depending on what I did before Noon.

The Floo had fired while I was eating. Mum had answered it. Once I had finished my breakfast, Mum had stopped me before I changed into work clothes to go to the shop. She told me, "That was Mr. Ollivander. He said that you must visit with Luna Lovegood today, and would not be expected at the shop. Are you in trouble?"

I answered her question with "Of course not, Mum. Luna, however, is Master Garrick's great great niece, likes me, and likes me. Every great great uncle dotes on his great great niece just a little bit more, on Valentine's Day! Hold that thought!"

Instead of changing from "egg" to "work" clothes, I changed into "play" clothes instead, and got all three heart-shaped boxes of chocolates to take with me. I ran back downstairs, and gave Mum hers.

I said, "I had a feeling that Master Garrick would do this. If he hadn't, I'd have had to have Errol take the other two boxes. Here's a box of chocolates from a boy to his favourite Valentine! Happy Valentine's Day, Mum; and don't forget that white hot chocolate with marshmallows is the perfect gift for White Day for a newly ten-year-old boy!"

She accepted the chocolates, kissed me on the forehead, and tousled my hair. She asked, "Subtle much, Ronnie?"

I answered, "Not really, Mummy. Nine and ten year old boys don't do subtle. I need to go to Luna's. I'll let you know if I'm staying all day when Luna tells me, okay? Bye, Mummy."

Mum kissed me again, and I Floo'ed to the Rookery without a further thought. The look on Mum's face suggested that she at least suspected that something was wrong, but she hadn't a clue what. I wasn't about to tell her.

I came barrelling out of the Floo, barely missing Luna as I tumbled across the floor. I noticed that in this lifetime, I had more problems with the Floo than I had in my two previous lifetimes combined. I supposed that raw magical power combined with physical youth and immaturity were the reasons, since neither Harry or Azalea were able to use the Floo either, without rolling across the floor when they came out.

"Happy Valentines Day, Luna!" I announced as she pounced on and straddled me.

She replied, "And Happy Valentines Day to you too, Ron. But you know I don't eat this much chocolate! Why did you get me two boxes?"

I told her, "I got one for you, and one for your Mum. That way, she won't be mad if you don't share with her."

"And why did you get Luna a full sized box of Chocolate, Ron?" Pandora asked as she walked into the Rookery Kitchen.

"So Luna wouldn't get angry with you, when you wouldn't share, Pandora." Even at nine, that's how she had me address her. So long as I didn't have to call her anything starting with 'the late,' it was fine with me.

Luna let me stand up so I could take off my shoes and socks, and leave them by the kitchen Floo. I picked up the chocolates again and walked with Luna to the kitchen table.

Answering the unspoken (especially in front of Luna) question about getting Luna 'hyped up' on chocolate, I added, "and she wouldn't accuse you of eating it when you don't let her eat it all in one sitting."

Pandora smiled at me, letting me know that I was "off the hook" as it were, for getting such a "large" box of chocolate for Luna. Strangely enough, this wasn't far-off from the 'first time' I saved Pandora. I only hoped that was a good omen.

Pandora was dressed exactly as she had been in her last life, complete with 'little black dress,' and matching flats. Her 'dirty-blond' hair was brushed back in waves, and the dress showed off the 'curves' that Luna just wouldn't quite get when it was her turn.

Luna asked, "Mum, can I have a piece?" referring to her present.

Pandora answered, "May you, and yes. You may have two, but you have to give one to Ron. Then, I will be down in my lab. Behave, and don't try looking for the chocolates!"

Luna answered, "Ok, Mum" with some disappointment in her voice. We sat both boxes of chocolate on the kitchen table. Pandora opened one, had Luna take out two pieces and give me one while she watched, and closed the box back up. We ate them, and then Luna dragged me off!

"Come on, Mum's about to do boring work again." she said as she led me quickly to her bedroom. Since neither of us was at 'that age,' playing together in her room was fine.

"Dad's out again," she said. "He thinks he found a Crumple-Horned Snorkack in Germany, but really, I think he went there because of the breweries. Also, Mum finally got the self-transfiguring vase working!" That was exactly like my second lifetime! Whether a good sign or not, I felt as if an entire flock of geese marched across my grave four-abreast.

Yet still, I asked, "The one that changes colours?" I knew, yet I still had to ask.

She nodded as she led me towards the seating mats, just like last time. She answered, "It can continuously change colour every time you empty and refill it." While still beyond coincidence all things considered, that was what the vase was supposed to do, so if it worked, it would do that.

She grabbed a chess set, just like last time. This somehow, didn't creep me out. In this lifetime, whatever happened in my first lifetime didn't happen, and the Lovegoods and Weasleys were actually routinely sociable with each other. Perhaps it was the 'extra' baby-sitting that started as a 'last-minute' emergency the day we got Lucky Boy?

Mrrow. He greeted us happily, winding past our legs before hopping up on the windowsill to enjoy what sun he could find in Devon in February.

As for the chess, Luna had become quite good at it, beating Ginny roughly three out of four games. I only ever lost to her when I was truly distracted by something, and she also had to be having one of her better games to pull off the win. So, it actually was our 'go-to' game when playing indoors.

I was looking at her necklace, which seemed identical to the 'last time.' She asked, "Like it?"

I nodded and answered, "Yeah. Did you make it by hand?"

She replied, "Yeah. Mum showed me for the first cork, but I got the rest of them by myself."

I asked, "Could you show me how?"

She answered, "Of course, silly! You can't give me a real Butterbeer-cork necklace if you don't know how to make one! But later. It's your move."

She had taken white this time, and had already made he first move. I moved, and she moved again. She asked, after I moved my Queen's side Knight, "So, how's your Dad's Muggle car?"

I answered, "It's coming along great. He has his driving license, and is teaching Mum to drive it, too!"

"I thought that your Mum wasn't too keen on Muggle stuff?"

"She likes it all right; she just isn't as crazy as Dad is about it. Of course Dad works with it every day, and I'm not complaining either."

"You're the only Catchpoler I know of with a bike, so I hope not!" she agreed.

I was still distracted, though, and for the same reason as last time. I had some expectation of what was going to happen, and between my own instinct and Master Garrick's we both knew that today would be 'special' in a 'not so nice' way. However, dice have no memory, and life is a crapshoot!" The next hour or so would determine whether the Luna Lovegood I knew in 1992 would be 'unbreakable,' or shattered. And, even if I was a time-traveller, I couldn't go back and fix this. I never did this; it was always DONE to me!

"Are you ok, Ron? You were looking like I was boring you. You never do that to me, even when I am!"

Seeing her concerned face, I answered, "Maybe it's Nargles?"

She giggled and replied, "No, silly. Daddy locked up all the mistletoe before he went to Germany. You know he's been kind of 'funny' about you since you let me look at your bare arse all afternoon and let me show you my knickers, right?" Despite our ages, she was right. Xenophilius would not be letting me play chess with Luna in her bedroom, were he not seeking Snorkacks in all the beer-halls of Germany this morning. Never mind that my arse still hadn't quite healed to point of being attractive, or that I was still too ill to enjoy the show, had I looked. If it had been some boy with Rose flashing him her knickers, I'd be the same way.

"I think I left something downstairs the last time I was over. I'll be quick in checking, okay?"

"Do you have to?" she asked.

I nodded. "I'll be back before the Nargles come back!"

Luna slapped me gently on the shoulder. "Hurry up so we can finish the game. Then we can do some necklaces."

"Sounds good," I said as I stood. Exiting her room, I shouted back, "Don't move any pieces!"

She answered good-naturedly, "When I win, I won't cheat!"

A quick flight down the stairs later, I listened for any unusual sounds, or silences, coming from Pandora's lab. Unlike my second lifetime, I had actually been in her spell-crafting lab. I went at first in case "Plan B," sabotaging Pandora's lab, looked like a more viable option. However, seeing both the lab and Pandora together under non-life-threatening circumstances, I quickly concluded that the only thing "Plan B" would accomplish would be to cause a rift between Pandora and me that would only end in her death. This terrified me because short of moving in with the Lovegoods, I would have to rely on Master Garrick seeing something, my own instincts giving me a warning, or pure dumb luck.

Pure dumb luck was running full strength this morning, after Master Garrick's sight and my instincts together put me in the Rookery in the first place. No sooner had I descended the stairs to Pandora's lab before the wave of powerful magic washed over me. This time, Luna was right behind me.

I turned to her and told her, "Luna, call the Aurors, now. Please. Tell them it's an emergency at the Rookery!"

"We'll need the one across from Mum's lab" she replied, as we sprinted on bare feet the rest of the way down to the Lab.

We split ways, with Luna lighting the Floo to get the Aurors, and me grabbing a rune-carving chisel off the wall to disable the array. Except, there was no array, at least not outside of the field that was robbing Pandora of life by the second!

The array was inside, with Pandora! While she had started to disable the rune string, encircling the same rune as last time, her strength had already given out! I tried to go through the surrounding spell, but it was solid, and wouldn't let me through.

Mrrow! was the only warning I received before Lucky Boy dropped me next to Pandora, right in front of the array. Though it actually took less than five seconds for me to finish encircling the array and ending the spell, the time felt like at was an eternity, and I felt noticeably weaker and drained as the spell faded away. I looked at Pandora, and my heart was instantly in my mouth!

She was emaciated, and desiccated looking. It was truly the worst case of magical draining I had ever seen in three lifetimes, and I despaired of seeing her in the realm of the living even one minute from now. I took her hand to try as much to comfort myself as her. Once I had done so, Lucky Boy bit both of our hands, and I felt the magic rush and level as I lost consciousness, with the fuzzy blur of green robes and the screaming of a child the last things I perceived.

§§§

I started to regain consciousness in what felt like a hospital room. I opened my eyes and looked around. This was not the Hogwarts hospital wing. The wing looked something like St. Mungo's, but I couldn't say that I had ever been here before. As I finished regaining my wits, I felt that Lucky Boy was stretched out next to me, still unconscious. For some strange reason I was relieved that I was in a hospital gown, laying face up, and in the normal direction

Xenophilius Lovegood and Dad were sitting next to my bed. I asked, "Are Pandora and Luna all right?"

Xenophilius broke down crying. Dad answered, "Yes. Luna was terrified, but I'm sure she will be fine now. The hospital released Pandora two days ago. She has already completely recovered. The healers say that the 'unconventional' magic transfusion Lucky Boy and you gave her kept her magical core from collapsing. The first-response healers said that she was already beyond their help even if this actually happened in the spell-damage ward of St Mungo's itself. Just the same, your familiar and you need to hold some back for yourselves, if there's ever a 'next time.'"

"How long was I out, Dad?"

"Twenty-eight days. Your Mum was here until just moments ago. She's barely left your side."

Mum returned, holding a decent sized mug. She explained as she sat the mug on the side table and raised me up to drink it, "You said you wanted a 'hot white chocolate with marshmallows.' I hope the house-elves here did a good job, since I didn't have the time to make it."

I needed her help to drink it, since I could still barely lift my arms, and had no chance at all with the mug. It was just cooler than how I normally drank a hot beverage, but it was still pure heaven in a cup. After taking several good swallows, I nodded, and she pulled the mug back.

"What time is it?" I asked.

"Eleven fifty-five in the evening" Mum replied. "We've been quiet, so they have let us stay by your side." She started to sob quietly.

I asked, Xenophilius, "Can you show Mum where she might get close to some Nargles, without actually getting into them? Pandora would be mad if you actually got Mum infested, but I think she needs a minute?"

He nodded, and guided Mum out of the room, leaving the chocolate behind.

I asked, "Dad, how bad have they said it is?"

He answered, "They thought for sure that your core had collapsed and ruptured. Frankly, we were on a 'death-watch.' But, when and as you held on, they brought by specialists from the Department of Mysteries. They said after examining you that you didn't have much core damage at all, and that if you did have any that it would heal completely and without scarring. They also talked to Mr. Ollivander for a while, but neither they nor he would tell me what about."

Speak of the devil yet again. A slightly tired looking Master Garrick and Algernon Croaker walked in, with a masked DOM healer. Croaker said, "Good Morning, Mr. Weasley. Your son's Wand-Crafting Master will act 'in-loco-parentis' since he's cleared, and you are not.

"Don't worry about your son. He is not in any trouble, not even for his special item on his right forearm. While my healer will need to confirm the diagnosis, your son should be healing up nicely. My healer will tell you the gist of what he finds after we're done.

"Xenophilius Lovegood isn't having any luck finding Nargles for your wife. You might want to help them. However, please do not wander too far. Once we're done, we'll want to share what is hopefully good news and go home to our beds."

Dad looked furious enough to chew bricks and shit a wall! However, there were Department Heads, and there were Department Heads. Algernon Croaker, despite being an utter arse to his great-nephew, was most assuredly one of the latter, and Dad the former.

As Dad stood to leave, Croaker added "and don't ask your son later on! He won't be cleared to tell you." Dad nodded very stiffly, and left the room without a backward glance.

Once the room was empty, and the privacy wards (?!) were activated, the healer started his diagnosis while Croaker talked. Croaker asked, "Why two times?"

I answered, "It wasn't my idea. I was moved without warning, choice, or desire, both times."

He was looking me in the eye as I answered. I didn't bother with Occlumency shields, since Croaker could bypass them and see whatever he wanted before you even realized he was there.

He said, "I believe you, though it astounds me that you would have such unpleasant luck."

"I don't believe it either, Croaker, but I've been obliged to 'suspend my disbelief.'"

"You act like one of my 'Attack Dogs.' How long?"

"Six years in my first lifetime, and seven years in my second. My first lifetime, I moved because I tried to ride a desk full-time and discovered that I would rather eat my own scrotum. In my second lifetime, after Moody had me trained back up, 'you number two' decided that I had the experience to come in directly, especially since Harriet Potter was directly appointed to the Aurors, and her psycho-killer girlfriend wanted me dead."

"Is the 'psycho-killer' dangerous?"

"Dunno. In her first lifetime, she was my wife and the Minister of Magic, and was in no one's pocket. If this lifetime holds like my first, then I would answer 'only if you have a certain exclusive tattoo.'"

The healer reported, "No rupture, and the strains and hernias have all healed completely. He'd have woken up this morning except his familiar was also in bad shape, and sharing his magic. The familiar's fine, by the way, and should wake up any…"

"Mew!"

"We were both lucky again, boy" I comfort him in my mind while petting him. "We've been out for about a month. But on the bright side, if Mum will ever let us see Pandora again, we'll both have plenty of tuna!"

"Mew!" was his reply, along with a faint purr before he slipped into a normal sleep.

The healer ran another quick scan and said, "The familiar is fine, though his magical core was just as strained; the core itself being a bigger surprise than the strain. The familiar should be fully back to normal in a day or so. Mr. Weasley should be well enough to leave the Hospital by the sixteenth, though he will need to rest for a few days to a week to finish building back his reserves."

The healer left a card on the side-table and told me, "The healer on the card is your healer, now."

He paused, and asked, "Director? What about at Hogwarts."

Croaker thought for a moment and answered, "I'll let you know. Poppy Pomfrey is no ordinary healer, and knows how to keep a secret or two for the good of the nation. We'll leave together, so we can send Arthur back in after we're done."

The conversation turned back toward me. "I understand you have a 'training course' in your back garden."

"Remove the air quotes, and it's as close as you can get without restricted items or wards. I'd need some actual supervised training to get the last of the cobs knocked out, but I could walk a patrol or do a 'gig' right now, were I not still in bed with magical exhaustion from saving Pandora Lovegood this time. Two out of three, by the way. Do you know what the fuck she was working on this time? If it wasn't for Lucky Boy forcing a magical transfusion, I'm told she'd be dead. And your guy makes it sound like if I had only had two cores and no familiar, that I would have joined her."

"I know." he answered me. "Do you need to know?" Seeing my expression, he added, "There's your answer."

He then asked, "Do you need to come in?"

I answered, "Not right away, for sure. I need to attend Hogwarts starting in the fall term of 1991. My 'extra work' in this lifetime is partly to make me more effective at what I have to do, besides being a Hogwarts student. I also enjoy wand-crafting, and though we never exactly spoke about it until now, I owe Master Garrick at least one genuine shot of testing for my journeyman's card, which I am not exactly close to getting despite the fact that I am already making complete wands and doing wand reconditioning without direct supervision."

"Will you need any help?"

"If I do, I'll need it desperately, but having it prior to need would likely cause more harm than good. Though, if my conditioning course should become 'less attractive' to any who shouldn't see it, be known of and enterable by my parents in case I have an accident, but not necessarily anyone else, and gain enough of the restricted items to do the most good without being dangerous or more than you can paper over, that would help. However, I leave that to your judgment.

"The real bitch about soul-based time travel is that even with the accelerated brain-growth, you still have to do a lot of the judgment based and impulse-control based things with intellect alone – which is not easy!"

Croaker said, "I'll think about it. If it will work without complications that you won't want to deal with, we'll make it happen. I'll have our Battle Mage Training Officer look it over in any case. If there is anything you forgot, we can fix that for you even without the restricted gear, and make it keep looking at first glance like a 'fan boy' made it. That is what it looks like now; when you look deeper; it looks like you actually covered all the bases."

"Thanks, Croaker, for both the help and the compliment."

"Garrick, will you need time alone with your apprentice?"

"Yes. About thirty minutes at most. I'll send the Weasleys in before I leave."

"Thanks, Garrick. And good night and speedy recovery Mage Weasley. If you want to go reserve, that is a possibility once whatever you're doing at Hogwarts is done."

"Good night, and thank you, Croaker" I answered my former (and present?) boss as he left."

Master Garrick asked, "Do you know what to look for on your bank statement?"

"Yes, Master Garrick. The first deposit is always for thirteen galleons, thirteen and thirteen. The name of the 'depositor' is the cover name for your 'official employer' during your time at the DOM. If you ever do transfer out other than for cause, your time is quietly credited back to your Ministry personnel jacket so you don't lose any pension or seniority."

"If I may ask, Master Garrick, how do you know?"

"I do contract consulting on magical focus related issues, from time to time. The skill-sets they need for that group don't exactly match with a wand-crafter, at least so as I'm aware. They wouldn't exactly admit it if they had one.

"But even contract consultants are given the basic briefing from DOM personnel section. Moreover, it would appear that this world is like your last two. A belated happy birthday, by the way."

I thought a moment, and nodded. "Good thing I'm not actually just a ten-year-old! I'd probably be throwing a fit over missing my birthday, if I had the energy to throw anything."

"I'm sure you will have all the birthday parties you can handle once you get out of here. You might want to say something to your Mum without giving away your secret if you can. As I am sure you can understand if you think about it, your Mum isn't too happy with my grand-nieces right now for needing to be rescued at such a great cost to you, even though you got lucky and will recover completely."

"How are they? I hadn't asked you right away because it was actually the first thing I asked Dad and Xenophilius when I woke up."

"Luna was emotionally devastated, but was completely unharmed otherwise. Pandora was released two days ago, with Xenophilius having 'seen' when he woke up the morning the accident happened, and having arrived at St. Mungo's before they even started trying to owl him. Both Luna and Pandora are magically and physically fine, now. They are seeing the mind-healer that worked with your brother, Mum, and you.

"Xenophilius also said that 'Luna can show Ron her knickers wherever she pleases, and if he doesn't care for them can go without and show him that.' He said that out of admiration for you for saving his wife and daughter, as well as guilt for what could have happened otherwise, though I would still urge restraint and gentlemanly conduct.

"Neither Albus or I could figure out what she was working on for sure, though we both have our guesses. Since it was a DOM Contract, she's not allowed to say, and neither Albus nor I can even tell you our guesses either, unless you can find a legitimate mission-based reason to be told - and Croaker will be the one to decide even if you try to come up with one.

"What I can tell you is this – it wasn't the same one from your first or second dimension. Had you not intervened in exactly the way you did, at exactly the time you did, the 'spell' would have detonated. The explosion would have powdered the Rookery, everything and everyone inside it, and have levelled everything else for a three-kilometre radius. It would have also likely changed the course of the River Otter, and there would have been hell to pay with the Muggle Government. The A-30 would have needed a bridge to put it back to rights, and the Muggles would likely have lost as many as several dozen injured or killed motorists driving into the crater in addition to losing an entire village. The Muggle-Worthy Excuse office, MI-5, and MI-6 combined would have played merry-hell coming up with something to blame that wouldn't cause a war.

"You've just proved to Croaker that you are one of his people, and unless you quit or are fired, you'll always be his, with death or dimension hopping only excusing you for being late coming into the office. The Ministry will award you an Order of Merlin, either a Second Class or maybe a First Class, within a week or so after you get out. The award itself will be classified for a while, and I don't know how long a while it will be. Your detailed citation will likely never be declassified. In any case, you will be seeing Minister Bagnold within a week after you get out of here.'

I could only nod, stunned at just what the hell Pandora had been up to down in her lab.

After a minute, I asked, "Does Pandora still have a job?"

"Yes, but no more spell-crafting, at her insistence. While she made a complete physical and magical recovery, there are just some things that won't leave you, and some things that tell you that a change in career-path is just what you need. Pandora found those that morning.

"When she told Croaker that she was done, and that she would sooner turn her lab into a ten-pin bowling alley for Albus Dumbledore than craft another spell, he backed off for a few days. When he returned and found Albus and I trying the lanes out for a game, he gave it up as a bad job and asked her if she would continue doing academic research only, with no crafting or brewing at all. She consented to that. While she doesn't even remotely need the money, she likes having something to do beyond taking care of Xenophilius, Luna, and the Rookery, provided she can do it from home."

"Master Garrick? I'm in no hurry to get my journeyman's card just yet, but how close am I? And will I be able to study anything to directly help while I'm at Hogwarts if I can without messing up my grades there?"

He thought a moment, and answered, "You're making great progress in the Craft. You have a way to go, but I'm honestly not sure how much of one. Although there is no 'absolute' rule on how many years you must have before you test, most people take at least seven years. Even with your progress to date being better than many with the same year's experience, you aren't quite there yet.

"But you seem to enjoy the work as well as being a quick learner. While potions brewing at the top levels isn't quite the same as the Craft, it is by no means easy. Severus Snape, with no particular sponsorship to speak of, was certified as a Potions Master at the age of nineteen. So, do your best. The results just may pleasantly surprise you.

"Did you have any other questions, Ron?

"No, Master Garrick. Could you send in Mum, Dad, and Xenophilius if he is still here?"

"I'll do that. Be sure to rest. I'll see you when you are ready to return to work, if not sooner."

"Thanks, Master Garrick" I told him, ending our conversation.

He walked out, with Mum, Dad, and Xenophilius walking in almost immediately as he did.

As soon as they sat down, I asked, "Mum, whatever it is going on between Pandora and you, could you please forgive her, for me if nothing else?"

Mum started off, "But she almost…"

Cutting her off before she got a full head of steam, I said, "She honestly didn't know, Mum. Master Garrick told me that the lab has already been replaced with a game room, and that she will no longer research spells, or even brew anything experimental or that might get tricky any more. Please? Consider it a birthday gift if you must…"

She hugged me and started crying again. We held each other and I comforted her as best as I could. Lucky Boy was now at the foot of the bed. After a couple of minutes, she let me go and laid me back down on the bed.

She finally said, "I'll have to see the mind healer again anyway. She and I will be seeing the same one, so, we'll work it out." She smiled, and asked, "Are you starting to get a crush on Luna, now?"

I smiled back and answered, "I'm still too far out from puberty to answer one way or another, Mum. And it's usually the girls who figure out first, anyway. She's the only non-relative my age to be friends with around the Ottery, and I'm the only magical non-relative boy for her. We might want to actually start Hogwarts as well as puberty before we think of dating, and that's only when Xenophilius gives us permission, and if we both feel that way then."

Xenophilius added, "It's Xeno, Ron. You're no less than a friend of my family. I only ask that you don't hurt Luna, don't take from her, and only accept gifts from Luna that you can honestly and willing return. Girls can be fun for boys, and boys can also be fun for girls. But she is not a plaything, and neither are you. If the two of you get to the point where you might make someone other than memories, you both need to be sure that you're committed to each other for the rest of your lives. That being said and done, and we'll be fine."

"I'll do as you ask, Xeno. I won't hurt her or her reputation." I told him.

"Thanks, son" he replied.

With my third yawn in two minutes, everyone excused themselves, with Mum saying that she'd be back in the morning, after she and Ginny finished up with the eggs and newspaper route.

§§§

Mum was as good as her word. When she returned in the morning after breakfast, she had Ginny, Luna, and Pandora with her. They were all getting along, and the strain between Mum and Pandora was already fading. Ginny was in jeans, trainers, and her jumper from last Christmas. Luna was also wearing a jumper, along with a blouse underneath, and a casual skirt with knee-length socks and trainers.

Pandora set her parcels up on a shelf of the private room, and said, "I wasn't able to bring tea with the other stuff I was carrying. Molly, Ginny, if you could help me carry some from the canteen? We'll only be a minute. We'll let Ron and Luna catch up, but we'll be right back.

They left the room, leaving a surprisingly nervous Luna and me alone. Luna said, "It's late, but 'happy White Day.' With that, she hiked the hem of her skirt to her armpits, and slowly turned around. She must have decided that I didn't care for her knickers.

She asked nervously, "Did you like it?"

I carefully got out of bed, and hiked my gown up to my armpits. I slowly turned around, and gave her show back to her. As we both blushed and smoothed our clothing back to normal, and I got back into bed, I answered, "Yes, and I hope that you liked my gift. 'Happy White Day.'

"I hope that you haven't been upset about me along with being scared, Luna. I'm a boy, and we don't start the romantic stuff as quickly as girls do. I hope we will always at least be friends, though. I won't tell you 'no' unless I know I mean 'no,' and I promise I won't be mean or a jerk about it if it comes to that. I won't tell you 'yes,' unless I mean it either. Let's be friends for sure, and 'maybe' for the other, at least for now. Friends?"

I instantly had two arms full of a crying Luna, sobbing, "I almost lost you" as she did. Pandora opened the door, and I quietly waived for them to give us another minute or two. Luna cried herself out quickly enough. I wiped her face dry with a tissue.

I said, "Are you ok, now? Are we ok, now?"

She nodded, and mumbled, "I'm being stupid…"

"No you're not, Luna!" I quietly said. "You saw your mum badly hurt, saw Lucky Boy and I get badly hurt saving her, and I'm not even sure what else has happened to you in the last month. On top of anything you already felt, you've had all that dumped on you, and probably feel like you have to pay me back somehow. I get it!

"But you don't need to push yourself faster than you would have done had things not happened like they did. And like I said, we boys tend to be clueless until we actually start puberty, and sometimes later than that.

"But unlike most boys, I'll know that the girl will say yes! That's good for something, isn't it? And, we'll already be friends, which is the other hard part for a boy to ask a girl to be his girlfriend.

"Right now, I know you too good to have a 'puppy love' crush, and I'm too far away from puberty to start having those feelings. Girls start earlier than boys do, and with girls, the start of feeling like romance that isn't just pretend starts right at the age you are now. So, you like me as well as like me. I'm happy. I'm just too young to return the like and really mean it, because that kind of like comes from the body as well as the brain and the heart. I won't tell you that I like you when I can't like anyone because my body is too young to understand it, and I like and respect you too much to lie.

"But you're also fun, funny, fun to be around, and always make me feel better. You look pretty, like to help me cook in the kitchen, and play a great game of chess. If you can live with an honest 'maybe,' we'll be fine. I won't be looking for anyone else either. They say that good things come to those who wait. Wait for me?"

She blushed prettily, and then got a devious smile and crimson blush on her face. She asked, "Will good things come for those who wait as well?"

Dropping my voice and checking the door, I asked, "Have you came?"

She nodded.

I pulled the covers down again and let her get a 'look.' I was somewhat stiff, but only because I made it that way to show her.

I got properly clothed and covered again and whispered, "I won't even be able to 'dry-come' for another year or so. When I'm physically able to really feel those feelings for any girl, it will be as long as my hand, not almost as long as my thumb."

I went back to a normal voice and said, "So, we can call it more than 'just friends,' but not quite 'boyfriend and girlfriend' because I can't mean that with any girl and will never lie to you. Are we good?"

She nodded, hugged me, and leaned in for a kiss. We closed our eyes and kissed on the mouth. While we weren't exactly 'chaste,' we weren't exactly kissing enough to 'get chased by Dads,' either. We broke apart and smoothed our selves just less than five seconds before Mums, tea, and Ginny came in.

We proceeded to have a quiet mini-birthday party for the rest of the morning. We had birthday cupcakes for desert, after having sandwiches for Mum and Ginny, sushi for Pandora, Luna and me, tuna sashimi for Lucky Boy and me, and Pandora and I split a small tokkuri of hot sake.

§§§

I didn't get out of the hospital until the nineteenth. We had another birthday party at the Burrow that evening. I was also on bed-rest for the rest of the week, and until at least after my doctor's appointment the following Monday.

Late on the morning of the twenty-seventh, I walked out to the back garden. I had gone into the Ministry that morning to receive my classified Order of Merlin, First Class, from Minister Bagnold. True to his word, Croaker had had the confidence course "improved," without it being obvious as the actual and functional training area that it was. I found a magically sealed note on a post where the start of the circuit would be on a regular course. Since I was now allowed to do simple magic, I drew my wand and spelled the note open. It figures that they would already have a fresh sample of my magic to go by.

The note read: "The course was amazingly-well put together, and was even more amazingly 'shrunk down' for your smaller and younger body. I've 'upped the size' to what should be a better fit for you between now and when you leave for Hogwarts. I didn't put up anything 'dangerous' as such, since your siblings also use this as a play area. The targets will take stunners, blasting hexes, and so on while absorbing the noise. Just don't miss. The only target that is safe for return-fire and shielding drills is the one flanked with the two scarecrows. Use it well, and we'll see what more we can do as time goes by. Training Officer."

Well, that's sorted, once I can use it again. And it still didn't interfere with the fruit trees or Quidditch pitch.

I thought about what else I needed. I needed to keep the money coming in, keep up with my apprenticeship with Master Garrick. But most of all, I needed to get a "tutor and coach" so that I could take my GCSEs in the spring of 1991 with everyone else and actually get top grades in them. This would need to happen starting in the next few weeks, just in case I was obliged to quit the lawn mowing or hand it over to Ginny, money and all.

Ginny now had my old bike, baskets and all, which I had outgrown. I had a larger bike, with baskets and such, so sometimes I would let Ginny help with the newspapers even on the days where I wasn't hospitalized by crazy brothers, detonating spells, and such. She had also done at least some of the mowing, and did decently at it. I wouldn't be able to even think of lawns in 1991 between my GCSEs, and trying to pick up more time at Ollivander's. Thinking about it, I decided that I would keep Hector Jones, the eggs, and the paper route, handing off the other seven lawns to Ginny. While she wasn't trying to pay for her GCSEs that I knew of, I knew that she liked money as much as the next kid did, and didn't mind working to get it.

I went back inside, and found Pandora visiting with Mum in the kitchen. Before I even said a word, Pandora asked, "Ron, how are your GCSE studies going?"

I finished removing my coat, hat, and shoes. I sat down at the table and answered, "I think they're going fairly well, but I was just thinking about that myself.

"I need to hire a tutor, or at least find out how much one would cost. While I'm studying everything I can find that is on the lists, I'm not sure if I'm learning it well enough to pass a NEWTs-style test on it. So, if I've got enough money saved up, I need to hire a tutor to see if I'm even close, and help me get the rest of the way there."

Pandora asked, "Would you be offended if I offered to find you a good one, and pay them?"

"If Mum says it's ok, I would have no problem with it."

Mum asked, "Will you have the time, though? You are already doing much more than a lot of boys your age. I don't want you wasting Pandora's money, so if I let you hire that tutor at her expense, you will put in the time to do your Muggle schoolwork before doing anything else."

I replied, "I haven't asked Ginny yet, but I've already decided that this year, I'll only keep mowing for Mr. Jones, since Ginny is scared of Werewolves. I'll let Ginny take the other seven lawns. The eggs don't take any more time than they would if they were just chores, and the paper route is more getting paid to exercise than anything else. If time starts to become an issue, I can have her partner with me for this year, and if things get really bad, hand the whole thing off to her early. I won't be able to do any of it from this coming autumn or so, on

"Ollivander's is much more important than the Muggle work. I won't know what to do with my hours with him until after I've had a couple of sessions with the tutor, and have him give me a 'mock GCSE' to see where I'm really at. At some point, I'm going to have to take unpaid time-off from Ollivander's to get ready for the actual test. But I really won't know until after I've worked with the tutor, and have found out if I'm even close enough to be ready at all. I won't try them unless I know I'll pass them with top grades."

Pandora commented, "Sounds responsible to me."

Mum called, "Ginny! Come down for a minute?"

Ginny came down, and Mum asked, "Have you had any trouble mowing for Hector Jones?"

"No, why?" she asked.

"Ronnie is going to take his Muggle NEWTs just more than a year from now. Pandora is going to help him get a tutor to get ready. Since he isn't going to a Muggle School, he's going to need help and need to study his Muggle Books a lot more than he has, so he won't be able to mow any more. He wanted to know if you would take over all the lawns, and the money from them, of course."

She surprised all of us by asking, "May I take my Muggle NEWTs, too?" I've been studying all of Ron's books just like he has, and I've even been doing the homework like him, too! I might not have written essays about the wars, but I have written about other things, and you've said that everything looked good. Please?"

I interjected, "Ginny, it will be a better idea if you take your Muggle NEWTs a year after I do. That way, you will have more time to make sure you learn everything, and you will also have seen what I went through. After seeing how I do, you might decide that you don't want to.

"If Mum says you can, you can take the first few lessons and tests with me, to see where you are?"

Mum thought, and agreed, saying, "You have been working on all of the extra Muggle Stuff when Ron's been at Ollivander's. We can have you go along for a lesson or two to start, and see if you can keep up."

"Thanks Mum!" Ginny answered. Ok, having a nine-year-old girl who was only nine volunteer for up to two years of "cram school" for stuff… Ok. If she and Harry get together this time, she'll actually need the Muggle stuff at least as much as I do. And, I wasn't calling them 'Muggle NEWTs' just to be clever. Maybe I was starting to 'rub off' on her?

§§§

We ended up finding a very good tutor in Exeter. We also ended up finding out four other things.

First, Ginny was just as ready for the tests as I was, and in one or two actually got better scores on the tutor's evaluation tests. Second, Luna had decided to join the game. It seems that Ginny had had a study partner after all. Third, all three of us were more than ready to pass them, and starting the "cram and tutoring sessions" a full year out would guarantee that we would all get A-stars on everything, provided we worked our asses off. Fourth, it would be easier to get three well-younger-than-normal kids into one testing session than it would be for us to get one younger kid in one year and two the next for two straight years. But, this made for some serious changes in lifestyle, particularly mine.

First, the paper routes went away completely. Mum decided that I could find a better way to fit exercise in without a paper route, especially with that confidence course behind the pond and the fruit trees. Second, the eggs became a three-way partnership while Percy and the Twins were in school between Mum and us, and during the summer, Ginny and I only got five pence per dozen each, but didn't work at all. Third, we kept Hector Smith because he would still have difficulty finding someone else even with the more liberal werewolf laws, but quit all of the other lawn customers after explaining our circumstances to them. Finally, I cut back my hours at Ollivander's as much as Master Garrick could spare me for. While I averaged at least three hours per day, and got paid for it, I had to bring in Muggle books to study at least part of the time when I could.

All of this time went into studying, writing, studying, taking mock GCSEs, and studying some more. We took breaks when we needed them, but only when we needed them. Luna saw us more than her own Mum and Dad, and I saw just as much of Xeno and Pandora, since we "took turns" as to where we would study until passing out in mental exhaustion. When they were at home that summer, Charlie, Percy and the Twins learned very quickly that the easiest way for them to win an 'all expense paid tour of de-Gnoming the garden' was to do anything that would interfere with Ginny, Luna, or me studying!

This continued until May 13th of 1991. On that date, for a week straight, Luna, Ginny and I sat our exams in Algebra, Geometry, Calculus, Statistics, Latin, Japanese, English Grammar, English Literature, British History, World History, World Geography, Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Music, with Ginny playing acoustic bass guitar, Luna the drums, and me playing my six-string; with all three of us singing in harmony. We took seventeen tests over seven weekdays, sitting our last exam on the twenty-first.

After taking the last test, which was playing several pieces in trio, we were utterly wiped out. We wouldn't get our exam results until some time in August. While I had Ollivander's and getting ready for Hogwarts to take my mind off of things, Ginny was totally on pins and needles the entire time waiting for the results. Luna was as serene and fun as always, which some days drove poor Ginny completely spare!

I did have Ollivander's, though. By working shoulder-to-shoulder and open to close with Master Garrick, I regained the ground lost from my devoting my life to passing my GCSEs, and my 'ear' for the wands grew in discernment. He and I even arranged that should it become possible, that I would spend some time during the week and weekends under his tutelage while at Hogwarts, to continue to grow as a wand crafter.

Charlie, meanwhile, was also awaiting his NEWT scores. While Hagrid had helped Charlie and one of his friends from Hogwarts get hired by the Dragon Reserve in Romania, their NEWT scores, particularly their Care of Magical Creatures, Charms, and Defence scores would determine their starting salary.

He had started his magical visa, work permit, and potions regime as soon as Hogwarts let out. However, the process, while seemingly drawn-out didn't take much time out of any given day. So, while he was not going to lose time once his NEWTs came in, he had little on that front to distract him.

So, he and Ginny got to commiserate together while he helped her with the eggs and helped her take up the lawn mowing again as the summer went on. The work helped them pass the time, and further helped tie him back to the rest of the family.

Percy continued to study. He had his OWL year coming up. He had every intention of not only passing them, but also continuing every class he was taking up to the NEWT level – even Magical History. He still planned on working in the Ministry once he passed his NEWTs and left Hogwarts, though he still hadn't decided what department or departments to try for.

Fred and George continued to goof off, experiment with their pranking materials, and try to 'lighten' the mood of everyone else. Sometimes this worked well for them. Sometimes, they went a little too far around Ginny and got to discover the joys of the "Bat-Bogey Hex." That was the same morning they tried to startle me on my way to wash my face and brush my teeth earlier on. Dad had just got them down from the hall ceiling, too.

§§§

I had hoped that I would be at the shop when Hermione came in and bought her wand, which would likely be the eleventh one I crafted. Sure enough, I was. When I worked the 'front area,' I was placed under a Disillusionment charm, so I wasn't seen by most customers. That was so I wouldn't be a distraction, particularly for the new first years buying their wands. This was also since while my apprenticing wasn't exactly a secret, Master Garrick and I didn't particularly advertise it either, and agreed that we wouldn't until I started Hogwarts.

It was Saturday, the 29th of June of 1991. Ginny and I had just survived "Death by GCSE" eight days previously. I was now working "open to close" for Master Garrick every day with little time off to make up for lost time not working and studying the Craft.

Muggle-borns who turn eleven after September first but before the school year ends are typically told about the magical world the calendar month after they turn eleven, unless they have been advanced in their Muggle schooling or would otherwise start Muggle grade six prior to their first year at Hogwarts. In those cases, the student would occasionally be invited before they would turn eleven, provided they also had sufficient maturity to handle a boarding school environment, and that their magic had sufficiently stabilized to attend practical classes.

June 29th was the first day these students were able to shop the Alley for anything, because this was the "official" date of their acceptance letter, even though they would have in Hermione's case had that letter for months, and have possibly had a guided tour of the Alley already. Each shop had their limits on the number of students they would service as a "group." Master Garrick's limit was one student, no more than two family members, and no more than one Professor.

Hermione came in with her parents and Professor McGonagall at 10:37 that morning. It appeared that Hermione was in fact seeing the shop for the first time. Master Garrick had a strict "no tourists" policy, so the Professors all knew not to bring a new student until and unless they were buying their wands.

Hermione was every bit as enthusiastic and eager as you would imagine. At precisely 10:45, it being the eleventh wand that examined her, she was chosen by my ten and three quarters inch Vinewood wand.

I was saddened to do my part, and hold the wand to the Trace stone, but it was part of my job. It was difficult enough once I was even allowed into the front area of the shop in the first place. If the Ministry had any inkling that either Master Garrick or I were selling untraced wands to any minors, particularly Muggle-borns, there would be hell to pay, and both my arse and Master Garrick's to clear the cheque. If the "His Oh So High and Mighty Ferretness" Draco Malfoy had to suffer a Trace, than "those filthy mudbloods" would have to as well.

One o'clock in the afternoon brightened my day right back up, even though it would mean another Trace. Pandora Lovegood was much closer to Mum this go-around. Thus, she was a little less "over the top" in spending money on me. And, while she wasn't "sneaking," which would have pissed Mum off; she was being 'subtle' enough that both Mum and she were able to save face. If Pandora was supervising my shopping as a 'responsible adult' would do, I was spending some of my savings on new stuff, and Pandora was 'treating me to a thing or two,' all was well at the Ottery. If my contribution ended up only being to pay for a nice meal, no one other than Pandora and I need know.

Besides, other than my wand and uniforms, there wasn't much shopping to do. Pandora was paying for my wand, but getting it at cost. My trunk was not cheap, but wasn't obviously anything other than a new trunk. That it was a six compartment self-shrinking trunk including normal trunk, extra clothing storage, library, potions lab, efficiency apartment with loo and cooler box, and prisoner holding cell with more wards and security features than Hogwarts itself wasn't obvious at first glance. And unless I activated the 'feather-light' charm or actually shrunk the damned thing, it weighed roughly the weight of whatever was in the first compartment plus the weight of a normal trunk.

Besides, since I worked on the Alley for Master Garrick, the shop owner sold it to me at cost. Because of my age and my apprenticing to Master Garrick, the other merchants adopted me as an "Alley Rat."

In the days when being a shopkeeper wasn't quite as prestigious, and when shops were much more routinely handed down over the generations, the children of shopkeepers who were old enough to work did so. Those children who were not quite that old yet, along with their older siblings who were on-break, would play in the Alley. The more disdainful customers tended to mix these children up with beggars, and called the lot "Alley Rats."

Today, the term is only used by the shopkeepers themselves, and with a far greater degree of affection. The children of shopkeepers these days tended to not want to take up the shop when the time came. So, seeing a responsible working child on the Alley tended to not only raise the spirits of the shopkeepers, but strongly encouraged them to offer discounts, above and beyond the tax exemption I already held as an apprentice Wand-Crafter.

I had saved up enough money that with my discount I could have afforded it on my own. But, with Pandora and Luna both crying, I couldn't exactly turn them down on paying for it.

Just the same, Luna's and Pandora's birthday and Christmas presents this year were going to be much nicer than just Chocolate Frogs.

But, it was the wand that I purchased first. It still chose me just as it had the day I had made it, and in fact was my 'work' wand until I polished and boxed it this morning. It was still 14 inches long, swishy willow, with the tail hair freely given directly by the male unicorn from whence it came.

It went across the Trace stone, by Master Garrick's hand so things didn't look too unusual at the Ministry, and into the new Auror Holster I wore on my left wrist. While it was my 'official' and thus 'primary' wand, I would only cast with it at home or at Hogwarts, short of a dual-wielding epic battle. Thus, both of my 'milestone' early wands officially sold on the same day.

My 'secondary' wand, that I used the rest of the time since the day I paid for it in blood, was in my right Auror Holster that it resided in since that day. While it was every bit as nasty if it thought that had been 'borrowed' without permission, it was otherwise a very docile wand as well as one that would channel a lot of power.

If it knew I lent it to you, provided you were within my sight, or if you were trying to heal me with it, it behaved precisely as well as if it had chosen you. If you got further away, it would behave more 'poorly,' and might even 'warn' you if you were about to cross the line. Once that line was crossed, that wand would 'rock your world.'

Between the actual transactions, and pleasantries, Pandora and I left the shop at 1:30. Though the day was somewhat warm, I was wearing long sleeves as I usually did on the Alley. Once I started carrying my 'second' wand, the 'unofficial status quo' dictated that I not go in short sleeves on the Alley or in Hogsmeade when I was 'carrying.'

Elsewhere was fine, but Auror Holsters were not for civilians, and while their chameleon charms were much better than for civilian or duellist holsters, they could be detected by any competent Auror, Hit-Wizard, and so on. Since I wasn't supposed to openly have an Auror Holster, much less two with wands, I wore long sleeves. While both wands and holsters were legal, my permits were awarded under sufficiently unique circumstances that they could be withdrawn with enough "Malfoy Money" in the right places.

Our first stop was the trunk shop. The trunk, which I ordered three months prior, was finished and waiting for final payment and initial binding. The binding was relatively painless, provided that being lanced to draw blood and getting zapped in the wound eight times can pass for painless, but at least it was quick.

The next stop was Madam Malkins. My complete uniform list, which was name-tagged and fitted two days ago, was ready. Even though this was supposed to be the first day for Hogwarts first-year shopping, and my older siblings wouldn't even be in town until late afternoon, my order was ready. When you work on the Alley, you take care of each other.

My robes, trousers, and so on were fitted just loosely enough that if I grew between now and September that I wouldn't even need the adjustment charms. I also bought two sets of pyjamas, one bathrobe, two weeks worth of white undershirts and boxers, along with black dress socks.

I picked up one pair of black dress shoes, wax, and edge dressing. I would have the rest of the summer to break the shoes in without making them look beat-up. There are some jobs where having footwear that didn't hurt your feet was important. While being a Hogwarts student wasn't exactly one of them, I worked in two very closely related jobs that did. Charms can do wonders, but the shoes have to actually fit and be broken-in to actually get your money's worth out of the charms in the first place. With uniforms paid for and placed in the ordinary trunk section, we moved to our next stop.

The stationary shop was a quick visit. Quills, parchment, ink, sealing wax, all were bought as boringly as such sundries normally are. I also bought two new penknives. Despite the fact that they make money off of them, the clerks never think to remind their customers that pens need to be sharpened, and you don't get to learn the quill-sharpening charm until December.

A good penknife still works better, and lets you get just a little more use out of the quill, since the charm made the rest of the quill more brittle. The 'home penknife' was getting old, and just like the name suggests, was not to be taken to school. Bill, Charlie, and the Twins didn't bother, Percy bought one from his pocket money last year, and Ginny shared someone else's in the other timelines. So, I bought one for me, and one for Harry.

Our last stop was the potions supply shop. We bought the standard first-year kit, which went in to the normal trunk section. We also bought the extra variety of ingredients I would need for various commonly needed healing potions, salves and creams. These and the extra paraphernalia went into the potions lab section after being paid for. I would finish my inventory and set-up of that lab over the next month or so, and see to stocking it the rest of the way before September first.

I didn't need scales or a telescope, since Bill had had given his to me, and he was smart enough to never share with Charlie.

§§§

Charlie's scores came in during the second week of July along with the school letters. He got Outstandings in Care of Magical Creatures and Defence, and Exceeds Expectations in Charms, which was the only grade that low out of all the NEWTs he'd taken. He'd also taken the NEWTs for Transfiguration, Potions, and Runes.

With his scores received, we had a congratulatory and going away party for him on the thirteenth. By the following Wednesday, he was already working in Romania, since he had started his magical visa, work permit, and potions regime as soon as Hogwarts let out.

I was glad that he and I had finally made up from the problems in 1989. Though it took Valentine's Day of 1990 happening, and his finally watching Percy's and Dad's Pensieve memories to get the job done, we were back to 'pre-1989' normal before midsummer of 1990. It was great to have Charlie back. It was also nice to know that if Hagrid won anything hinky playing cards in early 1992 that we had someplace to "dump" the winnings.

We had another party the following Saturday, celebrating Percy's appointment as Prefect and my getting accepted to Hogwarts. The party was for both of us, like it was in my first lifetime. Unlike my first lifetime, I was not in an ill-behaved jealous funk because Percy received a Post Owl and new uniforms. He still got the stuff. I just wasn't bothered.

He also seemed to act even more pompous than usual. You had to know Percy to read him correctly. He was more 'formal' than some adults were, much less his working-class siblings. He also tended to "stiffen up" even more when Fred and George were taking the Mick, which was almost all the time.

He was also justifiably proud of being selected as Prefect. But, he tended to brag too much, at least in the eyes of Fred and George. When they took the Mick, he actually got his back up and was even more snooty, not less.

It was understandable, really. With six boys to survive infancy, plus Ginny, none of us thought we got our fair share of recognition. With our family tending to be rather frugal to put it mildly, rivalries tended to get intense at times. When you add a full set of brand-new uniforms and a Post Owl to the mix, it gets even worse.

That was another one of the "smaller" reasons I worked. With my savings, I had the money to get brand-new uniforms myself, without any help from Mum and Dad. Even with the lost time while I was fully involved with passing my GCSEs, I still had almost 10,000 galleons in the bank, since I didn't have to pay rent, and I really didn't spend a lot of money. Having had Pandora insist on paying for most of my stuff didn't hurt the bottom line, either.

Which leads us to the party itself. We started off at five, with me coming home four hours early from the shop. I quickly showered and changed into play clothes, and was back down and part of the centre of attention. Percy was getting more of the attention, which was fine by me.

I sat at the far end of the table, with Luna to my right. Guessing what she wanted, I didn't bother with socks, and she wasn't disappointed. I had all but promised her that she would have "her" chance to woo me, and I was a boy of my word. She had left her sandals at the back door when she came over with Pandora and Xeno, and was playing a gentle but very insistent game of "footsie" beneath the table.

Above the table, other than a slight blush on my face, we were both happy and serene. Pandora and Xeno had brought a large tray of sushi and sashimi; they even remembered to bring the daikon along with the pickled ginger and wasabi. After Lucky Boy got "his" share, the rest was on offer for everyone else, and everyone tried at least a little.

I was also allowed to drink up to four tokkuri of sake through the evening, provided I didn't get sick or obviously drunk. This was quite the privilege, and one my siblings had not had extended to them. I was the only Weasley under seventeen drinking that night. Or, over seventeen come to that. While Mum and Dad were not teetotallers, they were far more likely to appear with a mug of tea than anything containing alcohol.

I was even allowed to pour one saucer for Luna when we first sat down. She held her saucer to my lips and had me drink it. I did the same for her, and we actually got the Twins to lay off from Percy for almost two minutes in favour of trying to take the Mick with Luna and me. Since neither of us was paying Fred and George any attention, they went back to razzing Percy.

Mum had also made a spread of finger-foods, as much to not be outdone by Pandora as to allow for most of the family, who were more indifferent of Japanese food than anything else.

Percy sat at the head of the table, where Dad normally sat. Hermes, Percy's new post owl, was out hunting. Since Hermes was even less fond of loud gatherings than his new owner was, he would likely be in Percy's room when he returned from his evening hunt.

Things went well for the first hour and a half, or so; at least on the surface. Everyone laughed, ate, drank, and socialized. Since only Xeno, Pandora, and I were drinking alcohol, things shouldn't have gotten pear-shaped. Except, the Twins just wouldn't lay off of Percy's arse.

"Ron, how am I doing in the girlfriend race?" Luna asked, blunt as always.

I answered, "Still way out front, Luna. You remembered to bring the padded 'clue-by-four' for the clueless boy, which works in your favour, too."

"Are we close enough to squeeze each other's bums publicly when we kiss yet?"

Fortunately, I wasn't drinking anything at that exact second. I was also glad that I had a very week Muffliato up around us too.

"You'd know better than me, Luna. But I do like you that way, and providing we don't go further, I trust you, and I'll be trustworthy too. Why?"

"Fred and George are still trying to spoil Percy's share of the party because of all the Wrackspurts infesting their heads and making them jealous. A good open mouth kiss with a bum rub for each of us should drive them away for a while, don't you think, Ron?"

"I think that it will get us both told off for certain, and maybe grounded. I don't think that the Twins will lay off of Percy as long as it takes for our Mums and Dads to tell us off or ground us, or whatever they decide to do.

"If you remember the "health" classes we had to study for our GCSEs, you'll remember that doing that will also get us to want to do much more, which is part of why they'll get so mad at us, Right? When have you seen either of our parents do that with each other?"

She answered, "Last week, Dad and Mum thought I was over here with Ginny. We were actually about to walk into the lounge when they were kissing like that. Ginny and I left after Dad had Mum's panties to her ankles and was pulling her dress over her head.

"But you're right; they don't do it where they think anyone else will see."

"Luna, the bum-rub would be 'too nice' to show off, and would be 'too much' to take the heat off of Percy. Besides, this will only be our third kiss. Let's just keep our hands on each other's upper backs and kiss until they break us up. That way, they will only be slightly angry at worst, and the Twins will have more time to razz us instead of turning back on Percy while we're getting told off. If we talk to our Mums and Dads right, we just might still be able to be alone with each other and get to actually rub each other's bums."

"Stand up, spoilsport!" she said quietly.

We stood and kissed. We both kept our hands 'politely' on each other's backs, and didn't quite make body-to-body contact below the waist. The catcalls from the Twins were music to our ears. Percy's sputtering was an added bonus, since his defensiveness was only making his difficulty with the twins worse. The angry taps we received on our shoulders were not particularly welcome, but they were expected.

It was Dad and Xeno who took us into the Front Room to be "told off." Mum was more sad than angry, and was actually angrier with Fred and George than she was at us.

Xeno asked me, "Did you take anything?"

I answered, "No, we shared. It was more her idea, but I am equally responsible for the both of us, and fully responsible for me."

He asked, "Did you want to share more?"

"Want to, yes. We both did. Want to enough to risk problems we aren't old enough to even imagine, much less solve, no. Not even if we had been alone together.

"She wanted our second kiss to be special. Instead, she shared it with me to try to keep a party that is 'half mine' from being spoilt by Fred and George pulling the Mick on Percy and dragging it across the floor. Percy needs to be less defensive and more relaxed. The Twins need to get off his bum. If they want new dress robes and a Post Owl, they have three more years to get their grades up, and get caught less pulling their pranks.

"They believe that they won't need great NEWT scores for their job plans after school. They might even be right. I have no idea if Gringotts looks at NEWTs when approving business loans.

"Percy needs his OWLs, NEWTs, and the Prefect Badge as well if he plans on going into the more bureaucratic side of the Ministry. I know he hasn't talked to me about the Aurors, and I don't think he's asked Dad about the Patrol.

"Back to Luna and me. I gave my word, Xeno. I won't take, and I won't share anything that will or even might hurt Luna or make her life more difficult. We are boyfriend and girlfriend now, in addition to being friends. I can't say we're dating yet because at our ages, we would need an escort to any place we would want to go to for a date even without needing a chaperone. I will not look for another or allow myself to be looked for by another until the start of Luna's first year at the earliest. That way, we will both have 'fair competition' for each other's affections.

"But our friendship to each other is worth more than romance. If either finds one they truly cannot live without, we will not hold each other to something that would only cause one or both of us pain. So, we will also avoid doing anything that would bind us that way until we are both certain that both us are truly ready to marry happily and voluntarily.

"Will Luna and I kiss like that again? Certainly, just not in the middle of the kitchen to startle everyone, and not anything like as long as we did. Will we go farther? Not anytime soon. We're only barely old enough to get ourselves into serious trouble, and not even close to being old enough to get ourselves out of trouble. You can trust us with your backs turned."

Dad asked, "What do you have to say, Luna?"

She replied, "Ron has already said everything that needs to be said. He is a gentleman after all. He even thanked me for bringing along a 'clue-by-four' to the party with me. Too bad I couldn't use it to chase off the Wrackspurts that have infested the Twins and Percy. Bit of a bother having to share my second kiss too; especially when my first kiss was just a month after thinking I would bury a boyfriend and mother before making it to Hogwarts."

Dad asked me, "What's a 'clue-by-four?'"

"Dad, it's an expression that means to be so blunt and clear that it's just short of being hit over the head with a piece of wood like the type Muggles use to build houses."

"So, a word-play on 'two-by-four,' which football hooligans use to beat each other with?"

"Exactly, Dad."

Xeno said, "Arthur, I believe the both of them, and I still trust them."

Arthur replied, "I do as well. They can deal with Molly on their own, though."

Mum had walked into the room behind them. She added, "The both of you kids should be thankful for what Pandora sees. Provided you don't have any repeats of 'long kisses you're too old for in the middle of the kitchen,' nothing more will happen. You will be allowed an extra half-tokkuri of sake, Ron, since the Twins tried messing with the half-tokkuri you had on the table.

"Short kisses you're probably still to young for are okay for 'hello' and 'goodbye,' providing that your hands don't go any lower than the smalls of your backs, and providing you don't make any firm contact below the waist. Hugs without kissing are okay with the same restrictions.

"Pandora says that she sees the two of you not getting physically involved without being married first. If you try to show us any different, you will both regret it. Otherwise, congratulations on becoming boyfriend and girlfriend. Please come back out to the kitchen. After Percy, Fred, and George have apologized to the both of you, we'll cut and serve out the cake, and hopefully enjoy the rest of the evening."

Luna and I both hugged and kissed Mum first, thanking her for her understanding. Luna then hugged and kissed Xeno, while I hugged Dad without kissing him. Dad nodded in understanding at that.

The apologies sounded sincere, the cake was cut and served out, and the extra half-tokkuri actually quietly became a full one. If you've ever tried to fill a small irregularly shaped ceramic vessel before, you can understand why.

However, we barely finished eating the cake before 'perfect Prefect Percy' was heard once again, along with 'you can't take points for PDA until at least one of them is sorted.' The twins had my 'Mick-O-Meter' pegged before Luna and I had our second kiss. She had probably felt my temper building, and decided that getting me flustered was better than having me blow my top and start hexing. The Twins must have been too busy to read the memo.

"Enough, already!" I said. "Percy is so formal he's stuffy. We get it. Percy gets it. But he can't do anything about it if you keep riding his arse about it!

"So Percy got new uniforms and a Post Owl. Bill and Charlie also got new robes in fifth year when they made Prefect. And all three of them will have to get three years use out of those uniforms, too. Did it ever occur to the two of you that if either of you make Prefect in two years, that Mum and Dad will have to buy the both of you new uniforms?

"Did it occur to either of you that Percy is actually trying to say 'I made it too' instead of how pompous he sounds? Did it ever occur to either of you that he might have had to work harder than Bill and Charlie? Or that Bill and Charlie seemed to make everything look so easy that you couldn't tell how hard they actually worked to get what they got?

"Did it ever occur to you that Percy needed that badge to get any of the Ministry jobs he's looking for after Hogwarts, and that he's actually relieved that his adult professional career hasn't been ended at fifteen? You might not even need your OWLs or NEWTs, provided you can actually create safe and funny products, and that you can find an investor who believes in you. Guess what? Not even Lucius Malfoy can buy an entire ministry, and Merlin knows he's tried.

"I'm going out to look at the stars for a while. Luna, if you join me, bring a chaperone and a saucer. If your parents and you leave before I come back in, please say and kiss me goodnight before you leave. In any case, though I'll want to say it again before you leave; thank you for coming over, Xeno, Pandora, and Luna. Your company this evening has truly been wonderful, and I appreciate your helping Percy and me celebrate our particular milestones in life."

I sat outside on the bench near the back door and looked up at the sky. As I sipped my saucer, I let the frustration bleed off and into the ether. Fred and George couldn't see as I could that they were only pushing Percy into a dark place, and holding him there with their unrelenting teasing.

To be honest, the only reason I saw it was that I was on my third lifetime, and I saw the results proven out twice. While Percy wouldn't actually fall completely for the blood-supremacist line of Codswallop, he could be forced into their camp even if only slightly, if he was convinced that he had no place else to go – and without realizing it, Fred and George were rolling out the 'No Place Else To Go mat' and bludgeoning Percy with it daily.

Luna came out to the bench to sit with me. I poured her a saucer, refilled my own, and we drank together in silence.

When we had finished our saucers, she spoke very quietly. "Mum, Dad, and I will be leaving as soon as the two of say goodnight. They gave us permission for a 'long' kiss, too. Maybe the kiss will work better for your Wrackspurts than it did for Percy and the Twins?

"I had also worn your favourite panties tonight, and I'd hoped to show them to you. I don't think Mum and Dad would appreciate me showing you right now, and you'd need wand light to see them anyway. What colour do you think I'm wearing, love?"

"Tan-line," I answered. "They suited you when you visited me in hospital, even if you felt you had to show me rather than wanting to show me."

"Is it longer than your hand, yet?" she asked.

"No, but it's longer than yours."

I continued, "I can now say I like you, Luna. I can now say 'I love you' too. I can't say if the romantic part will last yet. Neither of us can, because we are still too young. But I told Xeno and you the same thing at the same time, like I had told you earlier on. I'm interested in both our happiness, but more yours. If you're happy, whomever you're with, I'll be happy."

We stood as one. We hugged and kissed exactly as we did in the kitchen, but this time broke apart ourselves. I said, "I love you, Luna Lovegood. I will always love you, whether as a boyfriend, husband, or as a friend and sibling."

She answered, "I love you too, Ronald Bilius Weasley."

She then whispered, "Even if I have to share, if they will share you."

Back in a normal voice, she finished, "Always remember me, Ron. I will always remember you. Good night, and I'll see you no later than the next time I sleep over with Ginny."

With one last quick and passionate but well-behaved kiss, she walked away, leaving her saucer. She said, "Mum will get the sake stuff back tomorrow. Bye, Ron."

I replied, "Good night, and thanks for coming, Luna, Xeno, and Pandora. Lucky Boy also says thanks for the sashimi."

With a "goodnight' and the crack of Apparition, they were gone. Two saucers later, and Dad joined me, sitting on the bench next to me.

"They say you shouldn't drink alone even if you're a grown up. At eleven, they say you shouldn't drink at all," he said.

"Then it's a good thing you joined me, Dad; even if we only gaze at the stars. Even your company is welcome. If you have any thoughts, I'd like to hear them as well."

I asked, "Do you think Percy would make it on the Patrol? Or with the Hit Wizards?"

Dad sat in silence with me for a minute or two. He finally answered, "With the Patrol, I'm not so sure. With the Hit Wizards, probably not. Why would you think he would have problems?"

I thought myself for a moment. I answered, "I'm not sure he could fit in teamwork-wise. You have to start out with a partner for the Patrol and the Hit Wizards, and the Aurors as well come to that. Even Senior Auror Moody had a partner for many years. With the Battle Mages, the only way they'll take a 'lone wolf' is if that person was very good as an Auror.

"No patrolman would have the skills the Battle Mages would want unless they're to the point of doing 'off the street' hires. No Hit Wizard that I know of has ever willingly transferred to the Battle Mages, and no Hit Wizard has even worked for DOM under training since the '30's

"You might guess, but you never really know if they'll make it past their first kill. With the Patrol, the risk never goes away, but it's never particularly high. The Aurors handle the tough collars, but they are also detectives. Outside of anomalies like the Voldemort war, an Auror has only a slightly higher chance than a Patrolman of having to take a life.

"With the Hit Wizards and Battle Mages, it's never a question of if, but of how many. That's some serious baggage to haul around. And it never really goes away, even if there really was no choice other than 'them or you,' and 'them' forcing the choice.

"Percy has more steel in him than most people see when they look at him. You actually walked the beat, and are still at heart a Patrolman, even in street clothes with a civilian rig. Grandfather Septimus raised you to a man, so you've at least seen that much of the Hit Wizards. I know little about the Patrol or the Hit Wizards, other than that they hire 'off the street' more readily than the Auror Force or the DOM.

"Why did you go with the Patrol, Dad?" I asked.

Dad sat silently for a minute, and took a good drink from his mug of tea. The tea had a little "help" in it.

"Ron, My Dad told me in all seriousness that if I hired on with the Hit Wizards that he would disown me and never speak to me again. He did not tell me as my Dad, or as my Father, but as Septimus Weasley – a man you would be glad to have watching your back in a fight, but that you would never face in a fight the second time. While the last war was brutal, and if you're right will be brutal again, the Grindelwald War was every bit as bad, just 'over there' instead of 'over here.'

"He said that he did things in the war that he would take to the grave, if they didn't take him first. He said that he did what he did so that I would never be expected to do the like. He said that if I wanted to honour him, that I should hire on with the Patrol, which is what he wanted to do at first. While you couldn't tell from looking, Dad was injured badly during the War; enough to draw full disability pay for the rest of his life. That, and his 'medal money' from his Order of Merlin, First Class supported us

"Elmer Perkins was the younger brother to one of Dad's partners who was lost, and was the fifth year Gryffindor Boy Prefect when I was a firstie. With the 'double-connection,' I was able to start work right away, instead of waiting for the next Patrolman Academy class to start in October. I was the only member of my class walking the beat.

"Your uncles both started out with the Aurors. Bilius stayed with them. He didn't pick up baggage nearly as quickly as your grandfather did, but he picked it up for a longer time, and didn't handle it nearly so well. While his work never suffered, he never married. He kept crawling into a Firewhisky bottle for solace until one morning he didn't make it back out. He had just turned forty a week prior.

"Your Uncle Charles was smarter. He stayed just three years. He taught Defence Against the Dark Arts at West Country Comprehensive for two years after that before he hired on to teach Defence at Ilvermorny in America. He just got naturalized as an American Citizen last year, if you remember.

"Percy is too sensitive a young man, yet also too formal. He wouldn't handle anything front-line, especially not for a lifetime's work. He also hasn't stopped to think about how much it costs to raise seven living children, or the uninsured losses your Mum and I dealt with during the war, or the political garbage we had to deal with from the likes of the Malfoys. We actually have it better off than Percy thinks.

"But, he has his ambitions set high, and in politics. I'm not sure how happy he will be if he actually catches his dreams. There isn't nearly so much money in government as some think, unless the official is on the take. I would hope that your Mum and I had raised all of you kids better than that."

We sat in silence for a few minutes. I started on another tokkuri. Then Dad surprised me with his next question.

"So, Ron, why did you time-travel?"

I looked at his face. This was not a shot in the dark, even if it was after nightfall.

I answered, "It wasn't my choice. I was pulled from my first lifetime to my second, and pushed from my second lifetime to this one. And to answer your next question; in both moves, I 'landed' at the point of conception. I am the only Ron Weasley to ever exist in this version of the universe, and I was always your son and Mum's. Were you told, or did you figure it out?"

He said, "Pandora Lovegood isn't the only 'partial seer' Algernon Croaker has working for him. He told me when you were still in hospital last year. He said that his people saw things working better if they told me, rather than finding out later. He also told me that you would be the one to tell most of the other people who truly need to know, and that I was to 'nudge' your Mum away from guessing before you told her, and that you would know when.

"If time travel beyond Time-Turners wasn't considered a fantasy, I might have guessed it before. It does explain why your wandless magic never went away, and why it was always so strong. It also explains why your 'play course,' once you looked at it, was the real damned thing, minus the special targets until Mr. Croaker figured you out in 1990. Does Mr. Ollivander know?"

"He was the first one to figure it out, Dad. He is preternaturally observant, and sees things that others miss. I didn't use any magic in front of him, until after the first week, when he had figured out that I had travelled time. If he has told anyone, I don't know of it."

"So, you weren't just having boyhood fantasies about helping Harry Potter win the second half of a war that everyone hopes, and almost everyone believes is over?"

"I wish I was, Dad."

"Are you thinking of drafting Percy into the war?"

"I had thought about it. But the two of us will be on the front lines. If I don't get lucky and nip things in the bud, Mum and William will also be involved for sure.

"My first lifetime resembles this one far more closely than my second. In my first lifetime, Percy went to work at the Ministry after passing his NEWTs. But the ministry was rotted out from within and taken over by Voldemort. While War Crimes Trials cleared Percy of any culpability, he was trapped in an organization that was not only Dark, but Evil as well. It started with being vulnerable to alienation with the rest of us, and being convinced that he had no place to go should he flee the Ministry. He fought at our sides in the final battle, but the war took more out of him than many.

"He can fight. If his involvement becomes inevitable, I would rather he not be in a 'puppet ministry' ran by Voldemort.

"He would certainly be able to quit the DOM and join the regular ministry after the war is won. And make no mistake, while we can lose, we will win, because the other choice is no choice at all. I myself may likely retire when all is said and done. I enjoy the Craft, and I am very good at it. Master Garrick expects me to take at least my journeyman's examination, and I expect to pass it. Practicing the Craft also allows one to create by creating, rather than practicing destruction.

"If the Ministry falls, Percy will be best serving himself by not being in it. But, the Ministry might not fall this time around. In my first lifetime, Croaker never had more than eighteen Mages of all ranks before the end of the Second Voldemort War. By the time he was actually legally able to do anything, he had only five. Today, we have sixty Mages, six Senior Mages, a Training Officer, and the Chief.

"So, other than remind Percy that he has a family that loves him, continuing to be his brother, and encouraging him to seek broader horizons, I don't know what to do."

"Do your best, and do what is right. That's what your Mum and I taught you to do."

He and I stood and hugged each other. He kissed me on the forehead, and I on his cheek.

He said, "Don't stay out here all night. Your Mum won't go to bed until you do. Good night, Ron."

"Good night, Dad," I answered. "I'll be in shortly."

I drank the last saucer of the evening, and gathered the three empty tokkuri. I went inside, leaving the saucers and containers by the drain-board. Mum was at the kitchen table, drinking one last mug of tea.

I walked to her, leaned down, and hugged her while kissing her cheek.

I wished her, "Good night, Mum. Thanks for the party."

Mum sighed, "I'm sorry it was ruined for both Percy and you."

Giving her one last hug and kiss, I answered, "It wasn't perfect, but it was far from ruined, at least for me."

I went up to my room, stripped to my underwear, and went to sleep.

§§§

Master Garrick and I both felt it would be for the best if I were not in the shop the day that Harry Potter bought his wand. He would be getting his Auror holster, but from me on the train, not from anyone in the shop on shop time. Master Garrick also insisted that I not tell him what wand chose Harry Potter in the other timelines, but that he would tell me when I returned to work on the fifth of August.

Monday the fifth of August saw me come into the shop promptly at 7:30 to learn that Harry Potter was once again chosen by the eleven and three quarter inch supple Holly-wood wand with the phoenix tail feather core that was the brother wand to Lord Voldemort's. I also found out that Headmaster Dumbledore had asked to be notified when the wand sold, and to whom, since it was his phoenix that had given both core feathers.

I asked, "Master Garrick, if Headmaster Dumbledore's phoenix were to give another feather, would it be possible to craft a second wand that would likely choose Harry? If so, would that wand be weaker than the two that already have that particular phoenix's feathers?"

"That is a good question. I only rarely make twin wands, or duplicate wands that I have already made. It is not good for business to do so, since part of any magical signature picked up at say, the scene of a crime, is driven by the wand as well as by the wizard. Two identical wands will make two different signatures, but the differences are subtle enough to fool many at first glance.

In Harry Potter's case, I can try to make a duplicate wand. However, I am very leery of doing so, since I would have to in good conscience destroy the wand if it doesn't choose Mr. Potter. I don't make wands to destroy them.

Changing the subject, Master Garrick said, "I also have not seen your friend Mr. Longbottom?"

"And sadly, you will not before the seventh of September at the earliest."

"Why do you believe that I will see him that late, then?" he asked.

"I will befriend Neville at the first realistic opportunity and have him try my second wand. He will feel what a wand feels like that doesn't reject you, and will quickly gain confidence. I will have him do this at least once in front of a Professor. Finally, I will write Madam Longbottom directly and I'll ask Harry to do the same. If not the seventh or eighth, then the fourteenth or fifteenth. If I am obliged to front Neville the money, it will be the twenty-first or twenty-second, but I don't expect things to come to that."

"You wanted Neville to have an Auror Holster as well?"

"Yes, Master Garrick. Once Madam Longbottom is in your shop, she will believe your discretely offering such a holster at cost a tribute to her son and an encouragement to her grandson to follow in his father's footsteps. She will pay up, say nothing where nothing needs to be said, and will be much more favourably disposed towards you; not that I am aware of the two of you having any difficulties."

"And what of Harry Potter's holster, Ron?"

"With your permission, I'll discretely take that home with me this evening and pack it. I 'pinned' my left one myself. I can certainly pin his as well."

An Auror Holster is bound to it's owner by being "pinned" through the base rune of the rune matrix from the outside though the elbow-end strap into the arm of the wearer, then the pin is withdrawn. The now owner's blood is drawn through the pinhole, is absorbed by the rune matrix, and binds or 'pins' the holster to the wearer.

The wearer themselves can remove the holster if not under duress. While another can remove the holster without destroying it, or the rune matrix, the method is not generally known, and takes enough time that healers typically cut the holster off, which in itself is not easily done unless the wearer is unconscious.

The person or people holding the pin can also remove an Auror Holster easily, either with the wearer's consent, or if the wearer is unconscious. So, while you shouldn't necessarily pin your own holster, you should absolutely trust the one you have pin your holster for you.

An Auror Holster can be "re-pinned" numerous times for the same wearer. However, they can only be given to a different person after a rather drawn-out purification ritual. So, while wands can pass from generation to generation, an Auror Holster not otherwise worn-out is usually consigned to the same fate as the body of the wizard or witch who wore it.

Master Garrick said, "Very well. I've a block of Lebanese Cedar I'll be working on; it should yield several interesting wands. You have a rush order for Isaias Smith. His son Zacharias is starting this year, and didn't realize that they would need his grandmother's wand reconditioned to get it to fully bind to him. They left it just moments before you arrived, and were rather rude. If you 'scrap' the wand, I will not get upset this one time. If it matches your usual standards of workmanship, you may keep the surcharge, and the wand WILL GET THE TRACE."

"Of course, Master Garrick, I'll start immediately."

Zach Smith's 'heirloom' wand had belonged to his grandmother Hepzibah. That had sobered me up, since I saw the Pensieve memories associated with her murder at the hands of Voldemort years after the war one night when Harry was particularly maudlin.

The wand was also tip-chipped, the shaft was slightly cracked, and the finish was beyond finished. The fucking gits even used steel wool on it! I told Master Garrick about this immediately, and discovered another secret about the shop.

There is a second, smaller workroom with a cot, cooler box, commode, and cot. This mini-workroom was also a time-turner equipped chamber that would "move" for up to three days. He sent an order to the Leakey for the "standard bundle at once" via paper airplane. Tom himself delivered it twenty minutes later, huffing and puffing as he came in.

Master Garrick paid Tom, kept the receipt, and sent the three days worth of food and coffee, any supplies I might possibly need, the chips I summoned from the "1823 Maple" box, the wand, and me into the entryway of the workroom.

He said, "When I close the door and turn the handle, the lamps will turn red. When the lamps turn green, go into the main workroom and start the wand. You will have everything you should need. The exit end will not unlock until all seventy-two hours have passed. A loud gong will sound thirty minutes before the exit will open, and again when the exit will open. Do not linger in the chamber after the second gong. You will only keep yourself waiting. Do you have any questions?"

Telling Master Garrick that I had no questions, he sent me into the chamber. The next three days, minus the short occasional nap, were very busy, very claustrophobic, and very boring. I had to do just about every possible trick and job I had ever learnt for reconditioning a wand, including the biggest draught of 'tired wand Murtlap" I have seen a wand "drink" in my life. I cleaned, silver-wooled, and cleaned some more. I glued and sealed two major cracks, and the tip chip patch almost refused to take. Seventy-one hours and fifty-five minutes saw me buffing off the last of the last coat of polish on a like-new appearing wand.

As soon as the second gong sounded, I opened the door and was out of there like a shot! While I took no chances with Zach Smith's wand, I wasted no time getting the trash and myself out of there. Despite having food, drink and a cot, I was physically and emotionally wiped out. With the last of my stuff out of there, Master Garrick hit the bed with a cleaning charm and a bed-making charm, and closed the door.

Master Garrick told me, "You may go home if you wish."

I answered, asking, "Do you have a pepper-up? And will the Smith's bill cover a delivery of Shepard's Pie and coffee?"

Master Garrick answered, "Yes to both, Ron. You wish to see your happy customer take delivery of a wand that will cost him the equivalent of five new ones, even if it is a stick?"

"Absolutely, Master Garrick, but this is no stick! Give it a wave…"

He took the wand and tested it. He received a thick fountain of black and yellow sparks, a brilliant instant Lumos, an instant total Nox, and a flock of happy songbirds so large that it took two finites to catch them all.

He said, "This is just as eager a wand as it was the day my father made it, it was eager enough to be mentioned in his shop diary. It was not a custom job. In fact, two others before the elder Madam Smith tried it and were close matches, though not close enough that he would sell to them. However, my father and I both tracked these things, each in our time. The other two 'close' matches, like the elder Madam Smith herself both sorted into Hufflepuff as well."

"Master Garrick, most of me hopes that Zacharias Smith treats this wand with respect. The rest of me is almost hoping for a Septimus Weasley Special."

"I don't see that happening, Ron. You didn't actually cast with the wand, did you?"

"Not beyond the normal wand-crafting spells to find the chips from the chip box, seal the cracks, draw the Murtlap, and so on."

"What about your grandfather's wand?"

"I had used it quite a bit, actually. If I needed a wand quickly in the summer, Charlie always left it around."

"So you are comparing the healing casting of a wand crafter to the firm hand of a Field Auror? Though your hand both times, they were not the same hand. You are a good apprentice, and would make a good journeyman as well as a good Field Auror or Battle Mage that you had been because you can cast differently. Most wizards and witches cannot. I cannot. Albus Dumbledore cannot.

"The cast of a Field Auror demands obedience and guarantees care in return. With Charlie's rough treatment of the wand, it assumed that it had been taken, and was refusing to change its allegiance.

"I remember Septimus Weasley. If you won his allegiance, and someone unjustly attacked you, there would be blood. I would guess that his wand would be the same."

Two shepherd's pies arrived half an hour later, accompanied by a pint of ale, a bottle of Butterbeer, and a carafe of coffee. They also made the bill.

Isaias and Zacharias Smith arrived promptly at 1:00. Save the age difference, they looked identical. They were also identically rude.

"So, Ollivander, do you have my son's wand?' Isaias pronounced, as if were his shop, and not Master Garrick's.

Master Garrick decided to drop the last hint of civility, at least by his standards. "Apprentice Weasley, drop your charm."

I did so, and introduced myself. "Apprentice Ron Weasley. Once you've paid Master Garrick, your son will be allowed to wave the wand to see if it chooses him or not, though I suspect it will. It has only ever chosen true Hufflepuffs."

Both Smiths were rather taken aback at this. But, if Isaias were to renege on payment for his last minute demand for service, he would be rather lucky to be served on the Alley again full stop, much less in anything resembling "on time."

Isaias enquired, "What are the charges?"

Master Garrick replied coldly, "Seventy-five galleons."

Both Smiths paled visibly. Isaias stuttered, "But that's….that's…"

Master Garrick cut in, "Roughly eight times the going rate, depending on which particular wand chooses you. The job required three days. That's seventy-two hours, plus overtime. No other shop on the Alley can deliver three days worth of work in six hours. I guarantee it. Even at seventy-five galleons, I am losing money. "

"But surely you had your new apprentice mind the counter, so you didn't lose sales outright?"

"Mr. Smith, my apprentice reconditioned your wand. You do not have enough money to pay me to do so. Had you brought the wand in on a normal timeline, to allow you to decide on the value you would be receiving, your bill would have been much lower. But it still would have been less expensive had you bought a new wand.

"Which is young Mr. Smith's wand hand?"

Zacharias nervously held out his right hand. Master Garrick said, "Take the wand and give it a wave."

Zacharias took the wand, and waved it. He was rewarded with a thick full shower of black and yellow sparks.

Master Garrick took the wand and handed it to me. I pressed it against the Trace stone and gave it a gentle, FULL push. The tape register chimed. Master Garrick and I both looked below the counter. The register printed three tapes, where the normal was one.

Master Garrick handed the wand to Zacharias again. He asked, "Wave the wand again."

Zacharias did so, and received another full shower of yellow and black sparks.

Master Garrick told the elder Smith, "That will be seventy-five galleons."

While Isaias was not happy, the wand looked like new, and chose Zacharias without reservation. The elder Smith took his money pouch, counted out seventy-five galleons into fifteen stacks of five galleons each, and placed closely together. Master Garrick brushed the stacks with the fingers of his right hand, counted the first stack, and eyed the edges of the other stacks as he scooped them off of the counter.

Master Garrick examined the receipt, and gave it to Isaias marked "Paid in Full."

Master Garrick added, "There were three days per diem involved as well, but I've waived them."

Isaias asked astonished, "Three days per diem?"

Master Garrick replied, "How I operate my business is a trade secret. But if I bill you for seventy-two hours of labour in less than seven hours, than there were seventy-two hours back to back, and my employees will be fed. I bid the two of you a good day, gentlemen."

With their welcome clearly expired, both Smiths left the shop. It was now 1:40. Master Garrick announced, "Outside of the 'box,' it was a fairly good day, I sold five wands, received three for reconditioning, and had the Bowles and Edgecombe orders paid for and picked up. You can leave now, but I put you out at two on your time card. And, here's a bonus."

With that, he put the seventy-five galleons in a bank bag and handed it to me. He said, "It may sound cheap of me, but please bring the empty bag back in the morning, right?"

"No problem, Master Garrick! I'll see you tomorrow?" With Master Garrick's nod of dismissal, I took the shop Floo directly home. While I didn't think that the Smiths would accost me demanding a discount or refund, I wasn't taking any chances. I also had an unpinned Auror Holster on my person, which I did not want to have go on 'walkabout.'

§§§

When Ginny's, Luna's, and my GCSE scores finally did come in, to our Muggle Post Office box on August 14th, we had all earned A-stars on all of our exams! We also had a number of polite letters from several Universities enquiring if we were interested in applying to attend. We wrote back that we had already been selected for a very exclusive school that specialized in the subjects for our family business, which was also why we had taken the GCSEs when we did. And that yes, we really were only eleven and ten, and that yes, we really were home-schooled, and that yes, it really was legal for us to be home-schooled as well. Not bad for three wizarding kids from rural Devon.

Two days after we got our results, Algernon Croaker came into the shop and asked to speak to me.

"Congratulations, Mage Weasley, on your test results and your sister's. Do you believe these test results will help you in your Hogwarts Mission?"

"Yes, Croaker I do, in both Ginny's case and mine, and in Luna's as well. Ginny and Luna aren't DOM yet, though, and for that matter, you haven't asked what my mission is?"

"Mage Weasley, have you ever wasted my time, or the Ministry's money?"

"No, Croaker."

"Pandora Lovegood has already shown me your results, and turned in an expense report on your behalf. DOM has already paid her for her expenses, including those for Luna. We have already paid you for yours, your sister's, and your mother's. Make sure they get the money in a way that they will accept and not question.

"Do you know enough to describe your mission yet? Do I need to know, yet?"

I thought for a full minute. I answered, "No, and no, Croaker. I anticipate turning in a preliminary report no later than early June of 1992 'eyes only' to you. If you should need to change the classification, you will of course do so, and inform me of the changes that I need to know?"

"Yes, Mage Weasley. Congratulations to you, and enjoy your year at school. Good day."

"You're welcome, and a good day to you too, Croaker."

With that, he left the shop. If you were wondering, Croaker is just 'Croaker' if you work for him. "Diagon Holdings" also paid me a monthly retainer of five galleons after the first deposit of thirteen galleons, thirteen and thirteen in March of 1990. So there was no confusion that some of my continuing part-time employment was not to be spoken of.

§§§

The thirty-first of August was a busy day for me, but I didn't go in to the shop. My last day before Hogwarts started had been the previous day. I actually left the shop early to go home, finish the last of my packing and potions brewing, and make sure that on Sunday Morning all I had to do was get dressed and load my trunk into the car, along with Lucky Boy's carrier.

Saturday consisted mostly of cooking. I had persuaded Mum to fix her corned beef for supper Wednesday, a nice ham on Thursday, and three roast chickens on Friday, to make sure I had enough meat for sandwich spreads.

Between grinding the meats, adding the condiments, hand making the mayonnaise, and the like; I made deviled ham salad, corned beef salad, and chicken salad for sandwiches for Sunday. I also put three loaves of bread in the oven, to make sure that there would be enough bread for Sunday. While three loaves might sound like overkill, remember that we Weasleys bake all of our own bread, we had seven people living in the house, and the bread would be subject to supper that night and breakfast the following morning, with the potential of feeding sandwiches to as many as three Weasleys plus Harry Potter.

I also made a large batch of potato salad. Mum would serve some of that alongside some of the sandwich spreads with bread that she had baked Friday for lunch.

That afternoon, while my bread was baking, I visited Madam Malkin's to discretely ask a few questions. Madam Malkin herself was in.

"Do you have Harry Potter's measurements on file?" I asked.

Not knowing why I was enquiring, she was shocked. She said, "I thought you worked on the Alley! Why are you asking this?"

I replied, "Not to embarrass or stalk him in any way. I know things not generally known, and will speak no more of it. Do you have them?"

After a minute, she answered, "I have everything from hat to shoes. Why?"

"If he had to borrow clothing that would fit me, would it fit him?"

Whatever she was looking for, she found it and did not find it wanting. "If he were in need, he could borrow your clothing without embarrassment or discomfort, though he would be happier, I'm sure with his own. Your shoes are too small for him."

I looked her in the eye, and answered, "If either he or I were to send a letter requesting such, could you send him a complete Muggle wardrobe?"

Pausing, she answered, "I could do this. Anything needing further tailoring or needing charms could be handled in Hogsmeade."

"Thank you, Madam Malkin," I answered. "Please don't speak or even think of this conversation. But, be ready to send on application, a complete Muggle wardrobe, from cap to trainers."

"If either he or you send me an owl post, the order will be filled."

"Thank you, Madam Malkin," I said as I left.

§§§

Later that night, I had Percy join me, on top of the hill. I had two tokkuri of sake and two saucers with me. I told him, "A philosopher I once read wrote that no one should enter Nirvana without the taste of good sake on his lips."

He nodded at me. I poured some of the tokkuri on the ground next to the Stone. I poured sake into each of our saucers, and spoke again.

"The same philosopher also wrote: 'Spring brings cherry blossoms to comfort you, the summer stars, the harvest moon in fall, and the powdered snow in winter. All of these things, and the promise of them, is what makes sake taste so good. One day, you will understand this, and then I shall pour sake for the both of us.' I hope I've not poured too soon, Arthur."

"Heaven forbid, Ronald. Ignatius would not be happy. His kid brother being a philosopher, yet his older twin being a lightweight? Heaven forbid, indeed."

I answered, "I was thinking a few weeks back, when Ginny and I celebrated the end of our GCSE testing. Pandora treated us to sushi and me to sashimi and sake as well. I realized that I have never shared sake with you. Since we only move forward through time, I decided to share some with Ignatius and you, before 'I wish I would' became 'I wish I had.' You realize that I have approached Death himself four times in two years, and that was amongst friends and family.

"I will also make a friend tomorrow. He will have no living memory of his parents. He will want to visit their graves. I've been to the graves of most of our departed relatives of recent memory. Before tonight, though, I haven't visited my older brother. I couldn't look my friend in the eye and accompany him to the graves of his parents without having visited with Ignatius at least once.

"Is this only the second time you've been up here?" I asked. He nodded sadly, and raised his saucer.

We finished both tokkuri, with a little more shared with Ignatius. Arthur asked, "You're just a kid! I remember when Mum had you, if I try really hard. Where do you come up with this shite?"

"I listen, Arthur. At least on my better days, anyhow. Since learning of Ignatius passing, I have also wondered if I would have the courage to travel that distant road he travels, or the courage you have in not doing so.

"We will go to London tomorrow, and then to Hogwarts. You will be one of six prefects for Gryffindor House. Hopefully, I'll be there with you. I would ask only that you would be the prefect that you wanted when you were a firstie, whatever house I'm in.

"The Twins will keep taking the Mick. They always do. Don't let them take the Arthur, too. Persevere, as you are called to do. But, don't forget to live, and don't forget to be one with whom others would choose to live."

We sat in silence, lost in our own thoughts, for several minutes. Without a word, he handed me his saucer, and we descended the hill to join our living family. Half-five in the morning would come more than quickly enough. I took a shower and went to sleep, not caring if Percy, or if anyone could guess my true age. After the last two years, their guess would have been as good as mine, if not better.

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The "great philosopher" would be Nobuhiro Watsuki



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