Biscuits Deferred by GHL



Summary:

*** Winner of Best Overall in the The Potter Trunk Challenge ***

Shadows were closing in. Time grew short and options scarce... and so the young parents prepared a gift for their infant son.

Years later, their caring gesture nearly foundered... yet thanks to a dozen sacrificial biscuits, Harry Potter's twelfth birthday is graced by a single present -- one that will someday yield the greatest gifts of all.


Rating: PG starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Alternate Universe, SIYE Challenges, The Potter Trunk Challenge (2016-2)
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2016.04.24
Updated: 2016.05.14


Biscuits Deferred by GHL
Chapter 1: Night Flights
Author's Notes:

Chapter 1. Night Flights (July 31 — Aug. 1, 1992)


WHAMMMM!!!

Wide-eyed, Harry Potter stared at the reverberating bedroom door. Nothing had shattered, but he couldn't help wondering if his uncle mightn't have just set off earthquake sensors at the nearby Egham Hill Geological Station...

But no matter; having the old clod slam a door in his face was never a pleasure, and seemed fairly stupid (another bang or two like that, and someone would be stuck fitting new hinges) but it was a pointless bit of stupidity that Harry could believe in...

As opposed to the rest of a day, which had been beset by an endless spate of truly 'unbelievable' stupidities.

Yes, the day had been unbelievably stupid. Every event seemed to unfold with an air of exquisite absurdity. Each blind corner produced some fresh new farce. Stupidity seemed to cling (like the cloying reek of tonight's splattered eggy-cream pudding) to every molecule in the house; to every morose thud of Vernon Dursley's innately clownish dress shoes receding stupidly down the stairs. The injudicious sting of a Ministry of Magic reprimand (stupid even by their exceptionally clever standards) prickled Harry's neck and face like so many ignoble bureaucratic nettles. Now he found himself trapped by a stupid Muggle lock he could have sprung instantly if only his wand wasn't stupidly bolted away in that stupid little cupboard beneath the stairs.

Was the world trying to demonstrate just how much remarkable inanity it could cram into a single day? Would he experience a few more pointless catastrophes, to set some all-time standard for utter nonsense? Or would the disgraced sun finally cut its losses, declare Harry Potter's twelfth birthday to be over, and go cower in shame somewhere west of the Little Whinging skyline?

Harry groaned.

He was tired, hungry, achy, angry, demoralised, scandalised, flummoxed and, in general, not very cheery. But on the bright side, at least he could now look forward to being ignored by the Dursleys. And, when it came down to it, he still had the company of someone far superior.

"Who?"

Harry turned in the direction of the voice. "Who else, girl? You!" He offered a half smile to his Snowy Owl — a perfectly majestic bird in every sense, except for the fact that she was... err... contorted?

Hedwig had craned her very flexible neck, face tilted vertically, her eyes very nearly resembling a feathery amber-over-amber traffic light.

Harry regarded her curiously. He angled his own head around a bit.

The bird blinked at him.

Harry tried bending his neck a bit further to the side; a bit further still... until finally his whole torso inclined to match his view to hers.

Hedwig nodded slightly.

Harry blinked. He scanned the half-turned room for a moment from this unique perspective, then straightened up and grinned crookedly. "Nice try, but I'm afraid the world's a cock up at that angle too."

"Who," admitted Hedwig.

Harry dropped to his knees and reached beneath his threadbare bed to retrieve a covered tin. He pried off the lid and examined the contents dispiritedly. One half slice of stale bread; an ounce of partly desiccated cheese, and three owl treats.

He sighed, put the tin away, and kicked off his shoes. Not bothering to shed his trousers or shirt, he extinguished the room's sole flickery light, and collapsed onto his bed.

And lay there.

Miscellaneous noises drifted up into the half-dark room — aftershocks from the post-Mason soirée/fiasco. Down in the lounge, Vernon was apparently still kicking things and grousing oafishly. Petunia was offering the occasional derisive sniff or nasal whinge. Intermittent beeps and floops pulsed from Dudley's video game down the hall. An occasional growl rumbled from Harry's stomach...

"Who?" suggested Hedwig softly.

"Sorry girl." Harry rubbed his protesting midsection. "We'll be lucky if they even give us water tomorrow, so we'd best draw out our rations as long as we can."

Hedwig closed her eyes resignedly. "Who."

Harry lay there, alternating between trying to force his eyes closed, and just staring blankly at the dim residue of street lamps filtering through branches of a nearby elm.

After a some indeterminate time, a breeze must have picked up outside, making the ceiling patterns tremble and sway suggestively. Happy to have a diversion available, Harry watched the dancing shadows, and found his mind drifting toward more pleasant thoughts — a sparkling sunrise seen through the distant pines east of Hogwarts... scenery rushing past as he raced on broomstick over heather braes... a shimmering late autumn sky reflected on Black Lake... the flapping of a fistful of undelivered letters clutched in the spindly fingers of a demented House Elf...

"Who!"

Harry leaped, wide-eyed from his bed. Then he took a deep breath. Based on the feeling of wobbly disorientation, he knew he must have drifted off. But, for how long?

Harry's eyes darted past the caged bird (wide awake and staring expectantly at him) before settling on the red numerals of his old digital clock, which read 11:52.

Harry sighed and settled back onto his bed. "Brilliant. Another spectacular birthday nearly over. Jolly good for us, yeah?"

"Who!"

Harry blinked and turned to Hedwig, whose serious, insistent declaration didn't mesh either with Harry's own cynicism or with the basic underlying gloom. "What is it girl?"

"Who." The owl's eyes were fixed on the window.

Puzzled, Harry rose to his feet and crossed the room to pull the thin drapes aside. He didn't know exactly what his friend was trying to suggest, but he now recalled something from his uncle's earlier rant — a sputtery, semi-incoherent manifesto about how, first thing in the morning, he (Vernon) was going to bolt, bar and board up every entrance and exit to this squalid little suburban gaol cell. Permanently.

Harry nodded to himself and carefully flipped the latch. "One last night of fresh air? Is that what you're thinking?"

He paused for a moment to gauge his environs... hearing only a blend of Vernon's and Dudley's distinct snores, and miscellaneous normal household rattles and hums. Satisfied that his relatives were asleep, Harry placed a hand on the window and, with agonising care to avoid the repercussions of a squawking window, he raised the bottom panel to admit a waft of evening breeze...

... and two Great Horned Owls!

Fwffft! The birds swept across the room to deposit a loaf-shaped parcel onto Harry's just-vacated bed. One landed on the desk beside Hedwig, glared disapprovingly at the Dursley-dictated cage for a moment, then stood tall and closed its eyes. The other balanced atop Harry's pillow, puffed out its chest importantly, and raised a leg to which a small parchment had been attached.

Harry stared. "Well, thank you! But how did you two get past the manic House Elf?"

The owl on Harry's desk raised one of its talons and held up the tattered remnant of a striped cloth ribbon that didn't belong with the parcel they'd just delivered. Harry accepted the ribbon thoughtfully. "There was a second gift?"

The owl nodded.

"Who," Hedwig added by way of explanation.

"Seriously?" Harry winced slightly at the delivery owl. "You beat him back with the second parcel?"

The owl nodded.

"Whew! I'm sorry for your trouble..." Still clutching the torn ribbon, Harry turned his attention to the owl on the bed. He removed the owl's scroll, then smiled nervously at the two impressive visitors. "Well, I'm grateful you were able to deliver what you could!"

"Ahem."

Harry blinked at the large bird on the desk. He knew owls had a bit of vocal range, but... had that bird just said 'Ahem'?

The owl regarded Harry with a distinctly assertive look. With sinking heart, Harry guessed exactly what that bird expected of him. These two tough customers might have had the means to dissuade very persistent House Elf, but such effort inevitably came at a price.

With a sigh, Harry knelt down to once again retrieve the humble tin from beneath his bed. He held it up tentatively where Hedwig could see it.

The Snowy Owl glanced at the tin, met his eye, then nodded her approval.

Harry removed the three remaining owl treats, and gave one to each of the three raptors in the bedroom.

Hedwig hooted her appreciation and nibbled at hers, while the two larger owls examined the treats skeptically for a moment, then wolfed them down and whisked themselves efficiently back out into the night air.

Harry watched them disappear into the night, then turned back toward his bed. "So someone got through to me for my birthday after all!" He picked the scroll. "I wonder who...?"

Harry squinted at it in the darkness. He returned to the window, seeking enough street light to see the text properly.

"Who who?"

"Blimey!" Harry ran a hand through his pillow-mussed hair. "It's from my... my Mum and Dad!" He bit down on his lower lip to steady himself then he continued with quivering voice. "They had Gringotts deliver a gift to me for my twelfth birthday. They arranged it years ago in case they... they didn't... didn't..."

"Who." Hedwig turned respectfully away as her master loosed a few ragged breaths and dabbed at the corner of his eye with a sleeve.

Harry steadied himself; he took a deep breath and exhaled hard, forcing weeks of pent up angst from his chest. His hand stronger and more sure, he raised the letter back to his eyes, stared at it... and frowned.

"What does this mean, girl?" He walked over to the bed and picked up the ten inch wooden chest. "The note says that there are 'rooms' inside that little box?? A library, a study, and... and a potions lab??"

"Who."

"Seriously? It expands that much?!" Harry examined the trunk from top to bottom, put it back on the bed, then resumed reading, until... "Crumb!"

"Who?"

Harry shook his head. "No, it says that in order to resize the trunk I need my wand, which that hairy walrus happens to have confiscated. Now I won't be able to use wand or trunk or anything." He clenched his teeth for a moment. "Fiddlesticks. Just a happy ending to the happiest birthday ever I guess."

"Who."

Harry shrugged. "No, that's the point. No wand means no trunk, which means no library or potions lab."

"Who!"

Harry gave his owl an exasperated look. "Yes, but that's different. Sure, I may have made the glass disappear last summer at the zoo, and some other funny things have happened from time to time, but it's not as if I can just put my bare hand on the trunk and say..."

"Who."

Harry glared at Hedwig for a moment, then relented. "Okay, but listen — you are NOT to laugh at me when this fails!"

"Who."

Harry gave the bird one final sidelong glance, sighed, then placed his hand on the chest and steeled himself for disappointment.

"Enlarge."

After a fraction of a second, he turned impatiently back to the owl. "See girl? Nothing happened. Are you hap... Aackk!"

CLOINNK!! SPROINGY Sproingy sproingy...

"Fffwho whuh...?! Oi, freak! WHAT the blerdy snork's sake is going on in there?!!"

"Nothing sir!" Harry stared at the suddenly full-sized chest, beneath which his mattress sagged almost to the floor. "I, er, just fell out of bed."

"Idiot boy! Next time try to fall on yer bloody head, will you?!"

Harry made no further response to his uncle's half-muffled carping; he was too captivated by the large wooden container.

"Who."

Harry chuckled. "Yes, you were right, and I'm grateful enough I'll let you rub it in."

"Who?"

"Of course." Harry nodded thoughtfully. "We've gotten this far; might was well open it, right?"

"Who."

Harry placed his hand on the ornate wooden catch. Seeming to practically hum at his touch, with the barest effort it swung loose and the heavy lid raised smoothly upwards.

Breathlessly, he looked inside for a moment, then lifted his head, staring blankly across the room. He closed his eyes, shook himself, then tried again. "Wow!"

"Who who."

Harry grinned at his owl's enthusiasm. "Should I go in?"

Hedwig nodded.

Harry grinned wider. Lest it destroy the already wonky mattress springs, he carefully (quietly!) slid the chest from the bed to the floor. Emboldened by mounting excitement, he swung his leg over the wooden side and tested his footing on the top step of a steep nautical staircase that led down into the trunk. With a quick breath, he lowered himself down.

A moment later, Harry was marveling at a suite that, although not opulent, was welcoming and distinctly functional. It wasn't huge, but the space seemed utter luxury to someone dreading a long incarceration in a small bedroom.

His first true sight of the interior, courtesy of a flickering magical torch at the bottom of the steps, was the library. Gazing about, he couldn't help but laugh — partly in relief (he'd be able to complete his summer assignments after all, despite his Neanderthal uncle), but also over the irony that he, a slipshod, marginal student, would acquire such a beautiful collection of knowledge, when scholars like Hermione might have trodden over her own grandmother to set hands on it.

Anxious to keep exploring, Harry scanned the room and spotted a single open door at the far end of the book stacks. Through that doorway, he saw a small but pleasant carrel — enough space to comfortably house a pair of high-backed desks, two cushioned study chairs, a slate blackboard and a modest sized project table.

Returning his distractible attention to the library, he spent several open-mouthed minutes browsing the shelves, staring at the incredible array of magical titles. A few of the books he recognised (some were common references, or early editions of popular text books), but the vast majority of the titles were new and mysterious to him — glimpses into a complex world of magic whose surface he had only begun to scratch.

Harry was so intrigued by the stacks of extraordinary literature that he almost didn't notice as his eyes scanned past the end of the shelves and fell upon one final door, leading into... the potions laboratory.

Ah. Potions.

Chewing his lip, Harry gazed in at the dim flickers then, hesitantly, crossed the threshold to see what he would find. On one hand, the idea of 'potions' fascinated him. After all, they had tremendous medical potential, provided strength for many common challenges, and protected against numerous magical threats. Countering that, though, was a snarling mental image of Severus Snape.

And yet... Suddenly Harry's mood brightened. Was it possible that his parents have given him a potent cure for the worst of Snape's vitriolic prejudice? Stretched out before him were cabinets of glittering bottles and glassware, polished cauldrons and urns, and every piece of specialised cutlery he could recall seeing in last year's Potions classes. Within that array of resources, upon that sturdy lab bench, or within the stately potions hearth, could he achieve independence? Would this give him the freedom to do fun, ambitious, or vitally important magic, comfortably removed from the vindictive yoke of sadistic, smirking Snapely sabotage?

Yes!

A thrill of opportunity coursed through Harry's veins. His parents might not have survived to see him off to school, but he could not imagine anyone's parents ever giving a better twelfth birthday present — the gift of self sufficiency! Suddenly it didn't matter if his repugnant relatives kept him locked indefinitely inside the Muggliest house in all of Britain. He almost didn't care that a neurotic (if arguably well-intentioned) House Elf wanted to semi-permanently sever him from the magical world...

Er, okay, he hadn't quite resigned himself to those fates yet, but at least, in the mean time, his parents had given him the means to grow, and follow in their distinguished footsteps. Even if he'd have to do so alone.

Alone...?

Hmmm...

Harry found himself staring at one of the most mundane features of this marvelous potions laboratory — a pair of stools.

A pair of stools.

Why, he wondered, were so many things in this personal storage trunk paired up? There were two stools, two cauldrons, two cutlery blocks, two desks, two chairs? He had even seen twin copies of Miranda Goshawk's Book of Spells.

A puzzled frown on his face, Harry walked over to the lab bench and pulled up one of the stools. He glanced pensively at the other vacant seat, and a strange expression crept across his face.

At times in his life he had been very lonely, but that was not exactly what he felt right now. At this moment, he was trying to picture what it might be like to actually not be alone; to always have someone to confide in, to support and be supported by. Someone with whom to discuss everything — from the most mundane to the most earth-shattering things in life.

Planting both elbows onto the work-worn table, Harry lowered his chin into his hands, pondering how his parents might once have worked in this very lab — perfect partners, learning, creating, doing things... together.

His eyes cast pensively about the room, considering how he might now use such a wonderful but unexpected resource. A sliver of Harry's ever-insular soul instinctively wanted to claim the place as his own exclusive refuge — a symbol of a part of his life that Harry shared with nobody else — wistful thoughts about his long-lost parents. But now, all of the duplications evident in the trunk made Harry realise that the greatest gift of this present might only come if he shared it.

Harry tapped his chin. If he did share this trunk, then with whom?

The image of Ron drifted through Harry's mind, but it didn't stick. Ron was a fine friend, but this was hardly his cup of tea — not a single Quidditch poster, board game, or sweets wrapper in sight. This trunk was obviously for magical curiosity and discovery, neither of which ranked high among Ron's priorities.

Thoughts of Hermione naturally followed... but that didn't work either. Sure, she would go bananas over all the books and resources at her disposal... but where was the 'two partners' spirit? Would Harry become a vassal in his own special space? Would Hermione schedule his lab time, and issue him colour-coded weekly swotting assignments?

Bleh.

For some reason it was so easy for Harry to imagine his parents working together, equably and productively, but it seemed nearly impossible to picture himself in such a happy partnership. How would he ever find such a compeer? Were his parents naive to assume that their outcast son would ever find a suitable partner — someone with Hermione's drive and inquisitiveness, yet also Ron's unassuming camaraderie? Someone conveniently lacking Hermione's oppressive stridency, and Ron's moody petulance?

Harry gave a sardonic laugh. Nobody like that would be caught dead with a miserable wretch like me.

His enthusiasm spent, Harry sighed, ready to push away from the lab bench and trudge back up to his Dursley bedroom. Then his breath caught.

A scroll!

He hadn't noticed it before, but resting upon the lab bench in front of him was a single roll of parchment. Now, what did that remind him of...? Of course!

The note on the owl's leg had stated that he should find a second message inside the chest with more detailed instructions. This must be it!

His whole body tingled as he reached for the scroll. Slowly, fumblingly, he pulled it straight, and... frowned.

The only message, in a pleasing florid script, read simply.


When a Potter learns to love, he learns to love to learn,
Together.

Two may learn to love to learn right here,
With one another.

Love,
Mum



Harry put the note down and stared blankly across the room.

Huh??

Harry didn't know exactly what 'detailed instruction' he might have expected to find, but this was not it. He didn't know what mystified him more — how odd the message was, or how perfectly suited it was to the argument he'd just been having with himself?!

Harry sighed deeply. "How, Mum??" He released a ragged breath. "How can I learn to love to... er... what you said. How can I learn anything together if I'm stuck all by myself in a locked room surrounded by people who hate me?!"

Silence.

Harry lifted his face and gazed glumly around the lab, daring the world to start to make sense.

It didn't.

Finally, he picked up the scroll again, to see if he'd missed anything useful.

He blinked. He stared. He blinked again. The poem from his mother had vanished; in its place he found a hasty scrawl from his dad.



Harry, are you telling us that you're all alone on your birthday?!

SHI... uh, I mean 'shoot'.

Please forgive us Harry — I thought (hoped) we'd arranged things a bit better for you.

But still, it's not too late to make something of your birthday, right? There's Floo powder above the hearth; why not go find a friend!

- Your very apologetic Dad



"Dad?!" Harry gawked at the parchment. "You're in there too??"

The parchment went blank and stayed that way. Just when Harry began to wonder if perhaps he'd been imagining things, a new message appeared.



Well, not exactly. We're not your real parents, Harry. Think of this scroll as a magical portrait, without all the paint.

In truth, we did plan to leave a portrait of ourselves for you, but we spent all autumn shut away in Godric's Hollow for security reasons, and missed our appointment with the artist. Fortunately, your mum knew a spell to imbue this piece of parchment with some of our personality and memories.

This was our backup plan and apparently we got no further. Sorry we weren't able to give you something better.



"Better?" Harry struggled to loosen his suddenly constricted throat. "Dad, Mum, I've gone nearly eleven years without you. I can't imagine a better present than this!"



Sweetie, that's so kind of you to say, but we're certain there will be better things in your life than sitting in a potions lab talking to magical memories of your father and me.

Tonight should be a special night for you, Harry; don't squander it with an old scroll. Go share it with a friend.



Harry blinked. "Er, I'm not trying to be contrary Mum, but it's nearly one o'clock in the morning."



Seriously? One o'clock in the morning? The gift arrived that late?



Harry nodded. "I think the owls had a difficult time getting past some nut-case House Elf."

More than a minute passed, with Harry staring at the now-blank parchment, wondering if the conversation was going to resume. Then suddenly a flurry of writing sprayed across the page, filling nearly the whole surface. Front and back.



Harry, your Mum finally shrugged and said, and I quote, "Well dear, I suppose it's never too late for a friend."

Translation — she's giving you her blessing to go out and do something fun. Even if your birthday is technically over.

But, oi little mate! Are you the golden boy, or what?! As if she'd ever give me permission to go carouse in the middle of the night! You'd best rush out right now before she changes her...





James, be quiet.

Harry, unlike some Potters I have known, I think you're mature enough to make responsible decisions for yourself.

If you'd prefer to remain here or return to bed, that's fine, but even a mum knows that every once in a while it's okay for her son to be impulsive. As long as you play safe, James and I would be happy knowing you're having a bit of fun.

If you've never used a Floo before, just step over to the hearth behind you, toss in a pinch of the powder (full dish on the mantle) and say, "Take me to see a friend".

Hugs, kisses & good night.

- Mum



Harry stared as the messages slowly faded.

For a long moment, he sat transfixed by the blank parchment.

Finally, he rose from the lab bench and turned to face the fireplace. He reached up into a small bowl on the mantle and soon had some sugar-like granules lodged between thumb and forefinger.

He had no idea what he was doing. He didn't really even know why he was doing it, or why his parents would ever condone (let alone encourage) such daft behaviour but, before he knew it, Harry found himself swept away in a whoosh of bizarre green flames.





Ginny Weasley fluffed her pillow. She was about to bury her head back into it when it occurred to her that pillow fluffing had failed her at least eighteen times now. She simply couldn't sleep.

Huffing in frustration, she lowered her legs from the bed, crept over to the window, and looked out.

Moonlight. A few whispy clouds. A brisk but pleasant summer breeze. Not bad!

That settled it. She might try to make up her sleep deficit some other decade, but tonight she was going flying!

Night flying above the paddock was Ginny's favourite semi-illicit activity. It was good practice, brilliant fun, and in the end it was imminently relaxing. Flying could settle her when she was excited (for her brothers to return from school; for the first day of summer; for the first dry night after a long stretch of Devon grey). Flying could also settle her when she was tense. As she was tonight.

Very tense.

Edging her way past her door (she always left it slightly ajar in case she needed to get past the wonky hinge without waking anyone), Ginny tiptoed down the stairs... worrying as she went.

Ginny Weasley was more worried tonight than she'd been all summer. This was saying something, since she'd been on edge for weeks — probably even more anxious than her brother Ron, who'd been acting antsy ever since returning from Hogwarts.

Noticing her brother's anxiety at Kings Cross Station, Ginny had assumed it would subside after a few days of the slow summer Burrow routine.

Not so! If anything, his angst had gotten worse — he was forever whispering to the twins; writing letters almost daily (letters? Ron??); rushing for the window far too often to check for owls.

She had confronted her brother and the twins about the odd behaviour, but all three had belted up, stubbornly denying any problem. Some little sisters might have felt annoyed or insulted to be excluded like this, but not Ginny. Instead, this afternoon she had (coincidentally) happened to be in the bottom of Ron's closet with a periscope and a listening cup at the time of a key conversation and had thus learned the frightening truth.

Harry Potter was missing!!

Nobody had heard from the Boy Who Lived in a month! He hadn't visited any of his friends or replied to any letters, and now all of his birthday gifts had been returned unopened. Ginny's own gift to him, a parcel of home baked biscuits loaded with pralines and candied ginger, had been returned to the Burrow around sundown in horrific shape — missing its ribbon and looking as though it had been trampled by a herd of Hippogriffs...

Ginny shuddered.

For anyone else, there might be a mundane explanation, but this was Harry Potter — the Prince of Peculiar Phenomena. In the past school year alone (according to Ginny's intelligence gathering), Harry had battled a Mountain Troll, been subject to an assassination attempt, escaped a midnight encounter with a blood-drinking monster in the Forbidden Forest, smuggled a dragon out of the country, avoided being eaten by a Cerberus, and had driven off some psychotic demon living inside the Defence professor's hat.

And now the boy was missing??

Crossing into the darkened sitting room, Ginny fought back a tremble and shook herself sternly. Be brave girl! If Harry's truly in trouble, he'll need strong, brave friends to...

WHOOOSSH!!!

"...!!!" Ginny's hand clasped about her mouth with the force of clambering Clabbert, muffling her shriek before it could startle the whole house. She gaped as the green flames of an unscheduled Floo visitor dissipated, depositing a stumbling, boy-sized projectile onto the carpet.

Struggling to his knees, the visitor coughed, squinting from the soot in his eyes.

Ginny rushed over to grasp one of the boy's fumbling hands, and help him to his feet. "So sorry! We'd have cleaned the chimney if we were expecting a guest, but..."

Wincing at the sight of the unidentified boy rubbing his eyes, she spotted an old shirt that George had left lying on the arm chair, and pressed it into the visitor's hand. "Here. Clear your eyes with this."

Still coughing, the boy accepted the shirt and dabbed the grime from around his eyes. Then he blinked, and stared with sudden dismay, as though he just now realised he was standing (uninvited) in a stranger's house, face to face with equally shocked girl, dressed in her... nightgown?

As the boy hastily averted his gaze, his sooty profile passed through a ray of moonlight, and Ginny saw what grime and shadow had been obscuring. "You..." Her voice went dry and raspy. "You're Harry Potter!"

"Huh? You know me?" Startled, Harry momentarily forgot his shame and turned back to Ginny. His eyes swept her face in the darkness and recognition set in. "Blimey!" He chuckled in relief. "You're Ginny Weasley, right?"

Ginny nodded, wide-eyed. Oh dear! It's the middle of the night; I'm in my night dress, and I'm speaking to... the Boy Who Lived!?

Harry processed Ginny's shocked expression and his face reddened. Friend or no friend, it was thoughtless to barge in on anyone unannounced. "Forgive me, I didn't mean to intrude. I just, er... I didn't know what I was d..." He shuffled his feet and looked away again. "Er, well, I really didn't think things through, did I...?"

Ginny opened her mouth to reassure him, but froze, realising with horror that any simple response to that question (No? Yes? I don't know? ) could sound snarky, and she would never want to be snarky to Harry Potter.

Meanwhile, Harry was staring awkwardly at the floor. "Uhh, I'd better go now. But could you maybe just tell Ron that I'm okay? Some frantic House Elf has been intercepting all my mail, and my relatives have locked me in my room, but no one should worry — everything will be fine."

Her voice utterly failing her, Ginny nodded vigourously — profoundly eager to please, and equally relieved that Harry was safe.

Unfortunately Harry completely missed the silently enthusiastic display as he had twisted around to study the inside of the fireplace, perhaps wondering whether he could squeeze inside the chimney. "Would you happen to have a bit of that, erm, Floo powder to lend? I think I just need to toss some of that and say that I want to go back to my trunk. Does that sound right? Anyway, I'm so very sorry to have caused you so much tro..."

"Wouldyouliketogoflyingwithme?"

Harry's eyes bugged out, he whipped around and stared in surprise at the girl's earnest expression. "Would I like to... uh... beg pardon?"

Ginny blanched at her impertinence. "Fly? Broom?" Her trembling little hand gestured toward the house's back door.

"Do I want to fly...?" Harry raised a pensive finger to his lower lip. "In the middle of the night?"

Ginny chewed her lip, realising that Harry Potter now fully appreciated what a complete nutter she was. Steeling herself, she forced herself to answer with an earnest (if somewhat stiff) nod of her head.

Then she waited for the inevitable scorn.

None came.

Ginny chanced a quick peek at the boy and, to her astonishment, saw him gazing out the window at the moonlit meadow with a distant look in his eyes.

Her eyes widened. A tiny smile flickered at the corner of his mouth.

Above her thumping heart, she had to strain to hear his shy voice.

"You know Ginny, I would like that a lot."


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